Thursday, November 29, 2007

WRITER BOI

Check this out (thanks to Kevin)

ODD MAN OUT/SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING

That Turner Classic Movie guest programmer series, I was talking about recently, last night had Brian Dennehy, whose first two choices were ODD MAN OUT and SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, two movies I was sure I’d seen, the first when I was a kid and the second when it came out. But I sat through both of them and felt like I’d never seen them before.

Dennehy chose them for the writing and the acting. When I was a kid, if I did see ODD MAN OUT I would have been watching it for the Irish stuff I recognized from my own life and clan, or from stories I’d heard about my Irish grandparents and other relatives who came over or were still there.

But the fact that James Mason starred in it, would have thrown me, since he always came off as the ultimate stiff Brit to me. But Dennehy pointed out that he got his start in Dublin, acting on stage there, so playing the “chief” of an IRA group wouldn’t have been a stretch. But to see him looking so young and speaking with an Irish accent, was a little jarring, and impressive.

The movie’s stylized in that 1940s version of the expressionism of earlier decades ala THE INFORMER etc. Slow paced and deeply serious, but still moving, seriously so. It’s like staged realism.

And SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING is another version of that style, the late 1950s, early ‘60s “kitchen sink” stage realism of “The Angry Young Men” as the British novelists and playwrights of that period were known, like Allan Sillitoe who wrote the novel and the screenplay adaptation. And who would have been the reason I’d see the movie when it came out in ’61, while I was busy reading Sillitoe and the rest of “The Angry Young Men”, and digging them.

They were all about overturning the centuries old English traditions of class consciousness and keeping one’s place and observing the rituals of class deference and all that. And they did. As Dennehy rightly pointed out, it was partly responsible for all that followed, including Princess Margaret marrying a commoner and the rise of The Beatles and Rolling Stones and “swinging London” and all that.

In the U. S., “The Angry Young Men” were linked with “the Beats” and all cast as rebels, with a cause, though the Beats weren’t as pointedly clear about it, as in overthrowing a class system, more like ignoring it.

At any rate, Albert Finney was the star and carried almost every scene in the film brilliantly. When you first spy him in the first scene he’s just a kid! But his presence and persona are so powerful, that within minutes he’s “Albert Finney”—the movie actor you’ve (I guess I mean I’ve) been watching since this movie came out. (The movie that made him a star, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM JONES, came out three years later and had an even more profound impact on what became “the sixties.”)

I’ve never really been crazy about either Mason or Finney. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always admired their acting. Their talent is obvious and unique, in both cases. But there’s always been something in their personas that’s seemed closed off, cold, distant, cut off from the full range of human experience, at least as I know it and have known it. But each of them, in these flicks, where they were just starting out, seemed somehow more vulnerable, more open to the possibilities, not yet the fully developed characters they seemed to solidify into as movie stars.

But in the characters they play in these early films, there is the basis for what they became, and maybe that was partly a result of these roles, or maybe they were already that way and that’s why they were cast in them. Either way, it’s an intriguing bit of film history to have seen them in tandem and dug the artistry not only of their impressive talents but of the films as a whole. Two undeniably great flicks, uniquely paired, and not surprisingly when I think about it, by Dennehy, who also is often an actor in that vein, though capable of showing more vulnerability, but still, with certain limitations in the characters he plays as well.

Anyway, if you’ve never seen either, they’re an interesting bit of not just film history, but cultural and political history as well. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

DAVID SALNER AND PATRICIA GARFINKEL

Both of the above were at the reading I did recently at the Writers center in Bethesda Maryland. David I hadn’t seen since our days as students at the University of Iowa in the late 1960s, but I would have recognized him anywhere. In the ‘60s, he always came across as a calm and humble observer of what the rest of us were so excitable and crazed about, like which political point of view was correct, which political party (and I don’t mean the Democrats or Republicans, but Progressive Labor or Peace and Freedom for example) and which approach to the poem (imagist, confessional, Beat, neo-surrealist, New Criticism, etc.).

Salner kept it simple in ways I always admired and even envied. He wrote direct and accessible and even useful poetry. His politics were socialist and his intention was to work in whatever capacity he could to further the betterment of “the people” as we used to say, or “the working class” as the class analysis had it.

While I ran for sheriff of Johnson County, Iowa, on the Peace and Freedom ticket in 1968, David just went to work at the kind of labor that defines “working class” (e.g. iron ore miner, garment worker, etc.) and tried to better the lives of people with no other options but manual labor. And he’s still doing that, after all these decades, with so many having given up on those ideals or turned greedy or disillusioned.

We didn’t have too much time to talk in Bethesda, but on my return I received a chapbook of “A Poem Sequence” he wrote called JOHN HENRY’S PARTNER SPEAKS (Pudding House Publications, 81 Shadymere Lane, Columbus, Ohio 43213) which came out last year.

It’s terrific. Here’s two stanzas from:

“6. THE DEATH OF RUSSELL MATHENY

Russell was one of a few white men
who worked with us at the face.
The rock floor we worked on
was full of lard-oil and black strap
from the machines and the lamps.
One night he slipped at the wrong time.

When the water-boy came by, we’d take a break.
After Russell died, they gave us a liquor break.
You think I’m joking but it happened
after a good fellow died at the face.
Here’s a little drop to keep your minds
on the job, the boss might say. We knew
what that meant. Drink and forget.
Feel that liquor burn and forget.
We felt that liquor burn but we didn’t forget.”

Back in the 1960s when we first met, there were only a handful of little magazines and presses that published poetry, and only hundreds of poets, it seemed. Now there are thousands of mags and presses and hundreds of thousands of poets.

But there’s still that thrill of reading a poem or a small chapbook of poems, like JOHN HENRY’S PARTNER SPEAKS, that reminds me of what seemed so promising about poetry and how it could interpret the world for, and to, me.

I’m so grateful that that thrill is still possible, for me, and was delightfully surprised a few days after receiving Salner’s book, to receive another one, a longer poem sequence, from another person I hadn’t seen in decades who was at the reading in Bethesda, Patricia Garfinkel.

We weren’t close friends, and didn’t spend time together, as David and I had. But she reminded me that she had attended some of the sessions of a reading series I started in DC in the early 1970s, Mass Transit. She also shared how she too had an interesting family history (in response to some poems I read about mine).

MAKING THE SKELETON DANCE, the book she sent me, published in 2000 by Braziller, is a unique sequence of poems and dialogues exposing family secrets, some of which have become common in tell-all memoirs, and some of which I’ve never read about before, and certainly not with such an original variety of techniques to create not just a “memoir” but a great cycle of poetic expression.

I guarantee you’ve never read a poem sequence quite like this one. Not because it’s revolutionary in its approach to language, but in its approach to revelation. Anyway, don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself. Meanwhile, here’s a sample, nothing like the other verses in the book, but telling:

“FOUND POEM:
MY MOTHER’S VOICE 11

The police officers were telling
me how wonderful I was
on the witness stand
and that night Gabriel Heatter,
he was on every night I think,
six o’clock, one of the big stations,
he really made it
sound as if I was just the last word.”

The best thing about both these books and poets, is the way they have distilled entire histories and characters lives into a handful of brief poems, sometimes lyrically imaginative in an old imagist way, sometimes prosaically conversational (as in the above excerpts), but always humble and honest. Two traits I’ve been working to secure for myself and my work for decades. These two poets exemplify those traits, and I am moved and humbled by the results.

