Author Archives: Pat Holt

Let Glide Be Glide

Recent decisions by a conservative Methodist bishop are causing an uproar among the many followers of Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco.

A few weeks ago, the bishop, Minerva Carcaño, abruptly removed two pastors and launched a task force to assess the finances of Glide, the powerful Glide Foundation, and the “lack of an appropriate governance structure.”

It’s hard not to smile at that last one. Has the bishop never set foot in the place? A feeling of happy chaos pervades so that everyone will feel welcome, but look more closely: A strong organizational structure of some 90-plus free programs confront life-and-death issues every day.

These programs succeed where others do not because Glide has carved out a unique identity in one of the worst slums in America. Worrying about  “appropriate governance structure” with the mother church probably isn’t a priority when you’re providing free meals to 700,000 people annually.

Learning from History

What’s at stake keeps reminding me of an explosive event in the 1960s, when a shoot-out nearly occurred between the Black Panther Party and San Francisco police.

The Black Panther motto: “armed self-defense”

The incident began when the Panthers opened a San Francisco branch, much to the horror of a very white SFPD. The Panthers’ cramped office was located in the Western Addition/Fillmore District, a low-income, largely African American section of the city.

The police insisted that a bomb scare required an official “visit” to the Panther branch to keep the neighborhood safe. The Panthers accused the SFPD of inventing the bomb scare to conduct a search for illegal weapons. The police  prepared to advance in force that very night. The Panthers brought in sand bags, plywood to cover windows and enough ammunition to withstand a full-scale SWAT attack.

So things escalated pretty fast, and it was a very scary time anyway. Lethal firefights between police and Black Panthers were breaking out in other cities, Oakland especially. The FBI branded the Black Panther Party as “the greatest threat to the security of the country.” As is true today, tensions between law enforcement and people of color skyrocketed throughout the country.

The Issue of Trust

Neighbors in the Western Addition/Fillmore, many of them members of Glide, asked the church’s pastor, Cecil Williams, to step in. He had worked with the SFPD before — sometimes even against them — and was able to set up a meeting that afternoon.

With a delegation of Panthers and residents at his side, Williams suggested that the chief postpone the police “visit” until things cooled down and the Panthers invited them to come in.

Cecil Williams and the SFPD

The chief conferred with several captains and surprised the delegation by agreeing. “We’ll wait,” he said, “until you’re ready for us to come out there.” He then stood up as if to say the meeting was over.

“I sat there thinking this sounded too easy,” Williams remembers. As is so often true today, the fundamental issue was trust. “This was the problem of taking the word of the chief, I had learned. There was never any guarantee to the black community that police wouldn’t rush in for any reason.”

Williams then made the following announcement: “On our end, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to have 400 or 500 of our people surround the Panther office tonight, and tomorrow night, and however many nights it takes until the Panthers feel comfortable.”

The chief looked stunned. Hundreds of poor people willing to stand between outraged combatants with loaded guns?  No way.

Cecil himself had no illusions. “It went without question that these people would not be armed, would not fight the police in any way, and would not move from their positions. If a bomb had really been planted and exploded in the night, many of them would be killed. If the police decided to invade the Panther headquarters, they’d have to arrest all 500 people first.”

It was a brilliant move in its Gandhian way. The chief again agreed to postpone,  this time aware of potential consequences.

The Black Panther office in San Francisco

The All-Night Stand

Minutes after the meeting, Glide worker (later president) Janice Mirikitani initiated the church’s “telephone tree” (no cell phones then). One by one, volunteers arrived at the Panther office. Then dozens, then hundreds.  “The crowds swelled into the streets,” Williams remembers. “Soon you couldn’t see the Panther office for the mass of people getting deeper and thicker. Still more people came; the police would have needed a tank to wedge through.”

The volunteers stood packed together that way all night. Even in the wee hours when a siren screamed by, no one panicked, even the Panthers. (It turned out to be a fire engine). The next night, the volunteers returned, and the next. They kept coming until the SFPD and Panthers found a way to reconcile.  (That peace would be temporary.)

This was one of the many times that Cecil Williams interceded in a crisis.  He has been successful, people believe, because Glide is both a church and a community force. Its commitment to unconditional love means “the church is there for the people, not the other way around.”

Indeed, Williams’ voice of 50 years ago sounds very much like activist pastors in the Black Lives Matter movement today.

“People want to know how I as a minister who’s devoted to nonviolence could have supported the Black Panthers and their use of guns,” he says. “I answer that it’s easy to get stuck on the issue of weapons when the larger picture — a world of racism and violence — is not being addressed at all. I am committed to unconditional love, which means I respect the reality of others. In a world where African Americans are more likely than whites to be profiled as violent, and more likely to be killed, my focus is the preservation of life.”

At Glide in the 1960s: The church as a community force

This is the point that Bishop Carcaño keeps missing, I think. Williams isn’t saying he supports people having guns. He’s saying he accepts the reality that people have guns, and he ministers to them without judgment.

That legacy has continued with all the pastors who followed. Glide “accepts  the reality” of anybody who walks in the door — not only the poor and homeless but the mentally ill, the addicted, the paroled, the PTSD vets, the warring gangs and others.  Many are camped outside Glide’s doors, and they are welcome to come in, too,  because the love of this church has no conditions.

Then We’ll Love You

So back to Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who oversees 370 churches and says nice things like this:  “As United Methodists we respect all faiths (and) love all people … All of our churches minister to the poor and marginalized.”  That’s true as far as it goes.

But Carcaño’s idea of love does have conditions. “Glide Memorial United Methodist Church must remain true to the mission of the United Methodist Church,” she says, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Oh, dear. This sounds like the old Skid Road barter: Come in and have some soup, says the Christian church to the lost and homeless. But before you go, embrace Jesus Christ as your savior. Then we’ll love you. 

Minerva Caraño

At no point in Glide’s 55-year history has anyone been directed to become a “disciple of Jesus Christ.”  All the people, whether sitting in pews or donating millions or drunk and screaming at passers-by outside are encouraged to find their own truth, their own identity.  God is not a punitive god, according to Glide — nor a judgmental god, not a shaming god. God is a freeing god to all the people, especially those who’ve been cast out.

As Cecil points out, the earliest followers of Jesus Christ were “the nobodies, the outcasts, the poor and homeless.” They built the church because Jesus spoke to all, without judgment, and brought love to all, without condition.

The Controversy Today

But let’s look at Carcaño’s accusation of a “lack of financial transparency” at Glide. This is hard to figure since Carcaño sits on the board of the Glide Foundation and has been privy to every budget, audit and account that Glide sends out to all board members and donors. Like fellow board members she has signed off on statements that prove Glide’s financial transparency. And she has probably sat back in awe at the number of donors who contribute to the annual budget of $16 million.

One of the largest donors, financier Warren Buffett, describes his long involvement with Glide here. “Nobody who’s ever given to Glide has ever felt shortchanged.” he says, referring to the transformations he’s seen among the people whom Glide calls its “clients.”

Cecil Williams, Warren Buffett, Janice Mirikitani

True, Buffett’s method of giving is unusual — he auctions off a chance to have lunch with him each year, and the highest bid usually tops $3 million — but that’s because Glide is Glide. It’s not just the homeless whom God encourages to make their own choices their own way. Rich philanthropists get to do it, too. And by the way, donors who contribute to Glide, Buffett says, “always get their money’s worth.” So what is Carcaño’s beef.

Of course so often it’s Williams and Mirikitani who draw people like Buffett — and Oprah, and Bono, and Bishop Desmond Tutu, and so many others who bring the spotlight to Glide. Carcaño has said she reassigned the two pastors because her top-level choices have been subverted by  Williams and Mirikitani. They seem to be running things from behind the scenes, she believes.

If that’s true, given their ages —  77 and 89 respectively — it is astonishing in our youth-crazy culture that these two have so much power. The bishops who oversaw Glide before Carcaño embraced Williams and Mirikitani as a gift to the ongoing legacy. Perhaps it says a lot about Carcaño that she alone can’t work with them to mutual benefit.

The ‘Land Grab’ Theory

Carcaño’s critics say the real problem boils down to nothing less than an attempted land grab.

Jones Memorial Methodist Church today

Glide Memorial Methodist Church today

Glide as it happens is one of two United Methodist Churches in the city serving African American populations and pastored by African American lead ministers. The other, Jones Memorial, is located a dozen blocks away in the Western Addition. Both have developed nearby buildings for affordable housing, and the property values of both have soared with the entrance of Silicon Valley interests during the so-called “tech revolution.”

Meanwhile, say these same critics, the pension and healthcare fund of the United Methodist Church (UMC) has become so underfunded that it’s in need of massive influx of funds. The sale of the two church properties could bring in a windfall of $40-50 million, it’s been said, and solve a lot of problems.

It’s hard to believe that this kind of backroom scheming, if it exists, would be supported by someone with the activist credentials of Minerva Carcaño. She may be a rules-conscious conservative about UMC “governance,” but she’s also backed pro-immigration, LGBTQ and other progressive issues where it counts — at protests, at the border and during her own arrests.

Nevertheless, there’s another thing Carcaño misses. The two pastors at Glide didn’t just talk a good game about being “radically inclusive.” They, like Glide leaders before them all the way back to Williams and Mirikitani in the 1960s, made it a point to express unconditional love through concrete acts, such as feeding the hungry, offering shelter, providing healthcare and standing up for the humanity (read: civil rights) of all.

After retirement, Williams and Mirikitani returned as part-time employees of the Glide Foundation to support new leadership and to continue Glide’s legacy

You can see the results at Sunday Celebrations when kids and adults get onstage to tell the congregation what happens to them in Glide’s programs. These are people America once dismissed as the dregs of society. “Everybody had given up on them except you,” Buffett says to Williams and Mirikitani. Transformation really can happen when people feel deeply, authentically, unconditionally loved. Usually, week after week there’s not a dry eye in the church. It’s unfortunate that Bishop Carcano has said of Glide’s services, “Sunday Celebrations are uplifting concerts, but they lack the fundamentals of Christian worship.”

If a central concern for the modern pastor is to “respect the reality of others,” surely a central concern for Bishop Carcaño is to respect the reality of her own pastors, to let them let Glide be Glide.

Instead, it appears her approach is to eviscerate Glide, one of the most successful churches in the Methodist domain, and return to the 1950s conservatism that nearly killed it in the first place.

Note: I worked with Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani in the writing of their memoir, Beyond the Possible (HarperCollins, 2013). Most of the quotes and several photos in this post are taken from that book.

 

 

 

Remembering Peter Mayer

Reading about the death of legendary Penguin publisher Peter Mayer at 82 reminded me of an episode in the late 1970s that demonstrated the makings of that dear man as one of the book industry’s most charismatic leaders.

Peter Mayer: at Penguin in 1979

It happened after book publishers in the United States and England signed a consent decree in the mid-1970s that released English-language reprint rights to competitive bidding among different houses throughout the world.

