Saturday, August 29, 2015

They Also Run

Tired of Trump? Cynical about Clinton? Bewildered by Bush? Scared of Sanders? Had it with Huckabee?

Do you wring your hands over the prospect of a presidential election featuring two candidates that inspire no one? Do you furrow your brow over choosing between the lesser of two evils? Do you wonder how the greatest nation on earth can offer us nothing more than a gaggle of career politicians?

Well, fear not my friends. Because we’re here to tell you that at last count there are nearly 700 candidates who have declared for the presidency. And all that separates them from their White House dreams is your undying support and a few hundred million dollars.

So in the interest of fair play, we offer a list of duly registered presidential aspirants who bring unique qualities to the political arena. Except one: electablity.

For the record, ladies and gentlemen, we present:

Vermin Love Supreme, an American performance artist and activist, is known for running as an alternative candidate in various local, state, and national elections. He is usually seen wearing a boot as a hat and carrying a large toothbrush and says that if elected President of the United States, he will pass a law requiring people to brush their teeth. He campaigned in 2012 on a platform of zombie apocalypse awareness (and zombie-based energy plan) and time travel research.  He promises a free pony for every American.

Limberbutt McCubbins is a Democratic Party candidate from Louisville, Ky., who  has legally filed and been approved for the race. The only drawback is that McCubbins is a cat.  But there is precedent here. Boston Curtis, a brown mule, was offered as a candidate for a Republican precinct seat in Milton, Washington in 1938, winning 51 to zero. Hank the Cat from Northern Virginia, ran against Tim Kaine and George Allen for Virginia's Senate seat in 2012. He earned third place in the state, with nearly 7,000 votes. A possible running mate for McCubbins is Mr. Crawfish B. Crawfish of New Orleans who has filed to run for president but would probably accept the second spot on the ticket.  He also might end up being McCubbins’ lunch.

Deez Nuts, an independent candidate who hails from Wallingford, Iowa, is polling at 9 percent in the sampling from North Carolina — after posting similar numbers in polls of Minnesota (8 percent) and Iowa (7 percent).  However, it turns out Deez Nuts, who says his real name is Brady Olson, is about to enter his sophomore year in high school, and is a full two decades shy of being able to legally run for president of the United States. A Mark C. Olson, who is listed at the Wallingford address on Deez Nuts's FEC filing, said via Twitter that Deez Nuts is "my 15 year old son."

Then there is David Sponheim, the "America's Third Party" candidate who a few years ago made a video of himself in full blackface as President Obama; HRM Caesar St. Augustine de Buonaparte who plans to replace every government employee who does not have an IQ of at least 150; and Pogo Allen-Reese, the "Patriot Prancer"— a former male stripper who can be seen online in nothing but a cowboy hat and a thong. He says he’s based his campaign around three Gs: “God, guns, gold.” And maybe g-strings.

Add to the list: His Majesty Satan Lord of Underworld Prince of Darkness of College Station, Texas and Sydneys Voluptuous Buttocks of Buffalo, New York.  Mr. Darkness is running as a Republican.

Others who have filed include Queen Elsa Ice, Buddy the Elf, Jedi Obi Wan Kenobi, Jean-Luc Picard, Jeffrey Dahmer, Sir Cookie Zealot, Bippy the Clown  and Mr. Ronald Regan’s Ghost.

You might very well be thinking at this point, “What the heck? Can anyone file papers to run for President?”

The answer is a resounding and unequivocal “yes.”

All you have to do is submit a statement of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission. The FEC is not responsible for checking out a would-be candidate’s qualifications.

Then, it gets sticky. While anyone can file the paperwork, only those who have spent or received $5,000 on their campaigns are considered official candidates, according to an FEC spokesperson.

Of course, you will be required to show that you are a natural born citizen of the U.S. who is over 35 and has lived in the country for at least 14 years.

This could be a problem for McCubbins the cat who is five years old. But is owner claims he is 35 in cat years. This debate could go to the Supreme Court.

If you plan to contest for the Democratic or Republican nomination, you need to be on the primary ballot in enough states to get the delegates you need at the convention.

Next, just beat all your party’s other candidates and smite your opponent in the presidential debates.

