Thursday, May 31, 2007


Interesting that, according to news reports I’ve been reading in mags and newspapers and hearing on NPR, out of the millions of people who have fled Iraq since we invaded it, and are still doing so, running from the carnage and the mess, the USA has given refuge to only a handful, something like 69 in the past seven months, while hundreds of thousands have been turned away.

Meanwhile, in Israel, many Sudanese refugees fleeing from the carnage and mess created there by the Islamic regime, the whole Darfur genocide situation, have been refused asylum and instead imprisoned as a possible threat because they are coming from an enemy nation, even though they are being raped and murdered by that regime!

And even more interesting is the fact that after WWII, during which Jewish refugees faced the same kind of discrimination and were refused entry into countries like the USA, Israel pushed for a worldwide accord on refugee status that said each case had to be evaluated individually and no one could be refused asylum based on the country of their origins, and the USA signed on to it out of guilt for its treatment of Jewish refugees back then!

Now both countries are going against their own stated principles and the international law they pushed to have enacted so that, in terms of the USA, we aren’t overrun by Iraqi refugees which would give the lie to any statements about how “well” things are going over there, and in terms of Israel, so that it doesn’t have to accept dark-skinned non-Jews into its country (unless someone can explain another motive for refusing asylum to the enemy of your enemy).

How the worm turns.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I once knew a woman who only watched Gary Cooper movies.

She was an English woman, who had the most beautiful face I’d ever seen (which made me sure she was of Irish descent!).

I’m no good at guessing ages, so I have no idea what hers was. She had an almost wrinkle-free face, but completely white hair, very very long, that she mostly wore pinned up or pulled back.

She worked for a national TV entertainment news show, on the production side, and lived in Hollywood, when I was first living and working out there in the early 1980s.

It was just before video became common, so if you wanted to see old movies, you went to the revival theaters that existed in most cities or to screenings put on by college film societies. Or, you watched them on TV, if and when they showed up there.

Whenever a Gary Cooper film turned up on the weekly TV schedule, this woman would cancel all dates, appointments, even job assignments, to stay home and watch them

Otherwise, in her spare time, she read books about Cooper.

I was fascinated by her obsession with him, but also put off a little. Even though I was married at the time and had no intention of cheating on my wife, I still found it a little insulting, as a live male, to be constantly hit with this obsession she had with a dead movie star.

But now, I get it. As I have mentioned in a few posts. There’s a group of women “artists” I feel I am in some kind of relationship with, even though they’re all dead!

(Obviously it’s imaginary and one-sided in terms of them being dead and having had no contact with me when they were alive, which, as I’m sure someone will readily point out, makes it easier to deal with than live people, because you can always close a book, or imagine a response from someone who isn’t really present, except through their work. But that’s the point, their work is the response, and I am part of the audience they created it for, or if not for than at least to be responded to by.)

The three I most feel that way about are the writer Martha Gellhorn, the photographer and writer Lee Miller, and the artist Eva Hesse.

Every time I encounter them through their work, I feel connected in ways that are deeper than anything I feel through the work of other artists, and in fact deeper than some of the flesh and blood relationships I have had.

Which made me think of this beautiful white-haired English woman and what seemed so eccentric and almost insulting back in the days when she would cancel a dinner date with my wife and I in order to stay home and watch an old Gary Cooper movie on TV.

I wonder if she’s still alive, and if she is, does she spend all her time now, or all her spare time, watching old Gary Cooper movies on DVDs or cable?

I’m not that bad. I accomplish a lot in a typical day, but it does always include some reading or viewing of the work of one of the women I have this more-than-mere-fan relationship with.

I have a feeling, now that I’m finally using the internet as a means for connecting to others—as well as all the more traditional methods still—that there are a lot of these kinds of “relationships” that develop through exposure to others work through the web.

I don’t mean live people connecting through the web, I mean live people discovering the personalities and thoughts, and beliefs and creations and lives of people now dead but whose work, be it writing, art, or whatever, still lives on and is accessible on the net.

With me it’s been through other means, mostly books. But however you come to the lives and work of these people, has anyone else had this experience?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


By Peter S. Canellos
The Boston Globe (passed on by Mike Graham)

Sunday 27 May 2007

Washington - In defending the Iraq war, leading Republican presidential contenders are increasingly echoing words and phrases used by President Bush in the run-up to the war that reinforce the misleading impression that Iraq was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the May 15 Republican debate in South Carolina, Senator John McCain of Arizona suggested that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would "follow us home" from Iraq - a comment some viewers may have taken to mean that bin Laden was in Iraq, which he is not.

Former New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani asserted, in response to a question about Iraq, that "these people want to follow us here and they have followed us here. Fort Dix happened a week ago. "

However, none of the six people arrested for allegedly plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey were from Iraq.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney identified numerous groups that he said have "come together" to try to bring down the United States, though specialists say few of the groups Romney cited have worked together and only some have threatened the United States.

"They want to bring down the West, particularly us," Romney declared. "And they've come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, with that intent."

Assertions of connections between bin Laden and terrorists in Iraq have heated up over the last month, as Congress has debated the war funding resolution. Romney, McCain, and Giuliani have endorsed - and expanded on - Bush's much-debated contention that Al Qaeda is the main cause of instability in Iraq.

Spokespeople for McCain and Romney say the candidates were expressing their deep-seated convictions that terrorists would benefit if the United States were to withdraw from Iraq. The spokesmen say that even if Iraq had no connection to the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda-inspired terrorists have infiltrated Iraq as security has deteriorated since the invasion, and now pose a direct threat to the United States.

But critics, including some former CIA officials, said those statements could mislead voters into believing that the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks are now fighting the United States in Iraq .

Michael Scheuer , the CIA's former chief of operations against bin Laden in the late 1990s, said the comments of some GOP candidates seem to suggest that bin Laden is controlling the insurgency in Iraq, which he is not.

"There are at least 41 groups [worldwide] that have announced their allegiance to Osama bin Laden - and I will bet that none of them are directed by Osama bin Laden," Scheuer said, pointing out that Al Qaeda in Iraq is not overseen by bin Laden.

Nonetheless, many GOP candidates have recently echoed Bush's longstanding assertion that Iraq is the "central battlefront" in the worldwide war against Al Qaeda and have declared that Al Qaeda would make Iraq its base of operations if the United States withdraws - notions that Scheuer said do not withstand scrutiny.

"The idea that Al Qaeda will move its headquarters of operation from South Asia to Iraq is nonsense," said Scheuer.

The belief that there is a clear connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks has been a key determinant of support for the war. A Harris poll taken two weeks before the 2004 presidential election found that a majority of Bush's supporters believed that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks - a claim that Bush has never made. Eighty-four percent believed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had "strong links" with Al Qaeda, a claim that intelligence officials have long disputed.

But critics have maintained that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney encouraged these ideas by using misleading terms to describe the threat posed by Iraq before the war.

Bush, for instance, repeatedly spoke of Hussein's support for terrorism - which many Americans apparently took to mean that Hussein supported Al Qaeda in its jihad against the United States. The administration, however, sourced that claim to Hussein's backing of Palestinian terrorist groups targeting Israel.

Now, some GOP presidential candidates refer to "the terrorists" as one group, blurring distinctions between Al Qaeda, which has attacked the United States repeatedly, and groups that former intelligence officials say have not targeted the United States.

Romney said Friday: "You see, the terrorists are fighting a war on us. We've got to make sure that we're fighting a war on them."

Romney's comment in the earlier debate that "they've come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda" struck some former intelligence officials as particularly misleading. Shia and Sunni, they said, are branches of Islam and not terrorist groups. There are an estimated 300 million Sunni Muslims in the Middle East, many of them fighting Al Qaeda.

"Are Shia and Sunni together? Is the Muslim Brotherhood cooperating with all these other groups? No," said Judith Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq analyst.

"There's a tendency to exaggerate in a debate," she added. "You push the envelope as far as you can."

No point has been emphasized more strongly at GOP debates than the link between the Iraq war and Al Qaeda. During the debates about war funding, GOP leaders have downplayed the role of sectarian violence in Iraq and emphasized the role of Al Qaeda.

On Friday, McCain called any attempt to cut Iraq war funding, "the equivalent of waving a white flag to Al Qaeda."

But specialists say that the enemy the military calls "Al Qaeda Iraq" is a combination of Iraqi jihadists and an unknown number of fighters from countries throughout the Middle East. "AQI" came together after the US invasion. And while there is evidence that AQI members coordinate attacks among themselves, there is little evidence that they coordinate closely with bin Laden.

In pressing his case for continued war funding, Bush last week said a previously classified intelligence report indicated that bin Laden had sent a messenger in early 2005 to urge the late Iraqi terrorist chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to aim more attacks at the United States.

But there is no further evidence that bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, exerts control over Al Qaeda Iraq, according to a senior military official in Baghdad in an interview last week.

"We don't have any direct information that would link Al Qaeda Iraq to getting e-mails, memos, whatever, from bin Laden," the military official said, speaking under condition of anonymity.

A McCain spokesman said the senator did not mean to suggest in his debate comments that bin Laden was in Iraq. But aides to Romney and McCain, in interviews, insisted that the candidates are not exaggerating when they speak of bin Laden and the link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

"The larger point shouldn't be in dispute," said Randy Scheunemann , McCain's foreign policy adviser. "If there's a territory where Al Qaeda is left unmolested, free to plan, conduct, and train for operations, they will do so."

