Sunday, July 22, 2012

An Olympian Event

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but
taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but
fighting well.” --- Pierre de Coubertin, founder of modern Olympic

“If you don't try to win you might as well hold the Olympics in
somebody's back yard.” --- Olympic track and field champion Jesse

That telling exchange nicely summarizes how different people view the world. In this case French versus Americans or possibly blacks and whites.

But we're not going to plumb the depths of the human psyche here. We just threw it out there in celebration of the summer Olympics,
starting this week in a 17-day extravaganza that will be watched by

That the Olympics are once again upon us is good news on several

--- It provides a spectacular stage on which the athletes of the
world can compete.

--- In this town, at this time of year, it saves us from the
mind-numbing effects of bad baseball and endless TV reruns.

The games this year are brought to you from London, which is spending
$14.5 billion for the pleasure. The least you can do is watch.

After all, it’s the event that, once every four years, displays the
noble side of human nature, of love and camaraderie amid the
heartbreak and triumph.

No matter how awe-inspiring the Olympics may be, however, it will
still have its good, bad and ugly moments. We guess it will break
down something like this:

The good: 3500 hours of coverage spread over NBC’s various outlets.
The bad: The time difference between Los Angeles and London is eight
hours, meaning you may have to settle for kayaking during prime time.
The ugly: The Romney and Obama campaigns bought more than $12 million
of air time for political ads during the Olympics. Said one stupidly
optimistic Democratic media consultant, “ It’s great context, too.
People are already primed to think about their country.”

The good: The opening ceremony is always a tour de force. The Brits
will present a cast of 10,000 performers, 12 horses, three cows, two
goats and 10 chickens.

The bad: The cost of the Olympic opening ceremonies often exceeds the
gross national product of some of the participating nations which in a
few cases is sometimes less than 12 horses, three cows, two goats and
10 chickens.

The ugly: With the Royal Family in in attendance, announcers will
spend so much time fawning over them that you may begin to wonder who
won the Revolutionary War.

The good: thrilling competition between the world’s elite athletes.

The bad: Some judge, smarting from the fact that his country lost a
minor border dispute some 500 years ago to an athlete’s homeland,
will adjust his scoring accordingly. The result will be declared a
scandal and cast a pall over the proceedings.

The ugly: The weather. The forecast for London is mostly soggy.

The good: The U.S. team looks like a winner.

The bad: Our heroes will parade into the stadium wearing uniforms
made in China while there are 600,000 vacant manufacturing jobs in
the U.S.

The ugly: What’s next? Outsourcing the athletes?

The good: The British have deployed a massive security force to
protect spectators and participants from harm including deploying
missiles atop of buildings.

The bad: Britain may have to call up more soldiers to guard the Games
after a failed private sector recruitment drive left an embarrassing
gap in security.

The ugly: Agents from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration
will take up positions at British airports where they will grope
regardless of race, creed or national origin.

The good: The Brits will stage a major Olympics concert in Hyde Park.

The bad: The headliners will be Duran Duran, a band that reached its
zenith in the 1980s.

The ugly: As one wag said, “What’s next? Leg warmers and Rubik Cubes?”

The good: For the first time, women's boxing is included in the
program, with 36 athletes competing in three different weight

The bad: Women’s softball, along with baseball, have been dumped as
Olympic sports. They are the first venues to be removed since polo in

The ugly: A special dispensation was needed to allow the various
shooting events to go ahead, which would otherwise be illegal under
Britain’s gun laws.

Good, bad or ugly, it ought to be one hell of a show. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Through a Glass Darkly

There was a time when Stephen Glass was the toast of American
journalism. Writing for the New Republic and other high-profile
publications such as Rolling Stone and Harper’s, he produced stories
of such astounding originality and insight that he became a media
star while still in his early 20s.

He wrote of a church that worshipped George H. W. Bush. He portrayed
Vernon Jordan, former head of the National Urban League and an
adviser to Bill Clinton, as a boorish and lecherous incompetent.
He penned hostile stories on the Center for Science in the Public
Interest and D.A.R.E., the anti-drug education group.

He reported on a 15-year-old who was hired as a computer security
consultant by a tech firm whose system he had hacked. He vividly told
of drinking, drugs and debauchery at the Conservative Political
Action conference.

