Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Down in Front!

Usually I like a stand up guy. Who doesn't?

But I don't need one delivering my TV news, thank you very much.

I blame Wolf Blitzer.

Blitzer, on CNN, seems to have started this trend that's beginning to creep into other news programs---that is, the reporting of news stories standing up, the camera showing him head to toe.

I don't like it.

There's a reason why we call the TV news people talking heads, after all.

The only people I care to see standing up and walking around on the set are the weather folks, because they have big maps to show us and satellite images and they're more like class instructors to me---and those types are forever standing.

But the news anchors need to take a seat.

There's just something nerve wracking, to me, about having my top stories and breaking news delivered by someone standing. It's not natural.

Think about the conversations you have with people while one of you is standing. Such a confab is either very casual, or in an elevator, or in a retail outlet. Rarely do you have important, serious discussions while standing.

Isn't that the first rule of receiving sobering information?

"Are you sitting down? I think you'd better sit down for this."

So why should the deliverer of said sobering news be allowed to stand, as if he's giving a lecture on campus?

Why is this man standing in my living room?

They say that people identify with TV news people because it's like they're "coming into your living room."

But wouldn't you be nervous as hell to have someone standing in your living room, talking?

Wouldn't you have the urge to interrupt with, "Umm, why don't you have a seat?"

Yet there's Blitzer and some of his brethren, standing in front of huge screens, the cameras unable to stay put, either---they're forever panning and swooping and trucking.

Just sit down, look me in the eyes, and tell me what's going on.

Watching Blitzer in his self-described "Situation Room" (pssst---it's just a studio!) as he gives me the news in that bordering-on-yelling delivery style with the huge images behind him makes me anxious.

The only people who should be standing and giving me information are, once again, teachers, lecturers, and meteorologists.

Everyone else needs to return his or her tush to the chair.

It's the news, not open mike night.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday Night Lights

I'm not a fan of football played under the lights, as a rule. And it has nothing to do with the Lions being shunned by "Monday Night Football" every year.

I know it's done for the almighty TV dollar, but night college football games especially rankle me---especially those played on days other than Saturday. College football games have been popping up all over the dial on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays. That's not college football---that's just competitive "ER".

But there is some night football that tickles my fancy.

As the parent of a marching band member, one of the duties is to attend the home football games on Friday nights. There are far more daunting tasks.

High school football in prime time is OK by me because that's tradition. Once the stadiums around the country began installing lights in earnest in the 1960s, it was only natural to keep the high school gridders to a predominantly Friday schedule, and leave Saturday for college and Sunday for the pros.

There's no pretentiousness when you walk through the gates at the local high school stadium. There's not much cost either---five bucks a head at Warren Mott, where our daughter attends.

You pay a visit to the moms-run concession stand, buy some cheap goodies (hot dogs for a dollar each, sub sandwiches for two bucks) find some space on one of the aluminum bleacher benches, and settle in.

This is football without maddening TV timeouts, beer-soaked blowhard fans, and $20 for parking.

It's football at its purest form---played by 15-to-17 year-old kids who take real classes and who have to be home by 10:00 at night. The crowd in the stands are 90% parents, grandparents, and family members.

Mott has a huge band, over 200 members, and many of those kids' moms and dads are in the stands on Friday night, too---padding the house figure, and the concession sales.

So the team and the band turns a few bucks, but still not much. The gate and concession receipts at the Big House in Ann Arbor look like the GDP of a small country compared to the cash netted at a high school gridiron match.

But it's football played out before you, sans radio-transmitting helmets for the quarterbacks, minus a JumboTron scoreboard. There isn't even a play clock to reference.

The officials throw flags, just like in college and pro, but the referee's voice is only heard to the players and coaches on the sidelines; no fancy-shmancy microphones to boom the call to the crowd.

If there's a TV camera at the high school stadium, it's run by either the local-yocal cable TV crewman or an A/V kid for the coach's use.

The cheering is done between conversations. The men are watching the game and keeping track of down and distance---usually faster than the scoreboard operator is---while the women get caught up on their week.

The football itself looks a lot more like rugby at times, the scrum of players shoving back and forth. The forward passes aren't lasered throws---they're more like heaved grenades.

