Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack

Pollack was a professional's professional as a director, but what I remember about him is how he kept playing the same role over and again since about Tootsie: a cynical, corrupt, wise man who knows what the world is about and is out to get his share. He did it superbly, which is why I always went to see a film he was in, and even in a film I didn't care for, like Eyes Wide Shut, his performance made me not regret the price of the ticket. I liked his work as a director of course; Tootsie is one of the best comedies I've ever seen, and his line in that film, "I begged you to get help," was delivered so perfectly, with such flawless timing, and with just the right expression of horror and dismay on his face, that it's one of my favorites in all of film history (it ranks right up there with Darth Vader's wordless heavy breathing while surveying the carnage in the opening scene of Star Wars). Out Of Africa is a great, visually stunning film, and he got out of Redford what I think is his best performance before he got old and became a pretty good actor. Some films people wouldn't think of as directed by Pollack: The Firm (the best of the Grisham adaptations in my view); Electric Horseman; Absence of Malice; Random Hearts (a rare misfire); The Way We Were (Barbra Streisand's topless scene in that film was the first one I remember seeing; I thought she was one hot chick back then, which she was, of course; the soundtrack was also excellent); Three Days of the Condor (yet another Redford film, and the film that, twenty years after The Third Man, arguably gave birth to the spy thriller genre with its paranoia and action). Pollack was a prolific director, and a damned good one, at home in just about every genre you can name.

Anyway, when I was thinking abut Pollack's death, and the films he now won't make, I read this, which made me think of Pollack's cynical wise man again. Whatever-her-name is (can't be assed to look it up; I read her blog -- often with a Pollack-like look of horror and dismay on my face -- but never learned her name) is something of a train wreck of a blogger, talking about subjects that are way over her head (she once got in a debate over economics with another blogger and her argument was "I never heard that in an economics class"; she then ended up plagiarizing another blogger's work to "win" the argument, only fessing up when she was caught), but in the blogosphere that sort of thing doesn't matter. What does matter is that you take the right positions and flatter the right people. She described Spencer Ackerman, who is, shall we say, a little on the callow side, as "brilliant," and Ackerman's roommate, the big-name blogger Yglesias, gives her a guest blogging spot on his widely-read blog. Yglesias himself got his start from his relationship with Josh Marshall. All these people parrot and link to each other -- they've become the blogosphere's version of the "cool kids." It took the mainstream media several years after deregulation to become completely corrupt; from what I can tell the blogosphere will beat them to it by a few years without even trying. There are a few honest bloggers left out there, but even most of them tread very carefully around certain subjects to avoid offending the masses. Pollack -- and I always figured he played those roles because on one level or another he identified with the character -- was right.

1934 - 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Old boss, new boss, etc

If the Republicans, particularly McCain, are held to the same standards as the Democrats, they will lose, possibly quite badly. They champion policies that are unpopular even in the best of times when those policies are reported accurately. Hagee should have been gone a long time ago, and probably would not have become an issue at all had Obama not become the prohibitive favorite as the nominee -- Hillary would have kept getting getting beaten by the short end of the media stick. The long end, as well.

One of the ugly things about this election -- and there are many -- is that the media have been able to essentially control the entire thing. They wanted McCain on the Republican side, and they got him. They wanted Edwards to lose, and he did, then they wanted Hillary out, and she all but is. Want to make Edwards a sissy-boy rich guy, pandering to the poor? OK. Want to paint the Clintons as race-baiting megalomaniacs? Done. The blogosphere was simply ineffective, when it wasn't complicit. Obama will probably win, but everyone will lose, because the problem we face isn't just who is in the White House, but who determines who gets there, and how they do it, and that hasn't changed at all. The real "win" to be had in this election was to force the media people to do the jobs they are supposed to do, the way they are supposed to do them, and that isn't happening. They are lying, preening, twisting, inventing, and ultimately, kingmaking. The Dems might be getting the throne, but the power behind it remains in the wrong hands.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I think he's right.


