Thursday, November 26, 2009

"The ORIGINAL Dynamic Duo..."

On Thanksgiving Day, you'd think the big story would be turkey.

Turns out to be moose.

And squirrel.

(CNN) -- Fifty years ago, Jay Ward's animated moose and squirrel duo, "Rocky & Bullwinkle," debuted on ABC, forever changing the way the world looked at animated television.

His daughter, Tiffany Ward, continues her father's legacy as executive producer of the feature films "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, "Dudley Do-Right" and "George of the Jungle," and Cartoon Network's (sister channel to CNN) new "George of the Jungle" animated TV series.

"My dad was a true eccentric," Ward said. "His studio was a wonderland for me. It had a soda fountain, ice cream sundaes, a snow cone machine, a popcorn maker and candy bars everywhere."

Tiffany Ward grew up in Berkeley, California, and didn't move to Hollywood until 1959 at age 13 when her dad set up his television studio.

"Dad was always doing fun things," Ward said, recalling a 1961 Sunset Boulevard block party her father hosted to promote "The Bullwinkle Show." The show was originally named "Rocky and his Friends," but was renamed "The Bullwinkle Show" when the program went from ABC to NBC.

Ward was a one-man public relations machine, churning out first-rate promos in the days before PR companies were entrenched in the system.

In another promotional stunt, Jay Ward tried to buy an island between Minnesota and Canada that he named Moosylvania (he leased it instead). In efforts to have Moosylvania made into the 51st state, Ward traveled cross-country by bus, collecting signatures along the way.

When Ward reached the White House gates, he asked to speak to President John F. Kennedy about statehood for Moosylvania, but guards brusquely turned him away. As it turned out, Kennedy was dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis on that exact day.

Jay Ward did not have a favorite character, his daughter said, because to him it would have been like selecting a favorite child (Incidentally, Ward had three kids). Of all the characters he created, Ward didn't have a favorite per se, but Tiffany Ward does recall his partiality to Dudley Do-Right, the slow but well-meaning Canadian Mountie.

When asked about "Rocky & Bullwinkle's" everlasting appeal, Ward said she thinks it struck such a chord and remains popular today because her father never wrote for children, he wrote for adults. Jay Ward wanted kids to enjoy the pictures while grown-ups laughed at the quick wit and inside jokes.

In one episode, Rocky and Bullwinkle are propelled to the moon when their oven explodes while the pair are following Bullwinkle's grandmother's recipe for mooseberry fudge cake. Fun for kids for obvious reasons, but adults certainly got a chuckle when the moose griped about still having to make payments on the oven.

Bullwinkle also mentions having graduated from MIT -- the Moose Institute of Toe-Dancing, that is. Furthermore, Mr. Peabody the dog, a Harvard graduate, lives in a Manhattan penthouse, practices yoga and has an adopted son, because as he puts it: "Every dog should have a boy." Peabody chooses an orphan because he "always roots for the underboy." It's these little jokes that set the show apart from typical children's programming of its time.

Today those jokes may not have us rolling on the floor laughing (or ROTFL, as the kids say), but they were the 1960s equivalent of Stewie's reaction to being rejected by "American Idol" on "Family Guy."

The 50th anniversary of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" also means that spy duo Boris & Natasha, Mr. Peabody & Sherman and the Fractured Fairytales are celebrating birthdays as well.

Fractured Fairytales offered a skewed take on traditional children's stories. The moral was the same, but modern, funny dialogue was tossed in with slapstick humor. Rapunzel, for example, visits a barber shop and laments about having "no future."

"Incredible writing is the reason the show resonates to this day," Ward said.

Today, cartoons are more popular than ever. There are cable networks devoted to animation, and it is commonplace for cartoons to be written specifically for adults. Fox's Sunday night animation domination block featuring "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" comes to mind. "Rocky & Bullwinkle" was among the first animated series to hit prime time television.

Matt Groening even paid special homage to Jay Ward when he created "The Simpsons" by giving Bart, Homer and Grandpa Simpson the middle initial "J," as in Rocky's full name: Rocket J. Squirrel.

Tiffany Ward said she is thrilled there's such a wide array of animation available to viewers today, especially since in her father's era it was difficult to even get airtime for the genre. New projects are always coming the duo's way, and an animated Dreamworks feature film is in development.

By the time my kids came along, R&B were already "old" stuff, part of their mom and dad's generation, like Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, even the Flintstones and the Jetsons.

