Moviepass’ Bait & Switch

If, like hundreds of thousands, you bought a Moviepass a few months ago, right now you are probably as pissed off as I am. I not only purchased a monthly plan for myself, but I also bought an annual membership as a gift for a friend.

For a while it was neat. I live near a movie complex and saw a bunch of films no spectator in his or her right mind should have paid $12 for. Thoroughbreds was a good example, as was Annihilation. I’d add to that the blockbuster from Marvel, Avengers Infinity War, a true scrambled egg of a film where (spoiler alert) everyone turns to ash at the end.

Yesterday, I wanted mind-numbing entertainment. I walked to the theater complex debating between the latest Mission Impossible and Mama Mia. Both got good reviews on the meaningless and inconsequential film index (about an eight), but the problem was, neither film was available to Moviepass holders, unless an additional fee of six dollars was paid for MI and eight bucks for Mamma Mia. Ok, so six or eight bucks isn’t a big deal, but the bait-and-switch made me angry enough to go home, where I tried to make sense of the gobbledygook that MP’s pr people were putting out. I discovered that Moviepass had deliberately blacked out Mission Impossible so its members could not use their pass to see it. They also removed the better movies from the roster in popular cinemas, and essentially gave members the finger, telling us it was for our own good. Then, in spite of reassurances that everything was just peachy, the company went broke. As of yesterday morning, MP reportedly had to borrow a few millions from a venture company simply to keep the business afloat.

I understand that businesses occasionally get overzealous and have to take a step back, but when that is the case they should have the decency to own up to their mistakes. Moviepass does not. It obfuscates. I hate that.

I have a friend whose concept of social justice dates largely from the 60s. His bible is Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book

This is what my friend suggests.  Go to your local movie house, the one that features good and bad films.  Use Moviepass to get a ticket to the bad film. Use the ticket to get into the good film. Bait and switch, just like Moviepass did.

Now, you understand that I do not in any manner, shape or form, condone such an action. It is wrong, wrong, wrong. And that is all I have to say on the subject. Enjoy the movie.

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Breaking (he he) News

Oh My God! This just in!

At breakfast this morning, I ran into a former journalist friend who is still active politically. He told me something truly shocking.

I am, frankly, almost loath to share this item because it lowers the presidency to even greater depth, but I can’t resist. I never claimed to be Carl Bernstein. Here goes.

 It appears that Trump is earning a new status as possibly the most flatulent prez since the 350-pound William Taft. This explains why, in most photos, cabinet members appear to stand a far as possible from him while still remaining visible. It also goes a long way to clearing up the mystery of why Melania and Don do not share rooms, much a less a bed. Somehow, I am not surprised. I suspect this is not fake news and present it here because it is important to know all we can about the leader of our great nation.

My journalist friend added a caveat: “I hear that’s what people in the White House are saying.”

And now back to our normal coverage.

Sometime between sleep and wakefulness in the early morning hours, I thought I heard the rumblings of a mob forming in the streets. I smiled. Finally! Power to the people and all that. I woke up to the same-old same-old and realized the mob I’d imagined gathering was actually the drunks at closing time. They’re noisy, staggering, and fond of setting off car alarms.

Then I read about the new threat to the US—Montenegro. According to Trump, the Montenegrin are an aggressive lot, poised to launch World War III by invading Russia if provoked. This would be problematic as Montenegro is the newest member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As such, according to Trump, the United States and other members of NATO would be forced to take up arms and defend the tiny principality.

To be fair, this ridiculous mouse-that-roared scenario was not originally broached by Trump himself—I doubt Trump has the faintest notion of where Montenegro is. No, the notion was posited by Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host whose concept of European geography is possibly as challenged as that of POTUS. It was, I suppose, meant as a joke, but Trump’s joyful response, referring to the Montenegrin, was, “They’re very strong people; they’re very aggressive people. They may get aggressive. And congratulations, you’re in World War III.” That’s disturbing. It implies an abysmal lack of knowledge of NATO’s guiding principles, and a willingness to embrace the stupidest illustration to prove a point.

Montenegro is not to be confused with other mini-nations like its neighbor, Kosovo, or the equally tiny Lichtenstein. There are approximately 622,000 Montenegrin, and I doubt all that many harbor violent thoughts. Mostly, they entertain tourists, fish, and cultivate crops that are consumed locally. There’s a growing service industry, but the country is just now beginning to recover from the political instability of its neighbors.

