Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Beware The Vengeance Of Angry Villagers

Small Village Holds Onto Centuries Old Grudge, Refuses To Listen To Reason

Edinburgh (Reuters) It has been three years since the death of actor Larry Hagman, whose iconic character J.R. Ewing caused trouble, stabbed people in the back, and generally made life hell for everyone on two incarnations of the series Dallas. The actor, who passed away from leukemia in 2012, was well liked personally, despite playing one of the small screen’s more vindictive, conniving, and compelling sort of villains- it depends on how you define a villain, after all; Dallas pretty much revolved around the character.

In 1980, the world seemingly was occupied with the mystery of who shot J.R., something that seems unthinkable now in a 500 channel fragmented television world where no single show will ever see those kind of ratings again. Seemingly, that is, because one village in the heart of the Scottish highlands went out of their way to express their disdain by ignoring the series entirely.

The village of MacDubh, with an estimated current population of 1200, is in a sleepy corner of the picturesque Scottish highlands. It’s not quite Brigadoon, but it would fit the stereotype- tartans, thick Scottish brogues, and haggis eaten every Robert Burns Day. Tourists often visit while in the area, finding welcoming Scottish pubs, old fashioned sensibilities, and stories of encounters with the Loch Ness monster.

There is one exception to their hospitality. Any single person who’s ever visited going by the initials of their first and middle names as J.R. is seen as an object of scorn, hostility, and derision. It doesn’t matter if one is Jonathan Ryan or June Rose. The hostility extends to a Joseph Roger or a Jane Roxanne. The antagonism remains the same. Hence in 1980, the villagers completely ignored a mystery unfolding on television that even enthralled the Queen Mother, to the point where she asked Hagman who had shot his character.

“Admittedly, to an outsider, it might seem ridiculous,” Colleen McTavish, a local Presbyterian minister admitted to this reporter. “Holding a grudge for centuries against anyone bearing the same initials as that.... that.... that... oh, hell with it! That underhanded cheating demonic conniving bastard Jack Robert McCullough!!!! A curse on him and his kin!”

Jack Robert McCullough, otherwise known as J.R. McCullough, lived in MacDubh in the late 1750s. A brigand, thief, scoundrel, cheater at card games, and occasional barrister, McCullough disappeared in 1759 after cheating the villagers out of their savings. After a few minutes of ranting and roaring about the “McCullough scum”, McTavish explained the story. “It was a prosperous village for the time. Now imagine a whole village losing nearly every spare cent they had. Taken by a swindling sneaky snake of a.... I’m getting worked up again, aren’t I? Anyway, as I said, taken by a swindler who lined his pockets and conned them all. The villagers were furious, as you can imagine.”

Furious enough to have torches and pitchforks at the ready in a village meeting, as it turns out. On the night of October 30th, 1759, the villagers assembled, the truth about McCullough exposed, venting their fury and deciding to string McCullough up. As the story goes, they found no trace of him at his home- an open front door, signs of bags being packed, and no trace of the swindler. “It was as if he’d vanished in the night,” McTavish admitted with a sigh. “There were rumours in the weeks afterwards, sightings here and there in the Highlands. His family was questioned, but as far as we know, none of them ever heard from him again.”

This reporter posted the obvious question- could we, centuries later, just take the word of the villagers that McCullough had just vanished? What if one of them had killed him and hidden the body?

McTavish had to concede the point. “It’s a fair argument. That much anger from so many people. I mean, they were all ready to kill him anyway. I suppose it’s possible that one of them might have killed him instead of him escaping into the night. The problem is that the money he stole never turned up afterwards, so...”

But why hold onto a grudge all this time? It’s a perplexing question, particularly when the grudge is applied to people, real and fictional, who have no connection to McCullough. McTavish put that into context. “When it was apparent to the villagers that McCullough was gone, two things happened. First, they vented by burning his house down. Second, a blood oath of vengeance was taken, a Highland oath that no matter how long it would last, for the rest of time, J.R. McCullough and all who shared his initials would bear the contempt and scorn of the village. It’s a contempt and a hatred that has been passed down from generation to generation. From fathers to sons, mothers to daughters. No J.R. can ever, ever be trusted. All J.R.s must be treated as suspect. All J.R.s must be confronted with antagonism. And we’ve lived by that oath ever since.”

This explains at least one story from the late Hagman, who in an interview with Time in 1998 spoke about a vacation he took several years earlier in the Scottish Highlands. “My wife and I turned up in this village,” Hagman said at the time. “Lovely spot, really, beautiful mountains, rolling hills, idyllic. I walked into a crowded pub, looked around, and suddenly the conversation and music and everything else just stopped. Everyone stared at us. Stared at me, really. And it wasn’t the sort of stare of recognition you get from the fans who realize that hey, it’s that actor. It’s the kind of stare that it’s like daggers. I mean, I saw so much hostility in those eyes... I’ve never seen that in anyone. Long story short, my wife and I were running for our lives back to our car, with villagers on our heels screaming kill the bastard right behind us. The local police in the next village over apologized to us, said it was a cultural thing with that village. They just hated all J.R.s. I don’t know why... I mean, for one thing, it was just a character I played, and for another, who could possibly hate J.R. Ewing?”

