Sun, Jul

The Real Wolverines


ERIC PREVEN’S NOTEBOOK - "Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only," wrote Samuel Butler, one of the great English satirists. His most famous work, Erewhon (an anagram of "nowhere"), was a scathing satire on Victorian society, which he chose to publish anonymously. 

Erewhon is also a super upscale grocery chain with a strong position on the River in Studio City. If you haven't read about the local bait and switch, you should. 

Throughout history, satire is one of the only ways for the powerless to attack the powerful. Like last week's holiday poem buried in stuffing and pies.

And now a musical interlude just in time for Christmas, an ethereal song that reflects social and environmental ideals. Please imagine an elite bunch of investors overcoming a community with power and corruption as you enjoy Joni Mitchell's official music video for “River,” from the 1971 album Blue.

Go Blue:

My experience at the University of Michigan was seven stars. I even got an A- in the tough Constitutional Law class that I took alongside my Phi Beta Kappa buddy who earned a straight A. He's a big-time gaffer in film and tv.

We were so young and passionate that we used to stay up late arguing and trying to make sense of... civil rights. We had to challenge one another's ideas because there was no Twitter or internet.

When I reflect on my time in Ann Arbor, first comes love, then comes Zingermans - the legendary delicatessen, the Wolverine Den where the Gyros... the Halfass coffee shop in the east quad... 

Academic excellence was top notch and naturally  "if yer not first, yer last" Championship Level Michigan Football is hard to ignore. Top of the goddamn line. 

Michigan Stadium is bigger than some small countries. 


We are talking big-time college football that any university would be proud of. The kind of programming that would entice giants like UCLA and USC to plunge their blood funnels into the heart of the Pac 12, killing it dead for additional TV money.   How much?  Far less than Anthony Pritzker plans to pump into Studio City's open space. 

Shame and blame. This is the Pritzker who built the 50,000-square-foot mansion, not the Governor of Illinois. Go Blue! 

On a more positive note, the Bell is coming home to Westwood.  Why? Because they beat USC.  So this is another moment to recall Primo Villanueva, the Calexico kid, who led UCLA’s only national championship team but also faced a dumb rule in 1954 that prevented his Bruins from playing in the Rose Bowl Tournament. 

As for the Grandaddy of 'em all following the bulking up of the Big Ten and destruction of Pac 12... well, they do have a great flea market.

Primo Villanueva also gets credit for being a loving father and grandfather who started a chain of Mexican restaurants to bring the cuisine de Mexico to Canada. G'day, amigos!

The man deserves all the gold of the sun and the wildflowers, especially the California poppy, and the deep blue of the sea and sky. 

There's a brightness to UCLA Blue and UCLA Gold thanks to Primo.

Disclosure:  As a young man, I was heavily recruited to play PeeWee football for a local catholic school team called the St. Augustine Saints. I was big and fast and ran it up the middle with great success. It was an age when running over the opposition without equipment was encouraged.

My exposure to football came from Hebrew school in suburban New York, where I studied with several funny Jewish boys.  One of the Horowitz twins was a quarterback and frequently connected to Gideon Rosen who went on to be a professor at Princeton. Josh Kahn, who went on to work as a milliner on Broadway for some time was also in the backfield, so there was a choice, but when it was getting in the endzone that we were after, they would send Eric Preven right up the middle. 

For a brief moment, I was a conquering hero... until my mother nixed it. 

Before I could say yes to the coach, my mother wisely said, "Absolutely not, it's not worth getting hurt.  You're a very good swimmer."   

I do love to swim and my knees work...everything works, so over Thanksgiving as Michigan and Ohio State faced off in the biggest dumbest of 'em all, I issued a thank you to my mother for saving my life. 

The University of Michigan Wolverines have won 1,001 football games to date and so far this season are an astonishing 12-0. 

You would think that the sign-stealing controversy would diminish Coach Jim Harbaugh’s star and cast a pall on Michigan’s program, particularly since it prides itself on its integrity and on the high character of its staff and players. Nope.  

Disclosure: I would see Jim Harbaugh playing basketball at the IM building where I swam in Ann Arbor.

Jim Harbaugh was suspended and missed the first three games for not cooperating with N.C.A.A. investigators who were looking into accusations about Michigan’s recruiting practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.   Stealing signs is within the rules, oddly. But in-person scouting of opponents isn’t... 

Anyway, the lack of due process has given the team the excuse to present itself as the aggrieved underdog and Harbaugh as a kind of martyr.   Oy vey.

