Friday, October 2, 2009

David Letterman’s Top 10 Reasons to Fish Off the Company Pier

Will we ever learn?

We know absolutely nothing about celebrities but what their publicists and handlers let us know or what they create out of thin air. And we stupidly believe most or all of what we are told.

I love hearing women talk about celebrities as if they somehow know them. “I don’t know what that Jennifer Garner is doing with Ben Affleck!” “Jay-Z and Beyoncé make a perfect couple, don’t you think?” “I don’t think that Ellen will tolerate what Paula put up with from Simon!”

Get real.

Celebrities are a mirage, figments of our imagination, who share DNA and, occasionally, a name with a real person, but rarely the same life stories. Kinda like “Jerry Seinfeld”, the fictional character who strongly resembled a comedian who had the same name; one who actually lived in a much nicer apartment building. With a locked door. And without a neighbor named “Cosmo Kramer”.

“Entertainment news” shows, gossip magazines, talk shows, and even traditional news networks and interview shows increasingly trade in fluff and fantasy created by the PR industry, regularly reporting puffy unverified trash in order to get access to any of the most popular celebrities. Beware of anyone claiming to have an “exclusive interview” with anyone because, in many cases, agreements are struck in advance with publicists, attorneys and the celebs themselves as to which questions will and will not be asked. An “exclusive interview” is usually a puffball interview done by an interviewer who agreed to ask far less challenging questions than other interviewers who also wanted the same interview. Philadelphia, hello.

Which brings us to the TV personality known as “David Letterman”.

Stupidly, most of us think we “know” him. And that is why so many of us are “shocked” to hear that he had sex with female staffers of his television show. I mean, after all, based on Letterman’s two most well-known relationships (with former Letterman show head writer Merrill Markoe and his now-wife, Regina Lasko), you have to admit that Letterman doesn’t exactly go looking on Craigslist or when he needs a taste.

So what exactly is so shocking about this?

Are we shocked that a man with the highest–rated late night television show who makes $32 million a year enjoys his position and fame by having sex with much younger women who work in his office? A man who has gone to great lengths to keep his private life private? A man who is married to someone whose name he rarely if ever mentions? To a relatively plain-looking woman whom he successfully avoided marrying for some 24 years?

We don’t know whether Letterman has had some sort of arrangement with his wife, Regina Lasko. We don’t know about whether Letterman was getting everything he needs at home. We don’t even know if Letterman and Lasko live at the same address! For all we know, perhaps Lasko knows exactly what Letterman has been up to.

If you know virtually nothing personal about this guy and he is not a public official, what, exactly, makes this a “bombshell”? After the scandals of self-righteous public officials such as Bill Clinton, a then-sitting president, Mark Sanford, a still-sitting (and occasionally reclining) state governor, Mark Foley, a then–sitting congressman, and Larry Craig, a then-sitting US senator (then sitting on a toilet, if I recall), why should this be concerning to any of us?

The real bombshell here is that the alleged perpetrator is a news producer with virtually no public persona. He is someone who has produced TV news stories you have seen and believed, and has won awards for it.

According to court documents, the alleged perpetrator, Robert “Joe” Halderman, is paying a buttload of alimony and child support to his ex-wife and, while extortion is horrific and perpetrators deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law, one can understand why a desperate man might attempt to do a desperate thing. However, if segments on a television show called 48 Hours Investigation are being produced by someone who is alleged to be committing crimes as bad as or worse (or at least more salacious) than those of some of the people he is investigating, that should certainly concern the people who watch CBS News, and CBS has responded appropriately by suspending Halderman pending the outcome of his indictment.

On the other hand, should it really matter to the public if a fabulously wealthy comedian enjoys his fame and fortune by fishing off the company pier?

What, exactly, is so shocking about another wealthy man having sex with young women who work near him?

The only shocking thing to me about this story is that a famous and successful man who makes $32 million a year wants to be married...only to be forced to live some sort of double life for which he could be blackmailed.

Two things will not shock me:

We will not hear the names “Conan O’Brien” or “Jimmy Kimmel” for the next three months at least.