ANOTHER MUST READ ARTICLE

The Cancer From Within

By David Antoon
Truthdig

Wednesday 07 November 2007

"I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. ..."
-Oath of Office
"Our mission is to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become officers of character motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation."
-Air Force Academy mission statement

"We will not lie, steal, or cheat. ..."
-Air Force Academy honor code

"Military professionals must remember that religious choice is a matter of individual conscience. Professionals, and especially commanders, must not take it upon themselves to change or coercively influence the religious views of subordinates."
-Religious Toleration (Air Force Code of Ethics, 1997)

Forty-two years ago, at the age of 18, I took the oath of office on my first day as an Air Force Academy cadet. The mission of the academy was not only to train future leaders for the Air Force but for America as well, because, in the end, most academy graduates do not serve full military careers. The honor code became an integral part of everyday life. These are the values that I, and most graduates of the 1960s and early '70s, took with us from our four years at the academy.

I, as did many graduates, underwent pilot training followed by tours of duty in Vietnam. Like military men and women of today, we did our best to become technically competent and professional leaders. Never, during my four years at the academy and subsequent pilot and combat training, was the word warrior used; nor, whether as a cadet or officer, did I ever encounter "Christian supremacist" rhetoric.

In April of 2004, my son, after receiving a coveted appointment to the United States Air Force Academy, asked me to accompany him to the orientation for new appointees. This 24-hour visceral event changed my life forever, and crushed my son's lifelong dream of following in my footsteps.

The orientation began with a one-hour "warrior" rant to appointees and parents by the commandant of cadets, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida. The fact that the word warrior had replaced leadership was a signal of what was to follow. I later learned that cadets, to determine when a new record was established, had created a game in which warrior was counted in each speech Weida gave.

My son and I then made our way to the modernist aluminum chapel, where I expected to hear a welcome from one or two Air Force chaplains offering counsel, support and an open-door policy for any spiritual or pastoral needs of these future cadets. In 1966, the academy had six gray-haired chaplains: three mainline Protestants, two priests and one rabbi. Any cadet, regardless of religious affiliation, was welcome to see any one of these chaplains, who were reminiscent of Father Francis Mulcahy of "MASH" fame.

Instead, my son's orientation became an opportunity for the academy to aggressively proselytize this next crop of cadets. Maj. Warren Watties led a group of 10 young, exclusively evangelical chaplains who stood shoulder to shoulder. He proudly stated that half of the cadets attended Bible studies on Monday nights in the dormitories and he hoped to increase this number from those in his audience who were about to join their ranks. This "invitation" was followed with hallelujahs and amens by the evangelical clergy. I later learned from Air Force Academy chaplain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran who was forced to observe from the choir loft, that no priest, rabbi or mainline Protestant had been permitted to participate.

I no longer recognize the Air Force Academy as the institution I attended almost four decades earlier. At that point, I had no idea how invasive this extreme evangelical "cancer" had become throughout the entire military, that what I had witnessed was far from an isolated case of a few religious zealots.

In order to better understand this shift to a religious ideology at this once secular institution, I called the Academy Association of Graduates (AOG). Its response: "We don't get involved in policy." What I didn't know was that the AOG, like the academy, had affiliations with James Dobson's and Ted Haggard's powerful mega-churches. When Dobson's Focus on the Family "campus" was completed, the academy skydiving team, with great ceremony, delivered the "keys of heaven" to Dobson. During some alumni reunions, the AOG arranged bus tours of Focus on the Family facilities in nearby Colorado Springs, Colo. I also learned that the same Monday night Bible studies discussed at orientation were taught by bused-in members of these evangelical mega-churches and that some spouses of senior academy staff members were employed by these same religious institutions. It seemed that my beloved United States Air Force Academy had morphed into the Rocky Mountain Bible College.

The academy chaplain staff had grown 300 percent while the cadet population had decreased by 25 percent: from six mainline chaplains to 18 chaplains, the additional 12 all evangelical. The academy even gained 25 reserve chaplains, also nonexistent in earlier times, for a total of 43 chaplains for about 4,000 cadets, or one chaplain for every 100 cadets.

In the following weeks, a uniformed Army Maj. Gen. William Boykin began sharing his Christian supremacist views from church pulpits around the country, declaring that he was "God's Warrior" and that "America is a Christian nation." He demeaned the entire Muslim world by stating that his God was bigger than a Muslim warlord's god and that the Muslim's god "was an idol." He received little more than a token slap on the wrist. At the time, Joseph Schmitz, then the Department of Defense inspector general (Schmitz is currently the chief operating officer of Blackwater International), found that Boykin had committed no ethics violations.

Days later, the May 10 edition of The New Yorker featured the Abu Ghraib torture article by Seymour Hersh, who more than three decades earlier had brought us the story of My Lai.

As a late critic of the Vietnam War, in which I lost many high school and academy classmates, I was skeptical and critical of the drum beat for war orchestrated by the Bush administration. When then-Secretary of State Colin Powell again sold his soul in front of the United Nations and the world, the die was cast. I say again because as a major on his second tour in Vietnam, Powell whitewashed reports of the My Lai massacre and attempted to discredit and silence those few, most notably Ron Ridenhour, who had the courage to get the story into Hersh's hands.

These were some of my thoughts on the day my son had to decide whether or not to accept his appointment to the Air Force Academy. It was a time in my life when fatherhood and truth were confronted with faux nationalism. With tremendous courage and sadness my son declined his appointment and ended his dream-and my dream for him-to attend the Air Force Academy. Though deeply saddened, we were not sorry.

In what would have been my son's academy summer encampment, chaplain Watties "suggested" that cadets return to their tents and tell their tent mates they would "burn in hell" if they did not receive Jesus as their savior. At the same time, the academy commandant, Weida, made a habit of including biblical passages in official e-mails and correspondence to subordinates and cadets. He had developed a secret "chant and response" with the cadets: When he yelled "Airpower," the evangelical cadets in the know would respond "Rock, sir" in reference to the Bible story that Jesus built his house upon a rock.

Coincidentally, at this time and at the invitation of the academy, the Yale Divinity School was observing the pastoral care program for sexual assault victims at the academy. Under the leadership of professor Kristen Leslie, the Yale team issued a stunning report on the divisive and strident evangelical pressures by leadership and staff at the academy.

The response from academy leaders was telling. They at first denied the reports of Watties' "hell-fire" threats. Under media pressure, they later claimed the violations were committed by a visiting reserve chaplain, when in fact they were by the recent Air Force Chaplain of the Year himself: Watties. In an interview after receiving his Chaplain of the Year award, Watties boasted of baptizing young soldiers in Saddam Hussein's swimming pool. It is difficult to think of more inflammatory and Crusader-like behavior in an Arab nation.

In response to the Yale report, the academy demanded that chaplain Morton denounce the report she had co-signed. When she refused, she was transferred to East Asia, ultimately resigning from the Air Force in protest. Morton was the only officer who put her oath of office "to support and defend the Constitution" above careerism.

Then-DoD Inspector General Schmitz, noted for his Christian supremacist rhetoric in the book "Blackwater," sent a team led by evangelical "born again" Lt. Gen. Roger Brady to investigate the academy. Schmitz had recently found no ethics violations in the actions of Gen. Boykin and allowed Boykin's promotion to senior military officer in charge of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and "extraordinary rendition." The "Brady Report" found the academy only to have an "insensitivity" problem. Air Force Academy graduate Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, "silenced" and removed from the major general promotion list, was secretly promoted with back pay the following year at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

Following the release of the "Brady Report," West Point graduate and Secretary of the Air Force Mike Wynne, ignoring the existing code of ethics, issued another "code of ethics" that allowed evangelical proselytizing. A month later, in an effort to appease the religious right, Wynne issued an even softer "code of ethics." Amazingly, Wynne's document is in complete violation of the code of ethics issued in 1997 by Secretary of the Air Force Sheila Widnall prohibiting proselytizing by commanders and other officers.

