Thursday, December 31, 2009

Paul Solomon's year in review: 2009

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger became a household name last January 15th when he landed U.S. Airlines flight 1549 safely in the Hudson River despite losing power minutes after takeoff. All 155 passengers and crew, including a baby, were saved. The man known as “Sully” became an instant hero.

The year ended with another airline story. This time there was another hero, an unlikely passenger by the name of Jasper Schuringa. The Dutch passenger jumped on “Underwear Bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, after the 23-year-old student allegedly tried to detonate explosives he had hidden in his crotch, as Northwest Airlines flight 253 was on its descent into Detroit. The 289 passengers and crew were safe, although shaken up.

The media jumped on the “Underwear Bomber” story, making it the biggest story of 2009. Of course, that's because the Christmas Day incident was the last major story of the decade. It didn't hurt that after a few days of waffling on the subject, the Obama Administration admitted lapses in national security.

President Obama blamed “human and systemic” failures for the terror attempt. Then Dick Cheney burst back onto the scene and blamed Obama for “pretending we are not at war.” It should be noted that Obama just sent 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and the U.S. military has taken out more terrorists in 2009 with unmanned Predator drones and other strikes than in any year of the Bush Administration.

The fact that the Nigerian “Underwear Bomber” was trained in Yemen and was on a terrorist watch list (but not on the no-fly list) is a little unnerving. Also troubling is that his actions should have set off alarms at the two airport checkpoints prior to entering the U.S. He paid $3,000 cash, had no luggage, and was dressed for a trip to Southern California, not Detroit. I'm not saying that we should use racial profiling, but it seems odd that the guy wasn't pulled aside at any checkpoint.

More troubling in the discussion of airplane security is the fact that it is up to the public, and not trained law enforcement, to be in charge of apprehending suspects. The near-disaster brought back memories of 9/11, when passengers joined together to foil one airliner from reaching its destination, the White House. They all died, but they died as heroes.

What is the head of the Transportation Security Administration doing to prevent further attacks? Nothing, because the TSA is still waiting for leadership as the Republican party has blocked President Obama's nomination, former FBI agent and security expert Erroll Southers. The TSA is an important part of national security and has been politicized to the point of having no power to do anything. The Republicans are blaming Obama for taking too long to appoint someone to fill the post. Obama nominated Southers in September. South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint has been the major obstacle to nominating a TSA chief. The TSA is the division of Homeland Security that oversees airport security, but DeMint is concerned that Southers might let TSA screeners join a labor union. DeMint called the failed bombing attempt a “perfect example of why the Obama Administration should not unionize the TSA.” He claims unionization of TSA workers would give the “union bosses” the power “to veto or delay future security improvements at our airports.”

In between airline stories, there were other highlights in 2009. The historic inauguration of Obama, on a cold day in January, brought more than a million people to the National Mall in Washington D.C., to witness the swearing in of the 44th President of the United States. “We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” Obama said in his inaugural address. It may not be all that original, but Obama's oratorical skills made it possibly the sound bite of the year, except, of course, for the unusual breach of Congressional decorum when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “You lie!” during a speech to Congress in September. Wilson blurted out his famous line immediately after Obama said, “There are those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal aliens. This too, is false. The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.” So much for health care reform.

The economy went from bad to worse to a little better. Sarah Palin cashed in on her memoir “Going Rogue” as most Americans were going broke. President Obama continued Bush's policies of bailing out failed banks and the auto industry. The swine flu, renamed H1N1, was deemed a major pandemic, but most of us are still waiting to see what all the hype was about. As the news media were fixated on two wars and a cratering economy, a little political scandal seemed to come as a breather.

Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a Republican, saw his presidential ambitions go up in smoke as he made national news by disappearing after telling aides he was going for a hike on the Appalachian Trail on June 18th. He surfaced six days later, saying that he actually had been in Argentina “with his soul mate.” The media went wild... Until Michael Jackson died a few days later.

The news of Michael Jackson's untimely death at the age of 50 caught the media by surprise, but they stayed with the story, even delving into Anderson Cooper's discovery of Jackson's old friend Bubbles the Chimp, whom he dressed in matching clothes and taught to do the “moonwalk”. Bubbles has been found living in retirement in Florida.

From “Balloon Boy” to Tiger Woods, pop culture news gave Americans a respite from the actual horrors of two wars and the global economic catastrophe. Carrie Prejean went from first runner-up in the Miss USA 2009 beauty pageant to media star when she famously objected to same-sex marriage in favor of “opposite marriage”.

While we've all been trying to figure out how our government gets anything done, as the health care reform bill passed in the House and got torn apart in the Senate, President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, and everyone scratched their heads wondering why.

As the symbol of economic excess, Bernie Madoff, is serving 150 years for bilking investors of millions of dollars, the economy is slowly making its way back. Cash For Clunkers was supposed to be a much-needed boost to the auto industry, but overall sales fell over 25%. General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection.

After hijacking the news media for much of the year, the Michael Jackson story ended on a fitting note. As the year wrapped up, it was announced that the “Thriller” video has been added to the film archives of the Library of Congress, the first music video to be so honored.

“And that's the way it was...”
-Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chapter Three

Elvin Perelli walked out the front door to look at his new car. Elvin was very proud of his investment, a bright, shiny Lexus with a leather interior...with a lease that in about a year-and-a-half he wouldn't be able to afford. But for now, he was happy with his life: new house, new car, new wife, and twins on the way. A two-car garage was his boyhood dream. And he was in the “business” -- location manager for the hit Saturday morning kids' show “Fillmore High School, U.S.A.”. Now he had it all.

Things change. People change. But 250 pounds is a lot for a 5-foot-4 Jewish schmuck from Encino to carry around. At 45, his doctor told him to lose about 100 pounds and quit smoking, or he only had about six months of quality life to look forward to.

“How about a triple bypass, emphysema, lung cancer, and an aneurysm -- most likely resulting in a coma,” said Dr. Sanderson, the cardiologist.

“Sure. That's easy for you to say. You're making six hundred dollars an hour,” said Elvin.

“In my professional opinion, money has nothing to do with it,” the doctor replied.

“Stick the money up your ass. And your 2008 Jaguar XKR Convertible, too,” said the fat man.

“Take two aspirin, and call me in three months,” came the reply.

Back on the home front, Melissa was baking cookies and whistling “The Sound of Music”, while Jerry Springer was scolding a guest in the background. The sounds of children playing next door gave the happy housewife a sense of community. Ten years younger than her husband, she was just happy to be married. Her looks left a little to be desired, if you get the picture, and she wasn't a hundred percent upstairs. But she got her man, Elvin Perelli, all 250 pounds of him. And she wanted to have those cookies ready when he arrived...which would be any minute.

Guess what? A brand new Lexus just pulled into the driveway, screeching to a halt. Mrs. Perelli looked out the window and saw Elvin squeeze out of the driver side. She smiled. She was living the American dream.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Short Stories

The tall, gray-haired man in the tan trench coat made his way up the elevator and stopped at the fourth floor. The receptionist said "hello". The man didn't look up. Something was wrong. He didn't belong there. It was clear by his demeanor.

An uneasy silence came over the room. All the people looked downward, trying to avoid eye contact. Then the man pulled out a shotgun and killed everyone in the room.

To be continued...

A lot of people have been wondering what I've been up to lately. I'm writing a light-hearted book of short stories about life in the San Fernando Valley, the area known for tract homes laid out on asphalt grids which make up part of the northern edge of Los Angeles, where the smog settles in like cheap hairspray and you can fry an egg on the streets during the summer.

My blog disappeared for longer than I had anticipated, as I realized that I didn't enjoy writing every day, and instead preferred to sit around the house eating Cheez Doodles and watching "Law and Order" reruns.

I did find the time to finish my third screenplay, written with my friend and colleague Vincent Blanco. I'm trying to get financing for my current script, a low-to-mid-budget romantic comedy, but the economic climate isn't so good right now. There is some hope, however.

"The age of movie stars is over," according to this week's Time magazine. The stars just aren't needed any more to sell a movie. The comedy "The Hangover" was a hit, but with no stars it cost just $35 million, yet grossed $270 million domestically.

I remember when $35 million was a lot of money. I figure I can produce my movie for under $35 million, especially when washed-up stars like Christian Slater become available, or if Dylan McDermott wants to work during his hiatus from the cable TV series "Dark Blue". My first choice, Mario Lopez, was turned down by my co-producers because he can't play Jewish.

It's apparent that my daily blog is no more. I will, however, be writing one or two articles a week about anything that pops into my head. My days as a journalist, from my stint as the obituary writer at The Los Angeles Daily News, to my controversial work as an op-ed writer at, are apparently over. What's left is a life free of obligations and a new start as a writer of important works. In addition, my new title of executive producer means that I'm only a little over $34 million short of financing for my movie.

I'm tired of waiting for Christian Slater to return my call. I've decided on Shia LaBeouf. Oh well...There goes my budget.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Paul Solomon Takes His Annual Summer Break

There is no perfect crime. We live in an imperfect world. But Gerald Applethorpe thought he could come close (but not too close, or there'd be no story).

A gun would be too obvious; an axe too uncommon for contemporary mayhem. No, it would be something easily available, perhaps a shovel. A large one. The gardener comes on Thursday.

So begins my novel.

I will be taking my annual summer break from writing this blog. For the next two weeks I will be working on my other writing projects.

