The Apprentice and The President

On November 23, 2016, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

maxresdefaultWhile I’m trying not to let the dismal tide of American political regression and the nasty, nasty
turn in our discourse dominate my thinking and writing, from time to time I believe it will be productive, and therapeutic, to throw out new ideas and view events in America from various angles as a means of gaining perspective.

I’m also finding it challenging to dig deeper into the issues without stepping on toes. Politics, like religion, is so deeply personal. It’s just not easy to analyze or discuss these topics without treading upon someone’s deeply held beliefs. I apologize in advance to anyone who’s offended, or strongly disagrees.

Of course, it’s my right to express my ideas and opinions. And I absolutely welcome thought from all points of the ideological spectrum. Though it’s easy to say, “Don’t take it personally,” beliefs are, first and foremost, personal. Despite this, I hope we can engage in dialogue in the spirit of openness, understanding and earnestness with the intention – my intention, at least – of advancing the greater good.

Though it’s impossible to set aside the recent election and discount all that was said on the campaign trail, I’d like to consider a different Donald Trump for the moment. Over the next four years we’ll find out whether Candidate Trump was truly sincere, or if he was just saying shit to get elected.

That the things he said actually worked may or may not be related to his own perceived likelihood of winning. By the shocked look on his face late on Election Night, Donald Trump seemed as surprised as the rest of us. The reality of the Presidency brings with it a world of considerations that apparently never crossed his mind while he scorched Earth on the campaign trail.

Yes, he’s considering a Wall, or maybe it’s a fence, mass deportation, and a Muslim registry, along with a handful of odious staff and cabinet nominations. As offensive and just wrong as all of that is, Trump also appears to be backpedaling on “Lock Her Up,” total repeal of Obamacare, climate issues and maybe more. We shall see.

The Trump I’d like to take a closer look at right now is the Donald Trump of “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice.” I watched the better part of four seasons of the show, finding it instructive to observe corporate business while not being subject to the petty bullshit. How real this reality show really was is open to debate. But it does provide a window into Donald Trump’s leadership style and values. To the point where it may be valuable to re-run some of those shows to show our new President in action. It might even be reassuring.

Am I saying Donald Trump will be an excellent President because as the Boss of The Apprentice he did some good, maybe even very good things? Not necessarily. But he does seem capable of running a small to mid-size boutique business and may also have the makings of a decent curator and developer of talent.

I have no idea if his strengths as exhibited on a television reality show will translate into anything positive in terms of world leadership. And I do believe his willingness to give quarter to a vast array of misanthropic, racist and sexist ideologues is going to be a problem for all of us in the next four years. Does every one of his appointees need to be chosen from the dregs of the Republican Party? But here are a few things I do find interesting:

In The Celebrity Apprentice, Trump watched everyone closely and carefully. Maybe it made for good TV, or it’s just a part of his management style, he had a way of finding the good in people who were different and even helping them develop their talent. Some were unpopular. Some were just plain odd. Dennis Rodman, La Toya Jackson, Gary Busey, and Piers Morgan come to mind. With characters like Rodman and Busey, Trump genuinely tried to develop them into a better version of their selves, in spite of, and sometimes even because of, their shortcomings.

Take a look at some of the casting choices. Jose Canseco. Darryl Strawberry. Andrew Dice Clay. Rod Blagojevich. Trump took on some hard cases. Of course, he also enabled some truly wretched personalities and deplorable behavior. Omarosa, a Trump protégé, is a revolting human being. She is a vicious, conniving cheater, one of those people who make going to the office a demoralizing chore for even the most idealistic, chipper employee. NeNe Leakes was a bully and a brat. And Gary Busey is clearly insane on one or more levels.

On the other hand, Trump spotted something in Lil Jon, Trace Adkins, Rodman, La Toya Jackson, Bret Michaels…and he invested. There are examples of Trump getting it right on The Apprentice, too, pulling players out of obscurity and into opportunity. He also knows the value of having and hearing a team of advisors he trusts. Undoubtedly, Trump ran with a team of questionable-to-lousy characters – Steve Bannon, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, KellyAnne Conway, Newt Gingrich – and was elected President of the United States. The Bad News Bears Go to Washington.

Is any of the above germane? Does The Apprentice translate? Might there be a sliver of a chance that Trump has a knack for finding diamonds in the rough and polishing them up? I am doing my best to hold my nose and hold out hope. Because while I’m repulsed by the vile racist, sexist, threat-laced hate-speech spewed by President-Elect Trump and so many of his staff and supporters throughout the campaign, here we are once again with a fully Republican government.

The last time that happened, eight short years ago, things got historically bad. And though a million and a half more voters and counting chose Hillary Clinton, the electorate, and a clear majority of the States, gave us Trump. Like it or not, it’s his government until he loses it. Perhaps Trump will even find a person or two from across the aisle to help him round out his cabinet and provide a little balance to his vision. A truly great businessman would do that. How about Trump?

I’m willing to make psychic space for Trump to exceed my low expectations. Maybe he can stop being a petty blowhard, inciting hate-mongers in his constituency to pit them against all who disagree. Hoping that enormous ego will keep him on his toes as Chief Executive of an infinitely more intricate and challenging constituency of stakeholders, apprentices and just plain America citizens who need this President-Elect to be as great as he says he is.

 

Shoe Drops and Shoo-Ins

On November 14, 2016, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

shoetossingSo the other shoe dropped on Tuesday, and it landed on Hillary Clinton’s head.

The so-called shoo-in, who was given a greater than 90% chance of winning just prior to the election by media outlets like The New York Times and Huffington Post wound up with anywhere from 2-4 million more popular votes than President-elect Trump. However, Trump took every single Swing State and significantly won the electoral vote.

With two popular vote wins and electoral vote defeats in 16 years, of course, The Democratic Party would now like to end the electoral vote. Nothing like waiting for something to break until you fix it. Of course, had this happened to Republicans even once ever before (it hasn’t; and there’s a reason for that), we wouldn’t be discussing the Electoral College any more. It would be over. Maybe that’s something we can learn from the Republican Party.

Plenty of lessons to be learned from the 2016 U.S. Elections; many of them lessons to be re-learned. With not very much time or perspective since last Tuesday, though it feels like forever since a Trump Win was nothing more than a bad dream, I’ll try to point out a few of them:

1) America Sucks at Politics. Our political system is a cesspool. Those now charged with Draining the Swamp are some of the worst actors in its history and will likely pollute it even more. We don’t discuss or debate issues in public or private well, if at all. We never wind up with the best candidates in the final election. And we are about to get what we asked for. So the blame should start with us.

