Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Ralph Cramden was a bus driver who wore a uniform and carried a lunch box to work. Paterson (Adam Driver) the lead character of Jim Jarmusch's Paterson drives a number 23 bus which emanates from the Market Street garage. Paterson who loves the poetry of William Carlos Williams, a one time denizen of Paterson, is a poet who also reads Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems when he's eating the sandwich prepared by his exotic wife Laura—by the way the name of the beloved object of Petrarch’s sonnets. The film starts off with the creation of an ode to a box of Ohio Blue Tip matches that reside in Paterson’s house and much of the domestically oriented love poetry which appears on the screen as Jarmusch’s character creates it, comes courtesy of Ron Padgett. Paterson lives in a world of connections. His wife who has a free floating design sensibility makes clothes in the same black and white pattern that she does her cupcakes. Everywhere he goes he see twins. Needless to say, Jarmusch is probing the development of a poetic sensibility. As Paterson’s bus travels past industrial buildings in blue collar neighborhoods, he’s a cipher for experience, which is predicated on a good deal of repetition. Everyday he stops at the same watering hole in the course of walking Marvin, his irrepressible bull terrier. The bar itself is a paen to all the locals who have achieved celebrity like Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello fame. Ruben Hurricane Carter another Paterson native is discussed by two kids riding a bus and Allen Ginsberg is another Paterson poet who receives mention.The filmmaker himself demonstrates a good deal of visual poetry; for instance an early profile shot of Paterson renders a point of view that’s not his protagonist’s line of site. But as a repository for all the perception about poets, poetry and reality, the character Driver plays is emotionally dead or deadpan. His poet is disconnected and it’s not clear if this is an affect or something more profound. The movie is also curiously chaste. The are loads of scenes of Paterson and Laura in bed, but there’s neither sex nor sexuality in their encounters. Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Cramden was no poet, but there was more poetry in his Alceste like personality, rife as it was with contradictions and passions, than in the forlorn self-deprecating spirit portrayed in the film, who, through a chain of untoward events, ends up having to bite his own tongue.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Final Solution: Hitting the Road Running

There were a lot of Republicans who used the phrase hit the ground running when they talked about what was going to happen after Inauguration Day. Hit the ground running is however an odd expression, when you think about it. It connotes being off the ground and then being dropped, say from a chopper ladder or parachuting from an airplane, and when you think about it, hitting the ground running after being airborne is going to result in whoever is doing it falling flat on their face. For instance Trump signed the immigration order barring all Muslims from seven countries which were considered threats to national security and for all intents and purposes he did a belly flop when his initial order was blocked with the Court of Appeals denying the DOJ's request for a stay. Whatever transpires in the future—whether Trump creates a more well thought out order or the case goes to the Supreme Court—there's no doubt he would have done better coming up with a more considered plan. General Michael Flynn probably thought he was hitting the ground running when he spoke to the Russians about easing sanctions even before his boss was sworn into office and the Trump campaign probably thought they were hitting the ground running by working closely with the Russians even during the campaign (if intelligence reports are correct). So perhaps the real problem is this notion of hitting the ground running. What if Trump, Flynn and the campaign had all hit the ground walking like normal people? It probably wouldn’t have made that much of a difference but it’s something to think about.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Final Solution: The Army vs. McCarthy

Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn at Army/McCarthy Hearings  (UPI telephoto)
Tolstoy famously said “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same may be said about the current state of our nation. The White House is described as fractious, unhappy and even chaotic and the divide between those who looked at Donald Trump as a lord of misrule and those who regard him an a messianic figure continues to widen (isn’t it true that people cling to irrational beliefs even more militantly the more they're threatened with sobering rather than alternate “realities.”) But can we not say that the current populist attack on the constitution and due process which bears some resemblance to fascist uprisings in the 30’s still expresses its dissatisfactions in a way that is a little more than kin and less than kind. Without Panglossing  over what’s happening or sounding like those who said that a thuggish character like Hitler could never prevail, is there really a direct parallel with Nazi Germany or fascist Italy? Trump may be unstable and may even suffer from delusional behavior (something which is in some ways even more frightening in the hands of someone who can push the button on the little black box), but still isn’t our latest populist demagogue expressing frustration and unhappiness in his own way? Is he really comparable to the genocidal dictators of the past? The bromance with Putin only aggravates the fears created when a top advisor like Steve Bannon compares himself to Lenin in a Daily Beast interview saying he "wanted to destroy the state and that’s my goal too.” But isn’t the situation the country is in more akin to the Army/McCarthy hearings (with John McCain and Lindsay Graham speaking out) than Kristallnacht?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Final Solution: Keeping My Promises

Inauguration of JFK
You were violent. You wanted Hillary in prison. You wanted to drain the swamp, to build the wall. You were unruly, but now you’ve won and you don’t need to be that way anymore right? You’ve won, you’re mellow, you can sit back and enjoy hearing about all the enhanced interrogation techniques we’re going to unleash on the bad guys. Wait until these losers try to pull something. We have the compression chamber waiting for them. You won’t believe it. You stick these illegal immigrants, the rapists and thieves into them and they get hit by incredibly loud sounds that go on for hours. You know what prolonged sleeplessness does to a person. Let’s put it this way since we’re mellow and cool. It makes them really ineffectual. They can’t pull any of their stunts anymore. They can’t break into your country or your bank because folks after you’ve spent time in one of these boxes, you’re hearing things and you start to think you’re going crazy and you don’t even have time to emigrate anywhere. You’re going to get stuck. That’s what I mean about making America great. What was that expression that FDR once stated Walk Softly But Carry a Loaded Fire Arm?  You know the Democrats are sore losers. Now they’re blaming the Russians for losing the election. But we’re going to put them in the compression box too or in jail with all the women who seek abortions. And even the ones who start hearing and seeing things are going to think it’s great. The ones who get punished and deprived of their rights are going to like it because even if they get deported and sent back to their impoverished homelands they’re going to appreciate what it means to be an American.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Diasporic Dining XXXXIV: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Remember Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous it was one of those timeless programs like Deney Terrio’s Dance Fever or Soul Train that could some day be the destination for a voyager traveling to alternate universes. The language was perpetually filled with superlatives that were the substance of invidious comparisons to one’s own workaday existence. Some exotic location was always “the scene of another elegant affair” and you’d laugh as you’d tag it to your one room studio in the walkup off of Third Avenue. “l9th Street was the scene of another elegant affair. No expense was spared.” And you could go on to describe the after party which took place in front of the refrigerator where chunks of Jarlsberg were carved from an aging (usually stale) wedge and laid across Saltine crackers—all this as a CNN Breaking News story related the details of the latest terrorist attack or Tsunami played on one of those over the hill monitors, where all the images are unintentionally pixelated. Toying with such memories can get you giddy and lightheaded and cause strange collocations of words to cross your internal computer screen, like say “gang bang at Dunster House.” Dunster House is, of course, a well-known Harvard residence, and in this age of “affirmative consent,” it’s all the more unlikely that it would be the setting for an Animal House. However, isn’t that what surrealist daydreams like Un Chien Andalou are all about?