Sunday, May 29, 2011

Words Worth Hearing

Advice, like youth, is wasted on the young, someone once observed.

Case in point: Our offspring will find themselves awash in an ocean
of words this graduation season, all delivered earnestly and all
meant to inspire and challenge. Most will be forgotten soon after
they are spoken, lost in the euphoria of the moment.

Graduation day seems like a lousy time to make a point.

But the tradition continues. This column, for example, has been
cranking out pearls of graduation wisdom like so many mortarboards
for years, a mix of warm fatherly advice and frightening economic

That is by design. Advice is taken most seriously when the recipient
is scared to death.

This year, we are happy to announce, we have something besides
platitudes and panic to offer graduates: Optimism.

According to a new survey by the National Association of Colleges and
Employers, businesses are gearing up to hire nearly 20 percent more
college grads in 2011 than they did last year. The anticipated 19.3
percent hiring jump over last year would be the best since 2007.

In almost every category, employers are planning to offer more jobs,
with engineering services leading the way.

There are exceptions, however. Government hiring is projected to be
down by a whopping 25 per cent. For all you grads who dreamed of
being part of a bloated bureaucracy, I’m afraid the news is bad.

Overall, according to the survey, responding organizations reported
the number of job applications has risen nearly 45 per cent since
last year at this time. At the same time, however, the total number
of positions reported by respondents has tripled. As a result, the
average number of applications per opening has fallen from 40.5 in
2010 to just over 21 currently.

Which means that this year, the competition for jobs is merely fierce
as opposed to cut-throat.

It’s safe to say that for the time being things are looking up.
Unless you majored in art history or Canadian philosophy, there’s
probably a job waiting for you. It might be in New Hampshire rather
than Newport Beach, but that’s part of the adventure. Go for it.

And pay? Students who will graduate this spring are receiving job
offers with starting salaries averaging $50,034 per year, up 3.5%
from last year, according to that same NACE survey.

That’s nice work if you can get it. But even if you don’t make big
bucks at the outset, remember that degree you earned will help you
avoid a career in appliance delivery or shoe sales and thus stay out
of therapy in your middle age.

Now, for some really sage advice from commencement speakers you
should have been listening to before you walked accross that stage.

“Listen once in a while. It’s amazing what you can hear. On a hot
summer day in the country you can hear the corn growing, the crack of
a tin roof buckling under the power of the sun. Or sometimes when
you’re talking up a storm so brilliant, so charming that you can
hardly believe how wonderful you are, pause just a moment and listen
to yourself. It’s good for the soul to hear yourself as others hear
you, and next time maybe, just maybe, you will not talk so much, so
loudly, so brilliantly, so charmingly, so utterly shamefully
foolishly.” Russell Baker, columnist and author.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.
Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other
people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out
your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to
follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you
truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs,
Apple CEO.

“…some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live
without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you
might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by
default.” J.K. Rowling, “Harry Potter” author.

“I know we were supposed to bequeath to the next generation a world
better than the one we were handed. So, sorry. I don't know if you've
been following the news lately, but it just kinda got away from us.
Somewhere between the gold rush of easy internet profits and an
arrogant sense of endless empire, we heard kind of a pinging noise,
and uh, then the damn thing just died on us. So I apologize." TV
commentator Jon Stewart.

"As you partake of the world’s bill of fare/ that’s darned good
advice to follow/ Do a lot of spitting out the hot air/ And be
careful what you swallow.” Theodor Geisel (Dr. Suess)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Newt's Really Bad Week

We were informed by a major television news network the other day
that the “silly season” was over and the Republican Party big guns
were preparing to enter the 2012 presidential race.

The justification for this assessment was that Donald Trump had taken
his size 15XXX hat out of the ring to focus on really bad television
reality shows.

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, also withdrew despite
decent polling numbers. I guess he figured he would be bucking the
odds by trying to be the second President who hailed from Hope,

Now comes former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a “serious” candidate
who is quickly accumulating enough baggage to fill the cargo hold of
an Airbus.

So far on the highway to the White House, Newt has encountered 40
miles of bad road.

You know there’s trouble when his first order of business was to make
amens, so to speak, with the evangelical arm of the Republican party
because of past misdeeds.

It seems Newt’s personal life has drawn some raised eyebrows from the
religious right. Most notably, he admitted for having an extramarital
affair with his present wife as he was condemning President Clinton
for lying to a grand jury about his relationship with a White House
intern. Also troubling the right is that said present wife is the
third Mrs. Gingrich.

He could have won the day if he embraced a Biblical view as expressed
in Timothy 3:2: “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the
husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable,
hospitable, able to teach.”

But instead he said: “There's no question at times in my life,
partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that
I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not

So patriotism and hard work leads to infidelity. Check.

Then there’s the business about dumping the Southern Baptist religion
and converting to Roman Catholicism. While it’s no surprise that it
doesn’t play well in the Bible Belt, it appears it isn’t playing well
anywhere. Just 11 percent of white evangelicals, and 16 percent of
white Catholics, favor Gingrich as the 2012 Republican presidential
nominee, according to a March Pew Research Center poll.

