Friday, April 29, 2011

A POWERFUL MESSAGE

Thanks to my daughter Caitlin for turning me on to this brilliantly articulate expression of heartbreak caused by the whole birther circus fanned by the man whose name I won't honor. Watch it to the end to get the full impact.

QUOTE FOR THE DAY (ACTUALLY YESTERDAY)

"Oil giant ExxonMobil posted a $10.65 billion first-quarter profit margin today, 69 percent higher than in the first quarter last year"   —news headline for April 28, 2011 (and yes that's "billion"!) 


[And yet the Republicans still resist doing away with the giant tax breaks oil corporations get, and the public buys the "reality" that oil prices are up because of "turmoil in the Middle East" that actually hasn't hampered the flow of oil almost at all.]

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NEVER SATISFIED (THE RIGHT)

Will the right be satisfied now that Obama has finally released the long form birth certificate a lot of them have been clamoring for to prove he was born in Hawaii and isn't a Muslim etc.?

No.

Because it isn't about facts and never is, it's about ideology. Those on the right who have recently backed off the whole "birther" thing—because they saw the writing on the wall and/or wanted to undermine Donald Trump who was eclipsing them and their usual distortions and misinformation and lies—still cling to other non-facts to bolster their extreme rightwing positions, like insisting that cutting taxes even further for the wealthiest among us will somehow "create jobs" when all the charts and graphs and historical records show that not to be true at the level they are at now.

The right is not interested in facts or even in best policies, they're interested in power—getting it and maintaining it and overthrowing those who have it who aren't them. Trump isn't a true rightwinger, he's just an opportunist jumping on the right's bandwagon because it'll get him the news coverage to increase the value of his "brand" and if he does decide to run for the Republican nomination it'll get him the rightwing majority base in the primaries where polls show most in that category still believe Obama is a Muslim born in a foreign country and no amount of proof saying otherwise will sway them from their need to ascribe some form of otherness to this smart black man who somehow became president of "their" country.

But it's a smart move on Obama's part to throw the long form birth certificate into the fray at this point, because it will weaken Trump's position with independents but not with the hardcore rightwing base of the Republican party therefore leveling the Republican-nomination playing field a little and keeping the competition divided and fighting among themselves.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

MORE ABOUT AI WEIWEI

Here's a post from the Ginsberg blog (this one written I believe by dear friend and poet Simon Pettet) about the time Ai Weiwei was detained recently by the Chinese "authorities" (though obviously they are not very authoritative on the power of art and activism either over or underestimating these things almost every time) which has some great links to sites about Ai Weiwei.

SONG LYRICS REFLECT A GROWING NARCISSISM?

Check it out.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011

BERKSHIRE EASTER WEEKEND

Which included an Easter Vigil Mass last night in a beautiful old church in a little old mill town, where the mills are long shutdown, yet the church was packed as we sat in the dark until we lit individual candles one to the next and halfway through the Mass the lights came on, the altar boys and girls rang the bells and the church organ blasted out a hymn sung by the choir up in the loft in back. Brought back memories of my childhood and the theatrical element of my Catholic upbringing.

Followed immediately by a benefit for the Housatonic River which was polluted by a GE plant up in Pittsfield decades ago and is still suffering. The event was held in another old church, this one now a center for mostly folk music and activism, originally the church in Arlo Guthrie's song about "Alice's Restaurant" and now called "The Guthrie Center," full of photos and artifacts from Arlo's life as well as his father Woody's.

The event last night included live music and poetry, and we got there on time to see and hear Bell Engine, the band my older son Miles plays bass in. They are such good musicians and songwriters. I dug every tune they played and the way they played them.

But there was one point where the lead singer and main songwriter John Clarke, and Lisa Anderson, the lead female singer whose voice compliments John's perfectly, began harmonizing on a song that was so familiar and so terrific I thought for a minute it was a John Lennon song but couldn't remember which album it was on, until I realized it's a song my son Miles wrote and I'd only heard him sing while accompanying himself on guitar.

This full on band arrangement came across like a rocking anthem with almost a gospel feel. It touched me deeply and even more so knowing that my oldest boy had created it. I don't think I'm being a proud parent because I can be pretty critical when it comes to the arts I dig. This song, no matter who wrote it, I'd love, and this arrangement would hook me as well no matter what.

