Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Blog Freedom

A Marquette University student has been suspended for the rest of the 2005-06 academic year after a committee of professors, administrators and students determined that he violated professional conduct codes by posting negative comments about unnamed students and professors on a blog. Read a news article about it here.

This is an outrageous action by Marquette. If anything, higher education should promote the marketplace of ideas. It is all the more outrageous because it occurred outside of the school's domain. With the rationale for this decision, students could be suspended for merely speaking critically about their instructors or classmates. Nothing could be more inappropriate for an educational environment.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

"If you dig deep enough, everyone has a reason to be miserable at Christmas." -- Jim Carrey

Politically Correct Seasons Greetings by the Lawyers of America via the LBN Alert:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious or secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. And a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2006, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great,(not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only "AMERICA" in the western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform or sexual preference of the wishee.- DISCLAIMER OF WARRANTABILITY - By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first. Warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

I hope you all managed to survive this year's celebration of the birth of capitalism. Enjoy your eleven month reprieve.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I Heart Humbugary

It's the end of December, that time of the year when non-Christians are subjected to public displays of religious affection (or affliction) so grotesque they belong in a Mel Gibson film; the time in which we are looked upon like hethanistic monsters for not celebrating the birth of the Great Dictator; the time in which separation of church and state is tossed away as public grounds and resources are used to endorse and establish a state religion.

In the spirit of religious irreverence, I am happy to present Christopher Hitchens' latest diatribe on Christmas. An excerpt:

A revealing mark of [the Christian's] insecurity is their rage when public places are not annually given over to religious symbolism, and now, their fresh rage when palaces of private consumption do not follow suit. The Fox News campaign against Wal-Mart and other outlets—whose observance of the official feast-day is otherwise fanatical and punctilious to a degree, but a degree that falls short of unswerving orthodoxy—is one of the most sinister as well as one of the most laughable campaigns on record. If these dolts knew anything about the real Protestant tradition, they would know that it was exactly this paganism and corruption that led Oliver Cromwell—my own favorite Protestant fundamentalist—to ban the celebration of Christmas altogether.

It is indeed the most horrible time of the year, but if we stick together and remember that it will be over in three days, we'll make it through.

Spreading Theocracy One Country at a Time

The elections have come and gone, and so has secularism in Iraq.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Stretching newfound democratic muscle upon their first chance to elect a full-term government, Iraqis overwhelmingly threw their support behind religious parties defined along sectarian lines and ethnicity. A bloc of Shiite religious parties close to Iran has, according to results released Tuesday, attracted the largest percentage of voters . . . With more than three-quarters of the country giving a vote of confidence to Islamist parties, last Thursday's vote raises the prospect of Iraq being more overtly religious than ever before. The ideological orientation of the two leading vote-getters means Washington may have to work with a government of leaders who have resented the US presence here and demanded some kind of timetable for a troop withdrawal.

Initially I was against the invasion of Iraq. The WMD threat was obviously nonsense to anyone who cared to do a little bit of research and control of the nation did not appear to have much tactical advantage, especially given that Afghanistan was and is unstable. Invasion of Iraq was a stupid decision that would be a waste of lives and resources.

Once we were committed and had destroyed the nation's infastructure, it was incumbent upon the United States to rebuild it, or end up with another Afghanistan. A hard reality of history, one my liberal colleagues may not swallow, is that time will forgive any atrocity. The Roman Empire, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Alexander the Great, as destructive as they were, are now remembered with a great deal of respect because they were able to make positive, long-term changes in the lands that they conquered. Most recently, the legitimacy of the operation in Iraq has been sold to the people of the United States on the grounds that it would improve the region. As faulty as the domino theory is, setting up a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and in a country with major oil resources, was not the worst idea and as a long term strategy it was preferable to continuing the sanctions.

If these preliminary results are correct (and they appear to be) then the mission in Iraq is now a complete failure. We have brought democracy to the country and the people have chosen to make their government a theocracy. Theocracy and democracy cannot coexist peacefully, either within or between nations. The authority of a democracy resides in the people. The authority of a theocracy resides in the religious hierarchy. The men and women who initiated and led this campaign in Iraq mistakenly believed that if the people of Iraq were left to make up their own minds that they would chose a system that is a-religious and thus like the US model. That did not happen.

Now the Bush Administration's hope of being like Alexander the Great or Napoleon have been squashed. Had we cut and run after toppling Saddam Hussein, Iraq would likely have disintegrated and fell into a theocractic state. We stayed and let democracy play itself out and got the same result. Let that be a lesson to those who carelessly champion freedom above all else. Freedom is a burden and it will quickly be given up in favor of security, whether it is real or an illusion.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Season of Miracles

For once there is some positive news to report:

The court decision is in: Intelligent design is not a science.

The Senators who should be leading the Democratic party are finally raising their voices and getting attention.

If the Democrats are willing to use their newfound spine, Snoopgate could finally be the offense that gets President Bush impeached.

And finally, in the spirit of the season, beware of drunk and rioting Santas! Read more about them here.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Save a Flag, Burn the Constitution

While Bill Clinton was in the White House I was one of his defenders, if for no other reason than that the impeachment proceedings of 1998 were an abuse of power by the Republican leadership. While I stand by my defense of Bill Clinton during these proceedings, his presidency was a mixed bag. On one hand he was the only president in the past thirty years to deliver a balanced budget, he took steps for gay rights, and he made great strides toward peace in the middle east. On the other hand the Clinton administration was also the presidency of the Waco disaster, the Rwanda massacre, and the 1996 Telecommunications Act. I say this to demonstrate that I am not among the rabid Clinton-haters, but I do have a critical outlook on the politics of Democrats and Republicans.

