Tuesday, May 3, 2022


I have not written in this space for over a year. I'm not sure why. I think it's because I gave up on everything. Pure idiocy runs our world, and there's nothing we can do about it. Also, there are just too many voices yammering and typing already.  However...

COVID?  COVID is in the time period I'm talking about. Is it possible I really had nothing to say about COVID? That's depressing. No inspiration in the night; no "ah hah" during an afternoon walk when suddenly you realize you want to impart your pearls of wisdom to the world. A pandemic, for God's sakes, and... nothing to say.

But for some reason I think I do have something to say about the Supreme Court and this "leak" of their apparent decision to strike down Roe V. Wade. Who knows why? But here I am. Typing.

The news came out last night. A draft of the SCOTUS decision to kill Roe V. Wade has been leaked. This begs a lot of questions.

First off, who leaked this document? Who is the dastardly baddie responsible for this unprecedented breach?  I'm assuming the Supremes themselves. A trial balloon, if you will, to see just how mad people are gonna get. It's big, knocking this thing down which -- if we're to believe the pundits -- is something more than 70% of the population doesn't want knocked down. So why not leak? The Supremes are, after all, in some cases crazy (Thomas), in some cases  temperamentally unsound (Kavanaugh), but in only one case dumb (Coney-Barrett). So test screening might be sound. Perhaps even they know how out of touch they are. 

As for the meat of what we're talking about - abortion - I'm not really interested, per se. I mean, I can understand some think an ice cube in a fertility center has more rights than a woman named Madge walking down a street, and others think that Madge's rights are more important than a tadpole, but that's not where I'm fired up. 

I'm fired up because this is an issue of removing rights that already exist. Retracting. Taking away. That's bad. It's almost never worked (Prohibition, post-Reconstruction), and it should be glaringly obvious to all of us -- even if the case for state power over abortion has some merit, which it might -- just where such a trend can go. But there's a psychological side to this, too.

If Roe goes down, then this generation of Americans will be walking around and living their lives pretty much as they did before, but they will have something new inside them that they have never had before: the awareness that what they thought were fundamental rights can be taken away from them in a micro-second. Ka-bam. Gone. 

I think that's a disaster. I think that's a ticking time bomb.

They will also know, of course, that they're being governed - governed, I say - by people they never elected to a thing. I know this is an indirect democracy, but the idiotic manner in which Supreme Court justices are chosen is beyond the pale. 

But let's be clear: this is their own fault.

If you're one of those folks who want to keep Roe in place just for the sake of human rights (that would be Madge's human rights), then why in the world didn't you make sure that this thing got codified in actual law? Precedent isn't law. Law is law. Precedent isn't constitutional right. Constitutional right is constitutional right. So over fifty years, how many of us lobbied and hectored our elected leaders to put this thing into law to make sure it stuck? Not me. Could have been done in 1977-79, 1993-95, or 2009-2011. But nada. 

That's because Democrats  think things will last forever. They always see blue skies, even though it was pretty clear since the 1980's that the Republicans had a very very VERY clear focus on the power of the Supreme Court, and they were right. They knew the game that needed to be played, and they won.

And now the Republican Party is entirely nuts, run by weak-kneed knuckleheads and Orban-loving fascists, to say nothing of all those bullshit artists who claim to believe in the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible and the rapture and the rest of that nonsense. So they have a hammer-lock on this thing, and they are way more dangerous than their Reaganite forbears who set this ball in motion.

But there's another villain in this story. A villain who takes us to the root of this whole thing.

It's school. Law schools in particular. What goes into them and what comes out.

Here's my thinking: every single one of the nine people who are currently sitting on the Supreme Court has lived what the rest of us would call Bubble Lives. They've probably lived Bubble Lives since they won the spelling bee in grade one; since they got tagged as "excellent students" in the third grade, but certainly since they won that all-important Honor Roll citation. Boy oh boy, our system loves excellent do-good students, and it moves them along like the folks being shunted to the front car of a Disney ride. 

At some point -- I'd say mid undergrad -- these keeners separated from the rest of us and went down the path to Bubble Land, while the rest of us wondered what we were going to do if we got canned that week. No such fear for the Bubble People. Bubble People don't get canned. They get Pinot Noir. I'm guaranteeing you, by the time they got to being actual judges, the current justices on the Supreme Court were utterly removed from the lives of the people they were soon going to govern -- and, oh yes, John Roberts, you do govern; like despots, or the clergy judges in the Salem witch trials. Call it what you want, it's a perverted governance.  

The problem is that our society says these are great success stories: people who have keenered their way to the top and by the age of forty have absolutely no idea what it means to sit with a calculator and do your own taxes, or even go to a Jiffy Lube. 

This description, in many cases, fits members of Congress as well, the same fools who put these Salem judges in place one way or the other. Or the privileged Presidents, or their Chiefs or Staff, or whoever is pulling the strings of the system at the current moment. They all speak the same language, and they all have their passports permanently stamped in Bubble Land.

We let this happen. It's our fault. We're asleep. Didn't make Roe a law of the land even though we had fifty years to do so, didn't pay attention to the Jesus Christers who put church about Constitution, and... 

And so there they sit, the Mighty Nine, the Bubble Heads, immoveable, unapologetic, utterly sure of themselves, and never squeegeed a window in their life. And what's the end result? Women with the means will get in their cars and get abortions. Others will take pills through the mail -- although I have no idea what you do with the fetus that's still inside you. And the ones who can do neither will just be completely fucked.

They will be, by and large, poor Black women. No Bubble about them, that's for sure.

It's to laugh. This country keeps doing the same thing over and over again. The same sufferers since before the country was even incorporated. Poor Black women. 

Maybe that's why I thought it was more important that COVID. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


So imagine a Thanksgiving dinner with the whole extended family invited over. The turkey has one more hour to roast in the oven. Half the family is gathered in the living room, say, eating snacks, enjoying drinks, and telling stories. Maybe the other half is in the TV room, watching football. I'm gonna add snow falling outside to fill out this scene. 

Suddenly smoke starts seep from the oven. Not a lot, nothing alarming, but it's starting to smoke up the kitchen. Aunt Sadie says, "Oh, maybe I spilled a little grease when I basted the turkey fifteen minutes ago," and Uncle Ira says, "No, I think that's the scalloped potatoes bubbling over." A nice flurry of activity in the kitchen. Mom opens the window above the kitchen sink to let the smoke out.

Suddenly Uncle Bob bolts into the kitchen! He holds Aunt Sadie's face against the kitchen table and tells her to stay there if she knows what's good for her! He tells Uncle Ira to get on his knees and don't even think of getting up. Then he starts chanting "Fire! Fire!" as he turns his attention to the oven. He grabs a small fire extinguisher and yells at Mom, "Open the fucking oven! Open the fucking oven!" Mom quivers. "Bob, I'm sure if we just open another window...." Uncle Bob screams at her to shut the fuck up if she wants to live through the next three minutes. "Do it!" With trembling hands, weeping, talking about how early she got up to start Thanksgiving dinner, Mom opens the oven. 

