Q&A: Daniel Miller on ‘Finding Marlowe’ in South LA

An undated family photo at Samuel B. Marlowe's grave in Inglewood. | latimes.com screenshot

Samuel B. Marlowe (top left) appears in an undated family photo placed at his grave in Inglewood. | screenshot from latimes.com

The two most famous detectives of classic noir literature – Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe — just may have been inspired by the first Black private investigator licensed west of the Mississippi River – Samuel B. Marlowe. That’s according to a former Hollywood executive who brought Marlowe’s story to Los Angeles Times reporter Daniel Miller. In “Finding Marlowe” published last month, Miller attempts to trace just how much this Black private eye living in South Los Angeles in the mid-20th century shadowed lives throughout Hollywood.  [Read more…]

The Los Angeles Times Fesitval of Books brings more than just books to USC

imageThe Los Angeles Times Festival of Books will be held at USC this weekend, on Saturday April 21st from 10:00 am to 6:00pm, and Sunday April 22nd from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

In addition to the new and gently-used book drive, the schedule of events also includes the presentation of U.S. stamps designed by USC faculty member Dana Gioia to honor 20th century poets, a “name the dino” contest, and Health Pavillion with demonstrations and free screening from practioners from the USC Health Sciences campus.

Admission is free, and there will be a food trucks and booths set up on Cromwell Field.

The Health Pavilion schedule can be found here.

Click here to get directions from Google Maps.

More information here »

A City of Muted Color

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageErin Aubry Kaplan has been writing about race and Los Angeles for many years. The former L.A. Times and L.A. Weekly columnist has a new book out titled, “Black Talk, Blue Thoughts and Walking the Color Line.” She talks about the current state of “Black L.A.” and how she hopes her new book will help people come to a better understanding of color in America.

Festival of Books changes location, honors professor’s son

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News:


image The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is opening a new chapter at the University of Southern California. For the first time in 15 years, the event is switching locations, and the change of location brings one of the authors a little closer to home.

The late David Saltzman, son of USC professor Joe Saltzman, will have his best-selling book “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle” featured at the event. His mother, Barbara Saltzman, says the book has an inspiring message.

“The book is a wonderful, joyful happy story about laughter and how it’s always inside of us no matter what is going on in our lives,” she said.

David wrote and illustrated the book his senior year at Yale while fighting Hodgkin’s disease. Before he passed away, his family promised him his book would be published.

“He was completing the book, knowing that he might not survive, and he maintained his optimism and his sense of humor and laughter throughout that process,” Saltzman said. “Any child who reads the book really grasps the message of joy that is contained within it.”

The Saltzmans have continued to honor their son’s memory by starting The Jester and Pharly Phund. It’s a nonprofit dedicated to both helping ill children and encouraging a love for reading among students nationwide.

“The Jester tells Pharley that it’s up to us to make a difference, it’s up to us to care, and we have taken that as the motto for The Jester and Pharley Phund,” Saltzman said. “And that is what inspires children.”

Through programs, more than 150,000 books have been given to hospitals, shelters, underserved schools and other special needs facilities.

“Our programs have been overwhelmingly successful,” Saltzman said. “Our children have read more than 26 million pages in 10 years to help other children.”

This saturday, The Jester and Pharly Phund will have its own booth at the festival. For each book that is sold, the Saltzmans will donate a book to a child in the hospital.

Community colleges come under fire after revealing Los Angeles Times article

Listen to an Annenberg Radio News story:


The Los Angeles Times raised questions about the city’s community college district and how its leaders are using construction bonds.

Read the Los Angeles Times article here.

Recent poll finds Democrats not enthusiastic about this year’s election


Listen to the audio story:


LeTania Kirkland: This is sort of an unusual election year. How would you say that is?

