Michael Jackson had the talent, but it was a mixed blessing…

June 25, 2009

Unfortunately the only thing that really sticks in my mind about the now what I understand is the “late” Michael Jackson, reportedly dead at age 50 as the result of cardiac arrest, is him holding his crotch while he performed and maybe that weird thing in Germany some years back when he was photographed holding his little baby over the railing of a balcony.

I remember him performing with the Jackson Five and being the little brother in the group who stood out – a kind of show off, much like the young Donnie Osmond who used to perform with his family on the old Andy Williams Show and mug the cameras.

For a time, as I recall, there was a kind of rivalry between the white Donnie Osmond and the black Michael Jackson. Obviously Jackson won out, having sold more records than any other star ever with his all-time number one album “Thriller”.

I was never a Jackson fan nor was I a Jackson detractor. I just thought he was weird. He was noted for among other things turning whiter in skin color. He claimed to have some type of skin disease. And through a strange metamorphosis via apparent plastic surgeries his appearance became bizarre. In fact, that’s what he was: bizarre.

There was that sensational trial in Santa Maria, Ca. A few years ago in which he faced child molestation charges. He was acquitted, but many are now saying he really never got over the trauma of all that. The price of fame is high, indeed. Coincidentally I was in Santa Maria at the time. I was a truck driver picking up strawberries and other produce. I think I passed by the crowds at the courthouse.

While I thought some of his dance routines for which he was so famous were vulgar, I also have to say he was phenomenal in his dancing ability.

I recall a guy a few years younger than I in the Army who could do a good imitation of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk dance, and that was not so long after the first moonwalk. Jackson was a little after my time in teenage music memories, but probably for that soldier and certainly for so many millions, he was the number-one icon of music.He was considered the “King of Pop” music.

So maybe the word of Jackson’s death had the effect on his fans as the death of Elvis Presley had on me. Actually I was not devastated by Presley’s death, but it had some profound meaning to me because I connect Presley with some of my earliest memories of Rock N Roll and recalled that he even had some hits when I was in High School, a decade after he first came on the scene in the mid 50s. I was a fan of the earlier Elvis Presley. I thought the jumpsuit version, the fat version, was pathetic.

I liked the younger Michael Jackson well enough, although I was no real fan. I even somewhat enjoyed a few performances of the older more streamlined (or weird is still the better word) Jackson – but he just got too weird for my taste.

I’ve heard as everyone else he had a rough childhood, being under pressure by his family to perform, and because of his talent he never had a chance to grow up like a regular kid.

The talent of an entertainer is so often a mixed blessing.

P.s.

Actress and poster girl Farrah Fawcett also died today, as well as perennial pitchman and famous Johnny Carson sidekick Ed McMahon earlier this week. But with the coverage the Jackson death is getting you’d think a great world leader had died. Well, he did coin his own description, the “King of Pop”. In death, Jackson is larger than life. And for now he continues to draw an audience worldwide — still a commercial commodity.

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Don’t cry for South Carolina Governor Sanford Argentina; Republicans: you may cry…

June 24, 2009

To the religous right and to all who insist on mixing religion and religious morality with politics — please give it a rest or at least admit that those who espouse their religous beliefs in supporting their own political candidacies are more than likely two-faced.

I am listening to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford explain that the story behind his disappearance of the past week revolves around an affair he has had outside his marriage for the past year at least.

Yet another religious right Republican, who even talked about attending a bible study class during his explanation, asked for forgiveness over and over.

Hey. I’m not from South Carolina, but I could forgive him for having a human frailty. But what I can’t forgive is the hypocrisy of it all.

This comes on the heels of a similar announcement by Nevada Senator John Ensign of an affair, another holier than thou guy.

Both were listed as possible contenders for the 2012 presidential race.

And there have been countless others now, mostly Republicans of the religious right pursuasion.

The next time I hear a Republican religious right person accuse or imply others, usually Democrats, of being Godless and without moral compass, I will just want to say: “Oh shut up”!

