Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Bumper Crop

It used to be you could gauge the political mood of the country through the highly unscientific but remarkably accurate art of bumper sticker observation.

There were some rules you had to follow, of course.You had to drive through a cross section of Southern California to assure a accurate sample. Observing only in Newport Beach, for example, was a no-no. Ditto Hollywood with all those liberal actors. (Wait a minute, weren't Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenneger Republican actors? But I digress).

You also had to factor in that drivers of pickup trucks and SUVs tend to be more conservative, hybrid drivers more liberal. Did you ever see an peace symbol on a Chevy Silverado or a gun rack in a Prius?

These days, however, there seems to be a dearth of political bumper stickers. Mostly you see something like, "My Child Was Citizen of the Month at the Juvenile Detention Facility" or a war slogan such as "My God Can Beat Up Your God."

That's odd. It may be early but we're already beginning to separate the thoroughbreds from the Clydesdales in the presidential sweepstakes. I doubt if I'll ever see a Joe Biden bumper sticker or one supporting the candidacy of Tom Tancredo.

But we could reasonably expect to see a few Hillary Clinton examples, pro and con. Last year, a sticker that said "Run Hillary Run" was a hot seller in New York. Democrats put it on the rear bumper. Republicans put it on the front bumper.

I haven't seen a Hillary sticker locally so far.They're out there for sale, of course. Don't like her? Than stick a "No Way in Hellary" message on your bumper. Love her? Try "It Always Takes a Clinton to Clean Up After a Bush" on your car.

And Barrack Obama? I've actually seen a couple. That's doesn't represent a mandate but in my survey, he's the front runner among Democrats at this point.

As for the Republicans, I haven't seen so much as a lapel pin. Certainly there must be some people out there who revere Rudy, march for Mitt or are ravenous for Ron (Paul, that is).

But Republicans seem to be keeping to themselves a bit. The Bush administration hasn't quite worked out like they hoped and if you believe some media outlets, the Democratic siege of Washington is a mere formality.

On the other hand, Mrs. Dewey had picked out her White House china pattern before the final returns were in. Stay tuned.

While bumper politicking may seem silly, some slogans have been very effective in boosting a candidate's visibility."Nixon's the One" was a winner. As was John F. Kennedy's "the New Frontier," Franklin Roosevelt’s "A New Deal," Dwight Eisehnower's "I Like Ike" and Ronald Reagan's "Morning Again in America."

Then there was Barry Goldwater's 1964 slogan, "In Your Heart, You Know He's Right" which was twisted by his opponents into "In Your Guts, You Know He's Nuts."

The current crop of candidates haven't embraced a slogan yet. One wag suggested "Barrack to the Future" for Obama, "Hey, you'd run, too, if you were Bill Clinton's wife" for Hillary and "The Stormin' Mormon" for Mitt Romney.

I have a feeling none of them will make the cut.

In the meantime, keep your eyes open. The future of America may be appearing on the back of someone's car soon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Come Fly With Me

Tell someone you're going to LAX, and the reaction is predictable.

Eyes roll, sympathy is expressed along with best wishes for a safe return. It's the same kind of response you'd get if you told friends you were relocating to North Korea.

Let's face it, a trip to one of the busiest airports in the world is no stroll through the park.

Just getting there requires the kind of cunning and grit that comes with traveling freeways where gridlock is the norm.

Negotiating the traffic at the airport requires the skill of a grand prix driver and the patience of a parole officer.

Parking is a breeze provided you arrive between midnight and 5 a.m. Otherwise, it's an Old West shootout, every man for himself, be fast, be merciless, take no prisoners and watch your back.

The ambience ranks somewhat higher than a Greyhound bus terminal but not by much. One critic referred to LAX as a "1950s airport operating in 2007."

There is some good news:

They're updating the international terminal, a development that occured when some airlines reduced flights because it was outdated.

And there are very few weather delays.

Aside from that, the news is mostly bad. The new Zagat survey just released ranks LAX as the third worst airport in the U.S., just behind La Guardia and Miami International.

Zagat based its ratings on the opinions of 7,498 frequent fliers and travel professionals.

And who did the Zagatistas like?

Tampa, Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul were the top three favorites.

Of course, Tampa and Minneapolis handle far less traffic than LAX which tends make to make them attractive by comparison.

I've been to Denver numerous times. It's new and clean. It's also so far out in the sticks it's about a $50 to $60 cab ride to the outskirts of town and looks like a bunch of circus tents strung together.

Then there's the recent Forbes magazine survey which found that no airport in the United States ranks among the top 10 in the world, meaning that LAX has plenty of company in its misery.

(On the other hand, the Forbes survey rated the airport in Kuala Lampur as one of the best "now that they've rid themselves of the rat infestation.")

Meanwhile, the Zagat team also weighed in on the airlines, ranking them on a number of factors ranging from comfort and food to service and website.

Some highlights:

Alaska Airlines, "A refreshing alternative to the majors with a small airline feel with can-do crews who actually seem to enjoy their jobs."

American Airlines, "hit and miss can be excellent (especially in first) or disappointing, drawing gripes about snarly staff, pitiful food and seats the size of Katie Moss' backside."

JetBlue: Despite nightmare delays last winter, fans insist this snappy single class clarrier gets its right even when they don't since they own up to mistakes and work hard to fix them."

Southwest, "hecklers dub it a winged Wal-Mart and knock the open seating but to most its cheerful, comfy and consumer friendly."

United: "Economy Plus is a godsend for extra legroom but regular economy can feel more cramped than a clown car and it takes flak for sour staff, delays, lost bags and a buggy website."

US Airways: "Unhelpful as the DMV, schedule should be published under `fiction' and the Philly hub is the Bermuda triangle of luggage."

Other remarks from Zagat surveyors:

"They think nothing is too good for you and that's what they provide."

"Their planes make Larry King look young."

"When asked what kind of chicken they had, she replied, `the dead kind."

"They lose your luggage between Boston and Buffalo and give you someone in Manila to talk about it."

"First they make you need a drink, then charge you for it."

Of personal interest is the high rating accorded Continental which once lost our luggage, was hours late in departing and caused us to miss a connection, all in one day.

Happy landings.

Making a List

Christmas shopping used to seem so simple. You did two things: You descended with other parents on Toys R Us like flies on a rib roast, elbowing your way down aisle after aisle until either your patience or budget was exhausted.

When my kids got old enough to make lists of the toys they wanted, they would sit in front of the TV set on Saturday morning and jot down the names of every single advertised product they saw.

I did some of my best editing work on those lists.

After the toys were bought, you went to the Broadway or Robinsons or the May Co. and bought your spouse a sweater, a tie or shirt, a piece of jewelry and the deal was done. Neat and clean. After all, Christmas was for the kids.

In an act of absolute simplicity, my friend, the late columnist Jack Smith, once bought his wife an ironing board cover for Christmas because, he said, "it claimed to make ironing almost fun." And what could be a better gift than that?

You can't just buy toys any more. You need to check the country of origin, perform metalurgical tests and check the endless lists of recalled products your friends in the federal government provide for you. Whatever is left over, you buy, whether your kids want it or not.

You can buy stuff on the Internet, a convenience we didn't used to have, but you run the risk of identity theft, privacy invasion and the besmerching of your good name, not to mention your credit rating, if you do.

If your kids are older, or for the adults on your list, a sweater won't make their book of memories any more. It's got to be high tech.

And if you, like me, enjoy feeling lost, out of touch and beyond usefulness, go shopping for the latest in technological gizmos.

The following were actually listed as gift suggestions on the Internet:

"A MegaRAID SAS/SATA offering from LSI addresses any data availability concerns associated with deploying large number of drives in mission-critical environments. It allows system builders to direct-connect up to 16 SATA II and/or SAS drives. Also, by leveraging SAS expander technology, this adapter can support up to 122 physical devices for the most data-intensive environments."

And gift wrap it please.

Nothing says Christmas like a "DTX CableAnalyzer which will significantly reduce your total time to certify. It all starts with a Cat 6 Autotest time that is faster than many other testers - and fiber testing that is faster as well. But that is just the beginning. DTX Series testers also give you Level IV Accuracy, exceptional troubleshooting diagnostics, 900 MHz of testing bandwidth, 12-hour battery life, and nearly instant set-up and reporting."

Any questions? I didn't think so.

Looking for something more simple? Try a PDA. I used to think PDA stood for Personal Digital Assistant. Now I know it means Permament Digit Apparatus. Walk through an airport waiting area some time and try find the person who's not using one.

So have Santa bring an "HP iPAQ hw6945 Mobile Messenger which provides phone, e-mail, and more secure access to business-critical information. At the same time, let your HP iPAQ keep life fun using GPS Navigation, the HP Photosmart Camera, and Microsoft Windows Media Player 10 Mobile to play your digital music and videos. Quad-band GSM technology delivers high quality mobile voice and data services with roaming capabilities across the world.
"A variety of integrated wireless technologies are provided including GPRS/EDGE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth."

Don't know Bluetooth from the Blues Brothers? No problem. Try a video game instead.
Let's see what's available.

"Extreme Sports With the Bernstein Bears," "Custer's Revenge," (in which an almost naked General Custer is guided though a hail of arrows and fields of cacti toward a mostly naked Indian American woman tied to a post)" "Smurf Rescue" (in which one small mistake sends your cute little Smurf to a horrible death) "Super Columbine Massacre" (which is exactly what you think it is), "Communist Mutants From Space." All actual examples.

So maybe not.

Then there is a $24,000 gold and diamond computer mouse available from a Swiss firm, a Diamond MP3 Player for Dogs ($2000) or a 24K Gold and diamond encrusted hearing aid for $42,590.

