Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bernie's End Game II

Why is this going on and on? Let’s get together and beat Trump (OR WHOEVER). I'm not sure if Sanders is actually delusional. But he knew the rules (including “super delegates”) when he decided, as a “revolutionary”, to try and gain the nomination of a major national political party to which he never belonged until just after breakfast. He made a fine appeal, got a lot of folks engaged (who should god damn well be engaged anyway), and demonstrated that progressive policies are popular and not frightening.  He has underscored corruption — mainly he has focused on his “own” party. And no doubt there’s some truth to that. But democracy in its most basic means somebody wins and somebody loses. He knew this rule too. But instead of grace, first he took to a Rubio-style strategy of declaring victory if Clinton didn’t win big enough in a particular primary.  He then took to a Trump-style strategy, declaring assorted elections fraudulent, the system “rigged” (except for the ones he won), and Clinton a warmonger.  He refused to tamp down the excesses of his fervent acolytes (damaging Clinton, rioting in Nevada, etc.)  And now, in the face of a Donald Trump presidency looming, he holds a meager hand up against this same Democratic Party wherein his opponent has won more votes, more delegates, more states, more everything.  Yet he keeps making demands of both platform policies and for the head of Barney Frank, and even hocking those same “super delegates” to flip — the ones he derided as part of an undemocratic rigged system of the “establishment”.  He’s become the Black Knight of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  And in the process, he has demonstrably discouraged and enraged all those new voters he has bragged of bringing on board. Hopefully in the end his insurgency won’t have done more damage than good — that is arguable. I’ll try it again: “Fuck sides. What we really need right now is a little solidarity." - Mr. Pink.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Bernie's End Game

The first woman is the de facto nominee of a major party, and all Sanders can say we’re going all the way because shit could happen — boo Hillary!  Now Barack Obama is the titular head of the “Establishment”. Unlike 1968’s LBJ, he is not mired in a land war in southeast asia. He hasn’t invaded Iran lately, he made peace. The economy has been in a positive move since 2009. He pushed through the first national health care program with great political cost. He and the Democratic party or even the Clintons are not the problem.  So why is he revolting against them?  Is it that “they”, led by this treacherous woman, are denying the prize he thinks is rightfully his because reasons? (Certainly not because of votes but then, you know, “rigged”).  It’s the Republicans, now personified by Donald Trump, who have been the problem, and the true existential threat to the nation’s progressive well being.  They have raised obstructionism to an art form on a federal level — and on state levels, sociopathic capitalism runs rampant.  Never could understand that about Sanders, this misdirected fire. I liked him very much, but I’m stunned that his “all about me” end game is this delusional demagoguery. He could go out like a hero, a champion, a real catalyst for important change.  Instead it appears his goal is to bring the spirit of the Nevada Convention to Philadelphia, with fervent hopes of Clinton’s indictment mixed in.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


The one thing that’s probably obvious here, but I learned long ago — they are not believers, they are not stupid, they even know what they are saying are lies  (although like O.J., they could have created their own internal Stockholm syndrome so they can live with themselves). They are simply sociopathic — it’s all about suckering that idiotic base (who DO believe, apparently), and fooling those amorphous “independents”.  Just get to the finals, then etch-a-sketch the most egregious errors, and hope, with the help of the willing press, nobody remembers.  Just get in that damn White House! And they are sociopathic in the worst way, if there is such a thing as gradations to their toxicity: their lies have dangerous consequences, as witnessed in Colorado, or in Trump’s crowd beatings of BLM folks, and elsewhere, despite their sociopathic denials that they are to blame (put it to the “liberal press conspiracy”, natch). The idiot base doesn’t care about Politifact findings. In fact, they see it as a “winning” virtue for their candidates to NEVER give in, apologize or acknowledge any errors.  Little lies here and there are OK, (IF they are even seen as lies) as long as they are for the “greater good”, which apparently is turn the entire country into Kansas.  Apologies and God knows compromises are seen as weakness — something liberals do.

