Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Uses of Snowden: The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

When Ed Snowden, our pissy and so self-righteous Defender of the Faith and of All Truth, who Sees the Higher Path and knows What is Right when none of his thousands of colleagues do, who knows what MUST be done to save America when all around him everyone else is Corrupted by Mammon or one of the other Seven Princes of Hell, when this icon of moral and ethical perfection had his passport pulled by the State Department (surprise!!) he complained that the USA was violating a clause of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and inhibiting his right to travel internationally and to seek asylum.

Now that is interesting, I thought to myself. One more time, Snowden may have brought to our attention some topic of merit that is, apparently, separate from the national security ones on which his reputation ultimately depends.

What is the "UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights" anyway, where did it come from, and what does it all mean?

It was written right after WW II and at the very dawn of the United Nations.  The head of the committee that wrote it was none other than Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady of the United States.  You can read all about it at the link I provide below.   The key to understanding this Declaration is to understand, somehow, that WW II was much worse than you think it was and that people, some people at least, were idealistic about a new beginning when the war ended.  And so, this international committee of idealists and intellectuals put together a short list of things that "would be nice".

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could be educated?  Yes.  Wouldn't it be nice if there could be freedom of religion?  Sure.   Wouldn't it be nice if people could express their beliefs freely, and travel wherever they wanted, and made a living that allowed them to realize their potential and not be thrown in jail without due cause?  Absolutely!  And so forth, and so on.  

Here is what it says:
Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
My goodness, that is nice.  Constantly in mind!  Shall Strive by Teaching!  Progressive Measures!

Forgive me for being a little cynical here but we are talking about 1948 or so: Stalin is wiping out entire minority groups, people are being thrown out of windows in Czechoslovakia, Mao is demonstrating what he meant by "all power comes out of the barrel of a gun", the colonial empires of various western empires are meeting the post-WW 2 anti-colonial movements of S.E. Asia and Africa, and these fluffy liberals are making Universal Declarations of Human Rights.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is about 2.5 typewritten pages long, and is very easy to read. It is at:

Now that you have read it, ask yourself how many of these have been violated by this country, the United States of America, in letter or in spirit, at least occasionally?

Just off the top of my head I can make arguments that we are or have been in violation of Articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11.1, 12, 13.1 and 13.2, 14.1, 15.2, 16.1, 17.2, 21.1, 21.2 and 21.3, 23.1, 23.2, 23.3 and 23.4, 25.1, 26.1, 26.3 and I can make a case for a few of the others as well.

I doubt that there is a country on earth that could live up to these standards if they are interpreted as they are probably meant to be interpreted. So what is this anyway? Is it treaty? Is it law? Is it international law? It is none of these things.  In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, Chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights, when the declaration was being drafted and when it was introduced to the General Assembly to be adopted:
In giving our approval to the declaration today, it is of primary importance that we keep clearly in mind the basic character of the document. It is not a treaty; it is not an international agreement. It is not and does not purport to be a statement of law or of legal obligation. It is a declaration of basic principles of human rights and freedoms, to be stamped with the approval of the General Assembly by formal vote of its members, and to serve as a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations.
In fact, the impact of the Declaration and its legal status many years later makes more interesting reading than the declaration itself. Its a complicated tangle but it can be said that the Declaration has in fact had some influence, presumably positive influence, in many situations internationally over the years. Whether this influence has affected peoples' lives or whether it is in words and paper only, I couldn't tell you.

But I can tell you, that no country on this planet would believe that this Declaration prevented them from trying to bring into custody someone they considered a criminal, and that therefore Snowden accusing the US of being in violation of this Declaration is somewhere between naive and comical.

Which is how I think history will judge Snowden overall.

Naive, very naive.

Lawrence in Damascus

I can not think of anything more pointless and certain to backfire than getting involved in the internecine wars between various factions in the Islamic Near East.    May as well shoot yourself for all the good it will do.

And furthermore it will just make one side or another hate us even more.  I admit that in some of those cases they may already hate us as much as they can so it might not do much more harm, but that seems to me to be a very negative way to see the world.

If you have not read a history of the area and you do not yet understand where Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan came from, then stop right now and go read about it.   They were created by the British and the French after WW I out of provinces of the former Ottoman Empire.  We also had something to do with it but mostly indirectly as far as I can tell. We become more involved in the area after WW II.