The consent decree was created to level the playing field by weakening the dominance of London- and New York-based houses. So Peter Mayer — having climbed the ranks at Avon and Pocket Books to run Penguin’s international operation as CEO — traveled to Australia, New Zealand (often referred to in shorthand as ANZ, never as “down under”) and other countries to buck up the Penguin troops, as it were.

I was traveling through Australia and New Zealand at the same time, reporting for Publishers Weekly on the effect of the consent decree. This was a wondrous, in-between period for any reporter in ANZ because remnants of UK colonialism were in the midst of fading away — though too slowly for some. Many people still referred to England as “home,” and guests still sang “God Save the Queen” at ceremonial dinners. But a new belief in home-based institutions had begun to take over.

The famous Penguin logo

In book publishing, it was hoped, the consent decree would also help to diminish the particular colonialist notion that ANZ authors had to be published abroad before they were taken seriously at home.  This had been true of Colleen McCullough (The Thorn Birds) and Thomas Keneally (soon to write Schindler’s List). But with the bidding process for acquiring books now open to local houses, it was hoped that dependency on the “parent” company or country would lose its hold.

So Penguin interviews figured mightily in my travels. Since its founding in 1935, Penguin’s series of color-coded paperbacks had become recognized and trusted the world over, giving ANZ branch offices a leg up in launching unknown local authors to international markets. Now, though, a belief spread among other houses, from Harper Australia and Random New Zealand to the independent Angus and Robertson, that the consent decree would break up that Penguin advantage.

Thus Peter Mayer, whom I had admired from afar but met only once in person, had his work cut out for him.  Penguin had hit a low point for the first time since its founding in 1935, so who knew if this was the right time for its new CEO to fly 10,000 miles and visit the hinterlands?  But word had it that Peter hit the ground running; he was  a’vistin’ book trade folk like a house afire. Wherever I went in either country, people would say that Peter Mayer was either a city behind or a city ahead of me, and it always seemed that his visits had a profound effect on everyone who met him. Some said “incendiary,” but in a good way.

For example, if I interviewed staff members in a Penguin office before Peter Mayer came through, answers to my questions usually took a noncommittal direction  — daily accounts and predictable data were trotted out to show titles selling briskly and markets responding nicely, and so forth. Few risked an opinion about the consent decree or, really, about anything.

Like a house afire

However, after Peter Mayer had been there, it felt like everybody from warehouse handlers to managing directors came rushing out with eyes shining to meet me excitedly and blurt out things like this:

Well, we used to sell to bookstores once a season, but now we’re going to do inventory checks and co-op ads and author signings even for the smallest books because we’ve got the legacy to  turn this consent decree around, you see? Here, look at this advance title list: we’re picking up more local authors than ever and our crossover [trade to text] numbers are going up because real growth is in the offing, but first let’s introduce you to this editor and that sales rep, and do you want some tea? Are you going to the ABPA (Australian Book Publishers Association) dinner and have you heard of this small press and that new bookstore?

It was curious at first because I thought that Peter as the top Penguin exec would visit Penguin’s offices throughout ANZ and then, you know, leave. But his infectious we’re-all-in-this-together outlook about books compelled him to stop in at bookstores and wholesalers and competing publishers and author signings everywhere he went.

The original orange look for Penguin fiction

And each time he got somewhere, he’d strike up a conversation without regard to rank or privilege. To Peter it was a gift to work with books at any level —  for publishers, for example, to sign an author with huge potential despite the house’s small budget; or to announce a large hardcover printing but reserve enough f&g’s (folded and gathered sheets) to bulk up the paperback run. It might be a gamble to offer discounts for unknown authors like one-free-for-ten (meaning the bookstore would get the 10th copy free, a crazy idea since most buyers ordered a maximum of three books by unknowns), but what the hell — if we believe in our writers, let’s take some chances.

Peter also liked to rummage around bookstores asking questions of everybody: Why were some books placed face out rather than spine out or as “endcaps” (end-of-the-aisle displays)? How had the buyer convinced publishers, who usually dreaded the idea of paying for bookstores’ advertising, to accumulate stats from previous orders to cover almost the whole bill?

Penguin green: mystery and crime

I should mention that everybody on the sales side knew how to do these basic things. They did not need the boss from London to instruct them on their job. The difference was that  Peter made it all fun again, made the risks of returns and bad reviews worth it and, again and again shared that vision he knew we all had, that working with books at any level was a privilege, a kind of art in itself.

I put the “we” in there because even hearing about such things third or fourth hand, I got just as revved up as anybody else. I remembered that years before,  a younger Peter Mayer had taken a group of students through an Avon warehouse as part of a Publishing Procedures course in Boston. As a member of this group, I was not alone worrying that the book industry had become arrogant and stuffy and mired in the Dark Ages. So I was struck by Peter’s enthusiasm over little things, like new ways to glue signatures in paperback books, or how one day it would be possible to print all books on acid-free paper, so one day the pages wouldn’t turn brown and crackly the older the book got.

In the1990s

True, Peter Mayer had been billed as part of the new breed of publishing — hungry for new ideas, not stuffy, hugely ambitious for himself and his house and unashamed about driving a cab for a living (of course this made him all the more romantic) before he started in book publishing. Most important, he was no phony. Showing us around that ice-cold warehouse, he  picked up, pawed at, held to his heart and even recited parts of so many titles that it was clear he loved reading for its own sake, a rare quality in our trade.

Peter left us at the end of that tour with a challenge. The paperback industry might cover the world with millions of reprints, but the house was always looking for the next, best one. Could any of us think of a critically well-received hardcover that hadn’t been reprinted in paper? Standing at a loading dock in that B.C. (Before Computers) era, this was not an easy thing to research.

I think my candidate was A Separate Peace by John Knowles, which prompted a “Great idea!” response from Peter, who then remembered that Bantam had picked it up in 1953. (How nice of him not to mention that any book on the bestseller list as long as the Knowles novel had been would be snapped up fast.)

Ah well, he shrugged, as if to say, that’s the joy of publishing — hundreds of other good books are out there waiting for all of us, so why are we standing here?

That’s the question I heard ringing through the book trade these past decades as collapse from a new era seemed inevitable. For every industry, it seems, you’re lucky if you get one Peter Mayer in a lifetime.

 

A Police Shrink Who Gives Up on Nobody — Part III

Sue Grafton’s recent death reminded me what a joy it was to watch this gracious, no-nonsense writer break into the male-dominated mystery genre back in 1982.

I’ve been thinking of Grafton while writing about Ellen Kirschman, a mystery writer whose work is just as fresh and relevant for her time.

Sue Grafton

Ellen Kirschman

As I remember the B.C. (Before Computers) era of the early ’80s, novels by unknown writers like Grafton were lucky to be published with a first printing of 5,000 copies — and luckier still to clear a sale of 3,000. Grafton’s publisher, Henry Holt and Company, took a risk on her first novel, “A” Is for Alibi, with an initial printing of 7,500 copies and was thrilled when it sold 6,000.

As the world now knows, one reason for its success was Grafton’s catchy, classy idea of making a lethal murder mystery sound like a children’s spelling book. Something about following the alphabet had a huge and immediate appeal, and why not? Few could resist solving “B” (Burglar) without looking forward to “C” (Corpse). Readers coming in late at “E” (Evidence) seemed to always want to go back and start with “A” Is for Alibi.

This was also the PFE (PreFeminist Era) when publishers were just beginning to realize that women not only bought most of the books in the United States; they actually read the damn things and, in the mystery genre especially, spread the word of an intriguing newcomer faster and more powerfully than any marketing or publicity campaign ever could (still true).

So it meant something that readers so quickly took to Grafton’s female private eye, Kinsey Milhone. An Everywoman alone in the universe, a loner who likes but is never dependent on men, Kinsey avoids violence, isn’t conventionally beautiful and doesn’t use wisecracks to get laid. Right through 25 novels sadly ending in “Y” Is for Yesterday, she has remained her own person — thoughtful, observant, a bit hermetic but curious about the world, and adventurous in her own way.

“A” Is for Alibi, Grafton’s first novel, 1982

And unlike amateur sleuths, Kinsey has sought to be a professional PI from the start. She rents an office, charges for her time, works comfortably with male colleagues (especially the police) and keeps a formal distance between herself and clients. Only we know how deeply she may care for people along the way, sometimes at great risk to herself.

From Kinsey Milhone to Dot Meyerhoff

The matter of professionalism defines Sue Grafton’s legacy in a way that rang a bell when I came upon Ellen Kirschman’s protagonist, police psychologist Dot Meyerhoff (see most recent two posts below).

First, a quick observation: Every genre hits its trendy periods, but it’s been both fascinating and scary to watch the attraction of psychotherapists across all boundaries of fiction for the last 20 or 30 years. By now, mysteries can easily get junked up with superficially drawn psychologists who function only to fill a narrative hole. Their job is to offer cheap motivations, gossip in the form of red herrings and dark impulses that make voyeurs of us all.

Dot Meyerhoff is not that kind of character. In her 50s with decades of experience, she’s so much “the real thing” that readers can relax and enjoy her dry humor and unique commentary without feeling used. As far as I know (readers, please tell me if I’m wrong), Dot is the only professional female police psychologist in mystery fiction to function as a modern sleuth.

Kirschman, herself a police psychologist for more than 30 years, is famous in her field as author of nonfiction guides for First Responder families (I Love a Cop, I Love a Fire Fighter, etc.). In these, she writes with such a natural flair for entertainment and instruction that it’s fun to watch her pass the fictional baton to her shrewd yet often very funny alter ego, Dot Meyeroff.

Kirschman’s nonfiction books

The twist here is that the Kenilworth Police Department where Dot works, despite its location in the heart of Silicon Valley, appears to be stuck in a “cowboy culture” of the 1950s.  Most everyone on the nearly all-white, all-male police force regards emotion as a sign of weakness, so no cop wants to be seen talking to the department’s “lady shrink” in any formal way.

Dot is patient enough with her macho clientele to do a lot of counseling “on the hoof,” as she says. So she just happens to bump into cops she’s a bit worried about, strikes up conversations in hallways or patrol cars,  asks questions about family life and on-the-job pressures that won’t sound too probing, but are.

Over time, her understanding of cop life makes Dot more trustworthy to Kenilworth’s cops (and to us) than many a psych consultant who’s called in for a quickie consult.

From Suicide to Child Pornography

Kirschman’s themes are not easy. In Burying Ben (2013) Dot confronts the growing national tragedy of police suicide. In The Right Wrong Thing (2015) she faces blatant sexism and racism when a white police officer shoots an unarmed African American teen. (The fact that both cop and suspect are women throws a new angle on Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, movements that emerged after publication.)

