Saturday, March 10, 2007

300: I'm in the Minority, It Seems

Self-righteous. Painfully self-aware. Beats the viewer over the head. Posturing. Melodramatic. Schlocky. Full of itself. Choppy. Cheap. Hubristic.

But I fucking loved it.

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Twenty-Two: Isaiah

With Isaiah, the prophetic books of the Bible begin, and we're just completely out of continuity by now. This book is also mostly in verse. Oh, and extremely boring. And heavily quoted (something like 120 times) in the New Testament's desperate attempt to co-opt Judaism and put a new face on it for anti-Semites.

New from K-Tel!
Isaiah's Greatest Prophecies!
A journey through art-rock pretension!

1-5. The Wickedness of Israel
6. The Stupidity of Accepting Assyrian Overlordship
7. The Foretelling of the Virgin and the Messiah
(Note: important foreshadowing.)
8-12. An Idealistic Future
a. The Wolf and the Lamb Lie Down Together
b. A Child Shall Lead Them
c. Cyrus the Messiah
(Note: a favorite of obnoxious door-to-door mercenaries--er, missionaries.)
13-14. The Destruction of Babylon
15-23. The Destruction of Moab, Damascus, Ethiopia, Egypt, Dumah, and Tyre
24-27. The Apocalypse
28. The Death of Corrupt Leaders
29. The End of Jerusalem
30-31. Fuck Those Fuckers in Egypt
32-35. Has Anyone Heard the New Arcade Fire Album? Is It Worth It?
36-39. King Sennacherib's Failed Siege at Jerusalem
(Note: based on actual history!)

Bonus Tracks: The Second Isaiah
40-44. The Babylonian Exile Ends (God Is Awesome and Shit)
45. Cyrus the Great (Hooray for Persia)
46-66. The Finale
a. Babylon Destroyed
b. Israel Restored
c. God's Presence in the Land and All Things and Stuff

Next week: More prophecies with Jeremiah.

The History of the Middle East

Part 18 in a series.

European Tensions in the Middle East

In the nineteenth century, the British established themselves in India. They had ideas about coming up from the south and establishing dominion over Persia. The Russians, in the north, had similar ideas. The Russians were more immediately successful, winning a series of victories that took land all the way down to Tabriz by 1828. By 1853, the Russians were at Lake Aral. They had advanced south another 400 miles by 1884.

Great Britain was involved all over the Middle East. They were eager to keep buffer states between Russia and British India (as well as the rest of central Europe), and made it their mission to guard the borders of the Ottoman Empire; however, the Ottomans lost Syria to Egypt in 1832. The British engineered a coup to install a pro-British ruler in Afghanistan in 1839. War was becoming an inevitability.

The first outbreak of European war in the Middle East was over Syria and Egypt. The Ottomans had lost Syria to Muhammad Ali, the pasha of Egypt (and nominally an Ottoman subject). Muhammad allied himself with France. Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia ordered Muhammad out of Syria, but he defied them. The British bombarded Beirut and landed troops; France refused to get involved and left Muhammad to himself. He quickly agreed to settle for Egypt alone. Tsar Nicholas I tried to come to an agreement with Great Britain to partition the Ottoman Empire among the European powers, but Britain disagreed. This was the basis for the Crimean War; from 1853 to 1856 Great Britain, Sardinia, and France fought Russia to keep the Ottoman Empire intact.

Great Britain also fought in Afghanistan. The Afghanis had revolted against their puppet ruler in 1841, slaughtering the British garrison in Kabul. The First Afghan War lasted for only a few weeks in 1842; the British destroyed parts of Kabul, then abandoned the country. In the Second Afghan War, the British actually fought to defend Afghanistan from Persia in 1856.

Babism and Baha’ism

During this time, another religious influence rose out of the Middle East. In 1844, Ali Mohammed declared himself the Bab (“gateway”) of divine revelation. He preached a form of Shiism modified with Christian and Jewish ideas. Orthodox Shiites disapproved of this Babism and Ali was executed in 1850. By 1864, his followers were expelled from Persia.

But one of his followers, Miraz Hosayn Ali Nuri preached a new version of Babism in Baghdad. He called himself Baha’Allah (“splendor of God”) and preached the unity of all religions. With no priesthood and no formalized ritual, Baha’ism instead teaches ethics. The Turks banished Baha’Allah to Palestine, which under the Turks was nearly abandoned and incredibly poor. He died in 1892, but the headquarters of Baha’ism remain to this day at what is now Haifa, Israel. The highest population of Baha’ists in the world live in the United States.

The Tensions Increase

Persia and the Ottoman Empire were starting to become westernized. Russia was continuing its plan of expansion and was encouraging revolution in the Balkans in an attempt to steal them from the Turks. Greece gained its independence; so did Serbia and Montenegro; then Romania and parts of Bulgaria. The British engineered another coup in Afghanistan following the Second Afghan War. The Ottomans lost Tunis to France in 1881, and Egypt to Great Britain in 1882. Greece and Bulgaria took more Balkan land. Russia and Great Britain nearly came to war over Afghanistan.

In Armenia, rebellion began, and the Ottomans put them down with excessive cruelty. The British liberals balked at the Turkish massacre of Armenia, and Britain stopped protecting the Turks. The Ottomans were so cruel that even Turks pushed for reform. In 1896, the “Young Turks” began calling for more enlightened leadership.

As the twentieth century began, the Ottoman Empire was crumbling. The Hapsburgs (rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. Complete Bulgarian independence was recognized. Greece took Crete. The Young Turks were demonstrating and gaining popularity. The army became disaffected. The massacre of Armenians was renewed; an uprising in Albania was put down just as cruelly.

Tensions between Russia and Great Britain had grown so high that war seemed inevitable; the Middle East would be caught in the middle. But in 1871, the German kingdoms outside of Austria-Hungary had united under one government. Influenced by their place in the Holy Roman Empire, the ruler of the German Empire took the title Kaiser (“Caesar”). The first Kaiser was Wilhelm I. In his reign, Germany quickly grew into the strongest military power in Europe.

His son, Wilhelm II, became Kaiser in 1888. His foreign policy made enemies out of Russia and Great Britain. The two powers suddenly made peace over Persia, recognizing British control of the Persian Gulf and Russian control of the Caspian Sea. Persia could do nothing but watch. Germany began to carry tremendous influence with the Turks, building a railroad across Asia Minor and Mesopotamia and training the Turkish army to modernize. But the Ottomans were still fading, losing Tripoli, then Macedonia, then their remaining North African lands. The Young Turks finally took control of the government in 1913 and made their leader, Enver Pasha, the new leader. But the Ottoman army was under German control.

A complex system of alliances formed. Nations were on edge. The assassination of a Hapsburg archduke led to every one of those alliances being forced, and World War I broke out in 1914. Great Britain and Russia led one side, Germany and the Hapsburgs the other. The Ottoman Empire allied with Germany; Persia declared itself neutral.

World War I

The Ottoman Empire entered the war on 29 October 1914. Germany seemed unstoppable, and the Ottoman navy found itself enhanced by German ships. But the Ottoman army was mishandled by Enver Pasha, who ignored German orders to attack Odessa and the Ukraine in favor of fighting in the Caucasus to reclaim land from Russia. It was ineffectual.

