Cartoon of the Day

February 28, 2007

The Return of RAGE

February 28, 2007

So 2007 is shaping up as the year of big time rock reunions with The Police, Van Halen and now Rage getting back together again.

I can’t help but think that the last four years have been a huge missed opportunity for the group. While their return to the music scene is welcomed it is a shame that they have stood on the sidelines throughout the war. Of course, the war has not ended and will not end anytime soon so they can certainly be another vital voice against it.

There have not been too many musicians that have been willing to forcefully speak out against the war, even now in the current political climate where public opinion has changed significantly and the popular sentiment is for ending the war. Not to dwell on the past but I think RAGE really blew it.

The upheaval and chaos that the war has caused in American and World politics gave them an extraordinary opening to step in and make some powerful and lasting art that would’ve taken a strong stand against the war, that would have stood out at a critical time and in a public arena that was mostly in support of Bush’s war.

I don’t want to sound too negative though. It is great news that RAGE is back in action. My fondest memory of the group was not a concert but a public appearance that I attended. The group did an in store signing when The Battle of Los Angeles album was released.

It was at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square and I was able to chat with Zach for a few minutes. We talked about Eduardo Galeano, one of his favorite writers, mine as well, and I gave him a set of booklets that I had brought along about Che Guevara that I bought in Argentina a few years earlier. The whole group was really cool with all the fans. Nobody in line was rushed and they made sure to take their time and talk to everyone.

May their reunion last for just a while longer.

Two long-delayed reunions at ‘Bells’
Rage Against the Machine set to join Wu-Tang Clan at the hip-hop festival.

By Geoff Boucher, Times Staff Writer

The Rage Against the Machine reunion will be more than one performance after all: The seminal L.A. band will join the Wu-Tang Clan for three shows under the banner of Rock the Bells, the acclaimed hip-hop festival that kicks off in New York on July 28 and hits Southern California on Aug. 11.

That local show will be at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino. Another show, on Aug. 18, will be in San Francisco. The sites of the New York and San Francisco events as well as ticket information will be announced today.

Rage previously had been announced as the closing-night headliner of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 29 in Indio, a festival that sold out 80 days in advance in part because of the pent-up fan demand for the band, which hasn’t played together since 2000.

The Coachella show was announced as a “one-and-done” affair. The quick sellout and the high-priced ticket scalping already underway are among the factors that led to the added shows, according to sources close to the band. There’s also the historical punch of performing with Wu-Tang Clan, one of the most ambitious and influential hip-hop outfits ever.

The New York hip-hop collective has already announced the planned summer release of “8 Diagrams,” the Clan’s first album since “Iron Flag” in 2001. The album will feature new contributions from eight of the nine members from its classic lineup: RZA, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Raekwon, GZA, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killa. The ninth member, ODB, who died in 2005, will appear in previously recorded material.

RZA said in November that the contemporary doldrums of hip-hop demand a return by the flamboyant and potent Clan: “People want something that gives them an adrenaline rush. We’re here to supply that fix. How could hip-hop be dead if Wu-Tang is forever? We’re here to revive the spirit and the economics and bring in a wave of energy that has lately dissipated.”

Fans have been hopeful that Rage Against the Machine would decide to tour, but according to Chang Weisberg, the founder of Guerilla Union and organizer of Rock the Bells, these three new dates and the Coachella appearance are the extent of the current comeback.

Rage helped launch Coachella in 1999, when the band co-headlined the inaugural edition of the huge festival.

Voice of the Day

February 28, 2007

“To most white people, jazz means black and jazz means dirt, and that’s not what I play. I play black classical music”

– Nina Simone

Cartoon of the Day

February 27, 2007

79th Academy Awards: very removed from life

February 27, 2007

79th Academy Awards: very removed from life
By David Walsh

There is not much to be said about the 79th edition of the Academy Awards. No one said or did anything of particular interest during the more than three-and-a-half-hour ceremony Sunday evening. The film that received the highest honors (best picture, best direction, best adapted screenplay and film editing), Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, is a miserable, misanthropic work, the worst by some distance of the five nominated for best film (along with Babel, Little Miss Sunshine, Letters from Iwo Jima and The Queen).

The overriding impression left by the evening at the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard is of a group of people far removed from the realities of American or global life. Wealthy, insulated and self-involved to an unhealthy degree, the Hollywood elite is not in any position to make serious or profound judgments on much of anything. And their lack of perspective extends to themselves and the awards program. Anyone with a reasonable degree of objectivity would recognize the largely limp and pointless character of the annual ceremony.

The powers that be in the film industry, organized in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, have concentrated their efforts in recent years on making certain that no one gets out of line. No comment is permitted on anything outside the confines of the film industry, unless it is an officially approved subject. So presenters now confine themselves to the scripted patter, and award recipients have been reduced to the small change of personal life stories and thanking family members, agents and producers. It’s extraordinarily boring, by and large.

