Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Media & Pop Culture

Michael Mann's counterstrike in the climate wars

Michael-MannClimate change may have dropped off the national political agenda, but unfortunately that doesn't mean the problem has gone away. As of January, the Earth's atmosphere contained 393 parts per million of carbon dioxide. And rising.

To understand why that's a very sad number, it helps to know that from the dawn of human civilization until the 19th century, the concentration was about 275 parts per million, and that many scientists believe 350 parts per million is a sort of tipping point: Irreversible impacts and feedback loops start to kick in, and the cost of repairing the resulting damage from such things as sea-level rise and droughts not only skyrockets, the cost of adapting to the changes does too. But we've already sailed past that point. And we're heading inexorably toward another one that's far worse: 450 parts per million, the truly scary level at which 3.5 degrees of warming above pre-industrial global average temperatures is locked in. The predicted result: centuries of weather extremes, drought-fueled global famine, mass migration, the vanishing of low-lying islands and territories as sea ice melts away, wide-scale species extinction and other horrors too numerous and depressing to list.

To global warming denialists, the above paragraph constitutes the "alarmist" perspective on climate change. Never mind that it is backed by a wealth of research, the world's most state-of-the-art climate models (whose accuracy in predicting the recent effects of climate change has been repeatedly demonstrated), the national science academies  of the world's developed nations (including the U.S. National Academies), the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other prominent academic and scientific organizations. To the denial set, these groups and individual scientists are part of a global liberal cabal that is scheming to impose its radical environmentalist agenda on the entire planet via government programs to cut carbon emissions; as proof, denialists point to their own research and studies -- typically funded by fossil fuel interests, performed by non-climatologists and published in non-peer-reviewed journals -- that pick away at the scientific consensus. You wouldn't think such an anti-intellectual and grossly irresponsible movement would have much success in the court of public opinion. You would be horrifyingly wrong....

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Viewing the Oscars through a racial lens

Viola Davis-Octavia Spencer
Between the months-long investigation by The Times that revealed that 94% of the members who make up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are white, and the heated debate about "The Help" putting the "mammy" stereotype back in the spotlight and celebrating the "white savior," it would have been impossible not to watch Sunday's Academy Awards through a racial lens. Here are a few such observations.

"So glad they got rid of the producer who used a homophobic slur so we could get Billy Crystal doing racial jokes and blackface."

With open arms, the Oscars welcomed diversity back to its ceremony, but the embrace turned out to be more awkward than warm. […]

Even before host Billy Crystal took the stage, Morgan Freeman spoke about the glory of films. James Earl Jones received one of the first salutes from Crystal. Pharrell Williams, one of the show's music producers, played the drums alongside percussionist Sheila E. And Octavia Spencer received the evening's first standing ovation when she won the supporting actress Oscar for her role as a downtrodden maid in"The Help." […]

Tweeted one viewer named Lisa: "So glad they got rid of the producer who used a homophoic slur so we could get Billy Crystal doing racial jokes and blackface."

--Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times

"Never listen to anyone try to tell you it isn't about race."

Oh, it's fine to give out plenty of supporting nods to black actresses, but lead? Lead is a whole different thing, isn't it. It's a prom queen thing. It's a Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet thing. It's actresses who get their chances at bat throughout their careers, with plenty of lead roles offered to them and varying degrees of portraits. But Viola Davis? It just doesn't happen. […]

Change will come but it will take more upstarts like Davis. But never listen to anyone try to tell you it isn't about race. It was about race the minute each actress in those films signed their contracts. It was about race because one has had an entire career to stretch and grow and play an array of leading ladies, and one has always had to play whatever tiny character parts the American public could accept a black woman in. Viola Davis was still a winner tonight. She doesn't have an Oscar but she has the right stuff inside that matters."

--Sasha Stone, Awards Daily

"The persistence of segregation"

The off notes began when Billy Crystal resurrected his Sammy Davis, Jr. impersonation for a "Midnight in Paris" sketch at the beginning of the show. The bit is just fine, but on a night that featured Octavia Spencer and Davis as acting nominees for "The Help," and Gabourey Sidibe reflecting on how few women like herself she sees on-screen, it was an unfortunate reminder of how few parts are available for actual African-American actors. It didn't help when, later in the telecast, Crystal joked that after seeing "The Help,""I wanted to hug the first black woman that I saw, which from Beverly Hills is about a 45-minute drive." It might have been a crack on white, wealthy Los Angeles residents, but the joke didn't have quite enough self-awareness about the persistence of segregation. […]

As Chris Rock reminded us, "If you're a black man, you can play a donkey or a zebra."

