Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jackson, Sanford and weirdness

Big government more or less guarantees rule by creeps and misfits.

By Mark Steyn
Syndicated columnist
Orange County Register
Friday, June 26, 2009

In a lousy week, Mark Sanford had one stroke of luck: Michael Jackson chose the day after the governor's news conference to moonwalk into eternity, and thus gave the media's pop therapists a more rewarding subject to feast on – or at any rate one of the few stories whose salient points are weirder than Sanford's. Not that the governor didn't do his best to keep his end up on the pop culture allusions: "I've spent the last five days crying in Argentina," he revealed, in presumably unconscious hommage to Evita.

The plot owed less to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber than to one of those Fox movies of the early Forties in which some wholesome All-American type escapes the stress and strain of modern life by taking off for a quiet weekend in Latin America, and the next thing you know they're doing the rhumba on the floor of a Rio nightclub surrounded by Carmen Miranda and 200 gay caballeros prancing around waving giant bananas. In this case, the gentlemen of the South Carolina Press were the befuddled caballeros and Gov. Sanford was bananas.

There is a rather large point to all this. As my National Review colleague Kathryn Jean Lopez observed, a sex scandal a week from the Republicans will guarantee us government health care by the fall – in the same way that the British Tories' boundlessly versatile sexual predilections helped deliver the Blair landslide of 1997. And once government health care's in place the game's over: Socialized medicine redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state in all the wrong ways, and, if you cross that bridge, it's all but impossible to go back. So, if ever there were a season for GOP philanderers not to unpeel their bananas, this summer is it.

At the news conference, the governor rationalized his unfaithfulness to Mrs. Sanford by saying that he needed to get out of "the bubble." Tina Brown, proprietrix of The Daily Beast, hooted in derision: "The bubble's where you're s'posed to be, Mark. That's what all the rubber-chicken fundraisers you put her through were for." But a more basic question is: Why does the minimally empowered executive of a midsize state with no particular national prominence need to be in "the bubble" in the first place?
Evidently he is. Much of the charade involved in the scandal arose from the need to throw off his "security detail": The Chevy Suburban pulling up outside the Governor's Mansion, Sanford casually tossing his running shoes, a pair of green shorts and a sleeping bag in the back, turning off the GPS locator… Although staffers kept up his ghostwritten tweet of the day on Twitter, by Monday state senators were revealing that they hadn't heard from the Governor since Thursday.

And we can't have that, can we?

Even Charles Krauthammer on Fox News professed to be concerned at a governor wandering off incommunicado. What would happen if there was a hurricane or a terrorist attack on South Carolina? Well, I'd imagine that state agencies would muddle through to one degree of competence or another, and that the physical presence of the governor would make absolutely zero difference – any more than, on the day, George Pataki made a difference to New York's response to 9/11 (good) or Kathleen Blanco to Louisiana's response to Katrina (abysmal and embarrassing, but deriving from the state's broader political culture rather than anything Gov. Blanco did or didn't do on the big day). In a republic of limited government, the governor, two-thirds of the state legislature and the heads of every regulatory agency should be able to go "hiking the Appalachian Trail" for a lot longer than five days, and nobody would notice.

Instead, we have the governor of South Carolina resorting to subterfuge worthy of one of those Mitteleuropean operettas where the Ruritanian princess disguises herself as a scullery maid to leave the castle by the back gate for an assignation with a dashing if impoverished hussar garbed as a stable lad. Perhaps some enterprising producer would like to option a Carolinian update of "Prince Bob," the hit of the 1902 theatrical season in Budapest, in which the eponymous hero, a son of Queen Victoria, escapes "the bubble" of Buckingham Palace by getting out on the streets and wooing a Cockney serving wench.

Of course, being nominally a republic of citizen-legislators, we have inaugurated the post-modern pseudo-breakout from "the bubble," in which the president and his family sally forth to an ice cream parlor in Alexandria, Va., accompanied only by 200 of their most adoring sycophants from the press corps. These trips, explained The New York Times, enable the Obamas to "stay connected" with ordinary people, like White House reporters.

The real bubble is a consequence of big government. The more the citizenry expect from the state, the more our political class will depend on ever more swollen Gulf Emir-size retinues of staffers hovering at the elbow to steer you from one corner of the fishbowl to another 24/7. "Why are politicians so weird?" a reader asked me after the Sanford news conference. But the majority of people willing to live like this will be, almost by definition, deeply weird. So big government more or less guarantees rule by creeps and misfits. It's just a question of how well they disguise it. Writing about Michael Jackson a few years ago, I suggested that today's A-list celebs were the equivalent of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria or the loopier Ottoman sultans, the ones it wasn't safe to leave alone with sharp implements. But, as Christopher Hitchens says, politics is show business for ugly people. And a celebrified political culture will inevitably throw up its share of tatty karaoke versions of Britney and Jacko.

I was asked the other day about the difference between American and British sex scandals. In its heyday, Brit sex was about the action – Lord Lambton's three-in-a-bed biracial sex romp; Harvey Proctor's industrial-scale spanking of rent boys; Max Mosley's Nazi bondage sessions, with a fine eye for historical accuracy and the orders barked out in surprisingly accurate German; Stephen Milligan's accidental auto-erotic asphyxiation while lying on a kitchen table wearing fishnet stockings…. With the exception of the last ill-fated foray, there was an insouciance to these remarkably specialized peccadilloes.

By contrast, American sex scandals seem to be either minor campaign-finance infractions – the cheerless half-hearted affair with an aide – or, like Gov. Sanford's pitiful tale (at least as recounted at his news conference and as confirmed by the e-mails), a glimpse of loneliness and social isolation, as if in the end all they want is the chance to be sitting at the bar telling the gal with the nice smile, "My wife, and my staffers, and my security detail, and the State House press corps, and the guy who writes my Twitter Tweet of the Day, don't understand me."

Small government, narrow responsibilities, part-time legislators and executives, a minimal number of aides, lots of days off: Let's burst the bubble.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Today's Tune: Michael Jackson - Beat It

(Click on title to play video)

They Told Him Don't You Ever Come Around Here
Don't Wanna See Your Face, You Better Disappear
The Fire's In Their Eyes And Their Words Are Really Clear
So Beat It, Just Beat It

You Better Run, You Better Do What You Can
Don't Wanna See No Blood, Don't Be A Macho Man
You Wanna Be Tough, Better Do What You Can
So Beat It, But You Wanna Be Bad

Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It
No One Wants To Be Defeated
Showin' How Funky Strong Is Your Fight
It Doesn't Matter Who's Wrong Or Right
Just Beat It, Beat It
Just Beat It, Beat It
Just Beat It, Beat It
Just Beat It, Beat It

They're Out To Get You, Better Leave While You Can
Don't Wanna Be A Boy, You Wanna Be A Man
You Wanna Stay Alive, Better Do What You Can
So Beat It, Just Beat It

You Have To Show Them That You're Really Not Scared
You're Playin' With Your Life, This Ain't No Truth Or Dare
They'll Kick You, Then They Beat You,
Then They'll Tell You It's Fair
So Beat It, But You Wanna Be Bad

Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It
No One Wants To Be Defeated
Showin' How Funky Strong Is Your Fight
It Doesn't Matter Who's Wrong Or Right

Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It
No One Wants To Be Defeated
Showin' How Funky Strong Is Your Fight
It Doesn't Matter Who's Wrong Or Right
Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It

Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It
No One Wants To Be Defeated
Showin' How Funky Strong Is Your Fight
It Doesn't Matter Who's Wrong Or Right

Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It
No One Wants To Be Defeated
Showin' How Funky Strong Is Your Fight
It Doesn't Matter Who's Wrong Or Who's Right

Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It
No One Wants To Be Defeated
Showin' How Funky Strong Is Your Fight
It Doesn't Matter Who's Wrong Or Right

Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It
No One Wants To Be Defeated
Showin' How Funky Strong Is Your Fight
It Doesn't Matter Who's Wrong Or Right
Just Beat It, Beat It
Beat It, Beat It, Beat It

Words and music by Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's life was infused with fantasy and tragedy

He owned a statue of Marilyn, studied Chaplin and married Elvis' daughter. It seemed the perennial man-child would cease to exist if the applause ever stopped.

By Geoff Boucher and Elaine Woo
Los Angeles Times
June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson was fascinated by celebrity tragedy. He had a statue of Marilyn Monroe in his home and studied the sad Hollywood exile of Charlie Chaplin. He married the daughter of Elvis Presley.

Jackson performs at the 1996 World Music Awards.(Craig Sjodin / ABC)

Jackson met his own untimely death Thursday at age 50, and more than any of those past icons, he left a complicated legacy. As a child star, he was so talented he seemed lit from within; as a middle-aged man, he was viewed as something akin to a visiting alien who, like Tinkerbell, would cease to exist if the applause ever stopped.

