Wednesday, April 18, 2018


“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.” ― Mark Twain, beloved American author and humorist

IN YEARS PAST, like 25 of them or so, I used to try to see every movie nominated for an Oscar for best picture and most of the films that contained an Oscar-nominated performance for either best actor or actress — a sizable number of movies to a catch in a year.

Eventually I added a filter; if a movie were too violent or too heartbreaking, I gave myself permission to skip it, figuring I was already unavoidably subjected to enough of that just by living in the world.

I've since scaled back even further to avoid "based on a true story" movies. Two of them pushed me over the edge: Monuments Men, a highly fictionalized film about the preservation of art treasures during World War II, and Captain Phillips, the possibly-not-terribly-true tale of the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. Sailors who served under Richard Phillips during the hijacking sued Maersk Line and the Waterman Steamship Corp. for $50 million, saying that his arrogance, incompetence and willful disregard of his crew’s safety contributed to the attack, and that the real hero was actually chief engineer Mike Perry.

What I object to about based-on movies is that they're produced to sell tickets, not to necessarily, or even usually, be factual or accurate. Only the tiniest fraction of the public will research the truth of what they're watching, so distorted versions of important, real events become 'truth' by virtue of millions of people having consumed a commercialized version.

So give me pure fiction or make mine a documentary, barkeep. (I confess to having gone to see The Post somewhat recently during an apparent arrack of absentmindness.)

I said all that to say this: watch Icarus, winner of the Academy Award for best feature-length documentary in 2017. Writer and director, Bryan Fogel, a competitive bicyclist for many years, started out to investigate illegal doping in professional cycling competitions such as the Tour de France, but unintentionally ended up cracking open an entire web of world-wide sports doping. It's surprisingly suspenseful. Available on Netflix. I promise you'll find it worth your time.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It was a lot like riding a Ferris wheel

“I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. Transforming fear into freedom — how great is that?” — Soledad O'Brien, American broadcast journalist and producer

THIS IS the longest break I've taken from HLSS since I started writing it. Nothing untoward befell us, thank goodness. 

I was hired by an inflight magazine to write an article about jazz in Chicago, a circumstance that I will describe as yet another item in the dresser drawer of my life labeled "Now What Have I Gotten Myself Into?" 

The process was reminiscent of anytime I've ridden a Ferris wheel. (Paul will vouch for my veracity on this.) It seems like a good idea from a distance — an exhilarating adventure. It'll be fun! As we approach the ticket booth, the closer we get, the more dubious and tenuous I become. 

We purchase our tickets, and terror begins setting in. Standing in line waiting for 'our turn' — AKA, certain death — I'm by now in full-blown panic mode. Paul says, "It's okay, we don't have to go," which triggers an intense, existential struggle: Which is worse — death by Ferris wheel or life as a coward? 

After so much . . . so very, very much . . .  cringing and quaking, going forward, then turning back, going forward again, accompanied by a full sound track of "I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm scared," we finally board, and with wide, fright-filled eyes, I grip the safety bar in an iron clasp while shouting at Paul over and over again, "NO ROCKING. NO ROCKING." I scream all the way through the ride. And then it's over. 

That's kinda like what writing this article was like.

But I survived, thanks to generous jazzy pals: Paul (of course) John Benoit, singers Rose Colella and Elaine Dame in particular, and the club owners and musicians who were patient with the forty-eleven times I called to ask questions — and with encouragement from my friend Dee Congdon, who helped me shake off frustration by pointing out that writing concisely is always much harder than blathering. It's scheduled to run in June. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The 2018 Polk County Democrat Convention

"The really important thing to remember about Iowa is not that it's first because it's important. Iowa is important because it's first." — Kathy O'Bradovich, political columnist for the Des Moines Register

SATURDAY, March 24, was the Polk County Democrat Convention.
Polk is the most populous county in Iowamore than double that of the next-most. It's also home to Des Moines which is both the largest city and the capital of this state that has the honor and responsibility of hosting the first political contest of the US presidential nominating process. 

