Sunday, December 28, 2014

To Err is Hilarious

It is customary at year’s end for this column to salute the hard-working men and women of journalism.

By publishing their mistakes.

This isn’t masochism or self-loathing on our part. Rather, it shows our ability to laugh at ourselves. After all, newsgathering consists of filling a newspaper or broadcast or web site each day starting with a blank slate. Make it interesting, make it lively, make it important. And do it on tight deadlines.

Mistakes get made but in proportion to the number of stories produced each day, the numbers are minuscule. 

With that kind of batting average, an occasional whiff is often more funny than fatal.
In the past, this column has discovered a few corrections that can without hesitation be considered classics.

Some 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.”

Or this from the New York Times: 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.”

Against that background, we now present the winners of our not-so-coveted 2014 Mia Culpa awards:

“In our July issue we wrongly described Tina Cutler as a journalist. In fact she is a practitioner of vibrational energy medicine.”  --- Marie Claire magazine.

“Christopher Hill never lived in Germany. He was born in Berkeley and raised in Danville. Hill began his art career in 1995 at age 24, not 27, in San Jose, not Graz, Austria.

“Hill prefers the term “art gallery,” rather than “art studio.” His daughter is not an accomplished equestrian, rather she is an avid one.

“The Chamber of Commerce did not name Hill “The Opinionator” and Hill never said, ‘I suppose I am.’

“Hill said his interest in St. Helena is community-wide, not just personal.

“He never said, ‘We offer much more than vineyard scenes. And we’re very informal – no suits or ties.’

“‘The Crushers’ is a St. Helena men’s softball team, which Hill sponsors and manages. ‘The Shockers’ is a Napa Junior Girls softball team, which he also sponsors.”  --- Napa Valley Register

“An earlier version of this column was published in error. That version included what purported to be an interview that Kanye West gave to a Chicago radio station in which he compared his own derri√®re to that of his wife, Kim Kardashian. Mr. West’s quotes were taken, without attribution, from the satirical website The Daily Currant. There is no radio station WGYN in Chicago; the interview was fictitious, and should not have been included in the column.” --- New York Times

“An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Tennis was arrested for allegedly making “fraudulent purposes.” Clearly that is neither a crime nor a statement that makes any sense. She was arrested for allegedly making fraudulent purchases.” --- Huffington Post

“An earlier version of this article described bald eagles and ospreys incorrectly. They eat fish, and their poop is white; they do not eat berries and excrete purple feces. (Other birds, like American robins, Eurasian starlings and cedar waxwings, do).”  --- New York Times

“The Minotaur is a monster in Greek mythology that is part bull, part human. A travel article in Saturday’s Off Duty section mistakenly called it a one-eyed monster.”  --- Wall Street Journal

“A review in the June 29 Arts & Books section of the book “Big Little Man” said that author Alex Tizon is in his 60s. He is 54. Also, the review described Tizon as an avid consumer of porn, but the book says the viewing was for research. It also described Tizon’s friend’s embarrassment about the size of his endowment, whereas the book states that ‘he liked being average.’”  --- Los Angeles Times.

“We carried a story headlined ‘Boss Swings in to the Golf Inn After Club Snag’ in our issue of Friday, March 20.

“In it, we referred to William Scott’s breach of the peace charge.  We mistakenly said this was in relation to an argument over drugs.

“It was in fact an argument over dogs.  We apologize for this.”  --- Ayrshire Post  (U.K.)

“This post originally quoted photographer Tom Sanders as saying it takes him five years to get on the dance floor. It takes him five beers.”  Slate magazine.

“Articles on April 25 and 26 about Pope Benedict XVI said that St. Peter was the founder of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the church, Jesus was the founder.” --- Washington Post

“An agency story about the Vatican recruiting a hawk to protect the Pope’s doves after two were killed by a crow and a seagull was deleted from our website because it was discovered to have been an April fools’ joke.”  The Guardian

“The Argus would like to apologize for suggesting that the director of the Brighton Science Festival believes the ‘21st century will be remembered for a terrible war between mankind and goats.’

