Saturday, January 31, 2009

Paul LeMay, RIP

Right about now, Hartford could use a guy like Paul LeMay, but it's too late, because he's gone.

Paul died early Saturday morning.

LeMay, the outsized thinker, the forever optimist, the lover of life, music and artists, has died after a lingering set of illnesses that had rendered him bedridden for months.

LeMay started the Peace Train Foundation in Hartford and brought tens of thousands of hippies and rednecks and music lovers and corporate geeks into Bushnell Park each May for an old-fashioned fiddle festival that was one of the biggest events in the city, until the city said it was tired of this big event.

I didn't know Paul then. I knew who he was. Watched him from the distance as one of the horde who would descend on Bushnell Park. I met him many years later, under the Calder Stegausaurus where he hosted noontime concerts as part of a summertime arts grant. We became friends. I helped him resettle some Bulgarian musicians, and he helped me book Billy Bragg into Hartford for a show that had to be cancelled when Bragg got the opportunity to tour with the Smiths.

Paul had a giant heart, and a larger creative spirit. He was part huckster, part genius, part minister to the downtrodden. He could be kind and he could be tyrannical. He was headstrong and heartfelt. He cared about people, and music and life. He respected artists, befriended politicians, poked fun at stuffshirts, hobnobbed with corporate leaders and traded beers with Hartford's most outrageous lowlife.

Paul had his demons, and he had trouble keeping them at bay. He lived life like every greasy hamburger, every unfiltered cigarette, every pint of beer had his name on it. His joie de vivre is likely what brought him down. His joie de vivre was the key to his charisma.

When a friend needed five bucks, he give him ten, but he wasn't afraid to ask for fifty if he himself needed twenty.

Paul brought people together. He introduced me to Lucy. He invited thousands to join him for a party every year in the concrete-dull insurance capitol of the world. He filled silence with music, recognized talent and genius, and knew how to make and spend a buck.

He found joy in simple things, but he was forever complex and inscrutable.

In the past several years, his companion and friend of many years, Cheryl Daniels, cared for him and listened as he continued to dream in his sickbed.

I've never met another man like Paul LeMay. I doubt I ever will. I'll miss him, as a lot of others will. He changed Hartford, and he changed the world around him, and that's the best anyone can expect to do in the short time we're here.

Sunrise, before sunrise

Last night, with Steve and Monica, we had sushi, and sampled the homebrewed beer that I made two months ago with Paul Rousseau. It was finally ready, and it was dark, lightly carbonated, sweet and strong.

Five shared bottles later, I fell asleep well before I should have, and missed the contra dance. At 1:37 a.m. I was wide awake, and turned to Fred Murnau's recently released on DVD, Sunrise (which I ordered through NetFlix) It's a silent film, and I thought, my best bet for beating insomnia.

I haven't seen the film since first semester senior year of college. I had a film professor who taught us film history in two semesters, neatly divided. Semester one was silent. Semester two was talkies. He warned us that watching silents would at first be challenging, but that soon we would fall into the groove, and never realize that sound films had been invented. By the end of the silents period (sound was introduced in 1928) semester, I was beginning to regret the invention of sound films.

Sunrise was made in 1927, and I remembered it fondly. Most of what I remembered remained true. By the end of the silent era, directors were making great visual art. Camera's moved. Lights were used inventively. Sets were a work of genius. And film technique (superimposition, mattes) was at its height. The next year Al Jolson sang "Mammy," and once again cameras were locked in immovable boxes, scripts were nonsense and the rattletrap of sound, and the economic collapse of 1928, destroyed film art for several years.

Sunrise bears some of the frailties of silent film. Oddly composed titles, with lots of dashes. Some histrionic acting. And the distraction of overcrank.

But the story is vivid and wonderful, and is about sex. infidelity, despair, murder, love and finally redemption. George O'Brien is wonderful as the tormented farmer. Janet Gaynor one had some trouble as the naive farm wife (though Gaynor won an Oscar, and O'Brien was not even nominated), but Margaret Livingston is perfect as the city bred seductress.

The film carried me through my sleepiness and reminded me that there are other silent classics that I need to return to for their grandeur, or their comedy.

Friday, January 30, 2009

John Martyn, RIP

A progressive folky who had an improbably FM hit in "Solid Air" in the seventies. His out-of-the-box playing will be remembered, as he will be missed.

Fraud begins at home

God help me, I can't bring myself to avoid local WTIC-AM, hate-radio host, Jim Vicevich, if only to hear how devise (de-vicevich), he's become.

Here's the man who was denying there was a recession through October, suddenly blaming all the financial woes created by George Bush, on Barack Obama. And yes, finally admitting to recession.

Here's the man who believes in free-market capitalism, shocked, I tell you, shocked, at the greed of corporate bankers and Wall Street financiers. But declaring that the economy can heal itself, when the Chicago school of Economics has been roundly derided as a failed policy. Business leaders can't seem to police themselves.

