Sunday, January 25, 2015

Empty Rhetoric From On High

Despite all the time and effort the media invest in covering the State of the Union address each year, it remains remarkably bad theater, a production whose importance is dwindling along with its audience.

The script:

The President assures his fellow Americans that the State of the Union has never been better while reciting a list of accomplishments that he embraces as his own, which in more than a few cases is an exaggeration.

The President will then lay out his vision for the future, including many initiatives that will go nowhere because his party doesn’t control either the House or the Senate.

He will then attempt to convince us that America’s greatness is the direct result of his party’s stewardship. He will view with alarm, point with pride, call to action.

Rinse and repeat every year.

While this is going on, an army of reporters are tweeting what is being said as fast as their thumbs can dance across their Blackberry keyboards. (“President declares America good, our enemies bad.”)

Members of the opposition fall all over themselves to give a response. While there is one official response, everybody can now get into the act thanks to You Tube.

Within 24 hours, contrarian opinions outnumber cat pictures on the Internet.

In the meantime, dozens of analysts, like archaeologists exploring a mysterious ancient tomb, try to make sense of it all.

The highlight, for me at least, is watching to see how the lack of civility that defines Washington politics is going to rear its ugly head.

A few years back, Democrats lustily booed President Bush when he when he called for renewal of the Patriot Act. The next year they shouted "No!" when Bush pushed for Social Security reform.

Then there was the time that Republican Joe Wilson in the midst of the speech shouted “you lie” at President Obama, thereby cementing his place in the Blockhead Hall of Fame.

And this year, when Republicans derisively cheered after Obama commented that he had no more campaigns to run, he ad-libbed, “I know, because I won both of them.” To raucous laughter and applause. For a moment, I thought I was watching open mike night at a comedy club.

TV viewership for President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night fell to a 15-year low, according to numbers from Nielsen. 

The combined figure is down about 5% from last year's State of the Union address, which drew about 33.3 million viewers. It was the lowest since President Clinton's final State of the Union in 2000. That speech pulled in just under 31.5 million viewers.

To be sure, there have been memorable moments from the State of the Union Speech. Historians agree on these as worthy of recognition:

--- The address had been a written document submitted to Congress, rather than a delivered speech. This changed with President Woodrow Wilson, who chose to deliver his message personally to Congress in 1913.

--- Franklin Roosevelt in 1941 evoked “the Four Freedoms”—freedom of speech and worship and freedom from want and fear—as a powerful justification for what was to be America’s role in a world at war.

--- Republican President Gerald Ford in 1975, his first address since ascending to the presidency in the August of 1974 after Richard Nixon's resignation, pulled no punches when he declared, “I must say to you that the state of the Union is not good.” 

--- Lyndon Johnson promised in his 1964 address that the coming Congress would be remembered as the one that “declared all-out war on human poverty.”

--- James Monroe’s State of the Union address in 1823 outlined a policy which stated that the United States would not meddle in the affairs of European governments and, most importantly, declared that any further efforts by European powers to colonize countries in the Western Hemisphere would be considered an act of aggression requiring U.S. intervention. It became known at the Monroe Doctrine.

--- In 1862, Abraham Lincoln used his message to Congress to tie the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery. "Without slavery the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.”

Alas, the moments when the lofty rhetoric translates into something meaningful are rare.

So what to do? Should we shut off the cameras, send the pundits packing and let the proceedings take place in some obscure committee room?

No. Despite the politics and posturing, the people’s business should be conducted in public. The most serious threat to democracy comes from those who would govern in secret and speak only among themselves.

So how do we make the State of the Union address relevant again?

Why not a modified debate format? The President and the leader of the loyal opposition are given 15 minutes for an opening statement, then are questioned by members of the media and the public.

At the end of the day, we would ultimately know a lot more about the state of the union than we learn from an oratorical press release conceived and delivered by and for the party in power.

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. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

News and Views From There and Here

News: Say the word California and people smile. Mention the words New Jersey and people laugh. It’s a punchline, not paradise. And apparently not a fun place to live.

