Review: “The Joker” (2019)


UnknownReview:  “The Joker” (2019)

The DC Comics “Batman” trilogy The Dark Knight” told the full story of the Batman. The first of the trilogy was “Batman Begins” (2005) with an all-star cast including Christian Bale. Later, “The Dark Knight” (2008), starred the late Heath Ledger (Posthumous Academy Award) and “The Dark Knight Rises (2012)” finished off the trilogy, The Joker first appeared in the debut issue of the comic book “Batman” April 25, 1940 and has been a consistent villain, played by various actors including Jack Nicholson and Jared Leto.

“The Joker” (2019) is very different film than you might have expected. This film delves into an intense character study of Arthur, an authentically “mentally Ill” man without any recourse or even remedy. Arthur has been abused in various ways since a small child. He has “never experienced a happy moment in his entire life”. He absorbs brutality as an adult from bullies all around him with no conception of recourse. It’s just a usual part of his life. He attends weekly interviews with some variety of public health nurse who tells Arthur he needs to try harder with no real vision of what may make a difference in his life. She gives him prescriptions for several different drugs and he goes about his life as if on rails.

Then a well meaning friend gives Arthur a gift that he really doesn’t understand at first, but which comes into a clear meaning later during one of the familiar bullying episodes that postmark his life. From then on, mental illness exacerbated by abuse takes on a different vibe. The chronic misery and anguish of brain dysfunction begins to see an outlet never conceived of before, an outlet that taps some previous skill sets previously concealed by shambolic brain wiring.

The previously simple man evolves to a very simple but dangerous man indeed. A nemesis of Batman for 80 years of DC Comics. The performance by Joaquin Phoenix is exceptional. A florid, Pagliacci-like sad clown turned mad-on-a-mission clown. If it’s possible to transmit the emotions of anxiety, depression, pathos and confused life-paths from a screen to humankind in an audience, beware. This film accomplishes that intent extremely accurately via the direction of Todd Phillips (Borat- 2006, War Dogs- 2018), Produced by Bradley Cooper et al and cinematography by Lawrence Sher.  “The Joker” is a vivid connection for Arthur to his expanding universe, brutally shared with the audience.

This examination of the character and life course of the hopeless mentally ill with no real recourse to anything better is truly remarkable as the viewer experiences an evolution to one of the possible, maybe inevitable outcomes that society facilitates.

Interesting aside:  Watch for “White Room” by Cream near the film finale.

I give this film 5 of 5 whiteface makeups.  Requires attention and focus.  Some violence. Adults only. Must see.


Film review” “Yesterday” (2019)


What an interesting concept! Think for a minute if no one in the world had ever heard of the Beatles and you were a struggling singer/songwriter no one ever heard of who inadvertently covered “Yesterday” for some friends which was greeted with blank looks. A parallel universe where the Beatles never existed. Slowly it dawns that he has a grasp of the genius and as he passes them off as his own from memory. His fame increases and he inevitably enters the fame/money zone recreating the songs.

This constitutes about the first half of the film, following which the film deteriorates into a seemingly endless sappy, dreary romance putting every diabetic in the house into shock, obliterating the original concept. About the time you think it couldn’t get worse… does. The last 30 minutes is so bad all that can be heard in the theater is the clank of jaws dropping.

The protagonist Jack does a yeoman job singing all the selections himself. Kate McKinnon as a shark-like record exec tries to save the film and does a great job but she’s isolated. Toward the end of the film Jack has a meeting with someone interesting that alters his perceptions, a plot diversion completely underdeveloped and just plain silly. The film could have been saved by simply better writing. What would the world have been like post-Beatle influence? How would the state of musicology have changed. I guess how would lives have missed what they never had? None of these interesting ideas were explored, the plot endlessly revolving around when a romance will finally bloom.

The film began with a very interesting image that changed from John Wayne to Ratso Rizzo in the space of a few minutes. I cannot recommend this film. It’s an embarrassing flop. Wait till it comes to HBO. I give this film one Martin D-28 acoustic out of five.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Ret)

I get a self indulgent gift to myself (A Ferrari)


For a lot of reasons, mostly just because of self-indulgence, I have held my breath and purchased a lifelong dream I hope won’t turn and bite me.

So here’s the background:

  1. My career is history. (Still doing some teaching and medical college admissions work).
  2. I’ve already written my memoirs and they are in 15 or so bound volumes.
  3. I’m lame and will be the rest of my life.
  4. My kids are gone and now have their own lives.
  5. By wife has a career requiring her perpetual attention that keeps her out of my life during most days.
  6. I’m struggling to find an interest in my life by myself every day here at home.

I’ve been thinking about what to do now that I’m a gentleman of leisure, and “classic” cars loom large in my legend.

My ’74 Karmann-Ghia is paid for and pretty much low maintenance. It’s the obligatory convertible. No point in selling it as long as I enjoy it. After a lot of research, it’s actually pretty hard to find a “classic” car under $30k that isn’t in need of some kind of expensive servicing. I saw a lot of them at Barrett-Jackson and there were a few potential bargains, but very few and B-J takes no responsibility for the condition of the car once it’s sold. The other problem with 30 – 40 year old cars is parts and service. There aren’t many old guys that can really service them and it’s frequently hard to find parts. Most if not all these cars are for “collectors” that have a “stable” of classic cars and a lot of money tied up in them.

If you watch Wayne Carini on “Chasing Classic Cars”, you’ll see guys with literally spotless warehouses full of classic cars that mostly sit there for years. Where do those guys get that kind of money? Carini finds “barn cars” all the time, my God- ’60s Ferraris that have sat in garages for 40 years, then the (always) male owner drops dead and his wife calls Wayne to sell the car. Many are worth millions.

In fact, most if not all the cars I saw that I might have an interest in were “really” in the $40-$50k range. I’m not a collector. I want ONE “Classic” car (all right, technically two) that I can drive and enjoy while it holds its price or appreciates. I don’t move cars around like speculators, making or losing money on each deal.

I can just get interested in a self-indulgent present to myself for 30 years of hard work and success. I’m closer to the end than the beginning now and I can look back on a life and career that, well, fills 15 bound memoir volumes. There are things I can productively do now for the rest of my life and things I can’t. Ever since Barrett-Jackson in Vegas a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking I’d really like (another) “classic” car to dote on. I really am a car guy and we’re all unhinged like salmon swimming upstream. The fish hear their song and I hear mine. I have a very comfortable retirement fund, but not bountiful. I can afford a limited number of indulgences.

