Review – Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 2 (finale)

kcMngy9gi

 

Though I haven’t read any of the books, I couldn’t help liking the Hunger Games movies. I enjoy the theme of heroic rebels opposing a brutal dystopia. Katniss, the determined but angst-ridden warrior girl, is a very appealing character. I’d like to first give my impressions of the movie, and then say a bit about its political ramifications.

I’ll start with the cons, as I see them. For the sake of brevity I’ll do them in list form:

  • Predictability. Maybe I’m jaded, but I guessed all the plot twists that should have been surprises. I won’t spoil it by detailing the most significant ones, except to say they involve the rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore.)
  • Plot holes. The worst is in the scene where the protagonists infiltrate the Capital on foot. They pass between deserted multi-story buildings The Loyalists have planted mines and installed elaborate traps, when they could have much more easily placed snipers in those windows.
  • The government is almost too consistently evil, especially President Snow (Donald Sutherland.)
  • The Capital’s human-sized lizard “mutts” (mutants) which are sent to attack Katniss and her party. Though this society has advanced genetic engineering, these were a bit over the top.
  • Once again, the studio broke the final book of a series into two movies, which means neither can stand on their own. Maybe authors need to start writing quadrologies.
  • A sentimental, drawn-out ending. In my opinion, the final scene should have been cut entirely.

OK, here are the pros:

  • Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, who is not just young and pretty but can actually act.
  • Woody Harrelson as Haymitch. Unfortunately his character has a very small role in this movie.
  • The plot includes political complexity and intrigue. This isn’t a black-and-white Jedi vs Empire story; the rebels have flaws, too.
  • A “false flag” plot device. That’s all I’ll say for now.
  • It’s visually stunning and well paced (at least until the resolution part that occurs after the climax.)
  • It shows a fascinating two-tiered culture, with the decadent Capital versus the simple, hard-working folk of the districts.
  • They have some cool bio-engineering tech, such as the jabber jay and the tracker jacker wasp. As I said above, the “lizard mutts” were overkill.
  • An eloquent and powerful anti-government message. On the web I found a brief video of Donald Sutherland saying that the oppressive government of Panem is indeed an allegory for the imperialistic United States.

My question is, how is it that over the years we’ve seen numerous anti-authoritarian novels and movies, many which like the Hunger Games were insanely popular, yet our real world government continues to get worse? At most, the influence of these movies has been superficial; Wikipedia cites Katniss’ three-finger hand signal having been used by protestors in Thailand, and the movies were banned by Vietnam’s Marxist government.

There seems to be a disconnect between the libertarian roots of American culture, and the “support the troops,” “keep us safe”, and “punish the evildoers” mentality that now dominates public discourse. Are works like Hunger Games a convenient outlet for our desire for freedom, a kind of political pornography? Were there more powerful stories that were filtered out? I’m not saying we have overt censorship — well, it does happen but at least it’s not common — yet. But I do believe that overly seditious novels (for example John Ross’ Unintended Consequences) don’t get a big-name publishers, and if they do, the movies don’t get financed. Did Hunger Games somehow sneak by because it’s based on a YA series written by a woman (Suzanne Collins) with a strong female protagonist?

Perhaps we writers are kidding ourselves to think our stories can influence real-world events. I’m not saying that Hunger Games should inspire someone to shoot an arrow at Obama. Unlike the fictional Snow, he’s a powerless figurehead, and it all it would accomplish would be to cause Barack’s real bosses to declare martial law. I would at least hope that these popular anti-authority stories could inspire people to civil disobedience. Our government can be brutal, but it hasn’t quite become Panem. The powers that be still pretend they represent us, which means that if we adopted Ghandian tactics, they’d be unlikely to mow us down in the streets like the Chinese authorities did to their citizens in Tiananmen Square.

That said, Hunger Games is better than most movie series in its genre. Too many anti-authoritarian stories maintain an element of reassurance; implying that some political leaders or systems are good, and we should just find the right authority to obey. Star Wars, much as I loved the first three movies, is a perfect example of this type. In other cases, the metaphor may be too difficult for literal-minded Americans to follow. Surely that’s not OUR government they’re talking about!

For those who take message of Hunger Games seriously, though, I’ll see join you in Washington for the biggest pro-liberty protest march ever.

Silly illustration from http://cliparts.co.

 

Centrifugal Force: How Many of My Predictions Came True?

cf_front200x300

Three years ago last month I published my first book, the agorist science fiction novel Centrifugal Force. Though I hate to toot my own horn (there’s some false modesty for you) many of the things I wrote about in this book either have come to pass or are in the process of doing so. The major difference is that Centrifugal Force dealt solely with North America, and these phenomena have been global in scope.

As I predicted in my book, on-line business models are replacing and bypassing traditional regulated industries. Examples of this are Uber, Airbnb, and the online music and publishing industries. Unlike my fictional scenario, these are currently above-ground, legal efforts. However, competing institutions (such as taxi drivers’ unions) are striving to outlaw Uber, and rapacious cities are imposing their exorbitant hotel taxes on Airbnb participants. There’s no reason these businesses couldn’t exist underground, on a peer-to-peer basis. This will become more likely if the current economic situation worsens.

Continued, escalating acts of “terrorism” are giving governments an excuse to crack down on what little freedom we have left, such as free speech, freedom of movement, and financial privacy. The difference from my novel was again that terrorism has been a world-wide phenomenon, particularly in Europe and Africa. France takes the place of the despotic fictional US, where Joel Walter is forced to go into hiding. Since the Paris 11/13 attacks, the country has closed its borders and declared a state of emergency. Thankfully this hasn’t come to America yet, but I’m sure that our government is only one major terrorist attack away from doing the same.

Centrifugal Force featured the Undernet, an unregulated pirate alternative to the Internet. In real life we have the Dark Web and the notorious Silk Road drug marketplace. My book had E-barter, we have Bitcoin and other digital currencies. Politicians are simply apoplectic about these developments, and are even making noise about outlawing encryption. I was not surprised by the draconian punishment meted out to the Dread Pirate Roberts, though in my opinion, he’s a hero! Yet I believe the government’s efforts will fail in real life as they did in the novel.

In my book, several characters went underground to escape harassment or prosecution, staying in the US because of the difficulty of crossing the border. In the real world, many such activists have gone overseas, for example Edward Snowden in Russia or Glenn Greenwald in Brazil. Probably the most analogous real-life equivalent to Nephi Snow’s hacker network is Anonymous – assuming this group isn’t, as many claim, a CIA front.

Secession is a major theme of my book, because I believe this is the most plausible way to deal with the arrogant, rapacious, unaccountable American Empire is to break it up. Considering the roadblocks thrown at any serious reformer (such as Ron Paul), working “within the system” is not an option. Again, this has come to pass in Europe, with Catalonia seceding from Spain and Scotland almost leaving the UK. Here in America, a more current controversy is state nullification of Federal law, which causes many a progressive to shriek in outrage. The recent round of secession petitions at whitehouse.gov – and yes, I signed one for Arizona – gave me cause for hope. This might become more realistic if our Kenyan President keeps trying to rule this country by decree.

Other predictions include surveillance drones becoming commonplace (obviously true) and organized criminals posing as police to rob their victims. The latter seems largely confined to Mexico, but given the lawless behavior or police in many parts of the US, I expect it’s only a matter of time. Has political correctness gone crazy? Check; to the mainstream media, government opponents are evil racists. Also, we have seen curfews, like the one in Boston after the Marathon bombing. This one’s a no-brainer: anti-smoking fascism has definitely increased. Thankfully, though, we haven’t yet seen the activation of FEMA camps. I expect the Federal government will need to take a different approach to detainment of its enemies, due to the justifiable paranoia of the libertarian and patriot communities.

On the other hand, I was wrong about the following:

  • The Draft has not been reinstated, thank God! Not that I believe a slave army is ever necessary in any nation or circumstance, but in this time of drone wars and bombing campaigns, conscription would be especially redundant. Yet it still may happen, because it would be an effective way to control and indoctrinate America’s youth, particularly if females were included.
  • The District of Columbia did not become a state. This movement appears to be dead for the time being, but I expect it to be resurrected if Hillary becomes President, as it would provide two more guaranteed Democrats in the Senate. (And yes, no need to speculate; she’s the inspiration for the evil female President in my book.)
  • 3D printing – I missed this completely. This is a wonderful vector for revolution, enabling home-based manufacture of guns and other contraband items.
  • Ethnic self-defense/vigilante militias did not, to my knowledge, come to pass. In my book, Muslim-Americans banded together to protect themselves from harassment and violence, and to punish those who had wronged them. I haven’t seen evidence of this, even in Europe (if you don’t include terrorist groups, which was not my intent — those are all state-sponsored, anyway.) Even the Donbas rebels in eastern Ukraine, who are wildly popular in their area, are essentially a government-in-waiting.
  • The resurgence of Russia – another thing I missed entirely. There were Russian mafia characters in my book, but I didn’t address the possibility that Russia itself could be the “black swan” that could bring down he US Corporatocracy. This subject is, of course, a matter of great debate in alternative media circles. Is Vladimir Putin a hero, a villain, or a New World Order collaborator? That’s a question I’ll address in a future post.

 Centrifugal Force cover design by Kyle Dunbar.

 

The Cultural Marxists Set Their Sights on Linux

bad_attention

In Stephen J. Vaughan-Nichols’ recent article in Computer World, he labels Linux creator Linus Torvalds as a “bad boss.” He quotes developer Sarah Sharp’s complaints of a culture of open source development that allows participants “to get away with subtle sexist or homophobic jokes.” Vaughan-Nichols goes on to say that he hopes that companies and organizations can begin to “enforce civil behavior.”

This sounds fair and reasonable, but don’t be fooled. It’s a rallying call for Cultural Marxists and other Social Justice Warriors to enforce their bland, joyless idea of civility upon software geeks like myself. SJW’s are experts at hiding behind noble sounding rhetoric when calling for authority figures to seek out and crush any true diversity of culture or opinion.

Linus Torvalds (despite his legendary blunt personal style) is not the problem; it’s people like Sharp who can’t tolerate a bit of criticism or an off-color joke now and then. Nobody forced her to donate her time to the open-source community. Despite her well-respected technical abilities, the community is better off without people like her.

I predict we’ll see a steady stream of articles such as Vaughan-Nichols’, claiming that the open-source community is being hurt by as exodus of, or a missed opportunity to include, thin-skinned individuals like Sharp. I can’t speak for the community, as I’m more of a cheerleader than a participant, and I’ll leave any official response to the management of the Linux Foundation. But if you ask me, this is yet another SJW lie. I’d estimate that the crude, insensitive computer nerds (such as myself) that Sharp despises outnumber the ‘special snowflake’ diversity types ten to one. There IS no vast cohort of the excluded oppressed programmers, because for whatever reason (cultural, educational, etc.) these candidates are scarce. That’s why Silicon Valley firms hire ‘Diversity Managers’ to seek them out and recruit them.

I’m not saying that we software engineers are all straight white or Asian males, nor should we be. I for one have no problem with having more female, gay, black, and Latino participation in our community. Those statistics are, however, completely irrelevant. As a libertarian, i believe it’s the individual that matters, not the color of one’s skin or the configuration of genitalia. Nonetheless, the culture of the majority should NOT have to adapt to the minority; it’s the other way around, as it should be in any organization. We men would never be allowed to enter a female-dominated institution or industry and redesign it to our liking just because we’re in the minority. That would be like an American moving to Mexico and demanding people speak English, or going to Saudi Arabia for the nude beaches.

Here is my personal view: as long as an organization can function smoothly, and work relationships don’t degenerate into personal attacks, any newcomers need to get used to the heat, or get the heck out of the kitchen. I’m not yet to the point of agreeing with sci-fi writer / game developer Vox Day, who advocates that we purge SJW’s before they can purge us. But I’m leaning more that way every day.

Credit: image “Bad Attention” from www.wpclipart.com,

 

Armistice Day and the End of the “Great” War

This is the time of year we often hear people claim that the original meaning of the holidays Thanksgiving and Christmas have been lost to commercialism. The same holds true for Veteran’s Day, formerly know as Armistice Day.

Armistice Day celebrates the signing of the treaty that ended World War I, at that time known as the Great War. It was a celebration of peace, though there were also tributes to the men who died (and those who survived) that war. The name change was an attempt to add recognition for veterans of later wars, since 11/11 is a very specific anniversary. The peace theme has been forgotten; it has become yet another day on which Americans glorify war, under the guise of honoring veterans.

November 11th is, in any case, an excellent day to celebrate, because it marks the ending of what was probably the most pointless, idiotic conflict in human history. This mother of all atrocities cost the lives of 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians. There were no good guys, no Allies versus Nazis, just a collection of aging colonial empires (plus the upstarts Germany and America) jockeying for wealth and power.

The so-called Great War normalized the use of conscription (volunteer armies being dismissed as “unscientific”) and censorship of the press, even in the United States. As a direct result of the war’s toll upon Russia, the Czar’s government fell, giving rise to the 75-year nightmare known as the Soviet Union. The venality and greed of the victorious British and French led them to humiliate and punish the German people, and fragment the Austro-Hungarian Empire, creating the fertile soil that gave rise to Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Iron Curtain.

But wait, there’s more! The years 1914-1918 were a time when technology made the old modes of war obsolete, with weapons that enabled murder on an industrial scale. Yet the military leadership refused to recognize this change, treating their slave armies as disposable cannon fodder. British and French commanders ordered their men to charge into German machine gun fire to be mowed down like cattle. Those who refused these acts of suicide were charged with desertion and murdered by their so-called leaders.

Then there was the introduction of chemical weapons such as mustard gas, a horror that plagues us to this day.

It was called “the war to end all wars,” but it led to an even bigger war just 20 years after the Armistice. It was the “war to save democracy,” yet it, gave birth to totalitarianism and genocide in the world’s largest country, and severely impacted freedom in many others. Even the Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed around 50 million people worldwide, probably would not have been as severe if not for the widespread dislocation of peoples, and the diversion of public resources to warfare rather than health.

Had the United States not been foolish enough to join in the carnage, the war might have ended in a stalemate, saving millions from oppression and annihilation in the years to come. The planet-sized ego of US President Woodrow Wilson, combined with the corrupt greed of J.P. Morgan and other anglophile tycoons, guaranteed that the worst possible outcome would result.

Perhaps we humans will someday learn from our mistakes. We, the common people of the world, can reject the propaganda of the psychopathic elites and refuse to fight. In the midst of the bloodshed of the Great War was the inspiring example of the spontaneous, unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914, in which German and British soldiers crossed the trenches to exchange gifts, prisoners, and well wishes.

NNC-US-1921-1$-Peace_dollar

Another inspiring result of the Armistice was the Peace Dollar, designed by sculptor Anthony de Francisci, which is in my opinion the most beautiful coin ever minted by the USA. (Lady Liberty is modeled on de Francisci’s lovely Italian-born wife Teresa.) Note that contrary to most US coins, the bald eagle is perched, resting, and minding its own affairs. That’s a symbol for the non-interventionist ideals this nation must learn to live by.

For more information, see Wilson’s War by Jim Powell.

Sources:

Wikipedia.org, http://history1900s.about.com, http://www.threeworldwars.com

Photograph of Peace Dollar is from coinpage.com

 

The Penguin Makes Music

My fourth and final overview of open-source software for creative people involves music. In my youth I had many years of musical training, which until recently was going to waste. It’s not that I didn’t have the means – I own several electronic pianos – but I wasn’t motivated to play on a regular basis. Linux changed that, by making it easy to compose my own music, which makes things a lot more interesting.

Penguin_music

Linux has no shortage of musical tools available on-line. One thing that differs from the other areas I’ve discussed so far is that with music, one must use several tools in tandem. This is more in the spirit of the UNIX/Linux tradition of discrete components, rather than an all-in-one application such as “The Gimp” image editor or Libre-Office Suite. This allows for more flexibility but also makes things more complex. I’ll list the open-source tools I use for creating music, and you can be the judge.

* JACK

JACK (the JACK Audio Connection Kit) is a sound daemon (server) which provides the backbone of all music applications listed below. It’s like a virtual patch-board, allowing the interconnection of audio and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) data between “JACK aware” applications. Unfortunately, not all programs are configured to use JACK, which is why it’s not yet the de facto Linux sound system. Because it takes control of your system’s audio, you will need to turn it off to play sound from your web browser, for example.

* QjackCtl

This is a graphical tool for controlling JACK without the use of typed commands. QjackCtl creates a list of audio devices, both hardware and software, that can be used as inputs and outputs. It lets the user define input and output connections between them, like a virtual patch bay. It’s not strictly necessary but makes JACK a lot easier to use.

* Fluidsynth

In order to create music on a computer, you either need to record sound from an external device, or to create sounds using a digital specification. “Sound Font 2” is a popular format for the latter; it’s been widely distributed on-line. Like JACK, Fluidsynth doesn’t have its own graphic interface. I found it interesting that Fluidsynth’s default sound fonts contain all the same instrument voices (piano, organ, guitar, trumpet, etc.) as the built-in selections on my Yamaha electronic keyboards. I’ve also found free sound fonts on-line which can produce other sounds such as percussion.

* Qsynth

This is a graphical front-end application for using Fluidsynth, much as QjackCtl is an interface for JACK. I haven’t used Qsynth extensively, except to select sound fonts (voices) for the MIDI sequencer application I’ll describe next.

* Rosegarden

This is the program I spend most of my time using. Rosegarden is a application for music composition and editing. It includes a MIDI sequencer, which can be used as an input to capture notes played on a MIDI instrument (such as my aforementioned Yamaha keyboards.) To do this, I invested in a bit of hardware, the E-mu Xmidi 1×1, a specialized cable which connects the twin round MIDI connectors on my instruments to a USB port on my computer. (I ordered one from Amazon.com for under $30.) If you’re new to this technology, I should note that a sequencer does not record sounds but notes (pitch, duration, attack, etc.) which can be mapped to any sound. This allowed me to make my piano sound like a guitar, ukelele, and an electric bass. As an alternative to Qsynth, you can install the Fluidsynth plugin, which allows you to map an instrument voice to a given track directly in Rosegarden.

Once your melodies and harmonies have been captured, you can edit them in several formats, including the standard sequencer matrix display and old-fashioned music notation. Having had classical training, the latter is my preferred method. This allows me to capture a melody on paper simply by playing it on the piano. Since I’m not very adept in improvisation, it really helps to have the music in front of me. Thus I can improve and embellish on that first performance, re-recording and re-printing it as many times as necessary.

Sadly, I had issues with bugs. In the Linux world, we install applications from the Internet using a command called “apt-get”; this fetches a version of the program created specifically for your current version of Linux. Because I use an older installation of Ubuntu (14.04) and don’t want to update until the next stable long-term Ubuntu is released next spring, I was “stuck” with Rosegarden 13.06. This worked fine for composing, but there were problems when exporting my musical tracks as sheet music. Therefore I downloaded and built a newer Rosegarden (15.12) from source code. It’s a task not for the faint hearted, but it fixed most of my problems.

* LilyPond

If you want to print out the musical scores you create in Rosegarden, the LilyPond program is the best way to do it. LilyPond is a music engraving program, which produces high-quality sheet music from the LilyPond-format (.ly extension) files you can export from Rosegarden. It’s a command line program which accepts a file called “somefile.ly” and converts it to “somefile.pdf” in Adobe Acrobat format, which allows it to be viewed onscreen or sent to a printer.

As I stated earlier, Rosegarden 13 had a bug in producing the lilypond “ly” input files. This caused the Lilypond program to become “confused” about how music was to be broken up into measures, to the point that it would sometimes make a line of music run right off the page! I was able to edit the “ly” files in a text editor to fix these issues, but that was a time-consuming annoyance that made it well worth upgrading to Rosegarden 15.

* JACK Timemachine

If you want to convert your new music into an MP3 file that can be played on your phone or iPod, there are a few more missing pieces. Rosegarden lets you play your music files over your computer’s speakers, but to hear it on another device, you need a “recorder” application such as JACK Timemachine. When you launch this program it appears as a device in the configuration list of Qjackctl. You connect the output of Rosegarden to the input of JACK Timemachine, and then play and record your piece, which is saved as an audio file in 64-bit WAV (w64) format.

* Sox and LAME

Bear with me; we’re on the home stretch. The aforementioned JACK Timemachine is a very simple program that only records music in one format. To change it into a more usable file, you need a music converter such as Sox (Sound Exchange) the “Swiss Army knife” of audio file conversion. Sox is a command-line tool that allows you to convert the w64 files into more playable formats such as WAV and OGG. Unfortunately the popular MP3 file format is patented and technically requires royalties to be paid; therefore Sox (being free of charge) does not include the MP3 plug-in. For do that you must recompile the Sox program from source with an MP3 plugin (requires a fair bit of computer expertise) or better yet, install the “LAME” MP3 encoder to do that last conversion. Why Sox can’t include this function, and yet it can be in LAME as a separate program, I have no idea. Leave that one to the lawyers.

I apologize for this long post and hope it hasn’t been too intimidating. If open-source music tools are complicated, they make up for it in their flexibility and power. Best of all, they’re free, with plenty of help available online. Remember, most of these open-source programs are also available for Windows and Mac. Happy composing!