Monday, January 31, 2011

EGYPT AND US

Tunisia and Egypt and other countries in the Middle East are seeing a new kind of unrest, not led by fundamentalists but by ordinary citizens fed up with the wealthy few who control the major businesses and corporations and whose profits continue to grow while the rest of the citizens see their finances stagnate or decline.

It's a familiar pattern in the so-called "developing world"—but it has also become a familiar pattern here in the richest country on earth. Despite all our national wealth and so-called "middle-class" lifestyles, we too find ourselves at the mercy of corporations that continue to see record profits and a greater share of the wealth going to those who run those corporations, and yet a decline in our finances while we are asked to pay for what these same corporations should be using their profits to pay for.

The horrendous once again rise in oil prices is being explained as a result of the "world demand" for more oil, and yet the oil companies are making greater profits than ever, as they have for what seems like forever. It seems obvious the profits are coming from the raises in prices, just as it seems obvious that despite all our supposed nation's wealth we are still, as Obama pointed out in his State of the Union message way behind many other nations in not just new infrastructure, like faster trains and cleaner energy (and the jobs that go with creating that) etc. but even in just maintaining what we have.

I remember the first time I came back from a European airport into one of ours and realized we were no longer the future, we were the fading past (which began under Reagan in my personal travel experiences and got much much worse under Bush/Cheney).

The people of Egypt are complaining of the corruption that allows a wealthy and powerful few to control most of the wealth and maintain monopolies in certain industries. Hmmmm. Sounds familiar.

A close friend just suffered through a few days of no power in the middle of winter because he happens to live in a part of the country that has one of the poorest performing power companies in the USA, but that didn't stop the top execs from raking in millions or from the company making outrageous profits while allowing their equipment to break down again and again. My friend has power outages every winter and they often last for days.

Where I now live we have power outages every summer which often last for days. At those times, it feels like we're living in Iraq or some other war torn country where outages are a regular occurrence, even though ours are nowhere near as frequent or as bad, nonetheless, they are worse than they used to be, because the infrastructure has not been replaced with new lines and equipment to service them etc.

Below is a reprint of a message from a local elected official in my friend's area, a perfect illustration of how all this works in the form of a summary of the problem. Read it and see if it doesn't sound like the kind of thing that happens in Russia, or Egypt, or...what county do you live in?

Pepco’s Shocking Profits

By Hans Riemer
At-large Member, Montgomery County Council

The first winter storm of 2011 has revealed once again what Montgomery County residents know too well: Pepco is incapable of restoring power outages in a reasonable period of time.

Surprising, then, that Pepco is as profitable as ever.  Just last October -- despite a year of intense criticism about failing service -- Pepco raised its estimated earnings per share for 2010 by up to 38 percent.

The “thundersnow” began on Wednesday afternoon. According to Pepco officials, 127,000 Montgomery residents lost power by the following morning. Forty-eight hours after the storm hit, the Washington Post reported that 64,843 Montgomery residents were still without power – more than the combined total of 42,667 residents without power in all other Washington-area jurisdictions.

As one resident wrote to me bitterly, Montgomery County has become a “laughing stock” in the region. Of course there is nothing amusing about seniors trapped in apartment towers with no lights, heat, or elevator service.

Pepco has offered a variety of excuses for its failure to restore power promptly in the past. The company once blamed its performance on trees, telling regulators that the region has the “fourth most-dense” tree canopy in the nation. But the Washington Post found no support for that claim in a December 15, 2010 article and exposed equipment failures as the real reason for outage problems.

Pepco has also blamed plowing problems for its inability to access neighborhoods. But Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation plowed the vast majority of roads 24 hours after the most recent storm had passed and still more than 100,000 county residents were without power.

The problem is not trees or weather, it is Pepco’s management.

In its December investigative article on Pepco, the Post found that the company’s reliability problems have been steadily growing worse for five years. Its customers have experienced 70% more outages than customers of comparable large utilities and their power has been out more than twice as long. By 2009, Pepco had fallen to the bottom quarter of U.S. utilities in customer satisfaction.

Pepco’s proposed solution to its problems is its six-point “reliability enhancement plan,” in which it intends to spend $51 million annually in Maryland over the next five years, with additional sums for DC.

Where will it get the money? Ratepayers, of course. Pepco wants to increase rates on its customers to pay for its improvements. What the company is not telling the public is that it does not need a rate hike to improve its infrastructure. According to Pepco’s financial disclosure documents filed at the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), Pepco’s profits have exceeded $200 million every year since 2004.

In October, 2010, Pepco raised its guidance on full-year earnings from 80-95 cents per share to $1.00 to $1.10 per share, and affirmed  2011 guidance at $1.10-1.30.  Pepco’s outage performance has been declining over this same period.

Pepco’s top eight executives, including its retired chairman, collected $12.7 million in compensation in 2009. They have reaped huge gains despite failed service.

Pepco paid out $238 million in dividends last year and could cut that amount to pay for its capital improvement program. But since its board and management collectively own over 750,000 shares of Pepco stock and its executives have been granted over $11 million in stock awards over the last three years, the company would rather stick ratepayers with the tab.

Pepco’s failure to ask for extra crews until Wednesday’s storm was well underway is yet another sign that it is managed badly. It is galling to think that Pepco’s executives rake in the bucks when service declines and will rake in even more when we pay to fix the problems they created.

Pepco must face a financial penalty for providing poor service. The Maryland Public Service Commission (MPSC) should fine Pepco for every kilowatt hour lost by its customers due to outages. This would set an appropriate performance incentive.

The MPSC should also demand service improvements without the ratepayer increase. Let Pepco’s executives and investors pay to get Washington area customers back to an acceptable level of services. After all these years of increasing profits despite declining services, the balance sheet should not be tipped in their favor yet again.

As a Bethesda resident wrote to me, “When I moved to Montgomery County, I never imagined that I would struggle to keep my baby warm.” I couldn’t agree more.

The time for talking about Pepco’s problems is over. The time to act is now.





[PS: And as my dear friend "Alameda Tom" points out with this link he supplied. Exon's 4th quarter profits "surged 54%" and they still raised the price of oil!]

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A NECESSARY CORRECTIVE

Here is an article that articulates beautifully a corrective to the failed memories of so many, including some historians, of what the Reagan years really wrought. It does it much better than I could and with appropriate links to back it up (though there are hundreds more factual resources to support this perspective).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, BEING THERE & THE YOUNG VICTORIA

Caught three old(er) movies the last few nights I think of as "classics" in their own ways.

Or at least I did the last time I saw them (or first and only in the case of YOUNG VICTORIA).

But after watching them again this time, it became clear to me that only one of these really holds up (at least for now and for me) as truly a classic: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE.



Directed by John Houston and shot by Harold Rosson, it is an extremely stylized example of "film noir" at its darkest and most potent. Every shot is framed like a work of minimalist expressionism, and every line of dialogue (Houston shares credit for the screenplay, adapted from a "pulp fiction" novel) like an existentialist hipster's line of poetry.

Yes, sometimes some of the acting seems over the top and some of the lines melodramatic, but the directing is so restrained within the framework of the genre that it comes across as a kind of introductory course in mid-20th century philosophy, Wittgenstein and all.

