Monday, February 28, 2011

Hola, Oscar

Did you know that Oscar is a Latino?

While movie fans may think the coveted statuette which will be
presented at the Academy Award ceremonies tonight is as American as
apple pie, it’s actually closer to carne asada.

It turns out that when MGM's art director Cedric Gibbons, an original
Academy member, was selected to supervise the design of the trophy,
he found himself in need of a model.

Gibbons was introduced by his then wife Dolores del Río to Mexican
film director and actor Emilio "El Indio" Fernández. Although
initially reluctant, Fernández was finally convinced to pose nude to
create the statue. He thus became the first film buff.

This bit of trivia is by way of introducing the subject of the day:
The Academy Awards, a subject about which I know not so much.

I know this, however. On Academy Awards day, the womenfolk of my
family descend on my den like seagulls on a landfill to watch the
entire broadcast, from the first anorexic actress slinking down the
red carpet to the last endless thank-you speech. I stand dutifully by
with wine (which I pour) and food (which I serve), silently efficient
like a bit player in “The King’s Speech.”

I’ve always been a bit blasé about the Oscars. Maybe it’s because I
was born in Hollywood and have spent most of my life nearby.
Familiarity breeds indifference over time. Let’s face it, not
everyone in Pasadena goes ga-ga over the Rose Parade every year.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve met many people who possess Oscars, Emmys,
Grammys, Tonys and the like. Some are larger than life. But most are
talented people who simply work hard and do their jobs well. The
difference between us and them is that while we may get a raise, they
are rewarded with thunderous applause dressed in tuxedos and gowns
on worldwide television.

Then there’s the overkill factor. By the time we are subjected to the
Golden Globes, the Peoples’ Choice Awards, the MTV Awards, the
Critics’ Choice Awards, the Writers’ Guild Awards the Directors’
Guild awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, among others, the
results become predictable. The Academy Awards becomes a spectacle,
not a drama.

What I really dislike about awards shows, and the Academy Awards in
particular, are the acceptance speeches. Sure, there have been some
genuine moments over the years. But put an actor on live TV without a
script and chaos lurks. They often end up embarrassing themselves,
the Academy and on occasion the human race.

Let’s dump the thank-yous entirely. That means we would miss a lot of
tearful tributes to parents and spouses and children and agents along
with the occasional political rant which mostly serves to alienate
rather than educate.

The only acceptance speech I ever enjoyed came from Roberto Benigni
(Best Actor for “La Vita e bella” in 1999) who said, “I feel like now
really to dive in this ocean of generosity. This is too much . . . I
would like to be Jupiter and kidnap everybody and lie down in the
firmament making love to everybody."

Unfortunately, most fail to rise to this standard.

While were at it, let’s quit fooling around with the Ellen
DeGenereses and Hugh Jackmans and return Billy Crystal to his
rightful position as permanent host. He’s done it eight times and
each one was a gem.

And let’s dump the Best Song category, which officially died in 2005
when a happy little ditty called "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp” won
the Oscar. Can you name the last three award winners? Neither can I.

Jettison a few categories like the Best Foreign Documentary Under 30
Minutes That No One Will Ever See and we’re getting somewhere.

The whole show could be wrapped up in two hours or less.

And I’d get my den back.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Smart Guy

I was playing golf recently when my attention was drawn to four young men on an adjacent fairway.

They walked toward the green in a single file, heads bowed, silent, as though they were initiates in some sort of Druid ceremony.

Upon closer inspection I realized they were absorbed in their smartphones, either texting or reading e-mails or surfing the web. In the middle of a match. On a beautiful course dotted with all manner of flora and fauna.

The incident underscored my belief that we may very soon evolve into a race of people with bowed necks and downturned gazes, the result of continuous smartphone use.

I offer as evidence a recent YouTube video of a young woman at a shopping mall who was so intent on her phone she walked straight into a fountain where she splashed like a turtle on its back for several minutes before pulling herself to dry land.

Well, I vowed, they won't get me. I will remain head held high and eyes forward for the rest of my days.

Alas, fate intervened. I lost my cellphone, a simple model that merely made and received phone calls, and allowed myself to be sold a new model that records videos, has movie, TV, magazine, newspaper and social-network access, offers games, displays your e-mail, functions as a calendar and alarm clock, gives you directions to your destination, plays music, even finds your car if it's lost. Among other things.

