Friday, June 23, 2017

Progress on an Open Source Software Transcoding Solution


I have been looking for a transcoding solution in software that is professional enough to use for my various purposes. Previously I was using Canopus Procoder 2/3, but Canopus was bought by Greenvalley, which was bought by Thompson, which is now called Technicolor and the product is discontinued. When I last looked at Handbrake, which was a few years ago, it only seemed to be available for the Mac and was too consumer oriented for my needs.

But to my amazement, Handbrake is also available in GUI form for Windows and in command line form for Linux. It is open source and available from France where it is apparently legal to have MP3/MP4/MP2 codecs built into your free software.

Using it on Windows, I have done preliminary tests and it seems to be acceptable. I wont know where the feature gaps are until I use it more. But to begin with, I have been able to excerpt one minute of footage from a high resolution 2 hour mp4 and convert it to various formats and resolutions.

Although it clearly does not give access to all the video features that Canopus Procoder 2/3 did, it does allow you access to some and I wont know if this is sufficient or limiting until I use it a lot more.

It does not appear to have any malware or annoying advertisements.

I wish to emphasize how important the “open source” quality of this software matters to me. Those with money do not need to worry about a product disappearing, they can always buy something else. Those without money need to worry about whether a tool they choose for their work will continue to exist and be available. Open source software, although far from being a panacea for professionals and artists at least has the quality that it is unlikely to just disappear.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Response to the Georgia Special Election of June 20, 2017


The districts we have lost in special elections were always going to be long shots. But I think that the Republicans are correct to feel that they have been somewhat vindicated. Yes, they lost 20 points or so in Georgia and yes that district should not have been even close, but they did win.

Five months into the greatest disaster this country has faced since the War Between the States, and our suburban Southern friends have sent a clear message.

And the message is: racism was OK with them, we need to make sure that local police forces can control minority groups (who arent really Americans anyway), environmental concerns hurt jobs, public schools need to be defunded, the Russians are our friends whose attacks against Hillary was no big deal and gross incompetence at the top is what this country needs.

We need to murder poor women, build oil pipelines through wilderness areas (which always leak, but thats OK, I mean who the f*ck cares?), defund solar energy, defund scientists who dont do what we say, impose the harshest penalties on poor people who step out of line, and always give special tax breaks to the rich.

Trump has had significant successes. Who could not but stand up and cheer when the first thing that Gorsuch did on the Supreme Court was to go out of his way and murder a black man? Take out the revolver, put it to that black man's head and say “we don't know if you are guilty or not, but we are going to shoot you here, I am going to shoot you here because you are poor and black and that is what America stands for. “ And then Gorsuch pulled the trigger.

I don't think that they are lying to us. I think that they are sincerely interested in destroying this country. The Republicans can be proud.

The mayor of New Orleans wrote an incredibly stupid piece about the statues of Confederate leaders a month or so ago. He made claims about why destroying history was the right thing to do. It was a very Stalinist claim about who was “on the right side of history”.

So I ask my fellow Democrats, who is on the right side of history today?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

An Argument in Favor of Emailing Your Congressman in Spite of Everything


Those who read this blog are not naive. Neither you nor I believe that merely emailing our Congressional representative has much chance of making a difference. We know what makes a difference which is to say, money, and lots of it. Not protests, not petitions, not emails, and it is up in the air at this point in time whether there is such a thing as free and fair elections as well.

The Russians have apparently been completely successful, successful beyond their wildest expectations, in convincing many if not most Americans that their elections are rigged in favor of established interests. In the same way that the judicial system and economy are rigged.

What the established powers of this country have failed to understand, is that you can not lie and steal the money over and over again, abuse the constitution, and fail to act responsibly without there being long term damage to the Republic. You can kick the can down the road only so far before you run out of road. You can put your right wing thugs on the Supreme Court to steal elections and kill minorities only so often before people judge that Democracy is an empty fraud and probably always has been.

But I am going to encourage everyone I know to naively look beyond this reality and play a game with me, that has only an infinitesimal chance of making a difference. In my heart, I doubt that anything a citizen without a lot of money can do will matter. That dream is over. And it has been over for a very long time.

But just for fun, why not try to scare them.

The House completely turns over every two years. Although the Republicans have done a very good job at destroying any chance of a fair election, they still only have a slight majority in the House. So lets scare them. The last thing any Congressman, Republican or Democrat, wants is an informed and active electorate. An electorate that knows what bills are in front of Congress and tells their Congressman what is expected of them.

If you email or call your representative once a week, and leave a very nice message asking them to do something honest in order to help this country, you can be quite sure they will ignore you.  They will act responsibly only over their dead body. But they also know that for every citizen who emails or calls them, that this individual will probably vote and that means they have to have at least one and preferably two voters on their side to hold onto power. 

The more who call, the more votes they know they have to get.  Uneasy lies the head, etc. 

So I volunteer to do all the startup work for you.  If you will send me your zip code, I will do the research necessary to find out your district, your representative, how to send email, and where to call. I will make this effortless for you. No, it probably wont make a difference, but since we are fucked anyway, and we are, why not?

