Monday, August 31, 2009

HERE'S A THOUGHT

If Cheney, and those who he's the spokesman for these days,
are justified in their belief that torture is necessary to save lives,
"American" lives that is,
then it follows that he and George W. Bush,
and others in their administration—
Rumsfield, Wolfowitz, et. al.—
who supported and even demanded an invasion of Iraq
on the basis of information they were aware was false
and in fact based on a plan that was in place even before 9/11,
it's only logical that the CIA and other government agencies
would have been justified in waterboarding and using other illegal torture tactics
on Cheney and George W. Bush et. al.—
in order to save the "American" lives
that have been lost so far in Iraq and continue to be,
more than were lost on 9/11.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

I initially had mixed feelings about both RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION because of the violence in them. It seemed at least partially gratuitous. But they both won my admiration eventually because of their filmic artistry—including flashes of brilliantly original dialogue (even if most of the rest of the dialogue and action were variations on film noir precedents) and the consistently great acting. All of which led me to conclude, like everyone else, here’s a new great director to be the next generation’s Scorcese or Coppola etc.

But after those first two films, what seemed original in a new adult way, became more juvenile, to my mind, focused almost entirely on imitating old movie genres or more recent ones, or mashing them together in some sort of serial homage as backdrop to Quentin Tarantino’s obviously growing commitment to pushing the limits of cinematic violence.

His latest movie, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, with the deliberate misspelling, is basically an extremely long montage of war movie clichés that began with the earliest silent era masterpieces and continued through the early talkies the patriotic inspirational glory days of WWII to post-WWII’s more realistic and serious examinations of the wages of war, and on into the 1960s when “the war” was used as background for fantasy action films like THE DIRTY DOZEN (a mixed race group of Hollywood action stars (mostly) pretending to be the kind of criminal turned elite group the war never saw nor would the customs or the military laws of that time allow) or THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (where the kind of elite fighting force that may have existed is pitted against an almost comically large set of “guns” that the then invincible international force of fighters overcomes with the kind of physical heroics only seen in movies) etc.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS uses some of the same elements of those kinds of WWII fantasy action flicks to piece together—and I do mean piece, as this is a film made up of definite separate pieces that never come together satisfactorily for me—a bloody revenge fantasy that is even farther, much farther, removed from any reality of that war than any past war flick.

It is also, given Tarantino’s obvious knowledge of film history, full of more arcane references to all kinds of movie history. Those references, and other pop cultural references (like the widespread popularity in popular German culture of the German author Karl May, who wrote a series of children’s books about the American West created wholly from books and his imagination since he never visited America), I have to admit, pleased the reader in me whose mind is full of equally arcane facts that most people could care less about.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS could also be seen as a film that satisfies any lingering, hatred-fueled revenge fantasies someone might have toward Hitler and his minions. There was some heartfelt applause at the film’s end in my little town’s movie theater where I saw it. And it’s making more money than most current releases.

But it’s a failed flick in my opinion. Where the acting was consistently real even when comic in RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION, in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, it’s as if some of the actors are acting in different movies than the other actors, and some are acting in several different movies all by themselves.

Brad Pitt is always consistently good for my taste and a delight to watch. He’s an incredibly talented movie actor. But in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS he pushes his character as if he’s in a comic satire, unlike the great comic character he played completely seriously in BURN AFTER READING (a film that, to my taste, uses violence and revenge to much greater effect and is a much more unique take on genre movies than INGLORIOUS BASTERDS).

But Christoph Walz, who steals the movie as the main Nazi bad guy, seems to be acting in an entirely different film from Pitt, in a more realistically sinister take on WWII. And the other actors go from almost broad comedy to total realism either from scene to scene or from actor to actor in each scene.

For instance the film’s opening scene is tense, realistic—except for perhaps the loveliness of the three daughters in it, all screen star worthy—and beautifully done, until the climax of the scene. The interaction between Denis Manochet (as a French dairy farmer) and Christoph Walz (as “the Jew hunter” Nazi) is so well done I thought wow, where did he get these actors and what an incredible directing job he’s doing. I had that thrill you get when a movie starts out so strong you surrender to it with the certainty you’re in good hands and are going to have a great ride for the next two hours or so.

But then, to cover for the sudden unreality of the scene’s culmination, the music turns totally schlocky and becomes louder and louder telling us, no commanding us, to feel the supposed power of the moment. It’s so obviously off, you have to conclude it’s deliberate (though having helped doctor many movies in post production it seemed to me to be more of a device to turn a mistake into appearing to be a deliberate choice) and then ask why? The scene was going so well, building so beautifully to a peak of dramatic tension so full of anxious expectation I felt like I was there (what incredible film making it is to give a viewer that feeling) and then poof, here’s the music and the sudden over the top acting and action making it seem like some Brechtian device meant to deliberately break the sense of reality and remind the viewers it’s only a movie, and a schlock genre movie at that.

Okay, that could be amusing and even engaging, and I’m an old fan of Brecht’s and the theatrical devices attributed to him, but…a part of me also was deeply disappointed as I thought, oh no, there’s goes the flick. And there it went, in all kinds of directions, slipping in little homages in certain shots and dialogue and bits of action to a half dozen movies every few minutes, it seemed, while jumping from one incongruous situation to another and constantly doing that Brechtian thing only to such an extent that one shot in one scene would seem so over the top ludicrously unreal followed by the next shot that would seem to be so undeniably real and moving followed by the next shot that would be such an unbelievably unreal macho fantasy I couldn’t tell if Tarantino was criticizing the flicks he was referencing or paying homage to them or just confusedly amusing himself from shot to shot with no concern for an audience, the actors, storytelling or any concept of film art, or if the movie just got away from him as he obviously immersed himself so lovingly and obsessively in the big action scenes and the minutiae of gruesome violence.

That was the worst thing about the flick for me, despite some great action sequences and dramatic scenes here and there (and as usual unexpected cameos, like Rod Taylor as Churchill, not much of a likeness in looks or manner but still an interesting casting choice). The movie seemed to be justifying Nazi atrocities when used by Nazi victims against Nazis.

Yes war is hell and terrible things happen, but in WWII for the most part the American and British troops followed the Geneva accords and what were then considered the “rules of war” and did no raping and pillaging or body mutilation or used Nazi or Japanese torture tactics. In the few cases where that occurred, our troops were actually tried and convicted. And after the war we tried and judged and punished those among the Nazis and the Japanese who committed war crimes.

From what I’ve read, Tarantino claims he’s just riffing on movie violence and means to entertain not take any kind of political stance or acclimate his audiences to more and more brutal violence so that that kind of violence becomes more and more acceptable—but that’s what he’s doing.

When I was a kid, we fought with our fists, a lot as I remember it, and not just kids. Grown men would take arguments outside of bars or parties or wherever and fight with their fists until someone gave up or got knocked out. It could be brutal, but never fatal in my experience, and no innocent bystanders died from it.

There was the occasional use of knives, or even studded belts or car antenna whips or the occasional zip gun made in shop class. But again, no automatic weapon that sprays bullets everywhere hitting mostly innocent people, often children, or handguns so powerful they can blow someone’s chest half open (or dum dum bullets etc.).

Young men didn’t start using guns as violently as the professional mobsters did, mostly on each other, until after THE GODFATHER movies, the way I saw it at the time. The first GODFATHER film seeming so realistically violent a lot of people were actually nauseous after seeing it. Now that seems like kids play compared to the slasher flicks etc.

But Tarantino seems dedicated to glorifying a particularly realistic—yet justified, and the way he films it “heroic”—form of brutal violence that under any other circumstances would be considered psychopathic. One of the last shots in the climax of the movie is a close up of one of the Jewish revenge killers looking like a mad man, not an angry man, but an insane man as he gets his revenge on the Nazi elite. A fantasy that probably many during that war and since have harbored in their minds and hearts, but the flick makes it look like that’s the natural outcome of those revenge fantasies, and maybe when we read of some of the atrocities committed against innocent Palestinians during the most recent invasion of Gaza by the Israeli army that is what we’re supposed to conclude, that the cycle of violence never ends.

