Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Ted Kennedy, Rest in Peace

I am so sad about this. What a giant. He will be greatly missed especially now in the time of our best chance ever for health care.

There are great posts all over the blogs today about Teddy, but I just don't have the words to express how sad I am that he is no longer with us.

President Barack Obama had this to say about Teddy;

For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. (emphasis mine)

I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as President from his encouragement and wisdom.

An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time.

And the Kennedy family has lost their patriarch, a tower of strength and support through good times and bad.

Our hearts and prayers go out to them today--to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family.

Cross posted from Fighting Liberals
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Too Long For Twitter, Part One

(Agate Beach at Patrick's Point; photo by Neil Mikulenka)

In 1978 or 1979, I first went to Patrick's Point State Park near Trinidad in Northern California. It's one of those spots where I instantly felt connection to the sacred. Later I learned it was, indeed, an ancient gathering place for the Yurok people, with whom I have some sort of inexplicable deep connection. Their name for it is Sumig, which was translated to me roughly as the place where the spirit of dolphins went to die when human beings began to populate the earth.

I returned to Sumig as often as I could, and had lots of wildlife/nature experiences there. It's where I also developed a consuming fear of sasquatch. But the story I want to tell today is about when I went with my friend Mary, who had come to visit me in San Francisco from Texas. Mary was/is deeply spiritual, beginning as a Christian Scientist and proceeding through a number of ideologies, including rebirthing and Sai Baba. Each of her new belief systems was authentic and fascinating as she embodied them.

Our second day camping at Sumig, we went for a hike along the cliffs, intending to walk down the extremely steep trail which led to driftwood-stacked Agate Beach and, if you went on along the strand, to Agate Lagoon. Halfway down the switchback trail, we looked out at the Pacific and saw three or four California Grey Whales directly approaching the surf off the beach.

We stopped to gape and wonder what was happening. Only ten yards off shore, one of these whales turned parallel to the waves and began rolling in the wash, seemingly helpless in the surf. I cried out "Oh g*d no, they're beaching themselves!" and began sprinting down the trail. Mary followed on my heels, with her camera.

A few other bystanders had gathered on the beach, and had come to the same conclusion. I stood there in agony, unable to bear the prospect of watching these magnificent animals die before my eyes -- no doubt because of some human-induced interference with their normal function. I turned to Mary and said "I'm going to save them."

"What do you mean?" she asked in alarm.

"I have to try to communicate with them" I said, unbuckling my overalls. "If I put my hands on their side and send images via energy transference, maybe I can get them to swim back out to sea."

Mary had a fit, declaring I would instead be crushed beneath them, I was insane to think I could mind-meld with a whale. But I kept stripping, taking off my Vasq boots and asking Mary to look after my small black dog, who was shivering in the cold wet wind. The other bystanders took a few steps away from me but watched avidly. Mary finally gave up trying to talk sense into me and got her camera ready.

I had stepped into the frigid water, wearing only my Rubyfruit Jungle t-shirt and a baggy pair of cotton underwear, when we heard shouting from the trail. It was a park ranger, running our way at full speed. I stopped and returned to the relative warmth of the sand. When he reached us, he was out of breath and had to lean over, gasping, for a minute before he could speak.

"The whales -- they do this -- they're not beaching" he said, staring at my hairy legs. "There's a steep underwater bench right there, rocky. They come in to scrap off their sea lice."

Mary had to sit down, she was laughing so hard. I began donning my overalls. The park ranger asked "What the hell were you about to do?"

I didn't answer, but Mary told him with what I felt was unseemly pleasure. He laughed, but also took down the number of our campsite. He said every time the whales came in during their migration to use the local facilities, as it were, he had to rush for the beach to keep visitors from going bananas. He added that I was the first to think I could wade out and save them.

Maybe it's a lesbian thing. There's an unnatural preponderance of us among marine biologists.

That night, over our campfire, Mary and I had a long, not-quite-acrimonious fight about our respective approaches to nature. I was carrying with me everywhere a set of guide books that I'd bought, to not only birds and trees but berries, ferns, shells, a walking library. I was forever stopping to (1) use my asthma inhaler and (2) look up the name of whatever I had just seen. At that point in my life, and in particular as a lesbian-feminist, naming was an act of power I could not stop myself from performing as often as was possible.

Mary felt I was missing out on the moment, on experiencing nature as it presented itself, without names or scientific background. She thought someone who believed they could talk with whales through their palms might try ditching the guidebooks and commune with salal berries on a more primal level.

We were both right, of course. It needn't have been the argument that it was, except we were both at a time in our lives when our approaches to things had distinctly diverged, we loved each other and wanted to be together, and we were not quite old enough to let the difference sit as a richness in our connection.

A few years later, my mother died and I came into a deeper comprehension of Mary's approach to the world. Some things make no real sense, even named, and you have to accept them as is.

But the power of naming is still important for us to retain, to not relinquish this power to those who use it to maintain the imbalance which all but blinds us. Language is the tool we use most often to convert information given to us by our senses into metaphor, and our brains only learn through metaphor. I think dreaming is our nightly sorting time, when our brains feverishly hold up everything we experienced that day and says "Now what does this remind me of?" before stashing it away in a drawer of memory. (Well, several drawers of memory, since every experience gets divided up into many bits that only our individual synapses know how to reconstitute again into a single memory.)

Thus, I just spent three hours creating a series of names for the fish eaten by characters in my current sci-fi novel, on a waterworld where English is no longer the dominant language. Because names matter, the words we use shape how we see things, like it or not. And having acknowledged that, I can try to move beyond the terms to an imaginary landscape where the names lose relevance again.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

[N.B. The first poem I wrote after my mother died is titled "Naming", and it's much better as a journal entry than poetry. But if you want to read it, it's here.)

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rachel Maddow on Guns near the President

If it's on the Rachel Maddow Show you know it's good.

The recent media stunt with a bunch of guns near the President was organized by a right-wing media host with ties to a right-wing militia "that was convicted in the 1990s of conspiring to blow up federal buildings." (quote from the Rachel Maddow clip shown above.)



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Friday, August 21, 2009

I Approve this Message

Go, Michael!
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Colonoscopy Prep

Drank a liter of this stuff called MoviPrep.


It's atomic Drāno for the bowels. Purpose: clean out everything.

Have to drink another liter in the morning. The trick is to mix the MoviPrep with COLD water. The directions specifically prohibit flavors, Gatorade and so on. They say to use luke-warm water. But go on line and everyone talks about how this stuff is the worst stuff they've ever tasted.

Eh... it's not the worst stuff I've ever drunk. But luke-warm, I'd probably puked.

Cold water, as cold as possible.

You have to have one of these at least every ten years, assuming all goes well.

Takes about two hours, outpatient basis. Daughter #2 is driving me home, 'cause I'll be all groggy after the anesthesia. The other interesting thing about the procedure is, tomorrow morning sometime, after the second dosage of this prep drink, I'll be able to tell my weight without any of the extra weight normally in my colon waiting for elimination. My body-fat percentage however will be all shot to hell, because I've been on a liquid diet for two days and body-fat (at least the way my scale does it) calculates the electrical impedance of current through water. Because I've been loading up with water my body-fat is WAY higher than normal. What I wouldn't give for a couple of slices of deep-dish pizza right now. Not a fan of this stupid liquid diet.

Later today at 2 pm I'm at the hospital. Presumably around 2:30 I'll be counting backwards from 10 and that will be it till I wake up in Recovery. So for all those of you whom have wanted me to shove it, well, today's the day. *laughs*

Checked with my medical plan Tuesday. It's all covered, including the co-pay. Doctor, Hospital, Anesthesiologist, Lab work, Radiology. Everything covered at 100%, because my plan believes preventative care matters. So do I.

Cheers everyone. See y'all after the procedure.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Asymmetrical Warfare has been posting up some good stuff on the state of the health care debate, the tactics being used, and how these tactics are being reflected in the polls. Today this caught my eye...

allow me to suggest that what we are also witnessing here is an asymmetrical battle in which conservatives, Republicans, trade associations and other assorted opponents are adapting campaign strategies--and smear tactics in particular--to a policy debate. And, if you think about it, it's a pretty shrewd strategy to muddy the waters, provide disinformation, and in general try to scare people away from an idea--just as one might try to deter them from voting for a candidate in an election campaign. (read the rest)

We should have seen this coming, and been ready sooner. The GOP knows only one strategy that they have perfected in the last 10 years, deceit and misinformation- waged always like a political campaign. This approach to the very real and urgent need for policy and legislation is so cynical and uncaring as to stagger me. But there it is. We should expect it. All the time. Prepare for it. And push back hard.

They are the party of lies and of saying no to the American people and yes to big corporations and their rich friends. We are still being swiftboated at every turn. Time to sink some boats.

crossposted from FL
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

“Res-pect Mah Authori-taaaaaayyyyh!”

A Tale Of Bitchers, Birchers, and Birthers.

When the news broke about Dr. Henry Louis Gates' epiphanous detainment at the hands of Massachusetts' always fair Johnny Law, I had to kind of fight off some pre-conceived notions I'd had about ol' “Skip”. His nickname itself always rankled me, and many others as it fairly reeked of bourgie privilege and hard class distinction from the vast majority of Black Folks. It sounded like the moniker of someone prancing about a badminton court in Kennebunkport. The petit-mal knock-down / drag-outs between he and his considerably more proletariat counterpart in academia, Dr. Cornel West were always fun to watch—what with Gates' stiff formality and middle-of-the-road-ism versus West's “keep it real” hybrid of academic polish and “round-the-way”-speak. I found Dr. Gates tolerable at best, in that he did not espouse the Black Repug-think he seemed tracked for.

I fought off those notions out of fairness, and once I did and the facts of his arrest became fully known, it was in my mind the hard crystallization of an evil phenomenon people of color—particularly African Americans—contend with every damned day. The phenomenon of one having no rights that anyone who does not look like you has to respect. Further, that phenomenon allows for your very legitimacy to be questioned—your standing, your office, your personhood in general. We can at any given moment at the whim of a pissed-off person with bigotry in his or her heart be deemed a lesser being. Authority is automatically assumed by dint of skin color privilege—end of story.

In “arresting” Officer Crowley's case—knowing full well (after verification from Harvard itself that Gates was indeed the legal resident of the house) that whatever threat / possible misdeed / robbery was now null and void, he instead of choosing to maybe use some of the situation defusement skills allegedly taught at Police Academies, sought to continue the interaction and then end it on his own terms by goading Gates beyond his home's threshold, and then pettily arresting him for “disturbing the peace”

Crowley said of the run-up to the joke-ass arrest, in typical, ass-covering, stilted police report-ese...

