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LAPD Before and After Federal Oversight, Shakespeare at San Quentin…and More

May 29th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LAPD AFTER 12 YEARS OF FED. OVERSIGHT

Earlier this month, the LAPD completed its twelve years of DOJ-mandated federal oversight. At the LA Times, in his weekly column, Jim Newton explains how significantly those twelve years of oversight benefited a department that was once plagued by a culture of misconduct and abuse.

Here’s a clip (but be sure to read the whole thing):

…the LAPD, sometimes grudgingly but with increasing determination, gradually embraced the reforms it once resented. The department’s audits now are widely respected. Gang units are more closely monitored. The department has revamped its systems for investigating allegations of excessive force.

But for longtime observers of the LAPD (I count as one, having covered the department from 1992 to 1997), what’s most notable is the rank-and-file attitude toward outside scrutiny. Officers who once balked at such oversight now accept it as essential to maintaining public confidence in their work.

The decree also pushed City Hall to respond. Council members approved money for auditors and invested in a computerized officer-tracking system first recommended after the King beating but unfinished until after the decree made it a priority. “What the consent decree created,” Beck said, “was universal support for those reforms.”


PRISONERS AT SAN QUENTIN PERFORM SHAKESPEARE

Prisoners at San Quentin State Prison have the opportunity to perform Shakespeare, an activity that inmates and observers agree helps the participants garner communication skills and self respect. Last year, inmates performed Hamlet with help from the Marin Shakespeare Company, this year it was the Merchant of Venice.

Marin Independent Journal’s Megan Hansen has the story. Here’s how it opens:

There’s a scene in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” where Shylock argues that people share the similarity of being human, and thus should be treated with respect despite their differences: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”

A Friday performance of the Bard’s play by San Quentin State Prison inmates elicited laughter here and there, but ultimately drove home the notion that inmates are human beings and desire to be treated as more than just a number.

The inmate actors said it’s difficult for people outside the prison gates to understand them, their emotions and the lives that led them to incarceration. Acting gives them an outlet to express those feelings and grow as individuals.

Inmate Joey Mason, who played Salario, said acting has allowed him to get in touch with a side of himself he previously avoided.

“It’s been an opportunity to be transparent, honest and open,” Mason said. “It’s a challenge. I used to run from these types of challenges because then I had to feel.”

By the way, there was an outstanding 2002 This American Life broadcast about a production of Hamlet done by mostly lifers in a max security prison in Missouri. Go listen, if you haven’t.


SCOTUS LOOSENS APPEAL DEADLINES FOR SOME INMATES

Tuesday, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court decided that a one-year deadline for inmates trying to challenge their convictions could be relaxed if there was compelling evidence of innocence. In a second decision, also issued on Tuesday, the court allowed prisoners to better bring claims of ineffective counsel.

The NY Times Adam Liptak has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a pair of 5-to-4 decisions that divided along ideological lines, the Supreme Court on Tuesday made it easier for inmates to challenge their convictions.

In McQuiggin v. Perkins, No. 12-126, the majority said that a one-year filing deadline for prisoners seeking federal review of their state court convictions under a 1996 law may be relaxed if they present compelling evidence of their innocence. The new “miscarriage of justice exception” to the deadline, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority, “applies to a severely confined category” — cases in which no reasonable juror aware of the new evidence would have voted to convict the defendant.

The decision did not seem likely to help the prisoner whose case was under review, but the exception it announced drew a barbed dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, who called the majority opinion “a series of transparent non sequiturs” and “a flagrant breach of the separation of powers.”

[BIG SNIP]

In the second decision issued Tuesday, in Trevino v. Thaler, No. 11-10189, the same five-justice majority extended a ruling last year that had allowed prisoners to challenge their state convictions in federal courts based on the argument that their trial lawyers had been ineffective, even though the prisoners had not raised the issue in earlier proceedings.