Here's the man who demanded respect for George Bush as commander-in-chief, who demanded respect for the office of the presidency, who insisted that protecting America from terrorism is the most sacred responsibility of the president (though the president swears to uphold the Constitution), now, on a daily basis, tearing down the words and actions of the current president.

Here's the man who excoriated the left for impatience with "the surge" now, talking about the failure of the stimulus package before it's even implemented.

Here's the radio host bragging about his fairness, hustling anyone who disagrees with him off the phone.

So I visited via the web today, and observed his vaunted "chat-room," a veritable circle-jerk of flat-earthers, zealots, conspiracy-theorists, science-deniers, wing-nuts, Hannity-philes and chickenhawks. And there, in the chat room, I found Jim's chat-room profile.

Hmmm? Vicevich claiming to be 43? That would mean he was born in 1965. That would mean when he graduated from Bucknell in 1974, he was 9 years old. And I though his self-proclaimed "genius" was hogwash.

Still, his webcam shows a man who clearly is at least as old as his graduation year would make him out to be, 55 or 56. Or a very haggard 43.

Nothing wrong with being 56. That's how old I am. But I can't imagine ever trying to pass as 43, and Jim, based on this picture, I'd lay off that claim too.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Remembrance of things past

It ain't Proust. But who'd want it to be.

Andy Friedman and the Other Failures.

Touching her breast with her hand while eating broccoli

It's only with inauthentic regret that I apologize, in the past few days, for posting on subjects of prurient interest.

But it's hard to ignore a virile video which has created the double-controversy of being banned from the airwaves for the Superbowl broadcast, and angering feminists because it objectifies women while encouraging people to abandon meat as a foodstuff.

I respect vegetarians. Some of my best friends are vegetarians. I am not. I will eat most things that don't move, and some that do.

The ad in question is suggestive, though hardly pornographic. They would have been smart to add a nearly naked handsome young man to the mix.

There's a longer discussion needed. Are any ads which use these tactics worth banning, or should they be protected as free-speech? When does the erotic cross the line into objectification? What's a man to do when he sees an ad like this and his lizard brain is saying, "Well, yes, give me veggies!" Is a vegetarian lifestyle the appropriate lifestyle for all of us? And what's wrong with a little chicken now and again?

BTW, here's the hamster on a piano, referred to in one of the linked articles.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Jack Bauer of peace and ecology

(One of Susan Forbes Hansen beautiful winter landscapes.)

My friend Susan Forbes Hansen, who often forwards posts that end up here, was name-checked by Colin McEnroe in his column Sunday (yes, I know it's Wednesday).

McEnroe claims to get 11 emails a day from her. I think that's a slight exaggeration, but Susan seems to be connected, as McEnroe indicates, to networks that are determined to make you feel angry, inadequate, guilty and occasionally vindicated. I'm a bit envious that McEnroe receives a few more emails from Susan each day than me.

But mostly I get upset when SF Hansen finds interesting web stories before I do.

I welcome the slightly less than 11 emails I get from Susan each day, if only to be able to answer "read it already."

BTW, I'm plenty interested in the fact that I get the Jack Bauer reference though I've never seen a single minute of a single of 24 or Iron Chef, for that matter. I just know the clock is an important element on each.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

You're the cream in my coffee...

(Freeze frame of a drop of cream after it hits the coffee.)

Two (one here, one here) health news items today make me wonder if, finally, I have lived my life correctly.

I admit to nothing, but I remember everything, in spurts.

Rabbit stops running

The New York Times reported 2 minutes ago that great American novelist John Updike has died of lung cancer.

A chronicler of modern American life, urban and suburban, Updike was as prolific as he was on target.

It's just a state job

More than a few of us were shaken into awareness when CT House Speaker Chris Donovan offered former house speaker Jim Amann an advisor's job for $120k.

As we know, Amann thought better of accepting the job.

But it got a lot of people wondering. Do legislative staff really pull down that kind of dough?

I guess the answer is, "Hell, yes."

Colin McEnroe points us to this list, of salaries in the Democratic and Republican caucuses. State salaries paid by you and me.

The next logical question: Does a part-time legislature (and let's not kid ourselves, most legislators are full-time politicians), need a full-time staff of this size? And why do most of the staff make more than the legislators who hire them?

And why aren't any of this staff positions on the line when the state is so far in the hole?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Upon this rock

Jesus. Are you listening Jesus? Because I don' t think Pope Benedict XV is listening to you.

On Saturday he ex-excommunicated Bishop Richard Williamson, one of four bishops excommunicated for their membership in the renegade Society of St. Pius.

You might explain, Jesus, that this is in the spirit of forgiveness.

But Jesus, Jesus. Not but a few days before in a TV interview, this Williamson with a mitre, may as well be wearing a Klan hood. He turns out to be one giant bishopric, when he says of the holocaust, "There were no gas chambers." He also denies the claim that 6,000,000 Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis.

