Thursday, April 30, 2009

No blog today

It's a travel day. It's raining. And it's grouchy.

With luck, our hearty little band will arrive in Minneapolis before sundown.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Quickies--with apologies to L. M. Boyd

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend,” said Groucho Marx. “Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Thanks to William Safire for reminding us.

He also give us this gem: “like the pot calling the kettle black” or, as they say in Arabic, “a camel can’t see it’s own hump.”

Phil Bronstein, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle which bled nearly a million a week last year, said to NYT columnist Maureen Dowd, “That’s the most hopeful think you can say about print journalism, that old people are living longer.”

Would somebody show Dick Cheney how to set his phaser on stun?

Don’t take a job as honey collector in Bangladesh. Last year in one village alone, 20 such workers who were on the job in the jungle, got ambushed by tigers, killed and eaten.

Federico Fellini unplugged

My friend, Lars Beckermann, is at it again. This time, he's sharing insights about one of Hollywood's most enigmatic directors. Selfishly, this couldn't come at a better time. We just started our slow roll to Minneapolis and my writing time will be limited. Thanks, Lars. Dinner and a movie right here, right now.

Fellini For Dummies

By Lars Beckermann

Funny how sometimes a subject matter, concept or project can seem too vast or complex to even begin to tackle. Like starting a stamp collection in your 40s - or taking up auto mechanics. Where do you start?

Well, when it comes to appreciating art, my opinion is it is never too late, and no art or artist should ever become positioned in your psyche as overwhelming.

My eldest son is midway through his first year at UCLA. He wisely chose to expose himself to a variety of film courses, UCLA being one of the finest universities in the world for that area of study. His first week in Foreign Cinema Appreciation he shot me off a text message posing the simple question: ‘What do you think of Fellini’s 8 _?’ This question was followed by the statement: ‘It rocked my world!!’

Notice the double exclamation point. Great, I thought, now I have to watch Fellini again so that my son won’t think I’m an idiot. Where do I start?

When I began my career in Hollywood I made an earnest effort to give myself a rudimentary ‘film school’ foundation and subsequently rented and watched the films I was supposed to have as reference tools. Citizen Kane, On the Waterfront, Rebel Without a Cause, From Here to Eternity, etc. Some of these films were huge in my evolution as an actor (Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden), others not at all (Dr. Strangelove, Lawrence of Arabia). When it came to thumb nailing the vast library of influential foreign cinema I was less patient. I learned very little from what’s referred to as the French New Wave, and while I was impressed by the gorgeous black and white cinematography of the Italian Neorealism movement, I stumbled through Fellini’s most notable films and then slipped them back through the rental slot and declared with a sigh “been there done that.”

So now, thanks to my son Nick’s wide eyed enthusiasm (not to mention my older brother’s in depth perspective on all things Italian), I have jumped feet first into the brilliantly rich and self-exploratory world of the late great master, Federico Fellini.

Consider this a user-friendly guide to enjoying Fellini’s films, set forth in a chronological order (with one exception) to help understand, for lack of a better word, how the director’s career trajectory influenced his themes regarding the human condition.

I Vitteloni (1953) Set in a small Italian village near the Caspian sea, this semi-autobiographical film beautifully captures the trappings and confinement of familial comfort. This film gives us a glimpse into what Fellini’s early development as a man must have been like, his view on family and responsibility, status and religion. It is beautifully shot and cast. Fans of Martin Scorsese will see why this film was so influential to him regarding male camaraderie and peer pressure. Its main characters are five overgrown adolescents, each of whom suffers a harsh clash between the illusion of comfort with the reality of becoming men.

La Strada (1954) A philosophical parable of salvation and redemption. This film marks the arrival of Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Massina, who plays the story’s beauty to Anthony Quinn’s beast. Massina’s unforgettable performance as the slightly retarded innocent, Gelsomina, made her an overnight international star, and the redemptive journey that Quinn’s brutish Zampano makes will leave a lasting memory. The mesmerizing musical theme in the film was written by lifelong Fellini partner and collaborator Nino Rota who went on to provide the unforgettable score to The Godfather.

The Nights of Cabiria (1956) Giulietta Massina now delivers a tour de force performance as the Chaplinesque prostitute Cabiria Ceccarelli. Again, mining the deep well of human salvation, Fellini gives us a heartbreaking work filled with mystery, humor and trial by suffering. Cabiria wants so desperately to rise out of her surroundings that she becomes an easy mark. I won’t give away any more. As in La Strada, Fellini’s characters are left to face the emptiness of contemporary existence while searching for spirituality.

Amarcord (1974) I slotted this film out of chronological order to provide another representation of Fellini’s genesis. Amarcord is a sentimentally beautiful and nostalgic portrayal of the kind of childhood the director was raised in. It served as the sole inspiration for the Academy Award winning Cinema Paradiso (1989). The political and social themes are poignant in Fellini’s worldview.

La Dolce Vita (1959) This is the film that cemented Fellini as one of the all time greats of the Cinema. Fellini’s chose the wonderful Marcello Mastroianni to sleepwalk through the mundane existence of celebrity-obsessed society and all of its vapidness. This was Fellini’s take on the world he now found himself thriving in. A world void of spirituality and meaning. It is a sexy, sumptuous condemnation of a life without meaning and it is holds up as even more poignant today than it was when released. And if you need more motivation to see this film look no further than Anita Ekberg.

8 _ (1962) After La Dolce Vita the anticipation for Fellini’s next film was intense and the result was a self-imposed hiatus that forced the director to look back on his career and the process of filmmaking. The result was 8 _, a film about the making of a film, again using the graceful persona of Mastroianni to lead the tour. The film also grapples with Fellini’s constant struggle with women and how he related to them. Four female characters in the story represent his compartmentalization of the women in his personal life: wife, mother, friend, whore. It is easily one of Fellini’s funniest films and one of the best representations of the insanity of making a film.

If you only have the time (or interest) to watch one of these films, it’s a tough call, but I would recommend La Strada.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Breaking news: Democrats are Capitalists!

Democrats in Texas are selling T-shirts with a big photo and this slogan: Texas GOP Class of ’09, Gov. Rick Perry, Most Likely to Secede.”

There’s a reason pirates wear gold earrings. The tradition dates back a couple hundred years to a time when all sailors has to be responsible for their own burial no matter which shore they washed upon. Hence…

I do believe that Obama won the presidency by just one vote: Oprah’s. That woman’s power is staggering. The day she signed up, Twitter use jumped 43%. When she announced her support for Obama, his support surged, too.

When I get depressed, I meander over to the neighborhood cafeteria, head straight for the dessert section and eat the points off as many pies as I can before they clap me in chains.

The manager of one of the most popular hamburger joints in New York City wears a suit. And for a mere nineteen bucks ($19), you can munch on a deli-cious Eastern Burger stacked with a lamb blend and slathered with yogurt sauce on flatbread. Traditionalists also like the beef patties, sesame bun, grilled onions and horse radish cheddar. I'm depressed again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Remember the Alamo, Remember Goliad

What do salt, water and white paste have to do with Texas independence? Everything.

This is a sacred time of year for Texans. If you are a child of the 50’s, it’s a cinch that your grade school experience was underscored by the making of a scale model of the Alamo out of salt, water and that white paste. In the making, the goop got all over you, but you were still proud. Your fortress could withstand the onslaught from Santa Anna. You just knew it.

Fly your flag. This is San Jacinto Day. The very day that Gen. Sam Houston’s citizen army attacked and defeated Santa Anna in an 18-minute battle that changed the map of America. The Texican’s hard-fought freedom led to the Mexican-American War resulting in the new states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah along with parts of Colorado,Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. That’s almost one-third of the present-day USA, stretching from Mexico to Canada.

Don't forget, if it weren’t for the Texicans, most of y’all would be speaking Canadian.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stop the politics as usual

Obama is getting to me.

I am deeply concerned not that he is taking on too much, but that he is doing too little.

Frankly, I am astonished at his decision on torture. If you are not going to punish the men who actually committed the torture because they were “following orders” then prosecute the sick individuals who approved the torture and gave the go-ahead order. They glorify torture; America does not. Prosecute. Now.

If you don’t, Mr. President, somewhere in the future some other administration will repeat this horrendous mistake using your ruling as precedent. And think of what will happen to Americans who are held captive.

While I’m on this rant, I urge you to have the cajones to outlaw the sale of automatic weapons. Too many U.S. automatic rifles are used by Mexican drug gangs. Forget the NRA. Those people will never vote for you regardless.

Just do the right thing. And hurry. Everybody knows the power of the president wanes from the first term to the second.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Packing pistols, packing teabags

When they flashed the image on the TV news of a tea bag protester wearing a pistol on his hip – that’s where they lost me.

I was having a tough time anyway with the people dressed in clown costumes and colonial tri-cornered hats. Not my style.

But the pistol was chilling. Too much anger in the streets to be wearing a gun.

Damned stupid.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Teabags -- revolt of the White Guys

Revolt of the White Guys coming to a boat dock near you!

This tea bag thing is really interesting. Multifaceted.

But the movement mixes a major metaphor. Unlike the original Boston Tea Party, the current splash cannot be about taxes or representation. The tax code currently in effect came from the George Bush administration.
You elected them.

Is this a Republican movement? Yes -- but. It is more of a conservative and libertarian movement than just a Republican street dance. After all, the GOP has no real national leaders at current time.

Not unless you count the wing-nut personalities at Fox who are panting in their efforts to get out in front of the movement. Shameless.

Here’s the real deal. It’s the stimulus. TARP. The bailout. AIG. Bear Stearns. Lehman Bros. General Motors. All that stuff. Frankly, I share the anger. But remember, patriots, the bailout is the invention of George Bush and his Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Sad to say, the Obama administration is running down the same rabbit hole. Faster and faster. I’ve said this before – get rid of Geithner and Summers. They are too tainted for the job.

So. On Wednesday we will be treated to a tea party. What happens on Thursday?

In Minneapolis, liberal protesters have met for years on the Lake Street Bridge to sound off about injustice. Eight years alone protesting George Bush. Some reach all the way back to the Vietnam War.

The Lake Street protesters meet every Wednesday. You would be surprised how often it snows on Wednesday. Does the tea party have this kind of staying power?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Send Wall Street bankers to prison

President Obama says he sees a glimmer of hope in the economy. OK.

His top economic advisor, Larry Summers, assures us the economic free-fall will come to a close within just a few months. Great job.

But you know what, fellas? It would make me feel a lot safer if you would start criminal proceedings against some of these crooks in the banks, these frauds on Wall Street. Start with AIG and Bear Stearns and work your way forward.

Set aside the morality issues -- the bonus money, the arrogance, the sense of entitlement, the lavish trips, the trillions and trillions of moneys lost that wiped out middle America’s saving -- set aside all that. Consider only the law.

Do that and get back to us.

If you are going to leave the same people in charge of the nation’s economic system, eventually they will fall back into the same traps laid by their own greed. Happens every time.

But send some of them to prison and they will at least think twice.

Here’s a thought from Jon Stewart, America’s modern Mark Twain:
“What’s the difference between a Ponzi scheme and an investment bank?”

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's all about the food

(If your cursor has never been stuck in Austin, you may want to skip this piece and wait for tomorrow.)

Now it begins: The Farewell Food Tour.

We don’t need the Sun to dictate the seasons of migration. That’s why we have stomachs. As our time in Texas grows short, we begin to gather our memories, mostly of food. One trip cooler will be filled with BBQ sauces, chow-chow, short ribs and brisket.

Thankfully, we can now get Shiner Bock in Minneapolis. The national beer of Texas gives lift to walleye or lutefisk.

Texans are serious about food. Damned serious. This is not about the chi-chi stuff artfully displayed on a plate and drizzled with pheromones . No sir. We’re talking the three basic food groups: Tex-Mex, barbeque and chicken fried steak. Sadly, really good chicken fried is getting scarce, although there are many pretenders.

We still mourn the passing of Danny Young and Texicalli Grill.

In the next 30 days, we have 20 events planned. I’ll omit the meetings, writers groups and huggings. This, dear friends, is about the food.

Luby’s Cafeteria (don’t laugh)
Nau’s Enfield Drug
Central Market
County Line
Art’s Rib House (if it's open)
Dart Bowl (enchiladas)
El Rancho (a bowl of Bob and chile rellenos)
The Frisco Shop
Mi Madre
Nuevo Leon
Cisco’s Bakery
Sea Dragon
Dan’s Hamburgers (have you had their biscuits and gravy?)
Salt Lick BBQ (we’ll try the new one in Round Rock)
Thai Passion

That’s only 20 joints and leaves us with a few open dates.

Suggestions welcomed.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Obama polarizing?

The Pew Research Center released a poll last week indicating President Obama is our most polarizing president in four decades.

We will pause here for conservatives to cheer. Wait for it.

OK. Let’s take a look at those numbers. Who was being polled?

The 61-point partisan gap in opinions about Obama's job performance is the result of a combination of high Democratic ratings for the president -- 88% job approval among Democrats -- and relatively low approval ratings among Republicans (27%).

At about the same time during his term, President Bush showed a 51% partisan gap. Why? One big reason is because of the Democrats. Back then, Democrats gave Bush's job performance a 36% approval rating; that compares with a 27% job approval rating for Obama among Republicans today.

Obviously, hidebound Republicans won’t cut Obama any slack. It’s easier for them to remain the party of no.

One conclusion: Democrats are more patriotic.

Why? Because when they are the minority party, more Democrats are willing to stand behind the president regardless of his political affiliation than Republicans are when the situation is reversed.

Actions speak louder than lapel pins.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tea party -- call to arms?

Quick: what did the international pillow fights over the weekend have in common with the 10,000 young Moldovans who came from nowhere to protest Moldova’s communist leadership?

This is too easy. The Internet, you say. Facebook. Twitter. Social networking. New tools.

But how did they find each other? The speed of the contacts, the wide spread reach of the contacts. Amazing. Beats hell out of the telephone tree from yesteryear.

As mainstream media withers, affinity groups are growing. Like-minded people can search and find each other with just a few clicks of the computer. Like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, only faster, and world wide.

Fun, you say. Well, certainly the pillow fights were. But the protests in Moldova were aimed at overthrowing a government. What if that had been a democratic government instead of a communist regime? Still fun?

Coming soon to a public street near you – the Great American Tea Party. Events are planned in 360 American communities, maybe more.

It’s going to be big.

I’m tempted to join the fray. I hate the damned stimulus package. Hated it when the Bush team conjured up the three-page document. And hate it more as it flourishes under the Obama administration. I think Washington is more comfortable “taking care of” their rich Wall Street constituents than their poorer cousins up and down Main Street.

But I distrust self-serving people behind the curtain like Rush Limbaugh, Glen Reynolds, Sean Hannity, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. Those flamethrowers are all but calling for armed rebellion with their distortions. And nationwide, many gun stores have sold out of bullets. Coincidence?

I hope the tea parties will be peaceful.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sarah Palin whaps teenager

Sarah Palin, a full-grown woman and governor of the State of Alaska, is using her office to launch her frustration with Levi Johnson, father of her grandchild. Seriously, she put out a press release on the government’s stationery tanning the kid’s bottom for talking about his relationship with her daughter. He’s a teenager. Sarah is a governor. Cripes.

Speaking of cripes, Larry Summers is suspect from the moment he walks in the room. He’s President Obama’s chief economic advisor who was paid nearly $8 million last year from hedge funds and financial institutions for giving speeches. Some might argue the guy took a $7.9 million cut in pay to work for the president. Not me. The man has questionable allegiances. I think he leans Wall Street in his solutions and bears watching.

Not a day goes by that I do not marvel at the different ways the left and the right view the same event. My conservative friends view the President’s overseas shtick as the first step in converting the USA into a European satellite. I couldn’t disagree more. I think our president took the first steps toward restoring America’s leadership in the world. We live in an ever-increasing global society and global economy. Get used to it.

Alabama Republican Congressman Mike Rogers knows how to turn a phrase. He said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is so mean that she is “Tom DeLay in a skirt.” Wasn’t DeLay a Republican?

Personal note: I’ve spent so much time at this keyboard (happily) that I have worn off the “A”and the “E” – sharp observers will note that still leaves the “IOU.” And the significance of that is?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Hill Country -- heartland of Texas

The Texas Hill Country. It’s more than a place. The Hill Country is a living, breathing, river-flowing dream where the land rises up to meet the sky and the people rise to meet every day straight on.

Hard work and whimsy combine.

Walk to the river bank. Stand still. Before you are aware of it, the limestone river bottom takes on all kinds of life. Little things that move fast. You can rent inner-tubes and join the fun. On the Frio and the Guadalupe.

Listen. The birds seem to celebrate the river with you. The leaves welcome the cool Texas breeze. In the distance, a dog barks sometimes.

And a kid laughs.

It’s good to get out of the city. We returned recently from our spiritual renewal out near Hunt, and Ingram, and Leakey and Vanderpool. Utopia, just a few miles more.

Sleep with the windows open. Remember those night sounds? Are those critters friendly? You hope so as you drift toward morning.

Only one downbeat during the trip: There’s a wine and cheese bar in Bandera now.

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