Sunday, March 31, 2013


I was just out with my oldest son who is visiting for Easter and we saw a young African American boy with his father both dressed up for Easter Sunday, the boy in a stylish suit and white fedora, looking like a miniature man from my boyhood. It evoked memories of my first man style suit and fedora around what I would guess was the same age, eleven or twelve, and how everyone in my huge clan would dress up in brand new clothes bought especially for Easter morning Mass.

My son and I don't go to Mass anymore, but when we got back to my apartment I checked my emails and found this post and thought how I wish every Catholic on Fox News and in The Republican Party including among my own now even larger clan, which our forefathers would be shocked at, and across this country and the world could read and understand its message.

[PS: and also all those who reacted to the new Pope's election with diatribes against him based on misinformation or only one aspect of his personal history.]

Saturday, March 30, 2013


So Obama has deeply disappointed me with some things he's done, like signing that bill that seems to protect Monsanto from legal actions against its Frankenstein-ian experiments with our food.

But I look at it this way. The people I admire most for their ideals or their style or their accomplishments or their contributions etc. have always also been flawed and nothing like perfect. The ones who seem in nostalgic hindsight to be some sort of uniquely above the fray souls are usually the ones whose lives were cut short. JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King (who should have been our first African-American president but probably would have had to make compromises or just bad choices that would have left his image flawed too in ways beyond J Edgar's attempts to smear him, or picture Marilyn Monroe or James Dean blowing up like Marlon Brando did and becoming as strange), etc.

The way I see Obama is that he has made more decisions that help the world be a better place and our country be a better country than he has ones that hinder that. As opposed to say the Bushes, or Reagan, or what I'm betting would have occurred under a McCain or Romney administration.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't hold Obama accountable for the bad choices he's made, like continuing the dominance of secret government agencies on foreign military and diplomatic policies or intrusions into our own privacy by the same (especially considering that our intelligence agencies have been getting it wrong for as long as they've been in existence, saying that if Viet Nam fell the entire region would go Communist, or that the Soviets were reaching the capability of annihilating us instead of seeing that that whole system was about to collapse, or that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction Saddam was ready to use on us, or not seeing the Arab Spring coming or events in Libya or Syria etc.) or the concessions to the rightwing Republicans who make every compromise turn out better for their positions than ours, etc.

No, we have to continue to pressure him and everyone in the Congress about these and other crucial issues, but we have to do it from the realistic position that Obama isn't perfect from any of our perspectives (and as in most things in life, our individual perspectives most likely clash most of the time anyway) but he has been pretty good on most of the most important issues of our time.

Friday, March 29, 2013


"Between the planes and spheres of existence, terrestrial and super-terrestrial, there are ladders and lattices. The one who mounts sings. He is made drunk and exalted by unfolding vistas. He ascends surefootedly, thinking not of what lies below, should he slip and lose his grasp, but of what lies ahead. Everything lies ahead. The way is endless, and the farther one reaches the more the road opens up. The bogs and quagmires, the marshes and sink-holes, the pits and snares, are all in the mind. They lurk in waiting, ready to swallow one up the moment one ceases to advance. The phantasmal world is the world which has not been fully conquered over. It is the world of the past, never of the future. To move forward clinging to the past is like dragging a ball and chain. The prisoner is not the one who has committed a crime, but the one who clings to his crime and lives it over and over. We are all guilty of crime, the great crime of not living life to the full. But we are all potentially free. We can stop thinking of what we have failed to do and do whatever lies within our power. What these powers that are in us may be no one has truly dared to imagine. That they are infinite we will realize the day we admit to ourselves that imagination is everything. Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything God-like about God it is that. He dared to imagine everything."

—Henry Miller (from SEXUS) [not the best writing, mixed metaphors etc., nor entirely true, but still creatively inspiring]  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Just got back from the eye doc. This operation didn't go quite as smoothly as the first, the eye and the cataract both were worse. And the aftermath last evening wasn't pleasant, felt like a tiny bird got stuck inside the transparent bubble eye (with air holes to breathe) they give you now instead of the cool pirate's eye patch of old, and was scratching at my eye to get out. And , also unlike the first eye operation, this one felt afterwards like I'd been through an operation, you know, traumatized and exhausted.

But this morning that was mostly gone and the eye just felt a little blurry and light sensitive. At the doc's it was clear it wasn't as good as the right had been the day after that op when they tested it with the letters on the wall bit. But that may have been because it seemed too bright, the light sensitive thing because my eyes were still so dilated. At any rate, the doc said there was a scratch on the eye but that it would heal and be okay.

Meanwhile, with both eyes I can already see well enough to pass the no glasses Jersey eye test for driving so unlike last time I'm already good to drive. The glasses are gone for distance, probably may need ones for reading but even there I can already read titles and the bigger type sizes. Pretty amazing.

As ever, I am grateful for the advances in medicine and doctoring that allow me to still be able to do pretty much everything despite my many operations and leaht (that's me trying to type "health" and leaving it in as an example of how I still must stop and correct many typos compared to my pre-brain operation days—in fact I corrected three in this parenthetical comment already!) challenges and aging body.

And thanks to everyone for the good wishes and prayers and thoughts and support. Love is always in the air when we care about others.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Going to have my left eye operated on today. In a few minutes actually. How fortunate I am to be alive in a time when so many medical advances make it possible for an old(er) cat to be able to see better instead of worse as he ages (fingers crossed knock on wood etc.).

