Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe are Excellent in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies

As far as I know this hasn’t been a critically acclaimed film. In fact, it’s one among many Hollywood attempts to expose the problematic approach of the United States to the War on Terror. Well, we all know it’s flawed but throwing it in our faces when we’ve paid $10 to be entertained is not the greatest approach.

As it happens, this movie was pretty entertaining. It was, I contend, too long, and quite frankly I don’t understand why almost every movie these days is over 2 hours. I wish I could say I thought they were trying to give us our money’s worth, but when it comes to movies, value is not measured in time. It’s measured in the quality of the product on the screen. Now, it’s not that there were a huge amount of scenes that needed cutting, but generally I find long movies to be a problem with ego or intelligence. Either the director/editor thinks that his material is too good to be cut or (s)he’s not smart enough to figure out how to cut material while making sure the story doesn’t fall apart. It’s an art and it’s difficult, I understand, but that doesn’t mean I need to sit there through 30 minutes of bunk material because you can’t get your cut on.

In any case, this movie was good, if a little long. I’m not generally a big Russell Crowe fan, but he did a good job being a character I wasn’t supposed to like much anyway. Leonardo DiCaprio, as always, was spectacular. I often say that he is one of the premier actors of our generation and I stand by that. He is incredible and this performance was great – not Oscar great and perhaps not Blood Diamond great, but he’s great.

I loved the portrayal of certain aspects of Muslim culture in Jordan, including the difficulties between the Muslim woman and DiCaprio’s character, and I loved the defense of the Middle East and Islamic culture by DiCaprio. The Middle East is a great place with great people and this global struggle that we’ve all become embroiled in makes it rather difficult to realize that. Obviously, that’s what Hollywood, in all its glory, wants us to see, but unfortunately it would rather slam it in our faces than subtly demonstrate the fact. What can you do?

I give Body of Lies 7 chocolate salty balls.

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read more movie reviews.

Advertisements

U.S. Gov’t Report on Religious Freedom Strongly Criticizes China

The U.S. recently issued its annual report on religious freedom, knocking a variety of different nations – most to be expected – including North Korea, Iran, and Vietnam. Go figure. One of the report’s primary criticisms was of China, however, mostly due to its treatment of the Uighur people, a Muslim group living in Xinjiang.

Condoleezza Rice, who issued the report, summarized the U.S. stance on religious freedom by saying:

“The United States rejects actions that are offensive to particular religious traditions, but we do not condone the prohibition of free speech. That only weakens societies.”

Religious freedom is always a topic particularly close to my heart, and it’s interesting that she made this comment and that this report was issued today, as I am currently engaged in a fascinating conversation with one of my regular commenters and guide for reading the Quran, JDsg. We have been talking about the value placed on religious freedom in the United States and the permissibility or impermissibility of actions offensive to religious traditions. Obviously, South Park has been a part of our conversation.

To check out this conversation, click HERE.

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read more Religion in the News posts.

In “Cripple Fight!” South Park 503, The Boys Help Big Gay Al Stay in Scouts and Timmy and Jimmy Battle for Best Handicapped Kid

What a fun episode. It has everything: battling cripples, gay bashing, child molestation, and more! When Big Gay Al, an excellent Boy Scout leader and good role-model for the South Park children, is kicked out of Scouts for no other reason than being gay, the boys – not interested in being molested by the new Scout leader who everyone thinks is straight – fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to get Big Gay Al back into Scouts and reinstated as their leader.

But forcing the Scouts to comply to their belief system, Big Gay Al insists, was wrong:

“Thank you all very much, but I don’t want this.  Look, I appreciate what you kids did, I really do, but this isn’t what I wanted. I’m proud to be gay, and I’m proud to be in a country where I’m free to express myself, but freedom is a two-way street. If I’m free to express myself, then the Scouts have to be free to express themselves too. I know these men; they are good men. They are kind men. They do what they think is best for kids, no matter how wrong we think they might be, it isn’t right for us to force them to think our way. It’s up to us to persuade and help them see the light, not extort them to. Please don’t cut the Scouts’ funding. The Scouts help and have always helped a lot of kids. That’s why I love them. I will continue to persuade them to change their minds, but this is the wrong way to do it.”

