Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Enemy Within

With a coach like Gerard Kemkers, who needs competition?

By now you may have heard of poor speedskater Sven Kramer of Holland, whose gold medal was torpedoed by his own coach, Kemkers.

Kemkers, who admitted later that he had been momentarily distracted, nonetheless barked out an order to his skater late in his 10K meter race to change lanes, a gaffe that caused an illegal move by Kramer and thus disqualifying the young man.

Kemkers, distraught, tried to comfort Kramer immediately after the race but the skater angrily brushed him off, making wild arm gestures and slamming his glasses to the ice.

Kemkers is lucky that Kramer didn't blend him into Hollandaise sauce.

"I was on my way to making the right decision," Kramer said later. "Right before the corner, I changed my decision. I changed my decision on the advice of my [coach]."

Coach Kemkers (left) tries to console the destroyed speedskater Kramer

Kemkers was distraught afterward. "My world collapsed," he told Dutch reporters. "This is the worst moment of my career. Sven was right. I was wrong."

The worst moment of HIS career?

Kramer won't want to hear it, but it's stories like this that make the Olympic Games so compelling. Every Olympiad, we are regaled with stories of triumph, tragedy, and the overcoming of personal hurdles and bad odds.

Lee Seung-Hoon of South Korea finished second to Kramer, some six seconds back. But thanks to the DQ, Lee became the gold medalist.

That makes two victims, as far as I'm concerned. There's Kramer, of course, and there's Lee, who surely can't look at his gold medal without feeling like it's tainted. Who wants to "win" that way?

Kramer, the next day, had simmered down and accepted his fate. He said that his performance might have been the best 10K he's ever skated, but that there's pretty much nothing that can be done now.

Nothing, except for making a voodoo doll of Kemkers and poking it on a daily basis.

That might help a little bit.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Warren Conned

It's been said that the only thing that could survive a nuclear holocaust is the cockroach.

That, and the Warren Consolidated Schools.

I suspect that Warren Con, as it's so aptly called for short, would steadfastly refuse to shutter its doors even as nuclear winter rained down and the air was as toxic as a Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck lunch.

Over 420 school districts said "forget it" this morning, as a winter storm bulled its way through the metro Detroit area overnight and throughout much of the day today. Big districts, little districts, and the ones in between--they all decided to live to teach another day.

Not Warren Con.

They've pulled this nonsense before, and as you've guessed by now I have a child in that district.

For whatever reason--maybe a curious, strange desire to be known as the District Least Likely to Close for the Day--Warren Con has been stubborn in the face of snowstorms, extreme cold, and ice. They're more bullheaded than the U.S. Mail in that regard.

But this isn't a service that's being delivered to your mailbox under duress; this is the ridiculous, ham-handed shoe-horning of kids and staff and parents onto roads that all the "Weather Authorities" are pleading for us to avoid.

Districts who closed today no doubt did so largely because of the day's forecast, which called for ongoing snow beyond just the morning drive/rush to work and school. They reasoned, smartly, that to stay open would only cause headaches later in the day. The only thing worse than making everyone navigate treacherous roads once is to make them do it twice.

I saw some districts on the "closed" list today who hardly ever take closing lightly. It was that kind of snow, that kind of forecast. But no one takes closing as hard as Warren Con. They make mules look open-minded.

I don't know what gratification there is in being "the district that didn't close when 420+ of them did." Are they looking for a gold star on their forehead from the Department of Education in Lansing?

There are several snow days budgeted per year, per district. After those are used, extra days are tacked onto the end of the year. Warren Con has used one so far--and that's likely because it came on what was scheduled to be a Count Day, back on February 10. Count Day is when the schools officially count their enrollment, which plays a big role in getting dollars.

Count Day would have been a disaster, had Warren Con held school that day. So they closed.

They didn't do it for the kids, believe me.

There might have been other districts in Metro Detroit who stayed open today, though you'd be hard-pressed to find one. The list of closings was as exhaustive as I've ever seen.

But whoever those open districts are, they can't compare to Warren Con, the 24-hour diner of school districts.

You know what else Warren Con has in common with the always-open diner?

They both cause heartburn.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from May 7, 2009

He Hart My Mug

I wonder what Bill Hart did with my coffee mug.

All this talk of Detroit politics, in the glow of the special mayoral election held on Tuesday because of Kwame Kilpatrick's ousting, got me to thinking of other disgraced high profile types the city has known.

