I SEE BY THE PAPERS….

newspaper

The late, great David Carr, media reporter for the New York Times, continued to value newspapers, even as he covered the rapidly-changing online media world that is threatening their existence with free, easily-accessible, short-attention span hits. Carr read two or three papers every morning before heading into work, and whenever he was in a new city, he relished reading the local newspaper. He said it gave him a sense of the buzz and mood of the place that no travel guide or web site provided.

I, too, always buy the local paper when I’m travelling. There is never a dearth of stories offering a glimpse of life outside one’s own navel-gazing metropolis (vote ‘Yes’).

So it was recently, as I passed through LA’s International Airport and the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta. At both terminals, I seemed to be the only person reading a newspaper. The LA Times, a slimmed-down sylph of its former bulky self, cost a buck. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution set me back two American greenbacks, dollars, but I got to read a lot about the Hawks and Braves.

In compliance with the journalism-killing spirit of providing free information, herewith the top ten things I found interesting from the Atlanta and LA papers. As WAC Bennett used to say: “Nothing is freer than free, my friend.”

1. Besides the drought, guess what else Los Angeles is all in knots about? Yep, the ruination of longstanding 2286361143_52184e9eb3_zneighbourhoods. More and more good homes are being torn down and replaced with much bigger residences on the same lot. Gee, that sounds familiar. In LA, they call this ‘mansionization’, and they’re actually poised to do something about it. City councillors want temporary restrictions on such teardowns, while city officials work at tightening the rules against ‘mansionization’. In some historic areas, teardowns would be banned completely. In other districts, rebuilds would be limited to a 20 per cent increase in size. Strangely, developers are fighting the plan to curb their right to make as much money as possible.

2. So you think Vancouver has a problem with low voter turnout? In LA’s municipal elections earlier this month, a measly 10 per cent of eligible voters managed to make it to the polls.

3. The State of Georgia has a big problem with crumbling transportation infrastructure. While we winge about a miniscule one half of one percent increase in the sales tax to pay for both road and transit improvements (vote ‘yes’), state legislators in Georgia have voted to help pay for $1 billion in transportation upgrades with a gas tax of 24 cents a gallon (that’s not per litre, that’s per gallon!). Other levies include a $5 tax on car rentals, $200 user fees for electric vehicles, and giving cities and counties the power to apply a sales tax on gasoline. Seems Vancouver isn’t the only place where elected representatives are struggling to cope with the fact that money to fund better services doesn’t grow on trees.

4. In the 8th fattest country in the world, it’s not easy getting people to move their ample butts. A fitness column in the Journal-Constitution advises some of the saddest excuses for physical activity I’ve ever seen. “Expert tips” include such strenuous huff-and-puffing as: drinking a glass of water as soon as you wake up; hand delivering a note to a colleague instead of emailing it; walking while making a phone call; and, my particular favourite, varying your sitting position. So that’s how those 60-year old Swedes do it….It ain’t easy being lean.

(Reminds me of an excessively portly friend, who was also an inveterate chain-smoker. I once asked him why he didn’t just buy a carton of cigarettes, rather than going to the store across the street every few hours or so for a new pack of cigs. “I need the exercise,” he replied.)

5. Worst Sound of Music lede of the century: “The hills are live with the sound of a big lucrative anniversary.”

140214-drought_vaughn_first_read-1421_1d1583a36565c41e3067bda0cdc6da19

6. The drought in California. “Dry enough for you?” It’s been breaking bad for more than three years now, and getting worse. Consider. March 16 was the fourth straight day in downtown LA with temperatures over 90 degrees (F). That hadn’t happened in March since record-keeping began in 1877.

Under new drought rules, restaurants are ordered to serve water only on request, hotels must offer guests the option of not having their towels and linens washed, and landscape irrigation is banned for 48 hours after any rainfall, however miniscule.

Meanwhile, as well owners pull up water from ever deeper levels, parts of the San Joaquin Valley “are deflating like a tire with a slow leak,” the Times reported. Irrigation canals are cracking, roads are buckling and storage space in the valley’s vast aquifer is being permanently depleted. Attempts by water officials to curb irrigation are being resisted. “Telling people they have to stop irrigating is a huge economic thing,” said one worried official. “Guys are going to get their guns out.”

