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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Who you callin' a zombie? AMC's The Walking Dead Join the Tea Party

Zombies are not exactly the darlings of serialized television. While the recent years have seen a great deal of excellent (and not so excellent) zombie movies, weekly TV has mostly steered clear of the subject. It’s easy to see why: unsexy, dull and slow, devoid of motivation and unable to deliver snappy one-liners, zombies might just be the most two-dimensional villain a show can have.

So why, then, do I find AMC’s new weekly drama The Walking Dead - a wall-to-wall zombiefest the likes of which serial television has never seen - so damn irresistible?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Read an excerpt from Against the Tide by Rasul Bayram

Rasul Bayram's book Against the Tide, translated by yours truly, has been doing respectable business on Amazon. You can now read a four-page excerpt on Rasul's official site.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

US Religious Knowledge Survey Proves What Atheists Have Known All Along

I see it all the time: to illustrate why she can't believe in her parent's religion, an atheist or agnostic kid quotes the ignorance, cruelty, or plain old contradiction contained in the parent's holy book - only to have the parent argue that the book doesn't really say that. The proof, of course, is easy to come by: the kid simply pulls the holy book off the parent's shelf, opens it to the right chapter, and points to the quote.

It's been a long-running joke among the nonbelievers that atheists know the holy books better than the faithful. For many people born into religion, a study of their family's religious text becomes the first step towards atheism. And it's no wonder: it must take some seriously dedicated willful ignorance not to notice the fact that the god of the book behaves more like the book's own devil, killing and torturing saints and sinners alike - or, at best, a petty warlord with a tiny penis, unsure of his power and terrified of the vagina.

A new study by the Pew Research Center gives credence to what the unbelievers have known for a while. A survey of nearly 3500 people in the US – the only developed country in the world in which religion still plays a significant social and political role – shows that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than the faithful, even – or should I say especially – when it comes to the faithful’s own doctrine. To the nonbelievers, this is a case of stating the obvious. We have long known that ignorance, willful or otherwise, is a necessary ingredient of religious faith.

When, at 17, I was transplanted from the atheist Soviet Union to the alien (and heavily religious) culture of the United States, I, like many other people, went looking for a Meaning. I read all three books of the Abrahamic religion, studied Buddhism and Hinduism, and even invited a Jew for Jesus home for dinner, to mostly hilarious results. To my shock, every page I read seemed to strengthen my familial atheism. Hinduism seemed like a quaint throwback to the simpler times (which might or might not have existed); Buddhism was useful but completely secular; and the Abrahamics – America’s scam of choice – seemed as idiotic and heavy-handed in their lies and cruelties as L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology. Far from being touched by the mystery of organized religion, the only mystery I saw was that of seemingly reasonable people believing such obvious bullshit.

Unexamined atheism might be as dangerous as any unexamined ideology – my birth country’s history certainly makes a strong case against it. I’m happy that I had the opportunity to study religious texts and history. It’s made me a better, stronger atheist. Today, I consciously know what I might, unconsciously, have felt all along: that life is too complex for a Meaning. Instead, it’s full of meanings, coming together and breaking apart in a beautiful and ever-changing dance of exuberant complexity that can’t be quelled by simplistic human faith.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Here's to Perfection

Perfection comes in many forms. Shouldn't something perfectly awful be celebrated as much as something perfectly beautiful? Absence of talent can be just as monumental as its presence! So here's to the Mona Lisa of What the Fuck:

Once the initial spasms of laughter subsided, it occurred to me how closely the song echoes patriotic praise of Israel. In the mythologies of both Israel and Saudi Arabia, "no office were in desert no park were in desert no roads were in desert no cars were in desert" until the respective country turned things around. It's always interesting to see the similarities in the ideologies of sworn enemies.

Favorite line, because it's both poignant and hilarious: "students were zero now they are the million, hospitals were zero now they are the hundred"

Friday, May 21, 2010

Against the Tide by Rasul Bayram, translated by Polina Skibinskaya

Xlibris Book Publishing Company has published Against the Tide by Rasul Bayram, translated from Russian by yours truly. The book follows two dynasties - a Lebanese Muslim family and a family of European Jews - through the creation of Israel after World War II and the escalating tensions in the Middle East. The story of two families, whose paths cross through several generations, is a crash course in proxy wars, identity politics, religious nationalism, and the transnational human toll of the Middle East conflict.
When it comes to politics, Rasul and I don't always see eye to eye. But while I don't share his respect for Reagan , I can't help but relate to the relationship at the heart of the book. The story of the two families trapped on the opposite sides of the conflict asks the simple, but necessary question: when superpowers collide, who pays the price?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy Draw Muhammad Day!

Today, May 20th, is the first annual International Draw Muhammad Day. Here's to freedom from fear!

I must not draw Mohammed by Plantu, Le Monde

For those of you who, like me, can't even draw a stick figure, here is a wonderful archive of Muhammad images by people who can:

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Limitless Spirituality of Atheism

I believe that what we call spirituality is a natural extension of recognizing (consciously or subconsciously) that we are all part of a larger whole. The laws of physics tell us that everything is interconnected; everything impacts everything else. Whether we realize it or not, we feel a physical connection with the earth, the air, the tree under our window and the stars a billion light years away - we feel it because it is PHYSICALLY there. When we are conscious of this feeling, it becomes the basis for our own atheist spirituality which informs our ethics, completely divorced from the imposed, politically motivated fairy tales of religion that seek to limit (and often contradict) the limitless world around us.

