Wednesday, September 29, 2004

There have been five elected Democratic presidents in my lifetime: Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton. I'd like to add Gore, who was robbed; anyway he cancels out Kennedy's theft of an election from Nixon. Four of these five men were from the south or a border state. Thanks to Goldwater & George Wallace, the Republicans finally discovered the "southern strategy" for winning the White House. Jimmy Carter demonstrated how to partially neutralize it. If not for the Iranian hostages, Carter had an excellent chance of beating Reagan in 1980. Clinton won two elections on the Carter Plan. I believe Gore would've won Florida without recounts if he had sent Clinton down there in October 2000 instead of pretending he never knew the guy.

The point of this being that putting a northerner, much less a Senator from Massachusetts at the head of the ticket is betting on a long shot. JFK carried Texas. Kerry couldn't carry Texas with George W. Bush as his VP candidate. If Kerry had half the natural chutzpah of his mentor, Ted Kennedy, I don't think Bush would be ahead in the polls right now. But he always was thought of as an intelligent, long-faced wonk, a Bob Dole type who knew the game inside & out but couldn't coax his private personality on to his public mug in front of strangers. Remember the surprise we felt when a sardonically funny Dole showed up on Letterman after the '96 election, we were all wondering, "Where was this guy for the past year?"

Of those five Democratic presidents, only one, Johnson, was the clear choice of party insiders, & that's because he was already President & a shoo in. Truman was abandoned by both the Democratic socialist left & racist right wings - back in the days when both parties encompassed broader political spectrums. The party establishment's annointed choice, as we've learned in New Jersey from Torricelli & McGreevey, can be a very big mistake.

It is just awful to watch "moderate" Republicans like Tom Kean, Christie Whitman, Mike Bloomberg & George Pataki playing toadies to a president with whom they probably disagree privately on 90% of the important issues, starting with Iraq. Despite chairing the 9/11 commission, Kean keeps up this nonsense in his Star-Ledger teleconferences with old Brendan Byrne, who is clearly exasperated by it. Our toothless northeastern Republicans didn't even try to slow down Bush's quick post-election slide to the far right. Whitman disgraced herself in Washington; a fact of which she's apparently oblivious, judging by what comes out of her mouth every time she opens it. As for Pataki & Bloomberg (& Giulini, who strangely believes a pro gay rights New York Italian can lead a GOP national ticket), one only need point out to them that if the Twin Towers were indeed destroyed by minions of Sadaam Hussein, then Iraq is surely getting what it deserves. & thank fellow Republican George Bush for delivering the full amount of that promised twenty billion to NYC for purposes of security & economic rehabilitation. & thank heavens wealthy Muslim songwriter Cat Stevens isn't running loose in a luxury suite at the New York Grand Hyatt.

Kerry has one chance & probably only one to turn this election around on his own dime, tomorrow night in the "foreign policy" debate. We once thought this Vietnam vet's combat record immune from criticism, but his reputation has been so unfairly maligned, so routinely mocked by right wing radio & press commentators that legions of non-combatant American men who believe a nation's wars are tests of their own personal machismo have joined in the bullying chants. Isn't anyone hearing the CIA's assessments of Iraq? Or reading about Halliburton's combat zone war profiteering at the expense of our servicemen & women? No one wants to think about beheadings, or about one-thousand more American deaths, or about Saudi terrorists attacking us again, or that we have secured none of Iraq's major cities & all the lives lost at Fallujah have been vainly wasted in battles our armed forces were not allowed to fight through to success. Nobody want the bad news. But if you look closely at the truth, bad news is all there is.

Nobody wants to hear that we are fighting Islamic radicals, rather than "terrorists," because terrorism is only a tactic that is not even considered terrorism if it obtains the goal. Let's sing "John Brown's Body" while we mull that over. All of this our president dismisses with a few well-chosen phrases that are meaningless at best, & often outright lies. & he is believed, taken at his word by a nation that cannot even bring itself to compare his incompetence with his predecessor’s very real achievements; or his own father's ability to build a coalition, define & realize a strategy, & provide a legitimate rationale for not invading a nation.

Can Kerry "defeat" George Bush in a debate in which the American public (You'll never go broke underestimating them, boasted P.T. Barnum), not a team of impartial judges, decide who is the winner? The most ignorant drunk always "wins" a bar room argument because the smart people pay up & leave before it ends in a brawl or a puddle of puke.
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Sunday, September 26, 2004

The US Army recently announced that it has fallen 5,000 soldiers short of its National Guard recruiting goal of 56,000 for this budget year.