It was impossible in the early 1980s to imagine the surreal final chapters of Jackson's life. In that decade, he became the world's most popular entertainer thanks to a series of hit records -- “Beat It,” "Billie Jean," “Thriller” -- and dazzling music videos. Perhaps the best dancer of his generation, he created his own iconography: the single shiny glove, the Moonwalk, the signature red jacket and the Neverland Ranch.

In recent years, he inspired fascination for reasons that had nothing to do with music. Years of plastic surgery had made his face a bizarre landscape. He was deeply in debt and had lost his way as a musician. He had not toured since 1997 or released new songs since 2001. Instead of music videos, the images of Jackson beamed around the world were tabloid reports about his strange personal behavior, including allegations of child molestation, or the latest failed relaunch of his career.

A frail-looking Jackson had spent his last weeks in rehearsal for an ambitious comeback attempt and 50 already-sold-out shows at London's O2 Arena. A major motivation was the $300 million in debt run up by a star who lived like royalty even though his self-declared title of King of Pop was more about the past than the present.

"It's one of the greatest losses," said Tommy Mottola, former president of Sony Music, which released Jackson's music for 16 years. "In pop history, there's a triumvirate of pop icons: Sinatra, Elvis and Michael, that define the whole culture. . . . His music bridged races and ages and absolutely defined the video age. Nothing that came before him or that has come after him will ever be as big as he was."

Jackson "had it all. . . . talent, grace, professionalism and dedication," said Quincy Jones, Jackson's collaborator on his most important albums and the movie "The Wiz." "He was the consummate entertainer, and his contributions and legacy will be felt upon the world forever. I've lost my little brother today, and part of my soul has gone with him."

Jackson was born Aug. 29, 1958, in Gary, Ind. His mother, Katherine, would say that there was something special about the fifth of her nine children. "I don't believe in reincarnation," she said, "but you know how babies move uncoordinated? He never moved that way. When he danced, it was like he was an older person."

Katherine Jackson, who worked for Sears, Roebuck and Co., taught her children folk songs. Her husband, Joseph, a crane operator who once played with the R&B band the Falcons, played guitar and coached his sons. The boys were soon performing at local benefits. Michael took command of the group even as a chubby-cheeked kindergartner.

"He was so energetic that at 5 years old he was like a leader," brother Jackie once told Rolling Stone magazine. "We saw that. So we said, 'Hey, Michael, you be the lead guy.' The audience ate it up."

By 1968, the Jacksons had cut singles for a local Indiana label called Steeltown. At an engagement that year at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater, singer Gladys Knight and pianist Billy Taylor saw their act and recommended them to Motown founder Berry Gordy. So did Diana Ross after sharing a stage with the quintet at a "Soul Weekend" in Gary.

Michael Jackson, center, with brothers, from left, Tito, Jermaine, Jackie, Marlon and Randy were signed as the group Jackson 5 by Motown Records in the late 1960s. (ABC)

Ross said later that she saw herself in the talented and driven Michael. "He could be my son," she said. Another Motown legend, Smokey Robinson, would describe the young performer as "a strange and lovely child, an old soul in the body of a boy."

Motown moved the Jacksons to California, and in August 1968 they gave a breakthrough performance at a Beverly Hills club called The Daisy. Their first album, "Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5," was released in December 1969, and it yielded the No. 1 hit "I Want You Back," with 11-year-old Michael on the lead vocals. "ABC," “I’ll Be There” and other hits followed, and the group soon had their own television series, a Saturday morning cartoon and an array of licensed merchandise aimed at youngsters.

There was a price: childhood.

"I never had the chance to do the fun things kids do," Jackson once explained. "There was no Christmas, no holiday celebrating. So now you try to compensate for some of that loss."

Joseph Jackson ruled the family, by most accounts, with his fists and a bellowing rage. In a 2003 documentary by British journalist Martin Bashir, Jackson said his father often brandished a belt during rehearsals and hit his sons or shoved them into walls if they made a misstep.

"We were terrified of him," Jackson said.

In the Bashir interviews, the singer said his father ridiculed him for his pug nose and adolescent acne. He also described, with obvious discomfort, having to listen to an older brother have sex with a woman in the hotel bedroom they shared.

Onstage, Jackson seemed to know no fear.

"When we sang, people would throw all this money on the floor, tons of dollars, 10s, 20s, lots of change," an adult Jackson once told Newsweek. "I remember my pockets being so full of money that I couldn't keep my pants up. I'd wear a real tight belt. And I'd buy candy like crazy."

By 1972, Jackson had his first solo album, "Got to Be There," which included the title hit as well as "Rockin' Robin." His first solo No. 1 single came the same year -- the forlorn theme song from the movie “Ben.”

He struggled to understand a world that he saw mostly while staring into spotlights and flashbulbs. Standing ovations greeted him onstage; parental slaps awaited him in the dressing room. Like his mother, he became a Jehovah's Witness, forswearing alcohol, cigarettes and foul language. He fasted on Saturdays and went door-to-door, wearing a disguise, to spread the faith. (He ended his association with the religion in the late 1980s.)

In 1978, Michael made his film debut as the Scarecrow in "The Wiz," a black-cast adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz." The movie launched a creative and commercial partnership with "Wiz" music director Quincy Jones.

The first fruit of their collaboration was "Off the Wall" (1979), Jackson's debut album on the Epic label. It sold 5 million copies in the United States and 2 million abroad and generated four Top 10 singles.

It was with Jones (as well as often-overlooked songwriter Rod Temperton) that Jackson shaped "Thriller," which was released near the end of 1982 and became the best-selling studio album in history and a cultural landmark. Its effect on the music industry and the music videos that came to define the then-nascent MTV was huge.

In a Motown TV special in 1983, Jackson, then 24, electrified the nation with his Moonwalk, a dance step that created the illusion of levitation. He took the stage in a black sequined jacket, silver shirt, black fedora and black trousers that skimmed the tops of his white socks. The final touch was a single white glove, studded with rhinestones.

Times critic Robert Hilburn, who observed the performance live at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, said the broadcast marked Jackson's "unofficial coronation as the King of Pop. Within months, he changed the way people would hear and see pop music, unleashing an influence that rivaled that of Elvis Presley and the Beatles."

His dance style combined the robotic moves of break-dancers, the quicksilver spins and slides of James Brown and the grace of Fred Astaire, whose routines he studied. The aging Astaire called him "a wonderful mover."

Not only did "Thriller" smash sales records as the bestselling album of 1983, but it made Jackson the first artist to top four charts simultaneously: It was the No. 1 pop single, pop album, R&B single and R&B album. It earned five Grammy Awards. Jay Cocks wrote in Time magazine that Jackson "just may be the most popular black singer ever."

The "Thriller" success enabled Jackson to negotiate what were believed to be the highest royalty rates ever earned by a recording artist. But it also put him in a cage of his own anxieties and obsession.

Jackson bonded with past pop-music royalty by marrying Lisa Marie Presley in 1994 and grabbing a major interest in the Beatles' catalog, an asset worth $500 million. The marriage was short-lived, however, and his wealth was imperiled by an extravagant lifestyle that included the 2,700-acre Neverland Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, where he lived with a menagerie of exotic pets.

Jackson became a prisoner of his own celebrity. He became so accustomed to bodyguards and assistants that he once admitted that he trembled if he had to open his own front door. He compared himself to "a hemophiliac who can't afford to be scratched in any way."

Jackson, in his signature single glove and embellished military jacket, stands with President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan in 1984 before receiving an award for his contribution to a drunk driving awareness program.(Scott Stewart / Associated Press)

Notoriously shy offstage, onstage he was electric and acutely attuned to what his fans craved. Commenting once on a sotto voce note at the end of a ballad, he said: "That note will touch the whole audience. What they're throwing out at you, you're grabbing. You hold it, you touch it and you whip it back -- it's like a Frisbee."

"I hate to admit it, but I feel strange around everyday people," he said on another occasion. "See, my whole life has been onstage, and the impression I get of people is applause, standing ovations and running after you. In a crowd, I'm afraid. Onstage, I feel safe. If I could, I would sleep on the stage. I'm serious."

In better days, his wealth allowed him to fulfill personal fantasies -- including building his own amusement park -- and bankroll charities, particularly those involving children. Then came the dark whispers about the nature of his relationship with boys.

He was often seen with youngsters, both famous and those plucked from the mundane world to visit his playground estate. In 1993, he was accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy who was a frequent overnight guest in his home. On tour in Asia when the charges were filed, he canceled his performances, citing exhaustion and addiction to painkillers as the reasons.

Jackson's attorney charged that the boy's father, a would-be screenwriter who had tried to obtain Jackson's backing for a project, was trying to extort money. The criminal investigation was closed after the boy refused to testify. A civil lawsuit was settled for a reported $20 million.