The Fifth Reflection

And now in The Fifth Reflection, published in the midst of the nation’s crisis over sexual abuse and discrimination, Kirschman directs our focus to the larger, more complex phenomena of child pornography, pedophilia and sex trafficking.

Here we meet Manuel Ochoa, a promising young cop at Kenilworth PD who’s working to the point of exhaustion, even paranoia, on a child-porn operation with ICAC (the real-life national task force called Internet Crimes Against Children).

Manny has volunteered for the job because there’s more money and chance for advancement than the usual “leaf blower complaints and barking dogs” that beat cops usually investigate. He gets to choose his own team and set up round-the-clock systems in which detectives find hidden websites and track child pornography networks that lead to real perpetrators and real arrests. It’s tedious, depressing work, but as a new father, he comes to the job fired up and raring to go.

That would be a terrific start for an action novel about cops, but Dot Meyerhoff works in a real-life police station where evidence-gathering is always piecemeal and often frustrating. Her job is to spot  risky behavioral patterns that many cops fall into and don’t know it.

“Manny started out in this job, as they all do, thinking he was part of an elite group of invulnerable people — smart, strong, and determined. This is not narcissism, it’s a necessary fiction. Without it, Manny or any other cop couldn’t do what society needs him to do. Or see what society doesn’t want to acknowledge.”

What’s the “necessary fiction” nobody talks about in law enforcement? I think Kirschman means that Americans fool ourselves thinking police are out there solving sophisticated modern-day crime when the truth is, they’re barely making a dent in the big stuff, especially child pornography.

At the same time, politically motivated brass like the Chief at Kenilworth PD tend to toss ambitious but ill-trained young cops like Manny into the fray.

Manny’s training so far: The Chief sent him to talk with “a retired guy from Child Protective Services.” His specialized workplace: A shoddy substation with cheap furniture and cast-off computers. The caliber of the detectives he works with: One cop on the team admits he “likes porn and thinks he can spend all his time hanging out in massage parlors.”

Dot sees Manny taking the brunt of all this.

“Investigating child pornography is one of the most stressful assignments in law enforcement. No one should be placed in a stressful specialty without first being screened. Manny has a small child of his own. That brings everything closer. Makes him vulnerable to over-identifying with the victims.”

Ellen Kirschman

That’s the pressure so many cops are under. Manny believes he’s tough and strong enough to fight whatever “emotional consequences” may sneak into the job. But his wife Lupe tells Dot that he can’t eat or sleep, won’t let any male near their baby daughter — even family — and is overprotective to the point of bullying.

Soon we see how invaluable “counseling on the hoof” can be. On a visit, Dot suggests that Manny move photos of Lupe and the baby away from the computer where he’s spending half his life viewing the worst kind of child pornography while trying to buddy-up to the perpetrators for the next sting operation.

Dot also begins “stress inoculation” for Manny by bringing Lupe in on strategy sessions at the station and at home. Keeping boundaries separate, she says, is a big step away from taking the bad stuff personally. But it’s only a first step.

When Naked Children Are Art, Not Crime

I wish Kirschman had shown us more of what a police psychologist actually does to help overwhelmed cops like Manny before his family and colleagues are afraid to come near him. Instead — and I admit it’s a fascinating and important subplot — the location changes abruptly as Dot and her fiance Frank attend an avant-garde art exhibit that features controversial photos of naked children.

In one image, Dot notes, a nude boy turns a “furious” expression at the camera, his “eyes blazing with the angry intensity of a powerful secret.” In another, a pre-pubescent girl with “an amorphous sexuality” lies face down, nude except for “wet leaves, some randomly stuck to her body.”

What’s the difference, people at the exhibit (and we readers) wonder silently, between these photos and child pornography?

Dot, both specialist in crime and art enthusiast, is at first open-minded. She finds the photos “gorgeous (and) evocative, drawing me in but repelling me at the same moment.” If they’re erotic, she thinks, they are also “bordering on pornographic.”

Sally Mann, photo of her children, Virginia, Emmett and Jessie.

(This is the kind of disturbing internal dialogue that has been discussed for years regarding the work of Sally Mann, the acclaimed yet sometimes censured photographer and mother who, like the character of JJ in The Fifth Reflection, has photographed her own children in similar poses.)

Soon a fight is brewing. Frank, an amateur photographer who may have a crush on JJ, his strikingly attractive mentor and the exhibit’s most controversial artist, insists the photographs are “sensual, not sexual. These are works of art,” he says, “carefully composed.”

Even more unsettling, the children depicted get younger and younger. In one photo, an unclothed three-year-old girl is “sitting on a log in the middle of a stream, her knees pulled up to her chest, looking down at the water swirling in circles under her.”

Frank: What do you think?

Dot: She’s naked.

Frank: So is Venus rising out of that clam shell. And all those naked cherubs in the Italian masterpieces…Since I’ve been studying photography I see the naked form everywhere. Imogen Cunningham, Georgia O’Keefe, they all photographed naked women.

Dot: Women, not children.

Frank: How are these images any different from what you see every day on television? Victoria’s Secret’s ads, Sports Illustrated swimwear edition…

Dot: Those are adults. They can give informed consent to being photographed.

Dot is still pondering the difference between art and crime when Frank shows her the exhibit’s most praised photo, a picture of JJ’s daughter, Crissy, who’s two years old.

Dot: Her arms are at her sides and she’s dangling a toy dog by the leg — its head drags on the ground. She is naked, wearing only a white headband with a large floppy bow…Her eyes are huge and her skin flawless. I have no children of my own, but the image is so powerful I can literally feel the sensual appeal of Chrissy’s smooth skin, imagine how it would be to cover her plump pillowing body with kisses.

 Wow. I put that quote in bold because I can’t imagine a straight white male protagonist in other mysteries, like Harry Bosch or Jack Reacher or Dave Robicheaux, saying such a thing about kissing a naked little girl’s “pillowing body.”

Sally Mann, “The Perfect Tomato”

Of course the statement itself is fine — many hardboiled detectives are fathers who have hugged and kissed their toddlers that way all the time. It’s just that  with the explosion of complaints about sexual abuse of minors in recent years, mystery authors tend to avoid any hint of impropriety on the part of the male hero.  (Without a hint of irony, many of these same mystery authors bring us the most hideous stories of curvaceous young women being raped and tortured before the murder mystery even begins.)

Kirschman is fearless in this regard. Emotions that cops usually keep hidden in the shadows are fiercely explored in Dot Meyerhoff mysteries. While Dot will still emerge as a master of deduction — her eye misses nothing, her logic is impeccable —  at the same time her heart, too, is wide open. She not only reads emotions of others with precise understanding; she’s vulnerable to human foibles as much as anybody.

What We Learn

And thanks to Dot, readers learn about pressures in police work that rarely make the news. Remember that white male cop in Texas named Eric Casebolt who knew a camera was on him during a chase, so he performed a martial arts “barrel roll” on the ground before slamming a 14-year-old African American girl in the dirt? And aiming his gun at unarmed  teens around him? At a pool party?

Officer Casebolt subdoing 14-year-old suspect

That’s the kind of event that’s come into public discourse with the rise of cell-phone video technology and movements like Black Lives Matter and now #MeToo. It’s important that we see videos of police officers making good and bad decisions, but the question I think Kirschman wants us to ask is: How do we think about such images?  Do these cops represent a few bad apples on the force, or does the whole system of police hiring and training need to be rehauled? Does a “cowboy culture” reign in police stations like Kenilworth, or is that familiar racist/sexist/macho swagger fading into a thing of the past? Should we be wary of cops today as “bullies or bigots with a badge,” or can we feel some empathy toward the pressure-cooker life that police officers step into every day?

That’s part of the legwork in Dot Meyerhoff mysteries. Along the way toward matching wits with our cop-shrink sleuth, readers gain some understanding of the political and emotional environment in police stations, the mental health training or lack of it we give to cops and the demands of peer pressure that may lead to episodes of false bravura.

The problem with The Fifth Reflection, however, comes when the inevitable mystery takes place: Too many subplots, suspects, detours, undeveloped clues and characters, unresolved infighting, unfinished theories and (unintended) red herrings fill the pages until the focus of the novel turns blurry and we lose the great Ah ha! moment.

I have no doubt that Ellen Kirschman will write her way into this series with increasing authority and finesse as a fiction writer. She’s already nailed Dot’s wonderfully acerbic narrative voice; improvement in narrative construction and characterization seems inevitable. And she knows how to lay an early foundation, as in The Fifth Reflection, for a kidnapping that may or may not be connected to Manny’s child-porn investigation and JJ’s art exhibit.

I mention the kidnapping specifically because this, too, like the constant reappearance of psychologists, has become a worrisome trend (next up, nannies). It’s as though mystery authors need to sell women’s fear as justification for women’s courage — that is, kidnapping as a really good plot device and character motivation combined.

But with so many authors on the bandwagon,  kidnapping has become a cheap, cruel, phony and manipulative vehicle that, incredibly, makes children irrelevant.  Who worries in the midst of HFW (Having Fun with Whodunits) about the damage being done to the little boy or girl who’s terrified and alone or sold off to sex trafficking or cut up into proof-of-life samples or buried or gone for so long that he or she is unrecognizable upon return so Mom and Dad go berserk until a shrink discovers a terrible secret that makes the sleuth, a gorgeous babe herself who forgets to close the blinds while bathing despite the serial killer across the street, look great.

Sue Grafton’s last novel, “Y” Is for Yesterday, 2017

Well, goodbye, Sue!  Thank you for “Yesterday.” We know “Z” would never have stooped to such histrionics.

And come back soon, Dot! We miss you already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Police Shrink Who Gives Up On Nobody – Part II

One day I hope someone will write a book with a title like Therapized Nation that charts the growth of the United States without mention of psychotherapists until about the 1970s.

After that, our history becomes so larded with shrinks that today few commercial novels, movies or TV shows exist without them.

What’s missing, though, are police department psychologists, especially women, as fully developed fictional characters. We see them in police briefings as stiff consultants coming forward when asked a question. Yes, they’re respectful of Freud and intrigued by Jung but oh, so careful to apply the safest and most general psychological theories.

Kirschman’s second book in the series, following ‘Burying Ben’

I think this happens because the author doesn’t know enough to establish the police psychologist as a real pro in the field, let alone a great sleuth unraveling the department’s juiciest mystery. Plus: A feminist shrink who reveals what really goes on in a mostly male, mostly white police station? Never happens.

Until, that is, a real-life veteran police psychologist named Ellen Kirschman, who’s worked with the Palo Alto CA police department for 25 years, decided to launch a bold new mystery series in 2013. It’s bold because the now-retired Kirschman introduces a smart and sardonic middle-aged veteran shrink, Dot Meyerhoff, who’s as caustic and tough as she is compassionate.

Not afraid to confront the unspoken prejudices and internal politics of Kenilworth PD (Kirschman’s fictional Bay Area police department), Dot also finds one subtly innovative way after another to serve the mostly white male cops who need yet resist her counseling.