In addition to my novel, I'm currently working on a rewrite of a screenplay with my writing partner Vincent Blanco. I can't disclose the details of it right now, other than the fact that it's a romantic comedy set in the worlds of advertising and coffeehouses. It will be low budget, similar to all the crap that Tyler Perry puts out, only funnier - and with Jewish people. Don't expect any car chases or explosions. Here's a rundown of my other projects:

I’m producing a reality show that I hope will be picked up for the 2009-2010 season. Because the television networks have been cutting costs, I’m putting my detective show on hold. All the networks have passed on my crime show about an alcoholic bipolar homicide detective and his sexy young female partner who work the streets of South Central L.A. looking for murdered tourists. Even filming in Vancouver would be too expensive, so even though CBS likes the pilot script, it’s just too expensive to film, especially if I get my first choice, Christian Slater, who commands a high salary. ABC was initially interested. They wanted Pauly Shore for the lead, but he wanted too much money and his own trailer, so they passed.

It’s all about the budget, so that’s why I’m switching to reality shows. I’m pitching my new show, called “Dumb Factor,” a remake of “Fear Factor,” which ran on NBC from 2001-2006. For $5,000, contestants will bungee-jump off a freeway overpass with an extremely frayed rope. The cars will run over the contestants until someone is stupid enough to get out and help, also getting splattered onto the pavement in slow-motion. This scenario will keep repeating until the commercial break. All that we’ll see after the commercial will be a bunch of dead bodies and a massive pile-up of Camrys. The winners will now compete for the second stunt, jumping out of an airplane with a placebo parachute, after which an Internet poll will be taken for the viewer to guess the winner. For those wanting to be a contestant, sign-ups will be on our website at . This show will be perfect for ABC’s schedule, because they’re in the process of cancelling all scripted shows.

As you can see, I have a very busy schedule. When I return from my break, this blog will run once a week instead of every day, so that I can devote time to my other projects. I look forward to your comments and feedback on my articles.

Thank you for the unprecedented support for my blog. Many readers have asked for more information about me. I graduated from Hudson University in New York with a B.A. in criminal justice. I started my writing career at the Los Angeles Daily News where I honed my skills writing obituaries and getting coffee for the city desk editor. I was fired for making fliers for my band on the company copying machine.

After many years in the music business playing trumpet and keyboards, I quit to work full time as a freelance journalist. After that, I became a consultant and news commentator. I then took off a year to try to sell my television scripts and reality show ideas. Now I'm concentrating on my screenwriting career. The media can contact me through my representatives.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dr. Joseph Biederman Plays God With ADHD Meds

World-renowned Harvard child psychiatrist Joseph Biederman, whose work has helped fuel an explosion in the use of powerful antipsychotic drugs in children, has been caught up in controversy since a Congressional inquiry by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in 2008.

Biederman has been criticized for being an advocate of diagnosing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder in even the youngest of children, and using antipsychotic medicines to treat them. Pharmaceutical companies are continuing to profit from the sale of these powerful and sometimes unnecessary drugs. The problem was that much of Biederman's work was underwritten by drug makers for whom he was a private consultant. He was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

The Congressional inquiry revealed last year that Biederman earned at least $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007, but failed to report all but $200,000 to Harvard officials. This constituted a major conflict of interest.

Biederman appeared at a deposition on February 26, 2009, and was questioned by several lawyers for the states, who were claiming that makers of antipsychotic drugs defrauded state Medicaid programs by marketing their medicines improperly.

At the deposition, Biederman was asked what rank he held at Harvard.

"Full professor," he answered.

"What's after that?" asked Fletch Trammell, one of the attorneys.

"God," Biederman responded.

"Did you say God?" Trammell asked.

"Yeah," said Biederman, after which there was a moment of stunned silence.

The transcripts of this deposition call into question the mental state of the psychiatrist himself. It seems the good doctor is showing symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance. They believe they are superior to others, but in reality, they are masking their own fragile self-esteem, and are vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

For decades, according to Bruce Levine in an article Friday in the Web site, "the majority of American doctors, mental health professionals, the media, and the general public have yielded to the dissemination's of Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Biederman who successfully evangelized for more children - and younger children - to be medicated with powerful psychiatric drugs."

The "blowback," according to Levine, can be found in the July 2009 Scientific Mind article "Do ADHD Drugs Take a Toll on the Brain?" The article, by Edmund S. Higgins, clinical associate professor of family medicine and psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, is a sobering report of the long-term dangers associated with ADHD drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta, Vyvanse, and Adderall.

In his article, Higgins cites the Centers for Disease Control. In a recent survey, the CDC found that ADHD afflicts about 5 percent of children in the U.S. - twice as many boys as girls - age 6 to 17. In 2005, according to the CDC, an estimated 9 percent of boys and 4 percent of girls were taking stimulant medications as part of their ADHD therapy. The majority of patients take Ritalin and Concerta, a methylphenidate, and the most of the rest are prescribed Adderall, an amphetamine.

In his article, Higgins writes "although it sounds counterintuitive to give stimulants to a person who is hyperactive, these drugs are thought to boost activity in the parts of the brain responsible for attention and self-control".

Higgins acknowledges that the ADHD medication can indeed improve attention, concentration and productivity and also suppress impulsive behavior. Significant improvements have been found in some people's lives.

Severe inattention and impulsive behavior can indeed put individuals at risk for crime and substance abuse, and adults can face unemployment and be susceptible to car accidents. In these instances, appropriate medication might keep a person out of prison, away from addictive drugs, or in a job. But over the last 15 years, doctors have been prescribing stimulants for people with moderate to mild inattention, and even some with a normal ability to focus.

Patients are no longer just taking medications in childhood, but are encouraged to stay on them when they become adults. Vyvanse, an amphetamine, and Concerta were introduced in 2008 by the FDA for treating adults, and pharmaceutical companies are pushing awareness of adult forms of ADHD. Students are taking the drugs to increase academic performance, and professionals such as doctors and lawyers are taking stimulants in hopes of boosting their productivity. These drugs have therefore become increasingly popular. According to a 2007 study, prescriptions for ADHD drugs in the methalphenidate and amphetamine categories rose by almost 12 percent per year between 2000 and 2005.

The increased usage of stimulants is causing questions to be raised about their long-term use. There is a growing concern that the drugs might take a toll on the brain in the long run. Methylphenidates such as Ritalin and Concerta have a chemical structure "similar to cocaine," according to Higgins, and they act on the brain in a similar way as cocaine.

According to Higgins: "Indeed, a smattering of recent studies, most of them involving animals, hint that stimulants would alter the structure and function of the brain in ways that may depress mood, boost anxiety, and, contrary to their short-term effects, lead to cognitive deficits. Human studies already indicate the medications can adversely affect areas of the brain that govern growth in children." He goes on to speculate as to what additional harmful side-effects have yet to be found.

In February 2007, the FDA did indeed issue warnings about the side-effects of ADHD drugs, such as stunted growth and psychosis, among other mental disorders. The possibility exists that stimulant treatment during childhood might contribute to high rates of accompanying diagnoses for other mental health problems, according to Higgins. But having ADHD is itself a risk factor for other mental health problems.

The evidence that ADHD drugs cause adverse reactions such as stunted growth in children are in direct contradiction to Biederman's findings.'s Levine, himself a clinical psychologist, reports on a 2007 National Institute of Mental Health study of ADHD treatments involving 579 children. Over a three year period, the children, between seven and ten years old, were involved in a growth rate study. In the study, the growth rates of unmedicated children were compared to the growth rates of children who took ADHD stimulants throughout that period. Compared to the children who were unmedicated, the ADHD drug-treated children showed a decrease in growth rate of, on average, two fewer centimeters in height, and 2.7 kilograms less in weight. By the third year, there was no noticeable stunting of growth, but the damage had been done. The ADHD children never caught up to their counterparts.

According to Levine, "there are many children whose only problem in life is not doing their homework but are medicated with ADHD drugs; and the majority of their parents had no idea that they were giving their children amphetamines or amphetamine-like substances. Unfortunately, too many Americans are willing to surrender their own authority to damn near every pompous authoritarian rather than question the legitimacy of exploitive industrial complexes and the predatory people at the top of them."

The pharmaceutical-industrial complex, according to Levine, is part of a "wave of evil" that "washes not only the financial-industrial complex, the military-industrial complex, the energy-industrial complex, and predatory executives at AIG, Citibank, Halliburton, Blackwater/Xe, Enron, and Exxon."

Levine was quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote: "The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike."

According to Levine, the pharmaceutical-industrial complex has "virtually annexed the mental health profession, whose all-star opportunist team is captained by Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Biederman."

Biederman, as I pointed out earlier, may be suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He has a "God complex" not unlike another well-known person associated with Harvard University, Theodore Kaczynski.

According to Wikipedia, Kaczynski, also known as the Unibomber, "is an American murderer, mathematician, and neo-Luddite social critic who carried out a campaign of mail bombings. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, where, as an intellectual child prodigy, he excelled academically from an early age. Kaczynski received an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and earned a PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan. He became an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley at age 25 but resigned two years later." His occupation is listed as "prisoner, former assistant professor of mathematics." They left out "bomber".

While Wikipedia can sometimes be comical in its descriptions and anecdotes, the esteemed Psychology Today has referred to Kaczynski's acts of terror as being "narcissistic." It should be noted that Kaczynski suffers from a variety of other mental illnesses.

