Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Here's the obvious difference for me between President Obama and our last president. After the invasion of Iraq toppled Saddam Hussein's government, Bush Junior made a speech declaring the "end of combat operations in Iraq" standing on the deck of a Navy aircraft carrier under a sign saying "MISSON ACCOMPLISHED."

It was great propaganda, but it was a complete and total lie.

However, according to the latest studies on how people respond to imagery and slogans and written and spoken language, it was very well designed to be a lasting image and message in the minds of most people who, it turns out, often don't use logic and reason to assess situations and people but rather respond to the instant emotional impact for which simple slogans and simply digested images work best.

Now that "combat operations" have come to an end in Iraq, and it's been quite a while since "American troops" have suffered major casualties or caused them in that country, and the mess that the previous president and his team caused has been at least tidied up if not cleaned up, President Obama is going to make a speech tonight in which he will most likely tell the truth in accessing the situation in Iraq and what he and his administration have done and are doing there, but it will probably be too nuanced and too well-reasoned for most people to get an instant emotional response.

Many, instead, won't even watch the speech but will respond to his critics' or supporters' reaction to it, most likely reinforcing their beliefs. The president's critics will score points with the undecided by casting the moment in simple and easy to understand terms that play on peoples' emotions even though their criticisms will bend the truth if not be based on outright lies.

Whereas, when it became apparent that the previous administration had not prepared for the events that unfolded in Iraq and were doing a terrible job of coping with them, anyone who pointed that out was called "unpatriotic" if not an outright "traitor"—President Obama will probably go out of his way tonight to avoid criticizing the previous president and his screw up(s). A humane and reasonable, but not very politically savvy, response.

What the Dems should be doing is using some of the right's tactics, like deriding the right's incredible record of failure when given the chance to govern (the financial collapse, the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, the third-world-ization of "America" where fewer and fewer people control more and more of the wealth, etc.) and have Obama, standing before a backdrop of a rising sun (Reagan's "it's morning in America" as the gap between rich and poor was expanding, homelessness was becoming common even for families with children, etc.) greeting the returning combat troops from Iraq with the emotional homecomings with families etc. declaring "I have kept my promise to end the war in Iraq."

(And yes I know there's still fifty thousand troops left in an advisory capacity, and I too wish they were all gone, but 50,000 and not actively fighting is still better than 140,000 and many of them being killed or killing others, often innocent bystanders.)

Monday, August 30, 2010


"Suppose you scrub your ethical skin until it shines,
but inside there is no music,
then what?"

—Kabir (the 15th Century Sufi poet) as translated by Robert Bly

Sunday, August 29, 2010


As many readers of this blog know, since my brain surgery I've lost the list-making compulsion that was central to the way my mind worked all my life.

I would lay in bed at night after I turned the lights out and to help me fall asleep I'd make up lists with certain specific requirements to focus my mind so intently it would help me fall asleep.

But I made them all day as well, walking around, in the shower, anytime I wasn't reading or focused on a particular task or conversation that demanded all my attention.

Usually one of the requirements would be to make a list for which each item began with a different letter of the alphabet so that I could remember them later to write them down, often in this blog after I started it.

As a boy and young man I had a pretty terrific memory, and even in later years had accumulated an extensive stockpile of information in certain areas, mostly the arts (and politics), so that I could give myself the task of coming up with an alphabet of favorite poems or more specifically favorite poems with one word titles, or favorite movies with two syllable titles, etc. and fill it from A to Z.

Sometimes I would make trinity lists, groups of three that made sense to me, if no one else. Or couplets in which the connection between each name or title in each couplet had deep significance in my mind either linguistically and/or meaning-wise etc.

I don't do it anymore, because the need to, the compulsion to, was gone when I came out of the operation, and hasn't returned.

But I still love lists, so after writing the last post I thought I would make one about movies I've seen since the operation that struck me as worth seeing—some for the first time, most I'd seen before.

I started with the idea of an alphabet list. I thought of some I'd seen in recent days and weeks and even months, but had to go back to old posts to get most of them (my old lists came strictly out of my mind, memories and a kind of searching of my mental files).

There weren't any for some letters, and more than one for most letters, so I decided to break them into alphabetized (by first letter not second or so on) couplets and discovered they created connections that were completely unplanned but were often surprisingly apt or humorous or original.

You might agree or not, but here's what I came up with:













PRINCE OF PERSIA (hey, I enjoyed it, what can I say)



THIS IS IT (some fascinating and/or impressive moments)


Saturday, August 28, 2010


I caught a couple of Gene Tierney movies recently on TCM that I'd never seen before. One relatively obscure—CHINA GIRL—the other I knew about but had never seen—LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN.

I fell in love with Tierney the first time I realized how amazing she was when I saw her in LAURA, the old black-and-white classic, on our old black-and-white TV when I was a boy. I already was familiar with the theme song from that flick and loved it enough to play it on the piano pretty much as soon as I could play. But when I saw the movie on our little black-and-white screen I was smitten.

I saw her in other movies over the years replayed on TV, like THE LEFT HAND OF GOD or THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR. And I remembered them specifically because of the male leads whose movies they were, Humphrey Bogart in the former and Rex Harrison in the latter. These were leading men whose presence could match Tierney's.

Even Dana Andrews in LAURA—who was no Bogart or even Harrison—could carry his weight against Tierney. But in most of the other movies I saw her in over the years, her leading men just weren't on her level. Usually they seemed to be cast for their looks to somehow compliment her incredible screen beauty, but all that did was show them up as no match, acting wise or beauty wise.

CHINA GIRL and LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN are perfect examples of that. Her co-star in the former was George Montgomery (the poor man's Clark Gable), whose movie it really is. And in the latter it was Cornell Wilde, who became a better actor than Montgomery eventually but was no match for Tierney in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. He was though, just good enough to at least make the movie work, whereas Montgomery's over-the-top bad Gable imitation in CHINA GIRL adds to the other elements of the movie that keeps it stuck in its time as an almost run-of-the-mill B picture.

What saves it, of course, is Tierney, and not just a typical Tierney seduction of the audience with her uncanny ability to occupy the screen as if it was made for her, because in this case she's playing, as Montgomery puts it in the parlance of the time (1942) the "Oriental" of the title.

It's worth watching for her, and also for the kind of poor man's CASABLANCA/TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT ambiance of early WWII flicks, where the adventurer is in it for himself until the beauty comes along. Though it works much better with the more realistic anti-heroic resolution and mug of a Bogart than Montgomery's sparkly-toothed grinning denseness.

As for LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, this is one of the more amazing "women's movies" of the '40s, and because it's in early Technicolor and came out the year the war ended ('45) it has that edgy darkness that Hollywood B pictures embodied in the wake of the war's psychological devastation. The darkness of Tierney's character contrasted with the unbelievable Technicolor blue of her eyes, induces an almost swoon-like surrender to whatever melodramatic plot point comes next.

