Thursday, September 29, 2011

PS TO LAST POST

Thanks to my older son Miles here's a link to Cornell West visiting the Liberty Plaza demonstrators and their "human microphone"—and Mario Savio in December of 1964 in the UC Berkeley protest against the university's president's, and board of regents', hamhanded response to student requests for some say in the way their lives were regulated, a protest and speech that many believe inspired what followed in the 1960s and '70s, and beyond, in the struggle for freedom for all (I was in the service at the time and married and remember the impact just reading about Savio's speech, just a quote from the segment shown here, had on my wife (Miles' and his sister Caitlin's mother) and me, realizing we weren't alone in our feelings about the changes we hoped for in our schools and governance and society...and future, a future that did fulfill that hope for more freedom for all (until we became complacent and those who would reverse that expansion of freedoms in order to ensure more power and profit for themselves and their corporate leaders, as well as those who knowingly or not serve the interests of those rightwing oligarchs, built a movement of think tanks and media and political lackeys to enable their agenda)...

Hope these young people never get complacent about the fight to keep the greedheads from taking over our world as they so obviously did under Bush/Cheney and continue to resist any effort to take it back from anyone other than their seemingly unwitting defenders (the Tea Party et. al.).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

NOW WE'RE TALKIN'

This reminds me of the old days—what people call "the 'sixties" and the media usually characterizes in terms of style and culture and is influenced by the right to portray in negative ways (violent, destructive, etc.) but was actually mostly about the passion to stop the violence and destruction, etc. being carried out by the corporate powers controlling, or trying to, government and society.

I first was turned on to this earlier yesterday and planned to post it when I got a chance today, and then my older son, Miles, posted a link to it in the comments thread of my last post, so you may have already watched this. As he says it gets really good about three minutes in, though it's also emotionally powerful to me right from the git go because of the "human microphone" technique used by the crowd to thwart police regulations against megaphones and loudspeakers etc.

This so reminded me of non-violent protests and demonstrations in the 1960s and beyond, where I was fortunate enough to sometimes be the one speaking, that it brought tears to my eyes to see that the spirit of active protest against those responsible for the misery of so many is still alive and growing. This is the true spirit of hope and change [and I don't mean Michael Moore, I mean the faces and voices of the young people in the crowd amplifying his message and theirs]!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

PS TO LAST POST

And here's what's being done to those protesting the banks near Wall Street (you have to read the whole thing and watch the video and click on the links etc. to get the full impact).

THIS SAYS IT ALL [AT LEAST ABOUT BANKS VS. THE REST OF US]

Since the Bush/Cheney economic collapse and bank bailout...

...bank profits are up: 136%...

...but bank lending is down 9%...

...!!!???!!!...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sunday, September 25, 2011

TODAY'S QUOTE

"If I recall correctly there is a passage in the novel A LESSON BEFORE DYING by Ernest Gaines in which a black man about to be executed shouts out - 'Save me Joe Louis.' I was thinking of this when I read a black activist's account of how President Obama did nothing to save Troy Davis. Really? What was President Obama suppose to do?  What can a heavyweight champion of the world do when someone is confronted with death? Reaching out for Joe Louis instead of even Jesus is interesting. We seem to think that some people have unlimited power. We still view the presidency with a degree of mystery. If you're unemployed right now do you think Obama is going to find you a job by next week?  Is Obama going to make your bed?  Feed your kids?  Babysit a race?  What is going to happen when Obama is no longer president? Are black people going to return to slavery days?  Will there be a new back to Africa movement?  Obama's lesson to black people is like something taken from 'The Wiz.'
His message is simply - believe in yourself. Obama wanted to be president and he is. What do you want to do?  Do you want to change the world?  Well, start doing it before you die. Don't wait for someone to take your life. The lesson before dying is to live."

—E. Ethelbert Miller (from his blog E-Notes)

THE PALESTINE ISSUE

I was a boy when modern Israel declared itself an independent nation. I had seen newsreels of what our GIs found when they entered the concentration camps, and heard stories from returning GIs in the neighborhood that were passed down to us little kids through older siblings until I'm sure what we ended up with were distortions of whatever the original anecdotes were.

But in both instances what we saw and heard was horrible. It took a while for that to sink in in terms of the ethnic biases of the neighborhood. The main trouble was always between the "Italians" (which stood for both immigrants and their Italian-American offspring whether still little or grown) and the "Irish" (ditto for us).

The other ethnicities in the neighborhood were too few to rally much opposition. They either stayed out of it or sided with one of us as sort of honorary Italians or Irish. Those in the neighborhood who were Jewish or "Negro"—as they said then—got more or less a pass because they were so obviously "other" and yet as familiar in many ways as our own. [PS: And there certainly was a lot of anti-Semitism and racism in attitudes and talk, but there also was a lot of anti-Italianism and anti-Irishism etc. in similar ways depending on who was expressing the attitude.]

To connect our own Jewish friends with what happened under the Nazis didn't seem to happen until we were older, at least for me. By then THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and other books and movies (like GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT and EXODUS et. al.) had made the Jewish cause seem noble and righteous and worth fighting for, and it overwhelmed most WWII history, at least as it was expressed in the culture in ways that elevated being Jewish and the state of Israel to not just a kind of Gandhi-esque purity of purpose, but also a kind of David (as in David and Goliath) underdog warrior iconic stature.