And then this morning the sun came out and the weather warmed up and it truly seemed like Spring was finally here at last, as if it had been waiting for Easter morning. By the time we got back to Jersey this afternoon in just the short time we'd been gone most of the trees had sprouted buds and blossoms and leaves and the world where I live looked and looks as lush and colorful as the paradise European settlers thought they were coming to centuries ago.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

TIM HETHERINGTON R.I.P.

Tim Hetherington was killed while reporting in Libya a few days ago, as you probably know. He won an Oscar [woops, I stand corrected—thanks K.—he was nominated for an Oscar] for his Afghan War documentary RESTREPO. But here's a shorter more personal piece. This film diary of his is hard to watch at times but what a work of art.

PS TO READING

Another sweet shot, this one from old friend and poet/producer/artist/director/writer/therapist(et-believe-it-or-not-cetera) Even Brandstein:

[PS: some friends say this doesn't really look like me
but it's such an interesting shot the way the light
fades my forehead and hair out into one bright
top of the head glow that flows into the background
I thought I'd throw it up here for all to see]

Friday, April 22, 2011

READING LAST NIGHT

What a delight! So many old friends, and new too, showed up to support me. A wonderful introduction by poet Vincent Katz, whose invitation to read at another poetry event back on March 18th, 2003 inspired me to write the long poem named for that date, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.

This time Vincent's invitation inspired another long poem, but not quite as long and I wasn't too sure it worked, until I began reading it and could feel that it was generating the kinds of reactions it was meant to.

Lots of surprises, people I hadn't seen in twenty years or thirty in one case (hey Lisa). What was especially nice is, as is often the case, I wove subjects and experiences from today in with events and experiences from the past and there were people with personal connections to me and the past experiences I sometimes referred to, and they were unexpected presences, I was surprised and so pleased to see again.

It's as though giving myself over to the process of creation for that specific event, I intuited their presence or the memories their presence would evoke before they showed up and I even realized it. If you get what I mean. One of the mysteries of art that makes it so sacred to me. I don't mean mine necessarily, though that too, but just the unexpected connections the universe provides if we're open to the possibilities.

Not to get too abstract. When the poem is published online or off, and eventually maybe I'll put it up on my web site, I'll let you know, but meanwhile thanks for all the good wishes and support from those there and unable to be, you were all with me in spirit and in fact I specifically addressed the love I have for my friends even if I don't always express it.

Here's a beautiful shot one friend who was there (the great artist and musicmaker Paul Harryn) took, and I hope he doesn't mind my sharing here:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

READING TONIGHT

Forgive me for one last-minute reminder that I'll be doing a poetry reading tonight at DIA, 535 W. 22nd St. with the poet Brenda Iijima, more info here.

MIAMI BLUES & THE GETAWAY


Over the last few days I had the chance to rewatch these two flicks, MIAMI BLUES and the Alec Baldwin/Kim Bassinger remake of THE GETAWAY.

They hold up each in their way. MIAMI BLUES is the classic, still so unique a trip the ride is worth it. And Baldwin [full disclosure, he's an old friend] along with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Fred Ward are all so terrific it's like an acting class for future movie stars. But it's Alec's show all the way. He's mesmerizing, and his performance is so well calibrated every nuance registers as authentically original, while evoking shades of film noir past in this sunny Miami setting.

It was one of two performances as hookers (the other was LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN) by Jennifer Jason Leigh at that time (c. 1990) that were each impeccably nuanced as well, and each in totally different ways. The same can be said for Baldwin in MIAMI BLUES and THE GETAWAY. In both he plays ex-cons who can be brutal, but each as different as Jennifer Jason Leigh's prostitutes.

As a once film actor I can say that despite some film noir cliches in both these films and some obviousness that can't seem to be avoided (especially in THE GETAWAY, like Tilly's and Madsen's over-the-top yet still watchable badseed antics and Madsen's gratuitous evilness) Baldwin's performances alone make each worthwhile checking out again.

