Friday, September 30, 2016

Is the DC Extended Universe Also a Metaphor for our Civilization?


This essay began life as an inquiry into whether the movies of the DC Extended Universe have the depth, integrity and metaphorical richness of their main competitor in the world of cinematic graphic novels and super heroes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I used two films as an entry point into the DC Universe, the Zack Synder Superman movie Man of Steel (2013) and his wildly disliked Badman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).  But after viewing these two very strange films, I now realize that whatever is going on here is going to require more thought.

But lets start at the beginning.

It has been proposed that our cinema has moved beyond the "giant robot" to the comic book superhero as a metaphor for our civilization. Certainly a more nuanced metaphor would be hard to imagine than the classic American comic book with its superheroes, supervillains, women in spandex, alien menaces, and so forth. But not all superhero universes are created equal, and they are certainly not all translated to the big digital screen in the same way and with the same sureness of purpose. No doubt the Marvel Cinematic Universe has achieved a certain level of excellence, but can the same be said about the DC Extended Universe? On paper, the DCEU is every bit as good, if not better, than the Marvel one. Has it also self-consciously aspired to this metaphorical and cultural transcendence, or has it foundered on the jagged rocks of mediocrity in pursuit of commerce?

This were my organizing questions for my first analysis of this important, critical area..

But the two movies that I reviewed defy an easy analysis.  The first, Man of Steel (2013) is a very unpleasant movie about genocide from the point of view of the person who has it in his hands the power to either save his civilization or condemn it to a final and gruesome death.  And he chooses death for the civilization that created him.  In retrospect, it is a very grim movie with a horrible conclusion. Light hearted would not be the term used to describe this movie. It also completely ignores and dismisses all the unconscious themes of America from the 1930s through the 1950s that made the original Superman so interesting to a student of American history and culture.  It ignores the colorful villains of the Superman canon, retaining only one, General Zod, but it transforms Zod from a villain to a tragic hero, defeated at last by the criminal, mass murderer, Superman.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) was the most hated movie of this year.  And I can certainly see why as it turns its back on most of what made the two title characters entertaining to watch. Superman is a weirdo who murdered his people and is now a borderline psycho do-gooder who is hated for his mysterious powers and the collateral damage that he leaves at every turn. And Batman is a psycho, a vigilante, and by all definitions, a criminal who uses his vast wealth for his own purposes outside the law. Both see themselves as noble and doing good, but a lot of criminals and murderers in history also thought that.

Of the three leading psychopaths in our movie: Superman, Batman and Lex Luther, it is the latter who is by far the most interesting.

Lex Luther, Our Villain

Everyone hated this movie but me.  I liked it a lot.  It is a really sick film with a very interesting main villain and everyone's favorite lesbian/femdom popular culture icon, Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman from 1918

Any woman who dresses up in an outfit like that, or looks like Linda Carter or our modern version, the gender ambiguous Gal Gadot, immediately gets my respect and I am interested in anything she has to say whether its about fighting the Nazis or any other subject she may care to discuss.

Since this blog and other things I write often discuss the semiotics and mechanics of visual effects, these two movies are excellent examples of how irrelevant visual effects are to the filmmaking art in so many cases. The visual effects of both movies are very good, possibly even exceptional.  There is some very good design in parts of these two films and they are to be congratulated. They are not even completely excessive as they are in so many movies.  But that said, and I will go over some design elements to highlight them in another post, that while these two movies are helped by their visual effects, the effects are not decisive.  It is the casting, the story and the direction that sets the tone and everything else is in a supporting role.

Whatever these two movies are, they are not trivial, shallow comic book superhero films.  Whether they are a metaphor of our civilization like the more diverse and generally somewhat more pleasant Marvel films are, remains to be seen. But it is interesting that these two tentpole projects for the DC Extended Universe are so very and unrelentingly dark, violent, and without hope.

