Friday, December 15, 2006

In the Spirit of the Season


I had a colleague once upon a time who had a unique approach to the holidays.

She was Jewish, her husband was Protestant, and they had two kids.

But instead of going through the anguish of whose religious preference prevailed, they simply celebrated everything.

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa - you name it, they did it. It was a clever way to solve a knotty problem.

If only all of us would be so creative.

I thought of her recently when I read that the folks up at Sea-Tac Airport in the state of Washington removed all the terminal's Christmas trees in response to a complaint by a rabbi.

The rabbi wanted to install an 8-foot menorah and have a public lighting ceremony and threatened to sue if it wasn't done.

So airport officials, using the meat-cleaver approach to problem solving, decided they didn't have time to "add a fair representation of all cultures," so they took down all the decorations.

I don't quite understand why it would take more time to erect a menorah than it would to take down 15 Christmas trees, but people think differently in the Pacific Northwest. I think it's the dampness.

Eventually, the trees, called "holiday trees" by airport officials in a burst of political correctness, were restored when the rabbi insisted it was not his intent to "hold Christmas hostage."

But there's still no menorah. Stay tuned.

The entire silly episode is an example of the battle to sanitize our culture that is being waged by the armies of political correctness and fueled by a population in which everyone believes he or she is a victim.

Don't get me wrong. I don't believe anyone should shove their beliefs down another person's throat. I also believe we should be sensitive to our cultural differences and learn to celebrate them.

And I don't buy into the goofball theory of Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly who claims that "it's all part of the secular progressive agenda ... to get Christianity and spirituality and Judaism out of the public square." He also says that this larger agenda includes "legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage."

Sorry, Bill, it's not a conspiracy. In fact, it may be worse than that. It's a bunch of well-intentioned people run amok.

Why do we walk on eggshells for fear of offending non-Christians, when, at the same time, surveys show most non-Christians in the U.S. celebrate Christmas in one form or another?

Which underscores the point that, like it or not, Christmas is not the religious holiday it once was. We have Charles Dickens to thank for that.

According to historian Ronald Hutton, the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by Dickens. In "A Christmas Carol," Hutton argues, Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations, the observance of which had dwindled during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Oddly, the Brits themselves are in an uproar about what their Mr. Dickens hath wrought. A recent article in the Daily Mail decried the fact that "only one in 100 Christmas cards sold in Britain contains religious imagery or message.

"One offensive card ... suggested that shepherds only saw the angel appear on the hillside because they were hallucinating after smoking drugs.

"Another card ignores Christmas altogether - wishing the recipient a `Happy December."'

Meanwhile, back in the United States, there are some signs that sanity may be making a return appearance.

Many retailers and corporations are reversing their decisions to avoid use of the term "Christmas" in their advertising and promotions, a really bad decision made last year. Among those who have decided to re-embrace Christmas are Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl's, Sears Holdings Corp. (Sears and K-Mart) and Macy's. Maybe we should boycott them anyway for stupidity.

In the meantime, go ahead and shout it from the rooftops: "Merry Christmas!" It's making a comeback. Celebrate it however you please. Call it what you want. But just enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Talk Is Cheap


YOU could say that there is a mathematical property of statistically independent events bunching together.

Or you can say that bad things happen in threes.

Anyway you slice it, we were subjected this week to yet another member of the acting profession popping off, following the well-worn path recently tread by Mel Gibson and Michael Richards.

This week's winner of the "put-a-sock-in-it" award goes to Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow who reportedly feels dinner talk is far more interesting in her adopted homeland Britain than back in her native country, the good old USA.

"I love the English lifestyle, it's not as capitalistic as America. People don't talk about work and money, they talk about interesting things at dinner," she told NS, the weekend magazine supplement of daily Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias on Saturday.

She later backtracked, verbally waving the American flag while explaining that her remarks were misconstrued because of language differences.

But whatever the explanation, Gwen hasn't exactly been quiet on the issue.

According to published reports, she told London's Guardian in January: "I love the English way, which is not as capitalistic as it is in America. People don't talk about work and money; they talk about interesting things at dinner parties. I like living here, because I don't tap into the bad side of American psychology, which is `I'm not achieving enough, I'm not making enough, I'm not at the top of the pile.' It's just kind of like, `I am."'

And she told Harper's Bazaar she preferred her British friends to her American friends: `They're intelligent, and they're not looking over my shoulder at dinner to see if there's anyone better walking in."

Given the state of British cuisine, they're probably looking at their plates in horror wondering what the hell they've been served.

But onward.

OK, maybe this doesn't match Michael and Mel for sheer dehumanizing bigotry. But there's something nutty about someone who, while living a life of wealth and privilege, spends her professional life hanging with actors, directors and producers, then extrapolating their sometime egomaniacal and/or eccentric behavior onto the entire American populace.

So she doesn't like to talk about capitalism? How does she think she got rich while mouthing words that other people wrote?

Besides, rich people don't have to talk about money. Or work. They talk about things that matter. Like beating the tax code.

Those Brits. The last time I was in a London pub, all I wanted to talk about Arsenal versus Manchester United. All they wanted to talk about was Beowulf.

In the same interview, Gwen says that having pop star Madonna, 48, who married British film director Guy Ritchie six years ago, nearby was another advantage to living in London.

Now, there's someone I'd like to chat with over dinner. By the way, didn't she use to call herself the Material Girl? Sounds capitalistic to me. And wasn't she the one who once said, "When I get down on my knees, it's not to pray"?

I guess it never comes up in dinner conversation.

A Game for the Ages


THERE are days when there's nothing finer than to live in Southern California.

0ne of those days was Saturday in Pasadena.

On a sparkling clear day with the San Gabriel Mountains awash in sunlight, on an afternoon of high definition hues and images, UCLA and USC engaged in a football game for the ages.

UCLA won but that's only part of the story.

If you were lucky enough to be there, you participated in one of the great traditions our area has to offer.

The Bruins and Trojans have been engaged in unique combat for more than 75 years. No other city in the U.S. features two major universities a scant 10 miles apart who compete at a championship level.

The fans, athletes, coaches and alums rub elbows throughout the year, ratcheting up the intensity level. Families, friends and neighbors are united. And divided. Bets are made. Barbs are exchanged.

Thousands have participated, millions have lived and died with the result.

For awhile, I feared it might fade away.

USC had assembled a football juggernaut at the same time UCLA was going through a down period.

Last year, USC won by 47 points, their seventh win in a row. So dominating were the Trojans that it appeared their game with the Bruins had become an afterthought. Indeed, many at USC consider Notre Dame their biggest rival.

Over at UCLA, the basketball team has been the dominate force in that sport for years, which tended to cool the rivalry. Football fans in Westwood had become downright fatalistic about their prospects, tired of being a lightweight in a heavyweight fight even though it wasn't too long ago the Bruins had won eight times in a row.

Would success breed failure? Would dominance doom the rivalry?

Those issues were put to rest Saturday with a UCLA win that restored some of the luster to the Bruin program while knocking the Trojans out of the national championship game.

People laughed, people cried. It was theater on a grand scale, played out on the grand stage of the Rose Bowl.

But more importantly, it gave the rivalry a needed shot in the arm. Revenge will do that.

And it's a good thing. Because this is Americana at its best. And because no matter what side you're on, for one afternoon a year, it brings us all together.

Meanwhile, somewhere on Monday, a USC alum found his office filled with blue and gold balloons. Somewhere, an SC alum had to pick up the dinner tab. Somewhere, an SC backer was forced to wear a UCLA shirt after losing a bet. And somewhere, a UCLA fan is ordering Christmas cards inscribed, "UCLA 13, USC 9. Happy Holidays."

Long live the Bruins. Long live the Trojans. And the games they play.

Put a Sock In It

JUST in time for Christmas, I bring you the results of my highly unscientific, maybe even unreliable, but curiously on-point survey of gift giving in the U.S. and assorted other foreign lands.

And the winner for the most detested present received during the holidays by all races, creeds and colors: socks.

That's right, folks, if you want to alienate your spouse, kids, in-laws and friends, bundle up an arrangement of socks in myriad colors and styles for them to discover underneath the tree.

Socks triumph over underwear, fruit cakes and nose hair trimmers as gifts that say, "Hey, I was in a hurry, and it was cheap."

The feelings that wash over those who receive the gift of socks could last a lifetime.

Other memorable gifts culled from a sampling of people who apparently have been dealing with the ensuing issues for many years:

"The Man Catcher Voodoo Kit: Nothing says `I think you are reaching the point of desperation' more than a gift of voodoo charms meant to attract a mate."

"Hankies. I was nine years old, and very unimpressed. It didn't help that the hankies were printed with festive Santas carrying bulging sacks of presents that were obviously not hankies."

"My father got me the complete works of William Shakespeare. I was 7 at the time. Another Christmas, Dad gave me a diet book, an etiquette book and a book on how to attract men with a card that said `with the hope you'll grow into a proper young lady.' I was 24."

"Our family of two small girls plus mom and dad received a family gift from my mother-in-law. The package was carefully wrapped. ...Who should get to open the gift for all of us? Finally, one of the girls began the ripping and tearing process with all of us cheering and expectant. Boy, surprise, the letdown, how odd and inappropriate, a home electrolysis kit!"

