Archives for category: Society


If you are a dog owner, (and I know many of you are), please pay close attention.

Are you letting your dog or dogs bark a lot, to the extent that your neighbors can hear them? Are you letting your dogs run wild onto a neighbor’s property or onto the street?

Hopefully not. Unfortunately I’ve found out recently that these are common occurrences—just based on my own first-hand experiences. At my last Bellingham house, my neighbors had hearts of gold and rescued a bunch of dogs.

Unfortunately, they barked incessantly with just the slightest provocation—even a squirrel would set off one of the dogs, and then the others would chime in.

I noticed this while I was in escrow before moving in so I called the County and asked what the rules were and sure enough there were ordinances prohibiting this kind of distraction.

But with encouragement from a member of my synagogue who knew my neighbors-to-be, he said I should be a man and just go knock on their door and let them know how I felt.

Which I did. One woman was a doctor and I could see that she totally agreed with me. Her wife was obviously the dog rescue person and it was a harder pill to swallow but she agreed to do something about it.

They put a barking collar on the instigator dog and the problem was easily solved.

Next place I lived, every time I drove down the street that led to my street, two of the neighborhood dogs would chase my car. I was very nervous about running one over so it made a quiet country street into a tricky nerve racking venture.

The dogs belonged to a retired policeman and according to other neighbors, he was unsympathetic and wouldn’t restrain the dogs. Uninterested in enforcement, he allowed his dogs to run wild all day over a wide range of properties.

Recently I prepared to move again—remember, I’m a Hunter-Gatherer— and while I was in escrow, I went to play with the seller’s two dogs, who were usually home alone while he was at work. I’m a dog lover and if I weren’t working on films in God knows where, I’d have a retriever.

Ringer, one of the two dogs, is an amazing ballplayer and he would tirelessly chase a ball or a stick and always be ready to go again. But I noticed that the neighbor behind my new house-to-be had a small chihuahua tied up to a tree right over the property line, practically in what would be my new backyard.

He would bark incessantly, not only when I was playing with the other dogs but whenever anything moved in his periphery. I spoke to the seller who said he would talk to the neighbors but it didn’t do any good. I made videos of the dog barking just in case it ended up at the county.

But once again, I decided to be a grown up and I spoke to my new neighbors-to-be. The husband was sympathetic but the wife was quite upset. She agreed to put the dog in a caged area closer to the house but that actually made things worse.

I explained that I moved to this quiet neighborhood on a lake for peace and quiet and a respite from my hectic work life. She reluctantly agreed to keep the dog inside when they were away from home and the problem is solved.

The same neighbors have also have a rambunctious Golden Retriever puppy who loves to visit me, eat the cat food, and jump all over me. Again, I’m a dog-lover, so this doesn’t bother me, but I can’t help that other neighbors don’t feel the same way.

In fact, that rambunctious retriever is the leading suspect in the killing of my of my other neighbor’s chickens, which also run wild and love the bird seed that falls from my feeders

Now only the two dogs that belong to a neighbor across the street bark wildly whenever someone passes. I wish they didn’t but at least they bark only in short spurts.

I am very perplexed by this phenomenon. It just seems so blatantly rude and insensitive but I’ve been reading up on it and apparently some people feel that dogs bark and they shouldn’t be constrained. I’d love to hear from any readers who feel that way.

With a little bit of internet searching, I found out that you can order a device that sends high frequency sounds to your neighbors house that only the dogs will hear and it will discourage them from barking.

If that doesn’t work, I will install big speakers in the front of my house and blast my favorite operas loud enough to drown them out.

Figaro, Figaro, here we go, here we go.



We wrapped a challenging first week of my latest movie just before midnight last Friday. As if it’s not enough to work with a new crew and new actors all settling into their roles, we had to contend with horrible air quality caused by the fires nearby in British Columbia by providing oxygen and air-conditioning tents on set.

I headed for the Sumas border crossing, wanting to wake up in my house in Skagit County. Siri routed me through the little town of Everson. The smoke was eye-burning bad and there were no other cars until I saw headlights parked at an angle facing me on the other side of the street.

