Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Rambo, the Enola Gay, and the Low Budget Film that Transcends its Origins


When I was reading about the Enola Gay disaster at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, I came across a historian's comment on a totally different subject, in which she lambasted the film Rambo. Marilyn Young of New York University said

In 1985 the movie Rambo, though set in the postwar period, took this logic to its conclusion, projecting the Vietnam War not as a high-tech U.S. invasion of another country but as a heroic American guerrilla effort to rescue captive Americans.  (1)

It is an article of faith among those of left-bent that Rambo is a series of films that is jingoistic, American right-wing response to defeat. I have read this comment and discussion of the Rambo phenomenon iterally dozens of times in print in the most prestigious of intellectual periodicals or academic journals.

What is fabulous about this, what is so deliciously incriminating, is that it demonstrates that the people making the comments never bothered to watch the films, or at least never bothered to watch the first film that created the series. You see, your honor, Rambo did not come out in 1985. Our historian, Ms. Young, is talking about the sleazebag sequel, not the original film. The first film of the series is not called Rambo, it is called First Blood and it came out in 1982. In other words, this woman does not know shit, at least not about low budget action movies.  That is too bad. Should Mad Max be held accountable for the travesty that is Beyond Thunderdome? The first Rambo film is a wonderful example of a genre that I am very fond of: the low-budget film that transcends its origins.

I probably don't need to tell you that making a good film, let alone a great film, is a very difficult task. Many talented people have tried and failed, they gave it their best effort but fell short of greatness. Even films with a medium or large budget can run into problems and regularly do. But without money, then everything is made more difficult.

A low budget film is usually understaffed or minimally staffed. They have to make the most of every character, of every location, of every shot. Retakes are generally not an option. Even multiple takes of a single scene is usually not an option. A wise director of a low budget film knows to get a take for every shot and then move on.  They have a certain number of pages they have to shoot every day and if they do not get something for each of those shots then they are going to run out of money before they have the film shot, or worse, their backers will pull the plug because they see that the filmmakers are not going to make it and so why throw good money after bad?   Cast and crew are often working for less than their preferred rate and these people often have to work harder and under more difficult circumstances because that is all that the production can afford. In a low budget film, time is truly money, and there is rarely enough time to do your best work.


Our local police treats the returned veteran with dignity and compassion.


But there have been many entertaining films done for a low budget and in a few cases these films can transcend the difficulties of being a low budget film and when that happens, which is not all that often, then you can have an excellent film in spite of its origins.  These can often be especially entertaining or prized because of their circumstances and we should celebrate them.   Remember, from this side of the screen it is very hard to tell what they went through to get to where the final film that you see exists. 

Generally you find that when a low-budget film works that some or all of the following has happened. Often a successful low-budget film will have made very clever use of locations and sets because that is a large expense to a small film. These films often seem to be ensemble films which contain actors who are drawn to the project for some reason and may turn in their best performance, or one of the more notable performance of their career. In some cases, their appearance in this low budget film results in their career having a second life. Sometimes they are over the top and enjoying themselves and there is no time for another take. When it works, as in King of New York, or This is Spinal Tap or Repo Man, you look back at the movie and see many actors who became huge stars and when asked, refer to this low budget film as one of their favorites.



The sheriff and his deputies discover that their escaped vagrant is a former Green Beret

These films are often genre films in a way that makes them easy to market. Usually these films have one “bankable” star that allows them to presell international distribution rights, buy a completion bond, and get made. Once made they attempt to sell the film into other markets. I am pretty sure that is the case with First Blood.

First Blood, in spite of the buildup I have given it, is not the apex of filmmaking. It certainly has flaws, but it is much better than one might have expected. When Stallone saw the first cut of the film, he wanted to buy it to hide it from ever being shown. But they refused and Stallone suggested removing most of his scenes and let the story be told through the other characters. Which is what they did.

I need to explain the basic premise of this film so that you can see how delightfully off base the Rambo haters are, at least as far as this film is concerned.  There is something of a spoiler in what follows, though not much of one.

