Amazing tracking shots

A long time ago, I read what was described as one of the most amazing tracking shots in film, starting at a great height and ending up underwater. (A tracking shot is a long single take with the camera moving.) It sounded incredible but I did not think I would ever see it because I did not know the name of the film and besides in those days the only way to see a film was in theaters and if you missed it on its first run you were pretty much out of luck unless they showed it again at a film festival.

For some reason, I recalled the tracking shot description a few days ago and, thanks to the internet, was able to find it. It occurs at the beginning of the 1964 Soviet Union-Cuba joint production Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba). Here it is, with the shot beginning at the 2:10 mark.

It turns out that the same film has in my opinion an even more incredible tracking shot that begins at the 1:40 mark of the clip below.

You watch in amazement and wonder “How the hell did they do that?”

It is good to remember that this film was made in the days when equipment was nowhere near as sophisticated as it is today and there was no post-production computer wizardry. These were real virtuoso performances by the director and cinematographer, that required exquisite timing by everyone involved. This is why I am far more impressed with the special effects in old films like this and 2001: A Space Odyssey than in, say, The Matrix.

Murder by drone

Drones have become the weapon of choice that the Obama administration uses to kill people. Under his administration, their use has expanded far beyond what was done before.

In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries… But no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.

But while the administration tries to persuade us that all the people killed are ‘suspected terrorists’, the whole program is shrouded in secrecy and they refuse to divulge what standards are used to order the summary deaths of people in other countries. But while the publicized deaths of civilians or Pakistani troops are shrugged off as rare mistakes, there are reports that in a large number of cases, there are suspicions that they don’t even know whom they have killed. And of course, everything is shrouded in secrecy, so no one can question them.

What Obama has created is an unaccountable global assassination program that murders anyone that he decides deserves to die. But at the same time, it also murders people who are not targets, people who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, including US citizens. As the Washington Post report above states, “CIA and military strikes this fall killed three U.S. citizens, two of whom were suspected al-Qaeda operatives.” So two were merely ‘suspected’ of terrorism, which is the new standard that justifies summary execution. But what about that third person who wasn’t even suspected? As long as such people are poor and powerless, who cares if they die?

European Central Bank also giving big banks free money

It looks like Europe is following the lead of the US, with its equivalent of the Federal Reserve giving money to big banks at low interest rates and allowing them to buy government bonds at higher interest rates. So the European central bank is essentially borrowing back its own money, just like the Fed did here, the banks essentially risk-free easy profits.

If one wanted even more evidence of the power of the global financial oligarchy over governments, look at how they managed to oust the elected leaders of the government in Greece and Italy and replace them with unelected ‘technocrats’, i.e., people who would implement harsh austerity policies that squeeze the general public in order to pay back to the banks the risky loans that they gave out. Even Silvio Berlusconi, one of the most tenacious of politicians whose ability to cling on to the prime ministership was legendary, had to bow down to this superior power and resign.

How Republicans punish rich people

It seems like I have been unfairly maligning Republicans as being interested only in enriching the extremely wealthy. It turns out that they are perfectly willing to take away some of their privileges.

In addition, Senate Republican leaders would go after “millionaires and billionaires,” not by raising their taxes but by making them ineligible for unemployment compensation and food stamps and increasing their Medicare premiums.

Yes, that will show them. When Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein gets fired and applies for government aid to provide food for his family, won’t he be surprised when he is turned down?

Former federal prosecutor calls for jury nullification of marijuana laws

A former federal prosecutor calls upon people, if they serve on a jury, to use nullification as a means to change marijuana laws. He uses the case of Julian P. Heicklen, which I have discussed before.

If you are ever on a jury in a marijuana case, I recommend that you vote “not guilty” — even if you think the defendant actually smoked pot, or sold it to another consenting adult. As a juror, you have this power under the Bill of Rights; if you exercise it, you become part of a proud tradition of American jurors who helped make our laws fairer.

Jury nullification is not new; its proponents have included John Hancock and John Adams.

The doctrine is premised on the idea that ordinary citizens, not government officials, should have the final say as to whether a person should be punished. As Adams put it, it is each juror’s “duty” to vote based on his or her “own best understanding, judgment and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.”

He points out that, “How one feels about jury nullification ultimately depends on how much confidence one has in the jury system. Based on my experience, I trust jurors a lot.”

I agree with him.

James Garner

James Garner is one of my favorite actors. As a child, I was a devoted fan of his TV western series Maverick in which he played a nattily dressed gambler who, while not a coward, would go to great lengths to avoid a fight that might mess up his clothes. His later TV series like the The Rockford Files and his films built on his image of the friendly, easy-going guy who finds himself in situations that he would rather avoid but deals with it anyway. That personality was what made me like him.

So I enjoyed reading the review of his memoir in The Atlantic. As the review says:

He really is like the men he plays onscreen, even unto the modest requirements symbolized by the humble trailer that serves Jim Rockford for a residence. He is thoughtful, honest, and fundamentally gentle, although he has knocked men down when riled. On the evidence given here, one doesn’t doubt that they asked for it. One doesn’t doubt this guy at all.