2) Non-Voters Kill Democracy. If you didn’t vote, for whatever reason other than being wrongfully stripped from the rolls, you have no excuses and you are hurting this country. It’s as simple as that. Your vote is your voice. If you didn’t use it, you delegated that to everyone else who did. I believe we should fine or tax everyone who is eligible and doesn’t vote a minimum of $250.00 every election.

3) Until we have a meaningful Third Party in the U.S., voting for a third party candidate is a waste of a vote. Almost the same as not voting. Maybe a little bit better because it required at least a tiny amount of actual effort. If there was an intention behind the choice: intending to vote against both Trump and Hillary, then good for you. But if you thought that by voting for the Third Party you’d still wind up with the “lesser of two evils” (i.e., not Trump), you were wrong. As were the polls.

4) The Polls Know Nothing. Every single national poll was wrong except one: The USC Dornsife/LA Times poll. The reason they got it right when everyone else got it wrong: they polled a large sample, and the same sample, every time. Everything else is guesswork, and the guesses and methodologies all missed because it was impossible to find a representative sample in this election. There’s a reason for that.

5) Trump Voters Didn’t All Identify As Trump Voters. Not everyone who voted for Trump was wearing a Make America Great Again hat. In fact, anti-Trump hyperbole kept many from stating their intentions out loud: to friends, to family, to pollsters, to the world. Until it came time to vote. Trump’s campaign activated parts of the electorate that hadn’t voted in years. While Hillary’s campaign failed to activate many whose interests she clearly favored: blacks, Hispanics, women. Each of these demographics supported Obama by a much greater percentage than they did Hillary, despite promises from Trump that should have had them worried sick. Turns out, worried sick doesn’t equate to voter turnout. Not this time.

6) The Problem With Hillary. Turns out her flaws were enough to sink her. A few to consider (while keeping in mind she took a higher percentage of voters than Gore in 2000, JFK in 1960, and Nixon in 1968): She is part of the political establishment. Her campaign and close advisors were insiders and out of touch. The e-mail server issue hurt her, in spite of nothing specific ever being tied to the practice. Wiki-Leaks document leaks, targeted against Hillary to the benefit of Trump, were extremely damaging, especially those that convinced Sanders supporters that the DNC was biased against Bernie. Count Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as a huge loser of this campaign. DNC needs a massive re-boot.

7) Know Your Audience. Trump knew whom he was talking to. He pushed all their buttons, and did it again and again. I’m not sure who Hillary was targeting with her ads and campaign, but she sure didn’t get the votes she needed from women, blacks, Hispanics and Asians. It’s tougher to target your campaign well when you don’t know who may secretly be OK with the sexism, race-baiting, anti-Semitism, and 20th Century thinking. But isn’t that the job of the professional politicians to know?

Also, you will find out who is and who isn’t OK with Trump in coming days because his fans no longer have to keep their support a secret. He won, so it’s OK for them to tell you you’re wrong for calling him an idiot. Or a sexist, race-baiting neo-fascist. Or – and you can accept or reject this based on your beliefs – to give him a chance.

What many of us hoped would be a relative return to normalcy after the campaign is now looking like a “new normal.” And it’s plenty scary. Both Trump’s victory speech and his Sunday night interview on 60 Minutes offered some conciliatory words, and in turn, a glimmer of hope for those despairing of a Trump Presidency. But now that Trump has power, rather than is attempting to gain it, what he says will take a back seat to what he does. And we’re going to need to be watching closer than ever to see what he does. Especially if he makes good on his promise of obstructing the view of the media, and thus, Us.

I’m concerned about some of the various Bad Actors from recent U.S. political history who will find a home, voice and legitimacy in the Trump Administration. A few of those are: Steve Bannon, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Corey Lewandowski and John Bolton. Most of these guys are in Trump’s inner-inner-circle. And all of them have something ugly in their recent histories.

I’m intrigued by the roles of KellyAnne Conway, clearly Trump’s MVP down the stretch of the election, his daughter Ivanka and her husband. Also, Peter Thiel of Gawker and formerly Facebook.

And I’m disappointed in fringe-players like Julian Assange and Wiki-Leaks, who proclaim to be for transparency but clearly had an axe to grind against Hillary Clinton in their one-sided handling of hacked and leaked documents. And Jeff Zucker, the heinous former head of NBC who turned CNN into Fox News Lite during this election cycle with the ludicrous hiring of Corey Lewandowski and a policy of airing all Trump, all the time that provided his campaign with a ton of free publicity.

But I’m hopeful for a lot of reasons, too. I’m hopeful that a Hillary Clinton loss might end up being a gain for the future of the Democratic Party: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker and more. I’m hopeful that by electing an outsider (we’ll see how business-as-usual he is or isn’t), we might see some changes in Washington, DC and U.S. politics that could help us going forward.

I’m hopeful, as always, that this country and we as people will learn from these new and haunting mistakes. Though I’m not holding my breath. And I’m hopeful that the surprise I saw election night on Trump’s face may actually have betrayed the tiniest hint of a sense of humility in victory. That he won’t be the sexist, race-baiting fascist liar he was on the campaign trail. That Super-Ego Trump will triumph over Super-Id Trump. And that now that he’s President, a sense of “how can I do a good job” will prevail over “how do I avenge all wrongs ever done to me since I was a kid.”

I’m hoping. And I’m watching. And I’ll be working even harder. Quitting accomplishes nothing. Apathy is a vice. And disappointment can become opportunity if we are willing to take the longer, harder, higher road it presents to us.

 

Dropping Shoes

On November 2, 2016, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

donald-trump-converse_xazvwkWell, it took four days and the proverbial shoe dropped. Not exactly the other shoe, because it’s as if shoes have been whizzing past our heads for nearly a year now.

Someone in a position of authority who could do something, anything to influence the election did exactly that, and a contest that was on the path to a clear and healthy conclusion looks like it’s headed to a dangerous photo finish.

Thanks, James Comey, 6’8” Director of the FBI. You’ve managed to tap into America’s ADHD-addled media cycle with earth-shattering non-news a mere eleven days before we put Democracy at risk by possibly electing Donald Trump – the choice of neo-Nazis, the KKK, the Russian Mob and Haters Everywhere – President of the U.S..

Comey’s letter to Congress had everything, and nothing, to throw the whole ball of wax into a vat of molten lava: a vague accusation with zero substance; a reference to a completed investigation that uncovered no criminal activity or intent but has been used as a political albatross; a connection to the ugly, sexually deviant actions of the soon to be ex-spouse of one of Hillary Clinton’s closest advisors, and the insinuation of corruption that continues to feed the false equivalency keeping a sociopath with BPD on the precipice of the most powerful elected office in the world.