And, all this is gonna make a great movie.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Much Ado About Manny

I woke up to the news about Manny Ramirez and I could only laugh.

I laugh at the suckers who are such fervent baseball fans that they sit on hold for an hour waiting to give their opinions on sports radio shows.

I giggle at all you maroons who think that these guys could care less about your city…or what team they play for…as long as they get the biggest contracts they possibly can.

I laugh at the people who devour books and TV shows with names like The Last Good Season or When It Was a Game. (These should have been titled Back When Baseball Was Good…Because They Didn’t Let Minorities In or When We Were Naïve.)

There is nothing funnier than walking around New York City and seeing the yutzes walking around with hideous blue and orange teamwear of the New York Mets because they want you to know who they support no matter how horrific it makes them look.

I cackle at anyone who thinks the Chicago Cubs have a chance this year or any year when the ownerships of each era have figured out that the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field will be full whether they win or not. Does it really matter if they win? Wouldn’t Wrigley be fun to go to in any case?

The finger waggers attacking Manny now are beyond hypocritical. Babe Ruth had syphilis, drank like a fish, and he was swollen like a balloon. Mickey Mantle played regularly with hangovers. According to, in spring training in 1907, Ty Cobb, “considered a racist by many, fought a black groundskeeper over the condition of the Tigers' spring training field in Augusta, Ga., and ended up choking the man's wife when she intervened.” (Ah…when it was a game!) Today’s baseball fans worry about whether Alex Rodriguez is out with strippers or getting Kabbalah lessons late at night from Madonna. Hilarious!

You may find it hard to believe that I am a baseball fan. I’ve been watching it since I can remember and I still do. I go to the games. I follow the Dodgers. I am in love with Dodger Stadium, which is more popular than any player who ever played for the Dodgers because Chavez Ravine is simply the best place in the world to watch a game. I kneel at the altar of Vin Scully, the greatest broadcaster of all time. But I am not a fool.

I watch baseball because it is fun to watch, like a good concert. I sit out in the sun, pound a few beers, bat the beach ball around when things get slow, get a beer during the drum solos, er, I mean, the pitching changes. Baseball is, and has always been, a big, fat marketing extravaganza. Never mind that I love it and patronize it. It is a business first and foremost, and it always has been, including the days when the Dodgers played in that shithole everyone loves to rhapsodize about in Brooklyn. (Never mind the shithole in which the Red Sox still play.)

Baseball’s team owners are just like any other businessmen; they want to make as much money as possible. The players are just like us. They want to go to work for the company that pays them the most for producing the least. The only difference between us and them is this: we who wrinkle our noses at the boss when he calls us into the conference room to engage in “team-building exercises” down at the job want to believe that a baseball team is, indeed, a team. We want to believe that the employees of these companies have barbecues together and visit each other during the off-season and that the Red Sox players really, really hate the Yankees. When outfielder Johnny Damon played for the Red Sox, Boston fans thought he really, really hated the Yankees. Then, the Yankees offered him around $13 million a year to leave Boston. Now, Yankee fans want to believe that Damon really, really hates the Red Sox. Stop it boys…you’re killing me!

The real truth is that, beginning with Jim Bouton’s seminal book Ball Four in 1970, and continuing into the era of 24 hour cable news and sports channels, we now have unprecedented access to athletes’ lives and we don’t like it because we now know what the backslapping journalists of the Babe’s day were hiding from us: that athletes are only human just like us.

And who are we? For the most part, the only people who worry about performance enhancing substances are the older fans who believed the Field of Dreams myth that professional baseball was, at one time, some kind of pure pastoral experience that has somehow been ruined in recent years. You know the type: the old guys who still buy a pencil and a program at the game so they can “keep score.” (Apparently, no one told them about the behemoth HD scoreboards stadiums have nowadays.)

