Thursday, February 28, 2008

JOE LOUIS AND PETE SEEGER

I stumbled on documentaries about the lives of each of these icons last night, and was overwhelmed with admiration for them, even more than I’d had for them years ago when they were more present in my consciousness.

When I was a kid, Joe Louis was still “the Brown Bomber,” the hero of our nation who had defeated the supposed great specimen of Aryan superiority, Max Schmelling, and saved our nation’s honor.

As I grew older, I knew of his tax troubles and his reputation for having supposedly squandered his wealth. And in the “revolutionary” 1960s, I was more than aware of his being viewed as an “Uncle Tom” (called that by Cassius Clay even before he became Ali, if I remember correctly).

But I always admired the guy, because as a kid he was celebrated in song and newsreels and magazines in a way that made him seem like a pretty humble and decent champion of all the people.

The documentary on his life that I stumbled on (I think it was on HBO) made the point that long before Jackie Robinson “broke the color barrier” in sports, Joe Louis did. (Of course Jack Johnson did too, even earlier, but not in the same groundbreaking ultimately unifying way that Louis and Robinson did).

What the film showed was how badly our country treated Louis, who not only became a symbol of African-American hope and pride, but also of our entire nation’s stand against Hitler and the Nazis and all they stood for.

He was “America’s champion”—for most whites just as much as he was the champion of black Americans. And when WWII broke out, at the height of his fame and money-earning power, he voluntarily joined the service and donated his time and money to defeating our enemies (already having begun donating all the proceeds of his fights to the fight against fascism, and then paying out of his own pocket for various entertainments and services for fellow enlisted men and draftees, etc. etc.)

Despite the fact that the armed services were still segregated, and he was treated like a second-class citizen, and that when the war was over and he returned to civilian life, the I.R.S. hounded him and compounded the interest on overdue taxes until the amount became insurmountable.

He withstood the humiliation of fighting long past his prime, just so the I.R.S. could come and confiscate the gate to pay part of the interest on his overdue taxes. He endured ridicule for his stint in “professional wrestling” and for various appearances and endorsements and uncomfortable attempts at an extremely self-conscious singing and dancing routine, but nonetheless gave it his best shot—all to pay the bills and the I.R.S.

But he also continued to stand up for his race. I had no idea, but learned from this documentary, that he was the first African-American to play in a PGA tournament. He fought the PGA leadership at the time—which had a prohibition on non-whites playing in any of their golf competitions—and got them to change their policy, opening up professional golf to black Americans.

I was also touched by the loyalty of his friends, including Frank Sinatra, who never forgot that when Louis was on top, still an icon, Sinatra asked him to join him in a show and offered ten thousand for Louis’s appearance, but because they were friends, Louis refused the money and did the gig for free.

Sinatra never forgot and made sure Louis never went hungry or homeless or without.

I don’t know, maybe it’s my age or my being a sentimental Irishman, but this film moved me deeply, and made me reassess my image of Louis and his importance in our history, not our sports history, but our cultural and political and social history. He was much more of a major figure in 20th Century “America” than I realized, and his story should be more widely known.

As should Pete Seeger’s. I thought I knew his story too, but the documentary on his life I caught on the local PBS station made me not only remember what I loved about the guy back in the day, but why he is such a giant figure in our history as well.

He almost single-handedly made music a major part of our political history and made folk music a popular movement and a common ingredient in all kinds of political and social and commemorative gatherings.

And, like Louis, he’s a decent, humble, principled guy, who too was hounded by our government only to be exonerated seventeen years after being banned from TV and radio. He never changed his position toward the government’s inquiries into his political beliefs and activities, standing on the principle that his vote and his beliefs were his personal business, not the government’s.

He too volunteered for service in WWII, but unlike Louis, Seeger never enjoyed or needed “the good life” that money and fame can bring. He built his home in the countryside of upstate New York, a cabin in the wilderness, where he and his wife raised their family (he now performs with one of his grandchildren) and well into his eighties is still spry and in good voice.

At the height of his fame and success, as a member of The Weavers, who had the giant hit of my boyhood “Goodnight Irene” (my mother’s and one of my sister’s names, so very popular in our house), he walked away from a weekly television show because he didn’t want to be indebted or controlled by the sponsor of the show (in those days most shows had one sponsor who made sure the product was pitched and censored anything that might offend consumers of that product, etc.).

At a time of life when most people have either settled into routine, or are going through some kind of midlife crisis, Seeger made a promise to his kids that by the time they were grown the Hudson River that they grew up by, would be clean enough to swim in.

He made that promise when the river was a toxic sewer. Everyone he talked to about cleaning it up said it was impossible, that the corporations that lined its banks and were the main source of the pollution would never change their ways and that the government would never make them.

But he built a beautiful sloop to cruise the river in. He figured it would attract people who’d want to get a closer look at the boat, and when they did, he’d start singing and get them singing (the thing he is best at and displays his humility most, that he cannot give a concert, whether to two people or two hundred thousand, without getting them to sing along with him) and slip in some lyrics about cleaning up the river.

And sure enough, he proved the naysayers wrong. Not by force, not through connections, not by the use of any political or financial power, just through the music and his personal example.

Kind of reminds me a bit of Obama’s power to move an audience and set an example, not perfectly and not through music, but through the power of belief, that an overwhelming, seemingly impossible change can occur, if you get people to believe in it and take action on it and persuade others to do the same.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

THE OLD DOUBLE STANDARD

Or triple or more—

—in the debate last night between Hilary and Barak, a debate which proved them both smart and not that far apart on the major issues, but for my taste proved him the more capable of actually achieving their shared goals, as well as the ones he disagrees with her on.

He’s already proven with his organizational efforts on the ground that he’s a capable and experienced leader, since his campaign should have been knocked out of the box right from the start by the supposedly far superior and obviously more experienced campaign organization of the Clintons.

