Saturday, November 29, 2008


This movie is either incredibly timely, or unfortunately timed. Because it’s mostly set in Mumbai (“formerly Bombay” as they say) where the recent terrorist attacks occurred and are still being resolved as I write this.

And, the lead characters are Muslim children from the sprawling Mumbai slums, who have suffered the same kinds of humiliation and degradation and discrimination that experts say is at the root of the indigenous Islamic resistance movement in India.

But SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is not a political treatise, or even a work of social analysis, it’s an entertaining and engaging old fashioned fictional movie with some new fashioned twists, and one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year.

I’m not crazy about all of director Danny Boyle’s movies. But I loved his first one, SHALLOW GRAVE, and now his latest, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. It has the same dark humor, fast pace, and somewhat contrived but rhythmically precise and perfectly executed plot devices of SHALLOW GRAVE, only SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is more epic, more beautiful, and more moving (with the help of a co-director Loveleen Tandan, who assisted on MONSOON WEDDING and has also worked as a film actor).

This film was obviously meant to take advantage of Mumbai’s new world-class status as one of the thriving success stories of India’s economic boom (the reason it was the target of the terrorist attacks). Unfortunately, now it will be connected to the attacks and the Muslim/Hindu conflict, even though the story is much more a combination of old style Hollywood, new style Bollywood, and the latest from the independent movie scene, than anything having to do with the current crisis.

But man does it work, or at least it did for me.

It uses three sets of actors for the different ages of the three leads who go from little children to young adults, and from the slums of a pre-economic-boom Mumbai to the heights of where that economic boom might take three orphaned slum dwellers.

The spirit of Charles Dickens fills the film with the kind of social scope combined with the tragic details of poverty that movies have abandoned for a long time now, but maybe we’ll be seeing more of with the worldwide financial crisis.

It was adapted by Simon Beaufoy (best known for his script for THE FULL MONTY) from a novel by Vikas Swarup, and as with the co-directors and cast and music etc. the combination of world class talents from England and India, among other countries, gives this flick a lot of it’s shine, and shine it does.

All the actors are excellent, the lead in particular, Dev Patel, (though there have been complaints that because he was raised in England he doesn’t have the proper slum accent) and the supporting actress Frieda Pinto, who is not only a fine actor but a beautiful screen presence (the kind that will cause many in the audience to fall in love with her in that way many of us do for newly discovered, to us. movie stars).

The soundtrack is terrific too (my eleven-year-old son will be delighted to hear that his favorite MIA song is used on it) and the cinematography deserves some kind of award, as well as the editing.

If you see it, be sure to stay for the credits, it’s the punctuation on the movie. And if you get that, you got the movie and will leave satisfied.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


These three books focus on a time when women went from almost total dependence on men to almost total independence from men. At least in the general culture of the period from the 1940s through the 1970s.

GIRLS LIKE US is the story of the culmination of that time of what became known as feminism’s “second wave.” But it’s not about the politics or theories, it’s about the application of newly developing ideas in the practice of musical entertainment.

Sheila Weller subtitles her book: “CAROLE KING, JONI MITCHELL, CARLY SIMON—and the JOURNEY of a GENERATION”—and that’s the story she tries to tell.

Having been there, even as a male, I can attest to her skill at stringing personal and public details together to create the atmosphere and feeling of those times, as well as the excitement, experimentation, discoveries and disappointments.

She gets a few things wrong, from my knowledge and experience, but not enough to get in the way or alter her basic theme: that these three women represented and helped move forward the cause of a generation of women.

The book begins with Carole King, rightfully, since she was a successful songwriter while still in her teens, before the other two even realized what they wanted to do (and a nod of acknowledgment to Suzanne Greco who first recommended I read it).

King was a New York Jewish kid who fell in love with early R & B and while still a teenager created songs with her partner, and eventual husband and ex-husband, Gerry Goffin that became giant hits for black singers. Like The Shirelles (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”—the first #1 hit by a black female singing group) and The Drifters (“Up On the Roof”) among many more.

She was on the cusp of a generation in which women still married early, had children and stayed at home to raise them. She followed that path (again, as a teenager), but in between cooking and doing the laundry and shopping, she managed to write melodies, for her husband to put lyrics to, which became the emblematic songs of her times.

Because of her ethnic looks—her seemingly uncontrollably curly hair, her strong nose—she was self-conscious about her appearance, and her husband’s philandering didn’t help. But her confidence at the piano composing music and playing it and arranging it and recording it, was always rock solid—a contradiction that eventually was resolved, but not before some heartache.

The author points out the “fact” that King was not the “pretty” girl and that Joni Mitchell was, in the circles Mitchell traveled in growing up in Canada and setting out for the USA and music stardom. But I always found Carole King incredibly attractive and Joni Mitchell not very. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s the kind of mass cultural branding that left most people back then believing the conventional wisdom that straight blonde hair and an upturned nose equaled beauty.

Mitchell’s achievements as she earned her way to the top of the music business with original lyrics and melodies, as well as guitar technique, made her an icon of women moving into the male dominated singer/songwriter scene.

Her story includes the obvious tragedy of her now known, but secret for decades, abandonment of the child she gave birth to as a young woman. But described as part of the larger story of women finding their way to a new kind of independence, artistically but also in terms of the social order and relationships with males, the nuances as well as the profound depths of this transitional time and Mitchell’s place in it is really well told.

As is Carly Simon’s equally moving story, not because of the material obstacles she had to overcome—she was a well-educated beauty from a wealthy and well established family (her father is the Simon in Simon & Schuster of book publishing fame)—but because of the way those privileges were seen in the culture of the late 1960s and early ‘70s and the ways she chose to incorporate them into her art.

I couldn’t help being persuaded by Weller’s mostly excellent research and the ways in which she ties the personal and creative stories of these three women with what was happening in society and the world at large during the years their talents were blossoming. So that after reading this book I now see these three women differently (though I always got King’s contribution to the music of my time, and appreciated Mitchell’s musicianship and Simon’s image if not her substance), as icons not of pop music success for women, but of emblems of what women were going through, thinking about, trying to achieve or figure out or work through to new discoveries of what it might mean to be a woman in their times in ways that have proven deeply instrumental in changing the very heart of our culture.

A FREEWHEELIN’ TIME is the story of Suze Rotolo, the girl on THE FREEWHEELIN’ BOB DYLAN album, clutching his arm as they walk down the middle of a Geenwich Village street on an obviously blustery winter’s day in 1962.

Subtitled “A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties” it concentrates mostly on the part of her story that coincides with her close connection to Dylan, but it’s so much more than that. It’s really a well-told story of a young woman’s self discovery on the cutting edge of times that were dramatically changing.

Rotolo was only a teenager when she met Dylan, barely out of his teens himself. But she was the more sophisticated when it came to New York City, leftist politics, the art and performance scene in the Village and downtown environs, and life in general.

Though he was passing himself off at the time as a teenage hobo who’d been born in the Southwest and worked as a carnie and rode freight trains and embodied the ideals of the restless American spirit, he was actually a middle-class college dropout from a respectable Jewish American family that was supporting him while he tried to make it in the music business in New York City at the beginning of a new decade.

She was uncomfortable when she found out how much of his life story, that he had told to friends and reporters and music business executives, was untrue, and even more uncomfortable with the changes she saw in him and the people who he surrounded himself with as fame came fast and furious.

She’s less critical than the above makes it sound though, because she’s sympathetic to what Dylan was trying to achieve and the odds he was facing, as well as honest about how well he achieved it and the price genius sometimes has to pay, or more accurately, those around the “genius” have to pay.

But it’s her story, and it’s a very engaging one, told economically and honestly and with accuracy (this is a time and a scene I saw first hand as a teenage “jazz musician” and budding poet running the same streets and parties and bars and etc. at the same time, just from a different perspective (my friends then were almost exclusively black and not into the folk scene, nor was I at the time)).

