Sunday, December 25, 2005

Faces to watch 2006 - Media


Sunday December 25, 2005

Faces to watch 2006

By Steven Barrie-Anthony


Editorial page columnist

You may recall Macarena Hernandez, 31, as the journalist who exposed former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair as a plagiarist. More recently, you may have heard Fox's Bill O'Reilly call for a boycott of the Dallas Morning News after Hernandez -- who this year became the first Latina editorial page columnist for that paper -- suggested that O'Reilly uses illegal immigrants as scapegoats. What you probably don't know is that Hernandez grew up three miles north of the Rio Grande, laboring in the fields with her migrant worker parents, feeling the sting of racial and class division. "My father was a really proud man," she says. "Really handsome. Around his friends he was a towering figure, very generous. But every time I would see him in the fields, next to these farmers, watch him beg for work, I saw him shrink. It broke my heart to see him so humiliated." On her college paper Hernandez began to "tell the stories about people like me who, growing up, I felt were invisible," and that ambition remains. "I hate to label her as a Latina voice," says Charles Whitaker, assistant professor at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. "But she's going to be an important voice on issues of race and class, speaking eloquently from a perspective that we don't often hear."

Faces to watch 2006 - Media


Sunday December 25, 2005

Faces to watch 2006

By Steven Barrie-Anthony


Sports journalist

Arash Markazi, 25, realized in high school that "at 5-foot-6 or -7, my dream of playing basketball in the NBA was probably not going to happen." Instead, he joined the school newspaper to cover the sports beat and hasn't stopped writing since. In college at USC he won nearly every student journalism award imaginable and since graduation has worn dual hats at Sports Illustrated, reporting for the magazine and penning a weekly column titled "The Hot Read" for

Markazi has published intimate and quirky portraits of Wayne Gretzky and Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo, and frequently jets around the country covering the full gambit of college sports (in a particularly entertaining column, Markazi joins USC football greats Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush in a Manhattan nightclub after the presentation of the Heisman Trophy). What you won't know from reading his stories is that Markazi has battled cancer twice, in college and then earlier this year, and that he continued to write columns from his Los Angeles hospital bed while sports games blared from a nearby television set. "It was just like a big relief to know that I could continue to write, to cover sports," he says.

Faces to watch 2006 - Broadcasting


Sunday December 25, 2005

Faces to watch 2006

By Steven Barrie-Anthony


TV reporter

An education at Yale and the UC Berkeley School of Journalism plus a coveted internship at "Nightline" could hardly prepare Yunji de Nies, 26, for covering Hurricane Katrina. But she was one of only three reporters for WGNO-TV, a local New Orleans station, who opted to remain on the job once the storm hit.

With water levels rising, De Nies and her crew abandoned their homes and camped out in neighboring Baton Rouge, making forays into the devastation. She sweet-talked National Guardsmen into letting her pass, learned the back roads and, cameras rolling, conveyed firsthand the city's chaos, grief and rage. New Orleans is far from healed, and De Nies continues reporting on the reconstruction of levees, of lives.

The WGNO headquarters is in shambles, so she and her colleagues work in double-wide trailers, broadcasting their evening newscast against a revolving backdrop of burnt-out buildings and washed-out streets.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

What's killing the messenger


Sunday December 18, 2005

What's killing the messenger

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

IT'S a gloomy Christmastime for print journalism. There have always been doomsayers in this business -- we're a curmudgeonly breed -- but after a year of hard knocks and tough realizations, even happy-go-lucky newshounds are questioning their fate.

"The sooner [2005] is over, the better," says Michael Massing, a Columbia Journalism Review contributor. "There have been so many negative developments, it's easy to say, 'Things can only get better.' But that's probably wishful thinking."

In the last year, newspapers have:

Lost readers. Industrywide weekday circulation dropped 2.6% in the six-month period ending in September, and many observers expect a continuing decline. Even more startling is the fact, supported by demographic studies, that few young people read the paper. They'd rather get their news fix from inkless, un-foldable computer screens. What nerve.

Lost advertisers, mostly tied to declining circulation numbers. Classified advertising revenue -- once a cash cow -- has also plummeted, in part because of websites like offering ad space for free.

Trimmed staffs. Buyouts and layoffs have become common. The Los Angeles Times has cut 85 editorial positions; among other papers, the Boston Globe was planning to cut 35 and the New York Times 45. Hundreds of newspaper jobs outside of newsrooms have also been lost. All of which journalists tend to find abominable, given that most papers remain highly profitable.

Endured the Judy Miller brouhaha. The ex-New York Times reporter spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal a White House source -- and then flip-flopped after that source, I. Lewis Libby, sent her a letter. Critics say that Miller's brand of "trust-me journalism," which relies heavily on anonymous sourcing, spawns uncomfortably close relationships between journalists and sources, and that it was this kind of reporting that led Miller and journalism at large to accept the Bush administration's claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Still, not everybody is resigned to the craft's demise. "Professional news-gathering organizations will survive and prosper in the future," says Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University. "But not without changing a lot -- more than many of them are prepared for."

Taking Wraps Off Good Side of Compton


Sunday December 18, 2005

Taking Wraps Off Good Side of Compton
* A toy giveaway brings cheer to 3,000 kids. Nearby, 220 guns are turned in to deputies.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Thousands of kids stood in line Saturday morning and afternoon outside Compton City Hall, tugging on their parents and daydreaming of presents.

"I want clothes for winter and summer," said Terrel Hyder, 12. "And I want a job and a drum."

His mother, Valerie Singleton, smiled.

"We don't have any money, nothing," said the in-home caregiver, who recently was laid off. "Without this, my four kids wouldn't get anything."

Like Singleton, many of the parents who gathered at this third annual Winter Wonderland Giveaway, organized by Councilwoman Barbara Calhoun and sponsored by the city, expressed relief that in this time of giving, their kids would feel included.

"I used to buy presents in September," said Renee Siguas, standing alongside two of her four children. "But I was laid off from Vons, and now I have to spend all my money on groceries. My daughter Rosa wants a flying Barbie."

Throughout the day, about 5,000 toys donated by retailers and local businesses were distributed among nearly 3,000 kids, said Councilman Isadore Hall. Only Compton residents ages 16 or younger were eligible for the giveaway.

After waiting in line for an hour or more, each family was welcomed into the foyer of the converted City Council chambers, where a jolly volunteer led them in singing Christmas carols of their choosing.

Few had time to finish their songs, however. Soon they were rushed through a door into the inner sanctum, a room brimming with punching bags, dolls, videogames, bicycles and unopened boxes, and manned by dozens of harried volunteers.

Somebody would yell out a kid's age and gender -- "Boy! 12!" -- and in seconds a volunteer would thrust two age-specific presents into the hands of each wide-eyed child. The exit was clogged by gleeful children, hugging toys to their chests, too stunned by their good fortune to move their feet.

It's this image of community and generosity that should represent Compton, Hall said. Compton, which has the highest homicide rate in Los Angeles County, "gets a bad rap because of all the shootings," he said. "But we're working very hard to try and turn that around."

Indeed, at a shopping center just blocks from City Hall, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was conducting another sort of giveaway, dubbed "Gifts for Guns." Anyone who showed up with a gun was allowed to trade it in for a $100 gift certificate to Ralphs, Toys-R-Us or Circuit City with no questions asked.

At the end of the day the department had collected more than 220 guns, said Sheriff's Capt. Eric K. Hamilton.

"We did exceptionally well," he said. "We had so many people lining up that we ran out of certificates, so we had to ask City Hall and the Sheriff's Department to provide extra funds. People turned in all sorts of guns: assault weapons, Uzis, shotguns. Each gun taken off the street can mean the difference between life and death."

Back at Winter Wonderland, Juan Caldera, 7, waited in tense anticipation. He was excited about presents, sure, but even more exciting was the prospect of playing in the snow that organizers had spread on a cordoned-off portion of Compton Avenue.

"I've never touched snow before," Juan said, lugging a new football and videogamewhile leading his mother, brother and two sisters in the direction of flying snowballs.

When he finally touched snow, he leapt back for a moment, and ran to the fence to tell his mother, "It's cold!" Then he galloped off to pelt his oldest sister.

Friday, December 9, 2005

A reluctant revisiting of 'Brokeback'


Friday December 09, 2005

A reluctant revisiting of 'Brokeback'

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

E. Annie Proulx is sipping coffee at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills and talking about literary ghosts.

She has struggled for years to get Ennis and Jack out of her head. These are the two leads who fall in love in Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain," male ranch hands whose secrecy and self-denial is bleak and heartbreaking and -- to anyone who has experienced homophobia and its ramifications -- disquietingly familiar.

