Monday, December 27, 2010

They Made a Difference

We make it a point to try to look forward, not back, at year’s end.

We all know too well what transpired in the last 12 months. What’s
going to happen next is news.

Unfortunately, that puts us in the prediction business, which is
often a slippery slope. As Casey Stengal once said, “"Never make
predictions, especially about the future.”

So rather than put ourselves in the company of people who plan the
future --- or the lack of same --- using the Mayan calendar, we’ll
take this opportunity to simply salute some of those who passed from
the scene in 2010.

It’s a highly personal list containing some who were famous, others
who lived in anonymity. To all of them, we wish a fond farewell.

Lena Horne: A true American icon, she was not only a great singer but
a tireless advocate for civil rights. She was the first black
performer ever to sign a long-term contract with a major studio but
never got a leading role because at the time movies had to be
re-edited before they could play in states where theaters could not
show films with black actors.

John Shepherd-Baron: The next time you use a ATM, thank Mr.
Shepherd-Barron. He came up with the idea while soaking in the
bathtub in the early 1960's. The first ATM was installed in Barlclays
Bank north of London.

John Wooden: Perhaps the greatest coach in the history of collegiate
sports, he was much more than that. While winning 10 Division I NCAA
basketball championships at UCLA in 12 years and 88 straight
victories, he inspired his players to pursue success in life as well
as on the basketball court.

Fred Morrison: Fred became rich by giving the world the Frisbee, the
flying disk that was a favorite of adults, children and dogs
throughout the world.

Don Meredith: A star quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, he was a
part of the original broadcasting team that brought us, for better or
worse, Monday Night Football. He was folksy and light hearted, a
refreshing change from the fawning hero-worship school of
broadcasting. He was also the perfect foil for Howard Cossell, who
called game as though he was doing a reading of “MacBeth.”

Robert Culp: Just because “I Spy” with co-star Bill Cosby was great

Peter Graves: Just because “Mission:Impossible” was great television.

Darryl Gates: The most revered and detested chief in LAPD history. He
instituted the SWAT team and the DARE anti-drug program, but failed
to keep pace with a city that underwent dramatic changes.

Art Clokey: A pioneer in the popularization of stop motion clay
animation, he invented Gumby.

Vernon Baker: Received the United States military's highest
decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in World War II. He
was awarded the medal for his actions near Viareggio, Italy, when he
and his platoon killed 26 enemy soldiers and destroyed six machine
gun nests, two observer posts and four dugouts. But because he was
black, he waited until 1997 to receive his honor which was presented
to him by President Clinton.

Leslie Nielsen: Surely he can’t be gone. He is, and don’t called him

Merlin Olson: The Los Angeles Rams star brought class to the highly
unclassy position of defensive tackle.

Prince Chunk: A a domestic shorthair cat, who at one time was alleged
to weigh forty-four pounds.

Otto: A male dachshund-terrier cross who at 20 years and 8 months,
held the Guinness World Record as the world's oldest dog.

Donald Edward Goerke: An American business executive and food
developer, he invented SpaghettiOs.

David Wolper: The television and film producer was responsible for
such as “Roots”, “The Thorn Birds,” “North & South”, “L.A.
Confidential” and “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” But perhaps
his most spectacular production was the opening and closing
ceremonies of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

J.D. Salinger: Reclusive and enigmatic, he wrote “The Catcher in the
Rye,” in 1951, the ultimate tale of adolescent angst and loss if
innocence, which still sells 250,000 copies a year.

William "Bill" Otto Binder: He ran the landmark Phillipe’s restaurant
in downtown Los Angeles for decades. When the original eatery was
forced out of their Aliso Street location by the construction of the
101 Freeway, Binder moved it to its Alameda Street address location
and kept it successful.

Blake Edwards. The producer and director brought us the “Pink
Panther,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Days of Wine and Roses.”

Paul Conrad: The Los Angeles Times political cartoonist won three
Pulitzer Prizes. More important, he was a friend.

Friday, December 24, 2010


Here comes another one of those year-end wrapup stories.

Let’s face it, this column knows no shame when it comes to blindly
following the crowd.

With one exception. Instead of collecting a list of newsworthy events
and people --- what more is there to say about Lindsey Lohan, Tiger
Woods, speeding Toyotas, full body scanners and berserk Jet Blue
flight attendants --- we choose another way to mark the end of the

As we have done in past years, we salute the best media corrections
on which we bestow the coveted Mea Culpa awards.

We’re not making of fun the profession. Even though the industry is
perceived as circling the drain, there are a lot of hard-working
folks out there who produce the “daily miracle” and take great pride
in doing so.

Despite the fact that we strive of perfection, we come up short from
time to time. And sometimes the results amuse.

Here, then, is a sampling of the corrections that made us smile, if
not groan. They have been collected from the Internet, from
contributors and from a website called Regret the Error.

Do They Look Alike?: Last week’s column mistakenly misidentified a
source. The European Commission president is Romano Prodi, not Buffy
the Vampire Slayer. The Prague Post.

Fashion Note: Because of a reporting error, Dr. Arleigh Dygert
Richardson III, former teacher at Lawrence Academy in Groton, was
described in his obituary yesterday as favoring tacky pants with
tweed jackets and Oxford shirts. Dr. Richardson favored khaki pants.
The Boston Globe.

...And all Brits Are Druids Who Eat Blood Sausage: In an article on
February 3, we implied two thirds of Haitians drank goats’ blood
while practicing voodoo. We are happy to make clear this is not the
case. The Sun, United Kingdom.

Just Forget It: A story on Page 1 of Tuesday’s Telegraph quoted a
White House official explaining that a Q-and-A session with dozens of
teenagers in Nashua High School North on Monday was “off the record.”
However, the explanation about the talk being “off the record” was,
it turns out, also “off the record” and should not have been quoted.
Nashua Telegraph.

Just Forget It, Part II: At the very beginning of the process of
explaining what it all means, we incorrectly stated that today was
Tuesday. Today is Wednesday. We regret the error. Source unknown.

Star Crossed: Lilith’s astrology column for the week starting March 6
was wrongly published last weekend. We are republishing it today. The
Herald apologizes for any sense of deja vu readers experience this
week. Sydney Morning Herald.

Issues and Answers: Townsville City Council chief executive Ray
Burton was quoted in Saturday's edition saying the role of a new
strategic policy advisor had been created "to deal with some of the
issues your paper (the Townsville Bulletin) has created". This was
wrong. Mr. Burton said the position had been created "to deal with
some of the issues your paper (the Townsville Bulletin) has drawn to
our attention''. Townsville Bulletin, Australia.

Blue Bell: In the Oct. 13 Section A, a profile of Lorenzo Velez, the
only Bell City Council member not charged with a crime, described
Bell as "a city dominated by blue-color Mexican immigrants like
himself." It should have said "blue-collar." Los Angeles Times.

It’s All About Me: Reporter Amanda Hess, in a story published Monday,
acknowledges she wrongly wrote that "one in three black men who have
sex with me is HIV positive.” In fact, the statistic applies to black
men “who have sex with men.” Washington Citypaper.

Sole Man: A Tuesday Morning Quarterback story on indicated
that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick did not wear anything
pink in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month during Monday
night's game against Miami. In fact, the soles of Belichick's shoes
were pink. ESPN.Com.

Bat Man: A June 22 article about G8 security measures in Huntsville
incorrectly said that resident Steve Groomes has a gun at the ready
should protestors get by the army of police and soldiers scouring the
brushes. In fact, what Groomes said in a jovial way was that “I’ve
got an Easton 32 in the house.” The Easton 32 is a baseball bat not a
gun. The Star.

Big Difference: I am sorry to disappoint all the readers who wished
to apply for the position, but New Orleans does not employ a “sex
assessor.” That was a misprint in Wednesday’s column. It should have
read “tax assessor.” New Orleans Times Picayune.

Location, Location, Location: The following corrects errors in the
July 17 geographical agent and broker listing: Aberdeen is in
Scotland, not Saudi Arabia; Antwerp is in Belgium, not Barbados;
Belfast is in Northern Ireland, not Nigeria; Cardiff is in Wales, not
Vietnam; Helsinki is in Finland, not Fiji; Moscow is in Russia, not
Qatar. Business Insurance magazine

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Royal Pain

I was in elementary school in 1953 when on a fine June day we were summoned from the playground and marched into the auditorium to gaze at a 21-inch Philco on the stage and watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

To a group of ragtag schoolkids, kings and queens, coronations and royal trappings was the stuff of fairy tales, no more real to us than gnomes and dragons.

But there it was, in stark black and white, brought to us courtesy of a new technology called television.

It was, as they say these days, a teachable moment. It was also our unwitting indoctrination into the cult of royal family worship that thrives to this day.

Witness the unbridled hysteria surrounding the recently announced nuptials between Prince William and Kate Middleton. The dashing prince is, of course, the son of Prince Charles and the late Lady Di who alive and deceased received more attention than the entire royal family and Elvis rolled into one.

The bride-to-be is a commoner, which seems a strange designation in an era when the monarchy is becoming irrelevant. But she is hardly the dust bin variety. She is educated, poised, stylish and tenacious, having hung around for eight years before getting a ring.

So good for them. They make a handsome couple and we wish them well. But you and I know the story will not end there.

The avalanche of coverage began with the wedding announcement that on many TV stations was the lead story, bumping into a secondary position the awarding of the Medal of Honor to the first living soldier since Vietnam.

The media is already speculating that the ceremony will be broadcast in 3-D courtesy of Rupert Murdoch. Think of it as a wedding, "Avatar" style.

