Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Paper Backtime: American Freak Show

The 24-hour news cycle. America's tabloid obsession. Reality show mayhem. It's all put on a pedestal, fashioned hilariously by Willie Geist in 2010.

As the backbone and bullshit police of Morning Joe, Geist is able to handle the hard news and hold his own one-liners with the regular roundtable of pundits that yap for a living.

The book, American Freak Show: The Completely Fabricated Stories of our New National Treasures, takes the news part out of the equation.

And Geist isn't what you'd expect. You might think high-brow, northeast/Vandy elitist humor. But it's really a lot more crude, descending on slapstick. There are a few eyerolls, but plenty that is laugh-out-loud while idling in the school pickup lane.

The first chapter envisions Sarah Palin's presidential inauguration at a WWE event in Tampa with the reception at Dave & Busters.

And some of the other chapter titles speak for themselves.

4. Lindsay Lohan: Twitter from a Santa Monica Jail

5. Obama vs Cheney: Late Night in the White House Kitchen

9. The Longest Yard: Guantanamo Bay

12. Go-karts and Waterslides: The George W. Bush Presidential Library

14. The Jim-Jong Il Celebrity Golf Tournament

15. The Neverland Ranch Yard Sale

17. Levi Johnston: The College Essay

18. The People of Heaven v. John Edwards

Of all the people lampooned in the book, nobody is as sympathetic and heart-warming as Rod Blagojevich, who had put Obama's senate seat on Craiglist. Yes Blago is on an FBI tape, offering a Little Caesers employee a high-ranking job in the Department of Sanitation in exchange for free crazy bread. All while using f**k in every fourth word.

My favorite "skit" was The Bachelorette: A Vote For Love. It's 25 politicians vying for the love of Heather, and it coming down to Mark Sanford and Eliot Spitzer.

Sanford of course goes with the "soulmate" angle, offering his devotion and quoting Grey's Anatomy. But she ultimately chooses Spitzer because he tried to pay her the first time, they did it once in a hot-air balloon, and they share the same safe word "Beowulf!" Of course Spitzer dumps her right after she chooses him.

Then my favorite line teases the next season on The Bachelor, "when we finally cut the pretense and round up a bunch of strippers, put them in bikinis, pump them full of pills and vodka, and let them wrestle in tapioca pudding for the heart of a single dad." That's when I knew we were on the same wavelength.

Unfortunately, Geist's 2011 follow-up, Loaded! Become A Millionaire Overnight and Lose 20 Pounds in 2 Weeks or Your Money Back, is just foolish. It tries to do the same thing with financial advice as Freak Show does with pop culture, but they (co-written with Boyd McDonnell) are out of good material after about 15 pages. Blago would've hung up on them.  

Monday, July 30, 2012

Game Of Thrones: A Kingdom Rises in the West?

SEC Media Days are over, the surreal reality show that it was, with everyone from ESPN to The New Yorker broadcasting and eavesdropping on the minutiae of conference that's produced the last 6 national champions.

But as dominant and dynastic as the SEC has been, there's no room for complacency. Not only are there perennial powers in the Pac-12 (USC, Oregon), but the league is growing and innovating.

The conference that already had offense chess-masters Chip Kelly, Lane Kiffin, and Steve Sarkisian just added three more icons of spread and tempo. Granted, all three have some baggage.

Starting at Arizona, where Rich Rodriguez will hit the reset button on his career and bring the spread to Tuscon. Rodriguez was a West Virginia guy who found himself in no-man's land. This is all detailed in the book Three And Out by John U. Bacon.

The book's subtitle says it all: "Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football." The book is an eye-opener about the machine of the big university program. Basically it chronicles how Rich Rod became too big for West Virginia, but never fit the mold of a "Michigan Man," and was never really allowed to grow into one.

The book details how events (and people) in Ann Arbor conspired against Rodriguez, and he didn't get the chance to see through what he started there. His success at every level of college football is undeniable, and the footprint of what he started at Michigan is still seen every time Denard Robinson tucks the ball and has the run or pass option.

Arizona did well, and Arizona State was not to be outdone. Enter Todd Graham, the coach whose no-huddle offense set records at Rice and Tulsa, and looked like the guy to turn around Pitt - until he bolted after just one year.

Graham, a father of 6, now has to shake the reputation of a gold-digging opportunist. Not that he seems to care much what others think. He will have his Sun Devils conditioned for all conditions, and they became a better team when he set foot in Tempe.

And then there's Wazoo. Pullman, Washington might be the hardest locale to reach in college football, but it shouldn't matter to a man who spent 10 years in Lubbock, Texas. Mike Leach's mind is isolated from the rest of the world, something he efforts to explain (and mostly succeeds) in his autobiography.

Leach's system is simple - spread the offense enough so there's always more guys than they can cover. It's only how he explains it that's difficult. His success is also prolific - just check the numbers at Valdosta, Kentucky, and Texas Tech - with the one year he helped kickstart Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. It's reasonable to expect he'll do the same at Washington State.

His reputation as a swashbuckler is perpetuated mostly by himself. And the circumstances around his exit from Texas Tech are still a source of conflict - legal action against former broadcaster Craig James, and the network that formerly employed him, is still out there. I won't comment on that but I enjoyed the unconventional book.