They were more enamored of Marshall, Will and Holly ("...on a routine expedition....") and I'm talking about the unintentionally cheesy original series produced by the Kroft gang and not the intentionally cheesy and unintentinonally bad Will Ferrell movie version.

Today, my kids have kids who get a kick out of Land of the Lost the same way their mom and dad enjoyed moose and squirrel.

Not hip or necessarily cool, but pretty funny.

And as each new generation comes along, R&B will slip farther down the scale of historical animated figures as new "heroes" come along to catch their eye and win their allegiance and consume their allowances with DVD's, action figures and bedsheets.

Farther down, maybe, but never completely out of fashion.

For three reasons.

First, thanks to the vision of Jay Ward, the "timelessness" of the adult humor/childish cartoon recipe he concoted will appeal to every new group that experiences it.

Second, thanks to folks like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Jon and Kate, The Octo Mom, et al, ad nauseum, not to mention politicians one and all, squirrels are now, and ever shall be, a popular part of our culture.

And third...

If the conservative base in America has its way, we will all, for many years to come, hear some form of the word moose every single day of our lives.

Happy birthday, Rocket J. Squirrel, Bullwinkle J. Moose....may I introduce Sarah J. Palin.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"And Now, Sunday With Stephen Stills..."

Don't know the appropriate Scripture to offer up here.

The gospel according to Buffalo Springfield comes pretty close, though.

More on that..and the weekend weather...coming up...

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin has banned Rep. Patrick Kennedy from receiving Communion, the central sacrament of the church, in Rhode Island because of the congressman's support for abortion rights, Kennedy said in a newspaper interview published Sunday.

The decision by the outspoken prelate, reported on The Providence Journal's Web site, significantly escalates a bitter dispute between Tobin, an ultra orthodox bishop, and Kennedy, a son of the nation's most famous Roman Catholic family.

"The bishop instructed me not to take Communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me Communion," Kennedy told the paper in an interview conducted Friday.

Kennedy said the bishop had explained the penalty by telling him "that I am not a good practicing Catholic because of the positions that I've taken as a public official," particularly on abortion.

He declined to say when or how Tobin told him not to take the sacrament. And he declined to say whether he has obeyed the bishop's injunction.

Church law permits Tobin to ban Kennedy from receiving Communion within the Diocese of Providence, which covers Rhode Island, but he cannot stop Kennedy from receiving Communion elsewhere. It was unclear whether bishops overseeing Washington and Massachusetts, where Kennedy's family has a seaside compound, would issue similar bans.

Kennedy could appeal the decision to officials in the Vatican, but the hierarchy of the Catholic church is unlikely to overturn a bishop, said Michael Sean Winters, a church observer and author of "Left At the Altar: How Democrats Lost The Catholics And How Catholics Can Save The Democrats."

"It's really bad theology," said Winters, who opposes abortion. "You're turning the altar rail into a battle field, a political battlefield no less, and it does a disservice to the Eucharist."

The dispute between the two men began in October when Kennedy in an interview on criticized the nation's Catholic bishops for threatening to oppose a massive expansion of the nation's health care system unless it included tighter restrictions on federally funded abortion.

Kennedy voted against an amendment to a Democratic health care plan sought by the bishops. But he voted in favor of a health care plan that included the amendment he opposed.

Tobin, the spiritual leader of the nation's most heavily Roman Catholic state, demanded an apology from Kennedy after learning of his remarks and requested a meeting.

"While I greatly respect the Catholic Church and its leaders, like many Rhode Islanders, the fact that I disagree with the hierarchy of the church on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic," Kennedy wrote in a letter to Tobin, agreeing to a sitdown. "I embrace my faith which acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity."

Their meeting fell apart. While Tobin called it a mutual decision, Kennedy accused Tobin of failing to abide by an agreement to stop discussing the congressman's faith publicly.

Tobin followed up with a biting public letter published in a diocesan newspaper.

"Sorry, you can't chalk it up to an 'imperfect humanity.' Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your Communion with the Church," Tobin wrote.

In subsequent interviews, Tobin said Kennedy should not receive Communion like other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Still, the bishop stopped short of ordering Kennedy not to receive the sacrament.

Discussing, debating and/or arguing religion or politics is, obviously, an exercise in futility.

What we do believe, we tend to believe passionately and passionate beliefs tend to hang on to our consciousness like grim death.

