Sunday, February 28, 2010


The right has managed to scare people into rejecting their own beliefs and desires for jobs, more affordable and better healthcare, secure Medicare and Social Security, etc. with the idea that the debt ran up by the previous rightwing Republican administration, and compounded by their destruction of the economy and neutering of regulatory agencies and laws, is the new administration's fault and our biggest worry.

Most economists disagree. Many believe the problem was and is that the stimulus package was not big enough. Some on the right (see the comments threads on any political posts I've made here in the past few months) point to China as some kind of example (!) of how to grow an economy, when in fact the Chinese government made a much greater investment, i.e. stimulus package, in their country's economy (including infrastructure projects that will end up giving this recently "third world" power better bridges, faster and more efficient trains and railway system etc.) than we did!

In light of that, and the fact that often the McClatchy news service has been scooping the mainstream press, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, I thought I'd share this editorial on the national debt that makes a lot of sense to me.

[Here's a more recent article by the Nobel economist Paul Krugman from this morning's, Monday's, NY Times]

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Well worth catching. It's one of those small movies, like BRIGHT STAR, that's one interpretation of a literary legend (in this case novelist Jay Pairini's take on Leo Tolstoy's last days) that though a "small movie" is maybe better appreciated on the big screen.

The opening shots of rural vistas (whispering birches, inviting summer meadows, endless farm fields, etc.) and the lightly fleeting music playing under these scenes sets the stage for the turn-of-the century radical experiments based on Tolstoy's ideas that rhymes in cinematic mood and rhythm and imagery with many movies of the early 1960s, a time that was inspired by many of those ideas. (One of my first encounters with what would become known as "hippie culture" etc. was at "Tolstoy Farm" in Washington state, not far from where I was stationed in the military at the time.)

Those rustic scenes also give resonance to the epic scope of Tolstoy's "genius" and his beloved Russian countryside. It's a creative cliche but it works, showing the contrast between the grandeur of what Tolstoy stood for and the daily struggle between he and his wife of many years (and mother of his thirteen children) over his legacy.

It's one of the great ensemble acting movies of the past year as well. (Credit goes to director Michael Hoffman who also directed two old favorites of mine RESTORATION and SOAPDISH, talk about variety.)

Helen Mirren totally deserves her Oscar nomination for her role as Countess Tolstoy, and at least tonight, after just seeing it, would get my vote.

As for Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy, he has been a little problematic to me as an actor over the course of his career. Captain Von Trapp was the exception until now as Plummer's talent always struck me as better suited to the stage, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC is a very stagey movie.

But what he does with his characterization of the aging writer in THE LAST STATION is without a doubt his greatest performance. It's nuanced and realistic and hits every point on the emotional spectrum with at times a surprising restraint and at others a well-earned—i.e. justifiable in terms of character and story—intensity.

He's nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and deserves to get it, especially since he's in his eighties and probably won't get another chance. But the odds are on Christoph Waltz who plays the Nazi caricature in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (talk about a deliberately stagey movie) as if he were updating the classic Hollywood Nazi for our "reality TV" sensibilities.

But the actor who's been overlooked for an incredibly effective performance in LAST STATION is James McAvoy, who I'm sure we'll see receiving an Oscar in the future if just to make up for his being overlooked in these early years of his careere when he has proven himself to be not only amazingly versatile, but heartbreakingly competent. (e.g. in ATONEMENT and THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND).

I would see this movie again immediately, just to watch McAvoy's performance, really all three of these actors' performances.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Or maybe less, buy definitely more than a foot and a half. It's hard to tell. But beautiful.

I lived in Southern California for almost twenty years and I missed the seasons terribly, ALL the seasons. One of the reasons I moved back East.

Of course the "seasons" haven't been the same as when I was young thanks to "global wierding"—(it's actually global warming but those too ill informed or unable to grasp scientific facts get confused when they see snow in winter and think that disqualifies any idea of "warming" etc.) so we haven't had the kind of winter we're having now, but still the seasonal changes, however they manifest now, give me great pleasure to experience.

And this snowy winter has been a great pleasure to me. And today is no exception. The snow has been very light, and blue sky even broke out during the afternoon with sunlight shining on the clean powdery white soft curves covering cars and bushes etc.

I know a lot of folks are anxious for winter to be over, and I'm looking forward to spring too, but taking a break from shoveling my car out of the public parking lot I left it in last night, because I assumed it would get plowed sooner than the private one I pay to park my car in every night, I paused to watch my young guy jump off the snow-covered roof of a long garage behind a small apartment building into the drifts below it on the edge of the parking lot. What a gas.

And that muted sound of an older, slower, less noisy world that a big snowfall always creates. What can I say, I dig it. Though I admit my back aches and I'm pretty tired from what little shoveling I did do (I did a lot yesterday when it was mostly slush and much heavier) today (I gave a couple of men walking down the street with shovels a small fee to finish off the walk in front of this old house where my apartment is).

It'll be spring and then summer soon enough. As most of us know, the older we get the quicker times goes by. So for today, I'm content to look out at the ways in which the new snow has made the world seem cleaner, quieter and softer. And be grateful for it.

[And then I came in and watched the news followed by a repeat of The Daily Show from last night and thought if you haven't seen it this top of the show bit by John Stewart should elicit a few laughs...and possibly some amens, but you have to watch the almost ten minute clip to the end to get the full impact.]

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I still don't have what was my normal lifelong compulsion to make lists, but in my post-brain surgery listless bliss (actually I miss it) I noticed yesterday while I was working around the house, folding laundry after getting it from the coin machines in the basement etc., that the random selection of songs coming from the shuffle mode of my iTunes library on my laptop (connected to the compact but terrific speakers that were a gift from my older son Miles) was really interesting, in both what was included and what kinds of music were missing (since I now have a pretty extensive and eclectic music library on there).

