13 September 2012

Fundamentals of Muslim Film Criticism; Or, How To Write a Review with an AK-47 and a Torch

As I write this, there is rioting and mayhem in the Middle East around American embassies. The attackers are Muslims purportedly peeved by a new film which “insults” the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.

The film, “Innocence of Muslims,” was produced by ... [Since the first publication of this post, the "founders" of this film have become obscured.  It may have been made by Americans with zealot investors.  It may be a weird practical joke by some Middle Easterners or North Africans.  It may be the product of an agent provocateur.  Nobody seems to be sure.  The reaction to the film, however, is real.]

Mohammed is presented as a vicious, crazy child molester, and those are just his good points.

Now here’s the funny part, funny in the serious sense – a serious film about the historical Mohammed could be fascinating. Salmon Rushdie played with the topic in his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses.  He was rather mild about the Prophet.  Of course, several imams stuck a fatwa on his ass anyway. (The fatwa is the Muslim equivalent of an open Mafia hit contract.)

Think of the possibilities: Here we have a historical figure who during his lifetime had really profound divine revelations. (Okay, he did, he didn’t, I don’t know, I wasn’t there taking notes.) He founded a dynasty, and one of the world’s great religions which, among other things, was the basis of substantial military power over several centuries.

This juxtaposition of a single, simple human having intense, unique (and maybe supernatural) experiences and the tale of how he deals with them is a common theme of great history and great fiction.

Think Lincoln.




Charles Foster Kane.

Even Elmer Gantry.

Imagine a film which skillfully addresses some of the possibilities of personal conflicts and stress, the interaction of the mundane with the divine. The possibilities are delicious.

Well, keep imagining. You’re not going to get that in “Innocence of Muslims.” I base this on the assumption that filmmakers do not pick out particularly bad parts of a movie to put in the trailer.

The trailer, available on YouTube, mercifully runs less than 15 minutes.

The production values are bad. Not bad as in I’m being picky, bad as in They spent 5 million bucks for THIS?  [If the $5 million story is false, my reaction still would be, They paid $50 bucks for THIS?]

As one might expect, the film is set in a desert location. It was not filmed in the desert. It was filmed in front of a blue screen. The “desert” background was inserted with all of the skill put into the production of the local weather broadcast.

The dialogue is delivered with the deer-in-the-headlights proficiency of most high school productions of Arsenic and Old Lace. Unfortunately, there is no “Uncle Teddy” character to storm through a scene for comic relief.

So if they were acting rationally, the Muslim film critics would be more amused or chagrined than angry.

I am very comfortable as a Christian. You want to hear about it, ask.  If you don’t, no worries, God will track you down in His own good time.  I saw a news item the other day complete with little bit of video.  It showed some sort of rally of atheists, humanists and the like on an anti-religion theme. One fellow was carrying this really neat sign: “If Jesus returns, kill him again.” I think most Christians would find that objectionable.  I don’t know of any follower of Our Lord who would go all fatwa on him.

By the way, the Truth be Told, I have to admit I kind of thought it was funny.

Why are Muslims protesting this sorry example of film?  And why are they protesting violently?

One immediate answer is because there is a very heavy influence of intolerance, violence, viciousness and mob amorality or sociopathy woven into Islam. Sure, every group has its crazies but in lots of places Muslim crazies gather by the thousands.

I don’t know very many Muslims. Those I do know are peaceful and faithful people. In a culture where work and cooperation is prized, how one acts is the measure of a person.  People’s private religious beliefs do not excite a lot of comment.

From these two broad observations, I have to conclude that there are a bunch of the followers of Mohammed, peace be upon him but apparently not on them, who are batshit violently crazy. I further conclude that there are lots of Muslims who are normal, peaceful citizens.

I cannot guess numbers. I’m doubting that anybody else can with much accuracy.  The media isn't much help.  CNN seldom runs video of people acting normally.

One thing that’s puzzling is the lack of much expression of opinion by the non-crazy Muslims about the actions of their crazy and violent coreligionists. Maybe there is an intimidation thing going on there, I don’t know. That being said, a lot of other religious and non-religious folks don’t seem to be shy about criticizing them, some in rhetoric every bit as nutzoid as the wildest berserker waving around an AK.

Is this silence a cultural thing?  Certainly, it’s not an American thing. We have some outstanding examples of batshit crazy, evil, American, Christian, halfwit toads in such folks as our buds from Westboro Baptist Church. Somehow if those guys put together a mob of 1000 to assault anything in America, I think they’d have a real bad day and a lot of life insurance payoffs.

I just have to wonder why the crazies are the only ones speaking up for Islam.

