They’re After Salman Rushdie Again

Hardliners of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Hardliners of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Some Things Never Change

You would think that by now that the grand wizards of Iran would have come to terms with the renegade writings of Salman Rushdie……But apparently they have not. Believe it or not, Salman Rushdie is back on the Persian hit list of undesirables. (I’m not certain if he was ever free from those lists.) Obviously, there is one thing that is still true. And that one thing is, that for insulting the status quo of Revolutionary Iran, there are no statue of limitations. In fact, as the situation presently stands, the Fatwa on Rushdie was never taken off, but instead it was increased in recent weeks, possibly due to the changing economic picture in Iran. According to PEN, the bounty has received at increase of approximately $600,000 to the already existing 2.8 million.

Could Elections Actually Change Things?

Recently, Iran made international news by holding national elections that did not go quite go the way that the conservative hardliners wanted. However good this may sound, this is not a new struggle in Iran. Centrists, moderates and progressives have from time to time been able to create change in Iran, through elections and other means. Whether the country’s newly signed nuclear deal with the West will actually help secular Iran remains to be seen, but there is definitely a political divide in Iran between the fundamentalists and those who wish to see Iran modernized. This has been going on for years and it is possible that the agreement with the West could benefit these people.

A Not-So-Nervous American Resident

Currently, Salman Rushdie lives in the U.S., where he is relatively same from Iranian threats. Born into a Muslim family in Bombay, India, Rushdie has never lived in Iran. Today, Rushdie declares himself an atheist, as it was his fourth novel titled Satanic Verses that has fueled the wrath by Islamic fundamentalists in Iran and elsewhere. Rushdie also had the distinct honor of making an Al-Qaeda hit list in 2010. On the positive side, Rushdie has been knighted by the Queen of England, plus he has received numerous literary awards, including membership in the British Royal Society of Literature.

Death Threats

Every February Rushdie receives a not-so-friendly Valentine’s Day card from Revolutionary Guard of Iran, kindly reminding him that he is still on their hit-list. Though the threats have been numerous, the closest anyone has come to killing Rushdie occurred in London, England in 1999, when a bombmaker died, while trying to make a book bomb. The blast was strong enough to also take out two floors of a London hotel, where the bombmaker lived. At present, the current threats seem more rhetorical than real and hopefully the situation will stay that way.

Salman Rushdie in 2014
Salman Rushdie in 2014
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(Unfortunately) There Will Always Be A Need For Memorial Day

A replica of the Vietnam Wall as seen in Old Orchard Beach, Maine on Memorial Day
A replica of the Vietnam Wall as seen in Old Orchard Beach, Maine on Memorial Day

A Vietnam Memorial and a Photograph

When American Indians from the West first encountered American photographers and their bulky cameras, the natives often referred to the picture-making device (and photographer) as a shadow catcher. And as a matter of fact, cameras can capture a person as well as their shadow. Furthermore, shadows can be portrayed in all sorts of ways from sinister or ghastly to benign or even humorous. Just a quick look through the annals of fine art photographers will reveal quite a few images of people with all types of dark forms following the main subject around.

When I made the above picture, I was concentrating on the actual names on the wall and the small American flags displayed in front of the wall. The appearance of the shadows and the reflection of the people inside the wall gave this picture a supernatural atmosphere that was totally unplanned. However, over time, I have grown to like both the shadows and the reflection, as I now see these dark shapes as being more transcendental than any thing else.

Not The Real Thing

If you look closely at the people standing next to the Vietnam Wall, you might notice that they make the wall seem small. This is not an illusion, because this is actually a half-scale replica wall that is set up at various places around the country, so people, who do not have the time or money to travel to the nation’s capitol, can see a very accurate replica. This picture happens to have been taken in Old Orchard Beach, Maine almost ten years ago. This situation also underscores the sad fact that our need to remember the war dead can barely keep up with our ability to put soldiers in armed conflicts.

 

A Brief History

Memorial Day occurs tomorrow on Monday. OK it’s not the real Memorial Day. That occurs on May 30th…this coming Saturday. But the New and Improved of Memorial Day does come around this Monday….And as always, it is a good time to remember those who have sacrificed their life in armed conflict. And don’t forget remembrance of the war dead should not be limited to national holidays.

