Sunday, October 31, 2010

FOUR QUESTIONS FOR VOTERS TO ANSWER AND AN APPROPRIATE QUOTE

Here's that link my daughter Caitlin had in a comment two posts back, to make it easier for everyone to access. Thanks Cait!

And from a comment on mine, a quote that my friend Tom posted on his BRITH OF THE COOL blog:

"Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"
~ Isaac Asimov

Saturday, October 30, 2010

ARI UP R.I.P.

Didn't know her, just her music (as frontwoman for The Slits) and her image (here's her performing in the late '70s somewhere and then last year in Central Park).



And here's an obit from The Guardian.

JUST WHAT I WAS THINKING

I spent the day watching amazing young men demonstrate their skills as a skateboarding team on tour for their sponsors. They were at the nearest big indoor skateboard park, Garden Sk8, where my thirteen-year-old skates often on weekends and was looking forward to this one.

Once again I was reminded of how what these champion skateboarders do is as much an art as a "sport." It was like watching a modern dance troupe in which all the dancers get to invent their own signature moves and gestures and perform them at will.

The throbbing soundtrack of punk rock along with the noise of boards and wheels and falls and grunts and the general warehouse acoustics left my brain a little fried, but it was worth it.

My intention was to come home and write a post for this blog about how what I think the basic failure of the Democratic Party and its candidates was this year is their lack of a coherent and repetitive summary of all that Republicans have wrought in our times.

Ever since Reagan, Republicans have been consistent in their blaming of all the country's woes on Democrats and liberalism. But the Dems haven't seized the opportunity so much failed policy on the Republicans' part has presented them with.

And then I check my e mails and the recent comments on this blog, and there were links to the video below which begins to do what I think all Democratic campaign ads should do, and could do even better. But this is a start, and thanks to my friend Robert Z. for putting the link in one of his comments.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

AUTUMN IN NEW JERSEY

October's always been my favorite month. There's nothing like the kaleidoscopic panorama of colors that become the environment. No photograph can capture it, because to truly experience what it's like to be alive this time of the year in this part of the world you have to be out in it, immersed in the particular and in some ways peculiar colors of this season—the bright blue sky today, with patches of cottony white puffs, the sun reflecting off the brilliant yellows and reds, the deeper cranberry and pumpkin colored leaves and trees, the earth tone browns and greens and every possible shade of each of those colors.

To walk through this kind of vibrancy is a unique experience, no matter how many times I have done it since childhood. It's what I moved back East for: the trees, the landscapes of my youth, but most of all these turning leaves, blowing in the breeze like confetti or dandelion seeds, only brighter and more unexpected no matter how familiar these cyclical changes remain, despite the global warming that has led to so much climate unpredictability (it is, for instance, unseasonably warm today, and further West they had the largest storm system ever recorded in the midwest, including the lowest pressure ever recorded in our history, just two day ago).

It's such a magical landscape, people travel from around the world to see it. It's one of the main tourist attractions of the Northeast. But for me, it's a reminder of all that still exists to be so deeply grateful for, despite the lies and distortions and manipulation of the facts that's overwhelming so many of us these days in the world of politics and "news" that rarely even pretends to be about anything other than total blather.

No matter what happens in the coming elections, or how much more damage the rightwing Republicans do to our country and other parts of the world, there will still be these moments of brilliant natural expression, whether through nature or the arts, that will delight and inspire us to recognize all we still have to be grateful for.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

MARION BROWN R.I.P.

Back in the '60s when "free jazz" took hold, Marion Brown was one of the most emblematic success stories—in terms of musical originality in what a lot of folks saw as a free-for-all atmosphere in jazz and its death knell. Brown brought an intelligence and spirit of common communication to his improvisations that marked him for a lot of us as the next incarnation.

That period crashed along with much of what was brilliant in the experimentation in the arts that characterized the '60s. But the music of Marion Brown still resonates when I hear it, or even just see the image above of him in his prime.

[PS: Here's the NY Times obit.]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010



[Thanks to my friend Ty Granderson Jones for hipping me to another succinct representation of the situation.]

Monday, October 25, 2010

TEA PARTY TRIPPING

People have been telling me for a while I have to read the Rolling Stone political writer Matt Taibbi. Which I've done, and found that he had a good personal writing style and that I mostly agree with him.

But it wasn't until I stumbled on this article about the Tea Party from October 12th, that I got why people keep telling me this. Though it contains some of the language I've been trying to avoid and telling others to, so as not to get this blog flagged or upset the minors, it's worth the risk.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

JOHNNY SHEFFIELD R.I.P.

I never met the man and only know him from his roles as "Boy" in the old Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies which I watched as a boy myself on TV, and the lead in the BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY movies which came out when I was a boy in the '50s.

He was one of those rare naturally talented child actors who never acted as an adult nor crashed and burned but instead led what appears to have been a pleasant, fulfilling life outside of the movies.

Here's the most informative obit (thanks to the great "Charlie Parker/Gunslinger" blog for the link).

Saturday, October 23, 2010

TIME FOR A HUMOR BREAK

Thanks to my old pal poet Bob Berner for hipping me to this much needed comic, but pointed, diversion:

Friday, October 22, 2010

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"A REMINDER FOR THE TEA PARTY, REPUBLICANS, INDEPENDENTS, COWARD DEMOCRATS & THE DUMB AMERICAN

After The 8 Years Of The Bush/Cheney Disaster, Now You Get Mad?

