Why America’s News Media Sucks — The “Nicolle Wallace” Exception

By all rights, a left wing loon like me should detest Nicolle Wallace from a thousand miles away. But I adore her. I adore her show, Deadline White House on MSNBC. If you aren’t watching it or listening to it, you’re missing one of the few bright spots in the American News Media firmament — I’m also a Maddow fan, a Lawrence fan, a Joy-Ann Reid fan, an Ali Velshi fan and mostly an Ari Melber fan).

A good news show should be redolent of its host. Bad news shows work the same way of course. Meet The Press Daily is dopey as hell regardless of whether or not Chuck Todd is actually hosting it. I won’t go off on Chuck here — this ain’t about him). Accordingly, Deadline White House seems to flow directly from host Nicolle Wallace’s id.

Before she scored her own show, Nicolle co-hosted a season of ABC talk show The View. Before that she was GWBush’s White House Communications Director then served as a senior advisor for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign — tasked with handling Sarah Palin. She appeared frequently on network and cable news programs as the campaign’s spokesperson and defender. Nicolle has solid Orange County Republican bona fides.

I used to have family down in Orange County. I used to feel — driving down to San Clemente to visit — like we were driving into a strange foreign country with distorted values. That’s how different Republican Orange County felt from Democratic LA. On paper, I should watch Nicolle’s show the way I watch, say Alex Witt or Chuck Todd — with teeth gritted (Alex because she’s so mediocre, Chuck because he’s such a “Both Sides Do It” douche nozzle).

In 2016, Nicolle quit the Republican Party as it went Trumpian. Either the leap spurred something in her or she was always a softer version of an Orange County Republican.

Watching her show these days, if you didn’t know Nicolle’s past — deep in the Republican core — you’d be shocked to learn about it. She sounds so much like… like me. Yes, I’ll own it — I like Nicolle Wallace & her show because I agree with them. But I agree with the politics on a lot of MSNBC’s shows. Strangely, I rarely feel as justified after watching those shows. After watching Deadline White House, I often feel even more justified in my left wing loonie position than when I started.

That’s because Nicolle’s bottom line is receipts. Ya gotta bring receipts. Nicolle’s view of the news and the news landscape is fact-based, not feeling-based. Years of watching her convince me that this matter-of-fact, limited melodrama, relentlessly honest worldview reflects who she is down to her toes. The discussions are almost always smart, informed, savvy, clear-eyed and fearless.

And when it comes to pillorying Donald Trump and every Trumpanista, no one delivers a clean kill the way Nicolle does. She shies away from playing too much Trump on her show. But, when she does and the camera returns to Nicolle’s face — wow.

Sometimes there’s a laugh. It’s so particular, that laugh. It’s the laugh of a woman who knows she’s just had a man bullshit her. It skewers all by itself. But throw in Nicolle’s laser-like eyes — she’s good on camera, too — and you’ve got something that crosses rock solid news analysis with poetry.

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Why Our Main Stream News Media Sucks – “Benefit Of The Doubt” Edition

Dear Stephanie Ruhl (sorry for using you as an example but you’ll thank me in the end):

I write this as a fan — someone who respects your talent and skill as a financial reporter. You know your stuff. But, when you turn from analyzing numbers (and what they could mean) to analyzing humans (and what they could mean), you lose your way. Take the subject of Donald Trump. You report on him every single day.

Every single day, Donald Trump does something that an American president should never do. He says something that a grown up should never say. He commits crimes, violates long-standing norms, openly betrays the country — hell, part of the running joke we’re all in on is the idea that Donald Trump does something bad, wrong or illegal every day. In a courtroom, this would be called “Preponderance Of Evidence”.

Think of it as a connect the dots picture like this one…

The preponderance of the available evidence says “It’s an elephant”. But, as the dots aren’t actually connected — and the elephant completely revealed — I guess one could think the picture could be something else but considering the preponderance of the evidence, you’d have to be a moron to go there. Seriously — a moron. It’s not a picture of anything else and was never going to be a picture of anything else. To ask “But, what if it’s a picture of a whale?” would be stupid. If we were to engage with you and your question, we’d have to point out how all the evidence points to the picture being an elephant.