Joseph Biederman cannot be compared to Theodore Kaczynski, other than that they are both associated with Harvard, and both have a background in academics. Oh, and they both are suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The problem with Biederman is that he has been held in such high regard for so long. His theories on mental illness have been disputed and shown to be dangerous. How many Ted Kaczynskis could have been stopped as children?

The June 22, 2009 issue of Time Magazine includes an article titled "Staying Sane," by John Cloud. He takes a look at the work of Dr. William McFarlane, who is one of the world's top authorities on preventing mental illness. He has long felt that forms of mental illness such as schizophrenia, from which Ted Kaszynski suffered, were preventable.

A team of UCLA researchers in the late 1970's began to publish the results of a long-term study called the UCLA Family Project. The study found that you could predict, with remarkable accuracy, which 16-year-old children would develop schizophrenia later in life.

The UCLA study found, after studying the kids for more than a decade, that those who became schizophrenic were most often from families that displayed "communication deviance," described as "unclear, unintelligible or fragmented speech." They also found the parenting to be "critical and intrusive."

Dr. McFarlane and others began working with some of the families to teach them to communicate better, with "less anger and intrusion". McFarlane was working on the assumption that schizophrenia could be prevented in asymptomatic kids who were at risk for the disease.

"Once a patient's perception of reality has cracked the first time, it becomes very hard to walk back to normality," Time Magazine's Cloud says of McFarlane's theory. Early detection is crucial, according to McFarlane.

McFarlane's schizophrenia-prevention ideas have given other researchers hope in more routine conditions, such as ADHD. Mental illness has long been linked to genes, over which we simply have no control. But according to many mental health experts like McFarlane, your environment and experiences have powerful effects on the way those genes are expressed. This is exactly the opposite of Harvard's Joseph Biederman.

If McFarlane is to be believed, and he has a large following, people like Ted Kaczynski are as much a product of their environment as they are their genes. Could Kaczynski have been stopped before he became ill? Probably not. But what about the millions of children who are having trouble focusing on their homework? Are drugs the answer? According to Biederman, yes. But after the February 2009 deposition when he compared himself to God (to be fair, he didn't say he was God, only that he was next in line), Biederman has lost all credibility. The fact that he failed to report $1.6 million in pharmaceutical consulting fees has been the subject of an ongoing Congressional investigation. His Harvard credentials are about as meaningful as the Unibomber's.

And one more thing: If you got through this article, you don't have ADHD.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

CIA Assassination Squads? It Sounds Like The Movies

"It sounds great in movies, but when you try to do it, it's not that easy." That's what a former intelligence official told the New York Times on Tuesday about the CIA's canceled secret program that involved plans to send paramilitary teams around the world to assassinate top al-Qaeda leaders.

"The idea of CIA assassination teams evokes movie-style images of black-clad specialists climbing through windows to silently garrote their targets," Corey Flintoff wrote in Tuesday's

In reality, the question is: Can the CIA go after terrorists with impunity?

Although the program appears to have never been carried out, it remained secret, since its inception in 2001, even from Congress. That was until last month when CIA director Leon Panetta announced he was canceling it. The secret plan was in effect for so long because officials wanted a more precise way to kill terrorists than by drone aircraft missile strikes on suspected al-Qaeda sites, which frequently resulted in civilian casualties.

In 1976, after the disclosure that the CIA had plans to assassinate Fidel Castro, Gerald Ford's executive order on foreign intelligence activities explicitly prohibits "political assassination." That ban was aimed specifically at attempts on the lives of foreign leaders. Supporters of the 2001 plan argue that al-Qaeda leaders are no different than soldiers on a battlefield, making them legitimate targets.

According to the Geneva Conventions, it would be lawful for one uniformed soldier to kill another uniformed soldier. It would also be lawful, for a soldier, on the battlefield or operating a drone aircraft from afar, to target someone out of uniform who was participating in terrorist activities.

Is the United States technically at war with al-Qaeda? The way international law might apply to the secret 2001 program depends on this question. Would it be lawful for non soldiers such as CIA agents to engage in killing of any kind? The fact that they are not in uniforms could be interpreted as "feigning noncombatant status," which is a violation of the laws of war.

There is the long-held argument that the global war on terrorism is not a war in the legal sense, which would mean sending CIA operatives to kill terrorist suspects would be a military action against a private group. Juliet Lapidos, in an article in Tuesday's, says this is "no different from sending the CIA to Italy to murder suspected members of the mafia, and a violation of the basic notions of state sovereignty."

Lapidos goes on to say that the argument can be made that if the CIA kills a terrorist in a foreign country, "it's kosher because it's a form of self-defense, where the 'self' in question is the United States of America. It doesn't matter whether the terrorist is currently engaged in fighting - only that he's a terrorist."

Targeted assassinations, according to the defenders of the secret CIA initiative, would be no different from what the United States is trying to accomplish with unmanned Predator drone missile attacks in Pakistan. President Obama has continued this Bush administration tactic.

The question remains: Should Congress have been briefed about the plan? Supporters of the plan say no, that the plan was simply not advanced enough to warrant notifying Congress. They point to the controversy that arose after Panetta briefed Congress on the program. The media attention and public discussion illustrates the danger of exposing a highly sensitive and secret program to the risk of congressional leaks.

The secret program never got off the ground, but since word leaked out about it, the discussion has continued. The question remains: What's the difference between assassinating someone with a missile and assassinating them with a handgun? That one's up for debate.

The whole idea of secret CIA assassination squads lurking in the shadows with terrorist leaders in their cross-hairs, wearing dark suits and smoking Marlboros, sure sounds like something out of a movie. Or maybe a comic book. The Geneva Conventions are taken about as seriously as Comic-Con.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ernie Johnson Weighs In On Joe Jackson

A few days after Michael Jackson died, his father Joe was smiling and waving to the crowds outside his Encino home while promoting his new record label. Now he's got a new act: "The Jackson 3". He's talking about Michael's kids.

On Monday, Joe Jackson, was interviewed by the UK's The Sun. The Paul Solomon article on Monday gave a rundown of the situation, and it elicited a strong response from our readers.

Below is a comment from our long-time reader Ernie Johnson, who doesn't pull any punches:

"How much longer do we have to endure the non-stop Michael Jackson circus? Yes, he was killed by a representative of the insurance company because he was worth more dead than alive. Yes, his father beat him as a child and that turned him into the pedophile freak that he became. Yes, he had a pet chimp, whom he taught to moon walk. Yes, he outbid Paul McCartney for the Beatles catalog. Yes, he had three kids who weren't biologically his (nor his "wife's"). So now you're telling us that ol' Joe is going to teach Paris, Prince, and little Blanket how to sing and dance, and beat them with a coat hanger until they learn their steps? Blah, blah, [expletive deleted] blah. Enough already! I'll wait until the movie comes out on Blu-ray".

No stranger to controversy, Ernie's stream-of-consciousness rant was in questionable taste, a fact that our readers either missed, or didn't want to comment on. Or maybe some of them agreed with Ernie. Is this what people are thinking but are afraid to say? There were other comments:

Our long-time reader and commentator Marc got the wrong Joe Jackson, but as is his style, he may have been trying to make a point: "I liked Joe Jackson much better when he was putting out edgy New Wave songs like 'Is She Really Going Out With Him' and 'Steppin' Out'. His new stuff really creeps me out," Marc said, referring to the singer of the same name, who hit his peak in the 1970s and 1980s.

Johnny G. responded to Marc: "I think what Marc is saying is that Joe Jackson the singer is getting a bad name from Joe Jackson the child-beater," he said, then got back on the real subject of today's what-the-heck-is-going-on news. "Michael's dad is making an idiot out of himself, and when I heard Joe's wife Katherine was getting custody, it made me wonder what was going on. Now I'm hearing that Joe is separated from his wife, so hopefully he won't be allowed to have anything with them. As for the 'Jackson 3', I don't see how anybody in charge of the kids' welfare would agree to this. But when you're talking about the amount of money to be made, anything can happen."

Don Powell said it best: "Joe Jackson should be kept as far away from these children as possible. He's a total nut case."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Michael's Father Plans "Jackson 3" Tour

He lived his own childhood in the spotlight. Fame was all he ever knew. But Michael Jackson obsessively tried to keep his own children out of the public eye. They were home-schooled, and when they did go out, they appeared in public wearing a variety of custom masks and veils.

At the memorial service for the "King of Pop" held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on July 7, it came as a shock to see the three children sitting with the rest of the family, their faces seen by millions of television viewers around the world. This was the first time most people had ever seen them.

"Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you can ever imagine," Jackson's 11-year-old daughter Paris said, after being pushed to the microphone by her aunt Janet Jackson. "And I just wanted to say I love him so much." Paris broke down crying as she said these words, and the television cameras went in for a close-up.

That ended the memorial service, and it was a touching moment that was replayed on every television channel and most Internet news sites. This was the moment that helped the Michael Jackson legacy the most. Paris put a human face on the the man who had so much plastic surgery he looked less human than his figure at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.

Michael Jackson's other two children, 12-year-old Prince Michael and 7-year-old Prince Michael II, nicknamed "Blanket", were also mask-free and seen by millions of television viewers at the memorial service. Pictures of the the three Jackson children have popped up all over the Internet, and they are now the most recognizable siblings in the world, surpassing the Jonas Brothers.

