Ron Thornton, Emmy-Winning Visual Effects Guru on ‘Babylon 5,’ Dies at 59

The London native brought the power of CGI to television and also worked on ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’

11:22 AM PST 11/22/2016 by Mike Barnes

Michael Schwartz/WireImage

Ron Thornton

Ron Thornton, an Emmy-winning visual effects designer, supervisor and producer who worked on such shows as Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Voyager, has died. He was 59.

Thornton, often credited with bringing the power of CGI to television visual effects, died Monday at his home in Albuquerque, N.M., after a short battle with liver disease, his friend, veteran VFX supervisor Emile Smith, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Thornton received his Emmy for the 1993 telefilm Babylon 5: The Gathering (the pilot for the series) and also was nominated for his work on episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and on the 2002 telefilm Superfire.

In 1991, the London native was working with innovative rock star and multimedia artist Todd Rundgren on a computer-animated short film when he was approached by the producers of the space opera Babylon 5, then in development.

His collaboration with Rundgren led Thornton to suggest using computers for the effects on the show. He created a one-minute video of proposed effects for the series, and that was instrumental in Babylon 5 selling to Warner Bros. Television in July 1992. The series aired from 1994-’98 on the Prime Time Entertainment Network and TNT.

Thornton formed Foundation Imaging to continue creating the visuals for Babylon 5 and served for four years as the series’ special effects designer. He went on to supervise the CG visual effects for such Star Trek shows as Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.

His recent work included effects work on the 2012 pilot for ABC’s Nashville and producing the web series Talking Tom and Friends in Vienna.

In 1987, Thornton began to experiment with consumer-level computer hardware to create 3D computer graphics for pre-visualizing FX shots.

Smith pointed out that Thornton, whom he considered his mentor, “pioneered the movement away from the expensive, mainframe-based CGI solutions to more affordable desktop hardware and software, offering legions of self-taught and hobbyist artists the chance to progress into professional animation and visual effects. Many were mentored by Thornton himself.”

Thornton, who studied at West Kent College, began his entertainment career at the BBC, where he created props and miniatures for the sci-fi shows Dr. Who and Blakes 7. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1984 and went on to work on films including Real Genius(1985), Commando (1985), Critters(1986), Spaceballs (1987) and Robot Jox (1989).  

Survivors include his wife, Lada. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help her pay for his medical expenses.

  

Former Air Force Intelligence Officer Accused of Defecting To Iran, Says She Wanted To Do “Like Snowden”

On Wednesday, former Air Force intelligence office Monica Witt was charged with espionage for allegedly defecting to Iran and helping create a cyber-spying operation which targeted her former colleagues.