So I thought I'd share it, as an excerpt from the mostly uplifting soundtrack of my days (or part of one of them):

I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU Clifford Brown & Max Roach
MINE Bing Crosby and Judy Garland
BIDIN’ MY TIME The Blue Jeans
BE CAREFUL, IT’S MY HEART Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
TEA FOR TWO Willie “The Lion” Smith (someone I should have had on my recent favorite piano players list)
STRANGE Patsy Kline
AT LAST Glen Miller and His Orchestra
SUMMERTIME Janis Joplin with Big Brother and The Holding Company
PRELUDE #2 George Gershwin
WATCHA GONNA DO? Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters
MY BUDDY Chet Baker
DEAR JOHN Hank Williams
YOU’RE GONNA SEE A LOT OF ME Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra
HELPLESSLY HOPING Crosby, Stills and Nash
AL-LEU-CHA Miles Davis
MANHA DE CARNAVAL from BLACK ORPHEUS soundtrack Luiz Bonfa
HOW HIGH THE MOON Les Paul and Mary Ford
COUSIN MARY (alternate) John Coltrane
MOVE ON from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE Bernadette Peters & Mandy Patinkin
COSI FAN TUTTE The Swingle Singers
SHIMMY SHE WOBBLE Othar Turner & The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band from GANGS OF NEW YORK soundtrack

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I can't tell you how much pleasure being able to read again and listen to music I love and watch movies that have layers of subtleties and complex plots means to me, even though when I couldn't do those things only weeks ago I totally accepted the possibility that I might never.

But just to clarify. I still tire more easily, become anxious when there's too many demands on my attention, like a ringing cell phone when I'm already busy talking on the land line or to someone in person, etc., and when tired find it almost impossible to write, which pre-brain surgery I almost never tired of (as I've written on this blog I sometimes would start writing in the morning and not realize the day was over until I looked up and saw it was dark out), etc.

And some things just don't appeal to me anymore, some music, some writing, some kinds of conversations, etc. There's other changes too, some too seemingly minor for anyone else to notice, but I am an observer, including of myself, and it interests me no matter how small the changes are.

Which I meant to list some more of, but it's late and I'm tired and I forgot what I started out to relate, so as an example of my new mind's working, or my old mind's new workings, I'll just stop.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The past few days have been busy and rewarding. All weekend with my youngest, though Saturday he spent a good deal of at an indoor skateboarding park about a half hour away.

Driving there and back again (did it a few times in recent weeks), the return trip after dark, on a relatively busy highway without getting too anxious at entrances and exits or dealing with some traffic (moments of super attention and no radio to distract me) felt almost "normal"—as did going to the mall fifteen minutes away where he and I used gift cards from Christmas we hadn't cashed in yet (I couldn't handle a mall or dealing with books back then).

I picked up a couple of all-prose books because since I started reading the new Thelonious Monk bio I've gotten more and more into the old rhythms of reading and am almost as voracious about it as ever (and picked up books recommended by others in recent months that I had no interest in until now (like my old friend Tom Wilson's pitch for Patti Smith's JUST KIDS (and the new bio of Nina Simone) and Terence Winch's for David Lehman's A FINE ROMANCE, etc.))).

While there and searching for non-bank-breaking pair of new sneakers for my little guy (who goes through them in a matter of weeks, not months, because of the rigors of skate boarding) we stopped to watch a pretty big gathering of young Chinese-Americans in various Chinese costumes playing Chinese music and coming together in small groups to dance or put on large dragon heads and tails and do that Chinese New Years celebration winding movement through the center of the mall.

I thought how cool that when I was a kid there was only one or two Chinese families in our area and now there are tons of Asians of all kinds everywhere in this part of Jersey. There were probably a couple of hundred at this event in a mall that was fairly run down when we moved here but since has gone through some improvements and then more recently vast emptiness when the Great Recession hit but seems to be coming back to life these days.

On the radio coming back from the gym yesterday, where I have gotten back to my pre-brain surgery routine, I caught a bit of an NPR live program from Manhattan that had Ethan Hawke and a couple of actors from the Sam Sheperd play he's directing in the city and was struck and delighted by how incredibly intelligent and articulate he is (I met him on the set of WHITE FANG back when he was still a teenager and was impressed then more with myself I suspect than him, though I liked him immediately and we had great discussions about poetry and discovered I dated one of his aunts in high school!).

I notice how people speak (and write) these days, in ways I didn't used to. I pay so much more close attention to the details and the simplest of elements that go into speech and writing. Maybe because for weeks and even months after the operation I couldn't (like not being able to watch John Stewart back then because of the layers of irony and subtleties etc. and now not being able to watch the idiotic disregard for what words mean and how they come together to build more complex meanings in the simplistic illogical nonsense (literally: non-sense) of the right (like excerpts of Glen Beck's completely incomprehensible—in terms of the actual language and how he used it—gibberish at the recent so-called "conservative" gathering in DC etc.).

So with my reading and driving skills having returned (though changed, so maybe it's more like transformed into something new but almost equal to what I was capable of before the op), and my appreciation of the simplest things (like how well some people can express their thoughts and feelings and taste and opinions), and now writing becoming less difficult just in recent days (less "typos" if I'm not tired, but continued deliberateness in my less rapid typing and more varied choice of words since there continue to be gaps in what I can call up in the moment so have to reach for less frequently, if-at-all used terms in the past but still in my vocabulary) I feel enormously grateful for how well my brain has dealt with being incapacitated (and messed with).

The ultimate outcome so far is so positive, even including the changes that seem more permanent (like the lack of my old compulsion to make lists, or my return to home cooked meals (not just microwaved or prepackaged) so much so I bought a new stove-top, wok-like, iron frying pan and me and my little guy have been having my own version (after my older kids or friend Sue etc. have shown me the basics again) diced potatoes or whole asparagus or spinach or yams sauteed in olive oil etc.

Not bad for going into my fourth month of recovery from having part of my brain removed.

Monday, February 22, 2010


"...praise does not spring from a delusion that things are better than they are, but rather from the human capacity for joy." —Kathleen Norris (The Cloister Walk)

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I was saddened to learn of Doug's death a few days ago from my old friend singer-songwriter Peter Cases's "pcblog." Doug's being remembered mostly for his band The Knack's major hit "My Sharona" but I knew him from our few encounters as a terrific guy.