The car pulled out and the lights started to flash. It was a cop laying in wait at a speed trap. I pulled over and was told that I was driving 47 mph in a 35 mph zone. I was really surprised because I thought I was driving below the 50 mph rural speed limit because of the poor visibility.

He said “Couldn’t you tell you were in a town?” “No”, I said, “There were no lights on and it was smoky and I couldn’t see a 35 mph speed limit sign.” He asked if I had ever been to Everson before and I told him I hadn’t.

On hearing this, he seemed to soften his position but he disappeared for more than 5 minutes and came back with a ticket. He said he lowered my speed to 45 which would save me over $60 so he was somewhat sympathetic to my explanation.

I asked him if I could express my opinion about what was taking place and he nodded in the affirmative. Needless to say, it was a slow night for law enforcement and only two cars passed us during the whole 15 minute ordeal.

I told him I admired that he had dedicated his life to law enforcement and public safety but I didn’t think laying in wait in a dark smoky spot for a very sober person driving responsibly was the best way to accomplish that mission.

I told him I was guessing he chose that spot because others would be confused as I was by the change in speed limit and I could tell he had heard enough at that point and I took my ticket and headed back into the dark smoky night.

It was a very sad drive home after a very uplifting day. It seems very cynical to me that this is how someone who has dedicated his or her life to public safety ends up as a shill for the local economy.

I get why it makes sense to have the guy sitting in his car looking out for speeders as opposed to hanging out in a squad room with nobody to talk to. But I’m guessing he’s very bored and jumps at the opportunity to leave rubber, flash his lights, and pull someone over even if that person is absolutely no danger to anyone.

When I got to my house, I looked at the printed out ticket and discovered that one option was to pay $150. That means it would have been over $200 if the officer hadn’t lowered my speed.

Everson is a small town. I would love to know how much income it gets from issuing speeding tickets. I’d also like to hear how the police officer laying in wait could get an accurate reading from his speed gun in such a short span on such a dark, smoky night.

After this weekend’s welcome rainfall, I drove back to Canada on Sunday night through Everson. The air had cleared and the visibility was better but it still was very difficult to read the signs on the outskirts of town where I was clocked and pulled over.

It reinforced my feeling that this was an injustice so I’m going to court. Hopefully the hearing officer will see things my way, although I know that’s a long shot. Meanwhile I’m preparing a closing argument that would make Perry Mason and Mr. Smith in Washington proud!



Leo Damski was born 100 years ago this month.

It was a memorable time in history, including both World War 1 and the Russian Revolution. Blacks and women were stepping up their efforts to seek equality, asking that the US constitution actually applied to all Americans.

My dad loved history and he got to experience so many memorable events first hand. He was born in Lithuania but grew up mostly in Berlin, Germany. His father Paul was not interested in the family lumber business in Kaunas and instead ended up managing world heavyweight champion Max Schmeling.

Paul’s worldliness—he spoke 7 languages and promoted fights around the world—led to a sophistication that enabled him to get his wife and two kids out of Berlin three years before Kristallnacht, when it became incredibly clear that Jews were not welcome and in grave danger if they couldn’t find refuge elsewhere.

Oh, and before that, when Leo was 12 years old, there was a worldwide depression.

Yet, when Leo came to New York City he felt at home, especially in his Yiddish speaking Manhattan neighborhood in Washington Heights.

Leo was highly intelligent and an avid reader but he wasn’t able to go to college because he needed to work to help support the family. He was a very sweet man without a bitter bone in his body and he very rarely spoke of the hardships he had experienced.

All of Leo’s relatives who stayed in Lithuania were killed during the holocaust and I am proudly named for my Uncle Max. But Dad was determined to raise us with American optimism. My folks did not want us to speak German because they wanted us to blend in with the children of all of the war veterans in our neighborhood.

On the surface, Leo and I did not have much in common. He constantly had a Michener or some other historical novel on his bedside table. He did the Sunday New York Times Crossword puzzle in ink as if he were filling out an application. He had no interest whatsoever in sports.

In contrast, I’ve always had trouble sitting down to read anything longer than a daily newspaper. I struggle with even a Wednesday New York Times puzzle and I’ve always been consumed with sports, as a participant and a fan.

