Monday, June 29, 2009
Giuliani, as mayor of New York in the wake of 9/11, was more popular in the city than the Statue of Liberty. The political world, it seemed, was his oyster.
He was another whose career aspirations were pumped up, albeit in an unseemly way, by the September 11 tragedy.
President George W. Bush rode that wave for a while, too, until he toppled off the surf board.
Giuliani, it says in the news, is contemplating a run for Governor of New York in 2010.
He's anything but a shoo-in.
When Rudy was at his political zenith, governor was small potatoes for him. Way too small. He had one destination and one destination only in mind: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., as another Republican president to follow Bush.
Even after some of the very same firefighters and policemen that he bonded with in the aftermath of 9/11 grumbled that Rudy wasn't all that, a presidential bid was still on his radar.
It didn't matter that, as time went on, the grumblings began to grow and the whispers grew louder.
Rudy Giuliani, some of the city's finest said, is a fraud.
He wasn't at all, they said, the heroic mayor portrayed to the rest of the country. The way he treated some of the city employees, both before and after 9/11, left a lot to be desired.
But Rudy ran for president anyway, and he, for whatever reason, thought highly enough of his chances to all but ignore some of the early states' primaries and caucuses.
He focused on Florida, for example, and it backfired on him.
He didn't perform all that well in the debates and his policies didn't appeal to the Republican base. Or to anyone else, for that matter. At least, not enough to be much of a factor.
Giuliani, the people decided, wasn't all that, after all. The hard-working city employees in New York were right.
The run for the White House stalled in the first turn, and it looked as if Rudy had squandered away most, if not all, of the political capital he had accumulated--deserved or not--while Mayor of New York.
Now, they say, he wants to plunk his rear end in Albany and run the state for at least four years. After that, who knows?
It's anything but a sure bet that Giuliani will take the oath of office as New York governor on January 1, 2011, even though some of those surveys of mock elections has Rudy ahead of unpopular Democrat David Paterson, the incumbent.
This is because if Giuliani is matched up in these same fantasy polls against state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, then Rudy loses.
Giuliani disappointed me when he ran for president. I tried to put aside the cries of "fraud" from some of the citizens of New York when I assessed him. Even though he's part of my rival party, I was curious to see how he would fare on the national stage.
There just didn't seem to be enough "there" there, to borrow from an old quote.
Then it dawned on me, as it probably did on a lot of folks.
Since when does a guy go from being mayor to being president? Regardless of the size of the burg?
That's quite a leap--I don't care how you try to present it.
So will Giuliani indeed take a run at Paterson's seat in Albany?
"I'm thinking about it but I don't know if I'm at the point of seriously considering it. It's a little too early."
Translated: Hell, yeah.
That's my gut speaking.
Rudy Giuliani, it turns out, was nowhere near being presidential material in 2008. He may have enough to be a governor. But he might want to get the White House out of his head. Seldom does a candidate fare so poorly in a presidential bid, then is able to rebound and capture the nomination down the road.
Time to build that capital back up from its ruins, Rudy G.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
She's now the actress whose death was knocked out of the stratosphere by Michael Jackson's.
Michael Jackson is dead. Again. And that's pretty much all you need to know for your entertainment news for the day. Or for the year.
Jackson died once before.
The cherubic child from the Jackson Five who grew into a fine-looking young man--that Jackson expired sometime in the mid-1980s.
That's my impression, anyway. Jackson died twice, for when you see videos and movie clips of Jackson as part of his brothers' group and when he recorded Off the Wall, it's very much, to me, like looking at someone who's perished.
Jackson was 50 when he suffered cardiac arrest today in Los Angeles. Efforts to revive him failed, and he died at UCLA Hospital, though he may have been dead before the stretcher hit the emergency room door.
So there's your three--the way they die in show business: Jackson, Fawcett, and Ed McMahon, who passed away the other day.
Jackson was a bunch of things. Weird. Odd. Creepy. A boy trapped in a man's body. A freak. A molester of children, perhaps.
All those have been used to describe him. I've been guilty of more than one of those adjectives and designations.
But Jackson was also, like it or not, one of the greatest entertainers in history.
Call him whatever you'd like, but names will never hurt his legacy in show biz.
And, like him or not, his death is tragic. All arguments to the contrary will be dismissed, forthwith.
There's sadness because no more will Jackson entertain, and if you think that's a good thing, then shame on you.
Already, reports are surfacing--and as I write this his death is still being freshly unearthed--from family members, no less, that Jackson may have abused drugs, leading to his being stricken.
The first of you to be surprised by this notion, please go stand in the corner.
Lord knows what Jackson ingested during his life, although at times he was uber-concerned about his health--even sleeping in hyperbaric chambers. But his skin pigmentation was curious, and as much as he and his people tried to blame it on some sort of "condition", you had to wonder.
Do 50-year-old men drop dead from cardiac arrest? You bet your sweet bippy they do. But the likelihood that Jackson's death was accelerated by overdoing it with the prescription drugs intake is probably pretty great.
Jackson, the reports say, was in L.A. getting ready to rehearse for some upcoming shows.
They called him Jacko, which he despised. They cheered him, jeered him, danced to him, and were abhorred by him.
But his music was dynamic. His videos were groundbreaking.
Michael Jackson was like the National Anthem. He made people stand up.
But Jackson was also like a gruesome car wreck. He made people look away in horror.
I enjoyed many of Jackson's songs. But then, most of the songs I liked were recorded in his early-20s, when he was still a wholesome looking, handsome young man.
Michael Jackson was, in his early adult life, full-faced, soft-looking. He was very much the grownup version of that adorable kid in the Jackson Five.
Something happened to Jackson as he approached 30 years of age, and a doctor could make a mint if he or she ever could explain, really, what it was.
He went sideways, to use a very un-scientific term.
I don't know if something snapped within him, or if some sort of switch was turned on, or off. But something happened. Maybe we'll never really know.
His physical appearance changed, obviously. He cavorted with children. He built something called Never Land on his compound grounds, again catering to children. He slept with them. He was, it seemed, infatuated with kids. Or obsessed. Or worse.
They brought him up on molestation charges, which did nothing to abate his new reputation -- that of just another show business weirdo who's able to get his jollies doing disgusting things because of who he was.
