Archive for August, 2009

Torture Probe Offends The Hell Out Of Cheney. Bummer.

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2009 by halmasonberg

s-CHENEY-largeThe actions and reactions of Dick Cheney will be spoken about for decades, maybe centuries. And hopefully they will be a continued reminder–a signpost, if you will–to how America can be co-opted by someone so out of touch, so completely in his own world, as to turn America into many of the things we’ve worked so hard to change in other parts of the world.

Rule number one: America doesn’t torture. Period. This is not a negotiable area. But Cheney and his team of cronies felt–nay, knew–what needed to be done. And the rule of law was irrelevant. Now it’s altogether possible that Cheney truly believed this was what was best for the country. Perhaps his actions, all of them, are based in his deep love for this country and its citizens. I have my doubts about this, but even if it were true, you cannot take the law into your own hands or try to bend, stretch or alter the law to suit your needs.

Now that Attorney General Eric Holder has opened an investigation into the illegal torture practices used by the CIA in interrogating terrorist suspects, Cheney is livid, claiming the investigation “offends the hell out of me.”

Does he not get how his actions and the actions of the Bush Administration offended the hell out of many Americans and other citizens of the world? Clearly not. Cheney and company were rogue leaders. They ignored the rule of law and made a mockery of the constitution of the United States. That’s my opinion. Both now and then.

Cheney claims the use of torture was instrumental in preventing further terrorist attacks on the U.S. That may or may not be true. The newly released CIA documents claim, in fact, that it is difficult to make that assessment. Cheney claims this was the only way to defend the nation. American law suggests there are other ways. More humane ways. And regardless of whether or not these torture practices were effective, the bottom line is Cheney and the CIA may have taken the law into their own hands, regardless of intent. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Even Republican Senator John McCain who, himself, underwent torture as a POW, stated unequivocally:

“I think the interrogations were in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the convention against torture that we ratified under President Reagan. I think these interrogations, once publicized, helped al Qaeda recruit. I got that from an al Qaeda operative in a prison camp in Iraq… I think that the ability of us to work with our allies was harmed. And I believe that information, according go the FBI and others, could have been gained through other members.”

However, Senator McCain, oddly enough, does not feel there should be an investigation:

“I believe the president was right when he said we ought to go forward and not back. I worry about the morale and effectiveness of the CIA. I worry about this thing getting out of control and us harming our ability to carry out the struggle we are in with radical Islamic extremism.”

It is here that I will differ in opinion with the senator. Law is, in part, a deterrent. It is not simply a punishment for specific behavior. It is in place to create responsibility. If you perform an illegal action, you will be subject to this specific consequence. Individuals or groups who break the law, do so with the knowledge that, if caught, they will face a court of law. If the school of thought with presidents and their administrations is that if you break the law and are caught, there is a good chance you may still walk away unscathed and not have to take responsibility for your actions, then we are opening the door to more presidents and administrations breaking the law with the knowledge that the consequences to them will be little if any. This goes against everything this country stands for, in my opinion. It goes against the very rule of law itself.

There are a lot of people out there, both here and abroad, who want many who worked within and under the Bush Administration to face a court of law to defend their actions. We MUST hold our highest officials to that rule, otherwise we have lost those qualities that make America a shining example of a better, freer way of life. A more civilized way. A way that respects all humankind.

I, personally, think we have a long way to go. But I’d like to see us take some further steps in that direction. Perhaps this investigation is one of those steps.

Ted Kennedy’s Death May Save Health Care Reform

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2009 by halmasonberg

ted-kennedy-2Ted Kennedy was outspoken on Health Care Reform. Even John McCain himself expressed frustration with Ted Kennedy’s absence from the debate just days before Kennedy’s death. McCain felt that the debate and deliberations would be in a very different place if Mr. Kennedy were present.

Well, it seems Mr. Kennedy’s eternal absence may be just as powerful. Ted Kennedy had friends on both sides of the aisle and, unlike many, managed to find that place where both parties could come together. And now there’s talk of naming the Health Care Reform Bill after Mr. Kennedy. And members of both parties wish to honor the man and the cause that he so vehemently believed in. And, unlike before, Mr. Kennedy’s passionate words will be heard and replayed over and over again as a testament to his life and passion. And those words need to be heard and not just listened to.

Ted Kennedy’s final act may end up being the turning point in bringing Health Care Reform to America and Americans. Let’s hope that his passing has helped shed some light on what we are trying to do here today in this country and why it is so crucial that we reform Health Care, keep the public option, and make sure each and every American is covered and taken care of.

