Friday, September 28, 2018

"Coloring Inside The Lines (And Making It Work)"

I was trying to sell a series.

It was the 1989 “Pilot Season” and…

Wait.  First, a some illuminating (and always fascinating) background.

I had what they call an “Overall Deal” at Universal.  That meant that, for the duration of the contract – which in that case was two years – I worked exclusively for that studio.  They gave me an office, a Personal Assistant and a paycheck (and, because I was unwilling to traverse three freeways to get there, a personal driver.)  My job – to come up with viable series ideas we could sell to one of the three available purchasers, CBSNBC and ABC.

Gerald McRaney was just ending a successful (Universal owned and produced) show called Simon & Simon, an hour-long detective series on CBS (1981-89.)  Wanting to stay in the game, McRaney and one of Simon & Simon’sproducer/writers thought up an idea for a new half-hour comedy vehicle for McRaney, about a veteran Marine father, raising three children alone.

Around that point, the president of Universal Television asked if I was interested in helping develop that series.  I was unaware of its premise at the time, just that Gerald McRaney was participating in it.  I has seen Gerald McRaney in an unsold pilot, and immediately intuited his comedic potential – his dry, understated humor and grounding actorial presence.  

I agreed to come aboard on the project.

Our first pitch, at ABC, was a disaster.  The idea sounded “so 1964.”  (Meaning, “so My Three Sons”, which actually appeared in 1964.)  Also Mr. McRaney proclaimed first and foremost his insistence on the proposed show’s scrupulous authenticity.  Nobody cared. Who watches a sitcom for its documentary-like adherence to detail?  (Though it would be nice if it weren’t stupid.)  Later that day, the president of ABC called me with the logical follow-up question:  “Is that guy for real?”  

The CBS “Pitch Meeting” – a “courtesy outing”, as Simon & Simon had done very well for the network – went better.  (The relevant bar being frighteningly low.)  But there was still little enthusiasm for the project, I think because they could (understandably) not see the “funny” in it.

And then the tide turned.

An executive at CBSsuggested a “structural adjustment” to the concept.  Rather than a veteran Marine, raising three children alone, how about a veteran Marine, marrying a “liberal” journalist with three daughters? 

You see the increased “funny” in that?


“Comedy Conflict.” She’s from an entirely different ideological eco-system.  And everyone around – save the veteran Marine – is a female.

With the rejiggered series concept, CBS was encouraged enough to order a pilot.  (It generally “ups” their excitement when the “rejiggered concept” idea emanates from them.)

Now…what for the first line of this blog post again?  Oh, yeah.

“I was trying to sell a series.”

And that’s what this is about.

What’s what this is about?”
Hold on and I’ll tell you.

What it’s about is the available “weapons” – beyond my superior writing ability – to set Major Dad off sufficiently from the competing pilots, earning it a slot on CBSupcoming “Fall Schedule.”

Here’s the thing.  (To which I alluded in the previous post.)

Back then – and to some degree, judging by its content, still– commercial networks employ strict, literally codified “Standards and Practices”, limiting a show’s acceptable language, behavior and subject matter.  A commonly heard reason a joke needed to be rewritten:

“‘Standards and Practices’ nixed it.” 

So there you go.  If you want to participate in the “Television Sweepstakes”, you had to obediently “color within the lines.”  This process, which, although often bristling, we inevitably accepted, was like writing with one arm tied behind your back.  Not literally – which is possible, but slower – but creatively.

The under-recognized marvel is that the writers of that era were able to produce sitcoms audiences in large numbers were willing to come to, despite the censoring rules on “language, behavior and subject matter” the shows airing on cable and streaming services are unburdened with today.  True, there were limited viewing alternatives.  But no one was making you watch anything.

What was available to me for Major Dad?  Beyond the admittedly likeable actor?  (Which, today, even thatis not necessary, and may actually be an impediment to success.)

As already mentioned, I had the dueling “Fishes out of Water” – a veteran Marine, surrounded exclusively by females and an outspoken “Modern Woman”, with no experience with the military.  (And the unbending specimen the military conventionally turns out.)

Comedically, that’s a lot to work with, none of which challenged the barbed wire constrictions of “Standards and Practices.”  Still, I knew it wasn’t enough for, “We need this sitcom!”

What then occurred to me was a bold, attention-soliciting “wrinkle.”

Instead of the couple being already married in “Episode One” – I had the Marine propose to the liberal journalist in the pilot.  