"One walkie-talkie. Ordinarily this might be a cute idea except the gift-giver definitely did not have the other one nor know the whereabouts of it."

But it could be worse. A cursory cruise though the Internet offers oddities like Twinkie-flavored lip gloss and guitar pick earrings, not to mention the pregnant trailer trash doll and a doormat that reads, "nice underwear."

Then there's the disappearing civil liberties mug, which is covered with the complete text of the Bill of Rights. But when you pour in hot liquids, the rights that are infringed by the Patriot Act vanish before your very eyes.

Too liberal for you? Try the talking Ann Coulter action doll. Just press her belly, and listen to Ann spout her own special brand of anti-liberal opinions. You'll hear Ann's own voice attack everyone from swing voters to the Hollywood elite. All in all, Ann mouths 14 different conservative comments.

Tacky? Sure. But what are the holidays without tacky? And while we're on the subject, nobody does tacky like the entertainment industry.

Consider this example from writer John Scalzi who recounts it in a piece called "The 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time," a tales which may or may not be true:

Listeners of radio's Columbia Broadcasting System who tuned in to hear a Christmas Eve rendition of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in 1939 were shocked when they heard what appeared to be a newscast from the North Pole, reporting that Santa's workshop had been overrun in a blitzkrieg by Finnish proxies of the Nazi German government.

The newscast, a hoax created by 20-something wunderkind Orson Wells as a seasonal allegory about the spread of fascism in Europe, was so successful that few listeners stayed to listen until the end, when St. Nick emerged from the smoking ruins of his workshop to deliver a rousing call to action against the authoritarian tide and to urge peace on Earth, good will toward men and expound on the joys of a hot cup of Mercury Theater of Air's sponsor, Campbell's soup.

Instead, tens of thousands of New York City children mobbed the Macy's Department Store on 34th, long presumed to be Santa's New York embassy, and sang Christmas carols in wee, sobbing tones. Only a midnight appearance of New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in full Santa getup quelled the agitated tykes.

Welles, now a hunted man on the Eastern seaboard, decamped for Hollywood shortly thereafter.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

When Race Is a Four-Letter Word


I was in a restaurant the other night with a friend, who happens to be African-American, when a stranger, who was white, came up and said,"Terrible about that Michael Richards thing."

He apparently felt compelled to apologize to every black person he saw for the former "Seinfeld" comic's infamous racist comments that were front page news recently.

It was an odd encounter but I had to give the stranger marks for his sincerely.Which is more than I can say for Richards, and his partner incrime, Mel Gibson.

I can't look into a person's heart to determine the goodness or evil that resides therein. But when actors Richards and Gibson apologized for their unrelated but equally virulent racist tirades, I didn't believe a word of it.

Oh, I believe they're sorry. Sorry they attempted career suicide.

But I have never heard anyone engage in the kind of rants these two mouthed who deep down inside didn't believe that race is a four-letter word.

Kramer blamed a black heckler for his tirade, saying he lost his temper. I've been mad at people who just so happen to be black. I've been mad at Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. I've been mad at Ward Connerly. I've been mad at Harry Bellafonte and Bill Cosby. I've been mad at Koby and Shaq.

But unlike Richards, I've never resorted to using cheap racial slurs or to yearn for the good old days when lynch mobs roamed the American countryside.

Hatred, pain and degradation aren't valid debating techniques. And if that's all you can resort to, you've already lost the battle.

Some of this boorish behavior is attributable to the anything-goes atmosphere at comedy clubs where you get can soar past the boundaries of taste, as long as the audience thinks you're funny. But Richards wasn't funny. In fact, he was scary.

``It's a first time for me to talk to an African American like that - that's a first time for me,'' Richards said earlier this week. But reports have surfaced that Richard also engaged in an anti-Semitic rant this year at a comedy club. That makes him at least a two-time loser and one whose excuses ring shallow.

Gibson was full of tequila when he laid blame for the world's problems at the feet of the Jews. But even that has become a crutch.

Gibson said that he has "battled the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse." He added, "Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot."

But, as Pliny the Elder wrote in AD77, "In vino, veritas", or "Inwine, there is truth". Meaning that Gibson's views weren't formed by Jose Cuervo.

His is what they call a non-apology apology. Bruce McCall, in a 2001 New York Times piece, defined the term as referring to "sufficiently artful double talk" to enable you to "get what you want by seeming to express regret while actually accepting no blame."

Besides, Gibson can be frightening when he's sober. After Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote that Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" would inflame anti-Semitism, Gibson told The New Yorker, "I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick. I want to kill his dog."

It is apparent that while Gibson may suffer from the disease of alcoholism, he suffers from the disease of prejudice as well.

I do not long for world in which we all wear the heavy coat ofpolitical correctness. But I do long for a world where Michael Richards and Mel Gibson and all those like them will look inward and resolve the issues that have left them bitter and hateful.

When they do, it will be a better world.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hard to Digest


In a week devoted to eating, there were a few morsels left overfor a news hungry public to digest.

The first was the unholy alliance between Rupert Murdoch and O.J. Simpson who had teamed up in an attempt to bomb American culture back to theStone Age with ``If I Did It,'' an "imaginary confession" in which Simpson was to have described how he would have killed his ex-wife in a combinationbook/TV interview package.

The project caused such widespread revulsion that even Murdoch, no stranger to bad taste, had to pull the plug on it.

``I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,'' explained Murdoch, whose News Corp. ownsboth Fox Broadcasting and the book's publisher. Of course, a dozen Fox network affiliates said they would not air the two-part sweeps month special, and numerous stores had either declined to sell the book or had promised to donate any profits to charity.

The bottom line is that no self-respecting advertiser would have participated in this travesty. And with no advertising, there are noprofits.

Just in case you thought Murdoch had suddenly grown some moral backbone.

After all, he oversees a network that has brought us such reality offerings as "Playing It Straight," in which a female college student was asked to sort through 14 men, most of them gay, to find the straight one who would be the love of her prime-time life, not to mention "My Big Fat Obnoixous Boss" and "When Animals Attack."

As for Simpson, he'd perform as a trained seal if the money was right. We all know he needs the cash so he can continue the hunt for his wife's killer, a search that appears to take place mostly on golf courses.

And finally, never underestimate the entrepeneurial instincts ofthe our fellow Americans. Even though Simpson's book was pulled off the market, a copy showed up this week for sale on eBay for $4000.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, the Cubs, with much flourish, proudly announced they had signed free-agent outfielder Alfonse Soriano for$136 million over eight years. The team has spent $200 million on player salaries in the last week or so.

The thing to remember here is that the Cubs are owned by theTribune Co., the same folks who own and have been slowly strangling the life out of the Los Angeles Times, threatening to turn a once-proud paper into the Penny Saver.

Apparently, the boys back in Chicago favor runs over reporters and pitching over Pulitzers.

Despite an alarming decline in circulation at the Times, theTribune folks plan to cut back the staff even more, apparently deciding that the answer to an increasingly dissastified readership is to give them even less. Meanwhile, the employees at Times, which has achieved more success in the last five years than the Cubs have in the last 100, must wish they would have spent more time learning to hit a curve ball.

And let's hear it for Michael Richards, the comic who did the impossible this week. In one profanity-laced, racist rant, Richards made Mel Gibson look like Mahatma Gandhi.

Richards, who gaind fame as Kramer on the "Seinfeld" TV series, apparently didn't take kindly to a couple of hecklers during his stand-up routine at the Laugh Factory. He unleashed a tirade directed at the hecklers, whowere black, that was so vitriolic it would have made George Wallace blush.

His career in shambles, he apologized the next day. Next we can expect Richards to enroll in an anger management program, blame alcohol and claim he was molested by a priest.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Hard Times


I spent Wednesday commiserating.

I commiserated with Republican friends distressed by Democratic victories on election night.

I commiserated with friends at the Los Angeles Times whose immediate futures may be bleaker than the Republican Party.

The Republicans lost the battle because of the war. I guess that "shock and awe" strategy works both ways. But two years from now, the issues that shape the election could be completely different. And so could the outcome.

That is not to understate the enormity of what happened Tuesday night. The Republicans have been in charge of the House since 1994 and ruled the Senate for most of that period. And it ended with an alarming suddenness. Good-bye evangelicals. Welcome back Dixie Chicks.

The people have spoken. But the people's political memory is short. After all, the voters spoke just two years ago, sweeping Bush back into the White House.

And truth be told, the Democratic strategy at this point, especially concerning the war, is just as unclear as the President's. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, over at the Times, uncertainty also reigns. All you need to know about the Tribune Co.'s stewardship of the paper is that they chose tofire Dean Baquet, the LA Times editor, during election week, usually the most chaotic and stressful time of the year in the news business. This is tantamount to ejecting the pilot on final approach to LAX.

In the meantime, the Tribune folks, who also canned the publisher last month because he objected to further staff reductions, threaten more cuts at the paper at the same time its circulation is plunging. You don't save the Titanic by slicing another hole in the hull. But that seems to be the Tribune business model.

It takes a lot of people to cover an area the size of Southern California and maintain bureaus throughout the U.S. and the world. It also takes a big commitment and a lot of money. The last two are in short supply these days at the Times.

Perhaps it is inevitable. I worked for more than 30 years at the Times, a golden era when, under the leadership of Otis Chandler, the organization made money by the truckload and spent it just as fast.

