Detour from Reality

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One of the best screenplays I ever wrote came extremely close to getting made into a film 15 years ago. It had been cast with two Academy Award nominated actors and was “supposedly” financed. Until it wasn’t. And then the whole thing fell apart.

However, when we were casting and having difficulty finding a bankable “name” who was up to the demands of handling the lead female role I distinctly remember one producer saying to me, “too bad you couldn’t have an all-black cast – you’d have your pick of the best actors in the business.”

Um... say what?

Um… say what?

I was sort of stunned at the stark admission of a fact that, when I thought about it, felt racist and yet I knew to be true. The pool of “bankable” actors, especially among women, was mostly limited to white people.

This is not to say it is easy to get any film made in 2015, especially the romantic drama kind we were pedaling. On the other hand, these days it has less to do with race and everything to do with the fact that your project has either too much dialogue that doesn’t translate overseas; contains no special effects or chance of a sequel; and has no tent pole potential – or even aliens.

My, times have changed.

This week Deadline Hollywood ran a news story about the upswing in the number of ethnic actors (Note: A euphemism for non-white) being cast in the current TV pilot season. The story quoted one talent rep who complained:

Basically 50% of the roles in a pilot have to be ethnic, and the mandate goes all the way down to guest parts.

To make matters worse, Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva, who wrote the article, led into that quote with the pronouncement that while it is nice to have diversity on TV, some suggest that the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction.

Say that again now?

Say that again now?

I was not so much outraged, as some were, but amused and unsurprised. Because I was already hearing the following dialogue in my nasty little writer brain:

I mean, how dare there be such a sea change that allows the majority of available roles for actors to go to non-whites, especially when the only people on my client list are WHITE! It’s not fair! We have to nip this in the bud. And fast!

In some ways it felt like a scene out of the Mad Men pilot when WASP advertising agency partner Roger Sterling had to scour his office high and low for a Jew in order to land an important Jew account. (Note: He eventually did find one named David Coen – in the mailroom).

It as before my time

It was before my time

Now television is not the movies but there is no denying that the recent popularity of such fine series as How To Get Away With Murder, Empire, Black-ish and Jane the Virgin has caused some degree of white panic in the mostly white offices around town. Forget that many of these people are, like myself, liberal Democrats who don’t consider themselves at all to be racist.

What if this is a trend – and one that doesn’t limit itself to actors? What if…I mean, could it possibly spread to our writer and director clients, and then down to the below-the-line crew clients, and then up to… perish the thought… the executive suite? I mean, are they coming for OUR jobs???

Yeah!!

Yeah!!

I couldn’t help but wonder if this line of thinking isn’t much different from what happened in Indiana this week with the “religious freedom” bill signed into law by its governor, Mike Pence. That new law would allow any business owner in the state to not serve, sell or hire any person if it would impose a substantial burden on their religious beliefs. The law was proposed as a result of federal courts overturning Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage last year and is generally seen as a way to discriminate against the LGBT community.

I mean, those people can do what they want but don’t force me to participate in it. I don’t want them in my restaurant, I ain’t gonna bake them a cake and I am certainly for sure not gonna have anyone force me to hire one. Or two or three!

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No wonder six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald – the Black (or ethnic, if you prefer) actress who at just 44 years of age has more of Broadway’s top honor than any other performer in theatre history – went apoplectic on Twitter in reaction to it. Realizing she was soon scheduled to play several concert dates in Indiana, she tweeted directly to Gov. Pence such statements as:

What the ingenious and talented Ms. McDonald eventually decided to do was:

In a follow-up statement she announced she will be spreading the wealth and giving the money she earns in Indiana to the Human Rights Campaign Fund, Freedom Indiana and other charities fighting back against the new law.

One does not have to be part of one minority to fully understand the depths of discrimination, marginalization and general hatred the majority can feel for another minority but it certainly does help. As a Jewish gay guy I always felt a little different – even growing up in NY and working in Hollywood – so it was pretty easy for me to see at an early age that when other people were being bullied or treated unfairly because of who or what they happened to be that, well, it could easily be me. In short, it made me apoplectic and I had far less power (and still do) than Audra McDonald.

And I don't just mean lung power!

And I don’t just mean lung power!

Luckily, as I grew older and the world began to change I was able to become less angry and strident interacting with the world on that score and far more effective (in a limited power sort of way) in standing up and being adamant.   Yet I am also far more adept at sniffing out the inequality and prejudice which is now continually coming to my attention daily and often from thousands of miles away on the other side of the world. I guess it is a double-edged sword.

Of course, all of these experiences can also cause a person of my tribe(s) to completely go the other way. For instance, when I was growing up there was a great deal of anger and resentment among middle-class Jews towards the Black community (Note: Why, I never quite figured out), making the thought of something like inter-marriage one of the worst shondas (Note: The Yiddish word for disgrace) in the world. What they would have thought about a man marrying a man or a woman marrying a woman? I can’t even…. And let’s not even get into the transgender community. If for nothing else than for their sake.

