Saturday, December 28, 2013

We're Not All Weirdos

Welcome honored Rose Bowl guests.
Especially those from Michigan State. But first a word of caution.
No unsuspecting Midwesterner should be dropped willy-nilly into Southern California, a place so defined by clichés that reality becomes blurred.
To hear tell, we are a massive community of surfers who sprinkle our conversation with the word “dude,” drive convertibles on gridlocked streets, spend a lot of time poolside, are surgically attached to our cell phones, wear sunglasses indoors and are mostly air kissing bores who end each conversation with “let’s do lunch.”
Some of that is true. Some isn’t. So as a public service, this column is a primer on the Southern California lifestyle and how to deal with the natives here.
Lesson one: There are damn few natives here. While there are undoubtedly a lot of folks from your home state who are residing in L.A. now, you have a better chance of bumping into people from Thailand or Tokyo, Uruguay or Uganda. We are truly the Ellis Island of the 21st Century. The good news: We mostly all get along just fine. And if you’re an adventuresome foodie, you’ll find a restaurant representing every nook and cranny in the world here.
Some other truths:
Yes, there is a sizable group of surfers here. But most people are content to surf the menu board at In-N-Out Burgers. The real surfers I know are indistinguishable from other human beings. They speak actual English and are not known to show up for a dinner in a wet suit. Everyone needs a hobby. Theirs is jumping into the ocean at dawn to ride the waves. Yours is ice fishing. Judge not.
If someone calls you “dude,” don’t be offended. After all, it was originally a new word for “dandy,” an extremely well-dressed male who paid particular importance to how he appeared. According to the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, the best known of this type is probably Evander Berry Wall, who was dubbed “King of the Dudes” in 1880s New York and maintained a reputation for sartorial splendor all his life. Nowadays, it’s an informal way of addressing someone (“Dude, the house is on fire.”).
Yes, we are devoted cell phone users. Be careful in approaching a native. He or she may be startled by an attempt to initiate a conversation that does not emerge from a hand-held device. Confusion may ensue and it may take a few minutes to establish eye contact.
There was a time when it was common to spot a celebrity or two while driving around Hollywood. Those days are gone. Most celebrities these days spend their days hiding from the paparazzi behind the walls of their mansions, only emerging at night to attend a Lakers game. Or to punch the aforementioned paparazzi.
We’re not all weirdos. After all, there are some 38 million people living in California so the chances of encountering some goofball are greater than in, say, North Dakota. Besides, if we’re smart enough to live here, we can’t be all bad.
Whatever you do, do not watch the local news on TV. If you do, you’ll be convinced that the streets are awash in blood. That’s because TV is devoted to the “if it bleeds, it leads” school of reporting. The fact is that crime figures for 2012 show that the overall crime rate in Los Angeles fell 1.4 percent. Notching a decline for the 10th year in a row, Los Angeles now has the lowest crime rate in the country for cities with a population over 2 million people. Does that mean you should loudly poke fun at a biker gang in a dark alley? Only if you want to skew the statistics.
Contrary to popular opinion, we do not all live on the beach. In fact, most of us don’t. If you want to sample beach living, drive out to Malibu where an ocean-front lot costs more than the entire city of Detroit. While you’re there, stop at an eatery and try the free-range sushi at $25 a pop.
Traffic? It’s bad. Depending on what source you choose to use, the worst cities for traffic are either L.A. or Washington, D.C. or San Francisco or Honolulu. Why split hairs? It’s like determining whether you’d like to be stabbed by a Philips head screwdriver or shot with a crossbow. Either way, it’s going to be painful. Finding a cab in this town is like looking for an albino rhinoceros. Buses usually display a destination that most residents would have trouble identifying. Best advice: walk or take the lite rail.
Last but not least, if you’re looking for Stanford fans, they’ll be the group down at the end of the bar dressed in white lab coats and horned rim glasses discussing Higgs boson. If you don’t know what that is, don’t bother speaking to them.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mea Culpa: The Year in Corrections

Cue the trumpets, please.

It’s time for the annual Mea Culpa awards, presented annually by this column to honor the very finest in corrections and retractions to appear in the media.

Why commemorate mistakes?  After all, journalism is a profession that prides itself on accuracy.  But sometimes in the production of countless words spread across countless pages, mistakes are made.  And some are funny.

So once a year we pause long enough to laugh at ourselves.  After all, a little humor is good medicine when you spend your days covering a world that seems to have gone mad.

Consider these oldies but goodies, both personal favorites.

From a Texas newspaper:  “Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite.”

Or this from a British tabloid:  “Recent articles in this column may have given the impression that Mr. Sven Goran Eriksson was a greedy, useless, incompetent fool. This was a misunderstanding. Mr. Eriksson is in fact a footballing genius. We are happy to make this clear.”

You get the idea.

Rising about all others this year was the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa.  It seems that in 1863, the paper then known as the Patriot & Union published an editorial about Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Talk about bad reviews.

“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”

On the 150th anniversary of the address, the paper issued a retraction.