That is not reality in this business. At another paper I worked for, we taped pencils back to back so we could continue to use them even as they became stubs, thereby delaying replacement costs.

Tribune executives complained that the Times was slow to realize the economic realities facing the business today. There may be some truth to that, a hangover from the free-spending Chandler days.

Even at the storied New York Times, a dissident investor is escalating a showdown, seeking steps that would lessen the Sulzberger family's control over the newspaper company.

Morgan Stanley Investment Management, which owns 7.6 percent of the company's stock and is unhappy with a long slide in its share price, submitted a proposal aimed at giving other shareholders more say in the company's operation and future.

But money is not the only issue in Los Angeles. When the Tribune bought the Times several years back, the consensus among the troops was that the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes had just bought the Dodgers. We both played ball but at considerably different levels.

There was jealousy in Chicago, home base for the Tribune, especially when the Times won a slew of Pulitzer Prizes.

Now, the Trib has replaced a respected editor and publisher with a couple of guys from Chicago who probably needed a map to find the building.

There is a flicker of hope. Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and prominent investor Ron Burkle have submitted a bid to buy Tribune Co. But if that doesn't work, the Times will become a shadow of its former self.

And that's a shame, even if you think it is edited by a bunch of old lefties who worship Michael Moore and Ed Asner. That's because the Times lifted the level of coverage of other papers in its circulation area. We'll all be the poorer for its decline.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Race That Isn't


IF you live in Pasadena or Burbank, Glendale, Temple City or Monterey Park, you might not discover there's a Congressional election taking place in your neighborhood until you step into the voting booth next Tuesday.

You won't see much in the way of billboards, lawn signs, mailers or bumper stickers. There are no cable TV ads or campaign rallies. There's not a lot of media attention.

Yet Adam Schiff, the Democratic incumbent, is indeed running for re-election. And he's already won.

That's because Schiff is running in a "safe" district, one whose boundary lines have been drawn to protect the interests of the incumbent.

Schiff's 29th Congressional District is heavily Democratic. Much of that is due to demographic changes. In a nutshell, the Republicans have been leaving and the Democrats are moving in.

But thanks to redistricting, the 29th is so solidly Democratic now that Schiff's re-election is all but assured, short of a national-level scandal. Talk about job security.

Fortunately, the people of the 29th seem well served by Schiff, a centrist Democrat who spends a great deal of time pressing the flesh in the district and, when in Washington, avoiding extreme positions.

I know Republicans who are still smarting over FDR but will vote for Schiff.

As you can imagine, this tends to discourage highly visible, well-financed opponents. In this election, Schiff faces Jim Keller, a Libertarian; Lynda Llamas of the Peace and Freedom Party, William Paparian, a former Pasadena mayor who is running as a Green Party candidate, and William Bodell, a Republican.

Hardly the kind of competition that would have Schiff looking for a job in the private sector.

In the meantime, Schiff has raised more than $1 million for this election. Only Paparian with $23,135 has reported raising any money for his run. Bottom line: In the last election, Schiff won 65 percent of the vote. His closest opponent had 30 percent.

It seems odd that a country which embraces competition in business, in education, in sports - because it results in a better product - should ignore this mantra when it comes to choosing political representatives.

One result of that thinking is that in 2004, 85 percent of House incumbents won by landslide majorities of more than 60 percent. Only seven incumbents, out of 399 running, lost their seats.

And while I'm sure than many of these incumbents were re-elected based on their good deeds, a lot were returned because voters had no real choice.

According to Common Cause, advances in information and mapping technology have enabled a level of precision in district drawing that in effect, enables legislators to choose the voters they wish to represent and makes it difficult for voters to hold their representatives accountable. It also ratchets up the cynicism level of many voters.

For the record, this is a bipartisan bloodsport. I only mention Schiff because he is right here in our own backyard.

Republicans have had their own share of shenanigans. In Georgia, in the wake of taking control of state government in 2004, Republicans in 2005 redrew the Democratic gerrymander of 2005. They piously defend the proposed lines as more compact, but their primary motivation is clear: two more Republican House seats in 2006.

The bad news is that attempts at reform have failed.

Voters rejected Proposition 77 in last year's special election. The measure would have put redistricting in the hands of retired judges, who would have had to follow specific guidelines.

Much of the blame for that defeat can be placed at the feet of state legislators who promised a better plan when they campaigned against Prop. 77. Instead, their plan collapsed at the end of the session in a circus of finger pointing.

The state Legislature needs to try again. And if they don't, we need to encourage another try at the initiative level. Perhaps even a plan that confronts the problem from a national perspective.

It's as simple as this: If competition is a cornerstone of our society, it certainly ought to bring us better service from our elected representatives.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Child's Play


CHILDREN have to be tough these days to survive the often ham-fisted efforts of their parents to raise them.

I offer as proof the following evidence.

Down in Orange County, home to Goofy, among others, fears of childhood obesity have led schools to discourage and sometimes even ban birthday cupcakes, according to published reports.

"They can bring carrots," said Laura Ott, assistant to the superintendent of Orange County's Saddleback Valley Unified School District. "A birthday doesn't have to be associated with food."

Meanwhile, officials at schools across the county have banned kids from playing tag, touch football and any other unsupervised chase game during recess for fear they'll get hurt and hold the school liable.

Recess is "a time when accidents can happen," said one principal, who approved the ban.

Many school administrators have also taken aim at dodgeball, saying it is exclusionary and dangerous.

So if I read this right, at a time when teachers and parents have declared a holy war against junk food in the name of combating childhood obesity, we are our telling our kids to take a seat because they might scrape a knee.

Talk about a mixed message.

In a world gone mad, banning birthday cupcakes is low on my list of things to do. Mankind has celebrated life's little milestones with special food since the dawn of time. And while I believe we should steer kids away from a diet of Krispy Kremes, I also favor teaching moderation over culinary fascism.

My hat's off to the Texas Legislature which passed the so-called Safe Cupcake amendment, according to the Los Angeles Times, which guarantees parents' right to deliver unhealthful treats to the classroom - such as sweetheart candies on Valentine's Day and candy corn on Halloween.

Rep. Jim Dunnam sponsored the legislation after a school in his district booted out a father bringing birthday pizzas to his child's class.

"There's a lot of reasons our kids are getting fat," said Dunnam, a Democrat from Waco. "Cupcakes aren't one of them."

Besides, wouldn't a kid burn off the calories in a cupcake during a typical recess? Sure, if he or she was allowed to play.

Right here in Santa Monica, Franklin Elementary school banned tag because, as principal Pat Samarge says, "Little kids were coming in and saying, `I don't like it.' Children weren't feeling good about it."

Well, when I was a kid, I wasn't always "feeling good" about tests, cafeteria food and dancing with girls (a stigma I learned to overcome). I don't recall anyone suggesting we ban those activities to soothe my self-esteem. Dealing with it was part of growing up.

Of course, somebody could get hurt. But how badly hurt can you get by being "it"?

And dodgeball? Apparently, we're told it promotes bullying, victimizing and isolation for those who drop out of the game. Which sounds like a pretty good primer for adulthood to me.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education, which represents more than 18,000 teachers and professors, has consigned dodge ball to its "physical education hall of shame" where it joins musical chairs, red rover, and duck, duck, goose because they require children to chase each other.

Soon, we will be dressing our kids in haz-mat suits and they will spend their recesses playing video games. Oh, yeah, carpel tunnel syndrome. Bad idea.

For me, learning about winning and losing as a kid was a lot easier than experiencing it for the first time as an adult.

Even worse, as Jay Leno said of the tag ban, the last kid who was tagged at a school would be "it" for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Herd Instinct


THEY gather at dusk, when the last traces of sunlight paint the horizon in hues of pink and blue, just before night extinguishes all color.

They can be found under a nearby oak, usually in groups of five or six. They seemingly exchange furtive glances, lest they be disturbed.

Before they are done, they will wreak havoc on the particular piece of land they have chosen to occupy.

Yet, their presence usually draws expressions of affection and awe.

"They" are deer. And "they" are overrunning my neighborhood.

I consider myself an animal lover. Not a vegan, mind you, but a person who enjoys animals in all their infinite varieties. I mean, I can't bring myself to pick a live lobster out of a tank for dinner. And I saw "March of the Penguins" three times.

But let me tell you something, folks, Bambi is getting brazen.

I've lived in the foothills for three decades and never have I seen anything like the herds that nonchalantly parade through our streets and yards. While some folks have neighborhood cats, we have neighborhood bucks.

Some display an air of detached entitlement. A family group in my driveway one evening wouldn't move even after I blinked my lights and honked.

I've gone eyeball-to-eyeball with a deer while retrieving my morning paper more than once. Over at the local golf course, they graze or lay about oblivious to flying golf balls and the anguished cries of the wounded duffer.

Most of my neighbors have long ago given up on growing roses in front of their houses. Roses, it seems, are a favorite hors d'oeuvre.

My wife has bravely fought back by spraying deer repellent on a row of roses in front of our house, but it works only sporadically and seems to repel humans as well as animals.

None of this should come as a great surprise. Deer populations are exploding and our neighborhoods have become vast urban salad bars for an increasingly hungry herd.

As far as I can tell, there have been no measures taken to mitigate the deer population binge, at least in our neck of the woods. Deer reproduce quickly. A doe matures at 2 or 3 years, and then typically gives birth to twins each year for 10 or more years.

