Wednesday, October 31, 2012

November is Project Month!

I saw somewhere (and I'm too lazy to try and find it again) that November is National Blog Post Month. Which means that you try and make one blog post per day for the month. Usually I'm busy ripping my hair out for NaNoWriMo in November, but since I'm in the middle of a long fic already I've decided to not bring down that pain upon my soul.

So this is my November project. A post a day on the blog.

*eyes blog*

We're doomed.

If there's anything you guys want to see a post on, drop me a line and I'll see if I have an opinion.

Who am I kidding, I always have an opinion. :)

*is totally not trying to troll everyone for ideas...nope...*

Sunday, October 28, 2012

FanFic Writer Problem # 376

That awkward moment when you have to admit that yes, you are in fact 27k words into that 10k word fic you've been writing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

My Complicated Religious Feels, Have Some

I've been trying to write this one for a while, which is funny because it's short and not really all that complicated. It's just that, even though the words are accurate, I feel like they don't quite touch exactly what I mean.

And maybe it's also because I think it's a little awkward? Or that people won't understand it the way I feel it?

Well. It is what it is at this point.

So. I think you're all (or at least most of you) aware that I'm something of a religious...*waves hands* I think of myself in a metaphor sometimes. I'm a little dinghy, okay? And I'm lost at sea but I can see that there are a couple of islands over to the right and there's a larger ship to the left. And some other islands in front of me. Now of course all these places look safe and I can see the people waving, telling me to come join them. I need to make a choice, one of the islands or the ship or to just stay in my little dinghy and keep on going alone in the ocean. And the last option is not appealing to me. But are any of the other choices really what they seem? Can I really trust the promises of safety and shelter and help that they're giving out? The islands might be inhabited by cannibals, the ship might be a pirate ship or a slave ship. Or they might all be hallucinations from being alone at sea for so long.

That's how I feel about my search for, I won't even call it religious truth, but religious fulfillment.

And for some reason I keep circling Islam. I'm trying to figure out exactly why, because I'm honestly not sure. I know that, in the beginning, I was attracted to Islam because of the hijab. Because of what it represents and because I honestly believe that hijabis are beautiful in a way that has nothing to do with physical characteristics. Which is not to say that all hijabis are perfect people or anything. Or that I believe that every woman should wear hijab. Just...there's a beauty there that I can't (again) quite put into words.

That was my first attraction, because I felt at the time that God was calling me and calling me to cover my hair and dress modestly. Things have changed, clearly, in that respect. And I know now that that's a very shallow reason to be attracted to anything. 'Hey, I don't know anything about your faith, really, but I want to wear your hats.' No.

With that out of the way though, I still have this fascination/attraction to Islam. Why?

I think I've figured out at least one reason for it.

Islam is simple. Which is not to be confused with simplistic. What I mean is that the core of Islamic belief is more easily rational than some others.

There is one God who created everything. He has sent down prophets who convey his message to the people around them. Follow the rules contained in the message, believe in the messenger and that's that.

There's something about this simplicity that appeals to me. It gives a strong, basic core from which one can have interesting theological arguments. It's simplicity doesn't negate the complexity of faith in and of itself.

But. There are also reasons holding me back and the one I think of when I think about the simplicity of Islam is the fact that it feels like a betrayal.

It feels like if I chose Islam then I would be betraying my ancestors. After all, Islam is a Middle Eastern faith. Like Judaism and Christianity. It was born out of a region and a culture that I have no connection to. My ancestors were pagans. They worshiped versions of the Norse deities. Why is that not good enough for me? Or even if I can't mesh myself with paganism? Why not stick with the Christianity of my more recent ancestors, the religion I was born into? And I can't answer that with any clarity except that I haven't found fulfillment in either of those places. But then why does it feel like I'm turning my back on my ancestors when I consider Islam?

Monday, October 22, 2012

I don't know why I do these things, it only ends in high blood pressure at the doctors

Catholic radio host on my way to the doctor today:

If your spouse isn't attending Mass with you and won't listen to your pleas/arguments/etc, get your kids to guilt them into going!

'Don't you love Jesus as much as you love meeeeeeeee?'

*eyes them*

You can't see me, radio host, but I want you to feel me judging you.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Yet Another Strange Question Where I Could Use a Muslim on Speed Dial

My Uncle who lives in Germany is over visiting for two weeks and we all went out to dinner last night. I sat between him and my grandmother and as we were munching on the appetizers, waiting for our food my Uncle suddenly says out of nowhere, we weren't even talking about religion or anything like that:

"It's a good thing you guys aren't Muslim or you'd have to get rid of the grill."

