On Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’

I recently saw a video of “Pale Blue Dot.” It is Carl Sagan’s meditation on our “insignificant earth” accompanied by a visual of earth receding into the void until it becomes but a ‘pale blue dot’.

Carl Sagan was more of a poet than most physicists, I guess. His grasping for hope in the face of his own mortality should be recognized for his humanity.

Sagan’s musings inspired me with some thoughts and reactions. I won’t reprint his narration here. It is easily googled.

Sagan condemns mankind as self-important and deluded about our privileged place in the universe. Privileged and self-important as compared to what? What is offended that we use our consciousness to examine our inner and outer worlds?

If we are alone in the universe, our abilities to examine our world and think about our place in it, make us unique.

Our mind is our greatest tool. Should we attenuate its power so as to step down from this privilege? Did this world famous scientist really suggest we do so?

Ideas have no tangible existence yet they can move mountains. If we are to act only on the visible and the material, we severely limit ourselves while reaching for the stars.

That we are not good stewards of our only home, our planet, speaks to a deeper flaw than poor hygiene.

Because no known planet is hospitable, Sagan states that it is here on Earth that “we make our stand.” This phrase reminds us of ‘Custer’s Last Stand,’ probably the most familiar use of the term. It came into use depicting a heroic, tragically failed defense against the superior numbers of an ‘inferior’ enemy.

Revisionist history thankfully recasts the racist Custer’s blunder into enemy territory. He was blinded by genocidal instincts and trapped by his grasping for glory. His true enemy resided within. Rather than heroic, Custer was embarrassingly human, an every-man.

Sagan, the atheist who dismisses religion as pompous, has more faith than I do. He believes humanity, through our own will, can change our essence and become consistently caring and upright in our endeavors. What evidence has he (the scientist), that this could ever be possible? Did someone say ‘self-important’?

Even if you disbelieve in a Supreme Being, why would you believe in that? Is he not actually promoting flaccid, New-age wish fulfillment masked by his scientific bona-fides? Humanity will save itself? Are you high?

Did Sagan want “a hint” of our needed salvation coming from beyond our solar system? What gives Sagan the confidence that a superior alien race would be more merciful to us than we are to each other? Or than we are to ‘lesser beings’?

As for migrating to new worlds, if mankind destroyed earth but successfully escaped elsewhere, would anyone be surprised that we brought our ‘fouled-up-edness’ along for the ride?

“What do you mean you ‘forgot to pack the innocence’?”

What new insights would we gain or bring to the enterprise of settling some distant planet? Or would we merely replay the past before a fresh landscape? Tell me these refugees would not soon be ravaged by their innate talent to deny their own inner darkness?

How does it follow, if it is all so meaningless, that must we be kind to each other? What is the payoff in that?

It seems it is that meaninglessness which drives men to fill the void with their self-importance and ever expanding egos. Believing we answer to no one but ourselves in service of our grandiose cravings is what creates monsters and tyrants.

Doesn’t our pride keep us from achieving our ideals? Generally, those who successfully transcend their basest nature, do not claim the credit, but give it to the ineffable – God. Transcendence would make such self-aggrandizement absurd.

Sagan says there is no hint of anyone coming to save us from ourselves. But our Savior is, was and will ever be. There is more than a hint if we open our hearts. Truth is unavoidable to one who humbly listens to that ‘still small voice’ in the whirlwind.

The Bible talks throughout of the God of the insignificant, the forgotten, the weak, the meek, and the downtrodden. The strong need no God. The strong fend for themselves. They are an end unto themselves.

Knowing our Creator favors the insignificant, allows us to stop inflating ourselves within a vacuum. Acknowledging our insignificance within this vast and magnificent universe humbles us.

The expectation that earth is the only home for life, suggests that ours is a very important speck indeed. Earth’s unique, life bearing status makes us privileged. But this is not our doing. A better term than ‘privileged’ might be that we are recipients of undeserved favor, or grace.

Humankind would be better served, not only by owning our humble place within Creation, but also in acknowledging its loving and merciful Creator.

Or not. That is the proverbial choice.

I’m not a Talking Bomb, but I Played One on TV

One of the most interesting aspects of working in post-production in Hollywood was the time I spent on the ADR stage. ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) is the process by which actors are brought onto a sound stage to recreate their original performance that was marred by noisy ambience or other technical issues. I had the opportunity to work with many talented actors, most of whom were cooperative and agreeable under stressful circumstances.

The task is a unique blend of technical ability and art. Ideally, in the original performance, the actor inhabits the character while submerged in the ambiance of the location and interacting with the other characters.

On the ADR stage, the actor must re-create that original sense and emotion of the scene, while standing alone on a dark stage which lacks any of the physical cues that supported the original performance. And he must also watch him or herself on the screen and perfectly lip-sync his new performance to the original. It is that combination of re-creating an emotional performance, while also objectively observing it, which throws some actors.

Imagine yourself playing a character helping a wounded friend while dodging bullets from a sniper. All your exertions and dialogue provide the viewer with a sense of the immediacy and danger of your plight.

Now, imagine trying to re-create that same tension, without the noise, the dust, the struggle, or your co-player, all while standing on a cool, dark stage, watching yourself perform on a giant screen.

Some actors just cannot do it. Their process of acting is so integrated into the moment that doing justice to their performance, after the fact, in such artificial circumstances defeats them. And many are wonderful actors. Ultimately, if the performance is good, a little judicious editorial surgery will improve on the sync.

One such case was with the actor Robert DeNiro. Considered one of the greatest actors of his generation, the process of ADR is completely counter-intuitive for him and his style of acting. We scheduled multiple sessions, only for him to balk or cancel each in turn. He was agreeable, but intimidated by the technical process. I finally got him to do his lines ‘wild,’ with four or five interpretations of each line. With minimal editing, I was able to make one of these performances fit.

I worked with the actor Jackie Chan on one of his films. He is the most focused and exacting actor I ever worked with. Except for lunch, he never took a break. A week was scheduled for the recording and he finished re-voicing the complete film in three days.

Jackie’s film was shot in Chinese. Our task was to replace Jackie’s whole Chinese language performance with English lines. We needed to write Jackie’s lines so they would make sense to the story and also closely match the onscreen lip movements.

This task was daunting enough. But as we were starting, Jackie asked how he could get rid of his Chinese accent. Since we were preparing his film for an American release, he didn’t want his Chinese accent to distract or make the audience struggle to understand.

Having never been asked this, or thought about it, I needed to think fast. How could I solve this? Hardly missing a beat, a solution popped into my head. The ADR gods were smiling down on me.

One factor for any non-native speaker of English (or, I suspect, any second language) is the natural tendency to pronounce each word discreetly. This exaggerates the accent and creates a stilted hesitation, rather than a natural flow of expression. The speaker sounds like they are struggling over a pile of rocks, rather than floating down a stream.

I asked Jackie to say the phrase ‘American accent’ but to slur the final ‘n’ to the beginning of ‘accent’ to sound like ‘America-naccent’. By tying the two words together, much of that odd emphasis and hesitation is lost and it sounds much more natural.

Jackie tried it and immediately grasped my intent. We started work and he was pleased with the improvement in his ‘American’ accent. Whew!

Another aspect of ADR is the recording of background ‘walla’ for crowd scenes, restaurant scenes etc. Some ‘loop groups’ are very talented and will create a texture of background that adds a sense of reality to a scene.

Long ago, loop groups were told to murmur ‘peanut butter’ over and over to create a non-descript background buzz that would not compete with the foreground dialogue. Modern loop groups bring vocabulary lists and even foreign language phrases for the talent to use in order to give the walla the flavor of a specific time and place. A Moroccan street market sounds different than a corporate board room. Really!

Many actors, practice their craft and can make a decent living working in a loop group while seeking on-camera work. The downside can be that novice actors are so hungry to be ‘discovered,’ their performances must be reined in so they remain in the background.

Working with inexperienced actors provided me with the opportunity to perform as a ‘talking bomb’. Twice. Occasionally, some absurd gimmick becomes popular with multiple script writers. In this case, a time bomb which not only had a clock, but also a voice which announced, to anyone who happened to be standing around, how many seconds they had before being blown to bits.

“Siri, should I cut the red wire or the blue wire?”

On two different shows, I ran the sessions where we needed a voice counting down from ‘ten,’ presumably to inject further tension into an already anxious scene. But the actors seemed unable to grasp the ‘motivation’ of the ‘talking bomb.’ Alternatively gleefully evil or mother-hover anxious, their bomb was over-acting.

Every Shakespearean attempt by each member of the loop group would be rejected by the director. When they ran out of actors, I offered to try.

The tension in the scene was in the characters, and hopefully, with the audience. But the bomb couldn’t care less about the pending explosion. It wasn’t a character. It had no character. It didn’t ‘know’ what was about to happen.

I performed my count-down as devoid of emotion as possible, a counter-point to the humans in the scene. This bomb had not a care in the world. Rain or shine, this bomb was indifferent to its future or the lack thereof. It was what no actor wants to be described as – mechanical and flat. My performance, with just a suggestion of boredom, was perfect.

I was the bomb. They loved it.

On Science and Miracles – Christmas and Others

It is the common belief that miracles are a fantasy of an over-heated religious sensibility. In our enlightened age, miracles have largely disappeared. Cultures which believe in miracles are regarded as primitive, childlike and, at best, quaint (like clapping your hands if you believe in fairies). Postmodern thinkers believe miracles won’t happen because they don’t happen, because they can’t happen… and so on.

Modern culture believes miracles cannot be true because they break the laws of nature. Those laws, though, imply a Law Giver. But let’s not talk about that.

So do miracles cease to happen in modern cultures? Or do we just stop seeing them? Blinded by our sophistication?

As Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” We possess the advanced technology. And yet there are still phenomenon that occur outside our control or ability to explain them.

Considering the number of UFO sightings each year (and rising) there is an appetite for that which is beyond our comprehension.

What distinguishes the religion of Scientism from other religions is it denies the occurrence of miracles, except perhaps those accomplished by its high priests (I mean those holders of advanced technology). I’m not aware that followers of Scientism believe in a Supreme Being, unless he has an advanced degree from MIT.

What rational person could believe in an all knowing entity that answers everyone’s questions in seconds, simultaneously, throughout the world? Before Google that was an absurd expectation. Now it is mundane and expected.

By miracles, I am not talking about parlor trick ‘miracles’ like might be demonstrated by David Copperfield parting the waters of a swimming pool. Nor do I think just any fantastic occurrence would be a miracle. I don’t necessarily think it would be a miracle if a cat were to talk. If it told a funny joke, that would be a miracle, for everyone knows cats have no sense of humor, unlike dogs.

Also, miracles are not a form of wish fulfillment like programming a computer to spit out predictions. That kind of hocus pocus is neither science nor miraculous. How sad to be throwing darts at a digital target and hoping no one notices those darts keep missing. Predictions aren’t miraculous. Results are.

Science is not consensus. And it doesn’t campaign. It isn’t a cult. Science does not recruit the largest crowd of believers to sway public opinion and policy to their side. It is not subject to vote. Pure science is based on meticulous research and replicable, predictable results.

Science doesn’t sell itself. It isn’t supposed to have any agenda but inquiry into the truth of things. Ideally, it doesn’t seek to win anything as it is dispassionate in its search.

By miraculous I am thinking more in terms of spontaneous recovery from an incurable disease, or someone risking their life to save another. These things happen fairly often, but are not predictable and so are thought miraculous by witnesses. They might not even make the news.

Miracles are popularly thought of in positive terms. To hear “It’s a miracle!” would generally indicate that good news had arrived. But obviously, Pharaoh’s army was not happy when Moses parted the Red Sea.

No one predicted Donald Trump would be elected president. It was declared impossible by the experts and described by many as a disaster, a tragedy. Most would agree that it was unpredictable and couldn’t happen again. Yet you don’t believe in miracles? Some still deny it happened.

Science is not all encompassing. Grant money is limited and choices must be made as to what will be researched. Some things are hard to study and so money does not flow to those challenging areas.

Science does not prove anything. It documents results of its painstaking research and posts statistical analysis as to the probabilities of this or that phenomenon. Science predicts based on those published probabilities. Science predicts. If results contradict the predictions, that theory collapses.

Science seeks to disprove. And that which cannot be disproven is deemed to be true (with qualifications).

A one-time event (aka a miracle) is a rare occurrence and so cannot be studied let alone predicted. Those who witnessed that occurrence are dismissed as superstitious for seeing a phenomenon that science chooses to ignore. How predictable and boring would be a life that only experienced ‘what is possible’ as determined by some bureaucrat in a distant government office?

Quantum physics is lifting the lid on some very curious, if not miraculous, phenomenon that do not fit previously accepted paradigms – like particles mirroring each other’s behavior simultaneously despite vast distances separating them. And the famous demonstration of a particle’s behavior being influenced by whether or not it is observed.

Consciousness receives very little attention from the scientific community. Most of us believe in consciousness because most of us believe we are conscious. But try to pin it down or tell me where to pin it. Consciousness is elusive despite seeming to be almost everywhere. Science side-steps it because they just don’t know how to test or duplicate it. Science does not play well with the ineffable.

Scientist and author Dr. Robert Lanza theorizes that death only seems to exist because we identify so closely with the physical body. Because humans are bio-centric, we fail to apprehend that other states of being may exist without our physical bodies. How does one test for that?

A man risking his life by running into a burning building to rescue others is counter-intuitive and irrational. It happens rarely enough to be unpredictable, but everyone knows it happens. Is it miraculous? To the person saved it would be.

Near death experiences are rare and so are ignored by science. Yet they exist. A friend of mine, Ray, describes how he died on the operating table and then watched from afar as the doctors tried to revive him. He realized his wife needed him and so he needed to return. He still tells his story.

The floods in Houston after Hurricane Harvey did not bring the predicted inter-racial blood bath, chaos and anarchy. Contrary to expectations, people instead acted on their best instincts to help one another.

News coverage of the Houston floods evaporated when common humanity appeared. Faith-based organizations converged on Houston to assist those who had lost everything. Atheists, predictably, stayed away in droves.

Many species have virgin births. Science confirms this. A human having a virgin birth would be extremely rare but not scientifically impossible. There is only one account of it ever happening.

One thing about the miracle of Christmas, regardless that you accept the virgin birth, Mary risked her life for her child. Life in those days was cheap but at risk of her own life she protected her baby and herself from death on many fronts. King Herod, fearing his replacement, sought to kill all babies under two years old. Unmarried sex (adultery) was a capital crime then. Mary was a single mother, and homeless. Rather than claiming victim-hood, or aborting him, she gave him birth and nurtured him.

By today’s enlightened and evolved standards, so many options now exist to avoid that dire fate. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood would eagerly offer support. What homeless, single mother these days, would intentionally bear a child under threat of death? It would be completely irrational.

Who would predict Mary, or Jesus?

My Horrible Task

I am faced with a horrible task. I have written and so I am told I must write.

I feel like a lost child, raging against this unfair world. What a fool. The worldly are moved to laughter. Events, promises, appointments, all the ‘important things’ pale against this ineffable mystery. How can emptiness be so large? How can an absence weigh so much?

It is beyond comprehension, this horrible void that words barely suggest and never hope to capture but in withered, insignificant mumblings over-flowing with dread. What are words anyway but ghosts, ever searching for lost meanings? Intensions become a mockery in the face of this horror.

And why would I want to capture this? I want to put this far away, to blot it out. This is one embrace I can live without.

I awaken to yet another grotesque facsimile of a normal day. It is a tainted reality that allows a century of cumulated personal experience to vanish, a wisp of smoke in a heartbeat.

Words fail to build anything more substantial than unstable emotions shifting more easily than a cloud eclipses the sun. Words are leaky, empty vessels. They hold nothing. They sustain nothing. Illusions. Imaginary waves breaking against real rocks. Playthings for the mad babbling of the lost. A breath creates them and, like a breath they are gone.

And like a breath, followed by another no more, the time is past as well. There is no more time to say the words that wanted saying. That needed hearing. That meant everything when words were all we had that could matter. How can words carry more weight than the world they describe?

Yes, to put the words, these abstract shadows onto paper somehow makes this nightmare a reality. The words don’t create but acknowledge, no less than etching them in stone, this loss, this abomination, this incoherent, perpetual absence where before was the magnificent life that brought me to life.

All the nurturing and caring correction is past. I recoil. To write it seems an obscenity scrawled on the face of the sacred.

We exchanged tender good-byes on an ashen landscape.

I face a life sentence. My mother is dead.


I often hear about ‘tolerance’ and how necessary it is. What is tolerance? The word keeps morphing and its meaning seems elusive as a plume of smoke.

In carpentry ‘tolerance’ is an important concept. If your measurements are off and the margin for error is exceeded, the house you are constructing will be ‘out of tolerance’ and will not stand. You may think you can tolerate a chair built ‘outside of tolerance’ – at least until you sit on it. Or rather, when tested, it may not tolerate you!

Precision and working within tolerances becomes critical when building a ship or a jet. You don’t want to travel on a cruise in a ship built outside of tolerance, or you may awaken doing the back float.

Everyone has their limits. Try sleeping on a pillow that is too hard, or soft for your comfort. Without my favorite pillow, the quest for a night’s rest is intolerable.

Social contexts have their margins for error too. A civil society cannot survive without some elasticity in what can be tolerated. But context is everything. An Englishman may insist on his cultural prerequisites and drive on the left side of the road in Los Angeles. He will find no tolerance for this behavior.

You must conduct yourself differently when meeting the Queen of England than when meeting Courtney Love or you will find the limits of tolerance. Courtney’s friends might reject you too, if you treated her like a queen.

The shooting of unarmed civilians, regardless of their skin color is intolerable regardless of who does the shooting. We may experience intolerance of our response to intolerable actions.

Curiously, grown men sharing rest rooms with little girls is tolerated. But man-spreading on a subway is not.

In the past, an unchaperoned man spending time alone with an unmarried woman was not tolerated. Physical contact between the sexes was forbidden. A marriage contract was the remedy for couples who wished to hold hands, or more. In our enlightened age those rigid rules became intolerable. Tolerance has replaced virtue.

Ironically, recent news is filled with anxious stories about the ‘rape culture’ on college campuses. Some proposed remedies resemble requiring an attorney to negotiate signed acceptance at each stage of physical contact. Wasn’t a marriage contract simpler?

But can anyone tolerate the permanence implied by a contract anymore? Escape clauses don’t excite the libido like they used to.

It appears that in the media industry and within our halls of government a ‘rape culture’ was tolerated, until suddenly it wasn’t. Now, finger pointing is all the rage. Victimhood is power. If the powerful are intolerable, why do so many seek power?

In some other cultures rude behavior is not only tolerated, but expected. It’s a right. In the Middle East, many cultures treat their women as property. A woman claiming she was raped is more likely to be punished than the accused man.

Feminists’ silence about this, I’m told is because ‘each culture makes its choices.’ Really? That’s tolerant.

In today’s Europe, with the arrival of thousands of refugees and migrants from foreign cultures, incidents of rape have spiked. These attacks on native-born women are tolerated by the government due to… tolerance. Of course, a small minority of the migrants are the perpetrators of these crimes but it seems more than coincidental that the steep increase of sexual assaults followed their arrival.

We are told by our betters that we must tolerate those who are different, whomever they may be sexually, culturally, whatever. A man can choose to be a woman, a white can be black. There appears to be no end to this guessing game. I can declare myself to be a twenty-year old, native-American woman, or anything else should I choose. In a previous life I was Cleopatra. Why not now?

This raises an interesting question. If Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Bill Clinton and all the other accused sexual predators simply declared themselves to be from the Middle-East, would their troubles be over?


Would that be tolerance? Or a leaky boat?


Hits and Misses from Storyography – 2017

Each year at this time I re-publish a selection of some of my blogs that may have slipped through the cracks, or I hope will find readers who might have missed them on the first pass.

And I include some of my personal favorites.

I am Woman, Hear Me “Wahhh!” is a little more political than usual for me but, like it or not, I felt my take on the recent sex scandals had to be said: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/11/26/i-am-woman-hear-me-wahhh/  

Gumshoe, Meet Banana Peel is a rant from a different place that I hope gives you a smile: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/gumshoe-meet-banana-peel/

Shakespeare, On the Rocks is a whimsical re-imagining of some of the Bard’s more famous plays: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/10/24/shakespeare-on-the-rocks/

Eclipsed by a Fidget Spinner is an exploration of our need for diversion and the cyclical nature of our lives. This was printed in a recent edition of the Tolucan Times: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/09/05/eclipsed-by-a-fidget-spinner/

You Kiss With That Mouth? was my most read blog this year. I’m told my misadventures with dentists is very entertaining and funny. Don’t forget to floss: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/kicking-when-im-crowned/

Liberals and the Seven Stages of Grief examines the Kubler-Ross model of grief through the prism of the 2016 election: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/liberals-and-the-seven-stages-of-grief/

Another Brick in the Wall recounts my brief tenure as a middle school teacher: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/another-brick-in-the-wall/

Love and Scar Tissue is a reprint of a review I did for the Tolucan Times of the amazing Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. I wish everyone could have seen this riveting performance: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/love-and-scar-tissue-on-display-in-danny-and-the-deep-blue-sea-and-poison/

Thank you for reading my blog this year. I very much appreciate your comments and attention. I hope 2018 is wonderful for all.

I am Woman, Hear Me “Wahhh!”

Once upon a time, women were independent and strong. The struggles they endured and triumphed over give one pause.

My grandmother was one of these women. Divorced with four children, during the Great Depression, she was laid off from her salaried job selling advertising because “a man needed the job.” There was no time to debate ‘fairness’ or justice or oppression. She had mouths to feed. She did not fold. She didn’t collapse. She negotiated a commission-only deal and outsold her replacement. She was tough.

I never heard her complain about her lot. To suggest she was a victim would have made her laugh. The past was not kept alive in the present. She prevailed. She would relax by going to her social club and sing for her friends.

Had any wanker presumed to expose himself to her, I think she would have laughed in his face and told him to cover himself. She raised three boys to be men. Little boys didn’t scare her.

I never discussed this with her but I think she would scoff at a wolf whistle being equated with rape. Obviously, anyone confused about the difference has never actually been raped. Such ignorance diminishes the severity of rape and the injury suffered by victims of rapists.

Recently feminists have been demonstrating against ‘the patriarchy,’ the mainly white males who ‘run the world,’ oppress women and are generally seen as a ‘bunch of meanies.’

Who raised these petty tyrants?

Recently, women (and men) are emerging to speak of their abuse at the hands of the powerful. Whither the self-empowerment we hear so much about? Would that we all lived where self-defense was not necessary. Where is that again?

Little hard evidence has been offered to prove accusations that in some cases exceed the statute of limitations. It is so easy to point a finger. Easier even than saying ‘No!’

Some of these accusations have been stored for decades with nary a peep. Imagine opening a window revealing decades of your life to the public. Could anyone emerge unscathed from such public scrutiny? Who knows the countless micro-aggressions I have strewn over the decades? Thank God, I am no celebrity.

In college I made the mistake of saying something impolitic to a handful of women outside a bar. Not a victim among them, they violently impressed me with their opinions until the bouncer pulled them off of me. It was a lesson I never forgot. If only #metoo had existed then, I would not have had to explain my black eye to everyone.

I am not sure why these recent accusations are being referred to as ‘scandals’ when for decades, the popular message has been “If it feels good, do it. It’s just sex.” Isn’t this what ‘liberation’ is all about?

Please understand I am not defending the creeps who act this way. They deserve whatever they get. But outside of rape, most of the ‘revelations’ sound tamer than a typical HBO episode.

In the past, some women came forward to report assaults against them and they were disbelieved, dismissed and shamed (see: Clinton, Bill). These days, apparently all one needs do is click #metoo and they have an army of true believers behind them. Evidence be damned (see: Clinton, Hillary).

What does clicking #metoo actually accomplish, though? Does claiming some vague, amorphous victim status empower one somehow? Is there a bar to entry? Can anyone join? I was offended a few years ago, how about me?

So #metoo is the newly evolved way of dealing with creeps who make annoying and threatening comments? I don’t think so. What power is gained by claiming victim status, en masse? Is this truly the way to win the ’war on women’? At what point does the strength in numbers devolve into a mob mentality?

We are told things will be kinder and gentler when women run things. The evidence is not compelling.

Curiously, it is the purveyors of the whole ‘war on women’ concept; the news, entertainment and political class, who are the recipients of most of the accusations these days.

Not long ago, these same pundits ruthlessly attacked the religious community for their hypocrisy when a similar scandal arose. Now that the truth is emerging, would it be unfair to say the entertainment industry “Got religion”?

Ironically, before the avalanche of accusations started, V.P. Mike Pence was savaged by the media for declaring he never had private dinners with women besides his wife. What a rube. What a primitive. How unenlightened. Integrity and $1.50 will buy you a cup of coffee (and perhaps a happy marriage).

Conservative politicians are on their own. Numerous progressive politicians receive cover from newscasters. MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, feels it would be a “slippery slope to get rid of everyone who is accused. There would be no one left.” Optimist.

Senior Rep. John Conyers (D) used public funds to pay off an accuser. Sen. Al Franken (D) is defended for his ‘benign abuse’ and after all, “he’s funny, he’s popular and votes the right way.” He describes himself as “warm”. So, to be fair, let’s just get rid of the conservatives.

I am curious, if you identify as a victim and want government protection, but the abuser is from the government, to whom do you turn?


Of course, celebrity ‘abusers’ have money with which to buy silence (although throwing money at an actor is the best way to get them to talk). Their riches are ‘proof of their blessedness’ and so we must listen. They can buy bigger megaphones with which to tout their superior knowledge (beware the authority who tells you how to live).

‘Dues paying’ is an all-purpose term, adaptable to many circumstances. I heard about the ‘casting couch’ when I was a kid. The term ‘cattle call’ didn’t get invented in a vacuum. Titillating movies (‘The Apartment’ and others) made in the ‘60s about sexual favors and the abuse of authority became a sub-genre. When seeking Hollywood stardom, is anyone truly innocent of the compromising possibilities? As my Grandma would say, ‘Lie down with dogs…’

For most of us, there is a presumption of mutual professional behavior, whether in Congress, the newsroom, the office, or on a set. When those norms are discarded by those for whom ‘the rules don’t apply’ (or by the rule makers), it can be a shattering experience.

In Hollywood, it seems the ‘rules’ that actually apply may be the very ones young starlets want suspended because, being so beautiful and talented, they deserve a pass.

I once witnessed a director promise a beautiful young starlet he would authorize her SAG card if she disrobed for the camera. Did she get that promise in writing? What do you think?

When the attitude is “anything for my art,” is anyone surprised at what ‘anything’ might lead to? Cries of foul, years after the fact, strain to pass the smell test. Many of these accusations may be true. But anyone can sign on to “#me too”. How about “#not me!”

Click  to see the Storyography Video Memoir website:  http://www.lifestoryography.com/

Why Movies About Movie Making Flop

It seems most movies tanked this summer. But why do movies about the film business do especially badly at the box office? I don’t mean films that use Hollywood as a backdrop, great films like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ or ‘Sunset Boulevard’.

I mean movies that present the film business as interesting in and of itself. You know, shows like ‘An Alan Smithee Film’, ‘Map to the Stars’, ‘The Player’ ‘Won Ton Ton…’ and others. Did you see any of them? Exactly my point. These films didn’t sell enough pop corn to pay the ushers.

Why audiences don’t ‘get’ Hollywood-centric stories is a question I’ve never heard answered. I think it has to do with Hollywood’s self-promotion as a land of limitless glamour and glimmering success. There must be conflict to successfully engage the audience. How can the audience identify with anyone from that fanciful place untouched by darkness?

Comedies about the film business fail because they are filled with self-aware ‘in’ jokes, funny to those in the movie and few others. Alternately, the character’s problems may seem contrived. Can I truly sympathize with Red when she actively solicits the attentions of the Big Bad Wolf?

A case in point is a TV series I recently endured. The premise of it is absurd and I don’t recommend it. A secondary character, a writer is complaining about his sorry lot as the lead writer of a hit show. He is so put upon by his producer boss, that he has to work during ‘hiatus week’ while everyone else is vacationing or sitting by the pool. Any working schmo can identify with that. Who wants to work while everyone else is out playing? Not me.

But when you consider how much this ‘poor’ guy gets paid to put words on paper (six figures easily, plus golden time, residuals, etc.), our sympathy starts to fade. Perhaps his kids will respect him when they learn their Harvard tuition is completely funded. Meanwhile, he kvetches about his horrible job while riding around in a bit-coin powered limo and attending exclusive parties to schmooze flavor-of-the-week glitterati. Poor guy.

Understand that writing in Hollywood is a difficult and often thankless job. Writers often don’t get the appreciation they deserve. That is not my point. But Joe Blough, working two jobs just to keep up, and mowing his own lawn has a hard time feeling this character’s pain.

I never met a Hollywood writer who complained about his job. Whatever his private life, Hollywood people know they are blessed by whatever gods they grovel to. They would never be tempted to bite that beast’s gracious hand.

But that is only part of the problem. You have actors whose job is to give a gloss of authenticity to what is an inherently artificial process. It is hard enough to succeed at playing a cop, a housewife, or a lawyer. But an actor portraying an ‘authentic actor’ is beyond the best skills of most talented thespians. How exactly does an actor act, in the wild, when he’s not acting? What are they ‘really’ like? Just like you and me? Really?

Also, creating sympathetic portrayals of producers, directors and others in the business can be a task fraught with many pitfalls. Some of us ‘civilians’ may have to deal with out-sized egos and immense pressures in our hum-drum lives, but in Hollywood? Recent headlines only hint at what some of these powerful people are about.

But there is something un-real about how Hollywood elite deal with even mundane tasks. I heard Frank Sinatra had toilet paper in his house bearing his own image. Is your guest bathroom stocked with toilet paper with your smiling face printed on each two-ply sheet?

Asking an actor (read: someone truly fake and insincere) to honestly portray someone who is fake and insincere, creates a feedback loop of artifice. When it fails, it just looks like bad acting. But it is an honest attempt (by an inherently dishonest person) to portray as genuine, someone they know is dishonest. And that last bit is the problem. They try to make them genuine.

Some actors just play themselves and really only play one role, regardless how many shows they are in. Others never play themselves and completely transform once that camera starts rolling. When is either genuine though?

Not to say ‘genuine’ is impossible to do. In the recent mini-series ‘Feud,’ the story of the legendary competition between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (played wonderfully by Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lang) all the elements combine to form a veritable work of genius. Centered on their one movie together, ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ the series does everything right that most movies about movies fail miserably at. The characters are well known and bigger than life. The supporting roles are deliciously consistent with our expectations of who these people were. The writing is superb.

We see the characters on and off camera and they behave just as we expect they behaved, cat claws and all. Despite their bigger than life personas, the actors and writers succeeded in bringing out these character’s genuine humanity and the poignancy of their loneliness while embracing their prodigious flaws. They bring out their third dimension.

And the filmmakers never try to convince us these stars were normal or ‘just like us’. Hell, no! We don’t need to believe the ‘rich Hollywood actors, being paid millions of dollars to portray people just like you and me’ actually are just like you and me.

They succeed by highlighting our lives and allowing us to see things more clearly through their depiction on the big screen.

But they are not like us. And that is alright. I don’t want their flaws. I have my own. Watching them is entertaining. Watching me, not so much. (That is why they are known as ‘stars’!) If they were like me, I certainly wouldn’t be buying tickets to watch them.

Click  to see the Storyography Video Memoir website:  http://www.lifestoryography.com/

Gumshoe, Meet Banana Peel

What is it with all the gum on the sidewalks? Everywhere I walk, all I see is gum, gum, gum. Random black splotches everywhere. I know I should set my sights higher. But really? Gum? I didn’t even know people chew gum any more. I never see people chewing gum.

And yet they’re all slobs? Can’t they spit their gum into the street? Or onto the grass? How about a trash can? Must it land where people walk? It takes only a few days before a freshly poured sidewalk gets a stray wad of gum stuck on its pristine concrete surface. And then it’s downhill from there. What’s the point? It’s a damned shame. It is.

I personally gave up chewing gum shortly after accidentally sticking my gum all over the rear passenger door of my Dad’s new 1962 Mercury station wagon. Trying to get it off just made it worse as the strings got stuck too.

Tip: never try to remove gum from a car while it is moving sixty mph. No future in it.

So my Dad confiscated my brand new jumbo pack of 24 Bazooka Bubble Gums (less one). (not that I blame him anymore, but it seemed Draconian at the time.)

In a cruel irony, later that trip we ate at a Chinese restaurant in Seattle. I could not believe how much gum was stuck to the bottom of that table. It was astounding! Later, the owner of the restaurant invited us to return the next morning to see chickens running around like they’d lost their minds. But I digress.

Now the latest thing is banana peels. Curiously, they seem to show up right by my car door – regardless of where I park. Everywhere I park. And they aren’t mine. Is this a conspiracy against me?

Do I look like Daffy Duck to you? (Admittedly, I have borne an unfortunate resemblance to Wiley Coyote, especially when I’m wearing water skis.)

But banana peels? Oh, ho, ho! He slipped on a banana peel! That’s a new one.

Get some new material, Sonny.

Bananas are supposed to be healthy for you. Are vegan saboteurs stalking me because I have an occasional hamburger? Not a very peaceful way to attract me to your cause, vegan punk.

Or maybe they are being left by little old ladies getting their daily dose of potassium. They feel so jazzed from that, a pratfall is the next big charge.

You might be thinking, “With everything happening in the world, you are ranting about this?” Firstly, this is not a rant. This is a heartfelt plea, a cry for sanity in an insane world.

Secondly, I know you’ve heard of the ‘broken window principle’ that says a broken window left unrepaired, leads to other broken windows and then to a further general decline of the neighborhood? Do you think broken windows just fall out of thin air?

I know, rocks don’t break windows, people break windows. But my point is, gum on sidewalks could very well be the overlooked precursor to that epidemic of broken windows that keep you awake at night.

The devil is in the details, my friend. If we turn this around, who knows what problems will disappear of their own accord? Perhaps the world will stop spinning out of control.

How do banana peels fit into this? I don’t know. It slips my mind.


Click above to see the Storyography Video Memoir website:  http://www.lifestoryography.com/

Shakespeare on the Rocks

I have been experiencing cognitive dissonance of late. I keep reading about how universities are providing ‘safe spaces’ for their students. If I understand correctly, these sensitive students are retreating from the very diversity they expect the rest of us to tolerate.

Do administrators honestly believe they serve these student’s interests? Will coddling them prepare them for the real world?

I once dropped my ice cream cone and therefore wanted to break windows and burn cars. But since I was only two, Molotov cocktails were beyond my capabilities and I could only find satisfaction by throwing a cookie at our cat.

The latest manifestation of this ‘safe space’ proliferation is ‘trigger warnings’, which are being issued in university literature classes (at Cambridge, no less) because the subject matter of some Shakespeare plays may contain “potentially distressing topics”.

I get it. After all, even the bard’s name creates a violent image. Can you imagine going to a play these days by someone named Bill Beheader?

If Shakespeare is too raw, God forbid these students ever open a newspaper. Better they hide out and listen to the soothing tones of the latest hip-hop stars.

New editions of Shakespeare’s plays are coming out where even the tragedies will only have happy endings. You know, like life itself.

Richard III would be reworked to tell the story of a young King trying to operate an Ebay auction. “My kingdom for a horse!”

Henry V could be turned into a musical that would leave them humming with a reprise of the old Herman’s Hermits hit, “Henry the Fifth I am, I am”. “Second verse, same as the first!”

The Merchant of Venice will easily be turned into a tract about the successful imposition of a $15 per hour minimum wage.

A Midsummer’s Night Dream would remain as a fanciful comedy of errors featuring numerous fanciful characters debating which gender restroom they should use. Although much of the rich humor of the original involves gender confusion, if audience members are confused about their own gender, some of the play’s wit may wither. No worries, they can always trot out Bottom.

Othello might be recast in the image of Black Lives Matter where the good news is Desdemona is killed not because of Othello’s jealousy (so unevolved), but due to the violence in her words. Othello acts in self-defense.

Romeo and Juliet wants to be about a young vegan girl in love with the heir to the owner of Bologna’s largest sausage factory. They run off together to farm quinoa.

Hamlet is an activist in the antifa vein. His hatred of his uncle (read Uncle Sam) would finally make sense. Enough with the indecision, already. He and Ophelia would escape to their utopia (a safe space) in a hot air balloon. “To be violent, or not to be violent… What kind of question is that?”

King Lear is an aging king with three beautiful and devoted daughters. He divides his kingdom equally among the three of them and they all live happily ever after. What fool needs conflict?

Taming of the Shrew would become a lesson in toxic masculinity. Duh! Of course, Petruchio would decide he is really a woman and all would be well. The dynamics of their relationship would be the same, but all would be well.

Julius Ceasar would be much better if it were about a chef at one of those Italian food trucks. “One slice of pizza? Eat two, Brutus!”

MacBeth could easily become a favorite. Lady MacBeth would now be the president of Planned Parenthood ranting on about how one can have infinite choices with nary a consequence. “Out damned spot!”

Shakespeare in Love… What? He didn’t write it? But I thought for certain…

Does anyone think these would be improvements on the originals? Must classic literature conform to the fickle fashions of callow youth?

After all, we are told diversity and tolerance is the goal. However, diversity, by its nature is accompanied by friction as differences are amicably resolved and the heft of ideas is reckoned.

It appears these young scholars cannot tolerate the slightest challenge to the truth they espouse. Whither diversity? With truth, what need they fear? Truth abolishes fear.

What ever happened to the ‘truth will set you free’? Truth casts an unquenchable light. Can it even be seen from within a safe space?