Starting next year, Democratic presidential candidates will begin their bids for the 2008 ticket. Among them is Hillary Clinton. While I am not a Hillary hater, I do not support her bid for presidency. If people thought John Kerry was a flip flopper, Hillary Clinton is a double-flip cartwheeler. And this week she made an excellent demonstration of that.

In June, Hillary Clinton made a statement that noted that she supported legislation that banned flag burning but did not support a constitutional amendment. This week she followed through on that stance by co-sponsoring a bill that would criminalize flag desecration.

By sponsoring this bill she is arguing that, on principle, the federal government should have the ability to forbid certain forms of speech, even if it is not a threat to national security and does not constitute legal precedents for obscenity. As a federal law all states would be bound to follow this legislation, so the only distinction between the bill Senator Clinton is co-sponsoring and a constitutional amendment is that the former is doomed to failure, as the Supreme Court has already ruled such amendments unconstitutional. Only changing the document itself will make such a law legal but the principle underneath is still the same.

The only reasonable explanations for Clinton's decision are that she realizes the futility of the law and will sign onto it to pander to conservatives and centrist in order to make herself more appealing for a presidential run. After two unsuccessful presidential campaigns built on the same strategy, will the Democrats have finally learned their lesson? Let's hope so. Otherwise we may be faced with another four years of this.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Gifts for the Holiday

Free Thinkers website has a helpful and satirical guide for buying gifts this holiday season. After all, we are supposed to remember the reason for the season, right? Here are a couple of actual items from Divine Interventions:

The Virgin Mary Dildo

Now here are some gifts that keep on giving and they would make wonderful supplements for a nativity scene in the living room. Enjoy the holiday season.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Gluttony Day!

Best wishes to you and yours as you stuff mouths with food. If you are looking for a few prompts for pre-dining speeches, here is a list of a few things to be thankful for:

I hope that gives you some Thanksgiving inspiration. Now tear into that bird.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Check Out Static Magazine

The new issue of Static magazine contains two articles written by me. First is an interview with Gavin Baddeley, reverend in the Church of Satan and author of the books Lucifer Rising, Goth Chic, and the upcoming The Gospel of Filth. Gavin discusses his new book and enduring appeaal of the darkness. The second piece is a critical article of Rob Zombie's film The Devil's Rejects in which I take a look at the political undertones of the film.

Static is available for free throughout the southern Minnesota area.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Samhain

Here's wishing everyone a pleasant, fulfilling, and indulgent Samhain!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Devil's Night Interviews

I have conducted two exciting interviews that will run on 89.7 KMSU FM on October 30th.



First is with author Peter Bracke, author of Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. This is a beautiful book and constitutes the definitive history of the series. Bracke discussed the production of the book, the cultural and commercial legacy of Friday the 13th, and the future of the franchise. The interview will air as a part of Maverick at the Movies between 11am and noon (CST) on Sunday, October 30th.



Second is an interview with Magistra Peggy Nadramia, a high priestess in the Church of Satan. Magistra Nadramia spoke about the form and function of satanic rituals and the interview is followed by a broadcast of "The Satanic Mass" as recorded by Anton LaVey. The program will air at 11pm (CST) on Sunday, October 30th.

Both programs can be heard on 89.7 KMSU FM in the southern Minnesota area or online here.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Intelligent Arguments

The Intelligent Design trial in Pennsylvania recently featured testimony by Michael J. Behe, one of the lead architects of the theory. In his testimony he "acknowledged that under his definition of a scientific theory, astrology would fit as neatly as intelligent design" and said "'Intelligent design is certainly not the dominant view of the scientific community.'" These two statements are major strikes against many of the advocates of Intelligent Design, who often claim that Intelligent Design is not religion and that the theory has scientific backing.

Satire has a way of making arguments clearer.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Politics of Denial

Right now the talking heads on television are obsessed with discussing the nomination of Harriet Miers for Supreme Court justice. A worthy debate, although the ADD media has once again drowned out all other news stories, like the situation in Iraq.

Much has been made about Miers close ties to the President and her lack of experience; even Ann Coulter, who has typically been a defender of the administration, has protested the nomination. Christopher Hitchens has written a piece on the subject from a slightly different angle. While it is well known that Miers is a conservative Christian, her nomination is not that different from John Robberts, who, according to Hitchens, once said that if a conflict arose between the law and the teachings of the Vatican, he would recuse himself. If Roberts is unable to separate his faith from a matter of secular law, why is he a justice at any level? This is the kind of question that should have been asked of Roberts during his hearing process, one I am hoping that our senators will raise during Miers' hearing. We should not be surprised that Bush has nominated Christian for the post. For Bush, her religious zeal is her qualification to serve on the bench.

This article describes a Bush's press conference to defend the attacks on the nomination:

"'Of all the people in the United States you had to choose from, is Harriet Miers the most qualified to serve on the Supreme Court?' Mr. Bush was asked. 'Yes' he answered. Has he ever discussed abortion with her? 'Not to my recollection.' How much political capital does he have left? 'Plenty.' With a straight face he promised that Ms. Miers was 'not going to change' and that '20 years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she is today.' Even were that a praiseworthy attribute, it would still contradict the history of a woman who abandoned her Roman Catholic faith for evangelical Christianity and the Democratic Party for the Republicans."