“That contention, as well as another goat-obsessed comment, actually came in the form of a question submitted by a reader.” --- Argus, Brighton, England

“In a leader last month (Of Bongs and Bureaucrats) we said that The Economist first proposed legalizing drugs in 1993. In fact we argued for it in a cover story in 1988. Who says drug use doesn’t damage long-term memory?” --- The Economist

“An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Bugs Bunny’s most notorious enemy is Porky Pig. While the two are known to frequently squabble, often in the public eye, they are in fact good friends.”  --- Harretz (Israel)

“In the caption for a picture showing one of the 10 largest stars found so far (by Earth-dwellers), we erred in saying that it was ‘One of the 10 biggest objects yet to be found in the solar system.’ As a number of readers pointed out, there is only one star in the solar system: the sun.” --- The Guardian.

“An article on Monday about a recall election facing Colorado lawmakers who supported gun-control legislation referred incorrectly to one of the Republican challengers expected to face John Morse, the State Senate president, on the ballot. The candidate, Bernie Herpin, is a former city councilman, not an author of erotic novels.”  --- New York Times

An earlier version of a tweet in this column misstated the name of its writer. As her Twitter handle correctly noted, she is Jillian C. York, not Chillian J. Yikes!  --- New York Times.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here's Looking at You

Technology is wonderful, no doubt about it.  Where would we be without such life enhancing inventions such as car alarms, leaf blowers, boom boxes, pop-up ads and automated telephone menus that offer nine stupefying options in six languages.

Our ancestors would be amazed.

But now, the would-be Edisons of the world have truly outdone themselves. Using sinister Big Brother robotics, they have produced a scary product that will deny you the freedom of choice at its most elementary level.

Ladies and gentlemen, we present the Luce X2, a vending machine that uses facial recognition technology to deny you access to potato chips or chocolate bars or cigarettes or anything else it may feel is bad for you based on your medical records or dietary habits.

No matter how many dollar bills you feed into it, you won’t get that bag of Fritos or Hershey bar you crave.  No matter how hard you hammer it with your fist, it won’t dislodge that can of Mountain Dew.

It’s man versus machine and the machine knows who you are.  If you don’t behave, it might tell other machines. And you wouldn’t want that, would you?

I’m all for a healthy life style. But if there’s anything worse than jamming a chili cheeseburger down your throat, it’s having to swallow misguided intentions.

The machines, a product of Great Britain, are able to identify and greet a user, remember a person’s preferences and even refuse to vend a certain product based on a shopper’s age, medical record, dietary requirements or purchase history.

A ham and cheese sandwich?  Sorry, Charlie, you get a kale on wheat, hold the mayo, with a side of broccoli florets. 

One potential customer suggested that the machines could come equipped with  prerecorded messages to motivate the user, like: "Don't you think you have had enough" or "Have you seen yourself in the mirror?

Of course, if I really want that ham and cheese on a roll I can ask my buddy, a former Army Airborne Ranger who does triathlons on his days off, to order it for me. Surely he could pass mechanized muster.

Or, given that facial recognition is the key, I can just flash a picture of Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas who holds more than 20 world eating records, including chili cheese fries (8 pounds, 2 ounces in 10 minutes), crab cakes (46 in 10 minutes), hard boiled eggs (65 in 6 minutes, 40 seconds), and oysters (46 dozen in 10 minutes).

Bon appetite.

We have become accustomed to the wacky when it comes to vending machines.
In China, they dispense live crabs. Then again, right here in Los Angeles, you can feed your caviar habit from a machine. The cost: an ounce for a cool $500.  I assume it doesn’t accept quarters.

Asia in fact has raised vending to an art form. There, in addition to the aforementioned crabs, you’ll find lettuce, bananas, mashed potatoes, beer and sake, eggs, rice and something called canned bread at the touch of a button.

The ultimate in vending comes from Miami Beach where it’s possible for people to spend as much as $1 million on a single purchase. Items range from a yacht trip to a penthouse condo to a Bentley to a BMW motorcycle. Hit the button and you get a voucher for your purchase.

Fortunately, there is a civilized anecdote to this creeping nannyism represented by the X2.

