Monday, July 29, 2013

FOX News becomes a parody of itself: Reza Aslan edition

This is quite something. Eminent religious scholar Reza Aslan releases a book about the historical Jesus Christ. You'd think the FOX crowd would be interested in that, since they are all about Jesus on the "fair and balanced" network. But instead, Aslan is subjected to a 9 minute interrogation about how and why he could possibly write anything about Jesus, since he happens to be a Muslim.

 I have to say I found that hilarious, and it's a credit to Aslan that he persists with the interview, even if he does feel it necessary to talk as if to a child.

FOX also published an article slamming Aslan's book by John S Dickerson, an author and evangelical pastor, which is of a similarly breathtaking stupidity. Read it here.

The logic appears to be that you cannot trust a Muslim to write objectively about Jesus, since the Muslim religion is opposed to Christian teachings. Which of course implies that you cannot trust an atheist or agnostic either to write about Jesus either, since their rejection of Biblical doctrine is a form of anti-Christian hostility. So who can write objectively about the historical life of Jesus Christ? Well, I guess that just leaves Christians.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What German sounds like

I came across this via Facebook, here. It's quite amusing, if obvious, but what I found even funnier were the comments on Facebook about it.

Two common stereotypes about Germans are (a) they don't have a good sense of humour, and (b) they are angry. Cue hundreds of comments from indignant Germans saying "This is false! We don't sound like that!"

I'm not saying that this proves (a) and (b), but...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

America killed Trayvon. Zimmerman only pulled the trigger.

George Zimmerman was today acquitted of all charges relating to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Did the jury make the right decision? Yes and no.

(Update: it's been revealed that one of the six jurors believed Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder and two thought him guilty of manslaughter. For what it's worth, I think manslaughter would have been the correct verdict... but I don't live in Florida.)

With the information presented to them, within the context of the legal system of Florida, and the US more broadly, perhaps they made the only decision they could make. That is not the same, however, as justice being served. Zimmerman appears to have acted in a way that is fully in accordance with Florida law. So the real question is: What the hell is wrong with a state, or a country, that deems this to be legal?

While the exact details are disputed, here's what most of us can agree on in the case:

Zimmerman sees Martin walking through his neighbourhood, and believing his behaviour to be suspicious, follows him. Zimmerman is armed. Martin becomes aware he is being followed, quite understandably freaks out, and probably attacks him. Zimmerman shoots Martin as he feels (justifiably or otherwise) that his life is being threatened.

Of course, the same logic could be used to apply to Martin; if he attacked Zimmerman, it was because he felt threatened, as a teen, by an older man following him down the street. In other words, we have two people defending themselves against each other. I don't know if that is an actual thing.

Guilty or not, this incident could not happen without two highly problematic pre-existing conditions: the assumption that a young black man is by definition suspicious and threatening, and the right for a person to bear a deadly weapon and use it whenever they feel threatened.

It has been pushed by certain sections of conservative America that Trayvon Martin was indeed a dangerous thug, who probably was looking to rob a house in that neighbourhood, and whose attack on Zimmerman was in line with his thuggish personality. These are things we cannot know.

Likewise, some on the left have pushed the idea that Zimmerman had a racist grudge against black people. Again, I don't think that's something we can really know.

But let's ask this question: if a white male teenager was walking through that neighbourhood, stopping occasionally to look at houses, would Zimmerman have deemed it sufficiently threatening to "tool up" and pursue him?

That's debatable of course. But the big question for me is this:

If Zimmerman was not armed, or does not live in a nation under the sway of the gun lobby, does he even confront Trayvon Martin at all?

I say no. The gun George Zimmerman carried played a larger role that merely defending its holder. It defines the whole episode.

The gun gives the courage to play big-game hunter, and stalk the young man who he deemed to be threatening. The gun means that Zimmerman is more brazen about his pursuit than he would have otherwise been; he is indiscreet enough for Martin to spot him and confront him. And the gun means that when Martin confronts or attacks Zimmerman, Zimmerman does not feel the need to defuse the situation, or turn and flee.

Unfortunately, both lived in a place that gives legal justification for vigilantism, in a way that other Western nations do not. In any other Western country, someone worried that there is potentially dangerous teenager - so scary as to put you in fear of your life - roaming through the neighbourhood does not go confront that teenager, alone.

George Zimmerman instigated a situation which he had no business being in, then resorting to deadly force as soon as the situation looked bad for him.

Florida allows this kind of thing. Below is Florida's self-defence statute (emphasis mine):

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

No duty to retreat. That passage makes it different from most other self-defence statutes around the world, which tend to treat violence as a last resort, to be used only after all other reasonable options have been exhausted or impossible.

Just say I'm in Florida, I'm armed, and I have the confidence that comes with carrying a gun, knowing that I can pull it out if I ever feel threatened. Where is the disincentive for me to avoid conflict with anyone I could potentially have a disagreement or altercation with?