With outrage coming from the right and the left, I don't feel so concerned about this nomination because I do not think it is going anywhere. But what does concern me is the level to which this president is disconnected from reality.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Passion of the Penguins

Here is an article from Andrew Sullivan about The March of the Penguins. Apparently conservatives are using it to argue for intelligent design and as proof for the nuclear family as a "natural" state of familial relationships. An excerpt:

"Religious right radio host Michael Medved gushed in the New York Times that this was the best movie for evangelical Christians since Mel Gibson flayed the skin off Jim Caviezel. The penguin pic was "the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing," he argued, explaining its widespread appeal among white evangelicals. 'This is the first movie they've enjoyed since 'The Passion of the Christ.' This is 'The Passion of the Penguins.'' Don't worry. You don't get to see penguins nailed to icebergs. But the message is the same, apparently. Other evangelicals have touted the film's gorgeous story as an example of 'intelligent design,' the pseudo-scientific doctrine that evolution is a myth. To which the sane conservative pundit, George Will, replied, 'If an Intelligent Designer designed nature, why did it decide to make breeding so tedious for those penguins?' Undeterred, one of the chief campaigners against gay marriage, Maggie Gallagher, also hailed the film. '[I]t is hard not to see the theological overtones in the movie,' she wrote. 'Beauty, goodness, love and devotion are all part of nature, built into the DNA of the universe. Even in the harshest place on the Earth (like 21st-century America?), love will not only endure, it will triumph.'"

To put Will's comment more bluntly, what precisely is intelligent about designing penguins to march seventy miles across the harshest terrain on the planet to fuck on an iceberg?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Exorcising the Facts Out of Emily Rose

To be clear from the start, I am not picky about details when it comes to adapting real life to the cinema. I am perfectly willing to accept historical alterations done in the name of entertainment. Combining characters, collapsing events, or changing the facts may be acceptable within the context of the film is they make for a better story. Ridley Scott's changes to Roman history in Gladiator made sense because they served the story and were mostly inconsequential. Braveheart was a film about the legend of William Wallace, not the historical figure, and some artistic license was perfectly acceptable in that context.

That said, we do need to consider what implications changes have to the presentation of historical events. The Patriot's rewriting American history has been called racist and fascistic for its white washing of slavery and barbaric portrayal of the English.

To those who will say, "Nathan, it's only a movie," I respond, the movies are our history books. They create and recreate how we view our history and ourselves. All forms of artistic expression do this. Tell African Americans that The Birth of a Nation is just a movie. Tell an Israelite that The Eternal Jew is just a movie. Both pieces of cinema, although artistically and historically important, also create a new history that replaces our true past.

Now enter The Exorcism of Emily Rose. If the film was marketed as the fictional piece that it is, I would have no problem with it. The trouble I am having with the film's marketing strategy and the film itself is in its misrepresentation of the events it portrays. The trailers, the website, and the opening and closing of the film announce that the story is based on true events. Well, yes and no. Here is a list of some of the changes from life to screen (SPOILER ALERT):
  • Her real name was Anneliese Miche, and she lived in Klingenberg, Germany from 1952-1976. The film has named her Emily Rose and placed the events in rural Minnesota, USA in contemporary times.
  • In the summer of 1973, Anneliese's parents visited different pastors to request an exorcism and did not have the request granted until 1975. The parents were given recommendations that Anneliese should continue with medication and treatment. In the film, the request is granted almost immediately.
  • At some point Anneliese began talking increasingly about dying to atone for the wayward youth of the day and the apostate priests of the church. The film gives no hint that she had these kind of worldly concerns.
  • Though she had received treatment for epilepsy, at Anneliese's request doctors were no longer consulted. She, her parents, and the exorcists decided to rely completely on exorcism.
  • In the film only one exorcism is performed and it is performed with Emily's permission. Anneliese had one or two exorcism sessions were held each week between September 1975 until July 1976.
  • During the ten months of weekly exorcisms, Anneliese attacks got worse.
  • Anneliese's parents and the two exorcists were accused of negligent homicide. In the film, just a single priest is charged.
  • Psychiatrists who had been ordered to testify by the court, spoke about "Doctrinaire Induction," that the priests had provided Anneliese with the contents of her psychotic behavior and she later accepted her behavior as a form of demonic possession. They also argued that Anneliese's troubled sexual development (possibly a side effect of her strict religious upbringing), along with her diagnosed Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, had influenced the psychosis. This is partly addressed in the film, but it waters down the secular explanation and gives it to a prosecutor whose character is belligerent.
  • Anneliese's parents and the exorcists were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence. They were sentenced to 6 months in jail and probation. The opinion of the court stated that the accused should have helped Anneliese by taking care of the medical treatment that the girl needed. In the film the priest is found guilty but the jury recommends a sentence of time served.
  • A commission of the German Bishop-Conference later declared that Anneliese Michel was not possessed. The film does not mention this.

(END SPOILER ALERT)

As I said, I am not someone who demands the factual truth from film but those going into The Exorcism of Emily Rose should be aware that the picture, although based on some facts, is a piece of fiction and should be regarded as such. To say that Emily Rose or Anneliese Michel was proof of possession or other supernatural activity is almost as uninformed and as idiotic as arguing for intelligent design.

Overall, I did actually enjoy this film, but for its fun and scary qualities. Here is my review from Maverick at the Movies:

What Works: For most of the story, the film walks the line between secularism and religiosity. This keeps the interest up and makes the film accessible to a wider audience. Tom Wilkinson gives another great performance as the priest whose firm belief sells the seriousness of the supposed supernatural threat without falling into priest stereotypes. Linney's possible encounters with the supernatural are subjective enough that they are engaging and enhance the creepiness.

What Doesn't: This film is being marketed as though it is The Exorcist but this is more of a courtroom drama than a horror film. Emily Rose has serious problems with objectivity and subjectivity. The exorcism and all events leading to it are told in flashback through courtroom testimonies. The film's visual presentation of the events does not take advantage or even address the issues of point of view or the subjectivity of memory, and instead presents the events through an objective lens . This is gives the viewer a false impression of the nature of the event and makes its conflicts much simpler than they could have be, especially since the story is probing the relationship between facts and beliefs . At the film's conclusion, the evenhandedness that is part of the film's intrigue is dropped and when it is, the film slips into moments of religious proselytizing.

