30 June 2012

"And I pledge that, if elected President, on Day One I'll work to repeal a health care law of which I was a main architect and ardent supporter. Right up until it suddenly became unpopular with my party, including the dozens of Republicans who praised and supported it for years, when President Obama endorsed it. Because I've learned that integrity, honesty, helping Americans means much less to the Super Pacs that fund my campaign than does winning at any cost." - I'm Mitt Romney, and in an honest world, I approved this message.

29 October 2011

"Like Crazy" Is A Nearly Perfect Little Film

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for Best Picture, "Like Crazy" is a joyous little film. The third film film by 27 year old high school drop-out wunderkind Drake Doremus, (at 19 he was the youngest person to be accepted into AFI) it was made for around $250,000. There are no explosions, and it's filmed hand-held on an off the shelf digital camera. The story itself is not complex or high-concept, but it is told in such a sophisticated and realistic style that you're completely drawn in by the first 3 minutes. Felicity Jones (whom Doremus hired without first meeting based on the strength of her audition tape and who also won a Special Jury prize at Sundance) plays Anna, an exchange student attending university in Los Angeles. There, she meets Jacob, played by Anton Yelchin (Chekov from "Star Trek"), and they fall deeply, passionately in love. She overstays her visa to be with him for the summer, and complications arise, both logistical and emotional.

These two actors make the film, and their star-making turns are mostly improvised off an outline of a script from Doremus and his writing partner Ben York Jones. (The script is reportedly based on a real life long-distance relationship that Doremus had with a girl from Austria, to whom he was briefly married). The performances aren't flashy or understated- they are truthful to the situation, which is always the best you can hope for. So much of the emotion is conveyed through a look rather than a line, just like in reality. The chemistry between Jones and Yelchin is a testament to the powers of good casting. The smallest of exchanges between the two can carry incredible emotional weight. (At the end of their first date, they wind up not kissing, but rather touching hands through a glass door, and the moment is one of the most moving in the film). Even when, at a later point in the film, both realize how much easier it would be to just let go and move on, you fully believe and understand that they can't. ("No other human being makes me feel like you do," Anna says during one of many late night trans-Atlantic phone calls.) The film's biggest strength is that no matter your age, it pours you a double-shot of the intoxicating feeling of the first time you fell madly, deeply, crazily in love.

Screening now in LA and New York, "Like Crazy" should open wider to other cities in the coming weeks. Do yourself a favor and fall for it. The film also features a strong soundtrack including a score by Dustin O' Halloran and songs by M83, Stars, Fool's Gold, and the masterful Paul Simon.

There's a link to the trailer below.


24 October 2011

Nobody Knows Nothin'- The Problem With Atheism

So, I was thinking about God this morning, (I'm trying to develop new material for a stand-up act, and He's usually a rich vein to tap), when it occurred to me that I'm not sure what I believe anymore. I, like many America-hating, Left-wing Marxists, (or non-Republican, as we're also called), had been drifting towards being a non-believer for years. But, is what I've developed a belief-system (or non-belief system), or just a reaction to the current state of God in America?

Don't get me wrong- I'm still generally repulsed by religion- most all religions. How many people's lives have been made miserable and how many have been killed based on the God-said-this-is-our-land-not-yours bullshit of the last few thousand years? How much knowledge has been delayed or stifled completely because it ran against the teachings of the church and its laws based on faery tales? But most religions probably have very little to do with God, anyway, so just hating religion is no reason not to believe in God.

I feel for Christians in America who don't happen to be Right-wing nut jobs. It must be incredibly frustrating (as it must be for fiscal conservatives of the old Republican party) to see your organization usurped by the worst kinds of people. To see the teachings of Christ be bastardized to serve their agenda of greed, fear, racism, small mindedness, pettiness, and lust for power.

To be sure, religious groups in America and around the world have also provided immeasurable assistance to the most needy of society. But so have non-religious groups. It would be nice if our motivation to help our fellow man came from the fact that it's the Right Thing to Do, and not out of searching for Some Great Reward or trying to stay out if hell.

