Friday, August 26, 2016

Looking Back in Anger

Once upon a time, there was a publication called the Weekly World News that occupied a special niche in American journalism.

It was a supermarket tabloid but unique in that tawdry genre. It went places no other publication dared to go.

Where else could you read stories like  "Satan Captured by GIs in Iraq” or "Termites Eat the Eifel Tower," or "Hard Up Sheik Sheds His Wives, 200 Woman Harem to be Sold on eBay." or "Alien Bible Found, They Worship Oprah” or “I Was Bigfoot’s Love Slave.”

Its philosophy was best explained by Sal Ivon, a former managing editor, who said, "If someone calls me up and says their toaster is talking to them, I don't refer them to professional help, I say, 'Put the toaster on the phone'."

Perhaps its most popular feature was a column written by the fictitious Ed Anger,  a perpetually angry conservative (a typical column began "I'm pig-biting mad!"), who railed against illegal immigrants, women and speed limits among many other perceived ills.

Not to mention Democrats, wild animals that somehow need protection even though they have claws, complicated foods, and most television programming.

Anger also hated foreigners, yoga, whales and pineapple on pizza; he liked flogging, electrocutions and beer.

He even authored a book entitled “Let's Pave the Stupid Rainforests & Give School Teachers Stun Guns and Other Ways to Save America.”

Here’s Ed on Obamacare: “Their plan was to bore half the country to death and give the other half heart attacks, so we’d all be dead anyhow and wouldn’t need doctors!”

On China: “if I were President Obama, I’d make the Chinese buy only American  for five years, just to make up for robbing us blind – or we’ll bomb ’em back to the Stone Age where they came from.”

On legalized marijuana: “All my life I heard smoking that stuff made you a shiftless degenerate – and now the government wants to hand it out free to everybody! It won’t really be “free,” of course – you and I are the ones paying for it. We have to work two or three jobs and cough up half our dough, so these lazy dope fiends can have their wild crazy parties and eat corn chips all day in their underpants!”

The Weekly World News disappeared somewhere into cyberspace a few years back and Ed Anger along with it.  But if you noticed a certain similarity between Anger’s vitriol and the rhetoric of this year’s Republican Party, you wouldn’t be wrong.

Could it be that Donald Trump’s politics were shaped by a ghost-written satirical column in a supermarket tabloid?  Or, to borrow from a WWN staple, is Elvis alive and directing his campaign?

We’ll never know. But Trump clearly has a lot of Anger in him.

Here are a few of the candidate’s positions which could be straight out of the pages of Weekly World News:

His political background: “What do I know about it? All I know is what's on the internet." 

The military:  “Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?" –Trump, reportedly asking a foreign policy adviser three times during a meeting why the U.S. couldn’t use its nuclear weapons stockpile, according to MSNBC's Joe Scarborough.

Foreign policy:  “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 (Hillary Clinton) emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press." –Trump, calling on Russian espionage services to intervene in the U.S. election.

Leadership: "I alone can fix it." –Trump in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, July 21, 2016.

Race relations: "I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I'm building a wall, OK? I'm building a wall." –Trump, accusing U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over the fraud case against Trump University, of being biased against him because of his Mexican heritage, despite the fact that he is a U.S. citizen who was born in Indiana.

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems...they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists."

"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." 

“I have a great relationship with the blacks.”

“Happy Cinco De Mayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!”

Women’s issues: “I think the only card she has is the women's card. She has got nothing else going. Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she would get 5% of the vote. And the beautiful thing is women don't like her, OK?"

"There has to be some form of punishment…you go back to a position like they had where they would perhaps go to illegal places, but we have to ban it." –Trump on women who have abortions.

"Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president? I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?" – Trump on primary opponent Carly Fiona.

 "If Hillary Clinton can't satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?"

His constituents: "We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated." –Trump on his performance with voters who helped him win the Nevada Caucus.

"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay? It's, like, incredible."

Ed Anger would cheer. He couldn't have said it better himself.

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.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Don't Go There

Summer is winding down but there is still a few weeks left to squeeze in some vacation time.

