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August 18, 2014

"The Lone Commando Who Answers to No One and Breaks Rules to Save Patients Is No Longer a Viable Job Description"



(p. D5) A keen sense of loss permeates "Code Black," an affecting love letter from a young doctor to his hospital. Over the years, plenty of similar romances have been immortalized in book form, but this may be the first to play out as a documentary, and is surely the first to emerge from our newly reformed health care climate. You'd think you'd be in for some celebration.

But not in the least. In fact, among all its familiar themes, the film's most striking is the profound sense of estrangement between the young doctors on the screen and all the recent efforts at improving the health care system. The spirit that brought them to medicine and keeps them there, they say over and over, was never even part of the national discussion.


. . .


. . . , as their department chairman points out, the day of the cowboy doctor is over; the lone commando who answers to no one and breaks rules to save patients is no longer a viable job description. Newly smothered in paperwork and quality control, many of these young doctors grieve for a self-image that has ridden off into the sunset.



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D.. "Saving Lives and Pushing Paper." The New York Times (Tues., July 1, 2014): D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 30, 2014.)






August 14, 2014

Dogs, and Movie About Dog, Banned in Iran



(p. D6) In Jafar Panahi's new movie, a writer in Iran smuggles his pet dog into his home inside a tote bag. The film, "Closed Curtain," addresses Iranian lawmakers' recent ban on dog-walking in public, part of an effort to curb perceived Western influences including keeping pets. For two decades, Mr. Panahi has captured such vagaries of life in his native country.

"Closed Curtain," which won the best screenplay award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013, opens at New York City's Film Forum on July 9. It is Mr. Panahi's second film since December 2010, when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court banned him from making movies for 20 years.



For the interview with Panahi, see:

TOBIAS GREY. "An Iranian Director's Best Friend." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 27, 2014): D6.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 26, 2014, an has the title "Iranian Director Flouts Ban on Filming.")






June 2, 2014

Edison Failed to Stop Film Projectors from Disrupting His Kinetoscope




Edison tried to kill film projection because he thought the whole country would only need 10 projectors, while they could sell a great many of the single-view kinetoscopes. But the wonderful twist to the story is that it DID NOT WORK because Edison could not stop the Lathams and others from coming forward and disrupting the kinetoscope.


(p. 205) The Lathams were not the only exhibitors frustrated with Edison's kinetoscope, and the others urged Edison to introduce a projection machine. Edison was adamant: no. He reasoned that the peephole machines (p. 206) were selling well and at a good profit. The problem with projection was that it would work all too well--if he replaced the inefficient kinetoscope with projection systems that could serve up the show to everyone, "there will be a use for maybe about ten of them in the whole United States." He concluded, "Let's not kill the goose that lays the golden egg."

At Edison's lab in Orange, without his boss's approval, W. K. L. Dickson carried out research on film projection on his own and shared his findings with a friend who was a keen listener: Otway Latham. And when Dickson accepted an invitation to try a projection experiment in a physics laboratory at Columbia, who should show up but Otway's father, Professor Latham. The Lathams made an offer to Dickson--come join us and we'll give you a quarter-share interest in the business--but Dickson was unwilling to make the leap. When Edison got word of his fraternizing with the Lathams, however, and failed to reassure Dickson that he believed Dickson's dealings had been perfectly honorable, Dickson felt he had no choice but to resign. The exact chronology of what he did and what he knew at various points preceding his resignation would be the subject of much litigation that followed. But regardless of intellectual-property issues, Edison lost the one person on his staff who would have been most valuable to him in developing a projection system.

The Lathams and Dickson had discovered that sending a bright light through a moving strip of film did not project satisfactorily because any given image did not absorb enough light before it sped on. The Lathams came up with a partial solution, which was to make the film wider, providing more area for the light to catch as each image went by. The projected images were about the size of a window and good enough to unveil publicly. Professor Latham gave a demonstration of his newly christened Pantoptikon to reporters in April 1895.



Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.






February 25, 2014

Catmull's Pixar Had Technology Serve Story



StorytellingAnimalBK2014-02-23.jpg

















Source of book image: http://rorotoko.com/images/uploads/gottschall_storytelling_animal.jpg



Ed Catmull, one of the creators of Pixar, discusses a favorite book of 2013. Catmull's appreciation of the importance of storytelling may help explain why the early Pixar movies were so wonderful:



(p. C6) I am constantly struck by how many people think of stories solely as entertainment--edifying or time-wasting but still: entertainment. "The Storytelling Animal" by Jonathan Gottschall shows that the storytelling part of our brain is deeper and more complex than that, wired into the way we think and learn. This struck me as a powerful idea, that our brain is structured for and shaped by stories whose value goes beyond entertainment and socialization.


For the full article, see:

"12 Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends--from April Bloomfield to Mike Tyson--to name their favorite books of 2013." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 14, 2013): C6 & C9-C12.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 13, 2013.)


The book that Catmull praises is:

Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.






January 26, 2014

Walt Disney's "Job" Was to "Restore Order to the Chaos of Life"



ThompsonHanksSavingMrBanks2014-01-17.jpg "Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks in "Saving Mr. Banks," directed by John Lee Hancock." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



I'm a fan of Disney the entrepreneur and I think that Hanks does a good job of showing that side of Disney. It's a movie made by the Disney company, but has a darker, more adult-themed, side than most "Disney" movies. It's not on my all-time-top-10-list. But we enjoyed it, overall. (Paul Giamatti is wonderful.)