Anyway, I used to think it was worth it just for Marylin Monroe's first real exposure as the dumb blond bombshell but with her own unique twist on that, but it's worth it for everything about it. A true work of art.



BEING THERE I used to feel the same way about. And it's certainly worth watching. Sellers is at his peak as another unique movie star, and Melvyn Douglas is so good as the dying conservative gazillionaire (and at the time he was not only dying but was still courageously standing up to the real conservative gazillionaires and their lackeys in real life) and Shriley McClain as his trophy wife that it still works for the most part.

But ultimately, there's a lot about it that's dated and not in the beautifully stylized way of ASPHALT JUNGLE, more as in the way TV shows from the '80s are dated, uninterestingly for the most part and sometimes uncomfortably.

And it isn't shot near as artistically, though director Hal Ashby is obviously going for that (and some scene do pull it off). It's meant to be pretty stark in its own way, as ASPHALT JUNGLE is perfectly. But BEING THERE comes across in some scenes as not as pictorially focused or thought out, while in others as too calculated to impress. And some scenes seem almost randomly framed rather than deliberately, and not in the good "randomness" of chance or inspiration or deliberate rawness but rather in the bland and overlit way of, again, bad TV of the 1980s.



And THE YOUNG VICTORIA is still a small gem of a movie, directed and shot and acted to match the best of that kind of royal Brit cinematic drama. But, as beautiful as it is to look at, the intimate scenes between the young Victoria and the handsome young Prince Albert in their marriage bed, seemed like something out of a cable serial from the beginning of this century, rather than the real private life of "Victorians" from two centuries ago.

I felt like I was watching two hot young British actors of these times rather than Victoria and Albert, unlike say the Cate Blanchett movie about Elizabeth the first, or Helen Mirren's about the present Queen Elizabeth, where the private and public lives seem consistent with what we know about the actual people and their times.

I got great pleasure from watching all three movies, as I do from any move that has something worthwhile in it to watch. But if I ever get the urge to make a list of movies I consider to be true "classics"—only THE ASPHALT JUNGLE of these three will be on it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

THIS IS THE PROBLEM (OR PART OF IT)

Here's a quote from the most moderate candidate among all those being mentioned for the 2012 Republican presidential nominations:

"This president and his fellow travelers in Washington fundamentally don't understand America," Romney said [as quoted in last week's TIME]. "They don't understand what it is that makes this nation so successful, so powerful, so good."

That's a moderate Republican talking, and it shows precisely one of the main things that is wrong and has been wrong about any kind of "partisanship"—"bi" or otherwise—in our country.

It's a time honored old rightwing trick to not argue policy or the merits of policies, but instead to just question the nativist or nationalist credentials of their opponents and accuse them of not being "American" enough, as if, number one only the right has the definitive take on what makes "America" America, and an "American" and American, but number two, that no one's motives are pure except for theirs.

The fact that a moderate Republican feels it necessary to use McCarthy era terminology ("fellow travelers" being the McCarthy era term for those who weren't "card carrying Communists" but who supposedly sympathized with them, as in supported the struggle for civil rights for non-whites, etc.) and to actually state that our democratically elected president "fundamentally doesn't understand America" or what makes it "so successful, so powerful, so good"—as if only he and his fellow Republicans know that—is not just smug and self-righteous, it's not true.

Now any reasonable person knows this, just by using logic. How could a president who has more experience outside the country, and as an outsider within the country, not in fact "understand America" better than any previous president? He's seen and experienced it more widely and from more perspectives than any politician in the modern age, if not ever.

The one area of "America" where he hasn't had personal experience is in the military. But otherwise, he knows what it's like to be a poor "American" a "middle-class" American and a rich American. Romney only knows what it's like to be rich.

Obama knows what it's like to be a "white American" and a "black American" as well as a "half white half black American" as some have called him. He knows what it's like to be a victim and target of racism (probably now more than ever) and to transcend it. He knows what it's like to achieve success on brains and hard work alone, unlike Romney and many other Republicans who inherited wealth and spots at elite schools rather than earned it as Obama did.

I could go on endlessly. But I just wanted to point out that this kind of simplistic, propagandistic use of language to portray your opponent as not just "other" but as incapable of even understanding his own country...well, in not just being confined to the fringe right anymore, it makes real political dialogue pretty difficult if not impossible.

Here are two examples of how the left posits arguments for their perspective using reason based on facts:

The first is Paul Krugman's response to the Republican response to Obama's State of the Union address, and the second Jon Stewart's response to someone on the left using hyperbole to make a point and the hypocritical response from the right to that (you have to watch it for a while before he gets to the main point), if you haven't already seen them.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

WINTER WONDERLAND (CONT'D)

Another big snowstorm here in my part of Jersey, dropped what appears to be a foot or more [after I went out and shoveled my car out with some help from some of my fellow apartment dwellers, I realized it was closer to two feet!]. Added to the accumulation that was already on the ground and now when we shovel a tunnel down the front sidewalk the snow on the sides is above my hip in some spots.

It is so beautiful out today I can't even express how grateful it makes me to be out in such an extraordinary landscape. Pure white soft snow covering all the trees, outlining the leafless branches otherwise dark from the wetness, the stark contrast making it feel more like living inside an art work than a neighborhood.

And again the quiet, as most things come to a halt, except for the sound of shoveling or people's voices now and then, but muffled, as if the entire scene were wrapped in tons of cotton. I know it's a hassle (my car is covered and surrounded by so much snow, and they haven't plowed the lot where I pay to park it, so even if I had the energy to shovel through to get to it there's no way I can drive it out) but the way I see it, it's the universe's way of saying, hey, slow down, take your time, enjoy the moment without having to get somewhere and fulfill some overbooked schedule, relax and dig mother nature's bountiful variety show.

At least that's the way I'm taking it. Wish you were here to dig it with me (well, wish most of you were anyway).

[PS: Oh, and how many times do rightwingers have to be told that severe winters are not a sign that there is no "global warming"—climate change and weather extremes is in fact just the opposite, proof that there is, and once again in case anyone missed it, 2010 was a record breaking winter for many of us in terms of snowfall etc. and 2011 looks on track to beat it, but 2010 also was the warmest year on record for the earth in general, and saw some of the severest weather on record as well, but the poor dears on the right can't hold two contrary ideas in their minds at the same time, that's why they need the simplicity of concepts limited to one simple idea that if repeated enough not only convinces them it's true but makes them feel better. As I've pointed out, early in my recovery from brain surgery when my mind was working on a very limited basis, I couldn't take the layers of subtleties and ironies embedded in The Daily Show, it made my head feel like it would explode, which gave me the insight into rightwing success, that most rightwingers brains are wired in such a way that their brains start to actually hurt or just quickly reject anything too complex and they reach for the simplest ideas and formulas that make their brains feel much better, but they do have to have those simple ideas reaffirmed on a daily basis, or even more often, which is why (as my friend Fred Liberman has pointed out) Fox and Rush and other rightwing media are so popular because to feel okay rightwingers need to be reassured constantly and have their simple ideas reaffirmed constantly whereas the rest of us can drop in on various media and form our own opinions and ideas with a little from here and a little from there etc. and accept that not everything is black and white simplistic.]