Lawrence of Arabia enters Damascus in a wood-body Rolls that has been adapted for desert warfare.

So, why, oh why, would we ever get involved militarily in this sewer of shit?  (holding back my real feelings).

It is for one reason and one reason only, as far as I can tell.  There has to be a real cost to using chemical and biological weapons, a cost that even a stupid thug, like the ones that run most countries, can understand and appreciate.   If one does not respond to their use, their deliberate use, then those people now and in the future will draw a lesson from that inaction.

That is the only reason.   I doubt it will help the Syrian's one bit.

It might help some people somewhere in the world, as yet unknown, who would otherwise have such weapons used against them.  Maybe if we act now, some desperate leader of some country or military in the future will not use these weapons.

That I think is the idea here.



Because people always seem surprised when they get into a war and discover that it is expensive, that there is history, that people hate each other, that it goes on longer than it should, etc, I wrote a list of "things to consider before getting involved in a war that is in any way discretionary".  Some wars are not discretionary but some of them are and, where possible, it is wise to remember that discretion is the better part of valour.

I can not, not, not believe we are about to get involved in another middle east conflict.

Some Points to Consider Before Starting A War

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Uses of Snowden: Perception of the Death Penalty in the World at Large

This is the second of three essays on how Ed Snowden has been very helpful in bringing matters to our attention outside of the area which he intended, e.g. surveillance.  In this part we discuss the issue of how the death penalty is perceived in the world, something brought up because of Snowden's applications for amnesty in which he mentioned his concerns about being tortured or executed should he return to the United States.

Ah, the death penalty. What could be more American? An eye for an eye! Hang the bastard. String em up. Hang em high! A necktie party. A rough frontier justice. "And may God have mercy on your soul.... you may proceed", said the preacher.

There are regional differences of course. My favorite is Texas' "Justifiable Homicide" laws. In Texas you can get away with murder if you can convince a jury that 'he needed killing'.  

"You remember Jack. He was always drunk. Never did a day's honest work in his life. When he ran over Sam's dog, I had enough and I shot the good-for-nothing sonofabitch until he was dead".

So all is well and good, after all cultural diversity works many ways. Some countries have spicier food, we have the death penalty. Each to his own, I say.

What could be more American than a good hangin'?

But the world is filled with a bunch of damn foreigners. Damn it, its true, I have seen them myself. And many of them look on in horror at our death penalty, seeing it as barbaric, as "cruel and unusual punishment" and drawing far too many conclusions from the trivial and irrelevant detail that it is only the poor people who get executed while the rich go free. Oh yes, and that there *may* be a correlation, some say, between race and wealth and therefore of who gets the axe and who does not. Of course this isn't true! P'shaw I say! Certainly not in Florida!

How do I know that much of the world does not share our appreciation of the death penalty? Well it is due to that savior of modern man, that icon of all that is moral and pretentious in America, everyone's favorite martyr and photographic opportunity, Ed Snowden.

Yes, you see, in order to apply for amnesty in various countries it is useful, perhaps even required, that you articulate the case that if you were returned to the country you were trying to flee from, that you would be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. For example, you might be tortured or put to death. So Ed made that case and many countries responded well to the argument.

Because, you see, the fact is that this country is now famous for torturing people. Yes, we can thank the illegal Bush administration for that. But its not all Bush's fault, imho, because you see when Obama came in he refused to have members of the Bush administration tried for their crimes. Had he done so, then he would have made the clear statement that American's found torture to be unacceptable. But he didn't and instead made the point that people of one Presidential Administration can commit any crime against humanity and get off.

On top of that, famously there was one way to get shot in America, legally that is, and that was to commit what was called "treason" back in the day. But since one can easily use that word, and people do, they went to the trouble of defining it. Article 3, Section 3, Clause 1 of the US Constitution defines treason as giving "aid and comfort" to the enemy during time of war. And war is defined as being declared formally by Congress, none of this namby pamby "police action" or "humanitarian mission" stuff back then. Therefore, someone who may or may not be considered to have given "aid and comfort" during a time when Congress has not declared war could not be considered for treason. On paper, that is.

