Sunday, September 12, 2010


I try to avoid using the Internet for any political sermonizing, but the carnival of hypocrites, opportunists, and the willfully ignorant surrounding the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" has gone on for far too long, and at such a fever pitch, for me to keep my opinions bottled up any longer. So, citizens, let me learn you some truth.

Sham Consideration for the Victims' Families

The only semi-plausible case against the building of Park51 is the discomfort it will cause for families of 9/11 victims. This might sort of make sense, but the people using this as their justification never got angry when punditrix Ann Coulter unleashed a venomous broadside against a group of 9/11 widows in 2006. It's in Coulter's book Godless, no less. Quote, "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much ... how do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf life is dwindling, they'd better hurry up and appear in Playboy." People eager to defend the feelings of families impacted by the World Trade Center tragedy should start by attacking Coulter, maybe even burning a book or two of hers, instead of pumping their fists in the air every time she smacks down another undeserving target whose politics don't agree with hers.

Bloomberg Could Have Stopped This?

One thing that modern conservatives seem to agree on: elected officials who overstep the prescribed limits of their power are no good. Yet one of the bad guys in this whole brouhaha, according to foes of Park51, is Mayor Bloomberg, who should have stepped in and run the whole project out of town. Never mind that, by doing so, he would have interfered in a matter in which he had no official say--the permits were in order, the transactions were legal, and the community boards had approved the whole thing. Bloomberg not only refrained from kiboshing it, he even proved himself the only hero in this fiasco with a couple of speeches that should have ended the whole affair.

Sacred Ground

If it needs to be mentioned again: Park51 is being installed in a building that formerly housed a Burlington Coat Factory. There's at least one strip club nearby, and probably a gay bar. Fast food and delis are everywhere. There's another mosque already, four blocks away, and no one has ever complained. Sacred ground my ass.

Feisal Abdul Rauf Is a... Something

Rauf is a Muslim, and Muslims are all terrorists, right? Except that Rauf belongs to a sect of Islam that continues to be persecuted by hard-line fanatics like the Taliban and Al Qeada.

What the Koran Really Says

Commenters on sites across the Internet have been playing a tired game of quoting the inflammatory passages from the Koran as proof of Islam's sinister secret agenda. The book says wage war against Christians, Jews are pigs, etc. First of all, I'm highly doubtful that all these dittoheads have been scouring their copies of Islam's holy book for these snippets; far more likely, they've been cutting and pasting from Michelle Malkin or some such far-right-winger. Second of all, quoting passages from ancient religious texts doesn't prove a thing about what motivates present-day believers. The Old Testament says to eschew shrimp and denim, yet I know plenty of Jews who would never pass up a lobster dinner or a comfy pair of Levis. The God of the Old Testament also doesn't seem to condemn slavery or genocide. Jesus said explicitly that rich people can't go to heaven and that he wanted children to be in conflict with their parents (putting him at odds with the 5th Commandment), yet Christians are hardly seeking to put the heads of wealthy parents on the tops of spiked poles. Martin Luther, enshrined in stained glass in the church where I went as a kid, was a full-blown anti-Semite who truly believed Jews were a demonic race, yet no one, as far as I know, has every accused Protestantism of having an anti-Semetic secret agenda. Oh, I could go on. Yes, there are contentious passages in the Koran, there are eyebrow-raisers and such, but there are also reconciliatory passages and warnings not to judge others (and, if the film Lawrence of Arabia is to be believed, there's a passage letting the Muslim faithful know that that they don't need to read and obey every single word of the Koran).

Farenheit 451

It may seem hypocritical of me to champion Park51 while opposing another guy wanting to exercise his free speech, Florida pastor Terry Jones (it certainly is a very... fishy fish). In general, I don't like book burning. I don't like the idea that, hey, here's an opinion that I disagree with--let's destroy it! (And yes, I was joking about burning Ann Coulter's book--I don't even think her books deserve to be consigned to the flames, which says it all). Plus, there are constructive acts and destructive acts. Building a prayer center that includes a swimming pool is a constructive act. Burning copies of a book just to knowingly piss people off and further erode any kind of small gains we've made toward making the US look awesome in the eyes of Middle Easterners is stupid. Osama bin Laden and his crew have controlled the narrative in that region, and we're running around completely without a clue as to how we can operate with that kind of control. Apparently, force doesn't get you control of the narrative--we've tried, and years later our enemies still get to put the spin on anything that happens. That's not going to change if we keep on torching Korans and protesting mosques.

