just another ex-jazz-musician/proto-rapper/Jersey-Irish-poet-actor/print-junkie/film-raptor/beat-hipster-"white Negro"-rhapsodizer/ex-hippie-punk-'60s-radical-organizer's take on all things cultural, political, spiritual & aggrandizing
Sunday, July 31, 2011
ONCE AGAIN RIGHTWING FRAMING WINS
The "debt ceiling" deal with its deficit reduction proposals so far looks like a win-win for the right. What the country and its economy needs is jobs and more money in the pockets of the poor and working people who always spend whatever money they get because they barely get by as it is.
Most economists agree that when the economy is weak—as it has been since Bush/Cheney created the largest deficit in history after inheriting the largest surplus in history—what it needs is more money put into the economy, and since corporations are sitting on the largest profits in history and contributing nothing (in fact in many cases TAKING taxpayer money) the only source of money is government spending.
But instead of putting more money into the economy (it began rebounding as soon as Obama got in and created his "stimulus" package, but that stimulus is mostly done now so the economy is sinking again) the right and the Republicans, that cater to it or buckle under to it, got the media and everyone else, including the president, to start talking about cutting spending, which obviously means cutting jobs, which obviously means more people out of work (making the Dems look bad, a win for the right) and therefore less consumer spending, which was the main generator of the economy, and thus a worse economy (another win for the right as it makes the Democrats look like they can't the the economy back up enough).
So if the deal announced tonight goes through, the Democrats have won nothing except putting off the next debt ceiling fight to after the 2012 elections, while the Republicans have won almost everything they wanted, including cuts to medicare etc. As one of the members of "The Black Caucus" put it tonight on MSNBC, if said if he were a Republican, he'd be partying tonight.
I guess the rest of us can just "tighten our belts" even tighter and put off that visit to the doc.
[I left that "if said if" in as an example of the post brain-op writing challenges I continue to have, making it necessary to correct more of these kinds of "mistakes the later it gets and the more tired I am. Which probably happens to non brain-op folks too, but just figured I'd leave it in and note it as a sign of where my particular brain is at at the moment.]
In the midst of the political madness brought on by the actually unpatriotic (on some levels "traitorous"—at least by their own past standard use of that term for those who opposed them) positions and behavior of the right...
...it was nice to spend an afternoon being reminded of what matters as I watched my thirteen-year-old and his almost thirteen-year-old nephew play two side by side drum sets on a stage before several hundred audience members at their "rock" camp.
They backed two different sets of musicians. On their first time out they backed an older teenage boy singer, and and older teenage girl guitar player, and their twelve-year-old friend making his debut on lead guitar. The spirit and the commitment, but especially the talent of the two Lally boys and their friend was so refreshing it made up for any disillusion caused by the inability of any force to stop the continuing damage being done to our country by the forces of rightwing corporate power (turns out Murdoch only paid 6% in taxes this year and General Electric is moving its x-ray division to China...ad infinitum).
Then they came out later to back an eleven-year-old new friend playing a song he wrote for guitar and played with the help of an instructor on an amped acoustic. On this number the two boys on drums, my little guy and grandson, could be seen and heard even better as they matched each other in keeping the groove solid while appearing nonchalant about it in their matching black-rimmed non-prescription-for-style-only glasses (my grandson in an LA baseball hat and my youngest in a summer panama style fedora).
My heart overflowed as they brought home to it once again what really matters in life. Seeing the ones we love doing what they love and vice versa.
[Sorry no pics or video, but I'm not much with technology and always felt that no kind of film or zeros and ones can capture moments like live music anyway, you have to be there.]
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY ON ANOTHER ASPECT OF THE WEALTH GAP
Here's a really perceptive angle on the current crisis that I haven't heard much elsewhere. Worth watching to the end, at least to me. I love watching and listening to truly intelligent and well grounded experts in their field (like the climate scientists who actually work with climate change in the field, or someone like Robert Reich who has more expertise and experience than almost any commentator out there on the current economic crisis and its impact on jobs etc.), And I have been digging this lady for a while now. Give her her own show is my plea.
I periodically remind myself, and friends who become convinced that life as we know it is coming to an end, or the world is changing for the worse, etc., that things ain't as bad as they often have been in the past.
Maybe it's because my Irish grandfather, my father's father, was born and grew up in a thatch-roofed peasant's home in Western Ireland that had a dirt floor and housed a pig and some chickens along with all his siblings and his parents.
Or that my father had to drop out of school in seventh grade to go to work to help support his family. Or that I worked for my father in his home repair business for "room and board" when I was a kid and so had to get other extra jobs to have pocket money etc.
My two grown children grew up with the financial ups and down of a father who lived by his wits and made money mostly from creative endeavors and with a lousy head for business, but they always had good places to live and good food to eat and good schools to go to and were exposed to all kinds of cultural and educational opportunities and experiences, way beyond anything my grandfather or father or my younger self had.
Or maybe it's because my parents went through the Great Depression where they lost everything and ended up living over a garage with my three oldest brothers and then lost that rental in a fire and eventually worked their way back into a home, the one I grew up in, which was very small for all my siblings and me and our mother's mother and "the boarder" and incoming Irish relatives staying until they got a foothold in "the states" etc.
Or my two oldest brothers were in the service during World War Two, etc.
Despite the intransigence of a rightwing Republican strategy that is stupid enough to possibly be creating the end of our country's being the most trusted, at least financially, and creating not just an even worse economic crisis than their former leaders Bush and Cheney brought about in their eight years but a worldwide global economic crisis worse than that as well.
