Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Ten: Ruth

Ruth is like a short, four-chapter romance novel inserted into the Bible just to show you that some people weren’t bloodthirsty assholes. Ruth is a Moabite woman whose husband dies; she is faithful and follows her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, back to her home in Bethlehem. Ruth is a good woman who works for a living and turns from her native religion to worship the God of Israel. She wins the heart of Boaz, a kinsman to her late father-in-law, and they marry. It’s supposed to show you that love can triumph over tragedy and bring different societies together, but I do hasten to add that Ruth doesn’t bring anyone together; she simply turns her back on her native ways to be absorbed into another culture so that she doesn’t stand out too much. It’s really about yet another triumph of conformity in the uniform people of Israel. This is not a place where anyone seems to like individuality. Really, it’s all irrelevant, since the only point of this short book is that Ruth’s marriage to Boaz restores the line of Elimelech, whose sons died without having children, and that makes Ruth the great-grandmother of King David.

Next week: The First Book of Samuel. This is going to be a long, long couple of weeks.

The History of the Middle East

Part 3 in a series.

Iron

The development of weapons had been slow. Bronze is made from copper and tin, and neither was in abundance. The Phoenicians (as the Greeks called the Canaanites) sailed out of the Mediterranean, all the way to Cornwall in Britain (a very long journey for the time) to mine tin. Bronze warfare remained relatively unchanged for over a thousand years.

But iron was harder than bronze and indestructible. It was mostly found in meteorites, and metallurgists found it hard to make until 1300 BC, when iron was successfully smelted and carbonized for the first time in the Caucasian foothills. Urartu, under the dominion of the Hittites, had a new weapon, and the Hittites were determined to keep the monopoly. But when the Hittites were destroyed, the knowledge of iron-smelting came to Assyria.

The iron trade restored Assyria’s wealth, and when a new king came to the throne in 1115 BC, he had ambitions. This was Tukulti-pal-Esarra, best known to us as Tiglath-Pileser I. He expanded Assyria’s control and, even with the small number of iron weapons available to him, put an end to Nebuchadrezzar’s power in Babylonia.

Arameans and Israelites

The new nomads came the same way the Amorites had come, from the east and west, into the Fertile Crescent. Tiglath-Pileser sent his armies to beat them, but without settlements they were impossible to defeat; they had no settlements to be sacked—instead, they would leave and simply return when the army was gone. These people were the Arameans. Tiglath-Pileser was assassinated in 1093 BC and, predictably, his successors were weak. The Aramean raids took their toll on Assyria and weakened it.

The Israelites took their chance with Assyria weakened. They had entered Canaan in 1200 BC and settled there, but were dominated by the Peoples of the Sea, whom they called Philistines. The iron weapons of the Philistines assured their rule until the first truly strong Israelite king, David, united all of the tribes under his own, Judah. David defeated the Philistines and soon the entire western part of the Fertile Crescent became the kingdom of Israel.

The Arameans infiltrated Israel as well as Assyria. During the reign of Solomon, David’s son, Arameans had established principalities to the north of Israel, including the very strong Damascus (which we refer to by its Greek name, Syria). Syria managed to weaken Israel and, after Solomon’s death in 933 BC, it split into two kingdoms: Israel and Judah.

The Second Assyrian Empire

In 911 BC, Assyria’s new king Adad-nirari II reorganized the government and began to fight the Arameans. The king’s son, Tukulti-Ninurta II, continued his work, equipping the entire army with iron weapons. He also developed methods of siege. In 883 BC, Ashurnasirpal II destroyed all of the Aramean kingdoms except for Syria, chasing them to the Mediterranean Sea and nearly eliminating them. He restored the Assyrian Empire, rebuilding Calah and making it the capital once more.

The new siege machinery added a horrific aspect to Assyrian warfare. Before the siege, wars were fought army to army in the open until one army was destroyed or fled. Now, the Assyrian army could tear down the city’s walls, storm in, and indulge in all manner of cruelty, from looting and abuse to rape and slaughter of women and children. For his part, Ashurnasirpal encouraged this; he was uncommonly cruel, and turned this horror into policy. After sacking a city, he liked to torture the survivors, skinning them alive or burying them alive, impaling or crucifying them, and would make pyramids out of their severed heads. He made the Assyrian Empire feared, but he also made them despised. His successors, no matter how enlightened, were tainted by association. Rebellions were the order of the day; no Assyrian king would have a peaceful reign.

Ashurnasirpal’s son, Shalmaneser III, came to the throne in 859 BC. He attempted to conquer Syria, but was defeated by a combined Syrian-Israelite army that had inferior numbers. Assyria was powerful, and would eventually turn Syria, Israel, and Phoenicia into tribute kingdoms. But the Assyrians were forever at war, subduing Urartu in the north or Babylon in the south. The Babylonian cities had been gradually overtaken by new Semites, the Chaldeans. Shalmaneser III would never defeat them or the Urartians; the Empire simply encompassed too much space and bordered too many kingdoms.

And elsewhere, the Indo-Europeans were edging forward. The first Indo-European kingdom, the Hittite kingdom, made of the same people who had been masters of Egypt for a century and a half, had been gone for 350 years by Shalmaneser’s time. What was left of those people were moving westward, forming the Greek culture and entering Europe proper. In 1500 BC, some of them migrated south, through the hill of modern Iran and into modern Pakistan. The called themselves Aryas, which means “noble.” Their language family was called Aryan by historians, but because of Hitler’s non-scientific racial theories, the language is now referred to as Indo-European (though the term Aryan does survive as Iran). The Medes were an Aryan tribe that entered Mesopotamia and settled along the Caspian Sea and the Zagros Mountains. They called their land Media.

It was here that the next major revolution took place. The Medes bred the horse. Not the ponies that pulled chariots along flat land, but a newly-bred heavy horse that could bear a rider. They were the first of their kind in the world. The Assyrians recognized the advantages of the heavy horse right away, and were quick to utilize them in a military capacity. The horse also brought a revolution in communication, since couriers and messengers could ride further and faster. The Assyrians used the horse to expand the original Sumerian postal system. The Assyrian Empire was much better organized than it had been in its first incarnation. The population exploded, and Calah and Babylon each were home to 30,000 people.

