Saturday, August 29, 2015

They Also Run

Tired of Trump? Cynical about Clinton? Bewildered by Bush? Scared of Sanders? Had it with Huckabee?

Do you wring your hands over the prospect of a presidential election featuring two candidates that inspire no one? Do you furrow your brow over choosing between the lesser of two evils? Do you wonder how the greatest nation on earth can offer us nothing more than a gaggle of career politicians?

Well, fear not my friends. Because we’re here to tell you that at last count there are nearly 700 candidates who have declared for the presidency. And all that separates them from their White House dreams is your undying support and a few hundred million dollars.

So in the interest of fair play, we offer a list of duly registered presidential aspirants who bring unique qualities to the political arena. Except one: electablity.

For the record, ladies and gentlemen, we present:

Vermin Love Supreme, an American performance artist and activist, is known for running as an alternative candidate in various local, state, and national elections. He is usually seen wearing a boot as a hat and carrying a large toothbrush and says that if elected President of the United States, he will pass a law requiring people to brush their teeth. He campaigned in 2012 on a platform of zombie apocalypse awareness (and zombie-based energy plan) and time travel research.  He promises a free pony for every American.

Limberbutt McCubbins is a Democratic Party candidate from Louisville, Ky., who  has legally filed and been approved for the race. The only drawback is that McCubbins is a cat.  But there is precedent here. Boston Curtis, a brown mule, was offered as a candidate for a Republican precinct seat in Milton, Washington in 1938, winning 51 to zero. Hank the Cat from Northern Virginia, ran against Tim Kaine and George Allen for Virginia's Senate seat in 2012. He earned third place in the state, with nearly 7,000 votes. A possible running mate for McCubbins is Mr. Crawfish B. Crawfish of New Orleans who has filed to run for president but would probably accept the second spot on the ticket.  He also might end up being McCubbins’ lunch.

Deez Nuts, an independent candidate who hails from Wallingford, Iowa, is polling at 9 percent in the sampling from North Carolina — after posting similar numbers in polls of Minnesota (8 percent) and Iowa (7 percent).  However, it turns out Deez Nuts, who says his real name is Brady Olson, is about to enter his sophomore year in high school, and is a full two decades shy of being able to legally run for president of the United States. A Mark C. Olson, who is listed at the Wallingford address on Deez Nuts's FEC filing, said via Twitter that Deez Nuts is "my 15 year old son."

Then there is David Sponheim, the "America's Third Party" candidate who a few years ago made a video of himself in full blackface as President Obama; HRM Caesar St. Augustine de Buonaparte who plans to replace every government employee who does not have an IQ of at least 150; and Pogo Allen-Reese, the "Patriot Prancer"— a former male stripper who can be seen online in nothing but a cowboy hat and a thong. He says he’s based his campaign around three Gs: “God, guns, gold.” And maybe g-strings.

Add to the list: His Majesty Satan Lord of Underworld Prince of Darkness of College Station, Texas and Sydneys Voluptuous Buttocks of Buffalo, New York.  Mr. Darkness is running as a Republican.

Others who have filed include Queen Elsa Ice, Buddy the Elf, Jedi Obi Wan Kenobi, Jean-Luc Picard, Jeffrey Dahmer, Sir Cookie Zealot, Bippy the Clown  and Mr. Ronald Regan’s Ghost.

You might very well be thinking at this point, “What the heck? Can anyone file papers to run for President?”

The answer is a resounding and unequivocal “yes.”

All you have to do is submit a statement of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission. The FEC is not responsible for checking out a would-be candidate’s qualifications.

Then, it gets sticky. While anyone can file the paperwork, only those who have spent or received $5,000 on their campaigns are considered official candidates, according to an FEC spokesperson.

Of course, you will be required to show that you are a natural born citizen of the U.S. who is over 35 and has lived in the country for at least 14 years.

This could be a problem for McCubbins the cat who is five years old. But is owner claims he is 35 in cat years. This debate could go to the Supreme Court.

