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Crime, Justice & Pulitzers….& the LA Times Books Prizes

April 20th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The winners of the LA Times Book Awards were announced Saturday night on the USC campus. It was a grand and glorious night devoted to the celebration of good literature.

(You can find the complete list of winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize here.)

But for those of you who, like me, are criminal justice junkies, (and also reading junkies) the Current Interest nonfiction list of finalists for the LAT prize is one that you should definitely check out.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I was one of the judges for the Current Interest prize.)

We found all five of the books we chose as finalists to be stellar, which meant we struggled to settle on a winner, with several of the books holding the top spot at one point in the judging or other.

The five were:

Atul Gawande,Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End”

Jeff Hobbs, “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League

Bryan Stevenson, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Matt Taibbi, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap”

Héctor Tobar, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

These are all important books that each read with the narrative urgency of a novel. Yet, obviously, not all deal with justice issues:

Atul Gwande’s essential “Being Mortal,” is about the limits of medicine and how well or poorly we deal with aging and dying.

Hector Tobar’s brilliant “Deep, Down, Dark” tells the remarkable tale of the 33 trapped Chilean miners, their rescue and the aftermath.

But then there is Matt Taibbi’s “The Divide, which lays out, in relentlessly reported detail, stories of investment banks, hedge funds and short-sellers, many of whom commit extravagant crimes without being held to account, juxtaposed with the poor, whom Taibbi shows being locked up on the flimsiest of pretexts.

And there is Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy,” which recounts-–with stories that come from Stevenson’s own experience as a public interest lawyer—the many different and devastating ways that brutality, unfairness, and racial bias continue to infect criminal law in the United States

And finally there is the winner: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs.

Although the issue of race and justice is one of the many threads that wind through Hobbes’ haunting narrative about his near-genius Yale roommate who is shot to death in a marijuana deal gone bad, it is merely one thread in a complex and unforgettable interweave.

Here’s what we judges wrote when we turned our selection in to the Times.

We know the ending of the story before we open The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, yet when we arrive at the moment foretold by this important book’s title, author Hobbs has engaged us so completely that we wish to reach inside the narrative and roll back time, to make the finale play out differently, to force the spectacularly gifted, charismatic, courageous and painfully conflicted Peace to walk quickly in another direction. Hobbs’ deeply reported and mesmerizing work of literary journalism avoids easy assumptions, while offering us many satisfying gifts and troubling questions.

So read it. Hell, read ‘em all. You won’t be sorry.


LA Times book prizes were on Saturday, then the Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday and, among the winners and finalists, there were some works of extraordinarily fine journalism pertaining to the world of crime, justice, and juvenile welfare that you shouldn’t miss. To wit:


The Pulitzer’s top journalism prize for Public Service was awarded to the staff members of the Charleston Post-Courier for their shattering series, Till Death Do Us Part, about South Carolina’s murder rate for women, which is twice that of the nation’s.

Here’s a clip from Part I:

More than 300 women were shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death over the past decade by men in South Carolina, dying at a rate of one every 12 days while the state does little to stem the carnage from domestic abuse.

More than three times as many women have died here at the hands of current or former lovers than the number of Palmetto State soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

It’s a staggering toll that for more than 15 years has placed South Carolina among the top 10 states nationally in the rate of women killed by men. The state topped the list on three occasions, including this past year, when it posted a murder rate for women that was more than double the national rate.

Awash in guns, saddled with ineffective laws and lacking enough shelters for the battered, South Carolina is a state where the deck is stacked against women trapped in the cycle of abuse, a Post and Courier investigation has found.

Couple this with deep-rooted beliefs about the sanctity of marriage and the place of women in the home, and the vows “till death do us part” take on a sinister tone.

Consider 25-year-old Erica Olsen of Anderson, who was two months pregnant when her boyfriend stabbed her 25 times in front of her young daughter in October 2006. Or Andrenna Butler, 72, whose estranged husband drove from Pennsylvania to gun her down in her Newberry home in December. Or 30-year-old Dara Watson, whose fiancé shot her in the head at their Mount Pleasant home and dumped her in a Lowcountry forest in February 2012 before killing himself.

Interviews with more than 100 victims, counselors, police, prosecutors and judges reveal an ingrained, multi-generational problem in South Carolina, where abusive behavior is passed down from parents to their children. Yet the problem essentially remains a silent epidemic, a private matter that is seldom discussed outside the home until someone is seriously hurt.