I have a feeling I wouldn't find any of these in Indiana

I have a feeling I wouldn’t find any of these in Indiana

The bottom line is this:

If a few white actors, or even writers, directors or studio executives, have a few less opportunities because we are moving towards a more balanced racial representation on television – and perhaps the movies – TOO FREAKIN’ BAD.

And if a bunch of religious people have their sensibilities offended because they have to sell a cake to a same-sex couple – who for all they know might be buying it for their parents and not for their big fat gay wedding – BOO FREAKIN’ HOO.

You’ll ALL get over it.

Just make sure to move your cans over before you get trampled by history.

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The Schock Doctrine

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Here’s a question —

Which of these is worse:

a. An elected member of Congress who recently resigned due to charges he indulged in an over-the-top lavish lifestyle – both personally and professionally – illegally financed by his supporters, the U.S. government and yes, you, the taxpayers.

b. A bachelor congressman that many in both his own hometown and in Washington, DC believe is a closet homosexual who has consistently voted against or voiced opposition to every single piece of key gay rights legislation – e.g. marriage equality, hate crime bills and the abolition of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy – since he was first voted into office.

c. The fact that both a. and b. are the same person and that in the last week he has hired two very high-priced attorneys that he will largely and legally pay for from leftover campaign contributions in excess of $3 million dollars.

or

d. The blogger who decides that ALL of these above issues, but most especially b., are irrevocably tied together and writes a opinion piece addressing this hypocrisy despite the fact said congressman has most especially denied being gay — a statement the blogger most especially, in his heart of hearts, believes is a total and unadulterated lie – and at the root of this whole thing to begin with.

I'm going to have to think about that...

I’m going to have to think about that…

Well, see what you think. For what is the point of a blog, or public service for the matter, if you can’t follow your conscience.

To all of the above points —

One of the youngest people ever elected to the U.S. Congress, four-term, 33-year-old Rep. Aaron Schock (R-ILL) – and the politico in question in all of the above – literally shocked Washington, DC wags last week by resigning the office he has held for the last six years amid accusations of misappropriation of campaign money, ethics violations and a general recklessness of unnecessary luxury spending on the taxpayer dime.

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This all started a mere month ago with the revelation that he shelled out $100,000 on a Downton Abbey-themed Congressional office – complete with deep red painted walls, period mirrors and numerous arrangements of pheasant feathers – paid for by donor contributions. (Note: He has since repaid $40,000 or more and yes, I did mention this last month). Though this in itself is not confirmation of being gay, I don’t even know of one American straight guy who watches Downton Abbey – nor is there a single one of of my myriad of gay friends who do that would be gay enough to duplicate Lady Mary’s sitting room with one of their own at their place of business.

Who you callin' Lady Mary?!

Who you callin’ Lady Mary?!

Be that as it may —

These actions then led to investigations into Rep. Schock’s numerous international trips to places like Saudi Arabia, India and Argentina that were either gratis or passed off as official business, not to mention other extravagant excursions to Las Vegas and New York where he and sometimes his staff and/or guests flew to in private jets, and then stayed in at some of the finest hotels in the world. Again, I can’t confirm or deny Mr. Schock’s sexuality as a result of this but let it be known that in the case of the hotels he stayed at in Vegas and the Big Apple – well, I’ve stayed at both as have many of my fellow homosexual and/or entertainment industry friends. If the Congressman were in the biz he might get a hetero pass from me but since he isn’t – at least not at this writing – like me he’s guiltily gay as charged on the matter and I’m not giving him an inch, so to speak, of wiggle room.

The Chair has spoken!

The Chair has spoken!

Anyway, to continue —

On closer examination of his personal records it was then revealed Rep. Schock had recently sold his lavish Peoria house to one of his largest campaign donors, receiving as much as 30% or more over its fair market price value. Granted he gains some straight points here since not too many single, gay or even metrosexual guys I know from Indiana have chosen to stay there but there is also the fact that we gays have tended as of late to do pretty well in real estate. So let’s call this one a wash.

Oh.... hey guys! Didn't see you there

Oh…. hey guys! Didn’t see you there

Which brings us to the latest revelation —

It was several days ago revealed that the Congressman was reimbursed for the more than 172,000 miles he put on his car over his years in Congress at the government rate of approximately 50 cents per mile. The only problem with that is that recent sale records state his SUV had only a mere 82,000 miles. If true, this means he double-billed and double-charged the taxpayers (via the government) for twice the amount of miles, and money, he travelled and made out with a personal pretty penny. Then, once the latter story leaked out, Rep. Schock quickly resigned without even informing Speaker of the House John Boehner – a fellow Republican who is the titular head of his party. The latter, more than any of the ethics violations, was among the rarest of the many unusual details about how he conducted his daily political life. But as for his sexuality, which let’s face it, is all I and you really care about or makes his story particularly unusual, well it’s another wash. Sexual persuasion has absolutely nothing to do with double dealing – ask any straight man or woman or gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender person you know and I promise you they can regale you with lots and lots and LOTS of those of similarly Schocking stories about people in their own individual tribes.