She gets a few things wrong, but nothing serious, and I love her voice as it comes through on the page, and her perspective, which is humble yet solidly direct, clear, consistent and strong. She struggled as a teenage female known as the star’s girl rather than as the artist she was becoming or for her independence in the face of age-old attitudes and obstacles.

If the three music creators in GIRLS LIKE US expressed through their music what they and other women were doing to break down social and sexual and artistic and political barriers, Rotolo was doing the same several years earlier and on her own, discovering ways to follow her own heart and desires.

It’s a great story and reminded me a little of poet Diane di Prima’s terrific memoir RECOLLECTIONS OF MY LIFE AS A WOMAN, which also emphasized her early years as a Village bohemian a few years before Rotolo arrived on the scene. Both were independent minded Italian-American girls from the boroughs who made the Village their home and owned it in ways a lot of others never did.

Di Prima was associated with the Beats, as Dylan and in her way Rotolo was, since the “hippie” thing had yet to happen when the main events of Dylan’s transformation into generational star and symbol were occurring. But the original Beats met and developed their theories and ways of making art, mostly writing, in the 1940s, and that’s where YOU’LL BE OKAY comes in.

Subtitled “MY LIFE WITH JACK KEROUAC” it’s the story of another “genius’s girl”—Kerouac’s first wife. Always referred to by Kerouac and others writing about his life as Edie Parker, either she or the publishers chose to use the name Edie Kerouac-Parker as the author of this memoir.

It was written over a period of years but published posthumously, so it’s impossible to know how true it is to her original writing. But the editors—Timothy Moran and Bill Morgan—assure the reader that it’s Edie doing the writing, with a few minor exceptions, and it’s easy to believe, because the voice is distinct and uniquely individual.

Though it’s also a voice you may recognize, as I did. Edie was obviously, like all the women in these books, independent in ways that were “ahead of her time” but not unknown. Most of us had aunts or great aunts or others we knew or heard about like Edie—a free spirited, independent, party loving, straight talking individualist, as they used to say.

Her story clears up a lot of the speculation about Kerouac as a husband, lover, and friend, and makes him out to be the man a lot of us have always found in his books, well intentioned, often kind and gentle and loving, dedicated to his writing and the life of a writer.

But it’s her story, and it’s a great window into what it was like to be an attractive and adventurous young woman in the midst of an artistic revolution that would eventually become the cultural one that would change the lives of the women in those other books in the years that followed.

Joyce Johnson’s MINOR CHARACTERS, the account of her time as Kerouac’s girlfriend just when he went from obscure and broke unknown to the bestselling James Dean of novelists stardom overnight, is more literary and a beautifully insightful and bright book worth reading. But so is YOU’LL BE OKAY in its more conversational talking-over-a-drink in a bar, or at the kitchen table way.

I recommend all three books for Christmas presents, especially for any friends who dig Dylan or Kerouac or King or Mitchell or Simon, or who just love intimate histories of our recent “American” past.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I was thinking last night, trying to get back to sleep after the garbage trucks woke me, about this documentary I caught part of recently on the Sundance channel about The Who.

Watching it, I realized they were a lot more interesting as artists and creators than I had given them credit for back when. I remembered an argument over them, in fact, with a smart young guy, probably only a few years younger than me but at the time it seemed like a generation, touting The Who as superior to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

I argued passionately and probably too aggressively as I always used to do—and sometimes still do—but he didn’t give an inch and got kind of smirkily superior in his dismissals of my point of view, which drove me crazy. I ended up judging him as a self-righteous little prig, which further influenced me to NOT take The Who as seriously as I might have otherwise been inclined to.

Don’t get me wrong, I dug them, just not like I did “artists” whose creations I instantly fell in love with. But after the documentary, I realized that a lot of what I had argued decades ago with that younger male was invalid. I hadn’t known what I was talking about as it turns out.

What that got me thinking about last night was how some artists’ work—whether music or poetry or paintings or whatever—I fall in love with instantly while others I eventually come to totally dig I initially reject or am suspicious or critical of.

For instance I dug The Rolling Stones from the git go (though with some reservations after that initial impression and some criticisms that have multiplied over the years), but resisted The Beatles initially, until I worked out an early tune of theirs, “Do You Want to Know a Secret” (“ooo wah ooo”) on the piano and realized how original and interesting it was for rock’n’roll at the time (including the Stones).

Anyway, all that led me to attempt another alphabet list of artists whose work it took some time (sometimes only days sometimes years, decades) to get how great they are (and who are now among my all time favorites at what they do):

Ashbery, John and Casey Affleck
Beatles, The, The Beach Boys and Ted Berrigan
Carey, Mariah (not all her songs are great but her voice and how she uses it is)
Dickenson, Emily and James Dean
Eigner, Larry
Fitzgerald, F. Scott and James Fee
Guston, Phillip and Green Day
Hepburn, Katherine
Ives, Charles
Jones, James
Kitaj, R. B.
Laughton, Charles
Motherwell, Robert, Henry Miller, Michael McClure and Elizabeth Murray
Northup, Harry E.
O’Hara, Frank
Presley, Elvis and Prince
Queen (again, not all their songs are great but their approaches to them are, even if only sometimes in an overboard rock-campy way)
Rilke, Rainer Maria
Shaw, Artie and Hubert Selby Jr.
Taylor, Cecil
Violi, Paul
Who, The
X (the band)
Young, Geoffrey
Zukofsky, Louis

Monday, November 24, 2008


I wrote about this last holiday and maybe will figure out how to link to that sometime later today, but in the meantime, all the rightwing posturing over some perceived slight on "Christmas" is answered pretty well I think in this post from a blog by a military chaplain in Iraq, Father Tim, the cousin of my old friend Mike Graham. Check it out, and then check out his blog, it's a pretty original perspective on our involvement there.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Obama should ask Gary Snyder to write a poem and read it for his inauguration and then make Snyder head of the Environmental Agency.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Why didn’t I know about this flick? It came out in 2000, and has Jon Favreau playing the same kind of schlubby lovable hopeless-romantic-trying-not-to-be that he did so well in SWINGERS, and Famke Janssen in the lead role, an actress I don’t know why I haven’t paid more attention to before this (she’s certainly been in a ton of movies since).

She’s like the Lisbeth Scott to Julia Roberts’ Lauren Bacall (back when there were “B” movies as the opener to the feature film on the typical double bill, there were “B” actors who for the most part were the poor man’s version of the big stars, like Randolph Scott to Gary Cooper, or Lisbeth Scott to Lauren Bacall, etc.)

Anyway Hanssen is so delightful in this movie—funny, sexy, beautiful, smart, and not afraid to look anything but all of the above either—I could have watched her in this role for many more hours.

Every time I thought the movie was becoming predictable, it would surprise me, usually with a laugh out loud recognizable but unexpectedly real as well as funny twist. That’s to the writer/director Valerie Breiamn’s great credit (she’s amazingly multi-talented having also worked as an actress, starting out in a small role on Cagney & Lacey in the 1980s, around the same time I did a bit on that show as “The Don Juan Killer” as I remember it).

This little movie, LOVE & SEX, is a gem, and rang true to a lot of my experiences in the twin topics of the title. Check it out and see if it matches any of yours. Worth the effort if you haven’t already seen it.


As my son Miles pointed out when I shared this link (which I got from my friend Yael Klaesson) with him.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Just for doing to Max Clelland what he did (check out the link on this one to the ad that recast a Viet Nam War hero who lost three limbs there into an ally of Bin Laden!).

This race is still undecided (there's a rematch scheduled for early December, and the Democrat, Martin, has nowhere near the resources of this troll).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


If I haven't said it already, just a reminder for those worried about Obama's picks for various positions in the cabinet and elsewhere in the administration.

From my perspective, it seems obvious that he is trying to avoid the mistakes of both Carter and Clinton, the two most recent Democratic presidents, as well as obviously the mistakes of the present administration.

