Bill Murray Stories:                    Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man

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Bill Murray Stories:

Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man

****

 

I have great empathy for celebrities. They can’t have a break-up, a drug-addiction, or an ill-conceived Tweet without the whole world knowing about it.

However, all bets are off when celebrities start getting political and telling me what to do and think. Then my empathy quickly turns to disdain.

Just because you look handsome while robbing a casino does not mean you know more about geopolitics than me. You know less.

Fortunately, there is one celebrity who is bringing us together rather than tearing us apart. There is one celebrity is doesn’t think he is better than us but actually is. Of course it’s Bill Murray.

Apparently, the internet is full of Bill Murray stories: improbable tales about average people who suddenly found themselves spending quality time with America’s most beloved elderly actor.

Documentarian Tommy Avallone travelled the world to interview the folks who posted Bill Murray stories to see if they are true. Evidently, they are all true. Bill Murray is – as you have always suspected – the coolest celebrity.

Avallone interviews an employee at a little dive bar in Austin, TX. One afternoon, Bill Murray sat down next to him to drink a pint and chat. In a few hours, Mr. Murray was behind the bar serving drinks (poorly) to the starstruck crowd.

Later that weekend, Murray showed up to a house party with an all-girl indie band (no one knows how he picked them up). Murray chipped in for beer with the crumpled-up wad of cash in his pocket. “Let me pay; I’ve been saving up,” he insisted.

When the cops came because the party was too loud, the actor urged the police to join the party rather than break it up. Of course they did. No one says no to partying with Bill Murray.

Avallone travels to Scotland to see if the weirdest Bill Murray story is true. Apparently, the actor met a Norwegian exchange student in a bar and the student invited Murray back to his flat for a party. When he got there, Murray quietly chided the residents for keeping such a dirty kitchen. Then Bill Murray washed all the dishes in the sink before returning to the party to socialize.

The movie shows that Bill Murray isn’t a celebrity who interacts with the public as a stunt. He is a regular guy who completely rejects the celebrity lifestyle.

Bill Murray doesn’t have a famous wife or an entourage. He doesn’t live in Hollywood. His primary residence is Charleston, South Carolina. He doesn’t even have an agent; he has a landline with an 800 number.

If you like Bill Murray – and we all do, right? – “Bill Murray Stories” is the feel-good movie of the year.

With his actions, not his words, Murray is touching people’s lives and showing us a humble, wholesome way to live.

 

Oh, and as for you, George Clooney: I am disgusted by your arrogance. People do not like being talked down to or being told what to do by smug celebrities. If I were running for office, I’d try to manipulate you into campaigning for my opponent. I’m pretty sure that would swing some votes my way.

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   Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare

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Escape Fire:

The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare

***

 

I got terribly sick about 10 years ago.

I’m not going to bore you with the details, but my illness made me learn more about the state of American health care than I had ever planned.

After a few miserable years, two hospital stays, two surgeries, and a boatload of drugs, I was feeling okay. I could hardly believe it.

I was going to waste away and die. But the American healthcare system gave me a second half to life; and a decent quality of life at that.

I feel unbelievably fortunate to live in this country in this period of history.

 

The American healthcare system does so much good for so many people. But eventually it won’t exist in this form. Its price tag is ridiculous and unsustainable.

In the US, we spend more than $10,000 on healthcare per person every year. Our budget crisis can be seen as simply a healthcare spending crisis. Medicare and Medicaid make up more than $1 trillion of the annual federal budget. If Washington got rid of those programs, we would have a budget surplus immediately, and for years to come.

“Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” is a non-partisan, open-minded documentary that exposes how we got so wasteful and how we can do better.

In the first half of the movie, documentarians Susan Froemke and Matthew Heineman follow the money to show us where it is being wasted. Specialists, they argue, order too many expensive tests and procedures because that is what they are paid to do.

Primary care physicians are under constant pressure to see as many patients as possible each day, because that’s how their practices stay in business. They don’t have time to come up with a plan to help their sick patients get well; they just have enough time to dole out more pills to mask their symptom.

