A Review on the Fantastic HBO Miniseries Chernobyl: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was never better illustrated

As I watched the fantastic HBO miniseries on Chernobyl I couldn’t help but think of someone I admire quite a lot, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the great pinnacle work on human psychology called ‘Flow.’ I finally was able to watch the five part series after many people kept recommending it to me and I have to say at every level of that experience, from the writer by Craig Mazin to the direction of Johan Renck—and everyone in between from the great acting to the executives who put the deal together ‘Chernobyl’ was a bold undertaking on an epic scale. These are not the filmmakers of the 80s and 90s where The Hollywood Reporter measured success by the size of their pay checks, and overall box office, but this trend we have now of streaming projects on the scale of Chernobyl are bringing forth creative filmmakers who are functioning from Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘Flow’ on several projects that are giving the world so many new entertainment options, from projects like Stranger Things to The Mandalorian. But this Chernobyl effort was on a scale of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, which is one of my all time favorite films. But there won’t be big Academy Awards for this labor of love, or big Hollywood contracts. I don’t know what the makers of Chernobyl made as far as a paycheck, but its obvious they made this series out of pure love of the content, and the hard truths that come from it.

I don’t think Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi meant to reveal why communism doesn’t work in his own studies, but he did and that footprint of human effort was stamped all over Chernobyl. The film series brilliantly walked the line between the heroics of every day “working” people as Karl Marx fantasized to represent and cast a very bright light into every aspect and social level of Soviet society. The apartments were small and dingy, even the offices of the chief coordinators were skanky and shrill. No wonder everyone was so willing to lie about the status of things because nobody wanted to jeopardize a promotion into something improved. Conditions were so terrible for everyday people in Russia during this period of Chernobyl, which for those who don’t know was the site of the worst nuclear accident in the history of the world and continues to be a blight on Ukrainian politics. Even to this day, Ukraine is in the news and is at the center of an impeachment attempt by modern Democrats in America. For everyday people around the world who don’t know history or geography, the kind of corruption that these old Soviet regions bred is unfathomable.

Comparing lifestyles from the same period such as in the film Wall Street it becomes quite clear that the Soviet Union was so terrified of their people learning about the great gifts that the West might inspire into their society that they put all their efforts into publicity of the state for the purposes of the state robbing people of their natural free will so what the entire country ended up with was a massive economy filled with the Parkinson’s Law. Not the disease but the trend in human beings to fill schedule targets with procrastination when loose parameters to fulfillment are allowed and lazy ambitions fill the void. Where Chernobyl told the stories of many brave people it was only when the tragedy of the moment was able to tap into people’s natural Flow as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi often discussed. When left to their own devices into service to the “state” people took their sweet time, did only what they had to in order not to be shot by the KGB, and the result was a society of peeling paint, small apartments, boxy cars that all looked a like and very little retail options to speak of. Because the entire society was only doing what it had to because their Flow and love of life itself was so micromanaged.

The Chernobyl story could be told in any communist or socialist country and it is ironic that the American left is so enchanted with these efforts and want that for our own society. It is an unfathomably stupid idea unless people just don’t understand the concepts behind the work of very serious modern phycologists such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Modern China is suffering through exactly the same trials and tribulations as the Soviet Union was during this period of Chernobyl. It is the perception of power that they have and only that. That is the reason the state must control information flow so vigorously. The same in modern day Iran. Any society where people live in sloppy conditions and there are economic struggles we will find the elements of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s observations, once you take away the flow of ambition from people and force them to serve institutionalism, you get from them a natural Parkinson’s Law. I use that term to abbreviate Csikszentmihalyi’s teachings, which of course does the trick. This was precisely why the test at the Chernobyl plant was done in spite of the need to shut down for 12 hours to meet the output quotas for the end of the month needs. That Soviet society needed to push quotas on people in such a way says everything about their society, people weren’t naturally inclined to produce, or even motivated to “over produce” as we might see in Western cultures, but they had to be coaxed a gunpoint to do so and there is all the problem with Chernobyl or any communist society.

What was remarkable about the HBO miniseries on Chernobyl is it was done by very creative people functioning from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow ideas reporting on why communism was a massive failure because it robbed Russian society of their Flow. Whether or not this was intentional we may never know. It could just be a happy accident as events provided these filmmakers with the opportunity of a lifetime. But one thing is for sure, they seized on it and created one of the most magnificent narratives about a global tragedy that anybody has ever seen. And the work left in their wake is worth serious scientific study. Terms like Parkinson’s Law have not been around until fairly recently, certainly not as long as the peasant ambitions of Karl Marx over a hundred and fifty years ago. There are still a lot of discoveries that we need to make as a society as to what works and what doesn’t. For now we know that Western ideas do better economically, where these notions of collectivism tend to create Parkinson’s Law when Flow is robbed from individual people. We see it in manufacturing all the time no matter where in the world we are conducting it. Tight, micromanaged establishments tend to get a lot of Parkinson’s Law whereas free flowing creative efforts like at Pixar or Apple generate massive intellectual output. The results are unmistakable.