Here's a couple of tributes [a little hokey but they highlight her unique allure] to some of her flicks I found on Youtube that only approximate the impact her screen presence had and continues to have as far as I'm concerned.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


This is one of the most revealing and in some ways frightening articles I've read in The New Yorker. It's long but worth it if you want to see where the right, including the tea party, is getting most of its money.

It's not just ironic (because of the phony "little people" rhetoric and supposed "grassroots" "take back our country" etc. jive which so many have fallen for) but diabolical that the right, including the tea party, is largely funded by the owners (and rulers) of the second largest privately own corporation in this country, the brothers Koch, whose combined wealth is third behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Men who believe that all regulations and all help for the old or the poor—including Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, Food Stamps, etc.—and in fact almost everything governments do for societies should be eliminated completely.

And of course being a giant oil industry corporation, they specifically fund think tanks and papers and politicians and political groups and wordsmiths and communications experts who can influence and even change the public dialogue about energy policy including "global warming" not because they don't believe in it but because it would cut into the billions they make while polluting and causing untold deaths not just over time but often instantly in oil spills and "accidents" (i.e. pipeline explosions caused by negligence etc.).

These guys are like something out of central casting from the 1930s, the greedy capitalists who would sacrifice any of us, indeed all of us, for more wealth and power for themselves.

Hopefully John Stewart will do another of his Glen Beck imitations with the blackboard and make some of the connections this article makes, only simpler and easier to grasp (or skip the Beck imitation and just nail them as he does Fox News here). One of my ongoing arguments about the Dems, their lack of media savvy and tendency to get too cerebral and complex when trying to articulate their positions. Unlike the cromagnon—"me good you bad"—sound bites the right has mastered (and their lucky timing with current technology and information dissemination which favors the kind of simple simon big-lie tweet style bits for which they're so suited).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The usual lies from rightwing leaders and rightwing media have become even more extreme lately (as they often do when the Republicans see an opportunity for a "wedge issue" to distract voters from the reality of their failed policies). To see what they're up to all I have to do is write anything having to do with politics and this blog's personal "troll" will illustrate the day's message from the extreme right.

Over the past week or so, the phony controversy about the Islamic center in lower Manhattan (phony because there was no controversy—even on Fox News at first—until the extreme right created it by baiting the media which, inevitably it seems, took the hook), moved into the mainstream.

There are exceptions on the right, who have displayed some clarity in their thinking about "freedom of religion" being the main issue involved (either for practical political reasons or because they actually believe it), but there has also been a capitulation in most of the media to the right's perspective on it. So it instantly became "the Ground Zero Mosque Controversy" when it's not a mosque and it's not at Ground Zero and there was no controversy (the mayor, the citizens of New York, many of the 9/11 victims' family members and friends, etc. had no objection to it).

But many prominent Republican leaders (Palin, Gingrich, et.al.) and rightwing media types (Rush, O'Reilly, et. al.) encouraged, or in some cases at least allowed, their supporters to further the falsehoods not only about the proposed 51Park cultural center and its promoters, but to link those lies to rightwing lies about Obama being a Muslim, etc.

As I have written many times on this blog and most of us have been aware of for years (though many Democratic political leaders and strategists seem tone deaf to it except briefly during Obama's campaign) the right wing of the Republican Party has been utilizing wordsmiths to find the labels and terms that frame whatever position or argument their taking or making for the day in ways that associate the right with positions most people would take as justifiable.

So by calling a cultural center that will have a prayer room a "mosque" and then labeling it "The Victory Mosque" is in many ways a smart move by rightwing propagandists, because anyone without the education, intelligence, time or energy to follow the story in depth and from sources that are factual will naturally react negatively to the idea that followers of Islam, who have already been branded as the perpetrators of the worst attack on the USA in modern times, would call a "mosque" at (or even near) Ground Zero a "Victory Mosque"—even though, of course, they have done no such thing. That name comes from the right itself, which its followers won't mind because that's the way they've been brainwashed (or propagandized if you will) to see it anyway but others who may not be rightwing parrots and dittoheads might be sucked into seeing it that way too just by that clever branding.

Just as a lot of our fellow citizens have no idea that Islam has many versions, many branches, many sects and divisions and subdivisions, very much like "Christianity." For instance the Imam behind this cultural center is a Sufi, who practices a version of Islam that some Arab countries condemn and even persecute. It'd be like saying there's no difference between say a "charismatic Christian" who believes in talking in tongues and singing and dancing in praise of God with some more Puritan version of Christianity that forbids dancing and singing etc.

What is most despicable about all this fabricated controversy is that it plays on the natural anger and resentment of some of the 9/11 victims' families and friends who don't know enough about Islam or the version of Islam that led in part to 9/11. To manipulate the pain of these people for base political gain is classic rightwing maneuvering.

And there is no real viable left operating at any influential level in this country. Most Democrats either are centrist pragmatists like the president, or lean to the right like the so-called "Blue Dogs"—with the rare exception being someone who leans to the left. like Kucinich et. al. But they obviously have little or no influence on party policy (vid. how quickly the single-payer option was dismissed in the healthcare debate) and even less on the media (when's the last time Al Franken was on the evening news despite his celebrity and innovative ideas etc.).

The right's superior use of language to frame its case (even when based on lies) continues to win the day in terms of mainstream media—"death panels" "death tax" etc.—and unfortunately is having once again an inordinate influence in perceptions about Islam. The idea that the Koran is somehow more violent than the Bible (it isn't) or that a literal interpretation of the Koran leads to the extreme versions of "Sharia" or Islamic laws (it doesn't, e.g. there's nothing in the Koran condoning stoning as a form of execution, though there is in the Bible) or that democracy and Islam aren't compatible any more than a literal interpretation of the Bible always leads to extreme versions of The Ten Commandments and isn't compatible with democracy (if we were to really obey the first commandment, for example, as a country then we would not allow any other religion than Christianity to be practiced here, or perhaps Judaism if you take the Old Testament as "the Jewish Bible").

It's true that 9/11 was concocted and carried out by extremists who claim to practice a version of Islam as their religion. But it is also true that most of the civilian deaths caused by our country's illegal invasion of Iraq were caused mostly by politicians and troops who claim to practice a version of Christianity as their religion. It's an endless cycle of violent reciprocity that serves no one except for political demagogues who can use it to generate enough fear and backlash to gain or keep them in power.

The way to thwart that is through using the truth, factual reality, to expose and uncover the lies. But it seems to be more and more of a challenge these days, as it has in other periods throughout history when knowledge of basic truths became a limited resource making the spreading of lies easier and more successful. Let's hope this isn't the New Dark Ages.

[PS: Here's a pretty good rant abiut all this.]

[PPS: Here's a good article on who the real extremists are.]

[PPPS: And this.]

Monday, August 23, 2010


This movie has been praised and vilified. And a case can be made for both points of view. But seeing it last night with my twelve-year-old was totally worth the trip. He loved it. I liked it a lot.