Either way, the Pac-12 is fortunate to have all this spicy new blood in the league, not to mention Jim Mora, Jr. at UCLA.

The SEC is still king until the king is dead, but the Pac-12 may soon be ready for the throne.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Breaking Bad: Back To Business?

The new season's second episode still was dealing with the clean up of last season's loose ends. Now it seems everyone is in a position to look forward.


The fallout of multinational "concern" Madrigal's financing of Gus Fring's Los Pollos Hermanos franchise reached the top as the company's CEO offed himself in the opening scene.

When Madrigal brass came to Albuquerque to meet DEA, they promised transparency in the investigation. Though we are introduced to a Brooks Brothers lawyer, Lydia (as opposed to Bus Stop lawyer Saul Goodman) who is more determined to eliminate loose ends.

Meanwhile Walt continues his ruse with Jessie that the poison-laced cigarette is still out there. And as always brilliantly handled by the show's producers, it isn't done in live back-and-forth conversation. Their talk is played as voice-over as Walt prepares a fake and hides the real one. And they aggressively tear up Jesse's house with Walt pretending to discover it, all to the driving music of "Stay On The Outside" by Whitey. 

When they decide that they need to resume cooking (Walt needs to - he's at a net loss after Skylar bailed out Beneke for the IRS), they try to entice Mike to be an equal partner, since they need him for logistics, distribution, and a "steady supply of precursor." Precursor represents the materials and chemicals needed to synthesize crystal meth.  

Mike says thanks but no thanks. As he rightly points out, Walt is a time bomb. 

Except that the scientific stunt that erased Gus' laptop in evidence control in Episode 1 also broke a photograph that revealed Gus' off-shore bank codes which the DEA has now promised to seize. That eliminates the financial safety net for Mike (set aside for his granddaughter) and "his guys." Which means they may talk, which means Lydia will try to have them killed. But she didn't finish off Mike, and he tortures himself about whether or not to murder her and orphan her daughter. 

So Mike trades her life back for "precursor" since he's going to need money too.   

ASAC Merkert shakes his head to Hank that he couldn't believe Gus was under his nose the whole time and didn't see it. Did it make Hank think of Walt?

Skylar is terrified of the man Walt has become too, realizing the scope and reach of what he's capable of, and what he's made her do. 

Season 5 is heading towards Murder On The Orient Express, where everyone has a motive. Mike sees Walt as too much trouble. Hank doesn't have his finger on Walt, but may be ready to confront him. Walt's wife can't breathe around him.

But I still think the show's creators haven't underplayed this by accident. It's going to be Walt vs Jesse to finish off this "split" final season in 2013.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Book vs Movie: Primary Colors

In 1996, Anonymous (Joe Klein) wrote the benchmark political campaign novel.

And since we're at the intermission of the silly season of 2012 - the Olympics always provide a good breather before the meat grinder - it might be a good time for a reminder about the process. So for the first time since 1998, I watched the Mike Nichols film.

As with any good book, you are enslaved to the ideals set in your mind. But the movie is solid too, and fairly true to the original vision. Elaine May's adapted screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.

The story is centered around the presidential campaign of a Democratic Governor of an unnamed southern state. Jack Stanton is a political composite comprising of about 90% Bill Clinton.

After John Travolta reclaimed lead stardom in the 90s with Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, and Face/Off, he took a run for president. He embodies the the addiction to "listening" and personal connection of Clinton, as well as the addiction to donuts and starry-eyed women. It was an underrated performance as the flawed but genuine candidate who really cared about the people...

"Those people" as referred to by the protagonist, campaign aide/body man Henry Burton. He's the black preppie inside man who is the narrator of the book, and the conscience of the movie. But Adrian Lester is as miscast as Emma Thompson as Susan Stanton, who channels Hillary, but can't fully ditch the British accent.

The standout characters in the book, political strategist Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton) and "dust buster" Libby Holden (Kathy Bates) both deliver. Bates maybe over-delivers as a tad too crusading, but the Academy saw fit to nominate her for Supporting Actress anyway.

Thornton's portrayal of Jemmons is especially nuanced, as a crazier James Carville. His political radar is always up, and can give it straight to everyone, except his boss. He calls Henry "Henri" (the fancy French version) in the book, but "Hotchkiss" (prep school elitist) in the movie. Outside of the identity of of Governor Stanton's real-life Daddy, that's the only real deviation from the book.

Holden (Bates) blows her brains out once she dug up enough nasty dirt on the candidate and his opponent, claiming that everyone was fucked. Henry (Lester) battles with his conscience - of course he does - he's the lead, but gets the big two-hand handshake from President Stanton at the inauguration ball at the end.

Bottom line: the book is better, but the movie is a more economical version. Even if it runs 2:26.

Friday, July 27, 2012

HBO's "The Newsroom": Presumed Intelligent

I was thinking about how to sum up my feelings for this most recent HBO series, and I saw an appropriate billboard at 31st & Whitaker.

HBO had already renewed The Newsroom for a second season when creator Aaron Sorkin decided to fire the entire writing staff. I agree with both moves. The show sucks, but I continue to watch it anyway.

As someone who appreciates the buzz of live TV, I think the show actually captures that pulsating feeling of "where are we going next?" during the Newsnight broadcasts. But the behind-the-scenes development is shockingly, cringe-worthy bad.