--Alyssa Rosenberg, ThinkProgress

"Davis made Sunday night at the Oscars a teachable moment"

Whether she knows it or not (she does), Viola Davis made Sunday night at the Oscars a teachable moment, giving the world a crash course in the ever-complicated politics of African-American hair.

Davis, a Best Actress nominee for "The Help," arrived at the awards ceremony in a stunning emerald-colored gown and a natural, curly Afro, instantly lifting the lid from the bubbling pot of anger, judgment, and debate often directed toward African-American women and the varying states of their textured tresses. […]

"She's using her hair to say, 'Don't be confused. I am not who I play on TV or movies,' " says race and cultural writer Rebecca Walker. " 'I have left the plantation and wait for no one to tell my story.' "

--Allison Samuels, the Daily Beast


An Oscar for diversity

Photos: Oscar's best and worst

Academy Awards: It's about art, not political correctness

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Octavia Spencer, right, is congratulated by "The Help" castmate Viola Davis on the way to the stage to accept the supporting actress Oscar. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Oscar contenders for 2013



Stealing Oscar

Hollywood in black and white

Academy Awards: It's about art, not political correctness

--Drawings and text by Steve Brodner / For The Times

Rihanna needs to explain


There could be a dozen reasons why the music stars Chris Brown and Rihanna have collaborated on vocals on two new songs (as they let the world know earlier this week) three years after he brutally beat her in the face on the eve of the Grammys. Here are some possibilities: They’ve both had counseling and have forged a new and wiser friendship; each felt the other was the only singer who could complement their music; they have cynically calculated that the publicity and curiosity generated by their teaming up would make sales skyrocket…

The specific reasons matter less than the mere fact that Rihanna agreed to sing with her former boyfriend Chris Brown, who is still serving a  five-year probation term for what he did to her. 

Most important is that Rihanna address her decision to collaborate with Brown.  Victims forgive their assailants all the time, that’s fine.   What happened here was not a spat, it was an assault.  And for better or worse it played out on a very public stage — the photos of her face after the beating, the video of Brown in court. 

Someone as young as Rihanna (who just turned 24; Brown is 22) with a huge fan base,  should offer a public explanation for why she would permit a man who assaulted her to now sing alongside her.  Rihanna is a successful and talented musician with a substantial amount of control over her career choices.  This is not a woman with limited skills and opportunities who is compelled to take work with a man who beat her.

Dating violence is a troubling national issue. “In a 12-month period, one in 10 high school students nationwide reported they were physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend,” said President Obama in his White House proclamation declaring February 2012 National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.

Rihanna may consider it onerous to have to answer for her actions, but as a public figure, and a role model to a certain extent, whose fans include many young women and girls, she should tell us all why Brown now deserves the respect that she has bestowed upon him by working with him.  


Why Chris Brown is no role model

Grammy Awards shouldn't have celebrated Chris Brown

What's really wrong with Chris Brown's Grammy performance

-- Carla Hall

Photo: Rihanna performing at the Grammys at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 12. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

Gotta get some Google Goggles

Google Goggles illustration

You know what's so great about the world we live in?  It's that there are people out there right now inventing stuff you don't even realize you need.

Take Google. Its Google X lab is reportedly hard at work developing Google Goggles.

Despite the tongue-twister name, Google Goggles will apparently be the next must-have gadget. The so-called smart glasses (gee, who knew that regular glasses were "dumb"?) would somehow connect with the Internet to relay information in a heads-up display. (Shhhh. No one tell Rick Santorum. He'll want to pass a law banning Google Goggles. He thinks God gave us "eyes" for this sort of thing.)

Actually, Google Goggles remind me of Segways. You know, those really cool, high-tech scooters that relieve users of the chore of "walking"?

Anyway, here's what The Times said Wednesday about Google's latest ploy, er, toy:

Google Goggles uses photos, rather than text or voice, to conduct Web searches that can identify artwork, books, albums, contact information from a business card, logos, landmarks, wine bottles and even text to translate.

The experience offered by the glasses would be "Terminator-style" and would display information "based on preferences, location and Google's information," 9to5Google reported.