(p. C8) "Saving Mr. Banks," released by Disney, is a movie about the making of a Disney movie ("Mary Poppins"), in which Walt Disney himself (played by Tom Hanks) is a major character. It includes a visit to Disneyland and, if you look closely, a teaser for its companion theme park in Florida (as yet unbuilt, when the story takes place). A large Mickey Mouse plush toy appears from time to time to provide an extra touch of humor and warmth. But it would be unfair to dismiss this picture, directed by John Lee Hancock from a script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, as an exercise in corporate self-promotion. It's more of a mission statement.


. . .


. . . Walt is less a mogul than a kind and reliable daddy. He dotes on his intellectual properties (the mouse, the park, the picture) as if they were his children. He wants to adapt Mrs. Travers's novel to keep a promise to his daughters.


. . .


. . . Walt, in a late, decisive conversation, explains that their job as storytellers is to "restore order" to the chaos of life and infuse bleak realities with bright, happy colors.



For the full review, see:

A. O. SCOTT. "An Unbeliever in Disney World." The New York Times (Fri., December 13, 2013): C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 12, 2013.)






November 23, 2013

"Engrossing, Brain-Tickling" Refutation of Al Gore's Global Warming Assertions



LomborgBjornCoolItDocumentary2010-10-25.jpg "The Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg in "Cool It," a documentary based on his book." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.



(p. C8) Debunking claims made by "An Inconvenient Truth" and presenting alternative strategies, "Cool It" finally blossoms into an engrossing, brain-tickling picture as many of Al Gore's meticulously graphed assertions are systematically -- and persuasively -- refuted. (I was intrigued to hear Mr. Lomborg say, for instance, that the polar-bear population is more endangered by hunters than melting ice.)


. . .


. . . "Cool It" is all about the pep: playing down the talking heads and playing up the "git 'er done." If algae can suck up carbon dioxide and spit out oil, what on earth are we worrying about?



For the full review, see:

JEANNETTE CATSOULIS. "Global Warming and Common Sense." The New York Times (Fri., November 12, 2010): C8.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 11, 2010.)


The documentary is based on the book:

Lomborg, Bjørn. Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.






October 16, 2013

"Burning Bush" Depicts Communists' Diabolical Harassment of Jan Palach's Family



PauhofovaTatianaInBurningBushMovie2013-10-06.jpg "BURNING BUSH; Tatiana Pauhofova in Agnieszka Holland's story of Prague under Communism." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


(p. C6) The Polish director Agnieszka Holland's magnificent docudrama, "Burning Bush," is a three-part mini-series made for HBO Europe that remembers the Soviet crackdown in Czechoslovakia following the Prague Spring. It begins with the death in 1969 of Jan Palach, a Czech student who set himself on fire as a political protest, and follows the diabolical attempts of the Soviet occupiers to blacken his name by portraying him as a fraud and right-wing tool. The film's depiction of the Communist regime's relentless harassment of his family and its sowing of paranoia within the student resistance recalls the 2007 film "The Lives of Others," about the Stasi's operations in East Berlin. In the sophisticated worldview of "Burning Bush," oppression may win in the short term, but the spark that ignites freedom movements, once lighted, can't be extinguished.


For the full review, see:

STEPHEN HOLDEN. "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; Still Meaty, Film Festival Lightens Up." The New York Times (Mon., September 30, 2013): C1 & C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 29, 2013.)






June 4, 2013

Edison, Not Muybridge, Remains the Father of Hollywood



TheInventorAndTheTycoonBK2013-05-12.jpg













Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A13) Wish it though we might, this strangely off-center Briton isn't really the Father of Hollywood, nor even a distant progenitor of "Avatar." The famous time-lapse images that he took for Stanford, proving that a horse does take all four hoofs off the ground while galloping--and the tens of thousands of photographs that he went on to make of birds flying and people sneezing or bending over and picking things up--were soon so comprehensively overtaken by newer technologies (lenses, shutters, celluloid) that his stature as a proto-movie-maker was soon reduced to a way-station. His contribution was technically interesting but hardly seminal at all. The tragic reality is that Thomas Edison, with whom Muybridge was friendly enough to propose collaboration, retains the laurels--though, as Mr. Ball points out with restrained politeness, Muybridge might have fared better had he been aware of Edison's reputation for "borrowing the work of others and not returning it."


For the full review, see:

SIMON WINCHESTER. "BOOKSHELF; Lights, Camera, Murder; The time-lapse photos Muybridge took in the 19th century were technically innovative, but they didn't make him the Father of Hollywood." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 6, 2013): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 6, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Ball, Edward. The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures. New York: Doubleday, 2013.






June 2, 2013

Tesla CTO Straubel Likes Biography of Tesla



StraubelJBteslaCTO2013-05-14.jpg











J.B. Straubel, Chief Technology Officer of Tesla Motors. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.






(p. 2) J. B. Straubel is a founder and the chief technical officer of Tesla Motors in Palo Alto, Calif. The company makes electric vehicles that some compare to Apple products in terms of obsessive attention to design, intuitive user interface and expense.