The staff meetings are exceptional train wrecks full of high-minded one-upsmanship. And while interpersonal, romantic relationships are bound to happen in actual newsroom settings (since these people have no lives), they are clandestine - not splayed out so publicly and dramatically.

The dialogue is so syrupy and idealistic, so full of monologues, that you could go to the kitchen and make yourself a sandwich and come back, and the same person will no doubt be on the same self-congratulatory crusade.

Too bad because Jeff Daniels is a great (I would have capitalized the "G" before he took this gig) actor. With the range to play Harry in Dumb and Dumber, as well as Lt. Joshua Chamberlain in Gettysburg, he nails the anchor's delivery and mannerisms. Too bad Will McAvoy is so poorly written off the set, with his manufactured co-dependency to his executive producer, Mackenzie Machale.

Emily Mortimer's quixotic (they used that term before I did) agenda also sparks eye rolls almost every time she appears. I liked her much better in cartoon form.

Mortimer was far more convincing as Holley Shiftwell, novice spy and Tow Mater's girlfriend in Cars 2. Please don't ask how many times I've seen it.

Now the reason the show appeals to me is the deconstruction of past news events, which I view from a center-left to far-left prism as they do. They use revisionist history to take on the Tea Party, the Koch Brothers, etc.  That's why I look forward to see what the Newsnight team takes on next.

But Sorkin finds a way to ruin that too, with transparent and trivial attempts to create balance. Oh, look at Obama's failing grades from The Brady Commission! Wasn't it Bill Clinton that repealed Glass-Steagall? Will McAvoy is a Republican, damnit!

The show is sometimes crafty, but that doesn't make it smart.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I Like The Cut Of Your Jib

A friend recently alerted me to a You Tube video from a September 2007 West Virginia pre-game.  I didn't know it existed, much less the tally of almost 500K hits. The last 10 seconds or so captures an inaudible conversation between the reporter and the producer.

The still I grabbed doesn't catch Erin Andrews' best look, though it is the best side of the Head Of Backtime. But what's with the wedding ring and the watch? It wasn't that long ago, was it?

I don't remember the particular conversation, but it's pretty likely I was conferring with Erin to redo her report. Not that she did anything wrong - it was the blurting out of "Yeah thick ones Georgie!" from the background.

And while I don't remember that precise moment, I do remember that day. Normally Bubba would be out with Erin and Wade Hewitt (camera) for pre-game GameDay reports. The late morning crowd in Morgantown was a little saucy, and I must have thought we needed to double our efforts. I assure you the folks in yellow were not security. This was before EA got her own secret service squad a couple years later.

I also remember on more than one occasion telling some mouth-breather calling out names or taking inappropriate cell phone pics to "Be Respectful!" of a reporter and a lady trying to do her job.

Earlier this month, Erin changed networks. She will get more hosting duties and likely substantially more money. I don't know if I'll ever work with her again, but I enjoyed our time on college football.

I'm not going to lie, she brought some drama and gossip to the table - I'm averse to both. And she was road-weary, coming from a Thursday night game to a Saturday noon game. And as is the case with female talent (believe me I know), she was obsessed about her weight (we should all have such problems). Though she ate like a man when the situation called.

But when it came down to it, for 3+ hours on the air each week she was the ideal sideline reporter. She was exactly where she was supposed to be. She didn't care how much she got on the air, and she kept her reports concise. And she worked herself into a great interviewer - especially the quick coach hits.

Whether she can transition from all-star reporter into a host will be a challenge. But at least she's taking on the challenge. Some people still just rely on their awesome-looking back of their head.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Jeffersonian Sitcom

Well, Sherman Hemsley moved up to that deluxe apartment in the sky. We'll always remember that Jefferson Cleaners had seven stores - one near you!

George Jefferson was one of the iconic television characters of all-time. A black, self-made small businessman successful enough to infiltrate an East Side Manhattan high rise. Not that Jefferson ever complained about "the man," and was never looking for a hand out (or a give out). He was surely a Republican in his time.

Much like Archie Bunker, the lead character in All In The Family, Norman Lear's creation that spawned The Jeffersons, George had some anachronistic racial prejudices. He walked black, talked black, and rhymed black, but he was ultimately about every man for himself.

Vaulting the middle-class Jeffersons from Queens into their elite surrounding is a classic fish-out-of-water TV trick. They had welcoming neighbors, like the bi-racial Willises (George called them "zebras"), and the all-too cordial next-door neighbor in Mr. Bentley, who George always shut the door on (ha-HA emphasis on the second syllable).

But since the Jefferson family became rich, the comic relief took place in the lower class. Ralph, the white doorman always had his hand out. And the breakthrough star of the show was Marla Gibbs as Florence, the smart-mouthed housekeeper. She gave as good as she got with George, constantly putting him in his place and never knowing hers.

While Louise Jefferson (Weezy) was a strong, grounded wife, and the conscience of the show, I never understood why her name - Isabel Sanford - preceded Hemsley's in the opening credits. It could have been Lear making a statement. But she was no George.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Surreal in Seattle

Last night at Safeco Field could best be described as a parallel universe. There was Ichiro Suzuki taking his usual spot in his home ballpark in right field. Except he was wearing #31 and Yankee road grays, facing off against the only Major League team he'd ever played for.