I posted a clip earlier this week of Mr. Kennedy giving an impassioned speech on Health Care from 2008. You can view it HERE. And I do hope you will listen.

Seeing WOODSTOCK Before TAKING WOODSTOCK

Posted in Film, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2009 by halmasonberg

image001Ang Lee’s new film TAKING WOODSTOCK is a sweet, fun, recreation of a moment in history as seen through the eyes of someone intimately involved, and yet still outside.

Lee and longtime writing/producing partner James Schamus decided that, after BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and LUST, CAUTION, they wanted to step away from heavy subject matter and tell a lighter tale. So they turned to Elliot Tiber’s book with Tom Monte, TAKING WOODSTOCK. And light it is. But it’s also fun and charming. There are a few poignant moments, but nothing unexpected. This is not a film filled with surprises, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a sweet tale, well cast, and it’s a joy to watch.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I recently re-watched the award-winning documentary WOODSTOCK: 3 DAYS OF PEACE AND MUSIC: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT. I can’t recommend highly enough taking in this doc before TAKING WOODSTOCK. It is in no way crucial to the experience, but it WoodstockBlu-rayheightens it immensely. Many of the names and faces one comes in contact with in WOODSTOCK, fill the background of TAKING WOODSTOCK, as well as being incorporated into leading roles. My personal feeling is that experiencing WOODSTOCK the film allowed me to have a larger sense of what was happening on the periphery of TAKING WOODSTOCK. Together, the two films paint a terrific picture. And while both stand just fine on their own merits, the two compliment one another wonderfully and I can’t recommend highly enough watching the doc first if you either never saw it, or were thinking it’s time to see it again.

Lee’s recreation never contradicts the reality of Woodstock, it simply adds more flavor to the event and paints a loving picture of some of the journeys that may have taken place there. And despite the fact that many of the characters are familiar cliches of the era, they still resonate with the director’s apparent affection for them.

taking_woodstock_stillThe film also contains one of my favorite LSD trips captured on film to date. And what would a film about Woodstock be without an LSD trip or two?

So run out and rent yourself a copy of WOODSTOCK: 3 DAYS OF PEACE AND MUSIC: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT, then take in a matinee of TAKING WOODSTOCK to complete the journey. And remember, this one’s just meant to be charming, fun and entertaining. And at that, it succeeds.

Ted Kennedy…

Posted in Politics with tags , , on August 26, 2009 by halmasonberg

Happy Birthday Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay!

Posted in Grateful Dead, Music with tags , , , , on August 22, 2009 by halmasonberg

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Cinematic Masterpieces: WOODSTOCK: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT

Posted in Film, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2009 by halmasonberg

WoodstockBlu-rayIt’s funny. I hadn’t seen WOODSTOCK in its entirety in probably over 20 years. I had watched performance clips on Youtube and, of course, remember certain moments and statements and “characters” from the film, but I had completely forgotten what an absolute masterful piece of cinema it was. WOODSTOCK is so much more than a compilation of musical performances. And what’s frightening is how easily the film could have been shot or reduced to that very thing if it had fallen into the hands of different filmmakers other than the team that ultimately defied the impossible and brought this film to life.

Director Michael Wadleigh, along with a ragtag team of some of the best documentary cameramen and women ever assembled, ace editor Thelma Schoonmaker and a very young editor and assistant director, Martin Scorsese, managed to work through some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable to capture the entire experience that was WOODSTOCK.

We all know the basic story: They expected between 150,000 to 200,000 people max to attend. They ended up with over half a million. A small city. No one was prepared. But that didn’t matter. From audience to performers to coordinators, everyone worked in unison to pull off an event that was almost entirely peaceful and cooperative. And people from all over came to help with medical attention, food, shelter, whatever was needed to turn this state of emergency into one of the greatest events ever successfully undertaken. It truly was an unintended statement to the world at large. It was proof of something better, a way of thinking, a way of being. It wasn’t just artifice, but a sampling of humanity. It was a living alternative. And everything that was said and done then, still resonates today.