But as I get older, I realize that Leo had many admirable qualities that I could emulate. He had a world view shaped by personal experience and a sense of internationalism. Yes, he knew there was great evil in the world and horrible tragedies happening every day to innocent people in all corners of the globe, and yet he woke up every morning with a positive attitude and an inherent kindness.

Having just listened to another evening broadcast of BBC World News, I can say that there is still a great deal of intolerance, inequality, corruption and unspeakable violence in the World.

Yet, my lesson from Leo is that there is also so much to be hopeful about and so much to be grateful for and we must accentuate the positive and hold ourselves to the highest possible standard.



Something has gone awry with the American Dream.

The signs are all around us. Drug addiction, alcoholism, disenfranchisement, disgruntlement, high anxiety and low self-esteem.

Being the news junky that I am, I think I have a pretty good perspective on what is happening around the world.  Barrel bombings and beheadings in the Middle East, religious and political intolerance in so many places, subjugation of women, exploitation of children, hunger and disease commonplace in so many parts of the globe.

Yet instead of expressing gratitude for the incredible good fortune we have to live in a free society with lots of toys, we are seeing many signs of disenchantment. We are in the midst of an election cycle in which traditional supporters of both major parties are begging for change.

Both the Trump phenomenon and the Sanders phenomenon are signals that many people are opting out of politics and policies that they can’t identify with.

But there are other signs as well. Addiction to heroin and prescription drugs is now epidemic and the demographics of drug abuse are becoming much more democratic: they are touching all of our communities, rich and poor, black and brown and white.

Let’s not forget another great societal ill, one that doesn’t get much publicity any more but is still extremely prevalent: alcoholism. I have met so many people in my little corner of the Northwest whose lives have been touched by a family member or members whose lives were destroyed by alcohol.

It may not be as sexy as talking about opiate addiction and even marijuana use, but alcohol is the granddaddy of home wreckers. Lately I have heard story after story about drunken parents, siblings, spouses and, needless to say, ex-spouses and the resulting child abuse, violence and depression that follow.

The fact that as a society we have stopped talking about alcoholism is great hypocrisy. Any one who says they are against legalizing marijuana better also be in favor of restoring prohibition, otherwise that person is a total hypocrite. I’m no more excited about the idea of smoking too much marijuana than I am about getting shit-faced all day and night, but so far I haven’t heard one story about someone smoking too much weed and then abusing a child or smacking around a spouse.

Personal health is another bellwether of the social storms we are facing. A recent study reported that the life expectancy for white women DECREASED in the last year. That is a shocking trend that has caused social scientists to scratch their collective heads to come up with an explanation for that anomaly.

Theories abound, starting with a general perception that many older women are finding that their lives haven’t panned out the way they expected. Divorce, financial challenges of living longer on a fixed income, the stresses of having to balance housekeeping, parenting and career challenges.

Again, alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, and even obesity are contributing factors both as causes and effects. Next time you are in a major airport, do an anecdotal study and I’m sure you’ll notice how many people are anywhere from ten pounds to many pounds overweight and that exacerbates diabetes and heart disease and those are major killers.

All of those dangerous trends are being driven by frustration and disappointment. The widening gap between rich and poor is no longer a dirty little secret. Wealth is now flaunted and greed goes unchallenged and the modern ethos is to accumulate as many toys as you can.

The problem with this is a monetary construct that requires a very expensive buy-in. We have a financial system that takes money to make money and in many cases produces nothing but more wealth.

It’s got to be a tough pill to swallow if you’re sitting on the sidelines while Wall Street and the Auto Industry get bailed out and then you and your kids can’t afford to buy a house in your neighborhood anymore because the one-percenters are driving up prices.

Talk about hypocrisy. It’s illegal to bet on a football game but the Wall Street casino keeps rolling along, able to use its great wealth to buy a seat at the head of the table at the White House.

I’m guessing Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders won’t win the battle of outsiders in this election cycle, but I’m hoping that Washington insiders are paying attention and realizing the the Times They Are A Changing and they better start paying a lot more attention to the everyday challenges and disappointments of their electorate.

