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Waiting 4 SCOTUS On Prop. 8 & DOMA…..Oakland Commits to Ambitious School Reform……2 Sad & Notable Deaths…

June 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


HOW WILL THE SUPREMES RULE ON GAY MARRIAGE? WILL THEY BE BRILLIANTLY GAME-CHANGING OR DINOSAURISHLY GHASTLY? OR SOMETHING IN BETWEEN? HERE’S ONE RUMOR-LADEN SPECULATION

While we wait for the Supreme Court’s rulings on the two gay rights cases, California’s Prop 8 and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) the speculation and the worry about the various possible decisions, and combinations of decisions, is starting to rev up again.

One story we recommend is by UCLA law school prof and Constitutional expert, Adam Winkler, writing for the New Republic. Yes, the essay is a bit in the “What if truly horrible things happened?!!” vein, but it’s smart and thoughtful, and worth your time. Here’s a clip:

Ever since the Supreme Court heard two major gay rights cases in March, the conventional wisdom among court-watchers is that we’re likely to see a split decision. The Court, according to most experts, will probably strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and issue a narrow ruling, perhaps on procedural grounds, on the California Proposition 8 same-sex marriage case. That outcome would be an incremental but important step forward in the progress of gay civil rights. Although gay marriage would not yet be recognized as a fundamental right, the Court would establish that the federal government can’t deny gay couples that are already lawfully married access to federal benefits, like social security or spousal tax exemptions.

Yet what if the Court doesn’t strike down DOMA? This past weekend, I visited Washington, D.C., and spoke to well-placed lawyers about the prospects for DOMA. Surprisingly, I heard speculation that the Court would defy the conventional wisdom on DOMA. No one said the Court was likely to endorse the law. But there was serious concern that the Court would do in the DOMA case exactly what the conventional wisdom says the justices will do in the Proposition 8 case: avoid a definitive ruling by deciding the case on procedural grounds. If the speculation is true, the DOMA case could end up a major setback for the gay rights movement. And it could put the Obama administration on a crash course toward a constitutional crisis.

[BIG SNIP]

Now rumors about pending Supreme Court decisions should be taken with a whole shaker full of salt. The Court, known as the tightest ship in Washington, rarely leaks. Yet last term’s rumors that Chief Justice John Roberts had changed his vote in the Obamacare case at the last minute were borne out. Especially given the enormous stakes in the DOMA case, perhaps it’s time to consider what might happen if the justices were to kick the case without a final ruling on the merits of DOMA’s constitutionality.

The scuttlebutt focuses on the conservative justices…

And…..to find out the rest of the juicy gossip and mad speculation, you’ll have to click over to the New Republic.

PS: Adam Winkler was one of my esteemed panelists at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books so I can personally attest to his general smart-osity and stellar analytical abilities.


OAKLAND EMBRACES PROMISING SCHOOL REFORM MODEL TO ADDRESS INTERGENERATIONAL PROBLEMS STUDENTS FACE IN THE VIOLENT AND COMPLICATED CITY

The Oakland Unified School District has committed to an ambitious plan to implement full-service “community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has a large story on what Oakland is attempting. Here’s a clip that will give you an idea of what they’re up to. But for those interested in school reform and strategies to shatter the so-called school to prison pipeline, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

…..Enrollment in traditional Oakland public schools has plummeted by more than 16,000 students since 2000, according to district officials, as foreclosures have forced families out of the city and charter schools have siphoned off students. During the same period, the district has cycled through six superintendents and narrowly avoided bankruptcy only through a state takeover that ended in 2009.

Now, under growing public pressure to improve student safety and achievement, the district is attempting to reinvent itself by turning its 87 schools – including Fremont – into what are known as “full-service community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The concept is one that has been around for decades but is now gaining traction in districts across the U.S. as other reform efforts run up against problems related to poverty. The embracing of community schools is a stark shift from the “no-excuses” movement, which held that schools should be able to push all students to success no matter what their background. That idea dominated education reform for much of the past decade.

