Sunday, December 30, 2012
or worse, or most convoluted, or contrived, or outrageous, or
downright silly newspaper corrections.
This is not an exercise in professional self-loathing. We have been
proud to be a member of the honorable company of journalists for
nearly 50 years.
Rather, it is acknowledgment that in a business that operates at a
chaotic pace and is referred to by its practitioners as “the daily
miracle,” mistakes are made. And some are funny.
These corrections, amassed from various web sites and personal
research, represents the winners of our coveted 2012 Mea Culpa awards
which we bestow annually on nobody in particular.
In the past, we have confined our winners to those in print
journalism. But we had to salute our brethren in television for
botching one of the most anticipated news events of the year.
We refer, of course, to CNN and Fox News for breathlessly breaking
the news that Obamacare had been declared unconstitutional by the
Supreme Court. Which of course was not the case.
Both networks eventually recovered but not before being forever
remembered for dribbling the ball off their foot while the entire
world watched. Ah, the pitfalls of “breaking news.”
“An earlier version of this article claimed that journalists at
Bloomberg Businessweek could be disciplined for sipping a spritzer at
work. This is not true. Sorry. We must have been drunk on the job.”
“An article on Monday about Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith, two
college students with Asperger syndrome who are navigating the perils
of an intimate relationship, misidentified the character from the
animated children’s TV show “My Little Pony” that Ms. Lindsmith said
she visualized to cheer herself up. It is Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy
intellectual, not Fluttershy, the kind animal lover.” The New York
“In the September profile of Chelsea Clinton, “Waiting in the Wings”
by Jonathan Van Meter, Dan Baer was mistakenly identified as an
interior designer. He is deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State.”
“I misspoke this evening on the Special Report panel. I suggested
that Godzilla was less destructive than King Kong. And everyone knows
that it’s the other way around. I apologize for any offense to the
Kong family or to Godzilla’s fans — or victims.” Jonah Goldberg,
“Talking about performing in the musical ‘The Who’s Tommy,’ the actor
and singer Michael Cerveris said, ‘I couldn’t sing it all when I got
the job.’ An article on Mr. Cerveris in the latest Friday Journal
incorrectly quoted him as saying, ‘I couldn’t sing at all when I got
the job.’” Wall Street Journal
“François Mitterrand, the former French president, is reported to
have said that Margaret Thatcher had the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and
the eyes of Caligula — not Stalin, as reported in an earlier version
of this article.” The Globe and Mail.
“In a March 2 ‘Future Tense’ blog post, Torie Bosch misspelled the
science fiction award won by writer Bruce Sterling. It is of course
the Hugo Award, not the Huge Award.” Slate
“A column by Glenn Garvin on Dec. 20 stated that the National Science
Foundation ‘funded a study on Jell-O wrestling at the South Pole.’
That is incorrect. The event took place during off-duty hours without
NSF permission and did not involve taxpayer funds.” Miami Herald.
“Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the
number of years E.B. White wrote for The New Yorker. It was five
decades, not centuries.” The New York Times.
“In our story on London Hosts, it was stated that the 'Pub 80'
concept probably appealed more to the younger drinker or those
looking for bad food. This should, of course, be 'bar food'. We
apologize for any embarrassment caused." -Morning Advertiser
"Just to keep the record straight, it was the famous Whistler's
Mother, not Hitler's, that was exhibited at the recent meeting of the
Pleasantville Methodists. There is nothing to be gained in trying to
explain how the error occurred." -Titusville (Pa.) Herald.
“An article on Tuesday about the birthrate of stars in the universe
misstated the sound made by pressure waves coming out of a black hole
in the galaxy NGC 1275. The sound is that of a B flat 57 octaves
below middle C, not 27 octaves.” The New York Times.
Due to a typing error, Saturday’s story on local artist Jon Henninger
mistakenly reported that Henninger’s band mate, Eric Lyday, was on
drugs. The story should have read that Lyday was on drums.” The
Saturday, December 22, 2012
If you’re reading this today, it proves that we were hoodwinked by the
Mayans, those merry pranksters from long ago who predicted the world
as we know it would end this past Friday.
Not that I built a bunker or anything. I'ts tough to prepare for
At the most, I was prepared to open a good Zinfandel and sip a glass
as we all sang, “We’ll meet again some sunny day” while awaiting our
Turns out it was all a big misunderstanding.
It seems that while the Mayans were perfecting the art of ritual human
sacrifice, a couple of their sloppy citizens left some artifacts
scattered about including a calendar that reportedly stopped after
5,000 years on Dec. 21, 2012.
This was immediately seized upon by doomsday aficionados as a sign
that we were toast. Of course, these are the same folks who see
omens and icons on a tortilla chip. Yet people worldwide were buying
We were to be swallowed by a Black Hole or toasted by a solar flare
or expire after we collided with a mysterious planet called Nibiru
which is near enough to eradicate us but has never been seen.
It almost sounds like Scientology. But, hey, if you’re going to buy
into cataclysmic scenarios, it helps to believe in the far fetched.
The problem is that anthropologists aren't even sure whether the end
of the Mayan calendar falls on Dec. 21, or whether it's already
happened or is still to come, according to an AP dispatch.
The date is mentioned in only two known cases, including an etching
that says nine gods will descend from heaven to Earth. The verb
describing what the gods will do is illegible in the etching. Maybe
they just wanted to hang out.
Personally, I think this whole Mayan calendar thing was dreamed up by
the Mexican Tourist Agency which saw more cash than catastrophe in
the end of days. And they succeeded by attracting hordes of folks
who traveled to the land of the Mayans to kiss this old world
goodbye, a pitcher of Margaritas in hand.
But Mayan doom isn’t the only danger we faced this weekend.
It seems that a tale making the rounds on the Internet predicted that
there would be a total blackout of the planet from Dec. 23 to Dec.
25, as the result of an “extraordinary phenomenon” involving the
realignment of the universe that happens every 11 million years.
This, the story goes, has all been confirmed by NASA, a factoid the
space agency denied in no uncertain terms.
“For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the
science? Where is the evidence? There is none, and for all the
fictional assertions, whether they are made in books, movies,
documentaries or over the Internet, we cannot change that simple
fact,” said a statement on a NASA website. “There is no credible
evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events
taking place in December 2012.”
So if you’re reading this in the comfort of you well-lit home, score
it NASA 1, Universe Realignment Goofs, 0. If you’re reading it by
candlelight against the backdrop of a cold, dark and windswept
planet, well, NASA erred.
But not to worry. It will all be over in time for the post-Christmas
Those weren’t the only apocalyptic predictions this year.
Ronald Weinland, a minister in the Church of God for 25 years, first
called for the end of the world on Sept. 30, 2008, then on May 27,
2012, and then revised it all to say that the beginning of the end
was in May of this year and the final day will be May 19, 2013.
Harold Camping predicted the end would come in 1994, 1995, May 2011
and Oct. 2011, the result of the rapture and earthquakes. The
California preacher, however, has been honest about his failure to
such a degree that the Huffington Post reported in March of this year
that Camping was getting out of the prediction business.
It’s enough to give Nostradamus a bad name.
For 2013, some psychics are saying that a meteor strike will plunge
us into poverty and distress, especially in coastal areas. The meteor
impact will cause tidal waves and volcanic eruptions, they say.
Which brings me to my prediction for next year: There will continue
to be a chorus of whackos who claim they can predict the future.
Besides, if there’s an apocalypse, it will be one of our own making.
Monday, December 17, 2012
wiz bang, interactive, computer-operated, Bluetoothed,
voice-activated, high-tech rocket sled with more options than a fully
This car isn’t a product of Detroit. It’s straight out of the Silicon
Valley. You don’t take it to a mechanic anymore. You call the Geek
According to the salesman, you don’t sit in the driver’s seat. You
sit in the cockpit. When you step on the gas (excuse me, operate the
throttle) a seven-speed automatic transmission kicks in “while
adaptive logic paces the shifting to your driving style.”
The fact that the car “recognizes” my driving style is disturbing. I
wonder what else it knows? My credit score, annual income, wine
preferences, nickname, political affiliation?
It probably does. When I drive, I feel like I’m in a wiretap on
wheels. If this car had a name rather than just a number, it would be
called the Interloper.
But I digress. This thing is a technological marvel. The steering
wheel alone features at least a dozen button-controlled options which
in turn lead to numerous other operations for control of the
radio/CD/satellite/navigation/telephone/temperature/ engine data
read-out systems while simultaneously tracking the orbit of Jupiter
and investing in orange juice futures.
I’m pretty sure there’s a cappuccino machine and a Margarita bar in
there somewhere but I haven’t finished reading the owner’s manual yet.
And, by the way, the audio system will read my text messages to me in
a friendly, slightly smoky female voice, even if it’s about a past
Yes, this car will talk to you. So if you see me alone driving down the street babbling away, I’m not drunk or crazy. I’m establishing a meaningful
one-on-one verbal relationship with my car. Honest. Don’t call 911.