Randy Marsh learns the following lesson when it comes to distrusting Big Gay Al and putting the new Scout leader in charge of his son:

“We’ve all learned an important lessons: that just because somebody’s gay doesn’t mean they’re gonna molest children. Straight people do that too.”

On an additional, religious note, we learn in this episode that Father Maxi had sex with a man once. That’s right, the Catholic priest has gay experiences. Interesting, no?

Did you like this episode? What was your favorite part? How about the cripple fight? Do you think gays should be allowed in Scouts and that private organizations should be forced to accept those they don’t want? Why is it okay for a private institution to discriminate based on sexual preference, but not say, a private university?

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read about other South Park episodes.

South Park’s “Follow That Egg” Legalizes Gay Marriage

When Mrs. Garrison decides that she is ready to forgive Mr. Slave and take him back only to discover that he plans to marry Big Gay Al, she vows to prevent the legalization of gay marriage in Colorado and keep them separated forever.

To do this, she creates an experiment whereby the children in her class have to take care of an egg, and by pairing up two boys, she plans to prove that men are incapable of caring for a child. Then she’ll show the results of her “scientific” study to the governor who will have a reason to prevent the passage of the gay marriage bill without being directly responsible. Brilliant….really brilliant.

At the end of the episode, when Big Gay Al and Mr. Slave are getting married, funny enough, it is Father Maxi – a Catholic priest! – who presides over their marriage. Curious, considering that Catholicism doesn’t tolerate homosexuality, much less its sanctioning by the bonds of holy matrimony.

Personally, I think gay people should be allowed to marry, if not in church, at least legally. In fact, I don’t think that the government should have anything to do with the term marriage. I think that only religious or other institutions should concern themselves with that term. My issue is what the government does because only the government affects all people in the U.S. and has the obligation to treat us all equally.

That said, the government should ONLY have the right to grant people the status of “civil union.” Any two consenting adults should be able to join in such a union and then reap the benefits, tax or otherwise, of this union. In this way, marriage and the government have nothing to do with one another and no one has to worry or be treated unequally. You want to be married? Let your priest do it and call it whatever you want.

Do you like this episode? What’d you think? What are your thoughts on gay marriage?

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read about other South Park episodes.

Barack Obama’s Note in Jerusalem’s Western Wall is Published Around the World

Situation

Barack Obama went to Israel and the West Bank recently in order to discuss issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and continue his international campaign for president of the United States of America. I’m going to set aside how fascinating I find the fact that this is the first presidential race that has included vigorous international campaigning (and that’s exactly what it is so let’s not mince words), and only discuss what happened during his visit to the Western Wall (also known as the Kotel or Wailing Wall). After all, this is a blog concerned with religion, not international politics, and this is religion in the news day.

History of the Western Wall

In actuality, the wall is part of a far larger retaining wall that holds up one side of a mountain, on top of which lies an enormous platform which once had the Temple sitting on it. Now, the Dome of the Rock is up there (click HERE for a picture and more history). There are actually other spots where you can go and see parts of this old retaining wall and pray if you like, but Jews, for the most part, don’t. They stick it out right here on this little section: they think it’s the holiest spot of all the potential ones. But why?

Because centuries ago when the Turks controlled the Holy Land and the Jews were praying all over the area to be as close to the original site of the Temple as possible, they were annoying the Turks. So, the Turks wanted to give the Jews a set place that they could and had to pray. Thus, they picked the current Wailing Wall. It is therefore only historical precedent which makes the Jews believe the Western Wall has some added holiness (though the proximity to the site of the original Temple does help this feeling, somewhat more justly, I suppose), and that is why they pray there. Personally, I’ve never much enjoyed the experience of going to the Wall, but we can get into those reasons another time.