McTavish nodded when asked about that. “Yes, okay, it wasn’t our finest hour. It happened. We got carried away with ourselves. We chased this American actor out of the village, screamed bloody murder, all because we recognized him for playing a character named J.R. years ago. These things happen when you involve Highland curses. But there’s one thing I’d like to add. I never said kill the bastard while I was chasing Mr. Hagman.” She paused for a moment, looking grave.

“I might have said kill the mother****er. Wait, don’t quote me on that, I’m a minister.”

Monday, November 23, 2015

The South African Millionaire Scam

While I get no end of spam in my blog spam folders, fortunately almost all of them automatically get caught and dumped into the purgatory otherwise known as the spam folder. It has been awhile since the despicable vermin that are internet scammers sent along any junk email trying to get me to believe that they are the secretary/ wife/ daughter/ concubine/ bookie of the late and dear general/ dictator/ reverend/ feared overlord/ cult leader what's-his-face. Until a few days ago when this gem turned up in my junk email folder.


I am Alan Reid, personal assistant to late Mr. Abe Krok, a South African gambling tycoon and one of the country's richest men in South African.

I will like you to help me in receiving fund $19.300 million into your Bank Account please Contact me for more details

Thank you very much.

Alan Reid.

Where do we begin? Well, for starters, our totally lying liar times infinity plus one got his name misspelled in his email address- instead of Alan Reid, it was Alad Rein. And instead of being based out of South Africa as such a real person would be, his country's internet country code marks him as being from Malaysia. Which of course is fertile ground for the accursed internet scammers.

There are of course the other tell-tales. Misspellings, capitalized words that don't need capitalization, and punctuation issues are always hallmarks of the internet scammers. The fact that our hapless twit writes it as "...personal assistant to late Mr. Abe Krok" instead of "personal assistant to the late Mr. Abe Krok" speaks volumes. Hey, it might be just one small word, but the actual assistant to an actual millionaire would have the education to write it properly. And our worthless pile of crap... oh, I mean, Mr. Reid... no, wait, I got it right the first time. Anyway, the resident scammer gets the rest of that sentence wrong too- "a South African gambling tycoon and one of the country's richest men in South African". In South African? Drop the n at the end of Africa, moron. In fact, if you were real, which you are not, you'd simply end that sentence at richest men.

As it turns out there was a South African millionaire by that name who died a couple of years back. Apparently he and his brother made a great deal of money on skin lightening products, football clubs, and gambling interests (and getting themselves into legal troubles of their own). And as it turns out, the Alan Reid scammer (or whatever his real name is) has been circulating a variation on the above message since the old bastard kicked the bucket.

One wonders how the real Abe Krok would feel about his name being misused by scammers after his death. Let's face it, real millionaires don't have their real personal assistants email countless people trying to convince them this too good to be true scam is true. Real personal assistants, on the other hand, might spend some of their time figuring out ways to siphon off the boss's fortune, but that's a different story. And our resident scammer wants me to believe there's 19.3 million dollars out there just for me. 

Uh huh, sure. Right. Whatever.

Nice try, dimwit, but most of us aren't blithering idiots dumb enough to buy into your con. You'll just have to hope that someone in the thousands upon thousands of other people you've sent this email to might be. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this particular warning. I highly recommend you take it seriously, because you wouldn't like Fluffy when he's angry. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

How Long Can Two People Talk?

A different kind of film than the one I reviewed in my last post, and I might earn the wrath of Woody Allen and Nicholas Sparks for this one. Well, if they clone themselves five hundred times and I tie an arm around my back, it might be a fair fight.

“Think of this as time travel, from then, to now, to find out what you’re missing out on. See, what this really could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband to find out you’re not missing out on anything. I’m just as big a loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring, and, uh, you made the right choice, and you’re really happy.” ~ Jesse

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed, but... who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.” ~ Celine

"You know what the worst thing about somebody breaking up with you? It's when you remember how little you thought about the people you broke up with and you realize that's how little they're thinking of you. You know, you'd like to think you're both in all this pain, but they're just like, hey, I'm glad you're gone." ~ Jesse

"You know, I have this awful paranoid thought that feminism was mostly invented by men so they could like,  fool around a little more. You know, women, free your minds, free your bodies, sleep with me. We're all happy and free as long as I can fuck as much as I want." ~ Celine

“I feel like this is, uh, some dream world we’re in, y’know?” ~ Jesse 
“Yeah, it’s so weird. It’s like our time together is just ours. It’s our own creation. It must be like I’m in your dream, or you’re in mine, or something.” ~ Celine

In 1995, director Richard Linklater, who had earlier directed the films Slacker and Dazed And Confused, brought a new film to the big screen, a romantic drama set over a single night called Before Sunrise. It features a young couple meeting and spending a single night wandering through Vienna, getting to know each other, and letting the audience get to know them by extension. A story with minimalist plot, the tale is instead a character study with tremendously likable lead characters. It would lead later to two sequels with the characters in other cities, carrying on conversations at later points in their lives.

