Monday, February 01, 2016

Bowled Over

We Americans like to party.

In fact, we like to party so much we have rolled the Christmas and New Year’s holidays into one week-long orgy of food and drink culminating in a form of gladiatorial combat we call football.

The ancient Romans would be proud of us.

Take Pasadena, for example. It’s not exactly a let-your-hair-down-and-boogie-your-butt-off kind of place. Indeed, the word “staid” comes to mind. Yet once a year, the city throws a giant New Year’s party complete with a sometimes maudlin but always spectacular parade and a football game played in the nation’s most iconic stadium.

After which, the days grow dark and cold. Americans have little to celebrate unless you circle Fruitcake Toss Day or Houseplant Appreciation Day or National Kazoo Day on your January calendar.

Faced with this daunting prospect, Americans do what they do best. They invent something.

In this case, we invented the Super Bowl, ostensibly a football game but in reality a reason to party.

Thanks to billionaire team owners seeking to further pad their wallets, it rolls around each February and has to keep us in a state of merriment until St. Patrick’s Day.

This year’s contest features the Denver Broncos versus the Carolina Panthers and will be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, hard by San Francisco. Game time is 3:30 p.m. Pacific Standard.

Long before the ball is in the air, however, we will be bombarded by hype that will rival an El Nino storm in intensity.

This, after all, is Super Bowl 50, its importance underscored by the fact that the NFL is using Arabic numerals rather than Roman numerals it has historically shared with the Papacy and assorted royal families. We’re guessing Super Bowl L (the Roman numeral for 50) lacked a certain gravitas.

The event will be preceded by a four-hour pre-game show in which a panel of concussion survivors will explain the intricacies of the game.

The population of two competing cities in question here is a shade over 1.5 million. So why should the rest of us care?

There are two answers:  gluttony and gambling.

If you were to add up the calories per serving for every food item a household purchased during the week of the Super Bowl, it would equal more than 6,000 calories, according to a Washington Post story. That's the largest number of calories for any week through the year — more even than during Thanksgiving — and it's not even all that close. 

The second unhealthiest week, when people purchase closer to 5,500 calories per serving, is the week before the week of the Super Bowl, at which point people are just getting warmed up.

The National Chicken Council estimates that 1.25 billion chicken wings will be consumed during the Super Bowl. There are expected to be 48 million take-out pizzas ordered. Some 80 million avocados will be consumed along with 11 million pounds of chips.  It will be washed down with 325 million gallons of beer. 

 In a related development, the diet business will take in millions the following week.
And when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is, American Gaming Association President Geoff Freeman said that his organization expects the Super Bowl to elicit $3.8 billion in illegal wagers compared with Nevada’s legal $100 million.

The bets know no bounds. For example, you can bet on what color Gatorade will be dumped on the winning coach. Or the jersey number of the first player to score a touchdown. 

You can also put your hard earned cash on who the Super Bowl MVP will mention first in his speech:  Teammates are at 2/1, followed by God (5/2), Fans (5/1), other team (7/1), coach or family (12/1), owner (25/1) and none of the above at 4/1.

You can also wager on who will win the coin toss, who will call the first time out, who will be the first player called for holding, whether the first player to score will have an odd or even number jersey, whether the first missed field goal will be wide left or right.

Of course, you can develop your own bets right at home. Who will be the first to take a bathroom break, who will be the first to dump a plate of nachos cheese-side down on your new couch, who will be the first to say "I don't get it" after a multimillion dollar commercials screens, who will be the first to doze off in the middle of the game after consuming hot wings, chili, pizza and beer.

Note to gamblers: 26 percent of people say that God plays a role in determining the outcome of a game, the Public Religion Research Institute found.

Let the festivities begin.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Filthy Rich

As I write this, the per capita income of Chino Hills has remained steady.

That’s because the winner of the billion dollar lottery jackpot whose winning ticket was bought in that fair city has not come forward.

No matter. He, she or they will emerge soon enough. There’s a lot of work to be done in preparation to be unimaginably wealthy.

There are accountants and financial advisers and lawyers and public relations specialists and security firms to be hired.

There are phone numbers to be changed, mail to be redirected to post office boxes, social media accounts to be closed.

When you have a few hundred million in the bank, you’ll make thousands of new “friends.” To put it bluntly, you will be stalked. And even though anonymity is not an option in this state, keeping a low profile is.