Tell me more!

Tell me more!

More pertinent, or at least prurient, is the following —

The often shirtless, buff, well-groomed and uber color-coordinated Schock two years ago graced the cover of Men’s Health magazine in a half-naked photo that prominently featured his extremely well-defined six-pack abs. Until recently he was also a relentless poster of selfies via a very public Instagram account that featured him surfing, sky-diving, traveling the world and attending everything from a Katy Perry concert to country club cocktail parties sandwiched in-between countless trips to and images of him working out at the gym. During many of these activities he was not only accompanied by various young staffers but more recently on several international and nationwide trips, photographed alongside a handsome and very hunky young male wedding photographer whose job it was to accompany him and serve as the Congressman’s personal chronicler of all things Aaron.

That would be Mr. Schock and Mr. Photographer on the right

That would be Mr. Schock and Mr. Photographer on the right

Now I’m not saying he is and I’m not saying he is, but, uh…

As they say on RuPaul’s Drag Race

Gurrrrrrl…..

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Okay, yes – it is a cheap shot. Then fine – use your own logic, think about it for a bit, weigh the information, do your own research via Google info and images, and then you DECIDE. And if you choose to lie about the results to us – do not lie to yourself. Please.

The mainstream press has been careful to sidestep the gay issue thus far where Mr. Schock is concerned. Even my current news hero – Rachel Maddow – has most especially avoided the issue because she is, after all, a real journalist and an Oracle, not a blogger.

Ya got that right!

Ya got that right!

I however, a blogger, former journalist and gay person who is a decade and a half her senior and thus old enough to have lived through every horrible moment of the Plague Years of AIDS under the reign of a US government controlled by a Conservative president and any number of closeted gay politicians, don’t have the patience or, well, time, to be that nice when we get on this subject.   The best I can do is periodically insert a few jokes when discussing Mr. Schock’s personal and professional ethics because to write about him straight (so to speak) and by the rules would well, make me about as honest here as he has been during his past six years in Congress. Which is to say — not very.   Because I’ve seen this kind of behavior before – and all too often.

Every weaselly, self-involved action this guy has indulged in reminds me of every stereotype of every overachieving, over-exercised, over-paid gay guy – but especially gay Republican of a certain age I’ve encountered in my entire life. The willingness to preach personal responsibility as one privately and publicly profiteers from the “system,” the rationalization of working for change from the inside while knowing full well all you’re doing is greasing whatever wheels necessary so you can hang worldwide with anyone who you perceive to be the “A” crowd; and the Narcissus-like obsession with your outside, rather than your inside package so you can be publicly admired and even envied by as many human beings as possible in any given point in time or moment of the day – not caring much in the end about any one of them as much as yourself, or at least the admiration that projected image of yourself that is being admired, well, it’s all so very early 1980s. Which is ironic since that’s around the time Mr. Schock was born. Well, go figure on that.

That does look like work

That does look like work

The truth is I’m one of those gays who hopes to the Goddess that soon-to-be ex Congressman Schock is not gay. We have enough problems without having to claim one more materialistic, entitled, morally questionable queen with muscles, colorful clothes and an attitude as one of our own.   (Note: And yes, I confess I’m guilty at times of at least half or more of the above traits – though certainly not all). There are so many civil rights issues to fight for: marriage equality, hate crimes legislation, and the general warding off of the ultra-right wing religious zealots who now want the legal right not to serve us in their restaurants or deny us service in any sort of business that they own, that frankly his brand of corruption is simply both tiring and draining. Not to mention infuriating.

Plus – people of Schock’s ilk – those we are quick to physically admire and who, at a very young age have achieved quite a bit but have exhibited very little modesty about it while managing to seem very, very entitled to it – are a turn off to me and more and more are becoming so to many others – including those in the gay community. In short, he is a fading “type.”

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All the time and energy he devoted in his 33 years to a perfectly chiseled body and coordinated outfits have some core constituency but are fast becoming more like a generic mosquito repellant to the vast majority. While we gays enjoy nice clothes and are often in relatively good shape I and most of my gay friends have dated one or two hyper-handsome and hyperly dishonest guys like AS over the years and they almost always disappoint. Granted this could be as much about us than them because, really – how could any breathing human being live up to the expectation of the ideal of a human Ken doll? It’s like dating a movie star who plays a superhero and expecting them to rescue you form a burning building or sleeping with Bradley Cooper, Cary Grant or Marilyn Monroe in their heyday and expecting them to look and/or act like that when they wake up next to you in the morning or not annoy you in the middle of the night when you find they’re snoring.