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Today I'm starting to post excerpts from my upcoming memoirs / how-to-get-started-in-show-biz / and general backstage gossip called Funny is Money. The bulk of the show biz aspect of the book consists of war stories. Most are pretty funny, many are just strange.  The first excerpt is about my encounter with Norman Lear while working as a staff writer/story editor for the sitcom One Day at a Time. I'm thinking of retelling it at some story slam:

Meanwhile, we wrote our first script for One Day at a Time, a story designed to introduce a new friend of Ann’s (naturally played by an actress Lear or one of his minions discovered in a Broadway show).  I don’t remember the precise story line – something about a nosey neighbor - but we thought it was pretty good, and Bensfield and Grant seemed to be okay with it.  But we would soon learn their feeble opinion hardly meant anything.  It was all about what Norman Lear thought about it.
Then came the trek to Norman Lear’s office, and we were to realize that Bensfield and Grant were deferring to Lear, thereby throwing us to not mere wolves, but the biggest in Hollywood at that moment.
This was when our office was located in the Sands Motel on Sunset, if you can believe it. I think some writers from Good Times were also there. Just not enough office space for all of Lear’s show staffs on the main lot. Or at least not for us. We at first occupied a trailer on the back lot of the studio (at least it was a double-wide), but later there was the motel move.
Anyway, the trek to Norman’s office that was to be rather life changing: Norman Lear’s throttling of our script.
Do you know what they say that your worst fears and your fondest dreams will never happen? Well as far as fondest dreams, I may have set a low bar but I eventually did marry Barbara Pariot, and I did put my hand on the Arc de Triomphe. But my worst fear was always something about being exposed as a fraud, by some big shot, and get booted out of show business in some humiliating fashion.
Well, I’m not sure if I was exposed as a fraud, but I certainly got the boom lowered by only the biggest powerhouse in all of television at the time, and possibly all time – Norman Lear.
This was the process: send in two or three week’s worth of scripts to Norman, and then go to a meeting at his office to hear his notes.
So it was eventually our script’s turn. Lear was there with his famous floppy tennis hat. The tape recorder started, and Lear could not wait to rip into our script. He absolutely hated it. He referred to the character we were introducing as a “buttinsky”. He said he found no "endearing moments".  The words and his voice are vivid in my ear to this day near 40 years later. There was nowhere to hide.  Sweat burst from every pore. There was nothing to say. The other guys, probably with the exception of Bensfield, were quick to defend us and even fall on the sword. After all, they had signed off on it – unless they were deliberately throwing us to the big dog. But Lear cut them off, “No, they’re grownups!” It was flabbergasting. It was a young TV writer’s (at least mine and my partner’s) nightmare – times about 100. Because even when you worry about such things, you sort of secretly know they are unlikely to happen. But it happened. The king of television was crashing its wrath down upon me, like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.  He as usual had notes on other scripts and story lines too, prompting Bensfield to groan about all the work they had to do, etc. Lear said “Would you really rather be doing anything else (other than work in television?)”. I at least thought, yeah, better would be to be working in television as Norman Lear. And so we staggered out of there with the rest of the guys, and I’m sure they gave us words of encouragement as we made our way back to our trailer/office stuck on the Metromedia lot. I’m not sure what Stein and I spoke about, except I know what was unspoken – we were fucked. Now no nightmare could be ruled out – fired perhaps, career wrecked by Norman Lear, or worse, having to remain on that goddamn show. No, at that moment, we didn’t think it was the greatest place to be working, Mr. Lear.
It did get worse. The next part of the process is for the writer’s secretary, a woman named Pat Fischer, to transcribe the tape into typed pages – lest anybody forgot anything Lear had to say. And the asshole Fischer, smirking, delivered us our copies of the transcript saying “Wow Norman really didn’t like your script.” I wanted to ask her “how did he like your script? Oh, oops, I’m sorry, I forgot, you don’t write scripts - you TYPE scripts for high paid, unionized Emmy winning writers.”
In any case we felt pretty much out of it, ostracized if you will by the sucky show and the decidedly unfunny writers, Perry and Dick, with whom we did not see eye to eye. And who had pretty much thrown us under a bus named Norman Lear.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My First Shameless Plug: Giftrocket

