Monday, April 30, 2007


No longer overlooked or underrated (the New York Times reviewed her latest book—RIPPLE EFFECT New and Selected Poems from Coffee House Press—and some of the poems appeared and will appear in The New Yorker) and mentioned in this blog before, nonetheless, the publication of her selected poems is cause for celebration.

I’ve dug her work since she started publishing it, and back then thought of her as the punk Emily Dickenson.

But now I realize she is so much more than that.

Another way of describing her unique approach to the poem might be a cross between Elizabeth Bishop and Ellen DeGeneres.

I don’t mean to imply that she is “gay” (she’s not) or that her work can only be compared to other females (it can’t, and hasn’t been, either by me or other critics,) I only thought of them because they are the best at what they do, as Elaine is at what she does, which is like a mix of Bishop’s sophisticated and often enigmatic poetic craftswomanship, with DeGeneres’s wry, understated comic observations that make the mundane seem suddenly and surreally absurd, as well as transcendentally transparent.

But hell, check her poetry out for yourself and you can come up with your own Hollywood pitch (in my screenwriting days out there, the agents would always advise me to “pitch” an idea for a movie I wanted to be paid to write by combining two previous and recent hit movies so that the studio heads could instantly get what it was about and how they could make money on it, like “WILD HOGS in DISTURBIA” etc., which sounds like it could almost be an Elaine Equi poem).


Check this article out.

And please don't let the term "fascist" put you off. It's thrown around way too much on the left, but the point she is making, or points, are totally compelling and counter any typically devil's advocate stance I would usually take, even with people who share my perspective but not my tolerance.


For years I was grateful for Bill Moyers and his shows on PBS.

And now he’s back, and one of the best things on TV again.

I don’t know if it can be downloaded, (and if you more advanced web users out there can find a link to it, please post it in a comment below) (never mind, thanks to Maureen Barry here is the link to the show on how the media dropped the ball in the build up to the invasion of Iraq (at least the major papers and TV news shows). On the latest, he interviews Jon Stewart, who demonstrates why he is the most perceptive and articulate critic of the Bush regime out there.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


"In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.
"The United States has previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some of its reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time inspectors have found that projects officially declared a success—in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections—were no longer working properly."
—James Glanz in a New York Times front page story, Sunday, April 29, 2007


People tell me if you don’t post on your blog for a few days, people stop reading.

So this may be to nobody.

I didn’t watch the debate the other night between the declared Democratic candidates for President, because my cable went out. And in the land of the “supposed free market” the supposed conservatives who believe in the “free market” have been running for the past many years, I only get one choice of cable providers, and if I don’t like it, tough.

In my case it’s Comcast. I moved into a new apartment last September. The man they sent to install my internet connection and cable TV arrived in a beat up old pick up that had no indication he worked for Comcast on it. Of course he was a “subcontractor.”

I’ve got nothing against beat up old pick ups, I’ve driven many, nor subcontractors, my grown son has been one and so have I, and many in my family and clan, and some of my best friends are subcontractors.

But unfortunately this guy was so inept, that he suggested he could connect me up to the modem left by the previous tenant when I suggested he should connect it through the modem I was instructed to bring with me for that purpose.

When that became too problematic and he called the Comcast person who could help him, that person, after trying to explain to the “technician” what needed to be done, asked the man to put me on the line, and then she explained to me what needed to be done and I did it.

She also explained that because of the mistakes he had already made, my service would probably only last 24 hours and then I’d have to call again and she or someone else would walk me through what I needed to do. Which is what happened.

As for the TV service, I have had to call Comcast several times in the several months I’ve been here. Once, another Comcast “technician” had installed a neighboring apartment’s cable TV and when they did so they disconnected mine!

On top of the incompetence, my service continues to go out at regular intervals, and the only solution they have is to send out another “technician” usually several days later at best.

For instance I called last Wednesday when the connection was lost and I could get no TV channels at all, and they said they’d get a “technician” out as soon as possible, which turned out to be Monday (after I got to a supervisor, twenty minutes after talking to a regular Comcast “Customer Service” person who seemed very frustrated and angry with me because my service keeps going out and I pointed out that that wasn’t very good business practice).

And, they informed me, Comcast is now charging for that service (which naturally makes me wonder if the problems with the service aren’t intentional—to raise profits etc.) and when I tried to point out that it seemed unfair to charge me for their failure to provide the service I am paying for, they actually had the nerve to point out that other corporations have been doing just that for years and Comcast was merely catching up!

God bless (corporate) America.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


"To be loved is to be accepted. To love is to accept." —Willaim Saroyan in ROCK WAGRAM

Monday, April 23, 2007


I can’t stand seeing photos of this latest mass murderer, or the publicity he’s getting.

Bad enough we give so much attention to rich girls with plastic surgery and all the other nonentities that fill not just the tabloids these days.

Despite my belief in the first amendment, I think there should be a law that mass murderers, like the Columbine guys and Virginia tech guy, cannot have their photographs or images reproduced in the media, nor their names mentioned, and that all reporting on mass murders must emphasize the victims, not the perpetrator.

No more attention for murderers. Or anyone else who has accomplished little but getting their mugs on the news for some violent or hurtful act, or for being wealthy by inheritance, etc.

It won’t happen, but that’s what I vote for.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


I was a part of the times and the people who created the concept of “politically correct.”

We thought we were helping build a more loving and humane world.

At the time, our outrage against the many sins of our government and society, not least of which was the death and destruction caused by the Viet Nam war—as well as other “imperialist” actions around the globe by our military and secret agencies—and by racism and sexism and homophobia, not only throughout the USA, but promoted around the globe by our government and corporate entities, whether deliberately or just thoughtlessly.

My heroes back then quickly changed from Bogart and Bacall and Cagney and Jackie Robinson (see my Jackie Robinson post for a discussion in the comments section between “Doodle” and me that spurred this post) to Malcolm X and Germaine Greer and Mao and Che.

Because I was impatient with the slowness of progress on many of the issues that were so important to me, I quickly moved from my basically humanist beliefs and behavior to supporting and even acting out on more violent attempts to overthrow the status quo and create—as I always thought Che said, but now think it actually may have been a theorist whose work was a major influence on me, Carl Oglesby—“a world where love is more possible.”

The result of my beliefs and actions at the time, when joined with other like-minded souls, was often catastrophic in terms of death and destruction inadvertently caused by our actions, or just politically, as in contributing to getting more right wing politicians elected in backlashes (ala Nixon et. al.) or discrediting our honorable goals and intentions with dishonorable actions, including cannibalistic factionalism that eventually destroyed one of the most popularly supported mass movements in our history (that is to say, over a few short years the popular sentiments went from accepting the status quo racism to supporting an end to institutional and “legal” segregation and discrimination, as well as from support of the war in Viet Nam and elsewhere (e.g. Cambodia) to a demand for an end to it).

One of the major political problems of more recent years, is politicians still acting out of the rivalries and battles of the mid-20th century, instead of where we are now. Many right-wingers want to undo the gains made in the 1960s, which they often see as losses, and in fact they have succeeded in doing just that in sometimes incredibly damaging ways (invasions of privacy, stricter laws and sentences leading to more people (especially young black men) in prison for longer periods, criminalization of private acts and minor drugs and support of the corporatization of America leading to more environmental harm, more political dependency on corporate money, etc. etc.).

