Saturday, January 30, 2010



As some of you may have noticed, my Twitter feed (dbackdad) now posts here (at the top on the right side of the page).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Howard Zinn - 1922 - 2010

Howard Zinn, an author, teacher and political activist whose leftist "A People's History of the United States" became a million-selling alternative to mainstream texts ... died Wednesday. He was 87.

Zinn died of a heart attack in Santa Monica, Calif. ...

Published in 1980 with little promotion and a first printing of 5,000, "A People's History" was – fittingly – a people's best-seller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003. ...

At a time when few politicians dared even call themselves liberal, "A People's History" told an openly left-wing story. Zinn charged Christopher Columbus and other explorers with genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters ...

"There's no such thing as a whole story; every story is incomplete," Zinn said. "My idea was the orthodox viewpoint has already been done a thousand times."

"There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."

"Americans have been taught that their nation is civilized and humane. But, too often, U.S. actions have been uncivilized and inhumane."

"If those in charge of our society - politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television - can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hope for Haiti

We just watched the Hope for Haiti Now celebrity concert that we had taped.  I'm not going to get too much into the Haiti tragedy as I know all of you already know plenty about it and have done what each of you are able to do.  We gave money to Doctors without Borders and Oxfam.  We've given to them in the past and they both have had a consistent presence in Haiti.  I've always been partial to Oxfam because of its connection to Into the Wild.  Chris McCandless gave his life savings ($24K) to Oxfam prior to starting on his fateful journey.

As we were watching the concert, Alex immediately decided he wanted to give money too (of his own).  He's good at saving money and has his own bank account.  So, he scraped up about $20 that he had in his room and I went online and donated in his name to the charity associated with the concert,, which passes on the donations to Red Cross, Oxfam, etc.  Alex has a goodness of heart and an activist nature at age 8.  I didn't really have such a worldview until I was in college.  I'm sure some of it has to do with the fact that Michelle and I are more involved politically than my parents were but I also think Alex just has it more in his nature because that's how he is.

The concert was really good.  Some highlights:

Yes ... Justin Timberlake. As my friend Brad said, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah (and really Jeff Buckley's) is unruinable. And JT does a good job with this.

Springsteen doing We Shall Overcome

And Sting singing Driven to Tears

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Top Ten Movies of 2009

I've put this off too long. Here are my top 10 movies for 2009:

(10) Avatar: Big budget - yep. Clich├ęd - perhaps. But sometimes it's not absolutely necessary to try and out-think the room. So, grab that bucket of popcorn, put on your 3D glasses and have one of the most visually stunning movie experiences you have ever had.

(9) Fantastic Mr. Fox: In the animation realm, this is about as far away from Avatar as you can get. Old-school stop-motion, great voice talent (Clooney, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon), and the twisted eye of Wes Anderson. Smart enough for adults but interesting enough for kids. One of Alex's favorite movies for the year.

(8) Drag Me To Hell: A reminder of the lower budget scary/funny movies of Sam Raimi's younger days (Evil Dead, Army of Darkness). I'll forgive Spiderman 3 if he takes the time to put out a few of these once in awhile.

(7) Up: I've probably said it too many times, but it bears repeating - the collage scene early in this movie is as good as the best 5 minutes in any movie ever. Ed Asner as the voice of the main character is very good and Pixar comes through ... again. These are great movies, not just great "animated" movies.

(6) Food Inc.: The best documentary of the year. People really need to start thinking about what they are eating. It's not just about health. It's about our environment. It's about the treatment of animals. It's about our dependence on foreign oil. I dare you to watch this film and pause the next time you bite into a burger or chicken nugget.

(5) Star Trek: Completely rescues the Star Trek franchise and introduces a great young stable of young actors (Pine, Quinto) and veterans in new roles (Urban, Pegg). J.J. Abrams of Lost fame makes an entertaining film that is both respectful of the past and hopeful for the future.