Romney's national press secretary, Kevin Madden, said the former governor's linking of Shia, Sunni, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood was based on their common hostility to the West. "I think [Romney's statement] was much more directed at intent - they all share a common ideology or intent to bring down Western governments," Madden said. "There's a shared attempt to fight any beachhead of democracy in that region."

Analysts say that Hamas and Hezbollah are participating in democratic governments and that the leaders of Shi'ite militias are part of the Iraqi government.

"All of the bad actors in the Middle East get mixed up in people's minds," said Andrew Kohut , director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, which has polled extensively on views on Iraq. "That's why it was easy to play on the perception that Saddam Hussein got together with Osama bin Laden and said 'Let's fly some planes into buildings.' Saddam Hussein was seen as a bad guy in the Middle East, and so it all gets jumbled up in people's thinking."

Monday, May 28, 2007


My Memorial Day was spent watching a small town parade made up mostly of scout troops and such, followed by a rubber ducky race in part of the Rahway River that flows through our town.

We weren’t planning on going to the parade, my little guy and me, but having just gotten up, heard the commotion and threw on some pants and ran out to catch it, since I live in the center of this little village.

Ran into tons of friends and people I hadn’t seen in a while and others I have. Lots of tree climbing for the kids, and stick fighting, and just generally running around having the good kid times that make up for all the trials of being a kid.

Later my little boy and a friend of his played games back at my apartment, until his mom came to get him for the rest of the day.

I turned on the TV to watch something while I ate a late lunch, and there was SERGEANT YORK just starting. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen that from start to finish. Decades ago, at least.

I love anything with Gary Cooper, and this is one of his best. Hokey, in that old style Hollywood way that we all somehow took as real back when, but still, some incredible moments in it, despite the point of the flick—that came out the year we entered WWII— being: how a religious-based pacifist could kill people for the better good, etc.

All the elements that made this a classic, Howard Hawk’s direction, Cooper’s Oscar-winning performance, Walter Brennan’s restrained performance as the preacher, Dickie Moore (I think his name was) great as always as Coop’s younger brother (he was the deaf kid in Robert Mitchum’s OUT OF THE PAST who saves Mitchum’s life), Ward Bond and Noah Beery, Jr. hamming it up as only they could in these old Hollywood flicks.

But what struck me this time was the great beauty and screen presence of Joan Leslie as Coop’s (I mean “York’s”) girlfriend. I don’t remember her that well, and for me the revelation of watching this movie again after so many years, was the realization of another one of those forgotten stars, the general unfairness and unpredictability of fate.

She was as sparkling and engaging as any of the Hollywood ingĂ©nues in those days, and, it turns out, was only sixteen when she made the film (same age as York’s wife was when they married), not only holding her own with the likes of Cooper and Brennan, but almost outshining them in her youthful exuberance.

I’m going to start looking out for her now in other old flicks and see what I can learn about her. And not only her, but the character actor (or actress if you prefer) Margaret Wycherly who plays York’s mother. She was terrific, in fact she held the film together and made it work on a deeper emotional level than the rest of the cast seemed to be working on. She brought tears to my eyes several times with a gesture or a look that I associated with my own long gone mother and my own parenting of my children.

Ain’t it cool that we can turn on the tube and have access to so much of the great films of history? I probably saw SERGEANT YORK the first time on black and white TV when I was a kid during one of the few times of the day when old movies were played. But now, hell, I had my choice between YORK or THE SEARCHERS or THE STING all in one day, among hundreds of other films. And I’m not even talking Net Flicks or On Demand, just what is readily available on any given day.

I’d rather see them in the theater, just as I’d rather be fifteen again, or at least thirty, but since that ain’t happening, I’ll take the abundance of great films on TV and be grateful for it.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


I love them. Always have.

Don’t care anymore if anyone else does, or will in the future. I just love’em.

Not just any book, of course.

I have my favorites, many of which I’ve already mentioned or put on my various lists.

As I’ve also mentioned, I’m always reading several books at the same time. Something about my attention span, or need for variety, or whatever.

Most nights, before I go to sleep, I read a little in each of the books piled on the shelves of the end table beside my bed.

I thought I’d list the ones I’m reading now.

LEARNING TO LOVE The Journals of Thomas Merton Volume Six 1966-1967 (Merton is someone I’ve been reading since I was a kid, probably because he was and still is a favorite of my oldest brother, a Franciscan Friar, who in fact, gave me this book)

BEHAN The Complete Plays (a gift received a while ago from Terence Winch, who knows what a fan I have always been of Brendan Behan, and even though I read these plays years ago, this collection is giving me a chance to revisit them and appreciate them even more)

RULES FOR OLD MEN WAITING by Peter Pouncey (this one a gift from my daughter-in-law, an interesting book, which the poet W. S.Merwin blurbed as “an instant classic,” good enough for me, even though I read fewer and fewer novels as I get older)

POLITICAL ANIMAL by David Mizner (another gift, this one from my friend Tom Wilson, which I’ve been carrying around for years and am finally reading and digging the mix of idealism and cynicism in what is a “political novel”)

OMNEROS by Mohammed Dib translated by Carol Lettieri & Paul Vangelisti (a gift received a few days ago and I’m already into it, from my friend poet Ray DiPalma for my B’day—Dib is an Algerian/French writer, well published in France but this is his first book translated into English, and in a beautiful small edition)

HEY LEW (an homage to poet Lew Welch edited by Magda Cregg, who was Lew’s lady back in the days before Welch disappeared into the woods forever, and is the mother of Huey Gregg who changed his name to Huey Lewis in homage to Lew and what he learned from him, I read about this collection on poet Ron Silliman’s blog and immediately ordered it since I always dug Welch’s writing and ideas, see his collected poems RING OF BONE, I also recommend a great book about Welch and “the Beats” GENESIS ANGELS by Aram Saroyan)

REAL STUFF by Dennis P. Eichhorn and a Host of Artists (a “graphic” book, i.e. a series of comic strips, illustrating stories from the life of Eichhorn, I’m usually not into adult comic books, despite some of the obvious successes, like MAUS or the one that Iranian woman wrote and illustrated, I can appreciate the skill and such, but they don’t hold me like words do, I tire of the same style of drawings maybe, the exception being R. Crumb, because there’s so much variety in what Crumb does, also true of this Eichhorn book, because each story is illustrated by a different artist, keeping me visually engaged despite some of the more gratuitous violence and meanness toward many of the characters from his past, and as the stories progress, so does Eichhorn’s humanity a little, which is a relief, because despite my own writing and past, I don’t like anger and violence and emotionless sex, etc., the only reason I’m reading it is because my friend Lisa loaned it to me and wanted to see what I thought of it, and I have a hard time saying no to requests like that)

THE IVORY CROCODILE by Eileen Drew (another “novel” that I’ve been carrying around for years and am finally reading, given to me by the author back when we were both Coffee House Press writers)

CADENZA Poems by Charles North (his latest collection, from Hanging Loose Press, as unique as always)

COLUMBIA POETRY REVIEW (sent to me by them, I first read the work by poets I knew, like David Trinidad’s piece on his deceased mother, a very evocative and compelling work, now I’m working my way through the rest of the contributors, most of whom I never heard of but many of whom are really good, like Brenda Shaughnessy)

ENCOUNTERING EVA HESSE edited by Griselda Pollack and Vanessa Corby (a B’day gift from my friend Terence, knowing how much I love Hesse and her work, she’s one of the handful of dead female artists and writers I feel I have a real relationship with, as I encounter their work and continue to stay engaged with it, an admission that makes me feel like Joseph Cornell, the reclusive artist who made those little shadow boxes full of disparate objects and pieces of illustrated paper etc. and who seemed to have only fantasy relationships with the ballerinas and etc. he made artwork homages to, only I have had a lifetime of in-the-flesh relationships with all kinds of women, and a few men, and only now have come to recognize the power of these other kinds of connections made through the body of work certain women have left behind, anyway, I’m digging this book, despite the usual art world jargon that makes a lot of the essays in it almost unintelligible, but the production of the book itself is beautiful, and the photographs are terrific, as well as the reproductions, and the occasional insight from the contributors, or great quote from Hesse herself)

EVA HESSE DRAWINGS edited by Catherine de Zegher (ditto above, only this one a gift to me from me)

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME From the big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking (a book passed on by a friend who’s moving, among a pile of paperbacks he left me, I thought I should tackle it first since I’d heard so much about it when it first came out, but what I heard seems incorrect, at least for me, if this is accessible science then I have lost even more brain cells than I thought I did, ‘cause despite being able to follow him for a page or two, after that I have to take a break while my mind unbends and resumes normal functioning, and by the next night I’ve forgotten most of what I thought I learned, I’m already halfway through, but I suspect by the time I’m done, speaking of time, I’ll have forgotten almost everything I’m learning from this book)

Saturday, May 26, 2007


I mentioned in a recent post that poet Steve Shrader passed away in February.

Now I just learned that another poet I first met at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop c. 1966-67 died a few years ago: Frank Polite.

Steve was a few years younger than me, but better educated at the time, and I learned a lot from him. I never saw him again after the late 1960s and a few readings we did together here and there.

He ended up in Hawaii, where as I understand it he taught and continued to write.

Frank was another story. He was a few years older than me, an Italian-American working-class guy, who I think was also a Navy veteran. His poetry was already published in such prestigious places as The New Yorker and Poetry magazine.

