Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Madness of March

Hi there, basketball fans. It’s time for the long-awaited matchup featuring the Southwestern North Dakota Screaming Snow Drifts and the Eastern West Virginia Possums in what promises to be a March Madness classic.

And a special thanks to AT&T which sponsors the entire month of March.  Without their generosity, this tournament along with Daylight Savings Time, St. Patrick’s Day and Grover Cleveland’s birthday would cease to exist.

A tip of the hat as well to Hoffmann-La Roche, manufacturers of Valium, for letting us use its trademarked term “Madness.”

Let’s throw it down to the floor, sponsored by Harry’s Hardwood, where our sideline reporter, who is in fact an aspiring actress pretending to know something about sports, will chat with Reggie Rimbuster, Eastern’s point guard.

Reggie, who suffered a wrist injury while resisting arrest, is averaging 3.5 points a game, which is 3 points higher than his grade point average. This interview is sponsored by Drone basketball shoes that promise to lift your game to another level.  Drones, now with advanced weaponry.

 “What are your emotions as you prepare to play this game, Reggie?”

“Well, you know, we’re looking forward to playing Southwestern because, you know, they beat us by 50 points last year so we’re, you know, upset because, you know, we thought we got screwed by the refs.”

“What are the keys to the game?”

“Well, you know, we need to score more points than them.”

“Thanks Reggie for those exclusive insights into the game.  Back to you guys.”

And now here’s our other sideline reporter, a guy who admits he would rather be second banana in a TV sit-com, interviewing Southwestern’s coach, Chalk Talk Smith. This spontaneous interview is sponsored by Brainy Beer, the brew that will make you think you know it all. Be brilliant. Be charming. Be irresistible. Drink beer.

“Coach Smith, how do you approach this game?”

“Through the locker room door.”

“I mean, what is your strategy?”

“That’s up to my assistant coaches.  My job is to scream at the refs.”

“Why do the call your team the Possums?”

“Because we play dead at home and die on the road.”

There you have it folks, insights from those who will participate in tonight’s game.  Those insights are brought to you by McDonalds. Wherever you may travel, there’s a McDonalds in sight.

Stay tuned for a word from our sponsors:  Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Audi, Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Volkswagen, Fiat, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Lexus, Infiniti, Kia, Hyundai, Arby’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Sonic, Subway, Bud, Coors, Millers, various telecommunication and brokerage firms, the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

When our sponsors are done, we’ll return with the halftime show.

So here we are in the middle of March Madness.  Across the Atlantic, the term signifies the breeding season of the European Hare.  In the U.S., it refers to the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball championships.

I suspect the U.S. version of March Madness is of greater interest, unless, of course, you’re a female hare.

There are 68 teams competing for the championship.  For those of you with a long memory, there were eight teams in the tournament from 1939 to 1950.

Talk about an event that captures the public’s imagination: March Madness costs $1.2 billion for every unproductive hour, according to one estimate.  “March Madness Ready to Distract Workers Nationwide," fretted Fox Business last week. "Say Farewell to Productivity: March Madness App released," declared PC Magazine.

So what do our fellow citizens do while goofing off?  A story in the Los Angeles Times several years ago cited an FBI source that more than $2.5 billion was illegally wagered on the tournament. 

I assume “illegally wagered” includes your office pool. It probably would be a good idea not to post your picks on Facebook.

And don’t spend your winnings quite yet. There are 9.2 quintillion possibilities for the possible winners in a NCAA bracket, making the odds of randomly picking a perfect bracket (i.e. without weighting for seed number) 9.2 quintillion to 1, according to one estimate.

Madness indeed.

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. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Good Day Sunshine

Daylight Savings Time starts today. And that’s bad news for a lot of folks.

To hear tell, this will result in an increase in heart attacks and suicides, lower SAT scores, a decline in productivity and all sorts of other ills including but not limited to plagues of boils, frogs and locusts.

Even my sainted grandmother would draw a distinction between "God's time and Mr. Roosevelt's time" when spring rolled around.

Actually, Grandmother’s viewpoint was shaped by the fact that she was a Southern-born, rock-ribbed Republican, and the words "Mr. Roosevelt" would roll off her tongue with the same disagreeing tone usually reserved for "Yankees" or "canker sores."

But we digress. Others have more substantial problems with Daylight Savings.  Take the issue of energy savings, for example.

The U.S. Department of Transportation insists that Daylight-Savings Time trims the entire country's electricity usage by a small but significant amount, about 1 percent each day, because less electricity is used for lighting and appliances.

A couple of Yale academic types disagree.

It seems that the state of Indiana, once home to counties that both did and did not observe DST, adopted the practice statewide in 2006.

That unusual event meant Matthew Kotchen, an environmental economist at Yale, and colleagues could compare before-and-after electricity use across the state, according to an article in National Geographic.

In their study, they found that lighting demand dropped, but the warmer hour of extra daylight tacked onto each evening led to more air-conditioning use, which canceled out the gains from reduced lighting and then some: Hoosiers paid higher electric bills than before DST, the study showed.

Of course, that’s Indiana, a state largely populated by cornfields, cows and basketball hoops that simmers beneath a blanket of oppressive summer heat and humidity.

It apparently never occurred to our Yale friends to look to the West Coast, where air conditioning is rarely a necessity and reduced lighting can indeed result in savings.  So much for East Coast navel gazing.

I love Daylight Savings Time. The lingering daylight reminds me of spring and summer, of baseball and barbecues. Besides, man was made to walk upright in the light, not cower in darkness.