Wasted time, wasted energy, wasted everything. That’s what happens when you give the benefit of the doubt to things that do not deserve any such benefit. And yet — every day, as you report on Donald Trump — you give him the benefit of the doubt. As if maybe he isn’t a racist… or a misogynist… or a corrupt criminal… or a traitor.

No, no, no, you surely think — “I’m just being objective”. Fair enough. Objectivity is essential to good journalism. Objectivity is perspective. But having perspective means you DON’T have to entertain things that your perspective deems unworthy. And having perspective means you KNOW there are plenty of things unworthy — of your time, your energy, your “but, what if…?” questions.

“But, what if…?” is not journalism. It’s you (or a journalist like you) being foolish and credulous. It’s you trading in your skepticism for a steno pad.

But, what if our country really isn’t facing an existential crisis because the president and his political party sold us out for money, power and permanent minority rule?

Connect the dots, damn it. Even simpler — Connect THE dot…

When It Comes To Cannabis, I’m Strain Specific

I approach cannabis from the point of view of “What do I want cannabis to do for me right now?”. In the world of legalized cannabis, that should be the operating principle. To think cannabis is only good for “getting high” is very old fashioned thinking. And very misinformed.

While the labels “indica” & “sativa” are becoming less valuable (pretty much every strain has been hybridized one way or another), the botanists hard at work on the strains we like, are making those strains the equivalent of cabernet sauvingnon clones. When we get to fully legal, fully licensed — and fully regulated — legal cannabis (the only choice for a business that’s lived so long as a criminal enterprise), the ideal should be a cross between a Big Mac’s universality of design and a grape varietal’s individual expression as realized by a talented winemaker and the wine’s growing conditions.

A gram of Durban Poison should be like a bottle of cabernet. There can even be (will be) levels of quality. Just as there are two-buck-Chuck quaffing cabs & bottles of Opus One worth hundreds of dollars, there are already top shelf expressions of cannabis strains and lesser versions — probably all shake (the leftovers at the bottom of a cannabis canister).

Durban Poison — Not merely a good strain, a great one.

I wasn’t a pot smoker in high school. Pot put me to sleep and that wasn’t interesting to me. In college, I discovered cocaine. And even though I once spotted a friend my semester money to buy a pound of who knows what, up until late middle age, my relationship with cannabis was mostly non-existent. Life, middle age, financial hardships, depression — by my mid 50’s, I was sleeping maybe two or three hours a night and none of it was restful. I was popping OTC sleeping meds — Simply Sleep knockoffs mostly — and getting little to nothing from them except memory loss (there’s data that says those products can do that to us if over-used). Living in California — where it was medically legal (only at the time), I said “why not?”

“Sleeping issues,” I told my first budtender. “Skywalker,” he replied. Though I chuckled that first time at what I thought was a cute name that dispensary had come up with, I learned fast — Skywalker is a recognized strain (whose name must now change because of issues the Walt Disney Company has with their intellectual property — it’s now being called Mischka instead; that means — fully licensed cannabis dealers won’t/can’t call this cannabis product Skywalker anymore). Go to most any dispensary in LA and Skywalker will be on the menu.

The Skywalker worked for me. From that night forward, I may not ever have slept as much as I perhaps should but my five solid hours a night are like nectar to my brain. Perhaps I’m just a five-hours-a-nighter. I awake every morning feeling rested and ready for the day.

When I next visited that first dispensary, I was curious. What was in all the other canisters behind the counter? Turned out, cannabis was far more complicated, nuanced, wine-like in nature.

I use cannabis from the start of my day — usually around 5 am — to the end of my day. I like to segue into work head with GG4 (formerly known as Gorilla Glue #4). I love that feeling as the cannabis kicks in — a soft lift to my mood, a feeling of mental focus, of contentment. From there, once a little caffeine enters the mix, I move to my sativa lineup. These days that includes Durban Poison, Jack-The-Ripper (when I can get it), Super Lemon Haze, Clementine and (the unfortunately named) Killing Field.

Put a little of the hybrid Trainwreck on top of that (I love layering strains — we’ll talk about that another time) and you’ll want to clean your house with a toothbrush — you get that dialed in.

All of those sativas bring focus and mental energy. Each, having a different terpene profile, has a different flavor and a slightly different quality to its mental focus. None is quite like DP though for its evenness. I can’t recommend it strongly enough as a workday strain.