The National Guard & Reserves are being tested to the limits. Hurricanes in Florida. Borders & airports not secured. Who knows what other natural or human-created disasters might occur at any time? Do we have reserve reserves? Sure, but it would be tantamount to instituting a draft for veterans who have already put in their time. As a show of faith in America & in their father's policies, & out of a sense of duty to this nation, Jenna & Barbara Bush should enlist in the National Guard or Army Reserves. They are healthy, college educated young Americans, just what our military is seeking. Officer candidate material if they signed up for regular Army. They don't even have to join the Army. Navy or Air Force would be fine. We wouldn't expect Jenna & Barbara to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan, that would require too much special security (They could volunteer, of course). But it would be enough if the twins put in some serious service time here in the States, taking over duties of personnel now assigned overseas. Their father sends thousands of young people their age into harm's way, over one thousand have come home in caskets. Don't these two pretty young things feel the slightest twinge of guilt about spending their time flying around the country on the Republican National Committee (or daddy's) tab, staying in fine hotels, partying with other rich kids, sons & daughters of GOP big money contributors? Shame on you two young women - & you're Texans, too!
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Saturday, September 25, 2004

Gals, you don't know what you're missing. Another beautiful day down the Jersey shore, your choice of destinations & experiences, wade in the water, walk on the beach or stroll a boardwalk, browse Ocean Grove shops, or visit a lighthouse - or three, watch boats from a bridge. A late lunch in an inexpensive restaurant on a pier or a small old-fashioned diner or a sidewalk cafe. Ah well, I searched for the poet by myself, but I know what keeps him away; I know why he is hiding. & let's give a hand to my little Dahon bike, carrying me from Belmar up the beachfront through Avon-By-The-Sea, Bradley Beach, Ocean Grove, to Convention Hall in Asbury Park & back to Ocean Grove, all flat boards & paved walk mostly with southerly breeze at my back, warm & sunny. The seat got a a bit hard after awhile & I wish I'd folded the bike before getting on the train back to Elizabeth, but the bike did everything expected of it. It was too pretty to take many photos, all that blue water & sky, bright light & four foot waves, Chamber of Commerce tourism views. Contrasted with where I am writing this, such an afternoon is a kind of exquisite torture.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Elmer Bernstein, 1922-2004

Elmer Bernstein died last month. Bernstein was one of the last composers from the Golden Age of movie music, the Fifties & Sixties, & one of the best (Jerry Goldsmith also died recently). Bernstein was New York born & educated. He scored some cult "B' movies early on, including Robot Monster & the noir Sudden Fear. Cecil DeMille hired him to compose some dance music for the Ten Commandments & ended up giving Bernstein the whole job. I never liked that score. But in the middle of the project, he scored The Man With the Golden Arm, for which Bernstein composed jazzy incidental music. Although He wasn't the first to do it, that score stands as the most influential of the type. He composed an even better one for The Sweet Smell of Success. Those two soundtracks plus Bernstein's To Kill A Mockingbird were great favorites of mine as a kid. I also loved his music for The World of Henry Orient, but was disappointed to learn that the wacky concerto "performed" by Peter Sellers in the movie was not composed by Bernstein. In 1959 He created some excellent jazz themes & settings for Staccato, a TV show starring John Cassavetes as a piano playing private eye (topping Peter Gunn, who merely listened to the music at "Mother's"). Bernstein also scored The Magnificent Seven, the most famous of western movie themes and a great soundtrack. In the Sixties, Bernstein succeeded Dmitri Tiomkin as the foremost composer for westerns. He scored John Wayne's final eight movies, including The Sons of Katie Elder & True Grit. With all of these classic efforts, Bernstein's only Academy Award was for Thoroughly Modern Millie. He had a lot to say regarding the state of contemporary film music & the lower status of composers in Hollywood (which they partly deserve). & Bernstein was generous & sincere in his praise of his peers, especially Bernard Herrmann, whose unused score for Hitchcock's Torn Curtain Bernstein recorded. Bernstein scored some blockbuster movies later in career, including Ghostbusters. But his best work after 1980 was on smaller films like My Left Foot & The Field, & collaborations with Scorcese. Along with all this mainstream film & TV work, Bernstein scored experimental films, documentaries, composed two Broadway plays & wrote incidental music for another (Peter Pan), recorded "pop" movie theme LPs, & created some works specially for the concert stage. He was unusual in crediting his orchestrators, Jack Shuken & Leo Hayes, on soundtrack albums. & even many of his "bad" films resulted in worthwhile scores & LPs - that's showbiz. He was a great soul & a wonderful composer. & To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those rare meetings of a really fine "message" film & an inspired, memorable score, perhaps Bernstein's personal favorite; he recorded the music three times.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I need to come up with an extra $1000 to $1500 between now & April if I'm serious about getting out of this apartment. It's certainly possible. That top amount happens to be what I owe my former landlord, who still offers refuge to the eavesdropping, perverted, snoring madman residing directly over my old apartment. The owner of this building, while basically a nice guy, either doesn't have the will or the wherewithal to push the quality of the digs up a few notches to attract better tenants & present complacent people like me with a challenge to find something better. Because right now "better" probably won't be a difficult task in Elizabeth - we'll see about Rahway. He would definitely have to hire an exterminator with a serious strategy to rid this building of pests; rehabilitate the mailboxes or install new ones; & it would be a nice extra to provide a laundry room. Most of the tenants here seem to be pretty decent people; some deadbeats & druggies are gone but it remains to be seen who fills those vacancies. Nothing can be done about the intersection, but he can think in terms of making this place nearly as good the alternatives one block up & around the corner on Stiles.