“While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me," Crowley said”

Moving me to say, “ know what officer? You don''t get to arrest people because your dumb ass was confused. And if you're that easily confused—by the vocal displeasure of someone who had the right to be in his own home questioned, then Mistah Offisah, you are simply not bright enough to be allowed to carry a firearm about the state of fucking Massachusetts...or any state for that matter.” If Crowley was confused, then ladies and gentlemen, my Black ass is Edgar Winter.

If there was any confusion on his part, it was his being thrown by what appeared to be an elderly, bespectacled spook's not deferentially nodding and “Yassuh-ing” him out the door.

Aside from that, he knew exactly what he was doing.

You see, Dr. Gates was not just “sassing” Crowley by daring to question the merits of his intrusive presence in his home, but it was also the fact he (Gates) loudly said things alluding to lofty connections above the officer's station to where he could as a Black civilian, impact his life adversely.

That was Dr. Gates' biggest no-no.

Because he dared assume that his “place” in society trumped Crowley's twisted, but all-too-common sense of overarching privilege—borne of generations of White men with guns representing an extension of governmental authority—be they actually sanctioned, deputized or not. The sad dynamic in America is, that even the so-called “lowliest” of White folk can always pull the ultimate trump card of status...

“ least I ain't no n*gger.”

This unspoken piece of down-home Untouchable-ism is the great un-equalizer for us as a nation. It's the smack-down with four-hundred years of backswing behind it. There is an old joke, told amongst Black folk that hammers this home in a darkly comedic (“Chortle!!”) manner.

“When does a Black man turn into a n*gger?
As soon as he leaves the room.”

It's rough humor, but it speaks to the Gates issue, as well as tying up quite nicely a confluence of “issues” we see roiling the waters of the body politic. And at that confluence is a vehement and open hatred of what I will call “American Otherness”—in essence, if you do not look anywheres like the powder-wigged, silk legging-ed founding fathers in the old image of the signing of The Declaration Of Independence, your rights—and any authority you may have through an Alger-esque climb through the ranks, or election to office by the people can simply be denied by those who do resemble our rouge-cheeked founding fathers.

Here, some eight months into the first Presidential term ever served by someone who doesn't look like those folks, we as a country find ourselves besieged by a triad of ˚Killer Bs”—The Bitchers, The Birthers and the Birchers.

The situation with Henry Louis Gates is not something new, mind you. But it''s an example writ large of the wave we see sweeping this country's frustrated, fearful class (Dare we include a fourth group in the “Bs”—“Bitter-ers”? Yeah...who didn't see that coming a year ago?) who can feel the ground shifting beneath their hair-topped feet. Gates has long been a Black man of means—easy to dismiss for years by those for whom the safety of skin color privilege still gave a sense (albeit unjustified) of confidence that all would remain as it always has for them—all unspoken connections intact, the barely camouflaged pipelines to power unbroken. But the meteoric ascent of a Barack Obama cast Gates, a certified “F.O.B.” (“Friend Of Barack's”) in a different light. This negro one could once dismiss as a bow-tied, patrician, noir anomaly was now something else again in the new context of American power and the access to it. Gates is one of maybe...the ten most prominent college professors in this country. And you would think that in a small town like Cambridge, typical cop-knowledge would prevail. That knowledge being, “Know your local skells and swells” It's a thing that's endemic to law enforcement. Once Crowley knew (and he did know in short order) that Gates was not a “skell” but rather, a “swell”, instead of extending to him the usual treatment accorded folks of his station (Imagine Gates' peer and fellow Harvard Professor Lawrence Summers—being treated as Gates was...), a certain vengefulness won out. A punishment well above and beyond the so-called offending “deed” had to be meted out, and Crowley saw to that with his baiting and subsequent no-cause arrest of Dr. Gates.

Crowley did what he did, because he was angry at Gates' rank impertinence—based on who Gates was, and because he knew he could get away with denying Gates' legitimacy based on who he (Crowley) was thanks to 400-plus years of socio-racial stratification in America.

It was an Eric Cartman-esque “Res-pect Mah Authori-taaaaaayyyyh!” moment come to life. And just as laughable, nutty and venomous as the South park character's 2D television rant—save know, the actual cuffing, ride downtown and booking in a Cambridge police station, that is.

But it was one of a few Cartman “moments” manifesting themselves lately—and all of them are rooted to the same petty, thorny seed.

Take note of the so-called “Birthers”, the lunatic fringe on the right (and to be fair, also partially on the “bitter” racist moderate Dem side we saw during the ugly end of the last Presidential primary season.) who claim against all evidence otherwise that the duly elected President of The United States, vetted like nobody before is some sort of “furriner” Pinko plant not born here in the U.S.A., but rather in some Moo-slim Madrassa hovel with...I dunno, Osama Bin Laden's bloody hand still treasuring his umbilical cord scissors. There again is that knee-jerk denial of legitimacy. “He is not my President!” “He does not COUNT!” It took the better part of about seven months for this crowd's minds to totally curdle into clumps of fully-set racist stupid, but curdle they did as the realization that “Oh Noez! It'z reallee troo! A fuggng chocolate-fayce iz prez and iz in charge uv Myyyyyyy Amurrrrrika!” hit home like the wave of nausea you get after the initial sharp pain of a drop kick to the gonads. Lou Dobbs, that paragon of choice xenophobic political battles to pick and win, hopped on this “American Otherness” bandwagon like it was the last copter out of Saigon and is riding it for all it's stupidly worth—which is pretty much just huzzahs and dittoes from the scrape-knuckled fucktards who flock to him post-their mid-afternoon Limbaugh-lovin' refractory period. And this dim band is ultimately personified by Major Stefan Cook, the doofus “soldier” who deigned to not fulfill his obligation to go to war (Note how no GOP politicos or pundits dared call this act of defiance un-American) because he did not recognize Barack Obama as President due to his um...“doubts” about the legitimacy of his American birth.

Note again how this is another grumpy, White dude in uniform, an ersatz authority figure (licensed to carry a weapon) directly challenging a Black dude well above his station—just 'cuz.

Smartly though, the powers that be let this clown-ass get away with this bit of insolence, as a loser like this would have been a battlefield liability to the Nth power and a literal risk to everyone within ten feet of him. But also note how he felt perfectly comfortable running that lame-ass game to duck a responsibility, deny legitimacy and yes, lamely assert that authority thing again. He had no problem standing before the world and not only denouncing the Commander-in-Chief (which is well within his rights), but also pretty much saying “This particular Commander-in-Chief holds no power I am bound to respect.” What could inspire such raw hubris in a fellow pledged to protect his country at the behest of its elected leader? I can guaran-damn-tee you he would never have pulled such a stunt with the previous President—a documented draft dodger himself, layabout, and noted non-carer for the military in his charge. A look at the data in terms of who believes in this silliness and from whence they mostly hail is damned telling. What then, is the radical difference between the two men—making one automatically legitimate and the other suspect?

Birther, please.

This is HATE, people. Not the fun, titter-worthy “Hateration” you see in the merely envious, but a roiling, corrosive, capital H-A-T-fucking-E that these people are having extreme trouble filtering into something that can be still be occasionally called civil only because they know to actuallly utter the “N”-word spring-loaded just behind their front teeth in their anger would give the game away totally. They bleat bits from their new talk-radio ingested manifestos with the same nutty fervor as their civil rights era-forged forebears—the conspiracy-addled kooks from the old John Birch Society. All those hoary old “Communist!” and “Socialist!” yelps we're hearing over this stuff is classic “Bircher” bitching. What with all the newfound media fellating of the sixties hepness in “Mad Men”, it's kind of ironic that today's nutbars we're seeing at these town halls are the socio-political descendants of that era's proud, political, actual “Madmen”.

Basically, classic sore loser-ism dressed up as a political belief system.

I've written here about what happened in New York when David Dinkins became the city's first (and only, and it will stay that way for quite some time, thankyouverymuch) Black mayor. A large number of residents of the city's whitest borough, Staten Island voted to secede (Yee-hah.). And the loser of that election, Rudy Giuliani took it upon himself to stage an anti-administration rally near City Hall. A rally populated almost exclusively with “bitter” members of the city's police force. He whipped that armed and drunken bunch of thousands into a frothing frenzy—cursing to beat the band, and they went ballistic, overrunning lower Manhattan and of course, denying the legitimacy of the elected government...particularly Dinkins and Black members of New York's City Council...

And that day near City Hall, was an example of that strategy—writ two-ton jelly doughnut large. At that time, the NYPD was far whiter than it is today—which is to say it was closer to 85% White than it's present-day "egalitarian" 65-70%. And Rudy's rally that day appealed specifically to that very White element. The NYPD chafed under a Black mayor from jump—especially since that election gave Black folks a feeling that for once, the department would be held accountable for its legendary racist excesses. And worse still, Dinkins pushed for a residency law for the NYPD—forcing the officers to actually live in the five boroughs where they worked. This was waving a red cape before a coffee-and-bear-claw-stuffed bull.

Via Reason Magazine:
Cops carried signs that said "Dump the Washroom Attendant," "Mayor, have you hugged your dealer today" and "Dinkins, We Know Your True-Color--Yellow Bellied." Drawings on their homemade posters depicted the mayor in a '60s Afro with giant lips, or engaged in kinky sex acts. They broke through police barricades and stormed the steps of City Hall, cheering "Take the Hall!" and banging on windows... They chanted "Rudy, Rudy," in thunderous rhythm, as he worked his way through the nearly all-white mob, beaming, backslapping, posing for photos, pumping his fist. WCBC-TV camerman John Haygood was called a n*gger. Una Clarke, a city councilwoman from Brooklyn, was stopped by an off-duty copy with a beer in his hand who said to his sidekick: "This n*gger says she's a member of the City Council."

Sound familiar?

Look now at the faces—flushed and spittle-flecked at these Health Care Town Halls. Take a good, long look at the so-called discourse. These people, like their helmet-haired GOP puppet-masters haven't the clue God gave a gnat about how to go about fixing health care. Their whole thing is about emptying the monkey cage of every gloppy turd at anyone who who tries to tend to the zoo. Where were these angry people during the eight years when their beloved Dubya hovered next to 'em, distracting by waving a war-blood stained right hand while they stood idly by as he left-hand filched every green piece of paper with a dead president on it from their pockets? When Denzel Washington's movie from '02, “John Q” came out—about the financially strapped father whose insurance would not cover his dying son's operation—where were these supremely upset people like the this year's unfortunate “Josephine The Plumber”, Katy Abram then? Telling everyone else who had a critical word to say during the Bush debacle years to “Shut Up And Sing”...that's what, if I recall correctly.

You almost want to chuckle at their response when the Black dude now in charge points out to them “Hey, you know how that dude was picking your pocket, right? I'm here to help.”

“Wha-what the hell are you lookin' at my pocket for, man? Thief! Thief!”