The custom of placing flowers on the graves of soldiers probably exists for as long as there has been organized warfare. However, our Memorial Day seems closely tied to our very own Civil War (or War Between the States as it is sometimes called), for during this bloody conflict advances in military weapons and techniques outpaced improvements in medical treatment. The result was over 600,000 dead and for both sides the task of remembering the dead was monumental. For the rest of the 19th century each side had its own Memorial Day. Then came the 20th century with more wars and war dead and so the custom merged as one and became a national holiday.

Today

Today we have the exact opposite situation, as we faced during the Civil War. Medical treatment has taken giant strides forward, while our ability to maim and kill seems to have taken a big step backward, especially with the rise of car bombings and other terrorist  techniques in the Middle East…….at least that’s the way I see it in this current year (2015).

The American still flies and can be found in many locations, both indoors and outdoors, photo by author
The American flag still flies and can be found in many locations, both indoors and outdoors, photo by author from Minneapolis, MN

 

Why Creative Writing Is Like Playing In An Empty Baseball Stadium!

During and following the recent Baltimore riots, Camden Yard, home of the Orioles, hosted several major league games, where no fans were allowed to attend
During and following the recent Baltimore riots, Camden Yard, home of the Orioles, hosted several major league games, where no fans were allowed to attend

The Event

The recent death of Freddie Gray of Baltimore sparked a series of events that evolved into something more than just an expression of civil disobedience concerning police brutality. The end result was more like a series of protests, where some of the events turned into riots, requiring a police and national guard presence. I know that the whole situation sounds bad, but I do recall as a high school student in the very same city, we received an unscheduled school holiday, when Martin Luther King was assassinated and parts of the city were embroiled in major rioting and looting. And in those days the issues were probably more elevated and intense than recent events, yet despite the seemingly uncontrolled venting of rage, change did come to the city. Even with the recent events in Baltimore, there does seem to be a pathway available to address some of the public issues.

A Bizarre Picture

However, one of the most striking (and surreal) images of the recent riots was the pictures of the Orioles baseball games, where no fans were allowed to attend because of the possibility of disruptive outbursts directly related to what was going on in the streets of Baltimore. When I first saw the pictures of the empty stadium on the news, my thoughts did not go to the street protests, but to the baseball players, who were continuing their professional game, even though no one was present in the sports arena. And it was here that I saw a situation that I could relate to…….more than any picture that emerged from the Baltimore conflict.

scene of players emerging from cornfield in the Field of Dreams movie
scene of players emerging from cornfield in the Field of Dreams movie

Later On

Currently, the games have resumed at Camden Yards and legal charges have been brought against six city police officers in regards to the death of the one person who was in police custody. I have no idea how relations between the city police and the city minorities will evolve, but I do believe that the baseball season in this city will return to normal, if it hasn’t already.

The Analogy or Why Writing Can Be Like Playing In An Empty Stadium

For those writers in the audience, especially those that are just starting out, they may often find themselves in a situation, where the only people aware of their creative activities are those, who are also in the game. This is quite normal for anybody, trying to pursue a writing career or for someone participating in any of the other arts. Perhaps, the most important point here, is that this should not affect how one plays the game. For I’m sure that on those cool days of late April and early May, when not a soul was ateending the game in person, the participants were still playing just as hard and using their athletic skills to the best of their ability. In other words the presence of an audience doesn’t matter, all that much.

Writing Really Is a Field of Dreams

Further contemplation upon this subject leads to the appreciation of one of my favorite baseball movies of all times, Field of Dreams. Not only does this film feature a wild-eyed dreamer, who wants an audience for his game, but also there is this savvy older writer, who understands the game all too well. Maybe one of the most memorial images in the movie is when Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones are watching a major league contest, while discussing the issues of the day. In other words, they know how to be part of the audience, though the their goals might be much bigger. And here is what I am trying to say, and that is as a writer (or artist) you cannot be too concerned with your audience……just concentrate on your skills as a player. That’s all you can do….the rest is up to fate.

Yankee Stadium on a busy day
Yankee Stadium on a busy day

 

 

A House Made of Sky

A high plains sunset in Sioux Falls, SD photo by author
A high plains sunset in Sioux Falls, SD photo by author

A Montana One-of-a-Kind Passes Away

Since noted Montana writer, Ivan Doig, passed away this pass week, I deciced to honor the famed author of This House of Sky with some comments and a series of sunset photographs from the West. Though Ivan spent most of his adult life in the Seattle area, he did grow-up in the shadow of the Montana Rockies and wrote extensively from that experience. One of his best known books was This House of Sky. It was a memoir of his Montana youth that became a finalist for the National Book Award.

