Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Golden Age of Beer

You’ve got to hand it to our Neolithic ancestors. They emerged from their trees and caves around 10,000 B.C. and set about farming, forming villages, crafting tools and domesticating animals.

In their spare time, they invented beer which we can assume was responsible for their remarkable uptick in sophistication.  Or perhaps after a couple of brews, they just thought they were smarter.

Whatever. We’ve not only been drinking it ever since (it ranks behind water and tea as the  most popular beverages on the planet) but our fascination with the product has led to more research and study than we’ve devoted to the solar system.

Just this past week, a group of Swiss researchers pulled their heads out of their beakers long enough to notice that people who drink beer generally seem to be long on laughter and short on inhibitions.

So they designed a study to see if they could shed some light on the situation. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, they recruited 30 men and 30 women, offered them beer and subjected them to a series of psychological tests.

They discovered that people were quicker to recognize happy faces when there was alcohol in their system; that they had a greater desire to be in a “positive” social environment — such as a party — after consuming beer.

In addition, people were somewhat turned off by sexually explicit images after drinking non-alcoholic beer — they rated the pictures “less pleasant than neutral pictures” — but not after drinking regular beer.

When people had an alcoholic buzz, they found sexually explicit images “more pleasant” than they did when the buzz was absent. This effect was particularly strong among women.

The researchers concluded that alcohol’s role as a social lubricant can be traced to its ability to facilitate “sexual disinhibition.” 

So if I understand this correctly, in the Year of Our Lord 2016, the Swiss have just discovered that people get frisky after a couple of brews.  Maybe they just yodel when they imbibe.

Of course, these are the same people who released a highly scientific study several years ago that concluded an empty beer bottle makes a better weapon than a full beer bottle in a fight.

In a related development, researchers asked people at bars to rate their own attractiveness. They found that the higher the blood alcohol content of people, the higher they rated themselves on attractiveness. Which I guess is why they put mirrors behind bars.

But we digress.

Aside from flirting and fighting, there are a lot of reasons to enjoy beer.

After more than 20 years of research and scores of studies on the effects of moderate alcohol consumption on health, beer is being understood as a beverage that not only lifts spirits but delivers protection against major ailments such as heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, diabetes and dementia.

Norman D. Kaplan, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, has studied alcohol's impact on health as part of his 40 years of research into the causes and treatment of hypertension. He told the Wall Street Journal that he has found that "the benefits of drinking moderate amounts of alcohol is well beyond contention."

As for beer's specific virtues, Dr. Kaplan cites two recent large-scale studies: in one, a look at 70,000 female nurses showed that those who drank moderate amounts of beer had less hypertension than did nurses who drank either wine or spirits. He also points to a survey of 128,934 adults in the Kaiser Permanente managed-care system. It showed that male beer drinkers among the group were at a statistically significant lower risk of coronary-artery disease than were men who drank red wine, white wine or spirits.

In a declaration that exposes him as nobody’s sommelier, Dr. Kaplan says, "beer drinking has equal or perhaps more benefit" than wine or spirits. As for the wine claims: "The wine people have done a major snow job" in peddling the notion that wine is superior to beer or spirits, he says.

Without question, we are living in the Golden Age of Beer.

As of Dec. 1, 2015, the Brewers Association had counted 4,144 breweries in the United States, the most ever operating simultaneously in the history of the country. According to historians, the previous high-water mark of 4,131 was set in 1873.

So how to you tell which brew is best?  Sampling some 4,000 different brands seems like a risky plan.  So use my method:  order the brew with the cleverest name.
There’s Deep Ellum's Dallas Blonde ("goes down easy," says the can) or AleSmith's Java the Nut or Ruckus' Hoptimus Prime or For Richer or Porter.

You might try Peter Cotton Ale (“Now With More Hops”), Audrey Hopburn, Monty Python’s Holy Ale, Muscles from Brussels , Old Lawnmower, or AlimonyAle.