But if we all got to act out our violent fantasies against those we think have harmed us or our loved ones, or those who might threaten our security or those we think are up to no good and should be punished for it, there’d be a lot more bloodshed, including that of innocents, than already exists. That’s like young men in gangs in Chicago or Newark or L.A. etc. thinking they’re the “inglorious basterds” of their turf, emulating the movie heroes of their young manhood who act out faux macho fantasies instead of learning about the true price of violence on everyone, including those who commit it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

THE GOVERNMENT VS. BIG BUSINESS (CORPORATIONS)

I haven't posted until now because my internet (and cable TV) connection was down.

Comcast is the provider, a monopoly in my area for highspeed internet until recently when Verizon put in lines for speedier connections. But both are giant corporations that have provided pretty good service a lot of the time, unbelievably bad service some of the time, and no service at all on too many occasions.

My power was entirely out a week or so ago for a day. I've lived in the apartment I'm in for three years now and the power has gone out I'd say about twelve times. Some of those were just for several hours, but a couple lasted a day or more and one lasted several days meaning all the food was rotten and I was trying to sleep in a heatwave with no fans let alone air conditioners, etc. (And I'm talking about power in a relatively large area that's part of the metropolitan New York area, not Bagdhad.)

It seems to me that it happens more often these days than when I was a boy. The 1950s was a terrible time for many of us in terms of civil rights and women's rights and gay rights and human rights in general. But what it did do well was keep corporations relatively regulated so that they operated with less outright greed and more public concern.

The tax rates were so high it didn't make sense to make the kind of gargantuan salaries or bonuses we've seen since the Reagan era when the regulations got thrown out and taxes decreased so that most of us began paying more in taxes (payroll, social security, etc.) than the wealthy did on their incomes. Back in the day, a CEO had an incentive to look toward long range financial goals rather than the quick kill in which he (or the rare she at that level) could score enough to insure a wealthy lifestyle for generations of his family to come, which is the dominant trend among the greedheads that run too many corporations these days.

But my point is a larger one. Big corporations let me down on a daily basis. Either the connection isn't working or the power's down or the repairman doesn't know what he's doing or doesn't show up when he says he will etc. etc. etc. And trying to get through the robotic answering programs, which are obviously designed to discourage any real contact with a real human, is so frustrating I would guess most of us give up in disappointment (my attempt to get Verizon recently to reduce a long distance bill because somehow I had "chosen" a plan that would make me pay over ten times as much as any other plan (and this was explained to me and I chose it why?). Etc. etc. endlessly etc.

The rightwingers would have us believe, and this began under Reagan mostly but was intensified and became more widespread under the last administration, that the only good government is one that doesn't exist, or only exists to raise a military and use it to defend, well, basically, the corporate interests and the maintenance of rightwing power which they identify as "the national interest" or "national security."

To bolster their argument, they're always accusing federal agencies of being unproductive or basically failures and corporations, the bigger the better, as the answer to all our prayers. But here's the deal. I get my mail every day, pretty much around the same time. Sometimes there's errors (there wasn't any by the way back when the Post Office was actually a federal agency and not a semi-public agency as it is now and became under a Republican administration) but they're usually pretty easily corrected. Yeas, there's lines sometimes at the Post Office, but there's lines sometimes at the place where I go to use Fed Express.

I get checks from the government every month as well, and they've so far always come on time and been correct. Just like my unions have always functioned well when it comes to getting checks for my work etc. But every time I have to deal with a large corporation, I find myself getting the run around, or becoming so frustrated with the run around I want to just give up in despair (or go join a group to get the corporation regulated and create more competition etc.).

When I had to deal with Social Security, I called and got a human being, who not only was congenial and informative, but who pointed out the best ways I could maximize my Social Security earnings when it came time, asking me if I was a veteran or had any minor children etc. When I went to see this woman in a Social Security office that is in the middle of what they used to call "the ghetto" in Newark, and was the only person there who might be considered "white" by those that use that term and actually believe there's some kind of "white race" as opposed to a "black" one etc., I found quick service and once again this woman was kind and helpful and actually made the whole process easy. Something that has never, never, can I say that again, never happened when I'm dealing with a large corporation. oh, and by the way, this woman was not only what classifiers call "black" she was a Muslim with her head wrapped etc.

The only problems I've had with government agencies, be they the Veterans Administration, Social Security, or others, has been when underfunding (the Veterans Administration under recent Republican administrations) led to not enough workers to handle volume etc. An excuse the big corporations use all the time ("We are busy with other customers and will get to you when we can" or "in approximately fifteen minutes" etc.).

The basic truth that the right ignores and sometimes those on the left as well, is that we're all human and any corporation or government agency is going to involve human error and human frailty. What the difference is is easy, the corporations main goal is profit, as much as possible as quickly as possible (used to include customer satisfaction when the financial rewards were more limited and CEOs made only ten times as much as a worker as opposed to a hundred times or a thousands times as much) whereas the government agency's goal is to serve the public in whatever capacity the agency has been formed to carry out.

I prefer my chances with someone attracted to public service than someone attracted to self enrichment at the expense of the rest of us.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

TED KENNEDY R.I.P.

I've been down the Jersey shore the past few days and didn't get the news about Ted Kennedy's passing until I was on the road early Wednesday morning.

The first thing I noticed was that even the rightwingers who were either sincerely or not so sincerely lamenting the passing of a "great Senator" and/or "great American" couldn't help but bring up the accident that took the life of Ted Kennedy's car mate that fateful night many decades ago.

Some of them pointed out that no matter how successful Ted Kennedy was in overcoming the loss of two brothers to assassins, and one to war, no matter how much legislation he got passed that led to more of this country's poor people getting a fairer deal in all areas of their lives, and more fairness in general in our society, no matter that to many critics and historians he was now seen as one of the most successful Senators in our country's history, no matter what other travails he overcame, this accident in which he acted badly by not overcoming whatever obstacles presented themselves—whether drunkeness, fear, physical impossibility, mental confusion under stress, etc.—that was a crime so dastardly it should overshadow all else.

I found this not only disappointing, but also as is so often the case, another instance of rightwing hypocrisy and double standards. The fundamentalism that underlies so much of rightwing ideology (though the ultimate ideology is to win power and maintain it at all cost and no matter what the original ideology might have been it can be sacrificed to those two goals) is based on born again Christianity. And the right is always bending over backwards to forgive sinners on their team, and bending over forward to get in our faces about sinners on ours.

When it was revealed that Laura Bush was in a car accident in which someone was killed, the way I heard it her ex-boyfriend who'd been bothering her, there was no outcry on the left and never has been. No liberal I know has ever accused her of maliciously setting out to kill someone or of having such terrible judgement it led to the tragedy etc. It was an accident and as far as I know no elected Democrat or well known "liberal" has ever questioned that fact or waved it under the right's noses.

Her husband was getting arrested for drunk driving and drunken behavior and drug abuse and disorderly conduct and so on from his adolescence up into his forties, which when asked by a reporter when he first ran for president he dismissed as "youthful indiscretions" that should be forgotten since he had since stopped drinking and drugging. As far as I know the question was never raised again, even though he was our first president to have that kind of criminal record on taking office. And as far as I know no Democratic politician has ever made an issue of it, though I wish some of them had, just to point out the hypocrisy in his holier than thou pronouncements as president.

Now, from the reports of the last president's arrests as a young and not-so-young man, it's clear that except for the grace of God or fate or chance or luck or whatever, no one was killed by his drunken behavior, including drunk driving that was reckless and endangered the public. But if anything like that had happened, you think the right would be on his case the way they were and even now continue to be on Teddy Kennedy's?

There are cases where the left, Democrats and public liberals, have ragged for a bit on a rightwinger's transgressions that led or could have led to tragedy. Like Rush's illegal drug use and his exploitation of his employees to keep his habit going, risking jail for them if not for himself because of his powerful connections. (You think a poor black man who did what Rush did, i.e. use illegal drugs and then use an employee to try and obtain them for him through illegal means, would have gotten off with no jail time? Sure.)

And there have been many fundamentalist ministers and Republican politicians who have jeopardized not just their own lives but those of their families through their behavior, and at least publicly, they are always forgiven and if they show any signs of recovery are lauded as sinners who have repented and moved on to greater glory hallelujah. Because the whole Christian story is one of redemption, and they love to tell stories of their own personal redemption, I was blind but now I see. But if it's a liberal or Democrat who has fallen, their perspective on redemption seems to switch immediately to a kick them while their down belief.