Maybe a sweater isn't such a bad idea after all.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Alien Concept

IF the Tournament of Roses folks didn't have enough trouble with the Chinese Olympics float becoming a thorn in their side, now comes word that New Mexico's parade entry is causing a bit of a stir.

The good people from the Land of Enchantment plan to launch an entry called "Passport to Our World and Beyond" down Colorado Boulevard which will commemorate the alleged crash of a UFO into the desert near Roswell in July 1947.

The military said it was a weather balloon but those who embrace the double whammy of space aliens and conspiracy theories have made Roswell their Mecca.

Some in New Mexico think that if the state is going to drop $200,000 on a float, there are a lot better things to celebrate than those who claim to have an up close and personal relationship with Jabba the Hutt.

Such as beautiful scenery, a unique cuisine, a thriving arts scene and an ethnically diverse population, for starters.

But those who object to the float have been left on the pad. Plans call for three big-headed green space aliens riding in an open-air UFO. There also will be rockets, planets and a 24-foot conical tower on the 18-foot-wide, 55-foot-long float.

The last time New Mexico had a float in the parade, it was a more traditional concept celebrating the wonders of the state and featuring Gov. Bill Richardson, whose current presidential campaign appears to be an alien concept to most voters.

New Mexico tourism officials said there was a 16 percent spike in requests for information from Southern California residents in the week following their appearance in the 2006 parade.

Imagine the interest they could generate this year, especially if they featured presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, who acknowledged during a recent Democrat candidates debate that he had seen a UFO. Or Jimmy Carter (ditto). Or former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington, who said he was among hundreds who saw a delta-shaped craft with enormous lights silently traverse the sky near Phoenix in 1997.

Maybe these New Mexicans are on to something.

A recent poll by the Associated Press found that 34 percent of people polled believe in unidentified flying objects.

Just to put it in perspective, that's higher than George Bush's approval rating.

And if that's not enough, a CNN/Time poll shows that 80 percent of Americans think the government is hiding knowledge of the existence of extraterrestrial life forms.

Sixty-four percent of the respondents said that aliens have contacted humans, half said they've abducted humans, and 37 percent said they have contacted the U.S. government. Maybe that's why so many politicians have admitted to UFO sightings.

None of this is lost on the Roswell Chamber of Commerce which throws an annual UFO Festival featuring entertainment (this year staring the Alan Parsons Project, War, and Element 115 which bills itself as the only band with an alien drummer), dozens of guest speakers (sample lecture: UFOs and the Death of Marilyn Monroe), balloon rides, activities for the kiddies, etc. They claim to draw 50,000 to their sleepy little town.

Actually, the Rose Parade is no stranger to things extraterrestrial. George Lucas ("Star Wars") was a grand marshal. So was John Glenn and Apollo 12 astronauts Alan L. Bean, Charles Conrad Jr. and Richard F. Gordon Jr. And even William Shatner of "Star Trek." I doubt if it was for his acting prowess.

So welcome, New Mexico. Enjoy your stay in Southern California which many people consider a trip to another planet.

And if you don't think there are aliens among us, go to the Doo Dah Parade while you're here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Worst of Times

JUST in time for Christmas, a group calling itself the Consumers International World Congress has come up with a list of the worst products for 2007 and the companies that make them.

Let me say right off the bat that I'm generally skeptical of organizations that call themselves "international" or suggest that their mandate is so large that they are, in fact, a "congress."

More often than not, they turn out to be a couple of zealots with laptops.

But in this case, the organization in question claims to be made up of 220 member groups from 115 countries whose goal is to "to secure a fair, safe and sustainable future for consumers in a global marketplace increasingly dominated by international corporations."

A noble cause.

It's just too bad they didn't come up with a name for their award, like the Corvairs or the Marlboros to commemorate a truly bad product.

This year's honorees include:

The Mattel company, "the makers of beloved children's toys, much of it covered with lead paint from its many manufacturing plants in China," according to the consumer congress. "The CEO first blamed China, then admitted the problem lay more with company product design flaws," the group said.

Actually, the folks at Mattel apologized to China for damaging its sterling manufacturing reputation. Two weeks later, Mattel announced it was recalling more than 170,000 Mexican-made toy kitchens sold in the United States and Europe because the pieces posed a choking hazard. Que lastima!

Coca-Cola "for unabashedly marketing packaged tap water. While the company rightly points out that the packaging on its popular Dasani brand bottled water doesn't specifically say it's spring water, it doesn't specify it is not, either," the group says.

OK, but guess who else got caught with their hands in the municipal water supply? Pepsi, whose Aquafina brand comes from the faucet, as it turns out. Indeed, about 25 percent of the bottled waters consumed in the U.S. come from municipal water supplies. The Natural Resources Defense Council recently released a study that included this tidbit on bottled water labels: "Spring Water" (with a picture of a lake surrounded by mountains on the label) was actually from an industrial parking lot next to a hazardous waste site.

Kellogg Co. "for selling junk food to kids. ... The company recently told the New York Times that 27 percent of its U.S. advertising budget was spent on targeting kids under 12," the group contends. "But with childhood obesity on the rise, critics charge the company has a responsibility to stop marketing its high sugar, high fat food to kids."

Take your kids for a stroll down the cereal aisle at the local supermarket sometime if you want to see this play out in real time. Of course, the Kelloggs and McDonalds of the world have been targeting kids for decades in their advertising. That's why God invented parents. To say "no." Try it sometime. It's grrreeeaaat! ...

Takeda Pharmaceutical Company "for pitching sleeping pills to kids." The U.S. arm of this $10 billion Japanese company took out a reminder ad ... using school buses, pictures of chalk boards and the like to remind users that "it's back to school season, time to reorder your sleeping pills," the consumer group writes.

Outraged critics screamed foul, but it still took the FDA six months to get the ad off the air.

But truth be told, this is a chicken and egg problem. According to the New York Times, the use of sleeping pills among children and very young adults rose 85 percent between 2000 and 2004 in yet another sign that parents and physicians are increasingly turning to prescription medications to solve childhood health and behavioral problems.

So what's a Big Pharma company to do? Listen to its public, obviously.

These firms are all well deserving of this recognition. But there are so many recalls and consumer alerts these days, it's a wonder we get through the day alive.

Consider these recent recalls:

Susan Bristol Inc., of Boston, Mass., recalled about 1,100 christmas sweaters with feather trim. The marabou feather trim on the sweaters is dangerously flammable.

Homelite Consumer Products, Inc., of Anderson, S.C. recalled about 6,900 chainsaws. These saws can operate while the engine is at the idle setting, posing a risk of serious lacerations to the operator and bystanders.

Life Fitness Division of Brunswick Corporation, of Franklin Park, Ill., recalled its exercise treadmills. The treadmill can unexpectedly accelerate, possibly causing the user to lose control and fall.

Ethan Allen of Danbury, Conn., recalled about 7,000 American impressions and new country rectangular dining tables. These dining room tables can be missing sufficient stability blocks that could result in the table collapsing.

And, of course, Sony's lithium-ion laptop batteries overheated to the point where they actually set laptops ablaze. A few of the flame-ups were caught on tape, including one at a conference in Japan, and quickly showed up on the Internet. The result was a massive recall.

Ain't progress grand?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

There's Something About Mary

I have a friend with a fear of flying.

It's not the takeoffs or landings, the claustrophobic seating, the
turbulence, the lousy movies and even worse food.

The problem is much more basic.

Her name is Mary Smith. Honest. And when she flies, that name sets off
more red flags with the Transportation Security Administration folks than if
she ran through the airport yelling, "Allah Akbar."

I guess that should come as no surprise. According to a new report, the
government's terrorist watch list has swelled to jaw dropping 750,000 names,
growing by more than 200,000 names a year since 2004.

At this rate, it will easier to compile a list of people who are allowed
to fly.

While there are undoubtedly some genuine bad guys on that list, many
common American names have been included under the theory that the next
terrorist attack might be engineered by someone calling himself Joe Jones. Or
Mary Smith.

If 750,000 names seems unwieldly, counterproductive and sometimes
downright silly, you're right. Consider:

U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy was denied permission to board several years ago
because his name popped up on a list.

So was a 4-year-old boy named Edward Allen.

So was Kernan O'Dwyer, who happened to be a pilot for American Airlines.

So was Daniel Brown, a Marine returning from Iraq, who was prevented from
boarding a flight home because his name matched one on the No Fly List. The
rest of his company refused to leave the airport until Brown was allowed to

Is this any way to run a war on terrorism?

About 53,000 people on the list were questioned since 2004, according to a
story in USA Today, which said the Homeland Security Department doesn't keep
records on how many were denied entry or allowed into the country after
questioning. Most were apparently released and allowed to enter, the story
said, quoting a Government Accountabuility Office report.

We can all agree that eternal vigilence, as they say, is the price of

But misguided vigilance is dangerous and ineffective.

The terror watch list clearly needs to be made more accurate. With three
quarter of a million names, the quality of the information comes into

In the meantime, innocent people are being snared. As it stands now,
getting off the list is difficult. The government won't confirm if a person
is on a list or not, and the TSC doesn't take responsibility for names placed
on the list by a law enforcement or intelligence agency.

There is a Homeland Security website where you can fill out a form and
submit notarized copies of birth certificates and other personal documents.

If you are successful, you get a letter from the Transportation Security
Administration saying you have been cleared. But your name remains on the
list. On its Web site, the agency says, "While T.S.A. cannot ensure that
these clearance procedures will relieve all delays, the procedures should
facilitate a more efficient check-in process."

