Monday, March 29, 2010

The Scoundrel Jesse James

Anyone named Jesse James is destined to be a rat sooner or later, right?

James, the soon-to-be ex-husband of actress Sandra Bullock, has a notorious namesake, of course---the outlaw Jesse James who was a menace to society in the 1870s and until his killing in 1882.

Today's James just might land on the public's 10 Most Wanted list, because no one cheats on America's sweetheart and gets away with it.

That's how Bullock is sometimes billed, and with good reason. We don't have too many great American actresses anymore. But Bullock and Reese Witherspoon, though there's an age gap there, are sweetie pies of the big screen.

I feel bad for Sandy. News of husband Jesse's apparent infidelity has come on the heels of the greatest year of her acting career. She was sky high, then this.

The word is that she's back in California, having flown from a home in Texas, to confront her dirty rotten scoundrel husband.

Divorce is imminent, sources say.

The details are bound to get worse, as they almost always do. Rare is the one-time philanderer; where there's smoke, there's fire, and where there's fire, there's usually a few others smoldering, too.

James wasn't a bad boy just once. He has humiliated Sandy on numerous occasions, according to the buzz.

Who, with any degree of sanity, cheats on Sandra Bullock?

What more did Jesse James want? All Sandy is, is gorgeous, smart, funny, talented, and by all accounts, a good wife.

Dirty rotten scoundrel, indeed!

Bullock and James in happier times, not that you could tell by the look on Jesse's face

Whenever something like this happens, it only serves to underline the feats of those in Hollywood who've managed to stay hitched for decades.

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller. Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin. To name a few.

But there are ONLY a few.

Is the divorce rate higher among celebrity couples versus Mr. and Mrs. Jane Doe?

I don't have hard figures, but I imagine the answer is yes. When the question is, is infidelity higher, the answer is a resounding yes.

Leading separate lives doesn't help; when Bullock is off making movies---and she's made a lot of them lately---James isn't always with her, of course. The cat is away a lot in Hollywood, and the town is filled with horny little mice.

The only saving grace is that the cheatee finds great sympathy in the court of public opinion. At least there's that. Bullock was already a fan favorite; that will only be more so as more details emerge about James and what he did to her.

The humiliation of being cheated on is bad enough when just the victim knows about it. Imagine how it is when the whole world is in on it.

Tiger Woods cheats on his model wife Elin Nordregen. Jesse James cheats on adorable, talented Sandra Bullock. Michael Douglas cheated on beautiful Anne Archer in "Fatal Attraction."

Yeah, I know the last one is fictitious, but the line gets blurred a lot when it comes to behavior in Hollywood.

Jesse James didn't have enough by having Sandra Bullock.

Talk about being hard to please.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday's Favs

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

from March 18, 2009

VJ Days

I'm 45, which means I'm old enough to remember when MTV played music videos. VH-1, too.

Means I know what a VJ is, and that Don Imus and Rosie O'Donnell were once colleagues at VH-1.

I haven't watched MTV in years, maybe going on decades. VH-1 hasn't exactly been part of my viewing list, either. There was a brief spike in my VH-1 viewership when the show "Pop-Up Video" debuted, because I thought that concept was as cool as hell. But aside from that, meh.

It didn't used to be that way.

I was smitten with MTV in the early-1980s, shortly after it burst onto the scene. Radio on TV!

That's basically what it was. Only you could SEE the on-air talent, instead of having to imagine what they looked like. Some of the names, I'm sure, might resonate with some of you. Nina Blackwood. Alan Hunter. Mark Goodman. JJ Jackson. Martha Quinn.

They were young-ish -- late-20s, early-30s -- and they were basically disc jockeys on TV. Hence the brand new moniker of VJ -- video jockey.

It was remarkably simpler back then, MTV was.

Original MTV jocks (from left) Jackson; Blackwood; Goodman; Quinn; and Hunter

You'd flick it on, courtesy your local cable company, and the odds were good that one of two things would be on the screen: a music video, or a VJ -- TALKING about music videos. Or maybe pumping an artist's latest tour, with dates and venues.

You could keep MTV on, in the background, and check in on it whenever you heard a favorite song of the day. Maybe you were just a fan of Nina's, and when you heard her husky voice you'd stop whatever you were doing and poke your head into the TV room to see what she had to say. Or to just look at her. Not that I would know anything about that.

It was magnificently simple, looking back on it. MTV -- music videos with some VJs sprinkled in.

Then there was VH-1.

I was thinking about all of this thanks to the news of Don Imus's cancer diagnosis, which he revealed publicly a few days ago.

