We all have a special song. Okay, we all have lots of special songs but there’s one in particular that, as you go through life, it never stops being deeply relevant. It’s the one that pops into your head with remarkable regularity because it applies in so many ways to so many things. This is the song that spoke TO you and FOR you in equal measure like no other song. The trick is, you have to get pretty far down the road to realize which song that is and why that song was “it”. The first instant I saw the Marx Brothers — Groucho in particular — I knew they were kindred spirits. And then, after decimating the room with a barrage of brilliant barbs, Groucho starts to sing.
The movie is “Horse Feathers” The setting is Huxley College — an institution of higher education successful enough to have a faculty and a football team but, apparently, no capacity to do any sort of meaningful executive search considering as they just hired Groucho’s Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff to take over running the joint. But then, real life logic doesn’t play inside a Marx Brothers movie. That, too, made them appealing when I was ten years old. At ten, you’re starting to fall into line, doing what the adults tell you to do even as you’re just starting to sense (your teenage years not too, too far ahead) that every adult is full of shit. When, suddenly, one of the adults wheels around — breaking the fourth wall — and tells you some stone cold truths about adults that makes them look foolish? I’m all ears.
Groucho’s Professor Wagstaff sings:
I don’t know what they have to say It makes no difference anyway Whatever it is, I’m against it No matter what it is or who commenced it I’m against it
This born contrarian heard those words and felt immediate kinship. The target was always authority. In every Marx Brothers movie, the rich look fatuous and silly. In “Horse Feathers”, academia gets hosed. In the brilliant “Duck Soup”, it’s political power. In “A Night At The Opera”, it’s stuffy, white culture and rich people again. Groucho best summarized the persistent sentiment this way: “I would not want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member”. I’m even against me if ever I become the power.
The song’s theme is reflected in the name of this blog. “How to live bullshit free” has focused its attention on bullshit itself as the “it” in the “whatever it is”. And, if we’re talking about bullshit –mine especially (since my bullshit is what matters to me as yours should matter most to you) — then I am absolutely one hundred percent against it.
There was a terrific Monty Python sketch called “The Argument Clinic” where — pure theatre of the absurd — a customer (played by Brian Jones) goes to an argument clinic where he pays to have an argument with an argument counselor played by John Cleese. Right off the bat, Cleese’s counselor is disagreeable and argumentative but, has he started the customer’s argument session or is he just arguing on his own time? At one point, they argue over what constitutes an argument versus, say, just back and forth gainsaying. In the end, bringing the whole absurd idea around again, Jones, exasperated by Cleese, mutters on his way out the door “What a stupid concept”. Arguing — all by itself — is easy. Any idiot can do that. Making a real, valid point however — that’s much harder to do — in part because not everyone has a valid or justifiable point. This is what makes social media such a lure but also such a losing proposition. Everyone brings their point of view to the par-tay. It’s remarkable how few of those points of view actually have a valid point.
Even if we stripped away the shield of anonymity from social media, I bet few of those extreme positions would change. Fewer might get expressed out loud — because cowardice or because insincere — but they’d represent the very same political positions. The racist thugs who don’t care that The Big Lie is a lie have a very distinct point of view. Does their point of view have a valid point though? Corruption has a point of view — as do the corrupt. But does corruption or the corrupt have a point (other than self-enrichment at everyone else’s expense)? No. The guy who steals your car or breaks into your house or molests your kid — he has his reasons for doing what he’s doing. If you got to face that bastard in court, you’d present your side of what happened — describing a crime victim’s point of view. They were living their life quite happily until the criminal who victimized them entered the picture. What valid point — what reason — might this criminal have for doing what they did? As valid points go, this is a null set.
Donald Trump has his point of view. Does Donald Trump have any sort of “point”? We could ask the same question about Vladimir Putin but we’ll get a very different answer. Of course Putin has his point of view. But, Putin also has a point. We may not agree with his point — the restoration of “Greater Russia” and the diminishment of American power and liberal democracy — but Putin has one. He’s even stated that point out loud. That he resorts to nefarious means to achieve his points? It’s part of his larger point. Trump isn’t trying to achieve anything other than his own enrichment and staying out of prison.
“Both sides do it” brand journalism — in love with its own false neutrality — credits every argument with being valid just because the people arguing it say so. This was how we got years of talking heads segments on the cable news networks where climate scientists and climate science deniers were pitted against each other. In those segments, the climate scientist would sit on one side — taking up 50% of the screen — while the climate science denier took up the other 50% of the screen. In the visual language — which we all now understand because visual information flows at us constantly — that means the argument is between two equal points. Fifty-fifty. It’s up to the audience to decide who’s telling the truth and who’s being deceptive, between who’s right here and who’s wrong. The fact is, it’s NOT a fifty-fifty. The climate scientist has it 100% right while the denier has it 100% wrong. But a NEWS show is telling us (even if unintentionally) that bullshit could be true. It’s up to us.
Nothing good can come from news organizations refusing to call bullshit “bullshit”.
Anonymity exacerbates bullshit’s potency and the speed with which it spreads. “I heard that…” is how someone with bullshit in mind intends to put that bullshit into YOUR mind. It’s the tell that a pointless point of view is trying to weasel its way into the conversation.
Aging gracefully demands acceptance of certain basic facts. Until or unless we invent some process that reverses aging’s impact on our cells, organs and body parts — in other words, the “cake” that is us — every attempt to alter aging’s real impact on us can only ever be “icing”. You can stick beautiful icing on a rotten cake. It won’t hide the truth for long. The Republicans, unfortunately, did not begin as any kind of “good cake”. Regardless of their political descriptor (“Republican”, “Southern Democrat”, “Dixiecrat”, “Know Nothing”, “States’ Rights Advocate”) anyone sticking an “R” next to their name in the current political environment is making it crystal clear to everyone: they stand with racists. They stand with insurrectionists. They stand with corruption. They stand with a Machiavellian willingness to do literally ANYTHING to not lose an election — up to and including throwing out the results because they went against you. Again. We all see the Republican Party and every Republican in it for the dysmorphic creatures they are. The sad truth is, many of them really do believe that THEY are the ones doing “good” here.