He married Lisa Marie Presley, and you'd make another mint if you could ever get Lisa Marie, who I adore, to fully explain that one. My feeling is that she doesn't even know how that went down.
He hung around with Liz Taylor, who'll never be mistaken for someone of mental stability, bought the remains of The Elephant Man, and wore surgical masks in public.
But oh, how he could sing. And dance. And choreograph.
Now he's dead. This time for good, at age 50. Another entertainment icon whose legacy will be even greater because of his relatively short life.
He was, no matter what you thought of him personally, the King of Pop. It's a pop culture nickname ranking up there in aptness with The Fab Four and The Queen of Soul.
It didn't matter to Jackson what people thought of him. It only mattered that he be able to entertain them.
Michael Jackson rarely had us not talking about him. You think that'll stop with his death?
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Also, 40 years since Neil Armstrong blew his big line.
Neil whiffed on it, botched it but good. But he still ended up uttering a gem.
Kids from first grade, almost, know what Armstrong said on July 20, 1969, when he was the first human being to set foot on the moon.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Yeah, that's what he said, alright. Just not what he intended to say.
Armstrong, about to set foot on the moon and insert the other one into his mouth
What Armstrong wanted to say was close, but different. It was just one letter that was omitted, but had it been included, it would have changed the texture of the quote dramatically.
Here's what he not only intended to say, but maintains he did say: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Armstrong, you see, wasn't nearly as philosophical as his bungled words made him appear.
From the website Scopes.com:
So instead of a statement linking the small action of one man with a monumental achievement for (and by) all of humanity, Armstrong uttered a somewhat contradictory phrase that equated a small step by the human race with a momentous achievement by humankind.
But Armstrong's words still sounded good, and everyone thought they got the drift of what he was trying to say, so the quote became legendary.
Funny thing was, Armstrong and NASA made a big to-do out of his spiel, and maintained Neil hadn't omitted the "a" after all. Instead, the lack of hearing it was blamed on static.
The press was skeptical; they insisted that there was not enough space between "for" and "man" for him to have inserted the problematic "a."
There was quite a controversy for several weeks after the moon landing over Armstrong's actual words. But that ordeal has mostly been forgotten; the version that Armstrong said he said never grew legs; the supposedly static-marred one became one of the most famous quotations ever.
I'm no help in the matter. I wasn't quite six years old when Armstrong hit the moon's surface, and I must confess to not knowing until a year or two ago that there was even a controversy at all about his words.
But one thing's for sure. I still get goosebumps whenever I hear the recording of Armstrong's sentence, shrouded in mystery or not.
It wasn't until the 1980s that Neil Armstrong finally conceded that he did, indeed, misspeak.
A representative from the Grumman company, which had built the Eagle used by Apollo 11, played for Armstrong a 45-rpm recording of the flight. No matter how much they slowed it down, no "a" could be heard.
"I wrote it that way, and I rehearsed it that way, and I was sure I had said it that way," Armstrong said. But after hearing the recording, he fired off another juicy quote.
"Damn," he sighed to the Grumman people. "I really did it. I blew the first words on the moon, didn't I?"
Maybe, Neil. But you were the first man to walk on the moon, and that sort of trumps the words, me thinks. The pictures, as we all know, spoke pretty damn good for themselves.
If my truncated telling of this historical tidbit just doesn't cut it for you, you can click here for a much more detailed version, courtesy the folks at Snopes.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Then he frittered it away, some was lost on bad investments, and he ended up with hardly anything after all.
McMahon was 86 when he slipped quietly into death overnight in Los Angeles. It's anyone's guess what did him in, because Ed was suffering from so many maladies.
McMahon, of course, will be forever joined at the hip, metaphorically, with Johnny Carson after being his sidekick for so many years.
It's true that Ed didn't do a whole lot. What second banana on a talk show ever did?
Ed came up with his signature "Heeeeeere's Johnny!" and he sold some dog food live during the show and he laughed a lot. And drank a lot too, at times.
Yeah, so he didn't do a whole lot and they paid him big bucks for it.
Anyone here who would have turned the money down?
The thing is, Ed McMahon didn't purport to having done anything. He wasn't ashamed of himself, certainly, but he didn't have any grand illusions. His job was what it was, and he knew his place.
Another good second banana trait.
Then there was "Star Search" and some co-hosting for Jerry Lewis's Labor Day telethons, but that was pretty much it. Oh, Ed took an occasional acting gig and appeared on a game show or two, but nothing too voluminous.
At least he didn't try to con you into thinking that he was some sort of indispensable object in television. There were no pretenses, no airs about him.
Carson was notorious for expecting--actually, demanding--nothing but the utmost in professionalism from his crew and minions. McMahon included.
"The only time I really ever saw him truly get angry," McMahon once recalled about his old boss, "was when something went wrong behind the scenes. Johnny couldn't abide anything less than everyone taking their jobs seriously."
McMahon took his job seriously--let there be no doubt about that. He just didn't take himself seriously, and there's a big, refreshing difference.
He was content to be Johnny's best audience--the big, laughing lunk at the end of the sofa.
And we made fun of him for it, but maybe no one else would have done it as well.
But there was more to the Carson/McMahon association than what we saw on our television screens.
“Johnny once described our relationship by saying we were as close as two people could be without being married,” McMahon once recalled.
McMahon, in his later years, hit on rough times, both physically and financially, and some of his old show business pals tried to get him work, doing commercials and other bits that were counter to the "Tonight Show" image he carved for himself.
His house was even in danger of foreclosure at one point, to show you.
Johnny made light of McMahon's drinking, but that was mainly after Ed had mostly kicked the habit. But the drinking was very real for a time, and not funny at all.
McMahon was forever moved by Johnny's being the first to call when McMahon lost a son to cancer in 1995. Carson himself lost a kid--his photographer son to an accidental fall off a cliff.
No, Ed McMahon didn't do much, perhaps, to earn his show business dough.
But he was one of the best at it.
Monday, June 22, 2009
If it wasn't for Lou Gordon, that is.
It's a shame that we have grown a whole generation of people who have no idea who Lou was.
Lou Gordon was a media tyrant, in that he put you on his show and sweated the truth out of you under those big TV lights in the WKBD, channel 50 studios.