I first knew of Imus when I saw his craggy mug on VH-1, working as a VJ in the late-1980s. VH-1 was set up a little differently than MTV in those days. The MTV jocks were in a casual setting, almost basement-ish. They were sitting down, for one. The VH-1 jocks stood, in front of a chroma key background while psychadelic colors and shapes floated behind them.

So there would be Imus, delivering mono-syllabic intros and chatting with the off-camera crew. He was stoic and sarcastic and I thought he was great. I had no idea that he was also a "shock jock" on New York radio. Then there'd be a shift change, and out would be Imus and in would be Rosie O'Donnell -- this pixie-ish Irish girl wearing a beret. Where Imus was laid back and a man of few words, Rosie was chatty and hyper. And quite adorable.

Now Imus battles cancer, having revealed himself (to me, anyway) to be nothing more than a mean-spirited hack on the radio. And Rosie, long ago un-closeted, is a champion of causes and is another who has found Michigan to be moviemaker-friendly. In a story straight from a 1940s flick, Rosie discovered the star of the movie she filmed in Michigan sitting in a diner in downtown Detroit. No joke. She goes up to the kid -- a teenager -- and asks him if he wants to be in pictures. A star is born.

Hers was born in front of the VH-1 cameras, VJ'ing. It led to bigger and better things for her.

And Imus? In retrospect, he probably didn't take the VH-1 gig too seriously. I'm sure it was far too vanilla for his taste.

But they played music videos, at least. Back then.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

No Escaping It; Harry Turns 136

Could Harry Houdini have possibly died on any other day of the year than Halloween?

I always found delicious---or maybe it's salacious---irony in the fact that the famed magician and escape artist took his last breath on Halloween. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I was certain that it was, somehow, appropriate.

Today I'm not here to talk about Houdini's death, per se---he died in Detroit after some slugs to the gut in his dressing room in Montreal a week prior---but about his birth.

Harry Houdini, you see, was born on this day, in 1874.

He was born in Hungary, as Ehrich Weiss, to Jewish parents. Yet for whatever reason, Houdini would in his adult life, after stardom, claim to have been born on April 6 in Appleton, Wisconsin. Go figure.

Houdini, still using the Weiss name, gravitated toward carnivals and freak shows as a young man, even appearing as a "Wild Man" at a circus. Then he learned card tricks and became known as the "king of cards."

Growing tired of the card tricks, Houdini/Weiss looked for something else far more challenging and rich to add to his repertoire. Escape tricks filled that bill.

In 1893, while performing with his brother Dash as "The Houdini Brothers", Harry met fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner, whom he married. Bess replaced Dash in the act, which became known as "The Houdinis." For the rest of Houdini's performing career, Bess would work as his stage assistant.

Houdini was no longer the "king of cards"; using his escape shtick, the new nickname was the "handcuff king."

There really wasn't anything Houdini wouldn't try to escape from: cuffs, shackles, chains, straitjackets, you name it. When even that grew stale for him, Houdini added "death defying" to his billing. Water-filled containers were a popular prop for him. The idea that audiences might actually see Houdini perish before their very eyes proved to be an oddly appealing attraction.

Still not satisfied, Houdini kept adding on to his act.

Being "buried alive" was among his most famous addenda.

The end came in 1926 when a McGill University student deciding to help Houdini perform, without warning slugged Houdini several times in his dressing room in Montreal, causing trauma to the magician's abdomen.

Houdini arrived by train in Detroit on October 24, 1926 with a 104-degree fever. Yet he performed anyway. Not long after, he landed in Grace Hospital. On Halloween afternoon, Houdini died in room 401 from peritonitis from a ruptured appendix.

Contrary to popular belief---we use that term a lot when it comes to celebrity deaths, don't we?---the blows to the stomach didn't cause his appendicitis; he was suffering from it for a few days prior to the mishap. And, his appendix might have burst anyway, though the trauma inflicted certainly didn't help.

In once describing his career, Houdini sounded unimpressed with himself.

"My professional life has been a constant record of disillusion, and many things that seem wonderful to most men are the every-day commonplaces of my business."

Happy 136th, Harry! Your spirit is floating around here somewhere, no doubt.

Monday, March 22, 2010

RETIRE? You're Purtan Me On

Starting next Monday, hundreds of thousands of metro Detroit women will have to start talking to their husbands again on weekday mornings.

For 45 years, they've been waking up with Dick Purtan--until Friday, when the radio veteran hangs up his microphone.

For over three decades, the women around town got their news from Bill Bonds at 11:00 p.m., went to bed with Johnny Carson, and woke up with either Purtan or J.P. McCarthy. But then Johnny retired in 1992, Bonds left channel 7 in 1995, and J.P. passed away later that same year.