That’s pretty much the same thought pattern as anyone who’s ever looked in the mirror — already a few too many plastic surgeries over the line — and thought, “What I REALLY need is another plastic surgery.” We see the rotten, corrupt, treasonous cake that is the Republican Party for what it is. And we can see the icing for what it is, too. When Republican legislators throw down voting restrictions in the face of an election deemed free and fair, where more Americans voted than ever — and claim they’re battling corruption? That’s them smearing cheap-ass red, white & blue icing over a turd and calling the thing “a cake”.
One of our many problems — why we keep having this problem: our news media’s inability to differentiate between icing and cake. In fact, once the Republican ice their cake? Our news media forgets there’s even a cake beneath the icing. Our news media insists that the Republican cake is whatever the icing says it is. That awful stink arising from INSIDE the cake? No idea what that is. Not a clue (apparently) where the stink is coming from.
If America eats that cake, we’re finished. We’re going to have to fight the urge to even taste it even as our news media drags its fingers across the cake’s toxic surface. “See?” they always seem to say, “The icing tastes fine. We’re sure the cake is fine, too”.
Body dysmorphia is a tragic thing. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone… well, almost anyone. Unfortunately, our Republican chums walk in the door, their dysmorphia cranked up to 11… 12… 13… . The storyteller in me knows that for villains to work, the villain must believe absolutely in their villainy. To them, it’s not villainy. Even Hitler thought he and his cause were righteous. We must remember that. It’s why stopping them and their followers is soooooo bloody hard. Show me a Republican and I’ll show you someone who thinks they’re God. Literally.
And some of these gods? They hate it that aging happens. They tell themselves they’re raging against the dying of the light.
Um, no. They’re fighting reality. Reality always wins in the end. Rot begets rot. Bullshit begets more bullshit. And none of it looks good on anyone.
For the longest time in this country, conservatives presented themselves as America’s perpetual adults in the room. That was the GOP’s wink to America at the end of the 2016 coup d’etat: “Don’t worry your pretty little selves about Donald Trump, America, whenever he tries to go too far, the “adults in the room” will reel him in!” Problem was (and is), the “adults in the room” were corrupt children who’d broken into the liquor cabinet, drained it dry, then set about burning the whole house down to cover up their liquor theft. The Republicans have NEVER been in control of Trump, rather they’ve been in his thrall and at his mercy. You can’t be in business with Trump without being compromised by him. Or stiffed by him. Or abused by him or betrayed by him. None of that is news to conservatives. They’ve always known who Trump was. They’ve always known he was corrupt. Some of them knew he was a traitor, too. And yet, that fact didn’t seem to change anything.
Why would anyone overlook Trump’s terrible, criminal behavior? Obviously, there must be something in it for them. How do you go from “believing” as Lindsey Graham did in 2016, that making Trump their nominee would be the end of the Republican party —
— to believing now (as Lindsey does) that without Trump, there is no Republican Party? That’s quite a swing — if you see only the swing. I have a feeling we’re going to understand exactly what made Lindsey swing like that: kompromat. I bet we’ll hear a story about how, one day, on the golf course (early in their relationship), Trump let Lindsey know what he and Russia had on him — and how hard they were willing to play that information. It must be way more than just embarrassing (surely Lindsey knows that if he’s worried about being outed, no one cares about that anymore). It must be downright criminal what Lindsey was photographed doing. Shame about his distaste for sexual partners with pubic hair.
Does Lindsey really believe it when he insists Trump was a great POTUS? Of course not. Lindsey doesn’t believe IN anything. He’s as cynical as he is crooked — and that’s a lot of crooked. So what does Lindsey or any Republican “believe”?
Being cynical, they assume everyone’s as big a scumbag as they are. Isn’t everyone heartless and greedy? Being white-entitled, they think they ‘re all gods. Heartless, greedy gods aren’t good for anyone who encounters them. Conservatives believe that “how the world was” is far better than how it is now and not even comparable to how might become if Progressives have their way. But, the name “conservative” itself does all the heavy lifting. It tells us clearly and transparently what conservatives want at the end of the day: they want to conserve. Okay — so, WHAT do they want to conserve?
Well, obviously one can’t “conserve” the future since it hasn’t happened. That leaves the present and the past. Conservatives would be perfectly happy if all progress stopped right now and the world was guaranteed that how things are now is how they’ll always be forever and ever. That, after outright living in the past, would be every conservative’s wet dream. What of the past does any conservative want to conserve? That’s the question. It can’t be the equality back then because there wasn’t any. Can it be how women’s rights were? Uh, no — women didn’t have rights either. Can it be because we treated the LGTBQ community better? Good one! Back then, we treated that community even worse! Back then, we used a religious manuscript to justify slavery. More recently the same people used their Bibles to justify anti-miscegenation laws.
The Bible is every conservative’s favorite book though they’ve only ever read it for the “good parts” — the parts that justified their terrible behavior. Most conservatives are also deeply religious — or, at least, they say they’re religious. Most of them are utterly phony. They will insist they believe in a higher power — a God who smiles upon them because they are righteous! Surely, considering their good fortune, God must be smiling upon them — so therefore God likes them! God sees how special they are and communicates that fact to them. And, ya know, God doesn’t do that with everyone. Most people don’t get the “special treatment” from God. But this guy does.
