Two takes on Lovecraft.

Howard Philips Lovecraft had a profound influence on the horror genre. Every author of horror fiction since Lovecraft has owed him a debt, whether they have carried on his tradition or rejected it.

It is a shame, then, that film adaptations of Lovecraft’s work are almost uniformly terrible. True, Lovecraft’s stories are difficult to translate to the screen; his was a particularly literary variety of horror. Nevertheless, one might think filmmakers would at least make an attempt. Lovecraft, despite having produced most of his work during the 1920s, dealt with concepts that are still groundbreaking, yet most film adaptations of his work resort to the same horror movie clichés that glut the market.

The Dreams in the Witch House is no exception. Despite a positive review at DVD Verdict, the short film (54 minutes) repeats the missteps of far too many such adaptations. One of Lovecraft’s most successful short stories, The Dreams in the Witch House established a disturbing and alien atmosphere, despite its quaint New England setting – a Lovecraft specialty. The character of Brown Jenkin, a rat with a human face, was particularly unsettling. The story’s only flaw was the sudden introduction of a Christian crucifix at the end, the efficacy of which was inexplicable given Lovecraft’s staunch atheism.

The adaptation takes all of this and chucks it out the window. The atmosphere is typical TV movie stuff (this was originally part of the Showtime Masters of Horror series). The characters are clichés. Instead of an exploration of the role of mathematics and angles in ancient magical rituals, we get the worn-out story of an endangered baby, its mother, the new tenant, and the old guy downstairs who may know what’s going on, but nobody believes him.

The movie’s disrespect for Lovecraft is encapsulated in a single line, spoken by the new tenant himself:

Witches were astrologers. They knew science.

Lovecraft is now rolling over in his eldritch grave.

Fortunately, we have a counterpoint: The Call of Cthulhu. Almost 10 minutes shorter than the above film, it provides a fitting and respectful adaptation of Lovecraft’s short story of the same title. Maybe it was all in the style: The Call of Cthulhu is filmed in the style of a movie from Lovecraft’s own era: black & white, and silent (there is a period-appropriate musical score, but no dialog). The effect is not entirely successful – that it was shot on video is pretty obvious, and I’m pretty sure those were fluorescent lights in the background of one scene – but the accomplishment should be applauded. It is obvious that this was a labor of love by Lovecraft enthuiasts.

In The Call of Cthulhu, the narrator uncovers a strange and ominous mystery while going through his deceased uncle’s records. Throughout the world, evidence of a bizarre cult has been uncovered. Common to all is a statue of a winged, tentacled creature sitting on a throne, identified by a captured Louisianan cultist as Cthulhu, one of the Old Ones who came to earth from space before the evolution of terrestrial life. One flashback brings it all together, in which the crew of a ship explore an uncharted island covered with oddly-angled buildings, and come face to face with Cthulhu himself. It is only modern travel that has allowed all the evidence to be brought together, and modern science may be able to put it together to form a truly ominous and terrifying conclusion.

The silent style allows the filmmakers to suggest more than they explicitly show. Appropriately, this was much the same approach to fiction that Lovecraft himself took. The Call of Cthulhu exemplifies this style: although the main story takes place in the present, the action takes place in flashback through the investigator’s records. It is the importance of what was revealed during these flashbacks that produces the horror, not buckets of gore or knife fights with interdimensional witches – and the effect on the reader lasts much longer.

Lovecraft left a library of potential cinematic masterpieces. Not all of his work would work on screen, but many of his short stories and novellas beg for adaptation. It would take the right kind of director to pull it off, however, and those are in short supply. Besides, thought-provoking horror doesn’t fill theaters, and no studio exec, lusting for the next summer blockbuster, is going to take a chance on intellectual horror. Until that stops, Lovecraft fans will have to keep waiting.

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Position paper: politics and stupidity.

Until June, I was a staunch supporter of Barack Obama. In June, when Obama endorsed the sell-out FISA bill ripping the Fourth Amendment out of the Constitution and substituting warrantless wiretapping in its place – giving George W. Bush everything he had demanded – I realized that I had been used. It was then that I was glad that my foot had been too swollen during the primaries to drive to my polling place – my vote wouldn’t have mattered anyway; Hillary Clinton won handily – but it was the principle that mattered.

It was then that I realized that nothing would change under an Obama presidency. No matter what platitudes a presidential candidate may mutter, the real decision makers in Washington are never elected. Instead, they are hired, by multinational corporations or special interest groups – lobbyists, in other words. Corruption has spread so thoroughly throughout the executive and legislative branches – and has made inroads within the judicial – that there is little hope of “saving the patient”, to use a heavy-handed metaphor. Even if he had been sincere in his positions, Obama could never have changed that; his willingness to embrace the status quo, however, revealed that he had never been sincere.

I try to stay true to my principles, no matter how much it hurts. I had to withdraw my support for Obama. When he made his position official by voting in favor of the FISA legislation, he also lost my vote.

I have struggled with that ever since. Obama has done nothing to regain my trust, or the trust of many of us “far-left radicals” (which is apparently the camp supporting the Constitution puts you in nowadays). Yet it is obvious that a John McCain presidency would be disastrous for America. There are few issues on which McCain has not flip-flopped; I doubt even he knows what his positions are on them (though I’m sure his owners know). On the issues to which he has remained committed, his views are repugnant. As an individual, he is mean-spirited and temperamental, and seems to display some level of cognitive impairment; he is also old, which should be a factor, PC or not. He has no honor or principles, as his associations reveal. And I want nothing to do with those people who still support him: that core 28 percent.

Just as I held my nose and voted for John Kerry in 2004, and would have voted for Clinton in November if things had gone differently during the primaries, I decided that, if I could not vote for Obama, then I could at least vote against McCain. It won’t change much, except to keep Bush out of his third term, and to roll back the influence racist intolerant ignorance rural fundamentalist nativist fascist puritanical denialist creationist warmongers have over the White House, at least a little bit.

Between Obama and McCain, after all, Obama is clearly the lesser evil.

I am just one person, though, and I cannot fathom how polls still show McCain with as much support as he has retained. Polls, of course, are hardly predictive of the final outcome, and polling has not quite caught up with new technology that may have introduced generational bias into them. I still imagine most of McCain’s support comes from that core 28 percent; the rest comes from mainstream Americans who have been duped by the Republican noise machine. However, Michael Dukakis had a significant lead over George H. W. Bush in 1988, and he lost the election in a landslide thanks to Republican mudslinging. McCain, having signed Karl Rove and his Machiavellian thugs to the campaign, has begun to roll out that same kind of tactic. And, dishearteningly, it may be working.

Although it is too early to tell, McCain may be getting some traction from that “presumptuous” label. People like me, who understand that the word is supposed to mean “ni—“, I mean, “uppity”, won’t be affected. But for the apparent legion of Americans who need to keep a dictionary at hand as they read Go, Dog, Go!, maybe it works. After all, this is a country in which McCain could proudly proclaim that he graduated fourth from the bottom in his class – a country with a proud history of anti-intellectualism. This is a country in which a substantial portion of voters can believe that Obama is a “socialist”, while those of us who actually know something about socialism can say for a fact he is nothing of the sort. This is a country in which McCain can insinuate that Obama is a “fa—“, I mean, “gay”, by pointing to his educated and lucid manner of speaking.

Next to the rest of the development world, America stands out, and not in a good way. This country has the worst educational record in the Western world. A substantial portion of the populace believe that the earth was created a couple of thousand years ago by a god, and that that same god was responsible for creating “man” in “his” present form. This is a country which seriously debates whether life begins at conception or implantation, though the people doing the debating want to restrict abortion rights anyway. This is a country that has fallen for propaganda slogans by “war on drugs” and “war on terror”, and where a substantial number of people still think that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks and possessed weapons of mass destruction.

In other words, America is a stupid country.

And if, somehow, John McCain is elected to the White House in November, it will only cement that view and drive us further away from the 21st century world and into the dark ages.

Like I said, I cannot support Barack Obama any longer. He has violated a principle on which I cannot accept any compromise. I can vote against the alternative, however. I know it won’t change much, if anything. But I cannot provide any assistance to that 28 percent who believe that homosexuality is a “sin”, but stupidity is not.