That left Purtan as the last true media giant in Detroit. And, maybe, the last we'll ever know.

Longtime radio observers like Specs Howard Institute's Dick Kernen disagree with me. Kernen says that as long as someone "has the magic, like Dick, to create quality content," then "personality radio" will stick around, despite that medium's changing landscape.

As much as I'd like to believe that, I'm not as confident as Kernen. Mainly, because I don't see anyone who's even close to assuming Purtan's role, at least not on today's airwaves.

Drew and Mike over at WRIF have reunited, and they are once again running roughshod over their competition in the mornings. John Mason, for 18 years at WJLB and now in syndication from WGPR, is another uber-strong morning guy in Detroit. Yet neither of those shows is woven into the fabric of the city as was Purtan's and J.P.'s.

Purtan's audience was always a tad older than the rockers and urban guys, anyway. His main competition for years was McCarthy.

"J.P.'s show was serious and political, and ours was funny and satirical," Purtan told the Free Press in recollecting those days from the late-1960s thru the mid-1990s.

Purtan, unlike McCarthy, was a radio vagabond, making himself available to the highest bidder. He makes no bones about it, nor apologizes for it. Where J.P. stayed with WJR, Purtan didn't stay too long at any one station; he had many radio homes: WKNR, CKLW, WXYZ, WCZY, and ending at WOMC.

Purtan told the Freep that his picking up stakes fueled his longevity. McCarthy was the anomaly; to make the big bucks and stay appealing, Purtan realized that his audience would move with him, giving him leverage in contract negotiations.

But the changing face of radio---specifically, the unseen face of upper management and the business side of things---made yapping into a mike from 5:30-10:00 a.m. less fun for Purtan. Hence, he's at peace with his decision to retire.

I once asked the late Mark (Doc) Andrews, a longtime member of "Purtan's People" before passing away in 2004, to describe a typical morning working with Purtan.

"Laughing. We laugh and have fun, and laugh some more. It's a great gig," Doc told me.

That's all Purtan wanted to do---make his audience laugh, even when there wasn't a whole hell of a lot to laugh about in Detroit.

He did it for 45 years, and when he signs off Friday, the laughter will stop.

"The immediate future is filled with sleep---staying up late and waking up even later," Purtan says of his retirement plans. He'll also write a book, which should be a big seller. And lots more time will be spent with wife Gail, a breast cancer survivor who was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer 13 years ago.

But at least Purtan leaves on his own accord, read: healthy. His longtime rival McCarthy was forced out due to the cancer that eventually took his life.

Purtan won't totally vanish; he plans on spending a lot of time maintaining and providing content for

"It's pretty hard to stop when you've done this as long as I have, and I want to be involved," he says.

After a little sleeping in, of course.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday's Favs

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

from December 9, 2009

Apple, Jack!

I've been eating more apples lately than a stable full of horses, and it's a damn miracle, as far as I'm concerned.

For years---and we're talking at least 20---I was unable to munch on a fresh apple. It was some sort of allergy, because my throat would close up a tad and I'd have hay fever-type symptoms: sneezing, watery eyes, and even my lips would tingle.

Cooked apples were fine, as in pies, turnovers, etc. Applesauce was good, too.

Then, a change. Divine intervention, maybe.

I hazarded an apple a couple months ago, on a whim. Our daughter's band had a fundraiser and there was a whole box of apples sitting there, waiting to be consumed. I chomped into one and waited for the usual reaction. For the past several years, every so often I'd try an apple, and every time I'd be disappointed.

This time was different.

A few seconds went by after the first bite. Nothing. I tried another. Still no reaction. I kept eating.

I finished the thing, and it was deLISH. You have no idea how good an apple can be if you haven't been able to enjoy one for two decades.

I found out the apples were called Honeycrisps (I'm finding out a lot about the different strains of apple) and I won't buy any other. Of course, they're the most expensive ones out there---about $2.49 a pound unless you can find them on sale.

But a Honeycrisp almost bites itself. You just press your teeth against one and the skin is pierced and inside you're treated to a sweetish tartness that's fantabulous.

A Honeycrisp apple; YUM!

I've been on an apple-eating jag since before Halloween. Our daughter asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted to slice my apple and swipe the pieces into some caramel dip that we had on hand.

"No," I told her. "I don't want to dilute the flavor."

I have no idea why my body isn't rebelling against apples anymore. Fresh cherries gave me the same reaction---and I love fresh cherries---but I'm sad to report that I tried ONE cherry this summer and it was bad news.

But that's OK. I have my apples back in my life.