So after 9 years with the Orix Blue Wave (Japan Pacific League) and 11 full seasons with the M's, 17 total All-Star Games, 17 Gold Gloves, 9 batting titles, and 4 MVPs, Ichiro at 38 now takes on a new challenge. It will be the only time in his career where he isn't the centerpiece of a team.

Some may say there go the Yankees getting richer again, but the trade makes perfect sense for both sides. The Pinstripes pick up a declining hitter (career low .261 avg) but a first-class baserunner and outfielder. He is expected to fill the role of LF Brett Gardner who's out for the season with an elbow, so the bar is set moderately low. The Mariners pick up 4 prospects since the team is going nowhere anyway, and get something for their aging star in the last year of his contract.

Ichiro will bat in the bottom part of the lineup, play an unfamiliar LF and will sit against some lefties. Apparently he signed off on his new role before accepting the trade. And the timing was perfect as the Yankees realized they needed some tweaking after getting swept 4 straight in Oakland.

To make things even weirder this particular Monday evening, the winning pitcher in the Yanks 4-1 victory was Hiroki Kuroda, the 37-year old former star of the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese Central League.

After an inconsistent 4 years with the Dodgers and first month with New York, he is now pitching brilliantly.

On top of that, A-Rod flashed some old Seattle muscle (7 years with M's) with a mammoth home run late. And then finally, the final out off the bat of former Yankee Jesus Montero landed in Ichiro Suzuki's glove in RF.

There's always been sort of a mini-controversy as to how Ichiro Suzuki should be referred. The back of his jersey in Seattle said "Ichiro" instead of his proper surname. That issue is now off the table as neither the Yankees home nor road jerseys have names.

That fits for the Yankees' newest outfielder, who will just be blending in.

Monday, July 23, 2012

I Cried For You On The Kitchen Floor

You told us that you were trouble...

It was one year ago that we heard the news. Amy Winehouse died at 27, and nobody was surprised by it. I always defended the music and not the life she lived, but the two were hopelessly intertwined. Who else wrote and sang about a refusal to go to Rehab?

Her style was one of a kind, a soulful, retro anti-diva that broke all conventions. Crooner Tony Bennett recorded duets with her and described her as "a rare artist who knew how to take chances and is in the pantheon of world-class singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday."

Amy Winehouse's second album Back To Black, was released in the fall of '06, and is one of the top compilations of a generation:

You Know I'm No Good
Tears Dry On Their Own
Back To Black
Wake Up Alone
Me & Mr. Jones
Just Friends

But as few can create a masterpiece, even fewer can handle what comes next. Lauryn Hill never followed up the sensational Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, but she's not dead and is now a mother of six. Adele put out a second monster album and is keeping a low-profile before she returns. Winehouse's life went the other way, one train wreck after another, and there would be no more solo album releases before her death on July 23, 2011.

And as flawed as she was, as much as we point the finger for how she lived her life, she was still somebody's daughter. Which is now the subject of the book Amy, My Daughter by Mitch Winehouse.

Full proceeds from the book go to The Amy Winehouse Foundation to provide "help, support or care for young people, especially those that are in need by reason of ill health, disability, financial disadvantage or addiction."

Our tears dried on their own.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday at The Open: Golf's Bermuda Triangle

And just yesterday, I was pre-celebrating Adam Scott's victory. But yet there were strange unexplainable happenings and disappearances (of game) on the British links. Stonehenge-type stuff.

And even thru 14 holes today it was a sure thing. Backtime's editorial department headed to the local pool armed only with two children, a Twitter feed and an Elmore Leonard novel. The book didn't get much play as Scott's collapse played out in real time on my Android. And Ernie Els' fourth Major win almost seems like a footnote.

Sunday demise is even more of a signature of this tournament than triumph.

The 1999 saga of Jean van de Velde is the most famous debacle. Nobody remembers that he still forced a playoff, or that Justin Leonard was in it, or that Paul Lawrie won it.

In 2003, Thomas Bjorn's late bunker blunders opened the door for unknown Ben Curtis, who had posted his number hours earlier.

The next year, Els himself yipped a short putt to seal it, and Todd Hamilton of all people, ousted him in the playoff.

In 2007 at Carnoustie, Sergio Garcia needed only a par on 18 to win and claim his Major, but he backed into a playoff with Padraig Harrington, and predictably lost.

And then in 2009, 59-year old Tom Watson's story for the ages was derailed by a poor 72nd hole, and he was blasted in the playoff by Stewart Cink.

How Scott's career trajectory goes from here is anyone's guess. Rory McIlroy imploded at the 2011 Masters, then won the U.S. Open in a tour de force just two months later. So hang in there, Scotty.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Adam Scott: The Open is In The Bag

For the current holder of the dubious title "Best golfer never to win a Major," the path is wide open. A four-shot lead at the final round of the British is usually far from a certainty, with stars on the leaderboard and the possibility of weather concerns. But it doesn't take a meteorologist to predict which way the wind is blowing.

The 8-time PGA Tour winner is peaking: 8th at The Masters, 15th at The U.S. Open, and 3rd in his last start at Congressional. And he's closed the deal in the past. At 24, he famously seized control, fell apart, and then gutted out the 2004 Players Championship.

