Monday, June 30, 2008

TIM RUSSERT AND GEORGE CARLIN

Some of you have asked me how come I haven’t written about these guys passing. Especially since I’ve written about the deaths of way more obscure people on this blog and these guys were both East Coast Irish-Americans raised Catholic, like me, and within range of my age (Russert younger, Carlin older).

You’d think I had something to say about them. Well here are some things:

I grew up around and knew guys like both of them. And I had things in common with both of them, besides our Irish-American East Coast roots.

I was raised with Russert’s love of politics, from working for my father on campaigns, as he was the Democratic Party chairman of our town. It was during his tenure that the town moved from a Republican majority to Democratic one, thanks to my father’s efforts at getting out the ethnic vote for Democratic candidates.

Unlike Russert, my old man and me argued a lot and had a contentious relationship throughout my teens and young manhood, but we were similarly influenced by these working-class guys (my father dropped out of seventh grade to go to work) and their perspectives.

So I totally related to Russert’s love of politics and understanding of it from hands on experience, his father’s as well as his own.

But obviously I had more in common with Carlin. It’s no accident friends and strangers alike have told me I reminded them of Carlin, mostly during the 1970s, but even more recently. Usually after they heard me read my poetry or improvise an extended rant about politics or contemporary life and mores at a party.

I related to Carlin’s using the language of the streets as well as the intellectuals to address the obvious hypocrisies and self-delusions of a lot of our so-called "leaders” as well as ourselves.

But I didn’t identify with either of these guys as much as I have with all kinds of creative folks and not so creative ones. And I didn’t always like the way they came across.

Russert, it seemed to me, could be petty in his questioning of those without a lot of power, especially the kind of power that’s held in awe in Washington DC political circles, while on the other hand being reluctant to press people with that kind of power or probe their failures or obvious lies very deeply, if at all.

He’s been lauded in the media since his death as some kind of paramount journalist, but as others have pointed out, he wasn’t a true “journalist,” in the sense of someone who pursued newsworthy stories and investigated them in depth for the truth hidden within the media myths.

There have been so many brave journalists whose names most of us can’t even call to mind, but who have pursued the truth about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and behind the lies that got us into the Iraq one and the failures in the Afghanistan effort, as well as exposed the lies and crimes of those in power, way beyond anything Russert even attempted, let alone pulled off.

Russert may have been the nice guy and good friend people in the media have said he was, but he broke no big stories during his career and he got many of them wrong, taking his cue most often from those in power in politics, as in his initial defense of the invasion of Iraq and the lies it was based on, or more recently taking cues from rightwing organizations and bloggers, as well as Fox News, for questions to ask the Democratic candidates in debates he moderated.

I’m sorry for his family’s and friends’ loss, but I also hope that in the future, “news media” stars who have the chance to question the powers that be do it more bravely.

In fact, just imagine Carlin having the power of MEET THE PRESS to grill our political “leaders!”

No one would ever accuse Carlin of being too meek in his reaction to any kind of power (though I have no idea how he was in real life when confronted with those kind of people in social or business situations).

But then, it’s a lot easier to raise the kinds of questions and objections and criticisms Carlin did as a comedian than as a journalist (which is why the journalists who do it should be as famous, or actually more so, than either Russert OR Carlin).

Carlin was the kind of guy I’m very familiar with, not only growing up around but to some extent being one myself. An Irish wise guy with a big mouth and many chips on our shoulders, and the deep conviction that only we knew the truth and it was our obligation to tell it to the world.

He did a great job of that. His routines were often—as others have pointed out and more eloquently than me I’m sure—just as stunning if you took out the jokes, and the so-called foul language.

And he was an original in the world of white stand up comedy and celebrity.

But.

There certainly were many in the world who shared a lot of Carlin’s perspective on the blatant hypocrisy of not only politicians but of most of the rest of us as well, and who “spoke truth to power” and who pointed out the absurdities in the ways our shared language is used to manipulate and obfuscate.

There were also many, not necessarily the same ones, who shared his seeming cynicism about the failings of our “leaders” as well as the rest of us.

It was that cynicism, especially the older he got, that I didn’t share and that fueled his commentaries in a way that reminded me too often of the kind of older Irish wise guys who didn’t consider anyone else’s opinions worth responding to or often even listening to, and who seemed dismissive of any beliefs and perspectives contrary to their own and could cut you (me I guess I mean) down to size with a smart ass comment that embarrassed you (me) into silence or inarticulate anger.

Perhaps it’s the memory of boyhood humiliations at the hands of (or rather the language of) guys like Carlin that always kept me at a distance from his achievements.

I laughed at his humor and admired and acknowledged his wit and intelligence and often loved his truth-telling and was grateful he was out there doing it, but I was also sometimes put off by the cynicism, and later sometimes bitterness, I felt was behind a lot of it.

He reminded me a little of the poet Robinson Jeffers, who I admired greatly as a young man, but who too was a bit of a misanthrope, railing against the sins of his fellow humans while mostly isolating himself from any responsibility for them.

Jeffers was a wonderful poet, original and unique in his message as well as his technique, to a large extent, like Carlin. But of course neither existed in a vacuum.

Black comedians, as well as others, were doing comedy similar to Carlin’s long before he came along. Dick Gregory not only blazed that trail and on the same celebrity level years before Carlin did (though without the Irish wise guy street language and dismissiveness, which black comics like Moms Mabley and Redd Fox had already been doing for years anyway) but he also took what he preached into his life and practiced it to the extent that he lost his comedy career and celebrity as a result.

Jewish comedians too, like Lenny Bruce most obviously, though Carlin managed to keep his later obsessions more humorous than Bruce did, because Bruce too, like Gregory, suffered for his groundbreaking routines and ended up more concerned with the misuses of the law in this country than pointing out his fellow humans foibles.

And there were poets who had been addressing some of the same national hypocrisies and lies in their poems long before Carlin started his similar rants. In many ways, I see Carlin as almost more of a poet than traditional comedian—a “performance poet,” as they began calling poets back in the 1970s who memorized their poems to "perform" them rather than read them. He would have fit right in at any Saint Marks New Years Day marathon.

Obviously some of the Beats, like Ginsberg and Diane di Prima for instance, addressed a lot of the same, or similar issues Carlin addressed, as well as many of us other poets. And some of us suffered as a result. (I, for instance, lost jobs, friends, family, awards, publishers, etc. as a result of some of my “speaking truth to power” and usage of the seven forbidden words, and too often practicing what I preached,)

After all, Carlin came a little late to that approach compared to what was happening among many younger than him in the 1960s.

None of this is to take away from his enormous achievements as a comedian and social and political commentator. I still share clips from his old and his latest shows with friends because of the power of their humor and truth telling (and write similar tirades and rants and observations and criticisms and revelations in my poetry and elsewhere).

But I also always feel sad that in the end his caustic wit left little room for solutions. His last show in particular stated outright that there is no hope for this country and this society, that “the owners” of it, the corporate elite who have the politicians in their pockets etc. will never let that happen.

Maybe that’s true, and maybe we should all just tend our own gardens, but that’s not my desire, nor belief. I know that if Nixon was defeated in the 1968 election we would be living in a much different country and society and even world, or if Gore had won in 2000.

Some things do matter. And though corporate power is more entrenched than ever, and its reach more wide spread and intrusive than ever, there is always the possibility for change, if enough people, especially influential ones, believe in it and work for it.

As my old friend Hubert Selby Jr. used to say, and I've quoted here before: "Remember the infinite possibilities of life."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

WALL-E

Okay, so I leave THE INCREDIBLE HULK with the sound of explosions in my ears (and chest, it was a "good" sound system) and images of cars being crushed and split in half and human "collateral damage" flying through the air or being crushed etc. and the sense that I've seen all this before, repeatedly.

Then yesterday my ten-year-old and his nephew, my grandson, and I go see the new Pixar flick, WALL-E, and I leave that film unable to stop noticing how many overweight people there are in my town, despite the hip ex-New Yorkers jogging in the park with their kids in jogging strollers and generally not anywhere near as overweight a population as a lot of other towns in this country, or now around the world, thanks to our junk food and processed food and etc. becoming global.