Despite that, the world has still not seen a financial crisis as bad as The Great Depression eighty years since than, nor has the world seen anywhere near the level of violence and destruction of World War Two in the seventy years since that.
In fact, many of the horrible problems of the world I was born into, have either disappeared or been greatly diminished since then. So yes, maybe our government will end up defaulting on our collective debt and as a result our rating will be downgraded and the "full faith and..." etc. of the US government will end up worth a lot less than it has for most of our history, and maybe that will increase interest rates and working people will suffer even more than they have over the past decade and especially since the Bush/Cheney Great Recession was created, and maybe the "American Empire" will finally be forced to fold up its tents and pull back from imposing its military and even some of its corporate might on the rest of the world, but my guess is there still won't be the kind of world war violence that existed when I was a kid or even the kind of Great Depression economic strife when my siblings were kids, though of course the reason there won't be is because of the policies put in place during that period by FDR and Democrats, policies the right is all about wiping out and/or reversing which is a lot of what the present stalemate is about.
But the good news is things have been a lot worse for many and yet we survived, and in some cases, many in fact, we thrived. Most of us enjoy more luxuries and gadgets and devices that make our lives so rich our ancestors couldn't even have imagined it (unless we're descendants of super rich dynasties that go back more than a century like the Bushes). We may lose some of that, or have to give some up, or downsize to smaller quarters or learn to live without, but if we're anything like our ancestors, we'll continue to survive and even thrive despite the odds.
And when enough of us have had enough of the rich and the corporations they control getting richer at our expense, as we have throughout history, we'll do something about it.
RIGHTWING TERRORISM AND INTRANSIGENCE AND KRUGMAN AGAIN
I'm up in the Berkshires for the week while my youngest and his nephew attend a music camp for burgeoning rock musicians. So I haven't been getting my usual dose of news from the networks and cable and NPR etc. Some, but not near as much as usual.
I'm keeping up on the Internet with a lot of the main stories and once again am not surprised that the latest major terrorist attack came from the right, after all the perpetrators of 9/11 were rightwing Muslims. Only the Norway terrorist was of course coming from the European right and, at least from his perspective, the Christian right. Shades of Timothy McVeigh and more proof that the right has done most of the terrorism in recent decades in most places.
The other big story overwhelming those political junkies like me, is the intransigence of the rightwing Republicans in Congress over raising the debt ceiling, something that Reagan did numerous times while at the same time creating the biggest deficit in the history of the USA up to that time.
Reagan was the shining icon of the right at the time and still is, which proves that this current rightwing Republican intransigence has nothing to do with actual rightwing policies and positions but rather with an unprecedented hatred for all things not theirs that they are willing to destroy the country if they don't get their way, their way being whatever their rightwing corporate (ala the Koch brothers et. al., but obviously not all corporate entities as many of them are as baffled by this willingness to bring on an even greater economic crisis as well as destroy the value of US credit and economic stability etc.) masters dictate is best for them.
It's not easy to summarize the situation and positions and Obama has done a reasonable job of it, as in his speech last night that my older son and I watched on the internet this morning. But his delivery and choice of language and examples was more suited to a reasonable classroom seminar or living room discussion with other reasonable people than a successfully persuasive and emotionally powerful anecdotal summation of the problem, ala Reagan or Bill Clinton.
My older son was disappointed as he and many have been with Obama's handling of this situation. Later he showed me Krugman's latest take on the situation, which my son thought nails it for him and those like him, which includes me at times, who have become disappointed in Obama's seeming kneejerk reaction to all rightwing Republican ideological nonsense with amelioration of some kind.
Finally caught this flick on cable the other day after it had been recommended by so many friends as well as critical acclaim.
Most of that acclaim went to the performances of Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster in the two leads. They're both terrific actors (wasn't Foster nominated for an Oscar for his performance in THE MESSENGER?) and I liked them in this, or rather liked their performances for the most part, but...
...for my taste, they were uneven, at times a bit pushed, in ways that had me thinking of them as themselves rather than as the characters. The true revelation for me was Samantha Morton.
Her performance as the suddenly widowed wife of an enlisted military man killed in action is so powerfully understated and real, I had to look her up and be reminded of her equally impressive turns in ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE and Jim Sheridan's great underrated flick, IN AMERICA, and more.
Thinking about the performances I could remember along with this one in THE MESSENGERS makes her right now, for me, the Brando of these times. I hope she's being cast in future movies because I can't wait to see how she'll transform herself to own the characters she's hired to portray. She's now one of my new icons of movie acting. Samantha Morton.
A QUOTE THAT EPITOMIZES THE DIFFERENCES IN THE DEBT/DEFICIT FIGHT
"Republican proposals have singled out some 43 education programs for elimination, but it's not seen as equally essential to end tax loopholes on hedge fund managers." —Nicholas D. Kristof (in today's NY Times)
A lot of my friends have despaired over Obama's concessions to the Republicans (which means these days to the rightwing Republicans since they control or highly influence all political discourse now) but if they watched Obama's press conference yesterday they would have been seriously relieved I think.
The president did admit to giving the Republicans more than they were giving back in negotiations over the debt ceiling and deficit, but he also called them on their intransigence, their allegiance to ideology, corporate power and profits, and avoiding any fair or shared sacrifice on the part of the wealthy over the interests of the rest of us and the good of the country.
