Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Three Body Problem

As people look toward 2017 with relief that 2016 will be over, I have several thoughts.

  1. First, a lot of people probably think 2016 was great.  Their candidate was elected to office and now their 'enemies' are feeling what they have felt for the last eight years.  (I could, of course, argue that this is different, but in their minds it's the same - their team won.)   
  2. Second, as I read the headlines in the paper and online about what a bad year it's been, I'm wondering what makes people think 2017 is going to be better.  There's lots of news we never read about because it wasn't sensational enough or bad enough.  But the key news item - the US election - doesn't suggest to me a better year.  There will be unanticipated benefits like in any disaster.  People will pull together and discover friends and personal strengths they didn't know they had.  But the man who will be slumming by moving to the White House, thinks he's the smartest guy around.   The truly smartest people are those who know they know very little.  The only way one can be totally sure of oneself is if one has a very simplistic view of the world.  And we have a very cocksure new president and that doesn't bode well.  Yes, there will be some positive impacts here and there, but overall and in the long run, the American people and the world are going to pay big time for the new president's on-the-job training and winner mentality.  
  3. But third, I've just finished reading The Three Body Problem which has as one of its key points - don't assume the alternative of a very bad thing won't be worse.   This is a very interesting book, not simply because of the story it tells and how it tells it.  It is a Chinese science fiction novel that won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2015, which makes it unique already.  

The story begins with the Red Guard harassing to death a renowned physics professor during  the Cultural Revolution.   Physicists play a big role in this book.  I really don't want to talk about any more of the plot than that.  Having the plot reveal itself as you turn the pages is a big part of the enjoyment of the book.

I will say that the book's structure has the reader  opening doors into new worlds and thinking wow, I didn't expect this.  Only to have a new door and another new world and another wow, and then another, and another, and another.  This is the first part of a trilogy. The other parts are already available.  I'm just a little behind.

But, getting back to the opening of this post, I will say that the reader will spend time in a secret Chinese military post scanning the universe for signs of intelligent life.  And there's a signal.  And the person who is on duty at the time secretly sends back a signal.  The human condition, this physicist feels, is so dire, that humans would be better off being rescued by a superior form of being.

I'll say no more about the plot, but I'd send you back to my third point above.

It's a fascinating book and I'm looking forward to the next volume of the trilogy.  Have a Happy New Year and focus on making what we have better rather than looking for a savior to take care of things for us.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

More Beach And Clouds

It was sunny. The sky was blue.  The air was balmy when J and M pushed the stroller to the beach and I biked down to meet them.  

And there were a lot more people there than on other days since we've been here.

There were clouds out on the horizon, yet Catalina was sharp and clear out across the water.  There was a special golden light.

But clouds were moving in.  And as I haven't gotten past the chapter on Cumulus clouds in the Cloudspotter's Guide, I may run into trouble here.  The ones below surely are cumulus.

And maybe these here, moving in from the south.  I'm not sure what the ones in the background are.  But it's a good incentive to read my Guide more.

Soon the sky was like this.  Skipping a few chapters ahead, I found a picture that looks similar and are called Altocumulus stratiformis translucidus.  The last term means they let the sun shine through, which is what was happening, though my camera fought that.

Looking at another picture in the Guide, I'm guessing these (above) are altocumulus stratiformis (with out the translucidus.)  The altocumulus are mid-level clouds - about 20,000 feet up.

Closer to earth, this electronic beachcomber was scanning the sand, presumably looking for metal objects.  These guys have been around since I was a kid, going across the sand with the hopes of finding something metal and valuable someone lost in the sand.

It seems as good a hobby as any.  You spend your time at the beach, you get exercise walking, and maybe you find something of value.  Kind of like a fisherman, but with more exercise and you don't need a license.  

From Treasure Enterprise:

Let’s take a typical example of what happens at the beach.
Firstly, we find that many people just lie on their beach towel to sun bake - or whatever! – generally with their valuables. When they leave, the first thing they do is to give their towel a good shake, and everything from sand particles to jewellery, rings and coins generally fly off into outer space. The object hits the sand, buries itself quickly and can’t be found again in a hurry. When they realize that something is missing, they panic! … moving the sand around the place doesn’t help and of course the situation is worse than before.
Try this … throw a coin backwards into loose sand (don’t look) and see if you can find it again … I bet you don’t … and don’t even think of using a metal detector either – that’s cheating!
For those who like to swim and love to wear rings and jewellery at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Most people generally wear rings a little loose and the chances are that they will lose it. A simple scientific principle of expansion and contraction applies here – in this instance, cold water contracts the finger – the water and the surf acts as a lubricant – the ring falls off and settles down through the sand with its flat side acting as a cutting blade, going deeper and then it’s lost – simple as that! This can also apply to other jewellery items too and it happens every day.
This Australian writer goes on to talk about how to use metal detectors to find treasures.

As the clouds covered a larger area, the air temperature dropped and we decided it was time to go home.  But there was still a beautiful light over the sand and water.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Gramping Beats Blogging

I've got a couple more days left with my granddaughter.  Her parents are more than happy to leave her with her grandparents and so we go on various adventures.  Back to the beach again yesterday - different kinds of waves, lots of fun in very shallow water.  Cooler, but still ok to get your feet wet.

Today we visited the cemetery to put plants on the grave plaques.  My mother used to do that all the time and now I'm the one left to do it.  And since we aren't here that much, it's trickier.  In October we left jade plants since they can survive a long time without water.  They were still alive, though struggling.   In one I had added soil, and that one was doing much better.  Added water to the dirt and brought new ones for the other plaques.  We'll check them out before we leave and then they'll just have to survive as best as they can.