Williamson is also known for his endorsement of the anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Jesus, you and I know that the voices Benny the 15th is hearing might have more to do with a form of schizophrenia than it does with faith.

But couldn't you blow a kind word into that empty head?

Going soft on research when real growth is needed

I've got no economic creds, but isn't the purchase of Wyeth by Pfizer exactly the reason that the free market, and capitalism, are on the rocks?

Pfizer, who apparently is flaccid without the promise of another Viagra, is pouring money into Wyeth because they have some promising drugs in the pipeline. Pfizer, on the other hand, is running out of time with expiration of patent rights to Lipitor.

So instead of pouring money into research (which, understandably does not yield immediate results), and improving the hope of new products in the pipeline, Pfizer has trimmed staff in order to prepare it to purchase a company, Wyeth, with good hope in pipeline products.

So we'll have a pharmaceutical company that's too big to fail. And when Pfizer has neutered Wyeth's research branch, and needs a dose of Viagra in a year or two, will there be another company big enough for it to swallow to increase its market penetration?

How many Citibanks do we have to watch crumble before regulators return to the idea that oligopoly is not good for any economy.

The only "good" news is that five banks have stepped up to lend money to Pfizer for the sale. From the NY Times:

Pfizer’s bid is being financed by four banks that received federal bailout money: Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America, the people involved in the deal said. Such banks have been criticized for not doing more lending since they received the government aid.

Which means that credit is apparently loosening, and that you and I are paying now, and will be paying in the future, for this deal to happen. Be ready for big bonuses to the bankers who work out the deal, and Pfizer execs who dreamed it up.

BTW, read the article in the NY Times carefully. You'll find that while cheap generic drugs are a boon to the consumer, they frighten the big pharmaceutical companies. You'll also find that if the deal isn't done, Pfizer has agreed to pay a "breakup fee" of $4.5 billion. Finally, you'll find that Pfizer's lawyers are working diligently to avoid paying tax penalties required by the deal in which they must repatriate much of their business units within the US.

Chris Dodd makes the top 25

But not on a list anyone would be proud to inhabit.

This weekend, the Guardian published a list of 25 individuals who had a hand in the global economic meltdown.

Our man Senator Chris is featured prominently:

Christopher Dodd, chairman, Senate banking committee (Democrat)

Christopher Dodd

Consistently resisted efforts to tighten regulation on the mortgage finance firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He pushed to broaden their role to dodgier mortgages in an effort to help home ownership for the poor. Received $165,000 in donations from Fannie and Freddie from 1989 to 2008, more than anyone else in Congress.

Dodd is also mentioned as a "friend of Angelo" in the entry for Angelo Mozilo, on the list:

Angelo Mozilo, Countrywide Financial

Angelo Mozilo

Known as "the orange one" for his luminous tan, Mozilo was the chairman and chief executive of the biggest American sub-prime mortgage lender, which was saved from bankruptcy by Bank of America. BoA recently paid billions to settle investigations by various attorney generals for Countrywide's mis-selling of risky loans to thousands who could not afford them. The company ran a "VIP programme" that provided loans on favourable terms to influential figures including Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate banking committee, the heads of the federal-backed mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and former assistant secretary of state Richard Holbrooke.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hanging out in New Brit-uhn, for a few hours

I finally made it over to the New Britain Museum of American Art to catch the terrific exhibit, Double Lives: American Painters as Illustrators, which follows their great pulp art exhibit of last year (some of those canvases, part of Sanford Low's collection of American illustration, can now be seen in Hartford at the new satellite museum of NBMAA, at Theater works on Pearl St.)

I went specifically to see Elihu Vedder's "The Questioner of the Sphinx" which caught my eye in an art survey text as an undergrad, and led me to write a paper comparing the canvas to the great Shelley poem, Ozymandias, easily one of the best contemplations on mankind's frailty, and empire's impermanence.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert.
Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains.
Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

A bit frightening considering the American empire's current status.

I later saw the original painting while on a job in Vienna, and have a framed poster from that exhibit on my bedroom wall.

Of course, the rest of the museum is amazing. Sanford Low's stewardship during the last mid-century, allowed the museum to acquire a collection which is second to none for a museum of its size.

I took my five year old twin sons with me, and they were as impressed by the Thomas Hartf Benton murals, and the wild plastic cup installation by Lisa Hoke, as they were by the kid's Art Laboratory.

We were also fortunate enough to catch the final day of Michael Theise's trompe l'oeil paintings in an exhibit called, The Eye Deceived.

We skipped through the exhibit of bejewelled handbags by Judith Leiber, but no museum ought to please everyone, all the time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

When Helen says, "Kiss my 83 year old ass," I think she means it

2008-11-15-Picture3.pngHelen is understandably fired up with anonymous shit flingers who accuse her of being too positive about the inauguration of Barack Obama. So she invites them to buss her posterior.

If you haven't sampled Margaret and Helen, you should.

It didn't synch the ship of state

People are making the Milli Vanilli comparison (and yes, the headline "Yo-yo Mamilli Vanilli" is funny.) But the tape didn't skip (and did you remember it happened in Bristol, CT?)