In our recent political climate in America, religion is playing a larger role than it has in years. The Right is driving this trend, with their litmus tests for potential candidates that dictate they must be deeply religious, have a general skepticism for science, and an extremely conservative view on social matters including immigration, marriage, family planning, and welfare for the poor. They have all but claimed that God is on their side, insinuating that the Left is Godless, and therefore inherently immoral, and wishes to turn America into a Godless, communist society. By playing this Fear Card, the Right preys (prays?) on the emotions of its fastest growing base- the masses who aren't clever enough to realized they're being used by the leaders of their party, whose real God is only money, anyway. As the Right and the Church in America basically merge into one corporation, (with Fox 'News' as their pulpit), they use the same techniques the Church has employed for centuries- fear of the unknown, moral superiority and indignation of others, and the Some Great Reward to follow. (You, too, will someday be rich beyond your wildest dreams, if we can just get rid of these Marxist government regulations and the EPA! Also, we need to lower the taxes on the rich. You don't want the government taking your hard earned money when you become rich, do you? And you're gonna be rich really soon, we promise! It's the American way! Now, better get moving- you're late for your shift at Walmart).

Given this being the state of God™ in America, the desire to reject the ridiculousness of it all is understandable. However, the political systems of America, or anywhere else, also really have little to do with God. Over the course of human existence, our idea of God has changed, but its main purpose has remained the same- to define the undefinable and unknowable. To wrap our brains around the Big Questions of where everything came from and why it, and we, are here. So, one of the arguments for atheism is that we created God to help us answer these questions. This may indeed be true. But, it may not. Who knows?

And that's the problem- believing there's no God is just as presumptuous as believing you know exactly what God is. Nobody really knows. Just like religion, it's a belief system, not based on any knowable facts. Another argument for atheism is the lack of empirical evidence of God, or the argument that the burden of proof is on the theist to prove the existence of God, not the atheist to disprove it. But this to me seems to be a cop out. One could argue that the universe itself is empirical evidence of God. (And, no, I'm not speaking of Intelligent Design). Either Everything There Is just always Was, or something created it. And, if the universe just always Was, without being created, isn't that in and of itself, rather God-like?

Before I get responses telling me how wrong I am about my definition of atheism, understand that this is how I perceive the the problem for me. If you're 100% sure that no God exists, fine. Just explain to me how you know. How you know for a fact that nothing created the universe, it just always Was. Because that's the part I can't get around. Also, just because I believe in God doesn't mean I think He believes in us, or has any day-to-day influence over all the decisions we make as free willed, sentient people. Or heaven and hell, the afterlife, or prayer, or anything else that inevitably gets wrapped up in discussions about God. I'm talking about God, not religion. Two totally different things. Really, I'm talking about semantics of atheist vs. agnostic. I'm sure that I agree with 99.9% of the arguments my atheist friends would present.

All right, I'm off for a 10 mile run now, God help me. If I twist an ankle, I'll be sure and let you know, so all you religious types can whistle a happy tune at my ironic comeuppance.

16 August 2011

The Tragedy of Perry's America

“We are fed up with being overtaxed and over regulated,” Perry wrote. “We are tired of being told how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house, what kind of cars we can drive, what kinds of guns we can own, what kind of prayers we are allowed to say and where we can say them, what political speech we are allowed to use to elect candidates, what kind of energy we can use, what kind of food we can grow, what doctor we can see, and countless other restrictions on our right to live as we see fit.”- Texas Gov.Rick Perry

I wonder what country he's talking about? It really is a paradise here in California if that's what the rest of you have been dealing with. Federal taxes here are the lowest in decades. Regulations on mortgage lenders and banks are so non-existent, we actually had a problem a couple of years back with people not being able to afford the home loans they were approved for, if you can believe such a thing. Also, many of our largest corporations and wealthiest residents paid no taxes last year!

