Thursday, November 29, 2012

Holy Bidding, Batman!!

It was one of the coolest things I ever saw on television, and I was just a wee lad of four years old.

Oh, how I loved to watch the Batmobile in the Adam West-ravaged, 1960s TV series, "Batman," leave the Bat Cave.

First, there was the firing of the ignition, which always included the stock shot of flames shooting from the Batmobile's exhaust. That was cool, too.

But there was something about the black, souped-up 1955 Lincoln Futura zooming from the cave that captivated me.

That's because there was this small guard rail that would flip down, enabling the Batmobile to pass through. THAT was the coolest thing.

Some things just grab us and don't let go, particularly from our youth.

There was something about that guard rail flipping down that I thought was just so awesome in its simple auspiciousness.

That image comes to mind as I read that the Batmobile is going up for auction. It'll happen on January 19, 2013, at the Barrett-Jackson auction house in Scottsdale, AZ.

The Batmobile is a 19-foot long, black work of art---maybe the coolest vehicle ever, something that Henry Ford could never have conceived in his wildest imagination.

So how much will it fetch in auction?

No one is saying, which is appropriate, because mystery has always been such a large part of the Batman character, from the comic books to the "Dark Knight" movies.

George Barris and his original Batmobile creation

The original Batmobile (there have been some replicas) was created by George Barris, a Los Angeles-based car customizer. I don't know if Barris was given a blueprint, a clay model, or was just left to his own devices, but regardless, he created a masterpiece. The machine (it seems too small to call it a car) has been kept in marvelous condition over the years.

There was so much for a small boy to love about the Batmobile. The flaming exhaust, the bubble top, the siren, the wings, etc., all captivated. And, come on---it was 19 feet long!

Thanks to YouTube, here's a 29-second clip of the boys racing to the Batmobile and leaving the cave. Watch for the guard rail flipping down just before the machine hits the highway!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two Minus a Half Men

I'm not sure which is more troubling---that Angus T. Jones has come out against his own show, "Two and a Half Men," as being "filth," or that it took the young man so many years to come to that conclusion.

Jones, 19, who has been part of the one-joke show for its entire nine-year run, blasted "Men" in a video recorded in October but that has just recently popped up on YouTube.

Appearing with a mostly shaved head and looking like either a hostage or a cult member, Jones says to the camera, "I'm on 'Two and a Half Men' and I don't want to be on it...Please stop watching it and filling your head with filth," Jones adds. "Do some research on the effects of television and your brain, and I promise you you'll have a decision to make when it comes to television and especially with what you watch on television."

Thanks for the advice, Angus, but I don't think you need to do much research to come to the conclusion that "Men" is not exactly a TV show that is brimming with highbrow humor.

For nine years (the past two with Ashton Kutcher as Jon Cryer and Jones' co-star; the first seven were with the manic Charlie Sheen), "Men" has managed to crank out episode after episode on a premise that would appear to have a short shelf life.

Jones plays Cryer's son. Cryer is divorced and for the first seven years he shared an apartment with his boozing, womanizing brother Charlie (Sheen, in a real stretch). Cryer has a contentious relationship with his ex-wife, which, when Jones was younger, was played for laughs as Jones was the feuding ex-spouses' pawn.

Kutcher joined the show two seasons ago as suicidal billionaire Walden Schmidt, who was saved from his death march into the Pacific Ocean because it was too cold. Schmidt then wound up at the late Charlie Harper's home and taken in by Cryer's character, Alan.

So where is all the "filth" (Jones's word) that Angus T. Jones is talking about?

Well, pretty much everywhere.

Angus T. Jones

"Men" shoves sex in your face, plus juvenile bathroom humor; the hilarity of divorce when kids are involved; alcoholism; one-night stands; teen apathy; and other bad character traits of various guest stars and secondary players.

Other than that, it's clean and wholesome fun.

Jones's tirade would appear to be his way of ending his contract, though there has been no comment yet from Warner Brothers studios, the studio where "Men" is shot, about their child star's outburst.

