• The Persistence of Memory

    Nostalgia for a Past that No Longer Exists

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher

    Nostalgia hangs over this harbor area like overcast clouds on one of those days that brings a chill off the Pacific Ocean near Sunken City. It lingers for a time around the quaint Weymouth Corners shopping district like Mayberry, from the old Andy Griffith Show and then drifts down the stair-steps of Vista del Oro to the historic district of San Pedro.

    At certain moments, I think that parts of this town are stuck in a time capsule, like the brick storefronts on 6th Street or the façade of the Warner Grand Theatre. They’re throwbacks to Art Deco and this town’s boom time in the pre- and post-World War II eras.

    Other times, I imagine the sounds of the thousands of workers who trekked down this street to cross the main channel to the fish canneries, shipyards and docks. The old ferry is gone. The shipyards are diminished and all the canneries have moved offshore except for one.

    San Pedro’s once mighty fishing fleet, at one point the largest on the West Coast, is now relegated to catching sardines and squid—profitable for the few remaining boats—but not like in the glory days of tuna fishing.

    And the once gracious Catalina Steamer, now a rusting, decaying wreck in Ensenada Bay, is but a memory that only a few still recall.

    The dreams and memories of yesteryear abound. William Faulkner, in reflection on such things said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” If you’ve ever read anything by Faulkner, you’d know that’s probably one of the shortest summaries on the subject he ever penned.

    All of this brings me to the point of why I’m writing today about our incessant struggle to address the present and our challenge of imagining the future. It seems like every time this community is confronted with anything new, like a plan for the waterfront, improving Gaffey Street or even rebranding something old, we get our feet stuck in this thing called “the past.” By the way, I don’t think this is just our problem. It’s a problem that is shared with any place that is older than the city of Irvine.

    As Americans, especially those born in California, we have this constant sense that we can reinvent ourselves, our places and perhaps even our histories. To some extent it seems true. Think of Hollywood and its dream machine.

    Yet, here in the San Pedro Bay, with our reliance on global trade and a blue collar work ethic, reinvention here seems harder than in most places. Here, the anchor of our past is shackled to the bow of our memories.

    Unlike many other places in Los Angeles, or the rest of this state, that regularly bulldozes its past, San Pedro has ardently clung onto its history with museums, monuments and some fervent preservation.

    Yet, most of what we think of this historic past is wrapped up in some form of childhood memory, myth or half-truth about the “good ol’ days.”

    What I have often observed is much of what we are confronting now is not much different than what our predecessors dealt with. Many historic solutions to waterfront access for example, are applicable today. Does anyone remember the viaduct that connected the lower part of 14th Street to where the commercial fish market is today? It was a direct link for the workers to get to the fishing boats.

    The same could be said about the old routes of the Red Cars connecting the port to downtown Los Angeles and beyond, or the Terminal Island ferry. All of these things are lost but not forgotten in our pursuit of some uncertain future.

    Yet, the San Pedro Harbor Area is an anomaly in California in that the memory of its past surpasses any desire of erasure. Typically, such places only realize belatedly how much was actually lost.

    By comparison, San Francisco never gave up its trolley cars and preserves its grand Victorian architecture. Venice preserved its canals and Santa Barbara its Mission District.

    We have what’s left of our historic downtown and the adjoining Vinegar Hill Historic Preservation District—a district that was recently expanded after years of study. What lies in store in the future of our waterfront? How will this harbor community, so distant from the epicenter of Los Angeles political power, connect to both itself and the vast metropolis to the north?

    I’m not so sure that the great minds of our day have any better solutions to the problems of the present than our ancestors did in theirs. The difference, however, is that they didn’t have a historical perspective or even a single foot in the past. After all, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat mistakes.

    Others will just look back with a pining sense of nostalgia, while some will look at the past as a tool to create the future. Beware of those who tell you, “Don’t look back.”


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  • From Selma to Ferguson

    Racial Progress Does Not Just Happen, it is the Product of Struggle

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    The weekend of March 7 and 8 marked the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala., the day that a planned march of 600 people from Selma to Montgomery was met with a wave of police violence—including the billy club beating of future Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

    The day shocked the nation and prompted the introduction and passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the first comprehensive effort in almost a century to enforce the voting rights of blacks (as well as other minorities) originally guaranteed by the 15th Amendment in 1870. About 100 Congress members were in attendance, including 23 Republicans, none of whom had signed on to co-sponsor Lewis’ Voting Rights Amendment Act, designed to repair much of the damage done to the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013.

    A few days earlier, on March 4, the U.S. Department of Justice released its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri, which found a revenue-driven pattern and practice of racist policing, including systemic violations of the First and Fourth amendments. Although Ferguson’s mayor, James Knowles III, initially disputed the report, saying “[t]here is probably another side to all of these stories,” a wave of resignations soon followed, including Ferguson’s city manager, John Shaw, Police Chief Thomas Jackson and Municipal Judge Ronald Brockmeyer.

    In combination, the two events starkly illustrated America’s intractable inability and unwillingness to live up to its ideals of liberty and justice for all, particularly where African-Americans are concerned. While great strides have been taken in brief bursts from time to time, not only are the ideals still out of reach, but our progress toward them remains uncertain at best. It is commonly reversed in daily practice in the absence of sustained organizing and constant vigilance.

    “We’re a country that lurches back and forth. We’re lurching backwards now,” said Bob Moses, a legendary voter registration leader in 1960s Mississippi.

    While many were eager to commemorate Bloody Sunday’s 50th Anniversary, few were willing to celebrate it, and the Justice Department’s Ferguson report vividly illustrated why.

    “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the city’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs,” the report stated. “This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing.”

    The report followed the filing of a class action lawsuit in February, charging that Ferguson and nearby Jennings both ran debtors prisons, which have been illegal in America for almost two centuries. Lawyers filing the suits charged that “[p]eople are held in jail as a means of coercion to get them to pay fines, with police and jail officials arbitrarily changing the amount of fines to coerce family members or friends to bring enough cash to satisfy the amount owed.”

    Moreover, although it’s extreme, Ferguson is hardly unique, as dozens of other municipalities in St. Louis County engage in similar practices. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch cited the example of Erwin Rush, 50, of St. Louis, who “has been trying to climb out of traffic court debt for 20 years,” and currently owes more than $4,500 to six municipalities.

    Extortion Racket

    “The city budgets for sizeable increases in municipal fines and fees each year exhorts police and court staff to deliver those revenue increases, and closely monitors whether those increases are achieved,” the DOJ report states in a summary section titled “Focus on Generating Revenue.”