Carter came to DC as an outsider and brought his own team with him who, unfortunately, weren't experienced or even well-schooled in the ways of the Congress and the various federal agencies and departments. They were bright, amazingly well intentioned and even in some ways idealistic. And they got their butts kicked by the oldtime pols and longtime DC and federal government insiders. Even sabatoged by a lot of those folks.

Clinton came in a little more knowledgable and with a team much more so. But they underestimated the Republican opposition and growing propaganda arm, used so well to keep a health care plan from succeeding. And then had to make too many concessions to the Republicans to get anything done at all.

Obama seems to be preparing a team that has some federal government experience, most often from the Clinton years, (ala his pick for Attorney General), whose experience he can use to his ends. And remember, they will all serve at his discretion, which they and he both know very well.

If, for instance, Hilary becomes Secratary of State (if they can work out the Bill Clinton obstacles to that) she will be getting a more powerful position than a junior Senator with little actual power in Congress, and Obama will have eliminated a Senator with greater ambitions who might find some satisfaction in opposing him on some of his agenda she doesn't agree with, whereas in the Secratary of State position, she brings to it her worldwide recognition for toughness, intelligence, experience, and independence, while at the same time knowing full well that at any time Obama can replace her, so her voice will be heard but his agenda will be followed.

He's disarming, as I see it, his most visible opposition from the primaries and the election, so that they'll either be working for him or marginalized. Smart. Even his pushing to let Lieberman keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate is pretty smart. He's shown his graciousness and forgiveness, leaving Lieberman in his debt, and if Lieberman should choose to not show his gratitude by following Obama's agenda, he will alienate the only champion he has right now in the Democratic Party and then lose his chairmanship.

Obama has obviously, as everyone points out, followed Lincoln's lead in embracing his enemies and keeping them near where he can keep an eye on them as well as use their better ideas and their experience to his ends. I love this guy.

Monday, November 17, 2008


I sure am out of step with the critics. I thought NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was mostly bad movie making. But I loved BURN AFTER READING.

Somehow, critics found NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN just too real to not be overly impressed by. While I found it condescendingly over the top in a way that didn’t seem intended, and almost campy in its glorification of evil and violence in a world unable to spot a giant killer with a uniquely bad haircut dragging a giant polished steel something around with him on open roads and through the centers of small cities, stalking and murdering and ramming cars into whatever and never being noticed or able to be identified and so getting away with it.

But here comes this year’s Coen movie, BURN AFTER READING, and because it’s deliberately over the top in ways it telegraphs immediately (merely by casting John Malcovich for one), it seemed to disappoint every reviewer I read, with many of them being especially taken aback that such a fine cast was wasted on a what they saw as a trivial or pointless or meandering plot and two dimensional characters.

Hello! Any of you critics see NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN?

But what can I say, my taste is my taste and theirs is theirs.

There’s also that syndrome working where if I hear a movie is supposedly great and go in expecting greatness I’m often disappointed, but if I hear a movie is not so great or even bad, I go in expecting to be disappointed and am often pleasantly surprised. That was my experience with BURN AFTER READING.

This is the beginning of award-season publicity drives, so I get invitations to screenings and DVDs of some movies in the mail trying to get my little vote for the Screen Actors Awards or for The Writers Guild Awards.

A DVD of BURN AFTER READING was actually Fed Ex’ed to my apartment. So I put it in the DVD player and figured I’d quickly see what the critics were so dismayed over. But instead I started chuckling at what I began to dig as a very entertaining dark comedy.

The plot actually thoroughly kept my interest, its twists and turns offering a lot of surprises and some out-loud laughs. And the ending, for my taste, was perfect.

Everyone in it is terrific too. From the expected greatness of Tilda Swinton doing an even more extreme version of the ice queen she owns, and George Clooney doing the womanizing guy-without-a-clue he does so well, only the extreme version of that, with his buddy Brad Pitt in what I’ve heard called “the mimbo role” (male bimbo) for which he was really trampled on by the critics but I found funny and on the money.

Malkovich even didn’t bother me as he too often has in recent years (I loved him in his early film work, but, full disclosure, I met him twice in Hollywood but he didn’t seem to notice). The Coens use his capacity for self-pitying narcissistic rage so well, he’s a delight to watch.

As is Frances McDormand, who many critics felt was completely wasted in her role as a gym trainer obsessed with cosmetic surgery. But I found her character completely believable, in the context of an over-the-top comedy.

And then the character actors who usually get no attention, like Richard Jenkins. Although after his masterly star turn in THE VISITOR earlier this year and now his supporting role in BURN AFTER READING, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get some kind of nomination.

But also lesser known supporting actors, like J. R. Horne, who gives a tour de force performance as the Tilda Swinton character’s divorce lawyer (more full disclosure, I’ve run into him at auditions, though I don’t know him personally, but he’s always personable and funny).

The best thing about BURN AFTER READING is its skewering of the intelligence community, specifically the CIA. On that level it’s one of the most perfectly targeted satires in recent years.

But I guess if you want a serious expose of CIA malfeasance, like MICHAEL CLAYTON tried to do for corporate evil, you won’t like BURN AFTER READING. But if you want a good laugh at the absurdity of what often turns out to be the lack of intelligence in much secret intelligence, this’ll give you a few chuckles, as well as a few surprises.

Or if you just want to see a bunch of really terrific movie actors having a ball doing a dark comedy (with the kind of abandon and push-the-envelope daring of the 1960s’ “black comedies” as they used to call them, not because of the skin color of the cast but because of the darkness of the humor), see BURN AFTER READING.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I saw an ad for rare books recently in the back of The New York Times Book Review which included for sale a signed copy of THE PHILOSOPHY OF ANDY WARHOL with a drawing of a Campbell’s soup can on the same page as the signature. They were asking 6,000 bucks for it. I have one exactly like that on my bookshelves.

I used to collect books pretty regularly, (at used book prices or now and then newly published prices, like the Warhol), not for resale value, or even rarity bragging rights, but just because I love to read these particular authors and in certain editions (first editions are usually the most gratifying, not necessarily because of the value but because they look and feel like originals, have the presence of a work of art, at least for me).

At the same time I was constantly getting rid of books, selling them to bookstores (there used to be more that bought them for resale or for collectors than there are now) (in fact I helped feed my two oldest kids and me on bags of books sold at The Phoenix Book Shop in Greenwich Village or The Strand over near Union Square).

These days there are only a handful of authors (out of what used to be hundreds) whose books I still collect because anything they write interests me (or books about a few people whose lives or art also makes me want to own every book written about them). I made a list of them last night to help me get back to sleep (just the dead ones to keep it simple) which turned out to come to 33, or eleven triplets that seem to go together (be interesting to see if you can figure out what the three in each triplet have in common, at last in my mind):

Laurence Sterne
James Joyce
Samuel Beckett

Walt Whitman
William Carlos Williams
William Saroyan

Rainer Maria Rilke
Blaise Cendrars
Roberto Bolano

Jean Rhys
Lee Miller
Martha Gelhorn

Charles Reznikoff
Louis Zukofsky
George Oppen

Henry Miller
Henry Roth
Hubert Selby Jr.

Francis Picabia
Francis Ponge
Larry Eigner

Dylan Thomas
Brendan Behan
Jack Kerouac

David Smith
Eva Hesse
B. J. Kitaj

Christopher Isherwood
Irene Nemirovsky
James Schuyler

Frank O’Hara
Ted Berrigan
Joe Brainard

There are plenty more whose books I still keep, but not their entire output, having let go of some books of theirs I know I’ll never reread again nor even look into (like some of W. B. Yeats’ books, or Gertrude Stein’s, or Turgenev’s or Pound’s or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s or Zora Neale Hurston’s or Thomas Merton’s, etc.).

And there are those who I may start collecting (as I recently have Bolano) and some in the above list who I may soon stop collecting. It’s an always changing marker of my developing literary taste or appetite. I used to say, looking at what was on a person’s bookshelves was like reading a graph of their minds. I guess the above is the core of mine these days.

