The Country We Deserve


I wrote about 9/11 and Columbine, about Virginia Tech, Aurora and Portland. About Sandy Hook and Charlie Hebdo. About Orlando and Dallas, about London and Ariana Grande, about Paris and Eagles of Death Metal.

I’ve written about it all, for more than 20 years. From my days as a wire service reporter to my current role as whatever-the-hell-it-is-I-really-do (still working on that one.)

And every time I’ve said the same things, felt the same things and decried the same things. Every time I thought it would be the last time, because how could any country, any society continue to live and die this way?

And then it happens again.

And it happens again.

It happens again and again and again and again and again and oh fuck it just happened again.

And I realize, once and for all, that it’s not going to stop. It’s not going to end. It’s not going to change, ever, because we don’t want it to change.

We don’t. We say otherwise, but we lie.

We don’t want it to change. We like it this way.

We see a lone gunman and we call it an inalienable right. We see bodies bloodied and call it the price we pay for freedom. We see 24-hour coverage of carnage and call it a TV show.

We call it anything but wrong. We call it anything but vile and horrific. We send our thoughts and prayers but not our common decency.

We reap what we sow, America. We don’t get the country we want, we get the country we deserve.

Until we change, we deserve this – to every last life, to every drop of innocent blood. We deserve it all.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trump Can’t Hate — What He Does Instead Is Worse


That’s not a Pollyanna dream. It’s not the blind hope of a defeated electorate.

It’s the truth.

President Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, abdicated his leather throne when, faced with a nation divided, he joined the breach with a hand grenade of historical indifference. He opened the wounds deeper and drew the lines darker.

He let the moral authority of his office drain away in supercilious succession – with silence and then with tweets, with falsehoods and with rancor.

But of all the things Trump is and does, one thing is certain: He doesn’t hate.

Trump may express hate, yes; and he will say hateful things. But a man like Trump doesn’t truly hate because he can’t – he simply doesn’t possess that universal human capacity.

Hate requires nuance and a semblance of rationale – it can be a stupid and baseless rationale, but it’s a rationale nonetheless. And that’s why what Trump does is far worse than anything mere hate could ever hope to achieve.

Only two kinds of people exist in Trump’s world: Donald Trump, and those who love Donald Trump. There’s no thinking beyond that. There is nothing anyone can say or do to make Trump take a side for anything other than his need to be loved. Every decision he makes runs through that narcissism filter.

The Nazis who protested in the streets of Charlottesville praised his name, so he had to let them love him. He doesn’t know how to act any other way.

The need to be loved is stronger, more dangerous, and as we learned last week, more divisive than hate. Without love from his family, from Fox & Friends, from his supporters and, yes, even from those who wear the swastika, Trump can’t function.

He needs it all, every last drop. He feeds on it like a cancer cell devours a healthy body. His yawning hunger for love will consume the republic until all that’s left is skin and bone.

So that’s where are in 2017. When people looked to the White House for leadership, they found only vanity. When they turned to the President to reset the nation’s moral compass, he instead tossed it into the pyre of our basest fears, letting it burn our eyes like so much tear gas.

President Donald Trump resigned not his office, but his role as steward of America’s conscience. He resigned his obligation to be the light that shines moral certitude over a fragile country that often needs to be reminded how, and why, it came into existence.

We will get through this; Americans always do. But now, at least for the foreseeable future, we will have to get through it alone.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Zaria’s Gate Now Available on Amazon

ZGscan5_test1Zaria’s Gate was originally titled “Reaper” and began with a sentence that popped into my head one night: “Death wore a hoodie.”

I don’t know exactly why that happened, but I loved it and wanted to write a story with that as the opening line. That led to more than three years of writing and re-writing, from a story about a world where everyone had a “reaping date” and looked forward to death, to a story about the nature of reality and existence itself.

The digital version is now available on Amazon. Print version is coming soon, but Zaria was ready to show herself to the world and I didn’t want to stop her.

I of course would love your comments — good, bad or indifferent — as feedback from readers is the only way a writer can get better.

Thank you for reading — I hope you enjoy your journey through Zaria’s Gate as much as I enjoyed bringing her story to life.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Cannes Before the Storm

IMG_0124THE DAY BEFORE THE CANNES FESTIVAL OF CREATIVITY BEGINS IN EARNEST is a ballet of well-managed chaos. Some venues are still being built and painted, agencies furiously slap up posters promoting their events, and the infamous Gutter Bar — the perennial Cannes watering hole — still has empty seats.

But unlike other conferences (and I’ve been to a few), there is a feeling and comraderie here in the south of France that you don’t get from South by Southwest. This is, after all, ground zero for creativity, so it stands to reason that the energy would be atomic.

Today, however, was more about prologue. There was Jon Steinberg from Cheddar TV discussing camera angles for their live broadcasts. There was a beachfront stage with vacant chairs waiting for guest speakers to wax some marketing poetry.

Tentative handshakes and small talk in the Cannes Beach cabana turned into laughter and lasting friendships by the second glass of wine. Bikinis and Speedos shared the scene with blazers and chinos. And yes, there were also bomb detection dogs and security screenings — because as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, this is still the world as it is.