One of Garner’s great charms is that he seems like a really nice guy but it is almost impossible to know if the private personas of famous people match their public image. But the boyfriend of a friend of mine is a character actor who has acted in many films and gets the ‘below the title’ credit assigned to character actors who have significant roles. He is the kind of actor you recognize on the screen as having seen before but cannot easily recall the specific film. When I met him once he mentioned a film that he was working on with Garner and I asked about him and he replied that Garner in real life was even nicer than his public image.

Given that so many of one’s childhood favorites later turn out to have feet of clay, it was nice in this case to have a childhood impression reinforced.

Here’s the trailer for one of his films, Support Your Local Sheriff

The Ron Paul conundrum

The Republican primary race is getting truly bizarre. Under normal circumstances, someone with Mitt Romney’s money, credentials, and establishment support should have by now been able to take a solid lead in the race, given the absence of any other major establishment challenger. And yet his levels of support have stayed at a mediocre 25% while successive opponents have been pecking at his heels, sometimes even overtaking him in the polls for short periods. It is clear that while the party establishment has gone one way, the party faithful is not happy with their choice.

The party establishment did not have any serious concerns about Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum winning, rightly seeing them as fringe candidates who were going nowhere. They seemed to get more concerned about the rise of Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, clearly seeing them as people who could conceivably win the nomination but would flame out in the general election against an incumbent president. The attacks on Cain and Gingrich that sank the candidacy of the former and stalled and, according to some polls, reversed the rise of Gingrich have been to my mind clearly orchestrated by the Republican party establishment. This, along with the slow but steady rate of endorsements of Romney by party leaders, seem designed to send to the party’s base the signal that the time for entertaining romantic notions of finding another suitor is over and they should settle down and go with the judgment of their elders.

But it is the curious candidacy of Ron Paul that is causing the party leadership to totally freak out. The problem with Paul is that he is not a loyal servant of the oligarchy. While some of his policies, such as the desire to dismantle large segments of the government, would benefit the oligarchy by ridding them of some of the oversight and regulations that get in the way of their search for unfettered profits, his articulated philosophy is not based on oligarchic subservience and this makes him an unreliable ally. What is worse, his foreign policy is totally at odds with the other leg of oligarchic interests which is to treat the world as their private property and to use the US military to bring to heel troublesome nations that seek independence of US control. And finally, his attitude that Israel is just another country that should have no special claim to US support, and that the current US policy of unwavering allegiance to it is wrong, has sent the neoconservative elements in the Republican leadership into a tizzy.

By all reasonable measures, the results of the Iowa caucuses next Tuesday should be relatively insignificant, apart from being the first official delegate-selecting process. It is an odd process in a state that is not a good mirror of the country as a whole, and in past years the winners have often not gone on to clinch the nomination. Mike Huckabee won in 2008 and faded soon after. Romney did not do well here in 2008 and initially did not put much effort into it this year. But the media has built it into this huge bellwether of public opinion and now that Gingrich is the latest anti-Romney to falter, there is a real chance the Ron Paul might win it, a possibility that is clearly giving the party leadership nightmares. His involvement with some racist newsletters in the past and the support his policies have received from extremist fringe groups are now being unearthed and publicized and you have to suspect that this is coming from sources within the Republican party who are seeking to sink his candidacy.

In case that effort fails, the message now being promulgated by some is that if Paul wins, all it would signify is that the Iowa caucuses are irrelevant. Meanwhile, others are panicking and suggesting that a Paul surge in Iowa and New Hampshire would indicate the need for the party to find a new dark horse candidate, though it is not clear who would fit the bill.

I have thought from the beginning, and still do, that Romney will be the eventual nominee. I have found that in American politics, a reliable rule of thumb is that the candidate with the most money wins. Romney has the resources to last the pace and grind out a win by steadily accumulating delegates until each of his opponents throw in the towel. Only Paul seems to have the organization to stay with him until the end. It will be an ugly win, like a football game that is decided by defense and penalties, but still a win.

The Paul candidacy raises some important general issues for those who are not partisans. When one is confronted with a politician who has a strict adherence to a particular ideology, and one does not buy into that ideology completely, one finds oneself supporting some policies and opposing others. This is the case with Ron Paul’s brand of libertarianism. Broadly speaking, I like his stances on foreign policy and his libertarian attitudes towards personal rights and freedoms, laud his demands for transparency in the financial sector and the Federal Reserve, but oppose a lot of his other economic and social policies. Unlike Paul, I do not think that the elimination of government is a good thing. The government and the legal system are the only entities that are big enough to act as a counterbalance to the massive power of business over individuals, which is why we should zealously seek to make them independent agencies working for the general welfare and the rule of law.

But how does one weigh the balance and decide if one should vote for such a candidate or not? Conor Friedersdorf looks at the specific issue of the Paul newsletters and the more general issue of how to weigh the good and bad of candidates in making political choices.

It is a long and thoughtful piece.

New particle state discovered at CERN

While a lot of the science media attention has focused on the search for the Higgs boson, we should not forget that that is not sole purpose of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Its high energies allow it to do more conventional work and there is now a report of the discovery of an excited state of the bottom quark-antiquark, a consequence of the standard model of particle physics. The preprint of the paper can be read here.