How To Beat Tribalism? Be Even MORE “Tribal”

Humans are tribal by nature; it’s a survival instinct. Since reproduction is one of our key “primal directives”, our genome has built into it behaviors that give our personal DNA every chance to create a next version of “us”. After our own precious ass, our family’s ass comes next in the pecking order. Then our extended family. Or, for some people, their friend circle. The block they live on. Their neighborhood. The school district they live in. The PTAs at their kids’ schools. The social issues that matter to them. Their city. The football or basketball or soccer or baseball team they love — and every other fan of that team. If you think about it, we form tribes with anything and everything we can — because we’re social creatures and this is what social creatures do.

White supremacists are no more tribal than anyone else. They just seem that way because they put all their emphasis on being in a limited number of tribes rather than as many as possible. “Jews will not replace us” — the rallying cry and tribal grievance of the Charlottesville Fascists Club — represents a particularly odd bit of tribalism. The whole “replacement culture” thing is bizarre because it assumes that those with the grievance are “replaceable” to begin with. Replaceable how exactly? In their jobs? In their marriages? In their lives? Being replaceable by “others” to whom you are supposedly “superior” is a strange way to think of yourself and your tribe. If your tribe excelled at something then that fact would make your tribe irreplaceable. Why don’t these “white supremacists” excel at anything other than having grievances? Why do THEY think THEY are replaceable?

In a competitive job market — in a competitive, capitalistic system — one MUST compete in order to stay in the game. Every group arriving here (aside from white people) have accepted that fact and worked their asses off to achieve some degree of success (and they’ve had to do that in the face of relentless white resistance). In that sense, EVERYONE is “replaceable” if they don’t continue to contribute to the group’s effort or hold up their end of the social bargain. Ah, but that’s where white privilege asserts itself. White people have gotten it into their heads that, since white men got together and wrote the Constitution – and framed it entirely to their advantage (as the “men” who were created equal”) – that this is set in concrete. That’s the whole point of “originalism” — to falsely assert that the flawed thinking of a group of (French) enlightened racists and misogynists is America’s bottom line. The country can only be exactly how the framers framed it.

Bullshit. The men who imagined this democratic republic made it changeable. They understood that this bold idea would need plenty of room around it to expand. They seemed to grasp, on some level, the incompleteness of their ideation — that “all men” was a bigger tribe than just white men. Congress approved of “E pluribus unum” as America’s motto (they put it on our Great Seal) in 1782. Out of many, one.

Out of many tribes, ONE TRIBE.

White supremacists can’t abide that. They think their TRIBE is replaceable. That, right there, is the problem.

I’m not sure there is a solution to white supremacy. Centuries of thinking one way about themselves versus everyone else has convinced white Europeans that their whiteness makes them superior. No, white people, it does not. White people are a minority of people on earth. If not for the greater lethality of the pathogens that evolved inside white Europeans over a thousand or so years (versus the pathogens evolving inside other human groups scattered across the globe), perhaps even their guns and steel would have faltered when they went exploring. A big piece of white people even thinking they’re “superior” comes from the relative ease with which white Europeans seized the Americas. The European colonizers told themselves their Christian faith — their god Yahweh — made them superior. Again, NO! Smallpox, measles and influenza — introduced into the Americas by European explorers — wiped out 90% OF NATIVE AMERICANS. If not for fleas — which carried the bubonic plague from China to Europe, bubonic plague might not have wiped out half of Europe in the fourteenth century. If not for Europeans and THEIR bugs, Europeans would have faced far more resistance when they landed on these shores.

How do we defeat tribalism? We don’t deny it; we can’t. It’s just too hard-wired into us. Why do you think there are soccer riots? Instead, we go at it, full bore. We make everyone “hyper-tribal” but not in that they see their exclusivity as a tribe. Rather, like two people who love the same song, they forget all their other potential differences and begin with that thing they have in common. Building from there (something as simple as a song), I bet those two people will surprise themselves with all their commonalities. Yes — there are differences. But, now there’s context for the differences.

Those two people might come to blows all the same; they just don’t like each other. But once you start talking together about how and why a song touches you, you will unlock pieces of your soul (such as it is) to that other person.

It’s a lot harder to feel tribally defensive toward someone whose soul you understand.

Alpha Dogs Don’t Have To Be A-holes

Scott Rudin

Larger-than-life show biz alpha dog SCOTT RUDIN announced publicly today that he’s “stepping back”, having suddenly realized apparently that decades of acting like the biggest asshole in every room he was in has a downside. In my 35+ years in the show biz trenches, I’ve worked with and for many creative people equal in stature to Rudin — both as producers and as creatives. While writing and producing “Tales From The Crypt” for HBO and Fox, two of my executive producer bosses were action movie producer JOEL SILVER and genius director ROBERT ZEMECKIS. Both Joel and Bob are alpha dogs but very different kinds of alpha dog. Night and day. Joel was very much an alpha dog from the same part of the kennel as as Rudin — these guys are screamers. They’ve gotten it into their heads that they can say whatever they want to whomever they want without fear of consequence. They don’t need to show another human being an ounce of respect — but every other human better look at them with not just respect but fealty. That’s the alpha dog as asshole — the kind of alpha dog we expect. But Bob Z’s alpha-ness was just as apparent — even more apparent in many ways — because, when working with Bob, one felt his “alpha-ness” without Bob ever seeming to project it. Bob Z’s alpha dog is what actual leadership looks like.

My partner at the time Gil Adler and I took over “Tales” at the end of its second season on HBO. The third season, it was understood, was going to be the show’s last; everyone from HBO to the executive producers believed the show had run its course. Gil and I didn’t agree. I especially didn’t. I was a fan of the whole EC Comics world — Mad Magazine’s predecessor — since I was a kid. One of my biggest thrills ever was getting to meet EC’s & Mad’s publisher and organizing spirit William F. Gaines on set of Lethal Weapon II. After our first season running Tales not only turned the series around but gave it a future — HBO ordered two more seasons — our executive producer Joel had invited Bill Gaines out to LA to talk about a whole larger arrangement between the Crypt Partners and EC — and Joel graciously invited Gil and I to meet Bill in Joel’s trailer on the LWII set while he and Bill had lunch. This is the thing about Joel — he could absolutely be as mean and heartless as any ratty alpha. He also had grace and generosity within him. I personally experienced it. Joel may not be facile with these things — but has at least some semblance of these elements in his emotional makeup.

That’s what makes his acting like the other alpha so head-scratching. In the long run, being a screamer has not benefitted my old boss. Pissing people off and alienating them eventually makes your world teeny-tiny. Joel’s world got so small, he was forced to cohabitate with some very unsavory types — like Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman.

Joel Silver (on the left) w Ari Emmanuel

Alpha dogs in the Joel vein create a culture around them that mirrors their exact alphaness. Alphas like Joel find that appealing — and, so, endure the pettiness, abuse and tyranny because, in their minds, some day THEY will rule over a fiefdom just like this — in just this way.

On the other extreme was my executive producer Bob Z — the antithesis to the asshole alpha. I’ll get to Bob momentarily. In the middle was my EP Richard Donner, his company and its exec assigned to Tales SCOTT NIMERFRO. Scott was both a cynical studio creature and a true artist. I had the pleasure of working with both up close. A mid-westerner with a deliciously twisted, Coen-Brothers type sense of humor (they, too are mid-westerners), Scott loved, celebrated, mocked and used as inspiration that oddly mid-western way of seeing things. He loved bowling culture. Same goes for Bingo game culture. Scott hosted Friday evening “get togethers” back in the day where a bunch of us would suddenly “descend” like elite locusts on a bingo parlor out in the San Fernando Valley. It was incredible fun — if mildly disruptive for a night to the regulars. I wrote a bunch with Scott — loved every second of it — and I miss the guy; Scott died in 2016 from angiosarcoma, a rare kind of cancer.

Bob Zemeckis is every bit the alpha Joel and Scott Rudin are. Bob owns every room he walks into. Except Bob isn’t trying to do that. He’s just walking into the room. His alpha is confident in its own alpha-ness. It has no need to denigrate others to feel alpha. Bob’s a collaborative alpha whose own success rests on his ability to marshal others’ work and passion toward something he’d like to do. The trick is to make others take ownership in what you are doing. It’s Me vs We. Bad alphas turn everyone around them into variations of them all focused on “me”. Good alphas make everyone part of their “we”.