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Big oil.

From Think Progress, ABC: Exxon spends 1 percent of profits on alternative energy.

Exxon Mobil today broke its own record for the highest-ever profit by a U.S. company, with net income this quarter rising to $11.68 billion. While Exxon officials regularly tout the company’s investment in alternative energy, ABC reported today that Exxon spends only 1 percent of profits on alternative energy sources.

From The Intersection, Exxon Mobil Reports Earning Almost $1500 Per Second.

Speaking of energy... As gas prices topped $4 a gallon this summer, Exxon Mobil has posted a new profit record which works out to bringing in $1,485.55 a second.

Compare and contrast.

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Some other planet is doomed now. Doomed, I tell you!


You know, I probably agree with Al Gore completely on the issue of global warming. I still can't stand him, though.


Stupid quiz time - with rebuttal.

I ran across one of those online quizzes, “What Religion Do You Fit In With?” I couldn’t help but try it. It keeps telling me I’m an agnostic. I keep disagreeing. You see, there are a lot of problems with this quiz. It is heavily biased in favor of religion, some questions are irrelevant, and one is almost nonsensical.

Here is how I would answer the quiz, if I were allowed to elaborate:

Do you believe that man was created in the form of God, or that man evolved from other species?

Easy question: humans are the product of evolution by natural selection.

Are you a believer that you should try everything at least once?

What does this have to do with religion? Of course no one should try everything at least once. Many activities are harmful to oneself or others. Others would violate your sense of morality or ethics. My answer is “no”.

What do you trust more, your feelings/intuition or your logic/rational capabilities?

Fair enough: logic/rational capabilities. However, there are some situations in which you should trust your feelings or intuition, so long as those are based on sound, rational premises.

Do you plan to recant on your deathbed?


Do you often find different ways of expressing your own spirituality?

This is one of those really problematic question. I do not accept the validity of the term “spirituality”, and I cannot express something that does not exist. There is therefore no way to provide a “yes” or “no” answer to this question without introducing bias in favor of religiosity.

Do you believe in any kind of afterlife?


Do you believe in capital punishment?

Again, what does this have to do with religion? Is the quiz author assuming that religious people would oppose the death penalty, despite its solid support among conservative Christians? Or is the author assuming that those without religion would oppose the death penalty, given that less religious people tend to skew politically liberal, and there is solid opposition to the death penalty among liberals?

Here is my answer. As far as I am concerned, there is no reason that the most depraved of humans should not be executed. However, I do not support capital punishment, because it is enormously wasteful, provides no deterrent effect, and disproportionately targets minorities. Furthermore, the posthumous exoneration of an innocent person is meaningless.

Would you prefer a career in the arts, or in something technical?

I suppose I’m supposed to answer “technical”, because atheists have no “souls”. My answer, however, is the arts. Art can be based on rationalism, after all.

Do you feel that you can be spiritual without having a religion?

Another invalid question. If the concept of “spirituality” is meaningless to me, then how can I be spiritual? Again, this question is biased in favor of religiosity.

Do you believe that eventually, science will be able to explain everything about our existence and the world?


Do you believe that your own redemption lies in your own hands or those of a superior power?

What redemption? I do not accept the concept of “sin” as valid, and I have committed no crimes; I have no need of “redemption”. Another question biased in favor of religiosity.

Do you believe that you are more right brained (creative, random), or left brained (logical, mathematical)?

Acceptable in the contest of a quiz, but a false dichotomy in real life. I would answer “left brained”, though I prefer to express myself in a “right brained” fashion.

Do you feel that you need to have a spiritual side?

Lay off the “spiritual” stuff, will you! Again, biased in favor of religiosity.

Do you consider yourself gullible, even a little bit?

What does this have to do with religion? Everyone would have to honestly answer this question “yes” because of that “little bit” caveat, but I answered “no”, since I had an idea where an honest answer would take me.

If you were about to jump off of a cliff, with only a bungee cord attached to you, what would you be thinking?

The options are “I feel alive” and “I wonder how many people have died doing this”. I suspect bias: religious people are more optimistic and would choose the first answer, while the irreligious are more pessimistic and would choose the latter. I disagree with the premise, but maybe I am pessimistic: I choose the second answer.

Until what age did you believe in the Easter bunny?

The choices are “10 or older” and “9 and younger”. A valid question; I choose the latter. Now ask me when I stopped believing in Jesus.

Do you actively work out, and try to maintain physical health in all aspects of your life?

Again, what does this have to do with religion? I suspect bias, but I think the bias is wrongheaded. Religious people have less reason to keep themselves healthy, since God will fix everything for them in the end. The irreligious recognize that this life is the only one they get, and will try to maintain their health so they can live it to its fullest. I tried both answers.

Do you believe that the path to enlightenment/God, is within yourself?

I reject the premise, and find the question biased in favor of religiosity.

Does your opinion of something differ from that of your religion (if you dont have a religion, have you actively questioned other religions)?

This is the almost nonsensical question. Since only the parenthetical question applies to me, I must ask what it means. Does it mean, “Have I considered other religions?” or, “Have I been critical of other religions?” I’ll forgive the premise that I have a religion to establish the word “other” as valid, but cannot answer the question because it is too vague – though I could answer in the affirmative if my second interpretation is correct.

Is it important in this life to live every moment to its fullest, and try to do everything that interests you even if some people consider it immoral?

No, because of that “immoral” caveat. However, in order to get a result of “atheism”, you pretty much have to answer “yes” to this question. Hmm, so atheists are immoral, are they? Who wrote this quiz, the idiots at Conservapedia?

It is almost impossible to get a result of “atheism” on this quiz – the correct answer, by the way. In order to get that result, I had to choose answers that I do not endorse. The author is using a highly stereotypical and biased definition of atheism.

Ironically, however, the description given of atheism is quite good; I just wish those ideas had been reflected in the quiz itself.

You fit in with:

80% scientific.
60% reason-oriented.

Your ideals mostly resemble those of an Atheist. You value objective proof over intuition or subjective thoughts. You enjoy talking about ideas and tend to have a lot of in depth conversations with people.

Take This Quiz at QuizGalaxy.com

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Orson Scott Card is a homophobic bigot.

You probably know of Orson Scott Card as the author of the novel Ender’s Game, but did you also know he’s an intolerant right-wing nutjob? As if to exemplify, Orson has penned a piece for the Mormon Times – apparently, an actual newspaper – in which he reveals his penchant for strawmen, false allusions, and scare quotes.

You see, Orson don’ like him none o’ them thar faggots a-gittin’ theirselves married ‘n’ suchlike. Proving that Southern Baptists and right-wing Catholics don’t have a monopoly on intolerance and willful stupidity, he launches into one of the most poorly written and long-winded rants against gay marriage (which he always put in scare quotes) that I’ve ever seen.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

The first and greatest threat from court decisions in California and Massachusetts, giving legal recognition to "gay marriage," is that it marks the end of democracy in America.

Let’s see: the California Supreme Court determined that the state Constitution does not bar homosexual couples from getting married. Anti-gay activists have forced onto the ballot a proposition that the constitution be amended to conform to their religious beliefs. The vote is coming up this fall, but polling is against it.

That looks pretty democratic to me – except the part about amending the constitution, that is – but I’m just, you know, rational. I suppose when the vote goes against them (and all rational people hope it does), Orson will start ranting about “mob rule” or something.

And if you choose to home-school your children so they are not propagandized with the "normality" of "gay marriage," you will find more states trying to do as California is doing -- making it illegal to take your children out of the propaganda mill that our schools are rapidly becoming.

Actually, Orson, it is homeschooling that is most often used for purposes of propaganda. Of course, there are parents who do wish to provide for their children a better education than what the public schools could provide, but who cannot afford a private option, so they choose to home-school. They are in the minority, however.

The majority of homeschoolers simply want to educate their children in an environment in which they are fully submersed in Christian propaganda, keep them from learning anything about evolution, and, in general, prevent them from encountering any belief that might challenge their parents’ rigid worldview – like learning that everyone is not exactly like them. That’s why homeschooling is predominantly an activity of right-wing Christians, and not representative of the general population.