In fact, you can try anyone for anything and leave it up to the courts to decide.

Which is why, when Snowden got international sympathy for the fact that if he returned to the US he might be tried for treason and shot, the US Department of Justice went out of its way to say that they would not seek the death penalty.

They would not have done so had not the argument that we are a cruel and murderous country rang true in the eyes of people of the world. Two thirds of the countries of the world have outlawed the death penalty (which is different of course from whether or not their government kills people, oh by the way). The USA is the number 5th country in the world for executions, coming in after China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen. Now that is a list right there to give one pause and wonder just what is going on.

I was not aware of how we were seen in this area by many people of the world until it was Snowden who brought it to my attention.  Well, I knew a little about it I guess, but hadn't given the issue much thought.

Is there a possible way out of this dilemma?  A solution that lets us keep our death penalty, so important to so many Americans, yet avoids the onus that accompanies "stringing someone up"?

I believe that there is.   What if we amended the law so that only the rich would be at jeopardy to being sent to "Ol' Sparkey" (the electric chair) for their crimes?  Its only fair after all, they are the only ones who can afford the legal system in this country; a poor man or woman certainly can not.

I think that world opinion would respond to this change and recognize that we had significantly made progress on the issue of the death penalty and furthermore that we were taking a very progressive step on the issue of the very wealthy people in a world filled with unbelievable poverty.

I hope that all good Americans will join me in calling for the death penalty for the rich.

Thank you.


1, "Old Sparky" -- The Electric Chair

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Uses of Snowden: Passports are Given and Passports are Taken Away

[revised 8/27/2013]

One commonly held theory is that Snowden is useful for stimulating dialog and discussion in America on a variety of topics, and that this process of discussion is valuable independent of whether or not Snowden is actually the traitor that he wants to be or is merely guilty of narcissistic self-delusion.

For a quick review of Narcissistic Personality Disorder see here:

But whether actual traitor or merely a self-proclaimed martyr, his public travel dysfunction has stirred up at least three notable topics, none of them particularly to do with national security or surveillance. The topics are

1. What is a Passport and when can it be revoked ?
2. How does the rest of the world see our death penalty and use of torture ?
3. What is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and what does it mean?

We will take this one piece at a time. First, the Passport.

1. The Passport

When Snowden's passport was revoked, righteous indignation spewed from the usual sources accusing the US Government of doing something illegal or immoral. So what is a passport and do you have a right to one? A passport is three things, two of them formal and one of them implied.   It is first identity paperwork and second a request that courtesy be shown the holder of the passport when travelling in another country.    By convention and by treaty it has accrued a third meaning, which is the de facto right to travel internationally at all.  The passport has a long history but as we know it in its modern incarnation it came into existence during WWI in order to control the passage of people of various nationalities across borders in Europe.  This specific need for border control evolved into the right to travel internationally in general.  No passport or diplomatic papers of some sort meant no international travel, for the most part.

The most famous fictional "letter of transit" for Victor Laszlo travelling through Casablanca

As it is currently conceived of, a passport is issued by a country's foreign service, in this case our Department of State, at their discretion and it may be revoked at their discretion. In our country, failure to pay child support is cause to revoke someone's passport, even if that passport is required for them to make a living, or to exercise any of their other interests or rights to travel. It can be pulled without recourse to law and is so pulled every day of the week in this country. So why shouldn't they pull the passport of someone who claims to be violating American law and releasing classified information ?

Furthermore, not having a passport is not a barrier to travel if another country wishes you to visit them.  Those countries can issue one of several types of diplomatic documents (usually temporary) that will enable someone without a passport to travel to them. They do it all the time, when they want to. In the case of Snowden, I guess they didn't want to.  (Of course a little pressure on them by our Government might have been applied behind the scenes, do you suppose?)

If Americans wish to change the process by which a passport can be revoked and the rules involving who can have a passport and what their rights are, I am all for it. But that would be a major change and would probably require the cooperation of congress and the courts.

But maybe a better question is why a "government" is necessary to have a passport at all?   How many people who are alive today chose the government they live under?   Is it perhaps 1% of the people?   I certainly did not choose this oppressive government that protects the rich and humiliates the poor. Why should governments have such control over international travel at all beyond what they permit at their own borders?

