Monday, March 12, 2007

Once Around the News Cycle

NEWS: Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards says Jesus would be appalled at how the United States has ignored the plight of the suffering and that he believes children should have private time to pray at school.

Edwards, in an interview with the Web site, said Jesus would be most upset with the selfishness of Americans and the country's willingness to go to war "when it's not necessary."

Views: What would really appall Jesus is the state of American political discourse, including invoking his name to underscore your own political ambitions. Talk about trolling for endorsements. And this from a guy who had to fire a couple of bloggers for their anti-Catholic rants.

News: Speaking of political discourse, a story written for the McClatchy Newspapers wonders if the 2008 campaign will test the privacy of candidates' personal lives.

Views: You mean beyond what we know already? Let's see, three Republican candidates have eight marriages among them (John McCain, two; Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich, three each). John Edwards lives in a lavish 28,000-square-foot house on 102 acres in North Carolina while decrying poverty. Hillary Clinton is, well, Hillary Clinton. If you believe the Washington Times and Fox News, Barack Obama was raised as a Muslim fanatic. Giuliani had a widely reported extramarital affair. Mormon Mitt Romney's great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12. Stay tuned.

News: Speaking of religion, a company in Stockton is having priests bless bottled water and selling it as Holy Drinking Water. Price: 99cents a pop. The label warns that "if you are a sinner or evil in nature, this product may cause burning, intense heat, sweating, skin irritations, rashes, itchiness, vomiting, bloodshot and watery eyes, pale skin color, and oral irritations."

Views: There's nothing quite as special as the marriage of religion and entrepreneurship. Look at the bucks Mel Gibson made with "The Passion of the Christ." Look what L. Ron Hubbard did with Scientology. I read about a guy who was selling Ziploc bags of Israeli dirt for $20. And consider the folks over at Kentucky Fried Chicken. When they introduced a fish snacker sandwich recently, they asked Pope Benedict XVI to bless it. John O'Reilly, chief marketing officer for KFC, said the sandwich should prove especially popular on Fridays, when Catholics traditionally don't eat meat in the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. What's next, communion wafers brought to you by Wonder Bread?

News: Why did it take the media so long to expose the shabby treatment of veterans at Walter Reed Hospital? Common Cause advocacy vice president Celia Viggo Wexler tells Poynter Online: "With all the cutbacks in both broadcast and print newsrooms, the emphasis on entertainment and `news you can use,' and the bottom line over solid, investigative journalism, there is little incentive for reporters to go the extra mile and find good stories, stories they might not be able to report because they take too much time or they may rock too many boats, or are `too depressing' for the demographic the news outlet is seeking to court."

Views: That's a popular sentiment but one that doesn't hold a lot of water. While megapapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times have the staffs, time and money to delve into big stories, cash-strapped and understaffed small papers have been bringing home the trophies as well. The Pulitzers for investigative reporting in two of the last three years have gone to Nigel Jaquiss of Willamette Week, in Portland, Ore., for his investigation exposing a former governor's long-concealed sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl, and to Michael D. Sallah, Mitch Weiss and Joe Mahr of The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, for their series on atrocities by Tiger Force, an elite U.S. Army platoon, during the Vietnam War. Which goes to prove that good reporters get good stories no matter what the external pressures are.

Fat City

IT'S lunch time. What do you feel like eating?

How about dropping by Ruby Tuesday for a colossal burger. That's two gigantic burger patties, melted American and Monterey Jack cheese in a presentation so big they plunge a steak knife through the middle of it to hold it together.

Don't feel like a burger? Try UNO Chicago Grill for a dish that fuses pizza with stuffed potato skins. "We start with our famous deep dish crust, add mozzarella and red bliss mashed potatoes," the menu says, "and top it off with crispy bacon, cheddar and sour cream." It's described as an appetizer.

Maybe Italian is more to your likening. Get next to the Macaroni Grill's twice baked lasagna with meatballs, described as "six layers of tender pasta stuffed with seasoned meatballs, three cheeses and Bolognese sauce."

Or this sounds healthy: Ruby Tuesday's fresh chicken and broccoli pasta. But they add a generous dollop of parmesan cream sauce and a layer of melted cheese, and you're eating the equivalent of two 12-ounce sirloin steaks, two buttered baked potatoes and two Caesar salads.

For dessert, waddle over to the Cold Stone Creamery for their Founder's Favorite - 14ounces of ice cream with pecans, brownie pieces, fudge and caramel.

