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?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A License to Silence

There's a new addition to the list of really bad ideas, joining such favorites as leisure suits, wine in a box and football stadiums in the city of Industry.

This one comes from a Michigan lawmaker who wants to register journalists to ensure, among other things, that they possess "good moral character."

Republican state Sen. Bruce Patterson recently introduced a bill that would require everyone from bureau chiefs to bloggers to possess a journalism degree or other degrees substantially equivalent.

In addition, they would:

Have not less than three years experience as a reporter or any other relevant background information.

Possess awards or recognition related to being a reporter.

Submit three or more writing samples.

And as an added incentive, those who register would have to pay a fee.

Forget about the fact that Patterson, who describes himself as a "constitutional attorney," is engaged in a bit of academic self-loathing. After all, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits the making of any law infringing on the freedom of speech or freedom of the press.

Forget the fact that a politician has the temerity to claim the moral high ground and sit in judgment of others.

Forget that there are libel laws and the court of public opinion to hold journalists in check.

Forget that I would qualify to cover Mr. Patterson, depending on who is deciding the
Advertisement "good moral character" question.

This proposed legislation is wrong on so many levels.

OK, I can hear you asking, we register barbers, plumbers and cab drivers. Why not reporters?

First and foremost, it would be open to abuses that go far beyond a bad haircut or a leaky pipe.

Simply put, it would give a government the tools to silence those who are critical of it by denying or revoking their "license." And when it comes to covering politics, no news is bad news.

Think that's far fetched?

Remember Richard Nixon's "Enemies List?" It was populated by a considerable number of reporters and editors. Less subtle but equally Draconian were the rulers of Communist Romania, who registered and licensed typewriters, to be confiscated if the writer offended the government.

Then there's that "moral character" issue. Whose moral character is the benchmark? John Wooden? Or Tiger Woods? And who is applying that standard? As Oscar Wilde once said, "Morality is simply the attitude we adopt toward people whom we personally dislike."

Journalism degrees? In my last editing stop at the Pasadena Star-News, my top reporters had degrees in history, rhetoric, law and divinity. It didn't seem to be a hindrance.

To give Mr. Patterson his due, the journalistic landscape is a lot more confounding than it used to be. In addition to the mainstream press, there are myriad bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers and other "citizen journalists" at work.

Do an Internet search on Barack Obama or Sarah Palin or Manny Ramirez and you'll find thousands of articles written from dozens of perspectives. It's soap box oratory gone electronic.

But it apparently has confused Patterson.

"What's the definition of a reporter? I haven't been able to find out? What's a reporter? What's a journalist?" he asked. "I thought you had to have a degree in journalism, but apparently not. I could retire and be a journalist."

You could, Mr. Patterson, but after this bit of legislative sleight of hand, I doubt if you'd get a lot of job offers.

I've got a better idea. Instead of registering journalists, let's register politicians.

Let's require them to be of high moral character, although Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Bill Clinton and Larry Craig might have trouble making the cut.

Let's require them to have a degree in ethics or the equivalent.

Let's have them submit three samples of intelligent legislation, free from lobbyist influence and back-room deal making.

Let's require transparency.

If we adopted those standards, there would be no need to muzzle journalists.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Day for Dragon Slayers

Small boy's definition of Father's Day: “It's just like Mother's Day
only you don't spend so much." (Author unknown).

Another father’s day is coming. I greet it with mixed feelings.

I’ve kept a great many of the cards I received from my daughters on
Father’s Day over the years. Most of them poke gentle humor at me for
my fix-it skills, TV viewing habits or availability for light

Fair enough. I’m not exactly a hearts-and-flowers guy.

Besides, some of the sentiments are based in fact. I once severed the water line
running from the street to the house while attempting to fix a
sprinkler, flooding the entire yard. The neighbors still yell “surf’s
up” when they see me coming.

The guys at the hardware store know me on a first-name basis. I’m
Bob, the guy who needs a combination internal pipe wrench and wiz
snips with a left handed tongue and groove attachment and carbon
steel forceps so I can hang a towel rack.

I’ll watch any sports on TV, even leg wrestling from Turkestan where
the winner receives a goat.

I’m not sure of the exact location of the vacuum cleaner in our house and the controls on our new washing
machine look to me like those on a F-16 fighter/bomber.