According to scientists, deer birth control is a bit of a problem. First, every female deer must be captured for the first dose then given booster shots after that. Any volunteers?

Hunting seems out of the question. The prospect of orange-jacketed, rifle-toting hunters moving through our neighborhoods like Germans through France seems like a really bad idea.

Yet scientists also point out that the deer population expands exponentially, that is the herd does not increase the same amount each year but grows in ever-greater amounts as babies have babies.

And we thought immigration was an issue.

So do we learn to live with it? That presents its own set of problems.

One family member has already hit a deer while driving her car. A spooked doe kicked in a window in front of our house one day.

That's not the worst of it. As recounted in USA Today:

Ron Dudek, 73, of Rancho Santa Fe died of complications from antler wounds inflicted to his face by a male deer that Dudek encountered when he went to pick tomatoes in his backyard garden.

Karen Morris, 56, of Clearlake was hospitalized for 12 days with head injuries after an attack by a buck outside her home. The horns bruised Clifford Morris, 68, when he came to his wife's aid.

In Covelo, Arnold and Jeannine Bloom returned to their pickup after watering a friend's vegetable garden. A small buck ran up to the truck and knocked the man on his back. When Jeannine Bloom swung at the animal with a piece of firewood, it turned to her and ripped a hole in her arm.

Game wardens shot five bucks on the streets of Helena, Mont., after the deer threatened staffers at a day care center and a teenager delivering newspapers.

Welcome to Bambi and the Beast.

A biologist at the National Wildlife Research Center blames most of the trouble on the edginess of male deer during the fall mating season. Great, another thing to think about just before I drift off to sleep.

Bottom line: I'll do a little deer proofing around the house. Because given the choice of living with nature or living without it, I'll take the former.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cable Guys


I had to call my cable television company the other day, an exercise that strikes fear in the hearts of all who attempt it.

That's because a call to the cable guy requires you to negotiate an automated call-in system so complicated it could serve as the entrance exam for Caltech.

I don't want to mention which system it is but it starts with a C, ends with an R and has the letters HARTE in between. And I suspect they are typical.

First, you get a sales pitch. Want high speed Internet access? A telephone system? Super whiz bang digital hi def DVR jumbotron with a picture so sharp you can see Jerry Springer's nose hairs? No waiting. Immediate service is available.

If not, it's on to tier two. There, you are greeted by an apologetic voice that suggests they are very busy and this call might take more time that you thought. Since I had blocked half a day to wade through this bleak and humanless landscape, it was indeed daunting news. But onward.

Next, indicate your native tongue. It was odd that they had delivered five minutes worth of information to someone who may not have understood a word of it before they asked for a language preference. And they asked for it in English.

But I digress. Next, enter your phone number. Then, press 2 for options. That directs you to a menu with five more options. If you're lucky, you go to yet another option menu, this requiring you to verbally describe your problem in two words or less into the phone. Yelling "the damn thing doesn't work" isn't an option.

If you're unlucky, you get a message saying they're too busy and call back later.

At this point, if you haven't hurled the phone across the room in disgust, a live person finally comes on the line. And guess what? Before you can discuss your problem, they try to sell you a movie channel that offers a nonstop diet of bad airline-grade films, interspersed with specials like "The Making of 'Deuce Bigalow, European Giggilo.'" Beyond that, you receive assurances that a repair person will be at your residence sometime on a day that ends in Y between the hours of midnight and 11 p.m.

And these guys want me to buy a phone system from them?

At a time with the big telecom boys such as AT&T and Verizon are getting involved in the cable TV game and satellite dishes are becoming more popular, you would think that companies like Charter would be on their best behavior. Indeed, a recent survey they apparently never saw showed that 85 percent of respondents said that even a single bad experience with a customer service representative would provoke them to consider taking their business elsewhere.

On the other hand, do I want my TV delivered by the folks who bring me a cell phone system that sometime works like two tin cans and a string?

In the meantime, I think all Charter executives should be tied to chairs for an entire day and forced to listen to all their phone options until they beg for mercy. In two words or less.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Future Is Now


Since childhood, I've spent a great deal of time in outer space. I read every science fiction book I could get my hands on at a young age 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.

And now, here it is. Sort of.

It seems Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines fame plans to offer suborbital spaceflights and later orbital spaceflights to the paying public starting as early as 2008 through his Virgin Galactic enterprise.

The craft, with six passengers and two pilots, will make suborbital flights lasting three hours overall, with about seven minutes of weightlessness. If all goes according to plan, passengers will be able to release themselves from their seats and float around the cabin to truly experience weightlessness.

The future is arriving right on schedule.

Of course, there are a few galactic potholes to consider before we buckle up.

For one thing, the tickets will cost a cool $200,000 a pop. While I've been busy filling my change jars and hoarding aluminum cans, at that rate it may take me 100 years to save up enough cash. I could mortgage the house and let the cash ride on a hedge fund, but that has some serious downside such as divorce. Stowing away may be an option.

Then there is the passenger list. Paris Hilton has reportedly signed up, giving new meaning to the term space cadet.

There seems to be some debate over whether William Shatner, who has long pretended to boldly go where no man has gone before, will be along for the ride. One report said he has. Another quotes him saying that he has turned down a free trip into space because "I'm interested in man's march into the unknown but to vomit in space is not my idea of a good time." Why do I get the feeling that Shatner has spent most of his adult life trying to live down "Star Trek"?

The spaceport concept appears to need some fine tuning. Last year, Branson announced that Virgin Galactic would undertake a joint venture with the New Mexico state government to construct Spaceport America, a $225 million facility.

The first rocket launched from the New Mexico site recently wobbled off course at an elevation of 40,000 feet and crashed. The wreckage wasn't found for nearly a week.

Perhaps anticipating this, Virgin Galactic is in negotiations with Lloyd's of London for flight insurance. This will cover risks to people and structures on the ground near the launch site. However, passengers on suborbital flights are expected to travel at their own risk, at least initially.

None of this deters Sir Richard. Even before the first launch, Branson has plans for orbital space tourism and proposes putting a hotel in space.

Not to be outdone, Space Adventures Ltd. an Arlington, Va., based space tourism company best known for sending paying tourists to the International Space Station, has announced a project named Deep Space Expeditions Alpha to send people around the moon. A five-and-a-half day lunar flight could happen in 2008 or 2009 and cost about $100 million per person.

The company also announced that they would begin offering a 90 minute space walk for about $15 million, in addition to the $20 million required for the visit to the ISS. The space walk would be completed in the Russian designed Orlan space suit. The training for the space walk would require an extra month of training on top of the six months already required.

All of this points to one thing about space travel that never seemed to be an issue in early science fiction. Until the Greyhound Bus people launch, travel to space will be the purview of the same folks who watch their sports from luxury boxes, take their vacations on yachts and live behind gates.

At that rate, the first colony on the moon may be a country club.

Delete, Delete


ANY journalist worth his notebook relishes feedback from his readers.

It is the ultimate litmus test, a gauge of how those who exist outside the walls of the newsroom judge his work, be he reporter or editor.

There is nothing like what diplomats call a "frank and open" discussion to stir the pot a bit.

Then there is junk mail.

It's bad enough that my mailbox at home is crammed with this stuff. The Internet now brings you an unprecedented avalanche of trash.

Want to feel popular? Just count the number of spam messages you get every day. After all, there are an estimated 84 billion messages sent worldwide each day, according to research, and a lot of them are bound to hit your inbox.

You are not alone. One report says that Microsoft founder Bill Gates receives 4million e-mails per year, most of it being spam.

My first act when signing on to the computer each day is to blast most of my newly arrived e-mail back into cyberspace.

And that's just the solicitations for sexual aids and potions.

Of course, in this business, you get press invitations to the very finest of events, such as the one soliciting my attendance at an appearance by Marie -Osmond who was to be at a special "meet and greet" opportunity to celebrate the release of Disneyland Rose, the resort's exclusive doll. Delete.

Then there is "phishing," sending an e-mail to a user falsely claiming to be an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft.

One from Pay Pal tells me, "We are currently performing regular maintenance of our security measures. Your account has been randomly selected for this maintenance, and you will now be taken through a series of identity verification pages."

Another, from the Alaska USA Federal Credit Union says, "Our new security system will help you to avoid frequently fraud transactions and to keep your investments in safety. Due to technical update we recommend you to reactivate your account."

Mid America Bank notifies me that my account will be immediately deactivated if I don't provide information such as my user name and password.

I have never had a relationship with any of these businesses.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

A personal favorite is the lottery scam. In one month, I was notified by three different e-mails that I had won a $1million lottery in the Netherlands when my e-mail address matched up with the winning numbers in some sort of worldwide draw. Long odds? You bet your sweet powerball.

Of course, there is no lottery and no prize. Those who initiate a dialogue with the scammers by replying to the lottery scam e-mails will eventually be asked for advanced fees to cover expenses associated with delivery of the supposed "winnings."

Delete. Delete. Delete.

I also receive a lot of stock picks. One touts a stock called Everglory International which this solicitation said was trading at "about" $1.15 a share. The authors suggested $3.50 a share was on the horizon. I checked this week. Everglory was trading at 42 cents.

Another stock recommended to me via spam was soaring along at 6 cents a share last I checked.

