Saturday, March 05, 2011

Worse Than the Romans: The Charlie Sheen Freak Show

Latest Newspaper Column: The Pilot

(I'm not sure why this ran Friday on the website rather than the usual Sunday, but what the hell):

You know, there are times I look around me and I go, "Wow, we are worse than the Romans."

Oh, sure, the Romans put on brutal gladiatorial contests in which men fought each other to the death, or fought against wild beasts.

But you know what the Romans didn't do? They didn't put their mentally ill in the middle of the Coliseum and encourage them to rave for the amusement of the people. Which, when you think about it, is exactly what the media are doing with "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen.

Sheen's been notorious as a Hollywood bad boy for years now, what with the hookers, the alcohol, the cocaine, the porn-star girlfriends and whatnot. It was actually pretty shrewd casting when "Two and a Half Men" producer Chuck Lorre hired Sheen to play the boozing, womanizing Charlie Harper, brother to the nervous and wimpy Allan, played by Jon Cryer (this generation's answer to Don Knotts).

Sheen's been pretty amusing as a drunken whoremonger on TV. In real life, however, the act has been less funny. A whole lot less, in fact, with Sheen being arrested for domestic violence and trashing hotel rooms, going in and out of rehab, and generally acting, as we say down South, like he's got no raising at all.

All of this was bad enough, but not, unfortunately, uncommon enough in Hollywood to grab the front pages. Nor did it result in the same sort of employment consequences you or I would suffer if we were frequently seen in public completely blitzed, in the company of adult movie actresses. In fact, Sheen's income kept going up as the show became a mainstay of CBS's prime-time line up.

Then Sheen started imploding in a particularly flamboyant fashion that even Hollywood couldn't ignore. He began giving interviews in which he ranted and raved, calling producer Lorre a "maggot" and other endearments not suitable for a family newspaper. Not surprisingly, Lorre immediately suspended production on the show, because let's face it, if you call your boss a "maggot," you're probably going to get canned, even if you are Charlie Sheen.

The suspension apparently acted upon Sheen's mind in much the same way a red cape acts upon the mind of a maddened bull. Suddenly, Charlie Sheen is everywhere, giving interviews right and left on "20/20," "Good Morning America,", NBC, CNN, MSNBC, etc. He's given an interview to everyone but "Highlights" magazine, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the cover of the next issue.

And what bizarre interviews they are. Sheen claims to have "tiger blood" and "Adonis DNA." He's also repeatedly called himself a "warlock," which upset a group of "actual" warlocks so much they promised to put a "binding spell" (which is apparently the magical equivalent of a restraining order) on him.

He brags that "most of the time - and this includes naps - I'm an F-18, bro. I'll destroy you in the air," and gripes that he's tired of pretending like he's not special. "I'm tired of pretending like I'm not a total bitchin' rock star from Mars," he says. "You can't process me with a normal brain."

I'll confess, I've laughed at some of this blather. But I'm getting more and more uncomfortable about it. When you read and hear the increasingly grandiose and delusional things Sheen's said and get a look at his manic, beady little eyes, you can tell that this guy isn't just drunk or coked up. He is out of his mind. He is mentally ill. And yet every media outlet in the country seems positively joyful at the opportunity to put the crazy guy on screen and poke him with a stick to see what nutty thing he'll say next.

It's becoming the high-tech equivalent of the old carnival freak shows, where people would gather to see some poor addled soul bite the heads off live chickens and other humiliating acts. Charlie Sheen hasn't actually bitten the head off a chicken yet, but if he does, you can bet that someone will be there with a camera, ready to put it on the air and on the Internet.

Then we really will be worse than the Romans.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Win a Kindle or Nook from One Very Righteous Chick

The supremely cool and outrageously talented Toni McGee Causey gives a shout out to LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY as part of her contest in which one can win a FREE Kindle or Nook over at her blog:

J.D. has a talent for creating characters you feel like you know, deeply, from your own life, and showing you the tensions that they're under that threaten to crack and break them wide open—and like the ladies above, he'll have you turning pages until the wee hours of the morning, because you won't want to put it down until you get to the end.