No ‘Bigot with a Badge’

As mentioned in Part I (below), police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement had begun to hit the headlines when I discovered Kirschman’s first novel, Burying Ben, in 2013.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was, that the issue of police officers killing unarmed people of color would take a decidedly unusual twist in the second Dot Meyerhoff mystery, The Right Wrong Thing (2015).

The unexpected turn is that the cop in trouble is not the usual “bigot with a badge,” as people now regard the average police officer, Dot notices. (And why shouldn’t they, the novel ponders. A hostile and combative manner is what so many smartphone and dashboard cameras have shown us in real life.)

Instead, the officer under scrutiny is a thoughtful and dedicated white female rookie named Randy who’s passed the grueling application process at Kenilworth Police Department with flying colors.

Dot, the department psychologist whose interview is the crucial last step in the hiring process, has gone on record describing Randy as “psychologically stable, (with) good impulse control, no problems with anger, not excessively vulnerable to stress or substance abuse, extroverted, and optimistic.”

Ellen Kirschman

Sounds fine, but this is where Kirschman brings the situational ax down: Guilt-ridden when her partner is injured because she panicked during a fight (even her partner calls her a coward), Randy receives mandated counseling — a controversial issue in itself — but is back on the force too soon, thanks to a weak chief who bows to political pressure.

It’s at that moment that fate throws her a tragic curve. In the midst of approaching a pregnant African American teenager named Lakeisha, Randy believes the girl has a weapon and fires her own gun in defense, killing Lakeisha instantly.

The outrage that comes down on Randy from Lakeisha’s family and community takes a number of turns that don’t make sense to Dot. She decides to risk the chief’s wrath (and her own job) by going into the field herself to find out what happened.

The Even Trickier Part

But perhaps the more engrossing, trickier part of The Right Wrong Thing is that Randy, who was previously ostracized by Kenilworth police officers because she was the department’s first female hire — and thus rumored to be too emotional (too weak) for the job — is now embraced as a hero by these same male cops.

“I’m one of the boys now because I killed somebody,” she tells Dot, referring to Kenilworth cops as “the same jerks who gave me extra whacks in defensive tactics, just for the fun of it. Now I’m their hero. Well, fuck them. If that’s what it takes to join the good old boys’ club, I don’t want it.”

Good for you, we think (well, I thought), but Dot sees beyond Randy’s anger to symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that must be dealt with first. They range from nasty insomnia and a compulsion to relive the killing of Lakeisha to obsessive “perimeter checks” (locking and relocking windows and doors) and “diesling at the curb,”  the author’s term for being so jacked up with adrenalin that she anticipates emergencies everywhere.

The prevalence of PTSD

Dot also knows that if Randy is given a slap on the wrist for killing a civilian, her own guilt will make things worse. “When the punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” Dot tells us, “all a person is left with is self-punishment.”

Indeed, Randy’s self-blame is so volatile that all she can think of is going to Lakeisha’s mother to apologize personally for the shooting. By every standard of police work, this is the wrong thing to do. But Randy no longer trusts police work or what it stands for. The only thing that feels right is unloading her remorse on the very person who’s least able to hear it

All of this comes out in the early pages, along with, of course, the usual pressures: intense-to-hysterical media coverage, litigious attorneys, death threats, a frustrated husband, furious family members and something new, even hilarious if it weren’t so tragic, on the police procedural scene:

The Spiritual Disconnect

This is Dr. Marvel (accent on the vel) Johnson, an “alternative therapist” who’s eager to tell Randy and her husband what they want to hear, instead of what they need to know.

Marvel earned her Psy.D (not Ph.D) from a place called Christian Connect Institute of Psychology and insists she’s “a bona fide psychologist” because her license allows her to practice in two states. “Christian psychologists recognize the place that God has in our lives,” she tells an increasingly skeptical Dot, “and the suffering that comes with a spiritual disconnect.”

Oh dear, “spiritual disconnect.” It’s not that Dot doesn’t understand the term; rather it’s the New Age way therapists like Marvel seem to toss stuff like that around that makes Dot gnash her teeth. Marvel has also turned the 12-step plan from Alcoholics Anonymous into a PTSD program of spiritual reconnection. “What has given Randy great relief is to give her suffering over to God,” Marvel says.

The more Marvel pushes her evangelism-in-therapy as a quickie solution to complicated issues, the more it’s almost fun to watch Dot smolder.

Marvel: “The point is that police officers are ministers of God’s authority on this earth, as it says in Romans, and as such are in a spiritual war against the forces of evil. I’m not saying [Lakeisha] was herself evil, but she clearly was in the grasp of evil forces. Once Randy realized this, she felt a great deal better.”

Dot: “Now I know this woman is full of crap.”

Kirschman wants to show us that no single police act ever happens in a vacuum. At the same time that Randy is trying to deal with the shooting of Lakeisha, community pressure is bearing down on Kenilworth PD, not only to hire more female police officers but to consider appointing a woman as chief.

Women police chiefs tell Megyn Kelly how they broke the glass ceiling

Are Female Cops Different from Male Cops?

Listening to the debate between candidates for chief, Dot notices the subtleties of gender discrimination that affect police work in what could be many police stations today.

Question: Why do you think women make good police officers?

Answer:  Jay Pence, the male candidate: “Women are good with children. They have good communication skills. They have a natural affinity for caretaking that is very helpful with domestic violence victims.” 

Jacqueline Reagon, the female candidate: “Women are more likely to defuse an explosive situation by talking someone down and less likely to act aggressively when they are challenged… Whereas male officers are more likely to respond aggressively because of their egos or their need to exercise control.”

Wow. Are male-female differences so obvious in police work? They are, says Reagon, a chief with many years experience from other cities. She’s here to say the era of self-censorship by women police are over.

In fact, in the “cowboy culture” of Kenilworth’s nearly all-male force, Reagon says, “acts of physical prowess or daring” are “the only activities that count” by men in uniform. Were she appointed chief, emotions, teamwork and an avoidance of acting aggressively would be higher goals, Reagon adds.

This is why I find the Dot Meyerhoff mysteries so valuable. News reports of police shootings emphasize acts of violence and aggression rather than the strong emotions and biases that run underneath. We civilians can’t see them, but a veteran police shrink like Dot gets it immediately. About Randy, for example, Dot says:

Compassion is Randy’s Achilles Heel. On the one hand, it will make her a better cop. On the other, it will obliterate the emotional distance she needs to do her job.”

Policewomen in uniform — how they started

By the way, I’ve always wondered why the military insists on being, you know, militant about uniforms. Demi Moore is so stuffed into that Navy blouse in A Few Good Men that she looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Women cops look equally uncomfortable because they’re wearing clothes originally designed for men, yet few people say anything about it.

Except Dot. She notices everything. “Uniforms improve how men look, the sharp creases and expert tailoring making them look taller, straighter, and fitter than they might otherwise appear. Chief Reagon’s uniform only emphasizes her height, her thick legs, and her lack of grace.” 

Unfortunately Kirschman’s fiction continues to have problems. In The Right Wrong Way, her main characters (other than Dot) need complexity and sophistication; there’s a sameness to the dialogue; ethical questions are left undeveloped and “action” scenes sometimes feel false, as does Dot’s reckless way of inserting herself into police business.

Perhaps most important, we readers need to see the value of Dot’s job in the everyday. In one scene, for example, she calls spouses (mostly wives) into the station for a confidential meeting in which everyone is encouraged to let off steam and talk about resolutions to family issues. As Dot often says, “the only thing harder than being a police officer is being married to one.” Under her guidance, these debriefings can be profoundly cathartic.

Watching Dot champion these women while opening the gates to higher emotional ground should be fascinating and informative for the reader. However, just when the most revealing admissions begin to surface, Kirschman cuts away to a different plot point, leaving this opportunity unfulfilled.

Elsewhere, we get to watch Dot help a beleaguered officer pull out of a terrifying panic attack, and that is a joy to behold. How great it would be if we could see more of this routine psychologist’s work so beautifully handled, while at the same time Dot spots clues to the mystery underfoot.

But again, here we are in the  aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which millions of women hope signals a true watershed in the way society thinks about women. If mystery readers enjoy the quiet genius of a woman like Dot, without regard to age or sexual attraction, surely there’s hope for a less babe-alicious genre.

Happily, Kirschman confronts one of the most controversial issues in this regard in book #3.

Next, Part III: The Fifth Reflection

 

 

 

 

 

 

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Police Shrink Who Gives Up on Nobody – Part I

Police killings and Black Lives Matter had begun to dominate the news in 2013 when I walked into an independent bookstore and found a paperback mystery called Burying Ben.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t make a big deal of this because Burying Ben is “only” a generic mystery — nothing literary or momentous about it. But looking back on the enormous pressures this first novel stood up against — as have the second and third in the series — I’m astonished at what the author continues to teach us.

Though unknown as a mystery writer at the time, Ellen Kirschman was famous in her field as a retired police psychologist who worked with the Palo Alto CA Police Department for 25 years.

Ellen Kirschman

Her nonfiction books (I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know; I Love a Fire Fighter, etc.) keep selling in the hundreds of thousands, and she’s much in demand as keynote speaker at police and family conferences from Singapore and Hong Kong to Toronto. First responders suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other injuries swear by her workshops and retreats.

Kirschman has joked that mystery fiction is a way for her to “get back” at various foes and blowhards she’s run into in police work, and we do see stereotypes skewered here. At the same time it doesn’t appear that Kirschman exaggerates what one of her characters calls the “cowboy culture” of cop life.

When, for example, the new “little lady” psychologist is introduced to a roomful of FTOs (field training officers), someone asks, “Is that why she’s so short, because she’s a shrink?”

“It’s an old joke,” the psychologist knows. “I laugh to be polite.” But things are going to escalate. When it’s announced that she’s written a book about police officers and family life, another cop yells, “Can I get two copies, one for my wife and one for my girlfriend?” This kind of humor appears to be expected.

Burying Ben came out years before the Harvey Weinstein scandal and its aftermath, so reading such an exchange rings a familiar bell. Making a brief appearance is the police chief, who’s been standing behind psychologist’s chair.  He “bends to my ear with a mock whisper. ‘The more they rag on you, the more they love you. When they stop teasing, that’s when you should be worried.’ ”

Well, it’s not teasing, we know, and it’s hardly love — perhaps the word “humiliation” would be closer. While the psychologist understands that “trust doesn’t come easily to cops, especially when it comes to mental health professionals,” the chief’s uncomfortable nearness feels calculated, his patronizing remarks intended to keep the new lady shrink in her place.

Just as Black Lives Matter launch protests against police behavior from the outside, Kirschman’s fiction explores the roots of it all from the inside. She may be writing a light mystery, but on the way we get an expert’s view of the dark side of police station life — its competitive atmosphere, deep strains of misogyny and racism, cruel hazing of new recruits and overall resistance to change.

