January 8, 2013
December 18, 2011
Ginny and Molly and I had a great time at the Not-So-Silent-Night Holiday Show presented by Rufus, Martha and assorted other Wainwrights and other friends at Town Hall on Thursday Night. The show had a loose vibe that set a fun mood. Highlights of the program, in no particular order, featured Rufus singing a sweet, emotional version of “O Holy Night” in French; Martha singing a French song called “Three Angels”; the immortal Marianne Faithful singing “I Saw Three Ships” with English brio; the immortal Lou Reed and Sean Lennon churning out a funny, droning, churning version of “Zippity-Do-Dah”, with Martha really belting out the chorus; Laurie Anderson and Martha combining on an eerie, ethereal “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, Loudon Wainwright III doing a couple of funny political songs; Sloan Wainwright very nearly stealing the show with a soulful, theatrical Act One-ending rendition of “Thank God It’s Christmas”; Teddy Thompson (son of Richard and Linda) and a sexy Jenni Muldaur (daughter of Geoff and Maria) doing a great duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, Lucy Wainwright Roche singing a lovely version of Joni Mitchell‘s “River”, and Anna McGarrigle, keeping on. I loved it.
October 31, 2011
Molly and I went to Lexington this weekend to visit Cara, who seems to be doing brilliantly well at the midpoint of her first semester of her freshman year at the University of Kentucky. She’s working hard, fitting in, getting good grades, making friends and getting involved. I’m very happy for her, and pretty damned impressed (though not surprised.)
On a beautiful, sunstruck autumn Saturday afternoon, she took us to the famous Keeneland racetrack, which is a beautiful facility and a great place to watch horse races. Cara’s equine studies are turning her into a pretty good handicapper: out of the five races that we bet on, she picked four winners, and had she not succumbed to a fateful last second change of mind, would have run the slate. Ah, the benefits of a higher education! (Top, the pre-race parade in the paddock. Above, the scenes outside the track. Below, the Handicapper; my railbirds.)
October 13, 2011
This is the Occupy Wall Street encampment on its 26th day. The usually sensible Mayor Bloomberg has announced his intentions to perform a wholly unnecessary removal of the “creature comforts” of these peaceful protestors–sleeping bags, tarps, etc.–in what is obviously an effort to break up the protest and cause the participants to lose “unit cohesiveness” as they say in the military. It’s a shame: speaking from the fringe, these disaffected Americans have begun to change the terms of the debate. What is Bloomberg’s problem? Is his twitchy inner bourgois businessman taking control of his usually more sophisticated cool? Or is he, at last, revealed as tool of the money regime?
Writing on CNN.com, Douglas Rushkoff has offered a most incisive observation. “We are witnessing America’s first true Internet-era movement, which — unlike civil rights protests, labor marches, or even the Obama campaign — does not take its cue from a charismatic leader, express itself in bumper-sticker-length goals and understand itself as having a particular endpoint. Yes, there are a wide array of complaints, demands, and goals from the Wall Street protesters: the collapsing environment, labor standards, housing policy, government corruption, World Bank lending practices, unemployment, increasing wealth disparity and so on. Different people have been affected by different aspects of the same system — and they believe they are symptoms of the same core problem. . . .Anyone who says he has no idea what these folks are protesting is not being truthful. Whether we agree with them or not, we all know what they are upset about, and we all know that there are investment bankers working on Wall Street getting richer while things for most of the rest of us are getting tougher.”
In The New Yorker, Rick Hertzberg feels a stirring: “[The protestors'] implicit grievances are plain enough: the mass pain of mass unemployment, underemployment, and economic insecurity; the corrupting, pervasive political influence of big money; the outrageous, rapidly growing inequality of wealth and income; the impunity of the financial-industry scammers whose greed and fraud precipitated the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; a broken political system hobbled by a Republican right willing and usually able to block any measures, however timid and partial, that might relieve the suffering. If Occupy Wall Street can continue to behave with nonviolent restraint, if it can avoid hijack by a flaky fringe, if it can shake the center-left out of its funk, if it can embolden Democratic politicians (very much including President Obama, who, lately and belatedly, has begun to show signs of fight), then preoccupied Main Street will truly owe OWES. Big ifs all. It’s too early to tell, but not too late to hope.” (Below, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine (at far right, in a cap, with a guitar), leads the crowd in chanting: “I know in my heart, all hell can’t stop us now.”)