Including their present attempt to win the Iraqi war in the face of so much home front opposition to continuing it, because (see McCain, Cheney, W., et. al.) we “lost” Viet Nam, in their perspective, by not staying long enough or expending even more lives and money and energy and political capital, not because it is impossible for outsiders to defeat a homegrown insurgency defending their own country with anything less than totalitarian force and execution and continued repression,

Or because they don’t mind using that kind of force, especially with a voluntary military and a lot of the worst stuff contracted out to private corporations. One of the lessons they obviously learned from Viet Nam was that a citizen army made up of draftees is unlikely to acquiesce as easily to an unjust war and undemocratic methods, so they got rid of the draft.

And in so doing ensured that any protests would be less personally based and therefore less passionate and consistent and unrelenting (as opposed to the 1960s).

But I’m getting off the subject, my main point is that we can’t let those old battles from half a century ago get in the way of finding new methods to change the current course of events.

I think if we hang on to black and white distinctions anywhere, we are not only limiting the chance to move forward but are missing out on the kind of victory we almost had back in those days but by the time we had a majority of the citizens of this country on our side, our side was so plagued with political correctness and litmus tests for who was righteous enough to be on our side that the whole thing fizzled out on the political front and was co opted instead by the corporate powers who turned our sacrifices and creative bravery into fashion statements and consumer preferences.

In other words, we end up in a less violent, but no less divisive, version of who’s a Sunni and who’s a Shiite (or in the case of my people, who’s Catholic and who’s a “Prot”).

There are gradations across the political spectrum—not us and them or black and white or right wing and left wing (despite my own often over simplified dismissal of “right wingers”)—and to condemn someone because of who they voted for in the last election, or what aspects of conservative political perspective they agree with or are opposed to etc. is a waste of time in the end.

The idea, from my perspective, is to work for, fight for, promote the causes I believe in as strongly as possible, while accepting that some people will disagree with some or all of my beliefs. As the “gay” “surrealist” American poet Charles Henri Ford once wrote:

“When you split the world in two,/one half lives, the other dies for you.”

Friday, April 20, 2007


Unfortunately I can.

Bill Maher on his last show did a rant about how, now that some Democrats have taken back the “L” word—“liberal”—they should also take back the “elite” that usually goes with it when right-wingers are decrying anyone more moderate than them.

In the rant he points out how in other areas we want “elites” as in “elite fighting force” etc. and then points out how un-elite most of W.s appointments to important government jobs have been and goes on to say:

“You know how whenever there's a major Bush administration scandal it always traces back to some incompetent political hack appointment and you think to yourself, ‘Where are they getting these screw-ups from?’ Well, now we know: from Pat Robertson. I wish I were kidding, but I'm not. Take Monica Goodling, who before she resigned last week because of the U.S. attorneys scandal, was the third most powerful official in the Justice Department of the United States. Thirty-three, and though she had never even worked as a prosecutor, she was tasked with overseeing the job performance of all 95 U.S. attorneys. How do you get to be such a top dog at 33? By acing Harvard, or winning scholarship prizes? No, Goodling…attended Pat Robertson's law school.

I'm not kidding, Pat Robertson, the man who said gay people at Disney World would cause ‘earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor,’ has a law school. It's called Regent. Regent University School of Law, and it shares a campus with Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network studios. It's the first time ever that a TV network spun off a law school…The school says its mission is to create an army of evangelical lawyers, integrating the Bible and public policy, and producing graduates that provide ‘Christian leadership to change the world.’

U.S. News and World Report, which does the definitive ranking of colleges, lists Regent as a tier-four school, which is the lowest score it gives…

But there's more! As there inevitably is with the Bush administration. Turns out she's not the only one. Since 2001, 150 graduates of Regent University have been hired by the Bush administration. And people wonder why things are so screwed up...Forget religion for a second, we're talking about a top Justice Department official who went to a college founded by a TV host.”

There were some jokes interspersed with the above that I cut, because the facts are hilarious enough. Maher ended by making the point that Goodling hired a lawyer who went to a real law school to defend her in any fallout from the Federal Prosecutor firing scandal.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I’ve already raved about my friend Terence Winch on this blog, but his new book, BOY DRINKERS—a selection of short, narrative poems, about growing up Irish-American in the Bronx of the 1950s and ‘60s and beyond—is such a total pleasure (disclosure: the book is dedicated to me and another good friend of Terence’s and mine who passed on a few years ago, John McCarthy), that I have to recommend it to everyone I know and don’t know as THE greatest example of the storytelling art the Irish are famous for, only condensed into small parables of doubt and confusion in the face of religious faith, and gratitude for, and delight in, life’s less fraught mysteries.

I don’t think you have to be Irish-American, or of a certain age, or place, or religion, to revel in the entertaining and enlightening brilliance of Terence’s tales and observations. Human will do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


And a little diversion, at least for me, from all the media focus on the recent tragic deaths.

The other night I woke up because of a leak in the ceiling of the little alcove I use for an office. Oh no! My precious papers and books etc.

After strategically placing pots and pans, tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. Thus, list time again.

I tried several variations on the little trinity lists I obsessively make, but they weren’t taxing enough to knock me out, so finally went back to the usual sleep-inducing alphabet list.

This time, I thought of women I’ve fallen in love with through their work. Some of whom I probably wouldn’t have wanted to meet because, not to be arrogant but the few women who thought they fell in love with me through, or because of, my writing or acting, when they actually got to know me were sometimes disappointed.

So these are only women I fell in love with from afar and never met.

BERGMAN, INGRID (film actress)
CASH, JUNE CARTER (singer & songwriter)
DANDRIDGE, DOROTHY (film actress)
EDWARDS, ELIZABETH (political campaigner, teacher & charity head)
HESSE, EVA (artist) and HAYAK, SALMA (film actress & producer) a close second
JOHANSSON, SCARLETT (film actress)
KELLY, GRACE (film actress & princess)
LAKE, VERONICA (film actress) tied with LEE, PEGGY (singer & songwriter) and LEE, ANDREA (writer) a close third
MILLER, LEE (photographer/writer) and MANHEIM, KATE (actress associated with Richard Foreman’s stage pieces) a very close second
O’HARA, MAUREEN (film actress)
POINTER, JUNE (singer)
RHYS, JEAN (writer) and RUDNER, SARA (dancer & choreographer) almost a tie
SADE (singer)
THOMPSON, EMMA (stage & film actress & screenwriter)
ULMAN, LIV (film actress)
VARGAS, ELIZABETH (TV news anchor)
WRIGHT, TERESA (film actress) and WELLS, MARY (singer) a tight second
YOUNG, LORETTA (film actress & TV star)
ZHANG, ZIYI (film actress)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


The Greeks sure had it right, didn’t they?

Yesterday’s was worthy subject matter for their best playwrights.

Life is tragic enough—the trauma of almost all childhoods, the waste of young lives in accidents and wars and random violence, even like that which occurred yesterday.

And if we survive all that, the tragic reality that we are all going to die anyway.

As sad as we can be for the families of those who were killed yesterday on that college campus, how difficult it is sometimes to feel the same sense of loss when we watch the news and see the scenes of carnage in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It seems more random and cruel on a bucolic campus in rural “America.”

But in many ways, it’s less so.

The students didn’t expect it, or know it might be coming. And though in most cases those last minutes must have been fraught with untold fear and pain, for most of those who died, as I understand it, the end came relatively quickly.

The Iraqi kids blown up in equal numbers on their college campuses, by equally suicidal maniacs, had to live with the fear of that possibility every minute of their waking hours, and probably even in many of their sleeping ones, with nightmares and anxious, startled wake up calls at the sound of bombs and gunfire.

As kids in some “American” cities have had to live with similar fears and nightmares, as gun shots permeate their lives and the random deaths of innocent young victims fills their days.