But you knew that already, didn’t you? You just didn’t want to come out and say it.

Orson now switches in mid-rant to the term “homophobe”, to which he objects being called.

A term that has mental-health implications (homophobe) is now routinely applied to anyone who deviates from the politically correct line. How long before opposing gay marriage, or refusing to recognize it, gets you officially classified as "mentally ill"?

Actually, there are sound empirical reasons to describe anti-gay activists like yourself as homophobic. For example, rabid homophobia among men has been positively correlated to arousal to images of homosexual activity, implying psychological denial and reaction formation. The obsession people like you have with homosexuals is also indicative of psychopathology. And homophobes are very likely to engage in violence toward homosexuals.

But, if you want, I’ll stop calling you a “homophobe” and cut right to the point:

You’re a bigot. There, that better?

Remember how rapidly gay marriage has become a requirement. [emphasis in original]

What? Where? I must have missed those long line of heterosexuals being forced to marry other heterosexuals.

Here's the irony: There is no branch of government with the authority to redefine marriage. Marriage is older than government. Its meaning is universal: It is the permanent or semipermanent bond between a man and a woman, establishing responsibilities between the couple and any children that ensue.

Here’s some real irony for you, Orson. Was it not the very same fraudulent cult you follow that made polygamy a cornerstone of its practice, and that set up its own government to protect it? Is it not that very same cult that now tries to hide that historical fact, even while it’s more extreme members continues to practice it?

(In another column I will talk seriously and candidly about the state of scientific research on the causes of homosexuality, and the reasons why homosexuality persists even though it does not provide a reproductive advantage.)

I would love to hear your views on the subject. If it’s as good as your present column, I’ll have to drape a tarp over my computer.

Human beings are part of a long mammalian tradition of heterosexuality.

I thought people like you didn’t believe that you was a-come from none o’ them thar monkeys. Maybe that’s not what you’re saying here, though, since you’ve really come unhinged. This is, what, your sixth or seventh digression from the topic at hand; it must be hard to keep it all, ahem, straight.

But this brings up an interesting point. Since you’re so damn longwinded, I won’t quote, but it seems that you’re saying that the purpose of marriage is tied to procreation. This is a common rationalization of your type of bigotry. What about childless couples, then? Are their marriages “real”? Should a marriage be annulled if the couple fails to “be fruitful, and multiply”? And is this really the level at which your brain works? That you think that marriage should be based on reproductive capacity, and not love?

And as for that “long mammalian tradition”, you’re right, but you don’t see the implications. The overwhelming majority of sexually reproducing organisms are heterosexual, but there are also a minority in every species who favor their own sex. This has not led to extinction in any species, ever. Just because a minority of gay people want to get married, it will not suddenly cause every straight marriage to disappear, or every straight couple to become barren.

It just keeps going on like this, rambling from one topic to another. In a bit, Orson will write the following:

We need the same public protection of marriage that we have of property. If we did not all agree that people continue to own things that are not in their immediate possession, then you could not reasonably expect to come home and find your house unoccupied.

Here Orson comes close to admitting the real reason marriage developed: to protect private property – i.e., a man’s wife or wives. Christianity is full of examples in which a woman is regarded as nothing but the property of a man, be it her father or husband. That’s still pretty much the case in Muslim societies, which originate from the same tradition as your own belief.

Orson then goes on this long spiel about straight people not doing enough to protect the “sanctity” of marriage. Once again, he’s right, but completely misses the point. If marriage is so “sacred”, then why do straight people piss all over it. How many “hunter” marriages are there each year, in which the couple climb into a tree stand to exchange their vows. Given the demographic, I’m sure that most of those tree-couples would agree with you, so I must ask: how does such a display respect the “sanctity” of marriage? Or are they just turning it into a joke?

Why are divorce rates higher in areas with a higher percentage of conservative Christians? Why do so many conservative Christian politicians and ministers rage against the immorality of homosexuality, but later get caught cheating on their wives – often with other men?

I'm sick of you and your ranting homophobia, so I'll sum up:

You are full of shit. You are a bigot. If this were the 1960s, you would be railing against miscegenation. Gay marriage will do nothing to straight marriage. The only reason you and your kind object to it is because you are filled with hate. Somehow, and this is common throughout your political and religion affiliation, you believe that if you don’t absolutely dominate something, then there is an “assault” or a “war” against you.

And while I’ve got your attention, Ender’s Game was overrated crap. I saw that ending coming from the first chapter.

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Not bad. Not bad at all.

I’m talking about The History Channel’s new series Evolve. Tonight’s premiere episode discussed the evolution of the eye. The show was rather general, and didn’t have time for more than a brief overview of this subject. After all, the eye has evolved independently on many occasions, and each variety differs widely from others in structure and function. No one-hour show could go in-depth on even a single variety, let alone all of them.

The show really didn’t teach me anything new, but it was nice to watch a program that was based entirely on science. From beginning to end, every conclusion was based on evidence and testable hypotheses. It was very refreshing.

The show offered one particularly interesting observation that I had not considered before. When primates evolved binocular vision – that is, when both eyes evolved to face forward – they lost the ability to see to the side and rear. Binocular vision provided depth perception, which was very helpful in an arboreal environment, but it left primates vulnerable to predators.

To compensate, primates began living in groups, literally watching one another’s backs. This led to a very fortunate side-effect: with more individuals to keep track of, the brain began to enlarge.

So, in other words, binocular vision led ultimately to the development of human civilization. That is certainly a fascinating hypothesis, and I will have to spend some time thinking about it.

I highly recommend Evolve, and will be tuning in next week.

UPDATE: Here's PZ's take. He live-blogged it, and came to the same conclusion I did - "Not bad" - and had most of the same criticisms, though his review is better.


Right-wing response to knoxville church shooting: Silence.

On Monday, June 28, a right-wing pro-confederate gunman walked into a Unitarian church in Knoxville, TN, and opened fire. He killed two people and wounded six more. In a letter he left in his vehicle, he expressed anger at liberals and gays, and in his home were found books by Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly.

The left-wing blogs have given this story a lot of attention. The right-wing blogs…not so much.

Let’s start with Instapundit, written by conservative Glenn Reynolds. Reynolds teaches at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, so this would be local news for him. What does he have to say?

Reynolds only has time to hack out a total of five sentences in three separate posts. He’s been in Florida, you see, so it’s understandable that posting would be light. Well, except for the 17 other posts mixed in with the above.

Michelle Malkin takes note of the shootings. Since a right-wing, anti-liberal murderer doesn’t fit in with her readers’ worldview, however, it is here that the wingnuts start to spin the story into some kind of grand liberal conspiracy theory to discredit conservatives. Right out of the gate, commenter Atheling provides us with this:

If he hated libtards, whey didn’t he go shooting at some college campus?

I smell a rat.

It just gets worse from there. The commenters continue to spin conspiracy theories, but eventually find their native ground and start condemning Muslims.

Other than those two, the right-wing blogosphere has pretty much ignored the story.

What about the news organizations, then. The New York Times discusses it. So does the Washington Post. Here is coverage by the Associated Press. Here’s the sensationalistically titled piece from the New York Post. Here is the take from USA Today.

CNN offers this story. Here is coverage by MSNBC. This is ABC’s coverage. Here is the link to that from CBS. Fox News has…

Nothing. Fox News has absolutely nothing about this incident. Neither does my local Fox affiliate, less than 100 miles from Knoxville. And neither, for that matter, does Knoxville’s own FOX affiliate – although I don’t even think that site has a news section.

This is rather astonishing. A substantial percentage of conservatives get their news exclusively from Fox News and right-wing blogs, and they are being kept entirely in the dark about this story. That is on purpose. Fox News and the right-wing blogs know their audiences; they know what those audiences want to hear, and what they don’t. Stories like this fall into that latter category because they challenge the conservative narrative, and they must be filtered out.

If this story had involved a Muslim or leftist, you could be assured that Fox News and the right-wing blogs would have been all over it.

If this is not a perfect example of the deception on which the conservative movement is based, then I don’t know what could possibly convince you.

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Aiiigh, run away! It’s ZOMBIE MCCAIN!!!

“He’s coming for you, America…”

(Image via Huffington Post.)