I think that we should also note that two of the main characters of the second movie, Batman and Lex Luther, are able to do what they do, whether we approve or not, because they are rich.  They may be talented as well, but at the very least these movies touch on the that great American theme, that wealth is required to participate in our society.  If you are without wealth, then I would not count on being permitted to do anything of value.

Eisenberg as Luthor, hamming it up

Although no reviewer or fan has mentioned this, so far as I know, it is the women of Batman vs Superman who steal this movie.  Even when they do not have a speaking part, they are by far the most interesting characters.  And let there be no doubt why I think so, and please don't hate me, its because they pretty much are all desirable, in one way or another.

Our Israeli socialite looking demure.  He has no idea what he is in for.

So what do we have here?  Superman is a stuck up, maladjusted, genocidal piece of unemotional beefcake, and I could not care less about his character.  Batman is a psychopath and a rich kid who looks nice in a suit.  Lex Luthor is at least interesting if a spoiled self-indulgent rich kid. Wonder Woman is fabulous and is what a superhero comic book movie should be about.  Alfred, the loyal butler is an accessory to the crimes of the Batman and always looks like he just came off a long weekend at the bars or being dissolute in some excessive way.

Check out the expression our Wonder Gal as she wields her mighty sword

Whatever else can be said about these movies, they are not light hearted.  Whether they amount to more than the sum of their parts remains to be seen.

Man of Steel (2013) on IMDB

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) on IMDB

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Working From My Smartphone Part 5

This is a continuation of a series of posts on the latest economic disaster. You can read part 4 of this series here.

The good news is that the power is on, the water stayed on, the Internet is on.

However, this situation is not sustainable. The problem is, this situation was never sustainable. In fact, the biggest mistake was, in hindsight, to believe that learning new skills, talking to people, doing little projects, and so forth would result in a solution. It hasnt, and it wont.

People's advice is interesting, although not very helpful. Their advice reveals that either they do not know much about my background or, even worse, that they hold me in contempt. I also find it fascinating that people must think that I am stupid, that somehow they can think about this situation for 5 minutes and recommend fabulous financial or career ideas that somehow I have not already thought of.  I have been in this hell for 10 years, friends, whether you noticed or not.

How you can help is not to advise me on things I already know, but on things you know better than anyone. People or startups you think I should work with (and who you introduce me to).  How to get into the right graduate program.  The best way, based on your own personal experience, to start a business in money laundering, international arms sales, or other criminal activity supported by our government policies.  Always based on your own experience, your knowledge, your wisdom, who you know.

I am cleaning the place up, and trying to find a way out. As part of that I am talking to more friends, even though it clearly just exposes me to more criticism, more contempt, and more derision. Probably a few people do actually care, but there is not much that they can do.  Trust me when I say that mere money is not what I am looking for (unless of course you want to give me a lot of money, that might be ok.)

Special thanks to a few friends for their generosity. Extra special thanks to one former employer, who will not be named here, who happens to have had some experience with the system of public assistance in California. He is a wealth of information, none of which you can learn from the Internet.

One advantage of not having power or the internet at home was that it got me out of the house and out into the city, such as it is. I can not tell you how much I hate being isolated here.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hero of the Revolution Chris Wedge and his Adventure in Hollywood

In Hollywood, it is said, people are something that they are not. This is a joke that tries to make fun of the phenomenon that people are working in one area but say that they aspire to be working in another. There are many examples of this in real life, and that is one of the reasons that the joke exists. There are actors, writers, producers, etc, who want to direct. There are many waiters and real estate agents who want to act or write. There are many successful writers who are not satisfied with that and want to also be paid to write, direct and produce their own movies.

On the other hand, the fact is that a small percentage of people do get to achieve their dream. People who come to Los Angeles and work in food service or in computer animation, but actually are able to get acting roles in television and film. People who went to film school and become successful film editors. People who write screenplays for years and work at odd jobs who do become successful, working writers in television or film. Or who work mostly in advertising or trailers and make a good living and who are happy to do so. It certainly beats slinging burgers.