Burying Ben

Still, it wasn’t Kirschman but the jacket illustration of Burying Ben that called to me that day in 2013. There on the cover was something unthinkable in the mystery genre — the chalk outline of a victim who appeared to be male.

Kirschman’s first mystery, ‘Burying Ben’

Whoa: No voluptuous babe sliced to pieces in some ghastly James Patterson bunker. No kidnapped women chained to radiators eating dog food off the floor. It was so refreshing.

The subtitle leaped into view: A Dot Meyerhoff Mystery. The name of the sleuth sounded so hokey and yet so genuine that I thought she must be adorable, and decided to investigate further.

Sure enough, the fictional Dot is very much like the author, a trusted police psychologist with decades of real-life experience and a peppery sense of humor. The difference between the two is that Kirschman, now in her 70s, keeps Dot — newly hired at the Kenilworth (Bay Area) Police Department — in her robust 50s.

If you’ve wondered what it’s like for cops — mostly male cops — to work with a female psychologist, Dot’s observations are worth the price of admission. As she notes in the third book in the series:

“Police officers are not eager consumers of therapy. They think it makes them weak to have problems. I think it makes them human. Almost every cop at Kenilworth PD regards me with skepticism, worried that I’m reading their minds and getting ready to report them to the chief as unfit for duty. They are not as standoffish as they were when I started three years ago, but it’s still an uphill battle to win their trust, let alone put a dent in the male-dominated culture of rugged individualism.”

We’ve seen that “male-dominated culture” in countless detective novels and police procedurals — and by the way, aren’t we all tired of every movie and TV show sticking a lady shrink in front of every star? Even Tony Soprano kept his sessions with Dr. Melfi secret because he didn’t want to seem emotional or weak.

In Burying Ben, what makes an embittered cop named Eddie so intriguing is the profane, unfiltered hostility he levels at the new female therapist.

“I don’t need you or anyone else picking through the turds in my head. I got my own doctor, Doctor Jack Daniels … As far as I’m concerned that [mental health] debriefing crap is just a big circle jerk where everybody cries, says their feelings and leaves feeling worse than when they started. … Listen to me, Florence Nightingale. You can shove your mail order Ph.D. right up your ass … Hasta lumbago, Doc. Have a nice day.”

Goodness. Do cops really talk that way? Well, when backed into a corner, they do, Kirschman reveals. Although readers may dismiss Eddie — alcoholic, racist, sexist, near retirement — as a lost cause, the joy of this series is that Dot doesn’t give up on anybody.

Dr. Melfi and Tony Soprano

Not a “Fun” Murder

Burying Ben is a doozy of a story, though painful: A rookie named Ben not only takes his own life, he leaves a suicide note blaming Dot Meyerhoff, the new female psychotherapist at Kenilworth (read Palo Alto) Police Department.

Dot realizes she has to find out why Ben killed himself before she herself is fired.

To do this, she must 1) gain the trust of cops who aren’t speaking to her (they blame Dot, too), 2)survive a painful divorce while enduring one unexpected (of course) hot flash after another, and 3) prove her worth to the chief, who’s suspicious of lady shrinks to begin with.

And mystery author Kirschman has to prove her mettle, too. Statistics show that suicide is the number-one killer of police officers — in fact, cops are three times more likely to kill themselves as to be killed by criminals. Police don’t like to talk about it; mystery novelists don’t like to write about it, and it’s certainly not the kind of “fun” murder we mystery fans usually go for.

But Dot’s narration offers a different perspective. For one thing it’s a relief that she’s not the gorgeous hotshot female narrator so often seen rising up the murder-mystery ranks with fists and hormones a’flyin’.

Dot is rather a middle-aged hotshot female whose practice of patience and empathy allows her to slow down, observe and listen. We see how she notices things in a flashback, when Dot first meets Ben at a grisly suicide scene, where the gentle rookie is trying not to faint:

Police psychologist Elizabeth Olivet on ‘Law and Order’

“Ben’s eyes are fixed on the body that lays like a discarded cornhusk doll. His lips are clamped together. He looks as though he might cry. Crying on scene is forbidden. One tear would be enough to earn him a jacket as weak, sentimental and undependable in an emergency.”

One Tear Could Ruin a Career

Dot knows that cops depend on each other not to fall apart under pressure: Their very lives can hang in the balance. But does this mean they must constantly prove how tough and unfeeling they can be?

Apparently the sergeant in charge thinks so when he orders Ben to return to the corpse and “put in your report whether this guy was a Q or an A,” meaning whether the dead man’s tongue sticks out of his mouth in a straight or circular direction.

Dot happens to see the other cops stifle their laughter as Ben earnestly goes off to measure, so she realizes some kind of initiation rite is taking place. Soon her talk with Ben — compassionate and instructive at once — takes us a past the locker-room atmosphere to unveil the real mystery addressed by this novel.

This is: Do macho white guys like the sergeant start out mean-spirited, or do they learn the small cruelties via peer pressure along the way? Can’t the police department’s hiring process cull out candidates who suppress their feelings, like hatred for women and people of color? Or do most rookies begin innocently like Ben and “turn bad” as they move up the ladder?

How Dot sees it

We get some answers from Dot, who shows us how elaborate the application process has generally come to be, and how the instincts of a police psychologist can make a difference. But she also suggests it’s an imperfect system that requires fine-tuning long after cops have earned their badges.

I have to warn my mystery-reading colleagues that Burying Ben has a number of first-novel problems: It’s too busy, the pace bogs down, there’s a sameness to the dialog, odd redundancies occur and Dot’s unorthodox methods strain credulity.

And yet these days when police behavior has come under such intense scrutiny, I’m less interested in the success of the story than fascinated by its revelations. And I was really anxious to see how Kirschman had grown in her second (2015) and third (2017) Dot Meyerhoff mystery.

Next: Part II, The Right Wrong Thing

 


 

Ten Thoughts for the Nice Guys

May I ask the famous male actors who say they’re “utterly disgusted” by Harvey Weinstein to take the next step?

I’m talking to the nice guys of the industry — George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Benedict Cumberbatch, and others.  Don’t wait until people say you knew about Weinstein all along. Speak out when bad acts happen.

Here are some ways to do it:

1) The next time an actor like Seth Rogen declares he’s “trying to conceal massive erection” because Kate Beckinsale is standing next to him on the stage of the Golden Globe Awards, speak out.

Kate Beckinsale, Seth Rogen at Golden Globes

Tell the Seth Rogens everywhere to shut up with that stuff. It just opens the door for the next Harvey Weinsteins who are surely on the way.

2) When you see a young woman like Kate Beckinsale pretending to laugh so she’ll be perceived as a good sport, speak out again.

Talk to your men friends about empathy. How do you think it feels to be the butt of some 6-year-old’s “dick joke” in front of millions?

Now Seth, you can be a good guy, too. At a recent round-table discussion hosted by the Hollywood Reporter, you said that Harvey Weinstein was guilty of “horribly inappropriate behavior.”

Well, don’tcha see, at the Golden Globes, so were you.  Now every time say or hear a sexual remark denigrating women, you can do something about it.

3)  I think it’s true that George Clooney would never embarrass women to get a cheap laugh. But let’s revisit that same Golden Globes when Clooney congratulated fellow nominee Michael Fassbender for having a huge penis.

“You could play golf like this, with your hands behind your back,” Clooney said, taking an imaginary “swing” as though a long club were hanging between his legs.

George Clooney

Okay, come on, guys: George, do you think your remark was just a harmless bit of bawdy humor? Do you want your daughter, now 3, to grow up in an atmosphere of  “dick jokes” and other he-man stuff that make her feel like a lesser person?

4) These kinds of jokes are never a one-time thing. As one Hollywood website commented,  “George isn’t the only actor who’s helped Michael score a few more holes-in-one, if you know what we mean.”

Sorry to say, we do. Referring to women as “holes” sets the bar pretty low. It means if you don’t stop polluting the social climate with relentless genital/toilet/sexual humor, you’re again contributing to the rise of every Weinstein/Cosby/Ailes/O’Reilly etc.in the future.

[DRIB (Don’t Read If Busy): It’s true that emcee Ricky Gervais gets away with sexually offensive commentary when he hosts programs like the Golden Globes. This is what he’s hired for — to blatantly shock and disgust for the sake of higher ratings — so people can decide ahead of time to watch or not. To me, that’s a First Amendment matter, and I have to say, sometimes he’s genuinely, caustically, tellingly witty. What I’m asking celebrity actors to address is that everyday locker-room humor that inspires images of groping and raping and doing whatever intrusive males can get away with. Fellas, talk about this. You can change it.]

5) Remember, guys, “dick jokes” may be funny to YOU. Recently on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, satirist John Oliver ran a segment called Dicks in which TV reporters were shown drawing symbols on screens and maps to predict traffic patterns, storm systems, construction zones and the like.

These directional graphics resembled everything from arrows to canons to flat kitchen knives and rounded batons with an occasional circle or two at one end. Some looked like male genitals but really, most didn’t. The message was: “Look everybody: dicks!”

John Oliver

Now fellas, consider: If these same TV announcers had drawn balloon-like images showing the spread of fire or influenza or drought, would it have been funny to point and say, “Look, everybody: breasts!”

I bet John Oliver, one of the most astute and incisive commentators on television — also one of the most foul-mouthed — would be the first to say No. He knows this kind of humor is not only disrespectful to women, it’s immature and boorish to boot.

[DRIB: So why did he run the segment? I think some advisor has told Oliver to lard the show with the word FUCK, egregious dick jokes and sexual references having nothing to do with satrizing the news. It’s ironic that this emphasis on “swearing and screwing” not only gets in the way; it weakens the very strengths that make the show unique.]

6) Now men, let’s also watch out for you-get-it-but-you-don’t-get-it moments, as in this interview that George Clooney gave to the Daily Beast:

“A lot of people are doing the ‘you had to know’ thing (about Weinstein) right now, and yes, if you’re asking if I knew that someone who was very powerful had a tendency to hit on young, beautiful women, sure. But I had no idea that it had gone to the level of having to pay off eight women for their silence, and that these women were threatened and victimized… “

Wait, George, wait: You’re at the center of things in Hollywood, so you do know. Men who are powerful don’t just “hit on young, beautiful women” — as though “hit on” is another term for “flirt.”  Men like Harvey Weinstein overpower young women and force them to perform sexually.

So George, you have every idea about the way Hollywood works, as was also apparent when you told People magazine that Ryan Gosling didn’t attend the awards ceremony because he was “in Thailand or something. And you know what you do in Thailand.” Snicker snicker!  Let’s ask the 10-year-old girls in Thailand what they think.  Or let’s just cut that kind of remark.

7)  Still, there’s hope, George! You also said,

“… this (the Weinstein revelation) isn’t a right or a left issue. This is a moral issue. We’re all going to have to be more diligent about it and look for any warning signs.”