Bottom Line: Despite these problems, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is able to successfully combine the courtroom and horror genres, which makes it unique. Some of its storytelling follows predictable X-Files and Law and Order conventions and in the end it gives up the ambiguity that carries it in the middle, but it is entertaining and should be enjoyed by those who liked The Exorcist or The Devil's Advocate.

Lastly, here is something relevant to Anneliese Michel and relates back to my earlier comments on the impact of art to create perceptiontion of reality. In 1974, just before the final events of Michel's life unfolded, The Exorcist came to the cinemas and after its release paranormal hysteria flooded many Christian cultures, including America and Germany. Psychiatrists reported an increase of demonic ideas among their patients.

Anneliese Michel Links

"The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel" at About.com

The Real Emily Rose

"What in God's Name?" from The Washington Post

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Grid Has Been Shattered

Reading the various reports on the situation in New Orleans has given me an opportunity to consider on of my favorite topics, the relationship between savagery and civilization. I had not watched the footage or read many of the news stories until now. While the damage to people's lives from the storm is tragic, of greater interest to me has been the reaction of those who have been suddenly thrust into refugee status. Several major elements have been introduced into this situation and the combination could be more disastrous than the hurricane:
  • People have no food, no shelter, and no means to get these things on their own civilly.
  • The social structures that were in place to provide basic needs have been destroyed or undermined to such a degree that they cannot help the people.
  • There is no relief in the near future and most means of mass communication have been destroyed, so mobilizing or calming the people is impossible.

This combination is so dangerous because people will do anything to survive and if the social structures have failed the people or appear to have failed the people, then the fragile premise that maintains any democracy or any governing body--that the people will submit to the authority of the state in exchange for its protection--is gone. And once it is gone, forget law, forget order, forget propriety, and certainly forget ethics or morality. These things are only possible in a community that has a collective charter. And in New Orleans that charter has been all but washed away.

I was reminded of one of my favorite observations from one of my favorite storytellers, Wes Craven:
"It seems to me that the things the move us historically, both personally and nationally, are those things that are not on the grid of rationality. Having traveled now in a lot of third world countries, you see that every civilization has its own grid of what it thinks reality is, and what is proper behavior, and what is civilized. And usually what happens is sooner or later that grid is shattered. Something like World War II happens, or we wipe out the Native American population, or Spain invades South America and decimates every living creature there and takes over. And then suddenly the grid is back and we're civilized and we're religious and we're this and we're that but there seems to be a deeper grid that I've tried to find, and that is how the engine of life really works. And I think it works a lot off of violence, like it or not, and it works a lot off of things that are not rational, and are very difficult to perceive, and in some ways can only be adumbrated or sketched and shadow played in horror films. And it's not something I'm terribly happy about. I wish the world did run so there weren't Bosnias and there weren't Rwandas, and there weren't Selmas, but that seems to be the way it goes about its business at significant times."

What we are witnessing is historic. Time will tell if it has the same kind of cultural aftershocks as the September 11th attack. I link the two events because I see a connection. On 9/11, Americans had a taste of war in their own country, something that had not occurred on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor and had not been experienced as sustained violence since the end of the Civil War. It shook our confidence in our security and made us aware and fearful of those on the outside wishing to do us harm. Likewise, Hurricane Katrina reminds us that despite our technological advances, in a matter of hours nature can still destroy all we've built. The violence and lawlessness of those left in its wake reminds us that the horde inside can be as dangerous as the one on the outside.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Turn About is Fair Play

As a follow up to my previous post about Pat Robertson calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the Latin American leader has offered aid to the Americans affected by Hurricane Katrina. It's understandable now why the political right hates Chavez so much. He's offering the people access to food and health care. The man must be stopped.

I will have further observations about the disaster at a later time. For now, consider this.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Just Kidding, But Not Really

Showing his true colors, Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In the video message, Robertson said, "We have the ability to take him out and I think it's time we exercise that ability."

Today Robertson apologized for the remark, first denying that he had called for the assassination and later coming to a full blown recant, but in characteristically backwards fashion. In a statement on his website, Robertson said, "Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

For your convenience here is a breakdown of the leaps in logic of this statement:

1. "Is it right to call for assassination?"
Robertson posses the ethical question.

2. "No, and I apologize for that statement."
Robertson answers the ethical question, and concludes that calling for an assassination was ethically wrong.

3. "I spoke in frustration . . ."
Robertson begins an explanation of why he made the statement he admitted was ethically wrong . . .

4. ". . . that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."
. . . and concludes that we should kill the man, in contradiction to the ethical principle he enunciated in the first statement, and effectively restates the position he claimed to recant and apologize for.

This remark by Robertson is the latest in a string of controversial comments. Ron Hutchinson of Knight-Ridder newspapers noted:
  • He suggested that the September 11th terrorist attacks occurred because "we have insulted God at the highest level of our government."
  • He once warned Orlando, Florida that God might send hurricanes its way if Disney World continued to recognize gay-pride events.
  • He has said feminism encourages women to kill their children and become lesbians.
  • He once called for blowing up the State Department with a nuclear device.
  • He said he considered liberal judges a more serious threat to America than "a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings."
More recently Robertson joined conservatives in spreading misinformation in the Terri Schiavo case and encouraged his followers to pray that Supreme Court justices retire so that they can be replaced by conservatives.

