Monday, December 31, 2007


Another film about unrelenting evil, though THERE WILL BE BLOOD initially does a better job of portraying what ultimate evil might look and sound and behave like, than NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. But in the end they’re both disappointing.

And it’s a shame, because perhaps the greatest actor of his generation, Daniel Day-Lewis, does another amazing job, but in the service of the unfulfilled promise of what starts out seeming like great filmmaking.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the cinematography which is consistently incredible, the directing, some of the acting, and ultimately the storytelling do not live up to the potential the movie begins with.

Day-Lewis plays what the old folks in my clan used to call “a hard man,” and as always, does it perfectly. He reminded me of my Irish grandfather, in the early scenes. The taciturn tenacity, the fortitude and resilience that turns to stubbornness and misanthropy.

But as in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, to what end? Based, as is NO COUNTRY, on a novel by a highly respected author in his day, Upton Sinclair’s OIL, THERE WILL BE BLOOD never captures the urgency of that book, because a century has come and gone since it came out, and because the obvious attempts to make the story seem timeless and universal fail miserably.

Yes, the generalized hatred and selfishness and greed and seeming alcoholism of the main character can be found today, and there are innumerable correspondences between our times and “the Gilded Age” of the late 1800s, but this movie doesn’t make that connection even subtly.

Instead it seems to lose its way in trying to cover too much ground while at the same time taking its time to appear thoughtful and thought provoking by clinging to images and scenes far too long, like student films do because the neophytes fall in love with the power of a captured image they think they control.

I feel for Daniel Day-Lewis, because this is some of his best work ever, the way he captures the physicality and speech of a man who has done the things his character has, a man alive a hundred years ago. In fact, it only highlights the other actors’ inability, for the most part, to be as precise in their evocation of those times and those kinds of people.

Day-Lewis sounds in this flick like old men of my grandfather’s generation (my father was born in 1899 and had a bit of that style himself), in a way I have not heard anyone do in movies reputedly about those days. Even early Hollywood historical dramas, or musicals set in the turn-of-the-20th-century, when the actors themselves were closer to those times, they always came across as clear products of the film’s times, the 1930s and ‘40s and ‘50s.

But Day-Lewis becomes the character so completely and perfectly, I felt I was watching a real man of those times somehow brought back to life for this film, especially before the movie careens out of control, perhaps deliberately as an extension of the character’s arc, but with no dramatic underpinning to give it any more weight than any other arbitrary choice.

It’s a shame. I was so looking forward to one of my all time favorite actors working with one of my favorite contemporary directors, Paul Thomas Anderson. But alas, THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a failed attempt to express something profound and profoundly dramatic, by profoundly losing the thread of the story, and the relationships that seem to be at the heart of it but in the end are dropped or forgotten or ultimately contrived and tritely treated or overblown and melodramatic in the end.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


Speaking of how THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2007 is a misnomer, and how even though it contains poetry by poets who I usually dig, or at least can appreciate their talent, it misrepresents most of them, e.g. Galway Kinnell, by publishing less than “best” poems, in fact, downright worst poems.

This flick has a similar problem, for me. When I saw the trailer for it, or what we used to call “Coming Attractions” when I was a kid, it made it look like a dumb kid’s movie, and I mean that both ways.

But on the recommendation of my friend Slater, who saw it with his grandchild and enjoyed it, comparing it to E.T. (as some critics have as well), when my ten-year-old wanted to see it, I figured why not, and was pleasantly surprised.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear great things about a movie, or have great expectations based on reviews or the trailer or whatever, I’m often disappointed. And the opposite is true as well. Often when I don’t expect much, in fact expect to be disappointed, I’m pleasantly surprised.

That was the case here. It’s not a great movie, and wouldn’t even make it to my ten best of the year list, but it’s much more than the dumb trailer presents it as. The trailer makes it seem like it’s about a phony-looking but cute little beast causing supposedly hilarious havoc in a home as cats and dogs and other pets always seem to do in the pet genre of kids flicks, even though the humor in these situations always seemes forced and phony.

But in fact, THE WATER HORSE is a very touching tale about wartime loss, not just of lives, or at least the absence of loved ones, but also of innocence and unfounded fears.

Alex Etel, the kid from another underrated movie, MILLIONS, steals this flick with his beautifully innocent face and incredible acting. But everyone in it does their job well, including Emily Watson and Ben Chaplin. (Is he the grandson of Charlie? He has the same diminutive stature and dark-haired athletic good looks, etc.)

If you have a kid, or are in the mood to feel like one, check it out.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


I spent a lot of this holiday season in bookstores, buying gifts on impulse that I intuit those I love will love. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

But it also gives me the opportunity to see what’s hot, what’s being pushed, what’s being discounted and remaindered and what’s new in the book world.

One of the most obvious places for catching up on what’s happening in the literary world is “THE BEST” series. Like THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2007.

In my younger years, from say when I first started sending poems out for publication at fifteen to oh, last year, I looked at these year-end collections or any kind of anthology, as either a book I thought I deserved to be included in, and would be someday, or as a book I deserved to be included in and the assholes who edited them obviously had no taste!

Lately, thankfully, I mostly have no envy or ambitions for these things because first of all I know how ephemeral they can be but also because I finally understand that I would not want to be a part of a club that doesn’t want people like me in it, sort of the opposite of the famous Groucho Marx comment about not wanting to belong to a club that would have him, which is the way I felt too often throughout my life.

But the point of this post is not my feelings about my absence in so many anthologies and end-of-the-year-best-of collections, but the absence of all kinds of other talented creators whose work is also never included in these things.

THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2007 includes a handful, if that, of poems deserving to be in a book with that title (like Elaine Equi’s great poem) while the rest are mediocre at best, even ones from poets I can often dig (like Galway Kinnel’s poem in this volume).

In the poetry workshop I host in the tiny living room of my apartment, the working people, who also happen to be poets, write poems that are so far beyond most of the “poetry” in this volume, it’s embarrassing to even think that readers will pick up a book like this and think it represents anything near “the best” of poetry.

The same goes for “the best” short stories and essays, etc.

It’s like the poetry in THE NEW YORKER, or the fiction for that matter. How can a magazine that includes such incredible non-fiction (if I edited a year-end “best of the year” anthology of essays, I could easily just pick them from THE NEW YORKER) which almost all the time engage and enlighten, also include short stories and poems that fall flat on the page, that make no impression other than preciousness or irony.

Not that the fiction in THE NEW YORKER isn’t well crafted, or the poems, to some extent, but almost every short story in the magazine leads me to get engaged with characters who end up most of the time doing nothing, revealing nothing, learning nothing, etc. The stories end in mid-air with the implication that it’s all meaningless anyway, so why bother. Well, why bother printing the stuff then?!

The poems do more or less the same, make the point that life is full of mundane moments that add up to, well, life.

You would think that all the “experimental” and avant-garde breakthroughs of the 20th century, or even the 19th for that matter, never occurred, except the one that opened poetry to plain speech and “free verse” and the one that allowed short stories to be pointless, as part of the point.

(Though THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2007 does contain some more “experimental” poets, like an old favorite Rae Armantrout, most of it falls into the category I just created above.)