He was as forceful and as righteous as I've seen him get, and I felt like cheering pretty much everything he said, even though his centrist and pragmatic positions don't match my more leftist ones. If you didn't see it, here's a link to it.
Did anyone see that article in a recent New Yorker about the heir to the Walton fortune building an art museum in Arkansas? I had just read elsewhere that in 2005 the Walton family's wealth was equal to the wealth of the bottom 140 million of us combined.
That's right, they had as much money as one hundred and forty MILLION of us. You'd think they'd be able to raise the pay at WalMarts and offer better benefits right? But not only do those who do most of the work for WalMart, including the cheaper laborers who make products for low wages elsewhere, which eliminated jobs in this country—from the mom and pop stores Walmart put out of business to the makers of products they import from cheaper labor overseas etc.
The New Yorker article pointed out that the Walton family fortune is greater than Bill Gates's and Warren Buffet's fortunes combined, and that this not so little art museum project from I think her name is Alice Walton managed to get federal money to have a new four lane highway built to Bentonville, Arkansas, the home of the Walmart empire, and managed to get the state of Arkansas to let her museum project be tax free, and when questooned about it she did what the wealthy always do when questioned about all the breaks they get for their projects, be they new sports stadiums or arenas or office buildings or etc.—it's okay because it'll create jobs.
What they never say is that it will create the kind of jobs we need to build these projects of ours and maintain them and they may not pay so well in some cases but everyone will be better off with our new highway or shopping mall (the governor of my state, New Jersey, gave up millions from the federal government to finish a tunnel project already begun, and cut education and police and all kinds of essential services because the state didn't have the money, but developers wanting to build a new mall in The Meadowlands (where the mob used to bury their victims legend has it) he's willing to have the state foot the bill) or art museum in Bentonville (to display her "American art" collection accrued sometimes by outbidding major museums unable to match her fortune) rather than...
...and this is why we're all becoming the new serfs working for the whim of our masters...taxing the wealthy to get the revenue to pay for cleaner energy and new infrastructure that benefits everyone, not just the pet projects of the wealthy.
It's late and I'm too tired to look up the article, but I'll type in a link in the morning. (And I could go on using Murdoch and his empire as another example of this, but nighty night...)
[PS: Here's the link, but unfortunately you have to either be a subscriber to The New Yorker or pay for the article.]
I cracked up watching this last night on The Daily Show, but I also realize that these are just more examples of how the right has mastered the media, e.g. staying on message until their talking point becomes the way the argument is framed (Obama's "obsession with raising taxes" or the wealthy are "job creators") or obfuscating the facts until people are so confused they don't believe anybody, etc.
Started Friday evening with my older son Miles playing bass with his regular band—Bell Engine—at The Gypsy Joynt in Great Barrington. Two terrific sets preceded by his friend Rob doing a one man musical set that showed the breadth of his talent. Left that gig feeling twenty years younger.
Spent Saturday afternoon with an old poet friend—Geoff Young—trading stories and opinions, the kind of stimulating conversation I love, especially with my peers, so to speak (and also got the three latest "chapbooks" of his writing, always a gas but more about them when I've finished reading them).
My younger son and daughter-in-law and grandson arrived back from a week up in Prince Edward Island in Canada, and what a rush to see them all, especially my youngest child who seemed to have grown another few inches in the week he was gone.
Before leaving GB, stopped for my favorite homemade ice cream at SoCo and ran into someone who recognized me as a poet from my L.A. years and the lovely woman he fell in love with there, and introduced me to as his wife, an author herself whose book I will now check out. They both had familiar faces to me as well, maybe just from a moment's passing three thousand miles away. The ways our minds work more fascinating to me since the brain operation over nineteen months ago now than even before it.
The latter part of the reason every day seems like such a blessing even when it's a troubled day, for me or my loved ones. Just the fact we're alive to face trouble seems like something to be happy about. And I am.
PS TO LAST POST: HOW THE RIGHT CREATES FALSE EQUIVALENCNIES TO DEFLECT SCRUTINY AND CRITICSM
Just in case you didn't get the last post or haven't been following the Rupert Murdoch scandal (or bothered to link to the article and video): one of Murdoch's London tabloids has been hacking into people's phone calls and voice messages for many years.
Meanwhile, the Murdoch media empire (which obviously includes Fox News here as well as The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal etc.) has become a supremely powerful influence on politicians and therefore politics not just in the USA, Great Britain and Australia (Murdoch's original media home) but around the world (including China).
So Murdoch's rightwing views were not only being promoted and defended and justified and etc. but they were being used to frame almost all public discussion of the issues raised by current events and projections about future events. Thus the rightwing position of discrediting global warming or "climate change"—or any human contribution to it—predominated in not just Murdoch's media enterprises, but in his and its influence on powerful politicians and governments etc.
The phone hacking by Murdoch papers—especially London's News of the World—of celebrities phone calls and voice messages, or the royal family's, or politicians opposed to rightwing policies and perspectives, was known for years. What caused the present scandal was the revelation that Murdoch's forces hacked into the voice mails and phone calls of victims of murder. Starting with the bombing victims of the terrorist attacks on London subways and buses, and then a thirteen-year-old girl's voice messages after she had disappeared but before her family or the police knew she had been murdered.
Murdoch's hackers didn't just listen in, when the voice message box of the girl's phone became full, in order to receive more messages to be exploited in the paper The News of the World, the hacker(s) deleted messages already received giving the family the false hope that the girl was alive and the police false expectations as well, hindering their investigation.
