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/

 

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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NEWSPAPERS STILL DELIVER, HOWEVER DIMINISHED….

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The trend is not good for newspapers. Ad revenue is down, circulation is down, the number of stories are down, employment is down. Newspapers are starting to look like vinyl did when shiny new CD’s showed up. So old-fashioned, a refuge only for fuddy-duddies and luddites.. Record buyers everywhere ditched their collections for the convenience and allegedly better sound of the compact disc. But, of course, vinyl is suddenly storming back in popularity. Having kept my hundreds of beloved vinyl discs, I suddenly find myself back in fashion. (My checked, polyester pants await a similar return…)

Now, it’s the turn of newspapers to be shunned as “oh, so yesterday’. As attention spans shorten and the seductive appeal of social media sucks increasingly more of us into abandoning “the daily rag”, they are struggling to maintain their long hold on public attention. While it’s often forgotten that newspapers still have millions of readers every day, there are fewer than there used to be. Even more worrisome, advertising revenue, which basically pays the bills, is on a steady decline.

Having worked on mainstream newspapers for 40 years, no one has to remind me of their faults. Yet, for all that, we will lose something valuable, should they cease to be. Access to good stories won’t disappear. The citizens of Kamloops can still go online and find great, wondrous tales from all over the world with the ease of a click. But who is there to tell them about goings on in Kamloops? Who is holding the local powers-that-be to account? Bloggers or websites with followers in the hundreds? I think not.

Your daily newspaper still provides news, information, good writing, analysis and opinion in a single, easily-digestible package. It’s far from perfect, but at its best, it tells you things you’re glad to know, with a fair and accurate context. I also like the fact that you don’t know what you’ll get when you turn the page. Sometimes drivel, but sometimes terrific stories on a subject you might ever have accessed online, where we tend to cherry-pick. Most days, I feel better informed about my community and my country after reading the Sun and the Globe, however much they are not what they used to be. In the rush to embrace “the new”, and I love the Internet, too, I think we sometimes forget there is still great value in “the old”.

Apologies, this is a day late. I’m still not good at operating without a deadline, hehe. But here are some stories and columns I’m glad I read in Thursday’s Sun and Globe. I hope they’re not blocked by the paywall. J (also note, these cover only the local news sections. There was also lots of good stuff in other sections, even the Business pages.)

1. This tragic story continues to haunt me. That poor woman. Please, somebody, do something to end the complete lack of accountability and secrecy of the all-powerful Canada Border Services Agency. http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Mexican+woman+lived+like+ghost+Vancouver+despondent+after+CBSA+arrest/9444735/story.html

2. A very powerful story by the Sun’s veteran sports writer, Mike Beamish. This is the first time the much-loved former Canuck Gino Odjick has opened up about the trauma he faced acting as the team’s enforcer. Haunting. http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Canucks+Algonquin+enforcer+Gino+Odjick+opens+about+post+career+concussion+related+struggles/9446707/story.html

3. A useful update on a continuing, positive story. (Also covered by the Globe’s Mark Hume, too). http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Conservation+groups+timber+companies+reach+deal+protect+more+Great+Bear+Rainforest/9445245/story.html

4. Interesting. http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/Canada+first+boutique+hotel+designed+with+Aboriginal+arts+open+Vancouver+this/9446454/story.html

5. Good information. http://www.vancouversun.com/entertainment/Arcade+Fire+Eminem+expanded+2014+Squamish+music+festival+lineup+with+video/9444790/story.html

6. Interesting update on a controversial project. http://www.vancouversun.com/business/rise+developments+eyed+Oakridge+Transit+Centre/9446412/story.html

7 An excellent column by the Sun’s treasured Vaughn Palmer. http://www.vancouversun.com/Vaughn+Palmer+education+time+Liberals+stepped+back+from+brink/9446678/story.html

8 An interesting opinion piece that argue that LNG is not the road to follow to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Opinion+favour/9445418/story.html

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And now the highly-esteemed B.C. section of the Globe and Mail, where I toiled in the vineyards until last July. I also note that the Globe is a national newspaper, so the B.C. section makes up only three pages of the entire newspaper.

9. Sunny Dhillon continues his vigorous investigation into some highly questionable activities of the B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/its-easy-perhaps-too-easy-for-bc-authorities-to-seize-property-worth-less-than-75000/article16601751/#dashboard/follows/

10. Good story by Frances Bula on east side property speculation (referred to by Toronto headline writer as the “east end”).