3d render of various arrows with red unique arrow turning upward with text ready for change.


To retire or not to retire.

The question has been floating around a lot in my circle of 60-somethings.

This decision isn’t as easy as you might think. The economy is struggling and life expectancy has risen dramatically so there are important calculations to be made in terms of how many years you can live on a fixed income without evaporating your savings.

To complicate things even more, two recent studies have totally contradictory conclusions about the effect of retirement on health.

One study said it’s better to keep working and keep your mind engaged and not worry about finances or get bored sitting around at home by yourself.

The other said your heart will be happy to be rid of the stress of the workplace..

Of course, in both cases, it’s bad science. There is no way to control a study about retirement because you can’t compare any two lives. If you study the person who doesn’t retire, there is no way of knowing how that person would have fared in retirement. It’s not only comparing apples to apples, it’s comparing apples to oranges to cantaloupe and kiwi fruit.

For instance, I’m a definite kiwi fruit. I love my job in the Never Never Land of the entertainment business. I love going to work in the morning and can’t imagine a life without telling stories with cameras and actors.

On the other hand, if you have a boring job sitting at a desk doing something that doesn’t really engage you mentally, I can understand why you would be counting the days until you can hang it up.

Or if you have been working in a coal mine or bent over day after day picking potatoes, I can totally understand that you would need a break for body and mind.

Then it becomes an issue of how you fill those hours. If you’re going to sit on your ass and smoke and drink and pretend you know all there is to know, both your body and your mind are going to wilt away and you’re going to be a burden to your kids and your country!

If you are taking on new challenges and exploring new frontiers, you are likely to extend your life. They have discovered in recent years that brain cells can be rejuvenated by challenges to your mind and your senses. If you break up your routines, take different roads, expose yourself to new people and new ideas, try the crossword puzzle or play scrabble or bridge, you have a fighting chance against the ravages of time.

Right now, as I write this, my good friend Dr. Jerry Eisner is floating down the Colorado River. Then he’s coming back home to wrap up a very distinguished career as first an internist on Orcas Island and then a dermatologist in Mt. Vernon.

Jerry said he is sanguine with the decision because he feels he leaves with a great sense of satisfaction that he has touched a lot of lives in a very positive way. He is an ornithologist, an amateur astronomer, and a terrific wildlife photographer so it’s not like he’s going to be sitting in front of the television which I don’t recommend, unless of course you are watching one of my shows!

My wife Susan certain has every right to retire. She’s been teaching at the same Catholic School for almost 30 years, keeping a tight reign on some very rambunctious third graders while teaching them language arts.

Nobody would blame Susan for saying she’s paid her dues and doesn’t want to hear that alarm clock go off at 5:30 AM any more, but she is an educator through and through and can’t imagine a life away from the classroom and the school yard and the faculty lounge.

For me, I’m certainly old enough to start using the R-word, and I just finished an exhausting 8-year run on a television series, but I can’t seem to get my engine to idle. I’m bugging my agents almost daily to find me a new series and I’m starting a film school, Cascadia Film Workshop, in Bellingham this June and I have a great new idea for a screenplay about old people who haven’t forgotten how to party.

So it really comes down to making the right decision for yourself. Every person is unique, no two lives are the same. Run the numbers, make your best guess at your life expectancy, figure out the metrics that will allow you to sleep at night without obsessing on your finances.

Everyone’s life is unique and this is a highly personal decision. No matter what you decide, make sure to keep your body as active as possible, keep your mind engaged and count your blessings for the miracle of life.



When something really tragic happens to people close to you, you want closure and you want someone to blame. When a jetliner disappears into thin air with no plausible explanation, there is no closure and no one to blame.

We have all witnessed many scenes of the families of the missing passengers railing out against Malaysian and airline authorities, but that has to do with poor communication as it is still impossible to know at this point what caused the disappearance of Flight 370. An entirely different scenario is playing out right now much closer to home in Western Washington after a huge mudslide wiped out a community. At least 25 bodies have been identified so far and at least some relatives and friends have had some closure but there are as many as 30 more people missing.