Imagine being so beloved by God — and knowing it! That’s the tell. “Knowing” they’re “loved by God”. Hey, God talks to them and through them, doesn’t He? When things happen, they know what God’s take is without even having to think about it — that’s how well they know God: they even think like him! Don’tcha know? They think like God because they ARE God. That is every uber-theist’s big secret: they don’t believe IN God, they believe they ARE God.
That’s what every conservative believes in the rock bottomest part of their blacker-than-coal hearts: they are God. They are the supreme power in the universe — and just you wait till all they start using the magic that apparently comes with the title. They will hurt us in ways that haven’t even been invented yet because that’s what Gods do.
That is the thing pretty much every conservative enters believing: in the beginning, there was them. THAT is what they want to “conserve”.
The press loves a horse race more than anything because, in theory, horse races are easy to cover whereas covering the Republican Party’s attempt in plain sight to seize power forever? That would take perspective and the ability to aggregate a story — two things “Both Sides Do It” brand journalism just doesn’t “do”. Our news media is at least TWO YEARS behind in the storytelling we’re all living through. They still think Republicans are honest actors — even as more and more FORMER Republicans tell them — on their own air ffs! — that they AREN’T. If your storytelling (which is what news reporting is) mis-frames the story it’s covering at the jump? You’ll end up covering some other story while thinking it’s this one. Too bad for your “news” audience. Alas, our news media walks around with blinders on; thinking both sides do it because both sides are really the same is deeply cynical. And it’s wrong. That’s why the news media is already whipping us to a frenzy about the Republicans retaking the House, the Senate and who knows what else in the 2022 election. Yes, Republicans are passing legislation all over to restrict voting rights. They’re using the new Census data (which is worth a whole other conversation about how good its numbers actually are considering the influence of Trumpanistas on the process this time) to redistrict where they can — and to further the damage gerrymandering does to our representative democracy. They’re still contesting the last election’s outcome. That alone should tell our news media EVERYTHIING. Good thing (most of) the Democrats are actually there to hear it.
All that vote-restricting legislation — though it WILL impact EVERYONE — is aimed squarely at DEMOCRATIC voters. Republicans are doing this on the one hand because they’ve ALWAYS done this. As Trump himself said out loud, when more Americans vote, it’s bad for Republicans. We see voter suppression as a campaign tactic when, in fact, it’s a violation of civil rights. That IS the intent of any voter suppression effort. It’s not using ideas to sway voters, it’s using “other means”. Oh, they might not be “illegal” in and of themselves, but then, we ain’t talking about petty thievery where it’s obvious. We’re talking CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. Seen from THAT “altitude”, the GOP’s efforts take on a whole other dimension: a criminal one because it’s deliberately intent on violating other Americans’ rights.
The Trump Department of Justice famously refused to look into any real instances of civil rights violations — especially as they pertained to voting. That’s a key distinction by the way — Jeff Sessions may have been the Attorney General but the DoJ was Trump’s. That (we’re now learning) got even worse when Rod Rosenstein ran the DoJ for a while and then worse still when Bill Barr plopped his rotund ass down in the AG’s desk chair. The Department of Justice stopped being The Peoples’ Top Cops and, instead, became Donald Trump’s. As we’re also now learning, Bill Barr deliberately lied to Congress, to Judge Amy Berman Jackson and to We The People — on multiple occasions. Here’s where it gets good though. He did it for one reason. It’s the very same reason actual Republican members of Congress actively supported (and still support) the January 6 insurrection. It’s the very same reason Lindsey Graham insists the GOP can’t do anything without Trump. In a sense, Lindsey’s absolutely right. The GOP can’t do ANYTHING without Trump because they’re stuck to him. Stuck to each other.
At the end of the day, this is a story about TREASON. But — you have to understand that THAT is what the “card game” we’re all playing in is actually about. Our news media, though it can see the treason and even cover the treason (“There’s two people I think Putin pays, Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!”) cannot put treason on its radar never mind into its imagination. If you can’t see treason, you can’t see the traitors. If you can’t see the traitors then you will be eternally baffled by the Republican Party’s continuing love affair with Trump — who their own internal polling says is driving them off an electoral cliff.
In that internal polling, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and virtually everything they’re doing is more popular than Donald Trump. That’s not going to improve. During four years in office, Trump achieved his ceiling. It’s begun to shrink — and it’s not going to stop shrinking before election 2022. If the GOP, as Lindsey Graham says, needs Donald Trump in order to “grow” then it’s facing a conundrum. It CAN’T grow. There’s nobody left in the population in which to grow — especially as you contract more and more into your reactionary whiteness. In an election — even WITH gerrymandering and voter suppression kicked up to “11” — you STILL have to advertise. You STILL have to have more voters (even GIVEN the likelihood of a “boost” from the Republican-run electronic voting machine company’s internet-connected back door) than the Democrats. What — even starting now — do the Republicans have to sell to anyone not already tribally committed to how they’ll vote?
Even if Mitch McConnell could stand in Joe Biden and the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda (which scares Mitch and the Koch money behind him because it’s “socialism”), the positives of having Democrats in power are already registering strongly in polling. Republicans taking away unemployment benefits because they’re closer to a living wage than the crap salary they got before (because of Republican policies) won’t win them any friends among all those workers. It WILL make them vengeful voters come election 2022. Anger motivates voting like nothing else — as we know from experience. But, Mitch himself is a walking-talking-turtle-tell.