And then we walked along Ballona Creek in the afternoon sun.

They've prettified part of the trail and added signs and walkway that is separate from the bike trail - but only for a short distance from Centinela.

I've been pretty supportive of graffiti artists on this blog, but here's an example that I don't think has any redeemable qualities.  Just juvenile destruction of other people's stuff - not even important people's stuff.  Just ordinary people who walk or run or bike along the creek.

Gives potheads a bad name.  

Monday, December 26, 2016

What Does "Change" Mean In Regard To Trump?

People write things like, "now that he is no longer a candidate" or "once he becomes president" Trump will change with the office.  Mitt Romney seemed to think he could have a calming effect. Tech leaders felt meeting with Trump would have a positive effect.  Thomas Friedman thinks there might be some room for optimism.

Really?  The man is 70.  What things will a 70 year old change?

He's not going to change his basic way of behaving, and from his point, why should he?  Everyone said it couldn't work in the primary and he won.  Then it couldn't win in the actual election, and he got enough votes in key states to win the electoral college.  So from his point of view - even if a 70 year old could easily change his basic behavior, there's no reason to.  His behavior works.

He can change things that aren't fundamental parts of his personal identity and the habits he's acquired over the years.  His basic goal in life is to win, but it doesn't seem to be wed to any ideology beyond that.  So specific policy issues could change based on the last person Trump talks to before he makes a decision.   Things like what he's going to do about Israel, building a wall on the Mexican border, or climate change.

But the bluster, the belief that he's the smartest guy in the room, his wheeler/dealer business style, his bullying, his need for attention and approval, those things aren't going to change.

If he's lucky, those around him will edit him before he goes public.  He's not the kind of guy who takes easily to editing, but once he discovers how much work being president is, he'll delegates lots of the work to others.  Though some of the people he's appointed have belief systems worse even than Trump's in areas.

He'll continue to be quick to take offense when someone slights him.  He'll continue to demean others.  He'll continue to make quick judgments because he thinks he is smart enough to figure it out.  He's not likely to start reading much.

The positive thing about Tweeter Trump is that he publicly says, and puts on record, what he's thinking.  The kinds of things I'd guess lots of powerful figures think, but only say when surrounded by like thinkers, and don't utter publicly.  That means we know a lot more about his true beliefs and values than we have of others in the past.  Well, we surmised, but they rarely gave us proof we were right.

So, I expect to see current Trump relationships change as new disagreements arise and or he decides someone's help is needed for something.  His friendship with Putin is based on a similar authoritarian style, so Trump recognizes another player who sees the world as he does.  But the first time Trump realizes that Putin has played Trump for a fool, that friendship will end.    Other actions - like supporting Netanyahu's pro-settlement stance - may have initial positive benefits, but will quickly lead to a backlash.  The world is a lot more complicated than doing business deals.  The US military power is a lot less effective in a world of ied's  and suicide bombers than he thinks it is.  Putin was able to use military power in Syria because he doesn't care about collateral damage.  An American president has to think about such things.

My fear is that Trump will do a lot of damage both in the US and the world, before he leaves office. Things that will have to be undone before we can move on.  And while he won't kill people Hitler style, if he does slow down climate change action, the result will be turmoil and human suffering and death around the world.  Severe weather events will create havoc for farmers all over the world.  Rising temperatures mean that crops that grow at a certain latitude now, or with a certain level of rainfall, won't in twenty years or less.   This will disrupt food supplies and livelihoods everywhere.

Many people believe that the five year drought in Syria was related to climate change and a major contributor to the rebellion there.  Farmers could no longer raise their crops and moved to the cities where they couldn't make a living.  They were the dry kindling of revolt.

Americans believe that their way of life is far superior to how people live in the rest of the world.  But those who have traveled, worked, and lived in other countries long enough to become friends with locals, know that their middle classes' lives were not significantly different, in the most important ways, from American lives.  These are the people who are now refugees from the killing in Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the world.  Civilization is a fragile thread.  We aren't immune from craziness here.  There are Americans who would be happy to perform 'ethnic cleansing' of non-white parts of the US population, just as the Hutus and the Serbs and ISIS did and are doing.  Those fleeing Aleppo or Bagdad were just as shocked to see their normal lives disrupted by horrendous urban military violence, as American will be if it happens here. The election of Trump shows us that nearly half the voters are willing to overlook all sorts of authoritarian, racist, and sexist behaviors for the hope of regaining the respect they had living in a society where non-whites and women had significant barriers to economic and social justice.  Focus on 'others' rather than the economic system in which owners of businesses get rich by replacing workers with machinery makes economic improvement ever so much harder.

I hope I'm wrong on all accounts.  Trump's style is one where there are few friends for the long haul.  It's why he wants his family as his close advisors.  This is a Mafia like world view.  Only family can be truly trusted.  Because his style creates lots of enemies.  I'm sure the Cruz's, the Christie's, Bush's, and others are just biding their time until they can avenge the personal abuse Trump heaped on them.  And like the people of Aleppo, the rest of us will be in the cross fire.  Probably not actual violence - though I don't rule that out - but more likely the destruction of our social infrastructure that protects the victims of a form of capitalism that has no respect for workers, that buys companies to raid workers' pensions, that lies to customers to squeeze out more profit, and finds all sorts of ways to make the rules work for those who are already wealthy against those who are not.

