Monday, March 31, 2008


I've been reading, among the fifteen or twenty books I keep beside my bed and read a little from each most nights (okay, I'm a print junkie and get bored easily with any one approach to the use of language, which some initials these days label perfectly I'm sure, but to me that's just part of what makes life interesting), three large format books that combine prose with photographs and all are about cultural icons: Bob Dylan, Elvis Preseley, and Jack Kerouac.

The Dylan book publishes mostly never before seen Douglas R. Gilbert photographs of Dylan at the point in his life and career when he was transforming himself (and being transformed by the times and circumstances of his situation) from boy-man into cultural/rock icon. As you can see from this photo on the cover, there was still an openess, even innocence to him, but remarkably, in the course of this photo shoot that played out mostly in Woodstock over a period of days, you can actually see him being transformed.

The commentary by Dave Marsh that accompanies the photos is pretty astute, though I disagree with some of the judgments and conclusions. Nonetheless, it's informative and adds a few new twists to any perspective on this mostly self-created character and his genuis, not just musically and word-wise, but a genuis for manipulating perceptions of himself as well. Worth checking out.

This Elvis book might seem initially to some readers like a cheezy thrown together fan scrapbook or patch work of public record reprints. but it is actually a gem. I love books like these, edited and researched by true fans, in this case Jerry Osborne, with little or no budget so that the photos aren't screened properly and come off like 1950s bad tabloid reprints, and the minutiae of the star's careers is presented as earth shattering or at least of great importance.

And in my experience, it usually is. I have books like this that chronicle every movie appearance Marylin Monroe ever made, or Elvis, even, and especially, the overlooked cheesiest or most minor, etc. They're usually not that expensive to begin with, and I mostly find them on remainder tables where they're selling for even less, a few dollars at most (I think this was five or six). But in the end, they are put together with love and appreciation of the star's life and career in ways that professional critics or cultural academics or even gossip columnists and pop journalists couldn't do (although Osborne has published other books, mostly on record collecting, they all grew out of his obsession with Elvis recordings—he is a true fan, acknowledged even by Presley himself as one of his most avid).

In the case of ELVIS WORD FOR WORD, what you get is the transcripts of every known public utterance of Elvis, as well as any verifiable written word (including telegrams that can be definitively credited to him and not one of his underlings). They're strung together chronilogically with no comment other than to identify the place and the interviewer, if one is involved, and most of the text is from interviews.

As a result, what you end up with, is one of the most candid and revealing and poignant and insightful (auto)biograhies you might ever read about a prominent personality. You can see the toll that his meteoric rise to fame took on him, as you can also see his youth and inexperience overshadowed by his innate intelligence. The guy was much smarter and more aware of what he was trying to accomplish than I had previously given him credit for, at least in the early years.

If you like Elvis, or grew up in the era that he dominated, at least in popular culture, you might find this more than a nostalgia trip, in fact, actually enlightening. (Just one example is how almost all the interviewers get that Elvis was an entertainer and a very original and bright one who figured out an angle that was working better than anything else at the time, as opposed to seeing him as a threat or a diamond in the rough exhibition in a freak show, etc.)

This is the most serious of the three books. BEATIFIC SOUL: JACK KEROUAC ON THE ROAD is a documentation of the exhibit that the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue ran (and may still be running) earlier this year. It doesn't document everything in the exhibit, but it has numerous photos of manuscript pages and notebooks pages and paintings and drawings and photographs, along with a text that's scholarly, well-researched and footnoted, and revealing.

For my taste it overemphasizes Kerouac's weak points, his allegiance to his parents petty prejudices, like the anti-semitic and anti-homosexual remarks he was famous for saying and writing in letters and journals. There's an attempt at balance in the telling of Kerouac's story and the evolution of his craft, making it clear that by many of his actions Kerouac obviously expressed an opposition to his family's prejudices and narrow-mindedness.

But like many recent Kerouac studies, it tries too hard to hold him to the academic's own narrow categorizations, when Kerouac—as much as Elvis and Dylan, and most great creators in any art or even in other fields—transcend categories. It's what makes them so unique and at the same time so representative of the inner lives of most of us. Who, in fact, is consistent on a moment to moment basis throughout their lives to the same standards and ideals and ideas and perceptions? Only fictional characters are capable of doing that, as far as I can see from my experience.

At any rate, it's one of the best books you could buy about Kerouac, because Isaac Gerwitz, despite his sensitivity to certain aspects of Kerouac's humanity and lack of sensitivity to other particulars (like the deeper resonances of Kerouac's Catholic mysticism, which I can certainly understand, as well as the influence of his ethnic-American cultural perspective), still gathers more information and insight into Keroauc the artist than most texts on this master of his craft, no matter what your opinion of what his craft manifested.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


The JOHN ADAMS movie serial—or whatever they’re calling it—on HBO, continues to impress me, despite its flaws (e.g. Paul Giamatti’s John Adams is a valiant effort but still seems to me miscast, and the historical accuracy though obviously taken seriously and sometimes brilliantly portrayed is also sometimes questionable, as in the scenes in bed when Adams is seen bareheaded and bare-hairy-chested—didn’t they always wear nightshirts or nightgowns and even often night caps back then?).

One of the best things about it is Laura Linney’s performance.

She’s an actress I don’t always dig. I can always see she’s impressive, but much like Meryl Streep and the ballyhoo about her back when she was first impressing us in movies, Linney comes off to me as often being more about “acting” than about “being,” as they say in the acting world (though professionals can, and obviously often do, disagree on whose doing which in various performances).

I was always arguing with Streep fans about her work, finding it, for instance in the deeply flawed film (to me) THE DEER HUNTER, more like acting-class exercises than real life.

With the exception of SOPHIE’S CHOICE, in which her take on the character had some real juice, I found that her “serious” work often left me cold, instead of moving or engaging me in ways the script obviously intended.

It may have been the director, but remember her character in THE DEER HUNTER cringing and hiding from her drunken father as if she were a child rather than a woman who had grown up with this same drunken raging father, in which case her reaction would have been her own rage or scorn or at least better ducking of the flying beer cans etc. than the “oh my god I can’t believe this is happening” childish cowering? (And I know it may have been in the script and part of the direction, but a really great actor overcomes those kinds of problems, see Vanessa Redgrave in anything she’s done.)

Linney’s acting often strikes me the same way, “actor-y.” But then there are times when she nails it and moves me as I think the script intends. Streep mostly does this for me when she does comedy, which I find her terrific at. Linney less so. For instance I didn’t vote for her during this year’s award season for her work in the partly comedic THE SAVAGES—though it was good, I also found it way too mannered.

(By the way, the one time I ever had a conversation with Streep, she seemed like a completely unpretentious, lovely person, as she did whenever else I was around her. And though I don’t think I ever met Linney, she’s good friends with good friends of mine who adore her and find her refreshingly unpretentious and a great person as well. This isn’t about them as people, just my opinion of their acting, obviously.)

But Linney’s work in JOHN ADAMS is completely engaging and moving me, and—though in probably an anachronistic kind of way—embodies, for me, the intellect and spirit of Abigail Adams.

Linney may now be a bit too glamorous, at times, for the role, but she somehow transcends her contemporary movie-star aura and makes you believe she is of Adams’ time and perspective. I’m thoroughly impressed and only wish TV movies— or mini-series, or however these things are categorized these days when the forms seem to be melding from shorts to feature lengths and the venues seem to be melding as well from theaters to handheld devices—counted as regular movies, because I’d definitely vote for her in this role.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


"...the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function...One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise."
—F. Scott Fitzgerald

Friday, March 28, 2008


Picked this link up from E. Ethelbert Miller's blog. Worth checking out to put things into context. Though I doubt Obama detractors and right-wingers will view this the way those familiar with history and the African-American church and oral tradition will. But it seems obvious to me Wright's comments in this case were totally taken out of context and interpreted almost the opposite way he intended. But the comments on the youtube site make it clear there are a lot of un or under educated folks out there that can't read context, only style, but then that's what a lot of us have been educated to do in a consumer-based society where kids know brands before their own roots and history, hip hop lyrics before the founding documents and/or ideas and ideals, and manufactured teen idols and celebrity gossip before their own sense of self and standards, etc.


