Wednesday, February 27, 2013


So I had an eye operation yesterday, a very common one where they make an incision, suck out the cataract that's been clouding my vision and making it close to impossible to drive at night and put in a pupil size lens to make my non-cataract vision more clear.

One of my grandmothers had cataracts as I remember it and what that meant in those days was stumbling around as your eyesight got worse and worse. How fortunate I am to be alive today where this kind of operation is routine.

Just came back from the doc removing the plastic bubble that I will be wearing over the eye only when sleeping now—and that my fifteen-year-old called "bug eye"—and replacing the giant black plastic glasses they gave me yesterday with Bono-like wrap-around safety "glasses" that I'll wear during the day for another week.

Except for not supposed to cough, sneeze, bend, lift, strain or in any other way create pressure that might cause the incision to open or something like that, everything's pretty normal except that now I can see pretty well in my right eye, at least for distance, the way I could most of my life.

There's always good and bad in the world and in a day, routine cataract surgery is one of the good.

[PS: Thanks to great friends helping out with rides (Jeff, Bill) and more, and to my sons who have been taking good care of me, my older son Miles drove down from The Berkshires to spend a few days and nights looking out for me, and my fifteen-year-old, Flynn, made me lunch and keeps catching me when I start to bend (first thing I did after the operation was bend over to pick something up from the floor for which the nurse reprimanded me). Try not bending for a day, amazing how many times at least this human does.]

Monday, February 25, 2013


A lot of you have probably seen this already. Just another reason why our First Lady is the coolest one this country's ever had.

And speaking of cool, check out some James Brown dance lessons:


I would have liked to have seen BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD win something important. It was pretty much wiped out at the Spirit Awards which are supposed to be for "Independent Movies" but lately have honored just smaller studio productions like this year it was all SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, a great flick but with major stars and bigtime Hollywood producers and director you can't really call it "independent" like BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.

I almost had the feeling this year that the contenders in most categories were all deserving. Any of the leading actress category could have won, though I'm happy Jennifer Lawrence did. I may be wrong but in my memory the only other young movie actor at the beginning of their career who got a standing ovation when they won, as Lawrence did, was Daniel Day Lewis when he won for MY LEFT FOOT.

That year I was at a private Oscar party a few nights before the event and got to see Lewis and tell him how much I loved his work in that film. He's a classy act, with that wonderful Brit eccentricity that's one of their saving graces. Lawrence is almost the opposite, so open book "American" and the opposite of slick that even with her beauty and that perfect dress it didn't surprise me when she tripped and fell on the steps on her way up to receive her award (where were the escorts they should have had to help the ladies and the older gents?).

ARGO for best picture, not so much. But the way that category is voted on it could have been any of a few. SILVER LINGS PLAYBOOK was another favorite as was LIFE OF PI and LINCOLN. But again, for originality, acting, directing, writing and sheer movie impact BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD would have been a wonderful underdog to take the top prize.

Tarantino can make compelling screen experiences but they usually rely too heavily on cheap shots for my taste, explicit over the top violence will always get a reaction, AMOUR was ten times more brave than any Tarantino flick has ever been, but maybe too real for his fans to appreciate. But he was right in his acceptance for best original screenplay, his fellow nominees were all good, better than him in my view.

No one can begrudge Ang Lee for winning, though the favorite was Steven Spielberg. But I would have liked Benh Zeitlan to have won for, yeah, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. In the end it won't matter, we'll all most likely forget in a few months who won and why shouldn't we, there's a lot more important stuff to pay attention to and remember. But it's always a kick to see these folks who are in our living rooms or on bigger screens, sometimes, in movie theaters, come together to compete and self congratulate.

For me there's the extra kick, and sometimes aggravation, of seeing people I've worked with or for or hung out with or knew intimately in one way or another still looking good or not. Jane Fonda has finally crossed some line in her face lifts reminding me tonight more of Carol Burnett after her plastic surgery than the woman I had a crush on as a teenager when she first came on the scene and got to meet and hang around with a few times in my Hollywood years and always found as extraordinary to look at face to face as I did on the screen, until tonight.