The owner of $26M in career earnings and the textbook swing made a change last year -- to the most successful caddie in golf history. And while there is a lot of debate about how much Steve Williams actually helped Ray Floyd, Greg Norman and Tiger Woods win tournaments, his bosses' successes have to be seen as much more than coincidence.

Williams is like a politician's "Body Man," making sure every minute detail is taken care of, and the golfer has no distractions or worries. And watching Scott's body language for 3 days, his game seems completely unencumbered.

There is one problem in the leader's rearview, and it's not Tiger.

More like the sideview, since Graeme McDowell (#12 in world) is in the final pairing with Scott. McDowell has proven over the last 3 years that he can stand the heat with a 1st and 2nd at the U.S. Open and was the anchor of Europe's 2010 Ryder Cup win.

The home oddsmakers see it that way too. PaddyPower.com has Scott as the better than odds-on 1-2 favorite going into Sunday with McDowell at 4-1 and Woods at 5-1.

It's Scott's date with destiny right now. And at just 32 years young, it should be the first of many.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Since When Do High-Profile Criminal Defendants Do National TV Interviews?

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law...

It's the standard "Miranda" warning that we've seen on hundreds of cop shows. And it remains the best advice to any alleged criminal awaiting trial: Just Shut Up.

So why would George Zimmerman's attorney, Marc O'Mara, allow his client to speak to anyone while awaiting a trial for murder?

The Fox News platform with Sean Hannity may have a more sympathetic audience for Zimmerman to tell his story, but he's facing criminal charges. The court of public opinion has already spoken, and even if it could be swayed by Zimmerman's account, there is absolutely zero to be gained in his criminal defense. It only gave him a chance to contadict his earlier statements and further infuriate the nation that he had "no regrets" and it was "all God's plan" that an unarmed 17-year old was shot and killed.

Anyone that knows me could rightfully assume that Backtime's editorial department is no fan of Sean Hannity. But this was a very credible and competent interview.

An interviewer's job is to ask open-ended questions and elicit new information from the subject, not to spotlight his/her own theories. If Hannity appeared to be a friend, it only made Zimmerman wore comfortable and talkative. I believe Hannity did a much better job than Larry King or Chris Matthews or Barbara Walters would have in the same situation.

And O'Mara did Zimmerman no favors by letting him ramble off-script. You'd think he would have learned something from the events of November 14, 2011.

On NBC's Rock Center that night, Bob Costas was scheduled to interview Jerry Sandusky's attorney Joe Amendola. Sandusky had been arrested just over a week earlier, and Joe Paterno had been fired just a few days after that. In a blockbuster twist, right before air, Amendola offered up a phone interview of Sandusky. It was the first of several head-scratching moves by Amendola.

Not only did the interview cement the public opinion as to Sandusky's guilt, but an unaired excerpt from the interview was actually used in court. Many have called out NBC for not revealing this portion, that this may have been the smoking gun:
19:00:28:00 But isn't what you're just describing the classic MO of many pedophiles? And that is that they gain the trust of young people, they don't necessarily abuse every young person. There were hundreds, if not thousands of young boys you came into contact with, but there are allegations that at least eight of them were victimized. Many people believe there are more to come. So it's entirely possible that you could've helped young boy A in some way that was not objectionable while horribly taking advantage of young boy B, C, D, and E. Isn't that possible?
19:01:01:00 Well — you might think that. I don't know. (LAUGHS) In terms of — my relationship with so many, many young people. I would — I would guess that there are many young people who would come forward. Many more young people who would come forward and say that my methods and — and what I had done for them made a very positive impact on their life. And I didn't go around seeking out every young person for sexual needs that I've helped. There are many that I didn't have — I hardly had any contact with who I have helped in many, many ways.

Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2011/11/16/2988948/interview-with-joe-amendola-and.html#storylink=cpy
So once again, here are the words. Words that never would have reached a jury had a reckless attorney not served up his client when he should have remained silent:

And I didn't go around seeking out every young person for sexual needs that I've helped. There are many that I didn't have — I hardly had any contact with who I have helped in many, many ways.

So Jerry Sandusky "helped" a number of young people, but selectively chose which ones would fulfill his sexual needs. His own words in an unnecessary TV interview helped put him away.

Maybe we should be thankful that Zimmerman and Sandusky have received such poor legal counsel, as we watch these words create a web they can't spin out of. But it's the unparalleled stupidity of these attorneys that make us very uneasy about the profession itself. 

Are they using their clients to make a name for themselves? Even if that was the case, who would hire them after these fiascos?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Holy Cow! Turkey Burgers

After a rough morning of attic excavation, I thought I'd reward myself with a treat from the grill.

While I am a fan of the traditional hamburger, I also don't like to make a habit of eating too much red meat. The Holy Cow! Turkey Burger will be just as flavorful if seasoned and cooked properly.

I don't favor recipes as much as ingredients. I don't think I've ever followed a recipe or measured anything out that didn't come from a box. So here are the contents of the Holy Cow! Turkey Burger:

1 lb ground turkey (no leaner than 90/10)
Ground black pepper
Garlic salt
A-1 sauce (generous amount)
Brown mustard (generous amount)
Worcestershire sauce (not as generous)
Two eggs
Olive oil
Diced green onion (the most important part)

And the secret weapon:

The world's greatest marinated mushrooms, Funghi Sott'olio from right here in Savannah. (You can get them from Fra Li pasta stand at the Forsyth Park farmer's market)

The biggest problem with turkey burgers is they don't hold together well on the grill. I had some problems with this in the past and there are various sites on the internet to help you out.