Though the size of this tragedy, as the news reports kept repeating about the body count—“the largest in American history”—makes it seem even more tragic and sad and cause for despair, it is a story that could be written every day, somewhere in the world, on some scale, whether smaller or larger: the deaths of innocent young people whose lives have barely taken shape yet.

How unacceptably stupid, that our fellow humans could cause what seems like the premature deaths of others, when death will come to each of us eventually anyway.

But in fact, that is the reality we’re forced to accept at some point, or not. Each life has its arc, its beginning and end, and what comes between is life, yours and mine, and as too many have said for centuries before I came along, that “eternal now” of our actually consciously being alive is what matters.

As a memorial to those who died yesterday and will die today, and tomorrow, cut off in what seems like the prime of their lives—or even earlier, on what seems like the threshold of their lives—in honor of all of them, let us live this moment as if it is the only one we have.

Because, it may well be.

Monday, April 16, 2007


My friend Lisa loaned me a crudely produced, saddle-stapled chapbook of poems run together to fit as many as possible in its eighty pages, with only one (big) blurb on the back of it, from Harvey Pekar (the guy whose writings-turned-into-comics about his seemingly mundane daily life was made into the flick AMERICAN SPLENDOR).

And after reading only a couple of poems in it I began to wonder, how could I have overlooked this guy.

I must have heard of him before, because he writes about New Jersey, about places close to where I grew up (though years later), and about similar people and experiences.

Someone must have told me about him over the years. I maybe even met him somewhere, or at least ran across one or more of his poems I would think. I can see from the acknowledgements that some were published in magazines and even an anthology— IDENTITY LESSONS—that I was published in too.

So how come I missed his greatness until now?

That’s one of those unpredictable odd things about life ain’t it?

One obvious reason is there’s just too much out there. Even as a boy I could never have imagined how much, nor, I suspect, could anyone else have.

The sheer and simple increases in population, as well as the concurrent increases in outlets for creativity, means there’s just so much stuff out there—many would say too feckin’ much (the Irish accent made it a reality that only Irish recipients of Grammies and Tonys and Oscars could get away with using “fucking” as an adjective on TV without being bleeped initially).

But this guy was right up my alley, literally.

I’ve had people try to turn me on to other guys, or their writing or art or whatever, who they thought I had a lot in common with, and the usual result was indifference or even animosity.

Because usually I, or we, didn’t see the similarities, or they were only superficial and had nothing to do with who we really were, which was very much in opposition on many levels, or, we were actually alike in many ways and therefore there wasn’t anything to explore, or get over, or to satisfy our natural curiosity that made us move out of where we came from in the first place.

But this guy, whether we would dig each other in person, or whether he might have known my work in any way—since I wrote about some similar subjects and places a while before he did and since we obviously appeared in some of the same venues—this guy I share some real stuff with.

And though we might not have dug each other in person, if we ever met, I certainly would have dug his work had I only paid real attention to it, or seen enough of it to take the measure of his genius, as I now have, thanks to my friend Lisa.

I don’t know if you can even get hold of this chapbook, though I assume we can get almost anything on line.

So here it is: THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, New & Selected Poems from Elizabeth, New Jersey by Joe Weil, published by Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books.

I just googled him to see about other books, and it turns out he’s all over the web, even in Wikepedia (where as far as I know I ain’t), and though I was told he was homeless and had maybe already passed on, he seems to teach at SUNY upstate New York, and economics (!) among other subjects, and appears to be highly regarded in academic as well as the usual poetry mob scenes, so I guess I don’t have to tout him like he’s been overlooked.

Still, you, like me, might have missed him.

But don’t take all the citations on the web, or mine or my friend’s or Harvey Pekar’s recommendations though, check it out for yourself, and see where this terrific poet is coming from.

As he puts it in the poem “Ode to Elizabeth”: “Where nothing is sacred, everything is sacred/Where no one writes, the air seems strangely/charged with metaphor.”

Is it a coincidence that the lines before that are: “At night, I can still hear mothers yelling:/’Michael, supper! Get your ass in gear!’

Or as he puts it in another poem, “So Kiss Me Asshole”: he comes from “the neighborhood/of unhappy waitresses.”

A neighborhood worth a visit.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


As you’ve probably heard or read or sensed from the unexpected (to me) media attention to it (because of many ballplayers wearing his retired number—42—today in commemoration) sixty years ago today Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball.

As you’ve probably also heard or read, he wasn’t the best player in the Negro League at the time, nor the youngest, nor etc.

What he was, was smart, articulate, strong, tough, determined, and willing to follow Branch Ricky’s directions to not react to the slurs and acrimony and insults and taunts and outright racist garbage thrown at him, literally.

And he was my first real hero.

By “real” I mean outside of movie actors or characters in movies, and outside my family and clan and neighborhood, in what was “the real world” then to me.

I was just turning five when he accomplished the feat that many thought would never happen, and many thought could still be reversed, by intimidating Robinson into quitting, or as a result of his initially less than stellar playing.

But by the time of my birthday, in May of 1947, Robinson was not only holding his own, but taking the Brooklyn Dodgers with him into an unexpected first place position, and no one could any longer deny his prowess nor his heroism as the taunts continued but several of his original enemies in the game started to surrender to the reality that playing with a black man not only didn’t lower the standards of the game, but raised them, and made everyone better as a result, not only as players, but as human beings.

Okay okay I won’t get carried away. I’m just happy to see him getting this attention on the airwaves and elsewhere today.

Because although when the Dodgers left Brooklyn I never cared about baseball in the same way again—only occasionally watching the World Series for the individual drama of stories I’d heard about—and I certainly never loved it the way I did for a few short years as a little boy back in the 1940s, I always, and still do, love Jackie Robinson.

As I wrote in a poem to my father decades ago—called “Sports Heroes, Cops, and Lace” (in the collection CANT BE WRONG)—“…when the kids would do the cruel things/kids can sometimes do, I would think of Jackie Robinson and I/would try to be heroic like him,/and sometimes it worked. Even when they called me a jerk/and a race traitor and all the rest…”

He was my hero as a boy, a young man, and still.

So in answer to Paul Simon’s famous musical question—“Where have you gone Jackie Robinson?”—in my life, Jackie Robinson never left, at least not my heart.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


This may be the most Irish movie I’ve ever seen.

And you may miss some of the dialogue, not just the small amount that’s in Irish, but some in English, because of the heavy accents.

And have a little trouble following the subtleties of the story if you don’t know some Irish history, especially the early 20th century part, including the leadership and martyrdom of James Connelly in the 1916 Easter Rebellion, followed by the birth of the IRA, and then the compromise truce with the English, disrupted by Civil War.

But—and it’s an elemental BUT—you can still follow, and appreciate the movie totally, because the story itself explains all of the above emotionally, if not explicitly, through the relationships that are presented with such naturalistic acting and artistry you feel when it’s over you just lived through this history yourself.

Or at least I did.

For me, it’s a great movie.

I saw it several days ago and haven’t been able to get a lot of the imagery and dialogue and emotional impact out of my heart and head. Nor do I want to.

Cillian Murphy is the star, and his beautiful eyes and understated acting, for the most part, make the movie worth it alone.

But every actor in it seems as real as my cousins who still live there. I didn’t see one false move in the film.

Some critics have a hard time with the director, Ken Loach, for various idiosyncrasies of style, or think his scripts, especially this one, are too didactic or expository, but, every thing in this one rang true to life to me.