My older son Miles knew him much much better. They were good friends. Doug and he shared a love for customizing classic "American" cars and each owned a few (though I suspect for Doug it was more than a few) over the years when they both lived in L.A. Doug was also a mentor to Miles in more ways than one, including producing the demo CD for Mile's band—Spanish Kitchen—a favorite on the L.A. club scene in the '90s.

I had heard from Miles and others that Doug had cancer that kept recurring. In fact, I was thinking a lot of him when I had my brain surgery, because Miles had told me when Doug had some brain surgeries himself over the past few years. He became an example to me, because from what Miles said Doug didn't let it get him down or stop him from doing things he dug, like traveling and playing music and digging his customized classic cars.

As I understand it he'd bounce back from the brain surgeries and take off for another far flung destination, keeping in touch with family and old friends as he enjoyed what was left of his life. My surgery showed no signs of cancer, thank God, and as anyone knows who's been reading this blog, it left me with various motor and cognitive challenges, at least initially. So hearing of Doug's incredible acceptance of his reality, that cancer was impeding his brain and moving to other parts of his body, and yet he never became bitter or even down very much, as I understand it, was inspiring.

But he always struck me that way. Whenever I was around him, he came across as enthusiastic, generous with his time and energy and spirit, and completely without regret about what many tried to—incorrectly actually—portray as a "one-hit wonder" music career (as in this NY Times obit as opposed to this more understanding and factual Detroit Free Press, his hometown paper's obituary).

My condolences to his family and many friends and fans.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Got home to a big square box sent through the mail from my sister Irene, the only one of my six siblings still alive.

I opened it to find a small quilt, the kind she's been making for years (we hang one up she made for my little guy many Christmases ago every holiday season). This time it was one she made for me.

On one side it's made up of black and white panels depicting scenes from Manhattan, incorporating buildings like the old Woolworth Tower, The Empire State, The Flat Iron Building and The Chrysler Building. All structures I grew to love many years ago as a boy and young man and now are like familiar members of a small circle of old friends.

The other side has patches of different sizes with musical notations going in every direction and musical instruments and bits of the Manhattan cityscape and that symbol (my post-brain-surgery mind can't pull up the old once so familiar term for it) that starts out a bar of music before the notes—all of these black and white too. And here and there among all this cacophony of music signs and symbols and bits of Manhattan architecture is the occasional small square of deep red and black tinier squares, like a mini-checkerboard or the pattern on one of my old flannel shirts when I was a kid.

My sister plays the piano, very well. All my siblings and I played instruments. I chose the piano too, because of my big sister Irene (I was the youngest and the one between me and the others passed away as an infant so there was a gap between me and them). Only she played mostly for charity, like at "The Old People's Home" when we were kids, or at church(es) later on, while I pursued it a little more as an artistic statement, etc.

The card that came with it is so loving and matter-of-fact (like about the arthritis in her fingers giving her trouble with the seams) it brought tears to my eyes. Ah life. Full of so many lovely surprises and connections and unfoldings. May it always be so.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Today I received some unexpected artworks in the mail. A small book, a "chapbook" as some people say, containing a long poem—SOME VERY POPULAR SONGS—by the German poet Rolf Diter Brinkman, translated by the American poet Mark Terrill, who's lived in Germany for decades.

It's a brilliant poem and a wonderful translation as far as I can tell. I knew a little about Brinkman before he died (in 1975 according to the jacket copy though I remembered it as later). He translated a lot of great "American" poetry including some by Frank O'Hara and Ted Berrigan. I had a lot of my own poetry translated into German back in the '70s and knew people from both scenes, which may be how I knew of Brinkman's work.

Terrill is another story. A terrific poet whose "prose" poems I have been raving about for years now (his early collection BREAD & FISH is one of my all time favorite books), and though we've never met we've become occasional correspondents through the internet.

But with SOME VERY POPULAR SONGS he included a letter that's as good as one of his poems and another little book—THE WHEEL—made up of three poems, two lyrical but fearlessly realistic small poems—e.g. one about Hitler's dog—and another "prose poem" as good as any I've read of his.

It's one of those handmade little objects I love—a heavy, stiff paper stock, one page, folded in half to make four, for a cover, the two small poems inside and the title "prose" poem on the back. This is the kind of mail I (and I suspect a lot of poets and artists and other art makers) would anticipate finding in the mailbox everyday back before the internet. I still feel that sense of anticipation when I go to the mailbox these days, though it's usually mostly bills, but now and then an unexpected goody or more, like today's.

I got a similarly pleasant envelope with some poetry in it a few weeks ago from another poet, Jonathan Jones (BELGIUM WAFFLE is his blog recommended down to the right) who I've never met. I like his blog and what I've seen there of his poetic interests. We too have exchanged a few brief e mails. His package also contained two little "books"—one containing a serial poem called MATERIAL COMFORTS but the other opening up to a packet (like a small pocket folder) with six collages in it incorporating words and images, the whole thing titled SINGAPORE # 1-6.

That was such a delightful surprise. I love artwork, especially collages, with words in them, when they work. And these work.

So, thank you Jonathan and Mark, and everyone who makes art whether they make money on it or get recognition for it beyond a small circle of admirers or not. The generosity of the effort predisposes me, at least, to be ready to dig whatever it might be. But when the work actually entertains and engages me, as it often does, that's even better.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


After writing and sharing with family and friends one of the most lasting and odd results of my brain surgery—the loss of the compulsive list-making habit I've had since I was child—I finally, today, while driving in my car and listening to the local jazz station (and in the process of reading every night a few pages of the first just-prose book I've been able to read since the op, the new bio of Thelonious Monk) I started making an alphabet list in my head of piano players I dig and have always dug (mostly jazz, because that's what I played and know the best).

I started with Monk and immediately came up with several more names, unlike recent attempts to make lists where I could only think of the broadest categories (like favorite "creators" of any kind of art) and then gave up after one or two names came to mind.