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/developers-scooping-up-east-end-properties/article16600708/#dashboard/follows/

11. Strong column by Gary Mason on the absurdity of the province ordering the infamous transit referendum and then demanding the mayors come up with the question.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/on-transit-lower-mainland-mayors-cant-do-it-all-themselves/article16599761/#dashboard/follows/

And, of course, I’m not arguing one whit that the Internet isn’t the most marvellous of inventions. It is truly wonderful. But a better world, in my humble opinion, is the Internet, with newspapers, rather then the Internet, without newspapers. Long may they live!

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“I SEE FROM THE PAPERS…”

Even a city as boisterous, colourful and marvellous as San Francisco, where I just was, is not immune from the forces ravaging daily newspapers. When one thinks of the classic circulation tussles of the past between the storied Examiner and Chronicle, it’s enough to make one bleed a sorrowful tube of printer’s ink to see them now.

ImageThe San Francisco Examiner, one-time employer of Ambrose Bierce and Jack London and lynchpin of William Randolph Hearst’s ‘yellow journalism’ empire, is now a free, incredibly-shrinking tab that on Monday could muster no more than 20 pages.

The Chronicle, where the legendary Herb Caen held sway for nearly 60 years, has had the largest circulation drop of any major paper in the United States over the last few years.

Still, as I do in any city I’m in, I read the local papers. You feel part of the community, rather than a mere tourist. You also notice events outside the guidebook.

During one SF visit in 1989, I spied a reference to a memorial service for a longtime activist and union organizer, Jack Olsen. I decided to go. Lucky me. His partner turned out to be none other than well-known feminist author, Tillie Olsen, who spoke movingly of their life together. Another speaker was Spanish Civil War vet Bill Bailey, one of those old leftists who talk about their political past at the beginning of Warren Beatty’s movie, Reds.

This time, thumbing through the papers brought me to a revival of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Buried Child, at the same, intimate Magic Theatre where it received its world premiere in 1978. The production, though harrowing, was terrific.

So, my advice to anyone on a trip: read the newspaper. You just never know. Here are some other things I found out.

1. Headline: “Motorist stabbed in Tenderloin”. Ouch! A terrible place to be stabbed.

2. I missed the America’s Cup by a day, but not the public fallout as to whether putting up millions to host the jib joust was a good idea for the city. Local politician John Avalos was one of those wary about a repeat. “We were promised a regatta of 15 boats, but ended up with three billionaires in a tub.”

3. Even more than Vancouver, San Francisco is becoming a city of the rich, where money talks. Long-time tenants, many of them seniors, are being evicted from their rent-controlled apartments, so developers can renovate and turn their buildings into expensive co-op units. Real estate prices, meanwhile, are zooming into the stratosphere. The Chronicle’s “what you can buy” feature covered condos in “the $1.38 million range”. Non-controlled rents for new, one bedroom apartments are averaging close to $4,000 a month. Here’s a great column on the problem by Carl Nolte, who says the influx of high-tech companies is partially to blame.

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/nativeson/article/Tech-has-made-S-F-homeowners-millionaires-4853476.php

4. Oakland, across the bay, is now the robbery capital of the United States. Police say criminals have cottoned on to the fact they can make more money robbing people than selling drugs. Unclear if this is progress.

5. As a connoisseur of fine names, I enjoyed those of winning America’s Cup skipper Jimmy Spithill, and Mark Baldassare, head of a public policy institute. There was also news about Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow, the infamous false names attributed by a local TV station to four pilots on board the Asiana aircraft that crashed at SF Airport last year. After lengthy negotiations, fired producer Roland De Wolk got a nice severance package, his lawyer reported. Shirley Knot…

6. Forget it, Mitt, it’s San Francisco. So of course the Mormon-owned Marriott Hotel chain, with Mr. Romney on its board of directors, was a corporate sponsor of Sunday’s Folsom Street Fair celebrating sexually-explicit kinkiness involving bondage, leather, and, yes, even nudity. Event organizers had promised “more eye candy than you can shake your cock at, public play stations, and mobs of leather-clad kink lovers, fetish gear and toys”, spread out over 13 blocks of adult entertainment. “Anyone who’s interested in people, and watching people – it doesn’t get any better than that,” explained Marriott sales and marketing director Frank Manchen.

7. Too many tour buses are annoying residents of the famous row of painted Victorian houses seen in a zillion posters and postcards. One posted a sign saying: “Get off your big fat tour bus and experience San Francisco”.  Now the sign, itself, is a tourist attraction. “We used to wake up listening to birds,” sighed resident Christi Every. “Ever since the increase in tour buses, we wake up to exhaust.”

8. In anticipation of next year’s 75th anniversary of the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s seminal tale of dust, Depression and the displaced, a group of artists and admirers are re-tracing the Joad family’s journey along what’s left of Route 66, from Sallisaw, Oklahoma to California. Great idea. Their experiences can be followed here: http://www.grapesofwrath75.org