If you’re interested at all in the human aspect of the history of how Ireland finally threw off centuries of oppression by the English, or at least the Southern counties that make up the Irish Free State did—or if you just want to see a situation we’ve seen too often since, including in Iraq, from the point of view of “the other”—this is the movie to see.

It makes a perfect book end with John Ford’s classic black and white 1935 film THE INFORMER, set during the same era and addressing the same topics. Filmed closer to the actual time of the events dramatized, but performed in a now dated style, it nonetheless won a Best Actor Oscar for Victor McLaglen, (who would go on to a career of mostly playing sidekick to John Wayne in various Westerns, and Wayne’s nemesis in John Ford’s later tribute to his Irish roots, THE QUIET MAN) as well as Oscars for Ford’s directing, Max Steiner for his score and Dudley Nichols for Best Screenplay.

In fact I highly recommend watching the two films back to back, or on consecutive nights.

And then to round out a good filmic education on this theme, the three movies mentioned so far, (THE QUIET MAN might seem slight compared to the others, but the humor in the treatment of the IRA during the 1950s when things were relatively and briefly calm on the island reflected the misconception that “the cause” was more to be satirized than taken seriously at the time), THE FIELD (Richard Harris in his best performance in a story that for many Irish I know epitomized the problems with the Irish themselves that may have partly arisen from the centuries of oppression but were also partly a result of the Irish internalizing that oppression and turning it on themselves), IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (another one of Daniel Day Lewis’s great performances, and Jim Sheridan’s great direction, that perfectly illustrated the continued oppression in the North) SOME MOTHER’S SON (one of Fionnula Flanagan’s best performances, as well as another Helen Mirren perfect portrayal, in a story about the tragic results of the reborn resistance of the 1960s).

And then watch THE COMMITMENTS for a little comic relief, though with a lot of real political and historical insight nonetheless in a period (the 1990s) just before the Celtic Tiger became a reality and centuries of impoverishment and repression, both from without and within, finally became truly history, and no longer the central reality of Irish life.

Friday, April 13, 2007


"Do unto others what you would have them do unto you." A lot of people think Jesus said that, because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say. But it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, five hundred years before there was that greatest and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.

The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere even knew that there was another one.

We've sure come a long way since then. Sometimes I wish we hadn't. I hate H-bombs and the Jerry Springer Show

But back to people like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, each of whom have said in their own way how we could behave more humanely and maybe make the world a less painful place. One of my favourite humans is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana.

Get a load of this. Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was not yet four, ran five times as the Socialist party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, almost 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

"As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.

"As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it.

"As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

Doesn't anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools, or health insurance for all?

When you get out of bed each morning, with the roosters crowing, wouldn't you like to say. "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

How about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly George W Bush, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

It so happens that idealism enough for anyone is not made of perfumed pink clouds. It is the law! It is the US Constitution.

But I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened instead is that it was taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d'état imaginable.

I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your hair stand on end: "C-Students from Yale".

George W Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.

To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete's foot. The classic medical text on PPs is The Mask of Sanity by Dr Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia, published in 1941. Read it!

Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything.

PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!

And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George Bush, and not because he's against gay marriage.

So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.

They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't. Do this! Do that! Mobilise the reserves! Privatise the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody's telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!

There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president. This was true even in high school. Only clearly disturbed people ran for class president.

The title of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is a parody of the title of Ray Bradbury's great science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451. Four hundred and fifty-one degrees Fahrenheit is the combustion point, incidentally, of paper, of which books are composed. The hero of Bradbury's novel is a municipal worker whose job is burning books.

While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

And still on the subject of books: our daily news sources, newspapers and TV, are now so craven, so unvigilant on behalf of the American people, so uninformative, that only in books do we learn what's really going on.

I will cite an example: House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger, published in early 2004, that humiliating, shameful, blood-soaked year.

In case you haven't noticed, as the result of a shamelessly rigged election in Florida, in which thousands of African-Americans were arbitrarily disenfranchised, we now present ourselves to the rest of the world as proud, grinning, jut-jawed, pitiless war-lovers with appallingly powerful weaponry - who stand unopposed.

In case you haven't noticed, we are now as feared and hated all over the world as Nazis once were.

And with good reason.

In case you haven't noticed, our unelected leaders have dehumanised millions and millions of human beings simply because of their religion and race. We wound 'em and kill 'em and torture 'em and imprison 'em all we want.

Piece of cake.

In case you haven't noticed, we also dehumanised our own soldiers, not because of their religion or race, but because of their low social class.

Send 'em anywhere. Make 'em do anything.

Piece of cake.

The O'Reilly Factor.

So I am a man without a country, except for the librarians and a Chicago paper called In These Times.

Before we attacked Iraq, the majestic New York Times guaranteed there were weapons of mass destruction there.

Albert Einstein and Mark Twain gave up on the human race at the end of their lives, even though Twain hadn't even seen the first world war. War is now a form of TV entertainment, and what made the first world war so particularly entertaining were two American inventions, barbed wire and the machine gun.

Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don't you wish you could have something named after you?

Like my distinct betters Einstein and Twain, I now give up on people, too. I am a veteran of the second world war and I have to say this is not the first time I have surrendered to a pitiless war machine.

My last words? "Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a mouse."

Napalm came from Harvard. Veritas

Our president is a Christian? So was Adolf Hitler. What can be said to our young people, now that psychopathic personalities, which is to say persons without consciences, without senses of pity or shame, have taken all the money in the treasuries of our government and corporations, and made it all their own?

© 2005 Kurt Vonnegut Extracted from A Man Without a Country: : A Memoir of Life in George W Bush's America.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


How many people can be known, worldwide, by their first or last name alone.

You can say, well Vonnegut is an unusual name, and who else etc. But his daughter Edie Vonnegut is an artist whose work I always dug, and found as interesting as her father’s books.

I first fell in love with Kurt Vonnegut’s writing when I was in the service and his early books came out in paperback, before they became so popular and influential that they were reissued in hardcover.

The way I heard it at the time, this was a first in the publishing business (most books of any import then were published in hardcover and reissued later in paperback, not the other way around; books published originally in paperback were the lower class of bookdom, considered “pulp.”)

My first wife and I, at 22 and 21 years old, used to read his stories and novels to each other for a laugh and a little enlightenment. I fell in love with the author of them.

Later on in the 1960s, when I went to the U. of Iowa Writers Workshop on the GI Bill, I met Vonnegut, who was teaching in the fiction workshop, and his daughter Edie, who was a high school student at the time.

Vonnegut was always nothing but kind to me. He treated me with respect, as if we were equals. I never was his student (I didn’t have an undergraduate degree when I arrived so had to get that first, and by the time I got into the graduate school, two years later, he was gone) but he still paid attention to my anti-war (Vietnam then) speeches and writing and anything else I was getting published back then.

He was such a regular guy—intelligent but no condescending intellectual superiority like I got from some other teachers and students there—that I always felt comfortable around him.

I ran into him again over the years, mostly in New York, and he always remembered me and seemed to be up to date on my latest books or other activities, which not only flattered me but made me feel maybe I wasn’t the outsider I always felt like I was, that maybe there was a place for me in the literary and art world that I felt had saved my life.

I hadn’t seen him for a long time, after I moved to L.A. and spent almost 20 years there, or since I moved back East several years ago. But I kept up with his latest writing and his speeches, and my respect for his honesty and clarity in the face of the hypocrisy so prevalent in these times, only grew.

He lived a full life, but I wish he was still around to continue commenting on the charade of power and greed masquerading as morality and idealism.

I didn’t get a chance to thank him for all his simple kindnesses to me, so I’ll do it now.