    It added that “City officials routinely urge Chief Jackson to generate more revenue through enforcement.” For example, “[I]n March 2013, the finance director wrote to the city manager: ‘Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5 percent. I did ask the chief if he thought the PD could deliver a 10 percent increase. He indicated they could try.’”

    Unsurprisingly, the report adds, “Ferguson police officers from all ranks told us that revenue generation is stressed heavily within the police department, and that the message comes from city leadership. The evidence we reviewed supports this perception.”

    Turning the police department into a de facto extortion ring is bad enough, but of course, it has terrible spillover effects as well, and it’s spelled out in the next section, “Police Practices:”

    This culture within FPD influences officer activities in all areas of policing, beyond just ticketing. Officers expect and demand compliance even when they lack legal authority. They are inclined to interpret the exercise of free speech rights as unlawful disobedience, innocent movements as physical threats, indications of mental or physical illness as belligerence… The result is a pattern of stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment; infringement on free expression, as well as retaliation for protected expression, in violation of the First Amendment; and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

    With this kind of everyday institutional baseline, Darren Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown might almost seem inevitable—given long enough, these sorts of attitudes were bound to have such an effect. But the pervasiveness of such arrogant, paranoid and illegal attitudes and behavior arguably only makes it more difficult to assign individual responsibility to Wilson, which is part of the reason he was not charged with a federal crime.

    Still, the lack of provable, specific, racist intent on Wilson’s part does nothing to alter the cultural and historical significance of killing an unarmed black youth, which remains rooted in the logic of total white institutional control of black bodies, for which slavery remains the prototype. We can see this logic played out in another example cited in the report.

    The report notes that “[E]ven relatively routine misconduct by Ferguson police officers can have significant consequences for the people whose rights are violated,” as it introduces the ordeal of a 32-year-old African-American man whose “crime” was simply sitting in his car cooling off after playing basketball in a public park. An officer demanded his Social Security number and identification, accused him of being a pedophile (there were children in the park!), ordered him out of his car for a pat-down, and asked to search his car—all without any reason at all. When the man objected, citing his constitutional rights, he was arrested at gunpoint and charged with eight violations of Ferguson’s municipal code, including a charge of “making a false declaration” for giving the short form of his first name (e.g., “Mike” instead of “Michael”), a charge for not wearing a seat belt, even though he was parked, and other equally ludicrous charges. As a result “he lost his job as a contractor with the federal government that he had held for years.”

    Echoes of History

    The role of police in controlling, regulating, and extracting wealth from African-Americans has changed form over time, starting with the earliest slave patrols, the origins of Southern law enforcement institutions, but some features recur in different forms generations and even centuries apart.

    On MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, highlighted one such parallel—the ongoing game of keep-away between different government bodies to protect who would get to keep the black wealth they had plundered.

    “This is the efficiency at its best,” Muhammad said of Ferguson’s system. “They said, ‘We’re charging people with as many citations as possible, and we’re going to make sure that it’s municipal violations, because we don’t want to send these people into the state system, because we will lose revenue.’”

    This practice, one way or another, dates back as far as the end of slavery, he noted.

    “In the state of Alabama in the decades following the Civil War, county regulators, county officials, competed with state officials as to whether black people would be charged to serve on the chain gang, which would serve the needs of the county, versus convicts’ leases which would serve the needs of the state.”

    But it didn’t end there.

    “They also have perverse incentives in Alabama running right up to the days of the 1960s and Selma, where the sheriffs were incentivized, along with law enforcement and deputies, to be paid based on how much activity they engaged in arresting people,” he noted. “So, the long arm of history is crashed into the present in terms of what’s going on in Ferguson.”

    True to form, one response from Missouri lawmakers has been to propose a law that would cap how much money municipalities can get from their courts, redirecting the excess into state coffers.

    Voting Rights and Wrongs

    Meanwhile, the Selma remembrance itself was profoundly marred by the ongoing undermining of voting rights, facilitated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder, striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which Rep. Lewis called “a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act,” and by the ongoing refusal of congressional Republicans to pass any sort of fix which would hold jurisdictions with a history of violations to stricter scrutiny. This has cleared the way for an unprecedented rise in voter suppression laws, largely justified by the nonexistent problem of voter fraud, which even the Justice Department under George W. Bush could not manage to find more than a handful of prosecutable cases of in eight years of trying.

    “From 2011 to 2015, 395 new voting restrictions have been introduced in 49 states (Idaho is the lone exception),” investigative journalist Ari Berman wrote just before the Selma remembrance. “Half the states in the country have adopted measures making it harder to vote.” Berman is the author of the forthcoming book, Give Us The Ballot: The Modern Struggle For Voting Rights in America. A 2013 University of Massachusetts study of proposed restrictions from 2006 to 2011 found that “proposal and passage are highly partisan, strategic and racialized affairs. These findings are consistent with a scenario in which the targeted demobilization of minority voters and African Americans is a central driver of recent legislative developments.” There was a “dramatic increase in restrictive legislation that actually passed in 2011,” following widespread GOP gains in controlling legislatures after the 2010 midterms.

    Although the Voting Rights Act has enjoyed strong bipartisan support through four reauthorization votes (1970, 1975, 1982, 2006), most recently passing 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House, the GOP has lurched sharply to the right racially since the last reauthorization, particularly after Obama’s election in 2008. As a result, Rep. Lewis’ compromise Voting Rights Act Amendment, which only partially restores Section 4, has only 11 GOP co-sponsors in the House and none in the Senate—in sharp contrast to the unanimous vote for a bill honoring the foot soldiers of the Selma movement. As mentioned above, none of the 23 congressional Republicans who came to Selma had signed on to co-sponsor Lewis’ amendment.

    The disconnect between honoring heroes of the past while opposing everything they stood for could not have been more stark.

    “I just want some accountability,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said. “I want to know that everyone who showed up here today to have their picture taken on the bridge next to the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement is ready to support a new Voting Rights Act. Every one of them.”

    Berman, reporting from Selma, held out a glimmer of hope. “A number of Republicans I interviewed expressed a newfound openness on the issue after spending time in Alabama with Lewis,” he wrote in The Nation. But only one of those he cited, Rep. Tom Reed, a Republican from upstate New York, explicitly said he would sponsor the Voting Rights Act Amendment when he returned. Others merely expressed a willingness to consider it. Unsurprisingly, some Alabama Republicans remained clearly opposed.