The British had rushed into Cyprus and Egypt to protect the Suez Canal, then landed at Basra to capture oil. There was a dispute among the Allies as to how the fighting should be handled. By entering the war, the Turks had cut off sea-communications between Russia and its allies. The Russians appealed for an allied offensive against the Ottoman Empire, but France wanted the British to remain in France. Meanwhile, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, wanted to focus on seapower and strike at the periphery. In the end, Britain was forced to do all three.

British troops forced their way towards Istanbul, landing at the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915 with British, French, and ANZAC forces. The Allied force was massive but ineptly managed. The forces, separately commanded, were not coordinated properly, and a brilliant Ottoman defense led by General Mustafa Kemal and German advisor Liman von Sanders held out brilliantly. The Gallipoli campaign was a slaughter, a disaster for the Allies. Winston Churchill was forced to resign; Russia, permanently cut off, fell into revolution and withdrew from the war.

Elsewhere, however, the Turks fought badly. Their frustration over heavy losses in the Caucasus led the Turkish army to another Armenian massacre, claiming that the Armenians were suspected of helping Russia. But Russia didn’t need any help defeating the Ottomans—by the time Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and the Russians withdrew, they had already pressed deep into northeastern Turkey.

The Ottomans did attack the Suez Canal, but the British easily fought them off. Another British army of 8000 (6000 of them Indian) forced their way up the Tigris, winning a costly victory at Ctesiphon. With no reinforcements able to come, the army continued its forward press toward Baghdad. They were forced to stop at Kut, a hundred miles short of their goal, and were captured in April 1916. A more powerful British army pushed into Mesopotamia in 1917, took Kut, and conquered Baghdad, taking control of Mosul and all of Mesopotamia.

In Arabia, the British and French were negotiating with Arab chieftains who had been the subjects of the Ottomans. The Arabs revolted in 1916 with the help of British officer T.E. Lawrence, putting aside ethnic differences to unite under Faisal, ruler of Hijaz (the Red Sea coast of Arabia, including Mecca and Medina). Faisal, a Hashemite, was a descendent of the prophet Mohammed; with the British government, he used Lawrence and the Arabian revolt to distract the Turkish forces and keep them out of Europe. The Arabians drove towards Palestine and were stopped at Gaza. With British reinforcements under Edmund Allenby, Jerusalem was taken in December 1917 and the city was in Christian hands for the first time in 700 years. Allenby pressed onward into Lebanon, and had made it to Syria by the time the Ottoman Empire surrendered on 30 October 1918.

Persia, meanwhile, had seen its neutrality ignored by the rest of the world and, with virtually no leadership, Persia had to endure fighting between Russia and the Turks on her soil. When the Russians withdrew, the British came. Afghanistan, too, stayed neutral, but Great Britain had to pay them off to keep them from becoming German allies.

The end of World War I gave Great Britain and France control of the world. The United States rose to become a major player on the world stage. Russia had withdrawn early and buckled under a civil war. This new situation had made the Middle East—now comprised of a thoroughly weakened Persia, a strong but small Afghanistan, the remnants of a destroyed Ottoman Empire, and Arabian tribes awaiting their own independence—nothing more than a pie for the world’s powers to carve amongst themselves.

To be continued.

ScarJo Rbk

Friday, March 09, 2007

Throwdown 3/9

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

1. Antonella Barba’s reign of terror is over! My prediction that she was going to go into the final rounds of American Idol is one prediction that I don’t mind being wrong about. Enjoy your Playboy layout, honey.

2. Here’s a companion to last week’s story about Katharine Heigl and her contract negotiations. Apparently ABC is going to use the recent “faggot” dispute with T.R. Knight as an excuse not to pay Isaiah Washington more money for Grey’s Anatomy. I’m not sure how I feel about that, really. Does it bother people so much that they can’t control everyone’s behavior? And no, this is not me saying it’s okay that Isaiah Washington called someone a name, it’s me wondering how that affects his ability to do his job.

3. I could never stand Jared Leto back when he was just Jordan Catalano, but ever since he started his band, fucked Lindsay Lohan, and decided he was going to walk around beating the shit out of people who didn’t like his shitty music, I’ve despised the boy. So, naturally, I love this story. He broke his nose recently, and he claimed that it was because his throng of adoring fans rushed the stage at a recent concert. But, according to some dude in the crowd, he actually did a stage dive and, wait for it, no one caught him. Not even those adoring fans?

4. I can always count on Becca to bring me back down to reality a little bit. I just hate Fuglie—er, Fergie—but I was starting to enjoy this picture of her ass. And then, all of a sudden, Becca says: “I’ll bet worms are another thing that come out of Fergie’s pussy.” And now there’ll never be a danger of me looking at Fuglie that way again, thank you.

5. The new video featuring Shakira and Beyonce is a little disturbing to me. It’s called “Beautiful Liar” and it’s apparently about female solidarity (so MTV says). But I just caught the video, and it’s depressing. They take Shakira and Beyonce, two of the few female pop stars who can really, really sing, and then they give them this flat, tuneless, percussion-heavy non-song to intone, and then they put them in identical outfits in heavy darkness so that you can barely tell them apart. Female solidarity? This song makes it sound and look more like there was such a danger of the two competing that they had to douse them both just to carry it off. This is about two women being merged into one faceless identikit. Could there be a more accurate commentary on the music industry? Fuck, remember when Dangerously in Love came out and Beyonce had, like, energy? Yeah, what happened to that?

6. Salma Hayek’s pregnant. I wish I could say it was because of me, but alas, she’d rather have some French businessman who’s the CEO of the company that owns Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, and FNAC. Seriously, though, I adore Salma and look forward to seeing her pregnant and yummy (as opposed to just yummy, which she always is).

7. Paris Hilton was shopping at a grocery store (this might not be the most believable story in the world) and apparently slammed an old lady with her cart for blocking the aisle. Wow, whatever happened to “excuse me?” There’s just no segment of the population Paris won’t go out of her way not to get along with, is there?

8. O.J. Simpson supposedly claimed he could possibly be the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby to videographer Norm Pardo. O.J. then went on to say: “I hope they don't do a DNA test on Anna Nicole's baby. If they find out Dannielynn is mine, I don't want Fred Goldman trying to seize her money—or the baby herself!” Ha, that’s funny, because you murdered his son! Class all the way, O.J., you fucking prick. Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?

9. Speaking of class, Newt Gingrich recently admitted that while he was going after Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinsky, he was having an affair. Man, I thought the manner in which he obtained his divorce was slimy and self-serving… Newtie then went on to talk about why he shouldn’t be considered a hypocrite, pretending that the neo-con crusade to crucify Clinton had anything to do with legal matters. There’s just no depth this slippery fuck still won’t sink to, is there?

10. Well, kids, it’s time to get off of your entitled asses and start protesting the war for real. Congressman Charles Rangel is now the head of the Ways and Means Committee. The same Charles Rangel who wants to reinstate the draft and make military service mandatory for all US citizens. Are you finally pissed off enough to crack a newspaper yet?

11. In 2005, the FBI reported that it had sent out 9,254 letters to 3,501 US citizens telling them to surrender their email, telephone, or financial information for reasons of US security. Now, according to a Justice Department audit, it turns out that number was underreported by 20%. What I can’t believe is that there’s some debate that this assault on free speech is a criminal act. Yeah, some people have got to get fired over this one.