They had known each other less than a week.  But, as the veteran Marine explained, concerning his crystallizing decision:

“See the hill, take the hill.” 

It was a tough fight, getting the network to approve the unconventional pilot storyline.  But, since the idea contradicted no standard beyond the indefensible – though highly determinative – “We’ve never done that before”, CBS reluctantly agreed.

We had a wonderful “live audience” filming – an audience of one-third Marines –  and Major Dad was picked up for series.  (Running for four seasons.)

The point is, it not easy to surprise an audience when your creative “Toolbox of Surprises” consists of “a ruler, a hammer and three nails.”

But somehow it got done. (A recent commenter praised Taxi for its distinguishing quality.)

So today, let us give praise to the (oft maligned) people who regularly pulled that “creation-within-limits” minor miracle off.

They had little to work with.

Yet thirty million people showed up weekly to watch. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

'"A Last-Minute 'One-Eighty'... Perhaps"

I was thinking about writing this thing.  

It had been suggested that we see the new Spike Lee movie, BlacKkKlansman– is that how you spell it?  Lemme go look.  Yes, it is. Why is it spelled that way?  Go ask Spike Lee.  

The film’s idiosyncratically spelled title, in part, exemplifies my reluctance to see – lemme be careful, here – BlacKklansman.

Good.  I got it.

Why I did not want to see – taking a deep breath before typing – BlacKkKlansman?

It is an accepted “given” that everyone is show business is, by definition, a “showman.”  For me, however, Spike Lee seems to be too much of a showman.  Paraphrasing what my English acting-school teacher would say, “He loves himself in the art more than the art in himself.”

But that wasn’t the main reason I had tepid interest in attending BlacKkKlansman. (Proving you can get used to anything.  I typed the title was just one mistake.  Wait, I get it!  “KkK.” Yeah, well… does somebody smell “Smartypants Country”?)

I enjoyed the first Spike Lee’s movie I saw She’s Gotta Have It a lot.  It was original, funny, interesting and lively.  And it provided a glimpse into a racial subculture, which, coming from Toronto where that racial subculture was demographically absent, I knew nothing about. 

Shortly thereafter came Do The Right Thing.  And I quietly slipped off the developing Spike Lee bandwagon.

I enjoyed Do The Right Thing until the ending.  Up till then, I was once again entertainingly learning about an unfamiliar inner city community, feeling the tension, but also enjoying the interesting and – here’s me, reluctant to say “colorful”, though I will anyway – colorful neighborhood characters.  

Do The Right Thingpopped its lid during its climax, where a startlingly unfair thing happened to one of the more likable characters in the movie.  At that point, I got my metaphorical hat and coat and left the metaphorical Spike Lee building.  Largely, forever.

Here’s the thing. Though as my “Second Thoughts” belatedly suggest, things are not as singularly clear as I was about to portray them. (Though I inevitably want them to be.)

My original conception concerning this blog post was this:
When we go to a movie, we put ourselves in the hands, primarily, of the director.  Depending on that director – pick virtually any director of your choice – either by natural proclivity, or – with a respectful “hat tip” to The Three Amigos­ – because they do not want to stray from the formula and pay the price – audiences experience a reliable “Comfort Zone” concerning the taste and consequent nature of the film they have decided, on a casual night on the town, to go out of the house and enjoy.
(I have vague thoughts of someday writing about the specialized, and, to me, underappreciated, art of giving the audience what it wants while happily surprising it at the same time.  That was precisely my mission for thirty years, and that of everyone else working under the constricting parameters of network TV.  But enough of that.  Or I shall blow an entire blog post in one paragraph.)
Based on  its directorial auspices – with exceptions, because there are always exceptions –the moviegoing audience, albeit with structurally imaginative twists and turns combined with stylistic inventiveness, inevitably gets what it expects.  This assuring reliability informs the calculus around, “What should we see?”  As with “Where should we eat?”, if they dislike the cuisine, they don’t go to that restaurant.
Spike Lee, in Do The Right Thing
Okay, compare…
One, two, three, four, five, six, eleven…
“Yo”, “Yo, “Yo”, “Yo”, “Yo”, “Molotov Cocktail.”
One of them’s not a number, or a “Yo.”
That’s all I was planning to say.  (While, of course, acknowledging the director’s right to switch genres or mix genres within the same picture, which is not the same as brutally “blindsiding” the audience.)
But then, in preparation for writing this blog post, I read the Wikipedia “Plot Summary” for the movie and I started to think, maybe, upon further consideration, Do The Right Thing’s provided ending was a conceivable “Yo.”  A loud, offensive “Yo”, but a “Yo” nonetheless.
With a cooler head now prevailing, I am now wondering if the natural payoff for Do The Right Thing was an out-of-control character, 
Doing the wrong thing.
And not, as I originally believed, a director throwing the audience an incendiary “curveball” because he wanted to, and, as the film’s writer/director, he could.
It’s hard to say.
Still – because a man has to ultimately “land” somewhere – even in Toronto, the word is out about racism.  And that white people don’t “get” it.  Allowing that the issue demands vigilant attention, in his extended oeuvre, what exactly does Spike Lee add to the conversation?
In the end, it comes down to this:  
Directors give you a thing you either appreciate, or you don’t.
Spike Lee’s selected “thing” –  
I can take it or leave it.
With the recently released BlacKkKlansman…

