Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fall Guy

I would love fall---or autumn, if you prefer---much more if I was more tolerant of what comes behind it: Old Man Winter.

I adore a crisp fall morning, afternoon and evening. I get to enjoy them all because our Jack Russell Terrier demands exercise in the form of several walks per day, so I don't have much of a choice. But it's all good.

So I like the smell of someone burning something or another in the distance. I like the colors, of course. On Saturday afternoons, I like knowing that, all over the country, college football games are being played, whether that college has 1,000 students or 50,000.

But as I get older I find myself more and more resentful of the Old Man every year from December thru March.

I just don't have the patience anymore for the snow and the ice and the hazards they both bring---and I'm including dog walking in there, in addition to driving.

Don't tell me that you're safer walking on the sidewalks in winter time than you are sliding around on the roads.

You ever hear of black ice?

Old Man Winter hasn't been my favorite guy lately

The sidewalks are full of it, lying sneakily beneath the thin layer of powdery snow. And it's as dangerous as anything you'll encounter on the roads---especially when your ability to keep your balance is compromised by having one hand occupied with a leash.

I have almost fallen innumerable times---which scares me to death every time it happens---and have actually fallen way more than once.

Neither is pleasant, though the actual falling is worse. That's because your first thought isn't if you're OK---but rather if anyone saw you.

We are all like that, I'd lay odds. Seems it's human nature to be far more concerned if someone saw us tumble than if we are physically OK. The ego is bruised easier than our bodies.

And let me tell you---I've taken some nasty falls in the past several winters, walking Scamp, who gets the bejeebers scared out of him every time I fall and nearly fall. The involuntary tug and yank on his leash as I try to keep upright is what startles the poor little guy.

Then there's the shoveling. My snow blower went kaput several years ago and I've neglected to get it fixed---shame on me. The result is clearing snow the old fashioned---and more physically-demanding---way.

I would appreciate the romance of winter more if I didn't have to interact with it beyond looking at it.

Hey, keep me inside, away from winter's elements, and I'm good to go. I'll romance the heck out of it in the coziness of indoors.

If fall could extend all the way to spring, with no stop for winter in between, then I'd be ecstatic.

And less bruised.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Moms

I'm old enough to remember a simpler time---when being a "stage mom" was pretty much as bad as it got when it came to the mothers of child actors.

I remember Teri Shields, the mother of actress Brooke Shields, who was vilified for being too aggressive and bossy as her daughter rose through the ranks as an adolescent.

Teri Shields was taken to task because at that time and prior (the late-1970s to early-1980s), the parents were very much in the background. You ever hear salacious stories of the moms of Larry Matthews or Jerry Mathers or any of the kids on "The Brady Bunch"?

No, you didn't.

But then came Teri Shields, who was bombastic and sometimes, it seemed, in competition with her daughter for attention.

Well, turns out that the "stage mom" maybe isn't such a bad thing. At least the stage mom keeps tabs on her child(ren), albeit perhaps in a way that prompts eye-rolling.

Brooke Shields turned out just fine, thank you. Granted, I'm biased. I'm a big Brooke Shields fan. But she certainly hasn't gone sideways, despite being in the public consciousness from before she was a teenager.

Then there's Lindsay Lohan.

Lindsay just had her probation revoked because she failed to show up for her community service. Before you knew it, she was being slapped into handcuffs and led out of the courtroom.

It's just another sad chapter in the story of Lohan, who was once, believe it or not, a fresh and freckle-faced youngster with a promising movie career that was budding.Link
Now the only time her face appears before a camera, it's for a mugshot.

Lindsay's had six of those snapped since 2007. You can see the gallery here.

The difference between Lohan's free fall and the stability enjoyed by Brooke Shields?

Parenting. Pure and simple.

Like I said, turns out that being an overbearing stage mom isn't so bad, when compared to the Jerry Springer-esque escapades of Lohan's parents.

Parenting is the thing that I was fearful would take Miley Cyrus down. I'm still not convinced that it won't. I hope I'm wrong. But Miley's choices have left a lot to be desired. It's not a leap to conclude that Miley's broken family upbringing isn't helping matters.