First Blood is the story of a returned Vietnam veteran who is indigent and is picked up for vagrancy in a small town in the pacific northwest. He does not cooperate with the local police who proceed to abuse him and he flips out, hurts some cops and escapes into the countryside. It turns out that the vagrant is a former Army special forces guy and had been captured and tortured by the N. Vietnamese. He has not happily reintegrated into life in America after his service in Vietnam. The man is desperate, he has no where to go, realizes that he is in deep trouble even though he was just defending himself, and tries to avoid capture. News of this manhunt gets out and the Army sends Rambo's former commander in Vietnam to try and talk him down before more people get hurt.

Brian Dennehy is fabulous in his role as the sheriff.

The film is not a jingoistic glorification of military anything.

It is about a man who was brought into a war he did not ask for, was trained to fight, and then discarded, had no way to make a living and has no future.

Its true that the sequels are silly movies about special forces rescues and other improbable things, but hey, its a movie, goddamnit, lighten up.

What a shame that our historian at the Smithsonian never watched the film that she attacks so vehemently. This does not bode well for the second act of our little melodrama, the saga of the Enola Gay.


__________________________________________________________


1. From Dangerous History: Vietnam and the “Good War” by Marilyn Young in History Wars: The Enola Gay and other Battles for the American Past by Edward T. Linenthal.


It's All So Easy When You Have Money


Reading the biography of George Orwell (aka Eric Blair) last night was very refreshing. The number of times he basically ran out of money, the number of times his relatives found him a job or an apartment, or he lived with his relatives while being rejected by publishers for being too left or not left enough, was morale building.

But more morale building than that was the realization this morning that I had no water, that indeed I had forgotten once again to pay my water bill, and that here in Hell, or Rincon del Diablo, the Devil's Place, not paying your bill is quite a sin. Yes, even in Hell you have to pay your bills.



Check out Orwell's military moustache from his time in India.  This is back when he was employed.


But this time, there was no concern because I had the one answer for all problems in America, in Hell and probably everywhere else. Do to my mysterious client, who may even read this blog, I had the silver bullet, the sine qua non, upon which our entire civilization is based. I had the money to get my water turned back on without pleading, or whining, or threatening.

When you have money, its all so easy. You call them up, talk to a pleasant human being (not an automated system), pay your bill online, they receive it at once, and schedule the technician for late morning or early afternoon.

I understand now, its all so clear. In America you just need money, and the more the better. Why had I not known this before?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Commentary on the NSA Disaster from British Cinema of the 1960s

draft

Many Americans do not understand the NSA disclosures and fall into a juvenile and narcissistic (1) explanation based on an endless diet of “evil CIA conspiracies to murder the president and destroy friendly freedom loving countries” plot meme of American movies and TV Shows.  The reality is so much less interesting but in ways that, sadly, require a bit of history to appreciate and that has never been an American strong point. 

This problem of "NSA explanation" extends to our allies in the West who for some reason want to know what is going on and do not trust us,  How funny that an American should have to remind Europeans about history, how very ironic.  These same Europeans are always lecturing us about their superior knowledge of history as learned in elite European universities, something us poor Yanks could never hope to understand given our inferior breeding. This history reminder is especially odd in the case of the United Kingdom. Surely we can count on them for understanding?

Well, yes and no. The more informed of us realize that the NSA disclosures involve operations that are shared with and in part originated with the British and various members of their Commonwealth, but even our well-bred friends seem to have slipped a bit and forgotten that one of the unusual aspects of post 1945 intelligence is the cooperation between the US, the UK and their Commonwealth, a cooperation that, to everyone's surprise, survived the last world war and continues to this day. In other words, its not "us vs them" in this case, it is more likely to be some version of “us vs us” when the full story comes out, if it ever does.