When was the last time someone told you how much salt you can put on your food? Could someone supply me with a list of cars you're not allowed to purchase in America? Because it's pretty wide open here on the left coast. Who told you what energy you can or cannot use? If you don't want to use electricity, by God, you should be able to not use electricity. And if there's one problem we have in America, it's all those restrictions on what kind of guns we can own. How can one possibly hunt, or defend their home if they're not allowed to purchase military grade automatic weapons with unlimited rounds? I mean, deer are fast.

As for the countless incidents of cops busting into churches and arresting people for praying the wrong way? That shit has to stop. Heck, Christians practically have to sneak into the back doors of churches these days, they're so persecuted here in America.

The more I think about it, the more I see how right he is about the "countless other restrictions." Like say, gay marriage, for example.

Also, I can't drive as fast as I want anywhere I want whenever I want. And Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays. What the hell is that about? Thanks a lot, Obama. (HUSSEIN Obama, that is.)

I had no idea that America so resembled North Korea in its restrictions on free speech and liberties. That is a tragedy. Thank God there's someone like Gov. Perry to bring to light these horrible conditions in which we've been living. No wonder he wanted Texas to secede.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to break one of the panes out of my double glazed windows, energy bills be damned. We're talking about Freedom here! Pass the salt, fellow Patriots.


09 August 2011

Shell Games- How the GOP Gets Good People to Vote Against Their Best Interests

After the embarrassing debacle of the debt ceiling disaster and subsequent lowering of America's credit rating by Standard and Poors, the nation seems more divided than ever. John Boehner claims to have gotten "98% of what he wanted" in the deal, yet the blame is laid at Obama's feet for the fallout. The President indeed deserves blame, but where he is at fault is in trying to negotiate at all with a group whose number one stated goal is getting him out of office. Not jobs, not the economy, not national defense, but making Obama a one term president. With this stated objective, why should we think that they wouldn't throw the economy under the bus to score political points? The election is Obama's to lose, and that sometimes seems to be his goal, as he angers the very base he needs to show up at the polls. The GOP has long since jettisoned any moderates in their party, and are left with "Pray for Rain" Perry, "Crazy Eyes" Bachmann, "Professor" Palin, "Ayn Rand" Paul, and "Mormon" Mitt, who amazingly is the sanest of all of them. Sadly, he hasn't a chance, as he revealed that he has a human soul and wanted the people of his state to actually have affordable health care, a goal now synonymous with 'socialism.'

What many of us on the Left continue to be puzzled by is why so many people vote Republican at all, when the party has clearly abandoned all but the fanatically religious (Bachmann), openly racist (Limbaugh, etc.), and the very wealthy (all the rest). I know many good people who vote GOP. They genuinely love America, are not racists, rednecks, or stupid. The problem is that asking someone why they would vote Republican plays into the GOP line that the Left is 'elitist' and looks down on the Right. But I think I know at least part of the reason. The GOP lies to them, straight faced, over and over again. They tell them that there are easy solutions to complex problems, all the while knowing these 'solutions' will never work. No problem- when they don't work, blame the Democrats. Hey, it's easier than coming up with new ideas.

Take "Drill Baby Drill", for example. It was the rallying cry at the RNC in 2008, (along with "USA!!!", of course, because unlike the Left, they REALLY like the USA, and don't care who knows it) It was said over and over again that if congress would only allow us to tap into our vast reserves, we could get off foreign oil, gas would drop to two dollars a gallon so REAL Americans could fill up their SUVs for under $100, every single man, woman, and child would have a job, and the Cubs would win the World Series. Trouble was, it was a complete lie. McCain certainly knew this was total crap. Palin maybe believed it, and no one filled her in so she could be almost believable when she spoke.

The two Big Problems with Drill Baby are first, the U.S. Department of the Interior estimates the total volume of undiscovered, technically recoverable prospective resources in all areas of the United States to be 134 billion barrels. That's the highest estimate I could find from any reliable source. (Read- Not oil companies) The US consumes about 7 billion barrels of oil a year. So, if we stopped importing oil altogether, we would have less than 20 years to drink our own milkshake. Then we would be totally dry, and totally dependent on foreign oil. Not the best strategy. Another fact they failed to mention at the rally is that the US does not get the majority of oil from "people who don't like us very much" (as McCain called them), unless Canada and Mexico are harboring some deep seated hatred of us. (Which is of course possible.)