People are afraid to leave their religion for various reasons: some are afraid of being ostracized by their families and communities; some are terrified of losing the rigid rules that guide their lives and having to figure things out for themselves; and some simply can't imagine living a life devoid of spirituality. There's little we can do about people's fear of personal responsibility. But we can do something about the fear of ostracism by offering religious people a welcoming, loving community on the other side of the divide. And most importantly, we can do something about the erroneous belief that without religion, a person's life is empty, lonely and full of fear. It is exactly the opposite - and it is up to us to say that. When we discuss atheism with religious people, I think it is important that we talk about this atheist spirituality based on provable, observable laws of physics, and impress upon them the awe and joy we feel - not towards an impossible and often malicious entity, but towards EVERYTHING, without limits, without conditions, and without demands.

We could use a word of our own, an atheist version of "spirituality" - or we can just feel the sense of awe and connection implied by the word without the need to label it. However, when we are talking to religious people, I do think we need to use terminology that is familiar to them. When we're dealing with people's fears that an absence of religion equals an empty, lonely, miserable life, the word "spirituality," I think, goes right to the core of their fears.

Religion claims that it is the source of that awe and connection - and I think the key to wrestling control away from religion is exactly this: showing, by concrete example, that these feelings not only don't originate in religion, but can be stronger without it when divorced from the fear and shame of religion.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Emma Rosenthal Tells It Like It Is

Over the years, I've had many conversations with Jews and Gentiles, Zionists and anti-Semites, family members and strangers, trying to explain the -Zionist Jew phenomenon . The suggestion of our mere existence is often met with more disbelief than that of the Sasquatch.

But we do, indeed, exist. (The jury is still out on the Sasquatch - he might want to consider starting a blog.) Our existence is inconvenient, both to the anti-Semites who want to pretend all Jews think and act alike, and to the Zionists who want to do the same. What's more, our ranks seem to be growing. The more the Israeli government and Zionist organizations all over the world push to stifle criticism of their deplorable ideology and murderous actions, the more people push back.

Writer, teacher and human rights activist Emma Rosenthal formulates the reasons she is not a Zionist better than I ever could. She says:

I am not a Zionist because I believe in universal human rights and do not believe that the establishment of one more elite leadership based on nationalism, will bring about a more just world. I believe with all my being that an injustice to one is an injustice to all, that when one is oppressed, with each drop of blood that is shed, with each aspiration that is quashed, each of us is diminished in our capacities, each of us becomes more unsafe.

Read the rest of her excellent article Open Letter: Re: jewbitch ur a mental case? at Emma's Room.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Royal Shakespeare Company's HAMLET

I've been CRAVING the Royal Shakespeare Company's Hamlet... We've watched it 3 times now, and I can't wait to see it again. I've seen tons of Hamlet productions which I loved - but with this one, I actually RELATE, truly and fully. This Hamlet is not mopy, a gentle soul done wrong - he's a sarcastic, vicious, spoiled brat fully aware of his superiority. His story is not the story of weakness as much as it's a story of strength thwarted. And the bastard is FUNNY!

So if this, of all the countless stage and screen productions I've seen, is the one I relate to the most, what does it say about me?

I can't recommend this version highly enough. If you've never quite bought the hype around the play (like Kiran, who always found it pompous and boring, and is now completely and utterly in love with it), this production will convince you. And if you've loved Hamlet all along (like my mom, a theater connoisseur who was highly skeptical before seeing this version, only to call me at 4am after watching it, choking on her tears), it will convince you that there's always something new to be found, even in a play as over-performed as this.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Refugees in Canada

Canada is one of the few countries that recognize the danger gay, lesbian and transgender people of the world face on a daily basis. Long before the Canadian government legalized gay marriage, it began allowing Canadian citizens to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for immigration the same way married and unmarried straight Canadians can sponsor their spouses living in other countries.

More importantly, the Canadian refugee claims system has long offered protection to gay, lesbian and transgender people fleeing persecution and violence in their native countries. Just like refugees escaping war and political violence, LGBT people from countries who practice institutionalized homophobia can come to Canada as refugees and enjoy the legal protection and financial help of the Canadian government.

Read more at Associated Content.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

BLINK, and You'll Miss It: An Interesting Thought About the Ultimate Doctor Who Episode

To celebrate (read: mourn) the 10th Doctor's departure, we've been rewatching all Doctor Who episodes starring David Tennant. As always, four stories stand out as perfect examples of everything that's great about this show: Blink, Midnight, Silence In the Library / Forest of the Dead, and Human Nature / The Family of Blood.

The fandom behind the show is so huge, lasting and intelligent that it's near impossible to say anything that hasn't been said before. But one thing about Blink seems to have slipped under everyone's radar: the episode is subtly, delightfully self-referential.

Self-referential art calls attention to its artifice: in a self-referential play, a character might talk directly to the audience, shedding the play's realism and acknowledging the audience's presence; a self-referential book might discuss the reader's reaction to its own story; and a self-referential movie might center around the behind-the-scenes world of moviemaking.

Blink breaks the imaginary "fourth wall" that divides the audience from the action, making the audience part of the events. But it does this in such a subtle way that it's taken me two viewings and several days of contemplation to even notice it: this is easily the sneakiest example of self-referentiality I've ever seen.

So how does Blink make the viewers part of the action? How does the fact that we are watching the episode influence the way the action unfolds? Let me know what you think!