Community schools are just the opposite. At its core, the concept represents an explicit acknowledgement that problems with a child’s home life must be addressed to help the student succeed academically.

“There’s actually a lot of agreement that we need to work on both improving schools and addressing poverty,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank based in Ohio and Washington, D.C. “Particularly, as reformers get into the work of trying to run schools and make the system work better, they see in black and white just how important addressing the larger social problems is.”

Marty Blank, director of the nonprofit Coalition for Community Schools, which connects organizations and school districts doing community school work, estimates that at least 50 school districts around the country are launching similar initiatives. Chicago is home to more than 175 community schools. Portland, Ore., has 67 and Tulsa, Okla., 31. New York City, with the nation’s largest school system, has 21 community schools, and that number might grow soon, depending on this year’s mayoral election; the United Federation of Teachers is pushing for the city’s next mayor to adopt the strategy….

And where is LAUSD on this kind of sweeping reform?

Well, I guess it is weirdly encouraging that LA Schools have committed $30 million to buy nearly every kid in the district an iPad. But such wonderful learning tools require the practical and philosophical infrastructure to go with them. We believe Superintendent John Deasy is attempting to move in that direction. However the district as a whole has yet to even vaguely contemplate the kind of game changing commitment that we’re seeing in Oakland.


MICHAEL HASTINGS: MAKING NOISE AMID THE SILENCE

Fearless journalist Michael Hastings died in terrible fireball of a car wreck at approximately 4:25 a.m. on Tuesday, in the 600 block of North Highland Avenue. Hastings, 33, was the guy who did that 2010 interview/profile with General Stanley McChrystal for Rolling Stone, “The Runaway General,” which resulted in the general resigning his post as the supreme commander of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, after McChrystal and his staff openly talked smack about the foreign policy team in the Obama White House.

Yet, Hastings was not a sensationalist, as he was sometimes portrayed by detractors following that news blasting profile, according to colleagues—and those of us who read his work carefully—he was someone who wanted to write stories that mattered, stories without spin, stories that were fearless, stories that illuminated. Stories that were true.

Moreover, Hastings had earned the right to pursue those stories. He wasn’t the guy who showed up on scene with the spiffy, newly bought flak jacket. He’d paid dues. As Rolling Stone reports in its obituary:

For Hastings, “…there was no romance to America’s misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had felt the horror of war first-hand: While covering the Iraq war for Newsweek in early 2007, his then-fianceé, an aide worker, was killed in a Baghdad car bombing…..

As Jon Lee Anderson wrote of Hastings on Wednesday in the New Yorker, we will miss “….his readiness to make noise amid agreed silences.”

Robin Abcarian at the LA Times has a good essay on Hastings titled “The Importance of Not Following the Rules.” Indeed.


LOSING JAMES GANDOLFINI

He was, friends and colleagues all agree, an enormously likable and gentle man. He was also a startlingly fine actor who left behind him an array of wonderfully-crafted characters. One of those characters was…indelible.


Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, How Appealing, LGBT, Life in general, School to Prison Pipeline, Supreme Court, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

It’s LA Times Festival of Books Weekend: Be There! (My “Guns in America” Panel Is Sunday)

April 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Times Festival of Books is this weekend—Saturday and Sunday—on the USC campus. If you’re a book person of any kind, this is the happiest of events—and it’s all free.

At 10:30 am on Sunday, you can see me moderate a panel on Guns in America with three stellar authors: Adam Winkler, who wrote Gun Fight: the Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, and Paul Barrett who wrote GLock: the Rise of America’s Gun, and Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Irvine’s law school, Constitutional scholar, and the author of The Conservative Assault on the Constitution.

These are all very bright people with a lot to say on the topic, and I promise we will have a lively and informative time.

But there’s something for absolutely everyone at this two day event.