You didn't get mad when the Supreme Court stopped a legal recount and appointed a President.
You didn't get mad when Cheney allowed Energy company officials to dictate Energy policy and push us to invade Iraq .
You didn't get mad when a covert CIA operative got outed.
You didn't get mad when the Patriot Act got passed.
You didn't get mad when we illegally invaded a country that posed no threat to us.
You didn't get mad when we spent over 800 billion (and counting) on said illegal war.
You didn't get mad when Bush borrowed more money from foreign sources than the previous 42 Presidents combined.
You didn't get mad when over 10 billion dollars in cash just disappeared in Iraq .
You didn't get mad when you found out we were torturing people.
You didn't get mad when Bush embraced trade and outsourcing policies that shipped 6 million American jobs out of the country.
You didn't get mad when the government was illegally wiretapping Americans.
You didn't get mad when we didn't catch Bin Laden.
You didn't get mad when Bush rang up 10 trillion dollars in combined budget and current account deficits.
You didn't get mad when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter Reed.
You didn't get mad when we let a major US city, New Orleans, drown.
You didn't get mad when we gave people who had more money than they could spend, the filthy rich, over a trillion dollars in tax breaks.
You didn't get mad with the worst 8 years of job creations in several decades.
You didn't get mad when over 200,000 US Citizens lost their lives because they had no health insurance.
You didn't get mad when lack of oversight and regulations from the Bush Administration caused US Citizens to lose 12 trillion dollars in investments, retirement, and home values.

You finally got mad when a black man was elected President and decided that people in America deserved the right to see a doctor if they are sick.

Yes, illegal wars, lies, corruption, torture, job losses by the millions, stealing your tax dollars to make the rich richer, and the worst economic disaster since 1929 are all okay with you, but helping fellow Americans who are sick....IS NOT!?"

—Ty Granderson Jones

[This variation on a list/poem that's been making the Internet rounds was done by an old and dear friend. Ty is not just a terrific performance poet, he's a veteran Hollywood film actor, in fact I just caught him on TV in CB4, an old ('93) Chris Rock satire of "gangsta" rap, in which Ty just about stole the movie playing "40 Dog"—the gangsta rapper's sidekick whose tough talk is funneled through some kind of electronic speaker that undermines all the toughness etc.]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

BOLANO'S MONSIEUR PAIN AND MY BRAIN SURGERY

Roberto Bolano has become one of my alltime favorite writers, as I've said before on this blog.

His THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES, considered by many to be his masterpiece, was the first book of his I read and dug deeply.

He died in 2003 and before his death was hardly known in this country, because his books were unavailable in translation. But since the amazing critical success of THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES, followed by its unexpected popular success—unexpected because his writing is more "experimental," as they used to say, with not a lot in common with most popular writing, even the more "literary" kind (ala Jonathan Franzen et. al.)—his books have been coming out almost faster than I can keep up with them.

I'm not as compulsive a reader as I was before my brain surgery, whereas throughout my pre-brain-op life I felt compelled to read every word, every page, of every book or magazine I started, including copyright notices, typeface codas, etc.

Fortunately, one of the good things about the operation was it has allowed me the freedom I assume most people have to skip over extraneous pages, like the title page or in paperback reprints of successful books, all those quotes from a stream of reviews, and to skip the ads in The New Yorker and Time, etc.

I still feel moved to read every article and story and poem in The New Yorker, for instance, but I recently actually went through the stack of maybe fifty or so books next to my bed that I am in the process of reading—some from before the operation which was almost a year ago now—and was able to put aside books I realize I have no other interest in finishing except to satisfy this lifelong compulsion to read every word of any printed matter I encounter.

It feels like liberation, especially since the books I decided to not finish are obscure ones by authors I'm not crazy about and I was reading only because someone had sent me them, or bought them for me, or passed them on to me thinking I might like them, or they were promoting them because they published them or wrote them or knew the person who did, etc.

MONSIEUR PAIN was different. I still felt compelled to finish it, even though it ultimately was less satisfying than anything else I've read of Bolano's, but the compulsion wasn't my old I-must-do-this almost robotic like response, but more just a sense of fairness, as in I love this writer's work so I want to read this book all the way through so as not to judge it unfairly.

But that said, and the book finished, I would only recommend it to the most ardent fans of Bolano's work or of obscure texts whose rewards are mostly arcane or to those of us who just enjoy the challenge of reading something that is unique—as I feel everything I've read by Bolano so far is—and not easy to see what the point may be other than following along with someone stretching a writing muscle and taking a chance at doing something different that might ultimately disappoint.

There are many passages in MONSIEUR PAIN, especially early on in the book, that gave me great satisfaction just from the writing, the imagery and perspective, the narrative voice and historical references. It's set in pre-WWII  Paris and centers on the narrator's attempt to make contact with the Latin American poet Caser Vallejo, who is in a hospital in Paris because he can't stop hiccuping. The narrator is a "mesmerist" who falls in love with the friend of Vallejo's wife who asks for his help.

There is a level of anxiety reminiscent of the best of Kafka, and in fact seems like an attempt to combine a Kafkaesque maze-like plot with Latin American neo-surrealism. And there is much to admire in the results. But ultimately, it comes off more as an accomplished exercise than another little masterpiece in the vein of Bolano's other shorter novels.

I will certainly read anything else of Bolano's that's been translated or gets translated into English or American that I haven't yet. And will definitely read them all the way through. But other books I pick up, or magazines or other printed matter, that don't engage my interest, I think I will finally be able to stop reading and let go of. What a nice result of having someone cut into my brain!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK

My good friend Bill Lannigan stopped by last night and we talked about what's going on in our lives and the world at large. One of the things he shared was that he'd been listening to an ABC talk show on his car radio and had heard a very sincere veteran of the first Iraq war, whose father and grandfather had served honorably in combat in previous wars, and who had children and was worried for them because the country seemed in trouble and he believed, as a rightwing radio listener, that it was the fault of President Obama, and asked the radio talk show host why, why would our president do things that are "ruining" the country (according to those on the rightwing talk radio and Fox TV News he's listening to and watching).

And my friend Bill said he felt a deep stillness in his heart when the radio host gave his answer, in a sincere salesman like conversational tone. He told this well meaning, concerned, and obviously—to Bill—decent sounding citizen that the reason Obama was ruining the country was because Obama believes that "America is bad" and therefore, naturally, wants to destroy it and create something entirely different.