The chuckle urge falls away however when you read the reports about many of these yahoos showing up at these meetings toting guns, physically threatening people and spouting / sporting violence-filled rhetoric. We've come a long way from the winger-speak during the Clinton era of healthcare reform of “reducing government to the size where it can be dragged into the bathroom and drowned it in the bathtub”. That phraseology while violent wasn't as overtly aggressive. It smacked of a certain wonky benign-ness. The new “bitter” wingnut front line at these gatherings are a whole 'nother smoke. These aren't the “wonks”—those K Streeters lost out last November and have cannily ceded the grunt work to the whackjobs in their small but exceedingly dangerous base. Wannabe Mel Gibsons in “The Patriot” jiggling their musket balls while openly talking of feeding the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots. Drowning? They're about shanking, shelling, and shotgunning reform this time around. They have no problem whatsoever with playing the violence card with the people pushing the reform for its avatar, and again—challenging said avatar's authority with the unbridled happiness of their warm guns.

Warm guns...and getting hotter.

Experts who track hate groups across the U.S. are growing increasingly concerned over violent rhetoric targeted at President Obama, especially as the debate over health care intensifies and a pattern of threats emerges.

The Secret Service is investigating a Maryland man who held a sign reading “Death to Obama” and “Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids” outside a town hall meeting this week. And in New Hampshire, another man stood across the street from a Presidential town hall with his gun on full display.

Los Angeles police officers apprehended a man Thursday after a standoff with him inside a red Volkswagen Bug car in Westwood, CA – the latest disturbing case even though officials said the man had mental problems. Experts say a sharp growth in so-called militia groups that helped spawn a wave of domestic terrorism in the 1990s – and are now using YouTube, rock
music and the Internet to recruit members and spread hate and fear—shouldn't be ignored.

“It's certainly a scary time,” said former FBI agent Brad Garrett, now an ABC News consultant. Garrett said the Secret Service “cannot afford to pass on anyone,” and he believes “they really do fear that something could happen to [Obama].”

“Why yes, that is a gun in his pocket...and no, he's NOT glad to see you.”

What the hell changed for all these frothing fools abut the health care debate? Did someone suddenly cancel all their insurance? Evidently not—as evidenced by the brilliantines who exposed their something other than dissatisfaction with health care animus in these classic exchanges...

“I (President Obama)got a letter the other day from a woman. She said, 'I don't want government-run health care. I don't want socialized medicine. And don't touch my Medicare.'”

At a town hall meeting held by Rep. Robert Inglis (R-SC):

Someone reportedly told Inglis, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.” “I had to politely explain that, 'Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,'” Inglis told the Post. “But he wasn't having any of it.”

Well, of course he wasn't having any of it, because these people who are in most instances more than okay are actually pissed off about something else entirely. What seems to be fueling this rage is a fear of the loss of authority—a changing of the guard. The idea that all that was—a system rooted in keeping one group ever up and one always down is no longer the case. The loss of absolute authority. There is a deep fear that should the Black dude manage to crack this tough nut (health care), then all bets are off on everything else. In other words, There'll be no keepin' 'em on the farm once they've tasted champagne in the big city”. The power paradigm shifts forever, and for those who've staked their futures (as most of their past achievements benefited from it as well) on the soft bigotry of a skewed system's benign continuance, it's very much a world-ender.

In the end, it seems it's always about dumb, grumpy clowns with guns and deep-seated authority / control issues.

And I'd love to be surprised about these crazies getting whipped up, but I just ain't. Forgive me.

There's a panic goin' on. A quiet riot in the minds of folks like Limbaugh and his drooling drones with their AM talk-radio i.v.'s on wide drip. Should things go the way they appear headed election-wise, you will hear talk of secession of this place and that from the United States, like New York's wingnut haven Staten Island wanted to do when the city dared elect a Black mayor. We already know Sarah and the rest of the “Whiter Shades of Palins” up north are down with that sort of lunacy. But most laughably, you will hear these poor, twisted souls cross up the talking points something fucking awful as their hate-fried synapses sputter and crackle wildly, like downed power lines on a wet street.

This is a thing that we (regular people beyond the media with a grasp on history taking place before MTV's “Real World”) have come to live with. Jaded? Not quite. Cautious? Yes indeed. Scared? That's what these bullies want to get their way and maintain an eternity's unfair status quo that benefits them. So, the answer is no.

But we will call these charlatans, rage-a-holics and paid disruptors out for what they are. Utah's Orrin Hatch, he of the most contrived-ly homogeneous state in the country rushed to work against the blowback his foot-stomping minions have stoked, defending them with gusto on Sunday, saying...

“the crowds are representative of people 'up in arms' over the plan.” He says the outrage is genuine.

And you know what? He's right. It is genuine—in the respect that they are not faking the feeling. It's as real as gravity. However, the stated impetus for said feeling being genuine? Ehhhh...not so much.

We know the deal. And they know that we know the deal. The game is to pretend like the deal is something else to those in a position to disseminate opinion to the masses in big, meaty chunks. The truth doesn't matter if the lie is what everyone is fixated upon. Thus, Officer Crowley's false confusion allowing him to force his will / cater to his whims in spite of the boundaries of the law...and thus the “Birthers” anecdote salad of “fact-ish” things to force their wills / cater to their whims in spite of an election that went wholly against their choice...and lastly, thus the Town Hall Terrors with their blind rage to the point of shutting down debate, forcing their wills / catering to their party masters' whims as to defeat an important and necessary policy and, annnnnnd, yes—damage a President we know a minute minority of them voted for—much less even considered. These are people for whom justice means—to flip the classic Richard Pryor line around—“Just Us”. And the holy, hot-ass hell with what anyone else feels about it.

Cartman's deranged screech had nothing to do with the acknowledgement of right and wrong. It had only to do with his own sense of fear, and loathing and insecurity.

Is it wrong to compare these flesh-and-blood people to a two-dimensional cartoon character?

Well...perhaps, so.

With that, I humbly extend my deepest apologies—to you, Mr. Eric Theodore Cartman—for deigning to compare the one-dimensional folk we're besieged with in reality to the much more emotionally complex and

(P.S. For added fun, click on the Cartman mash-up up top and read just what's in his right hand. We do it because we love you all.—LowerManhattanite)
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Care Heroes

Please send a message today

make sure we keep our progressive house members strong so we don't lose the last chance we have for reform... the public option. Go here today and make your voice heard. We need to be as loud as those obnoxious townhall disruptors. But in a positive way.

Please take this action asap.

update; here is a list of the heroes, if your guy or gal is on there- call them asap and show your support

P.S. Here's the list of healthcare heroes:

Albio Sires (NJ-13)
Alcee Hastings (FL-23)
Andre Carson (IN-07)
Barbara Lee (CA-09)
Barney Frank (MA-14)
Bennie Thompson (MS-02)
Bill Delahunt (MA-10)
Bill Pascrell (NJ-08)
Bob Filner (CA-51)
Carolyn Kilpatrick (MI-13)
Carolyn Maloney (NY-14)

Chaka Fattah (PA-02)
Chellie Pingree (MN-01)
Corrine Brown (FL-03)
Dennis Kucinich (OH-10)
Diane Watson (CA-33)
Donald Payne (NJ-10)
Donna Edwards (MD-04)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Ed Towns (NY-10)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30)
Elijah Cummings (MD-07)
Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05)
Eric Massa (NY-29)

Pete Stark (CA-13)
Grace Napolitano (CA-38)
Gwen Moore (WI-04)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Jackie Spier (CA-12)
Jerry Nadler (NY-08)
Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL-02)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Jim McGovern (MA-03)
John Conyers (MI-14)
John Olver (MA-01)
John Tierney (MA-06)
J! ohn Yarmuth (KY-03)
Jose Serrano (NY-16)
Judy Chu (CA-32)

Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Laura Richardson (CA-37)
Linda Sanchez (CA-39)
Lloyd Doggett (TX-25)
Lucille Roybal-Alard (CA-34)
Luis Gutierrez (IL-04)
Lynn Woolsey (CA-06)
Marcia Fudge (OH-11)
Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)
Maurice Hinchey (NY-22)
Maxine Waters (CA-35)
Mazie Hirono (HI-02)
Mel Watts (NC-12)
Michael Honda (CA-15)

Mike Capuano (MA-08)
Nydia Valezquez (NY-12)
Peter DeFazio (OR-04)
Phil Hare (IL-17)
Raul Grijalva (AZ-07)
Robert Wexler (FL-19)
Rush Holt (NJ-12)
Sam Farr (CA-17)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
William Lacy Clay (M0-01)
Yvette Clarke (NY-11)
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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Great Scots

Betsy Lippitt
After watching the episode concerning Culloden in Battlefield Britain this week, I found myself disconsolately singing

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye

In 1978/79, right after I'd moved to San Francisco, Therese Edell came to perform in the Bay Area with her friend and colleague Betsy Lippitt. At that show, Betsy did a solo where she sang "Cam Ye O'er Frae France?", explaining its origins as a scathing Jacobite rebellion riddle song, and alternating singing with a dazzling rendition on her fiddle. She had the range and clarity to do justice to this difficult song, and I was blown away. She later announced she would be staying on to perform at a club in North Beach a few nights a week, and I went several times to see her again, mostly to hear "Cam Ye O'er Frae France?" and be moved on what felt like a cellular level.

I was later able to get versions of it done by Ewan McColl and Rosie's Bar and Grill, but honestly, they weren't as good as Betsy's rendition.

At that point in my life, I thought most of my European ancestry was Welsh (what I had been told by older folks in the family) with of course some English and the ubiquitous Southern white claim to "Cherokee" back there. However, in 1985, a year after my mother's death, I began doing genealogy research in earnest, wanting to understand what had been handed on in my family and from what sources. At this point, I have a staggering amount of data, and it's been invaluable in dispelling myth, particularly in assisting me to name and claim classism and racism as it permeates my family culture. Every one of us is handed a storeroom jammed chock-full of cultural baggage, good and bad, at the moment of birth. If you, like most Americans, don't know the truth about "your people", you're doomed to perpetuate the crap and sentimentalize the good.

That same year, I began partnering with a woman who had a profound connection to her own Scots ancestry. Her beloved grandfather had been born and raised in the Highlands from 1886 to around the 1920s, when he emigated to America. He never lost his brogue or his culture, living to age 95 and residing with my lover and her family the last decades of his life. With her, I went to my first of many Highland Games festivals, and it was as if I had walked into a home I'd never known existed.

A great deal of my ancestry can be traced back to counties in the south, especially Virginia and North Carolina, that were the refuge zone for displaced Scots fleeing English oppression. The majority of my Southern heritage is mountain South, not Appalachian but the other mountain South, the Scots who hate authority, urbanization, centralized religion, slavery, and upward mobility, who revere education, poetry and language, music (especially fiddles), powerful women, wilderness, and drinking too much.