But I'll be ready to write the conservative movement's epitaph when (a) Barack Obama is inaugurated, and (b) Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid enact some stuff with more lasting impact than the meager results of 1977-80 or 1993-4. There's real reason to believe a congressional party much less dependent on the votes of white south moderates will, in fact, be able to deliver more. But I'll believe it when I see it. I think it's very plausible to imagine a conservative movement that's still strong enough to frustrate progressives' main legislative goals, force Democrats to unilaterally make the tough moves to get the fiscal situation in control, and then once that's done return to power on a new platform of tax cuts for rich people.

The problem here is the nation itself. The U.S. has only moved in a progressive direction in response to crises; the rest of the time it drifts in a conservative direction until conservatism exercises its one supreme talent and fucks everything up. Civil Rights happened in response to Vietnam, and to massive action by blacks and some other groups, much of it violent. Our version of a welfare state came about as a result of the Depression. The freeing of the slaves came about only after the Civil War. The battles over the union movement were like a minor civil war. Nothing going on is anywhere near as seismic as those events. A notional President Obama and a Dem congress will be stopped cold by the same Republican/Blue Dog coalition that has stopped the Dems from putting the finishing touches on Roosevelt's work since, well, since Roosevelt. Hell, both Roosevelts. This is why I find Obama's "change" rhetoric so annoying: he isn't going to change a thing, besides the color of the man sitting in the White House. That's a good thing in itself, but when the novelty wears off you'll still have the same old sclerotic country numbing itself in front of the TV, and getting pissed off when people tell it it has an opportunity to improve things if only it will get off its fat ass for a bit. That is the America I know, and it ain't going to change because Obama can make a nice speech.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Greenwaldites and Chris Carney

I wonder if they're going about it wrong. They're making Carney into a Joe Lieberman: a "Democrat" loved by the wingnuts, which can hardly strike fear into his heart, seeing how Lieberman won so easily last time around. Carney will get the moderate Dem vote, the always-votes-Dem vote, the always-votes-incumbent vote, the labor vote, and with these ads, the moderate Republicans and some of the wingnut vote to boot, as wingnuts love passive-aggressive games, and supporting this guy is a perfect opportunity to play such a game. In other words, these ads could very well improve Carney's electoral prospects, because of his position on Telcom amnesty. Greenwald and friends are right that something has to be done, but I wonder if they have thought this through. Since the "Blue Dogs" are pressuring the House leadership on this, wouldn't a more appropriate response for the greenwaldites be to pressure the House leadership themselves? They could threaten to run, and finance, liberal primary challengers against vulnerable Dems in conservative and moderate districts, for example, unless the Dem leadership decided to knock this shit off. This would also pressure some of the "Blue Dogs", as they themselves (Chris Carney himself is an example) are often vulnerable. There have to be other ideas as well. What they are doing seems to be just plain counterproductive; if I was Chris Carney and trying to convince a conservative district I was "one of them," I'd be down on my knees thanking God for ads like these, and then asking Him to throw a few in from Move-on, as well.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bulls On Parade

Come wit it now!
Come wit it now!
The microphone explodes, shattering the molds
Ya either drop tha hits like de la O or get tha fuck off tha commode
Wit tha sure shot, sure ta make tha bodies drop
Drop an don't copy yo, don't call this a co-opt
Terror rains drenchin', quenchin' tha thirst of tha power dons
That five sided fist-a-gon
Tha rotten sore on tha face of mother earth gets bigger
Tha triggers cold now empty ya purse

they rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells
They rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells
They rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells
They rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells

Weapons not food, not homes, not shoes
Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal
I walk tha corner to tha rubble that used to be a library
Line up to the mind cemetery now
What we don't know keeps tha contracts alive an movin'
They don't gotta burn tha books they just remove 'em
While arms warehouses fill as quick as tha cells
Rally round tha family, pockets full of shells

Rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells
They rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells
They rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells
They rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells

Bulls on parade!
Bulls on parade!
Bulls on parade!
Bulls on parade!
Bulls on parade!
-- Rage Against The Machine

It's always hard to look at (relatively) contemporary stuff and decide if it will last, but my guess is this song, cleaned up a bit, will probably be around for awhile, and eventually covered by other artists in one form or another. The rawness and power of the lyrics are immensely helped by the razor sharp anger and energy of the band, but the lyrics do have a kick all their own, with some nice images and wordplay ("five-sided fistagon") to make them unique.