My heart sunk as well when Bill relayed what he'd heard. Not because I don't know this is the lie the rightwing media machine has been propagating, but because so many goodhearted people are taken in by it. (And of course the main fear for people like Bill and I who remember the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and more, is that someone listening to this show might not be as stable as the veteran asking the question sounded like he was.)

They yearn for a return to the country they think they knew as children (I get emails circulating myths about how wonderful the 1950s were almost every day, with no sign in them of any recognition of how repressed and oppressive those days really were for many, I would say most, "Americans") (or for younger folks the nostalgia is for the days of Reagan, forgetting all that was so negative and destructive about life under his administration and some of the terrible changes it wrought that we are still dealing with the consequences of).

They also yearn for a simple explanation for why what they think of as "their" country (rather than all of ours) has ended up threatened by drug wars on our Southern border and religious fanatics and ideological terrorists within and without our borders, and had an economic collapse and thus is deep in debt, and got stuck fighting two wars that contributed mostly to that debt and seem to have no easy and obvious definition of victory, etc.

I understand that yearning, and I even understand why either self-deluded or unscrupulous people would take advantage of it to supply scapegoats (Obama-Pelosi-Ried-Democrats-et. al.) and an easy if untrue explanation (like the rightwing radio host Bill heard) rather than deal with the nuanced complexities of the realities we are faced with.

It's like a woman friend of mine told me when I had gotten into a heated argument with a woman I had been seeing, she said it was pointless to try and argue the logic or truth of what the woman was yelling about because it was obvious by her emotional state that it wasn't whether what she was saying was logical or even factual, it was about the emotions that were being expressed.

The same with much of the right and the Tea Party I believe. Otherwise everything they say and do would be preposterously hypocritical. How can you say you're for a more moral country and then back candidates who circulate racist and obscene emails (Paladino), or that you're for fiscal responsibility and back candidates who have a track record of fiscal irresponsibility (O'Donnell among many others), or you're for independence from government and against anyone who takes federal money when you (Joe Miller) have been taking that for decades, etc.

But it's the same problem with all those Western states that depend inordinately on federal largess for almost everything who scream the loudest about big government being bad and wanting to reduce it to a small enough size to be able to "drown it in a bathtub" as one rightwing leader famously put it.

Because it's not about the facts of any argument, as has been proven over and over again just from the rightwing parroting comments on this blog, it is about the feelings of people who are obviously frightened much more by the changes in our world than those they attack are (in recent neurological studies, brain patterns show self-identified "conservatives" reacting with fear to much more than self-identified "liberals" and to entirely different things).

Hopefully fear and cynicism (another version of fear) will not win on election day. But obviously very few are counting on that.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

TOM BOSLEY R.I.P.

I noticed on all the TV tributes to the actor Tom Bosley, they concentrate mostly on his role as the always reasonable father—"Mr. C"—in HAPPY DAYS, which is understandable as it's his most famous role.

A few also mentioned his role on MURDER SHE WROTE, another famous TV series. But no one mentioned he later starred in the title role on FATHER DOWLING MYSTERIES. A show that ran for a few seasons and was where I met him when I was playing another hitman (I had a run in TV hitmen for a while) on one episode.

That's where I discovered that he had started on the stage. He and Mary Wickes, who played the housekeeper on FATHER DOLWING MYSTERIES. I was sitting in one of those high canvas "director's chairs" waiting for a new camera set up, when he and Wickes walked over and plopped down next to me.

He introduced himself to me as if I didn't know who he was. I let Wickes know how fond I was of her work and had been since I was a boy, probably a mistake to point out to a woman how old she had become since I was no kid at the time (I was already in my forties, though I played early thirties, as they say).

She first made her mark in the Broadway production of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER and played the same role, as the unforgettable nurse who stole the film as far as I was concerned when I saw it on TV as an actual kid.

And now both of them, particularly him, were treating me like I was a kid. He told me how much he liked what I was doing with my character and very generously and sweetly predicted great things for me as a TV and film actor. But what impressed me most was the conversation they got into with another older stage actor who played the police lieutenant  on the show, Dick O'Neill.

They started recalling not just the casts and stage managers and others in Broadway shows they had been in or knew others who had, and the hangouts where the actors went before and after those shows, but the critics for all the New York newspapers back then and what they had said, and what they'd gotten wrong or right.

It was like Broadway 101. I felt like I was not only being treated to a free seminar on what stage acting was all about many decades ago, but on what it was like to be an actor back then, with a spirit that was so embracing I truly did feel like the luckiest kid in Hollywood for the few weeks I worked on that show.

I'd met and would meet many more actors with long histories, some stars some not, and none were as open and friendly and warm and accepting and humble and relaxed to work with as Tom Bosley. The simplicity of his characters, or the ones he was most famous for (he won a Tony when he was young for playing Fiorella LaGuardia who was not a simple character) could not hide the genuine niceness of this man.

I feel fortunate that for a short period I got to know him a little and will miss not just him, but everything he seemed to represent, especially that easygoing acceptance of his own ordinariness, and that of his characters, which was actually an extraordinary achievement.

Monday, October 18, 2010

NOWHERE BOY

I was a my younger son's age when REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE came out [my fingers first wrote PAUSE instead of CAUSE, two letters at almost opposite ends of the keyboard, so another one of those post-brain surgery poetic slips) and my first thought was that the actor playing the lead, James Dean, didn't look like any high school kid I knew because he looked way too old, twenty at least.

When I've seen that film again over the years that problem has long disappeared, especially the older I got. I thought of that last night when I caught NOWHERE BOY, the story of John Lennon's relationships with the aunt who raised him and the mother who wasn't there for most of that. It covers the period from when he was fourteen to seventeen, but I was distracted a few times by the thought that the actor who plays him, Aaron Johnson, and does a great job I might add, looks at times like the beefy twenty-year-old he was when the movie was made (a joint Canadian-English production, it came out last year in those two countries but just opened here in the USA).