“We have the notion that what goes on between a couple is just between the couple and is none of our business,” said 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, chief prosecutor for Charleston and Berkeley counties. “Where that analysis goes wrong is we have to remember that couple is training their little boy that this is how he treats women and training their little girl that this is what she should expect from her man. The cycle is just perpetual.”


One of the co-winners of the Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting was Eric Lipton of the New York Times for his very disturbing stories showing how the influence of congressional lobbyists can slant justice toward the wealthy and connected—which is a definite must read.

The other co-winner was the Wall Street Journal staff for “Medicare Unmasked,” a remarkable project “that gave Americans unprecedented access to previously confidential data on the motivations and practices of their health care providers.”

But it is the runner-up for Investigative Reporting that we want to draw to your attention. It is a searing investigative report by Chicago Tribune journalists David Jackson, Gary Marx and Duaa Eldeib, about Illinois residential treatment centers for juveniles where kids are mistreated in ghastly ways.

Here’s a clip:

In residential treatment centers across Illinois, children are assaulted, sexually abused and running away by the thousands — yet state officials fail to act on reports of harm and continue sending waves of youths to the most troubled and violent facilities, a Tribune investigation found.

At a cost to taxpayers of well over $200 million per year, the residential centers promise round-the-clock supervision and therapy to state wards with histories of abuse and neglect, as well as other disadvantaged youths with mental health and behavioral problems. On any given day, about 1,400 wards live in the centers, although far more cycle through each year.

In the best cases, the facilities rebuild and even save young lives. But the Tribune found that many underprivileged youths — most of them African-American — are shuttled for years from one grim institution to another before emerging more damaged than when they went in.

Reports of patient-on-patient sexual assault are commonplace at some of Illinois’ largest and most relied-on facilities. Child prostitution schemes take root. Vulnerable children are terrorized by older ones and taught a life of crime. Some are preyed on sexually by the adults paid to care for them. And staggering numbers of wards, some as young as 10, flee to the streets.


In the category of Features, the winner was Diana Marcum of the Los Angeles Times for her compassionate and piercing dispatches from California’s Central Valley as its residents cope with the drought.

But it is the work of finalist Jennifer Gonnerman writing for the New Yorker, that we want to direct you toward. Her story about 16-year-old Kalief Browder who was accused of taking a backpack, a crime he maintained in the face enormous pressure, that he didn’t commit. As a consequence, Browder spent more than a thousand days at Rikers Island—many of them in solitary confinement—with no conviction before the district attorney simply dismissed the case.

With much of his adolescence simply lost to the system, Browder is working to make something of his life as he battles the ever-present emotional wounds of those frightening years inside Rikers.

Here’s a clip:

Browder’s brother…noticed a growing tendency toward despair. When Browder talked about his case, he was “strong, adamant: ‘No, they can’t do this to me!’ ” But, when the conversation turned to life in jail, “it’s a totally different personality, which is depressed. He’s, like, ‘I don’t know how long I can take this.’ ”

Browder got out of the Bing [solitary] in the fall of 2011, but by the end of the year he was back—after yet another fight, he says. On the night of February 8, 2012—his six-hundred-and-thirty-fourth day on Rikers—he said to himself, “I can’t take it anymore. I give up.” That night, he tore his bedsheet into strips, tied them together to make a noose, attached it to the light fixture, and tried to hang himself. He was taken to the clinic, then returned to solitary. Browder told me that his sheets, magazines, and clothes were removed—everything except his white plastic bucket.

On February 17th, he was shuttled to the courthouse once again, but this time he was not brought up from the court pen in time to hear his case called. (“I’ll waive his appearance for today’s purposes,” his lawyer told the judge.) For more than a year, he had heard various excuses about why his trial had to be delayed, among them that the prosecutor assigned to the case was on trial elsewhere, was on jury duty, or, as he once told the judge, had “conflicts in my schedule.” If Browder had been in the courtroom on this day, he would have heard a prosecutor offer a new excuse: “Your Honor, the assigned assistant is currently on vacation.” The prosecutor asked for a five-day adjournment; Browder’s lawyer requested March 16th, and the judge scheduled the next court date for then.

The following night, in his solitary cell on Rikers, Browder shattered his plastic bucket by stomping on it, then picked up a piece, sharpened it, and began sawing his wrist. He was stopped after an officer saw him through the cell window and intervened.

