Monthly Archives: August 2011

Movies: Conan the Barbarian – 2011

This evening wins a very small and very silly prize for drama. I realized at 5:03 that the $5 movie theatre down the street started a round of movies at around 5:00 so I jetted from my place of work at 5:04 and dashed into the theatre at 5:19 just in time to enjoy five minutes of silence before Conan the Barbarian started. Well, to say it with a more hearty and satisfying grain of truth, five minutes of silence before the 20 minutes of previews started.

The Previews

This particular venue is not only desperately quiet before the movie but also pounds down the previews like an addict at a Methadone clinic. Tonight’s total was six and started with “Red Tails” which seems to be following on the coattails of other war movies featuring under-appreciated units made up entirely of minorities. This time it’s WWII African-American fighter pilots. I can’t resist a war movie of any type so it’ll probably have my $5 when the time comes. Next we had “Ghost Rider” a movie with such a twisted and confusing preview that I’m not sure if the self-immolating skull-faced dude is a hero or a villain. We have established, however, based on the preview alone that if you take a whizz while you’re on fire it does hurt. (No, I’m not just making that up to be funny.) “Immortals” seems to be a standard epic adventure mythology flick. The new hero of the week seems to be Theseus and he’s going to save the world or destroy it or something similarly stimulating. Next up was “Drive” which seems to be one of your typical plotless thug movies. Somebody beats up somebody else to get something. Yadda, yadda, yadda. There’s also a new Sherlock Holmes movie coming out it seems making ready to make me spout profanity as I leave the theatre about how completely they’ve destroyed the spirit of the original Conan Doyle genre. And lastly, “Warrior” is apparently one of those stories about a war vet who comes home, doesn’t have any money and decides to become a UFC fight champion to make money to save the house or farm or pay for grandma’s operation. Whichever it is the preview, was nice enough to give away the climax in which the guy has to fight his own brother in the finals. What a devious twist! Pity they told me that BEFORE I gave them the $5.

The Movie

So now after 20 minutes we get down to the movie which, as you will no doubt be unsurprised to learn, is your standard adventure slash-em up western-but-with swords bit. People with impossibly white teeth (and some with no eyebrows) fight each other, heal impossibly fast and fall from impossible heights without any harm whatsoever. Easy enough.

Excessively high level summaries aside, just take the Lord of the Rings and replace it with a weird squiggly, tentacle mask and you’ve about got it. In the beginning (ages and ages ago), evil necromancers (what’s any movie without necromancers, after all) created a terrible mask that they wished to use to enslave the whole world. Well, the barbarian tribes got wind of this and so they united and had a huge and terrible war. As a result they destroyed the mask and broke it into a dozen pieces that they scattered through the world under the protection of the tribes. That takes you up through about the opening credits.

Ages go by and people are still fighting about things but not always about the latest in fashion headgear. In one of these petty squabbles, Conan’s mother, herself a great warrior, is grievously wounded. With her last dying words, the pregnant woman gasps, “I want to see my baby before I die!” so in what I can only describe as the clumsiest C-section ever, Conan’s father plunges his sword into his wife’s abdomen without even looking down and within seconds has produced the instantly wailing infant. Conan’s mother quickly expires from the botched surgery while his father wails his grief that he didn’t pay more attention in nursing school.

More years go by and Conan (that’s pronounced COnan like Conan O’Brien, btw, not coNAN like that OTHER barbarian) grows into a boy. He wants to be a warrior so he and the other children his age are set a challenge. They must take an egg in their mouths and run around some mountain and the first one back without breaking the egg gets to be a warrior. So the boys run out some distance, then stop to beat the shit out of one another and break everyone else’s eggs when suddenly they’re attacked by a band of 7 or 8 large brutal-looking men twice their size. The other boys, of course, wisely run away but Conan wades in and decapitates the whole lot of bandits. In dramatic fashion, Conan arrives back at the village carrying the warrior’s heads and casually spits his unbroken egg on the ground. It’s at about this point that we’re supposed to believe he’s quite a bad-ass.