And the film puts you right smack in the middle of it all. But it does so with a unique and powerful vision. Shot entirely on 16mm, the film was designed for and released in the 70mm format. Quite a leap. But Wadleigh and team pulled it off with some of the most daring split screen opticals ever seen. Suddenly, the stories within the story start to appear. What is being said or done on one side of the frame is being commented on, visually and otherwise, on the other. And the performances are each approached with a unique individuality to best capture the feel and flavor of the music, the performers, the environment in which they were playing and the audience to whom they were playing for. It wasn’t just about capturing the music, it was about becoming part of the whole event. Thanks to the visionary talents of the folks behind the cameras and in the editing room, WOODSTOCK the film doesn’t just show you the event, it is an elemental part of the event. And because of that, we are as well.

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A great example is the CANNED HEAT segment of the film. One camera, one take. It’s a testament to Wadleigh’s eye, fluid camerawork and sense of the music (he was the handheld camera operator for this particular shot) and the great restraint and vision of the editors. It’s a powerhouse moment that personalizes the performers and the environment around them. Around us. There is no desire on the part of the filmmakers to disguise the fact that they are there. They are as much a part of what is happening on that stage as the band members themselves.

Then there’s THE WHO. Suddenly, we find ourselves with three separate frames within our single 70mm frame. The juxtaposition of images, many simply duplicates reversed to create a moving, breathing bookend to the center image, offer us not only different angles on the performers and crowd, but enhance–nay, recreate–the psychedelic and energetic nature of the music itself. It’s an all-absorbing journey deep into the psyche of the adventure that was taking place on Max Yasgur’s unsuspecting farm that evening. It is as much a visual feast of great complexity and wonder as it is a testament to the band’s unmatched musicianship and tirelessly vital performance.

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And after each band completes their set, we return once again to the ongoing saga happening behind the scenes. Be it one hell of a rainstorm that nearly stopped the show in its tracks, or the thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams of the people attending, or the amazement, horror or joy of the local townsfolk at witnessing the behavior of their new neighbors, or the social impact one senses the event is already starting to have long before its conclusion is in sight, WOODSTOCK cinematically captures a world that is, in many ways, still with us.

While the “hippie” movement and Summer Of Love have faded into history, the remnants of those recent times have been absorbed into our everyday society, our very way of life. Health food stores have grown into chains, yoga is now as commonplace as school, spirituality has moved into new regions where the choices are endless and mainstream. It’s a far cry from the world that those who attended Woodstock may have envisioned, but changes were made nonetheless. Yeah, we still have wars and we moved into an age of greed and consumership that reflects the fear and confusion inherent in all societies and we still exhibit some of our puritanical roots, but we also have rallies and protests and the ability to call our leaders out and ask for something better. These are all things that were validated and given life in these times and the times that came before.

yoga

While there are many who believe the movement was misguided, short-lived and, ultimately, a failure, one has only to look around to see the effects it has had on the world in which we live. And the music that reflected the era, that spoke to a generation and beyond, is still some of the most powerful and heartfelt musical expression to be seen or heard anywhere throughout our long history. And WOODSTOCK the film shows us that in all its shades of light and dark. One need only witness the performances by Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix to understand and realize that there were geniuses in our midsts. And I do not throw that word around lightly. These were men and women who tapped into something rare, that segment of humanity who grace us with their inner voice, with a talent that belies their youthfulness, with a form of expression that deeply touches the soul of man and reveals it, naked and for all to see, with exquisite delicacy and wonder.

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WOODSTOCK: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT is part of that revelation. And I am grateful for its existence. Both for its cultural value, its spiritual value, and its extreme artistic value, which I was far too young to comprehend when last I viewed the film. It is a place I hope to return to again and again. And next time, perhaps, I will take some others with me.

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10 years

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Cameron’s AVATAR Teaser Trailer Arrives

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2009 by halmasonberg

avatar_200908191149Sometimes James Cameron kicks ass, sometimes he misses. I’m one of the folks who thought the Director’s Cut of THE ABYSS was amazing. I thought TITANIC had some harrowing moments, but the personal story was more melodramatic than I would have preferred. ALIENS is still one of the better sequels ever made, in my opinion. I liked the first TERMINATOR movie, but thought the Cameron-directed sequel was too precious and lacked the edginess of the first. I thought TRUE LIES was offensive to women and was surprised there wasn’t more outrage expressed.

So who knows what Cameron’s epic AVATAR will have to offer. Advance word is great, but so was the advance word on DISTRICT 9, which I thought was underwhelming and slight. Nonetheless, Cameron is an interesting director and he has spent many years bringing this new film to life. The teaser trailer looks like quite the effects extravaganza. Hopefully Cameron will bring a good story to it as well. We’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, here’s that trailer:

http://www.apple.com/trailers/fox/avatar/

Bush Raised Terror Alert To Win Re-Election

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2009 by halmasonberg

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Ridge

It seems the actions, in-actions and wrongdoings of the Bush Administration are coming out into the light at an accelerated rate. Of course much of what is being revealed is stuff that had been talked about, suggested and speculated on for years, but it’s nice to see not all of it is being swept under the rug.