I ended up having to work on this a bit, unlike pre-op, having to jar my memory in a few instances, etc. but it was still kind of fun to make a list again. Though I still have no compulsion or even big inclination to do any more of them as I used to all the time.

I? [ETHAN IVERSON—see comments]

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I was thinking of posting something about the use of fear in so many areas of public life these days, but my brain isn't functioning well enough these days to get the information down the way I want to, so I'll let this essay do part of the job for me (there's much more that could be said with equally clear factual support about the ways the right uses false analogies and data to generate fear about Obama and environmentalism etc.).

Monday, February 15, 2010


I read with Lucille back in 1973 in a program at the Smithsonian in DC that paired three sets of two poets over a series of nights in what was billed as a gathering of "six of America's major poets"—and in my youthful arrogance felt I was more major than some of the others!

What I remembered most from the series was finally getting the comic and jazz (or what I interpreted from my music background as "jazz") elements in John Ashbery's poetry. And the impact of Lucille Clifton's reading. The night Clifton and I read, she was exceptionally gracious and an incredibly powerful reader.

I was going through a major feminist/gay movement influenced phase at the time, so I took exception to a poem she read in defense of Little Richard. The poem started by calling him by his real name, Richard Penniman, which I doubt many, if any, in the audience besides me knew was Little Richard's real name.

It was a direct and powerful poem, but it confused me at the time in its interpretation of his homosexuality. Somehow in my ears that evening, I thought he came out almost as a stereotype and that Clifton seemed to be blaming his sexuality on "white" people, or at least some white people, obviously racist as well as homophobic ones. But it came across to me that night as adding to the stereotypes instead of destroying or at least deconstructing them. I haven't read or heard the poem since, so I could have been totally misinterpreting it based on my own defensiveness about all that at the time.

As I said, Clifton was an incredibly powerful reader of her own work, and in later years especially her poems were strong and often uniquely put statements of self examination, especially where gender and race are concerned. I was honored to be paired with her and felt grateful for it, even if I also felt a little argumentative about some of the ideas in her work back then.

But what I remember most was her solid presence, her generous nature and fearless laughter, her adamant truth as she saw it and her way with rhythm and language. I hope she saw through my very different approach to poetry into my deep admiration for her accomplishment and generosity in sharing it. Even though she was only six years older than me, I remember feeling like she was a lifetime ahead of me, and in some ways she was.

Her work is there for anyone to check out for themselves (though I couldn't find the Penniman poem on line). I'm lucky to have known her however briefly and however skewed my perspective of her might have been then. She was a dedicated poet committed to the truth as she saw it and that's always to be treasured in my book. She died from a mysterious infection according to one obituary I read (thanks Terence and Ron).

As tragic as her passing is, there's something poetic in the mystery of it to me. Like even death was afraid to face her truth head on.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


So yesterday was three months by the date (the surgery was Nov. 13th) and for all intents and purposes I'm perfectly fine.

But what that means isn't what it seems to mean. For instance, when I wrote "all intents and purposes" above. First of all it's not a cliche I'd regularly use. But when it came to mind, I didn't think cliche, I thought of exactly what those words mean. Before I would have just reacted to the cliche aspect and had the general idea of what it meant in my brain, but not now, I bored in on each word and was kind of impressed and delighted that it meant what it said perfectly in this instance.

Now in that second paragraph I used the terms "came to mind" and "in this instance"—again choices I wouldn't have made in the past, or rarely if ever, but "came to mind" really rings differently and significantly for me now and "in this instance" sounds more precise than out of date etc.

So there's little things like that. Other aspects of writing have been steadily improving since those first weeks after the operation when I couldn't write at all and then in the first few months when it was fascinatingly difficult to write, partly because of the numerous typos but also because my brain would write something other than I intended, i.e. replace the word I meant to write with one I didn't, sometimes with very interesting results.

Now I can write pretty well (though at times awkwardly, at least to my taste). But as in the examples above, I am using at times a vocabulary I wouldn't use for different ways of expressing the same things, because my brain can't pull up my usual daily writing vocab (fortunately from being a print junkie all my life I've got a pretty large reservoir of words to draw from). (I just paused for a few minutes because I couldn't recall the word I wanted to use there instead of "draw from" etc.)

I've already mentioned the change of not constantly making lists in my brain as I have since I can remember. And there's more little stuff like that. But anyone watching me from the outside would probably not be able to tell I even had brain surgery. From the inside though, it's still a fascinating trip that hasn't ended and may not until my brain does.

[PS: Yesterday's post is a good example for me of how my brain works now. I had thought of a lot of things to write for the second half of the summarizing-the-last-decade list when I wrote the first part, but then the next day my brain felt tired and I couldn't remember much of what I had originally in mind (the continuing decline in "real wages" under Bush/Cheney and the continuing disparity between the most wealthy one percent of the population who now control what I remember as around ninety- percent of our country's wealth, as we turn into a "third world country" in terms of the gap between rich and poor etc.) and what I did remember seemed awkwardly stated to me.]

Saturday, February 13, 2010


If we go by dates, today is three months since the brain surgery (Nov. 13th). And I still have no inclination to write lists. But I did come up with a way to sort of force myself into one, which I did the first half of yesterday, summing up one aspect of the last decade. Here's the other half:

16. in 2006, with Republicans controlling all three branches of the U. S. government for six years, the results are almost universally bad. The prestige of the U.S. around the world is at an alltime low. The enormous surplus (largest in history) left by the Clinton/Gore administration is being turned into what will become the largest deficit in history. Many bad statistics that had been going down (crime, teenage pregnancies, etc.) during the Clinton years, start going back up. Etc.

