Posts Tagged ‘capitalism’

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A fake N. Korean propaganda film is the subject of analysis over at In These Times.

 

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Cuban Politics & Zombies

It seems a lot of American critics saw only the surface criticisms of the film, and ignored the equally scathing critique of capitalism contained therein. US pundits, who raved about the movie, sought to use it as a propaganda piece for their own purposes, ignoring the complexity. Predictable.

The film contains an obvious set of barbs skewering the Cuban socialistic system for its shortfalls. It is cut off, with an embargo from the US for fifty years, because the US doesn’t like to have bad examples where the people get health care, for example. The Cuban economy has been hit pretty badly, but it still attracts tourists from across Europe and Latin America, as acknowledged in the film.

Juan and his gang are low level criminals, thieves, grifters, opportunists. Here’s where the unacknowledged critique of capitalism enters the story. When the zombiepocalypse hits, Juan takes it upon himself to start a Ghostbusters type zombie killing service – for a fee. He’s a mercenary, entirely in it for the money and unwilling to help others because it’s the right thing to do. Did you catch that?

He’s a criminal turned capitalist. They are closely related.

His sidekick then literally machetes a man to death, not a zombie, a man who owes him money. Driven by the desire to have money, he murders a begging neighbor in broad daylight.

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While the anachronistic Cuban state TV propaganda receives much deserved satire, so too does the mercenary ruthlessness of disaster capitalism. Both these extremes are lampooned. This also elevates the film well above and beyond the simpleminded propaganda championed by simplistic US proponents. It takes a broader view, a more mature view of economic realities and shortcomings.

Spoiler

To bring the story full circle, Juan reconsiders his own personal self-interest by film’s close. Instead of running off to America with the others, he does a 180. As a patriotic Cuban, he returns to shore to do battle with the zombie hordes and save Cuba: a selfless act in the interest of the many, not of his own skin.

The deeper message is one of sacrificing for the good of the people, the socialistic ideal. The Cuban government, while evolving from the structures of the old Soviet times, retains this sense of the good of the many over the profit desires of psychopathic billionaires from abroad. That much is reinforced in the film. It takes some knowledge of the world beyond US State Department propaganda, though.

Juan is not a great zombie film, but it is a unique one. It’s an interesting take on a part of the world we don’t see too much.

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Conflict’s in the genes: The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The Greanville Post

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes can be viewed on a number of different levels, possibly not all of them present in the minds of its makers.  First, it can be viewed as a remarkable achievement in high-tech/special effects movie-making.  It is one thing to see Andrew Serkis motion-captured as the chimpanzee leader Caesar, who becomes totally convincing (no masks here) and conversant in at least three languages: Simian sign language, human sign language (apparently), and English.  (Being in California he may also speak some Spanish, but we do not have the opportunity to find that out).  But it is quite another to see literally a multitude of totally life-like chimpanzees engaged in big-game hunting or swinging through the trees on their way to an engagement with a group of surviving Homo sapiens holed up in downtown San Francisco.

Second, it can be seen as a fairly conventional action-adventure movie, man vs. man-like ape, the latter being originally a lab creation of the former.  (By the way, in terms of the story-line, except for a few names and superficial identities, the current “Planet of the Apes” series has nothing to do with the [original 1968 film] directed by Franklin J. Schaffer, with the screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, that was based on the 1963 French novel La Planète des Singes by Pierre Boulle, and starred Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, and the most appealing Kim Hunter, or its then-successors.)  

Third, it can be seen as a morality play, with a guess-which-group lives to a higher moral standard theme.  Fourth, it can be seen as an essay in paleo-anthropology, which is how I have come to see it.

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A group of Simians and a group of Homo sapiens are survivors of a world-wide, highly fatal infectious disease epidemic which the humans conveniently name the “Simian flu.”  That it has nothing to do with the Simian population but rather was created in a Homo sapiens lab ([the recent CDC anthrax-smallpox episode], anyone?) is of course a product of the Homo sapiens media naming it the “Simian flu,” but what else is new?

The Simian population consists primarily of chimpanzees with few gorillas and one rather intelligent orangutan thrown in (the latter possibly being a throw-back to the Dr. Zaius character of the original).  They lead a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in a communal setting.  While they have one acknowledged political leader, Caesar, no one appears to have either a) any control over the hunting-gathering processes or b) any material advantages over anyone else.  They also appear to not engage in inter-Simian violence, as a routine.  When one episode of that sort occurs, an attack on Caesar, when the latter wins he condemns the perpetrator to death. Before he does so Caesar pronounces the profound words: “You are not an ape.”

