Monday, November 07, 2011

Justice served: Conrad Murray found Guilty.

I am proud of the jurors of the Conrad Murray trial for making a brave decision that I can only hope sets a precedent and sends a strong message to 'celebrity doctors' and other medical professionals who put profit over ethics, logic, and human life.

May Jackson's family finally get the peace they deserve.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

AMC Theaters Stubs card review: 0 Stars

Sadly, AMC laid to rest its beloved MovieWatcher card and replaced it with a major downgrade, otherwise known as the "Stubs" card. And yes, included in those changes are the disappearance countless 'points' MovieWatchers accumulated over the years as well as everything truly great about a discount movie card.

If you've been to an AMC Theater recently, you know about Stubs - it is shamelessly plugged to every patron that walks in - at the ticket booth AND at the concession stand. Naturally, it is touted as the greatest thing since bad 3-D made a comeback at your local cinema, but the deal is really more of a steal. (Perhaps you've seen one of the countless brochures lying on the table inside the theater - note the back of the brochure - an entire folded page lists nothing but endless small print, highlighting the countless ways Stubs finds even more ways to cheat customers out of good deals.)

For starters, movie card programs are successful as they offer incentives for patrons to return to theaters again and again as continuous swipes stack up to accumulated points, which turn into free concession items or movie tickets. The Stubs program, on the other hand, ensures more money for AMC Theaters while placing an increased cost on consumers (during pressing economic times, no less). Stubs offers several extras that consumers don't want or need. While rewards cards are normally complimentary, the Stubs program charges patrons $12 up front (also advertised as a dollar a month so it doesn't seem so bad). Considering the last AMC rewards program was free, this doesn't bode well. Charging customers for 'incentives' to come to an already overpriced movie theater experience does little to encourage customers to continue walking through the door and thus misses the point and defeats the purpose of an incentive-based rewards card).

Among the 'perks': For every $100 you spend, you get $10 back. As a patron, you are already charged $12 upfront, so by the time you actually make it to $100 (How often do you go to the movies?) and you get your first 'reward', you already paid for it yourself, and a few dollars extra. You also get free refills on soda and popcorn - just what our country needs when it's facing an obesity epidemic. (Would you like more butter with that? You'll have to get it yourself, because the butter is self-serve.) How much soda or popcorn does a person need? Too many liquids will send you running to the restroom during mid-movie and popcorn is simply filler - you can only eat so much of it (or would want to). Due to rising costs, most people eat prior to attending the theater - having healthier options available. Not to mention, it barely costs AMC a thing to pour more soda in your cup or top off your popcorn - this boils down to mere cents.

Another 'perk' is that patrons who order tickets online don't have to pay purchase fees. There are several websites where you can purchase your movie tickets without fees. (AMC's website adds fees for online ticket purchases - just so they can justify what a 'deal' your Stubs card is. Not to mention, ordering tickets online saves THEM money as they can lay off more employees and automate their system. As such, why are YOU being charged more money for this?

Also available through the Stubs program is an online stubs collection so you can keep track of the films you've seen. I don't know anyone who cares about this - if you are that interested in a collection, you can keep your paper stubs or save a copy of your yearly movie lists on your computer - this is a simple online application that sounds far more interesting (or useful) than it is.

Some AMC Theaters offer "Student Night" or "Senior Night" once a week, though there are terms and conditions (a midnight movie will be counted as the next day, sneak peaks don't apply, etc). Given that students are presently drowning in loans, it's unfortunate that not all AMC Theaters offer this, nonetheless one day per week. You can buy gold or silver passes, yet many restrictions exist on these - if you try to watch a new movie with a silver pass, you will receive a $1.50 upcharge that defeats the purpose of buying a pass to begin with.

As an avid moviegoer (and once AMC patron and fan), I couldn't be more disappointed by the introduction of such an awful program, far inferior to MovieWatcher and several movie rewards cards at competing chains (who now have my business and full attention).

In this economy, all consumers are watching their expenses. There is never a good time to implement absurd policies - though if there was, this certainly isn't it. Times are tough and customers want to spend their hard-earned money on chains that have policies which prioritize the consumer, not the corporation. After a long day, a customer wants to walk into a theater chain and have a relaxing experience, not hear employees forcibly try to dupe them into purchasing a Stubs card. I have no doubt that some consumers (those who fail to research the card or read the fine print) will purchase the card and the company will make some money off of the idea in the short-term, but this is NOT a long-term idea and will turn away the loyal patrons AMC had, MovieWatchers and film fans alike. Sadly, these new policies make it clear that consumers and their satisfaction are no longer the top priority.

Aside from Stubs, several areas at AMC Theaters could use improvements - not excluding the introductory experiences. The theater promo reel informs theater patrons not to use their cell phones or text, yet the commercials played in the theater are an endless barrage of cell phone advertisements, phone Apps, and products with web addresses. Is this ironic to anyone else? It certainly encourages cell phone use, making it unlikely consumers will actually turn off their phones. (Once again, revenue placed over consumer experience.)

AMC’s policies should make moviegoing experiences more pleasant and customer-friendly, not the opposite. Want to share your AMC experiences at the website? You'll have to sign in and divulge all of your personal information and post your comments in public forums, making the process more complicated and invasive than necessary (bye-bye blank entry fields). You shouldn't have to join a website or sign up for anything to leave customer feedback, something most companies value, simplify, and privately communicate with consumers.

What a disappointing direction AMC has taken - this type of corporate greed and poor management will reflect in lost consumer base and detract from finances, not create loyal patrons. (Take a lesson from Netflix.) Support your local movie theaters and chains that have YOUR best interests at heart.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Jury's Still Out on Dr. Murray

Today marks the last day of testimony for the prosecution against Dr. Conrad Murray, cardiologist and former physician of Michael Jackson.

