Monday, January 29, 2007

The Mud Is Beginning to Fly


I got my real first taste of political dirty deeds some years back when, as a young editor, I was directing the coverage of a Los Angeles city council campaign.

One candidate, for reasons that weren't entirely clear, decided that her opponent had planted a spy in her camp.

So she fired off a letter to the city attorney's office accusing her opponent of stealing campaign secrets.

Then she demanded the media write a story that her opponent was "under investigation" by the city attorney's office for ethical misconduct.

Since asking for an investigation doesn't constitute the existence of one, we declined. It was clear she was trying to use the media to smear her opponent by portraying him as some morally compromised KGB agent.

It was minor stuff at a minor level. But it's a game played with varying degrees of success at the highest levels.

Consider: It didn't take long for the smear-mongers to take dead aim at prospective presidential candidate Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois.

Just this past week, Insight, a magazine owned by the conservative Washington Times, raised the specter that Obama is actually a Muslim. Maybe even a radical one.

Playing a skewed game of connect the dots, the article said that the young Barack attanded a mandrassah, or Muslim religious school, in Indonesia where he lived with his stepfather and mother. He was 6 at the time and had attended Catholic school for two years.

The implication is that Barack was schooled in Islamic radicalism while attending that school even though there is no evidence that terrorism or anything like it was part of the curriculum some 40 years ago.

I guess what we're suppose to read between the lines is that Obama, if elected president, will deliver the country lock, stock and oil barrel over to Islamic jihadists who will convert our churches to mosques, veil our women, toss our liquor into the Pacific Ocean and pack the halls of Congress with radical clerics.

But if that kind of political mud isn't bad enough, some members of the media had a large hand in slinging it. The boys over at Fox News picked up this nonsense on several of their programs and played up an angle in the magazine story that unnamed researchers "connected" to Hillary Clinton were spreading this information about her potential rival.

By doing so, Fox performed the difficult double smear move almost flawlessly: First cover Obama with mud, then blame it on Clinton.

As Howard Kurtz reported in the Washington Post, "in the first media controversy of the 2008 campaign, two of the leading candidates find themselves forced to respond to allegations lacking a single named source.

For their part, Obama's office said that "the idea that Senator Barack Obama attended some radical Islamic school is completely ludicrous. Senator Obama is a committed Christian and attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago."

Clinton's people called it "an obvious right-wing hit job by a Moonie publication that was designed to attack Senator Clinton and Senator Obama at the same time." Insight, like the Washington Times, is owned by a company controlled by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

In the meantime, the newly declared Clinton has other media matters on her mind. The New York Times, a paper that can only be described as friendly toward her, has already declared that she "has to combat her image...of being radically liberal, ruthlessly ambitious, or ethically compromised."

And to think election day is still almost two years away.

Spank a Child, Go to Jail

In a state beset with myriad knotty problems ranging from immigration to the governor's broken leg, Assemblywoman Sally Lieber has hit on an issue that many of us will get behind. So to speak.

The Mountain View Democrat has proposed banning the spanking of young children.

That's right, folks. Spank a child, go to jail.

Lieber's proposal would make spanking, hitting and slapping a child under 4-years-old a misdemeanor. Adults could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Presumembly, doctors who give a child a whack at birth would be exempted.

No less a father figure than Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he thinks the proposal was well intentioned but had doubts about how a ban would be enforced.

Having the police respond to spanking calls seems like a bad use of public safety personnel. Maybe they could create a swat team.

But the governor said he "got smacked about everything" as a child in Austria but has never hit his own kids.

As for me, I got a couple of slaps on the ear from Dad when I was out of line as a child. Mom never raised a hand against us, although I do remember her chasing my brother with a broom once. And she once threatened to stick my head in the oven if I didn't behave. She was kidding. I think.

Not everyone thinks a ban on spanking is something we need on the books.

One critic called it ``nanny-politics.'' Another said. ``Fine, then a bill should be passed to allow other parents to smack the parents of undisciplined children.''

``Where do you stop?'' asked Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, who said he personally agrees children under 3 shouldn't be spanked but has no desire to make it the law. ``At what point are we going to say we should pass a bill that every parent has to read a minimum of 30 minutes every night to their child? This is right along those same lines.''

Still, spanking of children within families is illegal in some countries (for example, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Germany, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Croatia, Israel and Latvia). New Zealand is currently debating whether or not to outlaw parental spanking, having outlawed corporal punishment within its educational institutions in 1989. Similar initiatives in the U.S. have repeatedly failed.