And, of course, the 800 poound gorilla in this room is the paranoia
caused by the fact that the government is keeping secret files of American

Typical is the story told by Walter F. Murphy, professor of jurisprudence
at Princeton and a retired Marine colonel.

He reported that the following exchange took place at Newark where he was
denied a boarding pass "because I [Professor Murphy] was on the Terrorist
Watch list."

The airline employee asked, "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a
lot of people from flying because of that."

"I explained," said Murphy, "that I had not so marched but had, in
September 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the web,
highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the constitution."

To which the airline employee responded, "That'll do it."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Striking a Blow for Consumers

I'M not a violent man by nature.

The Army tried to make me into a trained killer, but I came up woefully short.

I played all kinds of sports but, despite the urging of coaches and teammates, never really wanted to maim anybody.

With the possible exception of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I believe in attempting to resolve all conflicts peacefully.

But sometimes you just have to hammer home a point.

I offer as Exhibit A one Mona Shaw, a 75-year-old resident of Manassas, Va., who took matters into her own hands to get the attention of her cable provider.

It seems that Mona bought into one of those "bundling" packages that cable companies like to arm-twist you about through endless phone calls and mailings. The service combines phone, cable and Internet service.

Her provider was Comcast. Without saying anything more about Comcast's reputation in the cable community, I will merely point out that there's a blog called ComcastMustDie.com that does a lively business on the Web.

Anyway, Mona and her husband scheduled a service call. The company failed to come on the appointed date. When they did show up two days late, they left with the job half-done.

Two days after that they cut off her service.

Mona and her husband decided the best way to get this misunderstanding straightened out was to visit the local cable office. When they arrived, a customer service representative told them the manager would be right with them and asked them to please take a seat.

They did - for two hours. At that point, the customer rep cheerfully announced that the manager had left for the day.

Shaw told the Washington Post, "They thought that just because we're old enough to get Social Security that we lack both brains and backbone."

So after a weekend spent at low boil, Mona, armed with a claw hammer, visited the Comcast office again.

But there was no waiting this time. Mona delivered a few well timed blows to a computer keyboard and monitor and, for good measure, to the telephone.

"After I hit the keyboard," Mona said, "I turned to the blond who had been there previously, the one who told me to wait for the manager, and I said, `Now do I have your attention?"'

In taking decisive action, she lived the fantasy many of us share who exist in an era when customer service is as forgotten a concept as chivalry.

For her outburst, Mona was led away in cuffs. She received a three month suspended sentence for disorderly conduct and a $345 fine.

But she eventually got the service she sought. From Verizon.

And won a place in our hearts.

My friend Doug Hays reminds me that an important anniversary in the history of the Rose Bowl is approaching.

And not many people realize it.

It was on Oct. 25, 1947, that the first football game from the Rose Bowl was telecast, a titanic between the Pasadena City College Bulldogs and the Los Angeles City College Cubs.

Doug knows because he played for PCC in the game. In fact, he looks like he could still run some deft pass patterns and toss a few blocks.

He offers as evidence a program that said that the broadcast, carried on KTLA Channel 5, would take place from the rim of the Rose Bowl on the 50-yard line with action close-ups by means of a telescopic lens.

The cameras would relay the game to the station's transmitter on Mount Wilson where it would be sent to every set within 150 miles.

Calling the game was Bill Welsh, one of those icons of early-day TV who did the news, worked as a sportscaster, covered live events and probably sold tickets and cleaned the rest rooms before he went home at night. He became such a local legend that he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Tournament of Roses Web site will tell you that the first Los Angeles telecast of a college football game was in 1948.

We may be dealing in semantics here. The 1948 broadcast was the first Rose Bowl game, not the first game in the Rose Bowl.

But in any event, both were forgettable.

Doug and his PCC buddies lost 32-6. "At least we were famous for two and a half hours," Hays says. "Channel 5 was the only channel in town, and everyone who had a TV saw us."

As for the 1948 Rose Bowl game telecast, it was Michigan 49, USC 0.

For the record, the first televised college football game occurred during the experimental era of television's broadcasting history, when a game between Fordham University and Waynesburg College was broadcast on Sept. 30, 1939.

One month later, on Oct. 23, 1939, Kansas State's homecoming contest against the University of Nebraska was the second to be broadcast. The following season, on Oct. 5, 1940, what is described as the "first commercially televised game" between the University of Maryland and the University of Pennsylvania was broadcast by Philco.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rain on Our Parade

Pasadena's Tournament of Roses parade has spent most of its 119 years
basking in the warmth of public adoration.

The New Year's Day spectacle has been attended by millions and watched by
hundreds of millions of TV viewers over the years.

It is truly part of the American experience.

This year parade is attracting attention, too. But it doesn't smell like
fresh cut flowers.

The inclusion of a float celebrating the upcoming Olympics to be held in
the People's Republic of China is rapidly becoming a full-blown international

The float, depending on who's talking, is either an important moment for
the parade and China or a blatant propaganda tool for Beijing, validating the
Communist government's human rights abuses.

A spirtual movement called Falun Gong, banned in China, believes the float
has no place in the Rose Parade. Their claims of brutal treatment at the
hands of the Chinese government have the weight of international opinion
behind them. Amnesty International and the U.S. House of Representatives have
protested the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners.

Tournament officials, meanwhile, are standing shoulder to shoulder behind
the float.

All of this turmoil is about to fall in the laps of the Pasadena City
Council which, in addition to its lack of experience negotiating the
quicksand of international politics, also meets in an area whose population
includes the largest population of Chinese outside of Asia.

It's a long way from potholes and planning.

Some of the blame for this mess rests with Tournament officials, who
historically have been late understanding the socio-political winds wafting
around them.

They were late including African-Americans in Tournament activities. The
first female president, Libby Evans Wright, didn't ascend to her position
until 2005, not exactly the dawn of the women's movement. They selected a
relative of Christopher Columbus as grand marshal one year, not realizing
that by doing so, they alienated native Americans and civil rights groups who
view Columbus as no more than a pillager.

And they said they thought the Chinese Olympic entry was apolitical.
Apparently, they were wrong.

On the other hand, this float is not the product of the Chinese
government. While it is sanctioned by the Beijing Olympic Organizing
Committee, the bills are being paid for by wealthy Chinese Americans as well
as Pasadena-based label maker Avery Dennison Corp., which has major business
ties with China.

That puts Tournament officials in the position of chosing between two
opposing factions. That's a no brainer, of course. The parade is big
business, run by businessmen eager to tap into China's booming, multi-billion
dollar economy.

It won't be the first time in history that economic interests have
trumped human rights concerns.

Besides, it's a bit of stretch for anybody in the United States to wag a
moral finger over the issue of human rights. There was that slavery issue,
for example. And the near eradication of Native Americans.

Bottom line is that there's usually something every year in the Rose
Parade that will anger somebody.

Richard Nixon was grand marshal. Twice.

China Airlines, the flag carrier of the Republic of China on Taiwan, has
made appearance in the parade.

Are you Jewish or Muslim? Then you probably don't like to see the
Salvation Army band or Lutheran Layman's float coming down Colorado Blvd.

Disney, a staple of the parade for years, has been accused of human rights
violations regarding the working conditions in factories that produce their

The City of Las Vegas, not exactly synonymous with family values, has had
a float in the parade.

Unfortunately, for our city fathers and the rest of us, a parade can't
just be a parade. The world is too small and tensions run too deep.

So here's what we need to do:

Pass the resolution recommended by the Pasadena Human Rigths Commission.
It would state the need to improve human rights in China and would arrange
for the city to hold more meetings with the dissident groups.

That would portray the city as a sophisticated and sensitive entity
concerned with the rights and concerns of all its residents.

Avery Dennison, the company bankrolling much of the float's cost, has
already made this move with no discernable fallout.

Give the dissidents an area where they can stage a protest. Or better yet,
hold an informational outreach. If they were smart, they would take the
opportunity to educate the public about their concerns.

Maybe, just maybe, we can all learn a few lessons from this.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Sound Track of My Life

I damn near cried when Johnny Carson retired from the "Tonight Show" in 1992.

Not because I thought Carson was the cleverest comedian of all time. In fact, his humor could best be described as cornball, long on the vaudeville, short on the sophistication.

It was because Carson had become part of the fabric of my life. No matter if times were good or bad, Johnny was always there at 11:30 p.m.

I watched while walking a crying baby at night, praying that sleep would come to one or both of us. I watched when putting together the kids' toys on Christmas Eve, cursing that Tab A wouldn't always fit in Slot B.

I watched while waiting for my teens to get back from Saturday night dates.

I watched after birthdays and anniversaries. I watched after funerals.

I thought about this when I realized the Dodgers are already cranking up the publicity machine in advance of the team's 50th anniversary in Los Angeles next spring.

The Dodgers have owned this town since they landed in 1958. Or sure, we have loved our late, lamented Rams, our Lakers, our Trojan football and Bruin basketball. But it was a fleeting romance, a quick kiss in the dark.

It is the Dodgers who brought joy to Mudville.

When I think of a half-century of Dodger baseball, however, there is one constant that remains when all the seasons and players begin to blend together in memory.

That is Vin Scully.

Like Johnny Carson, he has become part of the sound track of my life.

Back in the days before every game was televised, Scully was the Dodgers.

His voice on the radio meant spring was here. When Scully called the Dodgers, it was time to get the lawn furniture out, fix a cool drink and listen to the drama unfold as only a master story teller could describe it.

It is Scully who said, "He (Bob Gibson) pitches as though he's double-parked."