The pre-existing Air Force code of ethics in The Little Blue Book states:
"Military professionals must remember that religious choice is a matter of individual conscience. Professionals, and especially commanders, must not take it upon themselves to change or coercively influence the religious views of subordinates."

Here are just a few violations of that principle over the last three years: Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry hung a banner in the team locker room reading: "Competitor's Creed: I am a Christian first and last. ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ." Baseball coach Mike Hutcheon, recruited from evangelical Christian Bethel College, forced players to lead team prayer during practice. When asked about locker room prayer in March 2007, Lt. Gen. John Regni, the academy superintendent, responded "we have chaplains that are attached to each of the teams and they are very important in that area." In a July 12, 2005 interview with the New York Times, Brig. Gen. Cecil Richardson, Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, stated, "...we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched." For over a decade, the official academy newspaper ran ads stating: "We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the World. If you would like to discuss Jesus, feel free to contact one of us! There is salvation in no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." The ads were signed by 16 department heads, nine permanent professors, both the incoming and outgoing deans of faculty, the athletic director and more than 200 academy senior officers and their spouses.

Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, in just a few short years has received complaints from more than 6,000 service members and discovered church-state violations at the academies, at military installations in Iraq and around the world, and even within the inner corridors of the Pentagon.

In 2005, when Weinstein filed suit against the Air Force for constitutional violations of church-state separation, the house of representatives, with little public notice, passed a chilling bill that undermines enforcement of the First Amendment's separation of church and state. The Public Expression of Religion Act, H.R. 2679, provides that attorneys who successfully challenge government actions that violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment shall not be entitled to recover attorney's fees. According to The Washington Post, the purpose of this bill is to prevent suits challenging unconstitutional government actions advancing religion.

In December 2006, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation brought media focus to the Christian Embassy Evangelical Organization and its now famous video, which clearly showed the egregious ethics and constitutional violations of several flag officers and the breadth of the problem. Air Force Academy graduate Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, who suggested in the film that his religious beliefs trump country and his oath to the Constitution, was cited last year for sending e-mails to military subordinates and contractors advocating they vote for a particular candidate for Congress, arguing that there are "not enough Christians in Congress." West Point graduate and Army Brig. Gen. Robert Caslen, who was filmed stating "We are the aroma of Jesus Christ here in the Pentagon," is now commandant of cadets at West Point. West Point graduate Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, another Christian Embassy star, was the "voice" and "face" of the press conferences at Qatar. His office is famous for the creation of the "Rambo" Jessica Lynch fabrications and the manipulation of the killing of Pat Tillman into a recruiting and media event. West Point graduate and evangelical Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, involved in the investigation of Tillman's death, stated publicly that Pat Tillman's family was not at peace with his death because they are atheists who believe their son is now "worm dirt." Air Force Academy graduate Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, assigned as the senior U.S. military officer in Turkey at the time the Military Religious Freedom Foundation brought the Christian Embassy into media focus, was questioned by Turkish officials about his membership in a radical evangelical cult.

Many are aware of the mercenary army, Blackwater USA, led by Eric Prince, former Ambassador Cofer Black and Joseph Schmitz, the same Joseph Schmitz mentioned above. It is here where the ties become complex and suggestive of an even grander "crusade."

As described by Jeremy Scahill in his book "Blackwater," Prince, who attended the U.S. Naval Academy, comes from a wealthy theo-con family, is a "neo-crusader," and a Christian supremacist. He has been given billions of dollars in federal contracts to create a private army. COO Schmitz, another Naval Academy graduate, is a member of the Order of Malta, a Christian supremacist organization dating back to the Crusades, and happens to be married to the sister of Jeb Bush's wife, Columba. And Cofer Black, former coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department and former director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, who was quoted by the BBC as saying "Capture Bin Laden, kill him and bring his head back in a box on dry ice," brings his own skill set to the Blackwater team as vice chairman.

The Christian supremacist fascism first reported at the Air Force Academy is endemic throughout the military. From the top down, there has been a complete repudiation of constitutional values and time-honored codes of ethics and honor codes in favor of religious ideology. And we now have a revolving door between Blackwater USA, which is Bush's Praetorian Guard, and the U.S. military at every level. The citizen-soldier military dictated by our founding fathers has been replaced with professional and mercenary right-wing Christian crusaders in control of the world's most powerful military. The risks to our democratic form of government cannot be overstated.

This evangelical Christian supremacist fascism within our military and government is a cancer. Officers, especially commanders, who violate the original code of ethics, must be rooted out of the military. The undermining of the Constitution, especially by senior military officers, must end.

As I look back at my 30 years as an active-duty officer, two combat tours in Vietnam, decorations including air medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross, I realize that not once was my service in support or defense of the Constitution. For the very first time, I am upholding my oath of office.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

QUOTE FOR THESE DAYS

"The barriers which keep the feet from the dance are the same which in a dream paralyze the effort to escape and hold us powerless in the track of some murderous pursuer. Pant and struggle but you cannot move. The birth of the imagination is like waking from a nightmare. Never does the night seem so beneficient." —William Carlos Williams in the prologue to KORA IN HELL

Thursday, November 22, 2007

AMERICAN GANGSTER

As traditional as Thanksgiving: American gangster myths and movies. This season’s top entry is maybe overcooked. I felt like I was watching two movies. The one starring Denzel Washington was like an African-American GODFATHER II, in which Denzel proves himself once again to be a genuine movie star. You just want to watch him do whatever he’s going to do, whatever the story.

Which is fortunate, because the story is erratic and full of scenes that seem like non-secquitors. Poor Cuba Gooding Jr. plays the more famous Harlem drug lord, Nicky Barnes, in a story line that obviously got chopped so that his role becomes a slightly glorified cameo that doesn’t quite fit, and there’s other storylines that make even less sense.

The other movie stars Russell Crowe floundering for the first time in my experience. His Australian accent comes through his attempt at a New Jersey accent that I couldn’t figure out where it sounded like it was from, but no Jersey I live in or grew up in.

The one scene with both Washington and Crowe in it, is excellent. Two great actors kicking ass. But in the rest of Crowe’s scenes, it’s hit or miss, unusual for him. But it could just be the writing, because the story too often doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s see, a really straight cop, a boy scout type pisses all his fellow cops off when he turns in a ton of money he stumbles on and could retire on, money meant for corrupt cops, (which seemed contrived to this member of an extended family with a lot of Jersey cops in it, not the corruption but every other cop supporting it), and then when given the chance to head his own outfit of dedicated detectives, he chooses guys who seem more interested in booze and broads than solving crimes. Huh?

And it’s long. But there’s enough great scenes, disjointed or not, to make it worth seeing, and in the end it’s a pretty good attempt to create another crime-boss classic. It doesn’t achieve that, but it manages to mythologize Frank Lucas, the real life Harlem drug lord the film’s about, creating another glorified crime boss.

On the way out of the theater in Jersey where I saw the movie, an older black gentleman entered the elevator car me and Terence Winch were in. When I asked the man if he was coming from GANGSTER, he nodded, so I asked what he thought of it and he said, with quiet dignity, “I’m ashamed I paid to see it.”

I said, “Because it glorifies Lucas?” Thinking he, like me, was afraid of the impact it would have on yet another generation of African-American boys, and not just them, wanting to grow up to be gangsters. But he surprised me and said, “Because I knew Frank Lucas, I helped put him away. He was…” and then he said something that meant evil, no good, destructive, heartless, a man who had done enormous harm, but I can’t remember exactly the words he used because I was so startled.

