A Tale of Momentum and Inertia

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Enjoy this Tale of Momentum & Inertia:

Are Slate and Amanda Hess Arguing for Lynching?

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Are Slate and Amanda Hess arguing for lynching?, Free Northerner impishly asks, because that’s what that “Hollaback” video suggests:

The target audience of Slate is middle-class white liberals with humanities degrees. These are not the type of people harassing the woman in the video. There is no point lecturing Slate readers on stopping harassment because Slate readers are not the ones harassing.

So, there seems to be no point to this article. Slate readers aren’t the ones doing the harassing and it’s not likely lower-class blacks will care about the moral protestations of middle-class white feminists.

The only reason I can think of to write this is to encourage white males to forcibly stop black men from harassing them. something which reminds me of the days when looking wrongly at a white woman was a lynching offence. It seems to me that Amanda Hess and Slate just inadvertently argued for society to resume lynching uppity blacks, or at least segregation to keep them off the streets white women might use. I think everybody involved needs to check their privilege.

Anyway, if you wish to donate to a campaign to stop uppity blacks from talking to white women, you can donate to Hollaback here.

Halloween Posts

Friday, October 31st, 2014

I have written a lot about Halloween, over the years. A few highlights:

Playing The Star-Spangled Banner with a Gun

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Do you hear that? It sounds like freedom!

Night On Bald Mountain

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Let the Night On Bald Mountain segment from Fantasia (1941) put you in the Halloween spirit:

Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Danse Macabre”

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Borepatch prepares for Halloween by discussing Camille Saint-Saëns and his “Danse Macabre”:

He was a child prodigy, possessed perfect pitch, and more importantly had the mind of a polymath: in addition to his many musical compositions he published scientific papers on the acoustics of ancient Roman amphitheaters, wrote the first score for a motion picture, and sailed through the newly completed Panama Canal to conduct an orchestra in San Francisco.

This piece is based on a poem by Henri Cazalis, from a very old French superstition.  Each year Death appears at midnight on Halloween and summons the dead to rise and dance while he plays his fiddle.  The piece opens with a harp playing a single note, repeated twelve times: the clock striking midnight.  The E Flat and A violin chords that follow are sometimes called the “Devil’s chords”.  The piece is spooky and vigorous all the way through until the end, when the music quietens to a pianissimo as the dead return to their tombs as dawn breaks.

Classic Elegance

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Will the American fashion industry ever tolerate another de la Renta?, Virginia Postrel wonders:

His brand will continue, but the classic elegance for which he was known is as old-fashioned as it is beloved. It defies the prestige accorded to innovators who “move fashion forward” rather than simply creating fresh collections. Michelle Obama wouldn’t have won all those plaudits as a fashion leader if she’d worn his dresses and followed his rules. She would have merely been another tastefully attired Hillary Clinton or Laura Bush.

In addition, de la Renta’s work was out of step with the relentless march of informality. “I don’t really know how to do casual clothes,” the designer admitted in 2005. Nor did he seem to value them. In 2009, he criticized the first lady for wearing a J. Crew cardigan during a visit to Queen Elizabeth. A cardigan might be a staple of contemporary office dress (no longer called “business casual”), but in de la Renta’s eyes serious affairs demanded something structured.

“Whatever the fashion of the moment, his garments were always constructed, shaping the female body into something more perfect and swan-like than its natural shape allowed,” observed Fashionista editor-in-chief Lauren Indvik in her memorial. That artifice is why his clothes could project power despite his fondness for flowers and frills.

His clothes were pretty, but they were also disciplined. They embodied the ideal contained in the word often used to describe them: ladylike. “If you don’t dress well every day, you lose the habit,” he told the Telegraph’s Lisa Armstrong in a long 2013 interview. Americans, male and female, mostly have.

Once liberating, the drive toward informal attire, exemplified by hoodies in Silicon Valley, flip flops in Los Angeles, and sweaters on state visits, has become a new form of oppressive conformity. Dressing down is de rigueur.