Like ted Kennedy, I was the youngest of a large Irish-American family in an even larger Irish-American clan. Unlike them we were never wealthy. But we had some similar family connections and loyalties, and a general devotion to service and fighting for more fairness for those with less. And as the youngest, I acted out in many ways as a young man, and was guilty of lack of judgement that sometimes led to personal tragedy and sometimes that had an impact on others. Nothing so glaringly heartbreaking as the famous accident when the car went off the bridge for Teddy and his companion, but tragic enough.

I am grateful I got the chance to stay alive long enough to try and make amends for those failures of character, as I am glad Teddy Kennedy did too. He ended up helping a lot of people who might otherwise have suffered early deaths or personal tragedies of their own without the work he did tirelessly. You ever been around a Congressman or Senator to witness the hours and effort they put into the job? It's a lot more time and energy consuming than most jobs most people I've known have. And even if it isn't physically heavy lifting, as I know from having worked a wide variety of jobs from many manual labor kinds of hourly wage stuff to heavy duty intellectual efforts and both can be as tiring as basic training in the service.

Teddy never had the amazingly quick wit and intellect of his brother John, nor maybe the kind of physical courage his brother Joe had, nor the power to touch and inspire people that Bobby acquired late in his life. But what he did have, he used almost consistently, with a few tragic exceptions, for the greater good, not his own.

[For a lowkey but accurate tribute check out Silliman's blog here (can't get the specific post so scroll down or look it up)]

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

THE EARLIER NOVELS OF IRENE NEMIROVSKY


When I fall in love with a book, I want to read everything that writer has published. That was the case with Irene Nemirovsky when I first discovered her, along with a lot of other readers, a few years ago when her never before published last novel, SUITE FRANCAISE, came out first in France, where it was a sensation, and then in a terrific English translation by Sandra Smith.

Part of the sensation was the incredible story of the author and the book. Nemirovsky was a Russian exile, part of the exodus of so-called "white Russians" who fled the Bolshevik revolution and its aftermath. She was a child of wealth traveling to France many times before the 1917 Russian revolution.

But she was also Jewish. When she was only a toddler she was hidden by the family cook during a progrom. She was born in 1903 so was old enough to remember the 1917 revolution. Her family moved to St. Petersburg in 1913 but when the events of '17 occurred and she witnessed some of the atrocities and fighting, the family fled to Moscow and back to St. Petersburg.

Eventually they were able to make it into exile, first to Finland, then to Sweden and eventually France. By her early twenties, she was already publishing her fiction, and by her late twenties was already a French literary sensation, especially after publication of her best known and most controversial early work, the novel DAVID GOLDER.

Controversial because some see her treatment of the title character as antisemitism, despite her own Jewish heritage, while others see it as one of the great realistic novels of the time, or all time. It was a great success and was made into a movie and a play. She indulged in the usual Jazz Age antics, enjoying her literary success and fame, but continued to pour out novels and short stories based on the events she had experienced or witnessed among the Russian Jewish exile community, and back in Russia, as well.

She married another Russian Jewish exile and they had two daughters, but after the Germans invaded France and took Paris, they were forced to go into exile again. They converted to Catholicism, which some see as an attempt to avoid the anti-Jewish laws and round ups. They weren't French citizens, despite the fact she'd lived there for two decades by 1939, but she had faith that things would work out.

In their travails as refugees fleeing Paris and the oncoming Germans, she continued to write, filling a leather bound book that was in a suitcase the girls took with them when they were saved from the Germans, but their parents weren't. Irene and her husband both were arrested, though at two different times, and both died in Auschwitz. He in a gas chamber, her of typhus.

But she wrote and was even still getting published right up until her death. And when the girls grew older, they were aware of the leather bound book they assumed was a diary, but neither wanted to delve into that traumatic period. Finally after one of the sisters passed away in old age after the turn of the century, the other received the old suitcase and going through it took out the leather bound diary and began reading only to discover it was actually a series of novels or novellas, meant to describe the panorama of the war in France and the German invasion and occupation with the idea of some conclusion being reached at war's end.

The books were joined into one as Suite Francasie and published to much acclaim in France in 2004 and then here in 2006 when I first encountered it. In 2007 another unpublished novel based in the French countryside that she came to know so well during the family's flight from Paris was published, FIRE IN THE BLOOD, and I devoured that as well, even though it's a much lighter read than SUITE FRANCAISE.

That too was translated by Sandra Smith, as were the four novels that have now been published under one cover by Knopf's Everyman's Library. The novels include DAVID GOLDER, THE BALL, SNOW IN AUTUMN and another big sensation for Nemirovksy early in her career, THE COURILOF AFFAIR.

Critics are a little condescending to a few of these novels, but to my taste they are all significant and rewarding reads. DAVID GOLDER tells the story of a wealthy white Russian exile, a Jewish man whose wife and daughter seem to only care about the lifestyle he provides for them. He's an amazingly complex character to my mind, not at all the stereotype or two-dimensional stand in for her father or whoever she modeled it on and obviously grudgingly admired for the qualities that this kind of self made man embodied, but at the same time judged for his single mindedness and cynicism.

THE BALL is more of a novella, an adolescent revenge fantasy that Nemriovsky makes as real as any Tolstoy or Turgenev novel. As with DAVID GOLDER, THE BALL is surprisingly contemporary. the psychology and brutal honesty Nemirovsky articulates through her characters' thoughts and actions is so raw and uncompromising, it's almost like she was the first punk novelist. THE BALL could almost be included in grrrrrl power history as some kind of proto-confrontational precursor.

SNOW IN AUTUMN is another story of Russian exile, this one more deeply evocative of the domestic turmoil created by the Revolution and the subsequent civil war between the "whites" and the "reds." It's told from the perspective of an old servant, a peasant woman seen often in Russian literature as a minor character or less. But this time she's at the center of the story, giving it an earthy grounding that cannot be ignored or dismissed. It's a compellingly told tale that makes old news seem new.

And the last novel in this collection, THE COURILOF AFFAIR, treats the revolution this time from the perspective of one of the most successful assassins on the revolutionary side. It's as coldly presented as all these books are (the later, posthumously published books seem much more romantic and the sentiment in them is much less angry and critical, more forgiving and accepting of human faults). If it was the only thing I'd read of hers I'd think, well obviously she thinks the revolutionaries were coldblooded killers driven more by rage or pathology or opportunity than love or truth or justice. But she treats the exiles and victims of the revolutionaries' acts just as coldly.

Not to say the books are cold or the stories, they are compelling and engaging and even enlightening, and I dug every one of them. She is still one of my favorite writers and I can't wait for more translations. All I mean is that she narrates these stories in a way that sometimes evokes tenderness and even love, but always does it in a way that we feel it for the characters rather than the narrator feeling it or doing anything to make it seem she cares what we think. It's a tremendous technical achievement to my mind, and one that only adds to the rewards all her writing give a reader, or at least this one.

if you like novels (I read more history and biography and reportage and letters and poetry and other incidental kinds of writing than I do novels anymore, but the discovery of the novels of Irene Nemirovksy and Roberto Bolano has given me as much pleasure in recent years as my youthful discoveries of William Saroyan and Jack Kerouac et. al.) than I would start reading Irene Nemirovksy's.

BLACKWATER REVELATIONS

If anyone missed the latest Bill Maher show on HBO I highly recommend it. If you can call it up on your TV or get it on the computer somehow, do it. Here's a piece of it that was on Huffington Post yesterday.

Monday, August 24, 2009

DEMOCRATS AND LANGUAGE, OR VS. LANGUAGE

I've written about this before and others have commented on it as well, the history of the rightwing Republicans using language to mischaracterize Democratic or "liberal" or centrist or anything other than the latest rightwing position as not just stupid but evil. They do a pretty great job of it. As The Daily Show showed over and over again, when the rightwing Republicans were in control of the government in recent years, everyday it seemed like anyone from their side who you saw on TV being interviewed or making a speech or answering a question, all used the same terms, the same talking points (ala "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud").

There's very few "party line" moments for the Democrats. The definition of "liberalism" and the humanism it's based on is that everyone has the right to be heard, as well as all the other rights guaranteed by the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, as well as inherent in being human, at least from a humanist perspective (like the right to healthcare even if you're poor).