READING I like to read biographies of interesting people, mostly scientists and engineers. Right now, it's "Steve Jobs," by Walter Isaacson. One of my favorites biographies was "Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla," by Marc Seifer, which I read even before Tesla Motors started.


. . .


WATCHING I really like the movie "October Sky." It's about a guy who grew up in a little coal-mining town around the time of Sputnik. He fell in love with the idea of building rockets and the movie follows him through his high school years when he's building rockets and eventually he ends up becoming an engineer at NASA. I watch it every year or so. It's inspirational. I always come out of it wanting to work harder.



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY. "DOWNLOAD; J. B. Straubel." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., April 7, 2013): 2.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 6, 2013.)






May 22, 2013

The Difference Between Bogart's Smart and Sinatra's Cool



(p. A11) Everyone loved Old Blue Eyes and mourned him when he died in 1998. Everyone except Michael Kelly.

Kelly hated Frank because Frank had invented Cool, and Cool had replaced Smart. What was Smart? It was Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: "He possesses an outward cynicism, but at his core he is a square. . . . He is willing to die for his beliefs, and his beliefs are, although he takes pains to hide it, old-fashioned. He believes in truth, justice, the American way, and love. . . . When there is a war, he goes to it. . . . He may be world weary, but he is not ironic."

Cool was something else. "Cool said the old values were for suckers. . . . Cool didn't go to war; Saps went to war, and anyway, cool had no beliefs he was willing to die for. Cool never, ever, got in a fight it might lose; cool had friends who could take care of that sort of thing."

It never, ever would have occurred to me to make the distinction until I read Kelly's column. And then I understood Sinatra. And then I understood Kelly, too.



For the full commentary, see:

BRET STEPHENS. "GLOBAL VIEW; Remembering Michael Kelly; A columnist who hated phonies, stood for truth, and died for his beliefs." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 2, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 1, 2013.)






May 9, 2013

Sometimes There Are Second Acts in American Lives



LaughtonCharlesMutinyOnTheBounty2013-05-04.jpg "In the foreground, Ian Wolfe, Charles Laughton and Clark Gable in 1935's 'Mutiny on the Bounty.'" Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. D10) In 1947 Charles Laughton's career, if not quite on the skids, was definitely in the doldrums. Long acclaimed as Hollywood's foremost character actor, he had made only one film of any artistic consequence, Jean Renoir's "This Land Is Mine," in the past seven years. The rest of the time he coasted, frequently indulging in self-parody--and nobody was easier to spoof than the man who played Captain Bligh in "Mutiny on the Bounty" and Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." He wouldn't have been the first actor to sell his soul for a swimming pool (or, in his case, an art collection). But with Mr. Laughton the waste would have been unforgivable, since he was, in Laurence Olivier's words, "the only actor I ever knew who was a genius."

Instead, Mr. Laughton fooled everyone by returning to the stage for the first time since 1936. Nor did he choose a safe star vehicle for his return: He played the title role in the U.S. premiere of Bertolt Brecht's "Galileo," and he translated the play himself.


. . .


Except for "The Night of the Hunter," Mr. Laughton's post-"Galileo" career is no longer widely remembered save by scholars. But enough of it survives on sound recordings and kinescopes to prove that F. Scott Fitzgerald was all wet when he claimed that "there are no second acts in American lives." Charles Laughton, who moved from England to America to seek fame and fortune and came perilously close to losing his soul along the way, had a second act that redeemed all that came before it. No actor could ask for a better curtain.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY TEACHOUT. "SIGHTINGS; Charles Laughton's Late Bounty." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 2, 2012): D10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 1, 2012.)






April 7, 2013

Confident Winner Studied Economics at Cambridge and Directed Bronson in "Death Wish"



WinnerMichaelWithCharlesBronsonDeathWishSet2013-03-10.jpg

"Michael Winner, left, and Charles Bronson on the set of the 1974 film "Death Wish." The two collaborated on several films." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.


(p. B8) Michael Winner, the brash British director known for violent action movies starring Charles Bronson including "The Mechanic" and the first three "Death Wish" films, died on Monday [January 21, 2013] at his home in London. He was 77.


. . .


Mr. Winner's films viscerally pleased crowds, largely ignored artistic pretensions and often underwhelmed critics. He directed many major stars in more than 30 films over more than four decades.


. . .


Mr. Bronson played Paul Kersey, a New York City architect who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is sexually assaulted by muggers.


. . .


Michael Robert Winner was born in London on Oct. 30, 1935. The son of a well-to-do business owner, Mr. Winner graduated from Cambridge, having studied law and economics.


. . .


He was confident on set, sometimes bordering on the dictatorial. "You have to be an egomaniac about it. You have to impose your own taste," he said. "The team effort is a lot of people doing what I say."



For the full obituary, see:

DANIEL E. SLOTNIK. "Michael Winner, 77, 'Death Wish' Director." The New York Times (Tues., January 22, 2013): B8.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the slightly different title "Michael Winner, 'Death Wish' Director, Dies at 77.")

(Note: ellipses and bracketed date were added.)