The issue, of course, isn’t Montenegro, but the ongoing and aggressive ignorance of the US President, who appears willing to accept any absurdity as fact, and then further broadcast it. Hence, according to Trump, we deal with honest leaders in North Korea and Russia, foolish ones in England and Germany, and we must rely on his self-declared status as a very stable genius to make sure our country is protected from unfair trade, the military weakness of other nations, and, of course, the lying media.

Personally, that sulky pout of his, ready at any moment to break out into petulant rage; those cheeseburger-fed jowls; the little piggy eyes that show shrewdness but no intellectual intelligence whatsoever—all these displays of infantile behavior are enough to make me heave my breakfast bagel.

There is no relief in sight. This truly frightens me. Or perhaps the mobs are covertly forming in the countryside and will take to the streets soon.

One can only hope.

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If you’re a writer and a blogger, these are easy times. Subjects worthy of a few hundred words crowd the paper’s front pages and vie for space. In a way, this is a chronicler’s heaven. It’s so facile to write that is has become hard.

Reprise that old joke once applied to addicts and alcoholics: How do you know when Trump is lying? His lips move.

The rampant dishonesty of cabinet members is almost too easy. Who could have even foreseen something as ludicrous as Pruitt’s second-hand mattress? Who would have thought even a dumb-as-a-post politician could believe and legitimatize one of the world’s most repressive dictators? Oh, and do so while belittling far smarter and more competent allied leaders. The wildly entertaining porn reports have subsided, but they’re sure to resurface as soon as Trump denies them again. Crooked lawyers who represent POTUS and take advantage of such an honor? Par for the course in these sad times.

Really, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The truth has become a negotiable commodity and lost its allure. Diogenes is weeping. Me, I remain amazed that we have not taken to the streets with buckets of hot tar, fathers, torches and pitchforks, because, let’s face it, a leader who routinely defies the laws of the land does not deserve constitutional protection. It’s going to get worse as Trump increasingly alienates friends, sucks up to repressive regimes and generally acts like an asshole. The opposition—read Democrats—is so caught up in playing king of the mountain that it is missing the only opportunity to change things in the very near future.

I see and read about Trump and the only recent leader I can compare him to is the late Idi Ami of Uganda, who proclaimed himself world heavyweight boxing champion and King of Scotland. Uganda was once called the Pearl of Africa, and Amin almost singlehandedly drove the country back to poverty, not to mention ridicule. Idi is dead. Trump, apparently, is not, even though the orange look is beginning to display a  recently deceased and embalmed appearance.

In this era, the absurd is in charge. The pharmaceutical industry responsible for fentanyl, which has caused thousands upon thousands of death, is in court to make sure its drug is not used in legal executions. Might make Big Pharm look bad, ya know.

Less than twenty immigrant families have been reunited with the children kidnapped by ICE. That leaves approximately 2880 unaccounted kids living in detention camps.

There’s a strong chance that the once-again-conservative Supreme Court will roll back Roe-Wade. The probably-incoming replacement for retiring Justice Kennedy, believes the President is above the laws and should not be held accountable for transgressions.

The EPA is sanctioning the hunting of grizzlies and red wolves. Who here remembers the clubbing to death of baby harp seals?

Actually, it’s probably better to forget that dismal era. Trump is likely to sanction the clubbing of baby immigrants.




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Going, Going, Gone

I sent the galleys of my novel, L’Amérique, to the publisher today, with a cover letter apologizing for the myriad of corrections. It’s sort of embarrassing, thinking a manuscript is over and done with and, rereading it (and having friends read it as well), discovering errors, typos, and inconsistencies on almost every page. After more than a half-century of dealing with words, you’d think I have a certain expertise in this line of work, but no–the serial comma still escapes my attention; semi-colons remain mysterious. I use numerals when I should write out numbers, and vice-versa; and my love affair with both sentence fragments and run-on sentences remains alive and well in spite of many interventions.

I’m having a bit of post-partum depression. This is the book I’ve wanted to write for a few decades. It altered my life, not always in positive ways. I rewrote it, edited it, went apoplectic over other editors’ suggestions, realized the suggestions were largely right and applied them; I had second, third, and fourth thoughts, and finally hurled the manuscript to its final destination. Now, barely hours after washing my hands of it, I, well… I miss it. The space it occupied on my desk is strangely empty, and I wonder if the more than hundred-and-fifty pages taken out should perhaps have stayed in.

The publisher of L’Amérique also signed another book, Montparnasse, and it’s time to finalize that one too. Plus, there’s Dope, an unfinished sequel to an earlier novel, Thirst. Dope needs an ending. Another finished novel, Lurid Tales, is seeking a home and four other partially written books beckon. Some have legs, other don’t.

For the past few months, I’ve been working on The House on Belmont Road, a fictionalized memoir of the years spent in downtown Washington rehabbing an eight-bedroom townhouse with the help of well-meaning friends and strangers. House is the third book in the L’Amérique trilogy. I haven’t even begun Book Two.

All this to say, there’s no lack of things to write, but L’Amérique was special. If I were to be allowed authorship of only a single, must-write book, it would be this one.

And now it’s written.

How very, very odd.

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America the Hateful

For the past few months, the United States has been forcibly separating immigrant children from their immigrant parents and placing the kids—some 10,000 so far—in vacant Walmarts, church basements, and detention centers in fourteen states. There is one word and one word only for these actions. They are obscene.
The fact that lawmakers have endorsed such a policy is obscene as well. That Americans who love their own children have not risen up en masse is, yes, obscene and beyond comprehension.
Laws permitting such foul and despicable behavior are generally extent in nations we call totalitarian—North Korea, for example. What would happen here were we to hear of other countries allowing such a practice? Would we protest as we did a generation ago? Would we flood the staggering cowards whom we call our elected representatives with mail? Would we rescue the children?
Daily we add our names to endless petitions to save grizzlies and wolves, block pipelines and deforestation, end fraking and mountain-topping, and make elected officials responsible for their actions. There have been a few online pleas for a return to humanity and moral behavior when it comes to immigrant kids, but these are lost among the rising tide of online outrage over the latest Trump horror.
We are losing America. Our moral compass—the values we held onto to help us decide wrong from right—is spinning out of control. Our leaders are thieves and unscrupulous morons desperate to hold on to their jobs. They care only for re-election and personal enrichment. They follow the Trumpian example of lying repeatedly until a lie appears to become a truth. They—both Democrats and Republicans—wage wars of attrition within their own ranks while the lives of millions—and not just those of legal and undocumented immigrants—unravel. They watch this happen and pat each other on the back for a job well done. Then they go on recess. Attorney General Sessions, meanwhile, believe he’s doing God’s work and that immigrants should not come here if they don’t want to lose their children. This is such a repugnant concept that it’s not worth contesting. In fact, it makes me believe that God (right here, right now) is indeed an abstraction while the devil (right here, right now) is real and wearing an expensive three-piece suit.
I do wonder how the good people patrolling the border and doing the hands-on job of tearing children from parents feel. I’d resign, wouldn’t you?
We have no one but ourselves to blame for the rapid changes hurtling the nation backwards. We were too lazy to vote, we’re too lazy to act, and too lazy to take to the streets.
But make no mistake: We are losing America. The nation that was once the envy of the rest of the world, America the Beautiful, is becoming America the Hateful.
Happy Father’s Day.

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Of Hockey and Tariffs

The Caps won. Hurrah! Washington has some reasons for joy, because God knows, since Donald, we’ve had little to smile about.

The Post headlines announcing the Cap’s victory were bigger than those heralding the Trump election. Marx was wrong, it ain’t religion that’s the opiate, it’s sports.

I’m not particularly interested in hockey; my taste runs more to European football, soccer to you on this side of the pond, and this year, the US isn’t even in the World Cup.

My first question, seeing this morning’s newspaper, was whether the Caps would travel to the White House to swear fealty. I hope not, but I wonder if the team’s reigning Russian players will be getting orders from Moscow to attend or, perhaps, not attend. Does that sound preposterous? It’s not. Alex Ovechkin, Evegeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov all have friends and family in Russia and Putin, like Trump, is not above threatening players to have his ends met. Remember Trump’s tweet that the football ‘sons of bitches’ should leave the US?

I find it interesting that the Post coverage of the Cap victory has secured more column inches than some other events I believe may be far more important.

