Thursday, July 30, 2009

Book Review: Too Fat to Fish

I have loved Artie Lange since before most Americans had ever heard of him. Back in 1995, MadTV was launched on FOX as a funny alternative to Saturday Night Live - which in the post-Phil Hartman years had actually become a drama. There was one member of the ensemble MadTV cast that caught my attention immediately: Lange. His impressions were funny, not because they were accurate but because - much like Chevy Chase's famous impersonations of Gerald Ford during the early SNL days - they bore absolutely zero resemblance to the character he was impersonating [he did Newt Gingrich with a Jersey accent]. And - for my money - nothing has ever been funnier on American television than Lange's portrayal of a black woman who was hit by a bus, had her soul jump into a big fat white guy from New Jersey, and became That's My White Mamma. Lange's catch phrase in the sketch - 'Don't make me break my foot off in your ass!" - still makes me laugh 15 years later.

Lange disappeared from television only to reappear seemingly attached to SNL alum Norm MacDonald. It was that relationship that led to Lange's eventual role-of-a-lifetime on The Howard Stern Show. A self-described rabid Stern fan, Lange's 'I could've been a longshoreman' persona made him connect with Stern's listeners in a way that Jackie Martling never could. Lange on Stern's show on "terrestrial radio" [or, 'testicle radio' as Lange coined it] was great. Lange on Stern's Sirius satellite radio show has been utter brilliance. Lange is a foul-mouthed comic and one now can hardly believe he was able to survive on commercial television and radio so many years without saying the word "fuck".

So, I say all of this as a prelude to demonstrate my Lange-loving credentials. I loved Artie. I still do. But after you read Too Fat To Fish, you're not going to like him that much. Lange's self-destructive behavior - told in uproariously painful detail on the air over the last eight years - are funny when he tells them on the radio because Lange is always the butt of the stories. In TFTF, however, you get to see the collateral damage: what Lange's behavior did to his family and friends as they tried to steer him off the course of destruction.

In short, if you're thinking about reading TFTF for laughs, keep walking. You're not going to get them here. Sure, there are funny tid bits and tales. But mostly it's a sad, disgusting, ugly tale. Maybe Lange did himself a disservice by telling all of those funny stories over the years on Stern's show. Anything funny in the book, you've already heard on the Stern show. It's the other stuff that you find out in the book: the friends he nearly beat up in fits of drug rage; the countless number of chances he was given only to always fuck it up with an overdose or violent behavior; the pain he inflicted on his mother and sister through his too-numerous-to-mention binges is truly disturbing.

While Lange's stories on the air about his binges are filled with self-deprecating humor, in the written word they come off as self-destructive and - worst - destructive to the lives of anyone around him. Lange comes off as a toxic nightmare - not just the chemical toxins he put in his body but the toxic effect he had on anyone involved in his life: friends, co-workers, producers, directors, even the poor maids who had to clean up after him. In fact, a not-so-insignificant part of the book is Lange apologizing - literally, apologizing - in the text to those he's hurt over the years. More than a dozen times you'll read something to the effect of, "I haven't seen [insert name here] since that happened. I love [insert name here]. If [he/she] is reading this, I want to apologize and say I love you."

Really, Artie, it would've been simpler to just write them a goddamned note. You didn't need to co-write a book to get it off your chest. Perhaps the fact that I read the book after it became known that Lange had relapsed and was back on heroin when he wrote it colored my thoughts about the book. Reading about his antics knowing that he was still addicted makes it less funny.

About halfway through the book I realized I was getting angrier and angrier at Lange. About three-quarters through I realized I didn't like him all that much, either. By the end of the book, I thought he was the biggest asshole I'd ever read about.

Fortunately, once Monday came around, I was able to go back to just listening to Lange on the radio and by Tuesday I loved him again. Like I said, if you're looking for laughs you'll be looking a long time. Anything funny in the book you've already heard on the Stern show. It's the aftermath of what he wrought that you'll read about. And you'll most definitely want to break your foot off in his enormous ass.

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book Review: Hello Darlin'

Larry Hagman is one of my all-time favorite actors. J.R. Ewing has been as much an integral part of my life as has Archie Bunker - portrayed, ironically enough, by Hagman's lifelong close friend Carroll O'Connor. Hagman's portrayal of J.R. and the phenomenon that was Dallas defined the late 1970s/early 1980s for many Americans.

But, if you are looking for tall tales about the Dallas years in Hagman's autobiography, you'll have to wait until page 181 [of a 272-page book]. The 13 years of Dallas zip by in Hagman's story with a few stories, opinions and recaps. Surprisingly, however, despite this you'll not be disappointed in this book. In actuality, the seemingly short-shrift given to Dallas is simply the way Hagman views his life: Dallas was but one of a string of unbelievably lucky breaks received by a man who has lived an extraordinarily lucky life and who is smart enough to know how lucky he has been.

Hagman doesn't hate Dallas - far from it. He may be the only actor so tied to a role who doesn't hate the association [O'Connor bristled at being constantly labeled as "Archie"; James Gandolfini won't even allow questions about The Sopranos from any journalist; then there's poor Fred Gwynne who - when he died - had Herman Munster's photo reprinted in newspapers across the country]. Hagman embraces J.R. and the series that created him. He loved nearly all of his castmates [the only one he speaks poorly of is the late Dack Rambo, whom Hagman said he actually liked during the series but hated after Rambo publicly called Hagman a "homophobe" who got Rambo fired from Dallas because of his openly bisexual lifestyle and his HIV diagnosis; charges Hagman angrily dismisses].

Hagman writes of trying to get Jim Davis to kick his five-pack-a-day cigarette habit [Hagman quit smoking in the 1960s and became one of the biggest anti-smoking advocates in Hollywood]; and of losing a similar battle with Barbara Bel Geddes until a near-fatal heart attack got her to stop in the mid-1980s. Hagman's fondness for Patrick Duffy is clear, as the close relationship he has maintained with Linda Gray. Unlike many Hollywood tales, the cast of Dallas was actually a tight-knit group - all of whom couldn't believe their great fortune to be a part of something like Dallas.

Indeed, Hagman is fully aware and grateful for the tens of millions of dollars Dallas has earned him. He can still remember being so low on money that he had to rent out his home to Peter Sellers for a month [while he and his wife, Maj, slept on a mattress in Peter Fonda's office]. But Hagman's life was noteworthy before Dallas and if his post-Dallas career has been quieter, his successful recovery from a liver transplant brought him continued renown.

And one of the most enjoyable things about the book is Hagman's seemingly endless encounters with other celebrities. Granted, with a mother as famous as Mary Martin was in her day, it's not unusual that Hagman met famous people long before he himself would reach the stage or screen. Still, Hagman's eclectic list of friends over the years - in addition to Fonda, Sellers and O'Connor - include: Ray Bradbury, Marlon Brando, Art Buchwald, David Crosby, Cary Grant, Joel Grey, Dennis Hopper, Margot Kidder, Richard Lewis, Steve McQueen, Peter Marshall, Lee Marvin, Burgess Meredith, Jack Nicholson, Charlotte Rae, George C. Scott, and last but certainly not least: The Who's Keith Moon. Reading of his adventures in drinking with Moon is worth the cost of the book itself.

