Sunday, August 31, 2008


Speaking of great film performances. (And of a little too much politics here and everywhere lately) a lot of wake-up noise last night, from teenagers in the parking lot not far from the back of this building my apartment is in at 2 and 3AM, etc.

A restless time getting back to sleep. As always (until lately when I’ve spent way too much time thinking about the presidential race) I tried to come up with a new alphabet list to work on to help me fall back to sleep.

I got to thinking about Graham Green’s film acting (see yesterday’s post) and then other film performances that delight me, whether the film is delightful or not.

So here’s an alphabet list of movies I re-watch often just to enjoy the performances because they delight me so much (which means I left off some films like ON THE WATERFRONT, which is on my all time top three favorite flicks list as well as on my list of great movies and great performances, but I can’t say the performances in it “delight” me when I watch it—impress me, move me, amaze me, yeah, but too heavy to find “delightful” in the sense I mean here):

AFRICAN QUEEN (Bogie and Katherine Hepburn, great acting chemistry, comic and poignant)
BIG SLEEP, THE (Bogie and Bacall of course, but also Martha Vickers as the messed up little sister, whose performance is definitely worth the admission to this classic film noir)
CASABLANCA (Bogie, the young Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains at their best)
DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (Don Cheadle as “Mouse”—one of the great star making roles in film history—and Denzel at his charismatic movie-star best)
EASY RIDER (I still think the movie’s mostly a mess, but Jack Nicholson’s star-making breakout performance is still a delight to watch)
FARGO (so many great breakout performances in this, Steve Buscemi for instance does his usual great job, but Frances McDormand and William H. Macey were, and still are, the revelations)
GODFATHER, THE, I & II (Brando at his greatest, as well as Pacino, Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Cazale, Diane Keaton, Robert DiNiro, Bruno Kirby, et. al.)
HOLIDAY (maybe the most delightful performances Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn ever gave, even lighter than THE PHILADELPHIA STORY)
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (maybe Jimmy Stewart’s greatest film role, and so delightful to watch I can still see it anytime, even after hundreds of viewings over the years, and the rest of the cast is mostly fun to watch too, especially Donna Reed and Gloria Grahame, in one of her most delightful roles as the young vixen —“what? This old thing” as she swirls her new dress around her legs, or at least as I remember it)
JUNO (Ellen Page, and everyone else, but especially Ellen Page)
KING CREOLE (Elvis’s most realistic and best film performance as far as I’m concerned, and a delight to watch as he tries to control his natural charisma and really “act” and ends up being a lot of fun to watch)
LAST PICTURE SHOW, THE (a little heavy, but with time it’s become for me more about the performances, so many breakout star-making ones, including Cybil Shepperd’s a much underrated actress in my opinion, but also Jeff Bridges’s first real star-making role and a delight to watch, especially knowing he will become one of film’s all time greatest actors, I still wonder when AFI or the Oscars or some film institution is going to give him the tribute he deserves for a lifetime of amazing, and often amazingly subtle, film performances)
MALTESE FALCON, THE (Bogie and Mary Astor in particular, but the scenes with Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet can’t be beat either)
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (great performances by everyone, but especially John Heder’s breakout star making triumph, and John Greis as the uncle without a clue)
OUT OF THE PAST (Mitchum’s best in my opinion, and early Kirk Douglas as a wealthy bad guy is compelling too, but Jane Greer steals the show as the baddest bad girl ever on film as far as I’m concerned)
PHILADELPHIA STORY, THE (romantic-comedy film performances don’t get any better than Hepburn, Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Ruth Hussey—and Virginia Weidler as the little sister—in this classic) (and can’t leave out Johnny Depp’s so delightful performances in all the series but especially the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN)
QUIET MAN, THE (I know I put this on a lot of lists, but deservedly so I think, one of the top performances by John Wayne, as well as Victor McLaughlin and Maureen O’Hara, as well as an amazing cast that includes the repertoire acting company of Dublin’s Abbey theater at the time, in mostly minor roles)
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (everyone, especially Harrison Ford of course, but mostly Karen Allen as Marion Ravenhood, who pretty near steals the movie for me—the latest sequel too)
SOME LIKE IT HOT (Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in maybe all three’s best, or at least most delightful, performances)
THAT THING YOU DO! (everyone in this Tom Hank’s production is terrific, but Liv Tyler’s performance is so beautifully nuanced it kills me every time I see it, I mean knocks me out with delightful appreciation of the acting job she pulls off that to my mind holds the film together and makes it worth re-watching)
USUAL SUSPECTS, THE (no matter if you are one of those who gets the story and digs it, or one who finds fault with it, the performances were all some of the most fun-to-watch film acting ever, but Benicio Torro’s breakout star-making performance topped them all and is still a delight to watch again)
VERDICT, THE (maybe Paul Newman’s best, certainly one of the most subtle and sustained, and the whole point of the film, it seems to me, is to just give Newman the venue to achieve that)
WHITE HEAT (maybe Cagney’s heaviest performance, but so Hollywood contrived in many ways that I can take delight in how over-the-top it is and yet he still makes it work perfectly in the context, a masterful film acting lesson about working with what you are given) [and as I added in a comment, possibly the most delightful performance in the last few years, for me, was William H. Macey as "Dudley" in WILD HOGS, unbelievably funny performance, backed up by the much under-used Marisa Tomei, whose performance in MY COUSIN VINNY is another most delightful one]
X-MEN (not that re-watchable actually for me, but there’s a lot of fun performances, especially Ian McKellan’s, who is always a delight to watch act in anything)
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (Cagney’s lightest performance, and as such, a total delight, at least for me)
ZOOLANDER (another movie I don’t want to re-watch that much, but every time I stumble on it while channel surfing, it draws me in with the performances, including the star cameos, but mostly Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson’s, who may be better in other films, but rarely have been funnier in that contemporary dumbed down way that I often find too dumbed down but in this one is mostly, for me, just pretty silly in an almost old fashioned kind of way—ala Danny Kaye and Red Skleton and other physical and silly comics of early Hollywood)

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Anyone see this flick?

I caught it yesterday on cable and wondered why I’d never heard of it. It’s a story about desperation and family ties and love and secrets and corruption and apathy on and near the Lokota “Indian” reservation in the Dakotas.

The screenplay was adapted from a novel, and the novelist’s name, as well as the screenwriter and director all sound “Anglo” to me—Jennifer D. Lyne, Adrian C. Louis and Chris Eyre—but the cast is almost all Native American and excellent.

Especially the two leads, Graham Greene and Eric Schweig—whose names don’t sound very Native American either, come to think of it.

Schweig has some difficult scenes to act and is consistently good, though not consistently great. But Greene.

It’s an Oscar worthy performance if I ever saw one. Greene plays an active alcoholic better than anyone I’ve seen try that kind of thing, including Nick Cage’s excellent performance, for the most part, in LEAVING LAS VEGAS, for which he did win an Oscar.

But Graham Greene in SKINS is worth the price of the rental. Amazing performance. Fearless and masterful. In fact the whole film almost becomes a demonstration of great acting on Greene’s part, showing the others how to do it, and upping their game.

There was a documentary on Brando on Turner Classic Movies also yesterday, in which many actors, old and young explained why for a certain kind of film actor, including me, Brando is the greatest who ever practiced the art. More than one of them expressed their experience that acting with him elevated their game, made it in many ways easier to do better, as is often the case for those working with greatness. Well Greene does the same in SKINS.

Ever since I (and probably a lot of us) first dug his acting in DANCES WITH WOLVES, Greene has struck me as a really good actor. But SKINS elevates him to a whole other level. Check it out if you can.


Here's an article from McCain's home state newspaper, The Arizona Republic, written almost a decade ago, but more relevant than ever:

"Those of us who've known John McCain since he began his Arizona political career made two mistakes.
First, overestimating the Washington media's willingness to look beyond a politician's self-serving façade.
Second, underestimating McCain's skill in camouflaging his bullyboy ways and reincarnating himself as a lovable maverick glowing with political virtue.
If McCain becomes President, America will have more than a prickly president with a low boiling point. He carries grudges, fibs rather than admits mistakes, cannot endure criticism, threatens revenge, controls by fear, is consumed with self-importance.
Shifting blame also is second nature.
It was vintage McCain who exploded when The Arizona Republic questioned whether the man dubbed "Senator Hothead" in Washington was fit to handle presidential powers. Instead of conceding what's common knowledge, McCain erupted into denial, blaming a newspaper vendetta (rubbish!) and George W. Bush for "orchestrating" the criticism (more rubbish!).
McCain's artfully contrived persona of a high-minded champion of political virtue works: Washington reporters blindly lionize McCain.
But venerable Washington Post columnist David Broder warned on NBC's "Meet the Press":
"After the experience we all had with President Clinton, I'm not inclined to disco unt the view of home state reporters and journalists who have covered a candidate over the years," meaning McCain.
But except for Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson who spent several weeks digging into McCain's Arizona behavior and reporting his dark side, Washington reporters avoid disturbing their "hero" perception of McCain.
ABC's 20/20 almost gave the nation a clearer snapshot. Sam Donaldson taped an interview with Amy Silverman, of The Phoenix New Times, regarded as Arizona journalism's expert on McCain. But the segment was canceled the night before airing, fueling speculation that McCain's powerful Senate Commerce Committee's oversight of broadcasting makes TV wary of offending him.
As an early McCain acquaintance and now a former friend, I find him to be a man of obsessive ambitions with self-destructive petty impulses. McCain admits to a lifelong thin skin: as an infant, he held his breath until he was unconscious when angry. In Washington, he's resorted to physical pushing and shoving of colleagues when irritated.
When feeling inferior, McCain belittles: he snidely said, for example, that he slept better knowing that George W. Bush guarded the Texas border as a pilot in the National Guard.
When he explodes, McCain is quick to threaten, "I'll destroy you!"
After McCain settled in Arizona with his young second wife, a millionairess, he asked me at dinner for help with a political career.
As editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic, and later publisher, I demurred. We socialized, however, including dinners in his home, and even once discussed writing a book.
But our friendship was shattered by a story and editorial exposing McCain as a liar. He'd boasted to me and my wife over lunch in Washington that he planted complex questions with the chairman of the Senate Interior Committee to sabotage testimony of Arizona's Gov. Rose Mofford, a Democrat, about the Central Arizona Project, which delivers Colorado River water to Arizona urban areas.
When reporters later asked McCain about planted questions, he feigned insult and denied any dirty trick.
I informed editors in Phoenix of the deceit. Within hours of a story and an editorial appearing, McCain was in meltdown, shrieking on the phone,"I know, you're out to get me!"
Several years later, McCain admitted the dirty trick and apologized to Mofford, who was then out of office.
· When NBC refused to support his TV rating system, McCain wrote NBC president Robert Wright threatening to work to have the FCC lift NBC licenses of locally owned stations.