If I was a fashion commentator I'd have to say this was a great year for classic Hollywood gowns, old Hollywood style, the best were, for my taste, on Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Jessica Chastain, Halle Berry and Charlize Theron. I'm happy my home girl (well from a nearby Jersey town) Anne Hathaway won (nice dress she was wearing too).

As for McFarlane's hosting, not bad but not as good as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on The Golden Globes, and the show was way too long with too many musical numbers though Shirley Bassey was a gas and the cast of LES MISERABLES gave me goose bumps. The highlight of all that was Streisand though, amazing vocal control still at her age. But why so many tributes to people in the business end of Hollywood who passed last year and what seemed a paltry few of those we knew best and cared most about from seeing them on screens over the years?

The producers were brand new for the Oscars and yet they looked older than me, and I'm pretty feckin' old. Maybe it's time to bring in somebody younger than sixty, even younger than fifty, to produce the Oscars from now on. Oh, and classiest of all, again for my taste, was our First Lady's part in announcing the Best Picture Oscar. No matter what you may think of Obama, Michaelle is the coolest First Lady ever.

[PS: I meant to add that whoever did the sound on Adele's SKYFALL number should be fired. The piano drowned her out at times. And who knew Scarlett Johansson could sing so well, so why wasn't she on stage singing her Oscar nominated song instead of Catherine Zeta Jones trying way too hard on that CHICAGO number?]

Saturday, February 23, 2013


This is an unusual movie to be nominated for an Academy Award. It's in French, the stars are "senior" citizens, i.e. old, it's a slow paced contemplation of the deterioration and degradation of the physical, as well as mental, that sometimes, too often, goes along with aging and the inevitable end of aging.

But it is also brilliant in its way. Mainly for the incredibly courageous performance of its female lead Emmanuelle Riva, a once ravishing model (in both senses) of a European movie star beginning in the 1950s with HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR and continuing for a lifetime. I really want to see Jennifer Lawrence win the Oscar for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK because as someone who as acted in and written for movies, from my perspective she saves that movie with the incredible realism she brings to the role and forces on the bigger stars DiNiro and Bradley Cooper.

In AMOUR, Emmanuelle Riva is matched and supported by the male lead, Jean-Louis Trintigant, another actor whose career began in movies in the 1950s and was marked by worldwide success in such films as A MAN AND A WOMAN, but who now is also very old for a contemporary movie, let alone a leading man role. But he too is magnificent, although it is Riva whose performance is uniquely brave as well as bravely unique.

Isabelle Huppert, who also was a ravishing young movie star at one point, my first crush on her was in GOING PLACES in 1974, where I also first discovered the movie acting brilliance of Gerard Depardieu for the first time. But Huppert is only "middle aged" and plays a supporting role as the daughter of Riva's and Trintignant's characters.

The film was written and directed by Michael Haneke, the Austrian director known for his often bleak and always uncompromising films, the first to gain wide notoriety being THE PIANO TEACHER. AMOUR is probably his gentlest movie in its scenes of domestic harmony and aging lifelong love, but it is also uncompromising in its portrayal of aging's challenges and cruelty.

I can't imagine much of an "American" audience for this flick, its slow pace and long scenes with only one fixed camera angle in many is almost like a rebuke to most "American" movies, but if you can surrender to its rhythms and framing and confined spaces and limited exposition, not to mention the artlessness of its artistry, you may well leave the theater feeling you not only know these people very well but have just returned from their Paris apartment.

I went to see it for the acting, because I don't generally like Haneke's movies, but I left impressed with his accomplishment and the reality that no one else until AMOUR had dared to address this subject so intimately and realistically. I also left envying the film couple's long relationship, their lives and their apartment.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Caught this scene in a movie on TCM tonight and left me thinking was there anyone ever lovelier to watch on film than Rita Hayworth? I was in love with her as a kid, and still am. Even though she didn't get the best movies or best music too often. But she made the best of everything she ever did.

And though there may have been more stunning beauties or more compelling actors or more iconic legendary movie stars, there was never anyone who looked like they were having as much fun as she did when she danced with Fred Astaire, who said she was his favorite dancing partner.

Here's the clip, not the greatest music and someone else's voice when Rita sings, but the dancing is all hers:


Thursday, February 21, 2013


Watched this tonight with my fifteen-year-old. Part of TCM's series on Oscar winners and nominees. I've seen it a lot, but always forget some of the details and usually am delightedly surprised at other things I forgot or maybe never even noticed. The way a shot is framed, or a set dressed, and especially background vignettes like the kids playing baseball in the street in a way that makes no sense, the little girl in a dress batting at the end of a driveway facing a house which means if she hits the ball well there's a strong possibility it will break a window. But the detail of her playing in a dress is doubly satisfying, first because it so represents the world when I was a boy, most men in suits and ties, women and girls in dresses, even sometimes while playing sports. But it also emphasizes that during the war females gained a certain parity in the workforce because so many men were overseas, and at least in that scene even in the makeshift playground of a street.

My son wandered off for a bit in the middle but came back for the surprisingly suspenseful last forty-five or fifty minutes. Interestingly he didn't like Fred McMurray's acting in it, though he got Barbara Stanwyck's character's diabolical seductiveness immediately. MacMurray was always the weakest thing in this flick for me as well. I love Billy Wilder's direction and his and Raymond Chandler's script and Edward G. Robinson's supporting role as MacMurray's character's immediate boss and so much else about the flick, including the actors playing the daughter (Jean Heather) and her boyfriend (Byron Barr). My teenage son thought Jean Heather playing the eighteen-year-old daughter was beautiful, and he dug the classy way the men dressed in their fedoras and suits and ties. I found that pretty cool too.
[Jean Heather in DOUBLE INDEMNITY]

I used to make my older kids watch classic flicks as well and I think it was an important and integral part of their education and development. Hopefully it will be for my younger son too. He's already watched some of my favorites with me, like ON THE WATERFRONT and MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS among many. Here's to Turner Classic Movies.

[PS: Here's a strange coincidence I found when looking up Byron Barr, for whom DOUBLE INDEMNITY was probably the highlight of his acting career. Only two years before, another Byron Barr was also starting an acting career in Hollywood playing a film character named "Gig Young," and the head of the studio decided for that actor Gig Young was a better name, so he kept it and became a minor star and Hollywood celebrity, while the other Byron Barr had a much less illustrious career, with the exception of his small role in DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Ain't the Internet grand sometimes?]

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


"My greatest mistake was ever to have compromised. My greatest achievement has been to survive."  —Abel Gance (from an interview after Francis Ford Coppola refurbished and rereleased Gance's silent film masterpiece NAPOLEON)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Waked my friend Tony tonight and on first glance walking into O'Boyle's funeral home in Bloomfield New Jersey (you could tell it was Jersey because the funeral home is right next door to a diner) it could have been any wake I've been going to since I was a baby. The Irish side of his family could have been relatives of mine, and the Italian side relatives of half the neighbors I grew up with and my second oldest brother's in-laws as well. (And plenty of other ethnicities too)

But what was different was—no coffin. Tony was a Buddhist, a Dharma Punk Buddhist, and had let his wife and others know how he wanted his life celebrated. So there were lots of photos of Tony looking like Tony including the first shot of him as a baby lifting his head. They were on magnetized bulletin boards and in a computer screen slide show and in photo albums passed round. Couldn't have missed who he was from the start. And there was a wire thing holding up a tee shirt he loved to wear that says TATTOOS SOLVE EVERYTHING.

A lot of people from all of Tony's worlds showed up, so many that the line to give condolences to his mother and father and sister and brother and wife snaked out the door of the room, a big one, and stayed that way for the three hours I was there. So sweet to see so much love for the family to feel. The group of friends I was part of made a particularly strong showing, which made me feel happy to know such loving souls.

Tomorrow some Buddhist monks will do some chanting in the same room of the funeral home, and some of us will say a few words, and hopefully some will make us laugh, the way Tony always laughed. One of my great pleasures in life was getting Tony to laugh. His joy was so pure and unconditional. May his spirit forever rest in the hearts of those who knew and loved him.
[Tony with his daughters, last summer I'd guess]

Monday, February 18, 2013


The right always refers to "The Founding Fathers" and their ideas as if both were something the right owns and is desperately trying to uphold. But "The Founding Fathers" actually didn't believe in a standing military. It was only in the 20th century that that concept became a part of the national identity. And really only in the past few decades that the knee jerk idealization of the military became a test of patriotism. "The Founding Fathers" wanted us to protect our country with a citizens militia and stay out of the business of other countries.

