Thursday, March 31, 2005

Mercy Killing without Mercy

Terri Schiavo has slipped the surly bonds of matrimony to Michael Schiavo to find the mercy no earthly judge could grant her. At the end her family was still pleading for Michael’s mercy to be with their beloved daughter and sister as she passed. Terri is safe from Michael and the courts forever.

The case of Terri Schiavo is now out of the legal realm and into the moral where it will be debated and reconsidered for years to come in the court of public opinion, which never closes.

My heart aches for Mary, Bob, Suzanne and Bobby. I know how it feels to be haunted by powerlessness when a dear family member dies from dehydration and starvation and their experience was so much crueler than mine. I pray that their exhaustive diligence brings them peace and comfort.

May God bless Terri and the Schindler family with His loving mercy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Topsy Turvy Top Ten

We’re only three weeks into the American Idol final countdown. Even so I feel confident enough to make a prediction about the winner – not a huge surprise considering that I began to study these contestants as I packed away stockings, snowflakes, and candy canes and now I’m saying goodbye to baskets, bunnies, and colored eggs. Never mind that I am already rethinking predictions I made last week about record numbers of record contracts.

It’s been a looong season. But, oh, what a difference a week can make.

Just ask Ozzie “Nikko” Smith, who was cut one week and called back up to the big leagues the next. Since he got his second chance, Smith put together a three-week hitting streak. He picks songs that showcase his strengths and infuses them with the kinetic energy that apparently is his birthright.

On the other hand, ask Mikalah Gordon, who had one impressive week when she sang God Bless the Child, followed by several disappointing performances. She inspired a loyal cult of poisonality (think Bronx accent, not toxicity) that could not save her from her vocal shortcomings.

Nikko obviously figured out what it takes to win the competition: smart song selection and consistently appealing performances. While I am enjoying his comeback, I do not foresee Nikko winning.

I have a name in mind for the winner, which I will reveal at the end of this column. Two weeks ago I thought Anwar Robinson was a strong contender. Last week I wrote that Anwar needed help choosing songs. This week I decided regretfully that Anwar is beyond help. He is a dynamic singer when he picks a melodically demanding song. I can imagine him blowing everyone away with one of Stevie Wonder’s gems from the 1970s like Golden Lady (and Nikko could do the same with Sir Duke). However, I have little hope that will happen now.

Last week I wrote off Vonzell Solomon. This week she took on a Whitney Houston ballad, an ambitious but extremely risky choice, and avoided the temptation to out-diva the original. Her song selection paid off and an appealing performance should put Vonzell back in the competition for at least another week.

For me, the most memorable part of Anthony Federov’s performance was the tragic look of devastation he wore after Simon Cowell trashed it. Or were his contact lenses bothering him? Anthony seems genuinely likable as a person while perfectly forgettable as a performer. His survival this week may depend upon the continuing support of Claymates, but I don’t think boyish looks are enough to keep him around.

Last week Jessica Sierra surprised me as Vonzell did this week. I am not familiar with the Leann Rimes song she performed, but there was an a cappella bridge where she seemed to lose her pitch and made me cringe. With her pipes, Jessica has the potential to steal every show but not the victor’s crown, I believe. I would love to hear her try a Stevie Nicks song like Edge of Seventeen or Landslide.

A relatively subdued Nadia Turner redeemed a Melissa Etheridge song I thought Nikki McKibbin butchered in season one. I bet lots of viewers who used to mock Nadia’s trademark ‘do were happy to see it back this week. I suspect last week’s mohawk cast her as more of a fashion idol and cost her as a serious contender.

Scott Savol has a big, slow vibrato that occasionally flirts with flatness. Thus he needs to pick songs that showcase his soulfulness but allow him to control his vibrato. I disagree with Simon that his performance was fit for karaoke. Like Aaron Neville, Scott has a distinctive R&B voice and unconventional look. Sadly for Scott, he is not the only good singer and this is more than a singing contest.

Carrie Underwood looks like Reese Witherspoon’s country cousin. Her talent is undeniable and unique to the AI competition. Her voice is dynamic and powerful, but her facial expression seldom varies. I am sure she will do just fine on radio, although she may need a drama coach to make her a more appealing performer. I wonder if she inspires the passion it will take for fans to deliver enough votes to “carry” her to the very top, pun intended.

We’re near the end, so I can reveal the name I have in mind for this year’s winner. I think I will call him … Clay Guarini.