Of course, a candidate’s religion shouldn’t reflect on his stature as
a leader. Just ask Mitt Romney. But when the candidate’s party has
been hijacked by theocrats, well, that’s a different matter.

None of this stops Gingrich from announcing for the presidency.
He kicks things off with an appearance on “Meet the Press” where he
immediately distances himself from a plan offered by House GOP Budget
chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin that would reduce the deficit by $4.4
trillion over 10 years by repealing the Democrat's health care bill
and reforming entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid.

Gingrich calls the plan “right-wing social engineering” a remark for
which he later apologizes.

Many Republicans, who consider the Ryan plan holy writ, are not
pleased. “He’s done. He didn’t have a big chance from the beginning,
but now it’s over,” said Charles Krauthammer, a conservative

Next up, Gingrich, speaking at a Republican dinner in Georgia, refers
to President Obama as "the most successful food stamp president in
American history,” a remark some considered racist.

He follows that up with a comment that Obama suffers from "a Kenyan, anti-colonial
worldview" that makes him unfit to be president, which puts Gingrich
in lockstep with the wackos who suggest somehow the President is
channeling the dead father he never knew.

Then, financial disclosure forms filed in ’06 and ’07 by Newt
Gingrich’s wife Callista while she was a Hill staffer revealed that
the 2012 GOP hopeful had a liability of between $250K and $500K from
a charge account with Tiffany’s, the reknown jeweler.

He apparently belongs to the Do As I Say, Not As I Do School of
Fiscal Conservatism.

He finishes up the first week of his campaign by getting yelled at by
an Iowa voter and “glitter bombed” by a gay activist.

Political memory is short and it’s possible that the specifics of his
bungled beginning will be forgotten (but not by the Democrats).
It reveals, however, a certain impulsiveness and recklessness in a man who
aspires to a job where those traits would be inappropriate if not
dangerous. And that will stay with voters.

A Gingrich aide compared the last several days for the candidate to a
star baseball player who disappoints the crowd during his first time
up to the plate in an early-season game.
“...Right now, they are booing Newt,” the aide said. “We will hit a
home run and they will all be fans again.”

I’m not so sure he hasn’t already struck out.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wandering the Wasteland

Fifty years ago this month, Newton Minow, newly minted chairman of
the Federal Communications Commission, strode to the podium at the
National Association of Broadcasters convention and declared that
television was a “vast wasteland.”

More specifically, he told the nation’s broadcasters to “sit down in
front of your television set when your station goes on the air and
stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet
or rating book to distract you — and keep your eyes glued to that set
until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a
vast wasteland.”

“There was no standing ovation,” he recalled recently. “Instead, the
producer of "Gilligan's Island" showed what he thought of my speech
by naming the sinking ship after me — the SS Minnow.”

His “vast wasteland” speech became legendary and the tag has been
affixed to television programming every since.

But a half-century later, does it still ring true?

Does television remain the repository of banality? Or was Minow
expecting too much from what is essentially escapist fare, much as
radio had been. Does “vast wasteland” describe the area between a
typical viewer’s ears? Or was he arrogant, projecting a patrician
perspective on popular culture?

Oddly enough, there was a lot to like in early TV. For every “My
Mother the Car,” there was “The Hallmark Hall of Fame.” In fact,
there was more quality drama on the air then than now. For every
Soupy Sales, there was a Steve Allen. There were giants in the
newsroom: Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Chet Huntley and David

To many, it was the Golden Age of Television.

Yet, as Minow points out, network news was 15 minutes in length.
Commercials were rampant, exceeding the broadcasters’ own code of
standards. Black political candidates were often denied television
time for their campaigns. Los Angeles and New York did not have
noncommercial stations.

Minow shook his verbal fist at “a procession of game shows, violence,
audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally
unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism,
murder, western badmen, western good men, private eyes, gangsters,
more violence and cartoons.”

Now, of course, we look out at a landscape filled with--and an
audience thrilled by --dancing B list celebrities, dramas about
forensic snoops and their coroner sidekicks, reality shows about pawn
brokers, swamp dwellers, pack rats, crab catchers and meter maids in
addition to high-decibel opinion shows masquerading as news.

This is progress?

Minnow, writing recently in Chicago Tribune, was surprisingly upbeat.
Television “is certainly vast, far vaster than we could have imagined
in 1961. And parts of it are a wasteland, but most of what I hoped
for has far exceeded my most ambitious dreams. And the promise and
possibility of television is so vast that we can only guess where it
will take us next.”

That is a generous assessment. Because whatever positive changes have
occurred in the last 50 years are not because broadcasters became
more enlightened. There are simply more of them. So now if you don’t
want to be subjected to “Two-And-a-Half Men,” you can watch CSPAN. If
you don’t want to watch “American Idol,” you can browse Home and
Garden TV. If you don’t want your news interpreted by Bill O’Reilly,
you can watch Al Jazeera.

