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Posted by on Mar 23, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 0 comments

Coping and ‘Agreeing to Disagree’ in a Disagreeable World

 

 

Compartmentalization: The Ideal Coping Mechanism for ‘Agreeing to Disagree’ in a Disagreeable World

 

Compartmentalization is a coping mechanism to preserve social connectivity while at the same time maintaining civility.

I think a better understanding of this concept — and putting it into practice more often — will help many people. It’s certainly helped me. Indeed, practicing compartmentalization has not only been immensely helpful, but it’s also allowed me to expand many of my relationships and benefit from those connections.

Let me explain how these thoughts and this post came about.

A few days ago, posts by friends from my poker days came across my Facebook feed. Even though it’s been several years since I’ve seen them in person, following Facebook and being exposed to their activities has allowed me to keep up-to-date on where they’re now working and what they’re doing. In a sense, it’s allowed friendships to continue, even though I don’t see them much anymore. That’s one of the joys of this social media platform, which is a continuous scroll of updates, interspersed with the occasional surprise.

Robbie K. Thompson and I began working together at the World Series of Poker back in 2008. He quickly rose through the ranks as a floorman-supervisor and was calling the action on the main stage, sometimes on television. Robbie and I are polar opposites on almost all political topics, but I’ve always respected him and enjoyed his company.

I’ve known Eric Daniel Comer for an even longer period, dating back 20 years. We worked at the Horseshoe together and did various tournaments in the South, side by side. Eric has a tremendous work ethic. I can’t recall a single unpleasant encounter with him.

Anyway, there was a political thread where I jumped in, claws out, scratching as usual. Robbie and Eric chimed in with some nice comments, even though we disagreed strongly on the topics. That incident was an important reminder to me that it’s not only possible but in many cases *essential* to try and find common interests and stay afloat on those conversational liferafts.

Whatever your political persuasion, there are times of shared solace and reflection. Most of us agree this social distancing period is such a time, in fact, THE PERFECT TIME not necessarily to “social distance” but rather to reconnect, share, and learn.

Compartmentalization is precisely what it sounds like. We place our thoughts and engage in discussions in compartments. Most of my closest contacts have a multitude of different interests — on politics, music, movies, sports, and just about everything else. It *IS* possible, and a joy, to share a laugh or learn a historical fact or hear about a new affordable Zinfandel from someone with whom I have no political or philosophical affinity.

I’m blessed to have many friends from all over the world, with different ideas than my own. Even though I’ve engaged in heated discussions with many, I can’t think of a single individual who I couldn’t be friends with in person, if given the opportunity.

I think we all benefit by sharing our passions, but also maintaining some boundaries. I shall continue to do everything within my persuasive powers to advance my beliefs and obliterate bad ideas, hopefully with logic and rationale. And, if I’m unsuccessful with some people, that won’t impact my opinion of them, not in the least.

We can disagree without being disagreeable. Thanks for Robbie and Eric for reminding me of this important lesson on this glorious Monday morning.

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Posted by on Mar 22, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 0 comments

Movie Review: The Andromeda Strain (1971)

 

the andromeda strain

 

MOVIE REVIEW: THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971)

 

I first saw The Andromeda Strain at a drive-in when I was nine. Despite my youth, the thriller left an indelible impact on me nearly half a century later, even to this day.

The film instilled an early appreciation for science. Graphically, sometimes horrifically, it illustrated what a true horror movie was (and is) — a forgotten reminder that the gravest threats to our safety, security, and human civilization are not monsters nor distorted fictional figments of the imagination, but rather very real hidden dangers we can’t see, nor hear, nor measure.

Given the current coronavirus crisis, a reflection of the 1971 film on a killer epidemic is both timely and fitting.

The movie is based on Michael Crichton’s science fiction novel of the same title published in 1969. Then, only 27 at the time of the book’s release, Crichton would go on to write books that inspired 11 movies in all, including The Great Train Robbery, Rising Sun, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, and State of Fear.

The Andromeda Strain was directed by Robert Wise, then one of the most commercially successful directors of the time, evidenced by West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. This was clearly a movie guided by stellar writing and artful direction. The only criticism from a studio standpoint was, it might have been too dark, and too realistic for most audiences.

The Andromeda Strain opens with top-level scientists being summoned to a secret underground test lab in Nevada, tasked with researching biological hazards. Though somewhat dated now fifty years later, everything about this film still looks plausible. One can imagine facilities like this which certainly do exist.