I sat across from Police Chief William Hart in October, 1989, and the man seemed awfully stiff, I recall.

Hart was the first African-American police chief in Detroit, and I was getting ready to interview him on a local cable TV show I hosted called Innerview. Note the play on words. Boy, I was clever back in the day!

The show was biographical, and the cameras were all trained on the guest. We did it in an artsy-fartsy way, a format I copycatted from an old A&E show, the title of which escapes me.

The viewer saw nothing but the guest for 30 minutes, in an array of dissolves and various camera angles and points of focus: hand gestures, eyes, slow pans, etc. My face only flashed on the screen during the intro and outro.

The guest list was populated with local celebs, political figures, civic leaders, etc. We couldn't pay anyone to show up, so anyone who appeared did it from the goodness of their heart.

Or, in the chief's case, the goodness of his Hart.

We couldn't pay, but the chief wanted compensation, apparently. More on that in a moment.

But the interview itself was a little rough, only because Hart seemed awfully tight, as if I was interrogating him rather than chatting with him. It wasn't until toward the end of our half hour that he began to loosen up a bit. More on THAT in a moment, too.

After the interview, one of the chief's minions sidled up to me.

"The chief wants to know if he can have that coffee mug," the aide said to me, pointing to a mug bearing the logo of our public access sister station, which the chief had drank water from in the Green Room.

"Sure," I shrugged. The aide and the chief were armed, after all. I was pretty sure we had more of those mugs.

That was the chief's compensation, then--a TV-34 coffee mug.

So Bill Hart took the mug, thanked me for the chat, and bid me farewell.

The next morning, the news broke in all the papers and all over television.

Bill Hart was in trouble. Big trouble.

At issue was a police fund set aside for fighting the drug war in Detroit.

Hart was being accused of dipping his hand in the cookie jar and extracting funds, here and there.

To the tune of over $2 million.

The money Hart embezzled was used for blatantly personal use: to fix up a cottage in Canada. To wine and dine some female lovelies--not his wife. To take some trips. Maybe to have some "walking around cash."


Mayor Coleman Young (right) announces the appointment of William Hart as Detroit's police chief in 1976

So THAT'S why the chief was so stiff and uncomfortable!

Or so I convinced myself.

The interview with Hart had been scheduled a few weeks in advance, so I'm sure it was simple coincidence that it happened the day before the story broke of the investigation into his actions.

But he no doubt knew something might be up.

Hart was later indicted and eventually convicted. The final tally on the dough he stole from city coffers was around $2.6 million.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, in 1992. He was released in 1999.

Chief Hart died in 2003, at age 79. To his dying day, he maintained his innocence.

Even after his conviction, Mayor Coleman Young supported his disgraced chief.

"Bill Hart was a good cop," Young said. "People ought to remember that."

Bill Hart may have been a good cop, but he sure screwed up.

I wonder if he used our mug to rattle against the bars in his prison cell.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Good Bayh, Good Riddance

It was a scene that’s been played out over and over again: beleaguered politico surrounded by wife and family, as he delivers his news of succumbing.

It could have been a resignation in shame, a concession speech, a clumsy explanation for some sort of misdeed. Regardless, there the family is, providing support, no matter how false (in some instances).

I wonder what life lesson soon-to-be former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh has just taught his kids, who were flanking him the other day as he threw his hands up and gave up on Congress.

If the going gets tough, kids, then just quit.

Don’t have any convictions, my children—just get out of the kitchen at the first sign of warmth.

If Evan Bayh was so sick of the gridlock in Washington—and I don’t blame him for being frustrated—then he should have sucked it up and stayed and tried to be part of a solution.

Instead, he walked away and his timing was awful—not even giving any fellow Democrats much of a chance to file, since he quit the day before the signatures were due to the clerk’s office.

Now, the Dems in Indiana might not be able to hold a primary for Bayh’s seat, which is now up for grabs this November. Though the head of the party in that state vows there WILL be a candidate, somehow, some way, and not only that, the mystery candidate will be victorious nine months from now.

Analysts say the timing of Bayh’s decision comes not as a coincidence; it was his last dig at a party with which he’s clashed. Bayh happens to be one of the more conservative Democrats you’ll ever see, which isn’t terribly surprising, considering the state from which he comes.