Mitch is kinda the poster turtle for the horribleness that’s about to befall pretty much the entire Republican Party — because of the card sitting not in Joe Biden’s hand, but in ours — in We The Peoples’ hand. We now have a functioning Department of Justice. Sometimes I chuckle when I think of Merrick Garland’s moderate judicial temperament — how well it may have served Republicans from time to time had they allowed Garland the SCOTUS seat Mitch handed to Neil Gorsuch instead. That moderate approach — just the facts & the law — will make Garland a deeply problematic Attorney General for the Republicans — a fact they know; it’s why the Republicans slow walked not just Garland’s nomination but the nominations for every top DoJ position. The slow walking is now over — and, as one of its opening moves, a fair-minded, just the facts & the law DoJ reveals, Merrick Garland sees “his” DoJ as OURS.
Let me repeat that: Merrick Garland doesn’t see the DoJ as his, he sees it as OURS. And he’s already begun to approach the law — and the rule of law itself — with US and OUR needs in mind. So, when I say “Garland’s” DoJ, I mean OUR DoJ. That DoJ takes civil rights very, VERY seriously. They’ve demonstrated that by charging all four of the cops responsible for murdering George Floyd. They demonstrated that by charging Derrick Chauvin with violating the civil rights of a completely different young, Black citizen. That should be seen as a shot across the bow of every racist on every police force in America. If your racism motivates you to violate anyone’s civil rights — especially when you’re on duty as a cop — you’ve got a problem.
Side note? Defending yourself against federal charges costs a bomb and a half. Think any of those racist cops can afford it? Even with GoFundMe pages? Think they’ll be able to afford it if they’re competing with hundreds of other racist cops?
We all know that racism stands behind every bit of Republican-written vote-limiting legislation. That presents a problem now because, when challenged in court, none of it will stand because it so clearly violates civil rights, a cause the Justice Department itself now sees in criminal terms. And, hey — we’ve no idea WHEN indictments might start flying from Fulton County, Georgia where Trump’s coercive phone calls to Georgia’s attorney general are under intense scrutiny. Same goes for the SDNY and Manhattan where various bits of the legal machine are just revving up, liberated at last from Bill Barr’s corrupt oversight. And then there’s writer E. Jean Carroll’s civil suit against Trump and the discovery process yet to come!
As we stand here today, the Republican Party itself is lying to itself how bad the Trump Brand is — and how badly that brand is impacting the Republican Brand (such as it is). That brand is about to take a series of massive (repeat MASSIVE) hits. Donald Trump and the Legal Process can’t go anywhere near each other if Donald Trump is to survive. But that is precisely the thing that’s changed — and, though it’s taking longer than we want it to, it IS beginning to work in the only way it can: slowly but deliberately.
If we can see the connections between the January 6 insurrectionists and members of Congress, so, too, can the FBI and the DoJ (now that the DoJ is inclined to see). If we can see connections to the Trump White House, so can they. If Team Biden can see Russia’s malign influence on our elections enough to publicly warn them, then so can our DoJ — and the FBI it’s part of. Remember all the obstruction of justice that occurred during the Trump years — including INSIDE the DoJ? That’s not happening now. In fact, with Garland at its helm, the opposite is happening. The obstruction itself is now being examined under an electron microscope. Think Bill Barr’s sleeping well at night these days? Then you’re not paying attention.
Bill Barr arrogantly thought he could stay above all this. How wrong he’s already proven to be (thank you, Judge Amy Berman Jackson!) Once Merrick Garland starts pulling threads on Trumpian corruption (which is the exact same as Republican corruption), he won’t — by nature or law — be able to stop. And we all know what that corruption is knitted with: TREASON.
We WILL get there and sooner than we think. Think Russia played no part in the January 6 insurrection? Really? Hey, what about Rudy G’s dance with Russian-backed Ukranians? What about the FBI warning Rudy he was being USED BY RUSSIA — and then Rudy ignoring them? Hmmmmmm… I bet our DoJ could get to the bottom of that. I bet OUR DoJ can AND WILL get to the bottom of a lot of things whose bottoms need “getting to”. Why DID current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy think Putin pays Rohrbacher and Trump? Why DIDN’T he contact the FBI (and don’t give me this “it was just idle chatter” bullshit — in that context, no, it was not “idle chatter”) ? Why did Kevin and the rest of the GOP leadership in that room go along with then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan’s admonition to “keep it in the family”?
From Bill Barr to Kevin McCarthy to Paul Ryan to Mitch McConnell — they all knew Russia owned Trump. They, too, were owned by Russia — or were willing to LET Russia own Trump even as they made him their nominee.
If I can see this, so, too, can Merrick Garland.
If I can see — and it’s all evidentiary — that but for Russia Donald Trump would NEVER have become POTUS than so can Merrick Garland. So can my — our — Department of Justice. If I can see countless Republicans have lied or perjured themselves to protect this fact (and one doesn’t have to know the whole plan to have conspired in it) then so can Merrick Garland. Say, what DID Donald Trump say to retiring Judge Anthony Kennedy that made him do this? Here’s a thought — let’s have OUR Department of Justice put everyone connected to this moment — including Kennedy’s son (who was Trump’s banker at Deutsche Bank) and Brett Kavanaugh (whose got his own perjury issues) under oath and ask them questions. If it were up to THIS citizen, he’d have HIS Department of Justice “Benghazi” every last one of these pirates.
The Democrats can’t count on this card in their calculus going forward. It’s not theirs to play. It’s ours. But, the fact is, we are now playing that card — and it will impact the game’s outcome absolutely.
The most delicious irony of all will be watching shits like Mitch McConnell quake in their loafers as they walk into the DoJ for questioning — knowing it’s Merrick Garland who’ll be questioning them (one way or another). Joe Biden would have picked a good person for this post regardless. He’d have chosen someone who understood — unlike Trump and the GOP — that the DoJ is OURS and it’s his job to respect that fact which he does. Imagine (with that context in mind) the scenes to come of every Republican who so much as suspected what his fellow travelers was up to but said nothing suddenly realizing the trap they’re in.