His stories seemed almost too good to be true. As it turned out, they

The New Republic determined that 27 of 41 stories written by Glass
contained fabricated material. Other publications also discovered
issues. He invented events, locales, dialogue and the characters who
spoke it and devised elaborate cover-up schemes in an attempt to hide
his deceit.

Glass was ultimately banished from the profession where he joined
such other disgraced journalists as Washington Post reporter Janet
Cook (whose Pulitzer Prize-winning account of an 8-year-old heroin
addict turned out to be fiction), Jayson Blair (who engaged in a long
history of misdeeds including plagiarism while working for the New
York Times) and Rupert Murdoch (who presides over a media empire
crippled by a phone hacking scandal).

But Glass never entirely went away. When the scandal surrounding his
career broke, he became the subject of a well-received movie called
“Shattered Glass.” He appeared on “60 Minutes.” He wrote a
“biographical novel” called “The Fabulist ” which his publisher
described as “a rollicking, riveting tour de force…”

Now that he has rung every last dime from his infamy, he has emerged
from the shadows because he wants to practice law in California.

It turns out that while be was engaged in ethical sleight of hand as
a writer, he was attending law school at Georgetown. He graduated
magna cum laude and passed the New York state bar exam but was
refused certification on moral grounds. He withdrew his application
when it became clear he wouldn’t be admitted to practice.

He applied to practice in California, was denied by Bar Examiners,
appealed, and was subsequently found to be of “good moral character”
by the state Bar’s hearing department. The matter is now before the
state Supreme Court which will decide his professional fate.

So has Glass rehabilitated himself? He blames a bad upbringing for
his misdeeds and says years of therapy have helped him to become a
better person. We’ll have to take his word for it and his word hasn’t
always been golden.

Should he now be allowed to engage in a profession where the
manipulation of facts can have life or death consequences?

I think not. For one thing, Glass’s old habits seem to surface again and again. He stated to the New York Bar that he “worked with all three magazines and other publications … to identify which facts were true and which were false in all of his stories so they could publish clarifications,” according to a story by Reuters
reporter Jack Shafer.

This statement was false, the committee wrote, because Glass didn’t
work with all the magazines. Glass later testified that he should
have said that he “offered” to work with the publications, and “by
‘offered’ to work, he meant through counsel.”

Shafer writes that the committee found this Glass explanation
“disingenuous.” The committee also damned Glass for providing the New
York Bar in 2003 with an incomplete list of articles that he
fabricated, identifying only 23, and waiting until August 2009, when
in the crosshairs of the California bar, to concede that the complete
list contained at least 42 fabricated pieces.

To be sure, Glass has his supporters. During one hearing in 2010,
they included two psychiatrists, four law professors, two judges, 10
attorneys and even Martin Peretz, sole owner of the New Republic at
the time the fabricated stories were published, according to
published reports.

Glass even has supporters at the New York Times and Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Times, in an editorial, admonished the California
state Supreme Court justices to “be guided by a principle that should
infuse the law in general: that redemption is possible and that those
who have changed their ways are entitled to a second chance. Because
Glass shattered one career doesn't mean that he can't aspire to

Joe Nocera, writing in the New York Times, said that “The California
Bar should be so lucky as to have him as a member.”

I’m frankly surprised that these two publications would play warm and
fuzzy with an individual who delivered a near death-blow to the
credibility of American journalism which was already losing the
respect of its public when he came upon the scene.

Would either publication hire an allegedly rehabilitated Glass as a
reporter? You bet they would not.

But it’s OK to foist him off on the legal profession which can use
all the ethics, honesty and truth it can muster.

I do not wish to see Stephen Glass on a street corner begging for
spare change. It is absurd to think, however, that denying him a
license to practice law would force him to eat out of dumpsters. He
is brilliant, well educated and still young enough at 39 to make a
positive contribution to society.

We would all be better off if that contribution came from somewhere
besides a newsroom or a courthouse.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name

If you spend a lot of time cruising the Internet and absorbing all
information therein as absolute gospel, than you believe the

(1) The world will end in December of 2012 when the polar poles
reverse and we all are launched into outer space. We know this
because someone found a calendar that says so made by the Mayans some
1300 years ago.