Unsurprisingly, “Escape Fire” criticizes the US pharmaceutical industry. All those drug ads on TV have turned us into a nation of wasteful pill addicts. And those expensive pills are still no match for diet and exercise.

Froemke and Heineman aren’t just here to bash the current system. They have several optimistic ideas about how make healthcare cheaper and better.

Instead of paying primary care physicians by how many patients they see, Froemke and Heineman propose that we pay doctors based on the health outcomes of their patients.

They also introduce us to the Cleveland Clinic, where all the doctors are paid on salary. Consequently, the doctors’ only responsibility is to cure patients and there is no incentive to perform expensive tests and unnecessary procedures.

The most intriguing solution to rising costs is the Safeway health plan. The Safeway corporation effectively pressures its employees to live healthier lives using monetary incentives. At Safeway, healthcare paycheck deductions are significantly higher for smokers, people with high cholesterol, and for those whose body mass index is over 30.

Of course the Safeway plan works. Employees had virtually no choice but to quit smoking, eat healthier, and lose weight and the company’s healthcare costs have stopped rising every year.

However, it is hard to imagine this type of plan catching on nationwide. People do not like being told what and how much to eat. “Escape Fire” states that 70% of sickness is directly due to bad lifestyle choices. I don’t know if that’s true, but I predict that approximately 70% of sick people aren’t going to want to hear it.

 

“Escape Fire” is a well-made, intellectually stimulating documentary. Ultimately, it will change nothing, though. Until there is an actual crisis of funding, the current bloated system will continue unchanged. That’s because it works really well for a lot of people like me. (And because half of Congress is in the pocket of the insurance companies and big pharma).

Anita Hill: Speaking Truth to Power

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Anita Hill: Speaking Truth to Power

**

 

I loathe Political Correctness.

I admire people who speak their mind with eloquence, intelligence, and offensiveness. If I don’t offend at least one person with this article, I have become too boring and cowardly to deserve a column.

The PC police should get the heck out of our schools and college campuses. But they are welcome to stay in my place of employment.

In my office, we are not supposed to talk about politics, religion, race, sex, gender, and sexuality. There is no touching apart from fist bumps and any manager caught having a relationship with an underling is immediately fired.

I think all these rules are great. Instead of Mad Men-esque mad houses, 21st Century offices are comfortable and inclusive places to work.

“Boo hoo,” some people say. “Men are too afraid to even hug or flirt in the office now.” To me, that’s a very small price to pay for women to be able to have a career without being forced to negotiate a minefield of objectification and Sexual Harassment.

 

Back in 1991, I didn’t even know what Sexual Harassment is. I’ll bet I wasn’t alone. And that was a problem.

The problem of mass ignorance was solved in a big way when President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

University of Oklahoma Law Professor Anita Hill was expecting a call from the FBI and she was ready to tell the truth when it came. Hill reported that Judge Thomas had made her work life uncomfortable when he was her boss at the EEOC in 1981.

Anita Hill was called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I didn’t anticipate any partisanship,” Hill recalls. “I was expecting that the Senators were going to ask me questions to help learn whether Clarence Thomas was qualified.” Come on..really, Professor Hill? I’m sorry: either she is lying or she was shamefully ignorant about the basic realities of politics in America. Especially for a law professor who worked for the government in DC for years.

Apart from that embarrassing quote, Anita Hill comes off as brave, poised, and downright heroic.

The first half of “Speaking Power to Truth” is terrific. Documentarian Freida Lee Mock shines a spotlight on the awful senators who cross-examined Anita Hill like she was a hostile witness. We cringe as the senators cruelly make her repeat the same humiliating details over and over again.

Ms. Hill never wavered as she exposed fundamental truths about men in power.

The second half of the documentary is useless. Frieda Lee Mock just follows present day (2014) Anita Hill around on as she earns a living as a public speaker. If you watch this movie, I urge you to turn it off after 45 minutes.

#MeToo is a great. Anita Hill is great. I agree with almost everything Frieda Lee Mock has to say. I have a fundamental disagreement, however, with her assertion that we can uncover the truth about past harassment incidents.