He made 60 Minutes look like child's play, at times.
Gordon was a Detroit icon, back in the 1960s and '70s. He hosted The Lou Gordon Show on Sunday nights, and when my parents let me stay up to watch it, I usually got an eyeful.
He would bring on everyone from the silly to the serious, and often they ended up the same way: grilled, with marks on their back.
Uri Geller, the reputed mentalist, came on one night and purported to bend spoons. Until Lou humiliated him and exposed him as a fraud.
Lou would get his guests so angry that a familiar scene was said guest ripping off his microphone and stomping off the set -- including Alabama Governor George Wallace, one night.
That's the stuff I especially liked as a kid.
One night, Lou was going to have different reps from different utility companies on, and two of them showed up and one didn't -- yet Lou kept the empty chair on the set the whole show, to constantly remind us that someone was too scared to appear.
Not that I blame that person for taking a pass.
Lou Gordon was a grizzled old journalist whose eyes you couldn't pull the wool over. He saw through the phonies and didn't take just any canned answer at face value.
And it was Lou who derailed, indirectly, George Romney's presidential bid, in 1968.
Romney, the governor of Michigan at the time, went on Lou's show to talk about his experiences in Vietnam, from where he recently returned.
Lou asked him, basically, why Romney had changed his stance, from being pro-war to more anti-war.
"Well, you know, they do a great job over there," Romney said, of the military and the U.S. government's propaganda effort.
"When I came back from Vietnam, I just had the greatest brainwashing that anyone could get. Not only by the generals, but by the diplomatic core."
A presidential candidate...brainwashed?
Romney's words, too. Not Lou's.
Lou only provided the rope. George did the rest.
Needless to say, the comment gained legs and ended up destroying Romney's chances to become dog catcher, let alone president.
The "brainwash" remark is among the most infamous in U.S. political history--certainly in the TV age. The moment ranks up there with Senator Ed Muskie and his crying jag when he defended his wife's honor in 1972, as far as torpedoing a presidential bid before it really got started.
Lou's assistant on the show was his wife, Jackie, who screened the calls and was seen on set frequently.
Lou Gordon was also a newspaper columnist and that's where he got most of his journalistic chops.
As one person described him, "He was fearless. I don't think Lou cared if anyone liked him or not."
Lou passed away in 1977, leaving us far too soon -- not that his targets would agree.
For more info about Lou's show, courtesy of his son's company, click HERE.
Here's the clip with George Romney:
Friday, June 19, 2009
The family members of a murder victim, appearing at the sentencing of the convicted, taking their turns at the microphone, testifying about the impact the crime had on them.
It wasn't all that long ago that such a scene was forbidden in Michigan.
Less than 30 years, in fact.
It's also a judicial history nugget that mandatory sentencing guidelines for certain crimes didn't exist in Michigan.
Also less than 30 years ago.
Vincent Chin didn't die in vain. Says me, at least. I hope his family feels the same way.
It was about 27 years ago when Chin was beaten to death in Highland Park by a laid-off autoworker and his stepfather, just days before Chin's scheduled wedding.
He was buried the day after the planned nuptials.
Chin, a Chinese-American possibly mistaken for being Japanese, was singled out by Ronald Ebens and his stepson Richard Nitz at a bar and blamed for the fact that both stepfather and stepson were out of work.
Chin never had a chance--beaten with a baseball bat and kicked and punched savagely.
Until he died.
The case gained national acclaim, and put Detroit, again, in a bad light to the rest of the nation.
But it wasn't all for naught.
As a result of the Chin case, some changes were made in the state, in the way some legal proceedings took place.
Let's start with the testifying thing.
Ebens and Nitz received $3,000 fines each after pleading guilty and no contest to manslaughter. They didn't spend a day in prison after the trial.
Yes, a ridiculously light sentence. One that Chin's family didn't have a chance to influence.
They weren't allowed to testify at the men's sentencing, and thus weren't able to try to put, in words, the pain they felt from Chin's death--made worse because it came just before he was to get married.
So a state law was passed, allowing the families of victims to testify at sentencing.
Now for the sentence itself.
At the time of the Chin case, judges had way too much latitude in sentencing, in Michigan. So another state law was passed, with the aiding and abetting from the state Supreme Court, establishing mandatory sentencing guidelines.
No more slaps on the wrist for such a violent crime.
Earlier today, the State Bar of Michigan recognized the legal impact of the Chin case during a ceremony at the Chinese Community Center in Madison Heights.
"This dedication brings to our consciousness again the importance of educating the public about prejudice," Sook Wilkinson, chair of the state's Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission told the Detroit Free Press.
A plaque was to be presented at today's ceremony, and supporters hope to install it on Woodward at Nine Mile in Ferndale, where a small group of Asian Americans first met to discuss Chin's killing, according to the Free Press story.
A cynical person might complain, "Why does it always take someone's death to get something done?"
That person would raise a very good question.
But something was done, and that's something, because sometimes even death doesn't result in anything being done.
Vincent Chin was 27 when he was killed, 27 years ago. Today he'd be 54, and perhaps with a grandchild.
That didn't happen, but in death, Chin, indirectly, made things better for a whole bunch of people.
And that's not a bad thing, when taken in context.
Easy for me to say, I know. But not any less true.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
But considering who was occupying the mayor's seat in the city, it was no wonder that something seemingly so innocuous could turn into the proverbial mountain from mole hill.
The water tower above the Detroit Zoo became a big old bone of contention, circa mid-1980s, in the thick of Coleman Young's tenure as Hizzoner.
It was all much ado about nothing, Bob Berg told me years later. With a chuckle, to boot.
Berg was Mayor Young's spokesperson, both during and after Coleman's years in office.
Berg and I got to know each other while I was Programming Director for Barden Cablevision in Detroit. We became friends of sorts. When my father passed away in February 1996, Bob was one of the first to send condolences.
One day, chit-chatting on the phone, I mentioned the water tower flap. Berg, by that time, had started his own public relations company.
First, the chuckle.
Then, "That was a bunch of nothing!" Berg told me, still laughing. "Oh, my goodness. The water tower..."
His voice trailed off.
The Detroit Zoo, geographically located in Royal Oak, is nonetheless part of the Detroit Zoological Society, which included the zoo on Belle Isle--which is squarely located in Detroit proper, obviously.