But there must be a lot of poets and advertising copy writers who are "liberals" and Democrats and to the left of the rightwing, so why aren't they being used to frame arguments and label positions and talking points. When the rightwing Republicans renamed what had for decades been called "the estate tax" into "the death tax"—they started winning the argument against it, because people who would never get anywhere near enough millions to qualify for that tax somehow thought they're few possessions or small savings or home or whatever would be taxed upon their death, even though for the vast majority of us, that'll never happen.

Smart move. But what do the Democrats come up with, things like "public option" or calling themselves "progressives" or calling the stimulus package the "recovery act" or whatever. They should have called it the "repair the Republican destruction of our economy act"! And they should call the tax suggested on the wealthiest to pay for healthcare the "fat cat tax" or something like that.

I remember when I was a young jazz musician, the music we played (or tried to) was called "progressive jazz"—anyone remember that? Before that came "bebop" and after it "free jazz"—two monikers I bet more people remember. "Progressive" is so abstract that it's almost impossible to grasp with the mind in any imaginative way—there's no imagery in it or lyricism, it almost sounds like "gradual" or like something you might hope for even if you can't define it.

Airy. Artsy. Lame. Unlike "blue dogs" which at least resonates in the mind and creates a sense of something real, something maybe pugnacious, something common and usually beloved (the dog part at least). They should call the public option the "fair share" option or the "screw the insurance companies" option. Okay, maybe a little extreme, but that's the problem, there is nothing too extreme for the right, as we've seen in the Town Hall meetings and elsewhere.

Obama was a pretty good word man during the campaign, but he seems to have retreated into academic wonky explanations for the most part, with dollops of regular guy cliches like "we don't want to pull the plug on grandma"—ugh. He should be repeating over and over again the story of his own mother's death and how that made him a crusader for the right to healthcare for everyone, rich and poor, like he is now and once was, white and black, like he is, or his mother and father were, etc.

He should have stood up and articulated what most of us are feeling right now, that somehow even though we voted for a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress to overturn the destructive policies of the last eight years, the media and too often Democrats themselves, are still busy behaving like they have to placate a handful of rightwing Republicans by compromising their principles into mush.

And he and the Democrats should be calling the rightwing Republicans what they are, lying traitors who are hellbent on destroying the democratic process in this country when it goes against them.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

ANOTHER ALPHABET LIST

Falling asleep last night to the sound of the fan, a tune popped into my head with a long title (I had heard it earlier thanks to iTunes shuffle on my laptop)—a very early version of Bing Crosby singing “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” which was not only amazingly poignant still, but musically unique. His vocal chops were about as good as they get and were almost revolutionary at the time (Louis Armstrong among other jazz greats, for instance, credit Bing as being a big influence).

Anyway, started thinking about songs I dig that happen to have long titles (six words or more) and came up with these before I was in snoozeville:

AFTER THE LIGHTS GO DOWN LOW (Al Hibbler)
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? (Bing Crosby)
CHERRY PINK AND APPLE BLOSSOM WHITE (Michel LeGrand, corny but unique, that horn, those horns and strings, and the glissandos!)
DO YOU KNOW THE WAY TO SAN JOSE (Dionne Warwick, corny also, but still potent because she was another vocal original)
EVERYBODY’S GOT SOMETHING TO HIDE EXCEPT ME AND MY MONKEY (The Beatles—great song, great title!)
THE FIRST TIME EVER I SAW YOUR FACE (Roberta Flack)
GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY (Frank Sinatra)
HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOIN’ ON (lots of people, but Bill Charlap’s version has been my recent favorite)
I AM A MAN OF CONSTANT SORROW (The Soggy Bottom Boys from the O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? soundtrack)
JUNE IS BUSTIN’ OUT ALL OVER (from the original CAROUSEL cast album)
KEEP THE BUGS OFF YOUR GLASS AND THE BEARS OFF YOUR ASS (The Bad Plus)
THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU (Glen Miller, Tex Benacke vocal I think)
MOST LIKELY YOU GO YOUR WAY AND I GO MINE (Bob Dylan)
NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN (Charlie Haden and Hank Jones)
ON THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA, AND THE SANTA FE (Johnny Mercer)
PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE (Shirley Jones & Gordan MacRae from the OKLAHOMA! soundtrack)
Q?
THE RETURN OF THE SON OF MONSTER MAGNET (Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention)
THE SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON THE TOP (Ahmad Jamal)
THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME (Fred Astaire)
U?
V?
WAY DOWN YONDER IN A MINOR KEY (Michael Winch)
X?
YOU’RE GONNA MAKE ME LONESOME WHEN YOU’RE GONE (Madeleine Peyroux’s version, thanks to TPW)
ZING WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART (The Coasters)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

WHATEVER WORKS

I’ve never seen a Woody Allen movie that didn’t have something I liked about it. He’s one of those few artists whose every work I want to check out and am always surprised and often delighted by what I find there.

WHATEVER WORKS is supposed to be an old script of his from the 1970s that didn’t get made until now. It stars Larry David of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM fame as Boris Yellnikoff (a little Woody joke there), an ex-physics professor with a very sour take on life (and the usual Woody quirks that many of Allen’s leading characters in his comedies share with him).

You’ve probably heard that it’s about an older man (Yellnikoff) and a young woman, Evan Rachel Wood (as Melodie St. Ann Celestine, another Woody joke), and that may bring up a response I’ve seen in a lot of my women friends and even some men, that many of Woody’s movies are about older men and younger women and since the whole Soon Yi drama these friends interpret Allen’s movies as apologias or justifications for his behavior in his private life.

But of course if this was written before that whole private scenario, that discounts that motive. But it may have always been his “problem” (thus MANHATTAN et. al.). But that too doesn’t hold water, because in the long run there are more Woody Allen movies about romances between men and women of the same generation than there are cross generation romances.

It’s a false issue as far as Woody’s art is concerned, though you’re entitled to your private opinions about his private life. But in fact WHATEVER WORKS is about a lot of unconventional relationships (as was VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA, one of Allen’s masterpieces for my taste). In fact that’s the point, and a good one that he makes so well with the final soliloquy of the film it brought tears to my eyes and to the friend I saw it with who is one of those friends who has had a hard time with Allen’s flicks since the whole Soon Yi business.

As someone who has lived a varied life full of all kinds of relationships, conventional and not even close, the movie rang true to me in its deeper perspective on not just the chance element of love but the inability of most of us to choose what “on paper” looks like the perfect match. (One of his recent darker themed movies, MATCH POINT, not only makes that, well, point in the film but the title telegraphs it, something I didn’t see any reviewer take note of.)

Allen has always altered various themes and approaches to telling a story, including the classic notions of comedy and tragedy, but it’s been a while since he made the kind of flat out comic masterpiece WHATEVER WORKS is for me. Even just to see it for the one-liners is worth it, let alone the actual story, which is so inventively unique, it’s like he challenged himself to make a boy meets girl story that overturned every cliché in that ancient plotline and still rang all the appropriate bells and blew all the satisfying whistles of the basic romantic comedy story.

And the casting couldn’t have been better. I’m not as crazy about CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM as a lot of my family and friends. I find Larry David a little too predictably annoying at times. But even though he plays a pretty obnoxious character in WHATEVER WORKS, Allen has written the character so well, I almost immediately was sucked into caring about him and his Allenesque existential despair.

In some of Allen’s earlier movies, the casting sometimes was off for my taste, but in recent years it has been impeccable, and WHATEVER WORKS is no exception. Evan Rachel Wood knocked me out in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and does an even more incredible job in WHATEVER WORKS. Her character could have been a comic cliché, but she plays it so well she not only made me laugh with almost every gesture and line, but she made me care in a way a lot of recent comedies haven’t.

Maybe that’s because the perspective is so adult. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Hollywood comedy that addressed issues I could relate to with my entire adult experience and not just my adolescent and early adulthood years. WHATEVER WORKS may have been written in the ‘70s originally (though a lot of the jokes have been updated and the rest still work perfectly, in fact I laughed more during this movie than I have at a film comedy in years and years), but it’s coming from the wisdom of a long life full of just as many doubts as certainties.

Not to even mention watching Patricia Clarkson kick acting butt with a character that transforms so radically most actors would have lost their way, or Ed Begley Jr. as her male counterpart (full disclosure, he’s a friend, but I’ve dug his underappreciated acting chops from long before we met and became friends).