I really would hope this spells the end of the power of the religious right in Republican politics. If it doesn’t, it might really spell the end of the Republican Party altogether. And that would be a disaster.

We desperately need the Republican Party and its history of a down to earth somewhat conservative approach to governing.

I think it can be saved by a resurgence of Republican moderatres with the help of some Republican libererals, if there are any left.

Religion and politics do not mix. Religion subverts politics and politics subverts religion.

Sanford originally put out the story via his staff that he was taking a trek on the Appalachian Trail. Apparently he really took off to Buenas Aires, Argentina. And he actually said during a press conference if I heard it right that he was “crying in Argentina”. Today he was asking for forgiveness from South Carolinians. So I guess he may have been saying in essence — don’t cry for me Argentina, but do cry for me South Carolina.

ADD 1:

Sanford went to Argentina to visit his girlfriend. He said he first met her eight years ago. The actual affair has been going on for a year. His wife has known for the last five months, he said. He has four sons.

Right and moral Republican that he is he spent Father’s Day weekend and the past week with his lover in Argentina.

“I’ve been crying for the last five days in Argentina”, he was quoted as saying (I only saw part of his news conference, although I thought I heard him say that and apparently he did). What with that Evita song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and the fact that yet another Republican has taken a fall from the moral wagon that ought to be good fodder for late night comedians, cable news satirists and political opponents of the nutty religious right.

(Thanks to CNN TV news, as well as CNN and Yahoo online news, as well as The State newspaper online out of Columbia, S.C. for info.)

ADD 2:

Sanford as a congressman was a harsh critic of President Bill Clinton for his infidelities and voted for his impeachment. Sen. Ensign criticized Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. It’s kind of do as they preach not as they do with those right wing Christian fundamentalist Republicans. “Oh I have sinned” they cry Jimmy Swaggart sytle (and so did Democrat Clinton, I must concede, biting his lip as he did it). What I think they are crying about is that they got caught. 

ADD 3:

It’s the next day, Thursday, June 25, as I blog this add. I do not suggest that Republicans are any more prone to these sex scandals than Democrats. If you go back, the count is probably even. I recall now some of the latest, John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer (both Democrats), but as one columnist I read pointed out, the Republicans invite scorn upon themselves by portraying their party as the one with moral values. I’m all for morals, but for my part I think the Republicans would do well to drop the emphasis on them and play up their abilities at governance.

P.s.

The night before the news broke I was trying to look up columns of my late and favorite political satire writers to see if I could get an idea of how to do it. With material like this, who couldn’t? Can the real story be a satire of itself?


Obama caught (kind of) on claim his health care plan (what plan?) would not eliminate private plans or force doctor changes…

June 24, 2009

I’m not an anti public health care (or anti socialized medicine) partisan, but I noticed that President Barack Obama got caught in Tuesday’s news conference on his long-offered promise, all thorough his campaign and all through his young presidency, that you won’t have to give up your own health care plan or your doctor if you’re satisfied under his proposed health care plan.

And let me just inject here, we still don’t know what the actual Obama health care plan is (except if you are a Republican and call it socialized medicine).

In answering a question he all but conceded that in fact you might end up losing both your plan and doctor if private insurance decided it could not compete with a public option and/or if your doctor decided he or she could not afford to accept the provisions (payments) under the public option, or if your employer decided to drop a private plan and let you take advantage of the public plan. He tried to slip out of the trap by saying it would not be the government putting the kibosh on your plan or dismissing your doctor, that would be up to the insurance companies and doctors and employers.

The idea that has been put forward lately (or I guess for a long time) is that any public option would have too much advantage over private health insurance – patients would get care for too low of a cost – can’t have that.

But despite any sarcasm I might have concerning the poor private health plans and the doctors who might suffer, I do see the point that indeed a public option and a continued private option might not be able to co-exist because they would not be on a level playing field. The government can raise taxes and promulgate rules to lower costs.