I asked my thirteen-year-old who saw it with me how old he thought the actor playing Lennon was on our way home and he said "Twenty" just like that. If I'd been asked, I wouldn't have known so specifically, but as a kid I probably would have. But it didn't bother my young son, he accepted that the actor was older and still gave in to the pretense that the character was pretty close to his own age.

I had taken my little guy after we'd both seen the trailer for the film several weeks ago (see below) and had been looking forward to seeing it ever since. The trailer made the movie look like a lark, like a prequel to A HARD DAY'S NIGHT or something as fanciful and light. But it turned out to be much darker, with a few inappropriate, even though not that explicit, sex scenes I made him cover his eyes for. It was the darker aspects of John's upbringing that I was afraid might be too heavy for my young son.

But fortunately, he seemed to get the seriousness of it without being effected by the emotional turmoil (as I was, getting all teary-eyed over some scenes) when the story we had wanted to see of the carefree but tough young musical genius the trailer seemed to promise turned out to be the more melodramatic story of feuding sisters who used a child, John, as their bone of contention.

But because it's so focused on a specific time period, pre-Beatles (Paul and George enter the scene very late, and Thomas Brooke Sangster as Paul almost steals his scenes with "John" in a cany portrayal of a calculatingly determined and disciplined young virtuoso contrasted with John's more impulsive and undisciplined, though uniquely inspired, young genius) and almost exclusively on his relationships with the aunt who raised him and the mother who didn't, with a dollop of early bonding as well as competitiveness with the young Paul.

Overall, it's a totally worthwhile film to see, for my taste. Kristen Scott Thomas as John's Aunt Mimi and Anne-Marie Duff as his mother, Julia, elevate what could have been a little too soap operaish to the level of something closer to true art. And despite his age, Johnson captures a lot of what we think we already know about John's early personality (the screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh is based on a memoir from John's younger half-sister, Julia Baird) and some what we may not. Check it out.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

HERE'S A COUPLE OF THOUGHTS

First: If Republicans take control of the Congress, does that mean Democrats and "liberals" and "progressives" and leftists don't have to recognize the legitimacy of the election and can ignore the election results and refuse to cooperate, and do everything in their power to stop any policies of the elected majority, the way the Republicans have done since the day the Obama administration took office?

Second: You may have noticed a lot of comment deletions lately. There's a few reasons for that.

I get e mails, even phone calls, as well as comments from regular readers of this post requesting, sometimes demanding, that I delete what they refer to as "the rightwing troll" ("troll" being an Internet users term, as I understand it, for someone who uses a particular blog or site's comment stream for their own repetitive tirades against it or against whatever) who dominates a lot of the comments here.

I usually let him carry on because it allows me and whoever reads his comments to see what the rightwing "message" (i.e. propaganda) of the moment is, since I can count on him to parrot exactly what those in charge of rightwing propaganda are propagating. (I have only seen him not parrot the message of the moment a handful of times over the past several years.)

When that repetitive parroting starts to veer toward merely name calling: ("socialist" "communist" "fascist" "jerk" etc.) I sometimes delete the comment. Or when it takes up way too much space with quotations and citings of sources that are either unreliable or have been proven to be deliberate distortions or outright lies meant to deceive the public. It's bad enough the mainstream media often parrots unreliable sources and false so-called "facts" etc., we don't have to do it here.

The other deletions are for comments that contain too much cursing. As anyone who has read my poetry or knows me personally can attest to, I use a lot of what they call "profanity" myself at times. But for this blog, I have deliberately avoided it so as to not trigger flags and other technical Internet stuff I don't even understand or know how to counteract.

So, that's the story on the recent spate of deletions. Amen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A CONVERSATION

I caught Bill Maher's REAL TIME last night live. I usually only get to see it later in repeats. And was struck by the reality of why the public conversation in this country, at least as exhibited on TV and radio and the Internet, including as illustrated in comments on this blog sometimes, is so intransigent and intolerant of opposing views.

He had a Tea Party activist, an attractive young woman, on the show who immediately, upon first sharing her perspective, demonstrated that the information she based that perspective on was not just faulty, but totally unreliable, i.e. just plain wrong. But she kept insisting that "these are the facts" and that the figures she was throwing around were "from the government" etc.

They weren't. Like her claim that the Obama government has spent more on the stimulus etc. then has been spent on the war in Iraq etc. Fortunately, Maher's other guests, a guy from Daily Kos and the musical phenom, John Legend, were well informed enough to counter her arguments with reason and real facts. And then a sports writer—I think he was from The Wall Street Journal—joined the panel and he had the numbers down cold so could refute pretty much everything she was basing her arguments on.

There was no doubt in my mind that this woman sincerely believed what she had obviously learned from  the usual rightwing sources of misinformation and lies, and that her motives were totally pure, but her reasoning was unquestionably below the standards that I learned in Catholic elementary school, let alone at higher levels of education.

For instance, she kept making the point, as comments on this blog have, that the Tea Party is against the mistakes and chicanery of both parties and isn't part of the Republican Party. But Maher pointed out that out of the 138, I think the figure was, candidates who identify as Tea Party members running for office, all are running as Republicans!

And then when he pointed out that what many Tea Partyers say they are angry at, the Republicans have either caused or represent and that mamy Democratic candidates better represent what Tea Partyers say they're for (less government intrusion, etc.), she only reiterated what she called "facts" that were based on non facts.

There can't be any discussion, let alone debate, if the two sides viewpoints rely on two different sets of so-called "facts." And that's why I keep writing posts about the rightwing influence on the media. The media's footsoldiers—journalists—are in the main either independents or lean to the "liberal" side, but their corporate bosses are the opposite, they almost invariably lean to the right. So the way the actual reporters and commentators deal with that is to either cave and present the mostly rightwing framing of any discussion or they attempt to present "both sides of an argument" as if they are equal.