But we went for years watching rock star heroes mime on American Bandstand, so what's the big deal. The trio was playing. The recording was them playing live earlier. And no one lost any money.

And it's better that they didn't play "Error Simple Gifts."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pull back the shades, throw open the window, let the stink out

I have to keep reminding myself to remain skeptical, but Barack Obama keeps making me smile.

Yesterday he continued his repudiation of Bush administration policies regarding secrecy, influence, communications and openness. He took a stand against lobbying. He told his staff that they were working for you and me, and not for themselves. He declared that he was willing to talk to Iran and other enemy governments, without preconditions. And the day before he put a hold on military tribunals

Today, he'll close Gitmo and the secret CIA black site prisons, outlaw torture, or harsh interrogation, and he'll order a legal review of all suspected terrorists being held without the benefit of habeas corpus.

Wonder what he'll do tomorrow.

Of course, follow-through is everything, but so far he's delivering on his promise.

Sticking it to Amann

It's so good to have Helen UbiƱas
back in town.

This morning in the Courant, she allows prospective gubernatorial candidate Jim Amman enough rope to hang himself, and predictably, he does:

But I thought I'd give him another shot at redemption, so after Tuesday's press conference I asked him one more time: Shouldn't a guy hoping to be governor have seen this conflict a mile away?With all due respect, he said, he just didn't see the conflict. Oh, man. Just when we've started to put the memories of Johnny Handout behind us, here comes Jimmy Paycheck.

In an editorial, the Courant calls into question the judgment of Amann and the person who was about to appoint him to a high-paying position, House Speaker Chris Donovan.

What lays at the heart of the controversy for most taxpayers is the fact that there are legislative staff jobs (for a part-time legislature, mind you) which pay $120,000 and generous state benefits. It demonstrates to Connecticut residents that hard work, competence, experience and intelligence have less to do with landing a cushy state job than does good political connections.

It shouldn't be surprising, but it's time state Democratic leaders walk the walk. They let Joe Lieberman off the hook saying they were following the example of Barack Obama of forgetting past transgressions and looking to the future. Yesterday, Obama set a huge example by repudiating the secretive cronyism of the Bush administration. This is an example Connecticut State Democratic leaders must embrace.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bragging right

Billy Bragg fans have a new way to connect with the spokesman for one generation or another.

Bragg is now a disc jockey on Q radio, and you can sample his shows live, or after the fact at the magazine's website.

On his first show he plays everything from Big Joe Turner to Fleet Foxes, with a Stevie Wonder feature.

He even plays, "My Friend the Sun" by Family. One of my faves.

Low logo goes home

"Notice anything about the front page," Susan Campbell asked when visiting my radio show this morning.

"I did," I answered.

In this morning's print edition of the Courant the logotype crawled from its vertical position along the left gutter, and pulled its way horizontal above the half-page photo of Barack and Michelle Obama.

Is this a readjustment that layout editors hope will be disguised in our inaugural-distracted states, after which we will forget that we ever mistook the front page for an overly-art-directed "Living" section.

Or, is it merely an accommodation for that very same photo, and tomorrow we will be disappointed to find that the logotype has slid sideways again.

BTW, in searching for newsphotos from the Netherlands yesterday, I noticed that at least a half dozen Dutch papers bore the "Courant" name. Considering our city's Dutch heritage my lifelong curiosity about that spelling was suddenly sated.

Like the ice going out on the river

(Reuters photo.)

Leave it to Garrison Keillor to find the moment in the day with the most power.

Emotions ran high, but never as high as when the crowd realized that the chopper over their heads, the chopper heading away from Washington, was the chopper carrying the former president away from governance for the last time:
"When the blades started turning, the cheering got louder, and when the chopper lifted up above the Capitol and we saw it in the sky heading for the airport, a million jubilant people waved and hollered for all they were worth. It was the most genuine, spontaneous, universal moment of the day. It was like watching the ice go out on the river."

And I wrote all this before I realized Colin McEnroe had addressed the same topic yesterday afternoon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Celebrating Obama in Amsterdam

(American flag flying from the Old Dom in Amsterdam.)

This from Kevin Lynch in A'dam.

Wow! I went to A'dam with some friends and watched the innauguration there. There was a whole day of celebration. I saw a special carillon concert with music from American composers at the tower of the historic Oude Kerk (Old Church) in the city centre of Amsterdam. The Dam Square looked like Times Square on new Year's Eve. I heard from people in the city (including the Mayor of A'dam) that Rotterdam and Den Haag had massive gatherings as well. Apparently Dutch citizens everywhere were watching in bars and restaurants -- some of which set up big screens in every room to accomodate the expected crowds. Good thing they did...thousands of people, from all over the world, were packed into all kinds of venues! The party's still going on at 8pm our time...but I had to stop in this Internet Cafe and write you about what's up. It's amazing...and very touching, too. I had no idea it would be such a big deal. Lots of happy tears from onlookers. I was congratulated at least a hundred times! Glad I didn't stay home and watch on TV. I missed the Berlin Wall coming down by one day (I left Europe after a three week tour the day before it happened). This made up for it.