CBS News reports that Witt is accused of defecting to Iran in 2013 and sharing highly-classified U.S. intelligence about a classified Department of Defense program. Authorities claim Witt collaborated with the elite Iranian military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The FBI’s wanted listing says that Witt was indicted by a grand jury on February 8, and charged with “Conspiracy to Deliver National Defense Information to Representatives of a Foreign Government and Delivering National Defense Information to Representatives of a Foreign Government.”
“Monica Witt is charged with revealing to the Iranian regime a highly classified intelligence program and the identity of a U.S. Intelligence Officer, all in violation of the law, her solemn oath to protect and defend our country, and the bounds of human decency,” assistant attorney general John Demers wrote in a statement.
Witt, 39, had high-level security clearances and was in the Air Force from 1997 to 2008, then became a Defense Department contractor until 2010. She also reportedly went abroad several times on counterintelligence missions.
Witt learned Farsi at a U.S. military language school and allegedly traveled to Iran for an anti-American event that promoted “anti-U.S. propaganda,” and returned again in 2013 when she was provided with housing and computer equipment to work on behalf of Iran. Her work allegedly included sharing classified information and assembling dossiers on eight of her former U.S. intelligence colleagues.
“She decided to turn against the United States and shift her loyalty to Iran,” said Jay Tabb, the FBI’s executive assistant director for national security, Reuters reports. “Her primary motivation appears to be ideological.”
U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie Liu said that Witt sought to “undermine the U.S. and help the government of Iran,” ABC News reports.
Reuters also reports that the FBI warned her that Iran’s intelligence services wanted to recruit her, but she said that if she returned to Iran, she would not talk about her intelligence work.
She later helped produce anti-American propaganda with an Iranian-American official whom she told in an email, “I am endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil.”
In 2013, she tried to move to Iran but Iranian officials were suspicious of her.
“I just hope I have better luck with Russia at this point,” she told the unnamed Iranian-American. “I am starting to get frustrated at the level of Iranian suspicion.”
Yahoo News reports that she wrote a message claiming that she might “do like [Edward] Snowden,” the former US intelligence contractor who leaked thousands of highly-classified documents about the National Security Agency in 2013 before being granted asylum in Russia.
After she was permitted to emigrate to Iran she told her contact that she was “signing off and heading out,” adding, “Coming home.”
Witt is facing one count of conspiracy and two counts of delivering military information to a foreign government. A warrant was also issued for her arrest but she is believed to be in Iran.
The FBI wanted listing says Witt was born in El Paso, Texas and her aliases are Fatemah Zahra and Narges Witt.
Iranian hackers are accused of setting up fake social media accounts to befriend the agents that Witt provided information on to try and install spyware to their computers. Four Iranians were also charged for conspiracy and aggravated identity theft including Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hosseini Parvar, and Mohammad Paryar.

Pro-Israel Lobby Caught on Tape Boasting That Its Money Influences Washington

by AdventurousIce

Lobbying needs to be removed from politics. Good or bad ones, it all needs to go.

via theintercept:

A DEBATE ABOUT the power in Washington of the pro-Israel lobby is underway, after Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., responded sharply to reports that Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was targeting both Omar and fellow Muslim Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan.

Omar quoted rap lyrics — “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” — to suggest McCarthy’s move was driven by the lobby’s prolific spending. Asked specifically who she was referring to, Omar responded, “AIPAC!”

The debate over the influence of pro-Israel groups could be informed by an investigation by Al Jazeera, in which an undercover reporter infiltrated the Israel Project, a Washington-based group, and secretly recorded conversations about political strategy and influence over a six-month period in 2016. That investigation, however, was never aired by the network — suppressed by pressure from the pro-Israel lobby.

Related Posts: 

In November, Electronic Intifada obtained and published the four-part series, but it did so during the week of the midterm elections, and the documentary did not get a lot of attention then.

In it, leaders of the pro-Israel lobby speak openly about how they use money to influence the political process, in ways so blunt that if the comments were made by critics, they’d be charged with anti-Semitism.

David Ochs, founder of HaLev, which helps send young people to American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference, described for the reporter how AIPAC and its donors organize fundraisers outside the official umbrella of the organization, so that the money doesn’t show up on disclosures as coming specifically from AIPAC. He describes one group that organizes fundraisers in both Washington and New York. “This is the biggest ad hoc political group, definitely the wealthiest, in D.C.,” Ochs says, adding that it has no official name, but is clearly tied to AIPAC. “It’s the AIPAC group. It makes a difference; it really, really does. It’s the best bang for your buck, and the networking is phenomenal.” (Ochs and AIPAC did not immediately return The Intercept’s requests for comment.)

Without spending money, Ochs argues, the pro-Israel lobby isn’t able to enact its agenda. “Congressmen and senators don’t do anything unless you pressure them. They kick the can down the road, unless you pressure them, and the only way to do that is with money,” he explains.

IT’S NOT ONLY ABOUT THE BENJAMINS

 It’s not just the Benjamin’s. Ilhan Omar was wrong. It’s the pervasive, often subconscious anti-Palestinian racism.