What do you think they'd have to say if they came back today and discovered that the U.S. spends more on our military than all other countries in the world combined spend on theirs, and we still keep "losing" wars (that "The Founding Fathers" would have disapproved of anyway)! And meanwhile one out of four people in this country don't make enough money to pay for necessities. I think they'd say we have our priorities messed up, or the 18th-Century equivalent.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


In the Berkshires where it's below 10 degrees outside and the wind makes it feel like minus something but I just came back about an hour ago (around 10PM) from getting and eating a sugar cone with some cinnamon and ginger flavored SoCo freshly made ice cream. That is always my go to comfort food especially at the end of a very rough week. May you all have locally made ice cream wherever you may be.
[what the place I went to looks like on a warm Summer day]

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Can't remember who posted this on Facebook, but the title of this reposting comes from a poem of mine from the 1970s (collected in JUST LET ME DO IT), and since my thoughts are still pretty much occupied with my late friend Tony who was a computer guy working at home, I thought of him because I would have sent him the link only a few days ago. So now, I just share it with you all, an amazing example of how sometimes predictions get it pretty correct.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Tony Collins is and was an inspiration to me. He had a story, like all of us, but his was more intense and compelling than many. He was a big man, a strong man, with a lot of tattoos and the appearance of a skinhead, which he readily admitted he had been. And when I first met him he had the thousand yard stare of a man who had seen too much.

But despite his rough and tough background, he became a compassionate Buddhist and an inspiration to not just me but everyone I knew who got to know him. In the short time since we became close friends, and I got the opportunity to share some of my own struggles with him, I watched him lose the thousand yard stare, become not only compassionate towards others but toward himself as well.  And that was important, because Tony was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease that effected his brain.

We shared brain MRI and other medical and challenging experiences and thankfully I could always get him laughing at my own imperfections and attempts to transcend my failings, whether physical, mental or spiritual. I think my own struggles reassured him that he wasn't alone, and that if a crazy old dude like me could get through it with a few laughs and even some gratitude, he could too.

Last year Tony got his dream job. He was a computer guy, learned how to fix them, took a course I think unemployment paid for and did well because he was a really really bright man who just sounded and looked at times like what he was, a guy from a rough neighborhood and a rough life.

His boss was a woman who ran her company with the kind of compassion Tony was learning to not only practice with others but with himself. But the job was forty-five minutes away from his home in Nutley, several towns over from mine. One day at my place, Tony mentioned to me that he was having trouble with his peripheral vision, this was not long after he got the job. I told him he had to see an eye doc about that. He did, and unfortunately the doc said he couldn't drive anymore because he had no peripheral vision at all.

He had to go for a brain MRI too, which revealed a swelling that was pinching the optic nerves and they had to prescribe steroids to try and get the brain swelling down.  We shared our hatred of steroids but also our learning how to actually enjoy the noise of the MRI by turning it into its own strange kind of music. But he had to tell his boss he couldn't drive to work. She found a co-worker who lived a few towns away in our part of Jersey, and for several weeks or more they had the co-worker pick Tony up and drive him both ways. When that began to be too much for the co-worker, Tony's boss let him work from home for a while.

But the arrangement couldn't last, and Tony—a man with a loyal and loving wife and two little girls, one in pre-school the other in elementary school, (his wife is a teacher working in Newark NJ so you know she's a selfless person not highly financially rewarded)—put a good face on it and began to find little jobs fixing people's computer problems while working with a coach to help him create his own little business, one of my "likes" on Facebook, now over (but I'll keep it up in honor of his commitment to overcoming every obstacle he was presented with).

He was walking with a cane at the end, and swollen from the steroids making him an even more imposing presence in any room he entered, but most of all he was full of joy and gratitude, for his family, his friends and his life. I was going to see him Monday night, he got a ride with a mutual friend and stopped by now and then (all his friends, including me, volunteered to drive him to doctors appointments etc.), but he called to say he wasn't feeling up to it physically, that it had been a rough day.