Best thing to do with THE BEST books is pick one up in the bookstore and browse through it and when, or if, you find something you dig, remember the name of the author and go and buy their books, not the "THE BEST (whatever) 2007" which is ultimately either "the friends of” or the “most influential, with whom I have to curry favor” or “the ones who are getting the most hype because they have 'the best' agents or editors or publishers…” or just “my poor taste and judgment for all to see.”

Thursday, December 27, 2007


This post by rj eskow on his blog, nightlight, is so terrific, I figured instead of just putting a link in here, I'd just quote the whole thing. I think it is and should be forever a Crhistmas classic:

Christmas Story: Death of a Torture Victim

The citizens of the homeland didn't hear about it when he died, and many of them wouldn't have cared. They should be grateful we're occupying their country, some said. We're building new roads and bringing them our civilization. And didn't we let them elect their own representatives?

The Senators spoke fine words, but when push came to shove they yielded authority to their leader to do whatever he wanted. And so it came to pass that one more body was broken and one more life was taken.

You didn't need to "profile" him to know he was suspicious - more suspicious than most of the prisoners that were seized and taken to that infamous prison.

His religion, his ethnicity, and his Middle Eastern name made him suspect from the start. Worse, he was an ardent follower of his desert religion, with its holy book full of blood crimes and beheadings. And he was an outspoken street speaker, part of a radical fringe that wanted the interlopers out of his country.

Then there was the matter of the one who turned him in to the authorities. A lot of the folks being carted off to prison had been caught the same way, with an unconformed denunciation from a neighbor, a family member, or a business rival. Many of them had never been named at all. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And this guy looked suspicious, with his crazy desert clothing and his long fanatic's beard. He didn't just challenge the foreign occupiers, either. He denounced leaders in his own religion when he felt they had become too comfortable with those who wielded power.

Make no mistake: there were those among his people who would do bloody things, who would kill as many occupiers as they could. He wasn't one of them. But the torturers weren't very discriminating. They all look pretty much alike underneath a hood, anyway.

They seized him one night and took him to a secret prison, where they beat and tortured him. They posed him in humiliating positions. The only reason they didn't videotape and photograph the ritualized pain was that there weren't any cameras around.

But they made sure that lots of the locals saw him being tortured. They thought it would have a discouraging effect on the more militant ones.

He was innocent. He had no intention of hurting anyone. He was more concerned with the well-being of his fellow detainees than he was with himself. That's the kind of guy he was.

There were others who were violent, who wanted to slaughter the invaders. But torturing him didn't help the occupiers find the ones planning to kill. It never has. It only added converts to the rebellion.

The torturers didn't know that, though. They hadn't learned from those who had come before them. That's the thing about torturers: they never learn.

Finally they killed him. It was a pre-emptive and public assassination. They assumed that he would be scorned, ridiculed, and then forgotten. But he wasn't. His words may have been forgotten among the powerful, but some of the powerless whisper them still.

"Whatever you do to the least of these," he said, "you do to Me."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


I saw Oscar Peterson play piano a few times in the 1960s, when he was in his prime, as he was in previous and subsequent decades by all accounts.

As a piano player who played some jazz as a young man, I knew a little about the instrument, and the first time I heard and saw Peterson play live (and up close I might add from an angle that afforded me a clear view of the keyboard) I thought, this cat knows more about the piano than anyone.

He was, from my point of view, the greatest technician of the piano. There were others whose style I loved more, say Bill Evans, or whose originality was way beyond Peterson, say Thelonious Monk, or who played more soulfully or sensually or individually.

But no one played technically better. He was the master of that instrument, and proved it pretty much every time he played from what I knew and heard.

There was a precision and control, an exactitude and fearlessness of attack that may have been matched by others at times, but only at times and only in limited detail. Oscar Peterson always nailed every detail of every riff he initiated, and his riffs included unlimited detail.

Some of the ways you know it’s Monk is by the unique harmonics and staggered rhythmic approach, Bill Evans by the almost ephemeral touch and thoughtfulness, Ahmad Jamal by the use of space in his phrasing, etc.

But the way I always knew it was Peterson was the technical virtuosity, just a bar or two in, or even less, and my ear would alert me to that precision, that claim on every last key, and the seeming determination to use every one in as many ways as possible before the song was eight bars in.

He always came across as an affable man, an easy going, untormented creator. But he also always made it clear every time he played that he owned that space, that place, that seat at that instrument by virtue of his ability to make it do exactly what he wanted and what he always seemed to want to do was demonstrate every possible technical approach to whatever chord was at the root of the phrase he was playing.

Not in the way say Coltrane explored every approach to a chord and later to a tone, or Dolphy every possible way of playing a note taking it sometimes to beyond note-ness into the realm of animal or mineral or unidentifiable source of sound.

Peterson was a lot less complicated and experimental than that. He was playing pure tones, pure notes, pure expressions of the European scale and the blues-initiated use of minor keys and flatted fifths etc. that were the bones of “jazz” from its inception to late style Coltrane.

He didn’t seem interested in, or have much of a capacity for the unique chord extensions and configurations of Monk etc. He seemed contented just to play what others had already discovered and pioneered, but to play that with twice or thrice or more times as many notes, and faster, and still make every note ring true as if it were the tuning fork of the god of music.

And he always seemed to take great pleasure in doing that, as if he was aware that this was his gift, this was what he had to share, his enormous technical facility that made any piano he played sound not like him, not like his soul, not like his unique idea or message or break with the past, but simply like a piano played by the best piano player you ever heard.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Here's a speech given by a cousin of a good friend of mine. The man who wrote and delivered it is in his twenties, an Army chaplin, on his way to Iraq, and gave this speech to a gathering of other Army chaplins, who nowadays as my posts have been reporting, are almost entirely fundamentalist born again Christians.

As my friend said and i repeate, you may not agree with everything this guy believes in, but the power of the message is pretty undeniable, and certainly, for my taste, represents what this season and all seasons should be about, if people are going to live up to all the "faith" they profess and use to judge the rest of the world with.

Anyway, here's the message from Tim Meir:


My idea of Hell is to be on an airplane and have the person next to me talk to me.

Quite a number of years ago now, I couldn’t wait to get home from the annual Society for Neurosciences International Convention, that year in Miami. More than 22,000 of my closest science nerd buddies were there, presenting their data, leaving me feeling inadequate, ashamed, overwhelmed, and grumpy. Besides, there was a late-season hurricane that November, and in addition to being grumpy, I was wet, constantly.

I arrived at the airport two hours before my plane was to take off – and this was long before 9/11! Bad move on my part, seeing as I discovered at 0400 when I sidled up to the ticket counter to get my boarding passes that my plane had been cancelled. I was wet and cold in Miami airport until another plane finally took off at 1130. We flew all the way to … Orlando. Great. It’s now after noon, I’ve been up more than nine hours, and I’ve gotten a whopping 45 minutes away from Miami. At least I was in an isle seat, with no one in the window seat next to me! Heaven.

But in Orlando, that’s when SHE got on the plane. You see, she started talking to me before she’d even sat down. This did not bode well for Tim. She talked and talked. I put on the headphones. She just kept talking. I remember thinking, “how could someone that short and old and overly tanned have so much energy?” And she just kept talking.