As do the other actors in these films, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Fred Ward in MIAMI BLUES like I said, and Bassinger, Michael Madsen, Jennifer Tilly, Richard Farnsworth, and one of my favorite underrated actors David Morse in a creepy role in THE GETAWAY. James Woods is in it too, but this time he's doing the totally expected without his usual more original edge, and Philip Seymour Hoffman has a small role he kicks ass in as usual (billed back then as just Philip Hoffman) [James Stephens also is brilliant as Tilly's character's poor husband as is Burton Gilliam as "Gullie"].

I've been under the weather again, so to catch a couple of old escapist flicks [even though I don't normally like such explicit violence] fit the doctor's orders, this doctor.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

PS: [FREE] AI WEIWEI

In case you missed the comment on my post [from Katie L.] about one of my alltime favorite artists and one of my few true living heroes, Ai Wei Wei, please go to this Frontline link and watch the entire footage to the end (it's just under eighteen minutes long) and I'll be shocked if he doesn't become one of your heroes too.

There are many unsung heroes in the world, all those kids and others who pulled off the Jasmine Revolution recently, and those right now facing their oppressors in Syria or Libya and so on.

But somehow it is even more impressive when someone has achieved so much in his field that he has, or could have, everything our materialistic society has to offer and yet choose to risk his life and his capacity to continue his creativity just to tell the truth and record it.

That's something I dedicated my life to when I was a boy and have at times lived up to and taken risks for, even been threatened with death and less terminal forms of violence, but nothing anywhere near the risks this man has taken almost on a daily basis for years, and has now been "disappeared for" with no one knowing for sure what is happening to him.

I only hope that his incarceration (or—let's hope not—worse) coupled with his international reputation can spark the kind of insurrection that will finally bring down the repressive rule of one-party Communist China. To me Ai Wei Wei has the stature of a Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi but coupled with the irreverence and creative savvy of Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor.

Let us all work to free him before it's too late, if it isn't already.
[in case you can't tell
that's Tienanmen Square
& Ai Weiwei's finger]

Monday, April 18, 2011

OKAY JUST ONE MORE GREAT TAKE BY KRUGMAN ON THE DEFICIT DEBATE

I know I've been posting a lot of links to Paul Krugman lately, but he's filled the hole Frank Rich's departure from The NY Times caused, and today's column seemed so calmly clear and correct (of course not to anyone on the right resistant to reason) I just had to share it for those who don't regularly read him.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

AEI WEIWEI & PRIVATE MANNING (THE LIMITS OF IMPERIAL TOLERANCE)



I'm sure you've heard about Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who is one of the most successful artists in China and the West. He's one of my favorite contemporary artists. His works are a radical combination of conceptual art and sculpture, performance art and sometimes (or always if you make the connections) politically provocative.

One famous and much imitated series of his called "Study of Perspective" is a series of photographs of his hand giving the finger to iconic places, The White House, The Eiffel Tower, Tienanmen Square, etc. Another is a Han Dynasty urn with the Coca Cola logo on it. His personality and presence are almost as impressive as his art, his wit, and his courage.

He uses social media really well and has a huge following on Twitter, and his international reputation seemed to protect him for a number of years. But he became interested in the 2008 earthquake in which a lot of shoddily built schools collapsed and thousands of students, mostly little kids, died. He wanted to make an art piece using the names of the victims but found out the Chinese government was keeping that information secret, for the usual state security reasons that all governments use as an excuse for secrecy.

In 2009 he was finally attacked by police in a town away from Beijing where he went to watch the trial of an activist trying to get the names of these student victims. The police beat Aei WeiWei so bad he had to have cranial surgery for internal bleeding.

Then about ten days ago he was on his way out of China with his assistant, when he was taken by the police and has not been heard from since. The Chinese authorities have been very nervous since the uprisings in the Middle East and have been cracking down on all kinds of activists and lawyers and artists and anyone questioning their authority or the ways they wield it.

It disgusts me, disappoints me, and saddens me that this amazing man is being held somewhere with no contact with his family or friends or lawyers or anyone outside of the police. No charges have been brought yet but they've said his crime is "economic" which usually means tax avoidance by people without the right connections (sound familiar?).

I've been thinking a lot about him, and about Private Bradley Manning.