Proulx, 70, in town recently for the premiere of Ang Lee's film adaptation of "Brokeback Mountain," says that while she was "blown away" by the movie, she doesn't welcome the return of Ennis and Jack to the forefront of her consciousness.

"Put yourself in my place," the author says. "An elderly, white, straight female, trying to write about two 19-year-old gay kids in 1963. What kind of imaginative leap do you think was necessary? Profound, extreme, large. To get into those guys' heads and actions took a lot of 16-hour days, and never thinking about anything else and living a zombie life. That's what I had to do. I really needed an exorcist to get rid of those characters. And they roared back when I saw the film."

The story bubbled forth from "years and years of observation and subliminal taking in of rural homophobia," says Proulx, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Shipping News," was also adapted for the screen. She remembers the moment when those years of observed hatred began taking form. It was 1995 and Proulx, who lives in Wyoming, visited a crowded bar near the Montana border. The place was rowdy and packed with attractive women, everyone was drinking, and the energy was high.

"There was the smell of sex in the air," Proulx remembers. "But here was this old shabby-looking guy.... watching the guys playing pool. He had a raw hunger in his eyes that made me wonder if he were country gay. I wondered, 'What would've he been like when he was younger?' Then he disappeared, and in his place appeared Ennis. And then Jack. You can't have Ennis without Jack."

Proulx didn't think her story would ever be published. The material felt too risky; Ennis and Jack express their love with as much physical gusto as any heterosexual couple, and it happens in full view of the reader, without any nervous obfuscation. The backdrop is that wide expansive West that bore forth John Wayne and the Marlboro Man -- but here the edges of the mythos fray, and the world becomes chilly and oppressive.

The story was published in the New Yorker magazine in 1997, and screenwriter Diana Ossana read it one night when she couldn't sleep. "It just floored me," Ossana says, speaking after a screening of "Brokeback Mountain." She ran downstairs to show it to her writing partner, who happens to be Larry McMurtry ("The Last Picture Show," "Lonesome Dove") and suggested they turn it into a screenplay. "I've known [McMurtry] for 20 years," Ossana said, "and this is the first time I've heard him say yes to something I suggested, without an argument."

The following day the screenwriters sent a letter to Proulx, asking to option the story with their own money. Proulx agreed.

"She trusted us more than she should have," McMurtry says. "She trusted us not to make the story unless we could make it right."

Proulx, for her part, found their enthusiasm "interesting" but thought to herself, "this is not going to happen." She had never considered "Brokeback Mountain" to be a cinematic possibility -- it pushes too many buttons, challenges too many norms. "Never, never, never, never, no," she says, at the Four Seasons, shaking her head. "Uh-uh." Then, three months later, Ossana and McMurtry sent her their screenplay, a spare and unfailingly faithful rendition of the story. The divergences grow organically from what's on the page, and the rest is as Proulx wrote it, nearly verbatim.

"I thought it was good," Proulx says. She had a few quibbles, mostly about language -- some of it seemed to her more Texas than Wyoming -- but those were worked out in the next and final draft. It made sense for the screenplay to stick closely to its source, Proulx says with her typical candor. "This was a strong story. It had a very solid framework, it had terse, good language. It would've been hard to change that without maiming everything."

The rest happened slowly, and Proulx had little involvement, retreating into Wyoming and her writing, trying as best she could to banish Ennis and Jack from her mind. Lee initially turned down the project to direct "The Hulk," then signed on again afterward. Casting the two leading roles was particularly difficult, Ossana says.

The movie, like the story, does not pull any punches. The sex is just as graphic, the critique of rural homophobia just as angst-ridden and raw. Proulx doesn't pretend to know how the movie will play with audiences, but she likes that her message will be broadcast through such a popular medium.

"There are a lot of people who see movies who do not read," Proulx says. "It used to be that writing and architecture were the main carriers, permanent carriers, of culture and civilization. Now you have to add film to that list, because film is the vehicle of cultural transmission of our time. It would be insane to say otherwise, to say that the book is still the thing. It isn't."

Perhaps true. But for many of Proulx's most ardent fans, the story is the thing. Take Michael Silverblatt, the radio host of KCRW's "Bookworm" program, who says that this kind of literary genius is "uncapturable" by film. Silverblatt remembers reading "Brokeback Mountain" in the New Yorker and the sensation of being surprised in stages: "Here's a story that was taking place outdoors, which is unusual enough in the New Yorker. And it's a western, another rarity. And creeping up on me is the feeling: These cowboys are falling in love!" (The story was recently posted on the New Yorker website at

Since Proulx was in town for the film's premier, Silverblatt arranged to moderate a question-and-answer session with Proulx after a screening of the film at the ArcLight. "The story let me cry and the movie made me cry," he told the audience. "I feel there is a sadness ladled on in the movie."

Proulx replied: "I think it's good for us to feel the emotion that the film engenders, whatever its source."

"The story began in 1963," said a woman from the audience. "Do you think things are better now, in terms of attitudes?"

"I wish," Proulx said. "But one year after the story was published, Matthew Shepard was killed less than 30 miles from where I live. I was called to be on the jury for one of the killers."

The tough-guy Western mythology undergirding our national identity should be questioned, Proulx says, and she hopes that her story -- and now this movie -- will spur that kind of dialogue.

Which already seems to be happening. Bill Handley, an associate professor of English at USC, was in the audience at ArcLight, and plans to put together a book of essays on the story and the film.

"It's a groundbreaking story, worthy of close attention," he says. "The essays will focus on a whole range of questions on sexuality, landscape, authenticity, and labor in the West. Who knows what the response to this film is going to be, and what that will tell us about the culture."

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Kanye West Holds School Crowd Rapt


Tuesday December 06, 2005

Kanye West Holds School Crowd Rapt
* The singer performs at Santa Monica High after the campus won a radio contest.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Kanye is coming.

You could hear his name ringing through the boisterous lunchtime chatter at Santa Monica High School. You could read it on T-shirts all over the Santa Monica campus: Kanye West. He's coming!

"This is the best thing that's ever happened to us," said Laura Thatcher, 15, kicking back with friends outside the school. "We have 30-minute classes, and then we're seeing a concert."

Thatcher and her classmates more than earned a visit from one of music's hottest acts.

Back in November, DJ Big Boy of KPWR-FM (105.9) announced a contest called "Big Boy's Backstage With Kanye West." All Southern California high schools were eligible to participate, and the rules were simple: Whichever student body voted for their school most frequently on the contest website would win a concert with mega rap star West.

At Santa Monica High, voting fever spread quickly. Students passed notes, whispered in locker rooms and posted bulletins for their friends to read on the social networking website The gist was: Vote now and vote often. And they did. In the end, Santa Monica High students submitted nearly 1 million votes out of the 5 million cast.

Students voted constantly to get Santa Monica's numbers up. In the end, the school received nearly twice as many votes as Antonio Villaraigosa and James K. Hahn combined in the Los Angeles mayoral election. And then it was Monday, and West was due any moment for a 2 p.m. concert in the school's outdoor amphitheater.

Even the principal, Ilene Straus, was giddy. "I'm so excited!" she said, sitting in the basketball gym where the media had set up camp. She was surrounded by camera crews and reporters scribbling on notepads. "High school education is very serious. The stakes are high. But this, today, is a time to enjoy high school kids, to enjoy the energy."

Energy is an understatement, teachers say. Once students caught wind of the contest, it was "hard to get them to concentrate," said Tania Fischer, an art teacher. "They were always asking me, 'Can I get on the computer?' Some would come in looking haggard and tell me that they stayed up all night, on the computer, voting."

Still, teachers and administrators seemed as excited as the students. "We are a school with huge diversity," said Straus of the campus, which last school year experienced a flare-up of racial tension. "Over 40 cultures are represented in our 3,500-person student body. This event has really brought us all together."

Straus said she hoped that West would encourage students to get a college education, and, indeed, West was using this appearance as a platform to announce a sweepstakes for $150,000 toward college tuition, co-sponsored by music retailer Musicland and the Kanye West Foundation. But there is mild irony here. West didn't finish college -- his first album is titled "The College Dropout" -- and he talks and raps frequently about the benefits of a real-world education.

"Me? I use real life, I learn from real people," West said when he arrived, sitting in a classroom, about to go onstage. "The great thing about school, and the bad thing about it, is that you can just sit there in the back of the room and not pay any attention. In real life, being shy is not going to get you anywhere. I get educated every day."

The concert lasted about an hour, and the crowd noise rivaled any stadium din. Some students grouped together and spelled K-A-N-Y-E W-E-S-T on their sweatshirts with masking tape.