Simply put, I'm not going to change your mind and you're not going to change mine.

So, all I can do is offer my opinion.

I think Patrick Kennedy wants to have it both ways.

If Roman Catholic doctrine dictates that abortion is a sin, then you can't support abortion and be a "good" Catholic.

You're either a practicing Catholic or you're not.

You can't be a "little bit" pregnant.

Admittedly not the best metaphor to offer at the moment.

But if Kennedy openly supports abortion rights, then trying to profess his devotion to Catholicism is wrong.

That said, it's not unfair to ask if the bishop makes it a practice to deny Communion to every one in his flock who expresses support for abortion rights or, for that matter, exhibits any behavior that could be honestly intrepreted as "un-Catholic".

Or is he only shining a harsh light on a Kennedy to politicize the issue and make the pulpit a bully pulpit?

If he's doing that, then what he's doing is wrong.

But, two wrongs, you know...

Or, as Buffalo Springfield put it...

"Nobody's right / when everybody's wrong..."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"...Kind of Gives 'Where Will The Viewing Be?' A Whole New Meaning, Don't You Think..?"

Two kinds of people in the world.

Back with more in a moment.

(CNN) -- There will be no more car giveaways, no more tearful interviews and Tom Cruise will have to find someone else's couch to jump on.

Friends and fans alike are mourning the impending loss of Oprah Winfrey's syndicated talk show in 2011, sharing the sentiment that it will be very difficult to fill the Queen of Media's high heels.

Fellow talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who appeared on the cover of O, The Oprah Magazine's December issue with Winfrey, broke the news to her in-studio audience at the taping of Thursday's show that she had received a personal phone call from Winfrey about the announcement.

"I don't think I could be here without her. I think she has blazed a trail. ... She is an amazing woman. She will always be the queen of daytime television," DeGeneres said. "

Actress Elizabeth Reaser concurred at the New York premiere of "New Moon," saying, "no one could fill her shoes."

Celebrity cook and talk show host Rachael Ray has promised to "enjoy every episode between now and 2011."

"Oprah opened the door for me to move into daytime television and I can't thank her enough," Ray said. "I look forward to seeing what she does next. There will only ever be one Oprah!"

Winfrey's friend Gayle King, who is also the editor-at-large for Winfrey's magazine, devoted her entire Sirius satellite radio show on Friday to fielding phone calls from devastated Winfrey fans.

"I am wearing black today -- I am going to have a brief period of bereavement because I still can't even believe the news myself. And I've known that this was coming, but even after you hear it it's still hard to believe," King said.

A caller named Pat told King, "I am in mourning. ... She meant so much to me, so much to us here in ... Chicago ... and it's just going to be so different without her. ..." A caller named Missy said she also wore black in mourning on Friday.

King comforted the callers by assuring them that Winfrey was "so at peace with her decision."
As segments of Winfrey's teary personal announcement were broadcast Friday morning, sad fans began flooding Twitter to lament the hole that will be opening in daytime television.

"Soooo sad, eternal depression begins now and will worsen on Sept 9, 2011," mrspalomino posted to Twitter.

"I really don't know what I'm going to do at 4 o'clock everyday now," jackiehanna24 posted.

The millions of mourners worldwide will just have to remember that the "Oprah" legacy will live on in a different format. Winfrey will premiere OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, a partnership with Discovery Communications, in January 2011.

No reasonable person can deny, denigrate or minimize what Oprah Winfrey has accomplished.

And I stand in the group congratulating those accomplishments.

For that matter, I can even throw in a little personal feeling of look back to go with it. The first time I ever saw her was during my Nashville days when she was living there and doing the weekend news on the local CBS affilliate, WTVF.

That was a good ten years before she made Chicago her kind of town (Chicago is...her kind of...) and began laying the foundation of what would become Harpo Productions and the empire that is now symbolized by a single letter.


I've been in, and around, the business of show and media in general way past long enough to totally get that people get attached to other people and/or the things that people represent to them.

One word, Benjamin.


And without them a whole lot of people who spend their working hours each day trying to motivate other people to spend hard earned dough on the fruits of the aforementioned whole lot of people's labors would be releasing CD's that nobody listened to, making movies nobody watched and writing books, or even blogs, that no one was interested in reading.

Or doing television shows to an empty bunch of seats in a studio.

Oprah Winfrey's television show has, without question, been a force doing good in the world for what will end up being two and a half decades.