When I asked, “You mean you worked with the cop Russel Crowe played?” The man said, “No, I worked for the DEA.” By then we were on the first floor and were getting off. I watched the man leave the theater ahead of us, and despite my criticsms of the DEA, for a minute I felt a little ashamed myself.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

TCM

The best thing on TV for me lately has been a Turner Classic Movies series of “celebrity” programmed nights.

Matt Gruening, the guy who created THE SIMPSONS chose a movie the other night made around 1941—BLUES IN THE NIGHT—the stars of which I didn’t know with a few exceptions like Lloyd Nolan playing the bad guy owner of the Jungle Nightclub (!) and Jack Carson doing a pretty weak job of pretending to play the trumpet.

It was set in the world of, supposedly, “jazz” purists in a small combo, led by a B-movie star I never saw before who wasn’t very good, playing a dedicated jazz artiste, who under the influence of an evil woman, turns his back on the pure jazz of his group—which sounded like a cross between mediocre Dixieland and popular music of the era, but earned them little money—to become a novelty song piano player for a successful big swing band (oh no!).

I can see why Gruening chose it, because it has some of the strangest surreal montages I ever saw in a movie, and because so many of the scenes are preposterous—like the final one with the band happily back together, traveling, and living in a boxcar on a train! “Jazz” playing “hoboes” in suits and ties and with instruments, along with the trumpet player’s singer wife in perfect make up and stylish dress, living and playing music in a boxcar!

Then last night the guest programmer was the opera star Renee Fleming who chose, among other flicks, SONG OF LOVE, a Katherine Hepburn vehicle, with Paul Henreid (Ingrid Bergman’s husband in CASABLANCA) and Robert Walker (the insane bad guy in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN) as, respectively, the composers Robert Schuman and Johannes Bhrams (with Hepburn as Clara Schumann).

It wasn’t terrific, but certainly was interesting, with Hepburn and Walker in the same flick. But Fleming also chose a movie in which Luis Rainer plays the wife of Johan Strauss, called THE GREAT WALTZ. If you don’t know Luis Rainer you should, a two-time Academy Award winner, still alive, she was one of the strangest stars Hollywood ever produced. Her gestures and invented mannerisms for different movie characters could seem to slide into over the top melodrama and yet at the same time, in the same gesture seem to be the most restrained and underplayed moment in film history!

She was unique. If you ever see her name in a flick, stop and watch, and you’ll see what I mean. Especially THE GREAT WALTZ where she plays the devoted and long suffering wife-of-a-genius with so much panache, her non-singing-or-playing role seems as operatic as the other leads who play and conduct and sing at full volume and full speed (some of the scenes of people waltzing make you finally understand why that dance music was so revolutionary, it turned Europeans into whirling dervishes getting high on what the movie portrays as the hypnotically addictive rhythm of spinning around a dance floor to a ¾ beat.

What a kick to see films rarely or never found on TV presented by talented creative people who aren’t afraid to stand behind their personal taste, no matter how quirky. I don’t know when it’s on exactly, I just stumbled on them on various nights, but it’s probably listed as “guest programmed” nights. Check it out.

Monday, November 19, 2007

AND NOT SO COMIC

Many friends have sent me either the text for this Keith Olberman editorial, or a link to various sites that feature it, so for those of you who haven't seen it: here it is.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A LITTLE COMIC RELIEF

Trying to get to sleep last night, I thought, okay, enough emotional heaviness for a minute, and decided to make an alphabet list of movies that always make me laugh, or at least smile very broadly.

So here ‘tis:

ANNIE HALL and AIRPLANE!
BRUCE ALMIGHTY (the scene where Carrey’s character gets Steve Carrel’s newsman character to talk infantile gibberish on camera) and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (Dianne Wiest’s performance)
CLERKS and CLERKS II (hey, I love Silent Bob and Jay)
DUCK SOUP and DUMB AND DUMBER
EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK) (not Woody’s best, but a few choice scenes)
FLIRTING WITH DISASTER (Tea Leoni at her best, but everyone in this shines) and A FISH CALLED WANDA
GET SHORTY (a couple of very funny bits, and a great underrated movie)
HARD DAY’S NIGHT, A (too many great bits to name) and THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT (underrated Jack Benny flick)
IN & OUT (when is Kevin Kline not great?) THE INSPECTOR GENERAL (I love Danny Kaye, what can I say)
JERK, THE
KICKING AND SCREAMING (Will Ferrell flick with a few funny bits, mostly involving Mike Ditka!)
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, THE LADY EVE, and LIAR, LIAR (the scene where Carrey’s unscrupulous lawyer fights with himself in the men’s room)
MY COUSIN VINNY (she deserved that Oscar, far as I’m concerned) and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (underrated Bill Murray comedy/action flick)
NAKED GUN and NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (Belushi at his best)
O?
PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM and THE PINK PANTHER
Q?
RADIO DAYS and THE ROAD TO MOROCCO (I don’t like Hope but love Crosby’s easy banter)
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (Donald O’Conner’s “Make’em Laugh” number), a SHOT IN THE DARK (Sellars at his best, for me), STIR CRAZY (Pryor and Wilder), SILENT MOVIE (Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar!), and STRIPES (a few great Bill Murray scenes)
THIS IS SPINAL TAP, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and SOAPDISH
U?
V?
WAYNE’S WORLD
X?
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
ZOOLANDER

Friday, November 16, 2007

BCDS FOR PTSD

The following is an e mail I got from my friend, the poet and veteran, Bob Berner, this morning. I thought it was worth posting the entire message:

Here, from NPR yesterday, is evidence of even more despicable treatment of GIs and vets--in effect, BCDs for PTSD. You got a messed up kid in your outfit? Section 8 him or BCD him out and the VA won't give him any benefits. So what if he hangs himself with a garden hose in the basement of his parents' house? It was a pre-existing condition, not service-related. Toughsky-shitsky, boychiks. The money that would have paid for your benefits now goes to Blackwater. And isn't this a splendid little war after all?
Pax et Pecunia,
Bob
NPR.org Text-Only (go to NPR.org graphical version)
Home > Program: All Things Considered
LISTEN: Army Dismissals for Mental Health, Misconduct Rise
By Daniel Zwerdling
All Things Considered, November 15, 2007 · New Pentagon figures released to NPR show that since the United States invaded Iraq, officers have kicked out far more troops for having behavior issues that are potentially linked to post-traumatic stress disorder than they did before the war.
The numbers raise troubling questions about how the military is handling mental-health issues.
NPR has reported that servicemen and women who come home with serious mental-health problems, such as PTSD, often can't get the medical treatment they need.
And some commanders, in fact, have kicked troubled troops out of the military instead of trying to help them.
Until now, NPR reports have included anecdotal evidence, because the Pentagon has not released detailed statistics.
Rise in Personality Disorder and Misconduct Dismissals
NPR asked the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps to disclose how many troops have been discharged by their commanders in recent years and why.
The Marine Corps has not provided statistics.
But an Army chart, which NPR recently received, shows that since the United States invaded Iraq:
-- Commanders have discharged almost 20 percent more soldiers for "misconduct" than they did in the same period before the war;
-- Commanders have discharged more than twice as many soldiers for "drug abuse" (a subset of the "misconduct" category);
-- Commanders have discharged almost 40 percent more soldiers for "personality disorder."
In all, the Army has kicked out more than 28,000 soldiers since the war in Iraq began on the grounds of personality disorder and misconduct.
Those statistics "trouble me," says Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired brigadier general who used to help run the Army medical system.
"It raises questions," he says. "Are we doing the right thing by the soldiers?"
Behaviors Linked to PTSD
Xenakis and other mental-health specialists who work with the military say the Army's statistics seem to corroborate what many former soldiers and Marines have told NPR.
Those servicemen's and women's records show that after they came home from Iraq or Afghanistan, and were diagnosed with PTSD or other mental health disorders, they started breaking Army rules and, in some cases, the law -- from not showing up for formation and going AWOL, to using illegal drugs.
Xenakis and other specialists say those kinds of behaviors are common among soldiers with mental disorders like PTSD.
"That's exactly how those problems would show up," Xenakis says. "Drinking, drugs … (the soldiers) medicate themselves. They say 'Why should I keep my uniform all starched and neat when I just buried two of my buddies?'"
Yet, the troops NPR has interviewed had trouble getting intensive medical treatment. Instead, their commanders discharged them for "misconduct," which means the soldiers lost some or all of their military benefits.
The Army chart obtained by NPR -- showing increased rates of "misconduct" and especially "drug abuse" -- is consistent with those anecdotal accounts.
Personality Disorder: 'Deeply Stigmatizing Diagnosis'
Some mental-health specialists are especially worried that commanders and military medical staff are abusing the diagnosis of "personality disorder," which commanders have used to discharge some soldiers who were also diagnosed with PTSD.
Psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, who has been studying combat veterans for more than 20 years at the Department of Veterans Affairs and other institutions, criticizes the use of personality disorder partly because it's a "deeply stigmatizing diagnosis," he says.
Shay says that when the military diagnoses soldiers with personality disorder, it is saying, in effect, that fighting in the war didn't cause their mental health problems.
"It's saying, in essence, you're rotten and have been rotten since childhood," he says.
If true, Shay wonders, why didn't Army doctors diagnose such a serious and deep-rooted psychological ailment when they were recruiting the prospective soldier?
Avoiding Paying Disability Benefits?
Shay says the Army's statistics, showing that discharges for "personality disorder" have increased in recent years by almost 40 percent, suggest that the military may be abusing the diagnosis because doing so is convenient.
Under the Army's rules, it takes a commander months to expel soldiers on the grounds that they can't function due to PTSD -- and the military has to pay the soldier disability benefits.
But if a psychiatrist diagnoses a solider with a "personality disorder," the base can discharge him or her in less than two weeks without paying any disability.
"It troubles me that it appears that sometimes, mental-health professionals are ready to be the willing servants of the command," Shay says.
He worries that military doctors are telling commanders, in effect, "'If you want me to get this kid out quickly, I'll do it. It doesn't matter how much I have to bend my own conscience or bend the facts to do it.'"
NPR submitted requests to five spokesmen at the Pentagon and U.S. Army to interview a top official about these issues. These requests were not granted.
Medical specialists who reviewed the statistics stress that the Army's numbers don't prove that commanders are getting rid of soldiers who developed mental-health problems in the war. But they say the figures should prompt the military to do much more research.

HMMMMM...

Check out this article on the big Dick.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

QUOTE FOR TODAY

"Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
life in your pants and forgetting
it's there and sitting down"

—e. e. cummings from "Humanity i love you" (thanks to "the kid")

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

EITHER YOU GET IT OR YOU DON'T

From the McClatchy Newspapers wire:

"Did Bill Clinton have sex with that woman? Is Elvis Presley really dead? Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear do his ablutions in the woods? Is waterboarding torture?

The answer to all of these questions, put simply, is yes.

All of Judge Michael Mukasey's artful dodging and word play to avoid acknowledging the obvious to the august members of Senate Judiciary Committee does nothing to change the fact.

When you hog-tie a human being, tilt him head down, stuff a rag in his mouth and over his nostrils and pour water onto the rag slowly and steadily to the point where his lungs fill with water and he's suffocating and drowning, that is torture.

Four decades ago in the field in Vietnam, I saw a suspected Viet Cong waterboarded by South Vietnamese Army troops. The American Army advisers who were attached to the Vietnamese unit turned their backs and walked away before the torture began. It was then a Vietnamese affair and something they couldn't be associated with.

The victim was taken to the edge of death. His body was wracked with spasms as he fought for air. The soldier holding the five-gallon kerosene tin filled with muddy water from a nearby stream kept pouring it slowly onto the rag, and the victim desperately sucking for even a little air kept inhaling that water instead.

It seemed to go on forever. Did the suspect talk? I'm sure he did. I'm sure he told his torturers whatever he thought they wanted to hear, whether it was true or not. But I didn't see the end of it because one of the American advisers came to me and told me I had to leave; that I couldn't watch this interrogation, if that's what it was, any longer.

That adviser knew that water torture was torture; he knew that it was outlawed by the Geneva Convention; he knew that he couldn't be a part to it; and he knew that he didn't want me to witness such brutality.

Every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee knows that waterboarding is torture, even the majority who voted to send Judge Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general, America's chief law enforcement official, to the floor for a vote.

Waterboarding was torture when it was used during the Spanish Inquisition; it was torture when it was used on Filipino rebels during the 1890s; it was torture when the Japanese Army used it on prisoners in World War II; it was torture when it was used by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; and it's torture when CIA officers or others use it on terrorists.

When George W. Bush was the governor of Texas, the state investigated, indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison for 10 years a county sheriff who, with his deputies, had waterboarded a criminal suspect. That sheriff got no pardon from Gov. Bush.

Waterboarding is torture in the eyes of all civilized peoples, no matter how desperately President George W. Bush tries to rewrite the English language, with which he has only a passing familiarity, anyway. No matter how desperately his entire administration tries to redefine the word "torture" to cover the fact that not only have they acquiesced in its use, but they also have ordered its use.

The president, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their cronies and legal mouthpieces such as David Addington, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales are doing all they can to avoid one day facing the bar of justice, at home or in The Hague, and being called to account for crimes against humanity.

They want a blank check pardon, and they'll continue searching for attorneys general and judges and justices and senators and members of Congress who'll hand them their stay-out-of-jail-free cards.

As they squirm and wriggle and lie and quibble and cut deals with senators, they claim that "harsh interrogation methods" are necessary to prevent another 9/11. But as terrified as they are by terrorists, they also fear that one day they may be treated no better than some fallen South American dictator or Cambodian despot or hapless Texas sheriff; that they might not be able to leave a guarded, gated compound in Dallas or Crawford, a ranch in New Mexico or the shores of Chesapeake Bay for fear of arrest and extradition.

No more shopping trips to Paris. No vacations on the Costa Brava. No interludes on some billionaire buddy's yacht in the Caribbean. No jetting around the world making speeches to fat cats at $1 million a pop like other former presidents. Even Canada would be off-limits.

Now the Democrats, or some of them, are conspiring with them to seat an attorney general who will help facilitate the ever more frantic search for ex post facto immunity for their crimes. Shame on them! There's such a thing as too loyal an opposition; too cowardly an opposition; too craven an opposition.

Waterboarding is torture. Decent people have acknowledged that for centuries. We sent Japanese war criminals to the gallows for using it. We sent a Texas sheriff to prison for using it. One day, an ex-president and those who helped him and those he ordered to torture fellow human beings may have to plea bargain for their lives and their freedom."

—Joseph L. Galloway | McClatchy Newspapers

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

TED BERRIGAN ON DEATH

"The heart stops briefly when someone dies,
a quick pain as you hear the news, & someone passes
from your outside life to inside. Slowly the heart adjusts
to its new weight, & slowly everything continues, sanely."