Thanks man, it was great having you in the world.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


A good friend sent me a joke in an e mail the other day. Unfortunately I read it at 1AM after a long day. I didn’t laugh.

It was a version of the old canard that a conservative is a liberal who got mugged. A bullshit proposition at best, but now seems to be “conventional wisdom.” Or at least was up until recently.

The joke is basically that a liberal is walking in a dark alley with his wife and little kids, and the liberal is carrying a powerful weapon, but when a terrorist approaches with a weapon and the obvious intention of doing harm to the liberal and his family, the liberal finds himself in a quandary over the usual liberal questions, so dithers away the opportunity to protect his family by asking himself a million questions about why the terrorist is attacking him etc. etc.

A conservative in the same situation with his wife and kids of course uses his weapon and bang, kills the terrorist.

Then the third proposition is a Texan, who not only shoots the terrorist bang, but bang bang and several more bangs and then his little girl comments on the type of weapon and his little boy on some other technical gun language.

The joke being that Texans not only protect their families, but the whole family knows all about guns and how to kill terrorists etc.

I didn’t laugh because it’s bullshit.

I’ve been in a lot of dark alleys in my life, and in some of them I was mugged, and though for a lot of my adult life I saw myself as farther left than “liberal,” being mugged certainly didn’t move me to the right.

My guess is, not many conservatives have actually been in dark alleys or been mugged, but are simply scared of dark alleys and of being mugged.

And as for Texans. If the guy in the White House, who of course is really a New England preppy WASP, but has certainly convinced a lot of people, mostly conservatives, that he’s a real Texan, if he is any example, I’m not impressed.

He’s got the swagger of a guy who works with weights a little too much and confuses the results with manhood.

I mean, who would you bet on in a real fist fight, him or Clinton? Rush Libmaugh or Al Franken?

Who would you rather be caught in a war with? In a swift boat with? Kerry or W.? Kerry won his medal for going back for a fellow serviceman under actual enemy fire. Hello.

I’ve known a lot of pacifist Texans, a lot of tough liberal Texans, and a few Texas bullies who like any other bullies I’ve ever known, talked a lot of shit they couldn’t back up unless the odds were skewed in their favor, and even then often still couldn’t back it up.

Like all these draft dodging war avoiding chicken shit hawks in this administration, including W. and can-only-talk-out-of-one-side-of-his-mouth so that should tell us something Dickhead Cheney, et. al.

It was liberals who risked their lives in the fight for civil rights and many died in the years when that struggle was at its apogee—white and black.

It was conservatives who did their dirty deeds in the dark of night against unarmed innocents, like the three little black girls in that church in Birmingham. Or with overwhelming odds and firepower in the light of day like those Southern sheriff’s deputies using fire hoses and attack dogs against unarmed young people and children.

Back in those days, I was part of the group that thought liberalism didn’t go far enough in fighting the good fight, that it was necessary to take more drastic measures, and we did. But it was the liberals who did the slow and often dirty work of inching government policies a little farther along toward treating all humans with dignity.

Us more violent and impatient young people certainly helped at times, putting pressure on everyone to move faster and do more, but we also hindered efforts back then, insisting on Utopian ideals and rejecting any compromise when it was often the liberal compromisers who actually brought about change while sometimes our efforts backfired and led to worse conditions as conservatives took power in the backlash.

Like Nixon. Me and my fellow radicals and revolutionaries who refused to vote for either Republican or Democrat helped Nixon get elected the first time which dragged the Vietnam War on for several more years and saw hundreds of thousands more people die as a result. If a compromise vote to elect a liberal would have saved even one life, it would have been worth it, but it could have saved hundreds of thousands.

Those who thought they were rejecting the liberals and the conservatives by voting for Nader caused the same kind of conservative power grab that could have been avoided had they thrown their support to Gore—and hundreds of thousands of people might not have died in the Iraq War.

I may have admired Malcolm X for his charisma, his clarity, his eloquence, his revolutionary integrity, but his radical and revolutionary stances and leadership led to divisions in the movement for civil rights and equality for African-Americans and in the black community itself, as well as ended up with himself as a sacrifice, along with many others.

Martin Luther King rejected violence and took a more liberal stance that was eventually dismissed by many of us younger folks as not revolutionary enough, but he was about uniting not only black people around common goals and achieving them through creating public support from the wider population, he was also about uniting white and black and brown and yellow, as they used to incorrectly describe “races” that aren’t anything but gradations of skin color throughout all humanity, but he was about bringing everyone together, and paid the price when he switched from racial issues to economic ones.

These cowardly lying conservatives and neo-conservatives who have run our government for the past several years, are, for the most part, blowhards. And as far as I am concerned they should be the ones portrayed as the wimps. Not the liberals, like John Edwards, or Ted Kennedy, who has passed more legislation supporting rights for those discriminated against in the past, including the poor, than anybody in government right now, while the fat cat conservatives and their cronies have robbed the government and all of us blind for years while distracting too many of us by pointing the finger at “liberals” as the cause of…what? All their fucking mistakes.

Now W. has the incredible moxie, probably because he’s been getting away with this shit for so long, to declare that the present Democratic majority Congress is doing damage to our troops and their families by not giving him the war funding he wants the way he wants it in the time he wants it, while not mentioning that the last funding bill for the war enacted under a Republican controlled congress took twice as long to get to his desk, or that the funding doesn’t run out for months anyway, or that the troops are already suffering, and their families, from lack of funding from his administration and the past Republican Congress, who didn’t supply them with the proper armor or armored vehicles or weaponry or leaders or turnaround time or etfuckingcetera.

In WWII, the so-called “good war” we stopped making cars, period, so those factories could produce tanks and other necessary military supplies. Under W. and the supposed all-volunteer army (if being guaranteed citizenship if you join can be seen as voluntary for foreigners trying to become citizens, or being promised non-war work for gullible underprivileged high school kids etc.) all “Americans” were asked to sacrifice was more of their hard earned cash for more consumer goods.

The dictionary should have a line-up shot of this administration for the definition of “hypocrisy.”

And now Imus is fired. I won’t miss him. But don’t let the pious bullshitters pretend it’s about him slurring the reputations and good name of the Rutgers womens basketball team. It’s because big sponsors were pulling out and he would no longer be a cash cow for MSNBC.

And don’t let the corporations get away with pretending they’re doing it out of some moral imperative, because of the racial and sexist slurs of Imus. I don’t see them pulling out of backing shows and music and movies and merchandise that as I said in my last post says a lot of the same shit Imus said, only more so.

Either we all pull our own coats about the realities of our world and cop to the truth of our own and each other’s hypocrisy, or we all fake it and became as hollow and as impotent as the Roman Empire toward the end. Or any other empire for that matter.

And by the way, there are plenty of well intentioned and good hearted conservatives and some of them make some pretty good points on some of the issues. Unfortunately, they haven’t had much influence on their fellow conservatives in power for years, and still don't.

It's been another long day. Maybe I should have waited until morning to write this. It might have been a little less of a rant, with a little less swearing. But I would have been trying to make the same point.

God bless the USA. And the rest of the effin' world.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


A lot of people dig Imus. I’m not one of them.

Good friends of mine enjoy him, some even told me years ago that he reminded them of me back then.

I tried listening to him, and still sometimes turn on MSNBC in the morning looking for news and get him doing his thing and watch for a few minutes, which is all it takes for me to be completely bored by it.

I don’t find him as inane or as much of a waste of time as I find Howard Stern. And lots of my friends dig Stern. They find him pretty funny. I never did.

