Belated Movie Reviews

What? He said it was a popsicle!

In the “Tongues So Deeply In Their Cheeks They’re Poking Out The Other Side” genre is Men In Black (1997). This movie plays off many cheesy tropes of the last 40 years, including rumors about the men in black, American tabloid newspapers, and UFOs. But what really makes this tick is the use of contrast.

First, there’s dialog, which often leads in one, often predictable direction, before suddenly veering off in quite another direction which is not only disconcerting – easy enough to do – but does the harder thing of making that switch organic to the movie. Contrast often uses the mechanism of expectation, so when an alien possessing many strong and slithery tentacles gives birth on the freeway, the agent who catches the baby isn’t repulsed, as we might expect, but charmed – until the inevitable baby URP.

There’s even the contrast of the pacing, in which the younger agent is ready to run pell-mell after the bad guys, while the senior agent, aware of his primary duty to not upset the public at large, is far more sedate and patient.

But the real contrast is between the two leads, J and K. I don’t often talk about specific actors, but Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, as the enthusiastic new recruit into the organization and the crusty old senior agent, respectively, are the very picture of contrast – and of chemistry.

Along with this skillful use of contrast, the characters each have a believable motivation, from crusty old K’s reason to stay in MiB, despite having to sacrifice the love of his life, to the antagonist, who has the responsibility of feeding his family.

All 70 million of them.

Like the pathologist says in the movie, “Well, you boys certainly have an interesting job.” It may not be subtle & nuanced, but it’s fun. Recommended.

Belated Movie Reviews

Is he casting a spell, or about to poke him in the eyes? Only the Invisible Man knows!

A painful example of the comedy-horror genre is Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), although perhaps Dracula or The Wolfman would have been a better addition to the title than Frankenstein. In any case, this is an attempt to meld the hijinks of the legendary Abbot and Costello with the horrific miasma emitted by Dracula and Frankenstein. The boys play deliverymen for a shipping company, but unknown to them, a minion of Dracula has designs on Costello’s brain as a replacement for Frankenstein’s current brain, and so she’s romancing Costello, much to Abbot’s bewilderment. Then he collects another lady, a shipping insurance investigator posing as … I forget.

The Wolfman, on the other hand, earnestly keeps interfering in Dracula’s plans, but finds himself in difficulty as it happens to be the full moon, leaving him decidedly ambivalent about his role in life.

Eventually, we find the boys running throughout the castle with Frankenstein and Dracula on their tail. The minion gets tossed out a window, presumably to her doom, the other is charmed by an assistant professor, so much for Costello’s love life. But the boys do survive a close call.

It did occur to me to wonder if either A&C or Lugosi & Chaney & Strange (Frankenstein’s monster) ever wished to play the other side of the title in this movie. Bela Lugosi as a comedian? It’s an intriguing thought. Untrained in movie lore, I don’t know if he actually tried. Or if just making the movies for which they were famous was a laugh riot already.

Unless comedy-horror is your academic specialty or you’re an aficionado of either set of actors, I wouldn’t waste your time on this one. The horror and the comedy are not well-integrated, and it’s not played for laughs like Young Frankenstein (1974). The cinematography is nice, as are the special effects, but the only reason I watched was because a cat insisted.

Oh, and Vincent Price addicts might want to sit through this and try to spot Vinnie, although I think you’ll fail.

Staring Too Closely

NewScientist (11 November 2017) reports on a problem with AI object recognition:

WHEN is a turtle not a turtle? This is a conundrum for an AI trained to identity objects. By subtly tweaking the pattern on the shell of a model turtle, Andrew Ilyas at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues tricked a neural network into misidentifying it as a rifle. The results raise concerns about the accuracy of face-recognition tech and the safety of driverless cars.

Previous studies have shown that changing just a few pixels in an image – alterations that are imperceptible to a human – can throw an AI off its game, making it identify a picture of a horse as a car, or a plane as a dog. The model turtle now shows that an AI can be made to misidentify an object even from multiple angles.

By simply proving the AI can be misled through a very simple approach, we know there’s a problem.

But what’s the source of the problem? Neural networks are notorious for obscuring the actual decisions used to come to any particular conclusion. My suspicion is this could be an attempt to analyze every pixel of the picture, rather than aggregatizing and pattern matching.