12. I love this story. President Chim-Chim is in Latin America right now, and he’s going to visit a Mayan site in Guatemala City. So, of course, priests are going to purify it after Bush leaves. Yes, they said the mere presence of George W. Bush would require a purification ritual to rid the Mayan ruins of Iximche of bad spirits. They also said that Bush’s appearance at Iximche was “an offense for the Mayan people and their culture,” what with “the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States” and “the wars he has provoked.” Make no mistake; our debate over immigration policy is about a lot more than cleaning some toilets to Central and South America. Bush’s mere presence in all of Latin America has conjured up some other bad spirits, including protests in Brazil and a riot in Colombia which saw 200 students fighting police with homemade explosives. I’m sorry, did you think it was just the Middle East that hated us?

13. We almost lucked out and got Nancy Pelosi as Vice President…er, I mean, whew, the assassination attempt on Dick Cheney failed. Besides, if Cheney’s found a way to walk in the daylight, it’s going to take a lot more than a bomb to stop the beating of his undead heart.

14. The good news is, according to a poll taken at a recent Conservative Political Action Conference, a poll revealed that support for John McCain is incredibly low; even less than for Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. The bad news is, the poll was only reflective of 526 people. Still, the results also indicated that conservatives—the ones who just want lower taxes and a strong America, not the neocons who’ve hijacked the Republican Party—think George W. Bush has mishandled his presidency (nearly 60% of them), and only 7.9% of them support the current GOP leadership. So maybe there’s hope for 2008 after all.

15. Actually, speaking of hope and of the great Nancy Pelosi, here’s some good news: the Democrats in Congress are finally making their stand. They’re introducing legislation for a pullout of Iraq by the fall of 2008. The White House says President Bush will veto it, so what does Pelosi do? She attaches it to the legislation for Bush’s $100 billion request to continue fighting his private little war. Do you see why she’s so absolutely brilliant? She’s dangling his hundred bil in front of him, telling him he can have it if he just agrees to end the damn thing. Now, if he vetoes the pullout, he’s going to have to veto his money. Brilliant! Fucking brilliant! Read more about it here.

If You Only Linked

At left is a piece of art by Dean Trippe. A bunch of bloggers promoted his website this week using his truly excellent Supergirl art, so I decided I'd be different. Go to his website, revel in his special art, and ask him why there isn't a drawing of the Flash on his page. (Okay, that last part is purely self-serving.) Mr. Trippe also has two other great websites, one devoted to critiquing superhero fashion, and the other devoted to better mainstream comics. And then there are his comics and... oh, man, just go to his site already!

Let's hold on to our comic book theme, shall we? Dave's Long Box reviews the new issue of the new Wonder Woman series, one of the few things that might make me go back to the new DC Universe. Occasional Superheroine praises Ethel Muggs (it's overdue). Everyday Is Like Wednesday has a neat post about great Plastic Man stories. One Diverse Comic Book Nation has a glimmer of hope for some long-awaited Supergirl news. And Living Between Wednesdays finally puts the Marvel Comics Civil War in terms I can understand. I'm still not interested, but thank you!

So, Captain America is dead. Oh, I mean--SPOILER! Captain America is dead. Apropos of Something has a brilliant quip about it (follow his link for more hilarious comics), and over at the Huffington Post, Bryan Young eulogizes Captain America.

And I stole this one from MC because I thought it was neat: Charlie Brown Gone Anime. Unlike a lot of anime remixes, I liked this one a lot and wish it were a real comic book miniseries (I'd totally buy it). It looks more fun that anything Charles M. Schulz gave us in the last decade or so of Peanuts.

Eric Check out his first three neat designs for a steampunk reimagining of Star Wars. Here are Lord Vader, Han Solo & Mr. Chewbacca, and Jabba the Hutt. Oh, how I wish this project were going to be a real comic book!

Heroes Revealed says the second series of Heroes may focus on a new cast. If that means they're not going to ruin a near-flawless first season by making the characters boring, I'm all for it.

Speaking of television, Culture Kills mentions the worst sitcom idea I've heard in years, and dissects perfectly the reasons why it won't work.

Something Old, Nothing New explicates the standard Simpsons cameo and makes the show seem even more depressingly formulaic.

Fred Hembeck fills out that Best Picture meme with some engrossing answers.

Must read: Interview with a Stuntwoman at Pop Culture Heroines.

This Onion piece is short, but it made me laugh for a few minutes straight because it reminded me so much of this asshole who used to be my roommate.

Heading over to music links, Culture Kills has something to say about the stupidity of the RIAA, MollyGood has some interesting observations about Brooke Hogan, and I found so much to disagree with in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's list of the 200 definitive rock albums. But thanks to Allen Lulu sending me the link, Kurt's Krap gave me the first hope for humanity I've had since the midterm elections.

Otherwise, Tosy and Cosh has something worth reading to say to Harold Bloom. Deus Ex Malcontent has something to say about Ann Coulter and free speech (as does Johnny Yen). The Rude Pundit also goes after Ann Coulter, and has some advice on the Libby verdict. And The Last Visible Blog helps to shine a light on the dangers that the women in our armed services are facing in Iraq.

And finally, no week would be complete for me without ModFab's rundown of this week's American Idol: the men, the women, and the rejects. Antonella can go back to her much-deserved obscurity now.

And now, one of the strangest things I remember from my childhood. Thankfully, someone else remembered it, too. Still not crazy!

Me and My Movies

A bunch of people have been doing this meme online, and even though I won't be able to answer this as brilliantly as Tom the Dog did, I'm nothing if not a joiner, so here we go.

1. Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times.

Peter Jackson's King Kong has been on HBO lately, and I think I've seen that about a dozen times. I've watched Brokeback Mountain a lot on HBO, too. And if you really want to know the depths of my obsessive behavior, I've seen the Amanda Bynes vehicle What a Girl Wants, at my most conservative estimate, at least 30 times.2. Name a movie that you've seen multiple times in the theater.

Between its initial release and the rerelease, my mom and I saw Return of the Jedi together 13 times.

3. Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie.

It'll always be a young girl. Seriously, I had the TV on ABC Family this morning and was thinking, well, you know, Hayden Panettiere's in Bring It On: All or Nothing...Seriously, though, Anne Hathaway is someone I like as an actor, and so is Asia Argento. I'll see anything with them in it. And Amanda Bynes; I genuinely think she's funny. I went to see She's the Man in the theater.

4. Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie.

Nicolas Cage.

5. Name a movie that you can and do quote from.

There's a lot. Sometimes I feel like I'm just a collection of pop culture quotes. It's my lingo. I think the line I most use is Han Solo's "Hey, it's me" from Return of the Jedi. It can be used in so many ways to define my arrogance...

6. Name a movie musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs.


7. Name a movie that you have been known to sing along with.


8. Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see.

Spirited Away.9. Name a movie that you own.

That's a weird question; I own a lot of movies.

10. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops.

Well, since TV's another medium, I'm going to say Topher Grace. I remember when Lisa Schwarzbaum said in Entertainment Weekly he could be the next Tom Hanks (going from sitcom to serious acting), and everyone ridiculed her for it. But he's impressed me with his talent so far.

11. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in? If so, what?

We used to go to my stepmom's family's cabin in Valpraiso, Indiana, and they had a drive in. I can't remember what we saw there except for Dick Tracy and Far and Away, but I know there were others.

12. Ever made out in a movie?

Of course. Becca and I were totally going at it during Shark Tale. That was the only enjoyment I got out of that damn movie. Well, that and some bizarre fantasies about that fish with Angelina Jolie's mouth...I know, it's not a good thing.

13. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven’t yet gotten around to it.

There are too many to name. I have a long, long list.