Posted in arts, Death Penalty, LAPD, prison | No Comments »

Immigration Cases Up for Supreme Court Consideration, “Art Matters” Fund Drive for LA Arts Education…and More

October 9th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

COMING SOON TO SCOTUS: IMMIGRATION

Three cases will likely go before the US Supreme Court that affect immigration law during the 2012 term. The first, Moncrieffe v. Holder, is a challenge to a law that often deports even legal immigrant non-citizens for minor legal infractions like a marijuana charge, which under federal law was prosecuted as a misdemeanor. In the second, Chaidez v. U.S., the Court will decide if an earlier SCOTUS ruling—relating to the same 1996 law that subjects permanent legal residents to deportation for criminal convictions both serious and minor—should be made retroactive. The third case expected to be added to the docket this year is the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which blocks family unification immigration benefits for many same-sex couples.

Daniel Kowalski, immigration expert and attorney, posted a rundown of the cases on LexisNexis’ immigration law community:

“The Supreme Court began its 2012 term this week coming off of a controversial year in which the Court played a central role in the ongoing effort to determine the parameters of U.S. immigration policy and the extent of federal authority. In the Court’s fall session, the Justices will again delve into immigration law in two cases that deal with the consequences of criminal convictions for non-citizens.

First up before the Court is Moncrieffe v. Holder in which the Court will decide whether a conviction under a provision of state law that encompasses, but is not limited to, the distribution of a small amount of marijuana without remuneration constitutes an aggravated felony subjecting the non-citizen to removal from the U.S., notwithstanding that the non-citizen was convicted of possessing such a small amount of marijuana that it would qualify as a misdemeanor under federal law rather than as a felony.

Shortly thereafter the Court will shift its attention to Chaidez v. U.S. to decide just how expansively to read its prior decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, in which the Court held that criminal defendants receive ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment when their attorneys fail to advise them that pleading guilty to an offense will subject them to deportation. The scope of the question presented in Chaidez is whether Padilla applies retroactively to persons whose convictions became final before its Padilla ruling.

Finally, while not yet on the docket, many Court watchers anticipate the Court will take up the question of the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which has a strong immigration component as currently written—DOMA prevents many same-sex couples from availing themselves of family unification immigration benefits.” – Adam Francouer, Oct. 3, 2012


COLOSSAL FUND DRIVE FOR LAUSD ARTS EDUCATION

In a push to revive LAUSD arts education, the LA Fund for Public Education launched a gargantuan LA public art exhibition and fundraising campaign “Arts Matter” worth $4M in donated art, services, and ad spaces. The fund drive kick-off was celebrated at East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy Monday afternoon. The drive will continue to showcase works from local artists around the city through February 2013.

KPCC’s Tami Abdollah has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Arts Matter,” with CBS Outdoor as a primary sponsor, will feature the work of L.A.-based artist Barbara Kruger on about a dozen city buses and on hundreds of billboards, bus shelters, wall postings, mall media and bulletins, LA Fund officials say.

“You can go from DreamWorks to Amgen, from Boeing to Mattel, they all say their No. 1 challenge is finding creative thinkers who can problem solve and who have the capacity and desire to learn new ways of doing things in an increasingly competitive market place,” said LA Fund Chair Megan Chernin.

Kruger’s “School Bus” will appear on city buses in L.A. through October; other bits of approximately 900 million impressions will appear through July 2013 in various “flights” of the campaign, said the LA Fund.

The artist was at the kickoff Monday and Kruger said she was “thrilled” and honored to be involved. Kruger, who called herself a product of public education, said she aimed to include thoughts that tied the “lack of education” to “catastrophe” in a humorous and critical way. One line on the bus reads “Give Your Brain as Much Attention as You Do Your Hair and You’ll Be a Thousand Times Better Off.”

“It’s huge that [this campaign is] happening and hopefully it’s a wake-up call for people to understand the real importance of the arts in education and the importance of public education — not the defunding of public education,” Kruger said.

[SNIP]

“You can’t be a citizen or fully human unless you participate in the arts, and you participate in many ways,” said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.

L.A. Unified, like school districts across the nation, is working on rolling out a new “core curriculum” in 2014; Deasy said the arts should be a full part of that.

