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Posted by on Mar 14, 2018 in Blog, Essays | 1 comment

Stephen Hawking (1942 — 2018)



Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.

— Stephen Hawking


Death gives us an opportunity to reflect and put things in perspective.

While he was alive for 76 earth years, astrophysicist-cosmologist-mathematician-author-teacher-husband-father Stephen Hawking gave everyone a much broader perspective.  More important, his thoughts and theories will usher in a greater understanding of the universe long after his death and we are long gone.

I’ve never been good at science.  Or, math.  Those subjects were always difficult for me in school.  That’s why I admire those gifted individuals who excel in the sciences and in math.  People who work in those fields sometimes come up with amazing ideas that I could never imagine, let alone understand.  Science and math may claim its findings are based solely on fact.  However, the greatest discoveries begin with a combination of curiosity and rebelliousness.

I wish there was sufficient time and opportunity to devote to a better understanding of science.  Like most ordinary people, I don’t have what it takes to be someone like Hawking — or Einstein or Newton.  Thankfully, Hawking understood this lapse better than most and did his part to bridge the abyss.  That’s one reason he wrote his landmark “A Brief History of Time,” which was the first widely-popular book on science I ever read.  Hawking expressed his complex ideas about the universe, astronomy, and physics in non-technical, easy-to-understand language.  Well, easier to understand, for some.  Translated into more than 40 languages, his vast concepts and emerging rock star status inspired a whole new generation of young people all over the world to begin asking their own questions about the origins of the universe and the nature of our modern world.

Hawking didn’t just teach us about science.  He taught us things about humanity and being human, too.  It’s easy to forget Hawking was a man.  He was a man with flaws and failings and frailties — much like everyone else.  He had kids.  He had affairs.  He went through divorces.  He could be tempestuous.  He was an imperfect man, which was no big surprise because all men — indeed all people — are imperfect.

There was such a defiant incongruity to Hawking, with the mind of a giant encased in the feeble frame of a fragile body scarcely able to carry the burden of his weight, nor the greater calling of innate responsibility that goes with such a rare gift of insight.  It was as though the secret key to understanding the mysteries of the universe were sewn inside his jacket pocket and no one could reach it.

The contradiction between mind and body was a cruel irony.  Contemplating fully the human struggle of making it through a day, interminably uncomfortable, often distracted by aches and pains, unable to communicate without the assistance of electronics, the constant reliance on others for sustenance, is almost too much to contemplate.  Complete paralysis from ALS since the mid-1960’s during most of his adult life made his tireless work ethic and ultimate discoveries all the more astounding.

Even his personal tastes were paradoxical.  He loved and often listened to the classics of Richard Wagner while he worked, presumably absorbed in the imaginative role of a operatic superhero vanquishing the forces of calamity.  In both fantasy and reality, he sought to create order out of chaos.

Indeed, death does allow for reflection gives greater perspective.  While the world continues to spin and species will evolve, we should freeze a brief moment in time in our lives to honor Hawking and think about how amazing he truly was.  When we look for heroes, we shouldn’t be thinking about sports stars and celebrities.  Instead, we should be revere the late Stephen Hawking who told us adapting to change was the highest virtue.

His story and struggle showed, Hawking didn’t just say those words.  He lived them.


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Posted by on Jan 11, 2018 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays, General Poker, Movie Reviews | 3 comments

Movie Review: Molly’s Game



After seeing Molly’s Game, which is writer-producer Aaron Sorkin’s much-anticipated directorial debut, I’m thoroughly convinced he could script his next film based on the Yellow Pages and somehow make it riveting.

A partially-true tale constructed on the weak foundation an almost painstakingly unreadable narrative published in 2015 of the same title, Sorkin manages to do what I’d have deemed next to impossible — making sweet lemonade out of sour lemons.  He transforms a brassy Heidi Fleiss-like protagonist into a highly-sophisticated and even sympathetic role model/movie hero.  She coaxes our minds and wins over our hearts.  Sorkin’s engaging screenplay, rapid-fire staccato dialogue, and convincing performances throughout ends up coercing us to cheer her rise and console her inevitable downfall.