The book is a quick - and funny - read. Typical is a story Hagman tells of the shitty amenities the cast of Dallas dealt with - even long after it had become a hit. One of the shittier places [pun intended] was the restrooms on set. When they put in a handicapped stall, it narrowed the other stalls to the point where no one could use them. So, everyone used the handicapped stall, as no one on the cast, crew or staff were disabled. One day, however, while Hagman was in the stall doing his business, there was a sharp bang on the stall door. "Who's in there!" the voice belonging to the 'bang' queried. "I am," said Hagman. "Who are you?!" said the voice incredulously. Hagman told him it was none of his business. This really pissed the guy off. The voice said that he was disabled and needed to use the stall NOW. Hagman apologized and said he'd be happy to vacate it as soon he was finished. This led the man to threaten to call security. When Hagman got out he saw a clearly pissed off man in a wheelchair. At this point, Hagman was recognizable the world over but this man didn't recognize him. "Hey asshole," the guy said as Hagman walked out. "What's your name?" Hagman replied, "Patrick Duffy. And go fuck yourself."

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Once There Was a Spot, For One Brief Shining Moment...

Senator Edward M. Kennedy [D, Mass] (above from 2007) has lived six months longer than his original prognosis. Will he survive long enough to see "The cause of my life" come to pass?

My feelings about Sen. Edward M. Kennedy [D, Mass] are always in flux, depending on what I've most recently read or seen. Under the word 'enigma', you'll find Ted Kennedy. He's either the greatest legislator the nation has ever produced, or he's a bungling, bloated windbag of wealth and privilege. I'm sure he probably really falls somewhere in between [although I suspect closer to the 'greatest' than to the 'windbag']. On this blog, I've lambasted him and I've also linked to a great, great seven-part series on Teddy in the Boston Globe from earlier this year. I can also heartily recommend on-demand the HBO documentary Teddy: In His Own Words. It's the most I've ever heard him speak about Chappaquiddick. It also has some chilling audio, including never-before-heard [at least by me] taped communication between the White House radio room and the White House on-the-ground handler in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, confirming that President Kennedy has died. There's also some audio from the Nixon Tapes of Nixon telling aides to pin the 1972 attempted assassination of presidential candidate Gov. George Wallace [D, Ala] on a Kennedy supporter regardless of the evidence.

Since that documentary is the most recent, I'm feeling love for Teddy right now. The fact that - by most accounts - the man probably won't survive the year is probably playing a role, too. Let's face it: Teddy is the only link my generation had to the 'living' Kennedy mystique. While I'm pretty sure I was conceived around the time Bobby was killed, Teddy is the only Kennedy brother I've ever known. Not personally, obviously, but nonetheless I could always feel tied to the '60s and Camelot and Bobby through watching Ted slosh his way through his life.

I remember the surge in popularity that hit much of the country in late-1979, when Kennedy formally announced the obvious: he would challenge President Carter in the 1980 primaries. What had been a dull and lackluster Democratic gallows walk [with Carter's approval rating in the proverbial toilet], all of a sudden Kennedy injected electricity. The Democratic party would be the winner, either way: if Kennedy defeated an incumbent President, not even Ronald Reagan would be able to defeat him. If Carter managed to fight off Kennedy, then he would be energized and battle-tested to go up against Reagan.

Obviously, not quite. Kennedy was sunk by a front-page story on Chappaquiddick in the New York Times on the eve of a huge slate of northeastern primaries, the obvious frost in his marriage to Joan, and his support for universal health care which Carter successfully equated in the public mind with socialism. Far from being energized, though, Carter squandered away his mid-summer lead over Reagan by Labor Day.

Many believe it was the health care issue that ultimately undid Kennedy in 1980. Which brings me [after one hell of a preamble] to the topic of my blog. It is more than ironic that - as the nation finally has the debate that Kennedy has urged upon it for more than 30 years - Kennedy is too ill to participate in the day-to-day battle over health care legislation. And, if you don't believe that Kennedy is still powerful enough to have an impact when healthy, why don't you ask Senator Clinton how her campaign for President recovered from Kennedy's shocking endorsement of Barack Obama in 2008?

Today, Kennedy is very, very sick. By most accounts, he spends all of his days at his house on Cape Cod. The woman who probably saved his life nearly 20 years ago, his wife Vicki, prepares a packet of news clippings for Kennedy each morning so that he can keep up with the health care debate. If there's a hearing going on in Washington, Kennedy reportedly watches it on his laptop.
As Congress and the man he helped to put in the White House wrestle with historic legislation to give every American access to quality health care, Kennedy is sidelined, battling brain cancer instead of reveling in the culmination of his legislative career.

His son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy [D, RI] has tearfully told reporters, "[Kennedy] has lived for this day when America would finally extend this right to every citizen. There's no doubt if he could, he would be here in the thick of this."

The younger Kennedy is quick to point out, however, that his father's not dead yet. Exerting what influence he can from his sickbed, Ted Kennedy advises his aides in Washington over the phone. He has made himself the poster child of what he calls "my life's cause," and is using his illness in a final press for universal health care.

At 77 years of age, Kennedy has outlasted medical expectations since doctors diagnosed a malignant tumor last spring, and by all accounts intends to expend every last bit of his political capital to deliver the bill he feels he will be most remembered for. Democratic leaders plan to bring him physically back to the Senate floor later this year in a wheelchair, or a bed if necessary, to cast his vote for health care reform.

Citing his own sophisticated course of medical treatment for brain cancer - risky surgery at Duke University Medical Center to remove part of the tumor, proton-beam radiation at Massachusetts General Hospital and multiple rounds of chemotherapy - Kennedy has talked about the health care enjoyed by the rich. "My wife, Vicki, and I have worried about many things, but not whether we could afford my care and treatment," Kennedy wrote in an essay published in last week's Newsweek. "I have enjoyed the best medical care money (and a good insurance policy) can buy. . . . Every American should be able to get the same treatment that U.S. senators are entitled to....We're almost there."

Kennedy's aggressive cancer is bringing a sense of urgency to a famously slow-moving Congress, with friends on both sides of the aisle mindful of passing a bill in time for him to see it signed. The last time Kennedy made it to the Capitol was April. In June, he missed passage of his groundbreaking measure to regulate tobacco. This month, Kennedy, who heads the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, could not participate in the crucial drafting of his health care legislation.