The British tabloids are in a feeding frenzy. Social networking sites, Web pages, bloggers and cable news pundits will provide all-wedding, all-the-time coverage for the next six months. Don't be surprised if there's a William & Kate iPhone app soon.

We love the Brits, we really do, despite the Boston Massacre, the burning of the Capitol and Herman's Hermits. But do we really care that much?

Linda Waite, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, sees Kate and William as a compelling biological match. "They're slim, they're fit, they're tall, they have gorgeous shiny hair, all the things that connote health," she told the New York Times. "We're watching this prime couple socially and biologically do this mating ritual, which is satisfying and exciting. It feels good."

Which seems a bit clinical.

What really grabs us is a fairy tale in which the beautiful couple and their happy subjects live happily ever after. Unfortunately, the last fairy tale involving Prince Charles and Lady Di ended in divorce and death, which will not be lost on many who watch.

At the risk of sounding cynical and unromantic, the real driving force behind all the hoopla is money. Estimates for the ceremony's price tag range wildly - from around $20 million to $75 million.

William's father, Prince Charles, is expected to pick up most of the check for the wedding, including a possible donation from the queen. Security costs, which have been estimated well into the millions, will be paid by police and government agencies.

This at a time when the people of Great Britain are facing tax increases and austerity cuts that will whittle at benefits and slash half a million public-sector jobs. Even Queen Elizabeth II's budget got squeezed.

But the wedding will be a stimulus package for the British tourism industry. That is, after all, one of the main economic arguments in favor of maintaining the monarchy: It is a steady draw for tourists who visit the British capital to see the Windsors in their pomp.

According to the BBC, restaurateurs and hoteliers can now look forward to a two-year bulge in tourism numbers, with the 2011 wedding to be followed by the 2012 Olympics. Some economists think a feel-good event could help lift broader consumer spending out of the doldrums.

Then there is the merchandising. A reporter for the Guardian's blog said that she "just spoke to a woman from Asda," Wal-Mart's British arm, "who confirmed the supermarket is planning to flog as much memorabilia as possible, `because we all love a royal wedding, don't we?"'

The Sap Is Running

I wonder if I could have been a writer of Christmas specials?

Probably not. I don’t have a high enough sap content.

After all, sappiness seems to be a staple of holiday fare. We can
thank Charles Dickens for that. He set the standard for mawkishness
in “A Christmas Carol” that resonates to this day.

Some do sap better than others. “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” are lump in the throat, tear in the eye tales that are classics of the genre.
Sentimental? Sure. Socko, life-affirming happy endings? You bet.

Contrast them with the parade of offerings each year that shames even
a mediocre medium like television.

It’s the Dickens formula, 21 Century style. Take a tragic figure, mix
in the prospect for a cold and bleak holiday preferably involving
doe-eyed children, add a dash of morality and stir vigorously. Top
with a last-minute Christmas Miracle and pass out the handkerchiefs.

But it’s Dickens as imagined by a room full of monkeys banging on

Take, for instance, “Debbie Macomber's Call Me Mrs.
Miracle.” This Christmas, Emily Merkle (call her Mrs. Miracle!) is
working in the toy department at Finley's, the last family-owned
department store in New York City. And her boss is none other than
Jake Finley, the owner's son.

For Jake, holiday memories of brightly wrapped gifts, decorated trees
and family were destroyed in a Christmas Eve tragedy years before.
Now Christmas means just one thing to him—and to his father. Profit.
Because they need a Christmas miracle to keep the business afloat.

Holly Larson needs a miracle, too. She wants to give her
eight-year-old nephew, Gabe, the holiday he deserves. Holly's widowed
brother is in the army and won't be home for Christmas, but at least
she can get Gabe that toy robot from Finley's, the one gift he
desperately wants. If she can figure out how to afford it.

Fortunately, it's Mrs. Miracle to the rescue. Next to making children
happy, she likes nothing better than helping others—and that includes
doing a bit of matchmaking.

Sounds to me like Mrs. Miracle is a bit of a nosy busybody.

Or consider“Farewell, Mr. Kringle” (not to be confused with “Goodby,
Mr. Chips.”) Annabelle (Christine Taylor), a widowed journalist,
accepts an assignment on Kris Kringle, a Santa Claus impersonator who
lives in a small,Christmas-themed town. To her surprise, Anna is
enchanted by Kris and the townspeople who love him. As her
involvement with the town grows, Anna is able to put the past behind
her and open herself up to love again.

The biggest problem with this story is that any self-respecting
journalist assigned to do a story on a Santa Claus impersonator would
quickly resign and flee into the night.

As silly and schmaltzy as these storylines may be, they read like
“Gone With the Wind” compared to a TV offering entitled “Holiday in

In it, Trudie is an aspiring painter working as a restaurant
waitress. With the pressure to please her parents building, a job
interview that goes poorly and getting dumped by her boyfriend, she
has a nervous breakdown.

Stressed about going home for the holidays, she kidnaps David, a
random restaurant customer at the restaurant in which she works and
introduces him to her parents as her boyfriend. Trudie's family is
vacationing at a isolated house so David is unable to escape. He
finally decides to play along until the police come, but he
ultimately falls in love with Trudie.

But this Christmas holiday comes to an abrupt end when her brother
announces that he is gay and her sister says that she has quit law
school and with the tuition her dad has been sending her bought a
pilates studio. Then the police show up and arrest the family during

Later, Trudie is invited to show her art at a local gallery and is
stunned to see one of her pieces is sold during the show. As she is
leaving the show, she is kidnapped and taken to a nearby building.

Her kidnapper turns out to be David. He tells her he bought this
building and is making it into an architecture/art studio. He decided
to turn his life around and do something he really

He also wanted an art studio and shows her his
first art piece he just purchased, and it turns out to be hers.
David admits his love for Trudie and Trudie admits her feelings
towards him as well. They share a kiss as the credits start to roll.

But it’s not the worst holiday special ever made.

That distinction goes to cable network VH1 which some years ago
contracted zany hard rocker and weapon nut Ted Nugent to help create a
“reality” Christmas special.

Nugent responded with a special that features him bowhunting, and
then making jerky from four calling birds, three French hens, two
turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

In the second half of the hour-long special, Nugent heckles a
vegetarian into consuming three strips of dove jerky.

It was never aired.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ship of Fools

The recent engine fire aboard the cruise ship Carnival Splendor, which left its 4,500 passengers and crew temporarily adrift off the coast of Mexico, rapidly became the most overblown media event in recent memory.

To hear tell, it ranked somewhere between the Titanic and the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald for sheer unmitigated human suffering.

Except that it didn't. Sure, the poor souls had to subsist on Spam and Pop Tarts washed down by free booze while the ship was towed back to port.

And a fire at sea is no trifling matter. But it became quickly apparent the worst result of the incident was inconvenience for the passengers and a public relations disaster for the cruise line.

The most daunting challenge passengers faced was the onslaught of reporters and the morbidly curious who descended on them like seagulls on a garbage scow when they disembarked in San Diego.

One traveler grumbled that he hadn't had a hot cup of coffee in four days. Another had her honeymoon interrupted. This got translated into "Cruise From Hell" in headlinese.

Most of the passenger comments went like this:

"Considering the situation, everyone was pretty well behaved. I think we all made lemonade out of lemons. What are you going to do?"

Carnival said the passengers will be fully refunded, awarded a free future voyage and receive reimbursement for transportation costs back home.

Seems generous enough. But it was a lesson the industry learned the hard way.

In 2006, a passenger revolt forced the Cunard cruise line to offer 2,500 passengers aboard its flagship Queen Mary 2 full refunds after the ship missed three scheduled ports of call. Originally, the company said it was willing to give only 50 percent refunds.

The QM2 brushed the side of the channel as it rounded Florida. The resulting damage caused the captain to reduce the ship's speed for the rest of the voyage. To make up for the lost time, the cruise line announced the ship would not make scheduled stops in Barbados, St. Kitts and Salvador, Brazil.

But irate passengers reportedly demanded full refunds, notified the media and threatened a sit-in and a class action suit. The company relented and said full refunds would be made.

All of the above lends support to my decision to forgo cruising as a recreational outlet.

Look, I'm an adventurous guy. I've traveled to faraway places with strange sounding names. And I know that at any given moment, thousands of cruisers are enjoying themselves bobbing along on the oceans of the world.

To them, I wish bon voyage.

I love my fellow man. But the idea of being cooped up on a massive floating mall/playground/nightclub/disco with thousands of people to experience a week of long lines and orchestrated fun doesn't sound like my idea of a good time.

Visiting a port of call as a member of an invading horde doesn't appeal to me.

Neither does dining at the same place and time every night with the retired couple from Des Moines who regale you with tales of his 30 years in the cement business.

Neither does having your tiny cabin as your only resource if you don't like the entertainment.

Ditto for rogue waves. And a norovirus outbreak. One wag called a cruise ship a "petri dish on the open seas."

Neither does giving my money to an outfit like Royal Caribbean, which last year ferried passengers to a private beach on the island of Haiti for an outing of fun and sun at the same time the residents of that country were digging out of the rubble following a massive earthquake and burying more than 50,000 of their citizens.

That same Royal Caribbean has now given birth to two monsters lyrically named Oasis of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas.

The Oasis displacement - the actual mass of the vessel - is estimated at approximately 100,000 tons, about the same as an American Nimitz class aircraft carrier.

Arthur Frommer, perhaps the best known travel writer in the United States, called the Oasis a symbol for the end of Western civilization. The gargantuan ship is really America for Americans who don't want to travel, he says.