Altogether that means Polk County wields a great deal of influence over the fate of issues, candidates and elections, although certainly not more than the rest of the state combined. If that were the case, Donald Trump would not have won Iowa in the last election which, sadly, he did.

Those of you who aren't from here have probably at least heard of Iowa's first-in-the-nation status, but in case you're unfamiliar and especially for those of you who live outside the US, here's a little background from National Public Radio — timely because only yesterday a friend from New York City asked me why Iowa is first-in-the-nation. From NPR, slightly paraphrased:

"After the 1968 Democratic National Convention which had been marred by violence over the Vietnam War and racial tension, the Democratic Party decided it wanted to change the process to make it more inclusive. Part of that meant spreading out the presidential nominating schedule. 

Because Iowa has one of the more complex processes — precinct caucuses, county conventions, district conventions, followed by a state convention — it had to start really early, and as a result, since 1972 Iowa has held the first presidential nominating contest in the country. 

Over the years the Iowa caucuses have grown in size, scope and importance, sometimes launching underdogs to the presidency or upsetting established political juggernauts. When a peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter rode an Iowa caucus win all the way to the White House, Iowa suddenly became a thing."

We seated 650 delegates at the Polk County Democrat Convention. Photo: Iowa Starting Line 

It's for sure a complicated process that begins with neighborhood precinct caucuses. Paul and I led ours on a blizzard-y night, February 5 (click here to read about it) and were elected to serve as representatives to the Polk County Democrat Central Committee. We were also elected as delegates to the county convention, and I was 'elected' to serve on the committee on committees (yup, that's the name). It's not that we're so darn popular; it's more a case of the positions potentially being a lot of work depending on how seriously those chosen take their responsibilities, so there aren't necessarily a lot of takers.

Surely you're wondering what a committee on committees is; anyone with sense would. It's the umbrella for three committees: arrangements, rules and credentials that, in addition to the platform committee which is a separately-elected entity (I told you that it's complicated) — put on the county convention.

I originally signed up to be on the arrangements committee, but Lee Thielman has been putting on conventions for more years than I can count and has it down to a science. Since I'm not of a size and stature to be of much use slinging tables and chairs, constructing a stage or operating a personnel lift, I switched to the credentials committee

Credentials oversees registering, verifying and seating delegates and alternates. It's detailed work that must be done accurately according to predetermined rules, and entails, as you might suppose, lots and lots of advanced preparation: getting lists of delegates and alternates from all 174 (wow!) precinct caucuses, verifying each delegate and alternate's legitimate status as a registered Democrat living in the precinct in which they caucused, preparing delegate packets and lining up dozens and dozens of volunteers to get everyone checked in and registered the night before and the day of the convention.

The woman in charge, Lu Ann Pedrick, did a masterful job planning, arranging meetings, assigning tasks and managing the entire process over the course of almost two full months of preparation. 

Since I joined the committee a bit late, 
I missed a couple of planning meetings and at least one putting together a mass mailing. But I was still part of it long enough to put in a Saturday morning calling delegates who had discrepancies in their caucus paperwork and an evening helping stuff convention packets — all in preparation for the marathon event: preregistering and registering delegates.

The night before the convention I spent three hours preregistering delegates. Paul picked me up about 8:30 PM, but we still had to get groceries on the way home, make dinner and wrestle with enough other household tasks to keep us up until midnight. 

The alarm was set for zero-dark-thirty (4:30 AM) for the next day, convention morning, so we could be in place by 6:00 AM to prep for delegate and alternate registration beginning at 7:00 AM. With a total of four hours of sleep, we were both definitely running on empty. 

Why subject myself to such stress and sleep deprivation? Because we desperately need to turn this country I live in around; our lives and our health (and my sanity) depend on it. And I just didn't want to be one of those people who show up to meetings, complain about the state of the state and the nation, but never do any actual work.

At the convention, just like at the local caucuses, the body can elect to break into preference groups. Of the the seven or eight individuals originally running for governor, there were still at least five in the race. We also have a hotly contested congressional race in Iowa's Third Congressional District, the district Polk County is in, however the body chose to break into preference groups based on the gubernatorial candidates rather than congressional candidates. 