Pretty daring for a G rated kids animated movie, cartoon essentially, to indict the lifestyle of a majority of its audience. In fact, damn near revolutionary in terms of what a full length "cartoon" might be able to do. And aesthetically, you've probably already heard about the risks it takes, since the first twenty minutes or more of the film is pretty much silent, except for the soundtrack (and old movie clips), and in fact is an obvious homage to the great silent film comedy stars and their film acting and film making techniques.

How come all the Hollywood talent assembled for these comic book super hero movies can't come up with anything that new or deep, despite the simplistic rip offs of Greek tragic motifs, and this animated kids movie can?

The way I hear it, it's because Pixar is still being run like an independent studio, despite Disney having bought it, and in fact like a very small independent studio where the creative talent runs the show. In this case most of it was the writer/director, Andrew Stanton.

Not that there isn't predictable "plot points" (as the screenwriting courses call them) or familiar heart-tugging or smile-inducing kid movie moments, but even those occur in a context that is original and so are beyond most kid movies, and adult movies these days—no dependence on bathroom humor or gross out imagery or computer generated pyrotechnics.

Just great story telling with a subversive message done uniquely. Just think about it, for my very adult taste and sensibility, a G rated kids full length cartoon is the most creatively and contextually original movie I've seen in ages.

It gives you hope, I mean me hope. Check it out and see what it does for you (the opening Pixar short cartoon, an homage to classic short pre-show cartoons of my childhood, is also a treat).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

THE INCREDIBLE HULK

How come all these really terrific actors are doing comic book movies?

And don't they all begin to blend? The special effects and troubled hero who can't help being blah blah blah?

Not that they're made for me.

I saw it with my ten-year-old and his nine-year-old nephew, my grandson.

What's incredible is spending the day with them, at the community pool, the movies, the playground (with the two of them and a lone deer the last ones there before sunset, yeah tick check time).

Edward Norton makes an interesting case for the Hulk's humanity, in his characterization of the human who becomes him (Bruce banner?). But the simplistic story line, the odd changes in the lovely but confusingly varied facial contours of Liv Taylor's camera presence, as well as William Hurt's and everyone else's for that matter. It was as if some of the shots were done in different years, or after different visits from the botox guy or something else I don't understand but made me think about way too much.

The best sequences were beatifully done, as in the early Brazilian "slum" shots (the opening tweny minutes of the film was actually pretty terrific and seemed to promise a wonderful movie experience), but the combat parts were like repeats or outtakes from way too many recent flicks, and not so recent ones.

I guess they translate easy, so can make enough money around the world to pay off all the African nations debts or something. But what's it all about Alfie? Or I guess I mean Edward Norton, Liv Tyler (although the women don't have as many choices perhaps when it comes to roles), William Hurt, Tim Roth, Robert Downey Jr.?

I'll take Tim Roth as the bad guy in ROB ROY any day over this one. In fact, I'll take the romance and combat of ROB ROY over all the recent comic book movies put together. But, like I said, this flick wasn't made for me. The boys dug it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

CLIMATE CHANGE

Last night I caught a bit of a very short documentary film on the PBS Frontline series about how global warming is impacting various remote areas of the world. The part I caught was about the Himalayas. The most stunning evidence was a photo taken recently of a view of a giant glacier beneath Mount Everest and comparing it with one taken by Hilary I think they said in the 1920s (though didn't he successfuly climb it in the '50s?, which would make the changes even more rapid).

The diminishment of the glacier is so striking (at least 50 percent loss) not only because of the amount of ice that has disappeared and will have terrible consequences for water flow as far away as the Yangtse River in China, but for my aesthetic taste, the devastation to the beauty of the area. The difference between miles of white and blue-white glaciers like a river of snow and a landscape of exposed brown and gray rock benetah it is the loss of a natural work of art.

Though some kind of "beauty" can be found in almost everything, if not everything, I prefer the snow capped mountains and glaciers to the now bare and barren rock outcroppings and dry riverbeds.

There was another documentary on a cable channel I think may have been IFC (or maybe it was Sundance) also on global warming and the impact of manmade causes contributing to it, and all this was preceded by an e mail from my old friend Mike Graham from California with the following AP wire story, which I reproduce here in full:

NASA warming scientist: 'This is the last chance'
By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer

June 23, 2008

Exactly 20 years after warning America about global warming, a top NASA scientist said the situation has gotten so bad that the world's only hope is drastic action.

James Hansen told Congress on Monday that the world has long passed the "dangerous level" for greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and needs to get back to 1988 levels. He said Earth's atmosphere can only stay this loaded with man-made carbon dioxide for a couple more decades without changes such as mass extinction, ecosystem collapse and dramatic sea level rises.

"We're toast if we don't get on a very different path," Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences who is sometimes called the godfather of global warming science, told The Associated Press. "This is the last chance."

Hansen brought global warming home to the public in June 1988 during a Washington heat wave, telling a Senate hearing that global warming was already here. To mark the anniversary, he testified before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming where he was called a prophet, and addressed a luncheon at the National Press Club where he was called a hero by former Sen. Tim Wirth, D-Colo., who headed the 1988 hearing.

To cut emissions, Hansen said coal-fired power plants that don't capture carbon dioxide emissions shouldn't be used in the United States after 2025, and should be eliminated in the rest of the world by 2030. That carbon capture technology is still being developed and not yet cost efficient for power plants.

Burning fossil fuels like coal is the chief cause of man-made greenhouse gases. Hansen said the Earth's atmosphere has got to get back to a level of 350 parts of carbon dioxide per million. Last month, it was 10 percent higher: 386.7 parts per million.

Hansen said he'll testify on behalf of British protesters against new coal-fired power plants. Protesters have chained themselves to gates and equipment at sites of several proposed coal plants in England.

"The thing that I think is most important is to block coal-fired power plants," Hansen told the luncheon. "I'm not yet at the point of chaining myself but we somehow have to draw attention to this."

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for many U.S. utilities, including those trying to build new coal plants, said while Hansen has shown foresight as a scientist, his "stop them all approach is very simplistic" and shows that he is beyond his level of expertise.

The year of Hansen's original testimony was the world's hottest year on record. Since then, 14 years have been hotter, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Two decades later, Hansen spent his time on the question of whether it's too late to do anything about it. His answer: There's still time to stop the worst, but not much time.

"We see a tipping point occurring right before our eyes," Hansen told the AP before the luncheon. "The Arctic is the first tipping point and it's occurring exactly the way we said it would."

Hansen, echoing work by other scientists, said that in five to 10 years, the Arctic will be free of sea ice in the summer.

Longtime global warming skeptic Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., citing a recent poll, said in a statement, "Hansen, (former Vice President) Gore and the media have been trumpeting man-made climate doom since the 1980s. But Americans are not buying it."

But Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., committee chairman, said, "Dr. Hansen was right. Twenty years later, we recognize him as a climate prophet."

[PS: Just after I posted this, the federal agency that puts together all the intelligence agencies reports just issued a concensus report on the impact global warming will have on USA security over the next thirty years, saying global warming and rising sea levels is already a fact and will play a major role in population displacement and conflicts over resources, etc.]

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY

I always thought I’d seen this movie, the 1935, black-and-white, Oscar winning one with Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone.

Maybe I did on TV when I was a kid, but I think it’s more likely I saw clips from it so often I thought I’d seen it. But watching it all the way through the other night on TCM, there was a lot I didn’t remember ever seeing before, including shots that helped me finally get how Gable became “The King.”

That label may have originally been meant to convey his being “the King of the Box Office,” but it stuck, even when others eclipsed him and far outdid him in terms of Hollywood money.

Just like Elvis (no matter how “racist” the elevation of him might have seemed above the other founders of rock’n’roll, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Bo Diddley) Gable’s box office success wasn’t the only reason for his crowning.

If you only know Elvis from the Las Vegas years, or even the later Hollywood years, it’s hard to understand. The same with Gable. If you only know him from later movies, even GONE WITH THE WIND, you’ll miss the point. You have to see both these guys in their youthful glory to get it.

Gable may have looked a little goofy in some of his earlier roles, and his voice didn’t help, as uniquely iconic as it is, it’s also grating and not very seductive sounding. But what MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY showed me for the first time, is that he was beautiful, just like Elvis, in a way rare for a man.

