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James Jay Carafano

James Jay Carafano is vice president of defense and foreign policy studies at The Heritage Foundation. He is the author of Wiki at War: Conflict in a Socially Networked World. Follow him on Twitter at @JJCarafano.
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4 Takes Explaining Why Spy Movies Move Us

Friday, August 21st, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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There is a hot new spy movie coming to a theater near you.  In Bridge of Spies, Tom Hanks will go from winning World War II to whipping the Cold War. Odds are the film will do very well—in part because the nation that loves liberty also appreciates a little espionage.

Nothing says more about us and spies than our love affair with the movies.  Hollywood reflects both our lust for winning (even if that requires a little under-the-table spying on our part) and our fears that others are out to get us.

Nothing brought out these conflicting passions more than the Edward Snowden affair. In part the public fascination with Snowden’s revelations “panders to our dark desire to peer into the ugly side of intelligence work.”

Indeed, the debate over how to bring Snowden’s story to the silver screen shows bipolar American tastes are when it comes spies who are us.

All this spy stuff must be particularly unnerving to millennials. After all, they were supposed to grow in a post-Cold War world where nobody had any enemies.

But, now they are finding themselves like the unsettled generation that went to the movies in the 1960s-seeing spies all over the place.

Back in the 1960s even as everything seemed to be falling apart, spy movies were mostly escapist fare—all sex, tech, and cool.

Over the years, however, Hollywood has also exposed us to the serious side of spying.

Contemporary audiences are finding themselves broad-sided with both serious films, like the forthcoming Bridge of Spies from Steven Spielberg, and very unserious movies, like the soon to be released Ultra with Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.

Get used to it.

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6 Not to Be Missed Serious Spy Movies

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Hollywood has fallen in love with spies—again. Films are everywhere from Mission Impossible to The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the new James Bond film and well—Spy.

These are all the kinds of secret agent celluloid we have seen before. Films that tell us more about our phobias than America’s enemies or movies where spying is just for fun—all sex, tech and cool.

What we are not seeing are movies that have much to tell us about spying. So here are six films that have something to say about spy craft.

#6. Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939).This film is loosely based on real life efforts by the Third Reich to recruit American agents. G-Man Edward Renard (Edward G. Robinson) tracks down fifth columnists in the fifty states. The film is just good old-fashioned Hollywood. In the real world, the FBI made the case that it should be the primary agency responsible for battling spies inside the United States. FDR agreed with the FBI. That’s why today, the bureau spends as much, if not more time, dealing with national security matters than playing cops and robbers.

Edward G. Robinson publicity shot

–Image: Wikipedia

#5. The Man Who Never Was (1956). Based on a true story of World War II espionage, Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu (Clifton Webb) devises a scheme to confuse the Nazis over where the allies planned to launch D-Day. While some of the plot is made up, it is still a remarkable account of the kind of real hijinks that went on during the war. The film holds up well and is still fun to watch.

Robert Lansing and Dana Wynter The Man Who Never Was Film

–Image: Wikipedia

#4. The Ipcress File (1965).  Spying was all the rage during the Cold War. In 1947 Truman signed the law establishing the CIA. In this fictional tale, Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) navigates the criminal underworld and tortuous spy networks (including the CIA) to uncover the secret behind the brainwashing of top scientists. The film was billed as a serious alternative to all the James Bond silliness with sex and gadgets. The movie received critical acclaim, but a mixed reception from audiences. Still, it’s a spy movie classic.

'Youth' photocall, 68th Cannes Film Festival, France - 20 May 2015–Image Credit: Associated Press

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From Cars that Kill to Hijacking Your Treadmill

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

At a security conference this week, hackers showed they could shut down the brakes on a corvette. That’s far from the first auto-hacking story.  What makes this incident particularly noteworthy was that the hackers didn’t go after the uber-cool 2015 corvette. No, they hacked a 2013 model.

The greatest cyber threats we may face in our everyday lives is “old” tech. Engineers race to patch problems with the latest software.  Recently, Chrysler announced an unprecedented cyber-recall of new Jeeps.  But, most of us common folks don’t buy new tech every year.

