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 entire 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?
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 a 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.
So 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?
There’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!!”
Just 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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.We 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.
Here 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.
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.
Spending time recently on a different kind of writing, but recent events have convinced me it’s time to speak up on the state of our nation and culture. I’m extremely saddened by the shootings last week in Santa Barbara and conclusions being drawn (and not drawn), as well as the recent Veterans Administration issues that have gone from the back-burner to headlines.
It’s long past time that we take action on these issues, and if long-running trends and the nature of public discourse is any indication, America appears poised to do nothing, which just isn’t an option any more.
There are a great many things we can say about this country, and most of them are uttered on television every single day. However, the long-standing trend of our government’s inability to act in times of crises, deferring instead to the status quo or, even worse, selfish and corporate interests, has created a nationwide malaise with some very clear cut results.
An article in The Onion throws last Friday’s massacre in Santa Barbara into relief. America has a crisis related to mass shootings and its politically-enabled gun culture, and no one is doing anything about it. And that’s not OK. Every time these events occur the same pattern results: intense media scrutiny, surface analysis, prurient details emerge, those close to the occurrence ask for action, the NRA swings into action, politicians shy away from the issue, more guns are sold, the pace of these tragedies increases so that when the next one occurs we do the same thing all over again with no divergence from the pattern.
Does anything feel new to you about the latest episode? We are averaging approximately two of these tragedies per month for the last five years. There are virtually no new gun laws anywhere in this country in the wake of Columbine…Aurora…Newtown. Just last week, the NRA labelled the Center for Disease Control’s announcement that they were considering research into the statistics behind mass shootings as “immoral.” Immoral research. That’s a new one.
Meanwhile, the NRA tactical talking points, which have basically consisted of “The 2nd Amendment” (a twisted interpretation) and “arm the good guys” have slowly expanded to include the phrase “mental health issue”. All of these are crafted toward preserving the NRA’s strategic objective: “More Guns.” But what’s insane is that the NRA are the ones pointing the finger and crying “immoral.”
The Isla Vista shootings have so many of the characteristics of previous events, with some notable exceptions. Both the things that are the same, and the things that are different are worth exploring.
At first blush, the patterns include: young, white, male perpetrators, disaffected and with latent anti-social tendencies and/or borderline psychological issues, enough fire-power to attack dozens or even hundreds more people than were actually assaulted, written or audio-visual manifestos, and the proximity to schools.
What’s different this time? Fathers of both one of the victims and the perpetrator have vowed to make it their life’s work to impact this horrific American trend. We’ve heard cries for activism in the wake of these disasters before, but this time seems a little different. Perhaps the parents of the Newtown tragedy would tell you otherwise. As a defense attorney, victim’s father Richard Martinez seems especially qualified to lead the charge here.
Even more significant, and an extremely new wrinkle in this case, is that both the shooter’s parents and police KNEW about this threat well before the deeds were acted out. We have become so accustomed to these stories that a fact like this may play out like just another sound-byte. Rest assured, it is a big deal that police were in this guy’s home days before the event, with his 140-page manifesto well under way and a cadre of guns and ammunition mere feet away behind his bedroom door.
Think about this: they knew this guy was disturbed, and a threat, and information was available that could have enabled the police to stop this incident completely (even the killer himself said so), yet nothing was done. They went to his apartment, talked to him, and found him to be quiet and shy, but a nice kid. I wonder if they would have pushed harder if the color of his skin was darker? Despite the fact that nearly all of these mass shooters are white. And men.
Yes, it’s tragic. It’s heartbreaking. But that shouldn’t stop us from drilling down into the issues and changing the game to prevent it from happening again. In fact, it should make us even more determined. When I try to wrap my head around this, the one thing I keep coming to is: information. There was information available to help prevent this tragedy, and it didn’t get into the hands of the right people at the right time. The mental history of the perpetrator, the actual threat he pre-announced, and his purchase (apparently “legally”) of several guns and hundreds of bullets.
NRA tactics of obfuscation aside, but with the privacy issues raised by the Edward Snowden affair taken into consideration, how do we make sure that the totality of this information, all knowable to us in advance, is put together to prevent future tragedy? The answer I keep coming back to is: a database.
A database that keeps track of all restricted firearms sold in the United States. A database that keeps track of all bullet purchases over 100 in the United States. A database that can be accessed by police and/or government agencies with judicial oversight so that investigations can be facilitated by the information and monitored by the courts. This is one of the failings of the NSA Security breaches uncovered by Edward Snowden – the information exists, but there’s no oversight on its dissemination.
And, ideally, a database that can be cross-referenced with a list of potential threats to the public peace, also with oversight. These would include, ex-convicts (including violent and sex offenders), documented mental health risks, and those who use public media sources (i.e., blogs, YouTube, etc.) to propagandize their violent intentions.