Enter the Somabar, which lets anyone create craft cocktails at home in a matter of seconds, according to a Newsweek article. The newest kitchen appliance takes direction from your smartphone through an app, available on iOS and Android, that has hundreds of cocktail recipes on file.

Once a drink is selected, the Somabar extracts the necessary ingredients from six pre-filled ‘pods’ located on either side of the device, pumps the ingredients into a tube for mixing, and infuses bitters just before emptying the concoction into your glass. 

“It’s the way of the future,” bartender Aaron Polsky told Newsweek. “But its application is actually greater in bars, in large scale deployment…I would normally never order a Manhattan at a rock concert, if they had one of these machines though, I might.”

The projected price?  $699.  That’s little enough to have it your way.

I'll have a Martini, hold the rejection.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Girl Talk

When the history of blood-letting between political parties in this country is told, Elizabeth Lauten will be at best a footnote.

Her recent ham-fisted attempt to embarrass President Obama’s children thrust her briefly into the spotlight, where she quickly became the face of mudslinging, Washington, D.C. style. 

And in doing so, she joined the Internet lunatic fringe, the same folks who have  castigated the President for being a Nazi, a Communist, a Muslim, a militant, a murderer. And worse.

To recount: While the rest of us were counting our blessings during the Thanksgiving holiday, Ms. Lauten, an obscure Republican Congressional aide, was busy writing a poison pen missive criticizing President Obama’s daughters for what she perceived as a lack of class and inappropriate dress.

In an act of Christian charity, she grudgingly forgave the girls because, in her view, their parents are lousy role models.

And what triggered this outburst?  Did they show up in cut-offs and flip flops at at state dinner?  Did they play Frisbee in Arlington Cemetery? Did they scrawl their names on the Washington Monument?

Nope. They acted awkward and embarrassed while their father conducted a dog and pony show.

Sasha and Malia Obama, a couple of teenagers aged 13 and 16, were caught on national TV behaving like, well, a couple of teenagers who had that “I’d rather be anyplace but here” look as their father cracked corny jokes while pardoning a turkey.

Which brought this response from Ms. Lauten:

“Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.”

One could reasonably assume Ms. Lauten is an expert on etiquette, adolescent behavior and fashion.

But no. It turns out she is a bully and a hypocrite.

A bully because she attempted to slut-shame the girls by suggesting they dress like a couple of bar flies who are victims of lousy parenting.

A hypocrite because it turns out Ms. Lauten was no teen angel. It turns out she was arrested and charged with shoplifting at the age of 17 in her North Carolina hometown, according the Smoking Gun website. 

Soon after crafting her diatribe and putting it on Facebook, she became a political liability and resigned her job as communications director for Rep. Steve Fincher (R-Tenn.).

 "I quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager," she said.

“After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents, and re-reading my words online I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were.”

Maybe she can sign on with Rush Limbaugh who compared the then 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton to a dog and once called Amy Carter “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country.” 

While the saga of Elizabeth Lauten was unfolding, some pundits speculated her  real sin was criticizing the children of a President.  While that may be an unwritten rule it’s one that’s often violated.

When President Bush's 19-year-old twin daughters were charged with underage alcohol offenses, the media leapt into full coverage mode. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer finally told reporters,  ''I would urge all of you to very carefully think through how much you want to pursue this."

Some presidential progeny demanded the spotlight, and got it.  According to a story in the Washington Post, Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice, chewed gum, smoked in public, carried a snake to parties and ran up debts playing poker and buying clothes.

The president is said to have remarked: “I can be president of the United States — or — I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both!”

So given that writing about presidential families is not as sacrosanct as we may believe, what undid Ms. Lauten?

First, she decided to fire her blunderbuss on a slow news day, guaranteeing her an audience larger than she could ever imagine.

Second, she directed her ire at a couple of kids, triggering a protective, almost paternal, instinct in many.

Third, she engaged in the kind of combative politics that many Americans have grown to loathe. As Chris Cillizza wrote in the Washington Post, “People hate Washington. As a result, they like hate-reading (or hate-watching) anything that affirms for them the essential loathsomeness of the nation's capital.”