I was aware that the homes and property of many Arab Palestinians had been confiscated, taken as kind of the spoils of war, but it somehow seemed justified for many years. Justified by the attacks on Israel by its Arab neighbors, or by what the Nazis had done, or by what it seemed the whole world had done at what [another one of those strange post-brain-op typos, I obviously meant "one"] time or another to Jews.

And the continued attacks on Israeli citizens continued to justify much of Israeli policies and actions and support for them...until Rabin was assassinated by a rightwing fundamentalist Jewish assassin and Sharon deliberately provoked the second Intifada by going into the Muslim holy site at the Mount and allowed the rightwing settlers to take over more and more Palestinian land which continued under every Israeli leader since, even when gestures were made to remove some settlers and settlements, more were allowed to go up.

And more recently the taking over of properties in East Jerusalem that have been in Arab families for generations and turning them over to urban Jewish settlers and developers. I have no sympathy for the Palestinian extremists, but also no sympathy for Israeli ones. But Abbas established a functioning West Bank that controlled extremism and showed a willingness to negotiate with Israel with only one precondition, that Israel stop taking Palestinian land by allowing its settlers to, settlers who mostly believe that Palestine should never be a separate state but instead should be incorporated into a greater Israel in which Arabs remain second-class citizens or leave.

It's very dangerous for politicians to speak about this without constantly referring to the present Israeli political perspective as the only one, even though there are as many Israelis against the settler policy as there are for it probably. But as in our own Congress at the moment, a vocal and influential rightwing minority has outsized influence and control of the Israeli political establishment and therefore its policies.

Abbas made a smart move, I think, in asking for UN recognition for Palestine, despite all the talking heads on TV taking a contrary view, because it forces Netanyahu's hand. He would lay it on Obama, a man he treated dismissively until this moment, by setting a trap for the president if he doesn't veto the request of the Palestinians. But no matter how bad Israel has been treated by its neighbors, it's hard to read stories about German and other European Jewish descendants of parents and grandparents who had homes and property confiscated by the Nazis and now want compensation, and not think of the parallel (at least in terms of homes and property) situation with Israel and many of its original Palestinian inhabitants and in more recent times on the West Bank.

Once again I should probably not post so late before going to bed because I'm not being as clear as my thoughts seemed to be when I sat down to write this, and I know I will get flack from even some friends. Especially since the media, I noticed, almost never mentions that Abbas has been willing to sit down and negotiate if a halt is made to new settlements, which doesn't seem like too much to ask for the chance of finally ending some of the volatility in the relationship between the Palestinians and Israelis.

In the past, Israel has often turned down the chance to negotiate with the most reasonable of the Arab Palestinians because of the more extremist ones [and vice versa, of course, the Palestinian leaders have missed many opportunities as well], but that has usually ended up creating even more extremists ones, the exact opposite of what Israeli leaders say they intend. Yes Hammas are bad guys, but their Gaza constituents aren't too happy with them either now that they see what Abbas has helped create in the West Bank. So to treat Abbas and his government like some sort of feudal vassal state [or easily humiliated defeated enemy] rather than an equal partner is, I believe, only creating more future problems.

[PS: I added a few bracketed clarifications, I hope, this morning, and this caveat that I know this issue is much more complicated than a single blog post can address, but what has now happened at the UN with Abbas asking for recognition of Palestine is the issue I'm addressing and what I mention is relevant to the discussion, I believe.]

Friday, September 23, 2011

DRIVE


When I recently posted about Vera Farmiga's HIGHER GROUND, and in earlier posts about her, that I don't get why critics seem to fall all over themselves in adulation, comparing her favorably to Katherine Hepburn and Meryl Streep and raving about her glowing Hollywood-golden-age screen presence, I got a fair amount of flack from friends and acquaintances who thing [of course I mean "think" but still making and usually correcting those weird post-brain-op typos that aren't just missing keys but my fingers making a different choice than my brain] she's one of the great screen actresses and/or beauties.

I can see she can be seen as attractive, but I find her often kind of unattractive, and as for her acting I thought she sucked in THE DEPARTED, was good in UP IN THE AIR, and is okay in HIGHER GROUND.

Well, I just recently caught another independent movie that's been getting raves and winning awards and I'm baffled again. The movie's DRIVE, and though I have no reservations about Ryan Gossling's acting chops—he does what's called for in DRIVE in his amazingly understated way and deserves the accolades he gets (though his co-star Carey Mulligan almost steals the movie and for my taste deserves all the acting and screen-presence accolades Farmiga gets—but maybe she doesn't because Mulligan allows herself to look like someone who isn't glamorous, which Farmiga never seems to do in the roles I've seen her in)—at any rate...

...it isn't Gossling's acting I think is overrated at all, it's this whole idea of him being some reincarnation of the handsome Hollywood leading man. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, yes, but Gossling to me seems more in the lineage of a star like Dustin Hoffman than Cary Grant.