My new lover wooed me with music played on her grandfather's fiddle. In particular, she landed me with a song she directed toward me in front of a group, causing me agonies of pleasured embarrassment. It's called "Johnnie Lad" and she delivered it in Scots dialect to the heart-catching original strathspey tempo.

Oh ken ye my love Johnny
He is doon on yonder lea
And he's lookin' and he's jukin'
And he's eye-watching me
He is pu'in' and he's teasin'
But his meanin's nae so bad
If it's ever gain' tae be
Tell me noo, Johnny Lad

Tell me noo, my Johnny Laddie
Tell me noo, my Johnny Lad
If it's ever gain' tae be
Tell me noo, Johnny Lad

Oh Johnny's blathe and bonny
He's the pride o' all yon lea
An' I love him best of all
Though he's eye-teasin' me
Though he squeezes me and teases me
And tickles me like mad
Nane's cam near me that can cheer me
Like my ain Johnny Lad

Oh Johnny's nae a gentleman
Nor yet is he a laird
But I would follow Johnny
Although he was a caird
Noo Johnny is a bonny lad
He was ainst a lad of mine
And I've never had a better lad
Though I've had twenty-nine

And wi' you, my Johnny Laddie
And wi' you, my Johnny Lad
I will dance the butles off me shoon
Wi' you, Johnny Lad

So I fell, hard, and I began claiming Scots as my primary European culture of origin. (As an aside, can you frakkin' believe that someone who courted me with that song would turn out to have major COMMITMENT ISSUES? I mean, who could have guessed? Isn't there any way for me to learn some of these lessons by advanced placement tests or something?)

But when I began mooning over the devastating loss to My People at the last battle on (ahem) English soil, I decided to do another reality check. It turned out to be a lot more work than I had anticipated, nailing down my European roots by percentage, without the aid of those expensive and as-yet-not-quite-complete DNA tests.

I began by going to my pedigree. (You can view it online here.) It's unusually complete because I've worked my digits numb tracking down all the surname and lineage losses which occur because of the fucking rule that women give up their names when they marry, a custom that I don't think men will ever be stupid enough to take on. ("As long as he neeeds me....") What make this automatic 50% of surnames excision particularly galling is that for almost all of us, the only parentage we can claim with certainty is maternal. It's well-known in genealogical circles that over time, there's a 6% "non-paternal event" rule when looking at paternal ancestry. This means that on average, one of our six times, the guy who you think fathered that child did not, in fact.

Also, do the math. With all the work I've done to fill in "wife" blanks, I've got around 150 different known lineages in my 10-generation pedigree. I'm equally descended from all 150 of those names, not just the name on my birth certificate, and that's only for the past 300-400 years. When you consider human beings have been "human" for around 150,000 years (let me know if that number has changed), migrating into every corner of the globe and mixin' it up, even with "non-paternal" events, you can grasp how it is that you, whoever you are, is related at the level of at least 30th cousin or closer to ANY other human being on the planet, no matter who they are.

This is partly because of line collapse; I can guarantee you, in your pedigree are many individual ancestors who contributed to several lines that led to you, not just one. Pedigrees begin as ever-expanding fans but after a while start moving back in again, like the sides of a diamond, as we reach eras when the total number of people on the planet would equal customers in the Mall of America on the day after Thanksgiving.

I limited my investigation to less than 12 generations because before that, Europeans weren't here in North America and that's what I was after, finding out where the Euro of my European-American tag specifically first drew breath. You can view the detailed version of my results here in a separate post.

What I found out is that while Scots is the highest of the smaller percentages, at 9% of those I could reliably document, it's nothing compared to the 42% who are definitely English. As in slaughtered My People at Culloden English. Time to eat a pasty, play some Silly Wizard, and reconsider.

(Silly Wizard performing "Donald McGillavry")

Other startling or interesting facts which emerged were a few rogue Swiss and Danes, a miniscule percentage of German when you consider it's the #1 European ethnicity in the U.S. (I'm guessing concentrated above the Mason-Dixon line and out West), no French at all (I like the French), and almost as many real Irish as Scots. Yeah, I know that Southern label of "Scotch-Irish", it's a myth. Those are Scots who got deported to Ireland, especially after the Jacobite Rebellion, and forced to live cheek by jowl as unwanted intruders. Those clever English, figuring out how to punish Irish and Scots simultaneously. I do have Scots like that in my lineage, and I call them Scots, not Irish. From what I can tell, at least one of them was a Jacobite and lucky to have survived with his life. His son migrated to America and gleefully joined the Revolution, winning a commendation for his actions at the Battle of King's Mountain.

For those of you not in the know, the Battle of King's Mountain is what really won the American Revolution, not all that "shot heard round the world" crap up in New England. It was brutal and decisive, and a majority of the Southerners who went on a kill-the-English rampage there had Scots blood in them. Payback, baby.

So where am I picking up this almost primordial attraction to Scots identity? Here's something a little hard to admit: I'm a pacifist who's reached that identity by decades of intense inner work, and I don't think I can be dissuaded from it by argument or threat. But when I hear pipes and drums, I get scared I could be seduced into battle simply by the music. It feels almost genetic, my response.

Well, I kept digging, and found out a few other very significant facts. One is that I mustn't overlook the reality that 51% of these ancestors' origins I don't yet know, I can only assign an "earliest known place and time in America" to them. Perhaps they will skew the Scots ratio, if I ever nail down their hop over the Atlantic.

A second is something I've suspected but never seen in such stark numbers. Of all these lineages, only ONE came from Europe to a Northern State -- and that was Pennsylvania, a common landing spot for Scots who then scurried down the Shenandoah Valley to less "English" environs. Everybody else went directly to the South.

I've done a lot of research for other people over the years, and if you're white, non-Jewish, and from immigrants prior to 1900, almost always, your ancestry will be overwhelmingly either Northern or Southern, but not really very mixed. We've been a divided nation from the outset. Jamestown vs. Plymouth Rock. Those first waves of colonists came from very different parts of the British Isles, with different cultures and goals. The Civil War ended slavery -- mostly, let's add, because of the efforts of African-Americans, not the heroic Union Army who then immediately went on to happily wage genocide on the Plains Indians and not because of Lincoln. But racial equality was quickly put in a tiny little box, and the war only exacerbated cultural divides between North and South.

So, then I looked at where in the South most of my folks started out. It's not surprising that Virginia and North Carolina came up with 84% of the known total. They were settled early, seaboard states, and that makes sense. But the counties within those states where my ancestors congregated: Aha, I see a pattern. They were counties crammed FULL of Scots. I mean, even some of my ancestors from Germany and Southern England who arrived in, say Rowan County, North Carolina, a Scot stronghald, they promptly began intermarrying with Scots, taking on the culture and behavior.

It is conditioning, after all. Not just skirl and percussion.

I have a lot more to say which can wait for other essays. In particular, I do want to answer an earlier comment's question about "What if Boudicca had defeated the Romans?", though of course my answer will go the touchy-feely, anthropology route, not rely on military history. But it will have to wait, I have other writing to do today.

I'll close with Steeleye Span performing "Cam Ye Oer Frae France?" at the 1987 Philadelphia Folk Festival. It's not Betsy Lippitt, but you'll get the idea, especially when they stop singing and the drums take over. Below the video are lyrics and a little explanation of the Jacobite code buried in the lines, copied from various other sites.

And who will be our Bobbin' John?

[Members of Steeleye Span: Tim Hart (dulcimer), Peter Knight (harmonium), Bob Johnson (guitar), Rick Kemp (bass,drums) and Maddy Prior (vocals)]


Cam ye o'er frae France, cam ye doon by Lunnon
Saw ye Geordie Whelps and his bonnie woman
Were ye at the place ca'd the kittle hoosie
Saw ye Geordie's grace ridin' on a goosie

Geordie he's a man, there is little doubt o't
He's da'en a' he can, wha can dae wi'oot it
Doon there cam a blade, linkin' like my lordie
He would drive a trade at the loom o' Geordie

Though the claith were bad, blithely may we niffer
Gin we get a wab, it makes little differ
We hae tint our plaid, bonnet, belt and swordie
Ha's and mailins braid ... but we hae a Geordie

Jocky's gone to France, an' Montgomery's lady
There they'll learn to dance - Madam, are you ready
They'll be back belyve, belted brisk and lordly
Brawly may they thrive tae dance a jig wi' Geordie

Hey for Sandy Don, hey for Cockolorum
Hey for Bobbing John and his Hieland quorum
Many a sword and lance swings at heel and hurdie
How they'll skip and dance o'er the bum o' Geordie

NOTE: When George I imported his seraglio of impoverished gentlewomen from Germany, he provided the Jacobite songwriters with material for some of their most ribald verses. Madame Kilmansegge, Countess of Platen, is referred to exclusively as "The Sow" in the songs, while the King's favorite mistress, the lean and haggard Madame Schulemburg (afterwards named Duchess of Kendall) was given the name of "The Goose". She is the "goosie" referred to in this song. The "blade" is the Count Koningsmark. "Bobbing John refers to John, Earl of Mar, who was at the time recruiting Highlanders for the Hanoverian cause. "Geordie Whelps" is, of course, George I himself. The references to "whelps" are not just ordinary insults, but scurrilous puns on the family name of the House of Hanover, "Guelph".

Lunnon = London
Kittle Housie = Brothel (a.k.a. the Palace)
Linkin = Tripping along
Claith = Cloth
Niffer = Haggle
Gin = If
Wab = Web (or length) of cloth
Tint = Lost
Ha's and Mailins = Houses and Farmlands
Gane = Gone
Belyve = Quickly;
Brawly = WEll
Hurdie = Buttock

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Netroots! Winding Down a Great Week and Honoring Shannyn Moore

photo of Shannyn Moore in Alaska

Sorry for not posting, though I was tweeting!

I will post up thoughts, impressions and some of my insights as we wind down. This morning we are just getting started with the big conversation with Valerie Jarrett.

One of the highlights for us this week was the awarding of the Steve Gilliard 2009 Grant to Shannyn Moore (a girl from Homer) for her work over this year in the blogosphere and in her bravery for standing up to Gov. Palin in Alaska.

Nice write up on FDL as well.

HS and I were so proud to stand up and choose her, and Shannyn was quite surprised and honored. I felt like Steve was there with us.

More on the other fabulous experiences at NN09 coming soon.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

More Asinine Right Wing Fear Mongering In Investor's Business Daily

Investors Business Daily has a lovely editorial up now, promoting the crazier than crazy Obama's going to kill old people. meme. It is rife with the expected nutiness but as Jay Bookman Points out-- there is a real gem in there too which just makes the stupid in to art. (almost)

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless. IBD

of course as Jay points out-- that sounds pretty scary until you consider;
...that same Stephen Hawking who wouldn’t have a chance in the United Kingdom was in fact born in the United Kingdom, has lived his entire life in the United Kingdom and lives there still today, at the ripe old age of 67. (He was in fact hospitalized earlier this month.) Hawking is, you might say, living, breathing proof that these people are first-class fools.

cross posted from FL
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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Palin, leader of the liars

So we knew she was leader of the stupids, and the racists, and the grifters... but turns out she is leader of the liars too.