And even I'm not so cynical that I can't see and freely admit to seeing the service that she has done millions of people along the way.

But I dont think it unfair to offer up that Oprah would be the first to step up and agree that her primary accomplishement has been to create a television persona who has, in an engaging and entertaining way, informed, enlightened...and put a lot of things into perspective for people.

You go, girl.

Mind if I give that perspective thing a shot?

Oprah Winfrey... a successful television personality...

...has, through the years, been an invaluable source of information, entertainment and, yes, even inspiration to millions of people throughout the world...

...rightfully deserves to be recognized as a pioneer in broadcasting, blazing a trail for both women and blacks and making it possible for them to succeed on their merits in a society still too easily prone to showing the hand to either group... a compassionate, caring and conscientious contributor to society, while at the same time, being...

... a sharp, shrewd and savvy businesswoman...and...

...has probably made more money than General Motors will ever make again...

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Now that her show's end game has been announced, I'm pretty sure I won't get the call to come and chat with her about all of this, so let me take the liberty of putting a few words in her mouth.

Chances are that Oprah would be the first to say that what she announced this week was the end of a chapter in a very interesting, as yet unfinished, book.

And as she is still young and healthy, I'm a thinkin' there are a whole lot of chapters yet to come.

Celebrating and toasting the end of said chapter is a party we can all enjoy.

"Mourning" the end of a television show is just creepy.

And more than just a little sad.

You wear black when someone you love and respect dies.

Not when somebody stops taping a talk show.

In that case, you just find another talk show.

Like the one I'm hearing will be supposedly be showing up sometime in 2011 on a new cable network.


The Oprah Winfrey Network.

Oprah deserves all the props she's getting from all the peeps.

Not only for what she has done, but for what she obviously knows.

Two kinds of people in the world.

Leaders and followers.

Leaders find an effective way to motivate people to listen to what they have to say.

Followers wait to hear what other people have to say.

And, apparently, wear black when TV hosts move on to the next chapter.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How Much Is A Bird Worth?...Can't Put My Finger On it..."

Kids, the lesson here is do as we say, not as we do.

That said, this one cracks me up.

Bud Adams, the owner of the Titans was fined $250,000 today by the NFL for flipping off the Bills fans after Tennessee bitchslapped Buffalo around for four quarters on Sunday.






Come on, you know it's a little funny.

But a quarter of a million dollar fine?


This is the same NFL that let Michael Vick start playing again after cooling his heels for a year or two for killing dogs.

And what was the fine for THAT?


Should Adams have been reprimanded for the good of setting an example.

You betcha, Sarah would say.

But, I reiteriate, a quarter of a million bucks fine?

The NFL needs to lighten the f**k up.

And Adams needs to rename that digit Goldfinger.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"You Got To Watch Out for Grabbing A Snake To Kill A Stick..."

People who know me think I really like Obama and really disliked Dubya.

People who really know me know better.

By the way, before we really get cookin' here, I refer to the man as Dubya only to differentiate him from his father because it's easier to use the nickname than to keep typing George W. Bush. It is not meant to denigrate or unduly ridicule the man.

That said, I freely admit that I completely disliked Dubya, almost from the moment he appeared on the national political scene with a tractor trailer full of money and/or backing from his daddy's rich oil friends and that really annoying Beavis and Butthead "heh-heh" way of presenting himself.

And while the pro-Bush (and I'm sorry, but I can never see that phrase and not think of someone who is in favor of legalizing porn) folks in defense of their guy would point, if to nothing else, to Dubya's manning up on 9/11, standing in the rubble at Ground Zero and swearing to search to the ends of the earth, yada, yada, I can only offer that in that moment, with that horrific assault on our humanity, just about anybody standing in the rubble and swearing to search to the ends of the earth would have been lauded, applauded and accoladed.

"Hello, my name is Ingo took down the Twin Towers....prepare to die...."

Hell, I even got a little choked up watching him stand there and promise to open that can of whup ass.

Of course, a few years later, Michael Moore showed us all the video of W. sitting in that Florida classroom for what seemed like an eternity, with a look on his face that, perception being reality, honestly looked like "what the eff do I do now?" and, just like with those generic brand pork and beans, there turned out to be a lot more air in that can of whup ass than there was whup ass.

Don't you just hate when that happens?

But, as is my wont, I digress.