So if all of science agrees that evolution is a fact, but some religious extremists insist The Bible should be taken literally (though selectively since the Bible is full of all kinds of contradictory information and admonishments etc.) when it comes to the age of the earth and its creation, and that serves the interests of corporate greed, then by all means present these viewpoints as two equal sides to any discussion or debate.

Most of the information Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and other rightwing media personalities convey in their broadcasts is either based on selective facts that show only one possible interpretation or on outright lies. So there can be no reasonable discussion or debate on the facts. And when rightwingers try to argue, even on this blog, and continually offer up the same parroted perspective based on misinformation and lies, there is no recourse for the right but to either just start calling their opponents names (thus all the deletions recently) or quoting from the same misguided and often deliberately false sources.

That was the point of my last post (and many previous ones) and the article in The New Yorker that inspired it. The problem for those of us who aren't rightwing ideologues, unfortunately is, that the level of discourse is reduced to such a low standard that many who agree with our positions give up on trying to support them or believing any politician will, because the argument has become so noisy and off the real topic that they don't see the point in even trying to change the dynamic, and thus either don't vote or vote in protest against the incumbent, even if that incumbent represents the most sane alternative to the choices given this time around.

Life goes on. We will get through this crazy period as we have others. What's important will remain our loved ones and those moments in life when we get to express that love and experience it from others. But the practical circumstances of our lives will be better or worse, depending on the choices we make at the ballot box, whether we think those choices are the best possible or not. Even a slightly better choice will make a difference in the long run. If you don't think so, consider only the "American" troops lost in the Iraq fiasco that would never have died had Gore been elected by enough votes to prevent a right leaning Supreme Court installed by Republican administrations in the past from stealing that election and giving it to the man who actually lost the popular vote and had a plan already drawn up to invade Iraq and prove himself more macho than his war hero father.

[PS: Here's a great post by my friend RJ Eskow refuting one of the main rightwing lies the Tea Party representative on Maher last night was also spouting, as many Tea Partyers do.]

Friday, October 15, 2010

THE RIGHTWING MAINSTREAM MEDIA

When I was young, one of the rightwing extremist groups that most of my fellow citizens weren't even aware of but still had influence in the political realm was the John Birch Society. They were so extreme their founder accused President Eisenhower of being a communist agent! That accusation and their influence on the Republican Party caused Ike to cave in to their rightwing demands and add "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance to distinguish the USA from "atheistic Communism."

Now The John Birch Society has a voice and frontman in Glen Beck. But he takes their original message—that anyone to the left of them (i.e. actual "conservatives" and moderates and centrists, et. al.) is a "socialist/communist/Nazi"—even further, by quoting and recommending the writings of Willard Cleon Skousen, a man who was even too extreme for The Birch Society! but whose completely false take on the origins and history of our Constitution is now a bestseller thanks to Beck teaching and recommending it.

Here's a link to a great article by Sean Wilentz about this, which also refers to how obvious the rightwing influence and control of even the mainstream media is now, one example being Newt Gingrich, who holds no office and whose credibility should be nil after his political failures and flip flops, let alone his hypocritical public stances vs. his private life (trying to impeach a president for having sex out of marriage with an intern when Gingrich was doing exactly that same thing at that exact time! etc.).

Nonetheless, Gingrich appeared on Meet the Press to spout his lies and distortions and attack anyone with real credibility to refute him, over thirty-three times in one recent period, while some of the actual elected Democratic politicians he's lying about weren't on the show during the same period AT ALL!

It's enough to make you believe it must all be in your brain, some kind of hallucination. People can't actually believe that the theories of a writer who was even too much of a liar and distorter of facts for the most extreme rightwing group in politics in the '50s and '60s, is now the bestselling author on Amazon because a clown like Glen Beck has become the main educator for many obviously uneducated "Americans"!?!  Can they?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

ELEVEN MONTHS SINCE BRAIN SURGERY

Yesterday was that milestone. My progress seems to have leveled off. Some days I'm about as close to what I was before the operation, in terms of abilities, than is probably possible. Other days I feel like part of my brain is missing!

It depends to some extent on how tired I am. But it also can be extremely random. I still haven't gotten back the compulsion to make lists constantly, whether in my head during the day or in my writing, including this blog, or before I fall asleep or to help me fall back asleep when I wake up during the night.

I was lying in bed last night thinking of a possible list, but I couldn't get more than two or three listings before I drifted off into other thoughts. That would have never happened pre-operation.

And that strange quirk that has me feeling very attracted to Meryl Streep when I see her in a movie on TV, and now Mitzi Gaynor as well, even though when not actually seeing them on the screen I still know that I don't find them attractive in that way at all (and part of my mind even knows that when I see them on the little screen and tells me that, while the rest of my mind and body reacts in this highly unusual way of feeling attracted to them!).

There are other less easily defined—or that I'm unable to articulate—changes that only I am aware of. Let's just say my mind still feels different and in some ways unfamiliar to me. Something I used to try to make happen back in the '60s & '70s! But not something I was hoping for at this point in my life.

However, I am entirely grateful to be cancer free, to be able to read and write (even though the latter is still more difficult than it was pre-operation, the typing that is, as is playing the piano) a lot, though not quite as much as I used to obsessively do.

And I am still overwhelmed with bewilderment at times—as I was when first coming out of the operation—to see the kind of political discourse, or lack of it, that is taking place in the media and public forums these days. The idiocy that is given attention now that when I was a boy would have been mostly ignored or treated as the extremist unsubstantiated nonsense it mostly is.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER


I've never seen a Woody Allen movie I haven't liked on some level. He's one of those creators whose work always gives me some level of artistic appreciation, always hits me in a way that satisfies my need to be engaged by a work of art.

I know people whose taste I respect who don't feel that way, but I do. As I do about many filmmakers and actors and writers and painters etc. Beckett and DeKooning and Rilke, to name a trio probably a lot of people appreciate in that way. But also less obvious folks like George Clooney or Martha Gelhorn or Lee Miller.

