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 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.