Some recommend adding bread crumbs or corn meal. I just rely on the eggs and the olive oil, and I put the formed patties in the freezer for 30-40 minutes to let them hold. That's why it's important not to go any leaner than 90/10. Fat is important. Just because you're eating turkey instead of beef doesn't mean you're eliminating fat, it's just a healthier lifestyle choice especially if you like burgers.

If you're really, really concerned about upsetting the grill police, they won't sanction you for putting down a single layer of tin foil.

Or just throw them on the grill and throw caution into the wind. As you can see, they aren't perfectly designed - but they are delicious!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What's missing from a Text? Context and Subtext

It's the start of an epic love story:

I saw you across a crowded room. I noticed your steely eyes, pursed lips, and striking intensity as you thoughtfully and meticulously tapped characters into your Smart Phone.

Then I watched as you paced anxiously.

I felt the vibration across the room when you received your validation. Your teeth gleamed, you flipped your non-dominant hand through your hair, and gazed approvingly toward the heavens.

I knew then you were a real human being, and not merely an extension of the handheld device you were attached to.

The inspiration for this post came this morning when I read Jake Hodesh's column on SavannahNow.com: Straddling Two Worlds -- Digital and In-Person and decided to hijack some of his message. Though Jake and his colleagues at The Creative Coast would probably soft-sell the thievery and call it "networking."

Anyway, the line that struck me was "In the digital world, emotion is difficult to interpret." Text messages are good way to steer clear of awkward conversations, but sometimes they just create more misinterpretation.  This hasn't just affected our interpersonal communications but our business ones as well.

For example, if I were to receive a text from my boss, I have not yet seen your report, a number of thoughts would go through my head.

1) Is he serious? Maybe he was being ironic in a follow-up to a previous conversation.

2) How come he used "have not" instead of "haven't"? He must be very serious.

3) Why did he use "yet"? Am I slacking?

4) Why did he text me instead of just sending an e-mail?

If we had a phone conversation about this I would've been able to judge his tone and get involved in some give-and-take. But to text him back would involve a lot more thought about how carefully to choose my words, right down to the contractions and characters to make it as succinct and expository as possible. Hey, Text messages are supposed to save time!

And on the interpersonal front when messages are mangled, the answer is to exchange more and more texts. Also time-consuming. Check out the sheer number of communiques from that cheating spouse or that public official.

I hope Tiger Woods and Anthony Weiner sounded out what they were going to say out loud before they punched the words into their phone. It would have saved everyone a lot of time and a lot more trouble.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Paper Backtime: What Are You Reading? It's Classified

When a content junkie takes a 601-day break from blogging, one goes about the hunting and killing of dozens of books. Actual ones with covers, meant for reading when you're sitting in the carpool lane at school or when you're in the upright and locked position awaiting takeoff.

You hope for something memorable and meaningful, but mostly you just hope for a good diversion to turn pages and see what happens next. Nicolle Wallace delivers on the latter.

Wallace was the White House Communications Director under George Bush #43, and her experiences on the grounds ("the acres") shape the world the she's created.

In the first book Eighteen Acres, it's a world with women as President, Chief of Staff, and Secretary of State - in a Republican Administration no less. So while that premise seems unbelievable enough, the Washington environment they live in is very much on the mark.

The political atmosphere is full of power brokers and spin, and the media is just as relentless as the DC heat in an oppressive summer with the faulty White House AC. You can follow the action from the Oval Office to the West Wing to the East Wing to the Situation Room, to the OEOB (Old Executive Office Building), to The Residence...all while running into anxious worker bees and stale M&Ms.

Each story focuses on 3 women, and the administration of President Charlotte Kramer. In my mind's eye, I see Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek Voyager. Anyway, she's all business which eventually leads to The First Husband's affair with TV Reporter Dale Smith. He's able to keep it quiet and since it's not a breach of security, the Secret Service doesn't get in his way.

But when Smith's helicopter is shot down covering a presidential visit in Afghanistan, everything comes to the surface and dissolves the President's marriage. The military fiasco eventually leads to the Secretary of Defense's suicide.

With hope all but lost for re-election, Kramer reaches across the aisle for Democrat running-mate Tara Myers, the popular Attorney General from New York. What Myers lacks in social graces, she makes up in her connection with the electorate. The hotshot VP saves the election, but she is woefully ill-prepared for the position she's ascended too.

That's where It's Classified begins and Wallace really gets some momentum going. And that's where the buzz for this book comes from.

Wallace's experiences with a combustible VP candidate from the McCain-Palin campaign were one of the biggest plot points in the HBO film Game Change, which is sure to be hoarding Emmy awards. In the aftermath of the film, campaign strategist Steve Schmidt and Wallace (now both contributors for MSNBC) topped the enemies' list of the die-hard "Palinistas." There's also reason to believe that the Amazon.com review ratings on the book tanked when Palin's flying monkey army got involved.

That said, It's Classified isn't that great anyway. When VP Myers secretly battles undiagnosed and untreated depression and OCD throughout the book, she gains noticeable weight, and calls in sick constantly. Her uneven behavior is not lost on the national media. When the staff tries to rehabilitate her image with a series of network morning show interviews, she screws it up and the plan implodes.