Online Trust Alliance, a non-profit advocacy group, recently warned “devices that may have been secure off the shelf will become more susceptible to hacking over time allowing hackers to remotely control these devices.” Well, that’s unnerving because increasingly manufactures are hooking everything up to the World Wide Web from baby monitors to home security systems. All these will be at risk. Even innocuous tech like fitness equipment could be hacked to “spy on health vitals.”

The Trust wants to set up rules for “manufacturers, developers and retailers” for better cyber practices. But, this is not just an industry problem.  Nor is it all government’s responsibility. Safe tech is not a human right.

Further, the greatest tech threat is us. For example, more pedestrians are being run over than ever.  The reason? Distracted driving and walking. Texting kills.

Acting responsibly in how we use tech is the real first line of defense.

On the old frontier, Americans survived storms, wolves, famine and wildfires by taking personal responsibility for their lives. If modern Americans want to survive maybe they need to start taking personal responsibility for their tech.

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Debate Wars: the William Buckley-Gore Vidal Debacle Revisited

Monday, August 10th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Way back, when ABC News was a distant third in a three-horse race for ratings, there were only three national broadcast television stations in 1968, and the news team truly had nothing to lose. So while CBS and NBC opted for gavel-to-gavel coverage of the presidential conventions, the suits at ABC performed a programing backflip. Their convention coverage would feature nightly analysis and commentary from two prominent intellectuals—one on the right (William F. Buckley), and one on the left (Gore Vidal).

During the course of the nightly discussions, the conventions and the candidates did occasionally come up. Mostly, however, Buckley and Vidal went after each other. The result was a blood-sport spectacle more akin to entertainment in the Roman Coliseum, but with just two mean and angry lions and no Christians.

Robert Gordon’s new documentary, The Best of Enemies, revisits the historic war of ideas between two of the age’s most powerful culture critics.

This is an engaging, enlightening and (yes) entertaining film.

The smartest move Gordon made in making the movie was not picking sides. He allows National Review editor Bill Buckley (the most well-known conservative of the day outside of Barry Goldwater) to make the case for freedom and free-markets. Meanwhile, the controversial novelist Gore Vidal gets to cheer-lead for the liberal state. Viewers can pick their ideological wing of the theater, cheer for their champion, and throw popcorn at the other side.

Beyond the serious history lesson and the hilarious histrionics, the film also offers an insightful perspective on our current times. In our mind, the word “debate” conjures up the epitome of democratic discourse.  That’s so 19th century. The Lincoln-Douglas debates—those were debates. Indeed, they were more than debates. They were conversations—a long and intricate exchange of ideas. In contrast, Buckley and Vidal are exchanging penalty shots. Like a pro-hockey game, television debates are mostly about high-scoring entertainment—not public discourse to inform and enlighten an electorate. Today’s candidate debates are the descendants of Buckley and Vidal, not Lincoln and Douglas.

That’s not to say there is anything wrong with intellectual warfare on the air. Indeed, this documentary reminds us that smart people can be as entertaining as a Kardashian.

But entertaining is not always the same as educating people on issues and options. Buckley had so much more to offer the debate of great ideas than what could be gleaned from the ABC debates. Likewise, today Americans need something better than the cable news version of Hollywood Squares. There has to be a better way to learn about the people that want to lead the country.

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Forget ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E,’ Here Are 6 Unforgettable, Forgotten Spy Films from the Swinging ’60s

Monday, August 10th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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The Man from U.N.C.L.E. came out this week. The story follows the adventures of two agents working for a super-secret international organization.

Spy-movie popularity has come and gone in Hollywood. Basically, there are two types of espionage films. One chronicles our angst.  The other family of spy movies feeds our craving for escapism. This new film honors the tradition of smug and sharp super-spies.

The original Man from U.N.C.L.E  television show was, of course, inspired by the successful James Bond film series.

Bond had more than his share of imitators. The most outrageous rip-off of all was the incomprehensible comedy version of Casino Royale (1967), but there were so many others. Here are six forgotten films worth remembering from the era when spying was all sex, tech, and cool.