And here is where America takes the final test: are we really so horrible at politics that we would follow through with the insanity of putting him in office? Or are we merely lousy enough at it to come close to scaring the free world into thinking we could do something so irresponsible (like intentionally bankrupting our country) but then steering away like a truck driver playing chicken with the cliff-side of a freeway?

I honestly don’t know.

But here’s what I can say for sure: I hope we’re better than that. I hope we don’t make the mistake of all of our lifetimes next Tuesday. I hope we don’t take the folly of electing George W. Bush (twice) and multiply it a thousand-fold by electing Donald J. Trump the Pussy Grabber who won’t show his tax returns, lost every single debate to Hillary and ran a campaign like a Middle Eastern dictator President of the United States. I hope. I hope. I hope.

Meanwhile, how about them Cubs? Best team in baseball this year, erased a 3-1 deficit to force a 7th game of the World Series. Comebacks are fun in professional sports. In World Politics, with our lives and freedoms at stake, not so much.

And so it’s Hillary Clinton or the ugliest four years of our lives. Get out and vote for her, and tell your friends to vote, too. For this country. For the people. For our children.

 

Developing Story

On October 24, 2016, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

I moved to Los Angeles many moons ago because I love a good story. I love being told one, and when I came here I wanted to learn how to tell one.

Decades, and many stories read, seen, lived and re-told later, it’s the love of a great story that motivates, inspires, and transfixes me. Still.

103968694-gettyimages-610463304-530x298At least 13 times since the story that begins, “Once upon a time, a billionaire horse’s ass ran for President,” began, I’ve sat down to make head or tail, divine fact from fiction, or just try to sort some sense out of it all. This makes fourteen. And hopefully it will be the second time I will get a complete, published column out of it.

What makes this time different? Unlike the last dozen or so, I’m not actually going to try to reach an understanding about any of this. First, as you know, that Donald Trump is one election away from the highest office in the world is insane. Although I think it’s also true that America is getting out of our government almost exactly what we’ve put into the political process. As a nation, and individuals. We don’t do politics well in the United States, and it shows.

Second, every time I’ve taken a guess at what will happen next, something totally and completely absurd takes place, usually within the 12 hours between first draft and publication. Rendering what I’ve written passé, or worse, wrong. Though it’s as challenging to discern right from wrong this election cycle as it is up from down in outer space. Not easy to be presci
ent and grounded when gravity is in a state of flux.

So this time around, I am going to step back and admire the show. We are being treated to a once in a lifetime (I hope) spectacle. The first democratically nominated woman is competing with the first bonafide imbecile nominee (for President, Sarah Palin and Dan Quayle fans) to become the most powerful human being on the planet. Two firsts. Two distinctly different directions. A decision, respect to those who believe God decides all, riding on the free – such as it is – will of Americans who exercise our prerogative to vote.

How exciting!!

It’s a contest, much in the sense that the World Series, which begins tomorrow, is a contest. It’s a match-up brewing for months in a campaign marked by surprise performances, injuries, and no small amount of controversy. Barring a repeat of the 2000 vote, which failed to end on the Wednesday after Election Tuesday, we will likely know the winner of Clinton vs. Trump on Nov. 9 as surely as we’ll know who wins the World Series between the Indians and the Cubs on or before November 3, barring wildly inclement weather.

Of course it’s not the same. The comparisons and contrasts between these two contests for world dominion don’t come and go like a nine inning game, or a date on the calendar. But I love a good story. Don’t you? And in the next two weeks, we get to witness the culmination of two epic tales. So let’s get ready for a dramatic finish.

World Series Preview

It’s the Cubs vs. the Indians. Two underdogs of history battled their way to the top of the National League and American League Central Divisions, respectively, and through the playoffs to the World Series, Best of 7.

The Indians – managed by Tito Francona, who in 2004 as manager of the Boston Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino in the 100th World Series – have a chance to spoil the Cubs’ happy ending. Cleveland, whose NBA team the Cavaliers won its first title this year in June, hasn’t won a World Series since 1948. That’s 68 years, a mighty long time. So they’re hungry. But not quite as hungry as Chicago.

Consider the Cubs, owners of the best record in baseball this year. Their General Manager is Theo Epstein, also GM of the curse-breaking 2004 Red Sox. The Cubs last went to the World Series in 1945, but their last championship was in 1908. That’s 108 years ago. So if you were born in 1909 or later, you’ve never seen the Chicago Cubs win a World Series. If you’re from Chicago, or an avid fan of baseball, the first World Series win in more than a century is a very big deal.

Plenty of other story lines to follow and enjoy here. You can root for whichever team has your sympathy. Or passion. And we can watch it all the twists, turns and crazy bounces un-fold in front of us. One long championship drought will come to an end on or by Wednesday, November 2. Barring rain or snow in Cleveland or Chicago.

Presidential Preview

What was originally billed as the Battle of the Century may be all over but the shouting. Alleged billionaire and actual reality TV show host Donald Trump has turned the U.S. Presidential election into a game of “I Know You Are But What Am I” versus bent but unbroken former First Lady, Senator of New York and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Trump rode “Celebrity Apprentice” and a racist conspiracy theory about our first African-American President Barack Obama to a Republican Party nomination by out-polling more than two dozen conservative politicians who let Trump beat them again and again to the bottom of the barrel.

A story that opened with Trump as loud-mouthed bigot, launching semi-calculated attacks against Mexicans, Muslims, blacks, women and virtually all immigrants in a country of immigrants was enough to convince the Republican Party to give him its nomination and endorsement. The national election has devolved into a scorched-earth campaign, with the candidate inciting violence at rallies, making fun of the physically disabled at his rallies, and exposed on tape in 2005 denigrating women and espousing unwelcome sexual assault while his wife was pregnant with their son.

The ghostwriter of his book, “The Art of the Deal” estimates Trump’s vocabulary at 200 words. He is ego-driven, hubris-laden, intensely humor-less (have you ever seen him laugh?), and anti-everything. Handed a gift horse – leaked e-mail, a vague policy point that manages to stick – he returns to the vitriol that won over his Coalition of the Angry or finds a new axe to grind. Either he secretly wants to lose, or he’ll only lead those who buy into his rhetoric as President (increasingly unlikely), or the head of an anti-establishment media juggernaut that he will have ample money and constituency to build post-election.

Meanwhile, the aspiring first female President wants to win so badly she will cop to that goal in a world where the only way to be perceived as trustworthy for the job is to profess disdain for it. Running the old-fashioned way: establishing credentials, building a national organization, and delineating specific policies, Hillary Clinton has spent 8 years in the White House, 8 years in the senate, 4-ish years as Secretary of State, and nearly 20 years beating back partisan attacks which have landed her in the hot seat (but not the slammer) where she has shown grace under pressure.