"The sole explanation for a 6,000-passenger ship is that it is able to offer more entertainment and thus cater to more of those people who are unable to entertain themselves, those arrested personalities who rely on constant, massive, outside distractions to ward off depression," he wrote. "I'm talking about people who get fidgety if they have no nearby television set, who never read a maga

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Tweed Effect

“As long as I get to count the votes, what are you going to do about
it?” --- William “Boss” Tweed.

Nothing validates the American Democratic experience like election
day. Be you a Tea Bagger or a Trotskyite, it’s your chance to make
your voice heard.

But truth be told, it’s a day that has seen enough snafus, fraud and
dirty tricks to make old Boss Tweed smile in approval. And this year
promises to be no exception.

According to a report by two nationwide voting rights groups, Demos
and Common Cause, administrative complexities or intentional
interference in the registration and voting process can result in
individuals not voting or casting ballots that count, as was the case
for 3 million eligible voters in 2008's presidential election.

In the past, I tended to take this alarmist view with a grain of
salt. The losing party always cries foul, the winners claim the
spoils. But it seems each year things get worse.

Now, Tea Party members have started challenging voter registration
applications and have announced plans to question individual voters
at the polls whom they suspect of being ineligible, according to
published reports.

In response, liberal groups and voting rights advocates claim that
such strategies are scare tactics intended to suppress minority and
poor voters.

That conflict is underscored in the Demos/Common Cause report, which
states that the current political climate is not conducive to an
orderly state of things. Health care reform, the tea party movement,
the party in power watching that power dissipate and the immigration
debate combine to make it a particularly volatile season.

"When the stakes are this high, the rules of the game -- and whether
or not they are enforced -- make all the difference," said Susannah
Goodman, director of election reform for Common Cause and co-author
of the report. "This report shows where we need better rules—and
better referees."

Eligible voters, especially first-time voters, could be asked to
present ID beyond legal requirements, be videotaped, or receive
misinformation about where and when to vote -- all before even
entering a polling place, according to the two groups. Once inside
polls, individuals could have their credentials as eligible voters
challenged by partisans.

According to one report, the ability to widely disseminate
misinformation --by Internet-based phone calls, fraudulent e-mails,
etc. – is growing faster than you can say tweet. One example cited by
Common Cause and Demos was from Ohio's Butler County, where a cyber
attack on the county Web site delayed the reporting of results during
the spring primary. The attack caused the county server to crash.

On a somewhat less Draconian note, a GOP operative in Arizona this
year enlisted homeless people to run for state office on the Green
Party ticket -- possibly in hopes of siphoning votes away from

In Michigan, Democrats are facing ongoing allegations that the 23
candidates filed to run under the tea party line are Democratic
plants. Almost 60,000 of the tea party's signatures were collected by
a political firm with ties to liberal groups, and a Democratic Party
official notarized the paperwork for some of the tea party candidates.

Two years ago, we were witness to a plethora of election day dirty

In Virginia, bogus fliers with an authentic-looking commonwealth seal
said fears of high voter turnout had prompted election officials to
hold two elections — one on Tuesday for Republicans and another on
Wednesday for Democrats.

In Milwaukee, fliers went up advising people "if you've already voted
in any election this year, you can't vote in the presidential

Latino voters in Nevada said they had received calls from people
describing themselves as Obama volunteers, urging them to cast their
ballot over the phone.

Also that year, Republican candidates Rudy Guliani, Fred Thompson and
Mitt Romney were targeted in fake Internet sites that featured
"quotes" from the candidates espousing support for extreme positions
they never endorsed.

What’s to be done? Our elected representatives seem reluctant to do
much of anything. While we have laws prohibiting such deceptive
practices, Congress clearly needs to toughen them.

It’s called preventive maintenance. As the stakes get higher, the
temptation to tamper with voter rights gets stronger.

We can ill afford a loss of confidence in the cornerstone of our
democratic process.

We would also be wise to listen to Allen Raymond, who knows
first-hand the pitfalls of voter fraud.

Raymond is a Republican political consultant who spent three months
in federal prison for his role in the 2002 New Hampshire Senate
election phone jamming scandal.

In his book, “How to Rig and Election,” Raymond warns:
“The electioneering tactics I write about it the book will only get
nastier and more brutal, because the tricks of the trade are known,
embellished upon, and passed forward by people like me to more people
like me (or, like the person I had been paid to be). The competition
is growing stiffer and the stakes are rising with every election.

"The only real solution is a savvy, committed electorate.”

Scare Tactics

In my never-ending quest to provide you, the readers, with the latest in social trends, mores and manners, I offer the following tips on how to have a hip Halloween.

1. Imbibe. Responsibly, of course.

2. Wear a costume that will define you as witty and devil-may-care.

3. Mix well.

Dump the gorilla suit, get rid of the Michael Jackson outfit, forget the vampire get-up. They're so yesterday.

And don't do what I did several years ago when I wore all white with a piece of yellow felt on my stomach and told everyone I was a fried egg.

Today's Halloween superstar requires a little imagination and cutting-edge knowledge of current events.

There will be lots of Lady Gagas, for example, this year. "Jersey Shore" characters will be identifiable because they "tawk like dis."

A few Na'vis from the film "Avatar" may show up although being blue, 10-feet tall and keeping your tail out of the onion dip will take some doing.

Bedbugs are hot this year but since they are despicable blood suckers, the costume may not win a lot of friends.

One couple I heard about is going to a party as Mel Gibson and his estranged girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, who participated in a rather vocal, public breakup.

This may be hard to bring off. If you are "Mel," you will be required to circulate among guests trashing every ethnic group and religious belief within earshot in expletive-filled rants. "Oksana" follows closely behind secretly recording his every utterance as lawsuit fodder.

Then there's a company that is selling oil-stained jumpsuits with the British Petroleum logo on the pocket. The downside: you run the risk of getting clocked by someone from the Gulf who fails to see the humor.

For the same reason, you may want to avoid dressing like Bernie Madoff. Ditto Arnold Schwarzenegger. And Reggie Bush.

The political arena is always good fodder for Halloween attire. With the elections just a few days away, it's a perfect time to make a statement about your favorite - or least favorite - politician.

President Obama is sure to be a favorite. There are lots of Obama masks (including a Barackula model). Just complete the look with a sharp suit, a great tie and a Teleprompter.

Where there is Barrack, there is Michelle. It's the perfect get-up for the woman who is statuesque, hates junk food and does bicep curls every day.

Sarah Palin attire is a hot seller. Many Palin masks now come with the lips sealed in order to preserve her presidential aspirations. For a special look, wear a Palin mask and a bear costume to capture that "Mama Grizzly" attitude. Accent with a moose pelt.

How about a Tea Party activist? Just wear a Glenn Beck T-shirt, an Uncle Sam hat and wave a placard that says "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants" or some other equally inspiring words. Then explain to guests why President Obama is a Muslim loving, socialistic, granny killing, anti-Christ while foaming at the mouth. Good conversation makes a lively party.

Too intense? The Joe Biden look is simplicity itself. Just wear a conservative suit, bright blue tie and make a lot of inappropriate and embarrassing comments. For an extra treat, have your wife/girlfriend dress as Nancy Pelosi.

Hillary Clinton: Just add an exaggerated laugh and barely controlled hostility and you'll be an exact copy.

Don't want to draw attention to yourself? Get nine friends together, don dark robes and go as the entire U.S. Supreme Court.

Come Fly With Me

Just in time for the holiday travel season, Readers Digest, America's favorite source of abbreviated information, has blown the lid off the airline industry.

Well, maybe "blown the lid off" is overstating it a bit. Investigative journalism doesn't condense well.

But what they have done is interview commercial airline pilots from throughout the country about the state of things in their industry.

The topics run the gamut from silly security rules to bad cabin air. And it provides an interesting snapshot of air travel in this day and age.

First, this startling revelation from a US Airways pilot in South Carolina: "We miss the peanuts, too." Then, from a first officer on a regional airline: "Sometimes the airline won't give us lunch breaks or even time to eat. We have to delay flights just so we can get food." (See peanuts above).

"The government insists that security theater, and not actual security, is in the nation's best interest," says one pilot. "If it makes you feel any better, our crew had to endure the same screening as the passengers. Never mind that the baggage loaders, cleaners, caterers, and refuelers receive only occasional random screening. You can rest easy knowing that I do not have a pair of scissors or an oversize shampoo bottle anywhere in my carry-on luggage." (Yeah, but think about the economy. Eliminate the TSA screeners and 45,000 people are out of work).

"I'm constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I'm comfortable with. Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel," says another pilot. (I'm sure you could lighten the load by getting several passengers to exit the plane, especially if they knew the chance of reaching their destination was sketchy).

"We tell passengers what they need to know. We don't tell them things that are going to scare the pants off them. So you'll never hear me say, `Ladies and gentlemen, we just had an engine failure,' even if that's true." (I really don't want to know if an engine is failing or the rivets are popping out of the wings. If the oxygen masks drop and the attendants are singing hymns, I'll get the message).

"The two worst airports for us: Reagan National in Washington, D.C., and John Wayne in Orange County. You're flying by the seat of your pants trying to get in and out of those airports. John Wayne is especially bad because the rich folks who live near the airport don't like jet noise, so they have this noise abatement procedure where you basically have to turn the plane into a ballistic missile as soon as you're airborne." (Too bad they didn't mention Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, which is the equivalent of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride).

"No, it's not your imagination: Airlines really have adjusted their flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals. So they might say a flight takes two hours when it really takes an hour and 45 minutes." (The last time I flew from Burbank to the Bay Area, the flying time was announced as two hours. The old Lockheed Turboprops flew faster than that).