Some of these are what are called "pump and dumb" issues. According to Newsweek magazine, a large shareholder hires a promoter to help publicize, or pump, the stock. The promoter hires spammers who blitz the Internet with millions of messages about "the home run stock of the year." If only a small percentage of the recipients bite, the effort may jack up the price whereupon the shareholder dumps his investment and pockets a profit.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

Once you get all that out of the way, you may find a message from a business associate or friend.

At least one executive hit upon a solution to the problem. Jeremy Burton, then a vice president of marketing at Veritas Software, was so tired of wading through e-mails that he enacted a Friday ban on e-mail in his department. Violators would be fined $1, and the first was also forced to wear a scarlet "E" emblazoned on his chest. Months later, the company merged with Symantec, and the ban "didn't survive," says a spokeswoman.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Rough Language


IT was a beautiful fall day, a warm breeze wafting through the trees, a golden sun making its journey across a brilliant blue sky.

It was good to be alive.

So I took a deep breath of fresh air and, like millions of others of my fellow Americans, promptly ducked indoors to watch football on TV.

Before you jump to any conclusions, let me explain something about football. Despite grumblings to the contrary, you don't have to be a slack-jawed dimwit to enjoy the game.

Quite the contrary, football is theater, a four-act morality play on grass. There is good vs. evil, mano-a-mano combat, drama, truth, beauty, love - the whole nine yards.

So why in the middle of this extravaganza would I start thinking about oxymorons?

It was because a player was penalized for "unnecessary roughness."

I played enough organized football in my youth to understand that roughness usually decides the outcome of a game that has been described as controlled violence. There may be speed, skill and strategy involved, but the overriding aim is to put your opponent on his rear end. It's much easier to score that way.

So how can its violent nature be "unnecessary"? Talk about a classic oxymoron.

An oxymoron, a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms, has been used for centuries in literature. Comedian George Carlin made them a pop culture staple with a routine that skewed "military intelligence" and "jumbo shrimp."

My personal favorite is a message I once saw scrawled on a Hollywood wall: "Anarchy rules."

But there are others that deserve a mention: airline food, athletic scholarship, business ethics, civil servant, government efficiency and porn actress come to mind.

Not to mention rap music, tight slacks, boxing ring, brief speech, common courtesy, customer service, free love, preliminary conclusion, fresh frozen and anything that is "new and improved."

Some might add "clever columnist" to that list, but we'll leave it alone for the time being.

Moving along to a completely unrelated topic, I read a story in the New York Post this past week that reflects on the state of politics as it is practiced in the United States in the 21st Century.

It involves Ann Coulter, the conservative (to put it mildly) columnist and hell-raising pundit who wishes death and destruction on all who disagree with her.

According to the Post story, "There's a good reason why the four authors of the upcoming book `I Hate Ann Coulter!' are remaining anonymous - they're afraid for their safety. `None of us want our real names in the hands of gun-toting, abortion clinic-bombing, self-proclaimed `wing nuts,' who follow Coulter,' one of the scribes tells us.

"Coulter , who called 9/11 widows publicity-loving `harpies,' is shown with a devil's tail and horns on the book's cover. It's only the second time in Simon & Schuster's history that an author's identity has been kept secret, the first being, `Go Ask Alice,' a teen drug addict's diary, published in 1971."

Maybe it's a publicity stunt. But why do I get the feeling it isn't?

All Saints Day

I don't know about you, but I sleep better at night knowing the Internal Revenue Service is on guard.

How else would we know about the goings-on over at All Saints Church in Pasadena - a place where, according to IRS watchdogs, an anti-war sermon delivered in 2004 constitutes campaigning for a candidate, an act so profound that it could cost the church its tax-exempt status.

I mean, just look at the kind of stuff the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints, tells his flock.

"We believe in transformation here - the transformation of those who worship together in order for each of us in turn to do our part to transform the world to be more like that dream God has for creation. A world that has not yet been but can and will be if we dedicate our energies to it. A world of healing, love and justice for all, a world of peace among peoples and nations and a world where every human being is fully alive without bigotry, violence, injustice, oppression, terrorism, war or torture."

Shocking? Inflammatory? Revolutionary? Dangerous? Let's get real.

All Saints, the largest Episcopalian church west of the Mississippi, has a reputation for social activism that stretches back more than 65 years. During World War II, its rector spoke out against the internment of Japanese-Americans. The Rev. George Regas, who headed the church for 28 years before retiring in 1995, opposed the war in Vietnam, championed female clergy and supported gays in the church.

So when the topic is war - in this case the war in Iraq - guess on which side of the issue the folks at All Saints are going to land.

But Regas, appearing as a guest pastor, apparently stepped over the line when he delivered a sermon entitled "If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush." Though he did not endorse a candidate, he said Jesus would condemn the Iraq war and Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war.

He also acknowledged in the same sermon that "good people of profound faith will be either for George Bush or John Kerry for reasons deeply rooted in their faith."

Nonetheless, his sermon has caused the IRS to bluster and bully in a way long associated with that particularly agency.

Activism in churches is as old as our nation itself. The Revolutionary War was nurtured in churches. So was the abolitionist cause. So was the civil rights movement. Conservative Protestants and Catholics have been in the forefront of the right to life movement for decades.

At which point do you separate the issues from the individuals? And beyond that, do we really want the IRS playing the role of free speech cop?

Some call the All Saints case selective harassment. But conservative churches as well as liberal ones have been investigated across the country by the IRS over the years.

One church in upstate New York lost its tax-exempt status in 1995 after running a full-page ad in USA Today in 1992 saying that it would be "a sin to vote for Bill Clinton."

But there's no debating that this episode is taking place under the watch of the Bush administration, whose re-election campaign sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives.

If that isn't campaigning for a candidate, what is?

I suspect the 1954 law governing political activities by nonprofits was never intended to muzzle churches. Even if it had, religion in this country increasingly has a bearing on political affiliation, political values, policy attitudes and candidate choice.

To somehow attempt to regulate it is folly.

The doctrine of separation of church and state is not only intended to keep religion out of government but government out of religion as well.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Evening News


SOME years back, Jack Smith, my friend and colleague at the Los Angeles Times, described his bout with a particularly virulent flu bug.

As his temperature climbed and he became delirious, he believed he saw the face of God.
It was kind and round, accented with bushy eyebrows and a thick mustache. It radiated understanding and reassurance.

It wasn't until the fever began to break that Jack realized he was watching Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.

To some, Cronkite was God. To me, it was more like having the news delivered by your favorite grandfather. He was wise and warm, and it was as though we sat on his lap and played with his pocket watch as he spoke. And in the end of his newscasts, the anchor they called “the most trusted man in America” left us with the feeling that maybe, just maybe, truth and justice might triumph.

Cronkite retired in 1981 and, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings notwithstanding, things just haven't been the same in Television Land. Network news ratings, while still healthy, have been in steady decline. Like it or not, television (and newspapers for that matter) are in a death struggle with cable, blogs, Web sites and whatever other technology du jour is popular.

Network news isn't exactly cutting edge. The formats are about the same they were in Cronkite's day. Unfortunately, the personalities aren't.

Over at NBC, we have Brian Williams whose made-for-TV good looks can't cover up a lack of charisma while a sense of foreboding and melancholy permeate his broadcasts.

ABC's situation is the stuff of Shakespearian tragedies. The popular Peter Jennings dies of lung cancer after he reportedly resumes smoking after 9/11. He is replaced with Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas. Woodruff is badly injured in Iraq. Vargas, about to go on maternity leave, abruptly resigns amid declining ratings. Out of these ashes rises Charles Gibson, a proper Princetonian whom the older demographic can relate to.

Which brings us to Katie Couric. CBS has not only elevated Katie to the anchor chair, she spent the last week appearing on almost every network show this side of “Survivor.”
There was Katie with her own prime-time special. There was Katie on “60 Minutes” As one wag remarked, maybe CBS stands for the Couric Broadcasting Network.

Her debut was the most anticipated and covered event since the unveiling of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' baby Suri, which not coincidently was part of Katie's first newscast.
And it worked. Ratings were through the roof. But will it last?

This is not your father's evening news. According to Howard Kurtz, CBS has decided that by the time Katie comes onto their screen, the viewers will know the major stories. Therefore, they intend to work around the edges of the news.
This is either “in depth”' or a happy talk gimmick, depending on your point of view. So far, the presentation seems soft. But then again, that's the brand of soap that CBS is selling.

And speaking of gimmicks, let's hope the “free speech” segment at the end of the broadcast where professional blowhards like Rush Limbaugh can vent will be axed and soon.
And let's also hope critics will stop writing about what Katie is wearing and focus and what she is saying.

To me, Katie Couric has been a kind of journalistic Doris Day: neat, pretty and perky, but can she do MacBeth?

If she doesn't work out, there's always Rosie O'Donnell.
Robert Rector is a former editor with the Pasadena Star-News and Los Angeles Times.

Go Away


THINGS I grow weary of:

John Mark Karr: OK, I know this alleged creep confessed to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey but flunked his DNA test and now faces at best a misdemeanor charge of possessing child pornography. But can we let it go now? It seemed clear from the outset this guy's so-called confession was some sort of sick gesture. That didn't stop the media, especially the cable TV jackals, from force feeding it to us 24/7.

