Friday, September 28, 2012

The Deeper Meaning of the La Brea Tar Pits

Its easy to look at the surface of Los Angeles and miss a lot of, indeed, most of, its nuance and subtlety. To understand this city, you must dig beneath the surface, and when you do, you will probably find petroleum byproducts.

Petroleum is all over Los Angeles, it is at the center of a lot of the secret history of the town. One place to see Los Angeles' relationship to oil, at least symbolically, is at the La Brea Tar Pits.

The La Brea Tar Pits was part of the Rancho La Brea land grant and became Hancock Park in Los Angeles before the turn of the century. The name comes from the Spanish: la brea means "the tar" so "The La Brea Tar Pits" means "The The Tar Tar Pits".

Discovery of fossils happened in 1901 with more formal excavations in 1913-1915. Intermittent excavations have happened since then, most recently in the last few years as they excavated for a new parking facility for LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) but other than that they have been mostly inactive for decades. In these excavations they have found the fossilized remains of bison, mammoth, sloth, bears, lions, tigers, saber-tooth tigers, vultures, eagles, deer, falcons, a huge number of dire wolves and one human, a Chumash lady, killed by a blow to the head with a blunt instrument and pushed into the pit many thousands of years ago.

Image by Charles Knight for the American Museum of Natural History in NY.

They built a nice museum to hold the remains of the bison, wolves and Chumash lady, the Page Museum, and its the best place I know to buy your Giant Sloth hand puppets. The Chumash lady is no longer on exhibit because the Chumash quite reasonably felt it wasn't very dignified. She is still there if you know where to look, however.

But there is a deeper meaning to the Tar Pits, a darker meaning: one that is not appropriate for the Page Museum.

Some people believe that the La Brea Tar Pits are a metaphor for life in Los Angeles.

To see this, imagine life 10,000 or so years ago. We are in the arid valley that one day will be Los Angeles. It is not a desert but it is very dry.  Arroyo might be the more appropriate term.  There appear to be some pools of water.

Notice the oil wells discreetly in the background of this picture of the Tar Pits

A little deer comes to the edge of what she thinks is a pond to drink. Her mother is nearby. Delicately stepping to the pond, the deer discovers that her foot is stuck in the tar and she can not get out. This is not a pond, of course, this is the La Brea tar pits. She calls for her mother who tries to help her, but in doing so, also gets caught in the tar. All their struggling just makes it worse: they sink deeper into the wretched tar. Now they look closer and see the bodies of other animals that have gotten trapped by the fake pond and who have died and are half-buried in the muck all around them. A dire wolf hears their struggles and comes loping over, sensing an easy dinner. They struggle but they are no match for the vicious dire wolf, but now, ironically the wolf is also caught in the tar and desperately struggles to get free.  A sabre-tooth tiger seeing their dead and rotting bodies comes to scavenge but gets trapped as well. Later the same thing happens to a vulture and other scavengers.

Driven by greed to exploit the innocent victims of a cruel and sticky trap, the opportunistic predators are themselves trapped, and the predators of the predators as well. They become a horrifying, rotting, collage of death, some dying in the act of trying to devour the others and, covered with the filth of petroleum byproducts, they sink into the bottomless pit, forever lost from sight, destroyed by their greed.

Very little has changed in Los Angeles since then.

Revised 1/15/2013
Revised 10/11/2013

Transcendence in Visual Effects: The Flying Bus in Speed (1994)

All too often visual effects is called upon to create the illusion of something "real" in a literal sense of that overused word. So, for example, when visual effects creates a giant robot beating the shit out of another robot, the intent of that sequence is nothing more than to show the protagonist literally hitting the bad robot with a giant metal stick, or whatever that particular action-filled moment may call for. But there are other uses of visual effects that are possible even though they are rarely used and it is our intent to showcase some of them here on this blog.

Unfortunately, these unusual and non-conformist uses of visual effects can also be misunderstood by an audience who has been fed a steady diet of literalism as we will also show.

The particular sequence we discuss in this post is the flight of the bus at a key moment in Jan DeBont's underrecognized masterpiece, Speed (1994). In this highly intellectual film, good and evil struggle for the lives of the passengers of a Los Angeles public transit vehicle, the lowly bus. These lives are held at risk and if the bus is slowed to below a certain speed, the bus will explode. At one point in this drama it appears as though there is no hope as the bus is travelling at high speed towards an uncompleted freeway, can not turn around, can not stop and hurtles towards the precipice and certain death. But our protagonist encourages the passenger / driver / love interest to accelerate as fast as she can and the bus hits the ramp at the end of the freeway and in a moment of triumph leaps over the precipice onto the continuation of the freeway beyond.

Fly, Bus! Fly!

Movie audiences were thrilled by this unexpected escape from certain death, but of course there are always those who are critical and, predictably, some small-minded critics laughed at this apparent physical impossibility. The internet forums are filled with endless discussions of mass, angles, inertia, stunt drivers, and other irrelevant matters. What completely went over their head is that the bus flying is an example of "self-transcendence" as the bus, who is of course a character in this film, strives to transcend, to leave behind, its worldly, wheels-on-the-ground existence and, wishing to fly, by using all its energy and will does so and, in doing so, defeats evil.

I suspect that it was Jan deBont's intent for all of us to be inspired by the bus's achievement and for us to also strive to transcend our daily existence and limitations just as our noble bus has.

Speed at Imdb

[NOTE: I think the shot above was done by VIFX but I am still confirming this.]

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Los Angeles Urban Design and the Location of the County Museum of Art

[Note: Tom Duff points out that methane is odourless, and that I probably smelt sulfur dioxide around the museum.  So I have changed this post to reflect that except in the case of the exploding methane detectors, where I am sure it was methane that was referenced.]

Many people who are not from Southern California do not understand Los Angeles (aka El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles). They look at it with unpracticed eyes and see a rotting heap of garbage, smog, corruption, greed, racism, oppression of the poor, a failed public education system, unplanned and impossible traffic, a failed transit system, pot holes, drug dealers, crime, cheap and bad architecture and very shallow people.

But that is not all that there is to LA, not at all. I believe that Los Angeles is pure and unspoiled and completely true to its values. I believe that a city is created by thousands or hundreds of thousands of decisions made by its people over many, many years. And that these decisons made by these different people in different roles at different times create a kind of gestalt, a framework in which to fit the individual pieces. When you understand this, then one can see the patterns and beliefs that shaped a decision and so bring order to what may otherwise appear to be chaos.

In other words, Los Angeles is exactly the way that the people who live here want it to be. It represents their morals, their desires, their beliefs and their values. It represents who they are honestly and in a straightforward fashion for all to see.

So now I am going apply this thesis of urban design theory in order to explain a specific decision: the location of one of my favorite places in Los Angeles: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or LACMA.