It is Scully who described pitcher Tom Glavine as being "like a tailor; a little off here, a little off there and you're done, take a seat."

It is Scully who called Stan Musial "good enough to take your breath away."

It is Scully who said, "It's a mere moment in a man's life between the All-Star Game and an old timer's game."

It is Scully, who, in an eloquent Irish tenor, can call a baseball game and make it sound like a reading of Emerson or Whitman.

And years ago when I did get to a game at the Coliseum or Dodger Stadium, it was Scully's voice that dominated the scene, broadcast over a thousand portable radios clutched by fans throughout the park. It was as though, even if you saw the action with your own eyes, you needed Scully to validate it before you believed it.

Most important to me, it is Scully was has held my rapt attention as a fan of baseball and a lover of the English language from adolescence to approaching old age.

He says he'll retire soon. And when he does, my interest in Dodger baseball will probably wane. After all, I don't watch the "Tonight Show" much anymore.

As part of their 50th anniversary celebration, the Dodgers plan to enter a float in the Rose Parade. According to their press release, "Dodgers legends past and present will ride on a float through Pasadena in the 119th Rose Parade."

It will be criminal if one of those legends isn't Vin Scully.

The fact is, he should be riding at the front of the parade.

I have nothing against TV chef Emeril Lagasse, the 2008 grand marshal. But Scully will be remembered as the greatest broadcaster ever when Emeril's recipe for manicotti stuffed with eggplant is long forgotten.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Down by the Riverside

The media circus:

Mirthala Salinas is one lucky woman.

Oh, sure, the onetime anchor for Spanish language television station KVEA
has suffered a career setback. Instead of being a rising star on the local
television scene, she is now working in Riverside where she will spend her
days interviewing the grieving families of homicide victims and sucking up
smoke chasing brush fires.

But it could be worse.

Ms. Salinas, you may recall, was caught in flagante delicto reporting on
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, while having a romantic affair with
his honor. She had the audacity one evening to look unblinking into the
camera and announce that Villaraigosa was ending his 20-year marriage.

I'm guessing she and the mayor met for drinks after the broadcast.

For this egrigous violation of journalistic ethics, she was briefly
suspended then reassigned to the station's Riverside bureau.

If it had been me or any other reporter or editor I've known in a 40-year
career, we might have ended up in Riverside as well.

But instead of reporting we would have been pushing a broom, working at
Jiffe Lube or selling door-to-door.

The station she embarassed told the Los Angeles Times with a straight face
that the transfer would provide them with an opportunity to expand its
coverage of the Inland Empire, home to a growing Latino presence.

But I suspect the good people of the Inland Empire, Latino or otherwise,
will spot a fraud when they see it. And Salinas will disappear from the

The visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to New York reminds us
that, historically, the U.N. has served as a pulpit for some of the U.S.'s
most hostile enemies.

Media focus on the U.N. is never greater than when a despot blows into
towm ("The Evil Has Landed" screamed the Daily News). Because, after all,
despots give good quotes.

From Fidel Castro and Nikita Krushshev to Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad,
they have come to denounce our system of government, our presidents, our way
of life.

Why are we such willing hosts? It's not necessarily a case of good
diplomatic manners. Under a 1946 "headquarters agreement," the United States
is obliged to issue visas to world leaders and others on official U.N.

As a result, we have seen Krushchev pounding his fists, and later his
shoe, on his desk to show his displeasure over the proceedings.

We have heard Castro in what can best be described as a diatribe before
the General Assembly call John F. Kennedy a "millionaire, illiterate and
ignorant" while declaring that Richard Nixon"lacked political brains."

We have seen Chavez open his 2005 speech before the General Assembly with
these words, in reference to President Bush: "Yesterday the devil came here.
Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today."

And we have heard Ahmadinejad speak of "certain powers," "arrogant powers"
and world leaders who "sacrifice all good things ... for (their) own greed."

But if we attempted to bar leaders with whom we disagreed, it not only
would reflect badly on our cherished concept of free speech, it probably
wouldn't work.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan decided to bar Palestinian Liberation
Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat from New York, even though he had been
invited by the United Nations to speak before the General Assembly.

When Reagan refused to reverse that decision, the entire General Assembly
flew to Geneva to hear the Palestinian leader speak.

Meanwile, amid the serenity of Santa Barbara, harsh words are flying in a
different kind of venue.

There, the National Labor Relations Board alleges in a 15-count, unfair
labor practices complaint that the paper fired eight workers at the Santa
Barbara News Press who had no prior history of disciplinary action only after
they began to fight for union representation.

News Press owner and co-publisher Wendy McCaw testified earlier this week
that concerns about biased reporting and disloyalty, not union activity in
the newsroom, led to the firing of eight reporters earlier this year.

McCaw's attorney produced several e-mails and handwritten notes sent by
McCaw beginning in 2003 complaining about bias in stories, including an item
about a plan by the Hope Ranch Association to kill coyotes on the property.

"It was anti-coyote," McCaw said in explaining why she thought the story
was biased. "It was very negative toward those poor animals who are on the
verge of being annihilated."

Unforunately, coyotes are hard to interview for their side of the story.
And, according to DesertUSA, a website guide to the American Southwest, they
are anthing but endangered.

"The animals have a good sense of smell, vision and hearing which, coupled
with evasiveness, enables them to survive both in the wild and occasionally
in the suburban areas of large cities.

"...Efforts to control or exterminate the coyote by predator control
agents seem to have produced an animal that is extremely alert and wary and
well able to maintain itself."

Your witness.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Vast Wasteland

Picture this: Sam is a slacker at a big box store forced to work for the
devil, retrieving the evil dead who have escaped from hell.

Why? It turns out Sam's parents sold his soul to said Devil before he was
born. We're not sure why. Maybe they didn't have health insurance.

But, hey, get over it Sam. It's more exciting than selling kitchen sinks
to do-it-yourselfers.

That is the storyline for a new show called "Reaper" and if that sounds
like your idea of entertainment, then pull up a chair. The new TV season is
about to be unleashed on a helpless public.

In one episode of "Reaper," Sam wakes up to find that everything he
touches gives him a shock, so he consults Satan, who tells him that this is
related to his next target - an escaped soul from hell who sucks energy from
power lines to regain strength. In order to capture the escapee Sam must use
his new vessel, a remote control monster truck, given to him by Satan

Sounds like must-see TV. If you're 12-years-old.

Other mind-expanding offerings this season.

"Miss Match" about a divorce attorney who discovers she has a nack for
matchmaking, thereby assuring herself of a steady stream of clients.

"Coupling" that centers on the complicated love lives of six singles. Are
there any singles left with simple love lives?

"The Ortegas, " a half sitcom, half talk show series features Cheech Marin
as a father whose son builds a television studio in the back yard. See it
quick, it has "canceled" written all over it.

"Online Nation" which scours websites, blogs and user-generated materials
on the Internet to find the best and sometimes bizarre offerings. Isn't this
just America's Funiest Home Videos disguised as something high tech?

"Bionic Woman," a feminist era icon who returns to kick butt in an era of
sexual equality.

"Big Shots" described by one critic as "four junior tycoons who create and
share problems - and get in a little golf."

"Moonlight" in which a good vampire falls in love with a mere mortal.

"Caveman," a sitcom about the Neandrathals next door, their lives and
loves. Based on an auto insurance commercial.

"Pushing Daisies" about a guy who can bring back the dead with a touch.

"Cashmere Mafia," the heart warming tale of four businesswomen who,
according to the network press release, "consistently outpace their male
colleagues and husbands in salary and title but have to watch out for
scheming bitches eager to bring them down."

And TV wonders why its ratings are declining.

Here is the best take on the state of television I've run accross:

"I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your
station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper,
profit and loss sheet or rating book to distract you -- and keep your eyes
glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will
observe a vast wasteland.

"You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation
shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and
thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men,
private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And, endlessly,
commercials -- many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all,
boredom. True, you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be
very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it."

Those words were spoken by Newton Minnow, FCC chairman, in 1961. That's
right, folks, 46 years ago. And that was before the Jerry Springer Show was
invented. That was before "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?"

Despite the introduction of cable TV, DVDs, CDs and Internet broacasts, the only change is
that we have a greater variety of mediocrity from which to choose.

And if you think there was some sort of golden age of television, consider these classic

"Rango," a 1967 sitcome starring Tim Conway as an inept Texas Ranger who had been assigned
to the quietest post the Rangers had, Deep Wells, so as to
keep him from creating unnecessary trouble. He had an Indian sidekick called
Pink Cloud.

How about "Woops!" a 1992 Fox network sitcom about the six survivors of a
world nuclear holocaust. The six of them live together in an abandoned farm
house while trying to survive and re-establish civilization. One critic
referred to Woops! as a "post apocalypse Gilligan's Island."

"Pink Lady and Jeff" aired in 1980. Pink Lady was a Japanese female
singing duo composed of Keiko Masuda ("Kei") and Mitsuyo Nemoto ("Mie"), and
"Jeff" was comedian Jeff Altman. The format of the show consisted of musical
numbers alternating with sketch comedy. Sample joke: Jeff: "You girls are the
biggest thing in Japan!" Pink Lady: "No, Jeff, the biggest thing in Japan is
Godzilla." If that didn't give you a hint, it is considered one of the worst TV shows ever.