Well, as you might expect, not long after, some new evil dude decides he’s going to do the Blues Brothers thing and “put the mask back together.” He arrives at Conan’s village having gotten all but the last piece. Evil dude’s armies descend on Conan’s village (which has managed to field quite a sizeable fighting force considering it’s just a tiny village) and bloodshed ensues. It is at about this point that the movie engages in one of my personal movie pet peeves. Either through some complete failure in logic or a flaw in the editing process, evil dude sends in his horsemen, then he sends in his footmen and THEN he lets the town have it with the archers. It is just this sort of disregard for basic military protocol that makes the infantry cut all the archer’s bowstrings the night before a big fight. Evil dude’s footmen don’t want arrows in their backs either. Anyway, long story short, evil dude gets the last piece of the mask, Conan’s dad gets melted to death by a small vat of molten steel that seems to just stay hot FOREVER and evil dude escapes. Conan, however does too but not before he manages to cut the nose off of one of evil dude’s cohorts.

So flash forward several more years and Conan has buffed up into quite the justice-dealing hunk of man meat. We find him first fighting to free a colony of slaves by rolling boulders down from the mountains onto the camp. Doubtless he’d forgotten that groups of slaves chained together or in cages tend to suffer more from falling rocks than guards who can move about more freely, but his heart is in the right place. Conan and his merry band go on to free the slaves including several dozen topless women who remain topless for several minutes as they carouse in celebration. It’s not exactly clear WHY any of them are topless but it’ll certainly make the television edit of the movie shorter.

Conan now starts to pick up clues about the man who killed his father all those years ago. He tracks down one after another without any really notable results except when he finds the man whose nose he cut off as a boy. By now the guy’s wearing a leather face-bra to protect the hole in his face and when Conan finds him he takes the opportunity to shove his finger into the hole until an unpleasantness ensues. Apparently it’s not fatal unpleasantness, however, since Conan has a more brutal method of execution in mind for him. Mr. no-nose runs a slave community so Conan forces him to swallow the key to the front gates and then pushes him out amongst his slaves to be thoroughly “searched” for the key.

Alright, my patience with this movie nearly exhausted, we move into really fast-forward mode. Conan finally finds evil dude and his daughter (a witch). They have the standard cliché fights: fight in an impossible physical situation (this time on a large rotating wheel), fights involving two swords each, a fight between Conan and some sand djinns summoned by the witchy daughter, fight with a monster in a dungeon with a bunch of tentacles. Between fights, Conan manages to schtoop the pretty girl and say those magical words: “I live, I love, and I slay. I am content.”

All in all, it was exactly what you would expect. Excessive gore and insufficient plot but I will say that it had my attention. It was, of course, entirely and utterly predictable but it did have moments of amusement. The eye candy factor was fairly high and on that account I give it a five out of ten. It’s a movie that I will very soon forget, but it’s one that I paid five dollars for and you can’t take that away from it.

Leave a comment

Filed under movies

Movies: Alfred Hitchcock’s : “Easy Virtue” – 1928 [silent]

It’s been an entire day since I resolved to watch and review all the Hitchcock films and I’ll admit that his 1928 silent film was an initial challenge to my resolve. In this day and age of HD video and theatre-quality sound, watching a film with no real audio takes a surprising amount of concentration. As if that isn’t enough, it’s even clearer how far we’ve come in the intervening century when you can’t help but notice that even the edges of the screen fade in and out of view because the illumination is inconsistent. Quite a bit is left to the imagination and in some ways, that’s a good thing. In other ways, watching a movie at 11pm that requires this much concentration is just asking for trouble.

