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Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Crusading Revolution - 'Life Cycles' And The Career Of Erin Brokovich


Robert Evans

If you read my SECOND BLOG (and if not why not?), then you'll see I've used one of my favourite quotes from the post on Diana Ross, again in this post. Why would that be? We all think we know the Erin Brockovich story, right? We've seen the film. We loved Julia Roberts in the title role and so did the critics. In fact, she won a Golden Globe and an Oscar. She was portraying the real-life Erin, who was a genuine environmental crusader, whose actions caused the good citizens of Hinkley to receive just payouts from an evil utility company. They had poisoned their drinking water with a chemical, which had given them a long list of illnesses. But, most importantly, it was a proven carcinogenic.

Well that may or may not be YOUR view, but it would be a popularly-held view, thanks to Hollywood. However, before I go any further, I've got to tell you about the curious path that got me here in the first place. After all, this is old news, why would I dig it up? You see, I actually wanted to write about a piece of research I did back in the 90's called 'The N Factor In Executive Survival'. This was a validation study based on work done by the UK, Cranfield School Of Management. It was, of course, new to Australia back then and I received some press coverage and wrote an article for the Australian Institute of Management monthly magazine. I couldn't find any of this on the web, so I wanted to re-introduce it myself. I will still do this, however I also wanted to illustrate with a good 'N Factor' case, which would amount to one of the highest-profile, most vociferous, maverick operators I could think of. Then, the name of Erin Brockovich jumped into my head. Anything but your "good corporate player" and everyone knew her. Yes, she'd do just fine.

Now, in a twist of events, I'm going to tell you about my 'Life Cycles' research first. You know how it goes by now, don't you? Just add 36 to her year of birth and see if you can see any evidence of life changing behaviour/significant career achievement/or breakthroughs that lead to it. It's the same goddamn question I ask every time. It's maths and stats and nothing else. Well, Erin was born June 22nd. 1960, so the period we will be investigating is June 22nd. 1996 to June 22nd. 1997. What happened? Was there a highlight? Did it include a period of frustration beforehand? In fact, why don't you stop reading right now and check it out for yourselves.........

Did you find this? Erin Brockovich finally receives a huge payout of $2 million in legal fees when Pacific Gas & Electric (a large public utility) agreed to record $333 million private arbitration settlement. The original settlement date was June 12, with the money delivered a few weeks later. So, at the start of her age 36 'Year of Revolution'. In the final scene of the movie it shows Erin's boss handing her the bonus money (which was some time after) and saying that he had changed the amount. She explodes into a complaint that she deserves more respect, but is astonished to find that he has increased it - to $2 million.

This was life-changing for her in every regard. She has gone on to a very lucrative and substantial career in the legal world, as an expert in related environmental lawsuits against company negligence. She has her own consultancy - Brockovich Research and Consulting - as well as consulting for Girardi and Keese (who were the lawyers in the movie) and helping establish Shine Lawyers in Australia. There is, of course, the movie (which netted Julia Roberts an Oscar and $20 million) and her 2001 book Take It From Me: Life's a Struggle But You Can Win. She has hosted Challenge America with Erin Brockovich on ABC and Final Justice on Zone Reality. She has also received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Lewis and Clark Law School, Oregon.

Prior to her involvement she was a twice-divorced, unemployed, working-class mother of three (even though she had a college degree in journalism). The movie shows that she was involved in a car accident with a doctor and was suing him. Her lawyer, Ed Masry (Albert Finney), expects to win, but Erin's explosive courtroom behavior under cross-examination loses her the case (so from my angle she's a classic 'N Factor'), and Ed (shown below with Erin) will not return her phone calls afterwards. One day he arrives at work to find her in the office, appearing to do work. She says that he told her things would work out and they didn't, and that she needed a job. He feels bad for her, and decides to give her a try at the office.

So, just an office clerk with no legal qualifications or experience back in 1993. I won't reprise the movie here, but suffice it to say, that until there was a settlement, her circumstances were largely unchanged and this was not guaranteed at all. Lawyers for PG&E planned to keep stalling for years if they could. Her big breakthrough moment undoubtedly happened in her age 36 'Year of Revolution'. I was amazed, as I always am, by my own research. But there it is. I could have left it right here. Nice, positive uplifting article with a great finish. That's certainly what THEIR view would prefer I do. You know, Erin, Girardi, Hollywood and the whole media image thing.

I didn't mean to, but then I peeked under the carpet. I didn't have to, but it's in my nature I guess. You see THE TRUTH is invariably stranger and more fascinating than fiction (and the movie was a dramatised account, which told only the positive half the story). I didn't know any of what I found beforehand, except that maybe her findings were a bit controversial. What I found was material of an explosive nature. This comes from several sources (such as The Truth About Erin Brockovich and "Erin Brockovich" - The Real Story) as well as a number of biographic summaries. It says, in brief, there were major problems with the case.