[SNIP]

“Every one of you deserves what every adult had when we went to school, and that’s a fully-funded arts program,” Deasy told the students at the event launch Monday.


NO HUGGING IN SCHOOL—OR ELSE!

In a prime example of how extreme Zero Tolerance can be, students at a North Carolina middle school were told to quit hugging, or face an in-school suspension. The delinquent hugging was in support of Parker Jackson, a student who’d had a seizure during school.

GOOD’s Liz Dwyer has the story. Here’s a clip:

After seeing the supportive hugs Jackson was getting, the assistant principal told him that hugs aren’t allowed in school. He and his friends cooked up the hugging protest and used social media to get the rest of the school’s eighth graders to participate. The next day Principal La’Ronda Whiteside brought the hammer down.

“She was like, ‘y’all have no rights to that, even though y’all think you do,’ it was very inappropriate, and that if any teachers catch us hugging that we would get (in-school suspension),” Jackson told local television station KSLA 12.


EDITOR’S NOTE: At a special meeting at 9:30 Tuesday morning, the LA County Board of Supervisors will meet with some of the members of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence in order to discuss the Commission’s 194-page final report. Next week, it is Sheriff Baca’s turn to come in and discuss the CCJV report with the Board of Supes.

So stay tuned.

Posted in arts, Education, immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAUSD, Supreme Court, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 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 »

7 Tips 4 Getting the Most Out of the LA Times Festival of Books

April 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


This weekend the glorious LA Times Festival of Books will be held at its new location on the USC campus,
after 15 years at UCLA.

The line up of authors and other intriguing panelists is, as usual, excellent. (You can find the Saturday and Sunday schedules here.)

Both days are filled with more great events than you can possibly fit in.

So to help you with this pesky dilemma, I’ve devised 7 TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE LATFOB

In no particular order they are:


TIP #1: GO TO SEE MY PANEL (Yes, this is a self-serving pitch, but it’s also a really good panel). Specifically, I am moderating a panel on Sunday, at 2 pm at Taper Hall 101. It’s called History: Democracy and Its Discontents, and the LATFOB folks gave me a GREAT threesome to interview: Barry Siegel, Scott Martelle, and Thaddeus Russell—all of whom have written books that tell of crucial yet unreported times in American history that have deep resonances for the health of our democracy now.

For instance, I’ll be asking my brilliant pal Barry (Siegel) about his book, Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets, which reads with the depth and pacing of a novel as it relates how the American government began its obsession with state secrets—starting with the Supreme Court case that jump started the now, it seems, ever-expanding habit of hiding away any paperwork that might prove inconvenient to those in power.

And then there is Scott Martelle and his book, The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial, which just came out this month and tells the story of the 1949 trial of 11 of the mouthpieces of the then minuscule American Communist Party.

The third panel member is Thaddeus Russell, who I’ll ask about his outrageously original A Renegade History of the United States, a book that tells of many of the unlikely people who affected the course of American cultural and political development, but whose tales of influence rarely seem to turn up in most history books.

It’ll be a dynamic exchange, I promise. So y’all come on down.

Okay, now that the personal pitch is out of the way, here are the other six tips:


TIP # 2: GO TO SEE ANY AND ALL PANELS THAT INVOLVE TOD GOLDBERG. Tod is moderating two on Sunday, and he’s on a third one on Saturday. I don’t think anybody except for LAT book reviewer David Ulin is on that many panels. There’s a reason for this. Tod is fantastically entertaining. By “entertaining” I mean, eye-leakingly funny. Plus he’s really, really smart and…really, really….you know…. literary.


TIP #3: GO TO SEE FATHER GREG BOYLE on Sunday at 11 am at Bovard Auditorium being interviewed by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez. Father Greg is really as good as it gets as speaker. Last year at the FOB, Warren Olney interviewed him and, during one of Greg’s stories, Warren started to tear up, with a quiver in the voice, and all. Most of those in the audience were teary too. But Warren Olney’s a pro’s pro, so you’ve got to really have something unusually moving to say to get Warren to cry.


