Friday, September 19, 2014

Radio Moscow Signing Off (Part 1)


We live in a period of history when one world is ending and another, or several others, begin. The world that is ending is/was the world of the Cold War with its mutual-assured destruction, the competition between the so-called nuclear superpowers, and the ideological battle between secular ideologies. The world that is coming is a world filled with the bright vision of globalization, cyberwarfare, religious terrorism, gross inequities both legal and financial, global warming and a shallow culture based on greed and technology. Its a world we have all been working for and can take pride in its creation.

But when an age as all comprehensive as the Cold War ends, by no means does everything change at once. There is a period of transition when institutions linger on until something finally kills them, or they evolve into something else entirely which makes them relevant and functional again. This can be a very sad period, as some of the most colorful and emotionally evocative traditions and organizations may now no longer serve a purpose and pass into history.

Today we have the very sad news of the passing of Voice of Russia, formerly known as Radio Moscow, after so many years of loyal service. A tool of their Supreme Soviet, just as the NY Times and the Washington Post are the tools of our Capitalist masters, Radio Moscow would reveal the contradictions and racism inherent in decadent western capitalism and predict its imminent fall to be replaced by the Worker's Paradise. But alas that never came to be.

In its place we have the a gorgeous example of true nutty boy conspiracy theory. In this analysis by friends of Cryptome, the Wikileads wanna-be and Snowden / Greenwalt devotee, about the real causes of the downfall of Radio Moscow.

First we begin with the strategic background.

But then we follow it up with what is really going on.

Yes, its true. Rockefeller and the CIA wanted an apartment as part of destroying the Soviet Union.

Some other time we will celebrate the contributions of Radio Moscow to the rhetoric of the cold war, but today we must look on in awe at the insanity of modern Russian propaganda and self-delusion.

It is a sign of our times that we are blessed with the strategic theorists who can pierce the veil of conspiracy and reveal to us the truth behind the forces arrayed against liberty.

At least with Radio Moscow we had some rationale behind the propaganda that had some sort of purpose.  With this conspiracy nuttiness, both in the former Soviet Union and among our right and left wing intelligentsia, all we have is paranoia and clear signs of being completely divorced from reality.

I miss Radio Moscow already.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance, Ambiguity and Annoyance

Spoilers are in orange to make them difficult to read.    But if you are one of those who like to know NOTHING about a work, then stop here.

This is something of a review or a commentary on Jeff vanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy: Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance, whose third and final book has just been published.

I will know the hand of the sinner that brings forth the strangling fruit of inconclusive fiction. The wretched of the light will stomp mightily on the sinful authors of ambiguous trilogies and send them screaming into the eternal hell of publishing corruption while the worms giggle and chew energetically on the flesh of the accursed author....

VanderMeer has done two things that I enjoy very much in a work of fiction.  First, he has written what is plausibly described as a mystery story, but cleverly obscures what the real mysteries are. Second he has written something that feels like it could be a fantasy novel, or a novel of the supernatural, that is actually science fiction.  As all devoted readers of science fiction know, SF has rules of its own which are different from the genre of fantasy.

I started reading the Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance) a year ago without realizing it had not all been published yet, something I swore to never do again after a bad experience in my youth involving Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber. (1)   But having started reading this series and finding it compelling, I ordered books two and three from Kindle and binge read them when they were released.   I was right to suspect that this was going to be a messy ending.   What does messy mean?  It means that many of the mysteries of Area X and the three books of the Southern Reach Trilogy are not resolved by the end of the third book.  In fact, new mysteries are added by the third book extending the cause of anxiety-producing lack of closure.

The worms will dance in the brain of the sinners who fail to resolve important plot points and bring forth the seeds of the annoyed who will jump up and down and never forgive ... 

These are not the real covers, these are alternate covers I found on the Internet, somewhere.

VanderMeer is perfectly happy to spin a narrative all the way up to page 295 of a 300 page book, then throw out some perfectly plausible world-shattering solution that wipes away the mirage of normalcy and in itself poses another dozen or more questions and then stop. Oh, I guess we are done. Some things in life are ambiguous, I can hear him thinking, thats just the way life is. That may be true in life, but in fiction there is more control and we can point the finger of responsibility if we care to, something that is much harder to do in real life.  