Surprisingly, even with all the money thrown at the anti-public option movement recent polls show something like 72 percent or even more of the public supporting a public option. And polls indicate support for higher taxes to pay for it, to an extent. Not surprisingly people are apparently somewhat hypocritical because there seems to be less enthusiasm when specific cost figures are mentioned. Well of course any option no matter what, unless you just deny health care to anyone who cannot afford it, is going to be expensive. In case you haven’t noticed, people who go to medical school expect to make some big bucks. And we keep developing expensive new procedures that require expensive equipment and we have to pay other highly trained and skilled medical personnel along with not so highly skilled and highly paid folks (but a lot of them). And it does cost a lot of money to get a new medicine on the market and the investors want to recoup their investments and then some.

Of course if we have large numbers of sick folks we cannot be as productive of a nation as we should be, and right now it is apparent that we need to start being more productive. Also, since we at least have laws that require folks to get emergency medical service those emergency rooms will continue to be clogged and the costs will mount if we don’t do something.

No one actually knows how much the Obama plan (which is not really spelled out — being a continued work in progress) would cost, but figures of $1 trillion and even $1.6 trillion over ten years have been suggested. Gee what a waste. We could fund a war with that kind of money (sarcasm again).

Costs concerns notwithstanding, the public does seem to be coming around. That’s probably because health care even with employer-sponsored insurance has become so expensive and the fact so many people don’t get employer health insurance either because it is not offered or they have lost their jobs.

Another strange thing is that lawmakers seem to listen to lobbyists more than average people (probably because average people don’t generally make big campaign donations). It’s sad that the voters have to take a back seat to lobbyists. Of course if campaigns were more sober presentations of proposed policy rather than highly expensive glitzy propaganda wars, and if voters were willing to listen to fact rather than empty or misleading rhetoric that would not be such a problem.

What I would be for, most would call socialized medicine (there I’ve said it – please don’t call me a communist – or does anyone use that epithet these days?). But I’d settle for some type of plan that simply provides health care benefits to those who truly don’t have access to a private plan or resources to pay for one.

I think we may be trying to do more than we need to. I begrudgingly admit that we have a system of sorts in place and probably don’t need to mess it up.

So for the umpteenth time I ask the question: why can’t we just extend the Medicare and Medicaid programs to those who need coverage they can’t pay for?

I’m waiting for the answer.

——————

Clarification:

In the original version of my last post I incorrectly spelled the name of a Huffington Post blogger, but I corrected in a later version. The blogger is Nico Pitney.


Iranian government thugs beat, kill women; Dealing with Iranian regime now will leave blood on our hands (and some other news commentary)

June 23, 2009

ADD 1:

“…Anyone who shakes hands with Ahmadinejad will have a hard time washing the blood off his hands”.

I lifted that quote from a piece by Jonah Goldberg I saw on the LA Times website.

And anyone who has seen that YouTube video of the killing of the young woman demonstrator “Neda” knows what that refers to (even if that clip is not vetted — Iran has made it difficult to get the news — I refer to this and the role of Iranian women in this whole freedom movement in Iran later in this blog).

And it makes me think about the National Geographic documentary on the recent Persian Gulf history I saw on TV last night. It reminded me how brutal Saddam Hussein was, and there was footage of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with the Devil himself (Saddam). How does Rumsfeld sleep at night? How will Barack Obama sleep at night if he continues to hold out hope for dealing with the murderers who make up the Iranian regime? I think he may be changing his mind on that. I still think he has handled the situation well so far. I believe we truly do need to let the Iranians sort out their own affairs — I just don’t want the U.S. to in any way, by words or deeds or nuance, to be seen as supportive of the current Iranian regime, as we should also not be seen as meddling by outwardly or actively supporting dissenters (we would not want to let them get their hopes up and then leave them hanging like we have done in so many other places in times past).

ADD 2:

I read that Obama today in his news conference condemned the violent actions against (peaceful) dissent by the Iranian regime. He also shot back at Repulican critics of his stance on Iran by saying: “Only I’m president of the United States”. That seems appropriate. George W. Bush was the “decider” in his time in office.  