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

THE PRESIDENT'S SPEECH

President Obama's Tucson speech was more moving and inspiring. But his "State of the Union" speech last night was still good.

He co opted a lot of "conservative" issues, ala Clinton at the midpoint in his first term (like when Obama spoke of lowering the corporate tax rate and paying for that by fixing loopholes and getting corporations that haven't been paying taxes to ante up, easier said than done), which was a smart political move.

And he co opted a lot of criticism from the left by saying the tax cuts for the wealthiest should not be made permanent, that servicemen and women could not be discriminated against not only because of their race or religion but also because of "who they love"—which got a big response from many in the chamber.

But I feel he could have said a few things more clearly and simply, ala the way the right has learned to do with their researched linguistics (like "death panels" and "death tax" etc.). He referred to the accomplishments of his administration in an almost indirect way. He should have listed them simply and clearly.

As in: "We saved the American auto industry" etc. By not listing all the terrific things the stimulus package did, the jobs saved and created, the businesses saved and created, the infrastructure saved and created, etc. he left himself open to the Republican's rebuttal from their supposed economics "expert" (whose figures and historical facts have been proven wrong over and over again) Ryan, that the stimulus was a failure, which isn't true, but as we all know, if you tell the same lie often enough a lot of people will come to believe it.

But in the end, it was another display of Obama's terrific intellect and command of the facts as well as of his mostly solid solutions to the surplus of problems still facing us from the damage done by the previous administration. Slowly but surely, he is addressing them and resolving them, beginning with avoiding another Great Depression, restoring the stock market and the jobs market, even if too slowly for many of us, etc.

I give the speech an A- after the Tucson speech's A+++...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

THE OSCAR NOMINATIONS

The Oscar nominations came out this morning, and the biggest disappointment for me was the absence of BARNEY'S VERSION in almost every category, except "best makeup"—a well-deserved category for the people involved, but one I don't care that much about in terms of the artistry of the main filmmakers.

In their 10 movies "Best Picture" category, the Academy came up with: THE BLACK SWAN, THE FIGHTER, INCEPTION, THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, THE KING'S SPEECH, 127 HOURS, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, TOY STORY 3, TRUE GRIT and WINTER'S BONE.

I haven't seen 127 HOURS, but intend to within the next few days, so for my taste the only films out of these ten that would be on any "Best Picture" list I'd make would be: THE FIGHTER, THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, THE KINGS SPEECH, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, TRUE GRIT and WINTER'S BONE. And like I said, at the top of my list would be BARNEY'S VERSION.

As for the other categories. "Best Supporting Actor" nominations went to Christian bale for THE FIGHTER, John Hawkes for WINTER'S BONE, Jemery Renner for THE TOWN, Mark Ruffalo for THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT and Geoffrey Rush for THE KING'S SPEECH.

My five nominations, out of what I've seen so far, would go to Bale and Rush for sure, but also to Mickey O'Keefe for THE FIGHTER, John Hutcherson, one of the kids in THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, and Dustin Hoffman in BARNEY'S VERSION.

For "Best Supporting Actress" nominees, the Academy chose Amy Adams and Melissa Leo for THE FIGHTER, Helen Bonham Carter for THE KING'S SPEECH, Hailee Steinfeld for TRUE GRIT and Jacki Weaver for ANIMAL KINGDOM.

I haven't seen ANIMAL KINGDOM, but otherwise my choices would be Melissa Leo, Helen Bonham Carter and Hailee Steinfeld for sure, but for the other two I'd choose Mia Wasikowska, the other "kid" in THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT" and Minnie Driver for BARNEY'S VERSION.

For "Best Actor" the Academy chose Javier Bardem for BIUTIFUL, Jeff Bridges for TRUE GRIT, Jessie Eisenberg for THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Colin Firth for THE KING'S SPEECH and James Franco for 127 HOURS.

Even though I haven't seen it yet, I've never seen Franco do anything that doesn't deserve an Oscar nod, so I'd probably include him for "Best Actor" for 127 HOURS and definitely for HOWL. For the other four, again BARNEY'S VERSION is at the top of my list with Paul Giamatti, and though I know I'll get a lot of flack from some of my friends for this: Ben Affleck for his roles in THE TOWN and COMPANY MEN, Colin Firth and Jesse Eisenberg (even though it seems to be a distortion of what Zuckerberg is really like, it's still a powerful acting coup).

As for "Best Actress" (almost always one of the most competitive and best categories, and no exception this year), the Oscar nominations went to Annete Bening for THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, Nicole Kidman for RABBIT HOLE, Jennifer Lawrence for WINTER'S BONE, Natalie Portman for BLACK SWAN and Michele Williams for BLUE VALENTINE. Unfortunately I haven't seen BLUE VALENTINE or RABBIT HOLE yet, so my choices are more limited, but at the top of my list are both Bening and her co-star in THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, Julianne Moore. Lawrence would also be one of my choices, but then would come Rosamond Pike in BARNEY'S VERSION and Noomi Rapace, the girl in all those THE GIRL WITH movies, which probably aren't eligible, but she deserves at least a nomination for all three movies.

For "Best Director" the Academy chose Darren Aronofsky for BLACK SWAN, David O. Russell for THE FIGHTER, Tom Hooper for THE KING'S SPEECH, David Fincher for THE SOCIAL NETWORK and the Coen brothers for TRUE GRIT.

My choices would include Russell, Hooper, Fincher and even Aronofsky (I'm too squeamish and critical for BLACK SWAN, despite some well-executed horror film tropes and melodramatic firsts, but there's no doubt Aronovsky is a brilliant filmmaker), but I'd again have BARNEY'S VERSION at the top of my list with the director Richard J. Lewis (and I'd like to throw an honorary nod to Ben Affleck for pulling off a Clint Eastwood in THE TOWN, i.e. directing himself and doing a very efficient accomplished job of pulling of a terrific caper movie if nothing else).

For "Best Adapted Screenplay" they chose Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy for 127 HOURS, Aaron Sorken for THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Michael Arndt for TOY STORY 3 (?!), the Coen brothers for TRUE GRIT and Debra Granik and Anne Roselini for WINTER'S BONE.

I'm down with Sorkin and Granik/Roselini. But for my others I'd choose again Michael Konyves for his adaptation of Mordecai Richler's BARNEY'S VERSION, and Peter Craig, Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard for their version of Chuck Hogan's novel PRINCE OF THIEVES, and then I'm out of choices but suspect, though I haven't seen it, FAIR GAME might be on my list from what I hear.

For "Best Original Screenplay" they chose Mike Leigh for ANOTHER YEAR, another movie I haven't seen but hear great things about, as always with Leigh, Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson for THE FIGHTER, which I'm totally down with, Christopher Nolan for INCEPTION, which was too confusing for my taste to be considered for this award, Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg for THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT and David Seidler for THE KING'S SPEECH, both of which I concur with. So I'd just have to come up with one more for my choice and I guess I'll have to wait until I see the rest on my list.

The only other category I'm really interested in this year (I used to be obsessed with everything about the Oscars in my pre-brain-op list-making compulsiveness, but that seems to have faded post-op) is cinematography. The nominations were for BLACK SWAN, INCEPTION, THE KING'S SPEECH, THE SOCIAL NETWORK and TRUE GRIT.

This is one of the few categories I believe BLACK SWAN deserves a nomination for (the other would be editing). And I can go along with the rest of the nominations as well.

As for editing come to think of it, the nominees were 127 HOURS, BLACK SWAN, THE FIGHTER, THE KING'S SPEECH and THE SOCIAL NETWORK. I'd replace THE SOCIAL NETWORK with BARNEY'S VERSION, the best edited film of the year for my taste.

The only other category I have a little interest in is film score, for which the Academy chose 127 HOURS, HOW TO TRAIN A DRAGON, INCEPTION, THE KING'S SPEECH and SOCIAL NETWORK. I have to say the latter, SOCIAL NETWORK was the most originally compelling score for my taste, but the soundtrack collection of period tunes in BARNEY'S VERSION was another favorite.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A BRILLIANT AND TIMELY ARTICLE

The first section of this well thought out article may bum you out, but do not "read it and weep"—instead read the sections that follow, which encourage all of us to know and defend The Constitution as a document belonging to all U.S. citizens, not just the right and their distorted (and I might add "activist") interpretation.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

GREEN ZONE



Friends have recommended this movie ever since it first came out. The critics dug it too for the most part. Some comparing it to the BOURNE trilogy flicks. I finally caught it last night on cable, and can see what everyone liked about it.

It doesn't really compare to the BOURNE movies, except in some similar editing in the chase scenes and action scenes, and it stars Matt Damon in a mostly exotic setting. But GREEN ZONE isn't as fun an action flick as any of the BOURNE movies, which to my mind are classics of that genre. But it does create enough of that action thriller tension to have made my leg jumpy as I watched it, at least in the action scenes.

GREEN ZONE has its own attributes that make it a movie to see as well. As you probably already know or can guess from the title, the film is based on reality, the reality of the early part of the Iraq War when our country's civilian governmental representatives in Iraq were making one miscalculation after another and all from the comfort and protection of the "Green Zone" while soldiers like the one Mat Damon plays dealt with the actual reality of the situation in the rest of Iraq that wasn't going anything as predicted by these same representatives and their cohorts and bosses back in Washington.

Damon continues to surprise me as one of our most versatile movie stars, and one of our alltime greatest. He may not have the same charisma of a Bogart or a John Wayne or the looks and screen presence of a Gable or Cooper or even Brando, but the man can hold the screen and make you believe his character is really doing those things and pulling them off, or not. And he can do it in comedies, action flicks, thrillers, docu-dramas, melodramas, etc. etc. etc.

So, GREEN ZONE isn't the best movie of 2010, nor the best movie about the Iraq War, but it's still a really good movie that should be seen not least because it may be the clearest nondocumentary filmic expression of what was so wrong at the heart of our government's policy that brought us into that conflict and has kept us there so long.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

THIS SAYS IT ALL

You gotta read this all the way through. Mindbogglingly emblematic of where we have come, and they're not stopping, that's for sure.

Friday, January 21, 2011

THE KING'S SPEECH

Finally caught this flick and understand why some people are raving about it. Pretty fine screenwriting/directing/editing and acting to make a feature length movie about some privileged twit (basically) with a stutter and turn it into a compelling drama with enough tension and suspense to fuel an action/thriller!

And I can see why some folks think Colin Firth will not just get nominated for an Oscar but win it. But I also can see why some other folks think if he does he'll be winning for his performance in A SINGLE MAN last year, because that's the greater performance, although this one is very very good and more obviously noble and redeeming.

I have movie actor friends who also question the way Firth was either directed or chose to portray the "stutter" the film talks about but we never really hear. A speech impediment, difficulty saying some words  creating excruciatingly long pauses, etc. but no real stutter. Maybe it was a desire to not do the usual stuttering stereotype, or maybe this was the way this historic character actually spoke, but I can see my friends' point about it not seeming as authentic as real stutterers most of us have known.

All the acting is so good though, and Geoffrey Rush is getting a lot of attention and expected to be nominated for a supporting Oscar, which will be well deserved. But I really loved Helen Bonham Carter's performance most of all. It was so nuanced and controlled and humorously subtle, as well as subtly humorous, it made the movie for my taste.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

SOME FAVORITE "POLITICAL" QUOTES

"Guard against the postures of pretended patriotism." —George Washington

"These capitalists generally act harmoniously, and in concert, to fleece the people." —Abraham Lincoln

"Whenever there is a conflict between human rights and property rights, human rights must prevail." —Abraham Lincoln


"Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly or wickedness of Government may engage it?"  —Daniel Webster

"I am an anti-Imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land." —Mark Twain


"Wall street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street and for Wall Street." —Mary Lease (Kansas Populist 1890)

"I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half." —Jay Gould (19th Century "Robber Baron")

"The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor." —Helen Keller (1911)


"You're right from your side and I'm right from mine." —Bob Dylan (from "One Too Many Mornings")

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

BILL SULLIVAN R.I.P.

I just heard that the painter Bill Sullivan has passed. Bill was a longtime friend who unfortunately I hadn't been as closely in touch with in recent years as I used to be. He wasn't an artist who followed trends. He went his own way and it was a way I much admired.

His art was in many ways contradictory, as was he. The mix of qualities seemed to contradict each other in ways that may have left some missing the uniqueness of his work. I identified with that myself, whether justifiably or not.

He was the same way in person, an extremely tall man whose physical presence alone made him seem like the literal "grown up" in many situations, yet with a childlike face (not untypical given his Irish heritage) and a manner just the opposite of "overbearing"—as some physically dominant people can sometimes be.

He had a sharp wit coupled with a basically gentle spirit, and his art reflected all those qualities and more.

I knew him best in my New York days, but after I moved to Southern California in 1982 we kept in touch and I'd see him on my visits to Manhattan. Then he came out for a show in a gallery in the summer of 1990 and asked me to write the monograph for it, which I did.

Here's one of the more subdued pieces from that show (it was an edition of 12 screen prints hand colored with pastels, 18x36 inches, I have one hanging on my bedroom wall):


That's not really reproducing very well, unfortunately. The original is much smoother and more subtle. Scanning it has created those wavy almost pixilated lines through it (I'll try to find one on the web and add it below) At any rate, here is what I wrote about him and that show as he was in the process of creating it:


You'll be sorely missed Bill. I'm grateful we still have your art.

[PS: Here's another one of the prints from that series (on the right) and the only one I could find online, but you can see in it compared to the one above at least a touch of the beautiful variety he brought to this serial project, so controlled and yet energetic, subtle yet in its quiet way demanding our attention...I could go on but will resist.]



Monday, January 17, 2011

A QUICK COMMENT ON THE GLOBES

I didn't get a chance to watch the Golden Globes (though I did watch Ricky Gervais's opening monologue on Youtube (thanks to my son Miles) to see what the fuss was about, and though Miles didn't find Gervais's star bashing jokes anything for anyone to get that upset about, there was obviously some real outrage from some stars who were the targets of some of those jokes, as I hear it).

But I was happy to see some of what I consider to be the best performances of this past year being recognized. I still haven't seen THE KING'S SPEECH, so I can't comment on Colin Firth's winning a Golden Globe for his role in that film (though friends in "the biz" tell me they feel he's getting recognized more for this role than he might otherwise because many now feel he should have won for A SINGLE MAN last year), but, I can agree with choosing Annete Beining for THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (though there are some equally as perfectly nuanced performances from several other women in leading roles, including her co-star Julliane Moore in the same movie) and definitely Christian Bale and Melissa Leo for their supporting roles in THE FIGHTER.