And they're apparently not done yet. Nancy Grace, CNN's so-called legal expert who presides over the underbelly of America with the personality of a bouncer at a biker bar, now promises to 'investigate the next step in the decade-old investigation, and what happens to Karr, who faces child porn charges in California.' And if that isn't enough, Nancy 'investigates the past decade in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, from her death to a former suspect's alleged confession.'
And one more thing: What is it about Colorado DAs that causes them to step on a legal banana peel when faced with high-visibility cases? First, Kobe. Now, Karr.

Dr. Z: It appears that whenever the Chrysler automotive corporation finds itself sinking slowly out of sight, it turns to its chairman to bail out the boat.

First, there was Lee Iacocca, whose 'If you can find a better car, buy it,' led the Detroit automakers in a Buy American crusade.

Iacocca was perfect for the job. A square shooter who made eye-to-eye contact, he could sell ice to Eskimos and was the kind of guy you'd follow into combat.

Now, Chrysler is pinning its hopes on Dieter Zetsche, the respected CEO of DaimlerChrysler, the folks who bring you Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler products.
But instead of the straight-from-the-shoulder approach of Iacocca, Zetsche, or Dr. Z as he is called, has been made into a commercial buffoon, a second-rate comic act who bounces soccer balls off his head and makes house calls to tout German engineering by proclaiming, 'After all, ve invented the automobile.'

Next up: Dr. Z, dressed in lederhosen, piles into a Chrysler minivan with an oompah band and motors off to Oktoberfest.

If this cartoonish campaign isn't lame enough, it is repeated so often on television that I leap for my remote control whenever it comes on. Auf Wiedersehen, Dr. Z.

And speaking of commercials, my hat is off to the makers of Head On, the headache remedy whose ingenuous ad campaign will actually give you a splitting headache.
It's really quite simple. Against the backdrop of a woman who appears to be applying deodorant above her eyebrows, an irritating voice repeats over and over, 'Head On, apply directly to the forehead.'

It makes my eyes water.

But if it does give you a headache, I suggest you take a couple of aspirin.

Dr. Dara Jamieson, director of the Headache Center of New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, told CBS news that 'the only thing distinctive about this product is its commercial. There's nothing in the ingredients that would treat headaches ...'

The NFL in L.A.: It is telling that the first NFL game that USC's Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinert saw in person was the first one he played in with the Arizona Cardinals.

When you don't have a pro franchise in town for more than a decade, that's what happens: a generation that wouldn't know a Saint from a Seahawk.

Isn't the clock about to strike midnight on this deal? Isn't it a slam dunk that pro football will return to the Coliseum within the next two years? Hasn't this dance gone on long enough?
Not necessarily. Joe Scott, a former columnist with the Herald Examiner and Times, an astute observer of the passing parade, writes:

'Both Paul Tagliabue, who retired last month, and Roger Goodell, the new commissioner, have each supported such a return. But putting a team back in Los Angeles, while on Goodell's agenda, is not the owners' immediate concern.

'His daunting assignment from the 32 owners,' the New York Times Judy Battista wrote in a recent analytical story, 'is to resolve complex money issues: a revenue-sharing solution and structure a new collective-bargaining agreement with the player's union.'

'The festering question confronting the Los Angeles and Anaheim groups is this: Does it makes economic sense for NFL owners to spend up to $800 million to build a new stadium given the tension between the haves and the have-nots.'

It appears to be easier to negotiate a nuclear arms agreement with Iran than it is to seal a deal with the NFL.

I, for one, will sit this dance out.

Sinners and Saints

YOU never quite know what stories will touch a nerve and whose nerve will be touched.

I wrote recently about Barry Minkow, the boy wonder carpet cleaning entrepreneur turned felon turned preacher and fraud investigator, who showed up recently on "60Minutes" as the poster boy for reformed criminals.

To make a long column short, I said that for all his remorsefulness and alleged good deeds, the new Barry still didn't quite pass the smell test.

Some readers agreed. Others accused me of anti-Christian bias. And at least one member of the criminal-turned-saint community felt compelled to respond at length.

That would be Sam E. Antar, who, like Barry Minkow, found himself up to his eyebrows in fraud some years back. Here's what he had to say:

"I was the former Chief Financial Officer of Crazy Eddie (a New York area consumer electronics retailer) who helped mastermind one of the largest securities frauds uncovered during the 1980s," Antar writes.

"Like Barry Minkow, my crimes hurt many people economically, many of whom have still not recovered today. I committed my crimes with full knowledge of the harm I was causing others and later only cooperated with the government out of fear of a very long prison sentence.
"I write the above, to give you insight into the heinous character to my early years of life, not to boast about my criminal past but to provide you some insight as to how Barry Minkow has inspired me to turn my life around...

"... After I was finished with the Crazy Eddie criminal and civil cases upon learning about Barry Minkow, I began to emulate him. I decided to help the accounting profession, the government and anti-fraud professionals in efforts to fight white collar crime.

"In the last two years alone, I have taught at over 20 college campuses, professional groups, and government organizations about white collar crime. I have 18 speaking appearances scheduled in the next 9 months alone. All my appearances are without charge or reimbursement for any cost.

"Am I a Boy Scout? Is Barry Minkow a Boy Scout? I cannot speak for Barry Minkow. However, I believe he would share my thoughts. When I am asked about my uncompensated speaking appearances I always warn audiences not to think of me as a Boy Scout. In today's business world we should never assume anyone's good intentions. For anti-fraud professionals the assumption of good intentions is a professional hazard.

"Likewise for reporters like yourself. Your profession requires professional skepticism too. However, why single out Barry Minkow just based on his past? The difference is that Barry Minkow is not being investigated, under inquiry, or under government scrutiny for what he is doing today in putting his life together and setting a positive example for others to follow in turning their lives around...

"Barry Minkow is trying to make amends for a past he cannot erase. He is setting an example for others like myself the turn our lives' around and become positive forces for good in our great country."

I wish both these gentlemen well in their new careers. After all, reformed car thieves advise cops on crime prevention. Ex-burglars give homeowners security advice.

But, in my mind as well as others, they will be forever dogged by their pasts. Minkow cost his investors more than $100 million. Antar not only defrauded the public out of multiple millions, but he also helped investigators send his family members to jail while he walked.

Both thumbed their noses at a country that was built on an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.

What is the rate of recidivism for greed? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I hope Minkow and Antar are walking the straight and narrow. As Oscar Wilde once said, it is "remorse that makes one walk on thorns."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Case Study in Skepticism


IF your mother tells you she loves you, check it out ..."

That was the advice given by an old city editor to young staffers many decades ago, back in the days reporters wore hats in the newsroom and kept a fifth of Old Inspiration in their desk drawers.

It was his way of injecting a healthy dose of skepticism into the work of his young charges.

I was reminded of that the other day while watching a "60 Minutes" piece on Barry Minkow, the businessman turned felon turned preacher who got his start right under my nose in the San Fernando Valley in the 1980s.

When our paths first crossed, I was working on the city desk of the Los Angeles Times Valley edition, and Minkow, a high school kid, was running his own carpet cleaning company, Zzzz Best, out of his parents' garage in Reseda.

It was a good story: Energetic young entrepreneur finds gold in the stain game.

Indeed, the story got even better. Minkow's company grew to include 1,400 employees and had begun to specialize in insurance restoration business. He starred in his own TV commercials, extolling the superiority of Zzzz Best. And we followed it each step of the way.

Life was good for young Barry. He received favorable press, portrayed as a role model. Mayor Tom Bradley declared a Barry Minkow Day. He appeared on Oprah. He lectured in business schools and contributed to Narcotics Anonymous.

He had a Ferrari Testarossa adorned with Zzzz Best personalized license plates and lived in a mansion in Woodland Hills. When he took his company public, it was valued at more than $200 million.

It sounded too good to be true.

Dan Akst, the same reporter who earlier had written glowingly of Minkow, began to hear talk about credit card fraud. Using a dose of skepticism that the old editor would have admired and following the paper trail, Akst wrote an article in May of 1987 that carried the headline "Behind `Whiz Kid' Is a Trail of False Credit-Card Billings."

The next day Zzzz Best stock lost 28 percent of its value. By the time the scam was fully revealed, investors had lost more than $100 million. The following year, Minkow was convicted on 57 counts of fraud and sentenced to 25 years in jail.

In between, we learned that Minkow's real talent was not cleaning carpets but raising capital by any means necessary. According to published accounts, he arranged burglaries in order to collect insurance money. He borrowed $2,000 from his grandmother and then stole her pearls. When he needed cash in 1984, he forged $13,000 worth of money orders from a Reseda liquor store.

He opened a merchant's account at a local bank, which allowed him to accept credit card payments. For the next few years, whenever he needed money, he would add bogus charges to his customers' credit card accounts and receive ready cash from the bank. If a customer complained, Minkow blamed the forgeries on crooked employees, paid up and carried on.

Minkow served just under seven-and-a-half years, most of them at Englewood Federal Prison in Jefferson County, Colorado. During his early prison stay in San Pedro, before his trial, Minkow became a Christian. He earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in Church Ministries from Liberty University, which was founded by Jerry Falwell. In 1996 he earned a Master of Divinity, also from Liberty.