"I am not guilty of these allegations," Jackson, then 35, said after the settlement was reached. "But if I am guilty of anything, it is of giving all that I have to give to help children all over the world. It is of loving children of all ages and races. It is of gaining sheer joy from seeing children with their innocent and smiling faces. It is of enjoying through them the childhood that I missed myself."

He lost a Pepsi endorsement as well as a deal to develop several films. The Jackson-themed Captain EO attraction at Disneyland was scrapped.

A second case unfolded in November 2003, when Santa Barbara authorities, acting on accusations by a 13-year-old cancer patient who had stayed at Jackson's ranch, arrested the star. The 14-week trial featured celebrity witnesses such as Jay Leno and Macaulay Culkin and Jackson's own bizarre antics, such as showing up for court in pajama pants and a tuxedo jacket. It ended June 13, 2005, with his acquittal on all counts.

Jackson acknowledged in the interview with Bashir that, despite the earlier cases, he still invited children to share his bedroom and saw nothing wrong with it.

"It's not sexual," he insisted. "I tuck them in, have hot milk, give them cookies. It's very charming, it's very sweet."

He added that his own children "sleep with other people all the time."

Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley at Neverland ranch in Santa Ynez, Calif., where they welcomed children for the World Children's Conference, April 18, 1995.(Lee Celano / Reuters)

By then, Jackson was a figure of pop music's past, not its present. When The Times, in 2001, asked top recording executives to name the most valuable acts in the business, Jackson failed to make the top 20.

In 2003, he settled a lawsuit by his former financial advisors after legal documents portrayed the singer as near bankruptcy.

At the same time, he was waging legal battles against his 1970s recording label, Motown Records, and his current label, Sony's Epic Records. He stirred speculation about his mental state when he contended that the latter company, and in particular Mottola, had inadequately promoted his work because of racism.

He celebrated his 45th birthday in August 2003 at a curious public event that seemed to underscore the decline of his career. Hundreds of fans paid $30 each or more for admission to an old downtown Los Angeles movie palace, where largely amateur or obscure performers sang, lip-synced or danced to the fallen idol's hits. Most of the seats reserved for A-list guests went begging.

When the honoree took the stage at the end to join in a rendition of "We Are the World," he was flanked not by the likes of Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder, as he was when the famous song was first recorded, but by several Jackson impersonators.

Such impersonators usually model themselves on his "Thriller" persona, but the singer himself looked nothing like that in recent years.

There was intense public curiosity about his physical metamorphosis. Jackson often insisted that his wan complexion was the result of treatment for a skin disorder called vitiligo, but that did not explain why his once-broad nose became long, sleek and pertly tipped.

He publicly admitted to two nose operations, but cosmetic surgeons who studied his photographs surmised that he had undergone far more, possibly so many that he had destroyed the cartilage.

In 1996, Jackson married his former nurse, Debbie Rowe, who bore two of his three children, Prince Michael Jr. and Paris Michael Katherine. He did not disclose the identity of the mother of his third child, Prince Michael II.

He raised the children without their mothers and had them wear elaborate masks whenever they went out with him. Several months after Prince Michael II's birth, Jackson dangled the baby outside an upper-story hotel window in Berlin to show the child to fans assembled below. The incident led to accusations that the singer was an unfit father. He later acknowledged that he had shown poor judgment.

He is survived by his children; his parents; and siblings Maureen, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, Randy, LaToya and Janet.

Times staff writer Chris Lee contributed to this report.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tricky Steps From Boy to Superstar

An Appraisal

The New York Times
June 26, 2009

Which Michael Jackson will be remembered? The unsurpassed entertainer, the gifted and driven song-and-dance man who wielded rhythm, melody, texture and image to create and promote the best-selling album of all time, “Thriller”? Or the bizarre figure he became after he failed in his stated ambition to outsell “Thriller,” and after the gleaming fantasy gave way to tabloid revelations, bitter rejoinders and the long public silence he was scheduled to break next month?

In the end, the superstar and the recluse were not so far apart.

Mr. Jackson sang and danced with his brothers at Rich Stadium in Buffalo in August 1984.
Photo: Associated Press

Mr. Jackson built his stardom on paradox. As a child star he was precocious; as an adult he was childlike. His only competition was himself. Within the razzle-dazzle of his songs, he sang about fears and uncertainties in that high, vulnerable voice: flinching from monsters in “Thriller,” wishing he could just “Beat It” when trouble began.

He was a racial paradox, too: an African-American whose audience was never segregated, but whose features grew more Caucasian and whose skin grew lighter through his career, to discomfiting effect. His own face had become a mask.

All of Mr. Jackson’s show-business skills — the ones he learned under his father’s sometimes brutal instruction and then within the Motown Records hitmaking assembly line — were at once a way to please the broadest possible audience and to shield himself from them, safe within his own spectacle.

Despite all his time onstage and on the air, Mr. Jackson stayed remote: styled, rehearsed and choreographed. He had one of history’s largest audiences, and it never really knew him.

There was no denying his talent. His voice leaped out of the radio in Jackson 5 songs like “I Want You Back,” even for those who didn’t see how he danced on television. He internalized Motown’s philosophy of making music for a broad audience — not just a black or white audience as pop grew increasingly segmented in the 1970s — and when he took over his own career, with “Off the Wall” in 1979, he applied that philosophy to the newest sounds he could find, in and out of discos.

His ambition was seductive when he urged “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” He offered something to everybody on “Thriller,” which may have been the most strategic crossover album to date: a duet with a Beatle in “The Girl Is Mine,” dizzying electronic beats in “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” rock guitar in “Beat It.”

His established stardom helped get his African-American face onto MTV, breaking what seemed like a color line, in what was a hugely beneficial step for both. Mr. Jackson wasn’t just an old-school show-business expert who could sing and dance onstage in real time; he was also more than ready for the music-video era, turning his songs into high-concept video clips that fit the chorus-line production of old Hollywood musicals into television-sized nuggets.

In November 1991, Mr. Jackson performed in his video "Black or White," his first release from his "Dangerous" album.
Photo: Associated Press

His dance moves were angular and twitchy, hinting at digital stops and starts rather than analog fluidity — except, of course, for his famous moonwalk, the image of someone striding gracefully without ever leaving center stage.

The world-beating success of “Thriller” was Mr. Jackson’s triumph and burden. He had the sales, the Grammy Awards, the screaming audiences in every country he toured. And he would spend the rest of his career trying to repeat the experience working many of the same maneuvers into his music: another duet, another rock guitar, another ratcheting dance track. Mr. Jackson never stopped being catchy, but behind the sheen some of the songs grew darker and stranger, like “Smooth Criminal,” with its intimations of violence, on the 1987 album “Bad.”

Mr. Jackson labored; his albums came four, five, six years apart. The hip-hop era had arrived, with its bluntly candid lyrics and quick-and-dirty productions, both contrary to Mr. Jackson’s style; he tried to keep up the crossover with raps from the Notorious B.I.G., but that didn’t buy him street credibility.

The songs grew increasingly divided between benevolent messages like “Heal the World” and spiteful ones like “Why You Wanna Trip on Me” on his 1991 album “Dangerous.” On his 1995 album “HIStory” — which started out as a greatest-hits collection but added a second album of new songs — Mr. Jackson’s fury boiled over in new songs like “They Don’t Care About Us” and “Tabloid Junkie.”

Part of the pop audience — and critics, too — took pleasure in Mr. Jackson’s setbacks. He had long been billing himself as the King of Pop, and the cover of “HIStory” shows him as a giant statue, the kind that gets toppled when tin-pot dictators (or pop idols) are overthrown.

The underlying sweetness that had made Mr. Jackson endearing, even at his strangest, had curdled, and he couldn’t resuscitate it for his final album, “Invincible,” in 2001. All the pieces he had put together, all the paradoxes that he had been able to resolve with sheer musicality, started to fall apart. He was working on a stadium spectacle for shows in London this summer, and we will never know if all his skill and showmanship could have given him a new start.

Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Posted Jun 25, 2009 8:46 PM

Michael Jackson, one of the most talented and eccentric performers in pop history, died of apparent cardiac arrest at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles at 2:26 p.m. PT today, June 25th. According to reports, he collapsed in his Los Angeles-area home and paramedics arriving on the scene found the superstar with no pulse; he was immediately rushed to the hospital. Although confusion about his status lingered (a spokesman for Sony Music, Jackson's one-time home, said he was just hearing "rumors" at 3:20 p.m. PT), Jackson was reportedly in a coma, and his death was confirmed just before 3:30 p.m. PT.

Jackson's health, which has been the source of speculation for nearly two decades, had recently returned to the headlines. Next month, Jackson was set to start a series of 50 sold-out concerts at London's O2 arena, but the singer postponed the first four shows of the "This Is It!" run in May and had reportedly not shown up for some rehearsals.