Those close to him say he has his good days and bad. His well-informed staff is respected on Capitol Hill, and in Kennedy's absence enjoys unusually direct access to some lawmakers. But Kennedy's aides, who have fiercely defended their boss' bill, have not been in a position to broker compromises and have caused tension at times, trying to carry on in Kennedy's stead while lacking his stature.

Perhaps Kennedy's greatest gift over a 46-year Senate career has been working with Republicans. "He's the only Democrat who really has the sway with the unions, the trial lawyers, gays and lesbians, environmentalists, feminists," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch [R, Utah], a conservative Republican who has teamed with Kennedy on health care legislation for three decades. "We've linked arms on a lot of things for the good of the country. And I give him a lot of credit because it hasn't always been easy to link arms with me."

Of course, Ted Kennedy's record on health care reform is hardly flawless. Critics believe his refusal to compromise with Presidents Nixon and Carter caused him to miss promising windows of opportunity to pass health care reform. During the Reagan years, he bowed to labor unions and declined to back a plan for catastrophic health insurance, a move he later regretted.

Now an overhaul seems more possible than it has in years, and Kennedy's absence is keenly felt on both sides. Hatch hasn't heard from his old friend in more than a month. That's a long way from the days when, in the throes of creating a government health insurance program for poor children, Kennedy enlisted his chief of staff to serenade Hatch, an amateur songwriter, with one of Hatch's most patriotic tunes.

Back then, when Kennedy displayed his liberal stubbornness, Hatch would threaten to call his big sister, Eunice. "He'd say, 'Oh, no, don't do that. We'll work it out,' " Hatch recalled recently, chuckling. Last week, a frustrated Hatch walked out of bipartisan negotiations.

Such deep, cross-party friendships -- it was Hatch who first urged Kennedy to quit drinking after the fatal accident at Chappaquiddick in 1969 -- are rare today among younger lawmakers more focused on conquest than compromise. And that's what's missing as opponents struggle to find common cause on an issue of great concern to most Americans.

Sen. Michael B. Enzi [R, Wy.], the ranking Republican on Kennedy's health committee, found himself largely left out of the process and took to calling the product the "Kennedy staff bill," refusing to believe his friend would have denied him a seat at the table. "[Kennedy] wouldn't have done that," Enzi said recently. "I have always been able to sit down and have some input."

Perhaps as an ode to Kennedy, Senate Democratic leaders this past week decided to devote more time to winning Republican support for a health care overhaul. The effort allows President Obama to keep alive the possibility of bipartisanship on one of the most contentious issues on his agenda.

But the President's party is hardly doing him any favors in Kennedy's absence. Obama is under growing pressure to choose between wooing a small band of Republicans or struggling to rally his party to use its big majorities in Congress to get the job done. The bipartisanship exhibited in the passage of another ambitious domestic program that offers one historical backdrop for this debate — Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 with no small effort by a young Ted Kennedy himself — seems increasingly improbable in today’s Washington. Where are the Kennedys, Keatings, Mansfields, McCarthys, Muskies and Dirksens of this generation?

And, make no mistake, Kennedy would be having to work as hard on his own party - perhaps more so - as with Republicans. Obama has a great deal of political clout, yet he's having one hell of a time corralling his own party behind a health care plan. After a sharp clash on Friday between different camps of Democrats on the health care bill, House staff members worked into the weekend in an effort to reach a compromise and bring a bill to the floor before recessing for the summer.

Of course, even if Obama goes the bipartisan route and succeeds, the end result could be comparatively modest: Perhaps fewer than 10 Senate Republicans, and perhaps not even that many in the House. Social Security, by contrast, passed in 1935 with the support of 16 of the 25 Republican senators and 81 of the 102 Republican representatives.

Obama could certainly use Kennedy, regardless of the challenges: better to have him than not in a Senate where partisan infighting - despite a central pledge Obama offered the nation from the earliest days of his candidacy - shows no sign of abating. Obama's aides have increasingly debated whether he should abide by it in the face of Republican resistance and liberal pressure not to concede on the principles of an overhaul plan, like a public plan to compete with private insurers. And how much are Democrats going to be willing to give up for what could be just a handful of Republican votes, and just the veneer of bipartisanship?

Would Kennedy recommend to Obama that he abandon his efforts to reach out to Republicans? Obama would risk damaging his appeal among independent voters, who have a history of being put off by overt partisanship. In addition, the go-it-alone course could cost Obama and, more important to their own self-preservation, Congressional Democrats political cover should the health care plan prove ineffective, unpopular or excessively costly before the 2010 or 2012 elections. It could also set a polarizing pattern for the remaining three years of Obama’s first term, complicating his efforts to get through an ambitious agenda by forcing him to rely only on Democrats for votes.

No less important, a partisan vote could also undercut the political legitimacy of the effort itself. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were all passed with significant support from both parties, which is one of the reasons those programs have become such an accepted part of the country’s political landscape.

While I'm longing for the "good old days" of bipartisanship, I realize that there is a key, key element that is missing: the moderate. The moderate Democrat and the moderate Republican are more than an endangered species in Congress. Because they are dwindling in numbers to near extinction, it is hardly clear that a bipartisan agreement on health care is even possible. A string of Congressional defeats has recast the Republican Party, leaving it smaller, more conservative and more combative. Thirty years ago, about one-third of Republicans in the House and Senate were moderate. Today, we've lost that ideological middle. The fact is, the loss of the moderates makes it very difficult to get bipartisanship for major policy changes.

The Senate Finance Committee right now offers the lone hope for the White House in its search for Republican support. That is also where the trade-off is particularly stark. It is there that a bill exists that would mean giving up on a public plan to compete with private insurers. The problem is, even with that bill, only a few Republicans have agreed to support it. While that would be enough to get it out of committee, would that be worth it? It is the prospect of that trade that has some Democrats worried and is another source of pressure for the White House.

“If they overstep the line in the negotiations to bring three or four Republicans along, there will be a reaction among Democrats unlike anything you’ll hear among Republicans,” Senator Christopher J. Dodd [D, Conn], said Saturday. Dodd - an old Kennedy drinking buddy and lifelong friend - said, “There is a false assumption that anything you can work out with a handful of Republicans will be embraced by Democrats in the House, the Senate and across the country. That is totally wrong.”

Republicans say this White House’s effort at bipartisanship had been one of symbols — presidential calls, invitations to the White House, regular tending by such high level officials as David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel — rather than substance. “We hear from them all the time,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander [R, Tenn]. “They said the right things. They are as cordial as you can be.” But, Alexander said, the talk has not yet led to a serious effort to find a bipartisan solution. “They should at least try it. They haven’t tried it,” he said.

The last time Congress came close to achieving bipartisan agreement on a major piece of legislation was No Child Left Behind in 2001 [ok, bad example; that legislation was a piece of shit]. Perhaps a better example would be that a significant number of Democrats voted for President George W. Bush’s tax cut, also in 2001.