But he’s also gotten better at articulating what makes him more capable of fulfilling his goals than she is of fulfilling hers, his capacity for unifying disparate factions and his ability to transcend the usual political partisan pettiness in order to create a more inspiring vision for getting things done.

As the beneficiary of the research of others, it has also become clear to me that the Senate records of Clinton and Obama clearly display their different approaches and which one is more effective.

Obama has co-sponsored many bills, some even with Clinton, in many areas of concern to me and I assume a lot of you—from keeping the administration from using the authorization to fight Iraq as an umbrella to attack Iran, to requirements for better fuel efficiency and other energy concerns, to addressing the mortgage crisis.

As one researcher pointed out in an article reprinted on E. Ethelbert Miller’s blog recently, for whatever reason, several of Hilary’s major proposed bills are sponsored only by her, whereas all of Obama’s are co-sponsored by a wide range of other Senators, including sometimes Hilary, and he has been more successful getting some of them passed than she has.

So I am convinced he will make the better president, accomplish more and do it more graciously, and truly be the unifier Bush Junior said he’d be and then turned out the opposite, and Hilary and McCain are obviously having a difficult time being.

But what my title for this post is about is something else that came up in the debate, the idea that Barak gets some kind of free ride in the media (if so, where are the articles touting his many accomplishments and his more than twenty years of public service and sacrifice to help others, etc.) and then he’s the one who gets confronted with the support of Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Black Muslims and a man who has in the past made a handful of comments that are anti-Jewish.

After the horrors of WWII, when it is estimated over six million European Jews were deliberately murdered, any form of anti-Jewish sentiment should be condemned and guarded against, lest it lead to anything remotely resembling that monstrous injustice.

But—so should other kinds of commentary and actions that support and/or encourage hatred and even violence against any group.

Because, as us history buffs know, there were six million other kinds of people who were also killed by the Nazis, one group of which—“Gypsies” or Romany people—were almost entirely eliminated throughout a huge swath of Europe, but have had no memorials built to their memory, or movies made about their plight, etc. etc. (nor much done about their continued oppression in some Eastern European countries where they remain second-class citizens etc.)

I am not denigrating nor minimizing the damage and destruction done to Jews by the Nazis, and by other anti-Jewish progroms, such as were carried out in Russia and other places.

But if Obama has to “reject” the endorsement of Louis Farrakhan because he has made anti-Jewish statements, actually anti-the-Jewish-religion statements, what of the basic tenets of the Black Muslim faith as it was preached when I was a young man, in which all “whites” were seen as less than human “devils” and the descendants of dogs, etc.

And what about the support of Mitt Romney from his fellow Mormons who up until 1978 believed that “blacks” were less than human and not able to ascend to their version of heaven, and who even now gather birth and death data on all of our ancestors in order to re-baptize (actually their ritual isn’t exactly “baptism”) their departed souls into the Mormon faith. I find that particularly offensive, the arrogance of it and the sneakiness of it. But I didn’t hear any questions to Romney about that, let alone other tenets of his faith that I find offensive.

And what about Bush Junior’s and other Republicans endorsements by religious fundamentalists who have said much harsher things about “gays and lesbians” or about Catholics (remember when Junior spoke at Bob Jones University while the school’s website and founder still referred to the Pope as “the anti-Christ” and “Satan”?).

Bill Clinton was the first president to not side with the Brits against the Irish Catholics of Northern Ireland in their struggle for equal rights, so why wasn’t every other presidential candidate before and since Bill Clinton questioned about their support of policies that oppressed and even murdered “my people?”

And what about all the anti-male remarks from many prominent women who support Hilary? She should have to reject them. Etc. etc.

Okay, okay, you say, that’s still not as bad as what happened to the Jewish Europeans in WWII. True. Little besides the way the Nazis also went after Gypsies and “gays” and “Communists” can compare with what happened to European Jews then.

But that doesn’t excuse what happened to Palestinians who weren’t Jewish, after the creation of Israel, and during it, and since. Yes, I condemn Hamas and their supporters lobbing bombs into Israel, and suicide bombers that blow up innocent civilians in Israel, children and old folks and anyone for that matter. I condemn any violence, other than in self-defense, but even that becomes questionable as an excuse for it.

Obviously Hamas and its supporters claim self-defense, because Israel, on our dime, is able to overwhelm the Palestinians with military might, which has meant keeping Palestinians from returning to or reclaiming land taken from them by Israel, being subjected to the time consuming humiliation of passing through checkpoints to get from their homes to their fields or to their relatives or to the doctor or wherever, while Israeli settlers are escorted and protected as they drive down newly built roads with no hindrances to and from settlements on land taken from Palestinians, etc.

And it’s true the Israeli military often targets (also in what it considers “self-defense”) precisely just those militants who take part in attacks on Israel, but they sometimes miss and kill scores of innocent civilians, children and babies and pregnant young mothers and old ladies and men, etc. So why shouldn’t the support of those in the American Jewish community that support Israel’s actions against the Palestinians and others, also be questioned in these debates?

We all know the answer to that. There are not a lot of Palestinian-American organizations making major contributions to political parties and campaigns, or coordinating policy agreements and military and monetary support etc. for their cause.

I don’t begrudge the so-called “Israel lobby” in this country, or its success. We Irish-Americans mostly ignored the troubles in Northern Ireland or if we followed them and were concerned, either didn’t know what to do about it or contributed to organizations that often ended up financing IRA violence (claimed to be “self-defense” as well).

But I do begrudge the double and multiple standards shown by the media, in the debates and out of them, that decries the support of anyone who has badmouthed the Jewish faith or community but ignores the support of those who have badmouthed other communities just as sensitive if not as well organized.