1. It was based on flawed science.
2. The legal process was flawed and has caused a review on how such cases are to be dealt with.
3. Many of the plaintiffs in the case consider that they were 'screwed-over' by their own lawyers.

So, without getting lost in too much detail, let's have look at each area, shall we?

1. Flawed scientific evidence

OK, first off the guts of the case is that a chemical called Hexavalent Chromium (Chromium 6) is a cancer-causing agent and was used extensively as a rust protector by PG&E from the 1950's onwards. It contaminated the drinking water that supplied the nearby town of Hinkley, California. Brockovich gathered citizens' evidence and found many cases of tumors and other medical problems. Evidence of a cover-up by PG&E (showing they had lied when they said they used a safe form of Chromium) sealed the deal.

Case closed wouldn't you say? Well not according to investigative journalist and science author Michael Fumento, who checked it out. As he reported in the Wall Street Journal :- "no one agent could possibly have caused more than a handful of the symptoms described, and Chromium 6 in the water almost certainly couldn’t have caused any of them" (which was independently corroborated by New York Times science writer Gina Kolata).

Brockovich, by her own account, went to UCLA’s library and claims to have found as many as 120 articles that said chromium 6 was carcinogenic:- “In each and every article, it clearly depicts that people who have exposures have chronic nosebleeds, kidney problems and colon problems,” she said during an interview. Hmm, 'chronic nosebleeds, kidney and colon problems' are not cancer, but we'll let this sit at the moment.

Other scientific studies, however, from contaminated spots in China, Scotland and the United States, have failed to find cancer-causing properties in waterborne chromium 6. A toxicologist at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Sharon Wilbur, says that chromium 6 in water doesn’t harm humans. “It’s very unlikely that people could die from drinking chromium 6 in the water, even over time,” she said. Because the arbitration that eventually decided the case was closed to the public, it’s unclear what sort of proof plaintiffs attorneys offered to support their claims.

The most damning evidence, however, is the long-term epidemiology of the citizens of Hinkley. A study, released in 2010 by the California Cancer Registry, showed that cancer rates in Hinkley "remained unremarkable from 1988 to 2008". Not unnaturally Brockovich and Girardi etc. have hit back citing their many poignant testimonials and claiming the epidemiological data was biased. Well they'd pretty much have to wouldn't they, because THEIR entire credibility is being attacked. The rebuttal, however, did not appear to rely on competing scientific evidence.

You can read it all for yourselves if you simply search "Erin Brockovich criticism". Page 1 of Google lists articles by ,The Guardian/The New York Times/The Daily Beast and TIME. However, in the interests of balanced coverage I went to the EPA's own website. It said that the science available in 1991, indicated that some people who use water containing chromium in excess of the drinking water standard, over many years, could experience allergic dermatitis (skin reactions).

In 2008, it initiated a comprehensive review and in 2010 provided a draft discussion paper, which has not yet been finalised. The draft :- "Toxicological Review of Hexavalent Chromium" provides scientific support and rationale for the hazard and dose-response assessment pertaining to chronic exposure to hexavalent chromium via ingestion. Peer review and independent testing is ongoing, which has been stated as being most important.

The Girardi/Brockovich camp may well be crowing about this as of now, but we do await the final report. However, in the reverse, it would confirm that with the science available at the time of the PG&E settlement, no evidence of links to cancer existed and that though the jury may be out on this currently, the area is still under investigation. It actually made me wonder out loud :-' if such evidence had been overwhelming, then it shouldn't have taken around four years to get confirmation and action.'

2. Flawed legal process

Next, let's go to the legal shenanigans that went on in this case. Many plaintiffs in the Hinkley case say the movie misrepresents what happened. Far from being the populist victory the movie depicts, the Hinkley lawsuit was a case study in how the rise of private arbitration, as an alternative to costly public trials, is open to potential conflicts of interest and cronyism. The case never went to trial, because Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility accused of polluting Hinkley, and the plaintiffs’ lawyers agreed to private arbitration before a panel of for-hire judges, some of whom had socialized with the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

After the settlement, the Hinkley plaintiffs’ attorneys took some of the arbitrators in the case on a steeply discounted Mediterranean luxury cruise (see the sidebar for details). The fraternization between the private judges and the plaintiffs’ lawyers led California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George to begin a study of the business of arbitration (an example of which is shown below). The trouble with civil arbitrations, such as the Hinkley case is that public-welfare issues can, in effect, be decided secretly between corporations and high-powered plaintiffs’ attorneys, who represent unsophisticated victims. In the wake of the PG&E litigation, for example, there is no public record of whether an enormous, publicly held utility did or did not poison a town.

“This is a troubling trend, especially when it concerns the public domain of toxic tort cases,” said Erwin Chemerinksy, professor of legal ethics at the University of Southern California. “It means there’s decreased public awareness of what’s going on in the public domain.” One big reason for the boom in this whole area is money. Public judges, who earn about $150,000 a year in the public courts, often retire early to become, in effect, rent-a-judges. By doing so they can earn between $100 and $500 an hour — easily doubling or tripling their salaries. Arbitration firms often have powerful attorneys or corporations as steady clients. Also the rules that apply in open court often aren’t followed in private court. In addition no laws prevent the hired judges from accepting gifts from attorneys.