Kennedy was involved - deeply involved - in No Child Left Behind [or, as I like to call it, No Child Left Standing]. He opposed the tax cuts vigorously. Of course, it's not 2001. It's not 1965 either. It's 2009 and seven-twelfths. Kennedy may not have as long as 2010 to see it passed. While he's still here among us, however, he's not in the Senate. And if this is a portent of what a post-Kennedy Senate is going to look like, our feelings about Kennedy after his death will most definitely tend more toward 'great legislator'.

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Woke Up This Morning, Got Yourself A Gun

The arrests on Thursday of 44 people in New York and New Jersey laid out the plot for a fictious eighth season of The Sopranos in which Tony Soprano [portrayed by James Gandolfini, above] would get ensnared.

I'd forgotten how much I miss The Sopranos. The drama, violence, comedic stupidity, tension, sexual perversion...that's entertainment. What reminded me that I really, really miss The Sopranos was the arrest on Thursday of 44 would-be characters for a fictitious eighth season of the Emmy-winning HBO series. While they're real-life - as will be the jail terms many of these idiots are looking at - they could've just as easily been created by David Chase or any of the other Sopranos' writers.

In this eighth season, Tony - no, folks, he didn't get whacked in that diner. He passed out from hunger waiting for Meadow to finally show up - and the [new] gang get snared in an international money-laundering investigation stretching from the Jersey Shore to Brooklyn to Israel and Switzerland, culminating in the season-finale where charges are filed against 44 people - including Tony...and Carmela. Oh, it also snags three New Jersey mayors, two state assemblymen and - for comedic levity - five rabbis.

In real life, these 44 who were arrested on Thursday are a combination of criminal, stupid, and unlucky - a recipe for getting indicted, I believe. The real-life case began with bank fraud charges against a member of a virtually unknown and insular Syrian Jewish enclave centered in the seaside Jersey town of Deal. But when that man became a federal informant and posed as a crooked real estate developer offering cash bribes to obtain government approvals, Jersey pols, teamsters and a cast of others nearly fell over one another trying to get in on the payoffs. Thus what had been a small bank fraud investigation mushroomed into a political scandal that would lead television writers to call this fictious eighth season of The Sopranos "the fucking best ever" - says David Hinkley of the New York Daily News.

The story would be replete with tales of the illegal sales of body parts; of furtive negotiations in diners, parking lots and boiler rooms; of nervous jokes about “patting down” a man who turned out to indeed be an informant; and, again and again, of the passing of cash — once in a box of Apple Jacks cereal stuffed with $97,000. "Sil," Tony would say - yes, Silvio survived that assassination attempt; the fact that Tony never visited him during his convalescence [in contrast to Sil's vigil at the hospital when Tony was shot] would be an underlying theme throughout the season, leaving the viewer to wonder if Silvio was plotting to whack Tony - "what the fuck?!? Apple Jacks!?? Jesus, you're worse than [the late] Bobby [Baccala]. Everything's food with you!"

Ralph J. Marra Jr., is the real-life Acting United States Attorney in New Jersey. He'd be played - in another one of those eclectic castings along the lines of Stevie VanZandt or Frankie Valli - by Jon Bon Jovi. At the news conference announcing the indictments at the end of the season, Bon Jovi - hair slicked back with more oil than you'd find in the Hudson on any given morning - would say, “These people existed in an ethics-free zone. Against these criminals, average citizens don’t have a chance. The culture of influence peddling this investigation has unearthed is breathtaking." The fact that Bon Jovi had appeared earlier in season eight - at the annual high-stakes poker game Tony runs [which also featured cameos by Bill Clinton, Bono and - inexplicably - Kenny Rogers] would make his appearance in the season-finale all-the-more shocking.

In real life, yesterday's indictments saw the arrests of the mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus and Ridgefield, New Jersey. The Hoboken mayor has been in office 22 days, by the way. I believe that is a record for getting indicted, even in the state of New Jersey. Also, in real life, the arrests had immediate reverberations in the New Jersey governor’s race, as a member of Gov. Jon S. Corzine's [D] administration was forced to resign after federal agents raided his home.

The real life situation would've been a great season plot: there would be two separate schemes, one involving money laundering that led to rabbis and members of the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn and in the Jersey Shore town of Deal, where many of them have summer homes. The other scheme would have dealt with political corruption and bribery and involved public officials mostly in Jersey City and Hoboken, site of the famous Soprano/Esplande development from earlier seasons of the series.

Linking the two schemes would be a federal informant. In real life, the guy's name is Solomon Dwek, a failed real estate developer and philanthropist who was arrested in May 2006 on charges of passing a bad $25 million check at a bank in Monmouth County, N.J. In the series, Dwek would be played by Jason Earles, better knowns as Jackson Stewart in Hannah Montana. I told you Chase's castings are brilliant.

In real life, Dwek helped investigators penetrate an extensive network of money laundering that involved rabbis in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, where the Syrian Jewish community is based, and in Deal and Elberon, towns on the Jersey Shore. Dwek, a well-known member of the Syrian Jewish community whose parents founded the Deal Yeshiva, would make a great character once he was introduced in season eight. The guy was so brazen, he never even concealed from the Goodfellas and pols he was entrapping that he was facing bank fraud charges. Instead, he told his targets, who included three rabbis in Brooklyn and two in New Jersey, that he was bankrupt and trying to conceal his assets. Dwek needed a favor if he was going to be able to conceal his money, and that favor would net the targets lost of cash. Dwek proposed that the targets accept bank checks Dwek made out to charities that the targets oversaw. The targets would deduct a fee [the cash payoff], and would then return the rest to Dwek in cash. The targets - many who were arrested Thursday - agreed. Much of the cash they provided Dwek came from Israel, and some of that in turn came from a Swiss banker. All told, some $3 million was laundered for Dwek since June 2007.

That money-laundering angle - small potatoes - turned into a focus on public corruption after one of the men accused of money laundering, Moshe Altman of Monsey, N.Y., a Hudson County developer, introduced Zwek to a politically connected building inspector in Jersey City, who then steered him to another city official, Maher Khalil. In The Sopranos season, Altman would be Hesh. Still pissed off at the way Tony treated him during season seven when Hesh insisted on Tony repaying his $200,000 "loan", Hesh would have gotten Tony involved by asking Tony to get Dwek/Earles hooked up with Jersey City official Khalil - played brilliantly by....hold your breath: Justin Timberlake. Who knew the little creep could really act?

Anyway, the real-life Khalil is accused of accepting $30,000 in bribes from Dwek. Khalil in return made a series of referrals to what he called “players,” helping Dwek to branch out to a web of public officials, mayoral and council candidates, and their confidants. Dwek — now operating under an assumed identity — honed an approach: introduced to a local influence-peddler, he would say he was looking to build high-rises or other projects in their city or county. He would offer $5,000 in cash for an upcoming campaign, or as a straight-up bribe, with the promise of more to come, and with earnest pleas that his official requests be “taken care of.” And he would pull the money out of the trunk of his car. Dwek also came up with a lingo: corrupt payments were “invitations,” approvals for development projects were “opportunities.” The communities where his pitch appears to have worked included Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, Ridgefield and parts of Ocean County.