Europe?  Hawaii?  Legoland? There are lots of choices but, like a friendly old uncle,  I’m here today to put my arm around your shoulder and advise you on a couple of places to avoid:
Pittsburgh.  OK, it wasn’t on your bucket list anyway but I’ve been there dozens of times (I have in-laws nearby) and it is a beautiful and lively city with great food and the best sports fans in the world. Some locals call it the Paris of Appalachia.
So why stay away? Here’s why. Uber customers in Pittsburgh  later this month can begin hopping into vehicles that can drive themselves to their destination.
And hilarity or carnage could ensue. You don’t want to be the victim of either.
Uber has been quietly testing a handful of tech-laden Volvo cars in Pittsburgh which is headquarters for the tech company's autonomous car research facility. Many of its staffers are former robotics experts from nearby Carnegie Mellon University, a self-driving car technology hotbed.
Volvo has so far delivered a "handful of vehicles" to Uber, but expects to have 100 SUVs ready by the end of the year, according to a Bloomberg report. The cars will be staffed with safety drivers, per current transportation laws.
Just so you understand this, you’ll be jumping into a car that will be navigating a city that was laid out for horse carts in a vehicle imagined by an industry that recalled 56 million cars last year.
And, of course, Pittsburgh is dissected by three large rivers:  The Allegheny, the Monongahela which meet up to form the Ohio.
Do robotic cars float?  Stay tuned.
The other destination is North Korea. 
It was probably much farther down your bucket list than Pittsburgh but maybe your inner explorer is urging you onward to more adventuresome locales.
After all, the North Korean national anthem declares, “Let morning shine on the silver and gold of this land/ Three thousand leagues packed with natural wealth.

“My beautiful fatherland/ The glory of a wise people/Brought up in a culture brilliant/With a history five millennia long.”
How bad can it be?
Plenty, as it turns out. We all know Kim Jong Un and his cohorts as iron-fisted rulers of a rogue nation that hates Americans and leads the world in human rights violations.
And if you’re a visitor, utter a bad word about Dear Leader and you could do 50 years at hard labor.
Still want to go?  There’s even more bad news.
It seems that for the fourth year in a row, North Korea’s Air Koryo has claimed the dubious honor of being ranked the worst carrier in the world.
Meaning it may be more dangerous getting there than being there.
Among the gripes: the onboard meal of hamburgers made of a “mystery meat,” safety demonstrations that often were skipped, entertainment that consisted of propaganda films played in a loop and overhead luggage racks with no doors to keep bags from falling down on fliers during turbulence, according to travel writer extraordinaire Hugo Martin.
You’ll also be traveling on aging Russian aircraft.  Think getting a 1973 Plymouth for a rental car.
Chinese authorities just announced they will limit the operations of Air Koryo, after a Beijing-bound flight made an emergency landing last month.
The flight from Pyongyang had to land in the North-eastern Chinese city of Shenyang because of smoke in the cabin. No one was injured in the incident.
China's Civil Aviation Administration announced "relevant measures to limit operations" without giving any details.
As for me, I take these ratings with a grain of salt.
 Malaysia Airlines, struck by two incidents that left all passengers on board dead or missing in 2014, was given five stars out of a possible seven in one recent rating.
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.






Saturday, August 13, 2016

Not So Golden Moments

I have watched the Olympics since they were broadcast in black and white.

Let me clarify that. 

I have had the TV tuned to the Olympics since they were broadcast in black and white.

Nobody watches the entire menu of Olympic events, not even in 1960 when CBS first offered American viewers 20 hours of highlights from Rome.

It was pre-satellite days so they had to fly the tapes from Rome to New York to put them on the air.  Talk about delay of game. Talk about anti-climactic.

Certainly not now when NBC is bombarding us with 6755 hours of coverage on multiple channels.

Nobody in their right mind would watch the entire thing.  But I almost did.

It seems I was required to have hip surgery recently, an act that required me to rehabilitate at home for what seemed like forever plus.

So what do you do to pass the time?  You read a book.  Or you watch TV.

I watched the political conventions while taking powerful prescription pain medicine which led to numerous surreal experiences, very strange and difficult to understand. I’m sure if I had not been medicated, it would have all made perfect sense.