Bob Zemeckis

It was a pleasure working for and collaborating with Bob in part because of the kind of alpha he is but also because Bob loves to challenge those who work with him. Bob’s always looking for ways to tell stories filmicly in ways that haven’t been done yet because they haven’t been imagined. Remember “Forrest Gump”? Intermingling film characters from two different places has been going on from film’s beginning as an art form. The trick is integrating them seamlessly so you can’t see how they’ve been integrated. Woody Allen (whose films sadly are now dead to me) did it in “Zelig” in 1983; his Zelig character seems to interact with historical figures in newsreel photos. There’s a bit of interaction but it’s all physical. There’s no dialogue.

Zemeckis goes much further in integrating Forrest’s world and our world. In 1988, Bob integrated a fully-functional animated world into ours in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. I’m proud to say that Bob fine-tuned the integration he had in mind on “Forrest Gump” when he prepped for “You, Murderer”, the last episode of Crypt he directed. I won Bob’s trust toward the end of my first season on Crypt — the one that was supposed to be the show’s last. AS Crypt’s final episode (that wasn’t in the end), the Crypt Partners (Joel, Bob, Dick Donner and director Walter Hill) and HBO had agreed to splash out on something epic. Bob wanted to pay homage to one of his favorite movies ever, Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths Of Glory”, a World War One story starring Kirk Douglass.

Bob wanted to shoot a World War One story also starring Kirk Douglass. The trick: getting Kirk Douglass to do this episode of Tales From The Crypt. There’s a lot to balance here: Kirk Douglass was at the tail end of an illustrious film career. He was a true Hollywood God. Bob was A Hollywood God with the whole Back To The Future franchise to his credit. Crypt was a show that had made a big splash with big names (Arnold Schwarzeneggar had directed an episode, his first time behind the camera) but those days seemed well behind the show — which HBO was ending anyway. Like all our episodes, “Yellow” was based at least loosely on a comic from the EC canon. The story in “Yellow” was based entirely on the comic book’s story: a WWI general is forced to court martial and condemn to death his cowardly son whose cowardice killed a good soldier. The problem: the teleplay that had been written by the normally reliable Thomas Brothers was one-dimensional. It couldn’t update its way of thinking from the 1950’s source which made the script feel, well, dated. The trick with a franchise like Crypt is to keep all the good, nostalgia-inducing qualities while mitigating the bad. Bob knew he could never get Kirk Douglass with the script we had. He turned to me to fix it — as I started on Crypt as the story editor.

Most TV shows have a staff of writers. Up until the very last season (the one we shot in London) where we finally had ONE writer on staff (Scott Nimerfro), Crypt had never had any writers on staff. There was no writing staff except for me (though his name is on many scripts, my friend Gil did not actually write anything; do not get me started on how dumb I was out of friendship and loyalty). I wrote a bunch of my own scripts for the show and rewrote everyone else’s until it was camera ready. Except for Nimerfro’s. After the first time I tried to re-write Scott (he disabused me of that quickly) — and I understood that Scot got the show in the exact same way I did — I’d simply ask him how many episodes he wanted to write at the beginning of the season. He’d write them and essentially produce them. Scott’s episodes are easily some of the series very, very best.

My revision to the script got us Kirk Douglass. It got me a fan in Bob Z. So — when, many seasons later, Crypt contemplated ending its run again, they turned to Bob Z to direct the finale. Side note: news of our demise had, yet again, been premature. Crypt ran for one more season which we shot in London. Bob had chosen a comic story as source material: “You, Murderer” — a very noir murder tale told entirely from a subjective point of view — all the characters treat the reader as a character in the piece. As with every episode, the source comic was good for a title (mandatory), maybe the story idea in broad terms. Most likely the twist ending. Crypt stories are all little morality tales where, most of the time, the bad guy gets his comeuppance in the most graphic, horrifying, literal way possible. The guy who kills everyone else to be “head of the company”, say, will end up with his head on a spike outside the company’s HQ. Frequently however, aside from the title, the comic was utterly useless (with even the title feeling dated). All we could really take was the anarchic, laugh in your face, EC Comic sensibility. So — when Bob set up a lunch to discuss his final episode, I honestly had zero idea where he might take the comic.

I drove up to Bob’s Montecito estate (this was in 1995). We had lunch. We pushed the dishes aside and Bob looked across the table at me with a smile.

Now, here’s where working with Bob Z gets good. It’s the moment where he poses an impossible question but asks “How’re we gonna do this?” In every piece Bob ever makes, there’s at least one moment that — unbeknownst to the audience — is filmicly impossible. The shot or shots either cannot happen or cannot happen in any produce-able way — at least, that’s what we think watching the scene: how the hell did they do that? Every creative partner in the process was asked the same question at whatever point they entered the creative process — seeing what Bob wanted us to achieve, “how were we going to achieve this thing?”

That — right there — is Bob’s alpha dog genius. It’s where we can see that his focus is “we” and not even remotely “me”. An example — in “Castaway”, Tom Hanks’ Chuck Noland has been stranded on the deserted island he’s on for a while before finally climbing the island’s central hill in order to survey both the island and the reefs that surround the island. As Chuck climbs the hill, the camera “perches” just behind, following. It uses the side of Chuck’s face, his neck and his shoulders as a kind of framing device. The camera keeps Chuck in the shot the whole time. At last, Chuck reaches the summit — a very, VERY narrow piece of real estate hardly big enough for Chuck to stand on as he slowly (his face, neck and shoulders still very much in the shot) turns, surveying the island, its reef and his chances of getting past the reef to rescue.

Here’s the problem: that’s a great shot but who shot it? This was well before the all digital Red Camera was invented. Bob was shooting film, not video. 35 mm film cameras, by comparison, were behemoths There’s nowhere for the crew to be and without the crew, Bob can’t get this amazing shot. So, to put it simply, where’s the damned crew? Where did Bob hide the crew that got this amazing shot? Nowhere as far as we can “see” — which makes the shot impossible. Which means, at some point as he first described to his collaborators the very cool, never-been-seen-before shot in his head, Bob asked them all “Guys, how’re we gonna do this?” Now, Bob wasn’t asking the question like a tourist to the set. He’d already thought long and hard about it.

Bob had some answers of his own. But, Bob also knew his might not be the best answer. The best answer might be someone else’s but Bob knew how to get other people to not just give him their ideas but insist he have them because whatever Bob was doing was what they were now doing too.

“All I really know,” said Bob, as we contemplated the comic’s title, “You, Murderer”, “Is I want to do a completely subjective single-camera camera point of view.” That’s already a challenge if the goal is stay inside that single-camera point of view. That means we won’t shoot the show how we normally would — master shot plus coverage for emphasis as needed. In a single camera point of view, there IS NO coverage. There are no other camera angles to consider, only the one. That meant there’d be nothing to cut away to. If the episode felt draggy, there would literally be no way to fix it via editing. What we saw would be what we had.

Bob added the first complication. The guy whose point of view we’d see the whole episode from? He’s a dead guy! And part of our story will be how he got to “be” a dead guy. Cool concept but how does one tell such a story? Never mind that — here’s one more creative complication: the dead guy? Bob wanted Humphrey Bogart to play him. To make that work, Bob had identified about a dozen places in the script where the “dead guy” passes a reflective surface — and sees himself — and then says something out loud. Bob was already well down the road to doing “Forrest Gump”. To Bob — who was using the Crypt episode to experiment — these little set pieces were the whole point of the exercise.

On the first day of prep — with the whole crew at his disposal (a thing that never happened because no director ever got the crew when they were prepping because the crew was too busy shooting the last episode), Bob invited the entire crew onto our “four wall set”. Most sets are three walls — with the fourth missing because that’s where the camera and crew are theoretically. But, because Bob wanted to have a subjective camera, the camera had to be able to look anywhere at any time — as if it was a corpse being dragged around, trying to figure out how to intercede on its own behalf. Walking from place to place, kneeling occasionally, Bob described how he saw the scene — and its one shot — unfolding. From one side of the set to the other and then back again. It seemed utterly impossible.

Of course it did! Bob chuckled delightedly as he looked out at our crew, ready to get to work. “Guys,” he said, “How’re we gonna do this? How’re we gonna get this shot?” The gantlet was thrown. It was up to us as a unit to rise to the challenge. Getting people to rise to a challenge instead of having a challenge imposed upon them is far healthier and far more productive for all concerned.

The truth is, guys like Joel Silver and Scott Rudin are physically incapable of treating others with the respect due them. Is it nature or nurture that makes them this way? I’m much more inclined to say “nature”.