Elizabeth Lauten exercised her First Amendment right to free speech. But she learned that the First Amendment doesn’t protect you from looking foolish.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Happy Landings

Just in time for the joyous holiday travel season, a highly unscientific but probably entirely accurate survey of America’s worst airports has hit the Internet.

And --- fasten your seat-belts and return your trays to an upright position --- LAX is right up there with the worst.

This sampling is from a website called Gizmodo and while the methodology falls somewhat short of Gallup standards, it’s hard to quarrel with the results.

Drum roll, please. Here are the eight worst airports:

Kansas City International. “You're packed into your gate like sardines,” wrote one respondent. “ I have terrible memories of literally pushing my way through the crowd to reach the men's restroom at which there was a line because there were only three stalls.” Another called it “the smallest, strangest, possibly least secure international airport I've ever been to in the states.” 

Personal take:  My first experience there was landing during an Old Testament-style  thunderstorm. It did everything but rain frogs. Amenities? I was just happy to be alive.

Another time, my plane had to dump fuel and return to the airport because of a bomb threat. When we landed, an airport employee told us we could go to the bathroom if we wished. One passenger replied, “I think all of us already did.”

I sensed my luck was running out at KC. I’ve never been back.

Dulles International (Washington, D.C.): “The whole place should be bulldozed and replaced with a modern facility,” wrote one traveler. Said another: “I vote for Dulles, solely based on two separate incidences of over-90-minute TSA lines.”

Personal take:  I’ve flown in and out of Dulles for years. If you land at 5, don’t make dinner reservations in D.C. at 6. It’s so far out of town, a lobbyist couldn’t find you if you were a freshly minted member of Congress. Hit the road and it could be hours before the Washington Monument comes into view.

Philadelphia International: “Philly is where dreams go to die while you sit in a wormhole of constantly cancelled or delayed flights,” writes one apparently disgruntled passenger.

Personal take: I’ve never had the pleasure. That’s because I could never think of a good reason to go to Philadelphia.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta, Ga. “On your way to hell there's a layover in Atlanta,” writes on respondent. “Sprawling, crowded, not enough seating, not enough toilets, takes an eternity even with the stupid train(s) to get from gate to rental car,” says another. 

Personal take: The best I can say about it? Southern hospitality ends here.

Newark Liberty International Airport. “It's dirty, smells bad, has the worst food options, the pay-only wi-fi is actually still horrifically slow, and there was a single, four plug charging station for the entire terminal that I saw,” says one traveler.  

Personal take: The last time I was there, it was sorely in need of a facelift. But so did the entire city. 

O’Hare International (Chicago). “I hate O'Hare with a fiery passion that will endure through countless generations of my progeny,” writes one fan.

Personal take: OK, nobody loves O’Hare. But build an airport at the crossroads of America, throw in some of the country’s worst weather, and try to do better. Besides, it’s a great place for people watching.

LAX. The reviews are not kind. “This list starts and ends with LAX. The absolute, bar none, worse terminal I've ever been in.” “$5 waters and the $7 cronuts.” “The worst six hours of my life was spent at LAX trying to get to a different terminal.”

Personal take: Let’s get real. LAX is a sprawling, unwieldy monster where 66 million people touch down or take off every year. The traffic is terrible. The lines are long. The food is average to bad.

But it could be remade into a shimmering golden palace and people would still be unhappy.

It is a transportation megalopolis, a launching pad to the world. If you’re looking for serenity, go to a retreat. If you want to get somewhere, shut up and get in line.

No. 1 on the Gizmodo list (and most other lists I’ve seen): LaGuardia, New York.
Some sample comments: “I'd rather wake up in a bathtub full of ice than go to LGA's B terminal.”

“Last time there the bathroom in my terminal area overflowed drenching the waiting area carpet, so they had big noisy fans to more efficiently disperse the smell throughout the terminal. There was no escape…”

“What can you say about LGA other than it was built for DC-3's and used to be a garbage dump before that.”

“La Guardia will always be under construction until we finally kill it with fire.”