If we are younger, we are pot-smoking, energy drink-swilling caffeinated individuals for whom baseball is a day of entertainment in the sun with ten beers, a joint, and some sunscreen, but it’s not a religion. The idea of statistics that go back to the late 1800s is beyond quaint for the average young American; it’s not even on their radar screens. Do you think it matters to those under 50 whether Manny's home runs and RBIs while using a banned substance should "count"? You're kidding, right?

The Manny Ramirez story, in fact, the whole steroids in baseball story, is much ado about nothing. Who are we to criticize athletes for doing whatever they can to make $25 million? Most of us wouldn’t do exactly the same thing?

In hockey, you give someone a face wash and, if you get caught, you get two minutes for roughing, you bad boy. Then, you get back on the ice. Does anyone think that Eric Clapton shouldn’t be in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame because he may have shot heroin before playing Bell Bottom Blues? Does it make him any less good? Did you enjoy his work any less? You probably enjoyed it more.

If Manny Ramirez played chicken with the authorities of Major League Baseball, so be it. The suckers in Boston will say that they “knew it all along” but will flinch when we ask them if they’d like to give back their two championships with Manny because they may be tainted. In Los Angeles, here is the reality: whatever Manny took, he will say he is sorry, do his time, and then he will be welcomed back by Dodger fans with open arms on July 3rd. Vin Scully will be there. I will be there. Badly-dressed Met fans will still be badly-dressed Met fans no matter what drugs Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry took. And life will go on.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Are You Black Enough?

NEW YORK (AP) - Black players accounted for 10.2 percent of major leaguers last year, the most since the 1995 season.

The sport had reached an all-time low of 8.2 percent in 2007, according to Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. The percentage of black pitchers rose to 5 percent from 3 percent and the percentage of black infielders went up to 9 percent from 7 percent.

"I feel encouraged. It's not a huge leap, but it's a step forward," said Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson. "I think we have to feel encouraged, not only feel encouraged but feel inspired by progress so that we can not only sustain what we have, but work harder to see that we get that number up in future reports."


Don’t get me wrong. Jackie Robinson is a hero of mine. And he’s a hero from Southern California to boot.

This was a man with big, brass balls who withstood the microscope of the public and fellow baseball players and blew the doors open for people of all colors to follow. He was, in my view, more than just a baseball player. His journey became the precursor for the civil rights movement of the 60s. The things he accomplished resonated so loudly, it is my view that he laid the groundwork for the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the National Voting Rights Act of 1965. I applaud the fact that baseball celebrates Jackie’s historic 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers and, as a Dodger fan, I feel it is one more good reason to feel superior to those who support two of the last teams in baseball to integrate, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

Every year on Jackie Robinson Day, Richard Lapchick releases a report on the integration of baseball. And every year, many people bemoan what they consider to be the “low percentage of blacks” in baseball. This, of course, is simply not true.

The number is reached by totally ignoring the growing number of black baseball players from Latin America who have joined the ranks of major leaguers. It is clear to look at players such as David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, Guillermo Mota and so many others and to see black faces. And yet these players are not counted as black when Lapchick’s statistics are compiled.

Why are there less African Americans by percentage in the game today than there were in the 70s? Is it because football has overtaken baseball in popularity since then? Is it because of the popularity surge of the NBA that began in the 80s, through the Michael Jordan era, and which continues today? Is it because baseball depends upon tradition and, if your Dad wasn’t around to take you to a game when you were a kid, you’re less likely to care about this slow-moving, pastoral sport? All of those reasons may be part of the answer. But there is one reason that is not: discrimination.

Baseball is more diverse than ever before, with players from Latin America, Asia, even Australia. There are only 750 positions available. Just as there is a smaller percentage of African Americans in the major leagues than there once had been, it is safe to say that there are fewer Caucasian Americans playing than ever before. And, mathematically speaking, that is as it should be. The more people come from Taiwan or South Korea or Venezuela into the major leagues, the less positions there are for Americans of all colors. The best players should play regardless of color or national origin.

