People, GET IT TOGETHER

Joe Biden is Hillary 2.0 and Al Gore 3.0!  His time has passed!

Elizabeth Warren can’t win! Her voice is shrill and Republicans hate her!

Gay South Bend Mayor Pete demoted his Black chief of police for illegally wire-tapping his officers.  He’s Mr. White Privilege!  And not gay enough, anyway!

Oh, and don’t get me started on Bernie Sanders! We call him the liberal Trump.  Did you know he wants to let rapists, not to mention the Boston Marathon bomber, vote?? AND he’s a socialist!  I don’t know if even I could vote for that!

And did you know Amy Klobuchar is so nasty to her staff that when one of them forgot to get her a fork for her salad she pulled out her comb and made them sit there as she scooped her salad onto it?  Yes, and then, when she was done, barked, “Clean it!” right at them.  She’s not a president, she’s a harridan!

Oh that old chestnut…

And Beto O’Rourke???  Ugh, he’s so annoying!! I don’t know why but he’s SO ANNOYING!! Mr. Mom who never stays home!  And it’s like, WHO IS HE?????

But Kamala Harris.  As if someone from near San Francisco is ever gonna be president.  Plus she’s Black AND Indian AND married to a white Jewish guy!  Grow the f up!  Do you even know what country you’re living in these days???  Donald Trump is the president!!!!

I am sooo tired of all of this and the election is 18 months away.  Heck, even the first Democratic primary is not until Feb. 3 in Iowa.

Who will help me get through this???

Or course the bigger question is WHO will help US?

Strength in numbers??

Yes, I know only we can help ourselves.  We are the change we’ve been waiting for.   I get it.  I’ve been to therapy.  Both the personal kind and the Obama kind.

Still, the fact remains…I can’t.  I’m tired, I’m cranky and I’m pissed off with people who share most of my political views.  And I refuse to watch a THREE-HOUR Avengers movie.  One was enough for me and I can’t even recall which one I did see.

But now it’s THREE HOURS???

Why are we paying to watch super villains and superheroes when we have so many of both in Washington, D.C. and on cable news daily???

OK fine… I do find the Hulk relatable.

I overheard a bunch of film students talking in rapt excitement about the new Star Wars movie the other day and had an acid flashback moment to 1980 at a Fox screening room when I was watching one of the first pre-release press showings of The Empire Strikes Back.

It was good.  For what it was.  But if you would have told me that almost 40 years later we’d still have to be dealing with this I would have told you…  Well, never mind what I would have told you.  Because it’s the same thing I’m telling you about this upcoming election.

SAVE YOUR PENNIES!

As much as people think this is an unusual time – and in many ways it is – in a lot of other ways it’s no different than so many of the swings and changes we’ve endured as a country all through the 20th and 21st centuries that I’ve lived through thus far.

I can recall watching Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinated on TV, not to mention Jack Ruby shooting JFK’s would-be assassin live on TV in front of millions of people – a clip that lived on a lot more than 40 years later.  Probably in perpetuity of the world as we know (or don’t know) it.

.. and again thanks to shows like Mad Men #imissDonDraper

I also remember as a teenager the police shooting college protestors just a few years older than me in Kent State Ohio.  All they were doing were being teenagers, trying to end a needless war in which they and their loved ones could have been killed in, and, well, throwing a few rocks when the National Guards released tear gas on them. But then the National Guard shot 67 rounds of bullets in 13 seconds into the crowd.   Four students who were NOT EVEN PROTESTING, just observing, were killed.

You’d think we would have gotten the gun and the law enforcement thing under control by now.  Of course, we haven’t.

In case you’re not feeling outraged yet…

Nevertheless, we have survived.  Decades of intolerance turning into more tolerance and then acceptance by many more than some in marginalized communities.  Though not by others.  We even have more laws than ever to back them up, though not enough and even those aren’t always enforced.

Point being, things were REALLY bad then.  George Wallace, an avowed racist, ran for president and got 13% of the vote.  And then, of course, he too was shot.  And paralyzed.  What goes around comes around, right???

I’ll keep telling myself that, Chairy

Well, that’s what we’re hoping for right now, isn’t it?  That somehow the haters and the shooters will get theirs because we need CHANGE?  And right NOW!  Because we’ve been complacent.  We need to UPEND EVERYTHING because, well, things have never been this bad.

I’ve actually said this myself.

And then there’s this…

Yet it occurred to me, watching coverage of the latest shooting at a house of worship – this time an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in California where a crazed shooter killed one person and wounded several others – that radicalism has never quite worked in the U.S.

Individuals commit radical acts, sometimes when they’re part of the public and other times when they’re in office, but the radical doesn’t define US in the long term.