Others wore T-shirts emblazoned with Kanye's controversial post-Hurricane Katrina statement: "Bush doesn't care about black people."

In the middle of a rousing six-song set, West paused to take questions from the crowd.

"What kind of grades did you get in high school?" asked one student.

"I didn't do a lot of homework," West answered, to laughter. "But I got a lot of A's and Bs."

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The call of 'D'oh!'


Wednesday November 30, 2005

The call of 'D'oh!'
* Writers become downright animated for 'The Simpsons' guest spots.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

TOM WOLFE is screaming. He screams softly, this Southern gentleman, his trademark white suit unwrinkled, his spats unwavering even as a giant granite boulder hurtles down upon him. It looks to be the end of the pioneering New Journalism author of "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."

"Aaaaaaaahh! Wait, no, that wasn't good, let me start over."

"How did you scream last time a boulder was hurtling toward you?" asks Carolyn Omine, executive producer of "The Simpsons."

"Why don't you try, 'Aaaaahhhh, my suit!' " suggests a rail-thin, nerdy-looking writer, from the front of the Fox recording studio.

"Ahhhhh, my suit! It's gabardine!" wails Wolfe, toward the microphone. "Well, but cops wear gabardine."

Slowly, Wolfe transforms. Even now, this episode's director, Mark Kirkland, is circling Wolfe, snapping pictures. Soon, a team of animators will render Wolfe bug-eyed and yellow-skinned. A year from now he'll appear on television alongside Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and the bartender Moe in an episode of "The Simpsons" parodying highfalutin literary culture.

"We started with the idea of Moe as Charles Bukowski," explains Matt Warburton, who wrote the episode. "We brought Lisa in as the person who discovers in scuzzy, barfly Moe something that we've never seen before: a poet." Antics ensue, with Wolfe and fellow guest stars Gore Vidal, Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen voicing themselves. All were thrilled to participate.

"This is the only show of any sort that I watch on television," Wolfe says, sitting in the greenroom after recording. The immaculately dressed author is surrounded by a group of scruffy Harvard-educated "Simpsons" writers, hanging on his every word. "My son, Tommy, who's now 20, one of his first words was [Homer's trademark exclamation] 'D'oh!' And now any conversation he has with anybody, he'll reference 'The Simpsons.' "

The writers laugh knowingly. This isn't uncommon. The show is in the "Guinness Book of World Records" for the most guest voices of any animated series, and invitees are often begged to participate by their children or younger friends who see it as akin to nabbing the Nobel Prize. Past guests include actors (Kirk Douglas, Drew Barrymore), musicians (U2, the Who) athletes (Andre Agassi, Magic Johnson), politicians (Tony Blair) and even the most reclusive of writers (Thomas Pynchon lent his voice twice, and faxed in a list of jokes beforehand).

"The fastest 'yes' I ever received was Elizabeth Taylor," says Bonnie Pietila, the producer in charge of casting. "I hung up the phone after leaving a message and she called back five minutes later." Some celebrities are so eager to appear on the show "that they have a representative call us on a monthly basis," Pietila says. "But we only have 22 episodes each season." Al Gore is one of the few to have turned "The Simpsons" down.

On a stiflingly hot Monday afternoon, Franzen and Chabon drive onto the Fox lot together. They convene with producers in the greenroom and sit on couches surrounding a wide swath of sandwich makings, jumbo cookies and fruit that nobody ever seems to touch.

"My kids and my father are very excited," Chabon says. He's not kidding. Reached later by phone, his father, Robert Chabon, said that he always expected Michael to win a Pulitzer (which he did in 2001 for "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay"). "And I still think he's going to win the National Book Award," said the Kansas City, Kan., pediatrician. "But him being on 'The Simpsons' is beyond my wildest dreams. You envision certain successes for your children, but this kind of success -- I never envisioned."

Sometimes the show seems to be instigated by a vast conspiracy of children. "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening strolls into the greenroom and once again tells Chabon that his kids are big Chabon fans. "That's great," Chabon says, grinning. "My kids were very excited when I told them that Matt Groening's kids know who their father is."

The script calls for Chabon and Franzen to brawl during a dispute about their literary influences, and standing next to each other in the recording room, the friends ready themselves for a fight. Franzen complains loudly that he has fewer lines than Chabon -- "Only 38 words!" -- to which Chabon responds, "I see there's a little counting going on in the Franzenian corner."

Dan Castellaneta, the voice of many "Simpsons" characters, including Homer, Barney, Krusty the Clown and Groundskeeper Willie, sits on a swivel chair nearby, wearing sunglasses and smiling at the amateurs. Then Groening arrives, a red light glows and recording begins.

Franzen need not have worried about counting words. The session's Emmy-worthy performances are wordless strings of yelps and grunts. After reading and rereading their lines, the writers take turns making fight noises like "urrrrrg!" and "ugh!" and "ouch!" Chabon throws his whole body into it, lunging at the microphone, while Franzen keeps a dry, acerbic cool. Omine, the producer, reads them their cues, and writers sitting around the room toss out ideas as they occur.

Franzen: "Gaa! Dajjjmit! Ach! Rrrr!"

Writer: "How about, 'Nooo! My prescription-less glasses, the ones I wear to look smart!' "

Franzen: "My trademark glasses!"

Omine: "Let's continue with Jonathan, because you have to whack Michael with a chair. Some more pain sounds, please."

Writer: "How about saying, 'You fight like Anne Rice!' "

Eventually, it's time to encounter that same runaway granite chunk that flattened Tom Wolfe. Franzen's scream has a hint of falsetto; Chabon writhes as he lets out an anguished moan.

It's over in less than an hour; but echoes of those recordings will stick with you, says Amy Tan, author of the 1990 book "The Joy Luck Club," who voiced herself on the show five years ago. "Among a certain group of mostly younger people, I'm like a movie star of cartoons," she says. "People who are not impressed with anything else are very impressed that I was in 'The Simpsons.' I don't know what the equivalent would be. Like I was playing with the Rolling Stones or something. It's as though I actually know Homer and Marge and the kids."

Being on the show doesn't improve a writer's salability, says Sandra Dijkstra, Tan's literary agent. "I don't think it does anything for their careers. My impression is that it's simply fun. 'The Simpsons' is countercultural and subversive and it makes important statements about America today. Good writers want to be subversive, and they want to be on 'The Simpsons.' "

If there were a trophy for hipsterism, it might well be in the shape of Homer's head. The series that Time magazine dubbed "the best show in the history of television" has for 17 years spawned conversations on playgrounds and at cocktail parties. It's the focus of university classes and doctoral theses. And it long ago infiltrated the lingo of today's high school kids, who don't know a Simpson-less world. ("D'oh!" was included in the 2001 Oxford Dictionary.)

But despite its cultural saturation, Gore Vidal hasn't watched the show. "I live in Italy," he says, walking with a cane toward a lone chair in the recording studio. "I don't see much American TV."

Vidal puffs out his chest and begins, imbuing his lines with the solemn dignity of a Shakespearean actor. Each syllable receives its share of attention. Groening watches intently from a couch, smiling. Vidal doesn't sound like a Simpson. He sounds like Gore Vidal.

It's a wrap. Vidal says that he "can't wait" to see the episode and that transforming into a yellow-skinned character is a return of sorts: "After all, I had jaundice as a kid." On the way out, he segues into a favorite topic and tells the producers, "There's a White House plan to destabilize California like they've destabilized Iraq or Iran." Then he leaves the studio. Alive. Vidal is the only one of these authors to escape a cartoon death.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Haggard and Strangers are now just a quick click away


Saturday November 12, 2005

Haggard and Strangers are now just a quick click away

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Merle Haggard and the Strangers will play today in the front room of the country singer's Northern California home. For 15 bucks, you're invited.

To watch via your computer, that is. "We'll webcast and let the world decide whether or not they like it," said Haggard, who has dubbed the series of six Saturday afternoon shows "Merle Haggard on the Sabbath."

"We're doing something that's never really been done with my kind of music.

"I've always wanted to do this, ever since I was a child and I heard Bob Wills on a noonday broadcast," Haggard said.

With technology now available to stream video over the Web, he said that he will use it to create the same kind of soundscape and relaxed environment he remembers from the radio days of his youth.

"There will be a lot less wham-bang. It's more about circling up in the front room and playing music like folks used to do before it became so commercial," Haggard said. "We're trying to give it to you as raw as we can."

Each show will be a mixture of taped and live sets, interspersed with bits such as a "Martha Stewart-type segment where my wife will get her favorite recipe and show you how it's cooked," Haggard said.

"My band will be my helpers in presenting the show, and we'll each have microphones, and we'll discuss whatever topic comes to mind," he said. "On shows, after the first one, we'll have the capability of going to the phones and e-mail, and taking requests."