Biggest immediate worry is the state’s mountain snowpack, currently a frightful 12 per cent of its normal level at this time of year. Yet Californians continue to fall short of water conservation targets. During the driest January on record, daily water use, while down slightly from the previous year, was 6 million gallons per person higher than December totals.

7. I love this LA Times correction: “In the March 17 Calendar section, a news brief about the live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” referred to the character of Mrs. Potts as a teacup. She is a teapot.” Short and stout, presumably….

8. Throwing caution to the winds, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a feature called “The Vent”, which allows people like me to be cranky in print. This was the angriest vent on March 18: “I am continually appalled at the number of men I see who leave the restroom without washing their hands. How disgusting and ignorant.” Thus, does civilization crumble…

032715_APS_deliberations_5_kdj03

9. Teachers are in court in Atlanta, too. Only not on something as picayune as classroom working and learning conditions, as in B.C. A dozen local teachers are accused of correcting answers on student tests to ensure higher scores, making them eligible for bonuses and raises. But their trial has entered the realm of Alice in Wonderland. Zealous prosecutors have charged the teachers with, of all things, racketeering, a crime normally associated with the mob and organized crime. “Teachers? Racketeers? Really?” thundered defense attorney Akil Secret. The result has been the longest and largest criminal trial in the history of Georgia. Several other teachers, who cut a deal and testified for the prosecution, were derided by the defense as “nothing but a menagerie of misfits and malcontents”. Not much “teachin’ the Golden Rule” on either side, it seems. (UPDATE: After three days deliberation, the jury has yet to reach a verdict.)

10. And finally, there was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s very merry “news quiz”. Question one: “A man reported as acting erratically and running naked through the neighbourhood was shot and killed by police in what county?” Question two: “After a customer was shot and killed in the parking lot, the Kroger on Ponce de Leon has offered an award for how much to find his killer? Perfect for classroom discusson. To say nothing of question three: “A sanitation worker in what local city was jailed for collective trash too early?” What a country. I’ll stick with Quinn’s Quiz, thanks.

Advertisements

LEE KUAN YEW AND THE CREEPING MEATBALL

Lee-Kuan-Yew-1978_3241734k

So, farewell then, Lee Kuan Yew, grand patriarch of Singapore, who never saw a critic he didn’t want to jail or sue, or a gum chewer he didn’t want to fine.

Much has been written extolling the great man, beloved of entrepreneurs and capitalists for creating a safe, uncorrupt haven for their money and by hordes of ex-pats in Asia for providing a tiny, perfect oasis for a few days’ R and R, coupled with a chance to down a Singapore Sling at the famed Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel.

But none of the lengthy obituaries has included one of the more remarkable confluences of Lee’s long career. That occurred, of all places, on the scenic, normally placid campus of the University of B.C., where he encountered an invasion of raucous ragamuffins imbued with the heady, counter-culture tonic of Yippie-dom. As a survivor of the Japanese occupation of Singapore, however, surviving the wild, student occupation of the UBC Faculty Club – with him in it! – was Peking Duck soup for the wily autocrat.

For the many poor unfortunates and obit writers with no knowledge of this momentous event, return with us now to those thrilling daze of yesteryear, when student power was afoot on campuses throughout the land, harnessed to the widespread anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-establishment, anti-pig, pro-dope smoking rhetoric of the young. I will tell you the tale.

On a fine fall day in 1968, celebrated, head band-wearing Jerry Rubin of the Youth International Party and unkempt author of the great literary classic DO IT!, ventured north of the border to deliver what he called a “sermon” at a large public rally in front of the Student Union Building at UBC. Rubin was a self-proclaimed radical who loved media stunts, none more headline-grabbing than the Yippies’ presence at the Democratic convention in Chicago a few months earlier, where they occupied Lincoln Park and paraded their presidential candidate, a pig named Pigasus, through the streets of the Windy City. The cops responded by bashing in heads and charging Rubin et al with conspiring to riot.

fc75

At the end of his inflammatory, UBC speech advocating abandonment of “the creeping meatball”, Rubin further urged students to take action to liberate themselves. “We’ve got all these people here. Let’s do something. Is there any place on campus that needs liberating?” Whereupon, several well-rehearsed members of the crowd yelled: “The faculty club!” And then, as The Ubyssey reported: “…off they went.”