We’re more of a gradual change environment, brought on by individuals and groups proposing radical change.  You need radical thinking to move the needle.  But to lead, you need bold measures and smart, well-researched, practical plans that can be willfully executed through the actions of a President and Congress elected by we, the people.

Imagine that!?!?!

For me this means we need to stop being hysterical.  Accusatory.  And refrain from eating our own.  You all know what I mean.  No one who has lived a life of any age is perfect.  Certainly no one who has done anything in public service.  Especially no one anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. at the moment.  Especially the sloth at the top of the sloths.

OK maybe not sloths. Look how cute this one is! #justiceforsloths

This is simply a call to calm down and realize that when we decide whom to nominate to run against you know who for president there is no recipe for the perfect chocolate cake.  Or even a vanilla one.  When someone is kind enough to ask you what you want them to bake for your birthday celebration you weigh all the factors (Note: Sometimes literally and sometimes not) and pick out the one you have a hankering for at the time.

But seldom do you order the cake this much in advance.  Not even a wedding cake.

Maybe wedding cake wasn’t the best analogy

Oh, and if you’re going to a party where the birthday boy or girl chooses chocolate you don’t sit in the corner, refuse to eat the cake at all or bitch and moan that they didn’t serve the Carrot one that you would have preferred.    And for the record, I hate carrot cake.

Though I have managed to down it at a party or two in order to celebrate someone or something that I cared about.

The Beatles – “We Can Work It Out”

 

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Hug Life

I caught up with a true indie film the other night called Diane that is available through VOD or at several theatres nationwide.  It is anchored by a fine leading performance by Mary Kay Place and is a movie about regrets and the ways we torture ourselves into believing we must forever pay for some major past transgression for which we can’t be forgiven.

There is no get out of jail free card in real life – well, except if you’re one of the uber rich like, say, convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein – but there should be term limits for self immolation.  After one apologizes, changes one’s actions and attempts to make amends, or does at least two of the three, what more is there to do than learn from the experience and begin living one’s life in a way where you don’t make the same kind of mistake again?

Ehhhh… is this right?

That’s at least what Diane argues and after watching the film see if you don’t agree that life is short, apologies can be cleansing and that forgiveness is the ultimate form of survival and self-preservation.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was in the news this week for some past mistakes nowhere near the caliber of the ones made by Diane.  One can only imagine how many we make by the time we get to our mid-seventies.  I, for one, have my plate full at this point.

Cue Sinatra’s My Way #Ididitmyyyyyyway

The current mistake VP Biden is being spit-roasted for is, in his case, more of a way of being.  A kind of touchy, feely straight white male patriarchal thing involving hugs, intimacy, compassion and yes, perhaps over-affectionate boundary-breaking.

He is justly a bit on the ropes in the 2019 #MeToo era for invading the personal space of six women so far, NONE of whom believe his actions were of a sexual nature or rise to the level of anything at all we’ve read about in other #MeToo cases in the news.

In fact one of his accusers, Nevada politician Lucy Flores, recently admitted on a cable news program when pressed that she was a Bernie Sanders supporter and one of the prime reasons she was coming forward right now was that she felt the public should know about her experience with VP Biden and make their judgments accordingly.  Presumably, this was because she knew the public would soon be making their decisions about who to vote for in the 2020 election, a contest Biden is said to soon be entering.

I’m gonna need Steve Kornacki to break this down for me

It is not for any of us to judge how women or anyone feel about personal space.  For some, a three-second hug can be too long, a nose rub is akin to a touch in the nether regions and a kiss from anyone with whom one does not initiate it with first is beyond creepy.

Looking inward I realize I am by no means one to criticize.  To this day I find professional massages much too vulnerable and intimate an undertaking and have never fully relaxed with any of a handful of masseuses I’ve been coerced to trying over the years  (Note:  Please don’t write in with suggestions.  I’m good with getting them only from lovers (well, now husband) or friends whom I deeply trust).

This is not to say my norm is even normal.  It’s simply the way it is – for me.

What about this looks comfortable? #srsly #someonehelp

Most of us have a clear understanding of sexual violation and if not, the laws and mores are evolving and beginning to give us a much more stricter contemporary sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.

But there is no way to know what someone else’s normal is intimacy-wise, particularly if you are an especially affectionate person and grew up in that type of family or social environment.  When I first came out as gay I can recall being a bit taken aback by all of the men who wanted to kiss me hello in a greeting of warm friendship.  Now, of course, I do the same, despite me being strictly averse to massages, even from a pro.

I realize I’m starting to sound like Seinfeld here

One can argue this is vintage American behavior of certain eras and environments.  You don’t get much of this in Europe where for the most part hugs and kisses abound and male-male, female-female, male-to-female and female-male casual intimacy is more often than not seen as no big deal.

Clearly, Vice President Biden was raised in a world where hugs were plentiful and, as his real-life unforeseen tragedies unfolded, he ably played the role of consoler-in-chief.   This was so much the case that it became his personal brand of retail politics.

Joe Biden, over the years, became America’s favorite uncle, Dad and now granddad.  He was the family friend of your parents you looked forward to seeing, the guy who seemed to always want to truly hear about what you were doing.  He was someone who could suss out exactly when you needed a pat on the back or an embrace by simply looking at your face without you saying a word.

Remember the term “consoler in chief”?

Or perhaps that’s my fantasy.   Surely it’s the reason I have for decades referred to him as Uncle Joe.

Then perhaps like some of you I’m caught in a bit of a quandary.  Uncle Joe is clearly running for president, could get the nomination and will then have to square off against truly evil Uncle Donald.  The latter is the guy who occasionally takes you on lavish family trips but ALWAYS throws it back in your parents’ faces.  He’s affectionate and amiable, but watch out if you cross him.  In fact, don’t try it, ever.  He will ruin you and maybe your parents.  He will certainly do everything he can to poison the well for you among other family members and will likely succeed with many of them since you’re likely expendable and to not go along with his wishes in this family matter would mean to miss out on all those fancy trips.

But I digress.

Oh thank god this analogy is over #yuck #uncledonald

Joe Biden publicly stated this past week that in the future he promises to be more mindfulThe boundaries of protecting personal space has been reset, he said in a video posted on You Tube.  I get it.  I get it.  I hear what they’re saying and I understand it… That’s my responsibility and I will meet it.

One supposes that is the right political decision but going forward we all need to ask ourselves if it is the correct personal one.  Would you rather have not enough or too much?  Because none of us will ever get it exactly right with every person we meet.   This is especially the case for the person who meets millions.

Personally, I find it sad to err on the side of withholding when these days so many Americans are in need of one big, massive, Biden-like group hug.  And this is coming from the guy who doesn’t like massages.

Journey – “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”

Magical Thinking

Joe Biden told an audience in Omaha last week that Mike Pence is a decent guy.   Actress and activist Cynthia Nixon chose to differ in an editorial in the Washington Post and so do I.

Mr. Pence’s lifetime leadership role advocating against the LGBTQ community, including support for conversion therapy (most heinously during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s as an alternative way to curtail the spread of HIV), opposition to gay marriage, banning trans people from serving in the military, and attempting to legalize discrimination against gays due to religious beliefs (with proposed legislation and/or laws to back all over the above) does not make him decent.

It shows an empirical pattern of behavior that bears additional scrutiny, particularly for someone currently serving as the Vice President of all of the U.S. in 2019.

This is a real product you can buy on Amazon. You’re welcome.

The same could be said of Electoral College POTUS’s rambling two-hour speech at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) this weekend.  In perhaps his grandest of grandstanding, he threw out his usual invectives that American citizens who oppose him, as well as the media and fellow elected officials who choose to investigate his behavior, are people who don’t love our country.

But perhaps worse yet he continued to defend his self-professed love affair with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un, who he claims had no knowledge of the torture and eventual death of an American teenager under his government’s hands because he told me, despite the universal agreement of our own intelligence agencies that this was not the case.

NOT fake news

It is the same argument he used to defend Russia’s Pres. Vladimir Putin over the last two years when American intelligence across the board provided him clear evidence that Putin directed manipulation of the 2016 election.

It is a similar kind of illogic that in those two very public hours at the podium caused him to scream, where did that come from?, in reference to Congress’ current plan to look into his finances as a way to reasonably prove his business ties to Russia in light of numerous recent accusations from members inside his own campaign that this is indeed the case.

This same blind rage also caused him to proclaim from the podium that these people are sick for wanting to check his deals.

Nice try

And it is, finally, what caused him to come up with yet a new nickname for the chairman of that House committee – my Congressman, Adam Schiff, a former California U.S. Attorney.  Before this large group of conservatives, in that same two-hour speech, broadcast worldwide, our de facto POTUS referred to that duly elected congressman as LITTLE SHIFTY SCHIFF and his work as bullschiff.

And they’re both orange!

Nice, huh?  Especially for a 72 year-old man some people call the most powerful person on Earth, partly because most conceded long ago he forfeited the usual U.S. POTUS moniker of Leader of the Free World.

Magical thinking can sometimes help get us through the day but it can never, ever make untruths into truths, fantasy into reality or sputtering, fantastical bile-soaked lies into objective evidentiary fact.

This weekend I finally caught up with a film my students had been recommending me to see for several years, Swiss Army Man.  It’s a story about a suicidal guy (Paul Dano) stranded on a desert island who finds a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) that he is able to ride to some sort of civilization through the body’s flatulence.

Ummmm…

The guy then lives off the water the body expels from his mouth in sudden gaseous spurts only to find about halfway through the story, the body actually starts talking to him.  It turns out said body’s name is Manny and in order to keep him alive the suicidal guy has to re-educate him about the joys of being human.  This being an American film the guy also, in the process, begins to discover his own humanity again.

The film’s dramatic questions are many but primary among them becomes – is the guy imagining that dead Manny can speak or is Manny some sort of divine miracle that sporadically comes to life?  In other words is Manny ultimately indestructible and does he truly possess the unexplainable ability to enable a mere mortal to appreciate life on its own very messy terms.

The Chair’s recommendation

Would that there was a Manny somewhere who could point out the bumps in the road and make it all better for those of us who too often than not these days live in the belief that it will all NOT be okay.  (Note: The film was released in a pre Trump-Pence 2016)

I consider myself one of those people sporadically and part of my current journey is to work hard enough where I don’t succumb to my inner belief that the countless negative forces in the world have conspired lately in some nefarious master plan to bring us all down – both collectively as a society as well as individually.

This meme is me until Trump is out of office

To be clear, this is not my overriding philosophy but certainly, left to my own devices, it could be.  I have a real talent for assembling events of all kinds in a viable order that could much too convincingly confirm to most of you whatever misguided or guided (at least in my mind) point I am trying to prove.

In popular parlance, it’s what’s called writing talent.

In depressing real life, it’s what enables me to be the most persuasive and darkest of pessimists if I so choose.

But in the loveliest, lightest and most seductive moments of reality, it can also easily move me to the other extreme in seconds.  What that means is it can get me to convince not only myself but others, through the use of philosophy and said rosy perceived reality, that somehow it WILL all magically be okay even though there may be more than a few signs that this is pie in the sky fantasy thinking is  not likely to at all to come true by any reasonable objective standard.

Neither, of course, is the way to go.

I see no problem with these rosy shades, Chairy.

We MUST have hope against the odds and take steps to do our jobs and live our lives and overcome the negative to create the reality we want.  More commonly, that’s called the hard work of getting out of your own way.

On the other hand, we can’t PRETEND that a divine Manny WILL somehow magically appear (or has appeared) and guide us to right the wrongs in our world or society just because we wish him or it to be so.  That is equally misguided and it is what’s more popularly referred to as “magical thinking.”  Or worse.

Joan Didion wrote a book and a play on this theme entitled The Year of Magical Thinking after the death of her husband the day after the couple’s recently married daughter fell into a coma due to pneumonia/septic shock, only to eventually die herself less than a year later.

Chairy, what are you doing to me!!

The idea that one can become so traumatized by traumatizing events that one pretends bad things didn’t happen, aren’t happening or at the very least can be resolved – and that if one dreams with just the right amount of acuity one’s loved ones at any moment could conceivably walk through the door and one’s present reality could instantly become a thing of the past – is tempting.  And that there is meaning in the smallest of events that we can then assemble to divine us through our despair on a magic carpet of made up reality is undeniably hopeful, albeit sometimes intuitively necessary.

YES, whatever gets you through, I can hear some of you saying.  Well, perhaps.  I mean, if it guides one through the grief process and doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one has the right to demand you live in the truth of despair, seeing your glass as perpetually half empty as I too often do.

this also helps me sleep at night

The trouble begins when we wish world events or real people in our lives to be something they are clearly and objectively not.  Especially leaders we don’t know personally.  Because it then gets exacerbated when their associates start to adopt the party lie to get whatever agenda they want past us, twisting themselves into pretzels of illogic in order to do so.

Meaning you can’t explain it any way you like for yourself.  At the end of the day 2 + 2 simply cannot equal 5 — much as any of us would like it to.

Whatever Gets You Thru The Night – John Lennon (feat. Elton John)

I Like Meghan McCain?

It was the sneer that finally won me over.

I’d like to say it was Pres. Obama’s lofty message of inclusion or George W. Bush poking fun at himself and finally seeming to mean it.

But it wasn’t.

Even the lost, help me looks on the faces of Ivanka and Jared as they desperately searched the room for allies, or even a safe place that would never materialize, couldn’t match it.

but like.. WHY ARE YOU THERE?!

That was because this was a simple rebuke to everything they now stand or perhaps sit for, as they were forced to do on this day.

Yup, the words that preceded it made it better.  But many of the words in Meghan McCain’s 17-minute eulogy of her father, Sen. John McCain, at the National Cathedral on Saturday were powerful.  Though none more so than:

The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great….

Those words, clever though they may be, might have hung in the air as yet another slogan of pure patriotic psychobabble were it not for – that sneer.  That two

seconds of unbridled emotion that encapsulates everything the majority of the country now feels each and every day.

You can’t plan that look, it just happens when you’re in the moment and feeling it.

Okay, perhaps Meryl Streep could mete it out but who among us has that kind of technique???  There are 21 Oscar nominations to answer you back – NO ONE.

Well, yes, but only because I’m dead.

Still, words are words, slogans are slogans and who among the now 60% of the country that stand against Trump haven’t at one time or another thought, said or heard variations.

Certainly Ms. McCain’s aren’t much better than any of the ones we’ve encountered and will ourselves utter in the not so distant future (Note: Nee tomorrow).

But that spontaneous look of disdain the minute those words sputtered out.  Heck, that was some rare, unvarnished truth on display on the national stage.

Say what you will, but this was REAL

Anyone who has lost a parent will tell you that nothing you feel is phony.  You might know Mom or Dad is terminally ill, play out the moment endlessly, but still, when it occurs, and for an unforeseeable time afterwards, you are in a jagged whirl of gut-wrenching reality.

Not everything you SAY, especially the polite and nice stuff, is true but every emotion your face SHOWS is real…and raw.   Every moment of anger, of disdain, of acidic retribution (especially the non-verbal kind) are as dependable as the fact that for the rest of your life you will be either motherless or fatherless.  It doesn’t matter what is later countered, massaged or full out denied.  Trust what a mourner is showing you, if you dare.   They are the most honest moments any of you, or us, will ever see from them.

I’ve never been a Meghan McCain fan or hater.  She’s one of those people – and they are rare – that I’ve never had much of an opinion about because she’s had so little effect on my world.

That’s all changed.  You can count me now always on the side of fan.

wait… what?

It takes a lot to get up before a large group of people at your parent’s funeral and in so many non-words, tell one of his enemies to go F—K himself.  Now think of what it takes to actually have the nerve to say it in words, feel it on your face, and do it before an international audience, where it will be preserved in perpetuity, to the President of the United States.

Okay, the Electoral College President of the United States.

As far as we know.

For now.

Srsly. When is he gone??? #AREWETHEREYET?!?!

I’d like to think I could do that, gladly, but I’m not entirely sure.  It’s one thing to tell DJT to bugger off on Twitter, or in your living room to your TV set – as I’ve roared countless times – but it’s a whole other ball of wax to muster it publicly and withstand, as Kathy Griffin calls, it, the Trump Woodchipper.

You won’t read here what the Trumpsters are saying about her but go online to the platform of your choice if you need confirmation.  Though it doesn’t take much imagination.  They’re not known, for the most part, to be original with the insults.  Pick up any rock pre-1962 and something might crawl out akin to what you might read.  Or hear.

Yep, logic no longer exists. #theend

I’d like to be able to take a lesson from the words said by Pres. Obama at the service.  To really hear him and act accordingly when he says:

So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse seems small and mean and petty.  Trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage.  It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but in fact is born of fear.  John called on us to be bigger than that, he called on us to be better than that.

Well, I believe I am doing that by in some small way by writing about the death of a person with whom I never agreed with politically (Note: Actually, I loathed his views on pretty much everything and will never forgive him for creating Sarah Palin) and really seeing him, his family and those he surrounded himself with merely as people who today I could not only learn something from and admire but…actually…could like.

But to accept as valid or do anything but repudiate what Sen. McCain’s former campaign manager Steve Schmidt on Saturday called….

…the vileness, the corruption, the self-centeredness, the selfishness and the cruelty that we see emanate from the White House in the form of President Donald Trump everyday….

It’s s a bridge too far for me.

… and yet here I am quoting a man who ran the McCain-Palin campaign #miraclescanhappen

And that goes for anyone who works for him, votes for him or in any way supports him.

For me, it only starts with a sneer.    I have no idea where it will all end.

Unless we all VOTE.

“Danny Boy” – Renee Fleming

Spin Cycle

There was no such thing as SPIN when I was a grad student in journalism at Northwestern University.

What?

No really – there wasn’t.

Oh, there were lies and bullshit and half-truths – sometimes by interview subjects, almost always from public relations flacks and, on the most difficult of stories, a consistent combination of all three. But our job as journalists, we were told, was to sift through ALL of the information and present the facts of a story, as we understood them, in the most coherent way possible so our readers could then draw their own conclusions.

OK, this method was frowned upon

– There were no alternative facts.

– There were no versions of Fox News and MSNBC with commentators telling us versions of the story we wanted to hear.

– There was no social media from which to consume fake news and no politicians or public figures in this country who would dare to deny even the most basic rudimentary truths that everyone knew were, well, TRUE.

That was what it was like in the late 1970s – a few years after Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of his knowledge, involvement and lies about Watergate and the dirty tricks he employed in order to win his election to the presidency.

seems quaint now

There was a demand for truth.

One wonders if that is even the case these days since there are so many more pleasant alternatives regardless of what side of the political or moral spectrum you are on.

For instance:

— It is much more pleasing to believe that global warming is inconclusive or even a hoax by elite scientists than to believe the Earth’s temperatures will make our planet uninhabitable by the end of the century.

— It’s also much more desirable to believe this doomsday scenario is nothing more than a liberal talking point than to acknowledge an exhaustive research report from our 13 government agencies that conclusively acknowledges our rising temperatures are, indeed, man made.

Nothing wrong here. Nothing at all.

But no need to stick merely to politics.

— Who in Hollywood wants to believe the 57 women and counting who have accused one of our most powerful industry figures over the last three decades – Harvey Weinstein – of various combinations of rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment?  Even if you loathe him, and many did long before this came to light, how do you acknowledge the community was so scared silent about his actions for so long when you were one of the many thousands who heard the rumors?

Are our careers all that much more important to us?

sigh

Yes, that was rhetorical.

— But if you don’t want to answer that then do answer how everyone could’ve heard about, and in many cases witnessed, Kevin Spacey’s thing for young boys for all those decades and done nothing? (Note: See Bill Cosby. Or so many others).

And while we’re shedding a light on my fellow liberals – Hollywood and otherwise – let’s talk about some spin on something far less serious.

Excerpts of Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile’s new book have just come to light and in one of the most publicized sections she writes about how she considered replacing Hillary Clinton as the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, less than two months before the election, after Mrs. Clinton fainted going into a limousine following her attendance at the NYC 9-11 memorial ceremonies.

  1. The mere advancement of this statement implies Ms. Brazile would have had the power to make this happen – which she did not.

Really not the time for this Donna.

  1. Imagine all of the things you considered under stress, including MURDER, and then consider how much of a chance they had of becoming a reality.
  2. Then consider the lessons I mentioned from journalism school and decide whether you are really telling the truth about all of the above (Note: Especially the part about you replacing her with Joe Biden for president and…Corey Booker as his vice-president???) or whether you are merely spinning a story for your own salacious benefit i.e. in order to sell more of YOUR OWN BOOKS

Not ready to buy my t-shirt quite yet

Research and analytical skills are important but so is context, instinct and experience.

As adults, we’ve all been human for more than several decades so it is in all of our collective powers to surmise THE REAL TRUTH when something doesn’t sound or feel right.

We might not have the journalistic patience or skill to prove our cases for all of the above but we can use reason to decide for ourselves exactly when we’re being spun.

To whit —

If many of the top people in the very American company you co-owned were proven to have met secretly with numerous Russians yet professed no memory of those meetings after first publicly denying them, would you believe them?

Are we all in a Men in Black sequel? #20yearoldMovieReference

#NyetRuskies?

Or would you think you were being spun in an adult version of that nauseating amusement park ride you were barely able to endure as a child?

A talented writer friend of mine named Mikko Alanne, who also happens to be a former student at the college I teach at, created the eight-part National Geographic miniseries The Long Road Home. It debuts on Nov. 7 and is based on ABC reporter Martha Raddatz’s best-selling book that takes you INSIDE the U.S. involvement in the post-Iraq War in 2004.

a must watch

The show is riveting, dramatic and sometimes difficult to watch because it shows us the real HUMAN cost of war and death and bloodshed and ideals – on all sides – and allows the audience to come to its own conclusions by re-enacting just the FACTS as much as possible. Without spinning.

Yes, stories are condensed and judgments were made. It’s certainly not a documentary and definitely not a literal re-enactment of EVERYTHING that happened. This is not the purpose of television or even film drama, whose objective is merely to get to the SPIRIT of what is true as it entertains and hopefully, in some way, informs.

I’d settle for that instead of what we’re being fed now by too many real-life sources. The half-truths, the lies and the ongoing general line of bullshit is making not only us but all of our heads worldwide spin so fast and so quickly that it really is as if we are all on one giant collective Tilt-A-Whirl ride with no way to get off.

Try not to hurl

But as any adult knows there is always a way to get off.

Blood Sweat & Tears – “Spinning Wheel”

The Pro-Ignorance Movement

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 12.19.58 PM

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.

Second String

“Give me a second. “

When I hear this I’m immediately thinking..

Okay, you need more time.  Whatever…

Great, now I’m getting pissed.  And don’t let the fact that I’m in a hurry and still waiting trouble you because obviously what you’re doing is far more important than what I want or need at this moment.  Which has already passed because you’re so damned selfish and slow.

Of course, perceptions are often wrong.  And even more often than that people get angry about the things over which they are confused, or that they misunderstand based on faulty information. Or even more likely an item or incident they use as an anger substitute for that thing over which they are really angry about (life? the banks? world/your own poverty?  the Kardashian family fame and fortune?). Those things that are too scary to really unleash anger on so  you (we? they?) misplace it to other, lesser-perceived misstatements.

Which brings us back to waiting and my original statement.

“Give me a second.”

No, I (or the ubiquitous they) was NOT trying to poach more time.  (And if only you had asked either of us directly we would have told you). What I was really saying –if you would have engaged me in conversation and really listened to and thought about my response before jumping to your talking/thinking point – was this:

Instead of your first or #1 selection, I’ll take what is considered your second –or #2 – any time.

Yeah I mean you, Ms. Maroney.

See, sometimes the best choice for what ails us in the moment, or in our times, or even on a specific creative project, is the person who is the SECOND-in-command, our SECOND (or maybe even third) choice — the RUNNER UP (or even worse) to  present day fame, fortune and eternal frolic.  Sometimes it takes that very person – the under the radar supporting player or archetypal contemporary day “Bridesmaid” (think Kristen Wiig) – to bring us through the muddy waters and to entertain us and make us laugh or cry, and, most importantly, to put everything back into plain talking perspective and for once and for all and, hopefully, forever, make everything clear.  Forget the bells and the whistles and the fairy dust of the first stringers.  As a famous auto company once advertised about #2’s – often what their status guarantees is they “TRY HARDER.”

And trying harder is what makes you #1 (or used to, at least)…in the first place.  It’s the necessary step along with way before you (we? they?) get complacent in star status.

The most famous #2 of the past week is a  likely yet unlikely choice: a just-about 70-year-old man with piano key teeth, not very good hair plugs, and all the subtlety of Kevin James trying to emulate Adrian Brody’s Oscar-winning star turn in “The Pianist.”  This person, perhaps THE most famous #2 in the world, is a guy we Americans like to call – wait for it –

VICE-PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN.

Ole Blue Eyes

That’s right, the eye rolling, horse laughing, over gesticulating senior citizen on the national debate stage.  The guy some people thought was rude and other people thought was real.  The guy who, everyone agrees, was pretty much a poster child person for plain-talking populism of the quintessentially honest American kind that even the most uninformed among us could pretty much  – whether they agree with him or not – understand.

The perils of the #1 perch often don’t allow for that.  Or perhaps it’s what happens when one reaches #1 status that makes falling from the perch and, in turn, making one wrong move, seem even more perilous for the person that has indeed achieved it.  Or – to give a more musical example – maybe it’s the pressure of simply living up to the qualities that Debbie Harry longed to seduce in her famous #1 song.

Whatever IT is, Pres. Barack Obama, our #1, didn’t have IT when he debated several weeks prior, yet  he certainly did have it four years ago opposite his Republican opponent on the debate stage when he running for, but not yet, #1.  Mitt Romney hasn’t had it for the entire time he’s been #1 on the Republican presidential ticket but for some reason momentarily got it (in some people’s opinion, not necessarily mine), when he was #2 on the stage at the presidential debate with our current #1 American (Pres. Obama).

This is not to say #1’s are not truly the best overall and often don’t deserve to be top dog.  It only means that Mel Brooks’ adage of “it’s good to be king” is indeed all too true.  The cyclical version of fame, fortune and mere age ensures that there will always be a #2 worth watching – a person or moment that is second string now but will one day, through verve or sheer attrition and endurance (and sometimes through a faulty strategy of slightly guarded carefulness on the part of #1 that is thought necessary to maintain power) will temporarily and then perhaps even permanently cause the replacement of the top star.  That is the way of the world.  That is the historical and often necessary cycle of existence.

Buckle up…

So it stands to reason that during the reign of #1s, there are always times when the Big Kahuna will falter and one or more of us subjects would do best to listen, learn and be inspired by the musings of a #2 – or even #6, #7 or #8.  Second stringers don’t have as much to lose but often have a lot more to prove, which in turns gives them the motivation and energy to make the case or to pick up the baton (sports or creative) and win the race when the first stringers either graciously step outside or ask for a much needed helping hand they count on their #2s to provide.  What’s great about this is that it not only often works but more times than not, win or lose, makes the result more interesting and brings about the much needed evolvement and, eventual changes, of the future.

I see this every day with my students – who consistently surprise me with their work.  As a writing teacher, one learns to recognize obvious talent.  I mean, it doesn’t really take a genius to see that – only someone who is more than a casual observer.  But the moments teachers and audiences and, I’d venture to say, citizens of the state, live for are the surprising ones.  We get most excited by instances in which the second stringers, the ones not necessarily destined for greatness, rise up to surprise us in an area we thought they never could.  I see this every semester in creative work – people whose good ideas become realized into art that is more original than you ever thought it could be, not only surprisingly fresh but surprisingly great.  Watching an individual take a step out of the pack due solely to the application of their passion, desires and, above all, talent, is a moment that teachers, and audiences, and societies, do truly live for.

Mr. Biden’s robust debate performance, where he spewed the plain-talking, impolite frustration of most of the American public across the stage in Kentucky, (and for those not enthralled with our veep’s performance, perhaps the same could be said yikes! for Mr. Romney’s penultimate sugar high jabs in his first 2012 presidential matchup) is not limited to politics.  It often rears its head in all of the creative arts, in sports, in our friendships and even family lives.

Can film students, movie fans or anyone else in the public imagine the first string choice of Doris Day as the quintessential suburban seducer Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” instead of Anne Bancroft?  How about then “Magnum P.I.” TV megastar Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones instead of a now (but not then) film icon we call Harrison Ford?   The record shows that Mr. Ford and Ms. Bancroft were, to put it kindly, the #2 choices for their roles at the time but more than likely they were even further down on most people’s lists.

Really?

Chicago for years suffered with the ubiquitous title as America’s “second city” until some creative type in the Midwest wisely decided to own that derisive term (as all oppressed groups eventually do) and start a improvisational comedy troupe aptly titled “Second City.”  Ironically, this group became not only the best in the business but would then go on to be the primary supplier of performers and creative types behind perhaps the most enduring and iconic comedy troupes in the history of television – The Not Ready For Prime Time Players of “Saturday Night Live” – a show based out of what was and still is considered to be our #1 city – New York.

Live from.. Chicago?

It’s also easy to forget that Terrence McNally, the American playwright who has won four Tony Awards and countless nominations for work as diverse as “Love Valour Compassion,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” “Ragtime” and “The Full Monty” was once best known in the New York theatre community as merely a “famous #2” by dating playwriting royalty Edward Albee.  Or that Katy Sagal, America’s infamous Peg Bundy on “Married With Children” and the star of the cable hit “Sons of Anarchy” was early only renowned as one of three literal #2s when she served as a member of Bette Midler’s trio of backup singers, The Harlettes.

In sports I’m old enough to remember when 15 year old Michael Phelps swam in his first Olympics and won 0.0 medals, gold or otherwise, yet sharp enough to recall that after subsequent record-breaking Olympic gold in 2008, it took this year’s drop to #2 status in the first 2012 race of his fourth Olympics game for him to once again emerge as the #1 swimmer of gold more times than any one else in the entire competition.

This could be a drinking game and we could go on and on.  But perhaps the best example is another political figure of the times who recently won the Gallup poll for the tenth year in a row as – wait for it again – the most admired woman in the world – Hillary Clinton.

She knows it.

Talk about a #2 and then some.  First Lady (but really a #2?) of Arkansas.  First Lady (and not even a #2) of the United States and an object of derision for famously proclaiming she wasn’t interested in staying “in the kitchen and baking cookies.” Then even more publicly proclaimed an inexperienced interloper for trying (and then failing) to create a universal health care plan for all Americans under the direction of her husband, the then president.  Undaunted at being #2, Mrs. Clinton did her job, learned, stood in wait and took her lumps from a “vast right wing conspiracy” she inelegantly said was lying (some might say salivating) in wait for her husband.

But then something funny, or perhaps eventual happened.   Her husband was no longer president and she decided to use her fame, smarts and nationwide experience to run for Senator in New York.  She not only won the #1 spot but became one of the most admired members of one of our most well-known “boys clubs.”  She then used her fame to try and become our Uber #1 in her own valiant run for president, only to be shunted down to #2 status by a guy with a weird name who had way less experience than she did – Barack Obama.   However, she barely had time to leave gracefully before our new #1 called her in to be a different kind of #1 (or is it #2, #3 #4 or even lower) – our Secretary of State and the defacto#1 face of foreign policy to all countries around the world.

In the end, it seems – everyone is #1 somewhere but usually #2 (or below) almost everywhere.  Human achievement does have its limits and the fact is very few of us make it into the hall of presidents or on an international awards stage.  But that doesn’t mean that, in more moments than most people realize, we all have the capability, if given the chance, to be as good or even better than any particular number on the right number of days if we keep at it and are given, or take, the chance.

That’s what Joe Biden accomplished last week.  And that’s why it’s important to keep pushing your rock uphill, downhill or sideways – no matter what your status or scoring is at any random moment in time.

And I said I didn’t like sports metaphors…