April 28, 2010
In yesterday’s Times, the estimable scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. had an odd op-ed article entitled “Ending the Slavery Blame Game. ” What made it odd was its construction. At the heart of the piece was Gates’ very interesting summary of recent scholarship about the complicity of African tribes in capturing African people and selling them to European and American slave traders. Sandwiching this summary, however, was Gates’ bid for op-ed relevance, which was his assertion that this fuller understanding of a broader criminal enterprise would give President Obama “a unique opportunity to reshape the debate over one of the most contentious issues of America’s racial legacy: reparations, the idea that the descendants of American slaves should receive compensation for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and bondage.”
Is the idea of reparations still contentious? I guess it is–if somebody brings it up. But reparations seems to be an idea that had a heyday of argument a decade ago, and was then shelved in favor of ideas more vital. But even at the time of its greatest urgency, it seemed to be one of those self-evidently good ideas that became less good once you got into the practicalities. For one thing, there was the question of where the money should come from. No doubt some of the great slave trade fortunes of the 17th and 18th and 19th have been carefully cultivated and survive, but many have been used up, or, more significantly, destroyed during the Civil War. Moreover, it seems hardly equitable to charge the people whose ancestors arrived on these shores after the Civil War with the cost of paying for slavery. It’s very hard to think how my Malanowski forebears, for example, who arrived here in 1905, profited by the institution of slavery. On top of this is the fact that a great many people struggled against slavery and died fighting it. It may seem logical to argue that the descendants of slaves should be compensated by those who supported the institution, but if that is so, is it not just as logical to argue that the descendants of slaves and others should pay compensation to the descendants of the Union troops who died fighting for their liberation? I wonder how Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan would feel about that.
But what really rankles about the idea of reparations is that is turns slavery into a civil tort–an argument over back pay. Of course it was something much worse, something profoundly more evil, a society-wide, systematic criminal conspiracy. And in his second Inaugural, Abraham Lincoln specified precisely the price that terminating the conspiracy would exact. Speaking a little more than a month before Robert E. Lee‘s confederate forces would surrender, Lincoln said “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
I don’t know where you’d like to turn for justice, but if Lincoln and the Lord settle on the terms of resolution, I’m not going to call for the view of Judge Judy. Or, for that matter, John Roberts.
Was all the wealth sunk? Well, Richmond was burned, and Atlanta was burned, and the Shenandoah Valley was torched, and the tremendous value embodied by two and a half million slaves was struck from the books. Was every drop of blood drawn by the lash paid for another drawn by the sword? At least 620,000 soldiers were killed during the Civil War; with the limitations on record-keeping, this figure could easily be as high as 700,000. That was out of a population of 30 million. This does not include the physically or psychologically wounded, or civilian deaths caused by combat, or civilian deaths caused by a lack of food or medicine. And it in no way includes the incredible economic devastation wreaked upon the south, destruction so complete that for a century the south was poorer and more backward than the rest of the country (and let’s face it, Mississippi and Alabama still are.) The destruction fell on north and south alike: sons of southern slaveholders and sons of northern slave ship owners both died, as did the sons of families north and south who did not engage in the slave trade but who acquiesced in its existence. It may no be literally true, but it is no exaggeration to say that no ome in America was unaffected.
And of course, some of the last blood shed belonged to Lincoln, in a futile effort to achieve the long-lost war aims of the south. Lincoln saw that the evil was not civil but moral, that the evil perpetrated was Biblical in its proportions, and that the price that had to be paid was stupendous. Those who seek reparations should visit the Union cemetery at Gettysburg or Hollywood cemetery in Richmond or any of dozens of other battlefield graveyards: there is your treasure.