Now, I’d been clean and sober for many years at that point, so I finally said the Serenity Prayer, (when all else fails, follow directions, right?) and I surrendered to the situation. I took off the headphones and began to listen to her. She mentioned that she was excited to be on her way to the West Coast for her eldest granddaughter’s Bat Mizvah, because it meant that “they didn’t win.” She then said was supposed to read a prayer in Hebrew at the ceremony, but she was having trouble with it, since she’d not spoken Hebrew in a long time. I just couldn’t help myself. Besides being powerless over alcohol, I’m powerless over my mouth, and I suddenly heard myself saying, “I can read Hebrew.” She shoved the prayer under my nose, and commanded, “Read it, Schweetie.” I did, and then she said, “Oy! Maybe you should just come and read it yourself.”

I began to like her.

When I asked Hildie what she meant by “they didn’t win,” she asked me if I’d ever heard of the ship the Saint Louis. I admitted that I had not, but was certain I would soon find out. Hope does not disappoint….

In May 1939, an entrepreneur in Europe sold passage on the Saint Louis to Jews desperate to escape the Nazis and emigrate to the United States. Depending upon how much money they paid, people would have to wait from 3 months to 3 years in Cuba before being guaranteed a visa to the US. Nine hundred thirty-seven Jews boarded the ship. There were 60 members of Hildie’s family on that ship: her parents, her siblings, their spouses, in-laws, and children, her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. When the St. Louis arrived in Havana harbor, the good Christians in the Cuban government would not let the Jews off the ship.

Now Hildie had come to the States to earn money to help her relatives escape. When she heard that the passengers weren’t allowed to disembark in Cuba, she stole $1742 from her job (a LOT of money at the time), took a train to Miami and a ship to Havana, and forced her way bodily into the home of the US Consul General, and demanded to be allowed onto – and off of – the Saint Louis, so she could give that stolen money to her parents. He gave her one hour to get to the harbor, get out to the ship, find her parents, and get back to shore. Hildie succeeded.

She found her parents, gave them the money, and the ship was forced to sail for Europe shortly thereafter, with her whole family on board. Hilde’s stolen money bought her parents’ entrance into Britain. But the rest of her family returned to the Continent.

Every single one of them, though they went into hiding, died in the camps.

They had all escaped! But they all died, because of the actions and inactions of so-called Christians in the Cuban, US, and various European governments. No wonder to Hildie, that her granddaughter being Bat Mitzvah meant that “they didn’t win”!

I was completely speechless. I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but that doesn’t happen often.

Over the next year, I’d call Hildie every so often. Each time I’d call, she’d ALWAYS say, “How come you never call?” It never mattered that *I* was the one who called, the greeting was always the same. Anyway, in December that next year I received a small box in the mail, and when I opened the box, I burst into tears – huge wracking sobs that took my breath away.

Hildie had sent me a Christmas gift. The note inside said she’d made it herself. I found out later it had taken her more than six months, once a week, at her Jewish Community Center, to complete it.

She had sent me this cloisonné cross that I’m wearing – the quintessential Christian symbol for a Christian minister as a Christmas gift. Her whole family – who HAD ESCAPED – died in the concentration camps as a direct result of the actions and inactions of so-called Christians. One could think she might have a teeny-weeny resentment against Christians. Look at how many Americans feel anger toward all Muslims, despite the fact that only a small number were involved in 9/11! Hildie’s whole family died. In the camps. After they’d escaped. Because of so-called Christians. How would *you* feel? I’d almost certainly be resentful in excelsis.

I burst into tears because I realized instantly that I’d been convicted of my resentments and my inability or refusal to forgive. This little old Jewish woman taught me more in that instant about forgiveness than had a lifetime of reading, Scripture study, and relationships up to that point.

Forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing. Forgiveness means giving up all hope of having had a different past. When I forgive, I get free from the past.

If Hildie could get to the point of making this cross as a Christmas gift for a Christian minister in the light of her trauma, who am I to rehearse and nurture my resentments against those who have supposedly “wronged” me?

But wait, there’s more!

Shortly after I met Hildie, a friend sent the following prayer to me, after I’d mentioned Hildie and the Saint Louis.

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have bought,
thanks to this suffering -- our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all of this, and when they come to
judgment let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness.

Prayer written by an unknown prisoner in Ravensbürck concentration camp and left by the body of a dead child.

How could someone, in the face of such horror, come up with such sentiments?

I felt enraged at the carnage wrought on 9/11, and even more so after my younger brother as the medical director of the Michigan Urban Search and Rescue team, raced to Ground Zero to look for survivors, placing himself in harm’s way as a result of the actions of those cowards. I wanted to make “them” pay – whoever the “them” was. There were lots of voices on the airwaves and “internet tubes” who screamed for blood. I was right there with them.

But a still, small voice stirred within me and drew me again and again to the Scripture passage we just read: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt 6:14-15) This, of course, follows on the heels of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel.

I just HATE that about Jesus! It would be so much easier being a Christian if I didn’t have to pay attention to stuff he said like that!

I’ve scoured the New Testament – even in Greek! -- looking for the parts where Jesus tells his followers, after he’s been resurrected, “I’m gonna make you PAY for having deserted me,” or “you who did this to me are going to be in a world of hurt when *I* get through with you!” But all I can find him saying is mamby-pamby stuff like “Peace be with you” and “Do not be afraid.” (Could it be that I’m using a “Catholic” Bible?”) Instead of hearing Jesus say, “stomp your enemies into the ground,” he says, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27ff) He’s got to be kidding, doesn’t he?

If my response to 9/11 is that we should just “nuke ‘em into the stone age” – an exact quote of mine shortly after the event, and when I was all hot about my baby brother rummaging through the wreckage, collecting human body parts – I’m not “loving my enemies” and I’m certainly not forgiving. I deserve better.

I keep hoping, but I never find what I’m looking for, the New Testament justification of my desire for revenge. So I’m left with the example of Hildie, and this cross, which is the example of Jesus.

I still HATE that!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Didn’t read the book.

Sorry. Heard great things about it, and was told not to see the movie until I read the book. But, I didn’t read the book and I just saw the movie.

It’s another unbelievable story. Fantastical. More fable than reality.

And yet the realistic aspects are mostly well done and the fantastic elements are acceptable because it is written (as I assume the book was) lyrically, more like a poem than an essay, on the horrors of prejudice and bullying, of war and brutality, of honor and cowardice and love—and the ultimate unfairness of any form of blind faith and total power.

But it’s a beautiful story, despite the unlikely coincidences and escapes from certain death that occur as in a children’s story, which it also deeply is.

I accepted all those obvious devices as I would fourteen lines in a sonnet. It seemed true to the form of the fable, and because it was so nicely done.

I was moved several times to tears, or at least moist eyes, despite the obviousness of its devices, or maybe at times because of them.

And thanks to competent directing and acting. The best done by Homayoun Ershadi as “Baba”—the father.

Over all, an accomplishment, to be applauded, which I do.

Friday, December 21, 2007


My friend, the artist Paul Harryn went to the trouble of gathering from the net the images of my last list, people I'd like to have known, which he turned on his blog into people I'd invite to a dinner party. Not a bad idea. This be them.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


What is it with all these movies that seem so promising and end up disappointing as hell. I mean literally.

That’s the way I felt when NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was over, like hey, I was so into this flick, it is so well done, and then it’s like huh? Same for MARGOT AT THE WEDDING.

Some major acting chops in one of my favorite actresses, Jennifer Jason Leigh. They don’t get any better. But she seemed poorly directed in this. And Nicole Kidman is great in these kinds of roles—neurotic bitch etc.—for whatever reasons, but seemed over the top at times in MARGOT.