Check this out: The screen displays 3D maps with building profiles
and includes built-in Zagat ratings for hotels, restaurants and golf
This is a good feature if you mistake a crack house for a Hilton or
attempt to dine at a sushi joint with an “F” letter grade in the
Of course, all of this technology requires your undivided attention.
But not to worry. A warning system alerts you when other cars are
nearby or when the car drifts out of its lane. If the warnings are
ignored, the car can guide itself back into its own lane.
All of this leads to me to several conclusions.
--- This is one hell of a lot of sophisticated gear to essentially
take me from one location to another.
--- If any of it goes haywire --- say taking me off the Redondo Beach
Pier into the Pacific instead of directing me to Palm Springs --- it
would cause massive personal, technological and financial havoc.
---If I keep this car five years, it would be a stretch to say that I
would use 25 per cent of the gadgetry therein.
--- On the other hand, in five years most of this stuff will be
obsolete and will be replaced with even more brain cramping
Personally, I’m impatiently awaiting the day they start manufacturing
autonomous, or driverless cars. Just climb in, tell the car where you
want to go and off it drives, guided by GPS systems and computers.
During the journey, you can relax by reading, or nap, or play Angry
Birds on your smartphone or flirt with the passenger in the car next
According to various studies, this mode of transportation could
result in fewer traffic collisions by eliminating the always
problematic human element, increase road capacity and alleviate the
tedium of looking for parking spaces since these cars could go
anywhere to park and return when called.
An unexpected benefit: fewer traffic cops, drunk drivers or road
Of course, human nature being what it is, some guy will want a
bigger, faster, louder and flashier autonomous car than his neighbor.
And the auto industry being what it is, we will pay dearly for this
In the meantime, I’ll be out and about in my new car. If you see me,
I’ll be the guy and the stop light frantically reading the owner’s
manual in an attempt to put the car in drive.
Monday, December 10, 2012
I leaned a couple of new words this week.
No, it’s not the name of a wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders.
Rather, it’s a fancy name for morning sickness, that peculiar malady
that represents the first (but by no means the last) discomfort we
inflict on our parents.
This condition became news this week when it was announced that Kate
Middleton, or the Duchess of Cambridge to you, was pregnant with
royal child. It seems she has been having a particularly rough time
of it, the result of a particularly acute form of morning sickness,
and had to be hospitalized for a short period of time. She reportedly
is feeling better.
Her illness notwithstanding, the impending blessed event unleashed an
avalanche of news coverage and gossip unseen since the last Lindsay
After all, Kate and her husband Prince William, second in line to the
throne of Great Britain, are a handsome and likable couple, a
refreshing breeze in the perpetual storm that is the Royal Family.
In Britain, this is all very important dealing as it does with the
preservation of the Royal Bloodline. This despite the fact that the
Brits, who seem to be constantly crippled by austerity measures,
spent an estimated $57.8 million on the royal family last year.
No matter. When this child arrives, thousand will fill the streets
waving the Union Jack as their belief in the cult of Britishness is
reaffirmed. God Save the Queen and all that.
In the meantime, the gambling industry is offering up bets on the sex
of the child and even its hair color. Social media sites are
speculating on whether or not Kate is carrying twins and if so which
child gets royal succession priority and what name or names will be
The hysteria is not confined to England. Here in the good old U.S.A.,
viewers of Good Morning America were treated to lifestyle anchor Lara
Spencer who was whisked off to London to cover the story, an
assignment, according to the Los Angeles Times, that consisted of her
standing in front of Buckingham Palace while holding up British
newspapers and fighting for space with gawking tourists.
According to one published report, ABC also sent an 11-person
production crew to London to cover the royal pregnancy. Talk about
In a totally unrelated but no less important story, a number of
recent surveys have confirmed my belief that because smartphones have
become such an intricate part of our lives, we will soon have them
implanted in our foreheads.
For instance, one survey found that 75 percent of Americans admit to
using their smartphones while on the toilet.
Toilet texting is particularly popular among those 28 to
35-years-old, with a reported 91 percent of that age group admitting
to the habit.
Men and women are pretty much equal when it comes to general usage.
Approximately the same number of men (74%) and women (76%) have used
the phone in the bathroom.
Which means the next time a friend of business associate says,
“Excuse me, I have to go tweet” it could be interpreted in a number
There is a downside to this, of course: Another survey found that 19
percent of people drop their smartphones down the toilet.
Finally, according to a survey commissioned by Lookout, a mobile
security company based in San Francisco, one in five Americans said
the first thing they did after sex was reach for their cellphones.
We used to reach for a cigarette. They were a lot easier to light.
And speaking of the good old days, when I was a lad we would take the
streetcar to downtown L.A. to visit my Dad who had an office in the
Pacific Electric Building at Sixth and Main. We’d lunch at Cole’s and
then once a year I’d be taken to Silverwoods for a new suit of
It was the golden age of public transportation in Los Angeles. Then
suddenly it was gone. The car was king and the freeway was its crown
Now, the streetcar is making a return to downtown L.A. Voters there
have approved a streetcar funding measure aimed at helping the city
get people out of their cars. In a special election, voters supported
creation of a tax-assessment district to raise as much as $85 million
of the $125 million needed to build a 4-mile trolley loop.
It would run mainly along Broadway, Hill and Figueroa streets.
Proponents believe it could see 10,000 riders a day.
Now, if they would just rebuild Gilmore Field and bring back the
Hollywood Stars baseball team, my life would have come full circle.
Sunday, December 02, 2012
I say this secure in the knowledge that none of my readers would stoop so low as to participate in Black Friday, a combination grueling endurance/full body contact event that collectively lowers this country’s IQ each year in late November.
To help in this time of crisis, I’ve come up with my own unique gifts for that so-hard-to-buy-for person on your holiday list. Consider:
Fiscal cliff action figures. Watch as facsimiles of actual politicians tumble into a sea of red ink. Hours of educational fun for the kids and paranoia for their parents.
Sell Like a Seal board game. Players role the dice to see who can survive rigorous training and be selected for dangerous missions. The winning player kills a hated enemy of the state, then cashes in on a book deal worth millions. Code of silence not included.
Mitt Romney desk calendar. Each day contains another excuse for why he lost the election.
Mark Zuckerberg’s Magic Set: Amaze your friends and family by throwing all your money into Facebook stock, then watch it disappear.
Don’t tickle me Elmo. Self explanatory.
Lance Armstrong bracelets: We’ve slightly altered the inscriptions from “Live Strong” to “Live Wrong” to more accurately reflect his accomplishments. Buy one get 50 free.
I jest, of course. But truth is stranger than fiction when you begin to peruse what’s for sale this season.
One Internet site offers an inflatable fruit cake, Freudian slippers, Blitzed'n , the Singing Drunken Reindeer and a Santa Claus oven mitt. Another offers vampire repelling garlic mints and a Titanic ice maker.
Bacon is big this year. For your giving or receiving pleasure, there are bacon candy canes and lollipops, bacon flavored dental floss, Mr. Bacon vs. Monsieur Tofu action figures, bacon lip balm and bacon Band-Aids.
Stepping up in class but just a bit, another site offers tipsy wine glasses that lean to the side, seven cocktail glasses each adorned with one of the Seven Deadly Sins, Flavors of America salt collection (not appropriate for your cardiologist) and bracelets made of guitar strings (perfect for the person who is wound too tight).
These are novelties to be sure. But it got me to thinking: what are the best selling Christmas gifts of all time?
The answer is easy: toys. A conservative estimate is that 2 million are sold each Christmas season. I say conservative because I think I remember assembling at least that many on never-ending Christmas eves when my kids were young.
The hottest offerings this year, according to Toys R Us, include the Doc McStuffins "Time for Your Checkup Doll,” featuring a child who emulates her doctor mother by doing physicals on her stuffed animals. She is female and African American meaning the manufacturers have won the political correctness trophy for this season. Next is the Furbie, billed as an interactive doll that develops a mind of its own which prepares your child for marriage; the Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Secret Sewer Lair Playset which sounds like a joke but isn’t; and various electronic gizmos that assure your child will be completely computer literate before he or she is walking.
Over in Europe the push is for gender neutral toys. One of the largest toy chains in Sweden published a gender-neutral Christmas catalogue, which pictured boys playing with dolls and girls holding toy machine guns.
This stroke of genius will produces a generation of nurturing men and violent women who will confuse role reversal with equality.
Those cutting edge Swedes are even considering a new single gender-neutral pronoun – 'hen' – to replace 'he' and 'she' in order to minimize gender stereotyping. In this country, however, a hen is either a female fowl or a gossipy and foolish woman. Either way, I wouldn’t throw the term around at a National Organization for Women board meeting.
