Complications Ensue: The Crafty Game, TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Screenwriting, TV and Game Writing Blog


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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Father-in-law Mike and I spent an hour the other day trying to fix a cabinet door whose hinges were bent and broken. Unfortunately, the cabinet door was installed in such a finicky way that we couldn't simply replace the hinges with hinges from the hardware store, and it took us a good deal of time just to understand what we were up against. There's no room for the cabinet doors to swing out, so they were installed with fancy hinges that swing the doors away and out, and the replacement hinges that Dad has don't swing them enough away.

Either they were designed by an architect who didn't care how much trouble he was causing or they were built by a carpenter who didn't get around to the cabinet door problem until he'd already built all the cabinets, and had to go find fancy hinges that would fix the problem he'd created.

Every professional writer gets this call: "We have a script we're interested in, but it was written by the producer's niece, and she's never written a script before, but we're real excited by the project. Could you do a polish on it?"

I then have to explain that you can rarely do a polish on a script written by an amateur. You almost always have to take the damn thing apart and put it back together again before you can even start polishing it. It is usually just about as much work as if the producer had simply taken the idea to you and commissioned a script in the first place. Of course you're getting paid 40% less -- a page one rewrite is still a "rewrite" not a commissioned script.

When an amateur writes a script, it is often missing some of the following: a hero (or anti-hero) we care about; an opportunity, problem or goal for the hero; obstacles and/or an antagonist; jeopardy; stakes. I read a script not that long ago where I couldn't tell who the central character was until page 80.

There may not be characters. The characters may not have their own voices.

In other words, the elements of the story -- the structure of the story -- isn't there. And I have to explain why I can't polish something and give it story elements. I have to rip it up and redo it.

A dialog polish is like slapping paint on a cabinet or dresser. It makes it look better. But it doesn't make it work better if it's not working right. If it's not working right, you have to take the thing apart, usually all the way, and recut or replace some or all of the pieces, and then put the whole thing back together again before you paint.

Likewise, if an aspiring writer asks if I'll write with them, then the answer is almost always "no." I'll consult, or I'll do the writing myself, but I can't co-write with someone who's not a pro writer.

This would be like a carpenter building a dresser with me. I really can't help her much. If I cut something, it won't be to the same tolerances as the carpenter's work; the pieces won't fit right. If I put a piece in place, I'll glue it in the wrong position and throw everything off. The carpenter can usefully do the work herself, or she can sip coffee while telling me how to do it right. But there's no "co-carpenting."

I find that once you start using carpentry metaphors talking to producers, they start to understand better why you can't "polish" an amateurish script, or "co-write" with an amateur. Try using this metaphor yourself, let me know how it works out.


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YouTube is planning to rent movies for $3.99 a pop. Nothing special about that idea -- you can rent movies from iTunes for the same price. But YouTube's idea seems to be to distribute movies that don't already have distribution.

Distribution is tough these days. It is insanely hard to get your movie into Sundance, yet most of the movies at Sundance won't get distribution. (Which is why you might not want to finance your picture with credit cards.) YouTube, apparently, proposes to let filmmakers upload their movies whether they've got theatrical or DVD distribution or not.

This fits right into the YouTube business model, of course. And they won't be losing any money. Their cost is virtually nil.

The question is whether consumers really want more choice. I rarely see movies at film festivals for the very reason that they're much spottier than movies that have made it to theaters. And YouTube distribution won't eliminate the need to market your movie. People still have to hear that it's worth $3.99.

Maybe what's needed is a "taster" price: you can rent the first 30 minutes of a movie for a buck. The rest costs you $3. Anyone who's into the movie will be happy to pay for it. But you don't have to worry you'll pay $3.99 for a stinker, because you can bail out and it will cost you only a buck. On the other hand 30 minutes is long enough for viewers to figure out if they're liking a movie even if it gets off to a slow start.

I can see people in airports now, browsing movies on their iPads, downloading a couple for the flight. Assuming, of course, that in the future you won't have to fly gadgetless and naked.