—Ted Berrigan from "Things to do in Providence"

Monday, November 12, 2007

A DEATH IN THE FAMILY

My sweet brother—the one I always refer to in my writing as “my brother the priest”—who I took to the last reunion his high school class of 1943 will ever have, only weeks ago, passed away on Sunday, while I was in Maryland for a reading at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, at which so many old friends were present, among them the poets Doug Lang, Tina Darragh, and Lynne Dreyer, as well as Terence Winch, at whose home not only me, but my sons—one with his wife and son, the other my little one—all stayed with Terence and his wife and son, my heart was full, so much so that it only took an overwhelmingly humbling introduction by another poet, E. Ethelbert Miller, to bring the tears to my eyes, me, not often humbled by praise, if ever, and then tears actually fell when I read a poem about my father and Jackie Robinson, and another about my first love Bambi, both gone, while my littlest one and my grandson sat on the floor before the podium, at the feet of two nieces and their spouses, who were keeping the news from me until I was done reading and signing books and the audience had dispersed.

And then they told me to call my sister, the only one I have left, and she told me. A surprise and not a surprise. He had not been well, but not so much that I thought this would happen so soon. But he went on his time, ready to go, in his bed in the retirement home for old Franciscans, after asking the nurse to turn off the TV around dawn, a TV that wasn’t on, my nieces saying that was the angels in the room, come to take him where he longed to be, my sister saying it was our long gone parents and our siblings that have passed.

There were seven of us born to our parents, six growing up and making it to adulthood. Three left now, missing the oldest one tonight. But as my friend Terence said, quoting an old Irishman in a story he told me I half heard, but got the gist of: “Well, he’s got that tough job behind him now.”

Friday, November 9, 2007

OBAMA

He’s reminding me of Adlai Stevenson, who, when I was a kid, was the Democrats nominee against Eisenhower.

I dug Stevenson, and not only because my old man was a functionary in the Essex County Democratic machine, but because I was a smart kid and Stevenson seemed like the smartest guy out there in politics to me at the time.

But he was up against a genuine hero, who was packaged smartly and a campaign to denigrate Stevenson’s intellectual image.

The Republicans, even then, were so good at that kind of stuff, it worked.

Both Stevenson and Ike were bald, but Stevenson had wisps of dark hair above his ears that gave his dome a more egg-like shape, and a less masculine image. Ike’s hair was gray, where he had any, and buzzed enough to give him the appearance of a completely shaven head, ala the genies in old Hollywood movies and cartoons, or men old enough to be your grandfather.

When you coupled that with his smile, which all the campaign photos did, he seemed not only benevolent and harmless, i.e. not scary, but also familiar and friendly and familial. That could’ve left him seeming too nice for the fear-filled early Cold War years of the 1950s, but behind the grandfatherly smile was the hero who won the Second World War, which nobody was allowed to forget, if they even could.

Meanwhile, Stevenson was talking about policy and liberal ideals and often complicated and deeply intellectual considerations to be made in such troubled times. But there was no image created to convey what made him familiar or friendly or familial.

It was in the interest of working people to vote for him, because he represented more their interests, as Democratic candidates almost always do, but a lot of those working people were veterans or families of veterans who often revered Ike as the man who defeated Hitler and ended the war. Maybe they thought he could do the same in the Korean conflict, which wasn’t going so well.

If Stevenson’s professorial air didn’t put those people off, the Republican campaign to depict him as an aloof, out-of-touch-with-the-common-man “egghead” did. Is it a coincidence that the term “ivory tower intellectual” became one of the major epithets in public discourse at the time, or the more common term “egghead” that even kids in my Catholic grammar school would use as a perjorative against anyone smarter than them?

One of the hit songs of that time was Frankie Lyman and The Teenagers singing “I’m Not a Know it All” (“don’t know why the trees are tall, don’t know why there’s morning dew, I only know that I love you…”) and Jo Stafford’s pop hit “Come down, come down, from your ivory tower.” I forget what the title of that tune was, but the lyrics made it clear that ivory tower intellectuals were unfeeling.

Stevenson was obviously a compassionate and highly intelligent man. But what the Republicans projected onto him, the public bought to a large extent, as they did the same for Ike. In fact, Ike was known for his incredible temper, while Stevenson was known for his gracious and often bemused tact and diplomacy, as well as kindness.

But if Obama were to somehow miraculously overcome Hilary’s momentum and end up the nominee in a race against Guilliani, it might look a lot like the Stevenson-Esienhower contest.

Rudy would be cast as the 9/11 hero, with the friendly smile and honestly masculine bald dome (despite his cross dressing tendencies and equally renowned temper, etc.) who is tough enough to defeat our enemies but warm and friendly enough to beam a toothy smile at the camera and wear a dress as a bravely funny party gesture.

Obama would be cast as the aloof professor, out of touch with the realities of the common man, which oddly enough could work among both black and white voters, since many whites could interpret that projection through their latent or blatant racism without having to feel like they were letting race determine the issue, and many blacks could do it through a filter of class and racial background gradation (and how “black” or “white” your African-American characteristics are).

In an odd way, a similar thing is already happening in the contest between Barak and Hilary, where she is cast as the more macho one, in terms of supporting the military and extreme defensive measures for national security etc., as well as seen as one of the heroes of the Clinton era who kept the forces of whatever evils plagued us then at bay, helping to preside over one of the longest periods of peace and prosperity, as well as government surpluses, in our history.

I don’t think there’s any way now to reverse those images, as they are becoming more and more set with each debate and the subsequent media frenzy to capitalize on any and all perceived differences in their stances and images.

If it does, as they are now predicting, come down to Rudy vs. Hilary, then Hilary will be cast as the aloof, unfeeling, out of touch with the realities of the common person’s life intellectual, and Rudy as the smiling tough guy, the hero with a heart and the common touch.

Either way, the Democrats are going to have to do a much better job at what the Republicans have been doing well since Ike, i.e. creating the terms and images on which the contest will be determined.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

TV LIST

I don’t watch TV shows much, mostly just news, documentaries, or movies. But when I woke up in the middle of the night with some shoulder pain friends tell me sounds like “rotary cuff” stuff, to get back to sleep I decided to make up an alphabet list of some favorite TV shows from over the years (many you’ve probably never heard of or don’t remember because you’re too young, so take my word for it).