See something, SAY something is how a good citizen stays out of trouble. See something, say NOTHING is where co-conspiracy to commit treason begins.
If you obsess on just one or two dots (even three) of a connect-the-dots picture, you’ll never know what the big picture is. To make matters worse, having no sense of a bigger picture, you’ll probably take that “small picture” view of a much larger thing and project all kinds of conclusions that, no surprise, get everything utterly wrong because, well — you had no perspective! America’s news media, to this day, have not connected the dots on their picture of Donald Trump. Actually, they haven’t connected a single dot — not from the instant Trump oozed down that golden escalator and announced his candidacy by insisting “Mexicans are rapists”. At that point, one shouldn’t have had to ask “Is Donald Trump a racist?” He told us unequivocally that he was. All the news media had to do was listen to him. Quick side note: it’s not up to a racist or the racist’s friends or even the media to decide “who’s a racist”. It’s up to the racist’s victim. If someone says, “That person was racist towards me”? then whoever they’re pointing at IS A RACIST. See how the dots connect?
But you have to want to connect dots to see the pictures they form. “Both sides do it” journalism insists it’s not journalism’s job to connect dots — that’s for journalism’s audience to do. Okay, fair enough. But, asking for the audience, is journalism presenting the stone, cold, literal truth or are they presenting a “truth” already compromised by mis-framing? In the current climate, to claim Republicans are honest actors in a debate about American democracy is horribly, HORRIBLY mis-framed. They’re not and haven’t been for a generation — at least going back to Newt Gingrich and the open culture war he declared on the left and Democrats when he was Speaker of the House. Yet, every day, the news media frames every debate — about immigration, about the pandemic, about the economy — about the The Big Lie itself — as if the Democrats and their desperate battle to protect every American’s right to vote was just “another point of view” one could have — as is the Republicans’ blatant attempts to restrict voting for everyone — but especially for Black people, brown people and young voters. “Both sides do it” journalism insists on seeing a criminal attempt to infringe on voting rights as “just another way to run a campaign” as if everyone could or might do it. It’s perverted our viewpoint to such an extreme that we now think of Republicans openly CHEATING to win elections as “just another way to ‘win” elections”.
No, it’s not.
How the hell did we get to a place where we shrug off the GOP’s relentless attempts to seize political power from the majority? It doesn’t help that the news media asks why but, either doesn’t stick around for the answer or, worse, assume (cos lazy) that Republicans behave the way they do “because it’s just how they are”. For five years now, through darkening circumstances including losing the White House and the Senate (having driven the economy into a ditch in large part by totally mismanaging the pandemic), Republicans have become not less devoted to Trump and Trumpism, not more. For five years, our NEWS MEDIA has stared at that fact while scratching its head, unable to CONNECT THE DOTS. Why, they wonder, scratching so hard now they’re carving literal furrows into their skulls, is Trump sooooooo beholden to Vladimir Putin? Why, oh why, doesn’t Trump ever stand up to Putin? Why did Trump always seem more interested in protecting Russia’s interests instead of our own?
Is it really so hard to connect those dots? Really?
How much EVIDENCE does a “journalist” need before they’ll draw a conclusion, say, about how Donald Trump bankrupted his Atlantic City casinos even though he had all those Rich Russian oligarch pals “giving him money”? Hmmmmmmm… can’t imagine why… . Faced with those facts, Fusion GPS (when hired to do oppo research on Trump for the Marco Rubio-backing Washington Free Beacon) became so alarmed (being ex-journalists with some experience reporting money laundering) that they hired Christopher Steele because his bona fides inside Russia were so rock solid. These former journalists wanted to know the truth behind what their due diligence had uncovered (their due diligence being a survey of every piece of PUBLICLY AVAILABLE material on Trump) and whether Trump, having laundered money for Russian mobsters (all with strong ties to Putin), was now fully owned by them.
Dishonest scumbag though he is, Donald Trump can be shockingly (if unintentionally) forthright. He projects literally everything terrible about himself usually onto other people. It’s hardly difficult to spot. He keeps telling us who and what he is. The news media refuse to take him at his word — to this very day.
On the one hand, it could just be mediocrity at work. In any given profession, the majority of pros will be good enough to be pros but, otherwise, unremarkable. Mediocre. It’s probably a good thing most people are mediocre. It’s their mediocrity that helps the good performers stand out. Watergate attracted a lot of Woodward & Bernstein wannabes to journalism. That’s swell so many people were so aspirational. Too bad 99% of them simply didn’t and don’t have the chops. That doesn’t stop them from thinking they do — every day when they do the thing they call “journalism”. On the other hand, if it’s not mediocrity, that means it’s probably a total failure of imagination.
If you can’t “imagine” that Republicans are being entirely disingenuous when they wonder if Joe Biden really is POTUS then you can’t imagine Republicans. You’re thinking of some other group — “normal Republicans” from some time in your past. You definitely don’t have THESE pirates on your radar. If you can’t imagine that Vladimir Putin literally OWNS Trump, literally RUNS Trump and literally has his hooks in the entire Republican Party, then maybe you’re in the wrong line of work. Hell, even if those things weren’t true — that Putin owns Trump and the GOP — it would simply be good journalistic practice to definitively rule them out. Not just because you can’t imagine it but because, like Fusion GPS, you did your due diligence.