At this rate, I'll never have to see a doctor again.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Hard (School) Day's Night

I'm willing to meet Mike Feinberg halfway, but I'm not so sure the feeling would be mutual.

Feinberg is co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), as well as being the superintendent of KIPP Houston. KIPP is a network of 82 high-performing public charter schools serving 21,000 children in 19 states.

Feinberg's program is rooted in the premise that the school day is too short. And the school year, too.

But Feinberg takes it to another level. His KIPP schools' classes run from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and the kids attend school two Saturdays a month, and they have three weeks of mandatory summer school.

Feinberg has a gob of stats that say his extended school days and years are the best thing since sliced bread. You can read that laundry list in his editorial for

I'm a parent, so I'm concerned about my child's education as well. But I have different concerns than Feinberg, I think.

You see, I'm also a former child, as I'm pretty sure Feinberg is. But he seems to forget that kids need time to be, well, kids.

So here's where I'm willing to meet Feinberg halfway.

I'd be open to consider the notion of longer school days---just consider it, mind you---if Feinberg and others who espouse it are willing to address my notion of, "Will it cut down on homework?"

If not, then it's off the table, as far as I'm concerned.

Mike Feinberg

A longer school day should also mean more time to complete assignments---in class. That is, if Feinberg would argue that the massive amounts of homework are a bi-product of too-short days.

And what of after school activities? Where's the time for those? And who wants to hang out after school after being there for nine-and-a-half hours and two Saturdays a month?

I have a full-time job with a nice salary and benefits and I'm not in the office as long as Feinberg's kids attend school each day; they have me beat by an hour a day.

Do we want our kids in school longer than most moms and dads spend time at work?

"Take away time, take away learning," Feinberg writes. "...there is no substitute for the hours a student spends with an effective and inspiring teacher," he adds.

Ahh, those disclaiming words: "effective" and "inspiring."

Not every teacher is those things, and Feinberg ought to know that.

I'm not trying to change Feinberg's mind; I'm sure his success stories are genuine. I'm just not sold that we have to push our kids as far as he'd like us to.

"Students actually look forward to their weekend KIPP days, when they get extra academic help and participate in activities such as cooking, knitting, soccer or African drumming," Feinberg argues.

Every student, Mike? Or just some?

He closes with references to China, and cites the Chinese's longer school days/year.

"This means that American children may eventually compete with Chinese kids who have had thousands of more hours of learning time."

I admit, it's food for thought. But 7:30-5:00 is simply too damn long. It's not necessary.

You can only be a kid once. Sadly.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mr. Sikes's Wild Ride

Is James Sikes a poor, unsuspecting driver who had the bejeebers scared out of him thanks to a stuck accelerator, or is he up to something nefarious?

It's time to look cross-eyed at another victim again, because he might not be a victim.

This is getting a little balloon boy-ish.

Sikes says he was driving his Toyota Prius last week in California, when it suddenly accelerated out of control. He reached speeds in excess of 90 mph before he came to a halt, with the help of CHiP officers.

His frantic 911 call---is ANY 911 call NOT frantic?---was played for public consumption. He spoke openly with the media, and although his reluctance to put the car into neutral was odd, there didn't appear to be anything less than truthful about his story.

Only, experts have been unable to replicate the stuck accelerator on his car after several hours of test driving, and the condition of his brakes aren't consistent with someone who jammed on them while going that fast for that long.

What's more, Toyota officials say the Prius is equipped with a mechanism that shuts the engine off if someone jams on the brakes while the accelerator is engaged.

David Justo of Toyota Motor Sales headquarters, described in a memo as Toyota's residential hybrid expert, said that if the car's gas pedal was stuck to the floor, and the driver applied the brake, the engine would shut down.

"If the engine does not shut down, then the gears would be spinning [past] their maximum revolutions per minute and completely seize the engine," the memo said, quoting Justo. "So, in his case ... it does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time."


In this nothing-is-truly-private digital world we live in, skeletons are already being found in Sikes's closet, even though he never let us into his house. The press broke in.

Jim Sikes meets the press after his wild ride

They found that Sikes owes a lot of money on his home and to others. So naturally the conspiracy theorists think that Sikes is trying to shake Toyota down for some dough. It was also revealed that Sikes, or someone representing him, has reached out to Larry King and other on-air personalities, so he can tell his story.

I'll say it again: hmmmm.

Comparisons are being made to the balloon boy incident, that infamous escapade last summer of a boy supposedly trapped inside a homemade hot air balloon. That, of course, was proved to be a hoax.

Is Sikes trying to capitalize on the scare over Toyota vehicles? Did his accelerator really stick? Or did it stick, but he didn't do enough to stop it?