How many times do I have to tell you I wake up like this!

How many times do I have to tell you I wake up like this!

On the other hand, people like Congressman Schock have some culpability in this also. He has devoted an enormous amount of time to his physicality and after 25 years on and off at the gym – and having dated those one or two guys I mentioned, which don’t include the dozens of other versions I’ve befriended and met in passing conversations – I know for a fact that NO ONE looks like that without putting in a great deal of pre-planned, budgeted and very specific effort. It takes an enormous amount of time and energy which takes away from time spent serving the public good – not to mention your job, your community, your friends and yes – your boyfriends. This is not to say that staying in shape is not valued hard work and important. Only to say that as every working Mom knows there are so many hours in the day and at the end of it something has to suffer. And this goes double if you have as demanding a job as being a U.S Congressman.

That's a cute idea, Mr. Chair

That’s a cute idea, Mr. Chair

Which brings me to the real point of what is going on – what we all choose to do with our time. I’m all for fitness and wish I had started earlier. But I also am all for honesty, being informed and a certain benevolence of equality and morality which Mr. Schock’s actions seem to clearly lack.

Quite frankly, his behavior is an embarrassment to straight, gay, bi-sexual and even asexual men worldwide.   I can’t prove definitively that he’s the type of gay guy I’ve known, and in my younger days, very fleetingly loved, but let me tell you if Quinnipiac were to take a survey of gay men nationwide to this question the ex-Congressman would have poll ratings higher than Hillary Clinton’s in the Democratic Party. How do I know? I’ve taken a survey of about 50 or so of my closet gay friends and this is one of our few absolute areas of expertise. (Note: Not to mention I’ve asked almost as many straight male and females who, in my separate survey, also concur).

I mean, who do you choose to believe about global warming – Bill Nye the Science Guy and the 85-degree weather outside your window in the middle of winter, or Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz?

You betcha

You betcha

And that’s why of all of Aaron Schock’s public indiscretions I believe that b. is the greatest sin of all. Because if you cannot be true to yourself and be who you really are at your core – it will color ever decision and every action you take in your personal and professional life. To live dishonestly means – more often than not – to vote and to act dishonestly.

Of course, that’s only my opinion. But I am a Chair. As for Aaron Schock, at this point he doesn’t even have a seat.

Media Matters

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I was on national television this week. It wasn’t a big deal. Except it sort of is when you’re not a celebrity or someone that people are used to seeing on TV. This is because…well, just why is that exactly?

Not to mention, couldn’t they have interviewed me without showing my bald spot? Was that final over-the-shoulder angle really necessary? Plus, how come my face was shiny at points while the reporter asking the questions always had a perfectly matte complexion?  Well, the segment was called Rossen Reports so clearly Jeff Rossen takes precedence over me. Then there’s the fact that he has better hair. And a lot more of it. For now.

Anyway, these are the thoughts that linger. Much more than anything you say. Remember that the next time you call Barbra Streisand a diva or decide to make fun of Beyoncé’s demands. It really does take a village. For most of us.

Oh, I just woke up like this

Oh, I just woke up like this

Oh, and one final word about the looks department. I really do now understand why Nora Ephron entitled one of her last books I Feel Bad About My Neck. Men are secretly no different from women in this regard (despite the fact that the subtitle to Ephron’s book was And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman). We just don’t publicly utter the words. But for every male celebrity you think looks fantastic at any age, there is a closet Barbra or Beyoncé lurking and a Nora secretly thinking. So consider the veil lifted on that end because after many decades in the entertainment industry and my very limited encounters in front of the camera I now, more than ever, know this for Oprah sure. Yes, even George Clooney and Ryan Gosling have to give it some thought, despite the Jon Hamm of it all.

Of course, I’m straying from my original point. The national appearance was on Thursday’s Today show in the prime 7:30-8am period. This followed an appearance on the local KNBC 11:00 news two weeks earlier (and of course my blog post about it). And unlike Kimye, I would really have gladly exchanged the whole thing just for some piece and quiet.

Click here to see my moment of fame

Click here to see my moment of fame

As some of you might know, this all started with the inconsiderate asshat living above us. For the last six months he has been illegally renting out his house for many thousands of dollars per night to dozens of different patrons who host indoor/outdoor after hours parties. Of course, I like a party as much as anyone but, trust me, you don’t want to be living directly below the kind that start at midnight and go till 6 am almost every weekend and even on some weekdays. Unless it’s your house and your shindig. And even then.

When the police and local politicians get called, written to and lobbied dozens of times and do very little, where is one to turn in the age of more pressing issues like murder, death, drugs, campaign financing and ISIS? I’ll tell you where – the media. And if the cost of that is not coming across on camera looking and acting as you had always imagined – and know FOR SURE that you always do – well it’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind (and quiet) that I now have in spades. Hopefully, it will last longer than my 15 minutes of fame.

