PETER COMPARELLI, R.I.P.

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It has been a terrible year. Bowie and Prince taken far too early. Leonard Cohen leaving us to mourn and light candles against the dark. Long-time friends battling serious health issues. Fake news, the decline of newspapers and the mainstream media, more necessary than ever to hold governments and politicians to account. An antiquated electoral system, an FBI “announcement coup” against Hillary Clinton and Russian hackers delivering a sniveling, bullying, thin-skinned, shallow-thinking prima-donna with the attention span of a child to the White House, while the most adult of U.S. presidents takes his dignified leave. Terrorism in Europe. Aleppo. And now, to cap off this annus horribilis came news of the passing of Peter Comparelli, as lovely a person as there ever was in the tough, crazy world of journalism.

Beyond being a wonderful fellow and someone to enjoy a beer or five with, Peter had a special place in my heart, as the guy who took over my beloved spot on the labour beat at the Vancouver Sun. He thrived on it. A few years later, when I joined the rival Province as that paper’s labour reporter, thirsting to kick the slats out of the Sun’s coverage, I had a hard time harbouring any ill-will towards my good friend, Comparelli.

In fact, one of the best times either of us ever had on the beat was getting to cover the international convention of the Brotherhood of Teamsters in, where else, Las Vegas. We were both sent because it was a good local story. A band of feisty Vancouver dissidents had managed to get elected as delegates, and they were determined to raise the banner of reform against the organized thuggery of the big, bad, beefy Teamsters. If that embarrassed Vancouver’s own Senator Ed Lawson, the smooth, highly-paid presider over the Canadian section of the union and an international vice-president, all the better.

And they did cause a ruckus, most notably when feisty B.C. truck driver Diana Kilmury stood on the convention floor, braving the intimidating howls of several thousand male, mostly large, delegates, and denounced the Teamsters for all the criminal indictments amassed against their leaders. “I didn’t indict you,” Kilmury shouted into the mike. “But if the FBI has issued that many indictments, you must be up to something!” (In fact, then president Roy Williams was eventually sent to prison for his connections to organized crime. His prominent partner at the head table and successor, Jackie Presser, avoided going to jail only by dying of cancer.) But beyond all the great copy, and the fascination of seeing the Teamsters operate up close, with the ghost of Jimmy Hoffa hovering over them, it was a delight just to hang out in Vegas with Peter. We coughed up small amounts of money in the casinos (more by Peter, of course… ), bathed in the neon sun that banished night along the strip and spent our expense money. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Comparelli eventually moved on to cover the legislature. Then, to everyone’s surprise, off he went to sample the delights of life and journalism in Hong Kong, never to return. But, as the spontaneous outpouring of love and affection for Peter on the Pacific Press Facebook page attests, he was not forgotten in Vancouver, even after 30 years away.

Apart from his cracker-jack reporting, he was a union shop steward when those positions mattered, an exceptionally able catcher on the Sun’s competitive softball squad, teaming up with ace pitcher Kelly Evans to win so many games, and an embracer of the good times life had to offer, someone you were always glad to see. Former Sun reporter Debbie Wilson, who had decamped to Mexico, noted how grateful she was when Peter suddenly turned up, amid the ruins of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. “He was dispatched by the Sun to cover the disaster and also to find me, as I was (unknown to me) MIA.” With an innate ability to love and attract women, he broke some hearts, it must be owned, until finally meeting his match and marrying Idy. At his wedding reception in Vancouver, I had never seen him happier and more assured that he was doing the right thing.

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He worked for Asiaweek in Hong Kong, was their correspondent in Kuala Lampur, became a skilled editor, then bounced around with other publications and jobs, till it became hard to keep track. But it was in Hong Kong where he was most remembered, a regular at the city’s legendary Foreign Correspondents Club, along with other refugees from the Vancouver Sun who washed up in Hong Kong. Der Hoi-Yin, Jake van der Kamp and the irrepressible Wyng Chow were particularly close. Peter’s last trip back to Hong Kong, from his permanent home in Penang, had been in May. But Wyng Chow had been in touch with him only a few weeks ago. Though a bit less chipper than usual, with his experimental anti-cancer drugs proving difficult to manage, Wyng said Peter talked of returning for yet another reunion. News of his death was a shock. He died, at 63, from lung cancer, surrounded by Idy and his three brothers.