Lindsay Lohan's folks' public meltdowns are well-known. Mom Dina has acted more like a party buddy than a mother. And now we're in that sad stage of affairs when dad is taking shots at daughter.

Four of the five faces of Lindsay, since 2007 (far left)

Michael Lohan says that he thinks Lindsay is smoking something---literally.

"That's from smoking a pipe with meth or crack," he said about photos of Lindsay's brown teeth. "She's smoking either crack or meth, one or the other. I'm not going to shade it."

Michael Lohan has had his shares of brushes with the law---and drugs, too. So maybe this is simply a case of "takes one to know one."

Regardless, life in Hollywood when you're on screen before you've lost all your baby teeth is tough enough with good parents and a stable home life, let alone when you've got Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum as your mom and dad.

I'll take the embarrassing stage mom over that, any day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Take This Lamb and Shove It

The Little Italian General, Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, has offered up some lambs for sacrifice in the Turkia Mullin severance scandal, but this time he's finding that the county natives' appetite is a tad more voracious than what he's able to offer them.

Ficano suspended for 30 days, without pay, his top deputy, Azzam Elder, and lead attorney Marianne Talon. Ficano also fired former Human Resources Director Tim Taylor, who retired in April but who had been doing consulting work since.

In the past, that might have been enough to quell the rancor and get everybody back to their busy days. It might have been the equivalent of the cops yelling, "Nothing to see here!"

Not this time.

Severance-Gate is taking on a life of its own. The newspapers, usually very kind to the County Executive, are suddenly chewing on Ficano like a dog on a rawhide. Now even the residents are getting into the act.

On Monday, several dozen of them protested outside the Guardian Building downtown, which houses County headquarters. They held signs and demanded Ficano's resignation.

It's not enough, this time, for Ficano to blame others for his misdeeds. The rug he is trying to sweep this under is tacked down.

Why, even the "K" word has been bandied about.

“We went through the whole sage of corruption with Kwame Kilpatrick and now we’re thrust into a whole new saga of corruption with Ficano,” Sandra Hines, 57, of Detroit, who led the protest, told the Detroit Free Press. “He needs to step down.”

Yes, that "K" word---or words, rather.

It's going to get worse for the Little Italian General before it gets better.

This is because the FBI is set to get their inquisitive mitts on Severance-Gate.

The Attorney General's office announced on Tuesday afternoon that the FBI (no less) will take over the investigation of the curiously generous ways Ficano's appointees are compensated in Wayne County.

Severance-Gate's tentacles have even reached Lansing.

The decision to have the FBI investigate came after a hearing before the House Oversight, Reform and Ethics committee, which delayed a vote on a request from state Rep. John Olumba, D-Detroit, to have the AG’s office directly investigate Wayne County.

Olumba told reporters that his zeal was challenged by Ficano crony Michael Grundy, who functions as a sort of county whip.

Grundy, according to Olumba, told the legislator that he was "in over his head," and that Olumba ought to consider dropping the entire matter. Grundy denies all that.

Again, in the past, that might have worked.

Ficano trying to explain himself at a recent press conference

But why this, and why now? Why has this particular incident drawn so much ire---from the press to the general public, to certain state lawmakers?

Back to the "K" word, for one explanation.

This town was Kwame weary for quite some time. And because of that, it was also not in the mood to hear of malfeasance from any elected official. There was an unspoken moratorium, it seemed, on going after the political crooks.

That moratorium has been lifted, and in grandiose fashion.

Folks want Ficano's blood---mainly because they feel strongly that Elder, Talon and Taylor are small fish. Or, worse for the Little Italian General, they feel that Ficano is solely responsible for Mullin's ostentatious payout to begin with.

And they would be right.

Does anyone really think that Ficano was betrayed by Elder, Talon and Taylor, as County Commissioner Ilona Varga intimated recently?

It's funny how our leaders always seem to get detached from their duties when it's most convenient.

Ficano is pretending that he was just a clueless boss whose underlings pulled off twisted feats of derring do behind his back.

Then he stuck their heads on sticks and tried to declare Severance-Gate dead.

Not this time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Last Sitcom Standing?

The hair is more gray, the paunch is more pronounced around the belly. The face is a tad more jagged.

