Monthly Archives: January 2013

Technofiction review of Zero Dark Thirty


The story of how Osama Bin Laden (OBL) died is well-suited for legendary story telling. The big questions surrounding it are “when they will start” and “how many will there be”.

Zero Dark Thirty does a good job for a first try. It dodges the neo-circus action sequences that are so common in spy movies these days, there is no love-interest sub-plot. It does a good job of living up to its “based on a true story” aspirations.

It is well filmed and kept my attention throughout.

That said, it did have some Technofiction flaws.


Disclaimer here: This topic of how to handle OBL is one I have written a lot about and have strong feelings about. This story does not match my feelings.

These movie makers faced a big problem: This story is, in reality, a complex tale. There was a whole lot of diplomacy among four nations involved — Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US. None of this shows up in the movie. The first half is about interrogating people in secret places and the second about showing the mission itself.

So, in the interests of keeping the story simple, and centering it on the total dedication of Maya, a CIA caseworker, the movie spends most of the first half on how to interrogate vicious terrorists. Ouch! This implies that doing this was the heart of finding OBL. The rest of the wide web cast by the CIA and other allied intelligence agencies was irrelevant.

An example of the internal consistency errors this leads into was questioning one of the terrorists about the specifics of an upcoming terrorist act months after he was caught. “Give me a date!” says the interrogator with meaningful menace.

…Eh? Plans don’t change? Dates don’t change? People don’t change? Especially when one of your inner circle gets caught? The point is that interrogation information gets stale, this was not at all brought up in the movie.

In the middle of the movie Maya feels dead-sure she has located OBL and gets impatient for action. She is writing days on her superior’s window.

What the movie doesn’t bring out is the huge diplomatic implications of going in and snatching OBL. The Paki’s were our allies! …at least some of them.

To give you a similar scenario based on the US environment:

o Suppose Bernard Madoff got outed, but slipped off to become a fugitive. Years are spent looking for him. The most common rumor is he’s hiding in Honduras somewhere.

o Suppose a dedicated Canadian caseworker reviews interrogations done on other people working in Madoff’s company. This case worker determines that Madoff is actually holed up in a gated community near Baltimore, and only a thirty minute drive from Annapolis!

o OK… Do the Canadians:

a) Launch their SEALS in choppers to land in Baltimore and “off” Madoff, then carry the body back to Canada?

b) Launch a big enough missile to crater the gated community? Then look for DNA afterwards?

c) Do a wee bit more research on the network of people owning the properties and coming and going, then discretely inform trusted elements in the US government that a rogue CIA group has been harboring Madoff… and how soon will they clean up their own dirty laundry?

This diplomatic element is completely missing from the movie, and, sadly, most thinking about this spectacular and emotionally-pleasing end to the Great Osama Bin Laden Hunt. Pleasing in the US, but this ending was a loud, very public, face-slap to our friends in the Pakistan government and communities.

So while the movie is well composed and interesting to watch. It sadly goes for intimate story telling rather than showing a big picture. In this, it shares a lot with Argo (2012).

A couple of smaller issues:

Even quietized choppers are noisy and windy. Yet after they disembark, and one chopper crashes, the SEALS go slow and quiet. This seems incongruous, but I make no claim to expertise in this issue.

The choppers while they are flying in to the target are flying real, real close to each other, especially considering this is nape-of-earth flying and at night.

Other than these issues, I found the house assault scenes quite interesting and believable.

In sum, the movie had a lot going for it, but it did a poor job at revealing the big picture these events unfolded in.


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Tolerance in Action

Recently I experienced a wonderful example of tolerance in action.

I was at a grandchild’s baptism. This was a group of about forty people assembled in a room for about a half hour. The group consisted of grandparents, parents, children, toddlers and babes in arms — a full mix of age groups.

The kids were doing kids things thoroughly mixed in with adults doing the baptism ceremony. No one thought twice about this wide range of activities taking place. Example: One of the kids wanted to sit next to daddy while he was giving a speech. She moved her chair next to his at the front of the room, and fidgeted in it while he spoke. No one minded. When the child got out of the chair to move on to something else interesting, the mother quietly moved it back. But that’s not what the child wanted and she quickly moved it back next to daddy.

Again, this mix of activities did not spoil the baptism one wit. It was tolerated, and everyone had a good time.

I bring this up as an example of the benefit of tolerance. It was impressive!

Here are some analogies to other worldly situations:

o Each person there experienced the baptism in their own way. There wasn’t just one right way, there were many right ways.

o The kids didn’t experience the baptism the same way the adults did, but they knew enough to not be running, shouting and screaming. Many of the older kids busied themselves with watching over the younger kids, and the younger kids busied themselves with exploring and quiet take-up games. The young kids would punctuate their games with coming and sitting next to a parent or older child for a while, getting hugs and whispers, then back to exploring.

o When the big moment came, all the kids rushed to the front to be up front and close when the magic moment happened. They knew why they were there, and this part was of great interest to them.

o The girl moving her chair is an example of disruptive technology. She was innovating. She had come up with a good idea. When mom thought the chair move was just random, the child demonstrated that, no, she had thought this through and her idea would work better.

And, again, the encouraging part was that all this tolerance made this ritual more enjoyable for all involved, and built enfranchisement. The kids were not herded off to experience this in a separate place. The adults did not have to put up with military precision. Each person played their part in their way.

Once again, a wonderful example of tolerance in action, and how tolerance can both increase life’s enjoyability and build community enfranchisement.

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