Oh, that

by Kevin Uhrich, Pasadena Weekly, Dec 28, 2006

Think of this old joke while you’re reminiscing about the past 12 months: “Other than that, Mrs. Kennedy” so goes the darkly funny one-liner, “how did you enjoy your stay in Dallas?”

The that in the case of 2006, of course, is the war in Iraq, which is a tragedy on an ever-widening global scale that’s only getting worse by the day and isn’t remotely funny in any sense.

For the third year straight, the war has dominated not only headlines but anxious thoughts and prayers from people in every corner of the world, so far claiming the lives of perhaps hundreds of thousands of enemy combatants and civilians alike, as well as nearly 3,000 American military personnel — and all without a clear end in sight as American lawmakers now contemplate drafting college-age men and women to do the fighting for a volunteer military that is nearing exhaustion.

Journalists, Editor & Publisher recently reported, also hit some new tragic highs, with 55 reporters dying while on the job this year, 32 of them in Iraq — the highest number since the Committee to Protect Journalists started tracking such grim facts in 1981.

Other than that, though, 2006 was just packed with exciting, enriching, uplifting, enlightening, life-changing, world-turning and sometimes bewildering events, which, unlike the war, were at times a wonder to witness, and for mostly all the right reasons — unlike Iraq, the reason for which remains a mystery to even the lawmakers who have been bankrolling this flaming mess with our hard-earned tax dollars.

OK, so rain on the Rose Parade for the first time in nearly 50 years wasn’t so great. And USC losing a squeaker to Texas in the national title game at the Rose Bowl last New Year’s wasn’t such a hot experience, especially if you had any money on the up-till-then unbeaten Trojans. This year, AP’s No. 8 USC is up against the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (the BCS has USC as No. 5). It’s not the national championship, but the game should still be exciting to watch nonetheless.

But, hey, there was a lot more happening than wet parades and heartbreaking football games to stimulate, titillate and engage people living in the Greater Pasadena area — in the arts, politics and news — throughout the past year.


Most people had long-forgotten about the Trojans blowing the Big Game by a score of 41-38 by the time diminutive Wen Yu Shen took to the stage at the Pasadena Auditorium and put on a dazzling performance as part of the annual Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition. Russian rival Evgeni Mikhailov filled out the program card with Shen for a benefit concert a day prior to competing. Russians, as many people who read classical literature know, are keen on issues of crime and punishment, and Greater Pasadena had more than its share of police action and courtroom drama, with charges of unlawful sex with a minor leveled against a respected former Glendale cop and arrests made in the brutal slaying of popular Pasadena teen Frank Mitchell. On the education front, residents of unincorporated Altadena finally started getting fed up with how schools were being run by officials in neighboring Pasadena, so some folks, led by 20-year-old Town Council member and part-time PW writer Justin Chapman, took it upon themselves to start the process of seceding from the Pasadena district.


As all that was happening, Pasadena City Council members were expressing concerns about how local schools were being run. In the meantime, though, some of those same council people were having some problems of their own at the administrative level, with a special task force headed by former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp convening to help the city implement Measure B, the anti-public corruption initiative that had been approved by voters, shamelessly ignored by the council, then validated by a judge. On the war front, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan started making demands of the Bush administration, among them a feasible outline for success in Iraq, full funding for the under-equipped Department of Veterans Affairs, health insurance for all military personnel and accountability from our leaders. Not surprisingly, they and we are still waiting for some answers. In the arts world, Southwest Chamber continued enjoying national acclaim with its third Grammy nomination in as many years. And in Alhambra, citizens were treated to some answers after investigative reporter Chip Jacobs started digging into the still unsolved murder of former Mayor Steve Ballreich, who was gunned down on a city street nearly 15 years ago.


Early in the month, tragedy struck when Pasadena police Officer Kyle Ballard died of natural causes while training at the Rose Bowl for an upcoming marathon. Also that month, Graham Nash and David Crosby lent their considerable talents to a fundraising effort for the Grace Center for battered women, and Jackson Browne joined Cindy Sheehan at All Saints Church for a rally against the war in Iraq. Then we learned that PUSD Superintendent Percy Clark was looking for a new job in Cleveland, and the Sheriff’s Department formally re-opened the Ballreich murder investigation based on some of the information uncovered by Jacobs.


With the beginning of spring came questions about the sustainability of life on Earth as concerns about global warming took center stage. Also that month, the Chavez brothers were brought to trial in the then five-year-old murder of store owner Olivia de la Torre, and hundreds of thousands of people converged on downtown Los Angles to demonstrate for immigrant rights in what came to be known as the Gran Marcha. We also learned for the first time about some of the people involved with bankrolling ultimately failed attempts to lure the NFL to the Rose Bowl.


Things started heating up on the national and local political scene with Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” hitting theaters and Percy Clark committing plagiarism in a column that he wrote for this newspaper, a transgression the led to Clark being asked to take a hike by the Board of Education. May also saw the local debut of Hector Aristizabal’s intensely personal and painfully prescient theater art, which features re-enactments of his own torture while living through US-backed fascism in Colombia.


By now, City Council members were looking for ways to play a bigger role in managing the local school district, and in Glendale owners of the venerable A Noise Within theater announced plans to move to Pasadena. Glendale businesses were recovering from the financially draining but long overdue makeover of Brand Boulevard, and some city officials considered doing away with that city’s Commission on the Status of Women. Also in June, we kicked off Deputy Editor Joe Piasecki’s meticulously researched and reported five-part series on the deplorable state of the state’s foster care system. And months before Michael Richards liberally spewed the N-word during a routine at the Laugh Factory, frequent PW columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson was condemning that word’s use, particularly among African Americans. We were also way ahead of the curve on use of eco-friendly fuels by publishing the dirty truth about coal-fired power plants, an issue that would come back for consideration at the local level by the end of the year.


Mid-summer saw the death of local civil rights warrior Michael Zinzun, and a San Fernando Valley jury convicted former Glendale cop Art Crabtree of seeking sex with juveniles over the Internet. A judge later sentenced Crabtree to more than seven years in prison. Over at Glendale Community College, reporter Carl Kozlowski wrote about still unidentified thieves stealing student newspapers from racks on campus, supposedly in an effort to squelch a story about suicides in the school’s nursing department. Over at Pasadena City Hall, Van de Kamp and company finished dressing up Measure B for another go on the fall ballot. By this time, the PW had won a slew of awards at the national, state and local level, some for writing, but most for   the outstanding work of Art Director Agnes Carrera and graphic artists Jay Cribas and Yvonne Guererro. And PW reporters André Coleman, Kevin Uhrich, Titania Kumeh and Vic Everett kicked off a two-part series on the connections between local prostitution and the global human trafficking trade.


The end of summer held out hope for Democrats trying to unseat Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But when the time came for Dem candidate Phil Angelides to press the flesh in party hotbed Pasadena, Angelides never showed. Arts Editor Julie Riggott, who doubles as editor of our sister magazine Arroyo, and staff writer Tracy Spicer took us on a tour of the extra-sexy “Not for You” exhibit on South Lake Avenue, which put Pasadena at the center of the international arts world, not to mention an extra bounce in everyone’s step. August Wilson’s “Fences,” starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett, did much the same thing at the national level for the historic Pasadena Playhouse. Longtime Altadena activist and Town Council member Jacqueline Fennessy passed away. Recently decriminalized comedian Tommy Chong found his way to Vroman’s to hawk his new book, “The I Chong,” and Vietnam vet-turned-Buddhist monk Claude AnShin Thomas showed Iraq War veterans and the rest of us the way from violence and toward inner peace.


Crime novelist James Ellroy talked with Verdugo Editor Nikki Bazar about his new book and the iconic Elizabeth “Black Dahlia” Short murder, and the Huntington Library acquired the collected works of drunker-than-life Charles “Hank” Bukowski. In other news, power couple Robin Salzer, owner of Robin’s Woodfire BBQ & Grill, and Ann-Marie Villicana, a former City Councilwoman, tried — ultimately in vain — to relocate an historic home built by famed African-American architect Paul Revere Williams to their upscale neighborhood in West Pasadena. Nice try. Meanwhile, KPFK radio host and Pasadena resident Sonali Kolhatkar and her husband Jim Ingalls released their book on the deteriorating state of occupied Afghanistan, “Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence.” Author Barry Zwicker became the latest in a growing list of people who have come to suspect sinister underpinnings to the Twin Towers tragedy of Sept. 11 with his book, “Towers of Deception: The Media Cover-up of 9/11.” By the end of the month, the Pentagon reported that 2,700 military personnel had been killed in Iraq, which, when added to the soldiers, sailors, Marines and other military people killed in Afghanistan, exceeds the number of victims killed in New York that world-altering day.