14. Ever walked out of a movie?

The only movie I ever wanted to walk out of was Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, but I couldn't because Becca wanted to finish it (she redeemed herself by hating it almost as much as I did). I've shut off lots of DVDs before, though, most recently The Da Vinci Code.

15. Name a movie that made you cry in the theater.Again, too many to name. I've cried in so many movies. I think the one I cried in the most was The Iron Giant. "Suuupermaaan..." Fuck, I'm tearing up just thinking about it right now.

16. Popcorn?

Not really, but I'm not opposed.

17. How often do you go to the movies (as opposed to renting them or watching them at home)?

Not as often as I'd like. I barely get to go anymore, but if I had my way I'd go once a week.

18. What’s the last movie you saw in the theater?


19. What’s your favorite/preferred genre of movie?

I don't really care as long as it's entertaining.

20. What’s the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?Sleeping Beauty. The dragon terrified me. The second movie I remember seeing is The Empire Strikes Back. I was four for both of those movies.

21. What movie do you wish you had never seen?

There's a few movies in there, but nothing leaps to mind so quickly as David Cronenberg's Videodrome. I was just relieved that it ended.

22. What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?

Well, what do you mean by weird? Bad Taste is pretty weird, but it's a great fucking movie.

23. What is the scariest movie you've seen?


24. What is the funniest movie you've seen?Duck Soup.

UPDATE 9:05 AM: Becca reminds me of a wonderful time when HBO was showing What a Girl Wants twice a day, and that having both the east coast and west coast HBO channels means that I've seen the movie as often as four times a day. Plus, I've watched the movie twice in a row on Nickelodeon and Oxygen before. She says a safer bet is that I've seen What a Girl Wants as many as 50 or 70 times, and that it's definitely the movie I've seen more than any other (even after all of my repeated childhood viewings of The Empire Strikes Back and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial). So, there you go.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Antonella Controversy Ratchets Up

And Rosie O'Donnell enters the fray. Which you knew she was going to do, at some point. And I guess it's not her fault, she's obnoxious and opinionated, but hey, so am I. And her job is basically to comment on these things that piss her off; that's what she does, isn't it? She's a commentator. (I do it for free, so who's winning out here?)

I do agree with Rosie O'Donnell that American Idol is appearing racist and weightist by keeping Antonella Barba on the show after they ditched Frenchie Davis in the second series because pictures of her appeared on the internet. And the major difference is this: Frenchie Davis was black and overweight. Antonella Barba is what America seems to be in love with right now: the white, entitled, talentless skank. Yeah, that was another huge difference: Frenchie could sing like no one's business. Antonella has no discernible talent.

But the producers seem to be firmly behind Antonella; since the auditions began, they've given Antonella the lion's share of screen time, and with people leaking photos of her on the internet (look me in the face and try not to laugh while you tell me that's not calculated), she's the only thing about Idol that anyone's talking about. She's promotions gold.

Rather stupidly, producer Nigel Lythgoe had this to say about Rosie: "Without wishing to add to the obvious self-promotion of Ms. O'Donnell, I feel as though I must refute her absurd and ridiculous claims that American Idol is racist and/or weightist. Ms. O'Donnell has, once again, spoken without thought or knowledge. Viewers need only look at the show tonight to realize that American Idol constantly confirms to America that talent has nothing to do with weight or color."

Actually, the show has a history of not treating black women who are large very well. Simon Cowell very clearly doesn't like fat people, and has no problem digging at them. I remember very, very clearly in the first series that there was this one young black woman who sang like Aretha Franklin. She was also a big girl. And when she sang at her audition, she sizzled. She was incredible. And Simon asked her if she thought she was going to make it through. She looked down at the floor and broke my heart when she answered: "No, because I'm a big girl, but it's okay..." And then Simon told her she was indeed through to the next round, and she brightened. You could see all of that confidence leap into her.

And then, when they went to the next round (what would be Hollywood Week now), Simon cut her, asking her: "Do you really think you look like the American Idol?" That's right, he let her through despite her being fat, only to cut her in the next round because she was fat.

Yeah, they made it up in the second series with Ruben and Clay and Kimberly Locke, but don't you cut the fat black chick who can sing just because there are pictures of her on the internet doing bondage, and then keep the thin white underage drinker who poses for slutty pictures with apparently no prompting and then tell me there isn't some kind of superficial component at work here.

Kids are stupid. This works in two ways. Kids today are fucking idiots, and they love sex. All the misguided and lunatic government programs to promote abstainance have only succeeded in getting kids to abstain from two things: using condoms and considering oral sex an actual sex act. They love doing sexual things because they're "naughty." Factor into this the fact that today's kids are so wired into everything, and you're talking about kids who love to show themselves off and do stupid and naked things, and love to photograph it. These idiots put their shit up on their MySpace pages and they're actually proud of it until someone gets pissed off over it. Antonella's moronic pictures of herself giving head, posing naked at the nation's World War II Memorial, going to the bathroom, and underage drinking are pretty typical of a lot of stupid high school kids. Are Frenchie's pictures worse because she was on hard times and had to take some bondage photos for some quick cash?

The other way it pays off that kids are stupid is that they recognize one of their own and feel sympathy for her, and added to the fact that every guy who watches the show wants to fuck her, they keep voting for her despite her acute lack of talent.

But, really, if you still think American Idol is a talent contest and not a popularity contest, there's not much I can do to help you.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Film Week

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

I heard a lot of mixed things about this movie going in, but I have to say I loved it. Will Ferrell plays an IRS auditor who suddenly discovers his life is being narrated by an author (Emma Thompson) who is writing his life as a novel and plans on ending the novel with his death. On the one hand, this is a pretty simple story about a man who sees the end coming, tries to change it, and gradually accepts it and tries to live the life he’s always wanted. The meta aspect of it is trickier, although it ends up working (at first it seems far less clever than it thinks it is). And by the end, I had invested enough into the movie to be brought to tears. I loved it. If I had any complaints, they were superficial and mostly centered around Maggie Gyllenhaal’s inability to impersonate Drew Barrymore as well as she thinks she does. **** stars.

Pretty good sequel to one of Disney Channel’s better films, but seriously, how could you replace Raven-Symone? Raven is irreplaceable, and the poor girl they have playing her character is just so far from an adequate substitute. Not cool. Otherwise, it was a cute movie, and Kirstin Storms is a cutie who is on my list of young women actors who should be doing much better than some of their contemporaries (Melissa Joan Hart’s on that same list, where is she?). **1/2 stars, which still puts it up there on the Disney Channel scale.

PAISAN (1946)
Roberto Rossellini’s masterful film shows us six vignettes that occur during the Allied invasion of Italy (July 1943 to winter 1944) at six different places in Italy. Each one builds on the other, showcasing moments of heroism, misunderstanding, miscommunication, and horror. But the point here is not that people did brave things during the war; it’s about how the Italians survived the onslaught of fascism and war ripping their home apart. It’s a sad, beautiful movie that needs to be seen. It’s full of things that we shouldn’t let happen again. And this movie is pretty damn resonant right now, because what’s going on in America—with a dictator making war in our names without our consent—it what was going on in Italy then. **** stars.

Marcello Mastroianni (an actor I’m not fond of but whom I loved in this movie) plays a Sicilian baron who falls in love with his young, beautiful, sixteen year-old cousin and decides to murder his wife. Divorce is impossible in Italy, but if he murders her wife and then proves he did it over a matter of honor, he knows the sentence will be light. So, he sets about trying to find a lover for his wife. It sounds convoluted, I know, but this is a masterpiece of a comedy with an actual social conscience, exploiting as well as damning an immoral law that supports an immoral act. Absolutely brilliant. **** stars. Stefania Sandrelli is exceptionally gorgeous.