Farewell, Peter. We loved you, man.

His Vancouver Sun obituary is here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/vancouversun/obituary.aspx?n=peter-comparelli&pid=183190212

And this affecting tribute from Tim Noonan of the South China Morning Post: http://www.scmp.com/sport/other-sport/article/2057942/editors-office-baseball-field-peter-comparelli-was-man-all-seasons

(photos courtesy of Wyng Chow and Der Hoi-Yin)

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READING THE PAPERS, IN SEATTLE

kids-reading-paperHey, kids! Montreal Expos caps and vinyl aren’t the only hip retro around. Be the first in your group to read a print newspaper. Take time out from your busy online life, relax and turn the pages. Impress your friends. You never know what unexpected treasures of information and features might lurk deep within.

As the late, great David Carr (sigh) did during all his visits outside New York, I still peruse the local newspapers whenever I venture beyond Van, man. Here are some print gleanings from a recent weekend baseball venture to Seattle. You, too, can be a newspaper explorer.

  1. Let’s start with a joke. You’re probably one of those who think Boise, Idaho is no laughing matter. Well, you’d be wrong. The lede of an enticing article on Boise that made me actually want to visit was this giggle by Garrison Keillor: “No matter how smug a Boise tech millionaire might feel as he drives around in his fancy Mercedes, his licence plate still says: ‘Famous Potatoes’.” Well, it made me laugh.image3
  1. Seattle has a writer and performer name of Stokley Towles. Given all the topics in all the world, he’s chosen in recent years to focus on “LOCAL INFRASTRUCTURE”. Yep, water, sewage, garbage and “other systems we interact with on a daily basis”. Be still, my beating heart. His latest show was about Seattle’s bus service. Of course, it took place on an actual transit bus, and sold out. How cool is that? Toronto may have Drake, but Seattle has Stokley Towles (stokleytowes.com).
  1. Turning to the obits, which are often the best part of any paper (no, seriously…), we find the rich life of Mary Fung Koehler. A child of the Depression, born to Chinese-American parents in Chicago, she grew up working in Chinese restaurants. From there, she became the third woman to graduate from chemical engineering at the University of Illinois. After time out for marriage, children and a move to Seattle, Ms. Koehler enrolled in law at the University of Washington, the only female minority in her class. She graduated, seven months pregnant with her fifth child. Ever a pathfinder, in the early 1980’s Ms. Koehler represented two lesbian mothers in a successful child custody battle against their ex-husbands. The case was one of many civil liberty legal battles she fought. When clients couldn’t pay, she let them work off the debt by working on her car or painting the house.

The obit goes on to detail her “extremely colourful personality”, featuring a smile that “literally reached from ear to ear” and a life-long mission to heal people. Plus this gem: “She also liked to predict people’s IQs, and at one point declared that the family dog Izzy’s IQ was higher than that of George W. Bush.” Mary Fung Koehler, sounds like you were a real corker during your time on this struggling earth. May you Rest In Wonderful Peace.

  1. We think we have trouble with income divisions in our education system. And we do, as increasing numbers of parents send their kids to private schools, and those on Vancouver’s east side who can manage it opt for public schools on the west side. But consider Seattle. One-third of students of colour in Seattle attend a “high-poverty” school, while a third of white Seattle students go to a private school. The gap continues in the public schools, themselves. Grade 3 reading standards are being met by students of colour at a rate 30 per cent lower than those of their white classmates. The stats came out an all-day symposium attended by more than 500 politicians, educators, policymakers, parents and students to consider ways to improve this distressing situation. I liked what 18-year old, high-school senior, Ahlaam Ibraahim, had to say. Wearing a head scarf, she said that students like her suffer from low expectations, even when her classmates get A’s in advanced classes. “People were surprised that we could do it,” she told the symposium. “Why are your expectations of me so low? These lowered expectations aren’t going to get us anywhere.” Good for her. One can only hope young, confident students like Ahlaam Ibraahim are the future.
  1. From Cooking with Cannabis, now a regular column in the Seattle Weekly, I learned: “One of the oldest cannabis recipes on record is from 1475, written by a baller named Bartholomaeus Platina.” And: “Another easy way to consume weed is bhang.” A good bhang for the baller, so to speak.
  1. Alas, another Duck Boat fatality. The “amphibious sightseeing vehicle” hit and killed a woman driving a scooter in downtown Boston. It was just last year that one of Seattle’s deadly duckmobiles with the wise-cracking drivers crashed into a charter bus, killing five of the bus passengers. Two earlier accidents in Philadelphia claimed three other lives. No laughing matter, methinks.