Indeed, one parent-teacher group called Operation No Spank puts it this way:

"Children should no longer be excluded from the legal protections against assault and battery that apply to adults. Moreover, the defense of children should be more vigorous because they are more vulnerable; because the consequences of their early mistreatment are difficult to reverse; because damaged children tend to grow into damaged adults who are likely to avenge themselves in one way or another.

"If they will not harm others, then they will likely harm themselves, and they may passively support the mistreatment of children perpetrated by others. Current research in the field of child development overwhelmingly confirms the theory that the earlier and the worse the mistreatment of children, the worse the outcome."

Nobody wants to see young children get slapped around. And most parents don't abuse their children.

But even fewer people want to see the government tell them how to raise their family.

As one reader wrote to the San Jose Mercury News:

"The day that the [government] gives birth to my children, then they have a right to raise them. Till then they are mine to do with as I please. I will raise them the way I see fit. If I think that those little butts need a swat … I will be the one to give it to them."

Frank, as in Frankfurter

An open letter to: Frank McCourt President, Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles, Calif.
Dear Mr. McCourt: IT warms my heart when a prominent citizen, such as yourself, reaches out to enrich the lives of the common man, such as myself.
I mean, you own the Dodgers and you don't have to lift a finger to get 3 million people flocking to Chavez Ravine to see your team, win or lose.
But you're a giver, Frank. And you'll be giving fans what could be a a life-altering experience when they come to the ballpark this year.
Starting this season, the right field pavilion at Dodger Stadium will be converted into a special section, giving around 3,000 fans as many hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn, nachos and sodas as they want.
Of course, you're nobody's fool, Frank. Tickets that are usually 10 bucks will sell for $35 in advance and $40 on gameday, and some items at the concession stand aren't in play - beer, ice cream and candy will be sold separately at regular prices.
That means Joe Fan will have to eat like a lumberjack to break even on the deal.
But I realize, Frank, there will be some additional expenses involved that you'll need to cover.
You're going to need to brace up the right field pavilion because I suspect the fan base out there will resemble nothing short of a gathering of sumo wrestlers and nose tackles.
Sitting there will give new meaning to the term " squeeze play."
And I'm betting that on a hot summer day, you'll be able to smell the crowd from San Diego.
Then you'll need additional paramedic support for those fans who try to pound down 12 Dodger dogs in three innings. Of course, if you're really enterprising, you could hawk cholesterol-lowering pills to those junk food zealots who are sucking up a thousand fat grams per game.
Then's there's the additional security you'll need to prevent fans from showering the opposing team's fielder with nachos when a fly ball is in play. That is, if they're able to get out of there seats to throw anything.
I'm betting the first home run ball that lands in the right field pavilion won't be caught. It will be eaten.
It's a brilliant plan, Frank, because gluttony and baseball go together like hot dogs and heart attacks.
No less than the immortal Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest player of all time, would love your idea. Legend has it that the Babe, one day in Coney Island, ate four porterhouse steaks and eight hot dogs, and drank eight sodas. That, of course, was just a pre-game snack.
Now, with your plan, Frank, anyone can be the Babe.
And who can't work up an appetite watching players like Catfish Hunter, Chili Davis, Candy Maldonaldo, Goose Gossage, Cookie Lavagetto and Pie Traynor?
I have just one suggestion, Frank. If you really want to get this promotion off the ground, name the right field pavilion after Tommy Lasorda.
That will give those hungry fans a real role model.
Robert (I'd Rather Have Sushi) Rector.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Smog Over Hollywood