Anyway, as you can see, I highly recommend this flick (though sometimes going into a movie with high expectations can ruin the experience, so just go to this flick looking for a small diversion from whatever’s troubling you these days, I think you’ll find at least a temporary antidote).

Friday, August 21, 2009

RASHIED ALI R.I.P.

Here's a good obit on who he was, in case you don't remember or never knew. [And thanks to my son Miles for hipping me to Rashied's passing several days ago. I didn't catch the obit until today through Silliman's blog links.]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

NISENNENMONDAI

Got turned on to these three Japanese women by a notice in last Sunday's NY Times and checked them out on YouTube and was blown away. This link will take you to one clip that shows how terrific the bassist is, and there's others that show the guitarist's chops, but it's the drummer that blew me away. Best thing I've seen/heard since Ginger Baker.

They play a jazz riff influenced minimalist kind of punk sound barrage and must be something in person. Takes me back a few decades to downtown Manhattan. But there's a quality in their synchronocity that creates that one organism kind of ability to make subtle incremental changes that only the tightest groups ever achieve (you can see it more on some of the longer clips on YouTube if you can listen long enough, it's not everybody's taste, I know).

Some dedicated musicians though. And not a bad soundtrack for current events.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

SOME QUICK THOUGHTS

Okay. it's now seven months since Obama took office.

The economy was in free fall. So was the stock market. So were the auto companies. Our country's reputation was in tatters as well.

The economy is rebounding. The stock market is rebounding. The auto companies are rebounding (GM just added more workers and more overtime). All, thanks to Obama's policies.

As for the country's reputation, well, when pirates hijacked a ship with an American Captain and crew, the Navy Seals rescued the ship, the crew and eventually the captain with a Hollywood ending. Maybe could have happened on anyone's watch, but it happened on his. Where the last administration tried to get North Korea to do things it wanted and ultimately failed, at least under Obama we got the two reporters out and North Korea has since taken other actions that bode well for a lessening of the rhetoric and a broadening of the possibilities for diplomacy. And the same with other nasty dictatorships like Burma (Mynmar).

And a whole mess of great legislation has passed and is beginning to be felt (credit card companies have to give you 45 days warning in rate changes instead of 15 is a small one, much better benefits for veterans is a big one).

And he's come closer to actually initiating some kind of healthcare reform, even if in the end it turns out to be minimal and incremental, it will be a start on something many presidents have been trying to accomplish since Teddy Roosevelt and few have made a dent in.

So over all the guy's pulled off some pretty tremendous successes given the mess he inherited and the short time he's had to bring about change. So what are we talking about in the media? Some tiny percentage of the population that wants to destroy any credibility Obama has earned through a lifetime of smart choices and good causes and see him removed from power in any way possible.

And what do signs comparing him to either Hitler or The Joker from the Batman movies intend to accomplish, the equation of a democratically elected centrist Democrat with two historical figures, one real one made up, who are so evil there can be only one response to them: kill them.

The last Batman movie THE DARK KNIGHT made it totally clear through its story line that moral or legal considerations were to be put aside in fighting a force as evil as The Joker. And history as well as movies have made it clear that the only response to a Hitler has to be some kind of plot to assassinate him.

I despise the people making these comparisons and using this overblown rhetoric and imagery, and those in the media who continue to give them more attention than they warrant.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

JERSEY PARROTS

Spent the day Monday with my youngest, his niece—my granddaughter—and her mother, my oldest. They came to visit us here in Jersey (from Massachusetts where they live).

We spent part of the day hanging out in the park near my apartment, the one I sometimes post about taking walks through and digging so much.

We took her to the duck pond that, naturally, was full of ducks as well as water lilies and fish you could see swimming by just under the surface—it’s a shallow pond.

My youngest wanted to show his niece the turtle(s) that live there. No luck spying them. But what we did see, though it took a minute to actually figure out what we were seeing, was a tree full of bright green parrots (officially “parakeets” though they aren’t the tiny birdcage pet kind, they’re Latin American green parrots with a touch of gray and almost the size of the kind of parrot that “wants a cracker” in the movies).

There was a whole family or tribe of them, filling this one tree with their raucous sounds—which I interpreted as almost laughter—as they picked at berries growing from the tree’s branches and blended in so perfectly with the leaves of the tree that it took us a few minutes to make them out.

There was more fun over the more than twenty-four hours we spent together, including a trip to the city to show my granddaughter where her mother lived part of her childhood, on Sullivan Street below Houston in what was becoming back in those days known as “Soho”—but which we residents called “So What” or “So So”—and now is almost unrecognizable.

The church is still there, but the candy store across the street from it is now some Tibetan store. The cheese shop and one of the two butchers are gone, as is the bakery and the Italian deli and the two social clubs, each anchoring separate ends of the street.

Lots of changes. Just like in Washington Square which recently had a remodeling and is much more flowerful and user friendly, especially the little playground where my youngest and one of his oldest Jersey friends entertained my granddaughter with games of hide and seek (her choice) and even incorporated another little girl her age into the game.

They played in the fountain in the center of the square as well, getting soaking wet, a relief in the incredible heat and humidity. And then we hit John’s Pizzaria on Bleecker Street, still there after all these years and a few expansions.

Back when we lived in the city in the ‘70s it was still just a cubbyhole with lines snaking down Bleecker Street of people waiting to get in—no reservations, my kind of place—to taste what Villagers and the rest of the downtown community continuously argued over then, which was better Ray’s thicker crust pizza on the corner of Eleventh Street and Sixth Avenue just across the street from P.S. 41, or John’s brick oven thin crust down on Bleecker near Seventh Avenue.

Hey, it still tasted great, and they let my little guy and his buddy carve their names and initials in the walls of the booth alongside decades of other carvings. Sweet trip to the city, beautiful visit, lots of memorable moments.

But maybe the most memorable was discovering a tree full of bright green parrots cavorting in one of the trees in our local park in Jersey, parrots that I’ve read have migrated as far North as Connecticut these days, something to do with “global warming” or as some call it, “climate change”—but then we can’t be sure there really is such a thing according to rightwingers. These parrots just decided they liked the climate better in Jersey these past few years. Who can blame them?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT

If you’re a sixty-five year old man, exhausted from an extremely long plane trip, using a cane and standing in your own home but exasperated at having been unable to locate your keys and forcing the door open, and you grow impatient with a policeman who doubts you’re telling the truth about being in your own home and thinks you might be a sixty-five-year old burglar who chose to try and break in the front door of a house in broad daylight while leaning on a cane, you deserve to be handcuffed and taken to jail and booked for “disorderly conduct.” Oh, and you just happen to be African American or “black” as society still sees things.

But if you’re a European-American, or “white” as society calls it, and you scream at the top of your lungs insults and threats and intimidation at a Congressperson or Senator, and disrupt a town hall meeting he or she is trying to conduct and make it impossible for other citizens to be heard, let alone the Senator or Congressperson, and half or more, maybe all, of what you’re screaming is lies and invective, you’re some kind of rightwing hero or heroine and the police should let you rave on unobstructed and do?

Isn’t that what we used to call the old double standard.

[For the most reasoned discussion of the town hall protests I've seen so far, check out this Bill Moyers show.]

Saturday, August 15, 2009

TODAY'S QUOTE

"I like all painting, I always look at the paintings—good or bad—in barbershops, furniture stores, provincial hotels...I'm like a drinker who needs wine. As long as it's wine, it doesn't matter what wine."
—Picasso (at least according to the book DEPARTED ANGELS JACK KEROUAC THE LOST PAINTINGS, though the translation seems a little off. (It doesn't say who did it.) I would have said "I'm like a wino" rather than "I'm like a drinker who needs wine." etc. But still, the sentiment is one I get. I used to feel that way about movies as a kid and poetry as a young man. Still do sometimes.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

LES PAUL R.I.P.

I remember when I was a kid, I had a crush on Mary Ford, Les Paul's wife and musical partner back then. When they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show to perform their hit version of "How High the Moon," my sisters and me argued over whether there was another singer and guitar player behind the curtain giving them that unique sound of theirs. We didn't yet know about the multi-tracking Les invented (or the famous Gibson Les Paul guitar that we discovered not long after).

The man was one of a kind. The NY Times has this video on their site of him only months ago. A classy guy right to the end.

