Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wild In The Urbs

Somebody's cage is missing a Zebra Finch. (Here.) The bird is not native to Southern California. Fortunately for it, it found a backyard feeder; and for me: it's got a sweet call and beautiful coloring.

Meanwhile, a native bird feeds on a San Diego Sunflower in the front yard.

The sunflower plant still blooms but it's losing flowers in anticipation of summer. The blooming flowers continue to feed hummingbirds and insects. The dying flowers feed other birds. Nice!


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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stories On Film From Iran

We sit riveted to our TV screens and computer monitors by the images coming from Iran. We see people putting their lives on the line in the streets, marching into harm's way, rising up against tyranny, fighting on behalf of freedom. Or is something else happening?

The demonstrators have gone into the streets protesting the election that appears to have been stolen from their favored candidate. Yet this candidate comes from the theocracy that rules Iran. He is a founding father of the Islamic revolution that replaced one dictatorship with another. Are his supporters in the streets merely pawns in a power struggle among the clerics who rule Iran?

Perhaps the images lie to us. Certainly the images depict events that are truly happening. But whether those events depict an evident truth or mask a lie is not yet clear. So, we read and watch the news out of Iran and wonder whether what we are seeing is true or a lie.

Fiction is truth masquerading as lies. We read and watch fiction knowing full well we are being told a pack of lies, but we also know that truth lies hidden in those lies. (Here.) Iran is blessed with storytellers who tell truthful lies on film. Here's a sampling, in no particular order of personal preference.

Crimson Gold: A tragedy about the last days of a pizza delivery man in Tehran, doomed by shame and lack of opportunity.

Offside: The misadventures of young women who, motivated by love of country and the game, must disguise themselves as men in order to attend Iran's World Cup Soccer match.

Baran: Another story of disguised gender, but this time a love story, and a story of Afghan refugees surviving in Iran.

The Mirror: It's not uncommon for Iranian movies to have a naturalistic feel to them. This film goes further than most and breaks the Fourth Wall. Midway through the film, the preteen actress playing the young girl making her way home alone through Tehran, suddenly decides she's had enough of acting and storms off. The rest of the movie follows the actress as she continues to make her way home across Tehran, but now the action is unscripted. Or is it?

Secret Ballot: Iran has elections. This comical movie tells the story of a female elections worker and a male soldier collecting ballots from far-flung polling places in a remote rural province

Children of Heaven: A young brother and sister hide the loss of a pair of tennis shoes from their parents. It's a family movie that culminates in a foot race across the city.

Color of Paradise: The saddest but most beautifully filmed story of a father and his blind child. It will haunt your memory for a long time. It still haunts mine, 10 years on.

Marooned In Iraq: One of Iran's naturalistic movies. The plot involves a Kurdish singer from Iran who travels to Iraq in the wake of the first US-Iraq war to find his former wife. Not a musical by any means but there's lots of singing performances by the main character and others he meets along the way.

Ten: Women in Iran struggle to live under the oppression of the Islamic Republic. Their stories are told in conversations during car rides across Tehran.


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Monday, June 22, 2009

There Is No God But Obama, And Obama Is His Prophet.

Newsweek's Evan Thomas stirred controversy and debate after he said about President Barack Obama's Cairo speech, "In a way, Obama’s standing above the country, above-above the world, a sort of god." Thomas sort of complains that he is being taken out of context, which prompted Peter Wehner to write on Commentary magazine's Contentions blog: "So I would ask: Mr. Thomas, in what context can you call Barack Obama a 'sort of God'?" (Here.)

The correct context would be when Mr. Thomas is describing how President Obama's followers view his place in the world.

The apotheosis of Barack Obama to god-President begins with his name. Obama: the name's first letter is an "O," a circle, the perfect shape in nature, symbolic of unity. O-ba-ma is three syllables long, a magical and divine number, powerful in rhetoric. (See "the rule of three" here.) Say his name: Obama. To Western ears his name is exotic. A magic word, chantable: Obama, Obama, Obama. Don't think for a moment his marketers don't know it.

The apotheosis continued with his campaign. There were the creepy YouTube videos by and others, the iconic posters, the proliferation of news photos with strange halo effects around Obama’s head, the Obama speeches attended by swooning and crying listeners, the campaign's instructions to volunteers to steer away from policy talk and testify about their own "come to Obama" moments, the thrill running up Chris Matthews’s leg, the cable news hype leading up to the inauguration. Need we go on?