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Saturday, January 30, 2010

What happens when special effects get so easy and cheap to do that almost anyone can access them?

This little video wonders what happened to the Star Wars opening crawl as it sailed off into space.



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Congrats to my buds Alex Franchi and Marc Krupa for winning the Audience Award at Slamdance with their awesome contemporary medieval romance, THE WILD HUNT.

Okay, it's just an excuse to post more video of Tiio Horn.



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Every network has a mandate and a current agenda that you can't always figure out from what's on the air now. They may have all procedurals and feel they need something else. They may have all procedurals and, really, they don't want anything else. A good agent has his or her ear to the ground and can tell you where they're at. Here's some intel I've got -- what's yours?

CBS: I am told they've pretty much decided that cop procedurals work for them and they don't want anything else. Guy with a special ability, ass-kicking chick cop, they solve crimes. Embrace it, love it.

SyFy: "no hardware." They want character based shows that have one element that allow them to be considered SF or F. Key word is "relatable." Sounds like more MEDIUM than BATTLESTAR.

FX: Male-oriented. If anything, more visceral than HBO. Hard drama with deep emotional underpinnings.

USA: Their slogan is "characters wanted." They seem to mostly want male characters. Nothing too heavy. They have a spy who solves mysteries, a con artist who solves mysteries, a blind guy who solves mysteries...

Fox: "anti-authority" "attitude" "off-beat" "subversive" FWIW.

NBC: Insert snippy comment here.



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Friday, January 29, 2010

I live in Toronto and was wondering if you knew how I could go about getting a job as a script reader? What companies would be looking for a script reader? Would CTV and Alliance Atlantis be looking for script readers, or do they go to different production companies to buy their "original programming"?
I've never heard of a Canadian company hiring script readers. Has anyone heard of such a thing?
Do I have to be in the same country as the production company to script read; could I apply to Warner Brothers of Dreamworks? What should I write in my Cover Letter and to whom in a particular company should I address it to?
Wow, I think that's going to be a long shot. I imagine you need some sort of "in" at a company to get a script reading job. I got my first script reading job from a friend from Yale. So long distance is going to be hard, I would think.

Anyone got any ideas?



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Thursday, January 28, 2010

HIGH LIFE is opening in multiple Canadian cities tomorrow. In Montreal it's showing daily at the AMC Forum at 12:05, 2:10, 4:20, 6:25, 8:30, and 10:35. I'm going to the 8:30 show at the AMC, man!

In other news, PLAYBACK sez Telefilm is going to cough up money to promote select French Canadian films via social marketing (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) PUT THE TRAILER ON YOUTUBE, OKAY? Really. You would be amazed how many Quebec movies don't have an online trailer.



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I'm hashing out a new story idea for a rom com that is going to require some research into dysfunctional relationships. If I research primarily from one or two books, is that considered an adaptation? Normally I would laugh at this sort of question, but a recent trend has me wondering. "He's Just Not That Into You" was "adapted" from a self help book. I've never read the book, so I'm not entirely sure how they compare. Were they just paying for title recognition? Even more recently, I read that "What to Expect when You're Expecting" will be adapted. How do seven plotlines centered around pregnancy and parenthood become an adaptation? If that doesn't just count as simply research anymore, is everyone going to be expected to have options on their primary sources?
No. In both these cases, producers are buying the property in order to be able to sell the property, and the title, to a studio. "I've got the rights to the most famous book on childbirth" gets you a meeting or two.

But as a writer you can certainly write stories based on nonfiction all day long. By the time you're done making up stories, it is unlikely anything will remain of the original copyrighted material. (Make sure it doesn't.) So you're free and clear. You can even tell people it's "inspired by books like WHAT TO EXPECT..."

You can't copyright an idea. You can't copyright biology or culture or sociology. You can only copyright the specific representation of an idea. Which means I can do an awful lot with your idea before I have to option the rights from you.



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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My producer and I are putting together a package for the Telefilm submission for a feature I'm attached to direct. It's very exciting, because if we can get the financing, then it would be my first feature. We're trying to figure out how to do everything on the small budget we'll have, which means trying to find stars we can afford who will also excite the distributors, and locations where we can place more than one scene.