May all of you who have good vision be grateful for everything you see today, everything, as I certainly am.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


First professional feature film I acted in (I'd been in many short films and the first feature length film funded by the then new American Film Institute, but all non-paying and when I was younger) and before I got my SAG card and had to add my middle name (David) because there was already a "Michael Lally" in the union.

I thought of it tonight because I hate horror films and the horror genre in general, whether TV, books, plays whatever. And yet I found myself "starring" in my first two jobs as a professional (i.e. paid) actor in two low budget horror flicks. In the second I got to act with John Carradine and Gloria Graham, which wasn't bad. In this one (originally titled LAST RITES, as you can see, but later changed to DRACULA'S LAST RITES) I got to act with some lesser known actors.

As a kid and as an adult I never got the thrill some family and friends get out of being deliberately frightened, choosing to make themselves scream or at least freak out. And yet, there I was back in 1979 "starring" in two horror movies, and tonight found myself watching THE WALKING DEAD without my teenage son who got me into the show.

I hated the obviousness of the plot and the gore in the early episodes I watched with him just to monitor what he was into and to try and soften any evil intent or consequences I usually discover in these things. But instead, I got hooked on the game of seeing who survives the zombie Apocalypse and who doesn't. Which is the smart trick the creators of THE WALKING DEAD play on the audience. Get them invested in the death lottery and eventually they will become truly invested in the characters themselves, which I have to a slight extent for, well, mainly the impressive (both as character and actor) African-American woman warrior on it. I guess my version of the teenage boy syndrome the creators are counting on.

Next week is the finale, and while fans of MAD MEN prepare for the new season and I have yet to watch an episode of that series so highly recommended by so many friends, here I am spending my Sunday evenings watching zombie gore fest central. Yikes.

[PS: I was thinking after I wrote this that maybe all this horror style gore and violence that seems to be an epidemic on cable TV—and network TV to the extent they can get away with it—is a reflection of people feeling the sense of impending doom or at least the anxiety of uncertainty in the face of the overwhelming destroy-all-that-gets-in-the-way-of-their-greed corporate takeover of our world (especially our country) as in the genetically altered food giant Monsanto or the oil companies continuing to sabotage clean energy and buy our Congress, and the endless list could go on...]

Saturday, March 23, 2013


When I was a kid, Saturday afternoons often meant the movies, which in those days would be two movies, before which there would be cartoons and a newsreel. A great way for kids to spend a rainy Saturday. I still like going to the movies on a Saturday and coming out with daylight still around. And I got to do that today with two friends, only these days it's just one movie preceded by a few "trailers"—what as a kid we called "Coming Attractions"—and unfortunately with those preceded by commercials, another sign we live in "The Corporate States of America" now.

But unlike when I was a kid, I got to go have a great meal in a great local restaurant with my friends after the flick and come home in the dark to write this post on the movie we saw: QUARTET. As I said to my friends, I have never seen a second of film footage that included Maggie Smith where she wasn't perfection as an actor. That still holds true. And she's joined by an amazing cast of aging performers playing aging opera singers and classical musicians and music hall performers to perfection.

This movie should be seen by any film buff simply because it's the first one Dustin Hoffman has directed. Another aging performer. As we could expect, he does a terrific job, ala the casting, the performances and the location and editing. There's a few indulgent shots, but mostly it's a well crafted intimate story about the vagaries of getting older and continuing to practice your art, especially when it depends so much on your physical stamina and abilities, like singing or playing a wind instrument.

As you can expect it's full of poignant moments reminding us of the challenges of aging and overcoming them, or at least facing them. It's also full of unexpected moments of laugh out loud comedy. With comedian, and consummate film actor, Billy Connelly as one of the leads, that isn't totally surprising. But it is when it comes from an actor I didn't realize was Tom Courtney, though I've seen him in films in recent decades I never noticed it was him until the credits to this one (and stay for the credits, they are part of the pleasure of the film as you will see) and realized here was the star of THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER and other great '60s British flicks.

The fourth member of the quartet is played by Pauline Collins who looked very familiar but in that way of actors whose faces you recognize but can't remember specifics (the same was true of the actress who plays the younger doctor in the old age musicians home they all end up in, Sheridan Smith, who I mistook for one of the actors on DOWNTON ABBEY but was correctly corrected by my friend Sue). Collins's performance is worth the price of the movie, especially her scenes with Maggie Smith who makes everyone better in any scene she takes part in.

I don't like to give away plot or too much story line so I'll just leave it at that, with the PS that I highly recommend seeing this movie, especially on a late Saturday afternoon, with its more traditional classic Hollywood pacing, and its neat little story (Ronald Harwood wrote the play it's based on and the screenplay) that leaves you, or at least me, highly satisfied when you come out squinting in the still shining sunlight before your eyes adjust.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


"This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and the crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body..."
—Walt Whitman (from the preface to the 1855 edition of LEAVES OF GRASS)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


This movie has been on my list of all time favorites since I was a kid, but the more I see it over the years the higher it moves on that list. I watched it again tonight with my fifteen-year-old and have to admit I think it's reached the top. The acting is so good, the script too and the shots, the cinematography, the positioning of the camera and the set ups. Everything about it works as not just great story telling and movie making but great art.

Having seen it so often I could focus on backgrounds and framing and the edges of the frame and set design and soundtrack and especially the rhythm of the narrative in each scene. I can't think of a movie made in the last several decades that uses pauses and slow dolly shots to better effect. The scene late in the flick where Dana Andrews' character is in the bombardier's nest in the front of the about-to-be-junked plane as the camera moves in and the music hits a crescendo still rattles me, especially the music that sounds like it could have been used in a scene in ON THE WATER FRONT almost a decade later it was so discordantly modern.