Allen has never disappointed me the way some prolific creators do. He comes out with what seems like a new movie every year and thus far I have never been completely disappointed. Some are better than others, of course, and his varying approaches and styles to what are almost always stories about relationships—three favorites off the top of my head, for instance, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, VICKIE CHRISTINA BARCELONA, and MATCH POINT, are all from different genres, but still address the complications of shifting romantic and sexual desire.

I know plenty of people who are still angry at him for his betrayal of Mia Farrow with her adopted daughter, understandably, but it's my belief that the trauma caused for everyone involved in that series of events (he is still married to the daughter) only added to his unique perspective on relationships.

Many of his movies can be placed in either the cynical or the hopeful column concerning relationships. usually they mix those feelings and YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER mixes them exceptionally well and exceptionally originally.

As always the cast is incredible, led by Antony Hopkins, Gemma Jones (who plays his wife of many years), Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Frieda Pinto and Lucy Punch (as the woman Hopkins' character replaces his aging wife with).

There are, as often is the case in an Allen movie, many tour de force performances. As someone who has acted in films I can only marvel at how Allen brings out so many incredible performances in his actors. Yes, he casts brilliantly usually, but in almost every film of his I find actors giving performances that reach well beyond what I've seen them do before, or at least well aside or inside.

It doesn't always work. Josh Brolin, for instance, in YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER gives the kind of terrific performance that has almost become routine for him in recent years. But he seems miscast to me in the role of someone who could seduce both Naomi Watts and Frieda Pinto, the latter being perhaps the most beautiful woman in films today.

Brolin looks chunky, with a big belly, and hair that comes off almost wig-like and is playing an unappealing character, so it's difficult to swallow that these great film beauties would be so easily enamored of this lout. But he makes the character totally believable in terms of emotional and psychological truth.

Hopkins hits such a vast range of notes in his portrayal of an aging man's attempt to recapture what's slipping away, it could have been the subject of any other director/writer's movie all by itself. It's a return to the consummate artist Hopkins proved himself to be at his peak in films like REMAINS OF THE DAY and HOWARD'S END.

Gemma Jones is a discovery for me, an English actress who plays a befuddled elderly woman grasping at straws so perfectly, her character too could have been the entire subject of any lesser filmmaker's movie. Meanwhile Watts, playing her daughter, kicks butt in a role that is the heart of the film.

She has some mesmerizing scenes with Antonio Banderas, who in YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER, seems to be the actor designated as the Woody's-stuttering-speech-patterns channeler. (I've come to the conclusion that as Alfred Hitchcock always appeared in a scene in his films as silent character passing through, Woody always appears in his film through the speech patterns of one character in them, this time Banderas's art gallery owner).

But it's the relatively minor character of "Charmaine" played by Lucy Punch who almost steals the film with her complicated realization of what initially registers as a very obvious simple character (the dumb, uncultured, blond etc.).

The mix of hopefulness and cynicism that doesn't quite resolve this story left me and the friend I saw it with wanting more. That alone is a pretty good recommendation for checking it out, especially when added to the performances and the way Allen has of introducing what seem, as my friend pointed out, cliched characters and relationships only to have those cliches upended, reversed, turned on their heads, inside out, or torn apart.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SO UTTERLY, UNBELIEVABLY TYPICAL

As many of you I'm sure have heard by now, one of the recipients of The Nobel Prize for Economics this year, Peter Diamond, was nominated by President Obama to the Federal Reserve Board, but a Republican on the committee responsible for clearing the nomination has been keeping it from going through all this time using an obscure Senatorial procedural loophole to hold it up on the basis, he says, that Diamond hasn't got enough experience(!) in "macroeconomics" even though Diamond's speciality is JOBS! (Which he's been working on since THE SEVENTIES!)!

Hello? Anyone think we can use a Nobel economist whose specialty is unemployment and the jobs market?!

This is so utterly, unbelievably typical of rightwing Republicanism in this country today, where the lockstep followers of the rightwing line ala Rush/Hannity/Beck/Palin et. al. refuse to acknowledge reality, refute logic and reason, and declare anything that threatens their (the right's) political power to be its opposite, so long as it serves the interests of their corporate masters (though of course that too is turned on its head and projected as its opposite, e.g. "real Americans" etc.).

So you have Tea Partyers demonstrating against the government and the party that gave them Medicare and Social Security, screaming that the government leave their Medicare and Social Security alone but also that government is the problem and needs to be eliminated except for defense, etc.

Almost any argument I have read or listened to from the right contains at its core contradictions that wouldn't have made it past third grade logic and reason, let alone university level. And this is the most egregious example anyone could imagine. It should be the top story in every outlet of the media, just for the sheer absurdity and dark humor of it.

But it won't be, because the right will change the subject to some new lie that'll frame the top political news stories in their favor and the media will go along because the media is a part of the corporate interests that the right's positions serve. Ad nauseum.

[PS: Just found this editorial on the subject in today NY Times.]

Monday, October 11, 2010

MONDAY MONDAY

Sometimes I wish I had young assistants better versed in the intricacies of the web to post links to all the statistical evidence out there that Obama and the Dems—as inept as they have proven to be in getting their accomplishments recognized and in countering the right's humongous influence on the media—have slowed, stopped or reversed, as the case may be, much of the damage the Republicans did to our country when they had control of the entire federal government and all its branches.

But then, no amount of evidence can convince those brainwashed into the right's perspective that either its positions are the only correct ones, or that there's no point in even bothering to vote because both party's and all politics are the same or similar enough to not warrant participation in the democratic system of electoral politics at all.

I know it's desperate right now, or at least feels that way to many folks, but the answer is not more Republicanism, the same rightwing policies that led us into this seemingly desperate situation. There is a reason when you travel in Europe and much of Asia the roads aren't potholed, the mass transit systems run smoother and faster, the infrastructure is new or properly maintained and not crumbling like much of ours, and the reason is that their governments spend more on these things and raise the revenue by taxes that the people understand go to making these things possible.