· When Barbara Barrett, wife of Intel CEO Dr. Craig Barrett, ran against McCain's protégé, Arizona Gov. J. Fife Symington III, McCain offered to buy her out of the 1994 GOP primary. Barrett refused. Furious, McCain threatened revenge, which materialized only in minor ways.

· Barrett lost, but Symington later was forced out of office after being convicted on seven counts of fraud. Barrett, meanwhile, continues a successful international law practice and serves on major corporate boards.

· Maricopa County (Phoenix) schools superintendent Sandra Dowling, a Republican, refused McCain's demand to abandon support of Barrett. Dowling told Morley Safer during a "60 Minutes" interview about Arizona politics that McCain exploded and threatened to "destroy" her. Thereafter, her son lost his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, where McCain sits as an ex-oficio member of the Board of Visitors. McCain denied any connection.

· One of my Arizona neighbors, Dianne Smith, wrote McCain protesting his criticism of Anita Hill in confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. A widow then in her 60s, Ms. Smith was flabbergasted when McCain phoned her, shouting at her for "questioning my integrity."

· He recruits Republicans to run against Arizona GOP officeholders whom he considers insufficiently loyal to him. McCain's candidates inevitably lose.

· Upset about coverage in The Phoenix New Times by Amy Silverman, McCain phoned her father, Richard Silverman, general manager of the Arizona water-electricity utility Salt River Project to complain. McCain's intent seemed clear—using muscle on the federally chartered SRP in hopes Silverman would pressure his daughter to cease.

· Although McCain promised Arizona voters that "I've never tried to exploit my Vietnam service to my country because it would be totally inappropriate," his presidential campaign is built on his POW years.

· While he moralizes about corrupt corporate money, McCain unabashedly rakes in tens of thousands of dollars from Washington lobbyists plus asking corporations for their jets for campaigning. A lobbyist told Newsweek: "He (McCain) sees no connection between twisting our arms for money and then talking about how corrupt the 0A system is."

· As he lectured about campaign finance corruption, McCain's handpicked candidate for Arizona attorney general, state Sen. John Kaites, was being investigated for violating Arizona's campaign finance law.

· McCain attacks tobacco addiction, but ignores alcohol addiction. No surprise: his wife's fortune stems from the family beer and wine distributorship, Arizona's largest.

· While serving Arizona's First Congressional District, McCain lived in a modest townhouse in suburban Mesa. Impatient for bigger things, he took over a lavish home owned by his wife's father in a pricey Phoenix neighborhood 25 miles away. Papers taken out for renovations were in the name of "Smith." McCain denied deceiving voters, and blamed others—architects—for using "Smith."

· McCain's friendship with master swindler Charles Keating wasn't his only misjudgment in friends.

· McCain's Arizona protégé, Gov. Fife Symington, claimed to be a successful tycoon. In fact, he was bankrupt, later convicted on seven counts of fraud and forced to resign. McCain's wife was a front row regular at Symington's criminal trial in Phoenix. McCain still calls Symington "my friend."

· McCain picked my publisher predecessor, Duke Tully, to be godfather of his first child. Tully boasted he was an Air Force hero of the Korean and Vietnam wars—but ultimately was exposed as a phony who never served in the military. McCain says he considers Tully "my friend."

· McCain is no friend of free speech. He favors the "flag desecration amendment" that would criminalize "abuse" of Old Glory, and the number of news reporters he's threatened to have fired because of stories he dislikes would staff a large newspaper.

· McCain bullied Arizona legislators into creating a Republican-only presidential 1996 primary to benefit Sen. Phil Gramm at a cost of more than $2 million to all taxpayers. Gramm pulled out, and never showed up for the Arizona election.

· A person who was there tells how McCain reacted when a delegation went to his Senate office in 1991 to discuss liberalizing flight duties for women in military aviation. After greeting them with "Hi, honey, Hi sweetie," McCain launched into an angry diatribe, disparaging the women as "a bunch of Pat Schroeders"—the Colorado Democrat known for championing feminist causes.
Although he's on his best behavior now, the campaigning McCain is not recognizable to Arizonans who know his real persona."

—Pat Murphy (the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator)


"I've written worse about McCain since that 2000 column.

Now that I'm getting calls from Big City reporters for Arizona tales about McCain, I'm utterly astonished at how poorly backgrounded so many of them are about McCain - his temper tantrums, vindictiveness, his lies, his crass ambitions, the phoniness of the "Straight Talk" shtik, etc,

Little wonder then he's gotten away with so much in Washington.

If and when the history of media coverage of McCain is written it'll be a dark chapter in journalism."

—Pat Murphy

Friday, August 29, 2008


This is getting to be a pretty interesting game of chess. Not to carry that analogy too far (nor could I) but if Obama and McCain both lost one of their bishops early on (Wright and Hagee, or however you spell the name of the McCain preacher who called the Catholic Church the “Whore of Babylon” and the Pope the anti-Christ) and each lost a knight (was her name Samantha Powers, that brilliant Obama advisor who made the mistake of calling Hilary something nasty in an interview in England, and the McCain advisor who was still working as a lobbyist (one of way too many on his staff)), and McCain’s campaign has been aiming an all out assault on Obama’s front ranks, the pawns in the game, and Obama took out one of McCain’s castles (rooks) with his speech last night (or maybe both of them it was so good), then McCain’s choice of VP has checked Obama’s queen, not taken her, but has her temporarily blocked.

Okay, enough chess. The point is, it’s an interesting counter attack by McCain’s camp. It satisfies the Republican base, she’s about as conservative as you can get on the Republican side, and it satisfies the oil companies that control the Republican party hierarchy, or are it, since she’s big on drilling everywhere and anywhere and making our economy like Alaska’s, completely dependent on oil and the oil companies.

But she’s young and attractive, and there’s too many voters in this country who only go by appearances, and iconography, and imagery, something the Republicans learned well and use even better, or had until the last eight years brought about so much dysfunction and failure most voters finally get it.

She’s not dumb either, and they are harping on her supposed reputation as a reformer, though the Alaskan Republican Party machine was the most corrupt in the country according to many reports, and all she did was take on the most obvious unmitigated corruption and hide the rest, including her own attempts to get a state trooper fired because he was involved in a messy divorce with her sister (I think it’s her sister).

She’s also less experienced than almost any public office holder, having only been governor of Alaska for less than two years and Alaska being one of our least populated states with no, as THE DAILY KOS points out today, agriculture to speak of and no urban areas, let alone problems, to speak of, etc.

Before that she was mayor of a town smaller than most lower 48 suburbs. McCain also leaped over other, way more qualified Republican women to choose Palin, and of course many more qualified men.

But, there are probably a fair amount of women who will vote for McCain now simply on the strength of a female on the ticket. And to those who have no idea how conservative McCain already is (many women still think he’s pro-choice even though he isn’t, and Palin is militantly anti-choice, but I doubt the pundits will be talking about that a lot).

Plus McCain and Palin have the gift of less scrutiny and more favorable coverage, despite the rightwing claims that the media is liberal. A myth they have been bale to maintain for too long.

Yes, more reporters identify as liberal on many issues, of course they do, they’re generally well educated intelligent people who are interested in uncovering the truth.

But as someone who has seen articles written about either me personally or projects I have initiated or been involved in, sympathetic and truthful articles written by reporters who interviewed me or observed the project or whatever, and then saw what happened to those articles after the editors (or managers or publishers) altered them to fit their always more rightwing perspective, I know how the media works (let alone all the studies that have been done that bear this out).

While Obama has to navigate a high wire made of dental floss, as my friend Don McGlaughlin put it today at lunch, I added that McCain gets to ride around in a golf cart. I suspect Palin will get the same hands-off treatment.

Oh and did you notice how the talking heads either talked over, or the major networks and cable outlets simply ignored, most of the convention speakers?

The three most poignant moments in last nights activities for me, excluding Obama’s speech, because there were so many poignant moments in that it would be impossible to list them all, were when a long line (thirty or so?) of generals, we’re talking GENERALS and admirals (like McCain’s father and grandfather), many of whom had been supporters of Junior and Cheney, many of whom had not just been involved in the Iraq war, but had actually seen combat there or in the earlier one, etc. stood on the stage as one of them made a brief speech about why they all backed Obama and know he will make a better commander-in-chief than McCain.

Pretty significant for all the naysayers about that. But all these pundits who had been pointing out (ala the Republican machine’s talking point for the day) that Hilary hadn’t said that Obama would make a great commander-in-chief ignored, IGNORED, this array of top military officers saying OBAMA WILL.

I wonder if they’ll do the same for the Republican convention. Any bets?

The second poignant moment was when several ordinary Americans, many of them Republicans until now, told their stories, some great moments among them, the North Carolina nurse whose husband had heart surgery and lost his job and health insurance, the small business owning woman from Florida, the middle America former Republican Barney Smtih who had the great line about how the Republicans care more about Smith Barney than Barney Smith, et. al.