Director William Wyler deserves most of the credit, but watching the actors it feels like it's all them. Frederic March is a marvel, and the always brilliant Myrna Loy is worth watching the whole movie for. The two of them together is like watching a master class in movie acting. But everyone in it is terrific, especially my boyhood crush, Theresa Wright, and the always fun to watch Virginia Mayo as the bad girl. But the amateur first time actor Harold Russell, hired because he actually had hooks for hands as the character called for, is directed and supported by the professionals so well his performance is a revelation of emotional power. And Cathy O'Donnell who plays his girlfriend gives the expression "the girl next door" the romantic resonance it should always have.

And so many more, Hoagy Carmichael not only tickling the keys like the virtuoso he was, but playing the role of Uncle Butch so realistically you forget he's not just a famous songwriter but one of the greatest of all time. Even the small parts of Andrews' character's "pop" and stepmom—played by Roman Bohnen and Gladys George—come across more realistically than the best method actor of Brando's generation and after. Their scenes together choke me up every time I see it.

I could go on, but it's late and you probably already know this film anyway. But if you've never watched it from opening credits to ending credits, take the time some day or night, and you will be richly rewarded.

Monday, March 18, 2013

MARCH 18, 2013

Ten years ago, on this date, at this time of the evening, I had just finished writing a long poem to read that evening at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Manhattan. The reading was set up and introduced by poet and friend Vincent Katz. He had organized the reading as a statement against the USA going to war in Iraq and to hopefully inspire others to protest the impending attack on that country.

As it turned out, the attack began the next day, or in the middle of the night East Coast time. He asked Ramsey Clark to make introductory remarks and then four poets to read, Robert Creeley, Ann Lauterbach, Anne Waldman, and me. I was the only one who wrote a poem specifically addressing that impending attack, and a long one as it turned out.

A video was made of the reading which I once had a camera shop transfer to a CD but I could never get my computer to allow me to upload it and as far as I know no one else ever has either. But the audio portion of it was the last track on my CD LOST ANGELS. (You can download the CD, or just that track, on iTunes, or try this link to order it from the small record company.)

The poem was just a series of questions, a device I came up with at the last moment, just before I left my place for the reading. Some of the questions I raised were based on what was already going on in Afghanistan but was underreported, others were just my speculations about what would happen given previous invasions and other events.

As it turned out I predicted quite a lot that later happened and when I read the poem around the country it seemed to impact a lot of people, including many there that first night. I am proud to have written it and only sorry that it didn't have a bigger impact, but then, documentaries and books and political speeches didn't have much of an impact either. The war still happened and continued and Bush Jr. got reelected and we are still paying for it.

The only thing to really have an impact on stopping the war was Obama's election. But I still think it's a poem worth reading. The original publisher was Libellum, Vincent Katz's small publishing venture (I think the poem as a small book—with a cover, and in a later edition illustrations by artist Alex Katz—was the press's first book). Vincent gave me the title, which was simply the date of the reading: MARCH 18, 2003. You can get the book through Libellum at this link.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


[Here is a post I wrote several years ago, when my oldest brother was still alive, when I hadn't had my brain operated on yet, when my youngest son and my good friend Bill Lannigan's son were still boys, after a snowy St. Patrick's Day. Tonight, I woke up in the middle of it and thought there's still no better tribute to Saint Patrick's Day in the USA then to spend some time listening to the music of, or reading the books of, Terence Winch.]

In a series of early posts, I wrote about how jive the idea that “cream always rises to the top” is. Some of the greatest artists, in every form, remain underrated, unknown or unappreciated.

Saint Patrick’s Day got me thinking about this after an Irish-American friend and neighbor here in Jersey, who grew up in Brooklyn the son of a New York policeman, came back to my apartment with his little boy and mine, having spent half the day at the parade on Fifth Avenue and the other half on a nearby hill with our boys sledding and snowboarding.

I put on a selection of Irish music, beginning with Sinead O’Connor’s “This IS a Rebel Song” in which she sings to “my hard Englishman” “How come you’ve never said you love me/In all the time you’ve known me/How come you never say you’re sorry/And I do…..”

I followed that with John McCormack (one of the first recording stars, a tenor Louis Armstrong admired and claimed was a great influence on him!) singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” recorded in 1916 (!) followed by a recording of his from 1911 (!) singing “Macushla” then “The Irish Emigrant” from 1928 and a few others, including his 1939 version of “The Star of the County Down.”

Then Van Morrison’s version of that last song off the IRISH HEARTBEAT record he did with the Chieftains, and then from the same record Van’s “Celtic Ray” and the title song, both of which moved my wandering heart when I first heard them while living in L. A.

I ended this little musical selection with two of my all time favorite songs of any kind, the unfortunately defunct [original] Celtic Thunder’s recordings of Terence Winch’s songs, “When New York Was Irish” (from their THE LIGHT OF OTHER DAYS record) and “Saints (Hard New York Days)” (from their HARD NEW YORK DAYS record).

I hadn’t listened to either in a while and was surprised at the impact they had on me.

Only two days ago, I drove my departed sister’s best friend, who was like another sister to me when I was growing up, to visit my oldest brother, a retired Franciscan friar living in a nursing home up near the New York border [and now departed too]. In the car when we took him out to lunch, my sister’s friend, talking about a party, referred to the singing of “When New York was Irish” as the highlight, and my brother said, “Michael’s friend wrote that.”