What does all of this mean? It seems rather anticlimactic to say that Robertson is an idiot or an extremist. That's fairly obvious. What needs to be taken into account is the mass audience that Robertson has. Thet 700 Club reaches 1 million viewers with each episode. Robertson is still a powerful political figure in America.

Now consider this excerpt:

"Praise be to God, who revealed the Book, controls the clouds, defeats factionalism, and says in His Book 'But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)' . . . The Arabian Peninsula has never--since God made it flat, created its desert, and encircled it with seas--been stormed by any forces like the crusader armies now spreading in it like locusts, consuming its riches and destroying its plantations. All this is happening at a time when nations are attacking Muslims like people fighting over a plate of food. In the light of the grave situation and the lack of support, we and you are obliged to discuss current events, and we should all agree on how to settle the matter . . .The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim."

This is taken from Osama bin Laden's fatwa on America. Read closely and find the ideas behind the quote. According to this excerpt, God's chosen people have the obligation to kill those in other countries who threaten their homeland.

This is the same argument that Robertson used in his video statement on President Chavez. Religious zealots are cut from the same cloth.

As final note, Robertson's remarks elicited interesting reaction from the White House. Donald Rumsfeld commented that "Our department doesn't do that kind of thing. It's against the law," and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the comments "inappropriate" and incompatible with U.S. policy. You know you've gone too far to the right when even the Bush administration does not want to invade.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Nothing More Suspicious Than a Clean Record

Slate has two articles on the nomination of John Roberts for Supreme Court Justice. Dahlia Lithwick's article explores Roberts' mild personal history, painting him as a man who "didn't want the White House to do anything reckless and stupid that would look bad in the history books" and who has lived a life so void of controversy that it would appear hard to pin him down. Emily Bazelon's article finds some suspicion in Roberts' squeaky clean record. According to her, "Leftish advocates . . . wrinkle their noses at justices who overtly seek to impose a rightward agenda (Antonin Scalia) and are willing to jettison past decisions to do it (Clarence Thomas). Roberts has never declared himself one of the bad guys . . . Instead he has styled himself as deliberate, lawyerly, process-oriented." This style is supported by most of his political actions.

While it may sound good, Roberts is also an unlikely choice. The Bush administration has largely been characterized by politicians on the far right (John Bolton, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft) with extreme positions. For them to suddenly pick an apparent moderate could be a sign that they are opening up, or it could be that the administration was not prepared to engage in a huge fight over the nomination. Or perhaps it is a distraction, like an act of misdirection during a magic trick, that allows the administration to do one thing while saying another.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

This is Why We Broke Away

Lately the UK has been having some troubles with civil liberties. I know they do not have all of the same protections granted to us by our own Constitution, but the latest political moves by our ally seem like they have more in common with those we are fighting.

In the continuing assault on free speech under the guise of public decency, an opera about Jerry Springer is now the subject of controversy in Britain. The musical is unlikely to reach the States. Richard Thomas, composer of the opera, astutely observed, "When the Right in America protest, it ends in a global conflict with thousands of civilian deaths."

This isn't Britain's only problem with civil liberties. Their legislature is attempting to pass a bill that would make incitement of religious hatred punishable by seven years in prison. While they insist that it is not aimed at criticism or commentary on religions, the potential chilling effect on speech is enormous.

And lest we forget last month's shooting of a Brazilian in the British subway, which Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair called "directly linked to the ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist operation."

Now we can see why Bush and Tony Blair get along so well. They both hate liberals for their freedom.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The War Against Rhetoric

The White House has recently decided that the term "War on Terror"has outlived its usefulness and so they are changing the slogan to the "Struggle Against Extremism." This seems reminiscent of the differences between Catholicism's and Episcopalian Christianity; it is the same product but in a new package with half the guilt. War has violent connotations and with the popularity of the Iraq War falling, a change in rhetoric is needed. Struggle is not much better but it can imply a moral imperative and the word does have that element of martyrdom to it that the Christians find so appealing.

The administration will need to watch that they don't start urinating on their own leg. After all, Americans love their wars and the fight against extremism starts at home.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Next Time You Go Over My Head, Use a Ladder

Today John Bolton was appointed as the US ambassador to the United Nations. For months, Democrats and moderate Republicans had objected to Bolton's nomination for this post and had filibustered the vote. Bush waited until the Congress was in recess and then used an executive power that grants him the ability to fill the positions without approval.

Here are some of the objections to Bolton's nomination:
When Bill Clinton was in office, he was beleaguered by accusations that he abused the powers of his office. This action by President Bush surpasses any audaciousness of Clinton's. Some will call it brave and decisive. I call backhanded, cowardly, and insulting. But this behavior is par for the course for an administration that has continuously evaded accountability. And Bolton's track record of fixing the facts to fit ideology makes him a poster boy for the entire executive branch.

The good news is that appointments without congressional approval are limited and Bolton's appointment will be revisited at the end of 2006.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Best Movie of the Summer?



The Devil's Rejects, directed by Rob Zombie, is one of the best films this summer. Zombie's unwillingness to compromise his work and his abandon of all moral or ethical lines is, at the very least, extremely brave and his portrayal of the disintegration of the line between hero and villain demonstrates more artistic integrity than many Hollywood productions. I have not seen a horror film this intense since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

The Devil's Rejects has a much stronger narrative than House of 1000 Corpses and it abandons the semi-cartoonish look of the original film in favor of a grittier style of cinematography. William Forsythe almost steals the show in his intense portrayal of a law-abiding sheriff who loses his way ethically and morally while in pursuit of the Firefuly family. This is the true strength of the film; it starts as a conventional good versus evil tale but over the course of the story this turns on itself and the film muddles the distinction between good and evil to such a degree that the two are indistinguishable.