If I’m going to scrounge up somewhere in the range of $40-$50k for a car that has some historical interest but will be pretty fragile as a car to actually drive much, then I would just as soon scrounge up $70k for a car that’s totally unique and can be driven (on nice days) for a couple of years (under 10K miles), and guaranteed will retain it’s value when I go to sell it. Yes, maintenance is more expensive and that has to be accepted, You can probably guess where this is going.

ferrari-1I have stumbled into a rare deal that I hope works out and doesn’t turn and bite me. I have purchased an immaculate 2001 Ferrari 360 Modena coupe from a physician in a city about the size of Pittsburgh about 400 miles away. (see photos at end) This guy has SIX Ferraris at home and last month purchased another new one. So he put up his Modena for consignment. The good doctor had put a LOT of money into it in the year he owned it. The car has 19,000 miles and the FULL ($5000) service was done 500 miles ago. That’s the big expensive one every 15,000 miles. Why so much money in such little time? Because, compared to a Ford of Chevrolet engine, a Ferrari is the London Philharmonic compared to the 86-year-old choir soloist at a local church.

ferrari-2Last year, in addition to the big 15k service, he put in new mufflers, new black wheels and tires, a new clutch and a lot of other things. He just wanted to sell it quickly to put the money into his new one and I stumbled into this thing. It’s immaculate. He has all the records and paperwork and after we talked, he gave me the car for a VERY good price. About $20,000 less than most of them are going for today. A price such that I can drive this car for two years, put 10,000 miles on it and sell it for at least what I paid for it, maybe more.

The later years Ferraris are definitely said to be more reliable and drivable. The F355 series up till 1999 was a dramatic improvement but the engine still had to come out every 15,000 miles to refurbish a lot of things, not the least of which was the timing belt, for if it skips a notch from wear, he engine explodes. To see a Ferrari engine dropped out of the bottom and splayed out all over the floor is a sight I really don’t want to see. The newer series starting in 2000 were friendlier to mechanics; engine didn’t need to drop to get the job done. As of that year, the standard notch 6-speed transmission evolved to the “paddle” shifter automatic, built like the Formula One cars. Instant shifts up and down just like Lewis Hamilton does it. This with 400 horsepower and a red line of 8500.

ferrari-4“Used cars” of any variety depreciate. Ferraris never depreciate. That Ferrari shield on the side of the fender is worth a lot on virtually every level, but maintenance always involves more money. That just has to be accepted. Service is expensive on these things and other expensive things wear out more quickly because of the high performance engines. Ferrari doesn’t make cars; they make engines and farm out the rest. Coachwork by Pininfarina, wheels and all the rest are built by others. Each Ferrari engine design sat in a Formula One car 10 years earlier and is simply detuned a bit. The same technology goes into every engine and they can be/are finicky and idiosyncratic. That has to be accepted too. But in the immortal words of Steve Jobs, “The journey is the reward”, or something like that.

There really is Ferrari and then there’s everything else.

ferrari-6Speaking of Formula One, the Prancing Black Horse has the most extensive history of any four-wheel vehicle.
Ferrari is the most powerful brand according to Brand Finance. Like Harley Davidson, it’s a culture, not a vehicle. Ferrari is the most successful racing team in history and holds the most constructors championships (sixteen) and produced the highest number of winning drivers in Formula One (fifteen). It is the only team to have competed in the Formula One World Championship continuously since its inception in 1950.

The most famous drivers in history drove for Ferrari: Juan Manuel Fangio, (Americans) Phil Hill, Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda, Gilles Villeneuve, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, and today Kimi Räikkönen, and four time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Some died in one: Peter Collins, Wolfgang von Trips, Gilles Villeneuve

ferrari-8So I have become a minor league “collector” of “classic” vehicles, including vintage Triumph motorcycles. Technically, an investor in vehicles that possibly will bring a greater return than the stock market, especially if it collapses following November 8. A LOT of things are going to change after that and I’ve chosen to cling not to my guns and bibles, but my Cars and bikes. 🙂 We’ll all see how that works out soon enough.

ferrari-7Here it is (see photos). The black wheels and interior sets off the yellow very strikingly. It’s totally flawless (so far). You can see the magnificent engine through the back window.

“Requiem”: Vietnam photographers killed in action


The old chestnut: “a picture is worth a thousand words” has been around for centuries, but there is a corollary to it. That is: “a picture can tell an astonishing story that no words, however convoluted, can interpret”. The eye of a photographer can paint a compelling story as astutely as a master artist can create a painting.

Nowhere is this phenomenon illustrated better than the late Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographic collection of how he viewed women.

This from a notoriously gay man most of whose photographs are not for public consumption, but he viewed women with an incredible perception. He took a LOT of varied photographs, now ensconced at the Getty Institute and valued at US$130 million. What he saw in women is a masterpiece of photographic art, catching the female soul most men never visualize.

Journalists covering action in Vietnam (or elsewhere) try to paint a word picture in the minds of readers describing what they see. Some more successfully than others as those words are amenable to social or political bias. Joe Galloway was successful describing the horror in the Ia drang valley in 1965, but only in prosaic terms requiring the reader to create form and function from that void.

The photographer can sift through the billions of visual frames observed by the human eye daily to catch an instant in time that tells an otherwise incomprehensible story. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the volume “Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina”.

135 photographers from either sides of the Vietnam conflict killed or missing presumed dead.

This book is a memorial to them and their last photographs, a VERY important piece of history that I need to dwell on for many reasons. Those of us that were involved in Vietnam are now in our 60s and 70s and we’re dying out. Soon, no one will remember Vietnam, a fate that awaited a similar political mistake, Korea in the 50s. The mistakes that led to Vietnam still being made today, events that are important and need to be accurately recorded vividly.

Today’s young people now largely forget the amazing decade that set the stage for much that’s happening in our culture. I frequently toss out some 60s icons to my young doctors on rounds just to see the reaction. Ha! Usually greeted by blank looks. None of them have a clue of the location of Alice’s Restaurant, visualize that deaf, dumb & blind kid Tommy, recall Timothy Leary, how the Jefferson Airplane, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Moby Grape, Foghat, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Zombies, The Byrds, Country Joe & the Fish and The Mothers of Invention shaped the culture of the era.

They will possibly read accounts of what happened in that era that profoundly shaped our world. The assassination of Jack Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Civil rights, Medicare and Medicaid, Freedom riders, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, The Berkeley Free Speech Movement, a man on the moon, the Weather Underground and the Days of Rage. These things can easily be rendered so many words or comments from talking TV talking heads, but photographs detail the passion involved in these seminal events, not just the dry details. It’s IMPORTANT to understand the passion behind the words because if they aren’t collected, young people today will never know them. A tragedy, as they are so important to history.

When I was in Hanoi in 2012, I visited one of the museums and noted a display of the photographer Robert J. Ellison (1944-1967), killed in action after less than a year in Vietnam.

I was absolutely devastated by this display. One of the few known personal photos of Eliison was displayed alone on a wall. I looked at that face for a very long time and I saw the pain and passion to show the reality he saw through those eyes.

Rob Ellison landed in Vietnam in early 1967 with no credentials, one duffel and three cameras. He finessed his way out to Khe Sanh on a supply helicopter with a case of beer and box of cigars. On arriving at the violence-infested area, Rob insinuated himself into the full fury of the action, cheek by jowl with the Marine grunts, photographing the action as it happened in the unimaginable fiery Hell that was Khe Sanh in the early months of 1967. Rob was killed when, as a passenger, the C-130 took rocket fire and crashed killing everyone on board. The bodies were not identifiable and are all buried in a mass grave in Missouri. Rob Ellison was 23 years old.