I've rambled on long enough here.  I offer a June 2016 Atlantic analysis of Trump by Dan P. McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern as a more in-depth and nuanced assessment of Trump's qualities and how they may play out in the presidency.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

From Pier To Pier - Surfers, Canal, Who Says People Don't Walk In LA?

It's great to do things with a 3 year old in tow.  Took advantage of the sunny, though for LA, cool day to be by the ocean.   The view of the surfers from the Venice Pier was great as they caught long rides on frequent, good sized swells.

Here's that same picture in context.

They made it look so easy, but you can see the power of the water in this picture.  

This was on the other (north) side of the pier.

As you can see, there were great sets constantly coming in.

More gentle water a short walk away in the canals of Venice (California).

My preference would have been to do this all by bike, but there were others.  We drove back towards the Santa Monica pier (about 3 miles north of the Venice Pier) and walked along the boardwalk.  Here one of the many Santa hatted folks watches a slack wire walker.  

And for those who think no one walks in LA, the Santa Monica pier was jammed with walkers.  There just needs to be more pedestrian friendly spaces and better public transportation to get to them. But I'd also guess that at least half these people were from out of town sightseeing.

[UPDATE Dec. 26, 2016:  The LA Times has an opinion piece on LA walkability today.]

A good day and the youngster went to sleep really fast this evening.  

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Spending Afternoon In The Late Pleistocene Epoch

The UC Museum of Paleontology gives the dates of the Pleistocene as 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago and says the La Brea Tar Pits is "one of most famous Pleistocene fossil localities anywhere."

The tar pits is one of my good childhood memories.  Before the LA County Museum of Art was there.  Before the Page Museum was there, it was just a big park with giant, climbable  statues of the long extinct big mammals that lived then - mammoths, mastodons, saber tooth tigers, and giant sloths.  And there were live rabbits hopping about the park.  And, of course, the scattered pools of tar that entrapped so many of the animals.

So it seemed a good place to go with our granddaughter and we spent the whole afternoon there.

We took the tour, and the guide - he was really good - took on some of the myths and misnomers surrounding the tar pits.  First, they were really asphalt* pits.  Tar, he said, is man made.  Second, the animals who got stuck in the pools, didn't get sucked down like in quicksand, but tended to stay on the surface and die of hunger or thirst or from predators.  And this iconic set of mastodons is a little more Hollywood than real.

The animals at the tar pits are from the late Pleistocene era - 10,000 - 50,000 years ago.  So, no dinosaurs.  Just animals that lived when humans were around.  And whether these large mammals went extinct because the Ice Age ended or people got better at killing them or diseases is still in debate.

The museum offered lots of examples of fossils from the era and simulated versions the many of the animals and birds.  There are also people actively sorting through bones still today.

This woman (and two others) were sorting through material with paint brushes and magnifying glasses and microscopes to separate non-fossils from fossils.  The collect fossil insect parts and even plant seeds.

The building itself is mostly underground, with grass slopes built up around it.  My granddaughter had fun 'jumping off' the roof, the running down the sides and back up again.   (The 'roof' is actually that whitish wall, not the top grey facade which has a frieze depicting animals of the period.)  As you can see if you look carefully, it had rained heavily the night before, and as you can't see, it would rain again that night.

Click on any of the images to enlarge and sharpen them

Altogether a good afternoon for the oldsters and the youngster.  

*for a distinction between tar and asphalt, check here.
For a long and interesting pdf on asphalt, check here.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Electoral Integrity Project Report Puts North Carolina Along Side Cuba, Indonesia , And Sierra Leone

This was from a tweet I got today.  There was an article in the News&Observer that said, among other things:
"In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.
Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project."

But how do you know if this is real or fake news?  

I quickly mistyped their name into google and got to articles about the Election [not electoral] Integrity Project.  This one is clearly a right wing project whose name is very similar and whose acronym is the same as the Electoral Integrity Project.  Getting a name very close to a legitimate and respected organization is a common practice of scammers.  I discovered that when I wrote about the Alaska International Film Festival which took advantage of the similarity of its name (and same acronym) to the legitimate Anchorage International Film Festival.  HOWEVER, one shouldn't jump to conclusions without facts.   The online tracks I found show that the Election Integrity Project began shortly before ("February 2012") the Electoral Integrity Project ('mid-2012').  I'm guessing they would not have known about each other when they began.

Think Progress investigated the funding of the Election Integrity Project:
"Since launching its 2012 Election Integrity Project in February, the right-wing Judicial Watch has been a leading player in the push for more voting restrictions. The group — best known for its Clinton-era lawsuits — has demanded more voting roll purges like Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) failed efforts in Florida. But a ThinkProgress examination of tax filings reveals that the group has received millions of dollars from foundations tied to conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife since the start of 2001.
Though other rich right-wing funders like Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess have gotten more attention in this campaign, Scaife has bankrolled the conservative movement for decades. A 1998 Washington Post story dubbed him the “funding father of the right.” Since the 1960s, the Pittsburgh media baron and heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to conservative causes including the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, and the Hoover Institution. He controls the Scaife Foundations — a group of conservative and philanthropic tax-exempt organizations. Between 2001 and 2010, the Allegheny Foundation, Carthage Foundation, and Sarah Scaife Foundation — all part of the Sciafe empire — gave at least $5.8 million to Judicial Watch."
OK, so that raises serious questions about the Election I P.  What about the Electoral IP?