I don't have any personal experience with China, except friends who grew up there or moved there etc. But I do have some experience with the military justice system. And I am ashamed of my country for what it has been doing to Private Manning. He's supposedly the one who downloaded (or uploaded I never get this straight) the raw intelligence files to Wikipedia, files that had records of pretty much everything the military were paying attention to and keeping records on in the War in Afghanistan etc.

Some people see that as heroic. Some see it as traitorous. But no matter what you think of it, we have a constitution that makes our legal system pretty clear, but has made exceptions in the past for wartime actions that may harm our war effort or the troops themselves etc. But there is nothing in our history—in fact quite the opposite until the Bush/Cheney administration approved torture—to justify the fact that Manning has been held for ten months now in what amounts to permanent isolation, and at night he's also been kept naked, tactics that more often than not don't get prisoners to reveal secrets, torture rarely does, but does break them down mentally until eventually they become incapable of normal human reasoning.

This isn't to say that the USA is as repressive as China, though obviously in some ways we are, one of the few things we beat them in is the number of our citizens in prison. But the big imperial powers in the world right now are us and China, and we're both guilty of intolerance toward anything that threatens that imperial power. Which to me, seems pretty clear is based purely on fear, not a great motivator for right actions. In fact, acting out of fear generally leads to bad policy, Viet Nam anyone? Jim Crow? The Holocaust? The Iraq War (except that was faked fear, until everything went wrong)? Those who are falling for the fear mongering of the right? Et-endlessly-cetera...

Friday, April 15, 2011

ALMOST TAX DAY (THE DEADLINE'S THE 18TH THIS YEAR)

And this about sums it up (his final statement is obviously meant ironically so the right will miss it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

ANOTHER REMINDER

A week from today, at 6:30 PM at the DIA Foundation on 22nd Street in Manhattan, I'll be giving the second poetry reading I've done since the brain surgery.

You're probably tired of hearing about that operation and its aftereffects but, they seem to be ongoing. My thirteen-year-old has recently started playing his drum set again, using the brushes to back me up on the jazzy riffs and interpretations of the few old standards I remember that I play on the old beat up upright 1800s piano that I grew up playing on and came back into my life when I moved to Jersey and one of my brothers moved to Georgia and left the piano with me.

The ivory on many of the white keys is busted, making some of the notes almost dangerous to play with their sharp jagged edges. But "the action"—as piano players call the touch of the keys and the way they rebound to that touch—is exactly how I remember it from my boyhood and so gives me the kind of pleasure comfort food that reminds you of your childhood favorite dishes do. Only with food, it's always impossible to get it just the way your mother made it, but with this piano it actually is exactly as it was when my mother was cooking that food in our little kitchen for me and my siblings and our father and our "crippled" grandma who lived with us and the boarder et. al.

I stopped playing piano when I was still in my twenties because of frustration with bands and gigs and clubs and whatever, plus I wanted to concentrate on my writing, and only started playing again in my forties. I even played some gigs (like one in Hollywood where Ray Manzarek from The Doors backed me while I read some poems, and after hearing me fiddle on the keys in rehearsals suggested I accompany myself on a few numbers, which I did).

After not having played for so long, I discovered my left hand was even weaker than it had been when I was young. I could comp chords and play some stride style and boogie woogie etc. so there was variety, but I couldn't transpose like I once could, forced to play mostly in C, the easiest key. But my right hand was still pretty facile and I could do runs up and down the keyboard that would impress you with their speed and accuracy and variety.

Not any more.

Since the operation, whenever I try to do some of my standard runs up and down the keyboard, my fingers mess up and the amount of notes I could once fit into a short run is greatly reduced, or worse, I hit the wrong notes.

And yesterday while playing with my little guy, I started playing "As Time Goes By" which I do pretty much the way Dooley Wilson did in CASABLANCA, but where usually I could play that tune old style with my eyes closed, I kept hitting the wrong notes because my hands were spread over the keys so far I couldn't see both hands at the same time and whichever I wasn't looking at would mess up so that I had to bring them closer together and instead of playing stride like with my left played what they used to call "block chords" bunched up in the middle range of the keyboard where I could watch both hands at the same time.

I've learned to accept all this and work with it, but these are just some of the many reminders that my brain isn't functioning as it once was in some areas. E.g. somewhere above when attempting to write "But the" I wrote "The the" and I do that kind of thing over and over again.