If Russia Made Donald Trump President (They Did) Then Donald Trump Was NEVER The Legitimate POTUS

I’m not sure when exactly we got it into our heads that cheating to win was merely one more “way” to win. It’s not. The moment one cheats to win, one cannot win. One might appear to “win” at the time of the contest but if further examination reveals clear evidence of cheating — and that’s ANY cheating (where exactly would we draw the line between acceptable cheating and too much cheating?) then the contest is decided by default: cheaters can NEVER win; therefore the victory goes to the non-cheater. In 2016, that would have made Hilary Clinton POTUS. It is a profound understatement to say that Trump & the Republican Party cheated massively in order to “win” in 2016. Surely, the Republicans would not still be working their bloated butts off to hold onto power now if they hadn’t cheated to get that power four years ago. They did cheat — and for that they’re legally liable. But, as we know, the GOP did more than just “cheat”. They committed TREASON as part of their cheating. For that, they must pay a price.

As we’re learning finally — now that the Trumpanistas can no longer obstruct investigations into every rotten, corrupt, treasonous thing Trump did while in office — the Trumps, in fact, perpetrated a shitload of rotten, corrupt treason. We know now for a certainty that Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort handed Konstantin Kilimnik proprietary polling data for Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan for him to pass onto Oleg Deripaska. Both Kilimnik and Deripaska are oligarchs and long time friends of Vladimir Putin’s. Both are Russian military intelligence. Why on earth would Manafort hand sensitive data about American voters to a hostile foreign intelligence service?

As we know — have known for years now (it’s only our “news media” that’s finally getting hip to what’s been happening the whole time) — that proprietary polling data went straight to Russian Military Intelligence where they turned it into weaponized Facebook ads accusing Hilary Clinton of racism. Those ads — using the proprietary polling data as a guide — were then targeted at Black, Democratic voters, the intent; cause enough Black voters to stay home to further destroy Clinton’s electoral advantage in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. At the same time, other parts of Trump’s corrupt, treason machine had caused then FBI Director, the painfully out-of-his-depth Jim Comey to write the “The Comey Letter” which re-opened the whole “But, her emails!” discussion ten days before the election. On election day, Trump’s and Russia’s various ops had brought those three key states — PA, MI & WI — to within the margin of error.

That — put your money on it — is when ES&S and Diebold went to work. Most of the electronic voting machines in America are made by ES&S, a company run by Republican sympathizers who donate to Republican candidates and where Republicans sit on the Board of Directors. They have consistently refused to close internet-accessible back doors on their machines. Gosh, I wonder why…

We already know that but for Russia, Donald Trump would NEVER have been president. That means that Trump was never actually president since the power of the office flows from our authority — which we grant to the winner of free and fair elections. However — if the election isn’t free or fair then the authority that flows from it does not flow. We assume the authority flows — we certainly pretend it does. But the stone cold truth is Donald Trump NEVER had the authority to be president because We The People never granted it to him — because WE voted for Hillary Clinton.

Trump — always happy to project — told us from the start that his presidency was not legit. Our news media, of course, refused to listen to him.

But, we should. This will be a challenging revelation but we can’t just shrug it off as “something that happened”. How can we really go on as a sovereign nation if OTHER nations get to pick our leaders? We can’t. And the moment we prove beyond the shadow of a doubt — and we absolutely will — that Russia chose Donald Trump to be our POTUS, we’re going to have to confront what that means in practical terms. None of the judges Trump appointed can remain judges — Trump never had the authority to nominate them. None of the “hard” changes Trump made to the government — the ones requiring plenty of hoop jumping to put them back to normal — can stand. None of the legislation — including the tax break for billionaires — can remain on the books.

Throw into this growing tumbleweed of terribleness all the other corruption the Republican Party brought to the table the last four years.

Most damaging, of course, is what Trump (and Mitch McConnell) did to the judiciary. For years, McConnell refused to give Obama’s judges (including his SCOTUS nominee Merrick Garland) the time of day (never mind a hearing). The whole point of the Republican power grab was to use the Judiciary and the Senate to leverage their way to permanent minority rule.

Mitch also has “treason” vulnerabilities. Mitch needs to explain — under oath Benghazi-style — his relationship with oligarch, Putin Pal and Russian intelligence officer Oleg Deripaska. Mitch will insist he has no relationship with any Russians! But, Mitch would be lying again. Mitch refused to let We The People in on the big secret that Putin was behind a massive scheme to defraud American voters of their choice. At a notorious meeting of the Gang Of Eight in September 2016, Mitch got up on his little Treason Turtle legs and told Obama that if Obama told Americans that Russia was trying to make Trump president, he, Mitch, would drop that on America — that the Democrats were “politicizing the intelligence”.

In the election’s aftermath, Deripaska got sanctioned for his role in attacking the election. Mitch however saw to it that those sanctions on Deripaska got lifted so that Deripaska could “gift” Mitch with a Russian-owned aluminum factory in Western Kentucky. Something’s rotten in the state of Kentucky — and the stink is coming from Mitch McConnell’s turtle pond.

The reason the Republicans have fought so hard to obstruct all investigations into Trump’s involvement with Russia is because Trump was deeply involved with Russia. So is most of the Republican Party. A month before nominating Trump as their “guy” in 2016, current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walked into a room of Republican leadership. “There’s two people I think Putin pays,” said McCarthy, “Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” No one in the room dropped what they were holding and had to scrape their jaw off the floor. No one asked McCarthy why he’d say such a terrible, damning thing? No one said “Geez, guys, I feel like we ought to call the FBI!” Instead, per then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan insisted they were all family — meaning, all secrets stay secret.

It will take a long, long time for America to get over what Trump and his Republican co-conspirators have done to America. The instant we stop granting him — and anything he did — legitimacy? The faster we’ll get over Trump.

Why Do American Men Turn To Guns To Solve Their Emotional Problems?

Adam Lanza

Another mass shooting in America — Eight murdered at a Fed Ex facility in Indianapolis — and the news media needs to know: “What’s the motive?” As if the gunman’s particular issue with the world would explain why he reacted exactly as he did. Our news media is good at wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth at these moments. But they’re guilty of giving credence to bullshit arguments. I’m old enough to remember when they’d regularly give climate science deniers equal time because, hey — they have a “point of view” so therefore because they have it, it must be valid. Here, as always, on one side is a majority of Americans who do not own guns and resent the fact that gun owners can’t keep their damned killing machines to themselves. On the other side are gun owners whose hair catches fire immediately because, damn it, as former NRA president Chuck Heston put it, we can try and pry their guns from their cold, dead fingers.

What is this mania to have guns in the first place? Yeah, sure — out in rural America, something or other. That seems to be the argument’s meat: we’re different. We’re threatened by neighbors who live miles away and by strangers we’ve never met. In case those zombie-people come, swarming by the dozens, those guns will be all that stands between us and the zombie apocalypse.

America’s gun problem is borderline intractable in large part because we’ve spent so long giving credence to bullshit arguments about guns. Rather than dismiss fears of marauders out of hand, we indulge this nonsense. We nod along to their white terror: “Oh, yes, of course it could happen — Black or brown people are probably plotting right this second to break into your house and eat your children for lunch. Have all the weaponry you want!” The data says that won’t happen. But — the data again — it could happen that one of those guns ends up killing someone who live in the house — by way of an accident or suicide or a moment of intra-familial rage.

That’s the other lie about guns that our news media happily propagates — that “responsible gun owners” don’t have these problems. There is no such thing as “responsible gun ownership”. Nancy Lanza thought she was a responsible gun owner until her son Adam shot her with her own legally purchased Bushmaster XM15 semi-automatic rifle before taking that weapon — and ten magazines with 30 rounds each to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Adam Lanza used a gun to resolve his emotional problems. Whatever was bothering him, he became convinced that the solution to it would spit from the muzzle of that Bushmaster.

Nobody turns a gun on other people — on strangers or on people they know — because they’re happy with them. You point a death machine — that’s what a gun is by design — at someone in order to threaten them. Do what they say or they’ll kill you with that gun. Gun violence killed 20,000 Americans last year. That’s a lot of anger. Another 24,000 Americans used guns to commit suicide. If the guns that were used to end those 44,000 lives hadn’t been available, how many of those people would still be here today? Most of them, that’s who — if not all of them.

Our gun laws all flow directly from our racism. If white people thought for two seconds that, say, Black people were arming themselves to the teeth the way white people already have? They’d re-write the gun laws just like that. Here’s my “let’s make a deal” to gun world: I’ll be honest if you will. Yes, in a perfect world, I admit it: I would insist that we carry out the Second Amendment to the letter. We’d arrange for a “well regulated militia” to formally take over the job of deciding who among the citizenry will be permitted to “keep” or “bear” the militia’s arms. The arms, you see, would BELONG to the militia; the word “own” doesn’t appear in the Second Amendment. Do you suppose that’s an accident? I don’t. The word “own” was perfectly good back then. Yet, strangely, they didn’t use that word to describe anyone’s relationship with a gun — as its “owner”.