"Pilots find it perplexing that so many people are afraid of turbulence. It's all but impossible for turbulence to cause a crash. We avoid turbulence not because we're afraid the wing is going to fall off but because it's annoying." (News item: A plane had to make an emergency landing after 10 people were injured when the flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles hit turbulence).

"When you get on that airplane at 7 a.m., you want your pilot to be rested and ready. But the hotels they put us in now are so bad that there are many nights when I toss and turn. They're in bad neighborhoods, they're loud, they've got bedbugs, and there have been stabbings in the parking lot." (Who does this guy fly for, Air Somalia?)

"The general flow of air in any airplane is from front to back. So if you're really concerned about breathing the freshest possible air or not getting too hot, sit as close to the front as you can..." (This is called first class. The price will take your breath away.)

"Here's the truth about airline jobs: You don't have as much time off as your neighbors think you have, you don't make as much money as your relatives think you make, and you don't have as many girlfriends as your wife thinks you have. Still, I can't believe they pay me to do this."

And despite all the gripes, you do it well. Happy landings.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Plain English

Gene Weingarten, writing this past week in the Washington Post, came to a startling conclusion: The English language is dead.

"It succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 after a long illness," he wrote. "It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself."

And who is to blame for this outrage, this laying to waste the language that binds us together? Rap music? Illegal immigration? A failed public education system? Obama?

Weingarten doesn't really single out any one cause but he does point the crooked, bony finger of blame at the American newspaper industry as a partner in crime.

"In the past year alone, as the language lay imperiled," he writes, "the ironically clueless misspelling `pronounciation' has been seen in the Boston Globe, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Deseret Morning News, Washington Jewish Week and the Contra Costa Times, where it appeared in a correction that apologized for a previous mispronunciation."

I feel his pain, especially since executing a computer keystroke will launch spelling and grammar checks that guarantee even bad stories will be written in good English.

Weingarten continues, "The Lewiston (Maine) Sun-Journal has written of `spading and neutering' and The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star described professional football as a `doggy dog world.' The Vallejo Times-Herald and the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune were the two most recent papers to report on the treatment of `prostrate cancer."'

Not mentioned but one of my favorites was a line in a newspaper that read, "And when he arrived, nobody wasn't there." It had a zen-like quality to it.

To be sure, newspapers aren't the only purveyors of botched grammar.

The Cook County (Ill.) Board, apparently fed up with what it perceived as negativity in the mainstream media, decided to produce its own magazine to ensure "regular positive press."

But the initial run of 5,000 copies had to be tossed because the magazine had too many spelling and grammatical errors.

In Minnesota, a would-be bank robber was arrested after handing the teller a note that said, "Give money, I gun" thereby assuring that the only sentence he'll complete is in state prison.

But back to newspapers.

I read newspapers every day, lots of them, and while I see the occasional grammatical lapse, it pales in comparison to the millions of words that are published.

Weingarten's examples are painful but most come from smaller papers. Small papers pay small wages and don't often attract erudite writers, settling instead for inexperienced reporters who are still learning the craft. This journalist as a rookie learned a lot more about grammar by writing than I ever did diagraming sentences.

Then there is the copy editor, the last line of defense at any newspaper. When I first started out, these were mostly gray-haired newsroom veterans who spoke like ham actors and read dictionaries on their lunch break. Make a grammatical mistake and you would be loudly and publicly humbled.

Copy editors are still on the job but in much fewer numbers. In this era of severe staff cutbacks, they are overwhelmed by the workload, which includes myriad production responsibilities and leaves scant time for careful editing. Thus, mistakes get made.

It may be a rough patch for the English language. It is under siege by texts, tweets and blogs. But it is far from dead. Dozens of new words are added to the language each year. An estimated 6 billion people worldwide speak it. The Oxford English Dictionary gets 2 million online hits a month.

Hold the autopsy, Mr. Weingarten. As Winston Churchill once famously said, "This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put."

Nobel Causes

Thank God for the gift of science. Without it, I would be etching this column on the wall of a cave using a bird feather dipped in animal blood.

Actually, several of my readers have suggested I do just that. But I digress.

For all the gifts science has provided us - imagine a world without auto alarms, Snuggies and plastic grocery bags - researchers sometimes get a little goofy in their never-ending quest to push the boundaries.

For these folks, we have the Ig Nobel Prizes, awarded each year at Harvard University to those whose research might strike many of us as downright silly.

Or as the sponsors, the Annals of Improbable Research, put it, "science that makes you laugh, then makes you think."

Past winners include a study that confirmed an empty beer bottle makes a better weapon than a full beer bottle in a fight, a scientist who studied why woodpeckers don't get headaches and the invention of a bra that can double as two protective face masks in an emergency.

Thanks to a generous benefactor, winners receive a 10-trillion Zimbabwean dollar note.

This year's honorees:

Scientists from the Instituto Politecnico Nacional, Baja California Sur, Mexico, for perfecting a method to collect whale snot using a remote-control helicopter. One wonders how they retrieved samples in the past.

Two Dutch researchers who discovered that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride. Did they study the Ferris wheel, fun house and tilt-a-whirl first?

Japanese and British teams that found they could use slime mold to determine the optimal routes for railroad tracks.

New Zealand scientists who demonstrated that, on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes. It was reported that trial subjects did report better traction, but also reported feeling slightly ridiculous.

British researchers who confirmed the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain. They also found that people who don't normally swear benefited more than habitual potty-mouths. "Swearing is useful, but don't overdo it," they advised.

An American team that determined by experiment that microbes cling to bearded scientists.

A group including British Petroleum that disproved the old belief that oil and water don't mix. BP, of course, validated this theory in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

An Italian team that demonstrated mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.

Chinese and British researchers scientifically documented that fellatio in fruit bats prolongs copulation. The group, however, was prohibited from demonstrating their findings using hand puppets.

In keeping with the spirit of the awards, this year's ceremony featured the premiere of a new work called "The Bacterial Opera," about the bacteria that live on a woman's front tooth, and about that woman.

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the prizes.

The scary thing is that there were almost 7,000 nominations.

A committee had the thankless job of whittling down the list to 10 winners, according to past honoree Kees Moeliker, who won in 2003 for discovering homosexual necrophilia in mallard ducks.

It was duly noted that there are four winners from Great Britain this year. (Britain also this week produced the first real Nobelist, physicist Andre Geim, to have previously won an Ig - for levitating frogs with magnets.)

Said Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals and architect of the Ig Nobels, "The British Empire had a rough 20th century. Maybe this is the best sign that the empire is surging back to prominence."


A Rose by Any Other Name

Mention the words “Rose Parade” and people think of New Year’s Day in

Mention the word “Honda” and people think of a Japanese automobile.

Mention the words “The Rose Parade Presented by Honda” and people
think that another American icon has been gobbled up by a
multinational corporation, an act that threatens to turn the
festivities into a five-mile long infommercial.

That was my reaction when the news was announced that naming rights
to the parade had been sold to Honda. And it was the reaction of
dozens of Internet posters who weighed in on the subject.

A sampling: “As if the event weren't commercial enough, we get the
final sell out. How disgusting!” “I was planning to go to the Rose
Parade this year, but I dislike the idea of hearing Honda this, Honda
that. I’d rather go hiking.” “Why not just make it North American
Honda presents The Tournament of Roses sponsored by Acura?”
“Traditions for sale. Get em' while their cheap.”

This isn’t exactly scientific polling but the fact is the only
positive comments on the deal are coming from Tournament House, Honda
headquarters and City Hall which doesn’t exactly indicate a
groundswell of popular support.

Pasadena, which embraces tradition and civic pride, has been sucker
punched. The culture of the Rose Parade has been compromised.

I guess we can be thankful the sponsor wasn’t Depends or Fruit Loops.

None of this should come as a total surprise. The first commercial
float in the parade appeared in 1935 and the number of corporate
entries have increased steadily since.

In 2010, Honda, Anheuser-Bush , Bayer, China Airlines, Farmers, Jack
in the Box, Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament, Macy’s, Kaiser
Permanente, Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods, Inc.,
Phoenix Satellite Television (U.S.),.Rainbird, RFD-TV, Subway
restaurants, Wells Fargo and Trader Joe’s joined in the festivities.

We know college bowl games have corporate stickers affixed to them
including the Rose Bowl game which has been sponsored by AT&T,
Playstation and Citi in years past.

It’s the way of the world, 2010. But we don’t have to like it.
And what I like least about it is the efforts of Tournament officials
to spin the message.

For example, parade officials stressed that there will be no major
changes in the parade itself. Then they announced that the Honda
brand will be incorporated into the Tournament of Roses logo and said
there would be changes in the marketing of the event to note Honda's

They also announced that Honda would get the lead position in the
parade each year. And the Honda CR-Z will be used as the “pace car”
for the parade. Clearly, things are going to look different now.

(Note to self: See how many times the Honda brand is incorporated
into the parade route or mentioned on TV. I’m betting I will need
more than my fingers and toes to add up the numbers).

Next, there was this doublespeak: "(Honda) are presenting sponsors,
not a title sponsor - it's not like we've sold the name," said
Tournament of Roses President Jeffrey Throop. "It's the Tournament of
Roses Parade presented by Honda. It's not like the `Tostitos Fiesta
Bowl' ...or when you use a corporate sponsor before it as a title.
That's one thing we're saying is a big difference."

Selling the name is exactly what you have done, Mr. Throop. It’s a
cash transaction no matter how you slice the baloney.

Throop said he wanted to assure everyone the T of R is in "terrific
financial shape."