Hundreds of students stormed through the doors of the posh faculty club, haven of tweedy, privileged professors swilling from its well-stocked liquor supply and dining on only the finest cuisine. Once ensconced inside the hallowed, professorial precincts, the unruly miscreants didn’t leave. They drank the booze, rollicked in comfy chairs, inhaled illegal substances, went for nude dips in the club’s ornamental pond, discussed the merits of political something-or-other, boogied to live music and generally got up the noses of outraged profs.

fc68

“I’m disgusted,” stormed classics scholar Dr. Malcolm MacGregor. “This gutter-snipe comes up from the U.S. and organizes this thing, and all the students follow along like sheep.”

And where was Lee Kuan Yew during all this merry mayhem? Intrepid Ubyssey reporter James Conchie Lee Kuan Yewfound the bemused Prime Minister of Singapore relaxing in a second floor suite at the faculty club, his home during a 19-day “relax and study” visit to Vancouver. Against the wishes of a nervous security guard and a few, equally-worried faculty, Lee admitted the reporter for a brief interview. “All this isn’t bothering me at all,” he told Conchie, with a wide smile. “It takes something of a much more serious nature than this to get me excited.” He wondered out loud: “What is happening here? Everyone seems to be running around in a great fluster.” At that point, Conchie was ushered out, after Lee promised him a full interview before leaving town.

The escapade, which lasted through the night and into the next day, produced a vintage issue of The Ubyssey. You can peruse the full edition here:

http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/pdfs/ubyssey/UBYSSEY_1968_10_25.pdf

Not only is the paper’s coverage of Rubin’s antics great fun, it’s also a wonderful time capsule. Feast on ads for the legendary Retinal Circus (Papa Bears and Easy Chairs from Seattle), the Czech movie classic Closely Watched Trains, Duthie Books on Robson (sigh), an appearance by Mother Tucker’s Yellow Duck at a weekend anti-war rally, and, best of all, Poulson’s annual typewriter sale!

At the same time, suggesting that the sentiment of the Sixties didn’t prevail everywhere on campus, there were also ads for the Canadian army’s Regular Officer Training Plan, Dale Carnegie’s appalling course: ‘How to win friends and influence people’, business management opportunities at Procter and Gamble, plus my personal favourite, a meeting of the UBC Young Socreds.

As for all those young flacks and hacks whose names are sprinkled through the pages of that particular Ubyssey close to 50 years ago, “Where are they now?” I hear you ask.

Well, Jerry Rubin, who subsequently became a stock broker (groan), is dead, hit by a car as he jaywalked on a busy LA street in 1994. Fence-sitting AMS president Dave Zirnhelt became a Cariboo cattle rancher, horse logger and two-term NDP cabinet minister. The ever-effervescent Stan Persky divides his time between Vancouver and Berlin, and writes books. AMS vice-president Carey Linde became a lawyer based on Haida Gwaii, before moving to Vancouver, where he has established a “men’s rights” practice. Oh, well…

Kirsten Emmott is a well-known poet, writer and family doctor, now living in Comox. Ubyssey movie reviewer Kirk Tougas is a renowned cinematographer, with many fine films to his credit. Contributors to a Younger Vancouver Sculptors exhibition at UBC include Gathie Falk and Takao Tanabe, both of whom went on to acclaimed, artistic careers. “Gathie Falk has some really funky pieces on display, including a grey, velvet-covered bureau with a sculptured shirt on top,” writes reviewer “F.C.”, in all likelihood, the free-spirited Fred Cawsey.

As for regular Ubyssey journos, editor Al Birnie became a printer in Toronto, news editor John Twigg spent three years as Premier Dave Barrett’s press secretary, despite his arrest in the famous Gastown Riot of 1971, wire editor Peter Ladner was fired by the Vancouver Sun for telling a public meeting that a number of Sun reporters smoked dope (not sure what happened to him after that…), associate editor and Bugs Bunny aficionado Mike Finlay went on to an illustrious career as a documentary producer at CBC Radio, reporter John Gibbs switched to the dark side for a long, distinguished career in TV news, while AMS reporter Alex Volkoff abandoned the black and white and “red all over” world of newspapers for the suave, nuanced world of diplomacy. Bonus points for the fate of Lee Kuan Yew’s favourite Ubyssey reporter, James Conchie.

They were great times.

Image 9

THERE ONCE WAS A UNION MAID….