7.  More cheery news. A 25-year old intruder in beautiful Sultan, Washington picked the wrong place to intrude. He was shot dead by an 80-year old woman, who fired three shots into him after the miscreant stabbed her husband. Her son could not have been more proud of mom. Intruders will now think twice about intruding there, he informed a Seattle Times “They’ll come in, look at her and run the other way.” Readers having their breakfast must have enjoyed his account. “My mom hears what’s going on, comes out and sees the guy standing over my stepdad, and there’s blood all over the floor and his guts are coming out.” She ran into the bedroom. “She grabbed her gun, comes out, shoots him four times and kills him,” he added, with a flourish. Justice, American-style. “My mother doesn’t feel bad, and neither do I. He almost killed my stepdad. He got what he had coming.” Just another day in the life of Sultan, Washington.

8. Sound headline advice to “Relationship Confused” from Ask Amy: “Wake up and smell the implications of girlfriend’s intimacy with her male friend.” Yep.

 
9. Boeing being Boeing, state lawmakers thought they needed to give the mega-aircraft builder some mega-tax breaks to keep all those jobs in Washington. What could possibly go wrong? Well, since the tax-incentive package took effect, Boeing has cut its workforce by more than 5,600, including the transfer of thousands of engineering jobs to lower-cost areas of the States. Never mind, say unrepentant legislators. Just think how many jobs would have been lost without those billions in forgiven taxes…

brother_typewriter_pink_210. And finally, best of all. A front page story in the Seattle Times tells all about a youth movement taking over the region’s last typewriter repair shop. After more than 75 years fixing ye olde clackety-clacks, 94-year old Bob Montgomery has sold out. Taking over Bremerton Office Machine Co. is whippersnapper Paul Lundy, a spritely stripling of 56. “I had an epiphany,” enthused Lundy. “What an amazing single-purpose machine.” For Montgomery, stooped and frail, it’s the end of a long, long love affair. He never married. “Typewriters, typewriters, typewriters,” he explained. During the Second World War, Montgomery was snatched from the infantry for the less hazardous duties of fixing typewriters, particularly those at Bushy Park in London, where Dwight D. Eisenhower had his military headquarters. The D-Day landings were planned there. Who knows? Maybe, by fixing a critical, sticky D key on Ike’s typewriter, Bob Montgomery played a “key” role in the mission’s success.

Meanwhile, the new Typewriter Repairman has to deal with the skeptics, the same kind of modernists who sadly shake their heads at me for still writing cheques and using the mail. It’s not about the money, said Paul Lundy. “I am fortunate to be one of the few individuals working on durable goods. How many people get to restore machines built in 1900 or even 1986, and see them come back to life?” Exactly. http://www.seattletimes.com/business/local-business/areas-last-typewriter-repair-shop-to-go-on-clicking/

 

PASSING OF A NEWSPAPER MAN. RON ROSE, RIP.

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We said farewell late last month to a good man. Part of the great generation that survived the Depression, World War Two, the tinderbox of the Cold War and LIberace, Ron Rose was part of this crazy world for nearly a century, falling just four years short of the big One Zero Zero. But that’s not why so many of us gathered to pay our respects. We were there because Ron Rose, besides being the most gracious and generous of individuals, was a newspaper man. It was a gathering of the clans, a celebration of someone whose working life as a knight of the keyboard stretched back to the Depression. Ron Rose was history. When he started at the Vancouver Sun as a copy boy in 1938, he reported for work in the celebrated Sun Tower, then topped by the paper’s majestic neon sign that rivalled Woodward’s big ‘W’ for night sky prominence. The door handles still bore the VW initials of the tower’s original owners, the Vancouver World, which closed in 1924.