And by the way, the big fear in Israel is that Arabs will at some point outnumber Jews even there (as they are a much faster growing population, which is true everywhere, not just in Israel). But because of the Nazi atrocities, Israel has many defenders around the world, and particularly among U. S. politicians, who support a government that does all it can to preserve the dominance of the Jewish faith and of those who identify as Jews in a part of the world where that becomes more and more problematic.

But this is true around the world. Ireland, because of the economic boom that’s been going on there since the 1980s, is having its own debate about the nature of Irish citizenship, since the country has been overwhelmed with immigrants from Eastern Europe (from what I hear most churches in Ireland now have Masses in Polish and all church literature printed in Ireland now is published in both English and Polish) and from elsewhere (as Irish friends and relatives point out, there are many “people of color” in the small towns of the West of Ireland where before there were none, a development I find positive, but not everyone there does, not because of “racism,” which may be some people’s motivation, but mostly because of the fear that Ireland is losing it’s particular character and unique culture to some globalized hybrid, etc.).

And similar situations, as we know, are occurring and increasing in England, Italy, Japan, and many other countries whose “native” populations are diminishing while that of immigrants is growing. It’s what the Serbs are raging about in our recognition of Kosovo, an area that the Serbs once thought of as their ancestral homeland but are now a minority in, as the mostly Islamic Albanian population has outgrown them, etc.

There are well-intentioned people on all sides of these issues, as there are ill-intentioned ones. We need someone with the calm assurance Obama has developed to take the lead in addressing these and other 21st century issues, and with his experience as someone who is a product of these developments. I must admit, I have some hope it can be done, or at least begun, with him in the oval office.

CHECK THIS OUT

Thanks to Terence Winch for passing this link on. (It should probably say "white women in art" and many of my favorites are missing, but even so, it's pretty mesmerizing.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

YOU GOTTA BE KIDDIN’ ME RALPH

The one person most responsible for the past seven and change years of the dark force in charge of our country—Ralph I’m-only-in-it-for-the-ideals Nader—is running again as an independent because—why?

If it isn’t “ego” what is it?

And if you voted for Nader in 2000, and therefore contributed to the Florida debacle that allowed the Bushies to use their connections on the Supreme Court to throw the election, what would be your excuse for voting for him again?

The three candidates still viably in the race—McCain, Obama, and Clinton—all support programs and have made policy statements that often align with and sometimes totally agree with many of Nader’s positions. So why is he in it?

In 2000, he kept trying to make the point that there wasn’t any difference in the two parties, something I too stated when I was young and na├»ve enough to think that if Hubert Humphrey was elected in 1968 and gradually pulled us out of Viet Nam, it wouldn’t make a difference if Nixon was elected and did the same thing. I wanted Eldridge Cleaver for president!

Of course Nixon did more damage than just continuing that war for several more years, he escalated and expanded it and thereby directly cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands more people for a cause that in the end “we” lost! (And the dire consequences that were supposed to ensue never happened, i.e. Viet Nam remained independent of China and is still under the rule of the party we were fighting and spent so much money and human lives trying to defeat and we’re now completely friendly with them! What a @#$%^ waste!).

As well as the other problems created by the Nixon years, and now the Bush Junior years, that may well have been avoided or handled less expensively (in lives and treasure) by Humphrey or Gore.

So whether a Republican or a Democrat is elected makes a big difference. And if anyone votes for Nader, after the calamities of the last seven years, caused in a large part by Nader supporters, they should spend eternity in Dante’s seventh circle of Hell.

PS: Isn’t it interesting that the right-wingers, Republican and otherwise, including some among my friends who leave endless diatribes as “comments” on my blog or the people they’re echoing on rightwing radio and TV, isn’t it interesting that they pretend to stand for specific standards and principles except when they get in the way of grabbing or holding on to power? (i.e. the rightwing Supreme Court justices who constantly argued in favor of states rights against the federal government all of a sudden reverse that principle in the face of Florida’s wanting to continue straightening out the vote count in the Gore-Bush debacle, and in the process also go against majority rule, et-endless-cetra.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

TEN QUICK REACTIONS TO THE OSCARS

1. THE HIGHLIGHT: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova winning best song for their “Falling Slowly.”

2. NEXT BEST MOMENT: Glen Hansard’s acceptance speech for above.

3. THIRD BEST MOMENT: John Stewart bringing Marketa Irglova back out to have her say, because the orchestra cut her off before she could speak.

4. STRANGEST MOMENT: Tilda Swinton acceptance speech for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her one-long-sleeved gown and neon orange hair, saying she was giving it to her agent, without whom she wouldn’t be there, and generally seeming to be in a different world than the rest of Hollywood last night.

5. INTERESTING FACT: Did anyone else notice that none of the winners in all four acting categories came from the U. S.? (Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Colliard, Javier Bordem, and Tilda Swinton).

6. ANOTHER INTERESTING FACT: In the film montage commemorating the deaths in the movie business over the past year, there were more agents and producers and people (men) identified as “executives” and others on the business end of “the business” than all the previous Oscars combined (or so my memory insists), and yet many others, including actors and directors and others on the creative side were left out (e.g. Brad Renfro etc.).

7. THE FILM MONTAGES SUCKED: John Stewart was funny as usual, but the show itself seemed incredibly unexciting because the film montages seemed to be have been made at the last minute by someone who doesn’t particularly like film or montages. Seeing as how the Writers Strike would have made film montages the easiest thing to have produced months ago, that seems odd and strangely self-destructive.

8. BILL CONTI SHOULD RETIRE: Part of the reason the show seemed so slow and unexciting is that Bill Conti’s orchestra conducting was like something out of a bad 1950s variety show. When the strings came up at the end of Hansard and Irglova’s performance of “Falling Slowly” and began to drown them out I wanted to shoot the TV set, since their performance was another HIGHLIGHT of the show, except for the orchestra overwhelming a lovely, true, unique creative moment with loud schmaltz.

9. BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: for me was the Coen brothers winning “best adapted screenplay” over really difficult and much more successful adaptations, like the one for THE BUTTERFLY AND THE DIVING BELL.

10. SMALLER DISAPPOINTMENTS: for me was NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN winning the brothers a directing award and the movie winning best film. The first half of the movie, as I’ve said, was pretty brilliant, but not more so than all other movies last year. And the last third of the flick is so poorly realized… Wouldn’t it have been cool to see LARS AND THE REAL GIRL or THE BUTTERFLY AND THE DIVING BELL or JUNO or other perfectly realized movies win over this flawed attempt at honoring the cynicism that has permeated this country ever since the “dark force” took over almost eight year ago?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

SONGS THAT MAKE ME SMILE

I was driving around the Berkshires a few days ago, scanning radio stations looking for something to listen to when the song “Afternoon Delight” came on. Even though I wasn’t that crazy about it when it first came out, I found myself smiling, and even singing along.

I couldn’t stop grinning.

So last night when I needed something to help me fall back to sleep after being woken up by some loud voices in the alley between my bedroom window and the Indian restaurant next door, I came up with an alphabet list of songs that make me smile when I hear them:

AFTERNOON DELIGHT (Starland Band?)
BLUE MOON (Elvis Presley’s Sun Session version, when he kind of yodels in falsetto)
CLOUDBURST (Lambert, Hendricks & Ross)
DON’T LET IT BOTHER YOU (Fats Waller)
EPISTROPHY (Eric Dolphy on his LAST DATE lp)
FILTHY MCNASTY (Horace Silver’s original recording)
GHOST OF A CHANCE (Thelonious Monk solo)
HARD NEW YORK DAYS (aka SAINTS, by Terence Winch and Celtic Thunder)
I’VE GOT A GAL IN KALAMAZOO (the original Glen Miller band recording)
JUMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY (Count Basie’s version)
KICK OUT THE JAMS (MC5)
LAY IT DOWN (Lonnie Mack)
MY FOOLISH HEART (Bill Evans version on his WALTZ FOR DEBBY lp)
NEARNESS OF YOU, THE (Nat Adderly on his NAT TO THE IVY LEAGUE lp)
OOH CHILD (The Five Stairsteps)
PURE IMAGINATION (from the original Willy Wonka with Gene Wilder)
QUEEN OF THE SLIPSTREAM (Van Morrison)
ROCKY RACCOON (The Beatles)
SO WHAT (from Miles Davis KINDA BLUE lp)
'TIS A GIFT TO BE SIMPLE (the Shaker song incorporated into Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring)
UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LOVE (Barry White and Love Unlimited)
VOLARE OH OH (? Can’t remember his name)
WINDY (The Association)
X?
YOUV’E GOT A FRIEND (Carole Kibng’s vocal on her song)
ZIPPITY-DOO-DAH (Johnny Mercer’s vocal on his tune)

I can think of others as well, but what about you? Any songs that always make you smile when you hear them?

Friday, February 22, 2008

THANKS TO E. ETHELBERT MILLER'S BLOG FOR THIS "QUOTE OF THE DAY"

"The president who came to office with the most glittering array of experiences had served 10 years in the House of Representatives, then became minister to Russia, then serverd 10 years in the Senate, then four years as secretary of state (during a war that enlarged the nation by 33 percent), then was minister to Britain. Then in 1856, James Buchanan was elected president and in just one term secured a strong claim to being ranked as America's worst president. Abraham Lincoln, the inexperienced former one-term congressman, had an easy act to follow."
- George Will (The Washington Post, 2/21/08)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

THREE MORE QUICK QUESTIONS

First a short preface:

My second oldest brother, who we called “Buddy,” and who passed away over a decade ago, was a teenager in the Navy stationed on Okinawa toward the end of WWII, while there was still a battle raging for control of it, between our forces and the Japanese. That was over sixty years ago.
Today, we still have a huge U. S. military presence on that Japanese island, and the locals haven’t wanted us there for a long time. They say our mission is accomplished and we should leave. Especially when one of our troops rapes a local school girl, or robs a local house, or runs over a local citizen while driving under the influence.
But even without those provocations, they think it’s time we left, even though it’s a source of a lot of local income. They’d rather have their land, and autonomy over it, back than have our troops firmly planted in their midst.

1. So my first question is, why do we have so many military installations around the world, especially in places where they are not wanted, while supposedly fighting “a war on terror” in which we have abdicated the initiative to the terrorists in the main battlegrounds of Afghanistan and Pakistan (where the main terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, has been hiding out since 9/11) because of our stretched-thin military and lack of enough troops (as we also did in Iraq until the “surge,” even if Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and had no terrorists until we invaded and made it hospitable to them)?

2. Do Hilary and her campaign managers really think pushing to legitimize her unsanctioned “primary” wins in Michigan and Florida to obtain those delegates—though Obama wasn’t even on the ballots there because the Democratic Party officials proclaimed them off bounds and illegitimate for moving their primaries up, against Party rulings—will win her support among Democrats?

3. Will the Dems be strong enough to run ads featuring McCain’s many flip flops and totally un-presidential presentations (singing “Bomb-bomb-Iran” to the tune of Bar-bar-bra-ann)—and pointing out when their attacks are dishonest or misleading, or be scared off by the media taking the rightwing bait (ala Rush) and making the latest story of McCain’s hypocrisy be about the New York Times rather than his behavior?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

WHY ISN'T SYLVIA SCHUSTER A HOUSEHOLD NAME? PART TWO


My original post on Syl's art has inspired, according to the organizers, a show of her work with the title of my original post (the question up there) as the title of the show. Unfortunately, I found out too late for the opening reception, but the show runs until February 29th, so if you're in Manhattan before then check it out at:

Messineo Art Projects
and Wyman Contemporary
227 West 29th St., 4th floor (#111)
212-414-0827

(hours Tues.-Fri. 11-5pm
Sat. 12-5pm
"and by appointment")

BATHROOM DIVAS

It figures the Canadians would turn the “American Idol” formula into something less mean-spirited, more down-to-earth than glamorous, and yet in the end smarter and classier.