[PS: Can't believe I left off these dear friends whose books I continue to collect since they passed:



It came out in ’06 or ’07, but I didn’t catch it until today on cable and it’s a treat.

It’s like a cross between a Woody Allen and a Christopher Guest movie, like say aspects of Woody’s HOLLYWOOD ENDING (or BULLETS OVER BROADWAY) with aspects of WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (or FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION) and a pinch of John Cassavetes’ OPENING NIGHT thrown in.

It stars Jeff Goldblum as himself making the choice to return to Pittsburgh to star in a two week run of THE MUSIC MAN in the local (and beautifully refurbished) theater.

It co-stars Ed Begley Jr., Illeanna Douglas and Moby (who turns out to be a great comic straight man), all playing themselves as well, but in ways that occasionally stretch credulity for the comedic effects but also sometimes are dead on realistic as far as the real back scene scenes in Hollywood go (from my personal experience, and full disclosure Begley is an old friend I haven’t seen in a few years but still consider one of the nicest and smartest people I’ve ever known (back when Trivial Pursuit was all the rage in Hollywood if you had Ed on your team you were guaranteed to win) and Goldblum I met a few times through Begley but don’t really know).

It’s a treat, and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard more about it. A great insight into the acting profession and “stardom” and the kinds of ego struggles many actors and “stars” seem to go through, despite their obviously being pretty much like anyone else, just magnified by the extreme attention, both from audiences and themselves.

Worth catching.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


The Asssociated Press is reporting that death threats toward our President-elect are the most ever recorded.

That's the difference between the rigthwing and their perceived "enemies"—"liberals" "lefties" et. al.

We have a president who has bankrupted our country, destroyed our economy and in fact the world's, lied us into a war that has caused seemingly endless death and destruction, ignored the Constitution and invaded our privacy, taken away centuries' old citizens' rights, divided the country in ways it hadn't been for decades, created an atmosphere of "them or us" throughout the world and here at home that has undermined any attempts to join with others to resolve some of our problems and in fact contributed to making them worse, single handedly destroyed our country's reputation making him the most despised worldwide public figure of our time as well as the most derided and for many of us the most embarassing, failed to achieve any of the goals he set for his administration before 9/11 and even more importantly afterward (except for helping make the rich richer and removing Saddam from power, and the latter goal of course was followed rapidly with the creation of a power vacuum for that country which is still creating problems, including the deaths of our troops, for us, and a power vacuum in the region, which has made Iran much more powerful than it has been in centuries, and as for the former, that helped lead us into the economic catastrophe we're in now), et-endlessly-cetera.

But death threats toward a President-elect who hasn't even taken office yet are greater than those against Junior.


Because those opposed to Junior are "liberals" "lefties" etc.—and now even moderate and centrist Republicans, or just realistic ones. And liberals don't solve problems with violence, unless it's the only solution left. But rightwingers reach for their guns at their first feelings of fear, either metphorically or literally.

And rightwing ideologues continue to foam at the mouth over imaginary crimes and "evils" credited to our President-elect and foment firghtened and vicious attacks on him, real and imagined.

Let's pray none of these frightened little misfits succeed.

PPS: As I began pointing out when they were happening in the 1960s and have continued to in some of my published prose and poetry (see my last book, e.g. MARCH 18, 2003), all the successful assassinations of political figures back then in this country only occurred for those who began to articulate a vision of redressing the injustices suffered by the poor and working class. As long as RFK for instance was about hardball politics, even his taking on the Teamsters didn't get him offed, but when he started talking about the poor, bam. Same with King and Malcolm X, as long as they focused on "race" no problem, but when they redefined the main issue as "class" and from the perspective of the poor, bam bam. I'm not saying there was a cabal of vested interests that made it happen, but then again...

Suffice it to say that among my many friends and acquaintances throughout the world, the ones crying the hardest over the economic turn of events these days, are usually those with the most. The rest of us, down here on fixed incomes or dwindling resources and no backup property or collateral to use for loans or to sell etc. are bracing for the impact or already feeling it and making do. But many of the wealthy with millions still in reserve are squeeling like, well you know the rest of that cliched simile.

My last thought is how come the kind of provocative instigation to hate and harm toward our President-elect that you still see and hear coming from some Fox commentators or Rush et. al. isn't illegal in some way, at least on the airwaves—though it should be true on the net as well, and yes, the Secret Service and other agencies are investigating any online or real world direct threats of physical harm, but I'm talking about those who instigate those kinds of threats through their lies and violent rhetoric. If you can't say a few foul words on the air, how come you can still spread lies about people, especially our President-elect, and make naked attempts to inspire plots to somehow (any how?) keep him from governing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


The country proved it has gone beyond its racist past and even beyond the divisiveness of the past few decades.

But that doesn't mean the right wingnuts are going to go along with these times that are a'changin'.

There's been a lot of reports about the pockets of rightwing extremists and their often racist actions and the rightwing media nuts egging them on as they have been for decades but especially virulently during this campaign.

Here's a link to a pretty funny and pointed reaction to that reality.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


One of the things I like most about Mike Leigh’s movies is I never know where they’re going. HAPPY-GO-LUCKY is no exception.

It got me from the opening credits with lightly swinging (early) ‘60s upbeat pop movie music under partial screen shots of Sally Hawkins as “Poppy” riding her bicycle through the streets of an English seaside city (I don’t know them well enough to know which, maybe it was just parts of London that aren’t iconic).

With the bright colors and the fizzy music, the opening felt like a set up for one of those light French romantic comedies. In fact the whole premise of the film could have become AMELIE like. The mood was so unlike a Mike Leigh movie, even if I hadn’t heard that this was some kind of departure, it was immediately obvious.

But then, every movie he’s made has been some kind of departure from what his previous movies portend. And this was no exception.

But the subject matter does at first seem new for Leigh. Because the subject is happiness. HAPPY-GO-LUCKY is a deep attempt to get at what it means to be happy, especially in the face of so much that tries to counter it.

As always, Leigh gets greatest performances from his actors, especially from the lead, Sally Hawkins. What a revelation she is, and what a brave performance, as almost all are in a Leigh movie, because of the intense way he “writes” a film.

My old friend Hubert Selby used to talk about how in his fiction he would create a character and it would tell him where the story was going. A lot of fiction writers say that. They create a character and suddenly their creation has a mind of its own and determines the storyline for the author rather than vice versa.

Leigh uses a similar technique in making his movies. He creates the characters—with the help of the actors—and has the actors become the characters as much as humanly possible before even beginning to settle on what the characters will be doing let alone saying.

I first heard about his radically unique way of creating a movie from Gary Oldman after a star studded Hollywood party when I was still living and working out there. A handful of us were still standing in the wee hours after most of the rich and famous had left, or rather we were sitting on our hostess’s couches and easy chairs in one of many rooms in her Hollywood hills house.

Somehow Oldman got around (I’m not trying to impress you, this is the only time I met him and I was only there because I was good friends with our hostess, in fact, at this party another seemingly anonymous person, the only other one as far as I could tell at the party, approached me and asked “Who are you?” and then wanted to know what I was doing there when she didn’t recognize my name and I said I was a poet who acted in films and on TV (which I did at the time) for my day job and was friends with our hostess—then I asked who are you? And she told me, the daughter of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and a really great person who I saw around now and then after that party and was always happy to see) to sharing his first experience with Leigh, which may have been his, Oldman’s, first movie (though it may have been originally for the BBC).

At any rate, Oldman said Leigh had him become the character and stay in character for months before any filming actually began, with Oldman living in his character’s apartment/set built in an old warehouse, and he told of going to buy a pick up some groceries and coming around an aisle in the market and catching Leigh spying on him to see if he was still in character.

It certainly works. Sally Hawkins IS “Poppy” in ways that make the movie almost seem like a documentary. And what an incredible character she and Leigh have created. It’s worth the price of admission just to watch and listen to her. But it’s worth even more to experience the ways in which Leigh keeps you, or at least me, off balance through the whole film waiting to see if reality will diminish the bright soul that “Poppy” is, or is determined to be.