A few days later when the White House elevates the terror threat level, it is ripped apart as a political stunt to divert from the negative press the VP has caused. Independent Counsel is brought in to investigate. The VP resigns and the President is impeached. But the President and her husband get back together and everyone lives happily ever after, of course.

The Myers character only channels Palin in her craziness. While the author paints her as transcendentally popular, that never really comes across. She also has some level of expertise on legal issues, and generally is a sympathetic figure.

On the whole, the storylines of the two books are pretty good. You get a very plausible inside look of how the sausage is made in the executive branch and how the pressure gets all cooked up in a crisis. And you really feel what the endless days are like for the President and The Senior Staff.

The characters are average. Nobody jumps off the page. Too much time is spent with players inquiring about interpersonal relationships in their circle like The Newsroom or House M.D., only with worse dialogue - if that's even possible.

I'll chalk up the forced humanity to Wallace's own tenure in the White House, where I'm sure real emotional connections were scarce.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Breaking Bad Returns: Magnets Have Two Sides

After a exhaustive and thorough post-mortem on The Freeh Report, it's time to return to my favorite criminal activities, fictional ones. Breaking Bad is back and like a huge magnet, it draws the polar opposites back together.


As a season opener generally does, it sets up more story than it provides. This contrasts with last season's premiere which featured a memorable scene involving the now deceased Gustavo Fring, a box-cutter, and an associate's throat.

The opening scene jumps about a year ahead. Walt's got a new name, New Hampshire plates, and a high-powered assault weapon. The title of the episode "Live Free Or Die" (the New Hampshire state motto) would be cute and apropos, except it was already used in The Sopranos when Vito Spatafore was outed at a gay club and broke north, ultimately hooking up with a New Hampshire firefighter.

The episode itself shifts back to the aftermath of Gus' demise. Walt has sold Jesse and somehow convinced Mike on the clean-up, a high-risk, low-probability use of a super magnet to infiltrate a guarded Albuquerque Police Department evidence room.

One of the trademarks of Breaking Bad, what separates this show from other one-hour dramas, is that the great acting isn't cluttered with a bunch of monologues by the main characters. Facial expressions do the exposition work of a good two pages of clever back-and-forth banter.

Mike is the exception. His old Irish curmudgeonly ways fit well. And he gets a pass from his exceptional breakout as Frank McPike in Wiseguy, the first great Mob series. His exchanges with Walt are real and anecdotal (remember Half-Measures?) and illuminating, even though they're a little long.

Meanwhile, Skyler White has very much established herself as a co-kingpin. With (somewhat) more humanity that Walt, she is the one moving the pieces on the chessboard while Walt has become the bull in the china shop, relying on pure intimidation.

Skyler has become the one that Saul Goodman turns to when even a shady lawyer finds himself in an ethical quandary. And she's the one who makes sure that Ted Beneke doesn't talk.

We were sure that Ted was dead, right? Turns out he's just badly injured, and just another good-looking bald man in Season 5.

As Skyler and Walt now have similar levels of accountability in the scheme, expect that they will repel each other as similar ends of a magnet would.

As season 5 continues on, I expect this will eventually all lead to the foreshadowed war. But I think it will be Walt vs Jesse, who was way too even keeled right out of the box.

And there's the business of business. Walt and Jesse need a new lab and a new distributor.

I was happy to see that AMC wasn't one of the channels on the DirecTV chopping block. The relief will be short-lived if the Viacom deal isn't worked out by the time the Colbert Report returns tonight.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Backtime Dissects The Freeh Report

When a fishing boat veers off into dangerous waters, it can change course and/or seek help.

When an aircraft carrier finds itself in dangerous waters, it has no turning radius. It is the danger. It keeps charging forward and you'd better get out of the way.

Welcome to the USS Penn State.

Sixteen days ago, Jerry Sandusky was convicted on 45 criminal counts and will spend the rest of his life in prison. That was not the beginning, middle, or end of the story.

The 267-page Freeh Report really begins in earnest on page 11, titled: INDEPENDENCE OF THE INVESTIGATION. And it gets right to the FINDINGS on p. 14:

"The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims."

"Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University (Spanier, Schultz, Curley, Paterno) failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky's activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities."

"These individuals, unchecked by the Board of Trustees that did not perform its oversight duties, empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted, and unsupervised access..."

On October 29, 2011, Jerry Sandusky sat in his normal club suite at Beaver Stadium and hobnobbed with University officials as Joe Paterno collected his record-setting 409th career victory. It was 7 months after the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported that Sandusky was the subject of a Grand Jury investigation. More importantly, it was 10 years after Assistant Coach Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky and a young boy in the shower.

It was also two days after Penn State attorney Cynthia Baldwin learned that Sr. VP Gary Schultz and AD Tim Curley would be included in the Grand Jury presentment.

Curley had tried to remove Sandusky from the season ticket list in July 2011 (p.105), but when Mrs. Sandusky inquired about it, the access was reissued.

Steve Garban, then the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, was "astounded" (p.91) by Sandusky's attendance in the Nittany Lion Club, and just assumed that the Attorney General's office didn't have a case.

The Board of Trustees first heard of the investigation on May 12, 2011, when President Graham Spanier "downplayed" (p. 89) the Grand Jury situation, saying that it did not "involve" (p.88) Penn State.