Imus seems to be aiming slightly higher in terms of processing information.

I know I know they’re just there to entertain. But I don’t find them entertaining either.

At least they’re not as pretentious or hypocritical as Limbaugh, whose famous dismissal of drug addicts as getting what they deserve, in terms of inordinately long sentences for minor offences, didn’t seem to apply in his own busted-for-drugs case. Etcetera.

But frankly, I find most of these talk radio guys boring. Maybe I’m just too impatient. Though I can sit through Bill Maher’s show on HBO—“Real Time”—even though I’m not crazy about him either. But at least I respect his attempt to inform his audiences and to create the grounds for some lively discussion and debate.

His show sometimes surprises me with who actually has a grasp of the facts and is articulate about them. Ben Affleck, who doesn’t come across in his acting or celebrity-hood as the smartest guy, has proven himself well-informed and almost eloquent on Maher’s show, and the other night D. L. Hughly did too, as others have who I didn’t expect to be so in command of the facts, not only of our present situation but of history as well.

And I can sit through John Stewart’s “Daily Show” most nights, though it seems to have lost a lot of steam since the first season, when we were discovering so many of the talented comedians playing newsmen who have since left the show for starring careers of their own, like Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell.

But to get back to Imus and hypocrisy, this latest dustup seems a little hypocritical to me.

The one news show I saw with tape of what he said, made it clear he was responding to the usual frat boy put down humor that turns me off those kind of shows (David Letterman’s another example of that kind of comedy that just doesn’t make me laugh much). One of Imus’s entourage goaded him into some put down of the Rutgers women’s basketball team and he jumped on it with both flat feet by pushing it further with his “nappy headed hos” remark.

Sexist and racist. Yeah.

But then, how many comics can you name who use those words, and others like them, in their acts, starting with the Kings of Comedy who laid a lot of the groundwork for the misuse of “the N word” (once again I refer you to that YouTube riff that I first saw on Coolbirth yesterday) let alone “ho’s” and “nappy heads” etc.

Okay so white people aren’t allowed to do that because it has a different connotation coming from them. Us.

But I have a little white boy who sometimes watches one of the seemingly hundreds of MTV channels with shows like “Yo’ Mama” that showcases putdown humor that goes much further than anything Imus said, and even though it’s usually coming from African-Americans, sometimes it’s Hispanics and “whites” as well. And the more insulting the putdown, the better chance they have of getting the “cash money” prize.

How’s my little boy supposed to know when that’s inappropriate for him if the TV is showing him hip teenagers (his idols and role models at his age) using that language to make people laugh and to win money and get on TV etc.?

I know racism still exists, and so does sexism. But in my lifetime the vindictiveness of those human tendencies, and the legal basis of them, and the societal support of them, has diminished almost to the point of non-existence.

What I mean is, the kind of sexism and racism you could get away with when I was a kid, and most people subscribed to, doesn’t exist today. I was in the forefront of young people in the 1950s and ‘60s and ‘70s who had a lot to do with that accomplishment, and as I have said before, it is an insult to the memories of those who suffered and even died to bring about the changes that have occurred, to pretend Al Sharpton et. al. are fighting against the same forces that people were back then, or even earlier.

Yes black men still get pulled over more than white men, or at least I accept that as true. And women still don’t make as much as men in comparable positions, which I also accept as true.

But a lot of my bosses on various jobs have been women and/or “blacks” making a lot more money than me. And I have been pulled over by black cops who treated me pretty rough even though I’m an old gray-haired white guy.

It is also true that young white men are dropping out of high school and not going to college in greater and greater numbers, in many places now equal to or even greater than the drop out rate among black males.

Yes, there is a disproportionate number of black men in prison in this country. As there is a disproportionate number of Hispanics and poor white males dying and being wounded in the Iraq War.

As there are more women in college than men now, and more suicides and mass murderers among young white males who seem to have as much trouble finding “white role models” (Bush anyone?) as it used to be said, and sometimes ignorantly still is, for young black males to find “black role models” other than pimps and drug dealers and the usual suspects (as if there hadn’t been and still is a black Supreme Court Justice, or on TV and in movies often a black boss, police chief, president even, etc.).

In fact, there are plenty of role models on TV and in movies and the media in general for every different identity there is in this country, except maybe the “handicapped.”

And yes there are still individuals suffering from racism and sexism. But compared to the past…

There’s no comparison. In fact, the Rutgers women’s basketball team wouldn’t have even been on the radar of a radio talk show guy back then, if they even existed.

But if it’s not allowed for white people to use the same terms many blacks do in public, because of the history of racism in this country, then how do we deal with the new history that has been created since the 1970s?

In recent decades, especially since the 1980s, more African-Americans are killed by black people than by whites. In fact, more white people are killed by black people than vice versa. So how do we turn that into humor that still is sensitive to black sensibilities?

And who gets to decide what is offensive and what isn’t? Snoop Dog? Ice T?

I once worked as an actor on a TV show Ice T was starring in and producing. I had a small scene with him and was dressed in a suit with my gray hair cut short and business-like. I was obviously playing “the man.” While waiting for the camera set up, or whatever technical thing was keeping me standing around next to a table Ice T was sitting at on a set dressed to look like a fancy restaurant, Ice T turned to me and ordered me to go get something for him.

Normally I try to behave like many more important people on sets than I usually was who were kind to me, like Jimmy Smitts on “L. A. Law” and “NYPD Blue” the times I worked with him. He went and got me something to drink once without my even saying anything, because I was stuck between the camera and some other equipment while the technical people were fussing with something and he figured I could use a drink. I try to keep him as my model in these situations.

But Ice T was so regally imperative in his order, as if I was one of his entourage, who he was equally ordering around, and all of whom were obeying him like he was the pharaoh and they were his slaves, I said something like “You’re confusing me with one of your lackeys son, that ain’t my job,” and just kept standing there.

He turned to look directly at me, for the first time, by the way, even though I’d been on the set for hours. I looked back at him, eyeball to eyeball. We held that for a while, then he turned to one of his assistants and got them to do whatever it was he wanted.

He treated me with respect for the rest of the shoot, but I had them take my name off the credits and never listed it on my resume. I just didn’t like the experience. I’ve worked with a lot of prima donnas and stars who thought they were somehow deserving of adoration or at least obedience, but no one who seemed as insensitive to those around him as Ice T on that set.

In his defense, he was in the first wave of his Hollywood fame and power, and a lot of people, even me during my brief experience of a lesser version of that, have been known to get so egocentric we forget to be human to others. Hell, I’ve been known to do it even without anyone giving me any fame or power.

And I have heard from others that Ice T can be very gracious and generous and so on. I don’t meant to indict him as the premiere example of that kind of star self-centeredness, he’s just the one I had my worst experience with.

All I mean to say is, I think it’s hypocritical to hold old white guys like Imus, or me, to standards that non-old white guys are allowed to trample all over.

Either “nigger” is a no-no, or it isn’t. Either “ho” is a no-no or it isn’t. I’ve thrown people out of my house for saying less offensive things, and back in the day, I got shot at and had knives held to my throat and beat up and things I won’t even mention for standing up for non-whites and women and gays and etc. Only to watch, years later, as a lot of those categories of people now say and do the very things I was risking my life to stop others from saying and doing because it was so painful for so many.

I don’t say “ho” or “nigger” or any of the other words that seemed to cause so much damage to people’s heart and souls and to the country’s humanity in my boyhood and youth. But I laughed my ass off when Lennie Bruce used those kinds of terms to make audiences laugh and at the same time enlighten them about the misuses of such terms.