It's true that the fight sequences, rendered in comic-book (ala the original TV Batman series) style can be a little tedious and slow down the underlying indie-romantic-comedy aspects of any film starring Michael Cera. But the overall arc of the story works for what is basically a framework for observations about late-teens-early-twenties dramedy. Which worked for me well enough to give me several laugh-out-loud moments.

My not-so-little-anymore guy found it "sweet" and funny and totally engaging. I found it pretty sweet too, and no matter how many times Michael Cera plays this role—the appealing geek—he pulls it off with such elan it continues to work for me.

The special effects are as cartoony as you'd expect a movie made from a graphic novel to be (the best comparison is with one of my all time favorite flicks, AMERICAN SPLENDOR) but there's enough good acting ( with Ellen Wong as "Knives Chau" and Alison Pill as "Kim Pine"—the former overplaying and the latter underplaying—along with Aubrey Plaza as "Julie Powers" doing a combination of both(!) almost stealing the show) and good one-liner writing to keep the sight gags supported and give them some resonance.

Not a bad diversion for a late summer's evening, though maybe seeing it with a twelve-year-old helps.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


My twelve-year-old youngest son and his nephew (my twelve-year-old grandson) just got back from a week in Florida with my son's mother and her family. I picked them up at Newark Airport last night around 11PM and all they could talk about was "Manny Mania"—a skateboarding competition that's going on this weekend in Manhattan.

They had already talked to me about it on the phone from Florida, and since a mutual friend of theirs was driving down with his mom from The Berkshires for the event this morning, we made a plan to meet up there. Me and my guys drove over from Jersey, parked down near The Manhattan Bridge and walked the few blocks to the skate park to get there a little after 10AM for what we'd been told would be an event that's free but on a first come basis.

There were actually some kids who had spent the night there, or so they claimed. But not the crowd my boys expected. Like a lot of events I've been to in the skateboarding world, the details of the event times were kind of vague, depending on which item on the web about it you googled, or who you talked to or heard from connected with the event. But I was led to believe the gates would open around 11AM and the event started around 1PM.

But I got that wrong. The gates opened after noon and there was plenty of room for everyone there at the time. We picked a good spot that was up against the fence (metal barriers strung together actually) that marked off the area where the competition was to be, as well as where the Red Bull DJ truck was parked (it was sponsored by Red Bull—'cause lord knows what these young men need is more energy!—and Converse) and the judges chairs were and the media and what looked like friends and entourages that outnumbered the fans.

It turned out the event started at 3PM and from the time we entered shortly after noon, the contestants were practicing. There were 32 of them—all amateurs—chosen through competitions in their respective 32 countries (from a field that numbered over 4500 according to the event organizers). In skateboarding jargon, a "manny" is short for "a manual" which means riding your skateboard on only two wheels, which, as you can imagine, ain't easy. This competition was to see how many tricks each skater could do while manualing—i.e. riding on only two wheels—and how original and technically complex they were.

It was heartwarming to see the competitors introduced by the countries they came from and to hear "Turkey" and "The United Arab Emirates" along with "Israel" as well as many Latin American countries and European countries as well as Japan (which as I remember it was the only Asian country) and South Africa (the only African one). And even more heartening to see the camaraderie among them as they practiced and then competed.

It was a long day before the final eight were chosen and dominated by Latin American countries. But the budding favorite who was surpassing everyone else in the early heats was the diminutive skater from Spain. And then in the final four—the USA, Australia, Belgium and Spain, with everyone beginning to look worn out (by now it was close to 8PM) the skater from Belgium just took it away by performing some complex combinations that I couldn't name for you but the professional skater among the announcers said he'd never seen anyone do these particular combination of tricks all while manualing ever before.

Here's a shot of the Belgium skater at the event doing a straight ahead "manny" but probably on his way to flipping the board in some elaborate way and still landing in a manual position then flipping it another complex way and landing back on the asphalt below the various ramps and devices. If you look closely you can see my youngest son in a red sleeveless basketball shirt and his nephew beside him in a white tee and hat, and their friend next to him. [Oh, and I forgot, the old white-haired guy in shades on the other side of my not-so-little guy. You can click on the pic to see us all a little better.]

All in all a tiring but delightful day (except for the disorganization and unnecessary delays and distractions and the mostly unhelpful, inane and even counterproductive announcer patter and the throwing of free goodies (several tee shirts and one new deck (i.e. the board of a skateboard)) as far back in the limited crowd as possible so that those who stood up front in theirs spots for eight hours couldn't get them but those who arrived later and ran around behind those upfront to follow the free tee shirt guy could, etc.). Not too hot, no rain, a cacophony of New York and international voices and styles and enthusiasm (any terrific trick drew the same sound of astonishment and joy no matter how distracted everyone had seemed only the moment before).

Now if only the adults could get along this well.

[PS: Here's a short edit of a few of the highlights, still missing some of the most original moves, but amazing nonetheless, that my oldest son Miles hipped me to in his comment on this post. You can spot me and my youngest son and Miles' son in this video too if you look for my youngest's red basketball shirt.]

Friday, August 20, 2010


I was never crazy about Joan Rivers (and usually didn't find her that funny). She always struck me as the kind of loudmouth who gets in your face and then tries way to hard to keep your attention.

But I read some good reviews of this recent documentary about her and something drew me to it. I knew I wanted to see it on the big screen and so the other night I joined a couple of friends and went to our local movie theater to catch it.

And I have to admit, after seeing JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK, I realize Rivers is a genuinely unique person with a genuinely unique story that's both tragic and impressive.

The film focuses mainly on one year in her life that fortunately—for the filmmakers (Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg) and for the audience—turns out to have the natural arc of a very good story. But it also flashes back to earlier experiences in her life where some of her early TV appearances reminded me that when she first came on the scene she was seen as exceptionally attractive for a woman working as a comedian.

Phyllis Diller personified the groundbreaking aspect of female comedians then, a woman who used what was perceived by her and audiences as her unattractiveness as the spur for her self-deprecating humor. (I head her roast a celebrity friend at a birthday party not long before I left Hollywood, Diller must have been in her eighties, or so it seemed, at the time and I never heard anyone be so foul and funny until I saw JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK.)

I was familiar as a boy and young man with Moms Mabley, a foulmouthed African-American comedian back in those days who no one I knew in "the white world" had any idea about, but who I discovered through my "black" friends along with the also foulmouthed Red Foxx before his later crossover success made him a TV star. Both he and Mabley were a revelation to me growing up with Jack Benny and Abbot and Costello and Martin and Lewis as the norm for comedians, with the only female one I knew then being the marvelously original Gracie Allen.