On the Royal Oak tower was Mayor Young's name--as, you know, mayor of the city whose zoological society's umbrella included the Zoo on Woodward and I-696.
Oh, the uproar!
How DARE Mayor Young splash his name on the tower, which is oh-so-visible to folks traveling east and west on 696!
It's in Royal Oak, after all!
The Detroit Zoo water tower; if you look closely, you can see the end of Dennis Archer's name on the left side of the photo, below the Lion silhouette
If you're too young to remember or simply have forgotten, this was big doings for quite some time. Yet another "us vs. them" thing to deal with when it came to the city and its suburbs.
Mayor Young, of course, tended to bring that mentality out, even from normally sane folks.
Young's name--which was a large, horizontal decal on the tower's face--perturbed people to no end. Non-Detroit residents, that is.
Berg dismissed it when I brought it up.
"The Zoo was part of the society, which was funded and staffed, at the time, by the city," Berg said. "No matter who was mayor, his name would be on that tower."
Ah, but no mayor had put his name on the tower prior to Young.
"It was just something we did, to make the tower look nicer," Berg said.
Berg reminded me that the mayor is the one who hires and fires the zoo director.
Berg got a chuckle out of me bringing up the tower controversy, but he also admitted that it wasn't very funny at the time. It took up a lot of his time, being the mayor's press secretary and all.
"Funny, but nobody complains now," Berg said at the time (circa 1995-96), noting that Mayor Dennis Archer's name was painted on the tower with little to no fanfare.
Bob's former boss, I reminded him, wasn't exactly a kumbaya kind of guy, bringing city residents and the suburbs together in harmony.
To that, he begrudgingly agreed. With disclaimers, of course.
Still defending ole Coleman.
But I still like Bob. Saw him at a media function prior to the Super Bowl in Detroit in 2006. We shared a drink and laughed a bit.
He couldn't pick his boss, I figured.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
While I haven't agreed with him on everything--the freezing out of Sparky Anderson and his cold attitude toward Tiger Stadium, to name two--I nonetheless shudder to think where so many of us would be had he not come to the rescue of not only the Red Wings, but the city itself.
But Mike--you gotta clue me in on a secret.
I think I'll end up in my grave before I understand how Mike Ilitch made so much money and built such a food empire, selling such an inferior product.
Little Caesar's Pizza.
Now, I must admit, some of my distaste for Mike's pizza pies has to do with repetition.
Back in my TV production days, in local cable, we would have to feed our crew on all remote shoots, and do it for about $40. The cheapest and easiest way was with pizza.
Still is, as a matter of fact, when you need to feed large numbers of people in a hurry.
Little Caesar's tended to be conveniently (!) located near just about any venue we found ourselves at on that particular day. So, with $40 and not much time to spare, we'd dispatch a couple folks over to the parlor for some pies.
So I had more than my share of Mike's pies. Believe me.
But it's not just repetition. If anything, because of that repetition, I've tried mightily to like Little Caesar's Pizza. And tried. And tried.
Not gonna happen.
From the sour sauce to the cardboard-like crust to the cheap cheese, Mikey's pies just don't do it for me.
I kinda like the Crazy Bread, but that's about it.
This photo doesn't do justice to how bad Little Caesar's Pizza is -- to me
Yet Ilitch, who last year celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first location in Garden City, has made a mint off the pizza, which has in turn paid for the Red Wings, the Tigers, Fox Theatre, and a bunch of other stuff.
So who am I to say, right?
But I'm still puzzled.
Think about all of the pizza joints that have come and gone in the past half century.
Some have been good, some have been bad. Some have been victims of the economy. Some have been victims of location.
Yet Little Caesar's, with its awful product, has survived, and more.
Oh, how I wish I knew.
Could be, of course, that I'm wrong and everyone else is right.
So, I put it to you: no doubt you've had Mike Ilitch's pizza. It's all they serve at Red Wings and Tigers games, of course.
What do YOU think of it?
Be honest now.
You don't even have to say you dislike it with the fervor that I do. But do you...LIKE it?
Is it the first pizza of choice when you decide to grab a pie?
Clearly, the marketing types have done a marvelous job. I admit that some of the TV commercials of yesteryear were humorous and endearing.
The Hot and Ready campaign--$5 large pepperoni pizzas at the ready for your convenience--has been successful.
But don't you, sooner or later, have to have a good product?
Little Caesar's Pizza--51 years and still going strong.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
After he changes sexes, that is.
"Chaz" is Chastity Bono, the daughter, er, son, of singers Sonny Bono and Cher.
Yes, adorable little Chastity, who used to be brought on stage at the end of some episodes of "The Sonny and Cher Show", has been, for decades, struggling with her sexuality.
So it's time now, apparently, to do something about it.
Chastity will be known as Chaz and is, right now, in the process of sex change.
Chastity (soon to be Chaz) Bono
Of course, Chaz's lack of femininity and brazen homosexuality has been known for years. To some, it was a distinct dichotomy from the cute little girl that Sonny and Cher proudly displayed on camera, and in front of the paparazzi.
So what does it mean?
Just that people are who they are, to themselves, whether or not that conforms to what others feel they should be.
Cute, adorable, little girls with blonde, curly hair are supposed to grow up to be pretty young women. Right? Pretty, young, heterosexual women. Right again?
Chastity, by the time she was a teenager, was already shedding the "cute girl" look for a more asexual one. It wasn't a shocker to discover that she was a lesbian.
A while ago, I wrote about actress Kelly McGillis, who revealed that she was coming out. McGillis was her own anomaly, to some: the attractive ingenue turned lesbian.
So now who can be a lesbian? The cute little girl can't. The attractive ingenue can't.
Only those with "that look" are allowed to be gay without stunning us.
The Ellen DeGenereses of the world. You know, the women that never really looked all that "girly" from the get-go.
I remember, years ago when I was in furniture retail, an old college friend entering the store. With him was another man, maybe in his late-40s. My friend, at that time, would have been in his late-30s.
They came in to buy a sofa -- together.
Turns out my friend had come out long after college. His partner was a big, burly, mustachioed dude.
They laughed at my surprise.
"What, do you think you have to be all feminine and airy to be a gay man?"