As the day winds down, I like to move away from the sativas (or the strains that bring all that focus) toward the more relaxing strains. Kalifa Kush… Bruce Banner #3, Platinum GSC, Cherry Pie, Pineapple Express — all are great for transitioning to a less go-get-em head and a more “Hey, what’s good on the tele tonight?” frame of mind.

Why Are We All So Addicted To Our Own Bullshit? Easy — We’re Addicted To It BECAUSE It’s “Ours”…

I almost learned the hard way how addicted I was to bullshit. My bullshit nearly killed me. For real.

Long story short, I kept a secret from myself for 45 years — that I was molested (twice) when I was 14. If I think of my hypomanic mind as a black box theater filled with projections (my thoughts), this memory sat in a file drawer in a closet in an office far at the back of the theater, up a long metal staircase. The memory glowed inside its drawer.

I always knew it was there.

That I denied this thing happened to me — that was bullshit. But it’s something that victims of sexual assault do as a survival strategy. We blame ourselves. It seems logical. And since it was our fault, we convince ourselves that we deserve every terrible thing that ever flows from it. I became so convinced this bullshit was true that I came within literal inches of killing myself.

I count myself extremely lucky. Between a magnificent therapist, a mood stabilizer (at a minimal dose) that keeps my depression caged and loads of THC to help get my hypomania focused (I highly recommend Durban Poison during the day — it delivers a smooth, even feeling of clear-headed mental energy), I get through my days with a high degree of happiness now. As I started to get healthy, I saw (to my horror) that not only had my own bullshit tried to kill me, my bullshit was undermining every other facet of my life, too.

From the moment I woke up in the morning, I was seeing the world through the bullshit color lenses I kept by my bedside and put on the instant I woke up. I breathed deeply the bullshit scented fumes rising from the piles of bullshit that I had left by my bed the night before. I thought things based on bullshit, did things based on bullshit, said things based on bullshit.

And I was shocked, shocked, I tell ya, when I got bullshit back in response.

Now, let’s be real. No one’s ever going to live 100% bullshit free. Bullshit is hardwired into our genome. Take bullshit away from us and there’d be no religion (not the worst thing that could happen to us). Take bullshit away from us and a lot of relationships would instantly metastasize and die. Take bullshit away from us and Donald Trump would be serving multiple life terms in a federal penitentiary already — alongside pretty much every single Republican.

Bullshit comes in 4 “flavors” or levels…

Level 1: Incidental Bullshit

  • Your 5 year old asks if there’s Santa Claus; you say yes.
  • It’s 6 am.  You have to get up.  You don’t want to.  “Five more minutes,” you tell yourself – you won’t be late.  Bullshit – you know damned well you’ll be late.  You do it anyway.
  • “One more spoonful of ice cream won’t matter to my diet/diabetes.”
  • “Why did you look at me funny when I took one more spoonful of ice cream?”
  •  “Have a nice day” (no matter who says it, no matter why).

Incidental Bullshit is water off a duck’s back.  Life’s just too short to get too hung up on this kind of low grade truthiness.  It’s petty mostly.  Meaningless and forgettable.  However:  This is the ‘shit’ that ‘happens’.  It just does.  What are any of us going to do about it?  Nothing.  Moving on…

Level 2: Tolerable Bullshit

  • Your 10 year old – who’s starting to figure things out – asks if there’s a Santa Claus; you say yes.
  • Your bff always brings a bottle of red wine when she comes over – except you drink white wine.  What kind of guest is that?  You could say something, but you don’t; you’ll keep the peace instead.
  • You both know damned well whose turn it is to clean the bathroom – but you do it better anyway, so…
  •  “I love you” said under duress.

Tolerable Bullshit will challenge you occasionally – is it actually tolerable?  Small doses – no problem.  More than that?   It could easily start to feel just like bullshit.

Level 3: Red Flag Warning Bullshit

  • Your 20 year old asks – for real – if there’s a Santa Claus.
  • “I don’t have a drinking problem.”
  • “My phone’s battery died.  No, really – I swear it!”