We spoke on the phone at least once a day and often more, and texted and emailed each other, and he was a constant presence on my Facebook feed, so it was like he was around all the time. Then on Tuesday he called me to tell me he had called his wife to take him to the hospital because he was in severe pain, he described it as a hot poker being stuck into his right eye and all the way through to the back of his brain, and said he was disoriented, so much so he didn't know how he got into the room in his home that he found himself in and didn't know why he called me.

I felt I knew why and was grateful. I got him to laugh a bit and hopefully made him feel calmer and then heard him say, "I'm talking to Michael," as his wife came in and then, "I gotta go." She called 911, they rushed him to the nearest hospital where he had a seizure and his heart stopped. They got it beating again but discovered that he didn't have enough oxygen in his blood, way too little, which I worried meant his brain hadn't been getting enough.

The same thing happened to the mother of my oldest children during an operation, and she went into a coma that she didn't leave until she passed six years later. Tony was in a coma as well, but he had made clear to some of us and to his wife that he didn't want to be kept alive by machines. He had been in touch with a Buddhist monk in a Zen center in Manhattan that was all about end of life care. Tony's wife got in touch with the monk and he came to give him the Buddhist version of last rites.

I didn't make it to the hospital the first night he was there because I have cataracts (they're being operated on in the next several weeks) so have trouble driving at night. But the next day I woke up with that recurring cold so many of us have been impacted by in these recent years (which I believe is connected to all the crazy weather global warming has caused) and didn't want to expose Tony or anyone else in the ICU to it, nor expose myself to anything that might effect my compromised immune system.

So I was only there in spirit and texts and phone calls to and from dear friends who passed on my love to Tony and shared how moved they were by the monk's ritual, how he explained to them that hearing was the last thing to go so to be careful not to project their own fears onto Tony, and they held hands as the monk chanted. Oh I wish I'd been there for that. The doctors said there was no brain activity, but waited a few days before asking Tony's wife if she wanted them to disconnect the machines.

Early this evening she decided it was time. Some of us feared his still young heart and lungs would keep going for days, perhaps weeks, months, or even years like my first wife's did (the operation that caused her coma occurred when she was in her thirties as well). But that didn't happen. When they took him off the machines, Tony let go. I am grateful the last time I saw him, not too many days ago, his face was full of love and joy as it always was, and he was happy to be among friends who not only loved him, not only respected his intelligence and compassion, but who all constantly texted and called and spoke to each other about how inspired we were by him and his positive loving grateful attitude, despite the setbacks he seemed to be constantly facing.

For those of us who loved and admired Tony Collins, he will now forever be Saint Tony. May he rest in the power of all the love he contributed to this world.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


"To be loved is to be accepted.
 To love is to accept."    —William Saroyan [from ROCK WAGRAM]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


If you watched President Obama's State of the Union address last night you may have been as struck as I was by the stunningly stupid, I can't think of any other word for it, response from most Republicans.

It has become a tradition at these events for the each party in the chamber to stand and applaud when the president says anything they might interpret as supporting one of their positions or causes. Both parties do it, and the spirit in the room has usually been, at least in my lifetime, collegial. I mean literally it feels like college kids playing at being adults, with a certain amount of good humor and no, or at least very little, evil intent.

That changed once Obama was elected. We had the Republican who shouted "liar," and similar incidents showing the deep level of animosity some Republicans have for our president. But last night, it seemed to me that anyone outside the USA watching would have to conclude that the Republicans in the House and Senate are simply too "stupid" to understand their own president's words, or so malevolent they don't care how their actions are interpreted by anyone outside the "stupidity" of their core constituency.

Even if you didn't hear the speech you may have heard of the ending, which was more emotional and dramatic than any State of the Union speech I've ever seen, and I've watched pretty much every one since I was a boy sitting on the couch with my father, the Democratic Party Chairman for our town, as we watched the old black and white TV. It was a simple plea—a weak one in retrospect in the eyes of many who want some serious new gun regulations—for a vote on new gun regulations like background checks for all gun sales.