On a happier note, renowned Pasadena artist Syd Mead was honored with a National Design Award for his futuristic visions and a new documentary on his life was produced. A search firm was hired to find a replacement for long-gone but still-being-paid Percy Clark as Pasadena became the center of the Southern California arts universe once again with the three-day-long ArtNight Pasadena. Colleen Dunn Bates, Sandy Gillis, Mel Malmberg, Mary Jane Horton and Jill Alison Ganon proved too many cooks don’t always spoil the broth, especially when it comes to writing the first Greater Pasadena-area guidebook, “Hometown Pasadena: The Insider’s Guide.”   The Tournament of Roses announced “Star Wars” creator George Lucas will lead this year’s parade. And, just in case you hadn’t heard enough about disgraced former Florida Republican Congressman and suspected pedo-sex freak Mark Foley, we did everyone a favor and finally got him and his name entirely out of our systems. Foley Foley Foley. (Sorry, just couldn’t resist.)


We threw down the gauntlet for anyone else who’s fed up with business as usual in the local political realm by endorsing all the Green Party candidates running for major offices. Few accepted the challenge, proving once again that you really do get what you pay for. On the bright side, though, voters reaffirmed our early support for Measure B, and few people were prepared to have the NFL help repair and renovate the aging Rose Bowl. Voters also didn’t want to tax cigarettes or the oil companies to pay for better health and cleaner skies, respectively, in the General Election. Police, on the other hand, appeared to have had enough of another kind of smoking, as they and county officials cracked down on the Pasadena area’s only medical marijuana dispensary. And historic preservationists fighting plans to convert the historic Raymond Theatre into condominium units lost a key court battle that could have halted work on the project. An appeals court ruled that Pasadena city officials had not violated the California Environmental Quality Act or city procedures in approving work on the theater. But it may not be over yet. Friends of the Raymond Theatre founder Gina Zamparelli is thinking of appealing to the state Supreme Court.


The saga of beleaguered and belittled Percy Clark finally came to an end with the hiring of new PUSD Superintendent Edwin Diaz, all just after funding for the annual Turkey Tussle football game between the Muir Mustangs and the Pasadena High Bulldogs at the Rose Bowl stretched the limits of the city’s financial patience with a PUSD Board of Education in disarray. In Glendale, “Screamers,” a documentary featuring System of a Down, called attention to the Armenian Genocide, all just as a government study was showing more children and women than ever live in poverty in Los Angeles County, a fact that we’ve been reporting on for the past few years and the other guys only now seem to be catching up with. As of this week, American deaths in Iraq alone now exceed the number killed on 9/11. According to The Count on page 6, the minimum number of civilian deaths in Iraq is 51,814. A controversial study conducted by Johns Hopkins University puts that number closer to as many as 655,000 people killed.

Oh, yeah, that.

Happy New Year!

Food for thought

Oh Happy Days will screen the film ‘Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price’

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/21/2006

Following a hard-fought public battle over whether Wal-Mart could open a store in Rosemead -- one that spawned recall movements against a mayor and city councilman who supported the development -- the retail giant opened its doors in that city in September.

Is Wal-Mart a good neighbor? Does it help the communities it serves? Why are smaller cities like Rosemead and countless others around the country embracing the chain?

Find answers to these questions and more on Friday at a screening of the film "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" at the Oh Happy Days Organic Cafe & Market in Altadena.

Before the screening, Oh Happy Days will serve a meal including a vegetarian soup at 6:30 p.m. for a suggested donation of $5.

The film starts at 7:15 p.m. Friday. Oh Happy Days is located at 2283 N. Lake Ave., Altadena. Call (626) 797-0383.

‘Oil on Ice’

All Saints’ Sustainable World Ministry will screen the film ‘Oil on Ice’

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/14/2006

With the end of Republican congressional rule, it seems less likely that Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife refuge will be open to oil exploration and drilling any time soon, but that doesn't make the issue any less serious. Some are predicting the Democratic majority won't be able to pass an ANWR wilderness protection bill, much like the Republican majority was too slim to open the refuge to drilling.

Tonight, All Saints' Sustainable World Ministry, the Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed and the Light Bringer Project are co-sponsoring a free screening of the film "Oil on Ice," which explores the environmental consequences of drilling in the Alaskan wilderness. A community discussion will follow the screening, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Metro Gallery, 64 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena.

For more information, call (626) 792-4941, or visit www.oilonice.org.