It's a lot better than it was those first few months after the operation, but it ain't what it once was. It's only been seventeen months as of yesterday, so a lot of this may yet improve and return to what was once "normal" for me. But in the meantime, I'll do my best to do my best and most folks won't have any idea of the changes inside my head and the ways they impact my life outside my head. But I will.

Kind of got off the subject, which was if you can make it to my reading next Thursday evening in NYC, I'd sure appreciate seeing you there.
(This is me after winning a talent contest at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane Washington sometime in the early 1960s. I actually won that tiny loving cup on top of the piano for "comedy" doing a routine where I played some common ditty like "Jingle Bells" or whatever was appropriate for the season as interpreted by Liberace, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, etc. and did it as though I were drunk as well, which I may well have been looking at this photo!)   

QUOTE FOR THE DAY

"There's nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don't have any clout on Capital Hill."  —President Obama

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

THE CIVIL WAR (AND THE RIGHT)

There's a terrific article on The Civil War and its aftereffects by David Von Drehle in the latest TIME (the one with Lincoln crying on the cover). It's called "The Way We Weren't" and made me realize that what I've been lamenting about the right's mastery at framing the arguments in our public dialogue has been going on a lot longer than I've been acknowledging.

Early on it quotes Lincoln—just weeks before the war began with the shots on Fort Sumter, South Carolina (no coincidence South Carolina has been the font of rightwing lies and distortions)—saying:

"One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute."

And by extended he didn't mean continued, he meant extended into the Western states because the South wanted and thought it needed to expand into the West with slavery as the root of its wealth (as the article points out, the largest source of wealth in the USA in 1861 was slaves. Not even cotton topped the value of the South's slaves).

And even though many Southern leaders made it clear the fight was over slavery, as soon as they lost (and in some cases sooner) they began to reframe the fight as being over "independence" and "states rights" and blamed it on the "aggression of the North" and in retrospect on "shiftless Negroes" (although the n-word was more often used) and "carpetbaggers" (ala THE BIRTH OF A NATION and GONE WITH THE WIND).

That framing is still going on today on this, the anniversary of the day Fort Sumter was fired upon and the Civil War officially began (though as history and the article points out, it really began a few years earlier in Kansas where the "Free-Staters" and "Slave-Starers" had already battled violently). There are libertarians and independents, let alone rightwing Republicans, who share this view and have been seduced by the media in all its forms to believe this (the Internet hasn't helped, as the article points out, though not in these terms, when you google The Civil War you get more of that rightwing framing than good history—a quibble I've had with Google and search engines in general for quite a while, that when you google The Civil War or The Great Depression or other still disputed topics, the right seems to dominate the search lists for the first several pages, probably because they've put some of their big financial backing into finding how to game that system).

Like that recent "celebration" of the 150th anniversary of The Civil War in Virginia—where slavery wasn't even mentioned and they had one of those cotillion balls or whatever—it's all based on a myth—the genteel white folks, the happy slaves, the way of life that's well mannered and ready to defend its honor, honorably etc.

I watched some of the recent rerun on PBS of the incredible Ken Burns documentary THE CIVIL WAR and first of all was shocked to realize it had been twenty years since it was first shown, and then shocked by how good it still is, in fact better than the first time because it resonates even more with these times, unfortunately.

There are so many scenes and stories, factual stories, of Southern perfidy and duplicity and the most dishonorable behavior (I knew about most of the obvious ones, like Andersonville, the Southern prison for Union soldiers that was worse than anything that came later in the 20th Century short of the gas ovens, the Union soldiers just died more slowly and looked dead before they were, as emaciated or more so than the Holocaust victims, and amazingly it was commanded by a "German" immigrant!).

And there are amazing factual stories about the generosity and honorableness and decency and humanity and humility of many of the Northern soldiers and their leaders. Obviously reality usually contains both "good" and "bad" and the North and South and their armies and citizens contained both. But my point is, the North felt humble in its total victory, felt bad for the Southerners who had fought and died and lost so much. And probably also guilty, since it was only eight years before the war started Connecticut abolished slavery and of course the North also had Sherman. So they allowed the Southerners to gloss over the reality of the war, wanting to put it behind everyone (sound familiar? like Obama and many of the Dems after his election vis-a-vis the financial crimes committed by the big banks or the criminal activity of the Bush/Cheney administration?).