In order for a preference group to continue to the next level, the district convention, it has to be 'viable'; it must be the choice of at least 15% of the total number of delegates. Paul and I both opted for "uncommitted" — not aligned with any particular candidate, and as it turned out, we had exactly the number needed in order to be viable. It was a potent reminder that even one person's vote can make a difference; if Paul hadn't been there or I hadn't or any of the others in our group, we wouldn't have been a viable preference group.

It was an all-day event. Along the way we heard speeches from at least 26 candidates, debated and ratified the Polk County Democratic platform and statement of principles and chose delegates to continue to the District Convention.

Last year the convention was an over-long, chaotic, almost riotous imbroglio. This year is was civil, professional and efficient.

In addition to Lu Ann and Lee who fulfilled their responsibilities expertly, Bill Brauch, was as usual the perfect platform committee chair (the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon), Carl Olsen had matters well in hand as the convention Secretary, and Jim Peterson, chairman of the rules committee, made sure that all the rules were fair and followed.

The difference between last year and this year: Sean Bagniewski, the new chair of Polk County Democrats — and for the last five months, the new Executive Director, Nathan Erickson. Sean has taken the organization from being a bedraggled, contentious gang, $12,000 in debt, with declining visibility and waning significance, to an active, vital, solvent, transparent-in-process, professionally-run force to be reckoned with. 

In the last year, with Sean's leadership Polk County Democrats hosted separate events featuring Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Representative Tim Ryan from Ohio, Representative Grace Meng from New York, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Representative Eric Swalwell from California. April 6 Montana Governor Steve Bullock will be a featured guest, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will be here April 14 and Minority Leader of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi headlines in May. 

We're starting to look and act like we deserve to say we represent Democrats in the largest county with the largest city in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

Friday, March 30, 2018

David Hogg vs. the right-wing machine

"No. She only cares about her pocketbook, and that's just sad." — David Hogg, 17-year-old survivor of the Parkland mass shooting

HAVE YOU been following the David — in this case, literally a David  and Goliath story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg vs. Fox News talk show host Laura Ingraham?

David is a survivor of the mass murder that took place at his school in ParklandFL on February 14, 2018. He became a leader in the student-organized, grass-roots #NeverAgain campaign for gun-control laws that's now spread around the country. 

The 17-year-old senior had applied to half a dozen universities before the shooting and was accepted by three and rejected three. Laura mocked David's rejection by his preferred school with the below tweet.

David responded with a tweet of his own containing a list of companies advertising on Laura Ingraham's show, asking his 600,000 followers to contact the advertisers and complain.

And they did. And advertisers started dropping her show. 

(In full disclosure, I called Wayfair after they had cancelled their Ingraham advertising to thank them. Tina was so nice, I may buy a couch.) 

According to ABC News, of the businesses listed by David, Wayfair, Nestle, TripAdvisor, Hulu and Rachel Ray's dog food Nutrish have said they are canceling their advertising with Ingraham, and though not specifically mentioned in his initial tweet, so are Office Depot, Jenny Craig, Expedia, StitchFix, Johnson & Johnson and Atlantis and Paradise Island.

Laura then found it expedient to apologize to David on Twitter:

Interviewed, David was asked if he accepted her apology. He said, "No. She only cares about her pocketbook, and that's just sad."

(FYI: Previously Ingraham attacked NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant after they criticized Donald Trump by telling them to "shut up and dribble.")

Now there's a backlash. Some of her fans have started an #IStandWithLaura call to boycott the advertisers who dumped her show, and high-blown editorials have begun to appear about the danger David's successful advertising boycott will have on free speech.

I gotta say that I don't get that last bit at all. 

We all have the right to decide where we spend our money. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision has allowed millions and millions of dollars to pour into campaigns from large corporate donors, but a 17-year-old student is a threat to free speech and government? 