Maybe the Constitution’s framers understood that some people couldn’t be trusted to have a gun in their hands. They might want to be in the militia but the militia wouldn’t want them; they’re nuts.

The whole tone of the gun rights argument smacks of emotional neediness. Virtually none of these people need their guns for “protection”. C’mon — I was honest — I said I’d take most guns. The other side needs to be honest, too: they need to confess why they REALLY feel threatened enough to “keep” a death machine within reach. What do they REALLY feel threatened by?

I write this as a suicide survivor. I tried to step in front of a bus. It seemed, in the moment, a sure thing. It wasn’t. Ah, but if I’d had a gun — I’d have been 2020’s suicide gun death number 24,001.

Never Mind Walking A Mile In Someone Else’s Shoes, Try Seeing The World Through Their Eyes

The reason organizations like the ASPCA use pleading, wide-eyed dogs in their fundraising appeals is because they work. Maybe those people who fear photography captures something of their souls are on to something. Even a photo of a pleading animal’s eyes touches us deeply (as compared to the actual animal itself, pleading directly to it with its eyes). Something of us flows from our orbs. Look deeply enough into them and you’ll even see past any attempts to deceive about who or what we really “are” to “us” — the real, honest-to-goodness US.

An honest-to-goodness “us” really exists inside each of us. It’s that entity behind our eyes that we spy in the bathroom mirror whenever we take a moment to acknowledge that it’s there. That is what we all do when we gaze past our reflection and into our reflection’s eyes — we acknowledge the stone cold fact that there really is a presence inside our heads that knows us even better than we know ourselves. Its voice sounds like ours. Its habits and peccadilloes — ours. In every way imaginable, it’s us! And yet, as we gaze at it — as we converse with it even — we can’t get past the weird sensation that as much as we know that “it’s us”, it’s also a weird sort of “separate us”.

It is bloody hard being a sentient creature, isn’t it? Thinking is exhausting. Even more so when your brain sees everything as a problem to be solved. More so still when the problem to be solved is “why me?”

We know what we know about us. We know where our bodies are buried — somewhere between us and the person staring back at us in the mirror. Not only does that person staring back “know what we know” about us, that person knows what we know about the world beyond the mirror.

Add a layer of complication: we honestly have no idea how it works — how the electrical activity flashing through our grey matter — does its “perception thing” and creates the thoughts we’re having about ourselves (or about anything else). We know we have feelings. We know that chemicals in our brains cause our feelings (or the feeling that we’re having a feeing) to ebb and flow. We don’t know where our feelings “live” when we’re not feeling them. I don’t know why I feel the way I do and I don’t know why you feel the way you do. While I can empathize with how things feel to your body, I can never know how they feel. I can only know how things feel to my body.

Same goes for pain. We all experience it differently. It is pure arrogance on my part to assume how pain effects me is prototypical, as if my tolerance were some sort of standard that should apply to everyone else; it absolutely isn’t.

One of the things I find interesting about cannabis is the pure subjectivity of the experience. My experience will differ from yours because our brain chemistries are different. It’s only by comparing notes with each other about that experience that we can adjudge 1) how cannabis works on our minds to begin with and 2) how any particular strain, with its own terpene profile and THC/CBD matrix works on our minds. If my experience with the classic sativa Durban Poison is similar enough to yours (a solid, warm, consistent beam of delicious mental focus), then we can agree that smoking Durban Poison will probably produce that particular effect inside a smoker’s head.

For a decade and a half, I struggled with a deepening depression related to an event in my past that I’d suppressed — I was sexually molested twice when I was 14 by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged. For the 45 years that I kept that secret from myself (meaning — I knew this thing had happened to me but I refused to acknowledge that it had happened to me), I looked out at the world with this little detail as part of how I saw the world. Having a terrible secret puts you on an island inhabited by just you and your molester. If no one else knows this terrible secret about you, then obviously, they don’t know YOU. How could they? They only “think” they know who you are.

Having survived a suicidal depression, I know for a fact that I saw the world differently than anyone else around me. I understood (well, on some deep, abstract-thinking level) why silly, seemly insignificant things set me off into a volcanic, self-directed rage. My wife and kids would look at me during those moments as if I was a Martian who did things for no understandable reason. Ah, if only they could have understood me the way I understood me — and saw the world through my eyes.

It wasn’t possible for my wife and kids to see my pain my way in part because even I didn’t see the pain correctly. Once I did, I was able to articulate my pain. That helped. A lot.

Now, I have a certain advantage here because I could articulate my pain once I understood it — and that helped me recover from it. Being able to express my pain, what was behind it — liberated me because I no longer had to bear its burden alone. When anyone gets to express their pain, it’s liberating. Sometimes people have to be coaxed though. That’s when they look out at the world in silent desperation. Maybe they’ve surrendered already and given up hope than anyone else will see their pain. Maybe they feel unworthy. They’re not. Maybe they fear being judged.

I have no idea what it “feels like” to be LGBTQ. No one gets a choice about what kind of brain chemistry they’ll have. We don’t stand there as sperm and egg fuse and our two sets of DNA begin to dance with each other. We don’t get to sort among our dominant or recessive genes or snag a predecessor’s skill set. What comes to us comes to us. It makes us who and what we are before we even “are”. And our genome isn’t “perfect”. It’s malleable and fluid and error prone. And that’s just the parts we’ve figured out. There’s plenty we haven’t yet. I know people who were born with external male characteristics but the overwhelming feeling that they were female. That’s not them being “dramatic” of course; it’s how they actually feel inside their heads — because their biochemistry is at war with itself.

I wonder: do judgy Christians judge a lupus sufferer whose immune system is at war with them the way they judge a person whose sexual identity is at war with their biochemistry? Christians are a particularly judge-y lot. That’s ironic considering as the religion’s founder was all about “judge not lest ye be judged”.

Why does sexual repression slow dance with religious fervor? Why do deities inspire all sorts of sexual peccadilloes? Why can’t people who insist their deity connects them to other people, appreciate the people that deity supposedly connects them to?

Sigh… I guess if I could see the world through their eyes? I’d know…

Why Do I Call This Blog What I Call It? Because Bullsh*t Nearly Killed Me, That’s Why!

Devout atheist that I am, I consider myself “born again’. I have seen with my own eyes the havoc bullshit can cause in both my daily life and over the whole length of it. I bear witness to bullshit’s remarkable power to convince us that it is truth and truth is bullshit. Actually, bullshit’s much more clever than that. Bullshit convinces us that our feelings are more valid than facts. That empirical truth does not exist outside our own heads, making it as fluid as our thoughts. If we think something’s so, it is so, no receipts required. . Bullshit tells us that Life is how it is and people are how they are and there’s nothing we can do to change it — that the cynicism tugging at us is correct. Paired with an angry, confused, judgmental deity, that cynicism can turn deadly. Happiness, we become convinced (by bullshit) is a matter of how we navigate our way around our bullshit and everyone else’s. In bullshit’s defense, bullshit has that half-right. The trick to living life with even a modicum of success or happiness is to focus on your own bullshit FIRST before worrying about anyone else’s. If your experience is anything like mine, dealing with your own bullshit will be a full-time job; you will literally NEVER have time to even think of anyone else’s.

My own personal bullshit had me convinced I could disappear from Life without causing my family excessive harm — that money would eventually assuage the “bad feelings”. Talk about bullshit. But, bullshit won the argument. Three days before Christmas 2016, I came within literal inches of killing myself. A decade-long depression got triggered by Trump’s seizing the presidency (he did not “win” it legitimately) into full-on self-destruction. The thing about depression is, it robs you of perspective. The deeper the depression, the less perspective you have; I had come to believe that the world was the narrow, future-less tunnel I saw it as. It wasn’t, of course. It never was. And, as my personal darkness drove me toward increasingly irrational action, I did it having denied for 45 years that at age fourteen, I was sexually molested twice by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged.

I had gotten it into my head that me getting sexually molested was MY FAULT. It wasn’t, of course. That was bullshit!

Long story short, being molested put me on an island because only my molester and I knew that secret about us. Anyone else? Nope! That meant (in the irrational reasoning of my young mind) that if you didn’t know this about me, you didn’t know “me”. Since I wasn’t sharing my secret (and my molester definitely wasn’t), no one was ever going to really know me. No one. And, as you sit there, on that island, you slowly begin to blame yourself for being there. And every terrible thing that happens to you? Well, hell — that’s YOUR fault, stupid! I can only speak for and from my own experience. Once you’ve opened the door to self-loathing, it’s a hard, HARD door to shut. What makes it so hard? It’s bullshit that’s fighting you every time you try to close it.