Do that and they’ll play “Hail to the Chief” wherever you go.

After all, in America, anyone can become President.

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 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Remembrances of Disasters Past

While we’re waiting to see if this year’s El Nino will be a drought buster, a dud or a disaster, we may want to contemplate a series of storms that once dumped 66 inches of rain on Los Angeles in one season and turned vast portions of California into an inland sea.

According to experts, it could happen again.

Retelling the tale serves to underscore the point that California is no stranger to weather extremes. Droughts are followed by torrential rains. Torrential rains are followed by droughts. We should be prepared for either. But too often we’re not.

The story of this megastorm is told by B. Lynn Ingram, a professor in the Earth and Planetary Science Department at UC Berkeley.  It appeared in Scientific American.

In 1861, farmers and ranchers were praying for rain after two exceptionally dry decades. In December their prayers were answered with a vengeance, as a series of monstrous Pacific storms slammed—one after another—into the West coast of North America, from Mexico to Canada. The storms produced the most violent flooding residents had ever seen, before or since.

Sixty-six inches of rain fell in Los Angeles that year, more than four times the normal annual amount, causing rivers to surge over their banks, spreading muddy water for miles across the arid landscape.

 Large brown lakes formed on the normally dry plains between Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, even covering vast areas of the Mojave Desert. In and around Anaheim, flooding of the Santa Ana River created an inland sea four feet deep, stretching up to four miles from the river and lasting four weeks.

Residents in northern California, where most of the state’s 500,000 people lived, were contending with devastation and suffering of their own. In early December, the Sierra Nevada experienced a series of cold arctic storms that dumped 10 to 15 feet of snow, and these were soon followed by warm atmospheric rivers storms.

The series of warm storms swelled the rivers in the Sierra Nevada range so that they became raging torrents, sweeping away entire communities and mining settlements in the foothills—California’s famous “Gold Country.”

 A January 15, 1862, report from the Nelson Point Correspondence described the scene: “On Friday last, we were visited by the most destructive and devastating flood that has ever been the lot of ‘white’ men to see in this part of the country. Feather River reached the height of 9 feet more than was ever known by the ‘oldest inhabitant,’ carrying away bridges, camps, stores, saloon, restaurant, and much real-estate.”

Drowning deaths occurred every day on the Feather, Yuba and American rivers. In one tragic account, an entire settlement of Chinese miners was drowned by floods on the Yuba River.

This enormous pulse of water from the rain flowed down the slopes and across the landscape, overwhelming streams and rivers, creating a huge inland sea in California’s enormous Central Valley—a region at least 300 miles long and 20 miles wide.

Water covered farmlands and towns, drowning people, horses and cattle, and washing away houses, buildings, barns, fences and bridges. The water reached depths up to 30 feet, completely submerging telegraph poles that had just been installed between San Francisco and New York, causing transportation and communications to completely break down over much of the state for a month.

One-quarter of the state’s estimated 800,000 cattle drowned in the flood, marking the beginning of the end of the cattle-based ranchero society in California. One-third of the state’s property was destroyed, and one home in eight was destroyed completely or carried away by the floodwaters.

Sacramento, 100 miles up the Sacramento River from San Francisco, was (and still is) precariously located at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers.
In 1861, the city was in many ways a hub: the young state’s sparkling new capital, an important commercial and agricultural center, and the terminus for stagecoaches, wagon trains, the pony express and riverboats from San Francisco.

The levees built to protect Sacramento from catastrophic floods crumbled under the force of the rising waters of the American River. In early January the floodwaters submerged the entire city under 10 feet of brown, debris-laden water.

California’s new Governor, Leland Stanford, was to be inaugurated on January 10, but the floodwaters swept through Sacramento that day, submerging the city. Citizens fled, yet the inauguration ceremony took place at the capitol building anyway, despite the mounting catastrophe.
Stanford was forced to travel from his mansion to the capital building by rowboat. Following the expedited ceremony, with floodwaters rising at a rate of one foot per hour, Stanford rowed back to his mansion, where he was forced to steer his boat to a second story window in order to enter his home. Conditions did not improve in the following weeks. 