The older man explained that he had been married for over 20 years, with a couple grown children. He worked in an auto factory. But he, for years, battled his confusion over his sexual orientation.
Until he finally decided who he was.
Divorce followed soon after.
Remember Dr. Renee Richards? She used to be Dr. Richard Raskind--and a professional tennis player. "He" changed to a "she" and played on the women's tour. Richards is probably, to this day, still the highest-profile sex change subject in modern times.
What does it all mean?
Just that Chastity/Chaz is, finally, officially and physically becoming what he has felt he was, mentally and emotionally, since childhood.
No, it doesn't fit our path.
Cute, little girls don't grow up to be men.
Monday, June 15, 2009
You know, like an undisclosed location--to even him.
Panetta, the CIA Director, is, like so many of us, becoming flummoxed by the former vice president's incessant and, in some cases, incendiary criticism of the Obama Administration's policy re: the war on terror.
Cheney has been, for months now, on a media blitz, telling anyone who'll clip a microphone onto his lapel just how "unsafe" we are with Barack Obama and his minions running the country.
I don't know about you, but the more Cheney does that, the more relieved I am that we put the word "former" before his title.
Panetta finally had heard enough, and he went on the offensive.
Firing some incendiary words of his own, Panetta told The New Yorker magazine that Cheney's actions, words, and tactics suggest that the former (ah!) VP has sinister motives.
"When you read behind it," Panetta said, "it's almost as if he's wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that's dangerous politics."
Of course, what Panetta is accusing Cheney of is veering into a dicey area, too. Those kinds of accusations aren't to be taken lightly.
Still, it's Cheney who's bringing this on himself. He's been like a sharp needle jabbing into people's sides, and it was only a matter of time before someone of high profile was unable to keep his or her thoughts to him or herself.
Panetta was the one who finally erupted.
Panetta couldn't hold his tongue any longer--not that you can blame him
Cheney has said in several interviews that he thinks Obama is making the United States less safe for ordering the closure of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, halting enhanced interrogations of suspected terrorists and reversing other Bush administration initiatives he says helped to prevent attacks on the U.S.
Give Obama credit; he's somehow been able to bite his tongue.
The current vice president, Joe Biden, wouldn't take the bait, either--at least, not fully.
Speaking Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, Biden would only say, "I think Dick Cheney's judgment about how to secure America is faulty. I think our judgment is correct."
But if Panetta is right -- if Cheney truly is hoping for another calamity to befall us just so his legacy can be repaired -- then Cheney automatically falls below Dick Nixon; below Joe McCarthy; below the Rosenbergs.
Dick would be looking up at all of them, and no one should have anything to do with him. Ever.
It's not something easily proven, of course. In fact, it's damn near impossible.
But good for Panetta, for finally verbalizing what so many of us -- in and out of Washington -- have been believing for weeks now: that Dick Cheney won't truly be satisfied, it seems, unless one of two things happens.
a) Obama subscribes to the Bush policies. (not gonna happen); or b) we get hit again.
The cruel irony is that even if the country does indeed become victimized on its own soil again, it still isn't proof, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it wouldn't have happened under Bush's watch, or that it was a direct result of Obama's policies.
I've written it before: I don't know how you quantify safety. I don't know what policies make us more or less "safe." And I surround the word in quotations because I'm not even sure what its meaning is anymore.
What does "safe" mean to you?
I'm not really sure, either, but I'm pretty sure what doesn't make me feel that way.
Dick Cheney and his political wrecking machine pushing buttons in Washington.
I suppose I started feeling safer on January 20th.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
They were designed to be a nationwide rallying cry--a modern-day version of jingoism.
Three letters, that's all.
It was a directive from the White House, disguised with a bunch of rah-rah.
President Jerry Ford, in October 1974, made a speech about the economy and then he got some ideas.
We thought, back in '74, that the auto industry was in trouble. This was 35 years before their house of cards came down completely and the 11th Chapter was invoked by two of the (formerly) Big Three.
No, 1974 was child's play compared to what's happening now.
But we didn't know that in '74. Detroit shed some jobs. Gas prices started to spike. Not only gasoline, but the prices of coffee, bread, meat--you name it--started to inflate.
That word, inflation.
So Jerry Ford makes a speech and gets the idea: what if we encouraged thriftiness and money-consciousness among the masses?
This inflation, Jerry said--it must be whipped.
Whip Inflation Now.
The White House started it, and before long, the buttons and bumper stickers were done up.
Ford declared inflation as "public enemy number one" ten days after he made his economic speech to Congress on October 8, 1974. He asked the American people to come up with ten ideas for how to combat it, and send them to him.
So WIN was born--an appeal for putting money into savings and exhibiting smart spending habits, among other things.
It wasn't received all that well.
Folks immediately began to ridicule the WIN buttons. Some even wore them upside down--so they'd spell NIM--and declaring that NIM stood for "Need Immediate Money" or "No Immediate Miracles."
How little did some think of the WIN campaign?
In his book The Age of Turbulence, Alan Greenspan, as the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, recalled thinking "This is unbelievably stupid" when Whip Inflation Now was first presented in the White House.
We didn't really "whip" inflation back in '74-'75. Not before it whipped us, anyway.
WIN ranked right up there with Nancy Reagan's inglorious campaign against drugs--her advice to "Just Say No."
Well, they tried, anyway. And that's more than you can say for some of the goofballs roaming the Capitol nowadays.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
If you like salad bars, that is. And who doesn't like a salad bar?
Brinker was the chairman emeritus of Brinker International Inc. and was one of the pioneers of casual dining. In 1966, he used $10,000 and a $5,000 loan to launch Steak & Ale, a chain that went bankrupt in 2008, and was also the creator of Bennigan's, which was also a casualty of the economic slowdown.
But Brinker's most famous contribution is the salad bar.
I wonder if he was also the one to invent the sneeze guard.
I also hate to think of how the sneeze guard idea came about.
The salad bar got me to thinking about other restaurant inventions.
Like the Daily Special. Or All-You-Can-Eat.
Or this one: jelly packets.
All hail the jelly packet!
Where would we be as a society if we couldn't choose from strawberry or grape or apple jelly in cute, convenient little vacuum-sealed containers?