But I speculate, and in the great tradition of retroactively finding meaning in works of art and fiction, I have noticed an oddly plausible discusssion for some of what we know about the NSA disaster in a venerable, indeed perhaps penultimate, spy movie from the Cold War, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) as directed by Martin Ritt from a novel by John le Carre, aka David Cornwell, a veteran of British M.I. {5, 6}.


Control discussing intelligence methods with Leamus in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) 


Although the movie does not discuss anything like the NSA disclosures it does contain words of wisdom, I think, for how people in the Intelligence Community see this sort of thing.

The movie is remarkably faithful to the book, and both are confusing as can be which touches on some of the ambiguity and complexity of the real Cold War. It seems to me that one should not have to worry about spoilers in a movie that came out in 1965, especially to readers of this blog, but the fact is that not everyone has seen this fabulous, if depressing, movie. The good news is that one can discuss major elements of the film and not give anything away, you will still be confused unless you read and/or watch this film several times and spend some time thinking about it.

But fortunately, the scene in question is near the very beginning of the film, and gives very little away except perhaps upon reflection in light of other developments. It is the briefing between the protagonist, Leamus, and his boss in British intelligence, whose work name is Control. In this briefing, Leamus has returned from Berlin where he has just seen the collapse and death of one of his networks, and is meeting with his boss to see if he will be retired, or transferred to a non-operational job, or given another assignment in the field.

As we have discussed earlier in this blog, I believe that one of the greatest of all devices in the history of the cinema is the device of The Explanation. In this scene, the head of the British Foreign Intelligence service explains to an agent some of the rationale behind their work.

I have put the scene up at Youtube, until they take it down, education not being seen as a valid excuse for Fair Use no matter what Congress or the FCC may say. I have also provided a transcript below. The italics are mine. You may watch this scene here.


Control: Would you like a drink?
Leamus: No, I'll wait.
Control: You can still do that?
Leamus: (startled at Control's rudeness)
Control: I wondered whether you were tired, burnt out.
Leamus: (silence)
Control: Well this phenomenon we understand here. Its like metal fatigue. We have to
    live without sympathy, don't we. You can't do that forever. One needs to come in,
    in from the cold.
Leamus: I'm an operator, Control. Just an operator.
Control: There is a vacancy in banking section that might suit you.
Leamus: Sorry, I'm an operational man. I'll take my pension, I don't want a desk job.
Control: You don't know whats on the desk.
Leamus: Paper.
Control: I want you to stay out in the cold a little longer. Please do sit down.
Control: Our work as I understand it is based on a single assumption that the West is never
    going to be the aggressor. Thus, we do disagreeable things, but they are defensive.
    Our policies are peaceful but our methods can't afford to be less ruthless than those
    of the opposition. Can they?
Leamus: (silence)
Control: No, I'd say that since the war our methods, our techniques that is, and those
    of the communists have become very much the same. Right. I mean, occasionally,
    we have to do wicked things. Very wicked things indeed. But, uh, you can't be less
    wicked than your enemies simply because your government's policies are benevolent,
    can you?
Leamus: (silence)
Control: What I have in mind for Mundt is a little out of the ordinary. You haven't met
  have you?
Leamus: Mundt? No.
Control: He was here in 59 posing as a member of the East German steel mission.
Leamus: I was in Berlin.
Control: And, uh, how do you feel about him?
Leamus: Feel?
Control: Yes.
Leamus: He's a bastard.
Control: Right.


Those students of the filmmaking arts will notice that this is not a pure Explanation as it also makes good use of those tired narrative cliches of foreshadowing, well-written dialogue and great acting.

This movie also has several great examples of the art of the Explanation beyond the one already cited. Another one can be found herebut trust me, this one is a spoiler if you have not seen the film.

So in conclusion, I would like to suggest that this fictional discussion from the cold war should serve to remind us that our faithful public servants are often aware of the moral ambiguity of some of their work. Also, in judging this situation without solid knowledge let us not forget that, generally speaking, the NSA is on our side.


