Lyn Jensen's Blog: Manga, Music, and Politics

My Photo
Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

DVD Review: Indian Point

Dispatch from the Anti-Nuke Movement:  Documentary on Indian Point after Fukushima
by Lyn Jensen

Link to distributor's webpage:

Following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, when three nuclear cores melted down at the same time in Japan, the anti-nuclear movement has moved back into the spotlight. A Fukushima-sized disaster at the Indian Point nuclear plant along the Hudson would require New York City be evacuated--possibly forever. Ivy Meeropol's 2015 documentary (running time 94 min.) balances footage of plant workers, scientists studying the plant's effect on fish and the Hudson (where nuclear wastewater is dumped), hearings to close down the plant, and what happened at Fukushima. There's no resolution, as long as the plant stays open, but that's the point.

Indian Point takes an unblinking look at the debate over nuclear power by going inside the long-running controversy over the aging nuclear plant just 35 miles from New York City. Could a meltdown like what happened at Fukushima--something nuclear experts previously insisted was impossible--happen here? 

As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) decides whether to re-license Indian Point to operate for another twenty years, Meeropol looks at both sides--the plant's owners and operators who insist all is well, against community change agents campaigning for a shutdown. The latter includes black environmental journalist Roger Witherspoon and his white wife, former schoolteacher Marilyn Elie, leader of the anti-nuclear group IPSEC. Witherspoon and Elie travel in separate cars and sit separately at nuclear hearings, to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

In the middle are the federal and state regulators. While the NRC drags its feet on whether or not to re-license the plant, the state of New York has denied it a permit on the basis of nuclear waste contaminating the Hudson River. It may be the water pollution, not the dangers of nuclear accidents, that eventually succeed in getting the plant offline. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Amoeba Records, Music We Like, and Essential Records You Need on Vinyl

Amoeba Records publishes (online and in-store) a quarterly fanzine (they call it a book) of music (and just about anything else entertainment-related). It consists mostly of lists from their staff--I don't know if they accept outside contributions or not.
More than one issue contains a list of "Essential Records You Need on Vinyl" from the store's blog (the "amoeblog" which has its own website). Its intro says, "Looking to start your record collection or fill out the one you have? We tried to include albums that are readily available on vinyl, nothing too rare or out of print. We also tried to avoid greatest hits records and focus on studio albums."
So just how "essential" is this "essential" list? I count about 200 artists and about 400 albums on it, and anybody who listened to all the genres and eras represented would be completely disoriented while stone-cold sober.
About seven-eighths of it I've got along fine without all these decades. Now let's look over the remaining one-eighth or so:
  • The Beatles--anything ever by the Beatles is essential. If a Beatle record isn't in your collection, you're missing something.
  • David Bowie--no reason to stop at the suggestions Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Keep going with Station to Station, Low, Lodger, Let's Dance, Never Let Me Down, Heroes, and The Next Day.
  • Iggy Pop--The Idiot features David Bowie, so it qualifies as a David Bowie album, too. Dang, looks like I let my copy get away!
  • The Clash--I wouldn't consider London Calling essential anything. I'd want The Clash and Give 'em Enough Rope instead.
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival--Green River, yeah, but Cosmo's Factory and Down on the Corner, more so.
  • Elvis Costello--My Aim is True and This Year's Model are essential but so is Armed Forces, Taking Liberties, and Get Happy! If you're as big a Costello fan as I am, even that won't be enough.
  • Bob Dylan--I'd limit essential Dylan to Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, The Freewheeling Bob Dylan, and Highway 61 Revisited instead of the six albums listed here. Even so, looks like my Dylan collection's a little short. 
  • Depeche Mode--Violator is a strange choice. I'd advise Music for the Masses and Black Celebration instead.
  • Green Day--Dookie is in vinyl! It's not the only essential Green Day recording (in any format), though. Nimrod and American Idiot are in vinyl, too, and they're not on the list!
  • Michael Jackson and Prince--I'll agree with Thriller and either 1999 or Purple Rain, but unless you're especially fond of Michael Jackson and/or Prince, you won't listen to any of these three selections that much.
  •  Bruce Springsteen--somebody left Born in the USA off the list, and that's the Springsteen album of the eighties. The ones on Amoeba's list are all from the seventies or pre-MTV eighties.
  • U2--only The Joshua Tree is essential vinyl? Either the person who made up the list isn't a fan of U2 or, there is no or--U2 not on vinyl is unthinkable. Add Boy, War, Unforgettable Fire, Achtung Baby, and Zooropa at least.
  • XTC--don't see any of their hits on Skylarking so why's it more essential than anything else of theirs?
  • Queen--if you're going to have A Night at the Opera, you're going to need A Day at the Races, too.
  • Johnny Cash--I don't know why Amoeba's list includes At Folsom Prison but not At San Quentin.
  • Elvis Presley is a hard guy to talk about in terms of essential LP vinyl, it depends on how much of an Elvis fanatic you are, whether you like his early works or his late, his rockers or his love songs. He wasn't an album kind of artist, he didn't live in an album kind of era.
  • Oasis--we find What's the Story, Morning Glory is on vinyl! But Definitely Maybe is, too, and it's not on the list. It should be, too.
  • Elton John--if there is one and only one essential Elton John LP, maybe it is Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, an oddity because it was released as a two-disk set. Except an essential Elton John collection also needs Captain Fantastic, Rock of the Westies, Tumbleweed Connection, and Madman Across the Water at least. 
Some of the artists on the list are limited to one and only one album and it is the essential one:
  • The Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bullocks
  • Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water
  • Janis Joplin, Pearl (but if you want the Joplin trilogy you'll also need Cheap Thrills and Kosmic Blues, because she only made three records)
  • The Cars, The Cars
  • Fleetwood Mac, Rumours
  • The Mamas and the Papas, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
Amoeba, I'll be glad to do an list for you of all my "essential vinyl" records that your list doesn't have!