I disliked Dubya and I think, contrary to what the loyalists believe, that history will judge his time in the White House to be essentially a failure of planning and execution on just about every front.

That's not to say, though, that Barack Obama is going to end up faring any better.

At this writing, he has been in office just shy of ten months and the only substantive thing he seems to have accomplished on his own is proving that America has grown up suffciently to elect a black man President of the United States.

And it may well turn out that the right man at the right time from the historical perspective wasn't, in the end, the right man for the job itself.

Time and exit polls in 2012 will tell.

While we wait, here's a thing.

If there is no other measure of the unhappiness that the country, by and large, felt at the job that George W. Bush did as President of the United States, there is only to look at the end result.

The Democrats successfully tarred John McCain with the Dubya brush.

And America was so determined to get any whiff of Bush (sorry, saw it comin', couldn't get out of the way in time) out of 1600 Pennsylvania that it swallowed its own prejudices long enough to elect the first black man in the history of the country.

It was inevitable that the racial ceiling would someday be broken through.

Barack Obama was the man that fate and fortune chose to be that ceiling breaker.

Do I respect and admire that accomplishment?


Do I like this guy?

Not yet.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Heartbeats...Drumbeats...Past and Future..."

Stephen Hawking has nothing on George Carlin.

Carlin once summed up the whole space/time continuum thing in a short burst of brilliance.

"There is", he said, "no such thing as the present...there is only future and's the future, it's the future, here it comes, it's the future's the past.."

Tick tock far exceeding the speed of light.

That concept made perfect sense the first time I heard it, so it was no wonder that I've always turned my head a little Forrest Gumpishly to the left whenever I hear people talk about "living in the now."

Yes, I know it's a philosophical perspective and not meant to be a literal life directive.

But, at it's intellectual core, if you buy what Carlin sells, then there is no now.

Only future and past.

But here's a plot twist.

The future often brings us face to face with the past.

This whole ice cream headache inducing train of thought came chugging down the tracks of my synapses today when the word November on my calendar conjured up some memories of the past.

Houston, Texas. A sixth grade classroom at Albert Sidney Johnston Junior High School. Twelve forty five PM, Central Standard Time. November 22.


And for what was the once and only time it ever happened to me in my educational history, the PA speaker above the blackboard at the front of the room was broadcasting not the usual fare of applicable school business announcements, calls for teachers and/or students to "report to" the principal's office or the daily group vocalization of the Pledge Of Allegiance..but, instead, the radio news that was usually only heard, in my 1963 world, from the dashboard of the family Ford wagon.

The newsman was using words like "gunfire","motorcade","head wound", "Dallas", "Parkland"....
...and "assassination".

The story ended, of course, with the end of the Kennedy presidency.

And I can't add a single revelation to an event that took place forty six years ago.

For my children, even for their children, the killing is a few paragraphs in a history textbook, a dry, emotionless documention of dates, places, facts, figures.

It is, to them, what the Lincoln assassination was to me when I was young.

The past. Nothing more.

And even though the youngers they can, with the technologies of You Tube, et al, experience the event visually, they cannot, given time and distance experience it viscerally.

Only those who lived it can feel it.

Or be moved, if only just for a fleeting moment, by the sound of the drums.

A sound from the past.

As we live out our futures.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Q&A.....Without the A..."

A riddle.

What’s the one question that always generates an infinite number of responses but never really gets answered?

Answer, to the riddle, coming up.

Fort Hood, Texas (CNN) -- Thirteen people died after a shooting spree Thursday at Fort Hood, a sprawling Army post in Texas.

Here's a look at the victims whose names have been released:

Michael Grant Cahill, Spokane, Washington
Michael Cahill, 62, liked his job as a physician's assistant at Fort Hood so much that he only took one week of recovery time after undergoing heart surgery, his sister told CNN affiliate KREM.
Cahill, who served in the Army Reserve, previously worked as a registered nurse, Marilyn Attebery told KREM. He later returned to school to pursue a career as a physician's assistant, she said. Cahill was assisting with physicals for soldiers preparing for deployment at the time of the shooting, his sister said.
"I'm just upset for all the families and for what went on here. They're talking about wars and show wars and it's right there in Fort Hood and it's just devastating to everybody and all the families," Attebery told KREM.
Cahill is survived by his wife, Joleen, three children and a grandson, Attebery said.