There are panels featuring fiction writers, political writers of al leanings, poets, wildly funny book authors, deadly serious noirish mystery writers, graphic novelists…..and so on.

There’s even a panel at 12:30 on Sunday about why you should care about the mayor’s race.

It’s hard to go wrong.

For instance, there are back-to-back panels on Sunday in Mudd hall at 1:30 and 3 pm. One features such persons as my pal Tod Goldberg, plus the wildly talented authors Hector Tober, Laila Lalami, and Nina Revoyr. (Rule of thumb for the LAT FOB, if the panel has Tod Goldberg on it, you should automatically go. It doesn’t matter the topic, just go. Trust me on this. Otherwise it will be the panel you wish you’d seen.)

The other panel is moderated by David Ulin, who—along with Patt Morrison is the absolute best at the whole moderater thingy, and features my pal Tom Bissell, who is one of the smartest people I know and a great prose stylist and he designs video games. With them is D.T. Max, author of the riveting and heartbreaking book about David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, and deliciously talented travel writer and essayist, Pico Iyer.

But these are just two of many. Right after our Sunday 10:30 a.m. Guns panel at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, Henry Wienstein is moderating a panel called Today’s Dangerous World, that includes terrorism expert, Brian Michael Jenkins (who in his photos has an impressively intense stare), Pulitzer winner, Mark Mazzetti, who writes about the CIA (and not comfortingly), and Jess Bravin, whose book “Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, is not calming either. In short, the panel sounds like it will be terrific!

The schedule is here. And if you happen to attend my Sunday panel, stop by and say hi.

But if you’re a reader at all, go to the festival. Just go.

Posted in American artists, American voices, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | No Comments »

G-Dog Movie Opens in Selected Theaters, April 22

April 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


This documentary about Father Greg Boyle and his Homeboy Industries, directed by Academy Award winner, Frieda Mock,
is opening in theaters next week.

Then it will shortly be available for purchase or download, but it’s one of those films that it’s satisfying to see in the theater, as a shared experience.

To be honest, if you live in this city, you should see this movie. If you’re a youth worker or a teacher, or a member of law enforcement, a prosecutor, a public defender, or a judge, you should definitely see this movie.

If you just plain want to feel more hopeful about the race to which we all claim membership, you should see this movie.

Here’s where you can see G-Dog thus far.

Arizona Phoenix/Scottsdale – Harkins Shea-Scottsdale

California Encino – Laemmle Town Center
Los Angeles – Laemmle Claremont
Los Angeles – Laemmle Monica*
Los Angeles – Laemmle NoHo
Palm Desert – Cinémas Palme d’Or
Pasadena – Laemmle Playhouse
San Diego – Media Arts Center

Connecticut Hartford – Cinema City at the Palace

New Haven – Criterion Cinemas @ Movieland

Montana Helena – Myrna Loy Center

New York Manhattan – Cinema Village
Ithaca – Cinemapolis
Ohio Cleveland – Cedar Lee
Columbus – Gateway Film Center

Pennsylvania Pittsburgh – Southside Works

Texas Austin – Alamo Drafthouse Village
Austin – Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane
San Antonio – Alamo Drafthouse Park North

Virginia Richmond – Criterion Cinemas @ Movieland

NOTE: Father Greg Boyle will participate in a Q&A following the 7:30 PM premiere screening on Thursday, April 25 at Laemmle Santa Monica.

