Monthly Archives: December 2012

Some perspective on the violence in “Django Unchained”

There has been much talk about the violence in Quentin Tarantino’s new film, “Django Unchained”. I think two things should be mentioned.

First, Tarantino is no less violent than other directors such as Steven Spielberg. If anything, Spielberg can be more violent at times. I think Spielberg gets a pass on the amount of violence in his films for a number of reasons: the violence is seen as historic and not exploitive, he doesn’t have violence in all his films, and many of his films have an overall positive theme or message. That aside, when he uses violence, it is (at least to me) more shocking than Tarantino’s. For example, here is part of the Omaha Beach scene from “Saving Private Ryan”.

The actual scene goes on for much longer, culminating in the Americans slaughtering the Germans (or more like Romanians) coming out of the pill box. It’s a very long extended scene of hyper violence, and it is only one of many in the film. This can also be seen in his film, “Schindler’s List”. This is not to say the violence is wrong: it is very appropriate for the film he is making. But this is also true of Tarantino.

Second, as bad as it was in the film, the treatment of slaves and later freed slaves could be much worse than anything Tarantino depicted. As one example, this story of Henry Smith has stuck with me as a result of reading just how horrific it was. This passage is from Wikipedia, but if you follow the New York Times link at the bottom of the page in Wikipedia, you can read more detail of the story. Henry Smith was accused on killing a young white girl named Myrtle. He fled the town the crime occurred in, but..

was captured and brought back to Paris (Texas) by train, where a mob of an estimated 10,000 whites placed him on a carnival float and carried him through town and out into a prairie. There, he was placed upon a scaffold and tortured for fifty minutes by members of the girl’s family, who thrust hot iron brands into his flesh, starting with his feet and legs and working upward to his head. The family members involved included Myrtle’s father, uncles, and twelve-year-old brother. A February 2, 1893 article in the New York Sun stated that, “Every groan from the fiend, every contortion of his body was cheered by the thickly packed crowd.” Eventually, the hot irons were thrust into his eye sockets and down his throat. Afterwards, finding he was still breathing, the crowd poured oil on him and set him on fire. According to some newspaper accounts, Smith remained alive during the burning. He is said to have torn himself away from the post and fallen off the scaffolding, where he perished. The crowd then fought over the hot ashes to collect his bones and teeth as souvenirs.

Tarantino uses violence as part of how he communicates a story, as well as to viscerally engage his audience. It may seem shocking and excessive to some, but in the context of other filmmakers and in the context of the story he is telling, it makes sense in his latest film.

When even Mark Zuckerberg’s sister has problems with Facebook’s Privacy settings…

…then you likely should be very wary about what you share there too.

Randi Zuckerberg, Mark’s sister and former marketing director of Facebook, posted a photo to her Facebook. She was less than thrilled when someone reposted it to Twitter.

Yes, she is not just the CEO’s sister, but she worked there.

I like this photo, though I can see why she didn’t like to have it shared. She should talk to her brother, who is infamous for saying “Privacy is Dead – Deal With It” (Mark Zuckerberg – contentgroup).

For more, including the photo, see Buzzfeed’s article, Mark Zuckerberg’s Sister Complains Of Facebook Privacy Breach.

The amazing Jack Klugman, and the influence that Culture has on Politics

This is a must read story on how Jack Klugman used his TV show, “Quincy”, to overcome political opposition and help people with orphan disaeases get the medicines they desparately needed: Jack Klugman’s secret, lifesaving legacy. It’s an great story, well told.

Jack Klugman recently died. May he rest in peace and may he be remembered as much as for this as being a much beloved actor.


Merry Christmas! It’s a Wonderful Life

Yes it is, despite everything. And speaking of  It’s a Wonderful Life, it looks like the entire thing is posted on YouTube:

Merry Christmas and god bless.

It’s a Wonderful Life – YouTube

Advent music: The Civil wars “O Come O Come Emmanuel”

It’s December 20th. You need Christmas music. Good Christmas music. Here you go:

If you want to buy it, you can get it here.

The Civil wars “O Come O Come Emmanuel” – YouTube

General Motors: not a success (yet)

This New York Times article has a good summary of where things stand with G.M. It starts with this: NYT: U.S. to Sell Stake in G.M., and it has this money quote

Nearly four years after what became a $49.5 billion bailout, the Treasury Department announced on Wednesday that it would sell 200 million shares back to the company for $5.5 billion, then sell an additional 300 million shares by early 2014.

Currently, the exit would produce a loss of more than $12 billion for taxpayers

It’s seems to me that while the timing of this is partly a post-electoral move, it is also a realization on the U.S. Government’s part that it was never going to get its money back from G.M. directly. It was time to cut the strings and move on. Also, I think Americans do benefit from the auto industry still being alive, and while Ford didn’t benefit directly the way G.M. did, Ford did indirectly benefit from having others in the automotive business besides themselves. I think Americans benefit from having Ford and G.M. competing, assuming that the latter can turn itself around. Finally, if G.M. does sink in the future instead of swim, then it has no one to blame but itself.

(Thanks to Jaimewoo for this link.)

Boston Dynamics: how to market yourself on the fears of others (Robot watch)

Videos of robots created by Boston Dynamics have been circulating alot around the Web lately. Here’s one of them, an older one called RISE

Imagine that crawling up your balcony or nearby tree. Or imagine dozens of them, all over your house.

I find it interesting that Boston Dynamics, which is in the business of making military robots, is also very good at promoting themselves with their videos. People that would not watch videos of jet planes or artillery are fascinated by their videos, even if the former videos and weapons could be just as sophisticated as the latter. Boston Dynamics is good at downplaying the military role of their robots, but I am positive that the expectation of the military is that these robots could eventually be used in warfare. (The U.S. military is not funding these machines to help you clean your house.) We watch the videos, partly in admiration and partly in fear.

I think one of the reasons that these videos do well is the air of fear they possess. The robots aren’t doing domestic things. They look harmful, even if they aren’t shown doing anything harmful or potentially harmful. People that have commented on them note that. That’s not necessarily the fault of Boston Dynamics: humans have been worried about robots for along time. (Asimov’s Laws of Robotics are what they are for a reason.) But Boston Dynamics doesn’t do anything to dissuade us that we shouldn’t fear these robots, either. We fear robots, most of all for their potential to overwhelm us. The videos by Boston Dynamics show us that robots are well on their way to doing that.

It’s just a matter of time before we see videos of swarms of small robots or drones like in Minority Report. Or large troops of headless biped robots attacking an outpost. Or a pack of robot dogs pursuing soldiers. This, as much as anything, is the future.