Ilhan Omar is wrong: Anti-Palestinian racism, not money, makes the special relationship special

Donald Johnson

The defenses of Rep. Ilhan Omar have centered on the fact that AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, really does wield power through money, as lobbies do, and they even brag about it. But in the New York Times, David Leonhardt writes that Omar’s tweet is antisemitic because not all the support for Israel is paid for by money. Much of it is sincere, he says.

He is probably right. But it isn’t a trail of logic he wants to follow to the end.

At this stage, no educated person can buy into the pro-Israel mythology unless they simply choose to ignore the ugly facts. And that’s what many do. They do this because they don’t think Palestinians have the same right to live in their own homeland as Israeli Jews. In fact, most see the right of return solely through Zionist eyes, as a demographic threat to majority Jewish rule. They might say they support a two-state solution, but they aren’t even serious about that, because they will support Israel no matter what and put no pressure on Israel to achieve this goal.

Fundamentally they think Palestinian human rights are of no importance compared to the need to make Israel feel supported. That is the driving force behind support for Israel. Money (Benjamin’s) alone doesn’t explain what is going on. Racism does. Or if the word offends, and golly, everything offends on this subject, call it apathy towards Palestinians when set against the desire to support Israel.

I don’t really see how anyone could deny this. Our political class, including the mainstream press, cares about Omar’s tweet and will go on at length about the dangers of antisemitism, but the apathy and indifference to Palestinian oppression never causes similar outbursts of moral outrage. The New York Times itself published four opinion pieces supporting the shooting of Palestinian demonstrators last year. The writers — 1, Bret Stephens; 2, Matti Friedman; 3, Shmuel Rosner; and 4, Thomas Friedman— had no qualms whatsoever about what Israel did. The editors clearly had no qualms printing those pieces. Most politicians had no qualms with the shooting.

Shooting Palestinians and support for shooting them is entirely mainstream in the United States and in the pages of the Times. Nobody (or nobody who matters) stops to think about how outrageous this is.

A snarky tweet, though— that is serious business.

So it’s not just the Benjamin’s. Ilhan Omar was wrong. It’s the pervasive, often subconscious anti-Palestinian racism.

U.S. warship stuck in Montreal since December due to ice resumes trip home

Navy thanked Montreal for the hospitality it showed the stranded crew

March 31, 2018

USS Little Rock Montreal 20180121
The USS Little Rock is shown moored in Montreal’s Old Port Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. The newly commissioned Navy warship spent the winter in Montreal after its journey to Florida was interrupted by cold and ice. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

An American warship stuck in Montreal since Christmas Eve has finally resumed its trip to its home port in Florida.

Port of Montreal spokesperson Mélanie Nadeau said the ship left around 6:15 a.m. Saturday.

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The USS Little Rock was commissioned in Buffalo on Dec. 16 but was trapped by ice at the Port of Montreal less than two weeks into its maiden voyage.

A spokeswoman for the Navy said officials decided to wait until weather conditions improved before allowing the ship to continue its journey to Mayport, Fla., out of concern for the safety of the ship and crew.

Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson confirmed the ship finally left the city early on Saturday after spending more than three months in Montreal.

It is expected to arrive in Florida early next month after making several port visits along the way.

In a statement, the Navy thanked the city for the hospitality it showed the stranded crew.

“We greatly appreciate the support and hospitality of the city of Montreal, the Montreal Port Authority and the Canadian Coast Guard,” said the USS Little Rock Commanding Officer Cmdr. Todd Peters.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to further enhance our strong partnerships.”

The 118-metre Freedom-variant Little Rock is described as a fast and agile combat ship that is capable of operating near shore as well as on the open ocean.

It’s the second vessel to bear the name, and was commissioned in December alongside its Second World War-era namesake — a U.S. naval first.

The warship was equipped with temporary heaters and 16 de-icers designed to reduce ice accumulation on the hull, and the crew was provided with cold-weather clothing in light of the change to their winter plans.