A lot of it was more sophisticated than what I was doing, but he had one poem similar to my stuff, called “Tossing Cats Off the Watertower,” about a childhood friend named, “Johnny Garbagelli.”

Frank encouraged me, and at the same time helped keep me from taking the whole workshop experience too seriously. I was overwhelmed by the opportunities to learn, after my own more than four years in the service, and coming from very little higher education. Frank was just what I needed to not only feel at home but to cut through the pretensions of academia.

I was sorry to hear he had died, from fellow poet and Iowa graduate Bob Berner, but was also grateful for the poem Bob shared with me that he wrote in tribute to Frank and sent to Frank’s widow. So I share it here with those of you who knew Frank, and for those of you who didn’t to maybe get a better take on who he was:

Letter To Dorothea

O tell me that my sweet dear Franco Poletti,
Renowned Italian director
Who longed to film the levitation
Of an entire building
At the University of Iowa,
Whose Carmen Miranda is still dancing,
Whose bush pilot still flies the wilds of Alyeshka,
Whose sad Lawrence Talbot still seeks a cure,
Who immortalized a kid with a name—
Johnny Garbaggelli—
That by itself would guarantee he’d be remembered,
Is not dead.

Or, if he has received
His letters of transit
To that other realm
For which there is no round-trip ticket,
That he dine this night
With his revered Dante,
The two terza-riming until dawn,
Toasting forever
Their Dorothea and Beatrice,
Muses unmatched
This side of paradise.

Frank Polite, In Memoriam

Friday, May 25, 2007


Did you see Al Gore last night on John Stewart? He looked terrific, sounded great, and was as loose and comfortable as I’ve ever seen him.

I always liked the guy. I found him to be in many ways the embodiment of the word “honorable”—especially being a vet and realizing that he made the choice to serve in Viet Nam when he could have gotten out of it so easily with his dad being a powerful Senator and all. Unlike so many in the present administration who avoided Nam at all cost and now are so casual about committing young people to the kinds of horrors they avoided so well.

I also dug his stance on the environment, although he wasn’t the first by a long shot, the poet Gary Snyder, usually associated with “the Beats,” was an ecology activist back in the 1950s and ‘60s already, and Neal Young and Marvin Gaye and others were writing songs about how we were destroying Mother Nature back in the 1960s and ‘70s, etc.

But Gore was the first major politician to treat the problem as seriously as it deserves to be treated. And continued to, even after the right wingers big lie campaign of labeling anyone concerned for the “stewardship” of the earth, as the Bible indicates we should be, by calling them “tree huggers” and making them seem anti-ordinary-people while pro-trees-and-spotted owls.

You have to admit, the right wingers have been incredibly successful at that shit. Especially when it comes to Gore. To have convinced most of the country, and get the media to play along, including the late night comedians, with the idea that Gore was trying to take credit for “inventing” the internet, when what he was actually taking credit for, and deservedly so, was helping to make the internet what it became, accessible to all of us, etc. That’s a hell of an achievement for those right-wingers, to convince a lot of “Americans” that this honorable, intelligent, serious, and on the correct side of all the issues that are most important, guy is in fact a bumbling doofus, was, literally, a HELL of an achievement.

Not that Gore himself didn’t contribute to the debacle by taking advice from people he should have been giving advice to, and feeling honor bound to restrain himself from mentioning Clinton, either his faults or accomplishments, etc.

But then when he won the election and had it stolen from him by again the right-wingers, who got the rightwing dominated Supreme Court that had been defending states rights above any federal jurisdiction for years to reverse themselves in the case of the Florida election results and override that state’s desire to continue to straighten out the voting mess, Gore did the honorable thing and accepted defeat in order to not do any more damage to our democracy than the right-wingers were already doing.

Unfortunately, they have since done even more damage, and continue to, while Gore has finally begun to have the kind of impact he may have had as president, through his movie and book and slide show, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, and now his new book about the degradation of the public conversation about our democracy in his latest book, THE ASSAULT ON REASON.

The guy still can come off as a stiff lecturer at times, and certainly isn’t perfect, but oh man, what a difference it would have made had the country been allowed to have the president they voted for in 2000. And any right-wingers who want to comment on this post by saying that the “terrorists” would have done more damage without the rightwing chicken hawks running the show since 9/11, need only to research the attention Gore’s people were already giving to Bin Laden and the terrorist threat to note that there is a strong possibility that if Gore had been given the presidency as he deserved by popular vote, instead of having it taken away and given to W., 9/11 might never have even happened!

And we can say for certain that an invasion of Iraq would not have happened, though the invasion of Afghanistan may have, in which case we may have confined the war to one against the actual organization that carried out 9/11 and most likely have captured Bin Laden and still had the support and sympathy of most of the world for our efforts and avoided the caldron of terrorist recruitment that is Iraq today.

God I wish it had worked out that way. But as for Gore running this time, I’d hate to see him lose again, and he may be too tainted as “a loser” to carry all the states he would need to, though on the other hand, he might be able to pull a Nixon and be a vice president who ran for the presidency after eight years in office as veep and lost, then came back eight years later in the midst of a highly unpopular war and won. Wouldn’t that be a cool scenario to repeat, only this time with a competent intelligent informed guy on our side?

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I get a lot of great feedback from this blog, mostly in the form of e mails, and I just want to say I appreciate it.

I know I’m late to this game, and that there are now millions upon millions of others. But in many ways, this does what writing always did for me, only more efficiently in some ways, and that is, give me a place to articulate my perspective on the multiple subjects running through my head at any given moment.

I’ve always thought of myself as a grapho-maniac (if that’s the correct term for someone who cannot NOT write, constantly) and have been writing on a daily basis, sometimes many times throughout the day, since I learned how.

So, blogging is a great addition to the many other ways I write down my thoughts and ideas and experiences etc. And the almost instant feedback makes it particularly satisfying.

Unfortunately it isn’t for everyone. And I can understand that too. It isn’t always for me either. Which is why I’m also writing several books on a daily basis, as usual, and doing other kinds of writing (from e mails and postcards to articles and book-length poems etc.)

But blogging has become an integral part of my day, and reading other blogs, or viewing them, as well.

Which is why I have that list to the right about blogs I dig. I check in on them on a daily basis. It doesn’t take long, as most people are a lot less prolix than I am.

But, for instance, Jimsonweed’s particular perspective, “trying to photograph all of L. A.” beautifully reflects what I find so attractive about the blogger -K-‘s poetry, so far unpublished—the particulars of place and time and individual, intelligent, perspective.

And my friend Alameda Tom’s coolbirth, the same quirky individualism that I can identify with for all kinds of reasons, including our shared pasts, but mostly dig the uniqueness of his Northern California perspective, like his post today about the local goats being shot! (As well as his techy take on all things internet, something I don't share given my techno-dyslexia)

Or Nightlight's post today on Paul McCartney's latest output, from a man who is not only one of the most articulate and intelligent of bloggers I've read, but also is multi-talented—including being an accomplished musician and therefore able to give a critical perspective beyond the usual intellectual-only take. I love the individual voice on these blogs!

I felt the same way about the two blogs of Nina’s, which unfortunately, for me at least, she has grown tired of and has removed from the net (so I removed them from my list). To read on an almost daily basis the thoughts of a young woman, obviously intelligent but more importantly completely candid and uniquely her own person, was for me like reading a short chapter in an ongoing novel every day. One of the delights of reading that hooked me into it at an early age, that wanting-to-see-what-was-going-to-happen-next. Not in the way of a well-plotted conventional novel, but in the way of the kinds of novels that were more about fictionalizing personal experience and commenting on it, ala Henry Miller or Jack Kerouac. Only no longer with the need to “fictionalize” it.

And the other blogs I have there as well, (all I think unique, which is why I list them, no two alike) I check in and learn from every day. Just like I read a few chapters and a few poems from several different books every night before I fall asleep. Or read from different magazines and papers every morning over breakfast or on the train into Manhattan when I have to be there.

I couldn’t imagine living life without all that reading and writing, and adding the blogs to it hasn’t given me less time for “real life”—whatever that may be—but actually more.

As has always been proven true for me, the more I do, the more I seem to be able to do. So reading and writing have never taken away from the rest of my life, but only added to it.

A big thank you, therefore, to the bloggers I mention to the right, and to all the others I’ve been turned on to or stumbled on, and to those of you who check mine out now and then. It’s a pleasure exchanging views and ideas and experiences and etc. with all of you.

And let’s hope Nina rejoins us again some day. Meanwhile, as my friend Selby always said (and others are now copying, which would delight him) “Give a good day.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


"...When you know, to know that you know, and when you do not know, to know that you do not know—that is true knowledge."
—Confucius (translated by Giles)

Monday, May 21, 2007


Okay, I have no idea what my last post was about.

I obviously just obsessively make lists, and always have.

Most poets I know do. Read Whitman!

But so do a lot of people.

One of them, Maureen Barry, sent me an e-mail and then a few follow up ones, of her own list-response to some of my latest.

So I thought I’d post it as an example of someone else’s taste (though surprisingly it coincides with mine in many categories, which is maybe generational, though she is younger than me by a few years, or maybe it’s generational and ethnic, as I assume she has similar Irish roots, or maybe it’s just truly coincidental, whatever that has ever really meant).