Here comes the oft-heard refrain – none of the bad guys will register their guns. Only the good guys. First, if the onus is on the gun sellers (and the manufacturers) to comply, you are at least forcing this commerce to the margins. Does it make anyone feel any better that Elliot Rodger’s guns were purchased legally? Had they been registered, and that information made available to law enforcement acting on a tip with judicial oversight, they would have known that a potential threat was in possession of heavy fire power and, in Rodger’s words, “it would have been all over.”
Moreover, we have no way of knowing that cars and drivers have registrations and licenses, respectively. Except that when something happens, we do. This is both a form of monitoring and controlling potentially aberrant behavior, and a deterrent against bad behavior and illegal activity. We’ve been trying the other way – no registration, no management of the issue at all, and always, to the NRA’s delight, More Guns, and where has it gotten us?
In addition to a new policy that will aggregate and allow police and the public access to known threats who possess or have recently purchased weaponry, we have got to come to a 21st Century realization that the gun and bullets manufacturers are not to be treated as both a financial entity with the same for-profit rights as any other business that sells a product. The 2nd Amendment requirement to keep an armed militia in the United States does not equate to an individual’s “right” to have unfettered access to weaponry of mass destruction with absolutely no way for our institutions to know who’s got what.
We as a people need to get clear on this, and make this stance abundantly clear to our elected officials. Immediately. And in every election. Just as we have registered sex offenders so that we can keep tabs on them, we need to have the ability to see who is making large purchases of weaponry and bullets in our society and we do that because we need the information to help stop future tragedies like Isla Vista. As bad as this tragedy was, a locked sorority door was the only thing stopping this gunman from achieving his stated ambition: murdering every single woman inside the Alpha Phi sorority house.
Along with saying yes to CDC research on the topic and supporting private research into this malady as well, the U.S. Congress should create a bi-partisan task force to analyze gun control laws and best practices of all the industrialized nations so we might understand why we have far and away the highest frequency of unnecessary handgun deaths in the industrialized world. Other countries such as Australia, Canada, and Japan, not as vested in the rights of gun manufacturers and owners over the safety of the general populace, have successfully addressed tragedies like the ones that continually happen in the U.S.. They have taken action, and they have had positive results. Why not U.S.?
It’s unacceptable for the United States to be the lone hold-out on this issue, while death tolls continue to rise and our citizens – our children – are in danger. Every other country in the world responds to these types of crises with clear and decisive action. America’s history of in-action on this topic doesn’t make us exceptional, or better in any way. It just makes us stupid.
Let’s stop being stupid about guns in America.
Please. Enough is Enough.
TROUBLE BREWING AT V.A. >>> I was saddened to see that long-time American General and war-hero Eric Shinseki is becoming a political scapegoat in the Veterans Administration scandal. General Shinseki had been appointed to clean up a mess and ended up getting slimed himself. It sucks when we put good people onto a tough job and then the nature of the job does them in.
General Shinseki’s long years of service merit better treatment, and at least President Obama has been standing behind him until now. Recent right-wing attempts to make him the fall guy for a bureaucratic and political problem of their own creation could backfire in the face of a little truth-digging by journalists on the chronic under-funding of the VA. I hope that both Democrats and Republicans of Conscience (a rare breed indeed) will put aside the politics and fix the issue without turning a good man into political road-kill.
And even though it may not benefit them in the upcoming mid-term elections, I would like to see Republicans put the money where their mouths are and get behind our veterans – whom they put into harm’s way with a drummed up War in Iraq – by voting sufficient funds for them to be taken care of such that these issues of neglect at the hands of our very own government are a thing of the past.
#YESALLWOMEN >>> I’m not sure I totally get the true meaning of this popular, new hashtag, but I’m certainly a supporter of the issues it is here to represent. The rise of misogyny in both the public sphere and political discourse (Republicans and “Legitimate” Rape) is both alarming and counter-evolutionary. Women have been encouraged to share their stories of abuse and harassment at the hands of men, and I would like to share my own story of harassment as both a means of empathizing with the cause, and to offer yet another perspective to the conversation.
While working at the Walt Disney Company in 1990-91, I was sexually harassed in the textbook definition of the term by a high-ranking executive in the department of Feature Animation. The perpetrator was male, knew that I was in a committed, heterosexual relationship, yet continued to make unwanted advances, proclaiming that “Michael Eisner is gay,” peppering business conversation with sexual innuendo, and propositioning me on multiple occasions with phrases like “I’ll give you the business…” during one-on-one strategy meetings.
I was 27 years old at the time, working 70 hours a week at Mauschwitz, trying to make good on an extremely high profile opportunity, and this egotistical and sociopathic individual literally destroyed my career at Disney, an opportunity that I’d worked tirelessly to create for over six years in the film and TV business. When it ended, I was improperly discharged by Disney after having told Corporate HR about the issue in detail. I was left jobless with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and a debilitating skin condition it took four years to fix.