The ship’s departure may be a relief to some nearby condo dwellers, who complained over the winter about the constant rumble emanating from the vessel’s generators.

In response, the lights illuminating the ship were dimmed and adjustments were made in February to a soundproofing, acoustic barrier wall surrounding the generators, the Port of Montreal said at the time.

Settling the Controversy Over Photo of Lee Harvey Oswald

A new study by Dartmouth researchers helps to refute one of the most famous conspiracy theories in U.S. history.

Dartmouth researchers built and posed a physiologically plausible 3-D model of Lee Harvey Oswald to match his appearance in the famous photo. By adding the appropriate mass to each part of the 3-D model, they were able to perform a balance analysis that revealed that although Oswald appears off-balance, his pose is stable. (Computer images courtesy of Hany Farid; Photo of Oswald from the Warren Commission)

Whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone to assassinate President John F. Kennedy has been the subject of countless articles, books, and movies. Conspiracy theories point to purported inconsistencies in the events of Nov. 22, 1963, and in the evidence collected against Oswald. One such example is a photograph of Oswald in his backyard holding a rifle in one hand and Marxist newspapers in the other. The photo was particularly damning because it showed Oswald holding the same type of rifle that was used to assassinate Kennedy.

At the time of his arrest, Oswald claimed the photo was fake. In addition, it has long been argued that the lighting and shadows in the photo are inconsistent; that Oswald’s facial features are inconsistent with other photos of him; that the size of the rifle is inconsistent with the known length of that type of rifle; and that Oswald’s pose is physically implausible (it appears as if he is standing off balance).

But research led by Hany Farid, a professor of computer science, uses a new digital image forensics technique and a 3-D model of Oswald to show that the photo is authentic.

“Our detailed analysis of Oswald’s pose, the lighting and shadows, and the rifle in his hands refutes the argument of photo tampering,” Farid says. A pioneering researcher in digital forensics whose team develops mathematical and computational techniques to detect tampering in photos, videos, audio recordings, and other documents, Farid has examined the photo closely before in studies in 2009 and 2010, but these studies did not address questions about Oswald’s pose. In the new study, Farid and his team conducted a 3-D stability analysis, concluding that, in fact, Oswald’s stance does not support claims of photo-tampering. The study appears in the Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law.

Farid teamed with Assistant Professor Emily Whiting, who specializes in architectural geometry, computer-aided design, and 3-D fabrication. With the help of graduate student Srivamshi Pittala, they built a 3-D model of Oswald and posed this model to match his appearance in the backyard photo. By adding the appropriate mass to each part of the 3-D model, they were able to perform a balance analysis, revealing that although Oswald appears off-balance, his pose is stable. The analysis also showed that the lighting and shadows are physically plausible and that the length of the rifle is consistent with the length of the rifle used to kill the president.

“Our analysis refutes purported evidence of manipulation in the Oswald photo, but more generally, we believe that the type of detailed 3-D modeling performed here can be a powerful forensic tool in reasoning about the physical plausibility of an image,” Farid says. “With a simple adjustment to the height and weight, the 3-D human model that we created can be used to forensically analyze the pose, stability, and shadows in any image of people.”

Pentagon releases blueprint for accelerating artificial intelligence

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Patra Kongsirimongkolchai/EyeEm/Getty Images
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Patra Kongsirimongkolchai/EyeEm/Getty Images

The Pentagon made public for the first time on Feb. 12 the outlines of its master plan for speeding the injection of artificial intelligence (AI) into military equipment, including advanced technologies destined for the battlefield.

By declassifying key elements of a strategy it had adopted last summer, the Defense Department appeared to be trying to address disparate criticism that it was not being heedful enough of the risks of using AI in its weaponry or not being aggressive enough in the face of rival nations’ efforts to embrace AI.

The 17-page strategy summary said that AI — a shorthand term for machine-driven learning and decision-making — held out great promise for military applications, and that it “is expected to impact every corner of the Department, spanning operations, training, sustainment, force protection, recruiting, healthcare, and many others.”