17. The economy is riding on a housing bubble, and though there are beginning to be warnings about that and the necessity for regulating financial institutions and their new and almost impossible to understand ways of making enormous profits that don't benefit anyone but the rich, the Republicans in charge ignore it all and refuse to pass any bills that will help with growing healthcare costs, corporate control of the government (for the first time in history, an administration and its minions in the Republican controlled Congress allow corporations to actually write the laws they pass favoring their industries, like banking, oil, etc.), or that will help the military/veterans, etc. (not to mention, which I didn't yesterday the Republican Jack Abramoff influence peddling scandal).

18. In 2006 U.S. military deaths in Iraq pass 3,000.

19. In November of '06 Republicans lose their majority in Congress and as a result Rumsfeld is replaced as Secretary of Defense and finally Congress in the next two years under the Democrats pass bills to help our veterans and troops in the field (it's Democrats who finally get military vehicles, in particular Humvees, the armor they went to war without, and get vets the benefits they and the Dems have been fighting for and deserve, but the rightwing Republicans use their mastery of spinning the media to convince uneducated or uninterested or ideologically frozen citizens to continue to mistake the Republicans as caring about our troops or our national security beyond defense contracts etc.).

20. In 2007 the global financial crash begins.

21. The U. S. is hit hard by the worldwide financial crash in part because of the Bush/Cheney Republican machine cutting taxes for the rich and waging two extremely costly wars—much of that cost going to graft and unaccountable "private" contractors—and the continuing rise in the price of oil (benefiting the Bush family business as well as Cheney's), etc.

22. By 2008 the U.S. death toll in Iraq alone exceeds 4,000 (again, not counting mercenaries or "private" contractors—"private" meaning taxpayers pay for somebody else to make a profit on these wars).

23. I forgot to mention in yesterday's list for 2001 the fact that Osama Bin Laden was trapped in a cave and allowed to go free for reasons that still remain highly questionable if not mysterious. By 2008 he has not only regrouped and extended his influence, but the Al Queda networking system for increasing terrorist attacks has expanded into other areas besides Afghanistan and Pakistan, i.e. Somalia and Yemen etc. So actual terrorism and the number of terrorists pursuing it has grown exponentially since the Bush/Cheney machine invaded Iraq.

24. Also in 2008, Lehman Brothers collapses and so does the stock market, down close to 31% for the year, the worst since The Great Depression. Most economists and CEOs of major "financial institutions" predict and/or fear a depression worse than that of the 1930s.

25. And the Bush administration through Hank Paulson creates a giant bailout package for banks and financial institutions "too big to fail" etc.

26. Oh, and Barack Obama is elected president.

27. In 2009 he takes office under the worst circumstances any president has faced since FDR (two wars and the biggest deficit in history plus a collapsed economy worlwide etc.) according to many historians, a few even suggest the worst conditions since Lincoln took office!

28. Three days into his tenure, rightwing commentators and leaders are already attacking Obama, some calling him, (already!), "the worst president in history"! (You can look them up, this is a blog not a history book, but one prominent example is the Bush Jr. speechwriter Marc Theissen.)

29. In his first weeks, before he even has a chance to change anything (and with Republicans already trying to block every attempt Obama makes to change the previous administration's policies) rightwingers blame the continuing decline in the stock market on Obama, but refuse to credit him when that decline stops after he institutes some major measures including a stimulus package that has many more restraints on it than the earlier Bush/Cheney bailout.

30. As he heads toward the end of his first year in office, Obama is beset on every side by criticism and a poll shows that only 12% of the population even realizes Obama cut taxes for "the middle class" already, as well as stopped wasting money and federal agents and resources on closing down medical marijuana centers in California and other states where they are legal (another instance of rightwing Republicans picking and choosing their constitutional defenses, i.e. states rights when states want to oppress a minority or thwart a change that might benefit someone other than their corporate pals, but no states rights when it comes to deciding that doctors should be the ones who determine whether a patient can use marijuana for medical reasons etc.), or that Obama's administration increased the number of children and others who can get healthcare etc. Though in many ways, just by addressing the many mistakes of the Bush/Cheney regime, Obama has already, before his first year is even up, turned many things around, like the reputation of the U.S. around the world, the precipitous decline in the stock market and the economy in general, avoided another Great Depression, changed the topic for many from burning flags and hostility to gays and abortion and etc. to helping people who are unemployed without healthcare and ending the two wars that have become the longest in our history. (And he caught a fly in his bare hand without missing a beat while being interviewed on TV expressing himself eloquently, with humility and good humor. Something the previous president couldn't even do well with a a microphone hidden in his jacket telling him what to say).

That's just a brief and perhaps oversimplified perspective on the past decade, but you know it's true.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Today's thirteen weeks since brain surgery, and I still have no inclination to write the lists that crowded my head and writing (and this blog) in one way or another throughout my life.

But last night in thinking about that before I fell asleep, I decided I'd try a very simple list, not anything too challenging in terms of alphabets or triplets etc. I thought it's time I commented on the passing of a decade, something I was still too deep into recovering from the operation to take much note of at the end of last year. So here's one perspective on that decade:

1. In 2000, Al Gore has been writing and speaking out about the degradation of the environment and its consequences for many many years. The rightists and the main stream media not only make fun of him for this "tree hugging" (and his "stiffness") in this election year, but also for his constant harping in speeches and debates about putting Social Security into a "lockbox" so that politicians (mostly Republican) in Congress can no longer raid the Social Security fund to pay for their pet projects, and thus Social Security will remain solvent.

2. In November Gore is elected president of the United States by popular vote. He also wins the electoral vote according to all exit polls, which up until this election have always been accurate. But after a call from George W. Bush to his brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, that state suddenly recounts its votes and declares Bush the winner.

3. The conflict over Florida's electoral votes goes to the courts and eventually the Florida Supreme Court approves a recount. The Bush machine contests this every step of the way, ultimately convincing the U.S. Supreme Court's right-leaning wing to vote a precedent (that they write in their ruling should never be followed again!), that despite this same wing of the Supreme Court's (and the right in general) arguments for the power of individual states to define their own laws, and despite their arguments against so-called "liberal" judges for "interpreting" the Constitution rather than just applying it, this Republican dominated court rules against the will of the people as expressed in the popular vote, and against the Constitution in terms of the rights of states among other things, and against the state of Florida to hold a recount etc. and CHOOSES Bush as president.