Whether that’s true or not—Bayh’s ulterior motive—it doesn’t change the fact that he clearly lacks the fortitude and the gumption to be a difference maker, so good riddance to him.

You think he’s the first and only member of Congress who doesn’t like Congress?

“I love serving the people of Indiana,” Bayh said as his wife stood nearby and had that Stepford look about her. “But I don’t love Congress.”

Yeah, that’s a good way to change things: run away.

If Bayh truly loved serving his people, he would have stayed a Senator—he was almost sure to win re-election this year—and fought to change that with which he’s frustrated. He’s only served two six-year terms, and not all that long with his party in the majority.

But now he’s getting out, fed up with the machinations of our Legislative branch of government. On the surface that may seem admirable and taking the high road; but if you scratch a bit, you’ll see that it’s simply another act of the meek, the milk toast.

Maybe Bayh has something else lined up, not that he HAS to work right away. Maybe this is it for him in politics. He used to be governor, so maybe he’ll return to the state level.

Regardless, at the moment he’s simply a quitter; a man who lacks the temerity and the perseverance to fix something that someone of his talents could certainly help fix. He’s a waste—an unrealized asset.

Bayh doesn’t like the way the sausage is made and so he’s fleeing the factory.

He may love serving the people of Indiana, as he said, but clearly not as much as he loves serving himself.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from September 9, 2009

GPS = Getting Pretty Silly

Where is America going that we need so many directions?

GPS systems/devices are all the rage. Smart-as-whips gizmos that tell us when to turn left or right, how far it is to our destination, and even suggesting possible shortcuts.

It's becoming a status symbol of the 21st century---whether or not you have one of these electronic navigators in your vehicle. I've seen grown men bursting at the seams about their GPS systems.

Where is everyone going, that they don't know how to get there?

I don't know about you, but I pretty much always know where everything is, when it comes to where I venture on a normal basis.

The Target. The mall. The grocery store. The ballpark, on occasion. My mother's house. The movie theater.

McDonald's. The local Thai joints. Suzy's Party Store. CVS. The race track, on occasion.

Another mall. A friend's house. The pharmacy for our dog's meds. The 7-Eleven.

Yeah, I can make it to all these places---and more!!---without the computer riding shotgun.

So where is everyone going?

There's also something called Mapquest or Google Maps or the like, if I'm going somewhere for the first time. A few mouse clicks, a little typing, then hit "PRINT" and I have my GPS on paper.

Those sites are based on something called maps, which used to be found in every car's glove compartment.

Sometimes I don't even need the Internet. Just give me some cross streets and I'm usually good to go.

"North of Big Beaver, west of Coolidge."

Got it; see you there!

I know there are plenty of folks who drive as part of their job. And they drive A LOT. Understood. But seems to me that those are the people who should REALLY know their way around the tri-county area, like a cab driver.

Yet the cars being made today come equipped with dashboards that look like an array of airplane instruments---not the least of which are these GPS things.

I don't even like it when a person barks out directions to me while I'm driving. Makes me nervous. I can't imagine a face-less, computer-generated voice doing it.

I just don't know where everyone is going. It's like America is heading everywhere for the very first time.

Now, if they come out with a GPS system that can tell me whether I should use the drive-thru lane or go inside, come talk to me.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

They're Baaack

Sanders is coming back, after all.

No, Lions fans, I don't mean Barry.

Sanders Candy is being reanimated, thanks to the help of Morley Brands.

"Fundraising really took a hit in the 1980s and '90s," Morley Brands President Ron Rapson tells about the fetish schools, Boy Scout troops, and other organizations had for hawking Morley candies to beleaguered friends and relatives. "It got to the point where it wasn't really a money maker. So we decided to go back to what we did best---making chocolates.

"And we hooked up with another great company---Sanders," Rapson adds.

Fred Sanders' company hit the market in Detroit in 1875, offering everything from candy to milk shakes to ice cream. In its heyday---from the 1950s through the '70s, you could hardly drive more than a few miles in metro Detroit without running into a joint that sold Sanders products, or that had a genuine soda jerk emphasizing Sanders goodies.

But about 20 years ago, Sanders started falling off the map.

That's about to change.

Rapson now also holds the title of President of Sanders Candy, as Morley decided to take over the brand. And they haven't taken that responsibility lightly, according to Brian Jefferson, Majority Partner of Sanders Candy.