Or is he simply an innocent man being made to look opportunistic due to conflicting facts that may ultimately prove to be explainable?

I saw one of Sikes's interviews, conducted as he sat in his car. He appeared to be sincere, but who the hell knows?

He did say something odd, though.

"I haven't given up on Toyota. I just won't drive another Prius."


If I nearly lost my life in a carmaker's vehicle, that company would be crossed off my list.

It's like nearly dying from food poisoning after eating a bad corned beef sandwich at a diner, but vowing to return to the diner---just making sure not to order the corned beef next time.

Mr. Sikes can do whatever he wants, of course. It's his life.

What he can't do, and get away with it, is punk Toyota, and the rest of us in the process.

I sure hope he's not.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday's Favs

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

from September 28, 2009


They say you can't go back home again. That, and you can't go to the drive-in movies again. At least not with as much convenience.

They used to sprout all over the land---the drive-in movie theaters of America.

They died a slow death, the drive-ins did. Their big screens stood above the horizon like tombstones in a cemetery, unused and garish reminders of a day gone by. Then, even the tombstones got knocked down, leaving only weeds growing around the feet of the speaker stands.

There's a wonderful photo that first appeared in LIFE Magazine, taken in the 1950s when "The Ten Commandments" was a new release motion picture. The photo was shot with a wide-angle lens and showed a typical drive-in movie theater of the day.

Charlton Heston's Moses filled the huge screen, during the scene where he parts the Red Sea. In the foreground are all the cars---hundreds of them---parked, following the action.

The drive-in was THE place to be in the 1950s and '60s.

It was a place to hang out---to be seen as well as to see movies. Kids would sneak buddies in via the trunk---back when tickets were sold individually. Then the theaters wised up and just charged per car.

Young, awkward Romeos and Juliets snuggled in the front seat---this was when lots of cars had bench seats---and had their first hand-holding and cuddling (or more) experience.

And let's not forget the refreshment stands and their between-movie ads. For a fun-filled trip down memory lane, go to YouTube and type in the right search string and enjoy.

Our daughter's favorite is the dancing hot dog that jumps into its bun. Trust me, it exists.

As a kid, our drive-in (back when everyone had their own neighborhood drive-in) was the Algiers, at the northeast corner of Wayne Road and Warren Road, in Westland. There's a McDonald's there now---as if.

I'd get into my jammies and bring a pillow and I was ready to go---sure to be out like a light when we got home. I have vague memories of my dad carrying me from the car to the house, like a kidnap victim who's been chloroformed.

The photo that first appeared in LIFE Magazine (that's Charlton Heston as Moses in "The Ten Commandments")

But I'm proud to say that my wife and I (she grew up on drive-ins, too) passed down the tradition of watching movies from the car to our daughter. Most of the open-air theaters were long gone, of course, but there was always the Ford-Wyoming.

The F-W (it's still there) has nine screens, spread out over two corners of Ford Road and Wyoming in Dearborn. And that's where we'd head, when we wanted to scratch that itch.

Our little girl loved it. She'd be in jammies, too, and the movies were the usual Disney/animated stuff, or something like "The Incredible Hulk" or one of the "Batman" flicks.

In 2002, after having already made a verbal commitment to take the gang to the drive-in, I was caught in a dilemma.

It was the same night, turns out, as Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals---the Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes.

No worries. Along came the earphones, the portable TV, and the AC/DC adapter. All with Mrs. Eno's approval, of course.

The movie? I couldn't tell you what it was. But the game went into triple overtime before Igor Larionov ended it. I must not have been alone, because when Igor scored, I could hear hoots and hollers from other vehicles. By this time, wife and daughter are out cold, so I had to do one of those "silent" cheers---when your mouth makes the requisite contortions of screaming, but no sound comes out.

It's one of my more memorable drive-in experiences.

Aside from the F-W, you're mostly out of luck if you're looking for a drive-in theater nowadays. The Silverdome teased us with some drive-in action in its parking lot after the Lions moved out, but that fizzled out quickly.

There was just something about watching a movie in your car. Not sure what it was. Something about the gravel lot and the tinny metal speakers and the too-far-away refreshment stand.

Maybe we'll pile back into the jalopy and set out for Ford and Wyoming again, one of these nights.

I could go for a kielbasa-sized dill pickle for three bucks.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Now That's a Toughie

Chuck Norris is 70 and he can still kick your ass.

The tough guys in Hollywood stay that way till the day they die.