Head over, enter the contest (I mean, free stuff, amirite?) and show Toni some love. She's not only a kick-ass writer, she's good people as well.

Monday, February 28, 2011

I Did Not Know That

From the Wikipedia article on guitarist Robert Fripp:

He returned to musical work as a studio guitarist on Peter Gabriel's first self-titled album in 1976, released the following year. Fripp toured with Gabriel to support the album, but remained out of sight (either in the wings or behind a curtain) and used the pseudonym "Dusty Rhodes."

Heh. Here's a little classic Fripp, with the equally amazing Adrian Belew in King Crimson.

The Worst Thing In The World

Excerpt from Lawyers, Guns and Money:

No place in Blainesville was too far from any other in terms of mileage. But driving to the house where Chloe Gibson had lived and died was like taking a mine-car ride down through the strata of Blaine County society. I drove past the shady downtown streets I’d walked not long before. They were lined with large comfortable homes built during the early part of the 20th century. There was a church on every other block, usually brick with tall but dignified steeples. Then came the old downtown where the mom and pop stores were slowly eroding away, thanks to the big box stores out on the by-pass. After the downtown came the railroad tracks where no trains ran and the weeds grew up between the rails. Across the tracks stood the crumbling textile mill that once provided Blainesville’s wages before the industry crumbled before the brutal reality that there was more profit in paying an Indonesian child a dollar a day than in paying an otherwise unskilled North Carolinian a few dollars an hour. On the other side of the great empty factory were the rows of old mill houses, shabby when they were built and nearly unlivable now. Just past the city-limit sign, I passed the football-field-sized gravel lot and sprawling cinderblock structure that was Voit Fairgreen’s nightclub, the Rancho Deluxe. By the roadside, cheap moveable plastic letters on a lighted sign promised LIVE ROCK & ROLL FRI-SAT COLDEST BEER IN TOWN LADIES NIGHT TUES. It was one of the few businesses in town that was still thriving. Just beyond, separated by a chain link fence and a narrow wooded strip, was the sad little cinderblock house where Chloe Gibson lived. The place where she had taken Danny’s car, because they were both too wasted to walk. The place where someone had killed her.

I drove down the corrugated dirt driveway until I was stopped by a ribbon of yellow crime scene tape. As I sat there and stared at it, a Blainesville police cruiser pulled in behind me. He hit his lights as he pulled to a stop. I started to get out of the car.

“STAY IN YOUR VEHICLE, SIR!” a tinny loudspeaker squawked at me.

“What the hell…” I muttered, but I settled back down into the seat and waited for the cop to come to me. And waited. And waited some more. I turned around and looked back. I couldn’t make out the face of the cop behind the wheel, but he was just sitting there. The crime scene tape in front kept me from going forward and the cop car behind held me in place. I pulled out my cell phone and started dialing. As I did, I saw another car pull in behind the cop car. I saw someone get out and I shut off the cell. I spotted Marty Ellis walking past the patrol car towards me and rolled down the window. He was a short guy, broad, his graying hair in a military-looking brush cut. He looked pissed about something.

“Hey, Marty,” I said. “What’s going on?”

“What are you doing here, Cole?”

“I’m representing Danny Fairgreen,” I said.

“So I heard.”

“So you know what I’m doing here, then,” I said. I started to get out of the car again. He put his hand against the door, almost slamming it shut.

“What the fuck, Marty?” I said.

“Crime scene’s sealed,” he said.

“What, the lab guys aren’t done yet?”

“They’re done.”

“Okay,” I said. “So I guess I need to set up a time…”

“You’re not getting in there.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me,” he said. “It’s sealed.”

“Look, Marty,” I said, “Quit screwing around. This is a murder case.”

“No shit,” he said. “I saw the body.”