According to Monday's edition of the English tabloid The Sun, Michael's father Joe Jackson is now making plans for the three children to go on a world tour next summer as "The Jackson 3". The story has been picked up by most of the major news outlets, but it does strain credibility. On the other hand, a few days after Michael's death, Joe Jackson was smiling and waving to the crowds outside his Encino estate as he plugged his new record label. He was seeing dollar signs. It was thought at the time that he was going to capitalize on his son's music. Now, the former manager of The Jackson 5 is eyeing his grandkids as a source of income.

Jackson biographer Ian Halperin said to the Sun, "One of the family members is livid. He is saying Joe seems intent to do this no matter what. He wants to exploit the kids the same way he did Michael."

Sister La Toya Jackson spoke of the "constant threat of violence" that Joe Jackson imposed on his children. Michael himself often spoke in interviews about how he was beaten by his father. He has also said that his father was responsible for making him the superstar that he became, and he wouldn't trade it for a different life.

Dr. Michael Baden, a noted pathologist and Fox News contributor, called Jackson's tragic end "death by entourage." This was immediately after his death, and before the drug allegations were being widely covered.

Now La Toya is calling her brother's death a "murder". She is blaming his "entourage," who she claims was after his money. She told England's The Daily Mail: "I believe Michael was murdered, I felt that from the start. Not just one person was involved, rather it was a conspiracy of people."

Dr. Baden not only gives La Toya's paranoia credibility, but Jackson family friend and attorney Brian Oxman also had been warning for years about Michael Jackson's "enablers," the doctors, acquaintances, and hangers-on who helped keep him supplied with drugs.

La Toya went on to say that at the time of his death, Michael was "the loneliest person in the world," with no real friends. It's obvious he wanted something different for his kids. The Associated Press reported that even Michael Jackson knew the masks and veils would have to come off one day. But he wanted them to live a normal life.

I'll bet the kids won't be going on tour to support Grandpa Joe. But with the media now circling like vultures, have the three Jackson kids been robbed of their childhoods the same as their famous father? Would he have wanted them paraded out into public view as they were at his memorial?

Michael Jackson lived in the middle of a media circus his whole life. He owed it all to his father Joe. For the sake of the kids, keep Joe Jackson away.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Botox and Steroids - Rachel Weisz Chimes In

What does Nicole Kidman have in common with Barry Bonds? According to Academy Award-winning actress Rachel Weisz, both have used performance-enhancing drugs. In Kidman's case, Weisz is referring to Botox.

"It should be banned for actors, as steroids are for sportsmen," Weisz said in the August issue of the UK edition of Harper's Bazaar.

Steroids have been a major issue in baseball the last few years, and Bonds is the most prominent athlete to be tied to steroid use. The latest baseball star to be linked to steroids, Manny Ramirez of the Los Angeles Dodgers, came back after a 50-game suspension to thunderous applause. His fans didn't seem to care.

Steroid use is mostly associated with athletes, but Botox is less harmful and more widely used. When we think about plastic surgery, Michael Jackson is the first person who comes to mind. Botox use, however, is different than other major types of plastic surgery. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimated that 4.6 million Botox procedures were performed in 2007, making it the most common cosmetic operation in this country. Practically anyone can do the operation: plastic surgeons, dermatologists, nurse practitioners, nurses, physicians' assistants, and medical spas.

Although Botox is mostly used by women, there are an increasing number of men who have started using the drug, which is injected into the skin to smooth out wrinkles. According to the Web site, side effects of Botox for cosmetic use include "droopy eyelids, nausea, muscle weakness, facial pain, indigestion, tooth problems, and high blood pressure."

Don't look for your favorite actor or actress to show signs of these side effects on the big screen, as they are very rare - less than 3%, according to eMedTV.

According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, side effects of steroid use include, for men, "shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, and development of breasts".

The 39-year-old Weisz is best known for her roles in the "Mummy" movie franchise, and won an Academy Award for her work in "The Constant Gardener" in 2005 co-starring with Ralph Fiennes.

The English-born actress admits that she likes it better in London than in New York. She said that English women are much less worried about their physical appearance than in the United States. "I love the way girls in London dress. It's so different to the American 'blow-dry and immaculate grooming thing'."

The whole "Nicole Kidman is to acting what Barry Bonds is to baseball" analogy that Weisz made in her magazine interview is coming under some scrutiny. Typically, and Barry Bonds is a good example of this, steroids improve performance. In addition, they're much more dangerous. Weisz asks us, on the other hand, "why would you want to iron out a frown?" Botox would, in that case, diminish the performance.

Weisz said Botox injections should be banned for all actors. But to compare the procedure to steroids is like comparing a Chihuahua to a mountain lion. Barry Bonds' head has grown as much as his body. You can see the effects of years of steroids. It's not known by the general public what other side effects he may be suffering, like "shrinking of the testicles," but long-term use is extremely dangerous.

Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, looks just fine. I agree with Rachel Weisz that Botox injections are a waste of money, and she seems to be doing well without them. But steroid use is a real problem in this country, and to trivialize it by comparing it to Botox makes absolutely no sense.

If I see Nicole Kidman with "droopy eyelids," then I'll start to worry. In the meantime, Manny Ramirez is back to hitting home runs for the Dodgers, and instead of apologizing to his fans, he said: "Why do I have to? I'm one of the best players to put the uniform on." He's one role model we can do without.

Steroids and Botox have nothing in common. Rachel Weisz is right, though. In America, we are obsessed with the way we look. That's more of a psychological problem. But she goes on to say that the use of Botox injections leave actors less able to convey emotion, and that it harms the acting industry as much as steroids harm athletes.

You've got to be kidding.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Drug Czar On CNN: "Talk To Your Kids"

"This prescription drug problem doesn't know boundaries of race, or ethnicity, or economic class," the Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview today on "The Situation Room."

Kerlikowske, who is better known as the nation's drug czar, said that Michael Jackson's death "is a wake-up call to the country about prescription drugs". He said that the death rate from drug overdoses in this country is greater than that for gunshot wounds. The latest data, according to Kerlikowske, put the number of drug overdoses "in the 30,000 range" in 2006.

Blitzer entered into the conversation of his own interview: "We look at these celebrities like Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, or Heath Ledger - the allegations of addiction - and it's going on in part because doctors are not doing what they're supposed to do," he said.

"There are doctors who abuse the law and abuse their patients," Kerlikowske said, although he was quick to point out that the majority of doctors are working within the law and are genuinely concerned about their patients. "There are a number of parts," he said. "There are patients who doctor shop. There are drugs that are taken out of extended care facilities or medicine cabinets. There's a whole list of things."

Blitzer pressed Kerlikowske on the issue of bad doctors: "How do you punish these doctors who just give prescriptions for really serious drugs they shouldn't be giving?" he asked.

"Well, the Drug Enforcement Administration does a very good job on that," Kerlikowske, who is the former police chief of Seattle, answered. "The thing that really looks bright is the prescription drug monitoring programs - 38 states now have laws; 33 have operations - that gives the public health services, and sometimes law enforcement, the ability to find out about doctors that are perhaps over-prescribing, and it also gives the opportunity to find out about patients who are going to multiple doctors."

"If you have money," Blitzer responded, staying on the subject of bad doctors, "you'll basically be able to find a doctor who's willing to write a prescription basically for almost anything. There are doctors who abuse the system to make a buck."

"Yes, but there are a lot of other ways these drugs, these powerful painkillers, these prescriptions, that are getting out into the hands of young people," the drug czar responded.

When asked by Blitzer how we stop the problem, Kerlikowske said that "we're advocates of the prescription drug monitoring programs where the states are passing these laws and we're going to work very closely to make sure they have the tools to put these into effect. The other is our media campaign, the Anti-Drug Youth Media Campaign. We ran a number of ads both in February of '08 and also in April of '09 to educate parents, look, be concerned about what's in your medicine cabinets."

Blitzer asked Kerlikowske if there is a lesson to be learned from Michael Jackson's tragic death. He answered: "If we can bring to the attention of the people the dangers of prescription drug abuse, I think there is some benefit to this country."

Kerlikowske's best advice from his rambling interview with Blitzer: "Talk to your kids."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Michael Jackson: Family Man

The Michael Jackson memorial set at Staples Center yesterday gave way to the Ringling Bros. Circus, which was scheduled to go on just a few hours later. Jackson would have loved the irony, because a circus atmosphere has followed him throughout his life in the public eye. Toward the end of his life, however, the media has portrayed him as something of a freak show.

Since Jackson's death on Thursday, June 25, acquaintances, family members and celebrities have been interviewed by the media, most telling heartwarming stories of their friend. They have tried to paint a picture of Jackson as just a regular guy, underneath the pancake makeup that was used to obscure the decades of plastic surgery which had destroyed the beauty of his natural face.

Michael Jackson broke the color barrier of music, selling to white audiences around the world and becoming the first black musician to be featured on MTV videos. His album "Thriller" became the biggest album of all time. It's now back on the top of the charts, along with his other solo albums, fueled by the media frenzy surrounding his death.

By the time he died, Jackson was neither black nor white. He reportedly suffered from vitiligo, a skin disorder characterized by white patches due to the loss of natural pigment. But that doesn't explain the fact that he ended up with a dimple in his chin and no nose to speak of.