Most unexpected, this is a stunning achievement.

Molly’s Game, the book written by so-called “Poker Princess” Molly Bloom really wasn’t much of a read.  It was a gossipy, TMZ-tinged blog littered with dirt and scandal plastered between two peak-a-boo covers hustled quickly to press in order to hemorrhage every last dollar out a clump of rumors with the shelf life of last week’s tabloid trash.  Sure, scandalous tell-all resuscitation has become popular fodder for every genre of American life — from the Mafia to the White House.  Dirty revelations of what happens at by-invitation only, high-stakes poker games frequented by popular entertainers and sports figures is entirely consistent with this lengthy confessional catalog of cattiness we’ve come to digest, and frankly — often enjoy.  I suppose there will always be an salacious audience anxious to peak through shuttered windows and cross rope lines, eager to read and learn what celebrities are really like behind the scenes in real life.  Hostess-banker-confidant Bloom’s narrative tell-all shattered the firewall protecting several celebs who participated in her weekly poker games — including Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Alex Rodriguez, and other luminaries who frequented the world’s most exclusive man-cave, first in Los Angeles and then later in New York.

Yet for all the lurid details, given the shallow subject matter seemingly better suited for the inside pages of the National Enquirer, Sorkin shocked just about everyone in Hollywood when he announced his intent to direct his first film based on such petty triviality.  Given Sorkin’s haughty pedigree, Bloom’s book made for a baffling starting point.  After all, he’s penned some of the most memorable monologues in recent memory, including television excerpts which have attracted millions of hits on YouTube.  Evidence: “America is not the Greatest” (from HBO’s The Newsroom) and “Based on the Bible” (from NBC’s The West Wing).  Sorkin has also authored a few movie gems you might have seen — including screenplays for A Few Good Men, The American PresidentCharlie Wilson’s WarMoneyball, and Steve Jobs.  He also won an Oscar for writing The Social Network.

With this expansive resume of ultra-seriousness, Sorkin, a champion of progressive causes and unapologetic proponent of overt liberal activism, could have picked any topic and likely transformed the subject matter into must-see social commentary.  Hence, Sorkin’s decision to turn a blabbering tattle-tale of rich and famous people acting like scumbags into a movie seemed like a misguided decision and squandered opportunity for something far greater given the times we live in.

Well — call me converted and label me now a believer after seeing a marvelously-crafted movie with a brilliant script bolstered by standout performances from Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba.  The two lead characters and steady elevation of intensity absorbs the audience and never lets us stray.  Consistent with the previous character-driven biographies within Sorkin’s creative wheelhouse, Molly’s Game employs no special effects nor cue music instructing us on how to feel.  The story and characters reveal themselves.  It’s up to us to draw our own conclusions as to how we react and what to believe.  Judgement becomes subjective.

With yet another convincing film role, Chastain once again elevates her well-deserved reputation as one of the most credible actors working in Hollywood today.  She’s “credible” in the sense that every film she appears in — is solid.  Chastain never disappoints.  There are no superhero sellouts, nor blockbuster bombs in exchange for a big, fat paycheck on her movie resume.  Credit Chastain for displaying personal and professional integrity that’s uncharacteristic for most movie stars.  Molly’s Game is a worthy addition to an already fruitful IMDB listing of impressive work from the ginger-haired actress, including Zero Dark Thirty, The Martian, and A Most Violent Year.