TIP# 4: GO TO SEE EGGARS AND SMITH—TOGETHER AT LAST. On Saturday, David Ulin will interview musician Patti Smith and writer/novelist/publisher Dave Eggars. at 12:30 at Bovard. No, I have no idea why in the world those two are being interviewed together, but it’s a weirdly inspired idea. I’m betting the combo will alchemize something that you will miss at your own peril. (Yes, I know alchemize isn’t a verb.)


TIP #5: IF YOU’RE A DAVID FOSTER WALLACE FAN (or even if you’re not), GO TO SEE Ulin again at 4 pm on Saturday, this time moderating a panel on DFW and The Pale King with Bonnie Nadell, Wallace’s longtime agent, DT Max, the guy who is writing a book about Wallace (and who wrote that heartbreaking New Yorker piece), and Michael Pietsch, DFW’s editor and the guy who had to knit together the piles of incomplete and fragmented manuscript pages that Wallace left after his suicide, into a….book. (This will be sold out, so get a ticket now, or show up on Wednesday and just camp out for three days. I really don’t think this is too extreme a plan.)


TIP #6: GO TO ANY PANEL FEATURING SOMEONE NAMED AMY. It’s a good basic rule. The Amy strategy will, for example, get you to a couple of panels with the fabulous Advice Goddess and author, Amy Alkon, or with witty Texas grrrll novelist, Amy Wallen, or with the soulful and gifted nonfiction writer, Amy Wilentz, or with the incandescently talented poet, Amy Gerstler.

Alternately, I recommend going to any panel with the word MYSTERY in its title. So Cal has produced some fine mystery writers from Raymond Chandler forward, a vein of literary genre gold that continues to get richer, and the array at this year’s LATFOB is a satisfyingly bright and shiny one—Don Winslow, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, T. Jefferson Parker, and more.


TIP # 7. WALK INTO ANY PANEL RANDOMLY. Seriously. I’ve done this many times over the years and never been disappointed. There are so many wonderful conversations that will take place in front of microphones over that two day period, it’s hard to go wrong.

On Saturday Janet Fitch talks to T.C. Boyle; Robin Abcarian interviews Andrew Breitbart; Garrett Graff of the Washingtonian, Eric Alterman of the Daily Beast and the Nation, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, the Nation’s editor/publisher all talk about Obama; Jennifer Egan and other fictionistas talk about breaking boundaries in fiction—and I have only slightly dented the surface,

On Sunday, the LA Times’ Carolyn Kellogg moderates
Publishing: the New Shape of the Book. featuring Tom Lutz, the editor/publisher of the about-to-launch Los Angeles Review of Books, along with Ethan Nosowsky, editor-at-large, Graywolf Press, …..and…. Oh, you get the picture.


Just plan to go, whatever you do.

We can talk about non-literary news tomorrow.

Posted in American artists, art and culture, arts, literature, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | 3 Comments »

Idiotic PC-ness versus Mark Twain, History, Literature and Intelligent Discourse

January 6th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


If I had to choose one novel above all others to represent the glories of American literature
it would be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It’s not perfect. Many critics, myself included, believe that Twain stumbles slightly when he reintroduces Tom Sawyer in the last quarter of the book. But, like the flaws purposely woven into Navaho rugs so as not to displease the spirits, the fact that this masterpiece has one or two dangling threads only serves to humanize Twain’s incandescent genius.

This week, however, week, NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Montgomery, Alabama, decided it was going to improve on Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by removing some of the icky words notably found in the text.

First among those words is, of course, the “N” word. Nigger. This appears 219 times in Huck Finn. NewSouth has decided to replace the offending word with “slave.”

The publisher has also replaced “injun”—as in Injun Joe”— with “Indian.”

As my friend Tod Goldberg put it on Facebook: “In other news, the latest edition of The Things They Carried will no longer contain mention of the Vietnam war.”

NewSouth’s editing gambit is exactly that mind-bendingly stupid.