#6. Our Man Flint (1966)  The first of a series of films starring James Coburn as master spy Derek Flint. He was America’s answer to Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

#5. The Silencers (1966)  Not to be outdone, the Americans also recruited Dean Martin to make four Matt Helm films starting with this spy-spoof. Being a successful spy was mostly a combination of cocktails and making out. In each movie, Helm is accompanied by a suitably beautiful babe (Stella Stevens, Sharon Tate, Ann-Margret, Elke Sommer, Janice Rule, and Tina Louise).

#4. Deadlier Than the Male (1967) Terrance Young (who had been the original choice to play James Bond) plays Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond, an international man of mystery who is recruited to solve a series of assassinations of prominent international businessmen. There was also a sequel, Some Girls Do. Drummond probably most resembles the model for the 1997 homage to the swinging-sixties spy movies, Austin Powers.

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Grand Theft Auto, Cyber-style

Thursday, August 6th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Scientists are seriously trying to prove evildoers can do some mighty malicious stuff to your auto. Some of it sounds straight out of a James Bond movie, like taking control of your car while it’s speeding down the highway. In response, auto-makers have promised to beef-up cyber-security for your dashboard.  A new study, however, hints at what the real problem really is—auto theft.

The London police, for one, have documented a surging cyber-crime spree. “Last year,” the London Metropolitan Police reported, “over 6,000 cars and vans across London were stolen without the owners’ keys.” The most common technique, the police explained, was using “a device which bypasses the vehicle’s electronic information as the owner locks it, or they break into the vehicle and connect a device to the OBD port, downloading the vehicle’s information onto a blank key in a matter of seconds.” Their “key” disables the car’s security system. Then, the thieves just drive away. It couldn’t be simpler.

One solution to thwart cyber-car thieves is to outfit your auto with an on-board diagnostic lock. The London police also produced a short video with some other suggestions.

But hey, this is the new normal: if you can put a computer on it, someone will figure out how to mess with it—and someone else will have to figure out how to mess with them.

Welcome to living in the everyday cyber-world.

Cyber-Hack Shows Baseball Worse than Beijing

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Auto-Hacking: Car Wars Continue

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Detroit took notice when two researchers demonstrated they could hack into a Jeep Cherokee’s radio and take over control of the vehicle. In response, Chrysler announced an unprecedented cyber-recall, calling on 1.4 million owners to turn in their cherished chariots so the automaker could fix a software vulnerability.

There is a serious debate over how seriously to take the threat of auto-hacking. On the one hand, it is hard to make a case that criminals will find auto-hacking worth all the effort. There are far simpler ways to make money from car crime.  On the other hand, malicious actors might come up with some exotic reasons to ruin the ride in your Lexus.  Privacy issues may be an even bigger concern.

Car makers are moving to beef-up cyber security on their products. In part, they hope to preempt more proposed regulatory red tape from Congress.

Anyway, as long as the cars don’t start coming after us like they did in movies such as Christine  and Maximum Overdrive there is probably some time to figure this out.

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Navy Tests Drones Launched From Submarines

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Think Skynet, but under water. According to the media, “the US Navy has reportedly launched and recovered an underwater drone from its USS North Dakota submarine, which is said to be its first such mission.”

Like the rest of the armed forces, the Navy has been taking a hard look at employing drones.

The traditional missions for drones are the dull, the dirty, and the dangerous. No military environment includes more of those missions that operating undersea.

While employing underwater terminators seems to make perfect sense, it is not as easy as it looks.  There are few places more difficult for machines to operate than deep under the ocean—corrosion, pressure, power and communications requirements–almost nothing is as effortless as it was in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

It remains to be seen whether the Navy’s latest test is an interesting science fair experiment or the shape of things to come.

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When Autos Attack

Friday, July 24th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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A couple of months ago, DARPA Dan made news during a 60 Minutes profile when he showed how scientists could hack into a car’s computer, making it move independently of the driver. Senator Ed Markey got so worked up that he announced new proposed legislation to set standards for “protection against digital attacks and privacy.”

Well, this ought to get Markey excited. It has happened again. “Former National Security Agency hacker Charlie Miller, now at Twitter, and IOActive researcher Chris Valasek,” Reuters reports, “used a feature in the Fiat Chrysler telematics system Uconnect to break into a car being driven on the highway by a reporter for technology news site Wired.com.”

Whether this is a real threat that requires more red-tape regulations from Washington is a hot debate topic. There is an argument that hacks like these are more publicity stunts than real science.