 I did get my head cleared in time to watch Donald Trump’s acceptance speech.  Then I quickly reached for more pain pills.

Hillary Clinton’s address was about as exciting as a PTA treasurer’s report.  I needed no medicinal help.  I fell asleep after 15 minutes.

So much for the future of our country.

I quickly devoured the books I had set aside and was faced with the vast wasteland that is daytime TV: “Dr. Phil,” Dr. Drew,” “Judge Judy,” “Naked and Afraid,” “My 600-lb Life,” every “Law and Order” ever made and lots of shows about UFOs and Nostradamus, sometimes combined into one blockbuster.

My salvation was the Olympics and because of my circumstances I was ready to embrace every minute.

That didn’t last long. NBC broadcast the opening ceremony on a one-hour delay on the East Coast. The West Coast was delayed by an additional three hours. While the rest of the world was watching, we were waiting.

And while we were waiting, we were subjected to endless commercials, mindless happy talk and constant promotional reminders that we have a really good women’s gymnastics team.

The Brazilians, not surprisingly, put on a heck of an opening show. Then came the parade of athletes, always interesting, but this time so disorganized it looked like commuters being disgorged from a subway station.

If was after 9 p.m. when the parade began. It ran so long I was off to bed before Lichtenstein strolled into the stadium.

But I’m all about second chances so I tuned in again and again.  Again and again I was awash in commercials wrapped around profiles of people and places.

It also seemed that every time I decided to watch, somebody was doing something in a swimming pool. What did they have, about 10,000 events? Or maybe NBC focused on swimming because the U.S. had a superior team. Nothing like a winner to boost ratings.

I also became increasingly irritated by the way NBC bounced around between events that gave little time for the viewer to get interested.

If you’re going to get me hooked on the canoe slalom or taekwondo, I need time to understand what I’m seeing.

Of course, we could have anticipated this.

NBC’s chief marketing officer John Miller explained the network’s approach this way:
“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans,” he told Philly.com recently. “More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.”

That brought this response from Sally Jenkins writing in the Washington Post:

“The Olympics is the most prominent competition in the world and 53 percent of Team USA is female, which means American women likely will bring in more medals than American men. Yet they will be presented in packaging aimed at a Ladies’ Home Journal crowd.”

Maybe that's why we heard commentators like NBC broadcaster Dan Hicks, who after Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu won gold and set a world record in the 400-meter individual medley, immediately started talking about her husband and coach, calling him “the guy responsible.”

Or the Chicago Tribune, which referred to two-time trapshooting medalist Corey Cogdell as “wife of a Bears’ lineman” in a headline, rather than using her name.

We lagged badly in the sexism competition, however. The winner was a German equestrian commentator for ARD TV, Carsten Sostmeier, who opened an interview with rider Julia Krajewski with, “Let's see what the blondie has to say.”

He went on to call her a “scaredy-cat" and said she was so afraid of the course that "there was a brown stripe in her panties."  

Or maybe this is what passes for German humor.

I’m walking unaided now and getting out and about. That means my Olympics viewing will occur in fits and starts.

I’m sure in the future I’ll watch but, baring medical complications, it will be selectively.

If there is a future.

 In 2015 the US nominated Boston for the 2024 Summer Games, until Boston withdrew because of low public support. Germany nominated Hamburg but it pulled out after the local government lost another referendum. Toronto’s mooted bid was scrapped when its economic development committee voted against it.

Right now, the four candidate cities are Rome, Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris. In Hungary, the supreme court has just blocked a proposed referendum. And in Italy, Rome’s new mayor, Virginia Raggi, has repeatedly said she opposes the bid.

It looks like Our Fair City may win by default, maybe permanently. And if it does, I’m betting NBC will still try selling us the journey rather than the results.

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, July 31, 2016

The Write Stuff

This column is being written by a human being.

An honest-to God, flesh and blood, living and breathing member of the human race who formulates the words in his brain, then lets them spill off his fingertips onto a computer keyboard sometimes with mixed results.

I mention this because sometime in the not too distant future, what you read --- on your Twitter account, Facebook page, in your daily newspaper --- will have been written not on a computer but by a computer.