Posted in American voices, art and culture, Gangs, Homeboy Industries | No Comments »

VETERANS DAY: With Gratitude & Respect for Those Who Have Served

November 11th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


A FEW LITERARY THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY

“The Army might screw you and your girlfriend might dump you and the enemy might kill you, but the shared commitment to safeguard one another’s lives is unnegotiable and only deepens with time. The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly.”
― Sebastian Junger, War

“To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. At its core, perhaps, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life. After a firefight, there is always the immense pleasure of aliveness. The trees are alive. The grass, the soil—everything. All around you things are purely living, and you among them, and the aliveness makes you tremble. You feel an intense, out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self—your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by the force of wanting it. In the midst of evil you want to be a good man. You want decency. You want justice and courtesy and human concord, things you never knew you wanted. There is a kind of largeness to it, a kind of godliness. Though it’s odd, you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead. You recognize what’s valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what’s best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost. At the hour of dusk you sit at your foxhole and look out on a wide river turning pinkish red, and at the mountains beyond, and although in the morning you must cross the river and go into the mountains and do terrible things and maybe die, even so, you find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.” 
― Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

“He ran as he’d never run before, with neither hope nor despair. He ran because the world was divided into opposites and his side had already been chosen for him, his only choice being whether or not to play his part with heart and courage. He ran because fate had placed him in a position of responsibility and he had accepted the burden. He ran because his self-respect required it. He ran because he loved his friends and this was the only thing he could do to end the madness that was killing and maiming them.”
― Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn

“Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades – words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

“Society can give its young men almost any job and they’ll figure how to do it. They’ll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for. … Soldiers themselves are reluctant to evaluate the costs of war, but someone must. That evaluation, ongoing and unadulterated by politics, may be the one thing a country absolutely owes the soldiers who defend its borders.”
Sebastian Junger, War

Posted in American voices, War, writers and writing | 2 Comments »

BOOK LOVERS ALERT: Come to the West Hollywood Book Fair Sunday!

September 28th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



It used to be that the LA Times Festival of Books was the only game in town
, but in the 11 years since it started, the West Hollywood Book Fair has become its own major So Cal literary event attracting big crowds and featuring a long and excellent list of authors and poets.

This year, I’ll be moderating a panel called Women in Crime at 11:45 am until 12:45. My stellar panelist are April Smith, AGS Johnson and Amelia Gray, all three are incredibly talented women, each with very different approaches to crime writing.

And then at 4 pm, I’ll be interviewing the remarkable Luis Rodriguez, author of the LA classic, Always Running, and most recently, the moving sequel It Calls You Back-—among his works.

But mine are only two out of a list of great panels.

Here’s the full schedule.

Check it out. There are many treats that await all book lovers, I promise you.

11th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair
Sunday, September 30, 2012
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
West Hollywood Library and West Hollywood Park
625 North San Vicente Boulevard.


Photo from Good Gay LA

Posted in American voices, art and culture, arts, writers and writing | No Comments »

The NY Times on CA’s Trust Act, the Fiscal Incentives for ICE Enforcement….the MacDonald Murders… and More

September 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


THE NY TIMES SAYS JERRY BROWN SHOULD SIGN THE CALIFORNIA TRUST ACT

The Trust Act is one of the bills that are sitting on Jerry Brown’s desk awaiting a signature. This weekend the NY Times features an editorial explaining why he should sign it.
Here is how the NYT opinion piece opens:

There is a significant and immediate step Gov. Jerry Brown of California can take to protect community safety and civil liberties in his state.

He can sign the Trust Act, a recently passed state bill that prevents local police departments from turning their jails into immigration holding cells for noncriminals or minor offenders whose sentences are up or who should otherwise be out on bail. The act would require the police to let such people go, even if Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have issued voluntary requests, known as detainers, that they be held until they can be picked up for deportation. Only those who have been convicted of or charged with serious or violent felonies would continue to be detained at ICE’s request.

The purpose of the act is to bring state enforcement in line with federal deportation priorities — which is to focus on dangerous criminals, national-security threats and repeat offenders. It was prompted by a troubled ICE program called Secure Communities, which enlists local authorities in immigration enforcement by doing checks on everyone they fingerprint. The program has led to the deportation of tens of thousands of minor offenders or those with no criminal records. The Trust Act is one state’s way to prevent such overkill.

Most of the state’s sheriffs, LA’s Sheriff Lee Baca most prominently included, oppose the Trust Act saying that it would force them to decide whether to violate State law or federal law.