That said, there are already folks out there peddling cyber security for sedans. A grassroots cyber advocacy group recently published its Five Star Automotive Cyber Safety Program.

Serious or silly, this is an issue that is likely going to get more attention as the auto and cyber worlds collide.

Robotic Sex Slaves: Will AI Robots Have Consciousness, Rights, Souls?

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Nicer Than the Terminator—But That is not Saying Much

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Meet Buddy, a “family-oriented household robot…. inspired by robots from pop culture like R2-D2 from “Star Wars” and Disney’s “WALL-E.”  A French tech start-up is marking a machine that can hang around the house and make itself semi-useful or at least amusing.

Buddy has more to do with movie killer-robots such as the Terminator than one might imagine.  War machines (like all the other kinds of autonomous technologies that are likely to be part of future) will evolve based on designs informed by the experiences of our everyday interactions with robotics. Robots such as Buddy are going to teach us lessons in how humans and robots work side-by-side. That in turn will help us think through the human-robot future.  In peace and war the sooner we start living with robots, the sooner will we figure out how to live with robots.

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Minority Report? It’s Not Science Fiction in NYC

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

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In the future, top cop Tom Cruise uses sci-fi technology to single out and arrest violent criminals before they commit a crime. The 2002 hit movie seemed like such a super cool idea that Fox is bringing the concept back as a series starting in September. But the cautionary tale, originally penned by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick in 1956, may be more than science fiction after all.

According to news reports, “The New York Police Department is embarking on a new experiment with ‘predictive policing.’” The department will study “neighborhood-specific data like weather, time of year, school calendars and past criminal activity to create statistical models that forecast where and when certain crimes are likely to occur.”

Intelligence-led policing (trying to figure out where the crimes are going to be) is a controversial but increasingly more common tactic of metropolitan police departments.

The NYPD is taking the task to the next level through sophisticated software that merges predictors together and kicks out probabilities that certain kinds of crimes are more likely to occur. The Big Apple actually isn’t the first to try out this approach. It has also been used in cities in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska.

If that sounds one step closer to the Minority Report, “that’s not happening,” said the CEO of the company that developed the software.

We’ll see if the ACLU agrees.

7 Most Lethal Killer Robots in Movie History

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How Twitter Can Get You Killed

Friday, July 10th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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The war being waged online is breathtaking. Not only are the likes of ISIS running wild in cyberspace, there are all other kinds of hijinks as well.  The Saudi government is bogged down in a hashtag war with allies of ISIS recruiting suicide bombers.  Meanwhile, Russian hackers are posing as a “cyber caliphate” to cover their online mayhem.

While the online world is on fire, the White House is acting like it has got everything under control. “We are in touch with these [social networking] companies on a regular basis,” National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey told the Washington Examiner, “and have a constant, constructive dialogue on the question of freedom of expression versus security and incitement.”  The FBI, on the other hand, sounds a lot less confident. Just the other day, FBI Director James Comey  testified before the  Senate Judiciary Committee that “[t]here’s a group of tweeters in Syria, and their message is two pronged: Come to the so-called caliphate and live the life of some sort of glory or something, and if you can’t come, kill somebody where you are. Kill somebody in uniform, kill anybody, if you can cut their head off, great. Videotape it. Do it, do it, do it….They’re pushing this through Twitter.”

What’s lost in all the hysteria over terrorists tweeting online is what is making all this terror talk so terrifying.  ISIS has the capacity to link its social networks with human networks – real humans on the ground willing to turn into ideas into action. That is what makes the terrorist talkers so dangerous.  Tweeting is just a symptom of the problem. The best way to take the terrorists offline is start taking down ISIS in the field.

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Second Shooter Scare in a Week Has D.C. Jumpy

Monday, July 6th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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The staff at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, were recently put on “lockdown” after reports of shots fired on the grounds.

That’s the second time in less than a week a military site in the Metropolitan area has jumped to high alert. Right before the 4th of July there was a report of shots fired at the Washington Navy Yard prompting a massive law enforcement response.

It’s no surprise law enforcement rushed to the scene.  In 2013, employees at the Navy Yard were terrorized by a shooting incident. Further, authorities were jumpy over a warning of possible terrorist attack over the holiday weekend.