And keep in mind that humanity isn’t perfect at this, either. Just one example is the optical illusion of the young woman or old hag (today I’m only seeing the young woman), indicating that visuals can be difficult even for members of species that have evolved for millions of years.

However, the simplicity of the trick on the AI indicates they have a way to go.

Word Of The Day

Louche:

If you describe a person or place as louche, you mean that they are unconventional and not respectable, but often in a way that people find rather attractive. [Collins Dictionary]

Noted in “Consciously quantum: How you make everything real,” Philip Ball, NewScientist (11 November 2017, paywall):

The idea that consciousness induces wave function collapse, the process by which myriad possible outcomes of a measurement become a single definite one, is not inherently absurd. And yet physicists have long regarded it as a rather louche suggestion, because it seems to substitute one mystery for another: we have no idea how to describe consciousness, so how can we expect to know how it causes collapse?

Belated Movie Reviews

And what’s behind door #2?!

I think someone took an initial story idea and ran with it in Cowboys And Vampires (2010), and that’s too bad, because the elements surrounding the story, such as the acting, cinematography, even the cheapo special effects, are actually competently done. But the story? It needed a few more drafts.

It tells the story from the viewpoint of Johnny Dust, a fading B-Movie Western star, who, between movie gigs, works as an everyday performer at a movie studio’s tourist attraction, a Western shootout, in Tucson. The story is given an intriguing framework, or rather two of them. The first is an interview with Johnny after the incident, told in isolated shards which let’s Johnny do some of his best work. The other framework are flashes from some of his best movies where a side-kick character keeps encouraging him to do the right thing.

And then the studio lot is sold to a company that wishes to redevelop it for a theme-park experience, and with Halloween, we can fairly much guess where this is going, so we lose some tension there? But why? Why would the vampire owners of the company moving in want to setup for a massacre of Tucsonites? Think of the future – the Feds swoop in and soon the vampires are extinguished or on the run – and their secret might be revealed.

Parasites rarely want to signal their existence.

And then there’s the time Johnny is bitten by one of the vampires. Does he change and begin sucking blood? Well, not really. They trowel on the makeup a little more deeply, but was I really supposed to believe this womanizer’s faith is going to save him when the faith of everyone else does not?

On Opening Night, the fun begins, and after a while we’re down in a mine, where the screaming and the running starts. And lasts way, way too long. You might have to admire the bravery of killing a young child by slapping him against a rock, but that strikes me as a taboo too far.

And all along the tension doesn’t really mount. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have a deep reason to connect with these characters, or maybe it’s because the title is a dead giveaway. In the end, I found myself just shaking my head in disappointment. I said there were enjoyable, competent elements to the movie, but its heart and soul, the story, just stank.

Word Of The Day

Halcyon:

adjective

  1. Halcyon describes an idealized, idyllic or peaceful time.

    An example of something you would describe as halcyon is the long, lazy and peaceful days of summer vacation.

noun

  1. The definition of a halcyon is a bird, which legends say, has the power to calm the winter sea.

    A halcyon is a kingfisher from Southern Asia and Australia.

[YourDictionary.com]

Heard on Colbert last night.

Another Tragedy, Ctd

A reader remarks on libertarian gun control:

Yep, that libertarian — or whatever — argument about arming the populace will make us polite is complete nonsense. It’s illogical when examined in the slightest, because it is moronically simplistic thinking being applied to one of the most complex systems* in existence, human society.

* (To quote Nassim Taleb: “The main idea behind complex systems is that the ensemble behaves in way not predicted by the components. The interactions matter more than the nature of the units. Studying individual ants will never (one can safely say never for most such situations), never give us an idea on how the ant colony operates. For that, one needs to understand an ant colony as an ant colony, no less, no more, not a collection of ants. This is called an “emergent” property of the whole, by which parts and whole differ because what matters is the interactions between such parts.”)

In my view, the more we embrace irrational religious systems on a literal basis – rather than taking the general good they convey – the less society should be entrusted with guns. The libertarian response is grounded on the assumption of rationality, but we need to remember that humanity is capable of rationality, but is not rational in and of itself. It’s easy to see some obscure passage in a divine text that someone interprets as an order to massacre someone else – say, the Cathars.

