Thursday, May 31, 2012

The REAL Avengers (to me)

This isn't the first time that I'm about to show my age or come off as a curmudgeon, nor will it be the last.

So it should come as no surprise that when I tell you my first thoughts when I hear "The Avengers" are not about comic book super heroes.

In fact, I can't wrap my mind around associating "The Avengers" with anything other than a derby-wearing Brit and his slinky female, crime fighting partner.

They made another movie called "The Avengers" back in 1998, starring Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman, but that is also not what I think of when I see or hear the A-word.

I'm about to tell you a story that isn't about box office records or men who turn green when angry or a red, white and blue-clad man who carries a shield.

It's not based on comic books and it has no traces of Robert Downey, Jr.

This is the story of that British-produced TV series of the 1960s starring Patrick MacNee and a trio of lovelies: Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson. A later version teamed MacNee and Gareth Hunt with Joanna Lumley.

"The Avengers" that I know fascinated me as a child, for much the same reason that it does so now, when I catch it on reruns: the eery lack of supporting characters or extras.

"The Avengers," British TV version, featured MacNee as John Steed and one of the aforementioned ladies as Cathy Gale (Blackman); Emma Peel (Rigg); and Tara King (Thorson). The pair fought crime, not with guns or special powers, but with an umbrella (Steed) and martial arts (female partner).

It was unclear who Steed and lovely worked for, really. But it didn't matter. Each episode started with MacNee notifying his lady partner in some way, shape or form that "We are needed."



Patrick MacNee with the second of his three original partners, Diana Rigg
 

The bad guys were typically white collar criminals who dabbled in such things as murder, world dominance or mind control. There was a lot of experimenting by mad scientists.

The Avengers that I know infiltrated, got caught and placed in peril (usually the female half), and were saved by their partner. There was way more hand-to-hand combat than there was shooting.

But as I mentioned before, the sets and exterior shots were so devoid of film extras and secondary characters that it made The Avengers' world surreal and borderline creepy. There were so few actors playing opposite MacNee et al that it seemed like the Avengers were among the last living people remaining on Earth.

I don't know if that was the effect that the producers were shooting for, or if they were just cheap or under a strict budget. But regardless, it worked---for me, anyway.

MacNee's Steed was debonair and dashing and almost unflappable. Nothing got him too excited or worried. He fought crime with a smirk and with hubris. Those were his gun and knife.

His female partner was sexy, of course, but even though she often got caught snooping, she was no dummy. And sometimes she kicked the baddies' butts with karate and judo.

The Avengers on the small screen with its lack of extras and fancy shmancy camera moves was like watching a story in a vacuum. The bad guys were often demented or, at the very least, just plain weird. And Steed and his accomplice reported to no one but themselves.

That is The Avengers that I know and love.

No, I won't see that movie that's out now and setting all sorts of records. They can never be, to me, the REAL Avengers.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Unfathomable? Sadly, No

For crying out loud, now seven year-olds are hanging themselves.

The suspected reasons? Depression. Bullying.

Neither should apply to a second grader. The latter shouldn't apply to anyone.

A poor 14-year-old girl in Detroit found her seven year-old brother dangling from his bunk bed. The child had managed to fasten a noose from a belt and hanged himself.

How do seven year-olds even know about hanging, much less how to do it? How does a child of that age pull this horrific act off, physically?

The mental and emotional aspects are just as chilling.

The child was, according to published reports, despondent over his parents splitting up, and there was some bullying going on at school, for good measure.

Enough of each, apparently, to cause the boy to grab a belt, climb onto his bunk bed, and do himself in.

Think back to when you were seven years old. It may be fuzzy but you ought to have memories.

To do so is also an exercise in futility, because most readers of this blog (if I have my demographics right) were likely seven years old in the 1960s, '70s or '80s. All decades before the Internet and before bullying became more than a shakedown for lunch money on the way to school.

So it's an apples and oranges comparison, I know, to recall your life at age seven and the lives of kids today. Maybe not even apples and oranges. Probably apples and liver.

But I ask you to recall age seven in order to start a path to the answer to this question: Where did it go sideways? When did being seven years old become tantamount to being a corporate CEO after Black Friday?

What kind of bullying is going on among seven year-olds that could drive one to kill himself? And how does a child of that age become so mentally broken by his parents' breakup that he figures his life is over anyway, so might as well accelerate it?