Then why sell the naming rights? Could it be because a scant two
years ago, some float participants said the economic crisis forced
new cost-trimming and fund-raising efforts?

Fiesta Parade Floats official Tim Estes said smaller companies and
organizations attached to the annual event were particularly hard hit
in regard to budgetary concerns, according to published reports.

Meanwhile, the Rose Float Foundation in West Covina, saw a drastic
decline in donations from area businesses apparently due to the
ongoing economic crisis nationwide. "We're grasping at whatever,"
Foundation Executive Vice President Chris Freeland said.

Two years later, the economy hasn’t changed for the better and its
difficult to believe that the recession hasn’t affected the Rose
Parade’s bottom line.

Erik Wedin, manager of corporate community relations for American
Honda Motor Co., said that he thinks there will be general acceptance
of the presentation agreement. "I think if we were approaching this
relationship as a way to generate sales, then I might agree it would
not be a popular move.”

That’s tough to swallow. The Tournament was a seller and Honda was a
buyer. The parade gets cash and Honda generates visibility which
translates into sales. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous.

In three years, the sponsorship will be up for sale to the highest
bidder. Let the games begin.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Twitter Tool

"We came across the word `twitter,' and it was just perfect. The definition was `a short burst of inconsequential information,' and `chirps from birds.' And that's exactly what the product was."

-Twitter creator Jack Dorsey

When Twitter first burst upon the scene, it seemed innocent enough. Another high-tech, whiz-bang communication tool whose primary job was to help people avoid the scourge of social isolation. After all, there are always millions of close personal friends to talk to on a networking site.

I never bought into it. I didn't believe my friends were interested in how I enjoyed Taco Tuesday at the local Mexican joint or that I was standing in line at Trader Joe's.

It turns out, however, there is a huge appetite for "inconsequential information." As of June 2010, about 65 million tweets are posted each day, equaling about 750 tweets per second, according to Twitter.

Everybody's doing it, even politicians. Which is surprising considering that our public servants aren't always quick to spot a trend.

Why are they suddenly embracing social networking with such vigor?

Example A is John McCain, who is the top-ranked tweeter on Capitol Hill, with more than 1.7 million followers. This from a 74-year-old guy who in 2008 admitted he had to rely on his wife to access the Internet.

Perhaps the answer can be found in the words of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who believes tweeting is a useful political tool.

"Using Twitter to bypass traditional media and directly reach voters is definitely a good thing," Gingrich said.

Aha! Bypass traditional media. That means he can get his message out without dealing with bothersome details such as context, opposing viewpoints and factual evidence.

What a breakthrough for technology. What a setback for informed political discourse.

So far, political tweets are a mixed bag. Many are downright benign. Take Arkansas Congressman John Boozman for example. "Eating breakfast with a constituent," he tweeted. "Honored to receive the National Farmers Union's Golden Triangle Award," tweeted Connecticut Congressman Joseph Courtney.

Some are happy ("Great afternoon watching skijoring in Wisdom, Montana," wrote Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.) and some are angry ("Accusations against me unfounded. No benefit, no improper action, no failure 2 disclose, no one influenced: no case," argued Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who is facing ethics charges).

Sometimes political satire makes an appearance: "1 in 5 Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. 1 in 5 also believe in alien abductions and can't find the U.S. on a map." Or "Outrage Over Plans to Build Library Next to Sarah Palin."

Trash-talking tweets are not unknown, even at the highest levels. After a recent front-page New York Times story painted House Minority Leader John Boehner as beholden to special interests and swayed by his large network of lobbyists, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tweeted, "Story on Boehner covers some of his greatest hits - handing out checks from lobbyists on the House floor" - referring to a 1995 incident when the Ohio Republican doled out contributions on the House floor, an act later outlawed. Gibbs then disseminated Boehner's quote about how passing out checks probably "doesn't look good."

But, the Politico website reported that Boehner was not to be outdone. He tweeted about a June 24 Times story describing how members of the Obama administration were meeting with lobbyists at Caribou Coffee on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. "@PressSec forgot to Tweet about Dems meeting w/lobbyists @ Caribou." He added that Gibbs "also hasn't explained how raising taxes on small businesses will create jobs. We're still waiting."

Twitter is also no stranger to deception and tastelessness. Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart used a tweet from Rep. Jack Kimble of California as a launching pad for a blog post on who is to blame for the current federal deficits. The problem? There is no Rep. Jack Kimble; that Twitter account is a spoof.

And when Sen. Ted Kennedy died, conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart tweeted, "Rest in Chappaquiddick."

Twitter at the very least runs the risk of being a source for political misinformation, rained down on the public in 140-character bites.

California political advertising watchdogs agree, proposing that online advertising and paid political postings on social networking sites be regulated the same way they are in other media.

Fair Political Practices Commission Chairman Dan Schnur told the San Francisco Chronicle that the goal is to apply the same rules, regardless of the media chosen.

"Whether the message is delivered by mail or by e-mail, or by television or online video, the same principles remain in place: Voters should know who's responsible for the information they are hearing and seeing."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sarah Speak

It's not often that you find Sarah Palin, Shakespeare and the Merriam Webster Dictionary all mentioned in the same breath.

But that's what happened recently when the former Alaska governor and potential Republican presidential candidate drew the ire of the grammar cops (and her political opponents) when she used a mystery term in a text message.

"Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate," she tweeted.

Peaceful Muslims can't refudiate, however, because there's no such word.

We can assume that Ms.Palin somehow mixed "refute" and "repudiate" to coin a new word, as in "I refudiate Tea Party philosophy."

The result is that "refudiate" quickly led to more searches on the Merriam Webster online dictionary than any real words in circulation.

But Sarah didn't bat an eye. "'Refudiate,' `misunderestimate,' `wee-wee'd up.' English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!"

Remind me not to play Scrabble with her.

Perhaps it was an incident that is, as her fellow word coiner Shakespeare wrote, "full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

Except that verbal miscues follow politicians around like lost puppy dogs. Often, history remembers not how they walked the walk but how they talked the talk.

Mention former Vice President Dan Quayle and what do you remember?

That at 33, he was the youngest person ever elected to the Senate from Indiana? And reelected by the largest margin in state history?

Nope. What we remember about Quayle is his foot-in-mouth disease ("The holocaust was an obscene period in our nation's history. ... No, not our nation's, but in World War II. I mean, we all lived in this century. I didn't live in this century, but in this century's history.") or "I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future"). Or "I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn't study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people."

Speaking of vice presidents, how has Joe Biden performed his duties? We're not really sure but we do know he is a one-man gaffe factory. Examples: "Stand up, Chuck, let `em see ya." Biden, to Missouri state Sen. Chuck Graham, who is in a wheelchair. Or "If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there's still a 30 percent chance we're going to get it wrong." Or Joe on Barack Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

While we are on the subject, a few more personal favorites:

"What right does Congress have to go around making laws just because they deem it necessary?" - Marion Barry, former mayor of Washington, D.C.

"I've looked on many women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times. God knows I will do this and forgives me." - President Jimmy Carter, in an interview with Playboy one month prior to the 1976 election.

"People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got." - Richard Nixon at a Nov. 17, 1973 news conference.

"Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?" - George W. Bush, Jan. 11, 2000.

"This was a war of Obama's choosing. This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in." - Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, rewriting history while speaking at a Connecticut fundraiser about the war in Afghanistan, which President Bush launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks (July 2, 2010).

"It depends on what the meaning of the words `is' is." - Bill Clinton, during his 1998 grand jury testimony on the Monica Lewinsky affair.

"Facts are stupid things." - Ronald Reagan, at the 1988 Republican National Convention, attempting to quote John Adams, who said, "Facts are stubborn things."

"My answer is bring `em on." - President George W. Bush, challenging militants attacking U.S. forces in Iraq, July 2, 2003.

"Byaaaahhhhhh!" - Howard Dean, 2004.

So Sarah Palin is in pretty good company, Indeed, she is popular with the public, is raising cash by the bucketful and has momentum, yet polls show most Americans don't think she's qualified to be president.

That's because she may think like Reagan but she talks like Quayle.

If she wants to succeed, she had better "refudiate" her speech writers and start making sense to all Americans.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Beck Orates, Obama Redecorates

NEWS: A labrador that ate a beehive containing pesticides and thousands of dead bees has won an award that recognized the most unusual pet health insurance claim in the United States.

American pet-insurance adjuster Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) Co. selected the four-legged Ellie from a dozen pet-related insurance claims nationwide.

Ellie, who fully recovered from her encounter with the beehive in Southern California, beat an insurance claim from a border collie that ran through a window to get at a mailman and a terrier that bit a chainsaw.

Views: I wonder if any of these claims are denied because being a dog is a pre-existing condition? Just asking.

News: Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial draws thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions, depending on who you ask.

Views: CBS News commissioned the company to offer an independent estimate of how many people showed up for the event. calculated that there were approximately 87,000 people there, plus or minus 9,000 people. It was the only scientific estimate made of the number of people at the rally.

Beck said he drew at least 500,000. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, at her own rally held on the edges of Beck's event, said, "We're not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here today because we were witnesses."

Suffice to say a lot of people showed up. And just to make sure attendance wasn't spotty, Beck announced before the event that it may be the last chance to attend a large rally at the historic Lincoln Memorial.

"The government is trying to now close the Lincoln Memorial for any kind of large gatherings," Beck said. "This may be the last large gathering ever to assemble at the Lincoln Memorial. Historic, historic."

Beck is no Honest Abe. Because, according to the National Parks Service, the Lincoln Memorial remains open for business.

"There is absolutely no attempt by the government to restrict gatherings at the Lincoln Memorial or at any of our sites," said Margie Ortiz, a National Park Service spokeswoman in published remarks. "There is zero basis for his claim."