It's true that in DRIVE he plays a kind of action anti-hero, and lately has been getting publicity for his body, a "hunk" and all that. But he's an odd looking guy to me, which is part of the appeal. His not being the standard Hollywood leading man gives a kind of power to his usually quiet presence in flicks like LARS AND THE REAL GIRL that makes his screen presence so memorable.

But though he and Mulligan are terrific in DRIVE, as is Bryan Cranston as Gossling's character's gimpy smalltime hustler boss, and Albert Brook's counter-intuitive casting as a mob boss is interesting up to a point, and Oscar Isaac is a discovery for me as the ex-con husband of Mulligan's character (Christina Hendricks of MAD MEN fame is wasted though in her literally disposable role of a mobster's moll), despite all that and the promise of the almost silent film intensity of the first half of the flick...

...making me and the friend I saw it with excited because it is obviously a well made film (directed by Nicolos Winding Refn and adapted from a James Sallis book by Hossein Amini), it ends up turning into what I can see in retrospect it was all along, a violent video game.

The inexplicable and/or arbitrary plot twists that seem to serve no purpose except to display graphic violence, the absence of any character development, or any that makes sense beyond the desire to wallow in some more let's-top-Tarantino-and-video-game gore, all adds up in the end, unfortunately, at least for me, to a giant missed opportunity to leave an audience with some satisfaction or feeling of enlightenment or at least entertainment, but instead me and my friend just looked at each other like: Huh?? with no clue as to what the point was beyond, as I said, graphic violence beyond the norm in even a contemporary film noir caper flick.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

ELIZABETH WARREN FOR PRESIDENT!

And this is why [thanks to my son Miles for sending the link]:



[PS: And here's a great article to back her and the rest of us who've been writing about the takeover of our country by corporations and the wealthy.]

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ANOTHER SAD DAY FOR "AMERICA"

They just executed Troy Davis. A man accused and found guilty many years ago of killing a policeman, but whose guilt it seemed almost everyone in the world had come to doubt except for the policeman's family, the Georgia state prison board and the prosecutor.

But many former guards and even a former warden of the prison where Davis was executed petitioned the government not to go through with it. Not just because of the doubts about Davis's guilt, but because of the impact executing a possibly innocent man will have on the psyches of the prison guards who took part in any way in the execution, and even those who didn't but knew him.

There are doubts because no murder weapon was ever found. There was no DNA evidence. There were nine witnesses, but seven of them later said they'd been pressured by the police to name Davis as the murderer and have recanted their testimony.

Of the two other witnesses, one is the man many believe actually committed the murder and the other identified Davis from one hundred and twenty feet away in the dark, and Davis is a dark skinned man, as were others on the scene.

It is barbaric, to say the least. There have now been several people executed in recent years whose guilt was in doubt. Though not to the governors who backed the executions—including Bush Junior and Rick Perry among them. And many of the rightwingers who back these executions, including tonight's, call themselves "Christians" though this kind of primitive so-called "justice" is totally an Old Testament tradition but goes against everything Jesus stood for in the New Testament their faith is supposedly based upon.

Sometimes it's embarrassing to be a citizen of such a backward country. Tonight's one of those times.

'THE DECLINISTS"

That's what Adam Gopnik in the Sept. 12th issue of The New Yorker calls the historians and writers producing books about the decline of "America." His article (the magazine website wouldn't let me link to it without paying unfortunately) is called "Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat" and is worth checking out.

He summarizes and criticizes a lot of books out there foretelling or explaining or "proving" the idea that the USA is going the way of all previous empires that once ruled their worlds. He actually got me feeling better about things, a little.

He's always a really clear and clever writer I enjoy reading, but I especially liked his take on a new book by NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman and "Johns Hopkins professor" Michael Mandelbaum. It's a book that's been getting a lot of attention and from the reviews and excerpts I've read seemingly deservedly so.

It chronicles in many ways what we already know, even if we haven't been out of the USA in a while to compare first hand how our infrastructure and technology and healthcare and education and so on compare so poorly with other so-called "developed" nations and even many so-called "developing" ones, we know by just looking around that things ain't what they used to be (the title of their book is THAT USED TO BE US).

He has some praise for the book too, and doesn't deny the deterioration of many things in this country, but he challenges these authors, and others whose books he writes about in the article, about something that I think every reasonable and logical writer should be doing, and that is this false idea that "Americans" all agree that we should be doing more to improve our infrastructure and so on but both parties are getting in the way of that. Here's a great quote from that part of the article:

"We don't have a better infrastructure or decent elementary education exactly because many people are willing to sacrifice faster movement between our great cities, or better informed children, in support of their belief that the government should always be given as little money as possible."

and:

"As a recent study in the social sciences shows, if energy use in a household is monitored so that you can watch yourself saving money every month by using less, self-identified conservatives will actually use and spend more, apparently as a way of showing their scorn for liberal pieties."

All I can say is: yikes! (and let's call what's going on exactly what it is, obstruction from the right to almost anything that could make our government work better for all of us)

Monday, September 19, 2011

TIMELESS PLEASURES

At least for me. I just finished another gift book that I'm probably the only person to have read recently, or maybe even in decades. It's a rare limited edition finely put together with sepia toned photographs of "The Lake Poets" and their homes as the title says: SOME PORTRAITS OF THE LAKE POETS AND THEIR HOMES.