Should we really care where the black players are coming from? Did anyone know or even care that the Chicago Cubs pitcher of the 60s and 70s, Ferguson Jenkins, was from Canada? Would he count as black? What about Andruw Jones? He is from Curaçao. Is he any less black than Gary Sheffield? What about Carlos Delgado? He sure looks black to me. Robinson Canó was named after Jackie Robinson by his father, José, a one-time major leaguer. Guess you’ll have to tell Mr. Canó that he and his son just aren’t black either.

Is the suggestion that baseball should be like the Affirmative Action program in which we have quotas for certain races and national origins? If there are any .330 hitters who aren’t getting a fair hearing from Major League Baseball because they are African American, please let me know who they are and I will shout it from the rooftops. I believe that the reason there are less African American ballplayers is because African Americans have moved on and found other sports to be interested in, not because of discrimination. Torii Hunter, Chone Figgins, Prince Fielder, CC Sabathia and so many other African Americans decided that baseball is what they’re good at and what they love. They chased their dreams and succeeded. I love that they are part of baseball’s fabric.

What is Richard Lapchick saying? That we should turn baseball into a civil service position in which we will reserve, say, 15 percent of the jobs for one particular group regardless of performance? You tell me.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Your TARP Money At Work

It is bad enough knowing that our tax money is propping up banks. What is worse is seeing our tax money spent on bank TV commercials and websites telling us to come to the bank for advice on how to save and plan for the future.

What the hell do banks know about that?

The timing of these TV spots is incredibly bad. These days, many of us check the news daily to see if Citibank is broke and going out of business, if Bank of America is actually lending the TARP money we gave them, if Wells Fargo has bitten off more than it could chew by buying subprime monster Wachovia.

If US banks knew anything about planning for the future, we wouldn’t even be in the mess we’re in today. Based on what we have seen the last couple of years, a bank is the last place I would go for advice on saving, planning, or investing.

The following comedy material comes from the banks’ and insurance companies’ actual current websites after the recent debacles. (The websites pretty much reflect the content of the current related TV commercials.) Please finish whatever you’re drinking now as we take a look at some bank and insurance company websites and their hilarious attempts to serve as a clearinghouse for your financial advice needs. (Wouldn’t want you to snort milk or any carbonated beverages out of your nose.)

· “Knowledge is the key to any investment.” – Citibank (Pause for loud laugh here.)

· “Creating a budget can be done easily with pencil and paper, spreadsheets, or financial planning software. Look at your monthly income first, or how much money you receive each month.” – Bank of America (Good advice…did they follow it themselves?)

· On having a good credit rating: “Your score is negatively affected if you have paid bills late, had an account sent to collection, or declared bankruptcy. The more recent the problem, the lower your score -- a 30-day late payment today hurts more than a bankruptcy five years ago.” – Washington Mutual (Wonder what their FICO score is!)

· “AIG Retirement Services offers a wide variety of retirement products including mutual funds, combination, fixed, and variable annuities to meet your needs.” – AIG (Does anyone believe that AIG will even be there by the time we retire so they can “meet our needs”?)

· “Making suitable investment decisions can be tricky. “ – Wachovia (Just ask Wachovia's new owner, Wells Fargo!)

· On managing credit: “Can you reduce your payments and consolidate outstanding debt at the same time?” – Citibank (Question: can they?)

· On tax planning: “Sometimes a little knowledge makes a lot of difference in your return.” – Citibank (Stop it! You’re killing me!)

Is anyone stupid enough to consider these incompetents as experts at anything but begging for government money? Will anyone of this generation ever believe banks or insurance companies again? Will you?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Random Thoughts Scrawled on a Freeway Underpass

· When there’s a rain delay at the New York Mets new ballpark, Citi Field, will the announcers on TV be allowed to say that the groundskeepers are “putting the TARP on the field”? Hell, the TARP is not just covering the field, it’s paying for it.

· Why is it that the only people who aren’t smart enough to shop at Costco and Trader Joe’s are the people who need it the most?

· Speaking of the economy, why do those who can afford it the least spend the most on energy drinks, fancy coffee drinks, smoking, fast food, boozing, and dropping babies on the world?