Depression is not generally a rational response to reality, yet depression is a rampant mental illness. We need to learn from that simple lesson.

Mechanism Isn’t As Simple As You Think, Ctd

In a by-conversation, our reader continues to comment on markets:

Supply does not create demand. Demand creates supply. This is basic high school level economics. Applies to every business ….. except Apple.

I’d argue that the Republican ideology context is different from the Apple context. In the former, they see the lifting of taxes as more fuel for building factories, etc, as if those taxes are holding back that investment. This ignores two problems, if you’ll permit the digression (this is me on a head cold):

  1. The cost of borrowing money, the usual way of investing in product, old or new, has been ridiculously low for a very long time. This suggests that there’s no unfulfilled demand.
  2. Much demand comes from those in the lower tax brackets. By increasing taxes on them, demand will be further suppressed.

This, it seems to me, is just a way to give more money to the people who don’t need any more.

Now, Apple wasn’t supplying an already open market. They opened a new market, created (or discovered – I’m not sure English actually has a precise word for the phenomenon) the demand by dangling spanglies in  front of everyone, and then gilded the lily with an integrated “app” offering (probably the very word “app” was part of the siren song), the famous ecology. I think this is a bit different from trying to create demand by increasing supply …. although just typing it makes it sound similar.

Another reader remarks in the context of the first reader:

That’s a very good point. Supply-side trickle down has been tried and extolled over and over, and it has never once delivered. This may well be the primary reason. A company can’t sell more product X if there aren’t buyers for it. The eventual buyer for all products is the consumer, and consumers are majority lower and middle class. (This ignores those companies who sell exclusively to the government, which in turn pays them with money forcibly extracted from the populace — which sounds rather feudal in this context. But even then, the populace is still majority lower and middle class.) More money in all the average person’s pockets means more commerce, and more business. More money in the pocket of the 1% means a slow death spiral into collapsed economies.

And I see I repeated this reader’s argument above, except he was more direct. I wonder if we’re going to be experiencing the Trump Recession as part of the insanity by half our electorate.

But it’s a true thing that taxes, in the libertarian and GOP worlds, are considered, at the very best, a necessary evil. In my evolving view, there’s certainly room for abuse in taxation, but this is how we fund those services which are ill-provided by the private sector. To suggest that taxes hold back economic expansion (itself a concept that bears reconsideration as a desirable goal) is an ideological assertion which is meaningless without context – but that’s how it’s given.

Where’s the silver lining? If the tax “reform” is passed as formulated and we do experience the Trump Recession my reader predicts, that particular religious precept ideological assertion can be given the lie.

A New Way To Subdivide

I’ve talked from time to time about gerrymandering, most recently here. So, as I blear my way through this head cold, I was interested to see mention of a new approach to building a legislative map. From the Abstract of the academic paper:

We design and analyze a protocol for dividing a state into districts, where parties take turns proposing a division, and freezing a district from the other party’s proposed division. We show that our protocol has predictable and provable guarantees for both the number of districts in which each party has a majority of supporters, and the extent to which either party has the power to pack a specific population into a single district.

NewScientist (11 November 2017) amplifies:

With the approach, one political party draws an electoral map that divides the state into the agreed number of districts. The second party then chooses one district to freeze so that no more changes can be made to it by either side. It then redraws the rest of the map. Once the new map is complete, the first political party freezes one of the new districts, and redraws the rest of the map again. This continues until every district in the state is frozen.

I’m too sick – and no doubt inexperienced – to analyze this approach. But it does remind me of times past in which scientists were fooled – or fooled themselves – when analyzing psychic phenomenon. It didn’t take long for the skeptics’ movement to come up with the best way to analyze such phenomenon:

Send in a magician.

Scientists are not practiced in the art of fooling, so it becomes a game for the psychic shyster to fool the scientists, and they succeed. But a magician is basically the same as a psychic shyster, except they cheerfully shrug and admit that it’s all just trickery – just like the psychics. And that makes them optimal for revealing the tricks of the psychics.