It's by Ashley P. Abraham, who I've never heard of, and was printed in 1928, though it comes across as from an even earlier era. An advertisement in the back for a hotel in "the Lake district" includes the enticement that: "All the Hotels have the Electric Light throughout..."

It looks like it's a sincere scholarly attempt to present short prose portraits of the lives and accomplishments and homes (or connections to homes) in the Lake District and may have been produced to promote the hotels advertised in the back pages or the printer offering "Real Photograph Postcards" (which many of the illustrations I'm guessing were versions of).

I'm not only charmed by the book and the photographic illustrations, as the art they obviously are (I'd reproduce some here but I don't want to take the chance of bending the book open as much as I'd have to for scanning, but one of the highlights is a supposed photographic insert of the school desk top into which"W WORDSWORTH" carved his name)...

...but also charmed by the writing, which is so discrete—despite its unrestrained admiration for the writers it covers that somehow can be connected to "the Lake district"—it almost seems Victorian, but kinder, or maybe I mean more empathetic. Here's an example that struck me as something so precise and well said, and yet so disarmingly evasive, I can't imagine anyone writing this way ever again, though who knows—it's in a section on John Ruskin—but you have to read the whole paragraph to see what I mean:

"The story of Ruskin's Oxford lectures bears cruel evidence of the effect of his physical weakness on his mental balance. From childhood he had suffered periodically from severe illnesses of one kind or another, while in the intervals his ancestral vitality seemed to reassert itself. In early manhood he had more than one alarming attack of lung trouble, and after his fortieth year he seemed unable to shake off a brooding melancholy—the result undoubtedly of intense strain of mind , and many private sorrows and disappointments—one in particular (about his fortieth year) over which reverence for the master demands that a veil should be drawn."

Now, you could be cynical and say maybe at the time whatever he was referring to in that last sentence was well known and his discretion was actually hypocrisy as he was reminding an informed audience of something they all knew, or on the other hand that he was being deceptive, but it strikes me first of all as a reminder of how language was used to say precisely what was meant without calling too much attention to itself, but also how a tender regard for others' feelings and sensibilities (even if practiced on a limited segment of humanity) underscored a seemingly much more civil society.

I'm not lamenting the loss of a time when the world was a lot tougher for a lot more people, but I do miss some aspects of the sensibility displayed in this quaint little book.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY

I missed this when it first came out two years ago, but I've caught parts of it on cable, just never watched it from beginning to end until last night.

Probably good I waited. If I hadn't done a lot of work to help myself be a hopefully more patient and less angry guy, this would have had me raging. As it is, it just made me sad.

Some of you I'm sure have seen this addition to Michael Moore's series of j'accuse documentaries that should be required viewing for all high school seniors and all voters before elections.

His indictment of, in this film, "capitalism" as practiced in contemporary USA is as expected sometimes humorous, sometimes heart wrenching, but always reflective of realities that cannot be denied, no matter how much the right accuses Moore himself of manipulating through editing etc.

Our own experience, I'm sure, substantiates most of his films' indictments. But the saddest thing about watching this actually was toward the end when the hope Obama inspired overwhelmed so many of us. Watching folks exposed for their connections to corporate cronyism and serving the interests of financial institutions and their wealthy CEOs et. al. end up being held on or appointed by Obama is a little heartbreaking.

Though there is also footage of Obama's risking political capital in defending workers holding out for the full faith payment they were owed and never received (that sit-down strike in the Chicago window company), which is heartening).

But the real heroes in this flick—besides those workers, and others fighting for the right of a family not to be evicted from their lifetime home etc.—were the whistle blowers and regulators and handful of politicians who spoke out against the corporate greed and injustice. There was one Midwest Congresswoman who I'd love to see run for president herself, but I didn't even catch her name (I know I can look it up but I'm reporting my own lack of focus on some of the massive array of details that we're bombarded with all day long that makes it more difficult than say in the "'60s" to organize widespread and cohesive protests against the insidious entrenchment of corporate greed as our nation's most rewarded  characteristic.

All I can say is, no matter his faults or shortcomings, thank God for Michael Moore. we need more like him, including directors of regular dramatic movies who can create a GRAPES OF WRATH, the film version, for these times.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

MAYBE SOLOMON SAID (SANG) IT BEST

Thinking about responses to my last two posts, whether in the comments or in emails and conversations etc., brought up Solomon Burke's incredible version of a much more concise statement of what we're all, on the progressive and liberal and left side of the political spectrum, talking about:

HAPPY B'DAY JON HENDRICKS


It's past midnight, so his actual birthday was technically yesterday, though it's still Friday night to me, the day Jon Hendricks turned 90!

I found out while listening to NPR's "All Things Considered" on the car radio, where I heard this excellent tribute. Check it out here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

TONY JUDT'S ILL FARES THE LAND



Finally finished this gift book given to me in the Spring for my birthday. It's a tough look at the present state of society and politics in the USA and England by the author of some pretty solid books about 20th-Century history, like Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945.

Judt's a deep thinker and does a pretty great job of articulating and summarizing the events and attitudes and choices that got us into many of our present dilemmas, and what he sees as the way of moving forward and solving some of our problems.