Thanks to Jamie Rose for passing this on. I guarantee you will find it way worth your while to watch the whole thing.


Thanks to Marty Brandel for passing this on. Watch it all the way to the end for the big laughs.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


This is a flyer for a poetry reading to be held this Saturday evening, March 29th, at 7PM at the Pierro Gallery, which is in the Baird Center, 5 mead St. in my old hometown, South Orange, NJ. If you happen to be in the area.

I do this poetry workshop in the living room of my apartment now and then, and these are the poets who constituted the last one. All of them good, each with their own unique voice and approach to the poem. Some have been doing it more than others, some are published and some not, a variety of styles that come from the variety of backgrounds they come from and lives they live.

There is a professional opera singer reading the first poems she's ever written, the editor and publisher of the alternative parenting magazine for this region, MOTHERHOOD. There's a homeboy from my hometown, though originally from Central America, whose poems have become so terrific he's asked to give readings all over Manhattan and has self-published a book I have listed on this blog as a favorite, and his name has appeared on several of my lists on this blog as well.

There are other Latin Americans, immigrants and descendants of immigrants, and a scientist professor, a painter, a social worker, and more. Ten poets in all, each reading for only five minutes, a format that allows the audience to never get bored with any one voice. I have been asked to read the poems of a young woman poet who will be out of town, and take it as an honor.

If you're anywhere near here on Saturday evening, you won't be sorry if you stop by and catch this talented group.


1. Has anyone seen the story that John McCain has missed more Senate votes than either Obama or Clinton? And if not, why not?

2. Did anyone see the story (thanks Paul) about the death of bees getting worse but no one funding the research to find out why and what to do about it (Haagen Daas just gave 250,000 dollars and it was greeted as if it were several million, does the money we’re bleeding into Iraq have anything to do with why our government isn’t funding the research to find out what’s happening to these bees without which our food supply will get even more expensive and many items will disappear with the bees forever)?

3.Anyone notice that in the current violence (mini-civil war?) between Shiite factions in Iraq (Basra and Baghdad, Iraq’s two biggest cities) the “bad” guys have new expensive weapons and the guys we back have old ones and none of the personal armor or armored vehicles they’ve been asking for since we set up the Iraqi security forces, so does that mean Iran and other suppliers are more efficient and less corrupt than we are, and if so why not get out then, especially since our argument is if we leave what’s happening now, i.e. factions fighting each other, will happen, if it’s happening anyway?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Gave myself a much needed break last night and spent the evening watching movies on TV, after watching way too much news and “analyses” etc.

Just before I was about to turn it off and head for bed, the opening credits (on the RETROPLEX, I think it’s called, cable network—TCM without the style and commentary and great shorts and mini-documentaries etc., i.e. just “old” movies) started for the next movie: CHARADE.

Just the brightly colored swirling credits and early ‘60s (Henry Mancini) movie music sound stopped my finger on the off button and I was hooked.

My little boy once asked me what makes a “classical,” which is what he used to call any black and white movie when he spotted it in channel surfing (“Hey dad, it’s one of your classicals”).

I told him, for me it’s any movie (or song or book or poem or play or etc.) you can see again and again and not only still want to watch it, get caught up in it, enjoy and/or be moved by yet again, but even get something new out of it.

CHARADE is one of those “classicals.”

Though when it first came out in ’63 I found it too silly and slight. That was a particularly rough year in the life of not only the country (with JFK’s assassination toward the end of it, but lots of civil rights atrocities as well, and I started the year stationed in a segregated Greenville, South Carolina while engaged to a “black” woman).

But when I saw it again, over a decade later, I was a little less resistant and accepted it as a fairly successful, light Hollywood comedy.

But over the years, it has gotten better and better (another definition of a classic, or at least my personal classics), as I have gotten older and older.

Last night it was as good as it gets. I suddenly saw that what I had initially taken for silliness, even lameness, could be seen as a combination of parody and homage. I have a hard time remembering that Hitchcock didn’t make CHARADE, Stanley Donen did, the guy who made SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, a similar combo of parody and homage (to Hollywood’s earlier years).

What I saw last night, was Donen lightly laughing at what had become by then Hitcockian conventions. (Hitchcock seemed to parody himself that same year in THE BIRDS.)

CHARADE’s over the top villains who are meant to be menacing come off unrealistic, almost clownish, despite their almost realistically violent (especially for 1963) deaths. But if they’re seen as a humorous comment on the menace in earlier Hitchcock films, then they’re more interesting, at least for me.

As is the whole story, especially with Cary Grant as the lead. His character is almost a parody of his character in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. The mistaken or deliberately contrived false identities, the interest of a much younger woman (though in CHARADE Grant’s and Aubrey Hepburn’s characters constantly comment on it), the literally "cliff-hanging" (or in this case roof edge hanging) fight, and even playing with matches (literally in both) metaphoric plot points!

But, of course, or at least “of course” for me, in the end, what made it imminently watch-able last night, and every time, is Cary Grant and Aubrey Hepburn and the wonderful dialogue—credited to Peter Stone as the screenwriter, but having done a bit of screenwriting in my years in Hollywood, some of the dialogue could have been contributed by other writers, as well as improvised by the actors.

In fact, one of the most wonderful things about the dialogue between Grant and Hepburn is that it feels like it’s improvised, and improvised by two comedic actors at their peaks, something I don’t always think of when I think of Hepburn, though of course she was a fabulous comedic screen actor.

Maybe it would be impossible to have such a beautifully stylized comedy/mystery like CHARADE these days. For one, the May-December romance of the leads, especially Hepburn’s character’s declarations of “love” after only knowing Grant’s character for a day or two and having conversations that sound like they could have been written by the offspring of Noel Coward and Samuel Beckett.

And who would play them? George Clooney is our Cary Grant these days, as far as I’m concerned, and has made a few movies with younger actresses as love interests, but nothing like the spread between Grant and Hepburn when this was made (or the spread the movie implied, making Hepburn younger than she actually was at the time, but him as well).

But who is our Aubrey Hepburn. Keira Knightly can carry some of the glamourous aspects of Hepburn, and even do comedy (PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN, especially the sequels). But Clooney and Knightly I don’t think so.

Clooney and a young Jennifer Lopez before she went all diva on us, did pull off something similar in OUT OF SIGHT (another great movie I can see anytime and dig it), but still, not the same. Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson in LOST IN TRANSLATION come closer, but without the glamour or as much snappy repartee.

That is the crowning glory of CHARADE, the ongoing conversation between Hepburn and Grant that is like a more sophisticated, but not much more, romantic version of Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on first” routine.

Ah I wish I had the words, but that’s why it’s a movie and not a book. You have to see it to experience it.

From the opening credits to the end credits, there’s no denying that CHARADE is a product of its times. But one whose artistry also transcends time, fortunately for us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Thanks to Paul Harryn for this collage of some of the "artists" mentioned in the previous post.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Not to be obsessed with death, but a recent post on COOLBIRTH had a link to a list I didn’t check out but had to do with artists who died too young, and though I doubt it was alphabetical, it inspired me last night on being woken up several times by various noises, including my little boy’s gerbil, McFly (though I hate to see anything caged or confined, I gave in on this one) trying to drag his tiny wooden house around and banging it on the glass walls of his cage.

I removed the wooden house and in trying to get back to sleep I came up with my own alphabetical “died too soon” list, with the demarcation of “before 30” that makes for most “died too young” legends since they occur before the aging process seems to have begun. But I couldn’t fill in all the letters and just kept thinking of more names for letters I already had, including Selena for “S” but thought to look up her last name this morning, and scored a “Q.”

Finally I gave up on the missing letters on the first list, and tried a second one of those who passed away in their thirties, because those also seem memorably way “too soon.” I couldn’t come up with some letters on that one too and kept thinking of multiple names for letters already counted with my usual compulsiveness.

Some of them I knew about the age they died because I’d written about them at some point in my life (like a screenplay I was hired to write during my Hollywood years for “The Otis Redding Story” etc.), and some because I actually knew the artists themselves, and the rest because I read about them enough to somehow remember they died too soon.

But I stalled on the letters I couldn’t come up with and so, in keeping with my favorite number and list ordering device besides the alphabet—three—I decided to do a third list of artists who died in their forties, still too soon. Though as I’ve said before, anything under a hundred seems too young to me these days. (This morning I also checked to see if I had the ages correct on ones I wasn’t sure of, but had most of them correct and corrected the ones that needed it.)