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge claims in his new book that he was pressured to raise the terror alert to help George W. Bush win re-election in 2004. According to US News & World Report:

Ridge was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings; was “blindsided” by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him; found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored; and was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush’s re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.

In fact, at the time of the raised terror alert, the Bush Administration admitted that the move was based on intelligence three years old, according to the Washington Post.

Once again, we see yet another example of politics-through-fear. What happened during the Bush Administration is happening again. But this time it surrounds Health Care Reform. The likes of Sarah Palin and Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and all the other shameless conservative speakers are working on the public’s fears to get what they want. Their motivation isn’t your health and well-being, but money and power. Too simple, you say? Too obvious? Hardly. It’s an age-old story and the Bush Administration was, hopefully, the peak of the rise of selfishness and greed as our nation’s defining characteristic. The system that was set up by our forefathers has gone astray. It’s time to get back on track.

The good news is that for all the ignorant Americans ready to absorb whatever fear-mongering lies are tossed their way, there are millions who have either recognized those lies for what they were all along, or are starting to realize that they have been hoodwinked, lied to, cheated, and taken for granted. But there are many who still take in these lies as truths. According to a recent Gallup poll, many of the states with the highest levels of uninsured are also the states that have the largest percentage of people who widely believe the mistruths perpetuated about President Obama’s Health Care Reform proposals. Most of these states are in the south and west.

According to the poll:

45 percent of Southerners said they thought Obama’s health care reform included a government takeover of the entire health care system. 23 percent of Westerners agreed. In the Northeast and Midwest those numbers were 10 percent and 20 percent respectively.

In the South, 26 percent of the public said they believed the health care reform plan being considered by President Obama and Congress requires elderly patients to meet with government officials to discuss “end of life” options, including euthanasia. 20 percent of Westerners said the same thing. In the Northeast and Midwest those numbers were 11 percent and 17 percent respectively.

STATES IN SOUTH AND WEST ARE AS FOLLOWS:

South: FL, NC, SC, AL, MS, GA, VA, TN, KY, LA, AR, TX

West: NM, CA, OR, WA, AK, HI, MT, ID, UT, NV, AZ, WY, CO

LIST OF STATES WITH MOST UNINSURED:

Texas – 27 percent of the population is uninsured New Mexico — 25.6 percent Mississippi – 24 percent Louisiana – 22.4 percent Nevada – 22.2 percent Oklahoma – 22.2 percent (considered a Midwest state) California – 21 percent Wyoming – 20.7 percent Florida – 20.7 percent Georgia – 20.7 percent South Carolina – 20.4 percent Montana – 20.3 percent Alaska — 20.2 percent Arkansas – 20.1 percent Colorado – 20 percent Oregon – 19.4 percent West Virginia – 19.3 percent (considered a Northeast state) North Carolina – 19.3 percent Idaho – 18.8 percent Utah – 18.1 percent Kentucky – 17.9 percent Tennessee – 17.8 percent Nebraska – 17.7 percent Alabama – 17.2 percent Missouri – 17.1 percent (considered a Midwest state)

As time passes, more information and truths will come out surrounding the inner-workings of the Bush Administration. And as they do, they will shine a light on the politics being played out in today’s Health Care debate. Hopefully in time to keep us from making yet another wrong decision and, in the process, deny ourselves the health care coverage we so desperately need and deserve.

Guns & Rallies: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

Posted in Politics, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2009 by halmasonberg

6a00d8342297e353ef00e5539f78808833-800wiIs this a movement brewing or the death-throws of a dying party? I’m not sure. I’m hoping the latter.

It seems gun-rights activists are showing up in droves at Rallies and Town Halls where Obama is speaking. We all know about the guy who showed up with a legal loaded handgun at the New Hampshire Town Hall meeting. He was carrying a large sign which read:

It is time to water the tree of Liberty.

For those who don’t already know, that’s in reference to a famous Jefferson quote which states in its entirety:

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

Fun.

Then there was the guy who showed up at that same Town Hall meeting and was arrested for carrying an unlicensed pistol.