It's nice to now have access to satellite imagery. We have a bunch of art gallery scenes, and a scene on the Lachine Canal. I remembered an old factory, now renovated to condos, offices and studios, right on the Canal, on St. Ambroise. Anton and I were talking, and I ran Google Maps up and down the Lachine Canal looking for the telltale parking lot. There it was. "You know this place, right?" "Oh yeah, a lot of people have production offices there." "We could do both art gallery scenes, and maybe Lucas's apartment, and the Lachine Canal." "Good idea."

It's mad good to have access to satellite imagery.

Meanwhile, actors' reels are starting to go up on YouTube. I wanted to show the ridiculously talented and alarming Michael Filipowich to an American showrunner I've been working my metaphysical drama with. He's got his reel up on YouTube. "You see what I'm talking about?"

Department heads, too. If you're a cinematographer, a production designer, a composer: get your stuff up on the Net. If we're looking at two people, and one of them can be checked out on the Net, who do you think we're going to check out first?

And if an actor doesn't have a reel, they often have interviews. One actor we were looking at is famous for her dramatic roles. "But can she do comedy?" We looked at an interview on Tout le monde en parle," a Quebec talk show. (Trans: "Everybody's Talking About It.") Oh, yeah, there's the lightness we were looking for.

... Which, of course, means, you better be on fire every time you give an interview. I was looking at one actor for a role, and she had an interview up which just made her look like a dingbat. Fortunately, she had a TV interview up that made her look perfect. Fortunately, I saw both.

Indie film has been taking a terrible beating lately. It's very hard to get a distributor. Fortunately, in these small ways, it's getting easier to put one together.

PS: For Dog's sake, why do so many of these Canadian films not have a trailer online? Are you kidding me? What is wrong with you people? Ask your intern to UPLOAD YOUR FRAKKING TRAILERS.



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Thursday, January 21, 2010

A very smart new friend of mine turned me on to this utterly awesome review of STAR WARS I: THE PHANTOM MENACE.

This is not a professional review. This is a 70 minute video review of why the movie completely sucks, by some guy from Milwaukee named Mike who totally gets it.
And this isn’t your usual fanboy rant, this is an epic, well-edited well-constructed piece of geek film criticism. In fact, the way I learned about the video was from LOST co-creator and STAR TREK producer Damon Lindelof, who said “Your life is about to change. This is astounding film making. Watch ALL of it.”

For example, Mike has 4 friends talk about who Han Solo is, as a character:

"He's a scoundrel..." "rogue" ... "cocky" ... "womanizer" ... "but with a heart of gold..."

Qui-Gon Jinn:

"He has a beard..." "stoic" ... "has a beard" ... "beard..."

It's pretty awesome.

Here's part one; follow the link above for the other 6 parts.



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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Talentville is a new website intended to be a home for emerging writers to cross-pollinate. Like Triggerstreet and Zoetrope, you can review each other's scripts. There's a neat mechanism where each review you write generates you "Talent Dollars" which enable you to "buy" a review of your script.

And there will be lots of goodies as founder Ben Cahan (who helped found Final Draft) adds features.

Right now the site is in Beta, but if you join now you get an immediate upgrade to your citizenship level (see the site) and some free Talent Dollars.

Check it out, and let us know what you think in the comments!



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Saturday, January 16, 2010

My friends at Triptych just had the sold-out premiere of their film HIGH LIFE yesterday in Toronto. It's a darkly funny story about a handful of junkies who rob an armored car; it goes wrong. Maclean's calls it "a gritty Canadian gem":
High Life, by Winnipeg writer-director Gary Yates, is ... a blast. Witty, well-acted and full of surprises, its a Canadian answer to the Coen brothers, with a Tarantino kick.
The Globe and Mail sez:
Forget about morphine and cotton candy; if you want to get off on a movie, go see High Life , a movie so cool you won't want to take off your coat when you get inside the theatre.
Check it out!