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The Homo sapiens population is classically Homo sapiens.  They have guns aplenty and with few exceptions are ready to use them at a moment’s notice.  Violence, against other species and within their own, is commonplace and for the most part fully accepted.  This characteristic doesn’t show up in this particular scenario, because there are so few of them left (having somehow acquired immunity to the disease).  But they are members of one of the very few species of animal on the planet that slaughters each other in numbers that have grown ever larger in the brief period of time that the species has existed in its so-called “civilized” mode of organization.  They are devious, both with each other and with the Simians.  Unlike the Simians, the Homo sapiens cannot exist for very long without converting one or more elements that they find in their environment into one or more goods and services.  It is the struggle of the Homo sapiens to get to an abandoned dam that lies to the north of where the Simians live so that they can have electrical power that forms the basis of the plot-line.  They are about to run out of power as the fuel supply for their generators runs out.

So the fundamental conflict in the movie is between an apparently egalitarian society of hunter-gatherers, which among other things rejects the use of use of intra-species violence, and the classic Homo sapiens society.  There is no historical indication that if the latter would somehow manage to survive, it would not eventually revert to its economically hierarchical organization based on intra-species violence.  Why?  Because [as I have discussed elsewhere], what has happened in Homo sapiens history is that the ownership means of production that converts elements found in the environment into the goods and services that Homo sapiens needs/uses for survival has been in private hands.  And it is that mode of ownership that eventually leads to violence within and between societies on a larger and larger scale.

I said in the introduction to this column that the movie could be seen as a parable of the conflict that took place tens of thousands of years ago, between the Homo species that we call “Neanderthal” and our own.  [By the way, that name comes from the name of the valley in Germany where the original fossils of that species were found, the Valley (“thal” in German) of the German river “Neander.”)]  It will be fascinating to see where the movie series goes with this one.  And oh yes, the next sequel is set up at the end of the film.

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There will eventually be a sequel to this column as well, dealing with three questions. 

A) Apparently Homo sapiens and Neanderthals co-existed for tens of thousands of years.  Is there evidence that the former killed off the latter over time, or did the former succeed them, simply through better adaptation to the shared environment over time? 

B) Is there a gene or genes for intra-species violence in Homo sapiens that exists in few other species?  (If they are to survive, all animal species need to have one or more violence genes directing activities at one or more other species.) 

C) If Homo sapiens does have one or more intra-species survival genes is it selected for by the organization of Homo sapien communities around the private ownership of the means of production?  A consideration of these questions will not be appearing your local theater any time soon.


Greanville Post Senior Contributing Editor Steven Jonas, the polymathic author of this article, has published hundreds of essays on politics, history, culture, health and economics, and penned more than 30 books.  His essays normally appear on many venues on the web, including the leading political sites. Dr. Jonas’ latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, and available on Amazon.

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My bwain hurtz.

 

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Instant Cult Status

A first-time director, no money, no air conditioning and a captivating story that I’d been hoping would show up–I don’t actually look forward to much from the movie business these days.

 

Sadistic elite depravity and the corruption of money keep two down on their luck guys enthralled by the prospect of easy riches. Not so easy it turns out.  The puppetmasters sink their hooks into the two, and it becomes increasingly harder for them to wriggle out from their machinations.

A socio-political undercurrent grounds this black grindhouse comedy. With very little in resources, the crew managed to score a diabolical win and thrill them at last year’s festivals. Cheap Thrills showed up at the big red neighborhood boxes, and it’s sure to cut a little deeper than the competition. So bon appetit.

4.5 / 5

 

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by William Blum

Edward Snowden

Is Edward Snowden a radical? The dictionary defines a radical as “an advocate of political and social revolution”, the adjective form being “favoring or resulting in extreme or revolutionary changes”. That doesn’t sound like Snowden as far as what has been publicly revealed. In common usage, the term “radical” usually connotes someone or something that goes beyond the generally accepted boundaries of socio-political thought and policies; often used by the Left simply to denote more extreme than, or to the left of, a “liberal”.

In his hour-long interview on NBC, May 28, in Moscow, Snowden never expressed, or even implied, any thought – radical or otherwise – about United States foreign policy or the capitalist economic system under which we live, the two standard areas around which many political discussions in the US revolve. In fact, after reading a great deal by and about Snowden this past year, I have no idea what his views actually are about these matters. To be sure, in the context of the NBC interview, capitalism was not at all relevant, but US foreign policy certainly was.

