Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On the Town


“What did Jesus say to the Chicago Cubs on his last day on earth?  Don’t do anything ’til I get back.”  Anonymous reference to the fact the Cubs haven’t won the World Series in 102 years

Ah, the baseball postseason.

The crack of the ball on bat, the roar of the crowd. And if you’re at Dodger Stadium the warm beer and cold hot dogs.

There’s a lot at stake in this contest between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs. A trip to the World Series.  Civic pride. The hopes, dreams and aspirations of millions of fans. 

And in Chicago, a chance to speak the name of their team without preceding it with “long suffering.”

If we didn’t have enough mud-slinging going on in this country, a couple of newspaper columnists have seized the opportunity to hurl insults at one another. 

“It’s Cubs vs. L.A., city of smog and failure,” said the headline on a Chicago Tribune column by Rex Huppke. He also wrote elegantly about other things, such the “the urine-soaked streets of the Dodgers’ home city.”

It wasn’t long before Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez opined that “My guess is that on the day the L.A. put-down was written, there were fewer than a half-dozen public officials indicted and no blizzards in Chicago, so it was a slow news day.”
Amusing stuff.  But when it comes to whittling a town down to size, these guys are flyweights compared to the heavyweight champ.

That would be the late Jim Murray, a Pulitzer Prize winner from the Los Angeles Times and the best sports writer to ever lay hands on a keyboard.

Here’s Murray on Cincinnati: “(People) don't have any appreciation for what us truth-seekers go through on a road trip for the honor and glory of baseball. For instance, you come into a city like Cincinnati at 3 o'clock in the morning.

“Now, if you have any sense, you don't want to be in Cincinnati at all. Even in daylight, it doesn't look like a city. It looks like it's in the midst of condemnation proceedings. If it was a human, they'd bury it."

Also on Cincinnati: "They still haven't finished the freeway . . . it's Kentucky's turn to use the cement mixer.”

And these travelogues: 

"The only trouble with Spokane, Washington, as a city is that there's nothing to do after 10 o’clock. In the morning. But it’s a nice place to go for breakfast."

"[St. Louis] had a bond issue recently and the local papers campaigned for it on a slogan, 'Progress or Decay,' and decay won in a landslide."

"Minneapolis and St. Paul don't like each other very much and from what I could see I don't blame either of them."

Murray called Louisville “Lousyville.” Pittsburgh was "America's Slag Heap."

Philadelphia was a town that would “boo a cancer cure."

Baltimore: "The weather is like the team. Gray. Colorless. Drab. The climate would have to improve to be classified as merely lousy. It would be a great place to stage 'Hamlet' but not baseball games. It doesn't really rain, it just kind of leaks. You get a picture of Baltimore as a guy just standing on a corner with no place to go and rain dropping off his hat. Baltimore's a great place if you're a crab."

He also took shots at cities closer to home:

“You have to pay 50 cents to go from Oakland to San Francisco. Coming to Oakland from San Francisco is free."

 "San Francisco is not so much a city as a myth. It is in the United States but not of it. It is so civilized, it would starve to death if it didn't get a salad or the right wine. It fancies itself Camelot, but comes off more like Cleveland. Its legacy to the world is the quiche."

"Palm Springs is an inland sandbar man has wrestled from the rodents and the Indians to provide a day camp for the over-privileged adults."

Reaction from cities was mixed. Cincinnati fans protested Murray during the 1961 World Series with signs that mentioned him by name.

In his state of the state address, Iowa's governor rebuffed Murray’s comments that Iowans came to Los Angeles for the Rose Bowl “in the family Winnebago with their pacemakers and the chicken salad."

Yet some cities longed for attention. A delegation of citizens once greeted Murray upon his arrival in their city and begged him repeatedly to "Knock Spokane!"

He could knock a few icons down to size as well.

UCLA Coach John Wooden was "so square, he was divisible by four"; Rickey Henderson "has a strike zone the size of Hitler's heart"; tennis is "a game in which love counts for nothing, deuces are wild, and the scoring system was invented by Lewis Carroll."

“Arnold Palmer turned a golf round into Dempsey-Firpo. A war. He didn't play a course. He invaded it. He looked and acted like an athlete. He was strong enough to hit a ball out of the Pacific Ocean, and did. He could go in the rough and smash a ball out of debris so thick that the ball, chunks of rock, cans, bottles, a few squirrels, tree trunks and parts of old Volkswagens would come flying out together. And most of them landed on the green."

A poet in the press box?  You bet.

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.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Trumped-Up Excuse

In the 1977 movie “Slap Shot,” Paul Newman stared as an aging hockey player trying to save his minor league team from going belly up.