After two decades of scrutiny she’s accomplished a great deal as first lady and as a politician, and otherwise fared pretty well. Unless you count low approval ratings in spite of being one of the most accomplished female politicians in the history of the country and one of the most experienced candidates in the history of the Presidency. You can hate her policies, but can’t deny she has gobs of experience.

If you believe in polls, and I do, though not as much as I believe in math and science, Trump was closing the gap until they debated on the same stage. Secretary Clinton ran rings around The Donald. Every. Single. Time. Since Donald started scaring sensible Americans and global markets that he might be able to win, he has made a series of miscues, misstatements, angry pronunciations, and legitimacy destroying assertions that rank somewhere between implosion and full-scale meltdown.

But like the World Series, it ain’t over till it’s over. In this case, the end may not come with a sportsmanlike concession, but a procedural counting of every vote, individual and electoral. Like any contest with something at stake – and this year, clearly more is at stake than ever – there’s a dazzling array of last-minute spoilers that could tip the outcome one way or another. In case the undecideds haven’t decided already.

Here are a few hypotheticals: a hacked e-mail or Wiki-Leak that links the Clintons with the Mussolinis. A stunning last minute display of sanity from Trump that convinces voters he wouldn’t bring on the apocalypse; all evidence to the contrary. Trump’s character arc takes him from loud-mouthed bigot to anti-establishment statesman, turning the proverbial sow’s ear into a silk purse. Fat. Chance.

How about a Bob Roberts-inspired assassination conspiracy attempt blamed on a liberal gunman to evoke sympathy for the orange-faced blowhard? So much voter apathy – perhaps the point of Trump’s scorched-earth strategy – that the anti-Trump vote stays home, covers its ears, and leaves the voting to his Deplorables. We’ve got to get a song out of that “basket of deplorables” line. Perhaps a “rigging” conspiracy causes Trump supporters to turn up at the polls armed to the teeth, discouraging Hillary supporters from pulling the levers.

Like the Curse of the Billy-Goat, or the legacy of Steve Bartman, will force majeure lend a hand? Or will experience, depth, preparation and competence prevail? The World Series is decided between the lines by the Indians and the Cubs. The election is up to us. Here’s hoping that the best team wins. And by the best team, I mean Hillary Clinton. Putting Donald Trump within one election of the U.S. Presidency is one of the worst games America has ever played with itself.

 

VOTE: Tuesday, June 7!!

On June 6, 2016, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

12_fairey_vote_0_frontTomorrow is a big day, and I feel it’s time to speak up on some ideas I’ve been knocking around lately.

I’ve tried to jump into the flow of political discourse this year with several full-length columns, but have scrapped them for one reason or another. Mostly because every time it feels like we hit a new crazy, I try to dissect it and discuss but then another, newer, crazier crazy is born.

This year, expectations have truly been defied. Along with logic, common sense, and the boundaries of the absurd. Hard to know what to compare it to without being hyperbolic. So I’ll just say, these are heady times. Strap on your seatbelt. And prepare yourself for a rocky ride on the rollercoaster that is the United States.

There are three people running in the California Presidential primary on Tuesday who will gather the lion’s share of attention and votes. Two of them, I believe, could make excellent Presidents of the United States. The third represents one of the most epic and downright scary choices this country would have ever made.

So let’s not make it. Please. At all costs. And now let’s take a moment to consider our worthy contenders:

Hillary Clinton has been there. She was a major part of her husband’s extremely successful 8-year tenure in the White House. Bill Clinton was a charismatic and positive leader who took this country a long way. Mostly in the right direction. If you’ve ever been a part of a winning team, you know that it stays with you. And you know that no matter what the role, or whatever credit you receive, succeeding at a difficult task is a tremendous reward in itself. Plus you get more.

From there, Hillary chose to gain experience. As a leader; as a senator. There she landed on the right side and the wrong side of some big issues. And learned even more about how government works. And doesn’t. As Secretary of State, one of the most important jobs in the land, she spent four challenging years cleaning up America’s diplomatic mess overseas. Save for two contentious episodes (Benghazi and the private e-mail server; small potatoes IMO), she was a part of another tremendously successful presidential team.

The Barack Obama Presidency has been remarkable. Against all odds. And every kind of opposition. Obama has succeeded with patience, diplomacy, and by and large dignity and eloquence. He, along with his Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton and another presidential Secretary, John Kerry, has helped pull America back together. Oh, it’s still a mess. But Barack Obama takes no blame there. He’s achieved so much in 8 years. But we are far from healed as a country.

For me, Hillary’s experience and years of taking unwarranted neo-conservative heat means a lot. I feel confident that as President she will lead America well.

Then there’s Bernie.

Because of his belief system, his willingness to address issues from an incredibly healthy place, and his ability to inspire the hardest to impress, Bernie can well be classified a once in a lifetime candidate. Not since Kennedy has so much confidence and Hope been inspired. Though Barack made a run at that legacy, too.

Bernie’s elevated the dialogue for what I hope is a very long time. And whether he becomes the President or not, I hope we will have a candidate every election who takes us on this ride. It’s not too much to ask at all. Would that we had better choices and every election in America will have at least one World Class candidate. Though that day seems a long way away.

And while I intend to cast my vote on Tuesday for the candidate I believe is best, I realize that my vote is only one of many in a highly convoluted process. I cast it as a wish, and a promise to do my best to elevate the truest and brightest. And support an American Dream that applies to 100% of us, not 10% or 1% or less.

Which brings me to the one thing I’d like for everyone who is with me so far to agree upon, regardless of whether they’re for Hillary or Bernie. Whoever wins the Democratic Party’s nomination, we’ve got to all come together to avoid electing a fascist candidate, one who by all indications will take us down many, many dark and dangerous paths. Many of which could have tremendous, unpredictable consequences. No matter what, we’ve got to come together.

Can we please all agree on that? Vote your heart and your mind and your passion on Tuesday. Do that as much as you can whenever you vote. Please also consider what we need to succeed as a Team. Compromise. Understanding. Hard work. Sometimes not loving the way things work out while still learning, growing, and focusing energy on the positive. Seeing the big picture.

When and what got you involved in this election? What made you start thinking and talking about it? Let it keep you motivated throughout the summer, through the National election, and all that follow. This nation needs more earnest, engaged people who want to do what they can on every level.

Sometimes that’s taking on a role you’d much rather not. Being a team player. And recognizing that a win for our side is more important than a loss for the big picture, even if you come out smelling like a rose. Tough lesson. Not super fun. But essential. We need those team players now more than ever.

That’s all I’m saying. Keep on talking. Vote, and encourage others to as well. And please get involved with a system that no one likes because no one feels empowered by it. Decide to be involved and you will be empowered.

Maybe one day all Presidential candidates will be as qualified and full of potential as Bernie and Hillary. Until then, and even after, there’s a lot of work to be done.

If you like this, please Like it, and pass it on!

 

Viewing The Interview

On January 6, 2015, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

As a journalist and media critic, I try to avoid opining on issues where I don’t have first-hand information, or at least solid source data. It felt comfortable commenting on the security and business issues around the Sony Hack and The Interview film censorship because I had some insight on that piece of the story, and a different angle: namely, that North Korea may not have been behind the hack, and regardless of the culprit, Sony’s culpability is worth contemplating.

Attempting to find the most apt metaphor for the event, I’d compare the Hack to having your office burglarized…after leaving the door open, and putting a sign on it that says: “Tons of valuable stuff here. I dare you to help yourself to any or all of it.”

Now that I’ve seen the film, The Interview, I have a whole new take on the urlentire episode. This is not just about a remote hack of the Sony Entertainment IT network. This is about how a gigantic producer of media content, one of the top 10 producers in the world, is spiritually, intellectually, and behaviorally detached from the actual substance of what it creates. And it didn’t take a hack to disconnect them. The Hack just showed the world that the chasm exists.

It isn’t merely ironic that the story of The Interview parallels the story of the Sony Hack on just about every level. It is a fiction that shines light on the truth. Without spoiling the plot in any way, if the Sony Corporate heads were the protagonists of their own film The Interview, the movie would have ended in the first act because they didn’t have the guts to stand up to the leader of North Korea, much less try to assassinate him.

It would be far easier to support Sony’s position if the film was a piece of shit. Something that the rumor mill at one point attempted to pin on the Seth Rogen / James Franco buddy/action/comedy. Not only is this film a worthy successor to the huge comedy hits Pineapple Express and This Is The End, it does those movies one better by having a real political point that is made and redeemed by the story.

Sony Pictures tried to water down the ending of the film prior to The Hack, backing away from the film’s message in the process. It then allowed threats, which may or may not have been from North Korea, to coerce them into pulling from release one of the best comedies of the year, and one of the best political comedies in years.

The Interview is, in my opinion, a Top 10 movie of 2014, and should garner at least a best original screenplay Academy Award nomination. Stars Seth Rogen and James Franco are probably also due at least a standing ovation from the Academy for being both brave enough, and clever enough, to pull this movie off, in spite of the ineptitude and cowardice displayed by Sony’s corporate honchos.

So if you’ve been thinking, for Pete’s Sake, this is another Rogen/Franco film, it’s just not that big of a deal for anyone to get worked up over, you’d be wrong. The politics, and the political satire, are spot on and downright prescient in light of the shit-storm stirred up by the film’s release. The real buffoons, in addition to Sony’s IT Department, are Sony’s executives, who lacked the presence of mind and fortitude to back up this production.

Sony failed to exhibit the strength of character to go to bat for The Interview and the people who made it work: Rogen, Co-Director Evan Goldberg, Franco, a largely excellent, no-name cast and screenwriter Dan Sterling. Sterling has written a film that’s clever, full of funny bits and memorable catchphrases.

There must have been someone behind the scenes saying: “It’s wrong to cave in to this pressure. We’ve got to be stronger.” If so, that person needs to be higher up the Sony Food Chain. The Interview hits all the right notes as a mainstream comedy, and an edgy, subversive piece of political satire. We are living an age where studios are afraid to produce political films, and, in the case of this $44 million feature, afraid to stand behind a great political comedy once they’ve made one.

Maybe it was the distributors who backed out due to threat of terrorism. Maybe it was the lawyers afraid of the corporate liability implied by those threats, regardless of the likelihood they would be carried out. Having seen The Interview for myself, knowing what it is, not just what people are saying about it, it’s painfully clear that Sony Entertainment took the most cowardly approach conceivable, enabling what may or may not have been North Korea to effectively censor their excellent release.

What Sony should have said, Distributors or no:

The Interview is funny, wickedly clever, and we stand behind it. It’s about manipulating people and popular opinion through the media, and if we as a media company don’t stand behind for our right to show this excellent film to you, we are providing aid and comfort to those who would manipulate us with lies and fear. We’re releasing this film because that’s how we do it in America.

Apparently that’s not how they do it at Sony Pictures. Grow a spine, Sony. Your film was worth going to bat for. How come you didn’t know that?

 

Who Hacked Sony?

On December 22, 2014, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

At the end of my brief, brutal days in the film biz, one conclusion I drew about the way Hollywood Studios conduct their affairs is that they live precariously by the adage: “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.” No one who’s ever worked in the The Industry has ever accused studios of thinking too far ahead. Bottom line and just plain bad decision-making left rank and file workers to patiently sit on our hands, waiting for things to break. Last week the Sony Corporation found out just how costly such re-active thinking can be.

Luckily, we have a statement on the record from a high-ranking Sony official letting us in on his approach to Data Security. In the category, “Boy I Wish I Hadn’t Said That,” belongs this quote by the executive in charge of keeping Sony Corp’s voluminous digital assets safe and secure in response to an audit that found the company had Team-America-Kim-Jong-Ila weak password problem:

“It’s a valid business decision to accept the risk,” said Jason Spaltro, who is now Sony Pictures’ senior vice president of information security, in a 2007 interview with CIO. “I will not invest $10 million to avoid a possible $1 million loss.”

Let this serve as a reminder that short-sightedness, an epic ability to under-estimate value, and demonstrably poor business decision-making is crystallized forever by the miracle that is The Internet. Yes it was a few years later, but even then, might the totality of Sony’s digital assets be worth north of $1 million? North of $1 billion? A stone thrown in a glass house if there ever was one.

According to information released following the hack, Mr. Spaltro makes $300,000 in salary per year, but I don’t think he’s going to reach his bonus target of $400,000. Not this year.

But weak passwords were only part of the story of “The Hack Heard Round the World.” Alongside a torrent of Sony Hack stories impacting nearly every information category except Sports, we know that Anonymous hacked into Sony’s network back in 2011. In addition to troves of data swiped from Sony these last few weeks – executive and talent salary information, shooting scripts for major films, and e-mails containing revelations ranging from salacious to downright embarrassing – hackers snagged numerous files from individual users labeled Password.doc.

In other words, Sony employees served up documents containing lists of passwords, key chains full of keys the hackers can use to open all kinds of doors inside and outside the kingdom. Ouch. That’s a glitch that will keep on giving.