You know it in your gut – it ain’t right.  It doesn’t add up or it just plain smells.  This is the bullshit that leaves a mark – or worse.  Deal with it now – you’ll probably be okay.  Ignore the warning and this bullshit will likely morph into –

Level 4: Utter Bullshit

  • “I alone can fix it.”
  • “No collusion.”
  •  “I don’t deserve to be here”

This is the stuff that kills.  It changes lives forever.  And it’s bullshit.

Getting rid of our own bullshit is hard. You have to own it in order to get rid of it. Think of it as confession — except there’s no church. YOU are the church. YOU know where all your bodies are buried because YOU’RE the one who buried them.

Does living (or trying to live) bullshit free work? Yeah — it does. I’m so busy dealing with my own bullshit that I never have time to worry (let alone think about) anyone else’s bullshit. That means I don’t judge their bullshit anymore — they’re all as consumed & dominated by their bullshit as I am.

What do you have to lose — trying to live bullshit free — except your bullshit?

Why Our News Media Sucks — Steve Kornacki Edition

I consume a lot of news — not so much for the news as because the storyteller in me hates watching the story of all our lifetimes get fumbled so completely by America’s Main Stream News Media. As I’ve blogged here, American journalism is infected with a number of diseases, “Both Sides Do It-ism” being the most pernicious. We live inside a false narrative that Donald Trump is a legitimate POTUS because our MSM keeps that fallacy alive.

Our problem isn’t so much Donald Trump being an asset of Russian intelligence — which he absolutely is; it isn’t a question — our problem is that the whole Republican Party is also a Russian asset — being fully bought & paid for both with cash & secrets kept. And, our other problem — the Fourth Estate, charged with being the final check on power has failed us miserably whether through failure of imagination or utter lack of journalistic talent. Or, the other possibility — they never had an ounce of integrity to begin with.

Look — I’ve made TV shows & feature films. I’ve auditioned and hired hundreds of actors. Whenever I can, I like to read with actors myself (giving them more to work with than our casting directors might do). Reporters are no different from actors. They’re just actors who’ve learned how to share a microphone because how they “act” can impact how an interview turns out or how they report a story. Trust me — they’re actors reading from a script, most of them. Which brings us to Steve Kornacki…

I’m sure Steve’s a lovely guy to work with. He seems upbeat, like he’d be a fun hang. But that ain’t what we’re here to talk about.

Most of the time, Steve works the numbers. His co-workers always seem amazed by the fact that Steve has all these numbers at his fingertips but Steve’s not compiling those numbers, he’s just reporting them — then adding a gloss of “analysis”. Steve’s great at pointing at the numbers. They seem to excite him like nothing else. And he can bore in deep on just about any number in front of him. But for all Steve can tell us about a grain of sand, what is made of, he can’t tell you where that grain of sand is. He has no idea whether it sits on a desert island or in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

Like a lot of numbers guys, Steve has no perspective about the numbers beyond the numbers themselves. That stunning lack of perspective is what makes Steve Kornacki so ordinary. He’s like a lot of modern American journalists.

The problem is this — Why can’t (why won’t) the Steve Kornacki’s report the Trump Russia story faithfully? Why do they insist on normalizing behaviors that should never have been normalized under any circumstances? Our MSM acts like they’ve only just stumbled over Donald Trump’s racism. Um, no, folks — Trump’s been racist since he dropped from Mary Trump’s rancid womb.

What does it take for a person in America’s Main Stream News Media — Steve, for instance — to accept facts as facts? Why would a reporter — Steve, for instance — make statements that reveal either 1) he hasn’t read the full Mueller Report or 2) he read it but was too stupid to understand it and too much of a male to ask questions? I offer this video as proof.

Here, Steve mixes it up with the always excellent Zerlina Maxwell. Steve literally leans in — the nice guy gets offended at being contradicted even though Zerlina brings nothing but receipts. Steve leaps in to inisist that the Mueller Report exonerates Trump of collusion — though (if ya read), that’s not even remotely what it says. Zerlina points out — she’s not voicing an OPINION about Trump’s complicity in stealing an election, she’s talking facts, evidence & a raft of serious-as-a-heart-attack accusations.

What, Steve Kornacki, is so hard about doing your damned job?

What The Hell Do Ya Do When Ya Realize — Half The Entertainment Ya Love Was Made By Racists Or Pervs?

