Tuesday, January 31, 2017

2016: In Memoriams, Part Three

This is the third in a series of posts about major figures who died last year. The first two can be read here and here.

Nancy Reagan
Sure, she had her detractors, but they were mostly small-minded partisans (and insufferable snobs) who targeted her because they didn't like her husband.

She was born in 1921 as Anne Frances Robbins, but her parents divorced when she was young and her mother married a prominent neurosurgeon, Dr. Loyal Edward Davis, when she was eight. She adored him and changed her name to Nancy Davis after he legally adopted her in 1935.

In 1940 she appeared in a movie short, The Crippler, which raised funds for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, and in 1945 moved to New York to act on Broadway. In 1949 she moved to California and inked a seven-year contract with MGM; that was the same year she met Ronald Reagan, who was then serving as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and after more than two years of dating they were wed on March 4, 1952.

Nancy Reagan's acting career was strong but not long, as she appeared in eleven feature films and several TV roles before opting for the fulfillment of domestic life. Even her original promotional material from MGM stated that a "successful happy marriage" was her "greatest ambition," and in 1975 she remarked: "I was never really a career woman but only because I hadn't found the man I wanted to marry. I couldn't sit around and do nothing, so I became an actress."

But oh how good Nancy Reagan was at domestic life! Hers was far more trying than most, seeing as how her husband served two terms as Governor of California during a period of social upheaval (1967-1975) and two more as President of the United States during the climax of the Cold War (1981-1989). Theirs was a marriage par excellence with Nancy serving as Ronald's rock of tranquility at home, and him shielding her from a spiteful press by showering her with the kind of public love and praise that shamed media members into holding their fire.

Ronald Reagan would not have been the Ronald Reagan we knew without Nancy, and Nancy Reagan would not have been the Nancy Reagan we knew without the man she called "Ronnie." In a very big way, it's not sad that she left this world last March, because we know she reunited with him on the other side.

George Michael
When news broke of his death on Christmas Day, it was not really a surprise. Although George Michael was extremely talented and was once one of the most creative stars in the music world, stories had long been circulating that he had descended into the listless depths of depression and drug addiction.

Post-mortem tests came back inconclusive as to his cause of death, causing rumors to swirl. Overdose? Suicide? Natural causes? No one knows. What is known is this: Although George Michael might have been a mess toward the end, his recorded legacy is worth listening to.

Some of his early hits, when he was the biggest star in the duo Wham!, are too silly to be taken seriously ("Wake Me Up Before You Go Go") but others are no laughing matter ("Careless Whisper" evokes guilt and regret as well as any song ever sung). His later solo work ranged from serious ("Father Figure") to infectious ("Faith") to shamelessly dollar-chasing ("I Want Your Sex"), but none of it was bad.

And it has to count for something that a gay celebrity from England, who made his name in a liberal-dominated industry, appeared in an American MTV video at the height of his celebrity wearing a shirt that read "Choose Life." Remember that the next time you start to stuff someone into one of the identity politics boxes that reside in your head (and yes, reside in my head as well).

Glenn Frey
Detroit native Glenn Frey was 21 and living in Southern California when he met a drummer from Texas named Don Henley. Deciding to form a band, they persuaded Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon (Linda Ronstadt's bass player and guitarist, respectively) to join them, and voila!, the Eagles were born.

In 1971, a year after Frey and Henley met, the Eagles signed a recording contract with David Geffen's brand new label, Asylum Records, and the rest is history. The Eagles' laid back, countryish sound was unique and remains unduplicated all these years later. They are the highest selling American band of all time (more than 150 million records sold) and fifth-highest in all the world. Their compilation Greatest Hits: 1971-1975 sold more copies than any other American album in the 20th Century.

Many people think of the Eagles as Henley's band, but Glenn Frey's mark was every bit as strong, if not more. He wrote or co-wrote many of their songs and sang lead on many of their hits, including "Take It Easy," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Lyin' Eyes," "Already Gone," "Tequila Sunrise," "New Kid in Town," and "Heartache Tonight," to name a few.

Frey also had a successful solo career and scored several major hits in the 1980's, most notably "You Belong to the City" (which served as the theme song for Miami Vice) and "The Heat Is On" (which was featured in Beverly Hills Cop). Pile-on complications following GI surgery took him from us last January at the too-young age of 67.

John McLaughlin
Like many people of his generation, John McLaughlin spent his first few adult decades as a Democrat and last few as a Republican. A native Rhode Islander, he was raised Catholic, entered the Jesuit order the year he turned 20, and became an ordained priest 12 years later.

In the end, however, politics and television journalism proved to be his calling. After a failed run for the U.S. House of Representatives, McLaughlin became a speechwriter for President Nixon in 1974 and then worked two months for President Ford.

He subsequently wrote for National Review, and in 1982 became host of The McLaughlin Group, a TV show on PBS that featured him and various talking heads sparring over their opinions on political topics and current events. The format presaged CNN's Firing Line and Fox News's The Five, while McLaughlin's assertive confidence presaged Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly. It can be said that without him, the others might never have been.

Interestingly, the most lasting memory of McLaughlin and his show might be the deadpan parody by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live -- which is absolutely fine. What better compliment, or confirmation of your impact, could there be?

John Saunders
Some deaths you really don't see coming. You can definitely say that about John Saunders, the smooth-voiced, ultra-professional television sports journalist who was only 61 when he left this world last August.

Saunders worked at ESPN for 30 years, right up until his death. For many of those years he also worked at ABC, seeing as how the networks are co-owned. He studio hosted the former's NHL coverage and the latter's NCAA football coverage. He hosted The Sports Reporters, and co-hosted NFL Primetime and Baseball Night in America. A native of Ajax, Ontario, Saunders also served as the Toronto Raptors' play-by-play announcer from 1995 to 2001.

And before all of that, he played hockey at Western Michigan University, along with his brother Bernie (who is a member of the WMU Hall of Fame and became only the fifth black person to play in the NHL).

Saunders's cause of death has not been announced, but there have been no rumors of drugs or foul play. Most talk refers to complications from diabetes.