Friday, September 30, 2016

DVD Review: Last Cab to Darwin

Note, for photos and art:

By Lyn Jensen

California’s controversial right-to-die law recently went into effect, and the 2015 Australian film Last Cab to Darwin, which becomes available on DVD Oct. 4, questions through narrative just what the right to die means. A cab driver with a terminal illness faces a monumental choice. He can travel to a doctor who advocates for her patients’ right to die, or he can live what’s left of his life in his longtime home with someone close to him—but that comes with a different set of baggage.

The movie is based on the 2003 play of the same name by Reg Cribb, who co-wrote the script with the director Jeremy Sims. The plot hinges on a right-to-die law in the Australian city of Darwin, one that was in effect at the time the story is set, but has since been invalidated. At present there is no right-to-die law anywhere in Australia. It’s said to be inspired by the experience of an actual Australian cab driver, but is heavily fictionalized.

Last Cab is a different kind of road-trip movie. Rex (Michael Caton), cab driver in the small town of Broken Hill in the Australian Outback, gets the news his cancer is terminal. Nothing and no one can stop him from driving 3,000 kilometers to Darwin—even if it kills him—as his symptoms keep worsening. He’s absolutely determined to become the first patient that a doctor (Jackie Weaver) is seeking, so she may test her new computerized method for allowing a terminal patient to commit suicide.

Complications ensue, both on the trip and at the destination, with the doctor’s end-of-life solution proving not so simple. Supporting characters muddle the issue, and the life Rex left behind takes on new importance. There’s his caring if sharp-tongued Aborigine neighbor (Ningali Lawford-Wolf) who Rex deeded his house to before he left on his last cab drive to Darwin. They could’ve had something—maybe—but the Australian Outback is where “We don’t serve blacks,” as the Native Australians are labeled, is a legal and commonly accepted business practice. The Australia portrayed in Last Cab dictates what rights the terminally ill have, and what rights are allowed to what color of skin, too.

In the end Rex makes a choice that allows him dignity, but it may not be what right-to-die advocates make a catchphrase of. If you want to see how Rex’s last cab drive ends, you’ll need seek out a screening or get the DVD.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Book Review: Ron Kovic Remembers 1974 Protest for Veterans' Rights

By Lyn Jensen
"You can't really respect and honor [America's Vietnam] veterans without acknowledging they were leaders of the antiwar movement." -- Tom Hayden
Ron Kovic remains perhaps the most famous face of the movement for veterans’ rights. In the early seventies he galvanized the peace movement, both as an anti-Vietnam activist and as the author of Born on the Fourth of July. That book, a searing account of one paralyzed veteran’s shattered illusions turning to activism, has become an American classic. It was even turned into an Oscar-nominated film in 1989, starring Tom Cruise as Kovic.
Today veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are complaining about the level of care they receive, and that makes Kovic’s experience freshly relevant. In particular what fueled Kovic’s transformation were the conditions he and many other disabled veterans encountered at the Long Beach Veterans Administration. Believing that the level of care amounted to patient abuse, Kovic organized more than a dozen of his fellow patients. Unable to create change within the system, they resorted to what might now be called “occupy tactics.”
On Feb. 12, 1974, Kovic and fourteen other disabled veterans (along with some supporters including two women) arrived for a meeting at then-senator Alan Cranston’s office at the Westwood Federal Building. Finding the senator absent, they refused to leave, or even eat, until the head of the VA (at the time, Donald Johnson) met with them personally and heard their grievances. The occupation of Cranston’s office ended on March 2, 1974, after then-president Richard Nixon sent Johnson to meet with them.
Now Kovic has written a book, Hurricane Street, about the protest and its aftermath. Like its author, the book was born on the fourth of July, published by Akashic Books on that date this year.
Hurricane describes how Kovic originally planned the protest to be the first action of a new American Veterans Movement, which he organized from his residence on Hurricane Street in Marina Del Rey. The next step was to be a veterans’ march on Washington on July 4, 1974, envisioned to rival or surpass both the 1964 King March and the protests that vets staged in Washington during the Depression.
The planned march on Washington ended in failure when other veterans’ groups refused to participate. Days later, Kovic was kicked out of his own organization (he suspects outside influences) and the movement disbanded.