Among the public officials arrested in real life on Thursday were Mayor Peter J. Cammarano III of Hoboken, who was a City Council member before he took office as mayor on July 1, and Mayor Dennis Elwell of Secaucus, both Democrats; Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith of Jersey City, also a Democrat; and Assemblyman Daniel M. Van Pelt, a Republican from Ocean County. For The Sopranos, Cammarano - again, in a brilliant piece of casting only a guy like David Chase could get away with - is played by disgraced former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. Elwell and Smith would be played by two of those 'used-to-be-real-mobsters-now-they-act-on-The-Sopranos' guys. Van Pelt, though, would be the jewel of casting: Chase would cast Larry Hagman to play him.

Like some of the others arrested, the real life Assemblyman Smith from Jersey City ironically ran for office on an anticorruption platform, telling the New York Times: “I don’t take cash. I don’t let people give me things.” He is charged with taking $15,000 in bribes.

The real-life Van Pelt, who sits on an assembly committee that oversees the Department of Environmental Protection, accepted money to help the informant obtain environmental permits. On The Sopranos, Hagman - playing Van Pelt - would meet in Atlantic City with Earles - playing Dwek - assuring the informant that the environmental agency “worked for” him. Hagman would then take $10,000 in cash and tell Earles to call him “any time.”

In real life, the bulk of the corruption charges arose in Hudson County. The president of the City Council in Jersey City, Mariano Vega Jr., and the city’s deputy mayor, Leona Beldini, were also arrested. Vega took three $10,000 payments before and after the municipal elections in May. Anthony R. Suarez, the mayor of Ridgefield, in Bergen County, was charged with accepting $10,000 in bribes.

As we saw throughout the run of The Sopranos, the court papers detailed the ease and relatively modest payments with which local officials seemed willing to be part of criminal schemes. In Hoboken, for example, Cammarano, then a councilman running for mayor who - in The Sopranos - would have been played by Freddie Prinz, Jr. - eagerly agreed in a meeting at the Malibu Diner this year to help Dwek with his projects in exchange for cash. Dwek asked for assurances that his requests would be expedited by the Hoboken City Council. Cammarano replied, “I promise you,” adding, “You’re going to be, you’re going to be treated like a friend.” Dwek responded that he would give a middleman $5,000 in cash for Cammarano and another $5,000 after his election as mayor. “O.K.,” Cammarano replied. “Beautiful, ” although the real life Cammarano expressed confidence that he would be elected no matter what. “Right now, the Italians, the Hispanics, the seniors are locked down. Nothing can change that now." In a brilliant foreshadow, Prinz, Jr. would say, “I could be, uh, indicted, and I’m still going to win 85 to 95 percent of those populations.”

For comic relief, we'd have the money laundering scheme I spoke of earlier. In real life, Thursday saw a series of rabbis arrested. These included Saul J. Kassin, 87, a leader of the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn and New Jersey; Mordchai Fish and Lavel Schwartz, both rabbis in Brooklyn; and Eliahu Ben Haim and Edmund Nahum, who lead congregations in Deal.

Rabbi Nahum - who would've been played by another brilliant casting decision: Jackie Mason - told Dwek that he should spread his money through a number of rabbis. “The more it’s spread the better,” Mason would tell Earles on the series, in that delivery that only Jackie Mason could do.

In true comedic tradition, another man in Brooklyn, Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, enticed vulnerable people to give up a kidney for $10,000 and then promised to sell the organ for $160,000. Dwek pretended to be soliciting a kidney on behalf of someone and Rosenbaum said that he had been in business of buying organs for years.

Back to the governor's race. Corzine is facing off against former United States Attorney Christopher J. Christie, a Republican, under whom the investigation began. And, as mentioned earlier, Corzine's administration was caught up in the arrests Thursday. Agents raided the home of Joseph V. Doria Jr., commissioner of the state’s Department of Community Affairs. Doria, who is also the former mayor of Bayonne, resigned hours later at Governor Corzine’s request.

On The Sopranos, Corzine - portrayed brilliantly by Rob Reiner - would bellow, “Any corruption is unacceptable — anywhere, anytime, by anybody. The scale of corruption we’re seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated.” In real life, Corzine also called for the resignations of Assemblymen Smith and Van Pelt.

Season eight would fade out with Tony and Carmella both in separate holding cells awating arraignment. In their last scene together, Tony and Carmella would pass each other as they were being led to their respective arraignments. Carmella would eye Tony and bitterly say under her breath, "I should've left you when I had the fucking chance." Viewers would wonder if that's a prelude to Carmella ratting out Tony; we'd still wonder about Silvio...and we'd all be looking forward to season nine. In lieu of that, though, at least we have the upcoming trials of these 44 idiots.

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Domestic Violence to the Nth Power

Mourners arrived at Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church in San Dimas last December [above] to celebrate a Mass for the nine members of a family killed during a Christmas Eve shooting rampage.

Last Christmas season we were all horrified with the mass murder of nine people in a California home by a disgruntled ex-husband dressed in a Santa suit. At the time, like most of us, I was stunned by the violent juxtaposition of such an incomprehnsible tragedy and the holiday around which it occurred. Now, nearly seven months after the crime, the events that led up to the horror have come to light.

We already knew that it was nearing midnight when a large man emerged from his rented blue Dodge and approached a brick home at the end of a cul-de-sac in Covina, Californi. The man wore a handmade Santa Claus suit with boot-covers, belt, beard, glasses and gloves. This sight in and of itself was hardly suspicious, as it was Christmas Eve.

But underneath the Santa outfit the man wore black street clothes, carried five 9-millimeter handguns and $17,000 in cash plastic-wrapped to his body. He was pulling a compressor wrapped in Christmas paper and primed with high-octane fuel. In one shoe he had a printout for a ticket on a Northwest Airlines flight to Moline, Ill.

The man knocked. Inside, a family Christmas party was ending, and Sylvia Pardo's relatives had gathered near the door to say good night. The door swung open and an 8-year-old girl ran to Santa. He shot her in the face. Then he stepped into the house and opened fire. Sylvia's sister - who would be dead in seconds - frantically dialed 911. "His name," she told the dispatcher before being shot to death, "is Bruce Pardo."

Nine people died in that rampage - although miraculously the 8-year old survived...physically, anyway. Emotionally, the trauma has scarred her, and her family fears she will never be able to lead what one might call a 'normal' life. All before her 9th birthday. Among the dead were Bruce Pardo's former wife, Sylvia, and her parents. Pardo, 45, in a burst of good taste, took his own life a few hours later.