The genius of Van Gogh translated to a photographic vision. I stood heartbroken, feeling the vibrations of his urgent passion and what I knew he had to do to seek it out. I had to know him. I went on to collect many of his photos and they spoke to me, as they will for you.

Posthumously, Ellison has been rated as one of the top young photographers in the world. The Newsweek edition of March 18, 1968 carried eight pages of photos by him of the battle for Khe Sahn. His photographs were graphic illustrations what the Vietnam conflict was like in real life, not watered down media depictions.

Rare female photographer in hot zones, Dickey Chapelle was killed after the lieutenant in front of her kicked a tripwire mortar shell booby trap. Chapelle was hit in the neck by a piece of shrapnel which severed her carotid artery. Clip shows Marine Chaplain giving photographer Dickey Chapelle last rites.

Larry Burrows covered the war in Vietnam from 1962 until his death in 1971. His work is cited as the most visually caustic photography from the war. One of his most famous collections was published in LIFE Magazine on 16 April 1965. Burrows died in a helicopter shot down over Laos in 1971. The scant remains of Burrows and fellow photographers Huet, Potter and Shimamoto were honored and interred at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Robert Capa accompanied a French regiment at the ill-fated battle for Dien Bien Phu in 1954 that should have been a massive red flag for further military adventure in Viet Nam. His photos graphically captured the agony of the futile holdout. On May 25, 1954 Capra passed through a dangerous area under fire and stepped on a land mine. He is buried in Westchester County, New York. The Overseas Press Club created the Robert Capa Gold Medal in the photographer’s honor.

It is impossible to understand Vietnam without reading “Hell in a very small place” (The siege of Dien Beien Phu,1954) and “Street without joy” (a clear warning about what American forces would face in the jungles of Southeast Asia). While accompanying a company of the 1st Battalion 9th Marines on Operation Chinook II in the “Street Without Joy” (Thừa Thiên Province) in 1967, Fall was killed after stepping on a Bouncing Betty land mine.

There are many others in “Requiem”, many heartbreaking.




Primaries on 3/5, Trump and Cruz


“David has set a litmus test that a Democrat​

would have to pass to get the nomination and

that no Republican could pass and get the

Republican nomination and so thus he will

pinch his nose and vote for Hillary or any other

Democrat, no matter how low of character or dishonesty or

untrustworthy over any Republican no matter

how high of character and honesty and trustworthy”.


I don’t believe I ever said that.

What I did say is that The current slate of Republican candidates are committed to destroying all and any of the progress we’ve made over the last years from the global crash of 2008, including some new disasters they loudly proclaim, including, but not limited to:

  1. Getting an “A” rating from the NRA
  1. Obliterating the very beneficial “Planned Parenthood” and denying women control over their own bodies, forcing them to whelp unwanted babies then complaining if and when they end up on Welfare.
  1. Obliterating meaningful health insurance for 12 million citizens, offering them a “savings plan” that might pay for 1% of a serious illness, or unaffordable private insurance.
  1. Tearing up a hard-fought and hard-won agreement that limits Iran’s ability to develop nuclear capability. Putting them right back on track to do anything they want as fast as they want to.
  1. Ridiculous plans to stop illegals crossing a completely porous border. Spending billions in a futile effort to seek out and deport illegal aliens, divers Islamics.
  1. “Downsizing” government, handing it over to equally corrupt and inefficient local or regional governments, more difficult to regulate.
  1. Reducing income taxes that mainly benefit the rich, allowing others to pick up the slack.
  1. God only knows how they would deal with certifiable crazies in North Korea.

Without exception, the current slate advocates all these points, some more vociferously than others. They are examples of how the “conservative” wing has hijacked the GOP, and in a perfect world, they would fall big, just like Goldwater in 1964. Trump is a bit of an exception, I’ll get to him in a while.

So, now that the dust has settled, several things are fairly clear.

Kasich is a dead man walking. Rubio now has no statistical path and it’s only a matter of time before he drops out. Once that happens, one wonders where their followers will go. I suspect they will back Cruz since the practical difference between Rubio and Cruz is nil, and they are, after all, “establishment” candidates. Christie is an anomaly, looking for some political favors from the candidate he has figured out will be the eventual nominee.

As a purely practical matter, I would rather see either Cruz or Rubio selected as the nominee. Neither would have a good chance of winning a general election, especially against Hillary who has a much stronger game than she has had in the past. Once the media vividly and endlessly pointed out Rubio’s Tea Party roots, he would fade quickly. Cruz has an astronomical “dislike” rating even within his own party that would bleed over to the general electorate quickly. He’s a particularly arrogant demagogue. The media would also vividly point out the many ways he’s tried to plunge the country back to William the Conquerer in 1066. They embody “conservative principles” that not only don’t work, they’re destructive. Neither of these guys could beat Hillary.

Then comes Trump, a de novo creation of a political system that got an approval rating of something like 6%? I heard one of Trump’s strategists interviewed by Poppy Harlow. She made it very clear. The voting public (ALL the voting public) has decided that they want the entire system destroyed and rebuilt at the hands of an aggressive, assertive leader-type that talks tough and has the capability to get things done by strength of will, cutting through the inefficient “system”. She remarked that she hoped the Republican establishment continued to try everything possible to gut Trump, as every bit of it made him stronger, especially ridiculous clown acts like Romney. The voters have en masse decided what they want and it’s do do whatever it takes to destroy the status-quo. The voters will have their way.

However, the events of yesterday suggest that Trump’s facade might be at least showing some cracks for exactly the reasons I mentioned earlier. Like Palin, every time he opens his mouth he shows more volatile inconsistency and it’s starting to be noticed, even by those desiring to break the system. They’re probably figuring out that the system needs to be broken but Trump is too capricious to be the one to do it. And since his stock in trade is his mouth, he has little choice but to continue in that vein, but in time, he’ll start showing himself to be what he is, a reality show ringmaster.

But I think he still has a shot at it because the USA has become a “reality-show” country. The very existence of Kardashians, The Batchelor, The Bachelorette, The Voice, American Idol, Real Housewives, and so ad infinitum points this out. The entire country is a variation on the themes of reality shows and so it was only a matter of time that a reality show ringmaster would rise and the public would accept him. At this stage, I think there is a very real chance that Trump will prevail and make it to the convention with a majority of the votes. I think it will be Trump vs Cruz and the only unknown now is how many of the other candidates followers will line up for whom and how much it will matter when the numbers are counted. Even if he doesn’t make a quorum and the convention gets brokered, you can bet that the same Republicans who loudly criticize “yellow dog Democrats” will line up to support ANY Republican with a chance of winning.

I think Cruz is far too disliked by far too many people to win, disliked for different reasons than Trump. Cruz would be a disaster. Hillary would beat him. That leaves Republicans with the option of lining up for Trump even though he isn’t a typical Republican and can’t be controlled by the party. I think they would hold their noses and sing Trump’s praises hoping to get him to see the party line once elected. Good luck with that.