4. Bush chooses to ignore warnings from the outgoing Clinton/Gore administration that Al Queda is the number one security threat and should be monitored closely as they're planning attacks on the U.S. (When Clinton tried to kill Osama Bin Laden by bombing his operations in Afghanistan the right and its Republican politicians overwhelmed the media with their claim that Clinton's attempts to protect the security of the U.S. from Bin Laden was just a way to distract the media from the more important matter of whether he lied about an affair.)

5. Bush takes the longest vacation (the entire month of August) of any president since before the Great Depression. A few days after he returns to Washington it, and New York, are attacked by agents working for Bin Laden and Al Queda. Almost 3000 people are killed and the twin towers are destroyed.

6. Bush inherited the largest surplus in history for the U. S. Treasury, but in his first year the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history to that date is a warning sign about the negative effects of deregulation. The bankrupt company, Enron, was led by a close Bush friend and supporter. Bush's solution to this problem: the placement of rightwing appointees in government regulatory agencies who see that corporations aren't regulated even when required by law. And a tax cut for the rich.

7. The terrorist attack on 9/11 is carried out by men from Saudi Arabia under the direction of the Saudi exile Osama Bin Laden. But the Saudi ruling family has had close tie with the Bush family for many decades, both benefiting from the relationship including from oil profits etc. So the Bush/Cheney administration ignores the Saudi support of militant jihadist training and the spread of its ideology through Saudi supported schools and organizations throughout the Middle East and instead decides to invade Iraq, a plan drawn up before the Bush/Cheney machine even entered the White House and well before 9/11, even though Sadam Hussein despises Bin Laden and the religiously based militant jihadist movement and rules over one of the most secular societies in the Middle East. But Hussein has oil reserves coveted by Bush/Cheney and has been a thorn in Bush Jr's, side ever since Bush Sr. decided it was too risky to invade Iraq and depose Hussein after the first Gulf War.

8. In March of 2003, the Bush/Cheney machine ignores reports they requested from their own intelligence agencies, including military intelligence, that said Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction nor was it involved in 9/11 nor would U.S troops be welcome nor would the limited amount of troops Donald Rumsfeld requested be enough. The media ignores all this and reports the invasion in the terms Bush/Cheney dictate, with only a few exceptions.

9. On the eve of the invasion I read a long poem at a reading to protest the invasion. The poem, MARCH 18, 2003, includes information from the limited sources covering the reality of the the invasion of Afghanistan. In it I recount stories of torture in that country by American troops, connect the impending invasion of Iraq to family and political interests of the Bushes, predict some outcomes that in time come true. But many in the audiences I read this poem to over the coming months dispute my allegations, unable to believe that U.S. troops would torture, in some instances to death, anyone, or that Bush/Cheney would lie about the evidence for weapons of mass destruction or Iraqi connections to 9/11.

10. While the people of Iraq and some of their most successful and prestigious institutions (like museums etc.) are left to suffer death and destruction, the Bush/Cheney machine makes certain all Iraqi Oil facilities get the protection of the U. S. military.

11. Bush declares "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.

12. in 2004 the U.S. troop death toll in Iraq hits 1,000, but there's no accounting for the deaths of Iraqis caught in the conflict nor of all the "contractors" used by the Bush/Cheney administration, making this the first U.S. war in modern times to employ large numbers of mercenaries, as well as secret budgets, and political appointees running the war who have no experience with either the military or the nation-building aspects and ignore military advice, including disbanding the Iraqi military leaving unemployed military-trained men with nothing to do except resent the presence of foreign troops in their homeland.

13. The invasion of Iraq increases recruiting for Al Queda and therefore attacks against U.S. troops as well as U.S. allies (terrorist train bombing in Madrid claims close to 200).

13. In 2005 the U.S. military death toll passes 2000. The terrorists numbers increase and suicide bombers attack London subways and a bus killing over 50.

14. Hurricane Katrina mostly misses New Orleans and leaves the city feeling lucky, until the levees break, levees the federal government had been warned wouldn't hold. Over 1,500 people die and many are left stranded and eventually homeless.

15. After surveying from a plane one of the worst man-made disasters in U. S. history (man made because it was the faulty levees not the hurricane that caused the damage and loss of lives), ignoring the devastation and still suffering survivors getting no help from the government, Bush tells his man in charge of disasters "Heck of a job"—heck of a job indeed.

[to be cont'd]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Got up fairly early this morning and noticed there was a lull in the snow falling, so went out and shoveled the porch and sidewalk. Just did it again not long ago, but it's coming down now, even though they say the worst is yet to come.

I was stopping every few feet to lean on the shovel and admire the unique reality snowstorms create. The world feels smaller, more intimate on a day that feels bright despite the clouds and the falling flakes, and sounds echo in that strange snow filled muffled way that makes you, or at least me, grateful and happy to be alive in it.

Maybe that's because I rent an apartment and shovel the snow to keep my rent from going up in a little deal with my landlord. So I don't have to worry about the gutters getting too weighed down or the snow damaging the roofs or the runoff when it melts seeping into the basement etc. like my homeowner friends suffering through this. Especially those in areas getting even more snow than we are here and who already had more than us to begin with. (And I measured over twelve inches out front already).

There wasn't anyone out this morning at all, and very few this afternoon. But surprisingly, the mailman came! Just like the old slogan promised.

The main piece of mail was a copy of the poet Lewis Warsh's new novel A PLACE IN THE SUN. It's a nicely produced book from Spuyten Duyvil that I already read and dug in galleys (pre-brain surgery). It's a mix of literary and pulp genres that makes for a sometimes challenging but ultimately engaging and fulfilling read.

Or as I said in the "blurb" I wrote for it: "Lewis Warsh brings his poet's sensibility to a mash up of literary and genre fiction techniques—including constantly shifting perspectives and unexpected interconnections—to create an intriguingly compelling and deeply satisfying reading experience. I loved it."