The red star is my building. The red markers are "problem" buildings that make this corner so troublesome. The blue markers are apartments that are clearly better than the one I'm in. More blue marker apartments are off lower hand corner in Elmora.

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Monday, September 20, 2004

Really enjoying my Dahon 16" folding bike. It really increases my local mobility. Today I rode up to North Ave. (around Phil Rizzuto Park), all the way into Elmora, cruised slowly through the shopping district, stopped by Pathmark, then completed the circle back home. My legs aren't strong yet - been off a bike for nearly six months. This little bike isn't how I'll ride the ten flat miles from Bay Head to Seaside Heights next Spring, but it sure is great for errands & getting around the area. It's a three speed - the lowest gear is useless & I wish the 3rd gear gave more. It has terrific balance at very slow speeds which makes it an excellent city sidewalk bike (except on cracked & crooked slate) easing around pedestrians. I can't wait to get it down the shore. Many adults from other countries recognize it immediately as a solid folder & toss a compliment. Won't be locking & leaving it at the Elizabeth train station - one of the reasons I have a folder is because thieves will strip every part of a bike except the part that's locked. Add YOUR comments here

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Cool, windy, a few drops of rain, quite nice actually for a turning of the season day. A run of warm summery weekends & a very pleasant afternoon at Seaside Heights last Tuesday with Rose & Jim Coleman hardly prepared me for today's weather, I skipped the Seafood Festival in downtown Point Pleasant Beach. Not that I would've been eating much seafood - maybe a crabcake sandwich - but I wanted to visit the bike & book shops & also meet the people from the small Central United Methodist Church there, whose activities I've been vicariously sharing online.

The wheels & rides were closed at Seaside Heights, most of the arcades & food stands open. Rose Coleman & I went wading, the only occasion this summer I set foot in the ocean; I regretted not bringing a bathing suit to Asbury Park last weekend. Didn't unpack my camera all day. At one point I was becoming upset because I thought the wooden fortuneteller had been removed from Casino Pier - there was never a time when it wasn't there ("You can trust a wooden grandmother even when her bulb is burned out"), but I finally located her near the front entry. She gave me a rather unsettling fortune card.
You've been restricted someway which has made you blue. Do not feel bad as the net is spread so wide. No one doing wrong can escape from its sweep. The nets meshes are so fine and strong they take in every child of wrong. O wondrous web of mystery! Big fish alone escape from thee! Be careful of peril know when to stop and cheer up.
A "Split Decision" breakfast at IHOP did cheer me up, if I wasn't already.
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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Bunch of punks milling around in the street at corner looking puzzled & ill at ease. Why? The Hispanic family in the house on the corner set up a devotional display on the sidewalk where the punks have been gathering; two large glass candles, a dozen smaller ones, & a plastic cross. The vibes have been very bad lately. A couple of drug busts. A fight between the punks & the local African men - I knew that was coming, punks were sitting on late model parked cars.

Since many of the punks no doubt are superstitious semi-literates & not complete sociopaths, the candle display must unnerve them, they're unwilling to mess with what might be a powerful mojo. But most Christians understand such altars & displays, like are placed at scenes of fatal car accidents, are focus points of spiritual energy, moved from a church context to where they are needed. They draw our attention, touch our hearts & make us thoughtful about human life. In other words, positive vibes.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Quote of the Day (my italics):
"The Count Basie Theatre is named for the king of jazz, so I felt it was really appropriate that we had our own youth jazz orchestra," said Yvonne Lamb Scudiery, director of education for the theater.