We meet the pair, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) on a train heading west through Austria. They strike up a conversation, and there’s a spark between them. Jesse’s getting off in Vienna for a flight back home to America the next day. Celine is on her way home to Paris. When they reach Vienna, Jesse makes a proposal- he wants to keep talking with her, asking her to join him in wandering Vienna for the night. She’s charmed by him, and agrees, and the pair step off the train. They take in the sights of Vienna, a city Celine has been in before, and keep up their conversation, learning more about each other, bantering and sparring, and sharing their dreams.

Linklater co-wrote the script with Kim Krizan, inspired by an encounter with a woman years earlier in which Linklater spent hours conversing long into the night. The script takes these two characters out of their usual element, both in a foreign country with the benefit of anonymity, and lets the two get to know each other through the course of the story. Apparently it was a quick script to write between the two at eleven days, but the characters are fully realized, given depth in their world views and personalities, and feel authentic. The tale is one of self discovery all while these characters get to know each other. They’re smart in different ways, have strong opinions, and engage each other with ideas in a way that’s compelling. I’m struck each time I see this film by how strong a difference there is to Woody Allen films, which are so often talkfests, but irritating (Woody Allen’s chronic whining neurotic personality wears out its welcome inside of a minute for me). These characters are appealing and thoughtful, and even when they have their own self-doubts, it never comes across as whining. Instead they come across as natural.

While the two leads are the only major characters (aside from transitory characters the pair encounter during the night), it can be said that Vienna itself is a character in the film, as the pair roam, visit places, and engage in the culture and night life of the city. Linklater filmed on location, taking full advantage of the beauty of the city, so the film is something of a travelogue as well. As the movie unfolds, we see a lot of Vienna in different ways. The directorial style still emphasizes the strong characterization, focusing on Celine and Jesse throughout. Aside from taking in Vienna’s beauty, Linklater’s style stays centered on his leads. That style reflects itself in how these characters relate early on- moments of shyness as they’re getting to know each other, most particularly in the glances they give each other in a listening booth.

Linklater apparently saw many actors before he chose his lead pair, and the way they did a reading of the script convinced him they were perfect for the roles. Julie Delpy has done most of her work in France, and she’s just right as Celine. The character is intelligent, warm, creative, matter of fact; she has strong opinions, is wise in her ways, and worries that she might come across as too obsessive- her remarks about worrying that an ex-boyfriend will end up meeting a bad end and she’d be the prime suspect reflect that in a funny way. Celine’s world view on many things is explored- feminism, rebellion, family, belief, and the nature of existence. She’s a fully formed woman, complete unto herself, which makes her all the more appealing.  

Ethan Hawke turned out to be ideal as Jesse, who’s romantic at heart and yet hides that under a veil of cynicism. There’s a sense of whimsy about him at times, a wry sense of humour, and self deprecation that’s refreshing. As cynical as he might initially come across as, there’s a sense of hope and optimism in the character. It takes awhile before these characters actually bring up the topic of their romantic situations and why they’re single, and I like Jesse’s honesty about his recent break-up; his remarks about how little one thinks of the person they’ve broken up with in the past ring true. His honesty about feeling like he’s coming across as if he has no idea what he’s talking about is also refreshing- all while Celine counters that in just the right way. There’s a dreamer in Jesse, a quality that we see strongly in Celine as well, and it makes them so very appealing to the audience.

Before Sunrise, like Before Sunset and Before Midnight after it, is an exploration of human nature between two characters, with time as a featured player. It’s a tremendously appealing romance as these two get to know each other. While Celine and Jesse are falling in love, the audience is all the while falling for both of them; we feel such a strong connection to these two, which makes the movie all the more satisfying. This movie is a critical and audience favourite, with characters who have such richly layered, grounded, authentic personalities. I love the spirit and the intelligence of the film, which is fresh no matter how many times one sees it. Considering how these days romantic movies tend to consist of endless tedious Nicholas Sparks adaptations (which, by the way, constitute cruel and unusual punishment- do your worst, Nicholas Sparks fans), this film is the right kind of romantic movie.