It now appears that, although privately troubled by the deterioration of his marriage, Bruce Pardo glowed with charm and generosity in public. Even those closest to him had no inkling that last June, long before his divorce was final, he had begun secretly assembling an arsenal and plotting an elaborate getaway.

Pardo grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s, the son of an engineer, and demonstrated an early knack for mathematics. He graduated from Cal State Northridge with a degree in computer science.

As with many mass murderers, friends and co-workers recalled Pardo as exceptionally bright. Just out of college he landed a job as a software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory [JPL] in La Canada Flintridge. Again, as with most mass murderers, there were undertones of 'whacko' in some of his behavior, not the least of which was his unusual joy in defeating the computer security systems he helped create. Once, he even hacked into the JPL computer system to learn his co-workers' salaries.

Pardo's personal life contained far more substantial evidence of 'lunatic'. In 1988, when he was 24, Pardo became engaged to a JPL co-worker. They invited 250 guests to the nuptials at the San Fernando Mission. Because Pardo didn't have much money [he was living with his Mommy at the time], his easily-duped bride-to-be dipped into her own life savings for a country club reception and honeymoon reservations in Tahiti. You know what happened next, right? On the day of the wedding, June 17, 1989, his fiancee as well as his brother Brad and his mother, Nancy Windsor, waited for nearly an hour for Pardo to show up. He never did. The next week, his fiancee learned he had withdrawn the $3,000 left in their credit union account. Turns out, Pardo had fled to Palm Springs and blew all the money. For some unknown reason, his fiancee refused to file charges...although the wedding was off.

Throughout the 1990s Pardo drifted from relationship to relationship. By 2001, at age 37, he was living in Woodland Hills with his girlfriend, Elena Lucano, and their 13-month-old son, Bruce Matthew. What happened next was perhaps the biggest indicator of the psychotic that Pardo truly was. A week after New Year's, little Matthew fell into the backyard swimming pool while Pardo was watching television in the house. When Lucano returned home, she found Pardo screaming and holding Matthew in his arms. While Pardo did maintain a vigil by the boy's hospital bed for about a week, once doctors determined that Matthew would never fully recover, Pardo was gone. Matthew, now 9, is severely brain-damaged and a paraplegic. Neither Lucano nor Matthew ever saw Pardo again.

In 2004, Pardo met Sylvia Orza. They were introduced by her brother-in-law, one of Pardo's co-workers at JPL. He never mentioned Matthew to her. Orza, 40, had three children from two previous marriages. They were married Jan. 29, 2006, and Pardo bought a three-bedroom, $565,000 home in Montrose, taking on a $452,000 mortgage. They also bought an Akita, which they named Saki, and seemed to live happily with Sylvia's 4-year-old daughter. Pardo was a regular usher for Sunday Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, a few blocks away.

At first, Pardo was drawn to his wife's warm and welcoming family. But after the first year of their marriage, his bizarre personality took over. He became cold, miserly and distant. Pardo and Sylvia often argued about money. At the same time, Pardo's own mother had grown quite fond of Sylvia and her children. Somehow it took his mother nearly three years before her concience became too much: in late 2007, Pardo's mother confided to Sylvia that Pardo had a severely disabled son whom he claimed as a tax deduction but didn't support.

That was the final straw for Sylvia. The couple separated March 7, 2008. Sylvia asked Pardo if she could stay in the home while her daughter finished the last few months of kindergarten, but Pardo - by now clearly Mr. Stability - instead moved her belongings onto the driveway while she was at a niece's birthday party. She filed for divorce and moved in with her sister in Glendale. That would be a fateful - and deadly - decision for Sylvia's sister and her family, half of whom would be killed by Pardo before the year was over. Sylvia hired an attorney, Scott Nord, who almost ended up being victim number 10.

Meanwhile, Pardo had left JPL and was working as an engineer for ITT Radar Systems, a Van Nuys defense contractor, earning $122,000 a year. Sylvia was making about $31,000 as an administrative assistant for an El Monte flower company. On June 18, 2008, a Burbank judge ordered Pardo to pay $1,785 a month in spousal support. Pardo's first check bounced and he stopped payment on the second, Sylvia's attorney Nord told the court. On July 31, Pardo was fired from ITT for billing fraudulent hours.

By then, however, Pardo had already launched his plan to kill Sylvia and her entire family. The job loss merely presented him an opportunity to spend more time on the plan, as well as to get out of paying her any support until the divorce was finalized. Authorities believe that Pardo had planned on killing Sylvia and her family before - not because - he was fired.

Back on June 13, he drove to Burbank and walked into Gun World [very creative name, no?], and paid $999.95 cash for a Sig Sauer 9-millimeter handgun. On Aug. 8, Pardo was back at Gun World to buy another Sig Sauer 9-millimeter handgun. California law limits sales of concealable firearms to one per customer every 30 days. A month later, on Sept. 8, Pardo bought a third from the same store. He returned for a fourth on Oct. 11 and a fifth on Nov. 13.

While lawyers for Pardo and Sylvia exchanged briefs in the fall, Pardo spent most of his time at home in Montrose. On Sept. 8, he called a neighbor, Jeri Deiotte, owner of Jeri's Costumes. He ordered a Santa Claus outfit, saying it was for a children's party. He dropped off a $200 deposit and promised to return in November.

During August and September, Pardo applied for jobs in the high-tech industry, but few companies were hiring. Because of Pardo's financial difficulties, the judge hearing their divorce case agreed to suspend his support payments.

About that time, Steve Erwin, an old high school friend of Pardo's, telephoned completely out of the blue. By now, Erwin, his wife and six children lived in Iowa, and he and Pardo hadn't been in touch for several years. Erwin invited Pardo to Iowa in October to help celebrate Erwin's 45th birthday. When Pardo arrived, he told Erwin about the divorce and said he had "been sitting at home and thinking about everything." Pardo seemed embarrassed that his personal life, including his firing and finances, was on public display in divorce court. Pardo told Erwin that he and his mother were barely speaking and that she sat with Sylvia's family at divorce hearings. Pardo seemed to enjoy Erwin's children. He helped them with their algebra homework and gave them change from his pockets. When he left town, he left seven $1 bills under Erwin's 9-year-old son's pillow.

Pardo's visit wasn't all pleasure however, there was also business to tend to: he stopped by a gun shop in Iowa and bought 16 handgun magazines, each of which holds 18 bullets, eight more than allowed in magazines sold in California.

After his visit to Erwin, Pardo returned to California and went to pick up his Santa outfit from Deiotte. Most of her customers rented costumes, but Pardo, at 6 feet 4 and 275 pounds, had wanted his made to order. And he specifically asked that it have extra room. When he picked up the suit, he paid the $100 remaining on his bill and tipped her $20.

By now, his plan was coming together. He had five handguns in a room at home and a DeWalt compressor, a 50-foot hose and a tank of high-octane fuel in a backyard shed. Days before Thanksgiving, as further evidence of his psychosis, he set up his Christmas lights.