Maybe you can fill in the blanks.






Z ?

Saturday, March 22, 2008


One of the great movies about the Irish, for my taste.

Based on the true story of “The Guildford Four,” accused of the bombing of a pub, during the time of the troubles in the North c. the 1970s.

The four—three Irish men (and the father of one, the would be fifth, but if you haven’t seen it I don’t want to give anything away, though it’s history now) and an English woman—were innocent.

And as it turned out the authorities knew that, but sentenced them to long stretches in a British prison anyway, after being framed.

Daniel Day-Lewis stars and gives one of his greatest performances, in my view. And there’s a whole lot of other great acting in it too.

I caught it tonight on cable, and somehow it connected to the spirit of the season, the theme of loss and redemption, of high ideals in the face of base realities, as well as connecting in some obvious and not so obvious way with events lately, the loss of two brothers over a few months time, the obvious media pile up on Obama over guilt by association (while ignoring similar cases for both the other candidates, i.e. pastoral endorsers of their campaigns who have made heinous generalizations about entire religions or ethnicities, etc.).

I hadn’t seen this flick in years, and was overwhelmed with the power of it once again. It’s about injustice, oppression, prejudice, and cynicism, but it’s also about hope, grace, familial love and loyalty, and fighting back without stooping to the tactics of your enemy.

Something, this country used to be known for, at times, in its history. Wouldn’t it be nice to be known for that again.

If you haven’t seen this film, and weren’t around during the political mobilizations of the 1960s here, or anytime anywhere else, this movie will make you feel what it was like, and still is, when you participate in a righteous cause, speak truth to power, and join others to defend the innocent and fight for change.

Pretty good for a movie.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Just wanted to mention the recent passing of three “artists” whose work touched me over the years.

JONATHAN WILLIAMS (1929-2008) was a poet, publisher and photographer. But most of all, he was an example of being true to oneself.

A cultured Southern gentleman, who happened to be quite comfortable with his homosexuality before the word “gay” even gained currency in the wider society, he started out as a student at the most experimental arts college perhaps ever seen in this country, Black Mountain, which existed in its most original form for not much more than a decade, but saw many, if not most, of the modern masters of the avant-garde art, dance,, poetry, music, etc. worlds pass through as either students or teachers.

(Just a small list would include John Cage, Willem DeKooning, Merce Cunningham, Charles Olson and Robert Creeley, etc.)

Edward Dahlberg, a much admired writer of the first half of the 20th Century, who is pretty much ignored now, called Williams “the most cultivated poet of the whole brood” meaning the younger poets of the 1950s, and “the most lyrical,” and then added “you can throw in most of the older decayed ones too.” Jonathan was also a very funny man, who used his intelligence and taste to poke fun at the foibles of his times, no matter what direction they were coming from.

He was also a teacher and mentor to many poets, and under the aegis of his Jargon Press he published a wide array of “avant-garde” poets. And he did it all out of his North Carolina mountain home, not far from where he had grown up (in Ashville as I remember it).

I knew him most in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he took an interest in my own poetry and small press publishing ventures. He visited Washington DC occasionally, where I was living at the time, and was always a gas to spend time with.

There’s no typical example of his “art,” since he responded to the moment with different approaches, but almost always with a foundation of humor. Like the time he made a bumper sticker—we’re talking c. 1970 in the South—that played on the common one found in the region then: “HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS.”

Only Jonathan’s had an image of a Crusader on it and said ‘CONQUE IF YOU LOVE JESUS” (as I remember it, though that may not be the exact spelling for the Latin imperative for “conquer”).

Here’s two examples from MAHLER, one of my favorite books of Jonathan’s:

II. Moderately slow “Schubertian”


summer sun

paens of

And this, from a later section (and without as much of an ironic undertone):

II. Stormily agitated

to be a block of flowers
in a wood

to be mindlessly in flower
past understanding

to be shone on

to be there, there
and blessed

IVAN DIXON (1931-2008) is probably best known for acting on and directing TV shows, most of which I never saw. But for me, the first time I saw him and was impacted by his work was his leading role in a film included on my list of movies from the 1960s that best expressed the tenor of those tumultuous years.

The film was NOTHING BUT A MAN, which I haven’t seen since it came out in the early 1960s and seriously impressed me. I went to see it mostly because his co-star was Abbey Lincoln, the great jazz singer and civil rights activist, as well as great beauty, who most of the musicians I knew and hung around with and played with were in love with, including me.

But it was Ivan Dixon that carried the film, one of the first to address Southern racism from a completely “black” perspective. It was “avant-garde” in its own way, for its unique perspective and its black and white documentary style, but was also still a good story well told. If you ever get the chance to check it out, imagine watching it back then.

ANTHONY MINGHELLA (1954-2008) is the most famous of these three, having won an Oscar for his direction of THE ENGLISH PATIENT. But he was also nominated for screenplay adaptations (at least one, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY), and as a writer his taste was also pretty “avant-garde,” or at least not as main stream as most Hollywood big production movie directors.

THE ENGLISH PATIENT has its problems, for my taste, but it was still an enormously successful work of art, lush and complicated, absorbing while somehow still distancing the viewer, or at least this viewer.

I think I got teary-eyed when I saw it, if I remember correctly, and fell in love with all the actresses in it, and yet was still very aware of watching a movie, a work of art, unfold mostly successfully before my eyes. Kind of a cross between Brecht and David lean.

Minghella had a great eye for the screen, and an ear for dialogue better than many of his contemporaries. It’s a shame he died so young, though back in the 1960s I would have thought him old enough for death at 54. Now, death seems to pretty much always come too soon for my aging perspective.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I’ve been distracted by a “dialogue” with my old friend Jim on the last post, and earlier by the loss of my brother, to spend much time and energy on the ongoing shenanigans, as the old folks would say, of the two main party presidential candidates still running.

Jim is a boyhood friend. When we were Catholic grammar school kids together, he impressed me with his love of history and reading, which I shared. He doesn’t remember if, but I do, in a snowball fight between two gangs of little Irish kids, as we called ourselves though technically we were Americans of Irish descent, he yelled “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” as the other gang attacked us.

I thought that was pretty cool for a little kid to even know, let alone take advantage of an opportunity to yell it out in “battle.”

He also was one of the first of us to master swearing. As I remember it, when we came back to third grade after summer vacation, he stunned the biggest and toughest boy in the class (an Italian, i.e. American of Italian descent, named Ritchie, who had beat me up so bad in a fight in second grade, on my way home an old lady came down from her porch and asked if I wanted her to take me to the doctor, which in those days is what we did instead of “emergency rooms” since the local doctor had his office in his house and was always available there unless he was away on a house call) into backing down.

I had been cursing since I was a kid, but hadn’t yet figured out how to turn it to my advantage, finding it more of a device that got me into trouble than out of it. So it was a lesson learned from Jim.

Later, in 8th grade, as I remember it, we had almost a weekly fist fight over a blonde classmate named Leslie who we both had an interest in, though I don’t remember who she finally picked, if either of us.

Jim may be the Republican I’ve known the longest, but. many later friends I’ve had, since becoming an adult, are staunch Republicans as well. As are some family members, much to my disappointment. Some of them, the family members, were influenced by the acquisition of enough money to lean toward anyone who will tax them the least as they acquire more (as my Irish grandfather used to say, if you have a dollar in your pocket, you’re a Democrat, but when you get two, you become a Republican, speaking back when a dollar was a day’s wages or more.

But most were convinced while in the service, by officers and NCOs spouting the rightwing propaganda, that only Republicans are the true patriots, even though most “liberal” politicians not only served their country in one of the branches of the Armed Forces, but many won medals for bravery, while most “conservative Republican” politicians avoided serving their country, wartime or not.

Most of my Republican friends aren’t very politically engaged. They either vote Republican because of the tax benefits for their accumulated wealth, or they were convinced by professors in business school that Republicans are the most economically realistic (i.e. big business friendly) or because their fathers were Republicans or because they are Jewish and identify with the Israelis who have suffered under suicide and mortar attacks from “Arabs” and feel the Republicans are more pro-Israeli, or at least pro-Israeli government policy, or are descendants of Holocaust survivors and just have an emotional reaction to anything that seems anti-Israel at all, even if it’s a reasonable discussion of what the Israeli government has done or is doing that might contribute to or even provoke the attacks, (much as I have generally had a similar reaction in the Irish vs. English conflict that lasted for centuries and impacted my ancestors so strongly), etc.