Nearly two of every three families making an interstate move involving New Jersey last year were leaving, the highest rate in the country. New Jersey had the greatest percentage of outbound moves of any state nationally with almost 65 percent departing.

It has led the nation in outward migration for the fourth time in five years. Nearly half of those leaving New Jersey were bound for Florida (15 percent), California (14), Texas (9) and North Carolina (7.5).

Views: I have visited New Jersey on several occasions. Each time, I also had the irresistible  urge to leave. Now we know what Bruce Springsteen was trying to tell us when he recorded “Born to Run.”

It’s called the Garden State but we’re not sure why. George Carlin once addressed the nickname this way: “I say let them put it right on the license plate, 'NJ, the Tollbooth State.' What does it say now, the Garden State? Sure if you're growing smokestacks, yes.”

That’s not to say New Jersey hasn’t had its moments: During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the state offered begging licenses to unemployed residents, the zeppelin airship Hindenburg crashed in flames over Lakehurst, and the SS Morro Castle beached itself near Asbury Park after going up in flames while at sea. 

It is home to two National Football League teams, both of which identify themselves as being from New York.

As for those remaining in New Jersey, half say they want to eventually leave the state, and more than a quarter of them say their future departure is “very likely,” according to a Monmouth University poll.

And their governor wants to run for president? Get outta here!

News:  Snopes.Com debunks a new bunch of urban legends.

Views:  I visit the website from time to time, curious about what matter of unfounded paranoia is sweeping the nation. What I found recently is that most of the misinformation shares a common source.

Some examples:

--- Police and local investigators say that the 2-year-old toddler that fired a gun in an Idaho Walmart store, killing his mother, will be tried as an adult.  This story which defies credibility on so many levels is brought to us from the Empire News, a satirical operation which also brought us such classics as "College Student Excused from Classes After Dog Eats Grandmother.”

--- NFL referee Pete Morelli mysteriously came into $500,000 and quit his job shortly after he had controversially announced and then rescinded a crucial pass interference call in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys-Lions playoff game the previous day. That came courtesy of Naha Daily which is 100 per cent satire.

--- On Jan. 6, the Daily Currant published an article titled "Obama Wears 'I Can't Breathe' Shirt to Congressional Swearing-In Ceremony." According to the article, President Obama attended the swearing-in of the 114th Congress clad in a shirt commonly worn by those who have protested a grand jury decision following the death of New York resident Eric Garner.

The Daily Currant is a well-known fake news site whose previous fabricated stories includes one claiming Sarah Palin believed that Jesus celebrated Easter. 

--- In 15 December, World News Daily Report published an article titled "'Little Old Lady' Arrested for Making Fur Coats with Neighbor's Cats." According to the site, an unnamed 85-year-old female resident of Waco, Texas, was arrested and charged with unspecified crimes after police learned of her activities.

World News Daily Report is one of many fake news outlets known to fabricate outrageous stories in the hopes Facebook users will pass the tales on to friends
One of their greatest hits was a story headlined, “Dead Cow Brought Back to Life by Lightning.”

It made me wonder if there are more journalists working in satire then mainstream media. Or maybe satire is the new reality. After all, it’s just the truth with a laugh track attached.

News:  Al Martinez dies.

Views:  A friend and colleague from our days at the Los Angeles Times, Al was called the Bard of Los Angeles, a fitting title.

He had the soul of a poet encapsulated in a rugged body, one that was honed on the hard scrabble streets of Oakland where he grew up and on the battlefields of Korea where he served as a Marine rifleman.

He cut his journalistic teeth at the Oakland Tribune where, in those days, your desk mate was probably packing a fifth of Old Granddad is his desk drawer.

He survived that dubious introduction to the news business, thrived and found his way to Los Angeles where he wrote for the Times, the Daily News, television and various other media.

Al once told me that when he had nothing else to do, he would write. Not for practice or publication, just for the sheer joy of writing, much as a musician would tinker away on a piano for his own amusement.