But it's football enough for me, played under the moon and right smack in the middle of residential homes. A couple weeks ago we went to a road game at Sterling Heights Stevenson, and the field there is so close to the backyards of residences, some of the homeowners had built bonfires and were watching the game over the fence.

After the game, the visiting players, still in uniform, climb aboard the yellow school bus for the trip back home. The home team waves to their parents in the stands, before disappearing into their small locker room.

It's football, played on a Friday night, which, in this case, is OK by me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

One-Hit Blunder?

The landscape of politics is like Michigan weather---wait five minutes and it just might change.

With that in mind, it would appear to be folly to try to ascertain what might happen in the presidential election of 2012---the upcoming mid-term elections notwithstanding.

President Obama will be halfway through his term this January, believe it or not. He might also be halfway through his ONLY term.

I want to believe in the Obama Administration; I voted for him, after all. My thought at the time of the 2008 election was that Obama was the right president at the right time---just like Reagan was probably right in 1980, Kennedy was right in 1960, and Eisenhower was probably right in the 1950s.

But you can only be the right president at the right time if you're re-elected. Otherwise, you're just another one-hit wonder.

Kennedy would likely have been re-elected in 1964; that's why I make an exception in his case.

Obama, for all his adeptness at the podium and his smarts---I truly believe he's one of the smartest presidents we've ever had---has also shown his tenderness, i.e. his lack of political experience.

Obama is our first fast-track president. He was rushed through the system, having been a U.S. Senator for less than one full term when he took on first Hillary Clinton then John McCain.

He was the Democratic party's boy wonder; the next Kennedy, as a matter of fact.

But even JFK spent considerably more time as a senator---nearly eight years to Obama's three-plus (and much of that time was spent running for president).

Kennedy took over the country when times were relatively good---both economically and in terms of peace. Obama entered a quagmire. So that must be taken into consideration.

My belief that Obama was the right president for the right time was based on what had happened in eight years under George W. Bush. Obama was as far apart from Bush as you could get, in just about every way imaginable.

But it's becoming clear to me that Obama is also, sadly, maybe the most polarizing president we've had, at least since WWII.

That's saying a lot, I know.

It's ironic, because Obama's platform included a call to bring people together. His being the first black president was supposed to be a victory for mankind, not just for those who voted for him.

Now I'm not so sure if Obama is the right president for the right time. He may have been voted in simply because he wasn't Bush, and he had a message that resonated. He may be just another Democrat who won because he was going up against an old, crotchety Republican, a la Carter over Ford and Clinton over Dole.

But Clinton won a second term, despite sordid tales of what apparently went on in the Oval Office---specifically under his desk.

Obama is on another fast track---to be the first one-term Democrat in the White House since Carter. That's what the weather forecasts indicate to me.

Of course, that can all change very quickly.

The Republicans can capture the White House in 2012 if they build on the momentum they're sure to get from the 2010 mid-terms, and if they run the right person.

Obama, for his part, has less than two years to gain his own momentum, before he has to start hitting the campaign trail yet again.

But his next campaign has to be more about substance than style. And the former seems to be more difficult for him than the latter.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bad Acid Trip

You look at the photo now, knowing what you know, and you can swear that Bethany Storro is smirking at you.

Before, you might have said her expression---upturned mouth peeking through a curtain of acid-corroded skin---was that of a relieved, grateful woman who was just happy to be alive.

The photo of which I speak is that of the 28-year-old Storro, who is, for the moment, the most famous hoaxster in Canada and the U.S.

She's the clearly disturbed girl from Vancouver who falsely reported that she'd been the victim of an apparently random attack in which acid was thrown in her face by a black woman.

Storro was snapped, sitting in her hospital bed, the effects of the acid evident on her forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin.

But not in her eyes, and not on her mouth.

That makes sense now, of course---because Bethany Storro splashed herself with acid. So why would she splash her eyes and mouth?

How ironic that she should have taken care not to damage her eyesight or accidentally swallow the caustic liquid---while at the same time in need of more help than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

The first thing you think of when someone concocts a false story of being victimized is one word.


OK, so Storro got the attention she craved, alright---presuming that was one of her motives.

She became a dual national story---both in her native Canada and in the United States. Fundraisers had already begun their planning stages. Facebook pages were started. Oprah came calling.