“In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.”

Not far behind was the New York Times that published this:  “This just in: we made a mistake – 136 years ago. It was in a Jan. 9, 1877 article about a police officer shot by a saloon burglar. The Times called him Officer McDonnell. His name was McDowell…The record is now set straight.”

The Guardian in Great Britain was on a correction roll this year.  Consider:

“The Duchess of Cornwall might have been somewhat surprised to read in an article that she is due to give birth next month. It is the Duchess of Cambridge who is expecting a baby.”

“An article about eating mutton referred to the disastrous effects of the prolonged winter on sheep farmers and their livestock but said ‘resilient mutton are coping well.’ A farmer points out that it is the sheep that are resilient; mutton is the meat that comes from them.

“An interview with Carrie Underwood asked the country music singer if she decided to become a vegetarian after seeing her parents castrate a cow. Unlikely. Only bulls can be castrated.”

“An…item about the enduring – and, for many, irritating – popularity of ‘Gangnam Style,’  the pop song and video by the South Korean rapper Psy, said it was ‘like a virus that is immune to antibiotics.’  A doctor writes to point out that all viruses are immune to antibiotics, which are used to treat bacterial infections.”

“A television listing for the BBC program ‘Wartime Farm’ described it as recalling ‘the acute foot shortage of 1943.’  That might have made an interesting program, but this one was looking at a wartime food shortage.”

The Washington Post came up with this gem:  ‘An Oct. 14 Style article about access to the prison camp for terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, incorrectly referred to Navy Capt. Robert Durand as ‘thickset.’   He should have been described as muscular.”

From The Sun, United Kingdom:  “On 14 December, we published an article listing the ‘laziest’ MPs (members of Parliament) based on their voting record.  We acknowledge that Lucy Powell MP was absent during the concerned voting period due to being on maternity leave.  It was therefore wrong for us to say she is lazy. We have therefore withdrawn the article and apologize to Ms. Powell and others listed.”

From the London Evening Standard: “…we referred to the exhibition of the late Sebastian Horsley’s suits at the Museum of London and the Whoresley show, an exhibition of his pictures at the Outsiders Gallery. By unfortunate error we referred to Rachel Garley, the late Sebastian Horsley’s girlfriend, who arranged the exhibitions, as a prostitute. We accept that Ms. Garley is not and has never been a prostitute”

 From Wired:  “A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Dropbox co-founder Drew Houston saying ‘anyone with nipples’ instead of ‘anyone with a pulse.’”

From the New York Times:  “An article …about the documentary maker Morgan Spurlock, who has a new film out on the boy band One Direction, misstated the subject of his 2012 movie ‘Mansome.’  It is about male grooming, not Charles Manson.”

From the Wall Street Journal:  “A Bloody Mary recipe…called for 12 ounces of vodka and 36 ounces of tomato juice. The recipe as printed incorrectly reversed the amounts, calling for 36 ounces of vodka and 12 ounces of tomato juice.”

From the Sun:  “In an article on Saturday headlined ‘Flying saucers over British Scientology HQ’, we stated ‘two flat silver discs’ were seen ‘above the Church of Scientology HQ.’  Following a letter from lawyers for the Church, we apologize to any alien lifeforms for linking them to Scientologists.”

The Tampa Bay Times:  “ A Tampa Bay Times reporter not strong in the ways of the force (or Star Wars lore) quoted the event’s moderator, Croix Provence, as asking: ‘Are you ready to find love in all the wrong places?’  What Provence actually said was: ‘Are you ready to find love in Alderaan places?’ She was referring to Princess Leia Organa’s home world, which appeared briefly in the 1977 film. Regret the error, we do.”

From the New York Times  “ An article on Monday about a lawsuit filed against the Internet Movie Database by the actress Junie Hoang  for disclosing her age in an online profile misstated her age.  She is 40, not 41.”