As it turned out, Girardi had ties to at least three of the private judges in the PG&E case:- Jack Tenner, John Trotter and Jack Goertzen. Tenner, a retired Los Angeles Superior Court judge, officiated at Girardi’s second wedding, in September 1993. Goertzen has been a friend of Girardi’s for many years, even though he says the relationship is only professional. In June 1996, when PG&E appeared to be stalling, Girardi learned that PG&E’s outside counsel, Haight, Brown and Bonesteel of Santa Monica, had hired private investigators to snoop into his bank records and private affairs, as well as those of his clients. It’s against California law to obtain confidential private records. One of the firm’s operatives, who had just been fired, took the damning information to Girardi.

The investigator, Ben Ortiz, a retired LAPD officer, was suing his former employers. Buried inside this second case, worthy of a John Grisham novel, are allegations of racketeering and collusion among judges and attorneys throughout Los Angeles County. David Sharp, the attorney in that latter case, alleges that Girardi and Lack used the Ortiz affair to pressure PG&E into making a large settlement - “part of which was used to curry favor with active and retired judges involved in that case and others,” according to Kathleen Sharp (who is the author of this explosive expose). I don't know about you, but this certainly sounds dodgy to me. And murky...

3. Poor Treatment Of Plaintiffs

The last and most damning evidence of all, however, lies in the hands of those, for whom the whole process was meant to benefit - the plaintiffs. “The movie is mostly lies,” said Carol Smith, one of the real-life plaintiffs. “I wish the truth would come out because a lot of us are upset. I understand the movie is going to make Erin and the attorneys out to be heroes, but where’s the rest of our money?”

There is no question about the big profits in these privately arbitrated toxic tort cases. Basically, when local lawyer Ed Masry based in Thousand Oaks, California, realised this case was beyond him and invited the big boys (namely Girardi and Keese along with Lack) to come in; they took over and told the townsfolk they would do it all for 40% of the settlement money, take it or leave it. What is 40% of $333 million? Oh, it's around a cool $133.6 million. In addition Girardi also billed $10 million for undetailed expenses, in a violation of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

However what is left over for the 650 odd plaintiff's do you think? You know, the townsfolk who told their stories, without which there would be no case, the proceedings of which, co-incidentally, they were all-but banned from attending:- “We had no idea what was going on and weren’t allowed to watch,” said Lynn Tindell, a plaintiff. They figured about half-a-million each minus lawyer's fees (about $300,000). They were shocked to learn how little most of them got.

Dorothea Montoya received $60,000; Christine Mace got $50,000; Lynn Tindell $50,000; Tiffany Oliver got $60,000. All of these people were longtime residents, who had suffered well documented medical problems :- “It didn’t make sense why my husband, who’s had 17 tumors removed from his throat, got only $80,000,” said Smith. Roberta Walker (shown below), who had started the case and was depicted in the movie as Donna Jensen, didn’t get the $5 million that her movie counterpart received. “It’s a big fabrication,” said Walker. “People look at $333 million and think, ‘Wow! You got that much money?’ But no.”

They said the distributions were based on evidence from medical records :- “But no one ever looked at my medical records,” said Smith. “I’m sure of that because my doctors told me so after I asked.” Other plaintiffs echoed the same complaint. In fact, fairly or not, some residents say they saw a pattern in the distribution method :- “If you were buddies with Ed and Erin, you got a lot of money,” said Smith. “Otherwise, forget it.”

Let's not forget that there was no money at all for at least 6 months, in contravention of State Law, which says a client's money must be distributed promptly. The Hinkley clients tried to get answers by calling Masry’s and Girardi’s offices, but suddenly, they couldn’t get through to anyone, not even Brockovich. “None of the attorneys would take our calls,” said Carol Smith. Then the residents were further outraged because there was no accrued interest paid, when they finally got their cheques.

When some residents tried to complain about what they felt were unfair amounts, they were put off. “We didn’t even get to talk to Erin and she’s the one who got us mixed up in this thing,” said Smith. Some wanted to contest the awards, but were discouraged. “We were told if we appealed the settlement, we’d get less money,” said Ron Gonzales. “It was essentially a threat.” But Gonzales did appeal. He was given an award of $100,000, but appealed on the grounds that he deserved more. “Ten minutes later, one of the judges offered me $250,000.” The appeal cost him $21,000 in arbitration fees. I'll leave the last word to Lynn Tindell :- “I feel like I was treated like a country hick that didn’t understand plain English,” said Tindell. “We are the ones who made those guys zillionaires.” Some residents began to take their cases to at least four other attorneys for help.