The second Big Problem with Drill Baby makes the above point moot, anyway. Oil is an internationally traded commodity, and oil speculators are almost completely unregulated by the government. So, it's doubtful any president, Democrat or Republican, could have much influence over the price, with one exception. The Commodities Futures Trading Commission and the Commodities Exchange Act, which gives the CFTC the power to curb "excessive speculation." Of course, banks don't want this, and both parties tend to do what the banks want, so don't expect the oil traders to be reeled in anytime soon.

The fact that oil- all oil- is traded internationally also means that even if we drill in everybody's back yard in America, the oil goes where the money is. Right now, a lot of it is in China. US refineries already sell off some of their inventory to foreign markets, like Japan, for example. At one point, up to 20% of oil being refined in the US was being exported, even while gas prices continued to rise. China's increasing economic growth means their demand for oil is skyrocketing, which also drives up the price here.

So, if McCain had won, the price of gas at your corner Gas n' Sip wouldn't have gone down much, if at all. (Unless, of course, McCain didn't bail out the banks like Obama did, and the country slid into a complete depression, which it probably would have. Then gas prices would have gone down, but it wouldn't matter to you, because you'd be living in your car, not driving it.)

Another Big Lie the GOP has been telling for years to sop up votes is that lowering taxes will bring the jobs. And especially lowering taxes on the rich, the "job-creators" (you know, like Kim Kardashian and the cast of 'Jersey Shore') Since 1980, this has been the Holy Grail of the Republican Party, first put forth by Saint Reagan, who, bless his soul, was probably not in charge of much by his second term. This Lie is very effective on the middle class in America, because as it has been stated before, the problem with the American Dream is that everybody thinks they're going to be rich someday. Unfortunately, you have a better chance of upward mobility if you live in France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway, or Denmark than you do living here in America. (All countries that are far more Socialist than the U.S. and pay higher taxes, by the way.)

Well, we have the lowest taxes in decades. One question- where are the jobs? It was a simple equation put forth by the GOP- Less Taxes=More Jobs. But, it appears math is not their strong suit. Again, taxes are lower than under Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, or W- where are the jobs? Instead, we get once more get the Blame-the-Democrats-When-Our-Ideas-Are-Proven-To-Be-Wrong-Again. Now it's those strangling regulations that are hurting businesses, like the EPA that Bachmann has vowed to dismantle if elected. (Better distill that tap water before you drink it!) Want to see what it looks like when businesses don't have to deal with environmental regulations? Visit industrial parks in Mexico or India, and then decide if that's what you want here.
Or, it's the claim that businesses are being 'over-taxed' by the Democrats, and America has the highest corporate tax in the world. This despite the roughly 50% of business that paid ZERO taxes last year including (surprise!) ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Boeing, and Bank of America. (Yeah, I know- they all contributed to Obama. THAT'S how it happened.) Many of these companies are also sitting on billions in assets.

So, low taxes- where are the jobs? Well, you only have to look at the label in your shirt or the 'made in' on the side of whatever you just bought at Target for the answer to that.

I could list other examples, but if you're not mad by now, or remain unconvinced, then you're probably not going to change your mind, no matter how many facts I throw at you. I'm sure you have your reasons. And, hey, sometimes believing the lie is easier than facing reality. I know- I've been there in relationships with people. The difference is, I didn't vote for them before they screwed me.


05 August 2011

Happy Birthday, Baby! These Albums Turn 20 This Year

It was 20 years ago this year that these seminal albums were released. Please feel free to add any important albums in your life that were released in 1991 that I've overlooked.