Spc. Jason Dean Hunt, Tipton, Oklahoma
Hunt, 22, wanted to be part of something greater than himself, his sister Leila Willingham told CNN. He enlisted in the Army in 2006 and spent his 21st birthday in Iraq, she said. He chose to re-enlist, dedicating the next six years to the military.
"I think that says a lot for that kind of man who makes that kind of choice for his country," Willingham said.
Willingham sobbed as she talked about the love she had for a brother she was "super proud" of.
Hunt was recently married and set for his second deployment to Iraq, his sister told CNN's "Larry King Live."
Hunt graduated high school in 2005 and tested his hand at a career in information technology, Willingham said. But he had a different calling.
"I really feel like when he enlisted in the Army he fulfilled that part of himself that wanted to serve other people and live for something greater than himself," she said.
Willingham said she doesn't know the details of her brother's death, but wants to believe he died trying to save others. "It's something he'd do," she said.

Sgt. Amy Krueger, Kiel, Wisconsin
Amy Krueger, 29, was a high school athlete who joined the military after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Kiel High School Principal Dario Talerico told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
"I know she was proud to serve and proud to share her experience," Talerico told the newspaper. "She took pride that she was able to serve her country."
Krueger played for the high school basketball and softball teams and graduated in 1998, Talerico said.
A high school friend who later shared an apartment with Krueger had fond memories of the sergeant.
"She was one of the best people you could have ever met," Carrie Marie Senkbeil told the newspaper.

Pfc. Aaron Thomas Nemelka, West Jordan, Utah
Aaron Nemelka, 19, graduated from high school and enlisted in the military in the same year -- 2008. He was set to deploy to Afghanistan in January, his family told CNN affiliate KUTV.
Nemelka, the youngest of four children, was happy to offer his service, the family said in a letter read aloud by Lt. Col. Lisa Olsen of the National Guard to KUTV.
"Aaron was very happy as a combat engineer. He was anxious to be deployed to Afghanistan in January."
Family members said they were devastated by their loss.
"Aaron was the most kind and loving son, brother, nephew, cousin and favorite uncle."
Nemelka had a girlfriend and he may have had plans to marry her, KUTV reported.

Pfc. Michael Pearson, Bolingbrook, Illinois
Michael Pearson, 21, enlisted in the Army more than a year ago to realize his musical dream. He hoped the military would be his path to college, where he could study musical theory, his brother Kristopher Craig told CNN affiliate WGN-TV in Chicago, Illinois.
"He was a genius as far as we were concerned," Craig told WGN-TV, reeling from the news that his 21-year-old "little kid brother" was dead.
"He was really living his life playing guitar," Craig said. "When he picked up a guitar, we all understood that he was expressing himself."
Pearson was scheduled to deploy either to Iraq or Afghanistan in January, his brother said. He was learning to deactivate bombs and training in the Mojave Desert, said his mother, Sheryll Pearson. She was looking forward to seeing her son at Christmas.
He was shot three times in the spine and chest and died on the operating table, she said, according to TV affiliates in Chicago.
"His father is still in shock and very angry," Sheryll Pearson said. "We're all very angry."
Craig, who also had been stationed at Fort Hood and now serves in the Illinois National Guard, said he cannot accept a fellow soldier gunned down his brother.
"It's unfathomable," he said. "I couldn't imagine something like that -- attacking another soldier. It's just ridiculous. I don't understand it."

Francheska Velez, Chicago, Illinois
Francheska Velez, 21, lived the dream her father never realized.
Velez enlisted three years ago, an act her father Juan Guillermo Velez always wanted to accomplish, he told CNN affiliate WGBO. He encouraged his three-months pregnant daughter to stick with the military after she gave birth.
"My advice to her was to continue with her career in the military after she had her child," he told WGBO. "Then she would tell me, 'Daddy,' always with a smile on her face, which I will never forget, 'I will continue with my military career.' That was a dream that she made happen for me."
Francheska Velez had recently returned from Iraq and was transferred to Fort Hood last week because she was pregnant, her father said.
In the wake of his loss, Juan Velez struggled to comprehend why.
"It's a very difficult slap because you understand if it was terrorists or if it happened over there during the war. What hurts the most is that one of her own killed her and in her own house, the base where there should have been security."