None of this sits well with me. How does it strike you? The real winners in this case were - surprise, surprise - the lawyers; Girardi, Lack, Masry and Brockovich. Erin, the 'original rebel without a cause' was now firmly on the team. It was a winning formula. In the following years they went for PG&E in other towns similar to Hinkley. Brockovich and Masry mounted related cases against a variety of organisations and some of these findings were again controversial. I haven't got the time to go into it right now.

This does not make for pretty reading does it? It is almost certainly a lot less than you might have expected. I'm, of course, happy to hear your views, as I have no more of a vested interest in this, than I do in any other post. Till next month :- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Good Morning Revolution - 'Life Cycles' And The Career Of Robin Williams

I join with the millions of Robin Williams' fans in mourning his untimely passing. Such a 'larger than life' presence, with wit and warmth, that amused but never offended. This is my tribute to him.

Of all news items covering a reprise of his life that I saw, it was commenced by Robin delivering his famous one liner:- "Good morning Vietnam!" Mind you, it's a phrase you can't say blandly, you've got to use force and passion. You know, say it like this :- "Goooooood morning Vi-et-nam!!" It embodied Robin's spirit and defined his essence. Then, these same biographic short summaries would say things like :- "He first burst onto our screens with his breakthrough role in the movie Good Morning Vietnam and then reprise his major works like Dead Poets Society and Mrs. Doubtfire, through to his Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting etc."

Of course, Robin was already established as a movie actor after Mork And Mindy wound up in 1982. He had the lead role in The World According To Garp in the same year. However, it received only luke-warm critiques and box office results and then....? Well, quite frankly very little for quite a few years. It wasn't that he wasn't trying, it's just that his big break was yet to happen. Or maybe not? There are no guarantees in life. Can you see where I'm going with all this? How the whole analysis came about under unforeseen circumstances? How I am being put to a blind test with 'Life Cycles' yet again?

Firstly I'd like to point out, that Robin's earlier adult career, consisted of beginning his standup act in early 1976. He was born July 21st, 1951. This would then have occurred during his first adult, age 24, 'Year of Revolution' (July 1975 to July 1976). It was to be his first career identity. He had previously won a scholarship to the famous Julliard School in New York (where he was one of only 20 students). He was advised to leave before finishing in 1976 as there was nothing more to teach him.

There followed a seven year journey, as standup took him on to Mork And Mindy and to alcohol and cocaine addiction. This 7 year journey in a forward direction from a 'Year of Revolution' to a 'Year of Broken Pathways' is absolutely central to 'Life Cycles; theory. OK, if that's the case, then what were the key events in his age 31 'Year of Broken Pathways' (ie. July 1982 to July 1983), that underpin this? Well the first was personal. It was the death of his close friend and fellow high-octane comedian, John Belushi. This was due to a cocaine and heroin overdose and it provided a stark 'wake-up call' to Williams. He is on record as stating it.

The second was career related. Mork and Mindy had simply run out of gas and lost it's way in the last season. Jonathan Winters was brought in as Willams' child, because Orkans were said to age backwards. It ended in 60th place in the ratings and was cancelled in mid-1982. Williams was left to find a new direction. He had hoped for an immediate film success with The World According To Garp. Based on John Irving's novel, it proved to be a faithful recreation of his quirky, but somewhat irritating, style and was rated and received as such.

Then followed a number of years in the wilderness. In 1983 he starred with Walter Matthau in The Survivors, which received an exceptionally low 9% rating on the benchmark Rotten Tomatoes review site. Apparently Williams and Matthau did not team well together. Worse was to follow. In 1986 Williams had the leading role in a star-studded ensemble cast for the Harold Ramis (you know, the Ghostbusters/ 'Stripes' guy) directed Club Paradise. The cast included Peter O'Toole, Twiggy, Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy in a comic 'Club Med gone wrong' plot line. How could it miss? Apparently Bill Murray was first choice and knocked it back. Must have sensed something. Even John Cleese passed on this one.

Anyway it bombed spectacularly costing Warner Bros. $15 mill. and grossing only $12 mill. with an 11% Rotten Tomatoes rating. It was generally felt Robin Williams was wasting his talents with these movies. They were all just too one-dimensional. What he needed was a comedy vehicle with some depth and sensitivity and maybe even an element of social commentary. It was obvious his ship had not yet come in. He was 35 and he wanted to make a statement and the answer to his prayers was just sitting right under his nose. Enter the two people, who were about to be in their respective 'Years of Revolution' (at 36/48) and who wanted to make statements of their own for quite different reasons. All three combined careers were going to rise 'phoenix-like' from the ashes. Now, you probably know nothing of these other two people, but they were pivotal to the making of the movie that would make their names :- Good Morning Vietnam.

First I want to introduce Adrian Cronauer. Adrian was a former Air Force sargeant and radio personality in Vietnam, who wrote about his experiences and this formed the basis for the movie. Robin played him. Adrian had been trying to get his idea launched for some time. In 1979 he pitched a sitcom to TV networks, who weren't interested even though MASH was highly popular at the time. His next move was to develop a TV 'movie of the week' script and he pitched it again to the networks. This time (around 1982 after Mork and Mindy), it got the attention of Robin Williams, who bought an option on it and then let it sit for four years, until one day he phoned Adrian out of the blue and said:- "Well, we want to take your project and go to production, but as a full-scale movie. Only we'll be throwing out your script." This would, most probably, have been in the latter part of 1986, after the disappointment of Club Paradise. However, what exactly caused this breakthrough moment is a little unclear.

Cronauer (born Sept. 8th, 1938) would have just entered his age 48 'Year of Revolution' when his dream was about to be realised. He was asked to meet Williams and his manager and tell his story. Various episodes were described and then they would decide on a completely different scenario. Cronauer laughs about this in an interview, but ended up agreeing with what they did.

The next step was to hire a screenwriter, who would turn the whole thing into a winning script, while still leaving space for Williams to use his famous improv-style comedy, at which he was a genius. Enter Mitch Markowitz, who up to that time had only been a TV scriptwriter and his credits included MASH and Van Dyke and Company. He was about to have his career-defining moment and he had just turned 36 in early October, 1986. This was to represent a phoenix-like moment for both Adrian (who went on to work for Defence in the area of MIA cases) and Mitch (who went on to write the movie Crazy People in 1990).

This leaves only Robin, who turned 36 on July, 21st 1987 and thus shared a small amount of 'Confluence' with both Adrian and Mitch. Good Morning Vietnam had begun shooting around April 1987 and so in this period of July/Sept- this 'whorl of Confluence' for all three men- the finishing touches would have been applied to their respective crowning glories. Good Morning Vietnam was released Dec 87/Jan 88.

At 36, in his major and career-defining 'Year of Revolution', Robin Willams at last had his hit movie. In 'Life Cycles' terms it was delivered to the letter and exactly on time. Williams had now "burst upon the scene", which you know is the phrase I use to describe events like this. From a budget of $13 mill. it made $124 mill. He received a Golden Globe Award for "Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical", and an American Comedy Award for "Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role)" and a "Best Actor" BAFTA Award. He was also nominated for a "Best Actor" Academy Award. No wonder all the biographic summaries begin with his iconic phrase :- "Goooooood morning Vi-et-nam!!" He had truly arrived.

Of course, I see it more as a chorus in 'Life Cycles' terms. I see Adrian Cronauer with his arms around Mitch Markowitz and Robin Willams and all three of them saying :- "Gooooood morning Rev-o-lution!!" You know, sitting here as a humble researcher, I am dumbfounded by the volume of scope of this evidence. Not just this story, but story after story after story. Of course, it could all be just mere luck and a very odd set of coincidences, but I somehow I don't think so. Do you? Till next month :- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune."

Friday, July 25, 2014

Don't Mention The Revolutions - 'Life Cycles' And The Career Of John Cleese

John Cleese is one of our best-loved comedians and the scene above is taken from the work that most defined his career :- Fawlty Towers. Yet this wonderful show almost never got made. It's a fascinating story and it features key events in Cleese's central, defining, mid-life 'Year of Revolution' at 36.

The idea for the show came from a real-life couple, who ran a hotel in Torquay. Cleese and his former wife and co-writer, Connie Booth, actually stayed there in 1971. Cleese saw this as an opportunity to break away from Monty Python, which was a highly-contrived (but hugely popular) ensemble sketch comedy. This was to become an adaptation of French farce, complete with multi-layered characterisations. He wrote an early prototype of Basil Fawlty in an episode of Doctor At Large soon after.

However it was not until 1974, that John Cleese, who was to play Basil, sent the BBC the script for the pilot episode. Cleese stated in an interview :- “The fellow whose job it was to assess the quality of the writing said, ‘This is full of clichéd situations and stereotypical characters, and I cannot see it being anything other than a disaster. You're going to have to get them out of the hotel, John, you can't do the whole thing in the hotel'. Whereas, of course, it's in the hotel that the whole pressure cooker builds up."

Eventually Cleese was given the OK to write the scripts. Bill Cotton, Head of Light Entertainment for BBC said he could see nothing funny in them and told him it would never get made on a commercial channel. Cotton said he only agreed to go to production, because he had some trust in Cleese's track record. Cleese was paid only 6,000 pounds for 43 weeks of exhausting work (one episode alone took four months and 10 drafts). This was not enough to live on, so he supplemented his income by doing ads.

Then it got screened and became an instant hit? No, that was pure wish fulfillment. The first six episodes were screened in Sept./Oct.1975 to a poor critical rating :- “The initial response was kind of puzzled,” says Cleese. “The Daily Mirror’s headline was, ‘Long John Short of Jokes’". The series also failed to attract many viewers, with an audience of only around 2 million. I think we could be agreed, that things weren't going well, and the BBC would have been pointing it's collective finger at Cleese. What, I hear you ask, has all this got to do with 'Life Cycles'?