Patty Duke
Patty Duke was two months shy of her 13th birthday when The Miracle Worker debuted on Broadway in October 1959, with her in the role of Helen Keller and Anne Bancroft in the role of Anne Sullivan, Keller's teacher. Duke played her part so well and received such acclaim that her name was moved above the title on the marquee (it is believed that this had never before been done for someone so young).

In 1962 The Miracle Worker was made into a movie with Duke continuing in the role of Keller, for which she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the age of 16 -- and she was so talented that between originating the Keller role on stage and transferring it to the big screen, she appeared on television opposite Sir Laurence Olivier and George C. Scott in a TV movie adaptation of The Power and the Glory.

In what seems like a sad bit of deja vu for child stars through the years, Patty Duke was beset by psychological and substance abuse problems. Anorexia, boozing, and pill overdoses took their toll and she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 35. But she kept her rudder from breaking off, and became an outspoken advocate for mental health care while continuing to act into the current decade and serving as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1985 to 1988.

Ten months ago her intestine ruptured and sepsis rushed through her bloodstream, causing her to die on March 29th in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Abe Vigoda
Abraham Charles Vigoda was 50 years old and nowhere near rich and famous when he attended an open call audition (i.e., one for actors who don't have agents) for Francis Ford Coppola's big screen adaptation of The Godfather.

Fortunately for all involved, this tall son of Russian Jewish immigrants made an impression on Coppola and landed the role of Tessio, the high-ranking capo for the Corleone crime family who betrays Michael Corleone and gets executed for it as the story reaches its climax. He reprised the role in The Godfather, Part II by appearing in flashbacks, and his newfound name-recognition helped him earn the role of Detective Phil Fish on the ABC sitcom Barney Miller.

In 1982 this People Magazine article mistakenly referred to "the late Abe Vigoda," and over the ensuing years Vigoda was falsely reported as dead on numerous occasions, so much so that it became something of a gag. When he attended a 1998 Friars Club roast for Drew Carey, one of the roasters quipped "my one regret is that Abe Vigoda isn't alive to see this." David Letterman once performed a skit that opened with him performing a seance to contact Vigoda's ghost, only to have the real Vigoda walk onto the set and say "I'm not dead yet, you pinhead!"

The lasting image of him will always be as Tessio, moments after realizing that his betrayal has been found out and that he is about to be killed. He looks at Tom Hagen, the Corleone family's consigliere who was played by Robert Duval, and states simply: "Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

2016: In Memoriams, Part Two

This is the second in a series of posts about major figures who died last year. The first can be read here.

John Glenn
Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard were the first two people in space, and theirs were feats of admirable courage that inspired humanity and pushed it forward... but John Glenn's achievement on February 20, 1962 was even more inspiring.

Gagarin and Shepard made it above the atmosphere and then plummeted back to Earth. Glenn, on the other hand, piloted his spacecraft once he was there, becoming the first person to orbit Earth. The spacecraft was named Friendship 7, the flight was named Mercury-Atlas 6, and he orbited the planet three times in a span of just under five hours, attaining a top speed of 17,544 miles per hour and averaging more than 15,300 per hour.

It was not known whether manually piloting Friendship 7 would even work until Glenn was already in space and took the controls, but he did it anyway, because mankind is an exploring species and he was helping it forge into its next frontier. He also did it because he was a patriot, and in those days of the Cold War he knew it was crucial for the United States to get ahead of the Soviet Union in the space race, which was (and still is) inextricably tied to technological innovation.

John Glenn's patriotism and courage were proven long before there even was such a thing as NASA. A native of eastern Ohio, he dropped out of college to join the U.S. Army Air Corps and wound up flying 59 combat missions in World War II and 60 in the Korean War, earning 18 Air Medals and four Distinguished Flying Crosses. During World War II his planes were struck by anti-aircraft fire on five different occasions; and on two occasions in Korea, his plane was riddled with more than 250 bullet holes when he returned to base.

Eleven years after the Korean War ended and just two years after Mercury-Atlas 6, John Glenn retired from NASA; but 34 years later, at the age of 77, he again donned his astronaut gear and became the oldest person ever to fly in space when he served as a member of the STS-95 crew on the Space Shuttle Discovery. As I was driving east across Tampa Bay on the Howard Frankland Bridge on October 29, 1998, I saw Discovery rocketing upward with Glenn aboard, trailing a long contrail beneath, clearly visible despite the fact that Cape Canaveral is 130 miles away on the other side of the state. Multiple cars were pulled over on the shoulder with their drivers standing outside watchng the launch.

During the interval between Glenn's retirement and brief unretirement from space travel, he served four terms in the U.S. Senate. He passed away in December and is survived by his wife of 73 years, Annie, along with their two children and two grandchildren.

Arnold Palmer
Fair or not, golf was long considered a rich man's sport played only by aristocratic snobs. And then along came Arnold Palmer to put a dent in that image and inspire average Joes to head to the links.

A Pittsburgh native born during the Great Depression, "Arnie" was the perfect man at the perfect point in time to pull that off. The son of a polio-stricken groundskeeper, his upbringing was more blue collar than silver spoon. In 1954 he became a pro after winning the U.S. Amateur title with a performance that inspired golfing great Gene Littler to say "when he hits the ball, the earth shakes." Palmer's handsomeness, daring, and emotional displays -- combined with the fact that he competed against two great rivals, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player -- translated perfectly to the new medium known as television.

In 1960 he was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated, and seven years later became the first person to reach the million-dollar mark in PGA earnings. He won seven major titles in his career, including four Masters, and captured the Vardon Trophy four times in a seven-year span from 1961 to 1967.

Of the major tournaments he won, the British Open might have been the one on which he had the biggest impact because most American golfers had previously skipped it. His participation coupled with him winning it in 1961 and 1962 made him popular among European fans as well as American fans. In the words of European Tour CEO Keith Pelley, this made Palmer "the catalyst to truly internationalize golf."

Plus, you gotta love the fact that Palmer first played in the British Open in 1960... and last played in it a whopping 35 years later, in 1995.