If Trump were elected by a LOT of voters currently showing their hands, he would be somewhat less of a disaster than Cruz. He would have a higher propensity to make pragmatic deals that might work and figure out quickly what would never work under any circumstances (wall, illegals round-up, keeping Islamics out). If it came down to one or the other, if I were a Republican, I think I’d support Trump long before Cruz and just hope for the best.

As it pertains to Bernie and Hillary, I think Bernie was called out too soon as the events of Yesterday showed. If Bernie continues to make a showing in the future Primaries, he won’t quit for a while and every day he stays in weakens Hillary. In the end, it might be close, but I think Democratic voters will never elect a European-style socialist. And again, I personally think Hillary’s e-mail debacle is pure, US Govt Certified Prime Bullshit, but it is after all a way to get at her by her numerous enemies. Who knows, it might be unexpectedly successful. But I doubt it. I think it will fade in the future.

Hillary vs Cruz- Hillary would win. Americans won’t elect a Tea Party nut case. Hillary is the lesser evil.

Hillary vs Trump- Might be close, but in the end I think Sharpton is correct, Democrats and Independents would come out of the woodwork in huge droves to vote against Trump. Hillary would still win.

Sanders vs Trump- Would be a serious problem for the country. We would not elect a socialist. Trump would win and we would all just take our chances with an unstable, labile President.

Book review: “Lawrence in Arabia”


UnknownLawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the making of the Modern Middle East” (Scott Anderson)

Remarkably different than a previous book on T.E. Lawrence, “Hero:t he life and legend of Lawrence of Arabia” by Michael Korda, which is also excellent but focuses on it’s main character. “Lawrence in Arabia” broad strokes all the factors that formed the modern Middle East from the fracturing of the Ottoman Empire and brings the main character into it as a part of the whole that he played.

The book is absolutely fascinating and well written. Some interesting facts that emerge:

1. The enormity of WW I is not fully appreciated today if for no other reason than the participants who would remember it are mostly dead and the incredible stupidity of the whole affair (which was thought by Great Britain would be over in a few weeks) has been largely covered up. In the previous 40 years before 1914, Great Britain had been involved in 40 war skirmishes and lost less than 40,000 men. In the Somme Offensive in France, 1916, 58,000 Allied soldiers were dead in one day’s fighting, the bloodiest single day of warfare in the history of the English speaking world. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, France suffered an estimated 270,000 battlefield casualties. France surpassed that number in the first three weeks of WW I. In a two year span, the life expectancy of a French male dropped to 27. Roughly ten million soldiers and 6 million civilians died in WW I, mostly as a result of incredibly stupid battle tactics designed to kill huge masses resulting in stalemate. All this for what amounted to an extended royal family feud acting out old grievances. The sheer incompetence of strategy and tactics was exceeded only by their callousness toward those dying for them. The two survivors, Britain and France would be so shattered as to never fully recover.

2. Between April 1915 and January 1916, the Battle of Gallipoli was pursued with the aim of eventually capturing Constantinople (Istanbul). Britain and France launched an amphibious naval attack on the peninsula, a sea route that was then property of the Russian Empire that would, if unimpeded lead to Constantinople. War strategists now say that landing at Gallipoli’s southern tip defied any semblance of effective military strategy or common sense. The landing would be vulnerable to attack from higher ground, and it would be necessary to build and maintain the same trench lines that paralyzed the Western front. Of the 3000 miles of coastline, Gallipoli is now said to be the worst possible choice.

But on April 25, 1915, a troop carrier, the SS River Clyde out of Liverpool steamed into a small beach code named V-Beach and launched six small unarmed and motorless wooden boats filled with soldiers. The Turks were waiting, having noticed the approach of the non-camouflaged ship earlier. When the boats were just yards from the shore, but still in deep water, Turk machine gunners opened up at close range. One after another of the boats were cut up, soldiers to die instantly of wounds, or capsized, dumping the heavily clad soldiers into the water to drown. Of the first 200 men in the first wave of boats, only 11 reached the shore to be effectively picked off. By mid-afternoon, there were so many dead men on the gangways that early casualties actually died of suffocation from the heaps of dead bodies on top of them. By the end of the first day, the advance landing forces at Gallipoli suffered four thousand casualties. The first day’s objective was to secure a small village four miles inland. Over the next seven months, the British would never reach the village and would suffer a quarter million casualties trying.

On the same day the British invaded Gallipoli, the Constantinople government started rounding up Armenian intellectuals and business leaders suspected of being spies; the beginning of a “cleansing operation” for the Ottoman Empire’s Christian minority, a genocide that would eventually result in the deaths of a million Middle Eastern Christians. Outside train windows were revealed a never ending horror show of starving (mostly) women and children being herded along to camps at bayonet point.

The corruption, incompetence and arrogance of ALL these players were not lost on Lawrence, who had emerged into a position of trust in British intelligence. The author inexorably paints these scenes as a backdrop to the nurturing and eventual emergence of T.E. Lawrence into a strategist and tactician facilitating the Arabs to secure and maintain most of the Arabic peninsula as a socio-political state. This was, of course, destined to fail pretty much as described in “Lawrence of Arabia” (1960). The British and French used Lawrence to help them fracture the Ottoman Empire, somewhat successfully, at least in a small scale. But unknown to Lawrence there emerged The Sykes–Picot Agreement, which even as Lawrence toiled furiously, divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian peninsula into areas of future British and French control or influence.

The book is extremely elucidative of this history that created what we now know as the modern Middle East, and in the case of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in particular. “It’s hard to think of any figure who, with no true malice intended and neither a nation nor an army at his disposal, was to wreak more havoc on the twentieth century than the brilliant and personable aristocrat from Yorkshire (Sykes), havoc that a small group of his countrymen, including T.E. Lawrence, would try very hard to set right.”.

“Lawrence in Arabia is a fascinating story of the birth of nations and the role of the small, quiet man that played a huge part in it.

Book Review: Tune In: The Beatles – All These Years”,


This is an analytical and interpretative review of the book “Tune In: The Beatles – All These Years”, a comprehensive and detailed scrutiny of the phenomenon that was the Beatles. This is volume one, two more to come.

This kind of historical volume joins several other detailed multi-volume examinations of history, including “The Civil War” by Shelby Foote, “America in the King Years” by Taylor Branch and “The years of Lyndon Johnson” by Robert Caro.

“Tune In” is totally unlike glossy tabloid chronicles containing open-ended anecdotal factoids. It is a richly detailed and referenced history of each Beatle beginning at their birth and proceeding along in time, accumulating experiences that eventually brought them together. The incredibly detailed narrative is sometimes hard to wade through but there is a point to it. These details matter because the diversion or omission of any one of these experiences could have ended the story before it started.

Post-war Liverpool was a tough, wearying slum full of violence and alcohol. Women as wives learned to make-do with the little they had and maintain their families under extremely trying conditions. This made for very close family ties. Fathers all worked at various trades for low wages. Each strongly pressured their sons to swap non-paying interests for the security of a steady job no matter how mundane. The expression emerged: “Trade – Made” “No Trade – Mad”.

