Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pardon My Correction

As is this column’s custom at year’s end, we look back at the best,
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.”

Other winners:

“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.”
The Economist.

“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
Times.

“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.”
Vogue magazine.

“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,
National Review.

“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

“Fran├žois 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
Sentinel.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Oh, Those Zany Mayans

Happy Dec. 23, 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
total annihilation.

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
fate.

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
it.

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
sales.

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.
Stay tuned.

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.
They can’t.

Besides, if there’s an apocalypse, it will be one of our own making.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Conversations With My Car

We bought a new car a couple of weeks ago. Check that. We bought a
wiz bang, interactive, computer-operated, Bluetoothed,
voice-activated, high-tech rocket sled with more options than a fully
armed F-16.

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
Squad.

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
due bill.

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
courses.

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
window.

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
technological gizmos.

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
to you.

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
signs.

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
technology.

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

Of Bloodlines and Bathrooms

Once around the news cycle:

I leaned a couple of new words this week.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum.

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
Lohan arrest.

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
chosen.

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
blanket coverage.


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
of ways.

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
clothes.

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
jewel.

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

Win One for the Gifter

It is about this time each year that we come face to face with the stunning reality that there are a scant few weeks until Christmas. And there is massive shopping to be done.

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.