With this film Rob Zombie has clearly demonstrated his promise as a filmmaker and delivered a picture that is being received with the same kind of praise and controversy of Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. Consider these reactions from rottentomatoes.com:

"The Devil's Rejects will repel many but will thrill the fans and the daring. I think Rob Zombie has an instant horror classic on his hands."
-- Robin Clifford, REELING REVIEWS

"A reprehensible and loathsome journey of excess...Any redeeming value is well hidden."
-- Edward Douglas, COMINGSOON.NET

"It is possible to be repulsed by The Devil's Rejects while acknowledging it as an effective, high-quality piece of work."
-- Terry Lawson, DETROIT FREE PRESS

"If The Sun allowed me to give a star rating of less than zero, this one would earn a minus-infinity. It is that stupid, that vile, that violent, that hateful, that disgusting, that dangerous."
-- Bruce Kirkland, JAM! MOVIES

"One nasty, brilliantly constructed scene after another."
--Chris Hewitt (St. Paul), ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS

"Irredeemable trash, plain and simple, gratuitously violent and sadistic and aimed at people who derive entertainment from watching other human beings suffer."
-- Bill Muller, ARIZONA REPUBLIC

These are the kinds of reviews a filmmaker like Zombie dreams about.

Monday, July 18, 2005

All the News That's Fit to Print

This past weekend was one of the bloodiest in Iraq since the invasion. It is estimated that 150 Iraqis and coalition soldiers were killed. While I would not downplay the tragedy of the attack in the UK two weeks ago, the media's imbalance of coverage between the London tragedy, which involved fifty-two deaths and is still in the press, and the attack in Iraq, which involved 150 deaths and has hardly been discussed in the media at all, is very disturbing. It enunciates the power of the media to tell us what to care about and the control they exert over public opinion.

Here is a commercial that addresses that same issue in regards to Darfur.

In other news, the newest Harry Potter book has broken sales records, moving more copies on its first day of release than many books sell in their entire life. Just days before, lifesite.net, a Christian news website, revealed that the Pope, when he was still a cardinal, expressed disapproval of the series. Perhaps this indicates that the Church's power, rotted by its own hypocrisy and the enlightenment of the scientific age, has lost the persuasive power it once held.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Carl Gottlieb Interview

I have done a radio interview with Carl Gottlieb, co-screenwriter of Jaws and author of The Jaws Log, which has been republished for the 30th anniversary of the film.


Carl Gottlieb also has screenwriting credits on Jaws 2, Jaws 3-D, and The Jerk. He has taught screenwriting courses at the American Film Institute and he is currently the vice president of the Writers Guild of America, West.

The interview will air on Maverick at the Movies this Sunday (July 17th) at 11 AM on 89.7 KMSU.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Shiite is Going to Hit the Fan

In the shock of the London attack, any mainstream reporting of the situation in Iraq and the various abuse scandals has disappeared (not that there was much to begin with).

Conservatives have recently chided the war's critics, telling us that the torture under the US is somehow more humane than what happened under Saddam and that comparisons between them are inappropriate. Now we know that US and Iraqi security forces are recruiting those who worked in Saddam's torture facilities and are again engaged in "random arrests, sometimes without a warrant, hanging people from ceilings and beating them, attaching electrodes to ears, hands, feet and genitals, and holding hot irons to flesh."

Beyond the inhumane treatment, the tensions between the various ethnic groups in Iraq could lead to a full blown civil war. Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister of Iraq (before the January elections), has warned that "The problem is that the Americans have no vision and no clear policy on how to go about in Iraq . . . The policy should be of building national unity in Iraq. Without this we will most certainly slip into a civil war. We are practically in stage one of a civil war as we speak."

Happy liberation.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Red, White, and Brainwashed

Here are some links and downloads for your Fourth of July:

Enjoy your freedoms while you still have them.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

June 29th Birthdays

Here are some other people who share my birthday:

Vixxxen (porn actress)
Zoe R. Cassavetes (sister of Frank Cassavetes)
Judith Hoag (actress, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Eva Truffaut (daughter of Francois Truffaut)
Don Dokken (musician, Dokken)
Gary Busey (actor, Predator 2)
Robert Evans (writer, filmmaker, Chinatown)
Ray Harryhausen (special effects artist, Clash of the Titans)
Ralph Burns (film composer, All the Jazz)
Slim Pickens (actor, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)
Bernard Herrmann (film composer, Psycho)
Frieda Inescort, (actress, The Alligator People)
Michael Carter (actor, Return of the Jedi)

Monday, June 27, 2005

How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You, No Religion in the House!

Today the Supreme Court ruled on cases involving 10 Commandment monuments in public spaces. First, the monument located outside the Texas state capital building is legal apparently because it is outside of the building and serves a historical and educational purpose. From the decision for Van Orden V. Perry, written by Justice Rehnquist:

"There are, of course, limits to the display of religious messages or symbols. For example, we held unconstitutional a Kentucky statute requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in every public schoolroom . . . The placement of the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds is a far more passive use of those texts than was the case in Stone, where the text confronted elementary school students every day. Indeed, Van Orden, the petitioner here, apparently walked by the monument for a number of years before bringing this lawsuit. The monument is therefore also quite different from the prayers involved in Schempp and Lee v. Weisman. Texas has treated her Capitol grounds monuments as representing the several strands in the State’s political and legal history. The inclusion of the Ten Commandments monument in this group has a dual significance, partaking of both religion and government. We cannot say that Texas's display of this monument violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. "

In McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, 10 Commandments monuments were deemed illegal because of they were placed inside the courthouse and served to proselytize. I found this excerpt from the decision, written by Justice Stouter, to be very pointed:

"We are centuries away from the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and the treatment of heretics in early Massachusetts, but the divisiveness of religion in current public life is inescapable. This is no time to deny the prudence of understanding the Establishment Clause to require the Government to stay neutral on religious belief, which is reserved for the conscience of the individual."