Personal take: I’ve never sampled the delights of LaGuardia. I’m told it’s a good news/bad news situation. Good news: it’s the closest airport to Manhattan. The bad news: it’s the closest thing to a Third World airport in this country.

And the best airports in the U.S.?  Not many, according to Britain’s stuffy The Economist: “We estimate that altogether 67% of people who fly out of America arrive at a better airport.”

On the other hand, several of the airports on Gizmodo’s “worse” list also appear on several “best” lists, including Atlanta, Los Angeles and O’Hare.

It's kind of like judging an ugly dog contest.

Happy holidays.  And happy landings.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Talking Turkey

Every year about this time, I’m amazed at what is about to take place:  Almost everyone single person in this country will sit down and eat what is essentially the same meal on the same day. Hundreds of millions of us.

It’s called Thanksgiving. And while our species has held harvest celebrations since the dawn of time, no one does it quite like we do.

Peek in any window, travel from sea to shining sea, and you will find people feasting on turkey, stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie, with a few variations here and there. According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans have turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

Forget a menu, we don’t need one.

This celebration is as American as, well, pumpkin pie. Even though I would sometimes prefer veal parmigiana or moo shu pork, it seems downright unpatriotic to even consider.

American ingenuity being what it is, however, there are pumpkin pie Pop Tarts, Lays turkey potato chips and roasted turkey Doritos available for your dining pleasure.

The irony of our Thanksgiving menu is that it bears little resemblance to what was on the table at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. First, there was no turkey.  Historians say venison was a major ingredient (thoughtfully brought by our Indian guests) as well as fowl, but that likely included pheasants, geese, and duck.

Cranberries and currants would have been growing wild in the area but there’s no record of them having been served. In fact, the meal was probably a carnivore’s dream.

Shellfish and eel were common, so they probably played a part, as did beans, pumpkins, squashes, and corn (served in the form of bread or porridge).

But there were no potatoes, bread stuffing, pie or Aunt Ruth’s green bean casserole.

I’ll give the nod to the modern menu.

Thanksgiving is a time legendary for over-eating. So while you’re reaching for that second helping, here are a few things to consider.

According to a study by the New England Journal of Medicine, obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus. When one person gains weight, close friends tend to gain weight, too.

The researchers reported that people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased a person's chances of becoming obese by 57 percent.\

It did not even matter if the friend was hundreds of miles away, the influence remained. And the greatest influence of all was between close mutual friends. There, if one became obese, the other had a 171 percent increased chance of becoming obese, too.

Save a friend. Pass on the mashed potatoes.

Then there’s this: By the time we get to Christmas, we're in capitulation mode. Any thoughts of dietary sanity are postponed until after Jan. 1. After all, isn't that why we have New Year's resolutions?

I did read one helpful hint about how to survive holiday feasting:

Simply tie a piece of string around your waist before the meal - under your clothes. It shouldn't be too tight. You should be able to get a fist between it and you. When it starts to draw blood, you should probably stop eating.

Now, as you stagger away from the table, legs buckled, eyelids heavy, to digest your meal, here are a few Thanksgiving facts to wake you from your somnambulant state collected from various Internet sites.

--- In 1953, someone at Swanson misjudged the number of frozen turkeys it would sell that Thanksgiving -- by 26 tons. Some industrious soul came up with a brilliant plan: Why not slice up the meat and repackage with some trimmings on the side? Thus, the first TV dinner was born.

--- In 1863, when President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, it was thanks to the tireless efforts of a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale. Her other claim to fame? She also wrote a nursery rhyme called “Mary Had a Little Lamb."

--- President Jefferson called a federal Thanksgiving proclamation “the most ridiculous idea ever conceived.”

---- Only male turkeys gobble. Hens cackle.

--- In the US, about 280 million turkeys are sold for the Thanksgiving celebrations. Californians are the largest consumers of turkey in the United States.

--- Turkey was the first meal enjoyed by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they were on the moon.

---There are actually 12 claims to where the “first” Thanksgiving took place: two in Texas, two in Florida, one in Maine, two in Virginia, and five in Massachusetts.