Snowden was not asked any direct questions about foreign policy, but if I had been in his position I could not have replied to several of the questions without bringing it up. More than once the interview touched upon the question of whether the former NSA contractor’s actions had caused “harm to the United States”. Snowden said that he’s been asking the entire past year to be presented with evidence of such harm and has so far received nothing. I, on the other hand, as a radical, would have used the opportunity to educate the world-wide audience about how the American empire is the greatest threat to the world’s peace, prosperity, and environment; that anything to slow down the monster is to be desired; and that throwing a wrench into NSA’s surveillance gears is eminently worthwhile toward this end; thus, “harm” indeed should be the goal, not something to apologize for.

Edward added that the NSA has been unfairly “demonized” and that the agency is composed of “good people”. I don’t know what to make of this.

When the war on terrorism was discussed in the interview, and the question of whether Snowden’s actions had hurt that effort, he failed to take the opportunity to point out the obvious and absolutely essential fact – that US foreign policy, by its very nature, regularly and routinely creates anti-American terrorists.

When asked what he’d say to President Obama if given a private meeting, Snowden had no response at all to make. I, on the other hand, would say to Mr. Obama: “Mr. President, in your time in office you’ve waged war against seven countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria. This makes me wonder something. With all due respect, sir: What is wrong with you?”

A radical – one genuine and committed – would not let such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass by unused. Contrary to what his fierce critics at home may believe, Edward Snowden is not seriously at war with America, its government or its society. Does he have a real understanding, analysis, or criticism of capitalism or US foreign policy? Does he think about what people could be like under a better social system? Is he, I wonder, even anti-imperialist?

And he certainly is not a conspiracy theorist, or at least keeps it well hidden. He was asked about 9-11 and replied:

The 9/11 commission … when they looked at all the classified intelligence from all the different intelligence agencies, they found that we had all of the information we needed … to detect this plot. We actually had records of the phone calls from the United States and out. The CIA knew who these guys were. The problem was not that we weren’t collecting information, it wasn’t that we didn’t have enough dots, it wasn’t that we didn’t have a haystack, it was that we did not understand the haystack that we had.

Whereas I might have pointed out that the Bush administration may have ignored the information because they wanted something bad – perhaps of unknown badness – to happen in order to give them the justification for all manner of foreign and domestic oppression they wished to carry out. And did. (This scenario of course excludes the other common supposition, that it was an “inside job”, in which case collecting information on the perpetrators would not have been relevant.)

The entire segment concerning 9/11 was left out of the television broadcast of the interview, although some part of it was shown later during a discussion. This kind of omission is of course the sort of thing that feeds conspiracy theorists.

All of the above notwithstanding, I must make it clear that I have great admiration for the young Mr. Snowden, for what he did and for how he expresses himself. He may not be a radical, but he is a hero. His moral courage, nerve, composure, and technical genius are magnificent. I’m sure the NBC interview won him great respect and a large number of new supporters. I, in Edward’s place, would be even more hated by Americans than he is, even if I furthered the radicalization of more of them than he has. However, I of course would never have been invited onto mainstream American television for a long interview in prime time. (Not counting my solitary 15 minutes of fame in 2006 courtesy of Osama bin Laden; a gigantic fluke happening.)

Apropos Snowden’s courage and integrity, it appears that something very important has not been emphasized in media reports: In the interview, he took the Russian government to task for a new law requiring bloggers to register – the same government which holds his very fate in their hands.

Who is more exceptional: The United States or Russia?

I was going to write a commentary about President Obama’s speech to the graduating class at the US Military Academy (West Point) on May 28. When he speaks to a military audience the president is usually at his most nationalistic, jingoist, militaristic, and American-exceptionalist – wall-to-wall platitudes. But this talk was simply TOO nationalistic, jingoist, militaristic, and American-exceptionalist. (“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”) To go through it line by line in order to make my usual wise-ass remarks, would have been just too painful. However, if you’re in a masochistic mood and wish to read it, it can be found here.

Instead I offer you part of acommentary from Mr. Jan Oberg, Danish director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research in Lund, Sweden:

What is conspicuously lackingin the President’s West Point speech?

  1. Any reasonably accurate appraisal of the world and the role of other nations.
  2. A sense of humility and respect for allies and other countries in this world.
  3. Every element of a grand strategy for America for its foreign and security policy and some kind of vision of what a better world would look like. This speech with all its tired, self-aggrandising rhetoric is a thin cover-up for the fact that there is no such vision or overall strategy.
  4. Some little hint of reforms of existing institutions or new thinking about globalisation and global democratic decision-making.
  5. Ideas and initiatives – stretched-out hands – to help the world move towards conflict-resolution in crisis areas such as Ukraine, Syria, Libya, China-Japan and Iran. Not a trace of creativity.