Chernobyl is the kind of program that every human being should watch once. That something like that is available to HBO subscribers or those with Amazon Prime accounts to me is a modern miracle. Such a great history lesson is available from the comfort of our living rooms any time of day in any length of time that you may wish to view it. We live in a modern world that has always craved Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow. He didn’t invent the desire, he simply observed it and noted conditions when Flow was restricted in people. But seldom is there ever a film series that shows not only what caused a tragedy on an epic scale because of Flow problems created by a government that is more relevant today than even when the event occurred. That’s what we have with Chernobyl. A massive undertaking created by wonderful Flow by the filmmakers about a society that had terrible Flow and ultimately why it’s important without being preachy. Chernobyl is ultimately about the gifts that come from a free society, the ability to look at ourselves and improve to get the desired results, something we all take for granted way too often. And we do so because of Parkinson’s Law, because we always fill the work to fill the comforts of a schedule, we see no horizon on, and think we have all the time in the world to fix it. But we don’t.

Rich Hoffman

Richard Jewell, the Movie Review: To understand what’s happening now everyone should watch this great film by Clint Eastwood

The movie, Richard Jewell is certainly one of those that every Trump supporter should see, and those considering becoming one. No wonder it has not done well at the box office, the last time I saw such an antagonistic hatred of a movie was the Atlas Shrugged films for many of the same reasons. Critics hated the movie, it essentially comes down to institutionalism against individual rights when movies take the side of individuals, the college trained movie critics become synonymous with anger at those who challenge their understanding of the world, which was forged in such places as Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Princeton, or some of their copy cats teaching those who didn’t do so well on their ACT tests. When people want to know why the media and our government rally to each other’s needs so often, and so quickly, well, they were all taught in the same places to march to whims of the institutions while those who didn’t enjoy the experience become everybody else. But the best products of our modern education systems, our unionized government schools or our best colleges essentially become guys like the featured FBI agent played by Jon Hamm’s Tom Shaw or the newspaper reporter hot to get any story and generally bored with life, Olivia Wilde’s Kathy Scruggs. And it was those two who were playing around with each other sexually who came up with the whole story against Richard Jewell, because they needed somebody to be the face of terrorism, even if the guy was completely innocent.

There is a Kathy Scruggs in every newsroom from all sides of the sexes. There are guy versions, but this one played by Olivia Wilde was fantastic, and very close to many of the people I have known in the media. 89-year-old Clint Eastwood, who directed this picture with the experience of a man who has been around and seen everything is likely the only person who could have directed Olivia Wilde with such realism. She reminded me of a not so disgusting scum bag as Eastwood showed in his Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact, the bar whore who was the central figure behind the rapes of the two leading girls. For these characters wreaking other people’s lives is a kind of game that they love playing. It fills a void in their lives that they work very hard to hide from other people and they are dangerous. But make no mistake about it, there is a Kathy Scruggs in every newsroom to some extent or another. She is not an exceptionally evil person, she is as common as a raindrop in the world of the media, and it takes a director like Clint Eastwood to pull that kind of performance out of an actress who might otherwise not feel comfortable going to such a dark place.

We all know the story, but as I was watching this movie, I was thinking that this is exactly what has been happening to the Trump administration. Kathy Scruggs might as well have been Lisa Page in the middle of the FBI investigation against President Trump. Sexual manipulation is not a new thing for women to play against horny, stupid men, and Peter Strzok was no exception. Not all people are as flamboyant about their behavior as Scruggs was, they hide their actions better. But these kinds of things are happening all the time at every level of our society, and if you get in the way of their actions, another Richard Jewell is born. We only know of Richard Jewell because the profile of the case was a big one. There are Richard Jewell types losing their jobs every day, or being denied promotions for all the same reasons. What Trump captured of the FBI and the media in Richard Jewell was an examination into the kinds of people who are really part of these classes of people, and it wasn’t pretty.

