Thursday, July 06, 2006

In The LAT, A Hero (Aron Ralston) And Anti-Hero (Mike Antonovich)

At a time of important hard news, Iraq, Gaza, North Korea, Mexico, Space, the Los Angeles Times has nonetheless had a feature and a column in the last week that are worthy of special attention and commendation. Both dealt with their subjects in a way that a newspaper can do better than any other media, because it has the space to do a complicated story justice.

Hugo Martin's long article in Monday's Calendar section about Aron Ralston, the hiker who cut off his own arm three years ago to save himself after a hiking accident, was a superb study of a rather careless hero.

Martin made it plain that Ralston should not have gone out on a hike on 13,000-foot Engineer Mountain in Southwestern Colorado without telling friends where he was going and when he expected to be back. And he should have been dressed for colder weather than he was.

But the great California naturalist John Muir used to go for a two-week hike in the Sierra with only the slimmest of provisions. And Ralston is made of the same stuff. His determination to live, to the point of what Martin calls the "outrageous act of nerve," cutting off his own arm after he could not free it from a rockfall, shows him to be an unusual human being.

And Ralston has reaped the benefits, becoming an inspirational speaker and even entering into advertising contracts, both of which allow him to be able to not work all that hard while pursuing his goal of climbing as many of the high Rocky Mountain peaks as he can find.

Martin told Ralston's story in such a compelling way that he should win a prize.

Columnist Steve Lopez, meanwhile, continues to pursue a highly worthwhile project, depicting the inadequacies and petty corruption rampant in the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Lopez's Wednesday column on Supervisor Mike Antonovich's stonewalling of inquiries about spending thousands of dollars of public money sending out news clippings that are in agreement with his frequently loony right wing views was another masterpiece.

This was the second recent Lopez column on Antonovich, a man who probably should be serving time, and I don't mean on the Board of Supervisors. The column also quoted from the supervisor's press aide, as he awkwardly tried to parry Lopez's inquiries by refusing to say whether Antonovich would cease his egregious misuse of taxpayer's funds or not.

Lopez, in a non-partisan way, has not only been critical of the Republican Antonovich, but also of such Democrats on the board as Zev Yaroslavsky, Gloria Molina and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke. These board members aren't blatantly misusing taxpayer funds, but they're not doing their jobs very well either, wasting hours in board meetings on commendatory resolutions rather than debating festering county problems, such as prison riots, transportation difficulties, hospital negligence and poor child care and other social services. Their record of incompetence is staggering.

Almost all Lopez columns are great, but his efforts to aright the conduct of the county supervisors are among his best. He too deserves a prize, and the supervisors deserve, retirement at least.

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