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L.A. Times Who Knew? Department 

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Long before the Staples Center profit-sharing scandal (oops, that’s Staples Center sans the, the L.A. Times ad department informs us), OffBeat had ceased to be astonished by strange doings over at the city’s monopoly daily. Still, even we were surprised by the paucity of news out of Spring Street over the holidays, once the phony Y2K terrorism well ran dry. Where was the news staff? Off helping Santa and his elves, perhaps? Ain’t monopoly grand?

So, on January 5 we sat down to the front-page Column One feature hungry for substance. And what to our wondering eyes did appear? Some 2,000 well-chosen words on the hot news topic of . . . optimism. Yes, optimism. Times medical writer Terence Monmaney informed us that dozens of recent studies had shown that optimists are less depressed than pessimists — and that pessimism can lead to depression. "From what I’m able to figure out, pessimistic people are in bad moods," psychologist Christopher Peterson, the lead author of a 1998 study at the University of Michigan, was quoted as saying. Who knew?

Now, neither the Times nor Monmaney can be blamed for the excesses of pointy-headed university research. And we don’t doubt that Monmaney has his finger on the pulse of an academic fad, however spurious. But couldn’t we have been treated to just a soupçon of critical thinking, some irony even — perhaps a glancing reference to the wisdom of public funding for "duh!" science? Apparently, that would be asking too much from a newsroom where the Staples Center arrangement (splitting profits from a magazine supplement on the new arena with the selfsame arena) was something of an open secret for months without kicking up a stink, until the story broke in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

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Rocketdyne Runaround

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an unprecedented invitation to community activists to tour former Rocketdyne nuclear research facilities to see for themselves that radioactivity at the site had sunk to safe levels. The media were invited as well to the site in the hills between the Simi and San Fernando valleys — all except OffBeat, whose previous coverage slamming the nuke cleanup was deemed by Rocketdyne PR head Dan Beck too "obviously imbalanced" to allow our participation. No matter, we got a full report from activists on hand. And the news wasn’t good. Committee To Bridge the Gap director Joe Lyou said that Rocketdyne demolished three of five buildings before the cleanup began. One such structure, Building 28, emitted two to four times the background radiation levels, according to 1976 government documents. The razed rubble was shipped to a municipal landfill that was not designated for nuclear waste. Rocketdyne’s environmental honcho, Steve Lafflam, admitted that several temporary structures at the nuclear facility were turned over to schools for reuse before the EPA inspection began. And the Department of Energy’s Greg Dempsey said that it will take two more years to complete testing of the facilities and surrounding soils. Most of the nuke structures will have been demolished by that time,
before the public has a chance to know what kind of danger they might have posed to public health, critics contend.

—Michael Collins


SCIENTOLOGY CHIA PET

Scientology’s relentless self-promotion is no secret to readers of OffBeat, which last year reported on the church’s campaign to flood newspaper quote-of-the-week sections with camera-ready if incomprehensible bons mots from founder L. Ron Hubbard. Now, a new Scientology PR controversy has erupted, this time concerning the church’s millennial celebration at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The Washington Post reported that Scientology took several photos off its Web site after being accused of doctoring crowd-scene photos to inflate the head count at the event. Ex-Scientologist Arnaldo Lerma, who currently runs an audio-video and computer business in Arlington, Virginia, said images of attendees were cloned and used to fill in empty seats in panoramic photos of what the church claimed to be an SRO crowd of 14,000. The touchup work left one crowd member without a head, and caused a bald man to miraculously grow hair, Lerma charged. Scientology spokeswoman Janet Weiland at first insisted there was no intent to edit the photos, but later told the Post that someone had made an "aesthetic" decision to fill in crowd holes around the camera crew. Church PR operatives also said in a press release that President Clinton was "among those sending congratulations" on the church’s "half-century of spiritual leadership." That turned out to be true. In a December 22 letter of "warm greetings," Clinton thanked Scientologists for "all your efforts to promote [religious freedom] and to build just communities united in understanding, compassion and mutual respect." Scientology was also in the news in connection with a court case in Arlington, Texas. A veterinary clinic there agreed last month to pay $150,000 to six employees who claimed they were unlawfully pressured to subscribe to beliefs of the Church of Scientology, the Law News Network (www.law.com) reported. The employees’ lawsuit was backed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. We wonder if any of the employees were in the gro-hair photos.


GOT THEIR GOAT

Now we all know about duck-hunting season, but open season on goats? The Catalina Island Conservancy’s board of directors is expected to vote this week to kill off the last remaining wild goats on the famous tourist island 26 miles across the sea. As early as this week, hunters from the Institute of Wildlife Studies will begin dog-tracking and shooting 100 to 150 goats remaining along the island’s rocky coastline.

Introduced by European explorers in the early 1800s, the goats have been blamed for destroying hundreds of acres of Catalina’s native habitat and for driving plant species such as the Santa Cruz Island rock cress and the Catalina mahogany to the verge of extinction. Officials previously resorted to helicopter hunts to eradicate the voracious mammals; aerial shoots will be banned this time.

The goats have their fans, however, including In Defense of Animals, a rights group that arranged and funded a $25,000 goat-relocation program last fall. The program, which saw 121 goats moved off island by Goats R Us professional herders, was considered a breakthrough because no goats died. Previous relocations of the notoriously stress-sensitive Billys resulted in a 90 percent death rate.

"We proved to them [the Catalina Island Conservancy] that there was a more humane way to solve the problem," said IDA spokesman Bill Dyer. "It is inconceivable to me that they would turn their back on this."

Catalina official Bill Bushing said the conservancy moved toward a goat kill only after Goats R Us reneged on its original commitment to work through December. Their early abandonment of the project allowed the goats to enter mating season — and raised the prospect of another island goat glut.

"If this is allowed to continue, the population could quickly increase to 150 animals, for a net gain of 30 animals over the course of a year, instead of a decline, which is the goal of the conservancy," Bushing said. "I certainly applauded the effort, but the problem is, it is not achieving our goal of reducing the population . . . One goat can eat a ton of plant life in one year."

Dyer, who said he could get the relocation back up by March, thinks the conservancy was just looking for excuses to restore goat-killing fields. "We are talking about little babies," fumed Dyer. "Why does the conservancy want to kill them if they can be saved?"

—Christine Pelisek

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