There are, I think at this date, some 28 different recordings of that song by all kinds of singers and bands, since Terence and his brother Jesse’s band Celtic Thunder first recorded it in 1988. Many people I’ve met think it’s an old song they learned from their parents, even though it hadn’t been written when their parents taught them songs.

Others just take it for granted as a New York area Irish anthem that’s been around for as long as they remember. It’s been a much played, best selling tune in Ireland, as well as wherever the Irish have been or may be in recent decades.

It’s a classic, part of the culture, and not just of the Irish and their many tributaries, but even of other ethnic groups who just enjoy the tune.

If “When New York Was Irish” has become some kind of anthem, replacing “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” for recent generations of various Irish descendants, “Saints (Hard New York Days)” is “When New York Was Irish” II.

It looks back at an even more recent time, the 1950s and early ‘60s in New York’s Irish neighborhoods, referred to—just as over in Jersey where I was, or other towns and cities with Irish enclaves in those days—by parishes, the “Saints” of the title.

Listening to “When New York Was Irish” moved me more than ever, not in the way of nostalgia for “better days” but in reliving the dreams and pain of my parents and grandparents and calling to mind and heart their sacrifices and stoicism in the face of all the obstacles they overcame.

But “Saints (Hard New York Days)” kicked me in the heart and into relived days of my own, and the loss not of innocence but of hard realities that were transcended through the grace of shared experience and a tough spiritual surrender to that experience.

Ah, words elude me when I try to express what this song does to me. I can only say I was wiping away tears when it ended, overwhelmed with the beauty and artistry of Terence’s accomplishment. All I could say to my friend, equally blown away by the poetry of the lyrics and the emotional impact of the tune, “And he has to work a nine to five job, the man who wrote those songs,” to which we could both agree, “He should be exalted, honored, and given a stipend to live on for life after giving us those works of art.”

And I didn’t even bring up Winch’s books, which I’ve mentioned several times in my posts, but nonetheless can’t say enough about. His memoirs in the form of poetry and prose, like IRISH MUSICIANS, AMERICAN FRIENDS or THAT SPECIAL PLACE or the about-to-be-published BOY DRINKERS [long since out and available, along with even newer books like the great collection FALLING OUT OF BED IN A ROOM WITH NO FLOOR], outshine so many so-called “memoirs” cranked out by graduates of workshops that specialize in “creative non-fiction”—usually meaning altered facts to make a splash or neatly tie up a storyline “created” for a half-true-retelling of exaggerated “reality.”

But what I really wanted to write about is how Winch was ripped off by others in ways the early black blues musicians were, and early black rhythm and blues and black creators of rock-n-roll were. But no one is making a case for him, or pointing out the hypocrisy of “the man” etc.

But there it is. Terence Winch should not have to do anything except enjoy seeing his songs recorded and sung and played all over the world by various Irish and hyphenated Irish, as well as many non-Irish, singers and bands, or if and when he wants to, perform the songs himself, or with others, and be paid enough to spend his free time writing more, instead of going to an office to earn a living working for someone else.

PS: When I first met Hubert Selby Jr. he was working in an office in L. A. as a “clerk” making a low hourly wage, and most people I ran into thought he was dead or didn’t know he was the author of LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, let alone other great books like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, because they hadn’t been made into movies yet. Maybe some day someone will make a movie out of “When New York Was Irish” or “Saints (Hard New York Days).” The only other thing I can think of is TERENCE WINCH IS THE REAL FATHER OF WHAT’S-HER-NAME’S BABY!

[PS: I have no idea what that last sentence is referring to anymore.
PPS: Happy Saint Paddy's to all!]

Saturday, March 16, 2013


[me & John Carradine on the set of THE NESTING in 1979, the second movie I starred in and the first one I was a member of SAG for and had to add my middle name David because there was already a "Michael Lally" in the union. Carradine was warm and even complimentary to me, despite the fact that I still really didn't know what I was doing]
[Mary Beth Hurt caught reading my book HOLLYWOOD MAGIC probably not that long after it came out in 1982]

[PS: I don't know where the photo of Mary Beth with my book was taken or by whom or even how it came into my possession, but I'm grateful for it.]

Thursday, March 14, 2013


I've been meaning to write about this wonderful collection for a while now. They sent it to me before it came out last October. But I have stacks of books next to my bed that I'm working my way through, or in many cases enjoying my way through like this one.

My old friend Dale Herd (who Allen Ginsberg once said was his favorite prose writer) is the greatest writer of dialogue of my generation, and along with Bobbie Louise Hawkins, of my time. This isn't about Dale, whose books I wish will soon be all back in print, but about Hawkins, whose prose is now collected in this beautifully edited and produced book (there's a slim companion volume that brings Hawkins' famous—at least to some—FIFTEEN POEMS back into print as well, with some history and an interview in it). I wish I could quote a longer section, but it's late and my back hurts from sitting at the computer too long working on my own stuff and other necessary writing for my, and my loved ones', lives.

I first discovered Hawkins' prose and fell in love with it back in the 1960s. And here in this one big book you can find the reason why, and why this volume should be an essential part of the library of anyone who loves good writing. Like Dale's writing, when you read most of Hawkins' work you get the feeling she went around her life and world with a tape recorder, or took perfect notes (the latter). Every word resonates with a kind of pure reality that goes way beyond what that word stands for these days.

Some of her best writing, and maybe all of it on some levels, reflects the life she lived and the lives she knew growing up in the Great Depression that never seemed to end for her and her extended family in rural Texas, at least not until she left to make a life for herself, eventually, as a creator of unique works (she has done performance pieces and more, but this is about her prose).