Still, Assyria was exhausted by constant warring. Shalmaneser’s victories were never decisive, and the army had their hands full keeping the Urartians, Medes, Chaldeans, Syrians, and Israelites at bay. Upon his death in 810 BC, his son was an infant, so his wife Sammu-rammat took the throne. She is the source of the Greek legend of Semiramis, ruler of Assyria. Her son ruled after her, but he was only a boy when he came to the throne, and his successors were weak, too. Assyria entered a period of stagnation.

Urartu flourished without having to worry about the Assyrian army, and under its king Argistis I, united the north of Mesopotamia into a kingdom as large as Assyria. Jeroboam II of Israel spread his influence over both Judah and Syria.

But Assyria’s dormancy was not permanent. It was only sleeping.

To be continued.

2 December 1981


Happy 25th birthday, my little Brit Brat.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Today is World AIDS Day

Please learn about it, do something, tell someone. Posted by Picasa

Throwdown 12/1

15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. How dare they call Meat Loaf’s new album Bat Out of Hell III? Seriously, Bat Out of Hell is my favorite album of all time, and everyone knows that what made it so great was the songwriting and arranging of Jim Steinman and the production of Todd Rundgren. I always wished that Meat Loaf and Steinman would’ve stayed together as a team, but Meat Loaf wanted more credit and went off to do crap. Then he wises up and does Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell with Steinman in 1993, and even though Rundgren’s production was the missing ingredient, it was still a solid album. Now, 13 years later, we have Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, and it really, really sucks. Not only does Jim Steinman not do any of the arrangements, he only wrote about half the songs (one of which was recorded already by Celine friggin’ Dion). What a massive fucking disappointment. Nikki Six? Diane Warren? It sounds like an old man trying to do an Evanescence cover band.

2. Wow, that just smacks of effort. Why does everything Brooke Hogan does seem so forced? One day, she’s just going to go batshit Lohan all over the place. I used to like her, but really, what’s the point?

3. Hilary Duff and Joel Madden broke up. And her teeth aren’t as enormous as they were. Things are getting back to normal around here… And yes, it’s official that Hilary has veneers and they were too big for her mouth. No wonder she lost all that weight; poor girl couldn’t get the food into her head!

4. You know who’s together, though? Ralph Fiennes and Ellen Barkin. Ralph, you magnificent lucky bastard, I salute you. I wish I was you right now. And over the weekend.

5. Wow, Ashley Judd had an eating disorder and severe depression, and spent the first part of 2006 in a treatment center. I was wondering where she’d gotten off to. Good for her for seeking help and for not making a huge deal out of it. I know I’m glad to see her again.

6. I used to work with this gay guy who loved Kate Winslet but hated the fact that she got naked in everything. “I’m so sick of seeing that fat bitch naked in every movie she does.” I responded that she wasn’t afraid of nudity because she’s a real actress, and that he should be happy that someone out there is willing to take chances. I also said that I hoped she took her clothes off in every movie in the future just to torment him. As of Little Children, it looks like he’s still being tormented. Thank you, Ms. Winslet.

7. Contrary to reports, Jennifer Love Hewitt is not pregnant. Damn. I was looking forward to those puppies getting even huger.

8. Okay, Jess, I know I promised not to interfere, but I think you’re making a big mistake with John Mayer. And it’s not just because he writes cheap, fake Gordon Lightfoot rip-offs. It’s because he’s an asshat. Did you read his interview in Rolling Stone where he talked about his penis and about how he expects his women to be his sexual servants? And besides, honey, no matter how many times you see each other he always bends over backwards to deny you. It’s not going to work.

9. “Did—did you get it? Right there? Take the picture! Good.” Oh, it’s a good thing Pink isn’t acting like one of the “Stupid Girls” she doesn’t want to be and trying to use everyone’s favorite go-to to get attention for herself and her crappy, useless music career.

“Beige is the color you get when you mix Pink with the kind of crap she records.” – Jack Black.

10. After enduring Beyonce’s new album that she thinks every woman should listen to (you know, the one where she doesn’t know how to act like an adult in an adult relationship), I adore the fact that she’s all pissed off at Jennifer Hudson for basically stealing Dreamgirls from her. It’s just too perfect to me. Plus, I’m actually thrilled to see Jennifer Hudson coming back, since she’s the one who should have won American Idol. Nicely done. Fuck Beyonce, she can’t act, anyway.

11. All I know is, there’s supposedly a celebrity out there, let’s call her Versailles. And Versailles apparently had a sexual fling with another celebrity, let’s call her Lola. And apparently Lola is having a lot of personal problems right now, some of which stem from the fact that she fell in love with Versailles, but Versailles was just having some fun. And, rather cruelly, Versailles preys on Lola’s emotions when she wants a quick wind-up, which is why the girls seem to be so on-again/off-again. Classic abusive relationship, really. And apparently Lola is desperate to get back in with Versailles, and is trying to put a stop to Versailles’s newest relationship with another celebrity, let’s call her BJ. No wonder Versailles seems to always trade on BFF for another. The picture above? Oh, completely unrelated.

12. What is Britney doing while Kevin Federline is threatening to sue her for custody? Certainly not looking like a competent mother. Here’s a picture of Paris holding Sean Preston. I think letting Paris hold your kid is an item on the list of things DCF will take your kid away for…

Okay, wait, what the fuck is this? My Brit Brit with Brandon fucking Davis? Man, suddenly Paris is starting to look stable.

See, they’re so in love!

13. Mel Gibson apparently has yet to learn that his support is completely meaningless. He says: “I felt like sending Michael Richards a note. I feel really bad for the guy. He was obviously in a state of stress. You don’t need to be inebriated to be bent out of shape. But my heart went out to the guy…I like him.” Huh, the drunken anti-Semite feels sympathy for the over-the-top racist? Gee, big shocker there. And how long does Mel Gibson think he’s going to be able to get away with that “I was drunk” excuse? Because, as I keep saying, being drunk does not change who you are, it just takes away social inhibitors that normally keep people from finding out who you are.