The sad news is that it took this to unleash a backlash against Murdoch, not the power of his media empire to influence world leaders—as well as too many easily duped followers of his various newspapers and TV networks—and actual outcomes of future catastrophes (imagine if the Murdoch media empire had promoted the reality of global warming and gotten behind politicians and scientists who have ideas for how to slow it down and/or reverse it and save the planet!).
This hacking, by the way, was paid for by News of the World, and its being exposed has also led to revelations of the Murdoch media empire having members of Scotland Yard and other police organizations on their payroll to supply Murdoch's media with information about the people hacked etc.
So, what we're talking about is Murdoch's underlings, the heads of his various media enterprises, paying people to break the law by hacking into their phones and monitoring calls and messages. Which is where this bizarre conversation on Fox News about hacking comes in. The rightwing spin in this segment is the attempt to make it seem that someone hacking into a corporation's computers in order to find examples of that corporation's lying about its true record etc. is the same as Murdoch's organization paying people to hack into the phones of private citizens to find salacious or gossipy tidbits to feed to their news organizations (or hold against the politicians under their influence—that hasn't been exposed yet) even in the case of murder victims and their families.
It's mind boggling how obviously false the attempted equivalencies between these two kinds of hacking are in this video, and yet you know that the typical Fox News follower will most likely accept it, because they have been trained for years now to accept these kinds of illogical syllogisms that are the basis for almost all rightwing perspectives and propaganda.
I.e. Hacking is bad, especially big corporations getting hacked into. Murdoch's big corporation is involved in a scandal having to do with hacking. Therefore Murdoch's corporation is a victim, like the other corporations mentioned, of hacking which is an evil that should be dealt with.
They do this with pretty much every point in their ideology, especially their current resistance to any taxes on wealthy corporations and individuals. Despite tons of economic statistical evidence that we now have the largest gap between rich and poor of almost any nation (yep, that's right, not just the "advanced" economies but some of the worst in the "developing" world etc.) and that higher taxes on the wealthy have mostly been throughout history part of economic boom times and that cutting taxes on the wealthy had done nothing economically for the rest of us (as I mentioned in yesterday's post, since taxes have been exponentially reduced for the richest among us starting under Reagan, real wages and income for all but the wealthy have either remained stagnant or declined, while that among the wealthiest has risen in the case of corporate CEOs sixty per cent (60%!) and even higher for other rich people!
While job creation in the same times has only gone up significantly under Clinton after he re-established tax raises for the wealthy. Et-endlessly-cetera.
Once again, here's the video that started all these reactions:
Thanks to my old friend Ray DiPalma for hipping me to this quote in which more than 35 years ago Holwin' Wolf predicted the first black President: "You know, they called us 'coons'—said we didn't have no sense. You gonna wake up one morning, and a coon's gonna be the President." —Howlin' Wolf from "Coon on the Moon" on THE BACK DOOR WOLF, recorded in 1973
The two best love stories of this year so far (and maybe longer) are Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and Mike Mills' BEGINNERS.
BEGINNERS is maybe a little darker and not quite as spectacular, but it's equally as original and well written and directed and it's only Mill's second feature as far as I know (the first was THUMBSUCKER which I missed but now will seek out).
The story and editing are so clever it's almost an art project. But then the story is so classic yet fresh (the struggle to find love and keep it, with the weight of the past and parental imperfection (which in this case may be an understatement from the child's perspective).
In some ways it's a more engaging simplified and hopeful version of the bolder project: TREE OF LIFE.
And the directing and acting are a total treat. Ewan McGregor is terrific as he always is. Christopher Plummer has gone from being, for my taste, a kind of over theatrical stiff to blossom in recent years into a complete original on top of his game (see his Tolstoy characterization in LAST STATION). But this may be his crowning achievement.
And Melanie Laurent is a revelation. Her performance is the heart of the movie. But the real surprise for me was Goran Visnjic, the big Eastern European hunk from ER. He plays the most unique and moving "gay" man in movies to date. (Mary Page Keller in the smaller role of the mother is also a delightful surprise, though a darker one [most of her scenes are superficially comic and light but with an ominous undertone].)
BEGINNERS is not as light as the trailer makes it out to be or as MIDNIGHT IN PARIS [though there are plenty of light and even comic moments as good as anything in a Woody Allen movie]. But it's definitely romantic and hopeful despite some of the sadder aspects of the story and the characters. And ultimately heartwarming in the least cliched way that word implies.
I highly recommend it. (And the two good friends I went to see it with, as well as the two who recommended it to me, also totally dug it.)
I noticed that even the NPR news reporters keep saying the difference in the debt ceiling/budget fight between Democrats and Republicans (by the way those two issues were always separate until the Republicans decided to tie them together) is that Republicans want to "cut spending" and Dems "raise taxes."
Which, of course, is a lie. The Democrats want to cut spending, and have offered cuts three times the amount of revenue they want to raise by raising taxes on the richest few to what they were at the beginning of the last Republican administration's tenure. But all the Republicans are willing to do is cut spending on programs that impact poor and working people without even being willing to cut tax loopholes for oil companies that get subsidies from the government despite record profits and tax corporate jets which aren't taxed now because Republicans have been doing their best over the last several decades to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Just one statistic is that real wages for almost all of us have either remained the same or GONE DOWN since the 1970s, but corporate CEO salaries have gone up over sixty per cent! But the right has framed the public discussion so well that even the "liberals" over at NPR make the simplistic and incorrect division between Republicans cutting spending and Democrats raising taxes, an obvious and glaring misrepresentation of the two main parties' positions.