As well as Paul Giamatti winning for his lead in BARNEY'S VERSION (the Globes have that double possibility thing in their two types of movies categories, so Firth won for "drama" and Paul G. for "comedy" etc. and the same for Benning who won for "comedy" (as though THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT wasn't a "drama"!) and Natalie Portman won for "drama" for BLACK SWAN).

I was also happy to see that Claire Danes won for her brilliant turn as TEMPLE GRANDIN in the HBO movie, which in reality was the greatest performance by any actor in a movie last year.

RELENTLESS

I just deleted another comment from the person who has dominated the comments thread on this blog for years now. The lies he continues to promulgate are typical of the right, but so is his tactic of relentless reiteration of rightwing message-of-the-day for whatever topic comes up that they have a message for (if it's off the topics they cover, they just ignore the question, or blog post or news item, and revert to their relentless messaging).

His latest comment was accusing the last two administrations (one of the propaganda shifts the right immediately made after the obvious unpopularity and failure of the last administration (Bush/Cheney) was to include that administration in on certain topics that the right was critical of anyway, though they never demonstrated that in the voting booth while Bush/Cheney held power obviously) of not doing enough on immigration and the Mexican border, positing these as reasons for why people (especially in Arizona) have to arm themselves, mentioning the cartels and the "violence" on both sides of the the border. Not, of course, mentioning that the Mexican drug cartels get all their weapons from U.S. gun manufacturers.

As anyone with the least knowledge of gun crime statistics is aware, referring to the violence on the Mexican side of the border as anything comparable to the U.S. side is either an act of lying or the person is a victim of delusions caused, in this instance, by rightwing propaganda that ignores the reality that the border is more secure than it has ever been, and the number of illegal immigrants drastically reduced, since Obama was elected.

But nothing matters to the right except that their message of the day, on any issue, be re-stated over and over ad infinitum until we all either tune out, give in, or give up and stop voting or caring about politics.

This has been a rightwing strategy for decades now. Because rightwing Republican media experts believe—as others have pointed out as well—in science. They understand that brain science has proved that a simple and simply stated message repeated over and over again will not only eventually convince most people it's true, but it will make them feel happier too!

Democrats—liberals and moderates, including me too often—believe that reason and logic can win an argument. But reason and logic, let alone facts, can only win arguments with others who have been educated or are wired to believe in the supremacy of reason and logic based on facts. And even then not always, unfortunately.

So the main tactic of the right is relentless repetition, as in Democrats only want to "tax and spend" etc. And to reduce complex and nuanced arguments and policies to an easily repeatable and understandable slogan, whether true or not, ala "death panels" etc.

And it works! We all know that. Otherwise how could Bush/Cheney have been re-elected, or even elected in the first place, when every poll showed that a vast majority of the electorate wanted what the Democrats were actually proposing and didn't want most of what the Republicans stood for.

People continue to vote against their best interests and not even realize it. Like Tea Partyers who want the government to keep its hands off their Medicare! It's an emotional response generated by relentless repetition.

The rightwing monopolizer of the comments threads on this blog has the same effect. I know many people who either stopped reading the comments section of my posts or have stopped visiting the blog altogether because they just got worn down by this person's relentless ignoring of any factual evidence or reasonable and logical arguments and just reiterating the same rightwing ideological talking points.

That doesn't mean he doesn't sometimes say things some of us can agree with, as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day,  but if I'm doing my math correctly, that's only two minutes out of one thousand four hundred and forty, leaving one thousand, four hundred and thirty-eight times a day when it's still wrong.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

HERE'S A GOOD TAKE ON RECENT EVENTS

If you haven't seen it, here's Frank Rich's op-ed piece from today's NY Times. It reflects a lot of my own thinking on the Arizona tragedy and reactions to it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

WINTER WONDERLAND

Another great trip to the Berkshires for a qiuck weekend visit so my youngest can get some real snowboarding in. With another recent snow the landscapes are as picturesque as you can imagine. On the ride up my youngest and I watched the outside temp as registered on the screen in the middle of my dashboard drop from 36 degrees to 7 by the time we arrived.

Talk about bracing winter air! Thank God for the seasons is my feeling. A real old-fashioned winter. And after the warmest year on record (that's an average that seems to mystify some of the the anti-warming folk when they see winter weather).

At any rate, it's also been a lot of stimulus for this old brain (I recently passed the fourteen month mark since the brain surgery and find that I still tire a little easier than I did before, and get a little overwhelmed sometimes by too much stimulus or socializing.

So since it's taking me even longer than usual to type this (every few words I have to retype, sometimes more than once, until I get them correct, I hope) I'm off to dreamland, digging the comfort of  warm bed on such a winter's night.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"TARGETING" POLITICAL OPPONENTS

I have a good friend, Fred, who lives in Arizona. He called after the tragedy the other day, from his car on his way from his home there to L.A. (where he works as a Teamster), and mentioned as we were talking that a car just passed him with a bumper sticker that said "Guns, Guts, Glory"—a sticker he's seen many times in his home state.

He also informed me of something that I was hearing for the first time but have since read more about— though the mainstream media has mostly ignored it—that the Tea Party Republican opponent to Congresswoman Giffords, the victim of the attempted assassination, invited his supporters to "target" her on his web page and in the same ads and flyers in which he invited them to join him in an automatic weapons shooting party!

Here's an article based on his web site page (since removed) with the event ad below it as listed in the newspaper:


This is the atmosphere the tragedy took place in. No matter how you interpret the causes (I have already stated that many of the phrases used by the assassin in his confused Internet statements come directly from rightwing media sources, like his objections to our currency not being based on the gold standard etc.) you can't deny that including all this gun and targeting language (and symbols) in political ads and arguments along with contentions that your opponent is illegitimate (even though they were legally and democratically elected) creates an atmosphere where violence seems to be being promoted as a solution. 

[PS: Here's another typical statement the shooter left on the Internet "...read The United States of America's Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws." That's right out of Beck (and Rush and many Tea Partyers), as is the shooter's rants about how our currency should be based on gold etc. So it seems clear to me on the evidence that even if the assassin's philosophy comes from many sources, there is no doubt that one of those sources is the rightwing media.]  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

MEMORIAL IN TUCSON

If you didn't get to see and hear the memorial service in Tucson last night, it not only had me weeping, but also appreciating what a class act our president is.

I watched the entire event, which unfortunately was not broadcast on the networks (they caught Obama's speech but not the other elements of the evening's program). I missed the days when most people watched the three main networks and an event like this would have been televised by all of them, and as a result most "Americans" (i.e. those who live in that part of the Americas that is the USA) would have had the shared experience of viewing the event together in real time.

All the participants in the event rose to the occasion (see David Hernandez's at top below to experience one of the exceptional moments, though watching it in real time and in order gave it a more profound impact). Coming at the end of the evening, our president (and he is the president of all citizens of the U.S. which back in the day no one would have to be reminded of) showed his old style and understanding of the needs of his fellow citizens as he did so often during his campaign for the presidency and gave a speech that I think was, and will be remembered as, one of the great presidential speeches our our history.