Not only were authorities right to rush to the report of shooters at a public place. The rest of us ought to take this stuff seriously as well. Tragedies happen. Here is the advice I dispensed in my book Surviving the End.

If you suspect that you are trapped in the middle of these scenarios, you must be prepared to act if you plan to survive.  You can’t be a passive bystander.  The FBI has a pretty good video explaining what to do. Here is a simple summary of the best advice.

Don’t panic. Remember the basics of survival—faith, health, and good common sense. If you are armed with these things, you are as equipped as anyone to deal with the situation. Have trust and confidence in your own judgment.

Take cover. You don’t want to be out in the open where an assailant has a line-of-sight to you. If you are in the proximity of an incident, the safest bet might be to get to a secure location (just like Dick Cheney)—a room with brick or block walls, the fewer windows the better (pull down the shades or close the curtains if there are windows), and a solid door that you can lock. Barricade the access points with whatever is available.  Stay calm and quiet (take precautions like putting cell phones on vibrate). Stay out of sight.

Contact for help. Hopefully you can call, text, email, or safely signal to someone for help. We have already talked about the importance of knowing how to make an effective 911 call or use an emergency app on your digital device. In an active-shooter scenario, you won’t just be asking for help, but you’ll be sharing critical information that may help authorities at the scene. You should be prepared to share: a) your specific location, b) the number of people with you and their conditions (i.e. injuries),  and c) critical information about the assailants—numbers, description including race and gender, physical features (height, weight, facial hair, glasses), clothing, types of weapons they are using and their current activities (e.g., have you heard explosions or gunshots?).

Treat the injured. Remember the advice about being an expert at first aid.  You might have to put that into practice—stemming blood loss or treating for shock.

Evacuate. You want to evacuate when it is safe.  Hopefully, the authorities will arrive and establish safe corridors for passage, directing where and when to go. Most likely, if you are trapped in the middle of an active shooter scenario, you will be escorted out of the danger area by law enforcement personnel. You should cooperate with safety or security officials and follow their directions explicitly.

Fight back. If you are trapped and can’t escape, take the battle to your assailant. Fight back with whatever you have. Your only chance of survival is to incapacitate or deter your would-be murderer.

And then I added this one.

Get a gun. You know what’s weird?  Go through all the advice from FEMA, the Red Cross and so on.  Did you find any information about arming yourself as a means of protecting your home and hearth? Me neither.  How dumb is that?  Being armed is a perfectly appropriate response for everyday Americans concerned about the safety of themselves and their family—not just for an active-shooter scenario, but any of the disaster situations that threaten the life and property of your loved ones.

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Killer Robot Actually Kills Somebody

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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There is more than one news report  of a tragic accident in Germany. A technician died after being struck in the chest by an assembly robot. What does that tell us about a future where robots run around taking matters into their own metal hands?

This isn’t close to the first incident of unintentional robotic mayhem, where the machines came after us. Over four million, for example, have watched the You Tube video of a self-parking car demonstration gone horribly wrong.

Incidents like this, however, are more akin to industrial accidents (like being run over by a forklift) than anything like the challenges of the killer robots we see in the movies.

Still, people are already panicking. There is a groundswell against autonomous operating robotics, including wanting to ban them from the battlefield.

Well, the doubters are going to have to get over their robot-phobia.

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Top Gun 2 Will Be Terrible

Monday, June 29th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Word is out that Tom Cruise will reprise his role as the reckless combat-ace Maverick in a Top Gun redo.  This must end badly.

Cruise is long past the day when he could deliver a film performance worth watching. Recently, in Edge of Tomorrow  and Oblivion,  he delivered two back-to-back performances that were as lackluster and interchangeable as Legos.

And what exactly do we expect Maverick to do?  The US Navy won’t be taking on the Chinese. That would be politically incorrect and threaten ticket sales on the mainland.

And, what exactly will Maverick be flying?  The Navy’s F-18 Super Hornet is a fine aircraft,  but its been around since the 1980s. That’s old and boring.  The Navy’s new fighter the F-35 is still in trials.

They could always put Maverick in charge of a Navy unmanned fighter. Then he could fly combat missions from the ward room.  That would be an age appropriate activity for a 52 years old fighter pilot.