But at the end of the day, it was the commonness of his persona in the midst of his success that made Arnold Palmer such a force. Recalling his modest roots, Golf Digest eulogized him by remarking that "in a life bursting from the seams with success, Palmer never lost his common touch. He was a man of the people, willing to sign every autograph, shake every hand, and tried to look every person in his gallery in the eye."

Alan Thicke
We all have to die. Some of us do it by overdose, some by heart attack, some by disease, some while sitting at our desks and some while sleeping in our beds. There is no good way to die, but there are ways that are preferable to others, and the most preferable of all is to go out like Alan Thicke: Playing hockey against people a half-century younger than you.

A native of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Thicke became universally known when he portrayed the psychiatrist and patriarch Jason Seaver on the ABC sitcom Growing Pains from 1985 to 1992. However, he had already made his mark as a songwriter by composing the theme songs for Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life.

Thicke never stopped working. He became a sought-after radio pitchman and was acting as a key player in the NBC drama This Is Us when death came calling on December 13th, by way of an aortic tear that was tragically misdiagnosed. He is survived by his wife Tanya and three sons, Brennan, Robin, and Carter. Robin is a singing star and high-profile record producer in his own right.

Leonard Cohen
He was a Canadian Jew who incorporated some aspects of Buddhist philosophy into his daily life; whose mother immigrated from Lithuania and father's parents from Poland; who got his first big break while living in New York, and ultimately died in California. In other words, he was such a mutt that he was precisely the kind of person for whom the United States was created.

Leonard Cohen was a poet and novelist before he tried his hand at songwriting, and although he churned out great work in all three endeavors, it was the latter which made him something of a legend.

When he met Judy Collins in 1966, he was unknown and little of his work had sold, and he was already in his thirties. That was a daunting situation when you consider that the music business idolizes youth and the phrase "don't trust anyone over thirty" had recently entered the pop culture lexicon. Making Cohen even more of a long shot was the fact that he was modest and shy and had never performed before an audience.

But when he sang his songs "Suzanne" and "Dress Rehearsal Rag" for Collins on the night they met, she was blown away and started encouraging him to make music his trade. She recorded those songs on her album In Your Life, with the former going gold, and thus Cohen became known within the industry as a songwriter.

Collins finally convinced a reluctant Cohen to perform publicly at a protest concert in April 1967. Legs shaking with nervousness, he opened with "Suzanne" and became tongue-tied halfway through and left the stage, embarrassed. But with encouragement from Collins backstage and audible cries of "We love you!" from the audience, he went back out and sang the song in its entirety and received thundering applause -- and from there, proceeded to tour for the next 49 years.

Leonard Cohen is unique in that almost nobody has heard his voice singing a song on the radio, yet almost everybody has heard his songs... And almost everybody has heard songs that might not have existed without him, for music stars across the globe have covered his tunes and been influenced by him when writing their own... Bruce Eder said of Cohen that "second only to Bob Dylan (and perhaps Paul Simon), he commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musician from the 1960's who continued to work in the 21st century."

His songs were deep and contemplative and reached their pinnacle with "Hallelujah" -- an anguished soul-scorcher that has been recorded by more than 300 artists in multiple languages, and about which an entire book has been written. In my opinion, the greatest recording of it (and perhaps any song) is this one by k.d. lang.

An iconoclast to the end, Cohen became more popular the older he got and even more productive the older he got. Though he was a notorious perfectionist who took time to get things right and spent five years composing "Hallelujah," he cranked out three whole albums in his last four years, between the ages of 78 and 82.

Last summer he learned that Marianne Ihlen, his lover from the 1960's who inspired several of his songs including "Bird on a Wire," was dying from incurable leukemia in Norway. He sent her a letter in which he wrote "we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon...know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine." She slipped the surly bonds on July 29th and he followed on November 7th.

Gene Wilder
Movies made his famous, but he was not a creature of Hollywood.

Jerome Silberman was born in Milwaukee in 1933 to Jewish immigrants from Russia; graduated from the University of Iowa; and passed away last August in Connecticut. Along the way, he opted for "Gene Wilder" to be his stage name when he was 26, some three years before his first appearance on Broadway, seven before his first TV appearance, and eight before his first film role.

Comedies were Wilder's forte and he developed strong working relationships with director Mel Brooks and comedian/actor Richard Pryor. A listing of the comedies in which he appeared reads like a Hall of Fame of 1970's and 1980's classics -- Blazing Saddles, Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, and See No Evil, Hear No Evil, to name a few -- but he was a soft-hearted man who was just as comfortable being sentimental as he was cracking jokes.

After his wife Gilda Radner died of metastatic ovarian cancer in 1989, he dedicated himself to educating the public about the disease and seeking a cure. A full nine years after her death, Wilder co-authored a book with oncologist Steven Piver in which he shared details of her battle with the disease.

One month after 9/11, he raised money to help families affected by the attack by reading from the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Westport Country Playhouse (as you probably know, he starred as factory owner Willy Wonka in the book's 1971 film adaptation).

Kenny Baker and Michu Meszaros
You might not know their names or faces, but you probably do know their work. For untold millions of Americans, especially those who are roughly my age (46), Kenny Baker and Mihaly "Michu" Meszaros contributed mightily to our youthful entertainment.

Both dwarfs, Baker was born in England in 1934 and Meszaros in Hungary in 1939. In the 1970's, Baker was offered the role of R2D2 in Star Wars and accepted it after originally resisting. In the 1980's, Meszaros was offered and accepted the role of ALF for the NBC sitcom.

They performed their biggest roles ensconced in costumes with their faces hidden, but they performed them nonetheless, and they enriched our culture.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fake News!

Last month I refrained from writing about anything other than Christmas, but there was one particular topic I struggled not to weigh in on: The hysteria over "fake news." And now, thanks to Donald Trump's flamethrower of a press conference last Wednesday, it is even more front and center than before.