Sexy, hunky—at least in terms of their time—and obviously talented, it was the charisma of their image, their sexy masculinity that at times was simply beautiful.

There’s a couple of scenes in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY when Gable is silent and the camera lingers on his face or his full physical presence and you get it. Without that edgy sounding voice of his, you suddenly see a young man who was, at least through the movie camera, stunning.

One of these scenes is a shot of him and Franchot Tone reclining on the sand watching their Tahitian lovers (also beautiful screen presences—Movito and Mamo Clark—as was Tone, but none of them burned through the camera lens like Gable did). Gable has his feet pulled up and his knees to the side with nothing on but a makeshift bathing suit as he stares at the women and the camera stares at him and it reminded me of nothing so much as similar shots of Marilyn Monroe!

I don’t mean he comes across androgynous or feminine, though all of these four beauties, the men and the women, look pleasingly softer than the typically toned up, knotted muscled, often steroided out, bodies I see too often in movies today.

[An extended aside: I’m impressed with the discipline of stars physical workouts and all, and used to know Lisa Lyons, I think her name was, who was one of the first famous female body builders and was certainly very attractive and sexy in person, and her muscle shots were fascinating and in Robert Maplethorpe’s photos even artistic, not just the photos but her body, but as a man who loves women and can appreciate a beautiful man, I’m not attracted to bodies in which you can see their musculature through their skin as is so often the case these days, I don’t get the obsession with “six-pack abs,” that even my beautiful ten-year-old boy seems concerned with and he’s very thin, I find that kind of muscle definition popping out from under the skin not only distracting from the sensual and aesthetic pleasure of skin and body shapes but aesthetically and sensually a turn off, maybe it’s just my age, but I don’t dig looking at women whose bodies seem to be telegraphing “look at how hard I work out” and whose bellies instead of being soft and round like they were in the stars and pin ups of my youth look tight and hard and uninviting.]

I mean it’s one of those images—the shot of Gable sitting on his legs more or less on the beach—that transcends gender and race and all the other limitations to the old conceptions of beauty and just IS beautiful.

And let me make this clear too, I fell in love with both the actresses playing the Tahitian beauties, and I never found Gable that attractive, interesting as a movie icon and sometimes as an actor, as in the more widely known IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. His rugged individualism and wise guy ironic tone that often ended up getting him in trouble or looking like a fool, which his characters usually accepted graciously once the jig was up, I found charming and entertaining, but I didn’t know why women of his generation swooned over him, like my teenage sisters swooning over Sinatra or Nat King Cole or my contemporaries over Elvis or The Beatles (none of whom looked much different than Gable in a bathing suit, no “six packs” etc.).

Now I do. That beach scene, as well as several others, like the one with him and his Tahitian beauty as they kiss before he goes back to the ship after their first tryst, and other shots of him in full Naval regalia, except the hat, not speaking, just looking magnificent.

The other thing that was a discovery watching this movie all the way through was the acting and the story telling. It does have the usual melodramatic flourishes of its time here and there, but they’re very few and for the most part the acting is fantastic. Charles Laughton is his usual great self, his treatment of Captain Bligh’s character gives him much more complexity than the story line otherwise does, and much more than most Hollywood character actors of that time would have.

There’s a reason it’s a classic. If you’ve never seen it, check it out sometime, remembering it’s a product of its time and place, but then let the grace of its artistry work on you and I think you’ll be rewarded.

Monday, June 23, 2008

"BOOKS" ABOUT MUSIC

After my recent book post, I thought I’d make an alphabet list of my favorite books about music, had some strange gaps and I’m sure memory losses, but this is what I came up with, using the label “books” very loosely for some of them (and if you’re just tuning in, I make these lists at night falling asleep or back to sleep and usually alphabetical so I can remember them in the morning, even if I don’t get an item for every letter):

A? (all I could think of was Louis Zukofsky's serial poem "A" some sections of which spend a lot of words about music)
BIRD The Legend of Charlie Parker by Robert George Reisner (the first book about Parker after his death, I think, at least the first I read, not very scholarly accurate, but full of great stories and tributes by many who knew him) and BING CROSBY A Pocketful of Dreams: the Early Years by Gary Giddins (one of my favorite biographies)
CARELESS LOVE The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick (volume two of his great biography), CHRONICLES Volume One by Bob Dylan, and COLTRANE by Ben Ratliff
DAY LADY DIED, THE by Frank O’Hara (actually a poem, but a great one that captures what Billie Holiday meant to those in the know at the time of her death)
ELVIS Word for Word by Jerry Osborne (a surprisingly dramatic read of Elvis’s rise and fall in his own words, from interviews and his notes and introductions etc.)
FOREVER YOUNG by Douglas L. Gilbert and David Marsh (Dylan on the cusp of becoming a legend)
GREEN SUEDE SHOES by Larry Kirwin (his story and the story of Black 47)
HORN FIGHT AT THE MISSION CORRAL by Richard Barker (this piece I first saw in the 1960 anthology THE BEATS edited by Seymour Krim, Barker was a jazz drummer and writer who tells the story of a session at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival when Gerry Mulligan tried to control a crowd watching him and fellow saxophonist Brew Moore play together after not having done that in ten years and with a rhythm section neither had ever worked with before, and then Moore steps down to let Sonny Rollins take over, it’s one of the best takes on jazz music and audiences ever written to my mind)
I. W. W. SONGS (the real “little red book”—of songs from the Wobblies)
JAZZSPEAK (this isn’t really a book, it’s a CD that New Alliance put out in 1991 as an anthology of poetry about jazz and with jazz, including luminaries like Archie Shepp and Amiri Baraka, and less well known poets like yours truly with a poem about Eric Dolphy from my 1970s collection ATTITUDE)
K?
LOUIS ARMSTRONG IN HIS OWN WORDS by Louis Armstrong (selected from the reams of typewritten memoirs and opinions he wrote diligently all his life, mostly in various dressing rooms and green rooms before and after shows), LAST NIGHT’S FUN by Ciaran Carson (the traditional Irish music scene in Ireland at its best, each chapter based on a tune and the memories of playing it, or hearing it played or sung) and LAST TRAIN TO MEMPHIS The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick (volume one of this great biography)
MANNER MUSIC, THE by Charles Reznikoff (a novel published after Reznikoff’s death by Black Sparrow about a classical musician, among other things, obscure but one of my favorites) and MAHLER by Jonathan Williams (a book of poems mostly responding to Mahler’s music in Williams’ unique style)
NEW YORK: Songs of the City by Nancy Groce (a compilation of songs about and/or set in New York City with commentary and some history), and NICARAGUA DIARY How I Spent My Summer Vacation or I Was a Commie Dupe for the SANDINISTAS by Paul Kantner (not exactly about music but by a great musician (and great guy) so music comes to mind when reading it despite the political realities)
ONE TRAIN LATER: A Memoir by Andy Summers (an interesting take not only on The Police and their formation and rise to success and break up, but also of the London and then global music scene of the 1970s and ‘80s) and OUT OF OUR MINDS by George O’Brien (the third in his great autobiographical trilogy, of which the first two, VILLAGE OF LONGING and DANCEHALL DAYS, contain many references to music, but the third actually deals with his rock’n’roll days in London in the 1960s)
POSITIVELY MAIN STREET Bob Dylan’s Minnesota by Toby Thompson (now out in the new edition I posted about, this first book on Dylan written by a 24-year-old fan and writer was the first to crack the myth of Dylan with the reality of the origins of his genius, including that interview with Dylan’s mother!), and POSITIVELY 4TH STREET by David Hadju (an incredibly accurate portrait of the early 1960s as seen through the music and relationships between and among Dylan, Joan Baez, her sister Mimi and Richard Farina)
Q?
ROLLING THUNDER LOGBOOK by Sam Sheperd (rough and real takes on the famous Dylan touring show of the 1970s)
STRAIGHT, NO CHASER The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk by Leslie Gourse
THAT SPECIAL PLACE by Terence Winch (great book mostly about the adventures of Terence and the Irish traditional music band Celtic Thunder—the original, not the recent show of that name)
U?
VOICE, THE by E. J. Kahn Jr. (one of the, if not the, first book about Sinatra, during his first wave of popularity and influence in the 1940s, which I found for a few bucks in a used bookstore in the 1970s and have cherished ever since)
WITH BILLIE by Julia Blackburn (full of those great interviews with the folks who really knew her)
X?
Y?
Z?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

THE VISITOR

A nice little movie. Great performances all around. Richard Jenkins is perfect in the lead as the seemingly typical WASP college professor, whose middle age sadness, and/or depression, caused by the loss of his wife make him a not uncommon figure in literature but pretty uncommon for the lead in a film.