"We looked at all the different logos Sanders has had over the past 130-plus years," Jefferson says. "I believe we came up with nine different ones. And we picked one from the 1920s that we feel best captures the vision that Fred Sanders had."

When even the logo is selected carefully, you know that this isn't the typical buying out of another company.

"It's a labor of love," Jefferson says. "We have a sense of responsibility, not only to our workers, but to the community, in bringing back this brand."

For those worried that Morley will take the Sanders product and brand and run roughshod over it, fret not, according to Rapson.

"You have to be careful. You want to keep these old brands going, but you have to tweak them and continuously improve them so that you can bring them to new markets and new customers," Rapson says.

"Because you want the new customers to experience what we have enjoyed and experienced in Detroit for all these decades."

I'll eat to that.

For more info about Sanders candy, visit

Monday, February 8, 2010

No Day Like a Snow Day

As a child/youngster/youth, if there was anything better than finding out school was canceled, then it was most likely something you'll never own up to publicly.

There might be a "snow day" on Wednesday---and not just for the kids. Some of the big people might get the day off, too.

It's nothing like what's been going on along the Mid-Atlantic Seaboard, which has been pelted relentlessly since late last week, but the folks who should know are calling for anywhere between six and ten inches of the white stuff to cover us between Tuesday and Wednesday.

You remember the moment, I'm sure---the precise moment when you heard that school was called off for that day.

It was early, early morning---likely before 7:30---and you begrudgingly got ready for school despite the blizzardy conditions outside. Grumbling, you pulled on your clothes and trudged with a snarl to the kitchen for breakfast. Or, you were still in bed, stubbornly refusing to even consider going to school in such weather.

Then, the moment.

Maybe it came from mom, or a brother, or a sister. Or from the television, or the radio.

I recall watching anxiously as the news people flashed the names of the school districts who were cashiering the day's learning thanks to the dicey roads.

Then I'd see it: Livonia Public Schools.

I tell you, there was nothing more exhilirating.

The tempting thing was to go back to bed, except that you were so jacked, so pumped, sleep was impossible. Sometimes mom and dad had to go to work anyway, leaving you behind. Being an only child, I got the house to myself because mom usually had to traipse to work.

The hardest decision was determining what to do, with an entire day ahead of you. TV, of course, was on the docket. Eating, too. But there was no Internet back then---we're talking the 1970s, folks.

A snow day was something to be treasured, because normally there wasn't more than one or two a year. The day itself was grand, but nothing could top the moment when you got the news.

You all know what I mean.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from April 2, 2009

The Accidental President

Two angry broads took shots at President Ford within three weeks of each other.

How's that for a lede to a blog entry?

Well, anyway, the angry broads missed. Maybe because Ford stumbled at just the right time.

Jerry Ford did that a lot -- stumbled, if those old enough can remember.

Jerry slipped coming down the stairs of a plane. He tripped over his own feet on a tarmac, holding an umbrella -- also near a plane. He'd play golf and that became hazardous to OTHER people's health -- if you were within hook or shank range. He tried skiing and you can imagine what happened -- another "oopsy daisy."

So it was no wonder that the slapstick comedian Chevy Chase began impersonating Jerry Ford in various Saturday Night Live sketches. Chase looked nothing like Ford, which even added to the hilarity. All that mattered was that he act like Ford, which fit Chevy's propensity for taking pratfalls like a glove.

But back to the angry broads.

Within a few weeks of each other in September 1975, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore (why do assassins and serial killers always have three names?) pulled pistols from their handbags or wherever, took aim at President Ford, and fired.

Or tried to fire, in Fromme's case.

It was in Sacramento, Calif., and Fromme, then 27, purportedly wanted to plead with Ford about the fate of the California redwood trees. Instead, she came armed with a Colt .45 automatic pistol. But the firing chamber was empty. She was immediately restrained by Secret Service agents. She later told authorities that she purposely removed the gun's cartridge prior to showing up to see Ford. Ohhhh-kay.

Seventeen days later, also in California (San Francisco), it was Moore's turn. Standing just 40 feet away from Ford as he emerged from a hotel, Moore pulled the trigger on her .38 revolver. But a bystander, a man named Oliver Sipple, saw Moore's gun-toting hand a fraction of a second in time and shoved at it, causing Moore's shot to go way off course, ricocheting off the hotel's entrance.

Two angry broads, two guns. Within seventeen days of each other. Both in California. All that anger directed at him, and Jerry Ford didn't even go looking for the job to begin with!