But Tim Allen is back on TV, and again he's there to represent---Michigan, that is.

Allen, 58, is the star of the new ABC sitcom, Last Man Standing, where he plays a marketing exec whose nest is filled with women---his wife and daughters. The series premieres tonight.

The show takes place in the Denver area, but Allen's character is a University of Michigan grad.

It's been about 12 years since Allen, who grew up in Birmingham, was last seen on the small screen as do-it-yourself TV host Tim Taylor on Home Improvement.

Since then, movies beckoned (The Santa Clause films, most prominently) and Allen made a mint with just his voice in the Toy Story franchise.

He's also the narrator of the Pure Michigan ad campaign on TV and radio.

It's been over 20 years since Allen first made a name for himself in the entertainment industry, grunting and acting the cave man as he did stand up. His act was centered around the male penchant for power tools. It's how he landed the Home Improvement gig.

Well, that's not quite true. Allen made a name for himself before that, in a twisted way; he was booked on a drug charge back in 1978 in the Kalamazoo area. The '78 mug shot is still just a Google search away.

And today?

"I like doing TV -- I think," Allen told the Detroit Free Press in a phone interview. "Compared to movies, which I adore, this is a way I don't have to be on a far-off location and can be close to home, near my 3-year-old. It's a very structured environment, and with this I'm an executive producer so I'm involved in really all aspects of the production -- from the set design, which is something I really like, to the actors I'm working with and script approval. There's a bunch on my plate right now, but it's cool."

Allen as Mike Baxter in ABC's new sitcom, Last Man Standing

Allen is likeable, and on TV that's what sells---whether it's a sitcom or a talk show or anything else that is beamed into people's living rooms. In a business filled with variables and which is susceptible to the onslaught of technology, likeability has remained a constant in terms of whether audiences will watch you or not.

Whether TV viewers will gravitate back to Allen remains to be seen. His wife is played by TV veteran Nancy Travis.

Allen is betting on it. He told the Free Press that he feels viewers---especially the males---are ready for a return to a more "traditional sitcom setting."

If anyone should listen to Tim Allen, it's TV executives, because Allen had Home Improvement humming along from 1991-99, frequently in the Nielsen Top Ten. At the show's peak in 1993-94, over 20 million sets of eyeballs tuned in on Allen as Tim Taylor.

It's 12 years later, but maybe the viewership has come full circle. Lord knows there's enough "reality" TV out there to gag an elephant.

"It's difficult to find something where everyone in the family can watch something together -- but that's what we're trying to do," Allen says of Last Man Standing.

I hope he succeeds. The genre of the sitcom could use a winner.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Genius! (Really)

There are some words that just get overused to the point of losing much of their meaning.

Hero. Role model. Cute.

To name a few.

Oh, and "genius," which I am convinced most of the people who use it couldn't even properly define it for you.

But there are also times when those overused, borderline hackneyed words and phrases are quite apt and can, for that precise moment, be used like a square peg in a square hole.

We lost a genius yesterday.

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. who passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer at age 56, was a genius. He was every bit of one as Edison and Einstein and Fermi.

What is genius, then?

Part of it is affecting people's everyday lives, for the better. Whether you embrace technology or not, you'll sound foolish if you try to argue that Jobs' computer chip-based creations didn't positively impact the vast majority of the people who used them.

Jobs started Apple in his garage, the story famously goes. That's in line with genius, too; so many of our greatest inventors have rags-to-riches, overcoming-the-odds stories to tell.

And, like how Edison wasn't just the guy who invented the light bulb, Jobs can't be known just for Apple Computers and all its bi-products. His reach extended into the world of entertainment through his work with Pixar Studios and his involvement with the Walt Disney Company.

Jobs, in the early-1980s

What else is genius?

It's taking elements that had always been there and making something useful out of it. The computer as Jobs founded it could have been created years or even decades before; the materials were there, for the most part.

But it wasn't.

Genius is also being a visionary and not letting anything get in the way of that vision. It's imagining greatness when all that is before you are boards, chips and a soldering gun.

Genius is having as much of an eye for business as you do for creation.