Palin is out there stumping along with the other big forces against sane health care reform trying to trot out this notion that the "Obama Death Plan" is about denying care.

Here she is in her wing-nuttiestness

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil. Sarah Palin

I'll tell you what is Downright Evil lying to people and scaring them. All this while in the real world people are already dying due to lack of coverage, being denied coverage for the crazy policy of pre-existing conditions, being turned away at hospitals because the have the wrong health insurance, etc. etc. etc.

The premise of these Health Care Fear Mongers is that everything is hunky-dorey out there and so we can't change anything. Well guess what, that is a lie, blatant, hurtful, intentional and yes evil.
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Friday, August 7, 2009

The Pampers of Jesus: My Summer with HDTV

(Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni; pewter miniature designed by Alan Dickinson.)

I watch television with captioning turned on. Partly this is simply professional interest: As a transcriber, I want to see how fast and accurate others are. Mostly, I've not been impressed. More about that in a paragraph. Also, I have friends who are deaf/hearing impaired and I want to see what limits are in place on their access to TV. Third, I often watch in the middle of the night and if I have on captioning, I can reduce volume so much that I'm sure I'm not disturbing my apartment neighbors. Lastly, some information comes through in captioning (background song titles and artists, specialized terms, foreign language vocabulary) that isn't available in audio.

On regular channels using the captioning commercial TV provides, the performance has been absolutely shitty. Those hired to do the simultaneous translation -- because that's what on-the-spot transcription is -- clearly have only one time through to hear and type the information, and if they get behind (which they do), drop-outs occur. Big drop-outs in information, and sometimes actual reversal of meaning. Or, more likely, long strings of ASCII-like gobbledegook.

This changed recently, however, when HDTV came along and one of the options you can select during set-up is alternative captioning services. I tried a few of these, and settled on the first in the line-up. The transcription is exponentially better, and the additional information I mentioned above started appearing. There are occasional small errors, and even more rare, a howler of a mistake.

Yesterday I was watching one of the two alternative PBS channels I now get with HDTV, what I think of my crack cocaine TV because it's all cooking, travel, woodworking, gardening, and history. I mean, if they didn't repeat them, I'd be unable to turn off my set. Oh, and there are craft shows which I do NOT watch -- more about that later. Anyhow, I was watching Rudy Maxa's travel show, not thrilling (like, say Battlefield Britain or How Art Made The World) but way better than most stuff on regular TV. The theme of the show was spiritual travel quests, and they were nattering on about Aachen, how the cathedral there has four items in its shrine to draw christian worshippers of dead people parts. They listed the four, something that was allegedly once worn by John the Baptist, two items supposedly connect to Mary, and -- this is where I gaped at the captioning -- "the pampers of Jesus". I had the sound off, so I don't know what Rudy actually said, but the transcriber heard it as "the pampers of Jesus." I screamed with laughter, frightening Dinah, and I've laughed every time I've thought of it since.

But here's the puzzle: I can't figure out what the actual term might have been. What sounds like pampers and is a garment that Jesus might have worn? If you have any idea, put it in the comments.

Now, as for those craft shows: I am developing an unreasonable aversion to them. Like Vicky Payne and Sloan Rutter, for instance, a mother and daughter crafting/designing duo who account for more than their share of air time. Vicky does sewing and stained glass in addition to general craftiness. They're not bad at what they do, but not especially good, either, and their aesthetics are not mine.

My mother and her sister (Aunt Sarah) were both avid and talented needleworkers, and skilled in almost all aspects of that art -- knitting, crocheting, sewing, embroidery, needlepoint, even tatting. On the top shelf of the massive bookcase in my living room is a 20 volume set called Manos De Oro, an encyclopedia of needlework that Mama bought in Brazil. It's in Portugese and I haven't found anyone who wants it, but I can't bear to get rid of it because she used it so passionately. I also own Mama's Singer, bought the year I was born, which I suppose makes it a genuine antique. I began trying out various needle skills at an early age, and during high school, I had four years of home ec (mandatory in smaller Texas schools for girls at that time), which was almost entirely focused on sewing. Despite all this exposure and expertise, I simply don't care for it very much. Making a garment from scratch doesn't give me a thrill of accomplishment. So I avoid the sewing shows.

The one that drives me most nuts is the The Katie Browne Workshop. She uses her little girl voice and cutesy dimples nonstop as she shows how to assemble shoddy material into crap nobody will want, or ham-hands her way through recipes that can be found on the back of Campbell's soup labels. She's like the anti-Martha Stewart.

Not that I don't get irritated with Martha, too, where it's all about product endorsement, looking upper class with a glue gun, and skating over the fact you need several large houses to hold all the "marvelous tools" and collections she has. Martha's cooking show, Everyday Food, is a prime example of food porn. The implements and design of the kitchen goes beyond perfectionism into red-alarm OCD, the kind of set Monk would be happy in. The glistening ingredients and shiny pans are nothing you'd find in any real kitchen. The lighting and close-ups are porny, and the instrumental soundtrack used to accompany "technique" -- well, you get the idea. Most of her cooks are obviously chosen for looks as much for cooking ability. Indeed, my knife skills are better than most of theirs, and I'm no professional.

I have two further gripes. I will give her props for the fact that the "everyday" meals presented are closer to what Michael Pollan recommends that we be eating than most cooking shows: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. But the obsessive avoidance of carbohydrates is entirely in line with the current multi-billion dollar diet industry, and is a nutritional disaster. The problem isn't carbs, it's PROCESSED carbs. If you're eating brown rice, real whole-grain bread (no white flour or supplements in at all), organic potatoes, doing bean and grain combos, you will be well-nourished, get full, not have an insulin-spike and start craving fats and sugars, and the other "plants" you're eating will find the essential minerals they need to pair up with to do you good. So for g*d's sake, Martha, let your recipes add in a seven-grain roll, a stone-ground-corn tortilla, or some whole-wheat spinach fettucini.

My other ongoing aggravation is not limited to Martha, it's all the how-to shows where the person doing a demonstration must explain their actions as they go along. I feel boxed in by the anemic and mindless vocabulary of most of these folks. On Martha's shows, the main descriptor of EVERYTHING is "nice". A nice onion, a nice heat in the pan, a nice glaze. Are there not other specific terms for what you mean?!!! Hubert Keller, for whom English is a second language, I'll grant you, simply cannot form a sentence that does not contain "actually" or "of course". Sara Moulton, whom I adore, is way too scattered to be trying to talk and cook at the same time. And all of them, everywhere, should have a buzzer go off every time they say "sort of". Or "kind of". As in "you sort of zest the lemon" -- well, no, you either zest or do not zest. Makes me want to go all Yoda on their asses.

Heaven help you with some of these cooks if you don't drink wine. It is possible to have a palate and not be slugging back the alcohol, you know. And, on a side note, don't tell Joanne Weir if you'd rather not use a certain ingredient in her cooking class, because she will then drown you in it. On a recent episode, a young guy admitted he wasn't that fond of fennel (nor am I, anise and cilantro are STRONG flavors that folks either love or hate, respect that). Joanne got that "I can't hear you" stubborn look on her face, and wound up adding not just slices of fennel bulb, but seeds and chopped frond to every single dish they made that day. I'd have vomited on her butcher block in response. I mean, she's usually a good teacher, but that was just plain rude.

On the plus side, these new channels couldn't have arrived at a better time. I've got new health problems on top of the old ones, and my ability to get up from bed has been hammered this summer. Regular TV is nothing but judge shows, very very bad reality scenarios, CSI/Law & Order reruns, and Tyra Banks. PBS, on the other hand, not only runs History Detectives every summer season -- which has a decidedly "let's tell the REAL truth about American history" subversive agenda -- but this year they're doing Time Team America, and I'm utterly enthralled. If you don't know about this science and archeology series, seriously, go to the website here and watch the four episodes already aired, then jump in this week with the next dig.

I'd discovered MI-5 on our regular PBS station, but the back episodes are appearing on one of the new channels and I've caught up. I could never stand to watch 24, but this BBC-produced show makes 24 look like the joke it is. If the actions and inner turmoil (or lack thereof) of Tom, Zoe, Harry and Danny don't scare you shitless, you're not paying attention. Unfortunately, there seems to be a high turnover in cast from season to season. Possibly this series has been a star-maker in the UK, because I've seen all of them in big roles on other features -- like the actor playing Tom, who got the main male lead recently for Masterpiece Theater's Little Dorrit. It was tough enough losing Ellie and Maisie; I kept hoping they'd come back and Tom could have a real life again. The guy who's now replaced Tom, Adam, is not nearly as interesting, and his psycho double-agent wife is one-dimensional. Still, I'll keep watching for the writing and plots, not to mention the look of disgust on Harry's face every time the Bush government is mentioned.

So, if you ever want to get me a gift and are stumped, here's a wish list:

(1) A microplane for zesting. (sort of)
(2) A copy of Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney: A phenomenal expansion/reclamation of vocabulary pertaining to place and history.
(3) That magic map Peter Snow uses in Battlefield Britain. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch the excerpt below from the episode about how Queen Boudicca almost led the Britons to defeating Rome and casting them out of England. As a bowdyka myself, I keep wishing I lived in a world where she had succeeded. What a difference that would have made, eh?

Battlefield Britain - More amazing video clips are a click away

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Curious Case Of Michael Joseph Jackson

Oddly Old When Young, And Even More Oddly Young When Old

For the last ten years or so, in my in-depth discussions with friends and well...pretty much anyone on the subject of Michael Jackson, I would find myself invariably saying, “I just don't see him living past fifty-five.” This remark would oftentimes be met with deep disagreement and sometimes...outright anger—particularly from those who held a particularly large soft spot for him (oddly enough, that group would actually include even me, but I could get past my sentimentality where others were hampered by it). My response would then be, “Come on...close your eyes and picture him at seventy-five years old. You can't. You just can't do it. What does that tell you?”

My stating this is not an “I told you so!” eruption, post Jackson's untimely (to many) demise, but merely an anecdote that has relevance against the backdrop of the last few weeks' stunning events.