Rehabilitation work on the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool and grounds will begin soon, and could continue for two years, but National Park Service officials said that work will not prevent the use of the facilities for gatherings, though the size of a gathering would be considered when weighing applications during the construction period.

News: President Obama redecorates the Oval Office.

Views: To the chagrin of his detractors, he didn't install a Muslim prayer rug and a minaret.

Instead, the makeover, by California decorator Michael Smith, (and paid for by donations) has drawn reactions ranging from "less intimidating and more comfortable than previous Oval Offices" to "too brown, too modern, and too much like a basement rumpus room."

The most striking feature: a rug adorned around the edges with some of the President's favorite historical quotes:

"The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself" - President Franklin D. Roosevelt. "The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Towards Justice" - Martin Luther King Jr. "Government of the People, By the People, For the People" - President Abraham Lincoln. "No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings" - President John F. Kennedy. "The Welfare of Each of Us is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us" - President Theodore Roosevelt.

Someone soon will undoubtedly read into these quotes a nefarious plot to turn us all into Prius-driving, Quran-quoting socialists who love gay marriage and hate the Fourth of July.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Retread and the Rookie

Don't look now, folks, but there's an election coming up soon.

Nothing much at stake here, just the fate of a once vibrant state so awash in red ink and incompetent political leadership that it threatens to become a West Coast version of Mississippi.

And who will lead us out of the darkness?

Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman tell us they can do the job, but neither inspire a lot of confidence. There are no Kennedys or Reagans in this race.

What to make of Jerry Brown? He was a post-Watergate breath of fresh air when he became governor in 1975, a mixture of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism but who at times was so ethereal he was difficult to comprehend.

For all his high mindedness, he is at heart a career politician. Governor for two terms, mayor of Oakland, chairman of the state Democratic Party, state attorney general. He ran for president three times and the U.S. Senate once.

Brown was a political minimalist, who governed in what he called an "era of limits."

He was at the helm when Prop. 13 passed, a measure which has dominated the California economic landscape since 1978 for better or worse. He opposed it but couldn't prevent its passage.

Now, at age 70, he wants to be governor again. Whatever else he brings to the table, I remain astounded that the Democratic Party, with a chance to seize the statehouse from a badly flawed Republican, has pinned its hopes on a retread.

Is the salvation of our future to be found in our past? Or is it in an unknown who was so out of touch politically that she didn't vote for more than 20 years.

Republican Meg Whitman is throwing around money like the billionaire that she is, nearly $100 million of her own cash at last report, in order to get elected.

Forget that this former eBay CEO is by herself making this the most expensive gubernatorial race in history. Forget that playing princess to Brown's pauper may be a bad political decision in an economically depressed state with a soaring unemployment rate. Forget that she has hired 56 different political consulting firms.

What Whitman is buying here is exposure, lots and lots of it. She has so saturated the airwaves, it's impossible to watch TV or listen to the radio without exposure to a Whitman ad.

Does it work? Sure, people know her although I'm beginning to wonder if they aren't tuning her out, like one of those irritating Quizno commercials.

If you are still watching those ads, you know Meg is in attack mode. But her meat-cleaver approach does little to define her or her platform. And in her zeal to trash an opponent, the facts often get left behind.

Whitman's campaign ad, "Jerry Brown: A Legacy of Failure," is a case in point. According to FactCheck.Org. a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center:

The ad claims that "crime soared" while Brown was mayor of Oakland. That's false. The total number of crimes actually went down by more than 13 percent.

Also false is the ad's claim that Brown "damaged the school system so badly the state had to take it over." As mayor, Brown had almost no control over the school district, which was run instead by an elected school board.

The ad claims Brown worked to "send California jobs to China," but that's unproven. The claim rests on an 18-year-old newspaper story that Brown strongly denied.

Some of the ad's other claims lack context. For example, it's true as claimed that California had unemployment of 11 percent when Brown finished his time as the state's governor. But the ad fails to mention that the national unemployment rate was 10.8 percent at the time.

And what about Brown? Except for a few ads paid for by union interests, he remains largely silent so far, and it isn't a reflection of his Zen persona.

The fact is he doesn't have the money to maintain an indefinite media campaign. Instead, he'll wait until after Labor Day.

In the meantime, the Brown camp has started a website called Meg-a-Myths. Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford says it exists because "Whitman is either incapable or unwilling to tell the truth about Jerry Brown, California or herself. If she won't, we will."

Let us hope that we can dispense with the trash talking and hear real solutions for this state's massive problems. Let's hope that one of these candidates will rise to the occasion.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Motorcade Madness

Years ago, I stood at the corner of Second Street and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, returning to work after lunch.

Suddenly, a large limo pulled up not five feet away from the curb on which I stood and stopped before turning right.

I peered into the back seat and who should I see but President Jimmy Carter, who waved before his car sped away. A colleague criticized my sense of journalistic indifference because I waved back.

To be sure, it was a simpler time and Mr. Carter didn't often draw large crowds of adoring supporters in his travels.

But contrast that brief and simple encounter with the Old Testament gridlock that ensued this past week when President Obama commuted from LAX to attend a fundraiser in Hancock Park.

It was so bad, according to news reports, that residents of the area were calling for an investigation because they were caught in traffic for hours.

Only Michael Jackson's funeral could rival it for sheer unmitigated inconvenience.

"It was a beautiful thing," one resident was quoted as saying. "Young, old, black, white - everyone was pissed off."

Another resident complained it took him nearly three hours to travel one mile (which he could have walked in 20 minutes).

Others tried to politicize it. After all, only a socialist would take away our God-given right to drive wherever or whenever we want, or so the fringe chatter went.

Look, I feel their pain. I once was herded off the Golden State Freeway in Burbank to let a Nancy Reagan entourage pass. In addition to the inconvenience, it makes you feel like a ragamuffin who is pushed aside so the royal coach can pass by.

But let's have a reality check.

First and foremost, the Westside of L.A is unrivaled when it comes to beaches, posh neighborhoods chucked full of celebrities, ritzy restaurants and the worst traffic in our merry megalopolis.

Traffic in the San Gabriel Valley is no stroll in the park. But on the Westside, it's the stuff of legends.

You can cause a noteworthy traffic jam with a fender bender on Wilshire Boulevard. Throw a hubcap on the 405 and a SigAlert breaks out.

Try a leisurely trip down Pacific Coast Highway at morning commute time. Check out the Santa Monica Freeway eastbound some evening when the Lakers are playing or there's a concert at Staples. It makes you wonder why the auto industry has fallen on hard times.

Public transportation west of downtown is almost nonexistent. And this in a community that was ranked in a recent IBM survey as No.1 in "commuter pain" among American cities.

Drop a presidential motorcade into this cauldron and watch the smoke rise.

Many residents blamed what they saw as a lack of planning and advanced notification. But the Secret Service doesn't do advanced notification for presidential motorcades. If you don't understand why, stop reading now and go watch television.

Advanced planning? The president visited, attended his event and left without being assassinated. Mission accomplished.

When President Reagan was shot by a lovelorn loner named John Hinckley Jr. on a Washington street corner in 1981, it was clear the Secret Service needed to do better.

After 9/11, that mandate became even more urgent.

Now, with the nation's first black president serving in an era of political toxicity, the security surrounding Mr. Obama is unprecedented. When he was inaugurated, the Secret Service coordinated at least 40,000 agents and officers from some 94 police, military and security agencies.

It was accepted as the norm when President Bush traveled with an entourage that included 100 national security advisors, 50 White House political aids, 200 representative from other government departments, a personal chef and his team of four cooks, 250 Secret Service agents and 15 sniffer dog teams. I doubt if those numbers have declined.

There have been public relations gaffes to be sure.

Just recently, Vice President Joe Biden held up airplane traffic for hours when he dropped into town for an appearance on the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

President Clinton was accused of shutting down two runways at LAX while he waited for his hair stylist on Air Force One, although the facts of that story are in dispute and it appears to be an urban legend.

Massive security for the president especially when he travels and the inconvenience it causes reflect the world we live in, unfortunately.

And when that world intersects with yours, expect delays.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Clamshell Combat

The fight was short, but brutal.

After five minutes of close combat, despite suffering several wounds and in complete disregard for my own safety, I defeated my opponent with a violent thrust from a pair of industrial-sized scissors.

Wiping the sweat from my forehead and the blood from my arms, victory was mine. I was finally was able to remove my new electric toothbrush from its "clamshell" plastic packaging.

Of all the outrageous slings and arrows visited upon consumers in the last several decades, impenetrable plastic packaging may rank close to the top. (Closely followed by "tamper resistant" caps that can be easily opened by a simple push-pull double reverse half-gainer twist.)

The "clamshell" packaging seems to be designed by people hand picked for their sadistic tendencies. They have created a product that lets you see your purchase but renders it unobtainable unless you carry a 3.4 amp powered handsaw in your pocket or purse.

According to one report, consumers suffer thousands of injuries per year, such as cut fingers and sprained wrists, from tools used to open packages and from the packaging itself.

Not to mention lingering anger management issues and physical exhaustion.

Consumer Reports even presents "Oyster Awards" for the products with the hardest-to-open packaging.

Lucky me, my brand new Oral-B Sonic toothbrush kit was a winner of the coveted Oyster. The magazine described the product thus: "A tight fit between the plastic skin and cardboard thwarted scissors. Our tester grabbed a box cutter but hacked up the box as an unavoidable result. After removing the clamshell and opening the box, she had to dislodge parts from a foam case, yank off one plastic bag covering the power cord and another protecting additional components, then pop perforations on smaller clamshells shielding the toothbrush heads. Her work table was littered with sharp plastic shards."