None of this would matter except that VanderMeer is very talented and has done an excellent job of creating a fascinating mystery or ten and characters that I care about.   Pretty much all of them are 'fucked with' hard by Area X which may or may not realize or care what it is doing to them.   And the author rather heartlessly leaves truly sympathetic characters as well as sympathetic readers hanging.

The seeds of the annoyed will emit glowing clouds of vengeance that will plotz on the author and cause him/her/it to rue the day....

After a moment of vocal displeasure for the son-of-a-bitch, a series of possible solutions presented themselves to me. Perhaps by carefully rereading the book(s), one can discover clues that resolve seemingly unresolved issues.  Perhaps there is a subtext or structure to what is answered and what is not.  Perhaps some of the questions are more important than others and that this will become clear upon reflection.  

So in other words, on top of the mysteries left apparently unresolved is the new mystery of why he did this. What was he thinking? Is he a sadist?  Is there a sequel planned? Has he been transformed by Area X?  Is he working for them?

Those who have read the trilogy or do not mind spoilers may read a partial list in the notes (2).

But as time has passed (we are in the third or fourth day since the final book was published) and as I reread the first and second books, I realize that there are some answers in descriptions and events previously described but whose significance was not apparent at the time.  I find that I am somehow going ahead with my life in spite of the ambiguity, that I have "accepted" the fact that we are all completely victimized by forces beyond our control and understanding.   

You can read the first few pages at the link below, annotated by the author.

And here is an annotated excerpt of the second novel.

The unknown plant will bring forth the seeds of the dead who will stomp on the fingers of the readers who believed that there is meaning and rational causation in the universe that they can understand but that is not the case.



1. When I first read Nine Princes in Amber I am pretty sure it was just a single book.  Then presumably something happened, it got popular, whatever, and a series of sequels started getting published perhaps one per year for a decade.  I was screwed and never did read the final books.

2. The following is an abbreviated list of just some of the issues either left very ambiguous or completely unanswered.

None of the questions or issues are about the specific technologies or “how things work”, although there is a huge amount of mystery there. I am completely willing to accept that somehow they do work.  Some of the questions below may have answers in some form in the book, but its subtle. Other questions could be added to this list.  

Should you care to read the spoilers, remember that most browsers will increase type size with control-+.  Hit that a few times and the following will be readable.

What is Area X trying to accomplish with that part of the Forgotten Coast? In other words, why is the Forgotten Coast there, and whatever replaced it here? What is the purpose of the topological anomaly? What is the crawler doing, what is its purpose, what do the words mean, why are they being written? (There are some clues to this in the third book, not altogether satisfying, but some clues). What is the thing in the sky and why is it so terrifying? What is the significance of the island and the other lighthouse. Is the owl the missing husband? It would seem that Area X can communicate with us if we take the situation in the tunnel/tower and Ghost Bird as communication, which I think it is. So why has it not communicated before? Why only now, possibly also with the cell phone? What is it trying to say? Does the border still exist? Has the entire world been incorporated into Area X? Why did Lowry not transform or did he? What happened to the first expedition that is different from what happened later? Did the S&SB help initiate Area X by somehow stimulating what was trapped and inert in the lens? What is the plan that the director thinks she has with the biologist in the context of the twelfth expedition, and why would the biologist be significant in her plan? Why did the director not transform or did she? What happened when John Rodriquez went through the door? Is he dead? Does anyone really die in this world or are they all available to be cloned later with or without certain memories? What changed when he went through the door? Is Area X now broken? Is Saul/the Crawler dead? When Area X is wherever it is, what is in its place behind the border where the Forgotten Coast used to be? If the entire world is Area X when the border expanded does that mean that it has also been transported to another place, with a mirage to make it think it is still where it was? Why (as in what is the purpose) of transforming everyone and everything? Is it a way of learning about them or interrogating them? Why did the director refuse to help the biologist when she was dying outside the lighthouse? What is it that caused the director to throw herself off the lighthouse to begin with? How do the journals get to the lighthouse, as it seems unlikely that many of the members of the expedition would be able to to put their journals there (given they were dead, or transformed or insane or running for the border).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Request for Bailout from the White House

I have been frustrated because I have not heard back from President Obama about my completely legitimate and deserving request for a bailout.  What could be the problem, I wondered.   Why isn't the check here.