But Rivers had this uniquely husky voice and New York accent and an obviously bright and quick wit as well as being pretty attractive. So at first she seemed incredibly appealing. Which I had forgotten, until I saw this documentary, because within a short period of time after her first appearances on TV she seemed to become someone else, intent on basing her humor on barbs I often found mean-spirited or exclusive (more capable of being understood by women then men at that time for instance).

And then she got even meaner, while at the same time becoming one of the more notorious plastic surgery addicts making her come across as both insecure and freakish as well as even more mean toward the people she ridiculed in her routine.

But while watching this flick I laughed out loud at a lot of jokes I probably would not have found funny if I were at home watching it on HBO. But in the intimacy of a darkened theater, very much like the intimacy of a darkened comedy club, I not only found her outrageously funny, but also sympathetic.

I don't share her taste or her perspective or her experience or what seems to be many of her values or fears or projections. But I do share a common humanity that includes dealing with setbacks and disappointments and struggling to overcome them and find a purpose in tragic events, or at least the will to go on. And this woman has done that in some very strange and often not admirable ways, but also in exemplary and sometimes touching ways.

At the end of the film she's more of an enigma than ever in many ways, but at least she's entertaining, even when she makes you cringe, because she also, at least for me in this flick, often made me laugh, surprisingly.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


All people lie sometimes. That's part of being human. Democrats too.

But they don't have experts at "the big lie" and wordsmiths working full time on crafting language to frame news events or manufactured events to distort or hide or bury or overwhelm the truth, obviously, because they (the Dems) have proven and are continuing to prove themselves terrible at it. (In my Hollywood years I knew many successful Hollywood writers who were hired by various rightwing and Republican agencies and campaigns to help do this, while most of the Hollywood and New York wordsmiths who offered their help to the Dems, including to this administration, were turned down!)

And Democrats did not start this manufactured controversy nor did they frame it as being about "A Mosque" at "Ground Zero." They send notices to the mass media newsrooms etc. about their points of view, but they are almost always too nuanced, too long, too considerate of multiple points of view, too dependent on logic and reasoning and facts rather than easy slogans and emotional triggers (with the exception of the Obama campaign which finally managed to outdo the right in sloganeering "Change" etc. and emotional triggers "we can rise above our racist history by electing Obama") etc.

The right has the sway and has had for many years when it comes to the so-called mainstream media because they do it better are more disciplined at following the message of the day etc. and are more ruthless about ignoring the facts. And on top of all that they manage to get it both ways by condemning that same media as "liberal" or out of touch with "real Americans" and thus getting even more concessions out of that media as they bend over backwards to accommodate the right and accept "Joe the Plumber" as "real" even though he wasn't a plumber and his real name isn't Joe, etc.

It's obviously a very successful strategy. So successful when it works that it reframes the argument in a way that any Democrat who tries to fight against the right's set up ("Mosque" "Ground Zero" etc.) loses votes and support and so some of them line up behind the right's framing of the issue to keep from losing their office or positions etc. (i.e, Harry Ried's and Howard Dean's moves and Rahm Emmanuel's influence etc.)

The kind of Democrats who actually stand up for their principals no matter what and don't either fall in line behind the right's framing of the issues or refuse to take the bait almost always lose that battle (Carter, Mondale, Gore, Kerry, et. al.) while the right, especially their leaders, denigrate the Dems behind closed doors as liberal wusses who can't even fight ruthlessly and fellow Dems condemn their own for either not standing up for their principals and caving to the right or standing up for them and losing power to the right.

It's easy for us, or at least me, to take an idealistic stance, but as I've written before endlessly, my experience is that my idealism and people like me led to Nixon's first and second wins and all the damage that caused for our country that could have been avoided, as well as leading to Reagan and Bush/Cheney (many of the idealists of like mind with me voted for Nader but by then I'd learned my lesson) etc.

One of the many reasons I voted for Obama was to end the war in Iraq. Obviously the violence isn't over, but the last "combat troops" have left and the "American" troops remaining are not engaging in the kinds of forays that led to so much death and destruction in the past seven years etc. Another reason was to end the deluge of rightwing judges being appointed and regulations and regulators being weakened in favor of corporations, etc. etc. Obama has come through on many things I care about. Not perfectly, not completely, not always to my liking and not always successfully, but much more than he is getting credit for whether in the media or from many who voted for him.

Under any Republican administration, including any that might replace him, the damage created by Bush/Cheney would only increase. Aspects of that damage have increased under Obama (some of the Homeland Security crap for instance) and I am against that, but over all almost every government agency has been strengthened in favor of most of us rather than in favor of the one per cent that controls over 95% of the wealth of our country as was happening under Bush/Cheney. Et-endlessly-cetera.

[And PS: I'm all for pulling all our troops out of everywhere, an idealistic goal I fought a lot of years for and sacrificed many things for (as well as for other ideals) and so did my family unfortunately. But I refuse to abdicate my vote and my support for the better option when neither live up to my ideals.]

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


As many of us have been pointing out for a long time (in my case since the 1960s) the leaders/spokespeople for the rightwing of our country's politics learned from Nixon and his gang, Reagan and his and then Bush/Cheney and theirs (and the various others in between those Republican administrations, like Gingrich et. al.) to manipulate the mass media by framing the terms of any political interpretation of current affairs.

In other words it's not about whether escalating the war in Viet Nam is a betrayal of Nixon's promise to have a secret plan to end it, or whether objections to the futility of that war were well founded, but whether or not those who protested it were either "communists" themselves or being duped by "communists" etc. They created specialists to work on the wording and framing of whatever event the mass media covered so it could be spun in their favor and they got better and better at it.

Under Nixon, it was often in reaction to events. But under Reagan (and Lee Atwater among others) it became proactive with "sound bites" and staged "photo ops" etc. to take advantage of network TV evening news shows where most people got their news then. Those sound bites were well scripted and well delivered (compared to most politicians of those times Reagan, the professional actor who was best as a TV corporate salesman, was much more convincing because he knew, as a professional actor must, how to convince himself of the truth of whatever script he was reading whether it was actually true or not).

It was the same old tired name calling but so much more media savvy. So now anyone who objected to the breach against our Constitution by our government under Reagan running arms to rightwing "terrorists" trying to overthrow a legitimate government in Nicaragua was of course a "communist" etc. but the Reagna backed militarists were now "freedom fighters" and who can argue with fighting for "freedom" etc.

By the time of the Bush/Cheney administration they had their control of the media down to a science, so that what was one of the most calamitous presidencies in history—from even before it was official, when the Bush/Cheney camp sent Republican thugs in preppy outfits to Florida to pretend to be outraged citizens and intimidated the vote counters etc. to ignoring the Clinton/Gore warnings about imminent Al Queda attacks on the USA, which amounted to criminal negligence, to the failure to respond to the Katrina disaster and an unwillingness to even acknowledge it at first or to dismiss the casualties from it because they seemed to be mostly African-Americans (Barbara Bush's famous comment about how those suffering in the Astrodome probably never had it so good etc.) until it seemed even the rightwing Republican spinmeisters couldn't salvage Bush/Cheney— and its horrible legacy that the Obama/Biden administration inherited is now portrayed as a "victim" of Democratic blamers and the blame for Bush/Ceney policies that created what might have become another Great Depression and two unneseccary wars, etc. is Obama's fault!