If you plan to contest for the Democratic or Republican nomination, you need to be on the primary ballot in enough states to get the delegates you need at the convention.

Next, just beat all your party’s other candidates and smite your opponent in the presidential debates.

Do that and they’ll play “Hail to the Chief” wherever you go.

After all, in America, anyone can become President.

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 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Remembrances of Disasters Past

While we’re waiting to see if this year’s El Nino will be a drought buster, a dud or a disaster, we may want to contemplate a series of storms that once dumped 66 inches of rain on Los Angeles in one season and turned vast portions of California into an inland sea.

According to experts, it could happen again.

Retelling the tale serves to underscore the point that California is no stranger to weather extremes. Droughts are followed by torrential rains. Torrential rains are followed by droughts. We should be prepared for either. But too often we’re not.

The story of this megastorm is told by B. Lynn Ingram, a professor in the Earth and Planetary Science Department at UC Berkeley.  It appeared in Scientific American.

In 1861, farmers and ranchers were praying for rain after two exceptionally dry decades. In December their prayers were answered with a vengeance, as a series of monstrous Pacific storms slammed—one after another—into the West coast of North America, from Mexico to Canada. The storms produced the most violent flooding residents had ever seen, before or since.

Sixty-six inches of rain fell in Los Angeles that year, more than four times the normal annual amount, causing rivers to surge over their banks, spreading muddy water for miles across the arid landscape.

 Large brown lakes formed on the normally dry plains between Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, even covering vast areas of the Mojave Desert. In and around Anaheim, flooding of the Santa Ana River created an inland sea four feet deep, stretching up to four miles from the river and lasting four weeks.

Residents in northern California, where most of the state’s 500,000 people lived, were contending with devastation and suffering of their own. In early December, the Sierra Nevada experienced a series of cold arctic storms that dumped 10 to 15 feet of snow, and these were soon followed by warm atmospheric rivers storms.

The series of warm storms swelled the rivers in the Sierra Nevada range so that they became raging torrents, sweeping away entire communities and mining settlements in the foothills—California’s famous “Gold Country.”

 A January 15, 1862, report from the Nelson Point Correspondence described the scene: “On Friday last, we were visited by the most destructive and devastating flood that has ever been the lot of ‘white’ men to see in this part of the country. Feather River reached the height of 9 feet more than was ever known by the ‘oldest inhabitant,’ carrying away bridges, camps, stores, saloon, restaurant, and much real-estate.”

Drowning deaths occurred every day on the Feather, Yuba and American rivers. In one tragic account, an entire settlement of Chinese miners was drowned by floods on the Yuba River.

This enormous pulse of water from the rain flowed down the slopes and across the landscape, overwhelming streams and rivers, creating a huge inland sea in California’s enormous Central Valley—a region at least 300 miles long and 20 miles wide.

Water covered farmlands and towns, drowning people, horses and cattle, and washing away houses, buildings, barns, fences and bridges. The water reached depths up to 30 feet, completely submerging telegraph poles that had just been installed between San Francisco and New York, causing transportation and communications to completely break down over much of the state for a month.

One-quarter of the state’s estimated 800,000 cattle drowned in the flood, marking the beginning of the end of the cattle-based ranchero society in California. One-third of the state’s property was destroyed, and one home in eight was destroyed completely or carried away by the floodwaters.

Sacramento, 100 miles up the Sacramento River from San Francisco, was (and still is) precariously located at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers.
In 1861, the city was in many ways a hub: the young state’s sparkling new capital, an important commercial and agricultural center, and the terminus for stagecoaches, wagon trains, the pony express and riverboats from San Francisco.

The levees built to protect Sacramento from catastrophic floods crumbled under the force of the rising waters of the American River. In early January the floodwaters submerged the entire city under 10 feet of brown, debris-laden water.

California’s new Governor, Leland Stanford, was to be inaugurated on January 10, but the floodwaters swept through Sacramento that day, submerging the city. Citizens fled, yet the inauguration ceremony took place at the capitol building anyway, despite the mounting catastrophe.
Stanford was forced to travel from his mansion to the capital building by rowboat. Following the expedited ceremony, with floodwaters rising at a rate of one foot per hour, Stanford rowed back to his mansion, where he was forced to steer his boat to a second story window in order to enter his home. Conditions did not improve in the following weeks. 