Matching Chastain in every single scene is British actor Idris Elba, who plays her attorney.  He’s initially reluctant to represent Bloom in the criminal lawsuit, especially since she can’t pay his hefty legal fees.  But Elba becomes increasingly sympathetic to her plight and ends up convinced Bloom is being railroaded by the Department of Justice with trumped-up charges intended to make her roll over on Russian mobsters who have infiltrated Bloom’s weekly poker games (whether she knew about their real backgrounds is fodder for speculation).  Elba is simply outstanding.  In any other year, he’s probably be a lock for a “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar, but will likely face stiff competition given some other excellent work in film this year — most notably by Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World).  The back and forth scenes and battle of wits between Chastain and Elba steal this movie.

“Molly’s Game,” is supposedly a poker movie, but really it’s not.  Poker serves as the stage, but the surrounding arena could just as easily be any setting where an unsuspecting victim gets in way over his (make that her) head, an infectious trap from which there is no escape.  The “game” played here isn’t about cards, at all.  It’s about the people who play them and those who hold the power and always ending up raking in the most chips.  Money might be just a way of keeping score, but in Molly’s Game the ultimate victory comes in achieving unconditional surrender, and even humiliation.  

One segment of poker sequences is extraordinary, one of the best portrayals of what this game can do to normal people than anything I’ve previously seen in film.  It shows a wealthy businessman, a player typically adverse to taking large financial risks, a rock-solid poker player going on full-blown tilt after taking a brutal bad beat in a high-stakes game.  Films with poker scenes rarely capture the emotional intensity of the experience of losing.  When this man crumbles right before our eyes, we see a sight all poker players have witnessed countless times before.  The longer we play poker, the more meltdowns we’ve watched, and profited from.  And, if you’ve played poker for a really, really long time, you’ve probably been that decomposing player who emotionally disintegrates into a defeated soul.  Guilty.

Some poker notables have publicly criticized a few scenes (Mike Sexton foremost in the crowd — to his credit, Sexton actually participated in some of the Hollywood poker games portrayed in the film).  Indeed, certain scenes do grossly violate the standard rules of the game.  There’s even been some discussion on social media about why the detail-obsessed Sorkin would get so many things accurate about the real story, but then totally blow it on the poker scenes (mostly, the betting actions are incorrect).  The most convincing rebuttal to this legitimate criticism can be read in poker journalist-writer Robbie Strazynski’s recent article at the website Card Player Lifestyle.  Strazynski’s excellent one-on-one interview with Josh Leichner, who served as the poker consultant for Molly’s Game goes into considerable detail about how various scenes were filmed and why creative decisions were made.  Read the exclusive first-hand account here (“Interview with Molly’s Game Poker Consultant Josh Leichner“), complete with some on-the set photos.

To be clear, Molly’s Game doesn’t merit listing among the pantheon of revealing poker films, nor even great movies about gambling, although it will inevitably be compared to its iconic forebears.  While every bit of compelling as Rounders (1998), but not nearly as then-groundbreaking The Cincinnati Kid (1965), there simply isn’t enough poker shown in the movie to group amidst its cinematic brethren.  Rather, this is a story about our quirky legal system, about those who get caught up in the web of hypocrisies, and the unlikely paths we’re forced to take which ultimately shape our lives and determine at our inner core who we really are.

Two minor quibbles with the movie are worth mentioning.  First, Erba’s character wasn’t real.  Bloom was not represented by legal counsel like the attorney portrayed in the film.  Sorkin thought that adding this character was absolutely essential, and he was right to take artistic licence.  Without Erba in the room to ask the necessary questions and restore some balance as a moral guidepost, this movie wouldn’t have been nearly as watchable (perhaps one of many reasons the book isn’t nearly as good).

Second, the conflict between Bloom and her father as portrayed in the movie didn’t really happen.  A total fabrication gets added to the mix by Sorkin, presumably to enhance her psychological profile and illicit some sympathy.  Kevin Costner in the role of Mr. Bloom does spice up the drama playing a stern father pushing his daughter to the very limits.  Some critics have taken issue with this emotional padding since it adds perhaps another 30 minutes or so to a movie that clocks in at an unusually long 2 hours and 25 minutes.  However, I thought the fictionalized addition enhanced Bloom’s persona.  I chose to overlook the criticism and think it’s unfounded.