Knowing how studio bureaucracies operate when it comes to Security, both as a film studio employee in the early 90s, and as a Product Manager and strategist at Symantec Corporation from 1995-2005, I predict there will be a last minute revision to Sony’s budget next year shifting a few more dollars into the IT Group. Whatever brownie points Mr. Spaltro’s group may have earned in years past by keeping costs down will probably be used up and then some as 2014 turns into 2015. You’d think Sony and its internal security detail will learn a thing or two from this one.

But you never know. Businesses don’t like to spend money on non-revenue generating items, and Entertainment Companies usually require catastrophe-level events or worse to budget expenses that impact the bottom line without dollars promised in return. Ask anyone who works in Tech Support, Customer Service, and in some cases, Quality Assurance. There’s never enough dollars to properly fund these groups, anywhere. Prepare for some breakage.

The Hack most certainly qualifies as catastrophe-level, but if the content of Sony e-mails is any indication, upper management has more than its share of idiots, assholes, two-faced fuckwads, and just plain bad decision-makers, even for a Hollywood Film Studio. Using Mr. Spaltro’s logic above: Hey, Sony has already suffered the worst hack in the history of Information Security. Why spend money on IT? They can’t possibly get any worse at this…

I’m not saying that logic makes sense. But I am saying over the years I’ve worked at or with more than one international entertainment company that thinks that way. And I wonder whose heads will be rolling in the aftermath.

There will also be an obligatory employee memo, or series of memos, with updated security procedures likely to contain some choice words about choices like Password.doc. And once a full report is filed, they will likely find, as most companies do, that the lion’s share of damage was a direct result of human error by way of social engineering. Yes, it takes technical skill to carry out something this big, but the human element is a major part of the picture. Always. Just read that quote by the head of Sony IT. Either he really thought that way, or his boss did. Or they both did.

urlSo now we know the What (legendary hack), the When (likely starting in 2011 or even before, and culminating in November 2014), and the Where (Sony Corp’s network). Let’s take a look at the Why, the How, and the Who.

If you take the FBI’s findings at its word (and why would you?), the likely answers are: “The Interview”, by way of networks in North Korea and/or Northern China (better access in China), and employees of or contractors for the North Korean government.

However, there are lots of reasons to question whether North Korea really did perpetrate The Hack, not least of which are the numerous perceived inadequacies of the rogue nation-state. Given the agitation generated by “The Interview”, it sure wouldn’t be difficult to make it look like North Korea did it. Easier for an accomplished hacker to frame them than it would have been for North Korea to have actually done it. Unless Kim Jong-un has some world class hackers in his Rolodex.

Articles on this question are beginning to pop up, including this one from Wired that I found because I’ve been having trouble believing that The Hack is a North Korea Joint: http://www.wired.com/2014/12/evidence-of-north-korea-hack-is-thin/.

In light of Sunday’s Anonymous Announcement, that they hacked the Sony network in 2011 and told Sony that they did it (in addition to hinting that they have a copy of “The Interview” and plan to release it themselves on Christmas), some Simpler Theories are evolving. It seems more likely that either some Hacktivist entity opened the gates, then passed off to one or more organizations which may or may not be related to the North Korean government.

It also seems unlikely that on one hand the hacker that broke into the system takes credit for the hack, referencing the name Guardians of Peace (GOP), but the North Korean government denies involvement. If the North Korean government is behind it, but they don’t want to take credit, why would they want an entity they hired to leave a name along with a motive leading right back to them? Because they’re inept? If you follow that line of reasoning, how were they “ept” enough to perpetrate the most humongous hack of all time?

141201-kim-jong-un-computer-kns-1130_b391bb41ce08c9145a088fbaa7554157.nbcnews-fp-1040-600There’s more to this than meets the eye. It’s likely we’ll hear more about The Hack, who did it, how and why in the near future. And while my preference is not to blame the victim, especially when the stakes are so high and the losses so great, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that when more is known, Sony will ultimately accept (or wrongly avoid) significant responsibility for what happened.

The trail of information leading up to The Hack point to far too many deficiencies in Sony Studio’s Security policies, strategies and leadership. Because of this, it’s likely that the consequences could have been reduced significantly under a more proactive, better funded, and/or more talented security team. For starters, the Sony IT Executive under-estimated the value of his own job and the assets he was hired to protect. And he did it on the record.

If the company knew that it had been breached before, it should have investigated the hack in 2011, reinforced firewalls, revised security protocols and best practices, including advising against Password.doc. You can monitor traffic in and out of a corporate network. If data is flowing out unsupervised, at weird hours, in high volume, or to suspicious IP addresses, you can do something about it. Clever naming practices, complex data organization and infrastructure, obfuscation measures and red herrings can protect assets like critical e-mails, financial information, and James Bond scripts. Wasn’t anyone watching the gates?

Sure it’s easier to call out a solution, or to point fingers in hindsight. But the job of the Security Professional is to be Proactive. If it ain’t broke, and it matters to you, you should be trying to break it from just about every angle to avoid having an outsider break it first. Fixing a mess like this is never a pleasant task.

And whatever you do, if breakage might be a problem for you, even if your boss, your boss’ boss, and your boss’, boss’ boss tells you that you’re not going to get the money you need to secure the digital assets of your multi-billion dollar corporation, never, ever, ever go on the record saying that your half-ass, penny-wise, pound-foolish IT non-strategy is an acceptable business risk. It’s like telling the army attacking your castle that you’ve decided not to fill the moat and that the Southern wall is made of paper mâché. You might as well be leaving the door open, ringing a bell and saying: “Come and get it!!”

 

Newsroom de la Mancha

On December 15, 2014, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

2548274_origJust finished watching the series Finale of The Newsroom for the second time, and trying to hold it together, unlike during the first viewing earlier tonight which had me crying tears of sadness and joy. Mostly sadness. The ending, as most show finales are, was bittersweet. No spoilers here, but many questions were answered, mysteries solved, and the stories behind the stories were told.

Say what you want about the series, its transparent idealism, and its creator Aaron Sorkin, but a very strong argument can be made that Mr. Sorkin is the best and most prolific American dramatic writer of the Twenty-First Century. Check his resume here in case you need a rundown: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0815070/?ref_=nv_sr_1. Sorkin is also a patriot in his own unorthodox way, and trying to make good on his promise to make the world, from the platform as America’s finest scribe, and his country a better place by way of dramatic fiction.

Through the tears, I’m trying to understand why the final beats of this show’s heart have touched me so deeply. Certainly the references to Don Quixote and the would-be knight always tilting at windmills resonate profoundly. The triangulated conflict between telling the truth, the common good, and the wheels of commerce are at the core of nearly each story arc. Arcs so neatly completed in the final handful of shows. Including some stories we didn’t even know were arcing.

