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 clich├ęs 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.