No journalist (to my knowledge) has revisited that reporting? Why? Isn’t it good enough? Isn’t it valid? Isn’t it, maybe, revealing of something pertinent to now? Imagine if American journalists were to aggregate the Donald Trump story… imagine if — instead of returning to a weird ‘square one’ ever day, they BUILT a portrait of not only Donald Trump but his circle and the Republican Party as a whole that shifted and changed and evolved as more and more new information got added. The point of the exercise would be a truthful, realistic picture of what is — of what we know.
When we get to the part of the story (and we will) where the indictments and subpoenas and charges start raining like fire onto the hapless Republicans, the news media will act as if it was shocking. It shouldn’t be. Any real journalist or storyteller worth a damn should have seen it coming from a thousand miles off. Because it was there; in fact, they already reported it.
Oh, by the way, American news media? The connect-the-dot picture up top? It’s a dinosaur…
Our news media keeps proving that conventional wisdom is long on convention but short on wisdom. They also keep proving that most of them suck at storytelling even worse than they suck at journalism. And, make no mistake, the majority of American journalists really aren’t that good at journalism. It’s not entirely their fault. Somewhere along the way, a mentor or a professor or a boss put it into their heads that “both sides do it”. From that point on, whatever talent they had for journalism was screwed. They permanently perverted their sense of perspective. Skewed it & screwed it for good by confusing skepticism (what every journalist should practice) with cynicism — a terrible, dark, judge-y way of thinking that assumes the very worst of people. All people — hence “both sides do it”.
It’s “both sides do it” that caused American journalists to normalize “Mexicans are rapists” — and then “pussy-grabbing” because “But, her emails!”. In hindsight, that decision to follow one lead over the other looks even worse, doesn’t it? Not that in the face of everything that’s happened since, America’s news media got any savvier about Donald Trump. They haven’t. Our news media is remarkably incapable of aggregating any part of the Trump story. If they were capable of aggregating everything we know about Trump into a constantly evolving narrative, Trump would NEVER have become president in the first place. As Fusion GPS did when first hired in 2016 to do oppo research on Trump (for the benefit of Marco Rubio backing The Washington Free Beacon), every member of the press would have done their due diligence so that they fully understood the man they were reporting on. Like Fusion did, the press would have BEGUN its narrative about Trump with Trump already being a Russian mob money-laundering criminal.
A month before nominating Trump to be their presidential candidate, current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy famously walked into a meeting with Republican leadership and said — out loud (it was recorded and the recording was heard by a Washington Post reporter) “There’s two people I think Putin pays, Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” There was laughter in the room but no shock. But there must have been a degree of concern because then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan felt compelled to rein in any discomfort. No one, Ryan counseled, should speak of the matter outside that room. That, he said (it’s recorded), is “How we know we’re family”. A mafia crime family, more like…
Nothing about the Trump presidency was “normal”. Not a single second of it. And yet — the press worked overtime to normalize the story and Trump no matter how outrageous. To this day, most members of the news media scratch their heads hard enough to carve out a trench in their skulls as they try to figure out why Trump is so chummy with Vladimir Putin. Why, they wonder — like it was the mystery of existence — are the Republicans so friendly toward Russia? In their journalistic way, they’ll consider all the possibilities — well, they’ll consider all the possibilities but one. Giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, they’ll happily assume Trump could be innocent of everything. Being serious journalists, they’ll also assume that maybe Trump could be guilty of some sort of bad behavior (but he insists he’s innocent so, obviously that can’t be the case). They’ll NEVER assume the third choice: Trump is guilty as can be which means, yeah — he’s a rapist and a thief and a racist and an anti-Semite and a traitor.
Donald Trump IS all those things — that’s just what the aggregated story says, all of which the news media itself reported but, apparently, never bothered to read.
Our news media doesn’t know what to do with The Big Lie because “both sides do it” causes them to knee-jerk acceptance of it: if someone says a thing, it must be so because they said it. They confuse someone having a point of view (which even a thief or a rapist has) with having a point (which neither the thief nor the rapist has). There’s no defense for rape and unless we’re talking Jean Valjean stealing bread), there’s no defense for thievery either. Both a rapist and a thief have their “point of view”. That’s not the same as having a “point”. When Trump — as he did last night — insists that Joe Biden’s presidency is “The Big Lie”, he’s not just lying, he’s deliberately speaking utter rubbish. When the news media reports Trump’s assertions without completely contextualizing them first as rubbish, they give bullshit credence. That can never end well for anyone.
Trump WILL BE indicted and prosecuted in Georgia. He WILL be indicted and prosecuted in New York. He WILL be sued successfully by E. Jean Carroll who Trump raped in a Bergdorf’s dressing room in the mid-90’s and then defamed as too ugly to rape.
A direct link will be drawn between the January 6 insurrection, the Trump White House and Donald Trump himself.
And, of course, a direct link is about to be revealed that connects Donald Trump TO Russia and reframes what happened in November 2016 not as a free and fair American election but as a very real coup d’etat carried out by the Republican Party in concert with Russia, the goal being permanent minority rule. The GOP’s relationship with Trump may not have been part of some long-term master plan, but there was a kind of “master plan”; even before Trump’s nomination, Mitch McConnell had done the Koch Brothers bidding and quietly seized control of the judiciary by denying Obama hundreds of lifetime appointments including the SCOTUS seat Merrick Garland should be occupying instead of Neil Gorsuch.
Even now as the GOP eviscerates itself — casting Liz Cheney as an apostate because she won’t spew the Big Lie — they are painting themselves into a corner. Fealty to Trump is about have an even more dire cost than before.
How does one campaign while defending oneself against charges of treason? That will be the GOP’s challenge. That and trying to convince Americans (the majority of whom are finally healthy, back to work (in a booming economy) and happy for the first time in years that instead of the path they’re on, what they REALLY want is more Trumpism. THAT is what the Republican Party is selling — and, to be honest, I’m not sure how one does that — except to the very small clique of hard core Trumpanistas (which, all told, is at most SIXTEEN PERCENT of all Americans).