December 17, 2012

"It's Kind of Fun to Do the Impossible"



(p. 284) "It's kind of fun to do the impossible," Walt Disney once said. That was the type of attitude that appealed to Jobs. He admired Disney's obsession with detail and design, and he felt that there was a natural fit between Pixar and the movie studio that Disney had founded.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






October 17, 2012

The Entrepreneurial Resilience of a Business School Dean



ZupanMarkRochesterDean2012-10-11.jpg














"Mark Zupan is the dean of the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester. Baggage carts once were his salvation." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. B4) Once I landed in Boston without my wallet or any money, I was able to put into practice what I learned from watching the wonderful movie "The Terminal" featuring Tom Hanks.

Like the character he portrayed, Viktor Navorski, I wandered through the airport and rounded up and returned six baggage carts. I was refunded enough change to be able to afford the subway fare to get to my first meeting. Then, I was able to borrow enough cash from the amused alum I was meeting with to get through the rest of the day and back home to Rochester that night after my assistant faxed a copy of my driver's license and passport to me.

I have to admit I felt a little idiotic rounding up the carts, but it was one of my finest entrepreneurial ventures.



For the full story, see:

MARK ZUPAN. "FREQUENT FLIER; How to Cope at the Airport Without a Wallet." The New York Times (Tues., September 4, 2012): B4.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 3, 2012.)






September 27, 2012

The Mockingjay as Symbol and Reality



MockingjayBurningPoster2012-09-03.jpg












A burning Mockingjay symbol appears on this movie poster for "The Hunger Games." Source of poster: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. D4) "They're funny birds and something of a slap in the face to the Capitol," Katniss explains in the first book. And the nature of that slap in face is a new twist on the great fear about genetic engineering, that modified organisms or their genes will escape into the wild and wreak havoc. The mockingjay is just such an unintended consequence, resulting from a failed creation of the government, what Katniss means when she refers to "the Capitol." But rather than being a disaster, the bird is a much-loved reminder of the limits of totalitarian control.


. . .


I asked Joan Slonczewski, a microbiologist and science fiction writer at Kenyon College in Ohio, about her take on the mockingjay. Dr. Slonczewski, whose recent books include a text and a novel, "The Highest Frontier," teaches a course called "Biology in Science Fiction." The tools needed to modify organisms are already widely dispersed in industry and beyond. "Now anybody can do a start-up," she said.

That's no exaggeration. Do-it-yourself biology is growing. The technology to copy pieces of DNA can be bought on eBay for a few hundred dollars, as Carl Zimmer reported in The New York Times in March. As to where D.I.Y. biology may lead, Freeman Dyson, a thinker at the Institute for Advanced Study known for his provocative ideas, presented one view in 2007 in The New York Review of Books. He envisioned the tools of biotechnology spreading to everyone, including pet breeders and children, and leading to "an explosion of diversity of new living creatures."

Eventually, he wrote, the mixing of genes by humans will initiate a new stage in evolution. Along the way, if he is right, the world may have more than its share of do-it-yourself mockingjays.



For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "SIDE EFFECTS; D.I.Y. Biology, on the Wings of the Mockingjay." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 15, 2012): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 10, 2012.)






June 1, 2012

Lucasfilm Will Build Somewhere "That Sees Us as a Creative Asset, Not as an Evil Empire"



LucasValleyMarinCounty2012-05-30.jpg "Lucas Valley in Marin County, Calif., where residents' objections led George Lucas to abandon a bid to expand operations at a new site near Skywalker Ranch." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- In 1978, a year after "Star Wars" was released, George Lucas began building his movie production company far from Hollywood, in the quiet hills and valley of Marin County here just north of San Francisco. Starting with Skywalker Ranch, the various pieces of Lucasfilm came together over the decades behind the large trees on his 6,100-acre property, invisible from the single two-lane road that snakes through the area.

And even as his fame grew, Mr. Lucas earned his neighbors' respect through his discretion. Marin, one of America's richest counties, liked it that way.

But after spending years and millions of dollars, Mr. Lucas abruptly canceled plans recently for the third, and most likely last, major expansion, citing community opposition. An emotional statement posted online said Lucasfilm would build instead in a place "that sees us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire."

If the announcement took Marin by surprise, it was nothing compared with what came next. Mr. Lucas said he would sell the land to a developer to bring "low income housing" here.


. . .


Whatever Mr. Lucas's intentions, his announcement has unsettled a county whose famously liberal politics often sits uncomfortably with the issue of low-cost housing and where battles have been fought over such construction before. His proposal has pitted neighbor against neighbor, who, after failed peacemaking efforts over local artisanal cheese and wine, traded accusations in the local newspaper.

The staunchest opponents of Lucasfilm's expansion are now being accused of driving away the filmmaker and opening the door to a low-income housing development. That has created an atmosphere that one opponent, who asked not to be identified, saying she feared for her safety, described as "sheer terror" and likened to "Syria."

Carl Fricke, a board member of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, which represents houses nearest to the Lucas property, said: "We got letters saying, 'You guys are going to get what you deserve. You're going to bring drug dealers, all this crime and lowlife in here.' "



For the full story, see:

NORIMITSU ONISHI. "A Pyrrhic Victory for Foes of a New Lucasfilm Project; In Lieu of digital Studio, Plan for Low-Income Homes." The New York Times (Tues., May 22, 2012): A13 & A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 21, 2012 and has the title "Lucas and Rich Neighbors Agree to Disagree: Part II.")