"Homeboys in Outer Space" was a UPN sitcom that aired from 1996 to 1997.
The plot centered around an odd couple-type pairing who flew around the
universe in a winged car, piloted by a talking computer named Loquatia. The
show was a parody of science fiction shows such as Star Trek. It starred Flex
Alexander and Darryl Bell. The show was the target of a flurry of protests
from the NAACP and other civil-rights organizations for its use of

"Cop Rock" was a short-lived Steven Bochco television series on the
American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in 1990. It was an attempt to combine the
police drama (a format in which Bochco had been very successful earlier with
"Hill Street Blues") with musical theater. For example, one scene in a
courtroom had the jury break into song, proclaiming the verdict "He's Guilty"
in Gospel style.

And a personal favorite: "My Mother the Car," which followed the exploits
of attorney David Crabtree (played by Jerry Van Dyke), who, while shopping at
a used car lot for a station wagon to serve as a second family car, instead
purchases a dilapidated 1928 Porter touring car. Crabtree heard the car call
his name in a woman's voice which turned out to be that of his deceased
mother, Abigail (voiced by Ann Sothern).

Pass me the remote.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lucky Dogs

For all our scheming and scheduling, life remains true to its origins:
it's a game of random chance.

Take, for instance, Bunky Bartlett, who works part time at Mystickal
Voyage, a New Age gift shop in White Marsh, Md., and makes his living
advising small businesses.

He just beat 1 in 176 million odds to win a piece of the powerball
lottery, pocketing about $49 million.

Bunky is a follower of Wicca, a belief that traces its origins to
witchcraft but whose modern followers worship nature.

Bunky said favor with pagan gods resulted in his win.

And while Bunky is a lucky guy, or blessed if you believe in Pagan Power,
he finishes second in the most fortunate catagory.

The winner is Leona Helmsley's dog, Trouble.

Leona, a billionaire hotel operator and real estate investor, died
recently, thereby depryving her fellow New Yorkers of someone to hate.

Dubbed the "Queen of Mean," she had a reputation for tyrannical behavior
that was underscored when she told a housekeeper that "We don't pay taxes.
Only the little people pay taxes."

True to her philosophy, she was convicted of federal income tax evasion
and other crimes in 1989 and served 19 months in prison.

When it came time to read Leona's will, it became clear that she intended
to maintain her crusty reputation from beyond the grave. Her chauffeur got
$100,000, two of her grandchildren got zip.

But she left $12 million to Trouble.

Talk about wags to riches.

Trouble could have been your neighbor's pet or, perish the thought,
wasting away in a pound somewhere.

Instead, she ended up in Leona's lap. Talk about lucky dogs.

Leona has made sure that Trouble will continue to live in the style to
which she is accustomed.

According to Helmsley's former housekeeper, Zamfira Sfara, Trouble was
dressed in pricey outfits and sported a diamond collar. The dog's
chef-prepared meals - steamed vegetables and steamed or grilled chicken and
fish - arrived in porcelain bowls on a silver tray.

"The chef would have to leave all the [hotel] customers to make Trouble's
food," Sfara told the New York Daily News. "After it was mixed, I would have
to get down on my knees and feed the dog with my two fingers."

Trouble, apparently, didn't always appreciate the hired help.

"Everybody was bitten: bodyguards, the head of security, even customers
got bitten," said Sfara, who sued Helmsley in 2005 after, she said, Trouble
bit her.

"You'd never know when she would bite you," she said. "One time when she
bit me, she was chewing on my fingers, and Leona said, 'Good for you,
Trouble, she deserved it.' "

Life can be hard on easy street.

While Trouble will spend the rest of her dog years in luxury, she won't be
the only pet enjoying creature comforts.

After being abandoned at a British dog pound, Jasper, a doberman-labrador
mix, caught the attention of heiress Diana Myburgh. She died shortly
afterwards, and left Jasper a fortune.

Jasper lives on an estate, travels in a chauffered stretch limo and eats
only sirloin steak, fresh mussels, and Dover sole. He also sports a collar
made of diamonds.

Gunther IV is a German Shepherd, which made headlines after he and his
sire, Gunther III, were allegedly left $124 million upon the death of their
owner, Countess Karlotta Liebenstein in 1992. Gunther IV is now reputed to
be worth a whopping $372 million. However, some suspect that Gunther is a

Kalu the chimp got $109 million after owner Patricia removed her husband
Frank O'Neill's name from her will. If that wasn't enough to anger her
husband, he said he started to hate Kalu when he caught her smoking his
cigarettes and drinking his liquor.

A 52-year-old tortoise named Big Tibby was left with $100,000 after his
millionaire owner died. An African parrot called Csoki also inherited
$100,000 from his owner.

The best explanation I've seen for all this largesse is from a guy named
Russ Alan Prince, who tracks the habits of the rich.

"For some wealthy people, the only true love they get is from their pets,"
Prince says. "They're estranged from their children, they are at war with
their business partners, but their pets are always there for them."

It pays to be man's best friend.

Monday, August 27, 2007

When News is a Crime

I promised myself some time ago that I would stop wallowing in the
journalistic mud known as the celebrity beat.

No more wasted words about the boozy escapades of what passes for talent
these days.
Au revoir, Paris. Bye, Brittany. Later, Lindsay.


It seems the California legislature is poised to prohibit me, and any
other journalist, from digging up dirt on stars gone wild.

A bill currently in play in Sacramento would make it a crime for law
enforcement of court employees to profit by releasing confidential
information gathered in criminal investigations or unauthorized photographs
of people in custody.

There's nothing like an assault on the First Amendment to make me want to
sign up for a job on the Hollywood desk.

The legislation is the brainchild of Sheriff Lee Baca who said it was
needed to preserve the integrity of the justice system at a time that a photo
of Paris Hilton in jail could fetch $500,000.

"It's like putting a bounty on her," Baca told the Los Angeles Times.

Sorry, Lee. It's more like the Mel Gibson Protection Act.

You remember, Mel. He was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving last
July and used the occasion to launch into an anti-Semitic tirade.

We know that because details of Gibson's behavior contained in the arrest
record were leaked to an entertainment blog TMZ.com, apparently by a deputy,
making Mel's conduct front page news for days.

The same TMZ also showed a video of a rapper known as The Game in jail
after he was arrested for allegedly making criminal threats. The video was
shot by an officer using a cell phone and showed the entertainer waving a wad
of money.

Then there were allegations made by deputies that Paris Hilton received
special treatment during her time in jail, including hand delivered mail and
access to a free cell phone while prisoners had to wait in line to use a pay

It's enough to make a sheriff spring into action.

But as the legislation is written, most of this stuff would still have
made it into the public domain.

That's because the bill would make it a misdemeanor for those entrusted
with information to received financial gain in exhange for confidential
information obtained in a criminal investigation or to solicit or offer
financial compensation for such information.

No one involved in the Gibson, Hilton or The Game incidents have been
found to have asked for or received any compensation financial or otherwise
for the information they provided.

Until someone does accept "financial gain," whether that's cash or a cup
of coffee, all this bill does is attempt to regulate news gathering and keep
the public in the dark. And to save Baca further embarassment.

I'm no advocate of checkbook journalism. If you pay for gossip, you're
going to get more gossip in exchange for more paydays, the facts be damned.
It's the law of the marketplace.

Besides, most people talk for free. Nobody got paid a nickel when
Watergate was being reported.

Finally, the bill would not prohibit a newspaper or blog from publishing
information obtained improperly. And it would not quash acts protected by
state whistle-blower laws, according to its author, Julia Brownley (D-Santa

So assuming Baca has the power to discipline any of his deputies he finds
selling information out the back door, what exactly does this bill

Nothing more than delivering a blow to press freedoms.

Want Fries With That Lawsuit?

Are you a young lawyer looking for your big break?
Do you want to be in on the action, where the lawsuits fly like so many
migrating birds?
Do you want to make big bucks suing a deep-pockets corporation, or maybe
make a hefty salary defending big business against get-rich-quick schemes?

Then go to work at McDonalds. Or go to work suing them. Either way,
there will be more business than a drive-through window at lunchtime.

I came to this realization recently when I read that that a young woman in
the Minneapolis/St. Paul area is suing McDonald's after buying a cup of
coffee with cream and sugar at a drive-thru.

After taking a sip, according to her lawsuit, she realized that something
was wrong: The cream was lumpy and rancid.

A couple of minutes later, she asserts she became violently ill. He
reaction was so extreme, her suit contends, that she wound up spending five
days in the hospital with severe bowel problems requiring surgery.

Together with her husband, who claims he's been deprived of her "society,
companionship, and consortium," she is suing for at least $100,000 in

The owner of the McDonald's in question denies anything was wrong with the
cream. He sees another explanation for the lawsuit, saying, "I have no clue
what this lady is after besides money."

Want fries with that litigation?

Look, I'm not stepping to the plate to defend McDonald's. As a
corporation, they have profited at the expense of people's health. Their
shameless pandering to children through advertising seems to follow the old
adage that "if you hook 'em young, you hook them for life" made popular by
the tobacco industry.

On the other hand, some of the suits targeting McDonald's appear to be
filed by people with quarter-pounders for brains.

Some examples:

- A man who bought lunch at a drive-thru window continued to drive after
wedging his chocolate milk shake between his legs and placing his burger and
fries on the seat next to him. When he leaned over to reach for his fries he
inadvertently squeezed his legs together, causing the cold shake to leap out
of its cup and onto his lap. Stunned, he then plowed his car into the vehicle
in front of him. The motorist who was on the receiving end of this mishap
sued the driver as well as McDonald's. The plaintiff's attorney argued that
the fast-food franchise neglected to warn customers of the dangers of eating
and driving.

