Our Puritanism is going to get people killed.

Over Christmas we had another attempted terror attack against America. By now I assume  that everyone reading this blog knows that a young man smuggled explosives aboard an International flight — the bomb making materials were apparently in his underwear — and after determining that the aircraft was in American airspace, attempted to detonate it.

Only by a combination of luck and in competence did the device not explode, but merely burned. Even that could have been very bad had passengers not acted quickly and subduing the terrorist and putting out the fire.

It stupid that this man was able to smuggle the bomb-making material aboard. We have the technology to catch this crap. It’s back scatter x-rays.

These devices can image right through clothing down to the skin. The likelihood of getting contraband through such a system is much lower than with our current wand and pat down system. (Nothing is assured – a dopey scanner operator can still miss things, but this is so much better than what we have now.)  We have not instituted these scanners because it is able to image people in the nude, right through their clothing.

Horrors, someone might see my wang.

Bloddy hell people, I’d rather have TSA people seeing an endless parade of naughty bits than not be able to see bombs. Hmmmm, nude or dead, I know which I’ll want to be.

The only reason to hold back this technology is that we are so scared of skin we’d literally rather die than have someone see some.

To quote Plan 9 from Outer Space

“Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”


Things that bothered me in the movie Avatar

The story for Avatar was serviceable, but predictable. James Cameron is not a terribly talented writer and not a subtle one at all. What follows in this post are the elements that bothered me in the film and the vast majority of them bothered me during my viewing of the movie.

It’s behind a cut so if it does becomes spoilerific  you have no one to blame but yourself.

Continue reading Things that bothered me in the movie Avatar


Denialist – the sly ad hominem

One thing I hate in debate is the scoundrel’s technique of the ad hominem. I have no troubles with people who disagree with me. Hell, most of my friends disagree with me on a number of issues. That is fine and dandy, but insults to the person making an argument is simply a tool of bullies.

In the current debates on climate change and if mankind is a major contributing factor in any clime change the charge of denier gets thrown at people who express doubt about man-made global warming.  This is really nothing more than a sly ad hominem attack. The most cultural known use of the term denier in political debates is of course for those who would deny that the Holocaust occurred during WWII. By referring to doubters of AGW (Anthropomorphic Global Warming) as deniers, supporters of AGW are trying to achieve to things.

The first is subliminally place doubters in the same emotional space to most people as deniers of the Holocaust. The second thing they are trying to do is establish AGW as a fact as firmly rooted in reality as the Holocaust itself.

The Holocaust is a fact. It is not a theory, it is not a hoax, it was the systematic murder of Jews, gays, Gypsies, and others by the NAZIs.

AGW is a hypothesis, it is not a fact. It’s not even a theory. In science a theory is a hypothesis that has withstood rigorous testing over an extended period of time. The Atomic Theory of matter is a theory, the Germ Theory of Disease is a theory, General Relativity is a theory. All of these started their scientific lives as a hypothesis and became theory as they proved themselves to be the best current description of how the world works.

The world is warming. I think there is enough evidence to support that statement. After all the Hudson River used to freeze solid enough that you could drag cannons across it and they used to hold winter fairs on the frozen Thames in England. Clearly we don’t get that cold anymore. That does not mean that AGW is true.

Mind you I am not saying that AGW is not true in the post. It might be the best hypothesis for describing the current climate and the apparent changes we are seeing, but it is not the only one. The Earth has been much cooler in the past and it has been much warmer in the past without any help from mankind at all. There are good and reasonable people – scientists and lay-people alike – who have serious questions about AGW. These people might be right, they might be wrong.

What is wrong is to call these people deniers as though they were apologist for Hitler, or flat earthers pretending we never went to the moon. Calling them names is nothing but an attack on the person. (I will grant you that not all people who questions AGW do so from a serious doubt of the science. There are many venal and frankly manipulative people who takes their positions purely out of the politics of the situation, but that applies to both sides.)

Show me facts. Show me testable experiments and simulations.

Do not call me a denier simply because I think the GCR hypothesis might explain thing as well as the AGW hypothesis.


Not the day I planned

Today is the anniversary for my sweetie-wife and myself, and it is also her birthday. (She made it easy for me to remember the important dates by loading them all onto the same day.)

We were going to go out to dinner and have a nice night. Sadly, that was not to be.

I woke up with a headache, which grew throughout the day. There were times when I wanted a 9 mm analgesic.

We stayed home of course – I hurt so badly I had only toast for dinner — and plan to go out tomorrow.


Sunday Night Movie: Inglorious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s newest film Inglorious Basterds hit DVD and Blu-ray last week and I luckily got a copy via Netflix to watch as my Sunday Night Movie.

I had heard that what the previews sold and what the film actually was were very different things. This I can say is absolutely true. The previews tell you about Lt Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt) and his small band of Jewish-Americans working in occupied Europe terrorizing the Nazi with acts of brutality and malice.