By the ending, I felt like Leigh had anticipated the direction the world seems to be yearning to take in the face of so much bad news—choose happiness, and stick to the choice no matter what.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008



If we’re gonna bail out banks and car companies and financial whatevers, why not at least make it a prerequisite before they get the funds, that all the folks in charge who led them into the mess they’re in get fired first and replaced with people who have a track record of more success and financial stability? (Thanks to many who have had this same thought and communicated it to me, especially Tom, not Alameda or a few other of you Toms, but the Southern California (these days) Greek-American one).


Since the present administration changed the ways our country fights wars by farming out a lot of the security and prestige war gigs to private contractors, why can’t the Iraqi government use some of that giant surplus they’ve amassed while we’ve been paying their bills, to pay these same contractors to stick around and supply the same security etc. for them while our troops come home to a deserved rest.


And speaking of our troops, on this Veterans Day when my eleven-year-old doesn’t even get off from school, hopefully one of the first things Obama and this Democratic Congress will do, with the help of decent Republicans in Congress, will be to make sure returning Iraqi and Afghanistan War veterans are getting the medical and psychological and financial assistance they need to readjust to civilian life, as we did with our veterans in previous wars, even the Cold War (which I benefited from).


Miriam Makeba was for me, and I know many of us, the first South African we knew by name, and probably felt we knew personally since her music was so much a part of our lives back in the day.

Before Mandela—or before Miriam married (I think) trumpet player Hugh Masakela, another South African whose name became internationally known for his musicality—Makeba became famous, especially among those of us who were into jazz in the l950s and '60s, for her "click" song, in which she sang in Xhosa, her tribal language, which included the tongue clicking against the roof of the mouth to make a sound like those little metal crickets the nuns would squeeze to make the noise we Catholic school kids would genuflect and then rise to on entering and leaving church, click, click.

In 1964, when I married my first wife Lee, God rest her soul, I was stationed outside Spokane Washington in the Air Force and Miriam Makeba came to town to do a show in a huge auditorium there with either the Kingston Trio or the Limelighters, two very popular folk singing groups of the time (I can no longer remember which unfortunately, which shows how much of an impact they had on me as opposed to Makeba).

Makeba was famous enough then, this relatively small, black, South African woman who sang in a language probably no one in the audience could understand and in a musical style that was a cross between African traditional and American jazz, and yet was able to rouse a huge auditorium filled with a majority of white people in a town, Spokane, that had yet to entirely recover from the Great Depression and had a banner hanging over its main street that declared "WELCOME TO JOHN BIRCH COUNTRY"—!—(and if you're too young to know the significance of that, the Birchers were like the KKK in suits).

Fortunately, Lee knew one of the members of the folk group that had probably been the main draw for the crowd, which nonetheless totally appreciated and gave a long round of applause to Makeba. So, we got to go backstage to the dressing room and hang after the show and even went out later to a local club.

That was the one and only time I met Miriam Makeba in person, and fell even more deeply under her spell than I had just listening to her on a record. She was majestic, charismatic, gracious, and even more beautiful in person than I'd imagined.

She helped change not only the world of music—bringing "world music" to America long before people like Paul Simon and David Byrne would be credited with doing that many years later—but she helped change the perception of white Americans about black Africans, which up until then were mostly known from Hollywood movies, where they were usually represented as mostly naked and primitive, or from English movies where they were usually referred to as "poor devils."

She not only brought a new image and idea of who black Africans really might be to this country, but she also brought dignity and warmth to that image and in the end a better idea of what we all could be, as influential in her own way as Dr. King and the prominent African-American Civil Rights leaders here.

If you have it, or if you can find it on the web, go put the click song on right now and dig some deep history.

[PS: I always forget you can find almost anything on the web. Here's a link to Makeba doing the click song two years after I saw her doing it, though in the show I saw she was dressed in much more traditional African garb with a bright head cloth wrapping as a kind of African queen crown, and layers of equally bright cloth wrapped around her body. But look how beautiful and vibrant she is in this faded black and white film and hear what made her so unique, and remember she had been banished from South Africa for several years by this time, but had yet to marry the U. S. Black Power movement leader Stokley Carmichael, which virtually ruined her career in the U.S. How wonderful that she lived long enough to see the son of a black African become president of this country and the most powerful person in the world in many ways!]

Monday, November 10, 2008


If you're not too tired of reading about it, here are two of the best takes on last week's historic event.

There have been many amazing responses to the election and the day after, but these struck me as the most perceptive responses.

First RJ Eskow's analysis of Obama's gamble.

And then Frank Rich's articulation of what it meant to wake up in a new world the day after the election.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


We read our poetry last night in a second floor venue called The South Orange Studios on South Orange Avenue in my hometown, the place where I grew up and left as a teenager.

It was over an Indian restaurant. There were no Indian restaurants when I was a kid.

It was across the street from the Junior high School where all my siblings went (I took a bus down South Orange Avenue to a Catholic boys’ school in Newark in the last few blocks of the ghetto before it became downtown Newark, where my mother and me shopped at Bamburger’s for a new suit every year for Easter for me).

The red brick Junior High you could look in the windows of and see the kids sitting in rows in their classrooms was torn down after I left town and replaced with an ugly gray cement office building with slits for light to penetrate the interior but through which you couldn’t see a thing (the Junior high became a “Middle School” placed blocks away from this little business center, out of sight and mind).

That happened after the “riots” of the 1960s, when overnight, or so it seemed to me then, banks and grocery stores and schools that had huge plate glass windows you could see through into the activity going on inside were replaced with buildings more like windowless fortresses that could withstand thrown bricks and Molotov cocktails or just plain scrutiny from outside.

The venue where we read our poetry was also just a few doors up the Avenue from the old Town Hall, which they were going to tear down too but some local citizens saved.

When I was a kid the part of town hall closest to where we read was the police station, the same one my Irish immigrant grandfather was the first town cop on, and a cousin’s son is on now (there has been a Lally on the force there as long as its existed pretty much).

When I was in my teens before I left, I could walk through the door of the police station and often see my brother, a sergeant, behind the dark wood railing that outlined “the desk” all police stations seemed to have then when you walked through their doors, a raised platform that made the desk sergeant seem like some celestial gatekeeper with the authority of a god behind him.

Now that old wood is gone and it’s just another office for the town administrators, the police long ago moved to a squat, ugly, cement building closer to the border with Newark.

Simon came over from New York with his beautiful lady Sarah. She lives in Canada and was down for a visit, it was his birthday this past Thursday. Simon lives on East 12th, in the same building Ginsberg lived and died in for the last few decades of his life on a block that has also been drastically altered from what Simon found when he arrived from England in the 1970s, and I discovered on my own as a teenager in the 1950s.

Back then it was an ethnic enclave, now it’s been delivered to gentrifaction forces that have surrounded Simon’s building with remodeled shops and restraurants that could be Soho after it went through the same process in the ‘70s, or the Upper West Side, or anywhere that caters to the upscale and trendy.

Things change.

But Simon has remained the same, a bulwark of an older way of life for poets and artists and the bohemians of the Village, East or West, when I was young and Simon was younger.

He’s a unique poet, whose presentation of his poems is like no one else’s. He often repeats each poem after reading them, with slightly different rhythms and emphasis, and sometimes even changes the gender of the pronouns, to give audiences a second chance to appreciate the beauty of his artistry.

One of our most highly honored poets these days, Alice Notley, cites Simon as “…contemporary American and British poetry’s most meticulous craftsperson.”

As he repeats poems and takes various pairs of store bought magnifying reading glasses from various pockets of his dark jacket, fringed with a bright blue scarf, and the glasses slide down his nose and the audience wonders if they will fall off, as they sometimes do, and strands of his still partly red hair stick out from under the tightly knit cap he almost always wears, the entire performance becomes that rare experience of an artistic eccentric whose persona is so real and vivid and original you feel you’re not only witnessing some kind of private cultural history but basking in the presence and the brilliance of an international treasure, one whose work crosses any border where English is understood, and more where it is translated.

