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Dine 'n' Doze

The Real Cause of Thanksgiving Sleepiness. I used to think it was conversations with certain relatives.

Blogkeeping

Dozens of people have written me about this line in my Burt Reynolds piece…

I understand how very, very rich people can turn into very, very poor people but I don't understand how very, very rich people can turn into very, very poor people.

They all think it's a typo. It's not a typo. I understand it but I don't understand it. Understand it?

Sharon

The cartooning community — and actually, anyone who ever met the Sakais — mourns the passing of Sharon Sakai. Here's one of many articles being written about her and what she went through.

Go Read It!

Kate Brannen writes How to Make Your Last Name Plural This Christmas Season. This is actually a good guide to how to pluralize any name at any time of year.

Smokey and the Auctioneers

Burt Reynolds is broke and selling many of his belongings — including his Emmy and Golden Globe awards — to raise cash. I understand how very, very rich people can turn into very, very poor people but I don't understand how very, very rich people can turn into very, very poor people.

Let's say Burt was at some point worth $25 million. I don't think that's an unreasonable guess given the success of some of his movies and TV programs. Then one day, he's worth $24 million and later on, he's worth $23 million…and the day comes when he's at $10 million. Well before that moment, don't you say, "Hmm…I'm doing something wrong in the way I handle my money"? A few years ago, it was reported that he was trying to sell his home in Florida for $8.9 million but appraisers said it wasn't worth more than $2.5 million. He was being sued by his bank for not paying his mortgage and by his ex-wife (Loni) for not paying his alimony.

Years ago, a prominent Hollywood business manager — too prominent to have me as a client, certainly — explained to me that these kinds of situations can be explained in one word: Overreach. He said, "The star has $20 million and somehow, that's not enough for him to live on. He wants a bigger mansion and more cars and whatever. So he invests $10 million and those investments go bad and he chases them with more money, like a losing gambler trying to get even…and there goes the bankroll." That sounds like what probably happened with Burt.

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I knew an actor who was on a series. When he got it, he felt he had to live like a Big Star even though — deep, dark secret — he really wasn't making the kind of dough everyone assumed. But he tried to live at that level, flying First Class, picking up checks, throwing parties, loaning money to friends in financial distress (he had a lot of friends in financial distress)…so he didn't sock much of that income away for himself. Then his series was canceled, that income stopped and he felt he still had to live at or around that level. For a while, another series or some movie offers seemed right around the corner…

But he was never quite able to turn that corner.

I always liked Burt Reynolds…I mean, from afar. He seemed like a guy who didn't take himself that seriously. I suspect that if I ever got to know the real person, I'd find plenty to dislike but he was in some good movies and he was often quite funny when on with Carson. So I'm sorry to see him selling his awards and wardrobe and hairpieces and whatever else is going on the block — and especially sorry to hear he has serious medical problems. I know there are people out there who derive great Schadenfreude when a Big Star takes a big fall. They're probably grinning about this and also about Doc Cosby's downfall. I just think it's sad…and an important reminder that it can happen to any of us, even if we aren't and never will be rich like that.

Today's Video Link

The best Thanksgiving cartoon ever made: Jerky Turkey, released in 1945 — and for some reason, in April. Directed by Tex Avery. Story by Heck Allen. The IMDB credits Daws Butler and Bill Thompson with the voices and they're wrong. Daws hadn't even arrived in Hollywood in 1944 when this voice track was done — his first cartoon jobs were in '48 — and the pilgrim is someone else imitating Thompson's famous radio voice. The turkey might be Harry Lang, who popped up in a lot of Avery's cartoons of the period but the voice coming out of that turkey call sounds like the very versatile Frank Graham and it would be odd to bring him in just to do that one voice…

More on Ferguson

The more I read about the Grand Jury maneuver in Ferguson, the more I think it was wrong both in terms of fairness and the kind of openness that would show the public the process was fair. What they did was to turn the Grand Jury proceedings into a trial that excluded the family and advocates for Michael Brown and allowed Officer Wilson's testimony to go largely unchallenged. I'm not going to post a lot more about this but I would direct you to these articles…

And as I segue this blog back to happier topics, I leave you with the words of MSNBC analyst Lisa Bloom who kinda said what I said earlier…

The biggest thing that jumps out is prosecutors who aren't prosecuting — prosecutors who let the target of the investigation come in, in a very friendly, relaxed way, and simply tell the story. There is absolutely zero cross-examination. Cross-examination is the hallmark of our system, it's the crucible of truth. And I don't say that to use flowery language. That's how we get at the truth.