It was a film full of fascinating characters, so well-acted it made Canadians seem almost interesting.

But one stood out. Brad Sullivan played the part of Morris “Mo” Wanchuk, a man so sexually obsessed that he could talk about nothing else.

Crude and creepy, he was largely ignored by his fellow teammates who, although not exactly choirboys themselves, found his act disgusting.

This past week, we heard Donald Trump do a pretty good imitation of Mo Wanchuk.

In a recorded conversation, Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” according to a video obtained by The Washington Post.

“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

“Whatever you want,” says another voice….

“Grab them by the p---y,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

He then talked about his attempt to seduce a married woman.

“I moved on her, actually. You know, she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it.

“I did try and f---k her. She was married.”

Trump later apologized, saying, “This was locker-room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”

Lots of people were. And the impact on his campaign has been catastrophic if not fatal.

But what about this “locker room banter’?  Are men’s locker rooms incubators for misogyny? Do men really speak openly about forcing themselves on women and joke about sexual assault? Do they amuse themselves by recounting their predatory attempts to bed married women?

I’ve found myself in the company of men many times, in countless locker rooms, in Army barracks, in corporate board rooms, on playing fields and taverns.

And I can say without hesitation I have never heard a conversation such as the one Trump engaged in.

Men talk about sports, their stock portfolios, their golf swing, their jobs, the weather, movies, music, those sort of things.

But if some guy starts braying about his real or imagined sexual conquests, he won’t find much of an audience.  Or much of a following.

 Don’t take my word for it.  Clippers coach Doc Rivers said such talk is not typical of any locker room he has been a part of.

"They're bad comments. They're demeaning to women," Rivers told ESPN.  "You know, I think when people throw out that word, 'locker room talk,' there's nobody talking like that in the locker room. Is there swearing in the locker room? Yeah. Every other word. But there's nobody demeaning -- there's players in our locker room with sisters, wives and daughters. There's not that type of talk in anyone's locker room."

Said Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze: "We're working hard on our young men understanding that women are priceless and should be treated as such."

Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate put it this way: "I've heard some distasteful things over the years, but I've also heard some incredible things and some incredible outputs on life and character and religion and faith.”

And Baltimore Ravens tight end Ben Watson, a published conservative Christian author, had this to say about Trump on a Facebook blog: “One’s character is one’s character,” he wrote. “It does not and should not change in the locker room, on private emails, or on a bus. This is the challenge for all of us.”

I don’t want to soft pedal this: there is locker room talk, some of it distasteful, about women, especially their physical attributes. But it is rare and getting rarer.

And I don’t mean to suggest that because women are not a favorite locker room topic, that the struggle for equal employment and equal pay has captured the hearts and minds of all men.

But what we should take away from all this is that Donald Trump does not represent the 21st century American male. He is an ethical and moral Neanderthal, and like them, will soon be extinct.

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.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Hormonal Imbalance

The presidential campaign struck a new low this week. 

Before it is all over, it will undoubtedly sink even farther until it obliterates any semblance of good taste, responsible campaigning and what passes for ethics in the world of politics.

But for now, the bottom feeders are giving us new reasons to weep for the future of humanity.

First, a Florida doctor named Dareld Morris claimed the persistent urge to vote for Hillary Clinton may be a sign of a troubling lack of testosterone, the steroid hormone that regulates masculine traits, according to a story in the Washington Post.

And the doctor is here to help.

 “Most are not aware of the negative effects low T can have on your mental state, for instance your ability to focus and think clearly,” the ad says.

“So as a community service, I have this special offer: For any guys out there that are thinking of voting for Hillary, I want to offer you a free testosterone test. Just come in and register in my office in Fort Myers or online at my online practice and let's see if we can help.”

When his offer attracted nationwide media attention, Morris, a self-described Donald Trump supporter, told South Florida NBC affiliate WBBH that the ad is a joke — and a tongue-in-cheek way to promote his business.

 But he also told the station the ad was an “experiment” and that he wanted to see if there is a correlation between health and political views.

It’s doubtful he’ll ever make that connection and it’s uncertain how many men flocked to Morris’s clinic.

But do you want to trust your health to a guy who thinks you’re a wimp because you support the only sane candidate in the race?

Maybe Morris ought to start his “experiment” by looking in the mirror.

Then there was the report that televangelist Pat Robertson urged “Christian husbands of all ages and races across America to stop having sex with their wives for the purpose of demonstrating that they don’t have control over us, and especially so if they’re planning to vote for Hillary Clinton.

“American women need to learn two things: one, that they don’t control us, but that it’s the other way around, and two, that God has made it very clear He wants Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States.”