If you didn't see it, you can watch it below, at the bottom, and judge for yourself (but make sure to give him a few minutes to get into saying the things I suspect most of us wanted to hear and are grateful he for).



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SAY IT AIN'T SO JOE (TWICE)

Here' two items that crossed my web screen yesterday that seemed relevant to all the talk coming out of the Arizona tragedy (I could have included many more, like the fact that in Arizona, sales of the exact gun used rose dramatically after the event, but these two seem plenty enough):


1.
Sarah Palin PAC staffer Rebecca Mansour, who has been tweeting in defense of her boss since the tragedy took place, is stating that the crosshairs were never intended to be gun sights.
"We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights," she said in an interview with talk radio host Tammy Bruce Saturday. "It was simply crosshairs like you'd see on maps." Bruce suggested that they could, in fact, be seen as "surveyor's symbols." Mansour added that "it never occurred to us that anybody would consider it violent" and called any attempts to politicize the Arizona tragedy "repulsive."
The suggestion that the symbols were related to guns seemed to come, however, from Palin herself. On March 23, Palin tweeted to her supporters a note about the aforementioned Facebook message, writing, "Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: 'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!' Pls see my Facebook page." And as Politico's Jonathan Martin points out, in November Palin boasted about defeating 18 of the 20 members on her "bullseye" list."


and this:


2.
The Columbia Free Times reports that the words are being engraved on a series of lower receivers manufactured for popular AR-15 assault rifles. Lower receivers are one of the primary pieces of the firearms.
"Palmetto State Armory would like to honor our esteemed congressman Joe Wilson with the release of our new 'You Lie' AR-15 lower receiver," the weapon manufacturer's site writes in the product description. "Only 999 of these will be produced, get yours before they are gone!""

(I'm hoping the later is a hoax, but so far that doesn't seem the case.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

BARNEY'S VERSION

Time for a change of pace and subject matter. As I have written many times on this blog and elsewhere, it's always been the arts that have saved my sanity, even my life. So getting back to more creative and artistic endeavors, may I say at the start: See this movie.

I started a mini film fest a night or two before the Arizona tragedy. I'm trying to get through the DVDs I've received from studios and producers looking for my vote for the various movie awards this season. I'm sorry that I forget sometimes that the movies haven't come out yet so my reactions to them (I try not to give away plot points) are often way premature.

But I believe BARNEY'S VERSION comes out in a few days. It was one of the DVDs I was going to watch out of a sense of obligation, because I haven't been crazy about Paul Giamatti's more recent efforts (I thought he was miscast in that John Adams series on HBO and thought his work was predictably mannered in the movie about Tolstoy's last days with Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer).

So I slipped this into the DVD player, soon to be an antique curiosity I'm sure, and expected to be underwhelmed. At first I had the same reaction I've had a lot recently, or even in recent years, to the casting of schluppy (is that even a word?) pot-bellied men in relationships with attractive, even stunningly attractive, women. But I've reconciled to the reality that oddly matched couples are not unusual at all (I've been half of one often enough myself, as in the older, getting out-of-shape guy with the younger hottie etc.).

So once I got through my initial resistance I began to be seduced into the world of this film and its unique rhythms. And by the time I was finished watching it I was so taken in by the story and so impressed with its artistry, it is now vying for my favorite movie of the year award, and Paul Giamatti's performance is definitely the one I'm voting for as best actor in a film for 2010 (they open these films for a few days to make it eligible but obviously it comes out for real, as I said, in a few days).

The story is based on a novel by the late Canadian writer Mordecai Richler (the "Canadian Philip Roth" as he's been called). I haven't read the novel so I don't know whether to credit him or Michael Konyves, who adapted the screenplay, for the beautiful way the movie moves through time. I assume the characterizations are Richler's achievements, but it's the director, Richard J. Lewis, and the actors who deserve the credit for the way those characters play out on screen so perfectly (rather than as the caricatures they so easily could have become).

Some of those actors are familiar, like Minnie Driver and Dustin Hoffman, but because these two, for instance, are cast in ways they usually aren't, their performances seem even more brilliant. And Rosamand Pike, who I've seen in films before, becomes a true movie star in this role, moving to the top of my list of beautiful stars who evoke the glamor and poise and depth of some of the greats of classic Hollywood (in this film she reminded me most of the kind of presence Greer Garson had on screen).

Another familiar face who rises to the level of "movie star" in his smaller role is Scott Speedman, whose charm and good looks puts him somewhere between old style handsome leading men and the more recent flock of leading boys who never seem to achieve true "men" status. I look forward to seeing where he goes in future flicks.

It's been almost a week since I watched BARNEY'S VERSION, and obviously there's been a lot going on in the world, and here in Jersey as well (like the new snow storm on its way later today), but I cannot shake the impact of this movie on me, emotionally, intellectually and artistically. I've actually wanted to watch it again since the night I first watched it. I suspect it's the kind of movie I will in fact watch again many times over the coming years.

ONE SMALL EXAMPLE

Monday, January 10, 2011

A REASONABLE PROPOSAL FROM GAIL COLLINS

Collins' NY Times Op-Ed columns are usually humorous and make some good points. This one isn't so humorous, but it certainly makes a great point.

[As does Paul Krugman here.]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

PPS

This will be the last thing I'll write about my rightwing commenter who I've had to delete a lot recently. I'm as tired as I'm sure anyone reading this is.


But once again I had to delete this man I've known since Catholic grammar school. When we were kids I thought he was a little smarter than the other kids we went to school with (the kids in my own neighborhood went to the public school around the corner and were much less snarky) because he was a reader of history, or seemed to be, like me.


But in many of his remarks on this blog it is clear he has become intolerant of any perspective that isn't in line with his rightwing ideology. And the only histories he cites are those that adhere to the same rightwing ideology. And as is often the case with rightwingers (of which he seems to be such a perfect example, one of the reasons I allowed him to comment on this blog more than anyone else) he is incredibly self-deluded. He thinks if he and those he supports and cites call Obama a "socialist" or "fascist" or "communist" etc. and claims our democratically elected president is out to destroy our country, that's not lying or distorting or calling names.


He has been leaving comments that call me even nastier names and then claim all I (and commenters on this blog who agree with me in any way) do is call names! And in his latest deleted comments he's been claiming I'm just as bad as the assassin who killed that nine-year-old child in Arizona!


He says that "rather then engage in political philosophical discussions"—by which he seems from the evidence to think means accepting his and the right's mostly false premises as valid—I call names and spew hate.


 He has this common rightwing conception that calling the rightwing of our political spectrum "rightwing" is calling names, and pointing out lies and distortions used to attack "liberals" and leftwingers is hating. 


But this is another common rightwing tactic. As I wrote in several posts over the last few years, when I was a boy there were people who believed the world was flat, but they didn't get time on TV (and there was no Internet) to defend that perspective and to insist that anyone who challenged it was not just wrong but if they continued to say the world wasn't flat they deserved to be labeled traitors out to destroy the country and treated accordingly!