Of course, we were also there because the man, himself, said it was okay to gather in his memory, so long as there were no “vainglorious” speeches, a word only a guy born in 1919 would use. “Just a few friends to share a few stories and a few drinks.” We complied, except for the ‘few’.

Ron Rose belied Nat King Cole’s hit song, Ramblin’ Rose. He never worked anywhere but the Sun, bending elbows with all the greats and unforgettable characters who passed through the paper’s portals during its long run as a carbon copy of the “Front Page”.  Pierre Berton, Jack Webster, Simma Holt, Jack Scott, Paul St. Pierre, Tom Ardies, gun-toting crime reporter Gar Macpherson, copy paper swallower Ivers Kelly, “Deadline” Jack Brooks, Fotheringham, Wasserman….Rose knew them all.

To say nothing of the gaggle of long-haired hippies with answers to everything who invaded the Sun newsroom in the 1960’s and 1970s. Ron Rose tolerated us all, calmly going about his business with the same unruffled demeanour that characterized every day he spent on the job.  Which didn’t mean he didn’t have bite or edge or views. He was just quiet about it. A strong union supporter, Rose was an early member of The Newspaper Guild, and, nearing 60, he agreed to join a slate dominated by us “young Turks” that successfully took on the Guild’s tired, incumbent leadership.

(Incidentally, the first employee to join the Guild was the paper’s cartoonist/illustrator Fraser Wilson. After Wilson was fired by the Sun for taking a partisan role in the bitter strike at the Vancouver Province in 1946, Wilson was hired to do a huge mural on the wall of the old Marine Workers and Boilermakers Hall on Pender Street. When the hall was demolished, Wilson’s masterpiece, portraying workers in B.C.’s many resource industries, was transferred to the main auditorium of the Maritime Labour Centre, where it remains today. Ron Rose’s memorial was held at the very same labour centre, just across the foyer from Wilson’s mural, a delightful connection between two Sun colleagues and early union members from so long ago.)

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(A small part of the Fraser Wilson mural.)

More significantly, Ron Rose was a pioneer in an area that now regularly produces front page news: aboriginal issues. But their concerns were routinely ignored by the mainstream media until the early 1970’s, when Rose became the first reporter in B.C. to cover, more or less full-time, “the Indian beat”. With his non-judgmental approach and striving, as he put it, “to cover aboriginal people as human beings rather than accident statistics”, Rose was widely praised on both sides of the deep divide that existed in those days.  His efforts were specifically singled out in Paul Tennant’s landmark study: The Indian Land Question in British Columbia, 1849-1989, and they brought Chief Bill Wilson to his memorial.

The blunt, outspoken Wilson became a storied figure in the bourgeoning aboriginal rights movement by going head to head with the first Prime Minister Trudeau and famously telling a group of non-native lawyers: “we should have killed you all”, referring not to the legal profession but early European settlers. Today, Wilson is perhaps better known as the father of Canada’s first aboriginal federal justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould. At the memorial, he saluted the Vancouver Sun and Rose for blazing a trail with their regular airing of aboriginal matters. “Had they not done that, my daughter might not be the Justice Minister,” said Wilson.

Over many a beer, the fiery chief and the placid, pipe-smoking Rose formed an unlikely bond. “He was the only white guy I ever liked,” Wilson said, his strong voice faltering with emotion. “I have to tell you, I loved him. I still love him, and I always will love him. He didn’t make me a story. He didn’t make me a hero. He made me a better man.”

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Rose was not the flashy, snap crackle, pop type of reporter who drew wows from the reader. But he was a pro’s pro. He knew how to find the answers that mattered and how to construct a clear, accurate story that informed the reader. Paul Knox, who went on to a stellar career at the Globe and Mail and is currently a professor emeritus at Ryerson’s excellent School of Journalism, began his newspapering days at the Sun in the summer of ’68. He remembers handing in an early assignment about a highway fatal that he had turned into a tortured, convoluted story. The guy filling in on the desk that day was Ron Rose. “Ron came over and calmly explained the secret: get your lede and a paragraph or two of essential facts, then stop trying to rank everything by order of importance. Just tell the story.” Knox said Rose’s simple truism remained with him through all his years of reporting and teaching aspiring journos the ins and outs of writing news stories.