Over the course of a career that started 40 years ago, with the Jackson 5's first hit, 1969's "I Want You Back," Jackson was a towering and constantly enigmatic presence in pop music — a giant on the level of Presley, Sinatra and Dylan. He set an almost impossibly high standard in pop music on numerous levels: as a record maker (the silky funk and R&B on albums like Thriller and Off the Wall), dancer (his Moonwalk remains one of the most imitated steps), fashion icon (sequined gloves), video auteur (lavish clips for "Beat It" and "Thriller") and record seller (1982's Thriller was the Number One selling album of all time until it was recently deposed by the Eagles' Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975). His singing and music took in gospel, hard rock, funk, and middle-of-the-road balladry, and his vision of himself as an all-around entertainer propelled him to heights rarely seen in pop history.

At the same time Jackson's career was riddled with scandal (a 2005 trial on charges of child abuse allegations, during which he was found not guilty), ego (he demanded that MTV refer to him as "King of Pop") and bizarre publicity stunts (buying the remains of the Elephant Man). He reached an out-of-court settlement with at least one other child-abuse case, for $25 million, which contributed to the other dominating news about him over the last decade: his shaky finances. At various times he was on the verge of losing his Neverland Ranch. He retained an aura both of childlike wonder and canny business instincts (buying the Beatles' song catalog in the '80s).

Born August 29th, 1958, in Gary, Indiana, Jackson first blasted onto the pop scene with his brothers Tito, Jermaine, Jackie and Marlon in the Jackson 5. The quintet, overseen by their domineering father Joseph, was signed to Motown Records by Berry Gordy in 1969 and scored three immediate Number One hits with "I Want You Back," "ABC" and "The Love You Save."

"I'll never forget when Berry called me up and said we just signed this new act, the Jackson 5, five brothers," recalls their former manager, Shelley Berger. "He said, 'I want you to manage them, so come down to the studio and meet them.' It was 10 or 11 o'clock at night. I went to Cherokee recording studio, on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, and I was introduced to these five young men. It was the first time I saw Michael Jackson and I thought, 'Oh my lord.' My favorite entertainer at the time was Sammy Davis Jr., and I thought, 'This is the new Sammy Davis.' "

Jackson was far more than a new Rat Pack heir, though. Although he began recording on his own shortly after the Jackson 5 broke through ("it's quite amazing that a young man can do a love song to a rat and have a Number One record," says Berger of Jackson's 1972 smash "Ben"), Jackson truly established himself as a consummate performer and (with Quincy Jones) record maker with his 1979 solo album Off the Wall. With it, he became a ubiquitous presence on the pop charts, MTV (after breaking through their racial barricade in '82) and in the culture, with a string of hits that included "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" (1979), "Rock With You" (1979), "Billie Jean" (1983), "Beat It" (1983), "Wanna Be Startin' Something' (1983), "Human Nature" (1983), "Say Say Say" with Paul McCartney (1983), "Bad" (1987), "The Way You Make Feel" (1987), and "Black or White "(1991). Although his speaking voice retained its airy breathiness, his singing voice could caress ("She's Out of My Life") or seethe ("Scream").

Starting with 1991's Dangerous, Jackson's record sales began to fall off, and his mix of pop and R&B was supplanted by hip-hop, a genre Jackson never appeared to be comfortable with. By the time of his last studio album, 2001's relative flop Invincible, Jackson's music had taken a back seat to the nonstop oddities in his private life. He was briefly married Lisa Marie Presley in 1993 and then to Debbie Rowe, with whom he had two children; a third, Prince Michael, was born via artificial insemination from an unidentified woman. His London concerts were intended to be the start of his latest attempt at a comeback, and he was reportedly in the midst of recording a new album.

Although his life and music (and even facial appearance) appeared to be a mess over the last decade, Jackson's contributions to pop were undeniable. At a time when black and white audiences were increasingly separated on the radio and charts, albums like Off the Wall and especially Thriller proved that a rainbow coalition of fans was still possible, as it had been in the pre-disco era. With Jackson, musical togetherness was never as off the wall as many thought.

More Michael Jackson:
Michael Jackson: The Rolling Stone Covers
1992 Cover: Michael Jackson's Dangerous Mind
Music World Mours Jackson's Death
Rolling Stone's Essential Michael Jackson Coverage

Tilting at Green Windmills

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Spanish professor is puzzled. Why, Gabriel Calzada wonders, is the U.S. president recommending that America emulate the Spanish model for creating "green jobs" in "alternative energy" even though Spain's unemployment rate is 18.1 percent -- more than double the European Union average -- partly because of spending on such jobs?

Calzada, 36, an economics professor at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, has produced a report that, if true, is inconvenient for the Obama administration's green agenda, and for some budget assumptions that are dependent upon it.

Calzada says Spain's torrential spending -- no other nation has so aggressively supported production of electricity from renewable sources -- on wind farms and other forms of alternative energy has indeed created jobs. But Calzada's report concludes that they often are temporary and have received $752,000 to $800,000 each in subsidies -- wind industry jobs cost even more, $1.4 million each. And each new job entails the loss of 2.2 other jobs that are either lost or not created in other industries because of the political allocation -- sub-optimum in terms of economic efficiency -- of capital. (European media regularly report "eco-corruption" leaving a "footprint of sleaze" -- gaming the subsidy systems, profiteering from land sales for wind farms, etc.) Calzada says the creation of jobs in alternative energy has subtracted about 110,000 jobs elsewhere in Spain's economy.

The president's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was asked about the report's contention that the political diversion of capital into green jobs has cost Spain jobs. The White House transcript contained this exchange:

Gibbs: "It seems weird that we're importing wind turbine parts from Spain in order to build -- to meet renewable energy demand here if that were even remotely the case."

Questioner: "Is that a suggestion that his study is simply flat wrong?"

Gibbs: "I haven't read the study, but I think, yes."

Questioner: "Well, then. [Laughter.]"

Actually, what is weird is this idea: A sobering report about Spain's experience must be false because otherwise the behavior of some American importers, seeking to cash in on the U.S. government's promotion of wind power, might be participating in an economically unproductive project.

It is true that Calzada has come to conclusions that he, as a libertarian, finds ideologically congenial. And his study was supported by a like-minded U.S. think tank (the Institute for Energy Research, for which this columnist has given a paid speech). Still, it is notable that, rather than try to refute his report, many Spanish critics have impugned his patriotism because he faulted something for which Spain has been praised by Obama and others.

Judge for yourself: Calzada's report can be read at And at you can find similar conclusions in "Yellow Light on Green Jobs," a report by Republican Sen. Kit Bond, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee's subcommittee on green jobs and the new economy.

What matters most, however, is not that reports such as Calzada's and the Republicans' are right in every particular. It is, however, hardly counterintuitive that politically driven investments are economically counterproductive. Indeed, environmentalists with the courage of their convictions should argue that the point of such investments is to subordinate market rationality to the higher agenda of planetary salvation.

Still, one can be agnostic about both reports while being dismayed by the frequency with which such findings are ignored simply because they question policies that are so invested with righteousness that methodical economic reasoning about their costs and benefits seems unimportant. When the president speaks of "new green energy economies" creating "countless well-paying jobs," perhaps they really are countless, meaning incapable of being counted.

For fervent believers in governments' abilities to control the climate and in the urgent need for them to do so, believing is seeing: They see, through their ideological lenses, governments' green spending as always paying for itself. This is a free-lunch faith comparable to that of those few conservatives who believe that tax cuts always completely pay for themselves by stimulating compensating revenue from economic growth.

Windmills are iconic in the land of Don Quixote, whose tilting at them became emblematic of comic futility. Spain's new windmills are neither amusing nor emblematic of policies America should emulate. The cheerful and evidently unshakable confidence in such magical solutions to postulated problems is yet another manifestation -- Republicans are not immune: No Child Left Behind decrees that by 2014 all American students will be proficient in math and reading -- of what the late senator Pat Moynihan called "the leakage of reality from American life."

Today's Tune: Steve Earle - Someday

(Click on title to play video)

There ain't a lot that you can do in this town
You drive down to the lake and then you turn back around
You go to school and you learn to read and write
So you can walk into the county bank and sign away your life

I work at the fillin' station on the interstate
Pumpin' gasoline and countin' out of state plates
They ask me how far into Memphis son, and where's the nearest beer
And they don't even know that there's a town around here

Someday I'm finally gonna let go
'Cause I know there's a better way
And I wanna know what's over that rainbow
I'm gonna get out of here someday

Now my brother went to college cause he played football
I'm still hangin' round cause I'm a little bit small
I got me a 67 Chevy, she's low and sleek and black
Someday I'll put her on that interstate and never look back

Someday I'm finally gonna let go
'Cause I know there's a better way
And I wanna know what's over that rainbow
I'm gonna get out of here someday

Words and music by Steve Earle

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The State of Kansas vs Frank Schaeffer in the Murder of Dr. George Tiller

By George C. Michalopulos
June 11, 2009

Recently, the notorious abortionist Dr George Tiller was gunned down in his church in Wichita, Kansas. The killer was a man who appears to be a dysfunctional loner with grave psychological problems. Nobody in the pro-life movement has stepped forward to applaud him or his actions; routine condemnation has been the order of the day.