Paul Mulshine, with whom I disagree on many but hardly all issues, writes in today's Star-Ledger that "It's insane to spend hundreds of billions remaking the map of the Mideast when we could shore up our borders for a fraction of that amount." He is correct. With our inadequate border defenses & self-destructive immigration policies, & this being "Preparedness Month" or something like that, Paul also suggests that the Homeland Security people simply print out some "Honk if you're a terrorist" bumper stickers. "That should root them out," he concludes.
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Sunday, September 12, 2004

Oh yeah. I saw Springsteen

Weather was perfect at the Jersey shore today. Cloudless sky, 80 degrees, low humidity. Smart people were on the beach, or at the Glen Jones & X-Ray Burns radio program live from Asbury Park. Or both. Jonesy hosted a great party, large enthusiastic crowd, lots of kids & dogs. I'll have more to say about it when the pix are posted. The show ended perfectly, with Glen leading a contingent of swimmers into the warm & lovely small waves of the Atlantic Ocean, ignoring the red flag & being bull-horned out by a lifeguard riding a dune buggy. My calves are sunburned.

Oh yeah, & I saw Bruce Springsteen. We knew he was rehearsing Patti Scialfa (wife of a famous rock star) in Convention Hall for her gig there this week, he'd been spotted earlier & Glen was rightly miffed he hadn't stopped by to say hello - this was a Sunday in September & you'd think Bruce would be curious about who or what was drawing several hundred cheering people to the boardwalk in front of HoJo's. I noticed there were some cool cars parked on Ocean Ave. in front of the theater, so around 4 pm I decided to look at them. I walked up the street to the north side of the pier, made a right back on to a nearly deserted boardwalk, & there was Springsteen chatting with a couple of fans. I didn't realize it was him until I heard his voice, I thought he was taller. Glad I didn't have my camera or I would've been tempted to use it, or sorry because I might've had my picture taken with him - he let the others do it. He excused himself to return to the practice, & as I walked past him I just said, "Hi," Bruce said "Hi," & I kept on walking. That's when he gave me a once over look. I am a peculiar looking fellow, middle-aged, wearing shorts, a blue batik hawaiian style shirt & a Mets cap - just take my word on it. But I figured if I didn't have a card with my name & Boardwalk website url to thrust into his shirt pocket along with a strange remark like, "I'm older than you & I'm the best boardwalk poet in Jersey," what would be the point of acting uncool for nothing & saying "love your latest" when in fact I'm not sure what his latest is? Bruce's Corvette was parked in the enclosed driveway on the Pier, the very same place I saw The Doors being limo'd out in Summer 1967 & nobody paying much attention to them - Jimbo wasn't a drunken teen idol yet. Springsteen graduated high school in '67 & I'm just guessing he wasn't really interested in a band with no guitar hero at the microphone. But I sure was interested in the organist.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

On this sad anniversary is it crucially important to remember that we were not attacked by Iraq on September 11, 2001. The planners & perpetrators were mostly from Saudi Arabia. George W. Bush & his war masters know this, but they will never remind us. The terrible irony is that in 2001 Saddam Hussein was a graft-ridden failure occupied with maintaining opulent lifestyles for himself, his family & his allies, but he was suppressing Islamic radicals within the borders of Iraq with a mediocre military, a network of spies, & the kind of unfettered brutality America has always tolerated from our Pakistani, South Korean & Central American "friends." We unleashed the whirlwind we are now riding in Iraq. Over 1000 American soldiers dead, thousands more physically & emotionally maimed who as veterans will need our care & compassion for the next 50 years, & God knows how many innocent Iraqi dead & wounded. It is absurd to say, as a majority of Americans seem to, that this war was a terrible mistake & yet believe the leader who started & is waging a conflict based upon misinformation, miscalculations & outright lies is also the best qualified to find a way to end it. We didn't go into Iraq in order to create & fight radical Sunni & Shiite leaders with personal armies that control most of the major cities. But that is exactly what has happened. & the one man who bears the responsibility & fault for this tragic situation is President George W. Bush.

We have hardly begun to wage a "War on Terrorism." Bush doesn't seem to understand that terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology. We are not protecting ourselves or doing anything to reassure predominately Islamic countries that this "war" is not ultimately against them. & We have lost the unified good will of a world that supported us on 9/11.