Then I realized I had made foolish mistake.

Of course!  Pres. Obama is not reading my blog, I need to send him the request directly.  So I sent him a note via the White House online comment system that he should read my blog, specifically this post.

Now hopefully I will see some action!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Science Proves Self-Deception is the Best Strategy


In a new study published in PLOS ONE, evidence is presented that a person who deceives themselves as to their talent and knowledge, and thus is more self-confident, is more likely to be judged by their peers as actually being more talented and thus are more successful than they deserve to be.

The converse is also true. According to this study, if you have low self-esteem, you are judged less talented by your peers and receive correspondingly fewer opportunities, promotions and so forth.

This is an interesting wrinkle on the “fools may go where wise people fear to tread” meme and suggests that the best way to get opportunity and get ahead in life is to be blindingly self-confident beyond all reason and experience.

The problem with this strategy comes when one tries to fake being unreasonably self-confident. Those who are merely deluded are the stronger type because they genuinely believe their bullshit, believe they are God's gift to ... whatever, and thus go further than someone who merely pretends to be delusional and has unreasonable self-confidence. Those that try to fake their delusional self-confidence are not as good at it, apparently, as those who are insane and thus are less likely to be promoted.

This is bitter tea. Many of us would try to fake delusional and unreasonable self-confidence if we thought it would help us, but the evidence does not support this approach. Merely faking it but not actually believing it fails to be convincing to your fellow biped mammals whose judgment you seek to influence.   

But there is a wrinkle that might be an effective strategy. Apparently these self-deluded and successful individuals are also more likely to overestimate the talent and potential of their coworkers. Thus if you feel stymied in your career, and want to get ahead, then by going to work for a deluded and over-confident manager is a way to possibly be given opportunities that you would not otherwise receive or merit.

The conclusion therefore is for all of us to find the most delusional and unreasonably self-confident people we know and go to work for them.

The abstract of the paper is below.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Editorial by Jay Epstein on the Snowden Operation

The following was published in the Wall Street Journal on May 9, 2014 but I only came across it about a week ago. I have however read other analysis that have said about the same thing. We have the problem here that those who know can not say, and those who do not know say whatever they want to believe whether or not it is plausible or fits the facts as we know them.

Even though I pretty much despise the WSJ, at least they have the guts to publish an editorial that contradicts the deeply held beliefs of the fourth estate, I have to give them credit for that.

For those who do not know him, E. Jay Epstein is a well known iconoclast who enjoys holding contrarian, but well argued, positions.

The editorial on the WSJ is here and reprinted below without permission.

Was Snowden's Heist a Foreign Espionage Operation?

Those who know the files he stole think he was working for a foreign power, perhaps Russia, where he now lives.

By Edward Jay Epstein
May 9, 2014 6:50 p.m. ET

Edward Snowden's massive misappropriations of classified documents from the inner sanctum of U.S. intelligence is mainly presented by the media as a whistleblowing story. In this narrative—designed by Mr. Snowden himself—he is portrayed as a disgruntled contractor for the National Security Agency, acting alone, who heroically exposed the evils of government surveillance beginning in 2013.

The other way of looking at it—based on the number and nature of documents Mr. Snowden took, and the dates when they were taken—is that only a handful of the secrets had anything to do with domestic surveillance by the government and most were of primary value to an espionage operation.

So far, only the whistleblower version has had immense international resonance. The Washington Post and Britain's Guardian, the newspapers that initially published the purloined documents, won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. The journalists who assisted Mr. Snowden in this enterprise were awarded the 2014 Polk Award for national-security reporting. Former Congressman Ron Paul organized a clemency petition in February for Mr. Snowden, stating: "Thanks to one man's courageous actions, Americans know about the truly egregious ways their government is spying on them."