Knox also recalled being in Victoria one time, when Rose was covering talks between the government and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. The two repaired for a drink to the Bengal Room. “We chatted about many things,” said Knox, “but what stuck was Ron telling me that years earlier, he’d been a candidate for city editor, but he didn’t get the job. ‘They told me I didn’t have the killer instinct.’” Given the heartfelt tributes and love from family, friends and ex-colleagues who filled the room at his memorial, it’s fair to say: sometimes, nice guys finish first.

One more thing. As the years advanced, Ron Rose continued to look forward. He embraced technology as best he could. He was active on Facebook, obtained a Twitter handle, , describing himself as “Old newspaperman trying to get with the New Age!”, and a year or two ago, took his first selfie. “It was really bad,” laughed his daughter Hilary. Yet he never lost his love for newspapers, and what they were about. In a note, to be read after he passed into what he termed “the Great Beyond”, Rose said: “I have had a long run, and left reasonably satisfied with my life.” But his final words were a call for us to keep up the good fight. “Like the rest of you, I was saddened at the defeat of newsprint by the digital revolution, and can only ask that you, as critical readers, do what you can to stem the unedited and often unsourced outpourings in the flood of social media. My best wishes, Ron.”

Amen, Brother Rose. May we be worthy of the cause.

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(Ron Rose at his 95th birthday celebration.) 

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LARRY STILL, THE BEST COURT REPORTER IN ALL THE LAND

11391416_1399793827016260_3900624691454878330_n-1 We’ve lost another of those legendary reporters from what, in retrospect, was a golden age of journalism at the Vancouver Sun. You know, the days when newspapers told you everything you needed to know about your community, your country and the world at large, and more.

For 30 years at the Sun, Larry Still was perhaps the best court reporter in the land, undoubtedly the best in B.C. by a country mile. His immaculately-worded coverage of Vancouver’s many long, gripping, often grisly, trials in the last three decades of the twentieth century stand as a tribute to the craft – clear, concise, comprehensive and oh, so readable. As dramatic testimony and give-and-take from the city’s best lawyers played out in the courtroom, he put you right there.

Yet it says something about Larry Still that word of his June 25 death in Oak Bay (from an overdose of painkillers) did not trickle out until earlier this week. Outside work, he tended to be a bit of a loner, when he wasn’t at the Press Club across the street from Pacific Press. Still used to be a fixture at the Club, positioned in a corner of the bar in a haze of cigarette smoke, relieving the tension of the day’s work with what Pat Nagle liked to call “the grape”. He was never at the centre of glad-happy journos, yukking it up. Mostly, he drank alone, occasionally, when angered by some remark that he considered inconsequential, spitting out that he used to work “on Fleet Street”. He might then puff out his chest in a belligerent manner and boast, if the reporter was particularly beneath his notice at the time, that he could “write rings around” him. Much as I admired his work, I was always somewhat intimidated by him. He was, shall we say, not one to suffer fools gladly, and his definition of “fools” often depended on how much he had had to drink.

I never heard many details of his life before the Sun, other than his English background, time “on Fleet Street”, and an indeterminate tenure as a correspondent for Time Magazine. How and why he washed up at the Sun in Vancouver is a mystery, at least to me.

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From Larry’s Facebook page.

(Larry, his mother, and his brother Mike, as they were evacuated to the countryside during WW II)

As I drifted away from Vancouver, Pacific Press and “the Club”, I lost track of people and events. I heard that Larry mellowed in later years, lessened his drinking and became more convivial. I also heard that he had a son back in England, with whom there had been some sort of reconciliation. I hope all these things are true.

Certainly, some of the Facebook postings attest to his helpfulness as a colleague, without forgetting his acerbic reputation. Quipped Craig Ferry: “I can’t think of a single person I’d rather be insulted by.” Andrea Maitland wrote: “When I started at the Sun, he was very helpful. Crabby and always right.” Salim Jiwa recalled the pleasures of covering the extradition hearing of Air India bombing conspirator, Inderjit Singh Reyat, with Still in his old stomping grounds of London. Scott Honeyman summed him up: “An unforgettable character.”