I sent a GiftRocket the other day. I was looking for a gift card to send someone for their birthday, and I wanted it to land in their email. I originally figured I had to send a card from a specific company - Macy's, Old Navy. Ikea. I didn't want to send a "Visa" because that sucks up too much interest or whatever. And I discovered GiftRocket in my searches. It turns out to be a wonderful company. I originally thought I had to specify a store, but really, you can suggest one - but you don't have to, and the recipient doesn't have to use it there. The recipient gets a nice virtual card (you pick the occasion), and can spend the bucks in any way they choose! The value (i.e., money) goes to their bank account or wherever they want. The fee for me was just two bucks for a fifty dollar gift. And it gets to the destination instantly. I love it. I know, I know, "gift cards" are often seen as default gifting, but my recipient was pretty damn happy. I highly recommend. Here's the link: GiftRocket I hope I get one.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Rosa Parks at 100: “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in”

By Robert Illes
It was a rainy afternoon in Montgomery, Alabama.  Metropolitan bus driver James F. Blake pulled the Cleveland Street bus up to the stop, where waited a young black woman. The woman got aboard, and paid her fare. She started to walk up the aisle to have a seat. But that was a violation of the rules. According to an early municipal ordinance, a black person in Montgomery had to leave the bus after paying the fare, then re-enter the bus through the rear entrance.  Of course enforcement of the arcane law was all up to the white bus drivers.
Blake admonished the woman, and made her disembark. She did, but before she could get back aboard, Blake drove off, leaving the woman standing in the rain. She would either have to wait for the next bus, or walk home. There is no indication she was reimbursed for her ten cents fare.
The black woman was one Rosa McCauley Parks. Yes, the Rosa Parks. This incident occurred in 1943, some 12 years before her dramatic ride into history.
Blake, a World War II veteran, was merely doing his job.
Rosa Parks was then about 30 years old. She had been born in poverty in Montgomery, and was well versed in such injustice, especially around buses. And white people. She remembered walking miles to the “negro school” as white kids rode by in buses. In another incident, a ten year old white kid sought to attack her younger brother, but Rosa, brandishing a brick, dissuaded the young racist and he ran off.
In 1932, at age 19, Rosa McCauley married local barber Raymond Parks. He was no mere barber. He was a curious, well educated local activist. He encouraged Rosa to attend college, and become as curious as he was. And after several tries, she registered to vote.
Was the 1943 incident in the rain the culmination of this early education, the impetus that got Rosa involved in the local NAACP? She indeed became secretary of the chapter, and got involved in protests of early civil rights outrages, particularly that of the tragedy of Emmett Till in the summer of 1955. Till, a teenager who had been living in Chicago was visiting family in southern Mississippi when he was accused of flirting with a white woman. Till’s vicious murder and the subsequent trial (and acquittal) of his kidnappers and murderers particularly galvanized Black outrage of Southern injustices, one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the movement.
And a pivotal moment in the life of Rosa Parks, for she was thinking of Emmett Till when she refused to move from her seat on the bus.
The local civil rights activists in Montgomery Alabama, in particular local NAACP chairman, ironically named Nixon, and a new young minister named Martin L. King, had been looking for ways to fight the abuses visited upon Rosa Parks and thousands of other municipal bus riders.  75% of bus ridership were black citizens, yet they had to endure the Jim Crow rules.  Over time in the early 1950’s, two women had refused to give up their seats, but, given their questionable lifestyles, were not considered good candidates for legal remedies that might end the discrimination.
On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks, now 42 years of age, had spent the day working as a seamstress at a local department store. She boarded the Cleveland Street bus around 6 PM. She sat in the second row on the right. Next to her, and across the aisle from her, sat three other black passengers. Movable signage in the bus indicated that she was seated in the “colored” section of the bus.
A few minutes later, in front of the Emporium Theatre, the bus stopped and picked up a number of white riders. There were no seats for them in the front, and some were forced to stand.
These white customers standing, while several black folks sat was too much for the driver to abide. So the driver moved the “colored section” sign to one row behind Rosa Parks’ row. He insisted she and the other three black riders relocate, to accommodate the new white customers.
Three of the black passengers briefly protested, but dutifully got up and moved.