And while they call them smartphones, I'm not sure I was so smart in buying one. Because once you've become adept in operating them, you're addicted.

Like the unsuspecting citizenry in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," I have become one of "them," a member of the mesmerized cellphone zombies to whom all life outside of their handheld devices is irrelevant if not nonexistent. I, for one, welcome our new technological overlords.

That's not exactly true. I have maintained enough humanity to lead a somewhat normal life. Just because I've skipped a few meals so I can afford to pay for all the extra goodies my phone has to offer doesn't mean I'm a bad person.

These extra goodies are called "apps," short for applications. The lovely young salesthing at the phone store told me there are 100,000 of them available through the phone. Some are free, most charge extra.

To be sure, many of these apps have some legitimate value, offering books and reference, business and education downloads, health and fitness advice.

Then there are these culled from my smartphone and the Internet:

The iNap@Work app plays a series of recorded typing, clicking, stapling or pencil sharpening sound effects to fool your coworkers into thinking you're being productive. Meanwhile, you're enjoying a post-lunch nap.

One app keeps track of how many beers you drink. You have to pay for it but it's probably a lot cheaper than getting a DUI after forgetting how many beers you've had throughout the course of the night.

Health officials in New York have released an app to help its citizens find free condoms. It's designed to locate the five nearest venues that distribute official NYC Condoms in jazzy wrappers printed with colorful subway maps or other city themes.

It could be used in concert with the Roman Catholic App, designed to be used as a confessional, with a personalized examination of conscience for each user.

The Taxi Hold Em application makes a loud whistling sound and displays a bright taxi sign to get the attention of nearby cabbies. It also alerts muggers that you are near.

iMouse is a call alert application. Whenever you have an incoming call, a little naughty mouse appears, knocks at the screen and shouts "Hey! Haaaay!! Knock. Knock. Please answer your phone."

Then, for those who just can't get their fill of fascism, there's the iMussolini app that includes audio, video and transcripts of 120 speeches by the wartime Italian leader.

And for those who can't be separated from their smartphones even momentarily, there is the LM Technologies Bluetooth bracelet. It vibrates if the user moves more than five feet away from the phone.

Ain't technology grand.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Love in the Time of Cyberspace

My wife and I met the old-fashioned way. We were introduced by
friends, a chance encounter than led to love and marriage.

We were lucky. Had computer dating existed in those days, we would
never have met.

She was raised prim and proper in a small town in western
Pennsylvania that resembled a Norman Rockwell painting. I was from
Los Angeles, had been a rock musician, a frat boy, a cop reporter.

She had gone to work for the federal government after graduating from
college. I worked for the federal government, too, but not by choice.
I had been drafted into the Army and spent my days as a soldier.

Clearly, some computer program would have declared us incompatible.

Yet, without the assistance of algorithms to make sure our tolerances
and preferences interfaced, we have been wed for 44 years.

I’m not knocking computer dating. If I was single, I might give it a
try, especially if they had a category for aging journalists with a
skeptical world view. After all, thousands participate and revenues
for online dating services reach into the hundreds of millions of

You can always tell when Valentine’s Day is approaching. Commercials
for computer dating services flood the airways, battling jewelry ads
for prime TV exposure.

And it’s often a hard sell. One popular website apparently has taken
to sending out e-mails on a person’s birthday to remind him or her
that another year has gone by without a significant other.

They call it marketing. I call it emotional waterboarding.

The dating game has become as complex as the society we live in. But
the electronic lonely hearts club business has made it easy. There
are websites now that promise to link up couples from every ethnic,
religious, life-style and sexual preference subgroup imaginable.

Among the unique: Women Behind Bars, which offers to link
incarcerated women with interested men.

Moto Date offers a solution to an age-old problem. You see a hottie
next to you in traffic and have no way to make contact short of a
fender bender. Members of this site receive a four-digit sticker to
put on their car, and if someone finds them attractive while behind
the wheel, all they have to do is go online, type in that code, and
make contact.

Trek Passions is for, you guessed it, those who desire to live long
and prosper with another Star Trek obsessed earthling. Or Klingon. Or
Romulan or Borg or whatever. Since I’ve never come across many female
Trekkies, I’m thinking the romance rate on this site is something
less than warp speed.

Diaper Mates is the premiere destination for adult interested in
people who enjoy wearing diapers or looking at others who like to
wear them. We’ll leave this one without comment other than to note
the site has 11,000 members.

