Tuesday, July 29, 2008

another bit

This is a clear choice that the American people have. I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.

I was just thinking about this statement the other day. Even if we grant that McCain is willing to adopt unpopular stances regarding the Iraq Waq it definitely doesn't follow that he is making objective decisions based only on what is best for the United States. McCain is also a Vietnam veteran with a son currently in Iraq. So his emotional investment in the conflict is certainly sufficient to explain some of his positions as well.

Monday, July 28, 2008

political bits

1. After Obama's FISA vote I'm finally starting to wish that McKinney had a chance of winning this election. Obama's still my choice but his vote took some of the shine off. Before this I basically viewed him as someone whose ideals I strongly agreed with, but who occasionally had to make some difficult pragmatic compromises with current political reality in order to get elected. Now I'm slightly less certain of where his real convictions lie.

2. This mantra that "the surge worked" seems really silly to me. From the perspective of anyone who opposed the Iraq War on philosophical or ideological grounds (e.g. because they are pacifists, because the conflict didn't satisfy their particular conditions for a just war, because they don't believe the US should be an empire, etc.) the surge's "success" just demonstrates our own technical proficiency in doing the wrong thing. It's like complimenting the DC sniper for his marksmanship.

Monday, July 21, 2008

marlon unas esguerra

I've previously mentioned Anida Yeou Esguerra on Planet Grenada (see the day after and anida esguerra. And also check out atomicshotgun.com). Here is a spoken word piece, "Morning Papers" from Marlon Unas Esguerra on Def Poetry Jam. I don't know about specific theologies but it is my understanding that both identify as Asian American and Muslim spoken word artists.

e-poets: Marlon Esguerra

Saturday, July 19, 2008

zombie jamboree (part one)

The Kingston Trio: Zombie Jamboree

And, if you are in a time-and-zombie-killing mood, you might want to check out Sean T. Cooper's simple, but entertaining series of free online Boxhead Games.

Also, you may have seen some of the books in Open Court Publishing Company's series on Popular Culture and Philosophy which brings together a group of authors to philosophically unpack the content behind the Harry Potter novels, South Park and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'm in the middle of checking out The Undead and Philosophy: Chicken Soup for the Soulless. (I'll probably do a review in part two of this blog entry once I'm done)

For some reason zombies and zombie movies have been more on my radar these days. Both Shaun of the Dead and the remake of Romero's Dawn of the Dead were on tv earlier today. And a few weeks back Land of the Dead (starring John Leguizamo) was on. And during the days in between I've been making ample use of the bargain DVD bins at Walmart and Blockbuster in order to further explore the genre.

To begin with, I would argue that George Romero's 1990 remake of his own Night of the Living Dead is actually one of the all-time greatest films (one of my favorites in any case). It is a well-crafted story centering around seven personalities who arrive at a farmhouse while being threatened by zombies all around them. In spite of the small cast (not counting the zombies of course) and minimal setting, Romero manages to pack a surprisingly rich set of interactions and relationships, invoking issues of race, gender, age, family into a story full of suspense, conflict, social commentary and irony.

Most subsequent zombie films are similar in the sense that they explore zombie outbreaks in the confines of a specific (even if large) area such as a shopping mall (Dawn of the Dead), an army base (Day of the Dead), in and around a graveyard/mortuary/medical warehouse (Return of the Living Dead) and an airplane (Flight of the Living Dead... which could have just as easily been called Zombies on a Plane).

An interesting exception is George Romero's Diary of the Dead. The somewhat self-referential movie follows a group of film students and their professor who were working on a horror picture out in the woods when they get news of the zombie outbreak. But since the group has at their disposal a Winnebago full of gasoline and video equipment, the characters are able to travel to different locations and settings sense of the impacts of the zombie phenomena. (a hospital, a militia headquarters, a middle-class home, an upper-class home, etc.) which gives a more varied and global sense of the scope of the zombie problem. In fact, unlike many zombie films which portray localized outbreaks caused by some mysterious virus or chemical spill, in the Diary of the Dead the cause leans more to the theological. The basic rules of life and death seemed to have changed all over the world simultaneously. As one of the characters in another Romero zombie film explains, "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth." In any case, Diary... contains a bit more social criticism and philosophical reflection than most of the other films in the genre, and I would argue that after Night... it is the second-best zombie film I've ever seen.

to be continued...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"i guess, michael jackson was right, you are not alone" (part two)

This isn't superdeep but it still weirded me out... I recently used Mapquest to get directions somewhere and on a whim clicked on "street view" to look at locations around my apartment. It turns out I could see a side view of my car online! It makes me wonder where the images are coming from. Black helicopters? Unmarked surveilance vehicles driving through my neighborhood Anyone know?