For what it is worth, I am up to three emails and left one telephone message for my Representative of the 60th California district. It is possible that his office even tried to call me back once.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Qatar, Arms Deals, #45 Tweets and Reality


We can count on our news media to superficially discuss any issue so that the ordinary reader, that is, someone who does not waste their time trying to figure out what is going on, will have no way of understanding a news event.

In this case, there are two events. First #45 tweets that Qatar is a bad country that sponors terrorism, bigly, or something. Second, the SECDEF announces that we are selling US $12 billion of Boeing F15Q air superiority fighters to Qatar.

Of course that doesnt make any sense but here are a few things most articles fail to mention.

First, at 36 F-15s one is no where near the price of $12 B, so I presume that this price includes the total cost of ownership over many years, training, parts, supplies, bribes, and other equipment and services not mentioned (e.g. intelligence related), etc. Second, our largest base in the area is in Qatar and it is out of there that the Central command operates. Third, this is the command that had to be moved out of Saudi Arabia because of course all Americans are infidels and Jews, and so Qatar "taking us in" was something of a favor, depending on how you look at it. Fourth, I would not be surprised to hear that Qatar does sponsor terrorism. Of course, so does Saudi Arabia. The hair's being split here may have something to do with whether it is official govt policy to sponsor "terrorism" or whether it is merely important wealthy individuals from these countries that do. Fifth, there has been for many years a defacto trade going on between us and many middle eastern countries which generally involves us sending them dollars for oil, but they then purchase from us a variety of expensive things, and of course what they mostly want is high tech military equipment. Sixth, I suspect that this issue of terrorism is code for a variety of other things such as the efforts of Iran to dominate the region and to destabilize the Saudi Arabian monarchy. Seventh, I think it is a weak argument to say that if we do not sell them these fighters that other nations will, but it is also true.

It would not surprise me if this deal is the result of promises made years ago. Qatar agrees to let us build an important regional base on their territory and in return they get to buy a variety of things from us. So whether we like it or not, this is likely to be a follow through on deals made in the Bush and Obama administration. Or at least that is my speculation.

Just a reminder that while the F-15 is an incredible airplane which when upgraded is still relevant, it is one thing to buy such a plane, it is another to use it well.

The point of this overly short post (many more things could be said) is that looking at the Tweet from #45 and then looking at a press release on an arms deal that happens a few days later tells us very little about what is going on beyond the already very apparent reality that we have as president someone who is not qualified for the post and has no idea what he is tweeting or what the implications or context really is. And why should he? He is just an overrated rich kid, real estate developer, and bully. What do you expect?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Does It Matter That Someone Has Done It Before?


Generally speaking when I discuss an idea with someone, they invariably say “someone has already done it” with the implication that it would be a mistake for me to spend one second thinking about doing such a product or proving the idea.

Sadly, I have often found the following problems with their advice.

1. It turns out that someone has not already done it.

2. It turns out that even if they have, which they havent, doing it the way I have outlined makes excellent sense.

3. There are many, many examples of people being second or third to market and being *very* successful at it.

4. In all cases I am aware of, had I proceeded with my idea, and all that entailed, at the very worst I would have had an excellent working example of some of the ideas and quality of work and that would have been extremely worthwhile. In other words, at the very least, it would have been good marketing.

So why do I bother asking other people and being discouraged? The reasons are sadly very simple. First, lack of faith in myself. Second, the hope that someone would be willing to work on something with me, which they never want to do. They just want to be negative. They can't help it, they have their own problems.

Can I learn from my mistakes here? It isnt clear, this might actually be a character flaw. And as we all know, how many psychaitrists are needed to change a lightbulb? Only one but the lightbulb has to sincerely want to change.

The other problem is doing anything like a product or startup is hard. Much harder than people who have never done one realize. And without financing it can be nearly impossible unless one is very clever, in the same way someone who makes an excellent low budget movie has to be clever. And it is incredibly hard work.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Finally Called my Congressional Representative


When Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement I decided to finally call my representative after months of procrastination.

It was easy.

I typed “duncan hunter CA-50 phone number” to Google, and it came right up. I called the phone number, and a nice young man (probably an unpaid intern) answered the phone. I asked to be able to leave a message for Representative Hunter. He said sure.

So I gave my name and phone number, told him I lived in Escondido (which is in CA-50's area) and left the message “Could he please impeach Trump and Pence as soon as possible. Thank you”.

And the nice young man said that he would give him the message.

So there you go.

Its all handled.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Poor Little Rich Kid


There are so many things to hate about the Trump Administration and the corrupt Republicans that enable him, that it is hard to pick any one item to discuss.

But here is one for you.

Melania stayed in NY so that “Jumbo”, their 12 year old son, could stay in his fancy prep school, and Melania could stay away from her sexual abuser husband. Of course this was all very, very expensive because of security reasons and we picked up the tab. How much did it cost, hard to say. At least many millions of dollars.

So two things. First put the kid on a bus and enroll him in one of Washington's finest public schools for inner city (... black) schools. Let him enjoy what poor people enjoy in this country.

Second, let Trump reimburse us for this bullshit.

I dont find the privileges of the rich at all amusing anymore.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Surfair: The Free Market is Here For the Rich


For the first time in years, a web page actually gave me an ad that I *intentionally* clicked on,, and boy am I impressed.