Or when Richard Pryor and others first used them in their acts to highlight their humor. When Pryor changed his mind about all that, in truth, his act became less funny.

And my kids and friends make fun of me sometimes for being so righteous about racism and then making jokes at the expense of the French or English etc. And I am known for having a foul mouth and for swearing and cursing too much. Something that I know offends a lot of more sensitive ears than mine. I’ve worked hard to stop all that and yet keep slipping back into it, especially when excited or angry.

So I am no model of anything here. I just want to shine a light on what I see as the hypocrisy of an entire society right now, where words and gestures coming from one type of individual can be construed as offensive, but coming from another can be seen as simply humorous or benign. That sounds a lot like the distinctions made in the old days between what Southern white racists could get away with compared to what Southern blacks couldn’t. Reversing that inequality just maintains inequality.

If Imus has to be fired and never work as a talk radio guy again, it won’t bother me a bit because I don’t listen to the guy. But to be fair, if that’s what’s being called for by some folks who are offended by his “humorous” comments in this instance, than MTV’s “Yo Momma” must be equally protested against and stricken from the airwaves, along with most rap, comedy, a lot of movies and TV shows, et fucking cetera.

Monday, April 9, 2007


When Clinton was being impeached for lying about a personal relationship that had nothing to do with the great job he was doing as president in terms of most things that matter to people (economy, crime, peace, etc.), one of the leaders of the rightwing attack dogs that generated the impeachment process was Newt Gingrich.

Of course, as we all know now from his recent confession, and as most of us who paid attention knew even then, Gingrich was having an affair with a political subordinate even though he was married, at the same time Clinton was. But Gingrich acted all outraged about Clinton’s affair while continuing his in secret, and for the most part the so-called “liberal media” (though as I’ve pointed out over and over again most of what passes for media in this country is owned by Republicans and a high percentage of that by extremely rightwing Republicans, not just Fox News and The Washington Times either) went along with that charade.

Now Gingrich is all self-righteous about The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pellosi, going to Syria against the so-called president’s objections, even though Gingrich went to China while Clinton was president, despite that administration’s objections, and even more hypocritical, there were three Republican members of Congress in Syria, also visiting with the president of that country as Pellosi did, almost at the exact same time!

And once again, most of the media repeated the administration’s claims, and their many lackeys echoing of those claims, about Pellossi while leaving out the fact of Repubican politicians visiting Syria in larger numbers than any Democrats, as the media, for the most part, also reiterated Gingrich’s objections to “two foreign policies” without mentioning that he conducted his own private foreign policy with China when Clinton was president.

I hate hypocrisy. And even though most people, including me, have been guilty of some hypocrisy, and politicians more than most, Republicans seem to own that vice more than anyone in my lifetime.

Just one short list of the most recent examples of that include: W's compromise with North Korea over its development of nuclear weapons that duplicates almost exactly the compromise the Clinton administration made and which the Bushies still attack as weak; W's administration getting the U.N. to create sanctions against North Korea for its arms dealings and then secretly allowing Ethiopia to continue buying old Russian arms from North Korea because the Bushies don’t want radical Islamists taking over Ethiopia (can you imagine what they would have done with that double faced two sides of the mouth jive if Clinton had anything to do with it, or Pellosi or Hilary or etc.); still pretending to have a “Christian” faith based perspective in their policies, or his policies, and total support of Israel, while Saudi Arabia, the Bush family allies for generations, continue to finance anti-Israel, anti-Christian terrorist organizations and their terrorist creating schools, and not allow almost any rights for women or non-Muslims (when the Bushes are in Saudi Arabia there are no churches for them to practice their supposed faith because that country doesn’t allow them), et fucking cetera.

As the Canadian novelist Robertson Davies put it in WORLD OF WONDERS:
“A boy’s first recognition of hypocrisy is, or ought to be, more significant than the onset of puberty.”

A girl’s too, I’d add.

Oh and PS: If you want to see a beautiful rap on more recently blatant hypocrisy on the part of many who would see themselves as anything but rightwing, check out the YouTube link on my friend Tom's Coolbirth blog, just hit that name over there on the right in the list of sites I recommend.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Thursday, April 5, 2007


1. TRULY MADLY DEEPLY (superbly acted, first time I dug Alan Rickman)
2. THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (Gene Tierney & Rex Harrison, one of the best)
3. GHOSTBUSTERS (still crazy after all these years)
4. GHOST (despite the subsequent parodies of the clay-shaping scene it still works for me)
5. TOPPER (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as wise cracking, partying ghosts!)
6. THE BISHOP’S WIFE (Cary Grant as a ghost again, but this time a sober one, and David Niven as a stiff married to Loretta Young at her most beautiful, as sweet as it gets, with honorable mention to Denzel Washington’s more recent version THE PREACHER’S WIFE)
7. I MARRIED A WITCH (with Veronica Lake in one of her most charming performances)
8. A CHRISTMAS CAROL (the 1951 black-and-white one with Alastair Sim as Scrooge, and honorable mention to the late ‘80s version, SCROOGED, with Bill Murray and Karen Allen in one of her most charming performances)
9. WINGS OF DESIRE (directed by Wim Wenders, with Bruno Ganz as an angel, and best thing Peter Falk ever did outside of WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE)
10.BEETLE JUICE (maybe Michael Keaton’s best performance)
11.DROP DEAD FRED (directed by my friend, and one of my favorite directors, Ate de Jong, and starring one of my favorites, Phoebe Cates)
12. STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN (directed by Michael Powell and starring David Niven, classy and classic)
13. HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (pretty corny, and I never quite buy Robert Montgomery as a tough prize fighter but still, Claude Rains as an envoy from heaven! and Everet Evert Horton and James Gleason, two of the most fun character actors from old Hollywood, and honorable mention to Warren Beatty’s 1970s remake HEAVEN CAN WAIT)
14. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (still moves me, because it’s so realistic in its portrait of life’s disappointments, today George Bailey would be put on anti-depressants and remain bitter and learn nothing, and don’t get angry and defend anti-depressants, I know they often work and am grateful they exist, but they make for lousy plot points)
15. THE NESTING (pretty bad horror film, but it’s Gloria Grahame’s last flick—playing the ghost of a madame of a brothel—worth it just for her, and one of John Carradine’s final films as well, playing my character’s rich grandfather, yes it’s one of the few films I actually starred in when I was starting out as a professional actor at 39, still not very sure of myself, as is obvious when you watch it, and as far as I know only available on video, if that anymore)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


After having caught the end of JUST LIKE HEAVEN several times, I finally got to see the beginning yesterday and ended up watching it to the end, and totally being suckered by it, wet eyes and all.

I thought someone mentioned this film when I was doing a romantic movies list.

But it was my little boy who turned me on to it. Like me, he digs movies with spirits and ghosts and miraculous coincidences.

Though this flick was full of that, it starred Reese Witherspoon (and Paul Ruffalo, it is Paul isn’t it?) who I’m not crazy about any more (though I loved her when I first saw her in EDUCATION was it? The terrific movie with Matthew Broderick where she plays a driven student, and in LEGALLY BLONDE too, but him I never got, he always seems to be acting underwater or in slow motion, though most women I know like him a lot so he obviously has something)…

Anyway, I dug the film and it’s definitely on my favorite romantic film list now.

And MILLIONS. Me and my boy caught just the end of it, but we’d seen it before and were delighted to catch that much of it. Another wet eyes movie.

The younger boy in it reminds me of my youngest son—maybe that helped me fall for it. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a delight.