And the third, for me, was when Obama’s family members crowded the stage after his speech, and there was this wonderful array of supposed categories of “Americans” from what is commonly called “white” to” black” to Asian to Latino, but is really just the face of this country not only as it should be, but as it is. Sweet moment.

I have to admit though, for the first time in my life I’m including a politician in my daily prayers, because there’s no way the oil companies that run this administration and have had such a grip on our country for so long and have garnered the largest profits in the history of the world in these recent years are going to give that all up without a struggle, I mean a ruthless, perhaps even lethal battle.

Let’s pray they are smart enough to begin switching to alternative fuels and figuring out a way to make profits on them and aren’t as savage as I’m afraid they might become if their profits are threatened by, well, anything (after all, over four thousand American’s have died and who knows how many hundreds of thousands of other people, in a war that is all about oil, oil that has made Iraq rich while America bleeds money trying to protect what?—the oil there).


More tomorrow, but for now—it was the best convention acceptance speech I've heard in my lifetime. Anyone who doesn't get how smart and committed this guy is, how much he truly does represent the future and understand the struggles of the rest of us and has specific proposals and ideas to get the glory of this country and what it stands for back, either isn't paying attention or is so enslaved to some ideology or collection of lies and misinformation, they can't think for themselves. If you're still voting for McCain, you desrve the disaster of four more years of failed government and policies that favor the few over the many, but the rest of us don't.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


It'd be a little comic relief, if it weren't so deeply sad that this has been our "leader" for the past eight years. As they say, it's a wonder it hasn't driven us all to drink.


1. When Hilary made the motion to make the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party Barack Obama and history was made in more ways than one (and went a long way to healing the wounds she and her husband had inflicted on the nominee and the party during the primaries).

2. When Joe Biden began his speech after one of his sons (who he raised as a single parent for a while, something I experienced as well long before that became common) introduced him, and who happens to be on his way to Iraq in the military (but he had enough class not to mention that directly, nor did his dad Joe) and pointed out his mother (Joe’s) and what she had taught him and referred to the tragedy of losing his wife and daughter in the car accident that made him a single parent (before he married his present wife, a school teacher and as others have pointed out, the most regular-folks looking wife we’ve seen in the political arena for a long time) and the TV camera caught Michelle Obama openly weeping, and I remembered that what I dug most about my “black” friends back in the 1950s when I “went black” for a while because I was fed up with the racism and hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness and intolerance of so many of the “white” folks I was around in those days, was a capacity to show emotion, especially weeping, either with joy or sadness or a combination of both, and thought how refreshing it will be to have someone in the white house who isn’t afraid to show her humanity without filtering it through political expediency).

3. When John Kerry, I think it was, pointed out Obama’s white great-uncle Wade who had been part of the American troops that liberated Buchenwald at the end of WWII and he hugged Michelle after being applauded for a few moments and the reality of Obama’s mixed heritage was on display for all to see, and how much more Obama’s life and himself represent not only the future racial mix of this country but it’s racially mixed past that has been ignored or downplayed for too long (how many “whites” have some Native American or African slave blood in us, and how many African-Americans share “white” European ancestry.

(And one personally poignant moment at home watching it, when Obama came out and riffed on what had gone before in the previous nights and last night, my ten-year-old said to me, “He doesn’t sound like the other people, he sounds like a regular person,” not just because Obama was so relaxed and personal (a key to the success of the two speeches by the Clintons, though when they were at the stage of their political lives that Obama is at their speeches were still relatively stilted and wonky and in other ways not as personal and personable) but because he used the phrase “rocked the house” and other contemporary idioms that made him seem much more real and familiar and “like a regular person” to my little freckle-faced mostly Irish descended son, who had spent the day playing with his mostly mixed-race friends of varying shades of skin color and ancestry from several different continents. Which said to me, whether Obama wins the general election or not (or is allowed to by rightwing ballot shenanigans or worse) he is definitely and definitively more representative of the future than any Republican, let along backward-looking John McCain and his party.)


A little too late and I’m a little too tired to write much. But I thought tonight (I guess last night by the time I post this in a few minutes) was another great night for Democrats and for our country.

You wouldn’t necessarily get that impression from watching the convention, what they show(ed) of it on TV. But if you can ignore the media commentary, which is almost always dominated by Republican Party talking points (which only John Stewart’s THE DAILY SHOW seems courageous and smart enough to occasionally make a point of by showing clips of top Republicans being interviewed on TV on the same day and all of them using the same key phrases etc, as in the commentary after Hilary’s speech that she didn’t say Obama would make a good commander-in-chief specifically, which came right off the wires, as they say, from McCain’s headquarters and was being stated as analysis by all kinds of commentators within minutes. By the way, she just said he’d make a great president and certainly a lot better than McCain would be.

The only thing the Republicans have going for themselves that they can talk about is “experience” (and the unstated racism or fear of the unknown they harp on in the dirty tricks part of their campaign, viral e mails etc.) which, when you examine it, seems to have led McCain to throw away his core beliefs and embrace Junior’s, and Obama’s reasoned judgments to be adopted by Junior’s administration after seven years of Junior’s policies coming up failures (something a lot of speakers tonight (last night by now) pointed out, though only a few were shown, including Bill Clinton and Joe Biden.

In past times, pre-Nixonian “dirty tricks” (the name they themselves gave it) and pre-Lee Atwater (the Karl Rove of the Reagan administration who died young of a brain tumor, I think it was, and who made a death bed apology to the nation for the dirty tricks he instigated and directed for Reagan) and pre-Karl Rove-Dick Cheney-Junior antics and mess ups, in those pre-rightwing dominant times, when “liberal” wasn’t a dirty word, but in fact the political philosophy that defeated the Great Depression, the Nazis and Facists and Japanese militarists and segregation and the third world kind of malnutrition and poverty still found in the USA pre-LBJ etc., this convention would have been televised in full, and the message the Democrats are sending to the country would have gotten out unadulterated.

But, as anonymous pointed out in that comment I posted as a quote a few posts back, the media is dominated by the rightwing and as I have repeatedly pointed out has been for a while, and their smartest trick is to call anyone who questions that reality “the liberal media” (they have been attacking Kieth Olberman relentlessly because he is the first and as far as I can see only truly left of center commentator in the media today, because the rightwing has done such a good job of moving the center so far right most people have no idea what left of center even means anymore).

But, aside from the media bias toward McCain (documented in several recent studies that show the percentage of negative stories on Obama and his wife and campaign way higher than the percentage of negative stories on McCain and his family and campaign (as I pointed out before the media in fact has left Cindy McCain almost entirely alone, despite all her past problems and her vast wealth and the soap opera of her getting together with McCain while McCain’s then wife was ill (seemingly a common Republican politician practice, it would take a while to list all who have done this, including Gingrich, who did it twice to two wives!))) etc.

Anyway, as I was saying, putting all that aside, anyone who heard any of the Democratic convention and still thinks McCain and the Republicans would be a great idea (or at least anyone who makes under 200,000 a year and cares about anyone other than themselves or their own inner circle) doesn’t know how to use their brain the way God (or mother nature) intended, but instead only the way the rightwing has distorted that intention.

There were a lot of great lines that would be great slogans for the campaign too, but the best may have come from Biden’s speech when he said, “We don’t need a good soldier, we need a wise leader” ( and as anonymous pointed out, we don’t even know how good a soldier McCain would make, because as a military pilot he had a habit of crashing planes and in combat he got shot down and as a P.O.W. he signed and read a statement in favor of the enemy, etc. not that many of us wouldn’t have done the same under torture (more proof that torture doesn’t work since we can all agree McCain didn’t really mean he supported the North Vietnamese against the U. S.) and all you have to do to see that Obama is already a wise leader is read his policy statements on his campaign web site or just watch the news and see how many of his positions the current administration has come around to and adopted since theirs have almost all failed, and if you can find them (not easy, hmmm wonder why) look up all the Republicans, including prominent Republican politicians and office holders, who have endorsed Obama (interesting that none of the TV channels except for PBS showed any of the Republican office holders who spoke at this convention in support of Obama, do you think they won’t show Joe Liberman speaking on behalf of McCain at the Republican convention? That’s what they used to call a sure bet.).

These rightwing commentators in the media and even on this blog would all just seem like silly asses, as the Brits used to call it, if they weren’t so successful at convincing people that what’s bad for the majority of us is actually what we all should vote for, or convincing at least enough of the voters to make it close enough for their dirty poll tricks to make the difference (like all the African-Americans who happen to live in districts where there aren’t enough voting machines or they keep breaking down or they turn out to produce votes for candidates the voters say they never voted for, etc.)

Guess even as tired as I am I still had a lot to say. Oh well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Well, she redeemed herself for me pretty much. It was the best speech I ever heard her make. As my friend Bill said, who watched it with me, he could feel her.

Of course the rightwing immediately disseminated its spin, from McCain’s campaign headquarters, that she never said Obama would make a good commander-in-chief. But as Keith Oberman pointed out on MSNBC, she did say that the future and the lives of our children and grandchildren hung in the balance and depended on us voting for Obama.

But the rightwing spin will become a talking point in the media, because as dismal as it is, their capacity to infuse the news we get almost anywhere with their propaganda and misinformation and spin and lies is pretty deeply woven into the fabric of our information system now.

And thanks to various changes in our education system and the ways in which “Americans” haven’t been taught critical thinking and fact checking etc., a lot of the public falls for it.

Bill was interested in what FOX News was saying, since a lot of the people in his old Brooklyn neighborhood get their information from there, especially Hannity and O’Reilly, those two traitors to our common Irish-Catholic working-class background (although theirs has been embroidered to actually look more like ours than it was) and when I turned to FOX, what was being said by Chris Wallace and being presented as his expert analysis was that Hilary failed to say in her speech that Obama would make a good commander-in-chief. Any doubts where their news comes from? Republican headquarters, obviously.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the first things the Nixon administration did after their 1968 victory was to attack the “liberal education system” and higher education in general, through Spiro Agnew speeches (often written by that other traitor to his background Pat Buchanan, who I don’t know why we have to listen to his drivel on MSNBC when FOX and the rightwing media don’t include Clinton’s or Carter’s speechwriters as one of their main commentators), because it was a generation of educated young people who were questioning the assumptions of the older generation and its hypocrisy and deceptions etc.