It’s one thing to believe a victim’s story, it’s another thing to believe you are capable of knowing the truth about an incident from ten years ago. Zero people know the absolute truth, not even the people who were involved.

Victims of Sexual Harassment have their memory tarnished by trauma and time. And perpetrators of Sexual Harassment will honestly remember themselves as acting less creepily than they actually did.

Sleezy men don’t think they are bad people or want to be bad people. For the most part, they are acting out creepy behavior that they learned from men growing up or foolishly mistaking the friendliness of their female co-worker as possible romantic interest.

That’s why I am passionately in favor of strict PC rules in the workplace. They don’t just make office life better for women, they clearly help men. They teach creepy men the rules of gentlemanly behavior that their fathers should have taught them.

More gentleman and fewer creeps makes my office – and America – a better place. Thank you, PC Police! (Get the heck out of the classroom, though. Seriously).

Fahrenheit 11/9

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Fahrenheit 11/9

**1/2

 

When 22nd Century historians teach a lesson about the 2016 election, they’ll only need one primary source document. In the autumn leading up to the vote, Michael Moore wrote an essay entitled “5 Reasons Trump Will Win.”

Moore recognized that Donald Trump was the “Roger & Me” of presidential candidates. His message was music to the ears of forgotten Rust Belt workers who were fed up with globalization and the New World Order.

Trump criticized arrogant coastal elites for passing NAFTA, leading to the deindustrialization of the once vibrant American Midwest. He offered classical Progressive solutions: more worker-friendly trade deals and protectionist tariffs.

Michael Moore labeled the Trump revolution American Brexit. And he cited the four Obama states – Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Moore’s own Michigan – that the candidate was going to win on his way to earning the Presidency. The article is pure genius. You should read it.

“Fahrenheit 11/9” feels like the work of a different artist. The film is surprisingly overlong and unfocused.

Anti-Trump viewers will probably be disappointed. Yes, Moore accuses the President of simultaneously leading our country toward Nazism and nuclear war, but Trump is onscreen less than one quarter of the movie.

As much as anything, “Fahrenheit 11/9” is an angry takedown of the politicians who created and abetted the Flint, Michigan water crisis.

Moore accuses Michigan governor Rick Snyder of building an unnecessary new pipeline out of pure greed and leaving the impoverished citizens of Flint to drink poisonous, lead-filled muck.

And when he discovered that the dirty water was corroding parts at the GM plant, Gov. Snyder took immediate action and gave the company back its clean water. The people continued to drink swill.

Viewers will be surprised to learn that the ultimate villains of “Fahrenheit 11/9” aren’t the Trumpists; they are the leaders of the Democratic Party.

Moore condemns the DNC for stealing the 2016 nomination away from Bernie Sanders.

Moore eviscerates Bill Clinton, accusing the former President of selling out black citizens, blue collar workers, and private sector Unions. Moore concludes that after Clinton, the Democratic Party was just as corporatist and globalist as the Republicans.

Thank goodness for Obama, right? In the film’s only great scene, President Obama swoops into Flint on Air Force One. The teeming crowds cheer their beloved leader as he rushes through the town via limo to save them.

Barak Obama takes the podium. The crowd cheers and hoots. But the President has a cough…He asks for a glass of water to soothe his throat. Then he takes a sip – a tiny, tiny little sip – of tap water and declares that Flint water is safe.

The Flint audience gasps and so do we. This is easily the finest moment of this otherwise forgettable film.

 

Viewers are going to be disappointed that Moore doesn’t attack Trump with the same intellectual passion as Clinton and Obama.

“How the **** did this happen?” Moore asks us with a straight face. The problem is, he already answered this question – splendidly – two years ago.

“Fahrenheit 11/9” isn’t just unfocused, it is insulting to the viewer. It feels like Moore is saying that it’s okay for his functionally literate fans to know to the even-handed truth about the 2016 election. However, the movie-viewing masses can only handle information in dumbed-down, easy to swallow accusations, conspiracy theories, and comedy skits.