Obama and the Western Wall

It is customary to leave notes in the Wall addressed to God. Many Jews do this (you can even email or fax notes and look at the Wall via webcam any day but Saturday), and many non-Jews participate in this ritual as well, believing in the sanctity of this spot and that it’s God’s post office. So, when Obama went, he too left a note. It’s not like Obama to be politically uncouth, after all.

Now, some very unethical individual decided to remove Obama’s note and bring it to a newspaper in Israel which promptly published it. I think this is despicable – less the act of publication itself than the actual  removal of the note from the Wall. Fortunately, the chief rabbis in Israel, as well as the rabbi who supervises the Wall, agree with me, and I’m surprised and pleased to get to say this.

I had feared that the rabbis would have said something to the effect of not caring that it was removed because Barack Obama is just a gentile and may well be a damn Muslim. Yes, something incredibly stupid like that. This, honestly, was my fear – that they would further embarrass Israel, the Jewish people, and anyone with half a sense of decency by saying that Obama shouldn’t be leaving notes anyway. Thank goodness this is not their policy and it’s not how they behaved. They condemned the whole thing, saying that what any man puts in the Wall is his private business and communication with God. For perhaps the first time in my life, I will say, good job rabbis in Israel.

Media Reaction

The most fascinating part about this to me is not that someone took the piece of paper. I could have called that. Instead, I love the way other media, like the BBC for instance (where I read this story originally), behaved. They seemed to condemn the Israeli newspaper for publishing the note, agreeing that it was private and an inappropriate journalistic act, and then proceeded to publish the note in full again. It was as if they loved the fact that it had already been published so that they could ‘justly’ do it and never get any heat for it. I could hear those British pricks giggling behind the html I was viewing (but maybe that was just my medication wearing off).

In any case, in like fashion, I too would like to show you what Barack Obama wrote, not only to allow the hypocrisy of my own story to come full circle, but also to note the fact that the presidential candidate was obviously prepared for such an occurrence. Why do I say that? Because there is nothing particularly personal on his note that could ever be construed as embarrassing or problematic or able for anyone to take issue with. It was a fluff note – obviously sincere – but nonetheless, a fluff note. Nearly anyone could have written it:

Lord – Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.

Personally, I would have loved to see a, “Let me kick John McCain’s old, white, wrinkly bitch-ass come November.”

What do you think about this whole situation?

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Enjoy more Fun with the Bible posts.

Topical Tuesdays: Volume and Pitch – The Noise a Writer Needs to Do the Deed

And just to clarify for those of you with less than savory minds (or particularly savory minds, as the case may be), that deed is writing.

Yes, this Topical Tuesday is all about the volume: TURN IT UP! Or maybe for me, turn it down. We’re all a little different with our noise preferences when we sit down at the computer to write (or just work), but in order to do what needs doing, we all need it to be the pitch and volume we like it.

Noise In Israel

When I was getting my Masters in Jerusalem, I happened to live on the corner of a particularly busy street (Hapalmach and Koveshei Katamon, for those of you who may be familiar), and it was a noisy street. The #13 bus ran down Hapalmach and began very early in the morning and ended very late. Cars honked incessantly (everywhere in Israel) and motorbikes roared. It was also heavily trafficked by pedestrians and people had no consideration for the volume of their voices as they reprimanded their children, called out to a friend or simply discussed the days events. Honestly, all that noise never made it too hard for me to work. I wrote and I read and I did just fine.

But then the Sabbath would come. Though Israel itself stays relatively lively on Saturday (that’s the Jewish Shabbat), Jerusalem truly becomes very quiet and Sabbath-like. All the buses stop, very few people continue driving, and though the foot-traffic increases so more people are talking on the streets, there really is something less noisy about it all. Shabbat was quiet and on Shabbat you better believe I could concentrate and got some work done (though you’re not supposed to work or use computers and electricity or write, but if that’s the only time Israelis shut-up what can God expect).

Quiet in the U.S.