In the meantime, we continue to be a very tolerant nation.   (Some nitwit is going to get all pissy at this point about how dreadful Americans treat others.  OK, whether you are a Christian or not, grab a Bible or, bettter, a Torah and take a stroll down Main Street in Riyadh and let us know how that works out for you.)   This tolerance traditionally has led to a sudden switch from “peaceful and not all that united” to “we're all together and it's time to open a six-pack of whoop ass.”  I have to wonder how near we are to that boundary.

The next few years may prove the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

07 September 2012

God, Israel and the Party Platforms; Father, Have Mercy on Us

This week, the Democratic National Convention returned balance to The Force.

The Republican National Convention already had conferred sovereignty – okay, more like a whole lot of influence – on the Lord our God.

The 2012 platform of the national Democratic Party, however, omitted the traditional homage to the Creator and traditional tip of the hat and salaam to Israel.

Lots of folks concluded that the Democrats had abandoned our Lord and Savior and were headed straight down the Road to Damnation. Presumably, this perfidy was sponsored by Satan, the Freemasons and maybe Betty Crocker.

The Lord of All things has breathed a sigh of relief.

Hasn’t He?

Maybe not.

I’ve criticized Islamists for flipping out into Fatwa Disneyland over people burning the Koran. It seems to me they see Allah as a fairly fragile and insecure deity. I just have to wonder if God the Father, the All-Powerful, the All-Wise really thinks He needs the Democratic National Committee. Or the Republican National Committee.

I don’t claim to have the inside track here. I do have to wonder about the reaction of the Supreme Designer of the 70 sextillion suns to the chutzpah of Earth’s provincial politicians. I cannot seem to derive from Holy Writ the same message the Conventions have.  

Please, someone direct me to where God is the Great Maître d’ who gives us a menu of blessings that we can order up à la carte. I also haven’t been able to find where God is the Stellar Shoulder-Striker ready to do our bidding and bring violent and terminal Holy wrath upon the people who WE identify as evil.

The Conventions still seem to believe that they’re honoring God.

Every couple of months, I get a letter from Publishers Clearinghouse telling me what a peachy and lucky guy I am. I’m wondering if God does with the party platforms same thing I do with those letters.

From my own feeble understanding of Scripture, I have to open my mind to the possibility that the reaction of the Supreme Architect to this entire political process is something along the lines of “Guys, shut up, pray quietly and then go out and humble yourselves among the people picking up trash and changing bedpans. You guys need perspective.” Oh, and “PS, shut down the boozy hospitality rooms and send the hookers home from the convention.”

Both party platforms also confirmed that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

I didn’t know that was any of our business.  If we tell Britain that Liverpool is the capital, will everybody move?

I also wonder which Israel they are talking about, the biblical nation of Israel or the modern state of Israel.

If they’re talking about the state of Israel, maybe this whole Jerusalem-as-capital thing will be news to the people in Tel Aviv. It seems to me that you put your, well, capital where your capital is. The government is in Tel Aviv. When is moving day? Is the American State Department renting new digs out near Golgotha?  Has Foggy Bottom contracted with some moving vans?

PS – Has anybody figured out what to do with the Dome of the Rock? It’s kind of close to the Wailing Wall, so that inhibits the nuclear option.

Oh, the original Democratic platform did not contain these provisions. It was amended from the floor in a process required a two-thirds majority.

Now at this point, somebody’s going to say that this was a set up and that obviously didn’t carry. Think, people. Look at this logically and scientifically. We’ve seen the video, but we don’t know where the microphones that were feeding the video were located. In all three of the voice votes, it did sound to me like the “nay’s” may have barely edged the “aye’s.”  If I had been the Chairman and we were using a simple majority, I would have called for a division of the house.  But if the mikes were on the podium, the Chairman ruled a touchdown for an incomplete pass.

To the extent that it matters. To the extent that anybody will read the platform. To the extent that anyone cares what a party convention does other than nominate two people.

I cannot help but thank Joe Ligotti, the Guy from Boston, for his succinct description today of party conventions: Bullshit Festivals.

I had another, less kind, appellation involving partner-free love, but it’s just not nice to try to one-up the Guy from Boston.

Lord Jesus, help us repair the damage these political nitwits do in the next two months. Amen.

04 September 2012

To Hell With the Women & Children! How One Group of Investors Hogged the Lifeboats

A Reuters report today was picked up by several news organizations.

The city of Central Falls, Rhode Island, filed for bankruptcy one year ago. It has now had its reorganization plan approved so that it can emerge ultimately from the bankruptcy process.

As is the case with lots of urban New England cities, the tax base has deteriorated partly because factories have closed and the jobs have either vanished or fled. The municipality is supported mostly by property taxes and the value property has fallen. Also, a larger and larger proportion of the residents live at or near the poverty level.