“Fahrenheit 11/9” made me laugh a lot. But Michael Moore can do better than this. Skip the movie and read “5 Reasons Trump Will Win” instead.

   Oliver Stone’s Untold History of The United States         Episode V: The 50s – Eisenhower, the Bomb, and the Third World

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Oliver Stone’s Untold History of The United States

Episode V: The 50s – Eisenhower, the Bomb, and the Third World

***1/2

 

The history books have been kind to Dwight Eisenhower. Ike is the least polarizing and least hated President of the Post-War Era. He is remembered as America’s benign grandfather figure during a time of relative peace and prosperity.

Oliver Stone has an explosive new take on President Eisenhower. Stone’s Eisenhower wasn’t responsible or level-headed – he was a globalist general leading our country into a buzzsaw of perpetual hostility.

Ike drove up to a huge fork in the road in his first year in office; and he took the wrong turn. Stalin had just died and the new Soviet leader sent a letter to Eisenhower. Khrushchev invited the President to end the Cold War and move on to a new era of friendly competition.

Eisenhower didn’t even respond to the letter personally. Secretary of state John Foster Dulles rebuked the offer, accusing the Politburo of planning communist world domination. Instead of peace, we got 65 years of mutual suspicion and nuclear brinksmanship with Russia (and counting).

While Sec. Dulles was poisoning our relationship with the Soviets via traditional diplomacy, CIA director Allen Dulles was poisoning it in sinister new ways. Boo, Dulles brothers.

In one of our government’s all time most self-defeating blunders, the CIA overthrew the democratically elected president of Iran and replaced him with a sellout Persian puppet. This got us easy oil for 25 years and an Islamist enemy for 40. And it ticked off the Soviets even further since we installed an America-alligned kingdom right on their southern border.

Oliver Stone says that Eisenhower was an old-fashioned Republican deficit hawk. He was troubled by the fact that America’s peacetime military was gobbling up half of the federal budget (vs 15% today).

Ike’s plan was to trim conventional forces and bulk up our nuclear forces dramatically. He embraced the notion that there was a dangerous Missile Gap even though he knew that we were far outpacing the Soviets.

As is always the case in Washington, expanding government is easy and cutting spending is impossible. By 1960, our conscription military was as bloated as ever, only now it included 1000s of nukes that could be delivered by missile, bomber, or submarine.

This would have been an irresponsible foreign policy if there were thousands of Atomic bombs. But these were Hydrogen bombs – hundreds of times more powerful than the ones we dropped on Japan.

Oliver Stone paints President Eisenhower as brazenly indifferent to the unfathomable devastation that a nuclear war would unleash. He just thought of nukes as another tool in our military arsenal, as opposed to the potential end of all mammalian life on earth forever.

 

As always, Oliver Stone paints a complex and compelling picture of history. And I agree with him most of the time. However, it is worth mentioning that Eisenhower did not, in fact, blow up planet earth. That’s a pretty important side note.

And no one wants peace with Russia more than me. I don’t go as far as Stone, though, in absolving the USSR of its imperialist crimes. Stone glosses over the Soviet crackdown on Hungarian protesters in 1956. To me, it was pure brutal colonialism; Budapest is a solid 1000 miles away from Moscow.

 

In the end, though, Oliver Stone’s conclusion is elegant and inescapably true: President Eisenhower was a failure by his own standards. The man most famous for warning America about the dangerous influence of the Military Industrial Complex was the one most responsible for solidifying its power.

Howard Zinn: A People’s History of the United States           Part I (1900-1920): Bread and Roses

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Howard Zinn:

A People’s History of the United States

          Part I (1900-1920): Bread and Roses

                             ****

          History books tell the Great Man version of history.

American history starts with great man Cristopher Columbus, continues with great men George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and moves forward quickly to great man Abraham Lincoln.

When the history of our time is written, future generations will read about Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

“But what about us?” you may ask. “Aren’t we as important as the great men of our time?” No, we are not. The best we can hope for is that one historian will buck the trend and tells our side of the story.