He often sang the song of the common man, trying to survive and make sense of an uncaring world.

He was also an unapologetic optimist.

“What I am in the long run is not so much a chronicler of woe or a satirist defining human folly as a messenger of redemption who believes that in the wake of every calamity, spring will come again.”

Words to live by.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What's In a Name?

Ever hear of Kirby Delauter?

Probably not. He’s an obscure councilman from Frederick County, Md. who was  something less than a household name until this past week.

That’s when he threatened a local newspaper with legal action because it used his name without his permission. Really.

The story concerned a debate about Council parking spaces, a minor dust-up in which he was mentioned only briefly.

But it appears that Delauter had a long-simmering feud with Frederick News-Post reporter Bethany Rogers who wrote the parking space piece and decided the time was right to engage in a tirade.

 “Shame on Bethany Rodgers for an unauthorized use of my name and my reference in her article today,” he thundered. “She contacted me by phone yesterday, I did not return her call and did not authorize any use of my name or reference in her article.

 “Use my name again unauthorized and you'll be paying for an attorney,” he threatened. “Your rights stop where mine start.”

Aside from his embrace of an indefensible position, there are several interesting aspects to this story.

First, Delauter is the first politician I can recall in multiple decades of newsgathering who was trying to keep his name out of the paper

Oh sure, there have been assorted elected officials over the years who got lockjaw when questions about their sobriety or marital fidelity arose.

And I’m sure Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and City Manager Michael Beck, who find themselves presiding over a City Hall awash in allegations of a $6 million embezzlement scam, would just as soon not have to chat with the media any time soon.

But most politicians go to great lengths to get local media coverage whether they are touting a piece of legislation or honoring a crossing guard. Visibility means votes.

As "Big Tim" Sullivan, a high-profile political figure who was part of the Tammany Hall political machine in New York City once said, "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right."  

Second, Mr. Delauter’s itchy trigger finger thrust him into the national spotlight as a poster boy for First Amendment abuse.

His rant went viral on social media spreading his name far and wide as did the response from the paper’s managing editor Terry Headlee who wrote, “Kirby Delauter can certainly decline to comment on any story. But to threaten to sue a reporter for publishing his name is so ridiculously stupid that I'm speechless.”

The Frederick News-Post then published an editorial response to the news, titled "Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter," in which the name "Kirby Delauter" appears 28 more times. 

He even got a scolding from UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh who said, “Uh, council member. In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission. It’s an avant-garde experiment, to be sure, but we've had some success with it.”

It was all too much for Mr. Delauter. He ended up apologizing in a statement to the paper which said, “Of course, as I am an elected official, the Frederick News-Post has the right to use my name in any article related to the running of the county — that comes with the job.
“So yes, my statement to the Frederick News-Post regarding the use of my name was wrong and inappropriate. I'm not afraid to admit when I'm wrong.”

He headlined his press release, “Frederick County Supports Transparent Government.”

At about the same, a Cumberland County (Maine) judge named Jeffrey Moskowitz tried to tell the Portland Press Herald and other media what they could and couldn’t report about a prominent attorney’s domestic violence case which was being held in open court.

Specifically, he said they were forbidden to report any witness testimony or anything said in court by the defendant, attorney Anthony J. Sineni III.

To its credit, the Press Herald ignored the judge; its lawyer said that “there is a 100 percent chance that the order is unlawful.”

Moskowitz, who was blasted by First Amendment experts, returned to the courtroom the next day to admit that he made a mistake. He said: “It’s certainly very clear that this particular order was not lawful and I should not have issued it. That order is now rescinded.”

All’s well that ends well? Not necessarily.

That greatest threat to freedom of expression and the public’s right to know will not come at the hands of extremists such as those in Paris who engaged in a murderous rampage in the name of their religion.

Nor will it come from Third World hackers who came close to dictating what movies Americans can or cannot see, thanks to the actions of a bunch of spineless film executives and theater owners.