Storro had even made up what quickly became a signature line of the attack, allegedly spewed by the perp just before the act.

"Hey pretty girl, have a drink of THIS!"

So it not only became a perplexing story of randomness, it had a sinister edge. The attacker apparently chose Storro because of her looks and, perhaps out of jealousy, lied in wait until Bethany appeared. The acid was designed to take those good looks away.

And she was attractive, Bethany Storro was. I saw a photo of her prior to the incident. She was a pretty girl.

OK, so what else, other than attention, would Bethany have been seeking?

Bethany Storro, her eyes and mouth "miraculously" unaffected by acid

Attention is fleeting. Even a person in need of mental help must know that. Fifteen minutes of fame and all that. Eventually, the furor over her misfortune would have faded. It always does.


From where would she get it? How can you sue someone who doesn't exist?

Donations were starting to come in, but money from that kind of source isn't just forked over, especially when there's a criminal investigation involved.

"I think it got bigger than she anticipated," one of the police officials told the media of the reaction to Bethany Storro's fable.

I see---she wanted attention but not TOO much attention?

As I write this, it's unclear what charges will be levied against Storro. But there will be some, you can bet your bottom dollar on that.

Some false police reports make a degree of sense, like the woman faking rape or abduction because she's afraid to go home or back to an abusive boyfriend. Doesn't make it right, mind you, but there's a path from Point A to Point B, though it's clearly a crooked one.

I've thought on Bethany Storro's tall tale, and I'm not seeing Point B at all.

Where was she going with this? What was her end game?

This was an acid attack, don't forget---something that involves a certain degree of time and planning, and acquisition. It loses a lot of its spontaneity when you factor everything in.

Storro "miraculously" was wearing sunglasses at the time of the incident, an item she said she purchased about an hour before the "attack." Or else her eyes may have been splattered.

Thank God she bought those shades!

I don't know how far Bethany Storro thought she was going to take this hoax.

But she has a chair with her name on it at a psychiatric hospital, somewhere.

Pray for her.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

That Damn Yankee

Somewhere, way upstairs, Forrest Pitcher will be smiling on October 9.

Mr. Pitcher was my grandfather and he passed away on April 30, 2005 at the age of 96. Just six months prior to his passing, he had to endure the heartache of his adored Yankee Air Museum in Willow Run being ravaged by fire.

The date was October 9, 2004, and the museum's hangar caught on fire, destroying eight aircraft and thousands of artifacts, along with tools. While most of the museum's collection survived, the fire essentially put an end to the tours and day-to-day operations.

That's where my grandfather comes in.

Forrest Pitcher, well into his 90s, conducted guided tours of the museum. I took my family on one such jaunt not long before the fire, and what a treat it was---not only to see the museum's unbelievable collection of air and military history, but to be guided by my grandfather and our daughter's great-grandfather.

On October 9, the Yankee Air Museum will re-open to the public---six years to the day after the fire. The new Collections and Exhibit building will have an Inaugural Gala to celebrate.

I can see grandpa's smile as I type this.

This was the scene at Yankee Air Museum on October 9, 2004

Few people had a sense of history as firmly handled as my grandfather. Hell, he WAS history! The man was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, folklore, and anecdotes.

The volunteer tour guide gig at Yankee was right up his alley. He was like a pig in slop, escorting folks through the museum and bending their ears about the artifacts and the stories behind them.

Grandpa was a plumber for Ford Motor Company but that's not WHO he was---it was what he did. He and grandma---she's still living and is 94---enjoyed traveling, sometimes as far away as Spain. They pretty much did most of the United States, pulling a trailer and camping all over the country.

They'd winter in Texas or Florida, before moving back to the Detroit area full time circa 1993.

For nearly 20 years (1976-93), after moving from the Wayne-Westland area, they owned a modest home about 50 miles west of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula, which was playfully coined "Pitcher's Paradise."

Grandpa gave guided tours up there, too.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

(Speed) Trapped in Livonia

Don't the Livonia police have better things to do than enforce the law?

Yeah, I wrote that. But only because that's what people seem to be saying.

Certain lead-foots, that is.

Livonia was recently tagged as the city with the worst "speed traps" in the State of Michigan.

It's not exactly clear how this designation was arrived at, but with its announcement last week, there was some scuttlebutt, as you can imagine.