No Longer There
Montgomery St. Jersey City looking east toward Hudson River, photo © by Bob Rixon

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Friday, September 10, 2004

Sunday's forecast looks excellent for The Glen Jones Programme featuring X-Ray Burns broadcasting live from the Asbury Park Boardwalk, in front of HoJo's next to Convention Hall Pier. It's great that Glen & X-Ray are going back to Asbury after skipping a year. Glen cut way back on live remotes when he started his second WFMU show, Jonesville Station, an interview program requiring a lot of prep work. But when it comes to Jersey boardwalks in general & Asbury Park in particular, Glen is a True Believer. He never lost hope in Asbury Park, & to prove it he's broadcast from the olde Howard Johnson's many times, events that are part tiki beach party, part reminiscent of the American Bandstand weeks in Atlantic City back in the late Fifties. Glen's also broadcast from Wildwood. Unfortunately, he never found a satisfactory location at Keansburg or he would've done shows there also.

I don't get out to many WFMU "events," & some of those I attend only because I'm a veteran DJ who ought to be there. But Glen & X-Ray in Asbury is different. I've written many times about how completely at home I feel on boardwalks. Even Asbury Park at its worst has failed to unnerve me totally; with the familiar, reassuring clunk & creak of the boards under my feet, the geometry of sea air faded wood stretched out ahead like a drawing exercise in visual language, plus my memories of better days & nights, I imagine the place as a small, abused section of a single great boardwalk that runs all the way to Cape May City, that cannot go forever without being healed, if only through a resurrection of myth. This is, I think, exactly how Glen Jones feels when he's there.

The broadcast is this Sunday 9/12, noon to 3 pm, beneath the overhanging orange roof of a legendary Howard Johnson's that refuses to shutter, a few steps from Madam Marie's tiny shack. Kids are welcome. You can fish, frolic in the surf, drink beer, pig out on greasy boardwalk food, sleep the afternoon away on the beach, & afterward stroll down to pretty & pleasantly boring Ocean Grove & experience for yourself why these two towns have always been linked in uniquely yin-yang relationship. You can convince yourself, as both Glen & I did long ago, that Asbury Park hasn't died, it's just semi-comatose.
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Sunday, September 05, 2004

Summer's End @ Point Pleasant

The best Summer's End party on the Point Pleasant boardwalk was Jenkinson's North, up by Manasquan Inlet. This small bar/restaurant & outdoor deck is avoided by the guidos & guidettes who pack Martell's & Jenks Club, attracting instead a mixed age crowd of neighborhood cottagers & people staying at the motels around the fishing wharf. Tonight there was a DJ playing funky oldies outside & everyone was dancing rather than striking poses. If it was a private party, no one was asking for invitations.

The northeast wind was chilly not raw, kicking up rough but unspectacular surf. Down on the beach by the amusement area of the boardwalk veteran radio DJ Big Joe Henry was emceeing a karaoke talent show for a large crowd, I heard a 14 year old from Philly sing "Where the Boys Are." She was good. Restaurants & arcades were were busy but there wasn't an atmosphere of panic, of time running out that one revels in at Seaside Heights over Labor Day weekend. I felt more energy, heard more screaming on the rides earlier in August. Even the "vacancy" sign was lit at Amethyst's Beach Motel. The weather may have had something to do with it. But Point Pleasant Beach never feels like it's about to go out of control. Which is what I always liked about the place when I had a larger choice of shore destinations on a Saturday night. Now I just notice the smallness, the gift shops are all alike - owned by Jenkinson's, the price of food is the same everywhere, there's no real choices because there's no competition; it's like a church carnival, none of the vendors have to do anything special to stay in business. You wanna play this wheel or the identical one fifty yards away? Might as well get the $2.50 slice of pizza here because it's $2.50 everywhere else. (Where do they find so many sushi chefs? Must be hundreds working seasonal at the shore.) The only wooden food stand with old time character sits by itself south of the main amusement area, with batting cages & a funky miniature golf course out back.What was once the biggest attraction for me is gone; an arcade with a row of about ten mostly classic pinball machines.

Although I sound like I'm complaining, I'm not really. I know what Point Pleasant Beach has & doesn't have. I appreciate the downtown area on Arnold Avenue, a mixture of upscale restaurants & stores, antique & crafty type shops, along withthe ordinary main street businesses that exist mainly for year 'round residents. Point Pleasant & Point Pleasant Beach are a nice pair of adjacent towns, quite wealthy at the upper end of the economic scale, but home to a lot of people who aren't. I love the Manasquan River nearby & proximity to upper Barnegat Bay, because the fishing industry is active all year, & bays & tidal estuaries are especially interesting in the winter when migrating waterfowl arrive & the ocean beaches are desolate & numbingly cold. An attractive place to live.

I welcome the end of Summer & hope to get to the shore many times offseason.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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