Monthly Archives: March 2016

Atlas Shrugged. Then Kicked Our Ass.

 

I don’t want to sound like a melodramatic Chicken Little. But Skynet is falling and we’re all going to die.

Turns out, The Terminator, The Matrix and the Transformers franchises were all spot-on (though between their dozen combined movies, only two of them were good). The end is nigh, and it will come on a USB flash drive.

The realization came slow to me, as it likely will for the rest of the humanity. It was during my daily consumption of Charlie Rose, my second favorite geezer behind Judge Judy.

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Rose has had all myriad dorks at his table, explaining the quantum-leap, quantum-speed of today’s technology. From drone warfare to drone shopping, Charlie’s been all aflutter with scientists who agree, nearly unanimously, that we are close to creating a sentient computer. If we can create new creatures from a single strand of DNA coding, the nerd-birds chirped, how long until we bring consciousness to a computer chip?

Let’s hope for a long, long time. Like, maybe forever. Two inventions underscore our need to anthropomorphize anything that moves. And our inclination to be jerks.

Witness “Spot,” the wonderdog.

The video made me grimace just for the sheer dickheadedness of its creators. But, I figured, at least Spot isn’t the size of a Great Dane. Because that could lead to a nasty cyber-bite.

The end of days, however, was signaled with last week’s newest breakthrough, Atlas, the full-sized robotic day laborer:

The parody isn’t that far off; do we really want computers knowing about human asshole-ery? Because once they figure it out, they’re going to make Arnold Schwarzenegger seem like a superhero light in the loafers.

trevorTrevor Noah from the Daily Show has the best idea. In the second funny joke he’s told since taking over as host (please stop laughing so loudly at your own jokes, especially before the punchline), Noah pledged his allegiance to his robotic overlords.

“When you come back and wipe us out in the robot apocalypse,” Noah said, “don’t forget it was the white guys hitting you with a stick. We don’t even play hockey.”

 

 

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The Good Race

 

Peyton Manning retired this week, bringing to a close a career that will include two dozen passing records, five league MVP trophies and two Super Bowl rings. His induction into the National Football League Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, is as certain as gravity.

But when Ken Burns and other historians wax poetic about the man, they should not overlook his other historic achievement: the greatest retirement speech in the history of sport.

Hell, it may be one of the greatest retirement speeches of all-time. Written himself and lasting nearly 12 minutes, his adieu to an 18-year-career was less a recollection of achievements than a realization of life.

I admit, I was bawling by the end, around the 11th minute, when he quoted Scripture, 2 Timothy 4:7

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

After the speech, when the cameras at ESPN cut back to the commentators, the athletes — hulking, bruising NFL greats who played through compound fractures — were sniffly with snot and blurry with tears. Lou Gehrig will always be remembered for his farewell to Major League Baseball as he entered his long night. And, given the darkness awaiting him, it may always be the most moving.

But consider: Lou uttered barely three sentences, in about a minute, to heartfully confess that, despite the disease that would later kill him and take his name, he was the luckiest man on earth.

For sheer poetry, though, Peyton’s speech is unrivaled, particularly for an athlete. Like, viral-video-graduation-ceremony-self-improvement-class good. Everyone from journalism instructors to Academy Award winners should keep that speech permanently. Not for its turns of phrase; in truth, non-football fans won’t get a dozen references to players or plays.

But watch his emotionally-wracked monologue for even five minutes, and it’s clear Peyton isn’t even giving a speech. He’s reading a love letter. To his sport, to his fellow athletes and coaches, to his fans.

Say what you will about football (and there’s much to condemn). The sport’s brutality may eventually be its undoing.

But sport — like movies, TV, Broadway, even Justin Bieber songs — are all forms of art (albeit, some more cerebral  than others).

And in Peyton’s speech, there’s no mistaking the heart behind the arm: an icon openly confessing, and weeping over, his love of an art he’s been practicing since he was strong enough to hold the instrument.

That alone is worth a reservation in Canton.

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A Name, By Any Other Rose

 

I had the honor last week of being interviewed by Detroit Public Radio for the 25th anniversary of the word “carjacking,” which we coined at the Detroit News in 1991.

The request stunned me. As did news that Wayne State University even had this copy in a file somewhere (and that WDET found it). Thank you to both.

For more than a decade, I’ve worked as a film critic. And have plenty of useless TMZ-like celebrity anecdotes with which to bore strangers. But to this day, few outside the family believe that the story above was the first time the word “carjacking” had ever been printed, or that I who wrote it. The interviewer, though, did her homework. Her questions were sharp, and raised urban myths I didn’t even know existed, like that the word was a riff of New Jack City, the movie that came out the same year.

I admitted I’ve still never seen the movie, though I know it was a hit. In truth, the word was just  a riff of hijacking; We needed something catchy, as the Detroit Police Department referred to the crime only as R.A./U.D.A.A. (Robbery Armed/Unauthorized Driving Away of an Automobile). The editors said I was free to do the project — as long as we had something better than R.A./U.D.A.A. It’s a mouthful  to type, let alone say or read read.

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But during the interview, I realized that the catch-phrase not only made my career; it helped helped me leave it.

Before we wrote the story, Detroit was already seeing a spike in the new crime. I mapped FORTY in one week. Then a kid, 21-year old Jerry Borieo, became the crime’s first official homicide victim. Six days later, a 22-year-old woman, Ruth Wahl was murdered for her Suzuki. We scrambled to turn the story. Slapped a copyright symbol on the article, splashed it on the front page, and skipped our way to catch-phrase infamy, network TV interviews,  even a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

And I was beginning my skip away, period. I realized, as we spoke in the radio interview, that the story marked my first step away from crime. How much of my life had been spent preying on the grieving: mothers of dead kids; witnesses to to the merciless; atrocities embodied? The greater their grief, the greater my story.

So as the Detroit News gained gravitas for recognizing  — and nicknaming — another city-borne plague, I was craving  the intentionally trivial: entertainment. I used the story’s cache to join People magazine as a freelancer to cover movies, a business that measures disaster in box office and claims as art Pauly Shore and Electric Boogaloo 2.

But it was the antidote to the palpable…sadness. And remains so. I’ll take the inane over the insane, any day. It’s a lot easier, I’ve discovered, to ask a studio exec why his movies suck than to ask a grieving mother how she’s feeling

Wrapping up the interview, the producer asked if I missed the city, nonetheless. I told her terribly: I keep spare Detroit Tigers bumper stickers as tribal symbols and emergency adhesive. tigersI miss the Renaissance Center (from Windsor, it looks like Detroit flipping Canada the bird)rencen; Greektown (which has very few actual Greeks); even the financial black hole that remains the People Mover (it only moves you in a small downtown circle).

But I especially miss the people who deal with real life, everyday. Like my oldest friend and his boy, who live there still.

There was an elderly woman I once interviewed at the News, known in the neighborhood simply as Ms. Hattie, who owned the last standing home on a crime-decimated block. I asked her why she refused to leave. She told me her mother gave birth to her there. That her love of that home was a helluva lot more powerful than her fear of thugs.

That’s Detroit. No matter what catch-phrase you give it.

 

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