The epiphany he experiences, brought about by an unexpected collision with the most obvious non-WASPS a writer might come up with—illegal aliens—only in this case not typical, A young woman from Senegal (played by Danai Jekesi Guirra), and two Syrians (Palestinian Syrians if I remember correctly), a mother (played by Hiam Abbass) and son (Haaz Sleiman).

Some scenes seem a little too contrived, or typically independent-movie quirky, but most don’t, most seem as real as any life. The resolution of the film left me disappointed, but was still remarkably untypical if not totally unexpected.

The thing that struck me the most about the movie’s originality were the two women leads—Guirra and Abbass—women I can’t imagine a Hollywood movie ever casting as leads, or even in supporting roles, and yet so delightful and moving to not only watch act, but to just gaze on their uniquely individual beauty.

I’d gladly see it again just for that. But the male leads and all the actors, as well as the story, make it worth seeing more than once as well.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

WITH BILLIE/POSITIVELY MAIN STREET/THE WAY THE WIND BLEW



For my recent birthday, my friend Ray gave me a couple of books, including WITH BILLIE, A New Look At the Unforgettable Lady Day. I loved it.

The “author,” Julia Blackburn, is more like an editor and commentator. She uses a series of interviews, most of them done c. 1971 by Linda Kuehl with people who knew Billie Holiday at various times in her life, including when she was a girl.

Blackburn doesn’t try to make them coalesce into one perspective, she lets each talk for themselves, even when their memories of specific shared events differ. The voices of these old jazz musicians and “pimps” (called this either by their own account or descriptions from others who knew them) and various lovers of Billie’s and others she knew, are so real and present, it’s as if they’re still alive, which they are in this book.

The portrait that emerges of Billie, is one that is contradictory and many faceted and yet eventually a fully realized woman emerges in all her genius and flawed humanity. I highly recommend it, especially to those who only know the seemingly pretty contrived version of her story LADY SINGS THE BLUES.



POSITIVELY MAIN STREET Bob Dylan’s Minnesota by Toby Thompson partially came out in serial form in The Village Voice back in 1969, where I first read it. Not long afterward, it was expanded into a book that was one of the first to expose Dylan’s true past as opposed to the myths he deliberately spread about his origins (teenage hobo, carnival worker, orphan, etc.).

But it does so lovingly and honestly, if with the expected self-indulgence of the time and the author’s age, as it also tells the story of how a twenty-four-year-old budding journalist jumps in his VW bug one day and drives to Hibbing, Minnesota, to discover where the ‘60s icon really came from and what his back story really might have been.

He ends up not only interviewing “the Girl from the North Country,” Echo Haelstrom, and “Bob’s” “Jewish mother” and brother and teachers etc., but also filling in for Dylan among his old friends and acquaintances, playing Dylan’s songs on the guitar and harmonica and singing them, in a way that may have seemed stratingly revolutionary at the time for a journalist to do, he actually recreates a bit of Dylan’s existence as his own.

I knew Thompson back then as a poet in some of the same little mags I published in, and later came to know him personally (he interviewed me and included part of my life story and poetry in the “Sex” chapter (!) of his 1979 book The ‘60s Report, which chronicled what had happened to various ‘60s figures in the ‘70s).

POSITIVELY MAIN STREET was a revelation back then, and surprisingly, still is in its latest edition (with an intelligent interview with the author included, as well as some updates). As much as we think we know about Dylan, the 1960s, and “the New Journalism” that Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson came to represent, this book adds dimensions and nuances and insights into all these things, and more, than we get anywhere else.

I’m glad it’s back in print.



THE WAY THE WIND BLEW, A History of the Weather Underground by Ron Jacobs was another gift from my friend Ray. I’m grateful for it too, even though it’s a pretty dry rendering of an era I was a part of—many of the events recorded in it I was at, and the arguments I took part in, though I was never a part of the Weather Underground.

But dry as it mostly is, it still is a pretty comprehensive, yet compact, chronology of the development of a “revolutionary” organization that helped, in some ways, to destroy ”the movement” for a different kind of “America” that many of us were working to bring about back then.

In part we succeeded: the View Nam War ended, our troops were brought home, no more deaths from that fiasco would plague us; legal racism and segregation were defeated and equality of opportunity became more of a possibility than it had been; government’s intrusion into our private lives was lessened (at least until the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act of this administration); etc.

Maybe the most lasting change we helped bring about was the opening up of the nominating process for presidential and other candidates and the end of the cultural and stylistic conformity that had dominated the 1950s.

This book addresses most of those changes, but from the perspective of the factional fights over how best to bring about these changes and/or what they meant for “the revolution” and how to use them to further the political ends of various factions on the left, and in particular the impact of the “Weather” faction of SDS on the left, especially after they embraced violence and went “underground.”

If you weren’t there and don’t have any previous knowledge of the issues and the factionalism, it may be not only too dry, but too obscure for you. But for me, it was a clarification of some more vague memories, as well as a reminder of why I made the decisions I did at the time, for instance to oppose the choices this group of mostly privileged college students made no matter how well intentioned.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

THREE POSTS IN ONE DAY, A NEW RECORD

I got an email from my old school friend Jim, whose comments on some recent posts I let push my buttons and I responded with a bit more vitriol than I'm comfortable with. He had an epiphany when he read Paul Harryn's much more reasoned response to Jim's dismissal of all things Democratic and/or liberal, etc.

I wrote back to Jim that Paul's comment brought me up too. I realized I had been getting quite strident myself and was about to put a comment on that last series of angry exchanges saying so. Then I decided to just make it a new post.

The fact is I invite comments as it says up in the right hand corner, so I shouldn't get so upset at some of them. What was and is upsetting is a tendency from my critics from the right, and I know I sometimes have it too, as do many on both sides of the issues, to generalize the other's beliefs and tendencies.

This is the part that angers us I believe.

For instance the "big government" charge the right constantly throws at Democrats. In fact, most Democrats I know inside and out of politics, do not espouse big goverment. And as I have pointed out repeatedly in answer to this accusation, which parrots a party line with little basis in reality (because it works with a lot of people who begin to believe it), the facts show that the greatest recent expansion of government came under the present president and before that under Reagan-Bush Sr. Under Clinton (actually Al Gore headed the process) many areas of the federal government were reduced in size.

There is little to dispute here, but even if there was, that would not mean that all Democrats or even most of them want government to expand. It is specific goverment programs that are really at the crux of the arguments, and again the differences aren't the way they are protrayed in the right's rhetoric (or mine at times). Republicans insist that Democrats don't support the military because Democrats don't support Republican uses of the military. But in fact neither party has been able to do much in the way of reducing the overexpenditures and even bogus weapons contracting programs and other military contracts that could be gotten much cheaper, because specific Senators and members of Congress of both parties back the programs in their districts and states.

But it is a fact that Republican administrations tend to spend more on those contracts and those weapons than Democratic administrations (at least the Clinton vs. the Reagan-Bush-Bush ones), and that Democrats tend to spend more, or try to (for the past seven years they haven't had the power and still don't in the Senate, yet) on G.I. and veterans benefits etc.

There are some core differences, of course, but even they are nuanced and often not as they are portrayed in each party's caricatures of the other party. There are plenty of Democrats who oppose abortion, for instance, and plenty of Republicans who support it (including all the Bush women as I understand it). But the appointment of Supreme Court justices, as well as federal judges around the country, who back the more rightwing policies and perspectives of the Republican Party obviously often do tend to support anti-abortion legsilation, etc. And so on endlessly.