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Lot Like Christmas

Christmas news and notes from all over collected from the Internet and local media but mostly my own dogged research:
•In Australia, David Richards and his family strung more than half a million bulbs around their house in the capital city of Canberra to reclaim the Guinness Book of Records title for lights on a residential property. That’s 31 miles of lights.
Richards has been the champ before. He set the world record in 2011 with 331,038 lights, but decided not to do it again because the display took months of effort, according to published reports.
In 2012, the Gay family in Lagrangeville, N.Y., snatched away the title with a display of 346,283 lights.
Richard rose to the challenge. He not only wanted to take back the record, he wanted to “smash it” so it would stand for a long time.
This time, the number was 502,165 bulbs.
Left unreported was how many of his neighbors fled town for the holidays.
•Speaking of smashing things, the number of holiday injuries has increased for the fourth year in a row, according to a government report.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said there were about 15,000 injuries involving holiday decorating between November and December.
“There are about 250 injuries a day during the holiday season. Adding safety to your checklist can keep a holiday tradition from becoming a holiday tragedy,” CPSC Acting Chairman Robert Adler said in a press release.
The most common injuries included falls (34 percent), followed by lacerations (11 percent) and back strains (10 percent).
Actually, I suffered all three of those injuries while assembling a bike one Christmas eve.
•Meanwhile, the folks in Great Britain are taking no chances when it comes to holiday safety. In Wales, a girl playing Mary in a re-enactment of the Christmas story will have to wear a helmet when she parades through her town on a donkey.
“We’ve got to consider that Mary will be riding a donkey on a public highway,” said Mark Barrett, 44, a youth worker at The Bridge Church in Neath, who has organized the performance.
“If she is going on a public highway, then she has to wear a riding hat,” he said.
Since solemnity and tradition are not a consideration, maybe they should dress her in bubble wrap just to be on the safe side.
•Also in Merry Olde England, a British tabloid is reporting that several department stores are offering polygraph (lie detector) tests to determine if your little angel has been naughty or nice this year. Prison sentences are optional.
•Odd, yes, but nothing says odd like California. Here, some churches are offering drive-through nativity displays this year featuring angels, shepherds, wise men and, of course, Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
Said one church: “Guests view the scenes from the comfort of their own cars while listening to scene narratives through their car radios.”
You want fries with your scripture?
•In the gift-that-keeps-on-giving department, a 1941 fruitcake has sold for $525 to an Arizona man in an Ohio company’s online auction.
Elite Estate Group sold the cake in an auction on its website. Company owner Larry Chaney says the man, who wanted to remain anonymous, probably bought the cake as an investment.
Chaney says he doubts anyone would eat a 71-year-old fruitcake even though it was vacuum packed and contained rum that probably helped preserve it.
The cake was made in 1941 by The Kroger Co. It was returned unopened to a Kroger store in 1971. The manager took it home and kept it until recently, when his son was helping him get rid of some things and gave the cake to Chaney.
•Finally, there is always one feel-good story that surfaces each year during the holidays. This one, which combines elements of tragedy and triumph, will be hard to beat:
A young Northern California woman recently posted an ad on Craigslist, asking to rent a family for Christmas.
Jackie Turner is a college student in Rocklin, near Sacramento. “On the outside, it looks like I’m the American dream kid,” she said. “But I have a back story that most people wouldn’t believe if they looked at me today.”
The 26-year-old says she comes from a broken home, where she had been abused. To escape it, she spent years living on the streets, which created even more problems.
“I was in gang life, on the streets, fighting, doing drugs, just making a mess of my life,” Turner said.
She was eventually arrested for grand theft and spent close to a year in jail. When she got out, she went to a camp for troubled young adults in Grass Valley called Christian Encounter Ministries. Now she’s a student with a 4.0 grade-point average at William Jessup University on scholarship.
But her past lingers on.
“There’s still something deep inside of me,” Turner said. “There’s this void, my biological parents aren’t here, and it’s kept this hole inside of me.”
So she turned to Craigslist.
Her ad read, “I am looking to rent a mom and dad who can give me attention and make me feel like the light of their life just for a couple of days because I really need it.” The ad offered to pay $8 an hour.
Many families contacted her, saying they would take her in for free, according to media reports. However, she also received responses from people with similar stories of traumatic childhoods.
Turner said she was touched.
“When you speak up, people start learning that they’re not by themselves. Often we lock things inside of ourselves, like a lockbox of our secrets. But then you let one out and realize, ‘I’m not by myself after all, am I?’ ”
So, rather than renting a family, Turner has decided to form one by getting all of the people who contacted her together for the holidays.
May their celebration last a lifetime.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Stormy Weather