But most of them don’t really follow politics all that much, unlike Jim, they just vote Republican as a matter of course. They are though, for the most part, reasonable, in that they don’t spout rightwing propaganda, don’t use unreasonable language in dismissing Democrats who don’t agree with their choices, etc.

I am glad that the choice they have is McCain. Yes, he’s not an advocate of many policies I’d like to see enacted by the next administration, but he is, in my opinion, the best of the Republicans who ran for the nomination, because he will, I believe, not cause as much damage as any of them would have.

I also think he will continue to shoot himself in the foot, as he has lately by equating Al Queda, the Sunni terrorist organization, with Iran, their Shiite sworn enemies. He has a habit of speaking without thinking and it will provide many sound bites once the Democratic nominee is decided on and the race begins for president in earnest.

As for the Democrats. I have been a strong supporter of the Clintons ever since he began his bid for the presidential nomination. I saw right away that he was the unusual Democrat, for those times, who could play hardball with the Republicans, who had grown used to demolishing their opponents with dirty tricks and lies etc. and Clinton countered those attacks beautifully, for the most part.

I was happy to see him win and wasn’t disappointed, as during his presidency almost every statistic you can come up with improved—whether it was teenage birth rates or violent crime or the size of government, and so on, diminishing, or the surplus growing and jobs increasing or peace prevailing.

There were attempts by Al Queda to attack this country during his administration (the first World Trade Center bombing for one) as well as successful attacks outside the country, but the Clinton administration countered those attacks so well, nothing like 9/11 happened on their watch.

And there were devastating hurricanes and other natural disasters, which FEMA, under the competent professionals the Clinton administration put in charge, handled better than FEMA ever had before, according even to many of his Republican critics (and obviously better than FEMA would do under Bush Junior, who hired only cronies and big business favorites rather than professionals and thereby screwed up almost every challenge his administration was faced with, Katrina being only one of the most obvious).

The years of the Clinton presidency was one of the most successful periods of peace and prosperity in our nation’s history. And no matter what articles or books Jim and other rightwing Republicans may refer to when they read this post, the facts are all available from government statistics and from the common sense of our common experience of those times.

Yes, he fooled around on his wife, with or without her knowledge. But as far as I was concerned, that was his business. Was it foolish? Did it lead to his lying about it? Yes and yes. Was it a “high crime” demanding impeachment? Not in my opinion. What Nixon did deserved impeachment, not a pardon. He attempted to circumvent and undermine and even do damage to the constitution and the rule of law this country is based on. As have Bush Junior and Cheney. They deserve impeachment for undermining the constitution and ignoring the laws of the land in order to make their cohorts and themselves even wealthier than they already are, and to seize and hold on to power.

And I found it hypocritical that rightwing Christian fundamentalists who are always touting marriage and “family values” would attack Hilary for keeping her marriage and family together, despite her husband’s philandering.

I also always found Hilary to be extremely bright and intellectually articulate and disciplined. An impressive mind, and I appreciated her focus on issues that impact families and children (again making the right-wingers hypocrites for attacking her rather than commending her for her work in these areas).

But, the tactics her campaign has been using against Obama, as well as just the plain presence in her campaign, let alone at the top, of Mark Penn, a guy who comes off as sleazy even if he wasn’t a lobbyist for corporate interests Hilary should be fighting, have turned me off to the point of agreeing with Obama supporters that the Clintons’ time has passed, as far as the presidency goes.

Obama’s speech on “race” was such a watershed event—though I thought he delivered it a little dispassionately, deliberately I suspect, to contrast his reasonable stance with those of his opponents as well as Reverend Wright—it demonstrated for me exactly the kind of change he says he wants to bring to our country, an adult, fair-minded, human, logical, reasonable, calm, and smart approach to deep seated problems.

I believe the man could be a great president—if a majority of the electorate can be reached before the negative Clinton campaigning and the rightwing internet smear and big lie campaigning doesn’t damage him too much before that happens.

And I find the prospect of his being the person we see on TV most days dealing with the major issues the country confronts, as well as those people he might choose to be a part of his administration, a much more interesting outcome than the other two possibilities.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I've been thinking about catching JOHN ADAMS on HBO this week, but hadn't gotten around to it until my good friend, the poet Robert Slater emailed me how much he had dug it, so I checked it out, and despite what I saw as some bad direction in parts of it, the way the story was told, the writing of the piece and most of the acting, made it well worthwhile.
It also made me think about the power of the word, not only among our "Founding Fathers," but ever since. How debased that has become in our own time, and how refreshing Obama's speech yesterday was, in the tradition of the great speeches throughout our history, until recently.
See for yourself what Obama had to say, and how he said it: here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Still too drained from the last week of dealing with the loss of my brother to concentrate on the pettiness the current political scene seems to have been lowered to. But I was thinking that the common observation that McCain and Clinton replay the battles of the 1960s and Obama offers a new perspective on politics and “American life” has some validity when I fell asleep last night after the news.

But having lived through much of what is generally referred to as “the ‘sixties” I fell back asleep last night—after the garbage truck that arrives around 4AM to noisily empty the Dempsey dumpster from the Indian restaurant across the alley from my bedroom woke me up—creating a list in my head of movies from the 1960s that really represent the way that decade felt, through my own experiences or as an observer of others:

ALFIE and ALICE’S RESTAURANT (two sides of the ‘60s coin)
BREATHLESS (the original French version that influenced so many in the U.S.) and BLOW-UP (one of the most argued about movies of the mid-‘60s)
COOL WORLD (Shirley Clark’s black and white movie based on the Warren Miller novel about a teenage gang in Harlem, and my all-time favorite film, still not on DVD as far as I know)
DON’T LOOK BACK (the D.A. Pennebaker documentary on Dylan, c. ‘66) and DAVID AND LISA (the documentary-like love story about two “mentally disturbed teens”)
EASY RIDER (though I found it more flawed than most) and 8 ½ (another “foreign film” that had a major impact in the U. S. and on me)
FERRY CROSS THE MERSEY (the British invasion bands)
GRADUATE, THE (not the ‘60s as I experienced them, but certainly as some did)
HARD DAY’S NIGHT, A (this movie’s impact redefined the times and partly created “the ‘sixties”)
ICE (I think that was the name, of a movie made by a radical faction of SDS about what a true “revolution” might look like at the time)
JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (visually it had an impact, though not considered one of Fellini’s greatest films)
KNACK…AND HOW TO GET IT, THE (ah, Rita Tushingham, the embodiment of the early ‘60s in many ways)
LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER (great New York footage in this mostly realistic take on the pre-pill, illegal-abortion world of working-class folks—one of my favorite Steve McQueen or Natalie Woods flicks)
MONTEREY POP (best footage of the emerging hippie culture) and MEDIUM COOL (a flawed flick, but some great footage of the ’68 Chicago Democratic-Convention demonstrations and “police riot”) and MORGAN (which in its unique way encapsulated the entire arc of the storyline of the 1960s, and it was made only halfway through the decade) and MIDNIGHT COWBOY (in which the Warhol party scenes ring true)
NOTHING BUT A MAN (one of the first and few early independent “Black films” to have an impact, not necessarily on the majority white audience that never saw it, since it had the usual limited release, but on filmmakers and young politicos and hipsters who did get to see it and were knocked out by its honesty and artistry, like me)
OCEAN’S ELEVEN (the original, Sinatra’s swingin’ world, a major influence on the early ‘60s)
PUMPKIN EATER, THE and THE PAWNBROKER (two harbingers of a new kind of “realism” in “American” films—THE PUMPKIN EATER was made in the UK, with a Harold Pinter screenplay (!) but starred Anne Bancroft and was an “American” sensation, at least among the “cognoscenti,” nominated for lots of Oscars too as I remember it)
QUARE FELLOW, THE (Brendan Behan’s play, well done on screen, raised issues pertinent to the causes of the ’60s)
RAISIN IN THE SUN, A (maybe Poitier’s best?)
SHADOWS (the John Cassavettes “independent film” that was the first of the decade that made the world of what we were calling “underground movies” more viable)
TWO OR THREE THINGS THAT I KNOW ABOUT HER (another French flick that had an impact on the times)
UPTIGHT (not bad Harlem update version of THE INFORMER)
WOODSTOCK (of course, but also WHITEY!, the first feature length film funded by the newly created AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE, and in which I played “the radical”)
ZABRISKIE POINT and Z (neither are great movies, but both have great moments that are definitely of the times)

Sunday, March 16, 2008


I want to thank everyone who sent their condolences on the loss of my brother Robert, and for all of you who have sent prayers and good thoughts out to me and my family.