Rafe-Union-bosses-making-big-mistake-backing-LNG

That Christy Clark can sure be a funny premier. And I don’t mean Hamish jokes. Take the recent flare-up over who gets to build that farm-flooding, massive Site C dam in northeastern B.C. Please…

Until Monday, attempts by the province’s once-powerful construction unions to secure a fair crack at the work had received no more than the bureaucratic equivalent of a bucket of warm spit from the powers that be at BC Hydro and the Liberal government’s own representatives. Not only was Hydro insisting on a construction site open to union and non-union contractors, which was not all that surprising, the Crown corporation wanted to ban the building trades from even trying to organize dam workers who were not unionized. Unions? Unions? Don’t need no stinking unions.

It was all very reminiscent of the distaste for union labour that prevailed during the 10-year premiership of Gordon Campbell. Egged on all the way by Phil Hochstein of the strident, anti-union Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, the once-effective network of skilled apprenticeship programs, which had strong union involvement, was essentially gutted during the Campbell years. As the dire shortage of skilled workers became increasingly acute, however, Christy Clark recognized the situation for the disaster it was and brought construction unions back into the apprenticeship fold. Not only that, our hard-hat premier seemed to strike a non-Shirley bond with the union trades folk, who have shared a podium with her often enough to cause some disquiet in the ranks of the NDP. Under Gordon Campbell, they couldn’t get the time of day.

site-c-rendering-full-width-place

So, when Hydro unveiled its anti-union model for the multi-billion dollar Site C project, Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council, wasn’t too concerned. Surely, everything could be resolved with a bit of straight-forward palaver. After all, wasn’t he a friend of the premier?

But Sigurdson underestimated who was driving Hydro’s policy. Many have ties going back to the administration of Gordon Campbell (see above), none deeper than those of Hydro boss Jessica McDonald, who was Campbell’s deputy minister and a powerful force “behind the throne” from 2005 to 2009. Susan Yurkovich, executive vice-president for Site C, was a member of the Liberals’ 2005 election campaign committee. Jobs Minister Shirley Bond served prominently in Gordo’s cabinet throughout his decade as premier. And right there in CC’s office is chief of staff Dan Doyle, a key government architect of the 2010 Winter Olympics, and chief political adviser Chris Gardner, a longtime political associate of treasured Campbell cabinet minister Kevin Falcon, when both were active in Surrey.

When he privately pressed his concerns, Sigurdson might as well have been wearing an old Adrian Dix campaign button for all that he got from this group. Union, schmunion.

Finally, with considerable fanfare, the building trades announced on Monday that they were taking BC Hydro to court, on the not-inconsiderable grounds that the Corporation’s restrictions on union organizing and the right to strike flew in the face of recent decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Still, there was Shirley Bond later in the day defending Hydro and its need for “more flexibility” (code for weakening union rights). “We have to make sure that these projects move on time.”

At that point, who should awake from her deep, satisfying slumber, but the premier, herself. What hast thou wrought, she roared at her now cowering staff and ministers and BC Hydro honchos. Whereupon, in the delightful words of columnist Vaughn Pamer, she delivered “an extraordinary swat up the side of the head to Hydro” for its flagrant attempt to outlaw union organizing at Site C.

“I don’t believe that’s legal, I don’t believe it’s right,” quoth Clark, channeling her inner Jim Sinclair. “I believe they should have the right to organize and BC Hydro can’t take that away.”

And lo and behold, after completely stonewalling the building trades on that very point, the relevant cabinet ministers and Jessica McDonald suddenly agreed with the premier. The clause too far will be withdrawn. Imagine that.

What’s that line in Solidarity Forever? “For what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?” Well, if that force is Christy Clark, sometimes it’s not too feeble, at all. It’s a funny old B.C. world.

Christy Clark

FAREWELL, THEN, MINNIE MINOSO

00968231.JPG

What is it about being a kid that makes you attach yourself to certain ballplayers, none of whom you’ve ever come close to seeing in a real game and only rarely on television? Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax were obvious targets for our affection, of course, although in my schoolyard it was always either Mantle or Mays, never both. Even when I was barely knee-high to a Baltimore Chop, this lifelong Yankee hater was a Mays man all the way.

harmonkillebrewBut the guy who really had the number one claim on my heart was Harmon Killebrew, a big, strong-armed power hitter from the potato state of Idaho. He was hardly Mr. Colourful. Asked once whether he had any hobbies, the devout Mormon thought for a moment. “Just washing the dishes, I guess,” the soft-spoken slugger eventually replied. So why did I latch onto Killebrew, from among all those flashier stars? Other than the fact that he was a hell of a hitter, who knows? It’s just one of those unfathomable mysteries of youth. But he remained my favourite ballplayer for 15 years, until his retirement in the mid-1970’s.