    The lack of movement should not be surprising in light of how things work in Ferguson. As long as one group can be cut out of power, they will naturally be cut out of consideration. For decades now, Republicans have depended on keeping some small shred of respectability alive when it comes to race. But after the 2010 midterms, that effort and that era seem gone for good. With gerrymandering to secure safe House districts, low voter turnout in midterms, and sweeping new voter-suppression laws for presidential election years, the GOP looks to be digging in to build yet another incarnation of white America pretending to be all of America.

    Historically, the only way to challenge that polished illusion is to break through its superficial display of competence, control and calm. That’s what the Civil Rights Movement did, over and over and over again, including 50 years ago at Selma. It takes a spectacular, shocking event to move the country’s conscience, but such events can be years in the making. Bob Moses explained this on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show:

    Basically, there were a few young people who came out of the sit-in movement, who decided they really didn’t want to live in the country unless they could change it. And so it was 24/7, it was not anymore about a career, or even family, it was about doing the work to change the country. But it was work it was done outside of the media. So it was work that laid the groundwork for the big media events.

    Diane Nash, another student movement leader of that era, amplified what Moses said:

    It is not possible to have a mass demonstration in the movement without that door-to-door organizing, door-to-door—person-to-person education. And that’s what it would take, at this point, really organizing. I see the young people now, a few years ago in the Occupy Movement, and now in the Hands Up Movement, and I say they are on the right track.

    We citizens of the country had better not leave what needs to be done up to elected officials, because they will not do it. Citizens need to take the interests of this country into our own hands, learn how to use nonviolence and do it. I like to say, suppose we had waited for elected officials to desegregate lunch counters and public accommodations. We would be waiting right now. As citizens, we need to do what needs to be done.


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  • Marilyn Forever Brings the Star to the Warner

    By John Farrell, Curtain Call columnist

    The Warner Grand in San Pedro was built for movie premiers.

    In its long and sometimes illustrious career, it was home, at least for a few hours, to some big Hollywood celebrities.

    But as far as anyone can figure out, Marilyn Monroe was not one of them.

    That will change March 21, when Long Beach Opera presents Marilyn Forever, an opera by Gavin Bryars with a libretto by Marilyn Bowering, at the Warner Grand. There will be a second performance on March 29 at 2:30 p.m.

    This is the work’s U.S. premier. It comes only two weeks after it was performed in Adelaide, Australia at the Adelaide Festival. It had its world premier in Victoria, British Columbia in 2012.
    The Long Beach Opera is having two women play the part of Marilyn–soprano Jamie Chamberlin as the on-stage Marilyn, and mezzo-soprano Danielle Marcelle Bond as the off-stage, introspective Marilyn.

    That’s a change from the other productions, a change in concept for this production by artistic and general director Andreas Mitisek. Bill Linwood is conducting the nine-piece orchestra and jazz combo, whose bass player is composer Gavin Bryars.

    “This opera is a blank slate of sorts,” Mitisek said in a phone interview. “It’s the kind of production we often do, where we have to create a new work from just the score and libretto. That’s why we have two Marilyns–Jamie Chamberlin as the starlet Marilyn, and Danielle Marcelle Bond as the private one, the one alone in her bedroom, the one who is often overlooked in this story.”

    Marilyn Monroe’s life story is public domain. We know she was not just the platinum blonde trope she played in her iconic films, but was raised by a mentally ill, single mother. Married at 16, she was a successful model before becoming a film starlet. Though she played a “dumb blonde” often enough, she was actually an intellectual. She was also a lonely person who never found the affection and love she needed. Her early death, which some believe to have been a suicide, carved her legend in stone.

    Bryars approached this work through the poetry of Marilyn Bowering, whose lyrical take on Monroe is heard in English in the opera. Bryars’ score is a mixture of jazz tunes, played on stage by a trio, and a sad, noir-like musical appreciation of Monroe’s lonely life.

    “Our approach to this work is different from others,” Mitisek said. “We use a live camera on stage, since this was all about film. It is a fun way to play Marilyn as she is being filmed and [it] also gives us a chance to focus on details. We blend live performance with the live feed.

    “This is a poetic approach, a way to shine an emotional light on aspects of her life that were important to her, especially her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller. Everyone wanted to be with  her but she never found anyone she wanted to be with.”

    Tickets range from $29 to $160. Performances are March 21 at 8 p.m. and March 29 at 2:30 p.m.

    Details: (562) 432-5934; www.longbeachopera.org
    Venue: Warner Grand Theatre
    Location: 478 W. 6th St., San Pedro

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  • Why I Sued the Sheriff’s Department (and What Happened When I Did)

    It was three-and-a-half years ago, and yet I remember with perfect clarity the group of police officers waiting at the northeast corner of Ocean Blvd. and Magnolia Ave. before coming through the crosswalk toward me. I wouldn’t have noticed them had the group not been so large. The one flicker of a thought I had about them was that they must be going to lunch.

    But the first to reach me asked what I was doing and whether I had been taking pictures of the courthouse. And almost before I could say “Is there some sort of problem with taking pictures of the courthouse?” more than a half-dozen Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies were fanned out in a circle around me, with one of them holding my hands behind my back while another frisked me thoroughly enough to twice ensure that there wasn’t a weapon in the crotch area of my cute little jogging shorts. “You were suspiciously doing something gave us probable cause to contact you,” was the reason I was given after being compelled to answer a battery of questions. That “suspicious activity” was my seeming to photograph the courthouse across the street. (I hadn’t been, but that is beside the point.)

    I didn’t understand what was happening at first, except that my civil rights were being violated. The other thing I knew was that I was going to get a good story out of this. It turned out to be a two-parter, in fact, largely due to the willingness of Sgt. Maurice Hill, the lead officer in my detention, to speak about the matter the following day. And what I wrote near the end of that story is that I wouldn’t be filing a lawsuit.

    But over the next couple of months—when a colleague was wrongly detained by the Long Beach Police Department for taking photographs, when I learned that the Sheriff’s Department engaged in such detentions as a matter of policy, when I found out about a post-9/11 bit of paranoia that requires officers to report legal, innocuous behaviors such as taking pictures “of no apparent esthetic value”—I joined a lawsuit then being prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for two other plaintiffs, guys who were far more serious photographers than myself and had endured even more serious abuses of their civil rights.