It's one of my guilty little pleasures: exploring the jelly packet tree on the table of the restaurant du jour when going out for breakfast.
Why? Because sometimes you get pleasantly surprised.
The usual suspects--the aforementioned flavors, are sure to be found.
But every once in awhile...
Or, the coup de grace: Orange marmalade.
You find an orange marmalade (Smucker's brand, of course), then you've found a joint that's worth returning to, indeed.
Our daughter loves her hot tea. She especially likes it at restaurants. I think she likes the whole presentation--the tiny metal "pitcher" of hot water, the lemon wedge on the saucer.
So we order the tea and it comes adorned with another of Smuckers' vacuum-sealed containers.
Honey, we presumed.
The honey packet looks like the orange marmalade packet, turns out.
But that's how we found out that they carried marmalade.
Seriously, how DO they inject just the right amount of jelly into those little packets?
The helping is perfect. Smooth as a marble table top when you open it, so much so that you almost hate to defile it with your knife.
And to think that it's all done by machine.
It's almost comical, to me, to imagine an army of tens of thousands--heck, probably hundreds of thousands--of empty packets rushing down a conveyor belt contraption, ready to be given a shot of jelly on the way to the vacuum sealer.
Ah, but the finished product is simply wonderful.
By the way, it seems like the Smucker's people have the market mostly cornered on the vacuum-sealed jelly packet industry.
Too bad Norman Brinker didn't patent the salad bar.
Can you imagine the royalties?
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
"Innocent until proven guilty...UNLESS a spouse or child goes missing."
Another child is dead and the mom is getting cross-eyed looks.
Five-year-old Nevaeh Buchanan is, likely, a murder victim. The little girl from Monroe, Mich. went missing on May 24 and a body fitting her age and size was found by some fishermen the other day in the River Raisin.
There hasn't been a confirmation yet, but who else is it?
Jennifer Buchanan, Nevaeh's mother, is a "person of interest" -- at least in the public's eye.
The Reader's Digest version is this: Nevaeh was playing with a friend in an apartment building, and then she was gone. The apartment she was to visit is upstairs from the one she lived in with her mother.
More than a week later, the body was found by the fishermen, not too far from Nevaeh's home.
Trouble is, Jennifer Buchanan was seeing a dude named George Kennedy, a known sex offender. Reports are that Kennedy may have owed some people some money.
THAT doesn't bode well.
Mom says, at one point, that she bade her daughter farewell as she was heading for the stairs. Then, last night on Nancy Grace's TV show, it was pointed out that mom now says she actually saw Nevaeh enter the upstairs apartment.
A discrepancy, which also doesn't bode well.
I must say, though, that after reading Jennifer's version of events, they sounded plausible. Sometimes, you can smell a rat through the newspaper. I didn't get that sense this time.
It seemed like the way Jennifer described it: daughter's going upstairs. Mom figures she's upstairs. Mom realizes she's not when another child knocks on the door and snitches that Nevaeh is outside in the parking lot, on a scooter.
Poor judgment is not a crime, though in some cases you'd like to prosecute it.
The wolves are out.
Why wasn't mom more vigilant in knowing where Nevaeh was, every single second?
It's easy to fire away from the peanut gallery.
But have those who criticize ever had a lapse in judgment in their lives?
I know I have.
I recall many years ago, my wife and daughter (she was probably 9 or so) slept in the bedroom as I shooed away a solicitor on the front porch. He was a young fellow, maybe 20, 21 years old.
He took a few steps, then asked to use my bathroom.
I said yes.
Talk about bad judgment!
He could have emerged from the bathroom with a knife, or a gun, and it wouldn't have been pretty.
But he did his business, thanked me, and left.
I heaved a sigh of relief, after pacing outside the bathroom, kicking myself for letting him into our house so easily.
He could have killed us all.
So I'm not ready to throw the book at Jennifer Buchanan because she was lulled into a sense of security that may have been false.
However, if she did indeed have something to do with Nevaeh's disappearance, then she needs to be punished fully, obviously.
These things tend to come back to the next of kin.
Wives go missing and more often than not, hubby was involved--deeply.
Kids drop off the face and if it's not mom or dad, it's not a stranger, either--usually.
It's no wonder that the police's protocol is to look at the loved ones first, before they look elsewhere. The answers are likely to be found without them having to walk so far as down to the end of the driveway.
I've been fooled before. I've heard statements and explanations of people's actions and whereabouts and thought, "Yeah, that sounds reasonable."
Then I've read, a couple days later, where everything unravels like a wool sweater caught on a nail.
Jennifer Buchanan can be accused of being a rotten, lazy, careless mother.
She won't need an attorney for that, necessarily. No court dates will be held.
Only time will tell if her story will hold water like a bucket, or a sieve.
Monday, June 8, 2009
What did you just say?
Um, a black, female rabbi, why?
Is that the punch line?
Meet Alysa Stanton, who was ordained on June 6 as mainstream Judaism's first-ever black female rabbi. She will become the rabbi at Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, N.C., on Aug. 1.
Stanton, 45, completed seven years of rabbinical training at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
She will become the first non-white rabbi of Congregation Bayt Shalom, which is a 60-family synagogue.
Like so many others before her who've broken color barriers, Stanton chooses not to place the emphasis on her race.
"I'm honored and awed by this achievement," she told Time magazine. "But I am foremost a rabbi who happens to be African-American, not The African-American Rabbi."
That's the way it should be, of course.
And Jackie Robinson was just a big league ballplayer who happened to be black.
Not buying it.
There ought to be a big deal made over any sort of significant bending, whether it's gender-based, race-based, or faith-based.
Stanton hits the mark on all three.
Fitting that it should happen the same year as we inaugurated the first African-American president in history.
From the Time magazine story:
According to Diane Tobin, a demographer with the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research (IJCR), some 20% of American Jewry is now non-Caucasian. While there is no data specifically on black Jews, "a large percentage [of nonwhite Jews] are African American."
Growing up in Ohio, Stanton was attracted initially to Eastern religions and Evangelicalism, until her family moved to a predominantly Jewish suburb of Cleveland.
By her 20s, Stanton had found her home in Judaism.
Despite her noble belief that she's just another rabbi, Stanton concedes that she's not, by appearances alone.