But you can get the book to read those pieces and get into those rhythms that I've found so powerful I fall asleep thinking in her and her character's voices. Here instead is a short piece that begins like most of her short prose pieces with a phrase she then makes the title and is one of the few without dialogue, but it explains her approach:


I've always been impressed by the ability some people have to remember everything, things from a long time back, the name of a first grade teacher, whatever.
     What I have instead is page after page of random notes to remind me.
     Miz VanAnt with the gun under her pillow and bullet holes in her door eating squabs in Mineral Wells
     horny toads
     the old man throwing his shoe through the window and putting shoe polish in his nose
     the lady with the crazy daughter
     In a book like this, the "plot" is whether it can come together at all. It might help to think of it as having gathered more than having been written. Its got as much plan to it as tumbleweeds blown against a fence and stuck there.

[And here's another short one without much dialogue either, but the thinking of the narrator counts as dialogue too:]


It's a phony surface but who's to know the difference. Not enough time. All that flash.
     Hey, it's as good as real. Like living a life.
     "Who said that?" drawing back and centring. Let's show a little muscle here.
     "You saying this ain't my life?"
     Naw, I never said that.
     "I know what's real. I feel it."
     Yeah, we all do.

[Oh, what the heck, I'll get a little more cramped and write out a slightly longer but still short piece that shows what I mean about her dialogue:]


"You know how Louella's husband is about Sally."
     "I don't appreciate that type."
     "Who is that?"
     "Louella's husband. He acts like a prude."
     "He says, I have to keep an eye on Sally. She's the sexiest little bitch I ever saw in my life. Not that I'd touch her, mind you! I told Louella, I said, You better watch him!"
     "Yes, she had."
     "Damned well better."
     "He looks at her just like she was a bowl of something good to eat!"
     "She is beautiful and I'm not kidding you. She's got that long dark hair."
     "I guess I never saw her."
     "She's Louella's youngest."
     "Peter's got the worst crush on her you ever heard of!"
     "Well, any man would. Just look at her."
     "She was a lovely little girl. I saw her a couple of years ago and she was a little doll then."
     And my grandmother says from the bed, "Well, she's a grown girl now."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


You may not care a bit about who's the titular head of a worldwide religion, even if it is as significant historically as Catholicism. Or you may care only in as much as you despise the ways the Catholic church has covered up sex scandals, opposed equality with women when it comes to the priesthood and other areas, and opposed same sex marriage, abortion and even contraceptives.

Or you may be a practicing Catholic who abhors a lot of the backward policies of your church but still believes in the essential teachings and purpose, which many see as easing life's struggles and promising a heavenly afterlife.

But no matter your feelings about any of this, you can't deny that today was an historically momentous day for this worldwide and still influential institution. As various news outlets have been trumpeting, this pope represents a list of precedents, starting with perhaps the most significant: he's the first non-European Pope since the one considered the first, Peter, who of course ended up in Rome but started out by the Sea of Galillee.

Though of Italian descent (which is partly why he seemed to sail through early voting from the Cardinals, because the Italians didn't block it) he grew up and lived in Argentina. Which means the continent with the largest percentage of Catholics is now represented by a homeboy, so to speak.

He's the first Jesuit pope. Though many "American" Jesuits (i.e. North Americans, which is why I always put that term in quotes when I'm referring to only one section of the Americas) are more liberal, the new pope has been a traditionalist when it comes to a lot of the issues "American" Catholics care about: abortion, contraceptives, ordaining women, priests marrying, accepting gay marriage, etc.

But he is also the first pope to choose the name Francis. Possibly the most popular saint among Catholics, and certainly my favorite, Francis was an eccentric (known as "God's Fool" by some) who represents the most stringent attempt to follow the Jesus of the Gospels by forgoing material and worldly ambition and goods, and not just living in poverty but in harmony with nature, and always serving the poorest and weakest and most vulnerable among us.

By choosing that name, most observers, including this one, feel the new pope is making a gesture to show that his intention is to identify with Saint Francis and what he stood for, which included reforming the church of its material and worldly excesses. Pope Francis demonstrated the humility that was at the root of the original Francis's charisma in some of the first words of his papacy when he asked the crowd to pray for and bless him, asking each do it in their own way silently.

That was another precedent, a pope beginning his reign calling for silence rather than pontificating. The story is that this new pope when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires refused to live in the archbishop's residency and instead lived in a small apartment where he cooked his own food, and also refused the usual limo and driver to instead get around on his own, including walking and taking the bus.

Now whether he can clean up the entrenched Vatican power structure and reform at least the material excesses and outright criminal activity of the cabal that has been running the bureaucracy there is a big question. And whether he has enough humility to listen to the people that really are the church, many of whom would like to see women ordained and priests be allowed to marry and other reforms to what the conservative cardinals call church teachings but are really just traditions started to consolidate the power of particular groups of early church leaders, is another story.

Here's hoping.  

[PS: Damn. Just read something about this guy's complicity in Argentina's "dirty war" as opposed to the small number of Catholic clergy who fought against the generals and in some cases were murdered for their efforts. Guess more will be revealed.]

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


"Imagination though it cannot wipe out the sting of remorse can instruct the mind in its proper uses."  —William Carlos Williams (from Kora In Hell)


Monday, March 11, 2013


Too busy to post yesterday, going through records for information that can help me help my youngest with the school bureaucracy. Noticed this morning that almost every inch of the several inches of snow we had on the ground on Friday is all gone on this Monday morning. And Spring is definitely in the air.