And why not? People are ambitious, people are also talented, and many people are not able to find a situation where they can demonstrate that talent. You must be dedicated, tireless, indefatiguable or you are guaranteed not to succeed. This is why we see so many successful people who are outliers when it comes to ambition, only the very ambitious have a chance.

The danger, the classical danger, of course is to know, or not know, when to stop. If Icarus had not flown so high, but stayed at a moderate altitude, then his flight would have been a complete success. When do you stop trying to recreate yourself, and just try to do as well as you can with what you have? If a writer, to write more great screenplays or novels. If an actor, to be a better actor. If an director of animated films, to direct more animated films.

One of the local heroes of the canon and revolution of 3D animation is Chris Wedge, who with his colleagues at Blue Sky in upstate New York, defied the odds and has become a recognzied and accomplished director of 3D animated feature films. Among other films, he has directed the Ice Age films, and he has also been a successful voice actor of many of his characters. But that is not enough, and he wants to direct live action films.

Chris Wedge Publicity Photo from his IMDB Page

The good news is that his first live action film, Monster Trucks (2017), is coming out soon. The bad news is that the studio that financed it has so little faith in it that it is taking a write-off on the film before it even comes out, something that is very unusual, and demonstrates to what extent the studio does not believe in the movie.

I am very proud of Chris for what he has accomplished and hope that this latest adventure will work out for him.

Monster Trucks (2017) on IMDB

Chris Wedge on IMDB

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Concise Discussion of the Role of Our Government in the Economic Distress of Americans

This is an attempt to be as concise as possible about an issue that is very complex.

Probably if you are interested in the history of globalization in economic thought and for some reason could care about what I think on the topic, you should read the more lengthy discourse which can be located here.

For those of you who want the Cliff notes version, read on.

Many people in this country are aware of serious economic distress among some of our citizens, even though the nature of that distress, and the number of people affected, is controversial.

Many of my friends have trouble believing that our politicians and government would knowingly take actions that would damage the economic well being of many Americans, but they should not be so surprised. "The greatest good for the greatest number" is used to justify many policies that are sure to be bad for some people even if they are, hopefully, good for others.

Ultimately, understanding the structural issues of the economy that has been put in place over the last 20 plus years is going to take more time than most people are willing to devote to the topic. Ultimately if you are going to understand the situation, you are going to have to read a lot more than just this post which can at best point you in what is hopefully the right direction..

As I studied the history and theory behind Globalization, several questions presented themselves. If, as it appeared, that these policies resulted in the economic distress of millions of Americans, to what extent did the US Government pursue these policies knowing full well that this was going to destroy the economic well being of millions of Americans?  The second question, presuming that they did know this was going to be one of the likely results, to what extent did the government put in place policies and programs to help these Americans find new ways to make a living and ease the transition? Finally, whatever the answers to the first two questions may be, to what extent would our government expect Americans to benefit from these policies, and who would they benefit?

Each of the following statements could have pages, even volumes, of discussion to support them.

1. The issues around the economic policies that go under the name of “globalization” or “free trade” are not new, but have been discussed and debated since the 19th century by some of the most important economists in the history of political economy, including Ricardo, Hume, and Marx.  It is in fact one of the central issues of political economy of that century.

2. In other words, although the extent of the impact of “globalization” is larger because of new technologies, there is excellent and relevant theoretical work and empirical case studies on the topic and the debate goes back a long way.  Therefore, there is no possible excuse of ignorance.  These policies are alleged to have certain important positive economic effects, but they are also very well known for having certain negative effects as well. 

3. “If all the economists in the world were laid end to end, they would still not reach a conclusion”. (Attributed to G. B. Shaw).

4. Although the positive impact of globalization on the world economy is very much debatable, what is not debated are the likely negative, local results. These results include, using my own terminology, first order and second order effects. A first order effect is when an industry goes overseas and people lose employment. A second order effect is when a community suffers because of the lost income of its citizens and the impact on the local businesses, on the lost tax income, and on the social implications of unemployment and its effect on the unemployed and their families.