"I definitely don't blend in," she says. "Worldwide, Jews come in every color and hue, but in America, mainstream Judaism is definitely an Anglo demographic."
Read: white as snow.
Oh, and Stanton also happens to be a divorced single mother of a 14-year-old girl.
As if we needed to keep piling on to the list of anomalies that this woman has spawned.
Rabbi Alysa Stanton
Meanwhile, over in Catholicism, the Church is beginning to relax some of its requirements to belong to the clergy, as the supply of priests is dwindling far quicker than they are being replenished.
One of the relaxations is in the area of marriage--as in, priests can now have wives.
The joke gets even better now.
"So a priest comes in with his wife, and he sits down and has a beer with the black female rabbi..."
On second thought, maybe you don't need a punchline, after all.
The demographer Tobin explains why American Jewry--and the same theory can be applied to the Catholic Church--are more open-minded nowadays.
"Due to assimilation and intermarriage, the stability of the American Jewish community has never been more vulnerable," she says. "If we are to survive we must become more welcoming to people and not just send them away."
Thursday, June 4, 2009
It was June 5, 1968, when Kennedy, running for president as Democratic Senator from New York, was gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
He died about 26 hours later in the hospital, never having regained consciousness after being shot in the head by Sirhan Sirhan.
It almost didn't happen that Sirhan even got a crack at RFK.
Kennedy had just won the California primary, and was looking like the front-runner for his party's nomination.
In one of the most often played pieces of film ever, Kennedy is seen wrapping up his victory speech at the podium in one of the ballrooms with the famous words, "And now it's on to Chicago and let's win there."
The crowd, which had gathered for hours waiting for Kennedy's arrival, roared.
Kennedy turns to his right, conducts a brief interview with a radio reporter, but then is ushered back to his left, toward the kitchen and pantry.
Apparently that was deemed to be the best and safest route from the ballroom to wherever he was headed.
You know the rest.
An iconic American image, sadly
Sirhan, a Palestinian angry at Kennedy's support of Israel, finagled his way through the tightly-bunched crowd in the kitchen, a pistol in his hand.
He got within inches of RFK, shouted, "Kennedy, you son of a bitch!" and fired.
It's one of the truest axioms you'll ever come across: Hindsight is 20/20.
Oh, if Kennedy was only allowed to go in the direction he initially took after moving away from the podium's microphone.
He likely would have won the Democratic nomination, and eventually the presidential election over Dick Nixon.
As it was, incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey darn near beat Nixon, and Humphrey wasn't deemed as strong a candidate as RFK.
How would history have changed had Kennedy won in '68?
College theses have been written trying to answer that question. So far be it for me to answer it here.
But it's safe to say that RFK would have ended the Vietnam War much sooner than it did, and with the image of his brother's shortened presidency still fresh in people's minds, there would have been a feeling of "unfinished business" that very well could have carried RFK on to re-election in 1972.
Instead, we had five-and-a-half years of Nixon, with the Watergate Scandal popping up like a boil.
And Spiro Agnew, the only vice president in history to resign.
An eight-year RFK run would have changed the political landscape, though it's unclear just how.
Hey, maybe there's no Ronald Reagan presidency, for example.
The perfect storm of events that swept Jimmy Carter out of office might not have existed.
One of the most ironic things was barked out that night in 1968, as Kennedy lay mortally wounded on the floor of the Ambassador ballroom kitchen.
As several people wrestled with Sirhan, trying to get the gun away from him (he fired all six rounds before all was said and done), there was also fear for the assassin's safety.
"We don't want another Oswald!" someone is heard yelling on the audio recording of the mayhem, referring to how John Kennedy's killer was subsequently offed himself.
Well, no, I guess we didn't want that.
But we didn't want another JFK, either.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I missed it, and, truthfully, I'll probably miss a whole lot more.
I don't watch "Tonight" anymore. Of course, I don't watch much TV, period, anymore, but "Tonight" was a favorite of mine.
This isn't to disrespect Conan--who I actually like--or Jay Leno (who I kinda like, too).
But come on--is "Tonight" really "Tonight" if Johnny Carson isn't hosting it?
On October 1, 1962, some folks were asking much the same question, only substituting Jack Paar's name where I placed Johnny's. Or Steve Allen's, depending on your preference.
Johnny stayed some 30 years, and I'd say he pretty much silenced his critics.
Johnny didn't walk off the show, like Paar did, for example.
Jack was upset at the network's censoring of him, and decided he'd had enough. On the set. Live, while the show was going on.
A stupefied Hugh Downs, Paar's announcer, finished the show, no doubt horrified.
Paar returned several months later, with the famous opening line: "As I was saying..."
It ended up being the title of Paar's autobiography.
A short while ago, I wrote about how much I miss the comedic actor Peter Sellers.
I miss Johnny Carson even more.
But Jay Leno carried the torch for 17 years, and that's not bad.
If it doesn't seem that long to you, I understand. Time does fly. But it's true.
Perhaps nothing was more cringe-inducing in television history than when Chevy Chase gave late night TV a go on Fox in 1993.
Almost from the get-go--and I'm talking the opening minutes--you knew that ole Chevy was out of his element.
He had no discernible interview skills. He didn't seem comfortable sitting behind a desk, period--except to do his knock-off of Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update."
They tried to help Chevy out, Fox did, by parading some of his old movie co-stars out as guests on opening week.
Goldie Hawn, for one.
Bless her heart. You could tell that she wanted Chevy--with whom she starred in two movies--to succeed in the worst way. But it just wasn't happening.
It reminds me of a twist on an old joke.
"I wanted to host a late night TV show in the worst way--and I did!"
The Hawn "interview" was nothing more than Chevy reminiscing with Goldie, as if they were sitting alone having a drink.
He seemed to forget that tens of millions of eyeballs were watching.
It was painful to watch.
Chevy's show got the broom after only a few weeks. Fox had spent most of the summer hyping the show, actually believing that Chase could put a dent into Dave Letterman's numbers over at CBS.
But the experiment was a total, unmitigated disaster. A complete failure.
Fox's ad campaign aimed to mock Letterman's gap-toothed grin, but Dave had the last laugh--by far
Chase, I remember, wasn't totally humbled. In fact, he was a little ticked off at the Fox network folks.