When a celebrity spouts off such religious righteousness, it is often an indicator that he/she is about to walk away from the business. But it's far too early to determine whether Jones' pious-filled beat down of "Men" is an indictment of just that show, or of the business in general.

Maybe we'll see Jones turn up somewhere else on television, a medium not known for its dignity.

The kid is right about "Men," of course. Even if he is a bit of a slow learner.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Question Is...(Beats Me)

When I first started watching "Jeopardy," the dollar values were $10-50 for the first round and $20-100 for Double Jeopardy. The answers were revealed by stagehands pulling cards backstage. The only lights were the ones illuminating the stage. Don Pardo was the show announcer. Art Fleming was the host, and he didn't have all sorts of foreign words to over-pronounce. No one won trips or tens of thousands of dollars. The categories included such as "Potent Potables" and "Potpourri."

But the game was still damned hard to play, and needed legitimate intellect in order to succeed. "Jeopardy" was never about spinning wheels or drawing cards or shouting "Big Money! Big Money!" or "No Whammies!" It was never about dumb luck or bouncing up and down on stage like a contestant on "Let's Make a Deal."

"Jeopardy" is the one game show that can make me feel intellectually bankrupt. Yet it's that very feeling that draws me to it, like an insect to a porch light.

Not that I am an avid viewer. I don't stop what I'm doing at 7:30 p.m. to flip on channel 4 to catch Alex Trebek, that crusty old Canadian, delight in pronouncing various languages' words. But when I do happen to tune in, when the stars and the moon align properly, I find every episode to be challenging and fun.

There's a small joy I take in every "Jeopardy" question I can correctly ask. Each one is a mini victory. I consider myself a pretty good trivia guy, but the stuff these "Jeopardy" people know isn't trivia, it's a bunch of mini college theses.

There hasn't been an episode of "Jeopardy" yet, where I haven't mused aloud, "How do these people know this stuff, anyway?"

How does one study for an appearance on the show? How do you bone up on subject matter that can range from 18th Century European Literature to the history of minerals?

Yet Merv Griffin's creation (he came up with the idea of providing questions for answers, he said, while on a plane) has been featuring eggheads in six different decades now, all asking questions involving subject matter that I have no idea about how they have acquired the knowledge.

I'm a sucker for Final Jeopardy.

If I don't see any other part of the show, I want to see Final Jeopardy. And not just because of the iconic music that's played while the contestants scribble their questions.

It's the ultimate challenge. They give you the category then take a commercial break, giving you the requisite two minutes to wonder what on Earth the answer could be. Then Trebek comes back and reads the answer. The music is cued and plays. Everyone---the contestants in the studio and those of us at home---have about 60 seconds to come up with the correct question.

There's no better feeling of accomplishment than correctly identifying the Final Jeopardy question. It can more than make up for the previous 22 minutes of feeling like an idiot, which those eggheads make me feel like.

I caught the show last night, while at my mother's house for Thanksgiving. As usual, I was correct a pathetically low percentage of the time. As usual, I felt like an intellectual midget.

And, as usual, I can't wait to try it again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Replacing the Cloak

The Sesame Street Muppets have become such a part of our social consciousness that I don't think any of us really stop to think that the Muppets aren't living, breathing creatures---we must remember that they're puppets, controlled and voiced by living, breathing humans.

Humans, as in imperfect beings.

The face of Elmo, one of the more popular Muppets, was ripped off in a shocking and vile manner recently, revealing that its puppeteer, Kevin Clash, has been allegedly involved, in the past, with some hanky panky with at least one underage youth.

Two accusers came out against Clash, who is openly gay. The first recanted, saying that the relationship was consensual and legal (age-wise). But then a second accuser surfaced, and this one says that he and Clash became involved when the former was just 15 years old.

The second accuser has slapped Clash with a $5 million lawsuit, claiming he (the accuser) had only recently become aware of "adverse psychological and emotional effects."