As someone who spent several powerful, formative years as a journalist and decided not to pursue it as a career for precisely the reasons this show delineated, I relate to many of these characters. The happier of the endings were certainly the reason behind the joyful side of my emotions.

I was pleased by the optimistic moments for many of the characters which played out in this finale. And I can see that, were this somehow for real, and were we to be able to witness the day after the series finale in each of their fictional existences, each one would be subject to more of the absurd challenges and just plain bullshit that we as Americans face in this more than messed up country of ours.

Inspired by The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin and his deep and complicated form of patriotism which I share, I also feel compelled to focus on the sadness behind my tears in the hopes that it will further inspire you, and me, to keep up the fight of these fictional Don Quixotes, tilting at windmills under the constant promise of being pummeled as its reward.

The triggering event of the show, a popular news anchor lets loose his frustration over a country for which he is a face and a voice, and yet can’t say a damn thing to the millions of people he looks into the camera and speaks directly to each and every weeknight. “America isn’t the greatest country in the world,” he roars, to a recent college graduate looking for a little hope as she faces the grim world into which she has matriculated.

First of all, you can’t say that, especially when you are a well-paid cable anchorman and the face of your network. Second of all, it’s true. Hence the root of the sadness, and the hope that I can continue to reach for the inspiration to keep trying to make a difference when there are so many people and institutions making a difference in what I view as the opposite direction.1

For example:

The alarming rate of school shootings that continue with absolutely no government response while the NRA peddles guns in their wake, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

The new stop-gap spending bill passed yesterday, necessary to prevent the country from grinding to a halt which contrarily saw Congress codify tons of pork, including several laws literally written by the banking industry that will lead us down the exact road we took to the financial meltdown of 2008.

A preponderance of talking heads appearing on the Sunday news shows discussing how the Torture Report was partisan, that the ends (though it was shown that torture had nothing to do with those ends) justifies the barbaric means, and, in the words of American Vice President, Military-Industrial CEO and not-as-yet-convicted war criminal Dick Cheney, “A load of crap” and “I’d do it again in a minute.” We built this country to get away from people like him. Even John McCain agrees: Un-American. It’s indefensible on every level. Sorry, Dick.

Because there’s plenty of blame to go around, wondering why President Hope seems so curiously behind that which he had railed against on his way to higher office, and wishing he would say and do more when certain values are being trampled.

And, following the unprecedented failings of his brother George W., Jeb Bush is ready to initiate his ascension to become the third person from one of the most inept American aristocracies in our history, escalating onward to the highest office in the land.

AMERICA – CAN WE PLEASE START LEARNING FROM OUR MISTAKES?!!?

I love ya, U.S. of A., but I’m getting tired of the S.O.B. leading us down a garden path to hatred, scorn and death. And I’m wondering how long we can keep getting away with horrific, international lawlessness without further repercussions. Not that there haven’t been repercussions aplenty thus far.

I share Mr. Sorkin’s frustrations – as voiced by anchor Will McAvoy, News Director Charlie Skinner and the Newsroom’s characters – and I’m struggling to generate the optimism required to face these frustrations day to day because I am surrounded by so many Americans who don’t know and don’t care in addition to being severely un-, under-, or mis-informed.master copy2

I’m doing my best to walk my walk, in addition to talking my talk. And I’ll continue to tilt at windmills, in spite of the potential to get my ass whooped, but part of me wishes all this unnecessary death, destruction and pain wasn’t so…inevitable.

In conclusion, I’d like to pay my respects and wish Godspeed to all who have attempted in their way to join the good fight. On better days, the sun shines on us all, and even impossible dreams seem possible.

Let’s be unwilling to take our eyes off of the double-speakers, the corporate-swindlers, and the paid, government operatives who would happily torture innocent people to be able to claim that when they torture criminals it’s for the sake of our country. Torture is a means to its own end, and the torturer IS the criminal. Some people simply like to torture, and some of those people have spent far too long steering the ship.

Things can get confusing out here. Here’s to the handful of ingenious gentlemen and gentlewomen willing to take a closer look in hopes of righting one or more of this world’s wrongs. We need ever more tilters, and more daydream delusions to keep us tilting, because this country and our world sure won’t be running out of windmills anytime soon.

 

Silver Lining Playbooks

On December 8, 2014, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

I’m not OK with the murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. I’m not OK with the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. I’m not OK with the murder of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY. I’m not OK with the murder of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, and I’m definitely not OK with the five additional slaughters of un-armed or lightly armed black men (that we know about) by not black police officers in the last week.

imagesI don’t believe that the incidence of black-on-black violence being around 91% has any relevance in this issue, in much the same way that I don’t believe that the incidence of white-on-white violence being around 83% impacts this either. I do believe that this outbreak of inter-racial police-vs.-citizen murders was perpetrated by paid government authority figures who could have easily avoided shooting, or strangling, much less killing their victims.

Further, I’m extraordinarily concerned that the underlying incidents prior to these murders, whether indirectly or directly related to the act of killing itself, was, in order: carrying Skittles and wearing a hoodie, stealing a box of cigarillos, selling untaxed cigarettes, and a 12-year old waving a pellet gun.

There’s also the accidental shooting of a completely innocent man in a New York City stairwell, a man shot and killed for putting his hands in his pockets and taking them out, and a man shot in the head twice on Hollywood Blvd., killed, then handcuffed while his head was lying in the gutter.

America is a lot of things. It’s also not a lot of things that it used to be or claimed to be whether it was or wasn’t. It’s no longer the undisputed world authority in peace-keeping, nation-building, monetary policy, unpolluted democracy, women’s and minority’s rights and safety, a functional political system, health-care, the promise of upward mobility, the keeping of international law, and much much more.

But there is a bigger promise being broken in recent days, and it’s a promise we need to start focusing on and re-committing ourselves to with unwavering vigor in the days ahead. America stands for the, perhaps not literally codified, promise that people here don’t get gunned down in cold blood constantly and consciously by paid functionaries of our government for absolutely no good reason whatsoever.

We are looking at a three-month window of high profile killings by the police force of America over virtually nothing. Cops are unloading their guns on human beings who represent virtually no real threat to them, murdering them in cold blood, and are in turn being exonerated by the legal system, with an assist to elected district attorneys (who must be voted OUT) and it’s happening at an accelerating rate.

That is not America. This needs to stop. Right Now.images-1

And immediately thereafter, we need to work hard on over-turning ridiculous “Stand Your Ground” and concealed carry laws that are putting millions of lives in danger over a danger that is contrived mainly as an excuse to sell guns. From there, we need to do what the gun-fear-mongers are screaming that politicians are trying to do, but they’re really not, but they really should – we need to figure out how to take away their guns. At least as many of the voluminous, unnecessary, unsecured guns which are for more likely utilized in a crime of passion, a gun-cleaning accident, an accidental child murder or a mass shooting by a mentally ill, meds-addled, hormone-imbalanced, video game violence-numbed sociopath.

