The LookOut columns | What I Say

Frank Gruber

When Not to Have an Opinion

By Frank Gruber

The big news in Santa Monica this week was bad news, namely the arrest of Thomas Arthur Beltran, a long-time teacher at Lincoln Middle School, for allegedly molesting children at the school.

Do I have any opinions to express in this column about the arrest, the investigation and the actions or policies of the School District? No. There is not enough information available. One thing my training as a lawyer tells me is that when something is a judicial matter, it's impossible to have any knowledge of the truth without the benefit of seeing all the evidence.

One can express opinions about current political news, for instance, based on history or theory, but when it comes to crimes, or alleged crimes, it's best to shut up until you know all the facts, or even better, in that TV sergeant's words, "just the facts."

We in Southern California have two examples that illustrate in opposite ways how poorly the public can react to allegations of sexual misconduct by people with authority over children. One is the scandal of Catholic priests, where there was much more going on for decades than anyone would talk about. The other was the McMartin scandal, where there was much less.

So for now -- just the facts. Please.

* * *

I do have an opinion about the team of Santa Monica High School students who won the U.S. Department of Energy's National Science Bowl last Monday. My opinion is that it must be a wonderful school, one with fantastic students and teachers, that can win a national championship in science and a state championship in soccer in the same year.

Not to mention all the awards and accolades that the music program routinely receives.

So congratulations to the science bowl team of Dimitry Petrenko, Alexandre Boulgakov, Marino Di Franco, and Ian Scheffler, to their coach Ingo Gaida, and to all the other students who participate in Academic Decathelon and related competitions.

* * *

One of my favorite activities is to cook large quantities of food in public gatherings and so I eagerly volunteered to help out at the open house the Santa Monica Fire Department, with the help of the Ocean Park Association, threw Saturday on the occasion of National Fire Service Day at the firehouse on Hollister Street.

A grand time was had by all, especially me, because I got to flip many pancakes. Here are some pictures.

Pancake Breakfasters (Photos by Frank Gruber)

Pancake Flippers

Mayor Herb Katz

I want to say something about the Ocean Park Association (OPA). I live in Ocean Park, but I am not a member of OPA because I stopped joining local groups that get involved in political issues when I started to write about Santa Monica for The Lookout. Sometimes I agree with OPA's positions and sometimes I don't, but what I want to say is how much I appreciate OPA's notion that living in a neighborhood should be fun.

When I was on the board of OPA's predecessor neighborhood organization, the Ocean Park Community Organization (OPCO), in the early '90s, the meetings were mostly about how unhappy people were. Sometimes this led to constructive actions and sometimes it didn't, but nobody on the board seemed to care about neighborhood fun, although I was told that in the early days of OPCO ten or fifteen years earlier the organization sponsored neighborhood dances and the like.

With OPA it's different. No doubt a certain amount of complaining is going to be the bread and butter of a neighborhood association, but the leadership of OPA seems to have more than a vague awareness that Ocean Park is one of the more desirable neighborhoods in the world to live in.

And in that vein, OPA works with the Victorian on a great neighborhood barbecue each year, OPA did Saturday's pancake breakfast and might make it an annual event, and most delightfully last year OPA revived the Main Street July 4 parade.

I'm not a member, but sign me up for cooking anytime.

* * *

Communal fun was the theme in Santa Monica on Saturday. The pancake breakfast was just a warm-up -- the big action was the Santa Monica Festival at Clover Park. My wife and I took a longish walk there, which activated my appetite enough a few hours after eating many pancakes for me to enjoy a plate of jerk chicken and dirty rice from the Cha Cha Chicken booth at the festival.

Here are some pictures.

* * *

Of course there was some national news last week -- Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination for president by showing in North Carolina and Indiana that he could recover from the onslaught of Jeremiah Wright videos and Hillary Clinton's throwing the "kitchen sink" at him. Obama finally "won" by ending up in those states with the same numbers that were predicted some weeks ago before he entered his weeks of travail.

Of course this made us happy in our household, which is so full of Obamamania that my son Henry gave his mother a Mother's Day present that he bought Saturday while doing voter registration for the campaign -- it was one of those posters of Obama by the designer Shepard Fairey with simply the word "HOPE." (And let's "hope" the poster isn't too messianic.)

There's been a lot of talk about Obama's electability, and I shouldn't be so foolish as to make predictions about presidential elections, especially when one of the wild cards will be race. Nevertheless, I suspect this year will be different.

All this talk of Obama's being typecast as an out-of-touch liberal as happened to Dukakis in 1988, Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 ignores the fact that there's been an earthquake in the political landscape.

In 1988, the electorate was largely happy with the outgoing Republicans (i.e., Dukakis wasn't going to win in any case), in 2000 the country was closely divided (and in fact Gore won that election), and in 2004 the country was not only closely divided, but Kerry was running against a "war president."

This year the country is angrier with an incumbent administration than at any time since 1932. About 80 percent of Americans consistently tell pollsters that the country is on the wrong track.

Much as was the case in 1932, the electorate will be looking for a new, bold message of change and amidst all the turmoil a message of -- what was that word on the poster? -- hope.

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The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
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