HIGH LIFE opened yesterday in Toronto; it opens in Montreal on the 29th.



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Sunday, January 10, 2010

The New York Times has an infographic containing Netflix's data for 100 movies over a dozen cities, neighborhood by neighborhood. Which neighborhoods rented RACHEL GETTING MARRIED? Which rented YES, MAN? (Hint: one's a downtown movie. One's a suburban movie.) What's the relationship between high critic ratings and high rentals? Have fun playing with the maps!



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Friday, January 08, 2010

Kung Fu Monkey has become something of a promotional blog for LEVERAGE, but here's a thought-provoking post (along with many thought-provoking comments) about Netflix and the E-book and the future of film and book distribution.

Incidentally, I love KFM's postscript: "Tell me I'm an idiot, but be specific." That's my new motto for the next month.



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[Canadian Politics] Canadian Business has an article about Ontario's new tax credit for intellectual property development. Another "handout" to the arts? Here's the nugget at the end of the story:
As to the worthiness of film and TV in Ontario, Thorne-Stone has no doubt. She estimates Ontario sees an ROI of $10 to $12 for every $1 in tax-credit redemption.
For some reason, arts subsidies are tagged as handouts. But aside from whatever cultural value they have, they promote business. There is hardly a major industry in Canada that the government doesn't support, from logging to steel to cars. Why not promote the arts? You get your money back!

Which raises the question: why won't the Conservatives support the business of show business? Don't they want people to get rich?



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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Q. I've just moved to Montreal from Toronto. A lot of people say it's a backwards move (in terms of English TV), but it's only for a year. Are there things I can do here (besides writing alot) to help my chances? Is it possible to find an agent in Toronto if I'm living here? And are there English-only TV writers in Montreal?
Personally, I'm feeling more and more of a strain trying to be a TV and feature writer in Montreal. I get up to Toronto every month or so, and in two days I usually have more meetings, and more focused meetings, than in a month in Montreal.

I think anyone working outside of Toronto needs to get to Toronto on a regular basis and, yeah, have a Toronto agent. It's possible to live elsewhere, but you have to be familiar to the networks and the major producers. There just isn't the critical mass anywhere else.

Montreal has a fair amount of animation writing, so if you're doing that, maybe you don't have to travel so much. But of the English writers I know in Montreal, I would say that most of the successful ones are writers I tend to bump into in Toronto as well.

Show business is a face-to-face business, and a lot of it is just showing up.

(In the States, there's no comparison. It is quite difficult to be a TV writer in New York, and almost impossible to be one anywhere else outside of LA.)



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Leno's back to 11:30 as of February.

That's 5 more hours of primetime TV drama -- a couple dozen writer jobs -- and if Leno couldn't hack it at 10 pm, I doubt another network is going to try the same stunt.

This is a victory for quality programming over cheap programming.

God bless us one and all.

UPDATE: TMZ seems quite sure.



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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Watched the pilot. Just a lovely comedy. Strongly drawn characters, lovable leads, a rich territory to mine, and enough antics to laugh at. Good work, Derek Schreyer, Karen Troubetzkoy and Rob Sheridan. Oh, and Heidi Foss, who contributed some jokes. And nice work from director Peter Wellington.

Derek promises that the second episode is even better (modestly, he accuses the pilot of being a bit "pilotey"). Check it out next Monday on CBC at 8pm.

Someone from the US should buy this!



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Monday, January 04, 2010

TinEye is a reverse image search engine. Upload or link to a photo, and it will tell you where that photo shows up on the net. Handy to see if someone is using your artwork, or if an artist is putting other people's artwork on his page... you get the idea.

They're only in beta, so results are spotty. But the engine is smart enough to spot images when they're surrounded by text, and I imagine they'll be indexing more and more pictures as they get up to speed.



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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Q. I am a big fan of the movie APOCALYPSE NOW. I have a copy of the screenplay and the DVD of the movie. I watch it over and over again and read the screenplay over and over again. Don’t feel bored.