Why is it where it is? Why isn't it in scummy downtown Los Angeles, or in the crime-invested park next to USC? What is it doing conveniently located to people who live on the west side, people who live in Hancock Park, people who live in the Valley, people who live in the beach cities? Why is it located where the air is often clean and crime is low and parking is convenient yet where real estate is certainly not cheap? How did "they" let this happen?

LACMA is an anomaly in many ways. It is an institution esteemed across generations in Los Angeles and it has affected many people's lives in a very positive way. I used to attend film programs there in the Bing Theatre and that is where I have seen many notable screenings of animation of various types on film projected from pristine prints from the UCLA Collection. The plaza in the center of the common area of LACMA is the closest thing that the region has to something that feels like NY City: people hang out outside in a well-designed space, listen to music, talk about art, watch people and have a soda. Although the collection is uneven, it certainly is not the Metropolitan, it has its strong areas and it has curated some important exhibitions over the years which have toured the country and probably the world.

Notice the probable Hasselblad square format.  I saw some originals from this or a similar photoshoot in the cafe of the Bing theatre and they were all in this square, probable 6x6 format.

When I was very young my mother used to take me to art classes there. I smile when I remember the Calder mobiles, the smell of petroleum byproducts, visiting my grandmother, having lunch above the Folk and Craft Art museum at The Egg and I.

The smell of petroleum byproducts?

Yes, you see LACMA is located right next to, and actually on top of, the La Brea Tar Pits. Tar and various other petroleum byproducts ooze, bubble and outgas all around the park. There used to be moats, shallow sidewalk shaped pools of water, around the main buildings of the art museum, on the ground floor, where the art classes were, and you could watch the sulfur dioxide, or whatever it was, bubble up through the water. I loved it. You had to be careful not to walk with bare feet on the grass because of the tar that oozed up, but otherwise it was great fun if you were a kid.

Mommy!  Look!  Elephants playing in the Tar Pits!

In fact, most of the area around the Tar Pits can only be developed with special restrictions and with special monitoring and controls because of this geology. The Fairfax district, right next door, used to be a neighborhood for many elderly jewish men and women. And every few years a few of them would blow up, because, unfortunately, the methane detectors in the basement of their apartment buildings would sometimes fail, the methane would accumulate, and then BOOM, another few old people would explode. Everyone felt bad about it, but we all understood, growing up here, that methane detectors are expensive and it would not be economical to expect them to be working all the time. 

When a major and ugly development a few blocks away was built it required a major amount of special zoning exemptions to get permission to build where they did because of the special restrictions and requirements of building on what is essentially a low grade oil field.

So I am suggesting that the answer to the riddle of how it is that LACMA came to be where it is has its origins in the restrictions on commercial use of that site.  They would not be permitted to put commercial buildings there, not at the epicenter, not right on top of the Tar Pits themselves, so they just made it a park and put the art museum there.

And that, I propose to you, is how it happened. If they could have put another cheap, shitty mini-mall there they would have, but they couldn't.

True to their values.  Pure and Unspoiled.   

Today, whenever I smell petroleum byproducts, I think of my childhood and of my mother taking me to the art museum for classes and it reminds me of happier times.

See the following for a discussion of the deeper meaning of the La Brea Tar Pits

Predicting the Future of 3D Printing: Sex, Killing People and Stealing

Predicting the future can be straightforward if you follow certain rules.   They are more guidelines than rules, actually, as I will expound upon later when we get to discussing one of the pioneers in this field of prognostication, that well-known 16th century writer of entertainment fiction, Nostradamus.  One approach to this art of prediction is to apply certain constants in human nature to otherwise unrelated trends.  Whatever it is, you can be pretty sure that people will find a way to apply it to the themes of sex, killing people and stealing.  Its almost guaranteed.   Airplanes? Internet? Automobiles?  It doesn't matter, people will use them for sex, killing and stealing.

So lets apply this approach to the emerging field of 3D printing.

3D printing is hot, it is not only in our future, it is in our present. People are printing out parts for their vintage cars already.  As always it helps to have a lot of money because then you can have access to printers that can print stuff that is really hard and very precise, but even the cheaper printers are fun.

So, first sex, then killing, and finally stealing.

In the area of sex and 3D printing an obvious approach is to consider the impact on sex toys.  I know very little about sex toys I admit, but I once employed an animator who was very involved in collecting items made in Bakelite (the classic original plastic) and other plastic items on Ebay.  She was particularly fond of Hello Kitty sex toys.  If she had a 3D printer today, she could print her own and possibly reveal a whole  new dimension to her already formidable creativity.  So it is easy to predict new and creative forms of sex toys unleashed with 3D printing, no problem.

Notice adorable Japanese color choices of their Hello Kitty sex toys.  Why are they all in the "on" position?

How about using 3D printers to print semi-automatic weapons?   Again, no problem, it is already being done.  See this excellent link to a hardworking pioneer in the field and his discussion of how the topic is regulated on various 3D printing sites.

As a technical addendum to this example, I should point out that the history of modern weapons since before WWI has been to design a very reliable, accurate and functional weapon that can be produced in quantity.  The standard infantry weapon of most modern armies can be made out of a remarkably few pieces of stamped metal.   The author of the post referenced below, as a student of firearms, was well aware of this.  

"Gunsmithing with a 3D Printer, Part 1" on

AR-15 rifle, minus barrel and stock, with .22 magazine attached

Finally, how do we use 3D printers to steal money?   One way of course is to use the weapon you just printed to rob a grocery store.   Simple, clean, and yet very stupid.   After armed robbery the first approach that comes to mind is the low-quantity counterfeiting of valuable art objects, collector's items of one type or another, including objects from antiquity.  The feasibility of this depends on how the choice of materials evolves with 3D printers and how clever people can be with emulating the characteristics of objects made of other natural materials as well as how clever they can be in emulating that feeling of antiquity at the surface of the object.  Of course none of this would fool an expert, we are just talking about fraudulent items on Ebay in this scenario, I think.  It would take a very precise "printer" indeed to sculpt out of metal a simulation of a rare Roman coin, perhaps a counterfeit Sumerian cone would be more amenable, though less valuable on the current market.     But whatever the future of art fraud is with this technology, I have no doubt that the biped mammals will make me proud and find ways to use this technology to steal.

Only time will tell if I am right or not, but I am optimistic about this.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Run-on Sentence and Charles Dickens

You will have noticed by now that I am fond of run-on sentences and use them all the time, often with a sense of barely repressed glee. You have no idea how it used to irritate me to have my sentences corrected back in the day when anyone cared enough to try and correct me. Now they know better.

But I do realize, I mean, I am aware, that there are many out there in Internet-land who believe that this style of writing is wrong, also very wrong, and some people believe that it is also extremely and definitely very wrong.