"The glasses will have a low-resolution built-in camera that will be able to monitor the world in real time and overlay information about locations, surrounding buildings and friends who might be nearby," the New York Times reported. Google intends that users not wear the glasses all the time, but only as needed, the report said.

Uh huh: "Only as needed." Not like that's a slippery slope or anything. Today's young people can't go five minutes without texting, surfing the Web or being on Facebook. (Heck, who am I kidding: A lot of adults can't go five minutes!) Giving these folks Google Goggles would be like those lab experiments in which rats push a button every time they want cocaine. What happens? Bing! Bing! Bing! Bye-bye happy rats!

I mean, didn't anyone at Google see "Brainstorm"? (R.I.P., Natalie Wood.)

However, it's not as if Google isn't taking precautions:

"Internally, the Google X team has been actively discussing the privacy implications of the glasses and the company wants to ensure that people know if they are being recorded by someone wearing a pair of glasses with a built-in camera," the New York Times said.

Which -- I don't know about you -- really puts my mind at ease. That should be an easy problem to solve. After all, Google is famous for worrying about privacy. (However, if Facebook is working on Friend Finder Frames, that's another story.)

OK, enough with the hyperbole. Here's what you really want to know:

According to the New York Times, Google wants the glasses on sale by the end of the year at a price ranging from $250 to $600 -- about the same as a smartphone.

Which is great -- because I thought they would be expensive or something.

Still, I'll bet Apple is toiling away right now on Apple Eyes (or would they be Apple i's?)

And why stop there? How about Nokia Noses, or Samsung Snouts, to help us smell better? And Ericsson Ears?

After all, my nose, and my ears, are pretty "dumb" too.

Bing! Bing! Bing!


Google's embarrassing Safari exploit

'Creatocracy' and the Internet free-for-all

The Dow is climbing! The Dow is climbing!

 -- Paul Whitefield

Image: Illustration from a YouTube video of how Google's Google Goggles technology uses photos to conduct Web searches. Credit: Google Inc.

'Creatocracy' and the Internet free-for-all

Author Elizabeth Wurtzel -- of "Prozac Nation" fame -- argues in a June episode of "Studio 360," which re-aired a couple weeks ago, for preserving the integrity of intellectual property. "Our GDP is now 47% intellectual property," she told host Kurt Andersen. Distributing artists' work free of charge not only threatens the existence of art and creativity, it also threatens a substantial part of our economy.

Rather than view the Internet as an environment that cannibalizes artists' work, some musicians such as Jay-Z have flipped the traditional music industry model on its head. Instead of relying on record sales for the bulk of their income, they use their albums as a marketing tool to get fans to buy concert tickets and merch. The easier their music is to access online, the better the promotion.

Many of the musicians I know don't mind this new model; some even prefer it. They post their new music on social networks, actively inviting fans to listen for free, banking on those listeners to help build buzz. Why wouldn't you adapt, they ask? There's been a similar shift in other creative fields too, with writers, photographers and designers, to name a few, using their personal sites to promote their work in hopes of spreading the word and getting hired.

That's crazy, says Wurtzel. "This is hard work," she told Andersen. "This isn't something people should be giving away for free." It devalues the product. For a "creatocracy" to work, she says:

Wurtzel: [W]e have the only Constitution that has intellectual property in it. […] I think the thing that [the Founding Fathers] did that was unique is that they didn't set up a minister of the arts; they set up a copyright system. They said you could profit from your creativity, they would not support it, there would not be patrons, there would not be the European system.

Andersen: Other countries have copyrights and patents. What makes our version of it special?

Wurtzel: I think that the government pretty much threw it all to the free market. […] They invented the concept of an audience supporting the arts as opposed to patrons of some other method.

Within the world of music, it would seem as though music-streaming subscription services would bridge the gap. Spotify, which is like Netflix for music, for instance, preserves intellectual property; artists get royalties and promotion; and fans get easy, immediate and inexpensive access to just about anything they want to listen to.

If only it were that simple. The editorial board recently took on this topic, writing:

To some labels and artists, the subscription services are little better than piracy. The royalties are minuscule -- about half a penny per song played on Spotify -- and the way they're calculated is maddeningly hard to understand. […]

For better or worse, the Internet makes music instantly available to anyone who wants to hear it. Many of the sources aren't legal, but they're free and easy to find. As a result, broadband has effectively ended the era when people had to buy an album to find out how good every track was (or wasn't). Consumers expect to be able to hear a recording before committing it to their collection. The challenge for artists and labels is to persuade potential fans to do so on legitimate, royalty-paying sites. At the same time, they have to find ways to introduce themselves to new generations of listeners. That means having a presence on the sites that millions of those listeners use, rather than trying to coax them to places chosen by the artist.