14. Gibson also says of whether or not his public anti-Semitism and homophobia will keep audiences away from his movie Apocalypto: “People aren’t like that…[my new film] is primarily entertainment…The movie will stand on its own, regardless of any unfortunate experience I may have stumbled upon.” Yeah, not according to a lot of the people I’ve been talking to, my friend. I just wonder if the Mayans will fall because of gays (like in The Man Without a Face and Braveheart) or Jews (like in The Passion of the Christ), or maybe some kind of gay Jews. Asshole.

15. And speaking of assholes, George W. Bush says we’re going to continue to be completely ineffectual in Iraq, I guess until all of the men and women we have over their die to protect the American war profiteers that are raping the country. Actually, I think he said something generic like “stay the course” or some such bullshit. Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results? Shit, man, the Iraqis don’t want us over there anymore, and we’re not going to win. Let them fight it out now. Let them set up their own country and their own system and then we’ll see if we can win them over diplomatically. Step one; stop treating them like they deserve to be a Third World country. And second, let’s help them get, say, clean water. It’s the least we can do if we expect their oil.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Horton

Blue Sky Studios, the creators of Robots and the Ice Age films, are currently putting together an adaptation of Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who. The film isn't going to hit theaters until 2008, but it's never too early for me to be excited about an animation project, is it?

Here are a couple of promotional images from the film:

They look so good that it's almost a shame for me to have to tell you that Jim Carrey is doing the voice of Horton. Gee, I wonder if he'll overplay it? But Steve Carell is the voice of the Mayor of Whoville, so that's good. I'd rather hear him as Horton, personally, but what do I know?

Anyway, this is as good an excuse as any for me to share another animation classic with y'all: here is the first animated version of Seuss, Bob Clampett's wonderful 1942 cartoon Horton Hatches the Egg.

Well, now I've seen everything! Posted by Picasa

Michael Richards, Racism, and Humor

I know everyone's sick of this now, but there are a couple of things I'd like to draw to your attention regarding the Michael Richards Explosion O' Racism.

I wanted to write a post about how I don't believe Michael Richards when he says he's not a racist just because he yelled things like "He's a nigger!" and "That's what happens when you sass the white man!" and "50 years ago we would've had you upside down from a tree with a fucking fork up your ass!" It's a pretty good guess that, when somebody goes right to yelling shit like that at black people, he's kind of a racist. Just seems like an obvious equation to me. But anyway, New Millennium Nigga already said what I wanted to say and much, much more in a post that should be immortalized for posterity and posted outside the courthouse.

Got that? Okay, now I'll lay some humor on you. From National Lampoon comes The Lost Episode of Seinfeld.


And finally, Peter Lynn, who hipped me and his other, less-important readers to the above video, has a couple of funny observations for Michael Richards's publicist, suggestions for Richards himself, and some classic Bill Hicks clips for comparison of genius to stupidity. Did anyone else notice how Michael Richards tried to pull a George Carlin and try to lead the audience along a social point, except he was pulling it out of his ass to cover his racial remarks so he couldn't do it? Now that's embarrassing!

And while we're on the subject of racism and pop culture, read this Salon editorial in which Debra J. Dickerson makes a really good case against my assessment of Judith Regan as an opportunistic whore and argues that the whole O.J. book was perhaps an attempt at closure. Thanks to tomthedog for hipping me to that.

The MPAA Continues to Demonstrate Why They're Headed Towards Oblivion

The Motion Picture Association of America has, without exception, reacted stupidly to the digital revolution. For the last couple of years, we've had to endure their incompetent and insulting anti-piracy campaign. You know, the one that blames you for all of the piracy going on, instead of people who actually work in the film industry and have access and where, according to at least two studies, 75% of all movie piracy originates. No, the MPAA would rather blame us, tell us we're supporting terrorism, bully us into buying their increasingly-crappy product, and then whine when we don't. So, rather than finding ways to embrace new technology, they're attacking us legally.

Yes, the MPAA is so terrified by computers and downloads and such that they are begging the US Copyright Office to do something about it. They are certain that the current rulings on copyrights mean that you can not put a DVD on your Video iPod.

The MPAA apparently wants us to believe that when we pay for a DVD, we don't own it. We're simply leasing the right to watch the film whenever we want from them. That's why the wording has been changed in the FBI warning that precedes every video (and have you noticed that you can't forward past them anymore? As if anyone pirating them is just simply unaware of what it says, and that's going to fix the problem?). It used to be pretty clear that you could copy a videotape you owned, as long as you weren't selling the copy. Now they want us to know that even doing that is copyright infringement ("copyright infringement without financial gain"). Apparently, we're just paying a one-time fee to permanently borrow a copy.

So yes, the MPAA wants to make it illegal for you to buy a DVD and transfer it onto any video-enabled device (with the exceptions of your laptop or portable DVD player).

Is this the act of anyone sane? Does this not prove that the people running the MPAA are so severely out of touch that they shouldn't have the responsibility to drive down the street by themselves? What kind of an organization sees a Video iPod and tries to make it illegal to use it? Don't they know that by trying to turn this into a legal issue, they're just encouraging more piracy?

The MPAA really needs to step out of their horse-driven buggies and realize that times have changed. Movie companies should use this as a selling point for DVDs; that buying one means you can watch it on your iPod. Especially with the impending death of the PSP, and especially because the experts-that-be are predicting that this Christmas is going to be a huge one for technology sales. Kids today are all wired (or wireless).

The funny thing about this is that Time Warner is developing a technology that makes it easier to rip DVDs to video-enabled devices. Isn't it funny how the same industry that decries our supposed pirating--no, our personal use of their products is always developing new ways for us to use it that they don't like? Remember when Apple made CD burners and then everyone got pissed at them for making it that much easier for us to burn CDs? Well, Sony never stopped making CD-Rs, did they? Give me a break. They all want money so bad they can't help tripping all over their supposed principles to get it.

And just how is the MPAA supposed to enforce this law, anyway? They're so gung ho about trying to force people to watch movies by their rules (and if it were up to them, I truly believe they'd try to make it illegal for movies to be seen anywhere but in a theater), that they probably haven't even thought about it. And what's next for them? Are they going to make it illegal for us to invite friends over to watch DVDs?

