Strange Times at the Times: The money-grubbing Chandler family, which built a great paper (at least the late Otis did), is going, going, going and few at the L.A. Times are shedding tears. “Good riddance,” snarled columnist Tim Rutten. The paper has now been sold twice in five years (this week to an eccentric Chicago real estate tycoon) “to accomplish the impossible-satiating the Chandlers’ greed,” wrote Rutten.

On the Beat

In a byzantine deal with more twists than baseball’s infield fly rule, a guy named Sam Zell bought control of the whole $7.9 billion Tribune empire. Zell invested, for a package that includes the Times and Chicago Trib, Chicago Cubs, and a bunch of TV stations (with a collective price tag equivalent to about ten $30-million-plus Montecito estates, or many blocks of Goleta tract homes). In the 1970s, Zell was indicted for alleged tax fraud but skated when he agreed to testify, a deal that sent his brother-in-law to jail.

The Cubs (sob!) will be sold off for an estimated $500 million, probably to someone from Arizona or Dallas, for Pete’s sake. Let’s see, if a few part-time Montecitans would sell their second or third homes here, they could pool the dough and buy the Cubs. Wouldn’t that be fun? No World Series right away, probably, but good seats and locker-room access. The Chicago-Montecito Cubs. Crazy, maybe, but if I weren’t a dreamer, I wouldn’t be a Cubs fan, would I?

Help for the Troops: Sgt. Thomas Hoskins is on his third tour in Iraq and he, along with his mates, needs many personal items Uncle Sam doesn’t provide. His cousin, Robby Robbins of The Independent, is sending a shipment of all sorts of necessities collected with the help of The Indy staff. “He is a 33-year-old father of three and one of my dearest family members,” Robby says. “I am going to send monthly packages to him and his buds over there.” There are 40 men and five women in his unit. The women have trouble getting hygiene items. They all could use blankets for when it’s too hot for sleeping bags or when they need extra warmth. You can send items from baby wipes to toothpaste, batteries, and shaving cream to Sgt. Thomas Hoskins, 1/10FA BN (G203RD), Camp Bucca, IRAQ, APO-AE 09375. Robby, at, can provide a full list.

Symington’s UFO: Former Arizona governor Fife Symington, who resigned from office after being convicted of bank fraud-a verdict that was then reversed-is the new chairman of the board of trustees of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Symington claims that-while governor-he had a close encounter with an alien craft on March 13, 1997. According to an interview in the Arizona Daily Star published last month, the gov said the craft was “enormous. It just felt other-worldly. In your gut you could just tell it was other-worldly. I’m a pilot, and I know just about every machine that flies. It was bigger than anything that I’ve ever seen. It remains a great mystery. Other people saw it, responsible people.” Symington said he kept quiet about it at the time because, as the Daily Star put it, “he didn’t want to panic the populace.”

Saving H2O: A Santa Barbara woman told me over the phone: “I just passed Lake Cachuma and it’s low, lots of muddy patches where there should be water. We’re in a drought. Before we’re in a crisis situation like the last time, we should all practice conservation. Save water.” I recall the last drought. Even with Cachuma drying up, officials were reluctant to call for conservation, Why? An election looming. When they finally had to crack down, it was just more painful. Since then we’ve learned a lot of painless water-saving techniques, such as low-flow toilets and shower heads, drip irrigation, and converting thirsty lawns to drought-tolerant gardens. But as the late, grammatically challenged St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Dizzy Dean might have put it, we have backslud.

Wanderlust: In Taiwan recently, I ran into globetrotting photographer Mark Edward Harris, his cameras always at hand. Also at hand was his newly updated book of photos, Wanderlust. By sheer coincidence, he’s displaying his photos of what some call “our global village” in Santa Barbara this week through May 15 at the East West Gallery, 714 Bond Ave. Along with a debut of the updated Wanderlust, he’ll be signing his new work, Inside North Korea, published by Chronicle Books. The opening reception and book signing will take place at the gallery Saturday, April 7, 6-9 p.m. Mark gets around. He’s photographed in 70 countries and been published in countless magazines. When we parted in Taiwan, he was headed for Japan and, of all places, Iwo Jima.

(Wanderlust’s cover shot of cavorting boys appeared on the cover of The Independent on March 22.)

(Barney Brantingham can be reached at or 805-965-5205. He is a staff writer for the Santa Barbara Independent, with a print column in the Thursday print edition and online columns on Tuesdays and Fridays.)


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