Unsurprisingly, television viewership for the Oscar ceremony has been falling in recent years. Each January or February, the Academy hierarchy makes known its new strategy for offsetting the growing irrelevance of the program. This year, according to Reuters, the show’s organizers, including producer Laura Ziskin, were banking on “short acceptance speeches, young stars, music, and comedy from show host Ellen DeGeneres to change the atmosphere.”

In fact, the result was a further decline on every front. DeGeneres was facetious, unfunny and unserious. The closest she came to controversy was an early quip to the effect that while “America didn’t vote for” best supporting actress nominee Jennifer Hudson (DreamGirls), a reference to Hudson’s departure from the “American Idol” program, “Al Gore is here. America did vote for him. It’s very complicated.”

Former television star Jerry Seinfeld left a bad taste in the mouth, making a series of humorless and philistine comments, culminated by his introducing the nominees in the documentary category as “five incredibly depressing movies.” In general, the American presenters were the worst. Catherine Deneuve, composer Ennio Morricone, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and a number of other European, British and Latin American artists demonstrated some dignity.

The desperate youth orientation in Hollywood is almost entirely debilitating. Many people, especially in America, do not become worth watching or listening to until they reach a certain age; but by that time the film world has long since left them on the side of the road. In any event, from whom are the younger actors to learn?

Providing some insight into the social mentality of those who preside over the US movie industry and their political allies, Sunday night’s program was dubbed “green.” Actor Leonardo DiCaprio shared the stage with former Vice President Al Gore to announce that the Academy Awards ceremony had been organized along environmentally conscious lines.

Officials at the Academy proudly announced that for the first time the awards show was “carbon neutral,” according to the Environment News Service. “Renewable energy credits were purchased from Bonneville Environmental Foundation to offset carbon emissions from the pre-show, the red-carpet event, the Oscar telecast, and the Governors’ Ball.”

An “energy audit” was carried out at the Kodak Theatre, which resulted in “an efficiency plan and recommendations for upgrades. Hybrid vehicle transportation was provided for presenters and staff. Ecologically superior paper was used for telecast and non-telecast event materials such as nomination ballots, envelopes, press materials, programs, invitations, and certificates.”

One cannot make these things up. “The menu for the Governors’ Ball featured organic and environmentally-friendly food, including seafood, dairy, produce, and even the large chocolate Oscar. Left-over food from the Ball was donated to Angel Harvest, a nonprofit which delivers good, un-served, perishable food to emergency feeding programs throughout Los Angeles.” Where is Oscar Wilde?

Academy President Sid Ganis, who has supervised the clampdown on any show of political opposition or controversy, declared, “This effort embodies our industry’s collective interest in taking responsibility for reducing our environmental footprint.”

The destruction of the natural environment by the waste and anarchy of capitalist production, driven solely by profit, is an urgent issue, but the self-satisfied “green” measures taken by the well-heeled film industry insiders will not have the slightest impact. The unseemly coronation of Gore Sunday evening, a longtime leading representative of one of America’s two big-business parties, gives some indication of how thoroughly the Hollywood crowd has thought this issue through.

The film on global warming with which Gore is associated, An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim, won in the best documentary category. It was the weakest in the group (which included Deliver Us From Evil, Iraq in Fragments, My Country, My Country and Jesus Camp). Guggenheim and Gore (on stage for a second extended segment) were permitted to speak about the subject without being cut off. Gore declared that the climate crisis was not a “political issue, it’s a moral issue. We have everything we need to get started with the possible exception of the will to act. That’s a renewable resource. Let’s renew it.”

Guggenheim claimed that he had been inspired to make the film by Gore’s example, “all of us were inspired by his fight for 30 years to tell his truth to all of us.”

In fact, the truly “inconvenient truth” of the evening, so inconvenient that no one referred to it, is the ongoing murderous occupation of Iraq, as well as the plans for a massive American-led assault on Iran. None of the words “Iraq,” “Iran,” “Bush” or “Cheney” passed any lips once during the ceremony. The US is undergoing an unprecedented political crisis as a result of the disaster in Iraq, and that went entirely unmentioned. In general, one would have obtained almost no sense of contemporary American life, or its more complex and painful aspects, from the awards ceremony.

How is this possible? On the one hand, some in the film industry, the most jaded and world-weary, are simply not interested by such matters. They live in a comfortable enclosed universe of making films, parties, gossip and money. Others, “activists” of the tamest, most harmless variety, are convinced that the Democratic Party (around which they all circulate) has a good chance in the 2008 elections and nothing must be done to rock the boat. They are perhaps the most vigilant, insuring that Fox News has no morsels to lead with the next morning. All in all, a fairly cowardly and shameful spectacle.

It is worthy of note that some of the more controversial figures in Hollywood, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and others, were not present. Not that any of them have been outspoken at recent awards shows. Still, one can never be too careful

The policy of eliminating any possibility of spontaneity, personal opinion or political conflict has the result of utterly squeezing the life out of the event. Predictable, empty of content, the Academy Awards ceremony has largely been turned into another of the rituals through which the official American calendar year dismally unfolds.