As lots of us have pointed out many times, they are now so good at this that they dominate the news cycle almost every day with their framing of what's important to cover and how its covered. The latest hoax of course is the whole "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy that didn't exist until the rightwing media machine created it. A "hoax" because it isn't at "Ground Zero" and it isn't a "Mosque." But also because the Mayor of New York as well as most people who live in lower Manhattan and many people directly effected by 9/11, including family and friends of victims (I had a friend on one of the planes) did not and do not object to a prayer room in a privately owned building in lower Manhattan just because it will accommodate Muslims.

But now all over the mass media this is being talked about as "The Ground Zero Mosque" "controversy" even though it's entirely fabricated. The right refers to the spot as "hallowed ground" despite—as pointed out by many non-mainstream media sources—this building will be the same distance from Ground Zero as a "Men's Club" where lap dances are for sale, and that a mall is planned for the actual ground of "Ground Zero" where the remains of my friend and the other 9/11 victims will mix with the construction materials used to build mall shops and fast food stands etc.!

But it's not the "hallowed ground" and all that it stands for that the rightwing media and leaders are concerned with, it is stirring up the weak minded among their followers who cannot use reason or logic but react to psychological and emotional manipulation to make them fearful of and therefore angry at anything having to do with Islam, seemingly unaware that the 9/11 attackers were part of a small group of radical Islamists who should have been treated like an international criminal threat and were from Saudi Arabia where the rulers had close ties to the Bush family and their oil interests.

As others have pointed out, if we were to prevent any reminder of Islam appearing anywhere near 9/11—as though there weren't Muslims victims in those buildings and on those planes, which of course there were, or that all those who identify as Muslims are the same as the "terrorists" who commandeered the planes on that fateful day—then because some who oppose abortion based on their interpretation of Christian beliefs have murdered doctors and bombed clinics, no Christian establishment should be allowed near the offices or clinics or hospitals of doctors and establishments which legally give abortions, etc.

The mass media has become for the most part "fellow travelers" of the right, while the right has just become more and more bold about its intention to control the media and our politics (as in the Fox News parent company giving millions and millions to the Republican Party, though the mass media has ignored that story for the most part and Fox News entirely. Can you imagine if it came out that CNN had given millions to the Democratic Party?!)

Here's one of the best article on all this I've read lately.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Caught the opening episode of this new Showtime series last night starring Laura Linney and found it worth watching.

The story—as you've probably heard from the publicity blitz promoting it, so I'm not giving anything away—is about a woman who gets diagnosed with incurable cancer. It follows the old movie and TV cliche as she throws caution to the wind etc. and sets out to make the most of the time she has left.

What saves the old story line from becoming just another rewrite is first of all Laura Linney. I'm not always crazy about her choices as an actor and the ways she develops them in the roles she takes, but I am always impressed by her acting chops and she's in total control of them in THE BIG C. It is her show, no doubt about it.

The other actors are all up to the game as well, including Oliver Platt as her husband (why do all these doughy overweight guys who aren't that attractive always end up on TV and in movies these days with svelte attractive blond wives?) and Gabourey Sidibe who was so amazing in PRECIOUS (and where are the critics and others who predicted she would never work again after that film because of her "look"—i.e. her weight etc.?).

But maybe what works most, at least for me, is the Capra-esque (can't remember if that's the way you spell that) quality of the story line. Something I haven't seen in a long time, maybe decades. It's like everyone's a character, eccentric, peculiar, over-the-top or under the bottom etc. and unexpected and highly unrealistic things happen all the time.

But that's what made it worth watching, along with the acting. Yes aspects of what I'm identifying with Capra films from the '30s and '40s have been refashioned in many independent movies of recent years (usually starring Michael Cera) but they've always had an ironic distancing (at least until the usually happy resolution) that Capra didn't have, nor, to my mind, does THE BIG C. It's sincere from start to...well, we'll see.

On a personal note, having been faced, no matter how briefly, with illnesses that may have been death sentences in the shorter term, I've experienced at least some of what the Linney character does in this show (kudos to writer Darlene Hunt) and must say, some of her responses echo mine, whether I expressed them at the time or not. So in that way, there is an underlying element of realism to the show that is also satisfying, at least to me.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I just watched a pretty hokey flick on TCM from 1940 with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan playing Germans (!) at the time of Hitler's ascendancy. It was a brave film to make in 1940 and some critics, as the TCM host Robert Osborne pointed out, thought it went too far in painting the Nazis badly (and of course didn't go anywhere far enough in terms of what was really happening at the time).

It was great to watch because it had a lot of the virtues of Hollywood movies of that time, including great sets, and the great conceits of the "Germans" talking English except for Stewart's old peasant mother who has what sounded to me like some kind of Eastern European, Slavic accent, etc. But it was most interesting because Frank Morgan (the wizard from THE WIZARD OF OZ) plays "the professor" in it who has some stepsons (one of whom is a young Robert Stack) who become Nazi Party members and turn against their family partly because their stepfather (Morgan) is a "non-Aryan."

They never refer to his being Jewish, though the "non-Aryan" designation implies it. And his downfall comes because he defends the scientific reality that the "blood" of Aryans and non-Aryans is no different (shades of Shylock). The crazy thing is that things were actually much much worse at the time and that even toned down the story raised questions about attempts in our country, especially right now, to use fear of some kind of contamination from "the other" as an excuse to thwart the democratic process because it gave power to someone other than the right.

It's interesting that the righwing ruckus over the so-called "mosque" (which it isn't, the proposal is for a prayer room in a building with many other functions including interfaith meetings etc.) has now reached the level of the silliest lies and distortions. Like the idea that Obama is intent on elevating Sharia—that is Muslim laws based on the Koran, which of course is in itself not universally agreed on in terms of interpretations (much like the Bible the understanding and interpretation of the text is dependent on whose doing the interpreting etc.)—above the Constitution.

The rightwingers are always trying to create the fear that something outside the country is going to infiltrate and take it over, like Islam. An idea which doesn't take into consideration that the totalitarian systems the right usually tries to compare Obama's centrist Democratic policies with, i.e. Soviet Communism and Nazi fascism, share an intolerance for anything other than the party line and came from within the countries that developed or perfected them (Russia in the former case and Germany in the latter) and were based on the belief that those societies couldn't afford to allow any ideas that threatened the party line.

The great gift of the USA has been that despite calls for that kind of intolerance over the two centuries and change we've existed, including the intolerance personified in slavery etc. and later anti-immigrant movements including anti-Irish-Catholic and anti-Semitism, and anti-Italian and anti-Asian and anti-gay, etc., have always eventually been overwhelmed by the basic idea in the Constitution that freedom is a universal right for everyone. That's what this country has come to stand for, haltingly, sometimes after terrific arguments and political and even physical battles that even slavery could not persist against forever.