Now we partly have the kind of miseducated masses they were striving to create, by undermining the public education system and the teaching profession etc. So a lot of people fall for their propaganda, thinking hmmmm, they’re right (pun intended) Hilary didn’t explicitly talk about Obama as commander-in-chief.

It’s like the previous night punditry on the channels that covered the convention, almost all repeated the spin that the night was weak with no “red meat” in the speeches or attacks on McCain etc. etc. etc. When they were going on right behind them but they were talking over them.

The red herrings thrown out by the right are so obvious to anyone who pays attention, but, unfortunately, a lot of people don’t pay attention. One of the most obvious red herrings is that we don’t know who Obama is. No, we do know, those of us who have been paying attention, the man has written several books about himself, bestsellers, and has been talked about all over the media for years now.

Who we don’t really know are the Republican candidates, as always. How many times have we seen stories about Michelle Obama’s anti-American comments. None of which she made. Now, how many times have we seen stories on how Laura Bush was responsible for the killing of a boyfriend in a car accident? Or Cindy McCain’s drug problems?

I heard the words “soap opera” and the Clintons thrown together several times last night by the media, especially FOX News, but I can’t remember ever hearing it thrown around about the Bushes, despite Laura’s accident, Junior’s drug and alcohol addictions and arrests (the first occupant of the white house with an arrest record, of convictions) his daughters many problems with alcohol and public displays of arrogance and disdain for rules and other people, Jeb’s family’s problems, etc. etc.

The reason we don’t hear about that is because the right gets up in arms if you question anything about their personal lives or their personal mythologies (Reagan was somehow a hero, who also happened to lie about his service in WWII which he spent in Hollywood, Junior is a born again Christian who chuckles at the fate of people he sends to the electric chair, more than any other governor in history, who beg for pardons because they too have been reborn, but he refuses to pardon etc. etc.) and the media backs down, and the Democrats back off because “liberals” accept that we all have faults sometimes and problems and don’t want to use them against others.

Liberals believe in and try to act on the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or as Jesus put it, love your neighbor as yourself. While meanwhile, the rightwing pretends to pay homage to some Christian religion that seems to ignore Christ and base its religious ideology on Old Testament precepts Jesus said he came to replace and their political tactics on Machiavelli, not exactly a follower of Christ’s ideas.

It’s pretty tiring and sometimes sickening to live in a society so ruled by the right for the benefit of the privileged few while so many are not only unaware of that reality but convinced of the opposite by rightwing propaganda, meaning lies and misinformation.

I thought the poet E. Ethelbert Miller has an interesting take on some of this on his E-NOTES blog, so I’ll end this by quoting from it:

“Help me with this one. Do you believe the Chinese Government when they say the air is clean?

Do you believe "mainstream" US media when they cover political campaigns? Lately we've been hearing all this nonsense about "we don't know who Obama is" over and over again. How long has this guy been running for president? Do you know what David Brooks wrote in The New York Times today? Here it is:

Obama's chief problem in this campaign is that large numbers of voters still don't know who he is.

Let's be fair for a moment. I have no idea who David Brooks is or thinks he is. I do know this guy has access to newspaper and television outlets. But who does he represent? What are his interests? Do you know when you pick up The New York Times? I'm a slow learner. I do know that much of this nonsense about not knowing who Obama is comes more from the media than McCain's office. It seems the media has finally found the words of a mantra they want to repeat over and over to the American voters. They have found something they believe finally sticks to Obama. And why might it be successful to keep repeating we don't know who Obama is? Well, Richard Wright isn't 100 years old this year for nothing. Obama is Bigger Thomas. Did we really know Bigger? Did Bigger really know himself? As I mentioned in a previous E-Note, the slick thing to do is not associate Obama with being black; just associate him with darkness and the unknown. No way you can escape the fear of the dark - can you? For some voters Obama is their worse nightmare. Cookies and milk before election day is not going to change their minds. Neither is one speech by Michelle Obama. Inside every black man might be a Bigger. Yipes!

But let's get back to Brooks and the media. Just monitor how often on the air or in print you hear a reporter repeat the mantra over and over again:

Obama needs to explain himself to the American people. People don't really know who he is.

When you hear this it's nothing but "tagging." It's the use of "racial paint" to keep the world in black and white. This is the past. The future is a time in which we must go out into the world and search for color everywhere. This is the future of America and its promise.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Some people found it an uninspiring evening. Not me.

Watching Ted Kennedy’s last hurrah, essentially the last hurrah of his generation of Kennedys, brought tears to my eyes, thinking of my father and me watching the 1956 Democratic convention where JFK, a young Senator like Obama then, made his first national impact in his first convention speech (much like Obama) and my old man predicted he’d be our first “Irish Catholic” president.

Then living through that election and the ethnic and religious turmoil and prejudice and fear and insults (one joke at the time was that if JFK became president, he’d put the pope on a U. S. postage stamp so that all Americans would have to lick the pope’s bottom).

I remember having to be held back from punching a sergeant in the Air Force who was making scathingly insulting remarks about JFK while he was president before he was assassinated.

My father carried a newspaper ad folded up in his wallet from his younger adulthood that said: “Irish Catholics need not apply.” The pride that filled us on JFK’s not just winning the election, but giving such a profound and moving inauguration speech (as well as my own excitement over JFK being the first president to have a poet read at his inauguration and the first to invite jazz musicians to play at the White House), as well as the historic significance for us regular Irish Catholic folks down at the street level feeling we had a champion of our own, cannot be explained if you weren’t there experiencing it.

All that and more poured into my heart and soul as Teddy waved farewell, no matter what his words were saying.

Having been the youngest and wildest child in my large family, who made some huge mistakes in my youth and not so youth, I could also identify with Teddy’s life story in some ways. But the ways in which I don’t identify, seem even more significant. Like here’s a young playboy who could have spent his life like many other rich kids, indulging in the pastimes of the wealthy with little thought for others, but instead he became the workhorse of the Senate and in the estimation of several historians, as well as me, the best, most effective Senator in our history.

(There’s a reason the rightwing made him the poster boy for raising funds for so many years, because Teddy was so effective at getting laws passed that used the government to help the poor and the working class and the uninsured and children and women and minorities and all the causes the Democrats have always stood for, sometimes better than others, and rightwing Republicans have been against, for reasons I’m sure will be pointed out by some of them on comments on this post, but the reality cannot be denied.)

So my father and generations of Irish Catholic working people—as well as so many other Americans who had no real representation because they were too poor or weak or too much of a minority, etc.—were in my heart and thoughts as I watched this white-haired, pink-faced Mick wave goodby to a world he made better through hard work, deep commitment, and intelligence (he wasn’t called “the lion of the Senate” for nothing).

Then to see Michelle Obama’s speech not that much later, really got to me. So many of my friends from back when many parts of this country were legally segregated and much of the rest of the country was de facto, as they said, segregated, when racism was a given, accepted as something that would never change, are gone.

We struggled to change that status quo and did, with nothing but resistance from the rightwing of the Democratic Party of those times as well as the up and coming right wing of the Republican Party, but more importantly the indifference by so many fellow citizens to the injustices of those times, so much more blatant than anything we see now.

To witness an African-American woman speaking so passionately (no matter what problems she might have been having with the difficulties and fears and self-consciousness of addressing a vast space filled with thousands of people, let alone the millions watching on TV) about where she came from, as well as her husband, to arrive at this point, and to remember all those I’ve known who fought so hard to get this country to this same point and who weren’t here to witness this achievement, was almost unbelievable.

What can I say, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, joy and sadness all at once, for so much that had to happen before this could be possible. No matter who wins the election, the historic achievement of Obama’s campaign cannot be denied nor reversed. It has been done, and Michelle’s speech, her grace and beauty and confident presence as not just a fellow citizen, but as an African-American woman representing all that, was both moving and enlightening. Can you imagine the weight of that responsibility? How well she dealt with all that.

It was such an historic moment, and so many ghosts seemed to be in my living room watching it with me, I could hardly keep from weeping with relief and joy and wonder at the reality of it as well as the deep sense of so many missing from this milestone, including so many personal friends and lovers and fellow fighters in the battles that had to be fought to get us all here, like it or not.

The next three days will be gravy, as they say. And for all the pundits who kept commenting on how there were little or no attacks on McCain and Bush (and of course as they were saying this they were talking over what well could have been attacks on McCain and Bush by the lesser-known speakers who the networks were ignoring—I can’t believe that in this day and age with thousands of media outlets, there wasn’t one I could find that just showed the convention from beginning to end unedited or commented on) I hope the next three days will take care of that.

And I might add, the short film on Jimmy Carter’s work in New Orleans with the Katrina survivors and his comments on that shown earlier in the evening was a moving piece of work as well, and a tribute to an ex-president who like Teddy Kennedy could have spent his later years on a permanent vacation or retirement (or exploiting his presidency for large fees from corporations etc. like Reagan) but instead has chosen to act on his faith and do good works for the least of our fellow humans.

All in all an impressive night for this old fan of politics.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Thought this response to rightwing attacks on my Biden post makes some points worth repeating, so here it is:

As an admirer of your literary work and your blog, it puzzles why you would provide a opportunity for people like “Another Lally” and “Jim” to disseminate their right-wing opinionettes. Your blog is your space, and these apologists for the anti-American politics of the republican party should not be allowed to occupy any of it. Like too many liberals, you are making the mistake of thinking that you should be fair and open-minded with people who are never that way themselves, that you should allow these misguided characters to have their say under your roof.