The latest news as of about an hour ago is that Laura is taking a vacation. I hope it's a long one. I could use a rest.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Fire Morgan Stanley

“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.” ― Veronica Roth, American best-selling author

YOU CAN help hold a serial predator to account. If you read the below brief Vanity Fair report based on a New York Times exposé about a New York Morgan Stanley "wealth manager" who has been not only repeatedly protected by his company, but rewarded — I believe you'll be as smoked as I am. 

Since money is what Morgan Stanley is all about, that's how to get the company's attention. 

If you own Morgan Stanley stock, consider letting your broker and the corporation know that unless Douglas Greenberg is terminated, divesting yourself of this stock (NYSE: MS) is a step you're willing to undertake. 

If you have a Morgan Stanley financial advisor, 'advise' her or him that there are others around who will welcome your business.

If you don't fall into either category, write or call Morgan Stanley to inform them of your disinclination to buy MS stock or employ MS advisors. 

We can't view other women's victimization as unrelated to us . . . because it does effect us . . . and our sisters and daughters and friends. Staying silent gives permission for violence, harassment and abuse to continue, not just in New York, but everywhere.

Morgan Stanley corporate headquarters phone number:  212-761-4000.

Another thing you can do is let others know by sharing this post.

The wealth manager allegedly sent one ex-girlfriend messages using cut-up letters from magazines, and threatened to burn down another’s house.

By Bess Levin
March 28, 2018

In the era of #MeToo, industries from Hollywood to the media to politics to the opera have cut ties with powerful men accused of doing horrifying things. In some rare instances, employers have evaluated the circumstances and decided not to fire the individual, citing gray areas or arguing that a reassignment is a more appropriate response than an all-out dismissal. 

Other situations, though, are seemingly black and white, wherein the only reasonable response is to banish the person from company property forever and call the cops if he comes within 200 feet of the building. Take, for instance, the case of Douglas Greenberg, a Morgan Stanley financial adviser. According to The New York Times, Greenberg:

Click here to read the entire Vanity Fair article.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Ten (fatal) lies

“This movement, created by students, led by students, is based on emotion. It is based on passion and it is based on pain. The only reason that we’ve gotten so far is that we are not afraid of losing money, we’re not afraid of getting reelected or not getting reelected, we have nothing to lose. The only thing we have to gain at this point is our safety.” — Delaney Tarr, senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida

THERE HAVE been approximately 1650 mass shootings in the United States since January 1, 2013. The abysmal failure of the executive branch, Congress, the federal government and state governments to enact even minimal restrictions on gun purchase and ownership to attempt to at least mitigate this unrelenting slaughter is unconscionable.

I share with you now an article from Forbes that chronicles the ten lies with which the NRA and their lackey politicians pollute the public debate. And thanks, Bob Urbach, for hipping me to it. 

It's written by Chris Ladd, and before you assume that it springs from frenetic liberalism, take a look at his bio.

"For almost thirty years I was active in Republican politics. Most recently I spent ten years as a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago. I am a Texan in exile. While a college intern at the Texas Legislature I met a young Rick Perry, fresh off his switch from the Democratic Party. As a donor and volunteer for a Republican PAC in Houston I volunteered for Republican state and local campaigns. From 2009-2016 I wrote the GOPLifer blog. My book, The Politics of Crazy, is a distillation of ideas from the blog. After the 2016 Republican National Convention, I resigned my position as a precinct committeeman and left the Republican Party. I now maintain a new blog called"

Ten Lies Distort The Gun Control Debate

By Chris Ladd
October 6, 2017

In a ritual as central to American life as football on Thanksgiving, each new mass shooting spawns a wave of unfocused political energy that quickly dissipates into “thoughts and prayers.” No matter how many people die, no matter the cruelty of the methods or the youth and innocence of the victims, we cannot translate our outrage into sensible gun control measures.

Key to this failure has been a dense fog of misinformation, shrouding debate and thwarting any potential response. Cutting through the gun lobby’s campaign of confusion will be key to building public consensus around reform. Unless we pierce this fog and develop a focused political agenda, Las Vegas will recede from consciousness, one more mass slaughter on our way to the next one.

Here’s a review of the top ten lies obscuring the gun debate.