California’s legislature, unable to function in the submerged city, finally gave up and moved to San Francisco on January 22, to wait out the floods. Sacramento remained underwater for months.

Dependent on property taxes, the State of California went bankrupt. The governor, state legislature, and state employees were not paid for a year and a half.

Ingram warns that the lessons of the 1861-62 floods should provide the impetus for flood disaster planning efforts in a region where housing developments and cities are spreading across many floodplains. A critical element of living in a place like California is an awareness of these natural disasters, which requires a deep understanding of the natural patterns and frequencies of these events.

Today we have building codes for earthquake safety, she writes, but millions of new westerners are not aware of the region’s calamitous climate history. Most have never even heard of the 1861–62 floods, and those may not have been the worst that nature can regularly dish out to the region.

Ingram and her colleagues believe similar if not larger floods have occurred every one to two centuries over the past two millennia in California.

If they are right, we had better prepare for another Big One.

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. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Bob's Burgers

"You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars....We have munched Bridge burgers in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and Cable burgers hard by the Golden Gate, Dixie burgers in the sunny South and Yankee Doodle burgers in the North....” 
---Charles Kuralt.

Vegetarian?  Not me.

I’m an unapologetic carnivore. My idea of a truly fine meal is a prime rib, steak, chops or ribs.  In moderation, of course.

But if my meat intake was limited to one selection, it would be the burger, simply prepared and right off the grill. Open wide and let the juices run down your arms and drip off your elbows.

I am not alone. In Denver recently, a friend took me to a place call Bud’s, a dive hard by the railroad tracks on the outskirts of civilization. The menu: hamburgers or cheeseburgers, served with a bag of chips on a paper plate. Onions and pickles on the side. Ketchup and mustard on the table.

It’s cash only. And if you want fries or a salad or coq au vin, take a hike back to town.

The place is always packed, filled with families, cowboys, bikers, or people like me who think that for an hour or so, it doesn’t get much better than this: a truly tasty burger, a little country music on the jukebox, a cold beer and a total absence of pretention.

It is a perfect homage to the Great American Hamburger.

While we may claim the hamburger as our own, it may or may not be an American invention. There are more conflicting claims as to its origins then there are McDonald’s franchises. But it is shared and loved, like America itself, by people regardless of race, color, creed or national origin. Hot dogs be damned.

It has survived assaults by health Nazis and fierce competition from pizza, gyros, tacos, sushi, dim sum, shish kabobs and Swedish meatballs, brought to our shores for better or worse by waves of immigrants.

It also survived assembly line production by fast food franchises that sold convenience rather than quality. I ate at McDonald’s plenty of times, mostly when my kids were young. At no time did I ever walk out the door thinking, “Wow, was that a great meal.”

Of course, McDonald’s never promised great food. Only fast food. And it did it so well it became one of America’s greatest business success stories.

All of that appears to be changing. McDonald’s said last month that U.S. same-store sales dropped 2 percent in the second quarter, the seventh straight decline.

The company noted that a main reason for the tepid results was because "featured products and promotions did not achieve expected consumer response amid ongoing competitive activity."

Translation: The food is lousy and people are eating elsewhere.

Indeed, McDonald’s came in dead last in a new survey which measures how satisfied consumers are with fast food restaurants. 

CNN reported that owners of McDonald's restaurants around the world are grappling with shrinking sales, slumping traffic and stiff competition from more exciting rivals that are serving up appetizing menus.

It's gotten so bad that McDonald's franchisees are worried about the food they serve and more pessimistic about their future than at any time over the past dozen years, according to a new survey conducted by Janney Capital.

Among other concerns, McDonald's franchisees expressed deep frustration with the top brass at McDonald's headquarters and their inability to improve and simplify the chain's complex menu.

But the real reason is that, while we may think that as consumers we are manipulated by our culinary overlords, we are in fact the masters of our fate. We wanted something better and we’re getting it.

A number of chains have emerged that offer what McDonald’s and its ilk never did: high quality offerings cooked to order. Gone are the days of microwaved mystery meat stuffed in a Styrofoam box.