The lead-foots contend that this surely means that motorists are being ticketed with glee by overzealous Livonia police officers, who should be doing things like "going after the REAL criminals."

Livonia's police chief, of course, shrugs it off.

"That (designation) doesn't bother me a bit," said chief Robert Stevenson. "We don't have speed traps. We just enforce the law."

The designation was announced by the National Motorists Association. According to a story in the Free Press, the organization said they identified cities by using data from their National Speed Trap Exchange, where people share information about speed traps.

More from the Free Press story:

Stevenson thinks the term "speed trap" implies the department is doing something tricky and then writing tickets, but that’s not the case, he said.

"If they don't obey the law, then we're going to write them a ticket, and we don't make any apologies about that," Stevenson told the Free Press.


Catching speeders, though, does take a little bit of trickery---or at the very least, some guile.

Think about it. People tend not to speed in plain view of a police cruiser. Most speeders are caught because they're observed by an officer who has taken steps to at least somewhat conceal himself. Certainly, that's what happens on freeways or other thoroughfares where motorists are known to kick it up a notch.

So it may not be "tricky," in Stevenson's mind, to place a cruiser in a less-than-auspicious location, but it's disingenuous to say that such placement is merely coincidental.

Still, the bottom line is unchanged: don't speed and you have nothing to worry about.

Easier said than done, I know. Funny how sometimes that speedometer inches its way into the danger zone, especially on sunny days when there's a good song on the radio.

Stevenson also cites some hard numbers to suggest that, if anything, Livonia cops are less zealous than ever.

Overall tickets written by the department are down, he told the Free Press. In 2009, Livonia police wrote about 30,000 tickets. That's down from 2007, where police said they wrote 34,607. Stevenson didn’t have the breakdown of speeding tickets.

Ahhh...how convenient.

Speeding tickets are often taken as an affront by motorists who feel their behavior is somehow less important in terms of law enforcement. As if a police cruiser looking for speeders is somehow "out of play" to any emergency call that comes through.

Do police coffers get lined with money garnered from moving violation tickets? No doubt. Maybe that's where someone working as an advocate for motorists should focus his or her attention. Take away any perceived incentive(s) to write tickets, then see if what police officials like Chief Stevenson say is genuine.

Motorists should be glad. The announcement of Livonia's speed trap infamy should put those behind the wheel on notice.

To paraphrase Bob Seger, "You better watch out for the POH-lice, when you cruise into Livonia."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's Simply "Mad"

If the end of summer is getting you down---Labor Day weekend reminds us that fall is just around the corner---and you feel like you need a pick me up, I'm going to recommend a movie.

But check with your doctor first, to make sure that laughing convulsively won't do you any harm.

Then go out and rent "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

Or anything with Peter Sellers in it, if your local DVD store doesn't carry IAMMMMW.

The reason you should grab a copy of IAMMMMW is simple, just like what Jackie Gleason told "60 Minutes" when asked why "The Honeymooners" is still popular.

"Because it's funny," The Great One said.

Many of you have probably seen "World," which I have, numerous times. You might be leaning back right now and saying, "Oh yeaaaaah.....that WAS funny!"

Only a laugh riot---one of the funniest movies ever made.

I bring it up because one of the cable networks showed "World" over the weekend, and I sadly only caught the last hour---which wasn't too bad, actually, because that final hour contains some of the funniest physical comedy ever caught on celluloid.

But to truly appreciate "World," you need to see it from beginning to end. Just make sure you have over two-and-a-half hours to kill. That's how long the film is, sans commercial breaks.

"World" was released in 1963, just two weeks before President Kennedy was assassinated. It was directed by Stanley Kramer, who had a gift for presenting physical comedy and films with "big" scenes.

The ensemble cast reads like a Who's Who of American film and television comedy. In fact, most of the players were predominantly TV stars who only dabbled in movies.

The all-star cast, in no particular order, includes: Sid Caesar; Mickey Rooney; Jim Backus; Milton Berle; Jonathan Winters; Spencer Tracy; Buddy Hackett; Dick Shawn; Ethel Merman; Jimmy Durante; Terry-Thomas; Edie Adams; Dorothy Provine; Don Knotts; Jesse White; William Demarest; Peter Falk; Buster Keaton; Carl Reiner; Phil Silvers; and many more who had cameos, like Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, and The Three Stooges.