I might as well go ahead and just say that I like Fellini’s early work; I hate his later work, but over the last year I’ve seen and enjoyed a lot of his earlier work. This was no exception. It’s a simple coming-of-age story about five men trapped in their small town, all of whom want to get out and do great things. There’s no more than that, but Fellini’s film is so genuine and emotionally honest that it surpasses most of the films in the subgenre. **** stars.

Norman Jewison directed this film about a misunderstanding between Americans and Soviets, which probably means we should be looking for John McTiernan to direct it at any moment. This is regarded as a minor comedy classic, but I found it to be pretty much just minor. A Soviet submarine crew accidentally runs aground off of a New England island, and the crew needs to sneak ashore to find help. This turns into a series of misunderstandings and it all just develops from there. Carl Reiner’s okay, and Eva Marie Saint is always lovely, but the best actor here is Alan Arkin as one of the sub commanders. He’s hilarious, assured—everything Arkin does best. And to my surprise, John Phillip Law gives one of the best performances in the movie. As for Jonathan Winters, running around the way John Belushi does in 1941 (a movie that heavily, and I mean heavily, riffs from this movie), I quickly get very tired of him. Overall, **1/2 stars.

Radley Metzger is one of my favorite filmmakers. He’s basically one of the fathers of pornographic films, although his movies were, up to a certain point, more on the side of being artistic explorations (I guess the point I’m referring to is that he directed The Opening of Misty Beethoven). This is his one “mainstream” movie, and it’s not half-bad. It’s one of many versions of the John Willard play, but since I’ve yet to see any of the others, I quite enjoyed it. It’s a simple murder story—a group of characters in a mansion on a stormy night for a will reading—but the strong cast of professional thespians carries it off. Seriously, this is one hell of a cast: Wendy Hiller, Carol Lynley, Edward Fox, Daniel Massey, Olivia Hussey, Wilfrid Hyde White, Michael Callan. That’s a very strong cast, although a bit stagey, perhaps. Fox is especially good. Not one of Metzger’s best, certainly, but a very good movie. *** stars. Maybe it’s a bit too old-fashioned for its own good.

James Cameron Has Finally Flown Up His Own Ass

Okay, I've had more than enough of this Jesus bullshit.

Ever since, just a day after the Academy Awards, James Cameron announced that he was making a documentary about the purported "Tomb of Jesus," my ass has ached with all of the talk back and forth about whether or not the tomb is the "real" resting place of the "real" Jesus. And here's where all of my aches are coming from: the news outlets who are reporting on it.

I've asked this before, but can we please stop reporting on the doings of Jesus's hysterical fanbase as though their claims have any basis in reality? The existence of Jesus and company is not a historical fact that is just awaiting a few artifacts here and there to confirm its reality; it's something that has yet to be proven. I'm sorry, but you claimed the existence of Jesus and God and heaven, so you have to prove it to me, Christ enthusiasts. I don't have to prove he doesn't exist; you're the ones claiming that something with no proof exists, so prove it. Oh, and just because I can't prove he didn't exist, doesn't mean he did. That's the kind of illogic that keeps making us rational skeptics laugh at your stupidity.

Hell, since you people make me laugh so heartily, here's another example of your eagerness to be listened to and how it affects your credibility. The way you've tripped all over yourselfs to call this, according to a story on ABC, "the first scientific, statistical and theological evidence of Christ's existence." How is this scientific or statistical? What science was involved, other than dating a couple of ossuaries and saying, more or less, "This is from the time of Christ, it must be Jesus!" That's not scientific, okay, it's barely something a child would believe. Specious, maybe, but not scientific. They also like to point out that the names on the ossuaries sorta kinda nearly almost match up to the names Jesus and Mary. How is that statistical? Statistical is more like taking into account how many people lived in that place, in that time period, and had similar names. I mean, I've met a lot of Marys in my lifetime, it's a pretty common name. Just ask France.

This is all prelude to the Discovery Channel's The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which details the finding of the ossuaries in 1980 and how the specious claims of a bunch of rationality-deprived kooks and how they are "conclusively connected." Somebody get these guys a dictionary so they can look up the word conclusively.

Now enter James Cameron, who is surprisingly fervent about telling the "truth" about another JC he may or may not consider slightly more important than even himself. It's kind of troubling to see someone as smart as Cameron--someone who has done as much as he has for undersea exploration, an actual science--believing so fully that this is real evidence for the existence of Jesus. You know, Jim, you can fly in all of the Aramaic experts and DNA analysists and forensic anthropologists and archaeologists in the world into the Discovery Channel and have them say whatever you want, but none of them are going to change the fact that we don't actually have Jesus's DNA to check against. There literally can't be any DNA evidence of Christ's existence becaus there's no Christ DNA sample. Sorry, but it's true. Oh, and then there's the fact that Jesus is a made-up fairy tale, that doesn't help. No matter how many scientists you throw at the problem, this just ain't science. Did you really want to cash in on The Da Vinci Code this badly?

Man, it's amazing how fast James Cameron lost his credibility. He should have just done what he's been doing for the last decade--self-important cameos as himself and talking about how he's going to direct a movie "later." He was always hard to take seriously, anyway; rewriting Harlan Ellison's "Soldier" as The Terminator, rewriting Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers as Aliens, rewriting Sylvester Stallone's weird homoerotic torture fantasies as Rambo: First Blood, Part II, contenting himself with remakes (True Lies) and sequels (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Aliens, Piranha II: The Spawning)... I know I'm in the minority here, but for me Titanic was actually proof that he could tell a decent, somewhat original story. He may not have directed it incredibly well (seriously, he was happy with Billy Zane's and Danny Nucci's line readings? or for that matter, casting Danny Nucci?), but it was something that was his. But now, his credibility has gone up his ass, just like Mel Gibson's went up his.

What I wonder is this: does James Cameron want to disprove the resurrection of Jesus because he wants to find out the truth, or because he sees Jesus as a serious rival to his own status as King of the World?

Duffster Looking Hot

Hilary Duff ditches the creep and now she's starting to look pretty again. It would be nice to have her back. Lindsay Lohan I don't miss at all, but I missed my Duffster. Must be the Disney connection. But she's a sweetie.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Health Report: Week 12

There's not much to report this week, but that's probably a good thing. I still feel better, and I'm still getting smaller. I'm starting to actually feel thinner, and I did have that experience two weeks ago where I felt I really looked smaller. And that makes me feel good about myself and the direction I'm going in. And hey, my energy is starting to come back! No more of these lapses; that one was pretty major, and I got sick of it and don't want to do it again.

Otherwise, I'm applying for jobs and there's one that looks like a good opportunity (I hope). I'm not going to talk about it unless I know for sure I'm getting or not. Of course, if I don't get it, there won't be much point in talking about it, will there? I hope I get it, though; it's something I'm actually overqualified for, but it's easy work (I think) and something I know I can do. Besides that, it'll actually help me to write--I work better when I'm working against time constraints, instead of enjoying so much free time. I'm too undisciplined otherwise.

I'm also getting sick of just not having much to do, and especially of not having any money to spend on frivolities like the phone bill and the power bill...

That's all for this week.