Susceptible to optimism

I try not to be cynical. Cynicism is the biggest roadblock to progress.

But I am a skeptic.

On the other side, as my mother would say, "You're an Irishman. Your bladder is next to your eyes."

This morning, watching the Inauguration coverage with my 5 year old twins, I found myself getting misty explaining to them what was going on.

I know Barack Obama is just a politician. I know Barack Obama is one man. But I'm seeing something in my fellow citizens that is giving me hope.

And maybe that's all we need at the moment. Hope. A first step.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The war we can't admit we've lost

The war on drugs, particularly the war on marijuana, has drained our country's treasury, filled our prisons and has made criminals out of those who are no more threatening, maybe less threatening, than your average Bud drinker.

New studies show that the country could save a bundle by opting out of this futile war. Other studies indicate that crime rates, particularly murder rates, might plummet, if historical trends hold true.

H/T Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Losing faith in political leaders close to home

(State Dem leaders laugh at you.)

Don't let the dreamlike optimism of Barack Obama's impending inauguration lull you into a false sense of complacency that the Democrats who represent you are "the good guys."

There's plenty of evidence right here in Connecticut this week that power and money are the fuels which power our professional political class.

First we learned how new Connecticut State House Speaker Chris Donovan, a man whom the Hartford Courant portrayed as motivated by high ideals and progressive policies, stooped to insider politics immediately by hiring former Speaker James Amann as a $120,000 adviser. Amann, who is running for governor, will have his new salary paid by you and your fellow taxpayers.

Read Colin McEnroe on Donovan's first betrayal of his "ideals."

And today, the Courant reports twice about the ongoing misdeeds of powerful Democratic State Senator Thomas Gaffey. The reports reflect badly on Senate Democrats who refused to take up an investigation of Gaffey. It also indicts Senate leader Don Williams, to whom Gaffey is a trusted adviser, and the Elections Enforcement Commission, which seems to be leaning toward a toothless negotiated settlement.

This has lead Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy to request that Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane launch a criminal investigation into Gaffey's actions.

If the facts are true, that Gaffey double-dipped for years into his PAC, and state funding for his ongoing political expenses, then the Senate ought to drum Gaffey out. Instead, they seem to be protecting him. Read what Kevin Rennie has to say.

These are the Democrats who will "save" us from Republican Governor Jodi Rell, and the punitive politics of the Bush era.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Brazilian send-off

Ouch. This reminds me of that T-shirt, "Good Bush. Bad Bush." And unlike George W, it's waxing eloquent.

Friday, January 16, 2009

If George Bush was the pilot of Flight 1549

It's a fitting end to a bleak joke of a presidency.

George Bush, whose legitimate election has been questioned for the entire term of his office, praising a process which he and his henchmen did their damnedest to thwart.

In a tradition dating back to our founding, the presidency will pass to a successor chosen by you, the American people.

If it were that simple, we wouldn't be where we are today.

But the beautiful irony of the evening is that no one was watching George Bush pretending to be George Washington.

Everyone was watching the results of the action of a real hero, Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III, a man whose experience, cool head, bravery and skill saved at least 155 people from a watery grave.

A nation, hungry for real heroes, was hanging on every word they could glean about the former Air Force pilot who made history by landing a jetliner intact, on the Hudson, and then checked the aisles to be sure the plane was empty before he disembarked.

All this while another former pilot, a pretend hero, a man with a fictional story of achievement, stood before a handpicked audience and beating the dead horse of terrorism in our faces one more time.

One could take the occasion to wonder what would have happened if these pilots exchanged roles. If Sullenberger was president, he likely would not have had to thrown his own farewell party. We could imagine that such a resourceful soul would never have allowed the attacks on 9/11 to have occured if he had received the warnings that the Bush administration had. He probably would not have engaged in an illegal, trumped-up invasion of another nation. He would have acted swiftly to save New Orleans. He would have built an economy by engaging the people he cared about most - not his benefactors, but his constituents. If Sullengerger was leaving office, a grateful nation might be roaring it's approval in a tearful farewell.

And if Bush was flying for US Air. Why, there would be tears too. We'd be mourning the loss of every passenger on Flight 1549 because the pilot, in his inability to act decisively, would have bailed, and parachute in hand, he would chuckle to the press, "At least I didn't hit any buildings."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It was thirty years ago today

I don't remember the day clearly, but becoming a father for the first time lays an awful responsibility on one's shoulders.

Thirty years ago, my son Brendan was born. Happy Birthday, B.

That responsibility, the need to protect this helpless infant from the vague and looming horrors of the world, is a heavy mantle to bear, but one that's mitigated by the joy in watching the formless infant take shape as a human.

Brendan became Brendan early. He cried, with colic, for nine months.

He taught himself to read via Sesame Street and magnetic refrigerator letters at 4, and a year later he was at the breakfast table reading stats from his favorite team, the Yankees. How he ever found baseball or the Yankees with me in the house, I'll never know.

His brilliance in the years that followed never ceased to amaze me.

When I would say, "It's a bug," he would identify an insect by its Latin name.

He woke earlier than anyone in the house and would watch evangelical broadcasting, and one morning preached to me over Cheerios.

When we encountered a senior citizen at the mall during Christmas season, who somehow explained that he was all alone for the holiday, Brendan insisted on sending him a Christmas card.

When he began explaining math problems to me, I knew I was in trouble.

Nearly ten years ago, my first wife and I divorced. It was a difficult time, as it often is. Brendan and I stopped talking, and we haven't found a way to talk again since.

Men being men, and McKeon men being McKeon men, we have found it impossible to begin that conversation.

But what happened to me thirty years ago is that a part of my heart was lost forever to a helpless infant. And since that day, I've worried, and hoped, and admired, and boasted, and felt pride, and felt loss, but I've always felt love. That hasn't diminished with any of the rancor, or hurt, or guilt, or time.

Counselors, and friends, relatives and strangers have told me that the wound might be impossible to heal. They warned me to steel my heart. But I know Brendan, and I don't believe that's true.

Happy Birthday, Brendan. We need to talk.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The political winds blow, Creepy Joe™ Lieberman bends

The LA Times' Andrew Malcolm calls Connecticut Senator Lieberman "omni-voluble" and "sort-of member of the Democratic congressional caucus."

And Prez-elect Obama is playing Lieberman like a fiddle.

Obama has Lieberman defending Obama's desire to distribute $350 billion in bailout cash.

This, of course, is the man who Creepy Joe™ Lieberman who said:

Senator Barack Obama is a gifted and eloquent young man who I think can do great things for our country in the years ahead.

But my friends, eloquence is no substitute for a record, not in these tough times for America.

I guess "gifted and eloquent" is good enough for Lieberman these days.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Trained journalists

So, after volunteering to sit through a three hour Economic Development Committee meeting in Middletown, so that I could share the results with my fellow residents, I got home an listened, online to the podcast of Monday's Where We Live. The topic was "The Future of Newspapers."

It's a topic I'm passionate about, as a reader, a former newspaper writer, and a documentary film journalist.

I'm happy to say that an email I wrote to host John Dankosky got read on the air, but dismayed that the journalism professor (Paul Janesch) and the former NY Times reporter (Marcia Chambers) found it necessary to disparage the efforts of citizen journalism sites like The Middletown Eye, which I helped found.

Janesch posited that the Middletown Eye, and other local community newsblogs didn't display the journalistic discipline of real newspapers. Chambers indicated that unlike her newsite (kind of a blog), The Branford Eagle, The Middletown Eye is not staffed with "trained journalists."


The worst thing a "trained" journalist should do is presume that he or she knows something that he or she doesn't.

I detect a bit of journalistic snobbery.

First off, I won't pretend The Middletown Eye is something it isn't. We are not a website attached to a print newspaper. We do not have paid staff. We don't have an office, or the ability (time) to dig for all of our stories the way a paid staff might.

But don't get me wrong. I'm not apologizing. The Middletown Eye is staffed by community journalists of all stripes. Some indeed are what you might call "trained" journalists. They have experience writing for print newspapers, magazines and journals. Some are professors. Some are artists, musicians, stay-at-home parents, ministers, business owners, civic activists, university employees, architects, environmentalists and others who care deeply about the town in which we all live.

All of us know how to write. I would conjecture that some of us know a bit more about research than most "trained" and seasoned journalists.

I will tell you this. We have scooped the Hartford Courant and Middletown Press on a number of occasions. We have been the media source (unaccredited), for newspaper, TV and radio stories. We have written stories which have made the US Army change course. We have exposed local issues and controversies for public scrutiny. And we covered the last election in town like no other media outlet could or would.

We've been around for seven months.

We try mightily to keep opinion separate from news reporting (though we are not always successful). We discourage anything that smacks of personal vendetta. We refuse to print anonymous assaults (though we will print non-threatening anonymous comments). And we are respected by town municipal leaders and residents as an accurate source of information. Our readership is small, but growing.

Certainly, some of what Janesch and Chambers say a "newsblog" ought to aspire to are lofty goals (goals, I might add, that many newspapers do not achieve) - fairness, accuracy, objectivity (to the extent that it can ever be achieved), insight, institutional memory, clear and spirited writing. We hope to be able to offer all or those things to our readership, and more, including a dedication to making Middletown a great place to live, for everyone who lives here (without becoming mindless cheerleaders).

By the way, that Economic Development Committee meeting I sat through resulted in a post which revealed that a gourmet food manufacturer wants to move to Middletown. No other "trained" journalist was at the meeting to report that. You won't read about it in the Hartford Courant or Middletown Press today. It was in the Eye at midnight.