Jackson's legal problems in his later years, when he had to deal with allegations of child molestation, caused his career to take a nosedive. The fact that he had the business sense to buy up the Beatles' song catalogue let him keep up his lavish lifestyle. The song catalogue barely kept him afloat as he was sinking into debt, not just because of his legal bills, but because of his compulsion to spend money.

The media wasn't kind to Michael Jackson when he was alive. But his fans were everywhere. He was even bigger in Europe and other countries than in the United States. His fans looked beyond the odd behavior and legal accusations and stood by him. It should be said, none of the allegations of sexual misconduct were ever proven. The fact that Jackson settled his civil case for $20 million led people to believe he was guilty. In his more recent criminal trial, Jackson was found not guilty. Unfortunately, in our society, especially in high profile celebrity cases, you're guilty until proven innocent.

There is no doubt that Michael Jackson was a public relations disaster when he was alive. His strange behavior got most of the media attention. He was planning a comeback tour when he died, and he chose England, where he was the most popular. Still, he had a lot to overcome, as far as his image was concerned. When he died, however, there was an outpouring of support and love from all corners of the world.

The eccentric pop star who never seemed to grow up was portrayed by the media mostly as an eccentric oddball who had no business taking care of children. He famously dangled his youngest child, Prince Michael II, nicknamed "Blanket", over a hotel balcony in 2002, when the child was just an infant. His three kids were rarely seen publicly, and when they were, their faces were covered by veils or masks.

After his death, something changed in the media. The sexual allegations and reports of weird behavior were pushed to the background while Jackson's contributions to the world of music were celebrated. The groundbreaking musical career that Jackson gave us was on a level with Elvis and the Beatles. In this era of news-at-the-speed-of-the-Internet, Jackson as an icon seems to have no peer. The news of his death has been relentless, and sales of his music is going through the roof.

Jackson's comeback is even bigger in death than it would have been in life. Sales of his final rehearsals at the Staples Center are expected to bring in at least $500 million. The fact that he's not alive to spend his money will make his heirs very wealthy. His children stand to inherit the bulk of his estate.

The memorial was over the top. The gold coffin, the endless parade of celebrity guests, the gospel choir and endless videos of the pop star himself, all transmitted globally through the Internet and television to millions of people worldwide was surreal enough. Inside the Staples Center, people were taking videos on their cell phones and posting them on the Internet while journalists sent out Twitter reports.

The defining moment in the image transformation of Michael Jackson was not complete, however, until the end of the glitzy affair at the Staples Center. After all the musical numbers, prepared speeches and video tributes, it appeared that Janet Jackson was going to address the crowd. Instead, Janet pushed little Paris Katherine, the 11-year-old daughter of Michael, in front of the microphone. In addition to Paris and Prince Michael II, now age 7, 12-year-old Prince Michael I was in attendance. Could these normal-looking children be related to the man who once owned the Elephant Man's bones, slept in an oxygen chamber, and dangled his baby over a hotel balcony?

As the circus elephants waited in the wings, Paris gave her now famous speech, lasting only a few sentences, and ending with: "I love him so much." As she broke down in tears, there weren't many dry eyes in the house, or around the world, for that matter. The memorial service for Jackson was now over, but the image of his loving daughter will live on.

As much as he would have loved the spectacle at the Staples Center, which portrayed him as a larger-than-life icon, a new Michael Jackson has emerged: family man.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson's Daughter Expresses Her Love

"I just wanted to say, ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. I just want to say I love him so much." In her first public appearance ever, Michael Jackson's 11-year-old daughter Paris ended the two-hour memorial service with these words. They were tearful and heartfelt, and Paris made an impression that is sure to last. Michael Jackson - loving father.

The memorial was held at Staples Center in Los Angeles and on television live throughout the world. The fans were treated to a star-studded rendition of "We are the World," the song written by Jackson and Lionel Richie in 1985 to raise money for famine relief in Africa.

Mariah Carey, joined by Trey Lorenz, sang The Jackson 5's hit from 1970, "I'll Be There" as a montage of Jackson photographs were displayed on screens throughout the Staples Center. "We'll miss you, Michael," Carey said at the end of her performance.

Jackson's brother Jermaine sang "Smile," a favorite song of Michael's, struggling not to cry as he sang. His brothers were waiting to hug him as he left the stage.

There were other singers in attendance, including Queen Latifah, Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer and Usher. Some sang and some addressed the crowd.

Basketball stars Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson spoke to the audience, as did public figures Martin Luther King III, the Rev. Bernice King and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Brooke Shields, overcome with emotion, said she bonded with Jackson at an early age "because we both understood what it was like to be in the spotlight from a very, very young age." She was 13 when the two met.

"He put on one glove, pulled his pants up and broke down the color curtain," the Rev. Al Sharpton told the large gathering, then addressed Jackson's children: "There wasn't nothing strange about your daddy," he said. "It was strange what your daddy had to deal with, but he dealt with it."

The Jackson family joined daughter Paris on stage to end the memorial service. Paris spoke after Jackson's brothers Jermaine and Marlon bid a tearful goodbye to the pop superstar.

The celebration had taken on a strange tone, because the Staples Center is not an ideal place for a memorial, and millions of people watching on television made it more of a media event than a remembrance of a life lost too early.

The news coverage continues, hours after the end of the memorial, to pay tribute to Jackson. Most television stations are staying with coverage throughout the day and into the night. In this era of 24-hour news, even this is unprecedented.

Michael Jackson in death is even bigger than he was in life. But the image of little Paris crying and saying how much she loved her "daddy" will be remembered for the fact that it put a human face on the pop superstar, who had multiple plastic surgeries and wore makeup to cover his own face.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Alec Baldwin Eyes New York Politics, Not Connecticut

"If I ever run for anything, the thing I would like to be is governor of New York". That's what actor Alec Baldwin told the New York Times in an October 2006 interview. When asked if he was qualified to be governor, Baldwin answered: "That's what I hate about Arnold Schwarzenegger. His only credentials are that he ran a fitness program under some bygone president."

Baldwin, who stars as a right-wing studio boss on the NBC comedy "30 Rock," in real life is known for his liberal views, and has been talking about running for political office as a Democrat for years now. When he was asked in the 2006 interview if he would be interested in taking on Republican Schwarzenegger in California, he answered: "Then I would have to run in California. And who wants to live in California?"

Since 2006, Schwarzenegger's political career has taken a nosedive, along with California's economy. Baldwin, on the other hand, seems to think his political future is bright. He told Playboy magazine in an interview this month that he has been contacted by a group of lawyers in Ohio who want him to move to the Buckeye state and run for governor.

According to Baldwin in the Playboy interview, the law firm sent him a letter that said: "We want you to move to Ohio and run for governor. We will launch your career."

Baldwin, a regular contributor to the political web site Huffington Post, said that he is interested in running for office, but not in the Midwest. In fact, he doesn't seem to want to leave New York.

Playboy magazine asked him if he could live in Ohio. "I have sometimes thought I could move to New Jersey or Connecticut and run. I'd love to run against Joe Lieberman. I have no use for him," Baldwin said of the Independent senator from Connecticut.

Baldwin went on to say, "But it's all fantasy. I'm a carry-me-out-in-a-box New Yorker. Here, anything can happen. Who thought Eliot Spitzer would go down the way he did? Senator Hillary Clinton left to serve as secretary of state. Two of the biggest forces gone. Maybe Andrew Cuomo will run for one of their old seats. How much longer will Chuck Schumer stay as senator? After 2013 Bloomberg will be gone. What happens then?"

The comments referring to Lieberman have gotten most of the press today, but if you analyze Baldwin's comments, it seems that New York is where he really wants to be. His 2006 interview with the New York Times may have been a prelude for his actual plans. At that time, when asked what his ideal office would be, he made it clear: governor of New York.

The 2010 New York gubernatorial election is up for grabs. But Baldwin is under contract until 2012 with his popular NBC comedy. After that, it's anybody's guess.

The Alec Baldwin versus Joe Lieberman stories, however, have no merit. The "carry-me-out-in-a-box" New Yorker said so himself.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Dodgers' Manny Ramirez - He's Back!

I was playing left field for the Dodgers; number 99. Chad Billingsley was on the mound. Carlos Delgado walked off the on-deck circle and approached the plate. He took a few practice swings, then stepped into the batter's box. Billingsley turned toward the outfield, wiped his forehead, then scratched his crotch. Then he faced the batter, and looked for the sign from catcher Russell Martin. He shook off the first sign. He then gave a quick nod and delivered a 96mph fastball right down the middle of the plate. Delgado swung and hit a fly ball to left center. I sprinted toward the ball, not worrying about the hamstring I pulled in the first homestand of the season. At full speed I ran. Then, all of a sudden I was running in slow motion, as if in a dream. I ran and ran and ran. The ball hung in the air, and I felt myself gaining ground on it. I was now running at full speed. I was heading toward the wall in left-center. The wall was getting closer, but I knew the ball was within reach. I didn't make the major leagues by giving up. Suddenly the ball flew out of my reach, into the stands, and I crashed violently into the wall. Then I woke up.

It was all a dream. It's a recurring dream - one that I've had since Manny Ramirez got kicked out of baseball for 50 games for using a banned substance, a woman's fertility drug. Ramirez, number 99, just came back to the Dodgers yesterday, and here I am again, in my dream, with his number. The drug in question is reportedly human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), according to an ESPN report that came out at the time. It's a woman's fertility drug and it is typically used by steroid users after they come off a steroid cycle, to restart their body's natural testosterone production. A woman's fertility drug? That's one drug I'm sure most men would prefer to stay away from; it doesn't sound too healthy to me. Of course, most baseball fans are so used to hearing about drug use by their favorite players, they really don't seem to care anymore.