This is a very slippery distinction and it will probably lead to more court battles over these kinds of monuments. Given the current boldness of the religious right, it is going to be an uphill battle to keep this country from becoming a theocratic state.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

More Film Lines

As an addendum to my earlier post on the AFI's 100 Years, 100 Movie Lines, here are some of my picks that were not on their list. A few of these were on their list of nominated lines, but most were not.

"All righty then!" - Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

"Don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone I love." - Annie Hall

"Throw me a frickin' bone here!" - Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

"Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads." - Back to the Future
"Great Scott!" - Back the the Future

"I'm gonna make you squeal like a pig. " - Deliverence

"Big gulps, huh? All right. Well, see you later." - Dumb and Dumber
"Man, you are one pathetic loser! No offense." - Dumb and Dumber
"The town is back that way!" - Dumb and Dumber

"You're mother sucks cocks in hell, Karras!" - The Exorcist

"We have such sights to show you." - Hellraiser
"Explorers in the further regions of experience. Demons to some. Angels to others." - Hellraiser
"We'll tear your soul apart!" - Hellraiser

"They're here all ready! You're next!" - Invasion of the Body Snatchers

"You yell shark, we've got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July." - Jaws
"10, 000 dollars for me by myself. For that you'll get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing." -Jaws
"Come on down and chuck some of this shit!" - Jaws
"Smile you son of a bitch!" - Jaws

"Free your mind." - The Matrix
"Welcome to the real world." - The Matrix

"One two, Freddy's coming for you . . ." A Nightmare on Elm Street

"Welcome to prime time, bitch!" - A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

"Damn you all to hell!" - Planet of the Apes

"If it bleeds, we can kill it." - Predator
"I ain't got time to bleed." - Predator

"I'm prepared to scour the the Earth for that motherfucker. If Butch goes to Indochina, I want a nigger waiting in a bowl of rice ready to pop a cap in his ass. " - Pulp Fiction
"The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be a shepherd." - Pulp Fiction
"I used the same fuckin' soap you did and when I got finished, the towel didn't look like no god-damn Maxi-Pad." Pulp Fiction

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" - Raiders of the Lost Ark
"Now, what shall we talk about?" - Raiders of the Lost Ark

"Why am I Mr. Pink?" - Reservoir Dogs
"Listen kid, I'm not gonna bullshit you, all right? I don't give a good fuck what you know, or don't know, but I'm gonna torture you anyway, regardless. Not to get information. It's amusing, to me, to torture a cop. You can say anything you want cause I've heard it all before. All you can do is pray for a quick death, which you ain't gonna get. " - Reservoir Dogs

"I always tell the truth, even when I lie." - Scarface

"Get busy living, or get busy dying." - The Shawshank Redemption
"I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you'll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank." - The Shawshank Redemption
"Andy Dufresne - who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side." - The Shawshank Redemption

"Live long and prosper." - Star Trek: The Motion Picture

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." - Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

"All who gain power are afraid to lose it." - Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
"I have brought peace, freedom, justice and security to my new empire." - Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
"So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause." - Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

"I am your father." - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
"Do or do not. There is no try." - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

This is by no means a complete list, just a few of my own ideas. Comment and contribute your own ideas.

AFI's 100 Year Lists: Quite Frankly, I Don't Give a Damn

The American Film Institute has announced its list of the top 100 movie lines, as a part of their "100 Years" series. You can see the list here.

I've always had a sort of ambivalent attitude toward the AFI and these kinds of lists. On one hand, the AFI does a lot of good promoting film as an art, does important work on film preservation, advancing film technology, and advancing the discussion of film beyond when Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes will get married.

However, when I see lists or rankings of film, or any other art form, I start to get that same creepy feeling I get when I hear William Shatner sing. By ranking films we start to assume that all films can be measured by the same scale and I do not believe that is the case. On Maverick at the Movies I have always avoided using number or star scales because it insinuates that there is a universal aesthetic to measure the quality of these films. I love Dumb and Dumber and Caddyshack but how do I compare them to Hotel Rwanda or Schindler's List? I can't, because they are not comparable.

And why 100? I know there are practical reasons for this. A list of 300 films would be too long for a television special. And 100 is a psychologically satisfying number. Aside from these market driven reasons, the 100 is arbitrary but it gives the lists the appearance of some kind of definitive quality.

Also, the AFI has its own preferences and prejudices. Many pictures on their lists are large studio films from the 1940s and 50s. Their 100 Movies list included few films created outside the major studios and lacks films from genres of comedy, horror, or science fiction. Personally, I would have taken the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre over Fargo and Natural Born Killers over Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The 100 Movie Lines list had nothing from Quentin Tarantino and very little from Woody Allen.

There is some irony that yesterday USA televised the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony for George Lucas, who, in his acceptance speech, called himself "the king of wooden dialogue." While I will argue that Lucas does deserve this award, it was quite obviously timed to coincide with the release of Revenge of the Sith. Although the AFI is an artistic organization, it is also part of a business and decisions are made with business in mind.

As I wrote earlier, the AFI is a helpful organization. But when they come out with lists like this, please take them with a grain of salt and remember that there is not that much difference between their lists and the lists created by Entertainment Weekly and VH1.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Rushdie, Deliver Me From the Salvation Army

Today, June 19th, has two significant anniversaries.