In this case, there are many people to blame. We have heard story after story and testimony after testimony in the past week from people who had predicted that this disaster was inevitable and yet their warnings went unheeded by government officials.

Some people are asking for heads to roll and others are saying that stuff happens and the people who lived in that community were willing to live with the risks.

I don’t buy that reasoning at all. First of all, even if you are willing to endanger yourself, is it fair to also expose the mail carrier who delivers in that neighborhood or your own kids and the friends they invite over after school.

One of the most important things government officials need to do is protect people from their own worst decisions. Otherwise we wouldn’t need speed limits. We wouldn’t need zoning restrictions. We wouldn’t ban driving under the influence. We wouldn’t create very stringent standards before new drugs are allowed to be purchased.

One radio caller pointed out that people in Florida build houses where there could be hurricanes and people in Oklahoma build where there could be tornadoes and people in California build where there are likely to be wildfires and earthquakes.

True. The path of hurricanes and tornadoes are hard to predict and you can understand people casting their fate to the wind so they can live in an affordable house in an expensive area.

And you can understand why a municipality would encourage as much growth as possible in order to increase the tax base.

But knowing now what the authorities knew in the little town called Oso appears to be a severe case of civic negligence, if not outright criminal negligence.

As in so many tragedies, we see the worst and the best of human nature. Volunteers have been flocking to Oso to help in any way they can.

Cyndy Bostrom of Shelter Bay couldn’t sleep after watching the grisly news reports from Oso. In early morning, she went over to Bob Skeele’s house in La Conner and used his well-equipped kitchen to bake 10 dozen healthy muffins to bring to the first responders–firefighters, national guardsmen and volunteers– who accepted the grim task of looking for bodies at the rubble.

What made it so much more difficult for those volunteers is that they knew so many of the victims personally in this very tight community.

In nearby Arlington, the Union Bank was coordinating donations and the Red Cross and FEMA were there to do whatever could be done. When Cyndy reached the Oso fire station, there were already a flock of volunteers and an abundance of food.

She met a young man who still hadn’t found his grandfather, but he and a friend found his grandfather’s tractor buried in the mud. They found an American flag in the nearby rubble and mounted it in a dignified manner as a memorial to at least 25 victims who have been identified so far and many more still missing.

There are things we can all learn from this. We need to count our blessings every day and never underestimate how important it is to be healthy.

And we need to really think about where we live. It’s one thing to be a free spirit and defy the odds, but do you really want to expose your family to those risks?

Today, if I were buying my house on a promontory at the tip of Shelter Bay, I would do a lot more homework and not assume it has been properly vetted by public officials.

More than anything, we have to do what we can for the people who lost everything in Oso. You have to be careful about how to contribute and it’s always safe to work through established charities like the United Way to guarantee the money gets to where it’s needed.

Or you can do a simple text to Red Cross on your phone to 90999 and that will make a $10 contribution. Those ten dollars add up.

Cyndy Bostrom spoke for all of us when she wrote on those boxes of freshly baked goodies, “With love, from La Conner”.

The Oso Community Chapel is pictured near the area where a landslide blocks Highway 530 near Oso, Washington

Milene Hertug's Art

Milene Hertug’s Art


I never wanted to be famous. I’ve spent some time around famous people and it can be incredibly inconvenient to constantly have to be under scrutiny.

This has nothing to do with modesty. On the contrary, while I don’t want to be famous, I do want to be immortal. Yes, I’m two parts vanity with a touch of narcissism, so I want to think my life matters and that I will leave this Earth in better shape than when I first touched down.

Immortality is a consummation devoutly to be wished but not so easily consummated. At first I thought it was going to be achieved by the much heralded Damski Plan. In case you don’t remember, the Damski Plan stated that the United States military get out of Iraq but instead concentrate its troops in Afghanistan, where I posited there was actually a supportive local government that would welcome our help fighting the insurgency.

George W. Bush wouldn’t take my calls but later my good friend Nancy Stephens Rosenthal spent one Christmas at the White House and she must have whispered something into Michelle Obama’s ear because President Obama embraced the Damski Plan full on.

