Monday, February 22, 2010

Call Girls

I have a wife, two daughters, four nieces, a sister, sister-in-law
and a mother. So I consider myself somewhat of an expert on women, if such a thing
is possible.

What I’ve learned over the years is that most women want two things
out of life: (1) shoes and (2) telephones.

The second part of that equation was proved recently by a survey of
300 residents in a variety of locales that found, fairly consistently
from one city to the next, about 33 percent of women said they would
"put their sex lives on hold for a year" in order to continue to have
access to their mobile phone.

This doesn’t come as a complete surprise. As one wag once remarked,
"Women are actually like cell phones. They like to be held and talked
to, but push the wrong button, and you'll be disconnected."

I had an upclose and personal view of the relationship between women
and their cell mobile phones at a gym the other day. There were women
on each side of me as I stumbled along on a treadmill.

As I huffed and puffed, they all conversed on phones as they ran like
deer without missing a beat. It was an Olympian display of dexterity
and concentration.

Indeed, mobile phones are so important to women that Samsung, among
other manufacturers, has come up with a phone that includes an
ovulation calendar, a favorite fragrance list and biorhythms. And, of
course, it comes in pink.

“You can put in your birth date and it will tell you if you are
intelligent, attractive or emotionally stable. You can't be all three
on any day - I've played around with it," Samsung Mobile marketing
manager Jenny Goodridge was quoted as saying.

I also read a survey that stated 46 percent of women would opt to
forgo sex for two weeks rather than give up access to the Internet
for the same period.

These women are called wives.

In a related development, 43% of the respondents to a recent survey
taken in Canada said they would rather have bacon than sex.

But, of course, that’s Canada where they wear bacon after shave.

Nonetheless, applying the Law of Unintended Consequences to these
surveys, we may one day find that overpopulation is a thing of the
past thanks in large part to mobile phones, the Internet and BLT

Speaking of Canada, the Great White North got off to a shaky start
with the Winter Olympics.

Bad weather (some are calling it the Spring Olympics), bad ice (in
the speedskating venue), bad planning (snafus at the opening
ceremonies) and bad luck (the death of a luger) have plagued the
games since they opened. Not a good return on a billion-dollar

Throw in NBC’s projected $200 million loss on the broadcast and we
have the sporting equivalent of the Titanic.

As for the Canadians, they could care less if Vancouver slides off
into the Pacific Ocean as long as they win the hockey gold medal.
Which they will. After all, Canada is the only place you can play
hockey 12 months of the year --- outdoors.

And speaking of mistakes, I wrote last week that we don’t have
anybody to root against anymore in the Winter Olympics with the
decline and fall of the Soviet empire. I added that those pesky
Iranians and the North Koreans were not participating.

They are. The Iranians have four skiers. North Korea has two skaters.
But don’t look for them on the victory stand.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Slip Sliding Away

Let me establish one thing right off the bat. I'm a warm weather guy, Southern California born and bred. I put a sweater on when it drops below 65 degrees.

Ski runs and hot chocolate? Not for this kid. Give me a round of golf with the sun on my face and a cold beer at the turn.

Minneapolis or Maui? There's really no choice.

That's why I view the Winter Olympics with a touch of astonishment.

Here are hundreds of our finest athletes participating in a bunch of events that are a variation on a single theme: sliding around on ice and snow.

It's a competition only an orthopedic surgeon could love.

Let's get serious. It's hard to get excited about the luge (which is German for "whose idea was this anyway?") that features the contestants lying on their backs on a small sled, flying down the mountain at breakneck speeds while steering with their calfs and shoulders). Sound like fun? Me neither.

There's a variation of luge called the skeleton in which the participant rockets down an icy track face first. It's like driving a Toyota down a ski jump.

Or consider curling. This game is brought to us by the Scots, who also gave the world haggis, an incomprehensible brogue, men in skirts and "MacBeth."

Curling is sort of like shuffleboard played on ice. Teams take turns sliding a heavy, polished rock down the ice toward the target (called the house). Two sweepers with brooms accompany each rock and, using timing and their best judgment along with direction from their teammates, help direct the stones to their resting place.

Sound boring? You bet. Although someone once pointed out that women like it since it is one the few times in their lives they see a man with a broom in his hands.

Ice Dancing? It's the same as figure skating only different. Snowboarding features a bunch of athletes who look like they were dressed by Goodwill. Short track speed skating is like watching marbles in a blender.