From the beginning, the way the topic was portrayed made it hard for me to take seriously, because 1) the operable definition of "fake news" seemed to be "anything not rubber stamped by the mainstream media," and 2) there was no acknowledgment that the mainstream media has spent generations peddling lies.

So allow me to spend a little time recollecting some of the cargo from that Colossal Conestoga of Codswallop that "reputable news outlets" have been shoving down the public's throat in the years since I was born.

*     *     *     *     *

In 1978, ABC's 20/20 falsely claimed that Ford sedans were prone to burst into flames when struck from behind. As evidence, it showed a video of that happening -- but "failed to inform" viewers that the burst in the video was caused by an incendiary device which had been placed on the car's undercarriage specifically to cause that effect.

In 1980, CBS's 60 Minutes falsely claimed that the Jeep CJ was prone to rollovers. It showed clips of that happening, but "failed to inform" viewers that the Jeeps in those clips were being driven by robots that spun the steering wheels at RPM's much faster than humans can spin them. CBS also "failed to mention" that even with the steering wheels being robot-spun at human-impossible speeds, the Jeeps still did not roll over until hanging weights were added to their interior corners and their tires had lost tread from being taken through scores of fast skids.

One year later, the same 60 Minutes falsely reported that a certain kind of rim was prone to fly off of tires at such velocity that it could kill people on sidewalks. It showed a video of a rim flying off and slicing through a family of mannequins -- yet "failed to inform" viewers that the rim's locking mechanisms had been shaved off before filming.

Then, like a coke addict who can't stop snorting, 60 Minutes went right back to its playbook in 1986 by running a story alleging that the Audi 5000 was prone to sudden, uncontrollable, Herbie-like acceleration because, in the words of host Ed Bradley, "the pedal go(es) down all by itself." Of course 60 Minutes showed film of a gas pedal appearing to do just that, and of course 60 Minutes "failed to inform" viewers that its hired "expert" had rigged the machinery to make that happen (specifically, he drilled a hole in the floorboard underneath the pedal so it couldn't be seen, then threaded a hose through the hole to connect the pedal to an air compressor, then used the compressor to suck the pedal down).

Not wanting to be left out, Dateline NBC jumped on the "defame Big Auto" train in 1992, airing an entire hour-long episode falsely alleging that Chevy pickups were prone to burst into flames on impact. According to NBC's crack "reporting" staff, this was due to poorly designed fuel tanks rupturing at the time of collision. NBC showed (drum roll please) videos of that appearing to happen on impact, but did not reveal that it had attached incendiary devices to the undercarriages and used using sparking devices to make sure they ignited. Nor did it reveal that it had overfilled the gas tanks and left the gas caps off.

After skepticism later set in, some people watched the videos in slow motion and realized that some of the flame bursts began immediately before contact, which suggests that remote control was being used to trigger the sparking devices.

Thanks to a tip from someone who was present for those staged faux explosions, investigators eventually located the remains of the charred trucks in an Indiana junkyard and found that their gas tanks were intact -- which, last I checked, is the opposite of "ruptured."

I note that despite having been caught in such chicanery, 20/20 and 60 Minutes and Dateline NBC remain on the air with their reputations unharmed in most people's minds -- which is disgraceful when you consider that they intended to damage Ford, Jeep, Audi, and Chevy, and that damaging those companies could (and did) jeopardize the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of workers and families.

However, the chicanery of those TV news magazines in those five cases is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to "respectable news outlets" trafficking in fake news.

*     *     *     *     *

In August 1972, when I was 19 months old, National Geographic ran a cover story about a tribe of cavemen said to be living in the jungle on the Philippine island of Mindanao. Given the name Tasaday, the tribe was reported to be from the stone age and to have had no contact with other humans until being discovered in 1971 by Manuel Elizalde, an actual politician who actually did make that claim... but in the 1980's it came out that while there really were people called Tasaday, they were neither primitive nor isolated.

Throughout the 1970's, a plethora of news organizations including the New York Times, Newsweek, TIME Magazine, and the Chicago Tribune ran articles about the looming threat of global cooling and how our planet might be on the verge of entering an Ice Age... Come the 1990's, the same media replaced that doomsday prophecy with another one called global warming... And now, with net global temperatures having been static for almost 20 years, the same media have eliminated the words "cooling" and "warming" and replaced them with the meaninglessly vague "climate change" (a term that is doubly idiotic and not news when you consider that Earth's climate has been changing ever since Earth came into existence six or seven billion years ago, hence our planet going from Ice Ages to hot periods where palm trees grew in Alaska and back again).

In 1983 the Sunday newspaper insert Parade published an article by media whore hack scientist Carl Sagan that purported to give an objective appraisal of "nuclear winter." But as Michael Crichton expertly laid out in this speech, Sagan's article was not scientific and was really the opening salvo of a politically motivated PR campaign.

Throughout the 1980's (and probably before, and definitely for a time after) it was reported that secondhand smoke can cause cancer... but there has never been any scientific evidence for that claim.

In July 1996, during the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a security guard named Richard Jewell discovered a backpack containing a pipe bomb in crowded Centennial Park. He quickly alerted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and helped clear people from the area while investigators came to inspect the package; tragically, while this was happening the bomb exploded and caused two deaths and more than 100 injuries.

Within days, media stories (parroting some law enforcement officials) pegged Jewell not as the hero he actually was, but as the primary suspect. For weeks he was portrayed as a failed cop who became a rent-a-cop and then planted the bomb in order to get credit for finding it. That was fake news, but its fakeness didn't matter to those who reported it as truth, and Jewell's life was ruined. Though he was later exonerated, the exoneration got far less publicity than the accusation and he died of a heart attack at the age of 44.

In November 1996, the New York Times reported that a Texaco executive used the word "niggers" in a company meeting. However, tape showed that he actually said "Nicholas."

In 2004, CBS News and their main anchor, Dan Rather, showed what they said were military documents affirming that George W. Bush went AWOL when he was in the National Guard. But the documents were such obvious forgeries that amateur font buffs saw through them with ease. Rather was eventually fired because of that hatchet job, but instead of being professionally disgraced he was hailed by colleagues for his contributions to journalism.