Jim's, and other rightwinger's dismissal of all liberal programs as failures is just plain silly. Unless you distort or completely deny the facts. Particular laws and/or goverment programs created by the Democrats and/or Republicans have succeeded and others have failed on both sides. I believe that more Democratic ones have succeeded and that the Democratic ones have also benefited more people. They, the right, don't, obviously. We can disagree and state our cases without attacking each other. I would hope and will try to do.

But the main point I want to make is that what drove me crazy the most in the last exchanges was Jim's assumption that because I have more important things to do with my time and other subjects I wish to address on the blog etc. that somehow that means I don't know my facts or care to defend them, when I have done that over and over again in response to his and other rightwing comments and they respond by either dismissing my point of view based on the facts I present or refer to and avoid answering my facts by changing the subject and throwing more of their own arcane footnotes about some other topic or more party-line generalizations.

For instance, the impact of pollution and deforestation and overpopulation as well as the deregulation of certain industries and global corporate businesses has contributed to, and in some cases caused, not only major climate changes around the world and the extinction of thousands of species of animals and insects and plants and other living things, as well as manmade creations (the loss of architectural wonders and art work to air pollution etc. in Venice, Italy, for instance, or the Taj Mahal, etc.), it has also thrived more under some adminsitrations than others. Yes it's true China and other rapidly developing nations should have been included in the Kyoto agreement, but it is also true that had the U.S. lived up to that protacol there would be less pollution here, and less in the world at large, than there actually is, no matter how much is contributed by China (and up until very recently the USA has been the biggest polluter).

I have no fear of defending my "liberal" perspective (though it has been and sometimes still is more radical and/or libertarian in some cases and ultimately unclassifiable like most of us), I just don't have the time to footnote every reference, which at any rate, are so widely available there is really no need to. Any reputable source will provide the same list of worlwide qualified sicentists (unlike Michael Chricton, or however you spell the novelist's name the right so loves to quote on the global warming issue, and yes I know he was educated as a doctor, but that is not a climate scientist) that shows clearly that not just a majority of these scientists around the world, but a close to unanimous percentage of these scientists, have stated unequivically that golabl warming is a fact and that humans are contributing greatly to the reality and that if it isn't reversed within a matter of only a few more years it will become impossible to reverse and then will at least have to be addressed, as for instance the liberal Dutch government already has with their windmills and 1,000 year flood levies that can withstand hurricanes and other natural catastrophes way beyond anything anywhere in the USA can or will be able to in the future, unless our government makes some drastic changes in not just laws governing pollution and greenhouse gases and all the rest, but also in what kinds of preparations are made for weather changes even more severe than we've already seen
.
Et-as-I-like-to-say-endlessly-cetera.

PS: And let's accept the reality that both my critics and I and I'm sure all of us love this country and its founding documents, or the ideals in them, including the later revisions that improved them, like ending slavery and legal segregation and inequality for black citizens, creating women's right to vote, etc.

LARA LOGAN

When Peter Jennings was alive, I liked watching the evening news with him on ABC. I thought he had the best coverage and the best grasp of foreign news of anyone on the major networks.

My favorite foreign correspondent in those days was Christina Amanpour on CNN, who I have written about before on this blog as one of the women I have fallen in love with from afar. Her courage, her intelligence, her integrity and her accent, all give her an allure that's impossible to duplicate. There's no one like her on TV period.

After Jennings died, I noticed that ABC moved to the right in its perspective and I checked out other channels to see what they were doing. When Katie Couric took over at CBS I watched that evening news regularly for awhile, but it seemed full of studio gimmicks that didn't raise the level of the news coverage nor compliment Couric's particular charisma and personality.

Then I started watching Brian Williams on NBC and found him the closest to what I dug about Jennings, in terms of coverage, intelligence, honesty, etc. But I would jump over to CBS to see how Couric was doing now and then, and usually I didn't like it as her coverage either swung to the right or the left or from perky to overly serious etc.

Then one night quite a while ago, a year or so maybe, I switched over to CBS and a stunningly beautiful woman with a British accent (I couldn't quite locate it's origins, Australia? South Africa? Britain? or with her name Ireland via England?) was reporting from the field in Iraq at a time when most correspondents were reporting from safe locations there.

She not only seemed fearless, like Amanpour, and as beautiful or more so than any movie star, but unbelievably direct in her reporting, not cushioning any realities, and with such intelligence and clarity I wondered why I didn't know who she was, or why the entire world didn't.

Since then I try to catch her reports whenever I can and am always knocked out by not just their comprehensive honesty and her obvious bravery, but by how insightful and free of all the detritus of most "American" reporters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then last night, watching the John Stewart Show, which lately has returned to being the best source for truthful news, despite the satire and parodies, or actually because of them, and his guest was Lara Logan.

I think he was thrown by not only her honesty and her beauty, but she was a little self-conscious being in a one-on-one situation with a comedian and trying to match his comic skills, so the interview is not as revealing about the war(s) as it could have been, but watch it until the end and you'll see it gets there.

[The link doesn't seem to work, though I can still go to Comedy Central and locate John Stewart and find clips from last night's show and find the interview with Lara Logan, but when I put in the URL for it, it keeps coming up empty, with much older shows listed. Maybe someone more techno skilled can help?]

[Thanks to "Butch in Waukegan" for this link to another source, scroll down for the video of Lara Logan's appearance on The Daily Show.]

ANYONE AND EVERYONE

That’s the name of a documentary (made by Polis Schutz) I caught the other night on PBS that was extraordinarily moving.

It was about the parents of “gay people,” as one of them put it, including a Catholic couple who never miss Mass, a Native American (Cherokee) couple who are Southern Baptists, a Mormon couple who are Republican, an Asian-American Presbyterian couple, A Bolivian-American parent, etc.

Most of them shared an initial reaction to their sons or daughters “coming out”—they cried, were shocked, confused, etc. Only some were immediately accepting—and it was surprising which were—and all eventually were.

That’s the moving part. Hearing these mostly middle-aged couples explain their initial “ignorance,” again their word, followed by their eventual understanding.

I was crying by the end of it, as the parents and sometimes their children often were in the film. I challenge anyone to watch it and not at least be moved, if not actually teary eyed, as I was, by the end of it.

Talk about acceptance and reconciliation. A dramatic model for all of us in our various conflicts of personality and perspective, biological or otherwise.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

UNIQUE SINGERS

pent the weekend in the Berkshires with my progeny. Nothing better than being with my offspring.

On the way up, driving and scanning the radio stations with my 10-year-old son in the back seat telling me when to stop, unless I stop before he says anything, we both go for Cindy Lauper singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and it strikes me how unique her voice is and what she did with it.

That got me thinking as I fell asleep last night of singers whose voices were not only unique but what they did with them was unique also and influenced, if not totally changed, singing forever. So here’s as far as I got in that alphabet I stuck with one name for each letter, though there are obviously more as in the Cs there’s Ray Charles and Betty Carter, etc. but I chose the one I think was the most original and really changed singing most, in some cases from a before to an after them):

ARMSTRONG, LOUIS
BJORK
CROSBY, BING
DYLAN, BOB
ECKSTEIN, BILLY (he maybe influenced musicians more, like Miles Davis etc.)
FITZGERALD, ELLA
GREEN, AL
HOLIDAY, BILLIE
I?
JOHNSON, ROBERT
KLINE, PATSY
LAUPER, CINDY
MCFARRIN, BOBBY
NELSON, WILLIE (although Gene Autrey may be his predecessor)
O’CONNOR, SINEAD
PRESLEY, ELVIS
Q?
RICHARD, LITTLE
STREISAND, BARBRA (FRANK SINATRA had a greater immediate impact and a lasting emotional impact, but Streisand, no matter what you think of her, changed female pop singing from 1960, or whenever she came on the scene, to the present)
T? (TINA TURNER was definitely influential, but how much?)
U?
VALLI, FRANKIE (the heavy metal falsetto screamers owe as much to him as they do to Little Richard!)
WILLIAMS, HANK
X?
YOUNG, NEIL
ZAPPA, FRANK (okay, his influence was more instrumental than vocal, but can you think of any Z’s?)

Monday, June 16, 2008

OH, AND BY THE WAY

Here's a brief response to some of the rightwing comments on various posts on this blog, one of whom recently quoted one of the smears below which they obviously received from the rightwing smear campaign that has put them out on the internet, these alleged quotes from passages from Senator Obama's books related to race and religion.