Yet others—until now not often quoted in news accounts—see Mr. Snowden as neither a hero nor a whistleblower. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified to the House Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2014, that "The vast majority of the documents that Snowden . . . exfiltrated from our highest levels of security had nothing to do with exposing government oversight of domestic activities." Time magazine on April 3 quoted Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), the head of the House Intelligence Committee, as saying Mr. Snowden was "definitely under the influence of Russian officials."

On June 10, 2013, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described Mr. Snowden's theft of documents as "an act of treason." A former member of President Obama's cabinet went even further, suggesting to me off the record in March this year that there are only three possible explanations for the Snowden heist: 1) It was a Russian espionage operation; 2) It was a Chinese espionage operation, or 3) It was a joint Sino-Russian operation.

Mr. Snowden's critics regard the whistleblowing narrative as at best incomplete, at worst fodder for the naïve. They do not believe that it explains the unprecedented size and complexity of the penetration of NSA files and records. For one thing, many of his critics have intelligence clearance. They have been privy to the results of an NSA investigation that established the chronology of the copying of 1.7 million documents that were stolen from the Signals Intelligence Center in Hawaii. The documents were taken from at least 24 supersecret compartments that stored them on computers, each of which required a password that a perpetrator had to steal or borrow, or forge an encryption key to bypass.

Once Mr. Snowden breached security at the Hawaii facility, in mid-April of 2013, he planted robotic programs called "spiders" to "scrape" specifically targeted documents. According to Gen. Dempsey, "The vast majority of those [stolen documents] were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures."

Rick Ledgett, the NSA executive who headed the NSA's damage-assessment task force, said on the Dec. 13, 2013, edition of "60 Minutes" that this data contains "the keys to the kingdom." Keys, he told the CBS show, that could provide "adversaries with a road map of what we know, what we don't know." Many of the documents concerned secret operations against the cyber capabilities of adversaries. But only a minute fraction of them have anything to do with civil liberties or whistleblowing, former NSA Director Keith Alexander says in the Australian Financial Review published May 8.

The chronology of Mr. Snowden's thefts suggests that a top priority was lists of the computers of U.S. adversaries abroad that the NSA had succeeded in penetrating. Mr. Snowden confirmed this priority in October 2013, when he told James Risen of the New York Times that his "last job" at the NSA—the job he took on March 15, 2013, with outside contractor Booz Allen Hamilton—gave him, as Mr. Snowden said, "access to every target, every active operation" mounted by the NSA against the Chinese. Soon after Mr. Snowden fled to Hong Kong in May 2013, he told Lana Lam of the South China Morning Post that his new job gave him access to the lists of machines in China, Hong Kong and elsewhere that "the NSA hacked. That is why I accepted that position about three months ago."

Mr. Snowden took the Booz Allen Hamilton job in March of 2013, but it was only at the tail end of his operation—in May—that he copied the document (possibly the only one) that specifically authorized the NSA's controversial domestic surveillance program. This was a Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act court order, instructing Verizon to provide metadata on U.S. phone calls for 90 days, that Mr. Snowden gave to the Guardian newspaper in London on June 3, 2013. (He also leaked a secret presentation in slides about the NSA's Prism Internet surveillance. This program, operated with the FBI, targeted only foreigners, though it could be extended, with the approval of the attorney general, to suspects in the U.S. in contact with foreign targets.)

Contrary to Mr. Snowden's account, the document he stole about the NSA's domestic surveillance couldn't have been part of any whistleblowing plan when he transferred to Booz Allen Hamilton in March of 2013. Why? Among other reasons, because the order he took was only issued by the FISA court on April 26, 2013.

The suspicions that whistleblowing was a cover for espionage by Mr. Snowden are further heightened by his winding up under the protection of the Russian security service, the FSB, in Moscow. Whether or not Mr. Snowden took the 1.7 million stolen documents to Moscow or stored them in cyberspace, the theft effectively compromises all the sources and methods in them.