It has also been nearly two years since my initial post 'Why no hurry to nab Dr. Murray?'. The defense is set to begin arguments tomorrow.

I am struggling to understand how the defense plans on winning this case. The prosecution has done a terrific job showing the reckless abandon that was Dr. Murray's "care" of Jackson. That the defense planned on arguing that Jackson injected himself (or drank additional Propofol) is laughable in and of itself and numerous witnesses, including today's testimony from anesthesiologist Dr. Steven Schafer, have been quick to explain the improbability of this scenario. A defense team building a strategy blaming the victim for their death has their work cut out for them. How many scenarios can you think of where a patient dies under a doctor's care and it's the patient's fault? The defense has finally decided to toss out the theory that Jackson may have ingested Propofol, though that it was even suggested at all is preposterous, and that a segment of the population actually believed Jackson self-injected or drank Propofol is even worse. If the patient had any other name, I don't believe anyone would entertain that suggestion.

I believe name recognition has a great deal to do with the public's opinions on such matters. I have never seen a celebrity (or any dead man) be subjected to the claims and scenarios I have witnessed over the past two years in relation to this case.

Let's review the facts. Dr. Conrad Murray administered Propofol repeatedly to patient Michael Jackson. Propofol is a dangerous anesthetic, one that slows heart rate and depresses breathing, as such it is not supposed to be administered outside of a hospital setting, nonetheless for "insomnia". Even as a Cardiologist, Murray did not anesthetize his other patients - he had an anesthesiologist do this and he did not have the training or knowledge to properly administer doses. He did not have the equipment on hand to correctly monitor the patient or prepare for an emergency situation. He broke the cardinal rule for administering anesthesia - leaving the room to talk on the telephone (he claimed he went to the bathroom for two minutes, which contradicted his phone records and witness testimony). The patient was left unsupervised (which, given that the patient is unconscious and on a dangerous drug, heart rate and breathing must be constantly monitored). When Dr. Murray discovered Jackson wasn't breathing, he did not call 911 immediately, which is standard protocol, and the 911 call was not placed until 20 minutes after the discovery, which the paramedic on scene claimed would have saved Jackson's life. Despite his years as cardiologist, Dr. Murray did not know how to properly administer CPR and did so one handed (as opposed to using both hands) and on a bed (as opposed to the floor, a hard surface). The patient was already dead yet Dr. Murray continued to give CPR and staged a show, having Michael's eldest son Prince brought up to the bedroom so he could see Dr. Murray trying to 'save' Jackson and when paramedics came, Dr. Murray insisted they continue CPR, despite their belief that he had passed. Dr. Murray lied to paramedics about the IV bags, claiming they were filled with harmless saline solution, lied to EMTs, firefighters, doctors, and police, failed to mention Propofol as a drug he had administered when inquired, ordered hundreds of vials of the dangerous substance, lied to law enforcement saying he had comforted Michael's children at the hospital (a claim they refute), hid evidence, and fled the scene. Do these events sound like the actions of an innocent man? Dr. Murray can choose to blame the patient or other doctors, but he is clearly at fault - this was his patient, who died under his care, due to his negligent decisions. Dr. Conrad Murray took a Hippocratic Oath - and on all levels, failed to care for his patient, resulting in Jackson's death from "acute Propofol intoxication".

Despite all the testimonials and evidence from those who were actually there and who saw the events unfold, a significant percentage of the population continues to assert that Jackson killed himself and is responsible for his own death. Again, the name "Michael Jackson" appears to be the source of bias in opinions as these people negate fact. Some have apathy for the situation, suggesting no one should care, or insinuate that the trial is a loss of tax payer's money (they certainly weren't saying this when Jackson was on the stand). This is a human life we are discussing and the implications are significant for all patients who have faith in their doctors to provide adequate healthcare. If this happened to your loved one or certainly if it had happened to you (though you wouldn't witness the outcome), you would have wanted the truth to emerge, the facts brought to light, and would want to see justice served. Not to mention, Jackson gave a great deal of himself as an artist to the public and as a humanitarian to the world, to suggest the matter is 'irrelevant' or not worth taking the time to examine is a sad statement. How many public figures have to die at the hands of these 'celebrity doctors' who compromise health standards for blood money? Elvis Presley, Anna Nicole Smith, and Heath Ledger, to name a few, might still be with us if the were not enabled by their doctors, the very people paid (handsomely) to care for them.

Along with this trial come accusations that Jackson was an unhealthy drug addict. What is known about Jackson's past is that he began to take painkillers in 1984 due to pain from burns he suffered on the set of a Pepsi commercial. As he had numerous surgeries, he was not a stranger to undergoing anesthetics for procedures. In the early 90s, spurred by the initial allegations, he had a painkiller addiction for which he went to rehab and overcame in 1995 (he references his addiction to Demerol in the song "Morphine"). While no other mention was made, Jackson was known for his insomnia and chronic back pain. While it isn't known what his exact habits were in his last years, Jackson was said to take painkillers regularly given physical (and presumably some emotional) pain and his family did claim to have had interventions with him, so he must have relapsed at some point. He was taking painkillers prior to his death as Dr. Murray recorded audio of Jackson's slurred speech (a sad recording was played in the courtroom). Why the doctor secretly recorded him, nonetheless kept the recording, is highly questionable and disturbing, a clear breach of patient/doctor confidentiality clause and ethics).

Was Jackson addicted to anesthetics and/or painkillers in the midst of his last months? This Is It" director Kenny Ortega did notice some health problems at one point upon which he confronted Dr. Murray who denied there were any problems, while Michael's manager Frank DiLeo mentioned that Michael had "an episode". Dancers and crew working on "This Is It" didn't notice anything wrong and if you watch the concert film footage, Jackson appears hyper-focused, able to intensely concentrate and multi-task, and seems like an artist not only at the top of his game, but clear-headed and able to carry out his vision of a great show. As such, perhaps he had a bad reaction to medication, if he was using drugs at this very busy time that required so much physical and mental focus and stamina, it was most likely sporadic and not a constant. This was certainly not a man who was drugged beyond rationality every day he was preparing for his final concerts, he had too much to do.