Now, it’s a stretch – and maybe the authors of this paper did it, I haven’t taken the time to read it – but it’s my hope that they tossed this plan into the laps of a bunch of politicians, just to see if politicians react as they predict.

Or if they find loopholes in this scheme.

Word Of The Day

Ambit:

The ambit of something is its range or extent.

(American)

  1. circuit or circumference
  2. the limits or scope; bounds [Collins Dictionary]

Noted in “May the government restrict political T-shirts and pins inside polling places?” Eugene Volokh, The Volokh Conspiracy:

Another question is whether the policy, though facially viewpoint-neutral, will be so vague that it is likely to be implemented in discriminatory ways. As the challengers’ petition argued, the law “often requires election officials to rely on their own subjective judgments about whether certain apparel falls within the ambit of the law’s ban on ‘political’ speech.”

Incidentally, this is an appeal of a Minnesota case.

Sophisticated North Korean Teamwork

It isn’t just Russia and the United States. In fact, anyone with a fair bit of mathematical ability and some moxie can play in the game of cyberwarfare – and that easily includes North Korea. Adam Meyers on 38 North has the summary:

Finally, the maturity of North Korean offensive cyber operations has been demonstrated through the integration of destructive attacks by cyber units during military exercises executed in the midst of escalating tension with South Korea. For instance, following the December 2012 launch of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite via the Unha-3 satellite launch vehicle, tensions on the Korean peninsula were high. That March, following the passing of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR 2087) and B-52 strategic bomber overflights in South Korea, North Korea responded with a particularly aggressive disruptive attack against South Korea. This massive wiper attack targeted South Korea’s financial and media sectors and coincided with provocations by North Korean military and escalating political rhetoric. This pairing allowed for maximum psychological impact, while demonstrating North Korea’s ability to integrate offensive cyber activities into well-developed military doctrine. During these attacks, the Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Yonhap Television News (YTN) and several Korean financial institutions reported disruptions. With the threat of military escalation on the table, many in South Korea would have depended on the media outlets for breaking news. Disruption of ATM networks and financial institutions would further add to the chaos as word of media disruptions began to spread.

As tensions are once again escalating between North Korea and the international community, more attacks perpetrated by DPRK cyber actors are likely. The recent increase in financial sector targeting associated with these actors may illustrate the potential for disruptive attacks to demonstrate both the capability of the North Korean actors, as well to achieve objectives in line with their broader military doctrine. While North Korea’s isolation may be detrimental to its economy and international relations, it is an effective shield from which to launch offensive cyber operations against a connected and delicate global system.

Of course, they must have a connection to that global system. I wonder if it’s vulnerable to Western manipulation as well.

Here, Have This Hand Grenade

Miguel de la Torre has no more patience for the Evangelical movement, as noted in Baptist News Global:

Evangelicalism has ceased to be a faith perspective rooted on Jesus the Christ and has become a political movement whose beliefs repudiate all Jesus advocated. A message of hate permeates their pronouncements, evident in sulphurous proclamations like the Nashville Statement, which elevates centuries of sexual dysfunctionalities since the days of Augustine by imposing them upon Holy Writ. They condemn as sin those who express love outside the evangelical anti-body straight jacket.

Evangelicalism’s unholy marriage to the Prosperity Gospel justifies multi-millionaire bilkers wearing holy vestments made of sheep’s clothing who discovered being profiteers rather than prophets delivers an earthly security never promised by the One in whose name they slaughter those who are hungry, thirsty and naked, and the alien among them. Christianity at a profit is an abomination before all that is Holy. From their gilded pedestals erected in white centers of wealth and power, they gaslight all to believe they are the ones being persecuted because of their faith.

Evangelicalism’s embrace of a new age of ignorance, blames homosexuality for Harvey’s rage rather than considering the scientific consequences climate change has on the number of increasing storms of greater and greater ferocity. To ignore the damage caused to God’s creation so the few can profit in raping Mother Earth causes celebrations in the fiery pits of Gehenna.

Miguel says it far better than I possibly could, being an agnostic (and fairly clumsy with words). But I wish Miguel had taken the next step and begun to analyze what makes the Evangelical movement so vulnerable to con-men. Or is all mankind vulnerable to these sorts of things?