But back to Christmas gifts. Don’t fret if you can’t find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. You could do a lot worse. Feast on this survey taken by the New York Times several years ago on the worst Christmas gifts their readers had ever received.
“My grandmother gave me a large, brown stuffed toad that she bought in Guatemala. I was about 14 years old.”
“A Harrah’s Casino coffee mug full of quarters given to me by my grandparents. The mug read, ‘Life begins at 21!’ I was 9.”
“One year my elderly great-aunt game me a box of straws and my sister received a tube of mustard. This remains a longstanding family joke nearly 60 years later.”
“My worst: a rifle-toting, battery-powered toy soldier that crawled along the floor on his elbows. I was at least 32 and it was my ex-wife who gave it to me.”
“My father came home from New York City with a big gift when I was 8. It turned out to be a sturdy blue suitcase with my initials in gold by the handle. I was worried from then on when I was going to be sent away.”
“…My brothers sometime in the 1950s received an air gun and shot the ornaments off the revolving aluminum Christmas tree.”
“When my sister was newly divorced for the second time and completely miserable, our mother gave her a cookbook called “Cooking for One” and some sort of individual crockpot to go with it.”
Come to think of it, friends and family are the greatest gifts of all. Enjoy them.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
men to serve this country since Washington crossed the Delaware.
To underscore that claim, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, once compared Petraeus to Ulysses S. Grant,
John J. Pershing, George Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower as one of
the great battle captains of American history.
Unfortunately for his country and his family, you can add infidelity
to his resume.
Recently named to head the CIA, the Petraeus was forced to resign
when it was discovered that he was having an extra-marital affair
with a woman who wrote a fawning biography about him.
He thus joins Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas
MacArthur, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Newt Gingrich,
Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Mark Sanford, David Vitter, Arnold
Schwarzenegger and untold thousands of other men, known and unknown,
whose zipper failure caused a fall from grace.
In Petraeus case, we all are the worse for it. This West Point grad
who holds a Ph.D. in international relations from Princeton saw
extensive combat and command duty in the Mideast for which he was
universally praised. Indeed, in a sort of bizarre tribute, documents
captured during the raid on Osama bin Laden revealed that the
terrorist leader had targeted Petraues for death.
Now a respected and revered soldier will spend the rest of his days
dealing with the fallout from a sex scandal that is as tawdry as
anything you’d find on the Jerry Springer show. It can only get worse
if security concerns come into play.
So why does a good man do bad things?
According to Dr. Ronald E, Riggio, a Claremont McKenna professor,
“Powerful people, including famous leaders, will take risks - sexual
affairs, engaging in illegal or unethical behavior - simply because
they can. Being powerful and famous means that others are willing to
do almost anything for them. They become "intoxicated" by their
power. They believe that the rules that govern other people simply
don't apply to them.”
OK, but “intoxicated” enough to trash an entire career just for some
sack time? Could it be that the General is just a helpless victim of
powerful biological urges?
For humans, monogamy does not come naturally, and biology predisposes
us to seek multiple sex partners. That's what zoologist David Barash,
PhD, and psychiatrist Judith Lipton, MD, claim in their book, “The
Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People.”
Virtually all animals, they say in an article on Web MD, are far from
being 100% monogamous 100% of the time.
“The only completely, fatalistically monogamous animal we've been
able to identify is a tapeworm found in the intestines of fish,"
Lipton said. That's because the male and female worms fuse together
at the abdomen and never separate afterward.
If that’s the case, maybe we should be get off our moral high horse
and wink at infidelity. Should we restore General Petraeus to his CIA
post? Should we forgive President Clinton? Should we excuse Gov.
In some cultures, we would do just that. The French, for example, are
amused by our sexual scandals. Matthew Fraser, writing in the
Washington Post, said that it’s impossible to imagine a French
political leader resigning because of an extramarital indiscretion.
If this rule were observed, the French parliament would be nearly
The past five French presidents, Fraser says, are known to have had
at least one -- and in some cases, many more -- mistresses throughout
their political career.
Well and good, but personally I have trouble embracing the views of
people who eat snails. And I prefer my leaders to demonstrate some
Lipton and Barash don't say that sexual fidelity is impossible or
wrong because it is not natural, only that it takes some effort. "We
human beings spend a large part of our lives learning to do unnatural
things, like play the violin or type on a computer," Lipton explains.
Aha. So fidelity requires the same kind of discipline it takes to
play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D. Or command an army.
Professor Riggio believes the antidote to infidelity is humility.
If that’s the case, General Petraeus has received of massive dose of
the required medicine.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
So my guy won. I should be deliriously happy. But I’m not.
I’m not happy that the better man won, not the best man. There was no
Let’s face it, Mitt Romney was the least ugly participant in a
Republican beauty contest that featured a sorry cast of characters.
He was hardly a dream candidate. While cultivating his image as a
decent, God-fearing family man, Romney was unable to shake his
portrayal as an outsourcing Daddy Warbucks who believed 47 per cent
of Americans were government freeloaders who lack personal
His base was older white males, a voting group which has declined
steadily since 1992, according to one estimate. He did little to
remedy it. That left young voters, minorities and women to support
Obama. Which they did in considerable numbers.
Perhaps most damning of all, while Romney got close at the end, he
couldn’t convince voters he was preferable to a vulnerable opponent.
Barack Obama was elected to his first term on a platform of hope and
change. After four years, there didn’t seem to be an abundance of
either. He heroically rescued a failing economy, but then failed at
job creation. He killed the world’s most hunted terrorist but
terrorism remains our greatest threat. His foreign policy seems
Now, whatever else he accomplishes, he will be judged on his economic
successes or failures. If he doesn’t lead us away from the brink of
the fiscal cliff that looms on the horizon, the country could be
plunged into a recession much like the one he inherited from
President Bush. It may make his first term look like a walk in the
I’m not happy that the two campaigns spent an estimated $6 billion
dollars to engage in what was essentially an exercise in mudslinging
while never clearly defining their respective positions.
And what did $6 billion buy? Absolutely nothing. The President held the White
House, the GOP held the House and the Democrats held the Senate.
I’m not happy that the Republican Party has been left in disarray. I
am not a Republican but I do not wish to see the GOP become
irrelevant. The two-party system best represents the checks and
balances that our Founding Fathers wisely embraced.
The party needs new leadership. It won’t be Mitt Romney, a one-hit
wonder who will quickly disappear from the stage. It won’t be the Tea
Party which is more divisive than unifying.
It needs to be someone who understands that the demographic in this
country has changed and to exclude meaningful participation by young
people, women and minorities over time will reduce the GOP to a
That point was underscored by this telling quote by a GOP fundraiser
that appeared on CNN: "Latinos were disillusioned with Barack Obama,
but they are absolutely terrified by the idea of Mitt Romney."
I’m not happy that many Republicans are blaming an act of God for
their political setbacks. Some point to Hurricane Sandy which they
say hindered Romney’s momentum in the final week of the campaign.
Which is stretching the truth. Romney’s momentum was already slowing
before the storm struck.
Still others blame Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey
for lavishing praise on the President for his assistance following
Sandy’s destructive path through his state. Apparently honesty is not
always the best policy.
I’m not happy with Democrats who feel they scored a major political
victory. Obama’s win, specifically the slim margin in the popular
vote, was hardly a mandate.
I’m not happy that some conservatives continue to treat Obama’s
presidency as though it was an Old Testament plague.
Journalist and blogger Robert Stacy McCain wrote in The American
Spectator that "The cretins and dimwits have become an effective
governing majority, and the question for conservatives at this point
is perhaps not, 'What does it mean?' but rather, 'Why should we
bother ourselves resisting it any longer?'"
“Today was Pearl Harbor. Tomorrow we begin planning for Normandy,”
wrote radio talk show host Bryan Fisher.
And of course there was Donald Trump who tweeted, “We can't let this
happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our
nation is totally divided!”
I’m not happy that this country, at a time it needs to unite, seems
poised to continue to stumble down the same path it has followed for
the last four years where civility and a sense of duty is trampled by
political warfare and hostility.
I would be happy if we all remembered the phrase on the Seal of the
United States. E Pluribus Unum. Out of Many, One.
Sunday, November 04, 2012
one, reaching out to those in need.
Throw a hurricane, a fire, an earthquake, an oil spill, a terrorist
attack at us and we embrace the “united” in United States.
No one asks what political party you belong to, what nationality you
are or which God you worship when people’s lives are on the line.
It’s time to tackle the task at hand.
All of which underscores one of the absolutes that makes this country
great: our ability to be a caring and benevolent people.
At least most of us.
Disasters can bring out the worst in us as well, witness the looter,
the con artist, the coward. We can now add to that list the
conspiracy theorists and/or rumor mongers who use social networking
to spread their distorted world view.
As an example, no sooner had Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Eastern
Seaboard this past week, then an electronic subculture emerged like
bats out of hell.
Consider these entries taken from various Internet sites:
William Koenig, billed as a “journalist and White House
correspondent,” claims that when we “put pressure on Israel to divide
their land, we have enormous, record-setting events, often within 24
hours.” Because both American political parties have endorsed a
two-state solution with regard to Israel, he says, an angry God
produced Hurricane Sandy.”
Kurt Nimmo of the InfoWars website suggested that President Obama
would benefit by looking like a strong leader in the face of a major
storm — so he ordered one up.
He cites another website’s claim that there have been “unprecedented
levels” of ionospheric phenomena in the upper atmosphere, supposedly
created by the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program
(HAARP), managed by the U.S. Navy and Air Force to monitor the upper
atmosphere to aid communications and navigation systems. But
conspiracy theorists claim that the government uses HAARP to
manipulate weather (and exert mind control) using electromagnetic
Preacher John McTernan warned his online following that God was
“systematically destroying America” for failing to heed His wishes on
issues such as gay marriage, and that the hurricane was part of His
punishment for the two “pro-homosexual” candidates from America’s two
main political parties. The Almighty, McTernan said, smote the
country with a “huge bucket of vomit.”
An anonymous poster writes: “I smell the Big O using this to suspend
the election by executive orders as so many people are in a state of
emergency. He’ll do anything to get re-elected.”
Yet another: “The liberal smug bastion of New York City will again be
receiving a warning from God.”
From this assortment of paranoia we can draw the following
conclusions: The Hurricane was the doing of a Barack Obama who is as
cunningly powerful and evil as Darth Vader. Or it was the design of
an angry God whose vengeance has rained down upon us because we have
committed the sin of believing in equality for all His children.
Of course, these folks have the absolute right to express their
deeply held feelings. I have the absolute right to dismiss them as
deeply misguided souls.
Fortunately, there are some positives to take away from all this,
such as the mutual admiration and respect that was demonstrated
between President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose
state was nearly eradicated by the storm.
It’s been a good long while since we’ve seen bipartisan cooperation
and good will. Even in the face of disaster, it felt good.
“The federal government’s response has been great. I was on the phone
at midnight again last night with the President, personally, and he
has expedited the designation of New Jersey as a major disaster
“The President has been all over this and he deserves great credit, “
Christie continued. “He told me to call him if I needed anything and
he absolutely means it, and it’s been very good working with the
President and his administration.”
This from a man who once criticized the President as “a bystander in
the Oval Office...what the hell are we paying you for?”
Not everyone basked in the warm glow of bipartisanship, however. GOP
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, called on the
governors of those states damaged by the hurricane --- but only those
governors who were Republicans.
For the most part, however, for one fleeting moment, we put our
political differences aside for the good of the country, a simple act
that we have yearned for, that we have demanded, that would solve
many if not most of our country’s problems.
It is an absolute travesty that it took a major catastrophe to make
Monday, October 29, 2012
The recent conviction of six Italian scientists on manslaughter
charges for their failure to predict a deadly earthquake probably
triggered a lot of water cooler conversation over at Caltech. Not to
mention a fair amount of outrage and disbelief.
After all, the Pasadena campus, home to some of the finest scientific
minds in the world, is News Central when a quake strikes, a place
where the world turns for data, analysis and even reassurance.
Indeed, two of the Caltech’s most public seismologists, Kate Hutton
and Lucy Jones, are rarely are seen on TV without the words “breaking
news” scrawled just below their chins.
Their commitment goes far beyond press briefings, however. Drs.
Hutton and Jones and their colleagues have done much to raise the
level of awareness of the risks of living in earthquake country and
have shown us how we might mitigate those dangers.
It is unimaginable that they could be prosecuted because something
they said was misconstrued and deemed to be criminal behavior.
But that’s exactly what happened in Italy, where the six scientists
and another official were found guilty of multiple manslaughter and
abetting grave injury for “providing an assessment of the risks that
was incomplete, inept, unsuitable, and criminally mistaken” following
a quake in L’Auila that killed more than 300 people.
They were sentenced to six years in prison, fined $10 million each in
damages and the cost of the trial. They must each pay $2.6 million
“I am devastated,” said Enzo Boschi, one of the condemned, after the
hearing. “I thought I was acquitted. To be honest, I still don’t even
understand what I was accused of.”
It sounds more like inquisition than inquiry. “Witch hunt” wouldn’t
be too strong a term to use.
I’m surprised they didn’t use the dunking stool to determine the
guilt or innocence of those involved.
The irony of the case was that it wasn’t the result of bad science
but of bad communications.
The city of L’Aulia, located in an active earthquake area (it had
been destroyed by a quake in 1703) had recently experienced numerous
tremors, alarming the populace. To make matters worse, a local
laboratory technician had warned of an impending quake based on his
measurements of radon levels, a test that is largely unproven,
according to news reports.
A panel of scientists was convened to assess the situation. It was
followed by a press conference in which a local bureaucrat (not a
seismologist) suggested “it's a favorable situation because of the
continuous discharge of energy” and told everyone to relax and have a
glass of wine.
Shortly thereafter, the devastating quake stuck.
But, according to the meeting minutes as reported in the publication
Nature, the scientists actually said, "It is unlikely that an
earthquake like the one in 1703 could occur in the short term, but
the possibility cannot be totally excluded." There is no mention of
The scientists aren’t entirely blameless, however. They may be guilty
of several lapses in judgment.
First, they let a non-scientist announce the results of their study,
a person whose agenda, it appears, was to calm the residents. The
scientists then failed to correct the misinformation that was
Second, they agreed to serve on something called the National
Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks. If I’m a
scientist that has been approached to serve on a body whose very name
suggests it can forecast earthquakes or other natural disasters, I’m
running in the other direction.
Either that, or I’m forming a group called the National Commission
for the Understanding of the Limits of Science.
Because the one sure thing about earthquakes is that they can’t be
predicted. Not if you form a commission, not if you study tea leaves,
not if you sacrifice a goat.
The real criminals in this case are those who would foster an
atmosphere where legitimate scientific expression is repressed by
fear. Ultimately, it could cost even more lives in the future.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
debate featuring two guys named Barack and Mitt moderated by a gal
Who would have thought that the most memorable phrase uttered was
“binders full of women” courtesy of Gov. Romney who was inartfully
trying to establish his feminist bona fides?
Who would have thought that Pizza Hut would seriously consider daring
people to ask "Sausage or Pepperoni?" at the town hall debate this
All of which goes to show you that there are strange bedfellows and
strangers in the night but there is nothing stranger than politics.
If you missed the first two presidential debates and the vice
presidential tussle, you can tune in tomorrow night and it will all
be fresh and new to you.
If you’re like me, and have watched every minute of ever episode in
this mini-series, it will be like eating leftovers three times in a
row: no matter how they serve it, it’s the same warmed-over rhetoric
presented with different garnish.
Call it the not-so great debate.
To underscore that point, note that the major news emerging from
these debates has little to do with what was said. Instead, untold
hundreds of “experts” have opined on body language, aggressiveness or
lack of same, the role of the moderators, the color of the
candidate’s ties, even the size of the participant’s American flag
Consider this from the Washington Post on the past week’s debates:
“Who won? Who knows? The rematch of Obama vs. Romney was a great
night for physical theater. Rhetoric was sidelined by spectacle. At
times, the thinly veiled aggression grew so hot — with President
Obama and Mitt Romney closing in on each other like street fighters
—that you wondered if the two would come to fisticuffs.”
What I really wondered about was not fisticuffs but the fiscal cliff
this country faces in a very short time. But that question was
neither asked nor was the topic discussed.
It demonstrates that these debates have been all about style over
In the first debate in Denver, the news was all about demeanor.
President Obama looked for all the world like a guy who accidently
wandered into a Tupperware party. He was too polite to leave but too
disinterested to add much to the proceedings.
In the meantime, Gov. Romney was doing his best General Patton
imitation. Indeed, he won the battle, if not the war.
In the next round of the debates, Vice President Joe Biden clashed
with GOP nominee Rep. Paul Ryan. It was an event largely
characterized by Biden continually referring to Ryan as “my friend”
and showing his teeth a lot while Ryan spent a lot of time sipping
water. But ultimately, the debate was devoid of breaking news.
Next came Obama/Romeny, Part II. Obama won style points because of a
new found aggressiveness but I was left with the impression that it
was play acting, that the real President doesn’t stalk the halls of
the West Wing like a tiger at feeding time as he did on stage here.
One question among many was asked about women’s rights, yet some in
the media characterized the debate as an attempt to secure the female
vote. If it was, it was sadly misdirected.
To think that the two candidates prowling the stage like schoolyard
bullies would appeal to women shows a basic misunderstanding of human
One CNN anchor said she was disturbed, almost frightened, by the
display. Gail Collins, writing in the New York Times, said “Women
enjoy a good pander as much as anybody else, and it was great to have
the candidates tackle issues like equal pay and reproductive rights.
Although it was a little weird that the two men vied for female favor
by interrupting and barking at one another like a Worst Boyfriend.
“If there are significant voter gender differences, one of them is
the female aversion to yelling and squabbling…”
Now, there is one more debate. We can hope for some red meat rather
than the gruel we have been served in the past.
But I’m betting that the recipe remains the same.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
most Southern California residents that I might as well just
announced that I lunched with the Pope or purchased a yacht.
You did what?
It wasn’t something on my bucket list. Rather, I had traveled to
Denver to visit an old friend who just happened to have two tickers
to the Broncos-Raiders game on a recent Sunday. It’s good to have old
I tried to remember the last time I attended a NFL game. I watched
the Steelers in Pittsburgh with my brother-in-law a decade or so ago.
I went to a few Raider games when they occupied the Coliseum but
found the atmosphere about as cordial as a prison yard. So I never
returned. I went to a lot of Rams games but that was a long, long
The Denver experience was an eye-opener. The Broncos play in a
relatively new stadium that has no equal here. It is modern,
aesthetically pleasing, clean and spacious with comfortable seating
and great sightlines. For those of us who have been kicking around
the Rose Bowl and Coliseum, it’s like stepping out of Model A Ford
into a Ferrari.
The fans are very loud and very intense, fueled in part by copious
amounts of Coors. And when we traveled across town to a pub following
the game, almost every street on our route was filled with people
adorned in Bronco jerseys and shirts celebrating a win.
Call it civic pride. Or mass hysteria. Probably a little of both. It
must have been the same way when the legions returned in triumph to
I couldn’t help but wonder: If the NFL returned to Los Angeles, would
the fans here demonstrate the same unabashed energy and loyalty?
Would they sell out the stadium for decades on end as they have in
Denver? Would they parade throughout the city in team colors?
Would the NFL own this town?
The simple answer is “no.” And it’s not, as myth would have it,
because we are too laid back or too distracted by myriad other
First, people here have grown weary of the “NFL to L.A.” fiasco, a
tale that contains more twists and turns than an Alfred Hitchcock
We rightly believe that we have been jerked around for decades by a
league whose attitude has been a combination of pomposity and benign
So don’t expect us to swoon at the rumored sighting of a NFL team.
And don’t expect us to fall head-over-heels in love if one lands in
Second, it wasn’t our fault the NFL abandoned Los Angeles. The Rams
left first for Orange County then St. Louis at the behest of their
owner/showgirl who yearned for the luxury and riches that only a
sweltering outpost on the Mississippi River could provide.
The Raiders moved here then returned to Oakland, a city best known
for holding up the other end of the Bay Bridge.
Now, we are not a destination, we are a threat. NFL owners play
footsie with L.A. as a way to browbeat their own fans and politicians
into building new venues. Does that make you feel like you’re being
used? Me too.
Third, the most vocal support for pro football in Los Angeles is
exhibited by wealthy business people who hope to become wealthier.
Call it trickle-down enthusiasm.
In order for the NFL to own this town, the Lakers and Dodgers would
have to move to Canada. Or beyond.
These two franchises have been continually successful and in the
process have won the hearts and minds of the fans. Even the Kings, by
winning the Stanley Cup, have secured themselves a seat on the Los
Football? Put UCLA and USC at home on the same day and 150,000 fans
will show up. No NFL city can make that claim.
A pro team would push us perilously close to, if not beyond, the saturation point. And there is talk of adding two teams? I can see the empty seats already.
We have survived a long time without the NFL. And it has survived
quite well without us.
But Los Angeles is the second largest TV market in the U.S. and the NFL is essentially a made-for-TV product. Connect the dots to see why the league is interested.
We may very well have professional football in Los Angeles some day.
As for the fans, the reaction could very well be resignation, not
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Just this past week, I performed a number of death-defying acts, each one so profoundly heroic that strong men trembled and weak men cried.
I left the house.
I withdrew money from an ATM machine.
I ate at a Mexican restaurant.
I attended a baseball game at Dodger Stadium.
I shook hands with people. And even hugged a few.
And I did it all without a mask.
Welcome to Life in the Time of Swine Flu.
I knew we were entering uncharted territory the other day when I spotted a woman in the supermarket with at least two dozen bottles of hand sanitizer in her cart, enough to wipe down the Rose Bowl.
Other than that, the only public signs of panic I've seen is on the part of the media.
What we have had is an outbreak of out-of-control coverage.
"Swine flu-HIV could devastate human race" screamed a headline on a UPI story.
"Flu Fears Spur Global Triage," pronounced the Wall Street Journal.
NBC's Robert Bazell said the government didn't "want people to panic," but then panicked viewers saying "it appears to be an outbreak unlike anything we've seen in our lifetimes."
Not to be outdone, Fox anchor Shepard Smith hinted the flu story might be "just a distraction from more serious issues," according to the Los Angeles Times. Another Fox host darkly repeated Internet reports that "the government knows a lot more than they are telling us."
Taking it one
Meanwhile in Great Britain, the London Independent thundered "Prepared for the Apocalypse," describing Mexico as a "quasi-apocalyptic vision of anonymous faces shrouded in government-issued surgical masks."
"Sore throat at breakfast dead by tea time how the last flu pandemic killed 40 million," intoned the Express.
Then there was Vice President Joe Biden, saying he was advising his family to stay off public transportation which prompted the Wall Street Journal to observe, "Who knew Mr. Biden was talking about himself when he warned last year that Barack Obama would be tested by crisis early in his presidency?"
To be fair, not every media outlet went into hysteria mode. Many approached the topic with healthy skepticism, reporting that more people die per year from ordinary flu viruses than from the swine variety.
And comedic commentator John Stewart put things into proper perspective: "Swine flu ranks last on the list of things that can kill you in Mexico."
Truth be told, this was a tough call for a lot of editors.
Scientists and public health officials have been warning for years about a deadly pandemic. The swine flu scared us in the 1970s, so much so that a massive inoculation program was initiated which did more harm than good.
Bird flu is still lurking out there somewhere. We've been through the Asian flu, the Hong Kong flu and SARS.
Add to that a climbing death rate in Mexico and outbreaks in the United States. The president of the United States holds a press conference in which he expresses "cause for concern, not cause for alarm."
On the other hand, previous pandemic scares have been overblown.
This is not a story you assign to an intern.
The trouble comes when much of the coverage begins when anchors on the 24-hour-a-day cable news channels pick up the beat. They have a lot of air time to fill and pretty soon begin to overreact to every development while feeding on each other's excesses.
Besides, the media loves doomsday scenarios. Remember Y2K and Mad Cow Disease? Then when this hype gets spread on myriad social networking networks, you have an information pandemic. As of Wednesday, Google listed 19,100,000 hits for the topic "Swine Flu."
The trick for the media is to balance restraint with the need to inform the public of an important story. It's a difficult act that sometimes gets lost in the emotion of the moment. The result is that the public loses faith in the media. In Texas, when Fort Worth closed down every single school sending 80,000 students home, the governor blamed "media hype."
We know that this particular chapter may not be at an end. Some public health officials warn that the virus could mutate and that a real global outbreak could occur.
If that happens, will the public view the media as the boy who cried wolf?
That would make a bad situation worse.
At a time the media is expanding to include any and all voices, which voice to listen to will become increasingly important.
Sunday, October 07, 2012
We Americans seem to be obsessed with finding the earthly remains of
Jimmy Hoffa, a labor leader/crook who presided over the Teamsters
Union for 13 years and who vanished in 1975 without a trace.
What fuels this frenzied skeletal scavenger hunt is as mysterious as
his disappearance. Hoffa was nobody’s idea of a warm and fuzzy guy.
He ran with a rough crowd and apparently suffered a rough fate. End
of chapter. Close the book.
But every half-baked tip sends the cops and the FBI out with a
shovel-wielding, back hoe churning platoon of searchers.
Can’t we just let Jimmy go?
Sure, the Teamsters became the largest single union in the United
States under Hoffa’s leadership, boasting 1.5 million members. And he
was once a powerful presence on the national stage.
While he was playing strongman, however, he was engaged in jury
tampering, bribery and fraud for which he was convicted and
imprisoned in 1967 for a term of 13 years.
It was enough to give the labor movement a bad name.
This is a man of whom Attorney General Robert Kennedy once said, “If
James R. Hoffa is acquitted, I will jump from the top of the Capital
Yet five years into his sentence, he was released from prison by
President Richard Nixon. The Teamsters then endorsed Nixon in his
reelection bid in 1972, a coincidence that raised many an eyebrow and
dropped many a jaw.
When last seen in the parking lot of a suburban Detroit restaurant,
Hoffa was on his way to meet Anthony Giacalone and Anthony
Provenzano, two reputed Mafia figures who had also been Teamster
Maybe they just took a wrong turn into Lake St. Claire. But if you
believe that, you probably believe in the Easter Bunny.