In addition to the time, money and career impact, I was left with a tremendous feeling of rage and loss. Unfairness was only the tip of the iceberg for me. Complete disillusionment. I chose not to sue because that’s not how I solve problems, and I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve watched our society victimize good people like Anita Hill and even Michael Ovitz (who coined the phrase, “Gay Mafia” at Disney) in years since. While part of me wishes I’d spoken up in a public way at the time to stand up to the bullying of a miserable human being, and to prevent him from ever doing it again, my life has been better off for not having filed suit.
But now that people are telling their stories, I feel like it’s time for me to share mine. And to join the chorus of those who wish to oppose sexual politics, sexual bullying, and the general weaponizing of sexuality in our society. Maybe this is about gender. Maybe it’s about orientation. Maybe it’s about tolerance. Most definitely it’s about power. But I definitely think, at its core, it’s time for all of us to stand up and fight for equality. The freedom to be who we are. The freedom to associate with and marry whomever we want. The freedom to walk our streets without power-mad machine gun-toters threatening our peace.
And it’s time we started to get behind the idea that “all PEOPLE are created equal” and make it part of the bedrock of our society. This is something I believe deeply and passionately. Thanks for reading long enough to allow me share my beliefs with you.
I’m a sports fan. I played everything growing up in St. Louis, and I love playing or even watching a great contest, I’m inspired by the best, and worst, or us in action, and am a huge fan of what sports can teach us about the rest of our lives.
So I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi with interest, and there are a few takeaways that I’d like to share. First, and foremost, the trend I’ve noticed in watching the broadcast, and this is viewed through the prism of NBC’s coverage, is that it’s all about US. That is, it’s America against the world. As if we as a country are always facing down the world’s challenges, and are expected to come out victorious.
Granted, the NBC coverage is geared toward an American audience. But the Olympics is a forum for all countries to compete, and the stories of victory, and defeat, are all equally interesting to me no matter which country generates them. I’m sitting here watching the Bode Miller show, I mean the Men’s Super-G Alpine event, and I now know more about Morgan, Bode’s wife, than I do about the two people who somehow by accident managed to beat the greatest skier in the history of the universe.
All due respect to Bode, who has won as many Alpine medals as any Olympian ever, and is now the oldest person to win an Alpine medal, but it would have been nice to have learned a little something about the WINNER Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, and silver medalist, also an American, Andrew Weibrecht. Not to mention Jan Hudec, the Canadian who had the nerve to TIE Bode for the bronze. How emasculating!
By the way, how cool is it to watch the racers super-imposed on top of one another as if they’re racing the course at the same time. You can see who’s ahead at one point, and when someone overtakes them on the way. Awesome!
There are parallels here to the world outside of sports. American media, almost without exception is rigorously focused on the U.S. as the center of the universe. And I’m sorry, we’re just not. In fact, we’ve been pretty much screwing the entire planet non-stop since the turn of the millennium.
When I go to Europe and get a healthy dollop of BBC and al-Jazeera World News, I learn so much more about the actual News of the World than on any broadcast in the U.S. I don’t think this is good for us here in America because let’s face it folks, we’re slipping.
Bode’s tie for the Bronze may ultimately be a satisfying achievement, but I know that the medal standings with America Number 3 isn’t nearly good enough for the America first-ers who expect us to be the best of everything because, well, America is just THE BEST. Except that, we’re not.
And while I’m absolutely fine to see America where we are in the Winter Olympics “standings” – The Olympics aren’t really a team sport in and of themselves – it’s cool that the Netherlands has the most medals (because I love Holland!), and host Russia is doing well , too (because the Russians are cheaters and the spy on everyone…no, wait…).
Being the best at the Winter Olympics isn’t really the leadership I think it most important for this country to achieve. In fact, being Number Three is absolutely fine and something we should strive for in a handful of other disciplines, especially ones that count for a lot more than The Olympics. Or any sport for that matter.
Did you know that in 2013 America was ranked 17th in the world out of the best countries for education, according to a global report by the education firm Pearson. Can you imagine if we were 17th in the standings at the Winter Olympics? Or the Summer Olympics? The sky would be falling for sure. What’s wrong with America? But 17th in education, not a peep.
Where do you think America stands in a recent Bloomberg study of the world’s most efficient health care systems? How about 46th out of 48? How do you feel about that? The Bloomberg study isn’t talking about the best health care, but quality as a function of cost.
As a country, we spend the most money as a percentage of our GDP (a jaw-dropping 17.2 percent; finally, something we’re the best at), and the second most money per capita (just behind the Swiss). But what we get for all that money: 46 out of 48. Just when you were feeling sorry for those poor doctors who worked so hard to get through medical school for a mediocre $400,000 median income.
And then there’s that little nugget that health care is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States, in years when we weren’t crashing the world economy with our Too Big to Fail Recession and foreclosures led the pack. All indications are that those bankruptcies do not include any doctors who have been victimized by the impending socialization of their profession.
There are some who say that Obamacare is the worst thing to happen to the free world since the Nazis invaded Poland. And there are others who say that while the Affordable Care Act is imperfect, it’s an important start. A start on the long road to fixing our incredibly low standing in the world in a category that counts a heck of a lot more than Shaun White crashing in the Half-pipe.