Recall, a passport is identity and a request for courtesy, combined with an implied third meaning: which is the right to travel internationally.   Why not have another, presumably international, body, certify the identity of a person and negotiate by treaty (1) the right to travel?  Maybe the UN could do this and actually be good for something beyond getting their diplomats immunity from traffic tickets in NYC. 

In parts II and III we will go over how the world sees our death penalty and how that affects the Snowden matter and then review the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Snowden has accused the US of being in violation of. He is right, by the way, we are. They all are. All countries are.

Just wait until you read this thing.


1. So far as I know treaties are made by sovereign countries and their descendants (e.g. when Soviet Russia picked up the treaties of Imperial Russia).   So is the UN allowed to make treaties of this type? What is funny about this question is that I do not have a clue what the answer is, but I suspect the answer is "its complicated".

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review of SIGGRAPH 2013 (in progress)

[Being written... very difficult for some reason]

This is a review/synopsis of SIGGRAPH 2013.

I have been remiss in getting this review in good form for a while now.  There are several forces at work that inhibit this process, including procrastination, disorganization and and a high anxiety level.  Among other things, I have been informed that I am not qualified to run for the Executive Committee of SIGGRAPH.   Why not?  No one knows.  "We had a high level of people who volunteered this year" I am told or something.   Thats nice, does that mean I am not high level?

It is hoped that this review can be of some value to those who were not at SIGGRAPH this year, seeing it through my eyes as it were. I have been attending since 1980 (Seattle) with a few missed years and it can be hard to keep them straight.

I would love it if others would also review or create a brief synopsis of a conference they attended for those who could not attend and also for those who did attend but of course could not see everything. It will never happen, of course, but you are encouraged to do so anyway.

1. Anaheim / Size / Price / Accomodations

The convention center was convenient enough. Generally there was enough parking. There could be a few more low cost salad places around. There was a Motel 6 with good wifi for about $80.00 / night and about 5 or so miles away.

For some reason Anaheim is a destination of Islamic people from China, and they have set up Chinese Islamic restaurants there. But SIGGRAPH is generally held over Ramadan, so they are closed.

Although there were some complaints and issues with the attendance, I found it very congenial. In general, I could find people I wanted to find and run into people I wanted to run into. Some of this had to do with arranging to be at the Pioneer's dinner.

It was not made very well known, but there was an "unemployed" conference fee that would get you the full conference package for half price, or roughly $500.00. This is very important and should be made better known so that the unemployed, who are so many at SIGGRAPH, can still participate in their community and be involved, not hanging out on the outskirts as I did for so many years out of poverty.

2. Entertainment Industry Bullshit

I heard some complaints that "Anaheim" was too far for many of the precious elite of the glamourous and rewarding motion picture industry to travel from LA. Ha, ha, ha, ha, good.

The simplest way I have discovered to deal with SIGGRAPH's wild starfucking (its a technical term) and asskissing of the motion picture industry, as they demonstrated with their keynote speech and various displaying on the part of corrupt media corporations was simply to ignore them. Maybe they will go away.

3. Electronic Theatre

I don't like splatter films. I walked out.

4. Notable Technical Papers

I attended maybe 20 or so paper presentations on top of the "Fast Forward" synopsis. The most important paper that I saw involved using computation to correct for aberrations from a simple lens. It suggested that one could create a lens that would be easy to manufacture and yet exhibit interesting characteristics by being augmented with computation. The least interesting paper I saw was from Disney Research about adaptive resolution for lenticular. I liked it because it was one of those papers that I could easily do, thus giving me hope of publishing at SIGGRAPH one day.

 Disney Research is clearly on a roll, both sponsoring and creating research in various areas of interest.

I will make one ethnic notation. I do not know why, but most of the papers seemed to be given by an international crowd. Whether German or Chinese, or even American but just recently, there were an awful lot of "foreigners" giving papers this year.

5. Awards and Awards Speeches

For many years now the Keynote speech has been useless. This year I realized it was deliberately useless, that they they used the speech as a way of attracting attendees from the glamourous and stupid motion picture industry rather than having it serve its actual purpose for the SIGGRAPH community. But this year, they compensated by having what I will call "awards speeches", by each of the awards winners. That, combined with an introduction by the President of SIGGRAPH, Jeff Jortner, came very close to being what I wanted. Which was a state of the community and a vision for the future.