Rosa Parks refused. “I thought of Emmett Till, and I knew I could not move. I had had enough. The empowerment I felt covered me like a warm quilt on a winter’s day.” The bus driver gave Parks fair warning, and would call the police otherwise. Rosa Parks said that was his right.
And so the driver and Rosa Parks made their fateful decisions.
Oh, and the driver? James F. Blake – the same driver who had coldly collected Rosa Parks’ fare in 1943, forced her to disembark in the rain, and drove off without her. Parks had vowed never to enter a bus driven by Blake again, and kept to that vow for over 12 years. But on this day, she did not see who was driving.
So perhaps Blake’s earlier asinine behavior had some part in Parks’ defiance. And so goes fate and history. Heroes and villains. Very often it is a villain who strikes the spark in awesome moments in history. And very often a soft spoken, regular citizen is thrust into the role of hero.
Such was the little drama enacted on that bus on that day in that city in 1955.
Rosa Parks was arrested by local officers for violation of the municipal code. She asked them why they were pushing people around. They of course said they were simply enforcing the law. Rosa Parks was resolute, conquering the very real fears that existed in that era, making her small protest more than a little significant and heroic. People died for less in those places in that era.
In Parks, Nixon, King and others had found the case they were looking for: a gentle woman, a good citizen, with a good family being “pushed around” by absurdity of Jim Crow. Eldridge Cleaver put it, “Somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery had shifted” because of what Rosa Parks did.  Her refusal to move was the catalyst for the first great stride in what we now refer to as the Civil Rights Movement: the Montgomery bus boycott.
Parks was bailed out by Mr. Nixon, and on the days before her brief trial, a meeting was held among activists, including Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King. They spread the word that the day of her trial blacks should skip school or work if necessary, or walk, or carpool.
Just stay off the buses.
And they did so. Then it was decided to continue the process. Defying death threats, and the usual intimidations of life in the deep Jim Crow south, the black citizens of Montgomery boycotted the buses for days, weeks, months – a year. Rosa Parks worked as a dispatcher to coordinate carpools and jitney-style cabs (charging only 10 cents – the same as the bus fare). And of course, many opted to walk – some as much as 20 miles to work. But they stayed off the buses.
The Montgomery bus company nearly went bankrupt. In mid December of 1956, the rules were changed. There were no more “colored sections” on Montgomery buses. Other boycotts followed in other cities.
There were beatings and threats. For safety’s sake, Rosa, her husband Ray and mother moved to Detroit, where they had relatives.
Thus emboldened, there was to follow the desegregation of high schools, colleges and lunch counters. There was voter registration. Many of the protestors, marchers and workers and lawyers were white, many were beaten, and many were killed.
But many earned their freedom.
This is what Rosa Parks’ refusal to move wrought. There were, and remain, many agitators in the cause of social justice with more strident attitudes, soaring oratory, and intense focus.
But it also takes people like her - people like us - ordinary citizens, to “shift the machinery”. This is what makes the story of Rosa Parks so heartening, hopeful and significant. Her name has been invoked by no less than Nelson Mandela. Many events are referred to as “a Rosa Parks moment”. 
What is interesting is that, yes, she did work for the NAACP, but her bus ride was unrelated – her moment of protest was undertaken quietly after work as a seamstress and had no clue the infamous driver James Blake would undertake to move the “colored only” sign. It was others who picked up the baton and turned her protest into history. Her very ordinariness is what has made her story so compelling and so mighty.
Parks did not seek the spotlight after her moment in time. She worked for many years in the office of Rep. John Conyers in Michigan. She cared for her husband and her mother who both died of cancer in the 1970’s. She was bestowed great honors over the years and revered as a civil rights icon.
2013 would have been the 100th anniversary of her birth.
Interestingly enough, 2012 would have been the 100th anniversary of the birth of James F. Blake, the Montgomery bus driver who had insisted that Rosa Parks move from her seat. He was the same guy who made her get out of his bus in the rain 12 years before. As often happens in history, evil sets the tone and, ironically, in so doing, sparks an act of courage which eventually rights the wrong forever.
“People think I was tired because I was old,” said Rosa Parks many years later. “I wasn’t old then. And I was no more tired than I was any other time after a long day at work. The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”