5. To use one case study, an industry which had spent $500 million a year to get certain services done locally, finds that by spending $450 million overseas, they can get the same work done and save $50 million. This is seen as good because the company has made $50 million more profit, all else being equal. But the community as a whole now has much more unemployment, and the local community no longer has that $500 million circulating.

6. Therefore, whether or not the company is more profitable, it is very arguable that our society as a whole is certainly not better off. But whether you agree with this or not, it is hard to disagree that these policies were as certain as one can be in economics to cause hardship for those who are to be unemployed and the communities they live in. Although one might not be able to predict exactly which industries and communities will be hit the hardest, one can certainly predict that many will be and in fact you may be able to predict very well which ones and to what extent with a little study.

7. But if the company is more profitable, don't we all benefit? No, because in this country, most of the wealth is owned by few of the people. We have all heard different numbers, but for the sake of discussion I am going to use a more moderate estimate, and say that 75% of the wealth is owned by 10% of the population. Therefore, any benefit of this policy will go to the 10% or so that already owns the wealth, and none of the benefit will accrue to the local community, or people, workers, etc.

8, So the first question is answered. The US Government supported and enabled a structural transformation to the economy which was known to (extremely likely to) economically disadvantage workers and their communities in our country. Maybe not all workers and communities, but certainly many of them.

9. The situation is made worse by other government policies as well. I will mention three. The first is that the H2B visa program is famous throughout the world as being used by companies to help them take work from local communities and outsource/offshore the work to other countries. The second is that the US Government has failed to use its power to counteract various subsidies put in place by other countries to benefit certain industries at the expense of the American industry and its workers. The third is that the US Government deliberately and explicitly does not measure real unemployment in this country and disingenuously therefore discusses unemployment in terms that they know understate the real situation.

10. Finally, given that the US Government knew the likely effect of their policies, what steps have they taken to retrain the worker into new industries, and to support them and their families while they go through this wrenching dislocation. The answer to that is also clear and unambiguous, we have done nothing to support these people. Not one thing.

Therefore, did the US Government pursue economic policies that were as certain as one can be about such things to cause great economic hardship to working Americans? Yes. Did they do anything to help ameliorate or compensate those workers for the hardship they experienced and are still experiencing? No. And one more question, were the beneficiaries of these policies guaranteed to be people who were already wealthy? Yes.

There is another side to this story, which has to do with the economic theory of growth in a globalized economy. By no means is this theory universally accepted, but even if it was it says nothing about the people whose livelihoods were destroyed by these policies, and this negative impact of the policies are extremely well understood and predictable.

A proper post on this topic should contain at least one page of references to supporting documentation, and maybe that will be added later.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Oh Oh, What if People Really Did Read My Blog?

One more time I have some evidence that people I know actually do, from time to time, read my blog. God only knows why they do this, and who they all are, but its completely frightening to think that people might actually read what I say here.

On the other hand, most of the people who read this blog probably are friends, or at least acquaintances, and in general, my friends are very smart people, even if we do disagree from time to time, or even if people have been known to jump to conclusions or misunderstand something I say.

It is true however, that since I come from a writing tradition that is very, very different from today's marketing oriented culture, and since I am known to be colorful and dramatic from time to time, people could get the wrong impression.  So I want to take this moment to ask everyone who reads this blog to recall that while I am trying to be helpful here, I am also trying to be entertaining.  So don't take anything too seriously except perhaps metaphorically.

Metaphorically, you can take pretty much anything I say at face value.  If that makes any sense, which I don't think it does.

Anecdotes From Public Support in the State of California

One of my favorite moments in my little research project to see if the state provides any support for the poor is as follows.

After three weeks and no less than 10 visits to the local San Diego N. County social services center, I was told by a functionary that even though all forms had been filled out as required many days ago, that no decision had been reached.  I informed her that I was now out of food (this was clear from the beginning) and could anything be done.  She said no, but she did prepare a series of documents to show me where I could go to a homeless shelter.  (I thought this was interesting as I had not indicted that I was homeless, but she must have assumed that I was. Possibly she was just trying to be helpful in any way she could given that she was powerless to make the system work as it was supposed to).