From that you would expect a film with the first act being about the formation of the Basterds, the second act would be the acts of brutality and terror, which a reveal about the middle of the act, perhaps a traitor from within, leading into a third act with the mucho big target that’s impossible to hit but by gum they are going to do it. Many are killed, but the target is hit. If this is a movie about the good war of WWII then things look up, if it is a cynical film about the futility of war, they hit the target but it makes no difference and their sacrifices are for nothing.

That was not the movie that Quentin Tarantino delivered.

He created something much more interesting and enjoyable that the rather cliched plot I just outline above. I regret that I did not see Inglorious Basterds in the theater. This film deserved the full theater experience.

There are actually three plot line in this movie.

The first starts with Col. Hans Landa ( Christoph Waltz.) Landa is tasked when we first meet him with locating escaped Jew in occupied France. The introduction of the character is a wonderfully construct scene of tight tension developed entirely in table-side conversation. Christoph Waltz is an Austrian actor and like every single person in the film is perfectly cast.

The second plot line is Lt Aldo Raines and is Inglorious Basterds. We actually do not see a lot of their acts of violence. It’s not needed for this story. What we do see is the ingenuity and daring that these men have.

The third plot line is Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) a young Jewish woman who escaped Col Landa’s grasp. However her plot line is not about escape or hunting down the dear colonel.

The rest of the film is the criss-crossing and finally resolution of all the story-lines in Paris in 1944. There are British spies and secret meeting and loads and loads of tension. The tension is nearly always built around secrets. There are people with lethal secrets trying desperately to keep them while under direct observation by their enemies.

Language is vitally important in the construction of this move. Tarantino does not use the convention that the audience understands all characters regardless of language. The German speak German most of the time, the French their language and of course the American hardly speak anything but English. There is heavy use of subtitles and most of the foreign parts are played by actor of that nationality. The effect is one that really works for creating tension in scenes that had they been conducted purely in English would have lacked the punch that Tarantino found.

This film is not history. Any movie that starts with the inter-card — Once Upon A Time — is telling you that you are about to go into a fairy tale. This is a violent and bloody fair tale, but the real fair tales were too before the Victorians got ahold of them. So with that in mind you should best look upon this as a form of Alternate history rather than a story set in WWII as we knew it.

This film did blow me away. I shall have to buy it on blu-ray and share it with as many people as I can convince to watch it.


Movie Review Avatar

This morning a friend and I went to see James Cameron’s first feature film in 15 years, Avatar.

A Science-Fictione adventure set in the year 2153, Avatar is about a paraplegic marine Jake Scully (Sam Worthington) who has step up and take over his brothers position as an Avatar driver for a science and anthropological mission on the planet Pandora. An Avatar driver is  a person who has the conscious mind transferred into an artificially  created Na’vi body. Allowing them to live free and interact with the native population.

Pandora is a jungle planet with a veracious biome that extremely dangerous. The Atmosphere is poisonous and it is populated by the tribal people the Na’vi. (Cameron observes the Sf cliche of over use of apostrophes in alien languages.) Unluckily for the Na’vi, Pandora is also home to ‘Unobtainium’ a mineral so valuable that it sells for 20 million a kilogram. In addition to the scientific expedition there is a large scale strip mining operation with plenty of ex-military security.

Naturally Jake finds his loyalty tested as he lives more and more in his fully abled body and learns more of the ways of the Na’vi.

The film is nearly three hours long and represents a new level of excellence in the relatively young art of performance capture. Actors have their performance captured digitally and this drives the animation of their digital doppelgangers. Robert Zemeciks has been experiment with this as a tool in motion picture, but on films that retained an animated look to them. With Avatar James Cameron has given us photorealistic performance capture. Truly the trailers do not capture the perfect images that have been created for this film. I watched the movie and was totally amazed by the look and realism of the scenes. I could not even begin to guess what elements were real and which elements were digital outside of the alien life on Pandora. The 3-d effect was the best I have ever watched and really did help place you right into the reality of the story. If you have any interest at all in seeing this film you need to see it in the theater where the achievement can truly be appreciated.

As for the story — well sadly there the film was simplistic and predictable. The baby-boomers simply cannot let go of Vietnam and this — in part — is Vietnam all over again. The characters are flat and without and real depth or complexities. From what I have told you — all of which is available in the trailers – you should be able to guess nearly every major plot-point, development, and ultimate resolution on the story.

The film suffers from the need to lecture and allows this soapbox mentality to mar a perfectly fine production. Now mind you, the three hours passed quickly and the visuals are gripping. The story did not fail so badly as to bore me, but it didn;t fully engage me either.

The film also suffered from people behaving stupidly for plot devices reasons, as well an inconsistency in realism. (for example in once scene we see that cockpit glass is tough enough to stop sub-machine guns rounds, but in another it is unable to stop an arrow.)

Still, I am glad I saw it in the theater. Home video, even blu-ray, would not have done this film justice. However I am also glad I paid a bargain price. Keep all that in mind when you make up your mind as to weather you want to see Avatar or not.


Lonely weekend

My sweetie-wife has traveled back home to help her mother and I have to fend for myself for the weekend.

It will be videos, video games, friends, and tomorrow morning an early showing of Avatar. I don’t expect much from the story but I want to see the new technology.