Ramirez, retained his popularity, almost being voted by the fans into the All-Star game. During his suspension, he continued to be featured on billboards around Los Angeles. Ramirez made a half-hearted apology, but neither he nor the Dodgers made any statement or public service announcement denouncing performance-enhancing drugs, other than a back-handed announcement by Dodgers general manager Nick Colletti. "It's a dark day for baseball and certainly for this organization," he told reporters shortly after the suspension. Colletti alluded to illegal substances, but never actually said them by name. "This organization will never condone anything that isn't clean." Did he mean that he didn't want the baseballs to get scuffed?

In a news conference on Friday, Ramirez said how much he appreciated the enormous outpouring of support of the fans since his suspension. "I'm not surprised," he said, "because I'm one of the best players to ever put the uniform on". Ramirez refused to comment on his use of drugs. His agent, Scott Boras, said that because he apologized, he didn't have to explain himself further.

Today, in the first at-bat of his second game back from the suspension, Ramirez got his first hit, a home run. He's back in fine form and the Dodgers are still in first place. Nothing's really changed.

Maybe my recurring Manny Ramirez dream will end. Maybe it won't. But there's one thing I do know. Major League Baseball is not done hearing about the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Baseball is just a game, but the message being sent out by some of the multi-millionaires who get caught taking illegal substances, and then come back to cheering fans, is unfortunate.

Kids are influenced by their heroes, and Ramirez had the opportunity to use his 50-game suspension for good. He could have spoken out to kids involved in school sports, warning them about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. Instead, he preferred to hang out at his mansion and play video games.

As the news is coming out about Michael Jackson's prescription painkiller use being the cause of his death, it should be remembered that there have been deaths attributed to steroids. Baseball player Ken Caminiti died in 2004 of a heart attack attributed to years of steroid abuse. Pro wrestler Chris Benoit, who was a long term steroid user, in 2007 strangled his wife and suffocated his 7-year-old son before placing a bible next their bodies. He then hanged himself on the pulley of a weight machine.

The issue of steroid-related deaths heated up in 1992 when former NFL defensive lineman Lyle Alzado died of brain cancer. Before his death, he blamed his cancer on the steroids which he took during most of his career.

Alzado tried to get his message out about the dangers of steroid abuse, telling Sports Illustrated, "I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I'm sick, and I'm scared. Ninety percent of the athletes I know are on the stuff. We're not born to be 300 pounds or jump 30 feet. But all the time I was taking steroids, I knew they were making me play better. I became very violent on the field and off it. I did things only crazy people do. Once a guy sideswiped my car and I beat the hell out of him. Now look at me. My hair's gone, I wobble when I walk and have to hold on to someone for support, and I have trouble remembering things. My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way."

Manny Ramirez only suffered the loss of 50 games' pay. The long-term damage to his health is not yet known. I'm surprised I'm not having nightmares.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sarah Palin Quits - What Else Is New?

In breaking news which caused the major cable news outlets to cut away from endless tape loops of Michael Jackson's final rehearsal at the Staples center, Sarah Palin has announced that she is stepping down as Governor of Alaska.

The 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate made the surprise announcement earlier today from her home in Wasilla, Alaska. In a rambling and emotional address, Palin said: "The problem today is apathy. We're fisherman. Only dead fish go with the flow."

In deciding not to "go with the flow," Palin said she didn't want to be a lame duck, and she said she can affect change from "out of government." She later corrected her remarks to "outside the governor's office."

Palin asked Alaskans to trust her on the decision, and she says she is transferring power to Lieutenant Gov. Sean Parnell. She said this is the best way to continue her administration's agenda. There is speculation that Palin will seek a Senate seat in 2010 as a warm-up to a presidential run.

She made clear she will be staying in the public eye. "I'll work very hard for others who still believe in free enterprise and smaller government and strong national security for our country and support our troops and energy independence, and for those who will protect freedom and equality and life," she said, her voice shaking as the emotion overtook her. "I'll work hard for and campaign for those who are proud to be Americans, and who are inspired by my ideals....And I don't care what party you're in or no party at all, inside of Alaska or outside of Alaska".

According to a Palin aide, she is stepping down so that she can take the fight for her issues elsewhere. In her rambling speech, she said her work will continue, but wasn't clear what it was that her work will entail. "But I won't do it from the governor's desk," she said. "I've never believed that I nor anyone else needs a title to do this - to make a difference to help people".

Democrats were quick to respond with criticism. Hari Savugan, a spokesman for the DNC, said: "Her decision to abandon her post and the people of Alaska who elected her continues a pattern of bizarre behavior that more than anything else may explain the decision she made today." The news media followed with speculation about her sudden announcement.

Indeed, in today's speech, Palin said that one reason for her decision to leave office is because of the bad press that has descended on Alaska as a result of the "mean-spirited" battering she and her family has suffered at the hands of the press.

Bad press has followed her since the beginning of her run for vice-president. Most recently, in this week's Vanity Fair, anonymous John McCain campaign workers blamed her "narcissistic personality disorder" for sabotaging the campaign. Todd Purdum, the writer of the Vanity Fair piece, described Palin's public life as "an unholy amalgam between 'Desperate Housewives' and 'Northern Exposure'," a cult comedy-drama from the 1990's about life in Alaska.

In Purdum's profile, he quoted Palin as saying "Believe me, Alaska is a microcosm of America." Purdum countered with "Believe me, it is not." The article is the talk of Washington this week, but the media has pretty much been having a field day at Palin's expense since she burst onto the national scene.

Keith Olbermann, on his MSNBC political talk show, featured the now-famous video of Palin's pardoning-a-turkey photo-op standing directly in front of a man engaged in the act of slaughtering turkeys. It was hard to listen to what Palin was saying as turkeys were being shoved into a grinder right behind her.

More recently, Palin's famous feud with David Letterman gave the media a chance to keep Palin in the news just as interest in her seemed to be subsiding. In his Top 10 segment, Letterman joked about Palin's trip to New York: "She bought makeup at Bloomingdale's to update her slutty flight attendant look." He went on to joke about her trip to Yankee Stadium by saying, "her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez." The next night he made another joke about her visit to see the Yankees, where she sat next to Rudy Giuliani and her 14-year-old daughter Willow. "They had a wonderful time. The toughest part was keeping Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter." The reference to the ex-New York governor who got caught with a prostitute was the last straw, and Palin came out firing, as did her husband Todd, who called Letterman "perverted."

Letterman let the feud build up for a week as he saw his ratings soar past Conan O'Brien's "The Tonight Show." "Late Show With David Letterman" was in second place for years when he was opposite Jay Leno. Letterman spent the week of the feud making half-hearted apologies in between jokes as he watched his show go to the top of the ratings. Sarah Palin and her husband Todd hit the talk show circuit and milked the publicity for all it was worth. Letterman finally made a full apology and the media went back to other matters.

The Letterman feud seemed to change the tide of public opinion toward Sarah Palin. While many tuned in to Letterman's show to see his response to Palin's over-the-top reaction, most people thought Letterman had crossed the line, including his fans. The fact that Letterman gave a heart-felt apology, saying that he wasn't referring to Palin's 14-year-old daughter Willow, but was joking about Bristol, who is 18, didn't go over well with even some of Letterman's fans. Letterman got a pass however, as he asked the public to look at his record, and they did, letting Letterman settle back into his routine of coming in a close second to "The Tonight Show."

Talk show hosts and pundits generally said that Sarah Palin had milked the Letterman feud for political gain, and the were probably right. Joan E. Dowlin, in the Huffington Post, wrote that Palin's acceptance of Letterman's apology was "a triumph not just for the Governor, but for women and girls across the country". Dowlin went on to say: "If we can learn anything from the Palin-Letterman feud, it is that speaking out for rights of all people is not just a freedom but our responsibility. Seeing all the unrest and oppression in Iran puts everything in perspective, and I for one am glad to live in a country where we can even have this conversation". Dowlin wrote that on June 18, and since than the situation in Iran took on explosive proportions, with the videotaped killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, who was watching a demonstration in Tehran. The news spread quickly through the Internet and made Agha-Soltan the face of oppression in Iran.

The media focuses on what the public wants to know, and the death of Michael Jackson put all other news on hold. Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina dodged the media spotlight for much of the week after his extra-marital affair with a woman in Argentina hit the news the day before Jackson's death, and it was picking up steam. Sanford got a reprieve because of Jackson. The country forgot about Neda Agha-Soltan. Farrah Fawcett died, but tributes to her were put on hold. The same for Ed McMahon before her, and Billy Mays and Sky Saxon after her. I still haven't figured out who Billy Mays and Sky Saxon are, but now, with the focus on all things Michael Jackson, I never will.