Into this unforgiving environment emerged four working class teens each with several important conditions in common. They were raised by very strong women, some to the point of social non-conformity. Lennon & McCartney’s female role models died suddenly, leaving a potent impression that was to shape them in many ways. The author suggests this generated an intimate resilience in them that also shaped their future.

Emerging youth in Liverpool had two-career choices- becoming a tradesman or getting good enough grades in school to enter some kind of academic career- teaching or art. At several points in their youth, each of the four refused to apply themselves in school, generating poor grades not even good enough to be accepted in trade school. They’re portrayed as intelligent and able, but with no particular interest in their future other than open ended optimism. Boredom even when performing something they had the potential to do well assured a clear path to the bottom of the barrel as simple laborers, a fate they accepted.

Working class existence in Liverpool was pretty sparse, full of obstacles and necessitating many sacrifices. In the late 50s there was no conception of “birth control”; teen hormones ruled absolutely. Paul McCartney’s then girlfriend Dot became pregnant and if she had not suffered a spontaneous miscarriage, Paul would have been a married tradesman to support a family as was his father’s plan for him. John entered into a shotgun marriage with pregnant girlfriend Cyn but later in their career. Ringo spent literally years in a hospital as a youth and came very near dying on several occasions. George came very near becoming a tradesman at the point of departure for the band simply because he was dead broke and had no food.

So at the emergence of young manhood, their lives were shaped by penury, the specter of pregnancy, and traumatic loss of close family members or devastating near-fatal illness. Each demonstrated ability without any particular ambition. Additionally, each demonstrated a severe case of teen rebellion against virtually every staple of their lives. Education, clothing, social mores and attitude. Ego, open-ended ambition and no future plans.

Into this circa 1958 mix was injected……..Elvis!

It’s hard to overestimate the impact of Elvis Presley on the then rather staid and traditional music scene. Elvis was a nuclear bomb. No one had ever heard anything like him. Elvis was the culmination of their incomplete lives. Each now had direction for their rebellion and each vowed to become England’s answer to all that Elvis stood for- sexual frenzy, raging passion and contempt for convention that was to define “Rock & Roll”. “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Jailhouse Rock” and “That’s all right, Mama” on their rudimentary three-tube radios was the first watershed event that instantly changed their lives forever and eventually brought them into proximity with each other

Of course, the phenomenon of Elvis quickly spawned others of his ilk or highlighted other similar musicians of color that no English white kids had heard of before, specifically “Little Richard” (Penniman) and other black “rhythm & Blues” musicians plying the American chitlin’ circuit. Clones naturally followed the Elvis theme- Gene Vincent and the Blue Notes, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Don & Phil Everly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, Duane Eddy, Linc Ray and the Raymen and a host of others emerging to fill the newly created niche.

From middle school, John, Paul & George found each other to employ the field expediency taught them by their mothers to form a rudimentary “combo”, initially covering “skiffle” bands such as led by Lonnie Donnigan.   Real guitars were too expensive to purchase. The would-be band members eventually found cheap poorly constructed junk instruments. Lennon used four banjo strings early on, transposing to six string chords as best he could. Washboards were employed for the rhythm section and broom-handle basin bass section could barely be heard. Each eventually found 45 rpm records of Elvis songs and slowed them down manually to catch each note till their fingers bled.

The trio trod the path of all nascent musicians, playing for anyone that would listen for no remuneration. They didn’t have to be good. They just needed to proceed along the gauntlet surviving by dumb luck and by “just being there” when no one else good showed up. Anything to be seen and heard in any way possible. Terrible performances with inadequate equipment to electrified audiences of their peers hungry for anything resembling the phenomenon of “Rock & Roll”.

Erstwhile musicians came and went with no consistency. Most went back to work in factories when they ran out of funds. Importantly, the JP&G persisted, and at this state of their career, learned to pull portions of the musical works of others to generate styles of their own making. Also importantly, “mentors” evolved to nurture the business of bands, assist them getting gigs wherever possible and promote them. The combination of their persistence and acquiring a rudimentary “agent” eventually led them to a bar gig in Hamburg, Germany……A monster cultural turning point in their lives that was to set the stage for their future.

It almost never happened. Numerous events came close to scotching the Beatles before they made it to their watershed in Hamburg. John couldn’t find his birth certificate to get a passport and almost the trip. The stevedores initially refused to put the band’s musical gear on the boat to Europe (too bulky). German customs very nearly confiscated all the band’s musical gear at the border for taxes. Had any one of these events come to pass, it’s probable no one would know any of them now.

Hamburg was the breeding ground for the band to become professional level virtuosos. They played continuously every day with minimal sleep. They evolved to become not only consummate musicians but also polished performers. Sex, drugs, Rock & Roll and cheap thrills killed Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison but it nurtured the nascent Beatles and made them stronger.

In his book, “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the concept that there is no “natural talent”, but 10,000 hours practice will allow anyone to become the compleat master of an endeavor. Bill Gates was used as an example (using code). The elite don’t just work harder than everybody else. At some point they fall in love with practice to the point where they want to do little else. Eddie Van Halen regularly skipped school to practice guitar sitting on the edge of his bed as long as 18 hours a day.

The nascent Beatles endured abhorrent working conditions, equipment and environment. The audiences were unappreciative and they were poorly paid, but the Hamburg experience generated at least 10,000 of playing time forced them to master their game. By 1962 they were playing eight hours per night, seven nights per week. By 1964, the year they were discovered by American kids, the Beatles had played over 1,200 concerts. In comparison, most contemporary bands don’t play 1,200 times in their entire career.

As the Beatles grew in musical skill, confidence and charisma, audiences demanded more performances and when they returned to Liverpool, they did so as accomplished performers in great demand. They also returned cold, hard, rebellious, leather clad iconoclasts. They had the attitude and innovation Rock & Roll mandated. As a practical matter, they may have been the best Rock group in the world, not just Liverpool. Brian Epstein arrived as their manager and forced a cohesiveness on them as to on-stage dress and behavior that was to prove a great value later on.

Shortly after arriving back in Liverpool, the Beatles were still using Pete Best as their drummer. Everyone agreed that Pete was at best a mediocre percussionist and more importantly a boring personality. Pete never bonded with the rest of the group and this was to be his eventual downfall. Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) had been drumming for several groups around the Liverpool area and knew only knew JP&G casually. On several occasions when Pete called in sick, Ringo was asked to sit in and was well liked by JP&G.

Brian used his record company connections to get them an audition for a recording contract. This was a disaster as their equipment was perfect for The Cavern but not amenable to a recording studio. This plus a bad case of nerves all around rendered a bad performance and rejection from Decca Records, the manager of which opined that Rock & Roll was a temporary fad and guitar groups would eventually fade with it.