As the president pointed out the survivors of gun violence in the audience, he repeatedly and simply asked for a vote on new gun regulations, not even a vote FOR them, just a vote. As the audience rose to applaud that request and to applaud the victims in the audiences, John Boner and his party members sat in their seats, looking disgruntled, not moving their hands for one clap, as though they were saying, and they were, they despised the idea of going against the NRA so much they wouldn't even consider voting AGAINST new gun regulations, just in case someone might think they would ever even consider or talk about gun regulation in any way.

They did that on numerous issues, including fixing our infrastructure. When once again (he's done this before in this tenure) President Obama pointed out that 7,000 (or is it 70,000) bridges in our country need repairs, and even though he couched his request with how it could be paid for without raising the deficit and how corporations and businesses are making it clear if we had a better infrastructure in the USA, like say they do in European countries and many even so called "developing" countries, they would bring more jobs home, despite all that, the Republicans sat on their hands and looked glum and angry at even the suggestion of fixing anything in this country. It would be almost too weird if it wasn't just the same old politics of "no" in the face of their Tea Party and other rightwing groupthink primary voters and corporate and otherwise wealthy donors and lobbyists. But it came across as just plain sourpuss stubborn stupidity.

How incredibly disappointing is it that we can't dislodge this kind of stupidity from, if not the entire Congress, at least enough to make them an impotent minority, which they would be in any parliamentary form of government, because those who actually vote for these women and men are a minority in the overall population. (One of the most disappointingly memorable images was a glum-faced angry Republican Congresswoman sitting on her hands while the Democrats cheered Obama's call for the House to pass the equal pay for women law. It was a clear statement from this woman that as a woman she didn't want equal pay for other women like she receives in the House!)

Monday, February 11, 2013


Got up early Saturday after the snow stopped to shovel. My favorite moment in winter is the morning after a snowstorm when the world is white and the sound muffled, what little there is of it since almost no one is out. There were puffs of white clouds in the kind of blue sky I moved back East to experience again.

We only got about a foot, but the snowplow pushed it to a few more behind my car and with the help of some neighbors we dug it out. The whole day seemed magical, like a Christmas card come to life. And Sunday was even better, the white still outlining tree branches and covering everything but some sidewalks and streets, the sky eve bluer and not a cloud in sight, as bright as as summer day only pleasantly cool and crisp.

But one of my least favorite things in winter is rain, which started last night and has been on and off since. The snow is still covering most things, and thankfully it wasn't too cold today, but I was settling into a disappointed state with the rain when coming out of a building up in the hills near where I live in Jersey, in the late afternoon, suddenly it was like LORD OF THE RINGS New Zealand with a mist rising from the snow that you could walk through like an all encompassing environmental art piece, an atmosphere that seemed crated just for the pleasure of those who got to experience it.

Anyway, winter days like the past two remind me of when I was a boy and snow was on the ground for most of the season back before climate change from global warming made seasons so erratic. And then I saw this photo of Manhattan after a snowstorm when I was a boy and remembered how visiting the city with my mother after a snowstorm seemed even more magical than back in Jersey. New York in those days seemed truly like a Winter Wonderland.
[I feel bad not knowing who the photographer was to give him credit, if anyone knows...]

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Thanks to my old friend Tom Wilson and his BIRTH OF THE COOL blog for hipping me to this video clip. Despite the mullet, the early energy and tight sound of U2 was mesmerizing, as this video shows, especially if you watch it all the way through.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


I haven't heard anyone say it, but I'm sure someone already has. Just in case, I'll say it anyway.

The man from the NRA said, All you need to stop a bad guy with a gun was a good guy with a gun. But I guess he meant as long as the good guys with the guns aren't L.A. police officers who mistake a van with two ladies in it, one of them pretty old, for the bad guy's van, the bad guy being an ex-good guy with a gun L.A. police officer himself, and the good guys open fire without a warning or anyone firing back at them and shoot the van up and the two ladies in it.