One of the posts I had to delete because it was mostly just a huge lie (that "most scientists" now refute global warming!) reflects the intransigence of the followers of people who know better. Most of the Republican politicians know that much of what their most rightwing constituents claim is false but they cannot deny any of it in public without risking losing to their base in the next primary. Nor can they go against their corporate donors and the lobbyists who represent them.

The Democrats aren't in quite as much of a political prison in terms of their base, but they are in terms of their lobbyists and the corporate or group interests those lobbyists represent. One of the things that makes me prefer the Dems is simply that a lot of what their base and even some of their lobbyists are for I believe are best for the rest of us, like not being beholden to the big oil corporations but having to consider what the teachers unions feel they need to better teach our children.

Yes, it's the lesser of two evils, but life experience has taught me that that is preferable to the kind of blind idealism of my youth when I thought it possible to actually perfect humanity and its various interests and their impact on the world. I know now that the lesser of the two evils of the kinds of violent protection of the self interest of our nation and that of the totalitarian nations of say Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia deserved support because if the latter two had succeeded in their attempts to spread their versions of governing across the entire globe we would all be very very sorry.

If a third party that represented all I believe in were to become viable politically I would support them. But in the meantime, what we have is a two-party system and the one that best represents the interests of most of us is the Democratic one. Now we have to pressure that party into taking steps to thwart the corporate greed that has led to the pollution that has led to global warming that has led to climate change that has led pretty directly to the damage my family members and friends sustained and are still recovering from with "super storm" Sandy and the "super storms" to come, let alone the melting of the planet's glaciers and polar ice.

A worldwide movement to protect the planet should be number one on all of our agendas.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


So yesterday it was a winter wonderland here in my part of Jersey, and today it was a bright blue beautiful Spring day, still mostly in the high forties but so sunny it felt warmer and some folks were out with no coats on.

That's the way our winters happen now. It's called climate change and was talked about on the news tonight. One story told how Antarctica has been warming four times faster than the rest of the earth and the rest of the earth is warmer than it's been in four thousand years.

And yet in one of the rightwing stalker's comments I deleted that he sent just before we got the last snowstorm, he actually parroted the rightwing's line they use whenever a winter day is actually wintry and seemed to think that snow and cold temperatures are actually proof that those who believe in global warming and the climate change it's causing are liberal/socialist/deniers of reality!

Sometimes it feels like The New Dark Ages doesn't it?

Friday, March 8, 2013


At 8AM this morning I was shoveling snow in a winter wonderland. The snow was wet and heavy and thick and still coming down in big clumps covering the trees so completely and steeply that it seemed like the landscape had thousands of dimensions not just three, and all white.

It was beautiful. And then to a challenging meeting about challenging issues and me without my glasses for the first time in a few decades, even before my left eye gets the cataract removed. I need my glasses for reading and the computer but I can see the TV fine without them and more sharply than ever already. I can't imagine how it will look after the left eye's done later this month.

And then to the tax man and more challenging realities. And my fifteen-year-old by the way did most of the shoveling this morning a few hours after I did the porch and steps so no one would slip on them, especially me. By this evening the snow had stopped and some had melted in the streets or turned to slush and has fallen off the trees in even greater clumps one of them hitting me on the head but thankfully I was wearing my hoodie up.

And then tonight some friends and later one friend watching Bill Maher with me, not a great show, but a better monologue than usual, when usually it's the other way around.

And now to bed and some reading and more work to do tomorrow on one of the challenges I'm dealing with and maybe the gym and food shopping and hopefully some writing and reading and music and life goes on and I am so grateful for every minute of it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Caught Kim Novak in an interview with Robert Osborne that premiered tonight on TCM. She was always one of my favorite movie star actors and he is one of my alltime favorite interviewers. Osborne is like the antidote to that guy who used to do those Actor Studio interviews and made it all about him and his pretensions.

Osborne is respectful, but incredibly knowledgeable and knows when to keep quiet and let an interesting person talk as long as they need to. He throws in a clarification when needed, like "the casting director" when a name is mentioned, etc. But he got Novak, a famous recluse, at least from Hollywood, to not just come out and sit for an interview with a live audience, but to open up and reveal a lot.

Some of what she said was contradictory, or confused at times, which I attribute to her age, but most of what she had to say was not just revealing and informative—about the studio system and the the legendary directors she worked with, like Alfred Hitchcock and Otto Preminger et. al. and Harry Cohn the head of Columbia who helped make Novak a star—but totally engaging. Her vulnerability still defines her and coupled with her independent streak makes her as compelling as ever.

I was so taken with the interview I stuck around to watch her in BELL BOOK AND CANDLE again and found her even more beautiful than all the times I've seen it before, partly because I can see so much more clearly out of my repaired right eye, but also because she was. I don't know what a younger person would think of Novak in that interview or even going back to watch her old movies. But since the international critics have now made the other movie she made with Jimmy Stewart, VERTIGO, the greatest movie of all time (I'd opt for others over that, like say CASABLANCA), maybe this will be the beginning of a revival where a younger generation rediscovers an earlier generation's treasure.

And for me, Kim Novak will always be a national treasure.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Finally watched this tonight. I wasn't in a hurry to see it because I thought it would just be another Tarantino revenge fantasy ala INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, which despite some great acting and scenes didn't entirely hold up for me because of the gratuitous violence that Tarantino seems addicted to.