To make matters worse, modern air-to-air combat doesn’t look anything like old-fashioned dog-fighting. Planes engage at long range with missiles.  From a movie-watcher’s perspective, following a real air-to-air engagement would probably be pretty boring.

So with no enemy to fight, nothing to fly, and nothing to see it is hard to imagine how Hollywood is going to come up with much of a movie. Hopefully, the music will be good.

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Stanford Breeds Psychos

Friday, June 19th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

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Both famous and infamous, a 1971 Stanford University experiment recreated the conditions of prison life with volunteers role-playing both inmates and guards. Shockingly, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, when the guards were allowed to brutalize the prisoners things pretty much spun out of control. After six days they had to shut the whole thing down before somebody got hurt.

The movie, released this summer, presents a dramatization of events at the mock prison. But this is far from the first film about the grisly academic affair. There have been a number of documentaries including one by the university.

Nor was Stanford’s prison experiment the first time serious science went pyscho. The “obedience experiments” by Yale scientist Stanley Milgram were even more infamous. The tests, which began in 1961, measured whether subjects could be induced to give a lethal electrical shock to innocent people just because an authority figure said it was alright.

Eventually, even the Ivory Tower figured out conducting human experiments that intentionally inflicted turmoil and anguish might be a bit shady. Research institutions adopted institutional review boards to determine whether research was ethical—before the experiment started.

Given that we know what happens when these things go haywire, it is doubly shocking that modern abuses, such as were inflicted at Abu Ghraib, are ever allowed to happen. How could the Army be so dumb as not to recognize the potential for a toxic environment and not provide more stringent oversight?

Such lessons are worth remembering. When we act inhuman to humans, inhumanity often results.

There is a reason the U.S. Senate just voted to ban torture, even though torture is already against the law. Senators want to again make the statement that no matter how brutal our enemies are, we don’t defeat them by joining them.

Conversely, don’t expect those who act inhumanely to act human just because we treat them nice. So, it is also not surprising that Congress just held a hearing lambasting the administration for its anti-ISIS strategy. Obama’s secretary of State may have thought it’s a good idea to emphasize with our enemies.  Most realists think that’s a dead-end idea. They would prefer we defeat our enemies rather than coddle them. We can act humanely and also be mean and win wars.

In the end, this film about the Stanford experiment reminds us that humans act human.

Let’s confine the horror of inhumanity to stomach-churning films like Hostel, and then let’s just skip those movies.

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Cyber-Hack Shows Baseball Worse than Beijing

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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You thought the Chinese are bad actors online?   Now comes news the FBI are investigating the St. Louis Cardinals for hacking into the computer system of the Houston Astros.  If the allegations are proved true, this is a big deal.  Hacking is not just another case of baseball hijinks. It is serious criminal activity.

Bad baseball behavior online is yet more proof that that game is no longer about the boys of summer. It is about big business, a business that is increasingly disconnected from what once was noble about the game.

From the lack of sound security at the stadium to polluting our popular culture there is mounting evidence that professional baseball is less and less a positive influence in American life.

In many ways this is worse than the Chinese hack of OPM. The attack from Beijing is the kind of espionage activity we ought to expect from a foreign power. That’s what great powers do. They spy on one another. Live with it.

On the other hand, American companies maliciously spying on other companies are no different from bankers robbing other banks.

Cyber-crime is a crime.  There ought to be little tolerance for it, particularly from companies that fly the American flag over their stadium and play the national anthem before every game.

If baseball wants to be America’s game, it needs to start acting more American.

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5 Dinosaur Movies Better than ‘Jurassic World’

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Jurassic World is setting world records for the biggest box office movie opening ever.  One reviewer called it “big dumb fun.”  No wonder audiences are flocking to the film like interns to free donuts. Good creature-features have always been a healthy cash cow for filmmakers. Before Chris Pratt took on the role of dinosaur whisperer, the silver screen had its share of unforgettable movies about the monsters from our lost world. Here are five films that are worth a look.