- A woman claimed she suffered a second degree burn on her chin after a
scalding hot pickle fell from one of several small hamburgers which she and
her husband bought from a McDonald's restaurant in Knoxville, Tenn. Her
husband also sued for $15,000, saying that he had been deprived of the
services and companionship of his wife. The lawsuit contended that the pickle
was defective and unreasonably dangerous to the customer.

- Another couple alleging that a McBurrito was so oversaturated with black
pepper that it caused the husband to have two months of daily nosebleeds, an
infection in his mouth and possible damage to his vocal chords.

- Then there is the guy who claimed he was allergic to cheese. So he
goes to McDonald's and orders two Quarter Pounders without cheese. He gets
his food, goes home and, get this, sits in a dark room, does not check for
the absence of cheese, takes a bite, and "almost dies" because there is, in
fact, cheese. He's seeking $10 million.

- A parent, after letting his daughter eat an Egg McMuffin for breakfast
and a Big Mac meal for dinner, claimed, "I always believed McDonald's was
healthy for my children." The girl, 19, is 5-feet-6 and weighs 270 pounds.

This last suit mirrored an avalanche of litigation suits claiming
McDonald's caused obesity including a suit filed by three New York City
teenagers who claim the fast food chain's food caused them to gain as much as
200 pounds and develop serious health problems including heart disease and

One could reasonably ask, how soon was it they began to notice the extra

Perhaps the most famous McDonald's suit was filed by the 79-year-old woman
who spilled hot coffee on her lap, suffering third degree burns. And while
many point to this case as the poster child for our litigious society, the
fact is McDonald's was on the wrong end of it. They were found to be serving
coffee 30 to 50 degrees hotter than other restaurants and that the Shriner
Burn Institute had previously warned them not to serve coffee that hot. It
was also revealed that there had been 700 previous cases involving scalding
coffee at McDonald's. The victim was awarded $500,000 but settled out of
court for less.

So what does this all mean?

It means that the United States has become the most litigious nation in
the world, a place where people increasingly take little or no responsibility
for their own actions and lawyers troll for "victims."

It means the the notion of caveat emptor has been replaced by one of
"what's in it for me."

And it means that if you flip burgers to the tune of $3 billion in
profits, you can expect to have a legal bullseye on your back. It gives new
meaning to Big Mac attack.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Does Not Compute

About 10 years ago in Issaquah, Wash., a man was coaxed out of his home by
a police SWAT team after he pulled a gun and shot his personal computer.

The computer, in a home office on the second floor of a townhouse, had
four bullet holes in the hard drive and one in the monitor.

Police evacuated the complex, contacted the 43-year old man by telephone
and got him to come out. He was taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation.

I'm betting that not only was he found to be perfectly sane, but that if
he went to trial, he was judged to be not guilty.

Who among us would have convicted him?

I mention this because my home computer went ballistic recently, behaving
like some petulant child who refuses to do as he is told.

After frank and open discussions with service representatives from
Microsoft, American Online, Charter Communications and Hewlett Packard, all
of whom apparently have a hand in the seamless operation of my computer, the
damn thing still wouldn't work. Had I been armed, I might have joined my
comrade in arms in Issaquah.

But I took a less violent route. I called a computer repair person. Some
40 hours and $500 later, my machine works again. Sort of. It functions but
not quite the same as it did before, sort of like talking to someone who has
recently had a lobotomy. Or like Hal, post "2001: A Space Odyssey."

More disturbing was the fact that the repairman said he found 49 viruses
in my computer. He explained that many of these viruses are generated by
repair people themselves as a way to keep business booming.

Just another reason to love your computer.

It could have been worse. I could have been the guy sitting at the screen
when more than 20,000 international passengers were stranded for hours at Los
Angeles International Airport over the weekend.

It seems a malfunctioning computer system prevented U.S. officials from
processing the travelers' entry into the country.
The resulting chaos did two things: (1) it tied up the airport in knots
and (2) reminded us how utterly dependent we are on technology and how
helpless we are when it fails.

When my home computer was down, I lost access to e-mails and other data I
rely upon in my work and in the conduct of my personal life. I felt isolated.
I also discovered how much I use my computer for entertainment. Surfing
the net is a lot more enjoyable than watching sitcom reruns.

These are minor irritations compared to being herded like cattle at LAX
for hours on end.

But technology run amok is a migraine for all of us these days. Consider:

A computer with the job of issuing vehicular citations goofed and sent
notices to 41,000 residents of Paris, France informing them that they were
charged with murder, prostitution and illegal sale of drugs.

As the calendar changed to the year 2000, items rented from a large video
rental chain prior to January 1st, 2000 and returned after January 1st were
reportedly marked for late fees of $91,250, as though the items were 100
years overdue.

The 2003 North America blackout was triggered by a local outage that went
undetected due to a glitch in the monitoring software.

On June 3, 1980, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)
reported that the U.S. was under missile attack due to a computer glitch.

While scientists won't promise that someday they'll produce a mistake
proof, anxiety free computer, they are at least tackling the issue.

Within the next decade, computers will be able to feel anguish and adjust
to soothe the moods of irate users.

Machines with emotional intelligence will be built within the next five to
10 years, researchers told a symposium sponsored by the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology Media Lab and reported by CNN. The key to
successfully integrating affective computing into daily life is to allow
users to maintain control over their computers rather than vice versa, said
Rosalind Picard, an associate professor at the Media Lab.

Affective computing eventually will be used to make computers respond to
human interaction, making it less frustrating, and perhaps easier, to use
computers, researchers said.

More importantly, warm and caring personal computers may prevent a user
from unloading his Smith & Wesson into the hard drive.

And that's progress.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Street Wise

Good news. They've found a cure for road rage.

There's now a place where you rant, rave and expose before the world that
idiot who cut you off on the freeway last night.

A website called LA Can't Drive pulls no punches when it comes to
assessing our driving habits.

"Los Angeles drivers can't drive. Plain and simple. Basic traffic laws and
driving etiquette clearly do not apply in a town where the people seem to
operate in their own little bubble, completely unaware or dismissive of
others on the road.

"Call it what you will: self-entitlement, negligence, malaise, ignorance.
My goal? To have mandatory driving tests randomly issued where drivers are
eligible for selection after 6 years. Consider this jury duty for the road."

While a web site might not provide the raw animal satisfaction of laying
on the horn, drilling some jerk with your high beams or flashing the
one-finger salute, at least you can vent without getting involved in a
shooting war.

LA Can't Drive is the brainchild of a blogger who calls himself I-95,
U-405 and says he is "a true bicoastalite who has driven all around the
United States and has found that L.A. drivers are second only to New Jersey
as to the worst drivers in this country."

Sample post:

"So anyone who commutes west going home from work in the early evening
knows how hard it can be to see anything on the road with the sun blazing in
your face, even with sunglasses on. Everything from oncoming cars, crossing
pedestrians, etc. are often reduced to glowing dark shadows.

"So what did this blonde bimbo in this Toyota 4Runner choose to do? Speed,
tailgate, weave erratically between lanes, not signal, and yap emphatically
in her cell phone. Apparently, holding on to her cell phone was more
important than signaling, and clearly she saw nothing wrong with driving
haphazardly with one hand, speeding into the sunset. In the short drive from
Highland to Fairfax, she nearly rear-ended three other vehicles because of
her tailgating and (what I guess to be) her inability to see the brake lights
ahead of her because of the garrish setting sun.

"You would think one near miss would be a clear enough signal for her to
start concentrating on driving more carefully. But, alas, to no avail as
another oblivious driver roams our city streets. And the average IQ of Los
Angeles drops another yet another few points...."

Other posts, complete with photos, ridicule senior citizens, Mustang
drivers and lane-splitting motorcycle riders, worthy targets all.

But, alas, LA Can't Drive has got it all wrong.

Los Angeles motorists are not the worst in the U.S.

That distinction goes to the good folks of Columbia, S.C., where bad
drivers careen down 18th century streets. Columbia is followed by St. Louis,
Mo., Greensboro, N.C., Jackson, Miss., and Cheyenne, Wyo. where equestrian
mishaps must factor into the equation. Of 100 cities, according to a
well-researched survey of the nation's worst drivers, Los Angeles was only
number 39.

On a statewide level, drivers in Rhode Island, Massachusettes, New Jersey,
New York, Washington, D.C. and Maryland rank worse than their California
counterparts, according to another survey.

It must be something akin to bumper cars in Rhode Island since the entire
state could fit into West Covina.

More than 5,000 licensed drivers between the ages of 16 and 65 were
administered a 20-question written test designed to measure basic knowledge
about traffic laws and safety. They were also surveyed about their general
driving habits.

That's not to say California drivers ranked at the top. The best drivers
live in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Iowa, three places where the weather is
so bad most people would rather stay home.

And yet another survey ranked the accident rate by occupation.

Not surprisingly, students ranked first followed by doctors, lawyers and

I'm not sure what that means. But if you see a doctor cruising down a
street in Columbia, S.C., get the hell out of the way.

In Pursuit of Oblivion

It is difficult to characterize someone's death as senseless.

But when four newsmen died in Phoenix after two helicopters
collided while covering some low-grade cop chase, the conclusion was
inescapable: four good people gave their lives in an exercise that was as
meaningless as the story they were covering.

The incident occured as police chased a man who had fled a traffic stop.
An armada of five news helicopters swarmed over the pursuit, more resouces
than most TV stations devote to covering city hall in a given month.

It was a media feeding frenzy. And sometimes they can be dangerous.

That's no armchair observation. I became an unwitting participant in one
of these incidents several years back.

I had hooked up with KFWB reporter Jeff Baugh and his pilot at Van Nuys
airport while doing research for a column on traffic in L.A.

