Saturday, May 28, 2016

Historic Histrionics

He is a “rageful, lying, warmongering fellow; a “repulsive pedant” and “gross hypocrite…”

Strong words, indeed. And just who is the subject of this slur?  Donald Trump you say?

Not even close. Although the shoe may fit, this particular quote was directed at then-President John Adams by his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and fellow Founding Father. The two, formerly fast friends, found themselves matched against each other in the presidential contest of 1800.

We mention this because the hostility level is rising in the Trump/Clinton/Sanders contests.  It should be white hot soon.  But before we cover our ears, avert our eyes  and weep for the future of our country, consider this.

No matter how bizarre and angry the rhetoric becomes, it’s unlikely it will match that of presidential contests in years past.

And the election of 1800 is the gold standard for character assassination, deviousness and mudslinging.

For example, Adams supporters characterized Thomas Jefferson as the son of a half-breed Indian squaw and a mulatto father. Voters were warned that Jefferson’s election would result in a civil war and a national orgy of rape, incest, and adultery.

They claimed Jefferson supporters were “cut-throats who walk in rags and sleep amid filth and vermin.”

As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward.

Even Martha Washington got into the act, telling a clergyman that Jefferson was "one of the most detestable of mankind."

So much for the age of civility.

Strangely enough, presidential candidates didn't actively campaign in those days, according to several published histories. In fact, Adams and Jefferson spent much of the election season at their respective homes in Massachusetts and Virginia.

That didn’t stop Jefferson from hiring a pamphleteer named James Callendar to do his dirty work. Adams, on the other hand, considered himself above such tactics.

 Callendar proved effective, claiming Adams had a “hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman” and convinced many Americans that Adams wanted to attack France. Although the claim was untrue, voters bought it, and Jefferson won the election.

Jefferson paid a price for his campaign tactics, however.  Callendar served jail time for slandering Adams, and when he emerged from prison in 1801, he felt Jefferson owed him.

When Jefferson did little to appease him, Callendar published a story in 1802 that claimed the President was having an affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. In a series of articles, Callendar wrote that Jefferson had lived with Hemings in France and that she had given birth to five of his children.

That rumor continues to attach itself to the name of Thomas Jefferson to this day. In fact, a 1998 DNA study found a match between the Jefferson male line and a descendant of Hemings' last son, Eston Hemings.

Adams lived long enough to see his son, John Quincy Adams, elected to the presidency.

He died before his son engaged in a nasty reelection battle with Andrew Jackson in 1828.

Slurs flew back and forth, with John Quincy Adams being labeled a pimp, and Andrew Jackson's wife getting called a slut.

A historian reported that as the election progressed, editorials in the American newspapers read more like bathroom graffiti than political commentary.

 One paper claimed that "General Jackson's mother was a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers. She afterward married a mulatto man, with whom she had several children, of which number General Jackson is one!"

Jackson supporters accused Adams of having premarital sex with his wife and being a pimp, claiming he arranged an American hooker for Czar Alexander I.

A few other lowlights:

In 1839, Martin Van Buren was accused of being too close to the Pope, when, in fact, he had done little more than correspond with the Vatican in his job as Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson. His opponents, nevertheless, spread the canard that a “popish plot” was afoot to ensure Van Buren’s election.

During the campaign of 1864, Abraham Lincoln was called an ape, a ghoul and a  traitor.  One New York paper suggested that “Barnum should buy and exhibit him as a zoological curiosity.”   A Houston newspaper said he was the “most ungainly mass of legs and arms and hatchet face ever strung on a single frame.” Political cartoons pictured him as a monkey. At one point, Lincoln’s wife was accused of being a Confederate spy.

During the campaign of 1884  the Buffalo Evening Telegraph accused Grover Cleveland of fathering an illegitimate son a decade earlier in Buffalo. It turned out that Cleveland, a bachelor, had dated the child’s mother, as had several other men. The boy, therefore, was of questionable parentage. Yet the inherently decent Cleveland had provided for him. A chant soon arose in Republican ranks: “Ma! Ma! Where’s my pa? Gone to the White House, ha! ha! ha!”