Baca has gone so far as to say he won’t enforce the thing, even if it is signed by the governor.

Only Santa Clara Sheriff, Laurie Smith, has broken from the pack to announce that she is fine with the Trust Act. In fact she took the same stance that the LAPD has long taken with Special Order 40, maintaining that forcing local police to engage in immigration enforcement to makes immigrants less likely to report the kind of serious crimes that are a genuine threat public safety, simply because they’re fearful of being deported.

And about the claim that the Trust Act, if it is allowed to go into effect, will force local law enforcement to break either federal or state law, according to more than 30 legal scholars, this either-or interpretation of the law’s potential affect is utter nonsense. Here’s the letter the profs from such schools as Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, NYU, Penn State, Davis, Georgetown, UC Irvine, Hastings, Brandeis, and more, sent to the governor on the issue.

The letter is 8-pages of legal language, which you may find interesting, but it’s bottom line may be found in the following two statements:

The Constitution does not allow the federal government to command that local sheriffs enforce a federal regulatory regime. The regulation of immigration is no exception to this rule.

The Immigration and Nationality Act makes clear that local participation in immigration can only take place with the consent of localities.


SO IS THERE A $$$ ANGLE TO ALL THIS LEGAL CONTROVERSY?

Interestingly, while most of the state’s sheriffs oppose the Trust Act and embrace Secure Communities or S-Comm, many police chiefs, like San Francisco’s and Oakland’s— are in favor of the Trust Act.

LA’s Charlie Beck has long expressed concern about the potential negative effects of enforcing S-Comm while, as mentioned above, Lee Baca is an ardent S-Comm supporter and says, if the Trust Act is passed, he won’t enforce it.

So what could cause such a difference in perspective between county and city law enforcement agencies?

Perhaps Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff has the key. Sniff, who wrote an letter urging Brown to veto the Trust Act, told David Olson of the Press-Enterprise that the bill would “… jeopardize federal funding to help pay the cost to house illegal immigrants.” Riverside, he said, has received up to $1.8 million annually for S-Comm enforcement. In other words, not locking up as many immigrants would make most or all of those nice dollars vanish.

So maybe the Trust Act isn’t a legal problem for the sheriffs as much as it is a fiscal one.

The governor has until Sept. 30 to jump one way or the other on the bill.


THE UNENDING FASCINATION WITH THE JEFFERY MACDONALD MURDER CASE CONTINUES

On Tuesday, Sept 4, the third major book on the Jeffery MacDonald murder case is being released. It is called A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, and in it, author Errol Morris, pretty much decides MacDonald is innocent of the murders of his wife and two young daughters, although Morris concedes he cannot prove MacDonald’s innocence to a certaintly.

When I say Morris’s is the third major book, I mean there have been several lessor volumes other than the two well-known examinations of the case, Fatal Vision, the monster best seller by The Selling of the President author, Joe McGinnis, and The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, a book that—love it or hate it—is now a staple in non-fiction literature courses.

The author of the newest book is, of course, the highly regarded writer/director of such stellar documentaries as The Thin Blue Line, which actually exonerated a man after it was released, and The Fog of War, which completely reframed the reputation of Vietnam war architect Robert McNamara while winning Morris an Academy Award.

Sunday’s NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Atlantic and others have features on the new book.

Here’s the opening of the story in the Atlantic:

It was not quite the case of the century, but Americans of a certain age are likely to remember the savage, 1970 murders of Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald’s wife and daughters and his subsequent convictions on first and second degree homicide. Or, they remember the story of the case popularized by Joe McGinniss in Fatal Vision and, perhaps, the story of McGinniss and MacDonald, told by Janet Malcolm in The Journalist and the Murderer.