Clay Guarini is a composite of two AI4 contestants who combine the attractiveness of Justin Guarini with the charm and talent of Clay Aiken. AI fans have never had a traditional heartthrob who could really sing and this year’s competition features two: Bo Bice and Constantine Maroulis.

The momentum seems to be with Constantine. He looks like he’s having a blast shaking off all the preconceived expectations of the rocker label and retooling familiar songs everybody has heard. When Constantine looks into the camera, he absolutely commands your attention. You feel a personal connection. In a forum that could scarcely be more public, he creates the illusion of intimacy. To paraphrase Randy Jackson, Constantine has theatrical talent. He also has an unexpected sweetness to his voice.

Bo is a better singer than most of his song selections reflect, but he needs to shift gears quickly or he’ll be eating Constantine’s dust. This is not American Idle. I enjoyed Time in a Bottle, but Remedy was a messy throwaway. Bo needs epic songs to impress us with his big talent: You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, Trying to Get the Feeling Again, Feelings (Whoa Whoa Whoa). Scratch that last one. Seriously, if he wants to rock out, Black by Pearl Jam would be a great choice.

I think either of the Clay Guarinis will be hard to beat. I also reserve the right to change my mind next week.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Deathwatch Countdown

As I have written, Terri Schiavo is dying of dehydration and starvation as my mother did in 1994. Looking at the calendar, I just realized that my mother and Terri Schiavo both stopped taking all liquids and nourishment on the same date: March 18. Although she had finalized her decision a month earlier, Mom continued to eat until she finished saying goodbyes to her family. Her brother, my uncle, was visiting over St. Patrick’s Day and I prepared our traditional corned beef dinner. On March 18th I made hash from the leftovers, my mother’s last meal, and my uncle returned to his home in Pinellas County, Florida, coincidentally where Terri Schiavo now lies dying.

The hospice staff predicted my mother would be dead in less than two weeks. She died on the morning of Tuesday, April 12, 1994, her twenty-fifth day without nourishment of any kind. At the time of her death, my mother suffered from two life-threatening conditions, kidney failure and multiple sclerosis. Ten months before her death, she became bed-ridden after a mild stroke followed by deep-vein thrombosis, both potentially life-threatening. She chose her time and method of dying and yet lingered for more than three weeks, at times seeming to cling to life.

We can only guess at Terri Schiavo’s overall condition on March 18, 2005, when her feeding tube was removed per Judge George Greer. Hospice specialists speculate that she will die within two weeks of that removal. Hopefully the hospice team had access to her medical records and made an informed prediction.

During the last month of her life, my mother received absolutely no medication of any kind, unless you count the glycerin swabs we would apply to her lips, the anti-itch cream I massaged on her skin, or the drops of wine from her last communion. And so I was shocked to read that Terri Schiavo has received at least two doses of morphine.

My father died of multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow, which means that at the end his bones began to shatter. He did not receive morphine until the Saturday when he was admitted to the hospital where he died the following Thursday. His pain was progressively unbearable and yet he received relief from morphine only for the last six days of his life. The morphine made my father’s death seem much more peaceful on the outside than it was on the inside.

When my mother chose to die, I know she was expecting her passing to be as quick and peaceful as my father’s appeared to be. When I had the first consultation with my oncologist two years ago to determine my course of treatment for breast cancer, we discussed my family’s medical history, especially my father’s as his oncologist shares a medical office with mine. He explained the morphine effect that probably expedited my father’s death. By the time morphine is administered to a dying patient, organs are already failing and morphine likely will depress their activity even further.

The hospice workers who visited my mother daily at home were professional and caring, as I am certain are those who attend Terri Schiavo. But morphine, a CSA classification II controlled substance, requires authorization by a doctor. I can think of only two reasons why Terri would receive morphine: 1) a doctor ordered morphine to treat her pain or 2) the patient’s guardian, Michael Schiavo, requested it to calm her.

My mother was quite agitated and restless after her first week without nourishment even as she continued to muster moments of lucidity. She had visible tremors and seizures. She would mutter unintelligibly and moan. Her hospice caregivers assured us these reactions were normal and required no medical response.

If Terri needs morphine, her need puts the lie to claims by George Felos and other rush-to-die advocates that she is in a peaceful, pain-free state unless he saw her under the influence and failed to include that bit of information.