All you can fly in CA from private airports for one monthly fee. Let the poor suffer, the free market is here for the rich to see that they are not inconvenienced. If I had the money I would certainly do this. The poor deserve to suffer, they are scum, that is why they are poor.

Friday, May 26, 2017

CVS Pharmacy and Single Payer Bribery


A surprise tonight on my medication costs. To make a long story short, I normally spend $20 / month at Vons Pharmacy for a medication I do for "restless leg or whatever". But I let it run out, I am bad, and so I went to my 24 hour CVS pharmacy to discover that *after discount* they were going to charge me $220.00 for the exact same thing.

I wonder, do our politicians get a cut of this every time a sick person is raped for their medication? Or do they just take some agreed upon fee at the end of the year? Hey I dont have to sleep tonight, and I can pick up my medication when Vons opens tomorrow.

I just wonder if it might not be possible to examine how our politicians are paid for their crimes against the people.  Perhaps if we made their bribes more efficient, perhaps a single-payer bribe mechanism, our medical costs could be lower?

Its worth a try, I think.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My First Email to my "Representative"


This was my first “email to my elected representative”, Duncan Hunter, a Republican who represents the CA-50 Congressional District. I am making it my goal to make them hate me by 2018.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Esoteric Wisdom and Our Government


This blog will take a detour for a while to discuss the Trump disaster and the minimum the corrupt US Government will have to do to restore trust.

Personally I dont think there is a chance in hell that “they” will do it. I think that the corrupt slaves of the rich control the government and everything else is just hand-waving.

I have diagrammed below a thought on how our government should really be run.

Friday, May 19, 2017

What Goes Around Comes Around or It Should


Interested in annoying your friends on Facebook? Its not too hard and I have one technique that works pretty darn well. You just take some controversial political issue and insist that whatever is being advocated for one group also be applied to them. This not only annoys the advocates of whatever it is we are talking about, it seems to annoy everyone. Its easy.

For example, although I have very few friends who admit to being a supporter of Trump, my friends have friends who are. It might seem impossible that this could be true even 120 or so days into the Trump disaster, but it is a fact of our times that most of Trump's base is standing by their man.

So a friend of a friend, a woman whom I dont know, made it very clear that not only does she support Trump as president, she thinks that he has been *wonderful*.

So I simply suggested that I hoped that she would experience what she is advocating for other people. That she be the victim of sexual abuse, that she lose her health care, that her children (if she has any) are forced to drink polluted water, that someone she knows is shot by a mentally ill maniac with an assault weapon, and most of all, that she be impoverished and get to know what it is to be poor in America.

I was accused of being “as bad as a right winger” and so I gleefully blocked those people.

When you try to harm other people, how could you possibly be upset if you are subjected to the same treatment?

I, of course, will work as hard as I can to see that no one is treated that way, but in the case of those who are working to destroy America it would only be just, it seems to me, for them to experience their own policies.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Jewish Control of the White House?


A friend of mine who like all true lefties hates Jews has pointed out that with Trump we have our highest ranking Jew in the history of the American Republic. (For those of you who are blissfully unaware, those on the far left who know all think that Jews invented racism and that all Israelis are murderers, and therefore all Jews are murderers. I have written about this elsewhere, see for example here.)

I just wish to point out that the “son in law”, Jared Kushner, was not elected. Now in the past, Presidents have used members of their family in diplomacy and government, perhaps the most famous being JFK who appointed RFK as his Attorney General. Admittedly, RFK had to be approved by Congress, for what that is worth.

I know very little about Jared Kushner. I know he is a conservative Jew, and I know that Ivanka converted when she married him. I am perhaps unfairly judging Mr. Kushner by association. I consider his father-in-law, Donald J., to be a bully, a malignant narcissist, and a danger to the republic. I have no reason to think that Mr. Kushner has any more knowledge about foreign affairs than his father-in-law, but at least I also have no reason to think he is particularly insane or malignant, either.

Its a little ironic, though. The far-right is always on the verge of calling for the death of all Jews. How odd that it is a right-wing wet dream, Trump, that should non-appoint-appoint his Jewish son-in-law to a position of incredible responsibility in this dysfunctional White House.

And on top of that, that Kushner should be in some sense responsible for negotiating peace in the Middle East is enough to make one's head spin.

I dont know where this is going, but it cant be good.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Russian Apt 28 Behind Attack on French Elections


So it was APT 28 that hacked the French, eh? The same group that attacked Hillary and the DNC. Of course the FBI does nothing to protect us, but perhaps French counterintelligence is more, shall we say, effective and less politically motivated to aid the right wing than our FBI.

See this article in DefenseOne here.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Expecting Trump Supporters to Renounce Trump Is a Bad Idea


I challenge all my FB friends (and those who are not on FB but read my blog) to cite me one example of someone they personally know who was a Trump supporter but now have doubts. Disapproval is not necessary, mere doubts will do.

Do you know any such person? I do not. Therefore I submit to you that expecting Trump supporters to come to their senses and renounce their stupidity is not a realistic expectation.