So I guess what the man from the NRA shoulda said was, All you need to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun as long as two nice ladies in a van don't get in the way by driving anything resembling what the bad guy's driving.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


"Whoever consults the light within himself (it is in everyone)
excels at judging the objects this light illuminates."  —Joseph Joubert (from The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert, translated by Paul Auster)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


me & Terence Winch DC c. mid-1970s
Lynn Manning & me LA c. mid-1990s
Doug Lang & me NYC 2011
me & Simon Schuchat & Glenn Mott NYC 2012
Ted Greenwald, P. Inman, Tina Darragh, Terence Winch, back of my head & Doug Lang DC c. mid-1970s
Aram Saroyan, Terence Winch & me LA c. mid 1990s
me & Darrell Gray, Wayne Clifford, Steve Shrader Bowling Green, Ohio, 1969
me & Edwin Denby NYC c. late 1970s (Is that Nick Piombino behind my shoulder?) 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


I was putting off seeing this flick because of what I'd heard about the torture scenes, and because of what I'd read about the "torture works" slant it supposedly has. But I wanted to see the work of Kathryn Bigelow and Jessica Chastain.

I wasn't disappointed in the latter. Chastain has proven herself to be one of our most versatile movie actors, and she does it again in ZERO DARK THIRTY. Like Daniel Day Lewis in LINCOLN, Chastain, for me, is the reason to see this movie. My vote still goes to Jennifer Lawrence in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (what is it with these vaguely indecipherable mechanistic sounding three-word titles), the other profoundly versatile movie actor these days, but ZERO DARK THIRTY is worth watching because of Jessica Chastain and some aspects of the movie making.

And as for the torture scenes, they weren't as bad as I was led to believe (the waterboarding Matt Damon's character experiences in the first BOURNE flick was much scarier). Bigelow certainly knows how to build tension and turn military hardware into art objects, and either her or her cinematographer did a terrific job framing shots. The movie's a work of art when it comes to just looking at it. But her directing of actors, for my taste, as well as her casting (sorry, not a Jeremy Renner fan in HURT LOCKER) isn't as perfect as a lot of other directors.

Maybe not unsurprisingly, the strongest performances in the flick are Chastain's and the other female lead, Jennifer Ehle. But some of the men in the mostly male cast just didn't work for me. And as for the political controversy, a lot of the rightwing media like the movie because it seems to justify torture, particularly waterboarding, because the victims in the flick give up information that eventually leads to Bin Laden.

The only problem is, those with the most personal experience in how interrogations went under Bush/Cheney when waterboarding and other extreme torture was at its height testify that those measures brought nothing but misinformation, and the leads that led to Bin Laden were all from the kinds of interrogation that don't use torture and have been proven to be more effective.

Getting that wrong is the writer Mark Boel's fault. He cites sources at the CIA who fed him what was essentially a justification for their extreme methods, but ex-CIA and retired special ops people in the know have refuted that. Boel was involved in HURT LOCKER as well, and from my perspective distorted some of that reality too.

Not to say the narrative doesn't work as a movie. It just shouldn't be seen as dramatizing real history, except for maybe the raid on Bin Laden's compound itself (though it did seem to me and others watching with me that the way that was shot some troops were left behind, which wasn't the case and I don't think was intended by the filmmakers). Unfortunately this will be the main way a lot of people around the world, including Islamic societies, and younger generations here and elsewhere, will probably get their perception of how Bin Laden's downfall came about.

For that I hold Boel and Bigelow (she seems to be in thrall to him) responsible. Not that they care. But I do.

Monday, February 4, 2013


I've been meaning to post about the books I've read since the last time I wrote of one, but somehow other stuff keeps getting in the way. But here's a quick report on a book given to me several weeks ago when I was introducing poet and old friend Simon Schuchat at St. Mark's, where the photo was taken that I've been using as my profile picture.

Before the reading, Simon introduced me to a friend of his, Glenn Mott, a fellow ex-pat. Simon spent a lot of his life in foreign lands, including China, in the foreign service. Mott spent his time abroad, also much of it in China, as a teacher and journalist. The book he gave me, after we talked for a while in a way that made me want to read it immediately, and I did, was ANALECTS ON A CHINESE SCREEN.

Confucius's ANALECTS didn't used to rate as high on my favorite book list as Lao Tzu's TAO TE CHING (or whatever spelling you prefer for both his name and his supposed writing), but I did study it as part of my minor in Asian studies back in the 1960s and got in trouble for writing a paper for my exiled Chinese professor that had as its title, "Confucius: Proto-Fascist"—and I have read newer translations over the years that made me soften my initial reaction and find some profound wisdom in some of Confucius's precepts.