The real threat is from grassroots bullies like Councilman Delauter and Judge Moskowitz who think they can run roughshod over our freedoms to suit their own purposes.

Let us be wary of them.

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. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Resolutions and Other Myths

What a year it was, this 2014.

Untold thousands of Americans recorded themselves having ice water dumped on their heads in a charity fund-raising gimmick. It was later learned that the CIA had used the same technique for “enhanced interrogations.”

General Motors recalled every car it has ever manufactured. New jingle: “See the service bay in your Chevrolet.”

Donald Sterling.

The Super Bowl was decided by halftime. Nonetheless, slack-jawed viewers made it the most watched television event in history.

CNN’s Don Lemon asked if a missing Malaysian jet liner might have been sucked into a black hole. Those watching wondered if they had suffered the same fate.

Not to be outdone, Fox News anchor Anna Kooiman suggested that an AsiaAir flight went missing due to foreign pilots being trained under the metric system.

Also missing in 2014: The Democratic Party, whereabouts unknown.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un prohibited his nation's citizens from having the same name as him. He also banned the names James Franco and Seth Rogen.

But enough of all this. We will leave the year-end wrap-ups to others because this column believes in looking forward, not back.

Instead, we will focus on New Year’s resolutions many of which have already been broken in the last four days.

For example, I resolved not to write any more columns on lightweight topics like New Year’s resolutions. So much for that.

According to a Marist poll, more than four in ten Americans expect to make a resolution, and weight loss tops the list of improvements for the New Year. 

That would include your correspondent whose girth is beginning to prevent his arms from reaching the keyboard.

But wait. The poll also revealed more Americans have let their resolutions slide. Of those who made a promise going into 2014, only 59% kept their word, down from 72% the previous year. 

Why? Who knows?  Perhaps we have chosen to imitate our political leaders who talk big and do little.

Weight loss is the top resolution this year cited by 13% of Americans who vow to make a change in 2015. Exercising more follows with 10%. 

We do this because we know in our heart of hearts that skinny people are happier, healthier, wittier, better looking, richer, more athletic and more interesting than the rest of us slobs. Just tune into any commercial to verify this fact.

Perhaps we should consider the Evo Diet.

As part of an experiment for BBC-TV, a group of volunteers set up a tent in a zoo - and ate like the apes for 12 days. A nutritionist devised a "three-day rotating menu of fruit, vegetables, nuts and honey."

The results were impressive: Cholesterol dropped an average of 23 percent. Blood pressure fell from a level of 140/83 to 122/76. An unintended side effect was weight loss: 9.7 pounds.

The bad news is that you have an insatiable desire to live in a tree.

Other weight loss plans include the Edenic diet, based on what Adam and Eve are believed to have consumed in Garden of Eden. It’s either vegetarian or vegan, and based predominantly on fruit.  Lay off the apples, however.

If all else fails, try Breatharian diet, a diet in which no food is consumed, based on the belief that food is not necessary for human subsistence. Or the KE Diet in which an individual uses a feeding tube and eats nothing.

Other resolutions Americans are making according to the Marist poll:

Nine percent want to be a better person while 8% mention improving their health. 
With 7% each, stopping smoking, spending less and saving more money, and eating healthier rounds out the top-tier in the complete list of 2015 New Year’s resolutions.

The top resolutions for 2014 were spending less and saving more, being a better person, and exercising more each with 12%. Weight loss came in fourth with 11% while health improvements, eating healthier, and ceasing smoking each received 8% of those who were likely to make a resolution for 2014.

From this we can extrapolate that in the past year, we have gotten fatter, wealthier but still lacking in good words and deeds.

The last and best words on resolutions comes from Mark Twain:

“Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

“Yesterday, everyone smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath.  Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever.

“We shall also reflect pleasantly how he did the same old thing last year about this time…

“New Year’s is a harmless annual institution of no particular use to anyone save a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.”