Another pal, David Ulin, had this to say in the LA Times:

To give their project credibility, NewSouth teamed with Alan Gribben, chair of the English department at Alabama’s Auburn University, to do the clean-up job. According to Publishers Weekly, Gribben was motivated by his own deep discomfort over the novel’s language and by the reactions of younger readers. “After a number of talks,” he told PW, “I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person, they said we would love to teach … ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ but we feel we can’t do it anymore. In the new classroom, it’s really not acceptable.”

I agree: The N-word is not acceptable -- although I’m not sure “slave” is much of an improvement, with its unthinking conflation of servitude and race. Like professor Gribben, I’ve discussed “Huckleberry Finn” in the classroom, and it is always difficult and awkward to work around that word. This, however, is precisely why it needs to remain part of our experience of “Huckleberry Finn.”

Literature, after all, is not there to reassure us; it’s supposed to reveal us, in all our contradictory complexity. The fact that it makes us uncomfortable is part of the point — like all great art, it demands that we confront our half-truths and self-deceptions, the justifications and evasions by which we measure out our daily lives.

Huck is a perfect case in point, a rebel who can’t reconcile his love for the escaped slave Jim with his cultural indoctrination, who goes back and forth about whether his companion is fully a human being.

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell,” he announces when he finally decides the matter. The choice of words is telling, since in choosing not to return Jim to slavery, Huck articulates the central moral argument of the book. This is the point Twain is making, that there is a difference between custom and conscience, between social convention and the ethics of the individual. At the heart of this is the issue of language, the words we use and how we use them, and what they tell us about the reality we construct.

The passage below from Huck Finn—that Ulin quotes in part— is one of the most important in American letters. To remove the “N word because of its obvious offensiveness is to willfully deny the central point that Twain was making about our nation’s horrifically injurious past in which a boy could, no kidding, believe that he would be condemned to hell for considering a black man a person.

Whitewashing that historically truthful moment in Twain’s book is what causes the real damage-–not the appropriate and contextual use of the wounding word in question.

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter- and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather, right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. HUCK FINN

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking- thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time; in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him agin in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around, and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”- and tore it up.

Yes, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn draws blood.

It’s supposed to.


PS: Both the NY Times and the LA Times have editorials on the matter in their Thursday editions.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….DR. ATUL GWANDE ON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AS TORTURE

Gawande’s 2009 New Yorker article on the topic, “Hellhole” is important and unforgettable. He recaps and expands on the issue on Democracy Now.


OHIO PRISONERS GO ON HUNGER STRIKE AFTER 17-YEARS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

And while we’re on the subject:

… Four prisoners at the supermax Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown have gone on a hunger strike to protest their solitary confinement. Their only demand: that they be moved to the state’s Death Row.

The prisoners—Bomani Shakur, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb
and Namir Abdul Mateen—were sentenced to death for their involvement in the 1993 prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio, in which a guard and several inmates were killed. They have now been in 23-hour-a-day solitary for more than 17 years. Based on the nature of their crime, they are being denied the privileges given others on Death Row in Ohio, and condemned to permanent isolation.

The Youngstown Vindicator has the more complete story.

Posted in academic freedom, American artists, art and culture, arts, Freedom of Information | 36 Comments »

GLOW Santa Monica Happening Tonight, 9/25

September 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



The event known as GLOW Santa Monica will take place Saturday night
, from dusk ’till dawn (7 pm – 3 am). It’s free and features 20 original light installations, art displays and exhibits created by an array of local and international artists for one night and one night only—on Santa Monica Beach, the Santa Monica Pier and Palisades Park.

(The LA Times has more.)

Art….meets beach….meets light. (What’s not to like?)

As to why I’m promoting this? No reason. It just looks like a wonderful thing to do with one’s time on a heat-wave-ish late September Saturday night.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

Posted in art and culture, arts | 3 Comments »

The Morality of “24″

May 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


After 8 seasons, Monday night was the last night of the series, “24.”