Instead of “pop” singers and performers, “Bathroom Divas” is a show about people who have an itch to sing opera, and enough of a voice and, in some cases, training, to maybe pull it off, with some help from professionals.

Another difference from “Idols,” the judges on “Bathroom Divas” are tough, opinionated, and sometimes cuttingly blunt, but not in the juvenile, nah-nah, Simon whatever-his-name is way. More like professionals can be in any field, but because they are opera lovers as well as professionals they want each contestant to do their best and to help them do it.

I don’t watch “American Idol” but got turned on to it when I was in Georgia recently, and could see what captivates the TV audience—becoming enamored with a contestant and then rooting for them, caught up in the competition, etc.

But the judgments meted out on "American Idol" often seem way too arbitrary, once they get past the contestants obviously chosen to be ridiculed, or exploited for their lack of talent (but, unfortunately for these contestants, genuine ambition and dreams).

That meanness doesn’t appeal to me.

But while staying with my older son and his family in the Berkshires the past few days, I caught this Canadian show, “Bathroom Divas,” on which hundreds of contestants vie for six spots to go to “opera boot camp”—where in the span of a few weeks they get intense coaching, and after five are eliminated, one gets to perform on stage in concert with the Vancouver orchestra.

No “Hollywood” hype and “fame”—just a dream come true for these Opera aspirants.

One of the six finalists is a construction worker who’s never even been to an opera (I had never been to one either until I was into my thirties, and only a few more since then, but enough to see no matter how boring aspects of it can be, the high points are unmatched anywhere else). He’s a working-class guy with a wife and kids, who cried when he made it to the final six. Another is a big, burly, 24-year-old, country-boy hunter, who’s had some vocal training but is undisciplined (he smokes, likes his beers and pulling gags, etc.).

The other four are women, including a mother-daughter pair—the mother 58 and the daughter in her 20s and both of them with incredible voices—a “native-American” Canadian, and a Cher-and-Celine Dion impersonator.

According to the judges, The “Indian” woman has the voice with the most potential, but she’s also the most insecure and has difficulty taking in and acting on the initial lessons.

I can’t believe how into it I got. Mainly because they’re all just working people not trying to get Hollywood fame and fortune and all the glitz and bling that “Americans” seem to think will bring them happiness, no matter how many Owen Wilson, Heath Ledger, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan stories the media covers.

These Canadians would maybe like careers as opera singers. But most of all they seem to just want to be recognized for the power of their voices and the hard work they’ve put into their attempts to sing arias. And they want to learn how to improve and be in the company of people who share their love of opera and have succeeded in some area of the opera world. i.e. the judges—two men and two women, singing coaches and a director, who don’t always agree, and can get adamant about their preferences and criticisms, but always for the love of, and good of, the voices.

And that, in the end, is the most compelling thing about the show, the voices. The reality that the human voice can even achieve the demanding operatic range of pitch and emotion in the first place impresses me. But then to watch as a few lessons and hard work and discipline improve on these natural gifts is mesmerizing.

At least to me.

If you see it listed on your plethora of TV choices (on the TV I was watching it was a channel called “Ovation” which unfortunately I don’t get back in Jersey, a big disappointment), check it out and see for yourself if it isn’t compelling in a way “American” “reality” TV shows usually aren’t, and probably wouldn’t care to be. Our loss.

Monday, February 18, 2008

APOCALYPTO

Another movie I could have added to my Valentine's Day list, surprisingly. Surprisingly, because it’s another well-done Mel Gibson historical epic.

No matter what you think of Gibson or his not-so-hidden agenda, the guy can sometimes make an epic adventure sing, i.e. BRAVEHEART and APOCALYPTO.

Though not promoted as a love story, that’s what it is. There’s some over-the-top violent scenes, as might be expected from Gibson, but it’s integral to the story and the setting, even if based on some faulty historical speculation, along with the factual stuff.

But the actors (especially the star, Rudy Youngblood) and the action are superb. And the story kept me watching late into the night when I stumbled on the opening of the film just before midnight.

I was looking for a shot of comedy to give me a good mood to sleep on, but instead got hooked on the beautiful filmmaking in this. A movie only a few friends saw when it came out in 2006, but they too were surprised at how much they liked it.

As I was. And if you haven’t seen it yet, you may be too when you do.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

KEROUAC INTERLUDE

Kerouac's famous appearance on the Steve Allen show. Thanks to Terence Winch for passing this YouTube link on.

Friday, February 15, 2008

KNOCKED UP

Finally got around to seeing this. They sent me the script with a DVD months ago as a member of the Writers Guild, but I resisted watching it because I thought it was gonna be just too many fart jokes for me.

Even as a kid I thought that kind of humor a little too immature for my taste. I don’t know where I got that from. I cursed a blue streak. My older brothers told several stories about my first words being curse words, or of me swearing up a storm at two and three already.

But if a kid in kindergarten or first or second grade did any of those bathroom jokes, or a third-grader (or worse, someone's father or uncle) said “Pull my finger” I’d wanna smack them and say “Grow up.”

And as an adult, hanging around with professional comedians in L. A. and watching them do their stand up acts, it seemed even a lot of them considered those kinds of jokes to be cheap shots. Not that they wouldn’t fall back on them if their act was dying.

So, I usually don’t respond as enthusiastically to these immature-men-who-can’t-grow-up flicks as many of my friends do. But this one. I should have seen it before I made my Valentine’s movie list a few days ago. It would have been the "K."