The plot synopsis is fairly standard, though it reveals a sensibility that we would today find boggling. Larita Filton is in the midst of a divorce from her drunkard husband and at the same time ensnarled in a bit of impropriety with a painter (Claude) who has been commissioned to do her portrait. Larita does finally escape her marriage but her honor and reputation is sullied forever when she’s “found guilty of misconduct” with Claude. Her reputation in tatters, she escapes to the French Riviera. There she meets John who falls desperately and almost immediately in love with her. Larita keeps mum about her past and only John’s mother suspects that something might not be on the up-and-up. The couple are quickly married but not shortly after, the meddling mom finds a picture of Larita in the paper and the connection with her scandalous past is made. Remaining married is, of course, unthinkable and Larita steps aside so that John can divorce with his honor intact.

Despite the lack of actual audible dialog, the movie doesn’t suffer from a vacuum of memorable quotes. Early on, the love interest, Claude, writes Larita a love note and it’s as sappy and as generic as could be possibly imagined:

Darling,
Why suffer that foul brute when you know I’d give anything I have in the world to make you happy?
–Claude

Near the end, the Larita spars with John’s mother in a manner so standard between generations that it’s almost cliché:

Mother: In our world we do not understand this code of Easy Virtue
Larita: In your world you understand very little of anything

Larita’s position is summed up quite nicely by her closing line: “Shoot, there’s nothing left to kill!” Her virtue lost, her prospects dim, there is nothing else for her to live for. Sensibilities have certainly changed, haven’t they?

Visually, there are a few interesting moments as well. During some of Larita’s time in the Riviera she takes in a few sporting events and it occurred to me as I watched (somewhat bored, honestly) that audiences of the time might very well have been fascinated by the prospect of watching filmed sport. With the cinema still a relatively new and novel art, things we find mundane today would doubtless have been viewed with breathless wonder. Also, earlier on, John anticipates the response to his proposal from Larita by phone and we’re treated to an extended segment of the telephone operator connecting their call and then reacting as she listens in on their conversation. These are images of a day long, long past.

To close, while I’ll admit that I didn’t find much Hitchcock in “Easy Virtue” I did find plenty of 1928 which is almost as good. While these bygone relics don’t entertain in the way that modern movies do, they do act to make us think and help us to know where society has gone before. Whether these changes are progress or regress is left as an exercise to the viewer.

3 Comments

Filed under movies

Movies – Fright Night – 2011

Today’s ‘next available movie’ was Fright Night. I will admit that going in I was expecting an utterly mindless slasher flick. When it was over, I’d watched a nearly mindless slasher flick but it had its up sides. This trip was my first to the newly restyled theatre at Michigan road and 86th redubbed “The Movie Buff Theater.” I’m not sure I see any real elements of movie buffness in evidence but it was at least semi-clean and utterly quiet. When I questioned the cashier about the utter desolation she acted as if she had no idea what I was talking about. Apparently such things are typical. I should also say that I went into this movie with absolutely no foreknowledge. I’d heard of it from movie listings but hadn’t seen a preview or in fact heard any word that I remembered so I was utterly clueless at the onset.

The Previews

The Movie Buff theatre is certainly no frills in that before the movie starts there is… silence, utter and complete. Awaiting a movie which ones assumes to be suspenseful it does create a certain amount of tension. It’s unclear whether the movie will fade in gradually or crash into presence on the screen like a semi-truck full of cymbals getting into a wreck on the interstate. When finally the previews did begin, they certainly didn’t skimp. For the third time I saw a preview for the “50/50” movie. Long story short, guy is diagnosed with cancer lives out the last days of his life… maybe? I’d say it qualifies for the list of movies not to avoid like the plague but it would be one to take a date to. (A date who doesn’t mind occasional scribbling in a notebook.) Next up was “The Woman in Black” a very gothic-looking horror movie about a gent trapped in an isolated and apparently haunted house. I’d say that one deserves an intentional look though it’s not for the easily creeped out. The sci-fi movie “In Time” has a title that doesn’t really do it justice and I think it’ll eventually suffer for that defect. This futuristic yarn is at heart a crime drama but with the twist that in the future the only real currency of exchange is time itself. When your “bank clock” runs down…. Well, you drop dead. Interesting concept I’d say. Next up we have one of those previews that leaves one wondering what the movie’s actually about. “Killer Elite” has something to do with shooting people. More than that I couldn’t really tell you. Lastly and mercifully we had “Real Steel,” the movie about an old down-and-out robotic boxer who finds new inspiration at the hands of a child-hero. This movie is guaranteed to annoy me if it comes up in a “next available movie” review. Kid heroes piss me off.