You may say, but wait, we have not waited long enough. I disagree, there is plenty of reason to think that Trump is an incompetent, ignorant and dangerous maniac. They get it by now or, IMHO, they will never get it.

Cuyahoga Stupid and the Trump Supporters

Many of my so-called friends tell me that it is counterproductive to make fun of Trump supporters. You want to give people wiggle room, the argument goes, you dont want to back them into a corner and force them to admit that they were not merely wrong, but completely, unforgivably and stupidly wrong. Instead you want to give them the courtesy that they had reason to think that the Orange Turnip, the Moron King, might have been a good President, but gee, I guess that didnt work out.

I think that this argument is completely wrong. Trump supporters knew exactly what they were doing and they are getting exactly what they wanted. They wanted a moron who would attack liberals and they got it. They are happy with him destroying the American republic. No argument from reason is going to change their mind. That is my opinion. You may have a different opinion. Good for you. Lets see who is right.

The Guardian in the UK has done a very good job of covering the Trump disaster, and a recent article, whose link is below, surveys two communities in Ohio that are physically quite close to each other, but politically could not be further apart. They did this article on the occasion of the 100 days of the Trump accession.

The Trump supporters interviewed came from Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and they were very vocal about how happy they were with Trump cracking down on those nasty immigrants. They also expressed glee that he was eviscerating (they didnt use that word) the EPA and getting rid of all those unnecessary regulations.

You may find this article here.

I could not help but note two funny things about this. First, “Cuyahoga” is a Native American word, so who, exactly is the immigrant here? Second, Cuyahoga is a very distinctive word and it happens to be associated with a river, the Cuyahoga river. This river is notable for two things: first, Randy Newman wrote a song about it, and second, the Cuyahoga river is famous for being the location of one of the biggest environmental disasters in history, when it actually caught fire because of all the pollutants dumped into it.

For more information on the Cuyahoga River fire, please click here.

In other words, the stupid Trump supporters who live in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, are not aware that *they* are the immigrants and that they live in one of the most compelling arguments for environmental controls in this country.

Now that is what I call stupid.

Cuyahoga River Fire 1952


This song by Randy Newman is one of my favorites, and you can hear it on Youtube here.

“Burn On”

Theres a red moon arising on the Cuyahoga River
Roling into Cleveland to the lake
Theres a red moon arising on the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

Theres an oil barge awinding down the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake
Theres an oil barge awinding down the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

Cleveland city of light, city of magic
Cleveland city of light, you call to me
Cleveland, even now I can remember
The Cuyahoga River goes smoking through my dreams

Burn on, Big River, Burn on!
Burn on, Big River, Burn on

Now the Lord can make you tumble,
The Lord can make you turn
The Lord can make you overflow
But the Lord can't make you burn.

Burn on, Big River, Burn on!
Burn on, Big River, Burn on

Written by Randy Newman • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Friday, April 28, 2017

FB Game of Musical Acts


On Facebook, one of the viral themes that is going around is to name 10 musical acts you saw live, but only nine of them are real. The tenth is fake. Your friends have to pick the fake one. Yes, its stupid. But I did it anyway. Here is the list.

Randy Newman
Frank Sinatra
Jean Luc Ponty
Miles Davis
Neil Young / CSN / CSN&Y
Jefferson Airplane
Hot Tuna
Alicia de Larrocha
Red Bone
Leaves of Grass
Rolling Stones
Grateful Dead

The answer is Alicia de Larrocha who was playing at Carnegie Hall the week that I was moving from NYC to Los Angeles in 2001. The Leaves of Grass was my brother's garage band in High School in Richmond, Virginia.

By far the most entertaining of these acts (or the two most entertaining) was Randy Newman and Neil Young. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Scott Pilgrim and the Perils of Judging a Film from its VFX Reel

The Academy Award (tm) for visual effects is not given for the film that has the splashiest visual effects, or the most innovative, or the most expensive, or even the one with the most visual effects in some quantitative sense. According to the rules of the game, the film that wins this prestigious award and confers on its recipients a competitive lustre, is the film where the visual effects best serves the film.

Sadly it is not the film with the most computer generated robots beating the heck out of other computer generated robots, but rather that film where the robots who are beating the heck out of each other appear to be doing so in a way that contributes to the film's higher purpose.

Of course no award process is perfect and compromises need to be made. One of those compromises is that only films that make use of visual effects are considered for the award in visual effects. Who knew? This is a logical limitation that can have the most unfortunate effect, so to speak, depending on how dreadful the year's visual effects films are. Another issue that must be faced is that the side-by-screening of the different films in competition must necessarily restrict that screening to an edited compilation of the visual effects for each film. Whether that “effects reel” is 10 minutes long, or 12 minutes, or 15 it is by definition an abbreviated version of the larger creative project.

Trust me, when seeing these effects reels back to back, even 10 minutes per film can seem like forever.

It happens though that an effects reel for a creative project may not actually communicate the real value of those effects in context. This is why it is often the case that the selected films (those films that go past the bakeoff and are actually nominated for an award) may seem to go to those films with the largest budget, or the greatest number of giant robots exploding, or even, heaven forbid, the films that generated the most money at the box office.