GLORIA GRAHAME AND THE BIG HEAT

I've seen the famous still from the early 1950s film noir THE BIG HEAT at least a hundred times or more over the years. It shows Gloria Grahame after Lee Marvin's character has scalded her face with boiling hot coffee. It's a pretty famous image and for years I was sure I had seen the movie it came from.

But watching the film last night on TCM (with the usual great introductory and closing commentary from host Robert Osborne), only one or two scenes seemed familiar. Others seemed vaguely familiar, until I realized I was thinking of another film noir flick from that period that just had a similar set up or outcome or even in some cases action and even dialogue.

THE BIG HEAT stars Glen Ford as a cop who temporarily loses his job and goes all vigilante (a trope of film noir and Westerns and other genre films during the McCarthy era as the idea of corrupt or compromised government entities needing to be straightened out by lone heroes who take the law into their own hands and carry out vengeance for the rest of us etc. became the metaphor used by both sides of that political turmoil though mostly by the right) after his wife is killed.

There's a lot of the above mentioned set pieces—the gangland moll who at heart is if not virtuous at least well intentioned (but by the movie code of that era has to die for her sins in the last reel), the overly flashy apprentice gangster who is the first prominent bad guy to get his just deserts, etc., even the "crippled" elderly woman who is the only one brave enough to rat on the bad guys, etc.—but the film is also full of original touches and performances that gave it the reputation it has as one of the classic film noirs.

And a lot of the credit for that has to go to Gloria Grahame. Her gangland boyfriend and the main evildoer played by Lee Marvin gives her a foil to play off, but it's Ford who she really works out with. It almost seems like Grahame's trying to get Ford, a relatively rigid actor whose persona was fairly consistent through most of his film work, attractive and interesting to watch, but limited, it's like she's trying to rile the actor himself and not just her character trying to get to Ford's.

In fact the sparks they created generated so much heat, so to speak, that according to host Robert Osborne, the studio cast them immediately in another film with the same director (Fritz Lang) but that one bombed and we had no more of Grahame and Ford. Though Gramahe went on to work with other stars, or had already (her bit part in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE being a perfect example of the impact she had on screen, I bet anyone who ever saw that movie can remember her being complimented on her dress as she walks down the street having prepared assiduously for the impact the dress would make and then charmingly waving off the compliment by referring to the dress, as she swirls the skirt of it around her beautiful legs, saying something like "This old thing?" or her turn as "I'm just a girl who cain't say no" in Oklahoma etc.) she never attained the level of Hollywood legend I always thought she deserved.

Her screen presence is always memorable, at least to me as a kid and an adult, because of her confidence and the light touch it gave her every line reading and every expression. She seems, for instance, in THE BIG HEAT, almost in another movie compared to Lee Marvin's bad guy heaviness. In fact, the best thing about this movie is watching Gloria Grahame. I hope her contribution to classic Hollywood films of the 1940s and '50s is never forgotten.

And just for full disclosure, I had the honor and privilege of working with her in the last movie she made, in which she had a small part and I was one of the leads (and in which John Carradine played my character's grandfather, a low budget horror film originally called PHOBIA but retitled THE NESTING). I actually got to hold her hand (and unwisely told her how much that meant to me while we were waiting for the director to yell "Action" and she was preparing which made her peeved with me but it was only my second professional movie acting job and I didn't have enough experience to respect another actor's methods etc.).

She became more notorious in some circles for being first married to Nicolas Ray the director of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE among other films, and then after he died, marrying his son (her stepson, shades of Woody Allen or Phedre!). She died on a plane ride over the Atlantic (I don't remember if she was going or coming) not long after I held her hand on that movie set. And now she seems almost forgotten. But to me, long before I ever met her, she was always one of the most unforgettable screen presences Hollywood ever presented to a movie audience—every scene she was ever in is captivating to watch, unlike even some of the most famous Hollywood legends, which she will always be for me.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

FAVORITE MOVIES OF THE 21ST CENTURY

Falling asleep last night, I came up with a list of English-language movies I think (and in some cases hope) will be the future classics from the first decade (or this much of it so far) of the 21st century.

I originally did it in my mind alphabetically, but it started to grow so large I changed to my old favorite trinity lists, inventing new categories to include the flicks that came to mind as those I would vote for for consideration as what the future will deem classics:

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY HIGH SCHOOL MOVIES:

JUNO
MEAN GIRLS
NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY WOODY ALLEN MOVIES

MATCH POINT
SMALL TIME CROOKS
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
[I haven’t seen WHATEVER WORKS yet]

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY ACTION MOVIES

THE BOURNE IDENTITY
THE BOURNE SUPREMACY
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY SERIOUS GEORGE CLOONEY MOVIES

MICHAEL CLAYTON
THE GOOD GERMAN
SYRIANA

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY COMIC GEORGE CLOONEY MOVIES

BURN AFTER READING
LEATHERHEADS
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY CAPER GEORGE CLOONEY MOVIES

OCEAN’S ELEVEN
OCEAN’S TWELVE
OCEAN’S THIRTEEN

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY MOVIE MUSICALS

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
DREAMGIRLS
ONCE

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY CRIME DRAMAS

AMERICAN VIOLET
FROZEN RIVER
GONE BABY GONE

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY ROMANTIC COMEDIES

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
2 DAYS IN PARIS
WAITRESS

MOST UNIQUE 21ST CENTURY LOVE STORIES

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
LOST IN TRANSLATION

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY ANIMATED FILMS

THE TRIPLETS OF BELLVILLE [I know I said English language, but this is in the universal language of animation]
UP [especially in 3-D]
WALL-E

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY OLD STYLE EPIC FILMS

APCOLYPTO
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL
THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY NEWISH-STYLE EPIC FILMS

ATONEMENT
BABEL
CRASH

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY ULTIMATELY TRAGIC MOVIES

IN BRUGES
INTO THE WILD
NOTES ON A SCANDAL

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY TRIUMPH OF THE UNDERDOG MOVIES

THE GREAT DEBATERS
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY FEEL GOOD MOVIES DESPITE THEIR SUBJECT MATTER

THE UPSIDE OF ANGER
THE VISITOR
YOU KILL ME

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY ULTIMATELY TRAGIC LOVE STORIES

AWAY FROM HER
EASTERN PROMISES
STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING

FAVORITE 21ST CENTURY OVERCOMING-THE-ODDS LOVE STORIES

HIGH FIDELITY
JUST LIKE HEAVEN
SKINS [the Native American one, the love in this case being familial]

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

G.I. JOE

What can I say besides I have an almost twelve-year-old son.

Actually, what I can say is this movie is even more a military recruitment propaganda film than the TRANSFORMERS sequel we saw earlier this summer.

Like that film, G.I. JOE posits that most if not all of the positive virtues this world has to offer can be found in the U. S. Military, particularly the army.

And all the evil in the world is cartoonish and relatively easily defeatable by our military (well, difficult for about two hours and than easy), even when that cartoony evil is supported and/or defended by our government (as I pointed out in my post on TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, that flick actually names Obama as president and portrays his representative to the Army as a weak, cowardly idiot with nothing but evil intentions—hmmm, sound familiar?). Though in G.I. JOE the evil is personified for some reason in the mind and body of a Scotsman. As we all know, most of the evil perpetrated in the world lately has come from Scotland!

The story, as with most of these flicks, is full of holes and inconsistencies and fight scenes where it’s often impossible to tell the evildoers from our heroes. And though full of famous and often good film actors (Dennis Quaid and Jonathan Price among others in this one) there’s a lot of bad acting in this too (unfortunately a lot of it from the lead Channing Tatum who I’ve praised before and had high hopes for, but he’s no Bruce Willis or Will Smith as far as action heroes go), which has to be blamed on the director to some extent, since even bad scripts can be well acted if the director doesn’t mess up.

And this is a pretty bad script (with too many story creators and writers to credit, or discredit). A lot of the plot points, if you can call them that, echo similar plot devices from STAR WARS to INDEPENDENCE DAY. Only in the latter the direction and acting is so good, it transcended the usual genre clichés to become something special, even unique (the former was unique only in the sense that it updated decades-old genre conventions to an ironic awareness in the first one and created an iconic movie star out of Harrison Ford).

