Saturday, June 16, 2007

Support independent publishers!

Speaking of people not reading enough anymore, I just found out that beloved independent publisher McSweeney's is having a huge sale and celebrity ebay auction right now to pay off their $130,000 debt after their distributor's bankruptcy. This includes issues of their must-see film magazine Wholphin (a quarterly collection of short films on dvd, with interviews of the filmmakers -- past contributors have included Miranda July, Spike Jonze, Bob Odenkirk, and Steven Soderbergh). Another highlight of Wholphin is the inclusion of The Power of Nightmares, a three-part BBC documentary on the history of radical Islamic Fundamentalism, Neoconservativism, the Religious Right, and the international media propaganda machine (this is otherwise unavailable in the U.S.). See my previous post for more on this. The fact that they distributed this controversial film is reason enough for you to support the folks at McSweeneys. Plus, The Believer is quite possibly one of the geekiest, most entertaining magazines I have ever come across. Examples of recent articles include "Nine Inch Nails and 19th century British Romanticism", "Generic Names from Around the World," and "If Sammy Davis Jr. had Written Moby-Dick."

Highlights of the celebrity auction include:

This painting of Dubya by author Dave Eggers (
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius):

Issues of Wholphin signed and doodled on by filmmaker Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich):

I've got my eye on a book called Speak, Commentary by Tom Bissell and Jeff Alexander, which is described as: "THE BIG LITTLE BOOK OF FAKE DVD COMMENTARIES, WHEREIN WELL-KNOWN PUNDITS MAKE IMPASSIONED REMARKS ABOUT CLASSIC SCIENCE-FICTION FILMS." This includes Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson musing on the hidden meaning of Planet of the Apes! What more need I say?

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Radical Islamist and Neoconservative Myths

"This story began over 30 years ago, as the dream that politics could create a better world began to fall apart. Out of that collapse came two groups: the Islamists and the Neoconservatives...Together they have created today's strange fantasy of fear, which politicians have seized on." - from the BBC documentary series "The Power of Nightmares"

[Go here if this video does not load.]

If you haven't watched this yet, I believe it should be required viewing in every high school world history class. I have always believed that pattern recognition is one of the most underrated skills that can be nurtured in young people. It helps us to navigate through the lies that are constantly being thrown in our paths, and to search for the truth beyond them. Without a highly developed sense of it, we will be duped into believing absurdities and letting history repeat itself over and over again. The BBC documentary "The Power of Nightmares," which was banned by all the U.S. networks for reasons which will become obvious when you read further, is a shining example of what I'm referring to here as pattern recognition. It is also a must-see for its impeccable research and A-list interviewees! I'll post links at the bottom of this blog for you to view the whole series on Google video for free.

If the clip below - about the origins of and motivations behind the Neoconservative and Religious Right movements in the U.S. - does not convince you to watch the rest of this series, you must be in a media-induced coma.

[Go to this link to view the video that used to be here, if it does not show up.]

Key Points:

There is no such thing as an organized network of international terrorists called Al Qaeda. Even Bin Laden never used the term until after he'd heard it in the American media.

Yes, there are radical Islamist organizations that carry out acts of terror and share certain ideologies, but they are by no means organized in the way that the media portrays them to be. At the time that we started our "war on terror," these groups were beginning to die down and lose followers in their countries because of their extremist tactics.

This is another Straussian Neoconservative rallying gimmick, just like the myth that the Soviet Union had somehow coordinated every terrorist act carried out during the Cold War, in an effort to "take over the world", whether the act of violence was commited by
the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Irish Republican Army, or any other radical group. Despite the fact that there was no evidence to suggest this, and a surplus of evidence from the CIA to debunk it, we proceeded with the Cold War as if our way of life depended on it. In reality, the Soviet Union was crumbling from within and did not pose the threat that we were made to live in constant fear of.

I worry that young people today won't make this connection of history repeating itself, because they did not live through the Cold War. We had to perform school drills for what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, as if to "duck and cover" would somehow protect us from nuclear annihilation. Like the gas masks and duct tape recommended just a few years ago as security measures. We had to "bring democracy" to the people of the Soviet Union and other communist countries. Look at what our free market "democracy" has done for the Soviet Union. It's essentially a country run by organized crime.

Here are links to this highly recommended series on Google video (if they stay up):

Part 1: Baby, It's Cold Outside
Part 2: The Phantom Victory
Part 3: The Shadows in the Cave

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hate Mail Replies - Part I

Now to respond to some of the comments from my angry religious readers...These are all in reply to my post THANK YOU, National Geographic!, in praise of the issue with the cover asking "Was Darwin Wrong?" and the first page answering "NO!"

Anonymous said, "All you have to do to understand what life without God would be like is to look at the animal world, when a male cat comes upon a litter of kittens that are not his he kills them...We only strive for civility because of our knowledge of God. If there were no God I would just kill you for your food."

If this statement is true, then Anonymous should be institutionalized. No one can use God or the lack of God to justify murder or sociopathic behavior. The millions of ethical atheists around the world who are leading perfectly functional lives, knowing that there is no God, are proof that we do not need one. And while I'm at it, to the atheists who believe that some people would be forever lost without their misguided faith: don't you think that this view is a bit pompous?

I happen to hold everyone to the same moral standard that I hold myself to. I refuse to coddle other people as if they are inferior to me. Adults are capable of treating each other with civility, with or without a belief in a god. In response to the statement about male cats killing kittens that are not their own: assuming that a person was raised by humans rather than by feral cats, they have no excuse to do intentional harm to anyone.

That being said, I've always thought it was more commendable to see an atheist do something charitable than it is to see a believer do so. As atheists, we can be honest, caring people, not because we are afraid of divine punishment or we seek some reward in the afterlife. We are good people because we have advanced beyond the toddler stage and we can feel empathy for others. We do not have to do the right thing, but we do it because it is rewarding in itself. I would argue that for this reason, the ethical code of the atheist is more admirable than that of the religious person. If you had a young child and he decided to help you clean the dishes without being asked to do so, wouldn't you be more impressed than if the child only did his chores after you threatened some form of punishment, or enticed him with the reward of dessert? More on the origins and reasons for an atheist ethic to come. For now, on to the next comment...

Anonymous said, "Don't forget to mention to the public that evolution is completely homophobic as there is no way that two organisms of the same sex would be attracted to each other because they can't reproduce and would completely fall outside the evolutionary model of survival of species."

Who said that the meaning of life was solely to reproduce via childbirth? And who said that the meaning of sex was solely to reproduce? I certainly didn't. And how can you be so certain that homosexuality falls outside of the evolutionary model of "survival of the species," anyways? Has it occurred to anyone that in a time in which overpopulation and diminishing resources are a threat to the survival of every species including our own, the evolutionary biological (or, more likely, cultural) basis for homosexuality may start to make an awful lot of sense when we look back on it? Did I mention that studies show increased homosexual behavior in certain animals when food is scarce? Of course, now it's possible for two women to have a child together, but this is obviously something that has to be prepared for and planned in advance. Imagine if all heterosexual couples had to put that much thought into having children...

That's all the time I have tonight. More hate mail responses to come later...

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New Look, Still Angry

It is so good to get back to my blog that I decided to give it a whole new look to celebrate the occasion. My gratitude goes out to Banksy, the anonymous British graffiti artist who is responsible for the scene that you now see before you, made available for free download on his website. I think that the image of a young girl with balloons, floating over the Palestinian side of the Israeli West Bank barrier, is a poignant symbol for what's wrong with the world today (read: the uncompromising nature of any and every religion).

Now if I can only get the three-column display code I've been tweaking to work... As for the new profile: yes, that is my eye in the new photo, but no, my skin is not actually blue. At least not that blue. I don't see much of the sun up here in Northern California...

So much has happened while I've been slaving away as a full-time Film Production major (why, you ask? I'll get to that). Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation have been at the top of the bestseller lists, Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards hired outspoken feminist atheist bloggers to head his campaign blog, and atheism has finally captured at least a moment in the spotlight. Too many things to get into in retrospect. Let's just hope that this moment lasts long enough to make a difference.

So, why have I been slaving away on a Film degree and missing out on all of the excitement? Some days I dream of going back to the less labor-intensive Philosophy or English paths, but I realized some time ago that there are more writers out there than there are readers. To do something that would touch the lives of people other than the miniscule compulsive book-buying crowd (or are these mythical creatures?), a more high-tech medium was in order... On that note, though, just in case there are any mythical book-reading creatures out there, here is my recommended reading for the day (and it's mostly pictures, actually):

This Banksy art book is pretty @#$% delightful, not just for the full-color photographs of all of his recent exploits, but for the insightfully snide commentary throughout, such as "Sometimes I feel so sick at the state of the world that I can't even finish my second apple pie." The fact that it has a "now with 10% more crap" sticker on the cover made me fall in love with this book before I had even opened it. Definitely a treasure.

ABOVE: an armed beetle (labeled "Withus Oragainstus" United States)
sneaked into a NY Natural History Museum display by Banksy
(lasted 12 days before being spotted and removed by museum security).

More on the the big names in atheist literature later. I seem to have received some hate mail while I was away, so my next post will be a response to all of it. I can't wait!

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