So, years ago I attended the bakeoff and one of the films in competition was Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010). Although it was nice to see a film that did not depend on explosions or giant robots per se to communicate its higher vision, I was bored with it. Many of my friends thought it was very original, but I didnt. To me it seemed nothing more than a rip off of the classic genre of the 1 or 2 person fighter games from the world of coinop video games.

What the VFX reel did not communicate, and which I only discovered later, was that this film was actually a pretty good low budget film with visual effects. It wasnt totally successful, it fell apart near the end but the first 2/3rds or so of the film is actually very, very funny. The premise is that a very young man, maybe 23 or so, falls in love with a woman who has moved to Toronto from NYC to escape her previous life. But if our hero wants to date her, he must first defeat in battle her evil former lovers.

It is also a good example of regional filmmaking, being based in Toronto as Toronto, not as Toronto as a film location trying to be some other city.

So if you get a chance to see this film, or the first 2/3rds or so, and if you appreciate regional, low-budget filmmaking, this is a pretty entertaining example.

And I never would have guessed this from just seeing its VFX reel out of context.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Central Dilemma Theorem


I am so upset by the recent events in America (Trump, Gorsuch, Russian intelligence operations, the Republican congress that betrays us every day) that I cant even write my blog. Because what I want to write about I am not particularly qualified to write about excepting of course that I am an American citizen. Nevertheless, it is all I want to write about today.

 Never before has my powerlessness in life, my inability to influence my environment,  my complete non-existence to those in power ever been a problem.  But in this current situation here seems to be nothing anyone can do, and the system has clearly failed.

The good news is that it makes it much easier to relate to periods of history that I study (I mean why not, what else do I have to do) and how people must have felt when their nations (and the predecessors to nations) seemed to be coming apart before their eyes.

Like someone in Britain in WW 1, like a Jew in Nazi Germany, or a Russian in 1917, don't people understand what is going on? Why dont they see the terrible cost that their inaction is imposing on us. Some of them are idiots, some of them are selfish, some are self-deluded. They think they can do whatever they want and do not realize that some mistakes can not be recovered from.

Do they think we are just not going to insist on the tax returns being released?  Do they think they can stall us from making them appoint a special prosecutor?  Do they think we will not be able to impeach Gorsuch the way they destroyed the system to "approve" him?  Do they think we will not get to the bottom of the Russian Information Operation?  

Who are these people who call themselves Americans?  

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Story About the Civilian Use of Force in International Conflict


On the occasion of Donald Trump, the moron king, attacking Syria and blaming Obama for Syria using chemical weapons, I have an anecdote from my days at the RAND Corporation.

There is a story from RAND that would have happened years before my time if it happened at all.

For many years, RAND managed for the US Government a lot of the original strategic simulations, what are popularly called wargames but which are more properly described as simulations of international conflict. They may not be primarily about war. Basically you had teams (red team, blue team, etc) and you had referees who managed the game, but what made the games interesting (and classified) was that the teams were made up of real people from the Dept of Defense, the US Military, the NSC, possibly members of Congress and so forth.

The goal would be to evaluate some different scenarios where nations might come into conflict and evaluate different policies, approaches, and so forth in advance. Anyone who has ever been through any of these types of simulations, even on a more informal basis, will tell you how involving and compelling they can be.

So you had civilians and military personnel mixed together in tension filled situations and you might expect, if you watched stupid Hollywood movies that it would be the military personnel who would first call for war and that it would be the civilians who would beg for peace. Give peace a chance, they might say. But the story I was told was pretty much the reverse of that. That it was the military personnel who knew damn well what war involved who were for diplomatic solutions but it was the civilians, the politicians, who were freaked out and "pushed the button" so to speak. 

Take that for what you will.

Moron Trump pushing the button

Friday, March 31, 2017

Has Trump Conspired Against Blogs?


The so-called POTUS has been accused today of conspiring against such world-leading blogs as Global Wahrman by providing so much material that the poor non-professional blog writer can not keep up.

“Its just no damn fair” said blog artiste Michael Wahrman. “The son-of-a-bitch just keeps throwing outrage after outrage at the American people, all the while exposing the gross hypocrisy of the Republican Party that I can't keep up. I barely start writing one essay and some new disaster occurs!”

Things have gotten so bad that Mr. Wahrman has even threatened to get a Twitter account.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sicario, Films about the Intelligence Community, Sergio Leone


Spoilers for the movie Sicario (2015) follows.

Most, but not all, of the movies which purport to be about the intelligence community (IC) of this or other countries are clearly fantasies with little basis in reality.  But there are some exceptions which show that the filmmakers cared enough to incorporate elements of the reality of this arcane and overly glamourized world into their creative work.  This is not to say that the more fantastic and unrealistic of these films, say for example the Bond or Bourne films, are not entertaining, they may be more entertaining in fact. But they are not based at all on the realities.

If we were to have an "Intelligence Film Festival" I would nominate Sicario (2015) by Denis Villeneuve to be on the list.  It seems as though the writer and director did know something about this world and used their knowledge to inform the script, at least some of the time.  I am not saying the film is totally realistic but it does have some excellent things going for it.

So what criteria might we use to denote a film that is more realistic than the pure entertainment product in this genre?