So here’s Maureen’s list:

“Michael: Thanks for saying you watched Felicity. I watched every episode in reruns. I loved it! (Also loved NYC)

I think Jacqueline Bissett is a beautiful woman and I think Sean Connery as an older man is really fantastic, although he did nothing for me in his earlier years. I also like Sam Shepard and Peter Coyote.

I think Paris Hilton is the most over-rated person in the USA, I can't stand Brittany Spears singing voice, although I like Christiana A's.

I love Rescue Me...and The Riches, with Minnie Driver, is also GREAT!

Van Morrison, Frank Sinatra are my favorite male singers, Sarah Vaughn my favorite female.

Eastern Sounds by Y. Lateef is my favorite jazz album. I love Kind of Blue, also,

I love the soundtrack of Cabaret with Natasha Richardson.

I love the Chieftains album the Long Black Veil and their Christmas album, the Bells of Dublin is my favorite Christmas album.

I do like David Letterman.

...I enjoy the lists you make. Take my mind of more serious things…

Anything by Leon Uris, especially Trinity.

Mystery Writer: John le Carre

Any book by or about Anne Frank.

Favorite Movies: Shindler's List, The Pianist, Take the Money and Run, The Godfather, Darling, Radio Days, Gangs of New York, The Grapes of Wrath, Stalag 17, Call Northside 777, Rear Window, A World Apart (the one with Barbara Hersey, about South Africa.)

Favorite Children's Book: All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, Nancy Drew Mysteries

Favorite Rock Group: Rolling Stones

In the last five years, I have decided I was finally, once and for all, going to figure out how the Nazis came to power and I have read many books about Hitler and Germany. Too many to list now. And, in the end, I still don't quite understand it, really.

I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. This after much reading also, after Oliver Stone's movie came out. But when I finally saw what a direct hit it was from the Texas Book Depository,(this on the History Channel), I was convinced.

Anyway, now you have me making lists...”

Sunday, May 20, 2007



























TOM WILSON (the other one)



































JOHN REED (the other one)









ANNABEL LEE (the other Annabel Lee)



Saturday, May 19, 2007


According to the latest TIME (while Bush fiddled):

“Global investment in infrastructure is soaring, but not in the U.S.”

“Few [U. S.] cities have good public transit…”

“Some 3,500 dams in the U.S. are unsafe…”

“The U.S. is decades behind global [railroad] standards and will need $250 billion over 20 years to catch up.”

“…$300 billion to $500 billion will be needed to repair and upgrade wastewater systems.”

“…U. S. airports will require a $14 billion annual infusion just to keep pace with basic needs.”

“Experts say 97% of roads need improvement…”

I remember when I was young and first left the U. S. to visit other parts of the world. I was impressed with the various cultural and political perspectives that weren’t visible in the U. S. and it made me aware of how much this country ignores about the rest of the world, but I was also struck with how well things functioned in the good old U.S.A. compared to most other places, even in as small a detail as the toilet paper!

But it wasn’t long before I began to notice how well things were functioning elsewhere, especially in Europe and Asia, compared to the U. S. and that in fact we seemed to be slipping behind.

Now, forget about it. We’re more like a so-called “third world” or “developing” country in many ways (health, infant mortality rates, distribution of wealth, etc.) but particularly in “infrastructure.”

A lot of the money for what’s needed, mentioned in the above quotes, has been wasted in Iraq on corrupt officials and corporations (like Hailburton) in failed schemes for improving the infrastructure there. It’s like we get two failed countries for the price of one. Good old Bush and the Bushies, they sure know how to fuck things up, don’t they?

And they ain’t done yet!

Friday, May 18, 2007


Some more “positive” items:

Writing of Keri Russell and Grace Kelly made me think of other great screen beauties, so here’s another ten:


And while we’re at it, how about ten of the handsomest screen stars:


Please feel free to add your own taste to the above.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


I can watch Keri Russell in anything.

But WAITRESS is the best thing she’s done so far.

It’s a “romantic comedy” with some sadness to it as well, and not just because the writer/director Adrienne Shelly was murdered in her New York apartment before it even came out, or because she plays one of the leads so endearingly just the thought of her being the victim of another homicidal nonentity breaks my heart.

It’s a small movie, understated for the most part, though with the usual independent-movie, quirky characters and dialogue, substituting for "realism"—a lot in the story is pretty unrealistice from my experience.

But it is directed nearly perfectly; not one actor in it is allowed to be in their own movie, as often happens in “independents” with inexperienced directors.

The great, underrated, classic “American” actor Andy Griffith (see A FACE IN THE CROWD) has a small role that he charms in; and Cheryl Hines, the actress who plays Larry David’s wife on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (thanks Lisa) kicks ass as one of the trio of waitresses at the heart of the story.

The guys are all good too, especially Lew Temple in the smallest of the male roles—“Cal”—the manager of the diner where the waitresses work.

Everyone is given their moment to shine, as actors, as characters, even the unlovable ones.

But it’s Keri Russell’s movie, and maybe you have to like her to get the whole flick.

I like her. In fact I love her in that way an audience can fall for a star.

The only other movie actress I can think to compare her to is Grace Kelly.

The same perfectly beautiful faces, the same unexpected terrific acting chops, even playing against type and making it work.

I don’t watch many TV shows, but I watched FELICITY years ago, just to see Russell and watch her work. She was always beautiful, in that unexpected perfect Grace Kelly way, and yet, never seemed to play her beauty, but in fact against it in a way I could believe, as vulnerable and bewildered as the rest of us.

I loved her as the troubled daughter in Mike Binder’s THE UPSIDE OF ANGER too.

And now she’s got a movie that’s all hers.

WAITRESS is too small a film to win an Oscar, or probably even get nominated. And some of the writing is a little too predictable or "cute."

But Keri Russell is my first nomination of the year for best actress in a film (and Lew Temple best supporting actor).

If you check it out, don’t expect too much though, or you may be disappointed.

Like I said, it’s a small movie, and maybe a little too cute for some people’s taste. Just like Keri Russell might be. But not to me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Okay, I thought, enough negativity for a while.

What can I post about with a positive attitude?

Then I thought, hmmmm, an interesting exercise might be “If I were poetry editor of THE NEW YORKER…

First thing that came to mind was Paul Violi’s latest book, OVERNIGHT, from Hanging Loose.

I included poems by Paul in that anthology I edited back in the mid-1970s, NONE OF THE ABOVE, and have been digging his work since I first read it c.1970.

He may well be the only poet I know who can write impeccably formulated “academic” or “traditional-form” poetry—as well as create original and totally unique new forms—but with a humorous twist so finely calibrated, you’re, or I’m, laughing out loud before I realize what he’s just pulled off.

His craft is unequaled, yet his sense of more-than-irony, closer-to-satire, or almost-farce, infuses every poem with never-before-seen, or even possibly thought of, takes on the common foibles of daily life and present day reality.

If I were its poetry editor, every copy of THE NEW YORKER would have a Paul Violi poem in it, to give that magazine’s readers some relief from the tone of taking oneself too seriously that permeates so much else in the magazine—particularly a lot of the poetry—with the exception of the occasional “Shouts & Murmurs” that works.

I wish I could cite an example, but I’d have to quote an entire poem to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

Okay, I’ll quote a third of a poem, a new form I’ve never seen before called “FINISH THESE SENTENCES”—(and might I say that the resolution of this poem makes the ending exponentially funnier than any of these earlier lines, so you must check it out to see for yourself)…

So: “Finish These Sentences”

“The qualities I look for in a subordinate are

“A situation in which humor might be most unwelcome is

“After considering which is better, to be wealthy or wise

“My greatest sense of personal fulfillment depends on

“It’s one thing to champion a sticky empiricism
But it’s another altogether different thing to

“I think of myself as a caring professional who as the days
And nights tumble by like woozy pandas trying to achieve
A position conducive to procreation

“She had an accent that turned eyes to ice, heart
to hard, and transubstantiation to”

Okay, it’s difficult to convey how funny those lines became and those that followed even more so as I lay in bed reading before falling asleep after a day of difficult decisions and ongoing problems and more of the same on the next day’s agenda, but, at least for me, this poem, and others totally unlike it, or any others, snapped some lock in my brain open and the kid and the “scholar” were set free to dance me to sleep to the rhythm of my own laughter.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


My friend Terence, among others, points out that “Americans” vote for the “most likable” candidate for president, and unfortunately or not, that ain’t Hilary.

Among the Republicans, Mitt Romney has the looks and affability to be “the most likable” but then the question becomes, as many critics of Mormonism have put it: “Can a guy who believes the Garden of Eden was in Missouri and follows a religion founded by a 19th century con man, be trusted to make decisions based on real facts?”

Of course the same could be said of many of the tenets and origins of all kinds of religion, which depend upon a suspension of ordinary logic and reliance on facts in order to be believed.

But the quote that I thought said most about Mitt Romney was in a recent TIME magazine article on him, from a Republican named Stephen Crosby, who says:

“There’s two ways to look at this guy. One is that the glass is half empty. The other is that the glass is totally empty.”

Monday, May 14, 2007


I’m always going off about what and who is underrated. I thought it might be interesting to do an alphabet list of what I think is overrated.

