Nightmare at Blair IB Magnet School

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It’s every parent’s American nightmare down at Pasadena’s Blair IB campus this afternoon.

South Marengo Avenue is closed off by yellow police tape, and about a hundred parents (and not a few media types) are milling around, occasionally catching a glimpse of a classroom full of teens being marched out of the A building and down toward the gym and field .

It’s all because of what one parent called “a third-hand rumor” that a student had been seen this morning on the campus with a gun.

So each classroom was locked down, and police are searching each of about 1,200 students individually before releasing them. The AP said the kids are being released to parents but I only saw the students being taken down Marengo Avenue and no parent I spoke with by 2:30 had taken possession of a kid.

It’s taking so long that the TV helicopters that filled the air space above Marengo and Glenarm have pretty much gone home by now.

While they’re grateful that no one has been hurt, parents are seriously p.o.ed at anything and everything as the day marches on.

Many are glad that they allow their kids to break district rules and carry cell phones to school. Signals penetrate even what I always thought of as the cell block of the main building when I was a Blair student in the early 1970s, and when the kids can get to their phones, they report back to the parents milling about on Marengo that everything is OK.

There is very little information forthcoming from authorities — perhaps there’s just little to say. When longtime PUSD administrator George McKenna tried to address the concerned crowd, he spoke too quietly for anyone to hear, and parents in the back were miffed. Then when he indicated that there was nothing to be worried about — an understandable-enough attempt to calm nerves — a woman standing next to me hollered, “Is that Dr. McKenna?” I told her that it was. “That man’s got too much sense to be saying something like that,” she said. “I cannot believe I’m hearing that.”

Friends of mine in the crowd who have students at Blair — either on the middle school campus east of Marengo or the main campus on the other side of the street — told me that there have been several violent incidents on campus in recent weeks that the administration has tried to downplay. One particularly violent day in which there were a number of what were termed “girl fights” and a student assault on a dean that ended up with him having a bloody head was referred to in a blast recorded call home to parents as “shenanigans.”

“I’m Irish,” my friend said. “I know what shenanigans are. Those aren’t shenanigans.” She said that after today’s mess is over she will contemplate over the weekend a serious notion she’s been having: home schooling her kids, with herself as the teacher.

There are too many guns in our society. Too many of those too many are in the hands of kids. Too many of those kids are gang-bangers, who will spray a crowded bus stop, shooting nine or so people he doesn’t know, because a couple of people he does know and is mad at are in the crowd as well. Our collective urban family is dysfunctional. Who will stop the reign — of violence, of threatened violence, of parents who know not what their kids are doing, with whom they hang, with what weapons in their jeans?

Wednesday’s column on Tuesday

Warned by new Pasadena City Hall reporter Fred Ortega that old Pasadena City Hall reporter Todd Ruiz, now put out to pasture and living in a Goth-styled Hobbit hutch somewhere northeast of the Shire, had resumed blogging and had posted about just what I had already written about this morning, I just had to get it out there:

Just as there should be a law saying that for every new law passed, one should be eliminated, so should there be an edict demanding that for every new city sign erected in the over-signed Arroyo Seco, an old one is removed.

Walkers, runners, bicyclists, equestrians and motorists in the Big Ditch are already told what to do six ways from Sunday by Mama City and her signs.

New ones pop up all the time, and no one ever takes one down.

You are in a golf course environment, one series of signs read. Uh-huh I think I noticed that, seeing as how there are 36 vast fairways filled with hackers at Brookside and the fence around them is merely chain link. This signage appeared around the time of the godawful towering netted ball catchers that ruin views for everyone and stop a few sliced Titleists a day from ending up on West Drive or Rosemont Avenue. Yes, I know its all aimed at defusing litigation from anyone hit by a ball. Doesnt make it right.

The latest signs, posted within the past few weeks, tut-tut at pedestrians who dare amble the wrong way around the famed Rose Bowl loop. Theres a silhouette of a walker and an indication that if you can read the sign because you happen to be heading clockwise around the 3.1 miles, youre a very, very bad boy indeed.

A loop-use meeting was scheduled for last night in the Brookside clubhouse so that Mamacita could wrap her apron strings a little bit tighter around our wrists.

I know that City Hall believes all this is in the interest of our safety, and that it will call me irresponsible for making light of all the bureaucratic hoo-hah.