Another Consumer Reports winner was a Uniden cordless phone set: It took 9 minutes 22 seconds to unwrap completely and nearly caused injury to the person opening it.

Yet another prize went to "American Idol" Barbie and her packaging, which didn't require lethal weapons but took 15 minutes and 10 seconds to untie all the wires, rip the stitches from her hair and slice the thick plastic manacles off her arms and torso.

One shopper complained of buying a large kitchen knife that couldn't be separated from its package unless you used - drum roll - a large kitchen knife.

A British researcher complained that "we are still chewing through plastic like wild dogs."

In a survey conducted at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business, almost 80 percent of households "expressed anger, frustration or outright rage" with plastic packaging. Consumers also tended to use words such as "hate" and "difficult" when describing these products.

My question: Who are the 20 percent who were apparently satisfied with sealed plastic products? Oyster shuckers? Orthopedic surgeons? Sushi chefs?

The idea behind this packaging is to intentionally make products difficult to open to reduce package pilferage and shoplifting. I know this is a big and costly problem for business.

But I wonder if the loses from those crimes is exceeded by the decline in business and goodwill from customers fed up with engaging in martial arts to open a package with a light bulb inside.

I ask because some merchants are responding to the cry of the wounded consumer. Wal-Mart Stores, Target and Sears all have programs to phase out clamshells, according to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, as does Best Buy.

Amazon has begun a "Frustration-Free Packaging" initiative. Sony launched a "Death to the Clamshell" campaign.

Truth be told, many of these changes are being made for environmental and toxicity concerns rather than the mental health of their customers.

But if it will prevent me from looking like I just emerged from a knife fight after buying a new toothbrush, I'm all for it.

There is a loser in all this, and it's not the emergency room docs.

It's the cottage industry of clamshell packaging openers that sprung up over the last few years.

One such device, the OpenX, has sold in the millions, according to its inventor.

The irony of it is that if you find an OpenX in a store, it will probably be encased in hard-to-open clamshell packaging.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Water Water Everywhere

If we could take a group of folks from the 1950s and plunk them down in 2010 Los Angeles, the first things they'd say after looking around is: "Whatever happened to chrome on cars and hats on men?" followed by, "Why does everyone carry a bottle of water? Did those Commies poison our reservoirs?"

Well, we'd answer, bottled water is convenient. Also, water is good for you and bottled water is better for you than tap water. Not to mention that there's a lot of status involved taking a swig from your $20 bottle of Prix Eleve designer water, collected by hand in the Alps by an order of monks.

And, no, the Commies threw in the towel decades ago.

We'd be wrong on several counts. While it is healthy to stay hydrated, what we're drinking in a lot of cases is from the tap, sometimes filtered, sometimes not.

And the status factor has gone the way of bling.

Indeed, the popularity of bottled water is, in a word, evaporating.

Environmentalists loathe bottled water because they say nearly 90 percent of the bottles are not recycled and wind up in landfills where it takes thousands of years for the plastic to decompose.

Consumers, trying to survive a lousy economy, have come to realize that they're paying good money for something that can be had for free. Sales of reusable aluminum and stainless steel water bottles are up.

If that's not enough, some members of the religious community complain that clean drinking water, like air, is a God-given resource that shouldn't be packaged and sold.

Add it all up and you get bottled water sales that dropped in 2009 for the first time in five years. Yes, folks, bottled water is becoming the new cigarette.

We can trace this change of attitude to the Australian town of Bundanoon, a hamlet of about 2,500 south of Sydney. It seems the citizens there became angry a few years back when, according to published accounts, a beverage company announced plans to build a water extraction plant in town.

Residents faced the prospect of an outsider taking their water, sending it off to the big city for processing and then selling it back to them. The town became so incensed it voted to ban the end product.

About the same time, according to anti-bottle activists, "one of the dumbest moves in advertising history" occurred when high-end brand Fiji started a campaign intended to tout its water which is imported from the tropics.

The advertising copy read: "The label says Fiji because it's not bottled in Cleveland."

Well, the people of Cleveland, the victims of many slings and arrows over the years, did not take kindly to the campaign. So Cleveland Public Utilities director Julius Ciaccia had the local water tested against the bottled stuff. Fiji water had 6.31 micrograms of arsenic per liter; the city tap had zero. The company disputed the findings, but change was in the air.

The cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Salt Lake City have asked employees not to use bottled water or banned city spending on it. Chicago added a 5-cent tax to each bottle.

Famed California chef Alice Waters banned bottled water at her restaurant, Chez Panisse, according to a CNN report. In New York, celebrity chef Mario Batali's fanciest joint, Del Posto, banned the bottle. The idea became fashionable enough that an article in the online magazine Slate talked about the "reverse snob appeal" of tap water.

The irony of all this is that the largest consumers of bottled water are Americans, who need it the least. The great majority of our tap water meets EPA drinking-water standards, which regulate the levels of roughly 90 different contaminants, including germs such as giardia, heavy metals such as lead and dozens of industrial chemicals.

Like Hummers, 3-D TVs and infomercials, Americans are attracted to things they don't need. Bottled water is just another example.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

In One Era and Out Another

I never set foot in Edward's Steak House, which recently closed after 64 years, first in downtown Los Angeles, then in El Monte.

But I feel I know it well.

It was one of those meat-and-potato neighborhood eateries with faux turn-of-the-century decor and a wait staff, bartenders and busboys who had been there for decades. We've all hung our hats in someplace like Edward's.

Quality of food? Not gourmet but good. The drinks were stiff and the menu was as familiar as your every-day china. No pheasant in a cabernet reduction with sesame encrusted baby carrots here. Steak or prime rib or, if you must, halibut. Straight up, please, salad with blue cheese and a baked potato.

It was a place where locals celebrated births, held wakes, marked anniversaries and retirements.

Edward's was preceded in death by Monty's Steak House in Pasadena, which kept the grill fired up for 66 years and even in its final days had a lot of clients who I think may have been there on opening night. Regulars say in the old days that if they didn't finish a steak, the house would offer to take it off the bill. It closed in 2007.

Chances are, there's a place just like them in a neighborhood near you. If so, enjoy it while you can.

Some see sinister forces at work when a beloved institution closes its doors. One patron commented that "It's a shame that Obama has wrecked this country to the point that my favorite restaurant has to close."

That's slicing the baloney a bit thick. No one questions that we are in the throes of a precarious economy but its causes are numerous and widespread.

The owners of Edward's claimed dining room business was down 25 percent. But they also blamed the fact that big businesses in the area have given way to export/import operations, and the local work force is now largely single mothers who bring sack lunches.

It's the "there goes the neighborhood" explanation and a nice way of saying the ethnic makeup has changed. While that may be true to some extent, you can't always blame demographics.

El Monte's population has grown by 45,000 since Edward's moved there in 1973. Top employers, according to the city's website, include Wells Fargo Bank (operation center), Longo Toyota-Lexus (automobile sales and service), Vons Co. (distribution warehouse) and Saint Gobain Glass Container.

Besides, some of the oldest and most popular restaurants in Los Angeles thrive in what can politely be described as distressed neighborhoods that have changed dramatically over time.

Langer's Deli at 7th and Alvarado has been serving pastrami for 63 years next to MacArthur Park. Phillipe's has been going strong since 1908 near Union Station. Musso and Frank opened in Hollywood in 1919. San Antonio Winery by the L.A. River has been around for some 90 years. The Pacific Dining Car on West 6th Street in Downtown L.A. has been serving since 1921. None of these locales are garden spots.

The fact is that Edward's and Monty's had been around for nearly three-quarters of a century. They survived when better-known places such as the Brown Derby and Chasen's and Little Joe's went dark. By anyone's yardstick, that's a remarkable achievement, especially in a business known for a high failure rate.

But nothing, especially the clientele, lasts forever. You attract new customers or die.

In addition, both establishments were independent restaurants, which are on the endangered species list, being pushed toward oblivion by a combination of hard times and the growth of chain operations.

According to one survey by the restaurant industry, the number of restaurants in the United States has fallen by 5,204 since 2009. Independent restaurants took the hardest hits, while chains kept their unit counts relatively stable.

Those independents have suffered sales and traffic declines as prolonged high unemployment has weakened consumer spending. But the chains survive because the revenue of those that thrive help support those that struggle.

That's why you'll rarely see a Burger King close up shop. Yet New York's iconic Tavern on the Green in Central Park and Fraunces Tavern, which dates back to 1762, have shut their doors.

It's the Franchising of America.

And with places like Edward's and Monty's gone, the one-size-fits-all steak can't be far behind.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sacramento Sit-Com

I hate to keep harping on the antics of our elected officials in Sacramento. After all, there's enough buffoonery going on in Washington each and every day to fill the pages of this newspaper.

But the boys and girls in Sacramento seem to be starring in a political vaudeville act. Just recently, we've seen enough pie-in-the-face, seltzer-down-the-pants antics to keep us in stitches for weeks. I couldn't make this stuff up.

First, State Sen. Curren Price of Los Angeles proposes that the state could make a bundle of cash by requiring digital license plates that display advertising. In other words, turn every car and truck in the state into a rolling billboard.

Great idea. Of course, there's the distraction issue. Digital license plates would be a boon to body shops. And product placement could be dicey. Want the family sedan to hawk triple cheeseburgers from some fast food joint, or a sperm bank, or some political candidate you loathe? I didn't think so. But the last time I checked, this bill was still active.