Of course, that’s assuming that the winning ticket wasn’t wrapped up inside a Taco Bell napkin and tossed in a trash can. After all, an astonishing $2.04 billion went unclaimed in one recent year.

Whatever the outcome, I was reminded of the pitfalls of sudden wealth when I read about the Tennessee couple who won a share of the Powerball lottery worth a cool $327 million.

John and Lisa Robinson said they plan to pay off the mortgage on their small house in Munford, Tennessee, pay off their daughter Tiffany's student loans and go back to work. They appeared at a press conference with their dog.

John, a warehouse supervisor, and Lisa, who works at a doctor’s office, said they hoped the family could now enjoy their good fortune in peace.

“We’re common people,” John, 58, said. “We’re just like y’all are.”

Not any more, John. Y’all have ceased to be common.   

The guys down at the warehouse will slap you on the back and congratulate you. Before long, some will approach you with a tale of woe about their financial situation and ask for money. More will follow. Others will try to get you involved in a hair-brained investment scheme.

Your church pastor will wonder if you will tithe 10 per cent of your income. Your daughter will receive marriage proposals and wonder if it’s about love or money.

You will be rich beyond your wildest dreams and, like to or not, it will define who you are.

Yet, other rich people will keep their distance. They will consider you a nouveau riche rube who fell into a fortune. Your middle class friends will drift away. No more chat about where to get the best price on a pickup truck or a new refrigerator. You’re not one of them anymore.

But hopefully you will find satisfaction in giving back to your community and supporting worthy charities.  A lot of them will be knocking on your door.

It remains to be seen if you develop a taste for fancy cars, mansions, private jets and other trappings of wealth. You seem like down-home folks but money has a way of altering life styles.

Be wary, however. According to a study by researchers at Vanderbilt University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Pittsburgh, the more money you win in the lottery, the more likely you are to end up bankrupt.

Among other things, researchers also found that lottery winners tended to have below-average education and income, which might translate into lower financial literacy than the average not-so-financially-savvy person.

That fact is underscored by these chilling tales:

In 2003, Callie Rogers was 16, living with foster parents in the U.K. and working as a shop clerk. And then she bought a lottery ticket.
She won $3 million in the National Lottery and, despite early insistence that she would continue to live frugally, bought four large homes, several new cars and had two breast augmentations. She admits to spending freely on cocaine. It wasn’t long before the money was gone and Rogers ended up working as a maid.

With less than $3 in his checking account, Bud Post pawned a ring for $40 and spent the proceeds on Pennsylvania Lottery tickets. When he walked away with a $16.2 million jackpot, it seemed as though his luck had changed.

But no. His brother hired a killer to take Post's life (but only after Post purchased businesses and cars for him and his siblings). Post also made some questionable financial decisions, like buying an airplane he could not fly. 

To clear other debts, Post sold the rights to his remaining lottery payments, but ended up spending his last $2.65 million on two homes, several motorcycles, three cars, a truck and a sailboat, among other things. He racked up seven marriages, too. 

Post eventually was arrested for firing a gun at a bill collector and was charged with assault. Nearly penniless, the lottery winner eventually served the sentence and then lived on a $450 disability payment until he died at age 66, eight years after winning big.

On the other hand…
Allen and Violet Large made headlines in 2010 not only for winning $11.2 million in the lottery, but also for giving most of it away. When the Canadian pair, in their 70s at the time, received the money, they decided that others needed it more. After setting up their family members financially, the Larges chose to donate the majority of their winnings to hospitals and other charitable organizations.

When Les Robins won the $111 million jackpot in 1993, it was the highest Powerball jackpot to date. It's likely that his background as a middle school teacher inspired Robins to use a large portion of his winnings to build a day camp for children. Camp Winnegator is still going strong.

One winner, former Georgia truck driver Ed Nabors, decided to take a simpler route than most when he claimed half of a $390 million prize. He chose to call it a day and go fishing.

It may have been the best decision of all.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Worthless Words

Up in the frozen north, where the long winters chill the body and soul, the inhabitants spend their time doing two things:

 (1) Huddling together for warmth.

(2)  Inventing distractions to keep their minds off huddling together for warmth.

A good example is Sault St.Marie, Mich., a town that remains encased in ice half of the year and where many inhabitants pay for their groceries in beaver pelts.

It is also the home of Lake Superior State University whose faculty and students have found a really fun way of staying intellectually toasty.

For 40 years or so, they have complied an annual list of “Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.”