Rather continues to say he believes the story is true even though there is no evidence for it and the documents he broadcast were fake. And eleven years after his report, a fawning (!) movie about his reporting was actually called Truth, without the slightest sense of irony from those who made it. Today he is, swear to God, teaching an online course called "Finding the Truth in the News."

In 2005, Bill Bennett was talking to a caller on his radio show who said that if there were fewer abortions, there would be more workers and thus Social Security would be more solvent and America would produce more goods. Bennett, who is pro-life, considered that a poor reason to be pro-life because 1) it is based on math instead of morality, and 2) the math is unknowable, especially when you consider that most aborted babies are from demographic groups more likely to be on welfare, in prison, etc.

Recalling a famous argument from the book Freakonomics, which holds that 1973's Roe v. Wade decision led to the big crime rate decrease of the 1990's due to would-be criminals having been aborted rather than born, Bennett criticized his caller's reasoning by drawing this comparison: "If you wanted to decrease crime -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

I added the emphasis because the tentacles of America's mainstream media refused failed to mention that Bennett described genocide-by-abortion as "impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible." MSNBC, TIME Magazine, and The Today Show, among others, left that sentence out when they quoted him, instead choosing to make it look like making it look like he spoke favorably of genocide-by-abortion. Fake news, indeed.

And you can't mention this topic without mentioning George Zimmerman. The media, as you may recall, portrayed him as a racist after his tragic but evidently self-defense shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012. The portrayal stemmed largely from NBC's airing of the call Zimmerman placed to 911 when he saw Martin and thought he looked suspicious... but NBC maliciously altered the call to make him appear racist.

In reality, Zimmerman told the dispatcher: "This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about," and the dispatcher then asked "is he black, white, or Hispanic?" -- to which Zimmerman replied "he looks black."

But when NBC aired the audio, they deleted the question from the dispatcher and also deleted part of Zimmerman's initial comments, so that the only thing listeners heard was Zimmerman call and say: "This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black." Fake news, real calumny.

And then there's the biggest fake news story of all: The claim that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. We've been hearing this for ages, even from most conservative publications, but it's not true.

*     *     *     *     *

I could go on and on, but I won't because you get the picture. The bottom line is that it's outrageous for the mainstream media to be thought of as credible.

The mainstream media libels and slanders, wreaks havoc on families, puts jobs in peril, and destroys reputations -- all on false grounds -- and it's ten times worse when done by them than by a salacious blog or partisan rag.

It's worse because the mainstream media use their undeserved reputation to give their lies credibility. Knowing the nonpartisan public trusts them and takes them seriously, they abuse the trust by deceiving the nonpartisan public with total lies, and with half-truths, and with rank bias.

Conversely, it's easy to tell a clickbait shop or online tabloid when you see it, and most people instinctively know to take them with a grain of salt.

Everyone knows to look at Mother Jones (on the left) and The New American (on the right) with a certain amount of skepticism. Even newbies to the world of thinking about social and political issues can tell within a couple minutes that Salon (on the left) and Newsmax (on the right) are no more familiar with objectivity than Bill Clinton is with truthfulness.

However, most Americans do not follow current events closely and are preconditioned to give credence to what they see and hear in the mainstream media, which gives the mainstream media lots of free range to obscure reality and sow discord... and once you realize that the National Freakin' Enquirer has a better record of accuracy over the last few decades than the New York Freakin' Times, you will quickly see that this situation invites mischief, to say the least.

Yes, Donald Trump's relationship with accuracy has often been excessively casual, but he is doing the right thing when he turns the "fake news" dart around and aims it at those who created it.

Maybe he missed some of the trees when he thundered at CNN's Jim Acosta that "you are fake news," but he saw the forest for precisely what it is, and his vision on that point was sharp as a hawk's.

If more Americans would see the forest instead of getting distracted by individual trees (and if they would stop mistaking the maples for mesquite and the cottonwoods for dogwood) then America would be better off. But that would require the mainstream media to publish wide angle photos of the forest as a whole, and would also require them to correctly identify any trees they focus on. In other words, it would require the mainstream media to stop publishing and airing fake news.

If more Americans would have an open or skeptical mind when considering things they see or hear in the press, then America would be better off. But that would require them to know that the mainstream media publishes and airs fake news. In other words, it would require the mainstream media to pull the curtain off their own hidden portrait and reveal the Dorian Gray truth about themselves.

I won't hold my breath waiting for the mainstream media to end their ways, but I do look forward to their power continuing to fade as more and more Americans see them for the farce they really are.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

MLK, Born Today

Tomorrow is set aside as Martin Luther King Day. But today is his real birthday, and he would be turning 88 had he not been met by an assassin's bullet on that "early morning April 4" (though with apologies to Bono, it was actually in the evening when the shot rang out in the Memphis sky).

But I digress. Rather than wait until next week, I figured I would go ahead and re-post my favorite MLK quotes now, on the true anniversary of his birth, rather than wait until the generic third-Monday government-declared day of recognition. Here they are:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law…This would lead to anarchy…I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country.

...I am not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.

The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo…If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance. Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life eternal.

I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. The note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

…we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.

A man can’t sit on your back unless it’s bent.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: (1) collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, (2) negotiation, (3) self-purification, and (4) direct action.

…right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

…I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom…If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me. I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader, but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


Those who control Russia's government have been a devious and manipulative bunch for at least one full century (this year marks the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution!) but in a strange twist, that makes the current allegations about Russia "meddling in our election" less serious, not more.

Since I have blogged against Vladimir Putin since more than eight years ago, I am more than comfortable saying I don't trust him any further than I could throw a MiG-31 jet while standing on a Siberian glacier wearing figure skates. With that in mind, I am also more than comfortable saying that the attention being given to this whole story -- which revolves entirely around the release of Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails via WikiLeaks -- is absurd. As Kevin Williamson put it, "the DNC leak is a jaywalking case that we're prosecuting while our enemies are plotting something more like an electronic 9/11."