That aforementioned soft spot of mine for Michael is subcutaneous. Bone-deep, and to the marrow. He was (“Was?” That's a hard word to write here about him—“Was”.) only five years older than me. But I always considered it four, as he and I were summer babies—me being born in July, and he in August, and for a month or so every year, Michael Joseph Jackson and I would be, without rounding upwards—four years apart, age-wise. Why though, would I, and so many other folks of “that age” want so badly to be closer...or more kindred to him? need only go back some forty-odd years, to what was a near-nadir of hope in American history—that optimism-murdering spring / summer of 1968, where we lost in the span of thirty days, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Francis Kennedy, found ourselves foot-stuck like some keening dinosaur fighting the sucking tar-pit of a war that was Vietnam, and lastly, witnessing the ushering in of the green-beard shadowed avatar of avarice into the Most Powerful Office In The Land, one Richard M. Nixon.

I'm old enough to recall the time's doom-fear and despair. The unease that blanketed the country like a cheap, itchy, wet poncho whose weight made it hard to move around. No one knew what was coming next. There were riots and institutional take-overs, and establishment vs. upsetters disagreements and shootouts galore. The country was bifurcated—fuck—tri-furcated, quad-furcated probably—with various groups set on the verge, where one bad move would set all against all in a crazy, construction helmets vs. black tams vs. longhairs vs. Bryllcreem-ers Ragnarok with the stars of the Goddamned Columbia Record Club's stamp-sized album covers providing the end-of-days soundtrack. And then...

1969 would come, with all still loose and freshly-fridged-Jello unsettled, and at the end of that year would come a group of kids—five to be precise, fronted by the youngest of them at eleven, a kid named Michael Joseph Jackson, who without knowing it, would find themselves, (himself, really) moved into the pop-cultural breech by the simple law of space's abhorrence of a vacuum.

Take a look at him then...And remember...he's eleven years old here...

Michael Jackson was...the post-civil rights era's first, and foremost Black superstar entertainer to emerge from that blood-spattered, bomb-rubbled incubator.

Aretha had “hit” in '67, “The Summer Of Love” (after a few years of toil in the fallow ground of watered-down pop at Columbia Records)—just before things got all messy and bloody on the regular, so that title didn't belong to her. It wasn't Stevie Wonder either. We'd had him as a “Twelve Year Old Genius” since 1963. And it wasn't Marvin Gaye, who'd been a Doggoned, Peculiar bit of Pride and Joy since that same time. Yes, those last two would make their voices—their true voices—heard loudly with a run of high musical art a couple of years down the pike, but they were already established personas, albeit maturing one—but again, established personas nonetheless. Michael Jackson was something new entirely. A quite literal “child” of the movement, having been born just a few years post Brown vs, Board of Ed. and in effect, representing the next wave—the generation that would inherit all the good born of all the pain of the previous decade-and-a-half of bloody, sweaty, tear-filled struggle.


“Michael Jackson was...the post-civil rights era's first, and foremost Black superstar entertainer to emerge from that blood-spattered, bomb-rubbled incubator.“

Go someone else. Think long and hard on it. Surprising, isn't it?

I was of age—seven years old thereabouts when Michael exploded onto the pop consciousness. There were no “conks” or tuxedos to be found with him, harkening to the preceding generations trappings of stardom. There was an almost perfectly-rounded mushroom-cloud of an afro, an “Applejack” newsboy cap dipped slyly to the side. Bright, striped bell-bottoms and florid, printed shirts, kerchiefs, bad-ass vests and hip-as-all-hell ankle boots. The next generation had effectively arrived and attired itself without irony or hewing to a pre-existing context. It wasn't running away from anything—but rather, just running toward something exciting. Now, you'll of course dig about and find all the old Berry Gordy quotes meant to assuage a worry-filled music-buying public that what the J-5 and Michael were doing was “Bubblegum Soul”. And maybe that was what he intended when he signed them up—to be young, malleable pop automatons many years removed from the cries of independence that a Stevie and Marvin were making daily as the decade closed out.

But he got something more in the little eleven-year-old from Gary, Indiana.

Something wholly unexpected.

Namely, a cultural anomaly that you just don't see every day.

Most folks develop their first sense memories around the age of four or so. It's about the earliest you can go back for the most part and pull sentient, cohesive memories that hold together. Gordy had in his hot little profit-making hands a Superstar that had arguably the shortest talent incubation period in modern history. Sentient memories at four, a seasoned triple-threat superstar at ten / eleven years old. Damn near Mozart-ian when you think about it. Yes, there had been other child stars—Shirley Temple for example—maybe the biggest child star America had ever known till that point. But Shirley was revered for her preternatural, childish cuteness. In her, America cherished the baby, the moppet, and cherub-faced doll. Michael however was star-made because of his combination of child-like looks, but grown-man / soul man-ism. He was Muddy Waters' “Mannish Boy” come to broadcast color life. Singing with an odd, off-centered authority when you think about it now—commanding girls to “Get up! I think I LOVE you!”, while simultaneously melting hearts from six to sixty-six with his impassioned, love-struck crooning on the ballad “Who's Lovin' You”. Go, listen to that last number and you'll want to walk up to Berry Gordy, slap him awake and yell at him, “B...that don't sound like no bubblegum I ever heard.” Gordy had on his hands a young performer who had mainlined every great 45 by Ray Charles, James Brown, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Clyde McPhatter, Smokey, Marvin and everybody else who mattered, held the high they produced and could output that potent mixture into his own otherworldly style on record, and more amazingly on stage. It was as if you took a little bit of each of their DNA, put in in Seth Brundle's “Fly” machine and gotten in record time, a crazy amalgam that left to natural selection would have taken far longer to come to fruition. This was a kid savvy enough to be able to channel Frank Sinatra—maybe the most bodacious “Guy's Guy” of the latter half of the century and perfectly, convincingly “get” him—while all of twelve years old. And if you don't remember that little it is...

But there's a trade-off with going all gaga over a kid you cast as a miniature man. You can mess him where he never really ends up maturing into the “man” you enthusiastically, prematurely cast him as while still a child, and the child he remains is a horribly maladjusted one because he never got to become a child with any sense of normalcy.

I remember sitting in the back of my school bus in 1970, with ten other boys riding home from school and listening on our well-smuggled transistor radios to Michael tearing it up on “The Love You Save” on 770 AM WABC. We were all around his age—pre-pubescent, and reedy-voiced and when we sang along to the song—no knock on Jermaine, Jackie and the rest—but it was Michael's parts we sang in gleeful, screechy unison.

He was the leader. The guy you couldn't help but look at, and thus, the guy we mimicked. He was the dude we wanted to be because of the blazing heat of his stardom while he maintained that brotherly sense of “cool”. We were too young to grasp what the deal was with him as all we saw was the superficial—someone from our generation, that “new” generation, who was brilliantly, “doin' it”. He was ours and we were proud.

And yes, he escape.

An escape from all that awfulness just a year before. The things that made our parents sit in the dark and cry as horse-drawn caskets rolled by on TV. We never for a moment thought about him, and what was going on in his house. It had to all be good, right? Look at how he smiled while performing...that confident swagger on stage when he rocked Sullivan's show. Who knew (or cared) that he was getting his ass whipped like many of us were, and like a sad few of us—brutalized by a domineering, demanding father from a generation where saying “I love you, son” could be viewed as a weakness. You think about that when you think of Michael—“How would things have gone had Papa Joe not been so demanding, and driven. So relentless in pushing his boys and maybe over-pushing his greatest prize of all, Michael?” Think about The Beach Boys and their crazed father Murry Wilson, that manic drive of his and the trauma he inflicted particularly on his most talented son, pop songsmith extraordinaire Brian Wilson. How he so damaged him...and the fact that we even have Brian Wilson around now is that the drugs he took to escape his daddy-enhanced demons probably made him so high that he just didn't have the coordination to plunge the needle or pop the pills enough to ever actually pull off a full-blown, classic Sixties-star O.D. What if Papa Joe Jackson had shown more love and less lust for success? In that alternate universe Michael maybe ends up an incredibly successful and popular 250 lb. accountant / car salesman / pharmacist from Gary, Indiana who loves his daddy, has healthy relationships and is renowned for his amazing office parties and family gatherings.

We'll never know.

And too many of us would probably rather not know. We'd rather take the art...the things he could do to dazzle our senses than to consider that maybe, just maybe if he hadn't been so pushed as hard to do those things on the public stage we fix our gaze so strongly to that life could have been happier for him. We (the public) want our art and damn the artist who gives it to us until he does something that makes us feel bad about our single-minded thirst for his or her work. This is not to cast Michael as some messianic figure (although oddly, he did have a messianic complex—look at the cover of his HIStory” DVD with him as a hundreds of feet high statue to be revered by the ant-like people below, or his predilection in his later years to suddenly copping and holding the crucifixion pose in performance.)—Michael did not “die for our sins”. (Those sins being a single-minded gluttony for his talents) But one of the sad realities of stardom is the myopia of star-worshippers. The art...the talent is all that matters to us, the public until our puffing up of said star's balloon bursts all loudly and messily when it touches the needle of human frailty. “POP!” goes The King Of Pop”, one would suppose.

He grew up. literally before our eyes. What was happening in our peripheral vision that we didn't see was the messiness of that growing up. The natural sibling rivalry in-house—a group of brothers, all talented in varying degrees, but the youngest of the group undeniably the catalytic agent among them. The bold-faced star. Think for a moment about the stresses that put on the family—and him. He was in efffect, an eleven-year-old breadwinner. There were jealousies and the typical pettiness in large families, just magnified exponentially because of the stardom. Two of his brothers were practically grown men—Jackie and Tito—and they were in many ways dependent on their pre-pubescent little brother. That's an ass-kick and a half to the ego. I can't imagine that in spite of the familial love they shared, that there wasn't also a bit of what we now call “hateration” on Michael. And on his part, being the center of attention, the sun around which the Jackson solar system revolved, Michael for all his sweetness in the public arena was probably not always the most deferential little brother he could have been. Add to all of this the weirdness of his living for extended periods during his formative years (coinciding with his explosion into a pop-culture icon) outside the home with people he idolized—folks like Diana Ross, and Berry Gordy—grown-up mega stars / moguls replete with their own well-documented messiness. These odd surrogate parents must have seemed a comfort in a way to him...assuming they, as famous folk could somehow grasp or relate to what he was going through himself.

But Diana and Berry were already adults when fame came a' knockin'. And they could barely handle their own business—even as adults. They were, for whatever amount they cared for Jackson, no help really in terms of guiding him through the rocky shoals fame would carry him through. Not to mention the strangeness he probably saw while living amongst all of that Nouveau-Riche Negritude.