Kevin Clash and Elmo

Regardless of the credibility of the accusations, Clash has submitted his resignation. Elmo is in need of a new alter ego.

Sesame Workshop issued this statement regarding Clash's resignation.

"Sesame Workshop's mission is to harness the educational power of media to help all children the world over reach their highest potential. Kevin Clash has helped us achieve that mission for 28 years, and none of us, especially Kevin, want anything to divert our attention from our focus on serving as a leading educational organization. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin's personal life has become a distraction that none of us want, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from ‘Sesame Street.’ This is a sad day for ‘Sesame Street.’"

To Sesame Street's credit, they were ready to welcome Clash back into the family once the first charge was recanted. Clash's sexual orientation, thankfully, wasn't enough to pull the plug on him as being Elmo's puppeteer. But when the second charge came down, along with the accompanying lawsuit, SS felt like it had no choice but to call for Clash's resignation.

It's hard to argue with SS and Clash's decision. The SS brand has been a part of American households and families for about 40 years. Why should they risk any additional bad press and scuttlebutt by bringing Clash back while there is all this legal stuff going on?

Besides, the mystique and aura of Sesame Street's Muppets are based almost solely on the anonymity of the puppeteers. Yes, folks eventually found out that guys like Frank Oz and Jim Henson operated and voiced many of the original Muppets, but for the most part we aren't visualizing humans behind the scenes when Kermit the Frog or Miss Piggy are doing their thing. 

They're not puppets, they're Muppets, for crying out loud! They're practically human.

The seedy story that is about to unfold about Kevin Clash (under-aged boys, meeting online, etc) is one that Sesame Street just as soon let play out somewhere else---anywhere else, other than behind Elmo's back.

It looks to be the end of a 28-year ride for Clash as Elmo's puppeteer, but it's an ending that needs to happen.

The sooner the anonymity of Elmo's puppeteer is returned, the better.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Frankly, Scarlett...

So did you hear about the Cleveland woman who had to stand on a busy street corner and hold up a sign that says "Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus"?

To recap: 32-year-old Shena Hardin was caught by surveillance camera, driving her car on a sidewalk to avoid a school bus that was loading and unloading children. Her sentence, as handed down by a Municipal Court Judge, was to hold the sign for one hour each on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, in 34-degree weather and in full view of rush hour drivers. 

Hardin also had her license suspended for 30 days and she was ordered to pay $250 in court costs.

Apparently, Hardin was the victim of a good old-fashioned sting, put on by the bus driver, because the incident in which she was caught by the camera was not the first time she had driven recklessly in order to avoid waiting for the kids to get on and off the school bus.

Shena Hardin serves her sentence

Whether you agree with Hardin's "Scarlet Letter" type sentence or not, it would be hard to disagree that other offenses might merit similar sentencing from the court of public opinion, if it were left up to them.

To wit:

Non-use of turn signal. This is the ultimate in arrogance. The offender is telling us, "You don't need to know what I'm about to do, until I reveal it." Suggested sentence: Not allowed to order own food at restaurant for next two meals out. Offender has to eat whatever the server brings, not revealed until the plate hits the table.

Rolling through/failing to stop at stop sign in residential neighborhood (where there are kids and pets about). The disrespect for those red, octagonal-shaped signs is getting ridiculous. I walk our dog daily and I see vehicles cruising through stop signs routinely. Suggested sentence: Offender must stand in the middle of a high school hallway during lunch rush, wearing a brand new, all-white outfit.

Tailgating in a residential area. Nothing grinds my gears more than being followed closely by some clod in a 25 mph residential area. I don't like being tailgated, period, but something about cruising down a side street, usually going to or from home, with a very aggressive, very impatient dufus riding my rear is just so wrong. Suggested sentence: Offender must spend next session of opening and responding to e-mails with someone (a stranger) looming directly over his/her shoulder the entire time.

Taking two spaces in a parking lot. This one needs no trumping. Suggested sentence: Offender must watch helplessly as person ahead of them in line orders the last two pieces of cheesecake, and only eats one---throwing the second one in the trash.