You can find more responses to Obama smears, both Barack and Michelle (thanks to Tom Wilson for the link) on this "Fight the Smears" site, where they point out that "The majority of these are alterations, deliberate manipulations, and in one case, an outright fabrication, of Obama's words."

SMEAR EMAIL

From Dreams From My Father: 'I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mothers race.'

FACT

Nothing close to this quote appears in Dreams from My Father

SMEAR EMAIL

'There was something about him that made me wary, a little too sure of himself, maybe. And white.'

FACT

FULL QUOTE From Dreams From My Father:

"He offered to start me off at ten thousand dollars the first year, with a two-thousand-dollar travel allowance to buy a car; the salary would go up if things worked out. After he was gone, I took the long way home, along the East River promenade, and tried to figure out what to make of the man. He was smart, I decided. He seemed committed to his work. Still, there was something about him that made me wary. A little too sure of himself, maybe. And white--he'd said himself that that was a problem." [Page 142]

SMEAR EMAIL

'I never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn't speak to my own. It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa, that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela.'

FACT

FULL QUOTE From Dreams From My Father:

"All my life, I had carried a single image of my father, one that I had sometimes rebelled against but had never questioned, one that I had later tried to take as my own. The brilliant scholar, the generous friend, the upstanding leader--my father had been all those things. All those things and more, because except for that one brief visit in Hawaii, he had never been present to foil the image, because I hadn't seen what perhaps most men see at some point in their lives: their father's body shrinking, their father's best hopes dashed, their father's face lined with grief and regret.

"Yes, I'd seen weakness in other men--Gramps and his disappointments, Lolo and his compromise. But these men had become object lessons for me, men I might love but never emulate, white men and brown men whose fates didn't speak to my own. It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa, that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela. And if later I saw that the black men I knew--Frank or Ray or Will or Rafiq--fell short of such lofty standards; if I had learned to respect these men for the struggles they went through, recognizing them as my own--my father's voice had nevertheless remained untainted, inspiring, rebuking, granting or withholding approval. You do not work hard enough, Barry. You must help in your people's struggle. Wake up, black man!

"Now, as I sat in the glow of a single light bulb, rocking slightly on a hard-backed chair, that image had suddenly vanished. Replaced by...what? A bitter drunk? An abusive husband? A defeated, lonely bureaucrat? To think that all my life I had been wrestling with nothing more than a ghost!" [Page 220]

SMEAR EMAIL

'I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.'

FACT

FULL QUOTE From Audacity of Hope:

"Whenever I appear before immigrant audiences, I can count on some good-natured ribbing from my staff after my speech; according to them, my remarks always follow a three-part structure: "I am your friend," "[Fill in the home country] has been a cradle of civilization," and "You embody the American dream." They're right, my message is simple, for what I've come to understand is that my mere presence before these newly minted Americans serves notice that they matter, that they are voters critical to my success and full-fledged citizens deserving of respect.

"Of course, not all my conversations in immigrant communities follow this easy pattern. In the wake of 9/11, my meetings with Arab and Pakistani Americans, for example, have a more urgent quality, for the stories of detentions and FBI questioning and hard stares from neighbors have shaken their sense of security and belonging. They have been reminded that the history of immigration in this country has a dark underbelly; they need specific assurances that their citizenship really means something, that America has learned the right lessons from the Japanese internments during World War II, and that I will stand with them should the political winds shift in an ugly direction." [Page 260-261]

QUOTE FOR THE DAY

I'm not going to get this quote exactly right, but my friend Sylvia left a message yesterday from Iowa City about the flooding there and in Cedar Rapids and other places, saying something like: "It's just like Katrina, only white people, so they're taking better care of it."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

ROMAN POLANKSI WANTED/DESIRED AND RINGO STARR INTERVIEW

Caught the documentary on Polanski, his life and travails, from the loss of his parents in WWII Poland to the Nazis, to the loss of his wife and the mother of his son-to-be to the Manson family insanity, to the injustices of the legal system due to a publicity hound judge intimidated and manipulated by the media etc. in the case that led to his exile.

Extraordinary piece of film making that raises all kinds of interesting questions about life, art, justice, freedom, truth, history, perspective, etc. Worth seeing if you get HBO.

The Ringo Starr interview was by Dave Stewart, and not only worth it for the honesty and clearheaded perspective of Starr on his life as a Beatle and as a musician in that context and beyond, including explanations about his drumming and the making of the various albums and songs and the break up etc. but also the song Stewart got him to write and collaborate musically on that they end with, which is the most personal song, no, all his songs turn out to have been pretty personal, but the most clearly about his life. Worth watching and hearing.

As John Lennon said in his famous post-Beatles ROLLING STONE magazine interview, where he dissed Paul and even George a little, but had nothing but good things to say about Ringo, he said Ringo would have been a star whether or not he had ever joined the Beatles.

This interview shows why, I think. Always loved that guy. Also, lots of great Beatles clips.

Friday, June 13, 2008

DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN AND KUNG FU PANDA

I’m not that crazy about Adam Sandler or Jack Black. At least not when they’re doing the kind of overgrown juvenile obnoxiousness that often defines their humor and has made them fortunes and movie stars (so what do I know).

When Sandler’s doing something a little more age appropriate, like 50 FIRST DATES or THE WEDDING SINGER, I actually like his comic acting skills a lot. Or his more dramatic attempts as in REIGN OVER ME.

Not so Black. He’s more of a mixed bag in straight drama. I hated him in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING. But dug him where most of us discovered him in HIGH FIDELITY.

The absence of seemingly any sensitivity for others’ feelings or space or perspective or etc. (I know I know that’s the joke) makes Black always seem like somebody I’d like to punch, or would have liked to back in the day.

With Sandler it’s more the smug spoiled kid attitude that brings that out in me. Though probably either of them could kick my old butt these days, and Sandler certainly looks like he can in DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN.

He seems to spend a lot of the earlier part of the movie naked or semi-nude, and seems pretty beefed up in the old style non-steroid way. The nudity is part of the humor, though I suspect a little showing off on Sandler’s part as well.

Black was also naked in a few shots in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, which I found way too much more than I paid for, but he also seemed pretty proud of his huge gut as well as his butt. And for all I know, women find that attractive (actually I know at least one beautiful woman who’s admitted to me she loves men with big bellies, but I still find it difficult to accept that Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING would put up with not just the jerk Black plays in the flick but with his preening solipsism).

But as the voice of the title character in the animated KUNG FU PANDA, Black infused the character with the kind of charm and vulnerability, as well as charisma, I often find lacking in his actual movie roles, even though I often end up digging the movies anyway, like SCHOOL OF ROCK and NACHO LIBRE.

Sandler usually wins me over also, despite my reservations about the characters he plays and his approach to humor. But in DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN, he doesn’t quite pull it off for my taste.

Part of the problem is the plethora of genital jokes, his genitals, or pubic area jokes to be more specific. It’s not just juvenile and tiresome, but it’s attached to a story that’s an attempt to make humor out of the debilitatingly stubborn problem of Israel and the Palestinians.

The story is pretty funny at times, the unreality of Zohan, a super hero Mossad agent (Israeli CIA more or less) and his super feats, coupled with jokes about Israeli eating habits and retail shenanigans, as well as similarly broad jokes about Arabs and others.

But in the end, the seemingly across the board political un-correctness leans in favor of the Israelis, not the Arabs, and definitely not the Irish (the only unrepentant completely intolerant bigoted hateful ugly character is named “O’Skanlon” which I assume is a nod to Bill O’Reilly and his ilk, coupled with a slight on “white trash redneck” bigots since O’Skanlon has a good ol’ boy deep South accent as well, a prejudice I always disliked, from the first time I encountered it and wrote a review of THE WILD BUNCH when it came out in 1969 and got a lot of letters from “hillbillys” as they were proud to call themselves thinking I was one of them because I dared to point out that the more despicable the character in that film, the thicker his “hillbilly” accent, a not uncommon movie cliché, along with the evil Arab terrorist etc.).

When Zohan takes on an enclave of Palestinian fighters beyond cliché, and defeats them all until he encounters John Tuturro playing Zohan’s Palestinian nemesis, one of the Arab fighters and Zohan engage in a short political riff that ends with the Arab defeated by Zohan and Zohan saying to the Arab plummeting several stories down, something about how yes it’s true that Zohan is relatively new to this land and the Arab’s people have been there for a few hundred years, but Zohan’s ancestors were there thousands of years ago.

It’s the kind of jive argument the people who made this movie seem to be making fun of except for certain moments when they don’t, like the above. Otherwise they seem to be trying to transcend the usual arguments with a message of “we can all get along” if we accept each other as not only the way we are, but that the way we are is pretty close (as is usually the case with the most long lived “enemies”) but then defeats with scenes like the above.

Because if that’s all the Arabs would have to do is acknowledge that the Jews were in Israel first, even if thousands of years ago, than the Palestinians could say, well no, actually, we descend from the people the original Israelis displaced etc. and Native Americans would have the right to displace the rest of us “Americans” descended from anything other than native tribes, kick us off our land, etc. etc.

Too bad Sandler and the others who made this flick couldn’t resist being a little too self-righteous politically between all the otherwise leveling jokes about both sides, or all sides. And too bad the only truly evil guy had to be an Irish descended redneck.

But KUNG FU PANDA is pretty fun. If you have a kid, they’ll probably dig both these flicks, though the humor in ZOHAN is mostly for adults, or overgrown juveniles.

THANKS TO MIKE GARAHAM FOR SENDING THIS LINK

My choice for VP.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

THANKS TO ELAINE, GENE, ET. AL.

Power's back on and so many people have forwarded this video, I'm gonna try and actually put it right here:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

POWER OUT QUOTE

I lost all power for twelve hours on Monday, during the height of the heatwave here, and now it's been out since 8PM last night (it's now 2:30PM the next day and still out), after "browning out" all day yesterday before finally fully going out.

PSE&G blamed it on various things over the past several days, last night saying it was an electrical fire caused by a downed wire in the area after a thunderstorm came through with seventy mile an hour winds [have heard since that they were "tornado force winds" and the town has been declared a disaster area" with many wires down and many houses and cars severely damaged and power still not on for many households though mine came back on tonight when I'm adding this addendum around 10PM] that caused major damage, many trees falling on cars and houses etc. (almost impossible to get around this town today).

The news said the town I live in was the hardest hit by the storm and its winds. They also predict the power may be out until Friday! Let's hope not. Just a taste of only one of the inconveniences that has oppressed Iraqis since we invaded (having power for only a few hours a day if that).

What's most mystifying is that the heat wave was predicted for quite a while, as have the generally worse weather conditions worlwide. So why shouldn't a US power company be prepared for that? Head in the sand shortsighted policies, same as the current administration. Which seques into this exceprt from a Washington Post article on how not even the Iraqis want us there anymore, and certainly not the way we have been there:

"Iraqis Condemn American Demands

Sides Negotiating U.S. Military Role

By Amit R. Paley and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 11, 2008; A01

BAGHDAD, June 10 -- High-level negotiations over the future role of the U.S. military in Iraq have turned into an increasingly acrimonious public debate, with Iraqi politicians denouncing what they say are U.S. demands to maintain nearly 60 bases in their country indefinitely.

Top Iraqi officials are calling for a radical reduction of the U.S. military's role here after the U.N. mandate authorizing its presence expires at the end of this year. Encouraged by recent Iraqi military successes, government officials have said that the United States should agree to confine American troops to military bases unless the Iraqis ask for their assistance, with some saying Iraq might be better off without them.

"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq," said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician on parliament's foreign relations committee who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.' "

Congress has grown increasingly restive over the negotiations, which would produce a status of forces agreement setting out the legal rights and responsibilities of U.S. troops in Iraq and a broader "security framework" defining the political and military relationship between the two countries. Senior lawmakers of both parties have demanded more information and questioned the Bush administration's insistence that no legislative approval is required.

In Iraq, the willingness to consider calling for the departure of American troops represents a major shift for members of the U.S.-backed government. Maliki this week visited Iran, where Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, urged him to reject any long-term security arrangements with the United States.

Failing to reach agreements this year authorizing the future presence of American forces in Iraq would be a strategic setback for the Bush administration, which says that such a presence is essential to promoting stability. Absent the agreements or the extension of the U.N. mandate, U.S. troops would have no legal basis to remain in Iraq."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

AMAZING STORY

Some of us have known this for a long time, but it seems science is now proving it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sunday, June 8, 2008

BILL FINEGAN R.I.P.

You might think you never heard of him, but if you ever read Jack Keroauc's MEXICO CITY BLUES, you have. Kerouac refers to Finegan and his big band partner and fellow arranger Eddie Sauter, two pretty famous names when I was a kid.

Finegan came from Newark, NJ, which was our big city since our town was right next door. I always assumed he was of Irish descent, given the name, and first knew of him as an arranger for the Glen Miller band before I was born but still present on the records my older brothers and sisters played.

In many ways, despite the film THE GLEN MILLER STORY (in which Jimmy Stewart humanized an otherwise pretty cool character, as bandmembers later told it), Finegan created (or at least perfected) the Glen Miller sound. A sound that not only influenced me, but anyone living or born in the late 1930s and 1940s and right up into the 1950s (when the movie came out), including Paul McCartney and John Lennon, by their own accounts.

After WWII, in which Finegan served and Miller died (when the plane he was in went down over the English channel), Finegan arranged for the Tommy Dorsey band, who Eddie Sauter also had arranged for, and eventually the two of them formed the Sauter-Finegan orchestra, which was one of the most innovative big bands in recording history, as well as one of the last, as rock'n'roll and economics pretty much killed the old big band thing.

Sauter died a while ago, and Finegan, who was 91 when he passed on Wednesday, was possibly the last big name from the big band era still alive. How terrific that this musical era lives on in recordings and on the web. It's impossible to return to the mindset of that time, musically or otherwise, and feel what it was like to be hit with Finegan's innovations as a dynamic and historic change of direction in the course of popular music, (which in his and Sauter's band included jazz and classical innovations), but you can still have the pleasure of his particular genius even if not the impact of the originality of his unique contribution.

(Although I couldn't find any Sauter-Finegan Orchestra videos on youtube, I did find this film version of the Glen Miller tune I loved most as a little kid, notice Jackie Gleason pretending to play bass and Caesar Romero the piano (actors replacing the real guys obviously) and keep watching as the best dancers besides Fred Astaire in film history, the Nicholson Brothers [woops, I of course mean the Nicholos brothers, my friend Ray corrected my somehow thinking of Jack!] do a pretty rad routine to their version of the same tune, which was originally arranged by Finegan)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

HISTORIC

It’s not gonna be easy. The rightwingers, including the ones who comment on this blog, are going to throw so many lies and distortions at this guy, and the media will step all over themselves, as they already have, to let McCain off the hook on his flip flops and mistakes and “misstatements” and support of junior, then jump on the Fox bandwagon every time the rightwing makes up a claim or blows something out of proportion.

But it’s still so historic that right now I don’t care. Including Hilary’s speech today supporting Obama and pointing out the changes their campaigns have already brought about, if only to prove to the faint hearted and doubters that an awful lot of people in this country are ready for change.

Watching her speech I was moved, no matter how much she and her campaign disappointed me over the past several weeks and more, because what her candidacy stands for, and most of what she said, is moving. When my mother was young. God rest her soul, women couldn’t vote, as Hilary pointed out. When I was young, African Americans weren’t able to vote in much of the South, much less go to a restaurant or movie theater etc. down there, and up here there were only a hand full of black politicians.

The rightwingers get all teary eyed over the flag, sometimes the Confederate flag, and a kind of patriotism that often doesn’t include a lot of the rest of us, especially if we don’t agree with them. And when some of us get teary eyed over the prospect of this country finally getting beyond race and gender and all the other categorizing that diminishes our potential to be the country of the future we now and then have been, they call us “America haters” and worse.

But there’s no going back.

Though even if Obama wins, the rightwingers won’t go gently into that good night, they will do everything they can to make an Obama administration fail (as they did Carter and tried to Clinton) but they can’t change the historic reality of this moment.

And though sometime in the future, when it will be commonplace to see African-Americans and Hispanics and Asians and all the other categories that exist or have been made up, and of any gender, running for president and winning, there will be Republicans that will try to pretend that they were a part of and even started this trend, but we’ll know better.

Meanwhile, don’t let them get away with disparaging Obama and all he stands for and has accomplished, including inspiring an entire generation to get involved in politics and fill them with hope that their time has come (as JFK did for many of us and RFK was doing when he was cut down, a comparison rightwingers will dismiss because the kind of inspiration Obama delivers threatens their longheld belief in getting and holding power no matter the cost to the rest of us).

Friday, June 6, 2008

ANOTHER MOVIE LIST (INVOLVING "THE PONIES")

All the commenting on the election like it’s a “horse race” made me think about how the two main sports paid attention to in my house when I was a kid were the fights and "the ponies." So when I couldn’t get back to sleep last night after the gerbil chewing his little wooden house down the hall in my son’s room woke me up (and after I put him in his tank out on the screened in porch and closed the door to it, one of the major attractions of this apartment) I concentrated on making another alphabet list on films in which horse racing or the track play a major part in a movie or at least in a turning point in the plot. But there were too many letters missing, so I moved on to my other favorite list making device, trinities, and here they are:

3 FAVORITE FILM NOIR MOVIES INVOLVING THE PONIES

THE KILLING (Stanley Kubrick’s first great flick)
ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (great Noir flick with playing the ponies at its core)
TIP ON A DEAD JOCKEY (not exactly “noir” Noir)

3 FAVORITE COMIC MOVIES INVOLVING THE PONIES

A DAY AT THE RACES (not the best Marx brothers flick, but still)
IT AIN’T HAY (what can I say, I was a big Abbott & Costello fan as a kid)
THE STING (not exactly a comedy, except in the Greek sense)

3 FAVORITE MOVIES INVOLVING THE PONIES AND A LITTLE GIRL FIGHTING THE ODDS

LITTLE MISS MARKER
NATIONAL VELVET
DREAMER (based on a true horse race story)


3 FAVORITE MOVIES INVOLVING THE PONIES ONLY IN ONE SCENE BUT IT’S A PIVOTAL SCENE

MY FAIR LADY (her first public outing as a “ly-die” is at the races)
MARY POPPINS (supercalifragilisticexpialidocious anyone?)
THE QUIET MAN (a great scene in a great movie)


3 FAVORITE MOVIES INVOLVING THE PONIES WITH THE BEST HORSE RACES

BEN HUR
HILDAGO (maybe the best horse race movie ever and Viggo Mortensen is great in it)
SEABISCUIT

3 FAVORITE MOVIES INVOLVING THE PONIES THAT DON’T FIT ANY OF THE OTHER CATEGORIES

BUG BOY (a short film in which I play the race horse owner)
RACING STRIPES (the winning "horse" is a zebra, this also falls into the little girl fighting the odds category, I got into this when my youngest son was even younger)
VIEW TO A KILL (not the best Bond movie, but surreal racehorse plot pivot)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

AUDEN QUOTE

"I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return."

—W. H. Auden (from "September 1, 1939")

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

HMMMM…

Another great speech by Obama. So far he’s given more great speeches, since the first one most of us noticed at the last Democratic nominating convention four years ago, than any president or presidential candidate since JFK, who he was reminding me a lot of tonight.

I got teary eyed, as he obviously was at the end of his speech, just at the historic enormity of it all, and the gratitude that I have lived long enough to see an African-American become the candidate (presumptive at this point, I know) of one of the two major parties.

It certainly is a moment to be proud of. I hope that Hilary supporters, or most of them (because I know some never will) can appreciate this as much as I and a lot of Obama supporters would have appreciated it if she had won and been the first female presidential candidate of one of the two major parties.

But here’s a thought. If the Republicans continue to try and cast Obama as some sort of elitist, supported only by “Volvo driving latte drinking liberals,” what do they have to say about the second big news story of today: GM closing four plants because sales of big gas guzzling pickup trucks and SUV’s have fallen almost 25%.

Because actually, it’s Prius driving, maybe latte drinking or maybe not, “liberals” who are some of Obama’s main supporters, and it seems we were right. I chose a Prius several years ago, because they’re comfortable, as well as to reduce my carbon footprint and get great gas mileage.

I’d say that makes me prescient, or smart if you like. Certainly smarter than the monster SUV and truck owners who are trying to turn their cars in for something that gets better mileage only to find out the prices they’re being offered won’t even pay off the rest of what they owe the bank, because even used SUVs and truck sales are way off and almost impossible to sell these days.

It’s a fact that Obama garnered votes throughout this primary from across the spectrum of voters, including pickup driving white males without college educations, Hispanics, women, including older white ones, and so on. But it is also a fact, that a large part of his support comes from young people and those so-called older better educated liberals who choose smart cars over big cars and reducing dependence on oil as the smart way to go for our future if we want our progeny to have any.

Obama’s speech reflected all that and more tonight and it moved me, as do his pledges to run a different kind of campaign, and his success so far in pretty much doing that. And the skill he’s shown as a leader in choosing campaign managers that he hasn’t had to fire, as have Hilary and McCain, and who have gotten him this far, a skinny black guy from Chicago with a funny name. Imagine that.

Monday, June 2, 2008

BO DIDDLEY R.I.P.

Long before rap and hip hop and a lot of other musical genres, there was Bo Diddley, activating the musical appreciation genes to expand and contract to a brand new rhythm and riff(s). And sometimes not so new but newly reconcieved. Plus his style. Glasses and hat, and sharp angled guitar. The man was a forerunner of a lot that leaned on his uniqueness for at least some inspiration, if not all, whether acknowledged or not, from Sun Ra to Elvis Costello. He redefined "cool." Check him out again reminiscing and cutting through the crap with Chuck Berry and Little Richard in the Chuck Berry documentary HAIL HAIL ROCK'N ROLL! One of the founding fathers (along with Berry and Richard and Fats Domino) of what became known as "rock'n'roll." I loved watching him perform. Hey, Bo knew.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

HAVE YOU SEEN THIS?

Here's an interesting grassroots (I assume) movement going around the internet. My sister Irene passed it on to me. The chest thumping "American" jingoism is off putting for me, but I like that people keep trying to make a difference on various issues no matter where they're coming from:

"Are we Americans as dumb as we appear --- or --- is it that we just do not think?

While the Chinese, knowingly and intentionally, export inferior products and dangerous toys and goods to be sold in American markets, the media wrings its hands and criticizes the Bush Administration for perceived errors.

Yet 70% of Americans believe that the trading privileges afforded to the Chinese should be suspended.

Well, duh…why do you need the government to suspend trading privileges?

SIMPLY DO IT YOURSELF, AMERICA!!

Simply look on the bottom of every product you buy, and if it says 'Made in China ' or 'PRC' (and that now includes Hong Kong ) simply choose another product or none at all. You will be amazed at how dependent you are on Chinese products; however you will be equally amazed at what you can do without. Who needs plastic eggs to celebrate Easter?

If you must have eggs, use real ones and benefit some American farmer. Easter is just an example, the point is…do not wait for the government to act.

Just go ahead and assume control on your own.

THINK ABOUT THIS: If 200 million Americans refuse to buy just $20 each of Chinese goods, that's a billion dollar trade imbalance resolved in our favor...fast!!

The downside? Some American businesses will feel a temporary pinch from having foreign stockpiles of inventory. Wahhhhhhhhhhhh
** Downside??

The solution

Let's give them fair warning and send our own message. Most of the people who have been reading about this matter are planning on implementing this on June 4, and continue it until July 4.

That is only one month of trading losses, but it will hit the Chinese for 1/12th of the total, or 8%, of their American exports. Then they will at least have to ask themselves if the benefits of their arrogance and lawlessness were worth it.

Remember, June 4 to July 4.
EVEN BETTER. . . START NOW.


Send this to everybody you know.

Show them we are Americans and NOBODY can take us for granted.

If we can't live without cheap Chinese goods for one month out of our lives, WE DESERVE WHAT WE GET!

Pass it on America- and stay out of the $0.99 cent store for the month."