The trouble with newspapers, as I've said dozens of time, is not the reporters, editors, photographers or graphic artists who toil for the dailies. It's the absentee-landlord corporate owners who have hocked the papers into debt-holes from which it is impossible to climb.

Finally, if examples of "trained" journalists are what we find in the ineffectual Washington press corps, or on cable news channel, I'd rather remain untrained.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Looking forward with blinders on

More than once in these past few months I've heard the financiers who have torn our economy asunder for their own personal gain called "terrorists." And rightfully so.

Our nation, the world, our way of life is teetering on the brink so that these guys could get facials before their board meetings, and so their families could fly to Courchevel for a skiing vacation.

Undermining our government by destroying its financial base (isn't that what they've done), is treason.

I've heard others who have suggested, seriously, that the crimes against the Constitution by Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, Dick Cheney, Doug Feith, Paul Wolfowitz and David Addington, among others, could also be called treason.

So what is Barack Obama suggesting the country do about the treasonists and terrorists under our noses?

Look forward.

As Jerylyn Merritt notes in quoting Obama:

"We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we're going to be looking at past practices and I don't believe that anybody is above the law." Obama said. "But my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward."

And while he plans to close Guantanamo, he's willing to somehow bend the rules laid out in the Constitution to hold, indefinitely, prisoners who have been accused of doing bad, or who have been tortured to admit they have done so:

"It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize," the President-elect explained. "Part of the challenge that you have is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom who may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication. And some of the evidence against them may be tainted even though it's true. And so how to balance creating a process that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo American legal system, by doing it in a way that doesn't result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up."

Glenn Greenwald doesn't see this as particularly promising, and I have to agree.

Obama today rather clearly stated that he will not close Guantanamo in the first 100 days of his presidency. He recited the standard Jack Goldsmith/Brookings Institution condescending excuse that closing Guantanamo is "more difficult than people realize." Specifically, Obama argued, we cannot release detainees whom we're unable to convict in a court of law because the evidence against them is "tainted" as a result of our having tortured them, and therefore need some new system -- most likely a so-called new "national security court" -- that "relaxes" due process safeguards so that we can continue to imprison people indefinitely even though we're unable to obtain an actual conviction in an actual court of law.

Worst of all, Obama (in response to Stephanopoulos' asking him about the number one highest-voted question on, first submitted by Bob Fertik) all but said that he does not want to pursue prosecutions for high-level lawbreakers in the Bush administration, twice repeating the standard Beltway mantra that "we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards" and "my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing." Obama didn't categorically rule out prosecutions -- he paid passing lip service to the pretty idea that "nobody is above the law," implied Eric Holder would have some role in making these decisions, and said "we're going to be looking at past practices" -- but he clearly intended to convey his emphatic view that he opposes "past-looking" investigations. In the U.S., high political officials aren't investigated, let alone held accountable, for lawbreaking, and that is rather clearly something Obama has no intention of changing.

We've only got one Constitution, and nowhere does it allow us to lock a prisoner up and throw away the key when we don't have legitimate proof of guilt.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tired of waiting

The Boston Globe's Geoff Edgers was frustrated with constant rumors of a Kinks reunion, and has decided to do something about it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A willingness to stand against hatred and violence whatever its source

Bill Moyers. As usual, reasoned, measured and fueled by an obligation to stand for peace and justice.

The Aaron Miller piece Moyers discusses is here.

H/T Glenn Greenwald.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Playing for Change

This has been forwarded to me several times in the past month, but it was only yesterday that I had the good sense to open it and play it. Sorry Jim, Susan, Rani, David, Rose. You were right.

More about the project at the Playing for Change website.

Isreal's rights and Israel's obligations

It's difficult for me to write with any kind of confidence about what's happening on the Gaza strip because it's a complex situation rooted in centuries of conflict, and I haven't done enough reading to even pretend to have a handle on it.

I do understand this. Israel has a public relations machine that sells their wars as well as the Pentagon has sold ours. And, by and large, the American press prints the press release.

In the first few days of the Israeli bombing, the LA Times printed a simpleton's guide to the conflict in which they reprinted the Israeli justification for bombing which has been repeated and repeated by the American press since the conflict began:

Over the weekend, Israel began airstrikes against the Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, in response to rocket attacks against nearby Israeli communities launched after a six-month truce expired.

Of course, there was no mention that the Palestinians had been suffering though a devastating blockade which left them without enough food or medicine. And this was on top of Israeli-sanctioned occupation of Palestinian territory, severe restrictions on travel and trade, and a longterm repression of the Palestinian people by Israel.

A lot has been written about Israel's right to defend itself. Of course. But if that's the case then the Palestinians have the right to defend themselves too. Unfortunately, without the support of the world's munitions manufacturers, their means are less specific, more crude, and less effective then the massive show of force, and destruction, Israel is able to muster. And Israel has the support of the most significant powers in the Western world.