"Some Trustees reported that their meetings felt "scripted" or that they were "rubber stamping" major decisions already made by Spanier." (p.101)

After the Trustees were briefed on the Sandusky investigation at the May meeting, it was not revisited in subsequent meetings in July or September. Spanier may not have known the depths of Sandusky's crimes, but he probably assumed it would just be more water under the deck of the Penn State aircraft carrier.

"There are 76,460 undergraduate students and 9,745 graduate students that currently attend the University. The University's annual operating budget is approximately $4.1 billion..." (p.32)

Insignificant efforts were made in the past. After the 2001 McQueary/shower incident, the Gang Of Four - Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno - agreed (conspired) on a "humane and reasonable way to proceed." (p.75) This would involve three things: informing the Second Mile (Sandusky's charitable organization), the Department of Welfare, and telling Sandusky himself to stop brining children around Penn State football facilities.

How the information was relayed to the Second Mile is murky since that organization ultimately viewed it as a "non-incident" (p.64). The Dept. of Welfare was not informed. And how would barring Sandusky from the football program be enforced? Especially if Sandusky, a Penn State professor emeritus defied the order (request). Who was going to stop him?

"there is an over-emphasis on "The Penn State Way" as an aprroach to decision-making, a resistance to seeking outside perspective, and an excessive focus on athletics..." (p.129)

Only 4 people knew the plan. There were no legal grounds to keep him away unless the authorities were informed, and that would involve expanding the circle of knowledge, and that would mean exposure. That would mean smearing the pristine Penn State image, tarnishing Paterno's legacy, and bringing down the whole house of cards.

It was considered "very rare" (p.49) for a situation like this not to be reported the the Office of Human Resources.

It's not surprising that The Second Mile didn't act. Several months after "the plan," Penn State sold a tract of land to The Second Mile in September 2001 for $168,500 (p.79).

So please excuse the awful analogy, but Penn State University, Penn State Football, and The Second Mile were all in bed together. Could we say that they were all married to one another? A spouse can't be compelled to testify against another. If corporations are people, can they marry? How does this polygamous situation fall under the Defense Of Marriage Act?

It's like how the American economy is intertwined with the big banks. We may be furious with them but without them the whole system crumbles, and thus they are untouchable. And nobody has yet been held criminally accountable for the 2008 financial crisis.

What exactly Joe Paterno knew died with him. He was an old-school football coach who never touched a cell phone or used e-mail. He is referred to as "Joe" or "Coach" in various Tim Curley e-mails, but his level of complicity can only be assumed.

The transfer of Paterno's home in the summer of 2011 to his wife in exchange for $1 is thought to be a protection of his family should he ever have been a target in a civil suit.

The discussion now is whether Penn State should suffer the NCAA "death penalty," whether the Paterno statue should be removed, and what should happen to the three remaining obstructors of justice.   People call for NCAA sanctions based on a "lack of institutional control," when it was more akin to TOTAL institutional control.

I have no idea. I merely followed the case and read the report. I have faith in the system, especially having seen the swift and exact punishment that was handed down to Sandusky once authorities were able to investigate. (Though DA Ray Gricar failed to do so in 1998 - he later disappeared and is presumed dead in another twist to this case)

The Freeh Report recommends sweeping changes in Penn State policy and hierarchy.

I know that universities are beholden to their athletic programs. Especially football, and especially when icons are involved. This situation could have taken place in previous eras at Nebraska or Alabama.

Today, the University of Alabama's NCAA Compliance coordinator makes approximately $45,000 while Nick Saban makes more than $6 Million. There is no way to reasonably keep college football programs in line when the universities and entire states involved are so co-dependant.

The only way to try to reign it in is to make it all transparent. Each school needs independent auditors to have unlimited access to paper trails, phone records, travel logs, etc. But how is that to be implemented? By the school itself? By the NCAA? By the Federal Government? And what happens if they encounter obstruction? What's the recourse?

Backtime's ultimate diagnosis: College Football is too big to fail.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Backtime Returns: Let Your Garden Grow

Please forgive me for I have sinned. It has been 601 days since my last blog post.

What was I waiting for? Some big rollout for Backtime 2.0? Something of the utmost significance to occur? 

Well many opportunities came and went, and I realized I'm no web designer. I don't know the first thing about graphic layouts and I don't know the second thing about HTML. I'm not a marketer either. All I do is write content - which is the only real requirement for this.

I sat next to a quasi-celebrity on a plane once. He had a hit TV show once, and has written several books. He had some simple and novel advice for me: Feed your blog and it will grow, leave it untended and it will shrivel up and die.

So today I symbolically went to The Home Depot and spent about $60 planting seeds for the future. I have a few weeks before I hit the road again and I will make sure I tend to my garden. Metaphorically speaking, I hope to do the same with this web log. Water the plants and Backtime every day. 

You never know what will happen. I hadn't posted in almost a year and on Monday November 7, 2011, Joe Frazier died. People around the world searched his name and came upon my link, and by the end of the week my dormant blog received nearly 10,000 hits.

So Backtime is back. And there's no rollout, no new message. Just perspective on all things.

Tomorrow: Backtime's editorial department consumed the entire Freeh Report and deconstructs the Penn State debacle.