Upon returning to America I lived in the suburbs in a quiet neighborhood where the only noise was the kids across the street playing for an hour outside as they got home from school. It was blissfully quiet. This is where I wrote most of my book, but this level of silence actually has its ups and downs.

It was so quiet that I’d get sleepy around 1 p.m. (after 5-6 hours of writing) and want to take a nap. With no noise or external distractions, I would succumb to this unnecessary sleeping sensation and waste the rest of my day napping, then being groggy, then saying it was too late to keep writing. So in this way, noise can be good for me and my work.

Volume Up

Now I live on a busy street in downtown San Francisco. Buses go by. People are loud checking into the hotel across the street and walking around, and the noises of the city (and my loud cat) keep me up. Though I haven’t begun writing again I think that this environment, similar to my life in Jerusalem, will keep me alert and active and able to write – and if I need to turn down the volume there are always earplugs, my recommendation to everyone who needs that whether awake or trying to sleep.

Oh, and as for music: only when I do mindless work. I can’t write to music at all because the rhythm doesn’t allow my brain to think entirely in its own way. Do you listen to music when you work?

Do you like noise or quiet when you work? Is your situation conducive to those needs? What tricks do you use to keep things at the proper volume for you?

For more on this Topical Tuesday discussion check out Chandler’s blog.

Robert Mugabe is a Worthless Asshole

As some of you may know, Robert Mugabe, former and unfortunately-now president of Zimbabwe, has been reelected (although using this word here is the equivalent of shitting all over the concept of elections) by a landslide after a run-off in which he ran unopposed. Why unopposed? Because his opponent who won the original election (Mugabe refused to stand down), a proponent of democratic change and running on that principle, stepped out of the election after 90 of his supporters were murdered by Mugabe’s forces and boycotted it generally because it was wrong and unfair.

Mugabe will be president of Zimbabwe for nearly three decades, and he is a giant piece of undemocratic shit. Look, democracy may not be the greatest or most viable system out there – some of the greatest Greek philosophers insisted that it was an enlightened monarch (that is to say, a Philosopher King) – but in a country that has elections, you should abide by the results, not be a giant piece of crap and a big baby when you lose and then use the military to force decent voter turnout in a sham rerun against no one because you murdered his supporters.

The world is shaking its puny, polio-ridden, malformed wrists in a less than menacing fashion. The African Union opposes this. Ooooo. Ban Kee Moon is not happy. Ahhhh. President George W. Bush has threatened sanctions and UN action. Yikes. Desmond Tutu, archbishop of Cape Town, wants international forces to restore order and the new rightful leader of Zimbabwe, officially ending Mugabe’s 28 year reign. I doubt that will happen, but it raises fascinating questions.

On the one hand, I think that the world should intervene because if a just and democratic world (though you could hardly call it that) doesn’t stick up for the oppressed everywhere then what good is it pretending like we do. On the other hand, should we respect states’ rights and not interfere in internal matters that aren’t bordering on genicide or genicidal (not that we even do that when we should). Frankly, I don’t think there’s any consistency to the action based on principle. Only on interest. That is to say that we would only be interfering physically in Zimbabwe if we had some serious reason to oust a government that didn’t support our endeavors. But this isn’t Cold War geopolitics anymore so even those interest-principles are harder to come by. In short, it’s a complicated series of events and interests that would lead to interference in Zimbabwe and though the world may shake its fists at Mugabe’s unjust and undemocratic treatment of the populace, it probably won’t do anything.

Do you think the world should interfere? How should it do so? If not, why? Are principles reason enough to invade or just kick Mugabe out? What if the U.S. had to act unilaterally? Is this the U.N.’s job?

Status Update: We’re no longer moving in where we thought we were – realized it wasn’t such a good decision. We’re now staying in a Kimpton hotel in downtown San Fran while we continue searching. Cyrus is here and we will search about, having left Sunnyvale because our friend came back home. Any suggestions on where to look or live? We’d love some help.