The show, at, will stream at 3 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 17. If it's successful, Haggard intends to expand the run, perhaps indefinitely, in which case he and his family may even move out of the home and turn it into a full-time Internet stage.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Nomination for Jolie-Pitt pairing


Friday November 11, 2005

Nomination for Jolie-Pitt pairing

By Steven Barrie-Anthony

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are up for a People's Choice award celebrating their on-screen chemistry in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," CBS announced Thursday. Both actors were also nominated for individual titles: favorite leading man and favorite female movie star.

Winners, decided by popular vote (weigh in at will be announced Jan. 10 at the 32nd annual People's Choice Awards, held at the Shrine Auditorium and broadcast on CBS. The show will be hosted by Craig Ferguson.

Other nominees include Jennifer Garner (favorite female action star), Usher (favorite male performer), "The Simpsons" (favorite TV comedy), and Ellen DeGeneres (favorite funny female star).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Koontz talk brings claims of racism

Thursday November 10, 2005

Koontz talk brings claims of racism
* Author defends his 'Mr. Teriyaki' anecdote as merely humor.



  Koontz debate -- An article in Thursday's Calendar Weekend
section about comments made by author Dean Koontz at an Irvine
convention incorrectly implied that an official group of writers had
voiced concerns about perceived racism in Koontz's remarks. The
writers who have expressed concern are not connected by any group
affiliation with either the Men of Mystery or the Literary Guild of
Orange County, two groups mentioned in the article.


By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

BESTSELLING thriller writer Dean Koontz had told the anecdote dozens of times before: The author wanted his name removed from a film version of one of his books, so he sent a series of letters to the head of the Japanese company that owned the movie studio, mentioning World War II, the Bataan Death March and Godzilla.

For years, people would laugh at the story.

But after Koontz retold the anecdote on Saturday to a gathering of mystery writers and fans in Irvine -- during which he referred to the studio executive as "Mr. Teriyaki" -- and now the mystery writers group is speaking out against what it perceived as Koontz's blatant racism, and a widespread debate has emerged on Southern California literary blogs about where humor ends and racism begins.

"What if the CEO was black?" wrote author Lee Goldberg, who was present at the event, on his blog. "Would Koontz have addressed his letters to Mr. Fried Chicken and joked about the good old days of slavery and racial discrimination? Or if the CEO was a Jew? Would he have called him Mr. Matzoball and reminded him of the Holocaust? I was astonished that people were laughing when they should have shunned him with silence."

Others disagreed. "My writing peers need to spend more time writing and less time defending the free world from the menace of Dean Koontz," J.A. Konrath wrote in an e-mail to The Times. "Dean didn't blow up a nursing home -- he simply recounted a humorous anecdote."

Koontz blames the brouhaha on "some sort of an agenda," and writers who attended the speech were divided over whether the comments constituted racism.

He was unaware of any concerns, Koontz said, because many in the audience laughed and applauded during his speech. Bloggers started posting opinions on Sunday, and Koontz said that he and his publisher, Bantam Dell, began receiving feedback "from people who weren't even there, people who were calling me names."

Koontz phoned Goldberg and other writers but was dissatisfied with the conversations.

"I was a poor kid with a Jewish grandmother and a great-grandmother who was black," Koontz said. "I grew up in a dirt-poor family. I'm used to the abuse that you take. I don't dish it out, I never have, and this is just appalling to me. I guess I'll be smeared with this for the rest of my life. I'm not outraged, I'm not spooked, it's just -- my sadness is so deep."

"I'll stand by the letters" to the Japanese executive, he said. "They're George Carlin-esque. There's some political incorrectness in it, but nothing mean."

At the event, Koontz began reciting each letter with the now controversial salutation, "Dear Mr. Teriyaki."

"My letter of 10 November has not been answered," one read. "As I am certain you are an honorable and courteous man, I would assume your silence results from the mistaken belief that World War II is still in progress and that the citizens of your country and mine are forbidden to communicate. Enclosed is a copy of the front page of the New York Times from 1945, with the headline, 'Japan Surrenders.' "

Another suggested to the Japanese executive, "We could have a few sake and reminisce about the Bataan Death March."

The line between racism and socially accepted parody is often easier to discern in hindsight, said Brian Lickel, a USC social psychologist.

"We all want to divide the world into good and bad, and I think we struggle with the same thing with racism. The reality is that there's a continuum, a lot of gray. Perhaps what happened is that from his point of view, he's giving a speech and he looks out and people in the crowd are laughing, people aren't storming out. So he has always assumed that this anecdote is all golden, whereas the reality is that before this outcry, plenty of people were likely disturbed by it."

Koontz's publisher stands by the author, as does the organizer of the event.

"It was not racist," said Joan Hansen, founder and chairwoman of the Men of Mystery event that benefits the Literary Guild of Orange County. "He first asked politely that his name be removed from the movie, and never heard back. So he wanted to do something to get their attention. His point was, the war is over, we can be friends."

Amid scandal, Libby's '03 novel is suddenly hot


Thursday November 10, 2005

Amid scandal, Libby's '03 novel is suddenly hot

By Steven Barrie-Anthony

Following widespread interest by booksellers and consumers in I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's 2003 novel, "The Apprentice," publisher Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's has decided to reprint 25,000 copies of the paperback. The book will ship to bookstores by Nov. 18, John Karle, St. Martin's associate director of publicity, said Wednesday.

"Originally we had not intended to reprint the book, but there has recently been a lot of interest in the book both from the media and from our accounts," Karle said.

The spike in the book's popularity is tied to the recent indictment of Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, on charges of obstructing justice, making false statements and perjury as related to the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation. After the indictment, Libby's then out-of-print novel was offered on EBay for a sum of $2,400, according to Publisher's Weekly.

"The Apprentice" takes place in Japan in 1903, when a group of strangers seeks refuge from harsh weather in a remote mountain inn.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Toyota pulls its ads off 'Nip/Tuck' series


Wednesday November 09, 2005

Toyota pulls its ads off 'Nip/Tuck' series
* The move follows a letter-writing campaign by a parents watchdog group decrying the FX drama's raw content.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Toyota Motor Corp. has pulled all advertising from the FX drama "Nip/Tuck" in part over concerns about the show's content, according to a Nov. 1 letter from the automaker addressed to the television decency advocacy group Parents Television Council.

The move follows a letter-writing campaign by the L.A.-based PTC informing "Nip/Tuck" advertisers of the graphic depictions of sex and violence on the show and asking them to rescind their sponsorships, said Tim Winter, the group's executive director.

"We applaud Toyota for their decision," Winter said. "We understand their need to reach young audiences and their desire for edgy programming.... Protecting children from graphic sex and violence in the media is a shared responsibility. Parents are the front line, but advertisers need to be responsible also."

The PTC has contacted hundreds of "Nip/Tuck" advertisers since the show first aired in 2003, said Winter, "and dozens have responded by no longer sponsoring shows or letting us know that they won't continue their sponsorship in the future."

Having advertisers walk away is nothing new for the surgery-heavy show. Last year, Ben & Jerry's and Gateway Inc. were among firms that pulled ads from the show, although reasons for their decisions were not publicly given. Other advertisers sometimes pulled out of specific episodes, such as one that included underage drinking.

Toyota spokeswoman Nancy Hubbell said the carmaker's decision was based on several factors, including content. She described the move as part of a broader reevaluation of where and how Toyota advertises.

John Solberg, vice president of public relations for FX, declined to comment on Toyota's decision, saying the network does not discuss individual advertisers.

"The show is sold out for the season at one of the highest advertiser rates in all of cable," Solberg said. He said that the show's first seven episodes averaged 2.8 million viewers in the highly valued 18-49 age bracket.

Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this report.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Cruise drops sister as his PR agent


Tuesday November 08, 2005

Cruise drops sister as his PR agent

By Steven Barrie-Anthony

Tom Cruise announced Monday that he had hired veteran Hollywood publicist Paul Bloch of Rogers & Cowan public relations to manage his image. Lee Anne DeVette, Cruise's sister and publicist since 2004, will manage his philanthropic activities.

This last year the once-media shy actor publicly clashed with Brooke Shields over her use of psychiatric medication to treat her postpartum depression and leapt onto Oprah's couch while proclaiming his love for Katie Holmes. Cruise also became more vocal about his religion, Scientology (DeVette is a fellow Scientologist).

On Monday, Bloch said he had "no thoughts" on those events. "I think Tom has handled himself magnificently, and I think Lee Anne has handled it magnificently, and I'm so pleased they brought us on," he said.