What happened to Richard Jewell, with the attempted entrapments by the FBI was exactly what happened to Roger Stone in the early morning raid of his home at 5 AM with the CNN reporter tipped off and waiting to capture the images of an arrested Trump confidant to splash on the television at the earliest moment. Or what about pinning down Michael Flynn without a lawyer while attempting to get him to give false testimony by pretending to be his friend in the early days of the White House transition? You can’t lie to an FBI agent, it’s against the law—but they sure can lie to you, or control the evidence in such a way to make you look bad if it makes them look good in the process. This movie Richard Jewell showed how those things happen in a very legally valid way. We should all question ourselves in why we have given the government so much power over us. Well, I’d say it’s because there’s a bit of Richard Jewell in all of us, a do gooder who just wants to live a good life and we don’t want to think that people are so dishonest as Tom Shaw or Kathy Scruggs.

The problem with institutionalists like the villains in the movie Richard Jewell is that the villains see value for themselves in supporting the institutions at all cost, even at the price of humanity. And to the rest of us, we can’t even comprehend such evil, yet we face it every day. Occasionally we get fighters who know the system better than the bad guys like the attorney in the film played by Sam Rockwell, Watson Bryant. President Trump comes to mind as a person who has made so much money in life and seen every trick in the book that he can sidestep the institutionalists easily. But those not so experienced around Trump were not so difficult to pluck into the trash bins of trouble. One little misstatement at that level and you are going to jail, while gang members, thugs, and illegal aliens roam our streets unimpeded. If you lie to an FBI agent when they set up the deceit themselves to trap you in it, and you are going to jail to show their power. It’s a bad, nasty game that many fear almost more than death, and it’s sad that we have allowed it to take such a hold of all our lives.

The problem though isn’t that we are stupid, its that we have been short to admit to ourselves that people are as bad as Kathy Scruggs and Tom Shaw. We find it astonishing that they would take it for granted that we’d just naturally believe them and that we’d put up with their evil ways because we all want to believe in the good in people. But some people just don’t have it in them. They adhere so well to the institutions because as people they are broken likely from birth, and there is nothing to hold them together but the rigid rules for which they control. Whether it’s the FBI or the media, the rules are built to serve the institutions and when they need some diversion, they can always pick on the latest Richard Jewell—the good guy who is so well intentioned that he can’t see the evil that is at work right in front of his face. Yet we all see it, and its not just in the Jewell case, but it’s happening right now to our president by that same FBI. Only that story is a much bigger one that many just aren’t ready to admit has been happening. But to see it for all its possibilities, everyone should see Richard Jewell. Its one of those types of movies for our times.

Rich Hoffman

The Best Rides at Disney World: Enjoying the technical marvels of boundless imagination

I suppose I enjoy writing about anything, but rarely I get to write about something as enjoyable as the topic of today. Sure, even with all the concerns that there are in the world, it is nice to take a moment to have a little fun, and that’s what I did for myself for Christmas this year. I’m a fan of Star Wars, and very specifically the Millennium Falcon and it just so happens that they opened recently the new ride Smuggler’s Run at Disney World. So, I planned a trip to ride it giving myself no cost restrictions due to the unique nature of this particular vacation. I timed my visit to enjoy another Star Wars ride that just opened called Rise of the Resistance which appears to be the most technical ride ever created anywhere in the world to date. The result was an extremely enjoyable five amusement park journey over a 5-day period and over 40 miles of walking that exposed me to some really wonderful moments of pop culture development and technical mastery through wild imaginations. The story I tell here is one that would have helped me while planning this trip so I offer it to those who are in such a need, so that they can enjoy their vacations as much, or more than I did.

I wasn’t going to spend that much money and time dedication to a vacation and not see the most technical ride ever made that was themed to Star Wars so seeing Rise of the Resistance for me was paramount. The ride opened on December 5th and I targeted my visit for five days later once some of the technical kinks and consumer drop off had occurred. I hoped that the Star Wars franchise had been damaged to the point where I might actually be able to get on the ride in the middle of a work week at Disney World on a winter day between Holidays. But, the demand for this ride from the public was so intense that the ride was selling out just minutes after the park was opening each day, so approaching my dates at the parks, I was getting a little worried. I wasn’t sure if the ride would even stay running long enough to allow the visitors who wanted to ride the thing time to actually ride it. So there was a lot that could have kept me from riding it which made getting the opportunity a unique adventure in perseverance.