Well, I just don't agree and for support I am going to call upon my friend the well-known writer Charles Dickens. This is from an essay he wrote in 1852 about the "Ragged Schools" movement in England of the time. I am sure you will agree with me that Mr. Dickens knows how to write English and that we should strive to emulate him in our own work.

I offer no apology for entreating the attention of the readers of The Daily News to an effort which has been making for some three years and a half, and which is making now, to introduce among the most miserable and neglected outcasts in London, some knowledge of the commonest principles of morality and religion; to commence their recognition as immortal human creatures, before the Gaol Chaplain becomes their only schoolmaster; to suggest to Society that its duty to this wretched throng, foredoomed to crime and punishment, rightfully begins at some distance from the police office; and that the careless maintenance from year to year, in this, the capital city of the world, of a vast hopeless nursery of ignorance, misery and vice; a breeding place for the hulks and jails: is horrible to contemplate.

Now that is a run-on sentence to be proud of.  I have a ways to go before I reach Mr. Dickens' level of excellence in this area.  But I will try.

If you don't know about the Ragged Schools, its a great story, and here is the Wikipedia page:

The above quote is from an article written by Charles Dickens for The Daily News, published in 1852. See for the complete essay.

Music Notation, Prokofiev & Super Mario Paint as an Anti-Depressant

A friend and I were discussing music notations in the context of using one to transcribe a fugue (a fughetta technically) and he pointed me to something called a piano roll notation, called that because of a certain similarity to the original player piano "scripts" which were rolls of paper with holes punched in them.  I find this much easier to understand than traditional music notation.

Here is Beethoven's Great Fugue (op 133) in this notation:

I am not sure that this notation as seen above has a formal name.  It seems to be a variant on a modern "piano roll" notation but has some additional features as well.

I can not think of music notation without thinking of the brilliant (well at least hilarious) adaptation of Prokofiev's Troika from the Lieutenant Kije Suite as performed on "Super Mario Paint".   And thus obviously Mario Paint has some sort of notation one can use to play music.

Notice the always appealing Mario is the mouse cursor/pointer

The troika as adapted for Mario Paint:

I remember the first time I ever heard this piece in its more authentic form at the beginning of the Woody Allen film Love and Death. I was astounded at how appealing it was the first time I heard it, and every time I heard it thereafter.   The first use in film was the movie Lieutenant Kije, produced in the 1930s in the Soviet Union, this music was written originally by Prokofiev as a score for that film.  Music fasns who look down on soundtracks and their composition as not serious should take note.

Does anyone compose music like this anymore?  I find that this piece in any of its forms works as an amazingly effective, if short term, anti-depressant and it is to recommend this music for that purpose that I wrote this post.

Here is a more traditional version:

Music is still a mystery to most Darwinists, there is not a generally accepted theory, so I am told, for why we respond so strongly to it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Update to Editorial on Firesign Theatre, the President's Ride and Unemployment

I rewrote the post about the "president ride", unemployment, and the responsibility of our elected officials.  It goes into more detail and is more explicit about what is expected from elected officials and how they should be evaluated.

Schadenfreude! Schadenfreude!

Schadenfreude (pronounced:  shah-den-freud) is that amazing word from German that refers to the pleasure one gets from the misfortune of others.

The recent event at the Hollywood Bowl where 18,000 people sang along with the Sound of Music has inspired me to document a poem/song that I wrote in NY after some particularly spectacular and bloody incident between senior vice presidents at Viacom in the mid-1990s.

It is to the tune of Edelweiss from The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Schadenfreude!  Schadenfreude!
Its a pleasure to beat you.

          Black and blue,
          I told you

Its a pleasure to hurt you!

(with feeling)

Down the toilet your career will go!
          Career will go!

(slowly and with wistfulness)

Schadenfreude, Schadenfreude.
Its a pleasure to hurt you.

(c) MW 1995 all rights reserved

A picture of Christopher Plummer as Captain George Ritter von Trapp singing Edelweiss.

The post about the "Sing-A-Long Sound of Music":

Sing-A-Long Sound of Music

One more time I have evidence that I am deeply embedded into the collective unconsciousness of popular culture without realizing it.   I think something is completely obscure and then it turns out that it is no less than the very topic of a mass movement.

A friend has posted on facebook a picture he took at the recent "Sing-A-Long Sound of Music" in which 18,000 people went to the Hollywood Bowl to sing along with Maria and Captain v. Trapp.

Could this just be a coincidence, that I would write my post about The Sound of Music and its relationship to submarine history and that then this event would happen?    Is this more proof of the lattice of causality that underlies the apparent coincidences of the material world?

Although I do have other situations that do strongly indicate the apparent presence of the lattice of causality, I doubt very much if any of the participants at the Sing-A-Long were aware of Captain v. Trapp's immense importance to the history of submarines.  But maybe that doesn't matter, it occurs to me, maybe his importance to submarine history influenced their behavior without their conscious knowledge?

[An aside: the Hollywood Bowl claims that their screen is the largest outdoor motion picture screen in the world.   A few years ago I saw a sequence from the Sound of Music at the Academy that was projected in 70MM from the original 70mm negative.   It was completely amazing and much better, read my lips, much better by an order of magnitude than the best digital projection I have seen.   Obviously progress is not about making things better.]

Here is the link to Jim Hillin's picture on Facebook.

And the Hollywood Bowl event:

Jim Hillin's picture from the event itself:

My original post about Maria, the Captain and the submarine is at:

Friday, September 21, 2012

TRW Commercials, Robert Abel & Associates and the Origins of Computer Animation

[Updated 3/6/2013   I am now quite sure that other companies also did TRW commercials, I remember explicitly one that Digital Productions worked on.  It did seem as though RA&A did get a lot of them, however]

The origin of computer animation lies in part in the very high end advertising production that was done by such companies as Robert Abel & Associates, R/Greenberg, Digital Productions, MAGI and so forth. Among these, highly prized were the very expensive and generally quite abstract  TRW commercials.

TRW was a major defense contractor, originally created to be the project lead on the secret space program of the United States after Sputnik. Their commercials were more about raising awareness of their name among the public and associating the name with cool technology than it was about selling product.  We would recognize their goals today using terms like "brand identification and management".

A typical TRW commercial might have a computer screen with CAD program, the wireframe design of a butterfly which then comes to life and flies off the screen with a voice over that says "A company called TRW". They were always hits at the SIGGRAPH Electronic Theatre back when that event, the so-called film show, was important.

These commercials seemed to be done at Robert Abel & Associates exclusively as far as I could tell.  If there were other high-end TRW spots done by other companies, I probably was just not aware of them.  I thought it was amusing, sort of, that my peers at RA&A did not have a clue what TRW did whereas I, coming from the RAND Corporation, had a pretty good idea what their business was: spy satellites and related technologies.