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Yes, that’s right – since I appeared on camera in these two reports there have been no parties blasting everything from “disco to Snoop Dog” and no more nightmare nights or entire weekends filled with “torture.” (Note: Did I really put it exactly that way? Was that the very best that I could do? I don’t think so. And I certainly would have denied I said it in that fashion had I not seen the footage for myself. Of course, it could have been doctored. I mean, I don’t really sound exactly that way. Right?)

Anyway, for all of the above, even the parts that I KNOW in my heart of hearts were doctored despite all evidence to the contrary – I am extremely appreciative to the media – especially KNBC’s consumer reporter Joel Grover, NBC’s Jeff Rossen and everyone who works with them. Nothing else matters but the peace and quiet because I know that a. they were doing the best they could with what I gave them and b. I would’ve done a lot more to once again only be haunted by the garden variety strange sounds circulating in my head on a daily basis.

I mean, I could have done more

I mean, I could have done more

Which brings up this question:

How do we address the truth about those issues and things we don’t know as well as ourselves, considering that the reality of our knowledge on the latter is limited?

Not very well, I’m afraid.

It’s time for us all, myself at the top of the list, to consistently remind ourselves that all we are really getting on TV (Note: Feel free to substitute, print, web, virtual information and/or entertainment sources) is that interview, appearance or performance in that moment in time. This even goes for any encounter you might have with someone on the public stage live and in person. I mean, would you want to always be judged by the snotty answer you spit back at a co-worker on the day your lover dumped you or the dirty look you gave to the person standing next to you in the elevator who was wearing enough cologne or perfume to seduce the Entire Seventh Fleet? (Note: Okay fine, truth be known I’m good with all the cologne/perfume looks I’ve ever previously given).

I never leave home without my gas mask

From the elevator collection

Taken one step further, how really reliable is any of the information we have on the more pressing issues of the day?   You can’t count on every slickly produced news package you see to have ME in them, telling you the absolute facts – throwing all caution to the wind about how I appear for the good of the issue at hand. There are a lot of manipulators, even liars in our midst, who will do a lot more, including making a lot more noise (NOTE: Trust me on that one) to get you to their side of the coin.

This week I couldn’t help but think of all the brouhaha about Hillary Clinton’s emails. I mean, do I really give a crap what server she used or what she did or didn’t say? At its worst it has to be better than most of the stuff that Dick Cheney and George W. Bush uttered publicly. Certainly, it’s a lot smarter. (Note: Yes, that is my opinion, which we’ve established is absolute truth).

Will we still get the puns when Jon is gone?

Will we still get the puns when Jon is gone?

Then I considered the openly public letter to the Islamic State of Iran written by a man who has only been in the Senate for two months – Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) – and signed by him and 46 other Senators while our sitting president is in the midst of secret nuclear disarmament talks with said country.

I mean, only the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance. So it’s not wrong to wonder, what was the real meaning of this unprecedented (Note: Meaning it’s never happened) move? Treason? Political opportunism? Or true concern about the global realities that the universe has in store for us if their POVs go unspoken (nee unwritten)?

Oh.. they didn't send an email?

Oh.. they didn’t send an email?

The answers to these and other questions are, of course, above my pay grade – and probably yours. But if I know that my two recent TV appearances created the change I wanted in my limited world imagine how well both sides on the above issues could do in convincing you of their reality? All I had on my side was the truth. They actually have a team of experts you can trust. Or choose not to.

Think about that how you will. I myself will go ponder it in the new silence of my old home. Off-camera.

The Pro-Ignorance Movement

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There is the pro-choice movement – meaning an organized effort in favor of a woman’s right to choose whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

These days there is also the pro-ignorance movement – meaning a willful determination to stay uninformed on any subject one chooses while simultaneously speaking out about it.

Mr. Carson

Meet Mr. Know-it-all

Dr. Ben Carson, a world-renowned neurosurgeon– which means he operates on the one organ of the body responsible for thought – gave this explanation on CNN Wednesday morning when asked by Chris Cuomo about homosexuality:

CC: Do you think being gay is a choice?

Dr. C: Absolutely

CC: Why do you say that?

Dr. C: Because a lot of people who go into prison…go into prison straight and when they come out they’re gay. So did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.

Ummmm.. what?!

Ummmm.. what?!

It’s unclear whether Dr. Carson is referring to prison rape turning the average inmate gay or whether it’s the temptation of solely being around so many people of the same sex so consistently over so long a period of time that causes the great change. If the latter, it certainly does cast a giant rainbow flag over the world of professional sports, not to mention the military. If the former then as an MD is he prescribing extended confinement and sexual relations with members of the opposite sex in order to turn a gay person straight? Or does it not work the other way around? One’s mind reels at any of the possibilities.