LucasGeorge2012-05-30.jpg "Mr. Lucas said Marin needs affordable housing. A resident called his plan "class warfare."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






April 21, 2012

Workers Want to See Compensation Related to Contribution



This is a great example contra (or at least qualifying) Daniel Pink's claim that all you need do for knowledge workers is provide them enough money so that they can provide for the basic needs of themselves and their family.



(p. 145) The public offering process brought details of the intended allocation of Pixar stock options into view. A registration statement and other documents with financial data had to be prepared for the Securities and Exchange Commission and a prospectus needed to be made ready for potential investors. These documents had to be reviewed and edited, and it was here that the word apparently leaked: A small number of people were to receive low-cost options on enormous blocks of stock. Catmull, Levy, and Lasseter were to get options on 1.6 million shares apiece; Guggenheim and Reeves were to get 1 million and 840,000, respectively. If the company's shares sold at the then-planned price of fourteen dollars, the men would be instant multimillionaires.

The revelation was galling. Apart from the money, there was the symbolism: The options seemed to denigrate the years of work everyone else had put into the company. They gave a hollow feel to Pixar's labor-of-love camaraderie, its spirit that everyone was there to do cool work together. Also, it was hard not to notice that Levy, one of the top recipients, had just walked in the door.

"There was a big scene about all that because some people got (p. 146) huge amounts more than other people who had come at the same time period and who had made pretty significant contributions to the development of Pixar and the ability to make Toy Story," Kerwin said. "People like Tom Porter and Eben Ostby and Loren Carpenter--guys that had been there since the beginning and were part of the brain trust."

Garden-variety employees would also get some options, but besides being far fewer, those options would vest over a four-year period. Even employees who had been with the organization since its Lucasfilm days a decade earlier--employees who had lost all their Pixar stock in the 1991 reorganization--would be starting their vesting clock at zero. In contrast, most of the options of Catmull, Lasseter, Guggenheim, and Reeves vested immediately--they could be turned into stock right away.

"I decided, 'Well, gee, I've been at this company eight years, and I'll have been here twelve years before I'm fully vested,' " one former employee remembered. " 'It doesn't sound like these guys are interested in my well-being.' A lot of this piled up and made me say, 'What am I doing? I'm sitting around here trying to make Steve Jobs richer in ways he doesn't even appreciate.' "



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)


For Daniel Pink's views, see:

Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009.






April 17, 2012

Add to Your List of Marketing Mistakes



(p. 142) The consumer products arm of Disney--the group responsible for licensing toys and other tie-ins--was also slow to see the potential of Toy Story. It was a case of out of sight, out of mind: Toy Story was in production hundreds of miles away. Preoccupied with two other forthcoming releases, Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Disney Consumer Products left the Pixar film on the back burner. When Guggenheim met with one of the division's senior licensing executives in December 1994, he was alarmed to discover that she saw no licensing potential in the film.

"We put together a presentation reel of scenes from the film that we'd already completed, and material on how the film was being made" Guggenheim said. "We were taking that around the company so people could get a feeling of what this film was all about."

The executive told him, I don't know how we're going to do toys for this.

"What do you mean?" Guggenheim queried. "It's Toy Story. You know, Toy . . . Story."

Yes, she said, but you have all these toys that already exist--Mr. Potato Head, Speak & Spell, all that stuff. How are we ever going to make money off that?

"But you have all these original characters. You've got Buzz, you've got Woody."



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: ellipsis and italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





April 5, 2012

Lasseter's Success Came from Seeing How the Details Affected the Storytelling



(p. 138) "I had no reason to think it would be any good," recalled Barzel, who was then a recently minted California Institute of Technology Ph.D. on the lighting team. "I knew John was absolutely brilliant as a animator of shorts. But I've read authors who write good short stories and crummy novels; I figured it's a different skill. I had no reason to think John would have the skill to pull off a full-length movie."

He expected something that animators and animation buffs might find interesting, but that probably would not have a particularly wide audience.

"I joined because I wanted the practical experience," he said, "I thought, Well, it's going to be the first full-length [computer-animated] movie, so it'll be a fun thing to have been associated with, however it turns out."

What finally made Barzel a believer was watching Lasseter at work. He found that Lasseter had an uncanny ability to shift between the macro level of the entire film and the micro level of whatever detail he was dealing with at the moment. "Looking at an individual frame -- it's meticulous work-- he would always be aware of its role in the larger context of storytelling," Barzel recalled. "He'd say something like, 'This is the first time this character responds to that situation; it's really important that he get the right glint in his eye.' " Barzel started to think, John knows what he's doing. This movie could be really good.



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics and brackets in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





April 1, 2012

"Being Able to Work on a Great Project"



(p. 133) Recruiting was brisk; the magnet for talent was not the pay, generally mediocre, but rather the allure of taking part in the first fully computer-animated feature film. "Disney gave us a very modest budget [$17.5 million] for Toy Story," Guggenheim said. "Although that budget went up progressively over time, it didn't afford for very high salaries, unfortunately. We tried to make the other working conditions better. Just the enthusiasm of being able to work on a great project is as often as not what attracts artists and animators."


Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics and brackets in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





March 16, 2012

Lasseter's Epiphany: "This Is What Walt Was Waiting For"



(p. 52) In a trailer on the Disney lot, Lasseter huddled with Rees and Kroyer to look at the first computer-generated scene to come in--a race among drivers in virtual motorcycles known as light cycles. The scene had no character animation and its graphics were rudimentary, but it brought Lasseter an epiphany. The dimensionality of the scene was something he had never witnessed before. If this technology could be melded with Disney animation, he thought, he would have the makings of a revolution. Until then, three-dimensional effects in animation had required difficult, costly sessions with the multistory "multiplane" camera, practical for only a few key sequences in a film, if that. The computers could even move the audience's point of view around a scene like a Steadicam. The possibilities seemed infinite.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," he said later. "Walt Disney, all his career, all his life, was striving to get more dimension in his (p. 53) animation . . . and I was standing there, looking at it, going, 'This is what Walt was waiting for.'"

He was not able to interest the animation executives in it; they did not care to hear about new technology unless it made animation faster or cheaper.



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





March 12, 2012

CalArts Was One of Walt Disney's Last Projects




It is a nice minor coda to Walt Disney's life that the CalArts school that he founded provided a starting point for many of the next generation of great innovative animators, including John Lasseter.


(p. 47) CalArts was Walt Disney's brainchild; he had started the planning of the school in the late 1950s and provided generously for it in his will. Walt and his brother Roy formed it in 1961 through a merger of two struggling Los Angeles institutions, the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and the Chouinard Art Institute. The doors opened at the school's consolidated campus in Valencia in 1971, five years after Walt's death.


. . .


(p. 48) The storms of the 1960s had mostly receded by the time Lasseter arrived. At CalArts, he found his own kind of liberation: Here, he no longer needed to conceal his passion for cartoons. His twenty classmates from across the country were animation geeks like him. Others had been corresponding with the Disney studio just as he had, and even making their own short films. Many would go on from CalArts to perform significant work at Disney or elsewhere; among them were future stars John Musker (co-director of Aladdin, Hercules, and The Little Mermaid) and Brad Bird.

First-year classes took place in room A113, a windowless space with white walls, floor, and ceiling, and buzzing fluorescent lights. The teachers made up tor the setting, however: Almost all of them were longtime Disney artists with awe-inspiring animation credits. Kendall O'Connor, an art director on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, taught layout; Elmer Plummer, a character designer on Dumbo, taught life drawing; T. Hee, a sequence director on Pinocchio, taught caricature. The program was rigorous and the hours long; the fact that the campus was in the middle of nowhere made it easier to focus on work. Tim Burton, who entered the program the following year, remembered the experience: . . .



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





March 8, 2012

Funding Was Scarce to Develop Computer Graphics



(p. 29) As in Catmull's graduate school days, however, the Walt Disney Co. was not interested in computer graphics. Walt had died of cancer in 1966, and the company was now run by a caretaker chief executive, Esmond Cardon "Card" Walker. Some of Disney's technology experts saw great promise in the NYIT group's work, but that was as far as it ever went.

Who else hail pockets deep enough to support a major research effort into computer animation for filmmaking? It might cake a decade, or even longer, before computer costs came clown enough for (p. 30) a feature film to be anywhere near the realm of possibility. The only option, it seemed, was to keep making progress on the technical issues--On NYIT's dime--while waiting for Disney to call.



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





March 4, 2012

Storytelling Trumps Technology in Making Good Movies



(p. 28) The calamity of Tubby the Tuba forced them to confront an unpleasant fact--namely, that they were in the wrong place for making good movies. Money was nor enough, they could now see. Technical genius was not enough (though Tubby had grave technical problems, too). Splendid equipment would not be enough. For them to make worthwhile films someday--not just the R&D exercises (p. 29) they showed at SIGGRAPH meetings--there also had to be people on board who understood film storytelling. Schure, although blessed with great foresight, could not be their Walt Disney.


Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)






February 25, 2012

How Pixar Vision Was Made Real



(p. 8) . . . Pixar's story was anything but preordained. It is a triple helix of artistic, technological, and business struggles, and it is a study in the tremendously uncertain and contingent nature of artistic, technological, and business success. It illustrates how professional prestige and social status flow into each other, and how a small organization can magnify its power by deploying them as an economic force. It shows how small things, done well, can lead to big things. It is the story of a small group of individuals who started with a shared ambition to create a new way of telling stories--within a virtual world of mathematical constructions--and who traveled a long and circuitous road until their vision became a reality.


Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





February 17, 2012

"What Success Had Brought Him, . . . , Was Freedom"



(p. 5) The success of Pixar's films had brought him something exceedingly rare in Hollywood: not the house with the obligatory pool in the backyard and the Oscar statuettes on the fireplace mantel, or the country estate, or the vintage Jaguar roadster--although he had all of those things, too. It wasn't that he could afford to indulge his affinity for model railroads by acquiring a full-size 1901 steam locomotive, with plans to run it on the future site of his twenty-thousand-square-foot mansion in Sonoma Valley wine country. (Even Walt Dìsney's backyard train had been a mere one-eighth-scale replica.)

