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

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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.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Book Review: Darkness at Sunset and Vine

Darkness at Sunset and Vine:  Trilogy by Ginger Mayerson (2012 Wapshott Press)

For real-life darkness around the world-famous intersection of Sunset and Vine, how about the gay hairdresser who wanted to blow up a whole block of Los Angeles to get revenge on his ex? As Mike Rothmiller and Ivan G. Goldman relate in their expose LA Secret Police, the guy wanted to hire a hit man to blow up his ex inside the beauty shop they owned together. He thought if he blew up the whole block, that'd throw police off the scent.

If you can appreciate such factual logic, perhaps you can appreciate Ginger Mayerson's fictional Darkness at Sunset and Vine:  Trilogy, written as a satire of the Bush II administration in 2003, produced in part as a play in 2008, and published by Wapshott Press as a three-part novel in 2012.

Seeing as how it's set in then-future 2016 Los Angeles, how does it play in the Trump era? The title is a reference to the anti-Stalinist classic Darkness at Noon, but America under either Bush (that's either Bush) or Trump isn't Stalin's Russia, where Communism spawned a totalitarian state. We're not there--yet--so Mayerson's premise sets up a false analogy. Actually America under Trump may have suffered a worse fate than the cartoon-villain world the author subjects her readers to, where every conflict is solved by killing, the more people and the more horrifically, the better. If only ending the Republican right's grip on our nation were that simple.

Mayerson's other works show she's a far more credible writer than the simple-minded violent bloodbaths she strings together here. She credits three editors, but this book reads like lazy schoolwork, lacking even rudimentary plot or character development. Think back to elementary school, when the teacher assigned students to write stories from an ant's point of view, with the results often being variations on, "Army ants attacked my garden, so I took my pincers and cut off all their heads." That's the level of writing Mayerson engages in for the entire length of Darkness.

Although the story clearly targets the Bush II administration (with some attacks on Arnold Schwarzenegger thrown in), even its basic premise reads more like right-wing click-bait than left-wing satire. By eerie coincidence it resembles actual right-wing fake news that got the Texas governor himself in a tizzy in 2015--how federal troops (dem Gol-dern Yankee boys in blue, y'all) might invade Texas and seize vacant Walmarts.

In Darkness, Los Angeles has been reduced to a lawless wasteland after Bush's forces invaded California to prop up Schwarzenegger. While "scavengers" (flesh-eating zombies or flesh-eating minorities, take your pick) lurk in the ruins, secret agent Nellie Gail owns a building near the title intersection, and the tenants run a taco stand where the bodies she slaughters conveniently disappear. She kills people whenever she's in a bad mood, and sometimes when she's not. At one point she decides (that lazy plot device) to take over a (heavily armed) public bus and slaughters the (likely working-class minority) employees and (likely working-class minority) passengers, mowing them down with several specific kinds of automatic weapons, and that's just one of her acts of mindless mayhem.

She's the protagonist. The antagonists are just fodder for Nellie's weapons of mass destruction. To call Nellie a sociopath is to give her more motivation than the book does. She's certainly no super-hero crusading for truth, justice, and the American way. Neither is she viewed with the kind of satiric irony needed to turn her into a symbol of all that's wrong with the American right.

Why Mayerson thought this story was ready for public consumption is a mystery. Even satire needs a serious aspect, a germ of truth for its audience. If Mayerson plans to write and publish more social satire, she'd do well to heed the advice of Erma Bombeck, that woman of classic American wit, "In humor, more than anything else, to be believed, you have to draw heavily from your own experiences."

