Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Plus ça change, Part II

Actually, make that Part MMDCCLXXX.
Obama administration will not sign land mine ban
By DESMOND BUTLER, Associated Press
November 24, 2009

The Obama administration has decided not to sign an international convention banning land mines.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Tuesday that the administration recently completed a review and decided not to change the Bush-era policy.

"We decided that our land mine policy remains in effect," he said.

More than 150 countries have agreed to the Mine Ban Treaty's provisions to end the production, use, stockpiling and trade in mines. Besides the United States, holdouts include: China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Russia.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., criticized the State Department's review of the land mine policy as "cursory and halfhearted."

The senator described the decision to stand fast on the current policy as "a lost opportunity .... The United States took some of the earliest and most effective steps to restrict the use of land mines. We should be leading this effort, not sitting on the sidelines."

Human rights groups had expressed hopes that the Obama administration would sign the treaty.

Stephen Goose, the director of Human Rights Watch's arms division, said he was surprised by the announcement and called it disappointing. He said that his group had been pushing the administration to conduct a review of its policy but that the administration had given no indication that one was under way.

"If one was already completed, it was not very extensive," he said.

Kelly said that the United States would send an observer group of mine experts to a review conference on the treaty in Cartegena, Colombia, next week.

A report this month by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines found that mines remain planted in the earth in more than 70 countries and killed at least 1,266 people and wounded 3,891 last year. More than 2.2 million anti-personnel mines, 250,000 anti-vehicle mines and 17 million other explosives left over from wars have been removed since 1999, the report said.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Plus ça change


Remember all the whining Barack Obama did in 2007 and 2008 over George W. Bush's favorite death-squad organization, Blackwater?
"When I am President I will ask the Joint Chiefs for their help in reducing reliance on armed private military contractors with the goal of ultimately implementing a ban on such contractors."
"I actually introduced legislation in the Senate before Senator Clinton even mentioned this that said we had to crack down on private contractors like Blackwater because I don't believe that they should be able to run amok and put our own troops in danger, get paid three or four times or ten times what our soldiers are getting paid. I am the one who has been opposed to those operators."
"I am concerned that Blackwater remains in Iraq, and I am concerned that they remain in Iraq and other countries totally unaccountable to US law and totally unaccountable to the law in the country in which they are operating."
Writing in the The Nation magazine, Jeremy Scahill has revealed that Blackwater is currently operating in Pakistan under a covert program which includes planning the assassination and kidnapping of Taliban and Al-Qaeda suspects. Blackwater is also involved in a previously undisclosed US military drone campaign which has killed hundreds of people inside the country, with Blackwater operatives working under the Joint Special Operations Command — the military’s top covert action force. This would mark the first known confirmation of US military activity inside Pakistan. Blackwater ops are effectively running the drone bombings for both JSOC and CIA. The CIA drone program is already public knowledge, but military sources say some of the deadliest drone attacks attributed to CIA were actually carried out by JSOC and Blackwater.

Blackwater operatives are also taking part in ground operations with Pakistani forces under a subcontract with a local security firm, operations which include house raids and border interdictions in northwest Pakistan and other areas. Blackwater has also been given responsibility for planning JSOC actions in Uzbekistan.

Amy Goodman's interview with Scahill.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Darkness at Noon


46 years and counting . . .

Unlike the circumstances surrounding "9/11" -- an event which made an already vicious, criminal, stupid, and narcissistic nation even more vicious, criminal, stupid, and narcissistic -- November 22nd, 1963 really did change everything. It broke the country's heart; and it destroyed for good all faith in our Empire as a just and open one. As I wrote in a post about David Talbot's necessary book Brothers:
Forty years later, what is left on a popular or establishment level of grace, complexity, self-deprecation, hatred of the rich and big business, a refusal to demonize others and puff ourselves up, the assumption that people are basically good, and the idea that society and government must be judged by the way the weakest and most vulnerable among us are taken care of?

The answer is: nothing. There is nothing left of that. And that is why the sense of doom and sorrow one takes from "Brothers" will be long lasting. The worst of our history murdered the best and got away with it. Scott free. Not only did they get away with it, they've created the sort of society diametrically opposed to everything JFK and RFK stood for: a country where the least human and most nakedly aggressive dominate everything. This was the newer world others' sought. Born from the gore of Dealey Plaza, they've achieved it.
Yet we dream. And we hope. (Two most human longings brilliantly and ruthlessly exploited by conman Barack Obama in '07 and '08.) John F. Kennedy often spoke about his own dreams and hopes for a better America, and never so eloquently as his tribute to Robert Frost at Amherst College, October 26th, 1963.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Emily

I dwell in Possibility
A fairer House than Prose
More numerous of Windows
Superior of Doors

Of Chambers as the Cedars
Impregnable of Eye
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky

Of Visitors, the fairest
For Occupation, this
The spreading wide of narrow Hands
To gather Paradise

-- E.D., 1862

Monday, November 16, 2009

Burning

What does it mean to be an urban "Leftist" in 21st-century America? Basically, it means to adopt the following personality: "I'm smarter than you are. I'm more educated than you are. I dress better and have far better taste in music and movies. I'm cooler. My career is everything, plus I've memorized every episode of Lost. I'm on my second divorce and my kids are everything, except when they're not. I Twit, Kindle, and Kopi Luwak. And you don't." Not exactly attitudes one wants in a Sierra Maestra foxhole. So thank God for Joe Bageant, a true man of the Left. At his website and in his wonderful book, Joe cuts through all the smugness, superiority, condescension, passivity, narcissism, and class bigotry which makes the current American "Left" such a sitting duck for the likes of the baboon Right and for hucksters such as Barack Obama. And never a better example then the tetchiness of our brave Starbucks Sandinistas when it comes to smoking. And never a better example of Bageant than this.

Shoot the Fat Guys, Hang the Smokers
by Joe Bageant

I scarcely know where to begin on this topic. As a smoker for 40 years, I think I've experienced every emotion and held just about every opinion possible on the subject. I've enjoyed the hell out of smoking most of the time (before it helped ruin my health), hated myself for being addicted, loathed the fact that despite having both kinds of COPD, I cannot seem to quit. I've quit for up to a year at a time, only to go back. Right now I am taking Welbutrin, which helps more than anything I've ever seen, but I still lapse in and out of the addiction.

As you can see, I'm not prone to defend smoking at this late age when I suffer from so many of its long term effects. Long term suddenly got short on me.

However, I do observe the same things as you regarding the anti-smoking movement. It is extremely classist.

Our society never asks why most of America's underclass people smoke. America is a society at the edge of a cliff. Many people fall over the cliff but instead of building a fence, America sends middle class professionals down in a basket to pick the pockets of the dead and dying victims, either through the "recovery industry" or expensive end of life care and funerary services. In the case of smoking, however, middle class Americans, left or right, seem intent on beating up the victims for sheer enjoyment or, as you point out, to fulfill some unfathomable political agenda. The prevailing philosophy seems to be "Why exercise an ounce of mercy when you can expend a pound of cruelty?"

Smoking and drinking are indeed among the few miserable pleasures available to working class and working underclass folks. They were and are always there for me when little else is, so long as I am willing to pass my money up the class ladder. They make money for the middle and upper classes two ways, first through corporate sales profits, then later through medical treatment for the diseases incurred (or in the case of insured middle class people hooked on nicotine, patches and pharmaceuticals).

Smoking unarguably costs America billions upon billions in medical expenses. But you gotta ask just who the billions are paid out to. They are paid out to the "healthcare industry," which is just that -- an industry -- to support the millions of doctors and others in the professional classes. Which means cigarettes will always be with us. Somebody's gotta pay for their hot tubs and vacations in Provence.

As far as I am concerned the government could ban the goddamned things and we'd all be better off, black market or no black market. That would certainly solve my problem, and I suspect solve the problem for millions of others like me, who wouldn't smoke if cigs were not available at all. I know that probably makes a libertarian like yourself blanch. But I'm only speaking from my own selfish perspective. I wouldn't knock off a liquor store to buy a pack of smokes on the black market, nor would most smokers I know.

Put simply, I'd do anything to kick my nicotine addiction, which as Ray Charles said, "is worse than heroin." I believe him. While I was back in the States this summer working on the new book, my webmaster, Ken Smith, said to me, "You're a vet. Why not use your VA benefits?'" I avoid anything related to the US government for the same reasons one avoids any other criminal cartel. But considering the way my health has seriously gone to hell (COPD, hypertension and type two diabetes) and that I couldn't breathe, couldn't fuck, couldn't sleep, and had arthritic pain 24/7, I decided to go, and as long as I was going, to give smoking cessation a shot. I must say here that the VA hospital treatment turned out to be excellent. Beyond excellent.

I found myself in the smoking cessation program with the kind of people I've known all my life, hard looking people by the commercially indoctrinated middle class standard. There was a tough Lynndie England type who was an Iraq War vet, a black diabetic guy with no feet, a retired construction foreman who was trying for something like the tenth time.

As I looked around and listened to each of these rough looking brothers and sisters speak, I realized that not a goddamned one of them was going to be able to quit smoking. Not because they are weak (hell, half of them have been shot at and shot back) but because of the very real fact of addiction, plus the nerve wracking insecurity of daily American life. No employment security at all, no health insurance for their spouses, no viable future for their kids, not enough real education to comprehend the greater world and the larger forces that govern our lives (which in this country means working against us to make a buck). Eventually any one of these or other hazards will slow-walk them down and fuck up their nerves -– again -– and they're gonna be right back on the fags. Ultimately, some will go down to emphysema or a heart attack.

And I thought: "There's no damned reason to believe I'm special or any different than anybody else around this table. After all, I'm here ain't I?"

I also thought about how so many of the people who read my books and essays, so many of my friends on the left, would view these people if they encountered them on the street. There would be the instant assessment of their coarse manners, poor diction and working man's bluntness that is so often mistaken for surliness, and their obvious lack of education. "Trashy and dumb," would be the verdict.

There are a million ways to be smug and the American left holds the copyright on three quarters of them. Down inside most lefties feel superior to the majority of Americans for the simple reason that they are indeed superior. Morally superior (at least in the justice sense), intellectually and politically superior too, if you exclude every member of the Democratic Party. However, the American left is void of compassion, the thing that is at the very heart of the true left the world round. And by true left I mean the people dying for the cause in places we never heard of and never will.

Given the afore named virtues and qualities possessed by most lefties, they are convinced they know everything about the people around them and what is best for everyone else. People should not own guns, or eat meat, wear fur or shop at WalMart. They should be able to obtain abortion on demand and pot should be legal. Maybe so, but those who do not agree will never be convinced of that by people they will never meet, but who insist upon calling them "sheeple" and "'Merkins" on the Internet and in other public venues.

All of which is not the worst thing in the world. In a nation that proclaims every citizen to be an individual, precious and special in his or her own right, merely for being born, well, a lot of folks are bound to take such bullshit a mite too seriously. As in, "I'm special, and you might be too, but the rest of them are just sheeple." I've done that myself, so I'm throwing stones from a glass house. It took a lifetime to recognize the lack of compassion in American society. Hell, I was raised there too. And it took the raw obscenity of George Bush for me to realize that ideology had taken over the political and civic arenas, the only venues where a society can exercise compassion collectively and by force of legislation and law demonstrate its humanity and evolution.

It was the snuffing out of what compassion remained in the Democratic Party that ceded the political stage to hard rightist forces. The Democratic leadership, fickle spineless cunts that they are, let the rightists reduce everything to ideological warfare, handing the rightists the field of play.

It no longer matters if Democrats are the majority. We don't see our warfare abroad decreasing. It's expanding. And following an ideological war over healthcare reform, we "won." We got reform. Reform which forces 40 million of America's poorest and hardest working folks into bed with insurance corporations, sucking an additional 70 billion dollars a year in public funds from the citizens' pockets into insurance industry coffers. We don't need the insurance companies at all. Never did. Never will. But they are still leeching us because "we won." We the supposed proponents of universal healthcare, we who believe in the right of all children and old folks, the right of all people to freedom from pain and misery, we won.

After the ceding of issues and principles to ideology, the only exposure to politics the people got was to ideological warfare. And the only way they got to vote was based on ideology. The left was entirely sucked into this game. Now it's the only game in town and will remain so. You cannot backtrack on pure meanness once it is unleashed, because if you quit playing the game, soften up and exhibit compassion, the opposition eats you alive next election. Calls you the kumbaya crowd and mocks you mercilessly through its extensive network of media puppets, a la Beck, Limbaugh. The crowd loves mockery. Meanwhile the nation continues to rot under a soulless ideological sun. Perishing for want of a drink from compassion's cup.

I think many Americans voted for Obama because in their minds he represented the promise of a more compassionate America. They forgot, or chose to forget, that the promise was a political promise. Which is to say it was all either just smoke, or unfulfillable by even the best intended mortal in such a heavily armed high stakes whorehouse. Some of the best among us have thrown in the towel, lost all faith in the political process. Frankly, in my 63 years as an American I've never seen more hearts broken nor more bitter people created by a single event. And that includes the Vietnam War.

Those who remain politically involved have internalized politics as ideological warfare. Which means no thing nor person is now safe from the toothy maw of ideology. As the Red Brigades in China showed us, ideology is the big grinder, baby.

For the common people, ideological adherence can only be demonstrated by zeal. And in their zeal, which is really unarticulated frustration at their powerlessness, the people start to cannibalize one another according to the social themes and agendas issued to them by institutions and corporations through the state sanctioned media. What themes are not about conformity are about denormalization of individuals and behaviors. First the smokers (in a country established as a tobacco colony), then the fat guys (in a nation whose government force feeds its people corn syrup through corn subsidies). To see smoking, physical attractiveness and other human attributes and frailties politicized is chilling. To see the left (which apparently does not own a single mirror between them) so whole-heartedly taking part in such cannibalism bodes even grimmer. Among other things, it means that the worst people among us have managed to turn the left once again against their brothers and sisters on this earth, against the very people who most need what liberalism and the left has to offer humanity. Things like justice, genuine equality, environmental healing, freedom from hating and being hated -- all of us bound together by our commonalities as human beings. By acknowledging our equal weaknesses, we become equally strong.

Which means we are fucked. As long as Americans remain convinced we are each so damned individual, unique, special and different from our neighbor, better than our neighbor, we're sunk. As long as we are kept divided, the murderous assholes will keep on owning the game, keep on looting destroying and extorting the people's wealth and health.

Yes, I think the anti-smoking movement is becoming a mass social control program. But not in the ways I sense you see things. I don't believe any grand wizard or corporate cabal cooked it up behind the curtain (although they certainly capitalize on it). Not directly anyway. I believe it just came down the pike wearing opportunity's hat. In America one man's misery has always been another's opportunity to make a buck. We are not good at "the common good." And besides, nobody wants to miss their big chance at that buck, which they are assured will surely come along here in the land of opportunity.

At heart, it's a predatory society. So damned mean we no longer even notice its inherent cruelty. A strongman's democracy in which bodily appearance has become political, and the only allowable vice is self-righteousness.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cap


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has leukemia.

Cap remains the greatest scorer in professional basketball history, a winner of three high-school championships, three national collegiate championships, six NBA titles (the last coming at the age of 41). Yet Cap's greatest achievement is himself. Much like Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell before him, Abdul-Jabbar can be seen as the anti-Jordan, the anti-Tiger Woods. (The anti-Barack Obama.) Cap was -- and is -- a man. One who has no patience for Madison Avenue con-men, for David Stern and his NBA corporatists, for the dominant political cultures of his time. Answering the question: Why has this man -- a winner everywhere he put on a uniform -- a man of extreme intelligence -- a master of focus and game shape -- a dominant scorer, rebounder, passer, defender, and teammate -- why has Abdul-Jabbar never gotten a chance to coach at the professional level? A job he has longed for since retirement.

Because contemporary America likes its self-appointed black celebrities to be House Negroes, that's why.

It wasn't always that way. Where it all got started: another journey to the black magic year of 1968.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Greatest Dissolve in Movie History?


Over at Jaime Weinman's fine website "Something Old, Nothing New," there's a discussion going on about the scarcity of dissolves in US movies post-1968. Weinman et al. seem a bit off the mark in terms of timing. (MTV and its all-encompassing 80s stupidity would eventually drive the last nail into that coffin). In the work of 70s American New Wave directors (Coppola, DePalma, Scorsese, Altman, Cimino, Penn, Malick, Robert Benton) there are frequent and sometimes astonishing uses of the effect. (Altman's Thieves Likes Us from '74 seems like one long emerald-toned dissolve.)

In fact, did the 1970s, in terms of thematic and emotional power, give us the greatest dissolve in movie history?

Michael Corleone has lost his father and eldest brother. He is haunted by memories and images of a golden past. He has moved his family away from its New York sanctuary to the open mountains of Nevada. His older sister hates and shuns him, because of the murder of her husband, ordered by Michael. He has renounced his older brother Fredo. And he blames his wife for the recent loss of their child.

Michael comes to his own mother, to ask what it's all about.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Kinuyo-san at 100


Our best film critic Chris Fujiwara has written a love letter to the greatest movie actress of all time.

As Fujiwara points out, she made 15 movies with Kenji Mizoguchi, 19 with Hiroshi Shimizu, 20 with Gosho, 9 with Kinoshita, 10 with Ozu, 6 with Mikio Naruse. It is safe to say that no actor or actress in movie history has ever (or will ever) work as regularly with as many great directors as did Kinuyo Tanaka.

She began at the age of 14 in 1924 and would go on to act in over 200 movies. (The exact number is unknown due to the extermination of so many Japanese films [and human beings] in the US carpet-bombings of Tokyo.) She was the first female movie director in Japan, an achievement which cost her the deep emotional and professional relationship she'd had with Mizoguchi, who had no patience for woman directors.

At the centenary of her birth, where does one begin to choose a handful of tributary scenes, among the dozens (or hundreds) of possibilities? One thing Tanaka fans know: she was a great closer. If the most difficult thing for a filmmaker (or novelist) is the creation of a miracle ending that sums up all that came before, who better to call on then she?

David Thomson on Army (1944):
Kinuyo Tanaka is a mother, whose son is going off to war. At first, she refuses to accept what's happening. Then, away in the distance, she hears the new recruits parading and she starts running through the empty streets until she reaches the avenue where they're marching. Rushing frantically through the crowd, she dodges and pushes her way until she finds her son. The emotion builds in a long tracking shot, and (because film stock was so scarce by then) it had to be done in one take. That was all Tanaka needed.


Then came the Occupation and General Douglas MacArthur, who ordered all filmmakers to dig deep and find that liberal/humanist, democratic, socially-conscious center at the heart of Japanese society, mostly by showing the corruption and rot of everything which had come before, before the society was starved and carpet-bombed and nuked (in the midst of surrender pleas) by the democratic humanist Americans. Still, we're talking about Ozu and Mizoguchi, who managed to find greatness.

A Hen in the Wind (1948) is Yasujiro Ozu's Mizoguchi movie. (Can one imagine, even under Occupation, Mizoguchi making an Ozu film?) Tanaka plays a loving wife left at home by a drafted husband, one missing-in-action and presumed dead. Because of the American extermination of Japanese society, Tanaka must do all she can to take care of herself and her son -- including GI prostitution. When the husband unexpectedly returns, the wife is joyous and grateful, for herself and the boy -- but she must confess what she has done. Ozu ends the scene (and the story) with one of the most stunning shots in movie history.



Also from '48, a real Mizoguchi, with an ending perhaps the closest movies have come to religious opera: Women of the Night. Tanaka and her little sister have been separated by the US-created hell of postwar Japan, Tanaka forced into street prostitution, her sister merely wandering. Eventually, they come together, in a bombed-out area surrounded by the remains of what once a church. Tanaka recognizes the sister, and recognizes what imouto-chan has started to become.



Ugetsu (1953) -- perhaps the greatest of Japanese movies. Tanaka again plays a devoted and dutiful wife, to a genius potter who must seek other things, during country-wide war. Midway through the film, during the husband/artist's long absence, we see her wounded by a warrior, as she is carrying home her small boy. At last, the husband returns, oblivious to what may have occurred.



Gilbert Adair: "Sansho the Bailiff (1954) is one of those films for which cinema exists — just as it perhaps exists for the sake of its last scene.” A mother and son are forcibly separated for decades, the son becoming a powerful progressive governor (power eventually renounced by him), the mother sold into slavery and prostitution. She is now blind and decrepit, her feet broken to keep her from escaping.

The son finds her.

Live By the Sword, Die By the Sword


From the New York Times, 11/5/09:
13 people were killed and 30 wounded Thursday afternoon in a shooting at a military installation in Fort Hood, Texas, according to military spokesmen. Lt. General Bob Cone said in Texas that the alleged shooter was an Army Major who opened fire in a “readiness facility.”
Guess there were no Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis, or Afghanis around.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Then and Now


It is April 1961 and a new, young, dynamic President of the United States has made his first major decision: to let a plan go forward, designed and implemented by the Central Intelligence Agency, to land 1,200 anti-Castro exiles on a lonely beach in Cuba, called Playa Girón (the Bay of Pigs). Within 48 hours, all 1,200 men are captured or killed by the Castro Army. Quickly after that, US involvement is exposed. (Most laughingly by paint used to disguise US fighter jets as defecting Cuban airliners being washed away by the rain ~ straight out of Get Smart.)

John F. Kennedy was carefully and deliberately lied to by CIA and the military regarding the invasion's chance of success. In fact, these traitorous advisers knew the plan was doomed, but figured they could mousetrap Kennedy into supporting US air-cover and possibly a follow-up invasion to save the original invaders. Kennedy refused. And he expressed to his brother Bobby his most fervent wish that "the CIA be smashed into a thousand pieces and scattered to the winds."

He learned and he grew and he turned. Never again would he allow the "violent option" to dominate any decision. They killed him, of course. But the lesson is well-learned.

Today is the one-year anniversary of Barack Obama's election as President of the United States. What a magical, emotional night it was! Now, Brigadoon-like, it seems vanished and lost. The hopes and expectations have been dashed. Iraq is still Iraq. Af/Pak will soon become Vietnam II. The War on Terror has not been ended. The Bush-Cheney Terror Regime has not been tried, jailed, or executed. Card Check is gone. The last great industrial union -- the UAW -- has been smashed in a way to make Ronald Reagan blush. Unemployment continues to climb. Climate bill "cap-and-trade" has been hijacked by the Goldman Sachs crime family. All state governments are in a condition of slow-motion collapse with no federal help in sight. Not one part of the country has been re-industrialized. No progressive has any true power in the Obama Adminstration.

Most foul, the ultimate historical sin, is the failure of Barack Obama to do the one thing he was elected to do: break the back of the Wall Street/Bankster Oligarchy. One year ago, Wall Street was flat on its back, like a dog with paws in air. The economy was approaching Great Depression Redux. And the man elected to the Presidency had a legislature overwhelmingly on his side.