Sunset with tree silouhettes in Taos, NM
Sunset with tree silouhettes in Taos, NM

Western Childhood

Ivan Doig was born in 1939 in White Sulfur Springs, not too far from the Big Belt Mountains and the state capitol at Helena. He grew up in a family of homesteaders and ranch hands. His mother died at age six, so after that tragic event, Ivan was raised by his father and grandmother. Soon thereafter they moved north to a different part of the state, where the family’s main occupation was sheepherding. Doig stayed in Montana until educational pursuits drew him away from the state, first to Northwestern University in Illinois and finally to the University of Washington, where he obtained an advanced degree in American history. Ivan would remain in Washington for the rest of his life.

Clouds above Billings, Montana, photo by author
Clouds above Billings, Montana, photo by author

Last Bus To Wisdom

Even though Ivan Doig just passed away, there still is one more book on the way. The novel is called Last Bus To Wisdom and it will not be officially released until August of this year. The publisher is Riverhead Books and this autobiographical story revolves around an eleven-year old boy from Montana, who is sent to the Midwest to stay with some friends of his caretaker, a middle-aged woman, who needs to undergo an emergency medical operation.

The visit to Minnesota does not go well and soon the boy from Montana is back on the bus home with a surprise companion. This posthumous traveler’s tale falls in line with a lot of the western tales that Ivan wrote during his lifetime and should consolidate his well-deserved reputation as one of the best Western storytellers of the 20th century. The book is definitely on my reading list for this year.

 

Sign for Empire Steel Manufactoring Co. in Billings, MT, photo by author
Sign for Empire Steel Manufactoring Co. in Billings, MT, photo by author

Why Do Fairy Tales Have So Many Strong Female Leads?

Image of Cinderella from the upcoming movie
Image of Cinderella from the upcoming movie

Woman’s History Month

The month of March is Woman’s History Month. Usually, this is an event that I completely ignore, but this year due to a series of interesting blog posts around the web, I have become intrigued with the subject of not only women in filmmaking, but also the study of stories with strong female leads. As a result my blogs for the rest of this month will revolve around this emerging topic.

The Situation Today

There is a fascinating blog post over at blcklst.com (Blacklist), where the author, Terry Huang, does a comparison of movies made with female leads to those made with male leads. What is most revealing about this undertaking is that Terry does this at different budget levels and the result is not really very surprising. As the budget for a film increases so does the likelihood that the film will revolve around a central male protagonist. What is surprising here, is how this comparison falls into an almost predictable mathematical curve. For example, at the one million dollar budget level, male films outscore female films by a two-to-one ratio. However, by time one reaches the 200 million dollar budget, this ratio has increased to a 10 to 1 margin.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, there were many stories with strong female leads. In that bygone era, the art of storytelling was dominated by the likes of Cinderella, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Gretel. And as in the case of Gretel, not all these characters liked to play nice. Take Gretel for example, who outsmarts the wicked witch that has imprisoned her and her brother and gains freedom for both herself and her less inventive brother, Hansel.

Nowadays, it seems that most of our big budget movies are not made unless there is a storyline that revolves around a strong, male protagonist. Incidentally, some recent movies have returned to the days of the Grimm Brothers to come up with a cinema feature with a strong female lead. If not for the recent releases of Snow White and the Huntsman, Frozen, Hansel and Gretel (Witchhunters) and soon-to-be-seen Cinderella, this picture would be a bit darker.

Still, 50 Shades of Gray leads the 2015 releases with the most sales. With over nine months left in the calendar year, it remains to be seen, if this will still be the case.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf as pictured in an ad by HADD (Hispanics Against Drunk Driving)
Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf as pictured in an ad by HADD (Hispanics Against Drunk Driving)

 

The Day After the Oscars

A Collage of Gowns from 2015
A Collage of Gowns from 2015

The Morning After

I woke up this morning and was surprised to learn that last night was Oscar night. I don’t think I missed very much and it came as no surprise that this years awards had the least number viewers in six years. The 2015 awards have also been criticized as the “whitest” group of nominees since 1998. Also by the looks of things, the array of colorful gowns were probably the most conservative in quite a while. A sign of the changing times……..or perhaps just coincidence. My thoughts are that one year does not make a trend. Over the past decade black actors and actresses have been fairly well represented at the podium, while their Hispanic and Asian counterparts have been much less conspicuous. And Native American participants have been almost non-existent. It’s too soon to tell if this is a trend, but if this continues over the next few years, the people who put on the show may have to do some re-thinking.

Highlights

Just from looking around the web on the morning after, the highlights can be described in one short sentence. Birdman won best picture and screenwriter, Graham Moore, gave an impassioned speech about his main subject, Alan Turing and the screenplay he wrote for the Imitation Game. Other than that the Oscars may have been more routine than usual.

Is There More Competition Out There

Naturally, the question arose in my mind about whether the increased presence of Indie films and online venues such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu is taking its toll on our much-cherished national institution. Just from what I’ve seen of Amazon Prime, I would say that there may be something to this argument. Especially, Amazon, which seems to be gearing up in a big way to possibly challenge the dominance of Hollywood……or at the very least providing a viable alternative in the way we are entertained.

Two Questionable Films

Fifty Shades of Grey is tearing up box office sales at the theater almost in the same that the story did, when it was first released in book form. However, at the Oscars, the film was kind of snubbed (though Dakota Johnson did get to present an award). Besides being snubbed the film has been attacked as being misogynistic and misguided. There have even been boycott efforts, but these appear to have little effect, as the film is still the number one grossing film in its second week at the box office. However, 50 Shades did receive support from one star, Julie Andrews, who said she didn’t mind a red room of pain. (really)

And the other source of controversy is the recently released action/thriller called The Kingsman, in which there is a scene, where the head of a black president explodes. Critics here point out that the resemblance to our current Commander-in-Chief is way too close even if it is, just a movie.

It seems to be that a close look at these two questionable films may be symptomatic as to why Hollywood may have a problem with the content and overall caliber of its product. Only time will tell.

 

M104: The Sombrero Galaxy  Image Data: NASA, ESO , NAOJ, Giovanni Paglioli - Processing: R. Colombari
M104: The Sombrero Galaxy
Image Data: NASA, ESO , NAOJ, Giovanni Paglioli – Processing: R. Colombari

 

 

Two Offbeat American Holidays…..Back To Back

A Super Bowl stadium collaged with two images depicting Groundhog Day
A Super Bowl stadium collaged with two images depicting Groundhog Day

Winter

Winter is 13 weeks long….and depending where you live – this can be a short 13 weeks or a very long thirteen weeks. Also part of the equation is whether you enjoy outdoor winter sports……or not. For an avid skier, a warm winter with no snow can make for a very long winter and an economically bad season, as well, especially…. if he or she happens to be employed with the ski industry. However, for the most of the rest of us, it is a long ways from the winter solstice to the spring equinox. Perhaps, this explains why there are so many joyous holiday within this time period. Without Christmas, New Years Day, Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day, this quarter of the year would be a whole lot, less bearable.

Midwinter

Strangely enough,  two of our most offbeat holidays occur right at the midwinter mark. In fact, this year they fall on consecutive days. If you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Super Bowl Sunday and Groundhogs Day, which just happen to respectively occur on the first and second day of February. The combination of the two just might maks for a great way to revel in the fact that winter is half over.

Bad Year For the NFL

A recent news story about the jurors in the Aaron Hernandez trial illustrates just how low the NFL has fallen during the current season. Judy Garsh, judge for the Hernandez trial, has ruled that the jurors can watch the Super Bowl, only if the name of Aaron Hernandez is not mentioned. And, if one of the newscasters has a slip of the tongue, then the unlucky viewers will  have to turn the game off. Now that’s bizarre. Combine this situation with all the sex abuse allegations and the recent deflate-gate controversy surrounding the Patriots victory over the Colts and it becomes quite clear that the NFL commissioners (and many fans as well) with have very good reason to celebrate Groundhogs Day on Monday. Yeah!!!! the season’s finally over.

A Cult Movie Accents an Offbeat Holiday

Look through the comedy section of any movie DVD store (or online site) and you will see hundreds of listings with catchy titles that fail to deliver. Strangely enough, one of the perennial favorites is Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. When first released in 19992, the movie was well received and got favorable reviews. Since then the film has grown in stature, so that nowadays, the popular fantasy fare is consistently listed as one of the top ten comedies and sometimes even included as one of the ten best films ever. So if you have yet to see this film, you might want to give it a viewing. And if one of the announcers slips up and mentions Aaron Hernandez’s name, you can show solidarity with the 18 jurors and turn off the sports contest and put on the groundhog movie.