Since 1997, he has served as the senior pastor of San Diego's Community Bible Church. Minkow also is an executive at the Fraud Discovery Institute in San Diego, which he helped found, where he investigates the same kind of crime he perpetuated and works with law enforcement.

Now he tells "60 Minutes" that he spends his time ministering to his parishioners, uncovering white collar crime and repaying his debts. He's written a book called "Cleaning Up," and his agent is negotiating with several production companies to film his life story.

Minkow says that "there's this great phrase in the Bible: `When the man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies be at peace with him."'

Perhaps. But I remain skeptical. Just like the Barry of old, it all sounds just a little too good to be true.

Monday, August 28, 2006

An Electric Moment


It is noble and admirable that electric car enthusiasts, a group usually comprised of idealistic actors with a lot of time of their hands, are rallying to save the city of Pasadena's fleet of zero-emission vehicles.

In case you have missed this unfolding eco-drama, Nissan Motors is trying to retrieve 11 Hyperminis that they leased to the city. Nissan declined to renew the leases after they expired in December and subsequently asked they be returned.

And although the city denies taking an activist role in this spat, officials have done everything short of throwing their bodies in front of tow trucks to prevent their fleet from being returned and ground up like so much shoulder clod. Or recycled, if you prefer.

For their part, Nissan says the vehicles were part of a temporary research program that was extended well beyond its intended lifetime and must be returned.

A company official said that the manufacturer of the cars' batteries would no longer be making them, and Nissan's relocation from Gardena to Nashville, Tenn., would preclude its ability to maintain the cars. "It's not just what you see on the surface: `Bad Nissan, they're just taking these cars back,"' the official said.

Pardon me if this sounds like the same song, different lyrics. General Motors leased more than 800 of its all-electric EV1 cars out of about 1,100 manufactured in the late 1990s with the provision that after the 3-year leases were up, the cars reverted to the company. Despite unfulfilled waiting lists and positive feedback from the lessees, GM stated that it could not sell enough of the cars to make the EV1 profitable. The company then proceeded to trash the entire fleet.

Do we see a pattern here?

In the meantime, the Pasadena cause has been taken up by a group called Plug In America, co-founded by, what else, an actor. They are promising Nissan "positive press" if they let Pasadena keep the Hyperminis.

While I'm not convinced that "positive press" is the kind of incentive to turns heads in a company with global revenues in excess of $80 billion, one can hope that his kind of activism indicates that the day may soon dawn when consumers demand, and get, an alternative to the fossil-fuel burning behemoths of today.

The bad news is that Nissan is considering entering into an alliance with Renault and General Motors, creating a mega-conglomerate that would damn near rule the world. How do you make your voice heard in an operation of that size?

Perhaps that voice will come from the Silicon Valley, where Tesla Motors has revived interest in the electric car with a new, sexy $100,000 roadster.

Sounds expensive. But since hydrogen cars are costing a cool million at this time, maybe it's not a bad deal.

The Tesla is nobody's golf cart. Powered by 900 pounds of lithium-ion batteries and an electric motor, it can go 0-60 in 4 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph and has a range of 250 miles.

Its first 100 cars, due to be delivered in 2007, are already sold to, guess who, actors for the most part.

The company has raised $60 million and identifies backers such as Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, former eBay executive Jeff Skoll and Jim Marver of VantagePoint Venture Partners. PayPal co-founder Elon Musk is Tesla's chairman. The company was founded in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, Tesla's vice president of engineering.

And yes, they hope to build bigger and cheaper cars in the near future. Its sexy project, Musk says, will allow the company to sell a four-door sedan, to be built in the United States, with a price of less than $50,000, by 2008.

Is this the car of the future? Only time will tell. But we can hope that cars like the Tesla, and the actors who own them, will change the way we drive today.

Inhuman Relations


THIS months's winner of the What Were They Thinking Award goes to Northwest Airlines, which offered some helpful suggestions recently to its employees who are being laid off.

Entitled "101 Ways to Save Money," the good folks at Northwest, motivated no doubt by pure paternalistic instincts, advised their soon-to-be-unemployed workers to buy jewelry at pawnshops, auto parts at junkyards and to take shorter showers.

Wait, there's more. The list included asking doctors for prescription drug samples, borrowing a dress "for a big night out" and giving children hand-me-down toys and clothes.

Also suggested: "take a date for a walk along the beach or in the woods," "write letters instead of calling" and "never grocery shop hungry" which seems like odd advice to give the newly poor.

And the capper: "Don't be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash."

Now I understand that most airlines haven't always had warm and fuzzy relations with their employees and that bankruptcy in the industry is as common as lost baggage, but advising your employees to engage in Dumpster diving as a way to make ends meet may establish a new low.

Call it inhuman relations.

To give Northwest its due, the suggestions were prepared for them by an employee-assistance company called NEAS. On its Web site, NEAS describes itself as "people who truly listen, who genuinely care, who are available at all times, and who know how to enhance the lives of employees and support the productivity and profitability of employers."

It sounds more like people who truly and genuinely cooked up some of these ideas over beers after hours.

Nonetheless, the booklet went out with Northwest's stamp on it, forcing the airline to apologize before the ink was dry.

"We do realize that some of the information in there might be a bit insincere and, for that, we do apologize," spokesman Roman Blahoski said.

"There are some tips in there that are very useful and there are some tips that, looking back, were a bit insensitive."

Northwest's senior vice president of ground operations, Crystal Knotek, said in the statement that the company would make sure that "all materials are properly reviewed in the future."

That's the first good idea Northwest has had this month.

Of course, this kind of behavior isn't new in the airline game.

American Airlines several years back set an industry standard for insensitivity when it gave huge bonuses to its top executives shortly after flight attendants, mechanics and pilots had agreed to give back hundreds of millions in salary and benefits to keep the company from bankruptcy.

Chairman and Chief Executive Donald J. Carty would have gotten a $1.6 million bonus, based on his salary of $811,000, presumably for leading his company to the brink of financial ruin.

If that wasn't enough, American kept news of the bonuses a secret from its unions while negotiations over salary and benefit reductions were ongoing.

The resulting outcry forced American to scrap the bonuses.

All of this proves at least one thing: The airline industry is to public relations what Mel Gibson is to inter-faith understanding.

Idiot's Delight


AMERICANS seem to have an unnatural fascination with our collective stupidity.
Jay Leno has made it a staple of the "Tonight Show" by trotting out people who seemingly would have trouble remembering their addresses.
And usually, about once a year, some polling operation will release the results of a survey that shows that more people know Boy George than George Bush.
The latest example is a poll by Zogby International released this week which shows that three-quarters of Americans can correctly identify two of Snow White's seven dwarfs while only a quarter can name two Supreme Court justices.
As if to underscore this blight on our collective consciousness, the two dwarfs most often named were Sleepy and Dopey.
And for those few who could rattle off the names of the current justices, Clarence Thomas was the most mentioned. Which shows you the value of having a lurid sexual harassment episode as part of your confirmation hearing.
Other findings: 57 percent of Americans could identify J.K. Rowling's fictional boy wizard as Harry Potter but only 50 percent could name the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Big deal. One's a prestidigitator, the other's a politician. Both practice slight of hand.
Asked what planet Superman was from, 60 percent named the fictional planet Krypton while only 37 percent knew that Mercury is the planet closet to the sun. On the other hand, besides being the name of Queen's lead singer and a poor-selling Ford product, Mercury doesn't get a lot of ink.
Respondents were far more familiar with the Three Stooges - Larry, Moe, and Curly - than they were with three branches of the U.S. government although that's a loaded question considering the kind of slapstick and pratfalls we see in Washington these days.
Twenty-three percent of those surveyed knew Taylor Hicks was the most recent "American Idol" but less than half that number were able to name the Supreme Court justice confirmed this year, Samuel A. Alito Jr. Personally, I'm willing to bet that Alito has a better voice.
And last but not least, just over 60 percent of the respondents were able to name Bart as Homer's son on the television show, "The Simpsons" compared to 20.5 percent who were able to name one of the ancient Greek poet Homer's epic poems, "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey."
This is not a bad thing. I believe that "The Simpsons" says more about human nature than any philosopher since Plato.