I noticed, that the screenplay although written by F.F. Coppola himself is different at many places. I don’t understand what was the need for that?
The movie can change from the screenplay for a number of reasons. Scenes may have been cut in editing. Or new scenes may have been shot during editing -- Woody Allen's opening monologue in ANNIE HALL, for example.

You may have an earlier draft. You might have a "production white" without the colored change pages issued here and there over the course of the shoot as locations became available or unavailable, actors had heart attacks, got fat, shaved their heads or sets were destroyed by typhoons. For that matter, on APOCALYPSE NOW, there may not have been colored change pages issued for everything Coppola did. That shoot was famous for the amount of improvisation and chaos, with Coppola improvising stuff on set, letting actors improvise lines (particularly Marlon Brando), and generally shooting massive amounts of footage to see what it might look like. Coppola himself said, "We were like the US in Vietnam. We had access to too much money, too much material, and little by little, we went insane."

Directors often change writer's drafts, but I'm not sure they change less when they're directing their own work. You see the script differently when you're trying to shoot it. You find yourself cursing the stupid writer even when that's you. (Later, in the editing room, you may be cursing the stupid director.) And a director may feel particularly free to change his own stuff because he knows exactly why he wrote what he wrote and he's confident he can do better.


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Saturday, January 02, 2010

New comedy coming January 4th at 8pm on CBC. Y'all Americans may have to wait a bit.



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Lisa and I rented this highly rated romantic comedy on iTunes, which was kind of neat. The movie itself we found oddly joyless.

* * * SPOILERS * * *

Like ANNIE HALL, this is a movie about two people who aren't, in the end, made for each other. No spoiler there -- the narrator tells you up front, "This is not a love story."

I like that the story unfolds non-linearly, jumping back and forth between the breakup and the couple getting to know each other, with a cute little gimmick showing how well the hero's life is going -- leaves on a tree for the "summer" of Tom's love for the heroine, whose name is Summer; no leaves for the "winter" of his love for Summer. Always nice when someone can bust up narrative structure and make it work.

And it's interesting to show a relationship that isn't clicking. Summer tells Tom up front that she doesn't want a committed relationship, and though she seems to enjoy his company a whole lot, she never changes that. He's convinced she's the One, so he ignores her ground rules, hoping she'll fall in love with him, and convincing himself that she is "letting him in," even though that's a long way from "I love you." But it doesn't work.

I wish I had found the execution of the concept more compelling. Tom isn't much of a catch. He's incapable of asking the girl out on a date until she actually kisses him. He acts petulantly when he's not getting the love he wants. He throws tantrums. He makes demands and runs away. I'm not rooting for him to get the girl. I'm rooting him for him to get over himself and grow up. I can't remember any of his lines. There is a cute sequence in an IKEA, but by and large he's so understated that I wasn't rooting for him to get the girl so much as grow a pair. Is that what girls find attractive these days?

Meanwhile, Summer isn't stunningly witty or clever, either. Yes, we all love Zooey Deschanel, but the actress didn't have a lot to work with. She comes across as a girl who's opaque, and so you think there's a hidden mystery to her, but there really isn't. She's just an ordinary girl with a shell around her ordinariness.

So yeah, I'm wondering why people loved the movie so much.

I liked the moment later on in the movie when Tom's sister Chloe busts him on his idealization of the relationship. "If you look back," she tells him, he'll see that she really was never the One. And there's a nice scene where we see how much Summer pulled away from him, doesn't laugh at his joke and won't take his hand, even during what he remembers as the happy part of the relationship.

I would have liked to have seen more done with that. I would have liked to have seen more of that up front -- without focusing on it, just little moments here and there where we're focused on Tom being happy, but in the corner of the screen, dark, out of focus, there's her hand avoiding his. So that, as the movie goes along, we're beginning to see how much Tom is making a relationship up in his head when there isn't one in real life. What does that look like? Summer telling him she's busy that night. Summer flaking out on a date.

That's what intrigued me about the concept: showing how a guy has a different relationship in his head than the one that we can see in front of us. And making more of a meal out of that.