Whether or not Bloch will handle any Scientology-related publicity is unclear. "I'm sure we'll have some involvement with them," he said. "But all we have been advised so far is that we are dealing strictly with the entertainment side."

Cruise praised his sister for doing "a wonderful job" as his publicist but added in a prepared statement that she had long expressed an interest in overseeing his philanthropy. "With our current plans to increase those endeavors ... this seemed the appropriate time to make that segue, and to bring Rogers & Cowan on board to handle mine and the company's entertainment related publicity needs."

Monday, November 7, 2005

Finding those deeper connections


Monday November 07, 2005

Finding those deeper connections

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

It was 1972 and David Lynch was encountering in full measure this fickle and disappointing world. The filmmaker who would go on to direct "Blue Velvet" and "Lost Highway" was making $50 a week delivering the Wall Street Journal, with moviemaking as a sideline. He was angry much of the time and didn't know why.

Then he heard the maxim "True happiness doesn't lie out there somewhere. It lies within yourself." He searched for a way to access unadulterated bliss and stumbled upon Transcendental Meditation, a practice based in an ancient Indian tradition that the Beatles and Mia Farrow made famous when they embraced it in the 1960s.

Lynch has meditated every day since, and this weekend, he was at UC Irvine, encouraging students to find strength within themselves and "experience the unity of existence."

But among a rapt audience of nearly 1,000 on Saturday, not everyone was there to learn about meditation. One would-be screenwriter approached the microphone to say, "I just have a yes-or-no question: Can you read my script?" Later, a film student asked Lynch for advice about getting into the business.

"My advice is to stay true to yourself, to let your voice ring out," Lynch said. "And -- not to push for Transcendental Meditation -- but to me, that word 'transcendental' is very important. Start diving within, enliven your bliss consciousness. You'll glow. All your friends will be very happy with you. Everyone will want to sit next to you and give you money."

When Lynch giggled, the hall exploded in laughter.

The nationwide tour has drawn huge crowds of college students; on Saturday, organizers opened up two spillover auditoriums where UCI students and others watched Lynch speak on video monitors.

Students are more than simply interested in rubbing shoulders with a famous movie director, says Manuel Gomez, the UC Irvine vice chancellor who invited Lynch to campus. "There has recently been a growing thirst among many young people for a deeper connection to their lives and to the world around them."

The theory of the underlying unity of all things, expressed in different forms in many mystical traditions, has been criticized by some postmodern thinkers as devaluing the vast expanse of human differences; on Saturday, that debate played out before the crowd.

"I find this to be problematic," one student said to Lynch. "The world is diverse, and I don't find that to be a bad thing."

"Oh, but it's beautiful, diversity and unity," Lynch said. "When you raise your consciousness, you experience diversity much more."

"It sounds like you're selfish, like this is more and more about the individual," countered the student.

After the event, Lynch signed autographs, and John Hagelin, a quantum physicist and proponent of TM who also spoke, chatted about science and enlightenment. A group of graduate students debriefed. They were hoping TM could help reduce their stress levels.

"We've got hives on our hives," said Dan Lench, a doctoral student in civil engineering. "After watching this, I still don't know how to do the meditation. I just hope that when I ... visit their website, I'll be able to learn something more specific."

Friday, October 21, 2005

Spielberg's Shoah Foundation Officially Joins USC


Friday October 21, 2005

Spielberg's Shoah Foundation Officially Joins USC
* The director's archive of visual histories of Holocaust survivors becomes a division of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Steven Spielberg would be there. That's all USC freshman Jason Zeldez needed to know. He and a fellow cinema major hiked across campus Thursday to wait in line outside Bovard Auditorium.

"I don't really know what this is about," Zeldez said. "The Shoah Foundation? I'm not really sure what that is."

Spielberg started the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation on the set of the 1993 movie "Schindler's List" in order to document the life stories of Holocaust survivors (Shoah is Hebrew for "calamity"), and on Thursday the foundation became a division of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Its archive includes 52,000 videotaped life histories, all digitized and searchable by keyword, exhibited in an expanding number of museums and classrooms worldwide.

"Aside from my family," said Spielberg, "it's the biggest thing I've done in my life."

The merger, which came after years of negotiations involving the foundation and a number of universities, is effective in January, with USC promising to preserve and propagate the archive in perpetuity. The annual budget will be about $5 million and will be drawn from USC coffers.

"I've been the lightning rod of this foundation since its inception, and there is a prejudice against figureheads in Hollywood," said Spielberg, a USC trustee. As part of a university, "the Shoah Foundation will be taken much more seriously throughout the world."

The complete archive is viewable on computer systems at universities including USC, Rice, Yale and the University of Michigan, and portions are available to museums, research institutions and schools worldwide.

Access to the archives will expand in coming years, said Douglas Greenberg, chief executive of the Shoah Foundation.

"We intend to expand the focus of what we do, chronologically, geographically and topically. Imagine educational products built around testimonials of Rwandan survivors, Darfurian survivors, even survivors of the Hurricane Katrina. Our larger mission is documenting the experience of the people in the 21st century so that people in subsequent centuries will understand what the world was like."

The ceremony opened with a film depicting images from the Holocaust and other atrocities, and outlining the foundation's methods and mission: "To overcome prejudice, intolerance and bigotry -- and the suffering they cause -- through the educational use of the foundation's visual history testimonies."

After the lights went up, USC President Steven B. Sample and Spielberg met onstage to applause from the nearly 2,000 people in attendance.

"When I visited the memorial in Auschwitz, I could see that it was, appropriately, about those who died," Sample said. "But the Shoah Foundation is about the living."

USC is the ideal venue for this archive, he said, in part because of its long-standing interest in digital library technology.

"People have been wanting to tell me their stories for years, but it usually involves a lawyer and some kind of a deal," Spielberg joked. "I'm immediately suspicious."

But he recalled feeling greatly moved by the Holocaust survivors who recounted their stories for "Schindler's List," the tale of Oskar Schindler, a Czech businessman who exploited cheap Jewish labor during World War II but also saved more than 1,000 lives during the Holocaust.

"They couldn't tell their stories to their grandchildren or their own children, but they could tell them to a stranger who they thought they could trust," Spielberg said. So he "sent a bunch of video cameras around the world," and the Shoah Foundation was born.

The videos have gone through many manifestations over the last decade. First shot on beta film, the footage was transferred to digital stock and then to computer hard drives. The thousands of hours of footage proved unwieldy, so Shoah Foundation employees devised a method of indexing and cataloging using 30,000 keywords.

"I see the Shoah Foundation 10 years from now as the hub of a wheel with many spokes," Spielberg said after the ceremony. "Each spoke is a different visual history about a different cultural event that changed the world."

Using the videos in education is important, he said. "I would like to see tolerance education taught at every school. Public schools are the tough nut to crack. I would love to see tolerance education as a prerequisite for graduating high school."

As Spielberg and his father, Arnold, left the theater, scores of students and others crowded around them, holding out magazines, movies and pictures for the director to autograph. Bill Moss, a 20-year-old student at Cal State Fullerton was first in line. Afterward, Moss wiped tears from his eyes and smiled.

"The Shoah Foundation videotaped my grandfather, Al Moss, in 1995," he said, holding up the tape that Spielberg signed. "My grandfather raised me like a father. He was the only one of 14 family members to leave Auschwitz alive."

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Protesters Press Quietly for an End to War


Sunday October 09, 2005

Protesters Press Quietly for an End to War
* Activist Cindy Sheehan joins peace advocate Thich Nhat Hanh as thousands march at L.A.'s MacArthur Park.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Thousands gathered in MacArthur Park on Saturday morning to advocate for peace -- but left banners and megaphones at home.

Activist mom Cindy Sheehan, whose summer vigil outside President Bush's Texas ranch crystallized antiwar sentiment, sat in silence with the others as Buddhist monk and longtime peace advocate Thich Nhat Hanh explained from an open stage: "We don't think shouting in anger can help. If you make people angry and fearful, then you cannot reduce violence and fear.

"When you speak to people, you should speak to them in a language they can understand. By doing that, we can turn our enemies into our friends."

Hanh, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., conceived and organized this "silent peace walk" as a "gift to the people of Los Angeles."

Peace must arise from within the self, he said, before it can spread out across the "collective unconscious" and put an end to conflict and war.

"Walk as if you kiss the earth with your feet, really tenderly, with all your love," he told the crowd. "If you know how to touch the present moment, you will touch the ultimate, you will touch God."

And so approximately 3,000 people rose quietly about 11:30 a.m. and followed Hanh through the cordoned-off streets surrounding the park.