He read one of my favorite poems, and acknowledged it as such, that I find the best expression of what we’ve been through these past eight years:

“There is a cruel, messianic, dim, tribal intransigence

That gains you nothing

There’s a bull-headed childish baby-tantrum

That can unleash untold consequences

I am appalled by the darkening sky

I watch my love

It is always my love that I watch”

If you say the above outloud, in an English accent, and slowly, separating each word so it can be heard on its own, and each line even more so as indicated by the extended spacing between them, you may grasp the beauty and depth of how so few words can capture the experience a lot of us felt at some point in the past seven or so years.

It was a small audience, in a small venue, in a small Jersey town (“village" actually, as it was originally incorporated as back in the 1800s), but there were new friends, and one of the youngest brothers of an old friend from back in my day, and good food and hosting from the producer of the event, Nance Boylan, with the help of her friend Lisa Robins and others.

[Okay, not that "small," it was set up like a night club with tables and chairs and had a cabaret feel that made it intimate and friendly. It probably could seat fifty or more folks and was about two thirds full or more, a nice turnout on a rainy Fall night, and a very enthusiastic and attentive one.]

My eleven-year-old was there and enjoyed it too. And afterwards we went to the local Irish pub that came after I left town as a kid, but which I had been in many times since for the parties after funerals I came home for.

It was one of those special times and events that always fill my life with the satisfaction of knowing I chose the right path, the one that took me from this place and brought me back, I only wish so many who has passed were still around to experience not only Simon’s poetry, and mine, our takes on lives lived in accordance with our souls’ desires, as well as our hearts’ and minds’, but on the events of this past week which cannot be simply summarized, but nonetheless I tried in a sonnet I wrote just yesterday for the reading and ended it with:

“It should be a no brainer, voting in the church
around the corner, walked to from my apartment
over sidewalks covered in such amazing
colors from the fallen leaves I feel incapable
of describing this scene, so vividly Autumnal,
such a range of hues, like us, thrilled and
overwhelmed with gratitude, there’s nothing
to compare it to, and yes, I did cry—
“think of the children” they constantly cried
back when I wanted a “black girl” for my bride,
now it looks like that argument was as
backward as I labeled it as a kid, ‘cause
here that theoretical child is—proving
yes we can—create a new world again.”

Saturday, November 8, 2008


James Liddy was an Irish born (Dublin if I remember correctly) poet whose early work had a great impact on me. He moved to "the states" in the '60s, I believe, and remained here, teaching and writing.

An early book, A MUNSTER SONG OF LOVE AND WAR (1971, a beautifully designed chapbook from the San Francisco small press White Rabbit) remains one of my alltime favorite books of poetry.

Here's two from that book:


We saw the star of knowledge
(He was)
Coming into the mouth of the flowers
Above all the Gael as the sun
Is above the moon.
We said to ourselves "a jewel."
Though it disperses the thick fog
To die.


He'd be alive today if he wasn't pretty
He was gorgeous.
His beauty overcame his enemies and the
enemies of Ireland
and it was jealousy
of his prettiness
that has laid him
On the floor with his head open.
There are not enough mirrors in the bath
Rooms of Munster to shout how nice looking
he was and awkard
with a gun.

Liddy and I nevet met, but we corresponded back in the day and spoke on the phone once. It was during my first trip to Europe when I visited England but was unable to make it to Ireland because I ran out of money. He was very upset that I had forsaken the mother country to see the land of the oppressor! And, as it turned out, so was I.

He'll be missed, by generations of students and readers and friends, among which I counted myself, and in all three categories.

[PS Ala Ed Baker's comment on Liddy made on the previous post, he's right that Liddy's autobiography, THE DOCTOR'S HOUSE, is wonderful as well, and a tip of the hat to Ray DiPalma who pointed out to me that I originally had written the title wrong, replacing WAR with DEATH, even though I had the book right beside me on my desk at the time, ah well]

Friday, November 7, 2008


Going to see APPALOOSA helped distract me from the emotional impact of these historic few days, but it didn't stop the eyes getting moist almost everytime I think about this giant change in our country's history.

Of course the rightwing mouthpieces seem to still be frothing, unfortunately. But their vitriol seems less effective now that it's been proven that a majority of us—of all shades and backgrounds and affiliations etc.—have joined to repudiate thier snarkiness (Rush called Obama a "Chicago thug" on his latest show! Can you imagine what the rightwing would be screaming if anyone in the media anywhere referred to any Republican figure, let alone the president as a "thug"?!).

But Obama's first press conference as "President-elect" today put to shame the presidential press conferences of the past few decades as far as I'm concerned.

He was clear, he was concise, he was honest, he was witty (referring to himself as a "mutt" when answering a questionj about the "puppy" issue) he was forecful and full of gravitas on the challenges we face as a nation and equally hopeful about the capacity we have to meet them.

And he made it clear, as his campaign did, that the economy will be the priority, creating jobs and giving most of us a tax cut, and that small businesses will be getting a capital gains tax cut as well as tax credits etc. putting the lie to the rightwing promoted stirring of fear these past two days among some small business owners.

I mean come on, when was the last time we had a president who was as smart, articulate AND COOL as Obama?

If the world was high school, he'd be the guy who not only is a basketball star, but also the most brilliant student and most popular, proven by his being elected student president, as well as the most dependable in a crisis, personal or otherwise.

And did you notice that economic team of advisors he's attracted? As mixed in terms of race, gender and political affiliation as any I've seen before. God bless our President-elect.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


If you dig Westerns, like me, you’ll enjoy this one.

There’s the usual great genre stuff, like ruggedly stunning vistas, lots of silence with men on horses in the distance or close up, some Native American hostiles, lots of guns, lots of macho bump bumping, bad guys who look pretty bad, good guys who look pretty good, and a woman whose, well, let’s just say she’s pretty independent for a woman who’s actually so dependent on this male dominated world.

Ed Harris directed, co-wrote (with Robert Knott, an adaptation from a novel by Robert B. Parker), and stars in APPALOOSA. It’s his Gary Cooper shot and he holds the screen almost as well, though you can tell he’s not as tall and lanky, nor quite as iconic.

But still, he’s great to watch, his face aging but still masculinely beautiful with those blue eyes and that square jaw.

And the de rigueur sidekick as played by Vigo Mortensen is equally fun to watch, as he holds the screen as well as any classic Hollywood star I think.

I couldn't help an occasional chuckle of appreciation watching these two guys work out on screen, playing with the Western movie myths and plots, throwing in some authentic touches, like gunfighting not being about how fast you can draw—they enter fights with guns already drawn, which is historically correct—and some inauthentic ones—like using “presently” to mean now, as is the current usage, when back then it meant soon or shortly or sometime in the near future.

The female lead is played by Renee Zellweger, whose squished up facial expressions have been bugging me now for awhile. She can act, but sometimes it’s hard to see to what end. She works well in this flick, pulls off what the movie and the role require of her, and as usually happens, I surrendered to her presence and accepted her character and let the distractions of her mannerisms and physical qualities alone after a few scenes.

But Jeremy Irons as the bad guy—yeah, you heard me right, Jeremy Irons as a gunfighting Western bad guy!—was, for me, pretty unpersuasive. The weakest thing about the movie. Not that he can’t act or didn’t have moments of the required intensity. But for the most part, I didn’t buy him as a killer, let alone one of the most heartless and ruthless and experienced. The movie needed someone like Gene Hackman in UNFORGIVEN, now that was a Western bad guy.

But watching Harris and Mortensen was so much fun, the miscasting of Jeremy Irons didn’t matter so much in the end either. Because, basically the movie works.

If you dig Westerns, and especially the fact that they’re still making decent ones, you’ll be grateful to Ed Harris for making this one.