The Movie

The first five minutes of this movie are so sudden and so gory that I honestly expected the director to pop up and yell, “Cut!” With no pre-amble or setup whatsoever a family of three is devoured by some monstrous beast. After the devouring, we pan out typical Hollywood style to show the whole neighborhood full of cookie-cutter houses… that are… well… JUST LIKE THE NEIGHBORHOOD YOU LIVE IN! OH SPOOKY! Well, not really, but it’s a pretty typical movie device.

So to set the scene we have Charley, a recently rehabilitated geek who has abandoned his old posse to hang out with the cool kids. That is, until Ed, one of his recently abandoned buddies, contacts him to say that one of their mutual friends has been killed by a vampire. As it turns out, this vampire just happens to be Charley’s hulky new neighbor who is putting the moves on Charley’s mom. After some amount of negotiation and blackmail, the duo find themselves vampire hunting.

Unfortunately, before they can really make much headway, Ed runs into “Jerry the Vampire” (as the movie points out repeatedly, what the hell kind of name is Jerry for a vampire?) and is taken in typical vampire style to the dark side. It’s not long, however, before Jerry learns that Charley too knows the truth and quickly Charley and his family become targets. A lot of gratuitous violence ensues which everyone survives just fine (conveniently).

After this wake-up call that he just might not be able to destroy the undead all on his own, Charley decides to enlist the help of Peter Vincent, famous Las Vegas act specializing in on-stage fake vampire killing. This relationship goes through the standard stages of any such movie relationship:

Stage 1: Oh, it’s all an act kid.
Stage 2: It’s all an act kid, but my family WAS killed by vampires.
Stage 3: It’s not just an act kid, but I’m too chickenshit to help.
And finally, Stage 4: Oh hell, let’s go kill some vampires!

So now having a reluctant ally to assist, Charley and Peter head off armed with Peter’s collection of vampire killing goodies (wooden stake guns, holy water and a wooden stake blessed by St. Michael that will revert all the vampires victims back to non-vampire form). In typical movie fashion, some drama happens, things look hopeless for a brief period and then all the vampires end up dead. Happy ending ensues. Nothing very surprising about any of that.

At its heart this is a typical suburban vampire tale to help inspire you to keep a little closer eye on what the neighbors are doing out in their back yards late at night. It has all the standard plot devices and processes from holy water to the standard vampire speech: “I’m doing you a favor making you undead. You can live forever!” So in that respect it was as cookie cutter as the houses depicted in the opening scene.

I will say though that it touched a bit on some interesting and newish points. Our vampire antagonist thought ahead and actually had small rooms built into his house to act as ‘meat lockers’ so he could keep his victims in captivity as he periodically fed on them. This is a practical matter not often touched on. Further, rather than being a single individual of an undead form, this vampire is one of a species. It is infrequent (ok, less than 50% of the time at least that the vampire is looked upon as a biological entity rather than a mere result of satanic influence. So while the standard vampire lore was still in place, the story did go in somewhat non-standard directions.

The best thing about the movie, however, was the casting. While the story itself was somewhat lame, Colin Farrell made a wonderfully menacing member of the undead empire and David Tennant of Dr. Who fame did a spot on portrayal of a Las Vegas showman who was at once less than he appeared and more than we expected. To me Tennant saved this movie from utter oblivion. So it earns five stars out of a possible ten. It loses stars for its lack of originality and needless use of violence but as usual the actors save the day.

