Monday, July 30, 2007

Jihad: The Musical; the show must go on

In Mark Twain’s Notebook, he once wrote, “American[s]...are irreverent toward pretty much everything, but where they laugh one good king to death, they laugh a thousand cruel and infamous shams and superstitions into the grave, and the account is squared. Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense.”

It’s been six years, 10 months, and 19 days since the tragic events of 9/11. Finally, I have heard of the first and only authentically American comeback to that terrifying blow, and this properly irreverent response to the tragedy was not even created solely by Americans, but by a community of international artists who will stage a provocative performance at one of the Edinburgh Festival’s Fringe events, that is, if this performing troop is allowed to go on with their show.

The show is called Jihad: The Musical. This musical is described as “an all-singing, all-dancing madcap gallop through the world of Islamic terrorism.” The chorus line performs The Can-Can in pink burkhas while holding automatic weapons (probably supplied by an arms deal negotiated with the U.S. president). The story is about an unlucky Afghan peasant who winds up with a group of wanna-be Jihad terrorists who sing catchy tunes to lyrics such as “I Wanna Be Like Osama,” described by shock theater enthusiasts as a real show-stopping number.

The Guardian Unlimited quoted protestors of the performance from the government’s petitions website: “The idea of making light of Muslim extremism is extremely offensive, most especially for its victims.” However, BBC World News interviewed one of the creators of the musical who hoped the production will help audiences talk about the provocative topic of terrorism in a fresh way, and they believe satire is a good lens through which to look at things that frighten people most. Unfortunately, because the world seems too far removed from Mark Twain’s irreverent spirit, people actually need to debate about banning this musical. How sad! It is the trend nowadays for everyone—terrorists, victims, and nobodies alike—to take themselves way too seriously.

This blogger firmly believes that Jihad: The Musical’s show must go on precisely because it is already way too late for this kind of reaction to the terror plots the world over. Besides, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival prides itself on showcasing artistic license that cannot exist in any other realm.

In Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar, Twain wrote, “[t]rue irreverence is disrespect for another man’s god.” If these extremists, whether they are Muslim or not, take violence and death as their god, perhaps the most effective way to fight them is for the entire world to poke fun at them with thoughtful mocking and good ol’ song and dance. The musical comedy is one artistic form that can effectively deal with sham, superstition, and religious drivel in ways that no geo-political context can ever manage. If we do not allow the irreverence of musical theater and Jihad: The Musical to thrive the world over, then we have already experienced, without even knowing it, the death of human liberty.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What Good is Google's "Street Views" Function?

Lauren Jackson worked as a bank teller on Chicago’s West Side for twenty years. She owned her own home, had no family, and bothered nobody. Then she became ill with ulcerative colitis, the same disease that got her mother. Consequently, Lauren missed lots of work and lost her job. Alas, mortgage costs have no regard for human illness and unemployment, and Lauren inevitably fell behind. Hard times forced Lauren into desperate need for help with her mortgage payments. She heard of a company called Home Happy Financial that would allow her to sign the deed to her home over to their trust fund; they’d refinance her home and invest that money in a lucrative real estate deal that would earn a handsome some so that in five years Lauren would be able to pay off her entire mortgage. Meanwhile, she could stay in her home and make small monthly rent payments directly to HHF. She felt conflicted, but Lauren decided to go along with the deal. Though she had diligently researched the legitimacy of the company and consulted a lawyer before opting in, the HHF plan turned out to be a scheme cooked up by a guy named Felix Daniels whose office was based in Detroit. Lauren’s suspicions started to rise months after entering the deal when she received a letter from an unknown woman named Doreen Lyle, stating that there was foreclosure on Lauren’s house, and it was up for sale; Lauren could buy it from Doreen if she wished. Lauren flew into a ladylike rage. She bought a whip (because, cops told her, you can’t own a handgun in the city of Chicago), and she drove all the way to Detroit. She arrived at the address posted on all the letters from Felix Daniels’ HHF company and found the location to be nothing more than a UPS drop box. She didn’t get a chance to use her whip, so now Lauren Jackson is suing for fraud.

If only Google had offered its “Street Views” function for the city of Detroit, that would have saved Lauren Jackson a heap of trouble. She could have zoomed in on the physical location of the Home Happy Financial from her own home right at the start to see if such a place existed; she would have realized then she was being tricked. While Lauren is in the suing mood, she might as well sue Google, too, for discrimination. Why is it Miami, New York, San Francisco, Vegas, and Denver get the privilege of “Street Views?” Even if Lauren Jackson doesn’t sue Google, maybe people like Caitlin Jones, a low-profile New Yorker, won’t feel their privacy is being violated by “Street Views” zooming in on their buildings when they realize the function could be used to check up on addresses used by people concocting fraudulent schemes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

An Achamenid Battle-ax and The Pomegranate of Love

The Words Without Borders online Magazine for International Literature features an Iranian author today. Her name is Goli Taraghi. I read a great story of hers, and I wanted to share it with anyone in the blogosphere looking for something fresh and powerful to read. If you’re someone who has ever been irritated, delayed, humiliated, or upset by the security checks at today’s airports, this story will stimulate you. If you’ve ever had a chance encounter in an airplane that turned into a drama larger than you expected, you will identify with the characters in this story. Most of all, if you are a parent who knows what it means to love your children with excruciating ardor, this story will strike a resonating chord. Even if you do not fit any of the abovementioned description, the story will give any reader a memorable tweak.

The story is entitled The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons

I appreciate Goli Taraghi’s work, and I am grateful that Words Without Borders makes her stories available to read online. Would love to hear from others what they think of her.


Monday, July 09, 2007

We Never Met Online

Tracey started out doing this strange work as favors for friends, but her college sweetheart encouraged her—she had a special gift and a fresh idea; she could make some money. She decided to set up her own small business that customized and distributed “How We Met” stories and scripts for couples that have already picked each other up online and know each other well, but who are too ashamed to admit they met over the Internet. Tracey got the business started a little over a year ago: she placed an ad in the yellow pages and set up her own website. Soon she was writing “How We Met” narratives for hundreds of customers and charging each a modest fee. The customers placed orders for a fascinating Meet-Up story that they could tell people whenever someone asked, “How did you two meet?” And for a slightly higher payment, the couple received a script adaptation of the story so that in case they wanted to re-live their first encounter in the real world versus carrying around the memory of their lame virtual “love at first byte,” they could do so according to the situation Tracey scripted for them. Tracey made up all varieties of tales about the first time her lovers / customers encountered each other. Some involved elaborate and clumsy run-ins where, possibly, one party sustained an injury. Other scripts detailed dramatic entangles in which both parties were in the process of ending previous long-term relationships when they happened to encounter the “new” love at unlikely times and place, such as while creaming their coffee at The Starbucks or while gassing at The Pump. The scripts ranged from simple encounters in local bars to lewd mistakes at mask parties and risky dares on nightclub dance floors. The idea was that the customers would receive their stories, pretend as if they had never met, put on a ruse for one evening as if this were the first time they were ever meeting, and then engage in that activity set up in the premise of Tracey’s story. The couple would follow Tracey’s narrative and script to a T, and then fall in love after that “first” real world date. Later, if people asked, the couple could safely say, “We never met online.” Tracey was also able to claim that hers was a GREEN business; some of the "How We Met" stories narrated love at the recycling plant or portrayed urban neighbors helping each other out with separating paper from plastic and consequently falling in love. After a time, Tracey’s business went on to bring her much success, culminating in Yahoo and Google entering a heated bidding war to buy her out. Google won. Tracey made millions. Now she’s married, pregnant, and filthy rich. She has no friends because they all envy her too much, and the guy who originally encouraged her to make money off her idea died last year in Iraq; unfortunately, he’s not around to celebrate and share Tracey’s wealth. But these days you’ll find a lot of couples out there who are quite content with the lovely stories of how they met. Thanks to Tracey’s efforts, no lovers need to feel ashamed of having met online.