Friday, July 31, 2009

My Favorite Movies: Sid and Nancy

"There are seeds of self-destruction in all of us that will bear only unhappiness if allowed to grow." -- Dorothea Brande (American Writer and Editor, 1893-1948)

With a nod to Cyberkitten and his very entertaining series of "Favourite Movies ...", I'm going to take a wack at a few of my faves. Much as Gary Oldman was first up in my series of favorite actors, the first movie I saw him in, Sid and Nancy, is what I'll kick off my favorite movies with.

Sid and Nancy is the story of the destructive 22 month love affair between Sex Pistols' bassist Sid Vicious and American groupie Nancy Spungen that broke up the band, led to her murder, and later, Sid's death by overdose.


I've seen this movie so many times (at least 50), that I'm pretty sure I could recite the entire script from memory. And as far as random quotes that I say on a daily basis, it surely rivals the Holy Grail. The script, written by director Alex Cox, is alternatively funny and dramatic.


It's not presented as straight reality. There are scenes where Sex Pistols' manager Malcolm McClaren shoots the ground with a pretend gun, where Sid and Nancy walk away from a crime-scene unscathed, and another where Nancy comes back from the dead. Obviously none of them really happened, but like most other things with Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, they may present more truth than the actual occurrence. Truth is all relative.

The cinematography by the famous Roger Deakins (Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, O' Brother Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men) is gritty and fits the subject matter and setting.


Gary Oldman is the obvious star here. I think it is his finest performance. Chloe Webb's Nancy Spungen is annoying, but that is pretty much the point. By every account, Nancy was violent, drug-addled, and verbally abusive.

The rest of the cast was largely unknown actors but included cameos by other punk notables such as Iggy Pop and the Circle Jerks. Courtney Love also has a small role.


It's evocative of a time in my life that I'm very fond of ... my college years. You have to consider that these were the pre-Nirvana wasteland days of music. All pop-metal and pop-garbage. We were hungry for anything that went against that and thus immersed ourselves in punk, especially the Sex Pistols. So when we saw this movie, we just ate it up. Full of pop-culture references from late 70's London (Rod Stewart, Gary Glitter, Dr. Who) and with a great soundtrack (Joe Strummer, The Pogues), Sid and Nancy was permanently near our VCR. We watched it pretty much every weekend for about a year and a half.

There is a sick beauty in observing wanton self-destruction. It reminds me a lot of the similar death spiral of Nic Cage's character in Leaving Las Vegas. It's obvious that the person is intent on somehow killing themselves and you have a front-row seat. People say that movies like these glorify drug-use, but I think they do the exact opposite. If you can watch what happens to Sid and Nancy and still want to do drugs, then you are truly a sick puppy.

Definitely one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time, Sid and Nancy has stood the test of time. It came out in 1986 but I watched it again last night and it had the same power.

"Well, love is insanity. The ancient Greeks knew that. It is the taking over of a rational and lucid mind by delusion and self-destruction. You lose yourself, you have no power over yourself, you can't even think straight." -- Marilyn French (American Writer, b.1929)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Poll: Just six percent of scientists are Republican

"I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reasons, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." -- Galileo Galilei

This may be the least shocking news ever:

A full 87 percent of American scientists see their political alignment as Democrat or Independent, according to a new Pew Research poll.

Surprisingly or not, just six percent declared themselves Republican, and only nine percent overall expressed support of conservative ideology.

From the data summary:

Most Americans do not see scientists as a group as particularly liberal or conservative. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) say they think of scientists as “neither in particular”; 20% see them as politically liberal and 9% say they are politically conservative.

In contrast, most scientists (56%) perceive the scientific community as politically liberal; just 2% think scientists are politically conservative. About four-in-ten scientists (42%) concur with the majority public view that scientists, as a group, are neither in particular.

The scientists’ belief that the scientific community is politically liberal is largely accurate. Slightly more than half of scientists (52%) describe their own political views as liberal, including 14% who describe themselves as very liberal. Among the general public, 20% describe themselves as liberal, with just 5% calling themselves very liberal.

These figures should only be surprising to someone who neglected current events during the Bush administration, which was accused of censoring and intimidating scientists on matters from global warming to medical research and nuclear weapons.

It's safe to say that being treated like an unwanted step-child, along with continued, eye-widening nonsense like this, has not engendered much love of Republicanism in the scientific community.