Most times, no matter its popularity, a TV series is just a TV series. But in the case of this TV show, when the series’ main character, Jack Bauer, was referenced more than once on the floor of Congress, and Bauer’s actions were trotted out as an exhibit A in the middle of a panel discussion about torture and terrorism law, by none other than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and then in 2007, the Dean of West Point, Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, along with some FBI interrogators and representatives of Human Rights First, traveled to LA to ask the show’s creative team to tone down the torture scenes because of the impact they were having both on troops in the field and America’s reputation abroad. ….I think we can safely say that we’re in some other kind of realm that transcends the “it’s only a TV show” trope.

The series showrunner and exec-producer, Howard Gordon, was on Fresh Air on Monday and had his own answer to the controversy:

“To say that we’ve been some … mouthpiece for some political point of view — it’s not only specious — but I promise you, it is insane. Any fly on the wall and anyone who’s been there would tell you the same. So unfortunately, look — the show is a show for one thing. It’s a thriller in the vein of Bourne Identity or Rambo or Dirty Harry. And the hero finds the bad guy and shakes out of him where the bomb is. And again, the real-time scenario lent itself really well to that. Frankly, for the first five years, I don’t think you could find a single article or op-ed piece that used the word ‘torture’ or described that this was somehow morally repugnant or corrosive or anything. I think what happened was, when Abu Ghraib happened and Guantanamo happened — the show certainly benefited from some kind of post-9/11 wish fulfillment; you had a guy who cut to the chase, who did whatever was necessary, and again there was some wish fulfillment involved — I do think the show experienced some of the blowback. We did understand that the climate had changed, because of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, it had changed. … [A]nd it put us into a conundrum. Honestly, at the end of Season 6 — where Jack had been acting a certain way — we had a choice: Either we renounce the series and admit we’re a bunch of torture-mongering, morally corrosive torture pornographers or we find a way of confronting this issue and this changed world that we’re in. And, in a strange way, it gave us fodder for the seventh season.”

Yes, well…

As a die-hard “24″ fan I have long been ambivalent about some of the show’s script choices, but have hung in faithfully because the delights of the series seemed always to outweigh its unsettling downsides.

(That is with the exception of 2007′s notorious Season 6, which went completely and creepily off the rails, both in terms of its over embrace of brutality, and frankly, in terms of the quality of the writing in general. But then, as Gordon said, it recovered in Season 7 where it articulated some of the moral issues around torture, plus had some very nifty plot twists, so all was forgiven.

Or sort of forgiven. It was somewhat vexing that both Fox and Friends and Glenn Beck—whose moral compasses, such as they ever were, seem to have long ago rusted—became so ooozily enamored of the show in Season 7, that they failed to perceive its ambiguities and still managed to use it as ajustification for torture not a caution against it.)

And, nearly any pronouncement from former “24″ producer, and co-creator, Joel Surnow, was enough to make some of us wonder if we were, oh, I don’t know, risking the health of our immortal souls by watching the show at all. But Surnow is thankfully long gone.

Now the last few hours of Season 8 have taken us into what is, in many ways, the darkest place of all.

In hour 20, we had to watch as Jack coldly executed the latest CTU insider traitor, Dana Walsh. (“24″ has pioneered a whole new class of evil broads—13 female villains in total. They have ranged from the queen of them all, Nina Myers, through the very, very bad first lady, Sherry Palmer, to this season’s Dana Walsh, who managed to project a sort of sloe-eyed, sexy spawn of Satan look that became its own kind of special effect.)

In hour 21, there was the matter of Jack disemboweling the Russian sniper/assassin who killed FBI agent and Bauer paramour, Renee Walker—AKA Jack’s Last Chance for Happiness. Now most of us might honestly have wanted to disembowel the guy too, but most of us also, I trust, would have stopped short of it (even if there was the vague justification of getting the guy’s recently swallowed cell phone sim card).

Hour 22 featured Jack clad in an Imperial storm troopers-like outfit as he prepared to kidnap the divinely Nixonian ex-President Charles Logan who, after seeing the scarily helmeted Bauer approach in the distance, screams in high hysteria to his secret service agent “That’s Jack Bauer, he’s coming to get me!” (A great “24″ moment, as were nearly all of actor Gregory Itzin’s scenes this season.)