Browder was still on Rikers Island in June of 2012, when his high-school classmates collected their diplomas, and in September, when some of them enrolled in college. In the fall, prosecutors offered him a new deal: if he pleaded guilty, he’d get two and a half years in prison, which meant that, with time served, he could go home soon. “Ninety-nine out of a hundred would take the offer that gets you out of jail,” O’Meara told me. “He just said, ‘Nah, I’m not taking it.’ He didn’t flinch. Never talked about it. He was not taking a plea.”


And, we don’t want to forget, in the category of Breaking News, the LA Times staff was a finalist for their quick and excellent coverage of the Isla Vista shooting rampage. “The staff mobilized reporters in the middle of the night to cover a deadly spree near the campus of UC Santa Barbara that left seven dead, including the killer, and wounding 13,” said the Times in announcing the honor.

Posted in art and culture, arts, Books, children and adolescents, Civil Rights, criminal justice, journalism, writers and writing | No Comments »

Conviction Integrity Units, Race-Based Lockdowns, 30 House Dems Concerned by US Immigration, and a Nathaniel Ayers Update

October 29th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


As part of a growing trend to combat wrongful convictions, prosecutors offices across the US—including in Dallas, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Santa Clara County (see below), and the US Attorney in DC (above)—are establishing “conviction integrity” watchdog systems. (And back in August, we pointed to this Mother Jones story about a Florida public defender’s office using a group of former police officers for investigating claims of prosecutorial misconduct and bad police work.)

Now, Oregon’s Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill has nominated a veteran prosecutor to investigate innocence claims, as well as update plea deal policies, and examine how cops utilize photo lineups and confidential informants.

The Oregonian’s Maxine Bernstein has the story. Here’s a clip:

“It’s our job to do it right in the first place and double-check our work if we need to,” Underhill said.

Russ Ratto, a 35-year Multnomah County prosecutor, will start in the new job Monday.

Ratto will review claims of innocence after convictions have occurred and update office protocols on everything from prosecutors’ obligations on sharing evidence with defense attorneys to how to use eyewitness identification of suspects.

Underhill said he hopes that assigning one deputy to the work will improve the ability to track the cases and boost public confidence in the county’s prosecutions. In the past, he said, a number of prosecutors throughout the office have juggled the cases, but there was no central contact.

“We want to make sure we’re using the best practices to obtain the best convictions so we don’t have to ask later ‘Was a mistake made?’” Ratto said. “We think we’ve got a good criminal justice system here, but we want to maintain the public confidence going forward.”

Other prosecutors’ offices are doing the same thing, including in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Dallas, Philadelphia, Denver and California’s Santa Clara County, according to the Center for Prosecutor Integrity.

“This is a very important movement in our nation’s criminal justice system,” said board member Everett Bartlett of the Center for Prosecutor Integrity. The center started in 2010 with a mission to end wrongful convictions and promote prosecutor ethics.

Until the advent of forensic DNA testing in 1989, we “assumed our criminal justice system was operating very effectively and very accurately,” Bartlett said. Since then, he said, more than 1,000 people convicted of crimes have been exonerated. The majority have not been due to DNA analysis, but due to false confessions or problems in witness identification.

California’s Santa Clara County’s Conviction Integrity Unit is headed by David Angel. The San Jose Mercury’s Tracey Kaplan has a worthwhile 2011 story about Angel and his appointment. Here’s how it opens:

Mention Santa Clara University’s esteemed Innocence Project and most prosecutors cringe. They see the legal advocacy group that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people as out to get them.

But not David Angel, the prosecutor named this month to head the newly re-established Conviction Integrity Unit in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

Not only does he not fear the project, he also is teaching a wrongful conviction class alongside Cookie Ridolfi, director of the Northern California Innocence Project at the Santa Clara University School of Law.

It’s not that Angel holds prosecutors solely responsible when people are sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. He will forcefully point out that defense attorneys, mistaken eyewitness identifications and false confessions contribute to plenty of wrongful convictions. But Angel is devoted to making certain that the 170 prosecutors in Santa Clara County do all they can to get their cases right.

“He’s a model of a good prosecutor,” said Ridolfi.

As head of the Conviction Integrity Unit, Angel will review cases in which an allegation of a wrongful conviction has been made, examine office policies, serve as crime lab liaison and take charge of training prosecutors on a number of topics, including ethics.