If Jackson was an addict, does this still make his death his fault? It is a doctor's responsibility to know their patient's history. If Dr. Conrad Murray's sole patient at the time was Michael Jackson and they had a working relationship, he knew better than anyone what Michael's habits may have been and bore the ultimate responsibility of ensuring his patient's healthcare needs were met. Jackson didn't inject himself - Dr. Murray injected him and had hundreds of vials ready. For what?! Let's entertain the hypothetical fantasy that Jackson did inject himself (which, anesthesiologists and the coroner have already explained didn't happen). Jackson was left alone in a room, something you don't do when a patient is under anesthesia nonetheless if a patient has a drug problem, therefore it would have been Dr. Murray's responsibility regardless of scenario as his physician. The doctor broke countless rules and procedures, leading to this tragic passing.

To assert that Jackson was physically unhealthy is problematic. Despite Jackson's frail figure, he was always known for his poor appetite and struggled with anorexia throughout his life (if you observe footage of him during the Thriller era, he is just as painfully thin). Perhaps with the appearance of age, this was even more superficially noticeable. However, all reports peg Jackson as healthy, despite his low weight. The autopsy report confirmed how healthy he was (aside from his cause of death) and the coroner noted in court that he was healthier than a 5o-year old would normally be. Personal Trainer Lou Ferrigno trained Jackson several times a week for his tour, insisting that Michael was very strong, and AEG, the company involved in Jackson's last would-be concerts ensured that he passed a battery of tests and rigorous physicals to ensure he was in good physical condition to perform. Addict or not, Jackson's physical health was in good form.

I am also most disturbed by images of Jackson's corpse that continue to surface both through the trial and in other avenues (such as autopsy photos shown by VH1). I have grappled with this, trying to determine a reason we are subjected to this constant inappropriate viewing - often without warning. I can think of no other entertainers where such graphic photos were openly displayed for all to see - sure, there is the supposed photo of Elvis in his coffin, which is a far cry from a corpse lying nude on a sheet. Like Elvis, Jackson was the largest star of his time and the most famous man on the planet, though I doubt the King of Rock N' Roll would have ever been publicly displayed in such a manner (regardless of era). I also shudder to think of Jackson's children coming across such images, that corpse doesn't simply belong to a megastar - but also a father, brother, and son. Initially, I suspected this came out of Jackson's level of unprecedented fame and global recognition, but I recognize it as an extension of the blatant disregard and disrespect consistently bestowed upon him by the media and further attempts to exploit his name and image unethically for continued ratings and profit, a recurring theme. Even in death, Jackson is not allowed to peacefully rest or avoid scrutiny on the most invasive levels.

In summary, this is not a trial about the name "Michael Jackson". It is irrelevant whether or not you liked the man, whether or not he was a "junkie", or what you think he did or didn't do in the past. This trial is simply about a human being that died as a result of a doctor who was engaging in unethical behavior and treatment (or lack thereof) of his patient. Dr. Murray has had two years to carry on with his life, while Jackson has been deprived of breath altogether. (Consequently, on zero evidence and based on an accusation alone, Jackson was dragged out of bed, handcuffed, and thrown into a police station for allegations while upon his death, the man responsible has walked free without being subjected to any such indignities. I'll leave you to speculate what's wrong with that picture). Among reasons for the lengthy delay, the LAPD did not treat the scene as a crime scene, perhaps due to the patient's name and their assumptions, they assumed a crime wasn't committed, so the evidence was not correctly collected and processed and sloppy mistakes were made, as evidenced in the courtroom upon several interrogations. Who knows what facts may have been brought to light if these procedures were properly handled?

It is my understanding that Dr. Murray can face up to 4 years in jail if found guilty and that he may be allowed to undergo house arrest at some point during that sentence. The outcome of the trial remains to be seen. In any event, he will most certainly lose his licenses to practice medicine and will forever be known as the man who killed Michael Jackson. Given that Jackson has millions of adoring fans spread around the globe, it's a safe bet that Conrad Murray will never have a smooth ride through life, regardless of the jury's decision.

I am not sure what the definition of "justice" is within the context of such a situation. Three children must grow up without the only parent they knew and adored, a family continues to grieve, and the world was deprived of a singular talent that can no longer grace the stage. I can only hope that this trial sets an example for other "celebrity doctors", too often it is their patients who pay the ultimate price. Patient care is the number #1 responsibility of a physician, perhaps this case will remind all doctors how important it is to remain vigilant and prioritize ethics in treatment, to not anesthetize if you don't have the training or equipment to do so, and to learn CPR, which seems obvious but clearly can't be emphasized enough. I can only take comfort that this man will most likely be rendered unable to provide medical services or anesthesia to patients again and hope something is learned in the wake of this tragic event, so we don't continue to see history repeat itself in Hollywood.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ancient Aliens on the History Channel

The Great Pyramid of Giza. Machu Picchu.

How do we account for numerous wonders of the Ancient world? How could "primitive" humans, without the technology we take for granted today, have created such vast and mysterious creations? For some, the answer lies in science, in archaeological digs and theory. For others, the only explanation is that we were visited by extra-terrestrials who gave us the tools to achieve these great feats.

While history is undoubtedly filled with misunderstandings and miscommunication rife in our historical media, I find it personally disappointing that The History Channel would give into such outlandish fair. Don't get me wrong, the series 'Ancient Aliens' is as amusing as watching the film 'Stargate' or indulging in any fun science fiction. It's also a clever demonstration of Individual Selection Theory, which posits that viewers essentially "see what they want to see", gathering information that supports their perspective (in the Technological Age - especially on the internet, there is no shortage of information to support any view humans have - no matter how far-fetched).

