Dec 25

Beehive huts to the stars!

None of the things I expected from seeing The Force Awakens was to recognize the location where the last scene was filmed, because I’ve been there myself.

I’m being careful not to utter spoilers here…but I’ve been to the western coast of Ireland, in County Kerry, in a place called Fahan. And in that place, where the Atlantic crashes on the shore and blue of the sky and the green of the grass are more vivid than anywhere else I’ve seen on Earth, there are beehive-shaped stone huts called “clocháns” on the hills that tumble down to the sea.

There are many legends about the clocháns, the most picturesque of which is that they were built by hermit monks around 1000CE. Built by hand, without mortar, they are rude and dramatic ornaments to a landscape that would be pretty impressive even without them.

The combination is unmistakable, and that’s how I know pretty much exactly where that last scene was filmed, to within a couple of hundred feet, on the south-facing shore of the Dingle Peninsula. I’ve seen it with my own eyes; I may have walked on the same paths the movie characters used, probably did in fact.

And again, no spoilers, but…it was a superb choice of location for that scene. Well done!

(And for you smartasses out there, no it wasn’t the huts on Skellig Michael rather than the mainland. The lie of the slope was wrong for that; besides, schlepping a film unit to the island would have been both hideously difficult and pointless when the shore locations were about as good for what they wanted.)

UPDATE: On new evidence, they changed locations during the scene – I was right about the beginning, but the very last bit (like, the last 60 seconds of the movie) was indeed filmed on Skellig Michael.

Dec 19

Comparative language difficulty for English speakers

This morning I found a copy of the chart the Foreign Services Institute uses to grade the comparative difficulty of world languages for acquisition by an adult monoglot English speaker.

I have an unusual perspective on this list for an American. I’m a low-grade polyglot; I have spoken three languages other than my birth English and can read a couple others with Google Translate. I have studied comparative linguistics; I know a bit about the morphology and phonology of many of these languages. I have received street-level exposure to over a dozen of them in my extensive travels, and I have a good ear.

So, I’m going to try to add some value to the list with additional notes and comments.

Continue reading

Dec 16

A short course in counter-terror theory

In the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, more Americans than before are trying to grapple with questions about the nature of terrorism, terror activity versus rampage killings, and what can be done to prevent these bloodlettings.

I have been studying these questions for years as part of my self-training. I learned some of the basics of counter-terrorism theory from a former SpecOps officer, and more from my Kung Fu instructor whose day job is as a criminal forensics and counter-terrorism specialist consulting to law enforcement. I’ve also read up on the subject, and thought carefully about what I’ve read.

The following is a primer on how people whose job it is to prevent and mitigate terrorist activity and spree killings think about it.

Continue reading