Another ballplayer I loved almost as much in those lazy, hazy carefree days of baseball was good old Minnie Minoso. He found his way into my young heart through the usual vehicle of silent box score and baseball cards, plus the entrancing rhythm of his name. I knew nothing about him, really, other than that he stole a lot of bases, played the game with enthusiasm, and, a solid clutch hitter, he knocked in a lot of runs. But most of all, as a kid, what was there not to love about someone baptized Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Minoso Armas, who gave himself the sweet tag of Minnie Minoso?

As he kept on playing, oblivious to Father Time’s order to hang up his spikes, my fondness grew. He didn’t seem to know the meaning of retirement. When his major league career was done, the ageless Minoso drifted down to the Mexican League, where he played through his 40’s. At the age of 45, he hit .359 to win the Mexican Winter League’s batting title. In his final season, by then nearly 48, he played 120 games, hit 12 home runs, knocked in 83 runs and batted.265. Three years later, Minoso was brought back to his beloved White Sox by owner Bill Veeck, the best baseball impresario in all the world. Two months short of his 51st birthday, Minoso faced major league pitching for the first time in 12 years. He went one for eight, knocking a single off a Sid Monge fastball. That made him the fourth oldest player in big league history to get a hit. The Gordie Howe of baseball. (Minoso might have been even older for these landmark moments. His birth date tended to bounce around like a Mexican jumping bean.)

Someone with a lot of time on his hands added up everyone’s major and minor league lifetime statistics, and figured out that Minoso stood second, behind only Pete Rose, on the list of most total hits in professional baseball. Ty Cobb was third.

Much later, I learned that the Cuban-born star was also a baseball pioneer, the first black from Latin America to play in the allyn2majors, suiting up with the Cleveland Indians in 1949, and the first black to play for the Chicago White Sox. That was in 1951. In his first at bat, he hit a home run, launching a lengthy tenure with the White Sox that made him one of the most popular players in team history, with his own statue at what I will still call Comiskey Park.

When Minoso passed away a few days ago, there was universal sadness at the loss of someone whose embrace of the joy of baseball was unsurpassed. I’m also sure I wasn’t the only one taken aback by his death, despite his many years on Planet Earth. Heck, if anyone could defy the odds and live forever, surely it would have been Minnie Minoso. I kind of thought he would live forever.

Here’s the NYT obit on this great man. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/02/sports/minnie-minoso-dies-treasured-white-sox-ballplayer.html?_r=0 Even better, if you’re obsessed, like I am, about Minnie Minoso, and have a few spare moments, this is a marvellous, definitive look at his long career, with incredible detail and photos from his days in Cuba and early years in the majors. Outstanding. http://www.cnlbr.org/Portals/0/Hero/Orestes-Minoso.pdf

Fidel Castro Sitting Next to Baseball Player Minnie Minoso

(Actually, Minoso hated Castro and left Cuba, never to return, in 1961. But late last year, after President Obama announced a landmark rapprochement with his homeland, Minoso expressed the hope that he might now go back and revisit the sugar cane fields where he laboured as a youth.)

Meanwhile, although I never saw him play, I do have one Minnie Minoso anecdote. It goes back to my time in Newmarket, Ontario, when our gang of four seemed to be the only true-blood baseball fans in town. Besides myself, there were Doug Cane, Dennis Myers and the great Paul Ingledew, who might have been a slugger in his own right, except for a bad eye.

One evening, we were playing home run derby. You got three tries an inning to hit the ball far enough for a homer. We had set up Ingledew’s bike out in the field as the home run marker. But it was too far. As dusk approached, not one of us had even come close to belting the ball over the bike for a homer. Up came Paul Ingledew for his final at bat. For who knows what reason, he suddenly announced in a loud voice: “Pinch hitter, Minnie Minoso!” Whereupon, he whacked a towering blast that soared way over his heretofore-unreachable bike for the only home run of the game. We laughed ourselves sick. Then we went home.

RIP, Minnie Minoso. And shame on all those sports writers who broke your big heart by keeping you out of the Hall of Fame. “Even if it hurts on the inside, I will always be smiling on the outside,” said Minnie, after falling short once again in 2011.

images-3