There were more disappointments in store. Ultimately the Beatles did make a record that didn’t sell any copies; didn’t even make the top 100. But what didn’t kill them definitely made them stronger and part of the key to overcoming their jinx was to finally get rid of Pete Best and install Ringo Starr, an uninspired but methodical, consistent drummer with personality. Pete was inconsistent. Ringo could keep a 4/4 beat like clockwork, maintaining the cohesive rhythm of the other musicians.

In a final apocalyptic event, Pete was dropped (very precipitously) in August of 1962, replaced by Ringo who had been floating around the music scene with little structure and happy to play with mates he got along with. This was followed thereafter with a serendipitous connection with emerging mega-engineer George Martin (and EMI) combined with the emergence of Lennon-McCartney songwriting. The combination of these events changed the entire landscape and propelled the Beatles toward fate at literally the speed of sound. But their true destiny waited across the big pond 3465 miles to the West. If this fortuitous timing hadn’t been almost to the month and year, the Beatles would most likely have remained hometown favorites.

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. Kennedy had assured America they had a cause they could believe in and a leader they could follow. Something, call it innocence or hope or optimism, was lost that day in Dallas. Shock and sorrow marked the revelation that Camelot (if it ever existed) was over and a new age of uncertainty was to follow.

American youth began to explore alternatives to the gentle, self-fulfilling prosperity of the Eisenhower ‘50s. Bland “Pop” musical trends of the early ‘60s evolved to harder edged “Rock” played by more unconventional groups with attitude and a heavy beat who wrote and performed their own original material. The era of Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis arrived after 1963. American kids emerged ripe for what was happening as well in England.

The Beatles fulfilled a lot of what Americans were looking for post Camelot collapse. Something harder edged, innovative but in-touch. Beatles were “cute”, had different hair, different attitude and they might be just a little dangerous but within limits. They played their own instruments with a defined danceable beat, wrote their own songs the lyrics of which American youth could identify with and looked cool in their mop tops, matching outfits and Cuban heel boots.

American kids latched onto the Beatles phenomenon like a pit bull on a poodle. A new life-style emerged around them in the summer of 1964 fueled by a need for a new order in musical expression. Other groups evolving vertically from the stage that fostered the Beatles quickly followed to America included Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Searchers, the Zombies, the Spencer Davis Group, the Who, the Moody Blues, the Dave Clark Five, the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, Freddie and the Dreamers and Herman’s Hermits as the “British Invasion”.

So ends Volume One chronicling the Brownian motion that came together in a non-linear series of events producing one of the unlikely phenomena in world history. Had any significant event not occurred, it would have poisoned the dynamic and all four would have gone back to the trades as their parents had originally desired.

Or maybe not. Was there a predestination component? Each event in their lives contributing to a fate that could not be diverted? Would it have mattered if ANY error occurred in the life map. Was the phenomenon of The Beatles serendipity or kismet? The author suggests that possibility and as the reader absorbs the accumulating details, they can only wonder if each fork in the road would lead them to the same place because they were a phenomenon that had to be.

Volume two eagerly awaited.





On responsibility and fun


From a close friend:

You’ve heard this before, but never took it seriously.In my twenties I never aspired to live beyond 30. Life beyond 30 has turned out exactly as I envisioned back then. I can honestly say I’ve not had one day of pure fun since turning 30. At 30 I accepted responsibility; pure fun thereafter is not possible. My epitaph will read “Died at 80 after enjoying his first 30 years and enduring his last 50.”

My reply:

Your concept of persistent fun is faulty, I think. Both of us had a full measure of fun back in the day, Piedmont I think was the high point. Our time at Georgia was OK but the ominous specter of it ending was obvious. Then it evolved from fun to discovery of where what we would be as functioning adults. There was never any possibility of fun as we knew it at Piedmont again, but the translation and evolution to fulfillment had the potential to make up for it. In Vietnam, we discovered our goals, we pursued them and we both were wildly successful beyond any expectation. You discovered the meaning of your life and you became exceptionally good at it. You had a stellar Marine experience, rising to a high rank and a phenomenal career. Worth of a book of your life. Then you parlayed it to a post-retirement career at Clemson commanding responsibility, respect and making the world a safer place. By a combination of dumb luck and an absolute refusal to quit despite impossible odds, I did the same. I ascended to a career that I never in my wildest dreams thought was possible. I have been all over the world speaking at medical meetings, writing papers and books, taking care of sick people competently and teaching youngsters the art. There simply isn’t anything left I haven’t done. It transcends “fun”. It’s “fulfillment” and is better than fun. It generates good for the world, growth and good for our psyches. It is/was impossible to sustain fun. Those that try die trying or go mad. Sooner or later “fun” MUST transition to something with a foundation that matters on different levels, careers, wives, mortgages, kids and responsibility. Maybe even Puerto Rican pussy on the side. Fun was a transition state we needed to have because it filled a need to be irresponsible early so we would have something to measure responsibility against when it became inevitable. That said, because we have expertly ordered our careers to insure plenty of funds to support us when we inevitably choose to stop working, the two of us have a RARE opportunity to sneak back into a part time fun mode under the radar. We can collect classic Porsches, classic Triumphs and we can see the world (again) as we like to do it. We can have many of the same things we loved in our youth and enjoy it just as much or more. So my advice is not to fret about fun. Both of us should be brim full of joy at how our lives turned out. The best deal we were ever going to get was fulfillment. We could look back at fun but you know most people can’t go back there. We dumb lucked out.

Book Review: Lean-In (Sheryl Sandberg)


Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg: Corporate boardroom stilt meets the feminine mystique.

Interesting book detailing the evolution of (for want of a better word) “Feminism” to its current level of social visibility. In order to understand this transition, it’s helpful to review how life was for females in the 60s and 70s.

‘Horses sweat,

Men perspire,

Ladies feel the heat”

(“Debbie”, Alpha Chi Omega house, Athens, Ga, 1965)

In the mid-60s at the University of Georgia, females were told they would be “Southern Ladies” in every respect, whether they liked it much or not. Girls were not allowed to be seen on campus unless they wore a dress. No shorts and no slacks. Raincoats to hide physical education apparel encumbered trips to gym.

My then girlfriend was a straight up Dean’s List student with a double major in history and political science. (I was on a rather different Dean’s List). She applied to the UGa School of Law with great qualifications including strong letters from lawyers she had worked for. At her interview, she was said to be highly qualified. Too bad she was a girl.

That culture collapsed in the later 60s and early 70s as the Hippies redefined femininity as an encumbrance identifying them as chattel to be used and abused for the pleasure of males. This revelation prompted rejection of any modes or manners rendering them “attractive” (to males). The only way for a female to break free of these bonds was to do so on terms that set them apart in every way from the enemy. No fashionable clothing, makeup or feminine manners, and of course, no other “comfort measures” males had become comfortable with. The rise of the “natural” woman, complete with hairy legs and birds nest coifs.

Although this ambiance was made much of in the media, trust me, it didn’t last all that long and was limited to mostly die-hards with lots of other axes to grind. If for no other reason, “burn your bra” feminism flew against the genomic imperative for the sexes to “get together” in a manner that insures procreation of the species. Sorry, that’s just the way it works.