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. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

To Err is Hilarious

It is customary at year’s end for this column to salute the hard-working men and women of journalism.

By publishing their mistakes.

This isn’t masochism or self-loathing on our part. Rather, it shows our ability to laugh at ourselves. After all, newsgathering consists of filling a newspaper or broadcast or web site each day starting with a blank slate. Make it interesting, make it lively, make it important. And do it on tight deadlines.

Mistakes get made but in proportion to the number of stories produced each day, the numbers are minuscule. 

With that kind of batting average, an occasional whiff is often more funny than fatal.
In the past, this column has discovered a few corrections that can without hesitation be considered classics.

Some favorites: 

From a Texas newspaper: “Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite.”

Or this from a British tabloid: “Recent articles in this column may have given the impression that Mr. Sven Goran Eriksson was a greedy, useless, incompetent fool. This was a misunderstanding. Mr. Eriksson is in fact a footballing genius. We are happy to make this clear.”

Or this from the New York Times: 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.”

Against that background, we now present the winners of our not-so-coveted 2014 Mia Culpa awards:

“In our July issue we wrongly described Tina Cutler as a journalist. In fact she is a practitioner of vibrational energy medicine.”  --- Marie Claire magazine.

“Christopher Hill never lived in Germany. He was born in Berkeley and raised in Danville. Hill began his art career in 1995 at age 24, not 27, in San Jose, not Graz, Austria.

“Hill prefers the term “art gallery,” rather than “art studio.” His daughter is not an accomplished equestrian, rather she is an avid one.

“The Chamber of Commerce did not name Hill “The Opinionator” and Hill never said, ‘I suppose I am.’

“Hill said his interest in St. Helena is community-wide, not just personal.

“He never said, ‘We offer much more than vineyard scenes. And we’re very informal – no suits or ties.’

“‘The Crushers’ is a St. Helena men’s softball team, which Hill sponsors and manages. ‘The Shockers’ is a Napa Junior Girls softball team, which he also sponsors.”  --- Napa Valley Register

“An earlier version of this column was published in error. That version included what purported to be an interview that Kanye West gave to a Chicago radio station in which he compared his own derrière to that of his wife, Kim Kardashian. Mr. West’s quotes were taken, without attribution, from the satirical website The Daily Currant. There is no radio station WGYN in Chicago; the interview was fictitious, and should not have been included in the column.” --- New York Times

“An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Tennis was arrested for allegedly making “fraudulent purposes.” Clearly that is neither a crime nor a statement that makes any sense. She was arrested for allegedly making fraudulent purchases.” --- Huffington Post

“An earlier version of this article described bald eagles and ospreys incorrectly. They eat fish, and their poop is white; they do not eat berries and excrete purple feces. (Other birds, like American robins, Eurasian starlings and cedar waxwings, do).”  --- New York Times

“The Minotaur is a monster in Greek mythology that is part bull, part human. A travel article in Saturday’s Off Duty section mistakenly called it a one-eyed monster.”  --- Wall Street Journal

“A review in the June 29 Arts & Books section of the book “Big Little Man” said that author Alex Tizon is in his 60s. He is 54. Also, the review described Tizon as an avid consumer of porn, but the book says the viewing was for research. It also described Tizon’s friend’s embarrassment about the size of his endowment, whereas the book states that ‘he liked being average.’”  --- Los Angeles Times.

“We carried a story headlined ‘Boss Swings in to the Golf Inn After Club Snag’ in our issue of Friday, March 20.

“In it, we referred to William Scott’s breach of the peace charge.  We mistakenly said this was in relation to an argument over drugs.

“It was in fact an argument over dogs.  We apologize for this.”  --- Ayrshire Post  (U.K.)