It's getting harder to find things online.  Everything in the first several pages was either from the Electoral IP itself, or was someone citing the article about North Carolina.  Here's what their own website says:
"The Electoral Integrity Project is an independent academic project based at Harvard University and the University of Sydney. The EIP project is directed by the founding Director, Professor Pippa Norris, and governed by an International Advisory Board.  The project is administered by the EIP Project Coordinator, Ms. Alexander Kennett. The work has been generously funded by many foundations and partners, notably the Australian Research Council Laureate Award.
Since its inception in mid-2012, the Electoral Integrity Project has focused upon three issues:
When do elections meet international standards of electoral integrity?
What happens when elections fail to do so?
And what can be done to mitigate these problems?
EIP has sought to produce innovative and policy-relevant scientific research that achieves international standing in the social sciences and leads to a significant advancement of capabilities and knowledge about elections, democracy, and autocracy.
The project has used several strategies to achieve these objectives:
Developing and deepening concepts and theories concerning the causes and consequences of electoral integrity;
Gathering valid, reliable, and generalizable empirical evidence (through expert indicators, mass surveys, experimental designs, and case-studies) monitoring and comparing electoral integrity across and within nations; and
Building a worldwide research community engaging scholarly and practitioner networks drawn from diverse disciplines, theoretical approaches, global regions, international organizations, and methodological techniques to advance knowledge of electoral integrity."
Evaluations of the organization were scarce.  But I did find this one which looks pretty legit:  Association of Accredited Public Policy Advocates to the European Union (AALEP).  The Electoral Integrity Project is on their list.  Their entry begins:
SUBMITTED BY CHRISTIAN* ON SUN, 08/14/2016 - 19:44
The Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) is an independent research project based at the University of Sydney and Harvard University. For the past four years, the EIP has been bringing together scholars and practitioners from around the world to discuss effective research and how to design evidence-based programming that will increase the integrity of elections. Since the EIP’s inception, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has been an active participant in the project."
*Christian would appear to be Christian de Foully, Chairman of the AALEP

Another page on the AAPPAEU website explains what a Public Policy Advocate is:
"Why Choose a Public Policy Advocate
A Public Policy Advocate provides intelligent, unbiased advice that achieves the best results for a client or employer. Most importantly, trust is always implicit in a relationship with a Public Policy Advocate.
Being designated as a real professional public policy advocate is a designation for a select few who have been recognized by their peers, employers, and clients for their commitment, knowledge, experience, wisdom, and integrity in the public policy advocacy field.
No matter the size or scope of an assignment, Public Policy Advocates  leverage their experience to assess the past, present, and future and provide sound solutions on the many diversified issues encountered in the broad field of public policy advocacy.
An array of clients, from government to small business, relies on the wisdom of Public Policy Advocates to map the way to informed decision making. Clients include:
Government agencies
Publicly and privately held corporations
Trade Associations
Professional Societies
Energy companies
Financial institutions
Healthcare Providers
Hospitals etc …"
The Electoral Integrity Project has been around since 2012 and has monitored elections around the world and come up with frameworks with which to do that sort of work.

Although the author of the News&Observer story focuses on North Carolina (he's a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, so he's writing about his own state, though it appears it was a long road to there given his degrees from East Anglia, Capetown, and San Diego), the EIP website map shows neighboring states with similar and even lower scores than North Carolina.  (Alaska and Hawaii don't seem to count.)

But the writer notes that North Carolina is the worst in one category:
"Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project."

Sorting through what to believe and then figuring out what it means is tricky. I'm betting there are people in North Carolina who are spitting mad and dismissing this report as liberal propaganda. But I bet that when they saw reports of election problems in foreign countries by this organization they just assumed it was true.  And assumed their own superiority in elections.

I haven't looked carefully at their study or their methodology and the factors they review.  But I suspect that while experts could dispute why they choose one factor over another and how the factors are weighted, that it's probably a pretty rigorous tool.  And that its application to US states wasn't altered and so that, using their measures, the comparisons are accurate.  And that someone else could come up with a measure that might rank the US states differently.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Cloudspotter's Guide Says Cumulus Radiatus [UPDATED]

Text is coming, but we're headed to the La Brea Tar Pits with our granddaughter, so first you get the pictures, then I'll add more later.  Let's just say, it was a beautiful day, and then the clouds came and it started raining yesterday afternoon and it's still raining today.

This is the updated part Dec. 22, 2016 9:30 pm (Pacific Time):

My son gave me a copy of The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney for my birthday earlier this year and I took it on this trip thinking we might see some clouds.

As I started reading, I realized this is NOT your typical dry, scientific expert guidebook.
"If a glorious sunset of Altocumulus clouds were to spread across the heavens only once in a generation, it would surely be amongst the principal legends of our time.  Yet most people barely seem to notice the clouds, or see them simply as impediments to the 'perfect' summer's day, an excuse to feel 'under the weather'.  Nothing could be more depressing, it seems, than to have 'a cloud on the horizon'."

It turns out Wednesday this week in LA was an exceptional day and luckily we were able to spend the afternoon at the beach with our granddaughter, making sand castles, and playing tag with the surf as it went out.  It was warm and delightful.  The picture below is of Santa Monica Bay from Venice Beach.

And having read the introduction of the book, I was more interested than worried as clouds formed on the south western horizon and seemed headed our way.