The school’s website sums up this year’s winners thus: “Overused words and phrases are ‘problematic’ for thousands of Queen's English ‘stakeholders,’” said an LSSU spokesperson while ‘vaping’ an e-cigarette during a ‘presser.’  “Once something is banished, there's no ‘walking it back;’ that's our ‘secret sauce,' and there’s no ‘price point’ for that.”

Topping this year’s list is the word “so” which is being overused as the first word in the answer to any question. For instance, “So, why are you reading this column?” “So I have insomnia and I thought this would help me sleep.”

So that’s merely an example, not to be confused with the high quality of work on view here. 

Looming large in the political arena is “walk it back,” an exercise that is undertaken when an elected official says something so dumb or devoid of truth that an explanation is required.  “Walking it back” sounds so much nicer than “apology” or “clarification” or “foot-in-mouth disease.”

Of course, this often leads to the non-apology apology such as this classic from Sen. Bob Packwood who was accused of sexual harassment. “I’m apologizing for the conduct that it was alleged that I did, and I say I am sorry.”

Those who don’t “walk it back” may be forced to “double down.”

Next on the list is “conversation.” Online publications and TV talking heads invite us to “join the conversation,” an inoffensive phrase which in fact means “we want our audience to engage in linguistic mud wrestling, which includes but is not limited to personal insults, threats of violence and lunatic fringe diatribes.”  Apparently, the word “debate” is too harsh for our sensitive ears.

Then there is “problematic,” defined on Gawker as things that don't concern you at all, as opposed to actual problems such as your self-diagnosed nutritional disorders and that loser brother who wants to sleep on your sofa while he "looks for a job." 

Nowadays, it is thrown about to describe things such as the killer asteroid headed our way that will obliterate life as we know it or, worse, reports that “Dancing With the Stars” has been renewed for 10 more years.

“Presser” is taking the place of press conference or press release although I always thought it was an employee of a dry cleaning establishment.

“Secret sauce” isn’t a term I hear very much in my circle of friends, but if I did, it would probably be describing something that’s slathered on a burger which usually turns out to be Thousand Island dressing.

Instead, according to less an authority that the Oxford Dictionary, it is “a special feature or technique kept secret by an organization and regarded as being the chief factor in its success.”

Perhaps a more apt definition is this one: “Special skills, products or abilities that you try to make prospects believe your company has that no one else has, when in reality, everyone just sells the same stuff.”

Add to the list “break the Internet” meaning a post or video that will have so much online traffic that it will  “break” the Internet. Examples:  Any and all cat pictures or any and all pictures of Kim Kardashian’s derriere. Honorable mention:  First Lady Michelle Obama’s dress which got more attention than her husband’s State of the Union address.

“Manspreading” makes the list because it is presumed by some to be an assault on the endangered male.

For those who do not partake in the joys of public transportation, “manspreading” is the act of guys spreading their legs wide, into a sort of V-shaped slouch, effectively occupying two, sometimes even three, seats on a bus or subway.

It is so commonplace in New York that transportation officials are putting up posters urging men to share a little less of themselves in the city’s ever-crowded subways cars.  They will all carry the slogan, “Dude... Stop the Spread, Please.” 

Not on the Lake Superior list but a phrase I hear with increasing regularity is “no worries.” It seems it’s an expression seen in Australian English, British English and New Zealand English meaning "do not worry about that", "that's all right", or "sure thing.” In other words, “no problem.”

Leave it to the British Empire to corrupt our English.

Lest we worry that Lake Superior State is on a mission to eradicate every colorful phrase in our language, we can take comfort in the fact that Detroit's Wayne State University boasts of "bringing back great words" that have fallen out of favor. Past words the university wants people to use more include "caterwaul," ''rapscallion" and "flapdoodle."

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Fat City

Pasadena. A city of flowers and football, beautiful vistas, stately mansions, historical architecture, a world class university, fine dining.  The Crown City, indeed.

Then there’s this cheeseburger thing.

If Pasadena didn’t have enough to brag about, it is claiming the cheeseburger as its own.

Not long after the last flower pedal from the Rose Parade was swept up off of Colorado Boulevard, the citizens of the world were being invited to Cheeseburger Week, a celebration that will involve 40 bars and restaurants vying to win accolades for their creations.

And, of course, this being Pasadena, there is even a wine-pairing event.