I have heard quite a bit about this show and have even met a few individuals who strongly subscribe to the belief that ancient civilizations were built by alien visitors. I understand why humans are so baffled and bewildered by ancient treasures, they stand the test of time and leave us in perpetual wonderment. But I am sad to see these theories play out on a channel dedicated to historical education (though I am sure there are several embellishments and errors portrayed on the channel with respect to other events and happenings for entertainment purposes). I am also concerned as to what such beliefs truly say about those who believe such theories, with respect to the potential of our species.

The show indulges in speculation as to how these ancient structures were built during times when humans seemed to understand so little. Many of the guests have little credibility (as could be expected), such as citing an 'investigative journalist' as a source or a host practically forcing a stonemason to indulge in the notion that aliens gave ancient humans the tools to cut through granite. The stonemason proceeds to say that it would take an incredibly long time to cut such intricate patterns and essentially suggests that he wouldn't have the time to do so because he basically has a life to return to. He has also been cutting through rock for 40 years and can't explain how the ancients were able to master their craft. What is life without a few unsolved mysteries?

Suggesting that aliens either built ancient civilizations or gave humans the tools to do so, simply because we modern humans can't explain some of the mysteries of the past, is unfortunate and frankly, lacks human imagination. I believe that most of our difficulty to comprehend these scenarios lies in extreme judgment of our ancestors, human capability, and a lack of empathy and understanding of those who lived in other eras.

Flexing our empathy muscles, it's not hard to conceive that ancient people had lives drastically different than our own, and their concept and use of time greatly differed from how we spend our days. Ancient civilizations sustained themselves, they grew their own food, and while many worked, the definition of "job" wasn't the usual 9-to-5 system we are accustomed to. (Nor do we have leaders that force thousands of us at a time to work on projects of their choosing.) The modern stonemason is correct to suggest he doesn't have the time to devote decades to carving out intricate patterns on the mass scale as done thousands of years ago. However, ancient people had a great deal of time on their hands and while they weren't staring at a blaring screen, they had to fill their time with creative and intellectual pursuits or were often subject to forced labor in mass numbers. Our ancestors most likely spent a great deal of time pondering mystery, problem-solving, and making due with the resources they had available, not unlike their modern counterparts.

To suggest that we needed an alien species to "show us the way" to correctly build and create suggests a profound lack of faith in our ancestors' ability to be independent thinkers and strategists. Why is it so hard for the modern human to believe in our own species? Did aliens build our airplanes, light bulbs, and computers or cure Polio? No, human ingenuity did. What makes us so certain that our ancestors did not have the same capacity to use logic and reasoning to find practical solutions to their problems and to enjoy amazing feats and accomplishments as a result? OK, so they didn't have
power drills, forklifts, and computers to engineer and build. This doesn't mean they didn't have expert knowledge and utilize their definition of "technology" to make ends meet.

Per Occam's Razor, the simplest explanation tends to be true. What is more plausible - that man was intelligent and made the most with what they had or that ancient aliens visited us and gave us tools and then whisked off (with the tools) later, that they had flying machines, and that obelisks could communicate with satellites that beamed across the globe? Humans are brilliant creatures and always have been. Suffice to say, ancient people were far more intelligent and resourceful than we credit them for. Humans are far more capable than they expect of themselves on a daily basis. I have had the wondrous experience of seeing DaVinci and Michelangelo works in person, pieces of art that continue to fuel the human imagination and defy explanation hundreds of years after-the-fact. Art and architecture will always inspire other humans to push the boundaries of possibility and think outside of the limitations we often impose on ourselves. After all, man has rocketed to the moon, taken to the skies, and found solutions to numerous global and geological challenges, and we didn't need E.T. to do it.

Were it not for the burning of the library at Alexandria, we may have a few more pieces of the puzzle as to unlocking some secrets of the ancient world (though fortunately, we had duplicates of many texts). However, our endless curiosity and wondering as a species inspires further investigation and innovation. We have, after all, survived thousands of years for a reason: We have the capacity to use our minds, think critically, and forge ahead, regardless of the obstacles that lie ahead. Perhaps hundreds of years from now, our descendants will wonder some of the same questions about us.

I can only hope 'Ancient Aliens' finds a home on a different channel and that humans restore faith in one another and continue to forge a unique path in our history, one of advancement and exploration.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Addiction strikes again: RIP, Amy Winehouse

Today, the world received the sad news that singer Amy Winehouse passed away at the tender age of 27.

This event is shocking in the way any death is - it is sudden and one doesn't associate death with the young. Note that the cause of Winehouse's death is as of yet unknown though it is suspected to be alcohol or drug related related as Amy struggled with addiction in life.

I've already heard people using simple labels and blanket terms to describe this passing, as people often react to tragedy in the most simplistic terms when in fact, there is nothing "easy" about addiction. People label Winehouse a "junkie" or say she has joined 'the 27 Club', referencing her place in an increasing group of rock stars that passed at the same age, as if this is an expectation or normal rite of passage.

Amy's death is a sad reminder of the brevity of life, the consequences that can result from not getting help, and offers further proof as to how devastating addiction can truly be.

Winehouse sprung up as a sort of anti-hero (not unlike Kurt Cobain), a person who challenged convention and rebelled against the system, writing and belting out a song about her refusal to go to rehab - for which she was rewarded when the song became a #1 hit and international smash, making her a household name. The only time one heard Winehouse referenced in the media was for her antics regarding drugs and alcohol and its resulting behavior, such as one of her final performances during which she seemed unable to remember song lyrics on stage.

