Dog of the Day: Grandma

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New Star Wars Film to Limit use of CGI

From the Guardian:

“The next Star Wars film will eschew CGI in favour of real locations and models wherever possible, according to Kathleen Kennedy, the film executive in charge of the sci-fi adventure.

The LucasFilm boss made the comments at a Star Wars convention, where she also revealed that composer John Williams would return for the upcoming JJ Abrams-directed Episode VII.

“The conversation we’re having all the time now about Episode VII is how much CGI,” Kennedy told fans at the Star Wars Celebration Europe convention in Essen, Germany. “We’re looking at what the early Star Wars films did; they used real locations with special effects. So [for Episode VII] we’re going to find some very cool locations, [and] we’re going to end up using every single tool in the toolbox.”

Thank God. This is something that the series sorely needed, and it’s good to see that the filmmakers are learning from the mistakes of the prequel trilogy.

That being said, I don’t think the prequel movies were that bad. They weren’t great, but they don’t deserve the amount of hostility they get from the fan base.  Their main issue was that they lacked the “magic” that the original trilogy had. By “magic,” I mean the feeling that the films inspired from within the viewer. They had a certain level of depth and meaning, resulting in a genuine emotional connection with the audience that lingered even after the credits rolled.

But that’s a hard thing to do. So when they were making the prequels, the filmmakers got lazy and tried to replicate that feeling with stuff like CGI and melodrama. The problem is that these things should only be used to enhance the plot, not support it. They simply can’t save a film by themselves. But George Lucas just said “Screw it!” and the result was three fundamentally mediocre films in a franchise that deserved better.

Despite the mistakes of the past, there is reason for hope for Star Wars fans. With the twin terrors of George Lucas and CGI brought under control, maybe Abrams can reclaim the “magic” that was lost thirty years ago.

Of course, it could also go horribly wrong. So help us J.J. Abrams, you’re our only hope.

Snowden Leaks More Documents, Claims NSA Can Collect “‘nearly everything a user does on the internet'”

From the Guardian:

“A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet.”

This program can get nearly everything anyone can do on the internet: emails, browsing history, Facebook and IM chats, etc. The scope of the program is so large that at some sites they receive as much as 20 terabytes of data per day. That’s as much information as the entire printed collection of the Library of Congress. In fact, it’s so much information that they usually can’t hold on to it for more than a day or two because there is simply no room to store it all.  As for the oversight for this massive program, Snowden claims that NSA searches are “rarely questioned” and that when they are “it’s usually along the lines of: ‘let’s bulk up the justification’.”

Like I’ve said before, my main problem with what the NSA is doing is that it is ripe for abuse. When you have the ability to gather pretty much anything on anybody, somebody is going to use it for the wrong reasons. Now that doesn’t mean these programs need to be done away with completely. However, they need to be reformed and more effective safe guards for the privacy of Americans have to be put in place before these programs should be allowed to continue.

Clearly the most egregious detail to come out of this is the fact that the NSA can get full access to the online activities anyone in this country (or around the world) “clicking a few simple pull-down menus designed to provide both legal and targeting justifications.” I understand that the NSA has to do what is has to do, but can we have it so that getting unlimited access to the private lives of millions of Americans is not like ordering a book on Amazon?

Weiner Spokesperson Meltdown: Calls Ex Intern “Slutbag”, “Bitch”

From TPM:

“Tuesday was an angry day in Weinerland.

The campaign staff awoke to see their former intern, Olivia Nuzzi, on the front cover of the Daily News. Inside the paper was an article bylined by Nuzzi in which she told a rather unflattering tale of her experience working on Anthony Weiner’s mayoral bid.

Now, Team Weiner is firing back. TPM called Weiner’s communications director Barbara Morgan to discuss an unrelated story Tuesday and she went off on a curse-filled rant about Nuzzi, describing her as a fame hungry “bitch” who “sucked” at her job. Morgan also called Nuzzi a “slutbag,” “twat,” and “cunt” while threatening to sue her.”