Award winners were Mary Whitton (Best Volunteer), Manfred Mohr (Best Artist), Nice Lady from Yale, Nice Young Guy, and Turner Whitted.

6. Pioneers Dinner / Receptions

There were very few receptions this year, that I noticed. I missed the Technical Reception because I was playing host to a few friends who did not have tickets. I probably should have attended. I did attend the Pioneers reception, and they had the guy from MIT who did the femto photography stuff speak. It was very depressing because at a young age he has already helped millions of people have a better life.

7. Trade Show

"Arrogant Putz" of the year award goes to the guy who runs Massive.

8. Emerging Technologies

No big deal.

9. Misc

Anaheim could have a mass transit system.
There was nothing at Disney, why not?
I was not invited to any of the parties.

10. Special Thanks

Thanks to Ken Perlin for sponsoring this SIGGRAPH through his project with NYU. Thanks to Greg Turk for advising me on graduate school. Thanks for JWalt for showing me around Emerging Technologies.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Humor in Archaeology

Many Americans see academia as dry and formal, elite and lofty palaces of higher thought staffed by dedicated monk-like professional educators who wouldn't know a good joke if it hit them in the face with a pie.  People whose sense of humor was removed in early childhood. But maybe its just that their sense of humor is on the dry side, with a hint of subtlety foreign to the average American who, in general, like their humor broadly expressed.

This was illustrated in a recent article in the NY Times about an archaeological dig in Gabii, Italy, which is 12 miles away from Rome. The architecture revealed is from approximately 300 BC and is significant because so much of the evidence we have about Rome comes from the Imperial period or by writers of the Imperial period looking back to a Rome they idealized as being simple and unpretentious, inhabited by equally humble and unpretentious Romans. (1)

There are several surprising things about this dig, which the article goes into, but one in particular stands out: whereas in Rome history is layered like a cake, with levels going down a very long way, in Gabii, once the city had its day, it was covered over and forgotten. It is currently lying on undeveloped land. So no Medieval or Rennaisance buildings needed to be moved or conserved. No local pope had robbed the buildings for their materials like happened in Rome. No persnickety Romans to complain that the dig is disturbing the tourists. So this is very lucky indeed, if one is an archaeologist.

But getting back to the topic of our post, on the humor of academics, or at least of archaeologists, the article quotes Christopher Ratte, director of a museum of archaeology in Michigan, who expressed surprise that one could "break new ground" in an area that was so well-researched.

Get it?

 An archaeology dig "breaking new ground"?

I bet no one has ever used that joke in Archaeology before.

NY Times Article on the dig at Gabii


1. This is extremely doubtful. That Romans were ever modest, noble, and filled with a self-effacing humility is a little hard to believe.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Scorsese on the History and Nature of Film

The online version of the New York Review of Books (August 2013) has an essay by Martin Scorsese about the history and meaning of film.   

See The Persisting Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema here

Aside from a great picture of Georges Melius working on a special effects painting, we have a pointer to the worlds first stupid cute cat video (by Thomas Edison) and a discussion of the original Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Post SIGGRAPH Brain Rot

SIGGRAPH always seems to fall on my birthday, and between the two of them I am ready to be completely dysfunctional for a month.   When we return (in a day or so) we will begin with a few notes from SIGGRAPH, some commentary on the VES visual effects "state of the industry" report, and some more civics regarding the Snowden affair.

Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Vast Government Conspiracy to Make Bad Movies and Influence Third World Revealed in Foreign Affairs

Isn't it convenient that Ed Snowden forgot to expose our Government's secret multi-decade program to influence world affairs through manipulating Hollywood movies? In failing to do so, in allowing his integrity to be compromised and bought off, he confirmed what right-minded people have been saying all along: that the movies Hollywood makes is not the result of some sort of implausible and incomprehensible "development process" but is the result of a vast secret government program to influence what movies get made in order to control the world.

A recent post on the Foreign Affairs web site implicitly exposes this foul plot, in The Myth of the American Superman by Ahmed Shafi and Najib Sharifi, here, they reveal the shocking truth about how Rambo III and Titanic were both used to influence and control unsuspecting Afghani's in order to support the American Way of life.