While my wife and I were traveling to Orlando Disney had created a boarding party policy to help alleviate all the intense traffic that wanted to ride the ride each day, something they were calling a virtual line. In their other very cool and technical ride that has now been open for over a year, the Avatar attraction called Flight of Passage, the average wait times are in the 190-minute range. Disney knew that for Rise of the Resistance that the times would be even greater, so they used this virtual line concept to get people access to the rides. That meant that you had to get to the park early and get in line to get a boarding pass designation that would then give you a kind of time slot to ride the ride. This is where things got tricky, the boarding passes couldn’t be booked but by a phone app, once you entered the park. There was a lot of digital interactions that I was very weary of, because I felt a lot of things could have gone wrong, and often do in other places. But the level of Disney competence turned out to be extraordinary and it all worked out in the end with hindsight. But it was very stressful if you were dead set in riding this new attraction—which I was. People were lining up to get their place in line essentially at 4 AM. The gates to Hollywood Studios, which is the Disney park that holds the new Star Wars rides didn’t post openings until 8 AM, yet unofficially the gates were being opened at 6:30 AM and within a few moments of that early time, all the boarding passes for the entire day were being given out. I knew we had to get to the park early—really early, and that we’d have to fight our way to get a boarding pass from a restless crowd.

What made things even worse, was that the ride was breaking down a lot and the park wasn’t getting through all their boarding passes issued in a day so even if you managed to get a boarding pass, you still might not get to ride. So to ensure that we’d get a boarding pass we arrived at the park at 3:50 in the morning and were the seventh car in line waiting for the parking lot to open. And sure enough, more people started arriving in droves. Security let everyone enter the parking lot without paying since they didn’t have any workers at the park yet to run the admittance booth. By 4 AM a massive line had formed at the security check in that lasted until it was thousands of people. At around 5:30 AM they ran everyone through security so that a new line could form at the front gate of Hollywood Studios. It was there where the real race would be on. You had to zap your way into the park before they’d allow you to join a boarding party for Rise of the Resistance and all those people would be doing the same thing at essentially the same time. Boarding parties could change, you might be one of the first people in the park, but if you had trouble with your phone, or the system crashed, a ten-minute delay could put you from 20 to 50 quickly. Anything under 50 had a good shot of riding that day, anything over was sketchy. The Rise of the Resistance looked to do about 100 boarding parties per day, so there weren’t infinite rides to accommodate all the people who were there. So we were stressed about getting that boarding pass even though we were at the front of the lines in all the phases. Still, lots of things could have gone wrong.

At 6:30 AM, they let us in, my wife and I zapped our Magic Bands at the station and in we were. Within seconds we had the app opened and much to my relief, we were boarding party 13, which meant we were sure to get a ride that day. And as it turned out, we’d have the chance to get on the ride in about a half hour. By 7:30 AM we were off the ride and in line to ride the great Smuggler’s Run. By 9 AM we had explored most of what we wanted to see at the new Galaxy’s Edge and were free to use our Park Hopper option to explore the other parks and the best of their best attractions. It was good that Disney had opened their park so early to take away the pressure of the day and to give themselves more time to give everyone they could rides on Rise of the Resistance. Without knowing but hoping that they’d do the same kind of thing at Animal Kingdom for the new Avatar ride, we showed up at 8 AM for the 9 AM open and were delighted that Disney opened the park there early as well, at 8:30 AM. Since we were one of the first in line we headed to Flight of Passage and were able to get on the ride before 9 AM.

In the end after riding everything, which was spectacular, the Smuggler’s Run turned out to be my favorite ride at Disney. My wife and I rode a lot of rides on our vacation, but we ended up riding Smuggler’s Run 8 times and each time I found myself enjoying it more and more. It wasn’t just because I’m sentimental toward the Millennium Falcon, but because the ride is a technical marvel to me that was a lot of fun to fly. I was equally impressed by Flight of Passage and Rise of the Resistance, but the flamboyant nature of Smuggler’s Run won the day for me. It turned out to be a couple of the most enjoyable days of my life.

Disney was brilliant in their marketing strategy. They liked that Rise of the Resistance was overselling and that they had to show sell-outs which only increased the desire for demand. People not willing to get up as early as I did weren’t going to get a ticket, and that made it the hottest ticket in the country for something that turned out to be more Broadway play than amusement park attraction. All these rides were more than just rides, they were theatrical experiences in many ways and were deeply impressive. Disney turned out to be very flexible on their openings so that they could build up ride experiences by thinking out of the box and I was very impressed with them. They not only built some of the greatest rides in the history of the world released all within a short time of each other, but they knew how to build the anticipation. Getting on Rise of the Resistance was more treasure hunt than just slugging through a line, and that made it that much more special. And that turned out to be the secret to getting on the rides at Disney World that people wanted to see so much. If you were willing to get there early, they’d find a way. They get the long lines to market, you get to experience something very cool, and that did make it a truly magical experience.

Rich Hoffman