This folks is what a meltdown looks like.

It is quite a site to behold, both sad and hilarious at the same time. You got to feel for people in this campaign who are stuck helplessly rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg. But at the same time, she should have known that “off the record” doesn’t always mean off the record. Most of the time it does, but this entire campaign doesn’t fall into the “most of the time” category.

Because it’s not every day you see something of this magnitude. The way our political system works, campaigns like this normally don’t even make it off the launch pad. Without a competent organization  and a strong candidate you won’t get too far towards winning any election. However, every once in a while a crazy slips through and this is the result.

Now I’ve actually spoken to Barbara Morgan, and she seemed like nice person to me. She even put me on the email list for Weiner’s campaign schedule. Then again, I don’t think anyone could say that I was a “slutbag.”

Wikileaks Leaker Bradley Manning Acquitted of Aiding the Enemy, Convicted on Other Charges

From the Washington Post:

“An Army judge on Tuesday acquitted Pfc. Bradley Manning of aiding the enemy by disclosing a trove of secret U.S. government documents, a striking rebuke to military prosecutors who argued that the largest leak in U.S. history had assisted al-Qaeda.

The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, found Manning guilty of most of the more than 20 crimes he was charged with, including several counts of violating the Espionage Act. She also acquitted him of one count of violating the Espionage Act that stemmed from his leak of a video that depicted a fatal U.S. military airstrike in Farah, Afghanistan.”

The result of this ruling is that Manning is no longer facing life imprisonment on the sole count of aiding the enemy, which would have been on the table had he been convicted. That being said, he could still face up to 130 years on the remaining counts.

Bradley Manning is not a likeable character. He’s vain, he’s impulsive, and his disciplinary record is a mile long. But while what he did was certainly illegal, he shouldn’t have to face more than ten years in prison. The US government has yet to prove that the release of these documents in any way harmed national security and as the trial court found, there is nothing he did that was aimed to help the enemy.

The sentencing phase of the trial will start at 9:30 tomorrow, and I’d expect that prosecution is going to ask for the maximum sentence. The defense will argue that Manning’s intentions were noble, if misguided, and that leniency should applied to his sentence. But after all is said and done, Bradley Manning will be in prison a very, very long time.

Study: Solitary Confinement is Cruel and Ineffective

From Scientific American:

“Some 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, according to the latest available census. The practice has grown with seemingly little thought to how isolation affects a person’s psyche. But new research suggests that solitary confinement creates more violence both inside and outside prison walls.

Prisoners in solitary confinement—also known as administrative segregation—spend 22 to 24 hours a day in small, featureless cells. Contact with other humans is practically nonexistent. Because solitary confinement widely occurs at the discretion of prison administration, many inmates spend years, even decades, cut off from any real social interaction. More than 500 of the prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison in California, for example, have been in isolation units for over a decade, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.”

This information is nothing new. Over ten years ago, a report from Commission on Safety and Abuse in America found that “the increasing use of high-security segregation is counter-productive, often causing violence inside facilities and contributing to recidivism after release.”

The article itself points out that in a Mississippi prison, where the number of inmates in solitary was reduced and greater access to mental healthcare was made available, violent attacks were reduced by almost 90%. Additionally, prisoners in the general population had lower recidivism rates than those who spent their time in isolation.

So why is solitary confinement still in use in the United States? There are a whole host of reasons. Mainly, it is because it’s the easiest way to get rid of problem inmates, especially those who suffer from mental illnesses. Rather than treating the problem with therapy and medication, it’s much easier for the prison system to just lock them in a hole and throw away the key. Secondly, there is (understandably) little public sympathy for the plight of the incarcerated. So there is very little pressure for the government to implement prison reform, especially for politicians for like to be considered “tough on crime.”

But there’s a difference between being tough on crime and condoning torture. The facts clearly show that solitary confinement is detrimental to the well being of the prisoner and doesn’t accomplish its goal of reducing offending behavior. So if you want to reduce crime in this country, prison reform is a good way to start.