But your blog is not a public forum---it’s your domain and should be governed by your perspectives. You have no obligation to give these guys room in a space that is increasingly popular because of your accomplishments, creativity, reputation, and reasoned and passionate opinions on art, politics, music, movies, and life. They are nobodies who can start their own blogs and write to each other. Through the benefit of corporate ownership, right-wing extremists control almost all of talk radio, Fox “News,” the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and all sorts of other media. Let “Jim” and “Another Lally” spew forth within the many right-wing blogs, among their benighted brethren on the right, where they belong. There is no reason why you should accommodate them or give them a soapbox for their destructive, un-American squeaks and groans. Progressives have to learn to stop enabling these nasty right-wing losers. Kick 'em out! Let them try to build a readership on their own and see how far they get.

You and I both know that if the labels were switched, “Jim” and “Another Lally” would be bashing any Democrat who ignored a clear and direct warning, as did Bush, that Bin Laden was planning to attack us, then let Bin Laden attack us, and eight years later, still hadn’t caught him. They would come down very hard on a Democrat who would doctor intelligence to deceive the American people into an unnecessary war in which more than 4,000 American troops have died (and more than 100,000 Iraqis) and that will cost over a trillion dollars---especially when that war and the subsequent occupation were incompetently planned for and completely mismanaged after the initial “mission accomplished” period. “Jim” and “Another Lally” I’m sure would find fault with a Democrat outing a courageous covert American spy to gain some sort of twisted revenge on her husband. I’m sure these two bold patriots would think that the leaders of a Democratic administration that threw away habeas corpus, allowed massive warrantless spying on the American people, introduced torture as accepted American practice, fired US attorneys for not prosecuting republicans, awarded no-bid contracts to their pet corporations, etc., should all be impeached. But since it was republicans who committed all these atrocities against America, J & AL think it’s all excusable.

That’s the way of the right-wing extremists who have controlled the media and the political discourse in this country for so long. The Js and ALs will go on absolving these war criminals because they’re republicans. Although it is a bit heartening to see an increasing number of traditional conservatives recognizing how the right has violated and undermined America’s foundational principles, knee-jerk right-wingers like J & AL will never accept that their team could be so wrong in so many ways. And they sure don’t want a Democratic administration to be the beneficiary of all these new un-American powers that Bush has established.

Their answer?---crazy little flip-flopping John McCain, who finished nearly dead last in a class of almost 900 at the Naval Academy, who crashed five planes in his pilot days (how does that stack up statistically with his fellow pilots?), who made tapes renouncing the US while in captivity (how many other POWs did that?) which seem to have conveniently disappeared, who everyone who knows him agrees has a nasty temper and temperament, who called his second wife a “c-nt” in front of a reporter, who says he doesn’t know anything about economics, who is clearly itching to fight more wars, who in his forties cheated on his first wife (after she was injured in an accident) with a 24-year-old multimillionaire heiress (a former addict who was caught stealing drugs from her own foundation), who doesn’t know how many mansions he owns, who doesn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shia, who helped destroy the S&L industry as one of “The Keating Five,” who is surrounded by and beholden to innumerable lobbyists (and probably has slept with at least one of them), who voted against torture before he voted for it, who has been humping Bush’s leg for the last five years. What a maverick! What a straight-talker! The only thing worse than four years of McCain would be four more years of Bush. Or might even Bush, God help us, be a better bet than little John?"

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Last night I was down on the lower Eastside of Manhattan with my two sons and grandson.

The two ten-year-olds (my youngest and my grandson are the same age for a little over two months every year) love to go to the city with their skateboards and skate around the lower Eastside where there are fewer pedestrians than some other parts of the city and people seem to mind less when two little guys skate by on their boards.

They also love to check out the unique styles of some of the people they see on the streets there, mostly young people, but not always, with oddly cut or arranged or colored hair, combinations of clothes never seen before, like clothes from different eras or different fashions on the same person, etc.

They can’t skate on Saint Mark’s Place or the nearby blocks on Second Avenue, but once you get onto most of the side streets, or over on First Avenue or A or B or C, the sidewalks are less crowded and the people seem a lot less in a hurry or adverse to boys on wheels (not that there aren’t a lot of skateboards around Saint Mark’s, but usually the boys on them are men and they’re skating in the street so pedestrians barely notice them).

We ate in a ramen noodle place owned by a chef written about in an article in the New Yorker that my oldest son had read (as I had but had almost instantly forgotten where it was) and suggested we try out. It was an incredible meal that not only satisfied our hunger but surprised us with delightful taste sensations we hadn’t experienced before.

Then we headed for a skate park my sister-in-law and her boyfriend had taken my youngest to recently, but it was locked up for the night. So we headed for nearby Tompkins Square Park, where in the Northwest corner there’s a large fenced in area with a mostly smooth surface in one corner of which two boys in their late teens were break dancing to some hip hop while around them several boys of similar age were skateboarding, doing various tricks that don’t need ramps and pipes to execute (though they had set up a small piece of plywood against an upended cement block and were riding over that in a way none of us had seen done before).

My ten-year-old son and ten-year-old grandson started skating as soon as we reached the place. No hesitation. They’re used to skateboarding wherever skateboarders can be found that they have traveled to, because skateboarders for the most part don’t seem to have that competitive jock mentality that some of the practitioners of other sports seem to maintain (usually the ones that don’t do it so well), at least among boys and young men (and obviously carries over into a lot of the often phony swagger and masculine competitiveness and tendency to be condescending to others not in on their criterion for masculinity).

But skateboarders are mostly the opposite—tolerant and pretty kind to each other. In most skate parks or even on the street where skaters congregate to practice their sport, or art, depending how you look at it, each skater works on his or her own tricks no matter at what level, and when they achieve some perfection at that trick other skaters generally acknowledge that with a positive remark or a mild clapping sound from making their boards go up and down at one end, the wheels sounding as they hit the cement or asphalt in a few repetitions.

So usually these fairly small boys are accepted as equals in their sport by other skaters, as they were in this environment as well. It was already getting dark when we arrived and the boys were skating by the light of street lamps. Pretty soon the older boys drifted off and our boys continued, jumping low objects and such.

All this time the sounds of jazz could be heard coming from a nearby area of the park, which is what I was paying a lot of attention to, because the music was profoundly good, for my taste.

The boys finished their tricks and we all walked over to where the musicians were performing at a point where several park walkways intersect, a wide enough area for several musicians to set up along an iron fence (including two full jazz drum sets), our two ten-year-olds to sit on their skates and watch them from several feet away, and my oldest boy to take photos of them and the musicians from even further away, and for me to lean on another iron fence maybe twenty feet or more directly opposite the band, and for plenty of others to either stand around or walk by without bumping into anyone.

It was a loose knit group, including those two jazz drum sets being played by two different drummers with uniquely different styles that somehow fit together perfectly. It was an open jam, sounding initially as my oldest boy said like “free jazz”—the movement that evolved from the experimentation of progressive jazz practitioners in the late 1950s and erupted in the 1960s into a full blown new style that upset not only a lot of jazz fans but a lot of old-style jazz musicians as well.

Many blamed it on the evolution of John Coltrane’s music, something they didn’t mind as much in him because he’d already proven himself a master of previous, more traditional styles in the contemporary jazz of those times. And they may have been right, because after his death, “free jazz” seemed to dissipate as a force in the music and in the decades since has been mostly practiced and paid attention to by a small minority in the music world.

But here were these drummers, eventually joined by a third drummer on congas and other hand drums, playing along with two saxophonists and a trumpeter, eventually joined by a third saxophone and a trombone player, all riffing on modular changes that extended the music into tonal formulas that were spontaneous and yet completely controlled at the same time.

(One of the arguments I got into most often in my late teens was about this kind of music, which very few if any classical musicians would ever be able to even do, let alone do well, and yet classical music was held up as the pinnacle of musical accomplishment and this music was often dismissed as “noise.”)

The musicians were mostly young, in their twenties I’d say, “white” men, though the trumpet player could have been older and one of the sax men was a “black” man closer to my age, and the conga player looked Latino (though all these categories are so false as many of these people share all kinds of common ancestory, as do we all). And for all I know they may have all been well known, even famous, at least some of them.

But whoever they were, they were all really good, especially the trumpet player, who was also the cockiest. The others seemed mostly lost in the music and unaware of the spectators and their surroundings. But the trumpet player quite often would edge up to the mic stand that held some sort of digital recorder and say something into it we couldn’t hear, or exchange a few words with the older sax player, or just move quickly around several square feet of asphalt pumping his arms as though encouraging or even conducting the music.

Which made him seem almost to be the leader of this constantly shifting group, though there wasn’t any actual “leading” going on, except in the sense that when he left for a few minutes and walked off somewhere and then returned with a bottle of water, once he put the bottle down and began playing again, the music improved, and it was already terrific.

My youngest and his same age nephew didn’t move from their seats on their boards for probably over twenty minutes or more, a sign of how good the music was. They love the Ramones and other punk rock bands as well as hip hop and some currently popular styles of music, and they appreciate jazz but it’s not something they’d choose to listen to and mostly leaves them uninterested. But here they were, mesmerized by these guys sustaining some kind of group dynamic for one continuous “song” since before we arrived at the skate section of the park and were still going when we left (close to an hour at least).

Sometimes the trumpet would riff out notes as fast as any horn player I ever heard while one of the saxes was repeating a low moaning note and another sax was running through some arpeggios and the three drummers were falling in and out of a rhythm that had my body moving without my even thinking about it.

My first true love—who happened to have very dark skin and descended in part from African slaves—lived on the South side of this park when she moved to New York from Atlantic City in 1961 after her high school graduation.

We met the day she arrived. As far as I know, her and her roommate, another “black girl” from A.C., were the only non-“whites” to live in this neighborhood then. It was mostly Polish and Ukrainian back then, though on some nearby streets that wasn’t the case.

We got looks in those days everywhere we went, and sometimes worse, confronted verbally or even physically for our “mixing”—but it only made our love stronger at the time.