If Michael requested the morphine, well, I’ll let you speculate about the reasons.

This is horrible news for Terri and the Schindler family.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Purpose-Driven Death

My workweek has been frenetic and my exhaustion is compounded by a badly timed cold and the nocturnal demands of our beloved housecat, Tigerlily, who at twelve is developing chronic problems. I really need my sleep, but here I am blogging again about Terri Schiavo.

I think she and the Schindler family weigh so heavily on my heart because of my mother and my brother. As I wrote a few posts ago, my mother chose to die of dehydration and starvation. Suffering from kidney failure, she may have naturally died that way eventually but chose an early exit because of other serious health complications. She did not have many options left, but I was deeply concerned that she rushed right past them into the express lane speeding to what she was assured would be a quick, painless death. It wasn’t. Her last words were a cry for help, a cry of regret, a cry of pain and fear.

My brother Richard was born deaf and suffered brain damage due to a difficult forceps delivery. He has never been able to live independently and has been with us since my sister, his caretaker of many years, died unexpectedly 18 months ago. I cannot overstate how much he has influenced who I am and what I value.

I am awake in the early hours of Easter Sunday because writing helps me sort out my jumbled thoughts and emotions. Orson Scott Card is an author of science fiction and fantasy, none of which I have read, but I am awestruck by his gift for commentary. Writing with clarity is nearly impossible when overcome by emotion, as I have been reminded this week, and so my admiration is beyond measure for his simultaneously reasoned and heartfelt summary of the Terri Schiavo tragedy, Whose Life Is Worth Living?, that expresses my viewpoint more forcefully than I have thus far.

Yesterday, March 26, 2005, was the darkest, most depressing day yet for the movement to save Terri’s life. Still I was encouraged when Margaret Carlson of Capital Gang, faintly echoed by Al Hunt, declared that Michael Schiavo should have transferred Terri to the care of her parents. Such cross-partisan sentiments, also expressed publicly this week by Alan Dershowitz, David Boies and Lanny Davis among other prominent Democrats, belie recent polls indicating majority support for Michael Schiavo’s actions.

I would like to see the results of a poll asking this question:

You have a mentally disabled daughter with special needs but no life-threatening illness. You are willing, able and eager to provide the care that she requires. Her husband is already engaged to another woman with whom he has two young children. He will let your daughter die by withholding water and nourishment rather than relinquish her to your care. Should he be allowed to let her die?

That poll would never be commissioned because it strays into the realm of the moral and the mainstream media equate morality with hypocrisy. This is an excruciating moral dilemma but we live in a political world. On the flimsiest evidence, our judicial tradition of humanistic liberalism failed to protect the most vulnerable among us, a woman unable to defend herself. The remedy must come from the legislative and executive branches not always characterized by moral courage.

As much as embittered Democrats would like to make Tom DeLay the face of this controversy, the poster boys are Judge George Greer, Michael Schiavo and George Felos, a right-to-die zealot whose description yesterday of the dying Terri as more beautiful and peaceful than he has ever seen her in the eight years of their one-sided relationship defies credibility. He presumed to speak for the woman whose permanent silence he insured. “(I)f there's anything that I think Mrs. Schiavo would want is not only to die with dignity and peace, but to also have the country at peace over this matter. So as we are approaching Easter, I think Terri would want all of us to reflect on the impermanence of life and ask ourselves the questions, what's the purpose of my life?”

When asked about Michael, the client whose thoughts are his business to know and the only Schiavo for whom he has the legal right to speak, this exchange ensued:

QUESTION: Can you characterize what this experience has been like?

FELOS: Well, I really can't characterize how it's been like for Michael.

Does anyone else find this inconsistency odd?

In his press conference, Felos displayed an unperturbed certainty in the righteousness of his actions in surreal contrast to the unmistakable devastation of the family whose rights he stripped and whose hope he crushed. Bobby Schindler is a dignified, articulate advocate for his sister in life and I think he could be an effective advocate of national reform in her death in due time.

On the most hopeful day of the Christian calendar, I pray that the Schindlers find comfort in their own exhaustive diligence, in the power they hold to continue helping others, in the healing love of their savior’s waiting arms, in the knowledge that Terri will soon be free from the control of Michael Schiavo, as will they.

Friday, March 25, 2005

God Proposes, Man Disposes, TV Exposes

We are a nation of laws. We might have to obey them, but we don’t have to like them.