Not only did I laugh ‘til I cried (especially at the supporting actors, like the E! executive lady who mumbled the funniest lines in the movie every time the Katherine Heigl had a scene with her and their boss, who was also hilarious), I was happy at the ending. (And I'm sorry I don't know those supporting actors names, but the cast list is not very descriptive so it's hard to tell who's who except for the stars, with is Judd Apatow's fault.)

There were some scenes and jokes I found either a little lame or forced or cheap shots, but they were easier to take in the context of so many much funnier bits and the overall sympathy the movie generated, despite its unlikely scenario. Having been through way too many unlikely scenarios in my own life—some of which turned out pretty positively, some not—I could go with the story, and was glad I did.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

3 QUICK QUESTIONS

1. Did anyone else feel an eerie connection to Oliver North at the Iran-Contra hearings when they saw Roger Clemons at the baseball "juicing" hearings

2. If Hilary's campaign keeps up with the mostly distorted ads and public comments about Obama's record and positions, doesn't it hurt both of them and feed into McCain's seeming more competent than them, even though he isn't?

3. Did anyone see Michelle (is that her first name?) Obama in the interview with Katie Couric on CBS news tonight, and if you did, wasn't she great, in a way that made her look like a much greater asset to Barak's campaign than Bill does to Hilary's?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

VALENTINE’S MOVIE LIST (SPEAKING OF “LOVE”)

Haven’t done an alphabet list in awhile, so here’s one, of movies that are mostly favorites of mine and are also romantic or at least passionate, or in some cases both:

ATONEMENT
BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, THE (relatively realistic take on post-war romance and one of the best movies ever made in "old" Hollywood)
CASABLANCA (maybe THE best "old" Hollywood movie ever made)
DAMAGE (knocked by critics but captures a kind of insane passion I recognize)
ENGLISH PATIENT, THE (passionate in that oddly cold way the Brits can do successfully sometimes)
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
GHOST (despite the parodies)
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT
JULES AND JIM
KING CREOLE (the only "K" I could think of besides KISMET and KAMA SUTRA, which isn’t exactly romantic but it is passionate)
LONE STAR (the John Sayles one)
MALE ANIMAL, THE (often overlooked Henry Fonda screwball romantic comedy)
NOTTING HILL (Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts at their most charming and loveable)
OUT OF THE PAST (with Jane Greer playing the best bad girl in movies ever)
PRINCESS BRIDE, THE
QUIET MAN, THE
ROB ROY
STAR MAN
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (Bogie & Bacall fall)
UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, THE
VENUS
WAY WE WERE, THE
X-MEN (hey, there ain’t many movies with titles that begin with "X" and I know women who found it very romantic just because of Hugh Jackman)
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY
ZEBRAHEAD (I had problems with this, but a lot of people I know dug it, and it was the only "Z" I could think of, and it is a decades-later version of part of my story)

Monday, February 11, 2008

QUOTE FROM BACK IN THE DAY

I often used this quote, including in my last book, MARCH 18, 2003, but usually misattribute it to Che Guevera:

"We want to create a world in which love is more possible."
—Carl Ogelsby, sometime in the late 1960s, still true today

Sunday, February 10, 2008

SIGN OF THE TIMES


Thanks to Phllipa.

ONE OF THOSE WEEKS

I spent the first half of it in Georgia visiting my last living brother who is suffering from a rare form of cancer, then back to my ten-year-old who came down with bronchitis, and the first day he can finally go play with a friend there’s an accident with some furniture (!) and he ends up with five stitches over his left eye.

All these sad but human occurrences were mostly being suffered by others, my brother, my little boy, but my heart hurt nonetheless. As it does more and more as I get older and appreciate the overwhelming struggles most of us our faced with in the course of a life, or even one week in a life. And somehow that fed into my being as impressed as I have been so far by Barak Obama’s speech in Richmond, Virginia last night after he won all of yesterday’s primaries and caucuses.

Even though I appreciate my friend and mentor Hubert Selby Jr.’s dismissal of “hope” as an avoidance of the reality of the moment we are living, I also appreciate Barak Obama’s seriously inspiring use of “hope” as an instigator of action, as he expressed so powerfully and beautifully in last night’s speech.

His candidacy does represent something more than merely “change” in the appearance of the person who might be president, whether the first female, the first African-American or the oldest (John McCain, a change from his party’s recent years of corporate shills), but a deep acceptance of the reality of our changing society and world in ways the current failed administration never understood or cared to.

I watched it with my little boy, whose beautiful face now has the mark of experience that makes little boys imagine scars as badges of some kind of masculine honor. And thought, what a beautiful balance Obama’s candidacy brings to the darker projections of the world he’ll inherit. And I was happy to be a witness to that process of inspiration and hope, no matter how it ultimately turns out.

The flame has been lit, as it was by others throughout history, who didn’t necessarily achieve their ultimate goal, but nonetheless inspired others to continue to work for it and sometimes finally achieve it (the abolition of slavery, the end of legally enforced segregation, voting rights for women, etc. etc.).

As the crowd intermittently chanted, and my son asked what they were shouting: “Yes we can, yes we can, yes we can.” And as Obama pointed out, he’s the living proof of that. Amen.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Thursday, February 7, 2008

MITT “THE WAR HERO”

My friend Bill Lannigan stopped by tonight to catch up on everything from family travails to Mitt Romney’s speech bowing out of the presidential race.

In talking about the latter, a speech he made to a conservative group, in which he claimed once again to be the true conservative, despite his record as otherwise, Bill pointed out that instead of copping to the reality that he’d have to win every delegate still up for grabs in order to beat McCain, an impossibility, he depicted his quitting as a heroic act “in time of war” as he put it, putting aside his political ambitions for “the good of the Republican Party and of the country.”

As Bill said, he cast himself as some kind of “war hero” rather than a super rich guy who spent tons of money on a campaign that failed because he had taken both sides of every issue important to voters and took offense if that reality was pointed out to him.

For guys like us, he comes across as a phony even before we found out the reality of his either having no constant beliefs outside his Mormon faith, or else he’s an outright liar on almost every political issue.

It would have been funny, his portraying his quitting the race as wartime heroics, if it weren’t for the cheap shots he took to do it, referring to the possibility of a Barak Obama or Hilary Clinton presidency as “a surrender to terrorism” and even outright stating that the terrorists will be at our doorsteps if either of them get elected.

And Karl Rove isn’t even one of his advisors, as far as I know. But you can expect more of that crap from Republicans and “swift boat” style attack groups on the right whether it’s Barak or Hilary as the Democratic candidate. Those kinds of tactics would be so obviously pathetic if they didn’t work so well on too many ill-informed people.

By that logic, we should definitely elect a Democrat president, because the terrorists obviously waited for a Republican to get in before waging a really big attack on the U.S. and/or being able to successfully pull it off.

Or, if ending a war is “a surrender” to whatever enemy we’ve been fighting, then the Republicans have the worst record on that score, Eisenhower having given up in Korea, Nixon in Viet Nam, Reagan in Lebanon, Bush the First in Iraq, etc.

The pundits think Romney was making a pitch for a future run for president, say if McCain wins and is too old or ill to run for another term, or if a Democrat wins and things don’t work out well. They say he’s trying to pull a Reagan, impressing the conservative base in order to be their standard bearer in the future. I hope so. By then he’ll have proven himself to be even more of a phony than he already has.

[PS added next day: In the old days, when Republicans objected to wars waged by Democratic administrations, no Democrats questioned the patriotism of Republican opponents, and when candidates dropped out of races they honorably stated their respect for their opponents in all parties. The greatest example of a noble and humble acceptance of the sometimes arcane rules of our democracy and the rule of law as it stands here, even when the actual "democracy"—i.e. popular vote count—and laws —i.e. electoral college system—might be flawed, is Gore's concession speech when Bush Junior's Republican cohorts in the Supreme Court went against every belief they had ever expressed and voted on concerning "states' rights" to overturn Florida's desire to continue counting votes and straightening out the problems there, and handed the election to Junior. Even if you didn't like Gore or were disappointed in his campaign or wanted him to fight it out and be more aggressive in his campaign or the fight over Florida's votes, you have to give him credit for really doing what Romeny pretended he was doing, i.e. giving up the fight for the "good of the country" and our system of democracy, which obviously needs an overhaul on the "electoral college" level and the arcane voting rules of various states in what amounts eventually to a national primary system, as well as in the general election.]

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

IT’S GETTING INTERESTING

I watched as much of the primary results as I could last night, in Georgia, visiting my brother, the one I always refer to in my writing as “the cop” or “ex-cop,” because when I left home he was still on the force, the same one our Irish immigrant grandfather was the first cop hired for.

My brother retired from his post-cop jobs and moved South, when his kids moved there with their families because they no longer could afford our part of Jersey. The cops in the town where I grew up, and my brother worked, can’t live in town anymore, so have to move elsewhere, or more likely nowadays, come from elsewhere.

Watching the election results after a day of helping bring my brother home from a stay in a post-hospital place, knowing I had to get up to leave at six in the morning with my two grown kids who were on the trip with me—helping out as well as visiting their cousins—I couldn’t wait up for all the results, so had to catch up this morning.

But I was at my brother’s place when the first result came in, Georgia going for Obama big time, even a good percentage of “white males.” And I have to admit, it felt pretty damn cool to get that news in the heart of the South, where I had battled segregation when I was there in the service in 1962 and ’63, and had ever since felt uncomfortable with the outsized smiles and friendliness I’d seen the dark side of. Now to be there to watch as an “African-American” man won the Democratic primary there...

I thought of all the friends I knew from those days, many now gone, who truly suffered under segregation and discrimination and institutionalized racism, and then of newer friends who didn’t go through those times and those struggles who see racism in the slightest insensitivity or political incorrectness. It made me feel so grateful to Obama for at least attempting, in rhetoric and style if not always perfectly, to get beyond those horrible times and recognize that a lot of that kind of white against black racism and oppression is history, not to be forgotten or even forgiven, but to be honestly accepted as not dominant anymore.

Sure there’s hardcore racists still around, and racist attitudes still abound in some white circles or situations, but they can be found as well among black attitudes toward whites, or other ethnic groups or “minorities” against each other.

The kind of racism that existed when I was a boy, it’s just not there in the whites I see, even the right-wing Republicans I encountered down there, or am friends or relatives with there and elsewhere.

Yes, there’s still a stigma attached to lower-class “blacks” who act out in ways that intimidate, or manipulate “race” as a weapon of justification for behavior that is sometimes criminal and more often just grossly inconsiderate or self-absorbed.

As my old friends would say, more ignorance than intention.

But there’s an equal reaction from the same people to “trailer park” white behaviors and implications. The generating factor isn’t racism, if anything it’s class.

Obama introduces the possibility of transcending all that, as Kennedy did for Irish Catholics. Big families suddenly chic. Carousing and cockiness suddenly stylish. Something to connect us children of our particular immigrant culture to the swells, the haves, the better thans.

By now we’re almost back to jokes again, caricatures at times of what we once were. Ted Kennedy a punch-line on late night TV, despite his tireless work for the poor and under-represented, work he could have easily shirked a half century ago but still endures.

That’s the Kennedy connection to Obama for me, the hope of transcending excuses and justifications for giving up and pretending it’s a choice, for self-indulgence as revenge, for ignorance as tradition.

Let me make this clear. There are a lot of prejudices still out there, including racial ones. But from my historic perspective, personal and otherwise, that’s mostly all they are—“racial,” not “racist,” as are some “black” attitudes toward “whites" (as there are some forms of gender prejudice in some attitudes of some women toward men, as "sexism" dinishes as well).

Yes women still make less than men on average, and a way too disporportinate percentage of young black men are in prison, and “white men” still dominate many areas of power, certainly corporate and politically, but otherwise, and here and there, and now more than then, and when more than if, it’s definitely changing, and I’m happy to still be alive to see that begin, no matter who wins.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

AND THE WINNER IS

That had to be the most dramatic finish to a Super Bowl ever. I'm not even into football anymore and it had me crazy. I figured the least I could do to celebrate for my part of the country winning, as well as the underdog, which I always root for, was pick my own winners in my own little championship "game"—THE FIRST ANNUAL LALLY'S ALLEY MOVIE AWARDS


FIRST ANNUAL LALLY’S ALLEY AWARD FOR BEST PICTURE 2007:

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
(Honorable Mention (meaning a very close second): The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

FIRST ANNUAL LALLY’S ALLEY AWARD FOR BEST PERFORMANCE 2007:

MALE LEAD:

DANIEL DAY-LEWIS—THERE WILL BE BLOOD
(Honorable Mention: Ryan Gosling—Lars and the Real Girl)

FEMALE LEAD:

MARION COTTILARD—LA VIE EN ROSE
(Honrable Mention: Ellen Page—Juno)

MALE SUPPORTING:

HAL HOLBROOK—INTO THE WILD
(Honorable Mention: Philip Seymour Hoffman—every movie he was in in 2007)

FEMALE SUPPORTING:

AMY RYAN—GONE BABY GONE
(Honorable Mention: Vanessa Redgrave—Atonement)

ENSEMBLE:

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
(Honorable Mention: Into the Wild)

FIRST ANNUAL LALLY’S ALLEY AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTION 2007:

JULIAN SCHNABEL—THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
(Honorable Mention: Sean Penn—Into the Wild)

FIRST ANNUAL LALLY’S ALLEY AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY 2007:

ADAPTED:

SEAN PENN—INTO THE WILD
(Honorable Mention: Fred Parnes—Starting Out in the Evening)

ORIGINAL:

NANCY OLIVER—LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
(Honorable Mention: Diablo Cody—Juno)

FIRST ANNUAL LALLY’S ALLEY AWARD FOR BIGGEST SURPRISE OF 2007:

JULY DELPY AS A WRITER, PRODUCER, COMPOSER, DIRECTOR, STAR—2 DAYS IN PARIS
(Honorable Mention: Ellen Page in Juno)

FIRST ANNUAL LALLY’S ALLEY AWARD FOR BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF 2007:

THE WAY TOO YOUNG AND TRAGIC DEATHS OF BRAD RENFRO AND HEATH LEDGER
(Honorable Mention: Ryan Gosling not being nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Lars and the Real Girl)

Friday, February 1, 2008

A BIG HMMMMM...

This is an excerpt from a VANITY FAIR article by James Wolcott (in which he quotes Jim Holt):

"...perhaps we're the ones living in Bizarro World, not the Bushies. Maybe from their vantage point inside the mother ship nearly everything's worked out as intended, if not exactly as planned, and those in the highest circles have no more reason to examine their consciences or re-trace their steps than the perpetrators of a successful heist. For years, a few voices on the radical edges of the blogosphere have contended that sowing chaos in the Middle East, privatizing war to enrich their coprorate sponsors, and letting things slide to hell at home were what the lords of misrule wanted—that the bungling incompetence of the war and Katrina weren't bugs, but features. After all, the post-Katrina disapora has redounded to the benefit of the Republicans with the election of Bobby Jindal to the Louisiana governorship, his victory made possible in part by the dispersement of black voters displaced by the floods.

"As for Iraq, Jim Holt makes the persuasive counter-intuitive argument for this thesis in a piece for the London Review of Books called 'It's the Oil, Stupid,' which begins, 'Iraq is "unwinnable," a"quagmire," a "fiasco": so goes the received opinion. But there is good reason to think that, from the Bush-Cheney perspective, it is none of these things. Indeed, the US may be "stuck" precisely where Bush et al want it to be, which is why there is no "exit strategy."'

"Spreading democracy was never the goal, a quick in-and-out never in the cards... The goal was to take control of Iraq's oil resources and stand guard over its infrastructure, which is why military bases with world-capital-size airport runways and suburban comforts (miniature golf courses, fast-food restaurants, sports fields) are under boomtown construction in Iraq. Holt writes, 'The draft law that the US has written for the Iraq congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western companies. The Iraq National Oil would retain control of 17 of Iraq's 80 existing oilfields, leaving the rest—including all yet to be discovered oil—under foreign corporate control for 30 years.' All in all, a pretty sweet deal for the U.S. and trans-national corporations, paid for in part thus far by the sacrifice of nearly 4,000 American troops and countless thousands of Iraqis, a necessary cost of doing business if you don't mind having others get their hands bloody. Holt:

'The occupation may seem horribly botched on the face of it, but the Bush administration's cavalier attitude towards "nation-building" has all but ensured that Iraq will end up as an American protectorate for the next few decades—a necessary condition for the extraction of its oil wealth. If the US had managed to create a strong, democratic government in an Iraq effectively secured by its own army and police force, and had then departed, what would have stopped that government from taking control of its own oil, like every other regime in the Middle East? On the assumption that the Bush-Cheney strategy is oil-centered, the tactics—dissolving the army, de-Baathification, a final "surge" that has hastened internal migration—could scarcely have been more effective. the costs—a few billion dollars a month plus a few dozen American fatalities (a figure which will probably diminish, and which is in any case comparable to the number of US motorcyclists killed because of repealed helmet laws)—are negligible compared to the $30 trillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters. In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success.'"

[PS: And yesterday Exxon reported the highest profits of any corporation in history—over 40 billion dollars for 2007 of pure PROFIT!]