U2 - Achtung Baby

"The sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree" was how Bono first described the album. U2 found their sense of irony, (and discovered techno, loops, and hip hop), and in doing so released a record that many critics still place in the top 10 albums of all time. Recorded mostly in East Berlin at Hansa Studios (a former SS ballroom) during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, the band nearly dissolved while trying to reinvent themselves. Only after the song "One" emerged did the finally come together musically.
I was picking my friend Aaron up from the airport, and was hungover from the night before and running late. Aaron had been waiting for the better part of an hour when we (I can't recall which friend I had with me- Kas? Chris?) showed up. Aaron, (the biggest U2 fan of all of my friends- your welcome, Aaron) was understandably pissed off as he climbed into the back seat. I told him to shut up and listen, and popped the cassette single of The Fly into the tape deck. We drove off into the night as Aaron sat gobsmacked at the sound that came from the speakers.

Nirvana- Nevermind

When Nevermind was released by Geffen Records in 1991, they originally released about 46,000 copies in the US, hoping that, with luck, the album would be gold after a year. Instead, by early 1992, Nirvana had knocked Michael Jackson's Dangerous off the top of the Billboard charts, an apt metaphor for what they did to most of the sound of the 80's.
Like many defining moments in your life, I didn't realize this one until it had passed. Nirvana was just one more great band I was listening to in the early 90's. It didn't occur to me that they had exposed many of the Hair Bands of the 80's for the poseurs that they were- I was just enjoying the music coming out of the radio, and being 21. Just like the music scene of the time, life was just going to get better and better, right? Being naïve gives you such energy...

Pearl Jam - Ten

How many rock singers still try and sound like Eddie Vedder to this day? Even more than Nirvana at the time, Pearl Jam's sound is what the media dubbed "grunge". Though the sound was slightly more produced than Nirvana, I listened to this album more in the beginning than Nevermind. Twenty years later, this is still a very solid band, with many, many great albums under their belt. They have proven to their critics that they are much bigger than the sound they helped to originate.

REM - Out of Time

"That's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight, losing my religion." Michael Stipe appropriately sang on REM's first album to reach number one in America. This album was in the middle of the trio of records including Green and Automatic for the People that would mark the creative and popular high point for the band. REM were suddenly selling out stadiums, which was incredible to those of us who first saw them in high school auditoriums.
They had always been one of my favorite bands, and this became one more album of my soundtrack in college that was constantly playing. Strangely, more than other bands of the era, REM is now one I probably listen to the least. Not sure why that is- they just don't appear on my playlists anymore. I listened to this one again while writing this, however, and distance has made my heart grow fonder. It's such a strong album. I know that they've released many great records since, but, what was the last REM album that you purchased?

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik

I don't think I went to a party in 1992 where this album wasn't playing at some point. This was the album that exploded RHCPs into the mainstream, and had housewives and moms singing along to a tune about shooting heroin under a bridge in downtown LA. Guided by the amazing hip-hop producer Rick Rubin, the album has sold over 13 million copies. All of the success and fame nearly destroyed the band, as members sank into depression and addiction, with guitarist John Frusciante leaving the band mid-tour. But for a brief, amazing time in 1991, you could, depending on which show you caught, see Nirvana, Pearl Jam, or the Smashing Pumpkins open for the Chili Peppers.

Primal Scream - Screamadelica

"We wanna get loaded, and we wanna have a good time. And that's what we're gonna do."
Go to your iTunes or YouTube right now, put on 'Loaded' or 'Movin' On Up', and try not to smile and shake your ass a little. Though they're a Scottish band, Primal Scream tapped into the other sound of the early 90's that was all to brief in the US, Madchester, which also included the Charlatans UK, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, James, and New Order. Primal Scream was probably the best received of the lot, with their sound being described by one critic as "of its time and timeless." I'm listening to all of these as I write this, and I will be happier all day as a result.

Massive Attack - Blue Lines

This album has been called "trip hop before we knew we were listening to trip hop." I admittedly didn't get into them until a few years later, but I did get into all the other groups that they had influenced or morphed into, especially Portishead. This is also one of the best albums to have in your mix when driving long distances.