Pfc. Kham Xiong, St. Paul, Minnesota
Kham Xiong, 23, was preparing for his first deployment since joining the Army, his sister told CNN affiliate KARE.
Xiong enlisted last year and was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in January, Mee Xiong said.
She thinks her brother was at the site of the shooting because he was getting a medical checkup and vaccinations, she said.
With another brother serving in Afghanistan, the news of Kham Xiong's death is "hard on the family," his sister said.
"He is a loving person, everyone loves him and adores him," Mee Xiong told KARE.
Her brother was a father of three, KARE reported

Officials also are releasing the names of the 38 people wounded.

Among them are Justin Johnson of Punta Gorda, Florida; George Stratton II of Post Falls, Idaho; Kimberly Munley, the Fort Hood police officer who returned fire and halted the suspect; Nathan Hewitt of Lafayette, Indiana; Keara Bono of Independence, Missouri; Ray Saucedo, hometown unspecified; Spc. Grant Moxon of Lodi, Wisconsin; Amber Bahr of Random Lake, Wisconsin; Matthew Cooke, hometown unspecified; Staff Sgt. Joy Clark of Des Moines, Iowa; and Pfc. Joey Foster of Ogden, Utah.

From here on out, loudly for awhile and then, as the dust of chaos settles and what passes for sanity in this life resumes, more softly and less often, experts and laymen alike will speculate, theorize, hyperbolize, articulate, ponder, contemplate and, more often than not, simply guess as what it is that lives among us, breathing our air, walking our streets, living in close proximity to our families and friends that can, in an insane nano-second, inflict such damage on us.

And the question that never fully gets answered will be asked over…and over…and over…

The responses will be plentiful…enough to fill a library.

Stress. Chemical imbalance. Unhappy childhood. Bad marriage. Drugs. Alcohol. Genetic defect. Abusive parent. Abusive parents. Too much TV. Bad flossing habits.

Mysterious ways.

Or just plain fucking insanity.

Each of those is a response to the question. A way for us to, hopefully, put some kind of label on it, to come to terms with it, as if by matching the correct response to the question, we could solve the puzzle, find a cure and sleep a little better at night knowing that the key to it would not only answer the question, but enable us to lock out the evil the next time it comes knocking.

But a response is not necessarily an answer.

And in our hearts, we all know that one question for which there is no answer.

The tragedy of something like this is the shattering loss that loved ones must endure and the pain that we all, as fellow travelers, suffer when the madness comes knocking.

The heartbreak of it, though, is in knowing, no matter what we think, hope, wish, demand, pray for and/or choose to believe, that in the end there is no answer to the question.


Monday, November 2, 2009

"Honor Thy Father...Thou Shalt Not Kill....Pick A Card, Any Card..."

Ironically, one of the most poignant and perceptive things I've ever heard said about religion in the world was said by a controversial comic.

I was reminded of that tonight as I saw this story.

(CNN) -- A 20-year-old woman from Iraq has died in an Arizona hospital, nearly two weeks after her father, police say, ran her over with a car because she had become "too Westernized."

Noor Faleh Almaleki died Monday of injuries suffered when she was run over October 20 in a parking lot in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria, Arizona, police there said. Authorities said they expect to change the aggravated assault charge against her father, Faleh Hassan Almaleki, 48, to more severe counts after meetings with prosecutors, Peoria police announced.

Peoria police said Faleh Hassan Almaleki believed his daughter had become "too Westernized" and had abandoned "traditional" Iraqi values. Peoria police spokesman Mike Tellef told CNN the family moved to the Phoenix area in the mid-1990s, and Almaleki was unhappy with his daughter's style of dress and her resistance to his rules.

After the incident, Almaleki's father drove to Mexico, abandoning his vehicle in Nogales, Peoria police said. He then made his way to Mexico City and boarded a plane to Britain, where authorities denied him entry into the country and put him on a plane back to the United States, police said.

A friend of the daughter, Amal Edan Khalaf, 43, also suffered serious injuries in the attack, police said. Almaleki faces a separate aggravated assault charge in connection with her injuries.

He is currently held in Phoenix, with bail has been set at $5 million, Tellef said.

Some years ago, the members of the seminal comedy troupe, Monty Python, were gathered together for a reunion, held in Aspen at their yearly comedy festival. As memory serves, it was a 20th or 25th anniversary thing, so it would have been in the late eighties or early nineties.

In the course of doing Q&A banter with the live studio audience and while discussing their film, "Life Of Brian", Terry Jones, in answer to some banal question about religion and man's perceptions of God, et al, shook his head softly and with some controlled, but clearly audible, disdain in his voice said...