Jack Black’s no slacker either, but also inconsistent in a role that’s a little difficult for me to believe. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character really feels like she’s somehow over-the-hill, reached a point in life when women become “invisible” to men? Hello! Look in the mirror sister. I don’t know any man that wouldn’t notice you and want to be in Jack Black’s character’s shoes, or shorts, or tight-y whiteys (yes, we get to see Black’s bare ass and a frontal jockey shorts shot). Only this isn’t supposed to be a comedy.

What does Leigh’s character see in him? Okay, I guess there’s something, the guy’s a movie star, but in real life. Come to think of it, I have known those kinds of couples, but still, not Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Anyway, I’m ranting and wandering and you probably don’t know what I’m talking about. So let me make it clear. A lot of great acting talent seems to have been wasted in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, due to pretentious writing and directing, and some very odd cinematography that I’d guess some critics have probably raved about but gave me eye strain (and may just be the problem of filming in natural light on digital rather than real film).

The story is depressing, the characters are pretty depressing too, and once again working people, or local yokels are used as scapegoats for meanness and intolerance and general barbarism, while the “East Coast” intellectual elite that the main characters represent almost make you understand why it’s so easy for right-wingers to use the ”East Coast intellectual elite” as scapegoats for all that’s wrong with this country since the ‘60s etc.

But the same kinds of folks in DAN IN REAL LIFE, (also mostly set in an off season new England beach house that none of us could afford) though the movie is less “independent film realism” (i.e. no kinky sex, in fact no sex, or much profanity for that matter, along with very little “irony”), come across as a lot less scapegoat-able. In fact, they’re more reminiscent of HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, if a little lower on the “East Coast elite” scale. It’s sort of DAN AND HIS BROTHERS.

Both flicks owe a debt to Woody Allen, but MARGOT AT THE WEDDING misses his humor and humanity, while DAN IN REAL LIFE misses his urbane if neurotic sophistication, but gets the humanity right and makes an attempt at some humor. Yes, it has a Hollywood ending that you can see coming a mile away. But there’s a reason for those kinds of endings, especially in romantic comedies, because they’re so satisfying people will sit still for whatever life lessons they also always incorporate to try and make them seem more than what they are.

It’s a genre convention, like those in a good action flick, or noir, or melodrama, etc. Nothing wrong with that. DAN IN REAL LIFE is a pretty good example of the romantic comedy genre, though surprisingly light on the comedy for a Steve Carell flick. But at least I didn’t feel cheated when it was over.


If you need a nice flick that entertains and satisfies, DAN IN REAL LIFE will do adequately. If you want to feel disturbed, and maybe depressed as well, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is your fare. I’ll take JUNO.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Falling asleep list last night I came up with a new alphabet list: PEOPLE I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE KNOWN.

Interestingly, I had no trouble coming up with the usual problem letters like Q (Mike Quill was a great Irish-born New York City labor leader, head of the transit workers union back when most subway workers were Irish, the way I remember him, he never backed down and was a terrific speaker, tough, articulate, and compassionate, one of my first political heroes when I was a kid) and Z, but it took me a while to think of an N and R and the U and Y (I don’t think I’d want to hang out with Yeats) threw me.

Assisi, Saint Francis of
Behan, Brendan
Coltrane, John
Dolphy, Eric
Franklin, Ben
Gelhorn, Martha
Hesse, Eva
Ives, Charles
Jefferson, Thomas
King Jr., Martin Luther
Lincoln, Abraham
Monk, Thelonious
O’Hara, Frank
Parker, Charlie
Quill, Mike
Roosevelt, Eleanor
Stanwyk, Barbara
Tracy, Spenser
Vinci, Leonardo Di
Whitman, Walt
X, Malcolm

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Here's an article Mike Graham sent me from the Boston Globe:

Control Sought on Military Lawyers

By Charlie Savage
The Boston Globe
Saturday 15 December 2007

Bush wants power over promotions.
Washington- The Bush administration is pushing to take control of the promotions of military lawyers, escalating a conflict over the independence of uniformed attorneys who have repeatedly raised objections to the White House's policies toward prisoners in the war on terrorism.

The administration has proposed a regulation requiring "coordination" with politically appointed Pentagon lawyers before any member of the Judge Advocate General corps - the military's 4,000-member uniformed legal force - can be promoted.

A Pentagon spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the reasoning behind the proposed regulations. But the requirement of coordination - which many former JAGs say would give the administration veto power over any JAG promotion or appointment - is consistent with past administration efforts to impose greater control over the military lawyers.

The former JAG officers say the regulation would end the uniformed lawyers' role as a check-and-balance on presidential power, because politically appointed lawyers could block the promotion of JAGs who they believe would speak up if they think a White House policy is illegal.

Retired Major General Thomas Romig, the Army's top JAG from 2001 to 2005, called the proposal an attempt "to control the military JAGs" by sending a message that if they want to be promoted, they should be "team players" who "bow to their political masters on legal advice."

It "would certainly have a chilling effect on the JAGs' advice to commanders," Romig said. "The implication is clear: without [the administration's] approval the officer will not be promoted."

The new JAG rule is part of a set of proposed changes to the military's procedures for promoting all commissioned officers, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe. The Pentagon began internally circulating a draft of the changes for comments by the services in mid-November, and the administration will decide whether to make the changes official later this month or early next year.

The JAG rule would give new leverage over the JAGs to the Pentagon's general counsel, William "Jim" Haynes, who was appointed by President Bush. Haynes has been the Pentagon's point man in the disputes with the JAGs who disagreed with the administration's assertion that the president has the right to bypass the Geneva Conventions and other legal protections for wartime detainees.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said that Haynes was traveling and unavailable for an interview, and she did not respond to other written questions submitted by the Globe. In the past, Haynes has made several proposals that would bring the JAGs under greater control by political appointees.

As part of the uniformed chain of command, the JAGs are not directly controlled by civilian political appointees. But Haynes has long promoted the idea of making each service's politically appointed general counsel the direct boss of the service's top JAG, a change Haynes has said would support the principle of civilian control of the military.

One of Haynes' allies on the Bush administration legal team, former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, recently coauthored a law review article sharply critical of the JAGs' unwillingness to endorse the legality of the administration's treatment of wartime detainees.

Yoo, who wrote a series of controversial legal opinions about the president's power to bypass the Geneva Conventions and antitorture laws before leaving government in 2003, called for some kind of "corrective measures" that would "punish" JAGs who undermine the president's policy preferences.

Yoo's law review article did not specifically discuss injecting political appointees into the JAG promotions process, and Yoo said in an e-mail that he did not know anything about the new Pentagon proposal. But several retired JAGs said they think the proposed change is an attempt by the Bush administration to turn Yoo's idea into a reality.

Under the current system, boards of military officers pick who will join the JAG corps and who will be promoted, while the general counsels' role is limited to reviewing whether the boards followed correct procedures. The proposed rule would impose a new requirement of "coordination" with the general counsels of the services and the Pentagon during the JAG appointment and promotion process.

The proposal does not spell out what coordination means. But both JAGs and outside legal specialists say that it is common bureaucratic parlance for requiring both sides to sign off before a decision gets made - meaning that political appointees would have the power to block any candidate's career path.