I have nothing but contempt for the MPAA. I despise them for being moral arbiters who decide what I am able to see and deal with. I see them as a body of censorship, but even worse than that they're a body of, I don't know, humans I guess, who make decisions that shape the prejudices of society (or did they finally stop making movies where homophobia is hilarious?). If they can't see that taking advantage of technology is more beneficial for them than trying to ban it, they deserve to die out and leave parents the responsibility they're supposed to have.

And I will dance on their grave.

So my advice for everyone is what I already know you're going to do (and I love you for it): IGNORE IT. Just ignore it and see if they get the message. We're the majority, not them. We're the ones buying the legal software to legally rip and legally download. Who's going to pay $250 for a Video iPod they can't watch movies on? Forget it. Sorry, MPAA, but if watching movies on video-enabled devices is outlawed, then only outlaws will watch movies on video-enabled devices.

My Girlfriend Is NOT in Love with Fergie's Pussy

If there's one thing that grosses Becca out more than Paris's huge, rough-looking longshoreman's hands, it's Fergie. Fergie and the fact that we live in a world where men think she's hot. Here's some of the things she said when we first caught the video for "Fergalicious":

"Look at her stubby little legs. She's so short, I hate that she thinks she can wear dresses and look the same as normal people."

"Why is she baring her midriff? It makes her look elongated with her stubby little legs."

"That weird fake tan or nude-colored makeup or whatever it is looks really bad on her. It's like she's made of caramel and she's starting to melt."

"God, she's got this horrible fish mouth. I'll bet her teeth are all barbed. She's so gross."

"Does she really think she looks good when she acts coquettish? She looks like a 62 year-old woman put on a baby doll dress and pathetically trying to pick up little boys. That's the crazy woman who lives down the street who you want your children to stay away from. THAT's what happened to Baby Jane!"

"The worst part about Fergie is that I look at her and I know what she must smell like."

"She looks like an ugly version of E.T. She's so squat and she has a tiny little forehead and absolutely no neck. She needs to stop wearing those collars and start wearing something that makes her look less like an Oompa Loompa."

"She's so nasty. She's like that taxidermed fake wolf thing from The Brotherhood of the Wolf, somehow scaly and furry at the same time. I'll bet if you stick your hand in her pants, that's what it feels like."
"I'll bet if you saw her naked from behind, she'd have a little tail. Like a short, round doggie tail."

"They should call the disease you get from fucking Fergie 'Fergalicious.'"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

My Girlfriend's in Love with Britney's Pussy

I'm sure you've realized this about me already, but I'm pretty shallow. Now, Becca and I both like to talk about sex, and when we were talking the other day, I said I couldn't think of hardly any famous woman I couldn't be tempted by. We thought about it, and I figured Oprah, Star Jones, Nicole Richie, and Rachael Ray were all a definite no. And then I saw this:

Yes, apparently all it takes for me to want to fuck Rachael Ray is to see her nipple. I know, I'm pretty stalwart in my convictions. And yes, I know it's shallow, I already said that.

But I did get a bit of revenge last night when Becca saw the pictures of Britney Spears's pussy. Her reaction was priceless. She just suddenly started babbling: "It's so pretty. Her pussy's just so pretty. My God, it's full of stars."

Okay, she didn't actually say that last line. But she especially liked that Britney wasn't rail thin and that she has this somewhat heart-shaped birthmark on her ass. And Becca's never been attracted to Britney before (except when she was pregnant), so it's both funny and very hot to me that Beck looked at those pictures a few times last night and once again this morning before she went to work. I love that she's in love with Britney Spears's pussy. Posted by Picasa

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this week.

HEAD (1968)
Davy Jones walks off of a Hollywood movie set. Frank Zappa walks up, leading a cow, and says to Davy without a trace of irony: “You should really watch yourself, since kids look up to you to show them the way.” That should tell you everything you need to know about this movie, starring the Monkees as “themselves.” Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider created the Monkees for television, basically as a media experiment to see if kids were so imbecilic that they’d believe the Monkees were a real, popular music group if the TV told them they were. And of course, the kids fell right for it. After two seasons, Rafelson, Schneider, and co-writer Jack Nicholson put together this movie with the express purpose of sending up the audience and destroying the Monkees forever. Seriously, did anyone see this movie? Because I don’t know how it is that women in their forties are so nostalgic for a fake band that, with this movie, told them all to go fuck themselves. This isn’t really a movie that you intellectualize; it’s a movie you experience, going with the flow while being told in psychedelic vignettes that everything is manufactured, all of reality is fake, and it’s impossible to escape. It almost sounds like a celebration of prefabrication, but in fact it shows nearly everything to be hollow and pointless. It’s like a head trip without the benefit of the good sensations. And in and of itself, it’s utterly fucking brilliant. This should be mentioned in the same breath as Easy Rider when it comes to defining the culture of America. The interesting thing is that the Monkees, for all of their phoniness, managed to make a movie far more relevant than either A Hard Day’s Night or Help!, which are remembered much more fondly. This DVD should come with at least a couple of Monkees stickers soaked in acid and commentary by God herself. **** stars.

THE TRANSPORTER 2 (2005)
When I sat down to watch this on cable, I realized that I had forgotten every single thing that happened in the first movie. I’ll forget this one, too. **1/2 stars.

THE DIVE FROM CLAUSEN’S PIER (2005)
Michelle Trachtenberg gives a pretty darn good performance in this Lifetime movie that doesn’t quite come off. Trachty plays a high school graduate whose fianc√© is paralyzed. She was already thinking of leaving him, and soon falls in love with a New Yorker who understands what she wants out of love. But he’s a big whiny gasbag, too. In the end, Trachty has to make a choice between the two men, but instead of choosing herself, like she should, she chooses her small town life over living her dreams. Well done, yet again, Lifetime. ** stars.

DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD (2006)
A revamped version of the documentary Peter Bogdanovich made in 1971 for the AFI. He’s updated it with new interviews, retained the Orson Welles narration, kept the old interviews with John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda and Ford himself, and replaced the film clips with newer prints. It’s a fitting and deserved tribute to America’s master filmmaker. **** stars.

DIE MOMMIE DIE! (2003)
I understand what they’re going for, which is a sort of modern twist on those lame old Douglas Sirk movies, but it’s just kind of a boring movie. *1/2 stars.

THE DEATH OF SALVADOR DALI (2005)
Delaney Bishop’s short film is available exclusively on iTunes, and I recommend every moment of it. This very creative film follows a cartoonishly flamboyant Salvador Dali (a brilliant performance by Salvador Benavides) as he is psychoanalyzed by Sigmund Freud (a funny Robert Cesario). Weird things happen, the best of which is several appearances by the indispensable Dita Von Teese as Gala. 18 minutes of total, absolute brilliance. **** stars.

ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE (1973)
This movie can be seen as a sort of second cousin to Easy Rider; it’s not exactly a pro-establishment movie (much of it deals with corruption in the police force), but it does try to tell us that there are still men out there struggling to be honest. Or at least there were. Robert Blake stars as John Wintergreen, a by-the-book motorcycle cop in Arizona who wants to overcome his own insignificance and become a detective. He stumbles onto a murder case, but as he tries to rise in the ranks he finds bullshit and macho posturing instead of the fulfillment of protection and service. An excellent character study that looks at America with a jaundiced eye, this is much more complex than the critics (who decried it as fascist) gave it credit for. **** stars.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE (1921)
A stunning silent epic about an Argentine family who moves to Europe just before World War I, only to end up on opposite sides of the conflict (one side of the family is French, the other German). The film manages to serve as both an epic and a character study, with Rudolph Valentino in his star-making role (and doing a damn good job, the man is to this day an underrated actor). The best sequence in the movie is a breathless depiction of the Horsemen themselves. One of the best of the Silent Era. **** stars. Look for Wallace Beery as the Red Baron.

FLOATING WEEDS (1959)
One of Yasujiro Ozu’s masterpieces, this film tells the story of a traveling troupe of actors and the romantic entanglements they encounter in small town Japan. This being Ozu, of course, the drama is potentially Shakespearean, but played out in the terms of small, everyday lives. The color cinematography is especially beautiful. **** stars.

The History of the Middle East

Part 2 in a series.

The Amorite Empire

About 2000 BC, they followed in the footsteps of the Akkadians. They came from the south and west, speaking a similar Semitic language. The Akkadians called them the Amurru, which may mean “westerners” or “nomads.” From this name, we call them the Amorites. They came to Canaan and to the small Akkadian town Bab-ilum (“gate of god”), which the Hebrews called Babel.

Babel was an undistinguished town on the Euphrates that had been dominated by Kish. The Amorites who settled there were successful in taking over the rulership, and by 1850 BC the Amorites had overtaken Ashur and were using it as a base to trade with Asia Minor. Free from the influence of Ur, Ashur became a very rich and prestigious town. In 1814 BC the first Amorite king emerged, Shamshi-Adad I. He controlled all of northern Mesopotamia, taking over another trading town, Mari, to establish a very rich realm. His dynasty would last a thousand years.

But in Babel there rose another king, Hammurabi. He became ruler in 1792 BC, and it would have been understandable for him to merely rule quietly; he was stuck between the strong Assyria of Shamshi-Adad I in the north and the united south of Rim-Sin. Hammurabi, however, was a military genius and a master of diplomacy. He knew his two rivals were old and tired, and would never unite. Hammurabi just waited for one of them to die. Shamshi-Adad went first, in 1782 BC, and Assyrian power declined almost instantly. Hammurabi turned his attention to Rim-Sin, and in 19 years conquered the entire south of Mesopotamia. He sacked Mari in 1759 BC and finally brought Ashur to heel, allowing its ruler to remain on the throne but turning it into a tribute kingdom. Hammurabi only lived another four years, but during that time he became the second ruler to rule a united empire in Mesopotamia. He retained Babel as his capital, turning it into a beautiful and powerful city better-known by its Greek name: Babylon.

Hammurabi is best-known, of course, for his code of laws. Actually, his laws are more primitive and violent than the laws of Ur-Nammu 200 years earlier, but Hammurabi’s are notable for being the oldest we have nearly in their entirety. They are also heavily business-oriented, showing again that Mesopotamia banded together for reasons of trade.

Anarchy

Meanwhile, a revolution was taking place on the Russian steppes. In 2000 BC, nomads had tamed the wild horse. In 1800 BC, the chariot followed. Raids on civilization had always been a reality, but with horses and chariots they became tremendously effective. A group of nomadic tribes called the Hurrians swept into Mesopotamia and chipped away at it, establishing small principalities that would band together in a kingdom called Mitanni in 1500 BC. The Hurrians became a major power in Mesopotamia even before Hammurabi’s death. In the Bible, the Hurrians are called Horites; in Egypt, they were known as the Hyksos. They conquered the northern half of Egypt and ruled it for 150 years.

Another tribe of charioteers, the Hittites, entered Asia Minor, driving out the Assyrian merchants and taking control of the eastern half of the region. They adopted the ways of civilization, except for Semitic language. They spoke an Indo-European language.

Anarchy spread throughout Mesopotamia after the death of Hammurabi, destabilizing the region. The nomads took full advantage. Babylon’s power waned. Another tribe, the Kassites, followed the same path as the Guti out of the Zagros Mountains. In 1700 BC they took up the chariot and savagely sacked Ur. In 1595 BC, weakened by Hittite raids, Babylon was overrun by the Kassites, who occupied it. There they adopted Mesopotamian culture, including the Sumerian religion.

The nomads used the horse to conquer the Middle East, but they had also introduced the horse to the world. They would eventually have their advantage turned against them. The Egyptians mastered the chariot and drove out the Hyksos in 1585 BC. For the first time, under Pharaoh Thutmose III (the “Napoleon of Egypt”), Egyptian forces entered Asia. Thutmose defeated Canaan and destroyed the Hittite kingdom. After his death, Egyptian power weakened and receded back to Egypt itself; the Hittites reestablished their kingdom in 1375 BC and made it stronger. In 1365 BC Ashur-uballit began to revitalize Assyria; his successors defeated, conquered, and destroyed Mitanni, finally erasing it from the forward motion of history in 1270 BC.

The Assyrian Empire

Sulmanu-asarid I completed the destruction of the Mitanni and saw Assyria become the strongest power in the north. In the Bible, this king is called Shalmaneser I; he was a member of the same dynasty founded by Shamshi-Adad. Shalmaneser established the Assyrian Empire, which reached all the way to the Hittite kingdom, now at the peak of its power. Shalmaneser built a new capital, Calah.

His successor, Tukulti-Ninurta I, took the empire to its peak. He led campaigns into the Zagros Mountains to battle the Kassites and into the Caucasus Mountains to fight the Hurrians, who were establishing the kingdom of Urartu (Ararat). He turned Kassite-occupied Ur and Elam into tribute kingdoms, and the Assyrian Empire soon ruled all of Mesopotamia, a realm even greater than Hammurabi’s. Even the Hittites could not stand against it.

Tukulti-Ninurta I ruled from 1245 BC to 1208 BC before being assassinated by his own son. He had been the subject of epic poems in his lifetime, and might be the king referred to in Genesis as Nimrod. And so the cycle goes; the prosperity of his reign turned almost instantly into decline when he died.

Another tribe was coming down the Russian steppes. History knows little about them, but they might have been the Dorians, who would establish the culture we think of as Greek. They went to the west and circled the Black Sea, driving the people who already lived there into the sea. Those people, whoever they were, took up piracy and were particularly violent and destructive. The raided the coasts of Egypt, where they were referred to as simply the Peoples of the Sea. Egypt survived, but was significantly weakened. The pirates also raided Asia Minor, destroying the Hittite kingdom. Assyria, too, was weakened.

With Assyria’s hold on the Kassite rulers of Babylon loosened, there was a chance for recovery. But they were too weak to organize, and could not resist an Elamite force that sacked the city. The native Babylonians had had enough of the inept Kassite rule, and put a final end to it. A new king, a Baylonian, took control. This was Nabu-kudurri-usur; in the Bible, he is called Nebuchadrezzar I. He defeated the Elamites decisively and saved Babylon in 1124 BC.

But another revolution in warcraft would put a quick end to Babylon’s pretensions.

To be continued.

Dave Cockrum 1943-2006

Cockrum was born in Pendleton, Oregon, son of an Air Force colonel. The Cockrum family moved across the country over the years, and Dave discovered comic books at an early age as something stable. His favorites were Captain Marvel and Blackhawk. He loved comics so much that he wanted to create them, but instead joined the Navy after he graduated. Cockrum left the military after six years.

Cockrum was first employed at Warren Publishing, the home of Vampirella. After some time there, he became an assistant inker to Murphy Anderson at DC Comics; Cockrum worked on Superman and Superboy, and the Legion of Super-Heroes stories that ran as backups in Superboy. Cockrum soon became the lead artist for Legion in the early 1970s, redefining their look. Cockrum worked there until 1975, when he and DC had a dispute over the return of his original artwork for Superboy #200.

Cockrum found himself at Marvel Comics, where editor Roy Thomas and writer Len Wein were planning on relaunching the unsuccessful Uncanny X-Men comic book (the series had been cancelled, but continued to run as reprints and was starting to gain new readers). Cockrum was chosen as artist, and had a surprising amount of input into the comic; new team members were being created to supplment Cyclops (an original member) and Wolverine (borrowed from an issue of Alpha Flight), and Cockrum had already designed Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus for possible additions to the Legion of Super-Heroes. They were introduced in the special Giant-Size X-Men in 1975, and the relaunch was successful; Cockrum became the regular artist for the new series, which started with Uncanny X-Men #94. Len Wein left after another issue and was replaced by Chris Claremont, the writer who would define the X-Men. Cockrum stayed until 1977, was replaced by John Byrne, then came back in 1981 and left again two years later. But Cockrum's designs stayed with the book for years and were seen for a decade as the definitive versions of the characters. Cockrum became especially identified with the character Nightcrawler (seen above), my personal favorite X-Man and the most dynamic.

Cockrum did a lot of other work at Marvel, becoming their primary cover artist in the late seventies. In 1983, he created the graphic novel The Futurians, his second-best-known work. Cockrum worked steadily until 2004, when he became seriously ill from pneumonia-and-diabetes-related complications. Marvel Comics agreed to compensate Cockrum for co-creating the X-Men. But he passed away just three days ago from his illness at the age of 63; he was such a life-long comics fan that he was wearing his Superman pajamas when he died in his sleep.

Dave Cockrum will be missed. Whenever I think of the X-Men, it is always his work that I see. And so do many others.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Britney Spears's Pussy



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Monday, November 27, 2006

So Much Britney Flesh on Display...


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The History of the Middle East

Part 1 in a series.

Pre-History

10,000 years ago, the entire population of the Earth totaled roughly eight million people. As the glaciers receded, humans began to discover agriculture and methods of food storage that allowed them to settle, making the transition from primarily hunters to primarily herders or farmers. As more and more people banded together in cooperation and mutual protection, towns formed, then cities, then civilization.

Civilization begins in the Middle East. The northward retreat of glaciers left behind ideal cultivation plants like barley and wheat. The region between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea is called the Fertile Crescent because it is a curved band of incredibly fertile earth. It borders the Arabian Desert from gulf to sea for a thousand miles. The farming problem in this time period (8000 BC) was the lack of regular rainfall. The Fertile Crescent is flat and warm, with the rain not falling out of the clouds until it meets the cool, rising air of the Zagros Mountains in the east. The summers were dry; the winters were wet. Water also came down from the mountains as snow melted, helping to form the two rivers the Greeks named Tigris and Euphrates. From the Greeks we get the name Mesopotamia, “Between-the-Rivers.” It is about the size of Arizona, encompassing the Fertile Crescent, Syria, and ancient Canaan.

Mesopotamia is not abundant in rocks or timber, so the first buildings were built out of clay. The cities rose higher as the cities were filled with more garbage and additional layers of clay were added to rise above it. The rivers flood every year, unpredictably so, and sometimes towns and villages would be destroyed. New towns would be built on the old ones until the towns just finally sank into mounds.

The unpredictability of the floods led Mesopotamia to develop an irrigation system to control the water supply that led to a farming revolution. By 4000 BC, the population in some cities may have been as high as 10,000. With so many people, the tribal system gave way to the city-state, complete with a king. Religion developed as a unifying strength in what seemed a capricious and erratic universe. Bureaucracy, taxation, and civil service came, too.

Sumer

The history of Mesopotamia is cyclical—civilization builds up and accumulates wealth, barbarians invade, the conquerors learn the ways of civilization and assimilate, and then new barbarians invade. This happened in 4000 BC, when Mesopotamia was invaded by the Sumerians. They found Mesopotamia in good working order and left it that way, simply assuming control over the leadership. At first. In time, the Sumerians flourished, continuing to advance. They were the first civilization to develop monumental architecture, mathematics, the calendar (a 12-month year), divisions of time (a 24-hour day, a 60-minute hour, a 60-second minute), weights and measures for trade, a postal system, the wheel-and-axle, the donkey cart, an alphabet, and a system of writing. This led to record-keeping and contracts, which lead to order and social stability, which lead to abstract thought. And with all of that comes history, finally being recorded; this was civilization in its first flowering. This was the beginning of history.

Sumer became the center of Mesopotamian culture, and by 3100 BC its capital city, Uruk, was the most advanced city the world had yet seen. But this time period in history remains largely a mystery because of what historians call simply the Flood. In 2800 BC all of Mesopotamia was covered by 25 feet of water that buried Sumer and wiped out all historical records. The Bible imagines the Flood as covering the world, as does the epic of Gilgamesh. The time before the Flood would become the stuff of Mesopotamian legends.

Sumer also developed war. The city-states had already been weakened by Bronze Age warfare when the Flood came. But even though Sumer rebuilt and retained its prosperity, the 13 Sumerian city-states resumed warring for dominance. Gilgamesh was an actual king of Uruk around 2700 BC. In 2550 BC, Eammatum of Lagash dominated Sumer; one of his successors, Urukagina, sought to unite all of Sumeria against the barbarians at the gates. In 2400 BC, Lugalzaggesi of Uruk took control.

The Akkadian Empire

Semitic people had settled upstream from Sumer before the Flood, entering the land from the fringe of the Arabian Desert. These Semites had a more advanced, polysyllabic language than the monosyllabic Sumerians, and the term Semitic refers to the language, not the people themselves. For 600 years they gradually became a part of Sumerian life and watched them destroying themselves with war. They began to look for their own leader, and they found him in Sargon.

Sargon was probably not his real name; it means “legitimate king,” but Sargon actually usurped the leadership of Kish and founded his own city Agade (or Akkad). It’s from this power base that we come to call these Semitic people the Akkadians.

In 2370 BC, Sargon defeated Lugalzaggesi and took over all of Sumer. Akkad and Sumer were united, and civilization flowered again. Akkad adopted Sumerian culture, and Sargon extended Akkadian control and influence into the north and absorbed the Elamites in the east centered at Susa. Akkadian colonists founded Assyria. It was history’s first true empire.

The Akkadian Empire reached its peak under Sargon’s grandson Naram-Sin in 2290 BC; he even pushed the empire into Asia Minor. But his successors were weak and fought among themselves, so the Guti people came down out of the Zagros Mountains and easily took the Empire. The Gutians were always considered outsiders and did not assimilate into the culture the way the Akkadians had. In 2215 BC, Agade was completely destroyed. Interestingly, in Lagash, art flourished at this time. In 2120 BC the Gutians were expelled from Mesopotamia by Ur-Nammu, the king of Ur. He returned the Akkadian Empire to greatness and developed the first written laws (which stress financial restitution over physical punishment). Much of what we know of Sumer comes from the written records of this period.

In 2030 BC, the city-states had been weakened again by war. Ur was occupied by Elamites in 2006 BC, and at this point Sumer as it had been (and remained into Akkadian times) finally came to an end. All of Mesopotamia spoke Akkadian, and when a language dies, culture dies with it. Sumerian was only spoken for ancient religious rituals, but by 1900 BC even that stopped. The Sumerians had simply stopped thinking of themselves as Sumerians; they were Akkadians. Sumer, the inventor of civilization, was no more.

To be continued.

Gamers Are a Bunch of Weaklings

Because I’m a mean bastard, I loved this story.

Apparently the gamers that went out and bought the Nintendo Wii are complaining of, get this, getting too much exercise.

I assume by now everyone knows how the Wii controller works, but just in case, here’s a little 30-second TV spot.


So, this cool motion sensitive technology is supposed to put you further into the game, which is what a lot of gamers are always blathering on about, anyway. I think it’s a truism among people my age (30) and younger that for every skate monkey, there are 15 other kids pretending to be skate monkeys but who are actually doing it on their PS2s. Now the Wii is forcing these poseurs and our fat, inactive kids to actually be active. They even have a name for this: “Wii elbow.” Remember when that used to be tennis elbow, from actually doing something physical? God, kids crack me the fuck up.

The Wall Street Journal even had an editorial about it over the weekend. They pointed to a 12 year-old girl whose arm started to feel numb almost immediately, and said “It’s harder than playing basketball.” I would suspect that this kid doesn’t have a whole lot of experience with basketball if her arm is numb from playing a bowling video game. But this seems to be a common thing, especially among computer programmers (to quote The Simpsons, it must be the non-stop sitting and snacking).

Damn, maybe I need to get me a Nintendo Wii; I do need to lose weight and get in shape, and this might be a fun way to do it. And maybe I job, so I can actually afford to buy a Nintendo Wii… Besides, that Zelda game looks cool, and if it’s even half as cool as The Ocarina of Time was…

Apparently people have also been having problems with knocking over lamps, hitting other players, even accidentally punching their dogs because these morons are flailing all over the place. The reason I think this is so fucking funny is that, apparently, the Nintendo Wii itself warns players about this hazard at the beginning of some of the games.

You fat, stupid gamers take everything so seriously, and it cracks me up. I can’t believe everyone in this country is so out of shape that it’s a news story that the nation’s reclusive and nerdy are being felled by a video game console. That they are so unused to anything aerobic that a Nintendo game (which can be played without leaving the couch, according to Nintendo spokespeople) is making them numb, sore, and sweaty. Man, how is it that we haven’t been conquered yet?

Nintendo’s response? “If people are finding themselves sore, they may need to exercise more.” Hysterical! Man, fuck everyone in high school who ever made me feel bad for being overweight. You assholes are just as bad. If you need a tip for the future, here it is: just because you can box on a video game, doesn’t mean you can do it in real life.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Song of the Week: "Little Know-It-All"

Here's something rockin' for a change; Iggy Pop with Sum 41. This is the first Iggy Pop song I've really loved in the last decade.

Read This

It's important, and it's something you need to think about.

"Tomorrow marks the day that we will have been in Iraq longer than we were in all of World War II. That's right. We were able to defeat all of Nazi Germany, Mussolini, and the entire Japanese empire in LESS time than it's taken the world's only superpower to secure the road from the airport to downtown Baghdad."

And it goes on from there.

Sunday Hottie 95


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Yet Another Post on Peter Jackson and The Hobbit

And then I thought to myself: Peter Jackson is a businessman, too. I know that hardcore Ringers like to talk about Jackson's affinity for and love/devotion to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, but he's said on several occasions (or at least he used to) that he read The Lord of the Rings when he was younger, but was never a fanatic. He preferred Ray Harryhausen movies. And he has also said that he went after the rights to The Lord of the Rings for one reason: his FX house, Weta Workship, had bought an entire bank of computers for The Frighteners and needed to work on another large-scale FX project to justify the cost. So, his making the decision to produce The Lord of the Rings was originally a business decision, which was essentially exacerbated by Universal's decision to kill the King Kong project in 1997.

So what makes everyone think that Peter Jackson is being completely honest? He's already admitted that he was lying when he claimed that he didn't know New Line was giving him a time limit to make a decision. He's already pissed at New Line over the profits from The Fellowship of the Ring; what if he's actively trying to steal the rights to The Hobbit so that he doesn't have to deal with New Line again? What if it's a deal he's made with MGM, who are trying to stop New Line from going ahead with another director? And yes, New Line was being unethical by announcing publicly that Peter Jackson was going to make the film, trying to create a public sentiment in favor of the project to pressure Jackson into dropping his lawsuit and making the movie. But was Peter Jackson being any more ethical when he released a letter to the fans making New Line the villain of the piece and revealing the details of his lawsuit to the public? Wasn't he doing the same thing, trying to shame the other side into giving in? Before, this was an audit of profits that was in dispute. Now it's become yet another story about the (incredibly rich) independent filmmaker against the business-oriented movie corporations.

That's not really fair to the dedicated fans who have put Peter Jackson where he is. To the people who always wanted to see a proper Lord of the Rings movie and loved Jackson's, to the people who were fans of his already and wanted to see him go far, or to the people who became fans because of those three special movies.

But how much of this is really motivated by someone thinking that the fans deserve another special product (and yes, movies are a product, especially in a franchise situation like this one)? Isn't it true that New Line made an assload of money on the first films, and wants to make another assload on this one? What about Peter Jackson? Does he really think The Hobbit needs to be a movie, or does he want to milk the cash cow again? Because, honestly, he already has everything he needs to make another Middle-earth film pretty quickly.

Fans are saying now that they'll boycott any version of The Hobbit which is not directed by Peter Jackson, which seems ridiculous to me. I know they want more of the same, but why cut yourself off from the possibility of new visions and new ideas? New interpretations? I know there's a lot of people out there who think no director other than Peter Jackson could make The Hobbit and have it be good, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say there might be someone out there who could do it better? We don't honestly know. Back when it was announced that the guy who directed low-budget horror/comedies and box office flop The Frighteners was going to direct The Lord of the Rings, the few people who had actually heard of Peter Jackson were not happy about it. For that matter, there were a lot of people who were upset that George Lucas wasn't going to direct The Empire Strikes Back. But the resulting movie was better than Star Wars. Sam Raimi could direct The Hobbit fairly well, I think. So could Guillermo del Toro. Other people who I think could make an interesting movie out of The Hobbit: Michel Gondry, Alfonso Cuaron, Kerry Conran, Mira Nair, Terry Gilliam, Robert Rodriguez, Werner Herzog, or Terence Malick. I'd love to see it as an animated film by Hayao Miyazaki, but that's just me. You might not agree with any of those choices, but I'm just trying to make a point: there are a lot of great directors out there. Why limit your sense of aesthetics to the same thing over and over again.

Fans get into this pretty easily, too. Remember all the people who hated Daniel Craig and started the "Craig Not Bond" campaign? How many of those people are now among the legions saying that Daniel Craig is the best James Bond in history? I wasn't so keen on Craig as Bond, either, and I said so, but the invisible car in Die Another Day did a lot more to sour me on going to another 007 movie than the casting of an actor I don't care for. But you know what? When I'm wrong I say I'm wrong. The good reviews for Casino Royale have made me want to see the movie.

Further example: I thought it was ridiculous that Bryan Singer should direct Superman Returns. I complained about it, but I didn't feel the need to start some kind of movement to take him off the picture. I just figured I wouldn't go, because I think Bryan Singer sucks and I don't give a shit. Fans do know that they don't have to see these movies, right? That they can skip them and stay home? And that the fact that The Hobbit is a movie (and it was already an animated TV special in 1977) doesn't erase the novel from history, right?

Ironic example: I thought Ian McKellen was going to make a horrible Gandalf. What changed my mind is that he was so good as Magneto, another role I thought he was going to suck in. I didn't think that Viggo Mortensen would be any good as Aragorn, I didn't think that Sean Astin would be a good Sam, and I didn't think that Liv Tyler would be a good Arwen. I was wrong on all of those counts. If you don't give something a chance, sometimes you'll just never know.

Personally, I think I'd like to see Middle-earth through the imaginative eye of different people now. I already know what Peter Jackson's interpretation is. There's a pretentiousness and fatuousness around the fantasy movies that have come out recently, and the fans are only perpetuating it. And the rest of the audience is paying the price by sitting through pretentious movies like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Silent Hill that could have been fun movies but were bloated into garbage. Maybe the fans are too involved already in trying to dictate what they want to see.