I had read most of the chapter on cumulus clouds too.  These are low clouds.  According to the visual table of contents, which shows different clouds at different altitudes along with the Chapter name and number, cumulus clouds stay under 10,000 feet.  They also are the most commonly rendered clouds in art work from children's books to classical painting.  And they tend not to mean rain.

The author tells us that clouds are classified by genus and species and varieties, which made me feel pretty ignorant since I didn't know that. Animals and plants, yes, but clouds?  That was new to me.  Four species of cumulus cloud are listed:  humilis, mediocris, congestus. and fractus.  And one variety is listed for mediocris - radiatus.
It says about radiatus:
"When cumulus have formed into rows, or 'cloud streets', which are roughly parallel to the wind direction."

Now, the title of this post is a bit misleading.  The Cloudspotter's Guide didn't say that the clouds I saw were radiatus.  I read the book and looked at these clouds and thought - this must be what the book was talking about:  radiatus.

By that Thursday morning there were a lot more clouds and by evening it was raining.  But The Cloudspotter's Guide does say:
"Although Cumulus is generally associated with fine weather, any cloud can under certain conditions develop into a rain-bearing formation, and Cumulus is no exception.  The innocuous Cumulus humulis and mediocris  can on occasions grow into the angry, towering Cumulus congests, which it must be said is anything but a fair-weather cloud."

It was still raining when we left this morning, but cleared up in the afternoon.  Spent the day in the Pleistocene era -with giant sloths, mastodons, and other late ice age creatures.  More on that in another post.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

AIFF2016: My Picks Alongside The Festival's Picks

I don't have any serious issues with the Festival winners this year as I have had in the past.  Maybe I'm just mellowing, but I think the quality the films in competition was generally higher this year than in recent years.

But there are some films which I thought got overlooked and I'd like to point them out.  There are others that I might have added to this list had I seen them.

The films in competition* in the various categories are listed below with the festival winners bolded.

[*These are films the programmers picked as the best of the selected films and 'in competition' for a prize.]

Demimonde (Hungary) Winner
Donald Cried (USA)
First Girl I Loved (USA) First Runner Up
Heredity (Columbia)
Planet Outtakring (Austria)
Youth in Oregon (USA) Honorable Mention

I could argue why any of these films should have won the top prize.  All had strengths that made them strong contenders.  I think Demimonde was a fine pick.  Youth in Oregon was also a good movie, though it was a Hollywood film with some well known actors - less of a film festival picture.

Here are my top three,   not in any particular order.

I would have put Donald Cried in the top three.  It had a very powerful and complicated lead character who was played amazingly by the actor Kris Avedisian.  This was a powerful film about going home, but also about making amends, as an adult, for treating people badly as a teen.  Here's a post I did after seeing Donald Cried.

And Planet Ottakring was an adult fairy tale of a movie set in Ottakring, a real working class neighborhood in Vienna.  This film has clear cut good guys and bad guys, with Frau Hahn as a Cruella Deville class female villain. The good guys a little more complicated.  The story was written as a vehicle to introduce the concept of a local community currency based on historical events in Wörkl, Austria in 1932.  The writer, Mike Majzen told me via email, that he then wanted to make a more interesting screenplay in which to package that idea.  He succeeded beautifully.  Of course the director and the cast had something to do with that too.  [See more on the Wörkl financial experiment in Planet Ottakring in my post on Features in Competition.  Actually, I have more about all the features in competition at the link.]

Demimonde is like the fanciest, most decadent cake in a Budapest bakery.  It's exquisite looking, it's rich, it's got a dark story to tell.  Attila Szász deserved his second top prize at AIFF in three years.  He and his crew do beautiful and meaningful work.

But Heredity still haunts my mind as well.  This Columbian film explored the long term effects of being abandoned by one's father and the dangers of trusting the mental health professionals.  Luckily for the main character, his wife believed in him.  I need to do some more research on whether this film was based on a true story and if there are examples of cases like this one.

20 Matches  Winner
Death$ in a $mall Town
How To Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps
A Magician Honorable Mention
On Time First Runner Up

20 Matches was an excellent choice.  An original approach to telling a story that made palpable the grim story being told.   And yes, 20 matches were involved.  On Time was a powerful tale, well told,  with a punch in the gut ending.  A Magician had a good message wrapped in a quick and amusing story.  All good picks.  


Gorilla - First Runner Up
Il Campione (The Champion )
Like A Butterfly - Honorable Mention
My Mom and the Girl
Thunder Road  - Winner

I ended up seeing Thunder Road four times.  It was worth seeing once, maybe twice.  But I was waiting for the next film to start the third and fourth times.  A really good film should hold up longer.  I know people liked it because it was done in one long-shot and the actor showed a range of emotions.  But those things weren't enough for repeated viewings for me.  And his Karaoke ruined the song Thunder Road forever.  You can watch the whole movie here and decide for yourself.  It also won a major prize at Sundance, so I'm probably the odd man out here.

I only saw a part of Like a Butterfly so I don't have an opinion.  Gorilla  is a solid, satisfying film.  It might have been honorable mention in my choices.

My favorite short wasn't even in competition.  Sing For Your Supper was pulled me in from the beginning.  The basic concept - a land where you literally pay for things by singing and if you can't sing you end up begging - was brilliant, and the creation of a believable dystopian world in a short film was remarkable, as were the musical numbers and the acting.  A terrific short that, in my opinion, should have been the winner.

Another favorite was GlaswAsian Tales.  This film interwove the tales of several Asian-Scots in Glascow seamlessly connected a series of the people and stories with flashes of biting wit.  A look at the world from the view of the 'other' as signaled by the title's play on the usual word for people from Glascow.