“So you know,” I said, speaking slowly and carefully, “That in order to properly defend my client, I or my investigator’s going to need to…”

“You go in there,” Ellis said, “Or if any officer even sees you on this property, you’ll be arrested.”

I was having a harder time controlling my voice. “Arrested for what, exactly?”

“Interfering with an ongoing police investigation. And contempt of court.”


“We’ve got a court order, Cole. No one goes in there except law enforcement.”

“And what idiot issued an unconstitutional order like that?”

He actually chuckled. “Judge Atkins.”

“Ah, shit,” I said disgustedly.

“Yep,” Ellis said, and he was smiling this time. “Your old pal.”

The Honorable S. Kenneth Atkins, who I privately called Judge Smirk, was a political appointee through and through, and he knew it. It caused him a considerable amount of professional insecurity, which he overcompensated for by constantly trying to prove he was the smartest guy in the room. If the prosecutor argued for one thing, and the defense attorney argued for another, Smirk would usually give the condescending little smile that earned him his nickname and come up with a third thing, which nine times out of ten made no damn sense at all.

There was this to be said in Smirk’s defense: he didn’t play favorites. He was a complete asshole to everyone: prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officers, even courtroom clerks. The only reason someone so universally despised stayed in an elected position was that the straight-ticket-voting public rarely paid any attention to judicial elections, and this was a county that would elect Bozo the Clown if he ran on the Republican ticket. A couple of people had tried to mount challenges for Smirk’s seat. One had abruptly withdrawn for “personal reasons” a month before election day, and the other had been buried at the polls. No one had tried since. So there he stayed, a thorn eternally looking for a side.

“You got a problem with this,” Ellis said, “Take it up with Judge Atkins.”

“Thanks,” I said, defeated. “I’ll do that.”

“Any time,” he said. He turned to walk away.

“What the hell’s going on here, Marty?” I called after him. “This isn’t the way things are done, and you know it.”

He turned back. “What I know is that your client gutted that girl. From the position of the body and the preliminary blood spatter reports, he slashed her open in the kitchen. Then he went over and sat down in the chair while she crawled across the floor. She died at his feet while he sat there and watched.

Jesus. If that was the story they were spinning around this one, it really was going to get ugly. “What was the weapon?”

“Some kind of large bladed knife.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Some kind of…you mean you don’t have the weapon?”

He realized he’d said too much. He shut his mouth so fast I’m surprised I didn’t hear a snap. “Marty,” I went on, “My client was too wasted to remember what he was doing. I’m not even sure how he got to the house.”

“If you’re trying for some kind of intoxication defense, counselor,” Ellis said, “well...good luck with that.”

“Intoxication, hell,” I said. “Are you telling me the State is going to try to argue that a guy as fried as Danny Fairgreen not only managed to kill the girl, but that he hid the weapon so well a police search couldn’t find it before he passed out?”

“I’m not telling you anything,” Ellis said, his face darkening with blood, “other than to get the hell out of here.” He turned and strode angrily back to his car. I sat and watched as he backed out and drove away. The patrolman sat there for a minute, watching me behind his shades, then backed out slowly. He waited on the road, his lights still flashing, as I backed out. He killed his lights, but followed me all the way back into town. Only when I pulled up outside the office did he drive away.

Back at the office, I stopped and knocked softly on Chuck’s door.

“Come in,” he said.

The office was mostly dark except for the desk lamp, illuminating the binder open on his desk. The rest of the desk was cluttered with files and papers and a laptop computer. Chuck’s tie was half undone and his hair was mussed as if he’d been running his hands through it. His face fell as he saw me. He probably thought I was coming to lay another load of work on him.

“You asked if Danny actually did it," I said. "I'm beginning to think he may not have."

He looked baffled. “Isn't that a good thing?”