Here's a couple of chapter titles to give you an idea of what he's addressing (and the cultural references behind his titles): "The Way We Live Now" and "The Unbearable Lightness of Politics."

There were so many times in the book when I wanted to quote an excerpt, but realized in order for the quote to work I'd have to quote the line before it, and then the paragraph before that, and then the page and basically the whole chapter.

I also have to admit that there were a few times when I found it a little contradictory and even arbitrary. But over all, it's a stimulating read for those of us dismaying over the state of our country and our politics, as well as our world.

Here are a couple of very short excerpts that aren't the most profound things he writes in the book, but give an idea of how he writes and what he's addressing in ILL FARES THE LAND:

"If we don't respect public goods; if we permit or encourage the privatization of public space, resources and services; if we enthusiastically support the propensity of a younger generation to look exclusively to their own needs: then we should not be surprised to find a steady falling-away from civic engagement in public decision-making."

and:

"...sustained economic expansion in itself guarantees neither equality nor prosperity; it is not even a reliable source of economic development."

The most interesting writing, of course, is to be found in how he backs these kinds of statements and observations up with solid historical scholarship, logic and reasoning, as well as profound insight. Like I said, a stimulating read.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

FUNNY/NOT FUNNY

Folks have been sending me Andy Borowitz's one man version of The Onion for a while now, and they're always funny. This link for the "Borowitz Report" seems kind of generic, but hopefully it will connect you to the "jobs" one sent to me yesterday by the very witty himself, Terence Winch.

[PS: Thanks to my son Miles's comment below I was able change the link above to what should be a permanent connection to Borowitz's "jobs bill" post.]

Sunday, September 11, 2011

QUOTE FOR SEPTEMBER ELEVENTH

"...I've seen
a lot of people pass, or die, as you might say,
from one thing or another, including my mother,
in a way that seemed unfair and certainly
unnecessary and arbitrary and cruel[...]
But what death isn't?
Those I remember that were no surprise,
though devastating anyway in their
now-you-see-me
now-you-never-will-again
finality?
Is that why now it's life I'm obsessed with?
Or is that because when I watched
the second plane crash into the second tower on TV
a thin blue tube hung from my urethra,
attached to a clear plastic bag, the remnant of a
cancer operation the week before,
unaware an old friend was on that flight,
at that moment incinerated,
a woman who was kind to me when
she didn't need to be?
How many people have died
before you got the chance to tell them what you meant to?"

—Michael Lally (from "March 18, 2003")

Saturday, September 10, 2011

HIGHER GROUND


Just saw a movie that's been getting some critical attention: HIGHER GROUND. The main reason for the attention is Vera Farmiga. She directed and stars it. And she's been getting critical attention for quite a while now. I don't get it.

Well, I do get some of it. And don't get me wrong, HIGHER GROUND is well worth seeing. It's what's usually called an "independent" film, which usually but not always means a small budget and no big name stars, and has a lot of what usually comes with that label: quirkiness, character study, a slower pace, no car chases or explosions or gunfights or neatly wrapped up storylines, etc.

If you ever got to catch WINTER'S BONE, another small "independent" movie that's set in a world the movies usually don't feature or get right, HIGHER GROUND has a lot of the same authentic looking characters (in one case played by the same actor, John Hawkes, whose work is worth the price of admission alone) and feel to it.

Besides Hawkes's there's a bunch of great performances in this flick too (not quite on the level of WINTER'S BONE, but then it's not as tense or harsh of a storyline). One of them is Norbert Leo Butz, whose performance I singled out from the Tony's earlier this year where he did a dance number like none I'd ever seen before. He plays the preacher in HIGHER GROUND—which is a pretty realistic depiction of people struggling with faith, in this case that kind of hippyish '60s version of Christian fundamentalism—and you wouldn't recognize him from the Tonys. He underplays this role in a way I've never seen a preacher of this fundamentalist kind portrayed. It's not a caricature at all.

Another terrific and fun performance is Dagmara Dominezyk's as the best friend of the main character's, the one Vera Farmiga plays. And Farmiga's younger sister Taissa plays the same character when younger and does it subtly and movingly. Joshua Leonard as the husband is terrific too, and there's others with smaller parts that nail them.

And Vera Farmiga does a great job for a first time director as well, though as one of the friends I saw it with pointed out the pace was at times a bit slow and there were a few too many, for his taste, close-ups of the star, Vera Farmiga.

But none of that bothered me. Not even the unexplained source of money for a stay-at-home mom who suddenly has a new car etc. All that I could set aside because the subject matter is so interesting and the actors were so good and the writing was engaging. But what I can't seem to shake is just the opposite of what so many critics rave about when it comes to Farmiga as a movie actor.

As I've written about before here, The New York Times Magazine had a multi-page spread on Farmiga before I saw her in UP IN THE AIR, about how she was the new Meryl Streep and Katherine Hepburn rolled into one. Those names were mentioned again in the review Anthony Lane gave HIGHER GROUND in The New Yorker. These kinds of critics not only seem enamored with Farmiga's acting, but are totally adulatory about her screen presence. Lane talked about how George Cukor (I think I'm remembering what he wrote correctly) would have loved to work with her because she evokes the kind of screen presences of long ago golden age Hollywood female luminaries etc.