Darry Sragow: Well, every election year is unusual. This one is unusual in part because we have a Democratic president who was elected with a lot of hope and a lot of votes, and who I think has disappointed a lot of voters, and the result is that there is a sense that the Democrats will not do well in the midterm elections. There’s a lot of precedent for that. It’s not unusual for the party of a new president to have a problem two years into his first term. That’s kind of a dynamic that people think they’re going to see here.

Kirkland: There was a theory that Democrats were not enthusiastic about this year’s election. How enthusiastic do you really think Democrats are?

Sragow: There was a statistical measure we use, which is we ask the folks in our polling how enthusiastic they are about voting. We give them a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most enthusiastic. And there was a gap in the September LA Times/USC poll on that measure between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats were less enthusiastic about voting. In the October USC/Los Angeles Times poll, there was no difference between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats appeared between the middle of September and the middle of October to have gotten more excited collectively about the campaign.

Kirkland: In 1978, California opposed property taxes with Proposition 13, and in 1994, we had Proposition 187, which was sort of a rally against illegal immigration. Do you think there’s any common place where Californians are placing their frustration in this election?

Sragow: No, that’s a great question because when you ask Calfiornians is the state headed in the right direction or the wrong direction, 80 percent of Californians think the state is headed in the wrong direction. More than half of the people who said the state’s headed in the wrong direction, said they were disappointed. That’s why we’re not seeing people take to the streets, that’s why we’re not seeing a Proposition 13 or a Proposition 187 or a recall. I just think they are incredibly frustated and disappointed, so I think they’re sort of going, ‘I don’t know what my options are anymore.’

Proposition 19 lacks funds, not buzz


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A recent poll by the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California shows that 51 percent of California voters oppose legalizing marijuana.

With just a week away from voting time, the Yes on 19 campaign says it is stepping up its efforts.

But both campaign sides have had little capital compared to other campaigns this election cycle. With less money, the campaign is focusing on reaching voters online instead of on televesion.

Recently, the campaign for legalizing marijuana just got a monetary push from investor George Soros. He donated $1 million to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Stephen Gutwillig is one of the alliance’s spokespersons. He declined to give details about Soros and the donation. He did say, however, that the alliance plans on using the money for voter mobilization and public education.

It is a little late in the game to film and televise advertisements. So far, there is only one pro-legalization marijuana advertisement done by the Yes on 19 campaign.

Tom Angell is the spokesperson for Yes on 19. He says the advertisement originally played in Los Angeles, but it recently expanded to Bakersfield, Fresno and Chico. The campaign also purchased a “predicted dialer.” That is a gadget that calls about five people at once, and when someone picks up the phone, it connects to a volunteer.

Their so-called “grassroots campaign” will be focusing more on communication though Facebook and blogs. They also signed up hundreds of volunteers to man the phones. Expect a phone call this week.

Los Angeles Times receives death records of children in child and family services

By: Jessica Flores and Stephanie Guzman

Listen to the audio story here:


More than 60 children have died while in the county’s child and family services system in the last two and a half years. That is what confidential records released to the Los Angeles Times show.

The county previously argued that the number of deaths declined in the past couple of years. But records show that deaths from abuse or neglect are up from 18 in 2008 to 26 in 2009. This year’s figures may be even worse. Just in the first eight months of this year, there have been 21 child deaths from maltreatment.

The Los Angeles Times focused on one of these deaths. A 5-year-old girl from Inglewood was found not breathing in a bathtub in September. Her mother is being charged with her murder.

This is not to say child and family services have not made improvements. There are 30,000 fewer children in foster care than there were a decade ago. The department has also pushed to keep children with family members, even if they are distant relatives.

Living Advantage is a program that keeps foster children’s records in their databases. Eugenia Wilson is the program director. She says after working with foster kids, she knows the system needs to change, especially when it comes to monitoring families.

“When a child is placed somewhere, they need to be followed up on,” Wilson said. “You need to do pop-ups. Stop calling and saying, ‘I’m on my way over to check.'”

Wilson did point out that the newly released records on child deaths did not show whether most of these children were in foster care or with their parents under family services. While some may be quick to blame foster families, Wilson says it may not always be their fault.