To bring out the animal in you try Moose Knuckle Winter Stout, Rat Tail Ale, Damn Dirty Ape or Dogfish Head.

My personal favorite:  Polygamy Porter, brewed in Utah.  Its slogan is “Why Have Just 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.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hillary Stumbles

Hillary stumbles, Rams fumble.  That was the week that was.

News: Hillary Clinton leaves a 9/11 memorial service because she becomes “overheated.”

Views. It turns out she had pneumonia. And pneumonia is a serious disease. For U.S. adults, it is the most common cause of hospital admissions other than women giving birth. About 1 million adults in the U.S. are hospitalized with pneumonia every year, and about 50,000 die from this disease.

So when a major presidential candidate is stricken, and has kept her condition a secret, it is big news.

Fortunately in the case of Hillary Clinton, the medical prognosis is good. Unfortunately, her illness has provided misguided credibility to rumormongers who would have us believe she is at death’s door.

The following “facts,” mostly reported by conservative media, have been making the rounds on the internet for months:

That leaked medical records document that Hillary Clinton exhibits signs of dementia and serious illness. The doctor whose name was attached to these reports said that “These documents are false, were not written by me and are not based on any medical facts.”

That she is prone to seizures (based on a photo of her making a face) and/or she is suffering from Parkinson's disease. The latter diagnosis was made by a Dr. Ted Noel who is an anesthesiologist, not a neurologist, and admits, “ I am a medical doctor with 36 years of experience, but I am not Hillary Clinton's treating physician, so I can't claim that what I'm about to tell you is a conclusive diagnosis.”

That a video reportedly showing what looked to be a tubular metallic object plopping out of her right pants leg onto the ground proves that she wears leg or hip braces or that the object in question was an ostomy bag clip, a catheter, a mind control receiver or a crack pipe.

That she has in fact died and has been replaced by a body double.

In the meantime, Mrs. Clinton’s personal physician has released a statement attesting to her good health.

But when all is said and done, her health really isn’t the major issue here.  It’s her credibility.  After all, nobody expects a 68-year-old woman to go out swimming with the Navy Seals.

She has damaged her reputation by keeping her medical condition secret until it was played out in public before a national audience. Now, to many, every goofy internet posting just might be true.

And what would have happened if she announced she had a mild case of pneumonia and was taking few days off to recover?  Oh, sure, the Trump people would have accused her of lacking stamina. But that could have been spun as misogyny, not unknown in Trump circles. And the political damage would have been minimal.

Now, her campaign is on the defensive. And while defense might win football games, it’s a lousy way to win an election.

She has not only played into the hands of her detractors but the media will be all eyes and ears every time she so much as sneezes on the campaign trail.

Every misstep or cough or crooked smile will be reported in tones usually reserved for the death of a pope.

Mrs. Clinton will survive pneumonia. But healing her broken reputation will be the biggest challenge she’ll have to overcome.

News:  Rams lose opening game, 28-0.

Views: I was a Ram fan from childhood to adulthood and was angry and frustrated when they left town.

I was delighted when I heard they were returning. But even more than that, I was amazed at their public relations acumen.

They blew into town with banners unfurled.  They announced plans for a $3 billion dollar stadium in Inglewood which would feature a venue of up to 100,240 seats (including standing room only seats) while reconfiguring the previously approved Hollywood Park plan for up to 890,000 square feet of retail, 780,000 square feet of office space, 2,500 new residential units, a 300-room hotel and 25 acres of public parks, playgrounds, open space and pedestrian and bicycle access.

Then they engineered a blockbuster trade to acquire the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft which they used to select Cal quarterback Jared Goff. 

Keeping up the momentum, they secured the starring role in “Hard Knocks,” a popular HBO series that documents NFL training camps.

Not done, they scheduled their first exhibition game at the Coliseum versus the Dallas Cowboys who like to call themselves “America’s team.” It drew an astounding 90,000 fans.