Now comes documentary filmmaker Errol Morris with his new book A Wilderness of Error, a devastating expose of the incompetence and corruption that enabled MacDonald’s conviction and continues to obstruct his appeals. MacDonald, now 68, has been imprisoned for 30 years, denied parole because he continues to deny his guilt, as his efforts at exoneration continue, decades after conviction. Last April, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new hearing in his case, scheduled in September 2012.

As Morris observes, it’s impossible to know “with absolute certainty” whether MacDonald is guilty or innocent. But evidence of innocence wrongly excluded from his trial, including multiple confessions from other suspects, seems considerably stronger than evidence of guilt, and Morris, a dogged, discerning investigator, makes clear that MacDonald was “railroaded.” Personally, I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that in a fair trial, a relatively unbiased jury would not have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (and I’ve contributed to his defense fund).

What went wrong in this case? The short answer, Morris suggests, is that military police and, eventually, civilian prosecutors assumed a conclusion and selected evidence to support it. “When police arrive at a scene, like any of us, they try to formulate an idea of what happened … they take the seeming chaos of a crime scene and interpret it. Often the explanation is based on convenience. It’s easier to pick one narrative about an explanation than another.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just to be clear, we aren’t taking a side in this. We’re just noting that the case continues to fascinate and frustrate a bunch of smart people, each of whom seems to read a different answer in the facts available.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE U.S. SUPREME COURT HAS TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT TO STOP AN EXECUTION

In Tuesday’s NY Times Adam Liptak takes a look behind the metaphorical curtain to find out what kind of process the Supremes and their respective staffs go through when they deal with requests to stay executions.

This isn’t a news story but rather a peek backstage to look at one small part of the way SCOTUS works and it’s quite intriguing. Here’s a clip:

John Balentine was an hour away from being put to death in Texas last month when the Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution.

The unseemly and unsettling spectacle of a last-minute legal scramble in the shadow of the ultimate deadline, with the condemned inmate waiting for word of his fate just outside the death chamber, may suggest that the Supreme Court does not render considered justice when it is asked to halt an execution.

But it tries. Indeed, the court goes to extraordinary lengths to get ready, and its point person is a staff lawyer named Danny Bickell.

“Cases where there is an execution date,” he said with a sigh, “that’s where I come in.”

Mr. Bickell’s formal title is emergency applications clerk, but capital defense lawyers have an informal title for him, too. They call him the death clerk.

In remarks at a conference of lawyers specializing in federal death penalty work at a hotel here last month, Mr. Bickell provided a rare inside look at the Supreme Court’s oversight of the machinery of death in the United States.

It starts with a weekly update…..

Posted in American artists, American voices, crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), immigration, LAPD, LASD, Realignment, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

Happy (Day After) Birthday, Woody

July 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Woody Guthrie would have been 100 years old on July 14.

Posted in American artists, American voices | 1 Comment »

RIP Nora Ephron….and A Few Words About Breasts

June 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


NORA EPHRON AND THE MATTER OF BREASTS….WRITING….AND LIFE

Nora Ephron was a gifted essayist, novelist, and humorist, a wildly talented screenwriter and film director. And she was a brilliant avocational chef, a devoted mother and wife, who also happened once to be famously married to Carl Bernstein and even more famously divorced from him, and she was a glorious wit—among other worthy occupations.

Ephron died Tuesday of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia, according to the New York Times.

She was 71.

It is preposterously and painfully soon to lose her talent.

I met Nora Ephron once, only briefly, but I liked her right away. Despite her double, triple, quadruple threat talent (writer, screenwriter, director, etc.), she seem grounded and present. Somebody you’d want as a neighbor. Mostly, of course, like the majority grieving her today, I knew her through her work—her movies, naturally, and her books.

Her books more than anything.

Like many American women who happened to pick up Ephron’s writing at a formative age, I was fascinated and inspired by her gutsy girl voice. Most particularly I loved her early essays—written when she was young, vulnerable, sassy, and impressively fearless. Since I first read them when I was also young and vulnerable without the sass, and wishing very much to be far more fearless—they were fantasically permission-giving.