--- Thanksgiving football games began with Yale versus Princeton in 1876, two teams that might be more entertaining than the Lions and Cowboys.

And with that, this column wishes you a perfect turkey, delicious stuffing, tangy cranberries and creamy pumpkin pie. But most of all, a year to be thankful for.  

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Can You Top This?

I had an Italian girlfriend back in my college days who was a wonderful cook.  This was important to our relationship because my life back then was often characterized by (1) hunger and (2) poverty.

There was just one flaw. She wouldn’t eat pizza. She insisted that pizza was merely leftovers tossed on some bread and covered with cheese and tomato sauce and swore that no self-respecting Italian would ever serve it to guests or eat it at a restaurant.

While I admired her ethnic sensibilities, turning up her nose on my favorite food was troubling. I worried she probably didn’t like rock ‘n’ roll, football and cigars either. Alas, we drifted apart. I wonder if she ever changed her mind and learned to love an extra large with sausage and pepperoni.

I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of what Bon Appetite magazine once called the “most perfect food.” Indeed, there are few places on Earth where pizza isn’t enjoyed in one form or another.

Pizza in Tibet? Sure thing. Iran? Yup. North Pole, Alaska? You bet.

Just how popular is it?  After spending two years in a North Korean jail, the first thing freed American Kenneth Bae wanted was pizza. Ditto Yale student Parker Liautaud who last year set a world record for the fastest unsupported walk from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole. After completing the grueling trek, he said   the first thing he wanted to do when he returned from the South Pole was eat New Haven pizza.

 A 2012 report from the food and beverage research firm Technomic reported that 40% of Americans ate pizza at least once a week, up from a 26% weekly pizza habit two years prior. 

Yet there is trouble on Planet Pizza. The world’s largest purveyor, after several years of sales declines, is reinventing the pie.

Pizza Hut will focus on dozens of new flavor options as it mounts the 56-year-old brand's biggest-ever redo, according to USA Today. It will add 11 new pizza recipes, 10 new crust flavors, six new sauces, five new toppings, four new flavor-pack drizzles, a new logo, new uniforms and, yes, even a new pizza box.

That means the chain is more than doubling its available ingredients at all 6,300 U.S. locations beginning Nov. 19. Just in time for Thanksgiving.

This is troubling news for a guy who thinks putting ham and pineapple on a pizza is an abomination.

According to a press release, the choices are nearly limitless, with "more than two billion" ways to customize a pizza. Customers can choose from new toppings like Peruvian cherry peppers, crust flavors like Salted Pretzel and sauces like Honey Sriracha.

Even worse, they’ve attached silly names to their product. There’s Cock-a-Doodle Bacon (chicken and bacon with a creamy Parmesan sauce); Giddy Up BBQ Chicken (another chicken and bacon combo); Buffalo State of Mind (Buffalo sauce topped with grilled chicken, sliced banana peppers and fresh red onions); Pretzel Piggy (creamy garlic Parmesan sauce topped with hardwood smoked bacon, fresh mushrooms and fresh spinach – flavored up with a salted pretzel crust edge and balsamic sauce drizzle).

Could I really order out loud “an extra large Pretzel Piggy”?  I think not.

Then there’s Sweet Sriracha Dynamite, with a honey Sriracha sauce, grilled chicken, sliced jalapeno, pineapple and cherry peppers, with a Sriracha-flavored crust edge and drizzle. 

With that much Sriracha, it will probably be banned in Irwindale.

There is a positive here. The menu is also getting a line of “Skinny Slice” pizzas with about 250 calories a slice. Not exactly diet food but it’s the thought that counts.

This from a chain that once offered a Cheeseburger Crust Pizza that tipped the scales at 2,880 calories, somewhat north of an adult male's recommended daily calorie intake. It was only available in Great Britain, another blow to American prestige abroad.

Pizza Hut executives claim they are “redefining the category” and that they researched "hundreds" of ingredients. These are the ones customers told us they want.”

Not everyone is buying this spin.

“Pizza Hut may be doing too much too quickly," says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic told USA Today. “It would appear that the brand that has lost touch with the consumer is trying to change too much overnight."