Ironically, on May 30 the Wall Street Journal published a long essay by Leon Aron, a Russia scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The essay took Russian president Vladimir Putin to task for claiming that Russia is exceptional. The piece was headed:

“Why Putin Says Russia Is Exceptional”

“Such claims have often heralded aggression abroad and harsh crackdowns at home.”

It states: “To Mr. Putin, in short, Russia was exceptional because it was emphatically not like the modern West – or not, in any event, like his caricature of a corrupt, morally benighted Europe and U.S. This was a bad omen, presaging the foreign policy gambits against Ukraine that now have the whole world guessing about Mr. Putin’s intentions.”

So the Wall Street Journal has no difficulty in ascertaining that a particular world leader sees his country as “exceptional”. And that such a perception can lead that leader or his country to engage in aggression abroad and crackdowns at home. The particular world leader so harshly judged in this manner by the Wall Street Journal is named Vladimir Putin, not Barack Obama. There’s a word for this kind of analysis – It’s calledhypocrisy.

“Hypocrisy is anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised.” – Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoi, (1828-1910) Russian writer

Is hypocrisy a moral failing or a failing of the intellect?

The New Cold War is getting to look more and more like the old one, wherein neither side allows the other to get away with any propaganda point. Just compare any American television network to the Russian station broadcast in the United States – RT (formerly Russia Today). The contrast in coverage of the same news events is remarkable, and the stations attack and make fun of each other by name.

Another, even more important, feature to note is that in Cold War I the United States usually had to consider what the Soviet reaction would be to a planned American intervention in the Third World. This often served as a brake to one extent or another on Washington’s imperial adventures. Thus it was that only weeks after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the United States bombed and invaded Panama, inflicting thousands of casualties and widespread destruction, for the flimsiest – bordering on the non-existent – of reasons.  The hostile Russian reaction to Washington’s clear involvement in the overthrow of the Ukrainian government in February of this year, followed by Washington’s significant irritation and defensiveness toward the Russian reaction, indicates that this Cold War brake may have a chance of returning. And for this we should be grateful.

After the “communist threat” had disappeared and the foreign policy of the United States continued absolutely unchanged, it meant that the Cold War revisionists had been vindicated – the conflict had not been about containing an evil called “communism”; it had been about American expansion, imperialism and capitalism. If the collapse of the Soviet Union did not result in any reduction in the American military budget, but rather was followed by large increases, it meant that the Cold War – from Washington’s perspective – had not been motivated by a fear of the Russians, but purely by ideology.

Lest we forget: Our present leaders can derive inspiration from other great American leaders.

White House tape recordings, April 25, 1972:

President Nixon: How many did we kill in Laos?

National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger: In the Laotian thing, we killed about ten, fifteen [thousand] …

Nixon: See, the attack in the North [Vietnam] that we have in mind … power plants, whatever’s left – POL [petroleum], the docks … And, I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?

Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people.

Nixon: No, no, no … I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?

Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.

Nixon: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you? … I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.

May 2, 1972:

Nixon: America is not defeated. We must not lose in Vietnam. … The surgical operation theory is all right, but I want that place bombed tosmithereens. If we draw the sword, we’re gonna bomb those bastards all over the place. Let it fly, let it fly.

“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” – Michael Ledeen, former Defense Department consultant and holder of the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute

Help needed from a computer expert

This has been driving me crazy for a very long time. My printer doesn’t print the document I ask it to print, but instead prints something totally unrelated. But what it prints is always something I’ve had some contact with, like an email I received or a document I read online, which I may or may not have saved on my hard drive, mostly not. It’s genuinely weird.

Now, before I print anything, I close all other windows in my word processor (Word Perfect/Windows 7); I go offline; I specify printing only the current page, no multiple page commands. Yet, the printer usually still finds some document online and prints it.

At one point I cleared out all the printer caches, and that helped for a short while, but then the problem came back though the caches were empty.

I spoke to the printer manufacturer, HP, and they said it can’t be the fault of the printer because the printer only prints what the computer tells it to print.

It must be the CIA or NSA. Help!

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Notes
  1. William Blum, Killing Hope, chapter 50
  2. Jonah Goldberg, “Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two”,National Review, April 23, 2002

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

 

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So What’s Noah with You?