Lie #1: There is no connection between mass gun ownership and gun deaths.

It seems obvious that a country flooded with guns will have higher rates of gun deaths than countries with few of these weapons. Why are land mines and hand-grenades forbidden in the so-called “Land of the Free,” despite their obvious value in home defense? Because everyone understands that placing these killing machines in circulation would get a lot of people killed. So why don’t we recognize the same problem with guns?

Obvious answers are never enough for us, so America has been running a deadly experiment on this question for decades. The results are exactly as you would expect. Mass gun ownership leads to higher rates of gun death. Careful regulation can limit that death toll, but not eliminate it.

We are not the only wealthy, stable country with broad gun ownership, though it’s a small club. Switzerland provides a useful comparison, since it is the only place that comes close to our levels of gun ownership, with about half of our per capita firearm ownership. Their experience demonstrates the obvious realities.

Though gun ownership among the Swiss is relatively common, regulations are tight by American standards. All guns are tracked. Many of the guns in private hands are issued by the government. Sale and possession of ammunition is tightly controlled. With a few exceptions for less-lethal weapons, every private gun sale is recorded.

Thanks to careful regulation and lower rates of gun ownership, the Swiss suffer lower rates of gun related deaths and injuries than the US. Despite these constraints, Switzerland experiences much higher rates of gun death than their less-armed neighbors. In other words, regulation can help, but the connection between gun ownership and gun deaths is unavoidably linear.

Click here to read the entire Forbes article and the other nine lies.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

One of the reasons

"Equality is not a concept. It's a necessity. Equality is like gravity, we need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who's confronted with it. We need equality. Kinda now.” — Joss Whedon, American screenwriter, director, producer, comic book writer and composer.

IF, like me, you're a happily-partnered person, there probably were moments as you began falling in love that to this day stand out clearly in your memory as 'aha' moments: instances where in addition to having your heart, attention and senses already engaged, the thinking part of you recognized a key ingredient, and you thought, "Wait a minute, this might be the one I want."

Here's an example from our life.

It was the first time l spent the night at Paul's apartment. He had spent nights at my house, but this was my first stay with him. His apartment was on the second floor above a tiny store on a four-way-stop street corner in Sherman Hills. It was the middle of the night — 1:00 or 2:00 AM. We were half asleep, when a car screeched to a halt at the corner, and whoever was driving it revved, revved, revved the engine, then squealed out from the stop. 

At the first rev, Paul bolted out of bed — bear in mind that we were in what for us is normal sleeping attire: nothing or next to it — ran over to the window, flung it open, leaned out and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Let's see it. Whip it out. It must be really big if you have to drive like a dick." 

Remembering that still makes me laugh; in fact I can hardly write for laughing!

What was and remains so funny is that it was an absolutely involuntary, knee-jerk reaction on his part! It was not a course he considered, then undertook. It couldn't have been; it happened too fast. From a semiconscious state, that's what his unconscious, instantaneous reaction was, and I found it completely hilarious.

Someone else might have found it alarming. Exactly what I found appealing could well have raised red flags. Does this guy have a temper? Is he reckless? Is he mentally unstable?

Instead, here's what I relished about it and still do. Part of the equation is that clearly he had no guile whatsoever. (Actually, that was the thing I found irresistible about him on our first date, but that's another story for another day.) Let's face it, if you're trying to impress a woman you have romantic designs upon, perhaps bolting to the window in the middle of the night and loudly shouting out of it at an errant driver isn't high on the list of things women feel gooshy about. 
I, however, loved that his whole being was exposed, nothing held back. There was no packaged Paul, no artifice or calculation.

On a deeper, core-values level though, his reaction told me something even more important about him, and that was by nature Paul despised testosterone-fueled, mouth-breathing, thoughtless, macho dominance displays and aggression, and he couldn't help but literally rise in protest.

I saw and felt in him what he has since ever proven to be: the best that masculinity has to offer — disdainful of bullying, strong-minded, deep-feeling, loyal, 
loving, capable of spontaneous action and funny as hell.