No time like the present to get our priorities in order.
Next week – the socio-political significance of Bob Costas’ pink eyes.
2014 at last! Now Ed Snowden can be a Hiro, not a traitor. What would have happened if the SnowBlower had simply raised his hand and told the boss that something didn’t seem quite right about all The People’s data illegally going into NSA hands? Do you think they would have given him a pat on the back and said, “You’re Right!! Let’s fix this immediately and quietly based on your recomendations to repair any damages to Human Rights without suffering a major loss in World Credibility?”
Or maybe they would have just tossed him in jail and thrown away the key.
I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
But I for one am glad he had the guts to run away. Corrupt Authority is seldom gracious when facing its own failings. And I believe there was stuff in that million document dump we needed to know about. Call me a surrealist. An Anti-Denial Literal. I want to know these things. Especially when so many of so few scruples would do anything to keep The Truth from us.
Remember The Graduate, when Ben was trying like hell to get to the church and tell Elaine Robinson that he loved her? And the look on everyone’s faces as Ben tried to bust in on the wedding? Angry, rabid, vicious snarling looks of contempt and pure hate? That was what the Establishment threw at Mr. Snowden when he went all James Bond on us. All it would have taken was one person with a jail cell, or one with a gun, to put an end to his expose. Information retrieved.
Freedom is fragile, indeed. Not to mention a concept whose definition varies with the definer.
Has anyone else noticed the relativity of the prefixes Hiro and Fuku? I dare you not to think about it. I’m trying, and it’s not working. One thing someone said about the ongoing calamity at Fukushima has stuck in my craw, and it’s the best reason for us to never build another nuclear power plant ever again. It was: “a nuclear bomb going off in a warehouse full of nuclear bombs.” I never want that to happen. Or even be a remote possibility. Anywhere. There is nowhere to run from The China Syndrome. Not yet, at least.
Just read that Iraq is in the middle of a Civil War, only now al-Qaeda is involved, which it wasn’t before America invaded. I suppose it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The same thing happened in Iran, only it took 35 years of “diplomacy” on America’s part to delay the inevitable. The Obama Administration has done a very good job keeping this recent development off the radar. Ah, The Middle East. Never too far away from telling the rest of the world: FukU.
It’s getting harder and harder to tell what’s real from what’s made up in this world, don’t you think? Is it the media, or the messengers? That’s why I’m trying extra hard to pay attention to the message. If there is one. So often, there isn’t, just more things. Every day I’m finding new reasons why Things are over-rated; moreover, the attachment to them is at the root of so many problems. But I still love a good movie.
Here are my favorites from 2013. It was a very good year for film. Though it was no 2012. List will continue to evolve up until Oscar time.
- The Way Way Back
- Saving Mr. Banks
- Lee Daniel’s The Butler
- This Is the End
- The Wolf of Wall Street
- 12 Years a Slave
- Ron Burgundy: The Legend Continues
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- American Hustle
- Fruitvale Station
And that’s about it for now.
One more thing: =
Have a great 2014!! More to come…
Alright. That’s enough. I can be quiet no longer. Thought I could take some time to duck into the cocoon and figure a few things out but the whole world is falling apart and I refuse to go quietly…
It’s been 50 years since the assassination of JFK, an inflection point in America and American politics. The murder. The mystery. The conspiracy. Or not. It began an age of modern wonder. A nation borne of the belief that there is more to life than the selfish desires of the ruling class begins to realize that it’s not so easy to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, who’s really in charge here, and who needs to be protected from whom. I believe this paradox and the breakdown of the efficacy of the 2-Party System are at the heart of our problems today.
Quick: Edward Snowden – Good Guy or Bad Guy? Is it or is it not fairly easy to tell? To me, he’s a Good Guy. A brave and very good guy who took a chance when he’d seen too much go too wrong for his idealistic mind to handle and he did something in a world where virtually no one else would. Especially someone living as a millionaire on Hawaii. The guy gave up something there. Against the blinding desirousness of human nature.
But wait – Obama says he’s a criminal. John Kerry says he’s a traitor. If they’re wrong, is the Conservative Right right? No! I don’t know much, but I know for sure that US conservatives are KILLING us all, slowly and in every way they can from all sides. But they, like our Democratic politicians, believe it’s wrong to undo the secret doings of the US Security Juggernaut. Is it? I DON’T KNOW!!!
I do know this: there are some serious problems in our National Security State, not the least of which is that a “liberal” president is doing some seriously hawkish shit. Pinned between a rock and a hard place, is President Obama the hunter or the hunted? Fox News is so consistently wrong about everything, fascist double-speak being what it has become, perhaps our “Socialist” president is so very Not Socialist that he’s JUST LIKE ONE OF THEM.
No he isn’t!! I hope…
But sometimes, he is, and it’s beginning to look a lot like the Conservative pinscher movement is succeeding with it’s long-term initiative, “40 Years of Backasswardsness.” We’ve made it through the last 13 with precious few winning streaks of smooth sailing. Not that our ever-warm-ing weather isn’t delightful from time to time.
