Sunday, April 27, 2008

If You Don't Vote for This Poet, We'll Kill This Dog

Steve Caratzas has been nominated for The 2008 Poet Laureate Of The Blogosphere.

Go vote for him . . . NOW. HERE.

It's deserved recognition for a man who's been producing a poem a day on his blog for over three years now.

The Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere Nominee sent out an email this week:

Subject: Pardon the SPAM - I'm a Poet, Not the widow of a Nigerian millionaire!

Dear Sir/Madam/Friend/Enemy:

If you've enjoyed even 7 words of one of my 8-word poems, slaked your thirst for snark with one of my Slipshod Sonnets, or found yourself thinking "That's possibly deep - though I'm not entirely sure!" after pondering one of my long form poetic extravaganzas, well now you can share the love and give something back.

Imagine: fame, fortune, a steaming hot cup of jack squat. These can all be mine, with your help!

Thank you in advance for your vote(s).
Now, you can ask yourself, "Who, exactly, chooses the Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere?"

You can ask yourself "How could anyone possibly locate and read all of the poetry produced in that strange suburban sprawl called the blogosphere? And why would anyone want to?"

You can even ask yourself, "Just who is this Caratzas person and why should I vote for him? I'm already confused enough by the Hillary/Obama dialectic."

All good questions. But they are inconsequential. Go vote for Steve. VOTE HERE.

And do not dawdle or the doggie doesn't go for walkies. Ever. Again.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sunny Afternoon (Shut Up and Eat Your Kinks!)

The Kinks: Sunny Afternoon
(from Face to Face, 1966)

Despite the over-the-top irony of the Kinks playing "Sunny Afternoon" in a snowy field, I'm all about spring right now. The weather here has been spectacular lately. After months of dreary greys and browns, we suddenly have GREEN. Buds opening on the trees. Flowers erupting. Fragrances of honeysuckle and dogwood. An eruption of life-energy.

Campus is full of students throwing frisbees, playing guitars, and sunnying themselves on the lawn. I'm jealous, having to work in a bloody office. Having to work at all, for that matter. My youth calls to me from far, far away . . . .

So I made a new playlist. Sunny Afternoon: A Rock and Roll Soundtrack. The tunes one might have played while hanging out in the park on a beautiful, lazy day in the mid-to-late 1970s.

So, turn up the volume. Open a cold one. Toss me that frisbee. And smoke 'em if you've got 'em.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Clintons vs MoveOn

More Democratic fratricide this week . . . .

Celeste Fremon at Huffington Post reports on remarks Hillary Clinton made recently about during a closed-door fund-raiser:

" endorsed [Sen. Barack Obama] -- which is like a gusher of money that never seems to slow down," Clinton said to a meeting of donors. "We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with. And you know they turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and It's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me."
Eli Pariser, from MoveOn, responded:
"Senator Clinton has her facts wrong again. MoveOn never opposed the war in Afghanistan, and we set the record straight years ago when Karl Rove made the same claim. Senator Clinton's attack on our members is divisive at a time when Democrats will soon need to unify to beat Senator McCain. MoveOn is 3.2 million reliable voters and volunteers who are an important part of any winning Democratic coalition in November. They deserve better than to be dismissed using Republican talking points."
Ironically, MoveOn got its start in 1998 by organizing support for President Clinton during the Impeachment process. They created an online petition called "Censure President Clinton and Move On to Pressing Issues Facing the Nation."

A few months ago, at a MoveOn-sponsored forum, Hillary praised the organization:
I also want to thank you for being such lively participants in American democracy. You started from the very fundamental premise that in our democracy everyone should have a voice and that given the power of the internet, we now have millions of voices that are part of our debates. I personally welcome that because for nearly a decade you've been asking the tough questions, you've been demanding answers, you've been refusing to back down when any of us who are in political leadership are not living up to the standards that we should set for ourselves and that you expect from us. I think you have helped to change the face of politics for the better, both online and in the corridors of power. So although some of your members may be a little surprised to hear me say this, I am grateful for your work. I remember when you started and how important it was and I look forward to continuing our dialogue in the years ahead on the important issues facing our country and the world.
Matthew Yglesias, at The Atlantic Monthly, sees a larger Clinton pattern at work:
[T]he bad dynamic between Clinton and MoveOn is a reminder of one of the fundamental problems with her candidacy. The Clintons, and many of their key supporters, come out of a school of political analysis which holds that the problem with the Democratic Party in the United States is that progressive institutions are too strong. Only by curbing the influence of these institutions, the theory goes, can Democratic Party politicians engage in the tactical repositioning necessary to win elections.