ALLEN FREED’S ROCK’N’ROLL PARTY (changed to THE
BIG BEAT when others sued over who invented the term “rock’n’roll” but the man who had more to do with popularizing the music, especially the black creators of it—check out Bo Diddley, Little Richard and Chuck Berry all crediting him in a scene in the documentary Keith Richards did on Berry, HAIL, HAIL, ROCK’N’ROLL—and though it only lasted about a year (1957?) Freed featured a lot of great acts and made a point to have front and center the sexiest girls, but it was the “payola” scandal that brought him down, though he was one of the fairest d.j.s then in terms of introducing new groups of any race so it always seemed to me it was more because us newly minted teenage juvenile delinquents watching the show couldn’t figure out if he was part black or not, and hated white bread Dick Clark and his white bread AMERICAN BANDSTAND)
BIG LOVE
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (one of those shows that makes me uncomfortable when the characters on it do embarrassing things, so I don’t watch it that often, but when I do I’m impressed that it often addresses sticky issues of race and gender and class and other elemental realities rarely brought up on TV shows)
DEADWOOD (yeah, I’ve been on a few of the shows on this list, but that’s not why I like them, since I’ve been on tons more I would never put on a “favorites” list)
ED SULLIVAN SHOW, THE (not always great but always interesting and sometimes historic, e.g. The Beatles first appearance)
FRANK SINATRA SHOW, THE (this show had two different runs, one in the early 1950s and one in the late ‘50s. The first one didn’t last long, it aired during Sinatra’s troubled times when his star had faded and he was seen more as a has been and joke than the icon he became or the teen idol he’d been, but still, as a kid I watched it every week to hear the man sing, and not only because he was a Jersey boy who gave me hope that I too could transcend my origins without forgetting them, but because I dug his musicianship and that of the guests he had on. The later one everybody loves now, because film clips from it show how spectacular the performances were on that one after he made his comeback and was well on track to becoming the most famous singer, and swinger, the world has ever known)
GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW, THE (I wasn’t entirely crazy about the show, but was about Gracie Allen, who was the funniest comic on TV for my taste as a kid)
HONEYMOONERS, THE
I LOVE LUCY
JACKIE GLEASON SHOW, THE (“The Honeymooners” was originally a sketch on this variety show that showcased Gleason’s enormous talents, no pun intended) and JOHNNY STACCATO (late 1950s pseudo-crime show with John Cassavettes as a hipster who solves or resolves sticky situations, probably only lasted one season, but I can still picture scenes from it in my mind, it had that kind of impact, because it was the coolest show I ever saw on TV outside of documentaries on jazz greats)
K?
LEONARD BERNSTEIN (I’m not sure what his show was called, but it came from Carnegie Hall and he’d use the New York Philharmonic to sample pieces of classical music as he explained, in a very erudite way, even though meant for kids, what the composer was trying to accomplish and how the instruments were used, etc. I would sit and watch it in black and white, fascinated, after working all afternoon in my old man’s home maintenance business, while my mother yelled for me to come to the kitchen table for dinner and I couldn’t turn it off)
MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN (may be my all time favorite TV show)
NORTHERN EXPOSURE and NYPD BLUE
OUR MISS BROOKS (I loved Eve Arden’s brand of sarcasm, one of the few comic actors whose use of a writer’s irony didn’t turn me off)
PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE (from 1980s downtown punk scene to TV!)
QUIZ KIDS
ROOTIE KAZOOTIE (when every other redblooded “American” kid was watching Howdy Doody back in the early 1950s, those of us with a little more edge to our taste, were digging Rootie, with his sideways baseball cap, sort of early wooden Flavor Flave)
SOPRANOS, THE (I thought this show was more flawed than many fans and critics did, but I never doubted its impact and importance, and some of the incredible performances) and THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH STEVE ALLEN (a man I always admired, though some jaded hipsters seemed unimpressed with his piano playing behind Kerouac’s famous appearance reading from ON THE ROAD, Allen was actually a solid piano player and great songwriter, as well as a very funny and intelligent guy who defined late night hip TV before anyone else, he invented it, and when was the last time any other late night TV show had a poet or novelist read for several minutes to the audience on their show live!?)
UNTOUCHABLES, THE (I didn’t really love this show, but the few times I caught it I got that Robert Stack’s weird stiffness and seeming disdain for what he was doing leant it this surreal quality that made it seem kind of German expressionist, if anyone can see what I mean)
VAUGHN MONROE SHOW, THE (bet nobody remembers that one, but he was big in my house as a kid, my older teenage sisters dug him, a 1940s style crooner with big ears, and I dug him too, or at least his voice)
WAGON TRAIN (hey, a Western show with Ward Bond on TV, good enough for me)
XAVIER CUGAT SHOW (another show from the ‘50s that was silly on the surface, but the Latin music wasn’t bad, and the women knew how to keep a viewer engaged, either Carmen Miranda with her comic version of the Latin hottie, or the less talented but much foxier young wife of Cugat who could just stand there and get my attention)
YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS (Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca were the funniest comedy team ever)
ZANE GREY THEATER (what can I say, I always loved Westerns)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

MICHAEL KORDA, SUSAN CHEEVER AND JENNIFER EGAN

I was fortunate enough to read with all of the above last night up in Harrison, New York—two stops after Larchmont on the New Haven line—in a series called SPOKEN INTERLUDES created and run by DeLaune Michel.

Usually I’m asked to read my poetry, but this series is for writers of prose, so when asked what I’d be reading from, rather than naming some prose piece in my two books from Black Sparrow press (IT’S NOT NOSTALGIA and IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE), I decided to read from a memoir I’m working on, thinking that might force me to get more work done on it than otherwise.

It turned out to be a unique experience for me, which is saying a lot, since I’ve read at and attended thousands and thousands of readings all over the world since the 1950s (!). But I never encountered this format.

People paid thirty dollars for a very good dinner in a back room of a very nice restaurant (Trinity Grill & Bar) that they enjoyed from 6 to 7:30. Then Delaune stepped up onto a riser with a lectern and microphone to introduce the first reader, with no fanfare, just the name, in this case Susan Cheever.

What she did, as we were all asked to do, was make a few remarks about her latest book, AMERICAN BLOOMSBURY, then read a few pages from it, and then take a few questions.

It’s a great format, almost like watching an author at work. She talked about her interest in “genius clusters”—like “the Founding Fathers” or the “Bloomsbury group” or in the case of her book “the Concord group” which she pointed out, in response to questions from the audience, had more authors than Bloomsbury, and was the result of basically one man’s efforts, Ralph Waldo Emerson, because he provided the living quarters and in some cases the financial support for people like Thoreau and Hawthorne to do their work.

The audience was mostly middle aged and older, fifty or sixty people, almost all “white” if I noticed accurately, attentive, with smart questions that inspired terrific responses.

It worked so well for me, I couldn’t wait to read the book. And then it was my turn. Since the only recent book I had for sale there (through the local Borders, which had a table at the event) was MARCH 18, 2003, a long poem, and I was reading prose from an unpublished, unfinished, unedited manuscript, the format actually made me more at ease than I normally would be in taking such a risk.

I meant it to be risky, to make me think about what I was writing, and to be ready to test it and maybe fail at capturing and keeping the attention of such an aware crowd. But because I could explain a lot of that and then read a little and then answer questions regarding what I had read, delving even deeper into where I mean to go with this book (or books), it made me more alert and responsive to the audience even than I usually am.

It felt great, except I walked off the stage too quickly when I was finished, pulling out the lapel mic used for the recordings that will eventually be found on the web site for SPOKEN INTERLUDES.

Next was Jennifer Egan, a strikingly attractive woman. I’m not good at guessing ages, especially of women, but she was definitely the youngest in this crowd of writers.

She read from THE KEEP, a kind of updated gothic style novel, and surprised me by having her characters use the kind of foul language some (okay a lot) of my writing has often been noted for, but I was sure not to use with this crowd. But she looked beautiful reading it, so no one took offense I’m sure, if anyone even still does at that kind of thing.

She made a very interesting point in the Q&A, when asked about a remark she’d made in introducing her reading of a few pages from her novel, about how these times connect to the gothic period. She made it clear she had no theory she was pushing or she wouldn’t have written a novel, but that it occurred to her on a visit to a castle in Belgium, that particularly impacted her (she’d often visited castles elsewhere before that) that the way people walk around with “their blackberries, waiting for it” to communicate some message from the ether, so to speak (not her words exactly, but the idea) is similar to the gothic mind set, waiting for, and expecting, the unseen to communicate personally and individually.

Michael Korda was the final reader, and immediately showed himself to be the star of the evening by his forceful presentation. I was the only one of the authors who ever made a living as a professional actor, but Korda was the most actorly in his presentation, using his voice like an orator of old, rolling his well built sentences off his tongue as if proclaiming lines from Shakespeare.

Just the way he used his voice, and presence at the podium, made the importance of what he was reading plain. And it worked. I was totally impressed and enlightened, with facts I had known and not know so precisely, about Eisenhower, hitting me as if I were just learning them for the first time.