The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) on IMDB


________________________________________________

1. The great narcissism of the American Public is revealed in the presumption that the NSA has nothing better to do than to gleefully and egregiously spy on them as if the NSA was an infinitely resourced department of the Divine Will that watches over every one of God's, or the IRS's, creatures.  Unlike Santa Claus, he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake, not.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Administrative Notes for Fall 2014

draft

Alert readers of this web site will have noticed that there is a chance that a post made to this blog will not last much longer than a few hours or a day and then disappear. The reasons for this are several but basically comes down to my assessment of the whiny nature of the post vs. the humor or sarcasm vs. the added value, e.g. whether it contains useful information that I would want my readers to know at some point.   

I have to feel that the initial post has the possibility of turning into something reasonable after a half day or so of reedit and rewriting. If I do not see that progress towards something acceptable then I delete it, usually keeping the draft for future consideration.

Generally, but not always, there is the seed of a real post in each of these failed proto-posts, but for one reason or another it just is not making sufficient progress at this time.   

Only about 50% of the posts I spend many hours on actually gets to the blog. I am not completely sure why this is, but I think it is in part because it gets harder to put devoted effort into a post as I get busier on other things.  Before, I could spend all day on a post and just beat at it until it became acceptable, now it is much harder to do that.

I want to take this moment to thank all my investors and clients who have made this work a possibility.  I am still not making a living, but I am earning enough money to pay for expenses without having to lean on friends.  

There may be some effort to focus more on core themes of the blog in future months.  We will see how that works out.  These themes may be history / study guide to visual effects, the early days of computer graphics in the 1980s, Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, and various aspects of the esoteric knowledge and its use in creating entertainment fiction.

Publishing notes:

The archive section on the right still cuts off the titles of posts, and since there is no user support for blogger, I have been unable to figure out how to fix it. Trust me, the templates for these things are not trivial to understand.

The labels for this blog need to be completely rethought. That is a many day project, if not longer.

Although I am not very punctual at managing the comments, I do appreciate them and wish there were more of them.

Thanks again.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Cost of Medical Care in N. San Diego County Compared with Manhattan


When I compare NYC with N. San Diego, well, there is just no comparing. NYC just has architecture, culture, museums, music, theatre, mass transit, universities and stuff like that. But N. San Diego county has actual golf courses and cheap mexican restaurants!

Do not confuse N. San Diego County with San Diego.  They are an hour away from each other. One is a nice city, very pleasant, with a lot of Navy.  The other is a central California agricultural region with no center, very little art or culture worth speaking of, and a bunch of chain shopping centers that are connected by highways. There is not much here and mostly the young people gnaw at their leg to get away.

But it has golf courses, so of course it must be very expensive to live here, and it is.  San Diego and N. San Diego County has the highest power costs of any metropolitan area in the country outside of Hawaii (remember Enron came from here).  The citizens think that they are living in some fabulous dream community, but they are not.  Its just a silly suburb with nice weather if you like that sort of thing.  The air, I admit, is clean.  

NYC has very high real estate costs and unions and infrastructure to support and a lot more.  N. San Diego has medium real estate costs and no unions, its a perfect Republican heaven or nightmare.  

As you know, I manage a chronic but not life-threatening medical situation and the way the federal government and our medical professionals arrange things, if there is any schedule screwup, you have to pay the expense of an emergency room to get your medication.  I could explain this to you but frankly it would just bore you and you would not really believe it until it happens to you.

Suffice it to say, I visited an emergency room in NYC and one in N. San Diego County within a year of each other to comply with their bureaucracy.  In each case, I had my blood pressure taken, talked to a doctor for 3 minutes, and got a prescription and a stern warning for which they should go fuck themselves.

The Hospital in NY was NYU Langone Center a world class medical center.  The hospital down here was the Palomar medical center, which seems nice but is not known for anything.  

Want to guess which one was more expensive.

One cost $175 and one cost $400 for this service.

Guess.