    After a delay so inordinately long that it was referenced in a January Los Angeles Times editorial entitled “When L.A. County delays court settlements, it delays justice,” this month the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors finally signed off on a settlement that changes Sheriff’s Department policies and training vis-à-vis photography.

    Just how badly Sheriff’s deputies were trained to violate the First and Fourth Amendment rights of photographers was brought home to me when I spoke with the unit commander of the courthouse, whom I contacted upon learning that a letter signed by then-Sheriff Lee Baca and sent to the National Press Photographers’ Association contained falsehoods about by detention.

    During our conversation, the commander affirmed that deputies were trained to detain and pat down photographers for “potential terrorist” activity such as photographing a courthouse, even prior to attempting to identify the individual or find out why she is taking photographs. He said this was because officers are “harped on [that] Homeland Security says a courthouse is a hardened target,” and so when an officer is alerted to the possibility that someone is taking pictures of a courthouse, “in the back of his head he’s going, ‘Oh, potential terrorist taking pictures of the courthouse,’ okay? When I deal with a potential terrorist, first thing I gotta do is make sure there’s no weapons. How do I do that? I’m gonna pat him down, for officer safety.”

    This view of photography as potential terrorist activity comports with Los Angeles Police Department Special Order No. 11, a policy document promulgated by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association as part of their “Findings and Recommendations of the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) Support and Implementation Project” and adopted by law-enforcement agencies across the country.

    According to Special Order No. 11, among the non-criminal behaviors “which shall be reported on a SAR” are the usage of binoculars and cameras (presumably when observing a building, although this is not specified), asking about an establishment’s hours of operation, taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value,” and taking notes.

    (Also listed as behaviors to be reported are “Attempts to acquire illegal or illicit biological agent (anthrax, ricin, Eboli, smallpox, etc.),” “In possession, or utilizes, explosives (for illegal purposes),” and “Acquires or attempts to acquire uniforms without a legitimate cause (service personnel, government uniforms, etc.).” Special Order No. 11 does not distinguish between how these behaviors should be handled and how (e.g.) photography should be handled.)

    The issues in play resonated throughout the country. George Will wrote about our case in the Washington Post. The article I wrote bringing attention to LAPD Special Order No. 11 went viral, becoming the most-read piece in the history of the Long Beach Post, attention that “freaked out” the LBPD so much (as deceased Long Beach Post co-founder Shaun Lumachi put it after multiple discussions with the LBPD about me) that LBPD’s Media Relations Detail refused ever again to speak with me for any article, with two separate public information officers telling me this bit of blackballing was approved up through the Chief’s Office. (Ironically, that chief was Jim McDonnell, now L.A. County Sheriff. He had told me that the LBPD was “on-line” with all instructions contained in Special Order No. 11, “as is everyone else [i.e., other police departments] around the country.” Although it was Special Order No. 11 that raised people’s hackles, because they learned about it in an article documenting the LBPD’s implementation of such policies, the LBPD was singled out for negative attention.)

    As part of the settlement in Nee v. County of Los Angeles (the shorthand name for our suit), the Sheriff’s Department is now required to train deputies assigned to patrol, along with all new recruits, that all members of the public “have a First Amendment right to observe, take photographs, and record video in any public place where they are lawfully present”; and emend policy to that deputies are prohibited from “interfering, threatening, intimidating, blocking or otherwise discouraging” photographers from taking photos or video, so long as no other laws are being violated in the process.

    “The training established by this settlement should ensure that photographers around Los Angeles County—as well as the general public—can exercise their right to free expression without unnecessary harassment,” says the ACLU’s Peter Bibring, the lead attorney on our case and a swell guy. “We are heartened by the County’s willingness to address this issue with a common-sense approach that will become standard practice from now on.”

    One of the main spurs to my joining the lawsuit was my experience with Sgt. Hill. I came away from my conversation with him feeling that, in a profession undoubtedly plagued by power-hungry individuals who have little genuine regard for the civil rights of the people they have sworn to protect and serve, Hill was exactly the kind of person we need on the job.

    But that was the point. Even the right people for the job will do the wrong things if the training and the policies informing their sense of duty misguides them.

    The day after my detention Sgt. Hill was honest enough to admit—on the record—that I probably should not have been subjected to a pat-down search. He didn’t have to do that (and most officers in his position would not have). He could have consented to talk with me and declined to comment on this point. But as a thoughtful, honest individual, he chose to do otherwise. Clearly, this was not a man who would intentionally violate anyone’s civil rights. And yet he had done so just a day earlier.

    Now that the Sheriff’s Department has updated its policies and training, good deputies like Sgt. Hill (who is now retired from law enforcement) won’t be led to believe that there is cause to detain some guy standing on a public street taking pictures of a building.

    In a legal system glutted with abuses of power, bad laws, and frivolous lawsuits, I like to think of the case of Nee v. County of Los Angeles as a minor improvement, one I hope will have a ripple effect far beyond the county I call home. American jurisprudence is ugly, slow, and sometimes downright unjust. It is not, however, impervious to change.

    (Image: The author a few minutes after Sheriff’s deputies released him.)

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  • Power Outage Doesn’t Stop Shakespeare

    By John Farrell, Curtain Call Writer

    William Shakespeare had more than his share of production headaches back when the Globe Theater, the original Globe Theater, was operating.

    Never mind the fact that his female characters had to be played by men — effeminate men, no doubt, but still.

    Never mind that his scripts had to be hand written. (His complete plays weren’t published until after he had been dead a few years.)

    No, those were small problems. How would you react if the Lord Chamberlain closed your theater occasionally for religious reasons, or political ones, and you couldn’t do much but pray the politics would change shortly?

    How would you react of the playhouse was closed in times of plague? There were no real health professionals back in the 1600s: you and your company might just die (or have to move into the country, to Stratford upon Avon, perhaps, where your pesky wife Anne Hathaway and her second-best bed were waiting for you.

    Yes, there were lot of problems back then, but we’d be willing to bet that the problems Theater Elysium San Pedro Rep has encountered bringing their production of Much Ado About Nothing to their San Pedro stage were problems that even the Bard of Avon didn’t encounter. Much Ado About Nothing recently opened in previews. Opening night is March 20 at 7:30 p.m. and the play will continue at TE San Pedro Rep Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. through May 3. That is, it will continue as long as the power grid allows.