I also want to gratefully report that his funeral was one of the most moving and warmly human funerals I’ve ever attended. And I’ve been to way too many.

When the Dublin-born priest stepped up to the lectern on the altar, in his white vestments with the bright green Celtic cross on the front and back, (which he soon told us was a 50th birthday present from his parents and this was the first opportunity he got to wear them) and gestured toward the coffin and said “This character…” I could feel everyone in our extended clan who was able to make it there, as well as other friends and family, relax as we all realized at the same instant that this priest was one of us, and got who my brother was, and we didn’t have to worry about the rest of the funeral Mass missing the point of why we were there.

He went on to say a lot of good and funny things about my brother, who was indeed a character, as I’m beginning to finally realize most of my siblings were and are, and indeed, most of the folks in my clan seem to be and have been.

In fact, it seems to me now, that in many ways being characters was more appreciated than having character, which was sort of expected as a given. In the days preceding and following the funeral, days of staying close, eating tons of food donated by friends and family, sharing stories and singing and laughing and crying and sobbing and generally wearing ourselves and each other out with closeness and close attention, until a lot of us were finally drained enough to sleep, many stories were shared about one or another of the characters in my family.

Like one of my sister-in-law’s brothers, a character in his own right, who I used to work with when we were teenagers for my father’s “home maintenance business” as I like to call the little shop he had in which we repaired anything anyone brought to us, or did our best to, and out of which we went to their homes to repair or replace anything they asked us to, if we could.

This man, Jackie, chuckled as he commented that if someone came in to the shop and asked if we did heart surgery, my father would have said yes, sure, when did he need it done by. He reminded me that my father said yes to any possibility of making a dollar by doing what others couldn’t or didn’t want to do for themselves. And he also reminded me that my father could charm the pants off of these people, as they used to say.

Other characters from the clan were present and added to the general feeling of warmth and closeness despite the old feuds, some of which still simmer, or the more recent rifts in relationships across generations or in-law relations and all the other family baggage that ain’t heavy because it’s your brother, or sister, or cousin or in-law…

One of the main points the priest made at that funeral Mass, and I was delighted to learn, was that because Saint Patrick’s Day falls during Holy Week this year, and therefore cannot be “celebrated” as usual, the liturgical calendar was changed and the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day, at least inside church, was moved to Friday the 14th, the day of my brother’s funeral.

The priest implied my brother had something to do with that rare date switching, and by the time Mass was over, I believed he did.

Every holy song that was sung at that Mass brought tears to my eyes, and almost everyone else’s as far as I could tell. And when the woman who was leading us in those songs started “Oh Danny Boy”—no matter how corny and predictable—there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Because most of us there had heard my brother sing it many times, usually with us joining in at parties, and knew it was a favorite.

But the highlight of the Mass began when the husband of my brother’s oldest child stepped up to the lectern at the side of the altar to give the eulogy, or actually just share some stories about my brother, and before he did, pulled out a digital camera and took a picture of the large crowd in the church, as the priest from his seat at the back of the altar said “That’s a first!”

Michael explained that he wanted a record of all of us there to celebrate his father-in-law, because it was the kind of gathering that made my brother happiest. To be surrounded by family and friends always made him happy.

All the talk of “dysfunctional families” these days and all the sophisticated people I’ve known in my life and careers who view their families as “toxic” or something to be left behind (as I at one time did, though rarely in my true heart, or in my writing) seems so sad to me today, in light of my brother Robert’s example.

What family isn’t “dysfunctional,” but whether it’s a quirk of my clan or “people,” or just certain families, or the culture we come from, or something I haven’t figured out yet and maybe never will, I am grateful that my adolescent disappointment and anger toward the foibles and mistakes, even wrongs, of those who raised me and I was raised with has given way to understanding and acceptance that transcends petty judgments and expectations of a perfection all humans are incapable of ever achieving anyway.

I wasn’t thinking that, but certainly was feeling it, as my nephew-in-law made jokes about my brother’s penchant for “ugly” pants, but also made clear his respect and love for a man who’d been in his life for well over thirty years, and on an almost daily basis since my brother moved down to Georgia to be close to Michael’s wife and her family, and the other children and their families that followed them there.

Michael’s talk helped us all laugh and relieved us of the heavy sorrow that permeated the funeral, the deep sense of loss and disappointment at death’s finality and surprise, no matter how expected.

And then my nephew stepped up to the lectern, my brother’s only son, a man after my own heart, as they used to say, who seemed to share the genetic deviations of my strain of the family “characters” trait, who is known to speak so fast no outsider can understand him, who had declined when invited by his family to give the eulogy, who had fathered some of the darker-skinned generation of clan members who share our last name, who was as broken-up by his father’s death as any of us and who we all expected to break down before our eyes, now that he was standing ramrod straight, as he always does, with his earring and secret service shades and shaved head and runner’s slimness, though I doubt he runs anywhere, and opened his mouth and introduced himself as “William Robert Lally Junior”…

And then proceeded to give the greatest eulogy I’ve heard in a lifetime of them. I’ve given a few myself that I thought weren’t half bad. And his brother-in-law Michael had just done a great job of it himself. But what my nephew Billy shared in that moment was…well…a moment, one of those special experiences in life that can’t be shared. You had to be there.

If someone had thought to record it, I’d post the transcript here, or if they taped it, or whatever the word is now for digitally capturing the image with the audio, I would post that. And maybe it would give you an idea. But as is so often the case with those kinds of experiences, the musical event or art or stage performance, or poetry reading or sermon or party or sunset or bird sighting or any event that seems like a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s impossible to repeat, even on film or tape or whatever else pretends to capture the reality of a reality that can’t be captured.

Suffice it to say, that he was inspired, and the words that left his mouth came slowly and deliberately, more so than I’d ever heard from him in the almost fifty years I’ve known him, and were shaped perfectly, into the rhythms and refrains of a great work of music, or a great poem.

The refrain began with the memory from his childhood of his father picking up one of his sisters when they were half asleep to carry them to bed, and as their heads rested on his shoulder, saying to them “It’s okay honey, daddy’s got you.” I’m not even certain those were the exact words my nephew quoted, but something close to that, which became the refrain, as he told of himself being picked up and comforted that way, and not just when half asleep, but when he or his sisters were injured, and so on, in a way that captured better what I was trying to say about my brother n my last post.

He even shared the story of one of my other brother’s wakes, when the voice of his father comforted a cousin of his. Only he remembered the way I first shared it better than I did and articulated it better than than I did in my last post!

Anyway, it was all about the reassurance, the safety his father’s voice and presence seemed to represent, or actually create. And he didn’t leave out the fact that they had their problems, or that his father was a “character,” but he reminded us all of what a rock of a presence he was in all our lives, but especially in the life of his wife and children.

And then he ended by sharing that just before his father passed, he asked for a moment alone with him, and then he leaned down to him and rested his head on his father’s shoulder one last time, and said, “It’s okay dad, God’s got you," as his father had always said he had his children over the years, and then added, "You can go now.” And he did.

Believe me, had you been there, like everyone else in that church, which included some folks who’d only known my brother since he moved to Georgia six or seven years ago, or even more recently, but were moved by his strength and his dedication to his family, like them, and the rest of us, you’d have been sobbing by then too.

But the laughs followed. Slowly at first, and then more and more, which is the great heritage of my clan, and perhaps the Irish in general but certainly my branch of the Celts, their great capacity to find the humor in any situation, no matter how painful, until by the end of the several days we all spent together, we could even laugh at the wake itself and the events of the past few days.