As a commenter, WaltMcKibben, writes on our discussion board, "an artist who can cross all the technological borders will define the century."


Why Chris Brown is no role model

Protest songs: Record labels aren't listening

Academy Awards: It's about art, not political correctness

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Jay-Z performs during a concert at Staples Center on March 26, 2011. Credit: Los Angeles Times

The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant approach to relationships [Rall cartoon]

Kobe and Vanessa Bryant seem to be heading toward a bizarre combination: marital bliss coupled with legal (financial) divorce. In his weekly cartoon, Ted Rall imagines where else such odd -- yet beneficial -- arrangements are taking place, from the campaign trail to Afghanistan. Are Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum secretly on the same team? Does President Obama have an arrangement with the Taliban we don't know about -- is the "legal war" for show? Rall's take: "It's very weird -- but a relief from the usual arrangement: legal marriage/de facto estrangement."


Photo gallery: Ted Rall cartoons

The Dow is climbing! The Dow is climbing!

Photos: The vernacular landscape of medical marijuana dispensaries

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Cartoon: Ted Rall / For The Times

Presidential giants of our generation, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton

Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton
There are those who argue that America just doesn't produce the quality of political leadership it once did.

I've never bought that argument.  But I am beginning to wonder.

How else to explain a Presidents Day Gallup poll that found that, among the last eight commanders in chief, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were the most celebrated:

Sixty-nine percent said Reagan would go down as "outstanding" or "above average," compared to just 10% who said "below average" or "poor." Clinton was rated favorably by 60% of those surveyed, a 10-point improvement from the last time Gallup asked the question in early 2009. Twelve percent rated him negatively, down from 20% three years ago.

Admittedly, the bar the last eight presidents set wasn't very high.  There's Richard Nixon -- enough said.  His successor, Gerald R. Ford, was in effect appointed. Jimmy Carter is seemingly everyone's favorite whipping boy.  And George H.W. Bush, the hero of Kuwait, fell victim to an unheroic economy, while his son, George, fell victim to Dick Cheney's hubris.

Reagan, of course, is a god among Republicans today, but Gallup found that even 47% of Democrats said he will be viewed positively in U.S. history.

And what did Reagan and Clinton do to earn such favorable ratings?  The poll doesn't answer that. 

But here's what respondents apparently overlooked:

For Reagan, there's the Iran-contra affair.  The one in which his administration secretly sold missiles to Iran (yes, that Iran), breaking a U.S. arms embargo.  It used that money to buy arms for U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua, breaking another U.S. law, this one forbidding the arming of those anti-government rebels.

But hey, you can't make an anti-communist omelet if you don't break a few laws, right?

And then there's Clinton, he of the impeachment.  Yes,  as in "one of only two presidents ever to be" -- the other being Andrew Johnson, who isn't on anyone’s list of top presidents.

However, Americans have apparently decided that they prefer the hanky-panky president who lied ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman") but brought them a booming economy, to his successor, who only lied about the war in Iraq and brought them a fiscal train wreck.

Of course, it's risky predicting how history will view presidents.

But before it was Presidents Day, it was George Washington's birthday -- for a reason. And I think history's verdict is clear on Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Now our generation has given the nation the Gipper and the Man from Hope.

The  best and the brightest, huh?


Bursting the GOP's housing bubble nonsense

Kinsley: For president, no experience needed

Issa's House hearings on contraception: Where were the women?

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Ronald Reagan with Bill Clinton in November 1992. Credit: Paul Richards / AFP

Why Chris Brown is no role model

Chris Brown
Chris Brown, a role model? That's what Sherri Shepherd argued on Wednesday's episode of "The View." Her argument makes a certain amount of sense. "His mother was abused right in front of his very eyes six years before this happened to Rihanna. He used to wet his pants from the fear. He was a victim; he became an offender," Shepherd said, pointing out that Brown has since committed himself to domestic prevention counseling, albeit at a court's order. "If you have a child in that situation, you may see Chris Brown as a role model."

But a comeback does not a role model make. Sure, he could become a role model, an example of breaking the cycle, a celebrated tale of redemption. (See Kanye West, Eminem.) But Brown has squandered his opportunity so far.