Let’s take a moment to treasure the many wonderful things that have transpired on the international stage since Bush/Cheney cast its dank shadow across a wary cosmos. Miley Cyrus: what a breath of fresh aire!! 2012 was a great year for movies!! Dance music revolution, Baby!! And Manny Pacquiao! Can’t let a little War, Depression and National Security Anxiety keep us down. For long.
But it’s confusing out there…
We didn’t actually bankrupt the country thanks to Ted Cruz, although we came perilously, hilariously close. Can you imagine how interesting it would have been if we had defaulted on the National Credit Card and the Banks of the Rest of the World OWNED our asses and could deliver their terms to us servicing their unpaid debt?
I mean, how merciful have American Banks been to those bankrupted by the Housing Crisis over the past few years (a crisis eclipsing only the Health Care Crisis for Bankruptcies Created since 2008)? Even after getting their asses bailed out by the US Government like they were a victim of a Hurricane. Like the one Republicans chose not to provide emergency assistance for to East Coasters hit by Sandy.
The only reason we might expect International Banks to be kinder to us in the face of a failure to fork over the funds is that nearly EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD is more generous to its own citizens than the United States of America is to ours. Or at least the least wealthy 90% of us. Funding banks before citizens in the face of crisis after crisis. Serving up the lower class to pointless war after unwinnable military action year after year and then sweeping the casualties under the carpet.
And of course, this little brain-byte of the year that would change a lot of minds if more Americans had heard AND understood it: America is the ONLY developed country in the world that doesn’t consider health-care a basic human right. Oh, and let’s cut a few billion dollars out of food stamps with lagging employment and out of control income inequality. The rich of this country aren’t satisfied with simply having all the money. They want to crush the under-class to “teach them a lesson.” I’m here to tell you — we’ve all got a lot to learn.
Look at the way this country competes. From the athletes, from baseball players to Tour de France winners who cheat (and not well enough to avoid being caught). Don’t look too long, but take a look at how people compete on television reality shows. What a bunch of lying, cheating, scheming and under-handed meanies these people are and how quickly will they trade their integrity for money!
Of course, it trickles down from the top. You can trick the Congress, the media, the people into a $10 trillion war and virtually no one will raise a hand to say that it’s wrong and we should stop. Instead of hunting them, or kicking them out, we need more Edward Snowden’s in our country.
Watching the government fund its own military boondoggle in the Middle East then relocating U.S. companies to Shell Governments in the region to avoid US taxes and oversight. Halliburton is the de facto government of any country it occupies because it has all the money. Now they can start a war anywhere they want without anyone’s permission. And don’t kid yourself: they kept the skeleton key to the National Security vaults, just in case. Now tell me – both Edward Snowden are outside of the United States. Which of the two do you think we should let back in?
The choice is clear. It shouldn’t be Obama-Care. I think all of us have done a great dis-service to the nation by calling it that. A PR ploy the conservatives won with and won big. It really is about the Affordable Care Act. The Provide Health Insurance of Some Kind to Everyone and Lower the Aggregate Cost of Providing Universal Coverage to Prevent Socio-Economic Discrimination From Screwing the Poor, Underprivileged and Unfortunate and The Prevent Doctors, Pharmaceuticals and Insurers from Leeching The Middle Class Act.
Good guys and bad guys: sometimes not so clear. But occasionally, we can see the glimmer of life in a situation through a person, a perspective, or our understanding of the truth and what we hope in our best hearts for the world to be.
Doesn’t matter who’s for what, when, where or why. Forget the transitive property of guilt or greatness by association. What I want for Christmas is everyone in this country to have a safety net to support him or her while they make an effort to live their lives productively and peacefully.
That’s the ideal Marathon Black Friday Deal: a country willing to be better to its citizens, including and especially the underprivileged and unfortunate among us. Trade a little bit of that power, and a tiny taste of all your shiny money Wealthy 10% and give us all a chance at the peace and prosperity our forefathers who you love to misquote tried so desperately to bequeath to all of us. Thirteen years of that and I promise you we’ll opt for 130 more. At least. Is that at all an option for you Libertarians and Fiscal Non-Taxarians? Does it appeal on any level? If so, let’s give it a shot. And I don’t mean guns. Seriously. No guns. Peace. Please?
Achieve Your Potential.
With great love, deep respect and the best intentions:
AWAKE THE SLEEPING GIANT
So immersed in music, it’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to crank out a Brief. But a combination of Republican pre-Sequester Petulance and a Post-Oscar Hangover have moved me to words. Strong words. Have at thee!!
OSCAR HEADLINE: SETH MACFARLANE WORST OSCAR HOST EVER!!!
Was the opening bit with William Shatner merely ironic, or utterly prophetic? Perhaps both, but certainly the latter. I will make the case that not only was Seth MacFarlane the worst Oscar host in the 85-year history of the Awards, but that Sunday night’s television broadcast was by far the worst Oscars show in the history of the Academy Awards.