And I'm sort of left just staring at him with this totally confused look on my face. Because sure, we had hot dogs and bratwurst the night before for dinner (he and my grandmother had come over) and we'd grilled them so I got the whole pork - grill - Muslim connection but where did the comment even come from?

But I just say, "No, we'd just have to clean it really thoroughly."

And he's arguing with me, telling me that no, you'd have to get rid of anything that had had pork or alcohol on it and replace it. Which I know is not true because I'd asked about this years ago when I was first thinking about converting to Islam and I was told that of course you weren't expected or required to do that because the cost would be prohibitive. It would be an unnecessary burden.

Finally he concedes that well maybe we wouldn't have to get rid of the grill but that we'd have to get it blessed. Which...I don't know. I don't think so, but I could see that maybe. But not a blessing so much as maybe praying over the items? But it just sounds odd to me.

So that's my question, such as it is.

Does it make sense or is it even a done thing to pray over or have blessed items in your house that might have touched non-halal food? I've been trying to find something using the all knowing Google but so far nothing has come up.

My Uncle swears that you would have to have the local imam come out and bless things but like I told him, in my understanding of Islam there's not supposed to be anyone between you and God. The imam doesn't hold the same function as say, a priest. So assuming that you wanted or needed to have a prayer said over something in your house you could just do it yourself.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Things That Should Probably Go Unsaid

That awkward moment where you're talking about a television show with your parents and you realize that the sentence coming out of your mouth is, "And then he got his arm ripped off while his wife was giving him a blow-job."

And you can't stop.

In other news, American Horror Story is back and it is delightfully evil.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Do any of you guys ever notice that you have a new follower and wonder, 'Where did you come from? How did you find me? Are you sure you know what you're getting into here? Because I feel like you may not be aware of the insanity that goes on in this space.'? *pokepokepoke*


This was going to be a post about Islam and my trying to figure out why I keep circling it when I have so many other options to vent my religious needs on, but it's too chilly in my office and I just want to leave and get to the gym. And I'm still not sure how to phrase what I'm trying to say. So you get this bit of random instead.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Movie: Argo

a/k/a: Good movie, true story (mostly), but I think some of the audience missed a few salient points

I actually started this last night, but I think I over did it at the gym. I was just too tired to keep typing, which is *sad*. Also, I know I'm too tired to write when I start over explaining. As in, the original draft of this tried to explain the entire Iranian Revolution. If you think this version is long, you should have seen the original! So here we go. 

I don't usually go in for movies based off of true stories unless they're historical. As in, 1800's and earlier historical. But Ben Affleck has been doing some good work lately (if you haven't seen The Town, I'm not sure we can keep speaking to one another. Go watch it. Go. Go. It's worth it.) and the previews really caught my interest as well as the interests of my movie buddies. So we broke our usual rule and went to see Argo this weekend.

The basic plot runs like this: In 1979, during the Iranian Revolution, the American embassy is overrun by Iranian students (and some say Islamic militants but I am going to admit to only a general knowledge of these events so I can't call for or against either opinion with any honesty). They take about 50 people hostage (the staff of the embassy) and hold them for more than a year, demanding the return of the ousted Shah, Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī who had taken refuge in the US. In the end, all of the hostages were released (though some soldiers were killed in a botched rescue attempt) and Iranian-American relations have been less than friendly ever since.

Most people, I think, know at least that vague outline. What they might not know (as in, I didn't know it until I heard of this movie and started reading a little about it and I assume that the majority of people know about as much as I do because I am the center of the universe...) is that six embassy employees escaped when the embassy was being taken over and hid out in the Canadian ambassador's house until the CIA sent someone in to get them out of the country.

His cover story was that they were a movie production crew scouting 'exotic' locations for a sci-fi movie called 'Argo'. Hence the name of the movie about the fake movie that was thought up between Hollywood and the CIA.

Now before I start, one thing to keep in mind is that this movie is 'based on' a true story. What that translates to is 'we saw a really great story that happened and then we amped up the drama and tension to make it marketable'. Not everything that happens on the screen happened in real life. And I, not having read the book that this is based off of, cannot judge which are which. So what I'm talking about is not the reality of this event, but the movie loosely based on the reality of the event. Got that? Good.

I think we all remember how much I loved Taken 2 last week and it's *super* fair and balanced and *totally* necessary portrayal of Muslims? Yeah. I went into this movie with my major concern being that it was going to out-fail Taken 2 so I was pleasantly surprised when it managed to not do that.