Last week, the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to end race-determined prisoner lockdowns triggered after a riot or other violent incident, settling a six-year-long class action lawsuit. The suit was originally filed on behalf of black inmates at High Desert State Prison who were confined to their cells for 14 months without access to outdoor exercise or rehabilitation programs, but was broadened to apply to all state prisoners.

An LA Times editorial says punishment based on race should not be used in detention facilities, that inmates should only have to account for their own actions, not the actions of every other inmate of the same race. Here’s a clip:

Racial segregation and discriminatory treatment of populations by race are, prison officials argued, important tools for combating violence. Squeamishness about such responses was a luxury afforded to outsiders who didn’t have to deal with the reality of prison conditions.

In fact, though, racial segregation is at best a temporary option to quickly defuse violence, but unnecessary and corrosive as an ongoing policy; and race-based punishment is an evil that goes to the heart of the American experience and cannot be countenanced in the justice system….

Inside prison walls, just as outside, people should expect that they will be treated according to their actions and not be made to pay for the transgressions, real or perceived, of others of the same race or ethnicity. Society’s failure to abide by that precept is intertwined with the history of crime and punishment and is exacerbated when race-based policies govern prison populations.


On Tuesday, over 30 House Democrats signed a letter to President Barack Obama sharing concerns about how the US is handling of immigrant detention and deportation, especially with regard to women and children fleeing violence from their home countries.

Politico’s Seung Min Kim has more on the letter. Here are some clips:

“At the current rates, within one year this administration will have increased capacity to detain immigrant women and children by more than 4,000 percent,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who spearheaded Tuesday’s letter. “As the law requires, there needs to be a better assessment in place to appropriately screen and assess these women and children, many of whom are fleeing violence, torture or persecution in Central America.”


In Tuesday’s letter, House Democrats said it is “critical” that none of the families who are currently detained be deported until officials ensure they won’t be sent back to dangerous conditions – such as persecution or torture – in their home countries.

The Democratic lawmakers added that they are “concerned that the rapid expansion of family detention is being done in a manner that fails to meet the unique needs of parents and children.”


For KCET’s SoCal Connected, LA Times’ Steve Lopez catches up with Nathaniel Ayers, the formerly homeless, Juilliard-trained musician who is the subject of Lopez’s book (and subsequent film) “The Soloist.” Lopez sits in on the recording of Ayers’ album, Putting on Ayers, the proceeds of which will fund mental health agencies’ art programs.

Posted in arts, immigration, Innocence, Mental Illness, prison policy | 3 Comments »

Supes Terminate Contract with LA Works over $1M in Overcharges, San Quentin’s Award-Winning Newspaper, and an Arts Initiative for Low-Achieving Schools

May 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to end LA County’s contract with LA Works, an agency that provides employment training services to inmates and the unemployed, after audits found the organization had overcharged the Sheriff’s Dept. and the Dept. of Community and Senior Services nearly $1 million. The job training jail classes run by LA Works will likely be suspended for two weeks while the board negotiates a contract with the second lowest bidder, Five Keys Charter School.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

LA Works, an Irwindale-based joint-powers agency that provides workforce development services, was given a sole source contract in 2011 to teach job training and life skills classes in the jails. A recent county audit found that it had overbilled the Sheriff’s Department by about $133,000 for staff time spent on non-sheriff’s programs and for vacation, sick and holiday leave costs that were earned before the contract started.

A separate audit found LA Works had overbilled the county’s Department of Community and Senior Services more than $850,000 on an on-the-job training program for unemployed and underemployed residents. Under that program, LA Works was to help people find jobs and would then pay a portion of their wages during their training period.

Auditors found that the agency billed the county for training people who had already been hired, including nurses making $32 an hour, which the auditors noted “is well over the self-sufficiency wage of $11.84 per hour” that is the most someone can earn and still qualify for the program.

LA Works initially argued that the on-the-job training bills were proper, but after auditors released a follow-up report, the agency changed its stance and agreed to repay the money. The agency did not dispute the overbilling in the Sheriff’s Department and has repaid the money, according to an audit report…

The contract for programming in the jails expires this month. LA Works was the lowest bidder on a new $32-million, six-year contract to provide the services.

But county Supervisor Gloria Molina, citing the “significant and unallowable” overbilling, proposed Tuesday that the board direct the Sheriff’s Department to instead negotiate a contract with the next-lowest bidder, Five Keys Charter School.