Needless to say, history wasn’t on my side on this one. The Karzai government turned out to be duplicitous at best and has taken down the welcome mat—some quibble about unauthorized drone strikes—and Afghanistan, like Iraq, looks like it won’t actually embrace our Western-style democracy and our troops are already starting to pack up to skedaddle by the end of the year.

This prompted me to ask to have my name taken off of the plan but not even Dick Cheney wanted authorship. As the saying goes, success has many fathers but failure is indeed one mean mother.

My next best chance for eternal recognition was my plan to rid the Los Angeles basin of its two greatest horrors: traffic and smog. The Damski Solution seemed so easy but isn’t that often the case with pure genius.

Every day, only the motorists with odd OR even numbered license plates would be allowed to drive. If your license plate had only letters, then there would be A through M days and N through Z days.

This would effectively wipe out the problem by keeping half of the cars off the road. No more smog, no more frayed nerves, no more bird flipping, no more road rage shootings.

Incredibly, the reaction from the populace was downright hostile. People said they couldn’t get to work, couldn’t get their kids to school, couldn’t get to doctor’s appointments and would, God forbid, have to carpool, or even worse, take public transportation. I was called a cretin and many more epithets that can’t be repeated in a family newspaper.

The outcry was enormous, amplified by angry libertarian talk show hosts who kept talking about Big Government. Only Rush Limbaugh said something nice about me when he told his audience “not even the Obama Administration could have come with a harebrained scheme like this!” And I thought I was the only one who knew that harebrained was a compliment until the rabbit haters tried to totally twist its meaning.

With the resounding cowardly failure to launch the Damski Solution, I’ve had to scale back my ambition. I’m still going ahead with my autobiography, entitled ME, which will be published posthumously or after the death of Monica Lewinsky, or whichever one comes first.

I have agreed to have a slough named after me in my home state of Washington. For you greenhorns who think it’s pronounced SLOW instead of SLEW, a slough is a body of water that would be called a creek in Colorado or a crick in Texas.

I will let you in on a little secret. There IS a street named after me in Palm Springs, California. Because I didn’t necessarily feel that my name belonged up there with luminaries such as Buddy Rogers and Fred Waring, I asked modestly that they just use my first name with the assumption that everyone would know it was me.

Once again, I’ve been reminded about that saying by PT Barnum that “some people are fools all of the time” as lesser Mels such as Tormé, Gibson and even Brooks laid claim to Mel Avenue. To be fair, they didn’t actually take claim to the street but none of them spoke out on my behalf.

I refuse to let any of this dampen my enthusiasm in my quest to leave behind a greener, mellower, more erudite planet.

Yes, probably, I won’t get the eternal gratefulness that I have coming to me nor credit for all of my accomplishments but remember that they laughed at Fulton when he invented the Follies.

So, for now, a slough will have to do.



Okay, close your laptops, open your blue book and take out a pen.  We’re having a pop quiz.

For Americans, please name the President of Canada and the Mayor of Toronto.

For Canadians, please name the President of the United States and the Mayor of New York City.

Okay, some of you have already groaned because there is no President of Canada.  It was a trick question.  But there is a Prime Minister and based on anecdotal polling, I have found virtually zero Americans know that his name is Stephen Harper.

Contrast that to the number of Canadians who know that Barack Obama is the President of the USA and I would say it’s virtually everyone as I have worked north of the 49th parallel throughout the whole Obama administration.

Let’s see how we did on the Mayors.  Definitely less than half of the Canadians could identify Mayor Michael Bloomberg of NYC but this month a lot more Americans can name Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto.

Why?  Because Rob Ford has become a laughing stock and the darling of the American 24-7 so-called news cycle.  CNN and MSNBC and FOX have been having a field day with this crack smoking binge drinking prostitute loving prevaricating doughboy.

Don’t feel too sorry for Mayor Ford because lets just say he couldn’t have handled things worse.  Accused by another woman of soliciting oral sex, he stood next to his wife and said that he had more than enough to eat at home.  Really.  In public.