This whole thing smells. But I'm going to go back to sillier, happier subjects…

Today's Video Link

Here's a golden moment with one of my favorite musical groups, The 5 Neat Guys…

From the E-Mailbag…

A fellow named David Noll sent me this…

I wanted to respond to your comment about what was needed in Ferguson was an open trial on the evidence. Prosecutors have an obligation to recognize that they are invested with great power, and we know what comes with great power. If a prosecutor does not believe in a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt, he should not ask a jury to do so, either.

Our system of justice does not call for us to potentially literally put someone on trial for their life, just to see how the evidence "shakes out." Prosecutors exercise their judgment to drop weak cases all of the time, but Ferguson would have been too politically charged to allow that to happen. That's why it made sense to present the case to the Grand Jury first.

I am not a criminal prosecutor, but I do bring cases in the name of my state, as an attorney for our child welfare agency. I take my obligations very seriously. One aspect of my job is that I must sometimes disappoint investigators who want to bring certain cases. This can happen if the case has facts similar to ones the appellate courts have overturned before, or if an assessment of the evidence and witnesses indicates that the state cannot meet its burden of proof. It does not make me happy to take no action against some parents who leave drugs laying out around the house, or use certain types of corporal punishment. It does, however, bring me satisfaction to know that I am enforcing the rule of law, and seeking equal justice for all.

I understand all that and do not disagree that there are cases that should end with a Grand Jury finding. But I also assume you understand that it's possible to disagree with a prosecutor's judgement call. You write that if one of them "does not believe in a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt, he should not ask a jury to do so." Okay, but what if that prosecutor doesn't seem to believe in any criminal case of a police officer using lethal force? What if the prosecutor seems biased in that direction? Or is just plain wrong?

The case in question in Ferguson is not one that "has facts similar to ones the appellate courts have overturned." The case against Officer Wilson turned on facts unique to this particular incident. It was a matter of conflicting eyewitness accounts.

Officer Wilson testified and you can read his testimony (and view other evidence) here. I read his account and my reaction was a lot like that of Josh Marshall. Are we right or wrong? I'm not certain. What I am certain about was that I would have liked to have seen Wilson cross-examined by someone trying to poke holes in his story. I don't get that reading the transcripts.

It reminds me of when I've given depositions. I get quizzed by competing attorneys — one trying to guide me into telling the story my way, the other trying to find gaps or inconsistencies or omitted points. The Wilson testimony reads like just the first half of the process…and this is a process on which our entire legal system is based. The Grand Jury seems to have accepted it at face value without genuine cross-examination.

As I understand it, the Brown family can bring a suit for wrongful death against Officer Wilson and the police department. I further understand that if they do that, Officer Wilson would be forced to testify and therefore be cross-examined. He could not refuse to testify under the Fifth Amendment because he would not be incriminating himself. I guess I'm curious to see how it would stand up to that. Maybe it would stand and maybe it wouldn't.

Anyway, thanks for your note, David. I absolutely understand your point and do not dismiss it lightly. But I think it pivots on a certain trust of this prosecutor that I do not share, and I think that treating this case differently — trying to do a more exhaustive Grand Jury finding to preempt a public trial — has made the "politically charged" atmosphere worse, not better.

Today on Stu's Show!

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Today on Stu's Show, newlywed Stu Shostak welcomes his two resident authorities on television, Steve Beverly and Wesley Hyatt for what I'm sure will be a lively and long three-way discussion about the current state of television, including but not limited to what's going on with The View, the mess that Dish Network is becoming, upcoming revivals of old shows, the future of variety programming and Neil Patrick Harris's new venture, Net Neutrality and many other topics.  The discussion will kick off as a four-way discussion as I join in to talk about the Bill Cosby situation.

Stu's Show can be heard live (almost) every Wednesday at the Stu's Show website and you can listen for free there. Webcasts start at 4 PM Pacific Time, 7 PM Eastern and other times in other climes. They run a minimum of two hours and sometimes go way longer. Today's, I can just about guarantee you, will go way longer…like well into next year.  But it will end and not long after a show ends, it's available for downloading from the Archives on that site. Downloads are a measly 99 cents each and you can get four shows for the price of three.  They're a lot of fun to listen to and today's should be no exception.