I would appear to be leaving it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

"The Great Remembering"

Can you remember a personal incident two ways?

I’m like the police about that.  After they catch a suspect the accumulated evidence suggests is the perpetrator, they stop looking for anyone else, working instead to amass corroborating evidence against the person currently under arrest.  It’s like, “Who needs two defendants?”

And in fact, if there weretwo (or more) incarcerated suspects, they would both (or all) likely get off, their wily attorneys pointing to the otherincarcerated suspect(s) as proof of exonerating “reasonable doubt.”  Things are easier when it’s just one.

“What are you in for?”

“I killed Jennifer Shmedlap.”

“Me too!”

That’s just too crazy.

Since this story is not about that, however, I shall proceed no further in that particular direction. But don’t think I couldn’t.

Anyway… where was I?

Oh yeah.

I am unable to recall one personal anecdote two ways.  Of course, if there was another participant involved, you can bet you’ll hear, 

“I remember that differently.”

Leading to dueling narratives concerning the same story – the other participant’s version, and the your own accurate, actualversion.

Bringing us, circuitously, to a recent, listened-to segment of NPR’s “This American Life”, in which the participants in a life-changing experience retain differing “takeaways”, notof the facts of story itself, but on how they personally interpreted the outcome. 

The story itself goes something like this.  (Which means now my“Memory Mechanism” jumps into the mix.  So there’s that.)

Ms. Ames, a proactive substitute teacher in an underperforming public school, spots Emir, a precocious Bosnian refugee, and, sensing his “genius potential”, shepherds his transfer to a prominent private school, from which he matriculates to Harvard, and on to an honored career as a respected economist.

That’s her story.

What’s Emir’s story?

A scrappy Bosnian refugee, stealing a book from which he plagiarizes an essay, catches the eye of a great substitute teacher, who maneuvers him to a loftier academic environment, and the rest is “onward-and-upward” personal history.

After years of separation, This American Life brings Emir and Ms. Ames together, where they revisit their shared experience, though with widely divergent interpretative understandings.

Emir sees himself as having been “lucky”, a chance encounter with a rescuing teacher paving the way to his ultimate success.

Ms. Ames, on the other hand, attributes Emir’s ‘Success Story”, not to luck, but to his dazzling, natural ability.

During their reunion, Emir steadfastly resists Ms. Ames’s alternate version of events.  The broadcast further informs us that, the following day, despite what has transpired, an unfazed Emir clings to his original interpretation. 

And there you have it.

A contrary perspective has zero effect.

Emir remembers exactly the way he wants to, his recollection dependent, not on logical reason or on alternate viewpoints,

But on how he likes the story to go.
Belated Apology: I kept a list of which pub names were real and which were made up, and then I lost it.  I no longer remember which was which.  Though I believe the “spectacles” one was real.) 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"What's In A Hyphenate?"


Repeatedly proclaimed a TV documentary, inherited from a now sleeping spouse, a show not particularly to my liking, though I am loath to change channels, fearing a mumblingly angry, “I was watching that!”

Still, the descriptive caught my curious attention:


The show concerns scientists of some sort, unearthing a prehistoric skeleton and trying to “date” it on the broad spectrum of human existence.  (It turned out to be a “Farmer” skeleton.  How do they know?  They found traces of wheat under its fingernails.  Okay, they didn’t.   But somehow, they “scienced” it out.  And with no five thousand-year old farmers around to disprove it, who’s to tell them they’re wrong?)