"Brown has been anything but contrite," writes Jezebel's Madeleine Davies. "He's been whiny and angry about the cultural backlash towards him for the last three years." (For anyone who doesn't remember the details of Rihanna's beating, the Daily Beast's Marlow Stern provides a graphic, stomach-churning account.)

Brown may be eager to leave the incident behind him, but in not addressing it, in staying silent, it's possible that he's perpetuating the problem of domestic abuse. Nico Lang makes a compelling argument on the Huffington Post:

Brown, and any celebrity rewarded with fame after unapologetically brutalizing someone, needs to show us that he knows how important forgiveness is, that he understands the role he could play in starting a meaningful conversation on domestic abuse. […]

By remaining silent on stage -- at a time when women on Twitter were making light of his history of violence by saying that he could abuse them any time -- Brown may have continued his history of silence on abuse, but in giving him a space on television, the Grammys supported that narrative. We might pretend that the Grammys are just superficial and irrelevant, but they are, for better or worse, the most influential music body in the country and say a great deal about what we hold up as being of worth. When the Grammys celebrate a space where women are not safe and then bring that space into our homes, we have a duty to do more than shut off our televisions. We have a duty to speak up and use our voice to end the silence. We have a duty to make sure it doesn't happen again.

It's doubtful Brown knew of the young women tweeting about their deranged desires for him while he was performing at the Grammys, but he's surely heard about it since. As someone who grew up in a home so violent that it caused him to wet his pants, he understands acutely that there's nothing lighthearted about women making abuse jokes. He's had an opportunity to address these women, but instead Brown has spent his energy confronting his critics, reminding us exactly why he's not a role model, at least not yet.


Dogs to Mitt: We are not luggage!

Valentine's Day in Portland: 'No, honey, I said M&Ms!'

What's really wrong with Chris Brown's Grammy performance

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Chris Brown accepts the award for best R&B album for "F.A.M.E." during the 54th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 12. Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press

Whitney Houston and the paradoxes of celebrity

Whitney Houston
OK, the train has now wrecked. Where will people be going next for their vicarious celeb thrills?

The death of Whitney Houston raises once more the paradoxes of celebrity: We lap it up, admire and scorn the objects of our attention, want to have what they have -- and at the same time hope they crack up.

This one, in fact, did.

"Money can’t buy happiness," we tell ourselves primly. We believe that we believe that, but we really don't. In our heart of hearts, we think, "Boy, if I had that kind of money, or fame, or both, I wouldn't be such a screw-up. I'd do it right."

It's a perfect package: We can envy celebs and feel sorry for them, even look down on them, all at the same time.

The website Gawker relayed this anecdote:

A woman who posts YouTube videos about entertainment figures for the gossip site Hollyscoop had wrapped up her account of Whitney Houston's appearance at a pre-Grammy party with, "We are happy to see Whitney back on the scene, even if she is acting a little crazy. 'Cause, I’ll admit it -- it's a lot more fun to watch!" The video has been removed from the internet.

After Houston's death, the woman, Stephanie Bauer, tweeted this:

Can't believe I just did a @Hollyscoop story on Whitney's worrisome erratic behavior yesterday! Needless to say I'm getting hate comments.

Houston's death came up during a weekend panel I took part in at the American Jewish University: that in our "bowling alone" culture of isolation, celebrities have become the only people we all "know," even though we don't know them at all. They, instead of the town floozy or the neighborhood adulterer, are now our virtual "neighbors" and the objects of our moralizing.

And yet our secret or not-so-secret desire for fame, that "frenzy of renown," as USC's Leo Braudy calls it in his excellent book of that title, makes people debase themselves in pursuit of it, and so ultimately debase the idea that celebrity stands for some noteworthy accomplishment -- think of the Kardashians and humiliating reality shows -- as opposed to the celebrity of real talent, like Houston's, however many demons may have perched on her shoulders.


Photos: Whitney Houston | 1963-2012

Timeline: Whitney Houston's highs and lows

Video: Jennifer Hudson's Whitney Houston tribute

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: Whitney Houston acknowledges cheers from the audience during her performance at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on April 10, 2000, during taping of the "25 Years of # 1 Hits: Arista Records' Anniversary Celebration." Credit: Mark J.Terrill / Associated Press 



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About the Bloggers
The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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