Sharon Sakai, R.I.P.

Sharon and Stan Sakai

Sharon and Stan Sakai

It has been totally expected for some time but it still jolts to hear that Sharon Sakai, beloved spouse of cartoonist Stan Sakai, died this morning. Stan announced it on his Facebook page like this…

Sharon passed away at 9:00 this morning.

She died exactly the way she wanted to — at home, surrounded by her family. Matthew flew home from up north, where he is going to school, yesterday.

Thank you all so much for your love, prayers and support.

Thus ends around ten years of love, prayers and support…and a superhuman effort on the part of Stan to take loving care of his life partner. This post should be about Sharon but I can't help note the incredible strength and devotion on the part of Stan. We should all wish that in a time of crisis, we could be that good.

One morning ten years ago, Sharon awoke and told Stan, "I can't hear anything out of my left ear." That was how it began. It tuned out to be a meningioma brain tumor — benign but large and inoperable. For a time, radiation therapy kept it from growing and doing further damage but in 2010, it started again. She experienced facial paralysis, impaired speech, dysfunctional body functions and massive weight loss. The last few months, she just laid in bed, sleeping most of the day and unable to communicate in those moments when she was awake. Once in a rare while, she could squeeze a visitor's hand in a way that suggested there was still a person in there.

I cannot, of course, speak for Sharon. I can say that if I had that happen to me, I would want it to end way before it got to that.

I can, however, speak of Sharon. She was a lovely, friendly lady who seemed to be the perfect fit for Stan. She supported him in his work and practically glowed at his successes and accomplishments. She raised a wonderful family and lit up any room she entered with a genuine, human smile. It has been so sad to see that smile go away.

As I said, this was not unexpected.  When I heard the news this morning, my first reaction was sadness, my second was the compassionate version of "Well, it's about time." Because this has been inevitable for too, too long and it was just so sad watching it happen from afar. Our hearts go out to Stan and those who had to watch it up close. It must have been awful because she was once so lovely and full of life.

Tuesday Morning

I've been trying since about halfway through The Robert McCulloch Show last night to write a piece about the Ferguson verdict. I've started several and deleted them.

McCulloch is, of course, the St. Louis County prosecutor who controlled the Grand Jury (or at least the process) that absolved a Ferguson police officer of wrongdoing in the controversial killing of Michael Brown. In the piece I was trying to write, I was trying to make the following points…

  1. The verdict may well have been correct given how the laws are currently written.
  2. If it is, maybe those laws are written to favor law enforcement too much…and that would not be McCulloch's (or any individual's) fault.
  3. Engaging in peaceful protests is a good way to sell the point that the verdict may not have been correct or that the laws might need to be changed.
  4. Burning and especially looting are a good way to sell the point that the police should feel free to shoot more people.
  5. McCulloch should have known that given the history of race relations in Ferguson and the nature of this particular crime, what was needed was not merely a process that would be legally correct but which would be widely perceived as not rigged by white people in favor of a white cop. It's a maxim that judges need to not only avoid impropriety but also the appearance of impropriety. That goes for the entire judicial process.

And this is where I got lost trying to write something about it all…how to say why McCulloch's long — and at times, condescending — announcement of the verdict sure made it sound like a rigged game. Some of it was the nature of the man himself. Much of it was the unusual way in which this particular Grand Jury seems to have been utilized.

Even before McCulloch was done, one of my favorite political reporters, Eric Boehlert, tweeted: "shorter prosecutor: we already held a trial for the Brown killing. it's called the grand jury. and it was held in private." That sure sounded like the problem to me but I was somehow unable to expand on that thought in what I was writing. This morning though, I read a piece by David Feige that I think nailed it: The Grand Jury process was used to try and insulate McCulloch and his office from responsibility while still getting to the desired (or at least, the expected) outcome.

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And that may have been the correct outcome from a strictly legal standpoint. I'm not saying it wasn't. The problem is that a decision has been made and the folks who feel Michael Brown did not do anything that warranted killing him do not feel they had an advocate in that process. It was done behind closed doors to preempt an open trial in which they could have had an advocate. It feels like they arranged it so there'd be someone in the room who had an interest in defending the officer but no one to argue on behalf of Brown. This is not a problem with most Grand Juries because most Grand Juries indict. This one could have too, had McCulloch felt it was in the community's interest to have an open trial.