This is my favorite time of year for watching local television news.
It’s not the car crashes or the quirky videos lifted directly from social media and presented as fact.
It’s certainly not the nightly murder and mayhem report, complete with lingering close-ups of grieving loved ones.
It’s not a local sports anchor doing his segment wearing a L.A. Kings jersey, demonstrating that impartiality has no place in his corner of the world.
If you really want to see TV strut its stuff, bring on the weather.
A cold snap, a bit of rain, and it’s all hands on deck for team coverage.
Case in point: It’s been a bit nippy this week in Southern California. Not Upper Peninsula of Michigan cold but enough to warrant a sweater. As TV host Jimmy Kimmel disclosed, “I had to wear two tank tops to work today.”
He was joking, of course, but I did see a guy this week wearing flip flops and cargo shorts topped with a North Face ski jacket and a stocking cap. Ah, Southern California.
Against this backdrop, the local TV reporting ranks have been unleashed like hounds at a fox hunt, while their anchor cohorts urge them on by chirping phrases like “Arctic blast” and “bone-chilling.”
They descend on an unsuspecting public, firing queries like, “Cold enough for you?” or “How do you like the rain?”
The answers are usually as deep and insightful as the questions.
The result is compelling entertainment, especially if you disdain originality and enjoy a laugh at what passes as “breaking news.”
But wait a minute. Is it really “news” at all?
I noticed the locals this week beating a path en masse to the Antelope Valley to report on our brush with winter.
Why? By heading north, they’re guaranteed a bit of chill. That’s because the average low temperature in Lancaster for the months of December and January is about 30 degrees.
So when our intrepid reporters, bundled up like Arctic explorers, announce that it’s cold outside while doing a remote from the high desert, it’s rather like disclosing that the sun sets in the west.
OK, we understand that TV is a visual medium and there is a lot of air time to fill, even if it’s filled with, well, so much air.
And we understand that if it drops below 40 degrees in L.A., it’s news although we would prefer it without all the apocalyptic overtones. We need facts, not FEMA.
Look in on the weather folks in Denver, for example, and you see a decided lack of drama in the forecasts.
One young woman on the NBC affiliate this week described a high of 8 and a low of minus-10 as “pretty chilly.” Over on CBS, the forecaster conceded it was “a little on the chilly side” while predicting wind-chill temperatures of 30-below zero.
Back in Los Angeles, a reporter advised people to stay inside while the current temperature flashed on the bottom right of the screen. It read 56 degrees.
So are we the worst weather wimps in the world? It’s a chicken-and-egg question. Is the local TV community merely reporting what all of us feel as we bundle up when it falls below 60? Or do we feel cold because TV tells us we should?
Who really cares? Personally, I wouldn’t live any place else. I lived for awhile in San Francisco where dampness seeps into your bones and moss will grow on your legs if you’re not careful. And I lived in Washington, D.C., where I was introduced to the snow shovel. It was loathe at first sight.
Nice places to visit, as the old saying goes.
And just for the record, the lowest recorded temperature in downtown Los Angeles was 24 degrees on Dec. 22, 1944.
Now, that’s cold.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Animal Style

Forget the foi gras. Lay off the lamb. Refuse the ribs. Shun the sushi. Pass on the prime rib.
Drop that cheeseburger and put your hands in the air.
PETA is back in town. And they’re mad. So mad they’re taking aim at the Rose Parade with their peculiar brand of anthropomorphic totalitarianism.
Or, to put it more simply, to force upon us their view that the Earth’s animals are our buddies, not brunch.
PETA stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It claims to have 3 million members and supporters and to be the largest animal rights group in the world.
The group opposes factory farming, fur farming, animal testing, and animals in entertainment. It also campaigns against eating meat, fishing and the killing of animals regarded as pests.
Of course, PETA isn’t the only passenger on this particular bandwagon. The Humane Society of the United States claims it is the nation’s largest and most effective animal protection organization.
Then there are groups like the Animal Welfare Society, Best Friends Animal Society, D.E.L.T.A. (Dedication and Everlasting Love to Animals), Friends of Animals, PetSmart Charities and Wildlife Conservation Society. All are well funded and run by dedicated staff.
Animal welfare is not a stupid idea. In fact, it’s a noble undertaking. But like any idea, it can be carried to stupid lengths. And that’s where PETA excels.
PETA is noisy. It is angry. It is crude. It believes in getting its message across by staging outrageous stunts.   Its members are self-described “press sluts.” You might even call them “ham-fisted.”
For example, the PETA people are upset that Sea World will have a float in this year’s Rose Parade depicting killer whales frolicking in the waves.
The group is demanding that the float be changed to show an Orca whale trapped in a fish bowl surrounded by locks and chains. A banner reads “SeaWorld of Hurt Where Happiness Tanks.”
There is a point to be made here. A recent documentary called “Blackfish” calls into question the treatment and training of killer whales at Sea World, focusing on the very grisly and public death of a trainer who was killed by an Orca.
So what does PETA do? They picket outside the coronation ceremony for the Rose Queen. Of course, the queen and her court have about as much to do with the selection of the floats and themes as PETA does in choosing the entrees at Taco Bell. So all they accomplish is to irritate those who are there to celebrate a memorable moment in the lives of these young women.
Score it Anger 1, Converts 0.
PETA has been here before. In 2011, they objected to a city of Glendale float that depicted an elephant towing a calliope. Glendale city fathers, seeking to appease PETA by embracing mouselike timidity,   agreed to change the name of the entry from “Stepping Out in Style” to “Just Imagine the Music, Fun and Freedom.” Which pleased no one.
PETA has a record of shooting itself in the foot.
In 1991, less than a month after police arrested Jeffrey Dahmer for murdering 17 men in Ohio and Wisconsin, PETA paid the Des Moines Register $11,214 to run an ad likening the gruesome crime spree — which involved sodomy, necrophilia and cannibalism — to practices within the meatpacking industry.
NBC declined to air a PETA ad featuring scantily clad women embracing their vegetables during a Super Bowl. The commercial claimed that “studies show vegetarians have better sex” and showed simulated foreplay between the nearly nude women and their veggies of choice.
When PETA launched its “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign in 2003, an exhibition featured eight 60-square-foot panels juxtaposing scenes from Nazi death camps with images of factory farms and slaughterhouses.
In 2008, PETA put a naked pregnant woman in a pen in London to encourage people to eat vegetarian — and to call attention to the fact that all days are bad days for pregnant sows.
Gary Yourofsy, a paid PETA lecturer, once declared that “every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever.”
You get the idea.
PETA believes any publicity is good publicity, even if it angers and inflames. By embracing that philosophy, they have done more harm than good to their cause.
The irony of their Rose Parade shenanigans is that there are several other animal welfare floats in the parade including the Beverly Hills Pet Care Foundation dedicated to the advocacy of shelter animals and the Lucy Pet Foundation which provides spay/neuter clinics across the country.
I’m betting their appearances will result in a lot more support than PETA’s in-your-face gimmickry.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Flight Risk