    That’s right, the power grid. Speculate all you want about whether Shakespeare is Shakespeare or whether he is actually the 17th Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe, the 6th Earl of Derby or perhaps Sir Francis Bacon. (Earls are big in the list of 80 or so candidates for Shakespeare’s glory: princes need not apply.) But no matter who wrote or didn’t write Shakespeare, no one had to experience a power outage at their theater. Maybe a candle or two guttered, maybe a torch went out. But there was no 16th century power grid to go out.

    On the other hand, the San Pedro power grid is, at least occasionally, unreliable. TE San Pedro Rep is housed in a former doctor’s office on 7th St, near Mitzi’s Strudel and the Whale and Ale, across the street from Godmother’s. And last week, during the two days that company co-founder and Much Ado director Aaron Ganz had allotted for technical rehearsals (those are the rehearsals where lighting and sound are checked) the power down both sides of 7th Street was out.

    Surprisingly, Little Fish Theatre, which shares an alley with TE San Pedro Rep, had no problems. But then, according to one former downtown San Pedro businessman, the grid runs down both sides of the street, so Little Fish, facing 8th Street, wouldn’t be affected by an outage on 7th Street.

    Ganz was on the afternoon bus that this reviewer took to San Pedro a week ago. He lives in San Pedro and works a day job in downtown. I was going to San Pedro to see The Ladies Foursome at the unaffected Little Fish.

    Ganz was positively cheerful about the technical contretemps, even though Much Ado About Nothing was going to open the next evening. “We had a power outage for two days,” Ganz said with a smile. “It closed down both sides of the street: Godmother’s had to close, and we had to do out tech rehearsals later.” He seemed sure that the show would go on: apparently in the theater that motto is actually believed.

    Much Ado About Nothing is the first offering from TE San Pedro Rep in their second year in San Pedro, a year that has seen much-acclaimed productions of Hamlet, Wouldn’t It Be Lovely, The Lady of Shallot and Oedipus, all intriguing and very different works, all a credit to the company, which also offers acting classes at its San Pedro home. In the next few months TE San Pedro Rep will be offering The Underpants in an adaptation by Steve Martin, Joan of Arc conceived and directed by Ganz, The Vanek Trilogy by Vaclav Havel and Chekhov’s Three Sisters, power outages or not.

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  • KJazz Move Results in CSULB Yard Sale

    For decades 88.1, KKJZ, has harmonized and jazzed up Cal State University Long Beach campus, but this week it will all come down to a yard sale.

    The nonprofit station recently moved to Westwood, where Global Jazz — the company that runs it — is headquartered. The move finalized March 7, from the Chuck Niles studio.

    An asset sale is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 14, which Global Jazz is calling KJazz Music Mart. The Music Mart will take place at the Cal State Long Beach Foundation parking lot, 6300 State University Drive in Long Beach. Jazz, blues, Latin jazz and swing CDs will be available. Vinyl, DVDs, books and merchandise also will be available — Sinatra to Ella to Coltrane.

    Venue: Cal State Long Beach Foundation parking lot

    Location: 6300 State University Drive, Long Beach

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  • RLn ENTERTAINMENT: March 10, 2015

    March 12
    Thursday Night Live
    The Port of Los Angeles High School presents Thursday Night Live, starting at 7:30 p.m. March 12, at the Grand Annex in San Pedro.
    POLAHS advanced drama class will be taking on this comedy variety show filled with hilarious student-written sketches, original characters and whacky bits.
    Details: (310) 833-4813
    Venue: Grand Annex
    Location: 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro

    March 13
    Kathleen Grace
    Singer-songwriter Kathleen Grace will perform at 8 p.m. at the Grand Annex. Her style has been described as a mix of jazz and classic country, which can be heard on her upcoming album, No Place to Fall.
    Details: (310) 833-4813
    Venue: The Grand Annex
    Location: 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro

    March 13
    Paddy Keenan
    Paddy Keenan will perform at 8 p.m. March 13, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.
    Paddy’s flowing, open-fingered style of playing can be traced directly from the style of his father and grandfather, as well as that of such great travelling pipers as Johnny Doran.
    Details: (800) 403-3447; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro

    March 14
    Cash’d Out – Johnny Cash Tribute
    Cash’d Out, the Johnny Cash tribute, will take place at 8 p.m. March 14, at the Grand Annex in San Pedro.
    General admission is $25 and $30 at the door.
    Details: (310) 833-4813
    Venue: Grand Annex
    Location: 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro

    March 14
    Doug MacLeod CD Release Party
    Doug MacLeod is having his CD release party at 8 p.m. March 14, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.
    Doug MacLeod is winner for The Blues Music Awards for Acoustic Artist Of The Year and Acoustic Album Of The Year 2014.
    Details: (800) 403-3447; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro

    March 14
    DSB a Tribute to Journey
    DSB a Tribute to Journey takes place at 9 p.m. March 14, at Harvelle’s Long Beach.
    DSB has been highly revered by fans as the “next best thing” to Journey.
    There is a two-drink minimum. Only people 21 years or older are admitted.
    Details: (562) 239-3700
    Venue: Harvelle’s Long Beach
    Location: 201 E Broadway, Long Beach

    March 15
    Sherman Brothers
    The sibling songwriting team of Richard and Robert Sherman will perform, at 3 p.m. March 15, at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center.
    The couple penned some of the most memorable melodies in the Walt Disney songbook and helped to create a soundtrack to the lives of multiple generations. Selections include Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Winnie The Pooh and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as a medley of recognizable themes from Disney parks and rides and a medley of the duo’s 1950s rock ’n’ roll hits.
    Details: BUY TICKETS NOW!
    Venue: Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center
    Location: 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach

    March 15
    Blues Alive
    Blues Alive will perform at 4 p.m. March 15, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.
    Since bursting on the south bay music scene Blues Alive has been making waves, playing an eclectic mix of blues and rock ’n’ roll.
    Cost is $25.
    Details: (800) 403-3447; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro

    March 15
    Sunday Jams
    Enjoy Sunday Jams, starting at 9:30 p.m. March 15, at Harvelle’s Long Beach.
    Harvelle’s Long Beach presents some of the best local artists.
    There is a two-drink minimum. Only people 21 years or older are admitted.
    Details: (562) 239-3700
    Venue: Harvelle’s Long Beach
    Location: 201 E Broadway, Long Beach

    March 19
    The Toledo Show
    The Toledo Show takes place at 9 p.m. March 19 and 26 at Harvelle’s Long Beach.
    Toledo is a soul singer, jazz man, poet, dancer, choreographer, connoisseur of haberdashery and probably one of the most dramatic and entertaining performers you will ever see. There is a two-drink minimum. Only people 21 years or older are admitted.
    Details: (562) 239-3700
    Venue: Harvelle’s Long Beach
    Location: 201 E Broadway, Long Beach