What accounts for the extraordinary divide between the Snowden and anti-Snowden camps is a disparity in the available information. The pro-Snowden camp's view is largely informed by Mr. Snowden himself. In the anti-Snowden camp are administration officials and the members of the House and Senate intelligence oversight committees who have been at least partially briefed on the continuing investigations of the Snowden affair.

In short, the media and Mr. Snowden's admirers have only his word as to what went on. His detractors are the people who know enough about what happened to conclude that far from being a whistleblower, Mr. Snowden was a participant in an espionage operation and most likely steered from the beginning toward his massive theft, whether he knew this at first or not.

Little, if any, of this classified data has reached the public or the news media. The evidence backing up the government's criminal complaint against Mr. Snowden—involving both espionage and the theft of government property—has been sealed since June 22, 2013. Even Mr. Snowden's legal standing is unclear. President Obama said on Dec. 20, 2013, that he was "under indictment"—and then a spokesperson corrected the president, saying that the grand jury had not in fact indicted him.

Until there is an indictment by a federal grand jury, and the state's evidence against Mr. Snowden is unsealed, his portrait as a crusader will persist.

Mr. Epstein's most recent book is "The Annals of Unsolved Crime" (Melville House, 2013).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Recent Sightings and Theories about Mysterious Aircraft

As readers of this blog know, I am a student of the affairs of the intelligence community, in particular that part of the community that builds incredibly expensive, secret, limited edition devices of one sort or another. Previous posts have discussed whether the “mysterious booms” were evidence of a production vehicle flying and the conclusion of those posts was “maybe, but it isn't proven”. At least not from the evidence at hand.

That is where things have stood for a long time now. It was time for something new to happen and it has. There have been sightings of an unusual aircraft flying over Texas in recent months. The aircraft is an unknown flying wing, perhaps, and its a complicated story of just who saw what, who denied what, and then what was seen in the same flight path. But rather than go over old ground, I am just going to point you to a well-written, and very long, overly long, discussion of the evidence and possible theories.

The theory that I find the most appealing and possibly even plausible is that there was a secret plane built and used in production for 20 years and we kept it secret all that time. The reason we are starting to see it now is well, sort of a mystery.  It might be because they are using it so much what with all the crisis these days.  Or it might be that it is nearing the end of its life so there is less reason to keep it secret  (keeping an operational aircraft secret and yet using it is hideously expensive).  Or maybe it is being leaked now as a warning to those who do bad things that we have this capability.  Or maybe it is just coincidence.

This plane, so the theory goes, was the followon to various technologies being tested in the 1980s that were suddenly cancelled. When something like that happens it is a natural speculation that perhaps they were continued as a black program. One theory is that the plane was a manned, long duration, stealth, tactical reconnaissance vehicle that could penetrate enemy airspace and do a variety of things possibly in conjunction with the F117. Among other things it could loiter in enemy airspace and (for example) direct special forces missions happening below it, perhaps acting as eyes and ears for those missions.

Read the article at the link below.

My posts on mysterious booms can be found here:
<insert link>

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Good Visual Effects in Really Bad Movies

What should we think of excellent visual effects or other exploits of difficult technical filmmaking in the service of a bad movie? Should we hate it? Applaud it because it gives work to our friends? Keep our mouth shut because often the problem starts with the script and it is not our place to say?

The question comes up often in visual effects because of the recent trends in filmmaking that have wisely chosen to reduce costs by eliminating the screenwriter (or any writing of quality) in return for having more pointless, visual effects shots. Furthermore, when in preproduction, when there is still time to turn away from Satan and rewrite the script, who is going to tell the director that his or her ideas are really bad?

Recall that the visual effects industry, if we may flatter it by calling it an industry, is a very competitive work-for-hire, production service business. If anyone were so stupid as to criticize the content of a screenplay when asked to bid on it they would rapidly get the reputation for being “arrogant” and in very short order not be asked to bid on anything. It is not the visual effects facility's job or privilege to judge the director's vision.