The Southerners created their myth of the pre-war paradise where everyone was good and decent, but it also included the Northerners being rapacious and greedy and turning the ex-slaves into rapacious and lazy, etc. Okay I'm oversimplifying, but that's basically what the right did then, oversimplify to justify their defeat. It's like if the descendants of the Nazis got to hang the swastika on their trucks and have Nazi balls "celebrating" the Nazi era and avoided any mention of Jewish or any other kind of victims of their destructive policies and the war they initiated and ultimately lost except to brag about the great fight they put up and their bravery etc.

The original sin of this country was slavery—and The Founders knew it (as Madison said when the Constitution was being written: "It seems now to be understood that the real difference of interests lies not between the large and small but between the Northern and Southern states. The institution of slavery and its consequence form the line."). And the deliberate whitewashing of that sin through denial, revision, misdirection, misinformation and outright lies, was and still is a defense of that evil.

But that kind of defense continues to be done and often successfully by the right today, and not just of the historical and continuing attempts to whitewash the truth of the Civil War and slavery, but to whitewash the truth of the growing gap between rich and poor, the growing submission to corporate power and greed, and the war on working people to take away their right to unionize and of their unions to bargain and strike and all the rest of the right's agenda to finally realize the dreams of Ayn Rand (and her disciple Alan Greespan and follower Paul Ryan) that only the strong and powerful should survive and the rest of us "parasites" should either serve them or die.

Monday, April 11, 2011

RJ ESKOW GETS IT RIGH...CORRECT

Even though I feel I'm among some of the people he's criticizing for writing about "what's possible" given the political and economic (i.e. the right has the big money, etc.) situations, my friend Richard (RJ) Eskow has contributed a post to Huffington Post about the "budget deal" that's so crisp and accurate, reading it made me think, at last, someone has said it the way I'm saying it in my mind (but not necessarily as well when I type up what's in there).
Anyway, check it out here, and read it all the way through, just to enjoy the clarity and logic of it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HOW THE RIGHT ROLLS

Check this out (it's brief), and then ask yourself if Kyl's "fact" will continue to exist and be accepted as valid among the rightwingers who only listen to Rush or watch Fox etc. And then think of all the rightwing lies that go unchallenged, or when challenged the perpetrator doesn't "walk it back" and continues to insist is "true"—or shrugs off as a "misstatement" or "misunderstanding" or blames it on someone else (WMD anyone?).

It's an epidemic of lies, because the media has made it a habit of rarely challenging the right on its lack of, or misrepresentation of, or distortion of, or outright contradiction of the truth (otherwise known as the facts, the positively verifiable, or reality).

Friday, April 8, 2011

"MADDOW"-AND THE WAY THE RIGHT ROLLS

Thanks to TPW for hipping me to this segment (and if you pay attention you'll notice that the Michigan guv is eliminating tax breaks for the movie industry working in his state (they made over a hundred movies there last year because of the tax breaks he's now eliminating), like Christie did in Jersey, and it will mean the loss of tons of jobs and revenue etc. as it has done here. What is it these brave rightwing Republican governors (and I bet there's more also doing it) are so afraid of about the movie and TV business?).

[Oh, and by the way, for the rightwing, especially Tea Party, advocates of blaming everything on the deficit except tax cuts for the wealthy—they want even more of that—their golden boy Paul Ryan's plan touted by them as the solution would raise the deficit by thirteen trillion over the next twenty-one years, way more than their projections for Obama. As usual their math is based on ideology not reality, otherwise they'd have to admit that tax breaks for the rich only work when the rich are paying way more than their share, which they really haven't done since Reagan, but certainly not under Bush/Cheney and the extension of their tax cuts for the wealthiest. One of the less shining moments of Obama and the Dems when they compromised on that to save some basic programs for the rest of us. Bad deal, because you can't bargain with extreme ideologues, haven't they learned that yet? Every time they do, we lose something else the Dems are supposed to be protecting and the right loses nothing because not running the executive office or the Senate (though they can certainly sabotage those who do) means any concession in their favor is a win and any status quo is as well, but they have succeeded in framing anything on the "liberal" agenda succeeding as another sign of imminent Armageddon.