Leave a comment

Filed under movies

Movies: 30 Minutes or Less [3/10]

To me the idea is simple and intuitive: You decide on no notice to traipse off to the movies and when you get there you watch the next available movie no matter what that happens to be. What could be easier? There are three possible outcomes.
Outcome the first: You end up seeing a movie that you would have seen anyway. Delay of gratification fail but nothing really lost or gained otherwise.
Outcome the second: You see a movie that you would have ignored otherwise and it turns out to have been the most awe-inspiring and amazing cinematic experience of your entire life. Or… some shade of gray between that and “eh, should have stayed home and watched Jerry Springer.”
Outcome the third: You see a movie so bad that you can have endless fun regaling all of your friends/readers/countrymen about just how utterly and absolutely moronic it was and invoke mirth if you tell the story right or at least pity if you don’t. With these three possibilities at hand, I fail to see how any such scantily-planned scheme can fail. (As long as you ignore the $7-$12 you paid to get in, anyway.)
So today’s winner of $7 was the movie “30 Minutes or Less.” Instinct and reputation said immediately that this movie was an utter loser but one must stay true to one’s beliefs so I boldly went forward unto the ticket stand and placed my order. I was immediately accosted by a rather glacial woman next to the cashier who was hanging all over a notebook filled with movie reviews like too much icing on too small a cupcake. “Why’d you pick that one?” she said. Ever-ready and well-rehearsed I went into my standard spiel on movie selection criteria which left her with exactly as much information as she had before. She went on to explain that she lives in Frankfort and “they don’t get no fancy movies like this in Frankfort.” Having been born in that town, I can well believe her statement. I turned my attention back to the cashier (a teenage girl) who handed me my ticket and conspiratorially whispered “You’ll like it, it’s really funny.” Now my doom was assured.
The Previews
Whenever I’m in movies I always think to myself that I should actually make note of the previews and review THOSE so that I can make an informed decision about actually picking a movie later (gasp, I know, sacrilege, right?). In this case, a couple of movies actually struck me as having some weird non-zero potential. The faithful-servant turned crook movie of the fall seems to be “Tower Heist” (due out November 4th) and it intrigued me not only because of its cast of actors I’ve actually seen before and can name but also it’s sort of sweet timeliness. Like any movie-going schmuck I love justice and especially when it’s at the expense of rich, powerful corporate types. I’ll definitely put this on my “don’t offhandedly ignore” list. The other movie that made me actually bother to write down its name in the movie theatre was “Moneyball,” (September 23) a baseball movie about the Oakland A’s and their success at using analytical methods to win baseball games rather than relying on the conventional wisdom of 150 years of baseball history. When you put baseball and analytical analysis together you’ve got me hooked already. So I’ll put that down solidly in the “think about going to see on purpose” category.
The Movie
Yes, hard to believe that after ALL that blather there is actually still a movie to be reviewed. Well, before I go on, I should say a bit about spoilers. In this case, there’s nothing to be spoiled so no worries. Long story short, Nick’s a pizza delivery guy who seems to have only one actual friend, Chet. Chet is the highlight of this pair and he has some wonderful one-liners. Early on he sets the stage for Nick’s character with the line: “Dude, you had a Lunchables for dinner last night. You are a total manchild.” That about sums up those two.
Dwayne is the maniacal idiot son of an ex-Marine. He and his sidekick Travis plot to kill Dwayne’s dad for the inheritance but in order to do this they need $100,000 to hire a hit-man to whom he is referred by a stripper with the moniker of Juicy. So their plan to get this money, is to call for a pizza delivery and when the delivery guy arrives, they’ll strap a bomb to him and make him rob a bank. It’s utterly fool-proof. Dwayne and Travis too have a few amusing exchanges but this one made even me blink with a bit of aghast surprise (paraphrasing a bit):
Dwayne: I have an idea for a cash business that’s just crawling with hot bitches!
Travis: Taco stand?
Dwayne: No
Travis: Abortion Clinic?
So after much kerfuffle the plan comes to pass. Dwayne and Travis wire Nick with a bomb and he finds himself forced to rob a bank in the company of a surprisingly faithful Chet. The duo makes the standard preparations for the robbery and manage to pull it off in a friendly fashion that gives one faith in the kind, honest hearts of criminals everywhere. After even more unnecessary and gratuitous violence they thwart the bad-guys and even end up with the $100,000 for their trouble which they don’t even consider actually returning to the bank. There seems to be little justice in this movie that can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be a comedy or an action movie and even takes a short side-trip into the maudlin. This movie gets a solid 3 out of 10 stars due only to the fact that you could get some enjoyment about of the first 30 minutes… assuming you had had enough to drink beforehand.