I tend to think the culture of religion automatically makes the religious more vulnerable. They’ve already learned to believe there’s a God, despite a lack of evidence; the natural sense of suspicion and common-sense is thus blunted.

But I’m sure Miguel could be more exact, if only he would.

[EDIT added forgotten link to Baptist News Global 11/17/2017]

The Mechanism Isn’t As Simple As You Think, Ctd

A reader writes concerning CEO behavior:

The supply-side Repubs get it wrong at every opportunity. No rational CEO will build new plants or hire employees unless and until there is a demand for what they will produce. Do they really think, for example, that 3M will increase Post It Notes production simply because they may now have (after tax reform) the financial ability to do so?

Right. They’re assuming flexible demand when, in fact, there may not be any demand. In fact, the reader’s comment highlights the importance of helping the lower and middle classes, either through redistribution or better education / training.

I think right now any tax cuts will be funneled to the owners of the companies, the investors, in the form of dividends and share buybacks.

Belated Movie Reviews

Fun fact: the entire movie will be shot in this pool!
Dammit, I don’t know how to swim!

I’ve seen Constantine (2005) a number of times over the years, and I think it’s one of those under-appreciated movies you hear about, although I understand that someone’s under-appreciated movie may just be drek to me, and vice versa.  I like Constantine, first and foremost, for the tight plot, which features John Constantine, a cynical, bitter defender of mankind, doomed to Hell, and his encounter with a police detective whose twin sister has just committed suicide.

Except she doesn’t think so.

In a world where the “half-breeds” can whisper in the ears of the vulnerable, manipulating them towards various ends, John functions as a policeman upholding a misty, gloomy treaty between God and Satan, judging when the agents of one or the other have stepped over the ill-defined lines drawn up in that agreement, and removing them – violently.

But the suicide begins a chain of events in which John’s friends, who are not as sympathetic as they might have been, are beginning to die and odd, impossible things are starting to happen. Satan’s son, Mammon, lusts for control of the world, and he’s found a way to do it.

And when push comes to shove, and even God’s agents have betrayed him, John just has to bust the move you wouldn’t expect the hell-bound to do – he commits suicide.

Once you accept the supernatural, the plot seems organic and logical, although I’ll leave fine theological points to the Catholics. I find it easy to believe in Constantine’s actions, as well as those of the detective; the motivations of Constantine’s friends, unfortunately, are less clear, and if they’re interesting, they’re too obscure to actually contribute what they might have to the plot.

The special effects are, for the most part, well done. Hell itself is suitably horrifying, but its references to modern life, principally in the form of the modern city, ruined in hellfire, really makes the point. And I appreciate how the tile floor wrinkles as a body being dragged down to Hell acquires more and more weight – it’s a special effect with a specific, appreciated message.

I will object, however, to a scene in which someone is about to be stabbed when time stops, and … I just don’t think it’s well done. And our glimpse of Heaven, well, what are you going to do with the indescribable? Make it look like a couple of buildings wrapped in golden fog? Granted, it’s a tough one to do, but this felt limp.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the ancient evils from Hell against certain modern sensibilities, in particular the egotism mankind’s defenders has, and the calm use of golden, sanctified bullets on the invading force.

And the portrayal of Satan is something I keep coming back to – he’s not overawing or regal, he’s banal and probably enjoys roasting ants under a magnifying glass, and has amazing powers that it’s difficult to understand his goal in using them – except to satisfy childish impulses. It’s a lovely portrayal of evil, if Satan is evil.

I don’t want to forget to mention the very dry sense of humor that occasionally shows up. Just what is this chemistry between John and the police detective? I’m not even sure they know. But it kept me amused.

It’s by no means a perfect movie. I suspect another rewrite of the script might have given us more insight into hell-bound John’s state of mind as he fights for mankind, tormented by the knowledge that he has lung cancer, and that would have increased the impact of the movie. And while I did say the plot was tight, during this viewing I kept a weather-eye out and picked up on a couple of plot holes. For example, the last confrontation with Midnight – what convinces him to help John? That’s not in the least clear.

But it is still a tight ship that celebrates the never-say-die attitude, and that sometimes even Satan can be fooled – and sometime he’ll fool you right back.