Their first regular season game was against long-time rivals, the San Francisco 49ers on the iconic Monday Night Football broadcast.  Their first home game is against the Seattle Seahawks, coached by Pete Carroll who led USC to numerous championships at the Coliseum.

Brilliantly conceived.

But in the midst of this public outreach, someone forgot to assemble a competitive team.  Goff has so far been a bust, relegated to the sidelines in civilian clothes.
Their opening game performance was so abysmal I thought Donald Sterling was running the show.

Public relations, no matter how well executed, can’t mask a poor product. And while the Rams may turn it around, they may soon find that this town only supports a winner.

Lose a few more games and their fans will be spending the day at the beach.

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 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Out at Home

I know far too many people who live in the past. Talk to them for a while, and it becomes apparent that high school was a profoundly epic experience, one they relive day in and day out.

I enjoy dabbling in nostalgia occasionally. But I choose to enjoy my dwindling number of tomorrows instead of all those yesterdays.

There is one tomorrow I’m dreading, however. That will occur at the end of the month when Dodger announcer Vin Scully retires after 67 years on the job.

It should be a big league sendoff, befitting the best of them all.  But it probably won’t be.  More on that later.

If one’s life has a soundtrack, mine is orchestrated by Scully.

Back in the days before most games were televised, Scully was the Dodgers. His voice on the radio meant spring was here. When Scully called the Dodgers, it was time to get the lawn furniture out, fix a cool drink and listen to the drama unfold as only a master story teller could describe it. 

And when I did get to a game at the Coliseum or Dodger Stadium, it was Scully's voice that dominated the scene, broadcast over a thousand portable radios clutched by fans throughout the park. It was as though even if you saw the action with your own eyes, you needed Scully to validate it.

How good is he?  Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax once said of him, “It may sound corny, but, I enjoyed listening to Vin call a game almost more than playing in them.” 

How popular is he?  He was once asked to run for governor.

How unique is he?  He blends the objectivity of a reporter with the soul of a poet.

But it was more than that.  It was Scully’s voice that was a constant during life’s milestones.

I listened to him as a teenager. I listened to him when I married and started a career. I listened to him the weekend my wife and I moved into the house we still occupy after 43 years.  I listened to him as I held my children in my arms and later when we would play catch in the back yard. I listened as I waited for them as teenagers to return from dates. I listened when they went off to college.

Through triumphs and tragedies, Vin Scully was a reassuring presence in our lives.

Vincent Edward Scully has been named California Sportscaster of the Year 28 times, he received the Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, was honored with a Life Achievement Emmy Award for sportscasting and induction into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995, and was named Broadcaster of the Century by the American Sportscasters Association in 2000. In 2014, he was grand marshal of the Rose Parade, an honor he should have received about 20 years earlier.

He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame. The Los Angeles City Council in a unanimous vote, renamed Elysian Park Avenue to Vin Scully Avenue, changing the address of Dodger Stadium to 1000 Vin Scully Ave.

Through the power of his voice, he has almost single handedly made the Dodgers one of the top drawing franchises in all of sport.

And how has the team rewarded him?  By making him invisible.

Seventy per cent of us don’t get Dodgers broadcasts. And haven’t for three years.
Worse, if you want to hear Scully on the radio, he only calls the first three innings. After that, he’s only heard on a cable channel you probably don’t get. Talk about twisting the knife.

All this is thanks to Time Warner, a bumbling cable company that paid way too much ($8.35 billion) for broadcast rights and now can’t sell the telecasts to other outlets, and the Dodger owners who refuse to re-do the deal.

I guess we are supposed to enthusiastically support a team that doesn’t care if they have insulted and alienated their fans, made themselves into the poster boys for corporate greed and, worse, silenced an icon.

Now we learn that the Dodgers and KTLA Channel 5 have struck a deal to bring us the last five games of the season.  

Great. If you can negotiate 5 games, why not 10?  Or the entire month?  Throwing the fans a bone is about as far as our corporate overlords are prepared to go.

And believe it:  If it wasn’t Scully’s swan song, we wouldn’t have gotten that.