 This is not the stuff of science fiction.  It’s already taking place.  Don’t be surprised if you see a byline soon that says “I. Robot.”

To underscore how rapidly the media/communications business is evolving, consider this recent job posting that caused more than a little shock and awe in social media circles.

 “…Content Agency is seeking a dedicated individual to join our SmartContent product team as a Content Specialist, to develop and support our news content harvesting robots and classification and management systems… We maintain and enhance a mission-critical data ingestion system that gathers and distributes market-moving, ground-breaking content every day in support of (our) content platforms and enterprise feeds.

“…Work with our team of content specialists and ontologists to craft customized information solutions for our hundreds of clients worldwide. Day to day responsibilities include designing and deploying specialized content harvesting robots, creating and enhancing tools to facilitate data collection, and expanding and refining our industry-leading news ontology.”

A computer science degree would be preferred but the company is also open to people who have studied English or journalism. Although in truth, this person won’t be working for a newspaper but a news curation service.

This posting makes two things clear:  (1) Someone had better integrate an editing component into this system so the word “content” doesn’t appear eight times in two paragraphs. And (2) lose the phrase “news content harvesting robots” which sounds like a giant Pac Man hunting down and devouring hapless reporters.

What it means is that news gathering and distribution will be unlike anything we've ever seen. Included in the Brave New World will be stories untouched by human hands.

For example:

 A company originated by two electrical engineering and computer science professors at Northwestern University automatically generates sports stories using commonly available information such as box scores and play-by-plays. 

Along with the text is an appropriate headline and a photo of what the program deems as the most important player in the game.

It’s not a stretch to see this same principal being applied to police and court news, election and political stories, government and agency reporting.

You won’t get much in the way of context, analysis and interviews.  And deftly written articles will be rare.

Instead you will be informed, educated and entertained by stories that convey all the insight and readability of a 140-character Tweet.

The Associated Press is already using an automated system to produce quarterly earning stories for its business clients. The AP now publishes 3,000 such stories every quarter — and that number is poised to grow.

James Kotecki is a spokesman for a company called Automated Insights, whose Wordsmith platform generates millions of articles per week.  Their partners include Allstate, Comcast, and Yahoo, whose fantasy football reports are automated.
Kotecki estimates the company's system can produce 2,000 articles per second if need be.

Kris Hammond who works for a firm called Narrative Science suggests, with an edge of mischief, that a computer will win a Pulitzer prize within five years, and that 90% of journalism will be written by computer by 2030.

I can hear the nation’s newspaper executives lick their chops as they envision a business with little or no overhead. Just build robots to replace reporters.

All of this puts me square in the middle of the tracks as a giant locomotive called “Progress” speeds toward me.

But before I get run over, I hope someone will develop an algorithm that will collect the works of journalists who actually write their own stories so we can be reminded of what we could lose.

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, June 26, 2016

Mr. Cool

Let me say right up front, I'm a weather wimp.

I'm Southern California born and bred and when the temperature dips below 70 or rises above 90, I become easily irritated, feeling like a slave to oppressive weather.

Oh sure, I've lived other places: San Francisco where summer never comes and the fog seeps into your bones; and Washington, D.C., a place so hot in July and August that the British Foreign Service once declared it a hardship post, considering it  harsher than Calcutta.

All things considered, I'll take Los Angeles, where the voices of songbirds waft on jasmine-scented breezes.

Alas, for the last week or so, the songbirds have fallen silent and the jasmine is wilting.  106 in Pasadena?  108 in Burbank?  Those are the kind of temperatures we see in Mecca.

And according to some scientists, it is the new reality.

Let us pause for a moment then, wipe up the beads of sweat that have migrated from our foreheads to the tips of our noses, and honor the memory of Willis Carrier.

Because if it hadn’t been for Mr. Carrier, life in Our Fair City during the summer would be like taking up residence in a pizza oven.

Carrier was notable for two things:  He had a relative described as the “Queen of Hell” hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692.  He is credited with inventing modern day air-conditioning. It’s unclear if one event led to the other.