It's always tempting to defend one's ideology by ramping up one's outrage, but what I'd like to see from everyone is a little less ideology, and a little more thought put into solving real international--and historical--crises. Fanaticism got us into this mess, and it's not going to get us out. Build the mosque already.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Here are the selections for the book club. Fly, readers, fly to your local independent bookstore, purchase these marvels, and begin your edification post haste.

--A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
--The Drifters by James A. Michener
--The Trial by Franz Kafka
--Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries by David Ulansey (this one's hard to find so get your library system on the horn pronto)
--Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse
--World War Z by Max Brooks

Monday, March 15, 2010


A lot of comparisons can be made between TREK '09 and THE PHANTOM MENACE, except that I was entertained by ST09 and was bored by TPM.

Random thoughts...

* The last movie made "for us" was probably #6. So be it.

* I saw it on opening night, and was initially more disoriented than anything. I think Stephen Wright had a joke about coming home to find that someone had broken into his apartment and moved every object two inches to the left. That's how I felt. Later, upon explaining it to a Shatner-or-nothing purist, I found that I actually enjoyed the experience of the film. We went and I saw it again, and I had a much better time having gotten used to it all. In the late Fall, when the DVD came out, I watched it with a number of classes, and they went nuts over it... in a good way. It was nice to see kids excited about anything called STAR TREK, even if it's not "the original." The fact that it made a bunch of money means that the potential exists for a sequel, and a sequel could always be better. Despite winning a Razzie for Transformers 2, the writers generally say pretty agreeable stuff in interviews. They have also done another project I liked a lot.

* I agree with all of the logic flaws you point out. These flaws happen in a number of films, and I see about 50-100 new movies a year. They even exist in classic films. A prime example is in STAR WARS. (The real STAR WARS.) No saving events in the rest of the movie would have happened without the Imperial officers on watch deciding not to shoot that escape pod with C3P0 and his gay lover aboard. There'd be no movie if there had been one more guy on deck who might have said, "You know, we'd better shoot it down, just to be safe," or, "Send a shuttle after it. We're ONLY looking for stolen plans for OUR ULTIMATE WEAPON, and a great place to hide them would be an escape pod with a homing beacon. The rebels would know just where to look. Hell, looking at its current trajectory, it's about a hundred miles from Mos Eisley, and the rebels could be hidden down there, waiting for it."

But that flaw doesn't derail the movie for me because I enjoy watching the characters do what the characters do.

The same goes for STAR TREK. The more I watch it, the more I like these iterations of the characters. I just... enjoy watching them do the stuff they do. It's almost like commedia del arte acted by talented clowns. The plot's not essential. The fact that they don't play Pantalone and Capitano the way the last troupe did isn't essential to me. I enjoy these characters and this ensemble. That IS the movie for me.

* Is it "Star Trek"? Excellent question. You know, a lot of the Star Trek series are mostly bad. Sturgeon's Law and all that. If I were to pick out truly flawless episodes of TOS, I'd probably have about 20 out of 79. Maybe 20 with TNG... if that many. Let's not even discuss VGR and ENT. DS9 is the one exception. I enjoyed a lot of DS9. After the midpoint of season 3, only about one in five episodes is a stinker. (And even that is a mild aroma... more dusty/musty than fetid.) So, the more I go away from Star Trek, the more I see it as a great concept with interesting characters and wonderful moments, but not a flawless set of series. And it rarely matched the description of it given by its creator, even when he was at the wheel. We tend to think that "Star Trek" is a really coherent, consistent entity, and it's not. It's wildly inconsistent in vision, continuity, and even philosophy. Doesn't keep me from loving it... in general/kinda/for the most part. But I can't wax about Star Trek the way I can wax about, say, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. Like it or not, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT maintains its vision and tone very consistently, only deepening it rather than diluting it as it goes on. Of course, it doesn't hurt that it only ran 2.5 seasons. Still, I feel that its 2.5 seasons are more artistically consistent than TOS' first 2.5 seasons.

I think Nick Meyer spoiled us. I really do. He was to Star Trek-writing what Jeremy Brett was to Sherlock Holmes-acting. It was effortlessly magnificent... or so it looked.

Anyway, as I watched the film a number of times, the better and better I felt about the treatment of the characters. For me, my favorite ST movie is #3, largely because of the characters. (WOK is a better film, but SFS is one that I personally enjoy more.) Not only are the characters well-depicted, the film's ultimate message for me is that, after everything, these relationships are more important than the missions that joined them. As I re-watch STAR TREK '09, I see the seeds of those relationships. I like that. The goobertastic SF elements were just McGuffins. I pretty much ignore them. Yes, a truly great movie should have both great characters and a great plot, but I can handle a movie with great characters doing cool stuff in a goofy plot. (Frankly, the plot to KING LEAR is incredibly goofy... and no, I'm not comparing the two in any other aspect.) There are many TV series with sometimes-mediocre episodes that are still watchable because of the characters and performances; THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW comes to mind. Even a so-so plot is forgivable because of the charm of the actor/characters.