Our languid flight over the Southern California freeway network lasted
about 30 minutes before the word came over a police scanner.

The cops were in pursuit of an ex-con who refused to stop because he had a
broken taillight. Soon, we joined the chase.

"I counted 11 aircraft, including two from the police and at least one
fixed-wing plane above the chase," I wrote at the time. "All must have been
within a thousand feet of each other.

"This high wire act was complicated by the fact that the driver changed
directions and freeways at least eight times during the chase, prompting the
aeiral circus to do the same. In the late afternoon sky, visibility was often
murkey at best. This was clearly dangerous stuff.

"There's a curious protocol attached to police pursuits. The pilots
almost never watch the action. They are too busy looking out for each
other. Their position relative to the pursuit is dictated by others
on board. I observed that TV crews always fly on the left, radio and
others on the right. The reason? By flying on the left, TV cameramen
can shoot through the driver's side window and get a good look at
who's behind the wheel."

Finally, after an hour, the suspect pulled in front of a relative's
residence and quietly surrendered to police.

By the time the late evening news came on, the incident was nearly
forgotten. One station gave it a couple of minutes. Most ignored it.

The potential for disaster was great that day. The potential became
reality in Phoenix.

And now come the demands for reform, some calling for the grounding of TV

"If broadcasters won't do it voluntarily, then the Federal Aviation
Administration, acting on behalf of us innocents on the ground, ought to step
in and do it for them," wrote Alan D. Mutter, a veteran media executive.

"Apart from the lives of newsmen lost in helicopter crashes over the
years," he continued, "it cost no less that $1 million a year to operate a
modest-dsized news chopper carrying a crew of two...That's enough money to
hire 10 t0 15 journalists to develop real stories."

Another blogger wrote, "It's one thing to send journalists into a combat
zone to cover a war, with the understanding that they might be killed. It's
quite another to send pilots and cameramen out in breathless pursuit of a
highway chase, or something else that floats in over the police scanner.
Journalists should mourn the passing of their colleagues in Phoenix, but they
should also ask themselves a serious question: Was it really worth it, and
(without necessary reforms), how long will it be before it happens again?"

This is not new territory.

LAPD Chief William Bratton several years ago urged local television
stations to halt their coverage of "careless individuals" from seeking fame
in the media spotlight.

Bratton said that obsessive media coverage of car chases was dangerous
because it gave miscreants an incentive to flee from the police and become
the stars of their very own television shows.

"You know this isn't what your stations should be doing," Bratton said.
Television executives, in a curious bit of logic, responded that if
anything their coverage acted as a deterrent because televised chases
invariably ended in either the arrest or the death of the suspect.

And so the car chase remains a TV staple.

It's what TV does. Manufactured crises such as pursuits and endless
amounts of crime news drive TV ratings. If it bleeds, it leads, as they say
in the TV newsroom.

It's why you are 50 times more likely to see reports of murder, rape, or
car chases and 20 times more likely to see a story of a fire on your local
news than you are a story about education, science, marriage, or pollution,
according to media author Alan Mutter and his research of news coverage
compiled by the Local TV News Media Project at the University of Delaware.

So don't expect the EyewitnessLiveBreakingNews teams to leave the choppers
on the ground anytime soon.

In the meantime, Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris is threatening murder
charges against the suspect who was the focus of the coverage.

While that's legally dubious, massive civil awards to the families of the
victims are a real possibility.

And if that hastens the end of an empty journalistic practice, the four newsmen in Phoenix will not have died in vain.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Goodby to Zombies From Space

Let us pause, remove the hats from our collective heads, place them over
our hearts and observe a moment of silence as the hearse rolls by, carrying
the remains of an old friend.

That friend is the Weekly World News, which was to supermaket checkout
lines what the New York Times is to international reporting. It will cease
publication on Aug. 3 of this year, according to its publisher, American

American Media is headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, and is best known
as the publisher of the National Enquirer. The company announced last month
it was exploring the sale of five of its 16 magazines as part of a strategy
to focus on celebrity weeklies and lifestyle magazines

That's what they say.

But we know WWN was in fact killed by brain-eating zombies from outer

And its demise has left the world a much more boring place.

Where else but the WWN could you find stories like, "Hillary Clinton
Adopts Alien Baby" or "Termites Eat the Eifel Tower," "Hard Up Sheik Sheds
His Wives, 200 Woman Harem to be Sold on eBay." or "Mink Coat Comes Alive and
Bites Rich Widow to Death."
Where else can we learn that French President Jacques Chirac has announced
a plan for France to surrender retroactively in all of history's previous
wars or that the Pope wants Mel Gibson as successor or that Dick Cheney is a
robot or that a cruel surgeon re-attached a pair of conjoined twins after
they failed to pay their medical bill for the initial surgical separation he

Where else do you read "Doomsday Dragons Heading for Earth!'' "Gal Uses
Dead Hubby's Ashes for Breast Implants!'' "Painting of Elvis Weeps Real
Tears!'' or "Oprah to Replace Lincoln on $5 Bill!"

Where else do you find a columnist like Ed Anger. His book, "Let's Pave
the Stupid Rainforests and Give School Teachers Stun Guns," could have served
as a primer for right wing radio talk show hosts.

The Economist once described Anger as a man who "hated foreigners, yoga,
whales, speed limits and pineapple on pizza; he liked flogging,
electrocutions and beer."

There was never a slow news day at the WWN. That's because there was no
need for news. While it never publicly questioned the accuracy of its own
stories, even billig itself as "the world's most reliable paper," it did
begin stating several years back that "the reader should suspend disbelief
for the sake of enjoyment."

As if we had to be told.

Sal Ivon, former managing editor, said, "If someone calls me up and says
their toaster is talking to them, I don't refer them to professional help, I
say, 'Put the toaster on the phone'."?

Perhaps the most famous character to appear in the pages of WWN was Bat
Boy, a half bat, half boy found in a cave.

According to published reports, Bat Boy was first featured in a 1992
issue. He since has led police on a high speed chase, fought in the war on
terror, led the troops to capture Saddam Hussein, bitten Santa Claus and
traveled into outer space. In 2000, he gave his endorsement to Al Gore. It is
fortold that he will become president in 2028.

We could do worse. And have.

A personal favorite was WWN's cover story following the Northridge
earthquake, headlined "Earthquake Releases Demons From Hell." It was
illustrated by an alleged photo showing a couple of T-Rex looking dudes
terrorizing San Fernando Valley residents while hanging out besides a
collapsed freeway.

I think the folks who conceived these stories were geniusus and the
writers were worthy of Pulitzer consideration, a view probably shared by no
other human being.

Well, there was one other person. In the film "Men in Black, Tommy Lee
Jones refers to WWN as the "best damn investigative reporting on the planet."
Now, all are left with for comic relief is the Fox television network.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Eating Peanuts

Where the hell is Paris Hilton?

It's only been three weeks since she walked out of jail like she was
sashaying down a runway, her graceful gait illuminated by the light of a
thousand cameras.

And now, story over. The public sleeps, their blood lust satisfied. Paris

All that remains are the low groans of the media who woke up the next day
with a roaring hangover, after indulging in an orgy of excessive coverage
like so many sailors on shore leave.

As one wag noted, 50 years from now, someone might write a book on the
incident called "When Humans Lost Their Minds."

After a lot of naval gazing, the collective media didn't exactly promise
never to do it again (see David Beckham). But there have been calls for
restraint and assurances in some quarters that such stories would be reported
in context of news on Dafur, the war in Iraq and the presidential campaigns.

We'll see about that. Covering the rise and fall of celebrities, even
talentless paparazzi creations, is like eating peanuts.

A real test is coming next month. That's when a trial is scheduled to
begin for a young woman who makes Paris Hilton look like Mother Theresa.

We speak of course of Nicole Richie, socialite, actress and most notably
Paris' sidekick in the TV show "The Simple Life."

The adopted daughter of singer Lionel Richie, Nicole, among other
problems, has Michael Jackson as her godfather.

Just to put things in prospective, Paris was pulled over for driving
erratically and charged with a misdemeanor.

Her handlers said she hadn't eaten, had one margarita and claimed her
field sobriety test showed "the very absolute lowest reading you can possibly
get to warrant being taken in."

Paris problems started when she got caught twice for driving with a
suspended license. The authorities charged that those actions, along with
the failure to enroll in a court-ordered alcohol education program
constituted a violation of the terms of her probation. And, as we all well
know, off to jail she went.

Nicole's first splashy foray into the annals of celebrity justice started
in 2003 when she was stopped in Malibu and charged with possesion of heroin.
And, oh yeah, she was driving with a suspended license.

She almost has Paris trumped right there.

But then Richie was arrested by the California Highway Patrol after she
failed a field sobriety test and was charged with driving under the influence
on the 134 Freeway in the Burbank/Glendale area.

If that isn't enough, she was allegedly piloting her Mercedes the wrong
way on that well-traveled road.

According to news reports, she admitted to using marijuana and Vicodin
before the incident.

The California Vehicle Code says that if convicted of DUI twice within 10
years, a person can be sentenced to between 90 days and a year in jail and
have driving privileges suspended. But that sentence could be reduced if the
convicted agrees to probation.

It looks like tough times ahead for Nicole. Of course, she could strike a
plea bargain with prosecutors but it's going to be difficult in view of Paris'

I mean, if Paris gets 30 days for a suspended license, what does a trip
the wrong way down the freeway deserve? Life without parole?

And yet.

Rumor has Nicole is pregnant. The sources are the usual Internet gossip
sites but there's enough buzz to make you wonder.