There are some remarkable technical marvels in the film. Since it was made long before CGI, hologram-type figures had to be shot in multiple layers. Lasers also factor into the story. There are also some disturbing scenes with animal testing which were so upsetting that I was compelled to research exactly how they were filmed. Without giving too much away, the animals in the lab subject to testing were filmed in a chamber and breathed carbon dioxide. Then, when they pass out (this is a very disturbing scene), a team of vets rush onto the set and revive the creatures with oxygen off-camera. The film makes it appear they’re dying from the virus.

And speaking of the virus — never has anything looked so frightening as microscopic specs crawling around inside a petri dish. Watching the virus grow and the explode out of control in the lab is terrifying, especially in these contemporary times.

The film’s very best scenes document the laborious testing procedures which end with one dead end after another, as the clock is ticking on humanity. Since the virus has infected a small town and can spread, it’s up to the scientists to put in 20-hour days, testing and re-testing to try and save the planet. There’s one astounding scene when one of the scientists is working alone in the lab watching a monitor when the virus suddenly explodes into something resembling the bubonic plague. It’s absolutely terrifying.

Arthur Hill plays the lead researcher, but Kate Ried steals the movie. The original book had mostly all-male characters, but the production changed one of the researchers to a female. That turned out to be a wise creative adjustment. Think of a badass intellectual Sigourney Weaver, only bookishly realistic.

The Andromeda Strain is by no means a perfect film. It’s flawed with faux-suspenseful scenes that really aren’t necessary. For instance, we really don’t need a chase scene within the top-secret Wildfire biological bunker. The virus is scary enough without the added Mission Impossible-like countdown to self-destruction.

On a more personal note, I have seen The Andromeda Strain perhaps twice since my initial viewing as a child. I saw it again about 25 years ago and then watched it another time on TCM a few years ago before anyone thought it was a modern-day commentary. Each viewing gave me a different perspective. I was struck by one of the final scenes which shows the researcher (Arthur Hill) testifying before Congress on the aftermath of a viral outbreak. In what is a very plausible scenario we’re going through today, Hill essentially says we’re focusing on the wrong enemies. The more serious threats to us all are those things we can’t see and know way too little about.

How prophetic that warning turns out to be.

Note:  I recommend giving 1971 “The Andromeda Strain” original film a viewing. I cannot recommend the remake, which I have no interest in seeing.

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Posted by on Mar 21, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 1 comment

War Games and Pandemics: Where are the Emergency Playbooks?

 

 

Countless studies do exist on what to do in case of national emergencies, including viral outbreaks.  The question is — why isn’t the Trump Administration following a plan?

 

When I worked at the State Department, I was assigned to Main State for a total of about nine months. One of the great privileges of working in that building was — with the proper clearance — having personal access to the vast library of information. Much of it is now digitized. But back then it was a real library with books and files and papers (on the third floor, I recall). Any State employee could go in and read most of the materials. One can only imagine how fascinating these topics were.

There were studies, contingency plans, predictions, historical analysis — binders packed with information on every conceivable scenario just about anywhere in the world.

For instance, if a remote American Consulate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was attacked, there was a plan. If the DCM was held hostage, there was a plan. If a Marine Security Guard got into a traffic accident on foreign soil, there was a plan. If a nuclear reactor in France melted down to the core, there was a plan. If the wheat market collapsed from a bug and 30 percent of the world faced starvation, there was a plan. If Pakistan launched missiles at India, there was a plan. No matter what the crisis — always go to the playbook. That was the plan.

When the American Embassy in Romania was overrun with refugees and visa requests and even had to evacuate because of a bloody revolution while I was there, we worked out of the file like it was a textbook. The instructions were like commandments.

State was but one federal agency of many with lots of plans and playbooks. Those I know who worked in intelligence and NSA and DIA and the armed services all did their own studies. They had plans and playbooks, too. We’re talking about the nation’s best minds working for years on what I would call “War Games.”

However, the playbooks were not always about war. More often than not, they dealt with things like economic collapses, natural disasters, technical breakdowns, and even threats like pandemics.

Now, we’re getting somewhere. You see where this is headed.

Government isn’t the only source of studies and “what if” scenarios. It’s what major think tanks are trained to do. They play games — with economies, trade, military occupations, corporate espionage, hacking, counter-terrorism, and every imaginable scenario. The Brookings Institute, the Rand Corporation, and others have experts who produce studies on what to do if shit hits the fan. That’s why they are in business, which is to play “war games” and then hand over the playbook when the time comes.