In my lifetime, a lifetime of involvement in politics, I can think of no liberal Democratic politician who claimed their democratically elected opponents deserved to be thought of as illegitimate. Not even Al Gore who legitimately won the popular vote and might have won the electoral vote had the state rights of Florida been recognized by the rightwing faction of the Supreme Court which otherwise had a record of always defending states rights.


And I certainly can think of no Democratic politician who has used the terms "lock and load" when motivating crowds to resist laws and lawmakers legitimately elected or suggest if Democratic politicians who are democratically elected to represent the voters pass a law a rightwing Republican doesn't like, then it's okay to say it's time to employ "second amendment rights" and take up arms to overthrow the legitimately elected government.


To deny that the most angry and violent rhetoric is not mainly coming from the rightwing media and politicians is to deny reality. To hurl invectives at me on this blog because I point out the hypocrisy of the right and its influence on the way mainstream media frames stories is childish. Even my youngest child has remarked when watching the news with me how the Republicans act "like big babies if they don't get their way" as he put it.


If Obama and the Democratic Congress had been able to actually enact laws the way they felt they were elected to and didn't have to continually bow to the threat of filibusters and "holds" by the minority over the past two years, we would not just have healthcare reform, as we do, but a simpler and better healthcare reform bill, and the same for financial reform etc.


Have Democrats used procedural gimmicks to thwart Republican majorities when they have been in control, as in the first six years of the Bush/Cheney administration? A little, but mostly Democrats, especially the liberals—but even many of the centrists and "Blue Dogs"—seem able to accept election results much more gracefully and reasonably, with that humanist spirit and perspective that is at the base of liberalism.


That just isn't the case with most Republicans, and certainly not for the most rightwing of that party, which has an undue influence as we've seen over these past many years.


The way our democracy used to work, with the exception of the Civil War, which many on the right seem to be nostalgic for (see Texas and Virginia and South Carolina, et. al.), one party would win an election and run the government the way they thought it should be run until another party won and then it was their turn.


But ever since Reagan, when the rightwing took over the Republican party, that party has treated any elected Democrat as illegitimate and even our democracy as illegitimate, in the sense that they deny the right of the government, which is run by people elected by us, to do their job the way they have been elected to do it.

To have a reasonable discussion of the differences in the two main parties idea of how elected officials should govern, what kinds of programs would best serve the common good etc. is exactly what we should be doing. But it is almost impossible to do that when the right frames all arguments as you either support their argument or you deserve to be called traitors and accused of deliberately destroying the country etc.

I have to talk down liberal friends almost every day from either overwhelming rage or deep despair at the ways in which the right has managed to distort the argument from differing points of view to "real America" versus Kenyan socialism and all the other specious arguments based on rightwing framing that doesn't allow for fact-based debate.

I'm writing this after driving a distance and needing to get some sleep so it may not be as articulate as I would like, but I wanted to get on record a response to the latest mean spirited name calling that my once old friend had been sending my way via his comments (and he's out West so he may get some more on while I'm asleep that I will probably delete tomorrow when I see them) only because they represent so accurately (and even parrot, as usual) the rightwing media stars and their followers, and cannot be allowed to go unanswered.   

PS

I'm sure you've seen it on the news already, when Sarah Palin included Congresswoman Gifford's Arizona district on a map of Democrats Palin wanted removed from office and for that purpose Palin's map used the symbol for gun site crosshairs, Gifford said: "Sarah Palin has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district and when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there are consequences to that action."

But since Congresswoman Giffords was shot in the head point blank in Arizona by an assassin whose rhetoric in writings and videos disclose the influence of rightwing arguments on his thinking (especially against healthcare reform and monetary policy that many rightwing media stars and politicians claim will lead to the end of America and our freedom and thus they call for desperate measures to prevent that) neither Palin nor any other prominent rightwing media or political figure has taken any responsbility for these kinds of rightwing provocations.


In fact, many on the right are saying on news shows that these things have nothing to do with party politics and can happen to anyone and that both parties are to blame or both conservatives and liberals or right and left, or even worse, some are claiming it's the left's fault!


As in a comment on my last post by the rightwinger who has comandeered the comments section of my blog on and off for years now to spew his vitriol and when challenegd turn around and blame me or others whose comments come from a more liberal and humanist perspective. He is already mouthing the furthest rightwing response to the tragedy in Arizona by trying to paint the assassin as being either a "pot smoking leftist" or liberal motivated by leftist rhetoric (the commenter even ended up in his latest comment—that I deleted—blaming me for this assassin's actions!) 

TOO FAMILIAR TRAGEDY

I'm not near a TV and haven't been since yesterday, so I've been getting the news from the internet. But this whole tragedy in Arizona is bringing up deep emotional memories of what they call "the 'sixties"—meaning the late 1960s early 1970s—when this country seemed to be breeding violence and assassinations.

I was a so-called "revolutionary" (according to some news reports, my term was "radical activist") taking part in all kinds of demonstrations and actions, as well as making speeches and writing articles and columns, and even running for office (on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket).

A lot of my anger was against the racists still promulgating their hatred and violence toward anyone challenging their domination, mostly in the South, and toward our government and its representatives, like LBJ after he got us mired in Viet Nam, and especially Nixon and his Republican minions who made that situation worse and created the whole atmosphere of "enemies" lists where only those who supported his policies were "true Americans" and those who didn't were "traitors" (I had seen the same thing as a kid during the McCarthy era).

The deaths in the Civil Rights struggles here and in the war in Viet Nam, including of people I knew, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the refusal for a long time of the conservative media to cover any anti-war activities any way other than sensationally, all further fueled my activism.

But when those students were murdered by National Guardsmen and police at Kent State and Jackson State et. al. I wrote articles and columns in leftist papers saying that some rhetoric from the left, that I may not have used but I did show support for (i.e. from The Panthers, The Weathermen, etc.), had contributed to the atmosphere that made those deaths possible.

Even if it's clear that almost every time these tragedies happen it is someone on the left or the center who is the victim and someone on the right—usually a pawn of more powerful figures and organizations—who is the one responsible.

It is difficult not to rage against the rightwing leaders and spokespeople and media stars who act as if their provocative statements conflating anything other than their positions with treason or lack of patriotism or contributing to the demise of "real America" and our personal freedom—including Glen Beck's pernicious lectures about how Obama and his fellow Democrats intend to subvert the dollar as our national currency and are actually aiming to destroy this country, and others like him from Limbaugh to Bachman and Palin et. al.—and always exempt themselves from any blame for the continuing string of violent attacks on government officials and offices.

In every instance—from the guy who killed that guard at the Holocaust museum in DC to the guy (they all seem to be guys for now, while the women, Palin et. al., seem satisfied to just provoke this behavior) who shot those cops because he believed Obama and the Dems were coming to take his weapons away to this latest cretin and his possible accomplice—there have been no apologies from those on the right who provoke this kind of behavior by telling their fans to "lock and load" and use gun site images to mark the Democrats they want to see defeated (both of which Palin did) or declaim that the simple two party politics that has been going on in this country for decades and basically centuries will somehow lead to concentration camps for rightwing white "Americans" etc. if one party, the Democrats, are allowed to hold offices they have been voted into!

It is clear that there is little or no remorse from many of these people—no matter how many messages of condolence they send—because they don't change their message or their behavior. They should be held accountable. And so should their corporate sponsors.   