Nevertheless we all have our moments of outrage when an expensive Hollywood film or cheap television knockoff egregiously or outrageously abuses our willing suspension of disbelief and we crash to the ground, taken out of the moment, by some appalling or ludicrous cinematic plot point or creative choice. At such times it may be useful to remember that the Hollywood entertainment industries are about, well, entertainment, not about presenting reality. True, the appearance of realism is often used as a technique to make a story more appealing or involving, but it is always in the service of making a project more dramatic or effective and in the service of entertainment. It is rarely, very rarely, about showing “reality”.

As an example of this I want to describe three films with “something that flies” in an unrealistic fashion: two of which I found completely acceptable and one which irritated the hell out of me the first time I saw it and every time since. And yet all three are clearly fantasy movies intended to be entertaining. Why do two of them work for me but the third does not?

In the first example, we have the X Wing and Tie fighters from the original Star Wars (1977). When this movie came out, there were some who criticized it because these spacecraft made whooshing noises as they went by the “camera”. Whoosh! But this never bothered me in the least because I, as a devoted reader of science fiction, knew that in the classic space opera it would be quite normal and correct for such fighters to make whooshing noises as they went by. It worked in the context of the film and the genre.

In our second example, we have the flying carpet in Disney's Aladdin (1992). Now it might be a surprise to you to know that this is pure fantasy, but it is. Flying carpets do not exist in real life. Dont get mad at me, its true, do your own research. But if there were flying carpets, I have no doubt that they might work like the one in Aladdin and it certainly was completely believable to the audience.

But our third example is not so happy.

This is a remake of a French film, a romantic comedy, about a secret agent whose family does not know what he does for a living and think he is boring. Of course, through dramatic and unbelievable plot twists, they discover that he is a secret agent and his daughter likes him again and he has hot sex with his wife. The American remake of this important dramatic masterpiece was called True Lies (1994) of course and it is even less believable overall than either Aladdin or Star Wars. Given this fantastic nature, surely one would not be upset when our hero has a magic carpet of his own, in this case a Harrier jet.

In the movie, the Arnold flies the Harrier right up to the side of a skyscraper to kill the bad guys. Bang ! Bang ! You are dead! At another point in the film, his daughter falls from a crane or a bridge or something, but is able to hang onto the wing of the Harrier. Arnold yells to her, “Hang on!”

This irritated the living bejeesus out of me. I still want to spit whenever I think of it. Why?

Because a Harrier, which is a very cool airplane, is a very loud jet. Very loud. If you flew it up to a skyscraper closer than 50 feet it would blow all the windows out, and you would probably lose control of the vehicle. You would certainly not be able to calmly shoot out all the bad guys. Maybe you could do something like that by standing off about 500 feet or more, that might work.

Or when the daughter falls to the airplane and hangs on. First off I doubt you could hang on. Second, if you did, you would almost certainly be hurting yourself terribly and you would let go and hopefully die. Third you would probably get burned all to hell. Fourth, and lastly, the Harrier is loud, really loud. Like really damage your ears loud. LIKE REALLY FUCKING LOUD. You would not be yelling to anybody “hang on” because no one would be able to hear a thing.

But why does this irritate me so much? The movie is clearly a fantasy. In fact, I might go so far as to say that the movie is a cynical, derivative, stupid, inane, worthless piece of shit. What difference does it make? I am not sure. Maybe because the Harrier is a real airplane and a very cool one, but its limitations should be respected? Maybe because the movie expects me to take these ridiculous developments as reality and I know it isnt even close to what is possible?

All I can tell you is that whenever I see these sequences from this movie, I start jumping up and down because I can not believe how unbelievably fucking stupid they are.

Not even Jamie Lee Curtis doing a striptease can redeem this horrible movie in my eyes.

But the visual effects are very nice.

Aladdin (1992) on IMDB

True Lies (1994) on IMDB

Star Wars (1977) on IMDB

Le Totale! (1991)

Celebrating the Small Time Criminal on the Internet

As many of you know, TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, has been receiving a very hard time because of events at Fukushima.   Ok, so they made a few mistakes.  But how were they to know a tsunami would happen in Japan?  Its not as if tsunamis have ever happened there, well, at least, not that often.  Ok, so they do happen on a regular basis, but it would be expensive to protect against them, you know what I mean?