"It only makes sense to put this in if you want [general counsels to exercise the power to give] thumbs up or thumbs down, in order to intimidate JAGs," said retired Colonel Gordon Wilder, who was the Air Force's top JAG specialist in administrative law until last January.

Stephen Saltzburg, a George Washington University law professor who is also general counsel to the National Institute of Military Justice, agreed that the regulation boils down to giving political appointees the power to veto JAG promotions.

"The message would be clear to every JAG, which is that when you have been told that the general counsel has a view on the law, any time you dare disagree with it, don't expect a promotion," Saltzburg said, adding "I don't think that would be in the best interest of the country. We've seen how important it can be to have the JAGs give their honest opinions when you look at the debates on interrogation techniques and the like."

Key members of the Bush administration legal team have pushed to subject the JAGs to greater political control for years.

In the early 1990s, both Haynes and Vice President Cheney's top aide, David Addington, were politically appointed lawyers in the Pentagon during the Bush-Quayle administration. On their advice, Cheney, who was then the defense secretary, proposed making each service's general counsel the boss of his JAG counterpart, but the Senate Armed Services Committee forced the administration to back down.

In 2001, Haynes and Addington were restored to power in the Bush-Cheney administration, and the conflict over JAG independence resumed amid the fights over such war on terrorism policies as harsh interrogations.

Responding to the conflicts, in 2004 Congress enacted a law forbidding Defense Department employees from interfering with the ability of JAGs to "give independent legal advice" directly to military leaders. But when President Bush signed the law, he issued a signing statement decreeing that the legal opinions of his political appointees would still "bind" the JAGs.

And throughout the past several years, the administration has repeatedly proposed changes that would impose greater control over the JAGs, such as letting political appointees decide who should be the top service JAGs. Each previous proposal has died amid controversy in the Pentagon or Congress.

The new proposal goes further than anything the administration has pushed before because it would affect all military lawyers, not just the top JAGs. Retired Rear Admiral Donald Guter, the Navy's top JAG from 2000 to 2002, said the rule would "politicize" the JAG corps all the way "down into the bowels" of its lowest ranks.

"That would be the end of the professional [JAG] corps as we know it," Guter said.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that's where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." —Henry David Thoreau

Friday, December 14, 2007


Check this out, and make sure to push the page arrows to see all 13. (Thanks to Mike Graham for sending me this link)


When I was younger, The Golden Globes were thought of as a joke, the bad taste of a relative handful of “foreign movie journalists” (often from almost no circulation papers in nations you’d have trouble finding on a map) who were wined and dined by studio public relations agents and voted according to the amount of access their vote would get them to the inner world of Hollywood.

In more recent times, the TV show of the awards ceremony has made the Golden Globes more famous and popular. For one thing it’s better TV, since the stars sit at tables where they’re eating and drinking, as they used to do in the early years of the Oscars, looking more like regular folks having a good time, though more famous.

By the time the stars get up to present or receive a Golden Globe award, some of them are a little tipsy and more apt to say, or do, something unexpected. And they’re not just movie stars, since the awards are also given out for TV. And more movie stars are honored and therefore attend, because awards for movies are broken into two categories—drama for one and comedy and/or musical the other.

As the Golden Globes grew in star power and the resulting prestige, they began to be taken more seriously by the “Foreign Press Association” members themselves, and began to have an impact on, and become a pretty accurate forecast of the Oscars, which are presented at a much more scripted and controlled televised award ceremony many weeks later.

When I was younger the problem with the Oscars wasn’t so much the control factor, since there certainly were many famous unscripted moments—like the streaker who ran naked across the stage one year—but the winners were almost always easily predictable, usually an actor who should have won for something much better earlier in their career, or a movie that was such a blockbuster and perfect example of the Hollywood machine, it couldn’t be ignored.

In recent years, basically since the Weinstein brothers started Miramax and figured out how to get the attention of the younger members of the academy—meaning “baby boomers” before they become the senior citizens that the Academy is full of—smaller, “independent” films have been the big winners.

But last year was different, with THE DEPARTED going back to the tradition of rewarding a director for work way below the standards of his earlier masterpieces, in this case Scorcese. But “best picture” of last year, not by my standards, or those of many I know, young and old, in the film business.

Now, with The Golden Globe and TIME magazine and other critic’s naming films like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN as one of the years’ best, I’m afraid there will be sentiment for the Coen brothers to finally win an Oscar for their earlier masterpieces that didn’t get the honors they deserved.

At any rate, the season of ten-best lists and award nominees being announced is upon us. I’ve got a bunch of movies still to see before I give mine. But it’s already bugging me to see NO COUNTRY getting so much attention, when INTO THE WILD, Sean Penn’s masterpiece to date, isn’t, for example, and you just know that several years down the line Penn’ll do some bad imitation gangster flick or some other genre with a lot of blood and guts and murder, and get the accolades he should be getting this year for INTO THE WILD. And that’s just one example. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


It’s THE LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE of this year. And Emily Page is the acting find, as Abigail Breslin, the little girl actress in MISS SUNSHINE, was (as her male counterpart in the film, Micahel Cera is to Jon Heder, of NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE cult status).

Is it a little preciously “independent?” Sure. Over the top cleverly teenaged “now?” Yep. Probably pretty implausible when it comes to the realities it’s dealing with? Absolutely.

But so effin’ charming (notice I’m trying to reduce my foul language quotient, but it does sound fake doesn’t it? Always did to me when it came from me, anyway) it’s irresistible.

The screenwriter, who renamed herself Diablo Cody (which is over-the-top clever enough, but it works, as in I didn’t have to look up her name once I first read about her, how true would that be for most screenwriters, clever girl) is the new sensation in Hollywood, which is good, and will probably last longer given these more women-in-positions-of-power days as opposed to when Callie Khouri (had to look it up) faced the same sensational response after THELMA & LOUISE but was barely heard from (at least in the media) again.

An Oscar screenwriting nomination is almost guaranteed, as is an acting one for Emily Page, who carries the movie on her shoulders, or rather the strength of her quirky character’s edgy sweetness and smile. Some stars are born.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


To me it seemed like NO MOVIE FOR OLD MEN. At least this old man.

Some incredible acting and directing and cinematography. And since I didn’t read the novel it was based on, I can’t judge how well it was adapted. I read some of Cormac McCarthy’s earlier novels and dug them, but after a while, the bleakness and seriousness, and if not out-and-out macho, then the old-style-rugged-individual-masculine perspective just wore my already weary old-style-rugged-individual-masculine ass out.

He’s a really fine writer. And I suspect the novel is a beautiful document to read, in terms of word choice and sentence structure and paragraph building and imagery—as well as the lyricism of the cynicism. Because this movie is deeply cynical, and I assume that came from the book.

The Coen brothers are hit-and-miss, at least with this movie lover. BLOOD SIMPLE knocked me out. FARGO gave me great pleasure. MILLER’S CROSSING, despite my friends’ raves, I ultimately was disappointed by. As I am by NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, despite my friends’ raves.

Not that it isn’t great film-making. They had me from the first shot. I was so tense from the way they moved the plot forward, damn, I was thinking, this is some seriously beautiful movie making.