Before one writes off Dr. Carson as a right wing crazy, it is important to note he graduated with a psychology degree from Yale prior to attending medical school. He then became a pediatric neurosurgeon who in 1987 led a 70-member team that successfully separated conjoined Siamese twins; was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Pres. George W. Bush in 2008; and wrote six best selling books, the last of which, One Nation, was on the 2014 NY Times bestseller list for 20 consecutive weeks where it outsold Hilary Clinton’s Hard Choices. It is also relevant to report that last month he formed a well-financed exploratory committee to run for US president and was one of the most popular speakers at the recent CPAC Convention, the first great test for all emerging 2016 Republican Party presidential hopefuls.

I'm not even sure how to react to this

I’m not even sure how to react to this

The fact that Mr. Carson issued a long apology for his CNN interview that very night, admitting he can’t claim to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation, meant little because he never admitted the most crucial point under discussion – that his original statement was incorrect. There was no denial that going to prison or the right involuntary gay encounter behind bars could soon make said individual long for a voluntary one. There was only the pronouncement that he (Dr. Carson) was a supporter of gay rights (Note: Though only up to a point) and that he couldn’t possibly know what made EVERYONE gay.

For one to counter that rape is considered by almost every medical expert across the board as a crime not about sex but one of violence and control or to cite the overwhelming consensus from the AMA on down that sexual orientation is not a condition that can be changed is truly beside the point. What is more to the point is that Dr. Carson, who is certainly a learned man with at least an above average IQ, seems to have somehow been absent when the general subject of human sexuality was covered not only in medical school but out in the Zeitgeist over the last, oh, say 30 years.

So it's not this simple?

So it’s not this simple?

The truth is that as s a public speaker, writer and man about town with all of his five senses intact – not to mention his admitted lifelong almost superhuman hand-eye coordination – it is more than likely that Dr. Carson has heard a lot of the above scientific facts and anecdotal evidence about human sexuality during that time and has willfully chosen to ignore them. Either that or he has followed some sort of doctrine of alternate magical thinking that he has instead willfully chosen to believe in.

James Randi is an 86-year-old retired illusionist, writer and professional debunker of magicians and charlatans who try to pass themselves off as clairvoyants and faith healers. I remember him as The Amazing Randi – a guy who was often featured on one of my favorite weekend TV programs of the 1960s, the kid’s show Wonderama – where he performed tricks I could believe in and escaped from the most seemingly inescapable boxes, ropes and otherwise confined spaces I’d ever seen.

Preach!

Preach!

Little did I know that in the 1980s Randi would do some of his most important work in the field of magic. As the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) and recipient of a Macarthur Foundation genius grant he became a full time debunker (Note: He prefers the more polite term, investigator) and set his sights on televangelists such as Peter Popoff – a man who was making $4 million per year in a nationally syndicated show where the sick, the elderly and many young people who were either handicapped or suffering from terminal cancer diagnoses would attend tent-like revival meetings (albeit in an air-conditioned soundstage) where they came to him desperately hoping for a cure. As Mr. Popoff preached about the healing powers of The Lord and pranced from one side of the stage to the other he’d forcefully hit audience members on the forehead and pull away their crutches and walkers, banishing The Devil from their bodies and presumably restoring them to health.

As preposterous as this may sound, Mr. Popoff convincingly evoked Bible passages with the smoothness of a saint or, well, at least a would-be politician. He also made a fortune doing it and had audiences traveling from all over the world to his studio so he could save them from clutches of death.

Put down your purse!

Put down your purse!

It took The Amazing Randi’s sharp magician’s mind to quickly prove these people were not being saved by God but were instead being taken in by a phony. Attending one taping, he was able to pick up a high radio frequency and overheard Popoff being fed private information about each of his subjects that turned out to be transmitted via a small earpiece he wore that his wife was speaking to him through from backstage. The setup was that people had to fill out audience cards prior to the show with pertinent information about their maladies and the best TV ready ones were carefully chosen to be candidates for his – or as he would put it, The Lord’s – magical cure.

This might not be the same thing as Mr. Carson’s magical assumption of how a person might be turned gay but it is certainly follows just about the same type of creative, non-scientific logic. Oh, and side note: it turns out that James Randi himself is gay and recently married his partner of almost 30 years. Having grown up at a time when coming out was impossible in a career like his, he says he was inspired to finally give up that final illusion after seeing the 2008 film Milk, the biopic on slain San Francisco supervisor and early LGBT advocate Harvey Milk. (Note: This and a lot more is revealed in a new documentary about his life — An Honest Liar – now playing at a theatre near you).

The Amazing Randi today

The Amazing Randi today

As for Dr. Carson, he is a lifelong devout Christian and though I am not privy to his most deeply personal beliefs, he has frequently spoken and written about his close relationship with God, proclaiming to Sean Hannity on Feb. 8 that he will run for president If the Lord grabbed me by the collar and made me do it.