Some years back, the airline industry came to a startling conclusion: They held the traveling public hostage. The service they provided offered the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B and there was no one in second place.
So to improve their economic bottom line, they began to systematically dump basic amenities along with courtesy and comfort. So what if people complained? Are they going to drive from Los Angeles to New York in five hours?
Thus, air travel became the  cattle drive that we loathe today.
It’s hard to imagine it could get worse. Then, these developments last week.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days at the airport. On average, airlines across the country see a passenger increase that day of up to 259 percent, according to a new study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association.
But soon, the increased volume of travelers seen around the holidays could become more of an everyday occurrence, the study found. To be exact, within a mere five years, 24 of the top 30 U.S. airports will experience passenger levels that they usually only see on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
“Every projection holds that the demand for travel will continue to dramatically rise,” U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow said in a news release. “But that rising demand will be stifled without a significant effort to modernize infrastructure.”
If that is true, get ready to arrive at the airport five hours before takeoff to avoid nightmarish traffic jams. Be prepared for security lines that make today’s TSA checkpoints look like a supermarket express lane. Overbooked flights will be commonplace. So will lost luggage. And the relative mental health of your fellow travelers will be dark if not downright hostile.
Surely, this is as bad as it gets. But no. Now, the nation’s top telecom regulator will propose allowing passengers to make cell phone calls and use their data plans while on an airplane.
The proposed rule change by the Federal Communications Commission would allow phone use once a plane reaches 10,000 feet, according to a story in the Washington Post.   Restrictions would still be in place during takeoffs and landings.
The agency’s commission is set to discuss the proposal in their upcoming December meeting. According to the Post story, the new rule has the backing of Tom Wheeler, the FCC’s new chairman, who was sworn in just weeks ago.
So let me understand this: After clawing your way onto the airplane and getting stuffed into sardine class, you face the daunting prospect of facing hours being bombarded with cell phone conversations bouncing around the cabin like so many ping pong balls. If you’re stuck in a middle seat, you could be listening to a guy arguing with his wife on one side while the passenger on your right discusses his roofing business inventory.
Mix in a few cocktails and you have a mixture more volatile than jet fuel.
This is a bad idea on so many levels.
For example, mounting evidence suggests that the habits encouraged by mobile technology — namely, talking in public to someone who is not there — are tailor made for hijacking the cognitive functions of bystanders.
One reason, said Veronica V. Galván, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of San Diego, is the brain’s desire to fill in the blanks.
“If you only hear one person speaking, you’re constantly trying to place that part of the conversation in context,” Dr. Galván said. “That’s naturally going to draw your attention away from whatever else you’re trying to do.”
It is also a control thing, Dr. Galván and her colleagues said. When people are trapped next to a one-sided conversation — known nowadays as a “halfalogue” — their anger rises in the same way it does in other situations where they are not free to leave. Like trapped on an airplane.
Author Dave Barry has an ever better take: A study by researchers at the University of Utah proves what many people have long suspected. Everyone talking on a cell phone, except you, is a moron.
To underscore the problem, we leave you with the following “halfalogue” recently reported on social media. Your job is to imagine what the other half of the conversation was:
“I woke up this morning on the beach, without my pants.”
“I don’t know.”
“Nah, I’m on my way to work now.”
This conversation could soon be coming to a seat near you.   Happy landings.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Skins Game