Gloria Steinam said it best, it feels like we got our future back.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Like many of you I suspect.

Some of the younger people I was watching it with—of every hue, mostly mixed race but a few who are what's still called "white" and what's still called "black"—were excited and thrilled and jubilant and extremely hopeful, but none were experiencing it as those of us who had been there when.

The big objection to my interracial romance when I was a teenager and young man, and our desire to marry, was not just the legal restrictions that still existed in many states banning interracial marriages, let alone the societal restrictions (most interracial couples I knew kept it hidden from the outside world as much as possible), but the admonition that it was unfair to the offspring of such a marriage because after all, society would reject the children of mixed race marriages and they would be ostracized and unable to make a living and a good life for themselves.

"Think of the children" was all I heard back then.

Well, look's like that argument was as backward looking as I labeled it as a kid. I remember arguing with my father and brothers and "white" friends and associates, as well as some "black" ones too, that the future would be different, that we were entering a new world in which "contrast"—as I used to refer to the mixing of the races and called my crowd of racially mixed friends "the contrast clan"—would be the norm, not the exception to be scorned.

For awhile it looked like I, and those who believed like me, were prescient, when the segregation and anti-misegenation laws were eliminated, and the Civil Rights movement gained momentum and then victory after victory.

Then in reaction to those victories the rise of the right and its reactionary views and subliminal or coded racism (i.e. "silent majority" in which the only thing that was "silent" was the word "white" in the middle, or Reagan's "welfare queens," or this campaigns attempts to associate Obama's blackness with unAmericanness, etc. and the "real America" with white rural and sometimes racist "America")

But for those of us who took part in the Civil Righst sturggles, we knew things would never return to the old ways.

I often get caught staring at young mixed race couples (I live in a community where they sometimes seem more common than same race couples) and the younger ones often give me a look like the only thing they think an older white man can be staring at them for is to express his disapproval. But in fact, I am only reveling in being right when I was a kid, in being grateful that those of us who fought and often suffered pain and scorn and jailing and worse were right, and that the world has become a more tolerant and integrated place than it was when we were young.

The kids at this party last night had no idea what I and those like me went through when we were their age, and others went through even worse, to contribute to making this day possible. Maybe that's a lot to lay on the shoulders of this new president-elect, but he seems more than capable of carrying it—the hopes and gratitude and overwhelming belief that yes, we can all get along, or at least almost all, enough to create a new world again.


There's nothing to compare it to.

When JFK won, it was an incredible breakthrough for this country with its anti-Catholic and especially anti-Irish/Catholic bias, as well as giving hope to an entire generation that yes the world could change for the better if there were leaders who could bring hope to the challenge of doing that.

But he won only by a relatively slim margin.

Bil Clinton didn't even get fifty per cent of the vote, and though he represented a generational change and the hope of that generation, his vision and his mandate were limited.

The closest thing in some ways, is the rise of Cassius Clay from a "black" kid in the segregated South who became an Olympic boxing champion and then surprised the world not only by his confidence but by his talent and skills to become the heavyweight champion of the world and as Muhammed Ali, the most famous person in the world.

Only Obama has done it with the charm and charisma and capacity for learning of JFK, the youth and intelligence and determination of Bill Clinton, and the speed and confidence and natural brilliance of Muhammed Ali.

But even that doesn't satisfy my craving for a way to say how extraordinary Obama's accomplishment is.

To inspire a higher percentage of voters to cast a ballot than has happened in how long? I haven't heard yet, I just got up after being up half the night with fellow revelers and later other concerns, including calls and emails from around the world, but my guess is this was the highest turn out at least since the 1960s and maybe even longer.

And the majority he got, a landslide we haven't seen since LBJ I suspect. Maybe Reagan, but considering all the attempts to discredit voters and fiddle with results, I bet Obama's majority is bigger than Reagan's.

This is a tectonic shift not only in the political landscape of the USA, but in the world.

It's going to be a tough job, and there will be many obstacles thrown in the way of Obama and his administration besides the ones already created by his predecessor's, but this young brilliant community organizer has proven that his confidence is well earned and his intelligence should not be doubted.

Even when his own staff was wavering, believing he should change tactics and run a more aggressively negative campaign, or attack his opponenets more severely, it was like people telling Ali to stop dropping his hands and fight the old fashioned way or he'd get his butt whipped by Liston and the rest. But he knew what he was capable of when others doubted. And he proved it.

So has Obama.

Just by what he has accomplished, he has proven that he has more insight and more understanding of where this country is and what it craves than all the pundits and political pros put together.

And that victory speech. Immediately demonstrating his honesty and his fairness, quoting Republicans, reaching out to them, being gracious to his opponents who ran one of the most dishonest and slimey negative campaigns in modern times.

McCain gave a very gracious concession speech, but notice how his supporters booed Obama's name every time it was mentioned, whereas Obama's supporters cheered McCain's name when Obama said it.

That says tons right there. And the phone call between them included Obama telling McCain he will need his help and seek his advice. How amazingly Lincolnesque that is!

This man called on the better angels of our nature, and nation, and damn if they didn't respond. God bless him, his family, our changing country and world.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I voted at my polling place in a church around the corner from my apartment.

A beautiful Fall afternoon. As I walked over sidewalks covered with an amazing array of colors from the fallen leaves, I felt incapable of describing them, so vivid so Autumnal, such a range of hues from bright yellow to deep red and everything in between.

One of the main things I'm grateful I moved back East almost ten years ago for—the colors of the Fall.

There was a slight wait at the church as the poll folks worked out a problem with a first time voter whose registration seemed to have problems. That made me nervous.

Then inside the curtains there was one of those new electronic voting machines. I missed the solemn and reassuring heaviness of the old metal lever kind (built incredibly heavy so that they couldn't easily be stolen) as I touched the screen and cast my vote.

I also felt thrilled and overwhelmed with gratitude that I've lived long enough to cast my vote for a man who is at least partially African-American.

In fact when I woke up this morning and turned on the news on the radio, I felt my eyes tearing up at the thought of this amazing day's arrival.

After I walked back home and ran some errands and spent some time with my eleven-year-old, I watched a documentary on the 2004 presidential election and the problems with electronic voting machines (especially Diebold, the company owned and operated by Republican activists, including the CEO who declared in a letter a year before the 2004 election that he would make sure the vote in Ohio went to Bush). It's called HACKING DEMOCRACY.

Then I wanted to cry for other reasons.

The thing to watch as always are the exit polls, which declared Al Gore the winner, correctly in 2000, including places that were declared for Junior, and declared Kerry the winner by a small margin in 2004, especially in those places in Ohio where the Diebold machines made the most trouble and were proven to be easily hacked.

Gore chose not to fight on, Kerry chose not to fight at all. If the exit polls show Obama the winner and the machines show McCain won, I hope Obama and his campaign have the will and the courage to finally challenge these voting machines in public and in court until this system is changed for good.

(Other advanced countries have a registration system that the government runs in which every citizen is automatically registered when they turn voting age and electronic voting systems that leave a verifiable paper trail and can be tested against that trail.)

Monday, November 3, 2008


Oh, check this one out if you haven't seen it already (and a tip of the noggin to Ray DiPalma for passing it on).


I’ve been thinking about this idea of being a “hero” lately.

(I think the one word “hero” should stand for either men or women or any other being who performs heroic acts, but I’ll use the conventional terms just to keep it understandable).

The kind of hero or heroine that impresses me most are the ones who risk their life for a total stranger with no upside except saving the stranger’s’ life.

Like Wesley Autrey, the man who jumped onto the subway tracks and held that person down under the train until it passed over. He didn’t have time to consider anything other than trying to save a stranger’s life and maybe lose his in the doing.

Unfortunately for a lot of these kinds of heroes and heroines, I don’t remember their names and often to the world in general their names are forgotten as well.