In a court filing, her lawyers said they intend to use defense expert Terence McGee, a
medical doctor specializing in drug abuse, to challenge the prosecution's scientific evidence
against Richie.

Will her legal team rule the day? If not, will Lee Baca intervene because of Nicole's
delicate condition? What role will City Attorney Rock Delgadillo play? And what ever happend
to him anyway?

This has all the trappings of a soap opera the likes of which haven't been seen since Ana
Nicole Smith. Which was six months ago.

It will all takes place in the slowest news month of the year.

So stay tuned. And tuned. And tuned.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Chat Room

He sat behind me at a recent Dodger game.

With every pitch, he regaled all within earshot on strategy, statistics, the relative talent level of each and every player, memories of games past, all punctuated by strong opinions:

"With men on first and third, and a left handed pitcher facing a Venezuelan born batter with a moustache, the pitcher needs to throw a three finger forkball with the shortstop breaking to cover second, the center fielder shaded to right and the infield deep just like the time the St. Louis Browns nipped a 7th inning rally by the Phillies in 1939."

After one inning, I was ready to stuff a Dodger dog in his mouth.

Of course, he was merely verifying Rector's Rule, which holds that anyone sitting behind you at a sporting event is either a deep pool of incorrect information, has had his volume adjusted by seven or eight beers or has a child who kicks the back of your seat for three hours.

Now it turns out my chatty Dodger friend was merely underscoring what social scientists have recently discovered.

Men actually yak more than women.

One study recorded 400 college students for days and found that members of each sex spoke the same number of words.

Another found that men actually talk slightly more than women, especially when the topic of conversation was non personal.

In other words, we guys will freely blab on about NBA rebound leaders, fast sports cars, beer and mega construction projects. Just don't ask us about our Valentine's Day plans or whether we love puppies.

And then there's this take from Campbell Leaper, a psychologist at UC Santa Cruz who believes "some men may be using talkativeness to dominate the conversation."

Clever, those men.

Nonetheless, Matthias Mehl, of the University of Arizona, said the stereotype of female chattiness was deeply ingrained in Western folklore and was often considered a scientific fact.

Researchers and therapists had given this impression by using a figure that women speak about 20,000 words a day while men can only manage to get 7000 into the conversation.

This threefold difference has been widely reported. "The 20,000 versus 7000-word estimates appear to have achieved the status of a cultural myth, cited in the media for the past 15 years," Mehl said. It was not based on evidence.

In Mehl's study, women spoke about 16,215 words a day and men about 15,669, an insignificant difference, the researchers concluded.

There was huge variation between individuals, with the chattiest man spewing out 47,000 words a day, while the most reticent one spoke only 500.
I'm betting Mr. 500 was married.

Linguist Alice Freed at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, says that the caricature of the gossipy gal can have a truly negative effect: "The power of the stereotype is that women are considered to speak too much." She says that this stereotype emerged as a way to devalue what women had to say.

But James Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas, who worked with Mehl on the study, believes that the stereotype has a different origin. "I think it's because of the way that women and men naturally react to conflict," he says. "Women talk more during arguments, and we extrapolate those very salient memories to the rest of life."

Whatever, the stereotypes are deeply ingrained in many cultures. "Women's tongues are like lambs' tails, they are never still," goes one English proverb.

"The woman with active hands and feet, marry her, but the woman with overactive mouth, leave well alone," say the Maori.

And then there's the old Chinese saying: "The tongue is the sword of a woman and she never lets it become rusty."

It may take some time to work past those images.

While it may be news that we use the same number of words, it shouldn't come as a surprise that we don't always talk the same language.

"We did find men talk more about money, sports and technology and women talk more about relationships," Mehl said.

Well, shut my mouth.

Motoring Migranes

If you're feeling sharp, stabbing pains in your wallet each time you plunge that gas nozzle into the family sedan, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Get ready for more motoring migranes.

The Metropolitan Tranportation Authority, those downtown bureaucrats whose stewardship of public transportation equates the Titanic's safety record, is developing plans for toll roads within the next three years.

The concept is called "congestion pricing" and what it means is that if you don't want to feel your life ebbing away on some gridlocked freeway, you'll fork over extra bucks to use less crowded lanes. And the toll will rise based on the amount of traffic.

In Orange County, the plan is already at work. The 91 Express Lane, a 10-mile stretch, will nick you for anywhere from $1.15 to $9.50, depending on the hour.
Let' see, 10 bucks a day during rush hour, five days a week...that could add up to a hefty piece of change over a few months time.

Of course, you could take a bus. But the MTA just approved a hefty boost in bus rates over the loud objections of its most loyal customers, working class citizens who depend on public transportation. Those who can afford to drive will get priced out of life in the fast lane.

If all of this strikes you as fundamentally unfair, since the gas taxes you pay build the roads on which you travel, you may have a very good point.
The Automobile Club, for one, agrees.

"We feel it will be a form of double taxation to charge people for the roads they have already paid for by gas taxes," Hamid Bahadori, principal transportation engineer for the Automobile Club of Southern California, said in a published interview. "Rather than trying to restrict access, they had better start delivering on the projects."

And if you have trouble understaning how charging extra will reduce congestion, try to connect these dots.

"At some point, we have to reduce the number of single-passenger automobiles if we want to reduce gridlock in L.A. County," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a master of understatement.

How do we do it? Try to get people to drive less during peak hours by making it expensive. Or behavior modification through taxation, something to mull as we celebrate the Fourth of July.

But wait, there's more.

Up in Sacramento, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is floating a plan that would cost California motorists, farmers and boaters an estimated $130 million per year to fund alternative-fuel research and other clean air programs.

The bill comes less than one year after lawmakers passed legislation to aggressively cut the state's greenhouse gases in an attempt to curb global warming. That effort will fail if "we as government don't do something to help jump-start the alternative fuels market," said Nunez, D-Los Angeles.

Jump start the alternative fuels market?

The University of California was selected earlier this year for a $500-million grant meant for funding research and development of alternatives to petroleum-based fuel, sponsored by global energy conglomerate British Petroleum.

University of California at Davis researchers recently received up to $25 million in funding from Chevron Corp. to spend the next five years developing clean and affordable, renewable transportation fuels from farm and forest residues, urban wastes and crops grown specifically for energy.

A $125-million grant for California's research effort for bioenergy was awarded last month by the U.S. Department of Energy to fund a collaborative effort in California to develop alternative energy sources from plant materials.

Against this backdrop, Fabian has decided to pass the hat.

But, hey, what the heck, as long as were tapping our 401ks for gas and toll roads, let's get into the change jar and bankroll alternative fuels.

Doo Gooder

With a name like Anthony Portantino and birthplace like New Jersey, you might think this guy once sang with Dion and the Belmonts, down on the corner, under the street lights.

But this Portantino is more Democrat than Doo Wop. If you want to catch his act, you'll have to go to Sacramento where he performs as the state Assembly member from La Canada Flintridge, a city he once served as mayor.

Portantino may nonetheless find himself forever linked to golden oldies if his bill, AB702, is signed into law.

That piece of legislation, called "the truth in music advertising act, would make it harder for musicians to advertise themselves as a famous group from the past unless they had trademarked the name or at least one of its members was an original member.

So while the state grapples with health care crisis, global warming and budget woes, should we care if there's one too many versions of the Drifters up on stage?
Damn right we should.

Because it's all about two things Americans hate: cheating and stealing.
On any given night in this country, some group of yokels in riding the nostalgia wave by pretending to be one of the fabled groups of the 50s and 60s.
The Coasters, the Platters, the Drifters, the Diamonds, the Vogues, the Marvelletes are hitting the oldies circuit and raking in the bucks.

According to one source, there are dozens of groups calling themselves the Coasters, the Drifters or the Platters. Many of these guys are about as close to the originals as the Rolling Stones are to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

"When these guys stand on stage and say 'When we recorded this song in the '50s,' 'When we won our Grammy,' 'When we sang on the street corner,' and they're 22 years old? Come on," Bob Crosby, president of the nonprofit Vocal Hall of Fame, said in a published interview. "They're lying.

"It's no harmless illusion, either, he said. "All these fake groups are out there stealing incomes, history and applause."

And they get away with it. That's because it's not always easy to tell who holds the rights to a particular musical group's name or to identify an authentic member of an act formed 50 years ago, according the the website Law.com.

Singers then were often recruited by managers or producers who didn't afford young vocalists, often poor African-Americans, the legal protections more commonly available today. Members came and went before the visibility that, in the MTV era, cemented band members' identities with a group. Trademarks were sold, sometimes under less than legal conditions. Squabbles and lawsuits over group names continue.

The Vocal Hall of Fame's Crosby and Jon Bauman, better known as Bowzer from the nostalgia group Sha Na Na, are spearheading a nationwide effort to reign in unauthorized imposter groups.

"This is a sophisticated form of identity theft," said Bauman. "These imposter groups have been duping consumers and stealing the names, the remuneration and the legacy of the pioneers of Rock n Roll for way too long."

So far, nine states have passed similar measures and eleven others are considering legislation.

While we may have more important issues to occupy us, this effort is important because the doo wop and R and B music of the 50s and 60s was more than just dance tunes. It was in its own simple way a powerful force, a music that brought races together, one that influenced generations of Americans, one that changed the world.
It's artists and architects deserve our protection.

Besides, as Crosby says: "If you want a gut-wrenching experience, try watching a baby boomer audience leap to its feet at the end of an impostor group show. The audience so clearly thinks it's honoring the body of work, the legacy, the deep pleasure this music has given them since their youth... "They don't know they're applauding the wrong people..."

Despite what the Platters sang in the 1950s, there are no great pretenders.