TEA PARTY (AND OTHER RIGHTWING) PRINCIPLES, AND PRINCIPALS

With my post-brain surgery mind, I'm not sure which is which this morning. But it's clear that no matter what some of the rank and file Tea Partyers might believe or think they've been fighting for or standing up for and various rightwingers have proclaimed they believe in—smaller government, less spending, etc.—or what the majority of voters say they want—jobs, jobs, jobs—the Republican Party has brought the government to the brink of a shutdown over a rider concerning funding for an organization that supports abortion even though no federal funding is used for that purpose.

It's all down to the same old "family values" jive (my family or yours?). Obama and the Democrats have made so many concessions they might as well be Republicans lite at this point, but noooooo, the Tea Pasty Republicans are holding the rest of their party and the country, meaning us, hostage until we give them what they want: a country with no mixed-race presidents with funny (i.e suspicious) sounding names, no chance for Democrats to have any say in anything concerning governance, even if they're elected by a majority of voters, that has the at least public values of 1950s "America" but without the unions and social safety net for those of us not super wealthy and definitely without the taxes, which, of course, during our most prosperous times were higher for the wealthy than they are now and Paul Ryan the rightwing Republican golden boy wants to reduce much further while proposing changes in medicare and medicaid that would replace government guaranteed payments with vouchers for us to take to insurance companies and hope they'll honor and maybe pay part of our medical costs, 'cause god knows the insurance companies have done such a great job before the new healthcare system screwed it up with requirements like no denying pre-existing conditions etc.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

THE BORGIAS


The new Showtime series, THE BORGIAS, is a little in the tradition of THE TUDORS, sort of part history, part soap opera, part recurring anachronistic moments, mostly in the language and behavior.

But it stars Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, who in the first episode becomes Pope Alexander IV in 1492 (hmmm) and uses bribery, intimidation and murder, among other nasty tactics, to get and stay there. Though the murders are mostly plotted by his youngest son (you know the old time popes) who he historically appointed as a cardinal when he was only eighteen (though the actor playing him, Francois Arnaud, is in his mid twenties and at times looks like he could almost be in his thirties which is obviously the fault or choice of the creator of the show, Neal Jordan) and is even more shrewd and possibly more ruthless than his father.

Irons is surrounded by an international cast (mostly English, of course, that's the accent we want in our fifteenth century Italians just as for our BC and early AD Romans etc.) that serves him well, and the whole thing being a creation of Neal Jordan's is worth watching despite the melodrama, and too many moments when you feel like you're watching VALLEY GIRL or DALLAS sends their entire casts back to the fifteenth century.

Still, like THE TUDORS, or ROME, before that, it offers a lot of entertaining moments, though not always as intended.

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY SKEWERING

Here's Jon Stewart from tonight's Daily Show putting it to both parties, though as far as I'm concerned, as lame as the Democrats in Congress can sometimes be in standing up for their principles and what they were voted into office to do, they still come out better.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A CALENDAR REMINDER FOR APRIL 21ST

Just a reminder, and in case you haven't noticed the notice over on the right toward the top of my blog home page, the evening of Thursday, April 21st, at 6:30PM there'll be a poetry reading at the art foundation DIA, 535 West 22nd Street, featuring the young poet Brenda Iijima and myself.

It'll be only my second reading since the brain operation (almost fifteen months ago), and if you're in the area and can make it into Manhattan that evening, I'd love to see you there. Here's all the info.

Monday, April 4, 2011

PAUL VIOLI R.I.P.

I just got the news that poet and old friend Paul Violi passed away. He was one of the truly nice guys, someone who rarely had a bad word for anyone, at least around me, even when he was critical of them. I included him in the only poetry anthology I ever edited solely, None Of The Above, and would have included him in others if I'd done them because his work never ceased to engage and entertain me. He was a brilliant man who wore his brilliance so lightly it came across almost as self-effacing. I dug him from the first time I met him and his poetry from the first time I read it.