Finally, there was the very last two hours—which I am reluctant to give away here if you haven’t yet watched the finale. I can tell you that the poet Rumi was quoted well in a crucial moment of foreshadowing—and that, in the end, everything came down to Jack and Chloe O’Brien—Mary Lynn Rajskub’s sour-faced and fabulously courageous character creation.—which was exactly as it should be.

I can also tell you that, for me anyway, the finale was a worthy two hours with which to cap the best of the eight seasons—complicated, multi-shaded, possessed of the courage of its convictions, and fraught with the knowledge that cleaving to what is just and right and true is the only worthwhile path, no matter the cost (and that there will be a cost), but when the cleaving grows too single-minded and brittle, it has its own soul corroding moral dangers.

So what, in the end did it all mean? Was it only a TV show as its producers say? Was it a pop cultural reflection of our desire for good and evil to be clearly demarcated with bright, shining lines in a manner that real life rarely provides? Or did it start to actually affect in troubling ways the culture it purported to merely reflect in fantastical broad strokes (with no meal times or bathroom breaks)?

Or was it all of the above—and, on occasions, like Monday night, satisfyingly more.

I’ll go with the latter.

What do you think?

Posted in art and culture, arts, Civil Liberties, torture, US Government, writers and writing | 30 Comments »

Michael Jackson: the News Insanity & the Beauty

June 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Michael Jackson – Black Or White (Official Music Video)Watch more funny videos here

I realize I haven’t said anything about the death of Michal Jackson.
For one thing, I have been traveling the past few days, but mostly I have been silent because I found it more than a bit vexing that the news of Jackson’s early and saddening death drove ALL OTHER NEWS OFF THE NETWORKS.

Iran suddenly didn’t exist.

(Hey, I suppose we should count ourselves fortunate that Meet the Press didn’t devote it’s entire newscast to the demise of the Gloved One.)

All that said, this morning after I finally managed to get enough sleep to be a bit more reflective, I rewatched a few of Jackson’s most famous videos and was reminded of his entirely unique talent—and, well, beauty. (Even after he made his face into a science project, he couldn’t erase his innate grace.)

Beat It alone is stupendous. It is, at once, extremely theatrical, and yet grounded in an artistic and emotional authenticity that, 27 years after the fact, is still spectacular to behold.

He was a very troubled man. We know that. And the repetitive necrophilia that our sheep-like national media descends to in instances such as Jackson’s death is predictably wearisome.

Nevertheless, Michael Jackson left a musical legacy that is drenched in beauty and wonder.
The discomfiting peculiarities of his personal life, and the media’s over-the-top postmortem fawning can’t take that away.

Posted in American artists, arts, media | 15 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 »

Zell and The Art of Protest

July 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

zell-hell-the-banner-2.gif

I’m a bit slow on the uptake this morning
so didn’t check my email until just now….or I’d have had this up earlier. Courtesty of Mr. Sam Izdat over at TellZell.

LOS ANGELES, Calif—Merry pranksters scaled a Los Angeles Times building Thursday to unfurl a three-story high banner protesting news cuts by the paper’s owner, real estate billionaire Sam Zell.

The banner was hanging from the historic Times building in downtown Los Angeles. It read: “Zell Hell: Take back the Los Angeles Times.” A website address on the bottom directed the curious to the mysterious protest site by an anonymous Times employee: www.tellzell.com

“Like many of us, he got in over his head in the mortgage crisis,”
said one Times employee who participated in the banner drop. “He can’t afford what he bought. But instead of selling his house, he’s chopping it into pieces.”


The banner was taken down
rather quickly after its unfurling. “The security guards were smiling, though,” reports TellZell.

Kevin Roderick at LA Observed has some speculation as to the identity of Sam Izdat aka the Instained Retch who is the now nationally read blogger behind TellZell. The Retch answers here and says he’s definitely not a union guy, but an LA imes journalist.

Here’s a video of the last moments of the banner drop.

Posted in arts, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers, media, Zell | 6 Comments »

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