Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"The Secret Life of Cats"

The Secret Life of Cats” from Superb Documentaries, by Allison Argo, is a 52-minute documentary, 4;3 aspect, showing how cats domesticated themselves and looking at the problem of proliferating feral cats killing off mammals and birds at various places around the world.  

The film explains how the cat domesticated himself, and then explains how people’s dumping unwanted kittens only raises the birth rate.  Feral cats can survive by hunting birds and small mammals.  People are amazed how they snatch birds feeding. The film also traced the life if pet cats in several homes.  In northern Virginia, a cat has a curfew.  In Adelaide, Australia, an owner has built a contained play space that allows the cat to roam without threatening birds.

There is a sequence where aborigines on the Australian outback hunt cats, who have in turn killed many of their game animals.  There is a long electric cat fence being built in the outback  (remember the 2002 film "Rabbit-Proof Fence" by Phillip Noyce). 

Cats that have bonded to their owners will return to their homes, through cat doors, and can find homes from long distances.  When I lived in a garden apartment in Dallas, I was “adopted” by a stray who recognized the sound of my car when I drove home and could remember where my apartment was and claw the door to be let in.  Yes, he would bring birds.  He would sometimes lie on the bed before I went to bed and want to knead.  He definitely recognized me as an individual (a biped who wears clothes and 7 times his size) the way a dog would and knew who he was.  

Picture: Princess, a family cat who found us in 1965.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Octopus: Most Intelligent Animal on Earth": stunning problem solving ability

Octopus:  Most Intelligent Animal on Earth” is a documentary from Germany in the AMChannel series on YouTube about animal capabilities. The German title (the film is narrated in English) is “Master of the Deep”.

The film shows progressive experiments, in Italy and California, to test the ability of the octopus to solve problems getting food, learn and remember mazes, and learn from comrades.  The life span is very short , about 4 years, and the female starves herself to death after laying her eggs as she incubates them.

There is some evidence that the octopus can accumulate knowledge from peers, although they are not taught by their mothers.  Octopuses can also move on land between bodies of water for short periods of time.

The octopus has a central brain, and then each arm has a sub-brain (although humans and mammals have something comparable with the automatic nervous system and reflexes – the octopus nervous system is still decentralized).  It sounds plausible that the octopus has a structure comparable to a vertebrate pineal gland, supposedly responsible for sentience.

The film shows the “learning” in the skin’s chromatophores – comparable to growing tattoos, or shedding and immediately replacing hair.

Cephalopods went their own way about 600 million years ago when vertebrates develop. They present the idea of convergent evolution.  Consciousness has more than one way to develop or be mapped onto different kinds of nervous systems.  The octopus is thought to have about the intelligence of a dog or cat, and will learn to recognize humans, understanding we are sentient like them even if our bodies are very different.

Theoretically, because the octopus can move on land, it could evolve into a civilizing animal – but it would need to develop a “family” structure to raise and train the young.  Maybe alien planets do have civilizations developed from invertebrates like these.

Atlantic story on octopuses.

New York Times story.

Wikipedia attribution link for Octopus solving problem, by Kabel, CCSA 3.0

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Galleon Andalucia": the ship built for a movie about 16th Century Spanish explorers

The exhibit of El Galeon (now in Alexandria VA for Memorial Day weekend) accompanies the development of a new film “Galleon” (there is one “L” in Spanish).  This is apparently a film (“Galleon”, from Bleecker Street) about the 16th century Spanish explorer ship which was reconstructed in St. Augustine, FL.

Mark Moorer, screenwriter, presents the ship in this video. I wonder what it would be like to be hired to write this kind of script.

The exhibit in Alexandria showed a 20-minute short film (from “NOA”)  on the construction of the replica ship, mostly with basic carpentry skills and tools, called “Galleon Andalucia”.  The film was shown in the lowest level f the ship.  You learn how rope is made from the sisal plant.

There was also drone video of the ship, taken from across the Potomac over Fort Washington, MD.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Gatlinburg Reopens After Wildfires": Transplant from the North tours Gatlinburg the morning it reopens in an impressive short film

“Yankee in the South” gives us a 25-minute short film where the filmmaker walks through downtown Gatlinburg TN around 7 AM as it reopens to the public on December 9. 2016 after the great wildfire in the Smokies Nov. 28-29.  The film is titled simply “Gatlinburg Reopens After Wildfires 12/9/2016”.