To recap: 1) The emails that got released on WikiLeaks were authentic; nobody, not even those who were embarrassed and/or revealed to be corrupt by them, denies their authenticity... 2) The things revealed by the emails were things the public deserves to know... 3) Despite #2, the vast majority of the public still doesn't know what the emails revealed because the MSM has chosen not to say, instead opting to speculate about who leaked rather than report what leaked... 4) Every sentient person with an IQ higher than a tuna's knows that every nation spies on every other nation, including its own friends... 5) Despite #4, the leaked emails do not reveal any national security information nor do they reveal anything that would put our agents or informers in peril... 6) Despite some "intelligence sources" claiming near certainty that the leaks came from Russian hacking, such claims deserve an arched eyebrow of skepticism when you consider that the DNC withheld evidence the FBI asked to examine during its investigation, and when you consider that the joint intelligence agencies' report is full of holes... and 7) If Russia was the hacker and this is all they got, they suck at hacking so why get upset?

In short, the specific actions Russia has been accused of are the most benign and inconsequential kind that anyone could imagine them engaging in. So why the high dudgeon?

*     *     *     *     *

Throughout the eight long years of Barry H. Obama's reign, Russia has no doubt tried to hack us, sometimes successfully, every single day. So too have China, North Korea, and Iran. So too have freelance players like Guccifer and Anonymous. China stole the personal information of 21.5 million Americans, including bribe-susceptible government officials, when it hacked into the Social Security Administration.

Obama responded to those attacks with yawning, shoulder-shrugging passivity. Nothing to see here, sayeth he, and America's lapdog media responded by downplaying the stories (often ignoring them altogether) because they always believe him. They do whatever Barry H. Obama wants them to do when he pats their heads, for he is their bow and they are his fiddle and he plays them like a Stradivarius.

Which brings us to the current spectacle. If we are to believe that Obama's behavior and manners are sincere, we have no choice but to believe that he is more opposed to American citizens knowing the truth about Democrats than he is to America's enemies learning how to kill us and rob us of our livelihoods. We also have no choice but to believe that he is more opposed to Americans knowing the truth about Democrats than he is to innocent people being slaughtered and enslaved by dictatorships.

We are obliged to believe these things because Obama exhibited no concern about the above cyber attacks; turned his back on Ukraine when it was invaded by Russia; and spoke not a word in support of Iran's freedom-seeking citizens who tried to overcome Iran's murdering dictatorship in 2009. Instead, he became animated only when a handful of his fellow Democrats were embarrassed by their own emails and one of his fellow Democrats lost an election to Donald Trump.

*     *     *     *     *

Now let's take the standard I just applied to Obama and apply it to America's mainstream media. If we are to believe that their priorities are revealed by their choices about which stories to spotlight versus which ones to bury, then we have no choice but to believe they are more opposed to American citizens knowing the truth about Democrats than they are to America's enemies learning how to kill us and rob us of our livelihoods. And we also have to believe that the media are more opposed to Americans knowing the truth about Democrats than they are to innocent people being slaughtered and enslaved by dictatorships.

It's not surprising that the prejudices held by Obama and his party are the same as those held by the press (I don't call it the Democrat Media Complex for nothin') but it's infuriating that they lie about the hacking allegations by using incendiary and fraudulent inaccurate phrases like "Russia hacked the election."

Many times I have heard the "hacked the election" canard fall from the mouths of radio newsreaders and TV bubbleheads. I have also seen it in print. What the phrase implies is that the Russian government hacked into ballot-counting machines and altered vote totals to make Trump appear to win an election he really lost. At least one recent survey found that more than half of registered Democrats have come to that conclusion based on what they hear and see in the media.

But if you read the actual allegations, nobody -- literally nobody -- has claimed that Russia did anything of the sort. The only allegation is that it was Russia (as opposed to some Democratic Party whistleblower) who gave those authentic and relevant emails to WikiLeaks.

*     *     *     *     *

Something else that's infuriating is how the Democrat Media Complex papers over its grotesque Russo-hypocrisy while trying to make an issue of Republican skepticism about whether the emails influenced the election.

Ever since, oh, let's say about November of 1917, American liberals (not all of whom are/were Democrats) have been deeply in love with Russian totalitarianism, so much so that they even thought ol' Adolf Hitler was the bee's knees until he stopped being an ally of their beloved Soviet Union. Meanwhile, American conservatives (not all of whom are/were Republicans) have always considered Russia to be conniving at best, evil at worst.

In 1983, the famous Democratic Senator Teddy Chappaquidick Kennedy flat out asked the Soviets to meddle in America's 1984 election help Democrats in their efforts to defeat Ronald Reagan the following year.

As recently as Obama's first term, American liberals were boasting of "resetting" our foreign policy when it comes to Russia, while Obama himself mocked Mitt Romney for suggesting that Russia is our biggest geopolitical foe.

And now they suddenly want us to believe that they are anti-Russia hawks and conservatives are Kremlin-cuddling cupcakes? Please.

The basic conservative position is that the information in the emails did not portray Hillary & Co. in a new light, but merely supported what people already thought about Hillary & Co., and thus they did not swing the election... especially when you recall that there was very little reporting about what was in them... though even if they had impacted the election, the impact would have been based on truthful and relevant info, not misinformation or triviality -- so big whoop.

That position is backed by mountains of evidence and is entirely logical, so much so that only a fool or blind partisan could argue against it with a straight face.

And no, conservatives do not trust Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, neither today nor at any time in the past (though some of us, myself included, do wish that America's outgoing president was as shrewd and daring as Putin when it comes to international affairs).

*     *     *     *     *

What about WikiLeaks? Back when it was releasing material that embarrassed Republicans, liberals were singing its praises and speaking of Julian Assange as if he was some kind of Tiananmen protester speaking truth to power while the tanks bore down. But now that it has released information embarrassing to Democrats, liberals are acting like it's a paragon of dishonesty and Assange is some kind of Benedict Arnold.