So I’m flipping around the satellite television last night — something I rarely get to do in my house. But, having the house to myself, the only person there to argue with me was me. I agreed to behave.

When “Gone With The Wind” popped up on the channel guide — over on Turner Classic Movies — I went for it. I’m a movie buff to the core. Hell, I write screenplays (occasionally for a living even). I can remember when I was in high school and MGM rereleased Gone With The Wind to theaters. My friend Andrea Zipper and I went equally apeshit over it.

I still have visual memories on file of Andrea’s remarkable ability to morph her face into Clark Gable’s. They looked nothing alike, I assure you.

I arrived just as Atlanta was burning to the ground. The back half of the movie (including intermission) comprises losing the war and suffering through reconstruction. That’s SLAVE HOLDERS (who never apologize to their former slaves for stealing their labor but whose former slaves never stop behaving like slaves) suffering deprivations. After losing a war. Over slavery.

We acknowledge — as a culture — that D. W. Griffith’s technically brilliant “Birth Of A Nation” is deplorably racist from its first frame to its last. But, have we stopped to consider that lots of other “technically brilliant” books and movies are equally racist (just not so blatant)? “Gone With The Wind” isn’t technically brilliant (though it’s an example of great craftsmanship and artistry) but it contains a character that makes the piece brilliant: Scarlett O’Hara.

In a lot of ways, Scarlett is a very modern character trapped in antebellum times. She’s a resilent, goal-oriented pragmatist. She does everything she can to pursue the thing she wants most — Ashley Wilkes — even after she knows he’s not the man she needs him to be. That’s the antebellum part of her character. A modern author writing Scarlett today wouldn’t dream of Scarlett continuing to want a weak partner like Ashley. Aside from that though (and her inherent racism), Scarlett’s a dynamo. She’s a survivor: smart, determined and pragmatic. She’ll do what she has to do. And if it all comes a crapper? Tomorrow is another day.

But there’s the racism in her heart. And she’s our hero. Our other hero in the piece — Rhett Butler — is just as racist (even if it seems kinder and gentler). Captain Butler has risked his life for the Confederacy. That makes him a traitor. And a slavery enabler.

In the end, I had to turn off “Gone With The Wind“. All that normalized racism just isn’t as entertaining as it used to be.

It brought to mind what happened the night before while I was flipping channels and found Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” playing. Allen made “Sleeper” back before “Annie Hall” turned him into a filmmaker. Even though “Sleeper” is one of Allen’s “funny movies”, I couldn’t watch it without thinking of the whole Soon-Yi story… and all the other stories about Woody Allen.

“Manhattan” horrifies me now. A grown man dating an inappropriately under-aged HIGH SCHOOL GIRL should have been the movie’s deal-breaker — why no studio would put up the money to make it. Let’s compare it to to Lolita for a moment — its most obvious relative. Lolita is a satire whose whole point is Humbert Humbert’s perversion. Humbert comes to a terrible end as does his nemesis Quilty. They both end badly because they lusted after Lolita.

While the age difference between Allen’s character and Mariel Hemingway’s character does get talked about — it’s never really seen as grossly inappropriate; in fact, it’s understood to be okay ultimately. At the end of the movie — where Allen casts himself as Charlie Chaplin at the end of “City Lights” — the sad lover whose love will go unrequited — the under-aged girl character overlooks every bit of her inappropriately older lovers’ terrible behavior and attitude toward her. What’s worst: the thing Allen’s character craves — and fears losing — is the thing he destroyed at the start: Tracy’s innocence.

I can’t watch “Manhattan” now. Can’t watch any of Woody Allen’s work. That kills me because an awful lot of it IS brilliant. Hannah And Her Sisters, Crimes & Misdemeanors and Brodway Danny Rose are all great filmmaking. Great comedy but also great art.

But I cannot separate an artist from his or her product. An artist is defined by the prism inside their head — that thing through which Life refracts and translates into art. In Woody Allen, that same prism that refracts life experience into great movies also refracts some very unhealthy, misogynistic attitudes about women. In the absence of the Soon-Yi story in his bio, jokes about one’s ex-wife play one way. But, knowing that Allen was attracted to, secretly courted and married a girl he should NEVER have looked at “that way” — it colors those formerly funny one-liners.