Whether or not that was true in 1988-92 or, indeed, whether or not it remains true today, this is clearly not a long-term strategy for progressive politics. This "crush the left, move to the right" theory of electoral political may or may not work for politicians in the short run, but to create big change you need to strengthen progressive institutions and move the entire spectrum to the left.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about MoveOn. But I don't see the ultimate good in attacking an energized and increasingly important group of activists within your own party.

My guess is that the Clintons are appealing again to reactionary Democrats, especially in Pennsylvania, by distancing themselves from those terrible "progressive" nuts. Once more, they're playing the Republican song, this time using a falsehood that Karl Rove already used a few months ago.

But even if bashing MoveOn were to help them in the Pennsylvania primary, wouldn't they need these same people in a general election? They assume that MoveOn will come around later. And given how loyal MoveOn is to the Democratic Party - and how nasty MoveOn and DailyKos are to any mention of third-party attempts - the Clintons are probably right about that. At least to a degree. The organizations might come around and help them raise money. But individual voters within the groups might defect.

In any case, it's one more example of the Democrats working hard to lose what should've been a winnable election.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Stories of Our Lives (in six words)

It's been a while since I've been tagged for anything, but Steve Caratzas has obliged with the following challenge:

1) Write your own six word memoir
2) Post it on your blog; include a visual illustration if you’d like
3) Link to the person that tagged you in your post, and to the original post if possible
4) Tag at least five more blogs with links
5) Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

I read "original post" as the one that started this meme - The Beginning of All Beginnings - so I departed from Caratzas Station and headed out into the wilds of cyberspace (do we still use that term?), trying to discover the Meme Creator.

A moderately interesting experience. Here are the way stations and stories I encountered on my journey:

The Blog of Lewd Enlightenment: And the lemon flower is sweet.

pony rides and monkey pictures: Never give up. Never surrender...mostly. [A Galaxy Quest fan. Nice.]

Conspiracy of Happiness
: Graduated finally; spent life in love.

Damn Kids, Get Off My Lawn!: MISSION: HAVE CAKE, EAT IT TOO.

meanoldmommy: "Heaven for climate, hell for company".

No Internal Editor: Slowly realizing we will be okay. [I like that one.]

The road bogged down at the next blog, where I couldn't easily find the meme. Also, it occurred to me (I'm a bit slow - and I suppose I was intrigued by the journey itself) that no one was posting to some All-Powerful, All-Knowing "Original Post." The Meme Creator would remain shrouded in mystery, without form, and void, with darkness on the face of the deep. No identifiable point of the Big Blog Bang.

Six degrees of separation also seemed enough.

The six-word memoir started as a contest at the online magazine SMITH and has blossomed now into a best-selling book of mini-memoirs entitled, Not Quite What I Was Planning. A few issues back, The New Yorker offered an appropriately brief article on the subject by Lizzie Widdicombe: "Say It All in Six Words."

How to encapsulate a life in only six words? And what tone to set? Glib? Overly serious? There are so many possibilities. Wherever you go, there you are. But that's not original. Not quite what I was planning seems hard to beat, but it's already taken. That's it? You've gotta be kidding! Nine words strategically condensed into six. I like it - but I'm not sure it's really my story.

I'll go with: Wandering down a long dirt road.

Overly serious. Oh well.

And only I could go on too long about the topic of brevity.

I tag the following: Liam, Jeff, Crystal, Jen, and Enrique.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Bob Dylan Wins a Pulitzer Prize

Bob Dylan wins a Special Citation from the Pulitzer Prizes.

"A Special Citation to Bob Dylan for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."

After being short-listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature a few times, how excited does one get about a Pulitzer Prize "Special Citation"?

Only 13 people (all men) have previously won the Special Citation. The list includes:

E.B. White (1978)
Milton Babbitt (1982)
Theodor Seuss Geisel (1984)
Thelonious Monk (2006)
John Coltrane (2007)
Ray Bradbury (2007)

At least they gave it to Dylan before he died. Monk in 2006? Coltrane in 2007?

Maybe one day a woman will win . . . . Seems like there have been one or two important women in American history.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . .

"Mr. Tambourine Man" - Newport Folk Festival 1964

Friday, April 04, 2008

IKEA Announces It Will Start Selling Cars

It's supposed to be more affordable . . . .

(h/t John Wylie)

McCain's Bus Trip Down Memory Lane

I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of the McCain/Grampa Simpson connection.