The devil is in the details, but the rock-bottom basics of recovering from an out of balance budget are obvious: increase income and/or reduce expenses. Central Falls is doing both.

Property taxes will be increased steadily over the next few years. There is the increased income.

Lots of folks will share in a lot of pain in reducing expenses.

60 workers, about a third of the city workforce, were fired. I cannot say that is merely a great misfortune or truly horrible. Perhaps it was the 60 people who knew how to put out fires and arrest criminals. Maybe it was the 60 people who taught tiddlywinks at the city park. I just don’t know. I do know that they were offered jobs in good faith, that they performed them at least to an acceptable level, that they depended upon that employment and now they are out of luck.  They are looking for other jobs.

Another group doesn’t have that chance. Retired city workers on pensions have been mauled by the bankruptcy plan. Reuters cites one retired police officer in his 80s whose pension of $27,000 per year is being cut to $18,200 per year.  He didn't volunteer that - It's just happening. At the same time, his medical insurance premiums are going up $100 a month. By the way, that employment was exempt from Social Security withholding, so this fellow does not have any Social Security from city work. He doesn’t have the opportunity to go out and find another job – or another pension. His only option is to smile and suck up the $10,000 yearly loss.  Or frown and suck it up.  The City doesn't care, it's the "suck it up" part that's important to the City.

Oh, by the way, many of these pensioners who are losing up to 55% of their pensions are also homeowners who will be – wait for it – paying higher property taxes.

But wait – one group is sharing absolutely none of the pain. Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

Those are the city's bondholders.

When it looked like the city was getting in trouble, the Rhode Island legislature modified the Rhode Island statutes to place a lien in favor of city bondholders on property tax receipts. This made bondholders secured creditors and as such they are first in line to get paid.

Incidentally, the citizens paying the higher taxes and the pensioners receiving far less money are paying for their own screwing. The city (the taxpayers) paid to have the tax lien legislation written. The city (the taxpayers) are paying $3 million in fees for the bankruptcy process.  I'm in the wrong line representing mere people.  It looks like  you can represent things and clean up.

It would be nice to know the reasoning behind favoring investors over taxpayers and pensioners. I do not accept any political label for myself but I will say that I'm all for logic and order. I find it difficult to come up with a logical reason that the bondholders come out of this completely clean.

The individual taxpayers (and I’m including small businesses there) bought property in a city which sometime later got into financial trouble, possibly from poor management, possibly from other causes and probably from a mix of them. Workers who retired with pensions apparently were unskillful or unlucky in selecting who to work for decades before there were problems.

Investors – the bondholders – made an investment. Part of the return on that investment was interest which they could have made from the very safest investment. The amount of interest beyond that reflected some element of risk that something bad would happen to their investment. Something bad happened.

And those with political power protected the guys with the money and dumped on the working people.

And so I turn to one of the great revelations of American culture, given by the character Otter to Flounder in the movie Animal House.  The frat has just destroyed Flounder’s brother’s Lincoln automobile:

“You can’t spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes.  You f***ed up!  You trusted us!”

Silly people.  You trusted them.

The Central Falls reorganization plan can be found at:


A plug for Reuters:  I have tried lots of newspapers on the Amazon Kindle, especially the Washington Post and USA Today.  They do not adapt well to that format.  For some time now, I have subscribed to Reuters which is both cost effective and translates REALLY WELL to the e-reader.  I highly recommend that.

01 September 2012

Get Off Clint Eastwood's Ass

A common theme in these dispatches is that I’m annoyed when folks express such SHOCK and have an attack of the vapours when someone says something they disagree with or in a way that they don’t like.

“How DARE she say that!,” is an idiotic notion in a nation with the First Amendment.

Moreover, our exaltation of form over substance weakens us intellectually and morally.  Take the presidential “debates.”  They aren’t debates.  They are scripted performances, they are soap opera with control of nukes as the Academy Award.

I’ve heard very little favorable or even neutral comment about Clint Eastwood’s “rambling” address at the Republican Convention.  “Every actor needs a script” says one pundit.

“Talking to an empty chair is silly,” says another.

“He’s an actor, not a speaker.”

Screw ‘em.

I admire someone with the guts to stand up and just TALK.  I admire someone who will just say what is on their mind.  Let me again quote TR (That’s Theodore Roosevelt, children, one of the most positive role models of American history): 
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I don’t agree with everything Eastwood said.  But this is AMERICA.  This is where we are supposed to talk and reason together and maybe even cuss one another over a beer.  So many in our society confuse criticizing and bitching with getting things done.

Give me real people every time over useless, hairsprayed china dolls.