In an e-mail, former Sun Business Editor George Froehlich said he often had Still over for dinner. “He was charming, witty and vey insightful….Larry, believe it or not, was quite an accomplished cook,” George elaborated. “He was often quite moody, especially when editors at the Sun did not give his court stories the prominence they deserved….He used to say: what can you expect from people who have never been anywhere, a reference to the fact he had travelled all over the world for Time.”

The last time I saw Larry Still was at the huge wake for Patrick Nagle (sigh) in 2006. He was in fine form, tearing a strip off long-time colleague Wyng Chow, in a jocular way, of course, for managing to be fired by the Sun. “You could piss all over the assistant city editor and not be fired. And yet you, Wyng Chow, you managed to be fired!” Wyng, now comfortably ensconced in Hong Kong and a friend of Larry’s till the end, took it in stride.

Still leaves an impressive legacy. In those days, there was space in the paper for long stories. If a trial was important enough, he was given copious room for his riveting stories on what went on in the courtroom the previous day. One of the last reporters with superb shorthand, he was able to quote sharp exchanges and compelling testimony verbatim. Still was also smart in the ways of the court, justly celebrated by the legal fraternity for his insight and knowledge. I heard once that his book The Limits of Sanity was regularly used as a key teaching tool at law schools on the issue of criminal insanity. The book is based on a one night, murderous spree by Kootenay logger Dale Nelson, who violated the bodies of at least two of his eight victims. Nelson’s lawyer, the celebrated Mickey Moran, argued persuasively but ultimately unsuccessfully that his client was not guilty on the basis of insanity. Still, naturally, had covered every moment of the trial. Image (Michael Finlay, Chester Grant and Larry Still, at the wake for Patrick Nagle.)

Alas, his brand of court reporting is long gone. Today, court stories, no matter how critical the trial, are expected to be relatively short, containing only selected highlights of an entire day’s proceedings. That’s fine, but they don’t provide a reader with what Larry Still did. For historians and archivists, his copy is a treasure trove. When Aaron Chapman was compiling his excellent history of the colourful Penthouse cabaret, he relied heavily on Larry Still’s coverage of two famous trials involving the renowned nightclub: owner Joe Philliponi’s prosecution on a charge of living off the avails of prostitution and the murder trial of two men accused of murdering Philliponi at the club in 1983. What kind of record is left behind bythe abbreviated newspaper stories of today?

Larry Still, RIP. No one was better at what they did than you, sir. 11391416_1399793827016260_3900624691454878330_n

I SEE BY THE PAPERS……

E01JEC Newspaper readers in Nisch, 1914. Image shot 1914. Exact date unknown.

E01JEC Newspaper readers in Nisch, 1914. Image shot 1914. Exact date unknown.