I take my movies seriously. Perhaps not as seriously as I take the US government intentionally sabotaging the US people and economy (see below), but to me, movies matter. And while 2012 was a lot of things, including not the end of civilization as we know it, it was, in my opinion, the best year for motion pictures…Ever.
Seriously. I can’t think of a year with more Oscar-worthy films, including most of the Best Picture nominees, and three more that were worthy of that 10th and final slot: Moonrise Kingdom, Skyfall, and Dark Knight Rises. Since the Academy upped the number of best picture noms to 10, each year there have been films that didn’t quite belong but got that extra marketing push – “A Serious Man”, “The Blind Side,” “Toy Story 3.” Watch those three and then “Moonrise Kingdom” and tell me which of them deserved a nomination. Personally, I’d add “Chicago” to that list, but I digress. Again.
How can you justify the greatness of the last year in motion pictures with the absolute monstrosity of unfunniness, unprofessionalism, and unkindness that transpired last night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood? You can’t, because that Oscars show sucked on every single level except for one. I’ll get to that later.
First, the host. Seth MacFarlane may be a brilliant creator of satirical, politically incorrect TV animation. His first film was a hit. I didn’t see it, but let’s just assume that it was the funniest movie of 2012. That still doesn’t make him a smart choice for hosting the Oscars. Johnny Carson. Billy Crystal. Seth MacFarlane? All comedians. All white. Whatever. But Mr. MacFarlane’s humor is not merely self-referential and highly inside-joke oriented. It’s also mean-spirited in the exact way that another recent Awards show hosting disaster was as well: Ricky Gervais.
Mr. MacFarlane’s jokes made Ricky Gervais stint at the 2012 Golden Globes seem dry, witty, under-stated and self-effacing by comparison. In addition to walking back nearly every on of his own jokes (at least, at some level, he was aware of how not funny his material was), and semi-un-ironically meting up a next day headline that was all too real during the broadcast, Mr. MacFarlane managed to:
1) Be the 9000th comic to not hilariously reference the Chris Brown/Rihanna fiasco
2) Pointedly insult Daniel Day Lewis’ epic performance in “Lincoln”
3) Create the most not funny moment in broadcast television since OJ Simpson was found not guilty (the Lincoln joke; more on that in a moment)
4) Use his own film creation, Ted, to make five infantile, lowest common denominator jokes about Jews and Hollywood
5) Make Mel Gibson seem sympathetic
6) Close the show by calling out all of the “losers” by name in song
To shine just a little bit of a spotlight on MacFarlane’s horrendous Lincoln faux pas before it is swept away into the dustbin of history, here’s the joke:
“This is interesting, Daniel Day-Lewis, not the first actor to be nominated for playing Lincoln. Raymond Massey portrayed him in 1940’s “Abe Lincoln In Illinois.” This is true. I would argue, however, that the actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.”
Without biting down too hard on the sheer stupidity of the joke, it’s non-funniness, the proximity of Stephen Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tony Kushner, Tommy Lee Jones, and the principals from “Lincoln” a few feet away, and the fact that he’s talking about one of the greatest people in the history of the planet getting shot in the head, think a moment about the subtext of so many unnecessary gun related deaths in this country and around the world.
The audience actually booed, in a subdued reaction given the epic-ness of his fail. Was this not the Oscars, it would have been appropriate to hurl rotten tomatoes at the offender. As someone with a well-documented, irreverent sense of humor, I would call that maybe the least funny joke in the history of modern civilization, for its breadth and depth of base offensiveness, the number of people who heard it, and for the miscalculation of context and occasion.
It wasn’t just a bad joke. It was quite possibly a career-defining moment by a man of clearly questionable taste, if not talent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he apologizes for it one day soon, in addition to the almost apology he made immediately afterward, and many other flat out shitty jokes he made throughout the night. If he doesn’t disown the joke, I’d say the guy’s jumped the shark as a humorist and he might want to read a book on comedy to get him back on the funny track. Last night, most of his material was either not funny, flat out pathetic, or worse.
In addition to the wretchedness of Seth MacFarlane’s hosting – which made Letterman’s turn seem sprightly and James Franco convivial by comparison – the show did seem endless, and nearly a dozen comments by MacFarlane noting same didn’t help, didn’t add any much-needed humor, and only served to highlight that he was hosting a show that he thought sucked. On that count, and that alone, he was absolutely right. It did. Suck. Hard.
Also note that the vast majority of presenter jokes were not at all funny or interesting, and the embarrassments that were Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy’s presentation, and The Avengers’ Oscar moment were each beyond squirm-inducing. And while this may be piling on, the addition of Michelle Obama to the Best Picture award presentation came off as politically correct, awkward, and cloying, even for the Oscars.