Monks and nuns, many from Hanh's Plum Village monastery in France, walked slowly with the rest. Except for whispers and the occasional cellphone chime, it remained quiet for the nearly two-hour stroll, and even the dozen or so counterdemonstrators along the route let their anti-Hanh signs ("Down With Thich Nhat Hanh") do the talking.

Afterward, participants lounged on the grass surrounding the stage and ate lunch -- in silence.

Monks, nuns and others shared their food with those who had none. Hanh offered a blessing and suggested that each person eat as mindfully as they walked; "Chew each bite maybe 30 times, until the food tastes very good," he said.

"I've been to antiwar rallies where we carry picket signs and march, and it's very aggressive," said Michelle Thomas, a former actor from Westminster, sitting on a grassy hill after the stroll. "This wasn't one of those. I was actually able to feel in the present, something I've never been able to feel before. It just makes me feel that good things are possible."

Hanh's philosophy "is more pro-peace than anti-something," said Patrick Netter, an author who demonstrates fitness gear on TV, sitting nearby. "I'm not religious; I'm more interested in spirituality. What he says resonates with me. I think these things make a difference. Like when you drop a rock into a lake: Concentric circles spread out across its surface."

Ana Gonzalez felt more alienated than transformed, however. "I brought the flag of my country, Venezuela," said the sociologist from Van Nuys, "and one of the monks approached me and told me that I was forbidden to bring a sign. I knew you weren't supposed to bring signs, but this isn't a sign. I just want people to know that Venezuela is a nation of peace and love. I was seeking peace, but I was made to feel like an outsider."

Earlier that morning, before the masses arrived, Hanh sat in a small room in the park's community center chatting with his comedian friend Garry Shandling and a few monks and nuns.

"In France, we do peaceful walking, and people within 30 kilometers report that they feel the feeling of peace," he said. A few minutes later, Sheehan walked in and the two met for the first time. They embraced. And then Hanh continued: "I don't think shouting angrily at government can help us end the war. When we are able to change our own thinking, the government will have to change."

Friday, October 7, 2005

A public forum for the voices of dissent


Friday October 07, 2005

A public forum for the voices of dissent

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

A man wearing a Mohawk and a skull ring on his finger is sitting in a crowded theater in Little Tokyo, explaining American history to the woman next to him. She hasn't read a word of Howard Zinn, if you can believe it. Her thoughts on American history are still based at least in part on that limited canon they teach in schools.

Better begin at the beginning.

"Columbus' first thought was of acquisition," Mohawk explains, and she leans in to listen: Columbus and a string of celebrated white men to follow were responsible for murder and oppression, and these are the long-distant relatives of the imperialist right-wingers now encamped in our White House. "It's worth reading 'A People's History of the United States,' " says Mohawk, as lights dim. "Those are the voices the media doesn't cover. But mostly, it's a heartbreaking story."

And here comes the book's author; at the sight of Zinn, attendees at the sold-out program at the George and Sakaye Aratani / Japan America Theatre erupt in raucous applause, everybody on their feet.

The 83-year-old historian, his brown khakis reaching a little short of his brown loafers, puts on his glasses and then takes them off, shifts his weight from one leg to the other.

"Thank you," he says, then stops as the cheering begins anew. "My name is Howard Zinn."

Kindhearted guffaws translate as: You need no introduction. By the end of the night, booksellers outside will have sold nearly 200 copies of Zinn and Anthony Arnove's new compilation, "Voices of a People's History of the United States," the just-published companion to the original 1980 bestseller and the script for the evening's reading.

This is a book tour event only in the most superficial sense. More important, says Zinn, it's an opportunity to engage publicly with voices of dissent against the established order.

"Our heroes are not Theodore Roosevelt, but Mark Twain," he tells the audience. "Not Woodrow Wilson, but Helen Keller."

There are other dissenters here too, of course, including actors who will read aloud passages from "Voices," channeling moments of suffering and bravery through oppression.

Viggo Mortensen of "Lord of the Rings" fame gets the biggest ovation -- his T-shirt reads: "Impeach, Remove, Jail" -- followed by Sandra Oh, Marisa Tomei, Josh Brolin and others. When Danny Glover arrives from LAX halfway through the show, the audience pauses at length to cheer his participation.

Mortensen's text is from Bartolome de Las Casas, a contemporary of Columbus who wrote in detail of the conquistadors: The Christian Spaniards, "with their horses and swords and pikes, began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against [Native Americans.] They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed."

A rhythm sets in, with actors rising and assuming the guise of the outspoken and oppressed. Applause breaks out whenever a word or a phrase has applicability in the partisan debates of today, which is often -- like when Emma Goldman (read by Oh) defines patriotism as "the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers."

In sum, however, the evening moves beyond the mingling of celebrity and political correctness. When not cheering, more than a few audience members reach to wipe their eyes.

This history of the United States is drenched in sweat and blood, in cruelty and genocide, but "I don't go around depressed," Zinn had said earlier.

"I have been involved in enough movements for change to understand that change takes a long time and comes out of persistence. It's a matter of having a long-term perspective, and not expecting that things will change in my lifetime. I have a basic faith in human beings, in a kind of common sense, common decency. When people learn the truth about what is going on, they respond."

On Wednesday evening, the response is deafening.

What began with De Las Casas ended with a rousing speech by Cindy Sheehan, the Vacaville, Calif., woman whose son was killed last year in Baghdad and has since been demanding a meeting with President Bush and an end to the Iraq war.

Sheehan isn't here in the flesh -- her words are read by Tomei. "I do see hope," Tomei reads aloud. "I see hope in this country. Fifty-eight percent of the American public are with us. We're preaching to the choir, but not everybody in the choir is singing."

At the after-party held nearby, actor participants and famous radical Angelenos mingle with Zinn, who looks exhausted but nonetheless stays until midnight.

Between bites of stuffed piquillo peppers and marinated shrimp, they tell him how much they love his work, love him.

"I'd do anything for Howard," says Brolin, wearing a black motorcycle jacket and blue jeans. "He has a truly incredible spirit and incredible intelligence, and that combination is rare."

"It's one of the great pleasures in my life to have met such a great man," says Leslie Silva, who voiced African American unionist Sylvia Woods. "Somebody who has dedicated his life to people less fortunate than he."

By Silva's side is the man with the Mohawk, her boyfriend, a banjo player named Elijah Anarchist.

He loves Zinn too, Anarchist says, but he paints a less exuberant picture.

"The largest part of this crowd consists of people wanting Viggo Mortensen's autograph," he says. "If you had Emma Goldman and the rest of them here tonight, you'd have had half the crowd. The reason this was as packed as it was? Paparazzi autograph hounds."

It's true -- as soon as Mortensen heads out of the theater, through a side exit, somebody spots him and he's immediately surrounded by autograph seekers, some carrying "Lord of the Rings" paraphernalia. But it's also true that nearby, Zinn finds himself sitting at a table where three times as many people await his autograph and his handshake.

Friday, September 30, 2005

A nod from Winfrey lifts author


Friday September 30, 2005

Style & Culture
A nod from Winfrey lifts author
* Sales of a memoir by James Frey receive a jolt after it is included in the TV host's book club.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Probably the biggest news of his career and James Frey couldn't tell his mother. It was 1:15 on an early September afternoon and Frey was sitting in his tiny home office in Amagansett, N.Y., ear glued to the phone, talking to Oprah Winfrey.

Thirteen years previous, Frey was in an Ohio jail serving time for assault and convalescing from the spiraling addiction to alcohol and crack that nearly killed him. "I wasn't a writer, just a troubled kid," he said in a grainy voice tinged with hard living. But sobriety ushered in a writer's drive and sensibility, and Frey's gritty memoir "A Million Little Pieces" came to life in 2003 as a statement as well as a story.

"It's a gob of spit in the face of victimization culture," Frey said. "I hadn't ever read a book or seen movies or television that got addiction right. A lot of times people try to blame other people for their problems or try to romanticize addiction. I don't believe that most addicts are victims of anything but themselves."

The book was a runaway success, and Frey began receiving about 200 fan letters a day. But there's a bestseller and then there's an Oprah's Book Club bestseller. "Oprah can take a book from being successful to being extremely successful," said Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly. "A mention from her is every author's dream. She's hugely powerful."

Frey knew this. His mother, Lynn, an Oprah fan for years, kept him up to date with the talk show queen's suggested readings. He also knew that Oprah had suspended her book club in 2002, only to revive it last year for classics only. So when he answered the phone and a woman introduced herself as a producer from the Oprah show, the whole thing smelled of a prank. He went along anyhow, agreeing to make an appearance to discuss addiction. Then Oprah herself picked up the phone and popped the question: Would he be interested in being part of the Oprah's Book Club?

