Mar 31

Deep viewing

My partner, who had not seen very many movies before she met me and had never thought critically about them, taught me something I hadn’t consciously considered much about in this context: there is a vocabulary and an entire language of film, and that if you don’t speak that language and have a reference to that entire vocabulary, then when you watch a film you have no real idea what’s going on or why.

When I was in China and watching Chinese movies, I underwent a similar experience myself as the cinematic wellsprings there are so different. Even when the film was subtitled, I often had little idea what was occurring or why. The vocabulary and founding mythologies and cultural assumptions were just that different.

Casey Johnston’s shallow, facile and completely off-base interpretation of Ex Machina that I wrote about below was what got me pondering this, but she’s pretty typical of the average viewer so I don’t mean to pick on her in particular — if you only glance at the surface of a movie (particularly a movie like Ex Machina, but true of all film) you will see very little indeed and often be completely wrong about what you think you have seen.

When my partner and I began watching movies together, I was often completely flummoxed by the questions she asked. Not annoyed, but just wondering if she was even looking at the film.

It gradually occurred to me that literally having seen 1/1000 of the movies I’d viewed, she had just no language of film in her head. She could barely watch the surface of movies, much less take anything deeper from them. Often she’d have no idea of why even the simplest character actions were occurring because a narrative actually involves so many shortcuts, elisions and obfuscations that it was only after watching films with her was I able to see fully the assumptions I was carrying in to the work myself.

It wasn’t until then, ever after my experience in China where I quickly caught on, that I truly grasped that I had an entire lifetime of filmic language and accrued knowledge in my head that she completely lacked.

Now when we watch films, my partner doesn’t ask as many questions (and not because I’ve asked her to stop, or want her to). She has most of the correct lingo — and can speak the cant — now in her brain since we’ve probably watched 200+ movies together.

These days, I need to add very little to most films; mostly just pointing out the odd reference or sly wink to an older film, or explaining some convention or idea that is little-used these days but was formerly common.

I’m actually a better and deeper film viewer and critic thanks to her — watching films through her intelligence but inexperience allowed me to interrogate many of my presuppositions and ideas and view films in a much deeper and more nuanced way.

Mar 30


I like Casey Johnston’s writing, but she completely and utterly did not understand the point of Ex Machina at all, in any way.

If she watched it and got that out of it, she viewed it like most men would/did.

The strange thing is the article writer she linked to actually did understand the film.

Ex Machina is less kind: both the openly unlikeable tyrant Bateman and his would-be protege, Caleb, are familiar Silicon Valley caricatures who awkwardly fumble through workouts and whiskeys together. The viewer may even be lulled into believing that Caleb, a goofy, tousled “nice guy” who decides to rescue Ava from the hairy grasp of her creator, deserves to ride off into the sunset with her, a token of his victory over the more dystopian, overtly misogynistic Bateman.

Apparently, Johnston indeed was lulled into belief, but I don’t blame her — most Americans are not used to watching films that have multiple intended layers of meaning. There just aren’t many made like that any longer.

Ex Machina is probably the best movie of the past decade, so it makes sense that most people would not understand it (usually takes 10-15 years for a film like that to sink in).

Mar 30

L or D

Realized today that I’d be counted as an “implausible character” on The Walking Dead because I’d be making puns and jokes in life or death situations, or while gravely injured, and I can hit targets at distance while both of us are moving without much problem.

So I’d seem like a pugnacious Pee Wee Herman with ridiculous marksmanship abilities.

Yeah, totally implausible.

But turns out I actually exist. Fancy that.

Mar 30

On balance, some things are lost

On balance, the new consensus is probably better.

On balance.

But still, I question the wisdom of prohibition on dating anyone who you’ve ever known or might know professionally, as the modern consensus seems to be arriving at. Because it seems to be creeping towards you shouldn’t date anyone you actually know in any sphere of life, or if you’re a man, anyone that you meet in public (as then you resemble a harasser*), or that you might have potentially had some kind of nebulous and probably non-existent power advantage over at any time.

Not everyone wants to use Tinder or PlentyOfFish.

To be completely honest if I were a college professor, the chance that I’d date one of my students (especially if we were close in age range) is nearly 100%. Perhaps not while she is in my class, and it’d not be something I seek out, but I can’t see how I’d even avoid that as I simply don’t care about such institutional prudery when more important things are at stake and never will. I’m fully willing to accept my non-compliance with the rules, and always have been. (By way of anecdote, of the four college professors I’ve known in my life, all four have dated students or former students. Two of the professors were women.)

The company I work for full-time is German, and they specifically do not have prohibitions of dating co-workers because many, many people in Germany meet their SOs on the job. The only prohibition is that you can’t date your direct boss while he/she is your manager.

Anyway, speaking on a more general level you just can’t coop up a few hundred people with high similarity and mutual admiration where they interact all the time and…expect them not to interact. Human nature just does not, will not, and cannot work that way. It is just impossible. Completely so.

But people — mostly men — take advantage of that. Exert their power. Harass. Rape. That is obviously happening. And it’s terrible for the (mostly) women involved.

The problem is that I’m quite sure that you can’t legislate human attraction. You can try, but oh you are going to fail so hard. So very hard.

So like I said, on balance the modern consensus that you shouldn’t be attracted to anyone you actually know (especially in a professional context) is probably better.