AGUILERA, CHRISTINA (Don’t get me wrong, I like her, but I don’t get her as any kind of great beauty or sex symbol or extraordinary voice—cute, okay, pretty fair singer, yep, ambitious and good at career moves, definitely, but there’s so many great singers in the world who never even get recorded, let alone awarded, anyway, nothing against her, I love her life story and her personality, just don’t think her talent is extraordinary)

BURROUGHS, WILLIAM S. (Interesting and smart about some things, I like his early, simple, direct writing best—JUNKIE by “William Lee” which I read in the original Ace paperback—and appreciate the inventiveness and sometimes unique language of his later and more famous “cut-up” books, NAKED LUNCH et. al. but he wasn’t the first to use that technique, nor the best at it, and another big but, I’ve tried re-reading some of his most acclaimed stuff and find it not only too tedious now, but also misogynist, misanthropic, and paranoid—yes there’s bad capitalist forces at work etc. but some of his theories are so crackpot and especially ludicrous given the facts of his own life, the man carried loaded guns around and when I knew him lived in an old YMCA windowless locker room he called “the bunker” but was never mugged or even held up as far as I know—as Taylor Mead said to me about Burroughs once, “oh that paranoid Queen”—and he seemed to have a genuine disregard and lack of empathy for most of humanity, which may be understandable since he never had to worry about money like most of the rest of us—try reading him again yourself and see if you can make it through an entire book without becoming bored and/or put off by his nastiness) and a solid tie BUSH, GEORGE W. (and the rest of his family, no matter how low they go in the estimation of the public, they will still be overrated until they are in MINUS terrirtory!)

COLLINS, BILLY (his poetry doesn’t seem to warrant all the accolades and honors he receives, including poet laureate; it’s okay, but so is the poetry of about a thousand other poets)

DOGG, SNOOP (When he first appeared on the scene he seemed kind of interesting, with his stoned, laid-back, almost ironic take on the gangster life, but now he’s like the Donald Trump of rap, a cartoon version of what once seemed almost original)

ENGLAND (In the history of the USA, way overrated especially these days, with all the Jamestown/Queen Elizabeth hoopla, as if the Spanish and French weren’t here generations sooner with their own settlements, and other explorers centuries before, like the Norse or the Irish, and possibly Chinese, how come the kids don’t get more about the presence of the Spanish and French in the early days of this country? but instead the idea that the English somehow “conquered” the land and made it their own—by misreading the managed care the natives had been practicing for centuries etc.)

FARMIGA, VERA (The New York Times Sunday Magazine did a story on her a year or so ago as the new Meryl Streep—see below—who could disappear into roles so thoroughly we couldn’t see the seams in the character etc. and then THE DEPARTED came out and I wondered who the young actress was who was so bad at portraying a confused psychologist (or whatever she was) and it turned out to be “the new Meryl Streep”—more like “the new Steve Guttenberg”)

GUTTENBERG, STEVE (How did that guy end up starring in so many movies, while so many worthwhile and great actors, comic and otherwise, never got that shot)

HUGHES, TED (I have friends who love his poetry, but I never really got why, though interestingly all of them are women and Hughes was maybe best known for being Sylvia Plath’s husband when she committed suicide, as did his next lady friend, hmmmmm)

INTERNET, THE (a great tool! don’t get me wrong, I love it, but when I look something up, inevitably the “facts” I get are at least half wrong, or nonexistent, or swamped by mediocrity, or myth—internet and otherwise—and I miss old fashioned mail, especially post cards, and phone calls with real voices—I know you can get those through the internet too now, but they’re not the same so far—and oh I don’t know, it’s great but…)

JAM, DEF POETRY and JAM, DEF COMEDY (Why must everyone sound alike now? the same stresses on the same beats etc. the same profane language and the same lame targets of the humor or of the poetic poignancy, get over yourselves, or go listen to old tapes of poets and comedic artists from the past, the distant past of early recordings, who all seemed to have their own unique voices, which back then was part of the requirement for getting the kind of attention these folks get that hundreds of more original comics and poets I can think of deserve)

KLEIN, ROBERT (Sorry, I don’t get why he is any funnier than most of my relatives, oh, because he isn’t? At least to me, especially when I’ve seen so many incredible comics over the years in comedy clubs who never got any recognition at all while this guy gets solo shows on cable etc.)

LETTERMAN, DAVID (Never liked his WASPy frat boy humor, and the way it often came out as meanness toward his less aggressive guests, like a kind of upper class bullying style)

MAMET, DAVID (except for Glengary Glen Ross, his plays never seem much better (and often seem worse) than a lot of other unheralded playwrights of his generation, and his movies have been mostly boring, or completely forgettable to me, except for STATE AND MAIN which was at least fun)

NELLY (Okay, first of all, your name’s “Nelly”)

OLIVIER, LAURENCE (I almost never found him impressive as an actor, or believable as the characters he played, he always seemed to be reading lines or declaiming)

POTTER, HARRY (I like watching the movies with my little boy when they come out but trying to read the books, after being told by fellow adults that they’re incredible and original and captivating and totally well written and crafted etc. I just don’t get it, they’re okay kid books and I’m happy they got so many young people reading, but adults? I can suggest a list of about a thousand better books I bet you haven’t read yet)

QUEEN (Okay, two or three tunes of theirs have become anthems, and Freddie Mercury was an interesting character, but the whole legend and mythology of their existence as a band has outrun reality, for me)

RUSHDIE, SALMAN (I support his right to write what he wants, and despise those who would censor, or worse assassinate, him, but in the end I find his novels overly “clever” and boring)

STREEP, MERYL (a fine actress, but not as great as she was labeled back at the height of her career, I dug her in lighter—POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE—or juicier—SOPHIE’S CHOICE—roles, but in the WASPy icon roles and/or heavy drama bits I thought she was sometimes okay and sometimes not even that, as in THE DEERHUNTER where she and DiNiro looked like they were doing an exercise in an acting class to me, I didn’t believe her as an ethnic working-class daughter of a violent alcoholic father for a second, and her death scene in IRONWEED where she came off as a homeless woman as much as I come off as the Pope, anyway that death scene was touted at the time as the greatest ever filmed, but when I saw it I thought it was so run-of-the-mill most acting coaches would have had a student do it again until they got it right—for a great death scene find the one in KING OF NEW YORK when the character actor playing the detective dies in the subway car)

THOMPSON, FRED (as if he might be the savior of the Republican party, the new Ronald Reagan (speaking of overrated) just because he’s an actor, has the gravitas of his height and serious actor presence, coupled with the down homey Tennessee accent to give him a touch of regular people, doesn’t mean he has any solutions, of which he’s offered none that seemed clear enough and promising enough to me to be workable)

USHER (again, doesn’t the name say it all?)

VICTORY (in quotes I guess, as Bush and his followers. and unfortunately too many in the military and among military families, still want to define any outcome in Iraq, but as Gary Shandling said, I think, the other night on one of Bill Maher’s shows, isn’t it time we get over that whole concept of “victory” in war, since it seems to make little sense in the long run, especially since we end up friends with the people we were trying to kill only years or decades previous, i.e. Germans, Japanese, Koreans (most of), Chinese, Vietnamese, et. al., but, they say, this is different, isn’t it always? and who defines “victory” anyway, and like I said isn’t it overfuckingrated? I mean do you remember who was victorious in the last three heavyweight championship fights, or even the Oscars? etc.)

WARHOL, ANDY (I recognize his importance in terms of his impact on art and art history, and of his personality and the cult of it he somehow spawned, but I can think of hundreds of artists whose work I’d rather have hanging on my walls than his—except for his earlier sketches—probably thousands if I think hard)

X-GAMES (I don’t know, if it looks like snowboarding or skiing, I’m thinking it’s snowboarding or skiing, and if it looks like jackass stunts, I’m thinking, what a jackass to risk his life on that, etc. but “X-Games”? come on)

YOUTH (or so they say)

ZOOS (sorry, no matter how “natural” the setting, if it isn’t open, unregulated, vast enough parkland to be a truly natural home to the kind of wild animals we’re trying to save from extinction, then it shouldn’t be, to me, to have animals on display for human entertainment or even enlightenment, seems cruel and unusual, always has)

Friday, May 11, 2007


Anyone see this movie? I usually dig John Sayles’ movies. He made a lot of my favorites, like LONE STAR and THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH and THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET.

When I don’t like his movies, it’s usually because there’s something cinematic missing, sometimes because the acting is too literary.

A problem I have with a lot of Mamet’s movies as well. He likes his actors to just say his words and knock off the emotion, so as a result, a lot of Mamet’s movies leave me cold, and occasionally Sayles movies do too.

For awhile they both had favorite actors they worked with. Mamet’s was Joe Montegna and Sayles’ was David Strathearn (sp.?). neither of whom I ever found that compelling.

In fact Montegna had trouble working with anyone other than Mamet. When called on for real emotion—rather than a staccato riffing of the author’s words, making them pop the way they must have on the typewriter originally—Montegna seemed to either overact, or underplay the necessary emotional heart of the character, and therefore come off, to me at least, disconnected from what everyone else in the non-Mamet movie was doing.

As for Sayles and Strathearn, he seemed to also like the actor to be relatively emotionless as well, which Strathearn seemed more than capable of doing. It generally bored me, but I could see where he at least had more acting chops than Montegna, for my taste.

But even when working on other projects, if the character was meant in any way to be emotionally sympathetic, it seemed like a reach for Starthearn. Distant, threatening, cold, stern, serious, all that he was very good at.

Anyway, I’m getting off the point, which is SILVER CITY.

I heard about it when it came out and somehow sensed that it wouldn’t be a movie I’d like. But when I saw it just starting on a cable channel tonight, I thought, let me give Sayles the benefit of the doubt, since he has so often impressed me.