Carrier was no tinkerer. He held a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and in 1902 was called upon to solve a quality problem experienced at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing & Publishing Company of Brooklyn. It seems high temperatures and humidity was causing their paper to wrinkle.

Carrier submitted drawings for what became recognized as the world's first modern air conditioning system and was ultimately awarded a patent. Other factories eventually wanted in on the action so Carrier established Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America.

Carrier had produced one of the great inventions of the 20th century but success was a long time coming, interrupted by two World Wars and a Depression.  But by the end of World War II, business and booming. And by 2012, Carrier was a $12.5 billion company with over 43,000 employees serving customers in 170 countries on six continents.

Other great moments in air conditioning history:

200 A.D. The 2nd-century Chinese inventor Ding Huan of the Han Dynasty invented a rotary fan for air conditioning, with seven manually powered wheels 9.8 feet in diameter.

201 A.D.  The first fight over control of the office thermostat was reported.

In July of 1881, after an assassin shoots President James Garfield, naval engineers build a boxy makeshift cooling unit to keep him cool and comfortable. The device is filled with water-soaked cloth and a fan blows hot air overhead and keeps cool air closer to the ground. The device can lower room temperature by up to 20 degrees but it uses a half-million pounds of ice in two months.  And President Garfield still dies.

In 1914, the first home air conditioning unit was installed in a mansion owned by Charles Gates in Minneapolis. According to one report, it was 7 feet high, 6 feet wide, 20 feet long and possibly never used because no one ever lived in the house.

In 1931, H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman invented an individual room air conditioner that sits on a window ledge but the cost was prohibitive ($10,000 and up) for most people.  If you wanted air conditioning, you found a movie theater with a sign out front that said, “It’s cool inside.”

Packard offered the first air conditioned car in 1939. Unfortunately, should the Packard's passengers get chilly, the driver had to stop the engine, open the hood, and disconnect a compressor belt.

In 1942, the United States builds its first "summer peaking" power plant made to handle the growing electrical load of air conditioning.

In the 1950s, residential air conditioning becomes just another way to keep up with the Joneses. More than 1 million units are sold in 1953 alone.

And, of course, thanks to Mr. Carrier, Phoenix morphed from a roadside gas station to a city of 1.6 million. The folks down there call it the Valley of the Sun which is like calling the South Pole a “winter wonderland.”

So how did we survive for thousands of years without air conditioning?

People built houses differently with high ceilings and deep porches that often protected windows from the heat of the sun. Windows were also placed to allow cross ventilation.

In cases where it wasn't possible to have two windows on opposite sides of a single room, architects would line up rooms in a row, allowing air to flow between them. You can see this in old shotgun homes in New Orleans.

Porches were important, not just for shading the windows of a home, but also for providing a place where people could sit outside, out of the glare of the sun, and perhaps enjoy a breeze. This led to a whole culture of people sitting outside on their porches after supper, which has essentially disappeared.

Some older houses were also built with sleeping porches, screened-in porches where one could sleep during the summer, enjoying the breezes but protected from bugs.

Best of all, people took naps.  People in parts of Spain still do this — they nap during the hottest hours of the day, resume work later in the afternoon, and then shop and socialize once the sun has gone down.

My advice for this summer:  keep cool, especially when your utility bill arrives.

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.




Saturday, June 18, 2016

Is There a Future in Fatherhood?

I don’t know what Father’s Day will look like 50 or 100 years from now.  I suspect gender-specific celebrations will have fallen out of favor.

But for today, at least, it remains a time to doff our hats to the Defenders of the Cave, the Slayers of Dragons, Disposers of Scary Insects, Uncloggers of Toilets, Movers of Furniture and Grillers of Meat.

An old-fashioned notion, perhaps.  But I suspect in many homes that Mother’s Day still means long-stemmed roses and champagne brunches while Father’s Day means a new crescent wrench and a beer by the barbecue.

As a small boy once said of Father's Day: “It's just like Mother's Day only you don't spend so much."

That’s OK with me.  I don’t want to be fussed over on Father’s Day.  After all, when it comes to the gestation and production of a child, moms do all the heavy lifting.