He would move from that pre-pubescence to an incredibly awkward teen period—from cherub, to a gangly whippet of a young man. I remember the covers of “Right On!” magazine—the cheap bible of Black entertainment / tanned “Tiger Beat” for the young set back then. The rumors of all the “relationships” Michael was having with this girl and that one—all of them lies, of course. Garish cover blurbs “Michael tells you what YOU need to do to be HIS girl!” There was no special “Lady In His Life” beyond Mom—which really was the issue right there. The rough relationship between his mother and father—rampant cheating and gruff domination on Papa Joe's part, and his mother's quiet suffering probably addled Michael's view of relationships forever. It's not an issue really about what his sexual preference may have been..what he saw at home close-up just wasn't very healthy, and unhealthiness like that will mess a person up whether they're Straight or Gay. The rough-hewn die was set early for him on matters of companionship. He was emotionally crippled in a lot of ways...and his inability to work through all of that was compensated for by him with an amazing dedication to honing himself as a performer. He was still an entertainment dynamo at this time, but the man-child wonder of him was wearing away right along with that soaring boyish soprano of his thanks to a simple thing called time.

In 1973, the Jackson Five would release the “Get It Together” album, boasting a somewhat funkier sound than their previous, more youthfully inflected releases. The album itself was fairly forgettable (outside of the peppy stepper “It's Too Late To Change The Time”), save for the disc's final song—which on LPs in those days meant it was a throwaway. But that song was no was the song that would signal a rebirth for the group and first boast the new, almost fully-changed “Michael” voice that we'd hear pretty much until his death.

That song was the unforgettable “Dancing Machine”.

I remember seeing them do the song for the first time one Saturday afternoon on Don Cornelius' “Soul Train”, and it was heart-stopping. Those staccatto moves, the spins and then, the revelation of that perfectly-hinged “Robot” dance of his. Machined—like the song said—smooth and almost hydraulically powered, with that kill move of the waist-drop into the broken-arm swing of a thing made more of tin and screws than bone and sinew.

“What the hell? Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, sweat!”

Later that day, everyone I knew was out and about doing lame-ass versions of his impeccable “Robot” all over the streets. Stiff-assed, and busted-winged we aped the moves we'd just seen. Awesome moves! And we all just had to do it...because Michael was doing it...and doing it well. Later that year, the group would guest on “The Carol Burnett Show”, with Michael still growing like a weed, but more dance-tastically fluid than ever. And he'd do the song again, with the moves honed that much sharper for the rest of the world for whom the eleven a.m. broadcast of “Soul Train” wasn't the must see it was for folks “round the way”. He killed it again, and the group was back—back until Disco...most notably the bad Disco being crafted by mercenaries who didn't know the difference between a Latin Mass and The Latin Hustle sodomized our ears with their awfulness. The group—Michael was floundering again. The sonic sands had shifted under them and they could not quite get centered. And then, it became clear to them that they were also NOT getting paid what they should have been (as others had previously discovered to their chagrin) by the boss, Berry Gordy, so tensions mounted. Rifts were riven deeper. The group was split between Gordy and Family, most notably through Michael's brother and sometimes pop rival, Jermaine's relationship with Gordy's daughter Hazel. The family felt they were getting screwed by Gordy while Jermaine, if you'll forgive the brutal French here, quite literally...was. The four Jackson brothers would leave the Motown nest,—but the cherished “Five” suffix would be left behind as the cagey Gordy owned that moniker, and Michael would feel ever more alone as Jermaine, always to his left onstage, and his closest sibling stayed behind at Motown, marrying the boss' daughter.

Those late teen years were rough ones for Michael, as they are for all kids. Your face breaks out, your body changes—not always for the better. “Cute” can fade. It can be especially rough on child stars, as they are always judged against how we first fell in love with them. The aforementioned Shirley Temple, Alfalfa Switzer, and Danny Bonaduces of the world are but a few manifestations of that phenomenon. Self-image issues are de riguer for teenagers. But Black teens have to deal with a second, more pernicious self-image demon as well...that Sissyphean Caucasian beauty standard that is near impossible to get around. Imagine you're a world star going through a shaky adolescence where your appearance is drastically changing—not for the worse, but something different than what your world-wide fan base (those who look like you still love you, though) reveres. You're insecure as it is—you can't hide, really, “You're a star!”—and then, just heap on generations worth of self-loathing born of good old American racism.

Oh yeah, your dad is still kicking your ass, your livelihood is threatened by a fickle public, and the pressure is on you to do something to stay relevant...remain desirous...

You begin changing what you can about yourself to slake the thirst of a grasping world, and to settle the demons of insecurity leaping at your psyche. It doesn't help timing-wise that plastic surgery had become a lot more than just bobbing a nose as it had been for decades. And so, Michael's sad, desperate journey to the land of de-nubification would begin—first with the throwback conk / curls and as time would go by, the more extreme, outré modifications to skin, sinew and bone. And these changes coincide with the stepping out from the five-wide line of Jackson brothers into the bright spotlight of solo fame downstage. “Life ain't so baaa-aaad at a-a-alllllllllllll, when you're livin' off the waaaaaalllllll.”

This would be his second act. The synthesis of all he'd learned and loved about entertaining people, with a matured, and almost physics-defying body, and...a fully-honed sense of pop songcraft. This was the Michael of “Off The Wall”, and following that, the phenomenon of “Thriller”.

“Thriller”...which was the single best thing and single worst thing that could have ever happened to him. Over 100 million albums sold. seven hit singles. A clutch of revolutionizing videos. A pop-culture ubiquity that would many times over, dwarf the damaging, but moth-to-the-flame attractive fame that he'd known almost forever. It catapulted him into a wealth class that few performers have ever seen, and simultaneously played to his worst, most immature excesses—one being a clear tendency to pour all into the the perfection of performance and almost nil into employing even a little bit of objective self-awareness. An objective self-awareness that could have easily made life more normally fun for him, and perhaps even have extended it. “Thriller” was so Goddamned big that it effectively changed the music industry—and not in a good way. Having been done once, the bean-counters and gangsters at the labels of course thought that the lucrative equation could be replicated / reverse engineered—hook-y tunes, heavy airplay, eye-catching videos and a P.R. push to make ubiquitous whatever the hell the product was. And Michael, living the heady high of “Thriller's” deep reach into pop culture, naively bought into the same bit of stupid the suits in the industry did—albeit destructively internalized. The problem was, that “Thriller” was an utterly un-replicable thing. A once-in-a-generation phenomenon, really. That many high-quality songs on one album, with the accompanying multimedia extras (the videos...those videos), and, let's face it—a performer who could in this age of hot-house flowered, so-called “studio singers” who cannot get loose live—a performer who could in a four-minute live performance become a jaw-dropping, flesh-and-blood special effect (Motown 25, ya'll) is something beyond rare. He would spend much of his remaining life trying to re-capture “Thriller's” energy and scope—realizing I think only in the end, that it was impossible. Not just for him to consciously attempt, but for anyone to attempt. The record was a divine confluence of things...his undeniable talent, but also a stroke of genius in production, and fortuitously timed with the ascent of the “video” age, and a well-documented down point for pop music per sé around him.

It was a lightning strike, a tornado and an earthquake all happening at once in the same place. Amazing...but un-repeatable. It was a rush one could only really do once. In talking to a friend about Jackson and “Thriller”, the image of Daffy Duck's infamous, un-repeatable vaudeville trick to top his nemesis Bugs Bunny in the classic Warner Bros. cartoon “Show Biz Bugs” came immediately to mind.

The irony of a heaven-bound Daffy lamenting the stunt's un-repeatability is not lost here.

MJ's now-impossible level of stardom with “Thriller” was a cash-cow indeed, but as noted, it played to his worst demons...that willingness to suspend self-awareness, and an annoying, benign imperiousness. No one could tell him “No.”, and him knowing they could not, it allowed him to indulge every silly whim a maladjusted, fame-addled and yes, damaged individual could. This is where the rubber meets the road for Michael, because it's where his personal responsibility as an adult should have manifested itself. People go through all manner of trauma and travails as children, yet many times manage to transcend those painful, psyche-damaging things to come out as functional adults. In spite of those things, a certain normalcy can often prevail. While understanding what he may have endured, there is a point where as an adult, one still can step back and say, “I'm not going to let those things define me.” Strong-minded folk with a shred of self-awareness do this every day. Michael apparently didn't even have that shred. A friend of mine who is now a social worker had a simply horrific childhood and a brutally destructive adolescence fraught with every kind of abuse you could imagine—and then some. She said to me, ˆI know I'm not perfect. But least I know that, and I know the reasons why. And knowing that, I have to affirm that shit. I scream at myself inside, every day, 'Transcend mother-fucker, TRANSCEND!' And you know what? I do. It's my survival mechanism. If I don't, I'm the sum of all the shit I went through...and nothing more.”

Michael became the sum of those things. Not his fault exactly, but again...he himself never transcended it. And that rests within the individual. How willing is one hard does one...want to fight? These are the decisions an adult must make, and sadly for him and us, Michael clearly chose to err on the side of “not hard enough”. Knowing that non-choice, he instead opted for a patently childish alternative. He amped up the “weird” factor—showing out for attention's sake, and playing the oddball to the hilt to diffuse attention from his actual peculiarities like some real-life version of Ally Sheedy's contrived, over-the-top-oddball “Allison Reynolds” character from “The Breakfast Club”. Except at a certain point, he started to get off on the attention the weirdness was getting him, especially as his influence as a pop music tastemaker began its precipitous decline. (Partly due to his cultural isolation and partly due to the rapidly shifting tastes of the consumer public...again) The “Ha-ha! Look how weird I am” moves swiftly melded into his inherent, natural strangeness and it all became to us, a ghostly, lank-haired blur of “Oh my God!” The purchase of The Elephant Man 's bones...the picture of him lying in the hyperbaric chamber, the increasingly bizarre physical appearance—both costumed and surgeried, and then of course...the weirdness with the kids.

Ohhhhhhh, the kids. The kids, The kids.

At this point in time, we still don't know for certain with him what he really was about with all of those disturbing abuse stories. I'm of the belief that if the allegations were truly the case—lockbox solid—there'd have been scores of damaged kids and angry parents coming forth. Child sexual abuse sadly doesn't happen on a small scale when the possible abuser is a person of great influence. And just playing the numbers game, considering the multitude of children he was exposed to (no pun intended) it seems there would have been many, many more victims coming forward. Not everyone can be “bought off” as Jackson's harshest critics would say. That said though, when you are as overtly off-kilter as Michael was—a mess inside and out, and you initiate and then foster oddly juvenile “relationships” with children, when most poeple your age are dealing with their fellow adults, you are unfortunately inviting fate. We live in an age where people don't look the other way any more, or engage in the denial previous generations did when that ugly spectre would materialize. Whether he did the deeds or not, he at the very least gave more than an ample opportunity for the allegations to gain traction—speaking again to that stunning lack of self-awareness of his. We know his childhood as it was, was a chaotic, furtive and oft-interrupted thing, lived inside a fishbowl with a possible variety of awful abuses against him. We know that he spent much of his post-childhood trying to come to grips with that, and failing so, trying to clumsily recapture / re-live as many of the fun aspects of that childhood (that he could remember or at least, visualize / manufacture vicariously) as he could...