It's kind of endlessly rapturous. And these same critics obviously find her one of the most beautiful movie stars ever. I just don't get any of that. I remember seeing her after the NY Times article on her, in the role of the police shrink in Scorcese's much flawed THE DEPARTED. All I could think was there's no way I buy this character has ever been near a cop let alone is entrusted with their mental problems.

I liked her better in UP IN THE AIR and I think I know why. Because she was playing a character closer to what bothers me about her. I sense a smugness in her acting that distracts me from the character she's supposed to be playing and the story the character is supposed to be a part of. That smugness fit her character in UP IN THE AIR so it worked. In HIGHER GROUND it gets in the way again.

There are moments when I can see, oh yeah, I get it, she' looks beautiful for a second or is so inside her character for a scene or a moment that I forget about my objections to her. But then there it'll come again,  the smugness underneath the acting, the sense that she's basking in her own self-appreciation, either for her looks or for her acting.

Maybe this is all projection and no one else can see it. Maybe she is one of the most beautiful women on screen ever and it's just a matter of taste, and maybe she's also one of the greatest screen actresses of all time and... Nah. I draw the line there. Beauty might be a matter of taste, but movie acting I know a little about and though she might have moments of pretty fine acting, and never totally sucks, she's also no better than hundreds of movie actors I've watched and worked with over the years who haven't gotten anywhere near the attention she continues to get.

But don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge her the opportunities all this praise has given her, nor do I deny that she's making the most of it, like getting HIGHER GROUND made and directing it. But I wouldn't have minded seeing someone else in the lead.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A LITTLE PARANOID?

I'm sure it's just a coincidence, but I couldn't help wondering last night when the president was making an important speech (for him at least, for those who are tired of speeches, but also for those of us still listening to see what is actually happening, and obviously for the media and any voters tuning in etc.) why all of a sudden it's followed by an announcement from some agency of the government involving intelligence (the CIA was it?) that there may be a plan to set off some kind of bomb in New York or DC to commemorate 9/11, though it can't be confirmed, and then the entire Southwest lost power.

So the speech and any discussion of it took a back seat on the news last night and tonight to this bigger news, of the power outage and the alert for a possible "terrorist" attack in two of our major cities.

I'm pretty sure it was coincidence, but still, the way things are going, and have gone in the past, it did make me think hmmmm....

[Oh, and just to show I'm not the only paranoid one, and to confirm what I was saying about what many on the left were getting impatient with early on in Obama's tenure (I kept pointing out that these people—the right—play rough and for keeps, using Carter's being undermined and outmaneuvered by the rightwingers in the government, especially the intelligence agencies as an example), etc. check this out. It's mostly about the left's anger at Obama and does right along with many of the comments recently on this blog, but it also addresses, in the headline and one statement by an ex-Obama transition team member that the intelligence agencies and probably the military may have revolted (and the implication is may still) if too much of a frontal attack on the outgoing Bush/Cheney regime back then and more recently of (this is now my interpretation, or guess) the profiteering corporate connections to the military and intelligence agencies that are dominated by rightwingers, etc.]

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NOT BAD

I didn't get a chance to watch it straight through because of interruptions etc. but from what I saw and heard and caught up on later, our president did a pretty good job in his speech tonight.

It didn't do everything I would want it to, or say everything I would like to hear, but then I didn't run for president and if I had I don't think I would have won. Or probably anyone reading this. He's the one who has to deal with Republican intransigence and Democratic impatience...

...in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis that would have been a lot worse had he not done the things he did and gotten done the things he got done. I know plenty of people who are already benefiting from his healthcare reform. As much as I would like to see a single payer system, he still did manage to get passed the biggest healthcare reform in decades and succeeded where many others failed in that department (Clinton, for instance).

He also helped the "American auto industry" not only not disappear into oblivion, or just to survive, but to recover and thrive. He also ended some of the most egregious credit card corporations' exploitation of its customers, etc. etc. etc.

He hasn't done enough on the jobs front since the first stimulus package ended, and he's caved into the Republican right way too often in bargaining sessions, entered many of them already caving in sometimes, as some on the left will say he did tonight in his speech.

But given the most recent history of the "gridlock" in Congressional politics, I think he did a pretty politically adroit jujitsu move on the right by calling their bluff on what they've been claiming to want while at the same time demanding they pass a bill that has a lot in it that the left wants as well.

We'll see if there's any middle ground to be found. From the comments on this blog as well as others, maybe not, on the right or the left. I've been a committed leftist for most of my life and put more on the line often for radical leftist causes (as they were seen at the time) than most people I've known, but I've also learned that unfortunately or not the lesser of two evils is always better.

Because, in the long run, as I have stated here many times, there would have been a lot fewer corpses in Viet Nam and Laos and Cambodia had Humphrey won instead of Nixon, in fact hundreds of thousands less. And a lot fewer in Iraq, maybe even none, if Gore's defeat of Bush Junior hadn't been overturned by a rightwing dominated Supreme Court, that became a rightwing dominated Supreme Court because a lot of people decided they didn't care for either the Democrat or the Republican and either didn't vote or threw it away on a third or fourth or whatever party candidate.

