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Myanmar's Friend at City Hall?

UNOCAL Corp., the oil-and-gas giant, has brought out the heavy guns to combat a measure before the Los Angeles City Council that would prohibit it, and other companies doing business in Burma, from contracting with the city. Earlier this month, the company flew its top New York lobbyist, Jack Rafuse, into town to sell council members on the idea of "constructive engagement" with Burma's military junta - one, we might note, that has been accused by Amnesty International of the widespread use of murder, torture, rape and forced labor against its own people. Not an easy sell.

Eighteen cities, including New York and San Francisco, have already passed similar selective purchasing agreements. And a slew of international corporations, such as Levi-Strauss, Pepsi and Reebok, have divested their Burma holdings since the military coup in 1990, citing "human-rights standards." UNOCAL's own president, John Imle, admitted in a deposition last August that the military even conscripted (read: forced) workers to help build the company's $1.2 billion natural-gas pipeline, which is scheduled to go into operation this summer.

But UNOCAL could get some help from an unexpected quarter -Nate Holden. The 10th District councilman was supposed to take the largely ceremonial role of seconding the Burma motion when it was introduced into council, but when activists from the Burma Forum approached him minutes prior to the meeting, Holden said he didn't know anything about the proposed ordinance. Council Members Jackie Goldberg and Richard Alatorre stepped in to provide the needed second, but now Holden is reportedly peeved that he didn't get credit for it.

What has Burma activists worried is that Holden, as chair of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, is "the most influential member in the whole process," as one activist put it. Should Holden's miff persist, he could tie up the measure in committee for weeks - perhaps indefinitely.

Union-Free and Proud

$1.8 million, give or take. That's how much the University of California has spent on attorney fees over the last three years to thwart the union-organizing efforts of the system's 9,000-odd academic student employees, a.k.a. teaching assistants. Do the math here and we are talking at least $200 per teaching assistant paid to outside counsel and other union-busting operatives by UC administrators.

Which leaves small wonder why the university has fought so hard to keep the numbers from becoming public. Last year, after teaching assistants held strikes on five UC campuses, the state Legislature passed provisions in the state budget requiring the university to stop spending money on pricy outside attorneys for union busting, and to report how much they had already poured into this dubious effort.

But despite the fact that private union-busting firms are required to report how much they spend to break a labor campaign, Governor Wilson line-item-vetoed the relevant provisions in the budget, and the university continued its anti-union campaign.

But the legislators and the teaching assistants have not given up, and at a recent UC "lobby day," when university administrators schmooze the Capitol, Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa led a group of 37 lawmakers urging UC president Atkinson to settle the long-running, rancorous dispute. More than 5,000 academic student employees - better than 50 percent of the total - also took the occasion to deliver letters to the lawmakers urging their support.

Hold the Ritalin

Is your child suffering from attention deficit disorder? Yes? Well, listen up. David Sentance, English businessman and longtime resident of L.A., has the cure - and he's bringing it to the L.A. Unified School District. No, it's not a drug; it's cricket, a game so stupefyingly slow that, after a few hours of it, generations of English schoolchildren have been known to crack open their Latin grammars with relief. Sentance, who is treasurer of the Southern California Cricket Association, knows that hardcore cricket might be a little too PBS-like for junior Angelenos, so he's providing them with a speeded-up MTV version. It will still be slow enough, he says, to expand students' "concentration power" - as well as keep them busy for a long, long time.

A pilot program for fourth- and fifth-graders is under way at Ivanhoe Elementary School in Silver Lake, and will soon reach nine other schools in the district. Those who apply themselves to the game will be rewarded with a cricket summer camp in Woodley and, Sentance hopes, a November trip to Soweto to play cricketers from the Zulu Nation. They will also have the opportunity to learn new acronyms like LBW (Leg Before Wicket), play positions with names like Silly Mid-Off, and use the word frightfully on a regular basis.

At the moment, students at Ivanhoe are playing on asphalt instead of grass, and with a tennis ball rather than the traditional sphere of seamed red leather. However, with the $2,000 in corporate sponsorship that Sentance hopes to raise, basic cricket kits will be made available to all 10 schools in the pilot program. Sentance is confident that his cricket initiative will be a success. He has noticed "the American propensity to hit things" and thinks cricket "will satisfy that need totally." Kofi Annan should be pleased.

-Edited by Sam Gideon Anson


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