“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

“An agency story about the Vatican recruiting a hawk to protect the Pope’s doves after two were killed by a crow and a seagull was deleted from our website because it was discovered to have been an April fools’ joke.”  The Guardian

“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

“In a leader last month (Of Bongs and Bureaucrats) we said that The Economist first proposed legalizing drugs in 1993. In fact we argued for it in a cover story in 1988. Who says drug use doesn’t damage long-term memory?” --- The Economist

“An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Bugs Bunny’s most notorious enemy is Porky Pig. While the two are known to frequently squabble, often in the public eye, they are in fact good friends.”  --- Harretz (Israel)

“In the caption for a picture showing one of the 10 largest stars found so far (by Earth-dwellers), we erred in saying that it was ‘One of the 10 biggest objects yet to be found in the solar system.’ As a number of readers pointed out, there is only one star in the solar system: the sun.” --- The Guardian.

“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

An earlier version of a tweet in this column misstated the name of its writer. As her Twitter handle correctly noted, she is Jillian C. York, not Chillian J. Yikes!  --- New York Times.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here's Looking at You

Technology is wonderful, no doubt about it.  Where would we be without such life enhancing inventions such as car alarms, leaf blowers, boom boxes, pop-up ads and automated telephone menus that offer nine stupefying options in six languages.

Our ancestors would be amazed.

But now, the would-be Edisons of the world have truly outdone themselves. Using sinister Big Brother robotics, they have produced a scary product that will deny you the freedom of choice at its most elementary level.

Ladies and gentlemen, we present the Luce X2, a vending machine that uses facial recognition technology to deny you access to potato chips or chocolate bars or cigarettes or anything else it may feel is bad for you based on your medical records or dietary habits.

No matter how many dollar bills you feed into it, you won’t get that bag of Fritos or Hershey bar you crave.  No matter how hard you hammer it with your fist, it won’t dislodge that can of Mountain Dew.

It’s man versus machine and the machine knows who you are.  If you don’t behave, it might tell other machines. And you wouldn’t want that, would you?

I’m all for a healthy life style. But if there’s anything worse than jamming a chili cheeseburger down your throat, it’s having to swallow misguided intentions.

The machines, a product of Great Britain, are able to identify and greet a user, remember a person’s preferences and even refuse to vend a certain product based on a shopper’s age, medical record, dietary requirements or purchase history.

A ham and cheese sandwich?  Sorry, Charlie, you get a kale on wheat, hold the mayo, with a side of broccoli florets. 

One potential customer suggested that the machines could come equipped with  prerecorded messages to motivate the user, like: "Don't you think you have had enough" or "Have you seen yourself in the mirror?

Of course, if I really want that ham and cheese on a roll I can ask my buddy, a former Army Airborne Ranger who does triathlons on his days off, to order it for me. Surely he could pass mechanized muster.

Or, given that facial recognition is the key, I can just flash a picture of Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas who holds more than 20 world eating records, including chili cheese fries (8 pounds, 2 ounces in 10 minutes), crab cakes (46 in 10 minutes), hard boiled eggs (65 in 6 minutes, 40 seconds), and oysters (46 dozen in 10 minutes).

Bon appetite.

We have become accustomed to the wacky when it comes to vending machines.
In China, they dispense live crabs. Then again, right here in Los Angeles, you can feed your caviar habit from a machine. The cost: an ounce for a cool $500.  I assume it doesn’t accept quarters.

Asia in fact has raised vending to an art form. There, in addition to the aforementioned crabs, you’ll find lettuce, bananas, mashed potatoes, beer and sake, eggs, rice and something called canned bread at the touch of a button.

The ultimate in vending comes from Miami Beach where it’s possible for people to spend as much as $1 million on a single purchase. Items range from a yacht trip to a penthouse condo to a Bentley to a BMW motorcycle. Hit the button and you get a voucher for your purchase.

Fortunately, there is a civilized anecdote to this creeping nannyism represented by the X2.

Enter the Somabar, which lets anyone create craft cocktails at home in a matter of seconds, according to a Newsweek article. The newest kitchen appliance takes direction from your smartphone through an app, available on iOS and Android, that has hundreds of cocktail recipes on file.