Well I turned on the charm, by which I mean, I demanded to see a supervisor, waited another two hours, and did talk to a very nice and overwhelmed man who after about 45 minutes of intense work was able to get the program approved.  It turns out that there were further delays, but by mid-afternoon of the next day everything was resolved.

But the fun part was I mentioned to the functionary that I was writing up a document describing what public services are actually available and what is involved in getting them (listen to my words: you can not get this information from the Internet or from anything they publish....).

So I told her I was writing a document that was a result of my research, so that people could actually know what was available and how long it would take, etc.

And she looked at me with contempt and pity and said "Whatever keeps you busy".  In other words, I was completely worthless, and nothing I did or could do would be of value to anyone.

This is how the state treats poor people, in case you wanted to know, which I doubt.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Working From My Smartphone Part 4 (Infrastructure without Power)

This is a continuation of Working From my Smartphone Part 3.

3:36 pm Monday 9/19/2016

One additional note, there should probably be a second cooler/ice chest so that the food can be better organized. Also, one should have a half dozen or so plastic/whatever containers with watertight lid for such things as potato salad, soups, etc that need to be cooled and should not be allowed to tip over and spill over everything.  There are in general not many shelves in most ice chests.

10:00 PM Sunday 9/18/2016

This post reviews some issues in the general area of "strategies for sustainability".  Obviously no one wants to "fall of the edge" and be a burden to one's friends.  So there are various approaches to avoid this, but it is difficult to discuss for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that each subtopic is itself complicated. All I can do is to bring up a few issues that are simple enough to post here and discuss some progress and potential partial solutions.

An example of a "small problem" is preparing for and managing being off the power grid. Two examples of larger problems that are not so tractable are (a) making enough income to be self supporting and (b) understanding exactly where the power is going and what it costs given that the price fluctuates wildly day to day and possibly hour to hour.

On the topic of managing being without power, this recent situation demonstrated that we had actually prepared to some extent.  I want to review here what worked and what could be better.

The following worked fairly well.  Battery powered lighting was adequate. Smartphone provided excellent communications and at a reasonable price ($40/month) given that I get email, voice telephony, texting, Facebook and mobile web browsing.  I was able to recharge the phone locally by using the car battery accessory port. The local library provides excellent access to the internet with real keyboards and screens a few minute drive from here for zero cost and in a pleasant environment. It is available basically during business hours 7 days a week.  For two dollars worth of ice (two 10 lb ice bricks), I have been able to keep cool that subset of food that requires a cool temperature, and one can easily eat without cooking if one wants to (at least for a while).

We also got lucky in that when the power is turned off, the gas is not, although I doubt this happens because the energy company is being generous. But the end result is that as long as your water is on, one can have hot water for showers.

Things that can be improved for modest cost include (a) more portable lighting, possibly with solar recharge, (b) longer smartphone life with an external battery which itself may be charged with a portable solar device, (c) an emergency radio of some sort for additional communications and entertainment, (d) possibly a camp stove to heat food and boil water, and (e) possibly a bicycle to be able to get to the local library without having a car.

I have reviewed the camp stoves, and the low cost option is the Coleman 2 burner Triton for $40.00 and the much better Camp Chef 2 burner Everest for approximately $100.00.

In compliance with our government's efforts to destroy employment in this country and impoverish Americans, both stoves are made in China, and may even, according to one source, actually be made in one factory over there.  Apparently this is one of the reasons that the Camp Chef stove is available for $30 less from a Chinese company, they just stole the design and made additional copies at that same Chinese factory.  Now that is the kind of ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that our Government can support!

But the unexpected benefit of not having power was the increased necessity to get out of the house and out into the community.  I miss that already.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Working From My Smartphone Part 3

This is a continuation of "Working from my Smartphone Part 2" which you can find here.