My parents separated when I was 11, got back together twice, then divorced when I was 14. That's not an ideal age for a boy to lose a father's influence at home, but there you go. The implications of the divorce on me as a person, I believe, didn't manifest themselves until well into my adult years.

But at 11 and 14, suicide wasn't even on the radar for me. There was some shame and embarrassment that my folks weren't living together, but nothing remotely suicidal.

At half that age, this boy in Detroit hanged himself.

I know I'm asking a lot of questions in this post, but that's always the bi-product of terrible stories like this---questions, which are plentiful. What's in short supply are answers.


The 7 year-old hanged himself in this Detroit house


The story being reported says that the boy had been counseled by a pastor and that in addition to the bullying, he was teased constantly for being the only boy in a home with eight girls.

A knee-jerk reaction to suicides which point to bullying is to dismiss the victim as being weak emotionally and/or overreacting to what was being done/said to him.

At least lately, there seems to be more of an accounting of the tormenters. Anti-bullying campaigns have been ratcheted up in recent years. But there's still the whispered opinion, "It can't be THAT bad."

Everyone has a different level of tolerance; that much is true. And, indeed, what might drive Person A bonkers might roll off Person B's back.

But one thing is certain: if there was no bullying, levels of tolerance wouldn't matter.

Bullying will never go away completely. But I hope it's being reduced, thanks to the levels of awareness being raised almost daily.

Bullying, alone, didn't cause this Detroit youngster to kill himself, according to reports. There is the recent parental split to consider as well.

Yet I have a feeling that the bullying and teasing played more of a role than the breakup.

Was it THAT bad?

Yes---for that little boy.

And if you think his case is an anomaly, consider this.

Of the 36,951 suicides recorded in the U.S. in 2009 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 265 involved children ages 5-14.

Two-hundred and sixty-five. That's five a week, and that was three years ago.

"It's just a tragedy on so many levels," Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said Thursday, calling the situation "unfathomable."

Yes, but clearly one that isn't as unusual as you might want to think.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Brit and the Bostonian

At first blush, it would appear that the male Brit from Isle of Man and the black female from Boston have nothing in common, apart from being singers.

The Brit moved to Manchester and then to Australia and grew up in a family of singers, songwriters and musicians, and the American girl, one of seven non-musical kids, stayed in Boston, where, as her mother said, "She literally loved to sing. She used to go through the house singing, singing. She sang for breakfast and for lunch and for supper."

The Brit enjoyed the familiarity of being in a pop group with his two brothers---one a twin---while the American girl spent time as a backup singer for the wildly popular Three Dog Night in the late-1960s, early-1970s before making it on her own as a solo artist.

Then the disco rage hit America hard, and suddenly Robin Gibb and Donna Summer had a whole lot in common.

It was in 1977-78 when Gibb of the Bee Gees and Summer of, well, Donna Summer, made their splashes on the disco scene. The Bee Gees revived their careers with the soundtrack to "Saturday Night Fever," and Summer had several hits that made her the de facto Queen of the Discotheque.

Robin Gibb, along with fraternal twin Maurice, teamed with Barry to form the Bee Gees, a group that started in the late-1960s as a ballad-singing trio of harmonizers and would end the 1970s as an uptempo, driving group of pulsating dance musicians.

Summer was a backup singer for Three Dog Night, a mostly commercial but hit-making group who were constantly at or near the top of the Billboard charts from 1969-74.

Gibb, 62, and Summer, 63, both died within three days of each other (May 17 and 20), and both of cancer.

The Bee Gees, under the guidance and direction of mega-producer Robert Stigwood, had early success in the late-1960s but by 1973, they were teetering as the hits dried up.Stigwood reinvented his trio of brothers and by 1975 they were recording disco-type numbers like the hugely popular "Jive Talking." Their record sales went through the roof. Then came the "Fever" soundtrack, and that made the Bee Gees hotter than a firecracker.



Summer, meanwhile, ventured out on her own in 1974 after leaving Three Dog Night and also in 1975 found Billboard love with the disco tune "Love to Love You Baby." Summer's role initially was that of demo recorder, but she got the idea of cooing the lyrics, a la Marilyn Monroe, and even convinced producer Giorgio Moroder to turn out the lights, sit with her on a sofa, and "induce" Summer's moans and groans, which she blended into the song. After hearing the result, Moroder had Summer's version released instead.

So from different sides of the "pond," the Brit Robin Gibb and the Boston girl Donna Summer eventually became contemporaries, their songs no doubt played back-to-back on radio stations across the country in the late-1970s.

Gibb and his brothers, and Summer didn't invent or launch the disco craze, though it might seem like it. Some people probably think that they did. But the truth is that the disco era looked to have a short shelf life before the Bee Gees and Summer revitalized it with their music.

Bill Oakes, who supervised the "Fever" soundtrack, said of the Bee Gees and the monster album, "Disco had run its course. These days, Fever is credited with kicking off the whole disco thing–-it really didn't. Truth is, it breathed new life into a genre that was actually dying."

The very same could be said of Donna Summer and her rat-a-tat-tat slew of hits from 1976-80.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What About Bob?

On the one hand, it's hard to imagine what possible gain the mysterious man named Bob could have in deliberately misleading and misrepresenting himself as the case-cracker of the Oakland County child killings from 1976-77.

On the other, there are plenty of whack jobs out there, so you never know.

I have written a few times about the killings, which took the lives of four children, ages 10 to 12. It's a case that fascinates me, not only because I was 12 when the killing started and 13 when they ended, but because it is a high-profile cold case---possibly one of the most notorious in Michigan history.

Bob has gotten back into the headlines again, having conducted a rather bizarre round of interviews with reporters from the law office of Paul Hughes. Of course, Bob was nowhere to be found; the interviews were conducted, one-by-one, via a telephone placed on a table in Hughes' office.

Bob suggests that he, along with some fellow investigators, have a bunch of very useful information about the killings---if someone would only give him access to certain key parts of the exhaustive investigation that's been conducted, off and on, since 1977.

On Monday, a 65-minute audio recording was released in which Bob puts forth his theories about the killings, which includes suggestions that the killers (there were at least five people involved, he says) may have committed the crimes on pagan holidays or coinciding with the lunar calendar.

The recording was made in October 2010 as Bob spoke, via speaker phone, with Chief Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor Paul Walton and Undersheriff Mike McCabe.

Bob has enthralled at least two of the victims' families, but he has hardly impressed prosecutors and other criminal investigators.

“He’s not going to give any information because he doesn’t have any information,” Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said Tuesday.

“The most bizarre and saddest thing is that anyone was buying any of this," she added.

Bob says the bodies may have been deliberately dumped in communities whose first letters were designed to spell out some sort of acronym, if arranged chronologically.

He says a lot, actually, but whether any of it is true is highly debatable. You can listen for yourself HERE

One thing should be certain, whether Bob is credible or not: his 15 minutes are up.



He claims to not be willing to name names or delve further into his theories, because he doesn't want to jeopardize the investigation, which is funny because he, at the same time, professes an utter distrust of the authorities who have conducted said investigation.

Bob's involvement is a side show of a $100-million lawsuit being filed by Hughes on behalf of Deborah Jarvis, mother of victim Kristine Mihelich, 10.

No one has met Bob in person---not even Jarvis, who says she's had "hundreds" of telephone conversations with him over the past several years.

Bob's 15 minutes are done. He needs to pee or get off the pot, so to speak. There certainly can be some common ground found, when it comes to disseminating his purported information in a way that doesn't jeopardize anything.

McCabe seems to be speaking common sense when he says, “It’s a pretty sad state of affairs that this thing has turned into a circus,” he said. “And that’s a huge disservice to the families and especially the victims.”

Enough of Bob's games. If he has tangible evidence that can bring closure to the victims' families, he needs to spill whatever beans he has.

If he doesn't, Bob, in a way, is no better than those who committed the horrible crimes some 35 years ago. He might even be worse.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Dead End Kid

In the relatively short history of the office of Wayne County Executive---not even 30 years---the job hasn't proven to be a launching pad or stepping stone to anything else, politically.

But there have only been three WCEs, anyway.

There was Bill Lucas, the first one, and he served four years (1983-87) before running for governor, and losing. Lucas, the former County Sheriff before becoming the county's first executive, ran unsuccessfully for sheriff again in 2004.

Lucas was followed by the late Ed McNamara, and while he served for four terms, McNamara was in the twilight of his political career, though his machine continued to work long after he retired in 2003.

Now we have Bob Ficano, aka The Little Italian General (LIG).

Ficano, another former Sheriff, is the first of three WCEs to even remotely have to fight to keep his job.

Wayne County Executive has been a job of emperors. No Republican candidate could ever dream of election. And once you're entrenched as the incumbent, you can pretty much write your own ticket---as long as you stay Wayne County Executive.

WCE is a great gig if you can get it. Just be aware that it won't get you anywhere.

Ficano is the first of the three WCEs to be neither retiring nor having his eye on another elected office.

Not that having his eye on something else would be to his benefit.



There has been a lot of talk lately---from county commissioners to the op/ed writers in town---that suggests Wayne County would be better off with Bob Ficano's name being written after the words "Ex-County Executive."

That may be true. In fact, it probably is.

But Ficano isn't close to retirement, as his predecessor and friend-turned-enemy McNamara was, nor is Ficano grooming himself for that next step in public service.

Well, not anymore, he isn't---grooming himself, that is.

With scandal surrounding him and growing like some horror movie, it's all Ficano can do to keep a tightwad's grip on his own power and influence on a daily basis, let alone polishing his resume and primping his portfolio for a run at something bigger and better.

The folks calling for his resignation don't ask the questions: Why should he? What else would he do?

Yeah, it's a selfish thing, but it's true.

Ficano is a lawyer---save the jokes---and could always find a practice to horn in on somewhere.

But it would be off to the private sector with him, for sure. His political career was pretty much stagnant before all the scandal erupted last fall, anyway.

It was stagnant because where would he have gone after WCE?

Governor? No one outstate really gives a crap about the Wayne County Executive, whose HQ is in Detroit. It would be like the mayor of Detroit running for governor.

State Legislature? Would any electorate in its right mind send Bob Ficano to Lansing to represent them, in light of the debacles that have occurred in the past eight months?

Another run at Sheriff? Besides the clear self-demotion aspect of such a move, let's be serious.

Sheriff?

Think about the absurd irony there.

So Bob Ficano, I believe, is finished as a public servant---whether he resigns or not, whether he chooses to run for another office or not. Either way, he's finished.

And it was true before all the scandal, given the distinct dead end-ness of his current position.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Seasons, Shmeasons

They will tell you that Michigan is still a state of four seasons. Do not believe them.

Somehow, sometime---and I haven't been able to pinpoint when it happened---we in Michigan stopped having four seasons and now have two. OK, two-and-a-half---at best.

The seasons have also changed names.

They are now "bloody hot" and "chilly/damp."

Whatever happened to a crisp, fall afternoon? Or a soothing spring day with an air freshener-like aroma all about?

Seems all we have now is unseasonable weather; you know, weird, mild winters and blazing hot Septembers.

Actually, the word "unseasonable" is probably not even accurate, because as I said, where have the seasons gone?

We had 84 degrees in March, which was the tail end of a winter in which I picked up a snow shovel all of three times. I'm not complaining about the lack of snow; far be it. It's just that the human body is very sensitive to temperature changes, and in Michigan those changes have been as abrupt as sticking your head in the freezer and removing it.



Tell me, how do you decide what to wear each day in this burg?

Chances are, what you put on in the morning will be too damn hot for mid-day, and what you don in mid-day will chill you to the bone that evening. And so on.

If you own a pool in Michigan, which we don't anymore, good luck to you.

I remember our first pool season. It was 1998. We purchased in May and it was installed several days later. We were swimming---comfortably, not just to do it---in mid-May.

Try that nowadays.

The swimming season in Michigan is like a snow cone on a hot day---it's rapidly shrinking.

Gone is May-September, which is what it was in 1998.

Now you're lucky if you get two good months (June and July) in. August can't even be trusted anymore. The chilly days have pervaded even the eighth month on occasion in recent years.

I really miss the fall. May it rest in peace.

Summer kind of melds, nowadays, into a chilly, wet slop of an October and November anymore. Actually, it starts in September, truth be told.

The four seasons are a thing of the past. Not that it's always a bad thing. I like an unseasonably warm day as much as the next fellow.

I just don't know how to dress. And that's kind of important, wouldn't you say?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Nerdy VP?

Jerry Ford must be beaming, somewhere in the afterlife.

Ole Jerry, before he became the only Michigan-born President of the United States, was the Vice President, under Dick Nixon.