And then there’s the kind of heroes and heroines who stand up for the oppressed, for those who have no voice, who take on the powers that be because it is the right thing to do and who inspire others to overcome their fears or cynicism to stand up to power and fight for those who have been ignored or left out or kept down or attempted to be wiped out, like my latest hero in that regard—Barack Obama.

So for my falling-back-to-sleep-inducing-list-making last night, I tried to come up with people who have been heroes and heroines to me, not from the history books (though many are in them now, and many still left out), but only those who were still alive in my lifetime, even if only my childhood (I couldn’t get anywhere near a full alphabet, maybe you can help me remember those I’ve forgotten):

AUTREY, WESLEY (the subway hero)
CHANEY, GOODMAN AND SCHWERNER (as they were known to my generation, the three young civil rights workers who were killed in Mississippi in 1964), CESAR CHAVEZ (who gave voice to the mostly immigrant farm laborers who are still being oppressed by corporate and large family farms (a teenage girl recently died on one in California after eight hours of picking in the hot sun with almost no breaks and little access to water), JIMMY CARTER (for his peace making efforts during and after his presidency, giving voice to all those in the Middle East who want peace and for his peacemaking efforts throughout the world, often successfully helping avoid armed conflicts and thereby saving hundreds of thousands or more of innocent lives)
DYLAN, BOB (the young version, for giving a voice to his generation), BERNADETTE DEVLIN (who gave voice to the Northern Ireland Catholic population that, though a majority, were treated as second-class citizens or worse up until the movement she helped inspire and lead in the 1960s), and ALEXANDER DUBCEK (and all the freedom fighters of the “Prague Spring” in Chzeckoslovakia in 1968 and their resistance to the Soviet Union)
EBADI, SHIRIN (the Iraqi woman who won the Nobel peace Prize for her work on behalf of Muslim women)
FREEDOM RIDERS, THE (the “black” and “white” civil rights activists who integrated interstate buses in the early 1960s and were beaten and jailed and worse for it)
HITLER’S WOULD BE ASSASSINS (they failed, but what a noble attempt) and THE HUNGARIAN FREEDOM FIGHTERS (who were encouraged and egged on by the Eisenhower administration to enact an armed rebellion against their Soviet oppressors but were than left to fend for themselves when they did)
JOHN THE XXIII (the Pope who tried to return the Catholic Church to its original principles and move it toward being more responsive and more representative of the unheard multitudes of worldwide Catholics rather than just the church hierarchy)
KELLER, HELEN (my first real hero(ine)), MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., JFK (not even counting his WWII heroism, but just his breaking the Catholic, as well as specifically the Irish-Catholic glass ceiling that still existed in this country when I was a boy), RFK (the hero he became in his last years, standing up for the disenfranchised and unrepresented)
LAMA, THE DALAI (not sure if he’s under “D” or “L” but for the obvious reasons)
OBAMA, BARACK (giving voice not just to mixed race “Americans,” but to the young, the left out and left behind, but maybe most importantly, to those who have grown cynical or despondent over the ways in which recent elections have seemed skewed toward, or even stolen by, the powerful rightwing forces that have come to control so much of not just our political life and discourse, but of the corporations that impact our lives so thoroughly in these times)
ROOSEVELT, ELEANOR, JACKIE ROBINSON, YITZHAK RABIN (who risked his political power and reputation and ultimately his life on making peace with the Palestinians), and RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS (too many to even list, who have given their lives for reporting the truth about Putin’s brutal oppression of any opposition)
SANDS, BOBBY (the Northern Irish hunger striker who took a stand for the oppressed multitudes of unrepresented Irish Catholics and was elected their representative to the English parliament while he was dying in a British prison), WILLIAM SAROYAN (for giving voice to immigrant Americans in general in his novels and plays and short stories, specifically Armenian immigrants, but many other unrepresented and unheard at that time ethnic minorities) and ANWAR SADAT (for risking his power and his life for peace with Israel)
TEINEMAN SQUARE, THE MAN WHO STOOD UP TO THE TANKS IN. MOTHER TERESA and RIGOBERTA MENCHU TUM (the South American woman who won the Nobel peace Prize for her work giving voice to the indigenous people of Latin America)
UNDERGROUND, THE (starting with WWII, but the underground resistance to all totalitarian regimes and brutal dictators anywhere)
WILLIAMS, ARLAND DEAN (the passenger who kept helping others to the rescue line in that plane crash in the freezing Potomac River back in the early ‘80s), and WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS (not just for his elevation of everyday “American” speech and ordinary Americans’ language usage to the level of great poetry, but for his service to the poor and working-class families of Rutherford and Paterson and Manhattan etc. as a lifelong doctor whose patients were those most in need and who he often gave a voice to in his poetry and prose)

Sunday, November 2, 2008


"Republicans rule, rather than govern, when they are in power by imposing their authoritarian conservative philosophy on everyone, as their answer for everything. This works for them because their interest is in power, and in what it can do for those who think as they do. Ruling, of course, must be distinguished from governing, which is a more nuanced process that entails give-and-take and the kind of compromises that are often necessary to find a consensus and solutions that will best serve the interests of all Americans.

Republicans' authoritarian rule can also be characterized by its striking incivility and intolerance toward those who do not view the world as Republicans do. Their insufferable attitude is not dangerous in itself, but it is employed to accomplish what they want, which it to take care of themselves and those who work to keep them in power.

Authoritarian conservatives are primarily anti-government, except where they believe the government can be useful to impose moral or social order (for example, with respect to matters like abortion, prayer in schools, or prohibiting sexually-explicit information from public view). Similarly, Republicans' limited-government attitude does not apply regarding national security, where they feel there can never be too much government activity - nor are the rights and liberties of individuals respected when national security is involved. Authoritarian Republicans do oppose the government interfering with markets and the economy, however -- and generally oppose the government's doing anything to help anyone they feel should be able to help themselves.

In my book Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches, I set forth the facts regarding the consequences of the Republicans' controlling government for too many years. No Republican -- nor anyone else, for that matter -- has refuted these facts, and for good reason: They are irrefutable.

The McCain/Palin Ticket Perfectly Fits the Authoritarian Conservative Mold

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican candidates, have shown themselves to be unapologetic and archetypical authoritarian conservatives. Indeed, their campaign has warmed the hearts of fellow authoritarians, who applaud them for their negativity, nastiness, and dishonest ploys and only criticize them for not offering more of the same.

The McCain/Palin campaign has assumed a typical authoritarian posture: The candidates provide no true, specific proposals to address America's needs. Rather, they simply ask voters to 'trust us' and suggest that their opponents - Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden - are not 'real Americans' like McCain, Palin, and the voters they are seeking to court. Accordingly, McCain and Plain have called Obama 'a socialist,' 'a redistributionist,' 'a Marxist,' and 'a communist' - without a shred of evidence to support their name-calling, for these terms are pejorative, rather than in any manner descriptive. This is the way authoritarian leaders operate."

from a longer article by John Dean,
Posted on November 1, 2008, Printed on November 1, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Is that even the way you spell "wracking"?

It should be a no brainer.

But obviously there's a kind of pathology out there that refuses to see Obama as the fellow U. S. citizen he is, as the son of a white mother raised by her and white grandparents, as a basically working-class kid who through his, and his mother's and grandparents', hard work and his brainpower succeeded beyond most kids' dreams, and who is obviously one of the most intelligent, reasonable, well-balanced, farsighted (in the sense of having a long view of the future and what's needed to make sure it is an improvement from what we have now rather than even more disastrous) candidates we've ever had for president, and certainly the most of those things of anyone in this year's race.

But instead, this pathology casts him as everything from a throwback to some radical Communist past before he was born that was dead and buried not long after he was born, to a Muslim trojan horse. (Surveys show that 25% of Texans still think he's a Muslim). (Well, all you have to do is read some of the rightwing comments I get on this blog to see what the pathology sounds like.)

Hopefully, Obama's trust in the intelligence and innate goodness of the "American people" will be proven correct, and not some of his supporters' doubts about that.