My brother would have been laughing the loudest had he been there in the flesh, which I am sure he was in spirit, as well as crying the most. He was never afraid of his feelings, like many of us have been and still are, just as he was never afraid to wear mustard plaid slightly flared golf pants with a wide white patent leather belt, if he felt like it, or to let his big belly hang out over his bathing suit on the beach down the Jersey shore he loved so much,

He wasn’t afraid to be himself, in fact, ever, as far as I can see. But he seemed also to be always willing to sacrifice self to the greater welfare of family. As my nephew-in-law Michael shared with me during a lull in the activities over the last several days, his older boy was and still is pretty much consumed with baseball and about most other things he hasn’t much to say, if anything at all.

So before he came to visit as a boy, my brother, who had no interest in and knew little about the teams his grandson was interested in, would bone up on the scores and the names of the players and have the rest of the family who was at home do the same, to be able to share that with his grandson when he came and make him feel comfortable.

I have my own stories about that. Like the time he and his wife sat through the interview Marlon Brando did with Larry King that time, despite the fact they didn’t feel the way I did about Brando and I’m pretty sure found his interview antics silly at best. Or the time after I first moved back to Jersey and BULLWORTH had just come out on video and because I really dug its message, as well as what Warren Beatty did with it, and Halle Berry, and Amira Baraka playing the chorus, and the rest of the cast, I invited my brother Robert and his wife to my house to watch it with me and my wife.

These are God-fearing, or at least God-loving, Irish Catholics. My brother would never curse in front of women or children, and certainly was not a fan of rap, or May-December romances, or any of the other major elements in the movie. I mean he was a cop when Amira Baraka was still LeRoi Jones, the activist poet who helped lead the “Newark uprising” otherwise known as the Newark “riots” of the late 1960s.

And here’s my brother, with his wife, sitting on my couch, watching a movie in which the dialogue is almost all swearing and cursing and rapping and drugs and booze and sex even if…at least in my eyes..,in the service of a political message I thought was profoundly articulated through the art form of film.

But it only made my brother wonder (as I learned later from my nephew) what the hell I was thinking, and only embarrassed his poor wife, my sister-in-law, as she sat there open mouthed, listening to this torrent of aural abuse.

But he never objected, nor did she, because we were family, and no matter how peculiar my taste might seem to them, they pretended to appreciate, if not exactly the movie, at least the fact that I had invited them to my home to watch it with me and my wife.

Ah, I’ve said enough about all this. I just needed to process it, and the way I have always done that, is to write it out, often in different forms over the course of my life, and I’m still doing it with certain experiences. I’m glad that some of you, like my brother, not only put up with it, but sometimes even appreciate it, without having to pretend to.

As for my brother Robert, the last time I told him “I love you” before he passed, he said, “I know you do, I love you too.” What’s better than that?

Only us two youngest left.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


My last brother alive, Robert, passed yesterday, after suffering for several months from a very rare cancer.

Do you remember in Godfather 2, how Pacino stops one of his mob from testifying before a crime commission committee ala Joe Vilachi? The guy’s at least in his fifties, a murderer, a totally hardened tough guy. But Pacino flies the guy’s big brother in from Italy, a man who looks like he might be in his seventies, and just the sight of him is enough to get the capo to clam up.

My brother who just passed was that guy, the older brother you could fly in and one look from him and I’d do what was asked.

When I was a kid, our two oldest brothers went from high school into WWII, and then came back briefly before taking advantage of the G.I. Bill and going off to college, Tommy to eventually become a Franciscan friar (he's the one who passed away only a few months ago himself), and "Buddy" (as we called him) to eventually become a high school principal, but only after decades of night school to get a Ph. D. in education, after getting earlier degrees in education and music and becoming a high school music teacher, good enough to take his blue-collar Maryland high school band to the Orange Bowl, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, etc. while at the same time working his night job, playing saxophone and clarinet, and later my upright acoustic bass, behind headline acts visiting the old DC Hotels and clubs, acts like Sammy Davis Jr. and Pearl Bailey, etc.

So my third brother, Robert, was the only one still home as I grew into my early teens. And after serving in the Army during Korea (though stationed in Germany fixing tanks) he became a Teamster, driving trucks for the Newark breweries, like Ballantine, and then a cop, which he still was when I left home and he already had started a family of his own.

That family was, thankfully, all there with him in his new home in Georgia (our part of New Jersey having become too expensive for most of my family to afford anymore), as he peacefully moved on.

I had spent a week this past Thanksgiving down there with my youngest boy, for whom the two of my three older brothers still around by the time he arrived were more like surrogate grandfathers than uncles. And another several days, more recently, with my two oldest children, fortunately while my brother was still communicative and able to come back with his usual sarcastic wit.

Up until a few days ago he had refused any painkillers, despite his occasional grimaces or even uncontrollable exclamations of serious discomfort. But it was never his way to complain about that kind of stuff. He could complain about all the “jerks” in the world, but never his own physical travails. And even his complaints about the dumb things the world makes us put up with were usually done with humor and/or the makings of a good story, in the great tradition of the Irish and Irish-American clan we grew up in.

He was my hero, when I was a kid doing pull ups on his biceps, the "tough guy with a heart of gold." And he remained that tough guy hero, to me, right until he left us.

Once, when I was visiting him a few years ago and we were taking his daily walk together, I had to stop because of a pain I was having. I asked if that kind of thing ever happened to him, and he responded “And if it did what would be the point of talking about it?” So, after the pain passed we continued walking and talking about something other than the problems of aging, and not-so-aging, bodies.

Another time, when I first moved back to Jersey almost a decade ago, I was at his house that he was still in here, when he had to take some stuff to the dump. He opened the back of his SUV and tossed a huge bag of heavy debris or furniture or whatever it was into the vehicle like it was full of cheese puffs, and I thought to myself, I doubt if I could do that and I’m twelve years younger. And if I did do it, my back would be complaining for days.

We had our problems, especially back when I was a little wannabe juvenile delinquent and would sass our mom. Once he backhanded me so hard I slammed into the refrigerator and saw stars for a few seconds.

And later, other disagreements about the progressive and Bohemian stances I was taking that interfered with his, and my clan’s, idea of what I should be doing, caused us to become estranged. But luckily, we resolved that before it was too late.

Right up until his last few months, his voice was as strong as it was back when I was a kid and you could walk by our house in the middle of winter, when all the doors and windows were closed and doubled up with storm windows, and still hear him talking inside in his normal volume.

That sound could scare the bejesus out of me. We had two sisters that were between him and me, Joan (who passed away decades ago) and Irene, who recently reminded me of the time she and I hid out on the cellar steps until he went to bed because we were that afraid of his reprimands.

But despite my own fear as a boy, of his just giving me the eye—raising one eyebrow and staring intently at me until I stopped whatever I was doing that I wasn’t supposed to be doing, or did whatever I was supposed to be doing—his presence could also be a real asset, like the time several members of a Newark street gang followed me all the way home on the bus I took from Newark every day during my high school years.

When I waited until the last minute and then jumped out of the bus and tried my best to bravely saunter up our street, they jumped out and followed me. I thought I was going to get beat pretty badly when they reached me, but just before they did, my brother pulled up in the squad car and got out. One look from him and they were on their way back to Newark.

I had almost forgotten that, until my second oldest brother, Buddy, died and I flew in to Maryland for the funeral from L. A., where I was still living at the time. A nephew picked me up and drove me right to the wake, and after we got out of the car, before we even approached the building where the wake was being held, with the doors and windows all closed, through the thick concrete walls we could hear my brother Robert, speaking normally, for him, and my nephew said “It’s always so reassuring to hear Uncle Robert’s voice. You know you’re safe when he’s around.”

For me, he always will be.