Ayn Rand Dating is for those whose lives have been forever altered
after reading “The Fountainhead” or “Atlas Shrugged.” First dates
include discussions of the morality of rational self-interest and
laissez-faire capitalism. Sample user profile: “ I am rational,
integrated, and efficacious. So far, I’ve never met a person who
lives up to the standard I hold for myself...I only kiss those who
deserve it, and so far I have only encountered one who did. I would
love to find someone I can learn something from; someone who
challenges me to think; someone I can feel like I’ve won, rather than
lowered myself to.”

With all these choices, you’d think computer dating would be an
unqualified success. But there’s a fly in the ointment, a flaw as old
as the mating ritual itself.

People lie.

According to an exhaustive study conducted by an online dating site,
the biggest fibs are, in no particular order: Height - people, mostly
guys, are two inches shorter in real life. Income, people exaggerate
it by about 20 per cent. Pictures - The more attractive the picture,
the more likely it is out of date.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s datespeak, in which words take on
new meanings:

40-ish means 49. Athletic: small breasted. Emotionally secure: on
medication. Fun: annoying. New Age: doesn’t shave her legs. Open
Minded: desperate. Outgoing: loud and embarrassing. Voluptuous:
overweight. Needs soul mate: a stalker.

Which reminds me of the Dorthy Parker ditty, written long before the
age of computers:

By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying -
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

Football, Los Angeles Style

When the first Super Bowl was played in Los Angeles in 1967, it
didn’t exactly play to rave reviews.

“The Super Bowl yesterday was a representative example of most
television dramas coming out of Los Angeles,” Jack Gould wrote in the
New York Times. “The advance buildup was more impressive than the
show, and the script fell apart in the second half.”

But like a Broadway play that survives the slings and arrows of the
critics, the Super Bowl thrived, thanks in part to large doses of
hype and hysteria.

Not so professional football in Southern California. It was sacked by
a couple of blitzing linebackers named Greed and Incompetence.

The last NFL game was played in 1994. Shortly thereafter, both the
Rams and the Raiders packed up and left, settling in the garden spots
of St. Louis and Oakland.

The last Super Bowl contested here was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena
in 1993. In the ensuing years, such must-see destinations as Detroit
and Houston have hosted the game. And we have been left, our noses
pressed against the window pane.

That’s all about to change, if you believe the boys down at AEG.
They are proposing a billion dollar, state-of-the art stadium hard by
Staples Center, which they also own.

Indeed, they hosted the biggest love fest this town has seen since
the Golden Globes to announce last week that Farmers Insurance will
pay a cool $700 million over 30 years for the naming rights. There
goes your homeowners insurance rates.

Naturally, the place would be called Farmers Field, just the kind of
name you associate with the power elite and glitterati of Los Angeles.

At the press conference, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Mayor
James Hahn, business tycoon Eli Broad and sports icon Magic Johnson
were joined by other members of the city’s rich and famous to lead
the cheerleading for the project. All that was missing was Santa
Claus and the Easter Bunny.

So does that mean NFL football in L.A. is about to become a reality?

Forget for the moment that the name of the stadium sounds like an
organic turnip co-op. Forget for the moment that there’s no team to
play in this proposed stadium. Forget that in the past teams have
used Los Angeles as leverage to get new stadia in their home towns.

If this project doesn’t work, nothing will.

That doesn’t mean it’s not without problems. Like many a farmer’s
field, something doesn’t smell right here.

It looks good on paper. AEG guarantees that not a nickel of public
money will be necessary to build the stadium. Well, sort of. The plan
involves tearing down and rebuilding a section of the existing
convention center – a project that might require $350 million in
bonds. AEG says that ticket tax revenue from the new stadium would be
enough to pay off that debt, and the company would cover any

But, according to longtime City Hall watcher and author Bill
Boyarsky, the $350 million bond issue for the football facility would
probably be added to the convention center authority’s existing $445
million debt, bringing total indebtedness to $795 million. This would
boost debt repayment, or service, payments by $25 million or possibly
$30 million a year.

In other words, Boyarsky wrote, more than $70 million a year would
come from the city treasury to repay the combined debt of the
convention center and the football stadium.

That’s a hefty load for a city that’s playing footsie with
bankruptcy. And, as we learned from the Rose Bowl renovation,
sometimes bonds don’t sell, subject as they are to the fluctuations
of the market.

Then there are the traffic issues. Imagine, if you will, a Monday
night game downtown. With a Lakers game at Staples.

