Daily Archives: July 1, 2011
Married Gay Couple Wins Fight Against Deportation
Richard Lawson — Though New Jersey couple Josh Vandiver, a Princeton grad student, and Henry Velandia, a Venezuelan dancer, were legally married in Connecticut, because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Velandia was still facing deportationon an expired visa. Well, no longer!Federal authorities have officially decided to cease deportation procedures, with the simple note that the case is no longer “a priority.” So there’s no official new rule about this or anything (Vandiver still can’t sponsor Velandia for a green card), but it’s still a victory. This is significant because, as the couple’s lawyer points out, it is “the first time immigration officials had made a decision to not deport the spouse of a gay or lesbian American on the basis of their marriage.”
That’s pretty big! Cheers to the happy couple and cheers to the ICE officials and whoever else (judges, etc.) who decided that this was a cruel waste of time. [NJ.com (don't read the comments); photo via Facebook]
July 3, 2011
Although it has not quite recaptured the magic of “The Sopranos,” there is no denying that HBO is once again in full stride. With Emmy-winning movies, a panoply of well-done documentaries, successful comedies and dramatic hits both popular — “True Blood” — and critical — “Boardwalk Empire,” “Treme” — the premium network bursts with so much justified confidence that it took on the perilous realm of fantasy with the well-received “Game of Thrones.”
So maybe it’s time to tone down the tits.
I write the word knowing it is going to render my editors and readers apoplectic — why not use the less crude “breasts?” Because I don’t mean breasts. Breasts are what you see on cable during a lovemaking scene or when a character is caught unawares or when, as in the season finale of “Game of Thrones,” the last of the Targaryens rises, naked and miraculous, from her husband’s funeral pyre with three baby dragons clinging to her.
Tits are what you see in a strip club or a brothel, when conversations or action between men, which usually have nothing to do with said strip club or brothel, are surrounded by nameless and silent women lounging or gyrating about in various stages of undress.
In one episode of “Game of Thrones,” the upper frontals got so gratuitous — two women teaching themselves the tricks of prostitution while a male character, fully clothed, muses about his personal history and definition of power — that fans took to Twitter to complain. Even the fine finale included a young nude woman washing her particulars while her elderly john monologued about the nature of kings.
These scenes have become as much a hallmark of HBO as historically accurate dramatic series produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Other cable networks, mainly Showtime, dabble in the fine sport of female frontal nudity, but no one can beat HBO for hookers — the pole dancers of “The Sopranos,” Al Swearengen’s Gem Saloon on “Deadwood,” the record-breaking female nudity of “Rome,” and now, “Boardwalk Empire.” HBO has a higher population of prostitutes per capita than Amsterdam or Charlie Sheen‘s Christmas card list.
Despite their quite disparate geography and genre, the newer series practically revolve around brothels. In “Boardwalk Empire,” this makes a certain narrative sense; where there is liquor and gambling there will also be houses of ill repute. In “Game of Thrones,” the scenes are more gratuitous — not only do the male characters visit prostitutes with wearisome regularity, one character, a king’s counselor known as Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen), owns what appears to be a chain of brothels, which he considers the safest places to conduct his political conversations. This would be fine except, as in “Boardwalk Empire,” the only rooms available for meetings are already occupied by half-naked women, lounging about seductively and occasionally playing the harp.
Now, I have not spent much time in the brothels of Prohibition-era Atlantic City or the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, but I’m fairly certain they would include some sort of private office where madams and menfolk could talk. I also wonder about all this free nudity — doesn’t money have to exchange hands before the clothes come off? Not to mention the dazzling physical perfection of the women involved, who all appear to be so saucy, sober and healthy that one wonders why anyone bothered to invent penicillin.
There are no male brothels, no scenes of clothed women, or men for that matter, sitting around chatting in a room filled with naked men.
Although there is male nudity — men occasionally, though not always, appear shirtless and/or bottomless when they are having sex with women — there are no male brothels, no scenes of clothed women, or men for that matter, sitting around chatting in a room filled with naked men. Well, maybe there was a scene or two like that in “Rome,” but you get my point. The brothel scenes are there, ostensibly to make a point about men and power.
But as important to theme and character development as it may be to point out, in case we missed it on the nightly news, that some men enjoy paying for sex and treating women as sexual furniture, HBO has played this card so often that the obligatory scattering of reclining females with their blouses open or absent now elicits laughter more than shock or titillation.
Prostitutes and brothels are obviously and regrettably simply vehicles to work the R rating, to give viewers, if you will pardon the expression and maybe you shouldn’t, more bang for the buck. Which isn’t just gratuitous and ridiculous, it’s lazy and sexist. For all their many functions, women’s bodies are not props and prostitution is not something that should be regularly relegated to atmosphere.
It is also hugely unnecessary, an example of HBO uncharacteristically underestimating itself. Perhaps there was a time when people subscribed to the channel in part for the F-bombs and the nudity, but that time has passed. Naked women rule the Internet, “Doctor Who‘s” beloved Billie Piper plays a call girl on Showtime for goodness sake, and reality TV has redefined prostitution (is it truly more moral to sell one’s soul than one’s body?). No one subscribes to HBO because of the nudity, gratuitous or not.
Prison without punishment
In Norway’s Bastoy prison, says Nicola Abé, there are no bars, no armed guards — and no escapes
A Norway prison, without cells, bars, and armed guards, lets their inmates live, relatively, freely. Photo: Corbis
THE BOY ISN’T crying; the tears underneath his eyes are tattoos. He is standing in the snow, tall and broad, not knowing where to go at first. The guards took him from his cell to the ferry, which brought him to this island—without handcuffs. He is now left to his own devices, surrounded by red and yellow wooden houses and a church tower poking through the treetops.
This is supposed to be a prison. But Raymond Olsen doesn’t want to be here in the world’s most liberal prison, on this Norwegian island in Oslofjord, an island so small that it takes less than an hour to walk around its perimeter. Freedom beckons on the opposite shore, where the lights glitter at night like rhinestones. The 2-mile trip by boat to the mainland takes less than 10 minutes.
The warden, Arne Nilsen, wants the men here to live as if they were living in a village, to grow potatoes and compost their garbage, and he wants the guards and the prisoners to respect each other. He doesn’t want bars on the windows, or walls or locked doors.
The inmates on Bastoy have been convicted of crimes such as murder, robbery, drug dealing, fraud, violent crime, and petty theft. Some 115 prisoners live on Bastoy, and those who wish to stay are required to work and integrate into the community. The idea is that the prisoners should have an incentive to stay, and that they are still there when the count is taken—four times a day.
During the group meal, which is served once a day, the inmates in the room include a man with an iPod who stole two paintings by Edvard Munch from a museum—The Scream and Madonna. There is also a boy with dreadlocks who raped two women.
Jorgen Eilertsen, a former drug dealer, towers over them all. The knife and fork he is holding look like dollhouse cutlery in his enormous hands. He chews his food and stares out of the window. He sits alone at the table by choice.
Eilertsen used to keep his weapon on his bedside table when he went to bed. He sold drugs, snorted cocaine, took speed, swallowed pills, and went to techno parties, losing himself in the beat and the swirling lights. Eilertsen used to beat up customers who owed him money, sharpening his reputation in the gang environment. He has spent more than a third of his life in prison.
But now Eilertsen, 41, has a girlfriend who visits three times a week, along with other female visitors. She’s a good girl, not someone from his old world. She brings him chocolate and wears thigh-high boots, and her blonde hair is always freshly washed. The two agree that they want to have four children.
THIS PARADISE HAS been around for 20 years—and has a warden who loves statistics. Only 16 percent of the prisoners in this island jail become repeat offenders in the first two years after leaving Bastoy, as compared with 20 percent for Norway as a whole. The warden also feels vindicated because there has never been a murder or a suicide on the island—and because no one left Bastoy last winter even though the sea ice was frozen solid.
Olsen, the new inmate, is expected to work. He will earn 50 kroner a day. He is expected to get up every morning, cook his own food, and do his own laundry. He doesn’t know how he will manage.
Eilertsen failed when he came to Bastoy the first time, 20 years ago. After being there for two months, he was told to provide a urine sample—with a guard watching. They found traces of drugs, and he was returned to a high-security prison the next morning. Eilertsen didn’t care. “I didn’t want to get mixed up with the people here,” he says. “My fundamental emotion was hate.”
His job on the island now is to build houses. It keeps him busy, and he hardly ever thinks anymore about how he got here—or about the couple he beat up merely because they were there. He went to therapy and tried to understand what it was about breaking rules that appealed to him. He realized that he had enjoyed being hunted down.
This time, he says, he is better prepared for freedom. He learned carpentry on Bastoy, and now he knows how to work with wood and build small houses. He already has a construction job lined up for when he is released.
It is early in the afternoon. Olsen, the new kid, is finished with his work. Now he wants someone to tell him what to do next. He doesn’t want to go back to his room, where there’s a new guy from Poland. He walks through the village, past the school, the library, and the fields, until he reaches the shore where the little ferry docks. Another 90 minutes before it’s time to be counted.
Olsen got his first tattoo at 16, after robbing the warehouse of an electronics superstore, and after that he got another tattoo each time he did something illegal. The last time was just after he had robbed a kiosk. He has so many tattoos by now that the tendrils of black ink reach up to the back of his head.
There is one man here you don’t play around with, you don’t look in the eye, and you don’t approach—that’s what they tell every new inmate.
“Everyone knows who I am,” says Thorstein Hanssen (not his real name), 31. He was the best fighter in the Norwegian chapter of the white-supremacist organization Blood and Honor. The word “Skinhead” is tattooed onto Hanssen’s hands. He plans to have it removed when he leaves Bastoy. It wasn’t done well, he says. His head is shaved, and the only evidence of his red hair is the goatee on his chin.
He is here because he murdered a black boy. “I didn’t stab him, but the others did,” says Hanssen. The boy was still breathing when they left him, he adds.
The newspapers wrote that the skinheads had played white-power music to get themselves in the mood, and that they went out in search of a victim and found one in the parking garage of a shopping center. The victim, the 15-year-old son of a Ghanaian man, was stabbed to death with two different knives. The murder was planned, cowardly, and brutal, the court said. Hanssen, 22 at the time, was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
His neat room is furnished with a desk and a bed covered with flowered sheets, and there are colorful curtains in front of the window, like in all the rooms. Hanssen is studying history and philosophy at the University of Oslo. He takes his exams on the Internet. He still wants to fight, he says, against globalization, for the separation of ethnic groups and cultures, and for a peculiar idea he calls “holistic fascism.” He says that he intends to carry on his fight exclusively with words.
HEAT RADIATES FROM the oven as the smell of fresh bread fills the room. Hanssen has been baking. He insists on using whole-grain flour, sunflower seeds, and yeast. He reaches for a large knife and cuts off two thick slices of bread. “I don’t like knives,” he says.
He was in a high-security prison for nine years and spent one of those years in isolation. His eyes glaze over when he talks about it. He refuses to go into therapy. “I had a happy childhood,” he says with a smile.
Now he lives on Bastoy, together with people from 20 different nations, with Pakistanis, Ethiopians, Indians, and Iranians. “We get along fine,” says Hanssen. “We respect each other.” He applied for the island four times, and he had to fight to be allowed to live there. “It’s a good thing for me that we have prisons like this,” he says.
Hanssen wants to become a social researcher when he is released in a few years. He believes in the uniqueness of his viewpoint, and that his thoughts have to be worth something. He still hopes that society has a need for him. No other inmate on Bastoy can bench-press 308 pounds.
Night falls, and there are only five guards left on the island. The lights of the city of Horten twinkle on the opposite shore.
In Norway, about a third of prisons are open like Bastoy, and parliament has now ruled that there will be more in the future.
Nilsen, the warden, is a psychologist, but he doesn’t like to dissect people’s pasts. His mission is the future. What’s the point of punishment, he wonders, if revenge proves inadequate and prisons merely breed new criminals?
“I’m not a do-gooder,” he says, fixing his interlocutor with his blue-gray eyes. “I’m just an egoist who wants to give meaning to his life.”
He doesn’t see criminals as victims, but as citizens who will return to society one day. “On Bastoy, everyone has to learn to handle his freedom and set his own boundaries,” says Nilsen, “which is what they have to do outside, too.”
Early the next morning, the sun is still behind the trees, but the lights are already on in the buildings. A horse-drawn carriage rolls from the dock into the village. The poplar trees lining the path stretch their lumpy branches into the gray fog.
Hanssen, Eilertsen, and the others plan to break a hole into the ice once it’s thick enough. Hanssen hopes to go swimming in the icy water, for the first time in nine years. He imagines his pale white body sliding into the water, his heart racing, his breathing speeding up.
“It’s all totally surreal,” says Hanssen, blinking with his pale eyelashes.
The 10th anniversary of his murder came around recently. The people on the mainland held candlelight vigils and protested against racism, just as they did 10 years ago, after that bloody winter’s day that embedded itself in the soul of the nation like a barbed hook.
Hanssen took a bus once when he was on day parole. He had wondered whether people would notice him, whether they would point to him or just look away quickly. “No one recognized me,” he says.
He doesn’t want to live in a big city anymore when he gets out. People in the big city don’t relate to each other, he says. He wants to live in a village, like on Bastoy.
Raymond Olsen is sitting on a tree stump in front of the guardhouse. He is smiling. He filled out an application yesterday evening, he says, and they’ll be picking him up soon. He’ll be taken to the mainland on the little ferry and then driven to the prison in Tonsberg, where he’ll be welcomed by a fence topped with barbed wire. There he’ll spend 23 hours a day in his cell, with bars and Plexiglas outside the window.
He won’t have to be his own guard anymore. He’ll eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the prison. He’ll walk around the prison yard for one hour every day. He’ll have to ring a bell when he wants to go to the toilet.