Jerry Ford, in typical repose

Ford was the Accidental President. And not just in terms of his clumsiness.

He was in the House of Representatives, a Republican from Michigan, minding his own business when President Nixon tabbed him to replace the disgraced Spiro Agnew, who resigned his vice presidency. Ford was reluctant, but said fine.

A little more than a year later, Nixon himself quit and just like that, Ford became president, without so much as winning one state caucus.

Fitting and proper, I suppose, that the clumsy Ford would stumble upon the presidency.

Fromme was one of Charlie Manson's girls. Why she deliberately sabotaged herself and showed up with a gun that wasn't going to fire is beyond me. Of course, she was a Manson girl, so that should explain it. While in jail, Fromme attacked another prisoner with the claw of a hammer. She's still behind bars at age 60, though she can be released on parole this August.

Moore was a political radical and a one-time FBI informant. She was released from prison on parole on December 31, 2007 at the age of 77. She served 32 years.

Sara Jane Moore: the second murderous broad angry at Ford in Sept. '75

Here's what she said at her sentencing hearing in 1975 about taking a potshot at Ford: "Am I sorry I tried? Yes and no. Yes, because it accomplished little except to throw away the rest of my life. And, no, I'm not sorry I tried, because at the time it seemed a correct expression of my anger."

Ladies, you gotta be pretty mad at a guy to not be sorry that you tried to kill him, don't ya?

Poor Jerry Ford. Only twice in American history has a woman tried to kill the president. And both of them tried to kill our man from Michigan, Jerry Ford. The Accidental President, who would have found it fine and dandy to stay in the U.S. House.

Of course, U-M men always did find the going rough in California. Just ask all the football teams.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ain't it Funny

"60 Minutes" was chatting up The Great One---and I don't mean Wayne Gretzky---and they had a simple yet probing question.

This was Jackie Gleason, of course---the original Great One, and the question came as he relaxed with the ubiquitous drink nearby.

"Why do you suppose," the query began, "The Honeymooners is still so popular, after all these years?"

Gleason smirked beneath that pencil-thin mustache of his.

"Why? Because it's FUNNY."

Well said.

Gleason is another of those entertainers that no mother has been able to spawn since he was a part-owner of the television airwaves back in the 1950s. And he's right; The Honeymooners has stood the test of time because it was, as Gleason said, funny. As hell.

And to think that most of the action took place on a sound stage so small that the camera barely had to pan left or right during any given episode.

Gleason and Audrey Meadows and Art Carney performed in a phone booth, pretty much, and they made raucous fun. To this day, I get a certain thrill when I see The Honeymooners pop up on the tube.

Gleason as beleaguered---and funny---Ralph Kramden

Legend has it that Gleason, when he did his self-named TV show in New York, would leave the studio during the credits---the show was done live---and walk across the street to a bar for a nightcap. The story goes that sometimes a patron at the bar might look up at the TV above the bar, see the credits rolling, and look to his right and see The Great One, well into his first Scotch.

Gleason might have been the only entertainer to own his own train.

Years after closing the door on his television career, Gleason settled in Miami. And he bought a train and traveled around the country---clearly not in a hurry to get wherever he was going.

"60 Minutes" wanted to know about the train, too. And again they asked a silly question, as it turned out.

"Was there a bar on the train?" they wanted to know.

Gleason was incredulous.

"Was there a BAR on the train? The whole TRAIN was a bar!"

Why bring up Gleason? We finally broke out a Christmas present the other night---an entire season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on DVD---the fifth season, specifically.

Moore's show still appeals now largely because of Jackie Gleason's logic: Because it's funny.

They're all still with us---with the exception of Ted Knight---and that's nice to know, too. Even Betty White, over 80 years old, is still doing it. She was marvelous in Sandra Bullock's The Proposal last year.

From Mary Richards always calling her boss "Mr. Grant" to Knight's brilliant portrayal of dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks anchorman Ted Baxter, to the razor-edged tongue of Murray Slaughter, The MTM Show is just as funny now as it was in the early-to-mid-1970s.

I don't remember what episode in the series it was, but one of the funniest moments was when Mary was so angry at "Mr. Grant" that she said, "You don't even deserve to be called 'Mr. Grant.' You're....LOU!!"

I bet Jackie Gleason would drink to that. He did to everything else.