So I wrote a fake TRW commercial in my head and now, many years later, I present it to you here.

The logo for TRW itself was slit-scanned, but I have not found an image or copy of it yet, so for now the basic artwork will have to suffice.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Noteworthy Pun About A Noteworthy Mutant

It is rare indeed to come across a really good pun by which I mean a pun that can work on multiple levels, and still be somewhat cheesy.   I came across the following example on the Discovery.Com website in an article by Tim Hall about a three-eyed fish found in a pond in Argentina that is notoriously fed by a nuclear reactor.

Tim suggests that instead of being known as a "fishin' hole" it should be known as a "fission hole".

I think that this demonstrates the kind of spirit and originality that made America great, once.

As for the issue of whether nuclear power is safe or not, what is unsafe about a three-eyed fish? These environmental tree-huggers are being overly precious here, I think.  Who would not benefit from having a third eye?

The mutant fish that inspired the author is below.

See the original article in its splendor here:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Mighty Mitochondria

When Star Wars / George Lucas started to explain the force by inventing the back story of the Midi Chlorians, a microscopic life form that is in symbiosis with all life, many of my friends in the glamourous and rewarding visual effects industry thought it was the stupidist thing they had ever heard. Which is impressive, given the number of stupid things they have heard or have said in their line of business.

One of the leads at ILM for The Phantom Menace told me that when he read the script in preproduction that he thought the idea was so wacky that it had to have been deliberately created and added to the script as part of the LucasArts technique to help identify who leaked the script should the script get leaked. (People who were allowed to read the script for the Phantom Premise, I mean the Phantom Menace, before the movie came out were given carefully modified scripts with unique plot points so that any leaks, which are common with such movies, could be traced.  They kept an access list of who read which version of the script and could narrow down the possible suspects).  My friend thought that the idea of the Midi Chlorians was so obviously a bad idea that it could not possibly be a part of the real script.

Well I don't think it was or is stupid. I thought it was obvious that "George" was making a reference to the Mighty Mitochondria, which are really, really important and in fact is in ancient symbiosis with all life, or at least all multi-cellular life.

Pretty much any animal or plant that has more than one cell is called Eukarotic, and it consists of cells with a nucleus and a lot of these little buggers, the mighty mitochondria, inside. These mitochondria have an eerie resemblence to bacteria, and in fact they probably were bacteria once. Not only that, but according to one theory they are probably or were probably methanogens and I will let you look up why that is funny.  (OK, I will tell you.  Methanogens are the anaerobic bacteria in cows and in swamps that generate methane, the active ingredient in flatulence and they are our ancestors, some think. )

You simply can not get more important than the Mighty Mitochondria: they power our cells, they are probably very much involved in aging, and the more you know the more interesting they are. Of course, since I am concerned about the mitochondria, perhaps even worried about them, I am probably a mitochondriac.

But if you do not know what I am talking about, and/or if you have not read Nick Lane's fabulous book "Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life", you should do so at once. You can get started online on by searching inside the book, but you should really order your own copy. The anti-oxident theory of aging comes from the Mitochondria and by reading this book you can understand why merely taking more anti-oxidents is not going to work. It will be your first step into a larger world, as Obi Wan would say, only in this case into a smaller world.

Here are some stained mitochondria that I found on the Internet.

It must be hard to make attractive pictures of devolved bacteria / pond scum, don't you think?

The book is at:

The Jedi explain the Midi Chorlians here:

The Wikipedia page is here.

The Firesign Theatre, The "President Ride" & Unemployment

[This post was modified and extended on 9/23/2012]

In the Firesign Theatre's radio play, "I Think we Are All Bozo's on this Bus", there is a theme park and in that theme park is "the president ride" where you can ask a question of "the president".  So someone goes up and says:  "Mr President, where can I get a job?",  and the President ride responds: "Many busy executives have asked, what about the job displacement program? ... " and of course completely avoids answering the question.   Just like the real presidents.   The Firesign Theatre was remarkably prescient.

Both the Democrats and Republicans studiously avoid talking about the unemployed, and the many issues related to it.   There is a good reason for this and that is because they have caused this situation with their policies and their failures to create policy and they have done so in an unintentionally bipartisan way.  They have no intention of changing their policies because they are working just fine and doing what they were intended to do.   Their goals were to make large corporations richer, impoverish the middle class, and destroy worker's rights.  If these were not the goals of their policies then our elected officials must be very incompetent indeed because that is what they achieved.

Yes, yes, I know, you think this sounds paranoid or unfair.  I will explain what I mean by this in more detail below and it is a little more subtle than it sounds at first glance.  No, of course they did not vote to impoverish Americans, not exactly, but if their actions or inactions have the same result, then I think it is fair to hold them responsible.

With great power comes great responsibility.    That is the deal.  When one becomes President, or a senator, or a member of the House of Representatives, then not only is one given a salary in the top 5% of all Americans, but one is also given access to vast resources: money, intelligence, raw military power, and support of many kinds.  In return, you are expected to keep the country out of war when you can, to fight a war successfully when we must, and to see that the people that you represent are free and prosperous.   If you fail through your actions or your inactions, as an individual or as a group, then you should be held accountable.   "The Buck Stops Here."  Perhaps someone else would have had the brilliance, wisdom and charisma to have led us through those troubled waters successfully when you did not.

In the US Navy, a captain of a ship is held responsible for whatever happens to that ship and he is judged by the rules and laws that pertain to the responsibilities inherent in being captain of a military vessel.  If a ship runs aground, even if it does so because of an unexpected event of natural causes, such as a storm, then the captain of that ship is held accountable and his behavior and decisions are reviewed by a court martial (literally, a military court).   And during the time of this procedure he is relieved of his command, and he may only be restored if he is completely exonerated.

There is somewhere between a 15% to 22% unemployment rate in this country.  Our elected representatives have done such a bad job that it is not even possible to get the real number.   There is vast misery and inequality, ageism and racism, and a massive deficit where before there was a massive surplus.  Maybe "globalism" is the cause and maybe it isn't.   But even if it is, we are not a passive victim of globalization, more than any other country in the world we helped to create it.  So if globalism is the storm, then you are the captain that navigated right into it.   However the Great Depression happened, it was FDR and the New Deal who got us out of it.   You guys kicked the can down the road too many times and the 800-lb chickens have come home to roost, so to speak.

As a world class practitioner of passive aggressive behavior, I can testify to you today that failure to act is a form of action.   Failure to have  a coherent policy is a form of policy.   You are our elected representatives and we hold you responsible.

Here is an article I stumbled upon that talks about some of these issues, unemployment and worker's rights in particular.   It is s short and I think it has some good information in it.