It depicted AI’s embrace in solely positive terms, asserting that “with the application of AI to defense, we have an opportunity to improve support for and protection of U.S. service members, safeguard our citizens, defend our allies and partners, and improve the affordability and speed of our operations.”

Stepping back from AI in the face of aggressive AI research efforts by potential rivals would have dire — even apocalyptic — consequences, it further warned. It would “result in legacy systems irrelevant to the defense of our people, eroding cohesion among allies and partners, reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living, and growing challenges to societies that have been built upon individual freedoms.”

The publication of the Pentagon strategy’s core concepts comes eight months after a Silicon Valley revolt against the military’s premier AI research program. After thousands of Google employees signed a petition protesting the company’s involvement in an effort known as Project Maven, meant to speed up the analysis of videos taken by a drone so that military personnel could more readily identify potential targets, Google announced on June 1 that it would back out of it.

But the release of the strategy makes clear that the Trump administration isn’t having second thoughts about the utility of AI. It says the focus of the Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), created last June, will be on “near-term execution and AI adoption.” And in a section describing image analysis, the document suggests there are some things machines can do better than humans can. It says that “AI can generate and help commanders explore new options so that they can select courses of action that best achieve mission outcomes, minimizing risks to both deployed forces and civilians.”

The JAIC is still adding staff, and its new director Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan was confirmed by the Senate only two months ago. Shanahan’s last posting before taking over the JAIC was running Project Maven. While the Center’s budget in 2019 was only $90 million, it is responsible for overseeing hundreds of AI programs costing more than $15 million, and total Defense Department spending on AI over the next five years has been projected at $1.7 billion.

The summary repeatedly states that the military has an ethical obligation to conscientiously use AI by publicly discussing guidelines for its use and by ensuring that it’s employed only when safe. But thatbenchmark is not precisely defined in the unclassified summary, and it reiterates an earlier, vague policy that the department will require “appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force” by machines.

The strategy does calls for the development of new defense “principles” to guide how the military will use AI, mirroring what companies like Google have done in announcing a set of ethics for the use of its own technology. The Pentagon has said it will develop these principles through the Defense Innovation Board, an advisory group made up of outside technology experts, including some top executives from Silicon Valley, which will conduct meetings across the country as part of its outreach. The board is due to give the secretary of defense recommendations for principles this summer.

During his two years in office, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis repeatedly said that his main goal was to make the military “more lethal,” including through the use of AI. But groups like the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots have been working to promote the idea of an arms control ban for autonomous technologies in weapons and have been working to increase public support. The group sponsored a poll released in January that found 52 percent of Americans opposed the idea of armed weapons systems that could choose to kill.

Although the strategy summary describes other countries, particularly Russia and China, as investing heavily in AI and “eroding” the U.S. technical advantage, others are warning that the U.S. is already behind. “I think that both Russia and China are in a better position than we are. I think they’re ahead of us,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., said speaking to reporters Tuesday morning before the release of the strategy.

China’s State Council released a report in 2017 calling for the country to become the global leader in AI by 2030. That includes broad applications of AI and the development of a domestic industry targeted to be worth $150 billion.

Despite his concern, Inhofe, who shapes defense spending through Congress’s annual defense policy bill, said that AI wasn’t his top priority. “There are other things that need to be done first,” he said.

The summary was released a day after President Trump announced the American AI Initiative, which focuses on broader commercial interest in artificial intelligence. Neither of the two documents outlined any new proposed funding. for accelerating artificial intelligence

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Patra Kongsirimongkolchai/EyeEm/Getty Images
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Patra Kongsirimongkolchai/EyeEm/Getty Images

The Pentagon made public for the first time on Feb. 12 the outlines of its master plan for speeding the injection of artificial intelligence (AI) into military equipment, including advanced technologies destined for the battlefield.