"We all, every one of us, want to get to the same place. We've just been killing each other for thousands of years arguing over the best way to get there."

I admit to having little patience for most organized religion, if only because it has been my personal experience in life that strict adherance to the letter of any law without some kind of acknowledgement of the spirit of that same law is a sure path to some kind of failure, moral, spiritual, et al.

And zealots, no matter how disguised in everyday clothing they might be, are, by their nature incapable of anything but following the letter.

This man is obviously a zealot.

And he obviously disagreed with this young woman's interpretation of cultural and/or spiritual laws.

Naturally, that the disagreement ended in one killing another is tragic.

That a father could kill his own daughter transcends tragedy.

A lot of people will read this heartbreaking story and offer a flood of prayers.

Here's mine.

God, if this your idea of how to sell me on the idea of blind obedience to the law...

You're a pretty lousy salesman.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"They Need A BIG Star!...What Are Ya? Blind?..."

Today, friends, let us take a moment as we lie in a stupor brought on by a megawatt combination of time change and Reese's Cups overdose and reflect on that long lost quality of our daily lives...

Common sense.

On Wednesday, the producers of the Broadway revival of the play "The Miracle Worker," about the early life of blind and deaf hero Helen Keller, announced that they'd chosen the young actress who will play her on stage this winter: 13-year-old Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin. The decision has unleashed immediate complaints from groups representing blind and deaf actors who feel that an actress from their community should have been considered for the role.

Sharon Jensen, executive director of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, told the New York Times "We do not think it's OK for reputable producers to cast this lead role without seriously considering an actress from our community." Jensen recognizes the difficulty Broadway plays are having attracting audiences right now, but says "I understand how difficult it is to capitalize a new production on Broadway, but that to me is not the issue. There are other, larger human and artistic issues at stake here."

For his part, the show's producer, David Richenthal, claims that the production was unable to find a blind or deaf child actor with the star power to bring in enough of an audience to justify the show's large budget, saying "It's simply naïve to think that in this day and age, you'll be able to sell tickets to a play revival solely on the potential of the production to be a great show or on the potential for an unknown actress to give a breakthrough performance," he said. "I would consider it financially irresponsible to approach a major revival without making a serious effort to get a star." The show will, however, be making an effort to find a blind or deaf actress to play Breslin's understudy -- but they won't make any promises.

The original Broadway production of "The Miracle Worker," which focuses on Helen Keller's relationship with Anne Sullivan, the teacher who taught her to communicate, debuted in 1959 with the actress Patty Duke as its star. Later, movie and TV versions of the play starred actresses Duke, Melissa Gilbert, and Mare Winningham in the role of Keller, none of whom were blind or deaf.

Ordinarily, I'd be among the first to go all Norma Rae on the perpetrators of an unacceptable slight to those who face life bravely with additional burdens you and I can only begin to comprehend.

The deaf. The blind. Amputees. Paraplegics. Quadraplegics.


But, this time out, I didn't need to read much past the end of the first paragraph before I composed, in both mind and heart, the phrase that pays.

Oh, puh-leeze.

We all have football games to enjoy (well, everyone except my friends in Tennessee), another World Series game to enjoy (well, everyone except my friends who think the Phillies have an ice cube's chance) and a whole lot of candy wrappers to Hefty bag up today, so I'm not going to belabor what I think to be the obvious point here.

Except to offer this quick grasp of the aformentioned:

Nobody griped when they didn't use real wizards to make "Harry Potter"...
Nobody griped when they didn't use real Vulcans to make "Star Trek"...

Nobody griped when they didn't use Ray Charles instead of Jamie Foxx to make "Ray"...
Nobody griped when they didn't use real Von Trapp family members in "The Sound Of Music"...

And nobody griped when they didn't use Natalie Wood's real singing voice when she was in "West Side Story"...

A musical, for God's sake.

Benefit of the doubt requires me to assume that this "Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts" is an organization that has its heart in the right place and its intentions strictly labeled as good.

But hollering into the old public megaphone about the injustice of not using a blind and deaf actress to play a blind and deaf actress shows, at the very least, an ignorance about the realities of show business.

And actually appears less an exercise in advocacy than it does an exercise in justification for their own existence.

I'm confident that the producers of the show considered every single one of the "name value" actresses who would fit the bill, in terms of both talent and life challenge.

Obviously, Marlee Matlin was unavailable.