But not even Shafi and Sharifi are willing to go the full distance and ask how it is these insane movies were created in the first place.  No observer of Hollywood and Washington shenanigans could believe that these things "just happened" because of a "development process".   If there was an invisible "black hand" that directed the creation of mediocre and mindless entertainment then at least this is an explanation that does not rely on the idea that all studio executives are stupid, tasteless and desperate to imitate each other.

But to start with the Shafi and Sharifi evidence, they cite three horrifying examples of American influence to create an image of America in Afghanistan that is far from the truth and thus influence regional politics. Two of these examples are major Hollywood motion pictures and the third is an odd story from the 1830s, nearly two centuries ago, the story of Josiah Harlan. Apparently this Pennsylvanian got himself named Prince of Ghor for Perpetuity in the 1830s and this made a very positive impression about Americans for Afghanis, as implausible as that may seem. I guess they are also romantics. (See note 1)

But it is their second and third examples that happened in the 20th century that seem to fit all to well to our conspiracy theory:  apparently two movies have had a huge impact on Afghanistan in the last 20 years. One is Rambo III (1988) and the other is Titanic (1997).

In the words of our Foreign Affairs correspondents:

But perhaps the most important contributions to this ethos have come from Hollywood. In the late 1980s, the film Rambo III, in particular, embodied the Superman image of America for Afghans. In the movie, Rambo, with his buffed muscles and thirst to kill Soviets, made all of the right moves to win the hearts and minds of Afghans. He braved the towering mountains of Afghanistan on a horseback. He displayed his ghairat (enthusiasm and honor) by accepting an Afghan challenge to play buzkashi, a national sport which is similar to polo. And he impressed Afghans further by effortlessly beating the best and toughest chapandaz (players). He even took up arms and joined a ragtag group of Afghan fighters to blow up a Soviet military base.

Hey, watch me play some Buzkashi!
The movie was such a big hit in Afghanistan that even high ranking officials in the communist regime loved it, despite having initially banned the film. Thousands of VHS copies of the film were smuggled into Kabul and provided a massive boost to America's image. Afghans loved seeing the American superhero on their side, sharing their sorrows, and fighting ferociously against the "evil" communists.

I actually like Sylvester Stallone and will talk about First Blood (the first Rambo movie) in glowing terms in another post.

The second example is also shocking. During the Taliban regime, watching Western movies was forbidden. But Afghanis were so moved by the dreadful shmaltz-fest Titanic that they risked their lives smuggling in VHS copies and watching in secret movie appreciation meetings or "cells". The Taliban was so determined to crack down on this abomination that they would detain any youth who had a "Titanic haircut". I would have done the same thing myself.

Prohibited Titanic haircut example on left.

I can hear the conspiracy theory skeptics sharpening their pencils ready to cast ridicule and doubt on this idea.   I challenge them to generate another explanation that some modicum of plausibility.  Please, please, please do not recycle the idea that Hollywood makes the movies it does because "it just happens that way".  No senior executive of American corporation could make that many bad decisions in a row without being deposed by their shareholders.  Isn't that what we are taught about our free enterprise system?  And remember these people are not paid well.  Many of them struggle with a modest 7 figure salary plus bonuses.

A government conspiracy cloaked in secrecy which attempts to control the world by making bad movies would at least make some rational sense however vile these motivations may be.   The alternative is to believe their story about the "development process" and no one in their right mind could believe that.

Rambo III (1988) on IMDB

Titanic (1997) on IMDB


1. The story of Josiah Harlan is, on the face of it, completely implausible. The son of Quakers from Pennsylvania goes to Afghanistan in order to get himself declared King of the Afghans. Having been abandoned by his fiance while overseas, he posed as a surgeon for the British East India Company and after a time migrated north to the Punjab. There he befriended an exiled King of Afghanistan and travelled further meeting the current King, his brother, then met a Maharaja where he was appointed governor of a province of Afghanistan and later named Prince of Ghor in perpetuity for himself and his descendents.

Josiah Harlan.   Was he secretly working for Andrew Jackson?