The most amazing thing about the Rob Ford story is that despite his admissions of lying and drug using and binge drinking, his popularity has actually gone up in Toronto.  He is a rough-hewn guy from the suburbs who ran against the downtown establishment and his supporters don’t care about his moral character or legal misadventures as long as he fights the good fight on their behalf.

Okay, open the blue books again and here’s a bonus question.  Who is Richie Incognito?

Raise you hand if you identified a member of the Miami Dolphins football team who was mean to one of his sensitive teammates.  If Rob Ford is a big jerk, Incognito is a bigger one and his name is certainly ironic considering how much play this non-story got from those same cable so-called news networks.  All I can say about this story is AWWWWWWWW!

What’s sad is that while these two stories were getting tremendous airplay, there was a legitimately huge story happening in the Philippines, where a typhoon killed thousands of people.

Although the original event got great coverage, including a very emotional visit from CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the typhoon blew out of the American consciousness very quickly, even though thousands more people are still homeless and fighting to survive.  For some reason, this story didn’t have the lingering impact of the earthquake in Haiti or the ongoing George saga.

So now we’re back to having to listen to the ridiculous circus surrounding the rollout of Obamacare and the total breakdown of decency and fundamental governance on Capital Hill.

We just celebrated two very big anniversaries:  it’s been 150 years since President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address questioning if democracy could succeed in such a diverse country and 50 years since President Kennedy was assassinated. I can’t imagine how disappointed these Presidents would be with the current gridlock and lack of any decency in Washington D.C.

Of course, President Kennedy was no saint but in those days, the press corps actually considered the peccadillos of public figures off limits and all the dirt on JFK didn’t come out until well after his assassination.

Now it’s open season on anyone and everyone.  For Rob Ford, he must have been very happy this week to hear that a self-righteous tea party congressman from Florida turned out to be a cocaine user.  Trey Radel voted recently to drug test food stamp recipients but he won’t step down, and instead is taking a leave of absence with pay.

Rob Ford is not going anywhere.  They don’t have a mechanism in Toronto to recall his election and it probably would fail anyway.  He’s seeking treatment—maybe he and Trey Radel will end up in the new Betty Ford Annex for Politicians.

In any case, the Rob Ford story is going to make a great movie someday, about the Everyman who took on the establishment while mirroring all of the the blemishes of his constituents.

Too bad John Candy isn’t around anymore to play the part.


Suburban Poverty

Leo Damski and Rachel Rosenfeld, two displaced Berliners now living in New York City, were introduced to each other by their parents, quickly fell in love, and before you could say Jackie Robinson, were married with three children.

They lived on upper Broadway in a two bedroom apartment blocks away from Leo’s parents.  Needing more space, in more ways than one, they started looking in the suburbs for a three-bedroom house.

After a few futile trips to Westchester, Paul Damski said he heard from his card playing friends the Habers that their kids found a nice house in Roslyn, Long Island, and if it was good enough for the Habers, who were well off, it was good enough for the Damskis.

With Paul Damski driving and Sam Rosenfeld riding shot gun, my parents were driven to this former potato field 20 miles east of the Midtown Tunnel.  They arrived at the model home at 4:00 PM and by 5:30 PM, Paul ponied up $5 grand for a deposit and Leo and Rachel staked their future on a wonderful corner lot at the intersection of Village and Salem Roads.

My subdivision, Strathmore at East Hills, was built by William Levitt, one of the master builders of the postwar housing boom during which returning soldiers could get very reasonable loans through the GI Bill.

Old man Levitt, who had already created giant sprawling Levittowns in Pennsylvania and Long Island, actually came around and pestered by parents and their neighbors about keeping their lawns mowed and their shrubs well trimmed.

For me, it was paradise.  We had a sizable side yard, at least I thought so at the time, and I was a sports obsessed little boy who constantly invented new games that I could play by myself or with one friend or more.

By the time I was in high school, we had invented a game we called “knee football” which was played exactly the way it sounds.  My parents were away, so we strung lights out from the master bedroom to the top of the garage roof and played what was very likely the first and last knee football game under the lights.

I walked to elementary school, junior high school, and high school–until I got my driver’s license in my senior year.  Then my love affair with the automobile began and it hasn’t lost any of its ardor.