And then suddenly, there was a glitch. Maybe I think too much like a writer, and maybe in the novel it made sense. But the sheriff—played so perfectly, as always, by one of the masters of film acting, Tommy Lee Jones—suddenly his character, who seems so wise in so many ways, has no idea what the bad guy looks like, despite the fact people have seen him. Why wouldn’t he ask (and I’m not giving too much away here) the woman who ran the trailer park? Unless something happened to her we didn’t see and I was supposed to infer, even though there’s no references to it.

That distracted me, which it shouldn’t have. Then more imponderables, in terms of plot, began to pile up. Unbelievable coincidences and timing and stupidities and impossibilities. All looking very good, with lots of realistic blood and wounds, but to what end?

An end that left me feeling cheated. I could talk round the clock for several years about all the bad things I have witnessed or learned about from others or studied or experienced from one side or the other. As most of us could I'm sure. And we all know how messed up the world is right now, as it often is, and all the damage that has been done in the last several years by the Bushies and right-wingers, and Osama and other fundamentalist extremists of the big three faiths, and Putin and all kinds of tin-pot dictators and war lords and so on.

All that's hard to live with, and if I had witnessed some of it first-hand, in Iraq or Afghanistan or Darfur or Somalia or the Congo or etendlesslycetera, I would probably be totally cynical and despondent and deeply disturbed. But I also might have had some positive experiences and knowledge and maybe even some gratitude to balance that out.

What have the Coen brothers and Cormac McCarthy experienced or witnessed or know that I don’t that led them to the conclusion of this movie, where, I concede there is a drop of faith in goodness past, and maybe hope that it’s waiting on the other side, but otherwise, ultimately, just deep deep gloom.

Last time I was in Hollywood, it was bad on the street level, but nowhere near this bad, and as far as I know the Coens live far from the street. And as for Texas, it may be no country for old men, but I suspect it’s a lot tougher for the illegals and other non-whites along with poor white folks—like some characters in this movie are supposed to represent, like those that work at WalMart—than it is for Cormac McCarthy.

But then, in my perspective, the critics and the intellectuals and a lot of creators who come from privileged backgrounds often swoon over cynicism and depressing subject matter and negative perspectives on life and its ugly “realities” and a kind of helplessness in the face of evil. I’m generalizing broadly here but I think it’s valid—ala Cormac McCarthy, well-educated, never served in a war, son of a prominent highly successful lawyer, and the Coen brothers, also non-war-veterans, sons of college professors etc., or my usual examples: Bill Burroughs, the well-educated scion of hereditary wealth who wrote and behaved as if surrounded by all out evil coming to get him and the rest of us, with his cache of weapons he never needed to use on anyone at all, except the wife he killed in a supposed accident when attempting to shoot a cocktail glass off her head—or well-educated, wealth-accumulating, bad-boy-of-business-school Mick Jagger et. al, as opposed to say Kerouac and John Lennon, who suffered death and loss and dysfunction and cruelty and dropped out of school and were “working-class heroes” who spent most of their lives overcoming depression and cynicism and alcoholism and addiction, struggling to create work that attempted to transcend the cynical, even if only metaphysically, ala Kerouac, whether intentionally or just by nature, and have been dismissed by many critics and intellectuals as juvenile or naïve or etc.).

So the critics will probably swoon over this movie. In fact they already have. As well may you, which you obviously are entitled to do. But for me, I’ll take the depressing realities, but with underlying goodness in there somewhere, of GONE BABY GONE or INTO THE WILD or MICHAEL CLAYTON, and leave NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN to anybody but this one.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Saturday night’s reading—by poet Simon Pettet (top) and yours truly—from the two published versions of ON THE ROAD (the original 1957 famous text, and the newly released unedited so-called “scroll” version) was—as Louis Armstrong and Hubert Selby Jr. used to say all the time—“a gasser.”

There were typical publicity, technical, and coordination glitches between us, the readers, and the Open Center where the reading occurred. But once the audience was settled in and Simon and I found our pacing and tone, it started cooking.

Maybe some folks there didn’t dig it, or aspects of it, but those who stuck around made clear they were engrossed and even enlightened about aspects of Kerouac’s craft they’d been unaware of, or connections between their own lives and Keroauc and his cronies they had missed when they first read the book as adolescents.

We opened with some Charlie Parker recordings from the years when Kerouac was having his adventures with Neal Cassidy that eventually became the story of ON THE ROAD. After waiting a few minutes for latecomers, our host, Jonathan Bricklin gave a short rap about The Open Center and then our presentation began.

Simon and I had decided to start with a short recording of Kerouac reading his own work, to get a taste of his voice and his presence into the room and the evening. Simon had suggested Kerouac’s very short riff on THE BEAT GENERATION, from the great Rhino collection of Kerouac’s more professional recordings, including the ones to jazz.

But I’m the one who has that collection and I inadvertently left the disc that selection is on back in my CD player in Jersey. So we quickly decided on another from OCTOBER IN THIS RAILROAD EARTH but the wonderful technical assistant, Maya, miscued the disc, or the Open Center sound system messed up, and the wrong selection came on—a short riff of Kerouac’s on Charlie Parker, which, we quickly decided, wasn’t entirely inappropriate.

Then Simon and I riffed a bit ourselves on Kerouac, Simon addressing his craftsmanship as a writer and me the influence of his Catholic mysticism and study of Buddhism (before most “Americans” were even aware of Buddhism, let alone Zen) on his writing and the themes that reoccur in it.

It wasn’t as stodgy as that sounds, since Simon, with his English accent via many decades on the Lower Eastside (living in the same building as Allen Ginsberg all that time, who Simon was very close to) and me and my Jersey one, weren’t being professorial, but rather professing our faith in the greatness of this author who had a wider impact on prose writing than almost any other author of the 20th Century besides a handful, including Joyce and Proust, who influenced him.

Then Simon read some riffs Kerouac had done in an essay and in his famous list of “essentials of spontaneous prose” —explaining his theories of the craft of writing, and I read some excerpts from THE SCRIPTURE OF THE GOLDEN ETERNITY, Kerouac’s little collection of short prose hits expressing his take on Buddhist doctrine (and one of my all time favorite spiritual books).

Then we got into the reason for the reading—presenting excerpts from the two texts of ON THE ROAD, Simon reading first, from the 1957 version most of us are familiar with, and me jumping right in behind him with the same sentence or longer section from the unedited “scroll” version just published this year. (As Kerouac’s best biographer, Gerald Nicosia, author of MEMORY BABE, points out, Kerouac never referred to it as a “scroll” but as a “roll.”)

It took a few back-and-forths to get our rhythm, and for me to feel comfortable reading aloud with an ear infection that made my voice so muffled in my head, I sounded to myself like I was reading underwater.

A few people walked out, either because they suddenly remembered something they had to do that was more important, or were distracted by their own personal lives that suddenly demanded attention, or they were planning on leaving early anyway because they had things to do that couldn’t wait, or, hmmm, maybe because they weren’t digging either Kerouac or the way we were presenting him.

But the bulk of the audience stuck around, and after a while were responding with laughs or teary eyes or nods of understanding and perhaps identification and appreciation.

The most obvious differences between the texts is the elimination of any direct and graphic description of sex and/or drug taking, as well as the changing of the names of the real people the characters were based on and the names they ended up with that are now so familiar, like Neal Cassidy becoming Dean Moriarity and Allen Ginsberg becoming Carlo Marx (!).