For those of you who only know Nora Ephron from her screenplays (like Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally) and the films she wrote and directed (like You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and Julie and Julia) please allow me to introduce you to at least one piece of her prose writing.

And if you’re going to read only one, it should really probably be the 1972 essay Ephron wrote for Esquire Magazine (for which she then penned a regular column).

The essay, which was later reprinted in her 1975 collection, Crazy Salad, is titled: A FEW WORDS ABOUT BREASTS

(I’ve just excerpted the opening, but there are links to the full piece and, trust me, you’d be foolish  to start and not read to her final line, which is:  ”I think they’re full of shit.”  Happy reading.)


A FEW WORDS ABOUT BREASTS

by Nora Ephron

I have to begin with a few words about androgyny. In grammar school, in the fifth and sixth grades, we were all tyrannized by a rigid set of rules that supposedly determined whether we were boys or girls. The episode in Huckleberry Finn where Huck is disguised as a girl and gives himself away by the way he threads a needle and catches a ball — that kind of thing. We learned that the way you sit, crossed your legs, held a cigarette and looked at your nails, your wristwatch, the way you did these things instinctively was absolute proof of your sex.. Now obviously most children did not take this literally, but I did. I thought that just one slip, just one incorrect cross of my legs or flick of an imaginary, cigarette ash would turn me from whatever I was into the other thing; that would be all it took, really. Even though I was outwardly a girl and had many of the trappings generally associated with the field of girldom — a girl’s name, for example, and dresses, my own telephone, an autograph book — I spent the years of my adolescence absolutely certain that I might at any point gum it up. I did not feel at all like a girl. I was boyish. I was athletic, ambitious, outspoken, competitive, noisy, rambunctious. I had scabs on my knees and my socks slid into my loafers and I could throw a football. I wanted desperately not to be that way, not to be a mixture of both things but instead just one, a girl, a definite indisputable girl. As soft and as pink as a nursery. And nothing would do that for me, I felt, but breasts.

I was about six months younger than everyone in my class, and so for about six months after it began, for six months after my friends had begun to develop — that was the word we used, develop — I was not particularly worried. I would sit in the bathtub and look down at breasts and know that any day now, in second now, they would start growing like everyone else’s. They didn’t. “I want to buy a bra,” I said to my mother one night. “What for?” she said……

You can find the rest here…..or here.

Or better yet, buy the book. It has aged well. (As did she.)


Photo of Ephron with her husband, writer Nicholas Pileggi, by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, American voices, Life in general, women's issues, writers and writing | No Comments »

Three Great (Social Justice-y) Things to Do for Father’s Day Weekend

June 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


GO TO SEE THE U.S. PREMIER OF THE G-DOG MOVIE

G-Dog, the wonderful new documentary film about Father Greg Boyle by Academy Award winning doc director, Freida Mock, will have it’s US premiere on Sunday, Father’s Day, at 4:20 p.m. at the LA Film Festival downtown,

Father Greg and some of the guys from Homeboy Industries will be on hand to do a Q & A session after the film.

(And, yes, I’m definitely going to be there with a passel of friends and family.)

(But if you go, go early as it will sell out fast, if it hasn’t already.)




BECOME A COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATE FOR A FOSTER CARE CHILD—GUYS PARTICULARLY NEEDED

Each month in LA County, more than 800 hurt, frightened and confused children enter the Family Dependency Court, and thus the foster care, system, having been removed from their parent’s custody because of s abuse, neglect or abandonment.

A judge must quickly make all of the important decisions about each foster child’s life and, more often than not, he or she must do so in the context of a system that is overburdened and seems disinterested.

However, a judge can appoint what is called a CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocate, for the child. This trained and supervised volunteer is charged with advocating for a foster child who is under the court’s protection because of abuse or neglect.