The biathlon consists of a race in which contestants ski around a cross-country track, and where the total distance is broken up by either two or four shooting rounds, half in prone position, the other half standing. Depending on the shooting performance, extra distance or time is added to the contestant's total running distance/time.

Edge of the seat excitement? Only if your cousin is involved.

To give the Games their due, the Winter Olympics has its moments. Figure skating remains a big draw. Downhill skiing, ski jumping and snowboarding are worth a look.

Hockey is one of the world's great sports, which unfortunately doesn't always play well on TV. Still, when a bunch of rag-tag college kids beat what was in fact a team of pros from the Soviet Union in 1980 in Lake Placid, it was a turning point in the Cold War. Now that's entertainment.

Alas, while there are good guys to root for this year, there are no bad guys to root against. The Soviet and Eastern Bloc automatons have vanished. North Korea and Iran don't field teams. And that robs the Games of much of its drama.

That didn't stop NBC from shelling out $5.7 billion for the rights to broadcast the Olympics through 2012.

The trouble is that this may not be our finest Olympic moment. Even designated star Lindsey Vonn is injured and may be a no-show.

Then there's competition. When NBC broadcasts the Nordic Combined today, for example, FOX will be airing the Daytona 500. That may not be a big deal in Finland, but it will be in Florida.

The advertisers have read the tea leaves, and NBC is already figuring on losing $250 million on the deal.

And this with the Games in our time zone.

If you think for a minute this will cool the media onslaught surrounding the Games, forget it. There will be nearly 200 hours of coverage on NBC alone. Get ready for a lot of snow on your screen.

The good news is that when the Games conclude, there's only three weeks until spring.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Winter of Toyota's Discontent

BATON ROUGE, La. --- A man who attempted to return his recalled
Toyota pickup truck to All Star Toyota on Airline Highway on Saturday
crashed into the dealership building when his allegedly faulty
accelerator stuck, the Baton Rouge Police Department reported.

These are trying times for Toyota.

The Japanese auto maker, the world’s largest, issued a recall in January affecting some 2.3 million vehicles, just months after a separate recall that affected nearly 4 million cars.

The problem: a defect that causes the throttle to stick open.

It’s not pleasant to contemplate the consequences of such a flaw. Many of us have heard the horrifying 911 tape of an off-duty California Highway Patrolman who was traveling with three members of his family when the car accelerated to 120 MPH and crashed, killing them all.

Equally as chilling is Toyota’s reaction. First it blamed the floor mats. Then it blamed pedal mechanisms and claimed it had a quick fix.Then the company declared a moratorium on sales. Now, many automotive experts are looking at the electronic throttle system as the culprit which, if true, would require major engineering fixes.

On top of that, the company’s showcase car, the Prius, has brake problems.

One corporate communication expert called it the worst-handled auto recall in history in terms of the consumer anxiety and the mixed messages that were being sent at the outset.

That’s because while many Toyota owners were wondering if their next ride could be their last, the company was retreating to the bunker.

More than 60 new cases of runaway Toyotas have been reported since the company said it had solved the problem with a massive recall of suspect floor mats and proposed changes to gas pedals, safety experts said.

In one dramatic incident, four people died in Southlake, Tex., when a 2008 Toyota sped off the road, crashed through a fence and landed upside down in a pond. The car's floor mats were found in the trunk of the car, where owners had been advised to put them as part of the recall.

If there’s such a thing as automotive marshall law, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came close to invoking it this week by recommending that millions of Toyota owners affected by a massive recall "stop driving." (LaHood later amended his remarks to say, “what I meant to say or what I thought I said was, if you own one of these cars or if you're in doubt, take it to the dealer and they're going to fix it."

The beneficiaries of all this are Ford and General Motors, who have seen their sales soar in January while Toyota’s were declining.

Which is ironic since Ford and GM are the New York Yankees of automotive recalls. Consider:

-Oct 13, 2009: Ford Motor Co. adds 4.5 million older-model vehicles to a long list of those recalled due to a defective cruise controlswitch that can cause fires, pushing Ford's total recall due to faulty switches to 14.3 million.

-March, 1996: Ford recalls more than 8 million 1988-1993 cars to replace defective ignition switches in what was the largest single U.S. recall at the time. The switches can produce electrical shorts,causing engine misfires that led to stalling, as well as and brake and steering failures. The problem is implicated in hundreds of vehicle fires, and as many as 11 deaths and 31 injuries.