I'm betting Mayerson has much more experience with the actual psychological violence the Republican right does to American women, than she does with fantasy firefights involving automatic weapons and severed heads aboard public transportation.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: Electricland (2010 Wapshott Press)

"One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose--one novel like ... [(]Valley of the Dolls, Flowers in the Attic, and The Bridges of Madison County, to name just a few) is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in."
                                                                     -- Stephen King

Best-selling writer Stephen King may consider Valley of the Dolls, Flowers in the Attic, and The Bridges of Madison County bad prose, but they were all highly popular literary works. So I doubt feminist author Ginger Mayerson will be seriously offended if I put her Electricland in the company King mentions.
Electricland is an example of the type of manuscript that, before the Internet Age, writers kept stored away and seldom published, unless they either resorted to a vanity press or, like King, reached that level of literary stardom where everything they ever wrote became marketable. Nowadays writers like Mayerson simply start their own online publishing companies (in her case, Wapshott Press), where all their writing, regardless of merit, may go before the public.
Mayerson began writing Electricland with a provocative theme:  women terrorists--ones who are at post-menopausal age--fight against the way American society treats women. She begins with, "There is nothing more dangerous than a woman with nothing to lose."
Unfortunately she does absolutely nothing to develop that premise in any meaningful way. First of all the women described here aren't rag-tag rebels fighting an evil male-dominated empire. They're high-level special agents within the great American evil male-dominated empire, and all they do is kill people and blow things up--for obscure reasons.
If the author didn't have such a feel for the book's southern California setting, this story would have no tie to reality at all. She never even makes it clear whether their female characters are bombing and murdering because they're obeying their male boss's orders, or because they're not obeying their male boss's orders. It's like Mayerson's stories of a day at the office, without consequences.
Some characters pay lip service to the theme--that post-menopausal women are invisible in society--but all Mayerson can do is advance a childish premise that post-menopausal women can get away with multiple acts of cartoonish mayhem because they're invisible in society. In reality people that commit acts of terrorism get noticed--that's the whole point of terrorism--but this story isn't about struggling for power. Terrorism, like elections, has consequences--but not here.
Mayerson can write believable characters, given her Pajama Boy and many of her short stories. If the characters here were anything other than flat and one-dimensional, perhaps we could forgive how the plot consists of nothing other than murder and plotting to murder. Even comic books demand more backstory and character development than what we get here.
This book violates a primary rule of writing--it's not about what the writer knows. Mayerson knows what it's like to be a woman, granted, but I'm guessing her experience with terror, crime, and special agents is limited to comic books and other pop culture. The literary flaws she puts on full display here are the kind that get bad grades in English composition classes. That's precisely why Electricland is worth reading. It belongs beside King's examples of what writers shouldn't do.
In King's On Writing, he provided readers with a premise for a story and then invited them to submit any resulting inspirations to his website. (He's since closed down the link.) Mayerson's constantly looking for new feminist literature, so perhaps her readers could use Electricland as inspiration as well.
Read Electricland, but only to let it inspire your own story about the way women are treated in modern American society. Need a publisher for it? Try Wapshott Press.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Link to Random Lengths Article about Community Benefits Agreement Between Carson and Tesoro

Link to my story in Random Lengths' 7/20/17 issue about Carson's budget problems and its community benefits agreement with oil company Tesoro:

Carson and Tesoro Enter into Community Benefits Agreement
By Lyn Jensen, Carson Reporter
After recently declaring a fiscal emergency, the City of Carson announced July 6 its commitment to a 15-year “community benefits agreement” — essentially, a peace treaty — with the oil company Tesoro.
Carson officials believe the arrangement will provide Carson with a projected total of $45 million for what the city calls, “community mitigation projects.”
“The city and Tesoro have entered into separate agreements resolving all outstanding disputes,” a press release from the city stated. “The value of these other agreements to the city is $36 million.” The latter accounts for most of the money.
As for the remaining $9 million, the agreement describes it as tied to milestones surrounding a Tesoro project to integrate the Carson and Wilmington refineries to form a Tesoro Los Angeles Refinery. The project’s environmental impact report, or EIR, was disputed by the city earlier this year.
“The [Community Benefits Agreement] is designed to provide a stable source of funding over a 15-year period,” states a July 5 staff report to council.  “It is not uncommon for refineries to make … payments to their host communities.”
The staff report cited El Segundo as an example.
The agreement follows the council declaring a fiscal emergency at its June 20 meeting. At that time, staff suggested the council generate an additional $350,000 of revenue, including lifting the cap on the Utility Users Tax, reducing service levels and adding or increasing revenue sources.
Carson has been experiencing financial difficulties since the Great Recession of 2008. In 2011 redevelopment agencies were dissolved statewide when the state transferred redevelopment funds to the public schools to close the state budget deficit (partly due to the Great Recession).
According to city documents, that action cost Carson $30 million in redevelopment funds annually. Since 2011 the city has reduced its workforce by 20 percent, firing 60 employees, and has deferred street maintenance.
The fiscal emergency is not simply due to lack of redevelopment money. Revenue exceeded expenditures between the fiscal year 2010-11 and fiscal year 2012-13. Since then, the city’s expenditures have exceeded revenue and the city’s reserves are rapidly dwindling.
In 2009, the council granted a franchise to Tesoro for three non-public utility pipelines. A dispute over the pipelines arose after Tesoro purchased the refinery in 2013. A fourth pipeline was discovered that had not been properly documented.
“The parties hereby agree that, for the calendar years 2017 to 2031, Tesoro shall pay to Carson the full amount of electricity users tax [and] gas users tax,” The Community Benefits Agreement states, waiving the requirement that the council would need to declare a fiscal emergency to get such payments.
The Community Benefits Agreement would also amend the oil pipeline franchises to increase the franchise fees, subject to an annual Consumer Price Index adjustment within the 15-year term.
“The City and Tesoro have been involved since 2013 in discussions over a series of issues and disputes,” the July 5 staff report states. “The major disputes involve the environmental impacts of the integration of the Carson and Wilmington Refineries, the use of a 60-acre parcel for a trucking and container storage yard and the transfer of oil pipeline franchise agreements.”
It further states South Coast Air Quality Management District prepared an EIR for the refinery integration project, but Carson, concerned over the lack of community benefits, threatened to sue, claiming the EIR was deficient. Tesoro disputed the claimed deficiencies in the EIR and has since agreed to mitigate the city’s concerns.
The Carson City Council on July 5 voted unanimously to approve the community benefits agreement and transfer the pipeline franchises to Tesoro.
A separate resolution, passed at the same meeting, resolved a years-long zoning and permit dispute over Shippers Transit Express on Sepulveda, concerning a lease on Tesoro property. It involves a retroactive payment of $900,000 to the city for development impact fees and $250,000 annually for the next two years. The agreement calls for closing the truck yard in 2018 and putting in four petroleum storage tanks.
For Tesoro’s Los Angeles Refinery Integration and Compliance Project, the company plans to invest $460 million in facility improvements to upgrade its Wilmington and Carson refineries. The project aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in what the South Coast Air Quality Management District estimates is equivalent to removing 13,500 daily passenger vehicles from local roads.
Construction is expected to begin later this year, with an anticipated completion date of March 2021.
The project would connect the refineries by pipelines, according to a city document, to allow the closure of the older gasoline production facility in Wilmington, switching production to the newer and more efficient gasoline production facility in Carson.
Carson states it will deposit the payments from Tesoro into the general fund to provide a series of existing and future community benefit programs, including a green streets program for compliance with the Dominguez Watershed Plan.
The city sought a stable funding source for its stroke center, plus money to upgrade its emergency response center, and for bike paths, street resurfacing, and an environmental capital improvement program, to renovate street landscaping medians.
As part of the community benefits agreement, Tesoro also agreed not to build or operate a hydrofluoric acid alkylation unit at the integrated refinery.