My three big brothers before I was around (Robert between our dad's legs)

My family, me in my mom's arms, Robert in horizontally striped tie, Buddy at attention right behind me, just before joining the Navy, our other brother Tommy, in his Army Air Corps uniform, my sister Irene beside our older and taller sister Joan and my dad in his fedora

Me and my big brothers, Robert in the veritcally striped tie

Me and my brothers when I finally was almost as big as them (we're standing on a hill so it appears that I really am) with Robert all the way to my right, in the gray jacket

Monday, March 10, 2008


Such predictably tiresome blather from my rightwing Republican commentors on this blog, whether named or anonymous. But thankfully, they usually make my point. For instance in yesterday's post, which should have been filed under "Overrated," because that was my point in all three comments. The first being that torture is "overrated," as every professional interrogator I have ever read has attested to. Only the inexperienced yes-men of this administration give credit to "torture" producing useful information.
The rightwingers and their spokesmen claim that it was waterboarding that produced information on several terrorist plots that have been thwarted, and that's why there have been no attacks within the U. S. since 9/11. But there were no more attacks within the U. S. between the 1993 World Trade center bombing and 9/11, under the Clinton administration, where no torture was still the U. S. tradition, and yet plots were also thwarted. Hmmmm.
The so-called "greatest generation" managed to defeat one of the mightiest military machines the world has ever known without the use of torture. In every war where we didn't use torture, like our enemies did, we won. But where we used torture, or let our surrogates do it, as in Viet Nam...
And as for the knee-jerk rightwing comments about Democrats—their weakness is not unity, which should be obvious to anyone who looks at the facts without the prism of rightwing propaganda. The remorse with Kerry's candidacy wasn't that he wasn't a good enough candidate, he would have made an incredibly greater president than any Republican who has ran or won in the past eight years, and Edwards would have been a great Vice President, and the damage done by Cheney would never have occurred and we'd all be living in a world where oil companies would not be making profits greater than any ever amassed in history while being given tax break "incentives" and the rest of us struggle to pay the bills, etc.
Kerry is an honorable war hero, who was too reluctant to stoop to the levels of dirty tricks that the Republicans invented, perfected, and practice so well, and used to convince some swing voters that the "swift boat" ads had some validity, even though they were created by people who weren't there when Kerry committed the act of selfless bravery that won him his military honors (those who were, backed Kerry fully), people who were and are part of a rightwing Republican dirty tricks machine capable of running ads in Georgia that cast a war hero who lost his limbs in battle to terrorists and a millionaire draft dodger as a patriot hero. Just like the draft dodger Cheney and AWOL-war-avoider Bush junior cast themselves as some kind of John Waynes (though maybe that makes sense, since Wayne never served in the military either, except on film).
Republicans have been much better at making the "big lie" stick (i.e. Saudi Arabia is our friend, the only country where women are still not allowed to vote and from which the terrorists who attacked the U. S. on 9/11 came and were funded, et endlessly cetera), but like the Nazis and Soviet Communists, who were masters at it, those lies eventually come back to haunt you. Thank God.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


1. So Bush Junior vetoed the congressional attempt to make the CIA conform to the rules of prisoner treatment that the U. S. military follows, that helped us win WWII, that have been in place since the Revolution, at least the ban-on-torture part of it. Guess “the Greatest generation” didn’t know what they were missing.

2. Another thought about the Obama/Clinton challenge: the big states Clinton won are more likely to go Democratic and therefore vote for him if he is the candidate, (i.e. California and New York etc.) while the smaller states he won are less likely to vote for her in the general election, but are places where he might attract independents and Republicans looking for a change.

3. Has anyone else discovered the aggravation of graduated lenses, or whatever they call eyeglasses that are supposedly graded so that you can see at any distance? The problem being that the sweet spot where you can se whatever it is you're trying to look at, especially when reading, or up close work like me typing this right now, is very narrow, meaning I can only see two or three words at a time clearly, (the peripheral vision is completely blurry with these things) which means I have to keep moving my head from left to right when I’m reading, and read a lot less quickly than I usually do. I also got “transition lenses” for more fun in the sun, except today at the way-too-early, but this part of Jersey’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, watching with my younger son and his mother, the sun was behind the oncoming marchers, so everyone and everything looked so dark I couldn’t read their banners or distinguish their features etc. Ain’t modern technology grand?

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Hey, check out this homage to my great friend Jamie Roses' TV cop icon of back in the day LADY BLUE (and TV back then in general). Worth watching to the satisfying end.

Friday, March 7, 2008


"Afghanistan is slipping toward failure. The Taliban is back, violence is up, drug production is booming and the Afghans are losing faith in their govrnment. All the legs of our strategy—security, counternarcotics efforts, resconstruction and governance—have gone wobbly.
If we should have had a surge anywhere, it is Afghanistan. And instead of eradicating poppy crops, which forces many farmers to turn to the Taliban, we should go after drug kignpins.
We also need to make good on President Bush's pledge for a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan. In six years, we have spent on Afghanistan's reconstruction only what we spend every three weeks on military operations in Iraq.
Afghanistan's fate is directly tied to Pakistan's future and America's security. When president Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan concluded that we were not serious about finishing the job in Afghanistan, he began to cut deals with extremists in his own country.
As a result, the border area remains a freeway of fundamentalism: the Taliban and Al Queda find sanctuary in Pakistan, while Pakistan suicide bombers wreak havoc in Afghanistan."

Part of a perspective Senator Joe Biden wrote in last Sunday's NEW YORK TIMES

Thursday, March 6, 2008


As this political season is beginning to resemble THE GLASS KEY, or some other black and white “political” film noir from my childhood, I fell asleep last night creating a little diversion for myself with an alphabet list of my favorite movies that more or less fit into the film noir category:

CHINATOWN (one of the few “modern” film noirs that qualifies, for my taste)
ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (a French flick with a great Miles Davis soundtrack)
RIFIFI (another French one)
VERTIGO (one of the few great film noirs not in black and white)
YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (early and dark Henry Fonda flick)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


1. Very smart move for the Clinton campaign to muzzle Bill recently, it obviously helped.

2. Very smart move for Hilary to play the victim of male power, even if it’s not true and “the old double standard” as I wrote in a recent post, it obviously worked, especially with older women.

3. Did anyone else notice in Huckabee’s concession speech how much his wife looks just like him? It never struck me before, but on my TV as he was speaking and she was looking a little forlorn, standing slightly behind but close to him, she looked exactly like him in a wig!


Hate to say I saw it coming, but…

There’s no question in my mind Obama and his team took their eye off the ball the past few days and let the Clinton team take the lead.

Obama’s team has been very good at quick, almost instant, responses to attacks. They’d been doing that all along, But in the past several days, he’d been acting like the presumptive candidate and quickly answering any McCain attacks while seeming to brush aside Hilary’s, like they were “silly”—as he often accurately described them in their last few debates.

But it came across, at least to this observer, who is a fan of his, a little arrogant. Not a smart move. He did it again last night, making the point that he has more delegates. He should have kept his status as the guy who came out of nowhere, not the prince waiting for the king to die.

The grace and even humility that got him all the attention in the first place, in his great speech at the last Democratic presidential nominating convention, seemed to become aloofness and cockiness, not a smart move.

I’m afraid this all benefits McCain and the Republicans. It’s a long way to November, but if there had been a national election anytime in the past several months, the Republicans would have been blown out of the water, with not enough votes to keep any power in the Congress or the White House.

Unfortunately, if the Democratic race continues as it has over the past few days, and hopefully it won’t, but… If it does, it will only strengthen the Republicans.

If the Clinton team keeps disparaging Obama’s experience and record and the Obama team keeps failing to respond quickly and strongly to the allegations (as it unfortunately did when it came to the NAFTA/Canada debacle and the absence of meetings of his Afghanistan sub-committee), then I’m afraid the Republicans may pick up the slack, either by the Democrats losing the enthusiasm of some supporters who will just stay home on election day if their candidate doesn’t get the nomination, or will vote for McCain in protest to what happened (or happens) to their candidate.

In other words, if Hilary wins the nomination by running negative ads against Obama, there’s a strong possibility that those who are energized and inspired by Obama’s candidacy will either stay home on election day or vote for McCain out of resentment, perhaps doing for the Republicans what they have been unable to do for themselves, finally breaking the longtime and until now unbreakable alliance between the majority of African-Americans and the Democratic party.

And those ads of hers will only backfire in the race against McCain. Because I’m sure a majority of “white men” as well as many women and Hispanics and even African-Americans, if given the choice between who will answer the metaphoric red phone in the White House in the middle of the night, will choose McCain over her. Correctly, or not.

All in all, it wasn’t a good night for the Democrats, and the next several weeks don’t look so good either. Obama has to get his game back, and Clinton has to go positive again. And one of them has to have a decisive win that ends it.