Mott's ANALECTS ON A CHINESE SCREEN is not a translation or even an extended riff on Confucius's book (as much as any of these ancient texts can be called anyone's book), it's a series of takes on the China he experienced as it interacted with his life, in and out of China, and his reading, including not just Confucius but Oscar Wilde and John Clare as well as others. And it is a totally engaging and original book (if I would compare it to anything it would be Gary Snyder's EARTH HOUSEHOLD, only faster and condensed), which I highly recommend.

No quote from it could capture the variety of textual shape and content, and a lot of the lines are too long for this blog page format, but I'll leave you with a little taste from two tiny segments:

"there is
in the thought
I live

the dead end
of significance"

"When a dog runs to you, whistle for him.
He will think he knows you.

Hearing an old set of retouched
affections, in his bafflement."

Sunday, February 3, 2013


So when Al Gore got his election as president of the USA annulled by the rightwing of the Supreme Court (with support from Bush Jr.'s brother Jeb's state government) Gore was worth about 2 million bucks from his books and family money etc.

The Republicans wanted someone who was a "bidness man" like Bush Jr., even though the little W's only business experience had been with companies his father's friends gave him and he screwed up. But the Republicans were adamant that a "tree hugger" like Gore who was all gooey eyed about "liberal" ideas would make a bad president for the economy and business, and Bush/Cheney wouldn't.

But it was Bush/Cheney who put the economy in the toilet and would have put it into a worse depression than The Great Depression if they hadn't run out of time and Obama and the Dems hadn't turned things around (despite Republican attempts to sabotage their efforts etc.).

While meanwhile, Gore went on to now be worth 300 million. Hmmmm......

Saturday, February 2, 2013


If you have the concept of "good" then you have to have the concept of "bad." My old friend Hubert Selby Jr. helped me to recognize that. He'd say, Michael you can't have up without down, left without right, etc. Because each contains the other or is meaningless. The same goes for pleasure, none without pain, and no success without failure.

So, if you have the concept of good, bad comes with it, and in that way every day, though some can be better or worse than others, contains both good and bad. The trick to peace of mind and heart, and even joy, is to be grateful for whichever the moment seems to be, bad or good, because without one you can't have the other.

Of course if you are totally enlightened, you understand that it's all one and therefore there is no "bad" or "good"—but I ain't quite there yet...


Nick was my cousin Rosemary's widower. She passed a few years ago. I've known him since I was a boy. A lot of my first cousins in our large clan grew up on the same street with my family. Rosemary and her mother and father had lived one street over with a few other of my father's brothers and their families when I was born. But by the time I was a kid, her father had died in a pretty traumatic and dramatic way, and she and her mother had moved to an apartment in the next town over, Orange NJ.

Because her mother worked outside the house in an office job, rare for a woman in those days, Rosemary spent a lot of time at our crowded little home. She was the same age as my sister Joan and was like another sister to me growing up. When I was grown she and Nick got married. When he was still a young man he lost his father, a gardener, and took over his father's business, which soon was renamed landscaping.

I loved Nick from the first time I met him. He was a kind, loving, respectful presence, especially in the way he treated me, in a clan (mine) where that wasn't always the case. I was always happy when I saw him after I left home and returned for weddings or christenings or funerals or family reunions (like the one last year at which the photo above was taken).

In the 1960s, when I was seen as a wild radical, Nick had a health crisis and was expected to die. Rosemary was certain it was the power of a born again Christian faith that saved him. When he recovered, they moved to the then born-again Christian community of Ocean Grove, down the Jersey shore. Which in those days made her a different kind of radical in our traditional Irish-Catholic clan.

I missed the funeral services and repast yesterday because it was in the late afternoon and I wouldn't have been able to drive back in the dark (but should be in the future after a cataract operation coming up). But my heart is full of gratitude for his presence in my life, and in the lives of all my clan, and in my cousin Rosemary's. Her love for him was so evident, and his for her, that it brought joy to all who experienced it. May the both of them rest in that loving peace.