Uncle Bob sprays fire extinguisher spray into the oven, unloading the entire cannister. The kitchen billows with white smoke and spray, the oven screams like a dying animal, and the entire Thanksgiving dinner is destroyed. Then Bob turns to the entire family gathered around the entrance to the kitchen. "Everyone keep their mouth shut!" 

Freezeframe the picture. Think. Every single member of the family - every single member - would say that Bob is completely, utterly, and without a doubt, out of his mind. Nuts. Crackers. Over the high side and into bananaland. But because we're rational people, we all stand there in stunned silence and obeisance, simply because the size of Bob's irrationality is so immense, his craziness so crazy, that we rationals are stunned into slack-jawed inertia. We might even convince ourselves that Bob must have had a reason to have behaved so irrationally. Maybe the turkey was going to kill us.

This is policing in America. 

It is about race, oh, absolutely, don't worry about that. But it's also about something else.  The fact is, cops in America are not temperamentally suited to the job. Nothing is going to change until we admit that as well. The George Floyd verdict addresses some of this, but aspects of the trial wouldn't and couldn't deal with that reality, otherwise Chauvin might have got off. I'll get to that in a second.

But first let's look at the case of 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, who was pulled over by two cops in Windsor, Virginia. I watched the footage, and like everyone else I was horrified by the treatment of an active duty serviceman being threatened at gunpoint, pepper-sprayed, yanked from his vehicle, and physically and psychologically abused by the cops during a stop for a missing license plate - which wasn't, in fact, missing. Officers Joe Guttierez and Daniel Crocker clearly went beyond the bounds of their duty, but  the whole incident was more than what governor Ralph Northram described as "disturbing."

In fact, it was nuts. Guttierez is nuts. He's screaming and yelling. He threatens. Let's be clear: the infraction is a misplaced license plate. That is all. Yet the cops have their guns out in seconds.  Guttierez's hands shake so badly with rage that he can barely get the pepper spray out to pepper spray his detainee, who is speaking in a normal tone of voice even though also clearly shaking, except in this case the guy's shaking is well-placed fear. Guttierez's lack of control deserves full clinical evaluation. Is he so frightened of Nazario that he can't contain himself? Or is he, like Bob in the kitchen, unable to handle even the smallest non-crisis and he feels he needs to over-compensate? Or does the license plate mean so much to him? A yes to any of these questions makes it clear Guttierez should not be wearing a badge of any kind, but a strait-jacket instead.

Now let's go to the death of Daunte Wright, who was killed by cops because he was... driving a car. This nightmare is also on video - as is George Floyd's death, as is the stopping of Caron Nazario, as is the shooting in the back of Rayshard Brooks, etc etc. etc.  But ignore, if you can, what you're seeing in the Wright video and just listen to it. Officer Kim Porter is screaming. I mean screaming, "Taser! Taser! Taser!" Then a micro-second after that, she shoots Wright in the chest, then a micro-second after that, she says, "Shit, I just shot him."

By anyone's metric, Kim Porter is not in control of herself or the situation. She is a screaming, yelling, nut. A murdering nut at that. However, the reality that Wright was able to get back in his car and, even after being shot, pull away, shows that no cop was in control of the situation. Look at their stunned faces and slack-jawed expressions if you don't believe me. 

And that leads us back to George Floyd and Derek Chauvin. I don't know about the rest of you, but the look I have always read on Derek Chauvin's face as he kills Floyd over a period of nine minutes is one of satisfaction. Confidence. Even, pride? He is controlling the situation and everyone else on the sidewalk can go fuck themselves. The fact that this is over an alleged counterfeit twenty is beside the point, as is the license plate, as is Wright's misdemeanor. Chauvin is so hyped up on himself and his power and his role here that he is going to kill a man in front of all of us and get away with it, just to prove to us that he can.

And he was right! If you don't believe me, check out the statement the Minneapolis Police Department put out right after. Here is the meat of it: 

Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car.  He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers.  Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.  Officers called for an ambulance.  He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

I'm not making this up. This is what the Minneapolis Police Department put out after Floyd died. In other words, they were covering up a murder and they were doing so with the casual insouciance of an institution that is used to covering up murders. "He appeared to be suffering medical distress." By the way, once they realized the fix was in, these same folks testified against Chauvin, all pious and making sure we understood he was an outlier.

It's simply not true, and by all traditions, Chauvin should have got off for killing Floyd, just as these other incidents would never even have made a blip on local evening news. The problem for the cops is the wonder of modern digital video technology. 

This technology, which we all carry, reveals who our cops are. Screaming, yelling killers. Terrified, yes, but also weirdly vengeful. How else do you explain cops chasing Rayshard Brooks in order to shoot him in the back? Who chases someone you're terrified of in order to shoot him in the back? What's going on in your head at that moment? If you tell me nothing, I'll itemize just how many deadly weapons a cop is carrying at any given moment.

The truth is obvious, even if we don't like to admit it. It isn't just a few bad apples. It's the whole barrel. 

How did this happen? I mean, on a human level.  Do crazed Uncle Bobs apply for jobs as cops so they can work out their inner demons and terrors? Or does the system turn them all into Uncle Bobs, screaming and yelling and killing?

We could argue this all day long, but even though I'm no optimist, I believe it has to be the system. I just don't believe there are that many crazy people out there who A) want to be cops, B) can figure out how to apply and pass the requisites, and C) get into the academy and graduate. It's too long a shot. The problem is, if I'm right, that it means the system creates murdering lunatics. Why? How? I don't know, but I do know that a 26 year veteran who loses her mind and just shoots a kid she means to tase ("Taser! Taser! Taser!") doesn't seem plausible unless you accept that the system turned her that way over a period of time, otherwise her complete incompetence for the job would have been outed long before.

Worse, the system is able to keep doing its thing because the rest of us are willing to go along with the myth that it's either one bad apple or something that can be fixed with retraining, or defunding, or whatever silliness we tell ourselves is going to fix the thing. We may as well tell ourselves that Bob just had an extra beer before Thanksgiving dinner, or he just needs some air; anything, really, other than the truth, which is that Bob needs to be put away.

Part of our problem is cultural. We want to believe the cops are the good guys and most of them are looking out for us, but after year and  years of hearing them (Val Demings in the House Judiciary committee the other day), I am searching for the hard evidence on that score. I know TV tells us they're all good, and I know people believe that myth. We do that simply because the alternative requires too much work on our part. 

And I have a weird story on that front. Not to go off on a personal sideroad, but in 2019 I made a feature film called "American Hangman," which played on Netflix. In that film, the cops are portrayed as doing pretty much two things: sitting around talking and looking stuff up on computers, or dressing themselves up in riot gear and smashing into houses, screaming and shouting, and shooting people randomly. At a test screening, many of the (totally white) audience said the portrayal of the cops was totally unrealistic. And how did they know? Not one, but two people said, "Well, I watch a lot of Law and Order, and I can tell you that's not how it is." (Interestingly, the film has developed a much more diverse following, and once that was added to the mix, the "this is unrealistic" voices seem to have been drowned out.)

In other words, our myths perpetuate our perception of reality. We believe because we want to believe. The alternative is too hard to handle.  The Floyd prosecution team knew this, which is why they made sure to paint Chauvin as an outlier. They knew that the jury would be hesitant to condemn police in general, because it is simply too terrifying a thought. And they got their verdict.

But nothing is going to change on any level until we admit the problem is far far bigger than that. It's even bigger than racism itself, which can eventually become  a kind of perverted solace for white people.  "Well it's really a race issue" is a boo hoo, but it's also a kind of weird "get out of jail free" card. Of course it is a race issue, that's obvious, but it's also a power issue, a temperament issue, and a failure of society to control those who control us. We fucked this up royally, and moved cops from those who are supposed to calm situations down into an invading force who inflame all situations.

How many of us are relieved to see the cops pull up to a streetcorner where a bunch of teenagers are having an argument? How many of us are happy to see the cops banging on our neighbor's front door? How many of us believe the cops entering our house - at ANY time - is a good thing? 

In light of the George Floyd verdict, do not be snowed. The folks who put out that false news report from the Minneapolis Police Department are still in charge, and the crazy cops who killed Daunte Wright are still cruising your neighborhood looking for action. Pray to God they don't stop you, or your teenager - especially your Black teenager - for having run a Stop sign. Because they will escalate the situation, they will turn it into a crisis, and they will kill someone.

That's what they do.

Saturday, January 9, 2021



     I’m not sure how many people standing outside American mythos can truly appreciate how devastating and soul crushing the events in Washington on January 6th were.
For those of us who have bought in, however, no matter where we were born or even where we live, the desecration of both the American citadel and the illusion of order was killer.
We’re still numb. Shocked. Trying to sort it out. The key question seems to be, “How could this happen?”
I believe I am in a unique position to answer that question.
Why me?
Because for the last three years, I have been planning just such an attack on the U.S. Capitol building. That includes how to get around the Capitol police, the National Guard, how to enter the building, how to hold it, and even how to hold its occupants as hostages.
That’s because I am the author of a novel called “The Feast of Wolves and Wild Dogs,” which has been serialized online since October and is still rolling out as we speak (www.thefeastofwolvesandwilddogs.com). Let’s be clear: this is a work of fiction. And as a work of fiction, and narrative fiction at that, the book is built around a fairly simple premise: what if a French Revolution came to modern day America, complete with Twitter, 24-hour cable news, and whatever the ambitious psychopath can pick up at Dick’s Sporting Goods?
I put a lot of what I thought was outlandish stuff in this book. Not just the capture of the U.S. Capitol, but the takeover of statehouses across the country; racial protests; riots against income inequality; media manipulation; guillotines; gallows; invoking the 25th Amendment; Vice Presidents under threat; and even people dressed as animals wandering around the sacred halls of Washington (hence the wolves in the title). Needless to say, I have been spooked in recent months by certain similarities to real events.
(The kidnapping of government officials I largely left out, because I already made a movie about this. It’s called “American Hangman,” and it’s on Netflix right now. This is another piece of fiction I thought kind of over-the-top until the events in Michigan sadly proved me wrong.)
But here’s the catch: while the book is still unveiling itself, the truth is that I actually started it in 2017 and finished it early in 2020.
So, that leads me to some real concerns when I hear officials and elected representatives in the last 48 hours, all aquiver, say things like, “Who could have known? Who could have guessed this would happen?”
Well, I say... ME! Apparently, I knew!
And that, of course, raises some pretty big questions.
Primarily, how did some guy sitting in Southern California with his feet up on the coffee table figure out how to breach the Capitol where none of the people truly responsible for the building even considered the idea? How did I figure out just how important the Virginia National Guard would be – and just who would need to trigger the request to federalize same – where no real official on January 6 had the foggiest idea who to even call to get physical protection for Members of Congress? And how did I alone recognize the importance of the 25th Amendment in such a crisis?
Clearly, there are only so many viable answers to these questions.
1.    I’m a genius. I alone saw with clarity what no one else could imagine.
2.    The maniacs who invaded the Capitol on January 6 are avid readers.
3.    Our political leaders and law enforcement officials DID in fact know what fire they were playing with; they just didn’t see the repercussions in practical terms.
4.    Law enforcement was not clear about their role in defending the Capitol.
Sadly, in examining these options, I have to eschew the first one.
It really strikes me as unlikely that a middle-aged man with four kids and a small orange cat – a guy who spends more of his time going to the hardware store or trying to find Jack Finney novels on Abebooks - has unique insight into the forces of disorder beyond those available to the FBI and Homeland Security.
Option number two – that the forces of disorder were tremendously inspired by my fiction – is also, sadly, unlikely. Firstly, while the book is gaining a solid readership, it hasn’t even been traditionally published yet, and more importantly, it’s unlikely that the green guy wearing antlers is spending a lot of his time reading.
Option three – that our political leaders never saw the practical repercussions of their own actions – seems more likely, but even when you combine it with option four, the bases still aren’t totally covered.
Because we’re still left with the lingering question of how you breach a Capitol. I don’t just mean the mechanics of how people smashed through windows and squirmed into the Senate chamber, but how?  Truly, how?
Which leads us back to fiction, and the definition of speculative fiction itself.
The great Margaret Atwood defines speculative fiction (and I’m paraphrasing here) as a shout of “Watch out!” and “Be careful!” This definition is as solid as it gets. Certainly, that was my intention in writing my book, as I imagine it’s the intention of any author who sets out to lecture a waiting world on what seeds it should or shouldn’t sow. But in order for the warning to work, the novelist has to show not just the gruesomeness of what might happen, but the why.
I believe this is a pretty important function in society. It’s the value of an Orwell, a Huxley, a Philip K. Dick, or an Atwood. But that job shouldn’t rest solely with writers.
Far from it. The folks who should really be in charge of “Watch Out” and “Be Careful” are the ones who are actually given the jobs of managing our society on a daily basis. Our elected representatives, our law enforcement, and our judiciary. It is their duty to not just react but anticipate, to be prepared, and to avert disaster borne of the natural, even animal, propensities of most human beings. In short, manage the why as well as the mechanics.
In the case of January 6, this view was turned upside down. The manner in which the beast was able to run rampant through our citadel made it very clear that it was the elected representatives, law enforcement, and judiciary who birthed the animal in the first place; fed it, protected it, pet it, and finally let it loose.
Take it from someone who has been thinking about this for three years. You can’t just storm the Capitol and take it over with ease unless the folks guarding the place have some weird notion that you have the right to do so, or at the very least that they shouldn’t interfere with your intentions; you can’t just stumble upon the private offices of elected Members of Congress unless you’ve been told where to go; and you can’t just take the dais of the U.S. Senate unless someone has decided not to shoot you.
If you don’t believe me, let’s look at the argument about race. I certainly agree that if all the invaders had all been Black, they most certainly would have been shot. And perhaps if they’d all been waving Soviet flags they’d also have been shot. But there was something about the color of the invaders (white) and the flags (Confederate), which made the people who were supposed to guard our Capitol step back and say, “These guys are okay.”
(This is something I didn’t get into my book, because I could never have imagined it. Nor am I a fine enough poet to have dreamt up the image of Black janitors and custodians having to clean up the mess of white people, including, yes, Confederate flags. Their job is to return the nation’s Capitol to its pristine state, an institution which has worked assiduously to deny them rights for more than 240 years. What poet could dream that up?)
No, what played out on January 6 required more than the ability to just breach a building. This was about the breach of something far greater, and the fault lies with beings far more powerful than a bunch of dickheads wearing MAGA hats.
The fault lies with the elected representatives of this country, on both sides of the aisle but primarily the Republican side, and those who refuse to hold them to task. That’s you and me. It also lies with a culture that allows something as ludicrous as Fox News to sell its swill 24 hours a day for decades without any blowback from the people. It also lies with an education system which refuses to instill any basic knowledge of civics, social responsibility, or moral understanding. It most certainly lies at the foot of every pulpit where the sheer madness of Trump (and he is, most of us now agree, literally mad) is preached as part of Christian truth, to the point where an army of uninformed cultists equate Trump not with other Presidents, but with Christ. But most of all, the fault lies with a culture of greed and self interest that allows people who are educated, informed, and enlightened, to support and vote for such moral vomit because it’s good for the Dow, their investments, their 401k’s, their business, the value of their property, and their jobs in Congress.
These are the elements necessary to breach the U.S. Capitol and desecrate the concept of America.
When you combine all them, it’s not a question of, “Who could this happen?” It’s a question of, “How could this NOT happen?”
Yet it should not be the sole province of writers or filmmakers or poets to dream up these scenarios, imagine the very worst, and show their genesis.
It is the place of the political, economic, and judicial leaders of this hopelessly naïve nation to look in the mirror and reckon with these truths. To realize that they are the most naïve and absurd among us, and to understand that their childish antics and actions have real life consequences. They need to accept that they are responsible for what happened on January 6, and that they should be the ones cleaning up the mess, not the janitors. They should stop pointing fingers and say - every single one of them - “Me. Me. I did this.”
Because they did, whether directly or indirectly, by speaking out loud or through silence or obeisance. Some more than others.


Saturday, November 28, 2020


Don't get me wrong. I'm now 6 episodes into "The Queen's Gambit" - so almost done - and I'm enjoying it. I have some quibbles, but those are quibbles, but I'm in a mood these days to enjoy something for the sake of enjoying something, and I'm done with pointless smart criticisms. So it's good. It's good. Buuuuut.....

I can't be the only one to notice that the plot of "The Queen's Gambit" is pretty much "Rocky III" meets "Rocky IV."

I can't be.

Because, boy, is it ever.

[HERE THERE BE SPOILERS of.... well, all three titles.]

So an impossibly unlikely contender rises up out of nowhere with a totally improbable shot at the title. A disappointed-in-life manager appears to nurse the contender to champion status, and it works!  They go on a run of title after title, easy knock-outs, until the champion finally faces a REAL challenge. On that very night, during the match, the manager dies as the champion takes a first big - and psychologically devastating - loss. We are all stunned. Champion returns home to lick their wounds, only to be visited by an old rival who says they are going to coach the wounded champ. The message is clear: "No, you can still be a champion, but you just have to RE-LEARN everything you know, and learn how to counterpunch. Why? BECAUSE YOU'RE GOING TO FACE THIS UNBEATABLE RUSSIAN WHO IS SO GOOD THEY'RE NOT EVEN HUMAN!!!" So, it's back to roots, back to self, back to the basics, to learn how to beat the indomitable Russki.

Need we say that the Russian is clearly a construct of the evil Soviet empire? A mechanized product of the Soviet obsession with winning (in "Gambit," some of the lines about the terror of facing this Soviet seem almost line for line "Rocky IV" fodder).

Don't get me wrong. I love this plot, and as episode 4 of "Queen's Gambit" started I certainly felt that we were in sorrowful need of some pretty strong narrative;  things seemed to be slipping, we didn't have the lean-forward we had in the first two episodes, so what's wrong with going to the Italian Stallion for a little plot advice? 

But is it conscious or is it just an accident? My guess is - having worked on a lot of TV series myself, although nothing like this - that it's just a fluke, or inadvertent Xeroxing. To be clear: Quentin Tarantino steals (he doesn't even consider it stealing, I think), but I doubt Scott Frank, a seriously talented guy, and the "Gambit" team were watching old "Rocky" movies to get their inspiration, and they have the added fact that "The Queen's Gambit" is based on a novel by Walter Trevis, who also wrote "The Hustler," "The Color of Money," and, unusually, "The Man Who Fell to Earth," which was adapted into an underrated movie by a totally underrated director, Nicolas Roeg.

In contrast to the clean, cool style of "Gambit," the "Rocky" movies had crazily embarrassing plots that were nonetheless utterly engrossing, which pretty much means that they weren't so crazy after all. Sylvester Stallone clearly knows what he's doing as a writer, and I applaud him also for his singular skill with crazy-ass character names: Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and, most terrifically, Ivan Drago. One wonders what would have happened had Stallone been born 80 years earlier and had to express himself through writing adventure pulps. He would have KO'd even Arthur Conan Doyle (who gave us both Sherlock Holmes and that intrepid dinosaur hunter, Professor Challenger) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (who gave us Carson Napier and Tarzan).

Anyway, I digress. "The Queen's Gambit." I decided to do a little research and discovered that Trevis' novel was published in 1983, whereas "Rocky IV" is a 1985 release. Knowing what I do about movies, that means the script was, at the latest, being written in 1983. Alas, "Rocky III," which also has a lot of "Gambit" elements, is a 1982 release, so any reasonable person has to give the match to Stallone, or at least a draw on any "Rocky IV" similarities.

Who cares? It's all great, and as I say, I'm putting all my money on it being accidental.

But it raises this question: is there any chance we can just throw caution to the winds and meld the two? "The Queen's Gambit" might benefit from a little CLUMP! CLUMP CLUMP CLUMP! - which is me writing the opening crash chords of "Eye of the Tiger." By the way, there literally are training sequences in "The Queen's Gambit" that are somewhere between Mike Figgis split screen, "Ocean's Eleven," and Rocky's legendary "gonna fly now" sequence, and I'd be okay with Carl Weathers somehow showing up in "Gambit" and giving Beth Harmon a little buck-up lecture, before the Russian chess champion literally kills him, which inspires Beth to take that Russian bastard apart by castling him mercilessly. Now that is entertainment!

Anyway, this is not my traditional blog entry but really just a love letter to both entities.  There are archetypes and tropes in all narrative, and it's often fun to find them, in a kind of "Where's Waldo" way, and it doesn't detract from the entertainment, enjoyment, or the art. I well remember one of my kids' eyes popping as he realized what I meant when I said, "Tell me what Dumbledore and Harry have to do with Luke and Obi-Wan and Arthur and Merlin and the Karate Kid and..."  Well, for that matter, Mickey and Rocky!!

Okay, enough. I'm going to go watch episodes 6 and 7.  Later.

Eye of the tiger, Rock. Eye of the tiger.

Monday, November 23, 2020


In this time of sharing, I thought I’d make three bald confessions. I’m doing so because I want to see if anyone else is feeling the same way.

I made this short list based on watching and reading the news last night. I won’t try to make sense of the contradictions within my assertions, because I think the contradictions actually say a lot – again, if anyone else is feeling the same way as I am.

So, this is an unusual blog post. No art here, just a reach-out.

Confession #1: I do not want to take the vaccine, primarily because the election polls were wrong.

I can’t be the only one with this idiot thought. And I’m deadly serious. As illogical as it sounds, it seems to me  that the people telling me the vaccine is good to go and 95% effective are the same people who told me that the Democrats were definitely going to gain seats in the House and take control of the Senate and that Joe Biden would win Wisconsin handily.

Obviously, I know that the same people responsible for the polls aren’t the same people responsible for the vaccine. But, just as obviously, none of that stuff did happen in the election. Worse, the people who made those election assertions – to say nothing of the news people and campaign people who have put us all at risk by following those polls – have yet to properly explain themselves. The best they’ve come up with is a weird kind of mea culpa that goes like this: “While it certainly appears that we got a number of things wrong, in the long run, and over time, you’ll see that really we weren’t that far off.”

Uh, no. You were far off. Very far off. As a result, we Democrats are in the fight of our lives for the Senate, Joe Biden had to squeak through in the key states (0.2% in Georgia), and the House is precarious and absolutely in peril for 2022. 

Tell the truth, at least. You got the numbers very very wrong. And you did so after a sizeable warning called... 2016.

So my brain has conflated these pollsters and pundits with the people telling us that the approaching vaccine is 95% effective. They may have different names and jobs and faces, but they sure seem the same to me. And their methodology seems similar too: 95% effective! “What about side effects?” 95% effective! “Says who?” The company making it! “Didn’t some of the owners of those companies actually unload their own stock before they unveiled their billion-dollar baby?”  No no, just think 95% effective! “Really? On whom? Black men aged 80? 6-year old with cystic fibrosis? Women who have had breast cancer?” 95% effective!

There could be another answer. Perhaps the vaccine is 95% effective only in those states that Joe Biden won by 17%, like, say Wisconsin? In other words, 95% effective in Magical Bullshit Land?

Confession # 2: I’m intolerant of my own tolerance, particularly to GOP voters.

Recently, on the New York Times podcast The Argument, conservative blogger Ross Douthat stated that one of his big concerns coming out of the 2020 election is social division, specifically that Democratic-leaning citizens view Republican-leaning citizens as subhuman Neanderthal throwbacks, and disregard the validity of their viewpoints.

This is a sentiment repeated by a lot of folks in the media, both on the left and the right. It has, in fact, become a trope of the left that we have to reach out and understand the Trump voter better. Such tolerance is key to our survival as a nation. I am confessing my true and adamant view of this now.

Bullshit. Bull-shit. Yes, there is an existential crisis for the very soul and basis of the nation, but can any sane person say that the answer is to find common cause with people wearing MAGA hats who shout, “Lock her up,” and, “White Power!”?

If you care about the basic rule of law, constitutionality, or even basic equality – if, in short, you stand against racism, putting kids in cages, and circumventing the standards of decent and effective working government, including healthcare and education – then you must shout out loud and make it clear that you will never collaborate with Dad shouting “white power” from his golf cart or the elected representatives who collude with or make allowances for said Dad in any way ever. 

We have to stand up for something.

So I’m sorry, Ross. This is a war for the basic liberality that constitutes a republic, and these people, by choice, have absented themselves from any discussion of same by tying their interpretation of the republic to a con man charlatan, religious fundamentalism, and what is served up to them by Klan-TV (Fox). We are talking about an electorate that refuses to educate themselves, and an uneducated electorate is lethal to a republican democracy. Worse, they are proud of their stupidity. 

So my intolerance grows for tolerance. In fact, I now see it as a very short walk from “we have to understand these people” to Trump’s odious “good people on both sides.” 

Where do you make a stand, Ross? It’s clear you’re a very decent, educated, and thoughtful guy, but where is your line in the sand in terms of antisocial and anti-democratic behavior?

I’d suggest that we don’t spend our time trying to “understand” them, but to educate them, or to educate their children. Maybe it’s not possible in this, the most uneducated of first world nations, but it might be our only shot.

Let’s be clear. We are talking about modern national Republicans here – not Gerald Ford or George Herbert Walker Bush or even Ronald Reagan – who should actually shoulder the blame for letting the evangelicals into the tent in the first place.  I am talking about the national Republicans now; the ones who won’t even speak against Trump as he jacks around claiming he won the election and trying to muscle lower-level canvassing board officials into throwing the contest his way, like some 1899 ward boss. 

The national GOP officeholders are as silent on all this as they have been on children torn from their parents and put in cages (a terrifyingly weird deterrent to refugee claims), just as they’ve been silent on their own inability or lack of interest in passing any sort of rescue package for the tens and tens of millions of Americans financially devastated by COVID, a pandemic almost all of them have mocked and ridiculed even as the death numbers exceed World War II battle deaths.  They even go so far as to defend Trump whimpering inside the White House the last two weeks, chewing the blanket while pissing away every day’s opportunity to do something about the pandemic.

I don’t want to be at war with anyone, and I certainly don’t want to be at war with my neighbors, but I sure believe that the incoming administration and the Democratic party in general must take the stance that they are at war with these people, and eschew the coddling olive branch fantasy that led Obama for so many years. 

Otherwise, what are we looking at for 2024? When your opponent is lacking in all virtue, they have the freedom to dream up any atrocity to reacquire power. If Trump doesn’t run again, the GOP may find themselves a camera-friendly dictator who, unlike Trump, can actually administrate and do something. A Huey P. Long, for instance. And that character, I guarantee you, would have beaten Biden in a landslide. 

My view is clear and unequivocal: the most effective and patriotic stand is rejection of modern GOP values, not capitulation or prevarication. Let’s try and eradicate the problem, not pet it. And call it what it is: the modern-day national GOP is a party of liars, racists, crooks, and bullshit artists. It is the party of Dumb. It is the party of White Nationalism. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, also has its share of liars and crooks and bullshit artists, but it not the party of White Nationalism. 

There’s the line. Right there.  A threat to all tradition and decency within the American superstructure. We have to call them for what they are and we have to beat them.

Once they’re gone, we can begin anew with a second party to stand against the Democrats: a new Federalist Party, or Whigs, or hell, Conservatives. I might even kick in a few bucks. But no ground can be given to these maniacs.

Confession #3: I’m frustrated and wearied by Obama’s genial optimism.

Okay, this may be petty, but I don’t care. I saw him on the news last night, so it fits this post. And in truth, it’s part of the bigger picture I’m trying to paint here.

I suspect the world is a pretty good place for Barack and Michelle Obama. It sure seems it. And good on them. But they are now so divorced from reality and, I suspect, exist in such a feedback bubble, that the former President’s natural tendency to prevaricate – which is how he got to the top throughout his life – strikes me as nothing more than dangerous fence-sitting.  And I’m wearied by it.

We have just been through and still are in the age of the worst President in American history. A man who perpetually lies, breaks the law, has used the office for his own enrichment, and spends most of his time encouraging the crazies and lowest members of our society to rise up and take arms – literally – against fellow citizens. He has encouraged law enforcement to brutalize those they serve. During this time Obama has been... well, pretty much silent. Tempered? Reasoned? Pick a word.

The rationale seemed to have been, at first, that he wanted to give Trump a chance to grow into the job. (I’d like to point out that the day after Trump was sworn in, millions upon millions of Americans engaged in the Women’s March – me included – and I didn’t get a sense that anyone in those crowds was confused about Trump being able to grow into the job, so why was Obama so late to read the tea leaves?) Then Obama’s argument seemed to be that past Presidents don’t diss the new President. Then it was... Well, I don’t know what it was, because we didn’t hear from the man. 

What it wasn’t was Obama using his huge political capital to help boot that maniac out of. He didn’t lead the call and he didn’t, even, write nasty articles in the New Yorker. He was not, as TR said, in the arena. Someone like Robert Reich fought every single day of the Trump administration, while Obama went snorkeling. And when he wasn’t snorkeling, he sat back, took on a professorial mien, and only lately has he been out there opining on Trump because A) we finally had an election at hand and his own guy was in it, and B) he has a book to sell.

Let’s be clear. No one was a bigger supporter of Obama than me. But I feel stupid now. And duped.

In short, kind of how I feel about all those polls I paid attention to. And how I'm worried I'm going to be duped about this vaccine.

There are now 150,000 to 200,000 new coronavirus cases a day.  This is the fault of the national Republicans for supporting “Dumb.” It is also the fault of the Democrats for being so weak and feckless. In the end, the only solution the Democrats had to Trump – the worst President in American history – was a national election, which is really saying, “The people have to fix this, we can’t.” And they almost, and pretty much did, blew that.

So, in summary, my problems clearly stem from the fact that the folks in charge, the experts - experts? ARE they experts? – have made a mess of things from top to bottom for decades now, and now they want us – need us - to trust them with this vaccine thing. I want to believe, I truly do, but this is Lucy and the football and maybe those idiot aliens on Star Trek Next Generation. And for some reason, I can’t help wonder if they aren’t laughing at all of us.

If you think that’s just paranoia, see Kamala Harris fist bumping Lindsey Graham on the floor of the US Senate last week.

What do you think that’s about? What do you think it portends for 2022 and 2024? Or the next four years? New leadership and guidance, or more of the same?

Joe, you better get us out of this.


Sunday, November 15, 2020


© photograph copyright 2020 by Emily Coneybeare

For the fifth grade I was transferred to a new school. Cassandra Public School was on the other side of the ravine in our little suburb, and really not that far from my first school, but it was still a whole new world to me, full of strange kids and unknown teachers. As the last of four children, I had always enjoyed being “known.” Now I was to be anonymous.

The school itself was on a common suburban street, Cassandra Boulevard. It was as undistinguished as you can imagine. It was THE public school, just as, around the corner, there was THE junior high school. Up the way and closer to the main drag was THE high school. I can’t imagine any parent thinking about the quality of education in that suburban world, or vying for their children to go to a better or more prestigious school. Such was education as laid out in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This was the suburbs of the 1970’s.

As I had no friends yet, and being in a new school, and not being at all athletic, and not seeing myself as particularly “part of the group,” I soon found the school library. This was a pretty meagre affair but well laid out in its own way. It was on the second floor, two classrooms adjoined and broadloomed in cheap industrial green. Outside of class assignments, I don’t think I ever saw any kids in there of their own accord. Except me.

To this day I know where everything in that little library was. I can even tell you the pride of place “The Hobbit” was given. But soon I focused on the 921 section, in the far-right corner and on the lower shelves.

It was here that I came across a row of books that appealed to me mostly because they simply looked the way books should look. They were jacketless hardcovers, dark grey for the most part, about 230 pages per volume, with fairly large print. And even if they had pen and ink drawings within them, they were book books – meaning, books to be read, not to be looked at. And they appeared to be part of a series. I guessed them to be from the 1950’s - a bygone era now, not quite so bygone in that year of 1975.

I took out two volumes and was surprised by how fast I read them. I was utterly engrossed. I don’t remember what the first two were, but let’s just say “The Life of William Shakespeare” would be one and the other would be “The Life of Thomas Edison.” I felt very grown up reading these books, but at the same time exulted in how quickly they moved. I suspect in the back of my head I knew that this set was for “Young Readers,” but I’m not sure I cared.

In time I would plow through the entire shelf. This meant I had to get through the lives of people I had never heard of (Madame Curie? Louis Pasteur?) but I never read one that wasn’t a one hundred percent page turner. Pen and ink drawings every few pages helped.

I certainly didn’t make a scientific or even editorial examination of what I was reading, but if I had I hope I would have recognized that there was reason behind the careful if unusual subject choices the publishers and editors had made. These books were about world beaters; inventors or writers, explorers (just now as I wrote that word, I remember reading the life of Henry Hudson!!) and even a few Presidents. No military men and no dictators. No Genghis Khan, but yes Marco Polo (just remembered that too). Plucky folk who overcame adversity to make the world a better place. I loved all of this, and I still think there’s something wonderfully optimistic about expecting a 10-year-old to enthusiastically read the life of Daniel Defoe.

Since then, I have immersed myself in all books. I have ruined the floors of many rented apartments. I have had to learn to build my own bookshelves to fit my specific requirements. To say I am a bibliophile is absurd. I am THE bibliophile.

Yet for all I have acquired, my mind has often wandered with affection back to those books at the Cassandra library and I have even, a few times, sought them out. I was convinced that the series was published by Harper and Row, but searches on Abebooks (www.abebooks.com) made me wonder if in fact it wasn’t Grosset and Dunlop. I’ve found a few other publishing candidates (Farrar?), but I never found the real books themselves. Eventually, I decided it didn’t really matter and dropped the search.

But if it didn’t really matter, then why have I been thinking so much about them lately? At this time specifically? And why is the some of the pen-and-ink imagery so strong in my mind?

That's key. I have a very clear memory of a drawing of young Thomas Edison being hauled back onto the safety of a speeding train from which he had fallen. Some helpful soul averted tragedy by improbably yanking young Tom (who was pluckily selling newspapers on the train) by the ear. The ear! This was top notch stuff as far as I was concerned, complete with the implicit threat to our entire society; obviously, if Tom had fallen off the train, we’d all be sitting in the dark playing the spoons for our own amusement because there’d be no lightbulb and no phonograph.

Except, of course, the story is absurd and has been debunked by many a scholar. In fact, I would say that more than 50% of what I took out of those books, fact-wise, has been proven false or at the very least badly tarnished. Marco Polo is almost impossible to equate with the character I read about, and Christopher Columbus, obviously, has justifiably taken a beating. Madame Curie stands unblemished in my mind, but that’s only because I doubt if I’ve read a word about Madame Curie since 1975. George Washington, of course, has been realigned as a result of all of all adult reading, and so has Ben Franklin.

Clearly, this is a good thing. One doesn’t want to be hoodwinked by whitewashed history and childish fables. One wants to be aware. One wants to be savvy. One wants to put away childish notions.


Except that last Saturday a man named Joe Biden was declared the winner of the U.S. Presidency.

My entire family – in fact, pretty much everyone I know – breathed a sigh of relief. Those of us that are here in California sat and watched TV for the rest of the day in a sort of stupefied daze. My daughter, at school in Washington, went down to Lafayette Park to celebrate, and there she was on the news, along with hundreds of thousands, maybe millions around the world, taking part in a sort of international block party. She took a remarkable photo of a young couple embracing, and it made me tear up. The heartfelt relief in that image is so palpable...

We could go into all the reasons why people were celebrating. We could even, I guess, go into all the reasons why they shouldn’t have been celebrating. We could surely go into all the reasons we should sneer at celebration itself. But I don’t think anyone can tear apart the reality that people needed to celebrate.

And they needed to celebrate for the same reason that I once embraced a Young Reader’s tale that I needed to be told. In this case it is not Tom Edison surviving his train accident so he could go on to invention the light bulb, it is the story of Joe the humble, Joe the righteous, Joe the decent, Joe the honorable.

Time and distance have taught me two things about this kind of thinking, again stemming from that shelf of books at the Cassandra Public School library. The first lesson is that we must not accept what we are given at face value; we must be critical, and we must question everything. The second lesson, however, pretty much flies in the face of that: sometimes we need heroes, and sometimes we must park our critical thinking and save our very sanity instead. And we needn't be ashamed of doing so.

I find it interesting to note when and how America has done this to itself. It usually does so – to paraphrase Churchill – only after trying everything else first.

For instance, the verdict is pretty much in on Christopher Columbus, and so Columbus Day isn’t what it was even when I was a child. And I think that’s good. I also think the nation has done this to Chris because we don’t really need Christopher Columbus.

George Washington, on the other hand, we seem to need. So after the stories about his wooden teeth and debunking the cherry tree and going after him for all his horrendous failings as a man and leader - even including lousy generalship - we have put him back where we need him to be. We need a father of the country, and he is admirable enough for that role.

JFK is another example, and more amazing to me because of when I was born. I came of age at exactly the time when JFK’s outrageous peccadilloes were first revealed – sex with Marilyn and, it seems, everyone else. Add that to the re-examination of his spotty public record, the hesitation on Civil Rights, the stolen election in Illinois, his foray into Vietnam, his health, and on and on. When I was a boy, JFK became a punchline and Camelot went up in flames.

And yet, somehow, somewhere, we seem to have shunted much of this aside as well. It’s as if, as a nation, we have accepted the truth and reached instead for the JFK we need, truth be damned. So, JFK is back on his monument, dashing, handsome, haunted Jack. I witnessed this while standing at his eternal flame last summer. People sure weren’t talking about Marilyn. There were bowed heads and the silent click of cellphone cameras.

Just ask ex-Senator Rick Santorum. In 2012, Rick Santorum was running for President, and decided to score points on the religion front by saying that JFK’s famous 1960 speech made him sick. The backlash against Santorum – which helped destroy his candidacy – was instantaneous and took Santorum completely by surprise. Perhaps he didn’t get the memo; we need JFK the legend and we’ve pretty much decided to ignore everything else.

Obviously, the clergy know this truth, as do oncologists, as do specialists in child learning disabilities. We need hope and we need belief in times of trial, but we are complex enough organisms to be able to hold two ideas in our head: one, that there is no God, the other that there most assuredly is, especially if you’re looking at the Grand Canyon.

There are days when I need to say “gosh” when I think about Thomas Edison inventing all that stuff, when I need to be filled with wonder at just how industrious Benjamin Franklin was, and just how brilliant Marie Curie was. I need this, just as I need to salute a piece of cloth flapping in the breeze and imagine it means something that can bring me to tears.

In this same spirit, I need Joe Biden right now. 

For my mental health. I need to believe in him as I believe in those other things and more. I need to believe that everyone who voted for him did so with decent, kind thoughts in their loving hearts. In fact, I have no time right now for any other notion, or wisdom, or cynicism. I can be smart about the real Joe Biden later, but right now the Joe Biden before me has been given a special place in my heart simply so I can trust my neighbor and chat with the guy at the grocery store and believe in a piece of cloth flapping in the breeze - and believe that a series of about twenty-six dusty hardcover books in a long-gone public school library gave me the truth about the most incredible people I need to emulate and a code by which I can live my life.

I need hope and so do you, and that is often more important than truth. For now. 

Monday, November 2, 2020


My Emily - my daughter Emily - asked me to do a list of comforting movies that people could watch leading up to the election.  She suggested I post it on this blog, even though usually what I do here is write mini-essays, or whatever you call them. There is some logic in her request, as I've spent a good chunk of my life immersed in movies, and have even directed a few, and written more. So presumably I know a thing or two. Or she thinks I do. 

But she says she's having problems finding such lists online - which I find hard to believe - so perhaps there really is a need.  I've decided to list 10 movies today in no particular order and with  no logic, although I'll try to dip into a variety of genres and era. Spread it out a bit. I'm hoping to do another list in the next few days.

The problem of course is the definition of "comforting." "Comforting" suggests something other than "feel good," which I have always taken to mean the end result of the movie, whereas "comforting" is all about the ride. Rocky, for instance, has to be the zenith of feelgood movies, but is it "comforting"? Rocky's life is pretty crap throughout, and for much of the movie things are no more fun than in On the Waterfront (which it resembles in many many many ways), but it's hard to beat that last twenty minutes.  But... feel good.  Not comforting. Emily said comforting.

A second problem appears when making a list of comforting (or for that matter, feel good) movies, and that problem is what I call the Kevin Costner Effect.  Simply put, Kevin Costner has been in an incredible number of comforting and feel good movies. It's staggering, actually. He deserves a category all his own. I toyed with giving Costner just that, but then decided I'd be robbing myself of the chance to pad out a list when I'm in trouble, so if you see an inordinate number of Kevin Costner movies, too bad. It just is. Like Everest, or one of those things.

I also toyed with avoiding politics due to where we are in the calendar, but decided that was too limiting too.  There are unbelievably comforting movies that deal with politics and if you can't handle that, again, too bad. So that's a good segue to my first movie choice, and remember these are in no order:

MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939). Frank Capra directing, Jimmy Stewart acting and overacting, Claude Rains peerless, Edward Arnold nailing it, Thomas Mitchell -- and Jean Arthur!  She is so good it's to die, especially in her drunk scene. This is simply one of the finest movies ever made, and it will make you love America even as it admits the flaws and faults and problems. Jimmy is us and we are Jimmy, and here's another reality: you just like being there. It's 1939, and Jimmy's "Ma" back home is helping the little kids put out his magazine - "Boy's Stuff" or something -- and it's just so so so wonderful, you want to breathe it in or swallow it. How about the Lincoln Memorial scene? You think you know this movie. You don't. Watch it again. Check all cynicism. And watch Jean Arthur in the bar scene.

FIELD OF DREAMS (1989). What?? Kevin's here already?? Yes, Kevin and Amy Madigan and Ray Liotta and James Earl Jones and BURT LANCASTER as Doc Graham. It's about America, and baseball, and dads, and writing, and imagination, and reconciliation, and you're happy to be there the whole time. Again, check your cynicism. You don't have to know or care about baseball.  This is magical.

THE KID (2000).  No, not the Chaplin movie. That movie is terrific and an amazing work, but it isn't comforting. In some places it's comforting.  This is Bruce Willis the winner - big luxury house, scads of money, got it all - and he's magically visited by himself as a child: total loser Spencer Breslin, complete with lisp and every annoying tic in the world. There is a great supporting cast here, but the movie belongs to these two as Breslin proves to Bruce that his life is shallow and he took the wrong road less traveled. Here's a fact: I love Bruce Willis.  If he could act, it might even be better, but I really love Bruce Willis. In this one, he remembers why he became famous - light, irreverent smartass leading man - and the kid puts him in his place.  And there's a dog in it! Which leads me to ...

MY DOG SKIP (2000). Just watch this. Just do it. Just trust me. It's based on a memoir of one of America's finest writers, Willie Morris. Somehow Jay Russell and Gail Gilchriest made one of the most charming, sweet, appealing movies ever out of Morris' slim work, and it relieves you of all critical faculty. Here's the plot: it's the 1940's and 9 year old Willie is given a dog. That's it. Watch.

9 to 5 (1980). Jane! Dolly! Lily! Colin Higgins (totally underrated top-flight commercial filmmaker) co-wrote and directed this thing, and Dabney Coleman is terrifically oily as only Dabney can be, but this belongs to Jane, Dolly, and Lily. It's charming, funny, insane, and if you're thinking it's a period piece about first or second stage feminism, think again (I'm sorry to say).  I defy anyone not to smile and hoot and cheer through this movie and, of course, there's one of the greatest theme songs ever. I want to watch this movie right NOW.  

THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943). There are a lot of candidates for the greatest screwball comedy, and technically screwball comedies are pretty much the province of 1930's America, but this one goes to the top of my list even though it's made in - and the story relies on - wartime America. Specifically the housing shortage in Washington DC, which puts Joel McCrea, Jean Arthur (again!) and Charles Coburn in the same apartment. Madcap comedy ensues. Jean changes her outfits every three seconds it seems (despite her fixed income), and the guys are largely over the top and some of their behaviors are borderline moronic, but I love this movie top to bottom. An incredibly witty script and it contains of the sexiest scenes ever put on film, which involves nothing more than Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea sitting on her front stoop and talking. Watch her performance. God, was Jean good.

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985). Oh, what's this? It's a rainy Sunday afternoon, nothing to do, perhaps I'll watch Schindler's List. Or 400 Blows. Or Padre Padrone. Well, you might, but here's Back to the Future. Marty McFly, the DeLorean, Doc Brown, 88 miles an hour, Marty's in 1955 hanging out with his parents! You like this movie or you're just an awful person. Everyone is great, even the folks who really aren't that great but we think are great. 

MCFARLAND USA (2015). What's this? A Kevin Costner movie! I bet everyone forgot about this one. Here's the plot: football coach Costner loses his job and winds up in McFarland, California, a predominantly Latino and lower income area, and Kevin's family doesn't like it one bit. But Kevin winds up coaching the boy's cross country track team and from there everything goes very very very comfort. Watch how Kevin and his family begin to understand their new neighbors, watch how Kevin teaches the kids, watch how the community reaches out to Kevin, notice how happy you are through this movie. Just enjoy the key ingredients: Kevin, a sport, the big day, we don't stand a chance. It does exactly what it's supposed to do.

(See? I would now put in Hidden Figures, but I get to save that for another day).

GREASE (1978). This is truly a bad movie. That said, I last saw it two years ago at a drive-in (it was my birthday), and I loved every second of it. It's insane. I won't even get into the plot, because everyone knows it: Sandy and Danny and they fell in love one summer, then it turns out Sandy is going to Danny's high school and Danny - huh? - can't reveal what a nice guy he is or he'll lose the respect of his friends.  Car, drag racing, songs, beauty school stuff, I have no idea. The moral of the movie turns out to be, "If you want to keep your boyfriend, dress like a slut."  Then you ride off in a magical car into the sky. WTF? But... but... remember what Emily asked me to do.  Are you going to cry through this movie? Are you going to need a drink because it's so true to life? I do not think so. See, she dresses like a tramp in the end and there's this magical car... I have no idea. It just is. (BTW, I might even add Hairspray to this list, also with John Travolta. I seem to be the only person that liked this movie and thought Travolta had outdone himself, but that's for another day).

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952). "Dignity, always dignity." This script is so witty, so brilliant, so fast, that it says something about the musical numbers that they almost manage to consume the genius of the whole affair. And the cast. And the design. And the sheer Technicolor splendor of it. The rain sequence is terrific but it's not the whole thing, not by a long shot. Jean Hagen. What the hell? Is she spot on? How can anyone be so good? The only possible misfire is the bizarre Broadway Rhythm ballet in the middle, but parts of it are so beautiful, what are you gonna do? 

Is that ten? I went back and looked. I think that's ten!  Okay, let me know what you think. I have to go, but I hope I've done my job for those of you who are literally having a nervous breakdown over the damned world, the damned election, and the damned everything.

Emily, I hope this helps. I'll do more later.


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