Archive for June, 2010

Roger Ebert in 3D

A few weeks ago, Roger Ebert argued in Newsweek that 3-D movies are a terrible idea, a waste of a perfectly good dimension.  Some of his arguments are technical (3D needs to be brighter), some reek of resentment that someone would make money on an idea (at least 2 1/2 of them), and some are things that people have been complaining about ever since “Jaws” (story is taking a backseat to gee-whiz).  His complaints about the surcharges for substandard product may have some merit. Audiences will get wise to this, and studios and theaters will start advertising “In Real 3D” to distinguish from multi-plane 2D.

Here’s the complaint that has merit:

8. I CANNOT IMAGINE A SERIOUS DRAMA, SUCH AS UP IN THE AIR OR THE HURT LOCKER, IN 3-D. Neither can directors. Having shot Dial M for Murder in 3-D, Alfred Hitchcock was so displeased by the result that he released it in 2-D at its New York opening. The medium seems suited for children’s films, animation, and films such as James Cameron’s Avatar, which are largely made on computers.

There is a risk that the technology becomes ghettoized, and that people simply don’t take 3D films seriously because they’re associated with pap.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the technology itself is flawed, only that, like animation, it develops a barrier to acceptance in serious movies.

Ebert’s enough of a historian to hark back to all the other advances in movie technology:

9. WHENEVER HOLLYWOOD HAS FELT THREATENED, IT HAS TURNED TO TECHNOLOGY: SOUND, COLOR, WIDESCREEN, CINERAMA, 3-D, STEREOPHONIC SOUND, AND NOW 3-D AGAIN. In marketing terms, this means offering an experience that can’t be had at home.

He then goes on to plump for 48 frame-per-second film, which apparently offers a transcendent experience.  I have no doubt that 48fps is much, much better than 24fps, and I’m all for fitting theaters with it and handing film out like candy to directors and cinematographers.  Although proposing another technical fix because you don’t like the one being handed out – one which would also, incidentally, command a surcharge of its own – seems a little peevish.

But the long list of technologies suggests another answer, which is that filmmakers just don’t know how to use 3D properly yet, so it remains a toy. 

Color required an adjustment, as well.  (Remember the controversy about Turner’s colorization, because the b&w films were shot with a certain depth-of-field, and colorizing them confused the eye?)  Casablanca didn’t need 3D?  Apparently, it didn’t need color, either, but Seven Brides for Seven Brothers would be inconceivable without it.

The eye can fill in the third dimension?  There’s plenty of evidence that audiences were expected to fill in the colors for themselves, too.   Any number of films contain references to the color of a girl’s dress or of a car.

Ebert argues that since all the planes are in focus, the eye isn’t sure where to go.  That’s a technique issue that directors can solve over time, also analagous to what happened to color.

I could easily see a war picture featuring a room-to-room search and clearing of a building.  You don’t think a scene like that would be enhanced by 3D?

We see in color, we see with the periphery of our vision, we see in 3D.  There’s no reason that directors can’t figure out how to use 3D properly, just as they have previous technologies.  We won’t get another Casablanca, but by the time Lawrence of Arabia was filmed, we weren’t going to get another Casablanca then, either.

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Another View on Bubbles

One of the topics we didn’t get around to on the air was the topic of today’s bubbles.  Eric Janszen’s article for Harper’s mentions what he thought at the time were a couple of possibilities, China and Alternative Energy/Infrastructure:

There is one industry that fits the bill: alternative energy, the development of more energy-efficient products, along with viable alternatives to oil, including wind, solar, and geothermal power, along with the use of nuclear energy to produce sustainable oil substitutes, such as liquefied hydrogen from water. Indeed, the next bubble is already being branded.


Since then, Janszen has backed off on that suggestion, believing that there hasn’t been enough self-generated investment to justify the term, “bubble.”  However, some VCs in the industry, also with Internet experience, beg to differ:

“There will be many decades of bubbles ahead,” he said. “There are people out there trying to outlaw them, particularly the sore losers. But they are accelerators to technology innovation.”

He argued that the history of technology is marked by bubbles of overinvestment, from the PC to the Internet, voice over IP, and others.

The same is happening in global warming. Concerns over global warming have spurred billions of dollars in investment from venture capitalists and government research to create low-polluting alternatives to fossil fuels.

“There is definitely a global warming bubble and one of the ways I know that is because the name Al Gore (is present),” Metcalfe joked. “Al Gore inflated the Internet bubble and now he’s inflating the global warming bubble.”

This was also about two years ago, but Metcalfe repeated the Gore joke at a recent VC conference in Boston, so it’s clear his thinking hasn’t changed on this issue.

The idea of bubbles as accelerators to technology and innovation is probably true, especially if they’re limited to equity bubbles.  (Debt bubbles are much more dangerous to the economy.)  Of course, remember that VCs, especially those who get in and out early, are usually among bubble winners, so there’s the issue of perspective in Metcalfe’s bubble boosterism.

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Financial “Reform”

According to the Wall Street Journal:

…Banks [will be allowed] to trade interest-rate swaps, certain credit derivatives and others—in other words the kind of standard safeguards a bank would take to hedge its own risk. 

Banks, however, would have to set up separately capitalized affiliates to trade derivatives in areas lawmakers perceived as riskier, including metals, energy swaps, and agriculture commodities, among other things.

At one level, this makes sense.  Banks can use the markets to hedge risk, but would set up separately capitalized companies to speculate.  But that isn’t what the article says, and it’s not clear that’s what legislators have in mind.  And it shows they still don’t understand the problem.

Classifying tradeable derivates on the basis of how lawmakers perceive their risk is like classifying road repairs based on how lawmakers perceive the sturdiness of the bridge.  Al Franken probably drove back and forth across the I-35 bridge all the time, never guessing that it was unsound, and I can guarantee you he knows even less about what constitutes a “risky” derivative.

I still think the proper distinction here is between hedged and unhedged risk.  If the bank is sitting in the middle between two sets of counter-parties, it’s at considerably less risk than if it’s speculating on a directional move, or if it could get killed by a large directional move.

The other derivative legislation largely mirrors what Eric Janszen talked about on the Bubble show:

Would for the first time extend comprehensive regulation to the over-the-counter derivatives market, including the trading of the products and the companies that sell them. Would require many routine derivatives to be traded on exchanges and routed through clearinghouses. Customized swaps could still be traded over-the-counter, but they would have to be reported to central repositories so regulators could get a broader picture of what’s going on in the market. Would impose new capital, margin, reporting, record-keeping and business conduct rules on firms that deal in derivatives.

This is a big change, and pardon me if I doubt the ability of regulators to actually understand what’s going on in the market in any way that lets them steer clear of crisis.  But on the whole, more transparency is better.  I am given to understand, however, that the exchanges, which are nominally supposed to adopt the underwriting risk of the contracts, would themselves be backstopped by the government.  So much for ending “too big to fail.”

Cross-posted on Backbone Business.

UPDATE: Additional thoughts here.

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No, that doesn’t stand for Worst Case Scenario.  Unless you’re a Colorado lefty, that is.

It stands of the Western Conservative Summit, down at the Marriott South, and it’s an impressive collection of intellectual and star power that’s going to be there in a few weeks.  The Rocky Mountain Alliance of Blogs is delighted to be one of the partner groups, so there will be a few of us there, as well, as guests of the event.

I’ve spoken to Arthur Brooks and Joseph Phillips on the air, and am personally looking forward to talking to Foster Friess about his common-sense health care proposals.  Brooks is, frankly, one of the smartest conservative philosophers out there, and of course, I needn’t say more about Prager.  These are speakers and thinkers with national stature, and to have them converging on Denver (ok, Douglas County, but still), rather than having to travel to CPAC to meet them is a treat.

The conservatives there, while they have a broad range of interests, also have a strong sense of America’s place in the world, and reject the isolationism that threatens to back-door its way back into the movement.  They represent fiscal, social, and foreign policy conservatism, in other words, mainstream conservative ideas, many of which have been under-represented in the Republican party in the last few years.

They’re also not the type to mail it in with rehashes of their radio appearances or their writing, so you’ll certainly hear something new from them.

There’s still time to register.  It’s worth it.

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Don’t Assume

I’m rooting as much as anyone (well, maybe not this guy) for the Lakers to win the series. But for those of you who don’t think you have to watch Thursday, that the series is over:

  • 1984 Game 3: Lakers 137, Celtics 104.  Champion: Celtics
  • 1985 Game 1: Celtics 148, Lakers 114.  Champion: Lakers
  • 1988 Game 5: Pistons 111, Lakers 86. Champion: Lakers
  • 2000 Game 5: Pacers 120, Lakers 87. Champion: Lakers

Look, each series is different, and these aren’t all parallels to the current series.  But the point is that momentum doesn’t really exist in championship series, and certainly isn’t created by one blowout game.

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I have never been an early adopter of new technology. Got over the need to be the first on my block with the toy early in life. But it’s still pretty cool to be typing this on my EVO.

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Union, er, No

Much is being made of Big Labor’s stinging defeat in Arkansas, where Blanche Lincoln defeated the union’s hand-picked candidate, Bill Halter, to win re-nomination.  Arkansas isn’t exactly a big Big Labor state, but still, this was about $10 million spent in an effort to send a message to Democrats about supporting card check and forced arbitration, and it failed.

What isn’t remembered is that this is the third major defeat for Big Labor Politics this year.  The SEIU was a leader in efforts to defeat Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and we saw how that turned out.  What slipped between the editorial cracks during the Turkish Flotilla (or as it’s known in the eastern Mediterranean, Fleet Week), was that the SEIU failed in its attempt to launch a third party candidate in North Carolina in several Congressional districts.

If I’m a union member with a defined benefit plan, I’m filing Beck paperwork yesterday, and putting that money into my retirement.

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Yes, I recognize the irony of the title, having serifs and all.  Turns out it turned 50 three years ago, and someone made a movie about it.

The worst part of sitting through this film is that I find myself staring at the world’s typefaces, even while I’m driving.  “Wow, yes, TOYOTA really is in…”  screeeeeech!  (Full disclosure: so is, “Jeep.”)  The prices at King Sooper: yes.  The aisle information: no.  The Space Shuttle: yes.  The London Underground: no.

You have to wade through a certain amount of pretentious twaddle, designers saying things like, “Helvetica is sort of the socialism of fonts, because it’s out there, and people can do whatever they want with it,” which would seem to make it the polar opposite of socialism.  It would also seem to be the complete opposite of what Helvetica turned into, so the conclusion is correct even if the reasoning is woolly-headed.

In return, you get a real sense of why Helvetica took over the world:

There was eventually a rebellion, a mad thrashing about that led to little more than chaos.  In the end, the designers surrendered.  And why not?

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Starting Work is Work

It’s not only work to find work, it’s practically a full-time job to fill out the paperwork once you get ready to start.  I realize that I’m supposed to be grateful that I found something in the first place, and indeed I am, grateful enough to put up with 30 minutes of mind-numbing paperwork, all of which was there to satisfy attorneys and government agencies.

I can’t even remember half the forms, but I do remember filling out my name a dozen times, my address at least half a dozen times, my phone number and social security number half a dozen times as well, but on different forms.  Every company re-creates the receipt for the building key and the locker room key in its own warm, friendly, welcoming style.

Now, the government has decided to try to keep track of “new” jobs created, or people who are being hired back, or some such self-congratulatory statistic on what a great job they’re doing pulling us out of this mess, which means three additional forms asking my age and how long I’d been looking.  Naturally, we’ll never know the name of the concrete-tendured overpaid genius who decided to give half the population flashbacks to their days of taking standardized tests, but two of them were bubble-sheets, and one of them required bubbles for my name, address, city, state, zip, phone number, and social security number.  You sort of feel like filling in the letters properly, and then randomly filling in bubbles, just to let them know, but that’s just risking the Wrath of the Bureaucracy of Unreconciled Data, and God only knows what they might decide to do in revenge.

Admittedly, except for these couple of competency tests, the real problem here lies not so much with the government as with the companies themselves.  It ought to be easy enough to put these forms online, and the one form that is online, the I-9, is a government form.  I suspect the reason they don’t is that, well, the don’t have to.  I’ll only fill this form out once, and they’re not paying me when I do, so you can see where the incentives are on their end.  On my end, it goes back to that whole gratitude thing.

And yet, for a contractor, who might have to fill out three or more of these bibles during a year, it’s beyond ridiculous.  And a large company, who might bring in a dozen new employees every week, a couple of dozen right after graduation, is paying these new employees to sign off on the benefits package, note that they received the policy handbook, note that they received the safety instructions, apply for direct deposit, and fill out bubble sheets.  So you’d think they wouldn’t mind getting those new guys through training 30 minutes earlier.

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Blockades and Blockades

In the past few years, I’ve often heard those in favor of Israeli concessions – even conservatives – make an argument that goes this way: if Israel unambiguously gives back X, and the Palestinians have clear control over X, then, when they do Y, and blow it, the world will see who’s really right.

The Fatwa Flotilla ought to put this argument to rest forever.  If ever there were a more clear-cut case of concessions yielding bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians, and the world siding with the killers, I can’t think of it.

By now, the mini-history is well-known.  Israel pulls out of Gaza, and what should have been useful infrastructure is reduced to rubble within hours by the grateful recipients.  Hamas stages a coup, and immediately begins rocketing southern Israel.  Israel finally has had enough, enters Gaza to rid itself of the menace, and leaves after a few weeks, largely timing the withdrawal in order not to present the new US President with a middle east mini-war on his first day in office.

But in order to keep military materiel out of Gaza, Israel imposes a completely legal blockade. It specifically permits food and medicine to enter – although there’s no real way of knowing how much of that is commandeered by Hamas to feed itself rather than its citizens who elected them in what, according to ex-Icon Jimmy Carter, were the freest and fairest elections he’s every seen.  (And he’d know, having seen some pre-1980 Georgia elections.)

It is a blockade designed to keep people alive, while preventing their ability to make war.  For those, like Peter Beinart, who find such a strategy morally objectionable, I would point them to Winston Churchill’s speech of August 20, 1940:

There is another aspect.  Many of the most valuable foods are essential to the manufacture of vital war material.  Fats are used to make explosives.  Potatoes make the alcohol for motor spirit.  The plastic materials now so largely used in the construction of aircraft are made of milk.  If the Germans use these commodities to help them to bomb our women and children, rather than to feed the populations who produce them, we may be sure that the imported foods would go the same way, directly or indirectly, or be employed to relive the enemy of the responsibilities he has to wantonly assumed.

That blockade included food and medicine, specifically because they could be used as war materiel.  Israel’s does not, but is there any doubt that construction and industrial materials could easily be converted to military uses?

The problem Beinart identified – American Jews choosing their liberalism over Zionism – is one he exemplifies.  It’s the failure of liberalism to maintain a moral compass equal to the task of defending western values and humane civilization in the face of barbarism.

At each stage, even as Israel has retreated into a more defensive positions, Hamas has become more aggressive.  This should surprise no student of human nature, but it also doesn’t seem to have won Israel any of the credit it was supposed to gain by imposing moral clarity on the situation.  Concessions, if useful, should be made in the context of the negotiating partner, not a preening peanut gallery.

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