The event which runs the gamut from gastronomy to gluttony will he held from Jan. 10-15. Bring lots of napkins, Pepto-Bismol and let your belt out several notches.

After all, it’s about time you blew your post-holiday diet.

So why is this pristine, proud and occasionally arrogant city paying homage to the ultimate working class meal?

According to legend, the aptly named Lionel Sternberger is reputed to have invented the cheeseburger in 1926 at the age of 16 when he was working in his father's Pasadena sandwich shop, "The Rite Spot," and "experimentally dropped a slab of American cheese on a sizzling hamburger."

Or maybe not. Another theory explains that a derelict entering the establishment from Colorado Blvd. requested the meal specifically and Sternberger made his development right then and there. A third handed-down tale describes where he inadvertently burned a burger patty and slapped on a cheese slice to mask his error. 

Then there are competing legends.

An early example of the cheeseburger appearing on a 1928 menu for the Los Angeles restaurant O'Dell's which listed a cheeseburger smothered with chili for 25 cents, according to historical records. Independent public television station KCET reported that a person would have had the additional option to added spaghetti as an additional topping to their chili smothered cheeseburger for a total cost of 40 cents at this same eatery.

Other restaurants say they invented the cheeseburger. For example, Kaelin's Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, said it invented the cheeseburger in 1934. One year later, a trademark for the name "cheeseburger" was awarded to Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In in Denver, Colorado. According to Steak 'n Shake archives, that restaurant's founder, Gus Belt, applied for a trademark on the word in the 1930s.

But Sternberger seems to have won the lion’s share of credit for inventing the iconic burger. After all, if you can’t believe a 16-year-old fry cook, who are going to trust?

Mr. Sternberger would not recognize the monster he unleashed on the world nearly 100 years ago.

Nowadays, we have a bacon cheeseburger that has the bacon and cheese stuffed inside the patty, a mozzarella-stuffed burger, barbecue bacon cheddar smokehouse burger, Philly cheesesteak burger, peppercorn bacon cheeseburger or a Tex-Mex burger.

There are pimiento cheeseburgers, Cajun turkey cheeseburgers, cheddar burgers with balsamic onions and chipotle ketchup, green chili cheeseburgers. Even meatloaf cheeseburgers.

The one thing they haven’t developed is a low-cal burger, at least one you'd want to eat. Your basic cheeseburger with condiments and bacon weighs in at 595 calories and contains 33 grams of fat (50% of your daily value) and 106 milligrams of cholesterol (35% of daily value).

Throw in any other ingredients and you’ll need a calculator to sort it out.

As for me, I love me some cheeseburgers.  But why really grills my sirloin is the patty melt.

For the uninitiated, the patty melt is a burger topped with cheese and grilled onions and served between slices of rye bread, all of which is grilled in butter. It was reportedly first served by Tiny Naylor’s drive-in restaurant chain.

It’s getting to be dinner time. My choices are boiled chicken with a side of broccoli florets or a cheeseburger and fries.

I’ve already made up my mind.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Miscues That Made News

It is the custom of this column to mark the end of each year with a compilation of the best, or worst, or most convoluted, or contrived, or outrageous, or downright silly media corrections.

We used to focus exclusively on newspapers but since the printed word is becoming as rare as the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat (which, to the uninitiated, is extremely rare), we have broadened our approach. We now welcome TV and the Internet to this walk of shame.

Steve Harvey and Brian Williams, come on down.

Why commemorate mistakes?  After all, journalism is a profession that prides itself on accuracy.  But sometimes in the production of countless words spread across countless pages, mistakes are made. And some are funny.

So once a year we pause long enough to laugh at ourselves. A little humor is good medicine when you spend your days covering a world that has gone mad.

Since this year is the 10th year we have complied this list, it seems entirely fitting that we look back on the very best of the miscues that made news.

Without further ado, we present the Mea Culpa Awards.

“Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite." --- The Dallas Morning News.

"Following the portrait of Tony and Cherie Blair published on 21 April in the Independent Saturday magazine, Ms. Blair's representatives have told us that she was friendly with but never had a relationship with Carole Caplin of the type suggested in the article. They want to make it clear, which we are happy to do, that Ms. Blair has never shared a shower with Ms. Caplin, was not introduced to spirit guides or primal wrestling by Ms. Caplin (or anyone else), and did not have her diary masterminded by Ms. Caplin. “ ---The Independent Saturday (UK) magazine.