 Most of the town appears to be intact. The author shows many shops.  There are attractions like Ripley’s Moving Theater.  There is a pancake house.  Some businesses are still closed because of smoke. At the end, he shows houses at the edge of town burnt to the ground, but the Mystery House was saved by hosing water constantly.

There is mention of the “Tennessee state anthem” as he passes the Gatlinburg hotel.

The film seems to be HD and has a curved effect sometimes, like a GoPro camera imparts.

The fire had spread from the Chimney Tops 2 along US 441 (Wiki ) which I last drove myself in July 2013.  I visited the town with my parents as a boy in the 1950s.

Two juveniles were charged with arson for dropping lit matches near the mountain.  But the fires would not have spread were it not for extreme drought, which could be related to climate change.  Tennessee law does not allow for release of their names or much information before conviction, news story.  But any blame for the juveniles would be mitigated by the slow response of authorities to the fire in the first couple of days when it was still small.

Update:  June 30

Prosecutors have dropped charged against the teens.  They do not have enough evidence that the teens really caused the entire fire, given weather conditions and extreme drought.

Wikipedia picture of Chimney Tops TN N of US 441, PD . 

Monday, May 22, 2017

"They Call Us Monsters": juveniles charged as adults for violent crimes learn screenwriting in a California prison

On Monday, May 22, 2017, PBS aired “They Call Us Monsters”, directed by Ben Lear, a documentary about the growing trend to try juveniles with violent offenses as adults.
The film starts with a depiction of a juvenile case in 1976, and moves to the 1990s when Newt Gingrich says that if you commit an adult crime, you’re an adult.

Then it moves to a high security facility in a desert area in California where an English and screenwriting teacher, Gabe, himself about 30, comes to the jail and shows them how to write a 10-minute screenplay which he will fund and shoot for a festival.  These are all kids facing life sentences for murder.

Gabe starts by creating hooks, by asking the kids to write down five fears.

Gradually, scenes from the developing screenplay mix with real videotape of the teens being arrested.

The cases for some of the kids, especially Jarad, progress in court. Curiously, the subject of tattoos, in conjunction with gangs, comes up. 

Then the documentary moves to state legislatures where the debate gets into the area of the teen brain, as immature and not able to see around corners, as Dr. Phil has explained.  But “evil” is possible, and it’s clear that parenting (and many other factors) cause some teen boys to develop “moral” maturity much earlier in life than others. There is a tremendous variation in the rate of brain maturity achievement. Some specialists say that too much screen time or lack of social interaction in the real world will delay brain growth.

One of the legislators weighs recognizing the victims against the biological immaturity of the teen perpetrators.

In the final scene, Jarad (a teen father) is sentenced to 160 years to life. 
The official site is here

PBS followed with a short film "Facing Life" by Dan Birman, depicting a convict named Cyntoia, a model prisoner, now 28, with 39 years more to serve. The film says there is "no endgame".  I thought the feature could have mentioned chess in prison. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Google announces technology to analyze gender (and probably race) bias in Hollywood films

Google has a strange article today on the use of technology in detecting “gender bias” in films.

The system analyzes action and spoken time of different characters in a film to see how much prominence various characters are given.  It could be used for other markers, like race.

There has been some attention in Hollywood to racism (and sexism) in casting.

My own take is that this concern makes sense in highly commercial and obvious mass-market films. For example, this could include films based on comic books, science fiction franchises (the article mentions “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), or animated features, especially those for children.  “Boss Baby” comes to mind (I haven’t bothered to see it, though it make the only children’s animated film showing vomiting in the previews, as if to be directed by Roman Polanski).

The concern would not be appropriate in literary adaptations, or in independent films that explore personality with respect to specific gender and/or race matters (such as a film that explores a characters own preferences or fetishes).  Likewise, in independent film, many things just will be race or gender dependent.

Still, I could imagine someone making a movie about a transgender “closer” relief pitcher in Major League Baseball.  That will probably become reality some day.