It would almost unpatriotic to dump DST. After all, the was the brainchild of Benjamin Franklin who, while living in Paris, first conceived the notion of daylight-saving time, according to David Prerau, who wrote "Seize the Daylight: A Brief History of Daylight Saving Time."

Franklin wrote that he was awakened early and was surprised that the sun was up, well before his usual noon rising. He humorously described how he checked the next two days and found that, yes, it actually did rise so early every day. Imagine, he said, how many candles could be saved if people awakened earlier, and he suggested firing cannons in each square at dawn "to wake the sluggards and open their eyes to their true interest."

Franklin, as usual, was ahead of his time, even if he was engaging in a bit of whimsy. Some historians even attribute Franklin's dictum "early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise" to his experience.

I will count Ben on my side. And joining me in my embrace of Daylight Savings Time is the golf industry which estimated that the extra month added to DST in 2005 was worth $200 to $400 million. Not to mention the U.S. barbecue industry which pegged their increased profits at $150 million.

Also in my corner: The aforementioned President Franklin Roosevelt who during World War II, instituted year-round Daylight Savings Time; President Lyndon B. Johnson who decided to implement a law stating that DST would begin the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October every year nationwide.  And President George W. Bush who extended DST for an extra four weeks through an energy bill policy.

Opposing me on daylight savings is the TV industry. According to Nielsen ratings during the first week of daylight saving, no matter when it is, even the most popular shows go down by 10 to 15 percent in viewership.

And Vladimir Putin who decided to abolish daylight savings time across Russia.  One news report put it this way: "On Sunday, Russia switches to wintertime and stays there. Forever."

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. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Fair Weather Friends

I’ve head the same story at least a dozen times in the last few weeks.

“I just (called/texted/e-mailed) my (friend, relative, co-worker) who lives in (Boston/Albany/Glacial Acres, New Hampshire) who told me they had (6 inches, a foot, 20 feet) of snow overnight and the temperature is (5 degrees, 15 below zero, colder than a polar bear’s toenails).

“I told him/her it was 85 degrees in L.A. and we were attired in (shorts/Speedos/bikinis/absolutely nothing). They told me we were (lucky, boorish, insensitive).”

Call it Southland Schadenfreude, the latter being a term which means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. It was coined by --- who else? ---the Germans.

We’ve all indulged in it. Some years ago when my wife’s family lived in western Pennsylvania, I would call my brother-in-law in the middle of January to tell him I had just walked off the golf course and that I was bummed because I got dirt on my shorts.

He was good natured about it, although he was probably making a mental note to slip finely ground glass in my martini next time we visited.

Even the ultra-provincial New York Times was forced to admit, “Among the pleasures of living in Southern California, none may be as wonderful as the climate, and the ability of residents to use it as a meteorological bat against the collective heads of their fellow Americans.”

It’s all true. We often behave badly when it comes to weather-shaming. It’s almost as if we’re covering up for an inferiority complex although I can’t imagine why.

We are second to none when it comes to majestic mountains, roaring rivers, spectacular deserts, forests, fields and streams.

We have sparkling cities, world class wine, great universities, movie stars and championship sports teams. We have In N Out Burgers, the juices from which drip down our shirt-sleeved arms.

They have stifling humidity, thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, basketball-sized hailstones, the polar vortex, white outs, ice storms and blizzards. And White Castle burgers.

 I sincerely believe if the European explorers would have made landfall in, say, Newport Beach, everything east Palm Springs would be largely unpopulated to this day.

The rest of the country knows this. They can talk about enjoying the changing of the seasons, fireflies on a summer night, white Christmases, fall foliage.

Bunk. They’d dump it all faster than you can say “pass me a margarita” for a chance to live in California. Schenectady or Santa Barbara? Are you kidding?

But there’s an inherent danger in our boasting. If you persist in e-mailing Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe in Boston pictures of your tan lines, they may just show up on your doorstep for an extended stay with their hyperactive kids who have been housebound for two months.

They may be followed by a thousand other Marys and Joes who have decided to  exchange the Ice Belt for a spot on the 405 freeway each day.

Worse, the reason we are enjoying these balmy winters is that we’re in the middle of a severe drought. While we may enjoy poking fun at our snowbound Eastern brethren, we will pay a steep price for our endless summer.

According to one report, California, for the second year in a row, saw its warmest December-January, with a monthly average temperature 5.1°F higher than its 20th century average. With that heat having continued into February, it’s almost certain to be the warmest winter on record in California, surpassing the previous record set just last year.

Two storm events, one in December and one at the beginning of February, have brought some moisture to California and parts of Oregon and Washington. But snowpack is California’s main source of drinking water, and the tropical origins of the storms, called atmospheric rivers, meant that winter rain fell instead of snow, the report said.

One forecaster characterized it as “being down by nine touchdowns in the 4th quarter of a football game. It’s not a score you’re likely to catch up to.”

The result of all this is that we may have more severe water rationing come this summer. We’re not talking reduced lawn watering. It could be real life-style altering stuff.

The Metropolitan Water District put it this way: “Southland consumers have responded to the water conservation challenge this past year. We all, however, need to be prepared to take water saving to another level this summer if water supply conditions don’t improve.”

When that happens, get ready for an onslaught of texts and e-mails from the folks back east asking if they will be replacing the bear on the state flag with a camel. And other drought-related insults.

Payback can be painful.