The Other Phone Call at 3 AM

From The Jed Report's "Look who's really calling Hillary Clinton at 3AM":

Politico's Ken Vogel has the details on Clinton's debt problems, saying that her campaign has earned "a reputation as something of a deadbeat in some small-business circles." And it's not just the embarrassment of being a deadbeat -- Clinton's money trouble is yet another indicator of a campaign struggling to survive.

"If Richardson is Judas, which Clinton is Jesus?"

Can't believe it took two weeks for someone to come up with that line.

Joel Connelly, at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, finally did, in his column yesterday (h/t The Jed Report):

AS HER ham-handed handlers insult entire states, and her self-absorbed husband indulges in red-faced, finger-wagging outbursts, Sen. Hillary Clinton soldiers on.

It is a joyless campaign, with stump speeches that carry tales of woe and get delivered in a booming voice that could open a wall safe.

A full three months after the Iowa caucuses, nearly two months after Washington's caucuses, the Clintons seem bent on turning the Democrats' fertile ground into scorched earth. . . .

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, holder of two Cabinet-level posts in the Clinton administration, bounded into a Portland rally two weeks ago to endorse Sen. Barack Obama.

The retaliation was swift, furious and self-defeating.

Clinton backer James Carville, noting that Richardson made up his mind during Holy Week, opined: "Mr. Richardson's endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic."

If Richardson is Judas, which Clinton is Jesus? . . .

The official Clinton reaction to Richardson's endorsement was condescension.

"The time (Richardson) could have been effective has long since passed. ... I don't think it is a significant endorsement in this environment," declared Clinton "chief strategist" Mark Penn.

Sound familiar? After Super Tuesday, Penn declared that Obama had won only one "significant" state, his home base of Illinois. Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Missouri -- and Washington that Saturday -- are dismissed by Hillaryland.

The campaign stumbled on, trying to explain the candidate's false statement that she landed under fire while on a visit to Bosnia as first lady. The TV footage of the event showed a standard-issue welcoming ceremony.

Come Wednesday, Richardson's endorsement was back on ABC News. Hillary Clinton was quoted as disparaging Obama to Richardson, saying: "He cannot win, Bill. He cannot win."

She was denying the statement Thursday.

The defections must stick in the craw of the Clintons. Bill Clinton watched the Super Bowl with Richardson in New Mexico, seeking the very endorsement that is now dismissed. . . .

When left to her own devices, Hillary Clinton can be a highly impressive human being.

She delivered a superlative, insightful briefing on global warming in the Arctic, after a 2005 tour with Sen. John McCain. At a Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas, a man shouted that his wife was "an illegal." "No woman is illegal," Clinton shot back, earning days of rancid abuse from right-wing pundits. . . .

The miscalculations and misjudgments -- which likely have cost Hillary Clinton the nomination, and Bill Clinton much of his reputation -- are the campaign's own doing.

In years past, the Clintons showed an amazing knack for getting themselves into binds, then escaping tight corners. It has deserted them.

Obama and Hillary Clinton will appear Saturday night when Montana Democrats hold their annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner in Butte. It won't be hard to tell which candidacy carries the most baggage.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Remembering King

Martin Luther King delivering his final speech, April 3, 1968

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s final speech, delivered at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis, Tennessee, the night before he was assassinated. Incredibly, he was only 39 years old at the time. (He was only 26 when he was chosen to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.)

American Rhetoric has an audio copy of the speech, which I highly recommend. The speech is most famous for its haunting conclusion, when King seems aware of his own imminent death and says it doesn't matter, because he has been to the mountaintop. But the full speech still resonates deeply.

There's also a text version of the full speech, and a video clip of the "mountaintop" sequence. I'm including some of the text here, but I do recommend listening to King deliver the speech or watching the video clip. The ending is one of the most powerful moments I've ever witnessed.

Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God's children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there.

I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but "fear itself." But I wouldn't stop there.

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy."

Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we've got to stay together. We've got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh's court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that's the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base....

Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother.

Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that "One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony." And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem -- or down to Jericho, rather to organize a "Jericho Road Improvement Association." That's a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.

But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles -- or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked -- the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.

You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, "Are you Martin Luther King?" And I was looking down writing, and I said, "Yes." And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that's punctured, your drowned in your own blood -- that's the end of you.

It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I've forgotten what those telegrams said. I'd received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I've forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I'll never forget it. It said simply,

Dear Dr. King,
I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.

And she said,

While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I'm a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I'm simply writing you to say that I'm so happy that you didn't sneeze.

Now, it doesn't matter, now. It really doesn't matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us. The pilot said over the public address system, "We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we've had the plane protected and guarded all night."