“In articles published on 23 and 26 May 2008, we gave the impression that Mr. (David) Gest had contracted a sexually transmitted infection and alleged that he had Liza Minnelli's dog killed without her knowledge. This was wrong. David Gest has never had a sexually transmitted infection and did not have Ms. Minnelli's dog killed.”  --- Daily Mail, UK.

“We said that, in the American TV drama ‘24,’ Jack Bauer, the counter-terrorism agent, resorted to electrocution to extract information. You cannot extract information from someone who has been electrocuted because they are dead.” --- The Guardian, UK.

“An Oct. 1 editorial referred to Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Colville as a ‘classy candidate.’ This page regrets the error.” --- Lewiston Morning Tribune.

 “In a recipe for salsa published recently, one of the ingredients was misstated, due to an error. The correct ingredients is 2 tsp. of cilantro instead of 2 tsp. of cement.” --- Publication unknown.

“Due to incorrect information received from the clerk of courts office, Diane K. Merchant, 38, was incorrectly listed as being fined for prostitution in Wednesday's paper. The charge should have been failure to stop at a railroad crossing.”                ---Publication unknown.

“Last week’s column mistakenly misidentified a source. The European Commission president is Romano Prodi, not Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”--- The Prague Post.

“Reporter Amanda Hess, in a story published Monday, acknowledges she wrongly wrote that ‘one in three black men who have sex with me is HIV positive.’ In fact, the statistic applies to black men ‘who have sex with men.’” --- Washington Citypaper.

“The following corrects errors in the July 17 geographical agent and broker listing: Aberdeen is in Scotland, not Saudi Arabia; Antwerp is in Belgium, not Barbados;
Belfast is in Northern Ireland, not Nigeria; Cardiff is in Wales, not Vietnam; Helsinki is in Finland, not Fiji; Moscow is in Russia, not Qatar.” ---- Business Insurance magazine.

“There was an error printed in the story titled ‘Pigs Float Down the
Dawson’…The story, by reporter Daniel Burdon, said ‘more than 30,000
pigs were floating down the Dawson River.’ What…piggery owner Sid
Everingham actually said was ‘30 sows and pigs,’ not ‘30,000 pigs.’”
--- The Morning Bulletin, Australia.

“Our panel listing the expected highlights at Glastonbury this summer
catapulted into the festival’s headliners a band not so much obscure
as unknown, even to those expert in Judaic contributions to rock. The
group Frightened Rabbi should have been the Scottish band Frightened
Rabbit.” --- The Guardian.

“In the September profile of Chelsea Clinton, ‘Waiting in the Wings’
by Jonathan Van Meter, Dan Baer was mistakenly identified as an
interior designer. He is deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State.”
--- Vogue magazine.

“A column by Glenn Garvin on Dec. 20 stated that the National Science
Foundation ‘funded a study on Jell-O wrestling at the South Pole.’
That is incorrect. The event took place during off-duty hours without
NSF permission and did not involve taxpayer funds.” --- Miami Herald.

“Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the
number of years E.B. White wrote for The New Yorker. It was five
decades, not centuries.” ---The New York Times.

"Just to keep the record straight, it was the famous Whistler's
Mother, not Hitler's, that was exhibited at the recent meeting of the
Pleasantville Methodists. There is nothing to be gained in trying to
explain how the error occurred." ---Titusville (Pa.) Herald.

 “A Bloody Mary recipe…called for 12 ounces of vodka and 36 ounces of tomato juice. The recipe as printed incorrectly reversed the amounts, calling for 36 ounces of vodka and 12 ounces of tomato juice.” --- Wall Street Journal.

 “This post originally quoted photographer Tom Sanders as saying it takes him five years to get on the dance floor. It takes him five beers.”  Slate magazine.

“Articles on April 25 and 26 about Pope Benedict XVI said that St. Peter was the founder of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the church, Jesus was the founder.” --- Washington Post.

“Karol Wojtyla was referred to in Saturday’s Credo column as “the first non-Catholic pope for 450 years”. This should, of course, have read “non-Italian pope.” ---London Times.

“The Argus would like to apologize for suggesting that the director of the Brighton Science Festival believes the ‘21st century will be remembered for a terrible war between mankind and goats.’ That contention, as well as another goat-obsessed comment, actually came in the form of a question submitted by a reader.” --- Argus, Brighton, England.