Monday, February 8, 2010


My twelve-year-old has been the victim of bullying for quite a while. Most of it I didn't know about. What I did know about I addressed as best I could. But last week it got worse and it was time to go to the top of the school system for some results. Which we got, thankfully. It has been dealt with in the short term, including suspensions etc. Hopefully the measures taken and ongoing will result in it not recurring. We'll see.

But one of the amazing things to come out of it is how many people I know, virtually everyone, who spent a good portion of their elementary and/or middle school and/or high school years being bullied to the point of serious trauma, or at least deeply felt and scarring fear.

Something isn't right about our schooling obviously. I already knew about the pedagogical failures—third graders with hours of homework and backaches from so many book to carry home; an overload of methods for teaching the same thing (basic math for instance) in an attempt to include all possible approaches that might help an individual student but ends up overwhelming many; introducing subjects and methods too early in child development (my sixth-grader has already had some subjects I wasn't exposed to until 9th or 10th grade, e.g. learning the periodic table and the names of the elements and their atomic make up etc. or geometry or algebra etc.) in a way that is called "spiraling" which means an introduction to something for a week than an introduction to something else the next week etc. and then in the next year picking up from these bits and pieces by adding more bits and pieces etc., until they're either capable of taking it all in and mastering it or completely confused and at a loss (which seems to be the case more often with the boys, which may help explain the continuing rise in the drop out rate for boys of all ethnicities and why a higher percentage of females graduate college now etc.)...I could go on.

But the main point I meant to make was how debilitating this experience has been for everyone, emotionally and otherwise, including I'm sure for some of the parents of some of the those doing the bullying. Fortunately, it hasn't broken by boy's spirit, but why should he even have to have his spirit tested in this way in a supposedly safe environment?

Here's an article that popped up today in a kind of synchronicity.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I've met and worked with and partied with, and more, a lot of movie and literary and artworld and political and etc. "stars"—and among them I have found people who just transcend all those categories and hit me with an almost spiritual force. As though they somehow embody what is most human about humanity at its best.

I know a lot of people who aren't "stars" in any conventional media way but who are nonetheless so exceptional in their vocations or avocations or life choices or any number of things that they too stand out among the rest of us and embody what is best about our species.

There's a point I'm leading up to that begins with watching Clare Danes in the role of TEMPLE GRANDIN, the autistic woman who became a genius designer of humane cattle slaughtering environments (if that isn't a contradiction, she feels it isn't) and an example of what some autistics could achieve, and lectures on the topic, in fact is a professor and expert on both subjects.

Danes gives an amazing performance, as she always has since I first saw her on MY SO-CALLED LIFE as a young actress. I had the great gift of reading with her in that Hollywood themed benefit for The Bowery Poetry Club last Spring and getting a chance to at least exchange compliments at the party afterward (I can't believe I didn't spend more time talking to her, but I have always been surprisingly shy when it comes to some people).

TEMPLE GRANDIN is an HBO movie I watched tonight, and at times found difficult to watch and had to cut away. That seems to still be part of the impact of my brain surgery, finding it difficult to watch certain films because they make me too anxious. I always had a touch of that. For instance I almost never watch episodic TV, but especially so-called "sit-coms" because inevitably there comes a moment when this genre demands a scene which makes me feel so embarrassed for the participants in the scene—not just the actors but the characters they're playing—that I have to get up and move around, often out of the room.

And even as a child I could not take horror films and missed most of the classic ones until I caught them at revival houses or on TV and could watch them as a film buff rather than as the reality they are. But even then I still couldn't watch nor did I want to watch most of them. Just a handful.

The few contemporary ones I've watched in theaters because someone talked me into it, I've become so agitated during the film it would disturb others and afterwards I often couldn't control my rage. I thought at the time that this was simply a proper response to such manifestations of evil, no matter how artfully done, but I realize since the operation, it's the way I'm wired, as they say.

And since the brain surgery, the kinds of movies that I can't watch has only increased. And I identify it to some extent with the kinds of responses some autistics have to certain stimuli, especially since right after the operation I could hardly stand much stimuli at all. And even now, twelve weeks later, the limits to what I can take are much more circumscribed than before.

So having already felt enormous sympathy and empathy for the real Temple Grandin since the first time I heard about her in an NPR special what seems like many years ago, I felt even more understanding for her as played by Danes in this HBO special. In fact I shed quite a few tears throughout the movie but especially at the end when she stands up and articulates to the parents of autistic children what it feels like to be one of those children.

There's a lovely performance by Julia Ormond as her mother (which seemed generationally incorrect because I still think of Ormond as the sensitive young actress who first impressed me and she's still as beautiful). Most of the other performances I dug too. There were some plot devices that could have been done better and things I might have liked to have seen done differently. But the courage of Danes' performance and the quality of it was so mesmerizing and rewarding, I felt no one could have done it better.

She and Grandin are those kinds of people, the ones I was writing about at the start, that make you think, or at least me think, oh man, this is the best humanity can aspire to in this situation under these circumstances facing these challenges with these givens. Two amazing women.

Friday, February 5, 2010


So much progress in so many ways.

I've been reading a thick book of prose, a few pages or more a night before bed (the Thelonious Monk bio).

Still only writing the blog and some e mails, no real return to writing anything more lengthy, but have been able to do some minor editing on early chapters of my giant endless memoir.

Back at the gym a few times a week doing my old workout routine.

So basically seeming to others pretty much my old self in many ways. But also not.

I feel changed, and not just spiritually or experientially more evolved etc. but literally like a different man. Because my thinking and the ways I articulate it are different. Not entirely. Not even mostly. But enough for me to notice and observe it as it's happening and think, hmmmm, that's a little different.

When I'm at a loss for words, or my brain turns entirely off on wherever I was going or the word I was trying to remember or use, I go blank and there's a pause, not something I used to have a lot if at all in my conversations or monologues.