Enthiran (2010)

As we all know, a lot of visual effects has been outsourced or offshored to India.  But here we have an example of a film made in India, which, according to Brian Jennings, had its effects done in this country.  In order to appreciate this film you have to watch most if not all of these 10 minutes.   Michael Bay would be filled with envy.  There are even Giant Robots that figure prominently in it, so it must be an important film.

The film is called Enthiran, and it is in the Tamil language.

At about 4:10 or so in the excerpt, if you look at the helicopters, you will see a good example of why you should not use Viewpoint (or possibly "group sourced") models very close up.  A distant shot would probably have been ok.

I am pretty sure that it was Steve Speer in NYC that first made me aware of this fabulous cross-cultural triumph of visual effects filmmaking.


Wikipedia Page

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Introducing "Lithic Fragmentation"

Lithic Fragmentation is a bold new therapy designed to reclaim the lives of otherwise worthless human refuse who have fallen into shame and degradation. These poor dregs of former human life, forced to endure their hundreds of millions of dollars of unearned wealth, or to exercise their power as leading yet corrupt members of our society, now have a way to correct the course of their formerly pointless lives and learn new and better skills.

The process of Lithic Fragmentation is simple yet subtle. It begins with the therapy candidate being volunteered by their fellow citizens in local "therapy committees" where suitable candidates are proposed, discussed and elected, all without the concern or knowledge of the potential therapy receiver. We do this for their own good and we have no doubt that they appreciate all the effort that is expended on their behalf.

The therapy process continues with the transfer of all their wealth to the therapy centers. This totally voluntary wealth transfer, which is provided for them at no cost and without them having to do anything, is the second part of their therapy. By receiving their ill-gotten wealth, we selflessly take on the burden, and the therapy receivers immediately experience a great sense of relief at not having the guilt associated with their ill-gotten and undeserved riches.  Already the therapy receivers can sense a great improvement in their lives.

Before we get to the core of the therapy, the patient is relocated to special centers which are dedicated to this work.   These centers are located in beautiful parts of our great country such as Death Valley or the Jornada del Muerto.  Each patient is given their own private suite with bed and private bath and a view of the stark yet beautiful countryside.  In order to foster a serious feeling of dedication, they are given new clothes for their stay which are simple, comfortable and distinctive with fashionable black stripes on a white background.

Every day at dawn, our therapy receivers are led to a new location, filled with big rocks. There, armed with only a simple hammer, the therapy recipient proceeds to turn big rocks into small ones, hence the term "Lithic Fragmentation".  Oh, how happy they will be as they realize that for the first time in their lives they are doing something productive with their own two hands!  How eagerly they will return each day for the pleasant 12 or 16 hours of daily exercise outside and in nature continuing this process!  With each rock that they fragment, they will experience a great sense of pride and feeling of accomplishment!  No more a life of shame for these lucky men and women!

And there is other symbolism as well. That big chain that connects them to their fellow therapy receiver? That is the "great chain of being" that reminds them that we are all connected on this planet, and have a responsibility to each other, unlike their former, disgusting lives before therapy.

At the end of the day, the happy fragmenters return to their individual cells and receive a healthy bowl of soup and a solid 4-6 hours of sleep before the next day of self-improvement begins.

There are other aspects to this therapy that are used to enrich the lives of the therapy receivers. For example, therapy providers "Jerome" and "Big Julie" give private and personalized therapy to worthy candidates, all of whom report a unique and transforming experience.   In addition, the therapy receivers can look forward to regular sessions of group discussion in which they criticize their prior lives and actions in a spirit of honesty and sincere desire to reform. Usually one therapy receiver in particular is the subject of this therapeutic group criticism.

After an all too brief period of self-improvement, rarely more than 10 or 12 years except in special cases, the happy fragmenter returns to the world, a changed and much better person, and with a prestigious certificate to indicate successful completion of the course.  

Here is a picture of happy therapy receivers awaiting a personal session with Jerome and Big Julie.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Linux / Unix / Nvidia Update 9/13/2012

I am going to briefly digress from the topics of metaphor in space opera, and national security policy, to discuss the critical and related topic of which OS, specifically which Linux, to run.

The occasion comes about because we are going through a season where various collaborators (occasional collaborators, usually) are choosing their OS and seem blissfully unaware of the implications of their choice.   I believe that the choice of an OS is similar to choosing to use the Dark Side of the Force, forever is your destiny affected.

Or said another way, a moment of pleasure, a lifetime of regret.

But the answer to the question of which OS is a moving target because we live in a fast-paced world and also because the Linux community is working very, very hard to destroy any chance it has to become mainstream by splintering into as many small factions as they can as often as they can.

The Lisp community also splintered but were in general quite smart and had interesting reasons to splinter, even if in the long run it was very counterproductive.  But the Linux people aren't that smart, they just splinter because they are immature and can not compromise.

But I am holding back my real feelings, you may wish to read between the lines to see what it is I really think here.

Anyway, this is a brief update on Centos/Redhat, Ubuntu and FREEBSD (the descendent of the original Berkeley Software Distribution to which we are all beholden) and also a discussion of support for graphics hardware for Linux because there is so much misinformation out there.

Centos/Redhat is the professional version of Linux, as far as I can tell.  The people who are using Linux on their thousands of Apache servers, for example, seem to be using Centos / Redhat.   Centos is Redhat, but recompiled, and without formal support.  It is literally Redhat and those who need support (large corporations usually) buy directly from Redhat.  For the rest of us, Centos is free to download.   There is now a version 5.8 which I plan to upgrade to, and a version 6.3 that has many features I do not need, especially involving managing virtualization.

Centos should be your default Linux OS for professional work, unless you are bleeding edge, in which case you may prefer their developmental version, Fedora.

Ubuntu used to be the best choice for a primarily desktop user who needed an OS for their laptop, or for an office worker.  The latest version of Ubuntu however has moved to their own incompatible window system, and clearly indicates to me that they are out of their minds.  I wish all you Ubuntu users the best of luck.

For fun, and because I had never tried, I downloaded and installed FREEBSD on a system here.  It installed flawlessly.  And to my surprise, when I logged in, it had a classic beautiful Unix login shell.  No damn window system for these guys, they are manly men.   I love this, its so pure and unspoiled.  I would look seriously at FREEBSD if I were in a position to to change OS's and wanted a serious Unix as a base.

I want to publically thank NVIDIA for doing such a spectacularly good job of supporting Linux. ATI/AMD's support of Linux has always been minimal, and NVIDIA has always done a very serious and professional job of supporting Linux for all their many hardware products.  The confusion comes from people who have never seriously tried to do graphics with Linux, I suspect, because if they did they would quickly discover, as I have, that there is only one mainstream graphics vendor who seriously supports Linux.