When our little bundles arrived, I discovered that I had to man up or move out. So I changed diapers, read bedtime stories, fixed breakfast, lunch and dinner when called upon, rose at dawn on the weekends so my wife could sleep in and in my spare time made sure I imparted the foundation of my profession to my kids:  critical thinking skills, a healthy skepticism and a sense of humor.

Along with my wife, I went to what seemed like several million piano recitals, soccer games, back to school nights and PTA pancake breakfasts. In sickness and in health.

If I had to do it all again, I gladly would. I didn’t have to be prodded to be an active dad. If you loved your family, it’s what you did.

All of this is somewhat remarkable in that my wife and I came of age in the Eisenhower administration. Women wore aprons, stayed at home, tended the kids and joined book clubs. Men went off to work (or war, as the case may be), came home to their pipe and slippers and left for work early the next morning. 

By the time we were married in the late 60s, all of that was beginning to change. Parenthood and child rearing were becoming shared responsibilities, women were entering the work force, aprons had all but disappeared.  

So had the notion of Dad as a Sage Breadwinner who dispensed dollops of advice and little else.

Fast forward to now:  On the surface, things seem to be about the same. The ideal dad is married, invested and present in the lives of his children, living with his family, and employed in full-time stable work with good pay and benefits. 

Because his wife is also working full time, the sharing of responsibilities has become more than a moral obligation. It’s an economic necessity.

We see plenty of dads, happily carrying their babies in Snuglis and men’s bathrooms have changing tables, so all must be well.

Not so fast, say Oregon State University professor Richard A. Settersten Jr. and assistant professor Doris Cancel-Tirado in their study, “Fatherhood as a Hidden Variable in Men’s Development and Life Courses.”

There are disturbing social trends facing men, including the rise of men having children outside of marriage, the increase in men having children with numerous women and the growing numbers of divorced fathers, say the professors, quoted in the Huffington Post.

Divorce all too often reduces a dad’s time with his kids or cuts him out of the picture entirely. But men who have kids outside of marriage, often African-American men and those without college degrees, are even less likely to be involved in their lives than divorced dads, they note.

A survey by the Pew Research Center found that marriage, while declining among all groups, remains the norm for adults with a college education and good income but is now markedly less prevalent among those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

The survey also finds striking differences by generation. In 1960, two-thirds (68%) of all twenty-somethings were married. In recent surveys, just 26% were. How many of today’s youth will eventually marry is an open question.  For now, the survey finds that the young are much more inclined than their elders to view cohabitation without marriage and other new family forms — such as same sex marriage and interracial marriage — in a positive light.

All of which means that the ideal father isn’t nearly as widespread as we’d like to believe, the professors say. Instead, there are many more fathers today who are vulnerable — not in the sensitive guy kind of way, but in their ability to be present and provide for their children.

“In aggregate, men are becoming less intensely involved with and committed to children,” they write. Instead, the trends suggest “men’s family relationships en masse remain relatively fragmented and tenuous.”

This is a troubling trend. Research shows that that dads have a profound influence on their kids—socially, developmentally, economically, psychologically. They are role models and companions, and their positive presence is a big plus for kids.

Settersten and Cancel-Tirado argue that instead of policies that just strengthen marriage — which more and more people are questioning, and rejecting, as a valid institution — we should be supporting all intimate relationships as well as enlarging the legal and social definitions of family to reflect the many types of families we have today. Flex time, job sharing, parity in child support levels and legal benefits for unmarried fathers raising children in committed relationships are among their suggestions.

It’s hard to see how all this will play out in the future.  But if you see a dad today, give him a hug.  Because, at least for the time being, fatherhood matters.

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.







Saturday, June 11, 2016

Proof Positive

I’m a firm believer in science and its practitioners, specifically researchers hunched over their workbenches day after day in the dingy basement of some out-of-the-way building.

Without them, we would still be a rag-tag colony of hunter/gatherers living in trees.

“Hi, dear. What’s for dinner?”

“Bark.”

“Not again!”

Thanks to scientific research, we have car alarms, automated telephone menus, mobile phone ringtones, pop-up ads, selfies, boom boxes, microwaved food, Twitter and Facebook.