Celebrities with addiction are not an uncommon phenomenon, most of the public is quick to point out who has a problem and lambast them. Shows like 'Celebrity Rehab' turn their stars into profit pawns instead of giving them the tools to overcome addiction, hence their continued relapses, overdoses, and deaths, while 'celebrity doctors' continue to turn a profit with blood money, supplying celebrities with drugs they don't need and enabling addicts. The public does not allow celebrities to make mistakes, be imperfect, or have real problems - and is quick to judge and ridicule those who need help while supporting media that preys off of their illness and misery. How could a star like Amy Winehouse turn a new leaf when her public image as an addict was given so much attention? Did the media ever highlight other aspects of her character and did the public focus on her talent, or just her mounting problems as a topic of discussion around the water cooler? Would a sober Winehouse have ever been successful or supported? Did people come to see her shows to listen to her amazing voice or to see if they could catch one of her famous onstage mishaps? There are even websites online taking bets on who the next celebrity will be to make it into an early grave. The public has made a game of the misery of public figures, as a scapegoat from the realities of their own lives and as an outlet for their own dark desires to see others fail, namely those with some measure of financial success or fame.

There is more than enough blame to pass around for the loss of Winehouse and a celebrity-obsessed society that makes light of celebrity problems and revels in seeing big names fall. Yes, the media needs to be more accountable, as do these 'doctors', but the public also has a level of responsibility to fulfill here. The media circus is fueled by the public's cravings to see all and know all, yet they clearly don't understand all. What they see is a small snippet of a person, not a complete picture, and I'm sure there was plenty more in Amy Winehouse worth celebrating than what she snorted up her nose. I choose to remember Winehouse as a talented singer and young person who deserved better, both for herself and from the public and media so quick to profit from her troubles. People must be willing to take a look in the mirror prior to throwing stones at those they have never met when they dwell in their own glass houses. They should expect more from themselves, raise their standards of media expectations, and encourage a media to flourish that celebrates human achievement, not destruction.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Dr. Drew strikes again...

Two years ago, I blogged about Dr. Drew being a hack, referencing his disturbing habit of "diagnosing" callers on the Loveline show within seconds of hearing their voices or exploiting patients on Celebrity Rehab while violating confidentiality clauses important to achieving sobriety and encouraging poor behavior amongst addicts instead of offering the treatment they needed.

Sadly, the situation has worsened. Two of Dr. Drew's former patients (both appeared on Celebrity Rehab) have died within the past few months: Alice In Chain's bassist Mike Starr and actor Jeff Conaway. Dr. Drew was quick to release a statement today on the passing of Conaway, disputing reports that the actor had died from an overdose by saying his death was caused by years of drug abuse (he was 60). Time will tell what the cause of death really was, but I certainly wouldn't take Dr. Drew's word for anything. These addicts were expected to 'put on a show' and be entertaining on television (bad antics = good ratings) instead of focus seriously on their treatment. Rocker Steven Tyler wrote a passage in his new book (Does the Noise in my Head Bother You?) discussing the show 'Celebrity Rehab' and sharing his anger with respect to how the show exploited his friend Steven Adler (of Guns N' Roses): "They wanted him to act out his own messed-up state when he entered rehab. It was ghoulish and unreal. They gave him 30 grand for the episode, he snorted it all, crashed his car, and he ended up in jail detox." Of the show itself, he mentions: "It didn't seem to me all that ethical using actual f**ked-up people like Steven Adler in a reality show, but who am I to say? Not to mention getting trashed celebrities to mime their own self-destructive nosedives which they then sensationalize on a melo-f**king-dramatic reality show, which so traumatizes them they end up in worse shape than ever - from the drugs they bought with the money from the show." The late DJ AM, who died of an overdose two years ago, was also a patient.

Sadly, Dr. Drew's patients are losing their lives and battles with addiction, a sad reminder of how unorthodox and completely unethical Dr. Drew's methods truly are. While it is true that many addicts relapse even when seeking treatment, one need not look further than an episode of Celebrity Rehab to understand the dangers and errors of his approach. Odd that a man who has written a book about celebrity narcissism not only promotes it on "Celebrity Rehab" but is also a prime example of it, finding his way on countless shows to break the Hippocratic Oath left and right by talking about not only his patients but also the lives of countless celebrities, commenting on their personal matters that are none of his business or concern, nor does he have the knowledge about their situations to comment as they aren't patients (just as he 'diagnosed' callers on Loveline based on a split-second call. That is NOT sound psychology, nor is it useful. Not only is this behavior not becoming a doctor, but Dr. Drew is so hungry for attention and fame he takes any opportunity to get on television to judge and exploit celebrities in trouble. This helps no one. He might as well join the cast of "The View" with all the trash-talking he engages in. (Remember when he diagnosed Joaquin Phoenix based on his infamous interview with Dave Letterman? Despite Joaquin playing a part in an elaborate hoax, Dr. Drew took the appearance seriously saying "Notice that his facial expressions are not still but rather one can see what we call flat suggesting a physiological alteration of his facial expressions due to his mental state. He was dysarthric, a specifically thick tongue that again is difficult if not impossible to mimic. And finally there was severe motor slowing which is a yet another feature of intoxication or a severe psychiatric condition such as depression." Er, wrong diagnosis, Doc. This example is a perfect demonstration of why no doctor can diagnose a stranger, nonetheless someone who isn't even a patient (nor is it ethical to tempt to do so).

I am sad that Dr. Drew is given so many TV shows and forums to express his warped priorities and opinions. He is no better than many of these television "doctors" who are more interested in attention than public service only he is far more dangerous than many as his name continues to be linked with tragedy for those under his care, as an enabler (not unlike the doctors charged in the death of Anna Nicole Smith or Dr. Murray whose inattention and mistakes led to Michael Jackson's passing). Dr. Drew may not be giving celebrities drugs, but he certainly isn't helping them get off of them when they turn to him for guidance and is enabling and encouraging bad behavior for his own reward. It is my sincere hope that the public wakes up to the dangers of doctors who suckle off of celebrities and place profits over humanity. Human life is sacred, these unfortunate individuals deserved better care.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Wedded Bliss

Like billions of people around the globe, I tuned in to watch the wedding of the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge (otherwise known as Prince William and Kate (Now, Katherine) Middleton.

Years ago, I posted articles that referenced Prince William's shortage of public duties (in contrast to his father, Prince Charles, by his age). For much of his life, William has tucked himself away from the public as much as possible, in the impossible quest for more privacy and anonymity. Since these articles, Prince William has stepped up his A game and has served his country through his military service and current work as an RAF search and rescue pilot. He has done more royal engagements, philanthropic work, and has performed increased duties that have long been expected of him. (Better late than never.) His reluctance to step into a more public role is somewhat understandable given his view that the press was responsible for his mother's death and a source of unhappiness as they hunted her every move. There is no doubt that, standing on that balcony with his new bride, Prince William must have received a clear picture of the influence and public support he truly had, as evidenced by a million people that had gathered within his sight to catch a glimpse of the new couple, hoping to see an iconic kiss.

Prince William and Catherine gave the public far more than they bargained for, including a second (more lingering) kiss and a view of the couple riding in Prince Charles's Aston Martin. The most striking visual was seeing the future of the monarchy take central stage on the balcony, next to figures that looked nothing short of antiquated. The massive crowds and record-breaking global views of this historic day show that the monarchy is certainly here to stay (for now) . While the whole day was PR heaven for the royal family, giving the public what appeared to be a new royal couple set to breath modernity and warmth into an institution that badly needs it, one must remember that the monarchy doesn't change much. Prince William and Catherine repeated a scene set on the same stages countless times before. In the same church, in the same carriage, on the same balcony as several predecessors. For certain, their children will be photographed in the same rooms and lawns, whose children will follow suit (if the monarchy survives the test of time). Prince William and bride are extensions of tradition and in truth, neither is a figure the public can much relate to. When the PR machine is at rest, not much is known about these two or their private life as a couple, but the few details that emerge showcase two individuals not many modern people can relate to. Despite endless attempts at comparison by the media, Catherine is NOT Princess Diana II, nor is Prince William. The young royals have a carefully crafted image and despite the beauty and happiness of this royal wedding, one must remember that the occasion is both tradition and orchestration. The public face the press is trying to sell, the monarchy wants to the public to believe, and that which society actually does are often in conflict.

As for the future of the monarchy, much of the public has voiced an opinion that Prince Charles is not a worthy successor to the Queen (and regardless of pointless articles and public polling, the line of succession is not a popularity contest). There is an order to this tradition, and unless Prince Charles dies prior to the Queen or abdicates (neither scenario seems likely), he will be the next on the throne. I am disenchanted when I see a public that disregards all of Prince Charles's years of sacrifice and duty to his country in favor of his son, simply because Prince William is younger and looks like his mother Diana, the beloved Princess of Wales. Prince Charles has put in over sixty years of waiting and work for this role which he has taken seriously while Prince William spent much of his time avoiding that level of responsibility. Prince Charles is not only the heir to the throne, but also a man who has done more charity work than Diana and rarely receives any credit. He has the unfortunate situation of being wedged between figures he can't possibly compete with, but that doesn't diminish his commitment and service to Queen and country.

The wedding was everything the public hoped it would be, offering us all a glimpse into a true fairy tale. That Prince William married a 'commoner' (which simply means someone who isn't a royal or aristocrat - bear in mind her family does have money) only serves to increase public interest and turn tides in favor of this couple, as he brings to the table what Diana hoped he would - a monarchy with a closer connection to its people. Time will tell if this hope will ultimately be fulfilled as Prince William's preference is generally to hide from the public when possible, though unlike his father, one can be assured that if public opinion favors his bride, it won't cause that same marital strife. Prince William would most likely be happy to see someone else get the brunt of the spotlight unlike Diana who found it disturbing and problematic in her marriage. Catherine Middleton offers beauty, style, and a sense that she is "one of us". She comes from an intact family and a more commonplace life, qualities Prince William could have only wished for. Despite endless comparisons, Catherine Middleton and Princess Diana have little in common. This could bode well for their marriage, as Princess Diana was only with Prince Charles for 6 months by the time he proposed and despite her privileged background, Princess Diana was thrust into a situation she was ill-prepared for unlike Catherine who spent ten years with the prince, groomed into royal life little by little, living alongside press and speculation. She was afforded the "time to adjust" that was a luxury Princess Diana was never afforded and is much more confident in her role and persona than Prince William's mother, as evidenced even in the flawlessness of the wedding (Princess Diana got Prince Charles's name wrong on the altar).

In many ways, the strength of the marriage of the newly dubbed Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will dictate the future of the monarchy and its continued existence in British life. Despite all of Prince William's years, he has made choices that have mostly removed him from controversy (with the exception of spending public money by using a helicopter to surprise Kate on several occasions). In a sense, by staying out of the public eye, he has not only protected his privacy but avoided courting controversy while providing increased stability in his romantic relationship. The little that is known about Prince William serves to work in his favor as he has the genetic gifts of Princess Diana and as such, the public will associate him favorably unless he makes major missteps. He is far more protected than Princess Diana, thanks to laws put into effect after her tragic and pointless death that served to protect royals and celebrities to a larger degree. In a rare breach of this policy, Prince William was photographed by paparazzi riding his Ducati motorcycle in the streets prior to his wedding, shockingly published by The Telegraph, a dangerous scenario that evokes feelings of Princess Diana. Nonetheless, Prince William enjoys a personal freedom that eluded Princess Diana and gives hope that his marriage will not suffer the same fate, critical for continued support of the monarchy.

The wedding evoked strong public memories of Princess Diana and undoubtedly so for Prince William himself, between the familiar sight of crowds outside of Westminster Abbey to Princess Diana's engagement ring that had been worn by Catherine prior to the big day, as well as selections from the ceremony reminiscent of the late Diana. Prince William holds his mother dear much as the public does, and when the masses see him, they see both his mother in his face and the face of the 15-year old boy who solemnly escorted her coffin. As such, he naturally courts public empathy and enjoys wider acceptance than he might otherwise, even though he is a distinctly different individual. The irony of this is that in her last years of life, Princess Diana painted a dark picture of the monarchy that turned public favor against them and yet her untimely death had the unanticipated effect of garnering public support for the future monarchy with her eldest son at the helm. By holding the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, Prince William was not only able to allow his mother to be part of the ceremony in a symbolic sense but also was able to create an event that created a familiar yet all-together different experience for the public, an event that may have had similarities as far as location but was full of joy and hope as opposed to the dismal realities of Princess Diana's funeral.

Between a perfectly executed ceremony steeped in traditions that dates millenia, a bride and groom who looked like flawless dolls, two balcony kisses (one more memorable than the other), and their drive away from the palace in the Aston Martin with a "Just Wed" license plate and balloons flying out the back, the happy couple managed to give the country and the world the spectacle it hoped for and allowed the global community to share (in a rare moment) a worldwide event that was hopeful and positive, while making us all believers in true love and the power of romance. Audiences hope for good news and rarely get it in the media, nonetheless on such an incomparable scale, and millions tuned in to share in the joy and happiness of two people, united in love and its many possibilities (including the inevitable birth of the next future king/queen). Even the most jaded heart that was witness to this ceremony felt warmth and belief in humanity even temporarily, as people are inherently good by nature and came out in droves to share together in a joyous occasion. People were happy to see something good happen to a young man whose live has been so full of tragedy while a new tomorrow was born for the monarchy. An awful lot of tradition rests on those strong shoulders and Prince William and Catherine Middleton have mighty big shoes to fill and a lot to live up to. They may not be the second coming of Princess Diana, but one can only hope her short life and death served to teach many lessons that can be wisely implemented for a better future for this historic family.

Cheers to the happy couple, may their lives be filled with continued love and celebration.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sending love to Japan...

I am terribly sad to hear about the earthquake and tsunami that has hit Japan. I wish all of my dear Japanese friends and readers safety, healing, and strength during these difficult times. You are in my thoughts, I am sending you all my sincere condolences and heartfelt sympathies.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Skins UK vs. MTV: Still Controversial

MTV has released a remake of the BBC UK's "Skins". A remake made for seemingly no plausible reason, given that the UK version is indeed in english and by the looks of it, is far better on all levels. America's obsession with remakes is puzzling in and of itself; most Americans dislike subtitles and seem to prefer a worse-made remake to a great movie with subtitles. But when a show is in the same language and the world of the teenager is universal, the concept truly loses all logic.

The first episode is a scene-for-scene remake, only with more makeup, bad actors, and is far less watchable (I love the original series and couldn't stomach MTV's version and I AM an American, only one of those rare ones that appreciates the media of other cultures as well). I'm not sure why MTV felt they couldn't just buy the rights to air the UK version, that sounds like a much cheaper and sensible option.

Many critics have jumped on the Skins-bashing bandwagon, much as they do with other reviled MTV shows. They allege that the show has too much skin, sexuality, and drugs, is too controversial and unrealistic. The reality is that sex and drugs are realities found all too often in high schools across the country and teens needn't turn on a channel to learn those lessons the hard way. The UK show is far more explicit as international broadcast standards differ. If MTV was concerned about the potential for the show to be considered "child pornography" which it obviously isn't, they should have stuck to casting older actors in younger roles as is often the case in productions involving high school characters, especially knowing the nature of the show going into it. Sponsors have even pulled out due to the show's depiction of sex and drugs, including Taco Bell and Subway - comical hypocrisy in that these very companies pretending to bring "values" at the forefront are selling nothing short of poison that will surely cause far more harm to teenagers than any fictional depiction.

Skins UK has one healthy advantage - the teenagers on the show actually look like *gasp* teenagers. If the actors have acne, guess what - so do their onscreen counterparts. Even Tony (the only name that remains the same on both shows) the hearthrob is subject to extreme closeups in which acne and skin blemishes are present - and he's still the most desirable kid on the block. If only the characters living in the MTV version could be afforded the opportunity to present teenagers with a real face free of pounds of makeup and visual enhancement, THAT'S unrealistic. Body issues run rampant amongst teens watching these shows or reading magazines loaded with airbrushed pictorials. Having a character with an eating disorder on a show geared towards teens can only be a step in the right direction, if only the creators of the show didn't then turn around and cancel out this concept by making its cast look completely unreal.

The issues on the show are widespread and include themes involving drug abuse, death, eating disorders, homosexuality, religion, and numerous other societal pressures and issues facing modern teenagers. If the MTV version continues down a path similar to its UK cousin, many of the characters will teach their audience unexpected lessons; The characters do experience negative consequences for certain actions which is revealed in a way that does seem realistic and not preachy, a tone teenagers can relate to.

Censorship is not an answer to media problems. Messages to teenagers aren't just seen on MTV but every channel and on billboards, magazines, and all over school. A teenager isn't going to make a bad decision because they saw it on TV, they are going to make a poor decision because the weren't raised properly. Parents need to take a proactive role in developing their children and teenagers for a harsh world, giving them tools at their disposal to confront life's challenges and to develop a strong sense of self so they can make the strongest decisions possible. This is the best protection, scapegoating MTV will do little given that it's a very small slice of a large world where possibilities are endless and messages abundant in all directions. Nudity and sexuality seem to send American censors in an uproar, yet the amount of violence and crime on television is rarely complained against. Priorities? This reminds me of the Janet Jackson's 2001 Nipplegate incident at the Superbowl (see previous article), fines and lawsuits for emotional distress over a nipple that aired for a second. The backlash never made sense, especially compared with the fare children, teens, and adults are met with on television that is really worth an eye roll and a call to the networks.