Well John Cleese was born 27th. Oct. 1939, which meant in the middle of all this disappointing news he turned 36 (the last episode, in fact, screened on 24th. Oct.). This was supposed to be his central, career-defining 'Year of Revolution', but it sure didn't look that way. The first positive thing to happen a little while later, however, was when humourist Alan Coren wrote a glowing appreciation and then there was a slow word of mouth spread, so the BBC decided to give it another try in Feb. 1976. This time it took off with audience figures of 12 million and fans were dying for more by the end. This now began the triumphant reign of John 'Basil Fawlty' Cleese. No longer just part of the Python ensemble, but a stand-alone feature performer of what has been described as the finest sit-com ever written. It was to usher in his 'golden age', no question about it.

Here's a quick question for you. What other leading sit-com comic, whom I have featured in this blog, and in my book, also had the exact same sequence of 'almost never getting the show made and then getting poor initial reviews'? That would be Jerry Seinfeld. His big breakthrough moment also happened in his age 36 'Year of Revolution', when The Seinfeld Show was brought back as a mid-season replacement, after bad reviews and audience responses to its first screening. You should check that out sometime. So 'Life Cycles' evidence is not only widespread, but it's comprehensive in its coverage of details.

However we are not done yet with Mr.Cleese as the post title says 'Revolutions', plural. So if his mid-career identity was as a solo TV performer/writer ushered in with Fawlty, what happened to him 12 years later at his age 48, later mid-life, 'Year of Revolution' (Oct. 1987 to Oct. 1988)? This often marks a direction change and new age in lives I analyse. Well, would you believe, this corresponds exactly with his hugely successful movie A Fish Called Wanda (released in Jun. 1988), which he co-wrote, had a hand in directing and starred in? In other words it was totally his baby and he has unsurprisingly said it is his favorite movie to have performed in.

The movie received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (Kevin Klein), as well as nominations for Best Screenplay/Best Director and collected a BAFTA award. It came in at No. 37 on a list of best comedy films ever made. This again defined him as a lead movie actor, just as Fawlty Towers had defined him as a feature sit-com TV star. I have often seen the age 48 'Year of Revolution' usher in an era of reduced success, in different ways, in many other cases I study. It was to happen later on to Cleese, when tried to duplicate his success with a follow-up movie Fierce Creatures in 1997. It was a failure both critically and with audiences. Cleese himself said :- "making this movie was a mistake".

Finally let's go backwards in time to when Cleese was in his age 24, first adult 'Year of Revolution' (Oct. 1963 to Oct. 1964). Would this year come to define his first career identity? Let's check on this shall we? Cleese graduated from Cambridge in Law in 1963 and despite his continued interest in the Cambridge Footlights Revue (where he met his future Python co-writer Graham Chapman), his father still sent him details of management jobs he could apply for.

However, the Cambridge Footlights was renamed Cambridge Circus (cast shown at left) and after success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it got picked up to open in London's West End in July, 1973. This is just before he turned 24. Were there to be any additional defining moments for him during his age 24 to come? Not that a West End Show wasn't a badge of success, but could he go further? Well, after a successful run on the West End, the show then toured New Zealand (of all places), about a year later in July 1974, where they recorded a TV special. Then in Sept. the show finally hit the big time, when it transferred to Broadway, and was featured on US TV. They were indeed guests on the famous Ed Sullivan Show in Oct. 1974. I think this should sufficiently make the case for a career-defining year.

He began it as a relative unknown, but enthusiastic and talented, young revue actor, who got a big break and ended up going to Broadway and getting on the Ed Sullivan Show. So, to summarise let me spell the 'Life Cycles' career of John Cleese out for you in letters two feet high.

At 24, Cleese becomes a high-profile comedy revue actor. This leads on to the age of Python (which flowed from this) and is equivalent to his first career identity.

At 36, Cleese becomes successful with Fawlty Towers, regarded as the finest sit-com ever written. This is equivalent to his mid-career identity and highest life achievement

At 48, Cleese becomes successful with the movie A Fish Called Wanda, which gets wide critical and popular acclaim. This is equivalent to his later mid-life career identity.

Incidentally, this post is, by necessity, just a summary of the wide-ranging research I have done on the life of the very interesting John Cleese. If you are a fan (and I know many of you are), and too much Cleese is never enough, then I invite you to read quite a bit more HERE. This is just another 'black and white' 'Life Cycles' case history and I trust I have shown you why this is. Till next month :- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune."

Monday, June 30, 2014

The X Factor In Maya Angelou's Career

Now this post is a good example of a blind analysis of a life, following publicity about that person's recent death. I had never heard of the name Maya Angelou before. I can't be accused of deliberately selecting this profile; it was simply in the news and as I've previously said, I'm a bit of a haphazard researcher. However, I believe that's also the best way to get a true cross-section of data.

Maya Angelou, I've come to realize, was a much-loved figure within the civil rights movement, as well as a prominent author, with much material drawn from her own colorful life. This post will now contain a rather different mode as I'd like you to PRESS HERE and read a small, but significant, opening section from Chapter 3 of The Life Cycles Revolution. I want you to appreciate just how I study events in 'Years Of Revolution'.

Yes, they can simply be defined as new directions and important achievements, but what really underpins this, is my conclusion from the evidence I study, that it is often so special, as to amount to a form of symbolic re-birth. Not just like the Eastern religions, who teach reincarnations of lives, but a form of reincarnation within all lives. Totally new idea in the history of thought and philosophy about life cycles. That's what makes it 'Life Cycles' and not just a copy of something else.

We are now going to examine together, events in Maya's important age 36 'Year of Revolution', to see if it reasonably fits this model of personal re-invention, like it does with so many other people I study. Does she :- "bumble and stumble her way down to the bottom of the dark cellar only to eventually climb back into the warmth of a sunny day"?

Maya turned 36 on 4th. April, 1964. What was her life like then? It was actually quite different to what you might expect. For a start she was living in Accra, capital city of Ghana, and she had had a settled life there for the last three years. She had left the US because she felt unwanted by white America and in Ghana she said she thought she was home. She was an administrator at the University of Ghana and a journalist and editor with Ghanaian Times and broadcaster on Radio Ghana. Her son was at college and she was in a relationship with a man from Mali, but had refused an offer of marriage, because it would mean relocating to Mali. She lived as a native Ghanaian and it would be safe to say she had no plans for change anytime soon.

That was all about to change however, when the prominent spokesman Malcolm Little (known as Malcolm X), visited the country as part of his African Tour to raise support for the "Organisation For Afro-American Unity", in both May and July, 1964. Here he met with Maya and encouraged her to become active in this cause, which espoused human rights for blacks; along with involvement in a raft of boycotts, strikes and social programs run by blacks. He wanted her to return with him to the US and help build this new organization. They discussed addressing the United Nations with a charter of proposals, in a similar vein to what South Africa's freedom fighters had done with apartheid.

What he promised was little short of a 'brave new world' vision of achieving real political and moral influence and he stated to her :- "The country needs you. Our people need you. You have seen Africa, bring it home and teach our people about our homeland." Maya was persuaded and she eventually arrived in the US on 19th. February, 1965. Now this represents a dramatic shift in her life, a new direction and some, but not all, of the elements of the definition of a 'Year of Revolution'. Was that all there was? What about "one-way tunnels" and "dark moments"?

She didn't have to wait long. Her world came crashing down two days later, when Malcolm X was gunned down by members of a rival Muslim sect. With him gone the Organisation and its lofty aims quickly fell apart. Devastated, Maya moves to Hawaii to be near her brother. In a very depressed state she decides to give away her writing and journalism and reverts to her earlier career as a singer/entertainer. She is now :- "in the one-way tunnel and stumbling about". However, she realizes after seeing Della Reese perform, that she lacks both the desire and talent to be a singer. She is effectively:- "at the bottom of the cellar right now".

She then decides to return to her writing career, but this time in Los Angeles, where her family are. Then, most probably before her next birthday in April 1965, her former lover, whom she described as a controlling and powerful West African man, arrives to take her back to Accra. More drama and upheaval. Maya asks her mother and brother to help and they manage to divert the man, first to Mexico and then back to Accra. So, with him gone and with resumption of her real career as a writer and spokesperson for civil rights, she has now effectively :- "emerged into the warmth of a sunny day".

This really begins to 'fit the spec' of the full gamut of upheaval of an age 36 'Year of Revolution'. Without Malcolm X, who came storming into her life with a grand vision of Afro-American Unity, she would have probably remained in Ghana as a respected voice on African issues. The man she simply refers to as "the African" would have put on as much pressure for marriage as he could. She would still have been a writer and spokesperson, but in a different way. No, I think it could be fairly argued that Malcolm Little was to be the 'X Factor' in her life. He brought her back to her home in the US. He was what I have come to refer to as :- "the agent of the Revolution", because I have seen many other examples like this.

Now for the $64,000 question. The last part of the excerpt referred to the whole process in this way :- "as unreasonable as it may sound, the 'The Miracle Of The Revolution'". Is it? Aren't miracles just the province of religion and meta-physics? Can someone like me, who just mundanely studies biographies, say that lives can contain seemingly miraculous or, if you prefer, just highly improbable, life-defining moments and equally; at an almost predetermined schedule? Does destiny indeed have a calendar and fate have a timeline? Till next month :- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune."

Friday, May 16, 2014

Philosophy And Sacrifice - 'Life Cycles' And The Career Of Pope Saint John Paul II

There is no doubting the continued popularity of the former Pope Saint John Paul II, who died in 2005. Even at his funeral supporters were chanting for his sainthood and when the official Canonization ceremony happened on April 27th this year, there were over 1 million at St. Peter's Square to celebrate it. He is now also known as St. John Paul The Great. I have actually had a long interest in his life, having featured it in detail in my first book Life Cycles.