The next time your eyes run like a faucet, the air tastes like diesel fumes and your chest feels like you inhaled oven cleaner, blame Hollywood.
According to a recent report out of UCLA, 140,000 tons of year of ozone and diesel particulate pollutant emissions from trucks, generators, special effects explosions and fires are being produced by the sames folks who brought you "Gone With the Wind."
Show biz tops hotels, aerospace, apparel and semiconductor manufacturing in traditional air pollutant emissions in Southern California, the study says, and is probably second only to petroleum refineries. Enterntainment ranks third in greenhouse gas emissions.
This is particularly noteworthy in an industry that produces more environmental activists than a Greenpeace convention.
That crashing sound you hear is George Clooney, Ed Begley Jr., Ted Danson, Robert Redford, Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Rob Reiner, et al bouncing off their solar panels.
According to the study, researchers considered the emissions created directly and indirectly by the film and television industry. For example, they factored in both the pollution caused by a diesel generator used to power a movie set, as well as the emissions created by a power plant that provides electricity to a studio lot.
Call me simple minded but that's like saying I'm to blame for using my toaster which is connected by wall plug to a massive emissions-generating power plant that was once constucted by fume-spewing heavy equipment.
But I digress. Researchers also interviewed 43 people who worked in a variety of areas within the industry, and reviewed major trade publications to see the level of attention paid to environmental issues. In doing so, researchers found that some studios have recycling programs and green building practices.
"Nevertheless, our overall impression is that these practices are the exception and not the rule, and that more could be done within the industry to foster environmentally friendly approaches," the study said.
I guess we can be thankful that so many films are being produced in Canada or the skies above Hollywood would resemble turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh.
The enterntainment industry, to nobody's surprise, wasn't quick to embrace the study.
Lisa Day, spokeswoman for Participant Productions which worked on offsetting carbon emissions from the making of "Syriana" and "An Inconvenient Truth," said she was a little surprised by the study's findings, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
"I think the industry as a whole does look at itself," she said. "The studios have done a lot in terms of waste reduction. I think that energy is the new thing the industry is looking at and what impact they have."
The industry might also look at the fact that a good film doesn't need a dozen 20-megaton explosions to hold our attention.
Since Hollywood usually finds itself on the cutting edge of social activism, I suspect this will cause more than a few ripples through the industry.
It will be interesting to see how quickly Hollywood's social activism turns inward.
But since that same industry generates a combined $29 billion in revenue and employs 252,000 in greater Los Angeles, don't look for a lot of new regulations to emerge from the study.
Now, if we can just convince the industry to stop polluting the screens, we may have accomplished something.
All ready this year we have been subjected to such noxious offerings such as "Snakes on a Plane," "Beerfest," "She's the Man" and "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector."
Cough, cough.

Anals of the Absurd

Many men were probably heartened recently by a study that concluded women who exercise by doing housework can reduce their risk of breast cancer.
That's right, guys. The research on more than 200,000 women from nine European countries found that doing household chores was far more cancer protective than playing sport. Dusting, mopping and vacuuming was also better than having a physical job.
So, all along, we weren't really being slobs. We were merely advancing the cause of women's health.
Of course, men get breast cancer too. So does that mean they should man the mop?
Good question. But an even better one is: who concocts this kind of weird research anyway? And what, if anything, does it prove?
Turns out we're not the only ones intrigued by that question.
No less than Harvard University is the site each year of the Ig Noble prizes, given for achievements that "first make people laugh, and then make them think."
According to the a scientific humor journal called the Anals of Improbable Research, examples range from the discovery that the presence of humans tends to sexually arouse ostriches, to the statement that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell.
This year's Ig Nobel winners include:
-Ivan R. Schwab, of the University of California Davis, and the late Philip R.A. May of the University of California Los Angeles, for exploring and explaining why woodpeckers don't get headaches. -Wasmia Al-Houty of Kuwait University and Faten Al-Mussalam of the Kuwait Environment Public Authority, for showing that dung beetles are finicky eaters. -Howard Stapleton of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, for inventing an electromechanical teenager repellant -- a device that makes annoying high-pitched noise designed to be audible to teenagers but not to adults; and for later using that same technology to make telephone ringtones that are audible to teenagers but probably not to their teachers.
-D. Lynn Halpern (of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, and Brandeis University, and Northwestern University), Randolph Blake (of Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University) and James Hillenbrand (of Western Michigan University and Northwestern University) for conducting experiments to learn why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard. -Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes of the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization, for calculating the number of photographs you must take to (almost) ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed. -And last but not least: Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton University for his report "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly." Fine efforts, every one. Personally, I am attracted to an award from 2005 that went to Gauri Nanda of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for inventing an alarm clock that runs away and hides, repeatedly, thus ensuring that people DO get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday.
Or the 2004 award nabbed by Steven Stack of Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, and James Gundlach of Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, for their published report "The Effect of Country Music on Suicide."
Compared to these studies, the breast cancer/housework research ranks alongside Sir Isaac Newton's three laws of motion.