- April,1993: The feds ask General Motors to recall 4.7 million 1973-1987 full-size pickup trucks with side-mounted fuel tanks.

-- September, 1987: Ford recalls 4.3 million 1986-1988 model cars, trucks and vans, including some of its most popular models. Ford says the recall follows 222 reports of engine fires caused by a failure of couplings used to connect fuel lines.

-- Feb. 1981: GM recalls 5.8 million 1978-1981 cars and light trucks for replacement of two bolts which could fail and send the vehicles out of control.

And, of course, the design of Ford’s Pinto allowed its fuel tank to be easily damaged in the event of a rear-end collision which sometimes resulted in deadly fires and explosions. When Ford became aware of the flaw, it decided it was cheaper to pay off lawsuits than to redesign the car.

If you’re looking for corporate responsibility or ethical business practices, the automotive industry is a lousy place to look.

It appears that an industry increasingly focused on high-tech engineering and alternative fuels still embraces an old and corrupt business model.

Toyota is traveling a well worn path that, unfortunately, seems to extent endlessly into the horizon.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Whole Bowl Game

OK, my fellow Americans, everyone into the pool.

It’s time for a well-earned respite from our weary world. It’s time to forget, at least temporarily, about the economy, health care, terrorism, to look away from the grim faces of Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien.

It’s time to put our brains in neutral. It’s time for the Super Bowl.

That’s right, folks. The event that defines American Excess like no other is just a week away. Starting this week, millions of our fellow countrymen will sit slack-jawed and gimlet eyed while a thousand hours of broadcast hype
rolls over them like a thick fog.

This year’s game promises to be a titanic, a game for the ages, a match so thrilling in its concept and execution that the mere act of watching it will provide an eyewitness to history. Of course, they say that every year but what the heck.

In one corner are the Indianapolis Colts, whose quarterback is the football equivalent of the Colossus of Rhodes. Peyton Manning, to hear tell, is seven feet tall, has an IQ of 200 and threw 400 touchdown passes this year.

The Colts will play the New Orleans Saints. Nobody much cares who plays for the Saints. The important thing is that they represent a city that invented jazz, the cover charge and massive public drunkenness. No real self-respecting saint would be caught dead in this town.

On the other hand, it was taxpayer dollars that put the city back together after Hurricane Katrina so I guess we all have a rooting interest here.

All Super Bowls are referred to by Roman numeral. This year’s game is Super Bowl XLIV which sounds like a personalized license plate. Personally, I think they ought to carry through the Roman numeral theme completely. First downs would be Ist and X. Game scores would be, for example, XXI to XIV. Players would wear Roman numerals on their jerseys (except the Romans forgot to include zero which is problematic).

The festivities usually start with a painfully long pre-game show in which a bunch of former players and coaches engage in verbal wet towel snapping while astounding the audience by saying nothing of substance for hours on end.

Members of the media will swarm over third string linemen, back-up long snappers and assistant trainers looking for that one that one quote, that one angle that will distinguish their story from a thousand others. And fail.

Players will say it’s “gut check time,” that they need “to give 110 per cent,” that they’re ready to “shock the world,” that they will “leave it all out on the field.” If they lose, “the other guys wanted it more.” If they win, they will insist God wrote their game plan.

Pre-game ceremonies include the entire 82nd Airborne Division parachuting into the stadium to re-create the Liberation of Paris. Halftime will feature U2 singing mournful songs about social injustice accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the massed musicians of the New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and Wala
Wala Symphony Orchestras and the Bolshoi Ballet.

This will be followed by Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly reciting the Bill of Rights while lashed together with leather straps. As they do, a squadron of deadly Predator Drones will fly slowly over the stadium, daring anyone to leave.

The game which will be like watching paint dry because both teams will be playing not to lose rather than to win.

That’s why commercials are so popular during the Super Bowl. This year’s lineup includes beer ads aimed at 20-year-old guys, commercials for high-tech equipment or companies that nobody will understand or remember, and snack food and soft drinks ads wrapped around commercials for cholesterol lowering drugs.

But enjoy it while you can. The landscape is already changing. An anti-abortion spot and an ad for a gay dating site are already in the works. Next year, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down limits on corporate spending on political advertising, guess what we’ll be watching? You’ll miss the Dorito ads.