De la Renta stood against that trend. Now that he’s gone, perhaps there’s an opportunity for a transgressive young designer to do something really daring: Get us to dress up again.

Lone Survivor

Friday, October 24th, 2014

When the Lone Survivor movie came out, I read up on Operation Red Wings, but I only just got around to watching the movie.

The original plan kicked off with a six-man team of Marine Scout Snipers walking in under cover of darkness, but, because SOF air elements were going to be involved in later stages, that turned into a four-man team of SEALs inserting by helicopter — something the original planners thought would compromise the mission by revealing coalition presence in this area.

The movie depicts all the SEALs as fully kitted out and visibly encumbered, but they’re not wearing helmets, and it’s not clear that they’re wearing body armor, either. Two are armed with suppressed sniper rifles, while the other two have carbines with grenade launchers.

They make their way to a decent vantage point from which they can spot and indentify their (surveillance) target, Ahmad Shah, and his surprisingly large “army” of fighters.

They’re just out of rifle range and aren’t on a mission to take out Shah themselves. One of the spotters asks, “You make that shot?” and the sniper replies, “Negative. Wouldn’t have authority anyway.”

(I couldn’t help but wonder, what could four designated marksmen, all armed with higher-caliber semi-auto rifles, do to a few dozen insurgents caught in the open like that, before they could respond?)

In the mountainous, wooded terrain, the SEALs have “comms” problems and can’t report back their findings, call in support, or request an extraction — but they came expecting comms problems, so they don’t panic. On the other hand, they don’t seem to have a solid plan for handling the local situation without support.

In particular, they don’t seem to have a solid plan for handling a few locals stumbling upon their position. No one on the team speaks the local language, and no one has a plan for dealing with semi-hostile locals. When you don’t have a plan, you don’t make good decisions. I’m not sure what a good decision would have been, but both shooting the locals and letting them go have obvious downsides. I suppose they didn’t bring zip-ties? Paracord? A few extra hours could have made a big difference. Letting the enemy know you’re there, and that there are only four of you, seems like something you should put off as long as possible.

By the time the pursuers catch up to them, the SEALs are deep in rough, wooded terrain — where they do not have clear lines of sight for long-range shots.

One thing the movie drives home is just how physical modern combat can be. The SEALs take a beating from scrambling through the rocky, wooded terrain, take some terrible falls, and then, on top of that, get cut to pieces by fragments from RPGs, mortar bombs, ricochets, etc. And then they actually get shot. The through-and-through shots to the arms and legs don’t seem to slow them down much, but it all adds up.

If the film starts to feel more “Hollywood” by the end, that’s because it diverges from the book — and reality.

If you “enjoyed” Black Hawk Down, you should see Lone Survivor, too.

Welcome to Our Reality

Friday, October 17th, 2014

How do the Swedes recruit soldiers? Like this:

Why is Football More Popular than Ever?

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Why is football more popular than ever?

In practice getting people to watch spot advertising means programming that has to be watched live and in practice that in turn means sports. Thus it is entirely predictable that advertisers will pay a premium for sports. It is also predictable that the cable industry will pay a premium for sports because must-watch ephemera is a good insurance policy against cord-cutting. Moreover, as a straight-forward Ricardian rent type issue, we would predict that this increased demand would accrue to the owners of factor inputs: athletes, team owners, and (in the short-run) the owners of cable channels with contracts to carry sports content. Indeed this has basically all happened.

Here’s something else that is entirely predictable from these premises: we should have declining viewership for sports. If you’re the marginal viewer who ex ante finds sports and scripted equally compelling, it seems like as sports get more expensive and you keep having to watch ads, whereas scripted gets dirt cheap, ad-free, and generally more convenient, the marginal viewer would give up sports, watch last season’s episodes of Breaking Bad on Netflix, be blissfully unaware of major advertising campaigns, and pocket the $50 difference between a basic cable package and a $10 Netflix subscription.