-- Stephen C. Webster

The aw-shucks anti-intellectualism of the past 8 years has done incredible damage that will take years to recover from. The thing is, it doesn't have to be this way. And it hasn't always been that way. Teddy Roosevelt was one of our most environmental presidents, promoting conservation of natural resources. Dwight Eisenhower started the space race.

If the goal of your poltical party is to stick your head in the ground and to keep people stupid, then I can't believe you will have a lot of staying power. If you have a valid idealogy, you defeat arguments with better arguments, not by suppressing facts.

The mistakes that Republicans are making now will haunt them for a generation. And those so-called Blue Dog Democrats, DINO's (Democrat in Name Only) will face the same problem.

You can't ignore the scientific facts that are slapping you in the face when you are making laws that affect all of us. Republicans and a large percentage of the public think there is scientific debate over evolution or global warming, when there is not.

We are never going to solve the world's problems by denying they exist.

"Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error." -- Thomas Jefferson

Friday, July 24, 2009

New Rule: Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit

As usual, Bill Maher says something very simply and funnily and is dead-on with how I feel:

How about this for a New Rule: Not everything in America has to make a profit. It used to be that there were some services and institutions so vital to our nation that they were exempt from market pressures. Some things we just didn't do for money. The United States always defined capitalism, but it didn't used to define us. But now it's becoming all that we are.

Did you know, for example, that there was a time when being called a "war profiteer" was a bad thing? But now our war zones are dominated by private contractors and mercenaries who work for corporations. There are more private contractors in Iraq than American troops, and we pay them generous salaries to do jobs the troops used to do for themselves ­-- like laundry. War is not supposed to turn a profit, but our wars have become boondoggles for weapons manufacturers and connected civilian contractors.

Prisons used to be a non-profit business, too. And for good reason --­ who the hell wants to own a prison? By definition you're going to have trouble with the tenants. But now prisons are big business. A company called the Corrections Corporation of America is on the New York Stock Exchange, which is convenient since that's where all the real crime is happening anyway. The CCA and similar corporations actually lobby Congress for stiffer sentencing laws so they can lock more people up and make more money. That's why America has the world;s largest prison population ­-- because actually rehabilitating people would have a negative impact on the bottom line.

Television news is another area that used to be roped off from the profit motive. When Walter Cronkite died last week, it was odd to see news anchor after news anchor talking about how much better the news coverage was back in Cronkite's day. I thought, "Gee, if only you were in a position to do something about it."

But maybe they aren't. Because unlike in Cronkite's day, today's news has to make a profit like all the other divisions in a media conglomerate. That's why it wasn't surprising to see the CBS Evening News broadcast live from the Staples Center for two nights this month, just in case Michael Jackson came back to life and sold Iran nuclear weapons. In Uncle Walter's time, the news division was a loss leader. Making money was the job of The Beverly Hillbillies. And now that we have reporters moving to Alaska to hang out with the Palin family, the news is The Beverly Hillbillies.

And finally, there's health care. It wasn't that long ago that when a kid broke his leg playing stickball, his parents took him to the local Catholic hospital, the nun put a thermometer in his mouth, the doctor slapped some plaster on his ankle and you were done. The bill was $1.50, plus you got to keep the thermometer.

But like everything else that's good and noble in life, some Wall Street wizard decided that hospitals could be big business, so now they're run by some bean counters in a corporate plaza in Charlotte. In the U.S. today, three giant for-profit conglomerates own close to 600 hospitals and other health care facilities. They're not hospitals anymore; they're Jiffy Lubes with bedpans. America's largest hospital chain, HCA, was founded by the family of Bill Frist, who perfectly represents the Republican attitude toward health care: it's not a right, it's a racket. The more people who get sick and need medicine, the higher their profit margins. Which is why they're always pushing the Jell-O.

Because medicine is now for-profit we have things like "recision," where insurance companies hire people to figure out ways to deny you coverage when you get sick, even though you've been paying into your plan for years.

When did the profit motive become the only reason to do anything? When did that become the new patriotism? Ask not what you could do for your country, ask what's in it for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

If conservatives get to call universal health care "socialized medicine," I get to call private health care "soulless vampires making money off human pain." The problem with President Obama's health care plan isn't socialism, it's capitalism.

And if medicine is for profit, and war, and the news, and the penal system, my question is: what's wrong with firemen? Why don't they charge? They must be commies. Oh my God! That explains the red trucks!

"Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone." -- John Maynard Keynes

Saturday, July 11, 2009

These are our congressmen ...

Sylvia Allen is representative of some of the people that make the laws for the state of Arizona. I don't even know where to begin with her. But, let's take a shot:

- she's of the Limbaugh school of environmentalism that the Earth is basically only here for us to exploit it and that there is no way that we could ever use all the resources.

- she purports to be worried about our children yet wants to leave huge gaping gashes in our state.

- she talks about the advances in technology that we should use. Technology based on scientific principles. Science that is apparently completely foreign to her when she talks about the Earth being 6000 years old!

If you come up to me and tell me that you honestly believe the Earth is 6000 years old, it is a deal breaker. We have no common ground. I'd be more inclined to talk to someone that came up to me and said that they were abducted by aliens. At least they wouldn't have an overwhelming preponderance of evidence disproving their beliefs.

I will respect anyone's right to worship at the altar of whatever silly god you choose, but do not try to make laws that govern all of us based on your beliefs that completely abandon reason and fact.

We talk often enough about all the wars that have been fought in the name of religion and how damaging that was. But I don't think we talk often enough about the damage that religion does in the throttling of scientific advancement and in harming our environment. If Sylvia Allen is the future of Arizona government, count me out. I'll be on the first train out of the state, along with thousands of other people who crack a book occasionally and that actually want a state worth living in.

"At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols." -- Aldous Huxley

Friday, July 10, 2009

It's Just Kirk and Spock

"Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do." -- Oscar Wilde

"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important." - Bertrand Russell

Sunday, July 05, 2009

TV gameshow offers atheists 'salvation'

"I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me." -- Woody Allen

(CNN) -- A Turkish television show is offering contestants what it claims is the "biggest prize ever" -- the chance for atheists to convert to one of the world's major religions.

The show, called "Tovbekarlar Yarisiyor," or "Penitents Compete," features a Muslim imam, a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi and a Buddhist monk attempting to persuade 10 atheists of the merits of their religion, according to CNN Turk.

If they succeed, the contestants are rewarded with a pilgrimage to one of their chosen faith's most sacred sites -- Mecca for Muslims, Jerusalem for converts to Judaism, a trip to Tibet for Buddhists and the chance to visit Ephesus and the Vatican for Christians.

Ahmet Ozdemir, deputy director of Turkish channel Kanal T, which will air the show from September, said the program aimed to "turn disbelievers on to God."

"People are free to believe anything they want. Our program does not have a say," he said, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.

Contestants will be judged by a panel of eight theologians and religious experts prior to going on the show to make sure their lack of faith is genuine.

But the show has been condemned by Turkish religious leaders. The head of the country's supreme council of religious affairs, Hamza Aktan, told CNN Turk that it was "disrespectful" to place different faiths in competition with each other and accused Kanal T of using religion to boost ratings.

"To do such a thing for the sake of ratings, not only with Islam but with all religions is disrespectful," said Aktan. "Religion should not be the subject of this type of program."

Although Turkey has a predominantly Muslim population and culture, religion is a sensitive subject because of the country's staunchly secular constitution which outlaws most displays of faith in public life ...

This is a ratings grab, but there may be some unintended truth to it. Isn't how religion is peddled sometimes like a game show? Look what we have behind Door #1: Christianity - forgiveness, streets of gold, eternal light, etc. etc.

Behind Door #2: Muslim - 72 virgins

and behind Door #3: Buddhism - Nirvana, or as Carl Spackler would say, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.' So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."

"Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends." -- Woody Allen

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Going Green Update -- Food Co-ops

Today was our introduction into the world of food co-ops. I had been at one of my clients this week and she gave me a bag of peaches and mentioned that they had gotten them in their basket of fruits and vegetables that she picked up every two weeks at Bountiful Baskets, a Phoenix-area co-op:

This is a grass roots, all volunteer, no contracts, no catch co-operative ... As a group, we purchase items at deep discounts. Items are then distributed evenly among participants ...

$15 every two weeks (paid ahead of time so that no more than purchased is ordered), bring your own basket or reusable bags, and pick up at several designated locations around the Valley during a specified time, in our case 7:45 am Saturday morning at a local elementary school. For a little more, you can get a basket of organic fruits and vegetables or even artisan bread.