· When CNBC’s Rick Santelli called people who defaulted on their mortgages “losers”, sorry Jon Stewart, he was right. His only mistake was not also biting the hand that feeds CNBC: cheerleading corporate bigwigs and the CNBC toadies who interviewed them and accepted virtually everything they said unchallenged. Turns out many of them were ignorant losers as well. Why is it so politically incorrect to tell the truth…that both average yahoos and conglomerates who borrow more money than they can ever hope to pay back to overpay for overvalued assets such as lousy tract homes and convoluted derivatives are immoral, irrational ignoramuses?

· Why does Showtime say that “Some HD programs are not available in Spanish”? Is that because they believe that Latinos can’t afford flat screens? Is that also why Univision isn’t in HD?

· If Salma Hayek were an illegal alien, would Lou Dobbs turn her in?

· Has anyone noticed how much the story of Lou Dobbs’s transformation from old-school financial reporter to shrieking maniac parallels the story of Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network?

· What am I missing about NBC's Late Night host Jimmy Fallon? Don’t get me wrong, Jimmy is a genuinely nice guy. I am the first one to give anyone credit for getting great ratings, and he is getting them for sure. He deserves all the credit in the world for his early success. Yet here is a late night host with no edge...just that nervous flop sweat look, and comedy material as harmless and lame as any I have ever seen. If you like train wrecks as much as I do, look for the video of his interview with Robert DeNiro. Skincrawlingly awful. Why are so many people watching this show?

· The biggest talent TV news anchor Paul Moyer of KNBC/Los Angeles ever had was looking and sounding something like the more famous Tom Snyder when Snyder was on Channel 7 doing Eyewitless News back in the day. Does anyone believe Paul Moyer is “retiring” without a gun to his head? He makes over $3 million a year, his newscasts’ ratings stink, and this economy is so lousy that Channel 4 has taken to running infomercials during weekdays. I know that as a society, we are pretty damned dumb, but we’re not THAT dumb.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Finally! Another overgrown banking conglomerate has come to California!

You can always tell when some dickwad ad agency from New York or elsewhere on the East Coast barrels into Southern California with ads created by people whose knowledge of our community derives from having watched old TV episodes of "Adam-12" or "Shindig!" or "Baywatch".

The ad usually looks or sounds something like the ad that appeared when Sam Ash Music opened its first store here in Los Angeles: "Finally! East Coast Quality At West Coast Prices!" Or the Farmer John spots in which Vin Scully intones "Easternmost in Quality, Westernmost In Flavor!" (As a SoCal resident, have you ever said to yourself, "Gee, I wish we savages out here in the Wild West had the kind of quality products that those discerning, sophisticated folks back east get to enjoy!"?)

How about the old Sprint billboards which made frequent references to callers having ample monthly minutes to use their wireless phones to talk about their boob jobs or to say "Gag me with a spoon!"? Now we get the latest example of the East Coast elitism and stereotyping that proves that Vinnie and Vito and their ilk think we are no more than "a bunch of fruits, nuts and flakes" in the form of advertising from Chase Bank.

Nevermind the radio commercials that bring the exciting news that "Chase has come to California!" as if we are one monolithic place to which they can market, full of desperate, unsophisticated people who haven't seen an overgrown banking conglomerate from back east before. How about the Chase billboard at the southwest corner of Hollywood and Highland that reads "72 and sunny with a 100 percent chance of better banking"? In addition to the Chase logo, the ad features a sillouette of what looks like a Tab Hunter-type model leaning on a surfboard.

That's right dudes, all we care about in Los Angeles is the weather or going surfing. For people who fight their way through freeway traffic for hours, this in no way resembles the Southern California most of us slog through every day. But I imagine the average schmendrick who takes the Long Island Railroad to work at the ad agency every morning and back home fantasizes about "going out there" to "hang out at the beach" with Elvis and Annette Funicello (or whoever they think is swimming in Santa Monica's sewage and sunning themselves in a marine layer that just won't quit most days until after noon). Clearly he thinks this ad campaign is just swell for the people who "don't know good pizza out there" (as they say back east).

Have you noticed this phenomenon?