And I dont care, because its not true. The real safety solution, as Ive been saying for years, is out there, and the city wont take it. Ban all non-emergency motor vehicles from around 90 percent of the loop. The only car access really needed is into the golf course parking lot and the soccer fields to the south. Everywhere else is a road to nowhere that should be limited to recreational use.

With cars gone, the racing bicyclists fantastic peloton, the decades-old pack that the city is suddenly so desperate to ban from the arroyo, would be safe as milk.

There would be tons of room for all comers, in fact.

Instead, the city goes on spinning its wheels, as it were, creating new regulations instead of dealing with the core problem, which is not those of us on foot or on horseback (or pedal). It insists that these are not new regulations, of course: merely enforcement of traditional traffic laws. But this is not a traditional city-street place. We dont want to be threatened with tickets for choosing to run one way rather than another in the back-to-nature Arroyo Seco. Save your jaywalking lectures for Colorado Boulevard, where the metal machines indeed rule. Save your banning impulses for graffiti and litter unless its the car that youd like to ban, freeing this one tiny part of the world from its hegemony.

Oh, yeah: and come walk with us when I join Mayor Bill Bogaard on his monthly walk around the loop at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, March 5, to celebrate the healthy initiatives of Up & Moving Pasadena. Meet us at Gate A south of the stadium. And if I head the wrong way in a fit of pique, just slap me silly.

French kiss

Seeing as how I’d touted it here, and even though it was raining and I had somewhere else to be, I had to make it over to the Beckman Institute at Caltech Thursday night to hear the Honorable Philippe Larrieu, consul general of France in Los Angeles, as he examined the future of French and American relations.

I also had to work late, and to grab a bite before I got there, so I was glad to see that M. Larrieu was running late as well (rain, traffic, Beverly Hills startpoint), and that noted Francophile Bill Bogaard was just introducing him at 7:30 for a program scheduled to start at 7.

Mon dieu, there were a lot of people braving the elements! Over 100 people were there. A testament to the Alliance Francaise de Pasadena, which sponsored it. And to some hunger to connect better with the Frenchies’ way of life, a culture in which the president immediately releases a mash note when Marion Cotillard wins an Oscar.

Some high points of his talk: “It is no great secret that this decade has been one of great diplomatic ups and downs between Paris and Washington.. The main point of contention is no secret either. Americas second war in Iraq has been a great source of bickering between our two governments, and at one point between our two greater societies as well.”

“As American public opinion shifts against the occupation of Iraq, citizens on both sides of the Atlantic are rediscovering our receptiveness to one another. It looks as though the days of ‘Freedom Fries’ and ‘Freedom Kisses’ are finally behind us. Americans proved this as last year : three million of them, roughly equivalent to the entire population of the American States of Iowa or Connecticut, visited France.”

“Today, France is working hard to combat clichs. Some are positive and praise the excellence of Frances cuisine and wine, its genius for creating luxury clothing, cosmetics, leather goods and jewelry, its savoir vivre and the charm of its landscapes and people. Other clichs highlight a certain arrogance, a nostalgia for past glory, a difficult social climate and a distaste for work. I wont reject all these clichs outright, which, after all, contain a grain of truth.”

“Former American Secretary of State Colin Powell said it well when he likened the Franco-American friendship to a 200-year-old marriage, that over the centuries, has needed its fair share of marriage counselling. Great minds think alike, and I believe that the same applies to great nations : Where France and America stand together, great things are possible.”

Afterward, in the lobby, everyone schmoozed over French cheese and French crackers and decent, cheap French wine, which absolutely no one poured into the gutter.

Fidel is the second-worst man on Earth (Putin = worst)

Somehow I had gone through life without much pondering the subject of Fidel Castro. Then, eight or 10 years ago, camping at a little place we liked to go near Ojai, I found the time to read a long piece on the Cuban dictator in the New York Review of Books.

In it, I learned that el presidente was still in the habit of giving regular speeches that were between three and four hours long. In the summer. To large crowds in sweltering Havana, an audience whose members were pretty much compelled to stay until the bitter end.

Even Barack Obama, a much more interesting speaker if it comes to that, winds up after 44 minutes at the mike.

But Fidel until his recent illness loved to ramble on, spouting the worst kind of drivel, repeating himself endlessly, for hour after hour after hour. To read a long passage from one of these speeches is to understand that the man is literally insane.