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Two Bills (Clinton and Richardson)

Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle report on Bill Clinton's "meltdown" at a private meeting with superdelegates during the California state convention last weekend. "Bill Clinton's tirade stunned some delegates":

"It was one of the worst political meetings I have ever attended," one superdelegate said.

According to those at the meeting, Clinton - who flew in from Chicago with bags under his eyes - was classic old Bill at first, charming and making small talk with the 15 or so delegates who gathered in a room behind the convention stage.

But as the group moved together for the perfunctory photo, Rachel Binah, a former Richardson delegate who now supports Hillary Clinton, told Bill how "sorry" she was to have heard former Clinton campaign manager James Carville call Richardson a "Judas" for backing Obama.

It was as if someone pulled the pin from a grenade.

"Five times to my face (Richardson) said that he would never do that," a red-faced, finger-pointing Clinton erupted.

The former president then went on a tirade that ran from the media's unfair treatment of Hillary to questions about the fairness of the votes in state caucuses that voted for Obama. It ended with him asking delegates to imagine what the reaction would be if Obama was trailing by just 1 percent and people were telling him to drop out.

"It was very, very intense," said one attendee. "Not at all like the Bill of earlier campaigns.

When delegate Binah - still stunned from her encounter with Clinton - got home to Little River (Mendocino County) later in the day - there was a phone message waiting for her from State Party Chairman Art Torres, telling her the former president wanted him to apologize to her on his behalf for what happened.

Still, word of Clinton's blast shot all the way back to the New Mexico state Capitol, where Richardson spokesman Pahl Shipley reiterated Tuesday that his boss had never "promised or guaranteed" Bill and Hillary his endorsement.
In happier times? The two Bills watch the Super Bowl together on February 3, 2008.

Yesterday, just two days after Clinton's tirade, Bill Richardson published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post, entitled "Loyalty to My Country":
My recent endorsement of Barack Obama for president has been the subject of much discussion and consternation -- particularly among supporters of Hillary Clinton.

Led by political commentator James Carville, who makes a living by being confrontational and provocative, Clinton supporters have speculated about events surrounding this endorsement and engaged in personal attacks and insults.

While I certainly will not stoop to the low level of Mr. Carville, I feel compelled to defend myself against character assassination and baseless allegations.

Carville has made it very clear that this is a personal attack -- driven by his own sense of what constitutes loyalty. It is this kind of political venom that I anticipated from certain Clinton supporters and I campaigned against in my own run for president.

I repeatedly urged Democrats to stop attacking each other personally and even offered a DNC resolution calling for a positive campaign based on the issues. I was evenhanded in my efforts. In fact, my intervention in a debate during a particularly heated exchange was seen by numerous commentators as an attempt to defend Sen. Clinton against the barbs of Sens. Obama and John Edwards.

As I have pointed out many times, and most pointedly when I endorsed Sen. Obama, the campaign has been too negative, and we Democrats need to calm the rhetoric and personal attacks so we can come together as a party to defeat the Republicans.

More than anything, to repair the damage done at home and abroad, we must unite as a country. I endorsed Sen. Obama because I believe he has the judgment, temperament and background to bridge our divisions as a nation and make America strong at home and respected in the world again.

This was a difficult, even painful, decision. My affection and respect for the Clintons run deep. I do indeed owe President Clinton for the extraordinary opportunities he gave me to serve him and this country. And nobody worked harder for him or served him more loyally, during some very difficult times, than I did.

Carville and others say that I owe President Clinton's wife my endorsement because he gave me two jobs. Would someone who worked for Carville then owe his wife, Mary Matalin, similar loyalty in her professional pursuits? Do the people now attacking me recall that I ran for president, albeit unsuccessfully, against Sen. Clinton? Was that also an act of disloyalty?

And while I was truly torn for weeks about this decision, and seriously contemplated endorsing Sen. Clinton, I never told anyone, including President Clinton, that I would do so. Those who say I did are misinformed or worse.

As for Mr. Carville's assertions that I did not return President Clinton's calls: I was on vacation in Antigua with my wife for a week and did not receive notice of any calls from the president. I, of course, called Sen. Clinton prior to my endorsement of Sen. Obama. It was a difficult and heated discussion, the details of which I will not share here.

I do not believe that the truth will keep Carville and others from attacking me. I can only say that we need to move on from the politics of personal insult and attacks. That era, personified by Carville and his ilk, has passed and I believe we must end the rancor and partisanship that has mired Washington in gridlock. In my view, Sen. Obama represents our best hope of replacing division with unity. That is why, out of loyalty to my country, I endorse him for president.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Jules Dassin

Jules Dassin may have been the best American director you've never heard of. His obscurity in this country was due mainly to his having been blacklisted in the McCarthy era, which forced him into exile in Europe. He died yesterday, at age 96, in Athens, his home for many years.