Leave a comment

Filed under movies

Islam: The Straight Path – John L. Esposito [1998] – Chapter 1

Below you will find my notes and random observations from the book indicated by the title of this post. It is hoped that it will be effortless to differentiate between those locations in which I provide information from the book proper and those in which I offer personal observation, illumination or pose further lines of inquiry. Whenever any doubt is evident it should be assumed that anything even remotely factual should be attributed to the author of the book and anything that would be construed as otherwise can be attributed to me personally.

Chapter Links: [Ch 1 Ch 2 | Ch 3 Pt 1 Ch 3 Pt 2 Ch 3 Pt 3]

It is evident early on that “Islam: The Straight Path” is authored by one who is himself a believer in the Muslim faith. Similarly, it will become quickly evident that your commentator is not a believer in the Muslim faith or, in fact, a believer in any faith at all. As such, the book’s author and the blog’s author will be quickly distinguishable. While the author of the blog will do everything in his power to maintain respectful of all possible beliefs, it is of fundamental importance that we all deal with this important area of study as frankly and openly as possible.

The book opens with a few simple numerical facts and some historical background. The adherents of the Muslim faith number 900 million strong with 85% belonging to the Sunni division and 15% to the Shii. Before Muhammad, Arabian society was tribal in nature. Nomadic herders wandered the desert tending their flocks moving from one oasis to the next. Rule of law was primarily enforced by the threat of retaliation. Social structure was familial in nature with many families combining to form a clan and several clans forming a tribe. Leadership of the tribe was determined by a vote of senior members of each family. Warfare was common but generally focused on assimilation rather than annihilation. Religious practices were polytheistic with Allah at the center but different tribes adopted different members of the pantheon as their patron or preferred objects of worship.

Muhammad was called to be the prophet of Allah in 610 C.E. at the age of 40. He was orphaned at a young age but married at the age of 25 and had 3 sons (all of whom died as infants) and 4 daughters by the time of his calling. He often retreated into the mountains to contemplate life and its injustices and it was on one of the retreats during the month of Ramadan that he received his first prophetic message from the Angel Gabriel. Over the next 22 years Muhammad continued to receive prophecy from Allah and these prophecies and teachings were compiled into the Quran or, “The Recitation”.

At first, as with most prophets, Muhammad thought himself crazy. Luckily, his wife and her Christian friend (ironic) were able to convince him that he was in fact not crazy but instead the chosen one of God. As time went on and his following grew, Muhammad and his teachings also came under the scrutiny of government representatives who resented his insistence on justice in public affairs that ran afoul of the typically corrupt practices of the time. After 10 years of preaching in Mecca, Muhammad was invited to migrate to Medina to solve a dispute(?) for a public official there. It is this migration to Medina in 622 that is viewed as the true beginning of the Muslim faith. Muhammad quickly gained influence in Medina and wages periodic war with his previous home, Mecca. In 630 Mecca finally capitulates but Muhammad doesn’t have long to celebrate as he dies not long thereafter in 632.

Culturally, Muhammad is held up as the example in all things good and pure in Muslim culture from hygiene to politics and prayer. Contrary to popular Western opinion, Muhammad is not the founder of Islam so much as the one who brought the previously polytheistic Islamic culture back into line with the classic monotheistic beliefs of Abraham from which all Arabs draw their lineage. The Muslim faith existed before Muhammad but needed correction in the same way that Muslims believe that Judaism and Christianity need correction to bring them into line with the will of Allah. Muslims share many common aspects of their faith with their Christian and Jewish neighbors and even go so far as to compare themselves to the oppressed followers of Moses in the Old Testament.