Bob Mitchum was still petrifying and intimidating, engulfing every camera shot well past the age of 70. I wouldn't have trusted Dick Widmark, no matter how old he was. Clint Eastwood need only take a step toward you, and I guarantee you'll shake in your loafers. And Clint will be 80 in a couple of months.

Some of them didn't get to live very long. Bruce Lee comes to mind.

But the ones who hold AARP cards in one hand while they throttle you with the other are as much a part of Tinseltown as hot dogs are a part of baseball.

Norris has been kicking, punching, flipping, and pancaking bad guys on screen for about 40 years now. He's also been a TV and movie producer, and even a writer---penning some episodes of "Walker, Texas Ranger."

What Chuck Norris hasn't been, is an actor.

Norris doesn't act, he reacts. It doesn't matter that the next line of dialogue he delivers with any emotion or pathos will be his first. That's not his role. He's there to scowl, sneer, and open up a can of whoop ass.

And he's made a hell of a living doing it.

Norris can't act, but most of the great actors can't fight their way out of a wet paper bag, so there you go.

He's 70 today, Chuck Norris is, and I bet one day he's going to dare God to remove him from this Earth. And His Greatness---and I mean God, not Norris---might just be too intimidated to do it.

Norris might live to be a modern day Methuselah because everyone is too scared to have him upstairs or downstairs in the after life.

Norris could probably cause Satan to back down, and get him to turn the heat down too, while he was at it.

Don't believe me? Here's Chuck himself, quoted from his IMDb page: "There are a dozen death spots, another dozen paralyzing death spots, and many, many disabling spots on the body. We human beings are quite fragile, you know."

He knows this from experience, by the way.

Norris doesn't reserve his ass kicking to the screen, either. He's vigorously campaigned for Republicans throughout the years.

"I haven't always been warmly welcomed for holding my conservative positions in Hollywood," he once said. "Then again, I've never been very good at being politically correct either, on or off screen. So why start now?"

YOU tell him otherwise.

Happy Birthday, Chuck!

Please don't hurt me.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Loser Is...

The Academy Awards were last night. Or The Oscars. Take your pick.

There were a lot of feel good moments.

Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first female to win Best Director was one of them---until you realized that it's long overdue that a woman win that award. Or that an African-American still hasn't. Both are indictments of the Academy.

Another moment that could have been terrific was Mo'Nique winning Best Supporting Actress for her role in "Precious."

The reason it wasn't was because Mo'Nique, normally a comedic performer, chose to be contentious instead of gracious.

"This proves that it's about the performance and not about the politics," she declared as she clutched Oscar by the throat---which I found to be a very appropriate way to hold him.

Whoa---what "politics"?

The politics of a not allowing a black woman to win Best Supporting Actress? Aren't we past that? Mo'Nique is hardly a trailblazer in that regard; no offense.

Really, what was Mo'Nique talking about?

She, in one sentence, denigrated not only the performances of her colleagues who were nominated, but her own.

If I was one of Mo'Nique's fellow nominees, I would have been flabbergasted. Not to mention uncomfortable and embarrassed, especially when those around me would be looking at me like, "Oh, that poor girl."

So Mo'Nique feels that she won the BSA solely because of her performance and not "politics"? Terrific; that's the way it ought to be. But that also infers that if someone else had won, it would have been about politics.

That's not too gracious.

Mo'Nique, making a train wreck of her Oscar acceptance speech

The rest of her acceptance speech was very powerful and made my eyes moist. But the more I thought about her "politics" remark, the more it bothered me.

It was a hit-and-run comment---a drive-by shooting of sorts.

The comment elicited some cheers, but they were brief and not all that loud---as if the folks who reacted did so thinking that it sounded good at first, but upon further review was just plain awkward.

Mo'Nique, by all accounts (I didn't see the film) put forth a marvelous performance; in fact, she was deemed to be the favorite by most of the handicappers. You don't get nominated by being a stiff on the screen.

But what's wrong with "Thank you"? What's wrong with some graciousness? What's wrong with accepting the award without making your colleagues feel like doofuses?

Mo'Nique's moment could have been so much better. It could have been so much more uplifting.

Instead, it turned out to be kind of weird. Because she made it that way.

Too bad.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday's Favs

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

from August 25, 2009

Stir Crazy

You'll never be able to make fried rice like me, but that doesn't mean I can't help you in your ultimately futile effort.

Yeah, I get cocky about it, because no American whips up fried rice like I can.

And you've probably been tossing out those cartons of uneaten white rice from the Chinese take-out joints all these years, oblivious to their culinary potential.

Tsk, tsk.