These heart-stopping menu selections are brought to you courtesy of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as "a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy and sound science."

The center gained some notoriety as the food police a decade ago by analyzing popular dishes from restaurants and declaring the numbers "shocking."

Now, the center says, "... by today's standards, they appear almost tame. Restaurants now dish out even more calories, even more bad fat and even more sodium."

To bring it into perspective, savor this: most people this side of hod carriers, lumberjacks and aerobics instructors should try to hold their caloric input to 2,000 a day and their fat intake to 20 grams.

The Ruby Tuesday burger has 1,940 calories and 141 grams of fat.

The UNO Chicago Grill checks in at 2,050 calories and 48 grams of fat.

Macaroni Grill's lasagna delivers 1,000 calories and 20 grams of fat.

Ruby Tuesday's chicken and broccoli pasta tips the scales at 2,060 calories and 128 grams of fat.

And Cold Stone's Founder's Favorite hits 1,740 calories and 48 grams of fat.

It sounds like someone passed the Cardiologist Full-Employment Act. They haven't, but politicians, always wanting to appear alert and engaged, are calling for greater nutrition labeling on restaurant menus.

Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) would require larger restaurant chains to include calorie counts on menus. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles) would require menus to include fat and carbohydrate amounts.

Hearings will be held. Testimony will be heard.

Such bills have already been introduced in 19 cities and states in recent years, but it apparently hasn't slowed down the onslaught of gut-busting menu selections.

I've got to wonder whether a guy (or gal) who plops down his hard-earned money for a colossal burger or lasagna with meatballs really cares about the nutritional data. If he did, he'd be ordering a salad. Dressing on the side.

Menu labeling won't solve the problems of obesity and diet-related diseases. But other than the fact that the restaurant industry will pass on the cost of labeling to its customers, it can't hurt either. Education often leads to better choices.

In the meantime, I'm off to Starbucks for a white chocolate mocha and a blueberry scone. What's that? It's 1,100 calories - or about as much as you'd get in a Burger King bacon double cheeseburger, medium fries and medium Coke, according to the CSPI.

OK, make that a dry bagel and a cup of tea.

Wrath From the Right

I had an e-mail debate, some time back, with a reader who took issue with me for describing columnist Ann Coulter as wishing to rain "death and destruction" upon her enemies.

I was scolded for mistaking her "sharp wit" for actual malice and told that she had never actually threatened anyone.

I pointed out that she once stated that "my only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building."

Not only was it not witty, it made the 168 people who perished in Oklahoma City in 1995 the punch line of a joke.

Did I believe she meant it? Absolutely. This is a woman who wrote of the Mideast that "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

Shrill, bombastic, absolutely devoid of any sense of decency, that's Coulter. Her disdain for anyone to the left of Gen. George Patton manifests itself in a weekly rant thinly disguised as journalism.

Her most recent foray into tastelessness came in a recent speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in which she described Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards as a "faggot."

Aside from spewing derogatory slurs like so much buckshot, what point was Coulter trying to make? Absolutely none. It was just vintage Coulter viewing life through the prism of a frat house smoker.

This is not new territory for Coulter. Last year, on MSNBC, she said, "I don't know if (former U.S. President Bill Clinton is) gay. But (former U.S. Vice President) Al Gore - total fag."

Her remarks about Edwards were too much even for her beloved Republicans. Presidential contenders John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney all repudiated her remarks. She responded on her Web site: "I'm so ashamed, I can't stop laughing!"

For the record, Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, a lawyer, are happily married with three children. The couple lost a teenage son in an auto accident. Elizabeth Edwards has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is being treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Just the kind of target for Coulter's wrath.

She was the one, of course, who described the widows of 9/11 victims thus: "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. These self-obsessed women seemed genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them. ... I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much ... the Democrat ratpack gals endorsed John Kerry for president ... cutting campaign commercials ... how do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf-life is dwindling, they'd better hurry up and appear in Playboy."

I would take great comfort in discovering that I somehow assigned too much importance to Coulter in the grand scheme of things, that her views represent nothing more than baying at the moon.

But two things stand out. One, she's a best-selling author, which means there's an audience for this kind of bilge. And two, and most troubling, is that she represents the shrill and divisive tone that has defined politics in America in recent years. This country need less mud and more moderation.

Ann Coulter, of course, has every right to her opinions. So do Mel Gibson and Michael Richards and Louis Farrakhan and Pat Robertson.

But I've heard quite enough.