But this week is also about optimism. It’s about work that matters because everyone’s work, whatever that is, matters. And in those far too fleeting moments when our cynicism momentarily disappears, we believe that events like Cannes can bring an awakening of our better selves — that our business, which will always be a business, can nevertheless change the world to be what we all hope and need it be,

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Father’s Day Isn’t (Really) About Fathers


I liked it, which was a valid reason to be sure — but the real reason was I was just lazy, and re-posting old stuff to make it seem like new was a pretty easy way to keep the content flowing.

Even I got bored of that, however. So bored, in fact, that last year I didn’t post anything at all.

But today, although I’m yet again reposting a blast from the Below the Fold past, I’m sharing this piece because it reminds me that Father’s Day is not about me, it’s not about dads, it’s not even about lawnmowers or power tools or barbecues (and in my case, most definitely not.)

Mother’s Day is All About Mom, and rightfully so. But Father’s Day is about our kids — and in my case, about the daughter who reminds me, without knowing she reminds me, that good only exists in the world because good people exist. And right now, we could use a few more good people.

Happy Father’s Day, Alex.


(originally published August 28, 2016)


white houseThe moment when you would hold your newborn child for the first time. The moment when you would hear her heartbeat and marvel at her innocence.

The moment when an eternity of questions, uncertainties and challenges would be erased with one tiny smile.

Finally the moment arrived.

Now it was time for the good part.

But then you took the baby home and she cried all night. You didn’t sleep for months and diaper changes became as regular as breathing.

This wasn’t the idyllic life you had imagined. Not even close.

Eventually she slept soundly and the crying subsided. She took her first steps.

Now it was going to be okay.

Now it was time for the good part.

But then the wonders of walking turned into the terrible twos and the toddler years. There were illnesses and tantrums, worries and regrets.

No one prepared you for this. No one could.

The good part would have to wait.

Pre-school was going to be the turning point. This was the good part for sure, the beginning of socialization and formal education – the discovery of “self” that would be your child’s greatest adventure.

But there were fears and setbacks. And it didn’t get any better with elementary school or middle school, and definitely not with high school.

There were cool kids and mean girls, awkwardness and anxiety. There was more pressure than you ever had to endure, more danger in the world than you could have ever imagined.

Day after week after month after year you waited. The good part was coming, you told yourself. The good part was just around the corner.

And then, without warning, you are standing in a college dorm on the other side of the country saying goodbye.

Was this it? Was this finally the good part?

Or was the good part the moment you held your newborn child for the first time. The moment you heard her heartbeat and marveled at her innocence.

Was it the moment when the baby cried all night and so did you, because you were now someone’s mom or dad. Was it the sleepless nights and diaper changes when you realized life would never again be this pure, this simple or this perfect.

Could it have been the times when she was sick and you sat with her for hours? Could it have been during the tantrums that started off so seriously but ended with you bursting with laughter?

Did it happen during her school years, when your daughter became her own person and you realized she was stronger, smarter and more determined that you ever were? Was it when she turned that anxiety into resolve and those fears into focus?

I hope so; for your sake I hope all of those things are true.

Don’t wait for the moment when you are standing in a college dorm on the other side of the country saying goodbye.

Don’t wait until the realization hits you with the unforgiving force of a million memories unleashed at once. The realization that it was all the good part. Her entire life.

Every last damn moment of it.

And now the moment has come to let her go – yes, this is the good part, too. In fact, this is the best part of all.

Because she is not really leaving. She won’t really be gone.

She is not moving out.

She is just moving on.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Truth: The New Digital Divide

cannes 1IN WONDER WOMAN, the new summer blockbuster from DC Comics, Diana Prince uses her “Lasso of Truth” to ensnare the bad guys and make them come clean. Her lasso is the ultimate weapon – nonviolent yet all-powerful.

The world could use that lasso right now.

“Truth” will be a recurring theme throughout this year’s Cannes Festival of Creativity, with sessions on “fake news” and related topics dotting the seminal meeting of the marketing minds. But truth is not just the latest buzzword or trend de jour – truth itself is under attack.

Thanks in part to social media balkanization, a growing rejection of experts and data-driven consumer targeting, a new “digital divide” has emerged – not a divide of access to technology, but of access to the truth. This divide is a pernicious wound, one that’s been torn deeper by our ever-insular online habits and the predilections of those who wish to keep us at odds.

Truth, Lies, and Bullshit

fakeThe truth has always had a certain amount of pliability, otherwise known as bias. There’s a difference, however, between good old-fashioned bias and today’s “post-truth” world of outright bullshit.

Bias is the truth bent toward a point of view. Lies are the opposite of truth. But bullshit, as philosopher Harry Frankfurt once noted, is an unapologetic, wholesale rejection of the truth for personal, professional or political gain. We are so mired in bullshit today that telling lies would actually be an improvement.

Author Nicolas Negroponte tried to warn us in 1995, long before the polarizing Brexit vote, the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign and the entrance of “post-truth” (aka bullshit) into our lexicon. He feared the possibility of customizing our digital feeds to the point of excluding any information we didn’t like or agree with, thereby creating our own realities.