1. The different agencies of the US Government have different corporate cultures. We do not know much about the Josh Brolin character, but we do know that he is not FBI by his choice of clothes. It is the first thing that the Emily Blunt character notices about him.

2. When Kate is selected, we discover that the Brolin character does not want someone who is from FBI Narcotics, nor who is a lawyer, nor who has worked cases. We are told that Kate is selected for her "tactical skills" but this is revealed later to be not true. See next point where the real reason becomes clear.

3. The Brolin character never actually admits to being CIA, presumably because if you are covert in the CIA (and only a small number of CIA people are), it is not something you readily admit. But we are left near the end believing that he is CIA because he admits that the real reason he wants Kate around is that the CIA (and presumably Delta Force) are not permitted to operate in the continental United States unless there is someone from a domestic agency attached.

4. Ultimately Kate (and the audience) are told that the reason that the team led by Brolin is doing what it is doing is because they have been authorized by much higher authority. By elected representatives in fact, which presumably means either the POTUS or various parties in Congress or both. This is a key point for those of you who have been fed a diet of intelligence movie conspiracy theories. Generally speaking, the intelligence community is not breaking our law (even if they break some other country's law all the time) and they are acting under orders from a legitimate authority. Generally people blame the CIA when they should be blaming their elected representatives, and/or the National Security Council, and/or the POTUS. Generally speaking.

5. At one point Kate pretty much loses her mind and attacks both Alejandro and Matt but we are never really told why.  My speculation is because these two are killing a lot of foreign nationals without due process and this would be anathema to a law enforcement official.  

6. Why all the mystery about Alejandro? Because Alejandro works for the "competition", e.g. the Columbian drug cartel.  Yes the CIA is well-known for dining with sinners.

Now onto some stylistic issues involving the Benicio del Toro character and this film.  I wondered just why I found this character so appealing when, after all, without going into any detail here, he does some mighty nasty things. In thinking about this, it occurred to me that he fit a model that was not entirely expected and which may not have been intentional on the part of the filmmakers.

These characteristics include having a mysterious and tragic past, of being very good in a gunfight, of speaking very seldom and then cryptically.  He is very secretive about his motivations and his intents. He manages to convince us that while he is cruel, that he may have some worthwhile reasons for his cruelty. Although I am not an expert in such things, he seems very handsome. And of course this all takes place on the border between the US and Mexico and arguably during a time of war.

And while he is successful in some sense of the word, when the film is over he is walking away alone.

Of course the way I have described this, the answer is obvious.  He resembles, at least superficially, the Clint Eastwood character in Sergio Leone films.  Even if this analogy works for you, and it may not, as I have said before, it is not clear that this was the filmmaker's intent.

“Listen. Nothing will make sense to your American ears. And you will doubt everything that we do. But in the end, you will understand.”

Sicario (2015) on IMDB

Military Rules of Engagement on Wikipedia

Friday, March 17, 2017

Feminism and the Wonder Woman Armpit Issue


A great moment in cinematic history and criticism is taking place. This moment demonstrates the stupidity and the shallowness of the American civilization in all its glory.

In the middle of our little consitutional crisis, when the lives of millions, possibly hundreds of millions, of people in the world is at stake, with the end of the American republic all but certain, the failure of our elected representatives and governmental insitutions there for all to see, what do these shallow children worry about? What is at the very top of their list of things to complain about? What could motivate them to outrage?

Is it the destruction of the National Endowment for the Arts? No. Is it that the head of the Environmental Protection Agency has disavowed science? No. Is it the defunding of Planned Parenthood that is likely to result in the death of or the destruction of the life of thousands of poor women? No.

What then?

It is the burning question about whether or not Wonder Woman shaves her armpits in the third trailer for the Wonder Woman movie coming out in a few months. Were her armpits shaved in Photoshop, they wonder.

Perhaps the right is correct and we are raising a generation of stupid and shallow snowflakes after all. No one who lived through the 70s Feminist movement could help but shudder at this throwback to an earlier period of American radicalism.

I only hope that Wonder Woman's girdle squeezes these children until their heads pop with shame.

You may see this trailer here.

For a previous discussion of the Feminist issue of shaving, please see here.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Behold.... This is Trump's America


From someone named Egriff commenting on an article in the Guardian about a discovery in Egypt.

I met a traveller from a Western land,
Who said—“A vast and broken wall of stone
Stands in the desert. . . . Near it, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
Behold – this is Trump’s America;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Trump being hauled out of the desert

You can find the article in The Guardian at the link below and Egriff in the comments.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Trump Dives Off Deep End with Obama Wiretap Accusations


[Updated 3/4/2017 Nothing is really understood about this matter at this point in time.  But I can correct one mistake in the following post.  It would be legal for Trump to talk about a classified investigation because the POTUS has the power to declassify such an investigation at any time. Therefore, in and of itself, these tweets are unlikely to be an impeachable offense for that reason.]

Trump has accused Obama of being a Richard Nixon and tapping his office. See the article at the Guardian here.

I think I know what this might be about, but it comes down to Trump either being a nut case or that he does not understand national security issues at all, or that he does not understand the difference between the Watergate Plumbers and the FBI acting with a warrant. You pick. Either of the three though means that he should be impeached and I am tired of waiting.