But here’s the deal: only 16% of the volunteers at CASA/LA are male, while 49.8% of the kids in the system are boys. Even more than the girls, the male foster children are too often left with no solid male role models in their lives.

As a consequence, this Father’s Day there is a strong push to get more men involved in volunteering for CASA.

For more info, check the CASALA website.

Spread the word.


GO to SEE THE SO CAL PREMIER OF MUSIC FROM THE BIG HOUSE

Today, Friday, at 7:20 p.m., the Loyola Law School Center for Restorative Justice will co-host a screening of the new documentary, Music From the Big House, in which Rita Chiarelli, Canada’s “Queen of the Blues,” makes a musical pilgrimage to Louisiana State Maximum Security Penitentiary at Angola, a place that used to be the bloodiest prison in America, but has always been a place where the some of the deepest, truest blues have been played.

The screening will be held at the Laemmle Theater at 9036 Wilshire Boulevard, in Beverly Hills.

Posted in American artists, American voices, criminal justice, Homeboy Industries, prison | 7 Comments »

Michelle Alexander and The New Jim Crow—In Compton Thursday Night

May 11th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Just about the time that POTUS Obama was snarling traffic getting to his starzilla party in Studio City,
civil rights attorney and best selling author Michelle Alexander was rockin’ the house across town in Compton, where she gave a 90-minute speech in front of a large and wildly enthusiastic crowd at a the New Philadelphia AME Church, talking about how Jim Crow is alive and well in this country’s criminal justice system.

Alexander is a legal scholar and a racial equality advocacy lawyer with an impressive resume that includes a Supreme Court clerkship and lots more after that.

But what has really put her on the map is her 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, in which, with mounds of research, Alexander lays out her thesis that the mass incarceration the U.S. has embraced since the mid-1980′s as its primary method of social control is, for black communities, simply devastating. The result is a second class caste system in which, in some major American cities, more than one half of all working age black men, and a growing number of black women, and other minorities, are relegated to a permanently disenfranchised status—much like in the days of Jim Crow, but in far greater numbers. Right now if you are a black man anywhere in America, there is a 32 percent chance that you’ll go to jail or prison at some point in your life.

The New Jim Crow has been the book that criminal justice activists and experts have been urgently recommending above all others these past two years—to the point that when it came out in paperback in January, it became a surprise NY Times best seller.

I first became aware of Alexander’s work when I watched an April 2010 episode of Bill Moyer’s Journal that featured her together with superstar civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, and the combination of what they had to say grabbed my attention, as it encapsulated and quantified what I’d seen anecdotally in my reporting for years.

The usual wiggly iPhone videos below will give you a glimpse of what she has to say as they are from the very beginning of Alexander’s 90-minute talk Thursday night.

You might also enjoy the clip of Alexander with Stephen Colbert on the Cobert Report.

Better yet, just get the book.

However you do it, find a way to check out what Michelle Alexander has to say.
Hers is a deeply important American voice that is very much worth your time and attention.


PS: THIS WILL BE A SHORT POSTING because everyone at WitnessLA is working on stories. So stay tuned. There’s a lot coming up soon.

IN THE MEANTIME, TAKE A LOOK AT THIS STORY ON THE CRIME REPORT: CRACKING THE BLUE WALL OF SILENCE, in which former and serving NYPD cops talk about racial profiling and arrest quotas.

ALSO CHECK OUT THE 30-YEAR SENTENCE FOR A FIRST TIME OFFENSE BY THE TEXAS GRANDMOTHER who may or may not have known she was smuggling a ton of drugs in the tour buses that she co-owned, but who got the book thrown at her because she wouldn’t take a deal and had nobody else to give up, so had nothing of value to trade to prosecutors. The Houston Chron has the story.

PS: I’M DELIBERATELY IGNORING THIS STORY, but it’s not that I didn’t see it.

Posted in American voices, Books, criminal justice, prison policy, race, race and class | 6 Comments »

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