And to add to the rightwing framing, even NPR now calls the president "Mister Obama" after referring to him once as "President Obama." The right tried making that the standard under Clinton because they choked on calling him president because rightwingers don't believe in democracy but in ideology. No one ever called President Eisenhower "Mister" when he was in office. Just more proof that the rightwing strategy of denigrating teachers and public school systems in order to make the electorate less able to use reason and logic to understand political issues is working.
I feel like I was celebrating youth most of the weekend. On Saturday I saw a matinee of Michael Weller's play MOONCHILDREN, which played on Broadway back in the 1970s briefly and ended up a big hit off-Broadway (see this review I found online for a general idea of the production). It was directed by my old friend Karen Allen and she did a terrific job. No, Weller and her weren't the youths I had in mind, though they sure prove themselves to still be youthful in many ways.
The play is about a bunch of college students sharing an apartment in the 1960s just before, or as, things began to get really crazy, so most of the cast were college age or close to it. I'd seen the play before and knew it from having read it back in the day as well, but some of the performances in this production at The Berkshire Theater Festival in Stockbridge were better than anything I'd seen before or imagined.
I wish I'd seen the Broadway production with James Woods and Kevin Conroy and other actors I've known and whose work I admire, especially when they were first starting out, long before I joined them in that profession. But I felt like what I saw Saturday afternoon was almost a new play.
I especially admired the endings of a couple of scenes that I didn't remember and it turned out they were Karen's additions. Weller was at the performance and told me that, when I mentioned them, and said he thought they were brilliant additions. That's the sign of not just a secure writer, but a secure adult!
The kids in the cast who were born decades after the play was written and the time it's set in, seemed to have incorporated the styles of comedy that were around when they were kids, giving their characters a timelessness, not confined by the period. Though I suspect some of the younger members of the audience could have used some footnotes about what it was like to be faced with the draft during the Viet Nam War if your number came up.
There was a benefit afterwards for The Writers Guild Foundation (of which Weller is the president or whatever the title is for the person running it), something started by the New York office of The Writers Guild East (which I'm a member of). For a great cause, helping the caregivers (usually wives or mothers) of veterans suffering from our more recent wars. Care for caregivers. Not a bad idea, and I'm proud to be a member of a union that does work like that.
I saw some old friends and made new ones.I reconnected with people I'd met over the years but hadn't really spent much time with. It was a lovely weekend in The Berkshires, with the benefit barbecue (to raise money for the foundation) at a home someone had offered that had a mountainside view that was breathtaking. The weather was perfect too.
How can you go wrong with spending your Friday afternoon and early evening with your daughter and her husband and their little girl, then the night seeing your oldest son play bass in a cool joint backing some terrific musicians and a thirteen-year-old creative spirit, get up the next day and go to your old friend's place where you spend the rest of the weekend, starting with an entertaining and engaging performance of a "modern classic" written by someone you know and admire and like and he and his wife are there sharing the same house for the weekend along with another old friend, and her daughter (Norma Kuhling, watch for her name to come up in your future awareness of up and coming actors) is in the play, making her debut in The Berkshire Theater Festival, and whose performance is the highlight of the play (along with an old friend in one of the more adult roles, Kale Brown, playing the landlord)!
And that's followed by the benefit with the beautiful vista and old and new acquaintances, followed by an evening back at the house having great conversation only to get up the next day and prepare for a picnic for the cast and crew of the play at which these young actors play volleyball (I helped set up the net before they came and of course it fell right down but they fixed it—and seeing Michael Weller, who is my age, playing I had to prove I could still play too and did, missing the ball that came right to me for the losing point for our side (so much for trifocals and impressing the mostly young cast and crew)!
But on a beautiful day, surrounded by the beautiful natural wonders of the Berkshires countryside and the beauty and vitality and freshness of the young cast and crew (and great conversation with many of them as well as with those who were closer to my end of that age spectrum). And then a pleasant drive back to Jersey and my youngest son's pet rat "Muzzie" to care for while he is away in Canada.
Life IS good, if I let it be, despite the eternal bad news of history always in the making, including my own.
Up in the Berkshires this weekend at a great newish bar and eatery called "The Gypsy Joynt," I went to see my oldest son play bass behind a pick up band backing Caroline Mack. I'd heard about her.
Her father Todd Mack is a guitar player/singer/songwriter whose a fixture on the music scene in The Berkshires (he was on guitar Friday night and one set was just him without his daughter doing his own songs and some covers). She's been singing with him for several years (see the YouTube video below).
But she's thirteen now and her voice has grown stronger and her register a little broader and she writes her own songs, words and music. She comes across in the little stage patter she does as even younger, self-conscious yet almost giddy with delight at being on stage playing her music the night I saw her.
But once she opens her mouth and sings, especially when she's playing keyboards and singing a song she's written both music and words to, it's like her voice is that of another person. It isn't one of the competitive TV shows like "American Idol" kind of "show biz" razzle dazzle performance or perfect pitch prowess virtuoso performance at all.
She still sometimes fiddles with her dress or seems like she'd rather not draw attention to herself, but her voice is assured, confident, and powerful. I picked up her latest CD with just five tunes on it (they were selling it for just five bucks) and it gives a taste of what I experienced Friday night, but not nearly as uniquely.