By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

Noah is a mighty motion picture. And so too was Noah, or whoever the real life person or personages, and his/her/their experiences, upon whom the various myths and legends were based, a mighty man. There are at least 500 Flood legends/myths in cultures around the world. As for the broader subject of creation legends/myths, there are a ton of those too. Noah the movie offers a variation on both the Creation story and Flood story that is told in the Judeo-Christian Bible. Wikipedia sums the latter up pretty neatly:

 “The Book of Genesis (from the Latin Vulgate, in turn borrowed or transliterated  from Greek Hebrew: “In [the] beginning”) is the first book of the Hebrew Bible  (the Tanakh) and the Christian Old Testament. [1]

“The basic narrative expresses the central theme: God creates the world (along  with creating the first man and woman) and appoints man as his regent, but man  proves disobedient and God destroys his world through the Flood. The new post- Flood world is equally corrupt, but God does not destroy it, instead calling one  man, Abraham, to be the seed of its salvation. At God’s command Abraham  descends from his home into the land of Canaan, given to him by God, where he  dwells as a sojourner, as does his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Jacob’s name  is changed to Israel, and through the agency of his son Joseph, the children of  Israel descend into Egypt, 70 people in all with their households, and God  promises them a future of greatness. Genesis ends with Israel in Egypt, ready for  the coming of Moses and the Exodus. The narrative is punctuated by a series of  covenants with God, successively narrowing in scope from all mankind (the  covenant with Noah) to a special relationship with one people alone (Abraham  and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob). [2]“

The movie is powerful stuff, with a fine acting performance in the lead role by the hyper-versatile Russell Crowe. It is to my taste a bit over-long, but it has phenomenal special effects and settings (apparently many of them in Iceland) and for those reasons alone is well-worth seeing (although at this juncture you will likely have to wait until it comes out on Blue-Tooth). But of course it is the story that is the real grabber and raiser-of-controversy.

Noah comes along fairly early in Genesis and does in the film too, but not before there are some notable diversions from the usual modern telling, which do have some of the Christian Right rather upset. The “Bible,” as they are fond of telling us, is the “inerrant word of God.” That presents a problem right off, for one has to wonder exactly which version of the Bible are they talking about. The one, so I am told, usually referred to is the one that is usually referred to as the “King James Version.”

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The problem with it as the “inerrant word of God” is that it was actually written, at the behest of the nobles and churchmen who, following the death of Elizabeth I, accepted James VI of Scotland as her successor to the throne, as James I of England, by a committee. After the religious wars in England in the 16th century, won by the protestant Church of England, the English ruling class wanted to make sure that such wars would not return. And so for one thing, 47 theologians and scholars were commissioned to create the translation that would become the standard book for the Church of England (of which, conveniently the Monarch was the Head, and still is, for that matter). It came to be known as the ” King James Version.”

47 men with a collective ear for “God’s word?” Hmmm. And of course there were many other translations that had been done over the centuries from the original Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin text, the first in English having been done about a century earlier by one William Tyndale. Couldn’t his, or any of the others for that matter, have been the “inerrant word of God?” Ah well, we’ll never know, will we?

Which leads us to another irritant for the Christian Right. Noah, when referring to the higher power, uses the term “Creator,” rather than “God.” It happens that as an atheist, I am totally happy with Noah’s use of that term, as I am with its appearance in the US Declaration of Independence. As far as I am concerned, the creator of us all is the combination of the laws of chemistry, physics, and biology which first produced the Universe, then our Solar system, and eventually, through the Laws of Evolution, us. Could the movie Noah have meant the same thing? Well, hey, we’ll never know, but he could have.

The BIG one is of course that the movie’s Cain is not just a simply bad famer guy who somehow passes down evil to future human generations. He is a REALLY bad guy who creates something akin to industrial-destructive-capitalism which becomes the scourge of the Earth (sound familiar?) And the Flood, by golly, is not simply the Creator’s punishment for humans being bad people. It is God’s punishment specifically for what Cain had created. This one really has the Right bent out of shape. For in the movie Cain’s creation was well on its way to destroying all of the Creator’s creations, including all of the other animals and the plants as well. And the Creator didn’t like that. (For another approach to the “the Creator is unhappy” story, see an earlier OpEdNews column of mine).

And so he, she, it or they, ordered the deluge, of which Noah was warned and for which he built a very (as in very, very) large lifeboat, for yes, his family and as many other species, plant and animal, that could be crammed on board. The results of the depredations of Cain and his industrial/capitalist successors sounds just like those predicted for anthropogenic global warming, which is well on its way to creating The Sixth Extinction. That of course, is a message that the Right, well beyond the Christian Right, just doesn’t like one bit.

But hey, we know that the Creation story in whichever version of the Judeo-Christian Bible one happens to subscribe to, is just one of hundreds of them. And the Flood story in the same book is just one of hundreds too. So who indeed is to say that the telling in this movie’s version of the Creation/Noah story is not the correct one?