“It’s a fear of irrelevance,” he said. “But the potential to negatively influence their current customer base is certainly there.”

In a related development, Australian chef Johnny Di Francesco took the top prize at the Pizza World Championship in Parma, Italy.

And was his creation topped with foi gras, caviar and lobster soaked in Napoleon brandy?

Nope. Competition rules in this category are very strict, as only peeled tomatoes, certain types of mozzarella, garlic, olive oil, salt and fresh basil leaves can be used to top the pizza.

Give me simple every time.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Christmas Creep

In 1863, Thanksgiving was first celebrated on the same date by all states by a presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, history tells us. He proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November in an attempt to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states.

 On Dec. 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday. He reasoned that an earlier celebration of the holiday would give the country an economic boost.

In November, 2014, Macy’s announced it would open for “Black Friday” sales starting at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, two hours earlier than last year’s 8 p.m. opening time. Kohl’s and Sears, among others, are opening the doors to shoppers at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, while J.C. Penny is trying to trump the competition with a 5 p.m. opening.

Kmart, which will throw open its doors at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day will stay open for 42 hours in a row, according to Money magazine.

If you get the idea that Thanksgiving is being transformed from a day of feasting,  family and blessings counted to a launching pad for the Christmas shopping season, you would be correct.

Actually, you would be partially correct. Kmart aired its first Christmas ad in early September, according to Money. Walmart, Target Toys R Us and others then rolled out various versions of the season’s “Hot Toy” list, long before kids had visions of sugar plumbs dancing in their heads.

The Kmart ad is "unprecedented" in its prematurity, said the advertising news site Ad Age, adding that retailers typically wait until late October to hit consumers with holiday-themed commercials and offers.

What we have here is a phenomenon called “Christmas Creep” and it threatens to gobble up every holiday from the Fourth of July forward.

Bill Martin of the store-traffic research firm Shopper Track said that stores are increasingly feeling compelled to open on Thanksgiving.

“Retailers say that consumers are clamoring for them to be open on Thanksgiving, but that’s not the case,” he said. “They’re just attempting to get to the wallet before the money is gone. That’s what this holiday creep is all about.”

Needless to say, this isn’t sitting well with a lot of folks.

At least two dozen or so stores have confirmed they will remain closed on Thanksgiving. The list includes warehouse membership stores Coscto, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club, home improvement giants Home Depot and Lowe’s, department stores Dillard’s and Nordstrom, specialty retailers like GameStop, DSW, and PetCo, and discount chains such as Burlington Coat Factory, Marshall’s, and T.J. Maxx. 

A spokesperson for TJX, which runs retail brands such as Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx, recently was quoted as saying:   “We consider ourselves an associate-friendly company, and, we are pleased to give our associates the time to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.”

Translation:  Any retailer forcing employees to work on Thanksgiving is flying in the face of American traditions and values.

A spokesman for a Iowa-based department store chain offered this assessment: “Some things are sacred, including spending time with family and loved ones on Thanksgiving and other holidays. We profitably run our business during the remaining 358 days of the year, so we don’t have to sacrifice tradition for the sake of sales.”

Translation:  Anyone open on holidays is greedy and uncaring.

All of which means nothing if customers swarm to stores on Thanksgiving like soldiers establishing a beachhead.

But even the bargain-hunting fanatics among us are having misgivings.

A social media website called Boycott Black Thursday has 60,000 followers.  A petition initiated by a Target employee asking the company to “take the high road and save Thanksgiving” has been signed by 300,000 people, both employees and customers. A Best Buy employee posted a similar petition that currently has 14,000 signatures.

Their voices may go unheard, however.

Retailers rarely misjudge their customers urge to shop, especially if bargains are involved.  It’s not a stretch to believe that within a year, or two at the max, all retailers will throw open their doors on Thanksgiving and the crowds will come, tradition and turkey dinner be damned.

As one shopper told the Wall Street Journal, “The shopper in me is like, 'Yay.' But the human in me is like, this is wrong.”

And if the employees don’t like it?  Well, there are a lot of people out there looking for jobs.

So much for goodwill toward men.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.