When I first realized how close I had come to hurting myself because bullshit told me to, I literally laughed out loud. “Ya dumb sonofabitch,” I said to myself, “You came within inches of bullshitting yourself to death!” Could anything possibly be stupider?

Yeah — bullshit can kill. It kills. I still think a lot about Anthony Bourdain. The guy was at the top of his game but his darkness got him anyway. Anthony Bourdain’s bullshit won out over Anthony Bourdain. That’s no knock on Anthony Bourdain. That, in essence, is a respectful tribute to the strength of Mr. Bourdain’s bullshit — it convinced him he didn’t need to be here anymore while literally everyone else on the planet saw it differently.

We just lived through four years where bullshit ran amok. Hell, bullshit convinced us that a president who bullshitted us every damned day was “how it was”. Talk about bullshit!

I knew my darkness had me in its thrall but I feared medication. My dad was a surgeon; I grew up in the medical culture; I don’t see doctors demagogically. My dad saw what he did as equal parts science and guess work. He saw the insurance companies as greedy gate keepers with hospitals as their equally greedy collaborators. The Hypocritic Oath doesn’t mention profit incentive anywhere. While I had a GP I liked and trusted, I knew however that they had little to no background in mood stabilizers and how to prescribe them correctly. Probably the only mood stabilizer they even knew about was the one a pharmaceutical rep left behind on her last customer service visit to the office. “Hey,” the Pharmaceutical Rep said as she set the samples down on the counter, “If you have any patients complaining of depression, try these!”

The problem with this class of drug is it takes time to reveal whether or not it’s working. Since everyone’s brain chemistry is different, it’s hard to accurately predict what any one mood stabilizer will do to or for any one person contemplating it. Normally, it takes six to eight weeks to get an inkling of whether it’s working or not. It’s entirely possible that the mood stabilizer could take a bad situation and make it worse. As Screenwriting God William Goldman said of the film business, “No one knows anything”. FFS, we do not even know how we’re all doing this — writing blogs, reading blogs, having conversations — having thoughts themselves. We don’t know where our memories come from — yeah, sure — we know what part of the brain they seem to emanate from. But we don’t know how they convert from lived experience to remembered experience.

And we have to consider THAT in the context of teenage boys who seem to walk around with zero remembered experience. But, I digress…

After seeing quite clearly that in a moment of sheer irrationality I now had it in me to commit to that irrationality completely, I drove straight to my GP’s office and told them what had just happened. I immediately got great service. Just like that, I was sitting with not just my GP but the head honcho doctor too! I told them everything. Told them my fear of medication — and why I felt as I did. But, I also told them of the research I’d been doing on my own. I’d looked into every mood stabilizer there was, looking for the one that might hold my depression at bay while leaving my hypomanic side mostly alone. I’m bipolar, ya see. I worried that if the mood stabilizer I chose dealt with the depression but made writing impossible, I’d be right back in the darkness’ thrall. I’d read anecdotal evidence (the only evidence there is) suggesting lamotrigine could be my answer.

Immediately, my GP and his boss whipped out their smart phones and looked up lamotrigine. Yes, they agreed, that could definitely work for me; they agreed to write the prescription. I took it, picked up the meds from my local pharmacy, went home and told my family what I was going to do. Swallowing that first .25 milligram little white pill, I expected a long period of wondering to begin. Instead, I got lucky. Within thirty-six hours, I leveled. I felt it. I experienced my first evidence not only that the lamotrigine would definitely work for me but HOW it would work.

My anger back then was volcanic. Once triggered, it was usually a matter of seconds before the rage in my gut exploded out my mouth in a profanity-laced screed. Anything could set me off: a stupid political argument I heard on the radio, other drivers, me if I dropped something (and bigger still if it broke). I don’t remember specifically what sparked the rage in my gut, only that it sparked — and, once sparked, it flowed back on itself like a blocked toilet. I felt the rage rising in me like it always did, picking up speed as it blew past my stomach, racing upward toward my mouth. And just as I fully expected that metastasizing anger to metamorphose into a lava spew — “Paf!” — the rage dissipated like a soap bubble popping.

I knew I had just felt the rage — felt its hold on me — and just like that — I knew I had felt the rage in the abstract but I did not feel it in any practical way that I could point at. It really was kind of like the anger “never was”.

Realizing that my darkness could no longer dominate me liberated me. In time — a few months — it even gave me the confidence (that’s the biggest, best benefit of perspective — it builds your confidence) to go at it head on. Now, able to confront my demon without that demon destroying me, I confessed my own truth to myself. Yeah, the night I spent weeping quietly on the bathroom floor (because I didn’t want to wake my wife and have to explain) was long, lonely and hard. But it destroyed the bullshit chains forever.

That’s the night I was “born again” — as a person. That was the day I started living my life unencumbered by the giant piece of bullshit that, unbeknownst to me, had dominated my life.

And it felt AWESOME!

Seeing everything in context also was awesome. “Hey,” I said to myself, suddenly feeling good about things, “bullshit nearly killed you. Are there any other ways bullshit’s making your life harder than it should be?”

I bet you can guess the answer to that question. Bullshit, it turned out, was dominating virtually every aspect of my life. For starters, I hadn’t slept well in years. Financial difficulties and sleep aren’t pals. I had been using (abusing really) OTC products like Simply Sleep. They’re anti-histamines. They don’t so much produce “sleep” as “unconsciousness for a while”. You wake up in the morning — if you sleep — feeling groggy and unprepared for the day. I wanted no part of anything stronger. I was terrified of what my brain would do with Ambien in it. Bullshit had convinced me that this problem was forever. It wasn’t. I live in California. I got myself a medical marijuana prescription and from the first day I started using cannabis as a sleep aid, I’ve slept wonderfully.

With bullshit negating my sleep, I’d start each day by putting on my bullshit colored lenses while breathing deeply from bullshit scented air. Lie in for another ten minutes, I’d bullshit myself, it won’t matter (bullshit — it did!). Never mind missing this deadline — they’ll be cool with it (they weren’t!). Ignore the warning signs that your marriage is struggling; those problems can wait till later (no, they can’t). Everything bad happening to me is my fault. No, it isn’t — but, then, it isn’t everyone else’s fault either. The world is more complicated than that: take off the bullshit-colored lenses and SEE IT.

That’s why I started this blog. I’m learning as I go and sharing my notes. Is living bullshit free for everyone? I have no idea — that’s someone else’s bullshit to worry about. That’s not to say that if another person’s bullshit gets them in trouble that I have zero obligation to them. That’s bullshit too. If I have to put my own bullshit aside to help them because of their bullshit — that’s what I must do. In the aftermath, I can only hope that, with this newfound perspective, that person, too, will have discovered bullshit’s hold on them and, like me, will want to break that hold.

We live in a new cycle where the Biggest Story There Is (after the worldwide Covid pandemic) is “The Big Lie”. To call it what it really is, it’s bullshit. One of our two political parties (and its mob boss leader) is trying to shove bullshit down our collective throats.

I guess if I wanted to be a hundred percent accurate I’d call this blog “Learning How To Live Bullshit Free” since that’s what I’m really doing everyday — and writing about it here. I gotta keep reminding myself: the second I get it into my head that I “know” how to live bullshit free? The bullshit will be winning again.

Sylvester Stallone Has ALWAYS Behaved Like A Trump Voter — I’ve Seen It UP CLOSE

Heroes run TOWARD burning buildings, bent on saving people. Zeroes, on the other hand, don’t. “Actor” Sylvester Stallone has, it seems, very recently paid $200,000 to Donald Trump to become a card-carrying “member” of Trump’s Mar-A-Lago Old Pervert’s Club. Imagine surveying the landscape post insurrection and choosing to side with insurrection and bullshit and The Big Lie. This is Rocky — BEFORE he finds his soul in Adrienne’s eyes and STOPS being some low level mob boss’s leg breaker. The real Sly Stallone has always been THIS Rocky — the corrupt goombah looking for a feather bed somewhere in the mob structure. Now, I’ve never met Stallone in person. But I feel like I have because our lives intertwined almost every day while I was making the movie “Bordello Of Blood” in Vancouver, British Columbia while Stallone was making a movie called “Assassins” just across the border in Seattle. Our connection was my actress Angie Everheart who — at the time — also was Stallone’s fiancé. Spoiler Alert: Stallone treated Angie horribly. He cheated on her relentlessly — which I know because Stallone tried to get my production unit to help him do it.