At the age of 70 and still living in the South Bay, Kovic remains a patient of the Long Beach VA, where the reforms he demanded in 1974 have resulted in much higher standards of patient care. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Book Review: Robert Vivo Argues War is a Crime Against Humanity

by Lyn Jensen

"War is not, then, something that befalls man but rather a scourge intentionally invented and perpetrated by man," provides the thesis of South American author Roberto Vivo's book, War:  A Crime Against Humanity, that was published by Hojas Del Sur in Argentina in 2014. It has since been made available in English translation, in both e-book and paperback formats.

Unfortunately Vivo adds little to arguments already made concerning the immorality of war, and he also offers few suggestions as to how humanity may move beyond warfare to alternate means of resolving our differences. His first chapter, "Violence and Man" is an overly broad look at war's history that stops short of examining war's true economic, anthropological, psychological, social and political causes. It fails to answer or even ask some basic questions readers may have.

If you're looking for discussions on such topics as, "Why do politicians keep sending citizens to war?" or "Why do citizens keep allowing politicians to send them to war, for that matter?" you won't find them in this book. Readers will find better answers to such questions in, for example, General Smedley Butler's classic pamphlet War is a Racket. 

Vivo's second chapter, "A History of Peace," also does little to address the history of the peace movement. Much of the chapter is spent on distant historical examples of Christians, Moslems, and Jews co-existing and working together. Those examples might be better suited for studies in religion than for a book supposedly about the criminality of war. As for what Vivo says here about the modern peace movement, Ghandi gets two paragraphs. Nelson Mandela (and the entire South African anti-apartheid movement) gets one. Martin Luther King, Jr. gets nothing.

"Open Society and Closed Society," the third chapter, also suffers from overly broad generalizations that do little to advance the author's thesis. One might think that a South American scholar might provide a neutral viewpoint concerning examples of America's liberal-conservative divide, but that doesn't happen. Instead the chapter focuses on more distant history (some interesting insight into the political views of George Washington and Napoleon in particular). Vivo's book might be more relevant if it focused more on how to make today's peace movement heard above right-wing noise.

Only in the final chapter, which bears the same title as the book itself, do we find significant guidance pointing us to a world without war. Vivo begins here by using slavery, torture and racism as examples of moral issues the world has made great progress toward criminalizing in modern times. However, he fails to provide any concrete examples of how steps taken to eradicate those issues may be duplicated within the anti-war movement.

Vivo finally gets around to discussing of the criminal 2003 invasion of Iraq on pages 310-311 (out of 335 pages). Even then he only focuses on the British, as he relates how that nation flouted the Nuremberg trials' condemnation of aggressive war as the supreme international crime. Here we see we have precedent for war as a crime--the problem is Britain's government (and America's, and much of the rest of the world) routinely ignores it.

War does proffer the United Nations' International Declaration of Human Rights (IDHR) as one example of how the world is moving--stumbling, fumbling, bumbling, but moving--towards binding all nations together in criminalizing war, and also torture. Vivo stops short, however, of recommending ways the peace movement may ensure national and international leaders execute compliance with the IDHR.

Another example of enforcing international law is the International Criminal Court (ICC) but here, too, the United States in particular simply chooses to not accept the court's authority. Vivo proffers, "The United States is in the unique position of having taken part in the organization of the ICC and having signed its charter in 2002 [the year after we criminally invaded Afghanistan and we were planning to criminally invade Iraq] but having then (under the administration of George W. Bush) refused to ratify it. The United States is not a member of the ICC, nor does it recognize the authority of the Court within its own country, and this last is the case too of other world powers such as China, Russia, India, Iran and Israel."

In summary, Vivo argues, "[T]hat if a single individual's human and civil rights can be arbitrarily suspended, everyone else's rights are at risk too, it stands to reason that if a single major power is permitted to thumb its nose at the principles and institutions of international law and governance, the effective power and investiture of such institutions is severely undermined, as are any genuine possibilities for universal peace and justice."

A classroom, study group, or book club may be where War may prove most useful, where it can be discussed as part of more extensive anti-war studies. Youth, or others who are new to the peace movement, may find it a place to provide a broad overview regarding the criminality of warfare. Committed pacifists will need to seek out additional material that more directly addresses alternate means to resolving our differences.