Remember, whatever choice you make here will determine dozens if not hundreds of other choices you make in the future.   Changing OS's is very difficult, upgrading to a new release is very annoying.   Adding a new OS to a mix in a working studio always adds complication.  Choose wisely, as your destiny will be affected.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Does Star Wars Have a Line of Dialog With a Double Meaning?

With this post we now broach a topic of central importance to all of us: the role of ambiguity in cinematic Space Opera.

Near the end of the final Star Wars film, Obi-Wan says something that set me back a moment and made me think. Is it possible that a character in a Star Wars film said something that was layered with meaning? Actually having one meaning on the surface and another at a different level? Could this be?

Arguably there is one other potential case of a double meaning in Star Wars, that being the sequence where Obi-Wan famously tells Luke something about his father, but certainly not everything.   He says that his father was a good friend, a great pilot, fought in the clone wars but had been "murdered and betrayed by Darth Vader", failing to mention that Luke's father and Darth were the same person. Now maybe that qualifies as a double meaning, or maybe its just plain old lying by omission, and that is not quite the same thing.

The case I am referring to is different. It takes place during the the climactic fight between Obi-Wan and his former pupil, Anakin, the proto-Darth. They are fighting over a lava field and of course have time to have a discussion while they try to kill each other.

So Obi-Wan and Anakin are fighting and talking, and they say things like this

Anakin: If you are not with me, then you are my enemy.
Obi-Wan: Only a Sith deals in absolutes. I will do what I must.
Anakin: You will try.

They fight for a few minutes, then Obi-Wan says

Obi-Wan: I have failed you, Anakin. I have failed you.
Anakin: I should have known the Jedi were plotting to take over.
Obi-Wan: Anakin! Chancellor Palpatine is evil!
Anakin: From my point of view, the Jedi are evil.
Obi-Wan: Well then you are lost!
Anakin: This is the end for you, my master.

Then they fight some more when suddenly Obi-Wan jumps to a nearby ridge, looks down at Anakin and says ...

Obi-Wan: It's over, Anakin!  I have the high ground.

You see, it seems to me that Obi-Wan is actually saying something here that is both literally true and metaphorically true. He has the high ground, standing on a ridge and all, but he also has the high moral ground. Is this possible, could it be that a Star Wars character would say such a thing?

Well, if it is true, it doesn't last very long.   The next lines of dialog are:

Anakin: You underestimate my power!
Obi-Wan: Don't try it.

But of course, Anakin does try it, and for the first time in the history of the cinema, someone who does a stupid move in a sword fight (like spinning around or jumping over someone) is rewarded as they should be rewarded: they are cut off at the knees. Or worse.

Of course, I can't be sure that I am right about Obi-Wan and his high moral ground but nevertheless I wanted to alert you to this exciting possibility.

The scene itself is located on Youtube at the following location.

Everything Old Is New Again or Frame Rate in Hollywood

Once upon a time, movies were projected at 16 FPS (frames per second) and each frame was flashed three times, for a total of 48 flickers per second. At 48 or better FPS you get so-called "flicker fusion", and the viewer does not perceive the light going on and off. It looks continuous to him/her.

Then, as time passed, we moved to 24 FPS (double flashed). This had a variety of advantages and this is the reason that when you see old movies they appear to be running around like mad, they were designed to be projected at 16 FPS, not 24.

But although movies seemed to stay at 24 FPS (and then video at 30 frames, or 60 fields per second), in fact there was an arm of the entertainment industry that always played with the frame rate. This is the world of "special venue" which includes theme parks and world fairs. The special venue people experimented with everything from 30 FPS to as fast as they could get film through a projector. Showscan is famously a company that Doug Trumbull and partners started after doing experiments which they believed told them that 60 FPS was the optimal rate for human perception.

So now that Jim Cameron and Peter Jackson want to play with a faster frame rate, everyone and their brother is running around with their heads cut off wondering what they are going to do. Well, I am here to tell you what was learned from Special Venue and suggest you talk to some of the players in more detail.

The major results were this (or this is how it seemed to me, from my very limited view point, obviously not having access to the inner thoughts of major players, but nevertheless...):

1. Yes, a faster frame rate can help, especially with fast action, exactly like you imagine.

2. But not all scenes or topics benefit equally from this technique. In some scenes, slow moving mood pieces, for example, it may even be counterproductive, because more information is not always better.

3. The other thing to realize is that when you change the frame rate you change many, many things with it. You change how you light things, how makeup works, what kind of actors and actresses you cast. The reasons for this will be obvious after you shoot your first tests, and what you do about it is to be determined. But do not think that you merely increase the frame rate and now action scenes just look better. That isnt how this works.

4. Some people find the increased frame rate annoying. I know that my own response to it was that it was amusing for a few minutes but I wasn't sure how I was going to like watching 90 minutes of something like this.

Here is an image of Dr. Emilio Lizardo watching a high frame rate test in Buckaroo Banzai.

5. You will hear people say that an increased frame rate makes things look like video. It certainly does for me.

I want to encourage anyone involved in this matter to pick up the phone and call some people you know in the world of special venue. There is a weird overlap between special venue and motion pictures, some people go back and forth between the worlds, some people stay in their own world. But I would certainly begin by talking to Douglas Trumbull, his partner Richard Yuricich (you can reach both of them throught the ASC) and probably someone involved with the work at Imagineering. (I do not know who that would be, but I am as certain as I can be that there is someone there who has done a lot of work with this).

A separate topic is whether the digital projectors really have the bandwidth to do this. My feeling is that the answer depends on which projectors we are talking about.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bob Lambert (1957-2012)

My good friend Bob Lambert has passed away at the age of 55.    Bob was a fellow Virginian and I have known him forever, since the earliest days of Computer Graphics in the 1980s, when he was running the tiny 3D group at Walt Disney Feature Animation.

Here is a picture that David Coons just sent me of Bob and myself at SIGGRAPH in LA maybe two years ago.

Goodbye, Bob.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Setup

It used to be the thing to do to go to the Museum of Natural History the night before the Macy's Parade and watch them set up, which would involve, among other things, a bunch of really large balloons on their backs being inflated.   Now it has been discovered, and it is a tourist thing, and real NYers stay away, I am told.  This happens on 79th and 81st street, between Columbus and CPW.   

This picture would be from the late 1990s. For those who are unaware of the capabilities of various high speed black and white films, I have enclosed a detail from this picture which, if you look carefully, shows good detail inside a utility room inside the building.     I doubt it was handheld, so the camera had probably been stabilized on some available geometry, such as a mailbox or fire hydrant.  

Whenever I think of this event, I remember the first time I saw it, before it was discovered, and an embarrassing celebrity moment that occurred. This would have been in the late 1970s or early 1980s and a few years after Annie Hall (1977) had come out, and the "Annie Hall - look" was an identifiable fashion trend.   Diane Keaton actually dresses that way, one heard, and so Woody Allen just incorporated it into the movie.   So that night, watching the balloons being inflated, I saw across the street a particularly egregious case of someone dressed up to look like Diane Keaton in full Annie Hall regalia. After a while, I figured out it was Diane Keaton and I should stop staring at her.  Its impolite to stare, anyway.