After loathing the book but loving the movie, I remain conflicted as to whether I like or respect Molly Bloom.  But this movie doesn’t concern itself with winning over my affection.  While told entirely from Bloom’s point of view, and therefore subject to obvious bias, I did gradually find myself rooting for this tough-minded female trying to scratch out a role for herself operating within a wicked world of chauvinism, determined to make it on her own terms and preserve who she is.

Poker can be a game that provides rich rewards far beyond just money when we least expect them, on junk hands that bloom into gold.  In real life, often what we reap is not necessarily what we sow.  Winning can come in different forms, in places where we never expect to taste victory, in the most unlikely settings.  Then and there, we do find ourselves in these crucibles of profound awareness and ultimately, self-discovery.  Just as with a good movie based on a bad book, there’s no such thing as a great poker hand, that is, until well after we’ve seen the flop.  With Molly’s Game, we initially get dealt two unplayable cards, which end up catching a favorable flop followed by a miracle catch on the turn and river, morphing into the unbeatable nuts.

“Molly’s Game” receives an 8 out of 10 score and is very likely to be included on my list of the year’s ten best films.



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Posted by on Oct 24, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics | 4 comments

When Terms of Endearment Get Politically Incorrect



A recent Facebook discussion sparked curiosity and heightened my awareness about the ways we commonly address each other in public.

My discovery came as a surprise.  The lesson I learned was this:  I’m guilty of making spurious assumptions about what’s acceptable in the ways I address other people.

This self-reflection began yesterday when Terrell Johnson, a Facebook friend, posted the following message:



I thought about this post for a while.  I admit being guilty of the act described by Mr. Johnson as “dumb weird.”  Yes, I’ve called Black males “brother” plenty of times, even when I didn’t know them and I wasn’t entitled to that instant salutation of familiarity.  Of course, I didn’t mean anything harmful by it.  But, the salutation remains indomitably tinged with presumptions based on race.

“Hey, brother — how’s it going?”

Sounds innocent, enough.  But I’d probably never say it to a White guy.  Only a Black man.  That makes it racial — and inappropriate.

“Man” is another common term that’s been around for decades.  “Man” has been spoken across racial lines for as long as I’ve been alive.  Before 1960’s counterculture co-opted “man” as common slang between rockers and hippies, the term was deeply rooted in Black male self-empowerment.  It was even a quiet means of protest.  Indeed, “man” was the typical greeting Black jazz musicians often used to address each other during the Klan-clawed 1920’s when most of America was undergoing an ugly resurgence of bigotry and mass discrimination.  In many places, Black men, including old Black men who deserved respect were instead still called “boy” — often straight to their faces.  Millions of Black men were forced to stand there and swallow the degradation because to do otherwise would have been life-threatening.  And so, “man” became a small yet significant means of defiance against this cultural belittlement.

“Hey, man.”

I still use “man” quite frequently.  It’s just a common figure of speech for those who came of age during a certain era.  You might say it’s part of our linguistic DNA.  I see no reason to stop using “man,” because no one is offended and there are no racial connotations to its usage.

Meanwhile, younger people have created their own expressive lingo, using common salutations like “dude.”  Call it a “get off my lawn” seizure, but I don’t like this one bit.  Hey, man —  I’m not a “dude.”  No one calls me “dude.”  If I offended easily, I’d take issue if someone whom I did not know addressed me in that way, unless, of course, I was somehow cast in the movie remake of “The Big Lebowski.”  Then, calling me “dude” would be okay and besides I’d be collecting a fat paycheck for my willingness to lower myself to the depths of thinking of myself as a “dude.”

Whew.  I feel much better now.