Ultimately, who says Americans are dumb? All we have done over the past few centuries is to knit together a diverse population to create the most powerful nation on Earth, one with a standard of living and educational system unmatched is most of the world.
There is something called the theory of "collective intelligence" that holds a large group of diverse, informed, independent-thinking people will almost always deliver the right answer to a question.
And who cares if we stumble over "who's buried in Grant's tomb?" More often than not, we get it right.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Flying Home

IT was one of those moments when you feel like you're a bug on the windshield of life.
I awoke last Thursday in my Washington, D.C., hotel room to the chilling news that dozens of Islamic militants had been arrested in a plot to blow up commercial airliners and that air traffic had been disrupted on both sides of the Atlantic.
As luck would have it, I was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles that very afternoon.
The images on CNN were not reassuring. Heathrow Airport looked to be populated with people who had just crossed the River Styx, condemned to a wait in line for eternity with no hope of escape. Armed troops patrolled airports in the United States, presumably ready to confiscate hair gel or hand lotion at gunpoint.
There was only one thing to do. Sort out luggage in accordance with new security measures and get to the airport as soon as possible, ready to endure unimaginable indignities as we fought through crowded check-in lines and air-tight security.
We arrived at Dulles Airport more than three hours before flight time and were greeted by a line of traffic as we approached the terminal.
My darkest fears were being realized. But the lines were not travelers nor additional security personnel but hordes of TV reporters who had descended on the airport like flies on a rib roast, their truck dish antennas pointed skyward as if praying for a few good quotes.
Then, as if the whole incident had been a practical joke, we checked our bags and got through security in no more than 15 minutes.
No toothpaste. No problem.
That gave me more than three hours, sitting in a sterile terminal, to contemplate two things: 1) Riding on an airplane with 200 people who may or may not have used deodorant (a banned substance), and 2) the status of commercial airline travel and what the future might hold.
A couple of thoughts right off. These are hard times for the airline industry. Aside from security concerns, high fuel costs have forced them to offer fewer flights packed with more people, certainly not user friendly but an understandable nuisance.
And people can be downright stupid. According to an Associated Press story, airport security people have confiscated a man-sized artificial palm tree and a sausage grinder along with piles of Swiss Army knives at airport checkpoints.
Pennsylvania turns a small profit by disposing of these castoff items, which it accepts from security contractors at 12 airports in five U.S. states, by selling them on eBay.
Most of the contraband merchandise is knives, nail clippers and cuticle scissors that were forbidden as carry-on items following the terror attacks 9/11. But there's also frosting-encrusted wedding cake servers, sex toys and a couple of chain saws.
OK, so there's enough blame to pass around.
But as grateful as we were to get on our flight back to Los Angeles, it was like hopping a westbound freight. Half the television monitors didn't work. There were no headsets available. Despite the fact that passengers had to dump their bottled water before they got on the plane, the servers were so short of beverages they asked for people to share soft drinks and served tap water. My seat reclined on its own.
Minor stuff, sure, but even in hard times, a well-functioning aircraft can make a five-hour flight tolerable.
The airline industry has in recent years encouraged people to purchase food and drink before boarding. That means the carrier saves money on food preparation. But new security measures could put and end to that. While cheeseburgers aren't on the banned list yet, they could be next.
When you think about where people could store explosive material, the possibilities are endless.
And carry-on luggage? That could be a thing of the past as well. All of which will most likely translate to higher prices.
For the near term, it looks like a bumpy ride. In the future, you may have two choices. The new Airbus A380 will carry 550 people in relative comfort. The new Boeing Sonic Cruiser will travel faster than today's jets, cutting travel time by 15 percent to 20 percent but in smaller planes.
And beyond that? Some futurists predict we'll all be piloting our own personal aircraft. Indeed, the Small Aircraft Transportation System, a joint project between NASA and the FAA, is trying to develop a system of more than 5,000 small airports connected by virtual "highways in the sky" for the use of a new generation of small, safe, easy-to-fly, and inexpensive airplanes.
At which time terrorism will be replaced by sky rage.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Prime Time

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is visiting our Fair State this week and
as is common when highly visible Brits come to call, Americans are ga-ga over
the prospect.

Blair is not royalty, no more so than Dick Cheney, for example, although
he has a spiffier title than the vice president. Officially, Blair is the
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,
First Lord of the Treasury, Privy Counsellor, Minister for the Civil Service
and Member of Parliament for the constituency of Sedgefield.

That sounds royal to our American tin ears so Blair is getting the
princely treatment by members of the public and press who find his visit a
refreshing distraction from the numbing carnage in the Middle East.

It as always been a bit of a puzzlement that Britons, usually preceived as
restrained and proper to a fault, nonetheless feast on media that display no
such traits. Indeed, most news outlets in England are loud, brash, and
irreverant, seldom letting the facts get in the way of a turn of phrase.

And true to form, the Brits coverage of Blairs visit to California is
colorful if nothing else.

"Tony Blair is to make a joint appearance in California with Arnie "The
Governator" Schwarzenegger, a menacing hulk with limited English and a
reputation for getting frisky with female colleagues," writes the Financial

The Guardian takes it a step farther, offering this advice to the Prime

"Never, ever go more than a few sentences without saying this word, dude.
Forget all the "Comrades, and I say to you" stuff. Dude is probably the most
totally awesome thing you can say while you're here.

"Like. Like is, like, the valley mantra. If you say the word like, like
every few words, you are totally telling your listeners that you are from,
like, the valley.

"Mexicans. There's a lot of them in the valley, picking fruit...Many of
these Mexicans are from Mexico, some are from other places that, dude,
without being heavy, may as well be Mexico...

"The governor. Don't call him Arnie. That's way too British. In California
he is known as Arnold, or The Arnold. And the addition of a comic Austrian
accent always brings laughs from a sophisticated audience. Mimic his
pronunciation of Kahl-ee-faw-nyah - a surefire vote winner. But remember,
Arnold was once in the movies. This makes him far more important than any

"Culture. California is home to some of your life-forming listening, Tony.
The Doors, the Byrds, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and Albert Hammond,
singer of the bittersweet seventies hit 'It Never Rains in California' (he
wrote it in London). And nobody summed up the cultural finesse of living in
Los Angeles better than honorary Londoner Woody Allen, who in Annie Hall
described it as "a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can
make a make a right turn on a red light".

"Things not to mention: earthquakes, drought, fires, Charles Manson,
George W Bush, Enron, the Lodi terrorist cell, Richard Nixon, the death
penalty, how hot it is in England, Warren Beatty, the prison system,
immigration reform, Ohio, looted antiquities, smog, the price of petrol,
community farming, New York City."

While this kind of stuff may have them rolling in the aisles back in merry
olde England, serving up tired cliches with a side of bad taste is about as
funny as Mel Gibson after a few shots of tequila.

Surfer talk? Valley girls? Charles Manson? Woody Allen? If you're going
to toss around stereotypes, at least try some that didn't fade away 30 years

Racial stereotypes? What a hoot.

Can you imagine this kind of dispatch appearing in a U.S. paper?

"Dear President Bush. Should you visit Great Britain in the near future,
prepare to encounter the following:

"The country is populated by painfully conservative people who are largely
characterized by pale skin and bad teeth.
"Bring your own food. Britons subside on blood pudding and kidney meat,
usually boiled and washed down by warm beer or vast quantities of gin.

"The weather ranges from awful to unbearable. The country's great
literary tradition was born of the fact that there was nothing to do but stay
indoors and write.

"The country's greatest export is expensive automobiles whose beauty and
luxury are only exceeded by their complete unreliability.

"The national past-time, aside from oppressing the Irish, is football.
Not real, man-on-man football like we play, but dull contests played by guys
in short shorts who do nothing for hours on end but feign injury. The sport is a mere excuse
for the real past-time: alcohol fueled riots staged by participants called
hooligans who mame hundreds of fans each season."

Now that we understand each other, welcome to California, Mr. Blair. And
have a bloody good time.

Warming to the Issue

The announcement this past week that British Prime Tony Blair and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have agreed to work together to explore ways of fighting global warming is either:
(A) A bold step in combating global warming:
(B) A slap in the face of the White House;
(C) A symbolic gesture;
(D) A cheap political stunt:
(E) All of the above.
The two agreed to collaborate on research into cleaner-burning fuels and technologies, and look into the possibility of setting up a system whereby polluters in California and Britain could buy and sell the right to emit greenhouse gases.
While "bold" may be too strong a word to attach to this non-binding agreement, it most certainly shows that Schwarzenegger is taking an active role in combating what is increasingly perceived as an issue that could soon reach a crisis stage.
To be truthful, the prime minister and the governor aren't breaking much new ground here. Former President Clinton and big-city mayors from around the globe, including Los Angeles, have joined in an initiative to combat climate change and increase energy efficiency in everything from street lights to building materials.
But the idea of using market forces and market incentives to curb pollution is a step worth taking.
The White House was conspicuous by its absence when the announcement was made and many saw the agreement as a rebuff to President Bush who in the past has dismissed Blair's calls to focus on global warming as a critical international environmental issue.
The governor didn't mince words. ``The message is that we do not wait for the federal government to act. ... We see there is not great leadership by the federal government when it comes to protecting the environment,'' Schwarzenegger said. ``So that is why as a state, we will move forward because we know it is the right thing to do.
Is this a mere symbolic gesture? It could be if California, the 12th-largest source of greenhouse gases in the world last year, doesn't do something to cap greenhouse emissions in the state.
The group Environment California, which said that unless a mandatory and enforceable cap is established, ``promises to do something about global warming are nothing more than a lot of hot air.''
Business leaders don't want strict limits on emissions. The governor has called on California to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2010.
Stay tuned.
And lastly, was this a mere political dog-and-pony show? Schwarzennger's Democratic opponent, State Treasuere Phil Angelides, certainly thought so.
The event was ``classic Arnold Schwarzenegger: a promise to talk about, and perhaps someday do something, on an issue,'' Angelides said. ``The governor's always a showman ... never getting things done.''
Perhaps. It is an election year after all and incumbents have been known to use their offices as a bullypulpit.
But there seems to be genuine momentum behind combating global warming and the Blair/Schwarzenegger agreement hopefully signals a continuing committment to focus on the issue.
So the answer to the quiz?: (E) All of the above.
But no matter how you view it, we can hope that the actions taken this past week will lay the foundation for meaninful action in the near future. And that local government entities and even individuals follow suit and redouble their efforts in helping to avoid what could be a looming environmental disaster.