Seeing this song live underscores what a good band RATM is:

Thursday, May 15, 2008


The wingnuts I know are utterly demoralized. Used to be they couldn't talk about politics enough, although, granted, their idea of talking about politics was forwarding one of those My Right Wing Dad things and then smirking about what weak, cowardly idiots liberals are. But they don't even do that anymore, and attempts to discuss politics are met with stony silence or a change of subject. They seem embarrassed by Bush's stupid Chamberlain stuff, which used to be an automatic "winning" talking point from them: advocate anything besides war to solve a problem, and out would come appeasement and Chamberlain like a virgin wielding a cross at a vampire. This time, not a word.

All the air has gone out of their movement, there are no new ideas in it, the old rallying cries are tired and stale, and worst of all, the real kicker, they are simply losing. There were signs of life for them when Obama started looking inevitable, but the polls aren't looking great there, either anymore; moreover, the things they want to accomplish -- more wars -- are despised by most people, and probably seem impractical even to them. And then there are the economy and gas prices. It's hard to engage in the kind of trivia-obsessed, personality based, sneering brand of politics preferred by the wingers when you are worried about keeping enough gas in your tank to get to work and back home again. When even the people who have kept you in business for years have lost passion and interest, your show's over.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


You smiled, you spoke, and I believed,
By every word and smile deceived.
Another man would hope no more;
Nor hope I what I hoped before:
But let not this last wish be vain;
Deceive, deceive me once again!
-- Walter Savage Landor (1846)

Landor was in his sixties when he published that cute work, making him one of the very few poets I can think of who was worth a damn much past 50. There's Yeats, of course, and Hardy, who didn't start publishing poems until he was in his fifties, but had been writing them most of his life, just not publishing them. I'm not familiar enough with Hardy's work and life to know which of his poems were composed when, which makes assessing the quality of his later-written work difficult. Anyway, it seems there's some kind of creative spark that dies once someone gets into middle age. Eliot remarked on this, saying something to the effect that no one expects athletes to keep performing past 40, but people seem to expect poets to keep churning out masterpieces until six feet of earth finally silences them. But I wonder if it isn't something besides age.

Both Hardy and, in particular, Yeats, went through profound stylistic changes, with Hardy giving up novel writing in favor of poetry, and Yeats going through three distinct "periods" of writing style, each radically different from the other. Yeats also lived a full life from start to finish, getting involved with the Irish nationalist movement in his thirties, getting married for the first time and having children in his fifties. Landor himself switched between writing in Latin and English; he also lived a peripatetic life, moving around Europe like a vagabond, getting involved in different nationalist movements all the while. The idea is that the lifestyles of these men, full of adventures and changes, might have done something to keep them fresh enough to write decent stuff as old men. The traditional arc of a well known poet is to struggle in youth, then hit it big, and coast through a jaded life afterwards (see Wordsworth and Eliot as archetypes), or else to die too young to get jaded (the list is so long even those uninterested in poetry could name several). These three men were able to avoid that by embracing challenge and change.

Personally, I always wonder how anyone can do anything for twenty years and not get bored to death by it, bored to the point where you really don't put all your energies into it. When I need the services of a professional, I always look to see how long they've been doing the job, with my ideal time period being 10 years. That's enough time, I figure, for them to have mastered the field, but not so much time that they have become burned out hacks. The things you learn from poetry....