Maybe it was the musicians(who were great on a second guitar and drums and my son on bass, I can't remember everyone's name unfortunately) and definitely the arrangements. Or that thing that happens when you hear music live sometimes and everything clicks, even if just for a moment. There was more of a presence Friday night of her keyboard playing too, the foundation of most of her own songs. Especially on the title song of the CD "Because of You."
This tune was so catchy and engaging I could see it going viral on YouTube and becoming a new teen anthem, or at least teen girl anthem. The hook is a clever repetitive "because of you, you, you, you you, you" etc. Haven't we all felt that way, and not just as teenagers.
I hadn't been feeling a hundred percent when I entered The Gypsy Joynt Friday night, but by the time I left I was. The power of live music, or the communal experience of sharing it with a packed house including folks I know, like bandmates of my son's from Bell Engine and others, or maybe just the power of this young girl's creativity and her commitment in sharing it, turned my day around.
I keep writing and talking about that power, the impact of our fellow humans' creative efforts on my heart and mind and soul (and health obviously), and the ways in which it brings rewards so far beyond anything a corporate entity can deliver. It saves my life in more ways than one over and over again.
And when the heart of that impact is coming from a thirteen-year-old just beginning her journey, it just makes me smile and say thank you to the universe and the human spirit that transcends all the petty jive the corporate power structure imposes on our world.
Here's a performance (in front of a large live audience) of Leonard Cohen's great anthem "Hallelujah" that she did with her father almost two years ago (the lower range of her register is weak on the endings of some phrases, and her voice cracks now and then, but if you watch it to the end you can hear the potential power in her that was more evident Friday night and I suspect will really blossom as she does.)
A few days after my cousin-in-law passed, my last brother-in-law followed. I won't make his memorial in Florida but my heart goes out to his and my late sister's (she passed back in the 1980s) two daughters.
My oldest sister met him when they were both in high school. He was a tall blond youngest son of Polish immigrants, a high school basketball star and in my sister's eyes "a real catch." Before they were married he joined our local police force, along with one of my brothers and other members of our extended clan.
Below is a collage of family photos I put together for the back cover of one of my early books—THE SOUTH ORANGE SONNETS—in which he appears twice, in his police uniform just below the right bottom corner of the photo of me and my dad and three older brothers, and to the far left of that on the edge of the collage in a bathing suit down the Jersey shore in the 1950s (Belmar for those who know the shore).
He also took over my father's home repair business as a second job, and before he did, which happened after I left home at eighteen, I worked with him throughout my high school years on the houses of what we considered "the rich people" in our Jersey town.
We had a problematic relationship, mostly because my father acted like he was not just another son but a favorite who wasn't playing jazz and writing poetry and generally not doing the kind of "work" work my father believed was necessary for stability and happiness.
But he was good to my father, giving him more attention and assistance than I did, taking him into his and my sister's home when dad got old and basically retired, and driving him to Florida for his annual winter week at the track there, and generally following "the ponies" up and down the East Coast depending on the season.
My brother-in-law lived in Florida with his second wife since his retirement, so I didn't see him much. But he was at my last brother to pass's funeral a couple of years ago. And he sang along with the old songs and suggested others, especially calling out for me to lead the lyrics (thinking I still had the kind of almost photographic memory I did as a kid) when he had our traditional clan after the funeral and repast several days' traveling party at various niece's homes near where their father had lived when he passed.
And the women who were new to our clan commented as they noticed him, "Who's he?" and "He's a handsome man" or even repeating my sister's comment when she first met him, "He's a hunk." He still had his ramrod straight posture and fit physique.
Any death is a kind of shock, even if wished for. The reality of a human life ending is so difficult for us humans to comprehend beyond the abstract or distant. A death in the family is even more difficult to understand, even the extended family. Even when they seem to pile up during certain periods, coming in twos and threes and more, depending on the size of the family.
I went to a lot of funerals when I was a boy because there were so many people in the clan and someone on some grandparent's side was always passing or grandparents themselves were, and the occasional younger person, usually in those days totally unexpected as doctor visits were rare and only when absolutely necessary.
But there's no way around the inevitable. Let's make the most of the pre-inevitable, remembering that in the end it's the family and friends we're connected to that matters most, the love we share and hopefully express as often as we can.
[PS: Here's the front over of that early book with a photo of me and five of my six siblings—the one before me had already passed as an infant. I'm the baby, and my sister who passed in the '80s and whose husband from then just passed, is the older girl in the family portrait. The younger girl and me are the only ones left in this photograph. Just another reason to embrace it all while we still can.]
[PS: The small printer used to publish the above edition of THE SOUTH ORANGE SONNETS in 1972 folded after several small editions sold out and were reprinted, but before I could get the photos back, which is why I posted the back cover instead of just scanning the photos. They're probably in a dump somewhere, rotting away.]
Here's the only photo I could find with some of the cousins mentioned in. yesterday's poet. It's not great for that but it does illustrate the size of families in my neighborhood when I was a kid, at least the families in my clan.
My younger cousin who lost her husband wasn't born when this was taken so she's missing. Her older sister isn't very clear, but she's the beribboned girl almost lost in the upper left corner. My older cousin from next door who was one of my heroes and always a tough guy doesn't look that way as he grins in his cap and striped shirt on the lower left.
I'm the round cheeked toddler at the top right. I also see at least one other cousin and my two sisters and one of my three brothers in this but that's another story.