But the subtle differences, which we made clear as best we could, were often much more revealing about the times, the 1950s and the uptight world of publishing that was only beginning to get cracks in it that would eventually lead to the wider freedoms of the 1960s and the world as we know it today, as well as of Kerouac’s original intentions and attitudes.

I won’t get into all that here, but suffice it to say that several members of the audience shared later how much more respect they had for Kerouac as a craftsman after hearing this reading, or how much more insight they had into him as a writer and man and incredible innovator. Mission accomplished.

After we finished with close to an hour of Kerouac, we asked for comments and questions from the audience and got some great sharing, for instance by my friend Bill Lannigan of his identification with the search for kicks and nonstop moving and traveling that is at the heart of so much of our culture and was first articulated in a way that seemed to speak for many of us never represented before ON THE ROAD.

The exchange with the audience was followed by a dimming of the lights and listening to a recording of Simon’s, not in the Rhino collection, of an interview with an obviously high Kerouac on a Lowell (Mass., Kerouac’s hometown) radio show on the occasion of the publication of Kerouac’s BIG SUR.

It’s a very silly interview, the interviewers sounding like they’re unaware they’re imitating Groucho Marx pretending to be serious and knowledgeable about some arcane subject, and Kerouac goofing on them and with them. It was a lot to ask for people to sit still in the dark for even more language pouring into their ears and so much of it sounding just silly and extraneous to the point of the evening.

But for those who hung in, I think they were rewarded. Not only does Kerouac make clear his original intention to produce for mid-20th Century “America” the kind of documents Proust did for turn-of-the-century France, but as Kerouac put it in the interview, to do it “faster.”

He also makes several references to his spiritual perspective and demonstrates his enormous humility (despite his legitimate belief in the importance of his writing, which is merely reality) by saying at one point something like “There’re a thousand guys in this town who know more about heaven than I do.”

There were other goodies in the interview as well. And when it was over and the lights came up, those who were left hung around for quite a while expressing their appreciation for Kerouac and the evening, with several people saying they felt inspired, or in the case of a few Europeans, felt they had a deeper understanding of “America” and others just wanting to continue the discussion about Kerouac and his influence and related matters.

(There were many friends in the audience, including ones I hadn’t seen in decades, like the artist Paul Harryn (who took the nonflash photos here of Simon and me reading, and whose blog I list to the right and highly recommend) who drove in from Pennsylvania just for the reading, and budding actor Jesse Wilson, (the accomplished son of one of my oldest friends, Tom, whose blog “Coolbirth” I also list to the right and highly recommend).)

So a dozen of us adjourned to a nearby bar and grill that looked like it was built yesterday (as too much in downtown Manhattan looks now) with a d.j. blasting music too loud for conversation in a joint that was mostly empty anyway on a Saturday night at 10PM with no dance floor so what exactly was the point of that.

After several males in our crowd had no success at quieting him down, one of the females approached him and whaddaya know, volume reduced to conversation-allowable level. This particular female, a novelist and lifelong fan of Kerouac’s, as well as an old friend of Ginsberg’s who when she was a teenager used to sleep over at his pad and hang out there when he was out of town, sleeping in his bed, where she said she had extraordinary dreams, was the kind of dark-haired beauty Kerouac would have fallen instantly in love with (and then abandoned when domestic life ended up interfering with his writing).

When they closed the place at midnight, asking us to leave, we wandered through the “East Village” passing by where CBGB’s had only recently stood among crumbling century- (and –ies) old buildings that have only in recent months been replaced by brand new towering condominiums etdamncetera, and the milling crowds of young hipsters spilling out of the trendy new bars and eateries, eteffingcetera, until we stumbled into a basement bar on a side street less crowded and found a couple of tables to fit us all and continue our deep conversations on everything evoked by Kerouac’s words.

I didn’t get home until after 3AM, (it would have been even later if I hadn’t gotten a ride from Jersey friend, Lisa Duggan, who attended the evening and was a bright asset to the conversations that followed) and went to bed extremely contented. Chalk another one up for Jack, and the capacity for people to dig deeper than our current culture seems willing to go.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


Ann Darr was a wonderful poet and great friend to me when I lived in DC in the early 1970s. I was saddened to read of her death on poet E. Ethelbert Miller's blog, and reprint her obituary below. She was one of the most impressive people I've known in a lifetime of impressive people. I feel fortunate to have been her friend. There's a short poem of hers quoted in full in the obituary (though not with the original line breaks) but I'd like to quote another here:


When I start to write
the formula for living
on the board, it's not
that the chalk crumbles,
but that my hand

Obituary Ann Darr: WWII Pilot & Poet

Ann Darr, WWII pilot, poet, creative writing professor, radio broadcaster, and mother of three passed away on December 2, 2007 in Chicago.

Ann was born in Bagley, Iowa in 1920, graduated from the University of Iowa in 1941, worked for NBC radio in New York, and was one of the first women military pilots to serve in WWII as a Women’s Air Service Pilot (WASP).

While with NBC radio in 1942 Ann was a writer and broadcaster for The Woman of Tomorrow. As a WWII pilot Ann was stationed in Sweetwater, Texas. Over 25,000 women signed up to join the WASPs and only 1074 earned wings. The WASPs flew over 60 million miles in every aircraft the Air Force had: small trainers, B-26s, B-17s, UC-78s, P-51 fighters, and the B-29 Super Fortress. By the time the WASPs were disbanded on December 20, 1944, 38 of the pilots died in airplane crashes.

The first B-29 flight by the WASP’s was to show men who balked at flying it that this was a plane “even women could fly.”

Ann was a prolific writer and author of eight books of poetry: Flying the Zuni Mountains, St. Ann’s Gut, The Myth of a Woman’s Fist, Riding With the Fireworks, Cleared for Landing, Do You Take This Woman, The Twelve Pound Cigarette, and Confessions of a Skewed Romantic.

Ann’s poetry readings criss crossed the world from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to Prague, Czechoslovakia. She taught creative writing up until the age of 80 at American University in Washington, D.C., the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, and other universities throughout the country.

She raised her family with her husband, George in Chevy Chase, MD.
In commemoration of the WWII Memorial Ann wrote an article for The New York Times Magazine, May 7, 1995, The Women Who Flew—but Kept Silent and for U.S. News and World Reports: The Long Flight Home: Women Served and Died in WWII. Now they are remembered.

While in her 70’s Ann toured Western Europe with other artists, writers, and musicians as a member of Point-Counter Point. This artistic troupe would float from city to city on a large river barge, dock, and then put on a day of cultural exchange with the local citizens. Ann once wrote to a friend what she wanted to appear on her tombstone: Late in life she ran away from home and joined the circus.

After I ran away from home and came back again, my Papa said go if you must but mind three things: stay away from water, stay off of boats, and don’t go up in an aeroplane. So first I learned to swim, then I learned to sail, and then I learned to fly.

Ann was stricken with Alzheimers and lived in nursing homes near her daughters in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Chicago, Illinois over the past six years. Ann is survived by her three daughters: Dr. Elizabeth Darr, Worcester, MA, Deborah Darr (Kevin Shanley), Chicago, IL, and Shannon Darr-Longstaff, Eliot, ME.; grandchildren: Judson Lester, Vera Lester, Travis Longstaff, Taygra Longstaff, and many other great friends and relatives.