Ever since the so-called "Reagan revolution" that destroyed the unions that made wage earners capable of owning houses and sending kids to college on one income, the idea that "government is the problem" has taken hold, especially after rightwing Republican administrations, including Reagan's and the last one, deliberately hobble government agencies and policies (fewer regulators, allowing corporate lobbyists to write the laws for their own industries, putting unqualified political cronies in positions of authority so when crises hit they screw up (Katrina anyone?) etc.) and then point at the failed results as evidence that government doesn't work!

Life is too short to stress out over the right's lies and distortions and even destruction of so much of what makes this country great, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't vote in the elections next month. Because there is a great difference between those who would extend unemployment benefits in economic hard times (Democrats) and those would vote against that (Republicans) and those who would vote for extending healthcare benefits (Ds) and those who wouldn't (Rs) and those who would nominate and vote in a rightwing Supreme Court justice who votes to give corporations the same rights as individuals though not the same tax status etc. (Rs) or a justice who recognizes that the Constitution does not give anyone other than individuals those rights (Ds), et-endlessly-cetera.

Cynicism and/or the feeling of futility that the right's overwhelming media influence has generated (along with the center's—i.e. Democrats, who for the most part are no more "left" than traditional Republicanism pre-rightwing takeover—failure to outmaneuver the right) among those of us who don't share their views is understandable but not very useful or productive.

If I was younger I'd run for office myself just to have a platform to voice counter arguments to the right's and expose their lies and distortions. I did it back when I was younger and though I didn't win or even get that high a percentage of the vote, I still had an impact, along with so many others at the time, an impact that did lead to some pretty major changes that made this country more free, more equal, and more tolerant. But I can still vote, and intend to, and intend to continue to encourage anyone who I come in contact with to vote as well and to vote for their own interests which have been dumped on by the rightwing Republicans for decades now.

[PS: And yes "lefties" and "liberals" and "progressives" have good reason to believe that the Dems are too often influenced if not outright controlled by corporate interests as well, but as history has demonstrated over and over again, there is much more room for influencing Democratic administrations and politicians to move in the direction of more individual rights and more control of corporations than there is Republicans. There's a reason Wall Street is sinking tons of money into Republican candidates and the few Wall Street Dems are sitting on their money this go round, because Obama and the Dems have introduced regulations that no matter how much you may think don't go far enough, went far enough to piss off wealthy Wall Street Democrats.]

[PPS: Read Paul Krugman's NY Times column for today after I wrote the above, and he makes a much more cogent argument for the basis of what I'm saying.]

Saturday, October 9, 2010

AUTUMN IN THE 'SHIRE

Up in the Berkshires for the weekend with no charger for the laptop, so this'll be brief. Celebrating my youngest becoming a teenager at a gig his older brother's band played, and his sister baked his favorite pumpkin pie for.

Not all went smoothly, given several kids, the lapses still post-brain surgery in my abilities to organize group gatherings, and the fact that the temperature dropped to 45 degrees in the course of the evening at a what was an outdoor event at which the portable hearts weren't all working, etc.

[Wow. Posted this before I saw that my fingers wrote "hearts" when my mind intended "heaters"—more poetic post-brain-op "mistakes" etc.]

But the ride up and the views at the event of multi-colored hillsides and mountains and nearby woods...priceless. Not to mention hearing my son's terrific band, Bell Engine, and seeing family and friends. Worth whatever effort it took, which wasn't much besides a trip that is my favorite drive and the price of some burgers and sweet potato fries.

Also seemed like the perfect way to celebrate what would have been John Lennon's 70th, as everyone knows by now. (Can't wait to see the new flick due out soon about the years when he first began playing music and eventually formed The Beatles.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

CAN'T WAIT TO SEE THIS



[PS: And as a perfect coda to the economic shortsightedness, today's column from Paul Krugman.]

[PPS: And this: you just gotta read from Bill Maher (thanks Tom)]

Thursday, October 7, 2010

AND THE ANSWER!

HERE'S AN IDEA AND A CONUNDRUM

We know that a handful of rightwing corporate moguls and gazillionaires, like the Koch brothers, are funding all kinds of phony front groups created for specific and often single campaigns against Democratic candidates in various Senate and Congressional races this election season.

That the Supreme Court ruling that corporate money is equal to free speech and corporations to persons has fueled the growth of these focused attacks on Democrats, and we also know that funding from Wall Street firms is pouring into these rightwing Republican campaigns while those who identify as Democrats in the upper echelons of Wall Street are sitting on their money this year to punish Obama and the Dems in Congress for the Wall Street regulations they managed to pass, as limited as they were in terms of control of Wall Street.

And we also know that officially the recession ended last year and that corporate profits are higher than ever, yet the job market, though improving, is still hurting.

So there's an idea going around that says that corporations are deliberately not adding jobs before the election to keep the job rate artificially low in order to benefit Republicans vs. Democrats. It wouldn't be the first time corporate interests hurt the common good in order to benefit their bottom line and promote political decisions that put corporations first.

The sad thing is that so many working people think these same corporate controlled rightwingers are pushing policies that will benefit them more than Democratic policies, and as always the media doesn't do its job of in depth investigating and analyses but just offers "both sides" on the issues with watered down commentary or avoids the subject all together, understandably, since the media is corporate controlled as well.

What we need is a revolt against all and any corporate entities that put their own short term profits above the common welfare. But in order to bring that about, the media would have to be exposed as controlled by almost exclusively Republican-siding if not outright rightwing corporate interests, and that's a conundrum since those interests control most of the media!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

ANDREA LEE'S INTERESTING WOMEN & LOST HEARTS IN ITALY

Andrea Lee, the author of INTERESTING WOMEN and LOST HEARTS IN ITALY (among other books) is one of my favorite writers and has been since I first discovered her prose in a short story in The New Yorker years ago.