I went to the funeral yesterday of a cousin-in-law. He passed completely unexpectedly after a hard day's work and commute (he was a lawyer working on a complicated project with people close to two hours away with no traffic and there's always traffic) while watching a Yankees game.
His wife, my cousin, is a few years younger than me and grew up on the same street in our Irish immigrant grandparents house where she lived with her parents and big sister. Her big sister was there along with another cousin who grew up next door to me, the oldest of another one of my father's brothers (still others lived in the neighborhood when we were all little).
My cousin didn't have any children, but her big sister had a bunch who were there with their own grown or almost grown children and they all obviously were heartbroken by the sudden death of a favorite uncle. The stories that they shared at the repast were moving, funny, enlightening and unique.
That's the thing about a life, each one is unique when you start describing the specifics. The general outlines are often familiar or can even seem generic. But the specifics are always unique. There are plenty of lawyers in the world, I've worked for some, hired some, have some for good friends and, like my late cousin-in-law, had some in the extended family. But none of them had the unique personality, or life experiences, let alone work experiences, of my cousin-in-law.
I was moved seeing and being with these three cousins I'd grown up around. The other two are a few years older than me, and back when we all were kids it seemed like we were all ten years apart instead of two or three. Now we're the oldest of the ones we all grew up on the same street with. Except for my last surviving sibling, an older sister closer in age to the two older cousins I saw yesterday, the rest are all gone (though all the ones younger than us are still around thankfully).
But I got to thinking about how the connection between us remains so strong, even though we all have entirely different personalities and have had entirely different lifestyles. My cousin who lost her husband has no children, her husband's family are Jewish, though he converted to Catholicism, I think in order to marry her, and he was an influential and important part of the Republican Party in New Jersey (my cousin's father, like mine, was a stalwart FDR Democrat who worked for the party right up through the 1960s and '70s).
Her big sister, one of the most beautiful women I've ever known (she still has the most beautiful violet colored eyes, like the ones Elizabeth Taylor was always being praised for) married a fellow Irish-American and moved to Connecticut and had a lot of kids and became a writer, among other accomplishments. The kids went to college and the whole family pretty much embodies "the American dream."
My other cousin who was there married his childhood sweetheart while they were still in a sense children (legally minors they were kicked out of ninth and tenth grade) and went to work while they had another big bunch of kids, also mostly sons, who all grew up to be hard working men and women, a lot of the men in the trades, and had their own big families. That cousin even has at least one great grandchild.
His wife passed many years ago and he remarried, and his new wife and he lived in an RV for a long time (now they have something else I forget the name of, but it's a big trailer they pull around in a big pick up truck) and they travel around (been to all forty-nine continental states in it and used to spend a lot of time in Mexico before the drug violence became too threatening) and see the sights and enjoy the leisurely life.
Then there's me. None of us are alike in almost any way, except for our common ancestry and the bond of spending a lot of time in each other's homes sharing holidays and family events and inside jokes about family history and characters, of which I am obviously one as in their ways are they.
We're all gray-haired senior members of the clan now, but when I look into their faces I see the kids I grew up with and around and am profoundly touched by the preciousness of our common history. Including my younger cousin's husband's place in that for over thirty years. My heart aches for her loss but was full of gratitude and delight to be with her and her big sister and our other cousin for a few hours yesterday to relieve her grief with the stories and laughter and just plain physical presence of the four of us who share so much no matter how different our lives have turned out.
Went to some backyard barbecues yesterday and ate more than usual. I don't indulge in too many other excesses these days. But any excess and I feel it the next day.
But I was thinking more of The Founding Fathers and the day after they declared their independence from Great Britain and its king. Or the day after any great change, or the beginning of change, and all the days that follow.
They declared their independence but then had to figure out how to keep it and what to do with it. Which took a while. Writing The Constitution wasn't enough. Over the years amendments were added to it, beginning with The Bill of Rights.
And the process continues. As our president is fond of quoting, the forming of "a more perfect union"—which we were far from doing in the beginning in a nation built on the displacement and often killing of natives as well as the forced bondage of Africans brought in irons to what was declared "the land of the free"—more a goal than a reality.
But it has become more and more real since independence was declared. The celebrations in my Jersey town were distinct, as they have been for awhile, with the variety of "Americans" who come from different lands, or whose parents or grandparents did.
The accents may have changed from the Irish and German and Polish I grew up around, more like Middle Eastern, African, Caribbean and Latin American accents today. But the goal is the same. Independence from oppression and censorship and poverty, and the lack of opportunity, free expression and free elections.
We still have a long way to go before we're even close to perfection. But at least we can get closer as long as we aim for that "more perfect union" and maintain our independence from not just foreign authorities, like The Founders were fighting, but those who would dominate and limit our independence from within, like corporations that defy our laws and regulations and refuse to pay their fair share for the freedoms they enjoy.
Did anyone else hear Rachel Maddow tonight point out that last year, after years of making higher profits than any corporation in the history of the world, Exxon was making—in profits—five million dollars an hour, every hour, all year (or for all my memory knows she may have said fifty million and it wouldn't matter because beyond a certain number it's all so obscenely greedy it seems like a fantasy anyway).
There's nothing in The Declaration of Independence or The Constitution giving corporations the rights of individual human citizens, it took an activist rightwing court to do that. Wouldn't it be nice to declare our independence from the corporations that abuse the privilege of making their profits from our country's citizens and their labor and ideas and resources and so much more?