But what a restrictive world we’re building for ourselves. It’s probably worth it, as harassment and rape is so heinous. But it’s not a nice one, or a pretty one, or a very desirable one, especially for those who don’t like online meat market dating only.

*Yes, I know men have made the world worse. But for men who are not harassers, rapists, and similar, it also makes life very hard for them.

Mar 29

Shot through the heart

The most unrealistic aspect of The Walking Dead is that there aren’t more accidental shootings. They’d be frequent because nearly everyone is packing heat all the time, is constantly afraid, and almost none have military training (police training is mostly useless for this).

There’d probably be about a 10-20% death rate from accidental shootings, especially in the first few years.

Mar 29

If this were a song, it’d be a diss song

To the woman in Seattle who said my partner and I could not possibly have a healthy relationship because we’d never had a screaming, fighting argument.

It’s been ten years now. Ten great years. No screaming, stay-in-a-hotel arguments at all. Not one. By most people’s standards, no arguments at all really.

In your face, presumptuous Seattle lady!

Mar 29


One of the things I like about David Lynch movies is that he takes the film as dream — cinema as delirium, as hallucination, as reverie — and says, “Let’s really dream, then.”

And then he throws narrative in the trash. Discards plausibility for impression, much as life itself does. Refutes causality with the very human quotidian perspective of what seems to be is all there is, all we can really know.

Identities blur. Thoughts and actions coalesce into nothing sensible, only something sensed.

And then there is no dénouement. Not really. Only further delusion, or illusion, in some universe that if not Lovecraftian-hostile is at least inimical to human striving for happiness.

Lynch’s surrealism and phantasmagoria makes his films the most realistic of all the movies I’ve seen.

Mar 28


Carol lately on the The Walking Dead: Cry, and then kill everyone.

I am not complaining, mind you. Just such a great character.

What I love is that she’s using people’s perception of her weakness to her advantage, half-consciously. Her reactions are real and sincere but they also work to her benefit and she knows this, too.

Mar 28

Basement server

There are some technical inaccuracies in this article.

More on that in a moment.

However — what the hell was Clinton thinking, setting up some clandestine-ish basement email server?

I don’t know if what she did was illegal or not. It probably was, or should be. But good god was it ever crazy stupid.

But I have to say the reporter has no idea how email encryption works.

Not until March 29, 2009 — two months after Clinton began using it — did the server receive a “digital certificate” that protected communication over the Internet through encryption, according to Venafi’s analysis.

No. Though it’s unclear exactly what the journalist is even discussing. The traffic — and here I presume they are discussing traffic between the email server and Clinton’s Blackberry — would have already been encrypted. That’s just how Blackberry works (though it’s been many years since I’ve set up a BB server) and as far as I recall it is not even possible to turn that off.

“That means that anyone could have accessed it. Anyone,” Kevin Bocek, vice president of threat intelligence at Venafi, told The Post.

Wrong! So if the journalist and some “threat intelligence” nincompoop are correct that the server did not have an official cert from a certificate-issuing organization, but that also does not necessarily mean that traffic outside the Blackberry realm was un-encrypted, just that there was no official cert (which can be more secure if you think the cert-issuing organization itself is compromised!)

Which seems to have been the case.

But email encryption has several layers:

  • Is the device itself encrypted?
  • Is the transport from the device to the email service provider/server encrypted?
  • Is the email itself encrypted separate of the device and the server?
  • Is non-BB-device access to the email server encrypyted (OWA, etc.)?
  • Is the transport from the email server to other email servers encrypted?

This shit can get complicated.

BTW, that last bullet point is the killer; most of this is still unencrypted, and I doubt Clinton’s email server had any encryption on that level with most recipients. At most the server probably had opportunistic encryption enabled, which’d mean it’d fall back to unencrypted if no negotiation of encryption were possible (probably about 60% of email servers).

So in short, Clinton did a very stupid, technically-incompetent and possibly illegal thing that no one in that position should ever do no matter how much encryption there was.

Mar 27

Toil and trouble

I scored 62 on this “Do You Live in a Bubble?” quiz.


I knew my score would be fairly high because I grew up partially in poverty and partially in lower-working-class environs, and then joined the military as an enlistee.

But in many ways, I’m atypical. I’ve always been estranged from any community, never quite belonging. I was reading and fully comprehending college-age textbooks by the time I was in fourth grade. For example, I helped my neighbor Lori study for and pass her community college microbiology class before I’d even entered fifth grade, explaining to her in detail what DNA was and how it functioned, etc, among other things, even making her study cards for the class. I finished Moby Dick in third grade. I’d read literally entire shelves of the local library by the time I was 11 years old. You can guess how that went in a pretty anti-intellectual place.

So no bubble, but in many ways I’d never really had and never will have a home in any community — now as an adult I might know more and be able to reason more capably than someone with some fancy matriculation and degree to show for it, but I don’t really fit in with the college-grad crowd, either. Mostly they just make me angry.

So there is no larger froth into which my tiny vesicle embeds.

But I do get a bit choleric when the college-grad crowd shits on working-class and poor people, because that’s where and how I grew up and I understand that experience of life well even if I never completely fit there, either.

I’m not sure what larger meaning that quiz holds, but many of the people I’m around daily now would get a very low score on it, I do know that.