Rob Zombie Movies Kick Ass

Without a doubt, what I'm most looking forward to in Grindhouse (a movie I'm looking forward to so badly that I can hardly sit still when I think about it) is Rob Zombie's faux-trailer for Werewolf Women of the SS. The only way I could be looking forward to this more is if it were a whole feature of its own with substantially more running time for my darling Sheri Moon Zombie.

So, here's a collection of some of the pictures which have been going around.

Sheri Moon Zombie as Eva Krupp

Sybil Danning as Gretchen Krupp

The two of them together.

Sybil with Udo Keir as Franz Hess.

Sybil with Bill Moseley as Dr. Heinrich Von Strasser.

Udo Kier and Tom Towles.

Kier, Moseley, and Towles.

I said it before, and I'll say it again: I AM SO HARD FOR THIS MOVIE. And I haven't even seen the Werewolf Women yet... And, bizarrely, Nicolas Cage is going to play Dr. Fu Manchu? Fu Manchu, Nazis, werewolves, Sybil Danning and Sheri Moon Zombie?

Did a whole cloud of awesome just rain on me?

I cannot wait for this movie. I hope it's incredibly awesome; it's already been hella fun just with the previews and the anticipation. Eli Roth and Edgar Wright are also doing fake trailers in the movie, and the cast for this thing includes Kurt Russell, Marley Shelton, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Parks, Naveen Andrews, Rosario Dawson, Michael Biehn, Rose McGowan (with machine gun leg!!), and two of the coolest human beings alive, Danny fucking Trejo and Tom Savini!

Also, Rob Zombie is currently at work on the remake of John Carpenter's Halloween. I'm not hugely into these horror remakes (especially when it comes to a classic like Halloween), but I liked House of 1000 Corpses, and I loved The Devil's Rejects, so I have faith in Rob. I have faith in him the same way I have faith in Peter Jackson and Terry Gilliam. He makes great movies.

Here's Tyler Mane as Michael Myers.

And in the middle there is Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie Strode.

It's interesting that Rob has cast real teenagers, although it sadly reduces the chance that there will be tits in this movie. Man, when did people stop putting tits in everything? Of course, no one in this movie is going to be as hot as P.J. Soles was, so maybe it doesn't matter.

Halloween also stars Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis, with William Forsythe and some real horror veterans: Ken Foree, Dee Wallace Stone (I can't tell you how much that excites me to see her still in horror), Brad Dourif, Udo Kier, Adrienne Barbeau, and once again, Danny fucking Trejo!

How did Rob Zombie get the directorial career that I always wanted? Oh, right, the work thing.

A Quick Thought on Internet Voting

I've seen a couple of articles lately online about this issue of internet voting. I'm never one to trust the immediate response of people to a question like that; the immediate response is one that's taken no thought and usually comes out of superstition and distrust. I prefer to listen to reasoned arguments and respond to them.

As yet, I've not heard a reasoned argument about internet voting.

The most obvious reason for being able to vote on the internet is that it might increase voter participation, which is one of the biggest problems I think we have in this country. Everyone bitches, but not everyone votes, and if you haven't voted, I don't feel the need to take your arguments seriously. Sorry, but I don't. Everyone has a voice in America, yes, but voting is what gives you the privilege of exercising it when it comes to politics. If you're not willing to take enough of an interest in how you're governed to vote, then I have no time for your bitching. Simple as that.

(As an aside, I do notice that the US government seems to intentionally make it hard for people to vote, holding the election on a Tuesday when people have to go before or after work, but that's a whole other post about voter reform).

The big reaction people seem to have against being able to vote on the internet is that there are myriad opportunities for voter fraud. But I have two responses to that. First, there's already voter fraud, a lot of it, and no one ever seems to care very much about it. Seriously, I hate to say this for the 457th time since November 2000, but if George W. Bush had pulled that shit in Florida a hundred years previous, his head might be floating down the Potomac the next day. But that might have been in a country when people cared about that sort of thing. Do you realize that one of the causes of the Civil War was Abraham Lincoln's being elected; it smacked of voter fraud because, in a lot of places below the Mason-Dixon Line, Lincoln's name didn't even appear on the ballot. That's how much people used to care about who was president; half of the nation decided to disassociate itself from the other half.

My second response it this: the internet is safe enough to handle your taxes, your banking, your trading, your buying with credit information, and your interpersonal communication, but not to vote on?

Granted, neither of those is much of a reasoned argument, but that's all the opponents of internet voting have given me to work with so far.

The Worst Idea for a Movie I've Ever Heard (Today)

Vincent Newman wants to produce a film version of John Milton's Paradise Lost.

Vincent Newman produces shitty movies: In the Shadows, Poolhall Junkies, A Man Apart, and Blind Horizon are the four latest.

John Milton's epic poem is one of the supreme achievements of the English language, and quite probably the greatest poetic work written in English. Its narrative details things which have become Catholic dogma to a certain extent, but which do not appear in the Bible: the fall of Lucifer and the archangels who followed him, the creation of Hell, the escape of Satan from Hell, the lifestyles of Adam and Eve, and (this last point Biblical) the temptation of Eve and the casting out of Adam and Eve from Paradise. Hence the title. Disguised in the creation of Hell and the conclave of the devils is an attack on the Vatican and the idolatry and simony of the Catholic Church. It's a stunning work that should be read and experienced.

So, the guy who made A Man Apart wants to transfer Paradise Lost to film. Which is a little like asking Brett Ratner to direct Don Quixote.

He wants Daniel Craig or Heath Ledger to play Satan. Both are, admittedly, good choices, but they both seem a little beyond the reach of the producer whose last four films starred Matthew Modine, Rick Schroeder, Vin Diesel, and Val Kilmer (who must work for a sandwich these days).

The director of this epic will be Scott Derrickson, who has only directed three films in the last 12 years: something called Love in the Ruins, the straight-to-video Hellraiser: Inferno (after you hit five, why number them anymore?), and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Well, he's no Brett Ratner.

So far, the project boasts three writers, two of whom have no credits, and one of whom is a former extra who may be writing the oh-so-unneccesary Battle Chasers movie and worked on the failed Riverworld pilot movie.

Here's my favorite part.

Word is that the writers are "deliberately moving away from the Milton touches to the text and Adam and Eve aspect in favour of the war of archangels."

The Milton touches to the text? What text? You mean Paradise Lost? BY JOHN MILTON?!?!?

Wow, at least they've got smart people on top of this one, huh? Yes, let's announce that we're filming a Milton text, and then say we're deliberately moving away from Milton's touches.

How little anyone associated with the project understands Milton is clearly spelled out in this bit of information: "The aim is also to make the Devil into a deeper and more interesting character along the lines of Henry Hill in GoodFellas."




These assholes have clearly not read Paradise Lost if they don't think Milton's Satan is one of the most complex and fascinating characters in the whole of literary history. The guy who fucked up Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld is going to make Satan "deeper and more interesting"?

Why do you idiots have to ruin things that are great beyond anything you can hope to touch? Why do you have to claim you're making Paradise Lost, when you could just as easily have a bunch of hacks write a story called War in Heaven and just let it go at that? Because the name recognition of Paradise Lost is not going to bring in the kind of mouth-breathing troglodytes who think A Man Apart was a really, really good movie.

I hope they cast Vin Diesel in this piece of shit; at least people will know what they're walking into...

Monday, March 05, 2007

The History of the Middle East

Part 17 in a series.

The Ottoman Empire

In Europe, the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon united and formed a new nation: Spain. They immediately entered a race with Portugal over colonization of the outside world. In 1510, the Portuguese explorer Affonso de Albuquerque landed at Hormuz, an island in the Persian Gulf, and claimed it for Portugal. Shah Ismail protested, but could not break off from his war with the Ottomans.

Under Selim the Grim, the Ottoman Empire became an unstoppable juggernaut. Earlier sultans had taken the last remnant of the Roman Empire—Trebizond—and begun taking islands away from Venice. Selim had doubled the size of the Empire by his death in 1520, taking Syria, Egypt, and the Red Sea coast of Arabia (including Mecca). Selim was succeeded by his son, Suleiman I. History knows him best as Suleiman the Magnificent.

Suleiman did the impossible and took the island of Rhodes from the Order of the Knights of St. John—something that took him half a year and cost him anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 men. Then, with superior cannon, he took Hungary, invading the West. When the Holy Roman Emperor tried to take Hungary back, Suleiman drove further west, the first Sultan to enter central Europe and (though unsuccessfully) besiege Vienna. Hungary remained Muslim, and Suleiman consoled his loss in Vienna with the knowledge that he controlled most of North Africa. A pirate named Khayr-ad-Din (known to Europe as Barbarossa or Redbeard) had found an allegiance with the Ottomans and turned Algeria and Tunis into Ottoman tribute kingdoms. By 1550, the Ottoman Empire was the largest and strongest Islamic empire in 700 years. They were more efficient than the governments of Europe, and had the strongest army in the world.

At eleven years old, Tahmasp I succeeded his father Ismail as Shah of Persia. He was no match for Suleiman, who immediately took Mesopotamia from the boy. Persia seemed to be falling away piece by piece—the Portuguese were expanding in the Gulf, a new group of raiders called the Uzbeks were in the north, and even England was entering the stage of the Middle East. In 1561 an Englishman, Anthony Jenkinson, came to Persia and attempted to negotiate for an overland trade route through Persia to Russia. He was refused; the situation with Portugal had created a groundswell of violent anti-Christian sentiment.

Suleiman the Magnificent died in 1566; he was the last of the strong and capable Turks. The first 275 or so years of the Ottoman Empire had seen 10 great rulers in succession. The eleventh ruler, Selim the Sot, was decidedly less able. Still, the Empire remained strong; its institutions were running smoothly. Selim tried to conquer Cyprus, a Venetian possession, but was soundly crushed at the Battle of Lepanto by Pope Pius V’s Holy League, a combination of Spanish and Venetian navy commanded by Don John of Austria. The outnumbered Christians smashed the Turkish navy in the last great sea battle fought by galley ships. Among the Christians wounded at Lepanto was Miguel de Cervantes. It was in vain; Venice surrendered Cyprus to the Ottomans in 1573. But the Christians had done the real damage; they had made the invincibility of the Turk vanish before the world, and the long, slow decline of the Ottoman Empire is usually dated from the Battle of Lepanto.

Abbas the Great

Abbas became Shah of Persia in 1587. He was the greatest of the Safavids. He made peace with the Ottomans in order to have troops free to defeat the Uzbeks in 1597. A year later he broached the subject of an alliance with Christian Europe. He wanted to build up and modernize the Persian army, and a group of Englishmen under the command of Anthony and Robert Shirley did just that. Abbas retook all of the lands lost to Selim and Suleiman, recovering Mesopotamia and marching into Baghdad in 1603.

Persia prospered under Abbas the Great and the alliance with England. He moved the capitol to Isfahan, improved the roads and encouraged trade. But he hated the Portuguese, who had been in the Persian Gulf for a century. Again with British help, Abbas drove the Portuguese out in 1622, founding a city called Bandar Abbas to commemorate the victory. In gratitude, Abbas granted the new British East India Company trading privileges in Persia.

But Abbas the Great could not last forever, and Persia began to decline rapidly upon his death in 1629. Sultan Murad IV and the Turkish army stormed east in 1638, sacked Hamadan, and took Mesopotamia and Baghdad away from Persia forever. But the Ottoman Empire itself was slowly rotting from within.

Ottoman and Persian Declines

There was nearly an Ottoman resurgence when Koprolu Mehmed, an Albanian, became Grand Vizier to the Sultan. He brought about the conquest of Crete in 1669. To the outside world, the Ottoman Empire was still an ever-expanding threat. And tensions were simmering with Austria over the fate of Hungary.

The Turks re-entered central Europe in 1683, attacking Vienna with 150,000 men—ten times the number of Austrian forces available. But it was a disaster for the Ottomans; Austria had formed an alliance with Poland, and Vienna was saved. Austria chased the Turks out of Europe, capturing Hungary, Belgrade, and Serbia. The Turks were able to retake the Balkans, but were annihilated in 1697 when they attempted to retake Hungary. The Ottoman Empire would never again threaten to enter central Europe.

Persia was now trying to withstand the onslaught of the Afghan tribes. In 1722, the Afghans defeated the Persian army and took Isfahan. The Persians were still staggering from the loss when Tsar Peter the Great, recently defeated by the Ottomans to Russia’s embarrassment, began to annex portions of the Caspian Sea coast.

But the Persian army was soon under the control of General Nadir Kuli, a Sunnite Turk who was nonetheless a Persian patriot. He defeated the Afghans and held off the Turks and Russia, then deposed the last Safavid ruler, Abbas III, and made himself Shah. Nadir sacked Delhi in 1739, returning to Persia with a train of loot that included the Koh-i-noor Diamond—the total amount he captured may today have been worth over a billion US dollars. The loss of treasure brought the sudden end of India’s Moghul Empire.

But Nadir did not succeed. As a Sunnite, he wanted to make Sunnism the state religion of Persia. The Shiite population balked, and Nadir became increasingly paranoid. He started to order too many executions. There was so much unrest that he was finally assassinated by his own soldiers in 1747. He was the last of Asia’s great conquerors.


The great Islamic powers grew weaker and weaker. The Ottomans fought a losing war with Russia. Persia experienced anarchy and opened itself to further British control. Both realms became smaller, losing pieces of themselves to Europe; the Ottomans lost the Crimea and the Balkans to Russia, and Syria and Egypt to Napoleon. Persia was also losing ground to Russia.

The Afghans, conversely, were reaching their power. They had been driven out of Persia by Nadir Kuli, but Nadir had destroyed the Moghul Empire, and his own assassination had brought Persia to a standstill. With a power vacuum in the south, one of Nadir’s generals, Ahmed Shah, made himself the Afghan leader. He invaded a weakening India, taking Lahore in 1752 and Delhi in 1761. By the time of his death in 1773, Ahmed Shah had created an empire that included northwestern India, eastern Persia, and all of modern Afghanistan.

But Afghan power was brief. War with Persia weakened both nations. And the European onslaught to control the world continued.

To be continued.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Song of the Week: "Man in a Purple Dress"

This is from the new album by The Who. This is Roger and Pete live on Letterman last fall, and it's a beautiful thing and a beautiful performance. Two old guys in jeans, just casually blowing away every single musical act of today. It's a stunner for a Sunday morning. I don't care if you're tired of hearing how I feel about her, but my reason for choosing this song is because Pete Townshend dedicated it to Britney Spears the other night. As he says, "Let's not be too quick to judge." A beautiful song, a beautiful sentiment. Have a nice day.

Many thanks to Chris for pointing this out.

Meet the Robinsons Art

I love the design of this film. This is going to be the first Disney film released with Pixar in charge of the place, so I have high hopes for it.