That’s not all. There are also academics. These are professors and medical people and scientists and other experts. They work mostly in colleges and universities, and research facilities. Some of them make it their life’s work to come up with contingency plans in case of various situations.

We see some of these academics in the news today, primarily from Johns Hopkins University, and other places. Certainly, their libraries have studies and dissertations on what to do in case of global/national pandemics.

So, let’s agree there is a multitude of information readily available on virtually every conceivable scenario related to a viral outbreak. We should know how to secure borders and streamline transportation channels. We should know what it takes to keep food distribution networks going. We should have the drafts ready to be signed and the orders prepared to be given. We should also have the studies done and the social science completed on what happens when perhaps half the country might be on lockdown. What happens to an economy on that scale?

What we are experiencing now shouldn’t be a surprise to those at the top of the federal government. The playbooks are there. There’s no excuse for indecision or delay.

Obviously, coming up with a cure or some way to slow down the virus wasn’t foreseeable. But MANAGEMENT of a pandemic is entirely foreseeable and should have been a relatively simple process. It’s called crisis management.  I am willing to bet hundreds of reliable studies have been completed on this topic, and dozens likely deal with the specifics of an outbreak of this magnitude.

Yet, all I have seen for the past month is an Administration that apparently has no idea how to manage a crisis. Sure, the medical experts and science people are doing their best. But the MANAGEMENT of this disaster has been criminal and the consequences could be catastrophic.

I’d be curious to read others’ thoughts as to why THE VAST ARCHIVE of materials on “what to do” in case of a viral outbreak has not been utilized. Naturally, no one expects political leaders to know every answer. Indeed, this is why playbooks exist. This is why they should be followed.

One reason why this Administration has done such a poor job thus far and communicated to poorly to the American public is, they apparently don’t like to read nor understand anything about the vast resources of government if they were to only use them effectively.

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Posted by on Mar 18, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 2 comments

The Parachute Question

 

louis gohmert

 

You’re on a cross-country flight with several key Republicans.

Suddenly, the airplane has a mechanical problem. Things go from bad to worse. It’s going down. A crash is imminent.

The only chance for survival is to bail out. There are only two parachutes on board. You are the only passenger who knows about the two parachutes. You will use one parachute. You also have a choice of saving ONE Republican.

The Republicans onboard include:

Mitch McConnell
Tom Cotton
Rand Paul
Susan Collins
Ted Cruz
Devin Nunes
Louis Gohmert
Jim Jordan

So, now — the question. Just as you are about to bail out, you have a difficult decision to make. What’s your choice?

Do you hide the second parachute in the overhead bin or under the seat?

 

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Posted by on Mar 17, 2020 in Blog, Essays | 1 comment

The Van Morrison MasterClass: Week 10

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“I write songs.  Then, I record them.  And, later, maybe I perform them on stage.  That’s what I do.  That’s my job.  Simple.”

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THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS:  WEEK 10

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DAY 64: “Caravan” (Live–1976)

Brace yourselves.

You’re about to witness a shy, short, pudgy, balding, funny-talking Irish dude with lamb chop sideburns dressed in a maroon-sequined jumpsuit, mispronouncing the words to his own song, barn-yarding the whole wild scene, kicking it up Saturday Night Live style, and mic-dropping the show in a Martin Scorsese concert movie

It’s a parody, only without the parody. Like the half-drink karaoke guy or the embarrassing uncle at the wedding who doesn’t know everyone’s watching, but also doesn’t give a fuck.

This incredible moment almost never happened.

The Band was set to play a farewell concert on Thanksgiving Day at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. This came to the attention of famed movie director, Martin Scorsese, who was a big fan of Robbie Robertson and The Band’s music. He came in and shot the entire concert, which included guest appearances by Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, and many others.

Van was a reluctant addition to the all-star lineup. He had been known to withdraw into a shell while onstage, often singing with his eyes shut, not to mention his occasional profanity-laden spats with fans. Asking Van to appear seemed risky. Moreover, Van hadn’t released an album in two years and had essentially disappeared from the pop music scene. No one knew what to expect when Van was scheduled to follow Neil Diamond, then at the height of his popularity and probably the worst possible superstar act to replace in the spotlight. Van was in a horrible spot.