I first started frying rice and creating various concoctions with it about 20 years ago, when I purchased my first Chinese cookbook, having been on an Asian food jag. It was around the time that I discovered Thai food and its glorious heat and spice. Till then, I thought the only spicy Asian stuff was the Szechuan and Mandarin cuisine of China. Silly me.

Homemade fried rice, when done properly, is good on so many levels.

Number one, you're using up every bit of your Chinese take-out leftovers, so you can feel satisfied about that.

Number two, it's a terrific way to get rid of some other leftovers that may be in danger of going bad in the fridge.

Number three, you can have fun with it and experiment with different sauces and spices.

The key is preparation, as it is with any stir-fry dish. I've made the mistake of starting to stir-fry before all the ingredients were ready for the wok/skillet, and before you know it, you're Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance in that famous chocolate-wrapping/conveyor belt scene from "I Love Lucy"---trying desperately to rinse and chop veggies while trying to keep the the stuff that's cooking from burning up.

So get everything prepped before you even turn the burner on.

I like to use a carbon steel wok (like THIS), but you can use a non-stick skillet, too. But it ought to be a big one. Stir-frying is fun, but only if you have enough room to stir and fry. If the skillet is too small, the food won't cook evenly and it's not stir-frying---it's more like flipping pancakes.

If you use a non-stick skillet, make sure to be armed with a wooden or plastic stir-fry utensil (spatula, etc) so as not to ruin the no-stick surface. I use a carbon steel wok mostly, which allows me to utilize my stainless steel spatula, which looks a lot like this.

The best fried rice NOT made by an Asian:

AT LEAST 4 cups of COLD, cooked white rice*
Two eggs
Soy sauce
Ground WHITE pepper
About 1 t fresh ginger, minced
Two cloves of garlic, minced (NEVER garlic powder!)
Salt (to taste)
MSG (if you wish)
Hot pepper flakes (to taste)
Frozen peas and/or corn
Assorted chopped veggies (celery, green pepper, green onion, carrots)
Tiny cooked, canned shrimp (optional; or leftover shrimp)
Any leftover, chopped, cooked meat (boneless chicken or pork, etc)
Sesame oil (about 2 t)
Cooking oil of choice

*Rice MUST be cold, and before cooking, wet hands and break up rice as much as you can, preferably into a separate bowl for easy access when it's time to add; try to avoid as many clumps of rice as possible

Ready? Here we go.

Make sure everything is chopped and ready to go. As for the amount of the above ingredients that show no amount, you'll have to use your own judgment. Generally I use about a cup of frozen peas or corn, two stalks of chopped celery, and about six chopped green onions.

1. Heat EMPTY wok/skillet on high heat for about two minutes
2. Pour 2 T cooking oil onto w/s and swirl to cover; add minced garlic and ginger (don't keep garlic in oil too long before next step, or else it will get brown and crusty)
3. Break the eggs into the w/s and, using spatula, quickly break yolks and fry until you have shards of "scrambled" eggs
4. Add chopped veggies, all at once (EXCEPT for the peas and/or corn!!) and stir-fry until opaque and medium crunchy; also sprinkle mixture with about a 1/4 t of white pepper while frying (MSG added here, if desired)
5. Empty cooked eggs and veggies into another dish and save for later use
6. Keep heat high and add 2 more T of cooking oil
7. Add separated rice and 2 t of sesame oil; stir fry about 5 minutes (while frying rice, add soy sauce to taste, and to give light brown color; also, this is where you'd add desired amount of red pepper flakes for some heat); stir rice VERY often (like, constantly)
8. Add frozen peas/corn, and any shrimp, meat, etc. that you chose to use
9. Stir fry mixture, which is now getting heavier, over high heat, while adding more soy sauce to taste; make sure frozen peas/corn and meat are heated through
10. Pour eggs/veggie mix into the fray
11. Keep stirring and frying over HIGH heat!!
12. Add more soy sauce to taste
13. Enjoy!!

Fried rice, as prepared above, can be a meal all by itself, or at the very least, a substantial side dish. Either way, it's yummy.

While you make this dish, it's nice to sip wine or drink beer while cooking.

It doesn't hurt to make sure that the folks you're cooking for also have plenty of wine and beer, as well! Just in case.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oscar Has a Way of B-o-l-o-g-n-a

The brilliant actor turned social commentator Charles Grodin explained in his book, We’re Ready for You, Mr. Grodin, why he had no use for awards shows.

Not only are they subjective, Grodin opined, but they’re comparing apples and oranges—or something like that.

“The best way to find out who’s the better actor is to see the nominees play the same role,” Grodin said with both common sense and impracticality. “But the way it is now, it’s like having a food contest: ‘The nominees are steak, chicken, and spaghetti. And the winner is…spaghetti!’”