Friday, May 9, 2008

As it all draws down,

it's sickening to see everyone tripping over each other trying to prove how smart they are by showing all the things Hillary got wrong. It's too bad politics is so important, because many times being involved in it makes me absolutely disgusted with humanity, with its venality, boundless capacity for conceited self-deception, and general inability for honest self reflection. I'm sure I'm little better than most people in this regard, but knowing this doesn't make it easier to see it in other people. Sometimes I look at the world and I'm really amazed we managed to get through the past 50 years without blowing ourselves up.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Particularly apt, as our modern political discourse resembles nothing so much as professional wrestling. There are heels (Hillary and the Dems in general), faces (McCain and any Rep who runs for president), and referees (the media) whose real job is to entertain the rubes by always looking the wrong way at the wrong time.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Eight Years

Stumbled across this. That smirk, the idiot expression on that idiot face -- God, has it been only seven years of this fuckup? It seems like forever. If you compare the America of 1992 with the America of 2000, they were essentially identical. DVD movies were replacing VHS movies, more people had cell phones, but those were the types of things that changed: the country itself was pretty much the same it had always been, with the same value system, the same expectations. The sorts of changes we saw from when Clinton took office to when he left were like new clothes being put on the same dressmaker's dummy. Compare the world of today with the world of 2000, though, and while you can still see it's the same dummy, it's starting to look a little bit worn and haggard. Well, a lot worn and haggard. OK, fuck it: it looks deformed, like it's been through a fire and someone pissed on it to douse the flames.

It's tempting to blame it all on 9/11, and that had a lot to do with it, but it's also tempting -- more than tempting, it's required -- to blame it on Bush. A more capable person in office would have resisted the calls from the insane right to invade Iraq, wouldn't have over-reacted to the threat of terrorism by trying to break down our democratic institutions, wouldn't have tried to politicize the government: in short, wouldn't have behaved like Bush. It's a little lesson on the value of competent leadership, although I don't have much confidence that lesson will be learned and then retained all that well.


While respecting her right to stay in, I would prefer Hillary drop out. If she had won big in Indiana and held it close in NC, I'd say her case was makable, even made; instead the votes came out the other way around, and now it isn't. Obama is going to be the nominee, and while I think he's weaker than she is in a general, it's too late now. This primary has been a disaster to any thinking person who's been paying attention to the political-media axis of this country for the past dozen+ years, but that's a post for another day.

On the bright side, McCain's press coverage seems to have been a little less adulatory lately, although that might be because few people have been paying attention to him in the wake of the Obama - Hillary matchup. With Wright essentially disposed of, I wonder what kind of Swift Boat-style thing the right is going to try to spring next. There has to be something; it's how the Republicans campaign. Both the Dem convention and the general election are going to be fascinating events.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Audrey Hepburn

1929 - 1993

Today would have been Audrey Hepburn's 79th birthday. I've always thought she was the most beautiful woman in the history of film -- equal parts sexy and classy to a degree no one else has managed to attain. Both Keira Knightley and Natalie Portman bear a strong resemblance to her, but neither is as, umm, well, the word "hot" comes to mind.

Anyway, Hepburn led an amazing life, the details of which many people know: lived through the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, fashion model, international film star, humanitarian aid worker. She probably did more than 99 percent of us ever will to make the world a better place. And yet, she came from that sordid den of iniquity and antithesis of everything good and right in American life, Hollywood. A similar statement could be made about George Clooney, or Kirk Douglas -- in fact, many actor-producers who decided to do more than pull in easy paychecks -- or any of the many producers who, behind the scenes, got socially important films covering vital topics in front of the masses, sometimes at great financial cost to themselves. Clooney didn't need to make Good Night and Good Luck; Douglas didn't need to make Spartacus, or at least, didn't need to make it the way he did; nobody needed to make Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? or In The Heat Of The Night, but people in crazy Hollywood put themselves on the line and got those films made.

Yet Hollywood is derided and marginalized as the land of the liberal, lunatic fringe while upstanding, civic-minded people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Michael Savage and Ann Coulter are paid millions to shout out angry, hateful noise. It isn't done to criticize such people as Coulter, no matter how hateful her rhetoric, and when she is mentioned by a non-fan, it's usually to excuse and/or defend her. There's a baneful, lunatic fringe in America, and it can be found in a lot of places besides Hollywood. But nobody's lookin'.