It made me think of an old black and white English film that was one of my favorites for decades, though I haven’t seen it since it first came out sometime around 1960 if I remember right.

Called WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, it’s nothing like MILLIONS, except it takes place in Britain, has a child as the star, and involves strong religious beliefs, or should I say spiritual, that prove warranted, despite the misunderstandings that proof is based on.

If I remember correctly, the earlier flick stars Haley Mills, and Alan Bates plays the part of the deus ex machina. If it’s available on video or dvd, I highly recommend it, even though I haven’t seen it in years I remember almost every scene in its simple but lyrically powerful story.

Don’t you just love the availability of so many great films to us now? One of many things I’m grateful I lived long enough to experience, despite other things I wouldn’t mind having missed.

Monday, April 2, 2007


The day after I saw the show of Eric Holzman’s drawings, I stopped by Tibor de Nagy Gallery uptown on Fifth Avenue to catch the show of Joe Brainard’s drawings and collages and miniatures and his usual techniques only this one almost entirely devoted to “The Erotic Work” which in Joe’s case meant male bodies, and body parts.

Here’s another artist, as well as poet, who should never be underrated or forgotten. Not that he ever will be, I suspect. Since in the past several years there seems to be more interest in him than ever.

Joe was a friend, we saw each other at least once a week for many years when I lived in Manhattan back in the 1970s and early ‘80s. But he remained a kind of mystery to me.

For a long time I thought he just tolerated me, my obvious need to be close to him because of how much I admired his work.

He often dismissed his work as less than what he had hoped it would be, or at least acknowledged that it had gotten less accolades than he had expected and wanted.

He was sometimes compared to Andy Warhol when he was starting out in New York just as Warhol was beginning to garner attention as the frontrunner in “Pop Art” as it was being labeled.

Warhol figured out how to exploit that and turn it into the kind of fame only movie stars had back then. While Joe, shy in a different way than Andy, and not good at tooting his own horn or manipulating others into doing it for him, stayed true to his own instincts and seemed to be left in Warhol’s dust.

But, what really happened, at least in the eyes of a fan like me, is Joe made art that reflected his childlike grasp of the equality of people and things, of all aspects of life and objects. While Warhol elevated the commonplace to the level of icons, Joe’s art seemed to reduce everything to the level of childhood delight in everything, even the scary.

Whatever struggles Joe went through, and he shared some with me so I know he went through some, in his art, he expressed them with an almost naïve exuberance. Something I always felt guilty of around him and other New York artists and poets and writers whose urbane wit and ironic take on so much I held dear always left me feeling vulnerable and like a kid from Jersey who was just discovering everything these people seemed to have known since birth.

But I saw in Joe’s art the same kind of lack of irony, for the most part, that motivated me and my love of the creative act. He loved to make art, for a long time, until he no longer seemed to.

We were the same age and weight and height, which made me feel somehow related to him, even though he came from Oklahoma and Protestantism and other cultural and ethnic differences from my background.

When I was interviewed for a biography of him, I looked through the boxes of unorganized papers I’ve been carrying around with me for years and discovered a cache of letters to me, many of them passionate and obviously a reflection of how much I did mean to him during all the time I felt like it was me pursuing him and him tolerating me.

I was surprised to discover them and what they obviously revealed. I spent my life feeling pretty cocky about a lot of stuff others feel insecure about and feeling insecure about a lot of stuff other people take for granted. Joe was one of those things I felt insecure about.

He felt insecure about how successful he had been as an artist. He felt he hadn’t achieved what he wanted to. At least that’s what I got from him. I only wish he had lived long enough to witness the renewed interest in his work, but also to be old enough to see that he in fact did exactly what he was meant to. No other artist could have produced the work Joe did. Not Warhol, not Michelangelo.

There’s a spirit always present in Brainard’s work, a childlike innocence despite the sometimes gay erotic nature of some of it. In fact, even the eroticism is often childlike, some of it second-grade-humor childlike. It’s what I loved about his work that made me first love him. Even if he helped me see how my own naiveté and insistence on my own innocence and lack of sophistication could become a nuisance, an intrusion on an otherwise adult interaction. Something I can still be guilty of.

But he did the same thing in his work, in a way that seemed more guileless and yet more self aware, if that makes any sense.

At any rate, find some of his work for yourself and make your own decision. I hope his lovely craftsmanship, his original use of subject matter and techniques, his childlike delight in the act of making art make you feel as good as it always does me when I see anything he made, from paintings to cartoons to collages to constructions to poems and bits of prose. He was a true original. And his work will always be so. No matter how many people know about it. I hope he understands that now.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


Taste is such an individual thing (I know, that’s a cliché), but can obviously be manipulated into a kind of mass hypnosis thing.

Like how did that little weird looking cat with that really stupid mustache mesmerize an entire nation back in the 1930s?

How did W mesmerize almost half a nation into thinking he was some kind of heroic leader after 9/11?

How did a couple of European gay guys convince women that they look best when they look like concentration camp survivors? Or that clothes look best on that emaciated shape?

How come real talent sometimes goes unnoticed and faux talent gets rewarded?

I talked about that in earlier posts and will keep talking about it, because I love to attack the arbitrary, or arbitrarily dictated, standards that maintain a lot of what appears to me to be the con job that often masquerades as “cream rises to the top” etc.

Anyway, going to an opening for a show of Eric Holzman’s drawings the other night made me really conscious of this.

The drawings were done over a period of many years, and all were done on paper processed in a way to make the paper appear to be centuries old, so that whatever he drew on them, from trees and birds to children and their mothers, with a few tables and bowls of fruit thrown in, all looked like they had been around since Michelangelo.

Whose drawings were an inspiration to Holzman, if I remember correctly.

At any rate, Eric’s paintings and now his drawings have always seemed to me to be exquisite. I love everything he does, because I love the care and attention he does it with and the craftsmanship and what I see as his unique use of it. Not unique in any obvious showboaty way, but in as humble and kind and subtle a way as I find the artist himself to be in person.

But at the opening, what interested me was what people picked out as their “favorite" drawing(s). Out of thirty or so, everyone I asked picked a different drawing. I started asking after I heard people telling someone, sometimes me, what they thought was, or were, the best drawing(s).

Some of these people are or have been art critics, and they each had a different choice and a different reason for liking it. I also heard artists and critics refer to the same drawing as obviously influenced by Cezanne, while others said the same drawing was influenced by Rembrandt.

I’m no art critic, I just know what I like, as they say, and have often been accused of liking too much. Not being discerning enough. But maybe I’m just not hung up on standards that seem to change all the time and have more to do with art world politics or one-upmanship or canonizing one’s personal taste than with any real inherent check list for greatness.

Know what I mean?

Like the movie reviews I’ve been doing here, or the lists of favorite actors or poets or whatever. It’s just my taste. I can back it up with some intellectual arguments and justifications, and sometimes do, but in the end it’s just my taste.

And yes my taste is influenced by everything I was exposed to growing up and in the adult decades of my life, including reactions to being force fed a certain set of standards and rebelling against them etc.

But in the end, the fun of lists and people’s choices for “best” and all that, part of the reason “American Idol” is such a hit I’m sure, is pitting your taste against someone else’s, like that nasty guy Simon.

As Robert Kelly, a poet whose work I’ve mostly always dug, wrote in a poem in a book called IN TIME:

“We are trained to discover our identities as products/of all we prefer: we are the sum of our preferences.”

Not entirely, but a lot of truth to it. Anyway, if you’re in Manhattan any time from now until May 12, you can check out Holzman’s drawings for yourself at The New York Studio School, 8 West 8th Street. Check it out.