So I was thinking of her, especially since back then I was also playing “jazz” in nearby clubs and had only recently heard ‘Trane playing alto sax (which one of the young “white” musicians picked up and began playing while we were listening and was still playing when we left) in ways I didn’t quite understand at the time, but wanted to.

Now here was the fruition of some of his experimentation, and of mine, with many “mixed” couples strolling by, some stopping to listen, others on their way, who could never even guess the history I’d witnessed on this spot and elsewhere over the past half century and more.

I couldn’t help smiling and feeling extremely contented and very grateful, as I almost always do.

I have passionate opinions and defend my taste and ideas, and I love deeply and try not to despise anything or anyone, at least not too much. But mostly I have reached a place in my life where I don’t envy others their so-called successes and try not to denigrate their so-called “failures”—or my own, and I accept that no matter what my passions may be, the world will go its own way with or without me.

Among everything I appreciate is the reality that I have written what I wanted to—since I was a boy and first learned to form words on a page—and over the course of my life, so far, have seen a lot of what I’ve written get out to others who heard my words or read them and responded or didn’t, with praise or criticism, but almost always on my terms based on my own standards. That’s a pretty rare and fortunate occurrence in life I’d say.

I’ve mostly created art, through writing or music or painting or collaging or acting out my own words or the words of others, and made a living by my wits, for my entire life.

There were those over-four-years in the service, and another four teaching college, and a lot of occasional manual labor or odd jobs to support my family over the years, as well as working on presidential and other kinds of political campaigns (even running for office myself), and many experiences outside of “the arts”—but mostly I’ve been able to not only create art the way I wanted to, especially through writing, but I’ve been able to make a living doing that and satisfy my soul.

And I feel like a total success at that. Somehow over the years, enough publishers dug what I did to publish twenty-seven books of my writing, and hundreds of editors of magazines and anthologies and newspapers and such did also. Some of that writing even won some awards, and again, without my having to compromise my own standards and idea(l)s.

My words can be found in movies as well, as can I saying the words of other writers, sometimes well done sometimes not. Like anything in life, there’s good and bad of varying proportions in everything I’ve done, but I am so grateful to have lived and continue to live the life I dreamed of as a kid, pursuing my dreams of creating work that I missed finding in the world of my youth and wanted to see and experience so chose to make some of it myself.

And on top of that, I’ve known the love of many fellow humans, including especially my offspring and theirs.

I’ve made mistakes, of course, the worst of which included doing anything that would hurt any of my children or others I love (or even don’t like so much). And I have done my best not to hurt anyone, other than by voicing my ideas and opinions passionately.

Last night’s experience in Tompkin’s Square Park not only confirmed my belief that I am a lucky man, but also that my ideas and beliefs, starting from when I was a little boy and couldn’t understand why people made such a big deal out of ethnic and so-called “racial” differences (back then the Irish were often considered a separate “race,” as were Italians etc.) have been mostly accepted, eventually.

I have hurt others and probably misled some. And I have changed my mind about some things when the facts changed or more was revealed. But my love of reading (compulsion really, as with writing) kept me and keeps me pretty well informed, and my beliefs and positions on various important topics of my lifetime have almost always turned out to be not just on what I consider the good side of history, but at times even prescient.

All of which means little in the grand scheme of things, as they say, but a lot in the heart of this aging hipster. For those who have let me know you enjoy my sharing this journey with you in the various ways I do that, including this blog, thanks.

For you others, thanks too for letting me see how lucky I am in my choice of friends and in the people I join with in all the attempts, some successful some not, to change the world we were given into one where our children and theirs can be more free to love and live and share their love and lives with others, despite the setbacks and sometimes triumph of those who would deny those rights out of fear or envy or a false feeling of superiority—or just plain meanness.

As Tiny Tim said (the Dickens creation not the ukulele player), “God bless us, everyone.”

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Why not?

I always liked the guy and still do. And I think his assets compliment Obama's, and vice versa.

You have to admit, they both have killer smiles. And both have terrific intellects. But Biden has the gianormous, as they say these days, foreign policy chops, offsetting McCain's supposed "experience" in this area (Biden's is more extensive and smarter, just go back and read his speeches and proposals and the bills he enacted or backed, etc.).

Biden has a great story too, (as does Obama, but his campaign seems incapable of getting it out there).

Biden also has a quick wit and is not afraid to tell the truth as he sees it. Something McCain has been touted for but in recent times has come across more as anger and confusion.

Sometimes Biden's shooting from the lip has gotten him into trouble, but it's almost always refreshing. That may cause a few awkward moments in the campaign, but he will make up for it by striking back quickly, humorously, and honestly when the McCain rightwing commandoes that now seem to be running his campaign throw out the kinds of spurious allegations that are unsubtatiated but still work if repeated enough without being counterattacked.

I'm glad it wasn't the Virginia governor or Evan Bayh, if only because they just don't come across as very exciting in speeches and presence, whereas Biden almost always does, because you never know what he might do, or say. But you know whatever it is, it will be coming from his real feelings and ideas, not some handler's script. (He's like a cross between JFK and Dennis Leary.)

(As for Hilary, and her many supporters who claim they will not vote for an Obama ticket, all you had to do was watch her last speech supposedly in support of Obama where she kept referring to him as "my opponent" to know where she's still coming from—resentment. The last thing Obama would need is that in a running mate, not even counting Bill's even more caustic remarks about Obama in recent weeks.)

The Republicans might try and bring up the one act that did seem scripted in Biden's many years in the public eye, and that's when twenty years ago or so, he copped a paragraph from a speech by an English politician. But, if you look into that occurance, you discover that what Biden really did was paraphrase something said in the speech because the guy was coming from a similar place, politically and life-experience-wise, and Biden liked the way he had said it.

But put that against Biden's story—one of the youngest Senators ever elected to Congress at 36 (THE youngest the way I remember it [actually he was 29 and has been in the Senate for 36 years, thanks to Kevin for reminding me of that]), his wife and their little daughter killed in a car accident, leaving him to raise their two sons on his own. Which he did, including spending every night at home with them in Deleware, something no other Senator or Congress person I ever heard of has done.

And now one of those sons is on his way to Iraq in the military, while Joe remains a terrific family man (his wife is a working woman, an English teacher in fact), a practicing Catholic and a champion of the working person, and basically a self-made man like Obama, putting himself through college through hardwork and intellect.

I'm looking forward to the debates between him and whoever McCain chooses (the only surprise would be if McCain chose a woman or a non-"white" running mate).

Friday, August 22, 2008



1. Watching President Junior doing the "raise the roof" hands pushing the sky motion and stumbling around the Olympics like a drunken frat boy, while Russia invaded Georgia (an invasion preceded by weeks of military build up and preperations to inflict damage not only on strategic concrete infrastructure but on internet infrastructure as well on Russia's part, making liars out of those who insist Georgia provoked it, as well as following years of Russian "peacekeepers" allowing armed thugs to intimidate Georgians living in the so-called "contested" area(s) that supposedly sparked the invasion) and once again our foreign policy under this administration was proved uninformed (where was the intellgience about all the military preperations by Russia) and impotent (the Russians continue to ignore the so-called truce they signed and we are unable to do anything to stop them, putting the lie to the whole "spreading democracy" bit of the neoconservatives as this will show all other budding democracies in the region that it's better to play ball with Putin than with the USA).

2. The TV networks and most of the rest of the "mass media" ignoring the reppressive side of the Chinese government as best illustrated by the fact that there were no demonstrations. The government set aside three parks in Beijing for legal protests, the only kind allowed. Though obviously those aren't allowed either as none materialized, and the few people who went to the central police headquarters to apply for a permit for one—which includes rules that demand the exact number of protestors, their names and addresses, the slogans they will shout and put on banners, etc.—including a couple of elderly women, were immediately "detained" by the police, i.e. imprisoned.
If the Olympics were in Iran and they did that—or even in France for that matter, and they did that—you can be sure the networks would be all over it. But they not only didn't cover that story, they also ignored the ways in which the Chinese have been repressing the minorities within their borders, doing much to destroy their languages, customs, religious traditions and practices, etc., mostly by encouraging and promoting the migration of Han Chinese into these areas (like Tibet and the Uigher regions, the Islamic minority) and giving the Han the best land and jobs and creating infrastructure to get them there etc., much in the way Israel has done with the settlements in the West Bank only more so. It would be like if the U. S. government made land cheap and readily available on "Indian" reservations for European-Americans and then built commuter railroads and highways to the nearest cities, and poured money into business start ups by the European-Americans and suppressed Indian riuals and rites and languages and customs etc. (Oh yeah, we did do that for many decades but thankfully stopped before it was too late, leaving some Indian peoples and lands intact, unlike what's happening in China).

3. Some of the scoring, including gymnastics. But especially for boxing, where so many better fighters lost their bouts due to incredibly faulty scoring that the TV cameras made so evident they should have the "replay the video tape" rule to correct it.


1. We actually could see from the images on TV how bad the pollution is on most days, reminding me of shots of L. A. in the 1950s on the most visible smog days.

2. The opportunity for dedicated "atheletes" in all kinds of obscure sports to have their day in the sun, even though they were mostly ignored by the TV netowrks here.

3. The two man volleyball competitions. Last thing I'd think I'd get interested in. The women's volleyball matches, especially the two women team matches are the more obvious focus for most men I know. But it was the strange sight of a 6'9" beanpole, shaven-headed guy and his teammate and coach—"the thin beast" and "the professor"—not exactly the most original nicknames—that ended up fascinating me. The ways in which they could start out sloppy and almost not present and then adjust their playing and their attitudes to end up dominating their opponents, as well as the unique ballet of these two mismatched athletes making sense of all the parabolic possibilities of a round ball—between the size of a basketball and a softball—and four mean, I don't know, I just found it poetic in some unforseen way.
I can't wait until they make hurling—the Irish national sport—an Olympic game, then you'd see some great action and sportsmanship. (And yes, it's a real game not a reference to what some people do when they drink too much.) But, I may be waiting for the rest of my life for that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Yesterday, I ran into my friend, the artist Don McGlaughlin, on the train into Manhattan. Don’s father was the great mayor of Wilmington, Deleware who passed not long ago and was remembered as one of the best mayors this country has ever seen.