And what bad timing!  Just as the world was about to embark on another round of building nuclear power plants, they convince the world that private enterprise could never be competent to run nuclear power. Sure, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima did not work out, but is that enough to turn away from such a great way to extract profits?

And people are so critical about the plans for nuclear waste, or rather the lack of plans.   People are so fickle sometimes.  They do not mind when we dump toxic waste in Africa or plastic in the ocean.  Why should they all of a sudden get so picky about nuclear waste?  It just isnt fair.

But that is not what this post is about.

Its easy to point the finger at large corrupt companies and governments.  After all, they have a lot of money and power which they can use to betray trust and steal things.   But what about the little people?  The individual entrepreneur?  What can they do to exploit the sick or the poor or the frightened and steal money?  Do they also have a role to play in our modern globalized economy?

I believe that they do and this post celebrates the contributions of the little guy and his/her work to make our world even more screwed up than it is.   Our heroes or heroines did not attend the elite schools that prepared them for corruption on the big stage.  No, these are the small-time grifters, the petty thieves, the kind of people who would steal money from the poor or the sick on an individual basis.  The kind of corruption we discuss today is much more personal and demonstrates the lofty spirit of the individual criminal in society.

I have extracted from a Reuters article about the latest TEPCO scandal two comments that are part of a beautiful scam to exploit the unfortunate circumstances of Fukushima.  These comments attempt to exploit the fear of radioactivity to sell the reader some worthless snake oil to protect him or her from its dangers.  What spirit this shows!  What indomitable will!  Our enterprising criminal can not provide a direct link to his product because many comment systems forbid this in order to prevent exactly this kind of abuse.  So our spammer creates a brand/product name and asks you to search for it, so that he may attempt to exploit your ignorance and fear and steal your money.

Here are his/her advertisements masquerading as comments to an article about TEPCO.

We must thank the Internet for providing a medium for bold entrepreneurs like this.  Where would we be without the Internet and its anonymity, so useful and necessary to protect criminals of all types?

What a beautiful example of the beliefs and values of our fellow bipeds!   How clearly it shows us the very best that our society aspires to!  Not in some vast epic of stupidity and corruption like TEPCO but in the actions of the little people we find the true spirit of our civilization and our hope for the future.

The article from Reuters about TEPCO is here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Professional Objectivist

This essay is an indirect meditation on the very broad questions of what it is that makes a place desirable, or entertaining or pleasant.    For some people, it is the weather of S. California with its endless overly bright sunlight and extremely strong opinions about what constitutes success and failure.  For me, there are many issues but one of them, discussed here, is my eccentric sense of what is entertaining.  So, for example, the following afternoon social event which I describe here I found tremendously amusing.  It still makes me smile whenever I think of it.  But I wonder how many other people would find it as rewarding?

For many years I lived in the Upper West Side of New York City in a sublet of an incredible apartment overlooking Riverside Drive and the Hudson River (estuary). I have been fortunate to also live in other places that had high entertainment value, such as Los Angeles in the 1980s when computer animation was but a gleam in a few idealist's eyes, but none so beautiful and rewarding as the apartment on Riverside Drive.

Although my role in the Hayden Planetarium's Digital Galaxy Project was sadly over I still maintained many relationships with my friends there. One afternoon I was invited to join two of them, Anthony Braun and Gretchen Schwartz of the museum, for afternoon tea at some cafe on Columbus Avenue. It was a beautiful day and we sat outside. I am pretty sure that Steve Gano was there that day as well. (1) Gretchen had also invited her girlfriend who we will call Amy. Amy and Gretchen had both been interns for Michael Moore, the famous director of documentaries (and they both hated Mr. Moore with a passion).

Amy had invited her current boyfriend a tall, good looking young man.

So what did Amy's boyfriend do? It seems he was an “intellectual”, and that he worked as an Objectivist philosopher for the Ayn Rand Institute.