Concerns about hydrofluoric acid may be traced to an explosion at the Torrance Refinery in 2015, when debris narrowly missed a tank. If the tank had ruptured and the acid it contained had been released, a toxic cloud could have killed as many as 330,000 area residents, including many in southern and western Carson.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Random Lengths: Standing Where U2 Stood Against the Joshua Tree

Random Lengths has posted (7/7/17) my account of visiting the site where U2 posed against The Joshua Tree.  
Here's the link:
Here's the text should the link fail to work:
In the darkness of the reactionary Reagan era, U2 lit a candle, an unforgettable fire of music that mattered. Throughout the eighties these four white Christian street punks from Dublin—Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr.--gave us songs that honored Martin Luther King, Jr. and protested American policy in Latin America. They played for famine relief in Africa and organized an entire tour to benefit Amnesty International. 
In 1987 U2 named a history-making rock album after a California desert plant—The Joshua Tree. It gave the world “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and ten other tracks that U2 fans consider essential.
U2 is currently on tour to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of The Joshua Tree, playing all the songs in order. The album photoshoot is as much a part of rock history as the music. Finding the locations where the iconic pictures were taken is a challenge U2 fans (like me) relish.
The site of the album’s front cover photo is fairly easy to find, being the lookout at familiar Zabriskie Point. (U2’s choice for a location may have been influenced by the film with that title.) The back cover, showing the band members posing with a lone spreading Joshua tree, is more obscure, a random California location.
Bono’s often been coy about the tree’s wherabouts. “I don’t know if we’ll ever find that Joshua tree again,” he told an interviewer during the ‘87 Joshua Tree tour. “I hope that if people do find the Joshua tree, they won’t cut it down and take it home … or bring it to a gig!  Hey, Baaano!  I got yer tree!”
In the same interview he described how they first found the tree, “We just spotted it by the roadside. Anton Corbijn, our photographer, was the first to see it, so he called, “Stop the bus!” and went racing across the desert. … We thought it was a very powerful graphic image.”  
With the help of Melinda Lewis who, like me, spent the eighties as a rock journalist, I pieced together directions from some clippings and blogs, and we drove to the Owens Valley, turning east for several miles along state highway 190. We parked at a turnout—probably the one U2’s bus stopped at—about 1.7 miles before a dirt road that cuts across Lee’s Flat. We found the distinctive mountain ridge seen in the photo to be the north side of the Coso range.
Before GPS became common, some fans resorted to taking the Joshua Tree record album and driving around likely sites in the California desert until they found a mountain ridge and a Joshua tree that looked exactly like the one in the photos. Nowadays the tree’s GPS coordinates can be found online but GPS is just numbers, and finding the tree is an experience.
Unfortunately the tree fell down in 2000 so it can no longer be seen from the road. Joshua trees live for centuries and this specimen, judging by its height of ten to twelve feet, obviously had. On an isolated California desert flat it grew to a distinctive shape sometime before 1900, starred in one of the twentieth century’s great rock photos, and then, its work on earth done, expired with the millennium.
Today Lee’s Flat sports miles of Joshua trees, making finding a fallen one harder. Referring to the Joshua Tree CD I keep in my car, I visually located the distinctive notch in the mountain range. With that as a guide, my eyes moved to the near distance, to a conspicuously vacant spot between two or three Joshua trees, as if something unseen were there—a fallen tree, perhaps. From the turnout, a shallow sandy wash led in that direction, and the sand showed fresh footprints.
The makers of those fresh footprints turned out to be three other U2 fans. Yes, they said, they’d been to the tree.
They pointed to the spot I’d been eyeing, and told me to walk to an odd-looking small white spot, between one very tall single-stalk Joshua and what looked like a smaller double-stalk Joshua (which turned out to be two single-stalk Joshua trees on a line).
Seekers of the tree need to walk through desert sand, so the usual precautions are advised. One source says the tree’s 3500 feet off the road, but I think it’s closer than that. As I walked I noticed stone trail markers, which helped. I followed the wash, over some slight ridges, to a shallow gully that’s visible at the base of the tree in the album photos.
I could see how the fallen tree resembles a cross, with its two main branches sticking out at right angles, and the decaying yucca clusters falling about like a robe. One little-known fact about The Joshua Tree is that it’s wordplay for Christ’s cross. Joshua is a variant of Jesus, and tree is a synonym for cross.
Where U2 stood for the Joshua Tree photo, someone spelled out, “Leave it behind” with rocks.
People do leave things behind here. The whitish landmark proved to be a disintegrating guitar. A silvery sticker-plastered suitcase was tucked under a branch. The fans I spoke with had left their own small wooden plaque with, “We found what we’re looking for,” their names and the date.  
Someone has marked the spot in a more permanent way. An elaborate bronze plaque, less than a yard square, set in cement, preserves for posterity the sight of the tree against the mountain range. It’s where the tree may once have shaded it.
The plaque reads, “Have you found what you’re looking for” with no question mark. There’s no indication of who put it there, but I’d like to think U2 themselves were involved.
I left to go find whatever else my heart was still looking for.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Bloglandia: Hahne Analyses Why a Progressive Campaign Failed