My son took a ride on his bike yesterday and called me from the park because he'd found a young morning dove with a broken wing unable to fly. I went and got his bike so he could carry the bird in his hands to our place.
He loves birds and wants to work with them when he grows up, and said he knew, and seemed to, how you carry a bird so they don't panic and you don't hurt them. He cared for it overnight and we brought it to a wildlife refuge in "The Great Swamp" up on the mountains Northwest of where we live.
There's a bird sanctuary there. On the way in the car he cooed to it in the cardboard box he'd put the bird in and when the bird seemed to get restless at one point he opened the top and looked at the bird with "relaxed eyes" because, he said, he'd learned that it will calm a bird down if you look into their eyes that way. And it did.
He gets most of his information from the internet and science shows on cable TV. I'm impressed. And when we got to the bird rescue place, they confirmed it was a young morning dove and that the wing was broken. My son said he saw some feathers missing on the broken wing and thought it must have been attacked, so the woman working there said they'd administer antibiotics just in case.
I hope they let us know how it turns out. She said it may not be able to fly again but they can give it a comfortable life despite that.
Thank God for all the goodness in the world, including, in this case, in thirteen-year-old boy.
Finally caught this 2008 documentary that a lot of my friends were raving about and can see why.What an extraordinary story.
In case you didn't see it or don't remember it's about Phillipe Petit's walking a tightrope between the twin towers in the summer of 1974. Only he didn't just walk it, he laid down on it, knelt on it, went back and forth on it, or as one cop witness said later, "danced on it."
It's an incredibly moving experience to watch this film as it had to have been an even more incredible feat to witness live. The emotions still run deep among those closest to Petit when they talk about the actual event, and the viewer can get a taste of that too. I found myself grinning from ear to ear while at the same time tears came to my eyes.
How delightful to be reminded now and then, especially in times that seem so frustratingly bleak in so many ways to so many people (though this has often been true for most times if you perceive it that way), of the amazing capacity of humans, at least some of us, for what can only be described as the miraculous.
That the man was willing to even attempt such a daredevil feat, let alone not only pull it off but playfully, is a tribute to the human spirit!
Phillipe Petit, as others must have observed already I'm sure, paid the highest tribute to those lost in the 9/11 tragedy when he walked between those now long gone towers as they were being completed, up there in the air, almost too high to even see! And just for the pure joy and adventure of it.
[The shot immediately above is of Petit lying down on the wire he's crossing between the tops of the twin towers! And the one at the beginning of this post is him smiling as he walks in the air so high above Manhattan!]
The rightwingers (which unfortunately are the dog that wags the tail of the Republican Party) continue to insist returning the tax rates for the richest among us back to what they were under Clinton (not more than double that they were under Eisenhower) will hurt the economy because it's the wealthy that create jobs.
But the facts show that actually more jobs were created under the tax rates for the wealthiest in the Clinton years than during the tax breaks for the rich under Bush/Cheney. In fact when taxes on corporations and the wealthiest were highest is when the economy was doing best and more jobs were created. When tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest increased under Reagan there was a recession, and when he increased the rates there was a recovery. Thus has it always been. Raise revenues by taxing the rich and the government, both federal and state, won't cut jobs so those jobholders can spend the little money they make on consuming goods and services that creates more demand and therefore the need for more workers etc.
Whereas cut taxes for the richest and for corporations just means a few of the wealthiest among us get to store up more funds for their progeny and take more expensive vacations in their private jets which keeps a handful of luxury jobs going while everyone else is out of work because regular folks don't have the cash to buy anything other than necessities.
Corporations and the wealthy are sitting on enough money right now that they could actually clear up the debt themselves and still be making profits and be richer than the rest of us. When I was coming up Republicans, even Reagan, were reasonable about the need for revenue during recessions to help create a recovery. But the rightwingers now controlling not just the Republican Party but a lot of the media and certainly very successful at framing the discussion about the economy can't be reasonable because their wealthy backers, like the Koch brothers, aren't, and the theorists and propagandists they pay for disallow it.
So their politicians take a stand against any raising of revenue from corporations or the wealthy, and put the burden on the working class including the loss of jobs that puts them in the unemployed and impoverished class. It's a win-win situation for them. The rich get richer, including their corporations, and the loss of working class jobs, even the higher paying ones, damages the economy which they hope will lead to Obama's defeat (Mitch McConnel made that clear from the moment Obama was elected), and make government look bad, which plays to their supposed anti-government message.
But like the Supreme Court ruling defending ultra-violent videos where Scalia writes that you can't really censor depictions of violence because that's protected by the First Amendment, but, he writes that you can censor sex, because somehow people taking pleasure in their own or one another's bodies is more damaging to kids than video games where women are graphically violently literally ripped apart with all the ensuing blood and etc.
[See Jon Stewart's take on this here, but you have to watch his bit to the end to get the full impact. and be prepared for violent imagery.]
Like that ruling, or Michelle Bachman's insistence that she was correct in stating that The Founding Fathers worked to and succeeded at eliminating slavery, even though the only Founding Father she could cite was the son of a Founding Father who was a little boy when the nation was founded, the right is incredibly good at defending their lies no matter how much evidence reality provides that they are wrong.
It's like Bush Junior being unable to answer the question when asked if he'd made any mistakes. They can't afford to allow themselves to acknowledge for a second that they're lying because then the whole house of cards collapses and their attempts to get and maintain power are fatally threatened.
[PS: Another late night post so not my most articulate, but I'm sure you get the point as it's been a common one on this blog.]