None of these was the truly important fruit of Lasseter's achievements. What success had brought him, most meaningfully, was freedom. Having created a new genre of film with his colleagues at Pixar, he had been able to make the films he wanted to make, and he was coming back to Disney on his own terms.



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: ellipsis in title was added.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





February 12, 2012

Pixar as a Case Study on Innovative Entrepreneurship



Pixar-TouchBK2012-02-05.jpg














Source of book image: http://murraylibrary.org/2011/09/the-pixar-touch-the-making-of-a-company/





Toy Story and Finding Nemo are among my all-time-favorite animated movies. How Pixar developed the technology and the story-telling sense, to make these movies is an enjoyable and edifying read.

Along the way, I learned something about entrepreneurship, creative destruction, and the economics of technology. In the next couple of months I occasionally will quote passages that are memorable examples of broader points or that raise thought-provoking questions about how innovation happens.


Book discussed:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.






September 30, 2011

American Gangster as Destructive Entrepreneur



Denzel_Washington_American_Gangster2011-08-09.jpgSource of image: http://celebritywonder.ugo.com/wp/Denzel_Washington_in_American_Gangster_Wallpaper_12_1280.jpg



William Baumol famously categorized entrepreneurs as productive, unproductive, or destructive. (Somewhat similarly, Burt Folsom distinguished market entrepreneurs from political entrepreneurs.) Baumol's view is that we cannot much influence the supply of entrepreneurs, but good policies can increase the percent of entrepreneurs who are productive.

Frank Lucas, at least as portrayed in the 2007 film American Gangster, is an apt example of the destructive entrepreneur. As portrayed by Denzel Washington, the character is intense, willing to take risks, and works hards. There is a scene where Lucas argues that the quality of his product (cocaine) must not be adulterated, because his business depends on his customers knowing that his brand is better than that of competitors. He finds ways of making his supply chain shorter, and his distribution system more trustworthy (by hiring brothers and cousins).

One can easily imagine that with different incentives and constraints, the Denzel Washington character might have brought the world a product that made the world better, rather than worse.


The Baumol article mentioned is:

Baumol, William J. "Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive." The Journal of Political Economy 98, no. 5, Part 1 (Oct. 1990): 893-921.


The Folsom book mentioned is:

Folsom, Burton W. The Myth of the Robber Barons. 4th ed: Young America's Foundation, 2003 (1st ed. 1987).





September 20, 2011

"Mystified by an American Disdain for Its Own Business Culture"



HollandAndDavisProducersSomethingVentured2011-05-17.jpg "Paul Holland and Molly Davis, producers of a new documentary, "Something Ventured," that gives an admiring look at innovators and investors from the past." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B3) The film, "Something Ventured," is a frankly admiring look at those who went out on a limb to back upstarts like Atari, Cisco Systems, Genentech and Apple.


. . .


But the film's beating heart is captured by Tom Perkins, whose Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers company backed the gene-splicing technology of Genentech, among other things. "It's great if you can make money and change the world for the better at the same time," said Mr. Perkins, . . .

Other stars of "Something Ventured" include Nolan Bushnell of Atari; Sandy Lerner of Cisco; Jimmy Treybig of Tandem Computers; and a string of venture capitalists, among them Don Valentine, Dick Kramlich, and Arthur Rock.

Many who appear joined dozens of other business people to finance the picture's roughly $700,000 cost with contributions of a few thousand dollars each, Mr. Holland said.

In becoming involved, several participants said they wanted to rekindle an entrepreneurial spirit that had either waned or changed since the rough-and-tumble years when, by the film's telling, Atari was started with $250 but needed capital to push Pong, and Mr. Bushnell passed up a chance to own a third of Apple, started by his employee Steve Jobs, for $50,000.


. . .


Mr. Valentine, . . . , said entrepreneurship had not ended -- his company was a force behind Google -- but it is less often coming from those born in the United States.

"You don't understand what you have here" is a constant refrain, he said, from Southeast Asian and Indian innovators who are sometimes mystified by an American disdain for its own business culture.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL CIEPLY . "A Film About Capitalism, and (Surprise) It's a Love Story." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., March 8, 2011): 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated March 7, 2011.)





September 10, 2011

The Anecdote for Malignant Perfectionism: "I'll Fix that in My Next Piece"



MoreauWellesChimesAtMidnight2011-08-08.jpg"Jeanne Moreau and Orson Welles in 'Chimes at Midnight,' a 1965 Shakespeare-based film that's recently been restored." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. D8) Every great artist, . . . , strives for perfection. In fact, that's part of what makes them great: They're never entirely satisfied with anything that they do. The classical pianist Artur Schnabel once remarked that he was only interested in performing music that was "better than it can be performed...unless a piece of music presents a problem to me, a never-ending problem, it doesn't interest me too much." This sums up the plight of all serious artists: They lead lives of endless frustration, struggling to reach the top of the hill, then seeing another, higher hill just beyond it.


. . .


Alas, that kind of suffering goes with the territory. The trick, as every artist knows, is not to let it interfere with getting things done. The wisest artists are the ones who finish a new work, walk away and move on to the next project. Whenever a colleague pointed out a "mistake" in one of Dmitri Shostakovich's compositions, he invariably responded, "Oh, I'll fix that in my next piece."