The first is the birth of Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. Following the publication of the book, a fatwah was issued on Rushdie's life and he had to go into hiding.

Also, on this date in 1961 the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Torcaso v. Watkins and overturned a provision in the Maryland state constitution requiring that "a declaration of belief in the existence of God" be required as a qualification for any office in the state.

I find the shared date of these two events rather ironic for the ways in which US culture has turned. As was seen in the 2004 presidential election, a political candidate's faith can be made a central issue in the debate over his ability to effectively execute the duties of the office.

Rushdie's persecution (and I do not use the word lightly) is showing signs in America. When raising questions about your government has become a crime and is shouted down as anti-American, this seems just as fanatical and idiotic as claims of defamation against an invisible man in the sky.

Earlier this year, there was a controversy in Janesville, Wisconsin over the construction of a Salvation Army building that would serve dual purposes as a homeless shelter and a place of worship. The City Council approved the dispersal of funds to the Salvation Army with the addition that the building could not be used for religious services, in accordance with federal rules.

The Salvation Army would have none of this, saying that they could not complete their objectives with these restrictions. Complaints were sent to the White House and even George W. Bush contributed his thoughts, telling an audience that, "Anybody who accepts money from the federal government, any faith provider, cannot discriminate based on religion. It's an important concept for our fellow citizens to understand, that no one in need will ever be forced to choose a faith-based provider" and that "The city had no right to tell the Salvation Army that the price of running a center was to give up its prayers."

The Salvation Army's website plainly says that the intent of the organization is to provide "social and spiritual services to Janesville area communities with the mission of giving people purpose, hearts hope and souls redemption." If this is what they meant by being able to pursue their objectives, then the purpose of the shelter was not for a-religious social services but to proselytize and the Salvation Army would be therefore barred from receiving federal funds. Coincidentally, the city council did relent and the shelter was built.

As a sidenote, the commander of the Janesville Salvation Army was arrested for sending pornography to a Florida detective undercover as a fourteen year old boy.

The more things change, the deeper the religious must stick their head in the sand.

No, I Won't Buy You Lunch

I was mentioned in the June issue of the MSU Campus Newsletter.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Oscar Has a Reason to be a Grouch

As I have said before, the Republicans are making calls right out of Joseph Goebbles playbook. Disturbed that they do not have complete control over the media in this country, the Republicans have launched an attack on National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). They are working on this in two fronts. First, they have threatened the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s (CPB) funding. The House Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to cut NPR and PBS’s funding by twenty-five percent, with the long-term goal of completely ending CPB’s funding in two years.

Second, the Republicans are attempting to put the assistant secretary of state and former Republican National Committee co-chairwoman Patricia de Stacy Harrison as the president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). This article further explains the conflict of interest.

Here are some fast facts about CPB from their website:

CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967 to promote public telecommunications services for the American people. CPB invests in more than 1,000 local radio and television stations.

These CPB-funded stations reach virtually every household in the country.

CPB funds diverse and innovative programming that's useful, educational and cultural.

Most CPB-funded television programs are distributed through the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). CPB-funded radio programs are distributed primarily through National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Radio International (PRI).


Also, according to John Lawson, the president and CEO of the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), “the subcommittee effectively threatened public broadcasting’s editorial freedom by proposing to rescind $100 million from the advance appropriation the Corporation for Public Broadcasting received in 2004.”

If things go according to the plan, the Republicans will be able to mortally wound the resources of CPB and take control of its means of production. As we saw in the coverage of the Iraq war the corporate media have now lost their integrity and dance to the White House’s tune. Should CPB fall under control of the government and be reduced to a pathetic mouthpiece, conservatives will have eliminated dissention in radio and television, leaving the Internet as the only unregulated mass medium.

For those who may be wondering, 90.5 KGAC FM in St. Peter, Minnesota would be affected by these cuts but 89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato is a member of IPR and would not.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

DEEP THROAT: THE REMAKE

A couple of weeks ago Mark Felt publicly announced he was Deep Throat, the confidential source that brought down the Nixon administration. This comes at the same time as documents of similar, if not greater, political significance are coming to light.

The Downing Street memo plainly spells out that the UK and the US made the decsion to invade Iraq before July 2002. "Participants at a meeting of [Prime Minister Tony] Blair’s inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was 'necessary to create the conditions' which would make it legal." You can read more about the memo here.

This comes on the heels of other revelations. It was no secret that the US ran monthly and sometimes weekly bombing attacks on Iraq during the imbargo but now it has been revealed that the United States doubled their bombings in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into retaliating and giving the US an excuse to invade.

This should be taking us to impeachment proceedings for Bush, Rumsfeld, and others in the administration. This article summarizes the case against Bush. An exerpt:

"Our president and all of his administration are war criminals. It's as simple as that. They lied to the American people, have killed and injured and traumatized thousands of American men and women doing their patriotic duty, killed at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians, destroyed Iraq's infrastructure and poisoned its environment, squandered billions and billions of our tax dollars, made a mockery of American integrity in the world, changed the course of history, tortured Iraqi prisoners, and bound us intractably to an insane situation that they have no idea how to fix because they had no plan, but greed and empire, in the first place."

There are lawmakers trying to address this. Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan) has written an open letter to President Bush asking him to be more forthcoming about what went on behind the scenes of the war.

Here is a link to information on impeachment proceedings.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Welcome to the New Blog

Welcome to my new blog. Those who reguarly visited my personal website are aware that I kept a news page in the form of an htm file, updated about once a week, that drew attention to stories and articles I thought were noteworthy. This new format will allow visitors to comment upon the links and ensure a continuing presence on the web after I graduate and lose my web space at MSU Mankato.

To view this page within the context of my website, there are is a link to your right.