It wasn’t that long ago that a wave of political correctness swept over the country, causing spasms of guilt at every college and university nicknamed the Indians or Braves or Warriors.
It was, we were told, a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping that should be eliminated.
Chancellors and athletic directors moved quickly to wipe out every offending name even though the intent of identifying a team with Native Americans was not mockery but a tribute to their bravery and dignity.
Never mind a 2005 Washington Post article that argued a large majority of Native Americans are not at all offended by “Indian” mascots and that many are proud of the mascot names.
The American Psychological Association saw it differently. Its members issued a resolution “Recommending the Immediate Retirement of American Indian Mascots, Symbols, Images, and Personalities by Schools, Colleges, Universities, Athletic Teams, and Organizations due to the harm done by creating a hostile environment, the negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children, and is discrimination that may violate civil rights.”
So the Stanford Indians became the Cardinal (although Robber Barons would have been more appropriate). The Marquette Warriors became the Golden Eagles. The St. John’s University Red Men became the Red Storm. The College of William and Mary changed from Indians to The Tribe, but was chastised because its logo contained two feathers.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania was forced to change its name from Indians to Crimson Hawks. The school gets its name from the city of Indiana in which it is located. Indiana, of course, means land of the Indians. So exactly what was accomplished here?
In the meantime, Central Michigan University (Chippewas), Florida State University (Seminoles), Mississippi College (Choctaws) and University of Utah (Utes) were granted waivers to retain their nicknames after gaining support from those respective tribes. Meaning money trumps a real or imagined assault on one’s dignity.
The reason we are rehashing all of this is because the war on inappropriate ethnic representations rages on. This time the Washington Redskins of the National Football League are the target.
And this time, I’m on board. If I owned a sports franchise, I would no more call the team the Redskins than I would name it the Savages, Slaves or Wetbacks. Imagine what the reaction would be if Washington was awarded a franchise now, in 2013, and decided to call it the Redskins. The hue and cry would be deafening.
Dan Snyder, who owns the Skins, defends the name thus: “Our franchise has a great history, tradition and legacy representing our proud alumni and literally tens of millions of loyal fans worldwide,” Snyder wrote. “We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans ... They speak proudly of ‘Redskins Nation’ in honor of a sports team they love.”
Yet, in the very same city, the owner of the NBA Washington Bullets changed the name of the franchise to Wizards out of a concern for the violent overtones in the original name.
There’s little reason to get misty eyed over the history of the Redskins. The original owner was George Preston Marshal, who ran the franchise from 1932 to 1969. Whatever else he may have accomplished, his reputation as a racist is what many remember. As late as 1962, Marshal refused to have African-Americans on his team. “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites,” he once remarked.
Finally, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy issued an ultimatum — unless Marshall signed a black player, the government would revoke the Redskins’ 30-year lease on the year-old D.C. Stadium (now Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium), which had been paid for by government money. Marshal relented.
When he died in 1969, he bequeathed $6 million to the George Preston Marshall Foundation that serves the interests of children in the Washington, D.C., area. The gift had the qualification that none of it could be used “for any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration.”
Since Marshall is long since dead (strangely enough, he is buried at a site in West Virginia called the Indian Mound Cemetery), his unfortunate legacy should die as well.
We’re not talking about rewriting the Tax Code here. We’re just changing a name. Let your imaginations run free.
In keeping with the current atmosphere in Washington, we could call the team the Bureaucrats, or the Do Nothings, or the Spendthrifts, the Fillibusterers, Gridlockers or Can Kickers. Better yet, the Partisans.
In a more serious vein, my choice would be the Warriors. This not only honors the men and women who have fought and died for this country but acknowledges the bravery of the American Indians who fought to preserve their lands.
Anything but the Redskins. It’s not a racial reference, it’s a slur.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Fox Tales

Here we go again...
The folks over at Fox News, no strangers to journalistic faux pas, slipped on another reportorial banana peel recently while recounting the horrors of the government shutdown.
Anna Kooiman, one of those interchangeable blond-haired, doe-eyed commentators that populate the network, said on an episode of “Fox and Friends” that “We’re going to talk a little bit later in the show, too, about some things that are continuing to be funded and President Obama has offered to pay out of his own pocket for the Museum of Muslim Culture, out of his own pocket.”
Shocking? Controversial? Outrageous? Redundant? Yes. But true? No.
It seems Ms. Kooiman swallowed hook, line and sinker a story produced by something called the National Reporter, which publishes satire, not news. She later apologized, blaming “poor research.”
If you look up Museum of Muslim Culture on the Internet, you’ll discover almost instantly that it’s located in Jackson, Miss., and receives no government funding whatsoever. That’s the kind of “research” a fifth-grader could do.
And then there’s this: If the president had in fact bankrolled a Muslim cultural center out of his own pocket during a government shutdown that saw national parks and monuments closed, it would have been front-page news in every major newspaper in the country and the lead story on every network news telecast. Tea Party members would have been marching on the White House with pitchforks and torches.
It wasn’t. And they didn’t. Does that raise a red flag? It should have.
Of course, this is the same network that initially got the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare wrong and whose affiliate in the Bay Area breathlessly announced that the names of the pilots whose Asiana passenger jet crashed in San Francisco were “Som Ting Wong” and “Wi Tu Low.”
So much for high journalistic standards.
Lest we be guilty of picking on Fox, it isn’t the only guilty party.
Iran’s partially state-run Fars News Agency not only believed a piece in The Onion claiming that rural Americans preferred President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over President Barack Obama, Fars actually plagiarized it — putting the story up on its website and claiming it as its own.
A satirical piece claiming that Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas went into a shouting tirade after a Hooters restaurant refused to accept his government expense account credit card as payment for a $53 tab spread like wildfire over social media.
A faked story claimed a study conducted by the World Health Organization predicted that blond hair soon wouldn’t exist in the human population. The last natural blond would be born in Finland sometime over the next two centuries. There was no such study. Yet it was reported as fact on ABC, CNN and the London Daily Mail.
What to make of all this? It appears in the headlong rush to embrace social media along with its “citizen journalists,” bloggers and tweeters, critical thinking skills have been left in the dust.
The first rule of Journalism 101, at least the way I learned it, was to question everything. It may make you something of a skeptic but at least you won’t be apologizing for reporting satire as fact.
This isn’t rocket science. It’s the same skill set we use on used car salesmen and Scientologists.
Of course, it could be that Fox News, which we could charitably describe as being a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, has no interest in verifying anything that may discredit the Democrats. It would seem they believe that if it embarrasses President Obama, put it on the air and sweep the consequences under the rug.
Additionally, social media has proven that people believe what they want to believe, rational debate notwithstanding. I have received hundreds of emails over the years that purport to prove that Obama is an American-hating Muslim, aliens walk among us and that backyard barbecues can melt your contact lenses. All urged me to “pass this along.”
Indeed, an entire cottage industry has emerged on the Internet of websites that do nothing but expose myths and shed the light of truth on urban legends.
Mark Twain, a man who was not above spreading a myth or two in his day, said this: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
If he could only see us now.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Throw the Rascals Out