Ford is also the only president to ascend to that position without being elected. He wasn't elected VP, either, come to think of it.

Ford was the accidental president, assuming the role after first being picked by Nixon to replace the disgraced and resigned Spiro Agnew as veep, and then becoming president when Nixon himself also resigned under fire.

I say Ford must be beaming because, according to some reports out of Florida, Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, is under consideration to be Mitt Romney's running mate in the race for president.

The possibility was raised by Tampa Bay Online, and it says, to wit: "The RNC (and to a large degree the Romney campaign) is loving Michigan, though. Detroit, Michigan's largest city, is home to GM, the once-American company. Today, GM stands for Government Motors, and Detroit is the armpit of America. Once the fourth-largest U.S. city, Detroit is now ninth, and flight from the city continues. Michigan as a whole is overly reliant upon unionized, low-skilled industries. Built on a near-century-old economic model, Michigan's economy is broken for sure.

Michigan hasn't voted for the Republican nominee for president since 1988, when George H.W. Bush faced Michael Dukakis. But there is a reason Michigan got the second-best hotel assignment: Gov. Rick Snyder. My bet is he's Romney's man for vice president."

There isn't a byline other than "TBO.com staff," so it's unknown who is speaking when he (or she) said, "My bet..."

So how does Rick Snyder, VP, sound?



Recall that Snyder caused a stir last year when he suggested that he may be a "one and done" governor, i.e. not seeking re-election in 2014. He quickly backed off from that---or, at least, his press people did.

Strategically, it would seem odd to think that Romney, with his Michigan roots, would need a Michigan governor as his running mate. But then, Mitt didn't exactly blow Rick Santorum away in the state's primary.

But at second glance, a Michigan man might be good for Romney, who is still wounded from his lack of support of the Big Three---surely you remember "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt"?

Snyder, I believe, is a good but ideologically-flawed man who found himself governor of Michigan thanks to a perfect storm. He, too, in a way, is accidental.

If Romney picks Snyder to cavort with him this fall, I would be surprised. But not shocked.

Can anything be shocking these days, politically?

Just ask Jerry Ford, the accidental president. And that was 38 years ago, almost.


 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Just the Beginning

I was walking our Jack Russell Terrier when I got the news.

It was a tad past 10:00 on a Sunday night when my cell phone rang.

It was my wife and she blurted the news out.

"BIN LADEN IS DEAD!"

I said one word, almost as loud as hers.

"WHAT?"

And that's how I found out that Osama bin Laden had been killed---on May 1, 2011.

I had my portable radio with me, so I immediately turned it on and scanned for some news, some confirmation---even though Mrs. Eno was watching TV coverage as she called me.

For the remainder of the walk---about 20 minutes---I listened on the radio as details of Bin Laden's erasure started to roll in.

The raid and subsequent killing of the Babe Ruth of terrorists was the kind of news that you remember where you were when you heard it.

So it's been a year; what has Bin Laden's death meant in that one year?

Well, now, with 2012 being an election year, you can guess at least part of the answer to that question.

The eradication of Bin Laden is sure to be a political football this summer and fall.



President Obama will, rightly, use the act to his benefit, along with the elimination of other key Al Qaeda operatives since he took the oath in January 2009.

Mitt Romney's camp will look to diminish Bin Laden's killing as something that any president would have done, if given the opportunity---i.e., if his intelligence folks were as razor sharp as Obama's.

Both sides run the risk of using Bin Laden's death too much.

Too much talking about it might seem like crowing; too much pooh-poohing will look like sour grapes.

Today, across the Internet, there are essays and analyses about the one-year anniversary of Bin Laden's killing and how it's affected the world stage.

There was even a piece about how the terrorism leader had been despondent in the weeks leading up to his death, supposedly depressed about Al Qaeda's direction.

Bin Laden, a sympathetic figure?

Hardly.

But Bin Laden's dour mood is not unusual for the evil men in world history.

Hitler took his own life. There's some question as to the fulfillment and true happiness in the lives of other various bad guys not long before their demise.

The realization that the goal of absolute power and "untouchable" status will not be realized, after all, is sometimes too much for these warped men to fathom.

But enough of the dime store psychology.

Osama Bin Laden has been dead one full year. And this is NOT the last time you will hear about it.

Fair warning.