—————-

Just some random comments on the major news of the day:

Please don’t let it be that the cause of the commuter train wreck in Washington D.C. Monday evening was that the operator of the rear train (or anyone else) was text messaging at the time (and no one has said that as far as I know, but that seems to be happening on public transportation lately). As of this writing no official speculation as to the cause has been put forward. UPDATE: The current death count is nine in the accident, including the female operator of the rear train. News reports reveal that there had been safety concerns expressed about some of the aging trains in the Washington metro system.

– The turmoil continues in Iran despite the strong resistance from authorities and the deaths (don’t know the exact number) so far. Only helping to prove how diabolical the Iranian government is I offer this report: the parents of one of the demonstrators killed by security forces have been asked to pay $3,000 for the cost of security forces, referred to as a “bullet fee” (that comes to me out of the Huffington Post, Nico Pitney blog, and is said to come out of a Wall Street Journal report).

Don’t remember if I have mentioned it, but one of the most striking things about this defiance in Iran against the current Islamic government is the fact that so many of the faces in the crowds of demonstrators are women, and seemingly women of all ages, everything from young college students wearing modern clothing, maybe with a head scarf of some kind, and often dark glasses, to older women wearing the traditional black robe called the chador, often with their faces at least partially hidden. Even if women are second class both by Islamic religion and law of the Islamic Republic, they seem to be taking the forefront (and I repeat from a previous blog, women are also considered second class or under the requirement to be subservient to men under extreme conservative Christian teaching too). Saw the YouTube of Neda, the young woman shot down in the street in Tehran who has become a martyr for the cause of new freedoms in Iran. It is believed that she was shot by a paramilitary sniper or one of the vigilante-like thugs the government holds in reserve for uprisings. Assuming that this video is authentic, and it most probably is, then I can hardly see what is left to like or deal with in the current government there, if there ever was.

– Watched some two or three hours of a background on the Iraq and Iran and Middle East history of the past several decades in a National Geographic documentary. Even though I have lived through it of course all the events play out over a long period of time and it is hard to keep track and connect the dots. It serves to remind me that we are sorely shortchanged by our news media on regular background and even full information on current world events (not that many would pay attention). If only our leaders had more knowledge about history (to include recent history), maybe they could make better decisions. One interesting note in the documentary I watched was about Mamoud Amadinejad who was re-elected in the contested Iranian presidential election and who spouts off against the West and the U.S. in particular and who denies the Holocaust to gain political points with people who like to heap scorn on the Jews – which always serves as a good distraction from one’s own shortcomings or ulterior motives. Amadinejad was a young Iranian Revolutionary Guard back in 1979 and tried to talk his cohorts out of taking hostages at the American Embassy. He wanted to take Russians hostages in an effort to thwart the communist influence in Iran.

– I finally agree with John McCain on something – I think. If that North Korean ship they keep talking about that is sailing on the high seas to Myanmar (Burma) has nuclear materials on board then the U.S. Navy should board and inspect it. Some idiot U.N. rule that says we have to ask permission would be laughable if our own survival was not at stake. The U.N. may be useful for letting off steam, but we cannot surrender our ability to provide our own defense to it.

And if we even let North Korea fire a missile in the direction of Hawaii, then I would have to question our president’s ability to defend our nation (hopefully he has a plan here, other than to wait and see).

P.s.

Once a long time ago an Asian nation attacked us at Hawaii – maybe that little whack job of a dictator in North Korea or anyone else who might have the power there should consider that.


No Father’s Day breakfast for dad, instead a new beginning…

June 22, 2009

My eldest daughter was supposed to take me out to breakfast on Father’s Day.

She didn’t. She became a little busy.

Instead she presented us all with a brand new baby boy. That makes grandchild no. 3.

She and her family live not quite three hours to the south of us. The baby was supposed to be born at a hospital near home but when a child arrives three weeks early, plans are thwarted.

My daughter was visiting her parents when she realized it was time. And why does it so often become time at four in the morning? I was still saying, what? huh? now? when wife and daughter left for the hospital. I followed soon after, though.