Take, for example, the tariff squabble. The White House has already announced that the President will not stay and attend the full meetings in Canada. My read is that his handlers know Trump can take only so much criticism, which he’s sure to get, from heads of state far more intelligent and less impulsive than he is. They don’t want him to blow a fuse in front of the entire world. He plans to leave a day early, taking his ball and going home, so to speak.

The tariffs he has imposed will cost the average American household $2200 annually, according to CNN, and essentially wipe out any gains made by the recent tax cuts. According to Fortune magazine, the tariffs will lead to job losses in the States, increase the price of an average home, and raise retail prices by about ten percent. Many small businesses operating on a slim profit margin will have to close, unable to afford the raw materials they need to operate. This will land more American workers into the crowd of unemployed.

It’s still unclear who will benefit most. The rich? Probably. Large American companies, many of which are already getting sizeable tax breaks? Assuredly. The average consumer? Nope.

I’m not even sure it will benefit the hockey players.




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Anger & Sadness

This morning on my way to coffee at the breakfast place, a bone-thin man blocked my path. He was café-au-lait colored and bulky from too many sweaters worn on a not cool day. He was pulling a small shopping cart usually associated with older ladies. Inside the cart was a black plastic trash bag trussed with bungee cords like a Mafia victim. He was muttering to himself. I sidestepped and smiled. He stood his ground and glared. I passed him and he bared amazingly white teeth and muttered, Motherfucker. I wasn’t ready for that and I stopped, turned around, and reconsidered. He slammed into a Dunkin Donut and parked his cart against a wall. I walked on.
Anger is endemic. I suspect I’m as angry in a lot of ways as the café-au-lait man, but my filter may work a little better than his, and he and I probably don’t have the same issues.
I believe anger turned inward is depression, and I do not know which of the two is the less tolerable. I know some angry people, young ones who having barely reached their late twenties already feel life has cheated them. They are angry becuntitledause they’re not married yet, or are, unhappily so; they do not have the job they think they deserve, or feel they have no friends, or that the friends they do have all have private agendas.
Personally, I am angry at the cancer shortening my life. I am angry because too many friends have gone, some physically, others emotionally, others still into a dark and private world where I am barred from entry. I am angry because I cannot find a job even though I have sent out hundreds of résumés to companies who needed my skills (my favorite was a small NGO looking for someone published, who could write in both French and English, and was willing to travel to West Africa. Yes, yes, and yes. Been there, done that. I am qualified, thank you. They never returned my call.)
I am angry at people, places and things. I get despondent when people promise they will do something, and then don’t. I get angry when they claim never to have really promised. I get angry when people say “always” but privately imbue that word with a temporary meaning, rather than a permanent one. I get sad when I see the talented and hardworking misuse gifts bestowed upon them, and sometimes that sadness begets anger.
I read the paper every day, and on a daily basis, as I’m doing so, I can’t avoid uttering, “Asshole.” Angrily.
Most of the time, this unappetizing word is aimed at our lying, inept, deceitful, self-aggrandizing, and whining President. Occasionally, the exclamation follows the grumblings of another ill-advised and unqualified miscreant temporarily in power—a Cabinet head, say, (Education, HUD and Interior immediately come to mind), or a smug attorney representing a famous reprobate worthy of our contempt. I say it aloud, “Asshole!” with, at times, multiple exclamation points. On two occasions a person occupying the table next to mine has looked up and asked, “Excuse me?”
Liars anger me. I think lying is one of the more destructive shortcomings inherent to humans. Lying builds expectations, gives birth to resentments, destroys lives, ruins respect, and kills love.
We live in an era where lying is the norm, and the excesses of the people in power appear to have become worthwhile examples for people not in power.
I am, incidentally, as guilty as the next person. In my time, I’ve lied, built expectations in others and not cared about the impact of my lies. I’ve tried to change in the past years. Over the last few months, the anger is often replaced by sadness, and I don’t know if that’s good or not. Anger sometimes motivates, sadness rarely does.
We are living in ill-mannered times, and we are moving backwards. This wonderful land is becoming the butt of jokes, and the cowards at the top appear to believe this is okay, as long as they stay in power and enrich themselves. Liars all, great and small.
That makes me both sad and angry.

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