Yet nothing has been done, beside the transfer of $25,000,000,000,000 of taxpayer money to the Oligarchy. There have been no investigations by the Obama Justice Department. There have been no Congressional hearings. There have been no prosecutions, no trials, no jail terms. There has been no new regulations. In fact, the Wall Street/Bankster class is now stronger than at anytime in United States history.

Last night, Barack Obama was handed his Bay of Pigs. In five closely watched "off-year" contests, the only result Obama's media spinners can point to is the "failure" by an extreme right-winger to not win the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District, a historically moderate district and one that went strongly for Obama last year, grabbing on to something where the Democrat "winner" received only 49% in the midst of opposition party chaos and after being endorsed by the withdrawing Republican candidate. This is the race the New York Times today claims was "a blow to the Right. . ."  Huh??

Meanwhile, Republicans won clear victories in Governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey, two states that went big for Obama last November. Here in New York City, putz Michael Bloomberg was made to sweat by the marvelous job done by underdog Billy Thompson in the race for mayor, a race in which fellow-Democrat and fellow African-American Barack Obama refused to campaign for Thompson, a race in which Bloomberg spent over $100,000,000 of his own money and a race which Thompson still would have won if pre-election polls did not show Bloomberg ahead by more than 20 points, thereby reducing Thompson's hopes and turnout.

The President is renowned for his "intelligence." So he must be smart enough to realize that a year of back-pedalling on all he campaigned for, a year of weakness in which he has always let others define the terms of the debate, just doesn't work -- not for someone whose entire appeal was "change we can believe in."

So, either Barack Obama -- as did JFK -- will learn to stop trusting his advisers and go his own way, moving toward greatness. Or he will shrink even further and lead us to a post- and anti-Obama regime which will make the Bush/Cheney horrors seem like Eisenhower.

Let us pray Barack Obama can also learn, and turn.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Facing the Music


From 1973 to 1998, Arlene Croce was the world's greatest dance critic and her Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Book remains not only one of the premiere pieces of dance criticism, but also one of the most original pop culture books as well.

Here, she writes on what may be the greatest romantic dance ever filmed, "Let's Face the Music and Dance" from Follow the Fleet (1936):
It could be subtitled "A Playlet." Astaire at the gambling tables in Monte Carlo has just lost all his money. The curtains close and reopen on the terrace at the top of the casino. He is elaborately shunned by society. Alone, he takes out a small pistol, but just then Rogers appears at the far side of the stage, twisting a long chiffon handkerchief and gazing out over the parapet. She steps up on it but he prevents the leap. Ruefully he shows her his empty wallet and the gun which she looks at unseeingly, then tries to snatch. He throws both away and sings.
How they get through all this without a laugh is their secret. The song is like one of those brave ballads of the Depression and the mood is awesomely grave. The dance is one of their simplest and most daring, the steps mostly walking steps done with a slight retard. The withheld impetus makes the dance look dragged by destiny, all the quick little circling steps pulled as if on a single thread. A beautiful moment occurs when he promenades her as she holds a pose on half-toe with one lifted knee. Another when they circle the stage, turning first one shoulder then the other toward each other, and when she continues the tiny steps in a series of chaîné turns, her hands uplifted, and he follows with his arms encircling her waist. Still another: they turn away from each other in a swift kneel and as swiftly rise with a light jump, only to sink again on the other knee. Her dress, made of metallic threads and with weights in the sleeves and hem, winds and unwinds, a part of the dance. The exit, unforgettable, is another knee-sink but now side by side. Slowly they rise together and back off in a long fondu. Then: one, two, three, four paces, and they go off in a Jooss-type lunge, backs arched, one knee yanked high. At the suddenness and hugeness of it the audience does laugh, then immediately applauds its audacity.
What I find most moving in this noble and almost absurdly glamorous dance is the absence of self-enchantment in the performance. Astaire and Rogers yield nothing to Garbo's throat or Pavlova's swan as icons of the sublime, yet their manner is brisk. Briskly they immolate themselves. And within the enclosed theatrical setting of the number, everything finds its place.