(4) Up in the Air: A very good year for Clooney with this and Fantastic Mr. Fox and the lesser Men Who Stare at Goats. Up in the Air is perfectly enjoyable as a straightforward romantic comedy (Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are great). But, it's more than that. As a professional corporate hatchet man, Clooney's character comes the realization of the disconnectedness of his life. That freedom that he always saw as a perk is actually a yoke. How he lives, what he does, and the industry in which he works are all evocative of the 00's and his uprooted existence represents society as a whole.

(3) Where the Wild Things Are: I've already wrote a longer review of this previously. Maybe a controversial movie, but that's beauty of it. If you are not pissing someone off, are you really making art?

(2) The Road: Just saw this in the last week. Based on Cormac McCarthy's book of the same name (which I loved), the movie is very faithful. I don't think you could have picked a better actor than Viggo Mortensen to place the role of the father. He has an amazing ability to say more with just his eyes than lesser actors can with a whole monologue. This is a dark vision of a post-apocalyptic future, but not without hope. The scenes between the father and son are gut-wrenching and I can't imagine any parent watching this without feeling something. If you don't mind your movies a little on the depressing side, check this out.

(1) District 9: Very surprising, even to myself, that a movie like this would be my favorite of the year. But that's really what District 9 was ... surprising. I was hopeful that it was going to be an entertaining sci-fi movie. Peter Jackson being involved as producer gave me hope. However, this was quite a bit more. It was fantastically original with social and political overtones that you don't see in the average action movie. You can completely take the movie at face value and it's completely gripping as an action thriller, but the larger implications give District 9 that added punch.

Honorable mention: Inglourious Basterds, Harry Potter, Blind Side, The Age of Stupid

Worst movies of the year: I do a lot of reading about the movies I'm thinking about seeing before I go see them. But some real stinkers still seem to sneak past my defenses. I have a pretty good idea how the following 3 did: The Fourth Kind, Whiteout, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Let's see ... Milla Jovovich, Kate Beckinsale, and Megan Fox might have had something to do with it. Despite their, ahem, assets, these movies were still not worth seeing. Occasionaly being a male is a hindrance to good judgment.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The People Speak

If you get a chance, check out the great program called The People Speak on the History Channel. From the website:

"Democracy is not a spectator sport. Using dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries and speeches of everyday Americans, THE PEOPLE SPEAK gives voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout U.S. history, forging a nation from the bottom up with their insistence on equality and justice. Narrated by Howard Zinn and based on his best-selling books, A People's History of the United States and Voices of a People's History of the United States, THE PEOPLE SPEAK illustrates the relevance of these passionate historical moments to our society today and reminds us never to take liberty for granted."

Famous actors including Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Viggo Mortenson, etc. do readings and musical artists such as Eddie Vedder and Bob Dylan perform. The show we watched aired a few weeks ago but I'm sure they'll re-air it a few times.

The readings are powerful because they are words of real people that lived through the famous events of our past but may not have been on the side of the "victors" or the government. The histories we learn in school ultimately have a particular slant and don't necessarily give all sides. Zinn's book and this program try to just give a little perspective.

One of my favorite performances was Eddie Vedder's singing of Bob Dylan's Masters of War:

"Masters Of War" by Bob Dylan

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks.

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly.

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain.

You fasten all the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion'
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud.

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins.

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do.

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand over your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Joe Arpaio - Tin-Pot Dictator


Jan 07, 2010 23:14 EST

Two top county officials said Thursday night they've been subpoenaed to testify next week before a federal grand jury to answer questions about a high-profile Arizona sheriff and his office.

In statements read by a county spokesman, Maricopa County Manager David Smith and Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson said they met with a federal prosecutor to discuss the case and will testify Wednesday.

Wilson says the general subject of inquiry is abuses by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office.

... Arpaio gained national attention after aggressively cracking down on illegal immigration.

