Monday, September 24, 2012

I Rib You Not

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
McRib sandwhich.

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
memory foam.”

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

Not Fit to Print

I am loathe to condemn the editorial positions of other newspapers.

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,
not shunned.


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
the public.

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.
Manchester’s associates.”

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

Is This Convention Necessary?

I’ve got those now-that-it’s-over, what-did-it-all-mean
post-convention blues:

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
Obama did.

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

Breaking the News by Breaking the Rules

Imagine if you will that you are a journalist, covering the story of
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
intestinal fortitude.

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
censor’s hand.”

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.