But several African-American friends recommended it and wanted to see what I thought of it, and then I found out just recently that a few old friends of mine are in it. So, someone loaned me the disc and I watched it on my laptop and have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. Not that the movie didn't in the end (and sporadically throughout) give in to the Tarantino movie-violence-is-justified-if-it-references-movie-history indulgence. But it did serve as an antidote to decades of Golden Age Hollywood genuflecting at the altar of "Southern honor" not just in movies directly about The Civil War like GONE WITH THE WIND where slavery is seemingly loved by the slaves etc., but indirectly in too many Westerns and other historical genre flicks that indulge the jive myths of Southerners somehow defending a genteel and honorable way of life and not just defending the idea of other humans being property.

So Tarantino uses the Spaghetti Western format, as well as some other genres including the Southern myth ones mentioned above (combining the Western hero and sidekick genre with the antebellum plantation genre and turning them on their heads) to make a pretty clear point about not just the cruelty of slavery, psychologically as well as physically, but also the lack of a black perspective in these genres historically (except for the exploitation flicks that Django also mines like MANDINGO).

There's a lot of controversy, at least among the Black Blogosphere, about a white man being the one to do it (Spike Lee was particularly pointed in his angry criticism) and maybe because I'd heard so much about the violence and the "N" word usage I ended up not being put off by either in the context of the movie fantasy, and actually found it less aggravating then when Tarantino used similar devices in other movies (the violence in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and the overuse of the "N" word in PULP FICTION etc.).

The main failing for me is the screenplay, which works amazing well in combining irony and brutal unirony to make some scenes crackle in a pretty unique way, but at other times is just cliched in a way that seems easy and indulgent. But in the end I was glad I watched it and impressed with a lot of it, including my old friend Dennis Christopher's performance (you might remember him best still from BREAKING AWAY when he was younger). Who really surprised me was Kerry Washington who should have been nominated for something for the accuracy of her portrayal of the fear and pain and despair a slave must endure, Samuel Jackson as the ultimate "Uncle Tom" in the worst way, and Leonardo DiCaprio who looked ridiculously miscast in the few snippets of scenes in the trailer but who was actually very successful at creating a full if despicable character out of what could have been a cliche.

I'd love to see a young black filmmaker address slavery in a more realistic film, but not Spike Lee because in his own way he has proven himself to be the predecessor to Tarantino, not with the violence or the abuse of the "N" word, but in the gaudiness of his imagery and story telling, ala MALCOLM. But for now, DJANGO UNCHAINED will do as a much needed corrective to too much of historic Hollywood's treatment of the pre-Civil War South.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


So in my usual obsessed way, I watched the other three episodes of PARADE'S END on HBO "on demand" since my last post—and was completely satisfied. I hadn't read the four books that make up Ford Madox Ford's tetralogy in decades but the TV show seemed much more sentimentally romantic than I remember the books being.

I did go to Google Books and read in it here and there to get Ford's style back in my mind and to see how much the TV mini-series differed from the books, and what I discovered was how many of the most memorable lines of dialogue in the HBO version were direct quotes from the books. As I said in the last post the books are written from multiple points of view, RASHOMON like, which Tom Stoppard's HBO version does not do, simplifying the story and tying it together in a more satisfactory way.

It occurred to me that Julian Fellows, the creator of DOWNTON ABBEY may have been influenced by Ford's PARADE'S END and then the HBO version of PARADE'S END influenced by DOWNTON ABBEY. At any rate, I'm happy the HBO version of PARADE'S END was so satisfactorily and delightfully romantic in the end. Although that means viewers will miss the tone and a lot of attitude and even dramatic scenes from the book that were left out of the TV version, for me that was incentive to read part of the tetralogy again and then despite feeling totally satisfied by the dramatic unity and arc of Stoppard's TV version, feeling the urge to watch it all again to discover what I missed this first time viewing it and enjoy it in some new ways that I don't doubt it will offer up.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


One of my favorite authors for decades was Ford Madox Ford. The reason was that, along with the books of Christopher Isherwood, Ford's were so well written my love of writing overwhelmed my antipathy toward the upper class Englishmen who wrote them and whom they were mostly writing about. In fact both these writers gave me insights into the common humanity I shared with the traditional enemies of my people (Irish Catholics). Quite a feat back in my youth.

I also liked Ford because despite my admiration for some of the stylistic innovations of Hemingway I hated his macho posturing, especially in his memoir A MOVEABLE FEAST where he singled out Ford Madox Ford for some particularly nasty dissing. Isherwood at least was gay and a pacifist and had other traits that made him ultimately less of "the enemy" to my younger self (and I was lucky enough in later years to consider him a friend), so embracing Ford Madox Ford was a more rebellious act on my part.

But it was Ford's most popular novel, THE GOOD SOLDIER, that drew me to him, so well plotted and written, his deliberate attempt to write a popular and critically successful novel after turning forty and having written tons of books since he was in his teens. It gave me something to aim for when I was young. I didn't read the tetralogy that is PARADE'S END until I was almost forty myself. I had just quit the only nine-to-five job I ever had, working in an office (a corner office with a view of The Chrysler building, which didn't pay as much as the view implied) for The Franklin Library after less than two years there, and decided to spend that summer writing, and reading PARADE'S END (as well as trying to act professionally for the first time).

I was never as big a Proust fan as most of my friends, and after reading PARADE'S END I tried to convince some of them that it was the English language equivalent of what was then always called REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST. I didn't convince any, as far as I remember. But for me, PARADE'S END remained for a long time near the top of my all time favorite reads.