The schism between Islam and the other religions of the region are, unsurprisingly, blamed on Jewish influence. Muhammad attempted to approach his Jewish neighbors in an attempt to “correct” their belief systems and even went so far as to suggest that Muslims should direct their daily prayers toward Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the Jewish populace refused these “corrections” and prayers were then redirected to Mecca as they remain today. Since this rejection of sharia (“The Straight Path”) by Jewish leaders, the Muslim mujahidin (holy warriors) wage jihad against their Jewish oppressors. The martyrs in this war, or shahid (literally: witnesses), are viewed as heroes since they gave all defending the truth of Allah.

The Quran, dictated to Muhammad over the period of 22 years is seen as absolute and incorruptible. Its 114 chapters are arranged in ascending order of length and were collected after Muhammad’s death. Like the Bible, the Quran considers itself self-evident. Anyone seeking validation of the Quran need merely look around at nature and the world around us or the history of the world in which the unjust are repeatedly smote by Allah. Of the Jewish faith, the Quran claims that the Torah was indeed originally the word of God but was unfortunately corrupted by the desire of mankind. Christians seem to be viewed as idolaters who have placed Jesus, who is acknowledged as a prophet of God, above God himself. The Quran, by contrast, is the centerpiece of not only Muslim faith but the Arabic language. The Quran is viewed as the very epitome of perfect and unsurpassable literature not only for its content but because it is written in Arabic, the one true language of God.

As a text, the Quran bears many similarities to the Bible but also bears some striking differences. For example, the Quran repeats the famous episode in which Abraham is called upon to sacrifice Isaac but in the Quran’s version it is Ismail who is to be sacrificed instead. Where the Bible and the Quran are the same, it is claimed, they are the divinely inspired word of God. Where they differ, it is a corruption. Most pointedly, the Quran specifically points out the uniqueness and oneness of Allah. Allah has no sons. No partners. This seems to invalidate the entire Christian religion in one small sentence. One can see why there’s conflict.

The Quranic universe is composed of three principle parts: heaven, earth and hell. Heaven is represented as a mansion surrounded by peaceful bliss and flowing rivers. It’s inhabited by nubile young women and they’re apparently not shy yet still perpetually virginal. In typical fashion hell is a rain of torment and fire. Earth is the domain of man and the jinn. Jinn are intelligent spirits that roam the Earth and, like man, will be judged on the day of reckoning as they can be either of good or evil varieties. Joining these we have the typical angels and of course Satan. Satan, or Iblis, seems to have a different story than the Biblical one. When Allah created man, he commanded all the angels to bow down but Satan refused (presumably as an act of jealousy). For this refusal Allah cast Satan out but Satan managed to negotiate his punishment so that he was allowed roam the earth until the judgment day. Presumably for the purpose of tempting mankind into hell.

Finally, the difference that I suspect causes the most trouble (aside from the blatant denial of Jesus’ position as son of God) is the concept of the fundamental nature of mankind. From Biblical tradition we have an inherited evil or sin for each man or woman on the planet. The missteps of Eve haunt us all even to this day. The Quranic tradition seems much more forgiving and frankly, much more just. In the Quran there is no original sin. Each man is good or sinful based on his own actions. Man is an agent of Allah’s will and will be judged based on his own ability to carry out that will, not based on some inherited debt of virtue over which is has no control. Even more galling perhaps, in the Quran’s telling of man’s expulsion from the Garden, it’s not Eve who gives in to temptation first but Adam.