* I would have done the film very differently. Let me just get that out of the way. That's another discussion.

* The coincidences DO pile up. And I realize that the movie wasn't written for me. Looking at it through the eyes of audiences for whom, for better or worse, THIS will be "Star Trek," things like the conspicuous convenience of Scotty's posting are meaningless. I don't think it's ultimately meant to be a moment of, "Aha! So THAT'S how Scotty and Kirk met." For the audiences for whom the film was written, they'll look back on this film several sequels from now and say, "Yeah, that engineer's the guy he picked up on the ice planet."


I don't think the story's meant to be too original. For me, it was a workmanlike variation on the durable structure of the monomyth. I become increasingly fond of that story as I age. In a way, a good monomything is like seeing a familiar Shakespeare play with a new cast, director, and design. It's not the only game in town, but I generally enjoy it. I certainly did in this case.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Yes, I have fallen way behind the curve--I only saw Star Trek last weekend, a mere half a year after it came out in theaters. Didn't love it--man, did it bring back some stale cliches--but there were a lot of things I liked about it, and I'll start with the positives.

Great cast. I had thought that putting other actors in those hallowed roles would be the weakest part of the movie, but it was completely the opposite. Everyone does a good job, and the only quibbles I had, with Chris Pine and Simon Pegg, aren't really with the actors themselves. Karl Urban, who hammed his way painfully through so many Hercules and Xena episodes, is actually quite good as McCoy, as is Zachary Quinto as Spock, Bruce Greenwood as Capt. Pine, Zoe Soldana as Uhura, and even the actor who played Kirk's dad. Everyone gives appealing, well-rounded performances, which is kind of rare for a space opera.

I said before that Pine could never fill Shatner's shoes, and I was partly right; the Kirk in this Star Trek isn't the same guy from the series. Pine's got the swagger and the eye for women, but not the authority or the air of command. Instead, he's lugging around a mountain of vulnerability, which helps to offset his bad-boy rebelliousness. Blame the era; modern audiences would never sit through a film about a (non-corrupt) police commissioner, preferring instead the adventures of a reckless loose cannon who's always having to turn in his badge.

The new Kirk isn't the only thing we've seen before. The writers give their characters plenty to do, but they stick to a familiar, borrowed script, and the story just doesn't make much sense. By my count, the sins are:

Time Travel Just Happens

A science teacher in high school once pointed out how, in the Fifties, things that got irradiated grew big. Radiation was the 'magic' that made lizards and tarantulas grow into dangerous giants, and the public bought it because, generally, people didn't know much about radiation. Nowadays, audiences wouldn't believe a nuclear test making a termite (or whatever) grow to the size of a mac truck--anyone can tell you that radiation most likely leads to cancer.

I feel like black holes are the new version of this. Since the late Seventies, they've been used in a lot of hack sci-fi as a method of time travel. But the thing is, Stephen Hawking published his widely-read pop-physics book decades ago, and anyone with a library card should know by now that black holes would probably not send someone back in time--most likely they'd rip the traveler and their vessel apart.

Anyway, the time travel in this movie still doesn't make much sense. Why does Nero's ship go back to the moment prior to Kirk's birth? Why does it take Spock's ship 25 years to catch up? And why does another black hole destroy Nero's ship at the end of the movie, instead of sending him back further?

Not Much Vastness In Space

Coincidence plays such a huge part in this movie that I hardly know where to begin. The worst example is where Kirk ends up on some wintry planet, is briefly pursued by some creature that, at the last minute, is devoured by another creature, then is saved from that second creature by--Spock, who just happened to be a few yards away. How big is the universe again? And the two of them pretty much accidentally ended up on the same planet? And Scotty's on the same planet too, again only a few yards away?

Let's Send One Guy to Bring the Really Dangerous Stuff

If I understand correctly, the problem at the heart of the film is that Spock was sent to the Romulan homeworld to create a black hole, and screwed up. Who the hell decided to send Spock--a lone ambassador--on this mission? Isn't this the kind of thing that Starfleet is always sending its fully-manned ships to take care of? This "red matter" that creates black holes seems pretty dangerous, so maybe someone should have beefed up security, maybe sent at least one big guy armed with a phaser to go with Spock.