And you can tell me all you want about how high the literacy rate is (though there is nothing to read) and how cheap the healthcare is (though there is, quite unhealthily, nothing to eat) and what percentage of Cubans graduates from high school (there is no work once you do beyond prostituting for German tourists). The country is a nightmare from stem to stern run by a madman, and come Sunday run by whomever the madman will accept in his 49-year-wake.

It’s as absurd as being ruled by the dictator Vargas from Woody Allen’s “Bananas,” who has the string quartet playing without instruments during dinner, or being ruled by one of his successors, before Allen’s Fielding Mellish gets the gig: “Hear me. I am your new president. From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check.”

Here’s The Message from the Commander in Chief, straight from the horse’s mouth, translation only slightly bad, in a link from the blog-ish posting known as “Reflections by comrade Fidel,” ravings that will apparently continue, like a scream from the grave, on the Granma site from the Commie Party Havana newspaper.

My God, it’s a wonder the Cuban people continue to do one thing so brilliantly — make a Romeo y Julieta as graceful and full of high notes as a bottle of the best Vieux Telegraphe – when they have been ruled by a megalomaniac such as this for 49 years.

I suppose it would be a good thing if the rumors are correct and that someone other than Fidel’s slightly younger brother Raul will lead the nation after Sunday.

It’s all our fault, of course. Before Castro’s revolution, there was an even worse government in place, propped up by our own: Cuba was an island run by Bautista and the Mob.

French twist: My Friday column today

Its un-American to like the French, excepting only Brigitte Bardot and the Marquis de Lafayette.Thats an absolute rule.

John Kerry, for instance, was denied the presidency not because he was Swift-Boated by Boone Pickens or photographed windsurfing but because he speaks fluent French, and has French cousins, and is in fact a French dude. Just as New York City and New Orleans are near America, but not of it. Being French, he lost.

So, call me irresponsible, but I like the French.

I like the French women in their perfectly elegant shoes, in their sheath dresses showing just the right amount of tan calf, in their deliciously stinky cigarette breath, in their Hermes scarves.

I like the French men up to a point, especially when they are at that very moment pouring me a glass of their best Sancerre and jamming into my vest pocket a Cuban stogie, lamenting the fact that weeth ze idiotic blockade you are unfortunately denied ze pleasure of buying such as zees pure Havana.

I like the French food, the French country roadways with their tunnels of trees, the fields of lavender covering the Haute-Provence, the GTV (er: shows you how bad my French is: that’s TGV, as in Train a Grande Vitesse; thanks, Sid, for pointing it out) fast train slinking through those fields, the Mediterranean girls in their monokinis on those pebbly beaches once the train stops. I like the French president marrying a chanteuse super model and no one saying boo.

I like Paris and could live there forever, and cannot recall that grand cliche of a Parisian being particularly rude to me, a situation certainly not aided by my own command of French, which is minuscule, the best efforts of Mrs. McGee in the third grade at Noyes Elementary, along with other teachers, notwithstanding.

We all know of the essential trouble between the French and the Americans, and we know that it will never go away, this rift as deep as that between cowboys and Indians.

But next Thursday, Feb. 21, the Honorable Philippe Larrieu, consul general of France in Los Angeles, will come to Pasadena to at least examine the future of French and American relations, in a speech at 7 p.m. at Caltechs Beckman Institute Auditorium, 400 S. Wilson Ave.

The lecture and discussion is presented by the Alliance Franaise de Pasadena and Caltech, and is free and open to the public.

The good people of the Alliance, which teaches French language and culture at its Old Pas headquarters, try to play down the rift: Historically, the relationship between France and the United States has sometimes been strained, but the bond between the two nations runs deep and extends to the very founding of this country. Throughout their differences, mutual admiration has for the most part prevailed. The influences are hard to separate: Americas love of French fashion and luxury brands, its admiration for French cuisine and the good life, are matched only by Frances love of American cinema and pop culture, the stunning beauty of its national parks and the can-do spirit of its people.

They like our movies and Yosemite, see.

But the consul will address more serious issues as well, and I for one am going, if only for a gander at those sheath dresses, at those calves.

R.S.V.P.: afdepasadena@earthlink.net or (626) 683-3774.

The prize from Claremont Graduate University

Wednesday’s column:

Pulitzer, Schmulitzer the only better prize for a poet to win than the Kingsley Tufts is a Nobel.
Thats quite simply because the annual award, administered by our own Claremont Graduate University, carries a stipend of a cool $100,000.

Poetry, if you hadnt heard, while certainly the greatest of the writing arts, is also the least remunerative. There isnt a poet who makes a hundred grand a year on the sales of books alone.