"No," I said, "It's a terrible thing.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Look, Chuck,” I said. “If you have a client you know is guilty, you do your job by making the State prove it. You make sure the cops and the prosecutors do their job right, because if you don't, sure as hell, they will start getting sloppy about it and cutting corners, and then we're all fucked. But when a guy you know did it goes off to jail, and most of them do, all you have to ask is 'did I do my job and make everyone else do theirs?' If the answer is 'yes', then you can sleep easy. But a guy you know is innocent but who might get convicted anyway...that's not a good thing, Chuck. An innocent client is the worst fucking thing in the world. When you say your prayers tonight, be sure to thank God that it doesn't happen often." I closed the door before he could answer.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Only Jobs They Really Care About

Latest Newspaper Column: The Pilot

One quote that's pretty much helped form the way I look at politics is this one from conservative humorist P.J. O'Rourke:

"The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then get elected and prove it."

And boy, have they proven it lately.

See, the Republicans sort of painted themselves into a corner. Their electoral strategy for taking back Congress was built around hammering President Obama and the Democrats for the high unemployment rate and promising that if they got in, there'd be jobs, jobs and more jobs.

What they momentarily forgot is that another pillar they claim as part of their philosophy is that "government can't do anything, especially create jobs."

For a while they've managed to obscure that contradiction by spinning everything they want to get rid of as being about jobs. They cast the Affordable Care Act as "the job-killing health care bill" - which, after the tragic shootings in Tucson they amended to "job-crushing" or "job-destroying" health care bill.

Whatever the name, they vowed to repeal it, in the name of Almighty Jobs, even though the Congressional Budget Office predicted a small effect on employment - a half a percent - with most of that coming from people voluntarily working less because, for instance, they could retire earlier or take less demanding work due to the availability of insurance outside their jobs.

But as always, who needs facts when fear-mongering will do? If jobs are all people are thinking about, the GOP decided, then everything we don't like will be "job-crushing" or "job-destroying." And there's nothing they hated more than the health care bill.

Problem was, they knew going in that they weren't going to repeal the health care bill. They didn't have the votes in the Senate, and they knew they didn't have enough votes anywhere to override the inevitable presidential veto.

So the House Republicans huffed and strutted and voted on a repeal bill - and it died in the Senate, just as everyone knew it would. Total jobs created: zero.

Meanwhile, former car thief Darrell Issa (R-Gone in 60 Seconds), chairman of the Congressional Oversight Committee, sent letters to more than 150 corporations and trade organizations, asking them to tell him which regulations they didn't like - oh, sorry, which regulations are, in their sole opinion, "harming job growth."

Republicans have also opposed greater regulation of food safety, mining and deep-water drilling.

I suppose you could make a case that that kind of deregulation is aimed at creating jobs. After all, the more miners or oil rig workers who die in preventable accidents, the more job openings there'll be. And those who don't qualify for the jobs can help clean up the dead wildlife after spills.

Another "job-creating" measure the Republicans want to undertake is cutting $100 billion of government spending, which will somehow create jobs by throwing an estimated 994,000 government employees out of work, to say nothing of the independent contractors who hire people to work on government-sponsored projects.

Speaker Boehner's response? "So be it." After all, government workers or people on government contracts aren't actually real people with real jobs to Boehner and the GOP. As far as they're concerned, the only people who have real jobs are the corporate CEOs who employ the lobbyists. You know, the people who have paid for 180 golf junkets and other corporate-sponsored trips for Boehner over the past six years.

I guess as long as he's in power, caddies, waitresses and bartenders in his vicinity can rest easy at night knowing their jobs are secure. The rest of you can go whistle.

Meanwhile, back on the House floor, the Republicans seem less concerned with job creation than they are with using the budget battles to push a radical anti-abortion agenda.

They introduced a bill that would redefine "rape" in such a way that it excludes statutory rape or date rape, and threw in a provision that would allow hospitals to let a woman die rather than perform an emergency abortion that might save her life.

Both measures failed. Total jobs created: again, zero.

Looks like the only jobs these mooks really care about are their own. Whoever they're working for, it sure ain't us.