Frey was "shocked and thrilled" and agreed immediately. He told his wife that afternoon but a confidentiality contract banned him from telling anybody else, including his mother, until Oprah made the official announcement. (Lynn Frey "coincidentally" received an invitation to the taping, which aired on Sept. 22, and screamed from the audience, "That's my son!" when Oprah made the reveal.) In the meantime, the book's publisher, Anchor Books, ordered 600,000 additional copies to bolster its reserves. It would need those and more: Within a day of being selected, "A Million Little Pieces" rocketed to No. 1 on, and four days after the announcement, bookstores had sold roughly 85,000 copies.

Although he "gets nervous in front of big crowds" and says that "writers are very solitary people, and I enjoy being alone for hours each day," Frey is fervently enthusiastic about his association with Oprah. He repeats words like "awesome" and "amazing" and considers it "my duty to make Oprah feel proud for having chosen me, to participate happily, willingly and joyfully in everything related to being part of this."

His unabashed enthusiasm contrasts sharply with the string of qualms that Jonathan Franzen let fly in 2001 when Oprah nominated his novel, "The Corrections," for inclusion in the club. Although Franzen later apologized and backpedaled, it was clear that he considered the honor a dubious one. Oprah promptly rescinded his welcome.

That's unlikely to happen with Frey, who is vocally unafraid of any kind of populist stigma. "I'm not part of the literati at this point," he said. "I don't write criticisms, I don't participate in literati activities. I don't care about that stuff, frankly. I just think it's amazing that so many people are going to read my book. I'm happy to have any reader, regardless of their socioeconomic standing, their education or anything else."

The literary and publishing world is positively giddy about Oprah's return to contemporary authors; the club is perhaps the only platform that can transform any book into a smash overnight. M.J. Rose, author of "The Halo Effect," has suggested that the sharp drop-off in fiction book sales after Sept. 11 was related less to the national chaos than to Oprah's hiatus from recommending authors of today.

"And I'm really excited that Oprah picked something that's this edgy and dark," Rose said. "It's not typical at all of the kinds of books she used to pick.... I've talked to three authors in the last 24 hours who all said, 'This means that any of us could be chosen now.' "

Frey is of course busier than ever; he sits in his office at his little desk, shuffling through the thousands of songs on his computer, and typing away. The sequel to his debut, "My Friend Leonard," was published in June and he's at work on a detective show pilot and a screenplay about the founder of the Hell's Angels (both for Fox) and a novel about Los Angeles.

"Los Angeles is just a giant, incredible city unlike any other city in the world," he said. "Its culture is different and its geography is different. But when anybody writes about it, it's always crime or Hollywood. There haven't been any great books about the rest of this giant metropolis."

Then, three or four times each day, Frey puts his 9-month-old daughter in a stroller and walks with her through the neighborhood. She has no idea about the Oprah hubbub, Frey says. She may be the only one.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Getaway, in the city


Thursday September 22, 2005

Getaway, in the city
* Even in frenetic, frustrating Los Angeles, there are places where people can slow down and relax. You just have to find them.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

There are places on this Earth that promise a peaceful easy feeling, places that suggest a chance at serenity. Hawaii, Yosemite, Martha's Vineyard. Los Angeles, typically, is not on that list.

It's a city of unrivaled opportunity and heart-wrenching disappointment, frenetic energy and inertia, creativity and writer's block. There's all that smog and so much pent-up frustration that a mistake on the freeway might just get you shot. Despite our sunlight and swaying palms, Los Angeles lost its title as the capital of mellow a long time ago. It's too busy or too gritty, too nouveau riche or too superficial. Choose your epithet.

Bertold Brecht wrote that "The angels of Los Angeles / Are tired out with smiling." Truman Capote compared this place to "a jumble of huts in a jungle somewhere." But not every Angeleno flees the area when the need to relax arises; there are places close by or within a relatively easy drive where you can catch your breath. Ask around, and you'll find a surprising number of contemplative niches that begin to contradict the angriest descriptions of the city. Joan Didion even waxed poetic about our gridlock, if you can believe it. "The freeway experience ... is the only secular communion Los Angeles has," she wrote. "Actual participation requires a total surrender, a concentration so intense as to seem a kind of narcosis, a rapture-of-the-freeway. The mind goes clean. The rhythm takes over."

In case you're not ready to experience rush hour as meditation, here are a few less challenging Southland destinations that encourage a feeling of quietude and peace.

Hollywood Forever

Cemeteries are some of the most beautiful and contemplative spots around, Beverly Coop says. Just look, here, at Hollywood Forever. Coop and pal Jenna Moerk are sitting on the steps of the island mausoleum dedicated to William A. Clark Jr., founder of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Ducks preen in the surrounding pond, and headstones and monuments rise from grassy earth in every direction.

"I walk around and wonder at who might've known these people, who grieved for them, who's still grieving for them," says Coop. Moerk adds: "I've been to all the cemeteries around here. It's quiet time. No one bothers you."

Spend an afternoon at Forever and you'll realize two things: that relaxing graveside is far less macabre than it sounds; and that you're not the only one who enjoys it. There are benches throughout the property, but the best vantage points are by the countless shrines and tombs lining the 63-acre sprawl.

Mourning passersby whisper of loved ones lost, but other visitors seek out graves of fallen heroes buried here -- Rudolph Valentino, Jayne Mansfield, Cecil B. DeMille -- or chuckle wistfully about how a stroll through these stones is about all you need to put life into perspective.

Bodhi Tree


West Hollywood

Seekers of all stripes have long adored the Bodhi Tree Bookstore, and three decades of footsteps have worn pathways into the varnish of its floors. Regulars grab complimentary cups of herbal tea and drag green lawn chairs into favorite corners. Some buy books and others don't, but the staff doesn't seem to care either way.

"This place lends itself to calmness," says longtime visitor Karin Meidel, reclining by a window and paging through a book on a personality profiling system. "People come here looking to improve themselves; people here are a little more evolved."

The selection is heavy on metaphysics and mysticism -- with shelves labeled Astrology; Native American Shamanism; Inner Healing Dreams; UFOs -- but there are also mainstream favorites like the newest "Harry Potter" and plenty of purely rational, scientific fare. Music piped throughout has a soft New Age flavor and complements the scents that emerge from racks of incense, perfumed soaps, candles and essential oils.

Overstimulated? Head next door to the used-book section. The subject matter is the same, but it's so quiet you'll hear your own footfalls, and the only scent in the air is of yellowing pages.

Brand Library,


You may think you've come to Brand Library in Glendale for a book, but the surrounding park will beckon. There are soft grassy slopes and sunlight, and if you listen carefully you'll hear the nearby thwack of bats on balls and snippets of laughter on a perpetual breeze. Everywhere you look you'll see another tilted grassy slope, another tree to rest your back against, another city dweller strolling absent-mindedly and not looking the least bit guilty about it.

The library, housed in the 1904 mansion of wealthy Glendale benefactor Leslie C. Brand and resting in the foothills overlooking the city, is renowned for its art and music collections. The pristine white building conjures up an Indian palace with its arches and grand bulbous domes. An art gallery and concert room sit adjacent to the main facilities, and the Brand estate extends on all sides. There's a baseball diamond, a sandy playground for children, and enough grass, open space and hiking trails on the nearly 500 acres out back to exhaust you. Trek far enough and you'll find a waterfall.

Why read at home? Plop down in the library and page through an art book and listen to music. Or close your eyes and forget why you came and let everything go slow.

Ultra-high seats,

Dodger Stadium

It's good that the Dodgers aren't the Yankees. If Dodger Stadium was packed to the brim every game, then there wouldn't be patches of empty seats high in the top deck, and you wouldn't be able to camp out in the worst seats in the park, all by yourself. Average attendance this season is 44,722, which leaves more than 11,000 empty seats on any given evening.

Love baseball or hate it, it doesn't matter. Pack a picnic and head to the game a little late. Buy the cheapest ticket available ($6 for adults, $4 for kids) and climb stairs until your legs ache. Search for wherever people aren't.

Get settled, put your feet up. Down below, throngs of fans cheer and boo and drink and instigate the human wave -- but here at the lip of the giant bowl there's a balance between the fans' tunnel vision bravado and the nearby expanse of sky.

It's not the same with other sports. "You can watch a tight, well-played football game, but it isn't exciting if half the stadium is empty," former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn once wrote. "But you can go to a ball park on a quiet Tuesday afternoon with only a few thousand people in the place and thoroughly enjoy a one-sided game." Indeed you can, and it doesn't much matter who wins.