Trapped in a National Geographicprogram I was disinterested in watching, waiting to inevitably be “bored to sleep”, I considered the term “Hunter-Gatherers”, wondering whence that now familiar contraction originally evolved.

And here’s what I imagined.

A prehistoric “Hunter-Father” engages in diligent activity, as his marriageable “Hunter-Daughter” purposefully approaches.

“Poppa?  I need to talk to you.”

“Not now, Daughter.  I am honing my work tools.”

“It’s important, Poppa.”

(POINTEDLY GLARING)  “You want me facing the Woolly Mammoth with unsharpened equipment?”

“This won’t take long, Poppa.  And I have to tell you right now.”


“What is it, Daughter?”

“I’ve met a man, Poppa. Actually, I’ve known him for some time. But I was afraid to tell you about him.”


“He’s a wonderful man, Poppa.  But he’s not… ‘One of us.’”

“He walks erect, doesn’t he?”

“I’m not that rebellious, Poppa.  It’s just that…”

“Out with it, Daughter.”

“Well, it’s just… (TAKING A DEEP BREATH, FEARING THE INEVITABLE “BLOWBACK”)… Okay.  He’s a ‘Gatherer.’”



“Please, Poppa.  He’s not just any ‘Gatherer.’  He’s from a highly respected ‘Gatherer’ family.  A ‘Prince of Gatherers’, if ever there was one.”

I said ‘No!”

“But I love him!”

“I don’t care.  (SNEERING)  ‘Gatherers.’ I hunt the Woolly Mammoth.  They hunt nuts and berries.”

And insects and plants.”

“Insects!  How many of those do you eat till you’re full?  And plants?  I finish a  bowlful of plants and it’s, like, ‘When’s dinner?’”

“They also collect acorns.”

“Who can eat acorns?”

“Acorns are highly decorative.  I know they’re not ‘us’, Poppa.   But what’s wrong with ‘Gatherers’?”

“‘What they do… it’s ‘unmanly.’  Did you ever once see a cave painting of a ‘Gatherer’?  ‘Confronting a Woolly Mammoth’ – that’sa cave painting.  Not a man bending down to pick up a blueberry.”

“That’s just the point, Poppa.  ‘Gathering’s’ safer.”

“‘The Perilous Challenge of the Hunt.’  That’s what life’s all about.  Look at me.  I have hundreds of scars on my body.”   


“Okay, dozens.  And a lot of them are ugly.”

“’Gatherers’ get hurt too, Poppa.”

“By what?”

“Thorns and thistles.”

(DERISIVELY) “‘Thorns and thistles.’  ‘Ooh, my arm’soff!’ – ‘Ooh!  There’s a pointy thing sticking out of my finger.’  You see the distinction?  There’s no honor in ‘gathering.’  Missing appendages.  That’s a husband!

“Times have changed, Poppa. The Woolly Mammoth’s not as woolly as it once was.”

It’s still plenty ‘woolly.’ I’ve spent many a spear-point, battling its tufted terrain.”

“That’s quite lyrical, Poppa.”

“A bloodthirsty hunter can’t have a ‘flair’?  I’m sorry, Daughter.  There will be no unions between ‘Hunters’ and ‘Gatherers.’  It’s unnatural.  We’re ‘Lions.’ They’re ‘Grub Catchers.’  

“But, Poppa…”

“And that’s the end of it! This family has no place for ‘Stoopers.’ A ‘Hunter’s Daughter’ marries a hunter!”

“Oh, Poppa…


“Now stop that!  You are rusting my arrowheads!” 


“All right.  I’ll meet him.”


“And tell him, I'm expecting an animal offering.  Not a basket of cherries.” 

“I promise, Poppa, someday you will love him as much as do. And just think.  Our children will be the first generation in history of ‘Gatherer-Hunters.’”

“‘Hunter-Gatherers.’  And that’s a ‘Deal Breaker.’”

And there you have it.

A frivolous fantasy?  


Still, I can’t imagine a “Hunter-Father” taking unwelcome “Gatherer” news lying down.

And yet they say “Hunter-Gatherers” like it’s the easiest thing in the world.

Savvy of skeletons.

But clueless about people.

Monday, September 24, 2018

"The Missing 'Edge'"

If a baseball team has good pitching, good hitting and good fielding, and they are virtually the same team as the one that went to the World Series, and came within one game of winning it last year, and thisyear with virtually exactly the same roster they are struggling desperately to make playoffs, it is then reasonable to point the accusing finger for this lackluster season notat the participants on the field but instead at the participants off the field – meaning the executive “Front Office”, which, after the longest sentence I have ever written, I hereby blamingly call out.


A little baseball history… but not too much.  I promise. 

Back in 2002, burdened with the smallest payroll in baseball, the Oakland A’s (for “Athletics”) needed to find low-priced “diamonds-in-the-rough” to make them competitive with teams with substantially larger budgets.

Following a “sabermetric” approach, constructed by legendary baseball analyst Bill James, the A’s studied previously neglected statistics – “on-base percentage”, which includes walks notjust hits, (because who cares how you get on base?), “fielding percentage” (assessing run-saving defensiveability), etc. – the A’s execs unearthed low-priced talent, overlooked because they rated less highly by the less scrupulous standards of the day, which, beyond affordability, helped the Athletics to win.  

Using unconsidered statistics, the A’swon more games than an impoverished franchise predictably should.  (They are doing surprisingly well this season.)  Soon, other teams, like the Boston Red Soxcaught the statistical fever, and, combining the innovative techniques with an opulent payroll, the Red Sox won three World Series since 2004, after winning none since 1918.

Watching the winning, the sabermetric tidal wave inevitably swelled.  A Red Sox chief executive moved to the Chicago Cubs, where, in 2016, applying similar techniques, he brought the Cubs their first World Series championship since 1908.

The Dodgers too ascended the sabermetrical bandwagon, and, in 2017, they made their first World Series appearance since 1988.

So what happened this "down" season? 

Too much “numbers.”  

Not enough “feel for the game.”

Here’s how that worked. Or, based on this year’s Dodgers’ “Won-Lost” record, doesn’t work.

Hubristically energized by last season’s success, every “Game Day”, the Dodgers executives, through their compliant manager, assemble a lineup based on  statistically reliable winning-edge “match-ups” – determining which hitters are likely to prevail against which pitchers – the most reliable predictor being that if the opponents’ “Starting Pitcher” is a “Lefty”, you strategically load up your lineup with right-handed hitters.  And, of course, vice versa.  (Which, being smart people, you can figure out for yourselves.)

That’s how they construct each individual game’s batting order, calibrating their chances of winning strictly according to “match-ups.”   

It sounds good, a “Blackjack” aficionado, cleverly “counting the cards.”  But here’s what happens when you go entirely by “match-ups.”

Focusing solely on “winning-edge” advantage determining by which batters are in here, throughout this entire season, the Dodgers have had no set outfield.  The Dodgers also have had no predictable batting order.  And the Dodgers infielders, meant to execute like a well-calibrated timepiece, are moved in and out of position, dependent entirely on who’s pitching against them.

Most egregious example:

(Note:  This has nothing to do with injuries.  Just statistical strategy.)

The Dodgers’ left-handed first baseman is often positioned in center field, although only against right-handed pitchers.  (So his replacement at "first", another left-handed batter, can be inserted into the lineup.)  By my unofficial count, five different Dodgers have played first base this year.  And only one of them is consistently good at it.  And that guy’s out in the outfield.  Where he is not necessarily the best outfielder.

Hey, guys.  What happened to “Fielding Percentage”?

But more importantly… and I heard a retired ballplayer say this on TV just yesterday, his critical gist being:

“Hey, “Brain Trust”!  They’re not robots!  They are not interchangeable parts!  Yes, they’re wonderful athletes.  And they’ll never complain because they‘re professionals.  But, believe me, I was a player.  They do not enjoy what you are telling them to do. 

“There is something intrinsically valuable in running out the same line-up and batting order on a regular basis.  It provides structural stability, a measure of ‘team cohesion’ and a predictable ‘comfort zone’ for the players.”

With a hyper-reliance on statistical analysis, the players’ “predictable comfort zone” has been effectively obliterated.   And along with it, the razor-slim winning-edge sabermetrics was originally intended to supply.

If the players the Dodgers Front Office assembled can’t win, they should get new players.  Having selected the players they have, however, it would be helpful if they trusted them.  And they remember they’re human.

A "team" is more than uniformed chess pieces.

Paraphrasing the Muppets,

You gotta put down the “Stats Sheet” if you want to play the saxophone.

Friday, September 21, 2018

"Sunday Morning Reading - A Selected Section Of The Newspaper"

Today’s focus being the New York Times Sunday “Book Review” section, September the 9th, 2018.  (I am nothing if not untimely.  Call it “Warm off the Presses”, and leave it at that.)

I have mentioned before that the thoughts and beliefs we take inare crucially significant.  You know “You are what you eat”?  Well, in my unscientific but my hopefully not entirely dismissible opinion, you are also what you mentally absorb.  And I mean totally.

Where else would our ideas come from?  We are born with “Goo goo.”

“Newborn baby, how did we get to this sorry state of political affairs?... Ooh, you just spit up. Was that a coincidence or ‘non-verbal communication?’”

Will Rogers famously observed, “All I know is what I read in the papers.”  If he were alive today, he’d have added the Internet.  And then skillfully circled his lasso, and winked.

Our “Library of Wisdom” comes comprehensively from “outside.”  Nothing we believe is internally derived.  

What is “internally derived” is our inherent “filtering system.”

Let me (necessarily) explain.

As with the foods we consume, there is something internally programmed about us, allowing us to absorb some “intellectual nutrients” and reject others. This natural selection process is what makes us, individually, who we are.  

I know this from experience. I see a guy on TV talking about Physics – I “remote” away fast as my fingers can carry me.  I find a guy talking about the Battle of Gettysburg, and I stay for the entire lecture, plus the following “Q & A.”     

That is simply the way I am. And – who knows? – possibly others are, as well.  Something about the subject matter generically holds our attention, or sends us scrambling for something that will.  

Okay, so I am perusing the “Book Review” section of the Sunday New York Times.  I check the “Table of Contents”, skimming the “Fiction” section, for recognizable authors – otherwise, I’m off to “Non Fiction”, where I am more comfortably at home. 

Meaning, my personalized “filtering system” is already at work.

Though not entirely.

Casually scanning the “Fiction” listings – to confirm my visceral disinterest – the name Yazmina Reza suddenly catches my attention.  I recognize that name.  Yazmina Reza wrote two plays I saw and semi-enjoyed – Art and The God of Carnage.

I turn to the review of her book, Babylon(Reviewed by Erica Wagner), about a social gathering that ends in catastrophe.  There is no chance I will ever read Babylon.  Still, I am powerfully drawn to a line from it quoted in the review’s final paragraph, which says:

“People who think there’s some orderly system to life – they’re lucky.”

Why does that line intrigue me?  

Because the author and I hold similar beliefs – that people who believe there’s some orderly system to life (as well as other helpful beliefs) make no deliberate decision to do so.  They’re just chromosomally lucky. 

Moving on…

Boom Town, by Sam Anderson (Reviewed by Will Blythe.)

Boom Town chronicles the history of Oklahoma City.  I enjoy history, and I am further attracted by the book’s subtitle:  “The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dreams of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis.”  So I read the review.   

Again, I recall very little about the book (other than the author’s calling OKC “… the great minor city of America.”)  What I more dominantly recall is the included mention of the term “Sooners.”  

The settling of Oklahoma was famous for its precipitating “Land Rush”, where, on a signaling cannon shot, thousands of people tore off to stake claims to free land.  (Taken from the Indians.)  Skullduggerous sneaks who left early were pejoratively called “Sooners.”

Now “Sooners” in the Oklahoma football team’s celebrated nickname.

How did that happen? They’d never call them the “Oklahoma Land Grabbers.”

I had always wondered about that curious transformation, where, as the author reports, the appellation “Sooner”“… had been whitewashed into a folksy moniker and team nickname. It felt vindicating, knowing authorized historians were equally perplexed.

And then finally…
“21 Lessons For the 21stCentury”by Yuval Noah Harari, which captured the coveted front page of theTimes “Book Review” section, partly because it’s an “important” book, and – perhaps more significantly – because the book’s reviewer was Bill Gates.

I also recall very little about thatbook.  I read the review.  But not a single lesson for the 21th century stayed with me.  

Although this included paragraph did.

Quoting from Gates’s review:

“Here’s another worry that Harari deals with:  In an increasingly complex world, how can any of us have enough information to make educated decisions?  It’s tempting to turn to experts, but how do you know they’re not just following the herd?  ‘The problem of group-think and individual ignorance besets not just ordinary voters and customers’, he writes, ‘but also presidents and C.E.O’s.’  That rang true to me from my experience at both Microsoft and the Gates Foundation.  I have to be careful not to fool myself into thinking things are better – or worse – than they actually are.” 

With his troubling concern about knowing “how things actually are”, Gates summarizes half of my blog posts.  (The other half being about when I actually did things, and not, less excitingly, thought things.)  

The above-cited paragraph readily jumped into my head, where it was enthusiastically received by a like-minded contention.

Leading me finally to wonder…

Did I learn anything, reading the Sunday Times “Book Review” section?

Or had I spent forty-five minutes, 

patting myself on the back?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

"Written During The Kavanaugh Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings"

Here’s the thing.  

Which I assert with neither professional knowledge nor training, or individualized personal study, even.  When you write a blog, you get a certificate that says, “You don’t have to know anything. Just write.”  So that’s what I’m doing.  While harboring an outside chance of tripping over a reasonable perspective. Or at least one you won’t haughtily dismiss.  

Hopefully.  (And by the way, who made you so haughty?)

Two recent nominees for Supreme Court appointments, first, Chief Justice Roberts (during his confirmation hearing in 2005) and now Brett Kavanaugh, have compared being a judge to being a baseball umpire.  Their decisions are not personal.  They simply call the judicial version of “balls and strikes”, following accepted codified instructions.

Interrupting Note: There has been serious talk about doing away with home plate umpires and have balls and strikes called by replacing computers.  Following the aforementioned analogy, does that mean computers will soon be occupying the bench?  

“All rise for the Apple iJudge 11!” 

Just asking…


Assailing the (self-servingly – there it is again – inaccurate) comparison of judges to umpires, Erwin Chemerinsky, distinguished Dean of the Berkeley Law School op-eds,

“… justices are not umpires at all.  Umpires apply rules and have little leeway in determining how those rules should be interpreted.  The Supreme Court {on the other hand} creates the rules and justices have enormous discretion in how they interpret the law.”

Chemerinsky goes on – at unnecessary length, which I shall prove with condensing brevity – to explain that “the Constitution was written – intentionally – in broad open-ended language…” requiring determining interpretations on disputed issues presented to the court, many of which were not foreseeable in the 18thCentury.  (When the Constitution was written. But you probably knew that already.)

Examples are offered demonstrating how different Justices regularly adhere to contrasting “readings” of Constitutional pronouncements, like for example, the issue of whether limiting campaign contributions is an infringement on “Free Speech”, or whether the Second Amendment about gun ownership involves individuals or militias.  (Even though the word “militia” is specifically mentioned in the amendment, causing some people to immediately stop typing, slapping their foreheads with the palm of their hands.  I mean, how much clearer can it be?) 

Chemerinsky’s blanketing contention is that “How a justice votes is very much a result of his or her ideologies and views…”

Which is where me and Dean Erwin part company.

In terms of “primary focus.”

Chemerinsky’s summarizing point is, “Don’t say ‘umpire” because it creates…

“…a misleading sense of constitutional law to the Senate Judiciary Committee {and} the American people.”

Okay, fine.  But, to me, that’s small potatoes.

A guy angling for a job on the Supreme Court proclaims his impartiality, promising he will assiduously “follow the rules.” Chemerinsky, however, says that never happens.  Judges, he authoritatively asserts, make their decisions, thumbs-on-the-scalesedly influenced by “his or her ideologies and views.” 

So tell me, what’s more important?

A fawning job applicant applying a faulty analogy?  Or a Justice with a clear ideological record voting exactly the way you expect them to vote, filling the august body with biased ideologues whose final decisions depend entirely – at least nowadays – on the court’s “liberal-conservative” balance at the time?

I mean, come on.  On the cases that matter, how many votes are an actual surprise?

Sitting Justices I’ve seen interviewed adamantly insist the Supreme Court is not “political.”  Tell me, what exactly is making decisions based on “personal ideologies and views”? (By judges appointed by “political” presidents, expressly because of their personal ideologies and views) 

Yes, nominee Kavanaugh is misleading about “umpire.”

But the Supreme Court is misleading its head off about “impartial.”

Me and Erwin have similar concerns about distorting reality.

It’s just, 

My issue is bigger.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) 5779"

Last chance to be inscribed in "The Book of Life."

I am here twice today.

Doubling down on my begging for life.

Stay tuned...

As I will.

What else are my choices?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"Playing Strictly To Type"

“It is better to be ‘type cast’ than not cast at all.”