    March 20
    Doug C and the Blacklisted Hillbilly Stomp
    Doug C and the Blacklisted Hillbilly Stomp perform at 9 p.m. March 20 at Harvelle’s Long Beach.
    Doug C and the Blacklisted are for folks who like Hank Williams Sr but also have an understanding of Elvis, Black Flag and the Cramps.
    There is a two-drink minimum. Only people 21 years or older are admitted.
    Details: (562) 239-3700
    Venue: Harvelle’s Long Beach
    Location: 201 E Broadway, Long Beach

    March 21
    Dale Fielder Quartet 20th Anniversary Performance
    The Dale Fielder Quartet will have its 20th anniversary performance at 8 p.m. March 21, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.
    Dale Fielder is an American jazz saxophonist, composer and band leader.
    Details: (800) 403-3447; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro

    March 21
    Bobbie Burlesque Presents: Seduction at 9:30 p.m. March 21, at Harvelle’s Long Beach.
    Seduction is a classic burlesque strip show.
    There is a two-drink minimum. Only people 21 years or older are admitted.
    Details: (562) 239-3700
    Venue: Harvelle’s Long Beach
    Location: 201 E Broadway, Long Beach

    March 22
    L. Young
    L. Young will perform at 8 p.m. March 22, at Harvelle’s Long Beach.
    L.Young has established himself as an artist, writer and performer.
    There is a two-drink minimum. Only people 21 years or older are admitted.
    Details: (562) 239-3700
    Venue: Harvelle’s Long Beach
    Location: 201 E Broadway, Long Beach

    March 25
    Wicklow Atwater, James Hanicutt, & Hangdog Hearts
    Wicklow Atwater, James Hanicutt, & Hangdog Hearts perform at 9 p.m. March 25 at Harvelle’s Long Beach.
    The members or Wicklow Atwater and The Fallen Flame were born and raised in the same neighborhood and have been the best of friends since childhood creating an unbreakable bond that is more than just friendship – it’s a brotherhood.
    There is a two-drink minimum. Only people 21 years or older are admitted.
    Details: (562) 239-3700
    Venue: Harvelle’s Long Beach
    Location: 201 E Broadway, Long Beach

    March 27
    Carl Verheyen
    Carl Verheyen will perform solo acoustic guitar, starting at 8 p.m. March 27, at Alvas Showroom.
    In his 40-plus years of playing the instrument, Carl has created a wildly successful, multi-faceted career.
    Details: (800) 403-3447; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro

    March 27
    The Naughty Show
    Sam Tripoli presents The Naughty Show at 9:30 p.m. March 27, at Harvelle’s Long Beach.
    Sam Tripoli views comedy as a calling rather a profession.
    There is a two-drink minimum. Only people 21 years or older are admitted.
    Details: (562) 239-3700
    Venue: Harvelle’s Long Beach
    Location: 201 E Broadway, Long Beach

    March 28
    Bruce Baker & The Altered Presence Jazz Band
    Bruce Baker & The Altered Presence Jazz Band will be having a CD release at 8 p.m. March 28, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.
    Bruce Baker is focusing on his own jazz compositions, and is becoming known for his ability to write many jazz styles such as straight-ahead, bebop, Latin, blues, and Broadway-style vocal melodies, yet maintaining a unique, recognizable and unforgettable sound of his own.
    Details: (800) 403-3447; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro

    March 28
    Circus of Sin
    Circus of Sin takes place at 9 p.m. March 28, at Harvelle’s Long Beach.
    There is a two-drink minimum. Only people 21 years or older are admitted.
    Details: (562) 239-3700
    Venue: Harvelle’s Long Beach
    Location: 201 E Broadway, Long Beach

    March 29
    Janis Mann & Bill Cunliffe Duo
    The Janis Mann & Bill Cunliffe Duo will perform at 2 p.m. March 29, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.
    An exciting and engaging performer, Janis’ rich timbre, flexibility and range often invite comparisons to Sarah Vaughan. It features an in-studio collaboration with pianist Bill Cunliffe, bassist Christoph Luty and drummer Roy McCurdy.
    Details: (800) 403-3447; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro

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  • RL NEWS: March 9, 2015

    ‘Peel Off’ Program Speeding Up Cargo through POLA
    SAN PEDRO— A new program that expedites cargo by streamlining container moves is speeding up operations at the Port of Los Angeles.
    Launched Feb. 25, the “Peel Off” Program has added a new operational model to the port to clear the current backlog of containers and improve the flow of cargo going forward.
    The port teamed with stevedoring company The Pasha Group, harbor trucking firm Total Transportation Services Inc., several marine container terminal operators and a core group of major retailers to create the program. The program involves “peeling off” containers of high-volume customers to a near-dock yard where they are sorted for destination to inland distribution centers.
    Under “Peel Off,” import containers loaded with goods belonging to high-volume shippers are stacked together in a block upon arrival at the port. The terminals expedite Total Transportation Services Inc. trucks through their gates to retrieve the containers and deliver them to the near-dock yard less than a mile away where they are sorted. The same trucks loop back to the terminals for the next inbound container. The trucks keep boxes moving by delivering outbound containers on the return leg.
    The “Peel Off” yard is at Navy Way and Reeves Avenue on port property.
    The yard is open six days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m.  Seventeen acres are available for staging up to 500 containers. As demand grows, the facility can operate 24/7 and accommodate up to 650 containers.
    International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers handle all gate and terminal operations at the “Peel Off” yard, including on-site chassis inspection, maintenance and repair.
    Cargo owners can move their containers through the “Peel Off” yard in less than 48 hours and make those trips at night during off-peak traffic hours. Total Transportation Services Inc. has leased 250 chassis to ensure containers are on wheels and ready to roll. The parties are also coordinating their efforts with the new interchangeable chassis pool launched March 1 in the harbor complex.
    Planning for “Peel Off” preceded the recent congestion problems that surfaced at all West Coast ports, but it is already helping to clear the backlog of cargo in Los Angeles. The program is open to all container terminals and may be expanded to other locations in the Port of Los Angeles.
    Port initiatives include testing Web-based technology for increasing truck moves and working with terminal operators on business planning.
    The Port of Los Angeles is also pursuing new strategies with the Port of Long Beach to achieve greater supply chain efficiencies throughout the region now that the two ports have clearance from the Federal Maritime Commission to coordinate their efforts.