Remember when the entire left half of America's political scene was depressed when the vote didn't go their way? Remember when a double-digit lead in early polls turned into an embarrassing loss for a sizable section of the progressive voting demographic? Several miserable years followed until the Supreme Court made the world a little better and brighter again.

That's what happened in California from the time of Proposition 8, the officially titled "California Marriage Protection Act" (which actually destroyed marriages) in 2008 to the Supreme Court's ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. The right wing put national resources into destroying blue-state California's liberal and legal same-sex marriage law--in the land of Harvey Milk--and succeeded.

The right didn't win despite the best efforts of the left-wing opposition. As is becoming monotonously familiar, the left lost a ballot-box fight they had no business losing. What happened was, the majority of Californians--the majority that bothered to get their souls to the polls, that is--voted to "protect marriage" by destroying gay marriages. The actual majority that could have defeated Prop. 8 didn't show at the polls. It was about who got out what vote, and Prop. 8 opponents didn't.

In the aftermath of that right-wing victory and left-wing embarrassment, Bruce Hahne, a "No on 8" campaign volunteer, posted "Proposition 8 Postmortem - From A Senior Volunteer" on Daily Kos, taking apart the many ways the campaign lost its focus, ranging from an over-reliance on focus groups to a massive failure to get out the vote--what hurt the most. Among his points:

  • Failure to effectively rebut the right wing's "Homosexuals are out to get your children" and "Keep homosexuality out of our schools" talking points, whether on TV, online, or in the general election guide. (Milk could master it against the Briggs initiative in 1978 but an entire well-funded pro-gay statewide campaign couldn't figure out how in 2008.)
  • Refusal to advocate for same-sex marriage as something people want.
  • Failure to adhere to the time-honored strategy of aggressive poll-check-based get-out-the-vote strategy.
  • Absence of effective online campaigning, which in the Internet Age must include websites, Facebook, YouTube, Google, AdBombs, Twitter, Thunderclaps, and whatever the latest online trend is.

To not repeat (and repeat, and repeat) the same mistakes every time the left goes against the right, Hahne recommends future left-wing campaigns read and learn from George Lakeoff's Don't Think of an Elephant and Gene Sharpe's The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Also support pro-gay groups such as PFLAG, organize a speakers' group, start a gay-straight alliance and in general don't just let the right wing control the national conversation.

Hahne doesn't even mention all the errors the opposition to Prop. 8 made. Terry Leftgoff, a high-ranking (and gay) California Democrat with considerable campaign experience, wrote in his own blog how he was told he wasn't needed to help get out the vote--but he could help clean out a campaign office. Elsewhere there may be found stories of how Prop. 8 opponents turned down Bill Clinton's and Delores Huerta's offers to help. (I wonder if anyone suggested to them they could help clean out an office.)

Today's Hahne's analysis remains available online and in print. Wapshott Press has anthologized Hahne's blog in J Bloglandia (The Journal of Bloglandia) edited by Ginger Mayerson, for those would rather read an old-fashioned book than search (and search and search) and strain their eyes reading online.

Wapshott Press has published four issues of Bloglandia and is currently seeking submissions for a fifth one. The editor says the journal exists because "some blogs are too cool to stay in cyberspace."

Link to the Hahne's original blog post:
Link to J. Bloglandia available from Wapshott Press:
Leftgoffs' alternate analysis of the failure of the Prop. 8 opposition:

Portions of this review first appeared in the June 2009 issue of Blade.