Actually, she had been informed the baby would be early – she just didn’t think that early.

There’s something about pregnant women that seems to put them on the move shortly before birth.

Maybe it all started with Mary, mother of Jesus of Nazareth. Did she not take an arduous journey to Bethlehem and on the back of a donkey which resulted in her giving birth? And she had no hospital, not even any room at the inn.

My own mother recalled that she had taken car trips before the birth of at least two of her children and a long walk before the birth of another.

The new grandson was born the afternoon of Father’s Day and at last report mother and baby were doing fine. My wife has been pulling long hours of duty helping daughter both at her home and now at the hospital. The new procedure is that the baby stays in the room with the mother – no nursery. Meanwhile, I’m doing what I usually do, blog.

But I did see the new human two times today. Cute as a button as they say.

And if you are not moved by the miracle of birth and the thought of the need to work for a better world in your own way at such a sight, then something is missing.


Struggle continues in Iran and change may be in the air, but the U.S. has to keep an eye on what is really important — nuclear capability

June 21, 2009

After blogging so much yesterday about the tumult in Iran and questioning in my last post as to what would happen there today, I feel compelled to write a few words today.

With the stranglehold on the free flow of information by the government there, it is quite difficult to get a clear picture of what is taking place or took place today (Sunday). I’ve read reports that there was an eerie silence on the streets and even more of a police presence and I have also read that there have been continued protests and continued violence. We know people have been beat up and that people have been killed (no clear figures on how many). And there have been arrests, some of those arrested were even in hospital beds reportedly. And militias or whatever they call themselves have reportedly broken into homes to go after or intimidate anyone suspected of dissenting from the government view.

And there is a split in the ruling clergy in this theocracy, as well as in the elected portion of the government.

Former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who heads up two powerful clerical institutions, the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council, is being intimidated, or at least that must be the intent, with his daughter and other relatives arrested. I understand the relatives were released (not sure), but his daughter remains under arrest. She had participated in a rally for opposition figure Hossein Musavi.

Another former president has criticized the government too, I heard.

But I want to pull back and just say I wish the people there the best and hope that out of all of this that they get a better government and get rid of that nut case Amadinejad who glibly denies the Holocaust, even visiting the U.S. to do so. No matter what your religion is or whether you support or don’t support the Jewish nation, if you have any knowledge of the world at all you know that of course the Holocaust happened, and the eyewitness accounts plus the documentation and documentary film footage taken both by the perpetrators themselves and the allies when they liberated the camps prove the case (I know, some people say we never went to the moon – that footage was shot in Arizona or New Mexico).

However, even though what happens in Iran, thanks to modern rapid communication technology, does not stay in Iran, I still say the best we can do is offer moral support. The Iranian government knows the world is watching. I think it has lost what little credibility it ever had on the world stage, let alone domestically.

I would say the U.S. needs to keep its eye on the ball (or should I say bomb?). More important in all of this is making sure Iran or no other nation, that does not already have it, gets access to nuclear weapons or the ability to produce them. It’s just something we have to do for survival. The U.S. let the genie out of the bottle back in 1945. And although we can’t fully put it back in, we have to do what we can.

We lived for decades wondering whether between us, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, we would manage to destroy the world by some terrible mistake or miscalculation. But apparently the Soviets were not nut cases who would launch nukes with no concern whether it might end the world.

That does not seem to be the case for the nut cases out of the Middle East or over in North Korea.

While we always want to do what we can to support freedom everywhere, the overriding concern must be to save the world from nuclear annihilation.

We now have a government in Iran that we know for sure we cannot trust and has lost its legitimacy.

And we have a government in North Korea we cannot deal with.

Interestingly, even if the dissidents win out in Iran or get some type of accommodation, that does not resolve the nuke question. The dissidents want their freedom, but for all I know they might decide nukes would protect them.

Our message must be clear – no nukes. And we have to have the resolve to do what is necessary to back that up.

I applaud President Barack Obama’s diplomacy expertise – he’s amazingly won high praise in the Islamic world.