#5. Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). Maybe The Lost World  (1925) was the first full-length big production of a SciFi dinosaur movie. But it wasn’t by a long shot the first big reptile on the silver screen. Animation pioneer Winsor McCay made this short in 1914. This is the great-grandfather of Hollywood’s fascination with the Mesozoic Era. This first deserves to be on the list of the very best.

#4. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). No master monster-movie list would be complete if it didn’t include a film by the special effects genius Raymond Frederick “Ray” Harryhausen. Ray created his dinosaurs using animated stop-motion models. The strange “beast” released from the frozen Arctic that makes its way to Coney Island is one of his most marvelous creations. This film inspired countless other monster movies. This black and white movie is a not-to-be-missed classic.

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This is Your Brain on Passwords

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Don’t blow your mind! In the future a record of brain biometrics could replace conventional passwords. This may be a little short of extreme mind-control (featured in Sci-Fi movies like the classic 1981 thriller Scanners), but a recent study from researchers at Binghamton University predicted “brain prints” could be  used instead of fingerprints, retina scans or facial recognition as a unique identifier for security purposes including online passwords.

While the technology has promise,  according to one of the researchers, don’t expect to be using your brain to open up your Android anytime soon. “We tend to see the applications of this system as being more along the lines of high-security physical locations, like the Pentagon or Air Force Labs, where there aren’t that many users that are authorized to enter,” concluded one of the research team.

Apparently, mind-melding with a laptop or the monstrous Krell mind-machine is still a ways off.

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Seven Sci-Fi Heroines from Silent Films to Mad Max

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Lately, from Caitlyn Jenner’s new Twitter account to Charlize Theron’s road-rage character  in the new Mad Max film, Americans seem obsessed with gender-bending. But Theron’s sci-fi feminist heroine isn’t all that groundbreaking. And, that’s business as usual for the movie business. Hollywood heroines are the last to catch on. Here are seven films that make the case for how female sci-fi heroes have transformed from willowy window dressing to being rougher than Rambo.

#7.  The Lost World (1925).  In 1920 women got the vote. But as far as Hollywood was concerned, as part of the show, they are pretty much there for show. This film adaption of the Arthur Conan Doyle story about a plateau populated by dinosaurs (think Jurassic World without sound) was one of the first Hollywood studio science-fiction hits. Bessie Love plays Paula White, whose main purpose seems to be making terrified faces in front of the Triceratops. Paula’s pet monkey Jocko plays a more prominent role in the plot.

#6. King Kong (1933).  This monster movie wowed critics and audiences.  “One of the very best of all the screen thrillers, done with all the cinema’s slickest camera tricks,” raved the New York World-TelegramKing Kong also set the standard for Hollywood’s women in peril. While Amelia Earhart was making headlines as a daredevil aviatrix and real-life heroine, there are no females piloting the planes taking pot-shots at the Empire State Building. Instead, the heroine’s job was to be threatened by the monster and saved by the hero.  Nobody did it better than Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) — her screaming is unmatched in cinematic film history.

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Obama’s New Propaganda Machine

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Our president has a Twitter account.   Who cares?  Apparently a lot of people. @POTUS set a Guinness world record for attracting a million followers in five hours.  That number included the abject faithful, harassing  racist trolls and the curious.

What makes social networks (like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) serious business,  however, is not just their size. Online networks are important when they are linked to human networks— webs of people that get together in real space not just cyberspace.  ISIS, for instance, is dangerous not because it can post videos online.  It’s the people that get together after watching terrorist online murder porn and do dangerous things that you have to worry about.

And that is why we should pay attention to what our president is doing online. As a recent piece in the Washington Post points out, the White House is mostly using social media to whip up the faithful with calls to action that prompt them to advocate for Obama’s political agenda.  This approach “raises the prospect of fostering further political polarization if the president opts to communicate mostly with parts of the electorate that identify with him ideologically or can be helpful politically.”

Americans ought to be concerned, when instead of speaking to all Americans, White House digital media outreach becomes little more than his personal political action project paid for by all of us.


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7 Heartbreaking Films of Military Valor

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Calling Memorial Day a “federal holiday” is a bit of a sacrilege. More than a day for big sales or a stretch at the beach, this is a time for remembrance.  Our freedoms are secured and preserved by those that serve. This is our day to honor their sacrifice—and our loss.  Over the years, Hollywood hasn’t been half-bad at recounting the nobility and the pain of war’s cost. These movies are particularly moving—unforgettable films where the sense of loss on the silver screen is just sometimes overwhelming.