I see where Grodin is coming from, and I can’t say that I disagree. But it’s spitting into the wind; awards shows aren’t going anywhere—and neither are the Oscars, which invade your living room this Sunday night.

At least with steak, chicken, and spaghetti, I’ve tried them; I know what they taste like. When it comes to the Academy Awards/Oscars, there’s always something that not only have I never tasted, I’d never allow onto my plate.

I’ve always thought the Oscars to be too ethereal and hoity-toity for my liking, though I find myself plunked in front of the television every year, watching them. The Academy has had an annoying habit of falling in love with films that I would either find too boring, too dark, too deep, or just plain uninteresting.

Not that they’re not cinematic masterpieces in their own way. I think my problem lies with the films that Oscar doesn’t even consider—read: comedies.

For whatever reason, if it makes you laugh, it must not be a great piece of filmmaking, according to Oscar. A flat-out comedy is hardly ever among the nominees for Best Film or even Best Screenplay.

It’s ironic, because many actors and directors will tell you—and even some critics—that playing a film for laughs, and mastering the timing needed to elicit those guffaws, is one of the more slippery slopes to negotiate in movie making.

Yet comedies are repeatedly snubbed by the Academy. We must instead have dark, or cerebral, or heartbreaking, or artsy-fartsy.

And why are the Oscars held on Sunday night? The show notoriously runs long, and ends after midnight on the East Coast. Why not Saturday night, which is a typically weak night for TV anyway?

They used to hand out the Oscars on Monday night, and it was on Mondays that director Woody Allen would play his clarinet at a jazz club in New York—even on the Monday when he was up for Best Director back in the late-1970s.

Call me morbid, but one of my favorite parts of the Oscars is when they do the montage of all the people in the industry who passed away since the last Oscars. There’s always someone in there who I didn’t know died.

As the late, great Detroit Free Press columnist Bob Talbert would say, “You too?”

Monday, March 1, 2010

Michigan Hears a "WHO?"

"If a Republican can't win the Governor's seat this year, they'll never win it."

The speaker was former Michigan guv John Engler, and he fired that salvo last week at a joint conference he attended with another who once sat on the hot seat in Lansing, Jim Blanchard.

Engler may be right, but he may also be crazy, to paraphrase Billy Joel.

But if anyone should know about the unexpectedness of political races, it's Engler.

It was Johnny Engler, State Senate Majority Leader from Mount Pleasant, who went from dark horse to Top Michigan Dog in 1990, edging Blanchard in a race that no one thought would be close, let alone an upset.

The latest man with not a lot of clothes who wishes to be emperor is House Speaker Andy Dillon, the whippersnapper Dem who dares to enter the field without the safety net of the support of organized labor to catch him.

"My preference is not to talk about Mr. Dillon," Norwood Jewell, assistant director for UAW Region 1-C, told the Free Press.

"I can disagree with labor on some things and agree with them on others," Dillon says. "But I can look them in the eye and say I think this is best for the people of this state, and we have to part ways on this one. That doesn't mean I won't be there to fight for them on other issues."

It's cute how naive he is.

But I actually agree with Dillon's take. He speaks with reason, but that doesn't necessarily win elections.

The governor's chair is more up for grabs this fall than in any other year I can remember. And it's not because the field is teeming with dazzling candidates.

But the lack of big names might, in a crazy, mixed up way, be of benefit to the Democrats, who are seen as being vulnerable--especially if any candidate is portrayed as being too close to outgoing governor Jennifer Granholm.

But how can you hitch someone up to a borderline unpopular incumbent if no one knows who that someone is?

Andy Dillon

But back to the unions. They may have lost some clout--hell, they HAVE lost some clout--but their support isn't to be dismissed. Things aren't quite that topsy turvy.

So it will be that the Democrats vying for Granholm's soon-to-be-abandoned seat will trip over themselves trying to win those blue collars.

Blanchard said something intriguing. He usually does.

He said a shorter primary season---and it doesn't get much shorter than this year's, with August but five months away---may be a blessing for Dems because it will: a) cost less; and b) leave candidates less time to attack one another.

OK, so it's not the highest of bars, but it makes sense.

So does all this lack of star power---not that the Republicans have all that much more of it---mean that Engler is right? That this is the GOP's year?

Not necessarily, according to Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney.

"Voters are angry, disillusioned and worried, but I don't think that automatically means an advantage for either party," Gaffney told the Freep.

For the Democrats, the question that will be often asked this spring is going to be "Who's HE?"---but that might not be the kiss of death after all. In fact, it just might prove to be some needed wind for beneath the old wings.