But in the meantime, I’ll be able to enjoy one more time the guy who brought joy to Mudville, the voice whose popularity has crossed generational, economic and racial lines.

And it will bring back a lot of memories.

After all, it was Vin who once said, “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old-timer’s game.”

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.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Fat Chance

Labor Day was established as a public holiday to honor the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country. 

A noble gesture indeed.

Here in our neck of the woods, it also marks the opening of the L.A. County Fair which, instead of celebrating working stiffs, has become a showcase for some of the most waist-expanding, heart attack-inducing, imagination-defying, deep-fried-and-dipped-in-sugar culinary monstrosities known to the human race.

One wonders if the fair is an attempt to kill off the working class.

And it’s not just the L.A. event.  Fairs across the country are turning into a celebration of gluttony that would make Henry VIII proud. In Arizona they’ll feed you Deep-Fried Scorpion on a Stick, in Minnesota a plate of Spam Curds and in Texas, Fried Frito pie washed down with Deep-Fried Beer.

The L.A. fair reportedly offers unique dishes, such as Deep Fried Guacamole (served with a tub of ranch dressing) and a burger lathered with a hefty spread of grape jam, peanut butter, and a squirt of Sriracha hot sauce. A flame grilled patty is then topped with a handful of bacon.

And since Chicken and Waffles is a popular dish in L.A., one vendor takes it a step farther by wrapping his chicken in bacon before frying it, setting it atop a waffle, and dousing it in maple syrup.

You might want to have your cardiologist on speed dial.

Not to be outdone, the Orange County Fair offers the Pepsi Donut Bacon Dog: a quarter-pound bacon-wrapped beef hot dog on a doughnut bun topped with Pepsi glaze; the Bacon Nutella Pickle: dill pickle wrapped in bacon and filled with the popular hazelnut cocoa spread; French Toast Bacon Bombs: sweet dough stuffed with cream cheese, wrapped in bacon, deep fried, sprinkled with sugar and topped with maple syrup; and the S'moreo Doughnut: a 10-inch glazed doughnut topped with chocolate, Oreo cookie crumbles, graham crackers and marshmallow cream.

While you’re digesting that, you may wonder: How did fairs become the incubators of junk food?

According to noted food writer Robert Moss, “If you believe the popular tales, more new American foods were invented at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, than during any other single event in history.

“The list includes the hamburger, the hot dog, peanut butter, iced tea, the club sandwich, cotton candy, and the ice cream cone, to name just a few. If all the pop histories and internet stories have it right, American foodways would be almost unrecognizable if the 1904 fair had not been held.”

Alas, some of this is good old American hyperbole.  Hamburger had been around since Civil War days and iced tea was a drink of choice in the 1880s.

It won’t be the first time legends trumped truth and it would appear that the spirit of St. Louis continues to this day in fairgrounds throughout our land.

How else could we explain Deep Fried Kool Aid, Deep Fried Butter, Chicken Fried Bacon, a Deep Fried Spaghetti-Stuffed Meatball, Chocolate Bacon on a Stick or Deep-Fried Tequila Shots.  All available at a fair near you.

But wait, there’s more: a Hot Beef Sundae, layered with mashed potatoes, marinated beef, gravy, cheese, corn "sprinkles" and a cherry (tomato); Grilled python kebabs seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, Old Bay and lemon-pepper (let me guess, it tastes like chicken); Elvis on a Stick: a deep fried banana-battered peanut butter cup with bacon; and deep fried mashed potatoes on a stick.

It’s enough to make Paula Deen look like Jenny Craig.

So why do we eat this stuff?  Leave it to the New York Times to delve deeply into the subject and come up with an explanation only a psychiatrist would love:

It’s all about “decision fatigue.”

According to a Times article, no matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue —you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy.

The more choices you make throughout the day, the article says, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences.

OK, that works for me. Now pass me that Deep Fried Butter. And add a dash of Lipitor.

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.