Without analyzing too, too deeply, those nasty play-offs featuring music from “Jaws” when speeches went a tad too long (speeches we could have enjoyed in their entirety had they cut ten stupid, self-referential MacFarlane jokes and Jennifer Hudson channeling Michael Bolton clubbing the baby seals of good vocal taste in our minds) rudely destroyed several of the most important moments of the night.
Those ominous chords must have been in the mind of both Jennifer Laurence as she rushed toward the stage to get her thank yous in on time, and Ben Affleck’s Evelyn Woods acceptance speech that I’m sure most of the world would have rather heard in real-time rather than at 78 speed. As opposed to, say, a four-part William Shatner gag by, for and about Seth MacFarlane.
Last, but not least, the sound engineering was completely atrocious, smacking of bad production choices, unprofessional technical work, and marring the single biggest selling points of the show: the tribute to the musical film over the last 10 years (really? That many great movie musicals in the last decade?), and live performances by Barbra Streisand and Adele.
If you are, or know, who the genius was who suggested placing the orchestra for the biggest night in television in a tiny room nearly half a mile away from the event at the Capitol Records building at Hollywood and Vine (they even bragged about it during the show) and piping in the sound while Barbra Streisand sang her tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, congratulations!! You are, or know, someone who could be a Republican political strategist!!!
The sound drop-outs on that number had even Barbra – say what you want, the lady is a pro – looking baffled. I’m not sure what it sounded like in the theatre, but to those watching at home, it was like the orchestra was on a voice-call via AT&T. Father, can you hear me…now?
For Adele’s number, easily the most eagerly anticipated moment of the night, her mic was so low during the first verse that no one, not even Adele, could hear her singing. You see, when Adele sings, it’s kind of important that you can hear her voice. And she can’t just pump up her volume because she had vocal chord surgery not too long ago. That’s why we have that amazing 20th century innovation the Volume Knob at our disposal. Someone must have woken up by the time the second verse started, because the volume jumped in time for us to actually hear her vocal on the second go round.
OK, let’s assume the Jennifer Hudson moment didn’t totally suck, and even belonged in the show along with all the “Chicago” mentions (over…rated…). And give some credit to the one actually funny moment of the night – the “Sound of Music” moment with the von Trapp Family – Missing!!
Easily the worst Oscar broadcast ever. Period.
I knew the show was in trouble when producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron inserted themselves in their own Oscar pre-show – chock-a-block as THAT was with awkwardness via Kelly Rowland, Kristin Chenoweth, et al. Chenoweth sings like an angel, even while vocally-apologizing for that nasty closing number with MacFarlane, but speaks like a chipmunk sucking helium from a balloon animal.
The producers gushed that this was the moment they had waited for all their lives. They even had Seth MacFarlane mention them by name in the opening moments of the show. After Oscar 2013, these two should be grateful that their day jobs let them make a living producing the ABC series “Smash.” Because their night job was a train wreck that hasn’t been seen on the Oscars broadcast in 85 years, including radio. And so it came to pass that the best year in movies yielded the worst Oscars ever.
What did you think of the show?
AND IN OTHER NOT FUNNY NEWS >>> Presidential assassinations: not funny. Ever. AIDS jokes: still not funny. Calling a nine-year old Oscar nominee the C-word: definitely not funny, even from The Onion, which usually is funny. And Republican-manufactured fiscal crises that further decimate the lower and middle classes while benefitting the upper class and government bureaucrats – seriously not funny.
LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE >>> The passing of former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who among other things stood up to American Conservative intransigence in the face of the AIDS epidemic in the name of humanity and common sense, is a powerful context for this week’s foolish and completely unnecessary government “sequester” which will once again impact America’s ailing economy – on purpose, by Republicans.
Facing diminishing support from the American electorate, and resorting more and more to the sort of schoolyard dirty tricks pioneered by Karl Rove from his days with the Nixon campaign and forward, the Republicans are America’s political equivalent of a spoiled child holding his or her breath until their face turns blue. Gerrymandering, illegal vote-blocking tactics, holding up legislation and appointments, and changing campaign finance rules to favor its constituents are all tried and true tactics.
But the “manufactured crisis” ploy, outlined by Naomi Klein in her book “The Shock Doctrine” and utilized now for the third time in less than two years – Government Shutdown 1, Debt Ceiling 1, and Sequester 1 – are only serving to diminish American’s opinions of Republicans. The party has the lowest approval rating in the history of approval ratings polls, and the Republican House’s approval rating has somehow managed to dip below 10%.
President Obama, who is neither perfect, nor a Saint, is taking the right tack here by pushing Congress to solve this problem rather than letting it fall to the automatic cuts that were never intended to come to pass. We need to get our government whipped into shape in terms of solving these problems proactively, rather than dragging out to the deadlines which are hammering markets, hiring, productivity, and creating a sluggish economy that Republicans are marketing back to us as a result of Obama’s failed policies. It’s the Republicans fault. We know it. And it’s time for us to do something about it.