As regular readers know by now, I remain a big fan of newspapers, despite their ever-diminishing state. Why, just this weekend, I found all sorts of goodies distributed among their varied pages. The treasures are still there. You just have to look a bit harder and be a bit more patient these days. This being both the end of B.C. Day and the end of the full moons, I thought I would share a few. rnewspapersok1. I hadn’t quite realized before that the state most affected by climate change is not media-saturated, rain-starved California, but, of course, Alaska. So far, this summer, wildfires have burned through more than 20,000 square kilometres of Alaskan forestry, a swath larger than all of Connecticut. Other bad stuff, too. An excellent story from Saturday’s Vancouver Sun, written by the Washington Post’s environment reporter, Chris Mooney. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/07/26/alaskas-terrifying-wildfire-season-and-what-it-says-about-climate-change/ 2. The legendary Mark Starowicz, former editor of the McGill Daily and part of so many great things at CBC (As It Happens, Sunday Morning, The Journal, Canada: A People’s History) reflects on the Mother Corp’s decision to kill its in-house documentary unit: “There’s a sadness that comes form the realization that the institution has been totally starved. Starved. The price is extraordinary in what’s not being produced.” 3. In his newly-published autobiography, NDP leader Tom Mulcair says it took him a while to learn that “not every shot has to be a hardball to the head.” 4. North Korea has hopes of becoming an international surfing destination. 5. It’s possible to write about Nantucket without a rhyming couplet in sight. 6. Photography doesn’t get any better or more imaginative than this. Amazing series of photos by the Globe and Mail’s John Lehmann, featuring artists from B.C. Ballet in locations and poses you won’t believe. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/in-photos-bc-day/article25806490/ 7. The per-night price of a room at the storied Hotel Vancouver this weekend was $849. 280715-MATT-WEB_3389347b 8. Lord Sewel’s favourite bra is orange. 9. Stephen Harper once wondered out loud: “Why does nothing happen around here unless I say ‘fuck’?” 10. In the week before Sunday’s election call, the Conservative government announced nearly $4 billion worth of government projects across the country. 11. PostMedia columnist Stephen Maher reminded us that when Stephen Harper was head of the National Citizens’ Coalition, he challenged election spending limits imposed on so-called third parties all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Now, that same Steve guy is justifying his early election call to give his party the chance to drown the country in their own ads, over fears of alleged big bucks being spent by those once-lauded third parties that might sway voters, too. images-2 copy 4Only these third parties are “big unions and corporations…staffed by former Liberal and NDP operations,” the Conservative Party warned its members last week. 12. It has taken Russell Brown less than three years to rise from law school professor to a seat on the Supreme Court of Canada. Apparently it didn’t hurt to have blogged in 2008 that he hopes Stephen Harper wins a majority, and that the Liberals “just fade away” by electing a leader who is “unspeakably awful”. 13. The word “terrorism” is now being used openly by Israeli authorities, including Benjamin Netanyahu, to describe recent attacks by extremist Jewish settlers on unarmed Palestinians. 14. The Bay Area (San Francisco et al) has two dozen transit agencies, each with its own system, funding sources and fare structure. And we complain about TransLink…. 15. Surrey’s Adam Lowen is close to a first in baseball history: going from pitcher to hitter and back to a pitcher, all in the major leagues. Story here: http://www.theprovince.com/sports/Ewen+league+pitcher+Check+Outfielder+Check+Pitcher+again+Could+happen/11261040/story.html 16. On Aug. 1, 1959, Premier W.A.C. Bennett fired a flaming arrow at a raft piled high with voided government bonds from a distance of five feet. He missed. Luckily, a well-prepared Mountie, hidden at the back of the raft, managed to light the paper bonfire, and lo, one of the province’s most outlandish political stunts, dubbed by Paul St. Pierre “the biggest thing” since the cremation of Sam McGee, became part of B.C. lore. (Thanks to John Mackie.) 17. Premier Christy Clark orders a crackdown on gun violence in B.C. That should be easy….

A spill response boat works to clean up bunker fuel leaking from the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa anchored on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A spill response boat works to clean up bunker fuel leaking from the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa anchored on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

18. Get this. According to an independent review: When a large, toxic fuel spill began fouling English Bay last April, Canadian Coast Guard staff were unsure of their roles. What????? Then, when Port of Vancouver said they couldn’t see the spill and were taking water samples, the private sector response team thought the Port meant they were “standing down”, passed that on to the Coast Guard, who then de-escalated their alert. Further delay resulted from cellphone and computer problems. Oh yes, and once they finally did figure out what to do, there were not enough Coast Guard staff around, since a bunch of them had been busy doing something else in “Granville Channel”, wherever that is. As a result of this Comedy of Errors, which would have done Shakespeare proud, review author John Butler concluded: “The response was delayed by one hour and 49 minutes due to confusion of roles and responsibilities, miscommunications and technology issues.” This is what federal cabinet minister James Moore at the time called a “world class” response. 19. Sally Forth continues to be unfunny, and Rex Morgan, alas, unreadable. 20. Baseball in Toronto is fun again. Oh, and i’m still working my way through the Sunday New York Times. j-seward-johnsons-statue-of-newspaper-reader-at-princeton-uni-garden

I SEE BY THE PAPERS….

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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.”

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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…

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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.

LEE KUAN YEW AND THE CREEPING MEATBALL

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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