Thats right, San Diego is so fucking pretentious and full of itself that it charges $400.  Whereas the world class hospital in one of the most expensive cities in the world charges $175.

Isnt that just fucking great ?

___________________________________________

NYU Langone

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Archaeology of the Cold War: The CIA Comes Clean on the Black Helicopter


As a student of the intelligence community, of conspiracy theories and of the archaeology of the cold war, I want to bring to your attention an entertaining footnote to one of the memes of the nutty boy, lunatic fringe, the concept of the “black helicopter”.

We all know the joke “just because he is paranoid doesn't mean that people are not out to get him” or variations on that theme. In a similar fashion, just because something is part of a conspiracy theory by lunatics does not mean that it is impossible for certain elements of that theory to be true, even if only partially true. Its a delicate subject, for those of us who believe (or pretend to believe) that there is a hollow earth wherein live benign superior races in a utopian society do not want to sneer too loudly at those fools who believe in other equally ridiculous fantasies. One must tread lightly when confirming a part of a conspiracy theory that one does not step on the toes of fellow-travelers by dismissing their particular craziness. It is also the case that even a clock that has stopped working is correct twice a day, as some wit once put it.

But nevertheless, when studying the history of the intelligence community, there are a number of principles one should keep in mind and these principles are a large part of the appeal. The first thing to realize is that contrary to what you are told, the intelligence community in this country is not evil, but it is very much a bureaucracy that can occasionally transcend its organizational limitations and achieve excellence, and when it does, from time to time, when it is all over, they are happy to talk about it to give credit to those who have accomplished something so that history can know about their work and so their work can act as an inspiration for the future.

It is also the case that these stories are usually also interesting because they involve national purpose in a time of crisis or conflict, and when they are allowed to move forward, also involve great cleverness and often are provided with excellent resources and often very specialized technologies that are the best that we can provide under the circumstances, whatever those may be.

But, this being the intelligence community, which by definition must keep secrets to be effective, these stories are not told until long after the fact, and usually only in part.




For those of you who know what the “black helicopter” conspiracy meme is about and how “black” projects work, you may skip to the last part of this post which describes the entertaining report from the CIA about a quiet helicopter that they built during the Cold War for some as-yet-unidentified mission. For those of you who are blessedly ignorance of the conspiracy theories of the 1990 militia movement in this country, I will try to be brief.

In the 1990s, a part of the radical right-wing fringe of this country formed what has been called the “militia movement” which involved a bunch of armed lunatics who were convinced that our military was planning a coup in conjunction with various elements of our government to end democracy in this country and bring us into a global government which would be known as the “New World Order”. I am not too sure about many of the details of this movement or its personalities and doctrines. I could not tell you for sure whether this was part of the conspiracies of the Rockefellers, the Illuminati or the Catholic Church but one of their particular and idiosyncratic fantasies was the concept of the “black helicopters”. The black helicopters were unmarked, black of course, completely silent helicopters that were run by a secret organization which was planning the aforementioned coup. They would hover above military bases and spy on the militia movement in an effort to destroy them. 

If you want to know more, just go to your favorite search engine and type in “black helicopter” and you will immediately get a bunch of references to them.

Now to any student of intelligence or the military what is funny about this is that, in the absence of any hard information, it is not so improbable that something that one might call a “black helicopter” might exist in the world.

There are several reasons for this hypothetical possibility and here are a few of them. First, “black” is a term of art in the intelligence and military to refer to a project or technology which is being kept especially secret and not acknowledged. These technologies are usually a part of projects which are directed by the security apparatus of this country, such as the National Security Council. The U2 and the SR-71 are two very famous “black airplanes” in this category and both were developed out of a requirement by the President and the NSC to get better intelligence about the USSR's ability to wage nuclear war. Second, one could imagine that there might be projects out there that would require a helicopter that had special capabilities that were held back, kept secret, to be used only under special circumstances. Third, anyone who has ever been around a helicopter knows how noisy they are, but you may not be aware that from the earliest days of helicopters, people have been doing research into how to make them quieter, and they have come up with a number of techniques to do so. Proven techniques. (1) So why dont they use them then, you might wonder. The answer is always a variation of the old adage that “nothing in this world is free”. A technology that makes a helicopter quieter might greatly increase its cost, or limit its speed and range, or reduce its reliability.