Indeed, the Detroit Free Press in 2006 cited a FBI report concluding
Hoffa was killed by organized crime members because he was attempting
to regain control of the Teamsters whose pension fund they controlled.
So in mob parlance, he was “taken for a ride.” Or perhaps he “sleeps
with the fishes.”
It’s been 37 years. He has been declared legally dead. The hunt,
Just this past week, police acting on a tip from someone who might
have seen something nearly four decades ago, dug up the yard of a
suburban Detroit house. But no Jimmy.
Previous tips have led police and the FBI to excavate land at a
mid-Michigan horse farm, pull up floorboards of a Detroit house and
search beneath a backyard pool.
Then there’s the theory that Hoffa was entombed in concrete at Giants
Stadium in New Jersey, ground up and thrown in a Florida swamp or
obliterated in a mob-owned fat-rendering plant. None of which have
produced a single hair.
If we want to get serious about finding a body, we should take a
lesson from our cousins the Brits.
In what must be the ultimate cold case file, they have been hunting
for the bones of King Richard III for nearly 600 years. And now they
appear to have found them.
Richard was one of the most reviled of the English kings. He was
depicted by Shakespeare as a scheming, evil hunchback, the last of
the Plantagenets whose death in battle paved the way for the triumphs
of the Tudors and Elizabethans.
He died in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, then was bound naked
to a horse for two days of public display in Leicester, about 100
miles north of London, according to historical accounts. He was
buried in a priority which over the centuries had become a parking
lot for a bank in Leicester under which the bones were found.
While testing continues to verify that the bones are indeed that of
the king, the Brits have gone one step farther. They found a cabinet
maker living in London whose mother was a 16th-generation niece of
King Richard’s and whose DNA may seal the deal.
Interestingly enough, the discovery has spurned discussion that
perhaps Richard wasn’t such a bad sort after all and should be
reburied in Westminster Abbey along with the other kings of England.
It just shows you how 500 years or so can repair your reputation.
Maybe if they dig up Hoffa in 2512, he’ll be hailed as a hero.
But I have grave doubts.
Monday, October 01, 2012
This column will let others wallow in the self-congratulatory excesses of the Oscars, the Emmys, the Tonys, the Golden Globes and all the rest. We haven't enjoyed an awards show since Donald Duck hosted the Academy Awards in 1958.
Still, there is one awards presentation that draws our rapt attention. That would be the Ig Noble Prizes, staged at this time each year at Harvard University by the editors of a not-to-be-taken-too-seriously group known as the Annals of Improbable Research.
They are awarded for "research that makes people laugh, and then think" and are often presented by actual Nobel laureates.
Past winners include a team from UC Davis for exploring why woodpeckers don't get headaches; the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with a tank; researchers who calculated the number of photographs you must take to (almost) ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed; a study that determined that lap dancers get higher tips when they are ovulating; and a woman from MIT who invented an alarm clock that runs away and hides, repeatedly, thus ensuring that people do get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday.
The awards know no bounds. The prize for mathematics was once awarded to to the Southern Baptist Church of Alabama for their county-by-county estimate of how many Alabama citizens will go to hell if they don't repent.
This year's honorees carried on the lofty traditions established by past winners.
In the field of psychology, Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan and Tulio Guadalupe, all from the Netherlands, won for their study "Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller."
Just in time for the elections, Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada of Japan won the acoustics award for creating the Speech Jammer, a machine that disrupts a person's speech by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.
In neuroscience, Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford of the U.S.A. demonstrated that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere - even in a dead salmon.
The prize for literature went to U.S. Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommend the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.
Joseph Keller (U.S.A.) and Raymond Goldstein (U.S.A. and U.K.), Patrick Warren, and Robin Ball (U.K.) won the physics prize for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail.
Rouslan Krechetnikov (U.S.A., Russia, Canada) and Hans Mayer (U.S.A.) studied the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee (it spills), thereby securing the fluid dynamics honors.
Frans de Waal (the Netherlands and U.S.A.) and Jennifer Pokorny (U.S.A.) secured the anatomy award for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.
In medicine, Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti (France) won for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode. For which we can all be eternally grateful.
So what muse inspires this kind of research?
Joseph Keller, the soft-spoken, white-haired mathematician behind the pony tail research, explained, "I used to jog around the Stanford campus and saw many young ladies running," Keller said. "Their ponytails swayed side to side . . . even though the head was only going up and down. Why did the ponytail go side to side?"
"It turns out that it could go up and down," Keller, a professor of applied mathematics at Stanford, explained. "But that's unstable if the jogging frequency is twice the pendulum frequency of the ponytail," which is usually the case for humans. "Because runners all tend to pound the pavement at roughly the same frequency and their hair is roughly the same length, all ponytails sway from side to side."
Another great riddle solved.
As they say at the conclusion of the ceremonies, "If you didn't win a prize - and especially if you did - better luck next year!"
Monday, September 24, 2012
As if Americans don’t pack on enough extra inches during the
holidays, the folks at McDonalds have decided to loosen our
collective belts a notch or two in December by bringing back the
Merry Christmas from the Purveyors of Pounds.
For the uninitiated, the McRib is a faux barbecue product which
appears periodically on the McDonald’s menu and consists of a “pork
patty,” slathered in barbecue sauce, topped with onions and pickles
and served on a roll.
They say the McRib has a cult following, sort of like Scientology for
the sandwich set.
People drive hundreds of miles, we are told, to wrap their pudgy
fingers around this concoction while licking the sauce off their
foreheads. There are blogs and a Facebook page for the devotees.
It even made a thinly disguised appearance in an episode of “The
Simpsons.” In it, Homer becomes addicted to Krusty Burger’s new
“Ribwich,” which is made from a mysterious animal Krusty refuses to
identify. Homer abandons his family to tour the country with other
rib addicts. The gorging stops only after Krusty announces that
they’ve eaten the mysterious animal into extinction.
Satire, yes, but satire is reality with a laugh track.
Absent in all this love is that if you pig out on a McRib and an
order of fries, you’re playing footsie with 1000 calories. That’s
OK is you’re a Navy Seal. Not so good if you sit at a desk all day.
Fine dining, it ain’t. Food critic Jeff Overley, writing in the
Orange County Register, said , “The pork patty has the spongy texture
of a Dr. Scholl’s gel insert. I imagine you could take a hammer to it
and it would just regain its original shape in a couple seconds, like
This is a product that, when originally introduced in 1981, was
pulled from the menu because nobody would eat it.
But never underestimate the power of marketing. It continued to be
reintroduced for short periods of time until 2005 when McDonald’s
announced it was being pulled permanently from the menu. But not
before launching a “McRib Farewell Tour.” Which was followed by a
“Save the McRib” campaign. All of which jacked up sales.
Its fans are so numerous that McDonald’s is bringing it out during
the holidays in hopes of offsetting a downturn in revenues due to
rising ingredient prices.
Speaking of ingredients, just what is in a McRib? We know there’s
no rib. So are the ingredients delivered by hose from a tanker
truck? Well, almost.
The McDonald’s people would have you believe it is primarily pork
shoulder meat. Many nutritionists claim, however, that the McRib in
fact contains “restructured” meat products like heart, tripe and
scalded stomach blended with salt and water to hold it all together.
The resulting mixture is shaped into a “meat log” and sliced to order.
While “meat log” sounds like a great name for a rock group, it
doesn’t have a lot of epicurean appeal.
If that’s not enough, the buns contain azodicarbonamide, a
flour-bleaching agent that is most commonly used in the manufacture
of foamed plastics such as gym mats and the soles of shoes.
You were expecting an organic feast at Chez Panisse?
Now,like an ancient single-cell sea creature, the McRib is evolving.
In Austria, they have taken our simple sandwich to the next level.
There, you can feast on “The McRibster,” which is essentially a McRib
that has been deep fried and topped with bacon and pepper jack cheese
slices and covered in a spicy sweet chili sauce, all served on wheat
bread sprinkled with corn meal.
Hold the barbecue sauce. Austrians wouldn’t know barbecue from
Beethoven. In essence, what they’re eating is Weiner schnitzel on a
The McRibster checks in at 640 calories. Wash it down with a stein
of Schloss Enggenberg Samichlaus Bier, finish with a slice if
Viennese chocolate cake.
Then call the paramedics.
Monday, September 17, 2012
For one thing, every paper should have a voice, even it isn’t singing
the same song as me.
For another, I’m not always in lock step with my own newspaper’s
positions. But I don’t burst into print every time I’m at odds with
my colleagues. A diversity of opinions is something to be embraced,
I have worked on the editorial pages of three newspapers on my
resume. At each and every one of them, writers are expected to
provide the evidence on which they base their opinions, often before
they lay finger on keyboard.
These standards apparently don’t apply at the UT, however, a paper
which circulates in San Diego.