We are also a nation of lawyers, too many if you ask me, although some of my favorite radio talk show hosts started as lawyers: Hugh Hewitt, Bill Bennett, and Larry Elder. Lawyers can manipulate the law to keep celebrity wife-killers out of jail, but we don’t have to agree with the verdicts.

Do you know why New York got all the lawyers and New Jersey got the toxic waste dumps? New Jersey had first pick. If the analogy fits, that would make judges, too many if you ask me, tantamount to Chernobyl.

Here’s another lawyer joke. Do you know why they call it a practice? I guess you've already figured out the punchline.

The airwaves are inundated by legendary legal pundits like David Boies and Alan Dershowitz dispensing pro bono pro-life advice, but Terri Schiavo needed them arguing on her behalf in courtroom after courtroom. Some lawyers, such as Michael Schiavo's, are clearly better than others, like the Schindlers'. In high profile trials, we have seen the good guys outmaneuvered by the bad guys, but I never thought it could kill you.

When I was a sheltered teenager, I had a disillusioning encounter with our judicial system. I was shopping for a piece of jewelry I could wear with a long necklace, which I brought with me in my purse. As I was deciding to purchase the jewelry, I would pull out a long enough strand to compare the colors of the two, which were not an exact match. I bought the darn thing anyway and was grabbed by the department store security as soon as I stepped outside. They used ridiculously extreme, intimidating interrogation tactics and tried to force me to sign a confession they filled out for me to admit that I stole my own necklace, but I knew I was only guilty of naive stupidity and stood my ground.

When I appeared in court for my arraignment, the judge offered to drop the charges if I would plead no contest but then I would not get my necklace back. With all the conviction of the innocent, outraged that my necklace was being stolen from me, I requested a trial. I was fortunate that the judge reacted kindly and saw that my attorney happened to be inept - even I saw that! After instructing my attorney on my rights, the judge explained to me with gentle forebearance that I probably had a weak case and the opposition had four security officers to testify against me. If one judge can intervene to compensate for bad lawyering over a $5.00 necklace, how can another not do the same when human life is at stake?

That single judge in Florida and a lawyered-up estranged husband hold the power to end Terri Schiavo’s life, which until they removed her feeding tube was nowhere near endangered. Convicted of no crime, she is paying the ultimate penalty. Judge Greer, Judge Whittemore, Justice Kennedy, where is her presumption of innocence?

The most desperate supporters of Terri Schiavo’s right to live are begging the governor of Florida to violate his solemn oath to uphold the laws within his perview, the same crime for which President Bill Clinton was impeached and Chief Justice Roy Moore removed from his Alabama bench. Rightfully we are a society of laws, not of men, but who can blame anyone for expecting the governing principle of our constitution, the right to life, to be at least as important as the legal technicality of a sham marriage? The most powerful elected official in Florida is powerless to save a disabled constituent from court-sanctioned, involuntary euthanasia, but we are told this is how our republic was intended to work. At the core of a family’s personal tragedy is a civics lesson in the checks and balances of government, the legal limits of morality, and the tyranny of a values-neutral judiciary.

Speaking of checks, Judge Greer, is it true that you accepted a 2004 campaign contribution from the law firm representing Michael Schiavo? Is that why you hesitate to recognize Michael’s conflict of interest as guardian to the woman who prevented him from marrying the mother of his young children to whom he is already engaged? Judge Greer, why did you deny the state’s request to release the records of this case?

Alive, Terri is symbolic of the painful dilemma that many families who care for ailing loved ones must face and the fears we all share about our own mortality. Many decent people, including conservatives of faith, watch the video clips of Terri, think “I would never want to live like that,” and resent Congressional intervention in what they perceive as a private dispute. Some probably wish the Schindlers and this 24/7 cable television debate would just go away. Ironically, I hear more people talking about respirators and terminal illness, neither of which relate to Terri Schiavo.

On the brink of death, Terri is bringing families and couples together to discuss the importance of making a clear-cut medical directive at any adult age. I hope women get smarter about the men they marry and vice versa. We need an honest national conversation about the false promises of so-called painless death by dehydration and starvation. Alas, perfect science can be as elusive as perfect justice.

In death, Terri may inspire changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act to protect those who cannot communicate their wishes about life-sustaining care from guardian neglect, abuse and conflict of interest. This week an elementary school teacher who provides physical education adapted for special ed told me she has students in far worse condition than Terri Schiavo. She worries that Judge Greer’s decision establishes a legal precedent for parents who may not be as patient as Mary and Bob Schindler.

Michael Schiavo is about to become a bachelor again. Technically, he will be a widower just as technically Lizzie Borden was an orphan. The difference in terminology between bachelor and widower depends on how celebratory he seems on TV and the public mood will adjust accordingly. He can choose to be a gracious winner or an insensitive jerk. I read that he plans to cremate Terri immediately and keep her ashes in his family’s crypt in Philadelphia. I bet there are lawyers encouraging the Schindlers to seek an autopsy or civil damages and I hope they are more competent than their predecessors. I wonder if lawyers are advising the future Mrs. Michael Schiavo on her medical directive.

The law is an ass, as Charles Dickens wrote, and we are a nation of them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Peaking Too Early?

I read it between the cranky lines on message boards. I hear it in hypercritical morning-after dissections by the water cooler. I sense it deep within my internal nerve center. Perhaps you do, too.

The fourth season of American Idol is lacking something basic. And I think I know what it is. I feel it – or, rather, the absence of it.

At this point in the competition, normally we are braced for off key, shaky performances by several contestants. One or two clear frontrunners would have been established. One or two controversial potential spoilers would emerge due to enthusiastic fan bases, not artistic merit.

The spicy ingredient missing thus far this year is suspense. The performers are more broadly talented, more assured, more artistically diverse, more professional overall. We are finally hearing new songs. All that should be a good thing, right?

Right. Except that AI is always a long race to the finish line. Like NASCAR spectators, we are hooked on the guilty thrill of crashing failure as much as the mystery of ultimate victory. Hence, the popularity of audition clips and spectacular losers such as William Hung and “Like a Virgin” Keith.

The only contestant still flirting with disaster is Mikalah Gordon. If Mikalah cannot do justice to a Taylor Dayne song, which should showcase her strengths, she does not deserve another chance. Bye bye, baby Babs.

If Mikalah exits as predicted, we may have nine more weeks of high stakes and heartbreak instead of the usual three, which leads me to wonder about my fellow viewers. Is the competitor of our favorite our enemy or another favorite? How the audience answers that question will determine the temper of the national debate. If the early nitpicking is an omen, this could be the longest, ugliest finale yet with plenty of suspense to come.

Of course, winning is still the raison d’etre and I foresee more winners this season than any before, including music producers, agents and lawyers. I expect AI4 to generate a record number of recording contracts for the top 12 plus its most famous exile, Mario Vazquez. Obviously, a career is a different matter, but I think there are more than a few contenders among the remaining eleven.

This week’s most welcome surprise was that Jessica Sierra, Nikko Smith and Anthony Federov showed demonstrable growth. As Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken continue to prove, fans become invested and remain loyal to performers who blossom before our watching eyes.

Jessica made a schmaltzy, over-the-top song, Total Eclipse of the Heart, warm and personal, achieving a near total eclipse of her peers. I had written her off prematurely for spotlighting her physical assets the past few weeks over her strong voice, for putting the ho in ho hum. I am pleased to report that Jessica’s opportunities will not be lost forever in the high Sierras, so to speak.

Nikko found his niche. His longevity is tied to his song selections. I still see him among the next to leave, but he earned my interest for another week.

Anthony is the all-American boy from the Ukraine with a sympathetic back story. Finally he showed us some vocal muscle and flexibility and he's got some moves, but I just don't think he is that special. Can we finally put to rest those Clay comparisons? My Aiken butt!

Nadia Turner defies the easy categorization that makes the marketers happy. The judges probably prefer her to spend more time with her coach instead of her stylist. I may be among the minority, but I liked her reggae-cum-rock treatment of Cyndi Lauper’s Time after Time and her ever-changing couture. She seems to be having the best time of all the performers. Each week she is fresh and unpredictable.

Constantine Maroulis also seems to be enjoying himself immensely. It takes confidence for such a macho male to select a bubble gum relic like I Think I Love You and he rocked it like a refugee from the mosh pit, where I suspect he developed his stage-pacing style. In an odd twist, increasingly I find his voice really appealing and his “come hither” looks a calculated distraction.

I like the softer side Bo Bice showed us during Time in a Bottle. Sometimes his swagger seems stiff and phony to me. His quieter voice sounded much more supple and genuine.