Pay Day is a grim Hungarian short that shows the impact of a loan-shark in a small village.  Powerful.

And I want to mention Salt Man too.  A unique short about an artist living and working in a remote salt mine (collecting salt) in Iran, with his young daughter, talking about art and creativity and censorship.  He lives, emotionally, off the awards he wins from festivals around the world.  Another really strong and unique film.


Documentary Shorts
I’ll Wait Here (Austria)
Pickle (USA)  First Runner Up
Starring Austin Pendleton (USA) Winner  Winner
The BlindSide (India)  Honorable Mention

This seems to be the thinnest category. There were only four documentary shorts in competition. I didn't get to see The Blindside. [Until I was about to post this.  I found it online and you can watch it.  I think it's a more profound film than the other two and gets its message across in 3 minutes.]  I'm not sure why I'll Wait Here was in competition.  Someone shot a video of his grandparents at a Swiss spa.The editing makes it more than a family film.  One could argue that it causes us to pause and ponder what's important.  Some people see Jesus in strange places, so I guess some programmer saw something in this film that I missed. This is not an attempt to put down I'll Wait Here.  But I think there were other short docs that were probably better.  Pendleton was a film about an interesting person - a character actor who was sort of hidden in plain sight.  Pendleton's not unlike The Blindside, in subject matter.  A nice tribute, something you could show at Pendleton's funeral.  But it doesn't have the heart of the Indian film.

[After watching The Blindside online after the festival, and after the first draft of this post, I decided to see what I could find of the other short documentaries.  Mostly I could only see trailers.  I'll withhold further judgment until I can see the whole films.]

Feature-Length Documentaries
Best and Most Beautiful Things (USA) Honorable Mention  (tie)
Drokpa (China) First Runner Up
Goodbye Darling, I’m Off to Fight (Italy)
Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show (USA) Honorable Mention (tie)
The Cinema Travellers (India) Winner
The Slippers (USA)

These were all good films.  The choices were hard.   I loved The Cinema Travellers.  The other winners (I didn't get to see Dropka) were all worthy.  I did hear really good things about Walk With Me (not in competition) and it won an Audience Award.  I'm hoping to see it.

Murderous Tales (Czech Republic)
Green Light (South Korea)
A Space in Time (France) Honorable Mention
Adija (USA)
Alike (Spain)   Winner
Arrival: A Short Film by Alex Myung (USA)  First Runner Up
Hum (USA)
Just Like it Used to Be (USA)
My Life I Don't Want (Myanmar)
Pearl (United Kingdom, USA)
Red (Iran)
Under the Apple Tree (Netherlands)

The winners were all fine.  I especially liked Arrival.  But I do want to mention My Life I Don't Want.   Using simple graphics Nyan Kyal Say encapsulates the basics of being a woman world wide.  A brilliant film.  So simple, so profound.

I'm afraid I never got to any of the Made In Alaska films so I have no comment on them.

I thought this year's festival had strong films in many categories and I don't have any serious beefs with the festival's winners.  They were all good and the choices boil down to something in the films that appealed to particular judges that were different from appealed to me in some cases.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The End Of Reality And Truth As We Know Them

OK, the concepts of truth and reality were already on shaky grounds.  And new technology has complicated our ability to figure out the truth.  Photoshop and other programs make it possible to create faked images that can not be distinguished from real ones.  (There are ways to detect photoshop manipulation, which ought to be taught in school, as part of the long term teaching of critical thinking skills.)

And now, just as phone cams and Youtube have made everyone into a potential reporter, my friend Jeremy has alerted me to a disturbing technology that makes it possible to change the facial expressions of a person on video so that you could change what they look like they are saying.

Watch this video and then take up the challenge of finding new ways to overcome deception in the 21st Century.

Some might argue that this technology seems unnecessary, since so many people bought Trump's message without his having to use anything like this. But it also means that those who think the Trump supporters were gullible, will have to recalibrate their own ability to detect bullshit.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

La La Land - Movie Where The Camera Is One of the Actors

We're in LA and the reviews I scanned sounded like La La Land was worth seeing.

From the long opening long take* of people stuck in freeway traffic getting out of their vehicles to sing and dance with downtown in the background, to the very end, the camera (cinematographer Linus Sandgren) was a key player in the film.  Generally, the camera should do its magic without the viewer noticing it.  But in this case it becomes one of the dancers, so to speak, twisting between the cars, moving in and out, circling around.  And it participates vigorously throughout the movie.

This is a fun movie with lots to like.

Having grown up in LA, there are iconic locations - like the Griffith Park Observatory - which played a big role in my first 20 years.  And then there's the emphasis on jazz.

But I don't remember La La Land as name for LA as a kid, and it's not a name for LA I ever used.   I suspect it would only be used as the title of this movie by someone who moved to Los Angeles from elsewhere, which is the case of film maker Damien Chazelle.

And just to double check my memory I looked up the origins of the term.  It seems to have come into use after I left LA.

The Word Detective writes, in part,
“La-La Land,” by which is generally meant Los Angeles (although occasionally all of California), certainly has the ring of Royko, but it’s not one of his inventions.  The earliest appearance of the term (in reference to Los Angeles) so far found comes from 1979.  Interestingly, at about the same time, “la-la land” came into use as a slang phrase meaning “a state of dreamy disconnection from reality,” whether due to drunkenness or dementia.