    Garcetti Signs Directive for Film Friendly Campaign
    LOS ANGELES — On March 4, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that he will add onto the entertainment industry agenda through an expanded film tax credit.
    Assembly Bill 1839 is aimed to help cut red tape, coordinate city departments and promote job production in the film industry, Garcetti said in a statement.
    The entertainment campaign, “Greenlight Hollywood” looks to ensure that the Los Angeles production maximize the benefits of the $1.6 billion incentives that will be available. These incentives include making city hall more film-friendly and proposing budgets to invest in city services that would encourage entertainment jobs.
    Board of Public Works President Kevin James will serve as city hall’s chief film liaison. His main duties will include eliminating city bureaucracies and working with the mayor’s senior advisor for entertainment industry issues, Ken Ziffren said.
    Garcetti’s executive directive requires all city departments to appoint a film liaison who will work with the industry to make departments more film friendly. The Economic and Workforce Development Department will have a list of city-owned properties for the industry to use free of charge.
    During Oscar Week in Hollywood, Garcetti announced his “Greenlight Hollywood” campaign, trying to target studio green light committees and talent agencies to promote Los Angeles as the premier destination for entertainment production. The campaign will last until April.

    LAPD Chief’s Recommendation Noted in Obama Task Force Report

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck’s recommendations were mentioned in a recent interim report that President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing published.
    The report was published March 4.
    On Jan. 30, the task force hosted a public listening session at the University of Cincinnati’s Tangeman University Center Great Hall.  Members of the task force heard testimony from five panels of witnesses on effective use of evidence-based research, use of force policy, diversity in law enforcement and best practices for police interaction during demonstrations.
    Beck discussed his continued effort to evolve and refine strategies to further the LAPD’s mitigation of crime, the reduction of gang violence, the containment of terrorism and the continuation of reforms. The chief also spoke on turning a time of crisis into an opportunity to engage in dialog with the community and how the department has taken a hard, honest look at what can be done better in terms of evolving the culture of policing, building greater trust and communication with the community.
    Beck also spoke about how the department is formally governed by the Board of Police Commissioners and how the department has a well-established civilian oversight system in place. The system is supposed to set broad policy and hold the chief accountable, as well as encouraging collaboration.
    On March 1, a video posted on Facebook of officers killing a homeless man in downtown Los Angeles went viral, just three days before the report was published.
    The LAPD said officers were responding to a report of a robbery when a man tried to fight them as they approached. During the struggle, according to the LAPD, the man, later identified by the name “Africa,” reached for an officer’s gun, prompting police to open fire.
    The officer and a sergeant involved in the shooting were both wearing body cameras. It’s been reported in the Los Angeles Times that the body camera footage supports the events depicted in the video captured by a bystander.
    The police department’s policies regarding the devices and access to their footage is still being finalized. However, Beck said he does not want to publicly release the recordings unless required to do so for court proceedings.
    The report was published the same day as the Justice Department showed the results of an investigation on the killing of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo.
    The investigation concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence against Wilson federally. It also concluded that evidence corroborated Wilson’s claim that Brown reached into the car and struck the officer and that claims that Wilson grabbed Brown first were inconsistent physical and forensic evidence.
    The following is an excerpt from pages 20 and 46 of the Interim Report on
    21st Century Policing:
    2.1 RECOMMENDATION: Law enforcement agencies should collaborate with community members to develop policies and strategies in communities and neighborhoods disproportionately affected by crime for deploying resources that aim to reduce crime by improving relationships, greater community engagement, and cooperation.  The development of a service model process that focuses on the root causes of crime should include the community members themselves because what works in one neighborhood might not be equally successful in every other one.
    Larger departments could commit resources and personnel to areas of high poverty, limited services, and at-risk or vulnerable populations through creating priority units with specialized training and added status and pay. Chief Charlie Beck of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) described the LAPD’s Community Safety Partnership, in which officers engage the community and build trust where it is needed most, in the public housing projects in Watts. The department has assigned 45 officers to serve for five years at three housing projects in Watts and at an additional housing project in East Los Angeles. Through a partnership with the Advancement Project and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, the program involves officers going into the housing developments with the intent not to make arrests but to create partnerships, create relationships, hear the community, and see what they need—and then work together to make those things happen.33
    2.1.1 ACTION
    4.5 RECOMMENDATION: Community policing emphasizes working with neighborhood residents to co-produce public safety. Law enforcement agencies should work with community residents to identify problems and collaborate on implementing solutions that produce meaningful results for the community. As Delores Jones Brown testified, “Neighborhood policing provides an opportunity for police departments to do things with residents in the co-production of public safety rather than doing things to or for them.”81 Community policing is not just about the behavior and tactics of police; it is also about the civic engagement and capacity of communities to improve their own neighborhoods, their quality of life, and their sense of safety and well-being. Members of communities are key partners in creating public safety, so communities and police need mechanisms to engage with each other in consistent and meaningful ways. One model for formalizing this engagement is through a civilian governance system such as is found in Los Angeles. As Chief Charles Beck explained in testimony to the task force, The Los Angeles Police Department is formally governed by the Board of Police Commissioners, a five-person civilian body with each member appointed by the mayor. The Commission has formal authority to hire the Chief of Police, to set broad policy for the department, and to hold the LAPD and its chief accountable to the people.82 Community policing, therefore, is concerned with changing the way in which citizens respond to police in more constructive and proactive ways. If officers feel unsafe and threatened, their ability to operate in an open and shared dialogue with community is inhibited. On the other hand, the police have the responsibility to understand the culture, history, and quality of life issues of the entire community—youth, elders, faith communities, special populations—and to educate the community, including its children, on the role and function of police and ways the community can protect itself, be part of solving problems, and prevent crime. Community and police jointly share the responsibility for civil dialogue and interaction.
    46 Interim Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing

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  • Obama on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday

    President Barack Obama spoke before thousands on March 7, during a commemorative ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the events of “Bloody Sunday,” when more than 600 non-violent protesters were attacked by Alabama state troopers as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights:

    It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

    Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning fifty years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind. A day like this was not on his mind. Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about. Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked. A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones. The air was thick with doubt, anticipation, and fear. They comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung: (more…)

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  • My Kindle, My Birds & Me

    By Lionel Rolfe

    After several years of deliberation, I finally purchased a Kindle.