In conclusion (at least for this chapter) I find a lot of this fairly typical. The Quran is deemed perfect in the same way that the Bible is deemed perfect since God will watch over his word for Christians. Islam claims the flag of “absolutely and completely right” while the Bible does the same. Clearly one or the other must be flawed but the decision for that seems to have much more to do with what you were raised believing than any real qualitative differences. They are two very similar documents cut from very similar cloth with just enough niggling differences to make the adherents of each really, really dislike each other. I will say that the Quran seems much more fair than the Bible, at least based on this small overview. The abolishment of original sin and introduction of personal responsibility ring very true with me. The sociopolitical revolution of Islam that brought order to a tribal society is deeply important and should be recognized. The historical importance of Islam should not be diminished by any perceptions of its negative influence on current events.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Storyboard – Misc 6/28/2011

Like any human I’ve found myself up and down on the energy required to go out and take photos. To the best of my recollection, the photoset from 6/28 is an amalgamation of a couple of days of random photography.

So this fly, as I recall, was buzzing around in Laura’s backyard. For some reason I cannot fathom it stood still long enough for me to get its picture with the macro and even preened itself with that cool “I’m going to rub my eyes with my feet” move that flies like to do so much.

From 2011-06-28

Yeah, this next picture is a bit questionable but I trust you all to be adults about it. Birds do it and beetles do it.

From 2011-06-28

These two are always a hoot.

From 2011-06-28

This shot is from the Wabash river beach. For once it’s not flooding.

From 2011-06-28

To continue the craziness of this random time period, there was also a horse show in this. I like the way the horse holds itself so stiffly like it’s posing to be a chess piece.

From 2011-06-28

And in an accidental recreation of Muybridge we prove that when horses run they DO get all four feet off the ground at once. (Quite a difference 139 years can make)

From 2011-06-28

Laura has a way with the savage beast…

From 2011-06-28

Such deep and soulful eyes. It honestly breaks my heart that we take these creatures… though this one does have sort of an eyebooger thing going.

From 2011-06-28

And the stereotypical shot of Indy downtown from near the state museum.

From 2011-06-28

I love this shot. Laura’s beautiful (nothing new there) but the gondolier in the background on the cellphone is a priceless anachronism.

From 2011-06-28

1 Comment

Filed under photography

Storyboard – West Park, Carmel, Indiana – 8/13/2011

In a happy twist of August Indiana weather it was a blissful 73 degrees outside yesterday so my first inclination turned towards taking the kids to the State Fair. The youngest was easily tempted over to my side with the phrase, “they have food…” but the eldest was unconvinced as revealed by her response of “I hate the state fair. I always have hated the state fair and I always will. *sigh* Fine. Given that attitude and with the debacle of the previous year in mind (in which we spent $37 for a 20-minute visit) a compromise was in order.

The eldest’s counter-suggestion was that we go to the Children’s Museum on the principle that it was “too hot to be outside.” Commentary on the decadent American lifestyle that leads to such beliefs aside, we instead headed out to West Park.

Izzy, who upon arriving at the park observed that there was clearly no food, was indignant and charged off as quickly and as obviously annoyed as it is possible to do at her age. I suppose she should have growled at us but she made her disgruntlement clear enough without such guttural utterances.

From West Park – 8-13-2011

We quickly managed to bring the indignant Izzy around by pointing out the abundance of testudine (turtle) wildlife. Only moments before in the car she’d been discussing strategies by which she might wrangle herself into having a turtle as a pet.

From West Park – 8-13-2011

From West Park – 8-13-2011

Amanda, however, was still unconvinced. The temperature had skyrocketed to the header figure of 74 degrees.

From West Park – 8-13-2011

A walnut or two found under a pine tree never hurts one’s attitude either, it seems.

From West Park – 8-13-2011

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I stood in this area for a couple of minutes before noticing this heron fishing for its breakfast. Generally when you see them they seem to be just placidly walking along as if they have nothing much better to do but this one was actively taking advantage of the large number of small fish in the pond.

From West Park – 8-13-2011

From West Park – 8-13-2011

From West Park – 8-13-2011

I also have to give the park a lot of credit. They appear to be cultivating several native species that you don’t find in most public areas. I believe this is Prairie Dock if I recall correctly.

From West Park – 8-13-2011

And no summer trip would be complete without a dragonfly.

From West Park – 8-13-2011

1 Comment

Filed under photography