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Some grace notes amid a potpourri of peeves

Too much news; too little space.

And so today I’m offering up several mini-columns.

That’s why they call it Internal Affairs

LAPD Chief William Bratton is investigating claims that former deputy chief and I.A. boss Michael Berkow gave preferential treatment to female officers who worked under him, so to speak. One accuser said Berkow kept a bed in a third-floor office at the Bradbury Building, which is the downtown L.A. headquarters of I.A., and that he’d been seen emerging from the room in pajamas.

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Berkow, now chief of police in Savannah, Ga., has said through his attorney that he will be vindicated. But in a deposition, he admitted to a three-year affair with a female sergeant. In the most notable part of the deposition, Berkow was asked how many times he had relations with the sergeant.

“A: I have no idea.”

“Q: More than 100?”

“A: I have no idea.”

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“Q: Do you know if you had more than 100 sexual encounters ... ?”

“A: I have no idea.”

“Q: Ten thousand?”

“A: I have no idea.”

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“Q: One million?”

Berkow was advised not to answer, which kept the late Wilt Chamberlain, a former Laker, at the top of the heap.

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Does the name Mammoth ring a bell?

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Just when he quit playing games and started becoming a real governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger crashed on the slopes in Sun Valley, Idaho, on Saturday and had to undergo surgery Tuesday to repair a broken leg.

If he’s going to go missing in action on ski adventures, couldn’t he at least promote the California ski industry instead of Idaho’s? And more important, could he be suffering from brittle bones as a result of his confessed steroid use back in his bodybuilding days?

A 2002 report from the Food and Drug Administration cites the risk:

“Steroids can cause bone to be removed faster than it is formed, and loss of bone density can occur, increasing the risk for osteoporosis and related fractures.”

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In Schwarzenegger’s hometown of Graz, Austria, locals said there was no national shame over the freak accident, in which the governor apparently got a ski pole stuck in a ski while standing still.

“We have many broken legs in one season,” said Gunter Lehofer, an editor at a Graz newspaper called Kleine Zeitung. It happens on big slopes and small slopes alike, Lehofer said. And to be fair, it happens to those who juiced up on steroids and those who never touched the stuff.

The most terrifying aspect of Schwarzenegger’s accident is that when he was put to sleep for the surgery, the reins of power passed briefly into the hands of Cruz Bustamante. Cruz was about to put the entire state on a diet when Schwarzenegger came to.

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Can I buy a vowel?

There’s still time for incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to correct a blunder and reverse her appointment of Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes to head the House Intelligence Committee. But when I called her Washington office Tuesday, spokeswoman Jennifer Crider told me Pelosi “absolutely” still stands by her man.

I’m not sure what Reyes would have to have done to shake Pelosi’s confidence. Democrats have a chance to use their new majority to show off their smarts and challenge the Bush administration on foreign affairs, and the first key appointee seems to have slept through the entire Iraq war.

Reyes, in a quiz from an editor at Congressional Quarterly, said incorrectly that Shiites control Al Qaeda, rather than Sunnis. Then, when asked what Hezbollah is, he was stumped again and asked if he could answer in Spanish.

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Si. Quien es Hezbollah?

Crider, the Pelosi spokeswoman, asked why I was still interested in the story.

Well, partly because the committee has the name INTELLIGENCE in it. And partly because I’m still embarrassed as a Californian to have a San Francisco representative pick the one guy from Texas who seems to know less than Bush.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman of Venice might not have been tough enough on Bush over the war, but the senior Democrat on the intelligence committee at least has a working knowledge of the participants. Couldn’t Pelosi reconsider, I asked Crider, even if Pelosi and Harman have had their political differences?

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“He misspoke,” Crider said in defense of Reyes, so I guess we’re stuck with him.

In the interest of national security, and in the Christmas spirit, I’m sending Reyes a book I found at Amazon.com. It’s called “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict.”

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Paging Antonio Villaraigosa

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Not since Jim Hahn beat him five years ago has Antonio Villaraigosa been knocked to the canvas the way he was last week, when a Superior Court judge rejected his plot to take over part of the school district. In typical form, the Los Angeles mayor picked himself up off the deck and kept swinging, vowing to appeal the ruling.

I like the fact that Villaraigosa wants to take charge, but I still haven’t seen evidence that he’s got a plan that would make a difference. Then again, I don’t trust the school board to lead the way to reform and further improvements.

So I liked the idea offered up in my colleague Howard Blume’s story on Saturday, in which a school district lawyer said Supt. David L. Brewer and school board President Marlene Canter would be happy to sit down with the mayor and discuss giving him more of a say-so.

When I checked with Canter, she confirmed that she’d love to have the mayor and other public officials put their heads together instead of taking shots at each other in public and in court.

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The question is whether Villaraigosa would settle for a partial victory, but he’d already watered down his own dreams of a takeover. And if he doesn’t compromise with the board, he could strike out again in court and end up with nothing.

“I am putting together a letter with Supt. Brewer,” Canter told me. A letter in which she will invite Villaraigosa to such a meeting.

Answer the letter, Mr. Mayor.

The students don’t need public officials slugging it out. If this is really about them, and not about ego or political ambition, the only choice is to sit down and talk.

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And many more

Updating my column on Mae Laborde, the 97-year-old actress who broke into the business at 93, she got a call from “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” last week.

Laborde, my former neighbor, says Leno’s staff sent a limo to her home in Santa Monica and took her to Burbank for an interview. Laborde said she expects to hear next week whether she’ll be called back for a guest appearance in the new year.

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And to correct an error in that first column, “Talkshow with Spike Feresten” is already on the air Saturdays at midnight on the Fox network. It comes on after “MADtv,” and Laborde has been on both shows.

My thanks to all of you who wrote to tell me about other amazing folks who are 90 and older. On Tuesday, I went to meet one of them at a senior center in Hollywood.

Max Drucker, who retired from his job sweeping New York subway stations in 1974, has been volunteering at hospitals and senior centers ever since, most of them in Los Angeles. When his wife Diane died four years ago after a long illness, he called the Assistance League of Southern California to sign up as a full-time volunteer.

Drucker, I found out, doesn’t like to talk much. Not about himself, anyway. You’ve got to drag details out of him about the Bronze Star he got for taking out a kamikaze pilot in World War II. What he likes to do is ride the bus from home each morning, showing up at 7 to help people who are younger than he is but not as physically or mentally sharp. He does it five days a week, entirely on his own, and counts himself blessed.

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“With some of them, it’s ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ and I’ll go into the bathroom and cry, then come out and not say anything about it. Like that woman right there? She’s got diabetes, she’s lonely, but she’s got a lovely disposition. If I can talk to them, make them laugh, I like to do it. This is like family, here.”

They threw Max Drucker a birthday party Tuesday at the senior center.

He turned 95.

Happy birthday, Max, and Happy New Year.

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Reach the columnist at steve.lopez@latimes.com and read previous columns at www.latimes.com/lopez


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