see "i guess, michael jackson was right, you are not alone"

Saturday, July 12, 2008

angels and demons: the film

I just found out that they are making a film version of Dan Brown's angels and demons set for release next year. (It came up for me because an actress who plays one of the characters in Vanishing Point also has a role in Angels and Demons). In theological terms it probably won't be as controversial as The Da Vinci Code, but apparently the Catholic Church has still refused to give permission for filming at the various historical Italian Churches which are part of the story's original setting.

vantage point

I just finished watching the film Vantage Point last week. The central idea behind the film is how ones perception of reality radically depends on ones point of view. It demonstrates this idea by telling and retelling the story, from different perspectives, of a terrorist attack in Salamanca involving the President of the United States (POTUS).

The movie was good and generally entertaining. I just have a few comments and nits:
1. There was at least one discrepancy between the stories: During the iteration which follows Forrest Whitaker's character (an American tourist with marital problems back home), there are two secret service agents who appear at the end at a crucial moment but are absent from the corresponding scene in the final iteration of the story.

2. A second slight weakness in terms of the construction of the story: At a crucial point, the main terrorist leader who has clearly established his callous disregard for human life during the rest of the film, makes a surprise move actually swerves to avoid hitting a little girl.

3. Finally (and here is the "Grenada-esque" bit) maybe this is just as further example of how everything depends on perspective but the terrorists' motivations aren't made totally clear in the film. In one iteration, a member of the President's staff says that a group called Mujahideen Brigade with connections to Morocco is planning an attack on the President. But when we follow the terrorists, there are few, if any, clues to their ideology and all of them, even the sleeper agent, speak nothing but Spanish.

Anyone else see this movie?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

planet grenada and islam and hip-hop

Over at Goatmilk, Wajahat Ali recently posted an in depth piece entitled: Fear of a Muslim Planet:Hip-Hop’s Hidden History by Naeem Mohaiemen on the historical connections between Islam and hip-hop. It made me want to do put together a sampling of Grenada posts on the same subject.

Pieces range from

a simple list:
an old list of rappers and their religion

to specific peeks at particular Muslim hip-hop artists:
digging below the underground
more on lupe fiasco
one.be.lo - s.o.n.o.g.r.a.m.
de la soul
ali shaheed muhammad
whatever happened to q-tip?
boricua rappers drop anti-imperialist album

to discussions of Islam's presence in pre-hip-hop African-American music:
the last poets
muslim roots of american blues
all that jazz...

to broader more "sociological"discussions of the phenomena of Muslim hip-hop across different musical groups:
verily, there is only one hip-hop umma
al-ahram does a story on muslim hip-hop
more on muslims and hip-hop
hisham aidi

to pieces which focus more on the Muslim community and speak about the music in mostly general terms:
new age jahiliyyah
islam and hip-hop
traditional islam for the hip-hop generation

to more regional-based posts...

on African Muslims doing hip-hop (whether in Europe or the Continent)
in bleak projects, emerging culture
daara j brings rap back to its african roots

or Arab and Arab-American hip-hop:
rap the casbah
(global) southern girl
representin' the west (bank)

or Asian-related hip-hop:
an african american muslim convert as the founder of chinese hip-hop
afro-asian crosscurrents in contemporary hip-hop


superman in the nursing home

Thinking about Wanted for the last post reminded me of the following poem which gives a whole other spin to the superman myth:

Superman in the Nursing Home
by Rusty Russell

It started with the flying.
I just had to get away.
I thought I was going crazy, hearing things –
voices, sirens, water running behind walls,
and the crying, someone always crying behind closed doors.
It was that super hearing. I had it then.
So some nights I'd fly out of the city
until I couldn't hear them anymore,
way out over the ocean where I could see the earth turning
and the sun rising over the edge of the next day.
Miraculous, made me feel like the only man on earth,
but I wasn't a man. I was a freak.
Then came all those years
of changing clothes in dirty phone booths;
chewing gum on the floor getting stuck in my pants,
cigarette butts, and the smell of winos and urine.
Sometimes the phone would ring while I was in there
and it always gave me the creeps.
Think about it – an anonymous telephone
in the middle of the night on a deserted street
and it's ringing for someone. Anyone.
I never picked it up. I didn't want to hear it –
lives pulled thin over a phone wire,
stories of pockets with holes,
bad breath whistling through bad teeth.
What could I do?
Someone sobbing and sloppy drunk in a bar somewhere
picks up a phone, dials a number at random
and gets Superman
with his pants down in a phone booth.
Believe it or not, this Superman thing started out modestly:
no cape, no tights.
Just lifting automobiles off trapped motorists,
or catching falling babies before they hit the sidewalk.
But it felt so good, the applause,
the way the Earth girls looked at me,
and it all got out of hand.
I should have stopped after the first bank robbery.
There would never be any cash reward in this
for an indestructible guy like me.
Just "Thanks, Superman,"
and the bankers smiling as I flew away.
All the time they were thinking,
"What a fucking tool," and they were right.
Hell, it was all insured.
If I'd quit then and done something with myself –
forgotten this superhero thing and gotten a realtor's license
or just a full time job with benefits,
maybe I wouldn't be waiting for the TV hour
here in the dayroom of the County Home.
I never saved anyone from this. No one could.
But in a way, it's true, what they say,
that every moment lasts forever,
because I still dream about those first nights
when I was young, before it all started,
flying out of Metropolis in my pajamas
with the moon overhead and the silver ocean below,
and the billboards left behind
like a cry for help I can finally ignore.