When I just can't think of the word I mean and I substitute another I end up sounding different, using words I might not have chosen to use before, and the same with my writing these posts or even comments. I hear or read myself speaking or writing and think, hmmmm, that's not the way I would have put that before but it sounds kind of interesting, interestingly different and yet still me.

The compulsion to make lists in my head all the time especially when falling asleep still hasn't returned (you may have noticed) and the sound the shower makes when the water goes over the spot where the titanium plate I still find new and odd and interesting. I still get a little more tired than I used to before the operation.

But my delight in books is back and I notice some differences in that as well. Yesterday I picked up Beckett's THE COMPLETE SHORT PROSE and opened to "Texts For Nothing" number 3 and began reading. Beckett is one of my favorite writers, someone I read and reread with great delight and intense interest most of my adult life until a few years ago. And then, suddenly, I began to find his writing almost tedious. At least the prose. Maybe not so much tedious as turgid.

[See, like the use of "turgid" there. Not exactly a term you would think of in relation to Beckett's writing. If anything, he's the opposite. But I couldn't think of the word I meant and "turgid" does seem to apply to the quality I was trying to describe in terms of what I was feeling his writing had become in my mind pre-operation...]

I lost interest in reading him, unlike my other favorites. I could pick up and reread any passage in any of their books and instantly find a kind of comfort and inspiration still. But that hadn't been the case with Beckett for a few years. Then yesterday when I began reading "Texts For Nothing 3" the words popped out like they did the first time I read his prose and I felt like I was in the presence of this character who was as familiar as my Irish peasant grandfather, but also writing that was as original and brilliant and coherent and subversive and effective as any I've ever read.

Man it made me happy. It was like falling in love with an old flame you hadn't known you still felt that way about. Just a total charge. And I read every word of that section with delight and enormous satisfaction as I felt like my brain got every nuance and tic and underlying significance of the word play and layered meanings.

But other events of recent days taxed my brain in its attempt to analyze something that happened and make a decision about how to deal with it in ways that might effect my little guy and others in lasting ways. Fortunately when I felt I had exhausted every angle and still couldn't make a decision and just wanted to put my brain to sleep because it felt so tired of THINKING, I remembered to ask for guidance and just then the phone rang and the solution was given to me.

Anyway, I could go on, obviously, but suffice it to say I am so much better, or my brain is, but also—maybe not so much but definitely—different.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


"I have seen paper cut-outs that were finer art than piles of precious metals" —David Smith

[PS: Another Smith quote I dig but have never written down before (like the one above): "I never intend a day to pass without asserting my identity; my work records my existence."]

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Not unlike some classic Hollywood "women's movies," AN EDUCATION is a cautionary tale told by a young woman who makes some "wrong" choices. Based on a memoir by Lynn Barber with a screenplay by Nick Hornby, this film would almost seem slight, if it wasn't for the amazing performance by Carey Mulligan.

She's one of those rare radiant actors who can pull focus in almost any scene without it seeming intentional or self-indulgent. If she hasn't been compared to the young Audrey Hepburn for her performance in this flick, I'd be surprised. There's even a FUNNY FACE kind of fashion makeover that takes place in AN EDUCATION in which her character seems to be channeling Hepburn.

I can see why she's been nominated for so many awards, including a "Best Actress" Oscar. The movie supports her in some ways—the story is compelling, the other actors terrific (including some champions like Emma Thompson in a small and unforgiving role and Alfred Molina in a large but equally unforgiving role and one I could argue he was miscast for, but he's so good and fun to watch in the end it doesn't matter).

The direction is good, though there are moments, like with Molina as Mulligan's character's father, where some things seem a little too contrived or too clearly delineated. But the story is so finely tuned and rigorously blunt that it makes up for any directorial missteps, which could be laid to the fact that the director, Lone Schefrig is Danish, I believe, and this seems to be her first feature in English. (As far as I can find out.)

But in the end the memorable thing about this movie is Carey Mulligan, an actress in her early twenties, who plays this too-smart-perhaps-for-her-own-good ambitious teenager perfectly. It's like Ellen Page in JUNO, only AN EDUCATION is less Pollyannish, if also less charming. But not Mulligan, her charm shines through this role like an old fashioned Hollywood movie star, ala Myrna Loy or Greer Garson. Maybe she's too young and it's too soon to make those comparisons, but I'm betting she'll fulfill them given some decent movies and challenging roles, like the one she plays in AN EDUCATION.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Watched this the other night on TCM. I know I saw it decades ago in a revival house and thought I'd seen it other times on TV, but besides the famous final scene where Paul Henried lights two cigarettes and gives one to Bette Davis and they look out at the stars (as I remember it, though this time I saw they were actually looking at each other and we, the audience through the camera's point of view look out at the stars), and the earlier one where Davis is made up like the old maid she's playing—all hairy eyebrows and dumpy outfits in the first few scenes—the entire movie in between was like a revelation. I didn't remember a thing!

Don't know if that's because of the brain surgery I had over two months ago now, or if I wouldn't have remember anything about the movie but the opening and closing scenes anyway.

And watching what seemed like a movie I'd never seen before, one thing that struck me was how odd Bette Davis looked, even when the character she was playing was supposed to have been transformed into a great beauty. The Hollywood makeover worked in terms of contrast with her earlier look, but in some scenes Davis just looked odd, not oddly beautiful or uniquely beautiful, but strange, not someone you would expect to be starring in romantic movies.

It also struck me how emotionally manipulative the movie was, in the fashion of what were called "women's movies" back then. But along with the predictable tropes of that genre, I was also surprised by how unusual and original the story was in many ways. And deep. Yes, some of the conventions of the time that it incorporates might seem unrealistic now, but actually most of the plot points and turns in the story are deeply realistic I thought, within the bounds of the time and place the story is set in.

In the end, the tension between what was so familiar from old Hollywood flicks and what was so original in this one, including Davis's always eccentric and unique acting mannerisms and character embellishments made NOW VOYAGER almost surreal and as adventurous and unexpected at times as anything out there today.

And hey, the fact that the title comes from Walt Whitman is pretty cool too. I knew that.