And genius is anticipating what people 5-10 years from now are going to want, and making sure they have it---and then some.

Genius is someone like Steve Jobs. It's safe to say that we may not see his kind again, because everything from now on is just a continuation of what Jobs started.

No, Edison and Einstein and Fermi have nothing on Steve Jobs.

They all had their time, which is all anyone can ask.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Little Italian General

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

How about, "Fool me over and over"?

Last year I worked for the Wayne County Commission as its press secretary/public information person. For those who don't know, the Commission is the legislative branch of county government---the Congress to the County Executive's President, if you will.

But at least Congress has some degree of a spine.

Many of you might have read of the controversial "severance" check that former Wayne County Director of Development Turkia Mullin received after she left that post to head Metro Airport. Mullin voluntarily left a $200,000 job to take the airport position, which pays $250 K. Not bad.

But upon her leaving, County Executive Bob Ficano handed Mullin a $200,000 check, just for leaving. Quite a parting gift.

The payout was allegedly in line with the terms of Mullin's contract. And, she and Ficano said, it wasn't any different than what her predecessor received when he left as development director.

The smelly "severance" caught the good eye of the Detroit News, which came out with this editorial in Sunday's paper, calling for a review of Ficano's appointees' pay. This was after WXYZ-TV (ch. 7) broke the story, courtesy of bulldog reporter Heather Catallo. I couldn't help but laugh---literally, when I read the News editorial. Just ask my wife.

I laughed because in 2010, while working for the Commission, I all but handed the News and the Detroit Free Press smoking guns of the garish pay of Ficano's appointees, and how many of them are no more than do-nothing cronies.

The newspapers did nothing with the info I provided.

But after WXYZ came out with their story last week, the News felt compelled to chime in on Ficano's generosity when it comes to his appointees.

Ficano's office couldn't even come up with a contract for Mullin despite repeated calls for it, by both the media and the Commission, which must approve all contracts in excess of $50,000.

All that was produced was a one paragraph, undated letter, signed by Ficano, to Mullin. It makes reference to a 12-month severance. It's hardly a contract, by any stretch of the imagination. Mullin didn't even sign it.

The County is about $150 million in debt. It has asked already struggling workers to take anywhere from 10-20 percent pay cuts.

Not only that, but I had proof that some of Ficano's staff received 10 percent pay raises just before accepting a 10 percent cut, thus skirting a pay cut altogether.

You heard me.

The Golden (Parachute) Girl, Turkia Mullin

Yet the newspapers did nothing. Neither did the Commission, really. Which is par for the course.

The "Fool me over and over" sentence at the top of this post is directed at the Commission, by the way.

Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak, in response to Catallo's digging, called for a Committee of the Whole meeting downtown this morning, designed to demand answers from Ficano.

As I suspected he would, Ficano pretty much blew the Commission off, despite pleas from the News in this editorial that appeared today.

Bob read a prepared statement that was laughable.

It read, in part, "I have already launched an internal review of the facts and circumstances that led to this payment. I will put protections in place so that this situation isn't repeated."

BOB!!! There's nothing to launch an internal review ABOUT. You gave Mullin a golden parachute. End of story.

Ficano is speaking as if he's gotta "follow the money," like this is Watergate and he's Bob Woodward, not Bob Ficano.

And as far as "Protections in place"....HA! In other words, "I'll try to control myself next time."

As usual, Ficano served up some slop to the Commission, because he knows he can, because so many of them gobble it up and say, "Please, sir, may I have some more?"

The Wayne County Commission is filled with gutless, principle-less Ficano toadies. So nothing much will come of the Ficano-Mullin thing, especially now that Mullin has agreed to pay the money back.

So what of the News' plea for a good, hard look at the myriad of Ficano appointees who are pulling in $100,000+ in salary doing often phantom jobs? You know, the plea that the paper was unwilling to make when I and others in the Commission's inner circle gift-wrapped the information for them?

Good luck with that. The Wayne County Commission looks the other way so much I'm surprised they don't all have kinks in their necks.

I was asked to leave the Commission in January 2011, though it had nothing to do with job performance. My severance was a "Thanks for everything." At least it didn't cost the taxpayers a dime.