None of these scenarios look promising right now, but Obama getting his game back is the most probable. Let’s hope. And of course, there's always the strong possibility that McCain and the Republicans will shoot themselves in the metaphric foot (or in Cheney's case, in their best friend's real, not metaphoric, face).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


We won’t know the results of today’s four primaries until later tonight, but I have a feeling it won’t be settled.

The media has obviously taken to heart the accusation that they’ve been treating Obama too gently, which they hadn’t (calling his emerging political charisma “cult-like” from the beginning, etc.) but certainly aren’t anymore if they were.

The bits of Obama’s speeches the media is selecting lately haven’t been coming across like the hits of inspiration and hope that have so many of us excited about his candidacy.

While Hilary seems to be relishing the underdog position She often casts herself as the victim of gender discrimination, as if an African-American man with a funny name who few had heard of before the campaign was somehow the establishment. And has the media helping by continually pointing out that Obama’s campaign is outspending hers on TV ads in Texas and Ohio by two (or more, depending on the news venue) to one etc.

The snippets of her speeches turning up on cable and network news lately, often make her seem feisty and on target and, well, even inspiring, certainly for the enthusiastic audiences the media now seems to be favoring close ups of over the ones they were featuring from Obama’s rallies but haven’t been in the past few days much.

The clips they’re using lately from Obama’s speeches, or responses to questions, seem chosen to make him seem a little cocky, even smug. It makes sense the media would want the primary season to drag on, because it makes for better news to have a horse race rather than a clear winner.

But the double standard that Hilary keeps referring to in terms of gender, is still used most often against Obama. As I pointed out in my recent “double standard” post, once again Obama’s feet were held to the fire by the media concerning the Nation of Islam’s leader, Louis Farrakhan, having “endorsed” Obama, from afar by the way, with Obama nowhere in sight nor accepting it.

But he had to “reject” and “denounce” Farrakhan’s support because of negative things Farrakhan has said about the Jewish religion. (But wait a minute, doesn’t the Jewish religion describe Jewish folks as “chosen” making those who aren’t Jewish, what? Rejected? Seems to me, the Jewish religion is just as narrow-minded and restrictive and oppressive and self-righteous and prejudiced and self-centered as any other.)

But as I pointed out, other groups seem to be fair game. As we saw with McCain’s endorsement from that Christian fundamentalist who has made many negative comments about the Catholic religion, comments just as bad or more so than Farrakhan’s about the Jewish one.

But McCain wasn’t pushed to “denounce” and “reject” an actual endorsement, that McCain received in person, on camera, all friendly and hand-shaking, back-patting masculine-mutual-respect style.

When questioned about it, and the obvious double standard of it vis-à-vis Obama and Farrakhan, McCain could just say some vague comment about how you can’t control where your endorsements come from.

And Hilary was given the same leeway when confronted with those who endorse her but have made comments seen as equally offensive by various groups (Vietnam POWs for one, ala Gloria Steinham, whose question about why McCain’s time as a POW in Viet Nam qualifies him as president was actually not a bad one) was allowed, by the media, to be even more vague in her response.

Clinton’s Karl Rove style fear-mongering ads and sound bites about how more prepared she is to answer the nonexistent red phone in the white house at 3AM (Is she implying she’ll be up and in the oval office every night at 3AM in her pantsuit waiting for phone calls?) unfortunately may work, as her self-victimizing gender identity stuff also might work (remember New Hampshire after the tears of frustration and disappointment that so many women seemed to identify with?)

I’d like to see Obama wrap it up, so the Democrats can hopefully unite behind him and start focusing on winning in November. But I’m afraid that’s not going to happen, and we’re going to see more carping and low blows and opportunities for the Republicans to exploit in the general campaign, whenever that gets started for real.

Monday, March 3, 2008


Robert Lipsyte, writing for, says: "The genius of Roger Clemens lies in the fact that he created the monster of himself. He is both Dr. Clemenstein, inventor of a more powerful man, and Clemenstein, the age-defying result, an ogre who defines ur-masculinity today. He is a big, white Republican who makes his own rules, lies, cheats, and mixes family values and intimidation."

I got this from TRUTHOUT, and I'm not sure I even agree with it (I wasn't there when he did or didn't do what he's been accused of). But I thought it was pretty well put, from the writer's perspective, (especially the last phrase, which captures recent Republicanism to a tee for me—a mixture of so-called* "family values and intimidation") and figure it will arouse the Republican counter attacks, but still interesting.

*"so-called" because in my view, the most important "family value" is being able to pay the bills that provide food, shelter and health care, at least, for your family, something the Republicans seemed to have lost sight of under Bush Junior. Which brings me to another quote from TRUTHOUT today:

Robert B. Reich, writing for The San Francisco Chronicle, says: "We're finally reaping the whirlwind of widening inequality. A recession looms because most consumers are at the end of their ropes and can't buy more. Median hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, are no higher than what they were three decades ago. Since then, most of what's been earned in America has gone to the richest 5 percent. But the rich won't buy much more because they already have most of what they want - after all, that's what it means to be rich."

Sunday, March 2, 2008


The “songs that make me smile” list got me thinking about favorite rock’n’roll bands, so here’s another alphabet list:

THE BEATLES (if they didn’t dominate this letter, I’d be hard pressed to make a decision since there seems to be so many B’s, like THE BEACH BOYS, THE BYRDS, THE BAND, THE BEASTIE BOYS, BLONDIE, THE BEE GEES, THE BANGLES, BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY, THE B-52s et. al.)
THE EVERLY BROTHERS ("E" is a hard category, but I did love their music when I was young and it still brings back sweet memories, like 'WAKE UP LITTLE SUZIE")
THE FUGS (kind of a joke, but a well intentioned one, and THE FOUR SEASONS, mostly vocalists, but great musicians nonetheless, and song writers)
THE ISLEY BROTHERS (they didn’t always play their own instruments like the rest of these groups, but sometimes they did as they reconfigured over the years—I first saw them at the West Orange, New Jersey, “Teenage Canteen” around 1957, and never forgot it)
MC 5 (another big category, with THE MINUTEMEN and THE MGS and THE METERS, MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE, et. al.)
THE NEGRO PROBLEM (a ‘90s L. A. band that should have made it bigger, though the main guy in it has a Broadway musical just opening, based on his life and music, called PASSING STRANGE)
THE ORIOLES (one of the first, great R&B vocal groups, they also accompanied themselves with one guy’s guitar playing, so qualify as a band in that sense, no orchestra etc.)
SPANISH KITCHEN (another ‘80s-‘90s L. A, band that should have made it bigger, in which, full disclosure, my oldest son Miles played bass and sang back up vocals)
THE WHITE STRIPES (what was I thinking, THE WHO of course, and THE WAITRESSES too)
X (the greatest L. A. ‘80s-‘90s “punk” band)

Saturday, March 1, 2008


Caught STARMAN on the tube Thursday night. I’ve mentioned it here before, especially the performances.

I think, except for a few very small flaws, it’s one of the best movies ever about any kind of E.T. experience and/or spiritual awakening.

And Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen give two of the best performances of their careers. The challenges for Bridges were enormous, playing an alien in a human body and slowly learning how it works (another comparably unique performance is Bruno Gantz in the film KNIFE IN THE HEAD, where he loses all memory and bodily function and has to slowly relearn everything plus create a personality).

The subtleties in Bridges’ performance are so finely calibrated, I wanted to cheer at the TV screen like it was the last few minutes of the recent Super Bowl.

And Karen Allen had to keep up with and match his performance in order for the flick to work, and she did. And not only that, I don’t think she’s ever looked more beautiful in a film. It’s worth it just to watch her face in close ups.

(Full disclosure: as many of you already know, Karen has been one of my closest friends since long before she began acting in movies, but even if she wasn’t I would feel the same way about this film, and her close ups.)

And Charles Martin Smith is the other ingredient that makes the movie work (he first made his mark and totally impressed me as “Toad” in AMERICAN GRAFFITTI), doing his usual fantastic job (whatever happened to him?).

If you haven’t seen this movie, or haven’t seen it in a while, check it out. Ignore its few minor flaws and dig the performances by the leads and the ultimate message of the film, you’ll be glad you did.