The LA Times pondered the origins of La La Land in 1987, and decided it was probably the invention of a San Francisco snob.

*a  long take is when the camera rolls continuously through the scene.  There are no cuts from one shot to another.  IndieWire has a list (with videos) of a number of long shots from different movies.  But if this term is new for you, watch carefully.  Many, if not most, of the examples have some cuts at the beginning and the end.  In the long shot, the eye of the camera follows the action (or inaction) without a break.

Here's a little more than a trailer to whet your appetite.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wind Replaces Rain And Digital Spot Curse

Thursday it rained.  Friday was sunny again, but windy.  My bike ride to the beach was upwind going and downwind coming home.

Venice Beach sand wind patterns.  If you look close, you'll notice a spot on my lens.  The curse of digital cameras.  I've been noticing it, but as long as I had dark images where the spot was, it didn't show.  But yesterday I lost to the camera bad.

There was a much shallower puddle under the Santa Monica pier, but when I got out on the north side of the pier I was faced with this new gull playground.  Luckily, it was easy to bypass by going through the parking lot, though it covered a section of the lot as well.

The bike path picture is the kind where the lens spot isn't obvious.  But in the video below it's glaring.
But this short movie gives a sense of the breeze.

Finally, on the way home, the almost setting sun lit up Rose Avenue as I made my way back.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Obama's Press Conference Message: E PLURIBUS UNUM

Listening to Obama now in his press conference, I think there is one message that he is trying to send:  E PLURIBUS UNUM.  "Out of Many One."

It underlies his answers - which are focused on American values, on things like smooth transition, on following procedures, on minimizing Trump's outrageousness.  "The president still is in transition mode.. . There's a whole different attitude and vibe when you're not in power as when you're in power. . . We have to wait and see how they operate when they are fully briefed on the issues, have their hands on the levers, and have to make decisions."

But lest people miss the message, just look at the camera view of the president at the conference.

Screenshot from White House feed of Obama press conference Dec 16, 2016

Look carefully at the lower right corner of the image.  It's the presidential flag.  E PLURIBUS UNUM fits neatly into the corner of the image.  There is no way that was an accident.  Look at the presidential flag and think about how it has to be folded so that E PLURIBUS UNUM folds so perfectly into the corner of the image.  You'll also notice that much more of the presidential flag is in the image than the American flag.

Image from flagandbanner

As an amateur photographer and blogger, I know that I don't capture that kind of image accidentally.

And if you listen to his comments, he tells us over and over again, in his words and in his tone, that we have to improve the public discourse, that we have to stand together as Americans or foreign nations will exploit our disarray.  We are the strongest nation and that we are the only enemy who can defeat us.

The subtext is the old Pogo message.

Image from here

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Grey, Then Rainy LA Day

We got in last night.  Set off the alarm in my mom's house and it took us a while to figure out how to shut it off.  Slept in late.  The house and yard are looking better.  When I open drawers, many are completely empty.  Others have just a few things in them.  We've gotten most of the stuff into the garage.

There were heavy clouds all day and I finally got my body out the door to mail the bills and pick up a book at the bookstore, then circled back through Marina del Rey down to Venice Pier, then along the beach and back.

It wasn't raining when I started.  It was drizzling lightly when I left the book store, a little more on the way home.  And now the streets are wet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Alaska/Virgin Marriage Begins

Today is the official first day of the Alaska Airlines/Virgin merger. I know that because the flight attendants passed out free chocolates to all passengers on our flight.


They may be officially married, but it sounds like they're not going to move in together though.  The LA Times reports that the two airlines will continue to operate separately for the time being, but starting Monday people can buy Virgin tickets at the Alaska Airlines website.  It doesn't say whether you can buy Alaska tickets on the Virgin website.

It also says this makes Alaska/Virgin the fifth largest US airline, but it's still relatively small:
"Combined, Alaska and Virgin America control about 6% of the nation’s domestic flights. The country’s four bigger carriers — American, United, Delta and Southwest — control more than 80% of domestic flights."

As usual, the flight out of Anchorage offered amazing views. Here’s a view of the ice in the inlet as we took off about noon today.

it gets a little bigger and sharper if you click on it

I was sitting over the wing, so my camera view is a bit obstructed. Denali was hidden by the wing tip for a long time, and then finally came into view before we began flying over the Chugach.  It's about 265 miles by car from Anchorage to Denali National Park, but as the raven flies, it's more like 140.

It was snowing in Portland and the new plane had to be de-iced before we could leave.

The Moose And Me

Getting the house ready for our house sitter, I went out in the early morning dark to sweep the driveway.  I made it down and turned around to go back up the driveway and there were two moose casually munching the mountain ash right next to the driveway - less than ten feet away.  I didn't even see them until I was down at the bottom.  Obviously, they'd paid no attention to me as I'd swept the driveway, but now that I knew they were there I was less comfortable going back up the driveway.  I was just wearing a long sleeved t-shirt over a t-shirt.  No phone.  No camera.

My neighbor was starting his car across the street.  While I went over to see if I could get a ride up the driveway, a school bus, lights flashing, went by and the moose meandered off.

Here's a photoshop recreation of the scene.  Yeah Barbara, you could have done this much better.  But I'm trying to get this up before I have to board the plane.

Yes, they were really that close and were preoccupied with eating like I was preoccupied with a clean driveway.  (Just getting off the frost dust that had accumulated the last couple of days.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Are You A Wikipedia Freeloader?