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 @robertrector1.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Words Worth Sharing

It’s that time of year when the collective wisdom of the human race is reduced to bite-sized portions and spoon fed to those in whose hands the future resides.

We speak, of course, of graduation day and the speakers who exhort a new generation to succeed where previous generations fumbled the ball on the goal line.

Is anyone listening? A few perhaps, but conventional wisdom holds that the life expectancy of graduation speech is about 15 minutes. After all, there’s more partying than pondering taking place on graduation day.

For those of you whose minds might have been elsewhere during your graduation ceremony, we offer snippets of some really smart speeches we have read over the years.  Next time you run into your local journalist, thank him or her for being there to jot them down:

"Be as bold as the first man or woman to eat an oyster." - Shirley Chisholm, congresswoman.

"A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad." - Theodore Roosevelt.

"When you leave here, don't forget why you came." - Adlai Stevenson.

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!" - Andy McIntyre.

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit." - Nelson Henderson.

“So, what’s it like in the real world? Well, the food is better, but beyond that, I don’t recommend it.” ---Bill Watterson.

“You are educated. Your certification is in your degree. You may think of it as the ticket to the good life. Let me ask you to think of an alternative. Think of it as your ticket to change the world.” --- Tom Brokaw.

“I want to congratulate you all upon your graduation from the University of Maryland College of Journalism, and wish you luck as you prepare to embark on exciting careers in telemarketing or large-appliance repair." ---Gene Weingarten.

“Never go to your high school reunion pregnant or they will think that is all you have done since you graduated.” --- Erma Bombeck.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.” ------J.K. Rowling.

“If your uniform isn't dirty, you haven't been in the game.” ---Ben Bernanke.

“For the most important decisions in your life, trust your intuition, and then work with everything you have, to prove it right.” --- Tim Cook.

“Life has a very simple plot: first you're here and then you're not.” --- Eric Idle.

“You get to make your own luck. 80% of success in your career will come from just showing up. The world is run by those who show up…not those who wait to be asked.” --- Steve Blank.

"Build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strike, know that you have the ability to get through absolutely anything. I promise you do. As the saying goes, we are more vulnerable than we ever thought, but we are stronger than we ever imagined." --- Sheryl Sandberg.

 “Be Santa Claus when you can.” --- Jimmy Buffett.

"Take your risks now. As you grow older, you become more fearful and less flexible…Limit your 'always' and your 'nevers.' Continue to share your heart with people even if it's been broken." --- Amy Poehler.

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” ----Winston Churchill.

"All that stands between the graduate and the top of the ladder is the ladder." --- Author Unknown.

“During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. ‘Absolutely,’ the professor said. ‘In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.’ I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.” -Joann C. Jones.

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 @robertrector1.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Food for Thought

When it comes to innovation, there’s nothing like food and drink to fire up the American imagination.

And we’re not talking about filet of free-range bison in a pinot noir reduction served on a bed of organic prairie grass.

We’re talking about stick-to-the-ribs fare, the kind of stuff we’ve been told to avoid but continue to eat in mass quantities.

We can’t help it. We are people whose ancestors rose before dawn to plow the back 40, mend the fences, round up the livestock and shoe the horses all before lunch. And even though we don’t plow, mend, round up or shoe anything these days, we still eat like we do.  Traditions die hard.

We are one nation, burgers and fries for all.

In that spirit, we introduce a few new culinary delights you may have missed.

Out in Brooklyn, a pizzeria named Vinnie’s has solved that age-old problem of dealing with that large, greasy, unwieldly pizza box.

They have invented a box made of pizza. You don’t toss it, you eat it.

Vinnie’s owner Sean Berthiaume says the idea came to him while he was thinking about customers coming in for a slice or two, then discarding their greasy boxes right away.

“Sometimes I get a little upset when customers ask for a box and then they sit down and eat the pizza and they throw away the box right away. So that kinda clicked something in my brain.”  