2:36 pm Saturday

With the help of friends, I have been able to get the utilities restarted.  I have mixed feelings about this, and believe that extreme measures are necessary to prepare or to prevent this from happening again.  Or to create a lifestyle that more accurately reflects my means.

At the very least I am researching public assistance, and it is definitely a mixed bag. Do not assume you know *anything* about it unless you have gone through it yourself.

I do have a backup plan for about one year from now, and it requires considerable effort and expense now if I want to be living in that plan a year from now.  More about this later.

The following is on my list for improving my preparedness for being treated like garbage by the power and water utilities (in America, you either have money or you can go fuck yourself).  Most of this is also useful for car camping / burning man like activities, and has been on the list for a while.

A. Improved or enhanced battery powered lighting
B. Extended battery pack for smartphone
C. Camping stove with propane canisters
D. Battery powered radio / short wave / emergency bands
E. Possibly a keyboard / dock for the smartphone or maybe a tablet/laptop with better battery life
F. Possibly some sort of solar power to recharge battery for smartphone
G. Some sort of online, measureable power distribution control to keep a tight handle on power
usage when the power is on.

5:47 pm Saturday

I am now leaving the house for the first time since I returned last night and repowered the estate.  I do not understand why I can not find  a powerstrip that measures current on each plug, aggregates results, and makes it available on my local internet or wifi.

I have unplugged the refridgerator, washing machine and dryer.

I am determinedly working my way through the detritus here to make it easier to move.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Working From My Smartphone Part 2

This is a continuation of my post located Working From My Smartphone Part 1. This post will be updated many times in the next few days.

Friday 3:44 PM

At least one friend has misunderstood something I said.  Although I am interested in living off the main power, because it is too expensive, that does not mean that I want to live off the grid. I want internet access.  I want to interact with more people, not less.  I hate being a hermit, I have hated it for years. Internet access is not the same as visiting friends down at the neighborhood café.

Friday 4:20 PM

My little experiment on using minimal medication is working well.  The idea is that if I can get the medication use down even more, then not only do I save money but it makes things like trips to China much more possible.  It requires my maintaining a Zen like attitude of acceptance which is not all that easy for me, to say the least.  I have noticed that a minimum dose of medication helps a lot to avoid the normal panic attacks (that come from such things as anxiety about money).  In other words, a minimum dose is clearly much better than none at all, even if the small dose means that I am still exhibiting rampant ADD/ADHD symptoms.  What was I talking about again?

OK, I am going home to look for my missing power supply for the external disk enclosure so I can get my resume off the main disk of my computer. No one in their right mind would ever want to type that resume in from scratch.

By the way, Mercury is very retrograde.

That could explain everything.

More later.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Working From My Smartphone Part 1

This post will be updated many times in the next few days.  It records my progress and thoughts as I go through this little experiment in semi-homelessness.

To make a virtue of necessity, we are trying to see what it would be like to essentially live out of one's car (even though I do sleep in my normal house and bed).  That means using a smartphone, no local AC sockets, and going elsewhere for WIFI and electricity (except for what I can charge from my car such as my smartphone).

5:24 pm Thursday

I am able to charge my smartphone from my car battery without running the car. Have ice box / cooler operational with food. Want to see how long two 10 lb blocks if ice keeps things cool.  jzp recommends 60.00 $US Coleman stove with wind protection.

1:21 PM Friday

An oddly productive day.  Since I never get out of the house normally, because I do not want to
spend any money, I have no idea of local resources.  But in fact our local library has excellent computer and internet access, as well as places to plug in the phone.  So the question becomes, since I am almost nearly independent of power anyway, do I really want it back on?

I also found a wonderful little café filled with nice people (I can afford maybe a glass of tea) and a barber who charges only $5.00 more for a haircut than Smartcuts.  All very pleasant and suggestive that I do myself a disservice by staying in the house all the time.