We defeated Ohio State on Sabado Gigante; not sure if the interim coach, Sherrone Moore, dedicated the win to Harbaugh, as he did when they beat Penn State. “Coach Harbaugh, I fucking love you, man, I love the shit out of you, man! I did this for you.”  

The ground team that did the dirty work was also doing it for.... Jim!   

We used to do it for Bo [Schembechler],  now we do it for Jim [Harbaugh]  

Some cheerful tailgaters were involved in a scheme to decipher the coded signals that Michigan’s opponents use to communicate with players on the field.  

A man named Conor Stalions was buying tickets to the games of Michigan’s upcoming opponents, transferring the tickets to associates, and, apparently, soliciting from these associates iPhone videos of the signs teams delivered from the sidelines.  

Go Blue! 

Public Commentary:

Los Angeles Times reporter Queenie Wong wrote in a recent article that the AI technology “could help quickly translate government materials into multiple languages, analyze tax claims to detect fraud, summarize public comments and answer questions about state services.”

Smart Speaker: Summarize public comments.  Good luck with that.  Hi, it is Eric Preven. Thank you. 

You know, it's a very big and expansive agenda, today.  Where is Horvath?  I assume she is trying to avoid being sacked for the Harvard-Westlake--

I read that the budget of the sheriff is $3.782 billion, so I didn't realize -- it seems lower than I remember. I just noticed it on the equitable sharing item -- you know, Asset Forfeiture -- where law enforcement is skimming off a couple of million that we have been able to take off of rank-and-file criminals who stole it or whatever.  It requires a lot of scrutiny but is getting very little. Oh well. 

Also, too many sole-source contracts for god sake. This plainly not in the interest of the public.  And the holiday parking waivers, though very robust.  If folks knew that we spent about $50,000 in parking over the holidays, they would be irritated.

Item 65 is another brilliant idea to add regulations to county parks for various activities including expressive activities.  This is a bad area.  I know what you are trying to do, but I don't understand why we are going to the trouble of defining what an expressive activity is... and what kind of weird permitting... to have a meeting at a park.  

We need our supervisor and Mark Pestrella to come forward and step up for the county flood district and tell Harvard Westlake, politely, no.  No thanks.  Go Blue!

Sup. Janice Hahn, chair: Thank you, Mr. Preven, your time has expired, Next speaker, please.  

Moderator: Our next participant is Eric Preven. You may begin. 

Smart Speaker: Good morning, supervisors. Thank you for looking at this. Giving out free gun locks in hospitals. I'll just give my own view. Mitchell Katz, the former director of health services here was confronted with a dilemma: should we put metal detectors at the front of the hospitals?  

Katz drew a hard line on this and declined.  "It's a hospital." 

I understand that medical professionals have credibility with folks who may not be looking for a gunlock.. but why at a hospital?  It baffles me, I have to admit.  These are about $3.50 a pop on Amazon. How many are we buying and what are we doing?  

Is this really -- I love the mothers against violence and gun violence, all these things I guess are incremental.  But I just -- maybe we could do -- like why don't we give them out where people buy and sell guns...like your adorable buyback program? Big Five!

Supervisor Hahn holds up a gun lock she would like to see given out in hospitals. 


Sup. Janice Hahn, chair: You clearly weren't listening. I talked about giving them out at the gun buyback and why we're doing it in the hospital. Okay, next speaker.

Smart Speaker: Yeah, I heard you but I still don't love handling firearm accessories at the hospital. Happy Thanksgiving.  

Moderator: Our next participant is Eric Preven. You may begin. 

Smart Speaker: Thank you. I like this one a lot. Trying to be nice. This is a very good group  -- who have been working on the inside as mental health assistants. I was a mental health worker as a young man and it's very important work. The fact is this program provides a very good synergy and it is very hard to fill these positions, as we know. We have thousands and thousands of unfilled positions in the county. I think incentives to acquire and retain these guys is a great idea. 

And I think they should get public speaking bonuses. These guys are fantastic and will shake loose a lot of State and possibly Federal grant funding.  Let's bring them to Washington, FFS.  And why not pay them good wages?  Feed them quality cuisine, too... and let's give them good time credits. 

And, Supervisor Hahn, maybe we could throw in a gun lock or several hundred. Why not? 

I propose we double the number of mental health assistants from 21 to 42 by 2024. Got that, Davenport?

Thank you for this great motion, supervisors. 

Sup. Janice Hahn, chair: Thank you. Glad you liked this. Next speaker, please.