He has also spoken out in the last decade in favor of what he terms traditional marriage – until recently equating those who engage in homosexuality to individuals who practice bestiality or advocate the sexual unions of adults and children. At the very least this appears to be it’s own kind of magic thinking. At the worst, it’s insulting, vicious and dangerously guilty of inciting those far less educated and intelligent than him to more potent hate speech, not to mention hate crimes.

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Still, it’s a free country so the man can say what he wants. But what he cannot do is twist his words into a kind of poisonous pretzel logic and go unchallenged. In a speech on Friday, Vice-president Joe Biden began to address Dr. Carson’s views on the subject but at one point became frozen in his tracks:

Every ridiculous assertion — from Dr. Carson on…

Biden stops mid-sentence, laughs to himself, shakes his head incredulously, presumably at those assertions. 

I mean Jesus, God.

Silence as the veep thinks some more, then tries to stifle a guffaw. And continues.

I mean — oh, God. It’s kind of hard to fathom, isn’t it?

It is reassuring to have rational thought on this issue in the current White House when Oklahoma state lawmakers have just proposed the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2015 which would allow anyone, including religious and secular businesses, to discriminate against LGBT people as long as not doing so would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

where do I even begin?

where do I even begin?

To say nothing of the oral arguments next month scheduled before the US Supreme Court on whether states lawmakers can ban same-sex marriage in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee despite the shifting legal rulings and national tides to the contrary.

Dr. Carson has famously said in the past that in advocating same-sex marriage, its supporters are trying to tell him that two plus two equals five when everyone knows the correct answer is four. Well, he does have the correct answer to the mathematical problem but as comedian Russell Brand countered back to him in a YouTube vlog last July, you can’t compare a social and civil idea like sexuality to an objective system of signs like arithmetic.

Which begs the question of whether Dr. Carson has truly studied the issue or is just vamping in the public arena until God tells him what to do. I, for one, prefer to think of his situation this way – it’s a choice to remain ignorant in the age of Google – and a bad one. As a physician, Dr. Carson has made a lot of bold, life-saving decisions. But as a rational thinker on the world stage and as a potential policy maker, signing up to the pro-ignorance movement is the poorest choice of them all. And certainly not a good one for the next potential decider-in-chief. Or for, well, any of the rest of us.

Camera Ready

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When I was younger I thought I’d be an in front of the camera guy. But as it’s turned out I’ve spent most of my life as a behind the desk fellow who is occasionally a behind or beside the camera consultant. However every so often, meaning not all that much, I am ready, willing and able in front of the camera and, if shot just the right way and caught at the correct moment, can be quite effective at the task at hand.

The latter will certainly not make me the gay male Oprah – one of my few printable fantasies of the last ten years – but, well, at least it’s a start. To what I’m not sure. But something tells me that with the way the media, information and general business and social interaction are going, it would behoove each of us to learn how to be in front of the lens in order to make our case, sell our story, or simply just be the best and most appealingly real (Note: Or even calculatingly unreal) version of us.

... because this creep could be around the corner

… because this creep could be around the corner

I was recently interviewed by the local news for a piece on noisy neighborhoods. More specifically, to speak about the nightmare house above us being illegally rented to huge party givers and events for upwards of $5000-$7500 per night on varying weekends and weeknights – and for usually more than half the month – by our lying scum of a neighbor who has ignored my previously very polite and in-person pleas to cease and desist.

Of course, I didn’t call him a lying scum of a neighbor on camera. I let the evidence speak for itself. Not that I had any control over what would be in the final piece or how it would be cut together. All the more reason to stick to the basic facts of what happened and let truth and reality do most of my talking.

Can you tell I'm saying torture? (click here to see the full video)

Can you tell I’m saying torture? (click here to see the full video)

I think I did fine but certainly could’ve done better. Maybe torture was not the best adjective to categorize this situation given we’re living in an age of waterboarding and beheadings, as my sister so ably pointed out. (Note: And what ARE family members for anyway if not to remind you of this kind of stuff). Actually, I did instinctually realize that after I said it but frankly, I couldn’t think of any other word to get the point across. It feels “tortuous” in my limited world. You try to sleep when Snoop is rapping outside your back door electronically amplified many times over until he reverberates throughout the rest of the house past locked windows, doors, bedrooms and even ramped up allergy air filter machines at 3 and 4 in the morning.

Just call me Mr. Wilson.

Just call me Mr. Wilson.

Of course – I didn’t refer specifically to rap music on camera. That wasn’t the point and I didn’t want anyone to misconstrue race (or musical taste) has anything to do with this. It doesn’t. But I’ve seen enough as a reporter, publicist, screenwriter and general media commenter and gadfly to know that one too specific slip of my tongue might’ve taken over the story in an entirely different direction. Yes, the music that was playing was mostly rap and because it involved loud speaking and a persistent beat it was particularly annoying. But I had to consider – would it have been any less upsetting if they were blasting Better Midler, Lady Gaga or the score from Les Mis? Well, maybe at first but that would quickly fade. I can recall being at a local diner too late one night when I was in high school where the broken jukebox played Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” for two hours straight. We were stoned and hysterical laughing for most of it but eventually I did want to strangle someone – or at least knock over the revolving standee of cheesecake and baked goods right through the window and into someone’s – anyone’s – face. And we weren’t trying to sleep at 3 or 4 in the morning.

a different kind of torture device

a different kind of torture device

The sheer level of incompetency displayed by others (and even sometimes myself) when placed before the camera is continually shocking – okay, well then let’s just say surprising. (Note: See sis, I’m listening). And to be clear, I’m not talking about home movies or videos here. I’m referring to planned interviews, speeches – political, business or recreational – presentations, and general work or play versions of ourselves we project out into the world when we are knowingly being recorded or in a place where we will likely be. Not to mention, a lot of this behavior comes from professionals presumably being paid to know a lot better.

Here’s one very minor example that turned into a major story this week amid the debate over the blue/back vs. white/gold dress and Congress almost defunding the Department of Homeland Security:

In her post-Oscar comments on Red Carpet looks, E! personality and Fashion Police co-host Giuliana Rancic, decided to publicly take the petite, bi-racial18 year-old Disney Channel actress/singer (and beloved Dancing with the Stars runner-up) Zendaya Coleman to task for her too ample….wait for it….DREADLOCKS!   Sitting stiff-as-a-board upright in the studio – flawlessly coiffed in designer duds and shot in the best TV lighting a basic cable channel like E! can buy, Ms. Rancic carefully considered the image of this young girl smiling in her designer white Grecian dress and carpet-ready new hair before sniffing:

She has such a tiny frame this hair overwhelms her. Like, I feel like she smells like patchouli oil…. and weed!

I'm more wondering why Zendaya was at the Oscars... but oh well

Dress aside.. was anyone else wondering why she was at the Oscars?

It would not have been relevant for me to even mention Zendaya being bi-racial had Ms. Rancic’s comments not played into some unfortunate stereotype a certain segment of the population has about…people who sport dreadlocks? The type of non-white persons we usually see wearing them? Something else? Hmmm.

Well, whatever it was caused a real crap storm. Ms. Rancic and the show quickly issued more apologies than George W. Bush ever did about the war in Iraq, Fashion Police co-host Kelly Osbourne quit over the remarks and unnamed sources have accused Ms. Rancic of trying to channel perpetually politically incorrect yet hilarious former co-host, the late Joan Rivers, in a desperate attempt to be funny.

... and this is an actual Joan Rivers joke from Fashion Police

… and this is an actual Joan Rivers joke from Fashion Police

The latter could be getting to the heart of the matter. Which of us has not made some sort of offensive flub that unintentionally revealed our own prejudices or how ill-suited we were to public joke-telling? However, what made this flub particularly noteworthy was not only the willingness of the co-host to state it to everyone in the world but the fact that it was scripted. That’s right, Ms. Rancic apparently did not think of that line on her own but had it written specifically for her by one of the show’s…writers?

It’s true – someone sits in a room and actually gets paid for making up those kind of comments, jokes and/or mere witticisms… which sort of makes what was said a bit worse. Presumably, a professional joke scribe, director, crew member or network somebody might know better. Except when they don’t. Meaning, if one is going to traffic in borderline racist, sexist, and homophobic insults in order to get a few laughs and drive up the ratings – or one’s own pubic status – one has to take the hot hair heat that rises and inevitably blows back from employing that kind of strategy.

Ya hear that G?

Ya hear that G?

I remember working in marketing on a movie with the brilliantly talented actress Anne Bancroft, who had some really funny and interesting stories about her experiences over the years in show business that she shared in various press interviews. I mean, they were really good and they revealed small bits of herself again and again and again. But after a period of time I began to realize – wait a second, I already know this about her. Did I read it, did I dream it or was it…oh, right, it was essentially the same story. Savvy actress that she was, Ms. Bancroft learned early on the best strategy when faced with speaking about very personal experiences about you and your craft publicly. Give a few to them and keep the rest for yourself. Just update, alternate, embellish and recycle some of the best stuff a bit through the years and no one will ever notice. Except those whose job it is to go through the torture of countless interviews with you and most certainly they’d never tell. Oops.

It's ok if Tay-Tay says it, right?

It’s ok if Tay-Tay says it, right?

Of course, this isn’t a good strategy for the majority since most of us don’t have those kind of acting chops. Not to mention, she could also be very spontaneous and say hilarious and telling comments on the record at the right moment. But being a smart movie star she was also quite well aware of exactly how she came across and why. Always. It’s not about lying but owning who you are.

As one really high priced shrink once pointed out to me: There’s nothing wrong with thinking anything. But there’s also nothing wrong with taking a few minutes to think about whether you want or need to say it out loud.

Yes, it was expensive advice but worth every penny. I pass it on to you for free.