“Bordello Of Blood” was the second of what was supposed to be a trilogy of “Tales From The Crypt” branded horror movies, a deal that arose after my then partner Gil Adler and I took over running the show going into its third season (1992). That was supposed to be Tales’ last season; HBO felt the show had run its course but Gil and I turned the franchise around. In particular, we reinvented the Crypt Keeper which, in turn, reinvigorated the show. We ended up running for another four seasons; part of that surge in the franchise’s popularity at the time was a three picture feature deal at Universal Studios. “Tales From The Crypt Presents Demon Knight” was the first feature we produced. It’s a solid, well-made movie — directed by the incredibly talented Ernest Dickerson — about a group of people trapped in a remote decommissioned church by a charismatic demon played by the also incredibly talented Billy Zane. After “Demon Knight’s” success, we set out to make our second Tales feature — which, initially, was going to be a nuanced, character-driven, psychological horror piece set in New Orleans. Circumstances, greed and a deal that had nothing to do with us interceded however and Universal pulled the plug on “Dead Easy”, the movie we were weeks away from shooting and, instead, assigned us the task of making “Bordello Of Blood” — a romp about vampire hookers living in the basement of a funeral home.

On paper, “Bordello” sounds great — if horror movies are your thing. But, as with most things in life, you still have to DO the thing to actually make it succeed. We didn’t so much “do” Bordello as Bordello “did” us. When you make movies for completely inorganic reasons — because of a deal rather than because you want to tell a particular story — you can’t be surprised if bad things happen and keep happening. That’s the story of the making of “Bordello Of Blood”. Every day making that movie was stupider than the day before it. When I think of the accumulated talent of the named filmmakers (my executive producers on Tales were Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, Richard Donner and Walter Hill — some of the biggest movie makers EVER), it boggles my mind that we made so many silly, expensive, amateurish mistakes while making the movie.

One of our earliest amateurish mistakes was casting our villain.

Now, understand: every single one of us set Angie Everheart up to fail (which she did not). She acquits herself admirably. She brings everything she has to the job and she should be proud of her work. The movie has fans — and so does she. But… Angie’s miscast. She just is. Horror movies are all about the villain. How you cast Freddy Krueger is vital. “Demon Knight” works mostly because Billy Zane fills every frame he’s in with fun and menace. He was an experienced film actor when we cast him; all that experience helped because, frankly, the script was meh. Billy made a dogmatic part his (the rules behind our story’s mythology still baffle me and I helped write them). Angie didn’t because she couldn’t. In her defense, the part was even less “written”. She, too, was playing a monster beautiful on the outside, not-so-beautiful on the inside. While Billy had a pool of menace inside him, Angie did not. That’s the rub — she didn’t because she’s a super lovely person — on the inside!

Over the course of my career, I’ve cast hundreds of actors. I don’t think I’ve ever cast an actor to “act”. I’ve never wanted them to “act”. I’ve wanted them “to be”. In film acting, the camera sees everything — even things the actor doesn’t intend an audience to see. The harder they try to “act away” those things, the more “actory” their performance becomes and more the story as a whole suffers. Better to hire actors who, in some way, are like the character. That’s what most casting really is — hiring actors who are enough LIKE their characters that the audience won’t bump on them playing the part. What makes great actors great is their honesty, courage and willingness to be that honest for the sake of a story and an audience. The more real actors seem, the better they serve the story they’re part of. So — we hire actors “to be” and not “to act”.

Hiring Angie and expecting her “to be” Lilith (her character) was unfair. Originally, Gil and I wanted Robin Givens to play Lilith. Robin, we’d been told, could be tricky to work with. We didn’t care about that — FFS, we worked for Joel Silver — one of the most notoriously difficult people in Hollywood. Nothing Robin did could equal Joel. Also, instead of Dennis Miller (who plays the lead), we wanted Danny Baldwin. But Joel insisted on casting our three leads himself — his prerogative as the executive producer. I could devote a whole book to my “Dennis Miller Experience”. Dennis is a talented man. He’s very smart and wickedly funny. But, he’s deeply unhappy and seems determined to make everyone around him equally unhappy. He’s a bully.

At the time that we were casting “Bordello”, Joel had a movie awaiting release: “Fair Game” starring Cindy Crawford. Mostly a Big Action Movie producer, Joel was convinced that “Super Models Starring In Movies” was the next, big Hollywood trend that he, Joel, was inventing. “Fair Game” ended up bombing horribly — in part because Cindy Crawford is a very talented model but not a talented actress. So — when the idea of Angie came up — Angie, at the time, was a well-known, well-respected and sought after super model — it wasn’t entirely insane. But it wasn’t sound casting either. And Angie’s name came up only because her fiancé at the time — Stallone — was already working for Joel on “Assassins”.

We shot Bordello in Vancouver rather than LA because we were running away from the IA — the union that most of our crew belonged to. Joel was in a perpetual battle with the IA. While our crew was all union, their deal with us was “non-union” because, though we were one of HBO’s most popular shows, our budgets were tiny (by Hollywood standards). Some months before we started working on Bordello, the IA had struck another of our sets, shutting it down. In the childish tit-for-tat, Joel felt it was his turn to be the bigger asshole, so he pulled the movie out of LA and sent us north to BC. Never mind that it was June.

Thing is with horror movies? Night time is prime time. Scary things seem scarier in the dark. One thing you have very little of that far north in summer? DARK. Oh, sure, there’s a nighttime during summer — but it’s only a few hours. In Vancouver in July (when we were actually shooting), the sun doesn’t disappear from the sky until gone ten pm and the first traces of dawn appear in the sky around 2:30 am. That gives you four and a half hours of darkness in a nine to twelve hour shooting day. It makes no sense. Why on earth would you do such a thing — go make a movie somewhere antithetical to the movie you’re making?

Because we were going to be in Vancouver, Stallone apparently saw an opening. He began to needle Joel on the “Assassins” set in Seattle to hire his fiancé (he called her his girlfriend in related conversations) not just to “be” in our movie, but to star in it — as the villain. That was Sylvester Stallone’s idea for “Bordello Of Blood” — and damn if we didn’t do it! When Joel first approached us (“Guys, guys! I have a great idea — Angie Everheart as the villain in your movie!”), Gil and I balked immediately (“What? No, Joel, please don’t do that — we’ve already read Robin Givens and she’s great!”). Joel persisted though (because Stallone persisted).

Trying to find another voice that would appeal to Joel, Gil and I called Billy Friedkin. Billy had directed an episode of Tales the previous season and we’d had a great experience working with Billy. He had just directed Angie in a small role in his thriller “Jade”. “How is Angie as an actress — for our movie,” we asked Billy. We knew the role she’d played in “Jade” was small and, for Angie, very close to home (where she could “be” rather than “act”). “She’s a very nice person,” Billy told us — code for “she’s not right for the part”.

We took that professional assessment to Joel. No dice. “How about we screen test her!” Gil suggested. That way, Sly would be able to see it for himself. As someone who loved Angie enough to want to marry her, surely Stallone would come to his senses. We did the screen test. Angie gave it her very best shot but anyone looking at it honestly would have given up — if only because they loved Angie enough not to subject her to work she couldn’t possibly do justice to. Still, Stallone wouldn’t be happy on his movie if Angie wasn’t cast in ours. WTF!

We cast Angie. She really, REALLY is a terrific human being who deserved to be treated with respect — a thing her fiancé did not have for her. From the time she arrived in Vancouver — toward the end of formal prep — Angie would travel down to Seattle on the weekends to be with Sly. But, when we started shooting, Sly’s assistant called our production office and asked if there wasn’t some way we couldn’t “HOLD ONTO ANGIE” for the next couple of weekends.

Wait, what? “Hold ONTO Angie”? Why? No reason was offered. Just — Sly would like it if we could. Well, as there was 1) no justification to hold Angie for the weekend and, 2) even trickier, nothing for us to have her do instead of traveling, we declined. I mean, seriously — what did they expect us to tell Angie? “No, you can’t leave Vancouver cos you have to study your lines in this genius piece of crap script?”

On the plus side, Angie NOT visiting Sly meant she wasn’t coming back to our set with Angie’s lines rewritten (by Sly) and every bit of her performance already directed — again, by Sly.

Shortly thereafter, we heard some stories from the “Assassins” set that suggested exactly “why” Stallone wanted Angie on the Canadian side of the border. I cannot vouch for the following story’s veracity. It’s a great story nonetheless — and we heard it FROM the “Assassins” set. Stallone finishes a shot and returns to his trailer where a “pretty young thing” is waiting for him. Stallone doesn’t know that his wireless mic is still LIVE, still broadcasting back to the sound cart on the set. As the crew begin to gather around the sound cart, they’re treated to Very Famous Actor Sly Stallone having sex. Stallone, it turns out, has a few preferences (who doesn’t?) “That’s it, that’s it,” Stallone is heard saying, “Cup the balls… cup the balls!” There are a few “Stroke the shaft” thrown in, but what gets the whole crew laughing is “Cup the balls”.

The next morning, we were told, Stallone walked onto the “Assassins” set to find EVERYONE on the crew wearing the same t-shirt that read across its front “Cup The Balls”.

Did it really happen? I don’t know. But, I sure as hell hope it did.

It sucks to be a shithead’s co-conspirator. Toward the middle of the shoot, I needed to get away for a few days and arranged to fly down to LA to hang with my wife. Flying on other peoples’ dime is the best! As I settled into my first class seat — the section’s only passenger for that flight — and a drink was put into my hand while we waited to taxi from the gate — I felt a little of the stress begin to ameliorate. We were waiting, it turned out, for one last passenger to make it through the jetway. Finally, she did: Angie. She, too was flying home for the weekend.

Now, let’s be real — when a woman as statuesque and stunning as Angie Everheart greets you in a public space the way Angie greeted me, that should make a male glow from the inside. The whole rest of the world thinks beautiful women like you. For some reason, that matters. And, under most circumstances, getting to spend some quality face time with Angie (who’s actually very smart), talking about work but also about life — that would have been awesome. But, Angie sensed something was wrong with her relationship with Sly. She spent the entire three hour flight talking about Sly — how much she loved him. How excited she was for their future together.

And there I sat the entire time, knowing and thinking what a rat bastard Stallone was for cheating on her so relentlessly, so openly. So disrespectfully.

We finally got to LA, Angie and I said “See you Monday back in Vancouver!” and went our separate ways.

A few weeks later, Sly formally broke it off with Angie. I think Sly’s assistant called her to tell her. And my actress — not up to the part to begin with, having been cast only because Sly insisted — now had to be coaxed from her trailer because she was rightfully depressed.

Think of what actually happened here: Stallone wanted to break his engagement to Angie but didn’t have the courage to tell her to her face and then used US as a kind of mental “consolation prize” that HE had procured for HER.

I’ve always known that Stallone was a conservative. It’s neither here nor there to me. Don’t bring that crap onto my film set though. And do NOT infect my film set with it.

Stallone’s problem isn’t his conservatism, it’s that he’s a greedy, selfish pig who seeks approval from and community with other greedy, selfish pigs. If I was going to make a movie about greedy, selfish pigs — I’d know who to cast.

And now? I’ll even know where to find him…

Your Average Atheist Is Likely A Better “Follower Of Jesus” Than Your Average Christian

Seriously, how hard is it to “Do unto others”? Impossibly hard, to judge by most Christians who, somehow, have reimagined “Do unto others” as “Do what we say”. More accurately, it was all those churches those Christians belonged to their whole lives that bamboozled them into thinking that the institution and Jesus were one and the same. That is exactly why most Christians are so bad at following Jesus; in fact, they’ve NEVER followed him. They were never taught to follow him. Instead, the institutional churches that hung out their cross-shaped Jesus Shingle like he was Jesus McSaviour taught a doctrine that Jesus never imagined — because he didn’t! Jesus did not invent Christianity; Paul did. Want proof? Crack a New Testament and look who actually wrote the bulk of it. That’s “literally wrote”. We can PROVE Paul existed because we have HIS WORDS that HE PERSONALLY put to paper — the letters and epistles he sent to the far flung communities across Asia Minor that, he, personally, was nurturing with his letters.

By contrast, we can’t prove that Jesus existed except by inference. Paul’s inference mostly. But, also, the existence inferred by the existence of various gospels. Keep in mind, the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) were not the only gospels written about Jesus. Many more were written that didn’t “make the cut”. Jesus didn’t edit those voices from the mix, deliberately excluding them. But, the early Church DID. This is a very important detail that few people with a religious bent seem to grasp. Their religious doctrines did not just fall from the sky as they are. They were imagined and (eventually) written down over time and, at some point, SOMEONE edited them and someone else decided which of these texts were “good” and which weren’t. Who got to decide WHICH visions and versions of Jesus represented “the truth” and which represented “nonsense”? Who got to decide, for instance, that the Gnostics needed to be shut up? Surely THAT wasn’t Jesus’s doing…

Jesus was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew. Even as he expired — whoever he actually was — if you could have stuck a mic in his face to catch his last breath, he would have told you he was Jewish. Never in his life did Jesus ever meet a Christian. He never preached to one, never taught one, never washed one’s feet. In fact, everything Jesus thought and taught was implicitly Jewish — especially “DO UNTO OTHERS”. One of the core concepts inside every Jew’s head is “Tikkun Olam“. While this can be (and has been) interpreted a gazillion different ways — because that’s how religious doctrine works (versus, say, scientific doctrine) — the overwhelming majority of Jews understand it to mean that each and every one of us — regardless of how deep our religious faith is — is obligated to make the world a better place for having been in it. It’s cultural, see? One doesn’t need the fire-breathing, deeply neurotic Yahweh of the OT looking over one’s shoulder to compel one to be a good person. Just being a person, in essence, should compel one to behave that way because one has to live with others! It’s just basic, social animal common sense.

The simplicity of Tikkun Olam is that it’s born of observations about life and living it socially. There’s nothing inherently supernatural about it. The phrase first appears as mip’nei tikkun ha-olam, “for the sake of repairing the world”, in the Mishnah — the “Oral Torah” of traditions that was eventually memorialized starting in the third century BCE. The assembled Mishnah became all the practical legal measures taken to ameliorate social conditions. To make the world better in the here and now — never mind any after life. The minds who put the Mishnah together were problem solving. They weren’t designing dogma.

That’s where Paul comes in. When Saul of Tarsus had his revelation about Jesus on the road to Damascus and became “Paul The Apostle”, he was working — always — with what was inside his own head (divine inspiration notwithstanding). We don’t have to accept Paul’s word as factual — that Jesus actually appeared to him — because it happened inside Paul’s head — where all ideas originate. Whatever inspired Paul, it inspired something remarkable, all credit to it (whatever it was) but mostly to Paul who ended up doing all the heavy lifting. Paul never met Jesus in the flesh. That’s a stone cold fact that even the loopiest evangelist has to agree with. The reason Paul took his version of Jesus out to the Gentiles is precisely BECAUSE Paul never met Jesus. The Jesus in Paul’s head was not the Jesus people who knew Jesus KNEW. Paul’s Jesus said things and did things Real Jesus didn’t (according to the people who’d know).

Filled with messianic passion, but, now liberated from having to be faithful either to the original Jewish mythology or anything to do with Real Jesus, Paul took the evolving idea in his head out to a Gentile world that only knew polytheism. The Jews’ idea that their one god Yahweh superseded all previous gods was radical to begin with in that it even imagined all gods as one; it was even more radical because that god felt such a personal connection to human beings — who, the radical notion of this one god went, cared for them because he’d “created” them personally. What captivated Paul, remember, wasn’t exactly anything Jesus taught; it was the fact that Jesus — in Paul’s mind — had risen from the grave. Never mind “do unto others”, Paul saw the power of “beat death!” If Jesus could do it, Paul reasoned, then belief in Jesus could get the same results for everyone else.

The whole crux of Christian dogma is to get believers over the “beat death” hump. That’s a big lift, overcoming death, and it required a lot of “thinking” to justify it. There are no data points anywhere, but there is a lot of “thinking”. And rule-making to justify and validate that “thinking”. Suddenly unverifiable thoughts about Jesus become church rules dictating how to think about him. In 345 AD, the Church Fathers met at Nicene and wrote down a Creed spelling out exactly what “God” was. Funny thing? Jesus (remember him?) never advocated for such a thing. If Jesus HAD risen from the dead and walked in on that meeting at Nicene? He’d have looked around at a roomful of strangers talking crap that meant nothing to him.

“Why not just ‘do unto others’?” Jesus would have wondered — isn’t that simpler? Isn’t that really the point?

No, Paul would have explained to Jesus (annoyed by him already), it’s NOT the point. Now, please — go back to being dead because THAT’S the only value you have to me — as a malleable corpse.

The reason Christianity is losing its institutional grip on more and more Christians is because institutional Christianity’s promises never EVER live up to their hype. Until the day comes when they can PROVE they’ve found a way for its believers to actually “beat death”, they’ll always be selling a phony product via phony means. Meanwhile, Jesus’s message — “Do unto others” — feels fresher and more vital than ever. More necessary than ever too.

Good thing there are plenty of atheists around — unencumbered by history and dogma — to maybe teach all those poor, angry Christians how to do it.

Prosecuting Trump For His Coronavirus Failures First Might Be The Quickest Way To Nail Him For Betraying Us To Russia

Fact: Election Day 2016 was a crime scene more than it was an election. On that day, Russia pulled off the greatest intelligence coup of all time: they made their fully owned asset — Donald J. Trump — President of the United States. Assisting in that act of unmitigated treason from start to finish was the entire Republican Party. The GOP knew even before they nominated Trump that Russia owned him. A month before the nomination convention, current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walked into a room of Republican muckety-mucks and said, out loud: “There’s two people I think Putin pays, Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” No one gasped in surprise. Quite the contrary. Then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan — one of the highest ranking people in his political party — demanded omerta, gang loyalty. “We’re family”, is how he put it. You know — like a CRIME family?

As the results rolled in election night 2016, how many Republicans watched with a hand to their mouths — shocked by what their Russian co-conspirators had pulled off for their mutual benefit? How many Republicans — understanding what had just happened and why — also appreciated that this seizure of the American Peoples’ will that Russia was gifting to the GOP came with significant strings that, like it or not, now bound them together — Russia and the Republican Party. I bet more than a few understood completely. Take Lindsey Graham. A former anti-Trumper, suddenly — after a round of golf with Trump — Lindsey became Trump’s loyal fluffer. We all remember how the DNC and its emails were hacked. Well, the RNC got hacked too. They used a company called Smartech to handle their emails. Russia hacked Smartech — and you can bet the ranch and everything else you’ve got that Russia has used what they hacked to maximum effect.

The Republican Party will stand with Donald Trump to the bitter end. They have no choice. Having committed treason together, they know what their jeopardy is. If they’re lucky, they’ll end their days in federal prison. If they’re unlucky, they’ll face the death penalty (of which I’m no fan but, where they’re concerned, I’m open to making an exception). That is precisely why the Republicans will do literally anything to avoid being punished for what they did and why they’re so intent on destroying our election process.

The Republicans know The Big Lie is A Big Lie. Put under oath, each and every one of them would swear on a stack of Bibles (a book none of them have ever read) that of course Joe Biden won the election. The point of this exercise isn’t really to question the election’s actual outcome, it’s to change that outcome entirely because, if they don’t, they’ll lose everything. The stakes for pretty much every Republican is now all or nothing. This is why the Republicans have not only NOT refuted the Big Lie, they’ve been nurturing it. An Ipsos Poll published a few days ago found that “55% of Republicans believe his 2020 election loss resulted from illegal voting or election rigging.” 81% of Republicans — according to the poll — still view Trump favorably while 35% of them think that the January 6 insurrectionists were just there to be “peaceful”, it’s the violent left who caused all the death and destruction.

Merrick Garland as AG scares every Republican because he’s what they’re not: honest and fair. They know — it’s why they slow walked his nomination and hearings — the moment AG Garland begins pulling threads on the massive Republican corruption sweater in front of him, it’s just a matter of how quickly the whole rest of the sweater simply falls apart. The dots absolutely will connect the Proud Boys’ planning to Roger Stone and then in to Trump’s White House. Russia also will tie in. How could they not? But, the Russia tie-ins will take time. While we don’t know for certain that Merrick Garland re-started the counter-intelligence probes into Trump’s relationship with Russia that fill in AG Rod Rosenstein ended, we can make an informed guess that he did. .

The Republican Party has worked overtime to deny any connections between themselves and Russia though they all seem to have relationships with Russia. Plenty of Republicans received Russian money into their campaign coffers through various means including Russian retirees who receive monthly pensions from the Russian government — pensions that were plumped up by Mother Russia during the campaign. Or, more famously, lots of Republicans received cash from the NRA which, itself, had already been seduced by “Russian gun rights advocate” Maria Buttina. Know what they call a Russian “gun rights advocate” in Russia — especially one with her hooks deeply set into the NRA’s soft, white flesh? A spy. A good one, too. Working for Russia.

The GOP has known who Trump was all along.

This, for them is a literal death match. They have nothing to lose. Because our news media failed to disabuse Republicans of their dishonesty — granting even blatant lies as “one side (theirs) of the story” — a chunk of the country thinks Trump is a victim here rather than THE criminal. At the end of the day, we WILL make that stick. Russia will be a huge part of how we understand the Trump years: Russia took over America. It is damned tempting, I admit, to nail Trump and every single Republican for betraying us during a time of cyber war.

But, we must act much faster than that will take. We desperately need to move now to mitigate Trump and the GOP’s betrayal. Fortunately, these same pirates left us multiple openings.

The Democratic Congresspeople who joined the civil suit against Trump — citing his actions and speech of January 6 as clear incitements to attack — will put Trump into a corner. He can’t negotiate his way out of this; he can’t settle. He’ll have to go through the “discovery” process — under oath. For Trump, just being “under oath” is filled with very real peril. He’s a walking-talking “perjury trap”. This could work well! But, there’s yet another story angle here with even less politics to it: Trump’s blatantly terrible handling of America’s Pandemic Response.

Team Trump didn’t just “get it wrong”. They didn’t just “plan badly” or underperform. In a sense, Team Trump over-performed, planned perfectly and got it absolutely right — from Russia’s point of view. If I’m wondering this, it’s a dead certainty others are wondering it too: how connected were Trump’s criminally inept pandemic responses and the idea that a nation sickened by a pandemic would be easier to roll over in a soft coup d’etat than a healthy population?

There will, no doubt, be layer upon layer of Trumpian criminality including in Trump’s response to the pandemic: hundreds of thousands of Americans are now dead because of Trump’s actions. As encouraging as the story’s trendline is, We The People need a little concrete beneath our feet. We need the punishment phase to become as real as the crime phase.

I Grew Up In The Shadow Of The Holocaust And I Feel That Shadow Growing

One of the first big lessons that stuck in my head as a child — the biggest up to that point being toilet training — was that I was hated because of what I was — a Jew. That’s a strange thing to teach a little kid without an enemy in the world. But, when I was growing up, in the early 1960’s (I was born in 1959), not twenty years since the camps had been liberated, the full weight of what had been done to us (not just by Germany but also by anti-Semites all over Europe) was only just beginning to dawn and make itself felt. In Baltimore — where my surgeon dad was did his residency and began his practice, and where I grew up — Jews began emigrating toward the suburbs, most settling in and around an enclave northwest of Baltimore called Pikesville. Before long, clever Anti-Semites turned that into “kikesville”). My affluent, comfortable, semi-assimilated upper middle class Jewish community could live with name-calling.

Pikesville was so predominantly Jewish — ditto its public schools — that even the handful of non-Jewish kids took all the Jewish holidays off because they knew the schools would be virtually empty. We had a really great tennis team but a really terrible football team that, wouldn’t ya know it, all the other teams loved to beat the crap out of.

American culture was still celebrating having won WWII. There were prime time TV shows about it like “Combat” and “Hogan’s Heroes”.

My culture also celebrated. It felt good not being extinct. And some of us wondered aloud: if not for Hitler’s homicidal madness, would the state of Israel have existed?

You might think growing up in a place so culturally Jewish would shield one from the Holocaust’s awfulness. You might think such an awful memory — so close in our rear view mirror — would have horrified my community into a stone cold refusal to discuss it. We went completely in the other direction. I wouldn’t say we “embraced” the Holocaust so much as we “owned it”. The end of WWII — the end of the Holocaust — didn’t end anti-Semitism the same way the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t actually end slavery.

As my community tends to do, we turned what happened to us into a teachable moment. There were some essential lessons still to be learned. There’s a famous photo of a group of Jews being rounded up in the Warsaw Ghetto by the occupying Nazis –

From the first time I saw the photo, I became that boy in the lower right. I bet a lot of Jews my age did.  We saw and felt that boy’s terror, his helplessness.  His confusion: how can they be doing this to you just because you were born Jewish?  You’ve done nothing wrong to anyone on the planet – yet the planet wants you dead. 

“Never Again” became as integral a part of my “religious education” as chanting the ‘Shema’.  The past hurt.  That was not going to be our future. 

In our guts, my community has always known this was lurking somewhere in the American Character. Turns out, the Nazis were admirers of how racists in America codified and amplified their racism. The Nazi’s method of industrialized murder found significant inspiration in America’s brand of Christo-fascism: slavery

You can’t cram peoples’ heads with tons of bullshit and not expect the bullshit to screw them up. Bullshit always screws people up – cos it’s bullshit. When you cram nonsensical, logic-free, hateful mythology into peoples’ heads while telling them it’s truth, it screws them up. It’s worse when the logic-free, hateful mythology also runs counter to your religion’s core message (and its core messenger).

It sucks being despised because of a total fiction. It sucks worse being murdered because of it. But that’s what’s coming to America: death & destruction because bullshit.

In fact, “death & destruction because bullshit” is the Republican Party’s entire strategy going forwards.