Portable Hell

Do you adore your leaf blower? Do you consider sleeping with it tucked under one arm because it makes fall so easy? David Dudley in CityLab would like some words with you:

  • The crude little two-stroke engines used by most commercial backpack-style blowers are pollution bombs. “Simplest benchmark: running a leafblower for 30 minutes creates more emissions than driving a F-150 pickup truck 3800 miles,” [James] Fallows writes. “About one-third of the gasoline that goes into this sort of engine is spewed out, unburned, in an aerosol mixed with oil in the exhaust.”
  • Those emissions—plus all the other fine-particulate crap that the blowers kick up—constitute a public health hazard for anyone in the vicinity, but especially for the poor bastard running the thing. In most cities and suburbs, those most afflicted are low-wage employees of landscaping companies, not residents or homeowners.
  • SWEET JESUS THE NOISE GAAH MAKE IT STOP. A gas blower at full cry can exceed a 100 decibels for the operator (OSHA requires hearing protections at 85), as these Sacramento blower foes explain, and it carries for hundreds of feet in every direction, irritating all who dwell therein.

Having just raked again, yesterday, I still don’t have much sympathy for those who use the gasoline-powered things (I should imagine there are electrically powered versions). It may be another example of chasing leisure and labor-saving to the nth degree, and seeing as exercise has once again been singled out as a positive, this time in the realm of memory retention, I gotta say that these little beasties are not cute enough to keep around.

The Mechanism Isn’t As Simple As You Think

As usual, the GOP seems to have lost contact with reality. From WaPo:

President Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, looked out from the stage at a sea of CEOs and top executives in the audience Tuesday for the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council meeting. As Cohn sat comfortably onstage, a Journal editor asked the crowd to raise their hands if their company plans to invest more if the tax reform bill passes.

Very few hands went up.

Cohn looked surprised. “Why aren’t the other hands up?” he said.

He laughed a little to lighten the mood, but it didn’t cause many more hands to rise. Maybe the CEOs were tired. Maybe they didn’t hear the question. It was a casual poll, but the lukewarm response seemed in tension with much of the public enthusiasm among corporations for a tax overhaul.

The president and his senior team have kept saying that the tax plan would unleash business investment in the United States — new factories, more equipment and more jobs. But, perhaps as the informal poll suggested, there are reasons to be doubtful that a great business investment boom would materialize.

This actually shouldn’t be surprising in light of this academic work that we talked about a while back concerning the lower-than-expected level of business investment occurring right now. If enough companies are not feeling the edge of the knife at their throats because they’ve become dominant, then why should they invest?

I suspect that taxation is not the horrible burden that many Republicans believe. Some companies use creative tax dodges, while others recognize it as simply the price of doing business – and perhaps a welcome price at that.

Smaller business owners will, of course, welcome the lower taxes – but the general lowering of taxes will generally not help competitive positions, because in most cases everyone gets the break.

If the President is serious about unleashing business investment, perhaps it’d make more sense to look into breaking up the big companies. Restore competition – and redundant jobs. Remember, monopolistic practices and giant corporations are antithetical to the American mythos.

If It’s Not A Fuel, What Is It?

How about a battery? Lloyd Alter on Treehugger.com suggests hydrogen isn’t really a fuel:

For a very long time, I have been skeptical of hydrogen as a fuel, because, in fact, it isn’t a fuel so much as it is a form of battery. Right now, most hydrogen reformed from natural gas, so it is a fossil fuel; the fans of hydrogen are pushing electrolysis, which uses a lot of electricity, so it was often promoted by the nuclear industry as a justification for building more reactors. It would then be turned back into electricity in fuel cells and drive electric motors, which is what batteries do. But hydrogen is a tiny molecule that is hard to keep bottled, and the whole process seems less and less efficient or straightforward when batteries keep getting better and cheaper. …

Ben Spurr of the Toronto Star notes:

Because the fuel is stored for later use after it’s produced, it could be produced during off-peak periods overnight, which would lower the cost and allow the province to tap into its considerable electricity surplus. Hydrogen would also allow Metrolinx to run clean trains while avoiding the expensive and disruptive work of erecting overhead wires along hundreds of kilometers of track.

Those are both key points; hydrogen as battery could use off-peak power to run trains at peak times. It could help flatten out demand and help pay for those multi-billion dollar refits of the nuclear fleet.

Changing a viewpoint or definition often leads to insights, so I appreciate this recasting of hydrogen as just an irretrievable fuel to a cyclical battery element.

Belated Movie Reviews

I think dear old dad is about to blame you!

The only character in Drowning Mona (2000) who is not exhibiting a host of tics, neuroticisms, or various forms of narcissism is the police chief of Verplanck, NJ, Wyatt Rash, who is faced with the discovery of Mona Dearly’s body in her son Jeff’s car. And where’s the car? In the lake.

Hidden in this cacophany of emotionally damaged families is a fair murder mystery, for Mona didn’t go willingly into this lake, but all the while madly pumping the miscreant brakes and screaming profanities, the latter being her normal operating procedure for her adult life. Much like the Tunguska Event trees, Mona’s influence has been negative, even nasty, and it’s left her family and, ah, business associates more or less in shock before she died, from her husband, hesitant from beatings, to her son, hell-bent on beer, to her son’s co-business-owner, who has learned not to express emotion. Even the waitress sleeping with a father and son has the twitches at the thought of Mona.

You won’t unravel this mystery before Chief Rash does. Not only don’t you have information he has, but his motivation is the greater – his pregnant daughter’s fiancee is one of the suspects, and things are looking bad for him – and the chief’s daughter. But when another body appears in the lake, pressure begins to build in this farce – is there a mad killer on the loose?

Or is the killer just a bit pissed?

Well acted and with some big stars, if that matters to you, this is a fun little romp; there’s not much of serious interest here, but it’s a well-made movie, full of quirky characters and other bits (my favorite is the funeral home – “As Seen On TV!”), and a story which is in no hurry to reveal big secrets.

Memorable Political Trivia

From Steve Benen on Maddowblog:

In 1991, former KKK leader David Duke won a Republican gubernatorial primary, and GOP officials from across the country wanted nothing to do with him. The party explored a variety of alternatives, but eventually, even Gov. Buddy Roemer (R) officially endorsed the Democratic nominee, Edwin Edwards.

This wasn’t easy – Roemer had previously taken an “Anyone But Edwards” posture – but when the Republican nominee was considered outrageously unacceptable, it made sense to announce support for the rival candidate.

Edwards was burdened by a series of corruption allegations at the time, leading to a famous bumper-sticker campaign: “Vote for the crook, it’s important.” (Edwards ultimately defeated Duke by 22 points.)

It might be embarrassing, but it’s a unique bumper sticker.

Word Of The Day

percipient:

  1.  : one that perceives
  2.  a person on whose mind a telepathic impulse or message is held to fall [Merriam-Webster]

Noted in the Short Circuit column of The Volokh Conspiracy:

Federal agents investigating company that may have ripped off the VA want to interview eight potentially percipient reviewers who criticized the company online. Must Glassdoor, a platform that allows employees to anonymously review employers, reveal the reviewers’ identities to the gov’t? Yes, says the Ninth Circuit; there is no protected right to anonymous speech here.

Managing Remote Strikes

In a very long piece (which I did not yet finish), Dave Blair and Karen House discuss the issues facing remote drone operators on Lawfare:

We were struck by the concept of concurrence, this personal form of the Just War tradition, while listening to our crews discuss the strategic logic of various strikes conducted with the goal of stopping the Islamic State. Alongside ethicist Joe Chapa, Dave has argued that when one sees the killing inherent in strikes as a means of personal glory, it risks damaging the soul. This is distinct from properly celebrating technical excellence or collective achievement in a mission, even if the subject matter is the same. Such grasping at fame also leads to a culture of cut-throat competition, which is problematic for a community whose tactics are based on collaboration. For both ethical and tactical reasons, the chain of command ensured crews received as much information as practical about targets, and made a point of discussing strikes as team accomplishments. The crews that finished the target successfully concluded months or even years of finding and fixing that target. The endgame was a capstone achievement done on behalf of all who contributed.

We found that, given adequate access to information and a culture where it was safe to discuss such things, crews would engage in deep and nuanced moral reasoning during the quiet hours of watching a target. The RPA community would come to a consensus about the ‘why’ of a strike, and that agreement provided purpose and focus in the pursuit of the target. When crews ratified the eventual intent to strike, a collective determination helped bring the strike about, providing a tactical edge that proved decisive on more than a few occasions—steely resolve gave the crews a reserve to keep laser focus over long hours. …

The better the crews knew certain targets, the less traumatic the strike was to them. The crews were not only making judgments about the moral logic of the strike, but they were also making assessments regarding the character of the targets as people. In short, what sort of person the target is matters.

In Grossman’s model, most of the people in the crosshairs are ‘tragic enemies,’ people who are fighting under understandable circumstances—the king’s soldiers, answering their nation’s call to arms; Robert E. Lee, fighting for his homeland of Virginia; perhaps even Rommel or Vo Nguyen Giap, depending on one’s historiography. This is why stories of the First World War’s Christmas Truce and Hal Moore and Nguyen Huu An’s 1993 staff ride at Ia Drang move us on an intensely emotional level: Reconciliation between tragic enemies tries to build a better peace in which we do not need to fight each other.

This is not true of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, nor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There is no world, barring a radical road-to-Damascus transformation, where a reconciling staff ride of Kobani would make any sort of sense. The acts these men personally committed—raping children, murdering aid workers, mass beheadings, drownings and immolation on the basis of insignificant differences of religious law, taking sex slaves and creating license for others to do all of these things—place them into a different category. These are not tragic enemies; they are malicious enemies. By their very nature, they are a clear and present hazard to the innocent, and a world where they are free to achieve their objectives is a worse world for humanity. This squares the Grossman model with the remote warrior’s experience. The better a tragic enemy is known, the more traumatic killing them becomes; the better a malicious enemy is known, the more compelling the need to stop them becomes. Thus, there is no real way basic human empathy for a target can be reconciled with the duty to protect the innocent.

While this may tend to bring down collateral damage figures, it may multiply the guilt when that does occur.

I think Dave & Karen’t piece is worth taking a longer look at it than this fragment presented here.

An Early Case Of Out Of Control Artificial Intelligence?

Shit, I don’t know. I was just about to quit reading for the night when a last glance at Retraction Watch yielded up this pointer to an alleged paper in IOSR Journal of Research & Method in Education on, well, the title should probably tell all:

Nobel Prize Physiology 2017 (for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm) is On Fiction as There Is No Molecular Mechanisms of Biological Clock Controlling the Circadian Rhythm. Circadian Rhythm Is Triggered and Controlled By Divine Mechanism (CCP – Time Mindness (TM) Real Biological Clock) in Life Sciences.

Can an artificial intelligence – of which we have no known general forms – suffer from dementia? Or – as I am far more inclined to think – is this just a randomly generated collection of nonsense? The author is …

Dr V M Das, Das Nursing Home, Fatehgarh, India University Of God.

In case you’re wondering, there is a University of God website, but whether or not they’re connected to this is not clear. Back to the fun, here’s the start of the Abstract:

Mind, the inner most box of nature has not been investigated by modern physicists. Mind has not been incorporated in Standard model. Mind can only be studied by participatory science. Having searched Basic building blocks of the universe i.e. mass part of reality, we have also investigated mind part of reality and finally two fundamental particles with mind and mass realities are hypothesized. Now we discuss how to further investigate mind so as to know their structures and functions. Atomic genetics is the branch of science where we investigate about fundamental interactions of the universe i.e. atomic transcription and translations. New words have been coined to understand hidden science of mind part of reality.. We are set of informations (Code PcPs). Informations (Code PcPs) never die. The theory predicts that Informations (Code PcPs) could be recreated. Hence dead cell could be made Alive only by Highest center of the universe (Almighty B.B.B). To understand real biological clock and to understand circadian rhythm triggering and regulation , we have to understand Basic Building block ( mind CCP, Code PcPs and CP , mass realities ) ( Fig 1)

I think I’ll just hope this is another hoax paper, used to expose journals as merely predatory. But it’s impressive hoaxing, because it’s giving me a headache even as I chuckle.