Prince - Diamonds and Pearls

I include this because I consider it the last great Price album, and one of the last to release great singles- 'Get Off', 'Cream,' 'Money Don't Matter 2 Night.' I just saw his show in LA recently, and amazingly, he's better in his 50's than he was in his 20's. As with REM, (who recorded part of 'Out of Time' at Prince's Paisley Park Studios), I didn't really buy any Prince albums after this one, especially after he went off the rails a bit and started writing 'Slave' on his cheek.

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory

"You on point, Phife?" "All the time, Tip."
The soothing sounds of Q-Tip. Also a standard at parties for the following year, and in my CD collection. Thanks to my friend Scott Dacko for introducing me to them as well as De La Soul.

Pixies - Trompe le Monde

This is not my favorite album by the band, but it would not seem right to have their last album not make the list, and it was certainly one of the best records in a really great year for music. (And especially the autumn- sophomore year in college was an embarrassment of riches musically!) Despite my opinion, the record was called "one of the best albums that you may very well ever hear." Like Nirvana, I didn't appreciate what we had till it was gone. Unlike Nirvana, the Pixies went on to tour again. Ah, what could have been...

Also released in 1991-

Smashing Pumpkins- Gish-28.May.1991
Metallica- Metallica (The Black Album)-12.Aug.1991
N.W.A- Niggaz4Life- 28.May.1991
Guns N' Roses- Use Your Illusion I&II -17.Sep.1991
Crowded House - Woodface - 2.Jul.1991
Sting - The Soul Cages -22.Jan.1991
Michael Jackson - Dangerous - 26.Nov.1991
Big Audio Dynamite II - The Globe - 16.Jun.1991
De La Soul - De La Soul is Dead - 13.May.1991
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Into the Great Wide Open - 02.Jul.1991
Jesus Jones- Doubt - 29.Jan.1991
Garth Brooks - Ropin' the Wind - 10.Sep.1991
Elvis Costello - Mighty Like a Rose - 14.May.1991

25 January 2011

"What's the Deal With The Payphone Pics, John?"

I'm glad you asked! The "Payphone Series" is an art installation I'm doing on facebook. Obviously, payphones will soon be a thing of the past, like CRT TVs, Yellow Pages, CDs, and dial up modems. What's interesting about it to me is that at this particular point in time, you can see them fading away. They were once as common as fire hydrants, but now more often than not, you find phones that are broken, vandalized, completely gone, or, as I'm finding quite a few of, "ghost phones", where the signage and post remain, but the phone itself is gone. It's only a matter of time until the phone companies or municipalities remove the last traces of the phones.

My goal is the arbitrary and totally capricious number of 1001 pictures in one year. Afterward, I plan on producing hard copies of of all the shots to display somewhere. Probably my living room.

I'm sure that I could find 1001 old phones in the Los Angeles area, as once you start looking, you see them everywhere. However, I have friends from all over the world and about 22 different states in the US on facebook. It would make the project more interesting and fun if I could get shots from all these varied places.

So, if you happen upon the remains of an old payphone, I would love it if you would get out your phone and snap a pic for me. If you have a $2000 DSLR camera, awesome. If you have an old flip phone with a camera on it, even better. Send them my way. Full disclosure- you will of course always receive photo credit and my eternal gratitude. However, I will hold the copyright to all the images. What does that mean to you? If you take a pic that is so incredible that you're sure it will win the Pulitzer Prize, keep it and send me the crappier shot.

You can send any photos to my facebook page, here, or my e-mail, john_durham3@yahoo.com.
Please include a general location or address of the phone.

Thanks in advance to anyone who sends a pic, and I can't wait to hear from you New York, Munich, Paris, Charlotte, Dallas, San Francisco (thanks Aaron!), Perth, Toronto, Atlanta, Varberg, Raleigh, Washington, D.C., Boston, Lawrence, Oxford, Bournemouth, Winston-Salem, Los Angeles, Providence, Richmond, London, Norfolk, etc, etc, etc...