Imagine life without them.

But sometimes researchers, in their never-ending quest to shine the bright light of knowledge on our dull countenances, do some weird stuff.

Consider this bit of breathless news that broke just this past week:

“New research from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom suggests that restaurants and bars that sell and serve wine in larger glasses cause patrons to drink more, even if the amount of alcohol doesn't vary.

“Over 16 weeks, researchers at the University of Bristol studied serving patterns at a dual bar and restaurant establishment called The Pint Shop in Cambridge. Over the course of the study, the space's owners alternated between three different glass sizes: the "standard" 300 ml, a larger 370 ml, and a smaller 250 ml.

“Not only did they find that people tended to buy more wine when the bar served alcohol in larger glasses, they also found that it was a significant amount more; patrons bought an average of 9.4 percent more wine when it was served in the 370 ml glass, as opposed to the standard 300 ml glass.”

And then this: “The researchers are continuing to study the effects to confirm their hypothesis.”

These guys are geniuses. Not because they came to the startling conclusion that people drink more when the glasses are larger.  But because they found a university to pick up their bar bill in the name of research. 

Brilliant.

In a related development, a group of researchers asked people at bars to rate their own attractiveness. They found that the higher the blood alcohol content of people, the higher they rated themselves on attractiveness. Which I guess is why they put mirrors behind bars.

There is other notable research going on out there. According to the website Mental Floss, a researcher trained pigeons to tell the difference between good and bad paintings made by children. The pigeons were positively reinforced when they pecked at good paintings and after a while, they were able to determine which ones were good, even observing color and pattern cues in paintings they'd never seen before.  Practical application unknown.

Some other bon mots from Mental Floss:

 A study was conducted at the Babraham Institute to determine whether sheep were capable of recognizing the faces of other sheep. When the study concluded in 2001, the researchers had discovered that sheep could recognize the faces of 50 sheep about 80% of the time, and they remembered them for over two years.  Which is better than I could do.

A group of researchers did a study to determine whether the speed and flow of men's urination was affected by people being too near them. In order to do this, they left an observer with a periscope in a public restroom for extended periods of time. He found that the closer a man had to pee next to another man, the longer it took for him to start urinating. He also peed, on average, less if someone was standing next to him. I suspect the research was done at some random sports venue where guys are lined up shoulder to shoulder and 10 deep.

 At the University of Minnesota, scientists discovered that it is just as easy to swim in syrup as it is to swim in water. In order to conduct the experiment, they filled a 25 meter swimming pool with a liquid made of guar gum, a liquid that is twice as thick as water, and it turns out that you can swim in it just fine.  No Olympic records were harmed in the making of this conclusion.

Less we be accused of nerd bashing, scientists poke fun at themselves for quirky studies. In fact, there is something called the Ig Nobel awards, presented each year at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine.

In the past, honorees included two California scientists who conducted extensive research on why woodpeckers don't get headaches.

And another group studied why pregnant women don't tip over. Women, it appears, have slight differences in their lumbar vertebrae that helps compensate for their changing center of gravity. So women are different. Who knew?

Honors also went to researchers who investigated whether suicide rates are linked to the amount of country music played on the radio. My guess is yes.

And Swiss scientists conducted a study that confirmed an empty beer bottle makes a better weapon than a full beer bottle in a fight.

Also saluted was a study that determined that lap dancers get higher tips when they are ovulating; and a woman from MIT who invented an alarm clock that runs away and hides, repeatedly, thus ensuring that people do get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday.

The awards aren’t always bestowed for strict scientific research.

The prize for mathematics was once awarded to the Southern Baptist Church of Alabama for their county-by-county estimate of how many Alabama citizens will go to hell if they don't repent.

This year’s prize in Economics went to the Bangkok Metropolitan Police for offering to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refuse to take bribes.

A few years ago, the British government unveiled plans to allocate research funding according to how much "impact" the research has.

The plans immediately came under fire from academics, who say that curiosity-driven, speculative research has led to some of the most important breakthroughs in scientific history, including penicillin, relativity theory and the theory of evolution.

Not to mention runaway alarm clocks.

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.