California’s legislature, unable to function in the submerged city, finally gave up and moved to San Francisco on January 22, to wait out the floods. Sacramento remained underwater for months.

Dependent on property taxes, the State of California went bankrupt. The governor, state legislature, and state employees were not paid for a year and a half.

Ingram warns that the lessons of the 1861-62 floods should provide the impetus for flood disaster planning efforts in a region where housing developments and cities are spreading across many floodplains. A critical element of living in a place like California is an awareness of these natural disasters, which requires a deep understanding of the natural patterns and frequencies of these events.

Today we have building codes for earthquake safety, she writes, but millions of new westerners are not aware of the region’s calamitous climate history. Most have never even heard of the 1861–62 floods, and those may not have been the worst that nature can regularly dish out to the region.

Ingram and her colleagues believe similar if not larger floods have occurred every one to two centuries over the past two millennia in California.

If they are right, we had better prepare for another Big One.

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, August 09, 2015

Bob's Burgers

"You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars....We have munched Bridge burgers in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and Cable burgers hard by the Golden Gate, Dixie burgers in the sunny South and Yankee Doodle burgers in the North....” 
---Charles Kuralt.

Vegetarian?  Not me.

I’m an unapologetic carnivore. My idea of a truly fine meal is a prime rib, steak, chops or ribs.  In moderation, of course.

But if my meat intake was limited to one selection, it would be the burger, simply prepared and right off the grill. Open wide and let the juices run down your arms and drip off your elbows.

I am not alone. In Denver recently, a friend took me to a place call Bud’s, a dive hard by the railroad tracks on the outskirts of civilization. The menu: hamburgers or cheeseburgers, served with a bag of chips on a paper plate. Onions and pickles on the side. Ketchup and mustard on the table.

It’s cash only. And if you want fries or a salad or coq au vin, take a hike back to town.

The place is always packed, filled with families, cowboys, bikers, or people like me who think that for an hour or so, it doesn’t get much better than this: a truly tasty burger, a little country music on the jukebox, a cold beer and a total absence of pretention.

It is a perfect homage to the Great American Hamburger.

While we may claim the hamburger as our own, it may or may not be an American invention. There are more conflicting claims as to its origins then there are McDonald’s franchises. But it is shared and loved, like America itself, by people regardless of race, color, creed or national origin. Hot dogs be damned.

It has survived assaults by health Nazis and fierce competition from pizza, gyros, tacos, sushi, dim sum, shish kabobs and Swedish meatballs, brought to our shores for better or worse by waves of immigrants.

It also survived assembly line production by fast food franchises that sold convenience rather than quality. I ate at McDonald’s plenty of times, mostly when my kids were young. At no time did I ever walk out the door thinking, “Wow, was that a great meal.”

Of course, McDonald’s never promised great food. Only fast food. And it did it so well it became one of America’s greatest business success stories.

All of that appears to be changing. McDonald’s said last month that U.S. same-store sales dropped 2 percent in the second quarter, the seventh straight decline.

The company noted that a main reason for the tepid results was because "featured products and promotions did not achieve expected consumer response amid ongoing competitive activity."

Translation: The food is lousy and people are eating elsewhere.

Indeed, McDonald’s came in dead last in a new survey which measures how satisfied consumers are with fast food restaurants. 

CNN reported that owners of McDonald's restaurants around the world are grappling with shrinking sales, slumping traffic and stiff competition from more exciting rivals that are serving up appetizing menus.

It's gotten so bad that McDonald's franchisees are worried about the food they serve and more pessimistic about their future than at any time over the past dozen years, according to a new survey conducted by Janney Capital.

Among other concerns, McDonald's franchisees expressed deep frustration with the top brass at McDonald's headquarters and their inability to improve and simplify the chain's complex menu.

But the real reason is that, while we may think that as consumers we are manipulated by our culinary overlords, we are in fact the masters of our fate. We wanted something better and we’re getting it.

A number of chains have emerged that offer what McDonald’s and its ilk never did: high quality offerings cooked to order. Gone are the days of microwaved mystery meat stuffed in a Styrofoam box.

Interestingly enough, many of these new chains have emerged from Southern California which as usual is an incubator of new ideas. Unami Burger, The Counter and The Habit started here and are expanding throughout the country and beyond to places like Dublin and Dubai.

And, of course, there’s the venerable In-N-Out Burger which has achieved cult status but still isn’t available east of the Mississippi.

Unami is a sit-down, full service restaurant offering a dozen unique takes on the burger. The Counter claims to offer 300,000 potential burger combinations. The Habit won Consumer Reports' top spot for the best-tasting burger in the country, beating out competitors like In-N-Out Burger.

Now, if we could just get a decent pizza in this town.

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, August 02, 2015

Stormy Weather

Back when a city desk was my workplace, my colleagues and I would exchange knowing glances each year as firefighters solemnly announced their predictions for the upcoming fire season.

It was never good news.

If it had been a dry year, they would warn us that the brush could explode into a conflagration of Old Testament proportions.  If we had experienced a wet year, we were cautioned that all that rain had caused more brush to grow, raising the specter of even worse fires.

It seemed like we couldn’t win at the weather game.

I was reminded of that when we were told a powerful El Nino condition this year could mean our parched little corner of the world could get good and wet.

Drought-weary residents are so overjoyed at the prospect that they’re dancing on their artificial lawns and toasting each other with overflowing glasses full of tap water.

But El Nino is not always a good boy. And his appearance should be viewed with  caution and cynicism. 

As we have seen already this year, heavy downpours cause damage. Mudslides and flooding have already occurred and if this is indeed the climatological Big One, as many predict, it could be far worse.

Our very own Bill Patzert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena said recently, “This is not a puny El Nino but a Godzilla El Nino.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen “Godzilla” but if memory serves, the legendary monster trashed half the Pacific Rim.

Just to refresh our memories, this is how the last big El Nino event was reported in 1998:

“A big storm, driven by El Nino and expected for months, hit California with driving rain and hurricane-force winds yesterday, sending thousands fleeing to high ground…
“Eighteen-foot waves threatened beach homes in Southern California and winds up to 80 miles an hour uprooted trees and left thousands of people without power. A falling tree killed one person in Northern California.

“High waves in Southern California battered piers and eroded the dunes that protect beachfront homes. Santa Barbara County got some of the heaviest rain, with more than 13 inches since Sunday. Waves over 30 feet high were reported at Pacifica, south of San Francisco.

“Interstate 80, a main link for communities between San Francisco and Sacramento, was closed by flooding, and Interstate 5, California's main north-south freeway, was blocked in several spots.

“Amtrak canceled all north-south trains from San Diego to Seattle because of flooded tracks.”

February 1998 remains the wettest February on record in downtown Los Angeles with a total of 13.68 inches. That is more rain than Los Angeles has registered since January 2014.

It was the best of times for roofers, contractors, tow truck operators and umbrella manufacturers.

It was the worst of times for many others. It caused $35 billion in damage worldwide, and 23,000 people died – from wildfires in drought-stricken Indonesia and Australia to catastrophic flooding and mudslides in Ecuador and Peru.

But let’s look on the sunny side, so to speak. El Nino means the end of the drought, right?

Probably not. According to one report, the state needs a very wet winter just to get soil moisture back to near-normal levels, and a good deal more than that to bring California’s reservoirs and groundwater close to their long-term average.

 "It takes years to get into a drought of this severity, and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it," said NASA’s Jay Famiglietti.

The lesson here is that we need to continue drought-mitigation policies so we don’t spend the rest of our lives in the don’t flush, don’t shower, rip out the grass mode that we find ourselves in today. The worse thing we can do is to decide that El Nino will end our need to conserve.

And then there’s the prospect that El Nino could become El Foldo.

Tony Barnston, lead El Nino forecaster at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, cautioned that while El Nino has predictable effects and this one is strong, what happens next is not exactly certain.
Take the much-anticipated wet 2014-15 winter. It fizzled.

JPL’s Patzert explained it this way to colleague Steve Scauzillo:

“The El NiƱo had a very promising, dramatic surge in January, February and March, but now as we enter summer, all of a sudden it is disappearing. The great wet hope is going to be the great wet disappointment.”

Best advice?  Be prepared for anything.

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.



Monday, July 27, 2015

Our Cheatin' Hearts


I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

I have lived and traveled throughout the United States. I have visited numerous foreign countries. I have served in the military.

I have practiced the craft of journalism for nearly 50 years, which requires a finely honed dose of skepticism.

I have been involved in the coverage of thousands of stories. I have seen and heard it all. Nothing surprises me. At least so I thought.

Then I read this past week that an Internet site that caters to married folks on the prowl for extramarital affairs had been hacked. Revelations are threatened. Fear and loathing ensues.

The existence of the website is no surprise. The Internet is full of enough decadence and depravity to make the Marquis de Sade blush.

What caused my jaw to bounce off my chest is that the site, called Ashley Madison, claims to have nearly 38 million subscribers in the U.S. and several foreign countries. You read that right: 38 million. Just for the sake of comparison, there are 68 million married couples in the U.S.

Apparently, there’s a whole lot of cheatin’ going on.

Or not. There are a lot of ways to look at this: (1) The website has greatly exaggerated the number of clients or (2) many who go on to the website are curiosity seekers who don’t indulge in actual adultery. Or (3), 30 million of the subscribers are teen-age boys who are getting their jollies on the Internet.

Of course, there is also (4) we are a morally corrupt people who preach devotion while practicing deviousness.

The answer is probably (5) all of the above.

According to several published articles, cheating isn’t cheap.

The site offers a guarantee that you will find someone: "We guarantee that you will successfully find what you’re looking for or we'll give you your money back.”

However, the guarantee is so restricted by conditions—one must buy the most expensive package, send "priority" (more expensive) messages to 18 unique members each month for three months, send 5 Ashley Madison gifts per month, and engage in 60 minutes of (paid) chat per month,—that qualifying for it is  difficult and expensive.

And, cha ching, female members are allowed to send "collect messages" that male members must pay for in order to read them.

Making this somewhat less than user friendly is that "more men than women use the service, with the disparity increasing as they advance in age," and "Men seek sex, while women seek passion.” 

What’s most astonishing about all of this is that are 38 million people who have no problem giving up their credit card numbers, sexual proclivities and adulterous intent to a bunch of strangers running a website.  What could possibly go wrong?

Something did.

A group of hackers called The Impact Team reportedly has posted some data already and is demanding that parent company Avid Life Media, shut down Ashley Madison and a sister site, EstablishedMen.com, according to Krebs On Security, a blog run by former Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs.

In a manifesto obtained by Krebs, the hackers said: “Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.”

All of this raises a question: Does hacking an Internet site and revealing information about its clients constitute a worse offense than infidelity?

Perhaps these statistics will shed some light on the issue.

Asked about infidelity, 22 per cent of married men admit to having strayed while 14 per cent of women admit to cheating at least once. But 74 per cent of men say they would have an affair if they knew they wouldn’t get caught while 68 per cent of women agree.

So the fear of getting caught in flagrante delicto is a major deterrent. And what’s a sure-fire way to get caught?  Send your darkest secrets off to a sleazy Internet site.

In this case, perhaps hackers hold the moral high ground. After all, The Impact Team doesn’t appear to be interested in financial gain or to have a political agenda. Instead, their purported motivation is moral outrage.

Interestingly enough, a 2013 Gallup Poll that listed behaviors and societal realities that included porn, gambling, abortion, polygamy, and the death penalty, 91 percent of survey respondents flagged adultery as morally reprehensible. It drew a higher rate of disapproval than any issue on the survey.