#7.  The Fighting Sullivans (1944).  They were five brothers from Waterloo, Iowa.  They all served on the cruiser USS Juneau. They all died on November 13, 1942, when the ship went down.  Their true story was lovingly told in this wartime drama. The film is often cited as an inspiration for the 1998 blockbuster hit Saving Private Ryan.

#6. Sands of Iwo Jima (1949).  John Wayne dies. Really? John Wayne never (well, almost never) dies.  Arguing he was too old when World War II broke out to make much of a contribution as a soldier, Hollywood’s biggest wartime star played patriotic heroes in a number of films. In this movie, Sergeant Stryker (John Wayne) bravely leads men through some of the toughest fighting of the Pacific War.  On Iwo Jima, after taking over 26,000 casualties the Marines snagged the summit of Mount Suribachi. In the film, the battle won, Stryker’s platoon takes the spot right at the foot of the iconic raising of the American flag.  One of Stryker’s squad mates is distracted reading a letter from home. Sacrificing himself, Stryker throws his body across a grenade tossed at their feet.  The audience just gasps. Did that really just happen?

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Why There is No Star Trek Death Cult

Monday, May 18th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Apparently, some people don’t know it is make-believe or at least that is what British authorities thought.

According to recently released 1997 report, Scotland Yard feared young viewers might be inspired by Star Trek and other sci-fi TV to commit suicide or mass violence. While it is true Star Trek fans can get pretty zealous (They keep track of how many people show up at conventions in costume. The current record is over 1,000.),  Trekkies certainly never turned into the Manson Cult.

There are lots of reasons to scratch your head and wonder what Scotland Yard was thinking back in the day.

Media can be used to inspire madness.  ISIS has used its presence online to add to its ranks, raise recruits, fund raise and even motivate terrorist attacks against the West.   But it is not just ISIS’ online abilities (which, of course, wasn’t around in the 1990s) that is the problem.  What makes radicalization on social networks so dangerous is when they can be linked to human networks—where people engage with one another face-to-face.  The merging of social networks and human webs can be formidable force.  No country in the West has a bigger challenge in dealing with that challenge right now than Great Britain where radicalization of Muslim youth is a major concern.

I bet Scotland Yard is wistful for the good old days when they just tracked Trekkies.

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Suddenly, It’s All About Sex in Space

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Rape, sex and fisticuffs in space are only some of the musings about what awaits us out there. If that was the strangest story, it might not merit much attention, but it is not.

There is talk of NASA trying to emulate Hollywoodpreventing an asteroid from ending all life on earth.

And that’s not all. There is Mars One, a non-profit organization promoting a “one way mission to Mars” in 2026.

At least one candidate wants to have the first baby on the Red Planet. Bad news. Some scientists are saying sex, romance and Mars don’t mix.

A bigger question than “who wants to blast-off with who” is asking “why do we care?”

Following the debacle of Vietnam, we just kind of gave up on Kennedy’s vision of Camelot in space.

America pretty much lost interest in the space race when we won it.  Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969. Then our attitude pretty much became “been there, done that.”

After that our interest in space was, at best, episodic. Everybody paid attention to the Challenger disaster in 1986. The Apollo 13 movie in 1995  may have pulled a bigger audience than the original moon mission in 1970.

Now, all of sudden, we all want to be lost in space again.

In part, that may be because others are making a big deal about making manned space flights, including China, India, and Japan. Maybe we are jealous?

Also we are seeing some unprecedented developments in private sector commercial space efforts. Maybe we think we can make a buck?

Certainly space is back in our imagination. Why else would Disney be interested in cranking out new Star Wars movies other than to cash in on our new lust to go to (and, I guess, lust in) space?

Maybe a little (age-appropriate) discussion of sex and violence isn’t bad. After all, as soon as humans started thinking seriously about going into the great beyond, Hollywood started making films of fighting and wooing there–like Cat-Women of the Moon.

We should be capitalizing on a renewed interest in space to inspire a new generation to study, learn, invent, create and dream.

Whatever it takes to get America thinking big and bold again works for me.

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