You could wonder, furthermore, if a film like “Judas Kiss” would work the same way if one of the three major characters (Danny – two actors, Shane, or Chris) was black.  The movie would work in a heterosexual world – that idea has been tried.

No question, “The Great Wall” should have cast oriental leads, because the story is set in China.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Is Death Like Being Asleep?"; I joined "Patreon" for Strange Mysteries

Is Death Like Being Asleep?” is another Strange Mysteries video that caught my attention.

The 10-minute short makes the point that in most deaths, after the heart and lungs stop working and so do all other organs, the brain cells can function for about 10 minutes.

The person may experience a “Core”,a dark nothingness, or some dream like material. Furthermore the brain secrets a chemical that makes time seem to slow-down  In a space-time sense, the person’s life-track make take on a certain kind of cosmic permanence.

Perhaps fragments of his “life review” persist forever with others through some kind of quantum entanglement with others in his family group, as a “ghost”.

An earlier part of the video explains the natural states of normal sleep by comparison, including REM sleep.

I joined “Patreon”, a video community, for $2 a month, which allows the viewer to see bonus videos and to submit videos in a certain thematic format appropriate for the YouTube channel, which says it has had trouble because some of its material is not “advertiser friendly”. I watched “What Happens If You Can’t Die” as a bonus.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"4 Rights We Will Lose in Future" from Strange Mysteries

4 Rights WE  Will Lose in Future” from Strange Mysteries (a series) starts out by preaching that we should be grateful for living in a modern, free country, a privilege proportionally few people have had throughout history.

But we have willingly surrendered our privacy already (not just to Facebook), to the extent that the idea of “consenting adults in private” would no longer work as a legal argument (Ii depended on this so much on my first DADT book in 1997 on gays in the military).  We’ve given up on equality already, especially in genetics, which insurance companies are likely to want to read as “pre-existing conditions”.  We give up our rights to receive and even post information as Trump dismantles network neutrality – this film seems to think that the big telecom companies will block publishers who don’t pay them off. (We'll lose "The Right to YouTube" as a corollary.) And we’ll give up the right to drive to Uber’s driverless cars, to avoid human error.  Will there be “positive car control” like “positive train control”

There is a collateral film that enumerates four rights we will gain, for another time.  But are these all part of "Our Fundamental Rights" (my 1998 booklet)?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"How Would You Envision a Space Colony?"

How Would You Envision a Space Colony?”, short film from National Geographic with Rick Tumlinson,  It’s in the “FreeThink” series called “A New Space Age”, from its Short Film Showcase.

It’s inspired by Gerard K. O’Neil’s  book“The High Frontier”. O'Neill didn't just write, he acted and formed an organization. 
Tumlinson compares today's kids to those living in the 1500s about the time that the explorers went across the Atlantic looking for the New World.

Tunlinson has kids and young adults designing a Rama-like space colony, even with artificial gravity, that he thinks people could be living on in twenty years. He says people will go to live on these colonies, the Moon, or Mars, or maybe further (like near Europa or Titan?)
   The speakers say that the kids there at the conference may well become the first permanent settlers on space.

Think of the comparison to those who settled the New World, although there is no land to expropriate from indigenous peoples this time.

This reminds me of Dan Fry’s Understanding group in the 1970s, where I attended several of his conventions in the 1970s.

One girl used Minecraft do design a 3-D hologram of her conceived habitat. Interesting idea for moviemaking. 

(Updated: Thursday, April 8, 2021 after a second watching). 

Monday, May 08, 2017

"The Prison in Twelve Landscapes": documentary on communities surrounding incarceration turns attention to Black Lives Matter

Monday, May 8, 2017, PBS Independent Lens showed a reduced version of Brett Story’s “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes”.  The PBS site is here.   The production company is Of Ratface.  The official site is here  and the film was produced with Canadian resources, and aired in a few festivals like Doxa.

This was billed as a film about the effect of incarceration on surrounding communities, but it turns out to be bigger.  It is a stunning indictment of the hidden racism festering during Obama’s presidency, glossed over by political correctness.

The opening section shows a man, himself a former inmate, in the Bronx packing food and sundries for prisoners in upstate New York, explaining the arbitrary rules for what prisoners are allowed.