And while I am 100 percent for open or transparent government, as I have blogged before, on the nuclear issue, we would do better to say little, but let those who would do mischief know what our position is and then let action speak louder than words, if that becomes necessary.

But in the end, some things are not negotiable, unless we want to risk the end.


Looking back at my father and his strange ways and seeing myself…

June 21, 2009

I wanted to write something inspiring or respectful or even nostalgic for Father’s Day, but the only thing that comes immediately to mind is that I am thankful I had one and one who took his duty as a father seriously. I know a lot of people are not so fortunate.

Fathers can provide wisdom. I know mine did. He gave me all kinds of excellent advice. And I followed very little of it and wished that I had.

I’ve spent a large part of my life trying to figure the man out. He was such a puzzle to me and seemed to have strange ways at times and often seemed to be out of place or out of sync with society. Some people would think one way and some the other and then Dad would think a third way.

He was generally gentle with his criticism. While he was a good home carpenter, once I built something and he said: “well I’ve never seen it done that way before”.

Dad was a newspaperman and as such used the telephone extensively as part of his work – and that is about all the use he had for the infernal machine. He had some strange dislike or phobia for it otherwise. He did not believe in telephone conversations outside work, except for short messages (but Twitter would have seemed a waste of time to him, I’m sure — I have to think he would have thought this era of instant communication to be a terrible mis-use of communication). He had a habit of hanging up with no warning – not so much as a goodbye (actually Mom used to do that too, but seems to not do that so much nowadays).

About being religious, Dad was consistent – he wasn’t.

When the hospice lady asked him what his religious preference was for his funeral he said: I’ve resisted religion this long. I’m not going to start now (that’s okay, my oldest brother supplied the religious aspect for the funeral — you really can’t control your own funeral and he would not have objected anyway). A little secret, though, he once confided in me that he like most humans pondered over whether there is a God and what might come after life and said that he really could not say.

And I will say this: I have known or seen a lot of people in my life who greatly professed their belief in the almighty and the tenets of the good book and by their actions it was obvious that they neither believed nor followed the path of righteousness.

Dad did not need a book to convince himself to treat others as he would want to be treated or to generally follow the rules of life laid down in the scriptures.

And yet he always taught me to be respectful of the religion of others.

Dad did not push his belief or non-belief on others, even in his family, at least far as I know.

I did follow his attitude for much of my life, but have struggled for some time, you know, especially since I was diagnosed with cancer – but even well before that.

There was dignity in Dad’s demeanor, but little pretense. He was a country boy. He was the first in his country neighborhood to go to high school. He eventually went on to college and earned a masters degree in political science.

In my puzzlement over my Dad, I often wondered whether he had not suffered some terrible disappointment or disillusionment in his life. Maybe it was the fact that while he obtained his masters he never ended up making the most of it, at least in a monetary way.

But Dad was a man who may have worried about money but had no use for the stuff by itself. He liked life. He loved the outdoors, but had no need or desire for the expensive toys so many seem to consider necessary today. He loved to work at home carpentry projects. He watched very little television. He had a sense of humor, but it was often hard to detect. Things that seemed funny to most people, often did not to him.

He was not perfect, but he was a perfectionist. He could not shortchange any task he did. It was not in him.

There are so many things I don’t know about Dad. But I think I do know one thing. He had no sense whatsoever of business (not that I do). I can’t picture him gaining advantage over someone else, coming out on the better side of the deal. I think he would have felt ashamed to do so.

But he was fair and good and respectful of other people.

Perhaps too late in life, I have tried to adopt some of his better attributes and take some of his advice.

And maybe one of the things that bugs me more than anything is that as much as some of the ways of my father gave me fits, I see so much of myself in my memories of him.

I also have to admit that I am more fortunate than he was.

I had a father to raise me. He did not (although an uncle substituted to some extent). His father left home when he was but a young child under what after all these years are either unknown or forgotten circumstances.

And as I said to begin with, I know I am fortunate to have had a father to raise me.