This is the sliver of corruption that the news media INSISTS will — because it always happens — retake the House and the Senate and dash all of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party’s dreams.
In order to see how ludicrous a forecast that is, however, one MUST see Republicans for who they really are and Trump for who he really is. You’d have to stop normalizing things that should never be normalized. You’d have to stop thinking “both sides do it” and that everyone, no matter what, is always doing it for “political” reasons. Finally, you’d have to get your cynicism in check.
That might be more than American journalism is capable of right now. While outside the mainstream journalists like Sarah Kendzior and Seth Abrahmson write compellingly because they’ve taken a holistic approach and aggregated the story all along, American journalists — especially the broadcast ones — return diligently every day to a kind of “square one” where everything we’ve learned along the way stops existing; all we know now is what we knew when we set out — nada.
The American news media didn’t see the Blue Wave of 2018. They insisted till they really couldn’t anymore that the 2020 race was close; it wasn’t. Yeah, sure — from an Electoral College pov, it got squeakerish at times. But the EC is slavery voting. It over-represents rural Americans and under-represents the urban majority — same as the Senate. “The Democratic half of the Senate represents 41,549,808 more people than the Republican half.” Senate Democrats represent. That’s a huge advantage for the Republicans. Why do you think there are two Dakotas — because there were too many Dakotans for one? Why two Carolinas? Why two Virginias?
To this day — as far as I know — no American journalist has even thought to ask Kevin McCarthy what made him think Putin paid Trump in the first place. If you accept Kevin as an honest actor (when he tells you Liz Cheney needs to go because she won’t pitch The Big Lie), you have no idea who Kevin is. You have no idea who any of the Republicans are or why they’re doing anything. You really don’t know anything. It makes your prognosticism dubious.
Outside of its “sales literature”, Christianity has zero use for “Do Unto Others”. Same goes for Jesus. Christianity uses Jesus the way McDonald’s uses Ronald. He’s a mascot, nothing more. The church is about as worried whether their actions would meet Jesus’s approval as McDonald’s is worried about Ronald’s. As the McDonald’s Corporation would remind you: Ronald is just a clown. The institutional church feels pretty much the same way about Jesus. “Do unto others” is just another part of the “Christianity Brand”. To its credit, the early Christian Church realized early on how important branding would be in building their new institution. Hey — they seem to have understood that “branding” was a thing to begin with. What’s the symbol for literally every church — for the Christian religion itself? A cross. Remember — prior to being taken over by the Christian church as the symbol representing itself, crosses were the Roman equivalent of an electric chair or a gas chamber or a guillotine. If the Romans had invented the guillotine before the French did (the idea for the device was proposed in 1788 by French physician and politician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin), Christians would all be walking around today with little guillotines around their necks.
Hmmmm… Christianity isn’t really worried about the guy ON the cross (crosses can have him or not have him — they mean the same thing; Jesus is an adornment on a cross)… that must mean that Christianity cares more about the cross itself. The Romans crucified people because the shape of the cross causes a person nailed to it to slowly, painfully, agonizingly asphyxiate — usually over several days. If they had found a circle or a square caused an equally painful kind of death? They probably would have used that instead. The point isn’t even the cross. It’s what the cross causes that Christianity is really messaging: death.
The first message (never mind the “first cause”) is “Jesus died”. Not “Jesus taught ‘Do unto others’,” Jesus died. That was the essential thing about Jesus to Paul The Apostle as he went about inventing Christianity. That’s a stone cold fact: Jesus had zero to do with the invention of Christianity. Paul had EVERYTHING to do with it. One could remove Jesus and every one of his teachings from everything most Christian churches call “Christianity” and you’d still have Christianity. That’s not a criticism. Hell — that’s Paul’s genius and Paul, most certainly, was a genius. The way we look at Paul has to be different from the way we look at Jesus because we KNOW Paul was 100% real; unlike Jesus, Paul left behind a written record of himself. The bulk of the New Testament is composed of Paul’s letters and epistles to the burgeoning Christian communities spreading across Asia Minor.
The fact that there WERE burgeoning Christian communities across Asia Minor was entirely because of Paul. Without Paul, those communities don’t exist. They never start. The idea for them — for what those communities are going to believe — originates in Paul and NOT in Jesus. Jesus — Joshua ben Joseph is how he would have thought of himself — was born, lived and died a Jew. He grew up steeped in the Jewish texts, Jewish traditions, Jewish mythologies and Jewish thinking. Key to that way of thinking is “Do unto others” or, as it’s expressed in the Mishna and Talmud, “Tikkun Olam”. It is every Jew’s obligation to make the world a better place for having been in it. One does not get a choice in the matter; it’s an unspoken commandment from God. Making the world a better place begins with treating everyone as YOU would wish to be treated aka “Do unto others”.
Jesus never thought of taking his message outside the Jewish world. Why would he? He wasn’t trying to invent Christians when he preached the Sermon On The Mount, he was trying to make Jews better Jews. Nothing Jesus did — let’s remember that the stories we have of Jesus were not even remotely eyewitness accounts; they were collated and edited and chosen as canonical by the Christian church’s early leaders who themselves were part of the invention process. Again — this is not a criticism, it’s merely an observation of the process by which Christianity came into the world. And it WAS a process that took CENTURIES to happen — and the texts they were using as part of that formative process themselves were the accumulation of as much as a MILLENNIUM of oral traditions finally written down.