Smart Speaker: Loved it! 

Tax Exempt, Morally Bankrupt:

The question of tax-exempt status for educational institutions, especially prestigious and well-funded ones, has been a topic of debate and scrutiny. Here but also everywhere. 

Some argue that these institutions should do more to contribute to the public good, while others contend that their nonprofit status reflects their commitment to education and community service.  

Ultimately, the tax-exempt status is granted based on the understanding that these organizations provide a public benefit through their educational activities.  

Smart Speaker: Does it erode trust when Trustees from Harvard Westlake School sneak around and contribute to city politicians who will pursue their agenda to build a giant athletic complex?

The perception that trustees from a private school like Harvard-Westlake are engaging in secretive or non-transparent behavior by contributing to city politicians with the aim of advancing a specific agenda, such as building a large athletic complex, can indeed erode trust. Good point!   

Trust is a critical element in relationships between institutions and the broader community, and actions that are perceived as secretive or having ulterior motives can undermine that trust.  

Here are a few reasons why this might be the case:  

Lack of Transparency:  If trustees are perceived as making contributions to politicians without transparently communicating their intentions or the school's agenda, it can raise suspicions about the motives behind their actions. Lack of transparency can lead to a perception of secrecy or hidden agendas.   

Potential Conflict of Interest:  Contributions to politicians who may be involved in decision-making processes related to the construction of a large athletic complex can be seen as a potential conflict of interest. If the trustees are perceived as influencing decisions for personal or institutional gain, it can erode trust in the integrity of the decision-making process.   

Smart Speaker: You mean like Samantha Millman and Caroline Choe of the City Planning Commission?

Great example!

Community Perception:  Community members may view such actions as attempts to exert undue influence on local politics, potentially favoring the interests of the school over broader community needs. This can lead to a perception that the school is not acting in the best interests of the community. 

Accountability and Governance:  Trustees are typically responsible for the governance and stewardship of the institution. If their actions are seen as undermining good governance principles or not aligning with the values of transparency and accountability, it can erode trust in the leadership of the institution.   

Impact on Reputation:  Trust is closely tied to an institution's reputation. If actions by trustees are perceived negatively, it can impact the overall reputation of the school, potentially affecting enrollment, philanthropic support, and relationships with the broader community. 

To address these concerns and maintain or rebuild trust, institutions like Harvard-Westlake School should consider:  

Open Communication: Providing clear and transparent communication about the school's goals, intentions, and any involvement in local politics. 

Ethical Standards: Adhering to high ethical standards and ensuring that actions align with the values and mission of the institution.    

Engaging with the Community: Actively engaging with the community to understand concerns, address questions, and build positive relationships. 

Governance Practices: Reviewing and reinforcing governance practices to ensure they promote transparency, accountability, and ethical conduct.  

Areas where there is plenty of room for Improvement by Harvard Westlake School:

Corruption and Bribery:  Understanding the various forms of corruption in government. Strategies for bribery and corruption.

Loyalty and Obedience:  Balancing loyalty to the school with lawful behavior. Ethical challenges in following orders.  

Diversity and Inclusion:  The importance of diversity and inclusion in government. There is no place for bias and discrimination in elite domination.   

Ethical Decision-Making:  Models for ethical decision-making in government. 

The River: By Joni Mitchell

It's coming on Christmas 

They're cutting down trees 

They're putting up reindeer 

And singing songs of joy and peace 

Oh, I wish I had a river 

I could skate away on 

But it don't snow here 

It stays pretty green 

I'm going to make a lot of money 

Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene 

I wish I had a river 

I could skate away on 

I wish I had a river so long 

I would teach my feet to fly 

Oh, I wish I had a river 

I could skate away on 

I made my baby cry 


He tried hard to help me 

You know, he put me at ease 

And he loved me so naughty 

Made me weak in the knees 


Oh, I wish I had a river 

I could skate away on

 I'm so hard to handle 

I'm selfish and I'm sad '

Now I've gone and lost the best baby

 That I ever had 


Oh, I wish I had a river 

I could skate away on

 I wish I had a river so long 

I would teach my feet to fly

 Oh, I wish I had a river

 I could skate away on 

I made my baby say goodbye


 It's coming on Christmas 

They're cutting down trees 

They're putting up reindeer 

Singing songs of joy and peace


 I wish I had a river 

I could skate away on


(Eric Preven is a longtime community activist and is a contributor to CityWatch. The opinions of Mr. Preven are not necessarily those of CityWatchLA.com.)