James Irvine Garden,

Little Tokyo

The James Irvine Garden in Little Tokyo tells a story that's worth hearing. But first you have to find the space, on a recessed plot at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo. Take the lobby elevator to the basement and walk through an institutional-looking hallway to the doors that open to the garden. The painstakingly landscaped Japanese-style sanctuary is hidden just enough so that it's often empty.

Cross its perfectly manicured lawn, traverse two wooden bridges and you'll discover the fountainhead. The spring represents "the immigrants coming from Japan," says Robert Hori, director of board and donor relations at the center. Then the stream divides.

"One path is a turbulent, chilly path, and the other moves slowly, contains more placid waters," says Hori. "These are the two sides of the immigration experience: those who saw Japan as their homeland, and those who saw this as their own country." In the end, the two streams merge into a pond that symbolizes the great American melting pot.

Renowned landscape architect Takeo Uesugi designed the space, and during the construction process he was joined by many gardeners, landscape contractors and nurserymen from throughout the Japanese American community who labored free of charge. The garden was finished in 1979 and two years later was given the National Landscape Award from the American Assn. of Nurserymen, presented by Nancy Reagan.




It's a non sequitur, to be sure, a sliver of serenity sandwiched between Hollywood's Kaiser Permanente facility and the goliath Scientology headquarters. But resist the urge to flee concrete and traffic and instead pull into the parking lot at 4860 Sunset Blvd. Look for the sign that says "Church of All Religions." Walk under the arched gateway. Follow the marigolds.

Each Self-Realization Fellowship temple has its own character, some sitting on regular-sized city lots and others spanning acres, but the spiritual tradition's late founder Paramahansa Yogananda made sure that each was a mecca of tranquillity. Everyone is welcome, all religions and creeds; bring along your Bible, Koran, favorite Buddhist sutra or Nietzsche book. And don't expect proselytizing.

A lot of people come here from Kaiser, explains Ken Francis, the soft-spoken gardener who tends the property full-time. Some just looking for peace, others awaiting a loved one in surgery. Francis doesn't know all of their stories; he just trims and landscapes and does his best to keep up with the garden's 62-year legacy.

The marigolds merge with impatiens of all colors, leading to a small octagonal gazebo surrounded by greenery, a fish pond and fountains overhung by palm fronds and giant bamboo stalks. Doors stand open at either end, and the gazebo is empty except for marble benches and floor tiles that are cool to the touch despite a scorching sun.

Beyond the gazebo, seek out hidden nooks a la the Secret Garden. A metal chair swathed in bamboo. A clearing through a low trellised gate with just enough space for the stone bench and you.

Beach access, Malibu

When you're feeling hopelessly mired in the complications of city dwelling, it might do you good to toss your day planner and cellphone and crawl toward the coast. Malibu is perfect for sunburn and catharsis, but the crowds can be a problem. Even once-upon-a-time uncrowded beaches such as Point Dume brim with bodies on any moderately sunny day. Where can you find serenity on the sand?

Avoid the beaches with giant reputations. Instead, troll Pacific Coast Highway for obscure stretches accessible from the road via overgrown pathways and rusty metal staircases. Look for the small signs announcing "beach access." Park on the shoulder -- look out for the busy traffic on PCH -- and make your way downward. Be forewarned that some property owners along parts of the Malibu coastline are famously annoyed by beachgoers, and visitors are required by law to stay below the "mean high tide line" (the highest point the tide will likely reach that day). There are no lifeguards posted on these stretches, so don't swim alone, and parents: Watch your children. Despite the hassles, such a journey has much to offer.

There's a gorgeous spot along Escondido beach, just south of Zuma. Another, accessible via the Zonker Harris beach access way, is about 300 yards southeast of the Malibu pier. There are also plenty of access spots along Malibu Colony Road and Broad Beach Road that run parallel to PCH.

Claim your own. But you might want to think twice before telling your friends.

Meher Mount, Ojai

There are plenty of parks and gardens open to the public, but few feel as homey and intimate as your own backyard. It's just this kind of intimacy that distinguishes Meher Mount, the roughly hewn ecumenical meditation center that sits atop Sulphur Mountain overlooking Ojai Valley.

Actually, "meditation center" is a stretch: The place is meditative, certainly, but the only structure on the top plateau is a small house where the caretakers live with their daughter. The space is less formal than it is a friendly backyard that you're welcome to stroll through, sit in and gaze from -- at panoramic views of Mt. Baldy, the Channel Islands, Topa Topa....

The dry and rugged landscape conjures up the retreat's late founder, Agnes Baron, the self-proclaimed "witch of Sulphur Mountain" who spent the last decades of her life fighting an uphill battle to keep Meher Mount open to the public and away from developers. The breezy quietude, broken occasionally by a woodpecker's tapping, recalls Baron's muse, Meher Baba, the Indian spiritual master who kept silence for the last 44 years of his life.

Perhaps the prize spot on the 175-acre property is underneath an old oak tree; ask the caretakers and they'll take you to it. Heavy branches overhang a wooden bench and shade you from the sun, and the atmosphere underneath the leafy umbrella is so peaceful and calm that you may well forget to emerge until the sun's setting.

California Scenario,

Costa Mesa

It might seem impossible to find a contemplative niche across the street from that pulsing hub of consumerism, Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza. But trust that opposites can coexist, and find yourself standing on the hot asphalt of a parking lot, staring up at a towering black glass office building.

The freeway roars nearby. Walk between that building and the neighboring Jerry's Famous Deli, however, and you'll hear water flowing over rocks. In this interior courtyard a carefully choreographed stream gurgles down the edge of a massive stone triangle and winds its way through the rest of California Scenario, one of two California sculpture gardens designed by artist Isamu Noguchi. The 1.6-acre site, completed in 1982, explores the crossroads of place and identity that so fascinated Noguchi, himself the combination of two lands and cultures -- the child of a Japanese poet father and an American mother.

At first glance this is a landscape of hard surfaces and sharp edges, but a closer look reveals that cut objects combine with others to suggest arcs and curves; that concrete, granite and rock are mitigated by gentle slopes of grass and sand. The garden "combines all the different landscapes of California in one spot: Desert, mountains, plains or central valley," says Amy Lyford, an associate professor of art history at Occidental College. A redwood grove tickles the boundaries of sand and cacti. Shade commingles with sun, wet with dry.

Los Angeles subway

Remember when you were little, sitting in the back seat of the car while mom or dad drove? You'd stare at your hands or out the window and let the engine's droning carry you toward sleep. As an adult, a ride in the back seat might still serve as a soothing lullaby. But how often do you get that opportunity?

A subway ride can come close.

The Los Angeles subway and light rail systems are vastly underused, so in the middle of the day or later in the evening cars are plenty empty for make-believe. Plug in to an iPod if that's your thing, or just listen to the whirring of wheels-on-tracks and stare out at Los Angeles from above and underneath. Let your eyelids droop, and end up wherever you end up. Then grab another train and head home.

Or stay awake and experiment, explore. Chinatown to Union Station on the Gold Line, then on into Hollywood via the Red Line. As daylight wanes, consider taking a break from riding to watch the sun set from the raised platform of your choice.

And beyond

This list is just the beginning; once you start looking, the region begins to seem like a contemplative place after all. Other worthwhile destinations include the Getty Museum complex, the garden behind the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, the sprawling acres of trees and flowers at the nearby Huntington Library and hiking paths in Griffith Park, Angeles National Park and Runyon Canyon. The sandy landscapes of Death Valley and Joshua Tree are must-sees. And of course there are hundreds of oases that you'll stumble upon if you encounter this bustling cityscape in the right frame of mind.



Peaceful places

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

6000 Santa Monica Blvd.

Hollywood, (323) 469-1181

Open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Bodhi Tree Bookstore

8585 Melrose Ave.

West Hollywood, (310) 659-1733

New bookstore, open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Used bookstore, open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Brand Library

1601 W. Mountain St.

Glendale, (818) 548-2051

Park hours: daylight until 10 p.m.

Library hours: 1 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Dodger Stadium

1000 Elysian Park Ave.

Los Angeles, (323) 224-1500 game schedule.

James Irvine Garden

244 S. San Pedro St.

Los Angeles (Little Tokyo)

(213) 628-2725

Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

Hollywood Self-Realization Fellowship

4860 Sunset Blvd.

Hollywood, (323) 661-8006 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays

Malibu Beach

access ways

For more information about Malibu beach access ways or for directions, contact the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors: or (310) 305-9545.

Gates open at dawn, close at dusk.

There are no lifeguards or other safety features at these beaches; use at your own risk.

Meher Mount

9902 Sulphur Mountain Road

Ojai, (805) 640-0000 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays; noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

The caretakers request that visitors call before arrival.

Los Angeles subway

Schedules at or call 1-800-COMMUTE.