(2) Big city sewer systems are populated by giant alligators who were
flushed down when they were young. Fortunately, most of them dwell
beneath the streets of New York, just another reason while they call
it Fun City.

(3) Famous children’s television star Mr. Rodgers was in fact a Navy
seal/sniper who wore cardigan sweaters to cover up the tattoos that
commemorated his numerous kills.

(4) The Rose Bowl has been rendered irrelevant by the new college
football playoff system and will lose its luster as a premiere game.

If you believe (1), you are dismissed from this conversation. After
all, it’s irrelevant.

If you buy (2) and (3), your imagination exceeds your good sense.

Which brings us to (4).

There are more than a few bloggers, pundits and self-styled experts
who have decided that the new college football championship
arrangement will reduce the Rose Bowl to a shadow of its former self.

Under the new plan, the championship will be decided between the
winners of two semi-final games in an arrangement that will last 12
years. Call it the football version of the Final Four. Six bowls,
including the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange, will be used to rotate
annually the two national semifinal games. The national title game
will be awarded to the highest bidder.

That means the Rose Bowl will be in line to host a semi-final game
once every four years. In between, the Rose Bowl will continue as
usual featuring a matchup between the Pac 12 and Big 10.

That was assured when Rose Bowl and conference officials signed an
extension with ESPN to continue televising the game through 2028.
Same date (Jan. 1), same time (2 p.m.), same station. If there’s a
semi-final game scheduled at the Rose Bowl, it will be played on Jan.
1, 2 p.m., ESPN.

To summarize: there will be football every New Year’s Day at Rose
Bowl for several decades down the road. Unless, of course, the Mayans
are correct.

So what’s the gripe? It goes something like this: All attention now
will be focused on the Final Four football games. If in fact the Rose
Bowl hosts the Pac 12 and Big 10 champions, those teams will not have
been good enough to make the Big Dance and interest will wane. And if
a Pac 12 or Big 10 team does get into the playoffs, the Rose Bowl
will feature a game between conference also-rans.

Anything is possible when predicting the future. But a lot of this
speculation doesn’t fly. For one thing, it dismisses out of hand the
stature and significance of a game that’s been played since 1902. The
Rose Bowl is college football.

There’s no question that the football Final Four will be the subject
of non-stop hype and hoopla. But never equate hoopla with fact.
Last year’s BCS championship game between LSU and Alabama was a
snoozefest won by Bama. The crashing noise you heard in the
background were TV ratings plummeting.

Meanwhile, Oregon and Wisconsin were engaged in classic shootout at a
sold-out Rose Bowl with the Ducks winning 45-38 in the second most
watched college game in cable TV history.

It featured the No. 4 and No. 10 teams in the country which clearly
didn’t diminish its viewership.

In addition, the level of fan loyalty in college football is off the
charts. Most fans would watch and root for their team if it was
playing in the Baghdad Bowl. Now, put your favorite teams in the Rose
Bowl in prime time on New Year’s Day. Do you seriously think nobody
would watch? ESPN obviously thinks they will at least for the next 16

The college football championship game will undoubtedly be played in
some sterile NFL stadium that offers all the warmth and tradition of
a hospital waiting room. The Rose Bowl game is a pageant, a parade, a
party. It’s also a cash cow, one with an estimated economic impact of
more than $50 million.

It has survived two world wars and a depression. Put who you will in
Pasadena, and they will come.

In order to buy into the Rose Bowl doomsday scenario, one needs to
assume that Rose Bowl officials along with the leaders of the Pac-12
and Big-10 conferences are so inept that, confronted with a new
reality, they fumbled the ball.

Instead, they are sitting pretty.

Ask Darryl Dunn, general manager of the Rose Bowl about it, and he’ll
tell you the Tournament of Roses officials get a lion’s share of
credit for keeping their game front and center. They weren’t about to
let their golden goose become a side order of hot wings.

There are still a host of details to be worked out in the new
championship scenario. Some of them could alter the arrangement as we
understand it now.