Ayn Rand being interviewed somewhere

Now, let me ask you, did you ever read Ayn Rand? Well, I was an undergraduate once, and I read Ayn Rand like everybody else, and was somewhat amused. It did not seem very practical. And I wondered, I truly wondered, who could write that 150 page rant near the end of Atlas Shrugged that went on and on and fucking on? It turns out that Ayn Rand was a Jewish refugee from Stalin's socialist paradise. So a Russian Jewish author of romantic political tracts, we now knew who could write such ummm, well, emphatic material. Ayn Rand, or whatever her real name was, could.

One more thing, to help complete the picture before I comment thereon. It was clear to me that whatever Amy's long term interest in this Objectivist was, her short term interest was, ummm, romantic, which I think puts a more respectable spin on what she wanted from this relationship. That was my impression. A nice looking, big, healthy young man. Such are the lofty motives of so many of our peers and colleagues.

Now, how many Objectivists are there in the world? Well, there are a fair number of people who might call themselves an Objectivist, I suppose. But how many of them get paid for it? Only very few, I think. In the entire world, are there ten professional Objectivists? I doubt it. In all this world are there five professional Objectivists? Perhaps there are five. Perhaps.

So this was truly a great and rare honor. I was having tea with a professional Objectivist!

Now out here in Hollywood I know many interesting and accomplished people. Writers, visual effects supervisors, academy award winners, famous computer scientists, successful entrepreneurs, actors, actresses, poets and porn stars.

But in all these years on the west coast, I never once met a professional Objectivist.

The Ayn Rand Institute


Atlas Shrugged


1. Some of the people who read this blog will know Steve well. He is a graduate of the MIT Media Lab and a veteran of Apple / Kaleida among other ventures.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Improving Elementary Education with H.P. Lovecraft

Education for young people is an area that most agree should be improved but there is no consensus as to what should be done to improve it.  I am aware of one specific area which I believe that we can all unite behind and work to see that this area is better represented in our elementary curriculum.

After some study, I have concluded that our school children are not being sufficiently exposed to the genre of American horror fiction.   This is a disgrace.   Immersed in a diet of graphic novels that emphasize sexually aberrant superheroes and heroines, our children are sadly unaware and uninformed about important topics such as the hollow earth, the elder gods, the forbidden knowledge, the unspeakable horror, ancient curses, and other important topics.  Why many have never even heard of Cthulhu, let alone understand his/its importance to the traditions of American fiction.

We must take action now and correct this error in our educational process.  We must make the point to our school boards and teachers that our children would benefit from being exposed to a greater diversity of outsider fiction.  And first among them should be the autodidact and self-published author H.P. Lovecraft who is considered one of the greatest writers of horror fiction in this or any country.

H. P. Lovecraft

But it has been argued that Lovecraft is not suitable for very young audiences.  These people are wrong. What could be more appealing to a young child than The Nameless City, The Dunwich Horror, The Shadow Out of Time or The Call of Cthulhu?

If it is still believed that some of Lovecraft is a little advanced for our very youngest readers, I have a solution. I want to present to you an approach that the artist R. J. Ivankovic has created and I think that this will answer any objections, silly as they may be.

R. J. Ivankovic has pioneered a mashup of Dr. Seuss with H.P. Lovecraft and other authors of the macabre, the horrible, and the grotesque.   Here are some images from his/her “Call of Cthulhu for Beginning Readers”, a reimagining of the original Lovecraft story about Cthulhu published in Weird Tales in 1928.

I believe that we should embrace Mr/Ms Ivankovic's vision and bring it to all our young children. I feel certain that the Dr. Seuss estate would look favorably on the request to use the Seuss style in such a noble cause.

And here is a “One Fish, Two Fish...” as reinterpreted through a zombie, night of the living dead, filter.

Please join me in recommending to our various school boards and committees this important work and help improve elementary education in our country.

DrFaustusAU can be found on Deviant Art at

Find his or her The Call of Cthulhu for Beginning Readers here



Cthulhu on Wikipedia

H. P. Lovecraft on Wikipedia