Next up on stage is local Sen. Gloria Romero who wants to toss serpentine as the official state rock of California.

There are two questions here. One, how is it that we have an official state rock? And two, why does Sen. Romero want to get rid of it, symbolically speaking.

As to question No. 1, serpentine, a shiny, green and blue rock found throughout California, was named the official state rock in 1965. It contains
the state's principal deposits of chromite, magnesite, and cinnabar. California was the first state to designate a state rock, once again proving that we are on the cutting edge of civilized society.

It is not to be confused with benitoite which was designated as the official state gemstone in 1985.

California also has an official fossil (the saber toothed cat), a state grass (purple needlegrass), state reptile (the desert tortoise), state soil (San Joaquin soil), state theater (the Pasadena Playhouse) and state colors (blue and gold. Take that, Trojans).

As to question number two, serpentine has "known health effects," according to Romero's bill. And that's because chrysotile, a naturally occurring form of asbestos, can be found in it.

Some geologists say chrysotile is less harmful than other forms of asbestos and would be a danger only if its dust was inhaled repeatedly.

Malcolm Rose, a geologist who spent his career with the U.S. Geological Survey, told the New York Times that "there is no way anyone is going to get bothered by casual exposure to that kind of rock. Unless they were breaking it up with a sledgehammer year after year."

Critics of the legislation say that if the rock is removed from its state status, or declared a carcinogen, it could unleash myriad lawsuits against property owners and other sites where it is found.

Which leaves us to ponder the question: Is Sen. Romero protecting her constituents or instituting the Lawyers Full Employment Act?

Not to be outdone, Assemblyman Mike Davis is backing a plan to turn Michael Jackson's "Neverland Ranch" in Santa Barbara County into a state park.

The idea is the brainchild of NAACP president Alice Huffman, who also sits on the state parks commission. "I think Michael's history is world history and I think it would become the No. 1 attraction for the state parks if we could pull it off," said Huffman.

Put aside for a moment your feelings about Michael Jackson, his fans, Neverland's checkered past or the fact Ms. Huffman thinks it would outdraw all the other state parks (Old Town San Diego State Historic Park has attracted nearly 8 million visitors annually).

Instead, consider this: The property is controlled by Santa Monica-based Colony Capitol LCC, a private equity firm that acquired it when Jackson was facing foreclosure in 2008. The company President Thomas J. Barrack Jr. told Bloomberg News last month that he hoped to sell it for more than $100 million.

Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed closing 220 of California's 279 state parks to save money, but later backed down. Instead, he and lawmakers agreed to close half the parks on certain days and reduce services.

The state budget deficit is $26 billion. Is this the time to introduce a plan that would cost taxpayers more than $100 million? Mike Davis does. He said the plan makes "great sense."

It's no wonder people in other states think we're nuts.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nil on the Pitch

I have tried to love soccer. I truly have.

My youngest played the game from kindergarten through her senior year in high school. I never missed a game.

I drove vanpools, attended practices, coached, officiated, put up the nets, lined the fields and cleaned up when the games were done. I praised her in victory, consoled her in defeat, cheered and booed. I was, proudly, a Soccer Dad.

So much for my bona fides. I still maintain a mild interest in the sport, which usually surfaces once every four years during the World Cup.

But take my daughter or my country out of the equation, and I'd just as soon watch the Best of Synchronized Swimming.

I am willing to concede soccer is the most popular sport in the world, revered in every nook and cranny of the planet.

What I will not concede is that its lack of popularity in the United States is the result of some sort of national character flaw, or isolationism, or indifference, or, heaven help us, as one essay concluded, because we hate foreigners. We are, after all, a nation of foreigners.

Nor do I agree with an assessment that appeared in the Times recently written by author Ariel Dorfman: "... We are living a moment in history when the very notion of American exceptionalism is under siege," he wrote. "If the United States were indeed to abandon the idea that it has been chosen by God to save the world, if its citizens were to really entertain the notion that they are just the same as humans all over the globe and not uniquely endowed with shining virtue, could they not someday join the rest of the species in celebrating the most beautiful sport of our time?"

It's only sporting to point out Mr. Dorfman was at one point in his life cultural advisor to Marxist President Salvador Allende of Chile. He is also a critic of what he calls "North American cultural imperialism." Just to frame his argument.

Look, soccer had its chance. The first recorded soccer club formed in the U.S. was the Oneida Football Club, which played on Boston Common from 1862-1865. It was played at Eastern colleges at the turn of the 20th century.

But as baseball, football and basketball evolved in the early days of American sport, soccer was left behind.

We developed our own sports, just as we developed our own system of government.

This was a young, vibrant, proud country. This was the land of Teddy Roosevelt. Carl Sandberg, writing about Chicago, could have very well been describing the entire country: "Hog butcher for the world, tool maker, stacker of wheat, player with railroads ... stormy, husky, brawling ..."

This was no country for a sport in which, according to Jim Murray, "twenty-one guys stand around and one guy does a tap dance with the ball."

Watch soccer and you watch a game that allows a 0-0 tie. Americans hate a tie. This is not a demonstration of skill. It demonstrates a lack of skill.

Let's face it, soccer is boring. I'd rather Bust It Like the Babe than Bend It Like Beckham.

Watch soccer and you watch a game that allows players to flop around on the ground like beached fish, feigning injury. Faking it to gain some sort of advantage is about as far from good sportsmanship as you can get.

I once saw a video of a soccer team standing in a circle around their coach at practice. When he blew his whistle, they fell to the ground en masse, writhing in simulated pain. It may have been a joke but it had its roots in truth. Soccer offers the worst acting this side of Keanu Reeves.

Watch soccer and you see inept officials calling big games on the world stage. The apologies for bad officiating in this year's World Cup almost exceeded the number of goals scored. Instant replay? Not an option. Too American, I guess.

Watch soccer but watch out for hooligans who make Raider followers look like bird watchers.

Watch soccer and you see a game populated by players who often use one name. Spain has a player who is simply called Pedro. That must strike fear into the hearts of his opponents.

Give me Dick "Night Train" Lane, "Crazy Legs" Hirsch or Red Grange, "the Galloping Ghost." Now, those are names.

Watch soccer and you see teams called the Wanderers, Caledonian Thistle or Chivas, which in Spanish means "goats." Give me the Heat, the Giants, the Bulls, the Steelers.

Watch soccer if you wish. I'll be at the Rose Bowl or Dodger Stadium or Staples Center.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ads Nauseum

It’s that time of year in Sacramento when our elected representatives
grapple with the state budget, an activity that can best be compared
to the Crusades.

This Holy War pits Democrats versus Republicans, who each try to
hammer each other into submission while believing God and Good are on
their side.

Ultimately, nobody wins. The two sides pick up their wounded and live
to disagree another day.

This year, in addition to the usual ideological stalemate, there’s a
$26 billion deficit on the table, forcing the state to desperately
seek new revenue-generating ideas.

Gov. Schwarzenegger, seizing the moment, has set up a Twitter site,, that allows us all to join in the search.

A few recent entries: “More $ for higher education; less for pseudo
system of capital punishment.” “Legalize and tax marijuana. End the
war that does more harm than good.” “California has the worst
representation and the highest cost of government. There is a

“My idea is to give people cash incentives to move to other states.”
“$1 toll for all persons entering the state. Toll booths at I-5,
I-80, I-15, I-10, and charge airlines.” “Don't have a film school at
UC Berkeley ,at UCSD and another one at UCLA. Eliminate duplication.

Noble sentiments, deeply felt, but I don’t see a billion dollar idea
in there.

All is not lost, however. Riding to the rescue is Democratic State
Sen. Curren Price of Los Angeles.

Sen. Price is proposing that the state could make a bundle of cash by
requiring digital license plates that display advertising.

It’s brilliant in its simplicity. Turn every car and truck in the
state of California into a moving billboard. Why didn’t I think of

Price has introduced a bill that would allow the state to begin
researching the use of electronic license plates that would mimic a
standard plate when the vehicle is in motion but would switch to
digital ads or other messages when it is stopped for more than four
seconds, whether in traffic or at a red light.

The license plate number would remain visible at all times in some
section of the screen. In emergencies, the plates could be used to
broadcast Amber Alerts or traffic information.

"We're just trying to find creative ways of generating additional
revenues," Price told the Associated Press. "It's an exciting
marriage of technology with need, and an opportunity to keep
California in the forefront."

I can hear the police dispatcher now: “Attention all units. Be on the
lookout for a stolen vehicle with a license plate frame advertising
Tidy Bowl.”

Come to think of it, product placement could be a knotty problem. Do
you want your car to flash “Viagra” every time you hit the brakes. Or
pitch mortgage lenders? Or Scientology? Or strip clubs?

How about a Meg Whitman ad on a Democrat’s car. How would a
Republican feel about having “Re-elect Nancy Pelosi” blinking from
the rear of the family sedan?

Of course, in California, if our ballots are any indication, the ads
would have to be offered in every known language from Arabic to Zuni.

And no self-respecting advertiser is going to be satisfied with a
15-second spot. He’s going to want a full minute or more. No problem.
We’ll just adjust the signals to stay red longer. Just remember as
your blood pressure rises that it’s your civic duty to help fill the
state coffers.

Then there’s the problem of hackers. I read where a group of jokers
changed one of those computerized electronic warning signs on a Texas
highway to read, “Zombies Ahead. Run for Your Lives.” Which is funny
unless the sign originally read “Bridge Out Ahead.”

Speaking of safety, do you think flashing signs on cars would boost
the accident rate substantially? It’s a body and fender man’s dream.

Nice try, Sen. Price. Why don’t you push that toll booth idea instead?