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 derrière 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.