The weird thing is that this latter prediction didn’t happen. During exactly the same period over which sports got more expensive in absolute terms and there was declining direct cost and hassle for close substitutes, viewership for sports increased. From 2003 to 2013, sports viewership was up 27%. Or rather, baseball isn’t doing so great and basketball is holding its own, but holy moly, people love football. If you look at both the top events and top series on tv, it’s basically football, football, some other crap, and more football. I just can’t understand how when one thing gets more expensive and something else that’s similar gets a lot cheaper and lower hassle, that you see people flocking to the thing that is absolutely more hassle and relatively more money.


Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

The Russians have been spying on foreign powers — shocking, I know — using software that researchers have dubbed Sandworm:

Although iSight only has a small view of the number of victims targeted in the campaign, the victims include among others, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Ukrainian and European Union governments, energy and telecommunications firms, defense companies, as well as at least one academic in the US who was singled out for his focus on Ukrainian issues. The attackers also targeted attendees of this year’s GlobSec conference, a high-level national security gathering that attracts foreign ministers and other top leaders from Europe and elsewhere each year.

It appears Sandworm is focused on nabbing documents and emails containing intelligence and diplomatic information about Ukraine, Russia and other topics of importance in the region. But it also attempts to steal SSL keys and code-signing certificates, which iSight says the attackers probably use to further their campaign and breach other systems.

The researchers dubbed the operation “Sandworm” because the attackers make multiple references to the science fiction series Dune in their code. [...] It was encoded references to Dune — which appear in URLs for the attackers’ command-and-control servers — that helped tie some of the attacks together. The URLs include base64 strings that when decoded translate to “arrakis02,” “houseatreides94,” and “epsiloneridani0,” among others.

“Some of the references were very obscure so whoever was writing the malware was a big Dune geek,” says John Hultquist, senior manager for iSight’s Cyber Espionage Threat Intelligence team.

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”

Crowley’s children

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

It turns out all those nutty Christian evangelists who warned that rock and roll was satanic were right, Jules Evans notes:

[Aleister] Crowley appears on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. John Lennon once said ‘The whole Beatles thing was do what you want, you know?’

A statue of him also appears on the cover of the Doors’ album, Doors 13. The Doors admired Crowley as someone who’d ‘broken through to the other side’, and who was a master of anarchic showmanship. Jim Morrison once said, in very Crowley-ite words: ‘I’m interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that appears to have no meaning.’

Jimmy Page was a huge Crowley fan, and bought his house next to Loch Ness. Crowley’s famous motto, ‘Do What Thou Wilt’, was embossed on the vinyl of Led Zeppelin III.

The Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull were into Crowleian magic through the film-maker Kenneth Anger — hence their album His Satanic Majesties and their song Sympathy for the Devil. Jagger also made the soundtrack to Anger’s film, Invocation to my Demon Brother, while Marianne Faithful appeared in Anger’s Lucifer Rising, which starred a future member of the Manson Family.

David Bowie was also a big fan of Crowley — he mentions him in the song ‘Quicksand’, and was very influenced by Crowley’s magic techniques, symbolism, and superman philosophy. Bowie was deep into the occult in the 1970s, particularly during the making of ‘Station to Station’ when he feared he’d invoked an evil demon, and that witches were trying to steal his semen to make a Satanic love-child (no, really).

In the 1980s, of course, various metal bands were explicitly into Crowley, from Black Sabbath to Iron Maiden. More recently, and perhaps more surprisingly, Crowley’s ideas are apparently an influence on rap stars like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and that ardent practitioner of sex magick, Ciara.

More broadly, as we’ll examine, pop culture helped to make Crowley’s philosophy of unfettered egotism — do what thou wilt — the ruling philosophy of western society. We are all Crowley’s children.

Great Martian War

Friday, October 10th, 2014

The Great Martian War mixes authentic (and inauthentic) World War I footage with SFX War of the Worlds tripods — and a not-at-all-period soundtrack:

The History Channel has a two-hour special planned:

We made the decision from the start not to use WWI archive footage that showed real casualties or troops fighting. Though we strongly believe our show honours the veterans of WWI and seeks to look at the war afresh through a science fiction story we recognised the need to be sensitive to the original archive material and the people in it.