It used to be the Union Tribune, a Pulitzer Prize-winning publication
before it was bought by real estate investor Doug Manchester who has
dumbed down the name and content.
In a recent editorial entitled “Obama in 2016? A Choice for America!”
we are told by the UT that if the President is re-elected, “Israel
will be attacked by the surrounding Arab terror states as the U.S.
retreats from Israel’s defense. Israel’s very existence will be in
And that as far as taxes are concerned, “Californians will be paying
60 to 70 percent of their income. But 65 percent of Californians will
pay no tax at all. “
And that “ ...with Obamacare, if you are over 65, a ride to Mexico
will become commonplace, as there will be rationed care in the U.S.
Death panels and other rationing plans will limit care.”
And that “As Obama’s war on God and life continues, we predict an
effort to have late-term abortions paid for by taxpayers – even at a
time when more than 60 percent of America believes there should be
restrictions on abortion. We ask: Who stands for the life and rights
of the child?”
And that “We even predict an effort to get “In God we Trust” removed
from U.S. symbols, including our money.”
Israel under siege? Death panels? A war on God? Dollars without
deity? What, no plagues of frogs, locusts and boils?
This reminds me of the e-mails you get from your crazy uncle usually
entitled WAKE UP AMERICA! offering “proof” that Obama is a radical
Muslim, a non-citizen whose mother was a transvestite and who is in
fact the anti-Christ as described in the Book of Revelations (all of
which were actually in circulation on the Internet).
Except this isn’t the handiwork of a goofy zealot with a laptop. This
is the considered opinion of a major newspaper.
There is no supporting evidence to back up the UT’s claims other than
a vague reference to “several economists” who go unnamed. No one is
quoted. No research is cited.
The problem here is not that the UT dislikes Obama. Lots of people
do. The problem is that the UT’s editors have resorted to
fear-mongering to make the case against the President.
There are issues they could cite to make a case for change. Instead,
they have chosen to instill fear and loathing in their readers, using
a toxic mix of outrageous claims and political paranoia that Mitt
Romney himself wouldn’t touch.
It’s a throwback to the “yellow journalism” of William Randolph
Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer in which “facts” were invented to inflame
According to the New York Times, none of this should come as a
“The UT San Diego often seems like a brochure for (Manchester's) various
interests,” it wrote.
“Mr. Manchester is anti-big government, anti-tax and anti-gay
marriage. And he’s in favor of a remade San Diego centered around a
new downtown waterfront stadium and arena.
“Public agencies that have not gotten the hint have found themselves
investigated in the news pages of The UT. A sports columnist who was
skeptical of the plans found himself out of a job, and the newspaper
has published front-page editorials and wraparound sections to
promote political allies who share its agenda.
“According to several employees at the paper, a feature called
‘Making a Difference’ has included flattering profiles of many of Mr.
The Times wonders if the UT reflects the future of journalism, one in
which “moneyed interests buy papers and use them to prosecute a
political and commercial agenda.”
This is not a new business model. Many papers in the early to mid-20th Century
were run that way. Some still are.
But if indeed we stand on the threshold of a world where newspapers
once again engage in wholesale misrepresentation of the facts to
feather their owner’s nests, we have a lot more to fear than Barack
We need to fear Doug Manchester.
Monday, September 10, 2012
Let’s have a show of hands from those who think political conventions
are must-see TV. Now, how many feel they lost their relevance when
cars lost fins?
Actually, we don’t need a show of hands. The public has already
decided. Nobody’s watching.
The TV ratings for conventions of either party have been in a nose
dive for decades. Example: 23 percent fewer people saw Mitt Romney
accept the Republican nomination last week than tuned in on John
McCain four years earlier.
Oh, sure, the Social Media numbers are on the rise. But that’s mostly
small talk. Nobody attempts an informed discussion on Social Security
funding in a 140-character tweet.
The fact is that conventions have been reduced to a three-day
cocktail party occasionally interrupted by explosive bursts of
political hot air. The real business of selecting a candidate is
being done where it should be: at the ballot box.
That’s a win for democracy but a loss for drama. It’s hard to hold an
audience when everyone knows the ending.
Meanwhile, it cost north of $130 million (much of which is provided
by taxpayers) to stage the conventions this year.
Why continue? Primarily, it seems, to rally the troops, to give TV
face time to promising candidates and to adopt a platform.
There’s also a chance that they might snare some voter who has
accidently channel-surfed his way on to CNN.
The Republicans tried everything to make it interesting this year by
staging a three-act comedy: Clint Eastwood grumbled at an empty
chair, mystifying and mortifying the audience in the process; New
Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by one count used the word "I" 37 times,
"Romney" seven times, and "jobs" one time; Paul Ryan, like Pinocchio,
watched his nose grow with each fib. Or maybe it was his ears.
The Democrats seemed to be enjoying themselves, seemingly unaware of
their tenuous hold on the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama was
a rock star. Bill Clinton conducted a master’s class in speech making
and did a better job of explaining President Obama’s policies than
But was anyone listening? More people watched the Dallas-New York
football game Wednesday night than the Democratic convention. And like the
Republicans, the Democrat’s ratings were lower than they were in 2008.
What both parties ought to do is have a one-day gala, a political
blow-out lasting, say, four hours in length. Play a little music,
toss a little confetti, wave a few signs, bring on the keynote
speaker and the candidates for the presidency then drop the balloons.
Want to spice it up a bit? Have both parties occupy the same
Speaking of change, one thing both parties could do to better capture
the hearts and minds of voters is to put a lid on celebrity
This applies doubly to the Republicans. What is it about the Grand
Old Party that brings out the whacko in people?
Take Chuck Norris for instance. Applying the same skill to political
forecasting that he does to acting, Chuck warned this past week that
America faces "1,000 years of darkness" if President Obama is
Singer Hank Williams Jr. recently summed up his feelings this way:
“We’ve got a Muslim for a President who hates cowboys, hates
cowgirls, hates fishing, hates farming, loves gays, and we hate him!”
Last year, he compared the President to Hitler, a comment that cost
him his opening act gig on Monday Night Football. At this rate he’ll
be making a living playing bar mitzvahs in El Paso.
Rocker Ted Nugent said earlier this year that “If Barack Obama
becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in
jail by this time next year," We can only hope.
Add to the GOP boosters Gene Simmons of KISS fame, Kid Rock who
actually had Mitt Romney on stage with him in the ultimate strange
bedfellows pairing, and Vince McMahon of the World Wresting
Federation, who has brought us so many memorable moments.
Is this really the image the Republicans want to project?
Of course, the Democrats have Sean Penn and Jane Fonda. And don’t
forget the Dixie Chicks and Lady Gaga. Not to mention Jerry Springer
and Maury Povich (all of whom have endorsed President Obama).
There’s plenty of embarrassment to go around.
Meanwhile, we hold our breath awaiting the endorsements of Gary Busey
and Charlie Sheen.
Sunday, September 02, 2012
the century, an event of such magnitude that the fate of the world
lies in the balance.
Now imagine that you become privy to information of such profound
importance that publishing it will alter the course of human events
and allow you to “scoop” every news outlet worldwide.
Despite efforts of censors to prevent it, you write your story, your
employer publishes it and it becomes the most legendary piece of
breaking news in history.
Your reward? You’re fired.
The above account is true. The reporter was Edward Kennedy, a war
correspondent for the Associated Press wire service. The story he
covered was World War II. And the news that he broke was the
unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in April of 1945.
For his efforts, he was threatened with court marshal by the
military, stripped of his correspondence credentials, rebuked and
terminated by the AP and ostracized by many of his colleagues.
Now, 67 years later, Kennedy is being recognized for what he was: a
journalist of resourcefulness, impeccable judgment and considerable
The Associated Press recently apologized for its treatment of him and
efforts are being made to award him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.
How did this strange turn of events come about?
Kennedy was the AP’s Paris bureau chief and was among a small group
of reporters quickly assembled by the military to witness the
surrender. After the ceremony, they were asked by General Dwight
Eisenhower not to publish the news for 36 hours so that Soviet leader
Josef Stalin could hold a ceremony in occupied Berlin.
But after a German radio station in Allied-controlled Flensburg
broadcast the news, Kennedy knew that military censors must have
allowed it. Evading wartime censorship, he phoned the AP bureau in
London and reported the surrender. The story moved on the AP wire at
9:36 a.m. EST on May 7, 1945, according to Associated Press accounts.
Historical documents say that the official announcements of the
surrender varied from German foreign minister Lutz Graf Schwerin von
Krosigk early May 7, to Winston Churchill on May 8, and Joseph Stalin
on May 9 (accounting for the Soviet Victory Day). The formal
cessation of hostilities was at 23:01 hours on May 8.
As for Kennedy, he was the target of much professional indignation.
The New York Times wrote an editorial saying he had committed “a
grave disservice to the newspaper profession...and strengthened the
Several years later he wrote an essay for the Atlantic Monthly
entitled “I’d Do It Again.”