Today, Friday, a day before the 4th of July holiday, started out as a slow news day. A minute-and-a-half tape of Michael Jackson's last rehearsal was running over and over, as news commentators just broke the news about his funeral, which they announced would be held next Tuesday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Sarah Palin broke the Jackson tape loop by announcing in a trembling, emotional speech: "So Alaska may progress, I will not seek reelection as governor". What she will do is anybody's guess. She said the decision to step down as governor of Alaska was made awhile ago. But one thing's for sure, she waited until the time was right to make her announcement. If she had given her speech one week earlier, nobody would have been watching. Michael Jackson was the biggest news event of the century. And with the new way news is spread today at the speed of thy Internet, Michael Jackson's untimely death may have been the biggest news event ever. And it's not over.

After Palin's speech, the media cut away to the videotape of Michael Jackson's last rehearsal. His comeback tour has been canceled, but the full tape of Jackson's final rehearsals are in the can. Look for the biggest selling DVD of all time.

In the meantime, Sarah Palin went back inside her house, where her view of Russia is obscured, and on July 16 she will become a private citizen. Hopefully, she'll fade into obscurity, but probably not. She has her eyes on the 2012 presidential race. Michael Jackson will still be in the news, but a lot can change between now and 2012. As she weighs her political options, Palin's best hope is to sign a book or movie deal. In politics, there are no guarantees. There's one thing I do know. Sarah Palin will never become president of the United States of America.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bubbles The Chimp - Back In The Limelight

Born in a small town in Texas in 1983, Bubbles the chimp rose from obscurity to become a part of Michael Jackson's entourage at the young age of eight months.

As the news media scratches their collective heads looking for more information to report, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper got the inside scoop on Bubbles, tracking him down at the Center for Great Apes, a nonprofit sanctuary in Florida. Bubbles is now 26 years old and retired. He hangs out with 41 other chimpanzees and orangutans, many former circus performers or show business veterans.

In an exclusive television report last night, CNN's Cooper said that Bubbles and the King of Pop "lived together, dressed alike, and went on tour together." He then cut to a YouTube clip from 1987 showing the two drinking "tea" together. Anonymous reports that they were actually drinking wine have not been substantiated, although most of Jackson's former entourage are unable to talk to the media because of "non-disclosure" agreements. As to the reports that the two went to parties together, Cooper said: "This is the 1980's, so hey, different rules apply."

Bubbles became an instant celebrity when he was introduced to Jackson by animal trainer Bob Dunn, and the chimp lived with Jackson until the late 1980's. At five years old, according to CNN, Bubbles and Jackson toured Japan, where the chimp moonwalked to the delight of the media and his adoring fans. The image of the moonwalking chimp never completely left the public consciousness, but Bubbles faded from the limelight after he was given back to Dunn's training facility because he got too big and aggressive. When Dunn closed down his training facility, Bubbles ended up at the Center for Great Apes in 2004.

CNN reporter John Zarella was live on the scene at Bubble's retirement home. Up until now, Bubbles has enjoyed his relative obscurity, although Jackson has never visited him since the two parted ways, according to Zarella. He eats lunches of bananas and cucumbers, and relaxes with the other chimps and orangutans. Patti Ragan, director for the Center for Great Apes, told Zarella "they groom each other and they fight and they have arguments too".

Although Jackson never visited Bubbles, Ragan said in the CNN interview that "most of our chimps recognize their former owners. They get very excited to see them, and I am sure he would have recognized him." She went on to say: "Probably the best tribute that we could pay to Michael Jackson here is to just take excellent care of Bubbles, because I know he loved Bubbles." If that's the case, why didn't Jackson visit his beloved chimp?

According to's Johnny Dodd, a representative for Jackson contacted the sanctuary not long after Bubbles arrived there in 2005, saying that Jackson wanted to come and visit his former BFF and party buddy. But Jackson never made the trip. Ragan told Dodd that Bubbles hasn't been told of his childhood friend's recent death. "We haven't said anything to him yet," she says, adding that Bubbles is well-adjusted and behaving like a typical chimp: "He's been his usual self, interacting with friends, eating well, taking cover when it rains."

CNN's Zarella said that after Tarzan's cheetah, Bubbles may be the most famous chimpanzee in the world. Now that the media circus has come to Bubbles retirement home in Florida, he is no longer second to Tarzan's pet. Everything related to the pop star is taking on larger-than-life proportions, and Bubbles is arguably bigger than anyone else from Jackson's former entourage, and that includes former child star Corey Feldman, who came out of the woodwork saying how sad he was to have not made up with Jackson after a well-known feud. Feldman is just one of many people from the pop star's past trying to get some of the media spotlight to shine on them.

CNN's Cooper, known for his distinguished news show, has been criticized for making a big deal over a chimp. But Bubbles is just as much a part of the Michael Jackson story as his other hangers-on and "enablers," as family attorney Brian Oxman famously calls the people in Jackson's life who watched him become addicted to drugs, and did nothing to stop it. This includes doctors, close friends and family. But Bubbles didn't have an agenda. He never got caught up with the lavish lifestyle of superstardom.

Bubbles may have been the only true friend Jackson had, precisely because he couldn't care less about the extravagant lifestyle and the adoring fans. But Bubbles had his fans, and Anderson Cooper has given them a glimpse of his simple yet relaxing life. Because of Cooper's groundbreaking reporting, we now know that Bubbles enjoys making faces and taking naps.

The details of Jackson's funeral have not been announced, but Bubbles will be noticeably absent. According to England's newspaper The Sun, "Bubbles will spend the day listening to calming flute music". The Sun reports that Bubbles is much healthier than when he was hanging out with Jackson, and that he has reportedly been signed to a movie and book deal.

Ragan, the sanctuary director, told that Bubbles could easily live to the age of 60. Jackson's will was released yesterday, and there was no mention of Bubbles, so apparently he won't be raking in any profits from Jackson's death. It seems that Bubbles was snubbed, as was the surrogate mother of his two older kids, Debbie Rowe, and Joe Jackson, his father. While Joe Jackson is trying to profit from his son's death - he famously plugged his new record label earlier this week on CNN - Bubbles will no doubt try to stay out of the limelight. Until the movie comes out.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Did Prescription Drugs Kill Michael Jackson?

The untimely death of Michael Jackson has put the spotlight on the issue of prescription drug abuse. On the night that Jackson died, Brian Oxman, the family spokesman and attorney, told CNN that the people surrounding Jackson were "enabling him" and that prescription drugs were most likely the cause of his death.

New age guru and medical doctor Deepak Chopra, a longtime Jackson friend, echoed Oxman a day later on CNN: "I think drugs killed him." Chopra said he has been concerned since 2005 that Jackson was abusing prescription drugs. Chopra said Jackson asked him for painkillers following his trial on sex abuse allegations in 2005. When Chopra refused, Jackson reportedly found other doctors willing to make house calls at Jackson's various residences in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara County, Miami and New York.

Chopra and Oxman brought up the issue of prescription drug use in the hours after Jackson's death, and they're probably right, although the official cause of death is not expected for several weeks. Originally the cause of death was said to be cardiac arrest, and the news reports coming out originally didn't give much more information than that.

The suddenness of Jackson's death caught the media by surprise, but interviews with people who knew Jackson started to suggest something other than a common heart attack. The nanny of Jackson's kids repeatedly contacted Chopra with concerns about his drug use over the last four years. Many of his friends and acquaintances knew of his ongoing problem with prescription drugs, but chose to do nothing about it.

The media circus that followed Jackson's death caught up with the drug rumors, and the focus of the story became Jackson's live-in cardiologist, Dr. Conrad Murray. Murray was with Jackson at the time of his death and tried to resuscitate him. Reports have surfaced that Jackson was given a shot of Demerol just hours before his death, and he was hooked on prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin. Dr. Murray's attorney has told the Associated Press that his client did not prescribe these or any other drugs to Jackson.

Questions remain as to how a cardiologist ended up living with Jackson, who reportedly hired the doctor to accompany him on his comeback tour, which was to start in a couple of weeks in London, England. The police have questioned Murray, but he has remained silent and is only speaking through his attorney, who so far hasn't released any information other than that his client is innocent of any wrongdoing.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, a friend of the family, on Saturday told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he had spent Friday counseling the family. "They are suspicious of this doctor and they have real reason to be because any other doctor would say, 'Here's what happened in the last hour of his life and I was there. I gave him some medicine'," Rev. Jackson said. "He owes it to the family and to the public."

The abuse of prescription drugs is not limited to the rich and famous. It has taken the shock of Michael Jackson's tragic death to highlight a problem that has been growing over the last few years. The abuse of prescription drugs, including painkillers and stimulants, now ranks second, only behind marijuana, as the nation's most prevalent illegal drug problem, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Among teens and young adults, the use of prescription drugs to get high is becoming an increasingly troublesome and dangerous problem.

Sean Clarkin, director of strategy for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, says young people are drawn to prescription drugs because "there is a relatively low perception of risk. Some of those attitudes that kids have are shared by their parents," Clarkin says. "There is a cultural climate, the 'pill for any ill' mentality is contributing to this."

As for Jackson, no solid evidence has yet emerged that he was abusing prescription drugs, but if you look at the case realistically, you can pretty much rule everything else out. A medical check-up in April for the purpose of clearing Jackson's insurance company to cover his comeback tour, showed no evidence of cardiac problems. He was working out with bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, who said Jackson appeared to be in excellent health. Jackson performed a full dress rehearsal at the Staples Center the night before his death, without needing any breaks or showing any signs of illness.

As a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office said that more tests would be required to determine if prescription drugs contributed to his death, Jackson's family and fans have reached the conclusion that his death could have been prevented.