Two observations about eyes.

First, does John McCain even have EYES?! Or are those black slits just his windows into the darkness of his soul? At least he’s not doing that disturbing skeletal grin here, as if he’d just invited Jonathan Harker into the castle.

Second, Christopher Hitchens’ observations on the absurdity of religion and the evil it has caused are brilliant (read God Is Not Great), while his neoconservative warmongering is asinine at best. He is proof that expertise in one field does not necessarily translate into expertise in another.

He’s on target in this article at Slate, though. It’s about the eyes of blind cave salamanders. I won’t repeat Hitchens’ analysis – read the article – but I’ll sum it up: cave salamanders are blind, but they have non-functional, vestigial eyes. From an evolutionary perspective, the reasons are obvious.

Creationists, though, maintain that God created every form of life in its present form. Blind salamanders without eyes: okay. Blind salamanders with non-functioning eyes: sure. But why would God create blind salamanders with the vestigial eyes of their sighted relatives? So much for "intelligent" design.

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Clarifying my use of the term "Christian".

For the record, I do not think that all Christians are fascists or pawns of big business. In fact, most are not – and that goes for conservative Christians as well.

Yet one of the prime driving forces behind what has the appearance of a modern American fascist movement is the Christian Right. This is stunning. Fundamentalist Christianity is so intertwined with the Republican Party that Republican politicians must seek the endorsement of fundamentalist leaders before they have even the slightest hope of winning office. No parallels exist in any other mainstream American political movement.

Furthermore, this alliance leads Republican politicians to champion legislation favorable to fundamentalist Christians on topics as broad-ranging as abortion rights to gay marriage to high-school science curricula to special rights for fundamentalist churches. This goes beyond coincidence; this is evidence of a symbiotic connection between the two groups.

That connection was born from the Southern Strategy in the 1960s. The Southern Strategy was the crucial event in the formation of the modern Republican Party, and led to a massive influx of fundamentalist Christians into the party. However, it was not fundamentalist Christians that the Southern Strategy had targeted, but white segregationists.

When you watch old videos of the segregationist south, you can see the pure, rabid hatred burning in the eyes and faces of its white residents. These were a people twisted by bigotry. Their bigotry had lasted for generations; they had abandoned first one and then another political identity to preserve it, and even the Southern Baptist denomination itself was formed to preserve the importance of slavery in their culture. It should not come as any surprise that they had molded their version of Christianity to fit their biases and prejudices.

The Bible does contain verses supportive of racism, segregation, and even slavery. Other verses, however, admonished the believer to treat others with kindness. The southern fundamentalists had downplayed the latter, at least as it applied to outsiders, which exaggerating and obsessing over the former. From some of the speeches and writings of southern religious leaders, one could easily get the impression that the Bible was little more than an instruction manual for bigotry – and, unfortunately, to many such believers, this was far too true.

Christianity had become the genetic (or, more properly, memetic) material through which southern segregationists preserved their ideas and transmitted them to their children. The southerners brought into the Republican Party brought with them this peculiar and perverse version of Christianity, and it was from its often schizophrenic beliefs that most Christian intolerance arises.

It is fundamentalist Christianity that now unites the former segregationist constituency. This is not to say that racism, prejudice, and bigotry have disappeared from this culture. All are still present, but expressed through euphemisms and distractions. An openly racist campaign would be suicidal, so, in place of open racism, Christian “values” have come to unite the constituency and focus their activism.

Those are the Christians I condemn, and their beliefs that I reject. It is from their social ambitions that the core elements of this fascist movement arise. The majority of Christians reject the beliefs and “values” of the fundamentalists, and even most of those conservative Christians who sympathize with their beliefs reject their tactics and overall political goals.

Yet fundamentalist activists have made a major effort to connect their extremist beliefs in the public mind with Christianity itself. Uninformed Christians might be persuaded to support the goals of the fundamentalists (and their corporate allies) if these goals are presented as simply “Christian”. At the same time, fundamentalists can gain some legitimacy for their fringe beliefs by co-opting the veneer of mainstream Christian belief.

The corporate-owned news media have colluded in this effort. Fundamentalist theologians are given a prominent position on news programs, and are often the only voice sought – as if they represented the beliefs of all Christians. Such theologians (and I am using that term broadly; “propagandists” would be more appropriate) are not only invited to speak on religious matters, but on political, medical, scientific, and other issues that are completing unrelated to religion. Such tactics have given the movement far more visibility than its real numbers should deserve.

Even on a personal, face-to-face level, fundamentalist Christians are loud and aggressive in sharing their beliefs, and make an effort to conflate their own beliefs with “true” Christianity. Such aggressive tactics make the fundamentalist a truly unpleasant sort of person: less an individual than a political operative.

Similarly, when someone vocally declares himself to be a Christian (generally without any sort of prompting), he will subsequently launch into a barrage of intolerant, bigoted, and even bizarre ideology. Rather than improve the public image of Christianity, such behavior merely brands all Christians with the extremism of the fundamentalist.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to make all of these distinctions every time the issue of Christianity or fundamentalism comes up. “Christian” is mere shorthand. I try to avoid using it without qualifying it with “fundamentalist”, but that gets repetitive quickly. And the term “fundamentalist” on its own is too general, since Christianity is not the only belief system that includes a fundamentalist variety (and, despite the claims of rabid theists, atheism is not one of those – idiots!).

So just keep that in mind: when I say “Christian”, I’m not talking about all Christians. It’s not my fault; I’m not responsible for that confusion.

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Quis custodiet Watchmen?

The trailer for the upcoming Watchmen film is up, and…Wow! Just…wow! First, it’s an excellent trailer. It is perfectly focused, and it builds to a powerful climax. Plus, the song selected to play over the visuals – “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning”, by Smashing Pumpkins – perfectly matches the feel of the story. The single spoken line by the disillusioned Rorschach conveys the attitude of the story being adapted.

The film also seems to be a faithful adaptation of the graphic novel. Most adaptations of graphic novels treat their sort material with disrespect. Hollywood’s attitude seems to be that, simply because the story was told through illustrations, then it must be “kid’s stuff” and requires changes to make it more mature. The result is a juvenile movie, in which depth is replaced with action sequences, and a pretense of maturity is added by selecting inserting the word “fuck” into the screenplay.

I could care less if the film reproduces every panel in the graphic novel perfectly. In fact, that would be a cheat, since it would simply be fan service, and show no vision on the part of the director. I am more concerned that the film captures the themes of the source material, and it appears Watchmen is poised to do that.

My only caveat is one shared by the graphic novel’s author, Alan Moore. iO9 points to this interview with Moore at Entertainment Weekly. The interview is spread over five ad-tastic pages, but Moore discusses Watchmen and the film adaptations of his work on the first two. Better still, iO9 excepts the relevant parts, so you might want to just read that.

Moore points out that Watchmen is being directed by Zack Snyder. Snyder was also the director of 300, so now you know why I reposted that long-ass review. In my original review, I pretty much blamed Snyder for that film’s fascist overtones, but, if he is now faithfully adapting the ultra-progressive Watchmen, those elements must have been present in the original 300 graphic novel. The Wikipedia entry cites Moore’s critique, in which he condemns Spartans’ use of the term “boy lovers”.

Frank Miller’s response is that he meant that line to convey hypocrisy on the part of the Spartans, whose very society was based on forced pederasty. If that is true (I’ve not read the graphic novel, so I cannot say for sure), then that subtlety was erased from the film version, which plays directly into the homophobic sentiments of its jingoist fanbase. The only person who could have been responsible for that was director Zack Snyder.

And so we are back where we begin. Snyder produced what can only be called fascist propaganda in his adaptation of 300. How then can he deal honestly with the progressive themes in Watchmen, the very antithesis of those in his prior film? Is he just willing to do whatever it takes to turn a paycheck: the epitome of the Hollywood hack?

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Hand in hand: the Christian role in the Republican Party.

It may seem a bit incongruous that the Republican Party’s two chief constituencies are big business and fundamentalist Christians. However, politics, as they say, makes strange bedfellows.

The Southern Strategy was about more than just expanding the Republican base in the south. You see, there is hardly a widespread popular movement advocating for corporations to rob us blind. That was a bit of a problem for the corporate-owned-and-operated Republican Party…until it came up with an idea.