Here's a post from the first year of my doing this blog when I turned to a new book of Paul's at a time when I needed the juice poetry has always given me in hard times, I titled the post simply: Paul Violi
[Not to be too self-referential, but it is a personal blog and this is personal]

As happens too often these days I didn't keep in touch as I intended to do, but I thought of him often and was always delighted to see him. In fact so much so, I think sometimes my over-the-top social energy and praise made him a little wary or maybe just self-conscious. But I really loved this guy and his work and I figure if you forget to tell people you care about, or whose work you admire, about it, you're oblgiated to when you run into them. Which I always did.

I'll miss him, and know many many others will as well. Our condolences to his family and wide circle of friends who cared about him.

Here's a photo of how I remember him from the early days of our friendship.


[To read some of his poems and see a more recent photo and find his books etc., go to his web site: here.]

Sunday, April 3, 2011

LEE LALLY

There's a post by Terence Winch today on THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY BLOG about my first wife and the mother of my two oldest children, Lee Lally, a poet, artist, musician and political activist who passed around this time of year twenty-five years ago, after being in a coma for six years.

There are photos of Lee on the post, but I thought I'd add three of my favorites of her that I think capture what I loved about her:

Me & Lee in our apartment in Iowa City in the Winter of 1967-'68 not long before our daughter Caitlin was born
[PS: If you blow up the photo and the little photo on the window sill you can just make out that it's John Coltrane.]
Lee holding our son Miles and me our daughter Caitlin outside our apartment in Hyattsville, Maryland in 1970
Lee reading the catalog for a show of poet Jim Haining's "envelope art" (every copy of his magazine SALT LICK had individual artwork in them, and each envelope he sent them out in also had more unique artwork on them, so before sending out the magazine once, he had a show of the envelopes! c. 1972 in Baltimore, Maryland—for more about this period and Jim's wonderful poetry and observations find a copy of his out-of-print A QUINCY HISTORY)


Saturday, April 2, 2011

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

Fareed Zakaria caught my attention the first time I heard him speak, he was bright, articulate and seemingly brave enough to state some pretty obvious truths about the USA that few were willing to admit.

More recently, as he's become an established presence on TV as one of the more ubiquitous of talking heads, the sharp and gutsy intellectualism I first responded to and became a fan of has slid into a more conventional and at times, dare I say it, "lame intellectualism" that makes too many concessions to the right's perspectives than I believe are legitimate.

This article displays some of both those tendencies. Some brilliant analyses and summaries of complex problems and solutions. And some not so brilliant (as soon as an essayist uses the tired metaphor of "cancer" you know they're getting lazy, and anyone dedicated to the truth should stop using the term "entitlement" since it is a rightwing framing device now and has lost its original meaning which was the belief that all of us are entitled to certain rights, like the right to vote and to get help if no jobs are available etc. but now is seen more as a spoiled "I'm entitled" presumption etc.).

But I found it worth reading because he still manages to make several valid points that need to be made consistently these days, like his point about discretionary spending being irrelevant to the debt and deficit issues. Check it out here and see what you think.

Friday, April 1, 2011

MY APRIL FOOL'S DAY POEM

Can't remember if I've ever posted this before on a previous April Fool's Day, but here's a poem from 1975 that's reprinted in my book IT'S NOT NOSTALGIA:

April Fool's Day 1975

The day came on bright and shiny;
I didn't know what to say.
Spring finally here but
on April Fool's Day?
Does that mean more winter tomorrow?
Does it matter? Inside I feel tiny
watching my friends separate again, everywhere,
or the TV letting me know it's not over
over there,
or my special ignorance,
the dumbness only I can confront,
but still don't know how to:
not meditation,
not revolution,
not androgyny or drag in any of its forms,
not even poetry,
not even Spring.
In my heart there are shelves
and on the shelves there are too many books
and too many of the books are worn out
or boring or impossible to understand.
And in my hands?
Those little hearts
the poems that
even when dumb, are sacred.

I'm glad we all aren't naked:
it's not the sixties anymore.
I want to wear nice clothes
and carry on my life behind closed doors.
I want to sit with the rich
or hustling poor and still be myself.
I want to make my kids secure.
I want to share with them
what joy a good night's sleep
with bright and shiny morning
can bring to the heart—
the chance to start
again.