The next section shows firefighters in Marin County, CA fighting a wildfire.  Some firefighters are volunteers from a local inmate program but relatively few will become firefighters on release.

The next section showed how prison had replaced coal mining for an eastern Kentucky community, as a source of jobs. One man considered mountaintop removal as a boon, as a flat land is at a premium in Appalachia; an airfield and prison had been built on an area that had been leveled by 200 feet. There was an interesting rail viaduct that I don’t recall seeing even though I have driven in the area.

The next location was Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village in New York City, about six blocks from where I used to live in the 1970s (in the Cast Iron Building).  An elderly black man was teaching a girl chess.  Many spend games were shown. The man explained how chess is an important past time in prison and some inmates get very good at the game.  I don’t recall that United States Chess Federation has discussed this publicly, even though I have been a life member since 1965 (USCF used to be in the antique district across the street from the Cast Iron Building).  The Marshall Chess Club is nearby in Chelsea.

The film then moved to the locations of the protests.  It covered started out with a St. Louis County judge explaining that the media is not allowed to film at trials, showing a lack of transparency. Then the film dissects how the many little jurisdictions use harassment of African Americans to intimidate them into paying fines.  One woman went to "garbage jail" protesting a fine for leaving a trash can open.  (I’ve never heard of such a thing.)  Another black girl was arrested for no ID when she wasn’t even driving the car. The film shows the location on Canfield Ave in Ferguson where Michael Brown was shot by Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014.  Despite the prevalence of the Democratic party in the county, the government is said to be quite racist.  This section of the film presented an outrage with which I was not familiar.

The film then shifts to Baltimore, showing the demonstrations after Freddie Gray in Sandtown, with the CVS store that as torched but is now re-opened.  (A former gay bar, the Hippo, became another CVS store in Baltimore on Charles St. in the Mt. Vernon area.)  Familiar faces (from the gay community) appeared in the film, since I have been to many events in the area, being in te DC area myself.

Then the film shifts to 34th and 7th Ave in New York to deal with shoplifting.

Finally, the shortened film showed a prison (I think in upstate New York) with a Bach French Suite playing on a harpsichord, an ironic effect.

What a film!  It makes a good pairing with "Whose Streets?" soon coming from Magnolia Pictures.

Wikipedia attribution link for Loaves of Bread picture of Ferguson MO protests, Aug. 14, 2014.

Monday, May 01, 2017

"National Bird": three whistleblowers deal with the aftermath of a US drone strike in Afghanistan that killed civilians

President Barack Obama’s military strategy relied heavily on the use of overseas drones, operates from secret but comfortable military silos within the United States.  It would be reasonable to expect this to continue under Donald Trump (and Mattis), even if Trump doesn’t trust computers.

The documentary “National Bird”, directed by Sonia Kennebeck, from FilmRise (for theaters) was shown on PBS Independent Lens Monday, May 1, 2017.  The film was slightly compressed from the original 92 minutes, and I see that it showed at the AMC Hoffman in late 2016 in the DC area.

The film tells the stories of three US Air Force drone operators who wound up becoming whistleblowers. Most of the overseas activity in the film involves a drone strike in Afghanistan that resulted in many civilian deaths and maimings in February 2010.  The film shows graphic shots of men with stubs for legs after above-the-knee amputations.  A New York Times account of the incident is here.

The most chilling and upsetting narrative (among the three: Lisa, Heather, and Daniel), is that of Daniel, who had worked at the NSA,  who returned home to get a sudden knock on the door and an FBI raid, taking out all the contents of his apartment.  He waits the possibility of indictment for espionage charges that could lead to decades in prison.  His NYC apartment looks goofy, with a banner that attacks capitalism, and his own appearance is a curious mixture of slender wholesomeness and body art.  His cat dearly loves him and is beyond comprehending what could be wrong in her “pride” of humans.   Daniel says he naturally had come under suspicion because he was politically active in public.  His attorney apparently is Jesselyn Radack, who has also represented Edward Snowden.

The filmmaker was somewhat constrained by the National Espionage Act of 2017 in what it could show.

The official site for PBS is here.

The Wikipedia article for the Afghanistan War Documents Leak is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for family park in Kabul, p.d.