A week before Christmas, in a hearing room on the second floor of the Burbank courthouse, the marriage of Bruce Pardo and Sylvia Orza was officially terminated. The cause: irreconcilable differences. Pardo agreed to pay his ex-wife $10,000. She kept the diamond engagement ring and got their dog, Saki.

The next day, the Friday before Christmas, Pardo walked into a Montrose travel agency to price a plane ticket to visit Erwin's family. He returned to the agency on Monday and paid $650 cash for a round-trip ticket to Moline, Ill., the closest airport to Erwin's home. The itinerary called for Pardo to depart California at 12:20 a.m. on Christmas Day and return two weeks later. He called Erwin to say he was planning to visit.

In the week before Christmas, Pardo rented a Dodge Caliber from Budget and a silver Toyota Rav-4 from Rent-a-Wreck [again, creative name, no?]. He packed the Toyota with maps of the southwestern United States and Mexico, water, food, clothing, a can of gasoline and both a laptop and a desktop computer.

On Christmas Eve, he drove the Toyota to Glendale and parked it near the home of Nord, his ex-wife's attorney. Investigators theorize that Pardo planned to drive the Dodge to Nord's house after the Covina killings, kill Nord, and then make his escape in the Toyota.

At 6 p.m. Pardo called Erwin and his wife, Michelle. Pardo sounded down, but he said he'd see them the next day. They promised to lend him warm clothes. Investigators aren't sure if he really intended to go to Iowa or if it was a backup plan to throw authorities off his trail.

Sometime that evening, he used cocaine; a trace amount was found in his body.

To this point, Sylvia and her family had witnessed nothing that would indicate to them that Pardo was any danger. As far as Sylvia was aware, the divorce had been accepted by Pardo and both would go on with their lives separately. We now know, obviously, that neither would do so.

If Sylvia was not alarmed, Pardo's next-door neighbor was slightly curious. On Christmas Eve, the neighbor, Bong Garcia, stepped onto his porch with his nephew to smoke a cigarette. Pardo walked by and greeted them, saying he was off to a Christmas party. It wasn't the Santa outfit that alarmed Garcia. It was the vehicle Pardo got into: instead of his black Cadillac Escalade or his white Hummer - both parked in his own driveway - Pardo got into a blue Dodge parked on the street.

About 10 p.m., Pardo's younger brother Brad pulled up to the Montrose house. They had arranged to go to a friend's holiday party, but Pardo wasn't home. Later, Pardo was a no-show at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, where he had signed up to be an usher for midnight Mass.

The first 911 call from Covina was logged at 11:27 p.m.

When firefighters arrived, the house was engulfed in flames. Pardo had sprayed racing fuel, intending to ignite it with a flare. But flames in two fireplaces triggered an explosion. Killed along with Sylvia were her parents, her two brothers and their wives, her sister and her 17-year-old nephew. The 8-year-old niece, shot in the cheek, survived. Thirteen young people were orphaned.

As the house burned, a neighbor saw a blue car drive away with its headlights off. A pair of fake glasses and Santa's cap had been dropped in the frontyard.

Pardo drove 40 miles to his brother's home in Sylmar. He had second- and third-degree burns on his arms, hands and the back of his neck. He also had leg burns; his Santa suit had melted into his skin. A clean getaway was no longer an option.

When Pardo's brother returned home at 3:10 a.m., he found Pardo's body sprawled on the living room couch, two handguns by his side. He had shot himself in the mouth. He was still wearing his wedding ring.
copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, July 10, 2009

IT'S OVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AFTER 14 YEAR DROUGHT, BULLS WIN!!!!!!!!!!!

WE WIN! WE WIN!: Manuel [above], manager of the bulls, celebrates the team's first championship killing in 14 years. "We're the fucking Yankees of bull running!" shouted another bull.

The long championship drought that has subjected Spain's bulls to years of ridicule, last-place finishes and snickering remarks about "how could that nation even ever get an Armada together?", is over: a bull finally got a human at the annual running of the bulls at the San Fermin festival in Pampalona, Spain today.

"I haven't been this happy since Mad Cow disease was discovered," joked Manuel, manager of the bulls and one of the few competitors in the 2009 race who also participated in the last fatal goring of a human, back in 1995. "Hell, I was only a steer back then," Manuel joked. "I thought you got one [a human victim] every year. That's what I tell the young [bulls] every year: if you get one [a human], enjoy it: it may be the last one you'll ever get."

Manuel credited the victory to Cappucino, a strapping bull who fell to the ground early in the race, and thus separated from the pack. Once he got back onto his feet, Cappucino managed to secure victory by goring the human in the neck and lung. As victorious bulls celebrated all around, the dying human lay on a stretcher, his face and neck stained with blood and his eyes only half-open - all as an emergency medical worker futilely tried to staunch the blood with a Q-tip, and the stadium sound system blasted ABBA's The Winner Takes it All.

The victory for the bulls was their first since 1995, when a 22-year old human specimen was gored to death. Long-time bull run fans remember, though, the long-disputed 2003 championship when - in Manuel's first year as manager - he himself managed to trample a 63-year old human, landing the human in a coma. While the 'kill' finally up and died a month later, having never come out of his coma, Major League Bull Running ruled that the bulls could not be credited with a championship, as the human hadn't died during the actual running. "We were fucking robbed," said Manuel at the time.

Not on Friday. While it is unknown over the hundreds of years how many times a human has been bagged, MLBR began record-keeping in 1924, and Friday's championship marked the 15th kill for the bulls. "We're the fucking Yankees of bull running!" screamed a bull named Ishmael.
copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Flowers, balloons and other mementos left for the Jackson family outside their home in Encino, California, are collected daily; and quickly replaced by new ones the following day.

Give Michael Jackson his due: his final exit is lasting longer than the Victory tour from 25 years ago. The man passed away June 25th and yet he won't be returned to the Earth [which is an assumption I'm making; for all I know, he'll be stuffed and mounted at Neverland] until July 7th.
In all seriousness, there is something tragic about Jackson's death. While there's a touch of Elvis' overdose/heart attack at Graceland in 1977, there's also the Marilyn Monroe drug/homicide/suicide angle [I won't sully the names of those two icons by mentioning why-is-she-a-celebrity Anna Nicole Smith].

By almost any definition, it appears that Jackson's final years were full of pain, denial and out-of-touch narcissism. Investigators have found the names of at least five doctors who prescribed drugs to Jackson - and that's only the number they are willing to admit off-the-record. Any chance that Jackson's career would be the focus in the aftermath of his death went out the window [along with a few of the doctors, no doubt].