“An article on Monday about a recall election facing Colorado lawmakers who supported gun-control legislation referred incorrectly to one of the Republican challengers expected to face John Morse, the State Senate president, on the ballot. The candidate, Bernie Herpin, is a former city councilman, not an author of erotic novels.”  --- New York Times.

“The Ottawa Citizen and Southam News wish to apologize for our apology to Mark Steyn, published Oct. 22. In correcting the incorrect statements about Mr. Steyn published Oct. 15, we incorrectly published the incorrect correction. We accept and regret that our original regrets were unacceptable.”  --- Ottawa Citizen and Southam News.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Yada, Yada, Yoda

“Already know you that which you need.” – Yoda.

When it comes to merchandising, nobody in the world does it like the good old U.S.A.

We sell sunscreen to the Eskimos and space heaters in the Sahara. Using catch phrases, we sell each other interminable amounts of stuff. Things go better with Coke?  You bet.

The world is our mall.

Take the lowly pumpkin. As I wrote in a column last month, ever since Starbucks foisted the oddly popular Pumpkin Spice Latte on an unsuspecting nation, the bulbous orange squash has achieved cult status.

We have been deluged with pumpkin lattes, marshmallows, Pringles, Pop Tarts, cookies, cereal, ice cream, M&Ms, beer, air freshener, lotion, shampoo, candles and whiskey. There are even pumpkin dog treats.

But that’s nothing compared to the avalanche of products that is being unleashed in connection with the release of the new “Star Wars” movie, “The Force Awakens.”

It’s not the first “Star Wars” movie, there have been many others. But the hype for this newest version is spreading at warp speed thanks in large part to the media which can’t churn out enough glowing stories about it.

Ticket sales could hit $1 billion, maybe even $2 billion. But that’s chump change compared to what movie-related merchandise might bring in. That pencils out to around $5 billion.

It’s the kind of money that could furnish every man, woman and child in the U.S. with their own light saber.

And what do you get for your hard-earned cash?

There’s a Princess Lea dress ($54.95) or, if you’ve gone over to the Dark Side, a Darth Vader cape dress ($47.95). Wear either with a pair of C-3PO flats ($111.65) or R2-D2 slipper boots ($18.55).

After a busy day cruising the galaxy, tuck yourself in to some “Star Wars” poster sheets ($31.15) and pull up the “Star Wars” comforter ($48.65).

Surround yourself with items like a “Star Wars” water bottle ($8.75), and R2-D2 wallet ($11.55), and R2-D2 cupcake pan ($13.65), Yoda plush slippers ($17.15),  an Ewok hoodie ($58.50) or a Millennium Falcon chopping board ($22.75).

But wait! There’s more:

“Star Wars” dog tags ($7), R2-D2 can coolers ($7), or a Chewbacca can cooler ($13), Death Star ice sphere mold ($13), light saber chop sticks ($15), Darth Vader oven mitt ($15), R2-D2 hip flask ($16), Death Star tea infuser ($20), Millennium Falcon owner’s manual ($23) and light saber barbecue tongs ($30).

Rounding out the selection: a Death star waffle maker ($39.99), “Star Wars” multivitamin gummies, “Star Wars” soups, “Star Wars” coffee mate (prices vary), “Star Wars” apples and oranges.

For the fan who has everything, there’s a Millennium Falcon bed, yours for $4000.

There’s more, much more. But it gets bewildering. Target, the big-box retailer, now has nearly 900 “Star Wars” products listed for sale on its website—787 of which are tagged with “The Force Awakens.” 

Who dreams up this stuff?

That’s not clear but what is evident is that Disney, which paid $4 billion to purchase LucasFilm, creators of the “Star Warrs" franchise, is trying to wring every cent they can from their acquisition by licensing their asset to anyone with money to spend.

It’s not a tough sell.

"If you're a (consumer) product, and you have an opportunity to license 'Star Wars' and possibly get incremental sales, you will take it," Rebecca Brooks, co-founder and partner at marketing research firm Alter Agent, said in an interview.

In the meantime, if you think the people who collect “Star Wars" stuff are space cadets, consider this:

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s cloak sold for $104,000.

A Chewbacca head mask worn by Peter Mayhew was sold by Profile in History, an auction house, for $120,000.

Hans Solo’s blaster from “Return of the Jedi” sold for $201,000.

A miniature TIE fighter, specifically the one that collided with Darth Vader in the hidden depths of the Death Star in “Episode IV, A New Hope” went for $402,000.