Once a drink is selected, the Somabar extracts the necessary ingredients from six pre-filled ‘pods’ located on either side of the device, pumps the ingredients into a tube for mixing, and infuses bitters just before emptying the concoction into your glass. 

“It’s the way of the future,” bartender Aaron Polsky told Newsweek. “But its application is actually greater in bars, in large scale deployment…I would normally never order a Manhattan at a rock concert, if they had one of these machines though, I might.”

The projected price?  $699.  That’s little enough to have it your way.

I'll have a Martini, hold the rejection.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Girl Talk

When the history of blood-letting between political parties in this country is told, Elizabeth Lauten will be at best a footnote.

Her recent ham-fisted attempt to embarrass President Obama’s children thrust her briefly into the spotlight, where she quickly became the face of mudslinging, Washington, D.C. style. 

And in doing so, she joined the Internet lunatic fringe, the same folks who have  castigated the President for being a Nazi, a Communist, a Muslim, a militant, a murderer. And worse.

To recount: While the rest of us were counting our blessings during the Thanksgiving holiday, Ms. Lauten, an obscure Republican Congressional aide, was busy writing a poison pen missive criticizing President Obama’s daughters for what she perceived as a lack of class and inappropriate dress.

In an act of Christian charity, she grudgingly forgave the girls because, in her view, their parents are lousy role models.

And what triggered this outburst?  Did they show up in cut-offs and flip flops at at state dinner?  Did they play Frisbee in Arlington Cemetery? Did they scrawl their names on the Washington Monument?

Nope. They acted awkward and embarrassed while their father conducted a dog and pony show.

Sasha and Malia Obama, a couple of teenagers aged 13 and 16, were caught on national TV behaving like, well, a couple of teenagers who had that “I’d rather be anyplace but here” look as their father cracked corny jokes while pardoning a turkey.

Which brought this response from Ms. Lauten:

“Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.”

One could reasonably assume Ms. Lauten is an expert on etiquette, adolescent behavior and fashion.

But no. It turns out she is a bully and a hypocrite.

A bully because she attempted to slut-shame the girls by suggesting they dress like a couple of bar flies who are victims of lousy parenting.

A hypocrite because it turns out Ms. Lauten was no teen angel. It turns out she was arrested and charged with shoplifting at the age of 17 in her North Carolina hometown, according the Smoking Gun website. 

Soon after crafting her diatribe and putting it on Facebook, she became a political liability and resigned her job as communications director for Rep. Steve Fincher (R-Tenn.).

 "I quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager," she said.

“After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents, and re-reading my words online I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were.”

Maybe she can sign on with Rush Limbaugh who compared the then 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton to a dog and once called Amy Carter “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country.” 

While the saga of Elizabeth Lauten was unfolding, some pundits speculated her  real sin was criticizing the children of a President.  While that may be an unwritten rule it’s one that’s often violated.

When President Bush's 19-year-old twin daughters were charged with underage alcohol offenses, the media leapt into full coverage mode. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer finally told reporters,  ''I would urge all of you to very carefully think through how much you want to pursue this."

Some presidential progeny demanded the spotlight, and got it.  According to a story in the Washington Post, Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice, chewed gum, smoked in public, carried a snake to parties and ran up debts playing poker and buying clothes.

The president is said to have remarked: “I can be president of the United States — or — I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both!”

So given that writing about presidential families is not as sacrosanct as we may believe, what undid Ms. Lauten?

First, she decided to fire her blunderbuss on a slow news day, guaranteeing her an audience larger than she could ever imagine.

Second, she directed her ire at a couple of kids, triggering a protective, almost paternal, instinct in many.

Third, she engaged in the kind of combative politics that many Americans have grown to loathe. As Chris Cillizza wrote in the Washington Post, “People hate Washington. As a result, they like hate-reading (or hate-watching) anything that affirms for them the essential loathsomeness of the nation's capital.”

Elizabeth Lauten exercised her First Amendment right to free speech. But she learned that the First Amendment doesn’t protect you from looking foolish.

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. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.