But right from the top it was off.

He had this pretty amazing cast, with lots of people whose work I admire, but they were either misused or cast in the wrong roles.

And the lead was another of those supposed “leading men” who just don’t have the spark a leading man needs to carry a film.

This guy I didn’t really know, Danny Huston. I’m wondering if he’s related to legendary filmmaker and actor John, or to John’s daughter Angela, and that’s how he got the job, or the shot at it. Obviously no one’s going to get hired just because they’re related to someone famous. But if they can do the job and have a famous name, they probably are going to get it over a less known name.

We needed someone like Cooper in LONE STAR, but instead this guy Danny Huston has these incredible women falling all over him (Maria Bello doing her best to convince us she’d choose Huston over Billy Zane, and Darryl Hannah looking like a parody of the aging Hollywood star who has had too much face work, completely unbelievable as an Olympics aspiring archer!)—anyway, I’m just not buying it.

Nor am I buying the story, even though I know most of the facts in it are true, or based on truth.

It’s set up to be a fictional expose of the Bush family and W.s entry into politics when he wins the race for governor of Texas. Only in this case it’s Colorado.

Cooper plays the W. character, Richard Dryfess the Karl Rove one, and Michael Murphy (Woody Allen’s Montegna-Strathearn guy in most of his mid-career movies) Bush Senior.

But it’s the worst kind of two-dimensional, cardboard figure bad guy stuff you can imagine. Or I can. If a student had turned in something like this, I would applaud his research on the Bush family and getting his facts pretty straight, but encourage him or her to either write an essay or create characters that have more to them than characteristics that scream I AM SHALLOW, or I AM GREEDY or I AM DUMB. (And go rent THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR an watch it as well!)

Though Cooper, one of our greatest film actors ever, does his best, he struggles with a character that is supposed to be too stupid to even get what’s going on blatantly in front of his face. As if W. were in reality just a dumb little kid who stumbled into power because others knew how to use his family name.

I know, I know, there’s some truth in that, but it is also true that Junior studied political duplicity and media manipulation with the master of it, that guitar rocking out young Republican who worked for Senior whose name I can’t think of but who died young and denounced his actions on his deathbed, which was too late to change W.’s course. (I remembered: Lee Atwater.)

W. has a lot of the sly fox in him, or maybe weasel, but from my observations, as I said in that long anti-war poem, MARCH 18, 2003, he seems completely capable of not flubbing his lines when they have to do with killing people on death row, or in other countries, or exerting his power, etc. He only flubs them when he’s obviously lying.

But not only that, as many shrinks have observed, he’s a classic case of some mental disorder that is a warped version of classic Narcissism. He’s incapable of identifying with anything that he doesn’t see as an extension of himself, that doesn’t feed his sense of entitlement and empower it. Etc.

A lot of rich shit to explore.

And the Rove guy comes off more like that Morris guy who worked for the Clintons and always seemed weasely and later proved it, and continues to. Almost the anti-Rove.

Dreyfess can be great, even as a weasel, but some of the lines he’s called on to play are so over the top, and do not demonstrate the political commitment and acumen that Rove obviously had, but just this obvious kind of bad-guy sinister cynicism.

Amd where Dreyfess has always seemed old, even as a young actor, Rove has always seemed toddler-like, even as a presidential advisor. Rather than oily and weasely, Rove seems to hide behind a childlike mask of innocence and faith (in his "superiors" i.e. the Bushes) whereas in Silver City, Dreyfess comes off as world weary. The "liberal" version of evil. (Imagine the middle-aged portly Brando playing Rove!)

There’s a lot of minor roles played by major actors who fortunately do not have to play cardboard figures and they do the best acting in the film, like Mary Kay Place, always great as far as I’m concerned, and Ralph Waite, who I hadn’t seen in years, buy playing his scenes with this Danny Huston guy, it was like Waite just picked the movie up and carried it in his arms until it was time for him to go.

I’m disappointed. Such great minds and talents seemingly thrown away on I guess a well-intentioned flick, but it was made as if Sayles forgot it was a movie, forgot he needed to engage people in some sort of personal identification with the characters kind of way.

Remember Brando as the founder of the American Nazi Party, Norman Lincoln Rockwell in that TV movie? Or in The Formula where he based his billionaire oil man on one of the Hunt brothers, the right-wing source of funding for all kinds of dirty politics? He made them so fucking complex and human you almost cared about them and certainly understood them better than an essay would have made you, and maybe even identified with at least aspects of their humanity.

Which made it seem even more imperative to be on the alert for the normalcy of evil, and the self-justification of it, and even the seduction of it, instead of symbolic figures in a combination of morality play and old-fashioned melodrama, where we all get to hiss and throw tomatoes at the stick figure bad guys and leave feeling we’ve struck a blow for righteousness, rather than be alert to the bad guys in our midst.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


That’s what they used to call us juvenile delinquents in the 1950s.

I always liked the sound of it, even then, especially because the music and art and books I loved, and grew to love even more, were always a “mixed up” combination of various approaches or means or styles or media, etc.

I love collages, and paintings that have words in them and/or real-world objects. I love, music that mixes “spoken word” and singing, or musical instruments and real world sounds, etc.

And most of all I love books that mix poetry and prose, or other forms.

Here’s a short shamrock list of three later discoveries that solidified my love for that kind of mixing it up:

1. Dante’s LA VITA NUOVA (I’ve already mentioned that it had a big impact on me as a kid, my first encounter with a book that mixed poetry and prose, as Dante presents each poem along with an explanation of the circumstances of its composition and meaning)

2. Jean Toomer’s CANE (a mix of poetry and prose that adds up to a most revealing and perceptive, as well as lyrical and oddly original, take on race and race relations in early 20th Century “America”)

3. William Carlos Williams’ PATERSON (the masterpiece of this kind of juxtaposition of poetry and prose, with everything from letters from the young Allen Ginsberg to bits of 18th-Century history texts, etc.)

And three examples from other “arts”—

1. MISHIMA (Paul Schrader’s movie about the modern Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, spectacularly shot by John Bailey, a friend at the time, who insisted I see it at a special screening where the film was shown on three different film stocks spliced together, to distinguish the three different subjects and moods of the film, the grainy black and white documentary style of the flashbacks to Mishima’s early life, the slightly washed out mundane dailiness of the color stock used to film the events of the day Mishima left his family at home to take over a military installation with his rightwing militarist followers as the first blow in what he hoped would be a national uprising to restore Japan to it’s militaristic glory, only to have it turn into a fiasco, leading Mishima to a sort of hari kari with the help of one of his loyalist’s, who cut off Mishima’s head, and the third stock for the unbelievably lush colors of the parts of the film that represented scenes from his novels and other writing)

2. GEORGE SCHNEEMAN’S COLLAGES (as well as his more famous collaborations with poets, but I have in mind one particular collage I bought from his recent retrospective—a private show in an empty Lower East Side apartment-between-residents, which the owner allowed the artist to use to hang paintings (usually of poets) from as far back as the 1960s, the frescoes he’s also known for, as well as vases and bowls etc. adorned with his bright and unique images, paintings of Italian landscapes, and the more recent post card size collages, about a hundred taped to a big white poster board I would have bought all of if I were rich, but instead it took three visits to the show, where I spent hours in front of that board, in a quandary over which to get, since every one of them was terrific, made from images cut out of early 20th-Century Italian magazines, among other sources, and then the leftover portion being used in the next collage with something cut out from another source and so on, completely surprising, unlikely, but beautiful combinations of colors and images, often including beautiful women, not photographs but drawings from magazines, too complicated to describe, but seductive, thoughtful, and unique)

3. INDIAN SUMMER (Which I also mentioned before as one of my favorite film soundtracks, in this case a half-hour documentary about the demolition of an entire valley in the Catskills for a new dam and watershed, it was the first recording I ever heard that was “multi-taped, mixing the sound of the actual bulldozers and other demolition machinery, and the men using them, with those of Pete Seeger and Michael Seeger on fiddle, banjo, guitar, bamboo flute, harmonica, pump organ, drum, etc. and other human sounds from the film—it was on Folkways Records, and included some other multi-taped music as well, but none that delighted me as much as INDIAN SUMMER)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

TOO MANY?—(Part Three)

A week ago Sunday I read some of my poetry in my home town, in an old building we used to call “the community center” and was falling apart when I was a kid. It’s since been gentrified, as has a lot of other stuff around town.

The reading took place in a room that housed pool tables and tough guys back in the 1940s and ‘50s, and is now an art gallery. The whole place is called the Baird Center, after someone who must have come along after I left home.

I read with several local poets, all different and all good, and then after an intermission there was an “open mic” which in the old days, c. 1970s and ‘80s, used to mean cranks ranting and amateur poets rhyming like greeting cards and mostly just horrible stuff, or at least very weak writing.

But everyone of the handful who read that day were terrific, equal to if not better than the “featured” poets! And that’s been my experience in recent years.

I’ll go to a local music event with a bunch of musicians and singers performing their own songs, or covering more famous tunes, and expect to be bored or disappointed as I often was in decades past, but instead will come away feeling like I just experienced one of the greatest musical evenings of my life!

And the same with the group poetry readings I’ve taken part in reluctantly, or gone to watch because a student or friend is reading. Every time I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work.

Now maybe that’s just because—what?—people are getting better educated or trained or something than they were twenty or thirty years ago or more? I don’t think so.