Finally, we had hard evidence that at least one stealth helicopter had been built, or two of them, because SEAL Team Six had crashed one of them on their raid on Bin Laden.

Which leads us to this interesting report.

Once upon a time, about 1970, the CIA had the need to be able to sneak into a foreign country, unnoticed, and either bring in, or bring out, someone or something. The place it would be going would be suitable for a helicopter, in other words, it could be an empty parking lot or someone's back yard. But it had to be totally silent, invisible to radar, fly in the dark, be able to go a long distance, pick something up (or drop something off) and then make the return trip.

The problems they had to solve included increasing the range of the helicopter, reducing the noise signature of the helicopter so that it could fly very close to people and not be noticed, and because it would be flying very close to the ground to avoid radar, it needed some sort of navigation aid that would let the pilot avoid obstacles and still not be visible to the naked eye.

In a remarkably short period of time, and with the help of a variety of defense contractors and individuals working on their own time, they were able to do so, and in doing so, they proved a number of technologies which were of immense value moving forward in the non-secret world, including a much better version of FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared).




The report can be found on the www.cryptome.org site and can be located here:

So now, about 40 years later, they tell us about the helicopter. But they are still not telling us a damn thing about where they used it and for what purpose. What glorious episode from the Cold War does this conceal?  A flight to freedom of one of our agents?  We will know one day.

Of course this report will not satisfy those noble seekers-of-truth who are working to prevent the government take over to create the New World Order.  But at least it does reveal that some of this technology does exist.  We must all be vigilant to see that these proud covert creators of anti-freedom helicopters are not permitted to implement socialized health care.

Its up to us.

________________________________________________________

Notes

1. An example of a “proven technique” to make a helicopter quieter is simply to move the rotors more slowly as much of the noise that a helicopter generates in flight comes from the movement of their rotors in the air. But obviously this technique has an impact on the performance of the helicopter.



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Potential Collapse of Civilizaton Seen as a Result of Weak Type Checking


In a world filled with the threat of war, with midterm elections that once again demonstrate the self-destructive credulity of the American people, with the collapse of the American economy due to the greed and stupidity of the American elites, is now the proper time to talk about the looming crisis of weak type checking in our programming languages?

Yes, now is the time. The need has never been greater to stop this foolish slide into moral decay and socialized health care.

The promise of weakly typed or untyped languages such as Javascript is that you can quickly and flexibly create new data structures, complex data structures, and not get bogged down by being forced to go through your entire system and make everything work together in a very pedantic, and literal way.  You can throw together arrays and lists and pass them as parameters and feel a certain pleasant lack of mental overhead in doing so.  

This can be very productive but it can also generate a false sense of correctness when in fact one has introduced a subtle incompatibility which the system is blandly ignoring for a while, only to fail in a non-trivial way when you are least expecting it.

In fact, it is shocking how well a system like Javascript is willing to accommodate undefined variables, functions, incompatible types and just keep moving along as if nothing was wrong.

But having seduced the programmer into a false sense of security, it then waits for the program to reach a certain size, or grow to more than a single programmer, and suddenly the author or authors of a program have to start tracking down a bug that comes from one side not enforcing or maintaining a data structure in the way to which it was intended, or partially implemented, or perhaps implemented but then changed due to incomplete knowledge.

The larger the system, the more people who contribute to a system, and the longer the software is in use and being evolved, the more likely this is to happen. And when it happens, one is left without the tools to find the problem other than reading the code carefully and providing ones' own type checking.

How could this lead to the end of civilization?   It can do so in two different ways.  The first is that by permitting this mental weakness, this accommodation to those who would advocate weak type safety, we are letting those who are more lazy enter into a position of responsibility in society. This is certain to lead inevitably to sloppy programming resulting in falling buildings, collapsed bridges, exploding nuclear power plants and God only knows what else.

But second, this nation is under relentless attack by inscrutable oriental criminal elements that are sponsored by their evil, slave owning, government.   Can you imagine their glee whenever they penetrate another freedom-loving web page or program in America that has been left defenseless by a weakly type-checked programming language?

We must stand firm against these efforts to leave America defenseless against these threats and rebuild American strength through strongly typed languages.

Thank you.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Debevoise Brothers Win the Finals

draft

Allen Debevoise (aka "devo") and one or more of his brothers sold one of their companies for $200M.  I have known Allen since 1980 or so at Robert Abel & Associates and have watched (at a distance) his entrepreneurial activities since 1991 or so.   I still have the drink ticket from Consumacio in Barcelona where we were being hosted as part of Ars Futura when the first Iraq war started in 1991.

I do not know the details and I will update this post when I do.  But Allen has been tireless, inventive, and with a tremendous positive energy through thick and thin, and company after company. Possibly even a genius. Certainly an inspiration.  And without doubt one of several people I know whose success is based in no small part on their own hard work over a very long period of time, in spite of adversity, and as a reward for merit.

As difficult as it may be to believe that merit and hard work gets you anywhere, nevertheless it seems to be so in his case.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Regional Political Correctness and the American Museum of Natural History


As part of low self esteem, I have noticed that my friends in San Francisco or Cambridge MA are by their very nature more in touch with the socially politically correct doctrines which are required for one to be accepted by certain elements of our elite society. When a friend in SF goes to the library, he goes to a union worker's library founded in the late 19th century. When he is involved in a bisexual S&M polyamorous relationship/s, I know that he is on the leading edge of socially correct behavior by his very nature. I am envious of this since I am a notorious stick-in-the-mud who does not even own a single pair of handcuffs.

This regional cultural diversity or sensitivity towards leading edge correctness has also been brought home to me by people who live in the Cambridge, MA academic circles. Their sensors are so finely tuned that they can sense an incorrect belief from hundreds of yards away and respond correctly, which is to say with the hot certainty of outrage at the presence of incorrect thought.

Other regions of the country bring other sensitivities and advantages. I noticed when I lived in NYC that I naturally had a much greater sense of what was happening in the finance community than I did living anywhere else. It was interesting, it wasn't necessarily practical information, but you just naturally heard things. You heard some anecdotes about the insurance industry after 911, and about the savings and loan crisis years before the controlled press bothered to mention it. In N. California any supermarket packer knows more about venture capital than most people in the world. In LA, we know more about what is going on in the glamourous motion picture industry and know intuitively that reward for merit and art-for-arts-sake is not part of the equation, generally speaking, but only happens more or less by accident when it happens at all.

I have an example that demonstrates this fine sensitivity to political correctness and also political incorrect blindness of these different regions of our country. In order to understand this example, I first have to explain a few things about an esteemed institution in the NYC area, the American Museum of Natural History (the AMNH).

NYers love the American Museum of Natural History. The local US Post Office Branch for Zipcode 10024 is proudly called Planetarium Station in its honor.  When I consulted for the AMNH almost every adult male I knew who grew up in the region volunteered the information that he had committed hookey (skipped a day at school) as a kid and spent the day at the AMNH and that it was very important to them that a certain exhibit (perhaps the weird marsupial third from the right) not be touched because it was their favorite. Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium was a local hero and celebrity in NYC years before the Cosmos reboot established him in the national consciousness.


Skeletons in the closet?  What do you mean?


Any institution that has been around for a while is likely to have a skeleton or two in the closet, but at the AMNH they really do have skeletons in the closet. Many closets in fact. No one inside would accuse the AMNH of perfection but NYers do not care.   The halo of their esteem protects this institution from criticism and for most NYers it can do no wrong.