Attaway, guy! And now that you realize you too are a warning sign, you’re going to speak up, right? And encourage others to join you.

Courtney Love

8) It must now be a given that a lone woman who protests Weinstein-like behavior risks being “eternally banned.” Courtney Love says Creative Artists Agency did that to her back in 2005 when a reporter asked if she had any advice for young women trying to break into Hollywood.

“I’ll get libeled if I say it,” she replied, adding, “If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party at the Four Seasons, don’t go.”

She was right, but there was a price to pay, which is why you guys have to step up. Be feminist men.

9) Granted, it’s not easy. Let’s take a moment to ponder what any of us would have done after a Sundance screening in 2010 of a movie called The Killer Inside Me starring Casey Affleck.

Jessica Alba at the start of the movie

The story is about two beautiful women (Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba) who fall in love with a seemingly mild-mannered law enforcement dude (Affleck) who beats them horribly. It turns out they like to be beaten, so the camera focuses on cheekbones being crushed, eyeballs smashed, etc. But the women keep asking for it because they forgive him. After all, there’s a “killer inside” him. The little love, he can’t help it.

After the screening, a woman stood up and yelled, “I don’t understand how Sundance could book this movie! How dare you? How dare Sundance?” The director was there for a Q&A and said later he was “in shock” at the reaction. He thought it was “more moral” to show what beating the shit out of women really looks like than to leave the violence offscreen.

Jessica Alba after expressing her love in the movie

Well, somebody really relished that job.  Now remember fellas, nobody’s talking censorship here. In fact it’s the opposite — the hope is that today, Weinstein/Cosby/Ailes etc. disclosures will launch a wider discussion than ever. Maybe Weinstein didn’t produce “S&S”(suck ’em and slice ’em) movies as a rule, but at the center of the film world, it’s important to remember, he did rule.

Women critics have tried to dig more deeply into the reason misogynistic violence appears in movies and TV, not just occasionally but as a steady diet that seems to stimulate an appetite for more. They constantly challenge “sadistic movie violence against women” and the film industry’s assumptions that audiences “are happy to watch their heroines being beaten and gagged,” not to mention “cut and splayed and killed.”

It’s time to listen to them. As Rachel Cooke of the Guardian points out, it’s “unpalatable” to have to watch the “complicity of these women in their own destruction.” Yet it’s a theme that appears often.

So guys, the question is, if you’re in a Sundance audience where a woman gets up and shouts her objections to a movie like this, what do you do?  Would you see it as an opportunity to at least talk about what’s happening in film all over the world?  Would you insist in the Q&A that the director recover from his “shock” and answer the tougher, more revealing questions?  You could always retire to a coffee shop with a handful of film buffs. You could write up the matter in your blog or emails or Facebook or Twitter.  You could do something.

The fear right now is that after the Me,Too campaign dies down and the Weinsteins get fired or sent to jail and replaced, the film industry will again turn a deaf ear to women who are the prey of sexual predators, and the women who speak up.

And guys, here’s the truth of it: Pretending that women aren’t targeted and don’t speak up means you condone “the way Hollywood works” as the Weinsteins of the world define it.

10) See what I mean, George? And Ben and Benedict? Saying you’re disgusted by Harvey Weinstein is just a start. The whole issue of difference, sexual and otherwise, is complicated and dense and deep. Don’t make fun of it as though you’re in a school yard.

And bring a little compassion to the table.  Trevor Noah, the savvy and big-hearted host of The Today Show, recently apologized to feminist writer Roxane Gay because he himself used to make “fat jokes” about women.

Roxane Gay, Trevor Noah

The problem came later when Noah turned around and made a “runt joke” about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (And it was a cliche runt joke at that: “Oh, I didn’t realize you are standing,” said Noah about the “tiny” man stepping up to take the oath.)

If you read Noah’s riveting autobiography Born a Crime, you know he’s much too discerning to make a schoolyard blunder like that. But this is another case of knowing-and-not-knowing: To Noah’s mind, the assigned villain of the hour has no humanity. All the guys get to pile on.

That’s almost just as bad. Let’s call in those laugh-a-minute Weekend Update guys on Saturday Night Live who seem to believe that because Harvey Weinstein is the current sexual boogeyman, they get to be mean. And nasty.

Michael Che on Saturday Night Live describing Harvey Weinstein

“It’s so easy to make jokes about a guy who looks like this,” said Michael Che, referring to a photo of Weinstein. “I mean he looks like chewed bubble gum rolled in cat hair.”

HaHaHa, hilarious, no? If the same man had been a Nobel Prize-winning philanthropist, would you have said the same thing?  Or compounded the error by calling him “a well-dressed skin tag,” just to get another laugh?

Granted, Saturday Night Live is hardly a bastion of sophistication and class, but that’s not the point, is it?

Think about this, fellas — Kate Beckinsale may be conventionally  beautiful, and Harvey Weinstein may be conventionally unattractive, but it’s their hearts and souls that matter in our everyday dealings with them, wouldn’t you say?

Take away issues about looks — skin color, ethnic features, disability, height and weight, national/religious garb — and what’s left is the person’s humanity. Aren’t we all seeking a world of equality?  To get there it’s nice to remember: Looks never matter.

Except maybe in one way: Recently Kate Beckinsale, now 44, disclosed that Harvey Weinstein ambushed her in his hotel room when she was all of 17.

Kate Beckinsale, age 17

If looks did matter, that picture of her as a young person with her whole life in front of her has got to melt the heart of many an adult.

The thought comes: Maybe we lost our chance for civility when Hillary Clinton lost the election. But let’s honor her message in It Takes a Village. If we don’t stand up for the youngest and most vulnerable among us, who will?

So come on guys! It may be too late to stop what happened in the past, but surely you can be among the counted for the next teenage girls who are about to be “interviewed” by the next Harvey Weinsteins all around us.

 

 

 

 

She’s Our Gladiator

I’ve never read a book by a woman with so much male ego as Settle for More (Harper) by former Fox TV News anchor Megyn Kelly (who’s soon to go to NBC).

On the cover of “Settle for More”

Confident and inspired even in childhood, little Megyn radiates entitlement as she asks the universe, What greatness does my future have in store? (my paraphrase).  How will my inner gifts define my destiny?

Learning  that girls’ baseball teams don’t exist in her neighborhood, Megyn tells her mother to sign her up for boys’ baseball with no fuss or fights or lawsuits (yet).

She has her vulnerable moments, too. There was a time in school when she was bullied by very cruel kids. But today, Megyn thinks it was a good thing. It toughened her.  “Adversity is an opportunity,” she tells us, “and one that has allowed me to flourish. It has made me stronger, my skin a little thicker.

When Megyn Kelly becomes one of a few women attorneys hired by a prestigious law firm, she refuses to copy case files. It’s not fair, she writes, to charge the client an associate’s fee when a paralegal can do it. What she means: I didn’t compete my ass off in law school to stand in front of a Xerox machine. 

Those tight tight tight cocktail dresses

Overall, her mantra — “I never say no to hard work— serves Kelly well as she carves out her path to Fox TV News. We see her prepping hard for interviews into the wee hours, dressing for combat in her fashionable, tight tight tight cocktail dresses. Kelly rises quickly to become the King of TV News with “the most successful news show in all of cable.”

Now readers, please don’t confuse matters by asking, Shouldn’t a woman be called the queen instead of the king in all of cable? Goodness, no. Power has no gender for Megyn Kelly, who with her Womb of Steel seems to have conceived and delivered three children by herself. No wonder their names — Thatcher, Yardley and Yates — sound vaguely like fancy soaps from a hotel called Downton Abbey.

It’s no wonder, too, that Megyn Kelly refuses to be called a feminist. What does being a woman have to do with ambition?  She advises women, “the less time talking about our gender, the better.” Take the other path:  “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” as a poster advised her news team at their pod at Fox.

Kelly says she wasn’t bothered a bit when an executive showed her into an office decorated with photos of nude women.  Quoting Gwyneth Paltrow, who’s said that modern women can be “nurturing, maternal, sexual,” —  Megyn Kelly says she, too, can be “playful and sexy,” as she was for GQ Magazine, or when she appeared “sophisticated and feminine” on the cover of Vanity Fair, or when she answered questions about her bra cup size and sex life during pregnancy on the icky Howard Stern radio program. “Even during the third trimester?” he asks as she sits there forcing a smile. Oh yes, that and more, she tells him, but in a YouTube clip she looks more like a sex slave than a news professional.

Sexy and playful in GQ magazine

All that is simply contributing to “a new archetype for women,” she writes, “that thankfully we’re seeing more often: multidimensional.” Or more testosteronal, or something. “I had just one path forward,” she writes.

How do we know this is true? Because Megyn Kelly seems fated to become the one journalist to stand up to Donald Trump in that male-to-male way he can’t tolerate, especially since it comes from a woman.

Seeing her rise at Fox, Trump first tries to woo her with gifts (Megyn returns them), flowers (she refuses them), even a vow to pay for a weekend she spent with girlfriends at the Trump Hotel (she pays it herself).

And so he gets miffed when Kelly is the only news anchor at Fox to realize that it’s wrong for a news program to cover “Trump being Trump: unscripted, unguarded, and fun to watch,”  meaning not newsworthy. Too much of that Trump, she realizes, is the equivalent of “television crack cocaine.”

Giving Trump air time might raise ratings, she says, but featuring the crack cocaine Trump on a news show before the Republican primaries became a “questionable choice.”  With Tom Lowell, her executive producer, Kelly issues a new directive —  “no more gratuitous Trump coverage.”

Mr. “Television Crack Cocaine”

So that’s good, right? It shows us that Megyn Kelly has  standards. Running clips of Trump actually saying something substantive, news-wise, is “a call to remember our journalistic duty, to provide balance and be judicious in our coverage, not to sell our souls for ratings or for our own entertainment.” But there is a price: When she makes sure that her own show, The Kelly File, sticks to that kind of hard news, Trump is furious.

This is where the book turns into a real surprise. For the first time that I know of, we learn the extraordinary lengths to which Trump goes to malign, ridicule and demean Kelly behind the scenes as well as in public; the phone calls he makes to Fox’s chiefs, including his pal, the now-fallen CEO Roger Ailes, to get her removed from the network’s host team at the Republican debates; the Tweets and e-mails he sends out to stir up his followers, who in turn bombard Kelly with hate mail, death threats and obscene texts.

Kelly refuses to relent, and the  scary stuff gets worse — cars showing up at her house, strangers approaching her mother, retweets (by Trump Organization VP Michael Cohen) of a Trump supporter saying “we can gut her”  — and soon Fox hires body guards for the whole family. When Trump tells her he knows about the top-secret question she’s planning to ask him at the first Republican debate (“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals’ … “), she realizes he’s infiltrated Fox with undercover spies, and they’re targeting her.