Saturday, January 8, 2011

RIGHTWING MEDIA BIAS

How many people do you think know that from February 2001, Bush’s first full month in office, through January 2009, his last, the economy added about 1 million jobs, but in 2010 it added at least 1.1 million jobs?

Nancy Pelosi has announced that Obama and the Dems created more jobs in 2010 than President Bush did over eight years.” But just like the media ignored her historical run as Speaker of the House by putting Newt Gingrich on their news and opinion shows and John Boehner and other rightwing Republicans on the covers of their magazines and newspapers during her tenure BUT NOT HER, as they have ignored the fact that she may have been the most successful Speaker of the House in modern history and certainly one of the most successful in all U.S. history, they are also ignoring the reality of the history of job creation during Obama's first two years vs. Bush/Cheney's eight by making Boegner and the Republican propaganda machine the ones who frame this story.


Man I get awfully sick and tired of the rightwing media bias. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

NOT SO LONE STAR

Texas has recently been touted by rightwingers as a model for cutting taxes (and unions etc.) and spending (on education and social programs etc.) and ending up being fiscally viable anyway.

Until now. (See this NY Times column by Paul Krugman as one fact-based analysis.) But the mass media still isn't telling the real facts, the real story, of Texas. Recent data show that Texas now compares unfavorably to supposed "third world" or "developing" countries, in many ways. They may have one of the lowest percentages of workers (even public workers) who are unionized, but partly as a result the income gap between rich and poor Texans is greater than it is in Venezuela and Nicaragua!

They may have cut state spending on many programs, including education, but partly as a result they rank around 34th among the states in education. Etcetera. And now, they don't even have the surplus they were bragging about not long ago but instead a projected deficit of 25 billion!

The thing with the rightwing though is they are always happy to martial "facts" that support their positions, but when the actual facts refute (or "refudiate") their positions, they either ignore them or distort them or do the old magicians' misdirection of our attention.

Unfortunately the Democratic Party, which represents the center on the political spectrum of the USA these days, doesn't have its own TV network (ala the Repubs and Fox—MSNBC shows have hosts that rant almost as much against many Democratic politicians, including the prez, as they do against Republicans). And network news, which historically represented the center too, is now either controlled outright by rightwing corporate masters or manipulated by them and their rightwing politician mouthpieces so their news is always framed in whatever terms the right is using on any given day.

The Dems still don't know how to get their perspective and good news across succinctly and in ways that put the right on defense (imagine if Obama and the Democratic Congress had come in swinging at the right and their Republican politicians the way the new House majority is already doing, investigating Bush/Cheney for criminal and unconstitutional actions etc.), so we're probably in for more examples like Texas, where the right takes credit for policies that ultimately lead to disaster for everyone but the wealthy and their corporate masters and when that disaster hits get away with blaming it all somehow on whatever Dems are handy (watch the rightwing Texas gov. blame his failed policies on "Washington" or "Obama" etc.).

"God bless America!"    

Thursday, January 6, 2011

THE COMPANY MEN


THE COMPANY MEN was written and directed (as well as produced) by John Wells, whom I knew in my Hollywood years as a very nice, unassuming man. He produced a play I was in when I first arrived out there, and later he wrote and produced TV shows (starting with CHINA BEACH though hits like THE WEST WING and  the one he had the most responsibility for: ER), some of which I auditioned for episodes of and never got, though he always treated me with respect and courtesy.

Even though we both knew I had acted out during the play when we were both starting out, because of an issue with my then second wife. He didn't fire me that time, but I'm sure he made a mental note to not hire me again. Despite that pure speculation, I like the man and what he creates.

But this is his first time writing/directing and producing a movie.

THE COMPANY MEN is kind of a coda, or PS to UP IN THE AIR. That is, it's a continuation of the story of the impact of corporate downsizing. In UP IN THE AIR it was mostly about those who did the downsizing, and the filmmakers (mostly Jason Reitman) produced what I consider to be a terrific work of art.

THE COMPANY OF MEN is mostly about those downsized, and though the characters are solidly written and beautifully acted, they are at the higher end of the corporate food chain and thus, from my perspective, more difficult to identify with. Affleck's character is the one we are meant to identify most with and he does a great job, especially aided by Rosemarie DeWitt playing his wife and Kevin Costner in an almost thankless role of his brother-in-law (Costner has been doing really fascinating work as an actor since relinquishing his leading man status, this role alone was worth watching the movie for).

But Affleck is terrifically supported by the entire cast, including Tommy Lee Jones, always at the top of his game no matter the venue, and ditto for Chris Cooper who has one of the most difficult portrayals in the film and pulls it off with his usual intensity. The big surprise for me is Craig T. Nelson, who I knew casually in Hollywood and liked, but discovered here a new dimension to his acting chops, which has to be credited to Wells' directing.

So Wells did a great job casting and directing, and as a once movie actor I appreciate that totally. As for his writing, in THE COMPANY MEN, it's good, though a little obvious, with the weak point being that he's viewing the recent economic troubles through the lives of those, like I said, on the higher end of the food chain, making them seem almost more vulnerable than those at the lower end.

Maybe that's just the result of Wells having been at the higher end for most of his career and seeing the vulnerabilities and precariousness, even there, more clearly, writing about what he knows best. And the writing is, for the most part, really well done. Despite the inevitability of some of his characters' choices and outcomes, there's a lot of subtlety to the individual scenes. The cinematography seems a bit washed out, which may just be a result of shooting it digitally (I don't know if that's right or not) and/or may be intentional to give the feel of lives being reduced to less than they were etc.

But in terms of my comparison to UP IN THE AIR for instance, it makes THE COMPANY MEN seem less artistically ambitious or accomplished, for me. But those subtleties I referred to redeem it. Like a scene where people in the corporate parking lot carry boxes with the contents of their desktops and drawers to their cars. It's shot from the perspective of a higher up worrying about his own status as he looks out the window, but from an angle that at first allows us to only see one person, and then slowly realize there are others. But rather then make that any more obvious, Wells chooses to keep most of them out of the frame and therefore the audience's perspective, just enough to know what the character who's looking out the window is seeing, a much larger (and deadly silent, from this window) exodus.

There are many scenes that are directed and written (or perhaps later edited) to keep the emotional perspective personal and not strident. And in the end, Wells can't resist a bit of uplift (unlike UP IN THE AIR), so the film feels pretty satisfying, though smaller than it could have been.

I would recommend it just for the acting, especially, as always, Tommy Lee Jones. Though I did find it difficult to accept Maria Bello as Jones's character's lover. She seemed miscast, only because Jones looks so much older and physically less vibrant or attractive than he ever has before. I know there are relationships like that (obviously, I've been in them!), but it still was jarring to notice how much Jones's shoulders seem to have diminished and his gut grown while his character is being projected as the object of attraction for this obviously much younger and model attractive woman.

But Wells has trouble with Affleck's character's wife as well, portraying her as much more accepting and willing and understanding and supportive and never worried or depressed by the family's financial downfall than any woman I've ever encountered, no matter how working-class or even poor their background may have been.

But aside from those caveats, or despite them, I was engaged throughout this flick by the acting alone, and other rewarding aspects of the film only added to that engagement. Check it out for yourself when you can and let me know what you think.