Party On

I am a freelancer. I am unencumbered, unattached, unleashed.
And one of the best things about my status is that I am longer required to attend an office Christmas party.
I'v seem enough lampshade-on-the-head, photocopy-your-butt merriment to last me a lifetime.
Or as Corey Ford wrote way back in 1951:
"The annual office party starts along about noon on December 24 and ends two or three months later, depending on how long it takes the boss to find out who set fire to his waste basket, threw the water cooler out the window, and betrayed Miss O'Malley in the men's washroom."
It hasn't changed a lot since then.
Among other oddities, I've seen a couple of careers blindsided over the years.
There was the time when an ambitious new employee decided to take the opportunity to show off his sophisitication and smarts with every boss in the room. After an evening of working the room like a politician running for office, he discovered his fly was unzipped the entire time.
Then there was the occasion when a young married couple decided to bring their 2 year-old for reasons I can't begin to fathom. The kid headed straight to the nut dish, consumed its contents then proceeded to get sick all over the bosses new carpet.
I've seen drunk and disorderly. I've seen employees boo Santa Claus. I've seen boozy romantic liaisons that disolved in the cold light of dawn.
I've also seen deadly dull. There's nothing like compulsory attendance to sap the holiday spirit right out of a party. One such affair I attended resembled a wax museum.
Want a receipe for potential disaster? Try this: Mix superiors and subordinates, cronies and rivals, the ambitious and the apathetic, stir in weird secret Santa gifts and social anxiety, add a generous dose of alcohol and see what happens.
A recent survey by a professional women's group found that drinking too much was the number one regret of women at their office parties. Sixty percent of the women surveyed changed their opinion of a co-worker after experiencing chardonay-fueled hijinks, according to one report.
But if you really need a reason to avoid, or to party lite, at the annual holiday bash, consider this: Drunken antics at office Christmas parties are increasingly being filmed and posted on the Internet, a report from says. The web chart firm says footage from office bashes posted on video share websites tripled in 2006 to 150,000.
Clips included a woman complaining about her boss, who, unknown to her, was standing behind her.
It would smart to avoid seeing your Yuletide on YouTube.
One historian traces the office party to the feast of Saturn, the god of agriculture, a Roman favorite. Citizens would untie the bound feet of the god's statue on Dec. 17, and a week of carrying on would begin.
"Loose reins are given to public dissipation," the philosopher Seneca reported.
Gifts were exchanged. Masters and slaves swapped roles. Drinking, gambling, feasting and "singing naked" would take place, according to one writer of the time.
Sounds just like the party over at Acme Widgets.
But even if you behave yourself, the holiday party can contain hidden pitfalls, according to authors Noel Boivin and Christopher Lombardo:
"While you may want to skip home in sheer delight at not having offended anyone during your company's holiday hootenanny, remember to step lively and keep a keen eye out for open manhole covers. If you don't you might end up like a Korean man did following his company's year-end blowout: the man fell 18 feet into an open sewer, where he spent the next 8 days sleeping on a foam mat and sipping from a puddle of clean water before his screams for help caught the attention of a passerby."

I Hereby Resolve

According to some historical sources, the tradition of the New Year's resolutions goes back to 153 B.C. It was then that Janus, a mythical king of early Rome, was placed at the head of the calendar.
With two faces, Janus could look back on past events and forward to the future. Janus became the ancient symbol for resolutions and many Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies and also exchanged gifts before the beginning of each year.
Historians don't tell us, however, when the first resolution was broken. I peg it at one minute after midnight, 153 B.C. thereby starting an entirely new tradition, one that continues unabated to this day.
For example, I resolved not to write any more columns on lightweight topics like new year's resolutions. And, well, here I am.
No less an authority than the U.S. government says the most popular resolutions are to lose weight, pay off debt, save money, get a better job, get fit, eat right, get a better education, drink less alcohol, quit smoking, reduce stress, take a trip, help others.
A poll taken by Marist College has losing weight at the top of the list. In a tie for second is "be a better person" and "stop smoking."
Pollsters from the college's Institute of Public Opinion surveyed nearly 1,300 people. And the survey found 71 percent of men and 57 percent of women say they stuck to their resolutions of last year.
Apparently, "telling the truth" doesn't rank high on the resolution scale.
All of this data reveals a kind of schizophrenic quality to our lives. We eat like there's no tomorrow over the holidays, then vow to lose weight in a cycle that repeats itself every year.
We go head over heels in debt, then promise not only to pay off debt but save money at the same time, a road Bill Gates would have trouble traveling.
We try to stop drinking and smoking at the same time we try to reduce stress, which led us to drinking and smoking in the first place.
And how can you be a better person or help others if you're overweight, unfit, under educated, in debt, drinking, smoking and stressed out? Mother Theresa couldn't do it.
So I resolve to eliminate all resolutions.
Instead, I suggest we adopt "new rules" for the new year. I offer these examples as formulated by comedian/ social commentator George Carlin:

"Stop giving me that pop-up ad for! There's a reason you don't talk to people for 25 years. Because you don't particularly like them! Besides, I already know what the captain of the football team is doing these days: mowing my lawn. "Don't eat anything that's served to you out a window unless you're a seagull. People are acting all shocked that a human finger was found in a bowl of Wendy's chili. Hey, it cost less than a dollar. What did you expect it to contain? Trout? "Ladies, leave your eyebrows alone. Here's how much men care about your eyebrows: do you have two of them? OK, we're done. "I'm not the cashier! By the time I look up from sliding my card, entering my PIN number, pressing "Enter," verifying the amount, deciding, "No, I don't want cash back", and pressing "Enter" again, the kid who is supposed to be ringing me up is standing there eating my Almond Joy. "If you're going to insist on making movies based on... old television shows, then you have to give everyone in the Cineplex a remote so we can see what's playing on the other screens. Let's remember the reason something was a television show in the first place is that the idea wasn't good enough to be a movie. "No more gift registries. You know, it used to be just for weddings. Now it's for babies and new homes and graduations from rehab. Picking out the stuff you want and having other people buy it for you isn't gift giving, it's the Caucasian version of looting. "

A New Bloom


I've been hanging around the Rose Bowl for some 50 years or so.
When I was very young, my older brother took me to my first football game, a New Year's Day headbanger featuring USC and Wisconsin in 1953. Even though we sat in the rain all day, I loved every minute of it.
Later, my father and I had an annual tradition. We'd go to something called the Junior Rose Bowl game every year, which pitted the two best community college teams in the country. We usually didn't know much about who was playing but even then, my dad figured I had community college written all over me. He was right.
When I was in high school in Glendale, the annual Glendale-Hoover titanic was played at the Rose Bowl annually, a real adrenalin rush.
Then, when UCLA took up residence in 1982, we bought season tickets which we own to this day.
To the casual fan, not much as changed at the Rose Bowl since the 1950s. The scoreboards are new, there are a few more restrooms, a few more concession stands.
And the seats. In the old days, you sat on benches, no seatbacks, no arms. When someone at the other end sat down, 50 people had to slide to one side to make room. It didn't do much for the game experience but it was a great cardio-vascular workout.
Now, most of the stadium has theater-style seats. An improvement? Not necesarily. The leg room is so bad that you almost need to assume the prenatal position when you sit down. Remember when you sat at your kid's desk at back-to-school night? It's kinda like that.
So I was glad to receive an e-mail recently, soliciting my opinions about a potential renovation of the 84-year-old stadium.
Nobody questions the need for renovation. But financing it is another thing. The city of Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Operation Committee had a great plan: stick the National Football League with the bill.
But since that dog won't hunt, it's time for Plan B.
The Rose Bowl is already an international attraction. So is Stonhenge but that doesn't make it a comfortable place to hang out.
Plan B would change all that, providing first-class comfort and luxury.
We're talking luxury boxes, preferred seating, plentiful rest rooms, actual leg room, easy access and egress, a real showplace.
The cost: $100 million to $200 million.
That's not outrageous. The Univsrsity of Michigan is coughing up $200 million for a redo of its stadium. Not to be outdone, Ohio State has a $194 million plan.
So who around here has that kind of money? The city of Pasadena? No. The University of California system? Nope. UCLA? They have their share of high-roller alums and a good sized fan base, but guess what? They're about to get touched for a major re-do of Pauley Pavillion, the on-campus basketball venue. Estimated cost: $70 million. And at UCLA, basketball is king.
And you can bet those same high rollers and fans will be in the marketing cross hairs if an NFL team comes to town soon.
The competition for the sports dollar in this town is getting fierce.
Nonetheless, if you read the survey, it seems clear that luxury suites, premium seats, better parking and other amenities along with various naming rights are the cornerstone of a plan that would raise revenue to pay for a renovation bond.
And the city of Pasadena along with UCLA and the Tournament of Roses are putting up $250,000 to spend on a strategic plan to make it work.
Here's how this Rose Bowl user comes out in the survey.
Would I buy a luxury box? Nope, the high cost pretty much limits those to big corporations.
Would I pay for preferred seating? Probably, provided I could get it in a location I wanted.
Would I spend extra to preserve the Rose Bowl for future genetations?
Absolutely. And I hope there are many more like me.