Robin Abcarian
Commentary, news and analysis
Neutrality will only take GOP controller candidate Swearengin so far

The mayor of this town is young, telegenic and smart. And she has — please forgive me for using this phrase — gone a little bit rogue. Republican Ashley Swearengin has bucked her party on California's high-speed rail (she supports it). She has refused to say whether she would vote for the GOP's beleaguered gubernatorial candidate. She is an evangelical Christian who was for gay marriage, then against it, then for it again.

Now she's running against Democrat Betty Yee, 57, for the obscure job of controller, the state's accountant, auditor and bookkeeper. Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization, has out-raised Swearengin and benefits from the state's lopsided registration, which favors Democrats.

To win, Swearengin, 42, must appeal to the huge swath of "decline-to-state" voters as well as disaffected Democrats. Even minor displays of GOP partisanship, in other words, are not helpful.

If Swearengin pulls off a win on Tuesday, she becomes the California GOP's hottest property. But...

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UC Berkeley Muslim students are wrong to silence Bill Maher

There’s a special kind of irony emanating right now from the UC Berkeley campus. A group of offended students is trying to get the political satirist Bill Maher banned as the school’s winter graduation speaker, even as the campus is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement.

Now, I am actually the last person to defend the content of Bill Maher's speech. I find him grating, unfunny and smug. Not to mention sexist. But I would never argue that HBO should cancel “Real Time With Bill Maher” because I don't like his show. I simply choose not to watch.

No one can blame Muslim students for objecting to Maher's virulent and frequently expressed anti-Muslim sentiments. Earlier this month, one episode in particular generated a lot of controversy because of a heated exchange about Muslims that he had with Ben Affleck, who was on the show to promote his new film, “Gone Girl.”

Affleck found himself in the position of having to explain to Maher that not all Muslims are radical...

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50 shades of ick: CBC host Jian Ghomeshi says he was fired for sex life

How un-“Fifty Shades of Grey.”

A few years after that awful novel inspired stories about spiced-up sex lives and greater acceptance of consensual bedroom violence, a top Canadian public radio host has been fired, allegedly for being too wild in the bedroom.

That’s his version, anyway.

In a long, anguished Facebook post on Sunday, the CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi, 47, announced that he had been fired by his longtime network “because of what I do in my private life.”

Fans of public radio station KPCC are familiar with Ghomeshi and his nightly radio program "Q." He is known for entertaining interviews with pop culture figures like Lena Dunham and Tom Petty.

On Oct. 16, he was in Santa Monica to record a live version of his program at the Broad Stage. His guests included Zach Galifianakis, Sandra Oh, Martin Short and Bob Odenkirk. I was invited to participate in the show’s media panel, a regular feature. But the panel was canceled, I assume because producers were able to book so many great...

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For Sierra resident, the well runs dry -- along with her options

Things were bad enough for Rochelle Landers before her well went dry. No job. No money for eye glasses or dentures. And now, for the last month and a half, no water.

Landers, a onetime school secretary, does not live in the parched heart of the state: the San Joaquin Valley, where some people get sand when they turn on the faucet.

She has an acre in the Sierra foothills, in a sparsely populated town an hour northeast of Sacramento with a seemingly abundant water supply despite the drought. Except for one thing: Her water comes from a well. And her well, which is shallow, has gone dry.

For someone with money, this would pose little obstacle. But Landers, 57, is stuck. She's tried to get work. But after interviewers see her front teeth, which crossed like swords after her molars fell out, they never call back.

Last month, when her faucet stopped working, Landers thought her water pump was broken. What did she know? She'd purchased her dilapidated home 18 months earlier, moving back to...

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Charging "Django Unchained" actress with lewd conduct smacks of payback

How disturbing that actress Daniele Watts and her boyfriend, the chef Brian James Lucas, have been charged with lewd conduct for that incident last month in Studio City. You remember that whole ridiculous exchange, of course. Someone called the cops to report that they were having sex in their car; when police arrived, Watts was standing outside the vehicle. Instead of showing the officer her ID as requested, she pitched a fit. It was embarrassing.

But while she may have been over the top, the responding officer, LAPD Sgt. Jim Parker, was beyond condescending. I wrote about that here. Parker had captured the exchange on audio tape, and in an understandable but self-serving act, released it to TMZ to forestall mounting criticism that this looked like yet another bogus, racially motivated stop. (Watts is black; Lucas is white.)

As my colleague Sandy Banks reported, Parker actually violated department policy when he decided to slip the audio tape to the gossip website. It went viral, and...

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Anita Sarkeesian bravely confronts sexist video gaming culture

Years ago, when I wrote about the fashion industry, I put together a slide show that married my feminist impulses with my love for my beat.

I had become appalled at the way women were depicted in fashion advertising. In so many ads, women were oversexualized, disembodied, made to look as if they had just been drugged or assaulted. When they were photographed with men, they were often submissive.

No one ever told me to shut up, or threatened to kill me or rape me for simply pointing out that it’s offensive to see women depicted over and over as objects of male sexual pleasure, and that we’d allowed an industry aimed at women to promulgate images that were, not infrequently, insulting to women.

Now we are in the Internet age, where the freedom of anonymity overpowers any urge to be civil. Feminist critics who are raising their voices against the sexist depiction of women in video games are being harassed and threatened by cosmically immature male gamers who seem to view rational,...

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