Anyway, what does it matter, it’s just a kids toy. But I remember when my older boy was a kid and G.I. Joe wasn’t just a toy but a rallying cry for the rightwing defenders of the debacle in Viet Nam (their cry being always that “liberal politicians” surrendered the war the military could have won if allowed to, despite the reality that the U. S. dropped more bombs on a country smaller than some of our smallest states than it dropped in the entire world in WWII and put more troops on the ground than were used on D Day to liberate Europe etc. and we were still losing after a war that lasted much longer than WWII).

This isn’t just a cartoony action flick for young boys, like I said up top, it’s a recruitment film for the U.S. Military, or rather a live action video game used for propaganda for the military (which would only cooperate with the TRANSFORMERS sequel and this flick if they could approve aspects of the script, and has deals with video game companies as well—hmmmm). Where’s Oliver Stone when you need him?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

MY IRISH GRANDFATHER


Don't think I ever posted this photo before of my Irish-born grandfather who was the first policeman in South Orange NJ.

Catch the poetic sentiment he wrote on it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

OLD FRIENDS (AND NEW)

The past couple of weeks have been filled with old friends, and new, long talks on the phone, or over lunch or dinner or walks.

Leslie in NYC for a visit from Paris, I missed her daughter Naomi but Leslie and me got to see each other once more, walking in the rain and dinner off Mott Street.

Ray and Nick in Ray’s pad over crabcakes and more, talking books (especially Ray’s latest, more on that in a future post) and the past and old and new friends and what’s going on in the present.

Talked to Peter for the first time since his heart bypass surgery almost a year ago. About not just our lives (and wives, past and present, and kids grown and growing) but our art (his songwriting and performing, my poetry and other writing) and what it means to continue to practice our arts at our age and in these times.

Dinner and a movie with my good friend Sue and then dinner again, both of us single in our “straight” and “gay” (in my world the word is “human”) dating worlds, almost every aspect of which holds little or no difference. Love is love, dating is dating, relationships are relationships. What matters is the people involved and how they deal with the inevitable problems that arise. Or not.

A good long talk on the phone with Karen just back from Paris and happy to be home in the Berkshires. Catching up. Making plans. Sharing life’s problems and rewards.

A catch up with Paul on the phone when getting together proved not feasible given our schedules, but a deep connection nonetheless.

And Terry in our weekly catch up talks, the reassuring acceptance and support for each others’ art and life choices. The love and understanding. Without which…

And so many more.

Friendships old and new are the antidote to all that’s so dismaying in the news lately.

As someone said, true wealth is counted not in dollars but in friends. I am eternally grateful for mine—which fortunately for me includes my children, grown and still at home.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"UNAMERICAN"

For all my life, the rightwing in this country has called any questioning of their beliefs, tactics, leaders, or even lies "UnAmerican." Told those of us against Nuclear war to go to Russia, those of us for Civil Rights for "blacks" to go to Africa. Those who questioned the Bush/Cheney claims about Iraq's "Weapons of mass destruction" not just "UnAmerican" but "traitors" and usually everyone, almost, in the media and Congress and elsewhere fell into line, afraid of the accusation.

Now someone's calling them "UnAmerican" and it makes them very angry. If only it would give them some insight into their own past behavior. But I doubt it. See the troll's comments lately on this blog for evidence of their ideological intransigence in the face of reality. Does anyone truly believe that Palin truly believes that Obama is out to murder her Down syndrome child and her parents through healthcare reform as she wrote on her Facebook page recently!?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

AND TODAY'S QUOTE

"According to a Gallup poll released last summer, 6 in 10 Republicans also said they thought that humans were created, in their present form, 10,000 years ago.

Let’s face it: This is no party of Einsteins. Really, it isn’t. A Pew poll last month found that only 6 percent of scientists said that they were Republicans."

—from an Op-Ed essay by Charles M. Blow in today's NY Times

SOME QUICK THOUGHTS

1. As my friend the artist Paul Harryn pointed out to me in conversation (and I had been thinking of myself), if those of us who were against many of the past administration’s policies showed up to protest them at one of Junior’s speeches we would have been prevented from entering.

2. Or if we did manage to get in and tried to protest we would have either been escorted out by security and/or called “traitors” for going against “our” president, or arrested (remember the couple who were arrested for wearing John Kerry tee shirts to a Bush Jr. speech?).

3. It’s interesting that the main rightwing troll on this blog started referring to our current president as “The Joker” as if this was his own thought, but then at these so-called grassroots town hall protests over healthcare there on the TV news we can see preprinted posters of Obama as The Joker. Hmmmm.

4. Here’s an interesting statistic. For all the rightwingers who are stirring their obviously ill-informed followers to scream about the growing deficit: the biggest deficit in our history to that time, bigger than all previous deficits combined, was created under their hero Reagan, partly because when he became president he slashed taxes: “the top federal marginal rate plummeted from 70% in 1980 to 28% in 1988. (It’s now 35%)” (according to a TIME magazine article.)

5. Of course they always leave out that under Reagan this country had the worst recession in modern history, until this one that was created under Bush Jr. In fact, if we go back over my lifetime, the worst recessions occurred under Republican administrations, and the greatest prosperity occurred under Democratic administrations. And if you look at the facts (see this article in today's NY Times) and not the rightwing media, Obama has already headed off what could have been another Great Depression with his policies (the so-called “stimulus” which has only been partially spent so far has already, according to several independent economic research groups, created 500,000 jobs and slowed unemployment and turned around the stock market, the auto industry and several other sectors of the economy).

6. One last thought: did you notice that the first screamers at town hall meetings were the ones who were insisting Obama was born in Kenya? But when that was debunked as a total hoax, they looked around for other faux causes to create havoc and the illusion of “grassroots” movements and found that by telling seniors the government will kill them (!) if healthcare reform goes through, etc. they finally hit a nerve.

PS: And by the way, to all my rightwing friends who continue to try and characterize the modest and moderate healthcare reform that has been proposed so far as some sort of “socialist” (or “fascist”—they can’t make up their minds and obviously have no knowledge of history, and what an insult that the people comparing Obama to Hitler look like Hitler’s followers and Obama like his victims) government takeover, if they have such a strong belief in keeping the government out of everything, let them refuse to accept Medicare, or Social Security, or support mining companies and logging companies that use federal lands for way under the open market price, and all other government programs that Western states, including Alaska, reap the benefits of (more of our federal tax dollars go to red state than blue states, but more of our federal taxes come from blue states than red states! Maybe it’s time we separated into two countries, one for the rightwingers where they can have a government that doesn’t offer any help to the poor or uninsured or regulations for corporations etc. and is in fact run by corporations etc. and one for the rest of us reasonable and well reasoning people who accept that government needs to take part in regulating the open-ended greed of corporate shortsightedness and help those in need, etc.).

Friday, August 7, 2009

JOHN HUGHES R.I.P.

I never met the man, that I know of, but appreciated his talent and accomplishments. Here's the NYTimes Obituary.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

THE HURT LOCKER

Went into this flick with great expectations. Usually that’s a dampener.

In this case, the movie lived up to most of the hype. It has some moments and scenes that seem implausible to me and contradict the supposed power of its realism, which has been touted by critics.

But it also moves and unfolds in a way that engages the mind and nerves to make most of it work as well as a movie can.

If you haven’t heard, it’s the story of a three man bomb disarming unit in Iraq, focusing mainly on the guy who has to actually walk up to the bombs and disarm them before they go off either from timers or remote devices that may be about to be detonated at any second.

Tension. Yes. But also a character study. Which is what has won the film and its director (Kathryn Bigelow, who’s getting a lot of attention for being a female who makes male oriented films, the first to make an impact was POINT BREAK) accolades.

But also be warned that it’s a pretty depressing story in the end. Much like the whole Iraq fiasco has been. And as it especially became when no “Weapons of Mass Destruction” had been found and no flower throwing cheering crowds had greeted our troops as liberators (as the previous administration insisted would happen in both cases) and after our troops were being picked off not by the WWII style combat they were still mostly trained for but by the kinds of devices this movie focuses on.

The acting isn’t always as consistent as the critics have claimed, in my opinion, but it is always relevant to the action and story line, such as it is (very minimal, to great effect). Jeremy Renner is getting a lot of praise for his turn as the main character, and deserves much of that praise.

The other two in the bomb squad are played by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. And it’s the latter, as the lowest ranking and seemingly youngest, or at least most frightened, who may be the most deserving of praise for my money.