Being a member of Congress must be the greatest job on earth.
It pays well. There are a lot of perks. You are powerful and influential.
And besides, no matter how petty, how shortsighted, how callous, how deaf you may be to the opinions and needs of your constituents and your country, chances are pretty good you will be re-elected.
More on that later. First, let’s explore just how the American people view this august body.
A survey conducted just this past week the Public Policy Polling firm found that Congress is less popular than hemorrhoids, jury duty and toenail fungus.
Which is high praise for a bunch of political mud wrestlers who have shut down the government while making sure they still get paid.   And they may yet may boot a recovering economy back into recession.
These new results indicate a slight decline from a poll taken at the beginning of the year that suggested Congress finishes in second place to cockroaches, traffic jams and Brussels sprouts.
Want more? Congress doesn’t stack up well at all compared with other governmental institutions, a Public Policy report says. There may be long lines at the DMV, but voters still have a higher opinion of it than Congress by a 58/24 margin. Jury duty might disrupt your work week, but people will still take that over Congress by a 73/18 spread.
Perhaps worst for Congress is that it actually manages to lose out to the IRS 42/33 — there’s a big partisan divide on that one, with Democrats taking the IRS 59/23, but Republicans taking Congress 48/25.
But it’s not all bad news for Congress. It’s at least still more popular than serial killers (56/18 over Charles Manson), foreign enemies (51/22 over Syria, 49/28 over Vladimir Putin), and controversial celebrities (46/31 over Miley Cyrus, 42/33 over Honey Boo Boo, and 40/36 over Lindsey Lohan).
What’s even more astounding is that the Public Policy poll found that 8  percent of those surveyed expressed approval for the job that Congress is doing.
We can only assume that these folks are isolated wilderness dwellers, close family members of the elected or, as one wag suggested, non-recreational drug users.
So throw the rascals out, right? Well, not so fast.
According to one school of thought, these rating polls simply don’t matter. Tom Jensen, the director of polling for Public Policy Polling, was quoted in Business Insider as saying that low approval ratings overall won’t spur members of Congress to grandiose ideas of “compromise.”
“Congressional approval polls measure frustration toward the body as a whole rather than their own representative,” Jensen said.
“So even if people hate Congress in general, usually they either like their own member enough ... so that most get re-elected anyway. Most Republican voters who are unhappy with the House will still vote Republican next year and vice versa.”
There are other factors to consider, of course. A major one is that most congressional districts are gerrymandered to favor the incumbent.  Short of a felony rap, your elected representative ain’t going anywhere.
The other is that political memory is notoriously short. That gives members of Congress plenty of time to press the flesh and bring home the bacon after this current crisis, no matter how infuriating it may seem, goes away.
To look at it another way, we are unwitting witnesses to history.
According to the Gallup polling organization, Congress is well on its way to averaging below 20  percent approval for the fourth year in a row, and for the fifth year in the last six. The exception was 2009. That year, newly elected President Barack Obama was working with a large Democratic majority, which resulted in high approval among Democratic identifiers.
Prior to 2008, Congress had averaged below 20  percent approval in only two of the 31 years for which Gallup had data, 1979 and 1992.
Meanwhile, the rest of world looks on in disgust:
In Great Britain, the BBC said, “...  Even in the middle of its ongoing civil war, the Syrian government has continued to pay its bills and workers’ wages. That leaders of one of the most powerful nations on earth willingly provoked a crisis that suspends public services and decreases economic growth is astonishing to many  ...”
In Germany, the Zeit newspaper blamed a “handful of radicals,” stating, “A small group of uncompromising Republican ideologues in the House of Representatives are principally responsive for this disaster. They are not only taking their own party to the brink, but the whole country. Unfortunately the leadership of this party has neither had the courage nor the backbone to put them in their place.”
The last and best assessment comes from the French.  Le  Monde called the shutdown “grotesque” and on its editorial page, dramatically lamented, “Jefferson, wake up, they’ve gone crazy!”