So the pizza box isn’t just tasty—it’s also environmentally friendly. Save a tree. Eat a pizza.

These guys are no newcomers to the pizza game. Last year, they introduced a pizza topped with smaller pizza slices.

The only problem they’re having is trying to figure out the best way to deliver the pizza without using an actual box thus defeating the whole point.

American ingenuity will find a way. In the meantime, give them credit for thinking outside the box.

Down at the ballpark, nobody will confuse baseball with the Hunger Games.

In Atlanta, they feast on a 20-ounce bacon cheeseburger jammed between two personal-size pizzas—one pepperoni, one plain—in lieu of buns. 

In Texas, where the Rangers hold forth, you can dine on something called the Wicked Pig, a tri-level “Hawaiian roll stacked with pulled pork, bacon, sausage, prosciutto and ham, then doused in barbecue sauce and topped with coleslaw and pork rinds.”

Or the Chicken and Doughnut Skewer, a foot of alternating fried chicken and doughnuts “drizzled with buffalo honey sauce.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are offering the Cracker Jack and Mac Dog, a foot-long hot dog with what appears to be an entire box of Cracker Jacks, a fistful of mac and cheese, plus jalapeños, and salted caramel sauce.

The Philadelphia Phillies will be serving the Wayback Triple Triple Triple, a teetering stack of nine cheeseburgers that clocks in at 1,980 calories.

The world champion Kansas City Royals offer the Champions Alley Burger, “a cheese-stuffed, tempura-battered cheddar bacon burger with sweet slaw, chipotle ketchup and fried pickle on a Farm to Market roll for $19.”

Napkins and paramedics will be available in abundance.

Corporate America is firmly in lockstep on innovative food fare.

Kentucky Fried Chicken, whose motto is “finger lickin’ good” is offering lickable, edible fingernail polish in two flavors: Original, and Hot and Spicy.

Let me guess.  It tastes like chicken.

KFC’s advertising company said the aim of the product was a way “to remind the younger generation” of “the great taste and good times the brand stands for.”

"Simply apply and dry like regular nail polish and then lick — again and again and again to taste why the world's favorite chicken is Finger Lickin' Good," the company says.

Alas, this treat is only available in Hong Kong, at least for the time being.  Why?

According to Forbes, KFC is all over China. And not just with its buckets of fried chicken. The fast-food chain – one of the country’s most popular – has recently unleashed a series of clever marketing props to keep luring in its Chinese consumers, with a special eye on Millennials and Generation Z.

Of course.  Nothing says hip like deep fried poultry.

Innovations extend to packaging as well. We offer as Exhibit A Budweiser’s plan to rename its beer, at least temporarily.

It will be called America.

The redesigned can will replace each element of Budweiser-specific branding with Americana. The beer’s slogan, “King of Beers,” will be replaced with “E Pluribus Unum” (“Out of many, one”), the words featured on American currency. Instead of a description of the brewing process at the top of the can, there will be lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Too bad they couldn’t squeeze the Bill of Rights in there somewhere.

Lost in all this hoopla is that fact that it won’t be a better beer. Just plain old Bud wrapped in a flag.

Considering Bud is owned by a company based in Belgium, why this sudden burst of patriotism?

It will be “probably the most American summer of our generation,” Ricardo Marques, a vice president at Budweiser, told the New York Times. Along with the traditional spring and summer holidays — Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day, this summer will bring the Olympics and the Copa América soccer tournament, to be held in June at sites throughout the United States. 

The re-branding will last until November.

Some might question equating a love of country with a product that can make you fat, lazy and stupid.

On the other hand, we may need to pound down a couple of cans of America before we enter the booth to vote for a president this fall.

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 @robertrector1

Saturday, May 07, 2016

The Swamp Thing

We Californians are a welcoming lot.

We open up our Golden Gate to millions of visitors each year, many of whom like what they see and decide to stay despite being confronted by Batman imitators, militant vegans, psychic surgeons and rebirthing therapists.

Occasionally, however, a visitor to our state earns our everlasting acrimony.  And we’re not talking about Mediterranean Fruit Flies.