Despite these shortcomings, once a year I’m Dear Old Dad. Over time,
I’ve gotten dozens of ties, gallons of after shave and enough soap on
a rope to scrub down the U.S.S. Missouri.

And each time, I received them with expressions of joy which, truth be told, are honestly felt.

I couldn’t help noticing, however, that on Mother’s Day, my wife
receives flowers, multiple expressions of love that make her teary
eyed all capped with an expensive champagne brunch or dinner at some
place where the menus don’t have prices.

On Father’s Day, I’m sent out to slave over a hot barbecue which, as
a matter of survival, necessitates the ingestion of cold beer.

Also fair enough. Moms deserve all the attention. They are the
nurturers, the huggers, the comforters, the ones that care and feed
for us all.

Men are the dragon slayers, the ones who defend the cave, not to
mention change the oil, move the furniture, kill the spiders and
unclog the toilet.

It’s in our biological makeup to be this way, just like we can’t help
growing beards and grilling meat.

It wasn’t long ago that we were hunter/gatherers who went out with a
spear and brought home the evening meal slung over our massive, hairy

Nothing says love like a sweaty guy with dirt under his nails.

But, heck yes, we deserve a day. In fact, it wasn’t easy getting one.

Mother’s Day in this country officially dates back to 1914. But while
it was met with enthusiasm, the suggestion of a Father's Day was
often met with laughter, according to several historical accounts.
It was the target of much satire, parody and derision, sort of like
National Accordion Month is now. Shockingly, many saw it as the first
step in filling the calendar with mindless promotions.

A bill to accord national recognition of the holiday was introduced
in Congress in 1913. But our elected officials resisted, fearing that
it would become commercialized.

Wikipedia, the sometimes reliable online encyclopedia, reports that
President Calvin Coolidge recommended in 1924 that the day be
observed by the nation, but stopped short of issuing a national
In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a proposal accusing
Congress of ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers,
thus "singling out just one of our two parents. " To no avail.
In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson issued the first presidential
proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June
as Father's Day.

Finally, the day was made a permanent national holiday when that
go-to guy Richard Nixon who signed it into law in 1972.

One other historical note: More phone calls are made in the United
States during Mother's Day than during Father's Day, but the
percentage of collect calls on Father's Day is much higher.

Best definition of a Dad? “A father carries pictures where his money
used to be.”

Monday, June 07, 2010

Congratulations, Grads And Other Lies

Congratulations to the graduates of the Class of 2010.

So much for the platitudes. I've got some good news and bad news for you.

The good news: There are more jobs available than last year. The bad news: Last year was the worst year for college grads since the Great Depression.

Of 2010 graduates who actively applied for work, 24 percent have a job waiting for them post-graduation. This is up almost 5 percentage points from last year when only 19 percent of graduates submitting resumes and applications scored direct employment.

At this rate, we'll crack that 30percent barrier in another 10 years, leaving only 70 percent of our college grads unemployed.

And pay? Salaries for finance majors rose 1.6 percent to $50,546, while those for liberal arts majors fell 8.9 percent to $33,540. Oh, the humanities!

There are other options, like the Peace Corps or the Marine Corps. Either way, the pay is lousy but you'll develop a unique perspective on the world.

Not for you? You can always move back home. The U.S. Census estimated in 2008 that 5 million Americans aged 25 to 35 are living with their parents. Talk about social networking opportunities.

Before you slip into a funk, however, know this: That degree, unless it was in Albanian literature, will mean you won't face a life with a spatula in your hand. The job market is ultimately a lot more rewarding for college grads than it is to those without a degree.


More important, you will join an army of famous people whose first experience with the real world was rejection. Consider:

The Museum of Modern Art in New York rejected a young Andy Warhol's gift of a drawing due to "severely limited gallery and storage space."

The writers of the screenplay for "Casablanca" were told that their work wouldn't make the cut because it was "unacceptably sex suggestive."

Marilyn Monroe, who in 1947, after one year under contract, was dropped by 20th Century Fox because "you haven't got the sort of looks that make a movie star."

Walt Disney's first cartoon production company went bankrupt.

Edgar Allan Poe was expelled first from the University of Virginia, then from West Point.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.

J.K Rowling's original Harry Potter manuscript was rejected 12 times.

Thirty-eight publishers didn't give a damn about Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind."