There are also three stars with cameo appearances that were as unexpected as they were well done (Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and David Morse), in a reversal of the usual casting parameters of Hollywood flicks.

But in the end it’s Bigelow’s movie and will probably get her a bunch of nominations, like Directors Guild, Golden Globe and probably an Oscar nomination as well. Which she definitely deserves.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

PS

My last post drew a comment from Jim about the death of our mutual boyhood friend Brian "Moose" Conlan in Viet Nam in 1966. It drew a few other responses as well. All of which leads me to add this PS to that last post:

I got out of a four-year hitch in the service in '66 and got back East in time to see my mother pass. I ended up in Iowa, with my wife Lee where I went to college on the GI Bill and heard about Moose's death in Viet Nam. I had already lost buddies in the service over there. Moose's passing hit me hard. I remember getting the message over the phone and seeing his handsome face with his little ironic smile and felt pretty angry and upset at policies that led us into such a morass (and at Moose's father's macho posturing and pushing Moose to emulate that).

It contributed to my becoming radicalized at the time. Unfortunately a lot of what I and my fellow radicals attempted to do to bring about change sometimes only added to more of the same or worse, ala dismissing both major political parties and thereby contributing to Nixon's win in '68 and the subsequent escalation of the war in Nam and the hundreds of thousands, millions, of deaths that might have been avoided had the Democratic candidate Humphrey won, despite his loyalty to LBJ as VP and what looked like his status quo pronouncements, at least as spread by the major media of the time.

My experience with idealism that in the long run (and sometimes the short, like the election of '68) contributed to the growth of a rightwing reaction and a rightwing takeover of much of the federal government for the next several decades, with a few exceptions, has led me to my present perspective of seeing things as they really are and looking for the best practical as well as possible outcome in otherwise miserable and tragic situations, whether domestic or international.

My sense so far is that Obama is coming from a similar place, possibly because of his unique upbringing and experiences as a mixed-race child brought up by a white mother and white grandparents in locations most "American" kids don't even know exist let alone where they might be and what life there might be like (Indonesia, etc.). He didn't go through the experiences of the 1960s, including the idealistic radicalism that led so many into the streets and the rightwing reactions that polarized the nation and lent support to Nixon and the rightwing Republican machine's tactics to exploit those divisions and any others they could create to their advantage, which they continue to do through the use of the big lie (i.e. healthcare will bankrupt and kill you, Obama isn't a "real American" etc.). But he seems to have studied and learned from the mistakes we made.

I would love to see him push more progressive policies and play harder ball with the rightwing Republicans and the more rightwing Dems in Congress, but his approach may in the end be more productive and create more change than the one I'd like to see him take might do (ala Bill Clinton's first weeks and months in office where his push for the acceptance of "gays" in the military and healthcare reform were attempted to be pushed through by a guy who could definitely play hardball with the rightwing Republicans and yet those major progressive policy changes failed. Obama has obviously learned from this as well).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

GOOD DAY SUNSHINE

I was in my local Whole Foods yesterday morning picking up some things I can only get there, and the Beatles’ recording of “Good Day Sunshine” was playing in the background. It made me smile.

Not just because it’s an upbeat song that reminds me of a pretty upbeat time in my life, but because it also made me realize the upbeat things about life right now, despite our current worldwide financial mess and the rightwing influence on the media in this country and their triumph in continuing to control a lot of the rhetoric as well as perspective on important issues.

For instance, in 1966 we’d already lost more people in Viet Nam, soldiers and civilians, and it hadn’t even reached it’s peak yet, than we’ve lost in the more than six years we’ve been in Iraq.

In fact there were more deaths from war and starvation and disease, per capita, in the world in ’66 than in ’08 or ’09 so far (the exception as far as areas or nations goes is The Congo, which is a war torn humanitarian catastrophe that should be on the top of the world agenda for addressing major problems, not just because of the extent of the human misery caused by the ongoing war(s) there but also because it is one of the most resource rich places on earth as well as one of the most naturally rich (e.g. mountain gorillas and their terrain etc.)).

1966, despite Viet Nam and the ongoing struggle for Civil Rights (it would be another year before race-based laws against “mixed marriages” would finally be struck down by the Supreme Court) as well as unrest in various spots around the world and the continuing Cold War with the Soviet Bloc, felt like an optimistic time because it felt like change was in the air.

The rightwing of the Republican party was dormant at the time, having gone down in the ’64 presidential election to a huge defeat under Barry Goldwater, who was, by today’s rightwing Republican standards almost a moderate in comparison (or in other words he was more a true “conservative” than the current rightwing which uses the term but is far from it on most of the issues).

Anyway, as always, reality contains good and bad, because, as my old friend Selby used to point out, each term is inherent in the other. You can’t have good without bad, and vice versa, just as you can’t have pleasure without pain, success without failure, etc. they’re contained in each other, each implies the existence of the other.

So like any other time, this one is both good and bad. But that song in the Whole Foods yesterday helped me recognize the good and the feeling I and I know a lot of you had after Obama was elected. Which was the feeling that change was in the air.

It still is. The naysayers on the right are trying to (and doing a good job of it with the help of their corporate sponsors and media cowardice, afraid to “speak truth to stupid” as Bill Maher put it on his last show, a terrific one by the way) dominate the discussion with their fearmongering, but the reality is, Obama has already brought about some major changes not just in the USA but in the world.

The right seemed obsessed with the stock market, especially It’s continued decline after the last administration failed to reverse the trend and it kept descending in Obama’s first few months in office, but yesterday it rose above the level it was at when he took the oath and became our president.

In other words in only six months he lead not only an avoidance of another Great Depression, which most economists were predicting when he took office, but an actual turn around in the market from its low of around 6000 (when many economists predicted it would bottom out at 3 or even 2 thousand (and some still think it might if those in charge aren’t careful).

That’s an enormous change for the better. Of course no rightwinger is crediting Obama with that or his policies, at least no one at the public media level is doing it. They’re too busy trying to distract us all from the good that has occurred since January and get us to focus on the bad which is usually bogus, like the whole “birther” bit or now the charge that the public option in the healthcare reform efforts has a hidden agenda aimed at actually murdering senior citizens!

(Ever notice how the rightwing Senators and Congess people don’t offer to give up their government run healthcare plans? They seem awfully satisfied with the government running theirs but keep yelling about how if we were to get the same it would be disastrous, hmmmm. For the best take on the ways the health industry has bought almost all Republicans in the Congress and a bunch of Dems as well, check out Keither Olberman’s beautiful rant from last night on Huffington post here. [Thanks to Robert Slater for the link])

The cash for clunkers has also been a great success, a government run program that worked so well and so fast rightwingers became incensed that the government had created a program that was so successful it helped reverse the downward spiral of the automakers and actually made Ford profitable for the first time in a year, and besides helping the autmakers helped clear the roads of older more polluting vehicles and made it possible for a lot of folks to buy a new car and thus contributed an enormous amount of wealth to the economy in general which in turn will generate more tax revenue for the government and end up more than paying for the program. A win-win-win-win-win-situation, which as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, really makes the right angry.

Because they thrive on failure and fear, the government can’t do anything well and if you let them try we’ll all die!

No, actually we haven’t lost hardly any military in Iraq since Obama got in, and as he promised, we are drawing down there rapidly. And the new G.I. Bill that went into effect yesterday will make it possible for veterans who fought there to get a college education which will also contribute to the economy as well as honor those who served (interesting that it's always the Dems who end up doing the most for veterans, but then more Democratic Senators and Congress people are veterans than Republicans).

And the stock market is better than it was when he came in with the trend generally upward while it was precipitously downward when he took office. The jobless rate has slowed. Corporate profits are up in many areas, etc. etc.

Around the world, things haven’t become ideal, but our relationships with other countries is much better and with the Islamic world in general have improved radically so that the fighting now is amongst their own rightwingers (the government in Iran for instance) and their more liberal or moderate elements, rather than with them unified against us.

Change IS in the air, even if as always there is good and bad out there and in here, but I still say “Good day sunshine!”

Monday, August 3, 2009

THE FINAL ARGUMENT, UH, LAUGH, ON THE "BIRTHER" BATSINESS

I know just making links is a lazy way to post, but you have to check this out, it's so perfectly reasoned.