Making matters far worse, Van got hit by a last-minute panic of stage fright, which plagued him sporadically throughout his long career. While waiting off in the wings, Van relayed he didn’t want to go on. As Robbie Robertson and The Band began warming up to Van’s intro, Van’s tour manager had to physically push the befuddled singer onto the stage. Van sheepishly approached the microphone and then somehow morphs into an out-of-body experience. Even members of The Band were shocked to watch Van become increasingly animated during the 5-minute transformation. The song had been unrehearsed, so when Van shouts out, “turn it up!” and “one more time!” the band responds at his command.

While editing several hours of concert footage for what would become The Last Waltz, Scorsese later saw the act and was stunned. Eric Clapton said Van stole the show. Perhaps it was because expectations were so low that Van knocked this one out of the park. Known as a great songwriter, but also a deeply private man, jumpsuits and karate kicks simply weren’t in the singer’s wheelhouse.

“Caravan” was only a modestly-known track off the 1970 Moondance album. It certainly didn’t seem like much of a showstopper. Oddly enough, this guest-appearance stands as perhaps his best-known live performance. Unfortunately, it also set up false expectations for future fans who anticipated seeing the “Caravan” version of Van. Instead, they would get a different Van with each successive year, album, and tour.

This — ladies and gentlemen — is how you strut the effing stage! Talking about running the roost! Nailed it, bitches! What a classic!

“Van the Man!”

Note: This begins a week of the worst Van Morrison performances. While this appearance is perhaps his best, it’s a forebearer so some cringeworthy moments to come, which includes television appearances and interviews. This project intends to provide a comprehensive portrait, which includes some rough edges around the performer.

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DAY 65:  THE WORST PERFORMANCES — “LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN” in 1995 with SINEAD O’CONNOR

This comprehensive examination of Van’s life and career would not be complete without posting some of the disasters, and there have been many.

Perhaps his worst show was the special occasion of Van performing his own song (made famous by Rod Stewart) with fellow Irish free-spirit, Sinead O’Connor. This clip is an embarrassment for Van, who was thought to be drunk during the performance and completely destroys what should have been a memorable duet.

O’Connor grew up idolizing Van, which makes this disaster all the more disappointing. She’s wonderful, as are the musicians — The Chieftains, who backed up Van on numerous albums. However, Van fails to take the occasion seriously, lapsing into a cringe-worthy rendition of one of his most beloved songs.

This fiasco took place in London. David Letterman did a week of shows there and his guests were predominantly British and Irish. Unfortunately, what should have been one of the highlights turned into a musical train wreck.

Oddly enough, though he came out of the 1960s, Van was never known for drug use, nor bouts of addiction, nor even any missed shows. For more than 55 years, Van always shows up on time, sober (usually), and ready to perform. This appears to be a rare exception.

Watch for yourself, one of Van’s worst performances, even though Letterman, perhaps sarcastically announces at the end, “that was great!”

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DAY 66:  “I’ll Be Your Lover, Too” (1970 song on the “Proof of Life” movie soundtrack, from 2000)

You’re watching the closing scene and credits from the 2000 film starring Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, Proof of Life, which is an espionage thriller set in South Africa. The film was burdened with problems from the start, including financial issues, an avalanche during filming, and trouble on the set. It didn’t fare well at the box office, either and has since been forgotten.

Van’s original composition is used, which is from the 1970 album His Band and the Street Choir. The track in simple 4/4 time features only four musicians — including Van, with a drummer, bassist, and a guitarist.

“I’ll Be Your Lover, Too” reveals Van at his soulful best. It’s easy to understand why this song was chosen for the final fade-out of a tense movie which concludes with the angst of lost love.

More than likely, you haven’t heard this track before. So, play the short clip and listen. Like so much of Van’s music, it’s the perfect emotional match for the moment.

See if you agree…

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DAY 67:  “Hungry For Your Love” (1978 original release, also on the “An Officer and a Gentleman” movie soundtrack, 1982)

Van Morrison’s “Hungry For Your Love” is a mellow-sounding feelgood song from the 1978 Wavelength album, which enjoyed two brief bouts of radio airplay — once during the initial phase of the album’s release and again when the mega-smash movie An Officer and a Gentlemen produced a pitch-fever of hits off the soundtrack (“Up Where We Belong” by Joe Cocker was the clear standout).