So imagine my dismay when I was behind the wheel listening to NPR and finding out that the great American migration from city to suburbs has taken a bad turn.  They were talking about Suburban Poverty.  Those are two words I never thought I’d see joined up.

In many parts of the country, people are living upside down in houses they can no longer pay for.  If they could sell them, to where could they afford to move?

Swimming pools are turning green because the owners have been foreclosed on and walked away without any incentive to leave the house in good condition.

Small local businesses which sprouted up to service these suburban customers eventually were displaced by big box stores and This meant lower paying jobs or commuting back into the city for higher wages.

The dependence on the automobile is a major factor in the downfall.  Instead of having 2.6 kids, these suburban households are owning 2.6 cars, and gas prices are skyrocketing and public transportation just doesn’t cut it when you live far from your workplace.

The sub prime mortgage rate fiasco made things worse.  Many new waves of immigrants moved directly into the suburbs, unlike preceding generations that first settled in urban centers.

Loans were given to people who couldn’t afford them and were highly leveraged.  When the Ponzi Market finally collapsed 5 years ago, a lot of people just stopped making their mortgage payments and the Big Banks were slow to evict because they didn’t want to document just how badly they had messed up.

Now I hear many people nearing retirement age talking about “downsizing” which in most cases means a way less expensive house or condo far out in the country or a small place in the city.

Not one of my five kids seems to have that American Dream that I grew up with—the house in the suburbs, the neighborhood school, a lawnmower, and a station wagon to ferry your kids to Little League games and ballet lessons.

My idea of paradise has gone the way of knee football.  And keeping up with the Habers now means migrating right back to those cities that we were so anxious to abandon just a generation ago.


men working above

The sign said Men Working Above, and that seemed like an anachronism to me.  It’s 2013 and shouldn’t the sign say, “People Working Above”?

This was in the building where I stay when I work in Vancouver.  The signs are all over the neighborhood, all using Men instead of People.  This particular one was for the workers who were hoisting themselves up 14 floors to scrub dirty windows.

I asked one of the Men Working Above if there were ever any Women Working Above and he said not to his knowledge.  Is it possible that there isn’t a woman out there who would like to make a living dangling on strong ropes and pulleys and occasionally seeing an embarrassed naked person scurry for cover?

Perhaps they were scared off by the perception that this isn’t Women’s Work.  Or maybe they were discouraged by the feeling that this was a male dominated workplace.

The sign struck a chord with me because I work in such a World.  There are very few women directors in either television or film.  There are many women who want to become directors and we are starting to make some progress with various diversity programs that are knocking down doors and removing ceilings.

It’s hard to understand what the problem is.  It’s a creative position that also involves good communication skills and time management.  None of these are considered particularly “masculine” qualities.

Maybe it is the “take charge” aspect of directing that seems particularly male.  Some people think of the director as the Captain of the Ship and we all know that it is rare to see women in commanding positions.

A film crew is predominantly male.  There is a sprinkling of women behind the camera, mostly in the hair and make-up departments and as script supervisors—that’s the person that makes sure the script is followed and records everything that is actually shot and printed.

It’s intimidating for anyone to walk on a set and take command of a small army of about 60 people, not including actors and extras.  It might be a lot harder for a soft-spoken woman (or man) to take the reins.

But Kathryn Bigelow didn’t have any problems.  She’s become one of the top film directors in Hollywood and she has done it by making very compelling tough movies like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.

Hopefully people in the entertainment industry will take a look at Bigelow and realize that their assumptions are all wrong and it is a really bad idea to generalize about people

There is a strong push from my network, USA, which has a woman President, Bonnie Hammer, and my studio, Universal, to diversify when it comes to hiring directors.

It’s a start but too often, the same women and minority directors are hired and we’re not growing the pool fast enough.  It’s going to mean taking chances on people who don’t have a track record because it’s so damn hard for women and people of color to get on the track.

The same goes for CEO’s and window washers.  It’s so easy to generalize and we all do it.  It’s just easier to put people in little boxes and not really take the time to judge every individual as, well, an individual.