So, to MTV critics I say, yes I agree with you - the show is awful. Teens, if you want to see a really good show, watch the UK version, currently available on Netflix (only the first three seasons are noteworthy). The acting in the MTV version was so bad I could barely watch it, I stomached it just for you (my loving readers from around the world, who I appreciate so much). This is just another outlandish MTV attempt to gain attention and ratings. However, I disagree with all the controversy the show is generating and critics seem just as out for attention as MTV. I suggest they go run home and parent their children and champion their school boards for media literacy programs in this country, much as they do in numerous others. Instead of placing the blame on a media that will always be there, they should focus attention on winning more logical battles, those on the homefront.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Can't We All Just Get Along?

PopSpiracy sends sincere condolences to the individuals and families impacted by the Arizona shootings that injured numerous victims including Congresswoman Giffords and killed several others, including a child.

I have long been opposed to partisan politics and my car proudly displays a custom-made bumper sticker that encourages us to put aside party affiliations and focus on decisions, something that seems more relevant now than ever. I created it to add a little balance to the numerous extremist bumper stickers I have been seeing more of in recent times, apparently it could not be more relevant.

It is too early to jump to conclusions as to the exact motives behind this incident, that will emerge in due time. However, I will take this moment to pause and reflect on those lost and to remind everyone to think about your own individual words and actions regarding party politics. You are contributing to a lot more than you think with the words you chose and the actions you decide to display. It doesn't matter which side of the fence you are on, while we all have disagreements, BOTH parties want a better America, on that we can all agree.

Bear in mind that if you are on the right or left, if you only chose to listen to news arriving to you from organizations slanted on one side, you will see a distorted picture of the other. A more balanced list of news sources will give you a stronger representation of both halves. I cannot express how many people on each side have taken to skewed information designed to incite hysteria, propaganda, and extremism and am consistently shocked at comments seemingly average Americans are making. This negativity is the last thing that will take our country out of hard times and is not a healthy aim for whichever party you call home. We are better than this and this bickering can only serve to destroy one of the many things that make our country great - our ability to infuse differences and give others a chance. Yes, you have the freedom to say and do what you want. Do not mistake this for an excuse to be anything less than the best you can be. My thoughts are with Republicans and Liberals tonight, that we may all learn from this tragedy and realize what has been created so that we can dismantle it. The parties have always had their own collective identities and beliefs and this is completely acceptable in a democratic society, but there is a way to have an intelligent discussion and not flat-out put-downs and insults. I encourage everyone to aim to listen more and condemn less and to try not to magnify petty differences.

I also want to express my disappointment in several media outlets, including NPR (most shocking), for falsely reporting that Congresswoman Giffords was dead. The media has long played into fear and the intense political division we are seeing. I hope that more news outlets commit themselves to having the facts and checking sources prior to releasing information, an increasing threat to honesty in media in a digital age where news travels fast and anything without merit can be quickly published in the name of ratings and money.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Mass bird and fish deaths = Mass Media Fear-Mongering

2011 starts off with a bang, or rather, a thump.

Many people are concerned about the mass bird and fish deaths cropping up around the globe, with theories ranging from sinister poisonings to apocalyptic warning signs. And, this is just the beginning in what is sure to be a year filled with ominous warnings inciting public hysteria over the impending arrival of 2012, a year that some cultures and groups have predicted as being the end of the world. Do not doubt that the media will take every opportunity this year to engage in irresponsible fear tactics, it is what the media tends to do best, especially when there is money and ratings involved, not unlike the uneventful Y2K scare.

Just this week I conversed with a man concerned over the implications of this phenomenon as a result of over-reporting and sensationalism. He insisted it was the result of intentional poisoning. When reports were released saying that birds had died from Fireworks over the new year as they were startled from the trees, he insisted "Like the government is going to tell you the truth. I'd like to believe that, but you can't trust the government."

One sentence frequently echoed in articles on the subject is that mass critter deaths are common, yet that line gets forgotten in the midst of the remaining article. Mass bird and fish deaths happen all the time around the world and are tracked by organizations such as the National Wildlife Health Center, who assure the public that this is normal and that the problem lies with people linking together events that happen all the time.

Living in the digital age, it's not hard for people to connect dots and "see what they want to see", especially if it means selling papers. This is not a new phenomenon, this was done in the post-Columbine era with school shootings that became sensationalized as was the case with Killer Bee invasions and any number of opportunities for the media to make a quick buck. Much like all these phenomenons, we will forget about this story tomorrow and a new one will emerge.

Fret not, as sad as these deaths are, there are plausible explanations for them. Be vigilant for this selective style of reporting, it will be all the rage in the coming months.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Tron: The Legacy pays homage to Epcot

Note the appearance of this building in the film, a homage to the defunct Horizons pavilion.

Tron: The Legacy continues the new Disney tradition of using visuals from Epcot Center in its motion pictures. This was evidenced in 'Iron Man 2' (refer to previous article) and has been repeated in this later Tron. (Note: Epcot currently has a Tron monorail, called the Tronorail). Given that EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) was designed to look like a futuristic city, it's not surprising that when a new Disney film calls for an alternate universe or city with a futuristic edge, images of Epcot Center factor in.

The weapon discs could almost pass for the circular symbols associated with Epcot Center while the technology handed to Sam Flynn to help him find Zuse is also shaped like the Horizons main sign (refer to above photo). A hologram that appears from a disc appears as a geodesic sphere representing Epcot's Spaceship Earth, much as one did in Iron Man 2, as well as a holographic version of the globe that travels across World Showcase Lagoon during the Illuminations fireworks show.

PopSpiracy's inner Epcot Center geek cannot help but love these references and hopes the Walt Disney Company will continue to pay homage to Epcot Center (and will stay true to it's original vision, something I feel is losing hold on the current Epcot).