As much the victim as he was though, he did not help himself at all with the over-the-top weirdness (and at the end, with him seemingly no longer in any control over it) when it manifested itself around young people. A simple realization or two about the world beyond him could have saved him a lot of grief. Michael though, was sadly hung up on the superficials. All he saw, or wanted to see in the end were the waving, adoring crowds—of which there were still a lot of, particularly beyond the U.S. borders.

That cocoon of fan worship was his world, or rather, the world he chose to dwell in.

Remember the odd, off-putting dance atop the S.U.V. post-acquittal in Los Angeles? Loopy as it seemed, it was par for the course for a person who could only see things through the prism of a performer or performance. It was as if the trial, and that climactic moment at the end was all a long-form video for him, and the “dance” was the spinning, multi-cut flourish just before the freeze-frame ending. Credits at the lower left. Fade to commercial for acne medicine.

And worse yet, stylistically, the world of music was passing him by. “Thriller” was not so much innovation as it was pluperfect power pop. He would do well, with the initial, also single word-titled follow-up albums—“Bad” and “Dangerous”, but there was a palpable frustration in his camp that those were not as “Thriller-esque” in chart-conquering scope. Nothing else could be, really. And as the music industry collapsed into quick mini-fad after quick mini-fad with the public's attention span shrinking ever faster as distractions / new modes of entertainment grew like “Topsy”. (iTunes and the now ubiquitous iPod have forever altered the dynamic of music delivery—and effectively ended Top Forty Radio's stranglehold on hit-making / star-making) Michael, as good as he was could never seem to get back out in front of the wave. This was a hell of a blow to the man who was arguably “The World's Greatest Entertainer”, and more ironically “The King Of Pop”. A performer who lived for the adulation of the public and found validation through his ability to dominate a form that was no longer playing by the rules he was a master of...was effectively set adrift. Absolutely not the place for an emotionally, socially fragile person to be. Minus the toe-tapping earworms of his mega-hits to set us humming, all that was left for us to consume (and all he had left to give) was the weirdness. (One aspect of which I've never seen noted—namely his odd, crypto-Oedipal “Diva” fixation. He had a peculiar attraction to troubled, but status-quo challenging women—Diana Ross, ElizabethTaylor, Liza Minnelli, Lisa Marie Presley,—women who for all their known difficulties with men still very much controlled their own destinies, unlike Michael's own long-suffering mother Katherine who has forever lived in the rough shadow of Papa Joe. His attachment to these women doesn't take a Freud disciple to fathom. What girls Michael “wanted” were girls very much unlike Dear Mother. Looking at them en massé in relation to him is a disturbing case study of misplaced affection.)

Eventually, the “Thriller”-spawned money would begin to run low. He would not be “broke” as some have made out. Assets and interests he held were worth hundreds of millions of dollars...but his liquid assets were ebbing swiftly as his “Thriller”-spawned expenses were massive. And the guy who never really grew up certainly didn't have the most secure handle of finances either. Throw in his supporting several siblings for the better part of two decades and you can see the big, swirling smear of green going down the drain. Credit was extended based on his assets—song catalogs owned, future royalties to be paid, and tours yet to be embarked upon. But reality was hitting home for him. Debts mounted, much of his beloved Neverland Ranch was sold off and he would come to depend on the kindnesses of burnoosed strangers far from home, agog at the idea of an icon of Western Pop being even a little bit beholden to them. There was more quiet time as “the business” slowed down, and Michael set about at long last building a family—loving and beautiful, but still, pre-fabbed and crafted with the precision of a series of choreographed dance moves or a sequence of songs on an album. Chance and randomness was not his bag and it manifested itself with his children, from conception onward. But in the end, as we saw at his funeral, children in grief are guileless. His daughter Paris shattered the hearts of millions when she spoke so lovingly of her father...

Adopt 'em, test-tube 'em, hell...kidnap 'em or however you wind up with 'em, if you love your children—really love them—when you are gone, the wound to them is a deep and punishing one, and we saw that in Paris ' tear-wracked attempt to convey her thoughts about her late father. It moved many from thinking about “Michael the Weird” to considering what a joy he must have been to those kids of his. In that small-to-us-who-did-not-live-with-him way, he evidently transcended at last.

But it took his death to see it brought to light. Alas.

And his death was effectively the close of the third act in our watching The Great 20th Century American Pop Culture Play. Yes, in spite of the aforementioned messianic excesses, he was in fact the last of something of a “Trinity”. Sinatra, Elvis,“ and Michael—The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghostly Apparition. Linked through time and irony. Sinatra's croon wowed the the Bobby-soxers” of the 40's. Elvis' blue-eyed soul, snarl and McCarthy backhanding gyrations stirred the teens of the 50's, and Michael's beyond-his-years innate soulfulness and performer's polish captivated a generation in the late 60's and 70's. When Frank was at his creative peak in the mid-fifties, a young Elvis hit with the hammer that was Rock & Roll, knocking Sinatra down several pegs as popular music upheaved huge and fearsome stalagmites around him. Elvis would then go off to the Army and come back effectively a boy no more, but now a man. And his return to the world of stardom took place where? Fittingly, on the stage of Frank Sinatra's short-lived TV variety show—welcoming him back to the world proper, effectively, a kissing of the ring of “The Man”. Fast forward ten years, and there's the new kid, Michael—literally a kid, paying homage to “The Father” again...


This was a kid savvy enough to be able to channel Frank Sinatra—maybe the most bodacious “Guy's Guy” of the latter half of the century and perfectly, convincingly “get” him—while all of twelve years old.

All three bearing titles bestowing power...“The Chairman Of The Board”, “The King”, and the more direct definer “The King of Pop”.

And to tie it all up in an incestuous little bow of symmetry, whose daughter did that nutty, koo-koo kid wind up marrying—an effective merging of the last two generations' of pop mega-stardom?


Sinatra “retired” at fifty—just past the “September Of His Years”, his hitmaking on the wane. Elvis' excess-slurred words could barely be made out at his concerts eight years before that half-century milestone he'd never make, a sad mess and a brakeless freight train going downhill fast. Michael? Well...we see how that turned out. The half-century mark seems a pivotal time for these oddly-scarred talents we projected so much upon. Fade away or flat-out disappear it seems. With a trail of mental illness, suicide attempts, susbtance abuse and relationship craziness on their tuxedo-pumped / white-booted / glitter-socked heels. In all of their cases, but Michael's in particular,—the big question is, as noted before...would we, the public be better off without the art he (they) gave us if maybe, just maybe their personal circumstances were different in a way that left them less as stars (or perhaps not stars at all) but happier as just regular people?

Was it worth it?

We're a selfish culture when it comes to our art. Many would say, “But I loved 'I'll be There'. I fell in love with Susie / Omar / Eddie / Svetlana to that song! Michael didn't have to have all that drama for that music to exist. No...I'll take the music please. Sorry.” It isn't always the case, but in large part, art...high art—is messy. The things that captivate the world are oftentimes born of drama, turmoil and yes, even crazy.—i.e. the lurid messiness of cultural game-changers like Chaplin, Picasso, or worse yet, a Frank Lloyd Wright. The line from Orson Welles' “Harry Lime” (from “The Third Man”) comes to mind over this paradox...

“You know what the fellow said—in Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Not that there's anything wrong with cuckoo clocks per sé...but there we are...

And if we look at Michael's death just a little bit closer, it hits with a double significance—you see...something else also turned fifty years old this year as well...Motown Records, Jackson's springboard to super-stardom and the one-time symbol of Black America's true arrival in terms of capitalist “equality”. Sadly, Motown too had become a shadow of itself...a repository for musical memories only, sold off by Gordy years ago and a cultural non-factor many years before that. It was in fact, in far worse shape than Michael. Though long gone from the label, there is a symmetry in its last great star's fading out at fifty years old—the same year that shell of a once-culture-defining company itself also turned fifty. There were half-hearted, stillborn attempts to commemorate the should-have-been-auspicious anniversary, but...the folks involved just couldn't seem to get it together. The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

And sometimes, he just drops a boulder on your head to make his point clear.

So, with the person / artist gone, we the public at large are left with the things that superficially remain...the sad and typical post-death wrangling and jockeying by grasping “family”...swirling factoids and boiled--over rumor stewing into anger and of course, the blame-gaming that so often accompanies loss...the zest for ultra-deification by the myopic and the bloodlust for dissery by rabid contrarians looking to grind an axe or make a bold and cheap mark for themselves...

And what we had here really—beyond the superficial in The Curious Case Of Michael Joseph Jackson was your usual messy artist—brilliant when performing but addled as so many of us are in the regular course of life. A flesh-and-blood prism through which millions of people viewed their dreams coming true in post-civil rights America, while being an odd wind-up toy / possession of sorts to even more (including some in his own family) who failed to acknowledge that he was...but a child when we got him, and never really allowed him the room to grow up with any semblance of normalcy.

The ultimate irony lay in how we as a culture viewed him...getting it wrong at the start and the awful everything cascading from there. Seeing him and locking him in as charmingly old when he was so very young and in so doing, helping to warp him into something freakishly immature when he defied us and grew older before our eyes. I think back to those days on the school bus, all of us boys seeing the little him, no bigger than us—seemingly happy, confident, eyes a-sparkling with the wonder of the culture-changing moment as we saw him perform.

He was a dream come true for us. All proud and dazzling. Fearless with millions of eyes—our eyes—the world's eyes upon him. In a land where fifteen years before, a Black boy his age was murdered for “sassiness”, there he stood...and shimmied...and spun, again “commanding girls (and really...every grown-ass woman watching that night) to 'Get up! I think I love YOU!'”

Maybe it was different for you. It was just a bunch of catchy tunes perhaps. But it—he was a lot more than that to many. Me, included. This is said, knowing the full of him, flaws and all. I acknowledge them fully. The mega-talent and the messiness. It's like family. You love them because of who they are to you, but if you keep it real, you recognize the humanity in them, and in so doing, deal with the screw-ups. Some will hold that family member to their bosom forever, while others rightfully will have to push him or her away. “Sorry...I can't deal with you any more.”

And in those quiet moments in our minds, even if we push one away...we think back—even with all the hurt—on the happier times. When we loved that person unconditionally. We mentally anesthetize to keep from letting anger consume us entirely. We go back...and yes, we can't help but smile...

Yes, the truth was being warped even then. Diana most certainly didn't “discover” them, and Sullivan was fudging Mike's age by a year for show-biz effect. But look at him there...a blazing spirit seeming to burst from him on stage. I look at him and smile.

The visibly awed Sulllivan's final words?

“The little fella in front is incredible.”

He damn sure was.
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