Report On A Very Brief Meeting with the Chair of SIGGRAPH

I had an opportunity to speak to the Chair of ACM SIGGRAPH at the annual conference this year. His name is Jeff Jortner and he works at Sandia Labs (that is his real job that pays the bills).

He very kindly gave some of his time to explain to me a few of his ideas about the future of the SIGGRAPH Annual Conference that seemed very plausible to me.

I asked him if he was aware of the hardship that existed in the computer animation community, the large number of people who were not working, or who had to leave the country in order to work. Or the number of pioneers who were struggling to find work of any type, some of whom were homeless or all but homeless.

I may have caught him by surprise but I got the impression that he (and by analogy, they, as in the committee that runs SIGGRAPH) was not aware of any of this. He was aware of issues involving whether or not CS departments at various universities would continue to hold a slot for a computer graphics professor once the original tenured professor retires, but that was the extent of his or their knowledge or concern, at least to the extent he communicated them to me in that brief and impromptu meeting.

It seems to me that if there is a problem here, if we feel that SIGGRAPH should be doing more (and it is not clear to me that they can do anything, but nevertheless) if we even want them to consider the issues, then we have to do a better job of making the national committee aware of what is going on.

I am a little baffled about how best to do this, but I suppose the first step is to contact the members of the board and either have a dialog with them, or find out who (perhaps a subcommittee) one should have a dialog with.

Dan Weinreb (? - 2012)

I just heard that Dan Weinreb passed away after a long illness.  I was completely unaware of his battle with cancer, which is apparently how he wanted it.

I am completely in shock about this, and I can not imagine that DLW will not be at the other end of an email anymore.

I remember meeting DLW when he and Lee Parks and others came down from Livermore to see one of the Star Wars films, I forget which one. It might have been Empire Strikes Back. He was instrumental in getting me back to Cambridge for the Symbolics R&D open house all those years ago. He was a good friend and listened to my confusion and distress about my current unemployment although he did not know what to advise, except to suggest that I move back to Cambridge.

I remember when I worked at Mass Illusion, that he and Cheryl and their son came down to visit me in Lenox. I think I had run into them by accident in one of the towns in Western Mass. and we recognized each other even though we had not seen each other in more than a decade.

Here is a link to a testimonial about him at a company he helped to found.

Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness

I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why. It is altogether against my will that I tell my reasons for opposing this contemplated invasion of the antarctic - with its vast fossil hunt and its wholesale boring and melting of the ancient ice caps. And I am the more reluctant because my warning may be in vain.

Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness is a classic of American horror. If you haven't read it, it is a short read, you can probably read it in an hour or so. It is online below.

There was some hope about a year ago that Guillermo del Toro would direct a movie of Madness.  But that project has gone away.  Its probably all for the best.



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Script for Short Version of Dark Star (1974)

I was searching the Internet to find a quote from the intelligent but disobedient bomb in Dark Star (1974), when I came across the entire script.

Dark Star was written by John Carpenter & Dan O'Bannon, and directed by John Carpenter.  It was the first film for both of them I believe.

This is an excellent example of a low-budget film that transcends its origins.   If you have a few minutes, that is all the time it will take to read the script.

 They spent literally $100s of dollars on the visual effects for this movie, and every penny of it is up on the screen.  The "alien" who invades their ship is famously a beachball with plastic feet.

You should definitely think you are reading a script by graduate students at a university in the early 1970s (e.g. the early 70s were the late 60s according to various theories about how this culture by decade phenomena works).

The sequence with the discussion with the bomb can be found at Youtube at the link below.  This is obviously a spoiler for the film.



Monday, September 3, 2012

Autonomous But Not Debugged: the Case of ED 209 and Bomb 20

This post is about a US Air Force report about future technology which seems to foretell a well-known plot point in science fiction, the autonomous device that has been "insufficiently verified".

At various times, groups within our government attempt to give direction to the research and development that they are doing over the next decade.  This is the sixth version of the USAF report, the first being issued in 1945 and co-authored by Dr. Theodore von Karman and General Hap Arnold.

In the words of the current authors:

"Technology Horizons" is neither a prediction of the future nor a forecast of a set of likely future scenarios. It is a rational assessment of what is credibly achievable from a technical perspective to give the Air Force capabilities that are suited for the strategic, technology, and budget environments of 2010-2030. 

A link to the current version of this report, issued in 2010 is at the bottom of this post.   There are a variety of very interesting things in this report but here are three statements near the beginning which I paraphrase here:

1. The USAF must pursue the use of autonomy (e.g. autonomous devices and systems) in an aggressive manner in all areas of its operations and work, far beyond what is currently being done today.   Autonomous in this case means airplanes and equipment operating without humans aboard or directing their actions.

2. But the science and technology of "verification of this autonomy", in other words, how you know it will do the right thing, is far behind the science and technology of the autonomy itself.

3. And this is even more urgent since there are other countries who are far less picky about verification, and who are much more OK about things occasionally not working.  Not working might mean blowing up the wrong building, or dropping on the wrong person, for example.

Thus, research and progress in the area of "verification of autonomous systems" so you don't blow up the wrong thing/person is the highest priority issue addressed by this report.

Now this is of course very funny as any student of science fiction or movies about the future is well aware.

The field of SF is filled with autonomous systems that go crazy or do the wrong thing with disastrous results.  See for example Colossus: The Forbin Project,  2001: A Space Odyssey, the Terminator seriesand literally hundreds of other examples could be cited.

Two of my favorites in this genre include the Ed 209 character from Robocop (1987) and Bomb 20 from Dark Star (1974).   

ED 209 (Enforcement Droid Series 209) is a classic stop-motion model done by Phil Tippet. I am pretty sure that this is stop-motion and not go-motion, although I could be wrong.  And I think that the stop-motion artifacts contribute to the character and animation of Ed.   Ed is a great, if somewhat minor, character, who, in his enthusiasm for law enforcement executes a corporate executive inappropriately.

We have on Youtube two versions of this famous boardroom test sequence.  In the first version, we have the complete demonstration, but with much of the physical make up prosthetics at the end modified to suit those of more delicate sensibilities.

In this version of the famous board room sequence, notice the full use of practical makeup effects to contribute to the story.  This is from the so-called director's cut.

Then there is the case of Bomb 20 in Dark Star.   Who could ask for a better low budget prop ?  And it has one of the more amusing speeches by a deranged synthetic intelligence in any film, maybe not as great as HAL 2000, who is our Hamlet of deranged synthetic intelligences, but very good nevertheless.