But what Palin and Rush and Beck and so many others on the right have come to personify is exactly the kind of intolerance and party-line thinking that created the totalitarian movements and threaten our own democracy with the idea that anyone who disagrees with the rightwing line, even if democratically elected by a majority, is a threat to "freedom" by which they mean their power and nothing else.

[PS: Here's a good essay on some of these issues.]

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I first dug Abbey Lincoln in the late 1950s when she was a top jazz singer and I was a teenager trying to become a jazz musician. She was not only a great musician (she used her voice the way many of the jazz musicians of the time used their instruments) but she was gorgeous.

I had a giant crush on her, but it was a time of deep segregation, legally in many places in this country and de facto in others, including on TV. Nat King Cole's TV show was one of the only shows that allowed "black" and "white" performers of opposite genders to perform together on TV in any way that suggested more than a professional music relationship, i.e. actual friendship and personal closeness.

Which is why his show was cancelled. But Steve Allen used his enormous popularity at the time on his Tonight Show to showcase great talent of any "race" or creative approach (he famously had Lenny Bruce on as well as Jack Kerouac, etc.). Including the clip below of Lincoln taking over the stage and the TV show with her enormous talent, charisma, confidence and sex appeal.

The latter was obviously appreciated by the audience, listen to their response as she exits and the camera follows her from behind, or in Allen's reference to her as "the beautiful" Abbey Lincoln. That beauty and sex appeal gave her many fans among the white music critics that dominated the media then, as well as new movers and shakers like Hugh Hefner and his budding Playboy empire etc.

But just as that wave was about to crest as the 1950s gave way to the '60s, and give Lincoln the kind of popular presence and impact that would have put her on a level with Nat King Cole say, her civil rights activism and consciousness led her to change her hair style to a "natural" look, a kind of cropped afro before afros, and many white critics and white fans and white club promoters etc. took it as not only a political provocation but as a deliberate attempt to alter her sexual charisma from popularly accepted—if not publicly admitted—to confrontational and contrary to popular taste at the time.

She became a pioneer and along with jazz drummer Max Roach and other collaborators (Roach was also her partner for a while) altered the direction of contemporary jazz at the time (see his FREEDOM NOW SUITE with Lincoln as one of the ensemble) but also influenced contemporary styles of not just political action but fashion.

She suffered the consequences of her actions and never regained the trajectory of national popular stardom she'd been heading for but took a different direction (others followed, like Nina Simone et. al.) into a more limited popularity but a wider influence. Including co-starring in the 1964 film about a "black" couple in the South, the only film up to that time to focus on the realities of being "black" in the USA in the early 1960s, especially the South, and with an almost all-black cast.

She wore a straightened wig for the performance, because her natural hairdo would have been too much of a political statement for her character and too unusual at the time though by then Lincoln's influence in that area was having a big impact at least in the "black" community.

Two years later I wrote one of the few "Letters to the Editor" out of the thousands I have written over the years to ever get published. It was in response to a review of NOTHING BUT A MAN, which took those two years to even get a showing at the University of Iowa (it was mostly seen in art movie houses, where I first saw it, or universities that dared to). The reviewer was Nicholas Meyers, who went on to write THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION and write and direct movies. But at the time we were both students at Iowa, him in the graduate school, me an undergraduate, even though I was older after four years in the service.

In my letter I point out that Meyer “refers to Abbey Lincoln as ‘a beautiful, yet unglamorous newcomer…’ and states that in his opinion when she overcomes something he calls an ‘acting mannerism'…she should go on to better things still...Nicholas Meyer is obviously a newcomer. Abbey Lincoln has been a popular and well known jazz vocalist since 1954, made her first movie in 1957 (‘The Girl Can’t Help It’), had the leading role in the stage show ‘Jamaica,’ and has been singing and acting professionally since the mid-forties. She also has conducted lectures along with her husband Max Roach, famous jazz drummer, composer, and band leader, on behalf of ‘naturalism’ which is their version of a return for Negroes to Negro standards and values such as ‘natural’ hair (which she had under the wig in the movie)...Abbey Lincoln has performed on stage and screen and record both here and abroad and has gained a well earned international reputation for all her fine talents. Meyer should have said Abbey Lincoln was a newcomer to him.”

Here's the clip from the Tonight Show before she went "natural"—and listen to the first part of Allen's introduction closely for the obvious deliberate strategy of pointing out her attractiveness as a given (he says she's "lovely" to "look at" etc.), almost revolutionary at the time (I'm assuming this is from the late '50s).

[PS: Just read this pretty good obit for Abbey in the NY Times]

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Yesterday was the nine month marker since I had my skull opened and the "mass" removed and a titanium plate put back on and screwed in with titanium screws (I can feel them) and slowly re-acquired the capacity to read and then write (though I still struggle a bit with typing the letters and words I'm actually intending to type).

The way my mind works has definitely changed. A lot has returned, but some things seem gone forever, like the compulsion to make lists, as I have mentioned many times. This blog was more lists than anything else pre-op and now I can hardly muster the interest and mental focus to come up with the lists on my profile, let alone the kind of laser focused lists that dominated my thinking since childhood (just look in the lists archives on this blog to find alphabet lists of favorite one syllable titled movies etc.).

But here's a list that seems relevant to the rightwing chorus of un-nuanced thinking and lack of logic or reason in many of their positions and arguments inspired by my having to delete a comment on a recent post, a comment that actually claimed Obama, by supporting the principal of religious freedom embedded in the Constitution regarding the proposed building near Ground Zero that would contain a prayer room for those of the Islamic faith, is advocating Sharia be the law of the USA! Sharia being the rightwing fundamentalist version of placing tenets in the Koran above government and law, ironically much the way many rightwingers in the USA call for (or falsely believe our Constitution calls for) placing the Christian religion and various Christian fundamentalist versions of the Bible above our government and laws.

So I thought I'd try to come up with a list of the top ironies, or at least the ones I can think of, in recent news:

1. The head of the "Museum of Tolerance" in New York City has come out against the so-called "mosque" being part of a proposed building near Ground Zero.

2. The rightwingers who constantly claim that somehow what Obama and Democrats propose as their policies or laws are always somehow against The Constitution and say they believe the Constitution—like the Bible the way many of them see it—has to be taken literally, want to change the Constitution to exclude Islam from religions that fall under the Constitution's "freedom of religion" tenet.