The Southern Strategy attracted a swarm of racists into the Republican Party. They brought with them their peculiar brand of fundamentalist Christianity. In exchange for the Republican Party adopting their extreme moral positions as part of its platform, the Christians would provide the foot soldiers big business needed.

In effect, fundamentalist Christians support the Republicans because the Republicans will give them what they want on abortion, homosexuality, evolution, stem cells, women’s equality, and whatever other reactionary demands they come up with. Once the Republicans are in power, they are then in a position to give big business what it demands. Corporations and the ultra-wealthy don’t care about social issues, since they will not be affected by the theocratic laws imposed on everyone else.

Fundamentalist Christian values provide the smokescreen behind which corporate interests operate without repercussion. Instead of focusing their attention on environmental devastation, mass lay-offs, corporate corruption, or any of those things which truly damage society, Christians are distracted with preventing gay people from getting married.

This association occurred to me recently while driving to Atlanta. I was trying to find a good radio station, and scanned onto a report on global warming. It didn’t take me long to realize that it was a denialist report claiming global warming is not occurring, but I kept listening anyway. At the end of the “report”, it was revealed that this had been produced by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family organization.

“What possible relationship could there be between global warming denialism and Christianity?” I thought. Sure, fundamentalist Christians are always in the front ranks of the denialist crowd, but why? Where does this intersect with religion?

The answer is that it doesn’t. However, it does intersect with corporate interests; environmental regulation would cut into their profits. Individuals like James Dobson, bought and paid for by the megacorps, are more than happy to propagandize the troops. If global warming denialism can be turned into a Christian “value”, then the foot soldiers will mobilize and demand that rising sea levels are part of “God’s wonderful plan for your salvation” – or something like that.

Hand in hand, corporate interests and fundamentalist Christians have built the modern Republican Party, and they are equally responsible for the mess made over the past eight years. The past eight years, though, point clearly to the kind of world that they want to create: everyone may have to live on the top of Mount Everest, but the CEOs at the top of the mountain have a lot of money, and women won’t be able to get an abortion.

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Denial makes the McCain.

Lisa Schiffren, at National Review Online:

But, for that message [something about "substance"] to be heard, my inner speechwriter says that McCain desperately needs to punch up his style and not be afraid of a little controversy and polarization of the electorate. I like his calm, controlled tone, and the wry humor. But irony doesn't go over well with crowds. And the straight-forward, informational presentation only works with people who want real information. (Sigh.)

I think Schiffren here provides the missing key to the puzzle: How can conservatives continue to support John McCain?

They are experiencing denial:

Denial is the psychological process by which human beings protect themselves from things which threaten them by blocking knowledge of those things from their awareness. It is a defense which distorts reality; it keeps us from feeling the pain and uncomfortable truth about things we do not want to face. If we cannot feel or see the consequences of our actions, then everything is fine and we can continue to live without making any changes.

Obviously, their brains simple refuse to process the information spilling in through their senses. They continue to believe what they want to believe, even when it clashes with the reality around them - like John McCain being in any way competent to hold the presidency.

It would be sad, if they didn't deserve mockery and scorn.

(Via alicublog.)

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The ACLU reports that Michael Mukasey has demanded that Congress “authorize indefinite detention through a new declaration of armed conflict,” and that they “subvert the right of habeas corpus with a new scheme of procedures that will hide the Bush administration's past wrongdoing.” The ACLU’s analysis of these demands lays everything out clearly:

"Mukasey is asking Congress to expand and extend the war on terror forever. Anyone that this president or the next one declares to be a terrorist could then be held indefinitely without a trial," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

This is jaw-dropping stuff. The Attorney General of the United States, the chief law enforcement officer in the US government, is proposing to undermine the Constitution itself! Michael Mukasey has done nothing to uphold US law; instead, he has acted to defend and cover up George W. Bush’s rampant lawbreaking. This in itself is an abdication of his responsibilities. But these latest statements are beyond the pale: Mukasey is supporting the establishment of an executive branch that is beyond the rule of law itself.

What the Bush administration has done over the past seven and a half years has all the feel of a coup d’etat – only, in this case, instead of an outside power attempting to seize control, it is an inside power doing so. George W. Bush and his cronies have succeeded in politicizing nearly every office in the federal government, staffing them with Bush supporters and blocking the appointments of anyone critical of the administration’s policies. The result has been a government that readily ignores the very law of the United States to defend Bush and his agenda.

It was only due to the sheer incompetence of Bush and his cronies that America has been spared from a complete right-wing takeover. Nearing the end of the Bush’s tenure in office, his policies have begun to fail, and a minority of elements within the government have begun to fight back. In response, the Bush administration has become virtually histrionic, raging that anyone would have the audacity to question them. (Of course, that applies only to those within the government itself; the rest of us don’t matter in their equation.)

In short, this has all the hallmarks of fascism. I am not saying that just because I disagree with them; fascism is a distinct political movement, and the policies of the Bush administration fit solidly into its framework.

If the Attorney General himself is willing to openly endorse overturning the Constitution, then I have to wonder how far the Republicans are willing to go in order to hang onto the reins of power. In other words, will there even be a presidential election in November? That is a strong question to pose, and it would have been unthinkable in America even ten short years ago. Of course, at that time, the government had not engaged in torture or indefinite detentions in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, or legalized warrantless spying on its own citizens. What is a rigged or suspended election on top of all that?

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The lib'ral media hate John McCain? You're joking, right?

I know it’s hard to believe, but apparently there are still people who believe that the mainstream media is “liberally biased”. After all, conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly tell them it is, so it must be true. It’s not like they might have an agenda or anything.

This is the same audience that thinks Fox News really is “fair and balanced”. All Fox News has really done is cheapened the meaning of those terms, along with others like “objective” and “independent”; in other words, if a news service identifies itself with one of those words, an obvious conservative bias is pretty much guaranteed.

This may be pure political calculation, but it is hard to believe that the political movement responsible for the Bush administration is capable of such Machiavellian chicanery. Even the great right-wing smear machine has been going bonkers lately, seemingly unsure if it should be hurling mud at its opponent or its own candidate.

More likely, conservatives believe this because it is burned directly into their worldview. The right-wing embraced paranoia in the nineties, and that fever has yet to run its course. Thus, if a news organization runs any story – any at all – critical of conservative views, then they must be liberally biased. To conservatives, a “fair and balanced” news media is one which runs nothing but stories favorable to them. To them, conservatism is the default, mainstream, “centrist” position. If so, one can only wonder what they consider “right-wing”.

Roy Edreso at alicublog points to this post at Instapundit, which is a perfect example of this mindset. It’s just too good not to pitpick:

RICK MORAN ON THE NYT'S McCain rejection. "The Times is dying. And the story of John McCain’s discarded op-ed is one of the big reasons why." It's almost as if they're not objective!

In the linked article, Moran makes this claim:

Scott Rasmussen has been polling the attitudes of voters toward the news media and has uncovered the not-so-startling statistic that 50% of independent voters believe that reporters favor Barack Obama and are trying to help him win.

From which he draws this rather surprising conclusion:

With half the country able to see through the gushing idolatry of the press and their shameless promotion of Obama’s candidacy, where does that leave journalistic standards like objectivity and fairness?

[Emphasis mine in all quotes, preceding and following.] I was unaware that 50% of American voters were independent, but that is precisely the claim Moran seems to be making above. Let’s check out that Rasmussen survey to which he links:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey, taken just before the new controversy involving the Times erupted, found that 49% of voters believe most reporters will try to help the Democrat with their coverage…


Twenty-seven percent (27%) [of Democrats] believe most reporters are trying to help Obama…


Among Republicans, 78% believe reporters are trying to help Obama…


As for unaffiliated voters, 50% see a pro-Obama bias…

The Rasmussen article does not reveal the percentage each group comprised of the whole sample. Nevertheless, you can see a number of problems. If Moran is using the 49% figure, then it is obviously skewed by the overwhelming number of Republicans who perceive bias in the media. If he is using the 50% figure, then that applies only to independent voters, and not to the sample as a whole.