I suspect, and here I am speculating again, that when the FBI/CIA came to realize that Russia was working to destroy free elections in America through disinformation and fake news, and when the issue of contacts between Trump and Russia became a matter of national security, that it would be logical to listen in. After all, the Russians certainly were listening to everything Trump said on his cell phone or any other phone, you can be quite sure. So my guess is that the FBI got a warrant to listen in and see what they picked up. Does Trump not know the difference between the Nixon Plumbers and a national security investigation with a warrant? Probably not, he isnt too smart, he has no aptitude for these things, and he has no experience. He may also be a clinical narcissist and sociopath, at least that is what the available evidence suggests.

This also suggests that he has just leaked/disclosed information about an ongoing investigation which is, I think, a felony.

As posted on Facebook.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Facebook Discussion About Whether ADD/ADHD is a Fraud


This is a transcript of a Facebook conversation I had with Robit Hairman about ADD/ADHD in response to an article he posted about how ADD/ADHD is a fraud. My response was treated with contempt by Robit, so I let loose with a full dose in response. I have retained some of the FB formatting to try and keep some of the flavor of my response. I believe that ADHD denial is another form of science denial on the part of Americans. At the same time I have no doubt that the disorder may be over-diagnosed.

But it is not a fraud.

Michael Wahrman
Michael Wahrman So every five years or so, some asshole comes out with an article about how ADHD is not real. But it is real. And the medication works. But the medication is nearly impossible to get because of stupid laws put in place by the Nixon administration. You may not like that, but that is just too bad. Oh by the way, thousands of doctors think that ADHD is real. I suppose you deny Climate Change is manmade as well?
Like · Reply · 1 hr

Michael Wahrman
Michael Wahrman Since I have been publicly humiliated for daring to discuss some experiences with ADHD and medication here on this forum, let me go further and share with you a little bit of what I think I have learned after living with this disease all my life and studying it for 20 + years after being diagnosed. I should mention that I am not a Dr. of Medicine, although I hope to be a Dr. of Philosophy in a few years if that matters. First, the track record of psychiatry in diagnosing this and other "mental" disorders (that is, for the most part I am referring to physical disorders that affect cognition) is not great. They have to rely on a lot of patient-reported states of mind in many cases, and there is no definitive blood test for depression or ADHD. Second, various classes of psychiatrists do not talk to each other, or maybe do not respect each other, and in the case of adult ADHD this affected people getting diagnosed and treated for decades. Third, there are excellent tests in child psychiatry for ADHD and if you have a child you suspect may have ADD/ADHD, I hope that these tests are used before a diagnosis is made. I have only been through these tests once, and they were hilarious and very convincing. Ask for more details if you like. Fourth, it was only my first doctor, the highly recommended Dr. Koch of Greenwich Ct who ever used these tests, none of the others have. It is not a coincidence that the others are adult ADD/ADHD doctors but Dr. Koch treats both types of patients. Fifth, I can tell you from personal experience that not all ADHD doctors are drug mad who prescribe at the first sign of anything wrong, on the contrary, the doctors I have used are anti-stimulant and prescribe them as a last resort. As someone who has tried all on-label medications for this disease and most of the off-label ones, I can tell you that for those with my class of the disorder, it is only the stimulants that reliably and significantly work. (The others may indeed be sufficient for those with a minor case of this disease). Sixth, which leads us to the next problem .... (end of part 1)
Like · Reply · 29 mins

Michael Wahrman
Michael Wahrman (beginning of part 2), Sixth, there is no objective way to judge in advance which medication is sufficient or effective or in what dose for the patient, at least not to my knowledge. If you are like me, you will find the hit and miss approach used by doctors to be both annoying and time consuming. In fact, I only found the best medication for my particular version of this problem more or less by accident (in the same way I was diagnosed by a friend not a doctor, originally). Seventh, once you do find the appropriate medication, if you are lucky enough to do so, good luck in getting the Dr to prescribe what you need in a reliable and cost effective manner. I repeat, Drs do not like to prescribe stimulants as it puts them at risk of losing their license. And why on earth would they want to lose their license merely because it helps the patient? Eighth, I have no doubt that this as well as many other "psychiatric" diseases are or may be overdiagnosed, and powerful medications prescribed. Sadly it is up to the parent to figure out if this medication is appropriate or not, as the patient, if a child, may not be able to. Now in the case of adult ADD/ADHD, this is quite straightforward believe it or else. Particularly in the case of ADHD but also with ADD to a lesser extent, the effects of medication in the appropriate dose are not subtle, not in the least. And in the case of the adult, it is extremely likely that the patient has self-medicated all their life to try and get relief in the absence of diagnosis and treatment. (end of part 2)
Like · Reply · 20 mins