The money should arrive today for gasoline and medication. I am afraid I have particularly inconvenienced a friend by requesting a modest loan.  Apparently he was saying "no" all the time he was saying "yes".  Then as I pressed him more and more (power out and all) he got weirder and weirder.  Finally, I figured out he just did not know how to say "no" to me.  In fact, everyone has different limits on how much they can or will help friends, and I am just embarrassed that I did not 'pick up' on what he was really saying sooner.  I am usually more perceptive than that. 

One thought is that the situation is so appalling and ridiculous and I am so embarrassed bothering people for money, that it turns off lots of other circuitry.

3:28 PM Friday

The local library has excellent WIFI and readily available computers with real keyboards.  It is so much easier to work on my blog from here than to try and do it from my smartphone. 

The big issue is "now that I have the money to restore power, do I really want to?"  After all, this issue was caused by a combination of events including the mistake of attending SIGGRAPH and three different projects going away or being delayed.  Well, although I have avoided this sort of meltdown for years, the fact is that it was always very close.  So maybe it would be better to keep the power off, buy an occasional block of ice, and a pack of batteries, and just go visit my local library and save all that money on the corrupt local monopoly which is SDGE.

More later.

This post is continued in Part 2 here.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Diplomatic Protocol for Asgardians and Americans

Americans just had an extraordinary example of public rudeness by the People's Republic of China towards President Obama at the G20 conference in Beijing, an incident whose ramifications are not yet completely understood. But there is one thing that we, the public, can know without hacking Hillary's email server: that the offense against the American President was not an accident but a deliberate statement of the Chinese ruling elite indicating their contempt for Obama, and symbolically, for America and the American people.

We know it was not an accident because anyone familiar with diplomatic protocol knows just how far in advance and in what detail such nuances as “red carpet” exit ramps are prepared. “In exquisite detail and with the utmost seriousness” is one way I have heard the process described.

Nothing, repeat nothing, is left to chance.

In this matter we are instructed, as we are in so many things, by the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the MCU).

The student of alien relations must notice that the various races and civilizations of the MCU are generally not very diplomatic. They seem to enthusiastically shoot at one another, invade across dimensional portals, fly around in speeder cars shooting arrows, throwing rocks, and dropping cities on innocent tax payers.

Perhaps things would be more peaceful and loving if some diplomacy was observed.

We do have one example of such diplomacy in Thor: The Dark World (2013) on the occasion of the visit of two Asgardians on a secret mission of great importance, perhaps even more important than the occasion of Obama at the G20 conference.

How do we greet an Asgardian? A hearty handshake? Do we say “Howdy Partner!” and take off our hats? Here are the stages that I have noted in greeting two important Asgardians engaged as they are on a secret mission.

First, your slave girl brings the honored guests into your presence, looking very proper and pleased, if a little stiff, probably thrilled at the occasion.

Second, she gestures first with her right hand, then with her left hand, then makes a half turn, and a half curtsey on one knee, and announce you to the guests, saying “I present to you Taneleer Tivan, The Collector”.

Third, you, the host, pretends to be surprised at the arrival of such honored beings, and recognizing them, exclaim with total sincerity “Asgardians! Its an honor!” while performing the following flourishes:

- bring your hands together in front of you, elbows bent, palms facing the guests
- with your hands in this position do a half bow,
- flip your hands such that palms are facing you
- complete the bow to a full bow and holding the bow, extend your arms outstretched to the sides in greeting

You can be sure that our Asgardians know that they are truly welcome and can proceed with their mission.

Failure to comply with such courtesies is a deliberate insult, as all Asgardians, and now all Americans, know.


The State Department's Protocol for the Modern Diplomat

Thor: The Dark World (2013) on IMDB

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Fabulous Imagery of the Anima Sola


Rarely does a phrase result in so much evocative imagery as the term Anima Sola. Well known to those of a Roman Catholic bent, the Anima Sola refers to the lonely soul who suffers in Purgatory as the sins of mortal existence are expunged so that they can ascend to heaven. Those of us who did not grow up in a Roman Catholic home or neighborhood are perhaps not so aware of the significance of the term and its associated imagery even though we have probably seen some of the images without knowing what we were looking at.