Robertson has made enough crazy statements over the years to make it entirely believable. And many media sites carried the story.

But it’s not true. It comes from a website called Newslo that publishes fabricated stories and passes them off as satire.

Among its other “scoops”: a story claiming that an Alabama politician proposed saliva-based "hunger tests" for food stamp recipients;  Ted Cruz said he'd run as a Democrat if something affected Clinton's candidacy; and  Mike Pence opining that if abortion was legal in cases of rape women would try to "get raped" in order to obtain an abortion.

That doesn’t let Robertson off the hook, however. He reportedly said Hillary Clinton is using pneumonia to hide the real reason behind her failing health.

“The fact that Hillary’s health is failing is a sign of the spiritual battle going on inside her,” said Robertson on “The 700 Club.”

“When she collapsed at the 9/11 memorial it was a sign that the demonic spirit was trying to come out of her.”

Robertson then closed his eyes and offered a prayer for the demon to leave Clinton.

 Robertson once described feminism as “a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

Maybe Dr. Morris can give him an estrogen treatment.

A fervent supporter of Donald Trump, he once told his flock that “God came to me in a dream last night and showed me the future. “He took me to heaven and I saw Donald Trump seated at the right hand of our Lord.”

May God have mercy on us.

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, October 02, 2016

The Goat Life

Ladies and gentleman, let’s have a big round of applause for Thomas Thwaites.


OK, so he’s not exactly a household name but he’s become somewhat of a celebrity in the scientific community.  In fact, he was just awarded the not-so prestigious Ig Noble prize, given annually for silly science.

Thwaites claim to fame is that he created custom prosthetics so he could spend three days grazing on the side of a Swiss mountain while living as a goat.

His conclusion: Being a goat is harder than it looks. Thwaites said his experiment tested him in ways he hadn’t expected it to and forced him to confront both his own humanity and the elemental aspects of goat-ness.

 “I was sort of shocked at how bad a goat I was,” he says, “and I was really trying.”

It was not all herding and head butting, however.  He developed a strong bond with one animal in particular - a "goat buddy."

Thwaites, who once wrote a book on making a toaster from scratch, shared the prize with Charles Foster, who pretended to be a badger, a deer, an otter, a fox, and a bird for his book “Being a Beast.”

For the uninitiated, the Ig Nobel awards are presented each year at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine.

With tongue firmly in cheek, the Ig Noble folks honor scientific articles that have some humorous or unexpected aspect, such as the two scientists who discovered that the word "huh?" (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language — and for not being completely sure why.

Or the group of researchers who are trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.

Or the scientists who are investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat.

Or the group that investigated whether suicide rates are linked to the amount of country music played on the radio (they are).

Or the woman from MIT who invented an alarm clock that runs away and hides, repeatedly, thus ensuring that people do get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday.

The awards know no bounds. The prize for mathematics was once awarded to the Southern Baptist Church of Alabama for their county-by-county estimate of how many Alabama citizens will go to hell if they don't repent.

Also honored were researchers at the Air Force’s Wright Laboratory, Dayton, Ohio, for instigating development on a chemical weapon -- the so-called "gay bomb" -- that will make enemy soldiers become sexually irresistible to each other.

Other 2016 winners (and my reactions):

Chemistry: Volkswagen took home the award for solving the problem of excessive automobile emissions by automatically producing fewer emissions when cars are tested. (Very clever but it cost VW $15 billion in fines. Das Dummkopfs).

Psychology: A group of psychologists interviewed thousands of liars about their lying habits. Their findings suggested young adults are the best liars and that people lie the most in their teenage years. (How did they know the study participants weren’t lying? They didn’t.)

Literature:  Fredrik Sj√∂berg was awarded for his three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead. (Three volumes? And I have trouble writing this column).

Perception:  This prize recognized researchers who studied how people perceive distances when they bend over and look between their legs. (Couldn’t they just interview the center on a football team?)

Medicine: Researchers discovered people can relieve an itch in the right arm by scratching the left, but only after tricking their brain. Researchers injected histamine dihydrochloride into volunteers' right arms. Using mirrors and video feeds, researchers made it appear volunteers were scratching their right arm when they were really scratching their left. (Thus constructing an experiment from scratch).

Reproduction:  Researchers published a study that found polyester underwear significantly reduced male rats' sexual success rates. (Putting polyester underwear on any living thing would seriously hurt their game).

So what are we to make of all this?

The Ig Noble folks will tell you that “our goal is to make people laugh, then make them think. We also hope to spur people’s curiosity, and to raise the question: How do you decide what’s important and what’s not, and what’s real and what’s not — in science and everywhere else?”

But we all know that nerds just want to have fun.

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.