          Howard Zinn (1920 – 2010) is one of the most well-known and respected 20th Century historians. He was able to toss the Great Man blueprint in the trash and create a completely new narrative.

          In Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” the story of America is a perpetual battle between we the workers vs. the powerful people who exploit us.

          According to Zinn, the battle began at the very founding of our nation. He argues that the Revolutionary War was not a popular conflict. He points out that men had to be drafted to fight and that they were promised free land in exchange for their blood. But after the war, many of those men were evicted from their homes because they couldn’t afford the taxes that their new State governments were levying.

          Fast forward a century to the Chicago Haymarket Riot of 1886. Organized labor demanded an 8-hour work week and the demonstration turned violent. The business leaders and authorities got together and arrested the Union bosses on bogus charges. The Union leaders were hanged. Management won this round, but the fight definitely wasn’t over.

          Workers were better prepared during the 1912 Textile Strike in Lawrence, Mass. With organizational and monetary help from the IWW (International Workers of the World), the workers outlasted management. After grinding the cotton industry to a halt for more than two months, the workers earned a 20% raise.

According to Howard Zinn, the US Establishment learned a valuable lesson from Lawrence: never give an inch to organized labor.

When the silver miners in Ludlow, Colorado went on strike in 1914, negotiation was not an option. When the National Guard couldn’t crush the miners, President Wilson sent in the army. Hundreds of strikers were wounded and 75 were killed in The Ludlow Massacre.

Faced with the imminent threat of reduced power and profit, the titans of industry colluded with Washington to crush Organized Labor.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” No, Zinn says; that’s a lie. The reason the Establishment opened our borders was to import a fresh supply of cheap labor and to weaken the bargaining power of American Unions.

 “The world must be made safe for democracy…” No, Zinn says; that’s a lie. The reason that the Establishment chose to join World War I was because Britain and France owed billions of dollars to American businesses and an allied victory was the only way they’d get paid back. And under the cover of war, the government was able to pass the Sedition and Espionage Act, which had the intended effect of silencing, imprisoning, or deporting Labor agitators.

“A People’s History of the United States Part 1” is a first-rate documentary for history lovers. It entertained me the whole time and I learned a lot.

 I don’t agree with everything that Howard Zinn had to say. I love the non-Partisanship and the pacifism, but not so much the obsession with Marxist theory. By ambitiously tossing aside the Great Man version of history, though, Zinn was – in the end – a great man.

Three Identical Strangers

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Three Identical Strangers

***

 

Since the beginning of time, people have been asking themselves the same three questions:

  1. How did this all begin?
  2. What is the purpose to all of this?
  3. Do we have free will or are we mere slaves to our destinies?

 

[Spoiler Alerts ahead] In 1960, famed Freudian psychiatrist Peter Neubauer

conceived of an epic study that would answer the final question once and for all. “Three Identical Strangers” explores the extraordinary aftermath of Dr. Neubauer’s human experiment.

The first half of “Three Identical Strangers” is magnificent. British documentarian Tim Wardle tells the joyous true story of three guys who suddenly found their purpose.

In 1980, Bobby went away to college. But when he got there, people greeted him as if he was an old friend. It didn’t take long to discover that Bobby was the long-lost twin brother of gregarious Eddy.

When the New York tabloids picked up on the story, Bobby and Eddy became minor celebrities. It wasn’t long before David – who was also born on July 12, 1961 – saw what was essentially a photograph of himself in the Daily News.

The three identical strangers didn’t just reunite, they immediately became best friends.

They went on the talk show circuit – wearing the same outfit and talking about how they smoke the same cigarettes and have the same taste in women. They took advantage of being young, cute, and famous by moving to Manhattan and sharing a bachelor pad together.

In their 20s, they started families and opened a successful SOHO restaurant – called Triplet’s. Life was a fairy tale for Bobby, Eddy, and David. Until it wasn’t…

Investigative journalist Lawrence Wright (“Going Clear”) uncovered the dark-ish secret behind the fairy tale.