    I now own my very own digital reading device that has all the books I can read on it. There’s lot that’s unsettling about the device, but that’s not entirely bad — just caused a bit soul searching.

    Getting the Kindle turned out to be a really big deal for me, and a revelation. For one thing, I realized how much I was an old man living through revolutionary times.

    I am preparing for exiting this veil of tears, not right away, I hope, but soon enough. I’m stumbling down the last league. As a result, I no longer feel a compulsion to be on the cutting edge. I’ve lived long enough to see too many cutting edges come and go. One of the things that my friends know about me is that I’m quaint in my appreciation of music. I grew up turning pages for my concert pianist mother, especially when she played the Kreutzer. I played classical guitar until I was 13 or so and haven’t touched an instrument since.

    But music never lost its magic. I just felt that there were others who could give it that magic better than I. When I got into my late teens, jazz proved intriguing. Folk, blues, and the very greatest voices like Paul Robeson and Edith Piaf turned me on. Rock never made the cut. I rarely heard that much genuine genius in it, and mostly I saw it as an essentially corporate product. When Bob Dylan electrified his guitar, I lost interest.

    It is sadly obvious that the digital transformation of our times are shaking things up like was done by Gutenberg and his Bible a few centuries back.

    Printed books were really an incredibly comfortable and convenient medium —and may remain so forever, as far as I know. I’ve always enjoyed reading in bed, reclining rather than sitting, and holding a book in whatever is the best position at the moment. But let me tell you the simple truth that lies behind all great changes. They are based on simple things.

    Print replaced men and women sitting at a desk with a quill, with no hope of their words getting around much. Then you could replace those quills with typewriters and typesetting machines and printing presses and give your words a whole new universe. Then there’s the digital revolution, which might end up being as important as the Gutenberg press.

    For the past few years I haven’t been able to do much reading lying in bed. Mostly, I read while sitting at a computer and the thought of reading War and Peace there is most unattractive. Great books, I think, are meant to be read leisurely. I read enough journalism and the like while sitting down in front of my computer, but getting into a real book, that’s become another matter.

    Let me explain. When I finally retire to my bed, and could maybe read a real book, I can’t because my African Gray Oliver and three cocktails also live in my bedroom. When I get home, they expect attention because with my appearance, the flock wants to celebrate that I’m home. That doesn’t mean reading a book.

    This problem was easily solved by my wonderful new Kindle. I no longer have to keep a light on to read a “book.” The page provides its own light, and that’s enough. I remember back in my days, they used to sell reading lights, but they never really worked well. Finding a place to clip them to something proved to be a bigger problem than it should have been. True, with a Kindle, you can also read on the beach, with light spilling out from the heavens everywhere.  Or you can read in the darkest closet, if you want. Here is where I made a revelation that might not seem so earth shaking at first, but it truly is.

    Now, I’m not blaming  the parrots for having kept me from doing a lot of good, soul-satisfying reading of late—but maybe I am. It’s an issue of how could I read comfortably with the birds. When you get older, it’s hard to get comfortable. You have new aches and pains, you toss and turn to find the best position, whether you end up on your backside or front. But with a Kindle, which is lighter than most books, you can turn off the lights to quiet the birds down, and all the light in the world is only one place—the page you’re focusing on. Bird problem solved. I can now read the Bible and all of Shakespeare if I want and the birds don’t have to know the better.

    My birds are tyrants. They want my undivided attention. Sometimes I have to say no. I’m not playing with you tonight. That means no putting them on my shoulder or rubbing their little heads. If the light stays off they’ll usually ignore me. But if even a small light is on so I can read, they pester me until I give up reading. They yap at me like ill-mannered canines, saying you’d better take me out or I will shit on your carpet.

    Kindles break with tradition in one very big real way. There’s utterly no type design, no worry about kerning or face. I ran a book publishing company with my ex-wife Nigey Lennon with mixed results, and a few modest successes. It was a totally Un-Kindle kind of operation. We worried about fonts and type and paper and such the way theologians argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    I have worked in a lot of editorial offices. When I started out, we had clunky old Underwoods and nasty typesetters in the back shop that hardly paid attention to our proofing marks. Today, you can do everything from composing a story to editing it and then turning it into type yourself. No difficult and expensive and balky typesetters needed. You don’t have to direct the printer how to lay out the lead slugs. You do it on the computer. So it’s natural, perhaps, that creating “content” or “product” as they call us writer types nowadays, is not much admired. Nobody talks rhapsodically about “content providers.” So don’t mind if I still get a bit romantic about the good old days, when Mark Twain set his own type.

    Reading on a computer is like working in a word factory—whereas luxuriating with a book that can take you to myriad parts of this universe, that’s a whole other thing. In my world, real reading needs to be done lying down, perhaps with your back propped up with velvet red pillows and a glass of port nearby. You need to be unseemly comfortable. There’s nothing wrong in injecting some hedonism into the proceedings.

    Now I can laugh now at how Nigey used to pore over the history of the fonts we used for the books we published. That was a major part of book publishing. Nigey would work for hours, matching not only the history but the psychology of the manuscript to the particular font’s history. She knew it was more art than science, but that didn’t make the task any the less urgent.

    I’m afraid the Kindle made a mockery of all that. It has a very limited range of faces—more sans serif faces, that all good typesetters know make for lousy reading. They have only one half-way decent serif face—Palatino. So I read everything from Sherlock Holmes to Mark Twain as well as my own book on the Kindle’s Palatino.

    I use my computer screen to keep aware of the world. But, as much as I defend journalism, and worship my mentor and former boss Scott Newhall, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle who believed that journalism should be nothing less than “daily literature,” I know there’s a difference between literature and journalism.

    Before I got my Kindle, I did manage —  with a period of  — to get through half of a Marquez novel, but it took me several weeks to do so—in fits and snatches, before I gave up. That wasn’t his fault, it was my damned birds. In the last few weeks since I got my Kindle, I’ve been getting a lot of reading done.

    As a result of getting a Kindle, I’ve taken another giant step into the future. I’m toying with the idea of joining the ranks of people who are always staring down at their smart phone. Yeah, and I just bought an iPhone. But that’s a whole other later conversation.


    Lionel Rolfe is the author of a number of books available at Amazon in paperback and ebook form. His titles include a novel, “The Misadventures of Ari Mendelsohn: A Mostly True Memoir of California Journalism,” and his nonfiction, including “Literary LA,” “The Fat Man on the Left,” “The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather” and “The Menuhins: A Family Odyssey.”

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