I think it has more to do with population growth, which is the point of where I started this thing (but because of the rotten cold I’m suffering through, with a head that feels like concrete, I’m probably not being as clear as I otherwise might be).

If one percent of the population were fine poets then, and the same percentage now, it stands to reason that the one percent would have exponentially grown as a result of population growth.

In the early decades of the 20th century, there were a handful of “modernist” poets who created a variety of new approaches to creating a poem. They all knew each other, and most even had some kind of friendship or other intimate relationship. And it wasn’t difficult to keep track of them.

The number of magazines where their work was published were few, the venues where they read their work, few as well.

By mid-century, when I was a teenager just starting to present my poetry and other creative output to the world, there were a handful of “movements” or “schools” (ala Donald Allen’s breakthrough anthology THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY, with “Beats” “Black Mountain” “New York School” etc.).

A lot of these poets knew each other as well, but there were a lot more of them, publishing their poems in a lot more “little magazines” and reading them in a lot more venues than their modernist predecessors.

By the 1970s, there were tons more little magazines than in the 1950s and ‘60s, and more groupings of poets, many more poets period, than there had been mid-century.

Some people ascribe that explosion of poetry and poets to the growth of university creative writing workshops that give out MFAs in poetry etc., beginning with the granddaddy of them all at the University of Iowa.

In the 1960s, I ended up at the U. of Iowa Writers Workshop on the G. I. Bill, where I learned more from my fellow students than from professors—from Nathan Whiting to Ray DiPalma, Steve Shrader to Robert Slater (Steve just passed away a few months ago in Hawaii where he lived and wrote for most of his life after Iowa).

Many of them went on to teach in various MFA programs, and thereby contributed to the growth of what some call “the poetry industry.”

I taught for a while at a college in DC, not in an MFA program, but I did teach creative writing, and some of my students went on to become fulltime poets (e.g. Tina Darragh), but when I arrived in DC there were no regular poetry reading series. I started, or helped start, a few. I’m sure there are even more now.

In this first decade of the 21st Century, there are twice as many people in this country, or more, than there was c.1975. It would be a shock if there weren’t many more poets and poetry programs and degrees and magazines and books etc.

It also stands to reason that if the usual handful of poets—or artists or singer/songwriters etc.—get the attention of the mass media (under the control of a handful of corporations), there are a lot more worthy works of art not being noticed in that old fashioned big media way.

But thanks to the internet, people can get their work out a lot easier than by cranking up a mimeograph machine and then hand delivering their little mag or chapbook etc.

Though there still are too many, especially among the young, who buy into the idea of “success” in the arts being related to media attention and financial rewards, there seems to me to be a genuine movement away from that, and forward to a place where what matters is doing the work and getting it out there to anyone who might dig it, and “get” it, and respond to it.

A return in a way to those modernist poets of early 20th century, with their small gatherings and handful of publications and readings in small venues. Only now, there are multiple groups like that, all over the map, and though maybe not as innovative, nor with as lasting an impact on style and form etc., nonetheless still capable of the kind of impact poetry that works has always had on audiences, and did on me as a kid and young man.

So I’m happy to see ever more poets and musicians and bands and films and all kinds of art and artists, which hopefully are doing for kids what the arts did for me, making me feel like it was saving my life, and continuing to make me feel that right up until this moment.

Monday, May 7, 2007

TOO MANY?—Part Two

The Internet seems to me to have been inevitable. If it hadn’t been the internet it would have been something else.

The old methods of getting your work out to people, or connecting with people, just can’t hold up when there’s so many more people.

The way I see it, the mentality—spread by the growing use of the internet—to display, or share, one’s personality or artistic creations, or thoughts or etc. is not just a result of the democratization of distribution that the internet at least appears to represent and support, but also a result of there being so many more people in the world that therefore there's so much more work being created and ideas being generated.

So the world’s standards of “success” can’t matter as much, when there are thousands of small audiences for thousands more “artists.”

This may not be the best example, but it seems relevant to me that Sunday’s New York Times has an article on Parker Posey—the independent film world’s biggest female star in many ways—and it is written as if there’s a strong possibility people—especially Hollywood people, but even the rest of us—might see her as a “failure” because she isn’t as widely known or as financially rewarded as, say, Sandra Bullock!

I don't know about you, but I don’t care about what level of attention she gets from the mass media (the only reason they have an article on her in the Times is because she has two new movies coming out, and though “independent” they’re still multi-million dollar movies distributed the usual Hollywood ways).

What I care about is “the work”—how her performance resonates in the story of the film and comes across to me, watching it.

It stands to reason that if there is, at least, one-and-a-half times as many people in this country as when Posey first appeared in films, there’s also that many more actresses with great talent. But there is only room at the top for the usual handful, the ones that the corporations that run the film industry believe can bring in audiences in the millions and the profits that go with that.

Meanwhile, there's the need for the increased amount of talent to express itself and for audiences to have more choices since there's so many more of us. So, it isn’t like there’s too many people trying to make movies or be in them, there’s probably just the right amount given the size of the population, but the old means of reaching audiences for them is no longer relevant. Ergo YouTube.

It feels to me like a shift back to the old “cutting edge” scene kind of relationship between audience and performer or artist and appreciator or writer and reader etc.

E. g., Two Fridays ago, I went to a concert in the library in Canaan. Connecticut.

It was my daughter’s idea. I was staying at her place not far from Canaan. With us was her four-year-old daughter—my granddaughter—and my nine-year-old son, my daughter’s youngest sibling.

There were maybe twenty people in a little room stuffed with stuffed animals and birds. A mix of types (both stuffed and among the audience) from loner-bearded-longhaired-aging hippie, or warm-hearted-but-intimidating-looking-heavily-tattooed lesbian with an another less flamboyant woman, to straight-looking white couples with their shy children, etc.

What struck me most, though, was that the singer/songwriter appearing amidst all this, with her electric guitar and electric “banjotar”—Janet Robin—performed such an intensely energetic and forcefully entertaining show to such a small roomful of disparate people.

She was great. A delightful surprise to me, though my daughter suspected I’d dig her, which is why she wanted me to join her. My daughter knew Robin a little in California decades ago, and they recognized each other last time Robin came to town for a similar concert.

But what impressed itself on my mind was how back in the mid to late 20th Century, a gig like that would be way down the list of possibilities for a musician, let alone songwriter, as talented as Robin.

It reminded me more of the typical poetry reading gig, especially the library setting (although the stuffed-creatures room was a bit of an anomaly). But rather than seeing it as a sign of lack of success, Robin saw it as a great opportunity and gave a show that expressed her joy and gratitude to be in a small venue where everyone in the folding seats was there for just one reason, to listen to her.

She had recently performed in one of the major clubs in the area, The Helsinki in Great Barrington. But there, where the admission is high and the bar is busy and people have other agendas than just music appreciation, like finding their next date or scoring with the one they’re on, Robin felt it was fun, but not as satisfying as the little library gig.

And she was right from my perspective. People in the audience responded to her chatter between songs, asking questions or answering hers, or commenting on what she was saying (e.g. when she mentioned there not having been a lot of female guitar virtuosos in the old days, I mentioned Memphis Minnie, who happened to be a favorite of my daughter’s mother, long deceased, and Robin responded to my comment by saying “We’ll get to her later” because, as fate would have it, the only song she performs that wasn’t written by her, is one of Memphis Minnie’s!).

My point here isn’t that the show was great, but that it corresponded perfectly with my own theories about “success” in the arts and otherwise. I never much catered to the typical standards the world seemed to hold in judging “success”—my thing was always how contented I was, how much time I had, and have, to do my writing and reading and other artistic pursuits (even if it’s only catching up with new movies and music).

The “arts” saved my life, particularly poetry, so, they were always the main religion in my personal experience. But even I got caught up over the years, particularly in my 30s and 40s, with the world’s concept of success, and tried hard, or as hard as my preferences and sense of well-being could tolerate, to have that kind of success.

But eventually I settled back into my original belief that what mattered was the work, and doing it, and if anyone noticed and not only appreciated it but “got” it, that was a bonus.

So when others would assess someone’s artistic “career” based on audience size, or financial success, or amount of media attention, I would disagree and try to get them to see, that whatever that was about, it often had nothing to do with the quality of the work and more to do with politics and financial considerations and groupthink etc.

Now, the 21st century seems to be swinging my way. And the reason is, as I see it, population growth.

If the mass media and mass venues can only support a few “top acts” that can bring in the necessary audience to generate the millions needed to make a profit, but the population continues to grow exponentially, then naturally there is, and will be, a need for many more small, more intimate venues, based more on word of mouth (often via the internet) than mass media attention.

Just like the good old days. Only with more or less new ways. Like, as Robin mentioned, “house concerts” where a performer will come to your home, if you guarantee a certain size audience paying enough to make it worthwhile, like sometimes as little as thirty dollars, to hear and see and experience someone who’s work you dig up close in the intimacy of a home.

I know this has been going on for ages with rich people, hiring chamber orchestras or jazz combos to liven up their parties. But in those cases, it was the elitism of wealth, and the performers were paid for by the party giver, like the wealthy Beverly Hills matrons who get Usher to perform at their son’s bar mitzvah.

And poorer folks, including musicians, would throw “rent parties” during The Great Depression where musicians would perform and people would donate in a passed hat and hopefully the rent would be made.