“It’s within the system,” Wilson said. “But when you’re dealing with foster parents that have foster children, sometimes they need to know where to go. Not every home has a computer. Sometimes they don’t have all the resources that are needed. Sometimes they don’t know where to get them.”

The department has not released overall statistics, and they may not have to. Recently, Los Angeles County supervisors have asked the Office of Independent Review to find out if the county is following state laws regarding the release of the data. This leaves the Los Angeles Times still waiting for the whole picture.

OPINION: Standardized tests provoke students to fail

imageBy John Hankey

Listen to the audio here:

I teach 10th grade at Manual Arts High School and I have a few things to say about test scores.

1. Most importantly, where does good teaching come from? Does it descend from heaven like the Holy Spirit upon the heads of the chosen? Are we born with it? Or does it get taught? This whole discussion is based on blaming the teacher for bad test scores, rather than blaming the students. OK. We blame those responsible for guiding the students to become good test takers. But who teaches the teachers? Why do we not blame those responsible for guiding teachers to become good teachers? The responsibility is primarily that of administrators and schools of education. And there’s not a word about this, that I’ve seen, in any discussion of the topic. How is such glaring oversight of such a fundamental point possible? It’s laughable that the Los Angeles Times holds itself in such high regard, and misses such a fundamental point [see the “Value-Added” database, which rates teachers by their students’ test scores]; and it’s depressing that the school district — whose administrators hold such highly burnished credentials and get paid two and three times what I get — is similarly clueless.

2. The tests are horribly and deliberately flawed — skewed to measure test-taking ability rather than, for example, reading ability. Tenth graders take not only the CST, but the CAHSEE, and four periodic assessments. I always take the test while I’m monitoring, so I have some familiarity. The CST is the worst, putting many of the hardest questions in the first three or four questions. And the test is also jam-packed with questions that have four good answers or four bad answers, out of four possible answers. I often do not know what answer is intended as “correct,” and I’m an exceptionally good test taker. Putting the hardest questions at the beginning is designed to provoke struggling students to give up. And filling the tests with questions, the answer to which is clearly arbitrary and meaningless, is designed to provoke the stiff-necked critical thinkers into rebellion.

My students witness every day the ugly truth that the society they live in holds them in the lowest regard, has the lowest expectations for them, and in fact is poised, waiting for them to screw up so that they can be locked away behind bars. They walk into a building called “Manual Arts” for goodness sake! Our mascot is “the Toiler”, a guy in a paper hat holding a sledge hammer, or a mop, or a bag of burgers. OMG! And where are they to find the motivation to apply themselves to a test that has obviously been carefully designed, and implemented at phenomenal expense, to demean them? Of course the smartest of them rebel.

The test is also much longer than it needs to be to test ability in English. It becomes an endurance test — a measure of students’ ability to knuckle under and perform a meaningless, boring, and ugly job “because I said so.” It does, then, measure the docility of the students more than anything. And of course, students from higher socio-economic backgrounds are more docile. They have every reason to be. Their educational experience has not been 10 years of empty promises and degradation.

It would be possible to design a better test. It should be done. It should contain a brief test to determine reading level. And another to determine math. And it should then leave the kids the hell alone and stop wasting everyone’s time.

3. Because of these deliberate design flaws, and perhaps other features, the CST is an insanely flawed testing instrument. One teacher writing to the Times described how one her honors students went up 40 points, and another went down 50. She asked how the same students in the same classroom could have such wildly varied responses. Ten years ago, I made the same analysis of my students (the Times are so proud of themselves! I did the same comparison they did to see how my students were doing) and saw this wild, inexplicable swing. I was crushed. Until I did the same examination of another teacher’s scores, one who I, and everyone, greatly admired for her intelligence, organization, and commitment. And I observed the same wildly crazy swings among her students. It’s par for the course. And it’s the wrong course.

John Hankey teaches 10th grade at Manual Arts High School.