As an aside, one of the great mysteries of life to me is that Hepburn was divorced. Twice. Who in the world could walk away from that? Maybe them Hollywood people are crazy, after all.


I keep reading things about how unpopular poetry is these days, and it inevitably ends up pissing me off. Poetry, in my view, is more popular than ever; it's just the kind of thing that some people consider poetry that's become unpopular. Here's a perfectly good poem that many people will recognize, from Kris Kristofferson:

Busted flat in Baton Rouge, headin' for the train,
Feelin' nearly faded as my jeans.
Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rained;
Took us all the way to New Orleans.
I took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna,
And was blowing sad while Bobby sang the blues.
With them windshield wipers slappin' time,
And Bobby clappin' hands,
We finally sang up every song that driver knew.

Freedom's just another word for nothing' left to lose:
Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free.
Feeling good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues.
Feeling good was good enough for me;
Good enough for me and Bobby McGee.

From the coal mines of Kentucky to the California sun,
Bobby shared the secrets of my soul.
Standin' right beside me, Lord, through everything I've done,
Every night she kept me from the cold.
Then somewhere near Salinas, Lord, I let her slip away,
Lookin' for the home I hope she'll find.
And I'd trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday,
Holdin' Bobby's body next to mine.

Freedom's just another word for nothing' left to lose:
Nothin' left is all she left for me.
Feeling good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues.
Buddy, that was good enough for me;
Good enough for me and Bobby McGee.

La da da la la na na na
La da da na na.
La la la da, Me and Bobby McGee.
La la la la la da da da
La la la da da.
La la la da, Me and Bobby McGee.

La la la la la na na na
La la la da da.
La da da da, Me and Bobby McGee.
La la la la la da da da..............

It isn't Waste Land, there are no obscure literary or biblical allusions, it isn't written in iambic pentameter using high flown language, but it does what poetry is supposed to do: capture a part of the human experience and express it in a distilled, immediate way. There are lots of songs like this -- McCartney's "Yesterday", Lori Lieberman's "Killing Me Softly", and Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" come to mind -- that are highly poetic, and that will be being recorded in fifty or a hundred years, which are certainly well known to the same people who will then complain that nobody appreciates poetry these days.

In many ways, the period between about 1920 - 1960 was the worst in history for poetry. Yes, you had Eliot and Pound and Plath and so on; Yeats was still productive in the first half of this period, but poetry was becoming more and more alien to the mainstream of the populace. Poetry like that found in Houseman's Shropshire Lad (published in 1896), which many common people could relate to, disappeared, and was replaced by something like Eliot's Waste Land (1922), which requires an educational foundation held by very few to truly understand. And then came the revolution of rock&roll music, which restored poetry to the masses, where it remains to this day. Poetry isn't just in books or classrooms: poetry is wherever you find it, and today, you can find poetry by turning on your radio.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Madeleines and tea

I've been out of the ghetto for more years than I care to remember; with the exception of a few friends I have little contact with the black community any longer, but reading this confirmed something I knew deep down: that community will always be who I am; I will always understand it, always be in sync with it, the way a musician who hasn't played his instrument in years can pick it up and get out the reasonable facsimile of a tune. The skills might not be perfect, but the understanding of what the instrument is, what it will do, and in response to which actions, will remain. That comes at some cost, which I won't go in to here, but it is who I am, and I have to pay that cost like it or not (usually I don't like it).

A couple of months ago I used the Google neighborhood thing to look at the place where I grew up. It was a satellite view, but I could still recognize the area, knew the corner store, the park, the hospital where I was born, the elementary school I went to, all within a couple of square miles (someone should write an academic paper on the immobility of the poor. It has to have a huge impact on the cycle of poverty). The only things I couldn't see were the people still stuck there, leading stunted, 70% lives. At least, I couldn't see them on the satellite image. But in my mind they are there, and always will be, long after those streets and buildings themselves are demolished in the name of progress.

Just legalize it.

What a waste. And for what? What does society get from all the millions of dollars and energy it spends hounding people like this? Legalize it, regulate it, and re-focus all that attention on real social problems.