Frank Schaeffer

One man however, has bravely stepped forward to take responsibility for this act. Frank Schaeffer, a self-described former member of the “Republican Party hate machine,” a group that included his father Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, and Ronald Reagan among many others, recently offered a mea-culpa in the left-wing journal The Huffington Post. Schaeffer believes that his life’s work as a young man in the Evangelical movement directly led to this incident because he helped create a "climate of fear" with his documentary (Whatever Happened to the Human Race?) and other work that made such atrocities like Tiller's murder inevitable. As such, he puts himself in the pantheon artists like J. D. Salinger and Jodie Foster, whose ouvre inspired the murder of John Lennon and the attempted assassination of President Reagan.

On closer reading however, Schaeffer’s credibility is suspect from his first paragraph. He states that he “got out of the religious right (in the mid-1980s) and repented of [his] former hate-filled rhetoric.” Actually, he did no such thing. Sure, he may have abandoned the Evangelical Right, but as a new convert to Orthodoxy, he helped create an “Orthodox Right.” As for his abandonment of “hate-filled rhetoric,” one can read his various books and writings or view any of the numerous books and DVDs he produced since that time. There is more than enough venom against the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and secular humanism in the Schaeffer canon to choke a horse.

To be fair, it is possible that Schaeffer’s recollection of the “mid-1980s” extends to the years 2000-2002, in which he traveled the country barnstorming Orthodox Churches, telling them that America was going to hell in a hand-basket. One of his bugbears was abortion and the degradation of man. The other was the threat of Islamo-fascism. I first heard the term "Islamo-facism" in 2002 and it was from his lips. Schaeffer’s grave disappointment in President Bush actually started then, when he rightly saw Bush’s phrase that Islam was as a “religion of peace” as a sham. I got the impression sitting in the pews at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma that in Schaeffer's mind, Bush should have taken up the Cross instead of placating the Islamic masses who were “an implacable enemy” of our civilization.

It’s impossible to get into a man’s heart and judge him. That belongs to God alone. All I can do is look at his words and actions and note the inconsistencies. In earlier times there was a coherence to his message. Now I am not so sure. Not to put too fine a point on it but his recent writings don’t square with Orthodox teaching concerning abortion which appear to be increasingly liberal.

Unfortunately for Schaeffer, the Gospel and the historical record stands in his way (not that this matters to those who inhabit the febrile precincts of The Huffington Post). The Orthodox Church has preserved the deposit of the faith uninterrupted and inviolate. It was only the Orthodox Church that was both right-teaching but more importantly right-acting. These were Schaeffer’s words, not mine. I’ll never forget his analogy of Orthodoxy as a tripod, one leg was Scripture, the other was worship, and the third was praxis. It did no good, he told us, if we went to church on Sunday and to our abortion clinic jobs on Monday.

He woke us up from our sleepy, Greek Orthodox ghetto thinking in a startling fashion, telling us that the abortion wars were not about the Evangelicals and the Catholics only, but about us. He reminded us that these shocking words were in fact the common witness of the Church which it has maintained for 2000 years, and that we as Orthodox Christians would have to give an account to the Lord for our apathy in this matter. Maybe Schaeffer didn’t believe this right-wing hokum then, but he sure made us think that he did. A lot of other people who came to hear him speak believed it as well. Schaeffer’s “street cred” among Evangelicals contemplating Orthodoxy was significant. If they thought that he was a political liberal — especially regarding abortion — they would not have given Orthodoxy a second look.

The Orthodox Church may be miniscule in the United States, but our witness is greater than our numbers. The teachings which mandate against the murder of innocent life is one of Orthodoxy's gifts to Christendom. It was the Orthodox Church Fathers — with whom we are still in communion — who condemned abortion as a grave evil. It was the Orthodox Church which preserved the Didache, which still influences many non-Orthodox about correct Christian praxis, including the condemnation of abortion, even today.

Schaeffer not only appears less reticent about the moral prohibition against abortion, he seems to advocate it — at least in terms of supporting the arguments that blunt the moral objections against abortion. He holds back only about partial-birth abortion, that grisly procedure performed by Tiller that doesn't even qualify as a method of execution of those guilty of heinous war crimes. But even here his complaint is not moral but tactical. Partial-birth abortion makes the entire abortion regime “too all or nothing” Schaeffer says, and gives legitimacy to the anti-abortion crowd. We can’t have that. The enemy must be deprived of any moral standing whatsoever. In order to keep abortion legal, Schaeffer feels that we should “re-regulate [abortion] according to fetal development.” (Gee Frank, why didn’t we think of that?)

Frank Schaeffer and Francis Schaeffer

Moreover, wiser heads tell us that we should instead opt for a more sensible regime in which “sex education and condom distribution” would mitigate the number of abortions. Maybe we should listen to Levi Johnston, Bristol Palin’s baby Daddy who told Larry King that “condoms should be mandatory.” This position may be sensible to Schaeffer and his new friends who think Christians are, well, icky, but it is not Christian. It certainly isn’t Orthodox. To my knowledge, no Orthodox theologian believes that human beings are animals operating without any autonomy and that abortion is necessary to either cull the lesser orders or emancipate a woman from the results of one too many drinks. Maybe Schaeffer still hasn’t shaken off the Calvinism of his youth. I challenge him to find the Scripture, the canon, or the Church Father that makes these facile distinctions.

To be sure, we Orthodox share culpability in the advance of the culture of death because many of our leaders are silent and many laity are complicit. We even rewarded two Greek Orthodox Senators with Church honors although they voted to uphold President Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban (Tiller's specialty); a procedure so gruesome and morally abhorrent that only three doctors in America perform it (and are very well-compensated for it).

This silence plays to Schaeffer’s advantage as the newly found “voice of reason” on the Left. Honest liberals who don’t know any better tend to look at Schaeffer and think, “here’s a Christian who makes sense.” Since Schaeffer jumped ship from the Religious Right to Orthodoxy, this must mean that the Orthodox are far more "tolerant" about the issues that matter to the Secular Left, they reason. (On the Left of course, "tolerance" is defined as any position that supports the Secular Left). Schaeffer's kitchen makeover doesn't just stop at abortion either. Support for homosexual marriage is also moving from the back to the front burner. Although cozying up to the Camp of Tolerance has won Schaeffer plaudits from secular elites, he will eventually have to make a decision — either own up to the true teachings of the faith or renounce them.

I began this essay commenting on Schaeffer's admission of guilt in the murder of Tiller. Besides himself, he mentions other culprits as well, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Republican Party, and the pro-life movement. So what’s a man of real conviction to do? Schaeffer tries to make it all better by ending this essay with the words “I am sorry.”

I'm sorry? That's it? That's the best he can do?

Let me suggest a more principled way. If Schaeffer really feels guilty about Tiller’s murder, let him go to Wichita and turn himself in to the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s office. After all, the shooter was just the trigger-man. Rather, Schaeffer, along with his father, Reagan, Falwell and other miscreants are the real culprits because they created the "climate of hate" that caused the killing.

Will this happen? Not likely. The truth is that Schaeffer doesn't really feel guilty about the killing. The apology is merely a tactical ploy calculated to win favor from the secular left. Schaeffer isn’t intellectually honest. And he certainly isn’t true to the precepts of his faith either.

George C Michalopulos, is a layman in the Orthodox Church in America. He was born in Tulsa, OK where he resides and works. George is active in Church affairs, having served as parish council president at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and as Senior Warden at Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Church. Together with Deacon Ezra Ham, he wrote 'American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings' (Regina Orthodox Press: 2003). He is married to Margaret and has two sons, Constantine and Michael.

Bet on Neda's Side

By David Ignatius
The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On one side you have all the instruments of repression in Iran, gathering their forces for a crackdown. On the other you have unarmed protesters symbolized by the image of Neda Agha Soltan, a martyred woman dying helplessly on the street, whose last words reportedly were: "It burned me."

A woman identified on Flickr as Neda Agha-Soltan is seen in an undated headshot uploaded to the site on June 22, 2009.

Who's going to win? In the short run, the victors may be the thugs who claim to rule in the name of God: the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Basij militia and the other tools of an Islamic revolution that has decayed and hardened into mere authoritarianism. They have shown they are willing to kill enough of their compatriots to contain this first wave of change.

But over the coming months and years, my money is on the followers of the martyred Neda. They have exposed the weakness of the clerical regime in a way that Iran's foreign adversaries -- America, Israel, Saudi Arabia -- never could. They have opened a fundamental split in the regime. The rulers will try to bind this wound with force, and salve it with concessions, but neither approach will make the wound heal.