And of course, they would have you believe that conservatives have gone from distrusting WikiLeaks to thinking of it as a modern day Common Sense with Assange assuming the role of Thomas Paine. Never mind that many conservatives depict Assange as a paid Putin front who is likely guilty of rape, and never mind that even those conservatives who point to WikiLeaks's record of accuracy are quick to caution that it often discloses things without regard to consequences, and that its motives are often bad.

(I do have to say that Sean Hannity is an exception to this rule. Although objectivity has never been Hannity's strong suit, it evaporated altogether when he started verbally fellating Donald Trump 24/7 sometime in 2015, and lately he seems to be granting that same bent-over service to Assange. But then again, it takes an exception to prove a rule.)

*     *     *     *     *

If you don't mind me kind of quoting General Anthony McAuliffe, this is nuts. Everything about the "Russia hacked the election" story is nuttier than a squirrel's den at the start of winter.

American liberals, angry that the truth about their leaders was revealed to Americans at large, spray absurd accusations across the political landscape like a blind shooter refusing to release the trigger of his AK-47.

And American conservatives, blessed with a sense of proportion and able to tell the difference between nonsense and common sense, roll their eyes and go about their business because they have things to do.

The problem is that most Americans are neither liberal nor conservative, and get their sense of what's happening by glancing at headlines and hearing snippets uttered on the radio and TV -- and all they are hearing is that "Russia hacked the election."

Unfortunately, the Democrat Media Complex is a master at the art of deception repetition. They know that the more you say something, the more it becomes accepted as truth in the public's mind, even if it's a load of crap that stinks worse than a pile of steaming camel dung atop a Sahara dune in the heart of August.

There is a method to the madness. The Democrat Media Complex intends to make the bulk of America think that the incoming president was not legitimately elected, and once it cements that idea in the public mind, it will use it to twist public opinion in the direction it desires -- a direction that history tells us will usually go against the best interests of America's average citizens.

I am on record as being leery of Trump's qualifications for office. But I am also on record as being even more leery of Clinton's, and I am eternally on guard against the tyrannical impulses of the Left.

And I am here to say that we can not let the Left get away with its current strategy, or we and our offspring will rue the day because of the precedent it will set.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016: In Memoriams, Part One

A few times I have started a year (or ended one) by writing a piece about people who died in the twelve months that just ended. Needless to say, this year presents a dilemma because of how many titans crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

It feels like I could spend all of 2017 writing about nothing except those who passed away in 2016. Therefore I am going to chop my "in memoriams" up into a few posts, yet I still fear I am going to fail to mention everybody. Anyway, here goes, and I am going to start with...

Prince Rogers Nelson might not have been the most pivotal or influential person to reach eternity in 2016, but he was definitely the most individual, and that is one helluvan important thing in this age of tribalism.

It seems like everywhere you look, people put themselves and others into some kind of box and base their identity not on their own traits but on whatever group they think they "belong" to, be it racial, sexual, political, or whatever. Fortunately, Prince refused to have any of that. He simply was who he was.

What genre does his music belong in? It's hard to say because it's funky without being funk, soulful without being soul, and a bit rockish without being rock. Plus, it's worth noting that he did not generate hits by merely programming synthesizers, for real instruments were played on his recordings and sometimes they were all played by him. On "When Doves Cry," Prince's guitar work manages to bring both Jimi Hendrix and Curtis Mayfield to mind.

When he was 18 he drove all the way from Minnesota to LA and successfully pitched himself to Warner Brothers execs by getting them in a studio and, in the words of Jeffrey Blehar, "laying down an entire song, instrument by instrument, from start to finish in less than two hours to prove he could self-record his own album on the cheap." In other words, he had a keen business mind to go along with his keen musical mind.

Prince's tunes were sincerely felt and well thought-out. Some who criticize him fixate on the fact that some of his songs seem sex-obsessed (if you think the little red Corvette was a car, you haven't listened) but those critics fail to notice that he regarded sex as something that is important and not just for sport. Going back to the song I just alluded to, consider the lyrics: "...I felt a little ill / when I saw all the pictures / of the jockeys that were there before me... Little red Corvette / you need to find a love that's gonna last... Move over baby, gimme the keys / I'm gonna try to tame your little red love machine... Babe you gotta slow down / 'cause if you don't, 'cause if you don't / you're gonna run your body right into the ground."

Prince had religion (he was a Jehova's Witness) and when asked about social and political issues he gave opinions that might surprise you (he was against gay marriage). But you probably didn't know any of that for the blessed reason that he never threw his views into anyone's face. Wouldn't the world be a better place if more of us took a cue from him in that regard?

David Bowie
Many of the things I said about Prince could also be said about David Bowie. An eternally creative native of London, he had a virtuoso edge and sense of theatrics and couldn't care less what people thought about him. Like Prince, he had a businessman's mind and was shrewd enough to raise money by issuing Bowie Bonds in 1997 (investors who bought the bonds were guaranteed a return by being awarded a share of his royalties for the next 10 years).

Bowie began his professional music career at the age of 16 and first reached international stardom at the age of 25. That was when he released his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, for which he got into costume to dress for the androgynous role of the title character. Looking back, it's amusing how many people were driven to speculate about his sexuality because they couldn't separate the stage character from the man playing it.

Bowie's list of songs includes such classics as "Space Oddity," "Fame," "Changes," "Modern Love," "Under Pressure," "Dancing in the Street," and "Rebel, Rebel" -- and it's interesting how many good songs are his that you don't realize are his until you Google who sang or wrote them.

Bowie managed to keep his cancer a secret until after he died in January, two days shy of his 70th birthday. His final video, which shows him dressed dapper to the end and being creative to the end, is especially spooky when you view it and its denouement and ponder that he knew he was dying when he filmed it... and when you consider that the song is called "Lazarus."

Merle Haggard
In reality, Haggard wasn't from Muskogee and wasn't even an Okie. He was born in Southern California less than 5 miles from Bakersfield and less than 100 from Hollywood -- but his blue collar rearing and country attitude were one hundred percent authentic, and serve as reminders that there is more to Cali than Tinseltown and Frisco.

