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.