We are watching the first innings of what will be a long game in Iran. President Obama has recognized that with his gradually escalating rhetoric. Yesterday, he was using powerful language to describe the "timeless dignity" of the protesters and the "heartbreaking" images of Neda. He suggested that the mullahs cannot win a war of repression against their own people. "In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests," he said.

Behind Obama's cool but confident talk is a judgment that, as one senior White House official puts it, the mullahs "can't put the genie back in the bottle." The official explained: "Iran will never be the same again. You don't have to know how this will end to know that. The regime has been challenged. They are now back on their heels."

A weakened Iran may seek the validation and legitimacy that would come from negotiations with the United States, presenting a diplomatic dilemma for Obama. Several American officials have told me that before the June 12 election, Tehran signaled Washington that it was ready for talks. Obama has tried to keep this door open, stressing at his news conference yesterday: "We have provided a path whereby Iran can reach out to the international community, engage and become part of international norms." But as long as the Basijs are clubbing and shooting protesters in the streets, negotiation will be a nonstarter.

As the mullahs' grip on power weakens, there are new opportunities to peel away some of their allies. The United States is moving quickly to normalize relations with Syria, and there's talk of working with the Saudis to draw elements of the radical Palestinian group Hamas away from its Iranian patrons, toward a coalition government that would be prepared to negotiate with Israel. Observes a White House official: "Iran's allies in the region have to be wondering, 'Why should we hitch our wagon to their starship?' "

Iranians light candles in front the image of Neda Agha Soltan, who was reportedly killed when hit by a bullet during a protest in Tehran two days ago, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, June 22, 2009. Hundreds of supporters of reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi attended a silent rally today.
(AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

The White House views the internal situation in Iran now as "a power play," in the words of one official. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have staged what amounts to a pro-regime coup. The Revolutionary Guard Corps is in the vanguard. There's talk that Ahmadinejad may appoint a fierce hard-liner, Ruhollah Hosseinian, as his new minister of intelligence. This hard-line group reminds me of Saddam Hussein's henchmen in Iraq.

But the opposition has tough leaders, too, with deep roots in the 1979 revolution. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated presidential candidate, is no starry-eyed democrat. As prime minister, he supervised the Department of Investigations and Studies, which ran some Iranian operations in Lebanon in the early 1980s. Mousavi followers may move in coming weeks from street demonstrations to strikes and other economic protests. And behind the scenes is former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has been dickering over the past week to build a coalition of mullahs for a collective leadership to replace Khamenei.

How will the conflict proceed? Jack Goldstone, a professor at George Mason University who studies revolutions, sees a three-stage process that leads to regime change. First, members of the elite defect and form an opposition; then the nation polarizes and coalitions are formed; and then the mass mobilization. These three elements of the revolutionary process are already present. The ferment will ripen as the regime tries to avert step four -- its demise.

The writer is co-host of PostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues. His e-mail address is

Ed McMahon dies at 86; Johnny Carson's sidekick on 'The Tonight Show' for 30 years

The television pioneer also was the host of 'Star Search' for 12 years and did commercials for hundreds of products and services.
By Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times
June 24, 2009

Ed McMahon, a television pioneer who warmed "The Tonight Show" couch for nearly 30 years as Johnny Carson's jovial sidekick and announcer, died early Tuesday. He was 86.

McMahon, shown in 1986, bolstered Johnny Carson with guffaws and "Hey-yo" and a resounding "H-e-e-e-e-e-ere's Johnny!" for 30 years.

McMahon died at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, according to his publicist, Howard Bragman. The cause of death was not announced, but McMahon had been in failing health for some time, with a number of issues that required his hospitalization.

Initially unable to work after breaking his neck in a fall in 2007, McMahon made news a year later when he defaulted on $4.8 million in mortgage loans and was facing the possible foreclosure of his multimillion-dollar Beverly Hills estate, which had been on the market for two years. An outside party purchased the mortgage and the McMahons were still living in the home.

"If you spend more money than you make, you know what happens. A couple of divorces thrown in, a few things like that," McMahon, in a neck brace, said in June 2008 on CNN's “Larry King Live,” where he was accompanied by his wife, Pam.

In 2008, McMahon filed a lawsuit against Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, two doctors and the owner of the home where he fell. The lawsuit was settled out of court last month, but the terms were not announced.

McMahon's health and financial woes marked an unexpected turn of events for the high-profile TV celebrity whose career began in 1949 and spanned more than half a century. During that time, he was rarely absent from the screen.

He was the host of the syndicated “Star Search” for 12 years and a co-host of "TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes" with Dick Clark on NBC for nine years.

He also played a clown for eight years on the "Big Top" live circus show on CBS in the 1950s, and co-starred with Tom Arnold in a sitcom, "The Tom Show," on the WB network in the late 1990s.

And there were stints as host of the game shows "Missing Links," "Snap Judgment" and "Whodunnit?" in the 1960s and '70s.

In between, McMahon did commercials for Budweiser beer, Alpo dog food and hundreds of other products and services.

At one point in the early 1980s, he reportedly was the spokesman for no fewer than 37 banks around the country. And for years he served as the spokesman for American Family Publishers' national sweepstakes, famously informing Americans that "You may already have won $10 million!"

More recently, McMahon turned up in commercials for that poked fun at his financial woes. And he appeared with MC Hammer in a Cash4Gold commercial that aired during the 2009 Super Bowl.

But McMahon will be best remembered as the prototypal late-night talk-show announcer and second banana, who enthusiastically boomed out in his rolling baritone the familiar words, "And now, heeeeere's Johnny!"

As Carson's loyal, quick-to-laugh sidekick and comic foil, McMahon had so many catchphrases he could have done a medley of them in his nightclub act.

From left; Doc Severinsen, Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon in 1974.

And as a sign of his effect on pop culture, McMahon was the inspiration for Jeffrey Tambor's late-night talk-show sidekick Hank ("Hey, now!") Kingsley on Garry Shandling's 1990s sitcom "The Larry Sanders Show."

When Carson died in 2005 at 79, McMahon described his longtime friend and colleague as being "like a brother to me."

This is "very sad for me," Doc Severinsen, the longtime bandleader of "The Tonight Show" during the Carson era, told The Times. "Ed was one of those guys who was bigger than life and full of joy. Always lots of laughs around him. We worked together for 30 years and went through a lot of layers of life together."

Edward Leo Peter McMahon Jr. was born in Detroit on March 6, 1923.

As a boy, he fell in love with radio. But it wasn't the stars of the shows he most identified with; it was the announcers -- men like Paul Douglas, Bill Goodwin, Harry von Zell and Don Wilson.

By age 10, having made up his mind that he wanted to be a radio announcer, McMahon would practice doing commercials and creating his own radio shows using a flashlight for a microphone.

At 15, he landed his first announcing job of sorts: manning the microphone in a sound truck to promote a small circus that had come to town. From the start, McMahon displayed a natural talent for creating his own sales patter, which would pay off handsomely after World War II.

By then he had married his first wife, Alyce, and served four years as a stateside fighter pilot instructor in the Marine Corps. After the war, he majored in drama at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He returned to the service during the Korean War as a pilot of spotter planes.

After graduating from Catholic University in 1949, McMahon was offered a $75-a-week job at WCAU, a new television station in Philadelphia. He was co-host of a live program called "The Take Ten Show," which quickly became his own show, "Take Ten," named after the station's channel number. The show's guests included singers and dancers, fire-eaters and even Girl Scouts on roller skates selling cookies.

Within two years, McMahon was Philadelphia's "Mr. Television," serving as host of 13 programs, including a cooking show, a quiz show, the "Million Dollar Movie" and a pioneer breakfast-hour show called "Strictly for the Girls."

In 1958, McMahon met the man who would forever alter his career and fortunes: Johnny Carson, a rising young comedian, who hired him to be his announcer on a half-hour afternoon comedy quiz show on ABC.

McMahon's job consisted of introducing the contestants, doing the commercials and occasionally talking briefly to Carson at the beginning of the show. From the start, Carson made McMahon his comedy foil, and in so doing established an on-air relationship that would continue for nearly 34 years.

McMahon quickly became "Big Ed," the good-time guy who ate and drank too much.

"Ed is the announcer on the show," Carson once told his viewers, "only because he never passed the bar. In fact, Ed has never passed any bar."

When Carson moved to NBC to be host of “The Tonight Show” in October 1962, he took McMahon with him.

Among guests on the late-night show: comedian Bill Cosby.
February 5, 1968

McMahon did the audience warmups and commercials, and he performed in sketches. But his primary job, McMahon wrote in his 1998 autobiography, "For Laughing Out Loud," was to be Carson's straight man.

"I had to support him, I had to help him get to the punch line, but while doing it I had to make it look as if I wasn't doing anything at all. The better I did it, the less it appeared as if I was doing it," he wrote.