– A “Character Actor” I once knew.

We were watching an English murder mystery, and, typically in such programming, there is a “Person of Interest” instantly characterized as “mousy.”

(I was watching a “prototypical” one when this pondering came to me.)

Which made me wonder:

How does it feel to be constantly characterized as “mousy”?

I mean, an actor’s characterized as “Manly”, they go – Clooneyishly humbly – “I guess I could fool them with that.” 

A “Blonde Bombshell”? You might get some dates expecting more than you are willing to deliver – cameramen soliciting your phone number between “takes.”  But overall, it’s not terrible.  

On the other hand…


Do you really want to go through life the human equivalent of a rodent?

What if you are actually not“mousy” at all?  What if, in an annoying twist of Fate, you only look“ mousy” but are in realitya “A Blonde Bombshell.”  (Alternate hair color notwithstanding.)  Though you can never be cast as a “Blonde Bombshell”, looking inarguably “mousy.”  

(Until some bold director, detecting “Bombshell” potential beneath the veneer of overt “mousiness”, wants you for “The Lead”, but the conventional studio says “No.” 

Too ‘mousy.’”

Is it actually – inescapably – possible, wonders a man with a thin frame and no muscles, that our outward appearance is more causally determinative of our destiny that we would comfortably like to believe?  That’s “us”, and that’s it?

There are examples when “type” has been successfully overridden by, I don’t know… driving ambition.

In 1980, there was this joke around the Republican nominating process:

“Ronald Reagan for president.”

To which the savvy reaction was,

“No.  Ralph Bellamy for president.  Ronald Reagan for ‘Best Friend.’”

Still, Ronald Reagan became president.  (Bellamy costarring instead in Trading Places.)  

So it can happen. Stick a nose on classically English Sir Alec Guinness and he’s an Arab.  Great actors can do that.  British “Outside-Inside” actors, where “physical exterior” says, “That is precisely who I am.”

“Ah, yes, the ‘nose.’ Call me ‘Prince Faisal.’  Except at ‘Tea Break.’”

Geniuses aside, most actors predominantly bestplay one thing.  And if they’re lucky, they’ll make a nice living at it.  (Note:  This limiting practice was even more prominent during the “Studio Era” where actors were repeatedly requiredto play the same character.  “Gabby Hayes” as Hamlet?

“Not at Republic, he’s not.”  

“GABBY” HAYES:  “Are they holdin’ me back?  Yer dern tootin’!

Okay, so you’re “mousy.” And here’s another audition.  

What do you do?

Maneuvering for the part,, you dress decidedly “mousy.”  Maintain a distinctively “mousy” hairstyle.  Adopt a tentative gait in your nondescript footwear.  

And off you go.  (Hoping to contract a sniffle along the way.  Daubing your drizzling nose, a crumpled Kleenexplucked from the sleeve of your unfitting cardigan?  

Nothing says “mousy” more than “a congenital drip.”  

You park your car, step into the “Production Office” – 

It’s wall-to-wall “mousiness.”

(Except for the “Personal Assistant”, who’s authoritative.  Which likely got them the job in the first place.)

You nod to your competitors in cowering passivity, and wait.
They call you in, thank you for coming, and they offer you a seat.  Already “in character”, you simperingly sit down, anxiously clutching your “sides.”  (The extracted portion of the script highlighting your character’s signature behavior.)

No one is fooling anyone. The stage directions describethe character as “mousy.”  Or, transparently sparing the feelings of the actor, “on the ‘mousy-ish’ side”, dodging “'Lazy Writing' Cliché” on a weasely technicality. 

You stumble awkwardly through your audition – a credible “mousy” performance requirement – they say, “Thank you”, and you leave.

Reasonably certain you got the job.  

Nobody does “mousy” better than youdo.  (Belated “gender balancing”:  “Milquetoasty” for men.)  

Over the years of “honing your craft” you’ve perfected “mousy” down to a science –  look in the dictionary under “mousy”, there is a picture of you.  Or if you had a better agent, there would be.

Your bracing confidence belies the labeling characteristic.  

You’renot “mousy.” 

“Mousy” is only what you do.

And yet…

Good as you are, like the gunfighter who inevitably meets their match,

There is always somebody out there who’s “mousier.”

Who knows?  Maybe you arenaturally “mousy.”

If you weren’t, you would kill them.

And “mousily” act like you didn’t.