In reviewing the Anima Sola and related concepts as part of research in belief systems about hell and punishment for sin, a topic of great personal interest to me, I came across a number of wonderful variations on this theme, and wanted to decorate my blog with them.

As always with images taken from the Internet, provenance and ownership are fluid. I have listed below what I believe are the sources for the images exhibited here. And there are many more fabulous interpretations of this concept available at those links.

A reader of this blog, esteemed pioneer of computer animation, Julian Gomez, has asked why these portraits all seem to represent women.  I have wondered this myself, and I will have to do more research. You can see our dialogue in the comments section.

I suspect that a more thorough understanding of the ideas behind the images will be necessary to really understand what is going on here.

This is one of my favorites.  Notice the hacksaw to cut through the chains.  No passive suffering here!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Photoshop and the Ethics of Reverse Manipulation


At this point we are all inundated with obviously and not so obviously faked images that have passed through a photoshop session.  What would Facebook be without a suitably cropped and modified photograph per day with some obnoxious political agenda attached? Even so, although our news media outlets are notorious for manipulating the news and evidence, there are some of us who would like to think that they keep it to a minimum and unconscious level.

But what happens when we have a news story with an attached photograph that is almost certainly, obviously modified?  Should it be used anyway, or modified, faked if you will, to be less apparently false?

Is lying allowed if it increases the likelihood that an otherwise true story will be believed?

We have a particularly egregious example in the photograph used in the Reuters article about a recently convicted arsonist, see German Man Convicted of Setting Dozens of Fires in Los Angeles.

Oh, those fiery eyes! 

This is an entertaining example of a photograph that looks faked for editorial purposes even if, by some strange chance, it turns out not to be faked  How likely is it that the alleged (and now convicted) arsonist should happen to get "red eye" in this circumstance?

Anyone looking at it, though, might reasonably think it had been modified, and therefore, perhaps it should have been modified, possibly for a second time, to make it appear less manipulated even if by doing so it was in reality more manipulated.  Or would this be even worse, hiding from the public as it were the evidence of the original modification?

For those of you interested in the history of manipulating photographs for evidence or political purposes and are unaware that it has a long tradition, you could do worse than start by reading David King's acclaimed book “The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia” which you may find on that great evader of Austrian sausage taxes,

Believe it or else, this is an important topic in the aesthetics and practice of visual effects.  In visual effects we often have the problem that something  that is correct (either in real life or because our simulation says it is correct) looks wrong.  And in visual effects, something that looks wrong will not achieve its purpose with the audience and will call attention to itself in an undesirable manner.

Now on the other hand, if our purpose was to show our convicted arsonist had been possessed by the Devil, then this photograph, modified or not, would have been just fine.

Is Austria Overtaxing Its Sausage Stands?


Any right thinking American, upon reading the baseless Austrian complaint against those pillars of American Industry, Starbucks and Amazon, must wonder if Austria is not indeed demanding too much taxes from its sausage stands.

You may read their horrible accusation here in Reuters.

In America, we know to never tax our corporations, from which everything good in our society originates, but instead we put the burden on the worthless people, even those who do not work. These are the scum that should pay taxes. And if they do not work, then they should pay *more* taxes, not less, it seems to me, to make up for their indolence.

Indeed, we know that when the corporation takes out its most virtuous Sausage it will bring forth blessings and goodness that will “trickle down” onto the heads of all of us, both politicians and citizens. To tax the corporation is a sin, because it restricts this flow of corporate goodness.

All politicians in America know this, and so they wait anxiously by the trough of the corporations, yapping like newborn birds for their nourishment directly from this All-Beneficent Sausage. We call this most healthy flow “the political donation” but which might better be called the “Food of the Gods”, the very life-blood of our political system and the American Way..

Therefore let Austria learn from us, and learn the wisdom of freeing the corporation from this pernicious burden, these so-called taxes, which if left unchecked might affect shareholder value.