Now, some members of the Los Angeles City Council have blinked. They
have formed a working group to study the AEG proposal lest they get
accused of funding a River City Boys Band.

Certainly, they will find, this kind of money could be spent for
other purposes. They may even find the city is going to be on the
hook for more cash than they think.

But I’m betting the AEG project has the kind of support and momentum
behind it that will roll over any opposition.

Combine that with the opiate that is NFL football and a city hungry
for jobs and revenue and you have a juggernaut.

Left in the dust will be the Ed Roski stadium plan for the city of
Industry, which is already becoming an afterthought.

I’m guessing the Los Angeles Chargers open their season at Farmers
Field in 2015.

Put These Words on Ice

I had never heard of Lake Superior State University before. Using my
incredible, almost Holmesian powers of perception, I deduced it was
somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Superior, which sits atop the state
of Michigan.

I was correct. In fact, it’s in Sault St.Marie, Mich., a town I
imagine remains encased in ice half of the year and where the
inhabitants still pay for their groceries in beaver pelts.

It turns out that the good people at Lake Superior State while away
those long winter months putting together a document they call the
“Annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse,
Over-use and General Uselessness.” They’ve been doing it for 36 years.

And I’m glad they do. It’s clever, thought-provoking and pretty much
spot on.

I’m also glad because I needed something to write about this week and
the State of the Union Address turned out to be as exciting as the
treasurer’s report at a PTA meeting. On the “You Lie!” scale, 10
representing shouted insults directed at the President by
scarlet-faced morons, and 0 indicating deep sleep, this year’s SOTU
speech rated about a 2.

But enough about that. Lake Superior State’s banished words and
phrases this year include such worthy entries as “epic,” “fail,”
“viral” and the ever popular “mama grizzlies.”

Some highlights:

“Epic” to me signified something Cecil B. DeMille committed to film.
But recently, it has come to mean anything above average. Therefore,
your Chinese take out last night was an “epic meal” and your
8-year-old Suburu is an “epic” automobile. As one contributor noted,
“epic” needs to be banished until people recognize that echoing
trite, hyperbolic Internet phrases in an effort to look witty or
intelligent actually achieves the opposite.

Same with “fail” which now signifies anything that is a mistake.
Watch any You Tube clip of a skateboarder falling on his head and it
will be labeled “fail.” As if we needed to be told. Those who use it
endlessly fail Basic Language 101.

“Viral” has come to mean something that spreads on the Internet, for
example, “that skateboarder falling on his head video went viral.”
Where I come from, it means “of, pertaining to, or caused by a
virus.” I vote we quarantine this new, diseased meaning.

“Wow factor.” It was an instant cliche the first time it was uttered.

“A-Ha moment.” It signifies the moment you understand something.
Can’t we just say that?

“BFF.” It means “best friends forever” in text talk. But now there’s
BFFA for Best Friends for Awhile. Stop it before it spreads.

“Man Up.” “A stupid phrase when directed at men,” a contributor
observed. “Even more stupid when directed at a woman, as in 'Alexis,
you need to man up and join that Pilates class!'" Which raises the
question: Do the ladies “woman up”?

Back story: “"This should be on the list of words that don'at need to
exist because a perfectly good word has been used for years,” wrote
one contributor. “In this case, the word is 'history,' or, for those
who must be weaned, 'story.'"

Courtesy of Sarah Palin we have “mama grizzlies” and “refudiate.” I
actually thought her use of “mama grizzlies” was kind of cute,
especially as a way to frame her hunter/gatherer political views. As
for “refudiate,” all of us butcher the language from time to time.
Her sin was comparing herself to Shakespeare as a wordsmith.

“I’m just saying.” A phrase used to diffuse any ill feelings caused
by a preceded remark, according to the Urban Dictionary. As in,
“Sarah Palin is a Shakespearean wordsmith. I’m just saying.” Or, He:
“That dress doesn’t fit you right.” She: “Are you saying I’m fat?”
He: “I’m just saying.”

Back in 1976, when this exercise started, the list included
“scenario. It can be roughly translated as ‘I don't know what had
happened (or will happen) but this is a scenario.’ Means: ‘I'm making
this up.’”) and “Implement and Viable - Gobbledygook disguised as
intelligence: as in ‘that is not a viable alternative which we can
implement.’ which means ‘We don't want to do it and think you have a
crazy idea here.’”