Salutations between the sexes are equally as sensitive these days, and perhaps even more so given the alarming rise in reports of sexual harassment that have been in the news.  Most of these misunderstandings about everyday interaction can be solved by a healthy dose of common sense.  But I must also admit not knowing exactly where to draw some lines.

Though I was born and grew up mostly in the South, I’ve never fallen prone to its regional colloquialisms, particularly when it comes of informality.  For instance, “honey” is a term I’ve never used when addressing females.  I think it’s wrong, or perhaps it just doesn’t fit my manner of speaking.

Nonetheless, “honey” remains a very common expression in many areas of the country to this day.  It’s so common that most people probably don’t even consider it offensive.  Then again, I’ve never seen any actual studies on this — so, who knows?  Perhaps waitresses who get called “honey” all the time by their customers are quietly boiling deep down inside.  I don’t know.  Hence, it’s better not to use it at all is my policy.

About ten years ago, I started using “darling” a lot when addressing females — mostly when around co-workers, waitresses, and so forth.  Many people probably think of it as another way of saying “honey.”  I picked up this cutesy means of expression from the late writer Christopher Hitchens, who used it all the time and sounded downright suave and gentlemanly, which was quite endearing.  Then again, perhaps the English accent combined with his masterful use of prose that made “darling” acceptable within elite circles.  I’m not nearly so talented nor as lucky.  In my circles, “darling” probably raises some eyebrows.  And so, barring the occasional slip up from now on based purely on a bad habit, I won’t be using it any longer.

While I’m perfectly willing to alter (and even cease) my use of language based on changing times and cultural sensibilities, my best guess is that others will not be nearly so flexible.  Most people are deeply rooted in their ways of speaking and behaving and thinking.  They are utterly unaware, and if made aware by chance, they usually don’t care if others take offense to words and phrases they’ve considered “normal” all their lives.

Of course, playing the common sense card — we should probably be willing to forgive and dismiss the typical mutterings of the very aged, to which the rules of political correctness will never apply.  Old people who call someone “honey” might as well be speaking a different language from another time.  Occasionally, I still hear some old people refer to Blacks as “Negroes.”

C’est la vie.  I mean, what can you say?

I think the common bond on what’s truly offensive — be it everyday language or much worse, actions which lead to overt racism and/or sexual harassment — is very much rooted in the subservient role of the victim.  An older woman waiting tables who addresses me as “honey” is entitled to that latitude whereas I should not be able to get away with it.  After all, if I don’t like being called “honey,” I can get up and leave.  If she doesn’t like being called “honey,” well then, tough shit.  She pretty much has to suck it up and take it — because that’s her job.

By the way, it’s okay to call me “honey.”

When it comes to common expressions we use, what’s normal is no excuse.  Tradition is no justification.  At one time in America, the denigration of women and minorities was quite normal, acceptable and even encouraged within power circles.  It was a tradition.  Then, we gradually realized how hurtful the small things were and how those seemingly insignificant details buttressed a faux fever of racial, cultural, and gender superiority.  Changes in the way we address each other are gradual and slow, but they are certain, and that’s a good thing.

In short, just because you’ve been doing something the same way all your life, doesn’t make it right.  Just because it’s an old habit that’s comfortable to you, doesn’t make it right.  Just because you don’t think you’re not offending anybody, doesn’t make it right.

Times change.

We must also change with them.


Note:  Thanks to Terrell Johnson for sparking the idea for this column on Facebook.

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Posted by on Jul 19, 2017 in Blog, Essays | 3 comments

What’s the Greatest Photograph Ever Taken?



This will be an unusual column.

For one thing, it’s interactive.

Second, there are no right or wrong answers.

Finally, your opinion matters.  Well, maybe.  Your opinion matters if you give this topic some serious thought and you craft your explanation wisely.  Here it goes….

I have no actual data on this, but it’s probably accurate to guess at least a hundred billion, perhaps even a trillion photographs have been taken since the first camera was invented about 170 years ago.  That’s a lot of photographs.