"They put me in a theater," Chase said about the show's set being in Los Angeles's Aquarius Theater, which was renamed the Chevy Chase Theater not long before the show debuted. "I'm not a 'theater' kind of performer. So that was uncomfortable, from the beginning.'"
I hear you, Chevy, but I think no matter where they put you, I think you would have failed.
Not that it was totally his fault. The Fox people tried putting a square peg in a round hole, and in that instance, you don't blame the peg.
Then there was Magic Johnson's try, which is a whole other blog post.
Johnny Carson was hardly a household name when he took over "Tonight" in 1962. Chase and Magic, however, were, when they tried their hands at late night TV hosting.
Just goes to show you, eh?
As Paar would have said, "I kid you not."
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Jim Blanchard has me to blame for his 1990 gubernatorial election loss. I'm guilty as charged.
I put the jinx on first, and not only Blanchard, but a ton of other Michiganders would probably like to have five minutes with me as a result.
I couldn't help it, judge. The awkward silence was just too much for me to bear.
I sat with John Engler, circa May 1990, and since we didn't know each other and we were alone briefly, it was tantamount to being stuck in an elevator together.
So I spoke up.
"So, it would appear as if you have a bit of a popularity issue," I said, almost wishing I hadn't.
For I had no idea how Engler would take such a churlish remark.
Engler and I spent some quiet moments in the green room--read: waiting room--of the cable TV station I worked at in Taylor.
Engler was the Republican rube, or so I thought, from Mount Pleasant who was being thrown to the wolves in running against incumbent Democrat Jim Blanchard for the governorship of Michigan.
Blanchard--this is before term limits--was about to complete his second four-year term as governor. By all accounts, he was a fairly popular governor. Not as popular, maybe, as his predecessor, Bill Milliken, but certainly not a bum that everyone wanted thrown out of office, either.
Fortunately for me, Engler took my glib comment graciously.
"Well," he smiled, " I hope to change that before long."
Engler was about to appear on our public affairs show, "Open Lines", and earlier that day we had gone out with a camera crew and just asked random people one simple question.
"Do you know who John Engler is?"
The results weren't very impressive. For Engler, that is.
I don't recall the actual numbers, but it was probably somewhere near 25 percent who knew Engler by name, let alone that he was running for governor.
Engler, at the time, was the Senate Majority Leader in Lansing. Had been since 1984. Yet that job didn't seem to sink in with the Downriver folks we nabbed with our camera and microphone that spring day in 1990.
As if my gentle ribbing off the air wasn't enough, our host, Joey Hudson, served up some more.
We devoted an entire segment to our "man on the street" endeavor.
Joey, looking like the cat who swallowed the canary, told John Engler to sit tight while we rolled some videotape.
For three minutes, I watched Engler, from my director's chair, squirm a bit as we played the tape, with one person after another confessing to not knowing who the hell he was.
Then Joey added an eerily similar comment to mine, once we were back in the studio. Again with the cat-swallow-canary look.
"You have a serious identification problem, John."
Engler took it in stride. There were still about six months before the election, after all.
Blanchard led in the polls all summer, sometimes quite handily.
The lead dwindled a bit after Labor Day, but few thought that the 42-year-old Engler could overcome it.
I remember waking up the day after the election and being stunned: John Engler was the new governor-elect of Michigan.
He had overcome the "popularity problem" that I chided him about, after all.
I was no fan of Engler's, not at all, but I do admire the way he came back against Jim Blanchard, when no one really thought it was possible.
That'll teach me to break an awkward silence.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Her lover, John Kennedy, would be 92.
It's fascinating, to me, to imagine iconic figures at advanced ages.
Can you picture a 74-year-old Elvis Presley?
Ole Pelvis Elvis, at 74?
It comes to mind because, word is, new photos of Marilyn have surfaced, never before published.
But it's not as juicy as it sounds. Apparently the pics were taken before she was a megastar, and show her in a very wholesome light.
The shoot dates back to 1950 and was conducted by photographer Ed Clark of Life magazine.
"She hasn't really exploded as a star, yet she was on the brink of something big," says Dawnie Walton, deputy editor at Life.com, a Web site harboring more than 7 million Life magazine photographs. The site was launched in March.
Marilyn was something else, alright, but I still prefer Jayne Mansfield, if you're talking va-va-voom blondes who died prematurely.
Two myths: 1) Marilyn was murdered; 2) Jayne was decapitated.
I know, not the most pleasant topic du jour, but there you have it.
Monroe, the conspiracy wackos suggest, was silenced to keep her from revealing meaty details of an affair with Bobby Kennedy, among other things.
So they (whomever "they" was) broke into her house, and drugged her. Some say via a rectal suppository.
I don't make this stuff up, folks.
It is fact, though, that MM spoke to RFK not long before she died.
That was all that was needed to get the conspiracy wackos fired up.
Monroe (top) and Mansfield: Who's your pick?
As for Mansfield, she died in a horrific car wreck in Louisiana in 1967.
An infamous photo was snapped at the scene and published in Kenneth Anger's wonderful book, Hollywood Babylon.
In the photo, some blonde tresses can be seen. Because of the circumstances of the accident--Mansfield was in the passenger's seat when the car rear-ended a pesticide truck, shearing off the car's roof--the sight of the hair was deemed to be confirmation of her beheading.
Only, the "hair" was a wig, and Mansfield's death wasn't quite that gruesome. Not that it was pleasant.
She suffered from avulsion, which is a sort of scalping.
But not decapitated.
The actress Mariska Hargitay, Mansfield's daughter, was a toddler at the time of the crash, and was, indeed, in the backseat of the car at the time of the accident.
Monroe was 36 at the time of her death, Mansfield 34.
I preferred Jayne over Marilyn, because Jayne just seemed prettier to me, frankly.
Jayne would be 75, by the way. Wonder if she'd still be yummier than the 83-year-old Marilyn.
Mae West made it to 87 before passing away in 1980.
She tried mightily, but age kicked her once-shapely rear end.
It tends to do that, eh?
Oh, and Mae was a woman.
Another urban myth: Mae was really a man.
If that was the case, W.C. Fields would have kicked her/his ass. W.C. didn't care much for Mae, and vice-versa.
They would have taken it outside, if the fight was man-to-man, don't ya think?