A memorial service will be held at Arlington National Cemetery in the spring. Contact person:Deborah Darr900 N. Lake Shore Drive#803 Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 266-1014


I’m old enough to remember when that phrase was inserted into the pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s, to distinguish us from the “Godless Communism” we were “fighting.”

Before that, in my Catholic grade school, we just went from “one nation” to “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I think that’s the way it went. But however it went, we hadn’t been saying “under God” before that.

One of the many strange things about this country is the insistence by right-wingers that they are the true patriots, that they are the true descendents and upholders of the ideals of the Founding Fathers, that they are the ones who “love America” and anyone who disputes their perspective is an “America-hater.”

When, of course, anyone with any knowledge of our history knows that the Founding Fathers were a collection of individuals with various religious beliefs, stretching from not sure there was a God at all, to the majority Deists who believed God created the world and then left it to work itself out as it would, to those who were believing Christians but didn’t take the Bible literally.

Those who would have fit into a right-wing Christian fundamentalist mindset were non-existent, as that mindset hadn’t been created yet.

Now that it has—a product mostly of the 19th Century, as was the Pledge of Allegiance and other patriotic elements the right wing defends as if the Founding Fathers created them too—Mitt Romney has to prove his religion is somehow truly “Christian” for the right-wing Christian fundamentalists to accept him, and that he too is embracing the idea this is a “Christian” nation, or at least a “religious” nation and that “secularism” must be “fought” and defeated.

Like the Bush administration, and the rest of the right-wing that Romney is trying to get to support him, this represents a counterrevolution, overturning most of what the Founding Fathers stood for and bringing us back to the reasons our ‘forefathers” and mothers left England and the rest of Europe in the first place. To get away from governments that demanded allegiance to a particular religious mindset.

What a lot of us who don’t share the limited and revisionist interpretation of our history imposed by the right-wingers who have dominated the federal government for awhile now, as well as most talk radio and media punditry, etc., value most about this country is that it is based on the rule of reason, of law and individual liberty—all the things enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights—and not on some religious interpretation of a particular God’s will.

Why few, if any, of the candidates running for president so far seem willing to talk about that is obvious, they don’t want to be stigmatized as non-believers or “secularists” or even worse, anti-Christian—although the Democrats have and will continue to be portrayed that way anyway in the right-wing media.

Which is why a lot of political veterans worry that Obama can’t win, because despite his avowed belief in Jesus Christ and all the trimmings most Christians believe in, the seed has been planted that he was brought up in a Muslim environment with an Islamist education.

If Romney has trouble with his Mormon faith’s tweaking of Christian beliefs, how much more trouble will Obama have with the general electorate. Plenty. And if you think that most people will be able to see through the smearing that will begin if Obama wins the nomination, remember that a majority of voters easily bought, and most continue to, that Iraq had something to do with 9/11.

I come from depression era FDR Democratic ideals that see “the people” as ultimately knowing what’s best for themselves and if informed making the right decisions for the greater good. But the past two elections have given the lie to that belief, and make me wonder sometimes if Bill Maher’s characterization of the voting majority as “the idiocracy” doesn’t have some truth to it.

What could work to Obama’s benefit would be if young voters came out in greater numbers than they ever have. But I wouldn’t bet on that either. Unfortunately.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


"I have been writing my heart out all my life..." —Jack Kerouac in a letter to Don Allen

Monday, December 3, 2007


"In Saudi Arabia, a woman who was gang-raped was sentenced to 90 lashes. The reason? Before the rape, the woman, who was then 19, had been in a car with a man who was not a family member — a crime under the kingdom’s legal code, which is based on a strict Wahabi reading of Islamic law. Punishing the victim of a brutal rape is reprehensible. Then a Saudi appeals court more than doubled her lashings to 200 and added six months’ jail time, apparently because she had the audacity to publicly challenge the court’s ruling. Her lawyer had his license to practice suspended."

Saudi Arabia, where most of the 9/11 terrorists came from, where Osama Bin laden comes from and still has family and supporters, especially financially, where the fundamentalist form of Islam that justifies killing non-Muslims and trains young boys to be violent jihadists is supported and financed, and where the Bush family has deep ties that helped make them one of the richest and most powerful families in our nation's history. The same Bush family that justified fighting Irag (a secular Arab state in which women could wear what they wanted to, drive cars, become preofessors and doctors and lawyers etc.) twice, by saying it wanted to defend "democracy and freedom"—as found in the nation of their buddies, Saudi Arabia?

Hypocritcal bastards.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Dennis Kucinich claims to have seen a UFO.
So does Jimmy Carter.
For which they have both been vilified and mocked and ridiculed by the right-wing pundits and not-so-pundit.

Ronald Reagan claimed to have seen two UFOs.
But continues to be held up as the paragon of the right-wing. Hmmmm.

The U. S. is ranked number one for “competitiveness” in business, according to the World Economic Forum.

But according to the same group, the U. S. ranks 69th for “primary-school enrollment” and 75th in “ability to fend off organized crime,” 89th for “the level of government debt” and 107th for savings rate.

According to the same rankings, three of the top ten most competitive countries, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, have exorbitant taxes on the wealthy, which seems to have no impact on their capacity to be competitive and give their citizens longer lives of better quality than most of ours.


Depending on how you interpret the numbers, violent deaths in Iraq have decreased since the “surge”—

BUT Iraq is ranked “the third most corrupt country in the world” after Somalia and Mynamar (according to Transparency International).

According to a NY Times article “Some American officials estimate that as much as a third of what they spend on Iraqi contracts and grants ends up unaccounted for or stolen, with a portion going to Shiite or Sunni militias.”

In the same article it was noted that Iraq’s top anti-corruption official estimated that “$18 billion” [that’s BILLION] “in Iraqi government money” [which means our taxpayer money] has “been lost to various stealing schemes since 2004.”

He said that just before he fled the country “after 31 of his agency’s employees were killed over a three year period.”

I’m just saying: Hmmmmmm.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


I was down in Georgia for Thanksgiving, visiting family that left Jersey for homes at half the price and twice the size, and taxes one tenth to one hundredth the amount.

Me and my ten-year-old took the overnight train, coach seats down, a sleeper back. Seventeen and a half hours. People ask if we didn’t get bored. But in fact, we brought along DVDs to watch on my laptop and never got around to it because time passed so quickly, making new acquaintances in the dining car and café car, and on the way down in our coach car, as well as checking out the sites as we passed them (very close to the Jefferson Memorial, a good eye line on nearby Congress and Washington Monument, etc. as we passed through DC for instance), reading (me) and game boy-ing (him), but mostly socializing with each other and fellow passengers. Lots of room (he could stretch his leg out and not touch the seat in front of him for instance, in the coach seats) and lots of walking around (the aisles twice as wide as in airplanes), and for the most part the dining car meals were excellent.

Anyway, I came down with an incredibly kick-ass cold while in Georgia, and it’s been waking me up at night ever since. So, last night, to put myself back to sleep, I thought I’d combine my two favorite list-making devices—trinities and alphabets—and came up with the idea of movie triplets. See if you can guess the connection that unites each set of triplets (at least in my mind), sometimes obvious, sometimes not so.


BAD BOYS (the one with Sean Penn)




FORT APACHE (Wayne & Fonda!)





THE KILLERS (the 1946 Burt Lancaster one)


THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (the Frank Sinatra original)




Q & A