Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Meaning of Baccarat in the Identity of James Bond


The modern term of art for the rejuvenation of a franchise is “reboot” and the art of rebooting a beloved property of another generation is full of subtlety as well as peril. A false step can not only damage a franchise for years to come, it can cause the property to deviate from its true nature, and once it walks down the dark path, forever is its destiny affected, at least until the next reboot. It is the management of these properties and their long term development that is one of the most important responsibilities that a studio or producer takes upon themselves.   Like a publisher or curator at a museum, their decisions will quite literally affect our culture, or at least our popular culture.   And with a solemn understanding of their responsibility they approach the problem of adaptation of a franchise with the sensitivity and deliberative nature not unlike a professional castrator of pigs at a slaughterhouse.

As a good producer or studio executive knows, no change is too shallow, inappropriate or ill-advised if it may result in more money in the short run.   In this, they express the highest morality and integrity that our society has to offer.

When the owners of the Bond licenses began development of a new series of Bond films, they had to choose whether to leave Bond in the cold war, and thus make a film set in that era, or bring Bond into our century. They chose to do that latter, updating the character with actor Daniel Craig, and changing Bond's background in a variety of ways both subtle and not so subtle.

One of the changes, at the time unmentioned by any but the most hardcore students of Bond, was to change the preferred card game from a variant of baccarat to a variant of poker, the far-too-trendy “Texas Hold Em” variety. This was either a fundamental mistake or a very bold move on the part of the filmmakers. Did they fully understand the significance of baccarat to the character and identify of James Bond?   Perhaps they merely thought to themselves that the general movie-going audience will not have heard of baccarat in any form and are even less likely to have played it themselves.  Yes, that is correct, and that is part of the point, baccarat is an elitist game of an upper class of society in Europe.


In Dr. No, Ms Sylvia Trench, a guest at the club, plays chermin de fer against a mysterious stranger. 


Joshua Pines, a semi-professional poker player, suggests that poker is a suitable game for James Bond as it is a game of skill, not of chance.  I have no doubt that poker is indeed a game that requires great skill. I would go further and say that poker requires much more skill than even the most skill-oriented form of baccarat, the chemin de fer, which is the variant that Bond plays. But demonstrating skill is only a small part of what baccarat means to the entity we think of as James Bond.



She makes arrangements to raise the limit on the table.  The mysterious stranger introduces himself as "Bond, James Bond" 


When we examine the backstory of James Bond and his relationship with British foreign intelligence, M.I. 6, that is, where Bond came from and what services he can bring to that organization, one aspect of this background is that James Bond is a member of a minor branch of Scottish nobility. He is, as they say, “of station” in the eyes of both British and European nobility. This means that he can go to many places in the world where the rest of us are not welcome, except perhaps as a guest of a member. And even then, we would not be recognized as a peer. But Bond is a peer, a member of the inherited nobility of Europe, a more elite form of society than exists in our country. And this nobility has a long history of being very conscious of who is and who is not a member, and of the social conventions that come with it. In a sense, it is also part of his cover, as in intelligence as well as crime, a good cover is by definition mostly true.


Cmdr. Bond is called away on a secret mission, but he makes arrangements to meet Ms. Trench in a more private setting. 


The game of baccarat also has a long history among the games of chance of European society. It comes in three variations. One variation requires no skill and is a pure game of chance. One variation requires some skill, and the third variation, the chemin de fer, requires the most skill, about as much as the game of blackjack. But demonstrating skill is not the point, and has never been the point of the society of the upper classes. One is there because one was born entitled to be there, not because one was good at anything. That Bond chooses to only play the chemin de fer is revealing about him, he may have something to prove.


Ms Trench arrives early at Bond's apartment, and takes the liberty of getting ready for bed.  Baccarat is clearly value added in terms of improving or enhancing Bond's social life.


When the producers of the Bond movies chose Casino Royale for the reboot, it was the fulfillment of a long-term Bond anomaly. Casino Royale was the only Bond property they could not get the rights due to their being previously licensed to make the Bond spoof of the same name. Thus returning to the Casino Royale was in a way back to basics for Bond. The plot of the novel and of this 2006 motion picture testifies to the cooperation between the US and UK intelligence communities (the CIA backs Bond's game at a critical moment and allows it to continue), and to issues of “fifth columnists” as the antagonist, Le Chiffre, is the chief financier of a French worker's union as well as a paid agent of the Soviet Union in the original text.

Bond was M.I. 6's best gambler, and as a member of the Scottish nobility, would not be out of place at this elite casino.He could legitimately be there and play this European game of chance and skill and work for the destruction of the French traitor. The high stakes game at a casino of this type is unlikely to be poker but could very well be baccarat.

But that is not the only role for baccarat in the novels and movies of James Bond.  Another very notable occasion is at the beginning of Dr. No (1962), the first Bond film with Sean Connery, which opens in Jamaica where a murder takes place, and then switches to Les Ambassadeurs / Le Cercle, a famously elite club of diplomats and aristocracy in London.

It is at this club that the lovely Ms. Sylvia Trench engages in a fierce game of baccarat / chermin de fer with a mysterious stranger.   This stranger introduces himself as "Bond, James Bond," timing his words to match the upbeat of the music track that begins, also mysteriously, in the background. Thus, not only is chermin de fer Bond's game, it is the game that leads inevitably to his first successful romantic liason on film.  Who is to say what would have happened had he been playing poker?  He certainly would not have been at Le Cercle that evening and thus is unlikely to have met Ms Trench.

Certainly CDR Bond knows how to play poker, and plays it well, but it is not a game of the European elite.  (1) Far from it. Poker is the quintessential American card game, a game of skill, a game that probably originated on the riverboat casinos of the Mississippi and then spread West with the frontier. You could hardly get more American than that.

In conclusion, when you change baccarat to poker, which I have no doubt they did without much thought, you actually change a fundamental aspect of Bond's public identity.   Was a reference to a currently trendy American card game really worth such a price?

________________________________________

1. In reviewing the games of Les Ambassadeurs, see URL below, I notice that three-card poker is currently a game there.  No doubt this is a sign of creeping Americanism and other degrading trends in European society.


Baccarat on Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baccarat_%28card_game%29

Dr. No (1962) on IMDB
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055928/

Casino Royale (2006) on IMDB
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0381061/

The club where Bond met Ms Trench
http://www.lesambassadeurs.com/



Friday, January 23, 2015

Ageism in Silicon Valley:Can't We All Get Along?


This is an attempt to write about a recent incident that involved ageism, or an attitude towards ageism, that I find reprehensible. The first post on this topic was deleted because it was filled with the genuine and honest rage I felt about the situation. Hopefully this second post can narrate the incident and some thoughts i have about ageism, sexism, racism and so forth in our less-than-perfect society without expressing this anger.

But the content of this post is almost banal.  The big idea is that people disagree about issues such as what to do about ageism because they do not realize that they do not share assumptions, and given a lack of shared position on big issues, the little issues "declaring ageism bad" is not so simple.  So I am going to go over the obvious three assumptions that lie at the heart of this debate and observe that indeed not everyone agrees with them.  

The first assumption is that discrimination on the basis of some characteristic such as sex, color of skin, age, and so forth, is a bad thing. When someone is denied a job, or a membership in a society that has an important role in the community, or acceptance to a university because of age, sex, race, religion and so forth, and not on who they are as a person, then an injustice has been done. But there are many people in America who do not agree with me and think that discrimination on some of these criteria, a priori, and without consideration of the individual applicant is perfectly legitimate. There are many people believe it is right to deny someone a job because the applicant is a woman, as she might get pregnant and leave. She might, but she might not. Why not talk to her about it?

This is the central meaning of what discrimination (1) has come to mean: to choose between candidates based on a stereotype or classification that is independent of their worth as a person, or a candidate, or a potential student. Oh, he has funny hair, I dont think we should hire him. We really are uncomfortable with a Jew as member, do we really want to see him in the locker room or at our annual dinners? No we do not. Get that fucking jew out of here.

But I think, and I am sure most of my readers believe, that discrimination on the basis of sex, age, race, religion, etc is wrong. People should be judged on their individual merits and lack thereof. This is the first assumption.

The second assumption is that discrimination of this type exists in our society in important ways. If you do not believe that there is unfair discrimination then obviously you would not be predisposed to do anything to stop it. Many people I know do not believe that there is, for example, discrimination against black men by some of the “local” police forces in America. But I have lived near Los Angeles for most of my life, unfortunately, and every black person I know, mostly men, has a story to tell. They can't all be wrong. I have witnessed and heard about discrimination against women based entirely on their gender. When I hear about such discrimination, I always take it with a grain of salt until I know more, but I have no doubt that it exists and affects the lives of many people. I have no doubt it has affected my life.

Thus the second assumption is that discrimination exists in our society in important ways. In other words, this is not a theoretical concern, but a problem that exists among us right now.

The third assumption is that we, as individuals, as local governments and as the federal government, have a duty to work to end this discrimination in order to create a more fair and just society. This assumption is hotly debated among segments of our polity for many reasons. Among those reasons are those who do not hold the two assumptions above, as well as those who benefit from these discriminations in a direct and tangible way and wish to keep them. Other people who disagree do so because they have a vision of what government means and do not want government involved in this area of life and business. Still others disagree because they do not see that they as individuals have a duty to stand up to this injustice, that it is someone else's problem. And others disagree with this because they are afraid that they might be discriminated against if someone complains about it.

In summary, the assumptions are that discrimination is bad, that it exists in our society, and that we all have a duty to do something about it, both as individuals and as government.

Now we get to the specific incident. A friend of mine, who is a right-wing republican through and through, has lived off his stock-options for a decade and finds that having spent all his money he needs to get a job. He has no doubt that he will immediately get a job, at whatever company he wants, at his perceived level of worth, in spite of being out of the job market for so long. Whenever he does not get a job or might not get a job, it is someone else's fault, which it very well may be. One place he is applying is Google, which he considers an easy place for him to get a senior job, but he has one concern, and that is ageism at Google.

Well, he is good to be concerned. Famously, throughout the world, Google has earned a reputation for ageist hiring practices and career development. In an industry, technology, which already has a strong age bias, Google stands out for being explicitly and radically age biased. Or so, I read, and so I have heard. Is this a fair accusation, I have no way of knowing. In general, however, when you hear things like this as strongly as I hear them about Google, then in fact there is something to it. My guess is that the ageism exists among the lower levels mostly, in other words, when you have a senior person pitching for you, then you are ok at any age. But when you are left to the tender mercies of middle management, then indeed they are explicitly ageist. That is my guess.

Whatever is true here, whether truly there is fire to all that smoke, one dismissed person in marketing took Google to court about it. And win or lose, that is where my friend looking for a job comes in.

His model of the world is that because someone dared to oppose Google on the basis of age after being dismissed, that he, my friend, would have trouble being hired, because Google would be concerned about hiring someone over 50 in case they got sued.

Thus the cause of this ageism is not Google's egregious and world-famous policy of discrimination, but because a victim of it protested his fate.

If only the victims of the unjust world would accept being fucked, my friend is saying, it would be better for me, because then they would hire me. But if they do not hire me, it is not my fault, it is because of that asshole who got fired who sued.

My friend has no concern about the justness of this discrimination, does not even really believe it exists, and could not care less about it except as it affects him. And it only exists in his mind because someone used this anti-discrimination law and used it to unfairly sue Google.

I find this attitude appalling but there are two good things to say about.  First, it is consistent with his other beliefs.  I like consistency in matters of principle.  The second good thing is that everyone has a right to their opinion even if they disagree with me and thus are obviously wrong.

But given this diversity of opinion about something I would think would just be obvious, we, the forces of good, must work extra hard to.end discrimination in our society.  It won't happen, apparently, unless there is a mass movement to change things.


_____________________________________

Notes:

1. Discrimination used to be a word that simply meant to choose based on some criteria. It was not a bad thing, it was a neutral thing. One might discriminate between two marbles because one was a cat eye and one was not, it did indicate preference but not unfair preference.



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Service Guide of the DAR (Daughters of the Am. Revolution)


draft

Those of you who were raised on the west coast may not be as aware of the higher forms of society that exist in this country. But those of us who grew up on the east coast and, in particular, the Commonwealth of Virginia, are certainly aware of organizations, bodies, clubs, societies, what have you, that are for people who are of better breeding than the lower classes.

First among these elite societies is the Daughters of the American Revolution which is an organization of the women who are descended from those who fought on the side of liberty in the American Revolution. To the best of my knowledge no men can be a member of this club and I am uncertain about the status of transgendered people but I doubt that they are eligible. I guess you can always apply.

Eligibility is a big deal to these women, and to be a member, you have to demonstrate “service” of an ancestor, and show a clear line of descent to that person. To that end, and to be of assistance to those who would join this worthy society, they have prepared a guide to establishing service for purposes of joining the DAR.

What surprised me, but perhaps should not have, is that the guide contains a wealth of information about the American Revolution and who fought when. Its worth a glance and I have included a few representative pages here.

The guide goes by the provocative name of “Is That Service Right?” and is available via Google Docs at the following URL:








I have three stories/comments about the DAR which I think are amusing.

1. When FDR addressed the national society of the DAR he began his speech with “Fellow Immigrants....”. This of course annoyed the hell out of people.

2. Strom Thurmond was the senator from the state of S. Carolina for many years, first as a Democrat and then as a Republican, changing allegiance in response to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In other words, a well-known Southern racist. What everyone in DC knew, and most people in the South as well, is that Strom had fathered a child by his family's young black maid when he was a young man. He always supported the woman and her daughter and appearances were maintained until Strom passed away, at which time his daughter went public. In order to avoid embarrassing her father she waited until he had passed away before she applied for membership to the DAR. I never heard whether she became a member.

3. Until recently, I did not realize how many black Americans fought in the American Revolution. But quite a few did. I wonder how the DAR deals with this, because, in case you had not guessed, the DAR is very definitely one of those famous racist clubs that only admits whites and looks down on blacks, jews, and other types.  This must be quite a problem for them.

Strom Thurmond

and his lovely daughter, Essie Mae


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Internet Advertisement Shocks Viewers and Advertisers Worldwide


draft

In a shocking advertisement placed before a trivial news story for the British Daily Mirror viewers were subjected to an unexpected video.  Although claiming to be an ad, the short film presented in a calm voice without any hype information about how to use a popular spreadsheet program in a new and useful way. There were no flashy graphics and no helpful links trying to entice the viewer to go to another web site. It was simply a short informative film with a helpful technique.

Advertisers throughout the world were outraged by this violation of all standards of public decency. “They may have well as slapped every advertiser in the face with a dead fish”, said Bill Plotnick of the International Brotherhood of Advertising and Commerce, “Advertisers everywhere were stunned by this gross violation of protocol”. “Advertisements are meant to be intrusive and obnoxious”, he went on to explain, “that is how they attain their value. If we don't have potential customers cursing us with foul language we know that we have not done our job”.

Testing has revealed that viewers actually watched the controversial video all the way through instead of clicking on the “Skip Ad” button further raising hackles on Madison Avenue.

“This sort of thing has to be stopped at the source, “ said a spokesman for Turid, Turid, Turid and Snap, an Internet advertising agency located in Zurich and New York. “Governments must enact legislation to prevent this from happening again and the perpetrators of this stunt fined or arrested.”

When asked if the Department of Justice would file a complaint in British courts to stop the rogue advertisement, officials there declined to say more than they were investigating the situation.

Daily Mirror Homepage

Just A Moment


We are taking a moment to recalibrate our sarcasm, negativity and ennui.  Just because I am annoyed about life and the hypocrisy of the world is no excuse to be dreary in one's blog.  Will be right back with you.

MW


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Should we Learn From The 2014 Box Office?


Draft, being rewritten

This post is an essay in transition.

When we review a year's worth of films, what criteria should we use as a basis of analysis?   Should we care, as the news media does, for how much money these projects ostensibly made?  Should we discuss the content of the films, their artistic merit? Should we take a practical stance and ask what we can learn from the last year in order to propose our own films successfully?

For those who laugh at the idea of someone who reads this blog making / producing their own film, don't laugh so hard.  It is perfectly feasible for one of our readers, or a group of them, to make a film of one sort or another.  Obviously they do make films, short films that is, already.  In fact, they make longer commercial films all the time, just in a specific role, such as VFX supervisor or art director.

It is perfectly plausible to make a full length film and even possible to get that film seen, although it is much more difficult to actually make money at it.  If we ignore the point about making money for just a moment, which generally requires a distribution deal, and just focus on the process of making a film, many people reading this blog could make a film.

All they would have to do is want it more than just about anything else in their lives, and work as hard as they can with as much cleverness and practical problem solving as they can, for the next 10 or so years, maybe more, probably not much less.   And spend every dollar they make or will make on that activity.  And call in every favor.   And work as hard as they can for years and years.

Then once the film is made, assuming you do not have a distribution deal, you then must work for years showing the film at film festivals and somehow getting the money to attend and for submission to those festivals.

All this time you will have had to make a living somehow unless you inherited enough money that you do not need to work.

And when you are done, the most likely result is that you are broke, have some people who like your work, a lot of people who do not like or are indifferent to your work,  and have to figure out something to do with what is left of your life and probably how to make a living.   Although it is possible you could make a second film, it may even be easier than the first, but it will still be a lot of work and unless you are very clever, or lucky, or talented, it will be hard to make money on it.

Its not supposed to be about the money, now is it?  Its supposed to be about the art.

But in the world of the "real" or mainstream film industry, it is mostly about the money.  And to play in that game is also possible, but it is all the more difficult because of the even greater competition.

And that so-called mainstream industry, "show business" we might say, has a series of ever changing rules and conventions that are renewed from time to time.  They do not go in cycles exactly, although there do seem to be patterns that repeat.   (2)  But one of the things that the industry has always done is to review what has happened this year and use that to predict what the audience liked.  What stories, what stars, and so forth.   But its not quite so clean as saying "this is what worked in 2014, lets do that in 2015" because movies these days take years to create.   Even if you had a portfolio of scripts ready to be shot and with attached stars and directors, you still need over a year in most cases to create film, and very often much more than a year.

So what is the point?   Two things, first.  What happened in any one year will have a diminishing effect over several years in the future.  Second, in a similar way, the lessons of one year will inform what will work as a "pitch" to a studio or producer, in a diminishing way over the next few years.

So now, we get to the heart of the matter.   What films did well in 2014 and what can we learn from those films and their performance.

As you read on, you will see sarcastic comments regarding the content of these films.  That theme is actually the topic of a later post as the films this year, the ones successful in a gross sense at the box office, had no content.  It is one of the most pathetic years I can think of, although I am sure there are others.

So ... back to our post, what happened and what can we learn.

I want to bring to your attention a graphic by Reuters that reveals the total 2014 box office of the top grossing films.  This graphic also shows the production costs and the portion of the box office that was generated in N. America vs the portion generated overseas.





There will be a trace of sarcasm in what follows.

1. Almost all the films on this list made more money overseas than they did in N. America. That means when you pitch a film to a studio or write a spec script that it should have significant locations and protagonists in Asia, particularly China.

2. The revenues shown here are just the box office numbers in first release, and do not reflect the real numbers coming to the studio (which will be significantly less) nor does it include revenues from licensing or such future revenues as video sell-through. The films on this list that have major licensing opportunities are therefore more profitable than they might at first appear and it is not an accident that the studios make so many films with licensing potential.  That means when you pitch a film you want to explain or make obvious how there are lucrative toy tie-ins and indicate what the studio cut will be on such matters.

3. A few of the films on this list may be only barely profitable, or just now becoming profitable. To determine this, apply the 2.5 times the production cost for the rough break even point.  There may be and probably are films that did not gross as much but actually had a better rate of return for their investors because their production costs were so much less.  (1)    Therefore, add more scenes with nearly naked women, bankable stars that do not charge too much up front, and otherwise keep your production costs down.

4. Three of these 20 films are animated films (with computer generated animation). There are no 2D animated films on this list.   Therefore do not pitch a 2D animated film.

5. Fifteen of these 20 films, including the top nine, are either fantasy or SF films with major visual effects.   Thats the way to go.

6. Seven of these 20 films are sequels of previous films and two more are not exactly sequels but had a predecessor film of some sort (Godzilla and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).


So clearly, any film you want to pitch should be based in America and China, be based on an SF or fantasy property, have great toy potential, have relatively low production costs, and would make use of 3D animation. Nothing really new here.



_____________________________________________________

1. This is why it is said that Roger Corman never lost money on a single movie. He knew that if he made a film with certain elements for a certain cost, that he could sell that film, usually in overseas distribution, and make a profit. An “element” here might be a bankable star, or a film about certain topics, or based on a book by a certain author, or a sequel to a film that did well in a certain country, or a film with many young women in bikinis. That sort of thing.

2. The joke about Hollywood is that everyone wants to be first to be second.  They wait for a successful film about a giant monster, and all of a sudden everyone is making a film about a giant monster.  There are other patterns or cycles as well.  Every year or so there is a genuine labor of love, an independent or studio film with heart that does some business as well, particularly as judged by its production costs.  And every year there is one or two of them.  But some years there are more than just a few, or some of these films do very well indeed, and then we hear about how the studio system is dead and it is now "the decade of the independents" or some such silliness.  Well maybe it is or maybe it isnt, but I suspect it isn't.   But for a year or two, an entity like Miramax may indeed be able to bring a handful of independent films to the world.  It seems to come and go.



Attention! Bad Science Fiction Movie Approaches! Morbius, Beware!


I am 12:40 seconds into Prometheus (2012).

I like to give these timeless epic movies a few years to age before I see them.  Usually I wait a decade at least, but in this case I am making an exception and seeing it when it is a mere two or three years old, positively still green and hanging on the tree by my standards.

On a ship deep in space we have a very odd person, who seems to have a broom handle stuck up his ass, exercising with a basketball, while on a bicycle, who then studies Indo-European linguistics and makes reference to Schleicher's Fable (see note below), watches Lawrence of Arabia and tries to imitate Peter O Toole.


Check out the attempt to imitate Peter O'Toole's haircut... here ... 

But then.

Oh !

Destination Threshold !

Red Blinking Lights !

... and here.


Oh my Gosh! Open the windshields, I mean the blast shields, we have arrived! Golly! What a surprise!

What total bullshit. 

You see, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are on a spaceship. As we have previously spent minutes of expensive screen time demonstrating, interstellar travel is very boring. You put the biped mammals on ice, you leave the robots around to keep the ship tidy and watch movies wishing they could have kinky man-android sex with Peter O'Toole, and being bored out of their android mind. You know very well when you are going to arrive because you have been watching a clock counting down digitally for years if not decades waiting for this moment. In fact, not only are you not surprised by this, you are probably on the observation deck as the planet creeps ever so slowly into view.

Indo-European historical linguistics aside, this is not a good sign.

But seriously, what this little moment implies is that at a deep and fundamental level the filmmakers are not making a science fiction movie for adults.  Obviously they are just blinking the red lights in order to create tension, which is fine, but there are plenty of ways of doing so without being stupid.  It means that the filmmakers either do not know any better or, more likely, that they do not care.  It could also mean that the story is for children, but I think we can presume in this case that the film is for the above-13 set.

An example of a science fiction movie that does not immediately throw reality out the window was Alien (1979) also directed by Ridley Scott.   This movie also played loose and fast with the technology of androids and also had some stupid plot moments, such as the usual corrupt corporation theme, but I do not recall that it immediately insulted our intelligence as this one does.

What other triumphs of stupid science fiction screen writing await us?

_____________________________________________

Notes:

Schleicher's Fable is an attempt by historical linguist August Schleicher to write a short story in Proto Indo European, an early reconstruction of a language common to many languages in the west, including Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, German, English and so forth. It is an entertaining whimsy of early Indo European language studies and no one in their right mind would memorize it unless they had a lot of time on their hand, which our android probably does.

Schleicher's Fable on Wikipedia:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

FBI Issues Cyberalert Regarding Iran


As part of the ramp up of the war taking place in cyberspace between various nations and non-state actors, the FBI, in their role as the lead counterintelligence agency for this country when inside our borders, has issued an alert about Iranian cyber activites.

Although most Americans do not consider the FBI to be an intelligence agency, they are, in fact, one of the famous 3 - letter agencies (CIA, NSA, DIA, NRO, etc) and they are responsible for seeing that bad people who are attacking American citizens or corporations or whatever are thwarted. Particularly when whatever is happening takes place inside our national borders where agencies like the CIA are not allowed to operate, generally speaking.

Thus, when the predecessor to the NSA started decrypting Soviet messages (Venona) and discovered that they, the Soviets, were running significant intelligence operations in the US, it was the FBI that the NSA turned to as the proper authority to disrupt these activities and where possible identify and prosecute the Soviet agents.

As you presumably know, the war in cyberspace has been ongoing for over a decade, but the US has only in the last few years started mobilizing cyberdefense and cyberoffense activites.

Of course, certain announcements by the FBI regarding Cyberwar have not always worked out.  For example, SONY was probably not hacked by North Korea, but rather by a very spiteful and talented former employee and IT worker.

Nevertheless, it is the FBI's job in all this to investigate but also to educate and warn Americans who may be at risk. Hence this alert.


Page 1 of the Alert


You may read the entire notice at the following link.

If you do not know the Venona story referenced above you really should read about it. Its one of the few activities that the NSA feels it can talk about, since it is long over and since it was compromised decades ago.




Saturday, January 10, 2015

Secret Parameters in Firefox


Please be sure not to tell anyone that the secret parameters in Mozilla Firefox are listed under "about:config".


Friday, January 9, 2015

Previously Discredited Treatment for Depression Shows Amazing Success in Trials


Millions of right thinking Americans have depression but in spite of years of therapy and the prolonged use of various anti-depressants, a large proportion of those who suffer do not respond to treatment or respond only in a limited way. But now an obscure therapy first pioneered by a radical fringe group of doctors in Queens, NY has been found to have an unprecedented success rate of over 80% in the group of patients that previously did not respond to therapy.

“We are completely astonished,” said Dr. Irving Bloomworth of the Institute for the Prevention of Mental Disorders, whose headquarters is located in Falmouth,  NY. “As part of reviewing old and discredited approaches to treating depression, we came across this approach from the 1930s. We felt that there may have been some procedural mistakes in the trials back then and that it was worth trying again. But we never expected this kind of success.”

In a multiyear experiment funded by the NIH, several different groups of subjects were assigned either the therapy in question or a placebo. Those who received the actual therapy were given paper sacks filled with large amounts of money. The control group received paper sacks filled with old copies of the NY Post "Page Six" column.  

“We noticed a striking improvement in the mood and functionality of the people who received the sacks of money,” said Dr. Bloomworth in a press conference yesterday. "Those who received the placebo were mildly amused but the effect did not last long. But those who received large sacks of cash not only reported feeling better, that feeling seemed to persist for long periods of time."

"As a doctor, someone who wants to heal the sick, I was very gratified when some of the selected group, people who had been depressed and stuck in life for years, suddenly began to have new hope and solve problems that they previously thought were unsolvable.  The depression seemed to disappear as if by magic when they could just throw money at a problem". 

"The mistake we noticed in the original experiments in the 1930s was that they limited the amount of money involved to less than $100.   Of course, $100 was worth a lot more back then, but even so this caught our eye.  What if they had simply not been using enough cash, we wondered.  We created an experiment that gave out money in the 10s of thousands of dollars and we immediately saw an amazing improvement in the quality of life of the subjects as well as an improvement in their attitude towards problem solving."

One limitation of the technique is that the subjects must be allowed to keep the money, doctors discovered.  When they took the money away again, the subjects reported that the depression immediately returned and brain scans confirmed this.  Those who had received the NY Post, on the other hand, were not much affected one way or another when the popular newspaper was taken away.

The therapy was seen to be enhanced by post-care care in which the recipients received help with accounting, investment and taxation.  Tellingly, only those who actually received sacks of money responded to this care.  Those who received the placebo, the NY Post related material, were not affected one way or another by the contributions of an outside accountancy firm.

“This is a very exciting, possibly breakthrough approach,” said Dr. Fremkin at the NYU Medical School who was not involved in the study. “But we must not rush to judgment, many more studies must be done before we just start handing out sacks of money to depressed people”.

Followon large scale trials are being planned.


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Notes:

National Institutes of Health

National Institute of Mental Health on Depression
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

Page Six at the NY Post