“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs’…”

But wait: Is Trump also capable of dirty tricks? On the morning of the first debate, a suspicious case of food poisoning (apparently from the cup of coffee brought to her by an unknown driver) nearly sends Kelly to the hospital. She recovers in time for the broadcast, where she asks Trump the question about women, and after that, he famously goes on the attack:  “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

More than demeaning Kelly, the comment reveals to millions that Trump is disgusted by natural functions of women’s bodies (Hillary urinating, Kelly menstruating). But he seems to think all men feel that way, so he uses it as bait.

“Trump wanted me to respond, so he got worse,” she writes, “I was a woman with power and couldn’t be brought to heel. I think he believed I could help or hurt him more than Anderson Cooper or Chuck Todd, both of whom also covered Trump with skepticism.”

Kelly “takes the high road” by following a “policy of dignity,” and remains silent. Reporters, however, dog her with questions about her “feud” with Trump.  Again Kelly seems capable of focusing on the principle at stake. “I was still covering the news, but I was also being covered. Although I did nothing to stoke or even respond to it, the Trump-vs.-Me storyline was still regularly in the press.”

This is her hard-won truth: When a reporter gets in the way of the story — and in Kelly’s case becomes the story — legitimate news suffers. Kelly insists on following her goal: “To cover Trump fairly and without fear.”

Out and about with husband Doug and kids

We get the feeling that Fox would have loved Kelly to appear victimized by Trump, but she sees the damage starting when her young daughter tells her, “I’m afraid of Donald Trump. He wants to hurt me.”  That’s enough for Kelly. She vows to put a stop to it.

How Kelly confronts Donald Trump personally without telling the Fox bosses makes for an eye-opening chapter. But doubly intriguing is the way she finally acknowledges that for years, Fox CEO Roger Ailes was guilty of sexual harassment.

It ranged from inappropriate jokes and comments about her bra size to chasing her around his office and demanding sexual favors. Facing that familiar dilemma — blow the whistle and get labeled a troublemaker; keep quiet and he’ll get worse — Kelly talks to “a supervisor” who seems to help Ailes see the error of his ways. For the next ten years, “Roger never sexually harassed me again.”

Roger Ailes, after chasing Kelly around the desk

Kelly, then, could keep quiet when allegations by other women at Fox begin to surface.  But realizing how precarious their jobs become when Ailes lines up supporters to defend him, Kelly the Gladiator — the Fox star who’s so established she can’t be fired — is born.

It’s Kelly who makes the call to the Rupert Murdoch second-in-command (his son Lachlan) and says, “You need to get your general counsel on the phone. I have something to tell you.” And it’s Kelly’s testimony that pretty much cinches Ailes’ resignation.

I’m not a fan of Fox News so I never saw Kelly in action until I looked up a few of her interviews on YouTube. Heavens. She has an irritating habit of interrupting and arguing when she should be listening and guiding the conversation for the sake of viewer clarity. So it will be refreshing, I hope, to see what Megyn Kelly will do when, freed from the conservative hijinks of Fox News,  she takes the reins in a more professional way at NBC.

I finished Settle for More still laughing at Kelly’s king-sized ego, but I came to admire her, too. She believes in her principles as honestly as her ambitions, and she’s got an iron will that functions as delicately as a Sherman Tank.

That’s what we need and should demand from every journalist in the next four years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woody Allen’s Latest Excuse for Lechery

I’m late reading the New York Times Book Review from Sunday 1/1/17, so pardon the delayed outrage, but heavens:

Just what we don’t need on the front page is Woody Allen drooling over the purported sex life of a long-gone movie star as he (poorly) reviews Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936 by Edward Sorel (Liveright).

Mary Astor with Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon”

The book tells us that Astor apparently wrote about her sexual affairs in an explicit “purple diary.” In Los Angeles, her estranged husband discovered and threatened to use it in a custody battle while Mary was having “four-times-a-night workouts” with playwright George S. Kaufman in New York.

How do we know this? Bad reviewer that he is, Allen never quotes from the diary, alluding only to accounts in tabloid newspapers, which aren’t quoted either. He prefers to snicker and chortle over “her hormones tintinnabulating” and the reason “deep kissing with a hot partner always trumps bacteria.”

The review mistakenly tells us that “the tabloids ran excerpts from the portion of the diary allowed in evidence” during the trial. But we learn from other sources that the diary was never entered in court. The trial judge ordered it sealed and impounded in a bank vault, where it was removed after 16 years and destroyed.

(This last from Wikipedia, a doubtful source, I know, but it does footnote its claims. Meanwhile shame on you, New York Times: Readers of a book review should never have to fact-check on their own.)

Woody Allen

But wait: Why does Woody Allen believe the author?  Because  “in the midst of everything,” Allensays about Sorel, “he suddenly channels the departed Mary from the beyond and converses with her as she candidly reveals personal feelings in a novel interview.”

Ain’t that great. The author “channels” his subject. The reviewer behaves like a lecherous old man. And Mary Astor is proclaimed by Woody Allen to be “a foulmouthed, hard-drinking, sex-hungry carouser.”

Of course you could say the same thing about many of Astor’s male co-stars, but where is the fun in that?  Woody Allen believes his view is titillating, so he gets to have his way and himself in front of us.

I’m sure the trial was scandalous and coverage at the time amusing. But nothing about this review is credible, and all of it is a waste of time.  Maybe the book was worth a passing mention in our nation’s “book review section of record.” The Times gave Woody Allen three full pages.

Remaindering “The Art of the Deal” for … $184?

Remember a few weeks ago when Donald Trump announced that he raised $80 million in the month of July alone? And most of it came through “small dollar donations”?

Original edition, 1987

Original edition (with manly turned-up collar), 1987

I chalked it up as another Trump exaggeration to put it kindly until recently, when those fine and funny reporters on NPR Politics Podcast mentioned receiving phone tips from multiple “Trump entities” that Trump’s first book, The Art of the Deal (1987), was newly available.

That was strange. A month ago I wrote about The Art of the Deal as a big bestseller 40 years ago but an embarrassment today, the first indication that Trump sold out to corporate media. Even Ballantine, publisher of the shoddy 2015 reprint, has soured on him.

Blurred photos from shoddy 2015 reprint

Blurred photos from shoddy 2015 reprint

So what was new on the NPR podcast?

“On my phone yesterday,” one reporter said, “I got five different appeals from five different Trump entities, all offering to sell me a copy of The Art of the Deal for … ”

“$184!” piped up another.

Stranger than strange, since anyone can pick it up on the Internet for ten bucks in paperback. The podcast folks joked that Trump “has got to give up his entire basement stash” of leftover originals. But it turns out the campaign is offering the book as a reward to donors of — ta da — $184 and more. The question is, what book is being offered?

Webpage for the "very limited edition issue"

Webpage for the “very limited edition issue”

The Art of the Deal is now out of print,” Trump writes on the website, “so this is a very limited edition issue and only available through this special offer through my campaign. I want you to read about the unique leadership and business acumen I will bring to the White House.”

I love that term “very limited edition issue.” It’s like those authentic-looking gold coins you see advertised to old people with poor eyesight. Something’s being commemorated that must be worth it for the unaffordable price they’re charging, but what exactly?

Well, by a “very limited edition issue,” Trump seems to mean he’s taken the shlocky 2015 reprint and slapped a signature plate on the front to dress it up as something worthy. The text is the same, so at least you get to see just how “unique” Trump will be as president.

Trump supporters probably don’t care about this, and neither do I if it’s just a ruse to get more donations. But the NPR reporters smelled something sinister about it, and so should we. Why would “Trump entities,” who ordinarily are religious about cultivating journalists by leaking secrets from inside a campaign, irritate those same contacts about an overblown, overpriced, decades-old book nobody wanted anyway?

I bet they were ordered to. I bet Trump wanted to bamboozle the press by saying he raised $80 million in small donations during a single month, and even if he had to launder his own money under the table, the campaign could point to $184 donations-with-the-book-as-a-prize and say, See? That’s how we did it.

You can subscribe for free through the Podcast app on your phone

You can subscribe for free through the Podcast app on your phone.

Oh, this is conjecture, of course, but we’ll never get a straight answer from Trump, and that’s why I’ve come to love the NPR Political Podcast: Here are four Washington insiders — I’ll list them with the full quote below** — who seem to have so much fun together it sounds like they’re at a bar after an incredibly fertile day for news.

So it’s fun for us, too, to listen in. Away from their keyboards, they challenge rumors, talk too fast, dig out facts and analyze strategies. They’re informed, opinionated, observant, gossipy and incredibly knowledgeable. They can’t give you a reason for something like a no-good book for $184, but they can toss around the data to see what has meaning and what doesn’t.

Alec Baldwin: Fuck or Walk

Alec Baldwin: Fuck or Walk

I think the meaning here goes as deep into Trump’s philosophy to put it kindly as we can get. It involves his gusto for winning every point in the short run and his fear of building a successful campaign in the long run. Who can blame him? It’s as much fun to watch Trump’s glorification of Self as it is to, say, witness Alec Baldwin berating his underlings in that famous “Always Be Closing” scene in the 1992 movie, Glengarry Glen Ross.

Remember that? A merciless sales manager (Baldwin) harangues his salesmen to the point of evisceration in a speech that’s so cutthroat and so Trump, it’s almost poetic. As with Trump, we can’t take our eyes off him. He’s, powerful, dangerous, cold-blooded and perverted. Here’s what he sounds like in this a partial and condensed quote:

(People are) sitting out there waiting to give you their money. Are you going to take it? Are you man enough to take it? Winner, that’s who I am. And you’re nothing. Nice guy? Good father? Fuck you. Go home and play with your kids. You know what it takes to sell real estate? It takes brass balls. If not, you’ll be shining my shoes. (I’d) fire your fucking ass because a loser is a loser. … You can’t close the leads you’re given? You are shit. You are weak. You can’t play in the man’s game? Go home and tell your wife your troubles. Only one thing counts in this life: get them to sign. You hear me, you fuckin’ faggots? It’s fuck or walk.

Trump on the cover of his failed magazine, Trump

Trump on the cover of another he’ll-fire-us-all book

Okay, he’s a little coarser than Trump at the podium, and yet Trump is the one who called John McCain, an authentic war hero after five years of torture in North Vietnam, a “loser” for getting caught. The Alec Baldwin character would never go that far. Trump does because he doesn’t care how you judge him. When the spotlight stays on Trump, he wins.

That tradition of the dictatorial boss whipping his inferiors into shape always has the same outcome. Trump is most comfortable as the swaggering alpha male. I know it’s a tradition because Ben Affleck makes nearly the same speech to stock market trainees in the 2000 movie, Boiler Room.