Fortunately, the web provides an opportunity to get other perspectives. None of it is pretty. And as a country, we seem content to take Israel at its word as they take us by the hand and lead us down the path to the third world war.

What to do?

Naomi Klein, whose thoughts and intellect I have great respect for, has an idea that might put Israel's lust for oppression into check.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Two of the smartest people on TV talk

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Schroeder saves dailies

According to the Middletown Press, a single buyer, Michael Schroeder, owner of Central Connecticut Communications, has stepped up to buy the New Britain Herald and the Bristol Press.

The Hartford Courant has additional details.

Here's some info on Schroeder's curriculum vitae from an alumni website of the Daily Trojan, USC's daily newspaper

2004 update: Now GM for Island Publications, Newsday's magazine publishing division. Worked on startup of amNewYork, a free daily in the city, last year. Reminded, he says, of the days when the typesetting system at the DT broke down every day! He had been chief of staff in the publisher's office at Newsday and before that used to be in charge of the library, among other jobs. Says Michael: "Worked with DT alumni Steve Clow, Valerie Nelson and Mike Ventre at the late, great Herald Examiner, then spent two stints at Newsday, separated by some trade-mag time with CMP and InfoWorld. Discovered sitting within 15 feet of former DT editor Kari Granville Boyer last year. Reports Schroeder: "Went to the Herald from there (copy desk and assistant business editor), working with other DT alums such as Steve Clow, Valerie Nelson and Dave Wharton (my first "going away" lunch as a manager was with Dave). Also, had the opportunity to share bouillabaisse with the late, great Allan Malamud. Went from the Herald to the OC Register (assistant business editor) for a brief stint, then headed to East to help start up New York Newsday. From the copy desk, worked in graphics for a while, then switched to editorial technology (that DT experience finally paid off!). Switched to trade newspapers with CMP Media in 1993, and took a flier on a net startup for that company, moving back to California in 1997. They closed down that operation six months later, cutting losses before going public. Not ready to come back to NY, jumped to their competitor, IDG, joining InfoWorld as information systems and production director. Moved back to Newsday last year (my wife's family is on Long Island, after all), and although the winter's a pain, am enjoying the work. Just finished an MBA from C.W. Post (after four schools and 13 years!)"

Along with some encouragement from a colleague.

And this from Editor and Publisher.

Two towns breathe a collective sigh of relief.

There's a 4pm news conference at the Capitol to introduce the new owner.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Caterwauler's favorite albums of 2008

This year I break with a tradition that has always perplexed and frustrated listeners. For the past 24 years, I've started the year with a list of thirteen of my favorite folk, roots, americana albums of the previous year. Initially it was the Fringe Folk Top 13, and then the Caterwaul Top 13.

Trouble was, I never actually had only 13 albums on the list. Inevitably, the list of actual albums would run to more than 20, a problem I solved with double and triple ties.

This year, I'm announcing the list of my favorite albums of the year the day before I feature them on the air on my Wednesday morning show (Caterwaul, WWUH-FM, 91.3,, 6-9 a.m. Eastern US Standard Time)

This year there are 31 albums on the list, and I do have a favorite, which you'll have to scroll to the bottom of this post to find.

But here they are, in a year when single song sales have far outdistanced traditional album sales, Caterwauler's favorite albums of 2008 with some video accompaniment.

Randy Newman - Harps and Angels (Nonesuch)

Various - Awake My Soul/Help Me To Sing (Awake)

American Music Club - Golden Age (Merge)

Old Crow Medicine Show - Tennessee Pusher (Nettwerk)

Neil Halstead - Oh Mighty Engine (Brushfire)

Hayes Carll - Trouble In Mind (Lost Highway)

Chuck Brodsky - Two Sets (Waterbug)

Mark Erelli - Delivered (Signature Sounds)

Sacred Shakers – Sacred Shakers (Signature Sounds)

Primate Fiasco - Geek Dreams (Primate Fiasco)

Caroline Herring – Lantana (Signature Sounds)

Delta Spirit – Ode to Sunshine (Rounder)

Drive By Truckers - Darker Than Creation's Dark (New West)

Winterpills - Central Chambers (Signature Sounds)

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (SubPop)

Vetiver - Thing of the Past (SubPop)

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

Various (Art Rosenbaum) - Art of Field Recording (Dust to Digital)

Todd Snider – Peace Queer (Aimless)

Rodney Crowell – Sex and Gasoline (Yep Roc)

Charley Haden – Rambling Boy (Decca)

Carrie Rodriguez – She Ain’t Me (Back Porch)

Charlie Louvin – Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs (Tompkins Square)

Brett Dennen – Hope for the Hopeless (Dualtone)

Billy Bragg – Mr. Love and Justice (Yep Roc)

Avett Brothers - Second Gleam (Ramseur)

Cedric Watson - Cedric Watson (Valcour)

Loudon Wainwright III – Recovery (Yep Roc)

Elvis Costello and the Imposters - Momofuku (Lost Highway)