Or similar scenes in the 1970s in the downtown lofts of what became known as “Tribeca” where dancers and performance artists and composers etc. would use their own lofts for performances and concerts and us locals would show up and throw some money in a hat, or pay a small fee at the door, so they could make their rent.

But what Robin was talking about is a more recent phenomenon, where a small group of people, individually contribute a small amount to have someone less expensive but just as good or better than a “star” come to their home for a private concert or reading or performance.

Man that appeals to me. I always felt enormously uncomfortable at the few mass audience events I went to back in the ‘80s, even when the seats were complimentary and up front (the exception being the few times I knew someone in the band well enough to be backstage, watching from the wings, that could be pretty exciting).

But someone’s home, with a small audience of friends, digging some talent that is willing to work under those circumstances for not a lot of money but because the venue is so intimate it fosters such attentive audiences that it’s rewarding in and of itself, let alone whatever money can be made.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

TOO MANY?—Part One

“Too many creeps” the Bush Tetras sang on their most “famous” song c.1980 downtown NYC punk scene.

One of my all time favorite songs and performances (I saw them do it live more than once). And most people would have no idea who they are, or were.

That seemed to be the definition of “hip”—digging and “getting” “art” most people missed or went right over, or under, their heads.

Now and then an icon of the “avant-garde” or “downtown scene” or whatever “cutting edge” scenes think their taste is rare, would break out into the attention of the mass media and become known in the wider world, but for the most part the audiences for this kind of hipster-approved work remained limited.

And no one thought that was a sign of lack of success. On the contrary.

But, in recent decades, a lot of that hip sensibility was co-opted and commercialized and the criteria for success, even on the hipper scenes, became “gentrified” to the point of being measured by the amount of mass media attention and financial rewards.

Now I think that’s changing, and I think the reason is simply because there’s so many more people. Twice as many in this country alone since the Bush Tetras were first doing their thing.

It always cracks me up when in a movie, even serious ones, a character pulls their car up in front of where they’re going and there just happens to be an open space there. We all know how likely that is these days.

But back in mid-20th-Century, when I first became a regular on the Greenwich Village scene, it wasn’t that unusual. Because there were less people and less cars. (The actual population of New York City wasn’t much different back then, but the number of cars in the city and coming in from the surrounding area was a lot less.)

Back then it made sense that “little magazines” that reached an audience in the hundreds could validate the creative work of various poets, writers and artists, and it was more than enough reward. Now, where there once were a handful of little magazines, there are hundreds, thousands even.

When somebody says that’s too many poets, or bands, or whatever, they’re being nostalgic. Yes, there’s too many people, and it seems inevitable that if the earth doesn’t come up with its own ways of getting rid of vast numbers of us, we’ll end up doing it ourselves. But in the meantime, most people I read or hear don’t seem to get that the reason there are so many more bands and poets and etc. is because there are so many more people period, not to mention living longer.

Back in the 1950s you could visit the Museum of Modern Art and spend hours wandering around the galleries hardly seeing anyone. It wasn’t a worldwide family tourist destination, and even if it had been, there still would have been a lot less people.

It’s cool that more people dig art, but it’s also partly, if not mostly, a matter of population growth. As are, most likely, the motivations for a lot of the political and social turmoil of these times.

Too many creeps? Too many of a lot of things, including bands nobody’s heard of but are still great to listen to.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


My brain’s been a little tired lately. That’s why I’ve been posting so many links and quotes.

There’s been a lot of good stuff happening in my daily life, as always, but some rough patches lately that definitely took their toll.

I love the informed intelligence of many of you who respond to what I write and quote and link to on this thing, either with your comments on the particular post or with e mails to me or in person. Thank you.

Since I’ve got this cold, or allergies, or something that’s knocking me out this evening, I’m just going to ask three questions that have been on my mind:

1. Why isn’t it possible to just plant a million trees (or however many would help) in a place like Haiti (I assume raising the money would be possible from the Gates Foundation or some place similar) that has suffered so sorely from the deforestation and other human mistakes that left a once densely forested land with almost no trees and the resulting shifts in weather patterns and usable soil and indigenous wood for fuel and homes and gardens etc.?

2. No matter what you think of their politics, isn’t it great to have running for president— with an actual legitimate chance of winning—a woman, an African-American, a Mormon, and an Italian-American?

3. Isn’t it the height of hypocrisy to give George Tenant a “Medal of Freedom” for his service to our government and then condemn him when he decides to tell “the truth”—from his perspective—of how that service was used to cover up lies and political motives masquerading as patriotic ones?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Founding Fathers Were Not Christians

by Steven Morris, in Free Inquiry, Fall, 1995

The Christian right is trying to rewrite the history of the United States as part of its campaign to force its religion on others. They try to depict the founding fathers as pious Christians who wanted the United States to be a Christian nation, with laws that favored Christians and Christianity.

This is patently untrue. The early presidents and patriots were generally Deists or Unitarians, believing in some form of impersonal Providence but rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the absurdities of the Old and New testaments.

Thomas Paine was a pamphleteer whose manifestos encouraged the faltering spirits of the country and aided materially in winning the war of Independence:
"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of...Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all."
The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, pp. 8,9 (Republished 1984, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY)

George Washington, the first president of the United States, never declared himself a Christian according to contemporary reports or in any of his voluminous correspondence. Washington Championed the cause of freedom from religious intolerance and compulsion. When John Murray (a universalist who denied the existence of hell) was invited to become an army chaplain, the other chaplains petitioned Washington for his dismissal. Instead, Washington gave him the appointment. On his deathbed, Washington uttered no words of a religious nature and did not call for a clergyman to be in attendance.
George Washington and Religion by Paul F. Boller Jr., pp. 16, 87, 88, 108, 113, 121, 127 (1963, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX)

John Adams, the country's second president, was drawn to the study of law but faced pressure from his father to become a clergyman. He wrote that he found among the lawyers "noble and gallant achievements" but among the clergy, the "pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces". Late in life he wrote: "Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, 'This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!'"

It was during Adam's administration that the Senate ratified the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which states in Article XI that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."
The Character of John Adams by Peter Shaw, pp. 17 (1976, North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC) Quoting a letter by JA to Charles Cushing Oct 19, 1756, and John Adams, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by James Peabody, p. 403 (1973, Newsweek, New York NY) Quoting letter by JA to Jefferson April 19, 1817, and in reference to the treaty, Thomas Jefferson, Passionate Pilgrim by Alf Mapp Jr., pp. 311 (1991, Madison Books, Lanham, MD) quoting letter by TJ to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, June, 1814.

Thomas Jefferson, third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, said:"I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian." He referred to the Revelation of St. John as "the ravings of a maniac" and wrote:
"The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ leveled to every understanding and too plain to need explanation, saw, in the mysticisms of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power, and pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason that nonsense can never be explained."
Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate History by Fawn M. Brodie, p. 453 (1974, W.W) Norton and Co. Inc. New York, NY) Quoting a letter by TJ to Alexander Smyth Jan 17, 1825, and Thomas Jefferson, Passionate Pilgrim by Alf Mapp Jr., pp. 246 (1991, Madison Books, Lanham, MD) quoting letter by TJ to John Adams, July 5, 1814.

James Madison, fourth president and father of the Constitution, was not religious in any conventional sense. "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."
"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
The Madisons by Virginia Moore, P. 43 (1979, McGraw-Hill Co. New York, NY) quoting a letter by JM to William Bradford April 1, 1774, and James Madison, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by Joseph Gardner, p. 93, (1974, Newsweek, New York, NY) Quoting Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments by JM, June 1785.

Ethan Allen, whose capture of Fort Ticonderoga while commanding the Green Mountain Boys helped inspire Congress and the country to pursue the War of Independence, said, "That Jesus Christ was not God is evidence from his own words." In the same book, Allen noted that he was generally "denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious that I am no Christian." When Allen married Fanny Buchanan, he stopped his own wedding ceremony when the judge asked him if he promised "to live with Fanny Buchanan agreeable to the laws of God." Allen refused to answer until the judge agreed that the God referred to was the God of Nature, and the laws those "written in the great book of nature."
Religion of the American Enlightenment by G. Adolph Koch, p. 40 (1968, Thomas Crowell Co., New York, NY.) quoting preface and p. 352 of Reason, the Only Oracle of Man and A Sense of History compiled by American Heritage Press Inc., p. 103 (1985, American Heritage Press, Inc., New York, NY.)

Benjamin Franklin, delegate to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, said:
"As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion...has received various corrupting Changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his Divinity; tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble." He died a month later, and historians consider him, like so many great Americans of his time, to be a Deist, not a Christian.
Benjamin Franklin, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by Thomas Fleming, p. 404, (1972, Newsweek, New York, NY) quoting letter by BF to Exra Stiles March 9, 1970.

The words "In God We Trust" were not consistently on all U.S. currency until 1956, during the McCarthy Hysteria.

The Treaty of Tripoli, passed by the U.S. Senate in 1797, read in part: "The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." The treaty was written during the Washington administration, and sent to the Senate during the Adams administration. It was read aloud to the Senate, and each Senator received a printed copy. This was the 339th time that a recorded vote was required by the Senate, but only the third time a vote was unanimous (the next time was to honor George Washington). There is no record of any debate or dissension on the treaty. It was reprinted in full in three newspapers - two in Philadelphia, one in New York City. There is no record of public outcry or complaint in subsequent editions of the papers.