An aspect of Barack Obama’s appeal is that he seems a sort of god or prophet. He has been sent to America to redeem its past sins and transform the country into something better than it’s ever been. He isn't just a messenger of hope and change, he is the very personification of hope and change. A man of humble means born from the union of an American white woman and an immigrant black African man who grows up to become President. In crisis he is calm, unflappable, cool. He stands above it all. He is a font of wisdom who sees the flaws in both sides of any issue or dispute and is able to show us the perfect middle way. His mere words are believed to have the power to effect miraculous change: Obama speaks in Cairo; an electoral miracle happens in Lebanon.

There is rhetorical exaggeration in all this, of course. But not much. There is no god but Obama, and Obama is his prophet. Peace be upon his name.


First published in slightly different form as a comment to the Contentions blog on

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Taken (with Jack Bauer)

Like Jack Bauer in 24, Liam Neeson's character in Taken is a super competent gunman with a daughter. Instead of the 24 hours Jack Bauer has to work with, Neeson's character has 96 hours to rescue his daughter from the clutches of white slavers in France.

The movie's plot is guided by the question: What Would Jack Bauer Do? So, when Neeson's character finds his daughter's French kidnapper he beats him to try and make him talk. When he finds the Albanian thugs who held her, he kills all but one with knife and gun, and then tortures the survivor for information. So on and so on until the body count climbs into double digits and the property damage to six figures, maybe seven. Taken is a fix for Jack Bauer fans who can't wait for the next season of 24.

Neeson's character would make Jack Bauer proud, except for one bad habit. Jack knows how to hold a handgun. Neeson's character doesn't. Get that finger off the trigger guard, Liam!


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Paul Blart: Mall Cop aka Die Hard With A Belly

Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Kevin James' new DVD is a not very funny action comedy about an unarmed security guard trying to rescue hostages held by a criminal gang at the shopping mall. Call it Die Hard With A Belly, but without any belly laughs. It's got a few comic moments but nothing that will make you LOLROTFLYAO. (The Hangover, playing now at local theaters is the movie to see for those laughs.)

The special features on the Blart DVD are more entertaining than the movie. The actors who played the minions in the team of criminals who take over the shopping mall are extreme sport athletes: skateboarders, bicyclists, free runners. The DVD's special features profile these athletes and show how the stunts were performed. All very interesting and fun.

The stunts in the movie include something called "free running" or "parkour." Parkour "is an activity with the aim of moving from one point to another as smoothly, efficiently and quickly as possible, using principally the abilities of the human body.[2] It is meant to help one overcome obstacles, which can be anything in the surrounding environment—from branches and rocks to rails and concrete walls—and can be practiced in both rural and urban areas." (Here.)

Youtube has short videos of parkour in action. Also, the DVD District 13 (aka District B13) has some great parkour action, with noted athlete David Belle doing some amazing things. But perhaps the best free running movie I've seen, although I didn't know what it was at the time, is Run Lola Run. That movie not only has great running stunts throughout, it's a quality movie. Time to put Lola back in the rental queue for a second look.


Republished once to correct typo.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Remember, Size Doesn't Matter.

The universe is a large place full of really big objects. Some people like to see some significance in humanity's small size in comparison. Whoever posted the really cool video showing the sizes of planets and stars on Youtube seems to think so. (Here.) After showing larger and larger images of planets and stars and then comparing them to the enormously larger size of the universe, the video ends with the statement, "No, you are not the center of the universe."

Well, yes. But does the universe even have a center?

I have to say, I don't quite understand the need of some people to diminish the significance of humanity. The fact that we're small and not located in the center of the universe means nothing really. Stars might be big but they're just giant flaming balls of gas. Big deal. The universe might be enormous but it's mostly large expanses of space. Again, big deal.

It is cool to think about how truly large the universe is and how truly beautiful it can be. Does the universe know how big it is or how beautiful? Do stars? It's doubtful. But we know. And that makes all the difference.


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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Terminator Salvation.

It's better than you've heard. The movie is a worthy sequel in the franchise, and certainly better than T3: Judgment Day. T3 was a hopeless movie about fate being in control of us. Terminator Salvation has a more life affirming theme, delivered with lots of cool chases, gun battles, giant robots, and unbelievably realistic computer animation. What's not to like about that?


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