I should only have to mention that this was during the Jackson administration in the 1830s for a knowledgable American to immediately smell a rat.  Was Harlan working for the infamous Pres. Andrew Jackson the whole time?   Someone should do a FOIA petition and try to pry the truth out of Washington.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Art, Fine Art and Ender's Game

If one wants to know the very essence of Hollywood creativity, look no further than Ender's Game. It is the very height of what makes Hollywood great: shallow, stupid, yet empty of ideas, it contains the most predictable twist ending in the history of science fiction.

I first read the screenplay, or at least a screenplay, for Ender's Game in 1991. A very good friend who was trying to find me work after my studio, dWi, crashed and burned, gave it to me with the hopes that I would be so enthusiastic that I would literally bubble up with a billion ideas (I guess about how to use computer animation on it, which was by no means an accepted technique at the time), that all my free ideas would somehow magically make me a consultant to the project, to "be attached" in some way. What I knew and he knew (but would not admit) is that those who are associated with a project early on are rarely called to the altar when the project goes for real. The reason is simple: when the director is selected everything changes. It is the director (and his/her producer) who selects the team. Anyone associated with the project from before that has a less than average chance of being involved unless you are contracturally written into a project (which is unlikely, very unlikely, unless you are "above the line" (1), and people in visual effects are not).

Presumably our hero getting his suit calibrated on the game grid in Ender's Game

And so my friend was one more time disappointed in me when I refused to show any enthusiasm for this crass and juvenile property. Misplaced enthusiasm is a sine qua non for participating in Hollywood, and a worthless tool such as myself is expected to be endlessly enthusiastic and work for free in the hope that the Master will smile on their broken and exhausted slaves sometime in the future.

As I read this worthless piece of space kiddie porn, I thought, who are they kidding ? The book is a well-known and trite sf book for children by a well-known and well-meaning hack who has not, so far as I know, emerged from his very serviceable but pedestrian writing youth. Its an entertaining piece of fiction for children, relatively young children, about how studying for video games in an elite academy leads to saving the solar system from the alien menace.

Ender's Game in its original form.

Can you say "Last Starfighter"? Good. Now, say "Last Starfighter only much bigger" and you will get the idea.

But at least Last Starfighter (1984) had two things going for it.  First, it was the last film performance of the great Robert Preston.   And second it was a genuine use of computer graphics & animation in entertainment.   I am pretty sure that this is a III (Information International) project and one that John Whitney, Jr had a hand in selling (e.g. getting the filmmakers excited about using computer animation in their film).   

The youthful video game player, notice the graphics game control in the heavens above him.  Look familiar?

Our future savior of the galaxy or solar system (I forget which) playing what used to be known as a "video game" in its "coinop" days.  I love the term "coinop".

But don't worry. They have major actors to "open the movie" as we say in Hollywoodland. We have Harrison Ford! Well, thats nice, I like Harrison Ford. But having Ford is not going to make a shallow plot less shallow, or an obvious ending less obvious.

And how sad for Digital Domain, the prime effects supplier, (2) to end their long streak of movies on this piece of overhyped crap. From Titanic to Ender's Game? Is that it? Now that they have their new Chinese Masters, controlled by the Tong and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Chinese People, we will see where they go from here. I wish them all the best.

After all we are all going to be working for the Chinese, so its really not so different from what the rest of us will experience.

Ender's Game (2013) on IMDB

The Last Starfighter (1984) on IMDB

1. "Above the line" is a Hollywood term meaning many things.  In classic Hollywood there was literally a line in the budget separating the producer, wrtier, director and stars from the rest of the crew.

2. Nancy St. John is the effects producer for the production and is one of my favorite people in this so-called business.  Among other things, she is an alumni of Robert Abel & Associates, Digital Productions and Industrial Light and Magic.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mary Poppins Remix by Pogo (Nick Bertke)

An electronic musician named Nick Bertke (aka Pogo) creates remixes of well-known films using sounds and images from the film with some rhythm added.

Check out his Mary Poppins remix "What I Likes".

Julie Andrews is pretty spectacular even if she is vocalizing syllables and not complete words in this version.   Notice the sense of relief when it actually drops into some Mary Poppins music about 2/3rds of the way through (when they are cleaning the children's room).  

But most of all, notice the amazing backgrounds and paintings (were these done by Peter Ellenshaw?)