McMahon said, however, that his role on the show was never strictly defined: "I was there when he needed me, and when he didn't, I moved down the couch and kept quiet."

One night, however, he didn't keep quiet when he should have.

During the show, Carson was explaining to McMahon that scientists had just completed a multimillion-dollar study about mosquitoes and had discovered that for some reason, mosquitoes were particularly attracted to extremely "warm-blooded, passionate people."

Hearing that, McMahon instinctively slapped his wrist and said, "Whoops, there's another one."

As the audience roared, Carson glared icily at McMahon.

"Well, then," Carson said, picking up a comically oversized can of insect spray, "I guess I won't be needing this $500 prop then, will I?"

The audience laughed again, but McMahon knew he had ruined the bit by stepping outside his role as straight man and stealing Carson's laugh. It was, McMahon later wrote, the only time Carson was angry with him.

Carson was so upset, biographer Laurence Leamer wrote in "King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson," that he told his manager the next day to get rid of McMahon.

"Johnny was very angry," Mary Stark, the wife of "Tonight Show" producer Art Stark, told Leamer. "Art went to bat for Ed and said it would be absolute suicide to fire him. There would be no way to keep it quiet."

Despite the on-air misstep, Carson paid tribute to his sidekick on the duo's last "Tonight Show" broadcast on May 22, 1992.

"Ed has been a rock for 30 years, sitting over here next to me. . . . We have been friends for 34 years. A lot of people who work together on television don't necessarily like each other. This hasn't been true. . . . We're good friends; you can't fake that on television."

During his years on "The Tonight Show," McMahon did a nightclub act that he took to Las Vegas and appeared in plays and in several films, including the original "Fun With Dick and Jane," starring George Segal and Jane Fonda.

He also served as co-host of the United Negro College Fund's telethon with singer Lou Rawls for many years and as co-host of Jerry Lewis' annual Muscular Dystrophy Assn. telethon for more than three decades.

Carson and McMahon on set in 1963.

Down-to-earth and approachable, McMahon was known to respond freely to fans' questions -- as well as to the inevitable requests from fans such as the tourist in Florida who took his picture and then pleaded with him, "Say it for me."

"What's your name?" McMahon inquired.

After being told, he boomed, "Heeeeere's Debbie!"

McMahon's first two marriages ended in divorce.

In addition to his wife, McMahon's survivors include his children Jeffrey, Lex, Claudia, Katherine and Linda.

Memorial services are pending.


Ed McMahon: A salute to the king of sidekicks

The late TV personality did other things, yes, but his greatest accomplishment may have been his partnership with Johnny Carson. 'My role was to make him look good while not looking too good myself.'

By ROBERT LLOYD, Television Critic
Los Angeles Times
June 24, 2009

Although he did other things in his 86 years, Ed McMahon, who died Tuesday in Los Angeles, will be remembered mostly as the man who sat next to Johnny Carson, except when more important celebrities came between them.

Carson and McMahon perform one of "The Tonight Show's" classic skits: Carnac the Magnificent.

Notwithstanding the dozen years of hosting "Star Search," a role in the 1997 Tom Arnold sitcom "The Tom Show," a high-profile Cash4Gold ad during the last Super Bowl and all that knocking on people's doors in the name of American Family Publishers, McMahon was a professional sidekick, a less-than-equal partner in an enterprise of which he was nevertheless a vital part: Thinking of Johnny, one proceeds quickly and naturally to Ed, who by dint of association was almost as famous as his boss -- I say "almost" to include that fraction of the world that may have seen or heard of Carson but never watched his show.

It's easy to underestimate his accomplishment -- or even to wonder whether it should be called an accomplishment at all. We live in a nation of aspiring quarterbacks, pitchers, lead singers and presidents, where we are told to dream big and have it all. (The vice presidency of the United States is regarded as a rarefied form of failure.) But in a world where everyone is innately a star, what does it mean to settle for life as a mere moon?

And yet, just as the moon plays upon the Earth, animating its tides and its werewolves, the sidekick is not without power of his (or her) own. His very presence is the proof that his presence is required. He may come as a straight man, a stooge, a teacher, an apprentice, a servant or pal, but he completes the star-hero in some way to their mutual advantage -- as a counterweight, an anchor, a witness, a frame for the picture, a setting for the stone. Like Jiminy Cricket, a conscience. Who is Prince Hal without Falstaff, Don Quixote sans Sancho Panza? Little John and Robin Hood, Horatio and Hamlet, Friday and Crusoe, Watson and Holmes, Tinker Bell and Peter Pan, Ethel and Lucy, Barney and Fred, Barney and Andy, Ed and Ralph, Rhoda and Mary, Willow and Buffy, and all those traveling companions to Doctor Who -- unequal, perhaps, yet inextricable.

We may reflexively regard him as slower, dumber, less handsome than the hero he shadows, but in practice the sidekick may be the smarter, funnier, faster, better-looking or more practical one. Less bound by convention or expectation, flexible rather than stiff-necked, he is free in ways forbidden the hero. His life is simpler, his soul less troubled. Ed Norton may be a dimwit, but he isn't tormented, like Ralph Kramden, by desperation and desire. Spock is cooler than Kirk. It seems like the better job.

A long run

Not every talk-show host has employed a sidekick in the McMahon mold. Merv Griffin had Arthur Treacher, a very tall British character actor who earlier specialized in butlers, appropriately, and, after McMahon, the best of the breed. Regis Philbin played second banana to Rat Packer Joey Bishop on his short-lived 1960s late-night show. But Dick Cavett was a solo act; Mike Douglas relied on changing celebrity co-hosts; and Jay Leno had no one on his couch. Still, it seems a sign of respect to McMahon (and to the institution he served) that when Conan O'Brien took the reins of "The Tonight Show," he had a partner in place, original "Late Night" sidekick Andy Richter.

Ed and Johnny were "as close as two non-married people can be," as McMahon wrote in his book, "Here's Johnny: Memories of Johnny Carson, 'The Tonight Show' and 46 Years of Friendship." McMahon, who was only two years older than Carson, began working as his announcer in 1957 on the game show "Who Do You Trust?" and accompanied him to "The Tonight Show" in 1962, where they kept on for 30 years.

An uncharitable or undiscerning critic might say McMahon had an easy job: Laugh at the boss' jokes, read a few cue cards, sell a little dog food, cheerfully absorb whatever cracks are made at his expense, slide further down the couch as the evening's guests arrive. (Phil Hartman's "Saturday Night Live" impression of him -- the over-hearty laugh, the booming "You are correct, sir" -- has replaced the actual McMahon in the minds of a couple of generations of viewers.) But the way McMahon told it, that was the point: "My role was to make him look good while not looking too good myself," he wrote, and "to get Johnny to the punch line while seeming to do nothing at all." Carson, for his part, left the air saying, "This show would have been impossible to do without Ed."

There is a kind of genius in knowing how to live with a genius. Did anyone want to grow up to be Ed McMahon? Maybe not. (Though I would rather be Illya Kuryakin than Napoleon Solo.) But they also serve who only sit and laugh -- and cry "Hey-yo!" once in a while. Of all the things Ed provided Johnny, continuity was perhaps the most meaningful: Guests came and went; wives came and went; the world turned. But where there was Johnny, there was always Ed, the witness, the audience, one of us.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Murder Boys -- Not Flies! Says PETA

by (more by this author)
Posted 06/23/2009 ET

“Human beings often don't think before they act,” laments PETA while explaining their reaction to President Obama's unthinking fly "execution." "We believe that people, where they can be compassionate, should be, for all animals.”

Close on the heels of their consciousness-raising campaign for fly compassion, PETA has launched a vegetarian campaign using Che Guevara's 24 year old granddaughter, Lydia, dolled up in commie beret and topless, though strategically covered by twin bandoliers of carrots. “Join the Vegetarian Revolution!” reads the campaign's slogan which will debut in Argentina (no less!, where lamb is considered a vegetable) this fall, then goes international.

Lydia Guevara poses on the set of her PETA photo shoot. (AP)

“Revolution runs in my blood,” chirped Lydia in a recent interview with Spain'sEl Mundo. “I will never soil the great things achieved by my grandfather.”

“It's a homage of sorts to her grandfather,” explains PETA publicity chief, Michael McGraw about their ad.

Swatting a fly involves "a lack of thinking," according to PETA. But paying homage to a Stalinist mass-murderer who craved “millions of atomic victims for the victory of socialism!” and reveled in shattering the skulls of teen-aged boys convulsed in death throes, apparently involves ratiocination of the highest order. Lydia Guevara's attire and raised fist, a tribute to the totalitarian movement that killed more people in the 20th century than the Black Death killed in the 14th , apparently also shows topnotch cerebral acuity by PETA .

For the sake of this report let's overlook the mass-murder of humans, which doesn't seem to trouble PETA. Animal rightists, however, might be interested in Lydia's grandad's treatment of puppies. After all, by their own admission, this PETA ad campaign is "a homage" to Che.