Merle Haggard was only 8 when his father died of an aneurysm, and his years from junior high through young adulthood were those of a delinquent. By the age of 16 he had already logged six stints in juvenile detention centers for crimes ranging from shoplifting to battery to escape. At the age of 20 he was sent to Bakersfield Jail for robbery, and after escaping from there was sent to San Quentin. While at San Quentin he spent time in solitary confinement after being caught drunk on booze he made with his cellmate to sell and barter to other prisoners.

Obviously, he wound up turning his cart around. While working as a ditch digger after his release, Haggard began performing, got some recording work, and in 1964, at the age of 27, released a cover of Wynn Stewart's "Sing a Sad Song" that became his first song to receive national airplay. One year later he scored his first Top 10 hit with "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers," and one year after that he scored his first #1 with "I'm A Lonesome Fugitive."

From there he became a force on the music scene, and although his sound and outlook were undeniably country, he was highly regarded by artists in others genres. Among those who recorded his songs were Dean Martin, Joan Baez, and the Grateful Dead.

"Okie from Muskogee" and "The Fightin' Side of Me" will always be the tunes most people associate with Merle Haggard. But my favorites will always be "Big City" and "I Guess He'd Rather Be in Colorado." When I hear him sing those tunes, I envision myself trekking across sagebrush-strewn wild lands with the Rockies in front of me.

Muhammad Ali
He was born as Cassius Clay in 1942 and started going by Muhammad Ali in 1964, but never actually changed his legal name... and there is simply no good way to write briefly about him because there are too many traits you feel compelled to mention, and too many contradictions and evolutions you feel compelled to examine.

He was a professional fighter, and yet an avowed pacifist. He very publicly adopted Islam as his faith, yet rarely spoke about it (despite his love for the camera and mic). At one point he supported the Nation of Islam's black separatist goals, but eventually removed himself from the NOI's thrall and became an advocate of racial reconciliation.

Ali was far from the first athlete to boast, but he was the first to turn trash-talking into an art form that bordered on poetry, such as when he quipped "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, the hand can't hit what the eyes can't see" shortly before entering the ring for his first bout against heavyweight champ Sonny Liston. Still Cassius Clay at the time, he proceeded to pull off the upset by beating Liston to claim the belt for himself.

Ali's gift for words left an imprint on the very names of some of history's most famous boxing matches. His third bout against arch rival Joe Frazier, staged in the capital of the Philippines, was dubbed "The Thrilla n Manila," while his fight against George Foreman in Zaire was called "The Rumble in the Jungle."

But let's face it: All that personality was secondary to his boxing prowess, for it took the latter to make him a public figure in the first place. Heavyweight boxers tend to be known for their punching power alone, which means there usually isn't much else -- which helps explain why so many heavyweight fights are 90 percent slow and boring. Ali was a different breed because he had feline quickness and fought with cunning and strategy, meaning there was nothing dull about his fights. And as a multiple-time champion who was named Fighter of the Year by Ring Magazine on six different occasions, there is no doubt that his boxing was about substance and not just pizzazz.

Unfortunately, Parkinson's disease robbed Ali's body and tongue of their dexterity for the last few decades of his life. It might be a blessing that his spirit was freed from its bodily cage when death came calling on June 3rd.

Alan Rickman
A graduate of the UK's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art who cut his acting teeth on stage, Rickman was unknown to American audiences until he appeared as the villain Hans Gruber in 1988's Die Hard. His portrayal of Gruber was so masterful that Rickman quickly became a hot commodity and was cast as the bad guys Elliot Marston in Quigley Down Under and Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

For millions of movie viewers and book readers, he will always be remembered for bringing Severus Snape to life. Snape was the dark wizard and potions teacher who served as the somewhat mysterious antagonist through most of the Harry Potter series, and there is not an actor on Earth who could have done a better job than Rickman at transferring Snape's complexity from the paper page to the silver screen.

Pancreatic cancer claimed him last January at the too-young age of 69. It is good that he won a BAFTA Award for his turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham and that he won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Rasputin, but it's almost a crime that he never won an Oscar: Count this as a situation where the public knows better than the academy.

Carrie Fisher
The daughter of superstars Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, she was seemingly born in the stratosphere. But her parents' very public divorce, which stemmed from her father cheating on her mother with one of her mother's best friends (namely, Elizabeth Taylor), left scars and ensured that the road she walked would not be easy. As an adult she struggled with bipolar disorder and drugs and booze -- and, to her credit, she was open about them and overcame them.

Carrie Fisher will always be best remembered as Princess Leia from Star Wars. She earned that role at the age of 19, and played it to perfection in four films about things that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. However, she was more successful as an author than as an actress. Over the years she churned out a list of bestsellers that included Postcards from the Edge, Wishful Drinking, and Shockaholic, to name just three.

While flying from Britain to California on December 23rd, she went into cardiac arrest 15 minutes before the plane landed and never regained consciousness. On December 27th she passed away at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center at the age of 60.

And then...

Debbie Reynolds
Oscar-winning screenwriters couldn't have scripted it any "better." The day after Carrie Fisher went to the afterlife, her mother joined her there.

Debbie Reynolds obtained silver spoons but was not born with them. An El Paso native whose father was a ditch digger and mother was a clothes washer, she summed her childhood up by saying: "We may have been poor but we always had something to eat, even if Dad had to go out on the desert and shoot jackrabbits."

Her family moved to California when she was a schoolgirl and she won the Miss Burbank beauty pageant in 1948, at the age of 16. Scouts from Warner Brothers and MGM were at the pageant and were so impressed they both tried to sign her. She went with Warner, but switched to MGM two years later because Warner stopped making musicals.

Reynolds's big break came when she was cast as the female lead opposite Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain. Released in 1952, that film became a classic and made Reynolds a star. She then used her acting and singing ability to remain active and relevant for years, earning an Oscar nomination for her performance as the title character in 1964's The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

She also recorded songs (three of which were Billboard hits), performed on Broadway and in Las Vegas, and remained vibrant into her eighties. Debbie Reynolds will be missed.