Luke Skywalker’s light saber, sold from the collection of movie producer Gary Kurtz, gained bids up to $240,000. 

The Panavision PR 35mm camera George Lucas used in filming “A New Hope” sold at auction for $625,000.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Trump Card

Years ago, when I first started writing this column, I would lick my journalistic chops at the chance to do battle with American’s most famous Wing Nuts.

We’re talking Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Ann Coulter, Ted Nugent and others whose inflammatory rhetoric and total disregard for factual reporting was shocking.

My intent was to expose their hypocrisy and set the record straight. I was never at a loss for subject material.

But somewhere down the line, I decided that this kind of subject material was nothing more than a “he said, she said” exercise and that all I was doing was calling attention to people whose notoriety didn’t need my help.

Outrage was a saleable commodity and this bunch was making a handsome living pedaling it.

It seemed I was just pouring jet fuel onto the inferno that is political discourse in this country. More importantly, I was often calling for civility while being uncivil myself.

I took a pledge, solemnly administered to myself by myself, never to mention any of them again unless there was some overriding news value involved. That was nearly four years ago.

Now comes Donald Trump and my pledge is being sorely tested.

It’s the same message, just being bellowed from a bigger orifice.

Like Beck and Limbaugh, Trump’s philosophy, if that’s not too strong a word, resonates with disenfranchised working class white folks who view our changing world with fear and trepidation. He promises to smite our enemies, drive immigrants from our shores and make America strong again, whatever that means. Specifics?  That’s for the other guy,

The irony is, of course, is that this billionaire Pied Piper who lives in a tower wouldn’t get caught dead hanging out with most of the people who vote for him. Don’t expect to see him having a beer with the boys down at the Dew Drop Inn.

So should I slip into my armor, pick up my lance and start jousting with the Trump campaign?  After all, he is a serious presidential candidate, not just some poisonous pundit.  And his policies certainly deserve scrutiny.

I probably won’t although I reserve the right to change my mind.

First, I don’t believe he’ll ever be the nominee of his party. The Republican Party views Trump as some disruptive crazy uncle who shows up periodically and wreaks havoc.

He is even seen as  running a "false flag operation" for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and hopes to help her secure the presidency by obtaining the Republican nomination, or running as a third party candidate, which Trump has been reluctant to rule out.

If you think that’s goofy, Jeb Bush believes it.

Second, Trump is receiving more coverage than all the Democratic candidates combined. Oddly, even the media is complaining.

CNN staffers recently complained about the excessive coverage of Donald Trump as well as CNN President Jeff Zucker’s directive to cover the presidential candidate ad nauseam, according to published reports.

The Huffington Post opined that anyone who’s tuned in to CNN lately will know what the staff is upset about. The network airs Trump rallies and press conferences in full -- regardless of their news value -- and continues to dedicate precious airtime to segments about Trump’s hair or his latest Twitter outburst.

Even Fox News is fed up.

“Less than a week after the worst terror attack on America since 9/11, we are in a full-blown media circus,” Fox political commentator Megyn Kelly said recently. “Not about these two killers and their terror ties, but about something that a man who is not the president would do if by chance his party nominates him to be president and then the same general electorate that elected Barack Obama twice happens to choose him, Donald Trump, as their president.”

She repeatedly said it’s amazing that everyone is talking about this not-gonna-happen policy when we should be talking about terrorism, telling her audience, “We will not be devoting an hour or a half hour or 20 minutes to what Trump said tonight.”

And, of course, the blanket coverage of Trump is fueling his surge in the polls. The Washington Post’s John Sides explains it this way:

“When a pollster interrupts people’s lives and asks them about a presidential primary that doesn’t formally begin for months, a significant number of people will mention whichever candidate happens to be in the news these days. It’s basically a version of what’s called the ‘availability heuristic.’ And for any causal consumer of news, Trump is very available these days.”

It’s also called pack journalism and almost everybody who has ever been in the business has been guilty of it.

If your newspaper/TV news operation/website doesn’t report that Trump wants to ban all Muslims immigrants from the U.S., you will not only look foolish, but it may make you look like you’re ignoring a major candidate, justifiably or not. So you publish it along with any other outrageous quotes he can produce.

The answer is balanced coverage. Write about Trump all you want but write about the other candidates as well in equal doses. You’ll be doing a service to yourself and your country.

As for me, I’ll stay on the sidelines.  At least for now.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.