After his “conversion on the road to Damascus” from Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle (a thing we can assume DID happen because real person Paul wrote about it), Paul went to Jerusalem to try and sell the powerful vision in his head. The problem was, Paul — who’d never met Jesus — was trying to sell HIS version of Jesus to people (including Jesus’s FAMILY) who actually KNEW Jesus, who’d actually heard Jesus speak — who’d heard his message straight from his mouth. They rejected Paul and his version of Jesus out of hand. Their version of Jesus — the REAL JESUS (as much as we can point to a “real Jesus”) — more or less died with them. Not long afterward, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and the Jewish presence in Palestine was mostly obliterated for almost two thousand years. Scattered to the diaspora, Jewish culture turned away from a physical temple to a more intimate, rabbinic approach where questioning God’s true intent so as to decipher a meaning was the goal.
Paul meanwhile took his version of Jesus to the Gentiles. Unlike the Jews who’d rejected him, the Gentiles didn’t know Jesus and didn’t know any of the Jewish mythology Jesus knew and based his teaching on. Also, the Gentiles didn’t know any of the messiah mythology from The Book Of Daniel or The Book Of Enoch. If Paul strayed from what was written and understood, none of the Gentiles were going to call Paul on it like the Jewish community would. That liberated Paul to both adulterate and “improve upon” the original with his own focus. To Paul, it was the fact that Jesus died and, in Paul’s telling of it, rose from the dead like a zombie.
Who tells us Paul rose from the dead? Was it Jesus? NO — it’s Paul. Paul is the only reporter the church relied upon to tell us who Jesus was. Our version of Jesus is Paul’s version of Jesus; not his family’s version or even Jesus’s version of Jesus. It’s all Paul’s version. And Paul — here’s the true heart of his genius — was selling the idea that if Jesus could rise from the dead and defeat death itself (and isn’t that what scares human beings most?) then so could someone who believed in Jesus (so long as the version of Jesus you believed in was Paul’s). THAT is what Paul invented; it’s what the institutional church Paul also was inventing took as its Big Sales Tool.
“Have you heard the good news” is how they put it — and it also was genius. Prior to the Jews and their personal, monotheistic tribal god Yahweh (the god we’ve come to call “God” though, really, god is Yahweh’s job description not his name), the polytheistic gods had a very different relationship with humans. Yahweh on the other hand was personally interested in humans since he, personally, created them. Yahweh has a lot of the Canaanite god “El” in him, Yahweh’s creators having been a lesser tribe in that larger tribe’s shadow. El’s presence is still felt in various place names: “Isra-EL” for example or “Beth EL”. Yahweh creates Adam in his own image. How sad for Yahweh that Adam let him down in the end (oh, right — that was all Eve’s fault).
Paul cleverly took the “mankind’s fall from grace” idea from Genesis and made that the whole reason Jesus died — no, HAD TO DIE. The whole point of Jesus’s existence, Paul told his followers, was to die as collateral for Eve’s “original sin”. Nowhere in Judaism is such a thing demanded. But it is in Christianity because Paul (and then the early church “fathers”) put it in the faith they were mythologizing on the fly.
Think about it: if Jesus, instead of being crucified, lives out his days teaching and preaching to fellow Jews and dies in his bed, a respected old man (though maybe not by the temple and its priests), then Paul never has a revelation about Jesus dying (that Jesus’s family thinks is hogwash) and Christianity never comes to be. Or, maybe Paul does have his revelation on the road to Damascus — except it’s NOT about Jesus dying and being resurrected — it’s about Jesus’s message: “Do unto others”. Instead of founding a church outside of Judaism, Paul, instead, would have become more Jewish.
He’d have become a better Jew than he was. More devout maybe. More thoughtful about what Yahweh said was important (Yahweh being a mercurial cat to begin with).
The early church needed compliance with its emerging mythology, not more discussion about it. That’s why they created a canonical testament — a New Testament that reimagined and reinvented the Old Testament by turning it away from everything Jesus thought to everything Paul thought. And Paul, don’t forget, had been soundly rejected by his own. Paul, as we know, took being spurned badly. We have no idea whether or not Jesus was actually crucified even. We have Paul’s account of it and the accounts — the four canonical gospels — whose stories lined up just enough to seem like a coherent narrative. Again: there are no contemporaneous accounts of anything Paul or the Gospel writers describe. All we have to go by is them — and the thing they were beginning to figure out and figure out how to sell: Christianity.
Jesus taught his followers that none of them needed a Temple or its priests. They, Jesus taught, were corrupt! Anyone and everyone could speak directly to Yahweh without a “middle man”. That’s how approachable Yahweh was. So, how come there’s a church speaking for Jesus (of all people)? It’s a total contradiction of a core teaching. Same goes for all the dogma required to justify any church’s existence. Churches do not, in fact, teach anything “Jesus” because their very existence would disturb Jesus to his toes were he to actually experience a “second coming” and return.
Not only would Jesus be disgusted by the religion that rose in his name, he’d be doubly disgusted by that religion’s anti-Semitism. Jesus never had an anti-Semitic thought because he was a Semite. He would find the church’s history repellant. He would be crushed by the number of his fellow Jews who the church-with-his-name-on-it murdered in cold blood just because they were Jews. He would be especially blown away by how that church-with-his-name-on-it turned “Do unto others” into “Do what we say”. There may not be a bigger contradiction in the whole history of contradictions.
But, that’s exactly what Christianity’s selling. In their defense, they are selling rubbish and magical thinking — that requires a lot of hard work especially in a world that replaced theology as the Queen of Sciences with actual science. Had Paul chosen to try and sell real Jesus, he probably would have failed. His version captivated the Gentile world. In time, Paul’s genius became the state religion of Europe. Think that’s what Jesus had in mind as he preached the Sermon On The Mount?
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.
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.