At one point, I was “seeing” someone who worked in academia at MIT in Cambridge, MA. She would come visit me in NYC and of course I would take her to my local favorite institution, the AMNH. The museum earned her contempt almost immediately because so many of the exhibits there consist of a vast number of ethnicities described by a set of mannequins dressed in representative clothes and with a selection of artifacts, facts, food types, cultural descriptions and so forth. But “humans under glass” is not considered politically correct in modern museum theory, even though these older exhibits are very informative and also very low maintenance, which is a good thing. I used to direct people to our project offices at the museum by telling them to go to the Hall of the Ancient Murdered Peoples and turn left at the cold blue nomads.

But that is nothing compared to the first time she saw the front of the museum.


Teddy on his horse surrounded by his young fans in blue


At the front of the AMNH is a statue of Theodore Roosevelt which most NYers would barely even notice. Pres. Roosevelt had quite a bit to do with the history of the AMNH and had an office there when he left the White House. (1) His statue in front of the main entrance is of him on a horse looking bravely into the far distance and being followed by a Native American and an African on foot and walking a few respectful paces behind.

My friend from Cambridge did not get closer than 100 yards of this statue before she started fuming. She was no closer than 50 yards before she started all-but-screaming in outrage at this, well, outrage. This essence of non-political correctness. This racist, imperialist, oppressive example of American narcissism and cultural arrogance. The white man leading the colorfully dressed savages into the future of white oppression.

I tried to reassure her that the Museum understood her concern and that the statue as it existed was already an improved version.  The original version of the statue had the colorfully-dressed native people carrying Roosevelt's luggage and there were three of them, not two. The third was an orthodox Jew carrying the accounting books, but the Jewish lobby in New York was able to get him removed. The original slogan for the statue was “They Will Learn To Respect the Whip" but now it says something benign.

But all my efforts were to no avail and her mood never improved.


American Museum of Natural History
www.amnh.org


Notes

1. I have been in this office and it is very nice.   


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Do Not Leave Those Naked Pictures of Yourself on Github


One of the not-so-entertaining results of our civilization's obsession with computing and cash is the "fuck our customers we don't care" approach taken by the consumer electronics and computing industry towards such things as systems administration, backup administration and security administration and its impact on our lives.  Now we are all forced to take on these dreary sub-specialties or face one of many horrible fates that this technology mania has brought down upon us: the wiped disk, the non-working backup, the zombie computer used by Chinese or Russian spies, or worse, the "hactivist" holier-than-thou swine ready to exploit your assets to mine Bitcoin or some other juvenile and anti-social goal for their self-appointed crusade.   We are all now responsible for these and many other tasks and woe unto those of you who think you are above such things for then your sins as documented by your iPhone will appear on social media and there you will be, in full color, engaging in some drunken bisexual orgy as an undergraduate for everyone to see just as you are running for your first political office or other responsible position.

Be warned, if you wish to avoid this or some other horrible fate, there are a few hundred things you need to pay attention to at any one time, although that list is a moving target. You have to know enough to keep yourself out of trouble.  No one else will do this for you. 

Many of us use Github as a repository for source code for our projects and collaborations. In the past I have used it off and on, but these days I use it more or less 7/24. As part of your repository, one could keep security strings that give access to various other resources that exist out there, such as the Amazon cloud. A friend did just that and forgot about it. Although he certainly knew better a few years later he made that repository public (it was either that or delete it, he wasn't working on that particular idea anymore).

Well his repository contained security information for his cloud account on Amazon which he also wasn't actively using and some hackers grabbed it and ran up a bill in the many 10s of thousands of dollars per day. Amazon.com caught it nearly immediately and my friend will not be liable for most of this bill, hopefully not any of it.

My friend is beating himself up because of course he knew better. He does know better, by the way. Don't let this happen to you. He suggests reading the following discussion on these issues to learn how to keep passwords out of your Git repository.


Never forget it's a jungle out there and that, generally speaking, people are scum.