This is one of the favorite songs of many Van aficionados, most notably Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard, who has released multiple alternate cover versions. The song contains some unusual qualities. First, it’s a throwback to Van’s earlier work done nearly a decade earlier, which doesn’t really meld with the more modern sound of Wavelength released at the height of the disco era. The song also contains a rare demonstration of Van playing the electric piano. Musically gifted and instrumentally versatile, nonetheless, it’s one of the few released recordings with Van on the keyboard.

There’s a nice groove to this song. In the movie, it appeared as background in a scene when stars Richard Gere and Debra Winger wake up the next morning after their initial romantic tryst.

 

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DAY 68:  “Irish Heartbeat” (1983)

“Irish Heartbeat” is an original composition by Van Morrison. It has been recorded several times over the years and covered multiple times by other musicians, many from Ireland. The song seems an appropriate choice on this St. Patrick’s Day.

The track debuted on Van’s 1983 studio album, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. It reappeared on the 1988 album collaboration with the traditional Irish folk group, The Chieftains. Then, 25 years later, it was re-recorded as a duet with Van and Mark Knopfler. This is the version off the 2015 Duets: Reworking the Catalogue album.

Van has demonstrated extraordinary musical ability over his nearly six-decade span as a songwriter and performer. It would be futile to identify a musical icon who has covered more territory and crossed more bridges. He’s not only excelled in rock, blues, and jazz but also commands such a deep knowledge of traditional folklore. Van’s extensive career is packed with live performances of his playing and singing classic Irish songs, far beyond the typical pop music wheelhouse.

“Irish Heartbeat” is a yin and yang of a song, the soulful Van meeting his inner Irish roots halfway. Off putting to his rock fans and those who grew up accustomed to “Brown-Eyed Girl” pop hits, it’s Van reaching deep, looking back, tilling the fertile musical plain. To his credit, Van doesn’t always take us where we want to be, but in directions where we need to go.

Today, we’re all Irish. And when we listen to Van, we’re all lucky.

 

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DAY 69:  A Van Morrison Impression by Sean Cullen (2013)

How exactly does one do an impression of Van Morrison? Well, Sean Cullen absolutely brilliantly nails it!

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DAY 70:  Van Morrison St. Patrick’s Day Impression by Jimmy Fallon (2009)

A few years back, late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon began doing impressions of classic rock stars. Most amazing, he did his own music and sings original material. His impression of Jim Morrison (The Doors) is astounding.

Fallon did Van Morrison on St. Patrick’s Day, having a bit of fun with the drunken stereotype. It’s all in good fun. I’m not sure how many appreciate how good this wild rendition is, but hey — how the hell do you pull off am impersonation of Van Morrison?

Fallon nails it here. Nice compliment on this Irish holiday to the previous posts in the series.

Hope you enjoy.

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PREVIOUS SEGMENTS/SONGS:
  • WEEK 1:  (You’ve Got the Power; Days Like This; Here Comes the Night; Just Like Greta; T.B. Sheets; Domino)
  • WEEK 2:  (I Heard You Paint Houses–The Irishman; Into the Mystic; Wavelength; Bright Side of the Road; Take this Hammer; Queen of the Slipstream; Haunts of Ancient Peace; News– Remembering Joe Smith)
  • WEEK 3:  (Celtic New Year; Cyprus Avenue; Sometimes We Cry; Wild Night; Goin’ Down to Monte Carlo; Enlightenment; Don’t Look Back)
  • Week 4:  (Whenever God Shines His Light; Ordinary People; Gloria; Down to Earth; Golden Autumn Day; On Hyndford Street; Celtic New Year)
  • WEEK 5:  (Your Mind is On Vacation; Naked in the Jungle; Spanish Steps; Tupelo Honey; Fame; The Way Young Lovers Do; Van Morrison Documentary–The Early Years_
  • WEEK 6:  (Go On Home, Baby; Comfortably Numb; These Are the Days; Brand New Day; Bulbs; Rough God Goes Riding; Interviews: 1967 and 2017)
  • WEEK 7:  (Beside You; Little Village; Never Get Out of These Blues; Someone Like You; I’ll Take Care of You; You Gotta’ Make It Through the World; Under Review–Documentary Film)
  • WEEK 8:  (Van Morrison at Montreux; Street Choir; Moondance; Troubadours; Twilight Zone; I Will Be There; Wild Honey)
  • WEEK 9  (No Religion; Allow Me; When I Deliver; The Healing Game; Help Me, And The Healing Has Begun; Linden Arden Stole the Highlights)
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