But I’m betting that if you turn on your TV on, say, New Year’s Day
of 2022, you’ll see a hell of a game in Pasadena.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Coming to Your Town, Quiety

To hear the folks at retail giant Wal-Mart tell it, they simply want
to help customers save money so they can live better. And when they
arrive to set up shop in your town, they promise they will be good
neighbors and work with the locals in developing their plans.

Well, now, who could take issue with a philosophy like that? A whole
lot of people as it turns out, including a group of citizens in
Altadena who recently were stunned to learn that Wal-Mart is opening
for business in their neighborhood.

There are a lot of reasons to object to Wal-Mart, which we will
discuss shortly. But if you know nothing else about the world’s
largest retailer, the fact that it feels a need to conduct its
business in secret would be enough to give you pause.

They did it in Altadena where the deal was done out of the public eye
with no airing of citizen concerns. They did it recently in Los
Angeles Chinatown where a new market will open over the objections of
the City Council who learned too late about the project to prevent
it. They did it in Simi Valley where they took over a vacant Mervyn’s
department store site with no public input.

No press releases, no confetti, no ribbon cuttings. Also, no
discussion nor dissent.

It’s all very legal. They take over an existing Conditional Use
Permit and move right in.

But what is there to hide? I’m guessing it’s their reputation.

On the surface, Wal-Mart’s plans to build a neighborhood market in
Altadena doesn’t seem like a big deal. It will cater to what Wal-Mart
likes to call “underserved communities” (read: no competition) and
will occupy the site of a former thrift store.

But invite Wal-Mart into your community, and a lot of baggage comes
with it.

Critics over the years have lashed out at Wal-Mart for mistreating
its employees, forcing them to endure poor working conditions while
paying low wages and offering inadequate health care.
Some of those views are supported by some startling statistics:

--- According to a report aired on PBS, approximately 70% of Wal-Mart
employees leave within the first year.

--- In 2000, Wal-Mart paid $50 million to settle a class-action suit
that asserted that 69,000 current and former Walmart employees in
Colorado had been forced to work off-the-clock.

--- Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton once famously said, "I pay low wages.
I can take advantage of that. We're going to be successful, but the
basis is a very low-wage, low-benefit model of employment."

--- The retailer has steadfastly resisted any attempts to unionize
its workers.

That’s only part of the picture. Wal-Mart also has been accused of
predatory pricing practices intended to drive competition out of
business. There’s more: gender discrimination lawsuits, violations of
child labor laws, use of undocumented workers, exploitation of
sweatshop labor used by overseas suppliers.

You get the picture. These are not nice people.

Stung by the criticism, Wal-Mart over the years has launched major
public relations efforts in an attempt to spruce up its image as a
money-mad behemoth.

Sustainability initiatives, environmentalism, fighting hunger,
efforts to do more business with women-owned contractors and
suppliers. They would have us believe they are the embodiment of
benevolence and generosity.

For the sake of discussion, let’s take them at their word and assume
there has been an epiphany at Wal-Mart and that they have decided at
long last to become responsible corporate citizens.

We Americans are a forgiving lot. Do we now welcome them with open

Before you answer yes, consider the following. In April, the New York
Times disclosed that Wal-Mart had found credible evidence that its
Mexican subsidiary — the retailer’s biggest foreign operation, which
opened 431 stores last year — had paid more than $20 million in
bribes and that an internal inquiry into the matter had been
suppressed at corporate headquarters in Arkansas.

In addition to being morally reprehensible, Wal-Mart’s actions could
be a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Shortly thereafter, the Los Angeles Times reported that a senior
associate at a lobbying firm hired to help bring the Wal-Mart grocery
store to Chinatown abruptly left the firm after it was revealed that
she had infiltrated a news conference held by a group critical of
Wal-Mart and posed as a reporter.

Steven Restivo, a Wal-Mart spokesman, told the Times that her actions
were "unacceptable, misleading and wrong."

"Our culture of integrity is a constant at Wal-Mart, and by not
properly identifying herself, this individual’s behavior was contrary
to our values and the way we do business," he said.

With a straight face.

It would seem little has changed in the Wal-Mart saga. In the meantime, Wal-Mart is not going away. They have major plans to move into urban areas throughout the country and set up shop wherever they can.

Let’s hope next time someone is watching the store.