“Well, I met a girl at the Rainbow bar

She asked me if I’d beat her

She took me back to the Hyatt House…”

”I don’t want to talk about it”

(Warren Zevon, “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” (1976)

Regardless of whether you’re a creationist or evolutionist, you will probably agree that the genome for human function was designed a very long time ago. In the beginning there was only the slim potential for live births to survive and adaptation to a harsh and unforgiving environment. 
In the beginning, there were no Ivy League universities, no board rooms and no rules of law. The genome didn’t understand how to adapt to the inevitability of change any more than the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution knew how to adapt to shoulder mounted weapons capable of firing over 100 rounds per minute in a civilian environment.

Accordingly, the genotypic male brain facilitated the fighting of wolves from the door and the clearing of a few acres before lunch. The female brain was designed for enhanced non-verbal communication to facilitate the understanding of infants (and ferreting out deceptions from males). Arguably, the ability to effectively fight wolves from the door is more useful in a boardroom than second guessing the occult emotional expression of business or political adversaries. This is not to say that the female brain cannot and would not adapt to this environment, it is only to say that it’s a bit of a bigger stretch.

The genome also carves out “attraction” criteria for getting people together who would otherwise kill each other on sight. Those criteria are locked and loaded by acculturation. Hosiery, four and a half inch heels, “little black dresses” and cleve-bras were not designed to impress other women. Guys plinking at loud electric guitars till their fingers bleed do not set a stage to mimic Clapton. It all gets males and females together, sometimes for only a few seconds at a time like Diamond Dave Lee Roth, all with their eyes rolled up into the backs of their heads like Mr. Spock at his wedding.

“Survival kit contents…. check. One forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days’ concentrated emergency rations………. one issue proph-lactics; three lipsticks; three pair nylon stockin’s……. Shoot, a fella’ could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff”.

(Major T. J. “King” Kong: Dr. Strangelove, (1960)

Unfortunately, the genome is designed only to get the players together long enough to whelp a few kids. It then fades and cares little what happens next- reliably divorce attorneys and forensic accountants. But I digress.

“Well, she really worked me over good

Just like Jesse James

She really worked me over good

She was a credit to her gender

Poor, poor pitiful me

These young girls wont let me be

Lord of mercy on me”

(Warren Zevon, ibid)

Ms. Sandberg nurtures the innate capability of women to excel at anything they choose, which is of course true, but goes further to subjectively suggest women have an innate ability in the upper reaches of business and politics not necessarily shared by others (men). Not so fast. Looking back to the 70s, the reason “The Feminine Mystique” (Betty Friedan) caught fire so fast and to such revolutionary effect was that the American housewife saw herself in the vision.

Conversely, Sandberg’s vision is anything but translational on populace terms. They reek of Harvard, Goldman Sachs, Google, Facebook and the Upper East Side. They inhabit a tiny floating raft out of reach of the middle class, which itself is slowly vanishing Ms. Sandberg had a self-fulfilling shot at that brass ring because of her bankrolled upbringing. She was guaranteed open-ended support for any endeavor she chose, and she happened to have the random access grey matter to achieve it. The choices of other women, or anyone else for that matter, are shaped by factors that cannot be controlled.

Women don’t choose where they enter the world, what resources are available to them and they don’t (usually) choose rich mates as a priority. 
They raise families under whatever circumstances they find themselves in, one of the toughest jobs in existence, and their ambitions are necessarily constrained within that sphere. Sandberg’s call to press forward has an equal potential to make women born with plastic spoons in their mouths to feel inadequate for not following her footsteps more when they are already trying as hard as they can to keep their heads above water.

Ms. Sandberg, implies, but does not actually verbalize, the proposition that XX chromosomes are inherently more effective in big league corporate and political leadership positions, possibly because they are more attuned to function rather than glitz and hype (afflictions afflicting males). This is very shaky logic.

There’s no reason why women should not have the same ability as men for high end CEO jobs and upper crust politics, but there’s also no phylogenetic reason why they are better equipped for it either. 
 Carly Fiorina very nearly ran Hewlett-Packard into the toilet and was, in the immortal words of “Apocalypse Now”, “terminated with extreme prejudice”. As CEO of EBay, Meg Whitman bought Skype high and sold it (to Microsoft) low. It’s supposed to be the other way around.

There is also little prospective guarantee that women in positions of authority will have any more concern for the welfare of other women than male CEOs. Madeline Albright once famously remarked that if you want to see how a world run with women works, watch how they treat each other in high school.

There is some conjecture that Ms. Sandburg came out strongly for Hillary Clinton for President in 2008 because Ms. Clinton’s chromosomal makeup put her into a winner’s class. Never mind Ms. Clinton’s extensive history of ruthless male-like political manipulation and riding her husband’s coat tails.

Aggressive female executives may run more effective companies than male executives, but they’re no more likely to advocate day care as the law of the land. CEO Marissa Mayer of Yahoo recently made it clear that she did not see her job as helping women live in Sandberg’s fair and equitable female world by halting any work done out of the office. Yahoo employees quickly discovered that, when market forces collide with gender equality, market policies win. It doesn’t matter who runs the company.

Despite a few errant mutations of feral female free spiriting (Sarah Palin and anyone named Kardashian), Ms. Sandburg envisions women of all stripes as media fed ambition for achieving to the strains of “we are the champions!” Realistically, exhorting women to visualize success by how much leeway they have to bring their own their own choices to fruit would be more interesting.

Ms. Sandberg would be more credible if she came out strongly in favor of women getting the same deal in life and love and business as anyone else without having to negotiate any more or less for it. Addressing the continuing problem women traditionally face: less pay for the same work as men and violence perpetrated on them because of their inherent vulnerability, but it’s quite arguable whether the COO of Facebook understand Children of Lesser Gods’ visions.

“Untouchable: The strange life and tragic death of Michael Jackson” (Randall Sullivan 2012)


Book Review:

“Untouchable: The strange life and tragic death of Michael Jackson” (Randall Sullivan 2012)

I never had the slightest past interest in Michael Jackson. I always thought he was made out of hype and glitz until I perused the latest crop of mediocre and non-talents whose lives are manufactured by marketing specialists and COMPLETELY made out of hype and glitz. Yes, that includes (but not limited to)  Justin, Nikki, Rhianna, Pink, Gaga and anything remotely resembling hip-hop or rap.

I noticed this book on Kindle and it sounded interesting. After I waded through all of 2688 pages of meticulous compulsive detail about the life and death of what now appears to be an absolutely fascinating creature. The data and conjecture is totally objective and beholds to no one involved. Meticulously referenced (600 pages). This volume is a masterpiece of investigative journalism and I will proceed to summarize it for your perusal, maybe to generate some interest in reading it for your general education.

As he emerges in this volume, a great deal becomes clearer about Jackson. Clearly he was the only talent in the entire family, part of a curse that essentially destroyed any possibility of having a normal life. The other curse was having too much money (mainly from acquiring the Beatle’s catalog), which draws his family into it as well.