At the height of his fame and hubris, Dr. Peter Neubauer convinced an adoption agency to separate identical twins and triplets and secretly send them off to different families. Then he had his staff follow the children and carefully document their developmental growth.

Dr. Neubauer’s grand scheme was to discover – once and for all – which parts of our personality were determined by genetics and which parts were influenced by our environment and free will.

“That is like Nazi ****,” Eddy states.

No, Eddy. It’s not.

After a few years of fun and success, the triplets begin fighting with each other over their restaurant. Documentarian Tim Wardle tries to blame the experiment for the brotherly strife. That is absolutely ridiculous. Relatives who go into business together inevitably have issues, whether they’ve grown up together or not.

I agree with Wardle that secretly separating identical siblings in the name of science is arrogant and unethical. But you can’t blame every problem the triplets had on the experiment.

I think the saddest thing about the experiment is how useless it was. Reasonable people have always known that our identity is based partially on our DNA and partially on our environment. We will never know what percentage because everybody is different and we are infinitely complex creatures.

 

The reason people have been asking those same three philosophical questions since the beginning of time is that they are totally unanswerable.

If any man claims to be able to tell you how this all began, what the meaning of your life is, or why exactly you behave the way you do, don’t trust him. That guy is nothing but trouble.

Whitney

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Whitney

***

 

First off, I feel like I should admit something: I don’t like Whitney Houston’s music. I like zero of her songs.

I have nothing against Ms. Houston personally. I just don’t appreciate songs where the singer shows off her voice at the expense of the music. I listen to a pop song because of the catchy hooks – not for some crooner demonstrating her unusual vocal range.

To me, a song is like a BLT sandwich. The percussion is the bread, the bass is the tomato, and the guitar or synthesizer is the bacon. The vocals are just the lettuce.

A Whitney Houston song is like a BLT piled high with an entire head of lettuce. On one hand, it’s kind of impressive that you could fit that much lettuce. But it makes for a bland, artless sandwich that I don’t want to consume.

 

“Whitney” is an engrossing documentary that treats Ms. Houston entirely as a human being and not as a celebrity.

British director Kevin McDonald doesn’t tell his side of the story. He lets dozens of Ms. Houston’s family, friends, and co-workers tell their side.

It’s hard to know what Whitney Houston’s childhood was like because the relatives interviewed give two completely different stories.

Some say that Ms. Houston had an idyllic childhood. Her dad was a high-powered Newark politician and her mom was a successful back-up singer who worked with Elvis. Houston’s parents could afford private school tuition for young Whitney and a big house in the suburbs.

Others say that Ms. Houston was scarred by her nightmarish childhood. With her corrupt dad wheeling and dealing and her showbiz mom always on the road, young Whitney and her brothers were shuffled off from house to house – from aunt to cousin to neighbor. One of Whitney’s female relatives molested her. With minimal supervision, drugs were part of her life from an early age.

One of the tabloid misconceptions about Whitney Houston is that her rakish husband Bobby Brown corrupted her and introduced her to hard drugs. “Whitney” tosses that lie right into the trash.

Whitney Houston, by her own admission, loved drugs. And they were a part of her life before she became famous and long before she met Mr. Brown.

Ms. Houston’s older brother states that the Houston siblings would do cocaine with Bobby Brown, but that Brown couldn’t begin to keep up. “The only time we did as much as Bobby Brown,” he chuckles, “is when we were lapping him.”

Kevin McDonald can’t give us a happy ending, of course. But he does sprinkle in some laughs along the way.

He sneaks in an unexpected dig at Al Sharpton. In 1989, Reverend Sharpton urged black record buyers to boycott “Whitey” Houston for abandoning gospel music for pop. Then, after her death, we hear a cynical Sharpton lament her passing on CNN. I guarantee you that Rev Al does not like this movie.

But everyone else will. “Whitney” is an engrossing story about a woman who got everything she ever wanted but discovered that she had wanted the wrong things.

I enjoyed it even though I didn’t appreciate any of the music. But if you happen to be the type of person who likes her BLT piled high with lettuce, “Whitney” is an absolute must-see.