In this case, it’s the Honorable Rick Scott, the governor of Florida who just blew in  last week from the land of hubris and humidity to lure California businesses to his state.

The way Scott sees it, because California is raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, “700,000 people are going to lose their jobs.  There are a lot of opportunities for companies to prosper in Florida,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

A radio ad paid for by the state warns not only of layoffs but of job-stealing robots. That apparently won’t happen in Florida where time stands still.

All well and good but, according to published reports, businesses don't move between states much, and corporate relocations are irrelevant to the overall economic health of any state.

Less than 1% of the businesses that disappeared from California in 2013 were due to out-of-state relocations, according to data from In addition, only 1% of new businesses in California came from other states.

Of course, that doesn’t factor in the spooky job-gobbling robot factor.

And what about that minimum wage boost? According to one economic study, the industries that will feel the impact of higher wages are ones least likely to move. About a third of workers who will get a pay increase are working in stores or restaurants.

In other words, don’t expect your favorite neighborhood bistro to relocate 3000 miles just to save on dishwasher salaries.

Scott said he’s fixated on getting people, not just businesses, to move to Florida.

So was does the Sunshine State have to offer?

Well, there’s no state income tax. That’s what they don’t have. Here’s what they do have:

Weather: Searing heat accompanied by soul-sucking humidity. Without air conditioning, south Florida would be a populated mainly by alligators and mosquitoes. Come to think of it, the mosquito population already outnumbers humans.

Bills:  Floridians pay some of the highest electric bills in the country. (See Weather, above).

Sinkholes. Florida can lay claim to having more sinkholes than any other state in the nation, Last year, a sinkhole 30 feet wide by 30 feet deep forced the evacuation of a neighborhood near Tampa. The year before, one swallowed a man as he slept in his bedroom.  His body was never recovered.

Storms: The 2015 Atlantic hurricane season was a slightly below average season that produced only 12 tropical cyclones, eleven named storms, four hurricanes, and two major hurricanes. Sure, we have earthquakes. But we don’t have an earthquake season. Hurricane season lasts from June through November. Then, there's the fact that between 1991 and 2010, an average of 66 tornadoes per year struck Florida, making it the third most popular state for tornadoes during that time. In 2014, six of the country's 26 lightning deaths happened in Florida. The state is often called the lightning strike capital of the country. But wait, there’s more. During the summer, there’s a thunderstorm almost every afternoon.

Critters: In addition to flying insects the size of baseball bats, Florida is home to  such endearing creatures as the Giant African Land Snail, an invasive species that could adversely affect agriculture, natural ecosystems, human health or commerce. Florida cockroaches are lovingly referred to as Stink Bugs while a species known as Love Bugs fly in swarms as large as 100,000.

Corruption:  Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics has issued a report on corruption which finds that illegal corruption is “moderately common” in Florida’s executive branch and state’s legislative branch. Hampton, Fla. has been called one of the most corrupt towns in America.

Theft: Florida tends to lead the nation in fraud and identity theft, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Also in medical malpractice claims. Maybe that’s why the state has one of fastest growing lawyer populations.

Violence: Florida may be just the fourth most populous state in the U.S., but it contains more of nation’s 100 most dangerous cities — a total of 11 — than any other state.

Weirdness: Columnist Dave Barry’s favorite Miami Moments:

—The time a 73-year-old motorist, apparently unaware that he was doing anything wrong, was stopped by police driving his Chevrolet Cobalt... on Runway Nine of Miami International Airport.

—The time two men caught a six-foot shark in Biscayne Bay and decided to sell it to a fish wholesaler. They had no car, so they took the shark – which was still alive – onto the downtown people mover at rush hour.

—The time cocaine smugglers, fleeing from a U.S. Customs jet, threw 20 bales of cocaine out of their aircraft, and one of the bales nearly hit the chief of police of Homestead, who was speaking at a Citizens Crime Watch meeting.

I'm afraid Gov. Scott's Siren Song is falling on deaf ears. I'll be staying right here.

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 @robertrector1.