I go back and forth about the two last act story turns. Of course Tom has an over-the-top meltdown and quits his job. Of course he goes back to his first love, architecture and, in a matter of onscreen minutes, he's interviewing all over the place. You knew that was going to happen by the end of the movie the moment he mentioned to Summer that he useta wanna be an architect but gave it up.

It's a bit weak, because it's just not that easy to get back into architecture when you were a failure five years ago and you've been writing greeting cards since then. And in 2009 when no architecture firm in LA is hiring. What takes the curse off it is that he's never shown succeeding. But we're meant to feel that he will.

And then, there's Summer getting married. It's clever that, just before the end, Tom is turned off of love, but Summer is in love -- they've switched roles. And it's true enough that most of the time a woman says "I'm not looking for a committed relationship," it means "I'm not looking for a committed relationship with you." A neighbor of ours was in a loosey-goosey relationship for something like 8 years, claiming he never wanted to get married. Then he started seeing his now-wife, and was married inside of a month.

On the other hand we are explicitly told up front that Summer, even before she met Tom, distrusted romance. She hasn't had a lot of relationships. She's wounded by her parents' divorce.

To me it felt like Summer getting married was a betrayal of the character. To me, it turned her from an interesting character to a generic one. From someone defined on her own terms -- an opaque girl who doesn't want to let anyone close -- to someone defined only by her relationship to Tom.

I think it might have been braver to leave Summer loose, available but not really catchable. What if she didn't really push him away? What if she was always willing to see him, and hang with him, and sleep with him, provided only that he never tries to pin her down. That would have made a harder decision for Tom. Yes, you can see Summer, but you'll never have her heart. Is that enough? At some point he'd have to make his own decision to pull away from her.

Instead, Summer makes all his decisions for him. She dumps him. She marries someone else. All he has to do is stop mourning her and get on with his life. That's not a hard decision to make, or shouldn't be.

I think you could have made a much stronger movie about a guy trying to create a relationship with a girl who really is not available for a relationship for anybody. That's what was so heartbreaking about CABARET: Sally Bowles is a wonderful girl to be with, but Brian can't really ever have her.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER is getting mad ratings on the IMDb, so I'm quite prepared to be told I'm all wrong. And a braver version might not have made $46 million gross international box office against a 7.5 million production budget. I'm just saying that I didn't fall for the movie. And I feel like I would have, if it had been a little better crafted.

What did you like about the movie? Did you ever really want Tom to get Summer? What did either Tom or Summer have going for them as characters? What were you rooting for to happen? What were you scared might happen?



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Rather than walk to 93rd Street, which is apparently the nearest video store, we downloaded (500) Days of Summer on iTunes and watched it on the computer. Fortunately my folks have a nice pair of JBL computer speakers.

If you're in the physical video distribution business -- if you, say, own a Blockbuster franchise -- now might be a good time to get out.

Happy MMX.



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Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy MMX, guys.



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[POLITICS] As of today, blasphemy is against the law in the Republic of Ireland:
From today, 1 January 2010, the new Irish blasphemy law becomes operational, and we begin our campaign to have it repealed. Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The new law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted.
Wow, that's kind of medieval, isn't it? Except, of course, the medievals protected only one religion per place. You could blaspheme against Islam all you liked in Dublin; and against Catholicism all you liked in Damascus.

In a free society, no idea should be treated as special, and exempt from attack. I find the origin story of Mormonism to be farfetched -- "the Word of God was handed down to our founder on these magic golden plates, but we can't show them to you because he had to give them back." Scientology has it worse -- L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer at the time, actually told people he was going to invent a religion. But in Ireland I'm not allowed to insult Scientology? How do you arrive at the truth if you can't subject ideas to contradiction?

The moment you start setting boundaries where people start getting outraged, you are at the mercy of people who are easy to outrage. And some people are all too easy to outrage. And they get easier and easier to outrage the moment you pay attention to them. Some people get outraged when little girls go to school, for example.

Personally, I think God can take care of Herself.



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