By declassifying key elements of a strategy it had adopted last summer, the Defense Department appeared to be trying to address disparate criticism that it was not being heedful enough of the risks of using AI in its weaponry or not being aggressive enough in the face of rival nations’ efforts to embrace AI.

The 17-page strategy summary said that AI — a shorthand term for machine-driven learning and decision-making — held out great promise for military applications, and that it “is expected to impact every corner of the Department, spanning operations, training, sustainment, force protection, recruiting, healthcare, and many others.”

It depicted AI’s embrace in solely positive terms, asserting that “with the application of AI to defense, we have an opportunity to improve support for and protection of U.S. service members, safeguard our citizens, defend our allies and partners, and improve the affordability and speed of our operations.”

Stepping back from AI in the face of aggressive AI research efforts by potential rivals would have dire — even apocalyptic — consequences, it further warned. It would “result in legacy systems irrelevant to the defense of our people, eroding cohesion among allies and partners, reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living, and growing challenges to societies that have been built upon individual freedoms.”

The publication of the Pentagon strategy’s core concepts comes eight months after a Silicon Valley revolt against the military’s premier AI research program. After thousands of Google employees signed a petition protesting the company’s involvement in an effort known as Project Maven, meant to speed up the analysis of videos taken by a drone so that military personnel could more readily identify potential targets, Google announced on June 1 that it would back out of it.

But the release of the strategy makes clear that the Trump administration isn’t having second thoughts about the utility of AI. It says the focus of the Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), created last June, will be on “near-term execution and AI adoption.” And in a section describing image analysis, the document suggests there are some things machines can do better than humans can. It says that “AI can generate and help commanders explore new options so that they can select courses of action that best achieve mission outcomes, minimizing risks to both deployed forces and civilians.”

The JAIC is still adding staff, and its new director Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan was confirmed by the Senate only two months ago. Shanahan’s last posting before taking over the JAIC was running Project Maven. While the Center’s budget in 2019 was only $90 million, it is responsible for overseeing hundreds of AI programs costing more than $15 million, and total Defense Department spending on AI over the next five years has been projected at $1.7 billion.

The summary repeatedly states that the military has an ethical obligation to conscientiously use AI by publicly discussing guidelines for its use and by ensuring that it’s employed only when safe. But thatbenchmark is not precisely defined in the unclassified summary, and it reiterates an earlier, vague policy that the department will require “appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force” by machines.

The strategy does calls for the development of new defense “principles” to guide how the military will use AI, mirroring what companies like Google have done in announcing a set of ethics for the use of its own technology. The Pentagon has said it will develop these principles through the Defense Innovation Board, an advisory group made up of outside technology experts, including some top executives from Silicon Valley, which will conduct meetings across the country as part of its outreach. The board is due to give the secretary of defense recommendations for principles this summer.

During his two years in office, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis repeatedly said that his main goal was to make the military “more lethal,” including through the use of AI. But groups like the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots have been working to promote the idea of an arms control ban for autonomous technologies in weapons and have been working to increase public support. The group sponsored a poll released in January that found 52 percent of Americans opposed the idea of armed weapons systems that could choose to kill.

Although the strategy summary describes other countries, particularly Russia and China, as investing heavily in AI and “eroding” the U.S. technical advantage, others are warning that the U.S. is already behind. “I think that both Russia and China are in a better position than we are. I think they’re ahead of us,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., said speaking to reporters Tuesday morning before the release of the strategy.

China’s State Council released a report in 2017 calling for the country to become the global leader in AI by 2030. That includes broad applications of AI and the development of a domestic industry targeted to be worth $150 billion.

Despite his concern, Inhofe, who shapes defense spending through Congress’s annual defense policy bill, said that AI wasn’t his top priority. “There are other things that need to be done first,” he said.

The summary was released a day after President Trump announced the American AI Initiative, which focuses on broader commercial interest in artificial intelligence. Neither of the two documents outlined any new proposed funding.