I wish one of these times that investigations into our local idiot would actually go somewhere. Maybe because this is a federal investigation, there is hope. Usually it's just county attorney Andrew Thomas, whose ethics are scarcely better than Joe's, that does the investigating.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Councilman under fire for atheism

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear." -- Thomas Jefferson

Councilman under fire for atheism By David Zucchino - December 20, 2009

When Cecil Bothwell took the oath of office as a city councilman this month, he did not swear to uphold the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions "so help me God." He merely affirmed that he would, without mentioning the Almighty. Nor did the political newcomer place his hand on a Bible. He simply kept it at his side.

Bothwell, you see, is an atheist -- or as he often describes himself, a "post-theist." And that has outraged some in this picturesque mountain resort who say Bothwell violated an obscure clause in the state constitution that disqualifies from elected office "any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God."

A conservative group has distributed pamphlets warning locals that Bothwell is "Satan's helper" and a "radical extremist" who is "bashing religion." A supporter of Southern heritage has threatened to sue Asheville for allowing Bothwell to take office.

The controversy has lighted up talk-radio phone lines nationwide and prompted hundreds of calls and e-mails to Bothwell, a soft-spoken environmentalist who lived for 21 years in a house -- which he built himself -- that relied on solar power and a gravity-fed water system.

"I didn't anticipate all this attention," Bothwell said last week, after presiding at his first City Council meeting. "I haven't even done anything yet."

Raised a Presbyterian, Bothwell began questioning Christian beliefs as a young man. He's a member of the Unitarian Universalist church, which includes atheists and agnostics as well as believers in God.

... Six other states have provisions outlawing atheists in public office. The North Carolina clause was in the state constitution when it was drafted in 1868. In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that states were prohibited under the U.S. Constitution from requiring a religious test to serve in office. The court ruled in favor of an atheist in Maryland seeking to serve as a notary public.

... As for Bothwell, he says his atheism is irrelevant to his duties as a councilman.

"I don't find any need in my day-to-day life for God to explain things to me," he said. "When religion gets tangled up with government, it always causes problems."

And while his fellow council members are "bemused" by the whole affair, Bothwell said, he's not worried about being forced from office. He said the controversy was manufactured by political opponents "who don't want to see a progressive on the council."

Bothwell ran on a platform of energy conservation, government transparency and campaign finance reform. But what really upset his opponents, he said, was his book "The Prince of War," which is highly critical of the Rev. Billy Graham, who lives outside Asheville.

Another newly elected council member who took the oath this month, Esther Manheimer, did so with her hand on two sacred Jewish texts: the Pentateuch and the haphtara. She replied, "I do," to an oath that included the phrase "so help you God." Bothwell merely promised his "solemn affirmation."

Manheimer, a lawyer, said the clause banning nonbelievers is unconstitutional. "Mr. Bothwell, therefore, is entitled to hold office to the same extent I am," she said in an e-mail.

Last week, the first City Council meeting for new members opened with a prayer. There was no mention of God -- only a plea for "justice and peace" and for the safety of U.S. troops overseas.

The council rotates responsibility for the opening prayer. Bothwell said he doesn't object, although he would prefer a moment of silence.

When his turn comes, he said, he may read from Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" or Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time."

Bothwell predicted that the furor would pass, allowing him to focus on political objectives, which include retrofitting businesses and homes to reduce energy consumption. That's what many voters who elected him want, he said ...

It's kinda odd that we always make a big deal about religious persecution but you'll rarely hear stories like this make national news. And if you do, it's only to criticize the person being persecuted.

Exercising freedom of religion is also the right to be free of religion if you so choose. And if we are not infringing upon the rights of others to do the same, then what's the problem?

The reason is that we speak of liberty and freedom but we don't mean it. Or we have a peculiar nuanced definition for it. We'll allow you to have any beliefs you want as long as they fit into a very small box that we define.

I grant you that this is just some small town in the South and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the rest of the country. But, let's be honest, can you imagine an openly atheist candidate running for a statewide or national office? Not very likely. It's my sincere belief that there are quite a few atheists or agnostics that hold those offices but have hidden their beliefs because of the ridicule they know they would receive.

It's intellectually dishonest to say that an atheist officeholder is any less (or more) virtuous or qualified to govern than a Christian one.