It would appear that Moran is engaging in a bit of biased reporting himself, giving his gullible readers the impression that bias is perceived by a far greater percentage of the general public than the Rasmussen results actually reveal. And Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a., the guy who writes Instapundit) is passing along that bias to an even wider audience of gullible readers.

Let’s move on the second sentence in the Instapundit post:

Michael Silence quotes an observer:: "By sending their biggest stars across the globe to interview Obama, ABC, CBS and NBC have reinforced the notion that the Democrat is getting an easy ride." Plus, if you report embarrassing things about Obama, you get kicked off the plane! If a Republican did this, it would be fascism . . . .

You mean like John McCain creating a special VIP section in his new plane where reporters have to “earn” the right to sit and talk with him?

It is absurd to claim that the corporate news media have given Obama a “free ride” while hammering away on poor ole war hero John McCain. McCain has been the recipient of the media’s unending teenage-crush swooning since the primaries began. They have ignored his innumerable gaffes on foreign policy, his daily flip-flops on policy issues, his ties to shady lobbyists – in short, just about every reason that he should not be president, conservative or not. In fact, they even presented him with donuts! (Not the terrorist sort, obviously.)

The rest of the Instapundit post just goes on in the same vein; Edroso provides plenty of examples of why it is bunk. Reynolds is merely recycling the old trope, that the honest, hard-workin’ conservatives are being picked on by the big, mean lib’ral media. He ignores all the evidence to the contrary, because that would undermine the narrative he and his colleagues are pushing.

Bias is built directly into the conservative media machine. Conservative websites, including blogs like Instapundit, almost never link to the sites of their liberal adversaries; whereas liberal sites often provide links, if only so that readers can see for themselves just how ridiculous the conservative arguments really are. If a story cannot be twisted to fit the conservative narrative, right-wing pundits and wannabe pundits simply ignore it, no matter how big and important it is; for example, see how many mentions of Nouri al-Maliki’s recent endorsement of a timetable for withdrawal of US troops you can find among those honest conservatives.

The reason for this is simple: after almost eight years of Republican mismanagement, the conservative worldview is full of holes. John McCain’s support among conservatives is small and tenuous, and the Republican base has been shrinking for some time. The conservatives need to hold onto as many supporters as they can, even if it means misleading them and keeping them ignorant of real-world events. The Republicans built a well-oiled (no pun intended) media machine for doing this, but it is also a result of the conservative worldview itself.

Conservatism is unable to tolerate dissenting views. Conservative pundits keep the bad thoughts out by simply ignoring or rewriting them to fit their preconceptions. I can easily imagine Reynolds being unable to process mentally the sycophantic treatment McCain has received from the media; he can only engage in pareidolia, seeing the contents of his own mind projected onto the media environment. He probably does think that the corporate-owned and operated, advertiser-driven news media is really biased against him.

In other words, if you read about in a conservative magazine or blog, or see it on Fox News, there is a greater than average chance that what they are telling you is a lie.

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Omnes vincit Al Gore!

Deb linked to this yesterday, and it’s still making me retch. I used it last night to bash Nancy Pelosi, so how’s about I now use it to bash the Messiah himself:

Al Gore was great deflection, yes, but he never will have the ability to raise our spirits, his story carries too much sadness.

Oh, god, I need to get the bucket ready.

“Oh how I love Al Gore,” Digby said wistfully, shaking her head at what could and should have been.

Yeah, yeah. “Selected, not elected,” blah blah blah. Will you just shut the fuck up already?

As long as George Bush is President this chapter [of] Al Gore’s life and the nation will not be closed…

They must hurt him every day, those wounds in his hands and feet. Oh, and there’s the side, and the bloody crown.

Al Gore has a great mission and immense integrity…

Yeah, but, you know, he has to die, because then the sins of mankind won’t be washed away in his blood.

Give me a fucking break here! Al Gore was, is, and shall always be a politician. And you know how well that’s worked out with Barack Obama.

Seven and half years of this! The Democrats have turned the 2000 presidential election into their own passion play, with the Supreme Court doing the hand-washing. It has been impossible to take them seriously. They are like spoiled children, denied their way and throwing the most insipid tantrum ever.

Prior to 2000, Al Gore had done nothing to deserve the presidency. (Neither had George W. Bush, for that matter.) The most noteworthy thing he had done was try to take credit for the internet. He also wrote a couple of books that nobody read. The 2000 election transformed him into a martyr. Then came his cinematic tribute to himself; suddenly realizing that it was probably too early for a bio-pic, he stuck in a couple of slides about global warming, but failed to remove any of the soft lighting.

This is what I hate about the Democrats. They are infected by Romanticism. Romanticism always featured larger than life characters, and treated them with the reverence of demigods. As David Brin masterfully pointed out, the deaths of a thousand ordinary persons did not matter next to the fate of the Romantic Hero, and there is that quality about the Democratic adoration of Al Gore.

The Democrats have been trying to win (“back”) the White House ever since 2000. They are so obsessed with that goal that they are willing to overlook and rationalize every broken promise of Barack Obama. The author of the above may be overawed by Gore’s “immense integrity”, but the Democrats have none of their own. When a Democrat next sits in the White House, it will be nothing but revenge for Al Gore’s martyrdom. Nothing at all.

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Rogue state.

From the Human Rights Annual Report 2007 just released by the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee:

The UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the Government does not rely on such assurances in the future.

The report lists multiple examples of statements by George W. Bush and White House representatives that the US does not engage in torture – statements made during periods when, as we now know, the US was actively engaged in torturing detainees.

The United States is a party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. By its own logic, so forcefully demonstrated when small nations offend its will, the United States should now be liable to international sanctions. Other countries have done far less to receive the label of “rogue state”.

As usual, Glenn Greenwald has an excellent analysis of this, and reminds readers that it appears to be the general will in Washington neither to investigate nor to prosecute anyone connected to the Bush administration for their crimes.

Just a few days ago, Greenwald was discussing the sea change in world opinion of America that has occurred since George W. Bush took office. It is true that America has never managed to live up to its professed ideals, but it is hard to believe that we now live in the same country that we did a few short years ago. The US government is now fully divorced from the people it claims to represent; the opinion of the citizenry does not matter, only the opinions of those within the circles of power.

Does the US still fit the definition of a democracy if this is the condition of its political establishment? Corporate power and special interests group always had a disproportionate influence on government policy, but today theirs are the only voices that are heard; the will of the people, to use the antiquated and obsolete phrase, no longer enters into it.

John Edwards was fond of the phrase “two Americas”. By that, he meant a division between the rich and the poor. There are two Americas, but their division goes even deeper than Edwards described: there are the American people, and there is the government itself. The latter rules the former, but the way an empire rules its colonies: with disdain, condescension, and an eye for exploitation.

With that in mind, it is the Bush regime itself that is the rogue state.

Despite what you hear on the TV news, the Iranian people are not fond of their government, and they are smart enough to recognize a division between the US government and the American people. The Mullahs represent the Iranian people no more than George W. Bush represents the American people.

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One from the vaults: 300 movie review.

The following is a review I wrote of the movie 300. It has been revised and updated…and, unfortunately for the reader, expanded. I had no idea just how long this post was until now: a shocking eight pages! Still, it’s one of my favorites. If you didn’t read it in its past incarnation, then here’s your second chance.

Last year, I saw the movie V for Vendetta. Although I considered it a fun and exciting movie while I sat in the theater, afterwards after having time to reflect upon it I considered it simplistic, moralistic, and, worse of all, undeservedly self-congratulatory. I bring that movie up now because I think V for Vendetta and 300 would make a good boxed set. Both movies are ultimately reactions to the “War on Terror” as well as the policies of George W. Bush and his administration, although they approach the subject matter from diametrically opposed points of view.

300 is a visually stunning film. It uses the same “digital backlot” technology used in the production of the superior Sin City. However, unlike Sin City, it is impossible not to notice the visuals; instead of being lost in the story, the viewer is always aware that he or she is watching a movie. Also unlike Sin City, it is difficult to identify with or care for the fate of the characters. Whereas the characters in Sin City were deep and complex, those in 300 are one-dimensional comic-book characters brought to life. This difference is remarkable, since both Sin City and 300 are based on graphic novels by the same author, Frank Miller.

300 is dramatically and symbolically clumsy. It is hard not to see the parallels the movie wants to make between Leonidas, king of the Spartans, and George W. Bush. In fact, these parallels smack the viewer in the face and are almost insulting in their obviousness. Leonidas attempts to win support for his defense of Thermopylae, just as Bush sought to win support for his invasion of Iraq; both are met with refusals and not-so-subtle mockery. The movie uses the priests of the Oracle at Delphi, the Ephors, as stand-ins for the United Nations Security Council, and presents them as corrupt and in the pocket of the enemies.

300 is presented in such a way that, although it takes inspiration from actual historical events, it cannot be considered an attempt to portray them in a realistic fashion. Rather, it should be regarded as historical fantasy. Ultimately, this only adds to the movie’s symbolic and ideological clumsiness (for example, the Persians are depicted as almost universally subhuman). It is unlikely that most viewers, not having read up on Greek and Persian history, will be aware of the reality behind the movie, and will leave the theater with the wrong impressions. It is hard to imagine that this was accidental on the part of the filmmakers: 300 comes across as a proto-fascist propaganda film.

Boy Lovers

It is difficult not to be appalled at Leonidas’s dismissal of the Athenians as “boy lovers”. Although this is properly a historical reference to the practice of pederasty, in a modern context it conjures up images of homosexuality in general. It is debatable whether pederasty was truly a form of homosexuality; nevertheless, the line clumsily conflates the two, tainting homosexuality with the smear of pedophilia.

This is particularly evident in that it seems Leonidas’s decision not to accept the Persian request for surrender is based on his not wanting to be seen as weak, since those “boy-loving” Athenians have already turned the Persians down. Here we encounter the old trope of the homosexual as weak and effeminate: a sissy. Thus, in order to prove their own manliness, the Spartans can do no less than march to Thermopylae to fight the Persians; to be blunt, they go to war so that people won’t think they are gay.

However, this raises an interesting fact about the Spartans. It is true that the Athenians practiced pederasty, but so did the Spartans. In fact, the whole training aspect of a boy’s life which the movie makes so much of was based around pederasty. Pederasty was the foundation of Spartan society to a degree unimagined by the Athenians.

Moreover, the Spartans not only practiced pederasty with their young novices, but Spartan soldiers maintained same-sex romantic relationships with their comrades, a precise parallel with modern homosexuality between consenting adults. This was part of the reason that the Spartans were such an effective fighting force; the man next to you was not only your friend but your lover and romantic partner, and therefore you had even more reason to provide him support. Of course, the movie makes no mention of this; the Spartans as depicted in the movie are all good heterosexual men with a wife, 2.4 kids, and a dog at home – the conservative ideal of the “nuclear family”.

Finally, the character of Persian King Xerxes himself is depicted as a stereotypical homosexual. He wears gaudy jewelry, moves in an effeminate manner (particularly obvious when he softly places his hands on the manly shoulders of Leonidas), and speaks in a dignified, measured fashion (one almost expects a lisp). Though tall in stature, he is shown being borne about on a mobile throne, implying physical weakness or perhaps an unwillingness to get himself dirty. He is also shown to be petulant, and his hairless skin (particularly in contrast to the bearded Leonidas) suggests femininity.

During this years’ presidential primaries, right-wing pundits attempted to smear Barack Obama using many of the same tropes 300 uses to depict Xerxes. Some pundits have all but suggested that he is gay. Others have suggested that voters should select John McCain because he is the “manly” candidate. Could the sexual allusions be any clearer?

Sexual Perverts

It is also noteworthy that Leonidas’s other enemies are presented as sexual perverts. The film suggests, for example, that the aforementioned Ephos are pedophiles by the way they leer at the underage Oracle.

In Sparta, Leonidas’s wife and queen Gorgo attempts to enlist the support of councilman Theron. Theron, it turns out, has also been paid off by the Persians. However, before we learn this, we are treated to a disturbing scene in which Theron requests sexual favors from Gorgo, who reluctantly complies. Just before Theron rapes her, he states that she “will not enjoy this”, and, as he has turned her around with her back to him, there is the suggestion that he intends to penetrate her anally. This recalls the movie’s condemnation of homosexuality, as male homosexual sex necessarily involves anal penetration.

Finally, as Xerxes tempts the hunchback Ephialtes to betray the Persians, he is surrounded by an orgy of young women. There are close-ups of these women caressing Ephialtes’ misshapen body, a combination of deformity and sexuality that is meant to be seen as perversion.

Together with the movie’s attitude toward homosexuality, these scenes reveal the movie’s attitude toward anything but “normal” heterosexual sex. The movie tramples historical reality to portray the “good” Spartans as masculine, heterosexual men, and conflates anything but the missionary position (with the lights off, of course) as evidence of moral (and political) evil. This sort of thing would be fully expected in a propaganda film – the reactionary right-wing has been trying to “restore” traditional gender roles and sexual inequality for decades – but it is remarkable that the film ties sexuality so closely to its pro-war message. This is just the sort of thing that characterized fascist propaganda throughout the twentieth century, and it is more than noteworthy that is crops up here.

Ironic Iconic Freedom Fighters

As various points in the movie, the Spartans are presented as exemplars of the ideals of freedom. In essence, they are the movie’s stand-ins for the citizen soldiers who have played such a large role in America’s military history, willing to give up their own lives so that others may live free from the shackles of tyranny.

However, the Spartans in reality were not very good exemplars of such freedom. In fact, the movie itself tells us as much. There was no room in Spartan society for individuality; all male Spartans were soldiers. There was no room for debate on this issue; the individual had no choice but to comply.

Indeed, the Spartan soldiers are depicted as almost physically identical. This is not a trait of a free society but of a fascist society. In fact, this depiction of physical perfection would be in keeping with the Nazi ideal of the perfect Aryan German, the Nietzschean uebermensch or “superman”. Nazi Germany was dotted with statues depicting such physically perfect specimens of Aryan manhood, and this was the ideal to which all Germans boys were expected to aspire. The Nazis’ genocidal activities were not only an attempt to exterminate racial and ethnic minorities from the country, but to exterminate “defective” Germans as well, including those suffering from mental disorders, the developmentally disabled, incorrigible criminals, and the like.

Much as the movie wants to make the Spartans stand-ins for the American citizen soldier, there is one scene that shows this to be a lie. This is when Leonidas’s force encounters a separate force of Acadians who have also answered the call to defend Greece from the Persians. Leonidas all but openly sneers at the Acadians, for they identify themselves as blacksmiths, artisans, and other such professions . Leonidas leads his force in answering with their own shouted profession: they are soldiers, and nothing more. The archetypal citizen soldier was willing to lay down his normal life and do what had to be done to preserve the freedom of his loved ones, with the hope that he could return to a normal life after the job was done. The Spartans have no such normal life; they exist for one purpose only. The movie wants to have it both ways, using the Spartans as analogues for the American citizen soldier, while, at the same time, aspiring to a fascist ideal. This is very revealing of the political ideology behind 300.

This should cause the alert viewer to ask how the Spartans maintained any kind of society if they were nothing but soldiers. The movie gives us loving shots of beautiful fields of wheat, but never addresses the question of just who planted, tended, or harvested that wheat. The movie had time to mention pederasty, but just glosses this over.

In fact, these fields were tended by the Helots. The Helots were the Spartans’ slaves, and they lived truly miserable lives, without any sort of political rights and without any type of security, even of their own lives. The Helots were bound to the land, and were inherited by the Spartans when they came of age; they were commodities to be used and thrown away when exhausted. A Helot could be killed by a Spartan on a whim. The Helots are remembered today primarily due to the suffering they endured at the hands of their masters.

Finally, as mentioned above, the movie wants to draw a parallel between the valiant King Leonidas and George W. Bush. This is perhaps one parallel that the movie should have avoided. Although Leonidas died at the hands of the Spartans, his successors went on to overthrow the Athenian democracy. There, they installed a military and aristocratic dictatorship. Leonidas may not have lived to see the Spartan dream fulfilled, but it is certain that Bush would be around to watch his successors follow in the Spartans’ footsteps.

Survival of the Fittest

300 makes much of the Spartans’ demand for physical perfection among their members. In fact, the movie opens as a child (Leonidas himself) is being examined for any and all physical defects. The camera pans down to show us the bones of children who fails this examination and were hurled into the canyon below. The movie spares no opportunity to show us the Spartan men’s perfect abs.

This falls squarely in line with the fascist ideal described above.

Contrast poor Ephialtes. Deformed at birth, his father chose to hide him away rather than submit him to the examination that would surely have ended in the child’s death. Ephialtes grew up isolated, but nevertheless continued to think of himself as a Spartan. He studied Spartan tactics and trained himself to use a sword. When the Spartans march to Thermopylae, he patriotically offers Leonidas his services.

Leonidas rejects him due to his physical deformities. It simply does not matter to Leonidas that Ephialtes has the passion to stand with his brothers at Thermopylae; all that matters to Leonidas is that Ephialtes cannot hold his shield above his head. Perhaps Ephialtes would not be good in the phalanx, but he could have played other vital roles; in fact, after the initial stages of the battle, the Spartans never return to the use of the phalanx, and Leonidas shows no hesitation in allowing the Acadians to fight in their own traditional manner.

The movie glosses over this point as well, but it is this obsession with physical perfection which ultimately dooms the Spartans. Rejected and heartbroken, Ephialtes later betrays the Spartans to the Persians by revealing the hidden goat trail that allows the Persians to outflank Leonidas and his men.

That this fact goes unremarked upon would be an excellent example of the sort of subtlety that characterizes truly great films, except that I don’t think the filmmakers intended it in such a way. Like the Spartans, the filmmakers believe in a fascist ideal of physical perfection, and thus choice to ignore that it was the Spartans’ excessive pride that was their Achilles’ heel. Nazi propaganda posters always showed the most beautiful specimens of Teutonic perfection. So do modern military recruiting posters, for that matter. And TV commercials. There is no room in this framework for those who don’t fit the ideal.

By the way, I can find no evidence that the real Ephialtes was deformed, or that he possessed the moral integrity of the movie’s Ephialtes. In Greek tradition, Ephialtes plays much the same role and has been the recipient of as much scorn as Judas in Christian tradition. I am not defending the real Ephialtes, who was undoubtedly a true traitor who betrayed the Spartans for material gain, but the movie’s Ephialtes, who betrays the Spartans from a broken heart, giving them exactly what they deserved.

The Per(ver)sians

300 is not historical fact, it is historical fantasy. However, it is rather outrageous that the Persians are almost universally depicted as subhuman monsters. They are little different from the orcs of The Lord of the Rings, charging forward in a faceless mass. True, they are villains, and the faceless, disposable henchman is a trope of many forms of fiction (compare the endless legions of Stormtroopers in the Star Wars films). However, the movie has not established that monsters are real in its fantasy world. The depictions of the Ephos and of Ephialtes as disfigured and deformed represent what the movie considers to be their moral inferiority (fair in the case of the Ephos; completely unfair in the case of Ephialtes). Thus, the deformities of the Persians must also represent their moral inferiority.

There are a handful of Persians, however, who are not subhuman monsters. A few of them are fully human. There is something astounding about them, though: they are all black! Yes, that’s right: in 300, all the good guys are white, and all the bad guys are either subhuman trolls or black. If it weren’t so outrageous, one could perhaps forgive the film for its depiction of the Persian masses as subhuman; that could be considered authorial license. However, this is too close to reality, and we must turn to historical reality for comparison: in reality, there were no black Persians! Persia (modern Iran) is nowhere near Africa, and there were no trade routes between black African states and Persia. This is not only appallingly racist, but it is revealing of the mindset behind the movie. In effect, 300 conflates the deformities of the subhuman Persians with being black; by this logic, deformity and blackness are both external physical expressions of moral inferiority.

One doesn’t have to go very far to connect the film’s attitude toward black people with the way black people fit into the conservative, right-wing narrative. From the Southern Strategy in the sixties that welcomed white supremacists into the party with open arms, to the modern War on Drugs and America’s exploding prison population (predominantly comprised of black men), the Republican Party has long held black people as inferior to whites. It was a moral taint of the Negro that led white people in the fifties to find rock ‘n’ roll music so socially corrosive, just as it was the unstated fear of “angry black men” that led to the reaction against rap music decades later. It was this right-wing mythology that dreamed up the “welfare queen”, draining the resources of “hard-working” (i.e., white) Americans while contributing nothing but more and more fatherless children to society.

Fascism is inherently racist. Every fascist movement has chosen its inferior groups, and persecuted them in the name of its own perverted morality. It was no coincidence that it was white racist animosity toward the Civil Rights Movement that formed the foundation of this contemporary right-wing fascism. It is remarkable that 300 was so willing to depict it, but not so remarkable that fans of the movie simply took its depictions for granted.

The Persian Iranian Reaction

It might seem bizarre that the Iranians would be so offended that 300 depicted the Persians in a negative light. After all, in Islamic tradition, the cultures that predate Islam were not simply wrong and misguided, but evil and depraved. (There is even an Arabic word for such cultures, but, sadly, I cannot recall it at the moment.) Pre-Islamic ruins in modern Iran have been reinterpreted in such a way to exaggerate this depiction of their polytheistic builders as essentially demonic in motivation.

In Islam, there simply was nothing of value prior to Islam, and nothing of value outside of Islam. Thus, the Iranians, who have been some of the most vocal proponents of a radical political philosophy based on Islamic ideals, are the very last people to complain about negative depictions of the Persians.

However, it is impossible for an honest viewer to watch 300 and not realize the film’s intent. The film depicts the Iranians as subhuman monsters, undeserving of sympathy or pity. It is no coincidence that this is the precise model used by fascist movements throughout the twentieth century to depict the state’s enemies. Even in modern militaries, soldiers must be trained to think of the enemy is inhuman before he can kill them. Such depictions are the first step in creating a national threat, and the right-wing has been trying to create that threat for ages.

Even prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Christian leaders depicted Islam as particularly evil and dangerous to American society. Of course, this is merely the latest example of the long antipathy each religion has maintained toward the other. During the Bush era, however, there has been a renewed attempt to cast “Islamofascist” – and Muslims in general – in the most negative light possible. The right-wing has attempted, with moderate success, to connect the concepts of Muslim and terrorist in the American imagination. 300 is merely one part of that effort.

It was evident to the Iranians, however, that the United States, having overthrown Saddam Hussein and occupied Iraq, was turning its eyes to the east. Militarists have been predicted war with Iran for years, and recent saber-rattling in the Persian Gulf has only exacerbated the situation. The US has even tried to present falsified evidence of Iranian influence in Iraq as a pretext for attack. Until recently, the Bush administration refused even to acknowledge the Iranians in a diplomatic sense – the only option they afforded for dealing with the Iranians was military – and even its recent diplomatic outreach is half-hearted at best.

The Iranians may have been hypocritical in defending the Persians, but they were well aware that 300 was not about the Persians anyway. The American public is overwhelming opposed to our present war in Iraq, and even more opposed to starting a new war with Iran. This hardly fits with a goal of perpetual warfare, and steps must be taken to counteract public resistance. The Athenians eventually threw off their Spartan rulers; without broad public support for its goals, even the most rabid fascist movement is doomed.

In Summary

300 is a flawed film, but that is a minor issue. The problem with 300 is that it is blindly fascist, drawing unrealistic parallels between a real historical event and contemporary issues, and then painting it all in a gloss of fascism. As other reviewers noted, this is the kind of movie that Leni Riefenstahl would have made had she had access to computer graphics.

Perhaps my commentary seems overwrought, but the very fact that this movie so accurately captures sentiments openly expressed by right-wing pundits and politicians should be worrisome. The word “fascist” is thrown around with abandon anymore, and that has robbed it of much of its power; it is easy to dismiss allegations of fascism as exaggeration and hyperbole. In this context, however, all the parts fall into place. Many people have attempted to define fascism over the years, and a set of characteristics shared by all fascist movements has come together. The policies of the Bush administration and its right-wing supporters fit these descriptions perfectly, and the film 300 gives them widespread expression.