The concept is cool because it cuts out all the crap that has absolutely nothing to do with food: advertising, processing, a storefront, displays. Participants are asked to volunteer occasionally. Everything is very fresh, as they are buying it at the same places that the local grocery stores and restaurants buy.

For the $15, I got two laundry baskets full of fruits and vegetables. Evidently a lot of people are catching on to the idea, as there were about 200 families picking up at this location, and this is only one of about 50 sites in the valley.

If you are looking for a co-op in your area, check out this site: LocalHarvest

Friday, July 03, 2009

Palin Resigns

My favorite reader comments from Huffington Post's article on Sarah Palin's sudden resignation as Governor of Alaska:

  • "Don't rule out the possibility that she simply wants to devote more time to exploiting her family."

  • "Just when the Sanford story was getting stale. The republicans are the gift that keeps on giving."

  • "Ah shucks, what a quality lady there... true blue Republican, back bone of the party - cute, clueless, and fertile. We'll miss her."

  • "Is she defecting to Russia?"

  • "It's ACORN's fault!"

  • "Top 5 Reasons Sarah Palin resigned:

    1. She's replacing Michael Jackson on his comback World Tour.
    2. She can do more good as the new host of America's Got Talent.
    3. Last week she contracted Swine Flu on an undisclosed trip to Argentina.
    4. She signed a 5 year contract to be the new point guard for the LA Sparks.
    5. One word....Diprivan."

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Tom Morello Album Reviews

I'm a big Rage Against the Machine guy. I saw them in concert 3 or 4 times in their heyday and they were incredible. Anybody that knows my politics knows that I would like Rage for that aspect also.

When they broke up about 10 years ago, I was greatly disappointed and really missed having rock music with a message. System of a Down's albums and Green Day's American Idiot were certainly worthy efforts in that realm and I enjoy them immensely. But I still wish Rage was around. They'll reunite occasionally to play a festival but they have no intentions of a tour or any albums. All the players have moved on. The band minus singer Zack De la Rocha formed Audioslave with Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, a band that was fairly successful commercially but was not political at all.

Guitarist Tom Morello has a long history of political activism has a BA with honors in Government from Harvard University. His father was the first Kenyan ambassador to the UN and his mother was a civil rights activist. He hadn't given up his long held political beliefs when he was in Audioslave. He just channeled them in another direction, his one man folk band, the Nightwatchman.

While still recording as Nightwatchman, Morello has just formed the band, Street Sweeper Social Club, with Boot Riley of the political rap group the Coup. I had previously reviewed them in concert, when they opened for Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction.

In the last couple of weeks, I picked up the debut albums by both of Morello's current bands. First up, Nightwatchman's One Man Revolution. This is bare bones, acoustic guitar playing. It reminds me a lot of Springsteen's Ghost of Tom Joad, which is not coincidental as Morello himself said he was inspired by Springsteen and Dylan. I sense a lot of inspiration from Pete Seeger in the subject matter, the poor and the downtrodden. The song highlights fro me are "Until the End" and "The Road I Must Travel". I'm really on a folk kick lately and have been listening to a lot of Woody Guthrie, Seeger, Dylan and Nightwatchman. Great stuff.

He's not a great singer, I grant you that. More of a "vocal stylist", like Leonard Cohen. That's what you call people that can't sing. I kid. I'm just saying that his voice is not the point. The words are. I like this album a lot and will be getting Nightwatchman's other album.

Morello's other band, Street Sweeper Social Club, just released their debut album. I like Street Sweeper well enough, but it does seem like it's trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Rage was one of those right-place, right-time, right people kind of things. Street Sweeper seems to be trying to reproduce that. Morello's Nightwatchman seems much more real to me. It's just him, his guitar and his beliefs.

I do appreciate the electric guitar playing of Morello on this album, but the political message just doesn't seem to have the same resonance of Rage or Nightwatchman. While Rage's lyrics could rightly be considered to have been delivered in a rap style, Street Sweeper removes any pretense. Having rapper Boots Riley as your singer will do that. When I first heard Rage, I wasn't sure if I liked de la Rocha's voice, but looking back, I prefer it to Boots Riley. It just seems much more appropriate for the anger and message of the songs. Street Sweeper sounds more like a funk party where you happen to be singing about politics. Rage was more like a bulldozer.

Speaking of Morello and Springsteen, check out this electric version of Ghost of Tom Joad by the two of them. It has an incredible solo by Morello: