Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tyra Banks: Maybe It's Time to Shut Up Now

I've seen The Tyra Banks Show a few times, and it really is nothing more than a low-rent Oprah. And like Oprah, Tyra likes to pretend that, at least for an hour a day, she really, like, really cares about stuff. She cries a lot because, you know, that's genuine. But I just caught the disgusting clip of her crying on her own show because the tabloids made her feel bad about her body, and I thought "Hon, maybe it's time to shut up now."

I'm not saying this to be insensitive. I'm saying it because I think, in her torpor, she's being insensitive about other people who are fat. Because Tyra Banks has always, through her entire modeling career, been very willing to talk about how she's not skinny like other models. Here are just a few choice quotes from any number of interviews in the past however-many-years she's been modeling and, um, acting.

* Black women don't have the same body image problems as white women. They are proud of their bodies. Black men love big butts.

* I can get a six-pack on my abs if I work out hard enough, but those hips and thighs are real stubborn.

* I had a very strong self-image problem. [Had?]

* I lived on McDonald's and Burger King.

* I look at myself and pick out the things I don't like. No matter how much I work out, I never get muscle tone in my butt and hip area.

* I love all kinds of bread. Whenever I crave junk food, I want salty things like peanuts or potato chips.

* I love food and feel that it is something that should be enjoyed. I eat whatever I want. I just don't overeat.

* I went through a stage of losing weight really fast-I guess my body was preparing itself to be thinner and taller.

See, Tyra's problem derives from her self-esteem. She was fat as a kid, and she worked hard to not be fat. But fat people always have problems losing that stigma of being made fun of as children. They keep talking about, they obsess on it, and if someone calls them fat as an adult, they're terrified and cut right to the soul. And I know, because I've been fat since I was in fourth grade. I know exactly what she's feeling. It crippled her self-esteem at a young age, and now approval is very important to her and ridicule is devastating.

But what really bothers me here is a couple of things. First, as others have pointed out to me, Tyra Banks has spent a lot of time railing against the modeling industry for perpetuating an unrealistic standard of beauty; standards perpetuated by, say, Tyra Banks on America's Next Top Model, which is essentially a show about judging someone physically by subjective standards. The same standards that Tyra is bristling about being held to. Second, Tyra isn't telling the tabloids to fuck off; she's falling all over herself to say that those pictures of her don't reflect how she looks. You know, except for them being actual photos of her. That's what really bothers me. She can't just say, "I've gained some weight, so what?" She's saying, "I don't really look like that--but if I did, what's the big deal?" She's one of those assholes that everyone knows who won't ever admit for a second that something could be a little bit wrong with her. She doesn't have the kind of problem a pleb like you would have to deal with. Oh, but it's okay that you do!

Seriously, to quote Sarah Silverman, what the cock is that shit?

Hypocrisy is feeding heavily in the entertainment industry, as it always will.

Tyra told the tabloids to kiss her fat ass. Well, Tyra, I'd like to invite you to do the same for me. Seriously, just suck my cock, alright? Thanks for your righteous indignation on behalf of fat people and all of the women who look up to you that you've actually called sad, but I'm hoping most people will come to see it for the self-serving rant it really is. Because your point is not that 161 pounds is not fat, or that you're not fat; it's that you don't like being associated with fat women.

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Seventeen: Ezra

Chapter One
Dear Jews,
Since I clearly couldn’t have any compassion of my own, despite being one of the greatest kings in the history of the world, I’m going to say that God told me to let you rebuild the Temple. And, what the hell, the rest of Jerusalem, too. You’re free from the Babylonian Exile forced on you by the Assyrians. Take your riches back and be prosperous.
Marduk forever!
Love,
Cyrus the Great

Chapter Two
An easily-ignored list of the numbers of the Jews and their leaders and stuff. Role call! Zerubbabel! Jeshua! Nehemiah! Cubby! Annette! Chief? McCloud! Croooooooooow!

Chapter Three
Jeshua becomes the high priest and he sets up an altar and… worships and… I don’t know, leads prayers and… shit.

Chapter Four
Dear King Artaxerxes,
I represent an organization of pissed off Assyrians who worship YHWH. The Jews wouldn’t let us help rebuild the Temple so, through careful bribes and propaganda, we’ve stymied their attempts for generations. Er, no, wait! I mean… yeah, the Jews are going to make Jerusalem strong again, and then they’re going to attack you. So, if you could just go ahead and tell them to stop, that’d be greeeeeat, okay?
Love,
Rehum and Shimshai

Dear Whatever Your Names Were,
Stop building at once. Fuck you. Fuck all of you. No more aid for you. I’m supreme, not your god, so knock it off.
That’s an order,
Artaxerxes

Chapter Five
Dear King Darius,
Two prophets called Haggai and Zechariah are building the temple again! Help! I’m afraid!
Shit-scared,
Tattenai

Chapter Six
Tattenai,
I found Cyrus’s old decree in Ecbatana. You know, the one where he tells the Jews that they’re no longer in exile and they can rebuild the Temple. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Give them the materials they need, leave them alone, and shut up. I’ve got more important wars to fight—don’t bug me with your whiny shit again.
Your king,
Darius

Chapter Seven
Dear Ezra the Prophet,
Boy, does this timeline seem all wrong, or what? Aren’t you supposed to be, like, 189 years old now? Anyway, tell the Jews I said to worship their little hearts out and do whatever you say. And while you’re at it, go ahead and take the rest of the Jews still in Babylon if you like.
Who loves ya, baby?
King Artaxerxes

Chapter Eight
Basically another list, this time of the families who returned to Jerusalem. The second grouping, actually.

Chapter Nine
Dear God,
Sorry about these Jews. Yet again, they’ve married foreign women and followed their ways, worshiping Baal and all that. I feel like I’ve really failed you. If you want to destroy us all again, I totally understand.
Love,
Ezra

Chapter Ten
As an apology, Ezra basically forces all of the Jews who have foreign wives to send those wives away. And their kids, too. All of them, forced to leave the country. And I don’t really know what happens to them after that… Let’s say, eaten by lions. God’s mercy in action, yet again.

And, wow, that's the whole thing in a nutshell. Next week: The Book of Nehemiah; apparently, Nehemiah and Ezra used to be one book, but now they're two very short ones. Which is cool with me, because I don't really want to sit through another Genesis or anything right now.

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton

Another one of my heroes is Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton. He was an explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, ethnologist, linguist, poet, hypnotists, fencer, and diplomat. He spoke 29 languages and traveled throughout Asia and Africa. Some call him a national hero; some claim he was a scoundrel.

Burton was born in Devon in 1821, the son of a British army officer and a Hertfordshire heiress. His family traveled when he was a young child. They moved to Tours, France, when Burton was four, and for years they moved from France to England to Italy. Burton learned French, Italian, and Latin very quickly while still a boy. Supposedly, he had an affair with a young Romani woman and learned the rudiments of her language. He came to regard himself as an outsider, later writing "Do what thy manhood bids do, from none but self expect applause."

In 1840, Burton started at Trinity College, Oxford, where he learned falconry and Arabic, as well as fencing; he even apparently had a duel with another student. He was permanently expelled in 1842 after attending a steeplechase (a violation of college rules) and telling the authorities that students should be allowed to attend. He trampled the College's flower beds with his horse and carriage while departing.

Burton enlisted in the army of the East India Company, hoping to fight in the Afghan War. The conflict was over by the time he got to India, so he was posted to an infantry unit. He became proficient in Hindustani, Gujarati, Marathi, Persian, and Arabic. He studied the Hindu religion and culture and did very well; he became so immersed in the Indian culture that he was tormented by his fellow British soldiers, who called him "The White Nigger." They also called him "Ruffian Dick" because of his "demonic ferocity" in combat. He kept a large menagerie of caged monkeys, further alienating him from the men. Assigned to the Sindh survey, Burton learned to use measuring equipment.

Burton started traveling in disguise, trying to get even further into the native culture and, for a time, working as a spy for his unit. He called himself Mirza Abdullah snd was able to fool even his fellow officers. Burton's spy activities mostly involved investigations of brothels, including one where English soldiers frequented young boy prostitutes. He produced quite a detailed report; Burton had always been fascinated by sexual practices, and many felt that he could only write so well about them because he experienced them. Consequently, he was accused of having used the brothel himself.

In 1849, Burton returned to Europe on sick leave and wrote his first book, Goa and the Blue Mountains. Traveling to Boulogne to visit a fencing school, Burton first met the woman he would marry, Isabel Arundell. Then he went on to ask the Royal Geographical Society to let him lead an expedition that would let him leave the army, which was approved. He then made a pilgrimage to Mecca while disguised as a Muslim. He was familiar with their customs and behavior from India. He disguised himself down to the smallest detail--which is to say he was circumcised just in case. The journey was a dangerous one; anti-European sentiment was strong among the Muslims of the Middle East. He took the title of Hajji and wore the green turban, having made the pilgrimage successfully. He wrote about it in another book, The Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah.

In 1854, Burton was transferred to the political department of the East India Company, apparently doing spy work again. Then he journeyed to explore the intereior of the Somali country to make sure Red Sea trade was kept safe for England. He was the first European to see the Somali capitol, Harar. Burton was introduced to the Emir and stayed there for ten days. He almost died on the way back due to lack of supplies. For his second expedition into Somali country, he was joined by a number of men including Lieutenant John Hanning Speke. They were attacked by a force of 200 Somali tribesmen; Speke was captured and wounded in eleven places before escaping. Burton was impaled through the face with a javelin; it entered one cheek and exited the other; he escaped with the weapon still stuck in his head. The British authorities viewed Burton's failure harshly, investigating the expedition for two years to determine the extent of his culpability in the disaster. Cleared of most of the blame, it nearly ruined his career. This is all described in First Footsteps in East Africa.

Burton returned to the army in 1855 to fight in the Crimean War. He served in a cavalry corps, but there was a troop mutiny that Burton was implicated in, damaging his reputation further. He was able to finagle another Royal Geographic Society assignment, traveling to Zanzibar in 1856 to explore rumors of an inland sea (and, more importantly, to find out what exports might be traded or taken). Burton hoped to discover the source of the Nile River, but didn't tell anyone; he knew anything short of that would be considered a failure. Before leaving, Burton became secretly engaged to Isabel Arundell; her family wouldn't approve him, because he wasn't Catholic and wasn't wealthy.

Burton was again accompanied by Speke on this trip, which was guided by Sidi Mubarak. They were plagued by problems--unreliable bearers, stolen supplies, deserters, tropical diseases; Speke was blinded at one point, and went deaf in one ear from an infection caused by attempts to remove a beetle. Burton was riddled by a disease that swelled his legs and left him unable to walk for a time.

The expedition reached Lake Tanganyika in February 1858. Surveying became impossible; too much equiment had been lost, damaged, or stolen, and Speke was still blind. Burton fell ill just as Speke regained his vision, and couldn't explore the area. Speke went north and found Lake Victoria, which, even though it couldn't be properly surveyed, he was convinced was the source of the Nile. Burton and Speke returned home separately. Speke would return to Lake Victoria in 1863, traveling along it all the way up the Nile; however, he had lost track of the course between Lake Victoria and Lake Albert, and Burton and others were skeptical about his findings.

Burton and Speke were already in the midst of a very public quarrel. Speke never liked or trusted Burton; they were very different in character. There was professional rivalry and bitterness. Speke apparently resented Burton's position and claimed his leadership was in name only, citing his invalid status when he said that Burton did little. Debts had been run up and left unpaid; Speke put all the responsibility on Burton for those. The public took Speke's side; he was more in tune with the morals of the day. Burton's reputation was damaged severely.

The source of the Nile is, in fact, Lake Victoria. But at the time, many were skeptical. When Burton and Speke had to return to England separately, they agreed to give their first public speech together. But Speke made it home first and gave a lecture at the Royal Geographical Society and claimed Lake Victoria as the source of the Nile. Burton returned to a London that had made a hero of Speke, with Burton's own role reduced to that of invalid companion. Speke was already organizing a return that did not include his rival. Speke, for his part, badmouthed Burton in public, even claiming that Burton had tried to poison him. Burton spoke out against Speke's claim, demanding more thorough documentation and measurements. The two even agreed to debate it on 16 September 1864. Burton was a superior speaker and planned to win the debate, but the day before the debate was to happen, Speke shot and killed himself. Many thought it to be suicide, but the coroner reported it as a hunting accident. Burton was in the debate hall waiting for him; when the news of Speke's death reached him, he became visibly shaken and cancelled his talk.

In 1861, Burton married Isabel in a Catholic ceremony, but quickly entered the Foreign Service as consul in Equatorial Guinea. The climate forced Isabel to stay at home while Burton explored the West African coast. In 1865, he was transferred to Brazil. This time, Isabel joined him.

In 1869 he was transferred to Damascus. In his time as consul, he turned most of the Jewish population against him in a dispute over money-lending. There were already tensions between Jews, Muslims, and Christians, but Burton tried to keep the peace. Mohammed Rashid Pasha, governor of Syria, once sent three hundred men to try and kill him. Many people wanted him removed from his office; Burton was transferred to Trieste in 1871.

Burton spent these years writing and studying sexual practices of the world. Many of his books from this period were published by the Kama Shastra Society, including translations of The Kama Sutra if Vatsyayana, The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (or Arabian Nights), and The Perfumed Garden of the Shaykh Nefzawi. He also published The Kasidah, a long poem which he had written after returning from Mecca, and which many cite as evidence of Burton's sufism.

During this time, he also wrote a number of badly-received travel books. He also wrote Vikram and the Vampire, a collection of Hindu tales; his uncompleted history of swordsmanship, The Book of the Sword; and a translation of the Portuguese national epic, The Lusiads. He was also knighted in 1886.

Burton died in Trieste in 1890 of a heart attack. Burton was not a Catholic, but Isabel was, and she convinced a priest to perform the last rites, something which caused a rift between her and Burton's friends. Isabel never recovered; she burned most of her husband's papers, including his extensive journals and a new translation of The Perfumed Garden. She claimed his spirit had commanded her to burn them, and that she was trying to protect his reputation. Many historians have condemned her actions. The new version of The Perfumed Garden contained a chapter on pederasty, something he had been accused of since his undercover days in India (there are still rumors that he and Speke were lovers who fell out). Burton had actually meant for it to be published after his death as a final "fuck you" to Victorian society (and, ironically, to provide for his widow).

One book that did make it out after he died was The Jew, the Gipsy, and el Islam, which was highly controversial and violently anti-Semitic. It asserted the existence of Jewish human sacrifices; his investigations into that topic had provoked hostility in Damascus.

Burton was considered a rogue, and he liked to play the outsider. He was always controversial, and there were rumors swirling all around him, the least of which was possible homosexuality (or worse, bisexuality). He had no respect for authority, and there were people who would rather leave a room than associate with him. He was so interested in sex that even his travel writing is full of details about sexual practices and techniques in foreign lands (even penis lengths). He was a heavy drinker, a hemp user, and even partook in opium on occasion. He was even accused of murdering someone in Mecca, which he vehemently denied, though he later took pride in telling a priest: "Sir, I'm proud to say I have committed every sin in the Decalogue."

Friday, February 02, 2007

Four Sexual Poems

I wrote these during an English lecture when I was bored out of my mind. I think I was reading a lot of de Sade at the time and was in a very misogynistic mood. Seriously, these are bad, flowery, faux-Victorian...but whatever.

On the Beauty of Adultery

Come quickly, love, for I must fly,
Or at your husband’s hand I die,
He will not understand us here,
As we lay coupling on your bier,
That long ago we felt a lust
That never died in lonely dust.
He cannot see us and forgive,
And I have much life left to live,
My wife awaits, my child does cry
In a little crib, as yours nearby.
Our closeness brief, lovemaking strong,
With fury spent at Eros song,
Your skin so soft and tender breast,
How I wish my hand upon to rest,
But with thy husband’s sure return
Desire hot will stop to burn.
The beauty that is our stolen time,
Your body golden and sublime,
Your inner warmth, your ardent yield,
Athletic on fair Venus’ field,
Submission delicious, delicate strength,
An extension of desire’s length,
I would take our memories fair,
And not soil them with a tragic flair,
That knowledge of liaisons bring,
The moment’s sure and lonely fling,
We must now end our lover’s dance,
And make no promise of romance.
For a moment you were all and one,
But now I fly, for I have cum.


In the Moment of Her Hesitation

Time enough for love and less,
For kisses young and Cupid’s bless,
Of groves of love and yearnings strong,
Invok’d to my rapacious song,
For days of lust, abed and wild,
Of tortures strong, and nothing mild,
Innocence sacrificed, erotic fling,
The pleasures of thy aid I sing.

Now come to me, my dearest one,
(So young to be so dear undone)
And learn philosophy of youth,
Of libertinage so uncouth,
To kiss your breasts so young and firm,
To feel you beneath me squirm,
Undress thy body and now thy soul,
Impede me no prodigious hole,
But enter all and at my will,
That mind and body at once to fill,
To aid you in thy growing blush
That to no shade of red you flush,
And never once to feel shame
For lust is all, and love mere game.


Ode to Whipping a Young Lady

Surrender to me all thy charm,
And I will bring you to no harm,
Though whip may bite and strike may peal,
Thy young body were made to heal,
And wounds done in the name of fuck,
Are not from hate and not to buck,
I whip you from a lover’s view,
A gift of mark so red in hue,
A constant flush, reminder sore,
That once you were my little whore,
But so returned at break of day,
To civilized and safer way,
But come the night, I am your slave,
Unsubtle lust make me your knave,
For with the pain come from my hand,
Eros place me in your command,
And make of me a lustful tool,
The master turned to fortune’s fool,
For ‘tis your eyes that make me so,
That make me teach you all I know,
With whip and hard and white-hot cock,
Demolish Venus’ velvet lock,
And make you creature proud and sure,
Removed from societal, lying cure,
At night I’m yours, illicit, wrong,
And flesh-bared my barbarous song,
With empty hand, with Rule of Thumb,
Till thou art sore and bruised and numb,
Each bruise a badge of honor red,
To impress the knowledge in thy head,
And now my little love so true,
Forget the truth you thought you knew.


Of Infidelity’s Nobility

You prejudice me, girl, to see my wand’rings so,
That paint me as criminal of love, and foe,
For like the bee, with Nature’s power,
Who must attend each lovely flower,
So I am called to do Her work
Upon this cold and lonely Earth.

And so I minister to Her gospel,
Though wand’ring eye doth make you hostile,
And pollinate jessamines of the world,
With no thanks asked and none deserved,
But pleased to serve the Nature call,
In whose name I gladly enthrall.

Myself a slave to Her desire,
To quench a maiden’s youngling fire,
And so in blood, desire warm,
A woman’s power at once be born.

---15 November 2005

50 Random Performances I Liked in Movies I Hated

Kenneth Branagh in Wild Wild West
Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream
Gabriel Byrne in The Man in the Iron Mask
John Candy in Only the Lonely
Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High
John Cleese in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons
Willem Dafoe in Auto Focus
Judi Dench in Chocolat
Laura Dern in Wild at Heart
Michael Douglas in Falling Down
Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin
Minnie Driver in Circle of Friends
R. Lee Ermy in Full Metal Jacket
Albert Finney in Annie
Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me
Charles Gray in Diamonds Are Forever
Tom Hanks in Big
Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own
Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher
Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes (2001 version)
Ian Holm in Hamlet (1990 version)
Ernie Hudson in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
Anjelica Huston in Prizzi's Honor
Jason Isaacs in The Patriot
Tommy Lee Jones in Cobb
Christopher Lee in Count Dracula
Christopher Lee in The Man with the Golden Gun
Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment
Lee Marvin in Paint Your Wagon
Matthew McConaughey in A Time to Kill
Ron Moody in Oliver!
Bill Murray in Tootsie
Paul Newman in The Sting
Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men
David Niven in The Pink Panther
David Paymer in Mr. Saturday Night
Dennis Quaid in Wyatt Earp
Jean Reno in The Big Blue
Alan Rickman in An Awfully Big Adventure
Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Stay Hungry
Sylvester Stallone in Cop Land
Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man
Jennifer Tilly in Bound
Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter
Christopher Walken in Heaven's Gate
David Warner in The Omen
Denzel Washington in Malcolm X
Nicol Williamson in Excalibur

Another Unused Sketch

Something else I wrote back when Carl and I were writing our own sketch show, "A Band of Fools." This is a commercial, faux-cheery tone and all.

**********
Stavros, is sitting, talking to a couple in an office.

Stavros [voice-over]: I've always had an overactive bladder problem. But recently, it's gotten, well... a little worse.

Stavros stands up and excuses himself.

Stavros [voice-over]: It was starting to interfere with my work.

We suddenly hear grunting sounds in the bathroom. Then...

Stavros [off-screen]: OH, GOD, THAT HURTS! PLEASE, IN THE NAME OF CHRIST AND ALL THE GODS OF THE PANTHEON, LET IT END! BY HEAVEN, SOMEONE HELP ME OR LET ME DIE! MIGHTY CTHULHU, I BESEECH THEE, LET MY PAIN DIE!!!

The couple in the office look at each other, terrified, and run out the office door.

Stavros [voice-over]: It was also starting to hurt a little.

Cut to a new shot of Stavros, looking at the camera. He holds up a bottle of pills and talks directly to the camera.

Stavros: But those problems are over, thanks to new Urine Pal! From the makers of Slob Away and Mental Floss! *

Stavros chugs down some pills.

Stavros: Thanks to Urine Pal, I only need to go a few times a day. Because it has chemicals that soothe and relax the bladder, making it possible to live a normal life.

He gives the camera a "thumbs-up" signal.

Stavros: Urine Pal! Oh, man!!

He holds still for the following voiceover, thumb still up, but it is NOT a still-frame. The voiceover should be delivered as rapid-fire and businesslike as possible.

Announcer [voice-over]: Urine Pal is safe and effective, but some people will experience insomnia, nausea, irritability, irritable bowels, heavy cramps, occasional discharge, an urgent need to use the bathroom, severe headaches, apathy, listlessness, lethargy, depression, a sudden change in diet, a severe hatred and mistrust of fruit, paranoia, kleptomania, erotomania, Lisztomania, but you will be able to pee better. Probably. One in 90 will develop a rare and untreatable form of prostate cancer. Hallucinations are not uncommon. Pregnant women should not use it, touch it, look in its general direction or even speak its name.

Stavros clutches his stomach, screams, and falls down.

Announcer [voice-over]: Remember, always consult your doctor before taking non-FDA-approved medication.

LOGO: Urine Pal. Remember, you have a friend in urine.

**********
I wanted Carl to play Stavros. He totally would've sold that. After all, he sold the Slob Away guy and the Mental Floss guy. He plays harrassed and victimized very well.

* Urine Pal, Slob Away, Mental Floss, and many other products of the Radley Corporation were created for the show. Some of the commercials were actually filmed, too.

Jim Corbett

I always thought someone could make a good movie based on the life of Jim Corbett. Not Gentleman Jim Corbett, the boxer. There's already a good movie based on his life (Gentleman Jim, starring Errol Flynn). I'm taking about--and let's use the hyperbole here for dramatic effect--the Great White Hunter.

Edward James Corbett was born to English parents in a town called Naini Tal near the Himalayas in 1875. He was schooled in Naini Tal, but dropped out at age seventeen and joined the Bengal and North Western Railway as a fuel inspector and, later, a shipping contractor.

He was also a hunting and fishing enthusiast, but admired tigers and leopards. He resolved never to shoot them unless they posed a threat to the cattle herders or turned into maneaters. Between 1907 and 1938, Corbett killed a dozen such animals who, combined, were responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1500 people (most people think more). His first kill, the Champawat Tiger, killed 436 people (as far as we know; those were only the ones documented). He also killed the Panar Leopard (killed 400 after injury by a poacher), among other notable cases. Corbett was everything a figure of adventure should be: a tall man (6'1"), brave, with excellent senses and tracking skills who would stalk as close as twenty feet away from his prey. He liked to hunt alone. On foot.

But what makes Jim Corbett such an interesting person is not his exceptional kill rate. It's that, despite hunting tigers, he was also a pioneer conservationist. He lectured to school and societies, trying to make people aware of the natural beauty in the world around them, and why they should preserve it. He was one of the founders of the Association for the Preservation of Game in the United Provinces, and the All-India Conference for the Preservation of Wild Life. He established India's first national park, Hailey Park in the Kumaon Hills, an area he had great affection for. Some people, particularly in Kumaon Hills, think he was a sadhu, a Hindu ascete who has given up the pursuit of karma (pleasure), artha (wealth and power), and dharma (duty) to achieve moksha (liberation) through meditation and the contemplation of God.

In 1947, at the age of 62, Corbett retired to Kenya and continued to write about the decline in wildlife, especially in the big cats of the jungle. He was at the Tree Tops Hoyel, built on the branches of a giant ficus tree, at the same time as Princess Elizabeth in 1952 when she received news of the death of her father, King George VI. Corbett wrote: For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess, and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree the next day a Queen— God bless her.

Jim Corbett died of a heart attack at the age of 69 after finishing his sixth book. He was buried in Kenya. Hailey Park was renamed Jim Corbett National Park. Five species of tiger remain in the wild; one, Panthera tigris corbetti, is named in his honor.

Popular Myths Repudiated

Playing dead will not save you from a bear attack. Going limp might help with a grizzly bear, but you should try and make yourself look bigger if its a black or brown bear. Loud noises might scare them away; swing something long at them if you can. Playing dead will really only get you killed.

Drinking coffee does not sober you.. Caffeine might wake you up (it has the opposite affect on me these days), but it does nothing to your actual blood alcohol level.

A static charge from your cell phone will not, I repeat, not make a gas pump explode. That was a hoax email.

Living under power lines does not give you cancer. This has been studied and concluded by the National Cancer Institute. Your body produces the same kind of magnetic fields power lines produce; so does the planet.

The full moon doesn't make you do crazy shit. You're just an asshole.

Researchers have discovered that there is no correlation between shoe size and penis size. Dammit. But if you still believe there is, I do where a size 13 1/2.

Men and women reach their sexual peaks in their late teens. The reason people think women reach it in their 40s is because society pressures women to not be comfortable with their sexual urges when they're younger.

Baseball is not a uniquely American sport. It's an adaptation of a stick-and-ball game popular in England during the 1600s (in 1744, it was called "base-ball" in England). That game itself is a permutation of a game played in Spain and Ancient Egypt.

Exposure to cold weather won't make you sick. Colds are caused by a virus. The only thing that comes close is the feeling of stuffiness; your nasal membranes swell from contact with cold air. When your nose becomes warm again, it runs for a minute or two. But it's not a cold.

You shouldn't brush your teeth after every meal. Acidic foods soften the enamel in your teeth; you can actually erode your teeth and cause them to decay. Let your saliva neutralize the acid--that's what saliva's for. And don't brush your teeth and gums too hard with an electric or hard-bristled toothbrush; it'll make your teeth too sensitive and cause your gums to recede.

Suicide is not a crime; what are they going to do, sue your corpse? It'll put you in a psych ward, but attempting suicide is not against the law. Assisting in a suicide, though...that'll put you behind bars. Again.

Royal Chitwan National Park

Tigers are beautiful animals. I've said many times in the past that I'm afraid they'll eventually disappear, and that I'll only be able to show my children pictures of them in books instead of showing them the big cats in zoos. They are disappearing quickly because of the encroachment of civilization.

That's why one of the places I want to go to in the world is Royal Chitwan National Park. It's in Nepal, right on the northern border of India at the foot of the Himalayas. It's a tiger sanctuary, and I want to see tigers.

Interestingly, Chitwan has mostly been successful by pinning the future of the village of Sauraha, right there on the east side of the park, to the future of the tigers. Quite simply, tigers attract tourists, and tourists are good for the economy. By intertwining those factors, they've given tigers a fighting chance in the world. They've also managed to keep the tigers away from the human population because, of course, tigers in a thriving enviornment don't have to attack people. They have food of their own.

Chitwan means "heart of the jungle." The area was once 1000 miles of grassland and forest, until farmers moved into it in the late fifties. Malaria was brought under control, and the human population exploded. Chitwan used to attract many herds of deer, because the monsoons flood the area, then the grassland becomes dry and burns. The fresh grass crop provided grazing land; grazing animals attract leopards and tigers. But when the are became farmland, the population of elephants, water buffalo, deer, and rhinos fell dramatically. The tigers changed their focus, hunting humans. There were so many of them that one single three-month hunt organized for the viceroy of India killed 120 tigers. By 1960, tigers were a rare sight.

But now, the animals are making a comeback, which makes me happy about what people are capable of. I first read about Chitwan in Smithsonian about four years ago, and ever since then, I've wanted to see it for myself. Not just the big, tourist-y hotels, but the actual park itself. You can explore the park by elephant, which is really cool; I love elephants, and I'd love to ride one.

Terrifyingly, there have been some incidents of tigers venturing out and going on killing sprees. And this does give me a rectal prolapse even to think about it. In fact, I'm instinctively scared of wild animals; when I was a kid, I was even afraid of domestic ones. So why do I want to see this place so bad?

Well, because tigers are beautiful. And I've never seen anything like them. Not in the wild. And what's life worth living for if you're not going to take a chance to see something beautiful?

Throwdown 2/2

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

1. So, all of this hype about Mariah Carey posing for Playboy, and she’s just doing the cover? The cover? How is that warranted of hype? Fuck off!!!

2. Okay, instead of going into all the news about Lindsay Lohan, I’m just going to use this space to say that right now I really just want to punch her in the face.

3. Eva Green has pledged to no longer take her clothes off in movies. That’s so cute she thinks we were interested in her for her acting. Seriously, see The Dreamers, she’s wonderful in it and she takes all of her clothes off. It’s as good as she’s going to get. Seriously, it’s not just me wanting to see women nude; I’ve argued on this blog many times that refusing to take off your clothes is one of several things that will keep any actor from being an artist. So, you know, enjoy obscurity, Eva. Say hi to Shannon Elizabeth while you’re there.

4. Does Anne Hathaway like girls? Well, lots of people think this blind item is about her. I don’t really know if I agree that it's Annie, but if it’s true, I think being a lesbian is about the only thing that would make Annie Hathaway even more awesome. I just want to adopt her or marry her or hire her to live in my house or something. She's too radiant not to have around every day.

5. Hilariously, a bunch of parents are getting all pissed off over Daniel Radcliffe appearing in a West End stage production of Equus. If you’ve ever read Equus, which is by Peter Shaffer, the same playwright who wrote Amadeus and Sleuth, it’s a sophisticated adult work. And there is some nudity in it. Parents are upset and angry that their children, many of whom have been watching with bated breath as Hermione grows up and out over the last six years, will have to learn through the magic of nudity that Daniel Radcliffe is—Shock! Horror!—not actually Harry Potter at all, but an actor! An actor who does things like get naked on stage because he’s serious about acting! Ta-dah! I love how unrealistic parents are about absolutely everything. When it’s not directly hassling me and what I’m “allowed” to watch on TV, it’s frigging hilarious.

6. I’m not sure how I feel about this whole Tyra Banks thing. They had some pictures up of Tyra on in a swimsuit that showed she had obviously gained weight. And, as they will, a bunch of douchebags on their blogs started calling her fat and comparing her to Star Jones. Now, I have to say, 161 pounds is big, yes, but it’s not morbidly obese. And with the exception of this icky blonde hair thing she has going on, and the fact that she still hasn’t figured out that a girl with so much forehead shouldn’t part their hair in the middle, Tyra still looks pretty good. Yasamin goes into all of this on The Sistahood of the Traveling Cramps, defending Tyra from the ridicule. And I would agree with her; the ridicule is unwarranted. At least, it’s unwarranted for the whole fat thing. But Hollywood Tuna also makes a good point; it’s not that Tyra’s fat, it’s that she’s an attention whore who won’t ever shut the fuck up. And I guess that’s why I feel mixed on the whole issue. I mean, sure, people are going to make fun of someone for being overweight (if my life has shown me nothing else, it’s shown me that), and a lot of times the people doing the teasing are insecure wads of fuck who make themselves feel better by pointing out what’s wrong with others. But Tyra Banks genuinely irritates me because she had to go into another one of her moral rages, where she gets so righteously indignant that she has to rush out and start screaming at other people for making her feel bad. Look at the quote on the cover right there. I think if Tyra had as high an amount of self-esteem as she claimed, she’d ignore people making fun of her for being fat.

7. Victoria “Skeletal Spice” Beckham, the woman so skinny she needed to add on ludicrously grotesque fake tits with perpetually hard nips so you could actually see where she was when she turned sideways, has announced that she will not allow size zero models to represent her clothing line. Meanwhile, Posh herself is a size zero. You know what else is a size zero? A football. Anyway, this just goes to show that the new vogue towards slightly-less-two-dimensional women in modeling is nothing more than a trend that people are following. The women still have angles instead of curves! Do people think they really ban size-zeroes in favor of marginally more substantial waifs because, like, the fashion industry believes it’s an unrealistic image of women? Of course not. It’s just going down well with the audience to make believe that they find women attractive in the first place, and find a size zero in some way insulting. Trust me, like everything in fashion, this will all be over in a year.

8. Well, Jennifer Aniston just came out and decided to stop anyone from watching the season finale of Dirt. When asked about the lesbian kiss, she laughed it off and said it was just a goodbye kiss, not a passionate lesbo liplock. Then she naively said “I don't honestly think people want to see Rachel and Monica have at it.” Um, yeah, Jennifer, guys watched Friends because it was actually good. Damn, that’s too funny. Even when it seems like she might do something interesting, she decides to jump on it and remind everybody that she’s really boring and there’s really no reason for her to be famous.

9. This is Joe Francis, the creator of Girls Gone Wild and an alleged rapist. Kimberly Stewart, Tara Reid, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan have all sucked his dick. Guys: your self-esteem should never be low. Not as long as there are women who hate themselves enough to feel emotionally validated by putting this fucktard’s prick in their mouth and letting him pop one off.

10. Seriously? Rudy Giuliani is running for president? Based on what? Happening to be mayor when 9/11 happened? Making a deal with the Mafia to haul away scrap metal? Did everyone just forget about the corruption? Is anyone taking this bid seriously? You know, if you want to look on the bright side, even this hamster is a better candidate than John McCain, so…

11. Okay, so, I don’t know what the hell’s going on now. General George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, has said that the push in Iraq actually only needs less than half the amount of troops Bush wants to send in. And he said this to the Senate Armed Services Committee. So…does someone want to just come up with an actual plan, please? He says he doesn’t want any more people than necessary going over there, but at the same time, he has been nominated as the Army Chief of Staff. So, is he just sucking up to Congress, or what? I’d like to believe someone in Washington isn’t a thieving pimp, but it does get harder as time goes on.

12. Meanwhile, the Senate and Congress are trying to figure out whether or not to “rebuke” Bush’s war plan. The language they use is crazy. What they should be figuring out is how to impeach him for directly lying to us when trying to gain support for his misguided, illegal war in the first place. Seriously, have you checked out some of the evidence from the Scooter Libby trial? He lied to us and he knew it, and the less ignorant and scared among us knew it, too. Seriously, is this somehow better than getting a blowjob in the Oval Office?

13. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has come forward with a report saying that global warming is “very likely” caused by human beings. Boy, do I wish they’d worded that more strongly. “Very likely”? Is there really still someone out there who has to be the naysayer and force this into a debate? Yes, global warming exists. Hurricanes are getting bigger, seas are rising, heat waves are getting deadlier, droughts are getting worse. You’re just going to have to admit it and figure out how to stop adding to it. Do your job, President Duh; it’s a lot more than just sending in troops to steal oil. And hey, did you know the snow in Siberia last night was yellow and orange? And it had “a musty smell”? This is the end, my only friend.

14. The fucking polar bears are eating each other because they can’t find food. There’s a push to get the polar bear on the endangered species list, and I bet they won’t make it, because that would be the Bush administration admitting that global warming even exists, and if science won’t convince them, what will? Yet another animal that I’m going to only be able to show my children in books.

15. Tragically, we bid farewell to Molly Ivins, one of the greatest columnists of our time. Her political clarity and strong opinions were silence by breast cancer at the age of 62. Read her last column here. There are others linked on the page. Goodbye, Molly. We’ll miss you. We really need voices like yours right now.

Bulbous Links

I should be resting up for tonight's commencement of 24 hours of blogging, but I woke up around 4:30 and, apparently, I'm staying up. Here's some more stuff I think you should read. Have I ever steered you wrong? Please don't answer that...

If you're still interested in Paris Hilton's trash, Faded Youth has a laundry list that includes links and documents that include a medical report on someone's miscarriage. The Paris saga at once deepens and shallows.

I'm not sure why trashing Star Wars has suddenly rushed back into vogue, but I'm always happy to see it come back. Here's a well-written article about the shallow and cruel implications of the actual first film, especially in light of the prequels, while Slowly Going Bald chimes in with a list of things that would have improved The Phantom Menace.

More, did you spake? Well, along those lines, here's some very smart criticism about Identity Crisis, the DC Comics "event" that got me to stop reading DC Comics at I Against Comics. The only thing I don't agree with is that Sue Dibney didn't mean anything to anyone; she meant something to anyone who fell in love with Keith Giffen's Justice League.

More serious comics discussion to be had at Uncle Eddie's Theory Corner.

The Absorbascon has an hilarious list of ten things Batman should never say.

Would you like to see the geekiness I enfold myself in on a daily basis? Well, go over to No Smoking in the Skull Cave and check out what Becca's kitchen looks like. Then remind yourself that that's also my kitchen.

JohnK orders you to stop drawing 'tude.

My New Plaid Pants has one-man re-enactments of The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen, and Babel, not a single film of which I've actually seen yet, but the posts are damn funny.

The Gilded Moose has one of the best pop culture references I've seen this week.

Pajiba reviews Bob Saget's The Farce of the Penguins in real time detail so you don't have to watch it. Thank you, Pajiba, for saving the children.

American Idol, Dick Cheney, and other horrors. Deus Ex Malcontent has some very smart posts about such evils here and here, and TV Squad defends the much-needed cruelty of American Idol.

Job Profiles has a fun list of 121 jobs that don't suck.

RetroCRUSH has two fun lists: the books you'll find in every thrift store and the 500 greatest guitar riffs of all time.

Exquisitely Bored in Nacogdoches presents a rundown on an incredibly underrated movie that I love: The Rat Pack. And Time has a piece on Cocksucker Blues, the Rolling Stones film you may never get to see. And speaking of movies, Walden Media has just optioned C.S. Lewis's classic novel The Screwtape Letters; The Film Experience asks the question that matters: dear God, why?

In political matters, there's Joe Conason on Bush's possible plan for Iran (hint: it's to fuck us some more), Ted Rall with something the Republicans need to hear, and Zaius Nation on the State of the Union.

And in matters scientifical, the Sidney Herald reports that Homo florensis, the so-called Hobbit, may have been killed by humans. Which wouldn't really be a surprise, come to think.

In matters of social communication, Postmodern Barney effectivly laments the irritation of people who comment without thinking or simply because they just have to talk (usually they're anonymous, because they're monkey children). Oh, and the Mayor of Boston has no sense of humor. Sure, that's not exactly how the Boston Herald is reporting it, but you can see it in there. Read between the lines.

Did someone say low riders and classic cars? No? Well, say it now!

And finally, The Rude Pundit eulogizes Molly Ivins, who was just ripped away from us when we still needed her so much. Goodnight, Molly.

Why a Groundhog?

Because there were no badgers.

In earlier times, Celts and Gauls believed, as many cultures of the ancient world did, that animals possessed certain supernatural powers. Since the year was reckoned by the crop cycle, the time between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox was crucial. Planting too early could set back the harvest or even destroy it; planting too late might mean the crops wouldn't come to fruition in time to harvest before they were killed by the cold. One of the rituals at this time of year was to watch the behavior of certain animals. Thus, the badger.

Many ancient pagans (pagan being a word that simply means polytheistic) believed that the underworld was an important place. It wasn't simply Hell, as Christians came to call it; it was an important extradimensional realm of gods. There were sky gods, of course, but the underworld gods were equally as important. Some cultures revered the snake in part because the snake, crawling on its belly, was deemed to be in closest communication with the underworld gods. Animals that burrowed, then, were also thought in some cultures to have important links between the world of the spirits and the world of humankind, as though they were messengers that held both worlds connected. This between-ness, coupled with what would one day be Groundhog Day falling between winter solstice and vernal equinox, makes this day a very important one for ancient cultures. According to custom, the first badger of the season would emerge from the ground and, if it was too early for planting, the badger would be scared back into its den by its own shadow. This was a message from the spirit world to wait another six weeks before sowing.

This survived as a folk custom in Germany, and German immigrants of the nineteenth century brought this folklore to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a small town in the Allegheny plateau. There were no badgers there, so the custom was transferred to the groundhog, which was plentiful in the area.

Weather doesn't really come into it at all--they actually did a study showing that the groundhog is only "right" about 28% of the time--except in one aspect. At Punxsutawney's latitude, the groundhog comes out of hibernation in early February, around the time to coincide with the ancient badger custom, halfway between solstice and equinox. If they had settled in around the Great Lakes, they would have found the groundhog rising much too early, in the first week of January.

Do you know what determines the groundhog waking from its hibernation? How hungry and horny it is. If it's sexually aroused and/or famished from its hibernation, the groundhog will go off in search of mating and food. But if it's still sleepy and doesn't have those appetites yet, it will go back to sleep for six more weeks.

If only that was our only problem getting up in the morning, huh?

Well. considering it's currently five degrees with the high for today hovering around 13, I'm going to just go ahead and guess there's more winter in store.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A New Muppet Series!

I'm trying not to get excited. We've been hearing for years that, with Disney owning the Muppets, there was going to be some kind of new show featuring the Muppets. Remember when there was going to be a prime-time variety show on FOX? Or America's Next Muppet on ABC? Well, once again the Walt Disney Company has a pilot being presented to them that might finally, finally bring the Muppets back to television.

Word has it that this pilot is a proposal for a mini-series shot in a documentary style (just like The Office), and starring Kermit the Frog as he tries to put the troupe back together to launch a new Muppet show. So we'll see the Muppets after they've moved on and found other jobs, and follow Kermit as he goes off to find them. The regular Muppeteers (minus Frank Oz, as usual, sadly) were all involved, and Bill Barretta (who does several Muppet characters, most notably Pepe the King Prawn, but also Bobo, Johnny Fiama, Rowlf the Dog, and Lew Zealand).

It's actually a brilliant idea, which means that there's every possibility that Disney won't see it. The people responsible for these bad decisions no longer work there, but Disney is the company that rejected ER, Survivor, The Apprentice, CSI, and American Idol. They only begrudgingly allowed the production of two shows that they thought would be their lowest-rated: Desperate Housewives and Lost. They let Lizzie McGuire, the most popular show ever on the Disney Channel until Hannah Montana came on, slip through their fingers over a money issue. They oversaturated Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? until no one ever wanted to see it again. This is not a company that knows how to manage its TV programming.

But, you know, there's hope.

Staff Sergeant Michelle Manhart

This is the woman who was just dismissed from the Air Force for posing for these pictures. I would've given her some kind of medal, personally.



Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Film Week

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

THE TAO OF STEVE (2000)
Meh. And disappointingly so, because I like Donal Logue. ** stars.

THE STRANGER GAME (2006)
Yes, it’s another Lifetime movie. And yes, it was stupid. But it had Mimi Rogers in it. And there were a number of laughs provided by the fact that the crazed villain was Ned from The Lost World. * star.

CELLULAR (2005)
Well, I could see where it might have been good. I mean, Larry Cohen wrote it. But the direction is overblown, most of the actors suck (with the exception of Jason Statham, who is a decent thriller actor, having fun as the villain here), and the whole thing becomes an exercise in tolerance rather than anything exciting. And hey, Jessica Biel has a small role, and I didn’t even know it when I flipped over to HBO. Still, she’s barely in it and, let’s face it, she’s incredibly hot but she’s not that good. ** stars.

FAMILY PLOT (1976)
Well, if Hitchcock’s final movie can’t be a masterpiece, at least it’s solid and works on its own logic. At times, it’s downright fun, mostly thanks to Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris. It’s not a bad film, really, it’s just not as good as Hitchcock was capable of (then again, it’s not a great script, either, despite being written by Ernest Lehmann). The John Williams score is overbearing and obvious in that flowery John Williams way. ***1/2 stars.

BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN (2006)
I had deliberately stayed away from all the hype surrounding this film, just so I wouldn’t hear what all the gags were before I saw it, and I’m glad I was able to. This movie is one of the most brilliant I’ve ever seen. It’s much more than just gags, although the movie obviously works best if you haven’t heard about any of them. The real joke here is that Borat Sagdiyev is a reporter from a stereotyped and fictionalized version of Kazakhstan who comes to America and finds out that it’s exactly the same, just bigger. We have different customs and perhaps bigger idiots; and our idiots are even more malicious and instinctively hateful. Seriously, most of this movie is shot like a documentary, completely candid, with Sacha Baron Cohen completely in character as Borat talking to the worst this country has to offer: the creepy cowboy who talks about wanting to string up gay men; the frat boys who talk about women as though they were less than possessions; any number of people on the streets of New York who want to punch him just for approaching them. Borat’s prejudicial assumptions are ignorant and make him na├»ve; he hates homosexuals, but his native customs allow him more intimacy than in America, and he doesn’t recognize homosexual experiences when he has them; he hates Jews, because people in his country do, and doesn’t recognize Jews when he meets them. But what the movie really does so brilliantly is undermine the more malicious prejudices of Americans, showing them up as almost cartoonishly paranoid and willfully wrong. It’s really a work of genius, one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen and definitely the best movie I’ve seen so far from 2006. **** stars.

DEBBIE DOES DALLAS UNCOVERED (2005)
This documentary is too short to have much of a focus. It doesn’t know in what way it wants to rip off the far superior Inside Deep Throat. Does it want to talk to Bill Kelly, the FBI agent I found so tiresome and weird in the other movie? (Seriously, he freaks me out; he talks about how deranged people who do porn are, but he keeps a scrapbook with nothing but pornography in it? And in this movie, he says “Child pornography makes me upset…depending on what’s involved in the child pornography.” I can’t make that up.) Does it want to talk about the Mafia connections with the porn industry? Does it just want to talk to the people who were in the movie and see how they feel now? Does it want to expose how porn actors don’t make any money off of the industry? Does it want to focus on the lawsuit brought up by the Dallas Cowboys? Or does it want to investigate the life of Bambi Woods, the beautiful but detached star of Debbie Does Dallas who just up and disappeared and who many (but not all) believe is dead? At 47 minutes, the documentary only touches on these things and explores nothing. Intriguing, but not rewarding. **1/2 stars.

I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996)
This is an undeniably strange little film that I’ve actually been meaning to see since it came out. I finally sat down and watched it because it was directed by Mary Harron, and I absolutely loved The Notorious Bettie Page. This film also focuses on a strong female figure, 60s radical Valerie Solanas, who preached hatred against men and, as the title suggests, shot Andy Warhol. Like Bettie Page, Harron wisely chooses not to try and get into the head of her main character, focusing instead on how others see and interpret her, and how their lives are affected. Jared Harris, an actor I’ve really come to love, plays Andy with a detachment that hints at a genuine eagerness; we’re seeing Andy before the disaffection set in. Stephen Dorff is also quite good (and very pretty) as Candy Darling. But the movie is owned by Lili Taylor, who does some of her most intense and interesting acting as Valerie. It’s bizarre and never boring. **** stars.

WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (1980)
I think this movie is Bill Murray’s most forgotten, and I’m really not sure why. Murray actually gives one of his most interesting performances as Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, catching him at various points in his gonzo journalism career and focusing on his relationship with his wild-eyed lawyer, Carl Laszlo (Peter Boyle). At some point, the movie seems to question whether or not Laszlo actually exists, or is a hallucination of Thompson’s. Gonzo himself actually worked on this movie, and I wonder if he reveled in the way the film both celebrates his lack of work ethic and seems to expose him as a fraud. Either way, it’s a truly underrated film. **** stars.

Yet Another Good Idea on FOX

The Show: Drive

The Premise: DRIVE is an action-fueled drama following a diverse group of Americans driving for their lives (or the lives of their loved ones) in a sinister, cross-country road race. Some of them have been coerced into joining The Race; others have sought out The Race themselves, hearing rumors of the $32-million prize. Each has a reason to compete. And each must win. Among the varied racers are a man thrust into The Race in an effort to find his missing wife; a single mother competing under great strain ... or possibly something much more strange; a buttoned-down scientist and his rebellious 15-year-old daughter; two brothers in a stolen, pimped-out Caddy that carries secrets of its own; and a gorgeous and mysterious female stowaway who may well hold the key to the secrets of The Race. There are other competitors as well, but when no one is told whom they're racing against, or even where the finish line is, anything is possible. With each mile clocked, the drivers get closer, not only to the finish line and a critical, life-changing victory, but to understanding the mystery behind The Race itself. [from the actual FOX press release]

The Obvious Question: FOX is really airing an action-drama version of Cannonball Run?

The New Laurie Strode

Scout Taylor-Compton is going to play Laurie Strode in Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween.
I think it's a good touch. Not only because she's a teenager, but because most of the people who actually know who she is are teenagers. All she's done that anyone might remember is Sleepover, this short film called Afterschool Delight about underage lesbianism, and ran away from home in 2005, which was news for a week or so. Remember when horror films used to be subversive? I think casting a teenager whom only teenagers know as a teenager in movie about teenagers getting cut up and killed comes a little bit close to subversive. A good step, anyway. Not bad. I hope those teenagers get to go and basically get mindfucked by Rob Zombie. I love that man.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Health Report: Week 7

Hey, look, I found a picture of my mom and I protesting together!

Well, I'm working on not looking that way anymore. There's really not much to report this week, except that I'm still working on my program, still sticking to it, and still don't need that renal ultrasound. When I got my prescriptions refilled, my blood pressure went right back under control. The next day, it was 118/66. Does that sound like my kidneys are failing to you? I'm still drinking so much water that I need one of these when I sit down at the computer:Of course, I suppose I could just make my own...

We had some company on Saturday night, and I did cheat a little and have some pizza (thin crust) and cream soda, but even the next day my blood pressure was still 130/80, which is still in the "optimal" range according to my chart. Not bad. What I need to do now is curb the anger (it's still there, ever since I was in high school) and lose weight faster. It's been suggested to me that some kind of motivation tapes or books might help me get more focused and directed, but I have a tendency to see those as money-making schemes.Of course, I have my own methods of relaxation...But then again, I do need a job. The problem is, my interest is in writing, and even though I'm working as hard as I can to finish the novel I'm currently working on, writing entails a lot of, well, sitting. So there's that.

Still, I know that I'll work hard to get myself in shape, because I want to feel better. And I feel pretty damn good now, but I know there's more I can do. If for no other reason than Jessica Biel is single now.And I don't want our child to look like this:Still going strong.

The History of the Middle East

Part 12 in a series.

Bahram Gor

Yazdegird the Sinner had offended his people so much that Persia initially wouldn’t allow any of his sons to succeed him. One of these sons had grown up in Hira, an Arab kingdom that had grown into the center of Arab culture in the past 220 or so years. Much of the great Arab poetry dated from this period; it’s even thought that Arab script developed in this time period. By 400, Hira was making its influence felt on a weakening Persia. One of Yazdegird’s sons had been raised there, and the Arabs saw the perfect chance to install a monarch friendly to Arabs on the Persian throne. With Hira’s financial and military support, Varahran V became that monarch.

Varahran, a cultured prince, was already renowned as a hunter and a lover. But he was also very charming, and Persia loved him despite—or perhaps even because of—his flaws. Unlike earlier Persian scholar-kings who had become withdrawn from their duties, Varahran inspired an unforeseen outpouring of affection. He also inspired legends, called by his Arabian name, Bahram Gor (“Varahran the Wild Ass”), after both his favorite game and his wild, free personality.

Varahran had little interest in war; he considered it uncivilized. He agreed to a peace with Rome based on reason; Persia would tolerate Christians and Rome would tolerate Zoroastrians. But Varahran was quick to spot an opportunity and willing to gain by the sword if he could; when Rome was occupied fighting the Germanic tribes in the north (who were themselves being driven south by the advance of Attila the Hun), Varahran simply took half of Armenia for Persia. The land was afterwards known as Persarmenia.

Rome was in the process of splitting in half, but it was only the western half that collapsed. The eastern half remained strong; Persarmenia was the only thing Persia would gain from the fall of Rome. And Persia soon had to deal with barbarian invasions of their own, fighting back the Hephthalites, a people related to the Huns. Varahran fought successfully against them, keeping his realm together through his death in 439.

Heresy

Varahran’s son, Yazdegird II, was a fierce Zoroastrian and renewed the persecution of Christians. Jews, who had experienced less freedom under the Sassanids than they had under Parthian rule, also came under fire for their religious beliefs. A growing community of rabbi scholars in Mesopotamia was put to an end.

It was a confusing time for Persia. Intellectual and cultural life of all kinds was under attack. The Hephthalites returned with a vengeance. Yazdegird II died in 457; his son, Firuz, was killed in 484 fighting the barbarians. For two decades, anarchy gripped the land. In 501, Firuz’s son Kavadh finally took the throne and began to restore order…by starting a war with Rome.

Even though Christianity had won in Rome, it was now turning on itself over matters of doctrine. Nestorius, the most powerful priest in the Roman Empire (Patriarch of Constantinople), had created a doctrine that Jesus had two natures—human and divine. Nestorianism was voted a heresy by a gathering of bishops, but it became a nationalistic rebellion in Edessa; the Nestorian heresy became strongly Syrian in flavor.

The Persian Christians, meanwhile, were not happy about being under the leadership of the Church in Rome. Like most Persians, they rejected the notion of Roman leadership. But the link with Rome’s Church made non-Christian Persians persecute them more greatly; many felt that the Persian Christians were really Roman spies. They decided to cut ties with Rome and join with the Nestorians. Firuz encouraged the link, and by 500 the Persian church was firmly Nestorian. Armenia and Hira also became Nestorian; the doctrine spread east, even entering China. Most importantly, Nestorian Christianity came from Syria, and with the religion Greek science came back to the Middle East, saving the scientific knowledge of the Ancient World even as it was dying in Europe.

Kavadh himself was something of a heretic; he followed the doctrine of Mazdak, a Manichaeic priest who had created his own offshoot. Today we would call it more communist, preaching social responsibility while denouncing the power of the priesthood and the inherited wealth of the nobility. Kavadh may have simply wanted to use Mazdakism to break the power of the nobles and priests, but Mazdakism was too intolerant to catch on. The populace shuddered at its severity, and sided with the very nobles and priests who were oppressing them. Kavadh was temporarily deposed until he agreed to give up Mazdakism. His son, also a Mazdakist, was not allowed to rule. Instead, his younger son Chosrau (Greek Chosroes) became king in 531. He ordered Mazdak and his followers put to death and their writings destroyed.

The Endless Peace

Chosroes I is considered by historians to be the most enlightened of the Sassanids. He was called by his people Chosrau Anushirvan (“Chosroes of the Immortal Spirit”) and Chsoroes the Just. He had a match in Rome’s Emperor Justinian I, who came to power in 527. He ruled the remaining eastern half of Rome from Constantinople. Rome itself was held by Germanic tribes, and Justinian wanted it back. To concentrate on the west, peace with Persia was essential. And for his part, Chosroes wanted an end to the near constant warring so he could reorganize the administration of his empire. In 533, both emperors signed what they called “The Endless Peace.”

Seven years later, war resumed.

Justinian was very successful in his attempt to regain the lost portions of the Empire. He quickly took North Africa and parts of Spain, and Chosroes feared that Rome would soon grow too powerful. What he didn’t know is that Justinian’s victories were costly, and the Empire was going broke. Chosroes broke the peace by sending troops to occupy Antioch in 540, but the occupation was brief and the war returned to its usual stalemate.

Where the Persians did win, however, was in learning. Paganism had been dwindling in Rome for centuries, and the pious Justinian was offended by the last bastion of Greek learning: Plato’s Academy. After 900 years of existence, the Academy’s doors closed at Justinian’s order. Chosroes had a reputation, even in Athens, of being enlightened and tolerant, and the Platonic teachers of Persia’s ancient enemy found a safe haven at the court of Chosroes. Sadly, they found it too alien and strange and wanted to return home to Athens; they also felt Chosroes was too busy and distracted to listen to their teachings. Chosroes, surprisingly sympathetic, made an effort to convince Justinian to take them back and let them live in peace if they promised not to teach. In 549, Justinian agreed. When the Platonic teachers died, Greek paganism went with them.

Chosroes continued to advance Persia. He reorganized the administration, ordered a census, and created a fixed tax that his subjects found fair. Mesopotamia’s irrigation network had fallen into disrepair and gradually the prosperity of the land began to wane. Chrosroes repaired what he could and relieved for a time what was a continued decline. He also protected foreigners in his own land and tolerated Nestorian Christianity. He encouraged trade and cultural exchange with India, bringing Indian literature and medicine into his realm. Persian traders also brought back the game of chess from India. (Quick trivia: the word checkmate comes from the Persian shah mat: “the king is dead.”)

It was also during the reign of Chosroes that a new people entered the stage of history. New nomads drifted south out of central Asia and settled on Persia’s northeast border. These were the Turks. Persia formed an alliance with the Turks in order to put a final end to the Hephthalites, who immediately disappeared from history in 560. But the Turks distrusted the Persians, and made an alliance with the Roman Empire.

Meanwhile, the town of Mecca had been founded in Arabia and, somewhere around 570, Mohammed was born there.

To be continued.

Are We Really Condoning Killing?

A few months ago, I wrote a post that was in small part about the deadly errors made by SWAT teams during the sorts of unreasonable searches and seizures that the Constitution is supposed to protect us from. Or, more accurately, Radley Balko wrote an article in Playboy magazine about it that I commented on. This month, in the “Reader Response” section of the Playboy Forum, there are four letters which, to my great surprise, not only condone the accidental murders committed by SWAT teams in the name of hysterical justice, but actually defend them.

Douglas Carlson of Dixon, Illinois, writes:
I would like to know how many search warrants Balko has served. I am assuming none. Police officers have to make life-and-death decisions in seconds, and yes, unfortunate accidents occur. Articles like Balko’s just make Americans that much less trusting of the good men and women of law enforcement.

Playboy responds:
Douglas Carlson’s logic is flawed: We could just as easily use it to counter his own argument by asking how many members of his family have been shot and killed in their beds because a SWAT team stormed the wrong house. We are assuming none. But more to the point, such accidents are not “unfortunate,” as Carlson would have it. They are unacceptable. Anyone society empowers to use deadly force must be held to a higher standard, one with no margin of error.

Carlson’s argument falls into the kind of illogical stupidity that a great many people think of as an argument they can be proud of making: that one must experience something in order to know what it’s like. I have to assume, based on his wording, that Carlson is a cop. I’m glad Playboy picked up on his chilling assertion that the accidental death of an innocent person is an “unfortunate accident.” If he is a cop, and he thinks that way, he needs to have his gun and badge taken away from him right now; he’s not James Bond, as those aren’t licenses to kill. There’s this arrogance that a lot of people in law enforcement have, that they know better than society what’s good for it, and if they’re enforcing it at the point of a gun, they’re still upholding the law. Such arrogance leads some cops to think they’re above they law simply because they enforce it. And I would also argue that it’s not articles like Balko’s that make Americans less trusting of the police; it’s innocent people getting accidentally killed by the police. Because, sadly, this is not a recent phenomenon.

Jason Christensen of Rochester, Minnesota, writes:
As a SWAT sniper and Playboy subscriber, I find the bullshit written by Balko interesting. I think he needs to get a grip on reality. We live in a society in which gangs and drugs have overrun our cities, and our moral decay is at its highest.

Playboy responds:
To Jason Christensen we would suggest that perhaps nothing is more emblematic of our moral decay than our increasing willingness to use military tactics against members of our own society. Law enforcement’s antagonistic view of the citizenry—and here we are thinking also of recent innovations in crowd control used against protesters—is disturbing.

Jason Christensen sounds like exactly the kind of person I don’t want to carry a gun. “Gangs and drugs have overrun our cities”? “Moral decay is at its highest”? What kind of conservative handbook does that claptrap come out of? Seriously, he sounds like Sterling Hayden raving about fluoridation of water in Dr. Strangelove. The tone of that letter just says: sometimes we have to kill people, and that’s that. Even if you kill the wrong person?

Ty Vance of Niles, Michigan, writes:
Balko complains about the shooting of a man with a registered handgun and no violent past. Just because a person has no violent past doesn’t mean he isn’t up to no good. What about the dead police officer? What about his family?

Playboy responds:
We would like to remind Ty Vance that the officer he makes reference to would likely still be alive if his team had simply knocked on the door and identified themselves rather than storm that Prentiss, Mississippi home in the middle of the night. Many law-abiding Americans would shoot first and ask questions later if their door were kicked in and their home stormed by unidentified marauders. The safety of officers, it would seem, is not necessarily better served by unannounced raids.

That’s another chilling passage: “Just because a person has no violent past doesn’t mean he isn’t up to no good.” I don’t understand why people are so willing to make excuses for this kind of colossal mistake. He might as well say: Hey, sometimes cops need to kill people, what’s the big deal? Ty Vance sounds like a good little subject of a disgusting police state; the kind of state we’re trying so hard to stop from happening in the Middle East, but which people are all too welcoming towards here. Do they really fear their neighbors so much that they’re willing to let accidental deaths go by without even a reprimand?

Brandon M. of Longview, Texas, writes:
I am in the police academy, and I don’t think Balko’s article gives all the facts. As with anything, mistakes will be made. The point of these teams is to ensure officers’ safety while they serve warrants for various offenses. These officers put their lives on the line to help keep all of us safe while we sleep at night. I think people should stop being so cynical about them.

Playboy responds:
Brandon M. hits one of the basic problems with the current mentality of law enforcement when he says “the point of these teams is to ensure the officers’ safety.” Police work is—or is supposed to be—about society’s safety; the safety of officers must never come at the expense of this mission. By definition, public service often means subsuming one’s own interests to those of society at large, and this attitude needs to be impressed with particular gravity upon public servants who carry a gun for a living. Inflicting violence on people accused of crimes is no less problematic than doing so to innocent citizens because of a botched address or some other act of negligence. The doctrine of innocent until proven guilty aside, the police do not decide on or dole out the punishment for crimes: we the people do through our courts of law.

Another person I don’t want carrying a gun is one who says “mistakes will be made.” These are not mistakes! These are tragic! Yes, officers put their lives on the line. And they do so willingly. And that’s amazing of them. But when they put their lives on the line to keep us safe, that means they’re keeping us safe, not themselves. That’s the sad reality. I’m not saying that cops should be willing to sacrifice their own lives; but it does come down to that sometimes. It’s a dangerous job. But that doesn’t mean that they’re allowed to shoot first and ask questions never. They don’t have that kind of license.

And the people who defend it…well, I don’t like to make this kind of qualitative statement on such and important issue but, well, they’re just wrong.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Screen Actors Guild Awards

The only awards show I watch is the Oscars. Otherwise, I know what I like and I'm more interested in the opinions of people I know or bloggers I follow than in what "the people" like the best or what the industry thinks of its own. The Screen Actors Guild Awards...well, I mean, it's nice that they have their own union awards, but it seems like more of a corporate thing than something people not in the industry would care about. But judging from the pictures, I did at least see that the women at the SAG Awards did something most of them didn't do at the Golden Globes: dress sexy and look hot. Well, many of them did. There's not really anything you can do with Ellen Pompeo or Eva Longoria. Anyway, in the spirit of objectification and subjectivity, which is what award shows are really about, these are the women I thought looked really sexy at the SAG Awards.

CATE BLANCHETT

JAMIE-LYNN DiSCALA

Flawless AMERICA FERRERA

JENNA FISCHER

My darling HEATHER GRAHAM

MELORA HARDIN
(She plays a district manager on The Office, and totally reminds me of a district manager I had at Barnes & Noble that, to put it bluntly, I really wanted to fuck.)

MARISKA HARGITAY

KATHERINE HEIGL

ANNE HATHAWAY
Careful, my love, you're almost doing the Paris Hilton pose!

Chicago's own JENNIFER HUDSON (wow!)

HELEN MIRREN

BECKI NEWTON

MARY-LOUISE PARKER

ELIZABETH PERKINS

JAIME PRESSLY
Damn, celebrity preggos are hot! Really, most preggos are fucking yummy.

VANESSA WILLIAMS
She's incapable of looking bad.