Scott Savol infused some emotion into Against All Odds and I was moved when he threw off his glasses and sang, "Take a look at me now." I hope he comes back next week for a heartfelt encore.

Anwar Robinson is a precise vocalist but a limited performer. Why then did he pick a Chaka Khan song that requires more energy than technique? Anwar, I still love you. But, please, for my sake, don't be so careless again.

Carrie Underwood made me like a Heart song I never could stand, Alone, which she nailed. She needs to work on her facial expressions or even a fan like me will start calling her Grimace.

I almost forgot Vonzell Solomon. That pretty much sums it up for me.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

State Assisted Homicide

This week Scott Peterson was sentenced to death row for the rest of his earthly days. A jury found him deserving of the severest punishment they could mete out for murdering Laci and Connor Peterson, although the case against Scott was circumstantial. He could have divorced his wife and left her to the care of her loving, supportive Rocha family. We may never know the specific causes leading to his unthinkable act of violence, but we do know he was pursuing Amber Frey and was the only beneficiary of Laci’s life insurance policy.

This week Michael Schiavo succeeded in sentencing his wife Terri to death. Michael’s case for killing his wife is circumstantial. He could have divorced her and left her to the care of her loving, supportive Schindler family. We may never know exactly why Michael withheld the rehabilitation that could have improved his wife’s prognosis and quality of life, but we do know he began a new relationship and family mere years after Terri’s collapse and he is the only beneficiary spending her malpractice award.

Is Michael Schiavo the Scott Peterson of Florida? Not if a majority of the Congress can stop him.

My mother died in 1994 from slow starvation and dehydration. One year earlier she had begun home dialysis treatment via a catheter in her peritoneum. Two months later she suffered a mild stroke, which led to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, after which she was further incapacitated by deep vein thrombosis. Finally, she developed a tumor on her peritoneum rendering home dialysis impossible. Rather than endure half-day treatments several times per week at the public hemodialysis center, my mother said enough was enough and made a living will to protect her decision to let kidney failure take its unobstructed course at home under the loose monitoring of hospice staff.

Is death by starvation and dehydration the easy, peaceful exit that some right-to-die advocates have recently described? Not in my mother’s experience.

At first she felt a temporary lift after removal of all medications. Then she became disoriented, mistaking visitors for long-deceased family members. As she began to deteriorate, my mother, a lapsed Catholic, gratefully received her last rites. Often she seemed to be fighting for life as a series of seizures and strokes took her farther and farther away. The last words she moaned have haunted me for eleven years: “I didn’t know it would be like this.”

My sister and I got into an ugly fight and the hospice nurse told me it was too late to reverse the damage anyway. All I could do was massage my mother’s septic body gently with lotion to try to ease the terrible itching that accompanies kidney failure and pray that the peace she sought was at hand. Still she seemed agitated for another week as though every last gram of life had to be wrung from her. Nearly a month after her final feeding, my mother exhaled loudly and died in my arms.

The very young son of a dear friend died from pneumonia, a complication of brain cancer. I was at his deathbed after he lost consciousness and witnessed his continued responsiveness to his family’s commands.

Terri Schiavo has been a disabled woman for fifteen years. She is neither comatose nor suffering from life-threatening diseases. Many of her biological systems are working normally. She made no written directives to support or contradict her husband’s allegation that she did not want to live under such dependent circumstances, an allegation he did not publicize until after he received the malpractice award.

Christopher Reeve lived nine years after the awful accident that left him paralyzed and on a feeding tube. His spouse insured that he received every available treatment to improve his prognosis and quality of life. Imagine Dana Reeve canceling his regimen and suing to have his feeding tube removed!

The choices for Terri Schiavo are not limited to “artificial” life or premature death, regardless of what Michael Schiavo might claim. Her family is desperate to take care of their daughter and sister for the rest of her earthly days. That Michael Schiavo is not willing to give Terri and her family the more humane option is his fatal flaw. It need not be Terri’s.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Fox News Alert

Today Fox News reporter and substitute host Brian Wilson announced that Tony Snow will provide a health update via telephone during tomorrow's broadcast of FNC's Weekend Live, which airs on Saturdays from noon until 2:00pm Eastern Time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Super Mario World - Not!

On Monday American Idol fans were abuzz over the sudden, mysterious withdrawal of Mario Vazquez from the top 12 competition. Tuesday evening the dutiful dozen he left behind showed up and showed him up, probably relegating his absence to a one-day curiosity. As Simon Cowell likes to say, “So what.”