Early on, his father figured he could make a buck or two and retire from his assembly line job in working class Gary, Indiana. As the Jackson 5 emerged, it became apparent that the focal point was Michael and his father worked it to the max, but ultimately, like all centerpieces of otherwise good bands, Michael went out on his own and put his non-talent siblings and manipulative father behind. They failed as performers immediately and started working the only source of income available, Michael.

Michael then became a major star with all the trimmings, but because of his abominable upbringing, his emotional and even intellectual level stalled at about ten years old and remained that way through the remainder of his life. Accordingly, he reacted like a kid with unlimited cash in a candy store (Neverland Ranch). His spending habits made Elvis look like Scrooge, and in his glory days, his fund of cash had no bottom. The glory days were impressive. 13 Grammies, 31 Guinness World Records, Elected to the R & R Hall of fame, and to this day, the biggest selling album of all time (Thriller, 1984).

The combination of his child-like naiveté and his certifiable weirdness made him a lead pipe cinch for leeches of all varieties, including family, friends and especially lawyers and “financial advisors”, all of whom sucked his blood for years with no seeming limit. The author makes the supposition that the turning point was Jackson’s acquisition of the entire Beatle’s music catalog, a collection of inestimable value, destined to increase yearly with no limit. Paul McCartney felt scammed and never spoke to Jackson again.

In terms of tangible assets this made Jackson arguably one of the richest men on the planet. The author then elucidates in excruciating detail how the rest of his no-talent family schemed to max out their meal ticket, with a special excoriation of his otherwise talentless sister LaToya who earned a special place in one of the seven circles of Hell for her activities and her ability to manipulate the media.

Michael loved children and related to them if for no other reason than he was one himself in his 30s. He much preferred the company of children to adults and made the mistake of very publicly adoring them. This, of course, set him up beautifully for a very specialized fauna of bloodsucker and it came to pass in 1993 when a meticulously orchestrated action by experts for child abuse and child endangerment surfaced. Even his own family joined the fray. La Toya Jackson offered proof her brother was a pedophile and she would disclose for a fee of $500,000 (never paid). The evidence was thin, but his attorneys told Jackson that his best course was to settle without assuming guilt to avoid the endless media circus and go on with his life. Following this settlement, however, Jackson’s career went into decline and he began to sell off assets to pay for his vast spending habits, his family’s upkeep and the endless supply of lawyers.

But the success of the 1993 lawsuit invariably bred more attempts. In 2003, another similar suit was filed on behalf of another young boy of Jackson’s acquaintance. Ultimately, after more millions spent for a media circus trial and celebrity lawyers, Jackson was found innocent, but the downward momentum continued. Ultimately the bottom of the financial barrel appeared, forcing Jackson to sign up for arduous personal appearance tours to maintain his lifestyle. By this time Jackson was nearing 50 years of age and was not in the same physical shape as when a youth. The amount of emotional and physical stress from his family, friends and lawyers was oppressive and he found himself consistently worried about everything possible to be worried about. He became an insomniac and took the Elvis route of doctor shopping for a huge pharmacopeia of relaxants, sedatives, uppers, downers and sleep aids.

Enter Dr. Conrad Murray, a cardiologist of somewhat dubious repute who had established a low-grade celebrity practice in two cities. The search for a “personal physician” ended with Murray who originally demanded five million dollars a year to be at Jackson’s beck & call but settled for US$150,000 per month. As with most celebrities, their personal physicians earned that fee my giving them whatever they wanted, which in Jackson’s case was anti-anxiety and sleep medication of all varieties.

Somehow Jackson got a taste of propofol, an extremely potent and titratable anesthetic ONLY used in highly monitored operating rooms and ICUs by trained and experienced personnel. Jackson demanded this drug as it was the only one that would facilitate sleep (after a fashion). Records showed that Dr. Murray ordered hedge quantities of propofol (four gallons at a time!) and used it frequently in Jackson’s bedroom with no monitoring other than the bedside judgment of the physician.

Accordingly, in the early morning of June 25, 2009, Jackson was under general anesthesia in his bed with Murray at the switch. The events that followed varied depending on who was relating them. What is known for sure is that Murray departed for the bedside for an undetermined period of time, and on his return, found Jackson apneic with a questionable pulse. There is much evidence presented thereafter, but apparently when the paramedics arrived they pronounced Jackson dead, but Murray insisted they continue CPR. Jackson was pronounced dead on arrival following transfer to a hospital. Also in evidence was the fact hat Murray attempted to collect all the bottles of propofol in the house, unsuccessfully. A search of the house later revealed a treasure trove of multiple drugs.

A no nonsense forensic autopsy was performed on June 26, 2009. It showed Jackson to be otherwise in reasonably good condition, but with interesting asides. He had close-cropped white hair (at age 51) and normally wore a black wig. His nose had collapsed down to cartilage and he wore prosthesis. There was evidence of multiple plastic surgical procedures and bleaching of his skin, with tattoos of black eyeliner and red lips. Direct cause of death was listed as respiratory failure secondary to acute propofol toxicity, and other sedatives (lorazepam) were also found in the blood work. Naturally, photos of Jackson dead in the autopsy suite made their way to the British tabloids.

Subsequently, Murray was tried and convicted of manslaughter. Of great interest is that the defense found a reputable physician willing to opine that Jackson may have himself turned up the propofol resulting in his death, a revelation met by a round of guffaws by the jury and a stern frown by the judge who sentenced Murray to the maximum jail term of four years. If the price is right, any expert can be found to opine anything in deadpan. Ever the showman, Murray continues to work the media today and is eagerly awaiting his release to find another state to obtain another medical license. The Jackson family rode the media circus till it finally dropped from exhaustion.

The author made some very convincing and exceptionally well-documented points in this extensive volume.

1). Jackson was an exceptionally talented performer who resonated with many fans throughout the world. He was severely damaged emotionally and intellectually in his formative years.

2) In business and in the performance arts, stragglers and the debilitated will be selectively killed and eaten by a wide variety of predators.

3. A love of children is a dangerous thing if you are a child yourself in a man’s body.

4. Absolute dominion breeds incapacity for control.

The author makes a very convincing case that Jackson was not a molester of children, and the events of the late 90s set the stage for his emotional debilitation, following which he was simply bled to death by predators. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The author makes very special reference to and singles out the upper echelon of vicious, manipulative predators here, led by his sister LaToya a masterful manipulator of self interest, followed by his father and several (not all) of his brothers and a special mention to the lawyers in his life who presented bills for millions of dollars with little or no evidence they did anything other than shuffle papers no one understood but them. His mother Katherine escapes criticism and remains the best deal Michael’s children have for a role model

Even if you have no interest in MJ, this is a totally engrossing book of meticulous investigative journalism, top of the heap. It will give you a new understanding of the art of investigation.

Best part: The mode and manner of Jackson’s death.

Not so best part: Too long at 2688 pages, but 600 pages of that are notes and references. Some parts can easily be skimmed.

I give it 4.5 of five moonwalks. Truly fascinating and easy