Whereas each tinpot lawyer and principal deputy assistant manager of pothole repair in every city from Calexico to Kennebunkport cracks the 100 mark just for showing up.

No wonder a newborns mum and da tuck Boalt Hall: A Successful Applicants Tale into the crib with the swaddling clothes. No parent has ever taken a look at baby and cried, My God, please let the kid be a versifier!

As a pale undergrad, I scribbled the odd line myself, and edited the poetry mag, and for my sins Claremont-associated friend Peggy Phelps asked me to join her on the committee that helps administer the Tufts prize.
We dont choose the winner a distinguished group of other poets does that.

But we have the pleasure of announcing the prize, and of throwing a big bash to celebrate the happy occasion.

So Im really pleased to introduce you to the poetry of Tom Sleigh, the Brooklyn-based author of Space Walk, the book that won him the 2008 Kingsley.
I
ts tough-guy, American stuff, the opposite of the minimalist aesthetic that rules in some poetry circles. Plus the fact that many of his poems are about a childhood spent as the son of an aeronautics-industry father will resonate with more than a few Southern Californians.

From his Space Station: My mother and I and the dog were orbiting / In the void that follows after happiness / Of an intimate gesture: her hand stroking the dog’s head / And the dog looking up, expectant, into her eyes. And from Oracle: Because the burn’s unstable, burning too hot / in the liquid hydrogen suction line … he drives with wife and sons/ the twisting road at dawn to help with the Saturday / test his division’s working on: the crowd / of engineers surrounding a pit dug in snow.

Children of von Karman, offspring of von Braun, who says American poetry is too abstract for words?

Sleighs prize, named after a Claremont-associated CPA who also wrote poetry, was endowed by Kingsley Tufts widow. She also created the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, presented to a poet of genuine promise. Janice N. Harringtons first book of poetry, Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone, will be awarded the $10,000 Kate. Harrington writes of African-American lives in the old South: The sound of banjo strings / plucked by a colored boy is the sound / of twanging, of tur-pen-tine, pine tar, plank, / of pennies of rain spattered on scalded tin.

We invite you to come hear Sleigh and Harrington read at The Tufts Poetry Award ceremony at 6:30 p.m. on April 15 in the Colburn School’s Thayer Hall next door to MOCA in downtown Los Angeles, followed by a book signing. For more information, call (909) 621-8974 or visit www.cgu.edu/tufts.

Smarter than your average bear

I do think voters on the whole are smarter than non-voters — not that the results of dozens of electoral contests one can point to over a lifetime can be said to offer much support for this theory.

But, Jesse Helms, 1964′s Proposition 14 and all the other idiot political successes notwithstanding, democracy is slightly better than the alternative. And those who manage to show up at the polls, or mail in a ballot, are slightly more informed than those who do not.

So I think that every vote should count. And how can it count if it’s not counted? Not just votes that “make a difference in the outcome” — every vote makes a difference, if only as part of the historical record.

So I don’t buy L.A. County acting Registrar Recorder Dean Logan ‘s excuse that it’s too hard to count, or to determine the voters’ intent on, all the 49,500 decline-to-state votes that were messed up in the polling Feb. 5.

These are the non-party voters who failed to mark the bubble at the top of the ballot indicating they were independents but were voting in the Democratic Party (or wacko American Independent Party) primaries. (Libertarians and Republicans don’t allow such cross-dressing.) The bubble trouble is not necessarily the voters’ fault. Poor training led many poll workers to be badly misinformed about how to instruct voters. So it’s the system that’s at fault. And the system should fix it. Much stronger efforts than have been made should be made to determine the intent of the voters in question.

Even if it’s not going to make “a difference” in the Obama-Clinton California primary, there are super-delegates out there who have not joined either camp. It’s important for them to know how Californians actually voted before they cast their own fat-cat ballots at the Demo convention this summer.

Look for Kitty Felde’s take on the situation on Wednesday’s opinion pages — Kitty, the veteran KPCC special correspondent, was a poll worker herself on Feb. 5.

Hangin’ ‘em high

How Clint Eastwood helped save San Onofre , where I was surfing and camping last weekend — great waves Saturday even without James Arness in the lineup, more than a little bit of rain overnight. After hearing from Clint and 2,500 others, the Coastal Commission voted 8-2 Wednesday to dump the idea of the godawful toll road through our campsite. The pavers will appeal to the Department of Commerce.