In the opening sequence, the narrator does a brief outlay as to how we get to the point at which the movie itself begins, which is the day that the embassy is overrun. The important point, in my opinion, is that they point out that Mohammed Reza was put into power by a U.S. backed coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister and forced Mohammed Reza's father off of the throne. And why, you may ask, did the U.S. do this? The film points this out as well, though I have to say that they didn't point it out as harshly as I think it deserved. The U.S. put Mohammed Reza into power because under the previous regime the oil industry was nationalized, removing it from the control of the British and handing it over to the people or Iran. So...yeah. *cough* Our 'interests were affected' to paraphrase our wannabe VP and we stepped in.

Which was really nice for the people of Iran. They went from having some level of autonomy and growth to being crushed under a dictator who lived it up while they starved. His intelligence service, SAVAK, was set up with the aide of the US government and made a habit of torturing and murdering those opposed to the regime.

Not that the US makes a habit of backing dictators or anything as long as they're our 'friends' and supply us with whatever we want from their country. Nope.

Well the Iranian people eventually revolt - the Shah was put into power in 1953, the Iranians didn't revolt until 1979 - and the Shah escapes and is given asylum in the US for medical treatment (supposedly). The Iranians, understandably in my view, wanted him back. For reasons which I don't think really need explaining, but if they do, they weren't inviting him back for a tea party, okay?

The US refused to give him back because, as one character says later in the film, they're protecting him so all the other dictators that they've put into power know that when everything goes to shit we won't leave them to be worked on by some 'goat vet'.

Here's why I liked this, even though I think that the majority of the audience (at least in my theater) missed this point entirely. (I'm guessing this because of a comment or two that I overheard as we were leaving the theater. I won't repeat them due to overwhelming stupidity.) They didn't *have* to include that. Would it have been an historically inaccurate and dishonest movie without that little fact? Yes. But that's never stopped anyone before. After all it's a movie 'based on' true events, which as I said before, gives them license to make a movie that is less than 100% historically accurate. Any complaints could have been met with that argument, or the argument that it is not the job of the film makers to educate the populace on relatively recent historical events. Which is also true, so far as it goes.

We should not allow ourselves to be educated by the media, by which I mean television shows and movies. They're *fiction*. Even news shows have their own biases, their own agendas. Which is not to say that they're all untrustworthy (though some of them are), but that it is the responsibility of every individual to look further than just the soundbites that we are fed. But back to movies. I think that far too many people allow their 'knowledge' of things to be based on fictional accounts of these events. They seem to think that there's some rule about honesty or accuracy that bleeds over into entertainment media. There isn't. If you want to watch a 'movie' about something and have it be (maybe) historically accurate or factual, find a documentary. Even then you aren't guaranteed, just like you aren't guaranteed an unbiased point of view. You aren't even guaranteed an unbiased point of view in history books. For your own sake, if nothing else, take the time and make the effort to look for other perspectives on what you're hearing.

And now back to the movie! Yay tangents!

Apart from the opening sequence there are several small mentions of the U.S. being responsible for certain events that caused the Revolution, or at the very least didn't help the situation any.

Yes, the 'heroes' in the movie are the Americans. That's...kind of inevitable given the makers of the movie and the situation itself. There is apparently some argument between Canadians and Americans as to how much each country did with regards to the extraction, but again, just going off of the movie.

That being said, I think that the population of Iran was portrayed in a far more even way than the people of Turkey were in Taken 2. Yes, there are many instances in the movie that portray Iranians being frightening. A man being dragged out of the house next door to the Canadian ambassador's residence and being shot. Screaming, guns being waved around, the hostage taking itself. A scene where several of the male hostages are taken down to the basement of the embassy, tied up and made to believe that they are going to be shot. It can be a hard thing to watch, especially given the skill with which the movie is made, but as far as I know it's realistic to what was going on in the country at that time.

They do try to offset this portrayal, though, by showing the Iranian people as people. A few minor instances here and there of normal interaction without there being anything sinister between the Americans and Iranians. One that sticks out in my memory is when the Americans are meeting a representative of the Iranian government in the Grand Bazaar in order to 'scout' the location. The man tries to joke and talk with them, but of course they're too nervous to really pull it off. So he comes across as being friendly and helpful and they come across as being abrupt and kind of weird.

One major point is that the Canadians' maid, Sahar, figures out who the 'Canadian' guests really are and not only does she not turn them over, she actively helps to conceal them. Which, of course, puts her life at extreme risk, so much so that she has to flee Iran once the Americans and her Canadian employers are out of the country.

Religion, while present, is not really thrown out as a major factor. Though perhaps that's because they assume that everyone knows Iran is an Islamic country. The only mention that I can recall is in a bit of dialogue between Sahar and one of the Iranian guards. He's trying to lean on her, to make her aware of how important her answer is, and he mentions 'Rasool Allah'. Which I know refers to Mohammed, but I will lay money on the majority of the people watching this movie having no clue what it means.

I don't want to give the impression that I thought this movie was perfect, or a perfect example of how to portray a culture without demonizing it. It's not. But I think it's a step in the right direction, that they made a point of seeding a movie that could have been all about how evil the Iranians are with moments where it's clear that they are human too, and not evil. There could have been more of them, they could have made it better in any number of ways, but for what it was, I am pleased with the movie.

For another perspective on the movie, check out Malik's review here.

And you don't have to worry about getting another long movie rant next week. We're seeing Paranormal Activity 4, so you're safe!

ETA: In a moment of complete travesty, Taken 2 beat Argo at the box office. Excuse me while I go mourn this terrible event.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Movie: Taken 2

a/k/a The Scary Muslims Are Coming to Rape Your Wives and Daughters

Okay. *takes a deep breath* I actually waited until today to write this in the hopes that it would be less ranty. Let's see if that worked.

Taken 2 is a sequel to Taken. Please, all of you, control your shock. :p My point is, to understand what happens in this movie you need to be at least a little familiar with the first one. Not a whole lot, it's not a complicated plot by any means. But I'm going to just give you a really brief summary.

In Taken, Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills an ex-CIA operative who is trying to reestablish a relationship with his teenage daughter Kim and his ex-wife Lenore. Lenore and Kim guilt him into signing off on papers to allow Kim to travel to Paris for a vacation (she's underage and so needs both parents' consent) against his better judgment. After being in Paris for about two seconds Kim and her friend Amanda are both kidnapped by a human trafficking ring. She just happens to be on the phone with her father who uses the information he records from the call to begin tracking Kim's abductors down. The rest of the movie is basically Liam Neeson being a badass and killing something like 50 guys with a dull, rusty spoon.

I make no apologies for my junk-food-movie tastes, okay? It's Liam Neeson kicking ass. You'd hit that too, don't lie.

In the end Mills gets Kim back and is on his way to having a better relationship with her and Lenore. No real need for a sequel in my mind, but I'm not the one running this show.

Which brings us to Taken 2. Within a year, maybe two of the ending of the first movie, Lenore is separated from her husband (she'd remarried after divorcing Mills) and Bryan is teaching Kim how to drive. Kim, for her part, has a boyfriend and is trying to be just a normal teenage girl.

Trying to reconnect with one another, Lenore and Kim arrange to meet Bryan in Istanbul after Lenore's second husband cancels a trip to China that the three of them were supposed to go on to let Lenore and Stuart (husband #2) work things out. Because the first thing I would want to do after being abducted, drugged, having my friend sold to a brothel and die of an overdose, and then being sold myself is to go to another foreign country. But I digress.

Of course while they're in Turkey the family of one of the men that Bryan killed comes seeking revenge. And there follows much ass kicking through the streets of Istanbul.

So that's the two movies. Got it? Any questions, refer to the links above. The wiki pages have a slightly more detailed synopsis.

Now, on to the things that made me mad.

In the first movie there's a human trafficking ring at work. The men who do the initial kidnapping are identified as Albanian mobsters but there are also Frenchmen and presumably other nationalities and races involved though they are never named outright.

Come to the beginning of the second movie and the dead Albanians are definitively identified as being Muslim, or at least coming from Muslim families. Prior to this I would put the percentage of people who thought about the criminals' religion at *maybe* 1% and the percentage of people who could identify Albania as a Muslim majority country at about the same rate. It wasn't about them, after all, except in the sense that they were bad, terrible people. Their bodies are 'claimed' at the airport, and by 'claimed' I mean taken at gun point which makes *no sense* at all to me, why couldn't they claim them legally? and driven to their home town of Tropoje for burial. Even if you didn't know enough to recognize that a) the man officiating at the funeral is an imam or b) that Al-Fatiha is a surah from the Qur'an, the film makers make sure that you know they're Muslim by including women in hijab weeping at the graves.

Fine. Even though these were terrible men, they had families. The families would mourn. Okay. I'm not sure why we needed to include the prayers right before we have the father of one of the men vowing revenge over his son's grave though. The scene, with the father vowing revenge, would have worked just as well cutting out all the prayers and just having the families standing around the graves, maybe a long shot down into the open graves so that we can see the coffins/sheet wound bodies (whatever you want to go with) and then the father vowing revenge and dropping his handful of dirt down onto his sons body.

So okay, we've now unnecessarily established the villains of the movie as Muslims seeking vengeance. so *shocked* by this. Because the media portrayal of Muslims is usually so friendly and cuddly.

Now we move the action to Turkey. Why Turkey? I don't, honestly, know. Mills is there doing some work (he does private bodyguarding jobs now that he's ex-CIA) and Lenore and Kim join him there. But *why* Turkey? Is it especially close to Albania, where this crime family is from?

Albania is the blue-green country to the right of Italy's heel, touching Greece. Turkey is the salmon colored country on the far, lower right hand side.
Yes. *eyes map* They're very, very close. Absolutely as close as they're made to feel in the movie, which is right next door. Like they share a border or something. Honestly. The bad guys hop in their black Mercedes and SUV's and drive to the Turkish border where, looking suspicious as can be without actually sitting there and polishing their guns while cackling maniacally, they're let right through. I know, I know, *movie*. But why did they choose to set the action in Turkey? I could honestly see someone vacationing in Italy or Greece more readily than Turkey. Not because of any negative aspects to Turkey but because it's just not a place I hear many people talking about when they dream of their vacations. Also, for the purposes of the movie, both of these counties are *much* closer to Albania. Hey, you can even drive to Greece!

So...why *Turkey*? Why Istanbul?

I feel there might have been some sort of *reason*...

Something they'd like to be sitting in the back of peoples' minds...

Something about the people, maybe?

I just wish I could put my finger on it...

Huh. Well, I guess it'll have to remain a mystery.

Leaving aside the multiple times that we're treated to an admittedly really pretty shot of the Blue Mosque or the adhan (which is identified in the movie as 'a man singing' - and that disproportionately annoyed me for some reason) because I admit that they are likely just geographically that noticeable in Istanbul. After all, I've never been there and the Blue Mosque looks rather large. So. I'm accepting those without (much) complaint.

We're now left with the population of Istanbul. A significant chunk of this movie revolves around chase scenes. First the villains chasing Mills and Lenore, chasing Kim, then Mills chasing the villains, etc. etc. All in some very crowded, very ancient looking streets. (Side note, I really would love to visit Istanbul after seeing this movie. *Probably* not their intended outcome.) Now in the first movie, the only person that Mills asked for help was an old operative buddy from the French side of things. Turns out he was getting paid by the kidnappers, so that didn't work out too well, but my point is that Mills wasn't asking random people on the street for help.

However Lenore *was* in this movie. She was running through the streets, trying to get to a taxi stand that Mills had directed her to and she found that her way was blocked by a locked gate. She called out to the hijabi'd women walking on the other side and they just sort of smiled and walked on. Now I am open to the understanding that these women just didn't understand English. I don't assume that everyone does. But Lenore was very clearly, visibly in distress. She was screaming, sweat soaked and terrified. Even if you don't understand the language, wouldn't you do something other than smile and walk on? And then, in the course of her trying to find another way to safety, Lenore runs into a group of niqabis.

Side note: There were a rather large number of niqabis in this movie. I'm not calling it as necessarily done on purpose because I don't know the percentages of women who wear niqab in Turkey vs. hijab vs. uncovered. Maybe the number of niqabis was a correct representation, I don't know. (Honestly, when I first saw the niqabis I thought maybe Lenore would escape wearing an abaya-niqab combination. But *no*.)

Our next shot of Lenore is in the hands of the kidnappers. Viewers are left to jump from black-clad niqabis to kidnapped and held hostage! I can't help but feel that that's deliberate. We're left to either assume that the women handed Lenore over to the kidnappers or that they just stood by and did nothing while Lenore was abducted.

Which is pretty much what everyone in this movie does. If you're not a member of the Mills family, you are either an uncaring bystander who lets all this violence and mayhem go on around you or you are with the villains and are a murdering, raping 'Muslim'.

So congratulations, movie. You've portrayed Muslims as either uncaring (and always a little sinister) or outright evil. Good job. Good totally unnecessary job.

My point is that we could have had this movie (which we really didn't need, and I say this as someone who would watch Liam Neeson sit in a chair and be Irish at the screen), could have had the villains and revenge and all that and left religion out of it *entirely*. But they didn't do it that way. They brought religion into it, tied it through association to all the terrible crimes that were happening, and left it there without even making a token effort to show that hey, yes, these specific people who claim to be Muslim are bad people but not all of them are like that.
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