3. And ditto for the rightwingers calling for the abolition or rewriting of the Fourteenth Amendment (that anyone born in the U.S. is a U.S. Citizen) after claiming for years that The Constitution is sacrosanct and cannot ever be changed. (But isn't that typical of the right's selective adherence to anything they claim to believe in? They pick out the one reference to what might be construed as "homosexuality" in the Bible and claim that proves God is against homosexuality, but then leave out the many more references to how the rich are an abomination or slavery is permitted, even encouraged, or adulterers should be stoned to death etc. Actually when you examine them comparatively, which I did as a young man, the Bible is much more bloody and savage and intolerant and militaristic and etc. than the Koran...)

I'm exhausted already from the effort of coming up with that short list, but know somewhere in my mind I could go on for days with the endless ironies inherent in almost every objection the right makes to Obama and his attempts to change (or not change, as many of his critics from the left point out) what came before that led to the disastrous situation(s) we're in now. Maybe in the future I'll have the mental capacity to pull that off.

Friday, August 13, 2010


I have friends and family who like this movie, INCEPTION, and ones who don't.

I was knocked out by Chris Nolan's first film, MOMENTO, feeling that in his direction and screenplay he had found a unique way to tell a story, and given over a century of movies it ain't easy to come up with an original story and way of putting it together, or even, as in the case of MOMENTO, if not totally original, close enough.

I couldn't wait to see what he'd do next. But, I was disappointed in his second movie, INSOMNIA, maybe because he didn't write it and I wasn't crazy about the casting (whereas MOMENTO had seemed brilliantly cast), but then I liked BATMAN BEGINS well enough, though Nolan didn't write it, and I didn't like THE DARK KNIGHT which he had more of a hand in.

So I didn't know what to expect from INCEPTION, which is his baby pretty much all the way. It's another MOMENTO-like script in which you get dizzy trying to keep all the elements of the plot in your head in order to "get" the eventual resolution. And it too is a story unlike almost any other movie you've ever seen.

Not that the basic plot points of MOMENTO and INCEPTION are totally original, but the way they're pieced together is. But another thing they have in common, as do all his movies is what's missing—a deep emotional connection with the characters and story.

His movies certainly make me feel the tension inherent in all of their pacing and plot lines, and intellectually INCEPTION satisfied my taste for original ideas no matter how far fetched or silly or gratuitously violent etc. I actually laughed out loud a few times because some plot twists were so satisfying, especially the way the terrific cast (underused in some cases, e.g. Michael Caine) made them believable despite their being often pretty silly in that fantasy/sci-fi way. But a spurt of delight at some fun story line surprise was about the only emotional connection I had with the film.

I was mentally engaged by the effort to follow the maze, or rather multiple mazes of the plot, and struck by the actors and set designers and CGI artists doing a great job of making that seem important but I had no emotional stake in the underlying relationship story and what was at stake in it.

And that's too bad. At least for me. Because otherwise it was a pretty good ride. But the attempt at some deep psychological insight and conclusion was more or less wasted because for my taste it never paid off on that level. Which may be why some lost interest in the multiple plot twists halfway through the movie and never regained it. I only lost interest when it was over.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


My twelve-year-old's Great-Aunt Eileen, from his mother's side, passed on Monday. She was one of twelve kids in a large irish clan, pretty much like mine. Only where we had and still have cops they have firemen, and where we did home repairs they worked in the construction trades.

So a lot of firemen at the wake and funeral in and out of uniform. And some trade union talk at the party after the funeral.

I dug Eileen a lot. She didn't beat around the bush, told you like it was, but also had a way of making you feel special when it was her, really, who was special. A one of a kind woman with two grown sons and grandchildren and a second husband she'd been with for close to thirty years who helped her raise her sons, an Italian-American mailman with a kind and giving presence in their community.

Good people, not stereotypes of anything, as most "real" folks aren't despite the so-called "reality shows" and the cliches that abound on them (think "Jersey Shore" on which most of the cast members—and cast is the correct word which should give the lie to any claims of "reality"—are New Yorkers mostly from Long Island, go figure).

It was a sad occasion, but true to the Irish tradition I grew up with, it wasn't a sad affair. People ate and drank and laughed and shared stories and caught up and as someone said Eileen would have loved that it felt more like a family reunion than a wake and funeral.

I'm grateful for many aspects of the Irish way of doing things and seeing things I grew up with (and still bridle at the aspects that led me to leave home as soon as I could, but thankfully have changed and continue to change, like one of the younger cousins there with her African-American husband and they couldn't have been more happy or compatible, or accepted for that matter, a wonderful change from my youth).

But the tradition I am most grateful for is our way of mourning and celebrating someone's passing at once, as if they were the same thing or of equal importance, which they are.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


One of the first things that stunned me when I started my recovery from brain surgery was my mind's inability to truly grasp and accept that Sarah Palin was somehow seen by some people as not just a possible presidential candidate, but a worthy one!

Read this description of Palin's notorious recent encounter with an Alaskan non-fan by another Alaskan non-fan and wonder along with me how scary this lady really is.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Here's a couple of quotes that struck me recently:

"Between 1998 and 2004, half the senators who left office became lobbyists. In 2007, Trent Lott, a Republican leader in the Senate less than a year into his fourth term, abruptly resigned and formed a lobbying firm with former Senator John Breaux, just a few weeks before a new law took effect requiring a two-year waiting period between serving and lobbying."

That's from a great article on The Senate in the August 9th issue of THE NEW YORKER by George Packer titled "The Empty Chamber."

And this:

"Freedom may well be 'God's gift to humanity,' as Bush insisted, radiating a simpleminded piety that never reflected another of God's great gifts—the ability to doubt, to think difficult thoughts and weigh conflicting options with clarity and subtlety. But I'm pretty sure God never designated the U.S. to impose that freedom violently upon others."

That's from the August 16th issue of TIME and an editorial by Joe Klein about the cost of the Iraq War and Obama's less triumphant marking of the drawdown compared to Bush's swaggering "Mission Accomplished" etc..

Monday, August 9, 2010


I don't know about you, but I could never get enough of Patricia Neal onscreen. I had no idea when I first encountered her in movies as a kid and beyond, especially A FACE IN THE CROWD and HUD, that she was having a rough time in Hollywood because she had starred in what turned out to be a box office bomb THE FOUNTAINHEAD in a role that many more famous and powerful Hollywood women stars had coveted.

I know a little something about Hollywood careers going down the drain due to being associated with a bomb, whether movie or TV show, and about facing tough times and setbacks, as probably many do. But compared to what Neal had to overcome and endure, my experiences look like pure pleasure.

Read this two page obit from the NY Times for a story that sounds like what reality TV would like to be. She was a role model to many for her furious and stubborn refusal (and as the obit makes clear much credit for this goes to her then husband) to let a series of strokes at 39(!) keep her from living a full and successful life, including post-strokes Oscar and Emmy nominations.

Her voice was so unique her films are almost worth watching just for that. But thankfully, she was also a singular screen presence and a compelling actor, so anytime you see she's in a flick, even the "bad" ones, she's still worth watching. I wish there were more movies she was in.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


It struck me once again last night trying to get some news, especially international news, after I returned home to Jersey from a week in the Berkshires that despite the proliferation of cable channels television has become more and more devoid of actual news.