Perhaps there would be less shootings, beatings, macings and tasings by police if we provided them with more pro-active, defensive equipment such as bullet proof jackets, helmets and face shields, and on-board video. Provide more options to work with a strong defense, instead of claiming the need to always leap to offense. And if we are unable to figure out how to disarm or de-escalate without launching into civil war, we absolutely need to figure out how to get them – every last one of them, including the police, when there is no need for them to use them – to put their weapons down.

Here’s the Silver Lining. One core competence America had completely seceded long since the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the first and second Iraq Wars is now something we are starting to learn how to do all over again. Maybe this time we’ll learn how to do it right, and to full effect: America is re-learning how to protest.images-2We are learning how to, sometimes peacefully, sometimes angrily, oft-times inarticulately or just plain badly, protest injustice and systemic, government-funded and/or condoned murder and corruption. I love that members of the St. Louis Rams football team have not only used their voices in the past two weeks to draw attention to these issues. And I am spiritually uplifted that in each game they’ve protested, they’ve won. By a shutout. Try adding Kharma to your Playbook.

#Occupy. #HandsUpDon’tShoot. #ICan’tBreathe. It’s not enough, but it’s a start. Our Passive Aggressive Republic needs to be dragged, kicking and screaming if need be, into the modern age of dialogue. Plus we need to do some good, old-fashioned problem-solving. Time to start speaking up. Time to stop the killing. Conscious Dialogue. It’s our best chance to turn the tide. And it’s past time for that tide to be turned.

“How long? Not long! Because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

TMB – 11/4/14

On November 4, 2014, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

CE577A7FHere comes another American election, and yet again we are under-informed, overly-polled, heavily hyped and not really in any position to make better decisions than we have before, in spite of what we know every time we vote.

I wish the Supreme Court hadn’t opened the floodgates of Dark Money and unrestrained Corporate and High Wealth Influence on our elections. I wish instead of making it harder to vote, especially in Southern and Conservative states where they are trying to shut out both very young and very old voters we would make it mandatory to vote and enforce a fine on those of voting age who don’t.

I wish our supposedly evolved democracy would start making more evolved decisions. And because I know better than to hold my breath, I’m going to keep making the best of what we’ve got, and spread the word the best I can whenever I can. Because life is beautiful and I do appreciate having opinions, dollars, and my Election Day ballot to vote with.

Didn’t do a full Burning Man redux this year although I had a lot on my mind when I returned. Decided to wait until some of the emotions had evened out before putting down a couple of thoughts, and now that they have, I will. I still believe that Burning Man is one of the greatest events on earth. It is a bastion of learning and a microcosm for our culture, not to mention that it’s fascinating and fun.

In retrospect, Burning Man 2014 is notable for challenges to two of the guiding principles that were breached the most in my nine-year experience. The Leave No Trace and Non-Commoditization principles both fell under siege this year on the playa, and without some serious guidance from the Burning Man Organization, may be pillars that could collapse completely in the long-term. Interestingly, both issues seemed fused together in the aftermath, as “Pay-to-Play” camps, which on approach appeared to be a fundamentally out of line issue generating great concern, perpetrated some of the worst leave behind waste carnage I can recall.

Not totally surprising that these symmetrical issues left a mark. Eg. — Unchecked Industrialization’s cozy relationship with Global Warming. As the Veterans’ Committee issues a big, fat I Told You So.

But not to dwell on the destruction of The Burning Man culture a la the decimation of our finitely resourced planet. Among my many lessons this year were not to let hype or things being askew spark over-reaction. As well as not to empower one nasty character to monopolize my energy with so many lovely spirits about. Plus a renewed Focus on the Now. Hippy-Dippy enough for you yet? I could go on.

But instead, I will rattle off a seemingly un-related list of interconnectedness to purge the accumulated contents of my mind-vault:

Did anyone notice the parallels between the worldwide pandemic map at the end of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and the global tracking maps when the Ebola outbreak hit the international stage? I did, but it’s still not OK to panic.

How likely is it that the pandemonium from Ferguson, MO pushes law enforcement and municipalities around the U.S. to mount more cameras in public spaces so that we really know what happens in moments like those. Perhaps those in authority (properly or improperly) will recognize a level of accountability when their actions reach extremes.

Further, can we rely on the integrity of public footage? Might there also be a trade-off on privacy once cameras become more ubiquitous? Who can we count on to parse these issues in our government? The Libertarian Fringe will have a field day.

Not that I take much stock in the actual numbers, but wondering why President Obama’s approval rating (or disapproval rating) is hovering in the George W. Bush range, and far worse than conservative arseholes like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. I mean, it’s not like W. kicked back prior to the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, then wrongfully got us into a pointless war in the Middle East that exploded our Debt by somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 trillion, then cheerfully presided over the worst economic calamity in three generations.

Things are much, much, much, much better now, and at the very least, credit is due Barack Obama for pitching us out of history’s sand trap. Could it be such polls are skewed, or is this because of his color of skin? I suspect it’s the latter, and it makes me sad. Another not-so-subliminal symptom of the horrendous state of U.S. body-politick. Whatever the reason, or non-reason, the guy’s done pretty well under difficult conditions not of his making. Is he about to be dealt another rotten hand by the Senate? Wish this country would learn. Best of luck to you, Sir.

Pleased and impressed by the recently accelerating advancement of homosexual rights and hoping that this marks a trend toward faster and more peaceful evolution on the world’s most important issues in years to come.

Are we sufficiently bored yet of the banal behavior and intensely vacant content perpetrated by the world’s pantheon of pop stars?

IN A WORLD where Miley Cyrus has become a shining beacon…

I’m watching the movie “About Time” on HBO now and it’s surprisingly good and I’m imagining how much better things would have gone if they could only go back and re-do its marketing campaign.

Really looking forward to checking out the movie “Interstellar” very soon. Also Bird-Man, Nightcrawler and, yes, Gone Girl. Got a Halloween Jones for “Seven” and will dig that one out at the next possible juncture.

Did anyone see The Zero Theorem? Terry Gilliam film opened and closed barely making a blip.

Breakbeats.

House.

Breakbeats.

Did you know you can find out exactly what Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansson at the end of “Lost In Translation,” but it’s better if you don’t know.

Did anyone watch the HBO mini-series Olive Kitteridge? A powerful drama with excellent acting, and yet, wow, what a bummer. Would love to hear your thoughts. I found it to be a challenging ride, to say the least.