Olsen will feel free.
By Nicola Abé. From a longer article that originally appeared in Der Spiegel. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
“Main investigator and three deputies used privileged documents to help build a case against the “Irvine 11,” a group of UC Irvine and UC Riverside students who are charged with conspiracy to disrupt a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010.”
This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.
An Orange County Superior Court judge has ordered the district attorney’s office to remove its main investigator and three top deputies from the case against a group of college students accused of disrupting an ambassador’s speech at UC Irvine.
Judge Peter Wilson’s dismissal Thursday of the prosecutors is an attempt to remedy the D.A.’s unauthorized use of privileged documents to help build a case against the “Irvine 11,” a group of UC Irvine and UC Riverside students who are charged with conspiracy to disrupt a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010.
Wilson’s move rids the case of lead investigator Paul Kelly — who was expected to testify against the Irvine 11 before his removal — Senior Assistant Dist. Attys. William Feccia and Rebecca Olivieri, and Assistant Dist. Atty. Mike Lubinski, the Daily Pilot reported.
While looking through thousands of documents obtained through search warrants, Kelly came across communications between the Irvine 11 and their defense attorney, Reem Salahi. The defense identified 20,000 pages, deemed privileged by the judge, in the D.A.’s possession.
At least one email between Salahi and a student was used to bring new charges against that student.
Wilson said Kelly seemed unaware of the protocols that needed to be followed when he came across the privileged attorney-client communications.
“It’s a stop and discuss,” Wilson said. “It’s not a self-police.”
The Orange County district attorney’s office now has to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that none of the evidence it plans to use was directly or indirectly obtained through privileged information, Wilson ruled.
The defense attorneys initially asked the court to recuse the D.A.’s office from the case altogether because, they argued, the use of the privileged information prejudiced the case against the students. The defense also said that it would be difficult for the prosecutors to argue the case fairly when considering the level of involvement top deputy district attorneys and Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas himself have in the Irvine 11 case.
Wilson contended that the breach was not severe enough to remove the district attorney’s office.
The next court hearing is scheduled at 9 a.m. July 21 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.
[For the Record, 11:57 a.m. July 1: An earlier version of the headline on this post said the judge had dismissed an investigator and top prosecutors. The judge actually ordered the district attorney's office to take them off the case.]
– Mona Shadia, Times Community News
Photo: College students protest in front of the offices of the Orange County district attorney in Santa Ana in February against charges being brought against the 11 students who interrupted a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine last year. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times
Sorry, Prius owners. Starting Friday, your yellow sticker no longer works in California’s car pool lanes while driving solo. The car pool privileges, originally allowed as an incentive for people to buy low-emission vehicles, have expired.
The change affects 85,000 hybrid car owners — about a third of them in Los Angeles.
Bruce Yonemoto, 60, a professor of studio art at UC Irvine who commutes from downtown Los Angeles several times a week, said he often saves more than an hour during choked traffic because the yellow sticker on the rear bumper of his Prius gave him the right to speed by in the diamond lane while other drivers idled.
“I get sad looking at the other lanes now,” Yonemoto said. To avoid sitting in rush-hour traffic, he said he’ll start waiting until 7 p.m. to leave campus.
Hybrid drivers will undoubtedly feel the difference when they are shunted into regular traffic lanes, but experts said the change in traffic will barely register for other commuters.
“To have a measurable impact on traffic, you really need to talk about significant changes in volume or demand, and this isn’t big enough to really create any significant change one way or the other to either the HOV lanes or the general purpose lanes,” said Marco Ruano, chief of freeway operations for Caltrans District 7, which includes Los Angeles.
On average, each HOV lane in Los Angeles County carries about 1,300 vehicles an hour at peak times, according to a 2008 Caltrans report, including about 80 qualifying hybrid vehicles per lane, meaning that the stickered cars make up about 6% of the car-pool lane traffic. The yellow-stickered vehicles comprise less than 1% of all vehicles registered in the county.
Experts agreed that non-car-pool lane drivers won’t see an increase in congestion from the small number of additional cars spread across multiple lanes. But some predicted that the disappearance of hybrids from the car pool lanes may bring some relief to drivers who are, in fact, carpooling.
– Abby Sewell
Photo: Eli Jarra, 41, at his home in Thousand Oaks with his Toyota Prius with a yellow sticker denoting his clean-tech car that allowed him access to the car-pool lanes. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
Love this movie, and this kids costume, plus the angle the photo is taken: dead on. So freaking adorable.
I must admit that I absolutely love this. I often tell people this, and I myself don’t always live like this, but when you think about it…it makes sense. You ahve one life on this earth and better to enjoy it than stress out and suffer until things get better. And according to the TREVOR PROJECT: It Gets Better