The plot is made for madcap zaniness. An old man (Durante) wipes out in the desert and, just before he dies, he mumbles to the folks who rush to his aid something about a hidden treasure. The cache of money is supposedly buried in Santa Rosita Beach State Park under "a big W."

The "Big W" turns out to be four palm trees that protrude from the ground in a W-like design.

What ensues after the Samaritans leave Durante's body in the desert is a full-throttle race to the treasure.

Much of the cast of "World," including Spencer Tracy (right, in white)
Courtesy Corbis Images

Filming began in 1962. The great comedian Ernie Kovacs was slated to play a lead role, but Kovacs sadly died not long before cameras rolled. His widow, Edie Adams, had already been signed and she agreed to stay with the project---mainly because Ernie's estate needed the money.

The list of stars asked to be part of the ensemble who couldn't or wouldn't do the film included Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Ronald Reagan, and others.

The movie is simply a riotous romp through the California desert, and it culminates in everyone chasing Spencer Tracy, who plays a police chief who tries to abscond with all the dough once it's dug up.

The climactic moment takes place with many of the cast teetering on a fire truck's extended ladder over town. They get expelled off the ladder one by one, with hilarious results.

I won't spoil the ending, in case you haven't seen it, or have forgotten it.

If you can't find "World," you can "settle" for any of the Pink Panther movies starring Sellers (or a vehicle called "The Party" with Sellers, though he doesn't play his Inspector Clouseau character in it), or Woody Allen's first film, "Take the Money and Run," which will also prompt tears of laughter.

Or head to Amazon.com or a similar site and buy the aforementioned films. They're nice to have on the shelf when laughter is the medicine you need at the time.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pit Bull****

If you want a dog for protection, get a German Shepherd. Or a doberman. Or a rottweiler.

Owning a pit bull is like walking around with a cocked gun that has a hair trigger.

The aforementioned dogs in the opening sentence provide security without attacking out of the blue (for the most part). The pit bull clearly has some issues.

They come in waves, these pit bull attacks. And when a wave comes, it's of the tidal variety.

We're on the crest of one now. Pit bulls are running amok in Metro Detroit these days.

Yesterday, a four-month old baby's scalp was bloodied. The other day, a family's five-month old puppy was mauled to death and its teenaged owner was badly injured by a pit bull gone mad.

Those are just two of the recent pit bull incidents reported over the past several weeks.

It's not just the dog itself---the owners of these violent animals are culpable. For example, it's amazing how many pit bull owners don't keep their dogs chained, tied, or otherwise under control.

I'm a dog lover. Let's get that straight right off the bat. We currently own an epileptic Jack Russell Terrier who is precious to all of us. So my anti-pit bull stance isn't because I wish a pox on dogs of all breeds.

Too often, the missing ingredient is that elusive element we like to call "common sense."

Pit bull owners will tell you that their breed gets a bad rap. They'll say that the pit bull only attacks when provoked, or that if it is violent, it was somehow made that way by an irresponsible, perhaps sadistic owner.

I can go along with the latter, but what's provoking about a teenager walking his puppy without trespassing? Or a four-month old child minding his own business? If that's considered enough to provoke another dog to attack, then something is wrong with the attacking dog.

The lovable pit bull

I'm not sure what the answer is, because it's not easy regulating who owns what pet. What muddies the issue further is that when pit bulls attack, it's very often the first instance of violence that the animal has ever exhibited.

In other words, if you own a pit bull you own a ticking time bomb that only counts down internally, so we can't see the detonation coming.

I don't think that pit bull owners are bad people, any more so than the owner of any animal is a bad person. But I do think that too many pit bull owners lack responsibility and that much-ballyhooed common sense.

The pit bull attack is scary because the animal's jaws are so strong and so is its barrel chest, and the ferocity is mind-boggling when it happens. A smaller dog or even a human can be killed within a minute or two.

Do we dare try to eradicate pit bulls? They aren't on any endangered species list, but if we make their breeding illegal, that might be a start.

For all who think that might be unconstitutional or otherwise tromping on dog owners' rights, come talk to me when we start reading of a spate of Golden Retriever or Pomeranian attacks.