And if you've got a diploma in hand, you've got a leg up on Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft; Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers; David Geffen, co-founder of Dreamworks, SKG; Larry Ellison, founder of the database company Oracle; William Hanna of the cartoon producers Hanna-Barbera; Sheldon Adelson, real estate and casino owner; Jack Taylor, founder of Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

All of them were college dropouts. And all of them are billionaires.

And just in case your aspirations lead you in a different direction, add to that list Mexican drug lord Joaqu n Guzm n Loera or Dawood Ibrahim, head of an organized crime and terror syndicate in South Asia. Both are worth big bucks.

I'll leave you with a few inspirational quotes as you start your journey:

"A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that individuality is the key to success." (Robert Orben).

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else." (Judy Garland).

"Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude." (Ralph Marston)

"Try not. Do or do not. There is no try." (Yoda)

And my two favorites:

"Be as bold as the first man or woman to eat an oyster." (Shirley Chisholm)

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit." (Nelson He

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Mud People

Faced with politicians who would rather destroy each other than save the state, we the people will once again trudge to the poles to seek redemption.

It wasn't that long ago that we mustered all our political wisdom and picked an Austrian body builder as our champion. Not surprisingly, we got biceps instead of brains, a Grade B performer whose on-screen heroics were no match for real-life issues.

Note to self: When an office seeker launches his campaign from the yuk factory that is the "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" be very afraid.

So who now? Democrats are looking down the barrel of a shotgun wedding with Jerry Brown. Republicans get to choose between Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, who seem intent on defining themselves by slinging mud.

To hear tell, here are our choices:

Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, is a billionaire trying to buy her way into the governor's mansion and tried to bully Poizner out of the contest.

Her tenure at eBay was highlighted by the creation of a special site for the sale of pornography and sex paraphernalia.

She was involved with the controversial Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs and received sweetheart stock deals so unethical they were outlawed.

She refused to vote Republican for 28 years, is soft on illegal immigration, supports taxpayer funding of abortions and is, in fact, a closet liberal who supported Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Steve Poizner is way more liberal than he says he is.

He attempted to undercut Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot initiative that has kept property taxes in check. During the state budget crisis, Poizner, former treasurer, increased his department's spending by nearly 14 percent.

When the governor requested furloughing some state employees, Poizner was the only Republican to stand in opposition, siding with public employee unions and liberal Democrats.

Poizner gave $10,000 to help Al Gore try to win the 2000 presidential election which calls his conservative credentials into question.

None of the preceding is necessarily true, of course, but this is all we hear when the two leading candidates are engaged in an all-out assault on each other.

The truth, as determined by a number of political fact checking websites, is far less sexy.

Whitman is indeed very wealthy. And her people did in fact asked Poizner "about the viability of his campaign" which Poizner interpreted as "criminal intimidation tactics."

EBay does have an adults only section. On the other hand, Whitman abolished gun sales on the site.

Whitman has never voiced support for "amnesty" for illegal aliens or for President Obama's position on this issue.

Whitman didn't "refuse to vote Republican." She didn't vote for anyone over the last several decades, a record she admits is "atrocious."

It's true that Whitman supports taxpayer funding of abortions. But in 2004, Poizner did too, saying so on a Planned Parenthood questionnaire.

Whitman did support Barbara Boxer, along with 14 other Silicon Valley executives because the senator opposed taxes on the Internet.

Whitman did have an involvement with the controversial Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs. She got shares in initial public stock offerings, and resold them within hours, often for a handsome profit. Goldman was essentially giving Whitman the shares as a gift - in return, she would nudge eBay business Goldman Sach's way. The practice at the time was not illegal.

Poizner "undercut" Prop. 13 by supporting a measure that allowed schools to pass bonds with 55 percent of the vote, instead of two-thirds.

The claim about his office staff spending includes a budget created by his predecessor and plays fast and loose with the numbers. Poizner didn't furlough workers but did cut his office budget by 10 percent.

Poizner claims his donations to Gore were on behalf of his wife, a Democrat, and drawn on a joint account. His signature was on the checks, however.

Whitman has spent $70 million on her campaign. Poizner has laid out $30 million. When all is said and done, we know very little more about them than we did when it started.

This is no way to make a decision. We can only hope that the next round will deal in issues and solutions, not political eye gouging.