Ben Affleck: fuck you, Mom and Dad

Ben Affleck: fuck you, Mom and Dad

You are the future big swinging dicks of this firm. Anybody who tells you money is the root of all evil doesn’t fucking have any. I have a Ferrari, a ridiculous house, every toy you could possibly imagine and best of all, kids, I am liquid. We want winners here, not pikers. People work at this firm for one reason: to become filthy rich. We’re not here to save the manatees. You want vacation time? Go teach third grade public school. Parents don’t like the life you lead? Fuck you, Mom and Dad. See how it feels when you’re making their fucking Lexus payments.

Well, say. Haven’t we all met someone like this in our lives? Years ago at a book publishing panel I was placed next to Ishmael Reed, a talented author of experimental novels who was well known in the Bay Area for his outspoken political views. Ish, as he’s called, abruptly began speaking very loudly, pounding the table in outrage about the book trade, which he thought was rigged (not his word but he was right), interrupting everybody and drowning me out when I disagreed with him.

Ishmael Reed, c. 1980s

Ishmael Reed, c. 1980s

The audience sat there stunned; the moderator couldn’t get a word in edgewise, and I felt mowed over by a man whose books I admired. At the end, Ishmail turned to me and laughed as though we were in on some kind of joke. “Hey, you were a great sport,” he said, holding out his hand. And what did I do, pillar of righteous feminism that I saw myself in those days? Of course I shook his hand. I wanted to be the gracious one, remembering my mother emphasize peace in the family, believing that the book industry needed people who pound the table — and giving him, I’m sure he thought, the win.

(It goes without saying that Hillary is wise not to react when Trump so blatantly lays out the bait. Hillary co-founded Isis? Really, she can’t be bothered. Let him hang himself.)

I’ve thought of that panel many times since Trump started his run because I don’t think he wants to be president at all. Realizing he can’t win must be a big relief. His obsession starts and stops with winning in the short term– in speeches, tweets, interviews, debates — because that keeps him in the center of attention. He doesn’t mind being seen as a racist, a woman-hater, an ignoramus, a bully or a coward. To him, taboos exist to bring the spotlight back.

In terms of winning the whole shebang — well, look what happened to Trump the big businessman. He got tired of fighting the thousands of lawsuits, bankruptcies, labor problems, tax audits, the constant burden of accountability. That’s what The Art of the Deal tells us 40 years later: becoming a caricature of himself, making a million dollars to say “You’re fired,” reselling his books of dreck — well, who wouldn’t choose celebrity over responsibility?

as long as I'm not fired.

as long as I’m not.

That’s the role Trump likes to play now. He’s an accuser, a punisher, a winner of the moment. But eight years in the White House?. The TV series House of Cards couldn’t state the lesson more plainly: The candidate may be interesting as he bludgeons, manipulates, kills and screws his to the top, but once in the White House, he’ll have to placate, he’ll have to convince, he’ll have to lead.Let Hillary have the headache. Trump has already accused the national election of being rigged, so he can’t lose. Come January, when Trump can’t be blamed for the next president’s mistakes, he wins.

Anyway, I’m not saying Trump lined up campaign workers and tore them apart for not selling more of The Art of the Deal at $184. I’m saying he didn’t have to. Word came down that the boss had another scam going, and everybody fell into place. Whatever their contribution to the $80 million in “small dollar donations,” they helped him look like a winner, at least for the month of July.

**About that NPR Politics Podcast, which ran August 4, 2016

In this episode the speakers were host/White House correspondent Tamara Keith, campaign reporter Sam Sanders, campaign reporter Scott Detrow and editor/correspondent Ron Elving. I can’t tell most of the voices apart so no one is identified, but here’s the full excerpt about the calls they received regarding The Art of the Deal:

Judging by what I get on my phone — yesterday I got 5 different appeals from 5 different Trump entities, or agencies that were working for the Trump campaign — all offering to sell me a copy of The Art of the Deal for —

$184!

For 184 …

Whoa.

… every single one [of the calls was] the same, and they just kept coming in and coming in and coming in. There’s a little bit of expense involved in that, plus of course he’s got to give up his entire basement stash of old copies of The Art of the Deal —

Yeah, I bought The Art of the Deal on Kindle earlier this year for a story we did —

Did you like it?

It cost a lot less than $184 —

Gonna bet it did —

I think it’s important to bring the context back with the Trump fundraising.

Yes!

The fact is that two months ago he had the amount of money in his campaign account that was less than a typical House (of Representatives) candidate. He had basically no money..

He had less than Ben Carson at one point, right?

Yes, everybody was freaking out about this. Shortly after those headlines, the Trump campaign kicked it in gear, actually made an effort to start making money. They’ve now had two months in a row where they’ve raised a decent amount of money. It’s still not as much as Hillary Clinton, but we’ve also not seen them actually take that money and spend it on things.

Hillary Clinton still has a huge advantage in terms of the number of ads that she’s going to be running over the next two months. The Trump campaign just has not bought that much advertising, and the fact is, for all the stuff that we’ve talked about high-tech outreach, you still get to the most voters with big TV ads.

This is the place to acknowledge that … is how Donald Trump gets away with spending so much advertising and winning primary after primary. He’s the master of social commentary, he gets a lot of free television, and I think he might just be thinking he doesn’t need to buy the kind of ads that Mitt Romney or John McCain bought, because he isn’t sure [advertising] did them much good, and he might just thrive without them.

It’s actually something he talks about in ….

THE ART OF THE DEAL!

(they all chime in)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What “The Art of the Deal” Tells Us 30 Years Later

Since I found it so enlightening to read Hillary Clinton’s first book, It Takes a Village (1996, revised 2006), I decided to look at Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal (1987), with a fresh eye.

Jacket illustrations of both books have been updated, but inside The Art of the Deal, things don’t look so good.

Blurred type in 'The Art of the Deal'

Blurred type, uneven lines in “The Art of the Deal”

Remember in the days of Xerox when you’d lose the original and have to copy from a copy? And the next one would copy the last copy, and on and on until the words blurred together and illustrations faded out?

Apparently something like that has happened to the most recent (2015) edition of The Art of the Deal: It’s as if the plates weren’t replaced for so long that the type wore down, the photos faded and the lines wobbled.

In the book trade we used to call this a “begrudged reprint,” meaning the publisher (Ballantine) feels obligated to keep a former bestseller in print but doesn’t want to spend the money. So out comes something shoddy, like a pulp novel from the 1930s.

Blurred photo from The Art of the Deal -- for some reason the bottom photo is signed "Nancy and Reagan Reagan"

Faded photo from “The Art of the Deal” — for some reason the bottom picture is signed, “Nancy and Reagan Reagan”

In this case, I wondered if that great Mr. Sweetie Pie of paperback publishing, Ian Ballantine himself, rolled over in his grave and said, “Keep that idiot Donald Trump in print? Over my already dead body.” And so it was.

What He Didn’t Say

But back to what Donald Trump was saying 30 years before running for office. Of course The Art of the Deal was written with a professional author, Schwartz, so it’s a polished version of the same old braggadocio stuff Trump blows out today:

Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.

So: all he does every day is telephone powerful people and make deals. That’s how he’d be President of the United States today. Like a Mafia don, “sometimes I have to be the bad guy,” but usually the world presents him with prospects, and he doesn’t have to do any research; he just goes by his gut:

… A pair of beautiful gleaming white towers caught my eye. I made a couple of calls. It turned out they’d been built for about $120 million and a major New York bank had just foreclosed on the developers. The next thing I knew I was making a deal to buy the project for $40 million.

This kind of King of the Hill talk appealed to millions 30 years ago. People thought the book would give them tips about How to Win from a true real estate tycoon. Of course, Trump gave away nothing.

But today we recognize The Art of the Deal as the first indicator of the way Trump sold out to corporate media. Instead of conquering the world, he began performing for the world. Instead of reaping profits, he became a clown for money.

With each new book, he was more showman than author. On his reality television show, The Apprentice, he turned into caricature. He glowered for the camera; he growled “You’re fired!” He wanted to sound authentic, as long as it was scripted.

But the giant Trump, the powerful Trump who once made New York sit up and beg (or so it seemed) was gone. He never recovered from his bankruptcies. His real estate failures were colossal, and his books, gradually unreadable, stopped selling in the high numbers.

Suddenly Donald Trump was talking dirty in a desperate way on Howard Stern. The “brand” that at one time could sell anything — steaks, casinos, that stupid university — began to sound mean and sniveling.

Marcia Cross, best known for her role in Desperate Housewives

Marcia Cross, best known for her role in “Desperate Housewives”

“Would you go out with Marcia Cross or would you turn gay, Howard?”

This week Rachel Maddow said there’s a rumor going around that Trump is writing a sequel called The Art of the Deal 2.0. This would explain why he’s still hawking the 1987 book, as she showed in a half-dozen video clips:

“President Obama, Secretary Kerry,” he says from the podium, “I highly think you should read this book quickly.”

“Oh, he’s got The Art of the Deal,” says Trump, spotting a man in the audience.Hold that book up, please. One of the great books …”

“Who has read The Art of the Deal in this room?” he asks a baffled audience. “Everybody. I always say, [my book is] a deep, deep second to the bible.”

Trump pleading for a place in history would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, but as Maddow showed, it’s all part of a grand scheme to exploit the presidential election and make money.

As we saw this week when he had to reveal his campaign expenses, Trump has funneled donations of about $6 million to pay himself for use of the Trump jet, Trump hotels, Trump restaurants, his own homes, his son’s wineries and every possible item down to ice in drinks and merchandise like Make America Great Again baseball caps.

What an idiot (to quote my fantasy of Ian Ballantine): Does Donald Trump really think he can get away with this? “It’s a racket,” says Maddow, pointing to perennial candidates like Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain and Mike Huckaby. She asks: What do these people do for a job?

Well, they don’t hold office; they campaign for office. And they live off the donations that support each campaign. “What we’ve created is a weird system of incentives where people appear to run for office, but actually they run as a job where they can….get deals [as consultants] on Fox News.”

Trump would never do that — it’s too cheap, too weak, too pathetic. Plus they’re all losers. It’s just that he can’t help selling himself because that’s all he knows how to do. As a result his campaign looks like one big book tour.

And yes, if there’s an Art of the Deal 2.0, Trump may make a couple of million dollars from it, and add that amount to the other millions skimmed off donations to pay himself. Why not? Listing $1.3 million on record to finance his campaign (as opposed to Hillary Clinton’s $42 million), he’ll be given billions of dollars’ worth of free publicity by craven American media. So why should he care?

Well, the one thing The Art of the Deal tells us is that Trump cares only about being the conquering hero. He’s wants the glory of the conquest, and once that deal is made, he’s bored.

I think Trump is already tired at how much the campaign asks of him; he’s sensing the Oval Office will make him work 100 times harder. No wonder this Saturday he’s going to fly off to Scotland to open another golf course.

Of course, Scottish residents and elected officials hate him there for real estate developments he’s already promised and botched. But then, they’re not the American people.