So, given the broad history of modern civilization, so widely documented with the camera by some truly remarkable people who have put themselves in danger in order to capture an image, my question is this:  What is the single greatest photograph ever taken?  More to the point — why?

For me, this is an easy answer.  I came to this realization earlier tonight while accidentally stumbling upon the well-known image, and really for the first time, recognizing its awesomeness.  Later on, I’ll share this revelation with you.  But for now, I won’t spoil the fun of speculation for those who want to engage in the discussion and perhaps even debate with others.  In fact, if someone posts a compelling enough image and argument, then (perhaps) I could be persuaded to change my mind.  I think we all want to enter this exercise with an open mind.  So, please try and draft your reasoning wisely.

The task is simple, should you chose to accept this challenge.  Google search the one photo you believe to be the greatest ever in history and then post it.  “Greatest” could also mean most shocking, most meaningful, the bravest, or perhaps even the most beautiful.  That’s entirely up to you.  The photo you chose can be of any subject.

Please visit Facebook [EASY TO DO — CLICK HERE] and post your selection.  So that others might also enjoy the discussion, your photo must also be accompanied by a paragraph or two, explaining your reasoning.

In a follow-up article sometime in the near future, I’ll cut and paste the TEN best photos and write ups.  I’ll get the final say, but also might call upon some professional photographers to offer their assessment.  Some friends I am considering calling upon would include — Neil Stoddart, Joe Giron, Jayne Furman, Erick Harkins, and David Plastik.  Let’s see how this goes.  I might even add a prize if this topic gains some steam.

And so now, let the debate begin about the greatest photograph of all time.


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Posted by on Jun 10, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

My Take on the Bill Maher Controversy



My Take on the Bill Maher Controversy:

(1) If you fear the occasional provocation, then don’t watch the show.

(2) If you don’t want to risk being offended, then don’t watch the show.

(3) If you are bothered by salty language or objectionable words, then don’t watch the show.

(4) If you demand politically correct content at all times, then don’t watch the show.

(5) If you demand that writers-comedians-performers adhere to a strict safe zone of family-friendly content, then don’t watch the show. In fact, don’t go *any* adult comedy show, because many stand-up acts are far *more* “racially insensitive.”

(6) If you accept the premise that Bill Maher has always been a risque comic who sometimes says and does inappropriate things, but are STILL offended, then don’t watch the show.

(7) If you don’t see a far bigger picture that Maher is an experienced comic who has built a successful career while offending people indiscriminately, then don’t watch the show.

(8) If you called for Maher to be fired but haven’t done jack shit to object to far more incendiary material put out and sold by Sony Records and other major record labels, then don’t watch the show.

(9) If you fail to weigh Maher’s lifetime of countless words and actions, which reveal an *indiscriminate* attack-dog persona without regard to race, then don’t watch the show.

(10) If you can’t tell the difference between the abject cruelty of a “nigger joke” which was/is a deplorable example of rampant racism versus Maher’s self-deprecating attempt at humor, told off-the-cuff in an unrehearsed setting, then don’t watch the fucking show!


There are thousands of television channels available to you for alternative mainstream entertainment which won’t ever risk offending you. For every Bill Maher, there are 100 preachers trying to pluck you wallet. For every Bill Maher, there are thousands of scripted shit shows which never take a risk, nor will ever make you think.  Go there. Make that choice on your own.

One not need be a fan of Bill Maher or agree with his politics to see that this is a very troubling episode. In fact, he should be supported by everyone who values free expression, and is a fan of uncanned humor.

My Conclusion: Maher should NOT have apologized. His apology was especially troubling, given Maher’s long advocacy of free expression and self-professed championing of anti-political correctness. It’s also a severe setback for ALL comedians and artists everywhere which will inhibit future exploration of touchy subjects.



Note:  To follow the Facebook discussion on this topic, please click HERE.

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