Instinctively, we sense that lying to and betraying the one person we’ve sworn fealty to is far worse than simply divorcing that person. Condemnation of divorce has decreased since 2001, but disapproval of adultery has held steady.

All of which proves that 38 million people can be wrong.

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.










Sunday, July 19, 2015

Flights of Fancy

When I was young, I spent a great deal of time in outer space.

I read every science fiction book I could get my hands on and watched every movie from "Destination Moon" to "Star Wars" in hopes that someday the world they portrayed would be a reality in my lifetime.

We would travel the solar system if not the universe on flights of adventure and fantasy. We would encounter strange new civilizations whose inhabitants we would befriend. We would also fight bad guys, from Ming the Merciless to Jabba the Hutt, in our quest to establish freedom, truth and justice throughout the galaxies.

Alas, at my age I’ll not see those fantasies become reality unless someone invents warp speed next week. But we have come so very close. When my time comes to leave Earth, I will have loved the future that I lived.

When I was young, there were no astronauts, no moon walks, no space stations, no Mars rovers. Now, with the Pluto fly-by this week, we have visited every planet in our solar system. It is an amazing feat considering we were Earth-bound a mere 112 years ago.

And while our search for extraterrestrial life continues, our voyages have become de facto journeys of self-discovery, teaching us that our planet is a very special place in a vast and violent universe.

The voyage of the New Horizons vehicle past Pluto was much more than a trip through time and space. It allowed us to see a place so shrouded in mystery, so cold, dark and distant, that it has held the public’s imagination since it was discovered by an American, Clyde Tombaugh, in 1930.

As a literary subject, Pluto is the stuff of dreams.

In “Plutonian Depths” (Wonder Stories Quarterly, Spring 1931), a short story by Stanton A. Coblentz was the first to take advantage of the newly discovered and named world. In “The Red Peri” by Stanley G. Weinbaum., the title character is a space pirate with a secret base on Pluto.

“First Lensman” (1950), a novel by E. E. "Doc" Smith, features an alien race colonizing Pluto without ever realizing that life existed on Earth.

In “World's Fair 1992” by Robert Silverberg (1968), a U.S.-led expedition reaches Pluto in less than two weeks using a nuclear-powered spacecraft capable of continuous acceleration. The spacecraft collects five crab-like indigenous Plutonians and returns them to Earth orbit for study.

In a July 1958 comic book, Superman journeys to Pluto to obtain some giant snowflakes, frozen so solidly that they will not melt on Earth, for inclusion among the collection of “space trophies” which he is gathering for the Metropolis Museum.

In the sitcom “Mork and Mindy” (1978), Mork informs Exidor that he's been to every planet in the solar system, even Pluto, which he derides as a "Mickey Mouse planet."

Even more famously, astronomers drew the wrath of the public when they declassified Pluto a few years back, deciding it was a “dwarf planet” and not worthy of membership in good standing of our solar system.

In a compromise that pleased no one, it was later declared to be a “plutoid.”

Perhaps the highest honor to be accorded the Pluto mission is that it has given birth to conspiracy theories.

The “truthers” have adjusted the tin foil on their heads and declared that the whole journey is a fraud,  announcing that “Pluto is only at Disneyland’ and “NASA’s mission is to ensure we know nothing about what is outside of our world.”

Others believe that NASA has indeed captured real images of Pluto but that there’s a possible cover-up involving aliens and buildings on the surface.

Now that be have traveled our solar system, what's next?  Most scientists believe a manned mission to Mars will be attempted by the mid-2030s.

There are no press releases or Kennedyesque pronouncements (“we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”).  NASA is doing its planning quietly. 

Faced with an ever-changing political landscape and the scope and expense of a program that may take 20 years, it is better not engage in chest-beating.

Jason Davis, in a Planetary Society blog, put it this way: “There is indeed a plan to put humans on Mars. Vague? Yes. Hard to see? Absolutely. But that's because… NASA officials are playing the long game. And right now, it may be the only game they can play.”

NASA’s budget in 1966 was $43.5 billion (in 2014 dollars). Today, NASA gets about $18 billion. Add to that an apparent lack of political will to go to Mars.