This is an extremely dangerous legal precedent, especially now that this case has acquired so much publicity.

If you don't think there's something sick about the US justice system, have a look at these recent cases:

Jury acquits Texas man for murder of escort who refused sex

Florida mom gets 20 years for firing warning shots

Thursday, July 11, 2013

This kid is amazing.

Don't quite get what's going on in Egypt? 12 year old Ali Ahmed breaks it down for you.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Johnny Depp plays Tonto in "The Lone Ranger". Is it just me, or is that a bit f*cked?

The remake of The Lone Ranger is out, and this picture tells you all you need to know about why I'm not going to see it, and why you shouldn't either.

I have nothing against Johnny Depp. He's a fine actor. However, Tonto is specifically a Native American character, and Johnny Depp is not Native American.

If this were a movie made in the 1950s, you could look back today and say, "Yeah, that's kinda racist and stupid, but that's just what it was like back then, just like how they got John Wayne to play Genghis Khan and so on." But this is a movie coming out in 2013. I cannot believe that no one involved in the making of this movie did not see the huge problem with this.

"Oh, but he's part Native American," I hear you say.

Listen, the dude is maybe 1/16 Native American or something. Maybe. He thinks his great-grandmother was Cherokee. I'm not an expert on what qualifies someone as Native American, but fuck it, I'm drawing a line - Johnny Depp is not Native American.

Now, hypothetically if Native Americans were some sort of extinct race of people like the Neanderthals and thus we had no Native American actors alive capable of representing what a Native American looks like, then I'd say fine, why not, let Johnny Depp play a Native American, 1/16 is about enough.

But there are a lot of Native Americans still out there, and some of them are actually actors trying to make it in the business. In that context, no, he's not sufficiently Native American.

Yes, there are Native American actors out there. None of them are big names on par with Johnny Depp. But then again, when they can't even get roles playing Native Americans, how are they meant to become big names?

There were a whole bunch of dudes in Twilight who would make a decent Tonto. I'm not talking Taylor Lautner, because his Native-ness is about as dubious as Johnny Depp's, but sheeeeet, he at least kinda looks the part so I'd even take him and his washboard abs at this point.

There's also Benjamin Bratt (Law and Order, Miss Congeniality), who's part-Peruvian rather than Native North American, but that's still a whole lot better than Johnny Depp. Plus he's kinda hot.

"But the film needs a big star," I hear you say, "and there's no Native American actor who is a big star comparable to Johnny Depp."

Hold up, the titular role in the movie is being played by Armie Hammer. Who the fuck is that? I had to google him, and it turns out that he's been in one movie that anyone's ever heard of (The Social Network). No disrespect to him, I'm sure he's a good actor. But let's keep it real here: no one, apart from those within Hammer's circle of family and friends, is going to be all, "Oh snap, we gotta go see The Lone Ranger, because Armie Hammer is in it!"

So think on this: the producers of this movie would be happy to give a huge break to a relatively little-known actor in the title role of The Lone Ranger, yet were not willing to give a similar break to a Native American actor in the other lead role.

You want a big star? Cast Brad fucking Pitt or someone like that as the The Lone Ranger, and give a Native American actor who people haven't really heard of a breakthrough role.

"But Johnny Depp is a great actor," I hear you say, "so shouldn't it be about who can give the best performance, rather than race?"

In that case, imagine if they gave the role of Abraham Lincoln in the movie Lincoln to Chow Yun Fatt, or Morgan Freeman, rather than Daniel Day-Lewis. Sure, that would be ridiculous, but those are two pretty fucking awesome actors right there, and that's all that counts, right? Right? But everyone just accepts that only a white guy is going to play Lincoln. And I totally agree with that, not just because Lincoln obviously was a white guy, but the whole narrative would not make sense if he was played by someone who wasn't white. Even if they pretended to be white by use of makeup and traditional white clothing.

In racial terms, there are two types of roles in film: ones where the race doesn't matter, and ones where race does matter. You could take the movie Flight and replace Denzel Washington with Tom Hanks, and it wouldn't really make any difference. But you couldn't get Tom Hanks to play the lead role in Malcolm X. (Though let's be honest, I'm sure someone in Hollywood would try.)

The role of Tonto is pretty much defined by him being Native American. Casting a white guy - even a slightly exotic-looking white guy with distant Native ancestry, maybe - is downright insulting.

There are very few roles available to Native American actors in the movie business as it is. No one is asking that any such actors be elevated to Will Smith-status if they don't deserve it. But in the one blockbuster flick in pretty much forever to feature a Native American lead character, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski had the opportunity to do something that wasn't even boundary-pushing, just logical... and they fucked it. With a stick. So fuck them.

So that's why you should not go and see this piece of shit movie. That, and the fact that it's got a 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

By the way, if you think the questions in this argument are ones that I just imagined, go read the comments here.