In addition, TV was in its infancy when Minow spoke. It improved with
age, a natural evolutionary process.

When Minow urged the television industry to pursue excellence, his
boss, President John F. Kennedy, was essentially delivering the same
message, challenging the country to soar to greater heights.

It would appear that Minow was merely parroting the administration
line, no matter how well intentioned it may have been.

In the end, Minnow’s sabre rattling changed little. On his watch,
network news grew and prospered and many credit him for helping to
foster its growth. But according to the Museum of Broadcast
Communications, many believed that beyond news, the Minow FCC enjoyed
few tangible policy accomplishments.

It’s safe to say, many of the things Minow found objectionable still

And 50 years from now, another Newton Minow will look out at the
broadcast industry and in all likelihood find a lot to dislike. The
only difference will be that broadcast offerings will appear in your
living room as three dimensional holograms.

Thanks to technology, you will feel like you’re actually living in
a vast wasteland.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Franchise Follies

Watch the travails of Frank McCourt as he fumbles away the Dodger franchise and you're seeing a man who has achieved infamy shared by a select few.

Frank in just a few short years has become a member in good standing of LAST (Los Angeles Sports Tyrants), a group that has infuriated and frustrated local fans for decades.

It takes a special person to be LAST. But Frank qualifies on so many levels.

There are two questions that immediately come to mind:

Is he the worst franchise owner in Los Angeles history? Does he rank right up there with fellow LAST members Donald Sterling, Al Davis, Phil Anshutz, Rupert Murdoch? Can he match the antics of Georgia Frontiere and Jack Kent Cooke?

And, second, what did we do to deserve this plague of obstinate ownership?

McCourt briefly was a hero in town when he purchased the Dodgers from Rupert Murdoch, that crafty Aussie media mogul who led the team to mediocrity. Of course, Charlie Sheen would have been preferable to Murdoch.

But the fact that the McCourt purchase was financed mostly by debt raised more than a few eyebrows even at the outset.

Alas, our worst suspicions were confirmed. He allegedly spent much of the proceeds from the club on a lavish lifestyle and left the team circling the drain.

He and his wife are now divorcing and the attorney fees could retire the national debt.

A lack of money leads to a lack of talent and the Dodgers are
nobody's World Series pick this year. The fans are staying away in droves.

Now, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has taken control of the organization and replaced McCourt with some George Bush sidekick. The Dodgers, historically one of the premiere franchises in baseball, are in shambles.

Also in the running for worst owner:

Jack Kent Cooke: Cooke will be best remembered for building the Forum in Inglewood and owning the Lakers. Under his ownership, the Lakers made it to the championship finals seven times and won it all in 1972. But Cooke, a Canadian, also gave us the Los Angeles Kings, a hockey franchise that has gone 44 years without a championship. He personally ran the club, making trades, hiring and firing coaches and general managers, all to no good end. Even though he sold the Kings in 1979, they continue mired in mediocrity, thanks in no small part to his stewardship, which made them the Cubs on Ice.

Phil Anshutz: The current owner of the Kings (and Staples Center) continues in the tradition of Jack Kent Cooke. Despite a loyal fan base and a lot of self-congratulatory talk about an improved franchise, the team continues to go nowhere while their absentee owner hides out in Denver and counts his billions. Is this the guy we want to woo the NFL?

Georgia Frontiere: Georgia made her fortune the old-fashioned way: She married it. After five previous marriages, the former nightclub singer landed Carroll Rosenblum, an NFL owner. When he drowned while swimming off a Florida beach, she became majority owner of the Los Angeles Rams, a team with a storied history here that dated back to 1946 when they became the first major professional team in town. Under her leadership, attendance declined and she hit the road, first to Anaheim, then to St. Louis. Irony of ironies, when she died in 2008, she was buried in Los Angeles, the resting place of the hearts of many a Ram fan.

Al Davis: I'm not sure many football fans in Los Angeles wanted Al and his Raiders to relocate here. But he did anyway. After some initial success, Al had more lawsuits than wins and a fan base that looked like a casting call for a zombie movie. Mercifully, he moved back to Oakland in 1995, but not before fleecing Irwindale out of $10 million.

Donald Sterling: He is the LAST word in losing. His Clippers of the NBA have lost more than 1,400 games since they moved to L.A. in 1984, nearly twice as many as they have won, and have made the playoffs four times in 27 years. So he's had a little bad luck. But it's hard to love a guy who once refused to pay for prostate cancer surgery for his coach (the players chipped in paid the bill).

Honorable mention: Henry and Susan Samuel, who, when they bought the Anaheim National Hockey League franchise, kept the name. Thus, we have a team named after a dreary suburb in Orange County and an animal most closely associated with one-liners and cartoons. Let's hear it for the Ducks.

Honorable mention also goes to Arte Moreno, who changed the name of his baseball team to to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He may be onto something. Maybe we could do away with all this football stadium talk by just calling the nearest NFL franchise the Los Angeles Chargers of San Diego.

Who has your vote?