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Breaking Bad

America may be the home of the free and the land of the brave but it’s also the domain of the discontented.
We offer as evidence the fact that there are currently five secession movements under way in this country, in California, Colorado, Michigan, Texas and Maryland. The aim for many of them is independent statehood.
Most spring from overwhelmingly white, rural, conservative/ libertarian enclaves. Most of the organizers complain their voices are not being heard. Most believe their political opponents, perhaps enemies is a better word, are violating the nation’s founding principles. Most like to throw around words like “tyranny.”
One of the potential 51st states is in western Maryland whose initiative leader, Scott Strzelczyk , told the Washington Post he and his supporters want to “break away from the dominant ruling class.” Interestingly enough, that was a philosophy espoused by Karl Marx. But we digress.
Strzelczyk said he is frustrated with Maryland’s Democratic Party. “If you don’t belong in their party, you’ll never have your views represented,” he said. “If we have more states, we can all go live in states that best represent us, and then we can get along.”
Meaning his idea of Utopia is a state where everyone thinks alike. And if there are dissenters? I guess they start their own secession movement.
Look, let’s call these movements what they are: Exclusionary politics. While they claim they are being ignored, what they really want to do is ignore everyone who doesn’t share their views. This isn’t democracy. It’s a mockery of it.
The supporters of each and every one of these efforts are people who can’t deal with two facts of life: (1) The Democrats have won the White House in the last two elections and (2) their view of America as a never-ending Andy Griffith Show is being challenged by an increasingly diverse and liberal population.
So they want to take their ball and go home. Rather than convince their fellow Americans of the validity of their beliefs, they want to quit the game.
Look at the other secession efforts and you hear the same song over and over:
To the north of us, a movement aspires to start something called the state of Jefferson which would span the contiguous and mostly rural area of Southern Oregon and Northern California.
This is nothing new. In October 1941, the mayor of Port Orford, Oregon announced that the Oregon counties of Curry, Josephine, Jackson and Klamath should join with the California counties of Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Modoc to form a new state, later named Jefferson.
On Nov. 27, 1941, a group of young men gained national media attention when, brandishing hunting rifles for dramatic effect, they stopped traffic on U.S. Route 99 south of Yreka, and handed out copies of a Proclamation of Independence, stating that the state of Jefferson was in “patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon” and would continue to “secede every Thursday until further notice.” The effort ended when Pearl Harbor was bombed 10 days later.
Leaders of the new movement cite their frustration with the Democratic majority in the state legislature. Their complaints include gun control laws, environmental restrictions on the lumber and mining industries, as well as steep fees for fire prevention. Not to mention the political clout of Southern California which is a million miles away in distance and deed.
Or to put it more succinctly, “We have nothing in common with you people down south. Nothing,” Randy Bashaw, manager of the Jefferson State Forest Products lumber mill in the Trinity County hamlet of Hayfork, told a reporter. “The sooner we’re done with all you people, the better.”
The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors agreed, voting 4-1 recently to pursue seceding from California. But it will never fly politically. No Democrat in Sacramento or Washington, D.C. is going to support the formation of a state that would be largely Republican.
In Colorado, residents in the northern part of the state will vote next month on whether to secede after ballot language backed by Tea Party activists was approved.
Activists started pushing for the meetings after this year’s legislative session, when Democrats who control the Colorado legislature passed new laws regulating firearms and oil exploration. Throw in the legalization of same-sex legal unions and you have a secession movement.
“Our very way of life is under attack,” Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said in an interview.
A proposal to form the state of Superior made up from portions of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and portions of northern Wisconsin has made news.
This oldie but goodie was first proposed in 1858 as the state of Ontonagon and received the support of no less than the New York Times which opined, “Unless Congress should interpose objections, which cannot reasonably be apprehended, we see no cause why the new State of Ontonagon should not speedily take her place as an independent member of the union.”
The current effort is said to be spurred by “cultural differences,” geographic separation, and the belief that the residents’ concerned are being ignored.
Then there is Texas, where they think big. So big in fact the talk down there is of becoming an independent nation. Some 100,000 of its residents signed an online petition this year seeking to secede from the United States.
Secession backers point to a section of the state constitution which claims Texans have the right “to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient.” The White House countered with an 1869 Supreme Court ruling that found individual states did not have a right to secede. And politely said “no.”
This, of course, is folly. Would these people really want to sacrifice their American citizenship and all that it represents? Do they really want passports to travel to Oklahoma?
Fortunately, nobody takes Texas seriously but Texans.
All of this would be so much sound and fury signifying nothing if it wasn’t troubling.
These efforts reflect the polarization of our country, a never compromise mentality which dictates that you either crush your opponent or cut and run rather than work to effect change.
No good can come of this no matter which side of the political spectrum you occupy.
The irony, as Kimberly Karnes, a professor of political science and geography at Old Dominion University points out, is that a new state “would still be a part of the United States of America, meaning it answers to and must work within the U.S. system, as it currently operates.”
“For residents who want more personal freedoms and less government intrusion,” Karnes said, “they may find that even in a new state, Uncle Sam is still a frequent visitor in their community.”