The story struck me because, unlike a lot of the fiction The New Yorker publishes, it had a resolution. Not an O'Henry, tie-everything-up-in-a-nice-bow kind of resolution, but something more satisfying for me than the usual New Yorker short fiction ending of... drifting off into understated dreariness or deliberate there-are-no-endings-to-life's-stories-other-than-death-so-what's-the-point-etc...

I also dug that first story I read and ones that followed because Lee writes about human interactions and personal discoveries and experiences I can identify with, and yet locates them in scenes and populates them with characters I know only indirectly if at all. Usually her narrators and protagonists are like her: attractive, multi, or mixed race, Harvard or ivy-league educated, Northeastern well bred women who end up married to, or having affairs with, wealthy, aristocratic older Italian men.

The stories are often set in Italy among clans that go back for centuries and follow social dictums that seem obscure if not exotic but which her narrator always explains in ways that make it all accessible and meaningful, at least for me. The stories are also always sensual, often lyrical, and almost always revelatory in ways I haven't seen in any other fiction.

That's an amazing accomplishment, recognized to a large extent when her short story collection, INTERESTING WOMEN, came out several years ago, but not so much when her last book, the novel LOST HEARTS IN ITALY was published a couple of years ago.



The New York Times Book Review panned the novel. The reviewer, a woman, tried to make the point (and failed in my opinion) that you had to be like Lee—a mixed-race beautiful female graduate of Harvard living among wealthy, aristocratic Italians—to appreciate the book. She, the reviewer, actually compared Lee's writing to Philip Roth's (who praised Lee's earlier work) saying that though he often wrote of a specific time and place and ethnicity (New Jersey Jewish pre-baby-boom generation) and out of a persona close to his own, his fiction was "universal" because of his...and there she lost me since her argument made no sense to me (I sent my reaction to the Book Review but they declined to publish my letter).

I like Roth. Loved his early work (GOODBYE COLUMBUS, PORTNOY'S COMPAINT, et. al.), but actually find the resolutions in his later books disappointing. I read them, enjoying the craft and the language and the millieu—especially since it's familiar to me having grown up in the same area not long after he did—and then the book ends and I feel let down.

I never feel that way with Lee's writing. And yet, despite her achievements, when I look for her books in the bookstores still left, they're never on the shelves, because she hasn't won the awards and recognition I believe her work deserves. If you like reading fiction and discovering something new and don't know her work, I highly recommend INTERESTING WOMEN as a great introduction to what I find so appealing and satisfying in her writing.

[PS: What inspired this post was finding some used copies of these two books in one of my favorite used bookstores outside Sheffield Mass. in an old barn. I had given my original copies away and decided to buy the used copies and reread them from my post-brain surgery perspective to see if I still dug the writing and discovered I love it even more, especially the stories in INTERESTING WOMEN. Exquisite.]

Saturday, October 2, 2010

QUICK HMMMMM..

So our new Republican governor of New Jersey not only allowed a huge federal education grant to slip through his fingers, after cutting education funding in the state, he also decided to let the tax breaks for movie and TV show productions lapse, "zeroing out" NJ's digital media and film program, and as one of my entertainment unions put it in their newsletter:

"New Jersey heard from everyone in the entertainment community, labor, industry, studio facility owners, small businesses. The story was always the same: the incentives create jobs that produce tax revenue. And the revenue produced is far in excess of what is provided through tax incentives."

NJ decided to defund the program anyway, and within one day of that decision Law and Order SVU left the state of New Jersey, where it had been shooting, for Manhattan, and the facility where Mercy had been shot will also remain empty. Meanwhile, broke New York state recognizes that the entertainment biz is one of the few successful exports the states and the United States have/has, so continued their tax breaks, and more productions are moving there as a result.

Man these Republicans are so smart when it comes to business and the economy!

Friday, October 1, 2010

THE TOWN

After an intense few weeks with my any-day-now-thirteen-year-old son, down with an infection and bad cough etc., and various obligations to be met and work to be completed, etc., I got a break late yesterday from things I had to do and slipped out to the flickers to catch Ben Affleck's latest endeavor and was not disappointed.

The man can make movies. He may have had some ups and downs as a young Hollywood movie star, but he's matured into not just a sharp political analyst and articulate spokesman for positions we share in that realm (catch him any time he's on Bill Maher and if you're not impressed with his grasp of facts and figures and the integration of them into his analyses and perspectives you ain't listenin') but a fine fine director.

As my friend Jamie (I think it was) said, he may be our new Clint Eastwood, in terms of movie stars turned stars/directors. And yes, I know he's no Clint in many ways (including willingness to go on politically slanted talk shows), and has nowhere near Eastwood's iconic stature, but, after seeing THE TOWN I have to say, not only did both his direction and his acting remind me in many ways of Clint Eastwood's direction and acting, they compared favorably to them. (In fact, for my taste GONE BABY GONE and THE TOWN are both better in many ways than Eastwood's film with similar themes and location MYSTIC RIVER.)

I was knocked out by Affleck's debut as a director with GONE BABY GONE, still one of my favorite films, and now in this second outing as a director—his first as director/star—I'm even more impressed. THE TOWN is more ambitious than GONE BABY GONE, and as a result it is a little more uneven in some ways (mostly in the casting of better known actors, or more of them, who don't always come across as as authentic as—wow, that's a lot of "as's"—the lesser knowns in GONE BABY GONE, e.g. John Hamm can be, well, a little hammy at times (and his Boston accent came and went) and Blake Lively made a courageous effort (if sometimes over the top) but doesn't live up to the high standards for portraying authentic working class Boston-area Irish that Amy Ryan did in GONE BABY GONE ).

But THE TOWN is also more of an accomplishment than GONE BABY GONE as Affleck tells a more conventional and bigger movie story—the big heist caper cops-and-robbers one that goes as far back as the silent movie days—and does so with style and pizazz.  And moments of pure movie-making joy. I left the theater with that deeply satisfied if cliched feeling of having eaten just the right amount of ice cream to satisfy the craving but not too much to end up feeling stuffed and a little sorry. Know what I mean?