PINBACK (to bomb): But you can't explode in the bomb bay.  Its foolish.   You'll kill us all.
        There is no reason for it.
BOMB 20:  I am programmed to detonate in nine minutes.
        Detonation will occur at the programmed time.
PINBACK: You won't consider another course of action, for instance,
        just waiting around a while so we can disarm you?
BOMB 20: No.

Here is one of the scenes with our unverified Bomb 20.

Clearly these are good examples of autonomous devices who could have benefited from more testing and  verification.

There are other interesting technologies and surprises in the report.  

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mysterious Booms Part 4: A Boom Is Not Proof of an Operational Aircraft

Part 4: Booms, Yes, But What Do They Mean ?

[This post was edited on 9/3/2012 to make it more concise and more skeptical].

Go to your favorite search engine and type in "mysterious booms", possibly setting the date range to the last year. You will notice that there are quite a few of them, but that three in particular are (a) Wisconsin, (b) Northern California near Pleasant Valley, and (c) Southern California near San Diego.

There are others as well, if you keep looking, you will find them. But these three are the ones that have gotten themselves into the news media.

We are just going to cut to the chase here.

The booms heard near San Diego are observed by semi-expert and expert observers.   Something is flying that is causing those booms.

This is less clear in Pleasant Valley and Wisconsin.  Wisconsin is no where near the coast, so if the booms were caused by a flying vehicle then we would expect the boom to travel across country and this has not been reported that I am aware of.  This means that they are not from a flying vehicle, unless there is some reason that they only go above a certain speed in the Wisconsin area, e.g. they are going into space or back from space.  I think this is very unlikely on the present evidence.

So if there is a secret aircraft flying operationally, in contrast to a test aircraft of exotic technology, then the evidence for it involves sonic booms heard on the coast.  There is such evidence at various times, but the evidence is not overwhelming and could be explained by occasional tests or other airplanes flying fast that for various reasons are not public.

So I am going to have to give an ambiguous answer here to the question of whether a black, presumably reconnaissance airplane is operational.   The evidence supporting it is circumstantial, but not conclusive, and this evidence is, in summary:

1. They do spend money on secret programs which are not identified.
2. They do have a history of building and flying very secret reconnaissance aircraft,
3. There have been sightings of exotic, unidentified aircraft.
4. There have been reports of sonic booms in appropriate places (e.g. not Wisconsin).
5. The last time a new, fast, high flying reconnaissance aircraft was announced was 1964.   Either they have moved entirely to satellites and slower drones, or there is a secret, fast craft of this type.

The evidence is suggestive but not conclusive.   The evidence could be explained by programs to test various technologies combined with the use of various existing airframes for secret purposes.

My guess is that whatever it is, if it is anything at all, it will be "outed" in about 10 years or so from now, or about 20 years after it started flying operationally.  If it exists, it is likely to be revealed for one of the following reasons

1. Disclosure for domestic political advantage
2. An operational mistake that reveals clear evidence of the vehicle
3. A disclosure by a former participant on their own initiative
4. An approved disclosure when it is no longer felt that keeping the device secret serves a legitimate national security purpose.

American Foreign Policy as Presented by Clint Eastwood in the Unforgiven (1992)

Clint Eastwood speaking at the Republican National Convention reminds me of another speech he gave at the end of The Unforgiven, the 1992 film that he directed.  

In this speech, he tells the people of the town how things are going to be. As he does so, there is an American flag behind him.   I felt, watching this scene, that somehow the speech was metaphorically a statement of American foreign policy in various administrations.

The character played by Eastwood, Will Munny, is on his horse, in the rain, after killing a whole lot of people in a gun fight and, dramatically positioned in front of an American flag, he says:

You better bury Ned right. You better not cut up nor otherwise harm no whores. Or I will come back and kill every one of you sons a bitches.

It just seems obvious to me that he is talking about something more, something grander, than just the events in this movie.  

But see for yourself.  Here is the sequence until Youtube takes it down.

Mysterious Booms Part 3: What Makes a Loud Boom ?

[If you wish, you can save some time and just cut to the final post which is concise and skeptical. See]

Part 3: What Makes a loud noise that sounds like "BOOM" ?

Suppose you get up one day, stretch, maybe drink some coffee and then suddenly hear a loud noise, like a boom, or a crash. Boom! Maybe the room shakes a little bit. You look at the clock, and let us say it is 8:15 in the morning. And you think nothing of it.

But then, just suppose, that the next day you get up, get some coffee, and hear another loud noise, boom ! And you look at the clock, and its 8:10 AM. And you think nothing of it. Now lets say that happens five days in a row, and then never happens again. And when you mention what you heard to a co-worker, they say, yes, I heard that too, and nobody knows what they were. You check around and that turns out to be correct, everyone in your town who was awake at the time, and even a few who were not, heard these booms and felt them. But no one knows what caused it.

It turns out there are a number of things that can cause a loud boom, and maybe shake things up a bit. Here is a short list of the most probable for your consideration: an explosion such as a gas main exploding, an explosion such as a construction crew setting off some dynamite for building demolition or excavation, a collision such as a truck running into a building or an airplane running into the ground, a sonic boom such as made by an airplane, or a sonic boom and possibly also an explosion / collision if a meteor of some substance were to enter the atmosphere somewhere near where you are. Another possibility might be an earthquake. Although many quakes do not make much noise on their own, often there are noises associated with them, and they could easily make a loud boom or crashing sound. This is not a complete list, but it is a reasonable point of departure for our discussion.

But the first thing to know, is that loud noises do not "just happen", they have a cause. And the second thing to know is that other people heard it, so its not your imagination, or something just local that *sounded* loud to you, but was really just near your ear. And the third thing to know is that whatever it was, happened several days in a row at about the same time, so that means it was not an accidental explosion, or an earthquake, or a meteor or a car crash because those do not happen more than once as if on a schedule. And the fourth thing to know is that no one knows what caused them, and that means that the local military base is denying they are involved, and that if these are construction-related explosions, then they are not following the rules for setting off explosions which requires them to get a permit. But all legitimate construction or mining companies do follow the rules in this country (it is a well-enforced regulation everywhere that I am aware of), so it wasn't that.

In fact, there are only a few things that can cause such a loud boom on a schedule and be unknown. The first is that someone is flying something that is really fast and not talking about it. And the second is that someone is setting off explosions in the ground or the air and not talking about it. Both types of things happen, and while they are usually government related, they do not always have to be. But unless you live near the border of Mexico and the drug cartels are building a tunnel and do not mind that everyone within 20 miles can hear them do it, which is unlikely, then it was not that, and that leaves us only two causes.

And those two causes are generally that the government is flying something really fast that it doesn't want to talk about and the other is that the government is digging something and it doesn't want to talk about it. Both things happen as it turns out.

Continued in part 4