February 24, 2010
Co-Host Alec Baldwin Arrives
July 10, 2009
March 23, 2009
Last week I went to a screening of Steve Solderbergh‘s new film The Girlfriend Experience, an interestingly made film about a not very interesting Manhattan call girl. Today, I received an email from, I presume, a publicist for the film:
Good morning – below is a note to you from Steven Soderbergh about the 3/18 Magno screening you attended of THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE. Regrettably, the film was projected at an inadequate resolution that did not do it justice—Steven explains this below. All future screenings will be held at Deluxe – the brand new, state-of-the-art, very cool screening room at 435 Hudson Street (9th Floor), where it will look fantastic. Here’s the note from Steven:
Dear Valued Customer.
I don’t mean to be nettlesome in a time of worldwide turmoil, but this is really, really important. The screening of THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE you attended at Magno last week was presented at a resolution of 720p instead of the preferred industry standard of 2K. Therefore, as the mathletes among you will attest, the visual quality of what you saw was roughly 1/3 of what it should have been. In other words, if you had seen the film in my living room, it would have looked better than what you saw at Magno, although the majority of you would have been on the fire escape. As some of you may know, I am a huge (5’ 11”, 142 lbs.) proponent of the RED digital camera, and the Magno screening was not a fair representation of its merits. If, as I suspect, you sincerely wish your praise of the visual aspect of the film to take flight and reach the outer edges of extravagance, then you should consider attending an upcoming screening at another venue.
I remain, as always,
Steven Soderbergh aka Senator Widestance
If only that would make the characters more interesting.
March 6, 2009
The question of the day is: is Barack Obama as cool and as shrewd as Jurgen Prochnow? Or, to be more precise, as Capt.-Lt. Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, the character Prochnow played in the 1982 German submarine classic Das Boot. Escaping from Allied destroyers, the captain took his submarine lower and lower into the sea. As they dived deeper, the pressure increased: the glass on the gauges broke. Rivets popped. Men broke out in a flowing sweat, their tongues hung out. Their eyes nearly popped from their skulls.
These days, as the Dow sinks, many a good man has succumbed to the pressure. Obama keeps playing it cool. The other day, David Brooks in the Times wrote that the real aim of the Obama team was a radical redistribution of the wealth. Today, after the benefit of some exclusive presentations by senior White House officials (and if you don’t think the White House isn’t playing hard to win the middle of the country, watch them pound the polarizing Rush Limbaugh with a rubber hammer, while wooing and stroking the reasonable David Brooks with executive attention), Brooks seems to think that they may know what they’re doing after all. “The White House made a case that was sophisticated and fact-based,” he writes today. “These people know how to lead a discussion and set a tone of friendly cooperation. I’m more optimistic that if Senate moderates can get their act together and come up with their own proactive plan, they can help shape a budget that allays their anxieties while meeting the president’s goals.’’
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Times’ op-ed page, Paul Krugman complains that the White House keeps floating half-hearted bank rescue plans that die on arrival, when everyone knows that what we need is to nationalize these collapsing colossi. “I fear that officials still aren’t willing to face the facts,” says Krugman. “They don’t want to face up to the dire state of major financial institutions because it’s very hard to rescue an essentially insolvent bank without, at least temporarily, taking it over. And temporary nationalization is still, apparently, considered unthinkable. But this refusal to face the facts means, in practice, an absence of action. And I share the president’s fears: inaction could result in an economy that sputters along, not for months or years, but for a decade or more.’’
Perhaps we are watching the exercise of an idea from the Ernest and Julio Gallo School of Political Strategy: sell no wine before its time. A smart proposal that people aren’t ready to support becomes a dumb idea. Nationalization may be the right answer, and may have always been the necessary answer, but until people are able to recognize that, it’s no answer at all. But after the Dow drops and the rivets pop, as unemployment rises and the glass on the gauges cracks, the center may rush to nationalization.
Is that what’s going on? I hope so. I’d hate for the White House to be as clueless as the guys at the Journal and CNBC seem to think.