He went on the become managing editor of the Santa Barbara News
Press, then publisher of the Monterey Peninsula Herald. He died in an
auto accident in 1963 at the age of 58.
So did Kennedy do the right thing? He had cooperated with military
censors in the past. But this time it was clear that the censors were
politically motivated, attempting to mollify the Soviets. In the
meantime, troops were still fighting and dying. There was no good
reason for him to cooperate, especially with the news of the
surrender already being leaked.
His own organization finally agreed after six decades. In spring of
this year, AP apologized, saying “It was a terrible day for the AP.
It was handled in the worst possible way. ” AP President and Chief
Executive Tom Curley praised Kennedy as a reporter who “did
everything just right.”
“Once the war is over, you can't hold back information like that. The
world needed to know,” Curley said in an interview with his
What is Kennedy’s legacy? Do news organizations defiantly publish
every bit of information they discover? Of course not. No reporter is
his right mind, for example, would divulge in advance that a
President was going to visit soldiers at a certain base in
Afghanistan. That’s an easy call.
The case involving the Pentagon Papers was much more difficult. The
top secret study of the U.S. political/military involvement in
Vietnam was leaked to the New York Times and Washington Post. The
Times justified its publication because it "demonstrated, among other
things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not
only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of
transcendent national interest and significance."
Kennedy’s call was the most difficult of all. He had the whole world
looking over his shoulder as he wrote his story. To his credit, he
got it right.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
It has been several years since we have visited the Bulwer-Lytton
contest, an event that annually salutes bad writing.
The time certainly seems right. It’s the dog days of summer when the
only news comes from presidential candidates who spend their days
accusing each of other of outrageous lapses in character that no one
will remember in November.
The contest is named after one of the most visible bad writers of all
time, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who in 1830 penned the immortal
opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night."
Actually, he wrote: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in
torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a
violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London
that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely
agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the
It is the kind of prose that usually stopped readers from turning the
This exercise is conducted by the members of the English department
at San Jose State University, who obviously never worked for a
newspaper where bad writing usually results in a sudden career change.
Here, however, entrants are encouraged to "compose the opening
sentence to the worst of all possible novels." In other words, write
something truly, deliberately bad.
What follows, then, is a selection of winning entrants from the 2012
“As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering,
as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids
burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each
female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing
inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul;
and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.” — Cathy Bryant, Manchester,
“The stifling atmosphere inside the Pink Dolphin Bar in the upper
Amazon Basin carried barely enough oxygen for a man to survive –
humid and thick the air was and full of little flying bugs, making
the simple act of breathing like trying to suck hot Campbell’s Bean
with Bacon soup through a paper straw”. — Greg Homer, Placerville,
“She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had
been painted on … not with good paint, like Behr or Sherwin-Williams,
but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you
don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and – just like that
cheap paint – the dress needed two more coats to cover her.” — Sue
Fondrie, Appleton, Wisc.
“The blood seeped out of the body like bad peach juice from a peach
that had been left on one side so long the bottom became rotten while
it still looked fine on the top but had started to attract fruit
flies, and this had the same effect, but with regular flies, that is
not say there weren’t some fruit flies around because, after all,
this was Miami. “— Howard Eugene Whitright, Seal Beach, Calif.
“Primum non nocere, from the Latin for “first, do no harm,” one of
the principal tenets of the Hippocratic oath taken by physicians, was
far from David’s mind (as he strode, sling in hand, to face Goliath)
in part because Hippocrates was born about 100 years after David, in
part because David wasn’t even a physician, but mainly because David
wanted to kill the sucker.” — David Larson, San Francisco.
“Corinne considered the colors (palest green, gray and lavender) and
texture (downy as the finest velvet) and wondered, “How long have
these cold cuts been in my refrigerator?” — Linda Boatright, Omaha,
“Your eyes are like deep blue pools that I would like to drown in,”
he had told Kimberly when she had asked him what he was thinking; but
what he was actually thinking was that sometimes when he recharges
his phone he forgets to put the little plug back in but he wasn’t
going to tell her that.” — Dan Leyde, Edmonds, Wash.
“The two power-hungry, 20-something biographers met with me incognito
and settled on penning my memoirs, one on a percentage of future
sales and one on upfront remuneration; so there is one yuppie I pay,
one yuppie I owe, ghostwriters in disguise.” — Peter Bjorkman,
“Ronald left this world as he entered it: on a frigid winter night,
amid frantic screams and blood-soaked linens, while relatives stood
nearby and muttered furious promises to find and punish the man
responsible.”— Rebecca Oas, Atlanta, Ga.
“Her fixed gaze at dinner reminded him so much of an owl that he
found himself wondering when she would regurgitate her meal into a
pellet and told the waitress they didn’t need a dessert menu.” — Leah
Sitkoff, New York, New York
“Her skin was like flocked wallpaper and her eyes had seen better
days, but when her bloodless lips murmured “Hi, Sailor,” my heart
melted from the inside out like one of those chocolate-covered ice
cream bars on a summer day that runs down your arm and gets all over
your new shirt.” — James Macdonald, Vancouver, B.C.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Mitt Romney has always struck me as a decent human being, one who
believes deeply in his God, his country and his money, not
necessarily in that order.
I also believe he is a bit of an empty suit, a robotic politician
whose only real brush with notoriety came when he inadvertently laid
the foundation for Obamacare.
He is the Republican nominee because his primary opponents were a
bunch of bungling gunslingers who couldn’t sell their slash-and-burn
vision of governance and misguided moral engineering to their own
At least Romney was smart enough to pick Congressman Paul Ryan as his
running mate, a man who also wants to slash the size of the federal
government but who, unlike a lot of Republicans, actually has a
specific plan to do it. He has read the spread sheets. He has
crunched the numbers.
How much of the Ryan plan Romney buys into remains to be seen. But at
least it just might elevate the campaign rhetoric from personal
attack mode to a real debate on how this country should manage
itself. That’s a lot to hope for but we can dream, can’t we?
For now, the pundits are putting the cart before the horse,
speculating on whether the choice of Ryan is brilliant or boneheaded.
Of course, we won’t know the answer to that until election day.
It got me to thinking, however, about who were the best and worse
vice presidential picks in history. So I mixed a bit of Internet
research with my own views and came up with a list. Take it for what
Some in the best category are easy. Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman and
Lyndon Johnson, all thrust into the Oval Office as the result of the
death of a president, rose to the occasion.
Some are more difficult to categorize:
Dick Cheney brought a wealth of Washington experience with him when
he joined George Bush and was heavily involved in decision making.
Indeed, he became known as the “shadow president.” Unfortunately, he
was perceived as a real life Darth Vader, with some justification.
The architect of the war on Iraq, he eventually became to most
unpopular member of an unpopular administration.
Al Gore was indispensable to Bill Clinton when he arrived in
Washington. Gore knew Washington inside out, while the new President
was fresh out of Arkansas. But Gore suffered from a personality
disorder --- he didn’t have one –-- and managed to lose the
presidential election to George Bush which is astounding to this day.
Richard Nixon delivered California to Eisenhower but more importantly
did the behind-the-scenes dirty work while Ike basked in the glow of
an adoring public. Nixon liked his job too well and his affinity for
dirty deeds would be his undoing.
Nominees for the worst of the lot:
Sprio Agnew. Nixon’s White House was filled with shady characters but
Agnew was the shadiest. An investigation by the U.S. Attorney for
Baltimore revealed that he had accepted $100,000 in bribes during his
tenure as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland and Vice
President of the United States. He resigned his office and pleaded no
contest and received no jail time but was disbarred and fined.
Aaron Burr. While serving under Thomas Jefferson, he killed Founding
Father Alexander Hamilton in a duel. What else do you need to know?
Thomas Eagleton. Democratic nominee George McGovern was in trouble
from the get-go running again incumbent Richard Nixon. He didn’t help
his chances by choosing Eagleton who, as it turns out, was once
treated by electro-shock therapy for depression. McGovern dumped
Eagleton, brought in Sargent Shriver and went on to win only one
state in the election. Eagleton went on to be reelected to the Senate
twice, then served as a professor of public affairs at Washington
University in St. Louis.
Sarah Palin. She was young, vibrant and attractive, just the thing
John McCain needed to revitalize his sagging campaign against Barack
Obama. Unfortunately, the governor of Alaska also possessed a
backwoods level of political sophistication, that was exploited by
the Democrats and the media. If that wasn’t bad enough, she was
criticized by McCain staffers for “going rogue” when speaking her
mind on issues. It clearly wasn’t a marriage made in heaven.
Dan Quayle: Selected by George Bush the Elder as his running mate, he
is remembered mostly for saying really stupid things. Such as
“"Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother
and child" and "If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure" and
"What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is
being very wasteful. How true that is." Enough said.