Two or Three Guys Can Easily Take Out a Huge Ship

So the key to victory, as ever, is to get a couple of good guys into the bad guys' ship, and they'll take it down. I hated this when the Next Generation crew took down the Borg, and I hate it now. First of all, why is the Romulan ship so big? What's all that space for, aside for visuals? If I did a WWII-era movie about a couple of US lieutenants who get about the Japanese warship Yamamoto and take the whole crew down, I'd be laughed out of Hollywood, yet it's a standard part of sci-fi movies--some ridiculous vulnerability that allows two or three heroic souls to overpower an enemy crew and take over their starship in five minutes or so.

We're the Eeeeevilllll Bad Guys

And I didn't think Eric Bana did a bad job, but here again the cliches seemed pretty thick. The Romulans cruise through the galaxy in what looks like a giant sinister artichoke, lit only by mood lighting, helpfully wearing dusters and overcoats to identify them as baaaaaaaad. Even though at one point Nero says his ship is a mining ship, it's outfitted with an infinite number of torpedos. For cave-ins?

So in sum: none of these things would have bothered my too much, except that I was led to believe that this was a special Trek movie, a real departure from the standard operating procedure, when really it borrowed from The Wrath of Khan and several earlier movies. For all that, I look forward to seeing the sequel, given the likeability of the cast and the impressive look that everything had. But could they just come up with an original story?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


For some reason, I never posted anything on WATCHMEN after I saw that movie. One thing I always wanted to comment on were two reviews I read right after the film came out, one by the New Yorker's professional smart-ass and comics non-enthusiast Anthony Lane, and one by New York Times former fanboy A. O. Scott. Neither reviewer liked the film, but Scott's was by far the superior review, because Lane clearly felt it was beneath his university education to even comment on an entertainment enterprise spawned from a comic book. I recently came across a blog post at Irresistible Targets that says pretty much everything I wanted to say. Have yourselves a looksee--

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


This was the comparison a co-worker and I came up with the other day. But it needed some fine-tuning, so we modified it a few times and came up with:

--Raising kids is like climbing a mountain with no map.
--Raising kids is like climbing a mountain while suffering from vertigo so intense that you can't determine which way is up or down.
--Raising kids is like climbing a mountain with no food, no clothes, no supplies, and your feet severed at the ankles leaving bloody stumps.
--Raising kids is like climbing a mountain with Elmo as you sherpa.
--Raising kids is like climbing a mountain with Barney as your sherpa and all attempts to shove the purple dino into a crevasse result in nothing but failure and an unending stream of irritating, puerile songs.
--Raising kids is like climbing a mountain only every single muscle in your body is paralyzed so you're not climbing the mountain as much as staring up at it as it looms over you like a frozen wave of granite, while you starve slowly.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Let us turn now to the great dragon-slayers, to Sigurd, and Beowulf, and St. George, and, first among them, Herakles, subduer of the deadly Hydra.

In his Histories, Herodotus claims to have evidence that the Egyptians worshipped Herakles, or Hercules, as a god ages before the Greeks venerated the mythical hero.

The Greek myth may preserve clues that the story of Herakles has a hidden cosmic significance. To start with, there are the Twelve Labors--basically the centerpiece of the whole story. What's interesting is that each labor relates to a constellation in the Zodiac, or at least a constellation near a Zodiac configuration.

The millions of people who visit this blog every day have no doubt noticed my fascination with David Ulansey's book on the Mithras cult and its ties to astronomy. The Herakles story, with its connections to the Zodiac, may have another similarity to Mithras worship. The hero's trials may have represented grades of initiation, with the final grade--the final labor--being the key to the most heavily guarded secrets of the cult.

For his final labor, Herakles went into the underworld to bring to the upper world Kerberos, the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the Underworld. Before undertaking this task, Herakles was initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, a cult of Demeter that was supposed to possess secret knowledge of the afterlife and the renewal of vegetative life on earth each year.

The Herakles story is one of cycles; the sun through the constellations of the Zodiac, and the decay and renewal of the seasons. The implication is that death and life themselves are cyclical.

More than the entertaining adventures of a really strong guy, was the real purpose behind the Herakles myth a guide to secret esoteric knowledge? And was that knowledge a guide to navigating the afterlife, or even a set of instructions for returning to life?

There are also several similarities with Gilgamesh story; Gilgamesh's saga ends with its hero, as excessive at the tale's beginning as Herakles is at his, eventually obtaining a plant which allows the old to become young again, but he loses it. Did the authors of the Gilgamesh story and the Egyptian version of the Herakles myth borrow from the same sources?

If someone can figure out how I can turn this idea into a screenplay for Tom Hanks, I'll cut you in for 10% of the eventual gross.

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