Michael Wahrman
Michael Wahrman (beginning of part 3) Ninth, I can tell you, and Robits contemptuous response to my comment above demonstrates, that many people, perhaps most people, do not take this disease seriously. They either do not believe it exists, or that it is serious, or that the medication is required, or some other version of contempt. The fact that millions of Americans will tell them differently has no effect on their preconceptions. But let me tell you, for people like me, and I can not tell you how many there are, the disease is non trivial and the medication is non optional. If you do not believe that, then you are not going to care about the rest of this testimony. It will be dismissed by you with some off hand gesture or ("aww"). And so, tenth, you would not believe how difficult it is to get this medication legally. And we are only talking about legal medication here, not illegal self-medication. I could go on for pages about the hurdles you have to go through and not be exhaustive and you would probably not believe me anyway (most people dont). So if I have any credibility here, let me say that anyone with a serious version of this disease will spend an unknown amount of time per month getting the medication and in many, many cases not get sufficient or reliable medication for years on end. But you probably dont care because you do not believe that this is a real and serious disease, now do you? (end of part 3)
Like · Reply ·

Michael Wahrman
Michael Wahrman (part 4) Tenth, do I believe that this disease is probably overdiagnosed? Yes, I do. Psychiatry is a screwy business, subject to fads and other influences (including a very corrupt Pharma business) and the free market (what a stupid concept to apply to medicine). To all parents, I would tell you to insist on the tests I went through when I first formally diagnosed. Believe me, they are not subtle. And if your child is only ambiguously diagnosed, then dont worry about it. Its not severe. If it is a clear diagnosis, then trying a low dose of stimulant (or if you prefer the more ambiguous non-stimulants) is not going to kill anyone, and if it works or sortof works, then it will be obvious within hours. This is less true for ADD than ADHD, in the former case, one must rely more on personal testimony of the patient, but even then there are informal tests one can apply. In the latter case, the symptoms of ADHD respond very well to low dose stimulants and one can see results within hours (or even minutes in some cases). Eleventh, the good news is that the primary stimulants prescribed for ADD/ADHD are trivial to get off of. They are no where near as addictive as say, coffee or cocaine. There is the problem that people can get dependent on them for psychological reasons as these are human performance drugs, which is why Dextroamphetamine has been used by our armed forces in WW2 and afterwards. (The Germans used methamphatamine btw, a drug I have no experience with). Twelth, I do not write about my personal experiences because it does me any good. It has been used against me whenever I have, or I have been subjected to abuse or contempt. I do it to help my friends and others who may have this disease and do not know what is going on and may not realize that there is a solution. Therefore you should say thank you for the time I have taken to give you the benefit of my experience and research. You are very welcome.
Like · Reply · 5 mins

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Spending a Lot More Time on FB


I am spending a lot more time on Facebook because at least there I get some response to my outrage about the Trump disaster. My other friends, assuming I have friends, are silent on email. They are silent on the blog. Since I live like a total hermit here in exile, and I do enjoy that human contact now and then, it is more efficient to use FB.

There are other things happening in life that are both good and bad. On the one hand, I have received a contribution from a long-lost relative that will allow me to apply to grad school and keep the power and water on for six months or so. Ideally I could be on my feet again at the end of this time. I do appreciate this contribution, it has totally turned around my life in the short run.

But in the long run, or in six months, what is the liklihood that things will be better? Ultimately, I have to leave this house, what is the liklihood that I will ever be able to afford rent again? Be employed again? Work on something I love again?

Now that China takes its place as the world leader, and the United States self destructs with a right wing faction in charge of the state apparatus, I think it is foolish and unrealistic to have any hope for the future.

Nevertheless, I will press forward with grad school and with my book project and a few other things. Its better than a stick in the eye. I have enjoyed writing this blog and no doubt will enjoy writing more, from time to time, going forward. I appreciate those of you who read this, whoever you may be.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Feminism and Sex with Mary Tyler Moore and Joan Jett


Most people of the Boomer generation remember Mary Tyler Moore (MTM) for her TV show which aired on CBS from 1970 to 1977. This show supposedly redefined the concept of the American woman on her own, outside of marriage, having a career. That might be true, and if so it is certainly a good thing. I never watched this show.

But for men and some women of my generation, there is an earlier incarnation of Ms. Moore which we remember with great fondness. This show I most certainly watched, particularly as a daytime rerun in syndication after school. This was the very funny Dick Van Dyke Show and on this show, Mary Tyler Moore played the character of the loving and long suffering wife of Mr. van Dyke, Laura Petrie. For those of us discovering that we liked women, Laura Petrie was a revelation no less than Ms. Emma Peel played by Diana Rigg on The Avengers.

Mary Tyler Moore and Dick van Dyke from the earlier period

What we have for you today is a cover of the MTM Show Theme Song by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. I think this version captures both the nascent feminism of the MTM Show with Ms. Moore's (no doubt exploited by the patriarchy) sex appeal.

I never doubted that she would “make it”, whatever it is that she was trying to make.

Love is All Around performed by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Love is All Around written and performed by Sonny Curtis

Who can turn the world on with her smile?
Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Well it's you girl, and you should know it
With each glance and every little movement you show it
Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don't you take it
You're gonna make it after all
You're gonna make it after all
How will you make it on your own?
This world is awfully big, girl this time you're all alone
But it's time you started living
It's time you let someone else do some giving
Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don't you take it
You're gonna make it after all
You're gonna make it after all



The Mary Tyler Moore Show on IMDB

The Dick van Dyke Show on IMDB

The Avengers (TV Series 1961 - 1969) on IMDB