Interestingly enough, many of these new chains have emerged from Southern California which as usual is an incubator of new ideas. Unami Burger, The Counter and The Habit started here and are expanding throughout the country and beyond to places like Dublin and Dubai.

And, of course, there’s the venerable In-N-Out Burger which has achieved cult status but still isn’t available east of the Mississippi.

Unami is a sit-down, full service restaurant offering a dozen unique takes on the burger. The Counter claims to offer 300,000 potential burger combinations. The Habit won Consumer Reports' top spot for the best-tasting burger in the country, beating out competitors like In-N-Out Burger.

Now, if we could just get a decent pizza in this town.

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. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Stormy Weather

Back when a city desk was my workplace, my colleagues and I would exchange knowing glances each year as firefighters solemnly announced their predictions for the upcoming fire season.

It was never good news.

If it had been a dry year, they would warn us that the brush could explode into a conflagration of Old Testament proportions.  If we had experienced a wet year, we were cautioned that all that rain had caused more brush to grow, raising the specter of even worse fires.

It seemed like we couldn’t win at the weather game.

I was reminded of that when we were told a powerful El Nino condition this year could mean our parched little corner of the world could get good and wet.

Drought-weary residents are so overjoyed at the prospect that they’re dancing on their artificial lawns and toasting each other with overflowing glasses full of tap water.

But El Nino is not always a good boy. And his appearance should be viewed with  caution and cynicism. 

As we have seen already this year, heavy downpours cause damage. Mudslides and flooding have already occurred and if this is indeed the climatological Big One, as many predict, it could be far worse.

Our very own Bill Patzert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena said recently, “This is not a puny El Nino but a Godzilla El Nino.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen “Godzilla” but if memory serves, the legendary monster trashed half the Pacific Rim.

Just to refresh our memories, this is how the last big El Nino event was reported in 1998:

“A big storm, driven by El Nino and expected for months, hit California with driving rain and hurricane-force winds yesterday, sending thousands fleeing to high ground…
“Eighteen-foot waves threatened beach homes in Southern California and winds up to 80 miles an hour uprooted trees and left thousands of people without power. A falling tree killed one person in Northern California.

“High waves in Southern California battered piers and eroded the dunes that protect beachfront homes. Santa Barbara County got some of the heaviest rain, with more than 13 inches since Sunday. Waves over 30 feet high were reported at Pacifica, south of San Francisco.

“Interstate 80, a main link for communities between San Francisco and Sacramento, was closed by flooding, and Interstate 5, California's main north-south freeway, was blocked in several spots.

“Amtrak canceled all north-south trains from San Diego to Seattle because of flooded tracks.”

February 1998 remains the wettest February on record in downtown Los Angeles with a total of 13.68 inches. That is more rain than Los Angeles has registered since January 2014.

It was the best of times for roofers, contractors, tow truck operators and umbrella manufacturers.

It was the worst of times for many others. It caused $35 billion in damage worldwide, and 23,000 people died – from wildfires in drought-stricken Indonesia and Australia to catastrophic flooding and mudslides in Ecuador and Peru.

But let’s look on the sunny side, so to speak. El Nino means the end of the drought, right?

Probably not. According to one report, the state needs a very wet winter just to get soil moisture back to near-normal levels, and a good deal more than that to bring California’s reservoirs and groundwater close to their long-term average.

 "It takes years to get into a drought of this severity, and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it," said NASA’s Jay Famiglietti.

The lesson here is that we need to continue drought-mitigation policies so we don’t spend the rest of our lives in the don’t flush, don’t shower, rip out the grass mode that we find ourselves in today. The worse thing we can do is to decide that El Nino will end our need to conserve.

And then there’s the prospect that El Nino could become El Foldo.

Tony Barnston, lead El Nino forecaster at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, cautioned that while El Nino has predictable effects and this one is strong, what happens next is not exactly certain.
Take the much-anticipated wet 2014-15 winter. It fizzled.

JPL’s Patzert explained it this way to colleague Steve Scauzillo:

“The El NiƱo had a very promising, dramatic surge in January, February and March, but now as we enter summer, all of a sudden it is disappearing. The great wet hope is going to be the great wet disappointment.”

Best advice?  Be prepared for anything.

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. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.