Negroponte couldn’t have been more prescient. Instead of mass media, today we have a mass of micro media. And while a micro media world might be great for marketing, it’s not so great for rational discourse.

The Wall Street Journal’s “Blue Feed/Red Feed” Facebook tool, for example, puts this ever-widening truth divide on full display, showing how the same story can either be “reported” completely different or, in some cases, ignored altogether. And as a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found, flooding our feeds with facts just makes the divide wider:

“Facts can only do so much,” the study’s authors said. “When people’s beliefs are threatened, they often take flight to a land where facts do not matter. In scientific terms, their beliefs become less ‘falsifiable’ because they can no longer be tested scientifically for verification or refutation.”

Closing the Divide – the News Media May Have a Solution

It’s been said “the truth will set you free.” But if the online news business is any indication, some people are now willing to put a price on that freedom.

New research from the American Press Institute indicates that consumers will in fact pay for news if it’s high quality and on specific topics they value:

“Those who pay for news rate their sources as highly reliable,” the report found. “Subscribers are clearly signaling that publishers cannot cost-cut their way to growth — attracting subscribers requires investment in premium content.” In other words, being reliable (and yes, truthful) is how to rise above the cacophony of media noise.

It’s fitting that the news business help solve this problem since it bears some responsibility. The media’s failure to adjust to a digital-first model sent ad revenue into free fall, which resulted in fewer reporters. These survivors quickly found they could produce more content by being stenographers instead of journalists.

Before long we went from stories going unchecked, to fake news sites making up stories altogether. And because the Internet didn’t distinguish between the New York Times and a blog site someone started five minutes ago, after a while neither did the public.

Here’s the Truth – It Comes Down to Trust

It’s far too easy, as we saw in this past election cycle, to create “news” with a little digital sleight of hand, or to replace black-and-white truths with colorful yet bogus memes.

But politicians, as well as brands, need to be careful. If you play loose and fast with the truth – or ignore it altogether – you risk losing trust.

Trust is the ultimate bond; it’s difficult to gain and nearly impossible to earn back, especially among younger audiences for whom trust is paramount. Savvy consumers will eventually find out if you’ve been lying and they will call you out on it.

Brands and their agencies have a unique opportunity to cut through the digital morass and lift the common discourse. This is not the time to give in and create PowerPoint decks on “Marketing in a Post-Truth World” – this is the time to fight back. To make a stand. To be an activist, not an apologist. We have to close the divide before it separates and swallows us forever.

Call it bullshit if you like. But it’s the truth.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Making Fear a Non-Factor


Ask the man who casually fled the London Bridge terror attack with pint in hand. Ask the Borough Market restaurant patron who returned the next day to pay his bill and tip the staff, and who promised to eat and drink out in London even more often now. Ask the thousands of concertgoers who sang and danced with security guards in Manchester, just two weeks after 22 people, many children, lost their lives in a bomb blast after an Ariana Grande show.

Fear is an illusion, a mental conceit. And while you can’t always control your circumstances, you can always control how you respond to them.

The recent spate of terror incidents reminded me of my own response to fear – how I used to let it beat me. And how I refuse to do so again.

Here’s the short version: As many people know, in 1993 I had a benign tumor near my brain. It was removed – that was the good news. But the surgery also caused me to lose my hearing in my right ear while leaving me with a constant ringing noise, which ranges from average volume to oh-good-lord-that’s-freakin’-loud.

Then came the real fun part – certain vibrations or loud noises would cause severe headaches and sometimes seizures. It got so bad that my doctor told me I could never again go to a concert or a sporting event. He even said I should avoid going to movies or any loud public places. The next seizure could very well end me and I wouldn’t have any warning.

In other words, the safe solution was to sit quietly and listen to that ringing in my head for the rest of my days.

That obviously wasn’t a viable option; nevertheless I did my best to comply. I stopped going to concerts, I cut back on going to the movie theater. I made excuses for not attending work events or conferences (though that was kind of a blessing in disguise.)

But a few years ago, I made a decision. I decided not to be scared.

I decided I really liked live music, so I started going to concerts again. I decided to see more movies again. I even began playing guitar in a band again, turning up the volume in an auditory middle finger to my damaged nerves and that damn ringing.

Yes, a concert could kill me. A movie could too. But so could a car during my next bike ride on PCH. So could a sandwich that I swallow the wrong way. I spent a week watching nothing but HGTV and Fox News when my mother-in-law came to visit, and I’m still shocked that that didn’t kill me.

I decided that if I’m going to die, I might as well live first.

I now love a bad day at work. I love a deep paper cut or getting stuck in the rain. I love a good cry during the sad parts and laughing during the funny ones.

I love it all, the pleasure and the pain. Because if I can still feel, then I know I’m still alive.

That’s why Britons will still go to Pubs on a Saturday night. It’s why the French will still go to outdoor cafes. It’s why we will still go to concerts or run in marathons or visit tourist attractions. It’s why we rebuild higher when our buildings fall.

Fear only exists if you let it. So don’t let it.

That’s how I choose to live. And that’s how I win.


Posted in Current Affairs, Popular Culture, Uncategorized | 1 Comment