(LA Daily News’ Richard Irwin also reported on this issue.)


San Quentin State Prison may be notorious for being California’s only death row facility for male prisoners, but it is also home to the state’s only prisoner-run paper, San Quentin News. The monthly paper is circulated among 17 other prisons thanks to subscriptions, grants, and donations. San Quentin News, which recently won a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, provides inmates with an important creative outlet and helps build writing and communication skills. (You can read the current issue on the newspaper’s website here.)

The NY Times’ Patricia Leigh Brown has more on the paper and the men who run it. Here are some clips:

Founded in 1940 and then revived as a serious journalistic enterprise six years ago, the monthly News, which bills itself as “The Pulse of San Quentin,” is the state’s only inmate-produced newspaper and one of the few in the world. The paper’s 15 staff members, all of them male felons, write from the unusual perspective of having served an estimated 297 ½ years collectively for burglary, murder, home invasion, conspiracy and, in one case, a Ponzi scheme.

In a notorious prison best known for its death row, the men are committed to what Juan Haines, the 56-year-old managing editor, who is serving 55 years to life for that 1996 bank robbery, calls “boots on the ground” journalism, accomplished without cellphones or direct Internet access. “It’s about being heard in a place that’s literally shut off from the world,” he said.

From their newsroom trailer next to the prison yard, where inmates work out amid spectacular views, the reporters and editors delve into issues at “the Q,” as San Quentin State Prison is sometimes called, as well as those far beyond its walls. They have covered a hunger strike, crowding in California’s women’s prisons and a federal court order concerning mental health care for California death row inmates.

But the paper specializes in stories that can be written only by journalists with a “uniquely visceral understanding of the criminal justice system,” said Arnulfo T. Garcia, the paper’s editor in chief, who is serving 65 years to life for a long list of crimes that includes burglary, robbery and skipping bail to flee to Mexico.

Lately, the paper seems to be gathering momentum. Editors, who sometimes work through dinner over ramen noodles, are talking about expanding the current circulation of 11,500. Students from the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership at the University of California, Berkeley, have helped them develop a 12-year business plan that would increase the number of paid subscribers to help subsidize the free copies for inmates.


Robert L. Ayers Jr., a former San Quentin warden who retired in 2008, said that positive outlets were important for prisoners. He said he decided to revive the publication as a quality journalistic endeavor rather than what he called an “inmate rant rag.”

“When they get involved and see they’re accomplishing something, that could be the one positive tick mark in the ‘good’ column for them,” he said. In learning how to write, he added, “they start expressing themselves in ways other than physical or violent means.”


On Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the expansion of Turnaround Arts, an initiative from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, that uses art education to help bridge the academic achievement gap at low-performing schools nationwide. Ten high-poverty California schools serving 6,000 kids will receive musical instruments, art supplies, and other help from art organizations. (Turnaround Arts was piloted in 2012 at eight schools, helping to bring up attendance, lower discipline numbers, and boost kids’ grades.)

KPCC’s Mary Plummer has the story. Here’s a clip:

The program infuses arts education access into struggling schools by providing musical instruments, art supplies, professional development for teachers and help from arts organizations. It began as a national initiative from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and expands into six new states in the Fall.

California’s program will be the largest, serving 6,000 students in Kings, San Bernardino, San Diego, Los Angeles, Alameda, Monterey, Humboldt, Jan Joaquin and Contra Costa counties this fall. All of the schools are within the bottom five percent of the most challenged schools in the country, according to the selection criteria.

“I hope it means that arts education will become a model for all schools in the future,” said architect Frank Gehry, one of several high-profile artists recruited to work with the schools. Gehry and former California Arts Council chair Malissa Feruzzi Shriver are spearheading the effort in California.

Other big names that have signed on include Jason Mraz, Forest Whitaker, Rashida Jones, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Marc Anthony, Tim Robbins, Chad Smith, Kerry Washington and Russell Simmons.

Turnaround Arts launched in May 2012 at eight low-achieving schools across the country. Officials said discipline dropped by nearly 80 percent at some schools and that English and math scores rose. They also credited the arts instruction with bringing up attendance and enrollment numbers.

Posted in arts, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison | No Comments »

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

May 29th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


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 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.


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.”


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


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


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.


“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.


“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.


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.


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


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 »

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