Before getting into the medical nightmare, something else struck me: Michael Jackson did almost everything in his power to shield his three children from the camera. He didn't mind using them as props, don't get me wrong; and for that he should've been ashamed [assuming that was still possible]. But in terms of their identities, what they looked like, what they did, he was a fanatic about protecting them. It was to very, very few people that Jackson shared the lives of his children [hell, I don't think their mother was one of those people]. One person that he did share it with - and here again you call into question Jackson's ability to make [correct] judgements about people - was 70-year old sleazeball Al Malnik [as my grandmother would have said, 'Naturally, he's gotta be Jewish']. Malnik is one of those self-made millionaires who flutters around celebrity millionaires - yet no one knows exactly what he did to get his money.

Jackson was quite close with Malnik, who has [turn the creep-meter off] a 7-year old daughter himself. When with Malnik, Jackson actually felt comfortable enough to allow Malnik to photograph him with the children - both his own and Malnik's. These were private moments for Jackson meant to be shared with his friend Malnik and their closest friends.

And yet, less than a week after Jackson's death, Malnik had inked a deal with NBC to release the entire trove of photographs, which the network wasted no time in posting on MSNBC. The photos are endearing. They show a side of Jackson that makes you realize that he actually was a human being. I'm not going to link to them, though. There is something about looking at them that made me feel dirty. No, they're not those kinds of pictures, sicko. It's just that, Jackson never intended the likes of me to see them. My curiosity, naturally, led me to view them all. But somehow I think that was wrong, hence they're not here. I'm sure you can find them on the Internet if you want to.

I couldn't get the photos - or my sick desire to see them - out of my head for a long time. To me, Malnik's decision to release them just so typified Jackson's dealings with people and underscored his understandable lack of faith or trust in anyone. So many people turned a buck off of Jackson in his life. Granted, he played the 'Oh, woe is me' card a bit much. But that doesn't change the fact people betrayed him for his whole life. If Elvis had the Memphis Mafia - who kept him medicated in a cocoon-like environment over the last years of his life, living off his name, just as they have for 30 years after his death - at least they were people Elvis had known his whole life. People went in and out of Jackson's life so fast that the members of his inner sanctum changed almost literally daily.

Those talking heads you've seen on the television the last 10 days touted as "Jackson Associate" are merely winners of the lottery: they happened to have been in Jackson's inner circle when he died. Had he lived another year, 9 out of 10 of them would've been gone by that point; replaced by 9 others. If it is hard to imagine having all of that wealth and fame and still being miserable, think about what it would mean if everyone you consider a 'friend' turned out to be nothing more than a sycophant. Combined with the physical pain Jackson suffered from years of performing, plus the emotional demons he dealt with - that either led him to commit child abuse or were the root cause of his incredibly unhealthy relationship with children - and it's not hard to see why he sought to be medicated.

Which leads us back to the drugs. By now, of course, it's well known that authorities removed drugs and other medical evidence from the Holmby Hills mansion where Jackson was stricken. While they are trying to determine whether the medications were properly prescribed - and you'll find a hard time getting anyone to take a bet with you that they all were properly prescribed - and whether they played any role in his death. It would seem obvious, though, that it's not a question of "whether" they played a role, but rather "what" role they played.

Jackson - like many celebrities - had a plethora of pseudonyms he used throughout his life, for everything from hotel reservations to email accounts. Some of these pseudonyms, unfortunately, also appear on the prescription labels of the drugs found at Jackson's rented home. More interesting, though is that - in some cases -- the drugs had no prescription labels on them at all. Even for someone with Jackson's celebrity, that would be incredible. It would mean that he had a supplier who had access to those drugs on a common everyday basis. Since it's unlikely that Jackson befriended his friendly neighborhood CVS pharmacist, then, it means some doctor or doctors were providing him the drugs, fully understanding that what they were doing was illegal [not to mention unethical and probably immoral].

The most significant finding - so far - is the discovery of numerous bottles of the powerful sedative Diprivan at the home. Some of the bottles were full and others were empty. None had prescription labels, so investigators - uh, obviously - are trying to determine how Jackson got the drugs.

Diprivan is an extremely potent drug that is supposed to be dispensed by a person trained to administer anesthesia, such as an anesthesiologist or a certified registered nurse anesthetist, and it is typically used in hospitals. It is not, therefore, what one should find in a private home - even a rented one. The drug can be deadly if self-administered - and it is still unknown if Jackson self-medicated or was assisted by someone else. It is also dangerous if administered by someone not trained in what is called airway management and cardiac life support.

Diprivan is the market name for propofol, and is one of the most widely used IV drugs for general anesthesia. The product label from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says a patient being given the drug should be monitored at all times for early signs of abnormally low blood pressure, low oxygen levels and stopped breathing. Problems with the heart or breathing are more likely to occur after rapid administration of the drug. The label states that equipment to provide artificial ventilation, supplemental oxygen, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation "must be immediately available." It's unclear whether any of this equipment was found in Jackson's home.
Apparently, abuse of Diprivan is a growing problem. According to a 2007 study of Diprivan abuse, in an e-mail survey of 126 academic anesthesiology training programs nationwide, 18% of departments reported one or more incidents of Diprivan abuse in the previous 10 years. Of the 25 individuals who abused propofol, seven died as a result, including six who were residents, according to the study.

Based on what the drug is supposed to do, it's not hard to see why people would want it. Essentially, it makes you completely numb. It totally takes away all anxiety, all fear, and it's incredibly relieving of pain, anxiety and stress. People do it to escape. I hear that.

The California Attorney General's office has offered assistance to the Los Angeles County Coroner and the Drug Enforcement Agency [DEA] - both of whom are involved because of the investigation into doctors suspected of improperly prescribing drugs. The involvement of the AG's office is noteworthy. Earlier this year they brought charges against doctors for supplying model Anna Nicole Smith with addictive prescription drugs in the years before she died. The DEA is expected to investigate whether doctors who prescribed medication for Jackson had a face-to-face relationship with him and provided a diagnosis, as required by law.

Diprivan first surfaced as a possibility when a self-described Jackson "nutritionist", Cherilyn Lee, said the singer complained to her earlier this year about having insomnia and asked her to get Diprivan for him. Lee went to CNN with the information shortly after Jackson's death. Lee says she is a registered nurse. Lee said she told Jackson, "This medication is not safe." She said she never saw him take the drug.

If Jackson suffered from insomnia as has been reported, and if he was using Diprivan to fall to sleep, he was playing Russian roulette. Diprivan should never be used for insomnia. As mentioned earlier, the drug is normally administered in a hospital setting with EKG equipment, a blood pressure cuff and a blood-oxygen monitor in close proximity to watch a patient's status. Also on hand in a hospital is supplemental oxygen. Of course, unless you have a trained physician to rescue the patient if something goes wrong, all of the monitors in the world mean nothing.

We'll learn more in the days and weeks ahead [if not years]. In the meantime, Jackson's funeral final takes place on Tuesday. Something tells me, though, that the real show has only just begun.
copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.