I have no sympathy for the rioters and looters. The rioters, like I said, just make a large section of the population wish there were more cops out there ready to shoot minorities. The looters just look like opportunists who are even more deserving of being stopped by bullets. So they're at fault, too. I just really feel sorry today for all of us — of any color — who have to live in a nation of increasing racial unrest.

The car I bought a few years ago came with a small defect. The dashboard light that told me when my headlights were on sometimes lied to me. As a result, I got stopped three times by police for driving at night without headlights before I figured out it was lying to me and had it fixed. I was never scared to be stopped by the cops, nor was I even ticketed…but then, I was white, I was driving a new car and I was in Los Angeles, where the police seem to have a better (though by no means perfect) attitude about race than some cities. If I was a black guy in an older car in some cities, I would have been terrified. And I'd be more scared today than I was yesterday.

Today's Video Link

John Oliver's show is on hiatus but they haven't forgotten us…

Back Where I Belong…

Yeah, I'm home from Florida where I spoke and signed books and met an awful lot of people at the Miami Book Fair, which was a load of fun for anyone who wanted to buy books, meet authors and hear most of those authors talk about what they'd authored. I mostly hung out with my friend and editor (two nouns that do not always go together), Charlie Kochman of Harry N. Abrams Books. We were hawking our new tome, The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio, a hefty collection of comic art produced and/or supervised by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby when they were a duo. I signed a lot of 'em as well as other things for which I've been at least partly responsible.

The trips to and fro were not wonderful. Both flights on American Airlines were utterly full and I forgot how uncomfy that can be for a gent of my size. I am one of those people who does not enjoy travel for the sake of travel. When people tell me, "Oh, you ought to visit Australia some day," I cannot envision anything that could happen there that would make up for all those hours sitting in one seat without enough leg room or lateral clearance. I'm usually lucky enough to either have an empty seat next to me or someone else paying for First Class…but not on these flights.

But it was fun to be at the Fair and especially to hang out in the Authors Lounge, which was full of interesting people to look at and maybe talk with. Charlie and I ate lunch at a table where an attractive blonde lady was seated. I recognized her, he didn't…but when she went to get more chow from the buffet, I whispered to her that was Valerie Plame. I don't know why that seemed so surreal but it did. I also spotted a man I think was Lou Dobbs. At least, he resembled Lou Dobbs and looked very uncomfortable being around so many non-white people. And we saw Tavis Smiley and Paul Williams and George Clinton and Dr. Cornel West and Jason Segal and other celebrity authors. Mostly, we were sitting and talking with other folks involved in comics: Denis Kitchen, Ben Katchor, Joan Hilty, Mark Zingarelli, Joyce Brabner and some others.

I don't have any great anecdotes, I'm afraid. It was kind of a 48 hour whirlwind of cabs, shuttles, signings, the Marriott Biscayne Bay and Miami-Dade Airport. Charlie and I went to hear Norman Lear interviewed about his autobiography. I worked on two different shows for Mr. Lear and never met him…and he had enough of a crowd after his talk that things stayed that way. We also attended a good panel that Joan Hilty ran with Denis Kitchen, Box Brown and Ed Piskor, all of whom have published excellent and true biographical works. I did find myself in a lot of conversations about Bill Cosby, none of them flattering to the man.

A lot of folks asked my about my long-awaited, long biography on Jack Kirby and the answer is that, yes, I'm now able to finish it. Just waiting for legal matters to be resolved. I don't know when but it's now on my active "to do" list…so one of these days. Maybe I'll do more book fairs to promote it. I hope they're all as well-run as that one in Miami.

Sunday Morning

So how come hotels build showers with no place to put your little bottle of shampoo, your little bottle of conditioner, your little tube of facial scrub and your normal-sized bar of soap you travel with because you can't get clean with a cake of Dove the size of a Hershey's Miniature?

Yeah, Mark woke up in Miami but he'll sleep tonight in his own bed. In-between, he'll be at the Miami Book Fair where he's running about meeting people, signing books, hearing talks and having lunch with Valerie Plame, although she didn't know it. (Some spy she is!) A full report when I'm back in my very own area code.