More fun.

gunWell, today, the great state of Arizona flexed its conservative muscles when about a dozen armed folks showed up outside an event in Phoenix where President Obama was speaking. But this time pistols weren’t the least of it. One gentleman, in addition to the pistol on his hip, was carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle strapped to his back. And according to CNN reporter Ed Henry, this guy was one of two spotted carrying an assault rifle.

Now we’re really having fun, right?

When asked why he was carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle while walking through a group of people partaking in a pro-Health Care rally outside a place where the President of the United States was speaking, the man answered simply,

“Because I can do it. In Arizona, I still have some freedoms.”

And nothing spells true freedom like the ability to blow a man down in his tracks. Or to cause the President to fear that his life may be in danger. Or the lives of peaceful demonstrators at a rally.

No, nothing says freedom like physical intimidation.

Let’s hope these folks keep pouring out of the woodwork. Let the nation see what’s lurking beneath the rhetoric and ignorance of the Sarah Palins and Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world. Bring them out into the light.

DISTRICT 9: If You’re Hungry Enough, Even Cat Food Can Taste Like Fine Cuisine

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2009 by halmasonberg

No Plot Spoilers

district9_poster-689x1024DISTRICT 9 isn’t an awful film. It’s also not a very good film. And it’s certainly not good science fiction. At least not in terms of intelligent, thought-provoking science fiction. By the same token, the film’s not stupid either. Just slight.

What starts out as an interesting premise only delivers, ultimately, on its action ingredients. The social commentary introduced in the beginning passages of the film are easily pushed aside for the bulk of the journey and never really explored except in the most basic, predictable ways. Unlike the best sci-fi (or even an average episode of STAR TREK), which would use the genre to explore relevant social themes, DISTRICT 9 mysteriously abandons those themes immediately after introducing them. DISTRICT 9 is more interested in its adrenaline content than its socio-economic content. But that doesn’t stop the film from being entertaining. It’s just not all that satisfying as good sci-fi. It would, however, make a great video game. Which is essentially what this is.

One of the biggest detractors for me in my ability to be absorbed into the world of DISTRICT 9 was its grossly under-developed lead character. A buffoon from the word go, this fellow eventually exhibits some predictable changes, but the cartoonish elements of his introduction within the film’s documentary-style opening puts this movie in a world that, sadly, never reaches the wonderfully satirical elements of ROBOCOP or STARSHIP TROOPERS, nor does it ever manage to feel authentic enough to be as exciting or as frightening as ALIENS; all films which the makers of this movie clearly borrowed from and, one would guess, greatly admire. Now I don’t mean to suggest that DISTRICT 9 should be more like other films. I truly love a movie that cannot easily be described or placed snugly in any one genre. It’s just that this film falls somewhere in the grey area between those above-mentioned films and, as a result, feels grossly under-realized. At least that’s the opinion of this viewer. And that’s all I can really speak to at the end of the day.

All this said, one positive element in DISTRICT 9′s favor is that it’s an action film with good effects that’s not based on a pre-marketable concept like TRANSFORMERS (though DISTRICT does have elements of that film, too!) and that was made on what would be considered a “modest” budget indeed by today’s standards ($30 million). And it stars a cast of unknowns (at least here in the States) and that also bodes in its favor. Especially given its extreme success both commercially and critically. And I am happy to see a science fiction/action film with a socially conscious and unusual setting. For once we’re not in a major American or European city. It may be a sign that some filmmakers are heading in the right direction. We’re just not there yet. Maybe this film can be one of the bridges to good films to come.

District 9But for the moment, the film we’re discussing here left me bored by its conclusion. By a quarter of the way through, I had already let go of my hopes that this film was going to be one of those rare animals that is both extremely smart, well-written AND popular. But that was okay, I told myself, cause I was still enjoying the action. Even though I really didn’t care about any of the characters because they were under-developed cartoons. But I was committed to enjoying myself and, since I paid my money, I was intent on getting its full worth. But even at the bargain price of a matinee, I ended up feeling like I would rather have just rented it on Blu-ray.

So why does everybody love this film so much? Well, all I can attribute it to is the simple fact that we’ve been fed so many tasteless stories, so many lazy-to-bad screenplays, so much mindless action and effects with nothing at all of value behind it that, when something comes along which manages to poke its head even a hair above that, we start to salivate. And when that happens, well… we’re just happy to consume anything that has a little flavor. Even if its aftertaste doesn’t linger for very long.

For more thoughts on this subject, take a look at my recent post Cinema Of The Infantile: Welcome To The New Millenium.

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