Another Meme for Everyone to Skip Over

1. Have you ever been searched by the cops?
Only upon being arrested.

2. Do you close your eyes on roller coasters?
I don't go on roller coasters. Or airplanes. Or cars driven by other people.

3. When's the last time you've been sledding?
Gosh, I think I must've been sixteen. Why don't I sled anymore?

4. Would you rather sleep with someone else, or alone?
I don't like to sleep alone; it feels empty, like I'm missing something.

5. Do you believe in ghosts?
No. Though my sister does, to sometimes comic effect. One time, she watched a special on TV with my mom called Ghosts of Ireland. When it comes to playing a prank (something I love to do), my sister is an easy mark--keep in mind that she's 28 and she still believes that if you say "candyman" three times the Candyman will come and kill her, no matter what time of day it is. I don't know her policy on Beetlejuice... Anyway, they had watched this special, and it was late at night, and they were about to go to bed. My sister went to use the bathroom and my mom asked me if I would put away my sister's prom dress by hanging it in her closet. Now, my sister's room had a bathroom attached that she almost never used (?), and there was a little hallway leading to the bathroom. On either side of the hallway, there were closets with mirrored doors. So she had this little dark corridor in her room. And I was standing behind the dress when I went to hang it up, because I'm right-handed, and when my sister came into the bedroom and saw the dress "floating"--not seeing me behind it--she screamed. At least, that's how I maintained it happened for years. I eventually admitted that I was standing there for a full two minutes hoping she'd see the dress, waving it around so it looked like it was floating, making wind noises with my mouth and finally (she didn't remember) saying softly in a pirate voice, "Yaar, I'm a ghost of Aaaarrlaaand!"

6. Do you consider yourself creative?

7. Do you think O.J. killed his wife?
In his book Downsize This, Michael Moore makes a pretty good case for O.J. Simpson not committing the murders. The way he looks at it, O.J. hired someone to do it. Makes sense.

8. Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie?
They're both looking pretty terrible these days, but at least Angelina Jolie used to be beautiful. Jennifer Aniston looks like someone's uncle.

9. Do you stay friends with your exes?
No. My ex-girlfriend emotionally abused me, and I really don't need to talk to her ever again. She tried to stay friends, but I just wasn't interested.

10. Do you know how to play poker?
I did when I was a kid, but now I can't remember. I used to play it with my sister, actually.

11. Have you ever been awake for 48 hours straight?
Not yet. In the past I've made it to about 35 or 36 hours. Even when I was jet lagged I was still sleeping all day.

12. What's your favorite commercial?
My favorite commercial right now is that Emerald Nuts commercial with Robert Goulet. I also like the Taco Bell commercial with the talking lions, just for the Ricardo Montalban comment. Oh, and William Shatner's Priceline commercial where he tases the guy--cracks me up. Hmmm...what is it with me and old guys on commercials?

13. What are you allergic to?
I don't think I have allergies, but come allergy season, I get a little sick. So, I don't know what I'm allergic to, but apparently something's in the air.

14. If you're driving in the middle of the night, and no one is around do you run red lights?
No, because the one time I ran a stop sign, it turned out there was a cop hiding in the dark. I actually ran the sign because I was in the middle of a heated argument with my then-girlfriend (the emotionally abusive one) and I wasn't paying attention. She had told me, very smugly, seven or eight times in the past about how she would blow a cop if it would get her out of a ticket, which led me to be a dick and say: "Blow him, honey. Get me out of the ticket." She was so pissed at me for even saying that. But I thought the 75 bucks was worth it just for that little moment of jamming her principles up her ass. As Hank Hill said, sometimes dating is about who wins. Not in a good relationship, but this wasn't that.

15. Do you have a secret that no one knows but you?
Well, I have secrets that people tell me, but then they also know them, don't they? I don't share their secrets with anyone, but they might tell other friends of theirs and I don't know. I doubt I'm a highly trusted repository of secret information.

16. Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees?
I'm so far from even pretending to give a shit about that.

17. Have you ever been Ice Skating?
What seems like a very long time ago now.

18. How often do you remember your dreams?
Quite often, actually.

19. When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
That I can't remember. I like to laugh, so I hope it was recently.

20. Can you name 5 songs by The Beatles?
Can't everyone? I guess I'll name my five favorites: "Strawberry Fields Forever," "In My Life," "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," "Across the Universe," and "A Day in the Life." Hmmm... I wonder who my favorite Beatle is... Seriously, there are very few songs by the Beatles I don't like.

21. What's the one thing on your mind now?

22. Do you know who Ghetto-ass Barbie is?
No, but she sounds like fun. Does she have a big ass? I like ass. And is she black? I know it's a cliche, but black chicks have the best asses. Have I said ass enough in this answer yet?

23. Do you always wear your seat belt?
Yeah. It's just habit now. I know it's "The Law in Illinois" and all, but it's just habitually what I do when I get in the car.

24. What cell service do you use?
I don't have a cell phone. Why is there always a question about cell service in these things? Is that really a defining factor of one's identity?

25. Do you like Sushi?
No, but it's only in the last couple of months I realized I like fish that's been cooked.

26. Have you ever narrowly avoided a fatal accident?
Many times. I almost skidded off of a tollway overpass once during a rainy day.

27. What do you wear to bed?
Nothing, ladies. And some of you gentlemen.

28. Been caught stealing?
Once, when I was 5. I enjoy stealing. It's just as simple as that. When I want something, I don't want to pay for it. Actually, just once, and the police were involved. I was in junior high.

29. What shoe size do you have?
13 and a half. I remember, again when I was dating the abusive girl, that she used to tell me about her friend who just loved to give her boyfriend head. Constantly, no matter what he was doing--bathing, cooking, on the toilet, sleeping, she just couldn't get enough dick in her mouth. My girlfriend kept telling me he had a huge dick, and it pissed me off (this is very indicative of the way she would try to make me insecure and then say "But I love you"). She was feeding me this spiel on the way to meet her friend and her friend's boyfriend to go bowling. When we got there and we put our shoes up on the table. The guy behind the counter asked for shoe sizes. "Nine," the guy answered. I stifled a laugh. When the guy behind the counter asked me, I looked at my girlfriend and answered, loudly and smugly, "Thirteen and a half!" Did I feel good that night.

Gosh, that relationship was practically an Edward Albee play, wasn't it?

30. Do you truly hate anyone?
Yes, many people.

31. Classic Rock or Rap?
Rock, especially of the classic variety.

32. If you could sleep with one famous person, who would it be?
Only one? That's a tough choice, although if you asked me right now (and you did), I'd have to say Drew Barrymore. I've been in love with her since I was six years old, when I saw E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. She's only a year older than me.

33. Favorite Song?
"Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" by Mel Carter.

34. Have you ever sang in front of the mirror?
No, I don't like to look at myself if I can help it. But I sing in the shower and the car and pretty much everywhere else.

35. What food do you find disgusting?
I can't think of one, but I'm sure it must be a vegetable.

36. Do you sing in the shower?
As I said. I love to sing.

37. Did you ever play, "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours?"
Yes, with a girl who was my friend growing up. It was a fascinating event.

38. Have you ever made fun of your friends behind their back?
Yes. And to their faces.

39. Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
Yes, I have. One time in summer school I stood up for this guy who was being accused of stealing something by this especially annoying girl who got right in my face and called me a liar as though she was daring me to hit her. I almost did, too.

40. Have you ever been punched in the face?
Nope. I'm never going to get the comeuppance, bitches!

Um...Is It?

Isn't variety, like, the opposite of Lent?