There are plenty of talking heads around discussing various "top stories" which usually consists of either topics generated and manipulated by one "special interest" or another—usually rightwing Republicans—but actual news stories with footage and on-the-scene reporting seems to have become more rare rather than more common.

There are outlets on the Internet, I know, but even there much of it seems to me when I google a pertinent story, are also skewed. Not that there was ever anything as total objectivity in reporting before, but at least it seemed to be the goal, what "journalists" in the now seemingly old-fashioned sense of that term, were aiming for.

CNN is the biggest disappointment in this category. I know the old CNN Headline News could become repetitive, but there was a certain comfort, at least for me, to be able to tune into it at anytime of the day and find out what was going on in the world that seemed important at the moment.

Not (I mean "now" of course, but I thought I'd leave that typo in as an example of what my post-brain-surgery mind is still doing when it comes to typos, that's obviously not a case of missing the key for the one next to it, but in fact my fingers typing a totally different word for their own reasons and not the one my brain dictated to them! or I guess I mean not the one I was consciously thinking of, I still make many more corrections than pre-op) that channel is devoted to the latest shows that cover—with the usual talking heads, because it is cheaper and easier to produce—scandals and sensational crimes etc.

It's like the technology, at least for TV, is going backwards. And again, even on the web unbiased coverage is not as easy to find as it once was. And yes I follow the BBC and other news organizations and channels on the web that cover international news more widely and seemingly objectively so I know it's there, but even there, a lot of stories never show up or are never covered in depth and on the scene but left to commentators and "experts" rather than just delivering the story as it unfolds and letting us draw our own conclusions.

Friday, August 6, 2010


This youtube video was embedded in Paul Krugman's column yesterday and my older son Miles pointed out an old college friend on guitar in it, the always fantastic Tony Wilson. The column's worth reading too.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I was in The Garden skateboard and bike shop in Pittsfield this afternoon with my youngest and his nephew, who turned twelve yesterday making them both twelve for a few months, and a friend of my grandson's when I noticed a tall teenage boy looking at new skateboard decks.

He caught my eye because he reminded me of someone really specifically. I turned and saw a woman waiting with a younger girl who looked like she might be the teenager's sister. The teenage boy and the younger girl were both what I guess we're calling nowadays multi-racial. The woman wasn't.

I asked if the teenager was her son. She said yes, and then I asked if people comment on how much he looks like our president. She smiled and said that they do. I smiled back and looked at the young man again. He was tall and lean with the same texture hair and the same haircut and even the same features and smile. Maybe a little lighter skin tone, but he did indeed look a lot like President Obama.

He even seemed to have his calm and easy going manner as well. I've been thinking about that encounter all day and how miraculous it is that it could even occur. That I have lived through times when it was illegal for me and my first love who happened to be African-American to even marry in most states to where a "multi-racial" young man can be mistaken for our president.

I am grateful and happy that is the case. But, of course, I am also saddened at how much vitriol and mean-spiritedness there is among some of my fellow citizens toward our president at least in part, whether consciously or unconsciously, because he looks and acts like the handsome, self-contained, obviously confident but well-mannered, even-keeled young man I encountered today in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Back in the late 1980s and early '90s I began and ran a weekly poetry reading series in Hollywood with Eve Brandstein called Poetry In Motion. We had most of these weekly sessions video taped and Eve has just begun to digitize and upload them to Youtube starting with one reading in 1990 billed as "The Best of Poetry in Motion."

It isn't, because that would entail culling the highlights from, if I remember correctly, six years of readings every week. But there's some fun stuff in the tapes she's uploaded. Here's my contribution to that evening (besides opening it—Eve and I use to alternate opening and closing the evenings) the much slower and more deliberate than usual reading of a popular poem of mine of that period called "The Healing."

Monday, August 2, 2010


Drove up to the Berkshires yesterday to arrive in time for a party to celebrate the birthday of a friend of my older son, Miles, and my daughter-in-law's. I kept it to myself that it was what was known in the ancient Celtic world as The Feast of Lughnasa, celebrated either on August 1st or the first Sunday in August, both of which were yesterday so the Celts would have been united in their partying this year.

It was a typical Berkshire fest in many ways. Miles and the new band he's playing bass in, Bell Engine, performed at the party. The weather was threatening (when my youngest and I left Jersey a storm and flood warning had just ended along with a fierce downpour) but the band set up in one of those roofed and wooden floored I-can't remember-what-they-call-them (the brain op recovery thing I guess because I know I used to know the name for those old fashioned little covered places in backyards) so they didn't have to worry about electrocution when the rain started.

And the food table, overflowing with potluck homemade deliciousness, was under a little tent-like roof held up by four metal poles so people could duck under there for a drink or a bite and hang around without getting wet, though the rain was mostly light enough that you could stand in it and feel, at least for me, like you were out on a typical Irish "soft" summer day, as they say, of mistiness and rain so light the natives refer to it as "soft" in their poetic way.

But you could tell it was the Berkshires as I ate some curried tempeh and watched and listened and occasionally danced with strong young women with dancers' and hikers' bodies and "Mr. Mom" husbands, in some cases, or histories of multiple partners in some other cases, like me, but most obviously in the conversations as when I overheard two women opting for the organic locally made coconut lactose-free ice cream while one told of going Blueberry picking that morning somewhere that sounded like "Windblown Hill" where she'd collected seventeen buckets full and was planning on baking some blueberry pies the next day I hoped I'd get a piece of.

The music was lovely, and all original—except for a few covers like John Lennon's "We All Shine On"—and inspiring. After which Miles and the drummer and one of the guitar players, with the host of our party playing hand drums, got into a solid funk groove that continued for another few hours and had a bunch of us moving our bodies to the grooves.

My twelve-year-old and his nephew, my soon-to-be-twelve-year-old grandson, spent the several hours we were there from afternoon well into the night mostly bouncing on a trampoline doing' flips and spins and skateboard tricks without the boards with the kind of nonstop outdoor energy I read is rare for most kids these days but thankfully not for mine.

I went the entire time, whether dancing or conversing or just admiring my kids' friends (some of my daughter's friends were there as well. but she was off singing at a funeral) with this secret knowledge of this ancient Celtic Feast Day being observed, intentionally or not, by at least some of my progeny and me, carrying on the old traditions.

[And PS: a post-brain surgery note. There was a snapshot on the hostess's refrigerator of her and her husband with Meryl Streep, and as I have reported here before, one of the oddest changes that occurred from the brain surgery is that pre-op I admired Streep's comic acting but wasn't a big fan of most of her serious roles and never could see why people found her "beautiful" or even attractive, but since the operation every time I see her in a movie on TV I want to date her. And sure enough, when the photo was pointed out to me I couldn't stop myself from feeling this enormous attraction to her thinking "how beautiful she is"—!!)