There was chatter about Kevin Spacey going back eons here in the showbiz trenches. Sexual predation has been part of Hollywood’s business model going back to when the first guy showed up in LA with a movie camera and a dream. He’s got great taste in material, does Kevin. He’s a good actor with lots of range. But he’s a predator — and his love for boy’s bottoms is the bottomest line there is.

Can’t watch “The Usual Suspects” anymore… Can’t watch “American Beauty“…

While we’re at it — and we should be at it because this is all racist bullshit that we have to stop excusing as being “of its time and place” — “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (the movie, not the book) has to stop playing because Irish to his core Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese character is offensive even on paper — never mind seeing it brought to horrible, embarrassingly racist life…

The same goes for every Charlie Chan movie in TMC’s vault. Charlie Chan was played by white guys like SWEDISH Warner Oland, mostly SCOTTISH Sidney Toler and POLISH-JEWISH Ross Martin.

And, though it pains me deeply to write this, the same should probably go for classic movies like “Lawrence Of Arabia” and “A Passage To India” wherein one of my favorite actors ever — Alec Guinness played an Arab and then an Indian. Sir Alec’s saving grace — he wasn’t mocking his characters like, say, an American actor in blackface or Mickey Rooney. Seriously, if you’ve never seen it – this tiny slice of the movie’s opening is all you need to know…

I’d complain about losing all the great movies of my youth to racists, racism and racist memes but that just seems to “First World Problem”, know what I mean?

Donald Trump Is The American Caligula… That’s Not A Good Thing

Not A Revelation: Donald Trump thinks he’s King… or, in German — “Kaiser” — the Germanification of the name “Caesar”.

But Donald Trump is such an incompetent, that he can’t even get being a “Caesar” right. He’s gone and modeled himself after another Roman emperor — Caligula.

We keep reaching for the words to describe our times — times that are increasingly indescribable. The word Michelle Goldberg used today is perfect (until the Trumpanistas surpass it): “Debauched”. We live in Debauched Times because the man occupying the White House is a modern, Adderall-huffing, bloated orange Caligula.

Donald Trump has destroyed every bit of common decency we ever associated with ourselves. While the real Caligula probably wasn’t anywhere near as insane as the Caligula in our imaginations (his enemies wrote the histories), the more we experience Donald Trump and his myriad debaucheries, the more we have to look at Caligula and ask “Okay, but what if he really was that bad?”

In addition to killing everyone he feared (including the men who put him in power), Caligula declared himself a god. He replaced the heads on the statues of gods all around Rome with his own head. Most famously, Caligula wanted to make his horse consul. Between and around all that, Caligula epitomized debauchery in every form. If it felt good to him, he did it.

Or, as Caligula himself put it: “Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody.”

That sounds almost painfully like “I alone can fix it”.

Just as Caligula debauched (and debased) an already debaucheded Roman society, so too is Donald Trump taking our worst instincts and feeding them Trumpian steroids. We stand by, watching (disapproving — horrified even), but, in fact, doing nothing to stop it while the debauchery continues unabated. We have blown past moments of what should have been end-of-the-line absurdity — images that previously would have defined a presidency and ended it on the spot —

Instead, these images have become shards in a massive mosaic that, if you look at it one way, looks exactly like Donald Trump. But, if you turn your head and look at it slightly askew? You see the deeper problem within: Massive, systemic, foundational REPUBLICAN corruption.

This shouldn’t be a revelation (though it apparently is — and that’s horrifying): Our problem isn’t Donald Trump, it’s the whole damned Republican Party. It’s the 1% trying desperately to make minority rule (by them) a permanent fixture of American political and social life. They have already hijacked the judiciary (that would be Mitch McConnell denying Merrick Garland or any Obama judicial appointment a hearing then cramming every doctrinaire conservative shithead into the openings deliberately left behind). They’ve already used two stolen SCOTUS seats to make political gerrymandering a permanent fixture — thus putting the legislative branch in their clutches forever.

Democrats may win the overwhelming majority of the votes but gerrymandering dilutes those votes down to where a handful of Republicans can beat them. With the legislative branch permanently in their hands, the executive is easy — especially when concurrently you’ve been remaking the presidency as a side show Caesar-ship. Just not the right Casear…