Brian Oxman finished his CNN interview just hours after Jackson's death by saying: "If you think that the case of Anna Nicole Smith was an abuse, it is nothing in comparison to what we have seen taking place in Michael Jackson's life. This is something which I feared and it is something which I warned about. I don't know the cause of all this, so I can't tell you what the ultimate result of it's going to be, but I can tell you for sure, when you warn people that this is what's going to happen and then it happens, where there is smoke, there is fire."

All of the drugs taken by Jackson were reportedly prescribed by licenced physicians. These are the "enablers" Oxman referred to, in addition to Jackson's friends and family members who knew about his addiction and did nothing.

Oxman, an attorney, had warned about Jackson's problem with prescription drugs. But what about Deepak Chopra, a medical doctor? He knew about the problem, and although he refused to prescribe any medicine, did he have an ethical obligation to intervene. In his interview with CNN, Chopra repeatedly called Jackson his "brother," but who would let their brother go down the lonely path travelled by Michael Jackson. As a doctor, there must have been more Chopra could do.

Experts in the area of drug prevention say that the Jackson case should be a good way to bring up the topic of prescription drug abuse to young people. The case should give parents a moment to reexamine the potential effects of abusing painkillers. "This is a teachable moment for parents," says Clarkin, "to communicate with their kids about abusing this stuff."

If Michael Jackson's death has brought the issue of prescription drug abuse to the forefront of the public consciousness, than something good has come out of the tragedy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Neda Agha-Soltan - The Birth Of An Icon

The videotaped killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot to death by an unknown gunman while watching a demonstration in Tehran, spread quickly through the world via the Internet, and has made her the martyred symbol of the protests that followed her country's disputed presidential election.

When the 40-second video of Agha-Soltan's death appeared nine days ago, the powerful image of a defenseless woman silenced by a brutal regime cemented her place in history as the symbolic victim of oppression. The 26-year-old's death has outraged the world and brought almost universal resistance to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election as President of Iran.

The videotaped killing is forbidden viewing in Iran, and the government quickly declared the killing a fabrication. Ahmadinejad on Monday ordered a public investigation into Agha-Soltan's death, calling it "suspicious," but don't expect a reversal of claims that the state militia had nothing to do with it.

"Interference by enemies of Iran" was among the explanations that Ahmadinejad cited as a reason for the death. He also blamed "propaganda by the foreign media." He said that reports that Agha-Soltan was shot by pro-government Basij militiamen from a rooftop near where protesters were demonstrating was fabricated by western media. This prompted Iran's ambassador to Mexico, Mohammad Hassan Ghadiri, to give his view of who was responsible: "It was the CIA."

The timing of Ahmadinejad's sudden response into the death of Agha-Soltan's is no coincidence. It comes just as Iranian officials finished their recount of the vote in the disputed election between Ahmadinejad and Mir Hossein Mousavi. The government announced on Monday that the results remain unchanged.

What was supposed to be a close race ended in a landslide, and there remains no explanation for this. And the government knows that just saying the file is closed is simply not enough. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Iran's powerful Guardian Council, both released statements last week saying the results are final and that no errors were found. The protests have continued, however, even as the government has continued it's crackdown.

Protesters are not likely to be swayed by reports, whether on election fraud or the death of Agha-Soltan, put out by the same government officials that most people blame for these crimes. The government can win back the streets, but it has no control over myth making. As writer Howard Chua-Eoan said in the recent issue of Time magazine, Agha-Soltan "died on the Web, and she is being given a second, perhaps eternal, life on it."

By her tragic death, Neda Agha-Soltan became a powerful, larger-than-life symbol of protest. The Iranian government can't control the powerful image of her dying as we watch on YouTube or on the evening news, or as protesters carry pictures of her bloodied face. Ahmadinejad can try to divert the public's attention, but it won't work. The videotaped killing has become the defining image of her country's corruption, and Agha-Soltan has become a symbol of that corruption. Fueled by Internet sites, blog posts, Twitter messages, and the traditional media, the gruesome death of a young woman in a nation in turmoil has given birth to an icon.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Joe Jackson - "I'm Grieving On The Inside"

Joe Jackson, the father of Michael Jackson, seemed rather jovial in an interview last night with CNN's Don Lemon at the BET Awards. He has a weird way of showing his grief. When asked by Lemon how he and his family were coping, Joe Jackson ignored the question in order to promote his new record company. He plugged a Blu-Ray disc of his son's music that he's selling.

Joe Jackson and the Reverand Al Sharpton held a press conference earlier today to discuss the pop star's shocking death on Thursday. Why Sharpton was there was not explained, but he is reportedly a family friend. As for his new record label, a way to capitalize financially on the tragedy, Joe Jackson was heavily criticized. Rev. Sharpton explained it like this: "He wanted to send a signal to the world that the Jackson family's going to continue doing what Michael did...give music and love to the world across all boundaries."

"I wish that Michael could be here to see all this," Joe Jackson said at the press conference, "instead of waiting for something to happen like this." As he spoke, he was smiling and looking over the large crowd outside his Encino residence. He could see dollar signs.

Michael Jackson's financial empire is a total mess. He made millions during his career, but he spent more. Now he's dead, and according to and other music news sources, his sales are going through the roof. In death, Michael Jackson has made the comeback he so much desired. Like Elvis Presley, he will surely continue to make money, and for now, bundles of it.

What Joe Jackson knows, and maybe the reason his grief seems to be tempered by relief, is that finally his son's spending habits have come to an end. You can't spend millions of dollars a month on rare animals, oxygen chambers, golden toilets and mummified bodies when you're dead. When asked about his seemingly happy demeanor, Joe Jackson told CNN: "I'm grieving on the inside." On the outside, he's making plans to cash in on his son's popularity.

"Michael is a superstar all over the world," Joe Jackson said. That much is true. He's grieving all the way to the bank. Ka-ching!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Paul Solomon Changes Format

If you have been paying attention the last few days, you may have noticed a change in the format of this blog. Originally started as way of communicating a short paragraph of my daily thoughts, the commentary got longer and longer as the days went by. Because of this, and because of reader feedback, I am adding paragraph breaks.

On Friday, I was writing about the over-the-top media frenzy surrounding disgraced South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who a day earlier had given a long and rambling news conference explaining his disappearance from the state for six days while he was having an extra-marital affair in Argentina. In mid-sentence, Michael Jackson died. I had to switch gears and change the subject. Hence: paragraph breaks.

My wife was on her computer and she yelled over to me that Michael Jackson was hospitalized. I walked over to her computer and on her Twitter feed, the words came up that stunned the nation and the world: "Michael Jackson died." The news came that fast. One second he's hospitalized, the next second he's dead. A day earlier he was rehearsing for a comeback tour which was to start in London.

The world is a different place than when I was a kid - when Walter Cronkite wiped tears from his eyes after telling the nation the John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. The news filtered slowly through a cumbersome method of news gathering such as the Associated Press news wire, the land line telephone, and fact-checkers who had to wait in line for verification before confirming events. There was no cable news and no Internet, so hours went by before we got official confirmation on the evening news. Walter Cronkite was the bearer of bad news. But there was a certain comfort hearing it from "Uncle Walt".

When Michael Jackson died, the news spread throughout the world instantaneously. Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites helped spread the news. Rumor turned into facts in a matter of minutes, and within a half-hour of his death, Michael Jackson was the story on every channel, and not just the news channels.

As news of Jackson's death came in, nearly every broadcast station cut away from regular programming to report on the sudden events. The cable channels stayed with the story almost exclusively for the next few days. Other news topics were ignored, although there wasn't much to report about Jackson, other than he most likely died of cardiac arrest. The rumor that drugs played a part in his death came in slowly, but we had heard drug rumors when he was alive. Once this issue was explored, the media spent hours looking for news that wasn't there.

To say the media was unprepared is an understatement. The biggest news that came out was that people were originally putting flowers on the wrong star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The pop icon's star was covered up by a red carpet for a premier of Sasha Baron Cohen's movie "Bruno". 73-year-old English-born radio personality Michael Jackson's star covered by flowers and surrounded by fans of the other, more famous Michael Jackson. Of course, the dead Michael Jackson happened to be more famous than anyone.

No matter what you may think of his private life, the eccentric oddball with the common name was anything but common. The lawsuits and legal settlements, which caused embarrassment but never a conviction for anything, are a thing of the past. His fans are numerous, and he is even bigger in other parts of the world. There are those who haven't forgotten the scandals that plagued Jackson over the latter part of his life, and many people believe he is guilty of something. But there's no denying his popularity, and in death, Michael Jackson is being remembered for his groundbreaking musical career.

The best-selling album of all time: "Thriller". Now, thanks to his death, Michael Jackson is again outselling everybody else. A day after his death, announced that sales of Michael Jackson's music were up 721 times what they were before he died. That's 72,100%. Correct me if I'm wrong.

For the record: Because news events happen so quickly, and I type over 75 words a minute, I am no more immune to mistakes than other news outlets. I said in Friday's column that toxicology reports would be released in a little over a week. The actual time is four to six weeks. So, now, even though we are getting other news mixed in with news of the death of "The King of Pop," expect the story to continue.

We've heard from Quincy Jones, Liza Minelli, Elizabeth Taylor and even Corey Feldman. Larry King has turned up little-known friends to interview. Michael Jackson will remain in the news for awhile. And thanks to him, I'm now using paragraph breaks.