There were several substantial obituaries today in The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Los Angeles Times, who went as far as to call him "one of the leading American filmmakers of the postwar era."

Here's part of the L.A. Times obit:

"Greece mourns the loss of a rare human being, a significant artist and true friend," Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in a statement. "His passion, his relentless creative energy, his fighting spirit and his nobility will remain unforgettable."

Dassin, considered one of the leading American filmmakers of the postwar era, directed his most influential film, "Rififi," while living in France after being blacklisted as a communist in the early 1950s. "Rififi" earned him a best director award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955.

"Rififi" is the "benchmark all succeeding heist films have been measured against," Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan wrote in 2000 when it was re-released in the United States.

The film was widely considered the prototype for films like "Ocean's Eleven" and "Mission: Impossible." Dassin himself made another film based on "Rififi," 1964's "Topkapi," which starred Melina Mercouri, whom he had worked with on the popular English-language film "Never on Sunday," in which she played a good-hearted prostitute. Dassin and Mercouri later married.

Turan said the influence of "Rififi" "is hard to overstate." The critic wrote that one section of the film is "a model of tension and precision." In the sequence, Dassin spends "a full 30 minutes on the actual robbery, a completely wordless half-hour (though it makes good use of sound effects) that racks the nerves and provides a master class in breaking and entering as well as filmmaking."

Dassin was born on Dec. 18, 1911, in Middletown, Conn., one of eight children of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father, a barber, moved the family to New York City. Dassin graduated from high school in the Bronx.

He got into show business as an actor in New York's Yiddish theater in the mid-1930s. But upon discovering "that an actor I was not," he switched to directing, first on the New York stage and then in films.

In the early 1940s, Dassin went to Hollywood, eventually working for MGM, Universal and 20th Century Fox. His first feature film for MGM was "The Tell-Tale Heart" which was followed by "Nazi Agent," released in 1942. He did several other average films for MGM, including "The Canterville Ghost" (1944) and "A Letter for Evie" (1946).

But "Brute Force" (1947), the violent prison film starring Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn, marked a striking change in direction to grittier fare. That was followed by "Naked City" (1948), one of the first police dramas shot on the streets of New York; "Thieves' Highway" (1949), a gritty film about independent truckers battling a crooked produce wholesaler; and "Night and the City" (1950), a film noir starring Richard Widmark as a hustler in London who is caught up in his own schemes. Widmark died last week at 93.
From the N.Y. Times:

He joined the Communist Party in 1930s, a decision he recalled in 2002 in an interview with The Guardian in London. “You grow up in Harlem where there’s trouble getting fed and keeping families warm, and live very close to Fifth Avenue, which is elegant,” he told the newspaper. “You fret, you get ideas, seeing a lot of poverty around you, and it’s a very natural process.”

He left the party in 1939, he said, disillusioned after the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler.

Mr. Dassin left the United States for France in 1953 because, he said, he was “unemployable” in Hollywood. In Paris, unable to speak much more than restaurant French when he arrived, he encountered hard times and remained largely unemployed for five years. In need of money, he agreed to direct “Rififi,” a low-budget production about a jewelry heist.

I highly recommend Rififi, truly one of the great film noirs of all time. Alsoworth watching are The Naked City, with Barry Fitzgerald playing a New York City detective, Night and the City, with Richard Widmark, and La Legge (AKA La Loi or The Law), with Marcello Mastoiani, Yves Montand, and Gina Lollobrigida.

Dassin led a fascinating life, especially after he left the United States. Read more about him in the obituaries listed above. I love these two bits from The Guardian article:
[Dassin] claimed that after the screening of his film He Who Must Die at Cannes in 1957, Jean Cocteau, who was on the jury, fainted with admiration, exclaiming: "To think this beautiful film was made by a Frenchman." Dassin added laconically: "They set the record straight after they brought him round."

He will be remembered as a master of the craft of location filming. How much of a master is nicely illustrated by an anecdote from Marvin Wald, one of the writers of The Naked City. He recalled attending a preview and commenting to the director on the effectiveness of a shot during the climax on the Williamsburg bridge, in which a high-angle view looks down past the fugitive murderer to a spread of tennis matches in progress on courts far below. It was, Wald suggested, quite a stroke of luck that the tennis players should have been there at the right time. At this, Dassin snorted. "Lucky?" he said. "Those tennis players were all extras. I put 'em there."