He was an old style working-class Irish-American, who was urged to run for office because he was such a popular and honorable man.

He won office and kept it, through the “riots” of the 1960s when his city was burning and through the problems of the years that followed.

He left his city better than he found it, its people more harmonious and prosperous. He’s the kind of politician the Democrats are sorely in need of now.

Don and I talked politics on the half hour trip, and though I hadn’t been watching or reading the news in depth lately—due to my schedule and just taking a break from the disappointment of watching the Republicans successfully control the race once again—Don was still convinced that “Americans” weren’t dumb enough to elect McCain after what the Republicans have done to this country over the past two presidential terms as well as all the flip flopping and confusion and sheer stupidity of many of McCain’s positions.

I responded that, as my friend Terence says, “Humans are story-telling creatures” and the McCain camp is controlling the story, as well as telling a better one, in terms of relating to most people, and that I believe if the election were held today, McCain would win.

Don said that wasn’t what the polls were saying so far. But then I got home from the city and turned on the news to catch up and sure enough, yesterday’s polls show that if the election were held now, McCain would win.

Some in the Obama camp have been urging him to get more negative on McCain, and today the news is that there are ads beginning to run in swing states that do that.

I haven’t seen them, but there’s no need to “go negative,” and if they are, that’s a mistake, in my opinion. What the Obama camp should be doing is just telling the truth about McCain, stop handling him with kid gloves (even his fellow Republicans never did that).

But even more importantly, Obama has to tell the story of his life and his beliefs and ideals and goals for this country as story, not debating points or college lecture or reasoned thinking out loud.

At the beginning of the primaries, I predicted that in the end the Republicans would try to make this race a repeat of the Eisenhower-Stevenson campaigns of the 1950s. As I also predicted Hilary would try to do when it came down to her and Barack, paint him as the elitist, aloof, intellectual, and herself as the people’s hero.

Now the Republicans have done that perfectly. McCain is the likable, plain-spoken, military hero, the man to get the job done, ala Ike, and Obama is the elitist, egghead professor without a clue about real life ala Adlai S.

The reality of course was that Ike didn’t have a political record the Democrats could use against him, and he won (with a lot of help) WWII, the most serious conflagration the world has ever known, while McCain has been a politician for most of his life.

And as I’ve written before about McCain, being an officer in our armed services your whole life (or in McCain’s case being descended from a string of them) is like living in a socialist or Communist society (with a capital “c” since true “communism” has rarely been practiced outside of tiny utopian collectives here and there throughout human history, and possibly more extensively in prehistoric times, unable to be proven definitively).

Meaning, in the service you are guaranteed a job, healthcare, three square meals, shelter (and nowadays that means your own room often) etc. And if you are an officer, it’s like being a member of the politburo or the KGB, you not only get the basics, but you get extra privileges including a big house with servants, a car and driver, etc. and almost unlimited power.

Ike at least had an idea of what life is like for normal people in a capitalist society from when he was young, but McCain doesn’t. He never lived under any circumstances that weren’t privileged and weren’t basically “socialist.”

And, he has a track record of taking a strong stand no matter how unpopular, up until it gets in the way of his political ambitions, at which time he reverses himself without a qualm. That’s what the ads against him should be doing.

As for controlling the story, Obama’s camp hasn’t even been successful at telling one for a while now. Any story that needs to reach masses of people has to be clear and simple and have a story arc that is satisfying.

The most successful Democratic presidential campaigners understood that. Jimmy Carter’s first campaign was all about him being a humble but honest peanut farmer from Georgia. Which was basically true and what the country wanted after Watergate. His second campaign unfortunately was about the story the Republicans were telling, that Reagan represented “morning in America” and restoring “America’s greatness” while Carter was about reminding us how we needed to conserve oil and develop alternative energy or we would once again be held hostage to the middle East, etc.

Carter was telling the truth but in a way that was too complicated and was easy for the Republicans to characterize (with the help of the media as always and their trick of accusing the media of “liberal bias” whenever the media tell the truth) as elitist and negative (the whole “malaise” thing, a term Carter never used but Republicans were smart enough to tag him with making him not only negative but using a fancy French term to boot).

Then along came Bill, who not only knew how to control his story—“the man from Hope,” the Bubba who defended his mother against his alcoholic step-father and pulled himself up by his brains to overcome the financial and family disadvantages he’d been born into—he knew how to play hardball.

Obama has rarely seemed like he “felt our pain” the way Bill did, nor has he been consistent in portraying himself and his campaign as well as he did in the speech that got him where he is, at the last Democratic presidential convention.

That speech wasn’t nuanced and professorial, it was about how an American kid with a funny name could represent the end of ‘blue state red state” etc. He still refers to that now and then, but mostly he tries to look like a serious statesman with gravitas because he fell into the trap of letting the Republicans label him and wanting to counteract that with an image and approach rather than with a story.

I hope it’s not too late for him to recoup and convince most “Americans” that he’s more like them than McCain ever will be, but so far that isn’t happening.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


There’s some pretty funny parts to this movie. I laughed out loud a lot.

There’s also some misses.

But it’s worth it just for Robert Downey’s hilariously complex send up of actors who confuse craft with alchemy and think they can make gold out of lead.

There’s some bits where the writing tried too hard for me and thereby left me more disappointed than amused. And there were times when the movie dragged or seemed lost.

But when it worked, it worked really well.

As for the whole “retard” controversy, it’s understandable. I can see how some people might be offended, even though it’s clearly a comic device to make fun of actors, not people with disabilities.

And, if you want to get serious about taking offense, than African-Americans, Hollywood studio heads, Asians, children, “fat” people, rappers, addicts, recovering addicts, action stars, Francis Ford Coppolla, Martin Sheen and everyone else who worked on APOCALYPSE NOW, as well as PLATOON, FULL METAL JACKET, etc. etc. should all be up in arms about being ridiculed too.

But if you just see it as a send up of the movie business, it’s one of the best ever (right up there with two other movies about acting and making movies or TV shows: THE STUNTMAN—which is a more serious take on moviemaking, and one of the greatest movies ever made in my estimation—and SOAPDISH, a goof on soap operas, that is one of the funniest, as is TROPIC THUNDER, in its more juvenile way).

[Since writing the above, people have asked me what I thought of Tom Cruise's work in TROPIC THUNDER. Well, it's interesting, but no more of a stretch for him than the role he played in MAGNOLIA—which to my mind was brilliant—though this one is more comic and physically transformative. But it isn't the career-reviving performance that say Travolta's was in PULP FICTION or I hope Karen Allen's turns out to be in the recent RAIDERS sequel. If anyone redeemed themselves in my mind in this flick it was Jack Black, whose mannerisms have been making me like watching him less and less lately, but in TROPIC THUNDER he turns these on their head and makes them the basis of his character's foibles and in that way almost becomes endearing, at least to me, which surprised me. The real find of this flick is the kid who plays the "unknown" newcomer among the five supposed "stars" of the movie that's at the heart of the story, Jay Baruchel. There's another newcomer, Brandon T. Jackson, playing the rapper star turned movie star, but his role is more conventional and though he does it well it's not a stand out or breakthrough star-making performance, as I believe Baruchel's is. Ben Stiller as the action star on the wane does his usual brilliantly comic job, though the "retard" stuff seemed pushed in ways that were more offensive to comedy than to the mentally challenged, I thought. But as for Cruise, despite the bald pate and large body parts, I didn't see anything in his performance I haven't seen before, as a fellow actor, though maybe not as an audience member.]


"The United States has more musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats." —Nicholas D. Kristof (8/10/08)

""This is your neighborhood. It doesn't take you long to get home. How long does it take you to get home? Eight hours? Me too. Russia's a big country and you're a big country." —George W. Bush to Chinese president Hu Jintao at the 2006 Group of Eight summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, over a live mic that caught our presiden'ts attempts at high level international communications.

"There was a brief five-year period when we could get away with treating Russia like Jamaica—that's over. Now we have to deal with them like grown-ups who have more nuclear weapons than anybody except us." —Michael Spector, New Yorker writer

Monday, August 18, 2008


Several days ago I got a very small book, a chapbook only a few pages thick and the pages only a little bigger than an iPhone. It was Geoffrey Young’s latest, a long poem called OF GIN AND TONIC.

Another poetic coup for Young, and another little book to add to the many I’ve bought or been given over the years (and unfortunately lost too many of, somehow, or people “borrowed” and never returned, maybe because of their size).

Anyway, it led to last night’s falling-back-to-sleep alphabet list of my favorite small books (of those I could call to mind at the time, including only the most obvious of City Lights pocket books, since they would dominate the list if I listed them all) (I looked up the publication information later).