They sold us on the Iraq War. They were wrong, and it cost us more than $10 trillion. They convinced America that Obamacare was a bad idea, and took the House on that sentiment. Yet Obamacare is going to save this country billions, eventually trillions of dollars. And giving the House back to conservatives was the third worst election choice this country has made since Nixon.
So in addition to getting past these issues, we need a campaign to convince America to eject stagnant Republican leaders from Congress and give the President a Democratic majority that he can use to get this company moving. A campaign to STOP REPUBLICAN INTRANSIGENCE. It’s time. It’s the only way.
One of my favorite quotes of Dr. Koop – “What bothered me most, as I reflect, was the lack of scholarship by Christians – as if they felt that by leaning on a theological principle they didn’t have to be very accurate with the facts. People talk about knee-jerk liberals. The liberals have no corner on that market; I’ve learned there are also knee-jerk conservatives. Christians should be involved in politics, and use their Christian principles, morality and ethics in the process. But they shouldn’t jump over the process and voice their beliefs as the only possible outcome.”
It’s time to rid this country of the knee-jerk conservative policies of obstinacy, of my way or the highway, and the perpetual Republican roadblock. Time to stop the opaquely racist, anti-women’s rights, pro-rape dialogue that has become a cornerstone of the Republican platform. Conservative cries that legislating controls on assault weapons that kill innocent citizens in increasing numbers amount to abridging some sort of constitutional right for each citizen to possess the means to mass murder.
It’s time for conservatives to join the discussion, join us in this millennium, and stop breaking our system. And if they won’t do it, and frankly, there’s little hope that they will, we need to vote them out of office ASAP so we can get this country moving forward again.
REMEMBERING AN ALL-TIME GREAT >>> In 1985, I was in Durham, NC for the Dinah Shore Classic, and it was my first day on the job as a news intern at WTVD Durham. I was sent to do a remote interview with Dinah to open the 6:00 news on a Saturday night. With less than five minutes before the hour and the start of the show, Dinah tapped out and I had a real problem. An opening segment interview, with no interviewee.
I went to the front desk in a panic, and they let me scan the guest list for a quick substitute: are there any celebrities staying here? I spotted Stan the Man Musial’s name, called his room, told him I was from St. Louis, and we were in a bit of a bind. He instantly agreed to join me for a remote with the studio. With less than a minute till the start of the six o’clock news and the very real possibility of three minutes of dead air dawning on the entire news team, Stan walked over to the cameraman and I by the pool. We mic’d him in an instant and he was ready to go.
Without a shred of ego – no surly questions like, “Why are you asking me now?” – Stan graciously filled in for Dinah Shore to do the interview, rescued our 6:00 news show from a three minute improv by the lead anchor, and helped a St. Louis-born newsroom rookie in a moment of need. Humble, honest, and real, Stan stood in for the interview, and in less than 200 seconds we wrapped. The consumate pro. I was told that everyone in the newsroom stood up and cheered. They cheered again when the camera guy and I returned later that evening.
A few hundred yards away by the Jacuzzi, Harlem Globetrotter great Curly Neal and his daughter were taking in the action on the hotel’s front lawn, and when we were done with the remote, Curly walked over to us and enthusiastically asked Stan for his autograph. Stan, in turn, asked Curly for HIS autograph, and joked that if I’d just walked over that-a-way I would have gotten a “real” celebrity to open the show. I then had the privilege to spend thirty minutes of my first day in the broadcast news business shooting the breeze with two of the greatest athletes and nicest people you’d ever want to meet.
As an athlete, and a human being, Stan Musial was the epitome of integrity, humility and graciousness. In an era where athletes are paid millions and aggressively decline the designation of role model, recognizing a Stan the Man in our midst – male or female, in any profession – signifies that being of outstanding character and leading by example makes one worthy of the mantle. No, you don’t become a role model by virtue of what you do. You become one, and I believe the best kind of example in our world, by being great in addition to doing what you do. Epitomized by Stan Musial in words, actions and spirit 100%.
BOB COSTAS ON STAN THE MAN >>> Here is a video link to Bob Costas’ brilliant eulogy for a great athlete, and an even better human being:
FILM FAVORITES OF 2012 >>> The best films of the year in the best year for movies in many years:
1. Moonrise Kingdom – A masterpiece. Best of the new millennium
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild – How did director Benh Zeitlin get a performance like that out of a 7 year old?
3. Life of Pi – A visual and spiritual feast
4. Zero Dark Thirty – Politically shaky but a motion picture tour de force nonetheless
5. Silver Linings Playbook – A quirky relationship story raised to high art
6. Argo – Terrific telling of a unique and true story
7. The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan should be Peter Jacksoned
8. Skyfall – Best. Bond. Ever.
9. Lincoln – Daniel Day-Lewis IS Lincoln
10. Django: Unchained – Quentin’s funniest picture is patriotic yet problematic
11. Cloud Atlas – Ambitious, sprawling, splendid
12. The Avengers – Non-stop fun
TBD – on my list of films to see ASAP.
1. The Hobbit
2. Searching for Sugar Man
3. The Master