I got an email from Jimmy Wales today asking for a donation to Wikipedia.  My only problem with the email is that their choices of different donation levels didn't have an option "I already gave."

As a blogger, I use Wikipedia a lot.  Partly because it comes up near the top if not first in most searches.  Partly because it generally has the most balanced starting point for me on any topic.  

I posted about my check on Wikipedia's fund raising in 2011.  It seemed like a good idea.  Since then, a relative got a job with the Wikimedia Foundation, so I need to disclose that now.  Fortunately, I checked on Wikipedia long before I knew I'd have any connection to them.  

Below is the letter I got this year and I encourage you to help keep this organization publishing their information for the world to read.  Actually, their small staff doesn't and couldn't post all the information.  That's done by volunteers around the world and it's success and quality is a testament to people volunteering and doing what they believe in without having to be paid.   

I was at their headquarters this year and I can guarantee that this is not one of the luxurious hi-tech companies you read about.  This is a non-profit with funky furniture.  And the employees don't get paid incredible sums and there's no promise of shares in the company, because, well they're not a profit making company and there are no shares to be had.  
"When the clock strikes midnight, our email fundraiser will end — but we haven't yet hit our goal. I'm asking you, sincerely: please take one minute to renew your $25 donation to Wikipedia.
These images are vestiges of encyclopedic knowledge of the past, when scientific, factual information was expensive, hard to digest, and hard to come by. Even today, your name-brand, hard copy encyclopedia would cost nearly $1,400 and contain about 65,000 articles. You get Wikipedia's 40 million articles and 35 million images for free. We just ask that once a year you contribute a little bit -- whatever you can -- to keep this amazing resource available for everyone.
If everyone who used Wikipedia gave today, we wouldn't have to worry about fundraising for years to come.
We’re a nonprofit. We’re independent. We don’t run ads or sell services to our readers. Though our size requires us to maintain the server space and programming power of a top site, we are sustained by donors who give an average of about $15. This year, will you take one minute to keep our work going?"

Monday, December 12, 2016

"Films Worth Freezing For" Was True This Week

The Anchorage International Film Festival's motto is 'Films Worth Freezing For" and this week we had fresh snow and cold.

This thermometer is in Fahrenheit.  (-18˚C)

And yes, the films were worth going out into the cold to watch.

[Yes, I did play with the hoarfrost picture in Photoshop.]

Sunday, December 11, 2016

AIFF2016: Film Festival Winners

[UPDATE Dec 11, 2016  10:45pm:  All the awards listed and related photos are up.]

This post was updated many times from when I put up the list of all the films in competition and as the winner were announced in each category, and as I put up pictures of winning film makers and some of the festival programmers.
Todd Salat  Aurora*

Jury Awards
Made in Alaska

Alaska's Mind-Blowing Aurora  Honorable Mention
Find Me
I am Yupik  Winner
Speaking from the HeART
Super Salmon  First Runner Up

Ryan Peterson - Super Salmon*
Really, I didn't know these two would win awards - I took these pictures less than ten minutes ago.
Ryan said his film would be available online next week.

Alex Myung Arrival**
Murderous Tales (Czech Republic)                    
Green Light (South Korea)
A Space in Time (France) Honorable Mention
Adija (USA)
Alike (Spain) Winner
Arrival: A Short Film by Alex Myung (USA) First Runner Up
Hum (USA)
Just Like it Used to Be (USA)
My Life I Don't Want (Myanmar)
Pearl (United Kingdom, USA)
Red (Iran)
Under the Apple Tree (Netherlands)

[UPDATE:  I erroneously marked Adija as the winner - wishful thinking on my part.  I really liked Adija, the spray painting was magical.  But Alike was also good.  And they look almost the same.  Sorry to both film makers of both films if you saw this before the correction.]

Rich Curtner Shorts Programer center*

Super Shorts

How To Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps (USA)
Death$ in a $mall Town (USA)
20 Matches (USA)  Winner
A Reasonable Request (USA)
A Magician (UK) Honorable Mention
On Time (USA) First Runner Up

Programmer George Pollock (Shorts) Juror Kelly Walters (Features)*

Il Campione (The Champion) (Italy)                      
Like a Butterfly (USA)  Honorable Mention
Thunder Road (USA)  Winner
My Mom and The Girl (USA)
Gorilla (USA)  First Runner Up
Curmudgeons (USA)

Documentary Short

I’ll Wait Here (Austria)
Pickle (USA) First Runner Up
Starring Austin Pendleton (USA) Winner
The BlindSide (India) Honorable Mention

Best and Most Beautiful director Zevgetis**  

Documentary Feature Length
Best and Most Beautiful Things (USA) Honorable Mention
Drokpa (China) First Runner Up
Kate Rigg Happy Lucky...*

Goodbye Darling, I’m Off to Fight (Italy)
Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show (USA) Honorable Mention
The Cinema Travellers (India) Winner
The Slippers (USA)

Attila Szász director Demimonde***


Putnam and Hunter Producers First Girl I Loved**
Demimonde (Hungary)  Winner   AK Small
Donald Cried (USA)
First Girl I Loved (USA)  First Runner Up            

Heredity (Columbia)
Planet Outtakring (Austria)
Youth in Oregon (USA)  Honorable Mention

Audience Choice

John Serpe - Producer The Happys**

Feature - The Happys

Documentary - Walk With Me

Jesse Nesser, Walk With Me, With his Oosik*

* photos taken at Awards Ceremony
**photos taken earlier during the Festival
***screenshot from 2014 Skype interview