AT BAOSHAN by Simon Schuchat (Coffee House Press 1987)
B? [it was staring me right in the face from my bookshelf but I needed to be reminded of it: BETWEEN THE SHAPES by Ray DiPalma (Zeitgeist Press 1970)]
CORONA by Bruce Andrews (Burning Deck 1973), CALISTHENICS OF THE HEART by Annabel Levitt (Veihicle Editions 1976, maybe in an edition of one!) and CODICIL & PLAN FOR POND 4 by Emmanuel Hocquard (translated by Ray DiPalma & Juliette Valery, the Post-Apollo Press 1999)
DARCHITECTURE by Merilene M. Murphy (Love is a House Lightshow? 1998), THE DUMP by Geoffrey Young (Cease Upon the Midnight 2001) and DAYS SHADOWS PASS by Paul Vangelisti (Green Integer 2007)
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY SLEDGE HAMMER by Scott Wannberg (The Lummox Press 1999)
FIVE TIMES THREE LINES by Mary Fran Cipolla (The Great Outdoors Press 1973) and FIVE SIMPLE STEPS TO GREATER JOY IN THIS WORLD OF SORROW by Wayne Alan Brenner (Department of Gravitational Assurance 2005)
GALWAY AND MAYO OFFICIAL GUIDE by anonymous (Bord Failte Eireann 195?) and GUM (a tiny “little magazine” edited by Dave Morice in 1972 and ’73)
HOWL AND OTHER POEMS by Allen Ginsberg (City Lights 1956) and HEGELIAN HONEYMOON by Nick Piombino (chax press 2004)
I.W.W.SONGS (thirty-second edition “issued 1968”) by various songwriters and “IRELAND BEAUTIFUL” COMMENTS, FACTS AND SUGGESTIONS by Rev. Timothy L. Reddin (Saint Margaret’s Church 1961)
KADDISH AND OTHER POEMS by Allen Ginsberg (City Lights 1961) and THE KID IS THE MAN by Bob Flannagan (Bombshelter press 1978)
LUNCH POEMS by Frank O’Hara (City Lights 1964), LIVES OF THE POETS by Ray DiPalma (Stele 2000), LIGHT AND SHADOW by Simon Schuchat (Vehicle Editions 1977), LINE CAUGHT by Brooks Roddan (no press name 2007), THE LINES ARE DRAWN by Michael Lally (no press name and I can’t remember anymore, Asphalt Press? 1969?, at least that’s when the poems in it were written) and LATE SLEEPERS also by me (The Great Outdoors Press 1973)
MYSTERIES OF THE OBVIOUS by Justine Bateman (no press name 1989), THE MACHINERY by Wayne Clifford (also no press name 1967) and MOCK FANDANGO by Ray DiPalma (20 Pages 1991)
NINE YEARS IN A WIND TUNNEL by Max Blagg & Ken Tisa (Aloes Books 1978)
OF GIN AND TONIC by Geoffrey Young (Pitcher 2008) and ON DUKE ELLINGTON’S BIRTHDAY by Diane Ward (no press name 1977)
POSTCARD FROM MOUNT SUMERU by Mark Terrill (Chapbook of the Quarter Club 2006)
QUOTATIONS FROM CHAIRMAN MAO TSE-TUNG (Foreign Language Press Peking 1966) (not because I agree with his advice, but because it’s an incredibly well designed and printed little book, a mini work of art in many ways)
ROCKY DIES YELLOW by me again (Blue Wind Press 1975), RAIN by Ed Cox (The Great Outdoors Press 1973) and REVOLUTIONARY QUOTATIONS FROM THE THOUGHTS OF UNCLE SAM compiled by Johnny Appleseed (Patriotic Publications 1969) (kind of an answer to Mao’s little red book, this one a little red, white and blue book, but still “revolutionary” only “American” style)
SCRIPTURE OF THE GOLDEN ETERNITY, THE by Jack Kerouac (City Lights 1960), SAFE IN HEAVEN DEAD by Jack Kerouac (Hanuman Books 1990), SLED HILL VOICES by Aram Saroyan (Goliard 1966) and SILENT PICTURES RECOGNIZE THE WORLD by Wanda Phipps (Dusie 2007)
THEORETICAL OBJECTS by Nick Piombino (Green Integer 1999)
VIEWS WITHOUT ROOMS by Elaine Equi (Hanuman Books 1989)
WILD APPLES by Stephen Leggett (The Great Outdoors Press 1973) and WALKING BACKWARDS by Ken McCullough (Longhouse 2003)
YOU BET by Ted Greenwald (This 1978)

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I was always the “wheel man” when I was a kid. Some folks thought I drove a little too fast or too dangerously close to other objects when I slipped between two cars or trucks or whatever. But pretty much everyone recognized my driving skills.

On my first movie as a “professional” actor (i.e. not student or “underground” or avant-garde flicks, which I started acting in at the request of filmmakers when I was a kid and continued to over the years until I decided to finally get paid for it at almost 40) I replaced the stunt driver when the director saw that I could “stop on a dime” (i.e. the “mark” designated for the car to be shot correctly) better than him.

I always feel good behind the wheel and often through the years when I was down or confused or had to think things through by myself I’d jump in whatever vehicle was available and take off.

I hated driving in L. A. by the time I left there, when it would take an hour to go somewhere that should have taken twenty minutes. But I still dig driving in Manhattan, where I learned to maneuver traffic when I was a kid starting out driving, and I love driving up to the Berkshires on the small country roads I prefer to the big highways.

Like I did yesterday. I drove back down to Jersey from Western Massachusetts on one of the most beautiful days I’ve experienced at any time of my life. I’m not big on camping out or trekking through the woods getting eaten up by bugs and all that, more of a city kind of guy that way, but I love being in the presence of beautiful natural landscapes.

One of the reasons I moved back to the East Coast from the West was to live among the natural landscapes of my childhood that I sorely missed. And there is nowhere they are more beautifully preserved than in the Berkshires.

There are stretches of scenic routes that cause me to gasp with a stunned sense of nature’s perfection, or thank God or the Spirit of the Universe or the Life Force or whatever you call what led to such beauty.

And yesterday the sky was so perfectly blue, as in my memory it seemed to be a lot in my younger years, with billowy pure white clouds floating amid that blue. I just rode in silent communion with the world for a while.

Then I turned on the radio and instead of hitting scan to find the few radio stations I can get in the countryside up there, I decided to turn the tuning knob by hand, like you had to when I first started driving, only now you just turn the knob a hair and it clicks into position, locking onto the next digit down on the radio station numbers.

The closer I got to New York City, of course, the more stations there were until everyone of those clicks seemed to have a unique perspective on sound.

But still up in the country, the few stations that came in clearly played “rock”—often screaming derivations of what was new and exciting in the late 1960s and now seems played out to me. With the occasional more “pop” singing that sounds these days, to me, like the vocalist is having trouble finding the right note so they decide to try all the notes in the area.

But eventually I stumbled on a station playing the Beatles’ album REVOLVER, which the DJ informed me and whoever else was listening was voted the greatest album ever by rock critics in 2003 I think he said. It made me wonder if I agreed or not, though it certainly would be in my top ten.

Not too much later I stumbled on a station playing the Rolling Stones from the same period, or not long after (LET IT BLEED) and once again thought of the contrast between those two groups that defined attitudes and style and taste in those years.

I dug both of them but preferred the Beatles because I identified with them in more ways. They seemed like working-class guys, with at least two of them being descended from the Irish (Lennon and McCartney) who believed “love” might be the answer to the problems they had faced before, and even after, they made it.

Jagger on the other hand was a college boy who had a degree in business, the way I heard it, who tried to sound like he was African American (in contrast to Lennon and McCartney who copped the approach to singing of many “American” rock’n’rollers, both African- and European-American but retained their Liverpool accents etc.) and also tried to sound like he was “bad”—even “evil”—but then when confronted with true evil at Altamont couldn’t handle it (and an “evil” he and the Stones unleashed in many ways with their songs and attitudes and glorifying of negative attitudes and behavior (that sounds like a parent talking, but I felt it at the time as someone who, like the Beatles, had actually experienced some street fighting and confronting of those out to do actual harm)).

The contrast between those two groups, or earlier between the writing of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs or even earlier still between the poetry of William Carlos Williams and T. S. Eliot, always made me think this way.

The critics love the dark, cynical, bitter, negative approach to life that often comes, ironically (and the critics never seem capable of recognizing this, or at least pointing it out) from the privileged artists who rarely have to face anything darker than their own taste and thoughts.

Burroughs was the scion of a wealthy WASP family who had some kind of allowance for most of his life that he could rely on. Kerouac was the working-class, ethnic guy who knew what it meant to face those odds. T. S. Eliot had a job in a bank and then in publishing, while WC Williams was a doctor serving the lower class ethnic families of Northern New Jersey and seeing things that probably would have made Eliot faint.

Yet somehow Eliot, in his sheltered life, represents to the critics a more realistic and intellectually rigorous perspective than Williams, whose work to some was seen as pedestrian and common, though in many ways William’s was the more revolutionary writer (as you can probably tell I feel like I have a personal stake in this argument because my poetry has been dismissed by critics over the years as not “literary” enough, too much about working people concerns and not enough about intellectual ones, etc. as if they were incompatible, which is what Williams and others have faced as well).

Anyway, that’s where my head was led by my turning the tuning knob now and then as I drove the back roads of the Northeast on one of, if not the, most beautiful day(s) of my life. (It made me think of McCain vs. Obama as well, where the political operatives for the Republicans are doing a great job of positioning the wealthy privileged McCain as the “regular guy” and the welfare raised Obama who embodies the real “American dream” story as some kind of privileged elite—and unfortunately the Democrats are letting them get away with it).

But as I said, closer to the city it became more interesting as I found more and more stations I’d never heard of before, including one playing Russian music and speaking Russian (or so I guessed from the sounds and the few words I could recognize), many Spanish music and language stations, one show that featured the Irish language and music sung in it, though a lot of the talk was in English (“Radio Free Erin”), and Asian ones, and ones playing Afro-Caribbean music etc.

It made me think of the news recently that “white” “Americans” will be a minority in two decades, and how so-called “whites” and “blacks” and the other categories that are more social than natural are becoming even more diversified (with immigrants from places different from where many of our ancestors came from).

Some of the forces of the future are unstoppable, “good” and “bad.” Just like they were in my past, and will always be. The secret to happiness, at least in my experience, is accepting that and getting on with life (and not being afraid to work for the “good” as you see it anyway, and even helping make a difference in how that “good” and “bad” get worked out).

Or at least getting into a car (hopefully a hybrid like my Prius, and with passengers, like that ride usually includes for me so that I don’t feel too bad about the gas used and pollution contributed to) and listening to the sounds of, well, no longer just “America” but the world—in “America.” It brought a grin to my face, I can tell you that.