Then the other night I was channel surfing when I came on an episode of a British TV mini-series based on PARADE'S END and couldn't wait until I had time to start watching it. So far I've only seen the first two shows of what is a five part series. But it's already clear that it is a much distilled version of what made the four books of PARADE'S END so satisfying to me back when. The distiller is Tom Stoppard, which explains why the writing is so intellectually rigorous compared to say DOWNTON ABBEY, with which it shares an era (at least for the first few seasons of D.A.) and class and political issues. Where DOWNTON ABBEY is unabashedly and satisfyingly melodramatic (or rather soap operatic) PARADE'S END is unapologetically, and for me also very satisfyingly, almost intellectual. They're both written intelligently but DOWNTON ABBEY more as intelligent entertainment and PARADE'S END more as entertaining intelligence. If that makes any sense.

Stoppard trims the complicated stories and the multi-perspectives that makes reading PARADE'S END so challenging and ultimately rewarding, and he modernizes (in the sense of a more direct treatment of the sexual episodes, unfortunately I think, though it works for TV) some of those perspectives. So far, though, I have to say if you love DOWNTON ABBEY and the sometimes simplistic stereotyping of the characters, PARADE'S END offers some of the same types only with much more uniquely individual characterizations.

And the acting is brilliant, especially the three leading characters played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall and Adelaide Clemens. Cumberbatch is so convincing as Christopher Teijans, the main character in the book, and Hall as Sylvia, his wife, that I wished the series could go on forever, the way I feel after a season of DOWNTON ABBEY. But with D.A. I'm in love with the actors and their characters, whereas in PARADE'S END I'm fascinated by the actors and their characters and feel like I'm watching a view of their world I've never seen on film before. And Cumberbatch plays Teijans not only perfectly but looks like a possible younger Ford Madox Ford.

You'll recognize some English actors from other HBO series in character roles, like the guy who plays Al Capone on BOARDWALK EMPIRE only now with a Scottish accent. Rupert Everett has a small role as well, and others. But no Maggie Smith stealing the show, making PARADE'S END feel even more realistic as it examines that First World War era and its impact on the pre-war world of English class privilege and tradition etc. I can't wait to see the other three episodes.


"People are all human
When you think about it
But when you don't
They're not"
 —Deborah Hendell (age 11, from THE WORLD FROM MY WINDOW)

Friday, March 1, 2013


There are plenty of people—on TED talks, on blogs, in magazine articles, etc.—talking about how our education system has to change, and a lot talking about how it was created for a society at least over a century ago, and in reality many aspects of it centuries ago. Including me.

I was writing newspaper columns all the way in the 1960s about how the college undergraduate curriculum of four years was basically what wealthy people decided arbitrarily centuries ago was the length of time they wanted their son (in those days) to be at school. And as we know, the summers off schedule was originally intended to allow students to work the fields during the busiest farm season.

One of the big disappointments for me in every administration, including the Obama one, is that no president or prominent political "leader" has presented a vision of an educational system based on present realities, not ones over a century old. From my own observations, as well as studies done more scientifically, it's clear that our public school system is failing too many students.

The pressures of testing that the No Child Left Behind law brought to schools, and their teachers and students, just added to what already was a growing problem. Some students are able to sit still at desks or do work that's fitted to tests that are also outmoded (as several experts have pointed out, the old education system we're still trying to somehow improve is based on the reality of governments and corporations needing people who could write clearly (i.e. good penmanship) do basic math and conform to a single idea of behavior and citizenship (basically compliant) but more and more cannot (and the pressure leads them to cutting, classes and in some cases themselves, and other behavior indicating a deep resistance to this outmoded system). 

Why any student would have to lug a backpack full of books that give them backaches and posture problems when all the information in those books is online is not just a rhetorical question or an expression of my own frustration. It is a question so obviously answerable—they shouldn't—that all you can conclude is that textbook companies have an undue influence on school systems. (We all know the reality of a few of the most conservative school boards in Texas dictating the basic content of science textbooks used throughout the country etc.).

There's way too much information available to anyone nowadays, and we know how overwhelming that can be for young minds especially (all kinds of figures get thrown around, like a five-year-old pre-schooler has been exposed to more information in his life than all of humanity up until the 18th Century, etc. and even if not totally accurate they generally express the reality). What students need is ways to interpret and sort so much information into categories including what may be useful information and what may not, etc.

I would love it if President Obama had the vision to state clearly that our educational system is outmoded and should be entirely revised not just tinkered with to make it relevant to not just contemporary realities but future ones as far as they can be projected. And yes I know it would face opposition from every side, but that would at least lead to an open and serious debate about what measures to take to totally alter a centuries old system that is not working for too many students and is not helping any student prepare for present realities let alone future ones.

The opposition of so-called conservative Republicans to anything that threatens almost any corporate interest has made these times petty in terms of grand political visions, universal healthcare reduced to a way too complicated set of laws that incrementally alter some of the worst features of a for-profit health system, etc. The president can't even get a small tax raise for the wealthy that would still be much smaller than what the conservatives' supposed idol Reagan proposed, so how could he get passed anything on a grand scale?

Well, that's my point. Aim for the "best we know" is the idea, offer proposals that envision huge changes that will drag a centuries old system into the present, at least, and leave those reactionaries who cannot envision a present or future that goes against not just corporate interests but past realities that no longer exist, leave them scrambling to catch up as they are right now with non-white, female and younger citizens in so many areas.

Wouldn't it be great if Obama pulled a JFK and outlined a vision for a future educational system based on how children really learn in the internet age and called for the country to achieve it within the next decade as Kennedy did with his land-a-man-on-the-moon speech?