“So NASA has less than half the money to execute a program that is twice as ambitious and will take twice as long (as it did to go to the moon),” Davis writes. “Nevertheless, they'll need a methodical, step-by-step approach like the one used in the 1960s with Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.

“Furthermore, officials…want to avoid Apollo-style one-and-done Mars visits. They'd rather see NASA establish a sustainable, long term presence in deep space.”

Insurmountable?  No. Man will visit Mars someday. And beyond. After all, exploration is part of our DNA. Had it not been, we would still be living in trees.

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.







Sunday, July 12, 2015

Get Your Hands Out of My Guacamole

Musings from an ink-stained wretch:

The New York Times, chief tambourine shaker for East Coast elitism, has decided to stick its fingers into our guacamole.

After all, what do we know about Mexican food?

Times food columnist Melissa Clark recently published a recipe that calls for English peas to be added into a traditional guacamole dish.

In the column she writes, "The peas add intense sweetness and a chunky texture to the dip, making it more substantial on the chip."

For those who think this is a really bad idea, the Times smugly added the two most feared words in the English language: “Trust us.”

What’s next?  Cauliflower tacos? Brussel sprouts Rancheros?

I’m all for fusion in cooking but simplicity is the hallmark of Mexican cooking and we don’t need to fancy it up to make it taste better.

Besides, I’m convinced the Good Lord in his infinite wisdom created avocados to provide us a simple but delicious appetizer. Then he created televised football as the perfect place to enjoy it.

But I’ve got to hand it to Clark. She managed to do something Americans thought was impossible. She united our political parties.

“Respect the nyt, but not buying peas in guac. onions, garlic, hot peppers. Classic,” tweeted President Obama.

“You don't put peas in guacamole,” tweeted Jeb Bush.

Donald Trump, reached at a Taco Bell drive-through at 1 a.m., said he would have no comment.

Not surprisingly, the Texas Republican Party, well known purveyors of paranoia, declared that the recipe was proof that the New York Times was declaring war on Texas.  

And Fortune magazine pointed out that the whole mess was bad for the environment. “…based on data from the Water Footprint Network, one ounce of avocados requires 9.1 gallons of water. For one ounce of peas, you’ll need a staggering 44.5 gallons.”

We’re lucky they didn’t suggest adding almonds to our guac.

Give peas a chance? Not in my house.

Speaking of Donald Trump, it’s time for the bloviating, bullying billionaire to pretend once again he’s a serious presidential candidate.

Which means it’s time for Republicans to shelter in place and hope be goes away quickly.

Trump’s presidential aspirations appear every four years like some sort of flu bug. And every four years, the American people decide that their nation isn’t ready for a President who combs his hair with a Cuisinart and isn’t acting in his role as a snarling boss/jerk on a reality show.

But he’ll stick around long enough to inflate his ego and inflict damage on the Republican Party with his special brand of buffoonery.

“When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best," he said during a recent speech. "…they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they're telling us what we're getting."

And what would he do as president?  "I'd probably say ‘you have to go back.’ Do I like doing that? No, I'm a nice person believe it or not, I mean I have a heart. But I'd probably tell them ‘you have to go back.’

Mr. Nice Guy followed that up by declaring that he would win the Latino vote.

So why does the media continue to cover this nonsense? Long ago I swore off Glen Beck, Ted Nugent and Keith Olbermann. Why not Trump?

“Everyone knows that Donald Trump is not the brightest bulb in the pack and his political ramblings are completely meaningless. Everyone also knows that it’s fun to cover him anyway," New York journalist Chris O'Shea explained.

In other words, as long as Trump is out there promoting himself, whether in the context of a presidential campaign or not, we'll be seeing the snarky stories from those who don't take him seriously. Why? Because everything he says is, in some way, designed to make news. 

"The media covers Trump because people want to read about him," O'Shea added. "He’s the living embodiment of a car crash—you know it’s going to be bad, but you look anyway." 

I stand guilty as charged. I promise never to do it again. Until next time.

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.