And he put them together in a way that suddenly made clear the truth of his basic premise, that Ike was a lot more than most of us remember, among the few who still do. In fact, as the subtitle of his book puts it, IKE: AN AMERICAN HERO, Korda claims for his subject a place among the greatest figures in our history, making a good case for why he was our greatest general, along with Grant, and one of our most prescient presidents, warning not only against “the military-industrial complex” which he helped create in order to win WWII, but against going to war in Viet Nam (though Korda didn’t mention that it was Ike that got us involved there in the first place, or his administration, though at first only financially) and clearly and adamantly warned against any kind of military involvement in any Arab state (even though again, not mentioned by Korda, under Ike, some forceful meddling was done in, among other areas, Iran).

In answering some questions after he read, Korda, who is also an editor (and edited Cheever’s AMERICAN BLOOMSBURY, coming up with the original title of AMERICAN PARNASSUS, but the sales department shot that title down) talked about writing and editing, with √©lan and clarity and frankness.

He even went so far as to state unequivocally that in his mind the two greatest books in America’s history are MOBY DICK in fiction, and Grant’s PERSONAL MEMOIRS in nonfiction.

It was a totally stimulating evening that went by too quickly, with such great food, great writing, great give and take among audience and authors. I was grateful and humbled to have been a part of it, and highly recommend all the authors and their books to you.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

SPREADING DEMOCRACY

Cool. The neo-cons who shaped the invasion of Iraq and the policy of “preemptive strike” and the justification of “spreading democracy” can now chalk up another score for the big “D” in Pakistan, where Musharif has declared emergency marshal law and suspended the constitution as he rounds up any opposition to his regime and blacks out independent TV.

Hmmm… Let’s see, does the world have more democracy (or “freedom” for that matter) since they started running the show or less? Can you guess?

And yet, McCain and Rudy and other Republicans (except for Rue Paul, I mean Ron, or what’s his name again?) have top neo-cons among their top advisors, so should any of them win in 2008, we can see more wars (if we don’t attack Iran before then, we certainly will if Rudy gets elected) for spreading “democracy”—and I will take bets from anyone on whether any Republican administration ends up with more democracies in the world they inherit (more or less as kingpins of the dominant power in the world, more or less) than when they took over.

We already know that score for the Bush Jr. administration. It pretty much matches their score for everything else—largest surplus in the history of the country turned into the largest deficit in the history of the country, etfuckingcetera.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

NOT PERFECT 2

The best sound bite to come out of the Democratic debate the other night, was Joe Biden’s comment about how Rudy G. has only one thing to say—a noun, a verb, and 9/11.

Naturally, I’d like a champion to represent me in the White House, and in the race for same, someone who will articulate and represent my own ideas and ideals, and fight to see them realized.

But there ain’t no one out there and never has been who personifies everything I believe in, just aspects of that. So, as I have grown more mature, I accept the imperfections of candidates and look to the one who I most agree with and who most looks like they can get the job done.

I think a lot of other, especially older, folks feel the same way, after seeing Nadar idealists cost Gore the electoral-college-proof victory that should have been his against what we ended up with, or Humphrey lose to Nixon and another catastrophic (for the world not just us) administration.

So the ganging up on Hillary seemed ill-advised and self-defeating. Statements like Biden’s is what those of us who would like to insure that a Republican doesn’t take the White House in 2008 would like to see more of.

Democratic debates that take accurate, succinct, and damaging aim at the Republican frontrunners would work to keep the chances of a Democrat getting into office in ’08 alive. Ganging up on the Democratic frontrunner at this stage of the game, to my mind, just supplies more ammunition (as if they needed it) to the Republicans, and diminishes the stature of all the Democratic frontrunners.

Hillary’s straddling of controversial issues or flexing of her national security bona fides to convince independents and even right-wingers that she isn’t the devil may be misguided (the hypocrisy the latter display in demonizing her is so typical of the right, turning her into the embodiment of everything they fear and despise when she is actually a lot of the things they claim to hold dear, a dedicated and practicing Christian who supports her husband no matter what and stays in one marriage and works hard to make it work etc.).

And it might not be what I want her, or any other candidate representing my interests and beliefs, to be doing, but neither is Obama’s professorial, rambling wordiness (when he appeared in my hometown recently, observers said he sounded like John Kerry, explaining way too much and with only sporadic fire or personality injected into his explanations), or Edwards’ self-righteous sounding proclamations that he’s the only one for real change, etc.

Hillary’s proven she can work with others in the Senate to get things done, even if she has partly achieved that by supporting bills I believe she should have opposed (like the recent one on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard being “terrorists”—though they well might be supporting various violent groups). And she’s certainly as smart, or smarter, than the rest of the boys. And I believe she wants a lot of the same things I want, in terms of health care, the environment, and human rights etc.

She may be a little too beholden to corporations, but on the other hand, her and Bill’s success at turning their experiences into million dollar book deals and other financial gains might make it possible for her as president to not depend on corporate sponsorship. Though if that were the case, why isn’t she more aggressive in the Senate at curtailing the ridiculous tax exemptions and legal exemptions corporations have managed to get even more of from this administration, with the support of the Congress.

The reality I’m concerned with is who can win. And if, as some Democrats and others believe, Hillary is too “polarizing” to win, than why isn’t Obama too wordy to win, or Edwards’ too self-righteous, or Kucenich (sp.?) too marginalized and eccentric to win, etc.

Every Democrat should be taking every opportunity to call out every devious illegal unethical bullying dishonest unconstitutional clandestine self-serving democracy-destroying word and deed this administration and its Senate and Congressional lackeys have carried out over the past seven years.

And if Hillary is ahead in the polls and winning more people to her, they should be happy about that, and do all they can to make it clear why they might be the better choice on the merits, not on—as she correctly pointed out to Tim Russert (how does he get to be the inquisitor of Democratic “liberals” and “progressives” when his record shows an obvious bias against them, and when he’s not even a journalist or impartial observer?!)—on the political game of “gotcha.”

She ain’t perfect, I agree. But she’s closer to what I’m looking for than any Republican running for their nomination. (I’m sure you’ve read that Rudy’s advisor, famous neo-con theorist Norman Podhoretz, is calling for immediate military action against Iran, etc. ad nauseum.)

I know a lot of my friends support Obama or Edwards over Hillary, but take a good look at how they’ve run their campaigns so far—not well. That has to say something about how they would run their administrations, in the face of the constant right-wing Republican attacks and sabotage that they will inevitably face.

The great thing about Bill, was that he could play hardball with those guys and beat them at their own game. He wasn’t perfect either, and I‘m not talking about his personal life, but he and Hillary are seasoned in the struggles against “the vast rightwing conspiracy” that is and has been a reality for many decades, and have confronted and defeated it in various skirmishes and battles along the way, which is more than Edwards or Obama have done (if only the latter had lived up to the promise of his awe-inspiring convention speech, instead of constantly trying to prove his experience and gravitas by seemingly endlessly “holding forth” monotonously on the details of his policy perspectives).

I believe Hillary is best suited to accomplishing more of the things I am fighting for than the other guys, until they show me differently. In the meantime, I think they should lay off her, rekindle the fire in their opposition to the right-wing Republicans and what that group has stood for and done, and find ways to express their beliefs as succinctly and smartly as Biden has done on occasion (on too many other occasions unfortunately he has put his foot in his mouth).

Many of the other Democratic candidates may more perfectly reflect my ideals and goals, but they don’t articulate them under fire any better than Hillary does hers, and often come off seeming less on top of their game than she does. (Though there were obvious missteps on her part in the debate the other night, she still held her own and often seemed smarter and more clear about her ideals and ideas for achieving them than her opponents did.)

Well, as they say, “more will be revealed.”