"Kill the dog, Felix, But don't shoot him--strangle him," writes Che in his diaries about an incident during the Anti-Batista skirmishing in Cuba's hills. "Very slowly Felix pulled out his rope, made a noose and wrapped it around the little animals neck--then he started tightening," writes Che.

"When Felix had picked him up, the puppy's tail had been wagging happily. Naturally, as was the usual case with these men, the puppy had expected the usual petting and caresses. Now Felix grimaced as he tightened the noose on the agonized puppy. "That happy wagging of the tail turned convulsive," writes Che. "Finally the puppy let out a smothered little yelp. It seemed a long time till the end finally came," recounts Che. "Finally after one little spasm the puppy lay still, his little head resting over a branch."

For some reason Che saw fit to describe such stuff in loving details.

More worrisome for PETA, they should be aware that the regime Lydia's granddad co-founded is in hot-water with animal rightists for their enslavement and torture of dolphins.

"Cuba has become the world's leading exporter of live dolphins for "dolphinariums" and other controversial "swim-with-dolphin" tourist projects," reported the latin american news agency Noticias Aliadas back in August 2003.

"Newly captured Atlantic bottlenosed dolphins bring $40,000 to $70,000 on the international market, though park owners recoup that investment quickly by charging tourists up to $150 to swim with and touch the popular creatures...According to media reports, a key figure in Cuba's dolphin trade is Celia Guevara, the 39-year-old daughter of the famous revolutionary. Havana's National Aquarium, where Guevara is chief marine mammal veterinarian, recently provided six dolphins to Dolphin Fantaseas....The dolphins' conditions at that park were recently investigated by Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society chief executive Niki Entrup, and are now the subject of protests orchestrated by Toronto activist Gwen McKenna and the German Dolphin Conservation Society."

In the interest of the objectivity that characterizes my writing, I'll point out that not that all dogs within Che's Cuban circles were brutalized. In fact one was pampered shamelessly. This dog belonged to Herman Marks, one of Che Guevara's very, very few trusted friends in Cuba. Marks was a U.S. ex-convict, Marine-deserter, rapist and mental-case, who at age 30 was convicted of raping a teenage girl and sent to the state prison in Waupun, Wisconsin for 3 1/2 years. Then he slipped into Cuba and joined Che's band of rebels, whereupon his zeal as executioner saw him catapulted to captain in short order.

“In La Cabana, Marks would bring his pet dog to work with him,” recalls former political prisoner, Robert Martin Perez, who suffered 28 years in Castro's Gulag. "A huge dog that looked like a German shepherd/ hound cross of some kind. He followed Marks everywhere."

“Whatever his pedigree, the dog's specialty was happily bounding up after the firing squad volley and lapping up the blood that oozed from the shattered heads and bodies of the firing squad victims.”

PETA and Lydia might get a tingle up their leg to learn how Cuban blackbirds also benefited from Lydia's granddad's policies."Those firing squads had been going off daily since January 7, 1959, the day Che Guevara entered Havana,” recalls former political prisoner Hiram Gonzalez. “ It didn't take long for the birds to catch on. Flocks of them had learned to perch atop the wall that surrounded La Cabana Fortress and in the nearby trees. The firing squad volleys became their dinner bell. After each volley they swooped down to peck at the bits of bone, blood and flesh that littered the ground. Those birds sure grew fat."

- Mr. Fontova is the author of Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant

Persian Paranoia

Iranian leaders will always believe Anglo-Saxons are plotting against them.

By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, June 22, 2009, at 12:43 PM ET

I have twice had the privilege of sitting, poorly shaved, on the floor and attending the Friday prayers that the Iranian theocracy sponsors each week on the campus of Tehran University. As everybody knows, this dreary, nasty ceremony is occasionally enlivened when the scrofulous preacher leads the crowd in a robotic chant of Marg Bar Amrika!—"Death to America!" As nobody will be surprised to learn, this is generally followed by a cry of Marg Bar Israel! And it's by no means unknown for the three-beat bleat of this two-minute hate to have yet a third version: Marg Bar Ingilis!

Some commentators noticed that as "Supreme Leader" Ali Khamenei viciously slammed the door on all possibilities of reform at last Friday's prayers, he laid his greatest emphasis on the third of these incantations. "The most evil of them all," he droned, "is the British government." But the real significance of his weird accusation has generally been missed.

One of the signs of Iran's underdevelopment is the culture of rumor and paranoia that attributes all ills to the manipulation of various demons and satans. And, of course, the long and rich history of British imperial intervention in Persia does provide some support for the notion. But you have no idea how deep is the primitive belief that it is the Anglo-Saxons—more than the CIA, more even than the Jews—who are the puppet masters of everything that happens in Iran.

The best-known and best-selling satirical novel in the Persian language is My Uncle Napoleon, by Iraj Pezeshkzad, which describes the ridiculous and eventually hateful existence of a family member who subscribes to the "Brit Plot" theory of Iranian history. The novel was published in 1973 and later made into a fabulously popular Iranian TV series. Both the printed and televised versions were promptly banned by the ayatollahs after 1979 but survive in samizdat form. Since then, one of the leading clerics of the so-called Guardian Council, Ahmad Jannati, has announced in a nationwide broadcast that the bombings in London on July 7, 2005, were the "creation" of the British government itself. I strongly recommend that you get hold of the Modern Library paperback of Pezeshkzad's novel, produced in 2006, and read it from start to finish while paying special attention to the foreword by Azar Nafisi (author of Reading Lolita in Tehran) and the afterword by the author himself, who says:

In his fantasies, the novel's central character sees the hidden hand of British imperialism behind every event that has happened in Iran until the recent past. For the first time, the people of Iran have clearly seen the absurdity of this belief, although they tend to ascribe it to others and not to themselves, and have been able to laugh at it. And this has, finally, had a salutary influence. Nowadays, in Persian, the phrase "My Uncle Napoleon" is used everywhere to indicate a belief that British plots are behind all events, and is accompanied by ridicule and laughter. ... The only section of society who attacked it was the Mullahs. ... [T]hey said I had been ordered to write the book by imperialists, and that I had done so in order to destroy the roots of religion in the people of Iran.

Fantastic as these claims may have seemed three years ago, they sound mild when compared with the ravings and gibberings that are now issued from the Khamenei pulpit. Here is a man who hasn't even heard that his favorite conspiracy theory is a long-standing joke among his own people. And these ravings and gibberings have real-world consequences of which at least three may be mentioned:

1. There is nothing at all that any Western country can do to avoid the charge of intervening in Iran's foreign affairs. The deep belief that everything—especially anything in English—is already and by definition an intervention is part of the very identity and ideology of the theocracy.

2. It is a mistake to assume that the ayatollahs, cynical and corrupt as they may be, are acting rationally. They are frequently in the grip of archaic beliefs and fears that would make a stupefied medieval European peasant seem mentally sturdy and resourceful by comparison.

3. The tendency of outside media to check the temperature of the clerics, rather than consult the writers and poets of the country, shows our own cultural backwardness in regrettably sharp relief. Anyone who had been reading Pezeshkzad and Nafisi, or talking to their students and readers in Tabriz and Esfahan and Mashad, would have been able to avoid the awful embarrassment by which everything that has occurred on the streets of Iran during recent days has come as one surprise after another to most of our uncultured "experts."

That last observation also applies to the Obama administration. Want to take a noninterventionist position? All right, then, take a noninterventionist position. This would mean not referring to Khamenei in fawning tones as the supreme leader and not calling Iran itself by the tyrannical title of "the Islamic republic." But be aware that nothing will stop the theocrats from slandering you for interfering anyway. Also try to bear in mind that one day you will have to face the young Iranian democrats who risked their all in the battle and explain to them just what you were doing when they were being beaten and gassed. (Hint: Don't make your sole reference to Iranian dictatorship an allusion to a British-organized coup in 1953; the mullahs think that it proves their main point, and this generation has more immediate enemies to confront.)

There is then the larger question of the Iranian theocracy and its continual, arrogant intervention in our affairs: its export of violence and cruelty and lies to Lebanon and Palestine and Iraq and its unashamed defiance of the United Nations, the European Union, and the International Atomic Energy Agency on the nontrivial matter of nuclear weapons. I am sure that I was as impressed as anybody by our president's decision to quote Martin Luther King—rather late in the week—on the arc of justice and the way in which it eventually bends. It was just that in a time of crisis and urgency he was citing the wrong King text (the right one is to be found in the "Letter From a Birmingham Jail"), and it was also as if he were speaking as the president of Iceland or Uruguay rather than as president of these United States. Coexistence with a nuclearized, fascistic theocracy in Iran is impossible even in the short run. The mullahs understand this with perfect clarity. Why can't we?

- Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, now out in paperback.

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