I am going to explore the 'Years of Revolution' at 24/36/48/60/72/84, to see how events in these periods, were both related to each other and shaped and defined his career and life. He was born Karol Józef Wojtyła on May 18th, 1920. He grew up in the midst of WW 2 and indeed his first adult, age 24 'Year of Revolution' (May 1944 to May 1945), featured a prominent episode from his young life. He was swept up in the chaos of the German Army quitting the city of Krakow. He helped a 14 year old Jewish refugee girl, Edith Zierer, who had collapsed from exhaustion on a train platform. No one else helped, but he gave her hot tea and food and accompanied her on the train. Zierer credits him with saving her life, although she would not hear of her benefactor again until she read he had been elected Pope.

He showed no hesitation in this ad hoc humanitarian act, both to this girl and to many other Jews, and the theme of personal sacrifices would return again in later 'Years of Revolution'. At his central, mid-life, age 36 'Year of Revolution' (May 1956 to May 1957), after two years of Communist Government interference, he finally obtained his second Doctorate on Christian Ethics from the Catholic University of Lublin, and also assumed the Chair of Ethics at this university. He studied personology, which in turn was derived from phenomenology, and which advocated an irreducible element in the human subject and its consciousness. There was a sanctity in man's inalienable rights. Later this was to be the basis of his pronouncements on social responsibility and the "world view" of his papal mission.

It underpinned his crusade against regimes that restrict personal freedom, particularly with Communism in his Polish homeland. It gave him a mission to have dialogue with all other major religions, as expressions of freedom of worship, and it also gave him a basis for his morally conservative views on contraception, abortion and other matters. He was, if you will, a philosopher within the Catholic Church, meaning his ministry extended his outreach beyond the usual Church borders. He was himself, of course, the subject of restriction of personal liberty by Communist Russia. This was his second and interwoven theme in all his 'Years of Revolution'. He suffered for what he believed in.

Let's trace this now to his age 48 'Year of Revolution' (May 1968 to May 1969). This is the time of the controversial encyclical Humanae Vitae (literally "Of Human Life"). This was at the height of the free love and contraceptive pill era and it was not well received by many. Pope Paul VI named Archbishop Karol Wojtyła to the commission. However, the Communist authorities in Poland would not permit him to travel to Rome to take part in person.

Wojtyła had earlier defended the church's position from a philosophical standpoint in his 1960 book Love and Responsibility. Wojtyła's position was strongly considered, and was reflected in the final draft of the encyclical, although much of his language and arguments were not incorporated. Weigel a prominent biographer, attributes much of the poor reception of the encyclical to the omission of many of Wojtyła's arguments. This is a good example of the philosopher 'bursting upon the scene' at 36 and then having the scene altered, with a new era at 48. Again he was sacrificed, through the curtailing of his movements by the Russians.

Do you notice how his formal appointments as Archbishop and then Pope do not align with these years? This is not unusual in 'Life Cycles' analysis. I would contend the true nature of Pope John Paul II was 'Philosophy and Sacrifice' in every 'Year of Revolution'. That is how he became "The Great". Don't believe me? Well keep reading.

His next 'Year of Revolution' at age 60 (May 1980 to May 1981) was dominated by his most serious assassination attempt when a Turkish gunman fired at him as he entered St. Peter's Square. Speculation on the reasons for this included the KGB, who would have resented his influence in Poland. It has been suggested that the gunman, who was an excellent marksmen could have killed the Pope, however his mission was only to scare him. This greatly altered his robust health and began an era of physical decline. Despite efforts to try two KGB agents beginning in 1982, they were acquitted. It is a stark example of sacrifice for his philosophy in this key 'Year of Revolution'.

What about in his age 72 'Year of Revolution' (May 1992 to May 1993). In this time his body suffered further. He had a tumour removed from his colon and the Vatican publicly acknowledged that he was suffering from Parkinson's disease. However, in spite of calls to retire, he went on touring the world and remained fully mentally alert. He visited a total of 129 countries and had meaningful dialogue with just about every other major religious faith; including even animism and particularly Islam, which caused quite a bit of controversy among Catholics. He truly had a "world-view".

His final age 84 'Year of Revolution' (May 2004 to May 2005), including his death in April 2005, again showed his determination to demonstrate his philosophy of the equality and religious freedom for mankind, by hosting a "Papal Concert of Reconciliation", which brought together leaders of the Jewish and Islamic religions. Of course, he attracted much criticism for his philosophical approach. Traditionalists within the church saw him as promoting modernism, as well as appointing like-minded Bishops; while his stance against contraception, female clergy and gay rights, saw him unpopular with the very people, who may have otherwise embraced his modernist views.

To the end he was a product of the two major themes that ran throughout his life. For him, each adult 'Year of Revolution' ushered in a similar story :- one of sacrifice and the practical use of his philosophy. Not for him the simple attainment of formal office, but what he could do with it to benefit mankind as a whole.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Certainly a different profile to most others I do, but as always, I am demonstrating the universality of the 'Life Cycles' principles. Please also see my SECOND BLOG for something completely different as I feature one of Australia's leading fashion designers. Till next month :- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune."