Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tom Cruise is Top Bomb in the New Mummy Movie.

Don't even watch the new mummy movie, because it is just a trailer for Mummy 2, and I'm not sure that is really going to happen.  The producers are so greedy they are already promoting it in the current Mummy movie which ought to be called Top Bomb.  They might be disappointed, as I predict people will stay away from this stale movie in droves.  Spoiler alert:  Normally I never give away elements of the plot, but in this case I actually give away a lot.  But the events are so stupid I'm confident you won't believe me unless you've actually seen the film. 

The Mummy Lady throws up in this movie.  I almost did too.  

Tom Cruise is almost old enough to remember when the pyramids were being built, but he's actually rather good as the lead actor.  Then Annabelle Wallis is fine as the incredibly-beautiful-for-no-reason government scientist, Sofia Boutella is the mummy (semi-sexy but not much), Jake Johnson is Tom's sidekick, and I have no idea what Russell Crowe is doing.  I think he showed up for the wrong movie. They were filming a remake of Dr Jekyl and Mr. Hyde next door and he went to the wrong studio and showed up in the Top Bomb movie by mistake.   Honest, that's what happened. 
Speaking of casting, I was happy with the performances, but once again, another movie fails to have an ethnically diverse cast.  It's basically a bunch of white guys messing around with evil Egyptian magic.  

The essence of the movie is about collecting the right sort mumbo jumbo needed to use ancient Egyptian magic to prolong life. It's complicated.  Let's see, you need to make friends with a bad Egyptian God so that they will give you an ancient magic curse.  Or maybe you need a spell to read, and a magic knife. No wait, you need a magic jewel too or it doesn't work.  Or maybe you can use modern chemistry to make a potion to skip all the worship-related stuff and that might work about as well.  

Then you have to decide who is going to stab who and whether or not stabbing is helpful or harmful to your desire to come back from the dead.  And if they do come back from the dead, will they be in a good mood when they come back?  
I give up.  I can't explain how the coming back from the dead thing workds.  I have no idea why, but some people die and come back in this movie and some don't.  It would be better if they had all stayed dead, frankly.  

Everyone wants to stab Tom Cruise and most of the time it's kind of a friendly, laid-back California style stabbing.  They just hope he is basically okay with it, and try to talk up the idea of being stabbed to death. It could be good for science! Good for religion!  It might save your girlfriend!   Whaddya say, Tom?  

Well, all the rules are very confusing, and sorting through the rules of immortality substitutes for a plot.  There is in fact no plot at all.  I still am not sure why some people become zombies and some don't.  Plus some retain most of their personality and other's don't.  

I also dislike the minor mummies and miscellaneous zombies, who are thrown into the movie in case someone wants to make a video game out of it (they won't).  Anyway these tiny mummies are about as dangerous as chipmunks, and just annoying.   

The movie does a good job of providing startling surprises, so if you like being scared it's okay to watch.   Don't let little kids see it though; I imagine a 10 year old might get really scared at certain points.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

What Did We Learn from James Comey?

It seems to me that former Director Comey is highly ethical and principled.  But he wouldn't participate in coverups for Secretary Clinton or President Trump, so of course everyone hates his guts.
     Yesterday's hearing of testimony from James Comey was illuminating on many issues, but still left me wondering about the investigation of American ties to Russia.  Senators Richard Burr and  Mark Warner are to be congratulated for carrying out a truly bipartisan hearing at a professional level. It's proof that it can be done.  But they needed more specificity.   

    First of all, let's drop the jailhouse rhetoric.  Nobody is sending James Comey to jail for leaking UNclassified information.   That's not illegal.   By the same token, you're not going to send the President to jail on Obstruction of Justice, when it is his constitutional duty to be the supervisor of the Director of the FBI.  Of course he has the right to fire him.  It might have been a bad decision, but you are not sending the President to jail for that (I refer you to Alan Dershowitz's analysis of that fantasy).   So let's drop the sensationalism for a minute and ask what was actually learned from the testimony.  

      The answers were seemingly very clear, but in reality some of the questions were way too broad, and didn't elicit much information.  For example, consider the following exchange below (Blue type used for the actual transcript, my comments are in black).

BURR: Do you have any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016  elections?
COMEY: None.

Well, what do you mean by "Russia?" Does it mean President Putin actually ordered operatives to attempt to swing the election to Trump?  Or was it some agency of the Russian government?  Or are we talking about independent hackers?  And what does it mean to interfere?  The question isn't specific enough to understand Comey's true conclusions.  Some clarification appears below:

BURR: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the intrusions in the DNC and the DCCC systems, and the subsequent leaks of that information?
COMEY: No, no doubt.

I think this means that the Russian government agencies hacked email accounts in the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Community.  Others may also have hacked them but Russian spy agencies were definitely involved in some way, in Comey's opinion.  According to legal sites on the web, "Hacking" can range from a misdemeanor to a Class B Felony punishable by 20 years in jail if you get caught. However, what I would like to know is whether the Russian SVR intelligence agency pulls these shenanigans as standard operating procedure, or did a high official (President Putin or SVR Director Sergey Naryshkin, for example) order up something special for the election?  Can we be sure that this sort of activity goes way beyond the norm, and that the US, for example, would never do this to Russia or some other sovereign government? 

BURR: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the cyber intrusion in the state voter files? COMEY: No.

Again, this is a hack and likely illegal in America.  In Russia, it's probably not illegal and in fact people are getting paid to carry out such activities.  So I want to know whether this is part of an ongoing cyber war (are we in a secret war with Russia, and nobody bothered to tell us??), or whether the SVR cooked up something special specifically for this election.  

BURR: Do you have any doubt that officials of the Russian government were fully aware of these activities?  COMEY: No doubt.

Senator Burr, what officials?!  Do you mean Putin?  The head of the SVR?  or some bureaucrat who is paid to make mischief?  "Fully aware"  suggests  explicit understanding and approval if not direction of the activities?   

I have another question that I haven't seen asked in the press.  I've heard that some of the most effective operations involved the use of social media.  In other words the maximum damage to the voting base was created via LEGAL means. For example, they are said to have infiltrated Facebook and social media, and to promote "fake news" about the candidate.     Maybe these damaging narratives were hatched in Moscow.  If so, it is terrible, damaging and alarming and also effective in turning votes.   But does it actually violate any US laws??   I believe it is legal to create fake accounts in Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Making propaganda is also legal.  Lies about politicians are welcome in the American system, not criminal, not considered libel.    It may even be legal to ask for volunteer helpers from outside the US.  Unethical, yes. Tacky, yes.  But does it violate a US law?   I'm not a lawyer, but I don't see how.
     Turning it around, American politicians often express admiration or outright endorsement of foreign politicians.  That is legal, isn't it?  And what if Americans publish a slew of websites for some political party or another using fake identities.  What crime would they actually be charged with, and has anyone ever done time for it?
    In the internet age, it may be very hard to bring charges against a foreign person who wishes to deceive Americans about specific people or political parties.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Waiting for Gadot: Wonder Woman Arrives

Look out world, here comes Wonder Woman!

     Hello, DC, what kept you?  Wonder Woman is an awesome,  incredible movie finally breaking out of DC's terrible slump of repetitive boring movies.  
        We were introduced to Wonder Woman in the plodding Batman versus Superman (my review of that pathetic film is linked here: Batman vs Superman review ), in which two plodding middle aged Superheros were upstaged by a Woman with 90% of Superman's abilities, who swung a sword and grunted like a Pro Tennis player.  I guess they thought that was sexy.  I thought it was dopey and showed that the creators had a fetish for tennis players.  
       I suspect that the last several DC movies have been overly dark and gloomy because the Joker was their best character, and he was a very dark, ominous figure. So DC decided "Gee, let's make everything dark and ominous!"  So we have had dark and ominous Batman, dark and ominous Superman, dark and ominous everyone.  Well, that doesn't work for everyone.  
       I'm happy to report that Director Patty Jenkins moved beyond that.  The backdrop of World War I provides a serious and grim tone for the film, but it is not limited to that.  
        The basic premise is that Wonder Woman comes from a race of Amazons who have been isolated from humanity for thousands of years.  
     But they learn about the Great War in the outside world, and conclude that humanity is being influenced by an evil cosmic power to descend into a state of perpetual warfare (I might add that 100 years hence, it is still not clear whether we ever made it out of that state).  Princess Diana must decide whether to intervene, and if so, how.  In a world at war, are there any good people left? 
        Wonder Woman avoids the stereotypic bad guys that have hitherto been characteristic of DC movies.   This movie explores the motives of evil at both the human level as well as the cosmic level.  Are the War Machines of Europe the source of evil in the world?  Or is there something beyond, and if so, how can it be discovered?
        Gal Gadot is magnificent as Wonder Woman. First of all, she looks the part, but more importantly she is totally believable.  On the one hand Wonder Woman is naive about humanity, but on the other hand she understands the mythological nature of the universe in a totally different way from her mortal contemporaries.  Gadot's Wonder Woman is sexy, but she is clearly a warrior and not a beauty pageant contestant.   
      I don't believe the movie industry has ever understood the value of the superhero franchises.   Batman vs Superman proved that people would see a movie based on its title alone, since it was one of the worst movies in its generation.  Once word got out that it was a terrible movie, people stopped turning out for it, but it's opening weekend showed how intensely interested the public is. 
     Wonder Woman is the most compelling female character in the superhero universe, and yet no one realized that it would be worth making a movie about her until now. Fortunately this movie has much greater artistic merit, and so I predict it will continue to score at the box office rather than falling off a cliff like Batman vs Superman.  
     Now, some of the picayune details that I didn't understand.  First of all, it seems clear that Paradise Island is some kind of Greek Mediterranean island with perpetual warm weather.   But about 1/3 of the way through the movie I finally figured out that the movie actually places it in the North Sea, and it's actually rather easy to travel to Jolly Old England from Paradise Island.  Oh.  
         I mentioned previously my dissatisfaction with Wonder Woman's sword in Batman vs Superman, which was a throw-in because the creators had a thinly disguised fetish for the likes of Serena and Maria.  Well, ok, there is a role for the sword in this movie, but she may or may not need to use it again in the future.     
         Wonder Woman is also an ethnically bland film, with very few parts for persons who are not Caucasian.  I suppose you could blame that on World War I not being ethnically diverse, but they are going to have to do better in the future.  
        I'm also hoping that Wonder Woman will one day break through the glass ceiling imposed by comicdom, in which no female superheroine is allowed to be more than 90% as powerful as Superman.  No, a musclebound humanoid alien can not be more powerful than a Demi-Goddess.  Wonder Woman deserves to be the cleanup hitter in the DC movie universe.   Let her do some things that Superman can not.   WW is going to far out-gross Batman vs Supes, she's earned her spot. After the first billion dollars rolls in, the producers are going to ask, "duh.....why didn't we try this a bit earlier?"  


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Who Are the Mennonites?

Great Great Grandfather Jacob (right) and Katharina Garber Kennel (center) and one of the Kennel beauty daughters or granddaughters, in the early 1900s.   Am I really related to you?   

     What do you get if you cross an Amishman with a Korean?  
      No joke, most of my father's ancestors were Mennonites who came from Switzerland, and the border region between France and Germany:  Alsace Lorraine, Rhineland Palatinate and Hesse.  The Mennonites were followers of Menno Simons (1492-1565), a church leader and theologian who is probably one of the most influential persons that you never heard of. My Dad suggests that the Mennoites represetned the left wing of the Protestant Reformation, and perhaps that is so.  
       Menno carried first of all a message of a warm, loving Christianity.  He believed in hard work, humility and avoidance of frills and fads.  I like the title of a book by Horst Gerlach "My Kingdom is Not of This World,"  which is an apt summary of their belief. Don't place your faith in things of this world, Christian, but keep your eyes on the Kingdom beyond this one.  
    The Amish were related to the Mennonites.  They were the followers of Jakob Amman (born 1644 in Switzerland) who among other things introduced more strict rules concerning excommunication and "shunning" (strictly ignoring them, as if they no longer existed) those who were excommunicated. It might be added that prior to the Industrial Revolution, there was less visible difference between the Mennonites and the Amish, as everybody used horses and buggies, but today the Amish stand out for their strict refusal to embrace change. With the Mennonites it's more of a tendency rather than  a strict code.  
    But what really got the Mennonites and Amish into trouble was that they actually believed in Christ as Prince of Peace. Hence they did not carry guns, and they would not serve in the Armed Forces, rejecting the earthly authority of royal rulers.  
This made them a threat to European royalty, and they were systematically persecuted, fined and thrown in jail and were ultimately chased out of Netherlands, and wound up settling in Switzerland and the border region between France and Germany.   They had the reputation of being excellent farmers and hard workers, so the local barons were willing to tolerate them in exchange for having them provide food for the populace.  This was stable for a long time, but eventually the decision was made to leave Europe and travel to America, where they would be alllowed to own the land that they farmed.   Likely, my ancestors came to America in order to be able to continue their Old World traditions.  This put them into conflict with the rapidly changing Americans.
      The elders no doubt preferred for the young generation to follow their practices.  But this was not to be. My great grandfather was named Thomas Jefferson Kennel, a slight hint that the Kennels regarded themselves as Americans by 1870 when he was born.     
    Things came to a head in World War I.  That's the time when both the Augsburgers and the Kennels stopped speaking German.  I'm sure it was no easy decision, but ultimately they decided that they were not going to side with the Kaiser, who was the one who kicked them out of Germany in the first place.  
     Granny Blanche told me she spoke German at home until America entered the war.  At that time her father Henry told the family that they were done speaking German.  The Augsburgers, like the Kennels and many other Mennonite families, would be Americans henceforth. 
      Grandpa Elmer heeded his country's call and joined the Army.  He was made a Medic, probably because of his Mennonite religion, but I'm told that Elmer didn't ask for Conscientious Objector status.  In the next generation my Dad joined the Navy in World War II and I became an Air Force officer.   
      There's an old cliche, "How will you keep them on the farm once they've seen Paris?"  Yeah, that was Gramps. Grandpa told me one time, "I didn't know there was any kind of a job besides farmer before I went in the Army."  He wasn't joking.  He was the first person in the family whose main job was not farming.  I'm sure that was not easy.   He went to college after World War I and met Grandma Blanche...then they moved to Dayton and Gramps got a job at the YMCA on West 3rd Street, and Granny worked at the Department Store which eventually became Rikes. Wow, they were not farmers! 
    Years later his son Byron got some even more crazy ideas and even married a Korean lady, an exchange student from Western Reserve College in Cleveland.  I didn't think about it as a child, but I'm sure that traumatized the family.  There are some wedding pictures that I've seen, and some of the people I can recognize.  There was bridesmaid Lily Rosenbaum, from France, and an African American flower girl, daughter of Julius and Yolanda Lee.  Wow, Byron and Sue were politically inclusive way before it was popular...but I'm not sure how well this went over in a Mennonite family.  
    You know what?  I'm lucky I even exist.  These changes happened as each generation moved further and further away from our Mennonite Amish roots,  but they didn't come easy.  I'm starting to understand that there must have been a lot of soul searching and inner conflict.  
     Today, the Mennonites are not that different from other Christians.  They go to "normal" churches and usually don't adhere to the  strict code used by the Amish.  
    But still, generations later, even though I am far from being an Amishman, maybe I still carry some of the teachings of Menno Simons inside me.  
    I'd like to think of myself as a modern sophisticate, very cross-cultural with friends all over the world,  and all that blah blah blah...but maybe deep down part of me is still Amish. I still tend to be anti-war, much more so that most of my contemporaries.  I believe in working hard.  You won't see me wearing the latest fashions or driving a flashy sports car.   I think I might look good with a straw hat and suspenders.  And maybe I ought to grow a beard.   


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Liberals Being Rope a Doped by President Trump

Donald Trump may have learned a few things from his friend Muhammad Ali.   

      If you want to understand the American political scene, I give you Muhammad Ali and the Rope a Dope. I'm serious, President Donald Trump is roping Liberals like dopes.  Trump is like  Ali, infuriating his opponents with his antics and trash talk.  They  lash out with a flurry of punches and think that they are scoring big.   The crowd goes wild, and the announcers excitedly predict a knockout is coming.   But Ali steps aside, dodges and deflects the power punches until his opponent is worn out.  By the eighth round, his opponent is fatigued, and suddenly Ali nails him with a right hand and he is knocked out.   
       This is exactly what President Trump is doing to his Liberal friends. He says something stupid or factually incorrect, and the Liberals go ballistic.  They denounce him, deplore him, call him stupid and ignorant, and charge forward trying to knock him out with wild punches, but none of this really hurts him.  For example, do you think Congress is going to impeach the President for questioning the election process?   Go ahead and deplore his reasoning, but  it probably helps him with the average Joe who isn't that intellectually deep into the integrity of voting machines anyway.  Then he'll amend his position later on and his opponents will look foolish.  "Well that's not what he said originally," they will cry.  Big deal.   
        You have been roped, you dopes.  
        The President has the power to make his opponents go into conniptions over increasingly minor issues.  This diverts attention from the major issues like the future of Obamacare. 
      It's a great technique, and  the President's opponents just can't resist falling for it time after time after time.  They over-react and over-react every time, and eventually they start knocking themselves out.  

Here's Muhammad Ali's Rope a Dope of George Foreman:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Will Mr. Trump be able to Complete his Four Year Term?

Mike Pence may not be anyone's ideal President, but he seems to be honest and highly principled.  I believe there is a very good chance he will be our next President.  

      A year ago, I infamously suggested that Donald Trump was more likely to become the next President than Secretary Clinton.   Well, the Village Elliot does not claim to be very bright, but you have to admit that assessment was not so ridiculous  after all.  
    Let me make another prediction, and I sincerely hope that I'm wrong.  But I think that in about three years, there is a very good chance that  Mr. Trump will leave the Presidency.  
    Currently, the Republicans have a majority in the Senate of 52-48.  That means if 19 Republicans vote with the Democrats, they can have a two -thirds majority.  
    I think there is a significant probability that 19  Republican Senators will decide they would rather have Mike Pence as the President, and if so they could impeach the President.
    As I understand it, the House decides to impeach based on a majority vote, and then the Senate needs a 2/3 majority to remove the President from Office.  The grounds for impeachment can include treason and high crimes, but as I understand it, they are not limited to that.  There does not have to be a conviction on a criminal offense. In any case there are all sorts of ethical violations and other problems that could reasonably be used as grounds for impeachment.
    There are a lot of Republicans that do not like Mr. Trump. It's not necessarily his politics that offend Republicans, but the way he seems to be prepared to represent our country that falls short of standards.  If there is one thing we can count on, it is that all 48 Democrats will vote for his removal, and if they are joined by 19 Republicans, then it would behoove Mr. Trump to leave as gracefully as possible.   I believe he will wisely pardon himself and his family in order to return to his normal life as a billionaire tycoon and reality TV star.  He'll turn a handsome profit on the deal, you can be sure.   We will just want him out with as little mess as possible. 

     Then, in 2020, we will repeat the entire process. Hopefully, the American people will have more control over the process than we did in 2016.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

How do we know that the DNC hack was directed by Russian President Putin?

 The US intelligence agencies have asked the American people to trust them, that they know that Russian Federation President Putin personally directed hackers to help Donald Trump defeat Secretary Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.  
    Well, intelligence agencies, I have the greatest respect for your capabilities and your people.   
    But I also know you made serious errors in recommending that the US invade Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein from creating Weapons of Mass Destruction, and we got into a war we really didn't need.  Now President Obama is pledging retalliation.   So pardon me for wanting to ask a few questions before we get into a squabble with the Number 2 superpower in the world, okay?
    First let's be clear.  The most important claim is that President Putin ordered Russian Intelligence Agencies to deliberately release emails that were damaging to Secretary Clinton.
     I know that everybody is hacking everybody. That is not the point.  We know that everyone is hacking everyone else.  Definitely the Russians want to hack out emails, and I'm also quite sure that we have out own hackers trying to get into various email systems around the world.  Everyone does it.  The Chinese, British, French, Germans, not to mention all the independent computer geniuses that hack just because they think it is fun, or the tabloid press that wants to sell news.  I had my credit card hacked last month.  But that doesn't prove that President Putin did it to influence an election.  Everybody hacks, so that is not any kind of great top secret discovery.  
     Certainly the real question should be how many people were hacking the DNC or government agencies.  It would be astonishing if it was only one group.  I would think that 10 different individuals or groups, with varying skill, try their hand at penetrating secure computer networks.  
     You say that the attack on DNC was so brilliantly conceived that (1) only a professional national intelligence agency could have done it, and that (2) permission of President Putin would have to have been required.  
     Now, the actual breech at DNC occurred from fake emails like the one below, designed to scare witless DNC officials into going onto a fake website and revealing their password to the hacker. Then the hacker tried the same password on other email sites, and sure enough some people were dumb enough to use the same password for multiple accounts. That's it?  This phishing email?  That's the thing that is so brilliant that only Russian Intelligence could create it?    

This "phishing attack" was apparently used to get gullible DNC officials to go to a fake gmail site and change their passwords. That' it? Is this really so sophisticated that only President Putin could have ordered it??
It's not relevant whether there were other agencies working on the same problem with more insidious cyber weapons. The point is that the one that succeeded--the one from which all the emails were downloaded to Mr. Julian Assange and Wikileaks to blab tg the world--was pathetically simple.  
I don't think that the Russian SVR would sent all of its hard-earned treasures to Wikileaks.  They usually operate secretly, don't they?  They would like to keep mining the intelligence, rather than informing their victims of what they have so that they can take steps to close the leaks.   I would guess that if the DNC really is so susceptible to phishing attackes, they must have been hacked several times.  Who knows how many hackers around the world have a souvenir from  the Democrats, not to mention government agencies. Just because there is extensive hacking around the world, that does not prove that everyone is united and working for President Putin as their commander.  

The whole idea that Putin then sends his best stuff to Julian Assange to put on his Wikileaks website strikes me as very odd.  Why does he do that? Does Assange command such great power that Putin is actually an employee of Wikileaks?  
   If it was really the Russin intel services, why not just send a bunch of anonymous emails to the major news outlets?  

In fact, I would guess that the SVR has an even larger stash of emails that they are not telling about, and probably several agencies around the world have stashes of stuff collected from Americans who use sloppy practices.   It's not that they try to collect information.  We knew that.  It's not that hacking is anything new or that it has never worked before.

The issue is that President Putin supposedly ordered his intelligence agencies to turn over its stash to Wikileaks, and that he was trying to change the outcome of the election to favor Donald Trump,  It is not not not important that lots of people are hacking each other with some degree of success and varying levels of sophisitication.  And there is NO reason to suspect that only one entity was hacking the DNC.
The "evidence" cited by the press is that a lot of intelligence professionals believe it.   But that's not evidence, it just means that it is plausible. A lot of people also believed that the President has no birth certificate, but that doesn't make it true.  I wouldn't be shy about confronting Russia, but I would want hard evidence before betting into a confrontation with Russia. Someone's gut feel is not enought.

Yes, President Putin doesn't like Secretary Clinton.  Well, imagine that.  But a  lot of people don't like her.  Proof that he hates her guts is not proof that he was attempting to manipulate the American election.

Yes, President-elect Trump is a witless dolt who insults the intelligence agencies.  That doesn't mean he's wrong in this case.

Yes the hackers concentrated on Secretary Clinton and the Democrats instead of 50-50 between the Democrats and Republicans.  But so did American tabloids and fake news outlets.  Rightly or wrongly, there was a huge market for false news about our former Secretary this year.  So that's not enough.

Yes the Republicans probably deserve to be the subject of conspiracy theories, after having made up so many whoppers about President Obama.  But that is not enough reason to want to pick a fight with Russia.

A hacker named Guccifer 2.0 claimed to have been the one to hack Secretary Clinton and that he sent the emails to Julian Assange to use against Secretary Clinton.

American intellience tells me not to believe that, that Guccifer 2.0 must be a cover for a huge intelligence agency, like the Russian SVR.  Okay, but can we say that there are no individual hackers out there who can create phishing attacks?  Nobody who would want to sell or give information to Wikileaks?  That only one agency at a time hacks the DNC?  Is that something they do to make it simpler for intel analysts?

Well, I've asked a lot of questions.  I hope they are the right ones.  And maybe the agencies have some great answers.  I hope so.  But I think if we are going to be led into a new cold war, I want to make very sure that he have not misunderstood a tense situation.