I might miss Mario but not for long. The AI starmaker machinery rewards singing talent and charisma, not always in that order, and Mario displayed both, but he was not the only one. Nadia Turner and Constantine Maroulis are likewise doubly blessed, which brings me to the whole rocker hoopla.

There is only one contender in the AI4 competition with a true modern rock sensibility and his name is Constantine. Nadia Turner does old time rock 'n' roll as well as Bo Bice and I mean that as a compliment. First and foremost, Bo is a long-haired singer, a darn good one, but his song choices prove that he is a soft rocker with a hard edge to his voice. Either the judges are promoting the rocker storyline as they did the short-lived three divas last season or else they hope to split the perceived rocker vote to the advantage of Bo, whom they clearly prefer to Constantine. There’s room for both in the top five and the overemphasis on their only real similarity (long hair) is part of the defining flaw in American Idol 4: the stupid quota system that imposes selective and unfair limitations on the most talented field in the franchise’s history.

I say selective because Anwar Robinson has longer hair than Constantine but he is exempted from the lazy visual stereotyping. Does anyone believe that the show would have set up a phony competition between Anwar and David Brown, had he survived long enough, simply because they both sport dreadlocks and share some musical influences?

I say unfair because the final composition of six males and six females promoted unworthy contestants strictly to achieve a gender balance, certainly not for the sake of art or even entertainment. David Brown and Nikko Smith were more deserving than Lindsey Cardinale and Jessica Sierra, in my estimation. However, once again the blundering AI powers-that-be are rescued by the talent.

Here are my favorites in alpha order:

Bo Bice – I think Bo is in danger of being overhyped too early. His slightly gruff soulfulness is a welcome addition to the AI repertoire, but his performances don’t linger long in my memory. When I try to visualize him, I always see Matt Dillon in the grunge-parody movie Singles, probably not the effect Bo wants to achieve.

Mikalah Gordon – In seasons one and three, Nikki McKibbin and Fantasia Barrino respectively grated on my nerves. Mikalah doesn’t annoy as much as she disappoints me. She is a potential powerhouse in need of serious coaching, especially with her lower register, and her novelty act would be more appealing if her performances were consistently strong. Clay Aiken has probably sold a million records for every time the judges advised that he was better suited to the stage, their favorite critique in season two second only to the ubiquitous "pitchy." Finally, here’s a Broadway baby who conjures up memories of Barbra Streisand or Ethel Merman and there has been nary a mention of it. What up, dawg?

Constantine Maroulis – He has more charisma in that butt in his chin than Kelly Clarkson has in her big ol’ Texas butt (don’t bother sending me hate mail – I won’t read it). If I were a teenager or twentysomething, I would probably already have a photo of those bedroom eyes on my bedroom wall. His voice doesn’t have to be perfect because he’s a real rocker and it’s plenty good enough. His ability to work the camera is a little too slick for my taste but a harbinger of guaranteed celebrity to come, whether in music or other media.

Anwar Robinson – Equal and possibly superior to Kelly Clarkson, Anwar may be AI’s most technically gifted singer ever. There are some voices so pure and clean that you would gladly hear them sing the phone book. For me, all of Anwar’s performances qualify as such. In any other season, that might be enough to win, but I’m not sure about this year.

Scott Savol – Scott has a reliable R&B voice like Ruben Studdard but without the cuddliness. Ruben had an early breakout performance with Superstar, which I don’t think he ever equaled, and Scott urgently needs to distinguish himself in similar fashion or he’ll be gone. If he had sung an Aaron Neville song, the judges would have called him brilliant.

Nadia Turner – Some may compare her to a Q-tip, but I think she is simply the most beautiful, luminous performer in AI history. The camera loves her. My ears and eyes love her. She has grace, chops, and star power. And, yes, she can really rock.

Carrie Underwood – Obviously scared by the early criticism of the judges, Carrie is playing it safe. Like Anwar, she is probably just being faithful to her own style. She is easily the finest AI singer from the country genre, which is neither the judges’ favorite nor mine, and one of the best technical singers, period. I really like her strong, dynamic voice and her understated demeanor makes me root for her. She may convert me to country-rock before she’s through, which I hope is not any time soon. Again, like Anwar, in any other year she would have been the standout.