Obama may not be the leader we'd hoped for or thought we voted for, and he's certainly disappointed me recently, but he's still leagues ahead of any Republican out there, and maybe even ahead of what a lot of folks on the left, including me at times, have come to see him as.

As we know, the Koch brothers, the bankrollers of the right and its power, compared Obama to Saddam Hussein, among others, but there are those on the left who make just as odious comparisons that not only don't hold up but add to the despair and disillusionment that lead to people not voting and the rest of us ending up with a rightwing president and a rightwing Congress and a rightwing Supreme Court.

His speech tonight wasn't perfect, but it wasn't bad either.

[PS: Happy to see here that Krugman agrees with me on this.]

REPUBLICAN DEBATE

I actually watched it. And despite it being on MSNBC and the moderators being Brian Williams from NBC and a guy from Politico who asked some hard questions, a lot of lies and misrepresentations and misinformation etc. got out there on the airwaves once again.

A few of them questioned or tried to correct each other's lies or mistakes but then they would make a few of their own. I'd love to see these debates cover one topic for one debate, with fact checkers present. That'd be interesting. As it was, Obama took the most hits of course, and not being there was not defended. But Rick Perry took the next most hits as they all tried to pull his polling numbers down some so they could all stay in the race.

But he played to his rightwing base as always and with the usual swagger and that insistently righteous attitude many rightwing politicians and leaders and media types have mastered, as if anyone who doubts their lies or misinformation or misleading statements is not only wrong but unpatriotic and even evil for even questioning them.

As always Gingrich did it best, not even a serious contender but a defender of the most rightwing candidates and of rightwing politicians and media stars who the press dares to try and question about their differences (except when it served him as a defense against his own inconsistencies and lies etc.). Bachmann seemed diminished, Huntsman seemed reasonable but unexciting, Ron Paul seemed very old and a little flustered and confused at times and way defensive.

Hebert Cain, or whatever his name is, scored a few points actually, but as the only African-American candidate among the Republicans he doesn't stand a chance, and Rick Santorum, or whatever his name is, came across as inconsequential.

Mitt Romney actually did best in terms of making actual sense even if based on lies or fudging of the facts and came across most presidential. I would have liked to have seen Buddy Roemer, or whatever his name is, who was on Rachel Maddow's show last night as well as Jon Stewart's and made a good case for why the main concern should be the corruption of our politics with money and reforming campaign financing, but of course they don't want that to be the subject of any Republican debate.

As for Obama, we await his speech tomorrow night (or since it just turned midnight, tonight).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

AND YET LIFE GOES ON

There are a lot of frustrating things about the Internet for me, but one of the many rewarding things about it is all the inspiring "art" that's available "at my fingertips" as they say.

Like the great photographer/mini-essayist Robert Zuckerman, familiar to anyone who reads this blog regularly. He has an amazing book of photo/mini-essays (they're more like mini-histories actually, the stories of the taking of personal photos mostly of people) called KINDSIGHT that I wrote one of the prefaces for, but he also has a site or blog by that name where he posts snapshots and the prose that describes them (only "describes" is a weak term for the zen like close observation of his encounters with all kinds of people who he has any kind of interaction with, and the occasional object or setting, that he always expresses in a way that creates a little epiphany in the observer/reader).

Here's a recent one that illustrates his indomitable spirit and the reasons I find him so inspiring.

Monday, September 5, 2011

LABOR DAY REVOLVER



When I was a kid, Labor Day really was a day meant to honor all those who labored for a living. There were parades and demonstrations, all in praise of working people and/or for improving conditions even further than they'd become under strong unions and a political establishment that recognized that working families that made enough to live the American Dream—which included making enough to own a home and be able to send your kids to college, etc.—also kept the economy growing and helped make the country even stronger than World War Two (and the great economic job creating stimulus it created) proved it to be.

There were problems back then too, as there always are, but thankfully many of those problems have been addressed and even solved in some cases, or are still being addressed and worked on by progressive politics (like racism and sexism and etc.). But because of the regressive politics that dominated much of the Reagan/Bush/Bush/Cheney years, some of the old problems have returned (pre-New Deal income and wealth disparities, etc.) or new ones have been created (two wars anyone?).

But back in my childhood, for my family, like half of Jersey, Labor Day meant the end of summer and whatever summer vacations working families had then—which were often better than can be afforded time-or-money-wise these days—this was the last great day that we, along with half of Jersey it seemed (and probably was even more) would spend at the Jersey shore.



Like all eras, that one was a mix of good and bad, and I don't miss the bad, but the sweetness and freedom afforded the grownups, and us kids in turn, by at least a modicum of economic and political equanimity make aspects of that time still memorably sweet.

As for the present, I'm celebrating a rainy Labor Day in the Berkshires with an early birthday gift giving get together with my granddaughter later, while this morning I got to hear, and share with my older son and my daughter-in-law—thanks to him—this great Public Radio International program about the seminal Beatles LP REVOLVER.

It was not only enlightening and entertaining, as you'd expect, but inspiring all over again, that these working class lads from a working class English city, with nothing but raw talent, intense focus and a full on commitment were able to not just delight and excite but inspire an entire generation with a collection of "songs" more eclectic and original than any collection up until then—and maybe since.

Listening to this program turned a dreary day outside bright and sunny inside. If only the same could be said for listening to what's going on in our politics.

[That's me with my hands folded, or twisted, in each photo, the others my sister(s) and cousin(s) and mother and aunts, just a tiny slice of the siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles that lived on the street I grew up on.]

Sunday, September 4, 2011

PS TO LAST POST

I'd noticed this article by an ex-functionary of the Republican Party on "Truthout" but hadn't read it yet, until today when my friend Kevin sent this link. This is maybe the best summary of many of the points I've been making for the past several years on this blog. It's well worth reading, and only gets better, so I recommend reading it all.

ANTIDOTE TO TEA PARTYERS?

More and more of this kind of thing is happening, including the ones already mentioned two posts back and here. And Van Jones's American Dream movement has already gotten more signatures than the numbers the Tea Party has, so why is the media still giving all the attention to the rightwingers who shout or confront their representatives or demonstrate but not to those from the left or center or anything other than the right?

Friday, September 2, 2011

BAD RELIGION AND IRENE UPDATE

Rightwing Republicanism has become one of those "bad religions" based on lies and scams meant to enrich an elite few and bamboozle and exploit the rest of its followers.

Anything to starve the government is touted as "good" and anything to help government do its job(s) is painted as evil. So today's job report that showed a net gain of zero jobs—because 17,000 new jobs were created by the private sector, but an equal amount, 17,000, government jobs were cut, thus zero net gain—is being used by the right to prove a falsehood "true."

As in the rightwing radio and network media, and its influence on the rest of the media, talking about "no new jobs" etc. Which, obviously, is a lie. And yet the media accepts these terms and argues instead the supposed "both sides" of what to do about "no new jobs!"

It's so tiresome, especially when we're trying to recover from the latest weather catastrophe (anyone notice that that famous adventurer who has been to the magnetic North pole several times is now making the trip by BOAT!—first time that's possible because of the more than forty per cent loss of ice mass there—or that the droughts that inflict sub-Saharan countries every ten years now occur EVERY YEAR, or the latest statistic about migration caused by global warming has seen the rate of migration (from insects to large mammals) double what it has been in recent years and in some instances triple and more, or that the monument to FDR being built on Roosevelt Island in New York City from plans by the late great Louis Kahn from thirty-four years ago had to be altered because the river had risen eight (8!) inches in just that short period of time) partly caused by manmade global warming and yet these rightwingers take as an article of their faith-based rather than fact-based bad cult-like religion that there is no such thing as global warming or climate change, and even if they conceded that it might be happening then they dismiss any facts that show the human contribution to this eco-catastrophe.

I took my car in for maintenance this morning to a nearby town and fortunately the street where it's located (Bloomfield Avenue) was blocked off just beyond where I needed to go, due to flooding—still—from Irene. Over five thousands people are not living in their homes because of Irene here in North Jersey.

But Eric Cantor and other rightwing Republicans who never objected to federal aid for their districts or made any suggestion to pay for the Bush/Cheney wars and tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy with offsetting spending cuts or tax raises, are now declaring that any FEMA and other government funds spent to help my Jersey neighbors has to be tied to an equal amount of cuts in government, conveniently of departments they don't like because they either restrict the corporate overlords profits (i.e. the energy dept.) or threaten to educate too many people too well so that they won't end up buying the right's bad religion (i.e. the dept. of education).

God spare us from these ideologues and the destruction they have caused and want to continue and even increase for our country.

[PS: Got a notice from my thirteen-year-old's school that when he goes back next Wednesday the water fountains will be all covered because we still can't use our local water, and he's supposed to bring his own bottled water as well as little bottle of Purell or some other anti-bacteria lotion to use for his hands etc. as washing them in what we have now is actually counterproductive! Welcome to the 21st century USA!]

Thursday, September 1, 2011

BILL MCKIBBEN, ONE OF MY HEROS

It seems incredible that Republican presidential candidates deny the reality of climate change caused by manmade contributions to global warming. And even more incredible that the media ignores this, as well as how it impacts the extreme weather we've had this year (including Irene, which we're still dealing with in re our water problems, having to boil before using or using bottled water etc.).

Bill McKibben is considered one of the leading ecological activists and is leading the demonstrations that have been going on for over a week now in front of The White House. Demonstrations I thought of traveling down to take part in, even bringing my thirteen-year-old to get a hands on civics lesson. But then I thought of my various health issues and the problems they might create for me if I were jailed, and other life events got in the way (Irene, for instance).

There's plenty of recent articles to read about McKibben's work, or his own books including the most recent EAARTH, or his first which helped start the fight against global warming. But here's an interview that will show you why I admire the guy. He's a true hero in my book, whose modesty and clarity compliment a kind of true humility (meaning he doesn't puff himself up, but neither does he shrink from the truth).

(He also reminds me physically of a cross between the poet/photographer Kevin McCollister, who is handsomer, and poet Ron Padgett, who is wittier. Anyway, I recommend watching the whole interview, i.e. both videos, to the end. It's rewarding and hopefully inspiring.)

[PS: Check out his organization's website: 350.org]