The Academy authorities were praised for their efforts on this score. The Financial Times commented, for example: “Astounding scenes were witnessed at the 79th annual Academy Awards ceremony. The Best Actress made a sensible speech. The best director won the Best Director prize. No one wore a weird dress. No white person commented that anyone was black (or vice versa). No one said they had been brought up in a trailer park. And Al Gore, winning the Best Documentary Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, began to announce his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, only for a twinkle to give him away as the music police, otherwise known as the Academy orchestra, took the liberty of drowning him out.”

It’s unfortunate. There is talent in Hollywood, even in these relatively bleak artistic times. There is even life and entertainment in some of its products. The Academy Awards at this point manages to bring out the very worst in the industry. It underscores the extraordinary wealth of this community and its distance from the problems of everyday life.

What is the American working population to the Hollywood elite? Largely an unknown. Insofar as the writers, directors and actors give much thought to the overwhelming majority, they draw misguided and pessimistic conclusions. They tend to believe the image of the population—essentially patriotic, racist, homophobic, brutish—conjured up and encouraged by the right-wing tabloid media.

From that point of view, the selection of The Departed (along with Scorsese and scriptwriter William Monahan) by the majority of the Academy’s 6,500 voters was not accidental. The film incarnates this upper middle class view of a Boston working class neighborhood and its gangster milieu. Everyone in the film is foulmouthed, backward, violent and incapable of seeing beyond his nose.

This is what we wrote in a review:

“The Departed is poorly made, with its contrived and artificial dialogue, crude psychology, implausible events and ceaseless, gratuitous brutality. What does the succession of beatings, torture and killings, interspersed with snarling insults and obscenities, add up to? How is this productive or helpful to anyone? For some, this is still identified with ‘hard-hitting realism.’ When the shock effect of the killings and language wears off, and that occurs, it must be said, quite quickly, the incidents and four-letter words are merely tiresome. It’s possible to argue, in fact, that the noise and violence are organized in part to obscure the essential vacuousness of the goings-on. The events and locales and people are deeply unreal, constructs organized to confirm Scorsese’s superficial, disoriented view of things.

“In Scorsese’s early films (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver), confused as they may have been, the bloody denouements carried a certain weight, they were at least deeply felt and meant to be deeply felt. They emerged from and spoke to a sense that something was quite wrong with the world. Now the deaths are ritualistic and perfunctory. The director doesn’t seem to care very much for the characters he dispatches, so why should we? At one point, [Frank] Costello [played by Jack Nicholson] shoots a woman in the back of the head, and then mutters to himself: ‘She fell kinda funny.’ Is this ‘black humor’ à la Tarantino? It simply seems unhinged.

“Scorsese claims to be appalled by the violence in life and in his own films, yet he continues to glamorize sociopaths. It’s distasteful to have to say, but he seems to suffer from a disease that has afflicted more than one vicarious onlooker of what he or she takes to be the ‘heart of darkness’ at society’s core: a morbid fascination with the thug, under the mistaken assumption that the individual who is not afraid to use his fists or his firearms is somehow ‘freer’ than the timid petty bourgeois standing on the sidelines.”

The choice of the Academy Award voters was appalling.

Picture of the Day

February 27, 2007

Forest Whitaker, who won the Oscar for best actor and Jennifer Hudson, who won for best supporting actress, pose backstage during the 79th Academy Awards.

Q&A with D.A. Pennebaker

February 27, 2007

When filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker hit the road with Bob Dylan in 1965 to shoot a documentary of the musician’s tour of England, he was unaware that he would make history. For one, Pennebaker barely knew who Dylan was. In addition, he couldn’t have predicted that his Spartan black-and-white documentary, which eschews traditional story-telling techniques such as narration and interviews, would be hailed as the greatest rock documentary of all time.

Forty years after its debut, Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back has been lovingly re-mastered and will be released this week as a two-disc set (with plenty of worthwhile extras) by Docurama. Pennebaker, who has also filmed dozens of other well-known documentaries, including Monterey Pop and the Oscar-nominated The War Room, chatted with TIME’s Carolina A. Miranda about the Dylan conversation he wished he could have filmed and how the movie almost didn’t get released.

Full article

Voice of the Day

February 27, 2007

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts”

– Bertrand Russell

Where Your Income Tax Money Goes

February 27, 2007

U.S. Federal Budget 2008 Fiscal Year

Total Outlays (Federal Funds): $2,387 billion
MILITARY: 51% and $1,228 billion
NON-MILITARY: 49% and $1,159 billion

Cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
(billions of dollars)

Source – War Resisters League

The Redirection

February 27, 2007

In this week’s issue of The New Yorker the latest article by Seymour Hersh on the “redirection” of US foreign policy against Iran and details about the US plans to bomb Iran within 24 hours notice. Also, more on US meddling in Lebanon and Syria and an interview with Nasrallah. As with all his articles, a must read.

Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism?


In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration’s perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran.

Full article