While we are on the subject of graphic novels, I also recently read Wanted written by Mark Millar and which has also been adapted into a film staring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie.

I haven't yet seen the movie, but I have the definite impression that a large amount of the original story's significance has been lost in the transition from graphic novel to the film. The graphic novel takes place in a thinly-veiled analogue of the DC comic universe. The premise is that back in 1986 the various super villains came together and formed a unified army to decisively defeat the superheroes. In the present-day, super villains run the world with impunity through a secret society known as the Fraternity. (It is interesting to note that in a very small way, DC Comics moved in this direction when it made Lex Luthor president.) In the film, the secret society is made up of badass assassins who are still basically good but in the graphic novel, the organization is unambiguously evil. The main philosophical difference between the villains in the graphic novel lies in whether they are motivated by ruthless greed or a sadistic nihilism.
Professor Seltzer:
Shouldn't that be every one's aspiration Mister Rictus? The loot without the leg breaking?

Mister Rictus:
Personally I always saw the loot as just an added bonus, Professor Seltzer.

In addition to this basic moral vacuum, the other major element of the graphic novel which is presumably absent in the film is the rich relationship to the DC Comic Book mythos. One of the most interesting moments along these lines is an exchange between Wesley [the protagonist[ and Professor Seltzer [a clear Lex Luthor stand-in]:

I don't understand how come this isn't in the history books? Even if there had been one superhero wouldn't that have been all over the news and stuff?

Professor Seltzer:
Ah, but it wasn't enough just to beat them, Wesley. We had to strip them of their memories and make sure that even their greatest fans didn't remember them.

Such science might seem comical in this new world that we molded for you, but believe me when I saw that reality itself can be rewritten if we desire it, boy.

Seven dimensional imps [Mr. Mxyzptik] and alien super-computers [Brainiac] are among our ranks, you know. There's really nothing we can't do if we always stand united.

Now, your father's old nemesis [only referred to as "The Detective" but obviously Batman] is just a camp pudgy joke who signs autographs for money. The Warrior Princess [Wonder Woman] is a menopausal drunk who thinks she was a tv personality. And as for my own arch-foe [Superman]...

Well according to the newspapers, he needs someone to help him defecate now and spends his long dull days staring into space, trying to remember where it all went wrong. [the panel shows a man in a wheelchair sitting by a window, clearly recalling Christopher Reeve]

In other words, there is the strong suggestion (which is incredibly tragic when you stop to think about it) that Adam West, Christopher Reeve and Lynda Carter really are the defeated remnants of the heroes they portrayed on tv and film. (Along similar lines, the Vixen [a Catwoman stand-in] is definitely modelled on Halle Berry) So maybe the novel is meant to describe our own universe and we actually live in a world run by super villains?

In any case, based on the promotional material I've seen, the movie essentially ignores the comic book aspects of the novel. I wonder to what extent that was a freely-made creative decision and to what extent it was motivated by the likely legal hurdles due to copyright issues.

Basically, I expect that the movie will be an entertaining experience full of sci-fi/action candy but will be missing much of the mythological richness of the graphic novel.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

pride of baghdad

I recently read Brian K. Vaughan's graphic novel Pride of Baghdad (art by Niko Henrichon) and was really impressed. The story is a political allegory with talking animals so it obviously screams to be compared to Animal Farm but it manages to give the Orwell classic a run for its money. The plot focuses on a group of lions (Zill, Safa, Noor and Ali) who escape from the Baghdad Zoo during a US bombing attack but from another perspective the novel is an engaging meditation on the meaning of freedom and autonomy in general, but especially in the context of modern-day Iraq. I definitely recommned.


latin kings gang leader calls for peace

Fox: Latin Kings Gang Leader Calls for Peace by Caron Myers