As well as the untreated period archive that illustrates our story we had in some cases to insert realistic computer graphics into that archive. That was a complex process of creating super realistic Alien war machines animating and rendering them then match compositing them into archive that was often hugely distressed and degraded. The modern animated elements then had to be similarly degraded so that they bedded into the period archive. No two pieces of original archive are alike so each shot presented a very complex set of issues for the teams involved.

On top of that we created a number of shots using live action of extras in detailed period costume on a purpose built trench system, (the same one used for the WWI scenes in ‘Downton Abbey’!), and on location. Our Aliens were then composited into this footage and the whole thing retro treated with pops, scratches, grain and distress to sit alongside original war footage, hopefully invisibly.

We also co-opted real archive from the years around the war and re-interpreted it to help illustrate our story. We don’t pretend to bring to our fake documentary the kind of rigour necessary in real documentary. We needed to re-interpret archive to tell our fictional story. So for instance our footage of riots around the Whitehouse is real but took place after WWI… And in a world where Germany, France and Britain fought on the same side against a single Alien invader our uniforms and kit do not always strictly chronologically match the timeline of the real war!

Much of the available ‘real’ archive WWI footage of frontline ‘combat’ was actually reconstructed during and after the war well away from the front line for propaganda and dramatic purpose, but where we had any doubt we avoided that archive and made our own. We did this from scratch, painstakingly constructing our shots with reference to photos and footage from the war and deliberately tried to confine ourselves to angles and camera technology available in 1913- 17. Cameras then were hand cranked at an irregular frame rate locked onto a tripod and rarely mounted in anything moving.

Star Wars Art: Posters

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Star Wars Art: Posters includes a couple images that caught my eye:

Star Wars Frazetta-Style Poster

Star Wars Revenge of the Jedi Poster

The Eccentric Polish Count Who Influenced Classic SF’s Greatest Writers

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Alfred Korzybski deserves a more prominent place in our histories of science fiction, Lee Konstatinou argues:

Korzybski inspired a legion of students, and the meta-science of “General Semantics” that he created affected disciplines as diverse as literary criticism, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and cybernetics.

But his most powerful effect might have been on John W. Campbell’s Golden Age. Indeed, Korzybski is probably the most important influence on science fiction you’ve never heard of.

Alfred Korzybski was a Polish aristocrat who came to North America near the end of World War I after being injured in the war. Trained as an engineer, he created a philosophy he called General Semantics (not to be confused with semantics as a linguistic discipline). General Semantics was part of a much larger philosophical effort, early in the twentieth century, to create a logically ideal language and a contribution to intellectual debates about the so-called “meaning of meaning.”

Attempting to build on the work of Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, Korzbyski tried to explain, among other things, why humans were uniquely prone to self-slaughter. He hoped, quixotically, that his meta-linguistic system might save us from our own worst tendencies.

Korzybski coined the well-known slogan, “The map is not the territory,” to sum up his ideas:

To defeat our Aristotelian habits of mind, to help humankind achieve what he called “sanity,” Korzybski created a mental and spiritual training regime. He recommended that we achieve a “consciousness of abstracting,” an awareness of our own process of abstracting the world, in order to gain a better understanding of what he called “silence on the objective level,” the fundamentally non-linguistic nature of reality. Korzybski advised that we engage in a “semantic pause” when confronted with a novel stimulus, a sort of neurocognitive Time Out.

He profoundly influenced Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, A.E. Van Vogt — and many others:

Many other Golden Age writers, such as H. Beam Piper and Reginald Bretnor, incorporated Korzybski into their fiction. And his influence stretches well beyond the conventional boundaries of the Golden Age.

Frank Herbert, for instance, ghostwrote a nationally syndicated column on General Semantics, under Hayakawa’s byline, while writing Dune (1965). Korzybski’s ideas are visible in Herbert’s depiction of the Bene Gesserit’s mental and physical training regime.