Cutting across two lanes of a freeway in order to exit, last minute. This one is not only annoying but freaking dangerous. Most people know, way ahead of time, which exit they're taking. Why you decide at the last possible moment that you suddenly need to bid farewell to the freeway is beyond me. Suggested sentence: Since this is usually a male offender, sentence is for offender to be cut in front of, at the last moment, by a counterpart who wants to use the only available urinal in a public restroom. And I do mean at the last moment.

Those sound like apt punishments, eh?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Sex, lies and...e-mail?

Videotapes are so passe. And who has a VCR player anymore, anyway?

E-mail (and its evil spawn, texting) is the smoking gun of the 21st century, when it comes to catching those engaging in extramarital affairs. And it seems no matter how powerful and how high up the food chain you are, you're not impervious to its tentacles.

Witness what's happening at the CIA and the Pentagon these days.

First, General David Petraeus (rhymes with Betray Us) was busted, and subsequently resigned his post as Director of the CIA, for engaging in hanky panky with a mistress, much of it via e-mail.

Now the military's top man in Afghanistan, General John Allen, might be in the same kind of mess. E-mails, once again, are being scrutinized.

It's a sort of love triangle, with Petraeus's mistress allegedly sending threatening e-mails to the woman who Allen has been allegedly fooling around with.

As The Pentagon Turns.

Gen. David Petraeus

This, of course, is unbecoming no matter what, but when it involves men of the stature of Generals Petraeus and Allen, well then it moves into another category of unbecoming.

Women might be right. Maybe men do think with their penises---in general (sorry, pun intended).

Recall how text messages and e-mail helped bring down Detroit's young and promising mayor.

There really isn't any shock value, anymore, to the philandering powerful man story, even when it comes to Petraeus and Allen. I mean, did your jaw drop when Petraeus resigned, and you found out why he resigned?

Surprised? Sure. Shocked? Maybe not so much.

At this point, only such an affair involving the President of the United States would be shocking enough for us to be, well, shocked.

One by one they fall, betrayed by their own anatomy below the belt.

Politicians. Corporate leaders. Entertainers. And now, CIA directors and generals.

The question isn't really "Who's next? but rather, "When?"

When will be the next time we read of a powerful, entrenched man toppled by his pee-pee?

There are 48 days left in the year. Plenty of time to squeeze another scandal in, maybe before Christmas.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Time to Heal, Compromise

OK, so you're Barack Obama. You woke up Wednesday morning having been re-elected as President of the United States.

But over 57 million people voted for the other guy---almost half the electorate.

It's a sobering thought, or should be, as Mr. Obama starts Term II.

This was among the most bitter, divisive and nasty presidential campaigns in recent memory. Maybe ever.

You can blame Social Media for that. But more about that in a second.

Obama is president of everyone, of course (not just 47 percent), but knowing that about half the people don't want you in the Oval Office certainly should have a bearing on how you govern, no matter if you feel that your agenda and ideology are right, and theirs isn't.

But it's also a great time for compromise and reaching across the aisle, because no longer can Obama's detractors in Washington rally around their flag of making him a one term president. That ship has sailed, though not necessarily with breakneck speed, given how close the popular vote was.

But it has sailed, so let's get to work and get some stuff done. Speaker of the House John Boehner has offered an olive branch and a conciliatory tone, which is more than you can say for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It should also be noted that McConnell is up for re-election in 2014.

It's time now for Obama to gather the haters in Congress around him and say, "You guys wanted me gone. Well, I'm back. Deal with it, and let's end gridlock."

So we have a dichotomy of sorts here. There's the fact that nearly half of over 117 million voters wanted Mitt Romney as president. Yet there's also a magnificent chance to work on the soft underbelly of a GOP that got slapped in its behind on Tuesday, losing some key Senate races, most notably Elizabeth Warren beating Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

Obama Term II should be more interesting and even more productive than Term I. It could also lay the groundwork for continued Democratic presence in the White House come 2016. Someone might have some long coattails on which to ride into the Oval Office.

Obama had over 59 million votes, but 57 million voted for the other guy

Back to Social Media.

Facebook and Twitter weren't nearly as widespread in their use during the 2008 campaign. But in 2012, the vitriol and political posts and ensuing mean-spirited, nasty threads that resulted truly ended Facebook friendships or at the very least caused animosity that will take a while to dissolve. Sounds silly, I know, but it's true. I was among those who got involved in some pretty nasty back-and-forths.

With FB and Twitter, it's just so easy (too easy) to log on, rap out something in anger or passion, and then maybe you'd wished you hadn't. Maybe what you threw out there you should have kept to yourself. But the flip is that sometimes you stay on the sidelines too long, holding too much in, and you have no choice but to put in your two cents.

Trouble is, those two cents can rapidly turn into a buck and a half once the dissenters start responding.

I'm sure we'll all heal from this angry campaign. We always do. But the tone is set in Washington. If we see our leaders coming together, reaching across and banging out some bi-partisan legislation, maybe that will accelerate the healing.

But I think we can agree on one thing.

Thank goodness this campaign is over with!

Friday, November 2, 2012

National Disasters

Fat Bob Taylor is still the best National Anthem singer I have ever heard. And he's been gone for 17 years now.

I will tip my cap to the late Whitney Houston, whose stirring rendition at a Super Bowl is, without question, the best one-time effort on record. It beats out Marvin Gaye's version at the 1984 NBA All-Star Game, not long before he was tragically killed by his own father.

But Fat Bob was the best anthem singer, pound-for-pound, and I'm not making weight jokes here.

Taylor would show up at Tiger Stadium, but not every night. Just on the big nights, like the old Shrine Night or Polish-American Night. Or playoff games. Or whenever there was likely to be a big crowd and the Tigers invited Fat Bob to Michigan and Trumbull.

Taylor would stand in front of home plate, with stiff posture, a mike stand before him. His arms at his sides, the bearded man with the jet black hair would then boom out the National Anthem and you'd get chills.

Even as a youngster, I could appreciate Taylor's anthem singing. My adolescence couldn't muddy the fact that Taylor's anthems were stirring.

There always seemed to be a collective "Wow" after Taylor belted another one out, as the crowd whooped it up and Fat Bob turned from the mike, nodding to the denizens.

Moments later, the first pitch was thrown and there was still a buzz in the air.

On WJR radio and elsewhere, Fat Bob was aka "The Singing Plumber"

I bring up Taylor because we saw two more butcherings of the National Anthem at Comerica Park before Games 3 and 4 of the World Series last weekend.

Zooey Deschanel, star of Fox's "New Girl," and Demi Lovato sang the Anthem for Games 3 and 4, respectively. Both tried, let's leave it at that.

I'm not even talking about legendary butcherings like Roseanne Arnold's scream fest in 1990. I'm talking about so-called legitimate artists, who in an effort to put their own "spin" on the anthem, end up wrecking it, or at the very least making it unrecognizable.

Which brings me back to Fat Bob Taylor, who sang the anthem the way it was meant to be sung: in a rich baritone---forceful but elegant. His anthems were perfect, simply put.

It's been said that the National Anthem is a "hard" song to sing. I'm not so sure about that. I think many artists have made it unnecessarily hard on themselves (and on our ears) by straying from proper form and using it as a sort of vocal canvas on which they paint. Sadly, too often those efforts become the Salvador Dali of singing.

A proper anthem should be sung within two minutes, really. The basic rule of thumb seems to be that the longer it goes on, the worse it probably is.

Ironically, Aretha Franklin was scheduled to sing the anthem before Game 5, which of course was never played. I have no doubt that Franklin would have done the anthem justice. She might have injected some personal style, but it probably wouldn't have been to the point of bastardization.

Fat Bob Taylor has been gone since 1995. And I haven't heard consistently good National Anthems since.