The road to malignant perfectionism, by contrast, starts with chronic indecision. Jerome Robbins, whose inability to make up his mind was legendary throughout the world of dance, was known for choreographing multiple versions of a variation, then waiting until the last possible minute to decide which one to use. Beyond a certain point, this kind of perfectionism is all but impossible to distinguish from unprofessionalism, and Mr. Welles reached that point early in his career. . . .


. . .


Mr. Welles's problem was that he wanted it both ways. He was a perfectionist who expected his collaborators to sit around endlessly waiting for him to make up his mind--and to pay for all the overtime that he ran up along the way. Simon Callow, his biographer, has summed up this failing in one devastating sentence: "Any form of limitation, obligation, responsibility or enforced duty was intolerable to him, rendering him claustrophobic and destructive." That's the wrong kind of perfectionism, and it led, as it usually does, to disaster.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY TEACHOUT. "The Snare of Perfectionism: When Artists Aim Too High." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 22, 2011): D8.

(Note: ellipsis in Schnabel quote was in original; other ellipses added.)





August 27, 2011

"A Passion for the Ambition of Walt"



FavreauJon2011-08-06.jpg





Jon Favreau. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.







(p. 11) You've announced you won't be doing the third "Iron Man" movie, in order to make "Magic Kingdom," which is a Disney movie about a family that gets caught inside Disneyland. A movie produced by Disney about a Disney theme park? It sounds a little cynical.

That's my Rubik's Cube that I have to solve on this one. I found a writing partner in the novelist Michael Chabon, who shares a passion for the ambition of Walt.







For the full interview, see:

ANDREW GOLDMAN. "TALK; Jon Favreau, From Swingers to Aliens." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., July 31, 2011): 11.

(Note: bold in original, indicating comments/questions by interviewer Andrew Goldman.)

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated July 29 (sic), 2011.)





July 20, 2011

Zuckerberg: ''Filmmakers Can't Get Their Head around the Idea that Someone Might Build Something because They Like Building Things''



AndreessenMarcVentureCapitalist2011-07-12.jpg







Marc Andreessen. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.






(p. 13) After hearing a story about Foursquare's co-founder, Dennis Crowley, walking into a press event in athletic wear and eating a banana, I developed a theory that bubbles might be predicted by fashion: when tech founders can't be bothered to appear businesslike, the power has shifted too much in their favor.


Believe it or not, this goes deep into the interior mentality of the engineer, which is very truth-oriented. When you're dealing with machines or anything that you build, it either works or it doesn't, no matter how good of a salesman you are. So engineers not only don't care about the surface appearance, but they view attempts to kind of be fake on the surface as fundamentally dishonest.

That reminds me of Mark Zuckerberg's criticism of ''The Social Network.'' He said that ''filmmakers can't get their head around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things.''

Aaron Sorkin was completely unable to understand the actual psychology of Mark or of Facebook. He can't conceive of a world where social status or getting laid or, for that matter, doing drugs, is not the most important thing.



For the full interview, see:

ANDREW GOLDMAN. "TALK; Bubble? What Bubble? Marc Andreessen, one of Silicon Valley's biggest venture capitalists, has no fear." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., July 10, 2011): 13.

(Note: bold in original, indicating comments/questions by interviewer Andrew Goldman.)

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated July 7, 2011 (sic).)





May 27, 2011

"He Was Cool Before Cool Became Cool"



BogartHumphrey2011-05-19.jpg















"Humphrey Bogart starred in "The Maltese Falcon" in 1941." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. C4) He was the very image of the quintessential American hero -- loyal, unsentimental, plain-spoken. An idealist wary of causes and ideology. A romantic who hid his deeper feelings beneath a tough veneer. A renegade who subscribed to an unshakeable code of honor.

He was cool before cool became cool.



For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Talent Is What Made Him Dangerous." The New York Times (Fri., February 15, 2011): A18.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 14, 2011.)





May 23, 2011

"Gambles on Original Concepts Paid Off"



InceptionMovieStill2011-05-19.jpg"One surprise hit was "Inception," with Leonardo DiCaprio." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


I thought the movie "Inception" was a wonderful, intellectual and adventure thrill ride. And if memory serves, what they were trying to instill in the conflicted inheritor of a monopoly, was that he should become more entrepreneurial.


(p. B1) As Hollywood plowed into 2010, there was plenty of clinging to the tried and true: humdrum remakes like "The Wolfman" and "The A-Team"; star vehicles like "Killers" with Ashton Kutcher and "The Tourist" with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp; and shoddy sequels like "Sex and the City 2." All arrived at theaters with marketing thunder intended to fill multiplexes on opening weekend, no matter the quality of the film. "Sex and the City 2," for example, had marketed "girls' night out" premieres and bottomless stacks of merchandise like thong underwear.

But the audience pushed back. One by one, these expensive yet middle-of-the-road pictures delivered disappointing results or flat-out flopped. Meanwhile, gambles on original concepts paid off. "Inception," a complicated thriller about dream invaders, racked up more than $825 million in global ticket sales; "The Social Network" has so far delivered $192 million, a stellar result for a highbrow drama.

As a result, studios are finally and fully conceding that moviegoers, armed with Facebook and other networking tools and concerned about escalating ticket prices, are holding them to higher standards. The product has to be good.



For the full story, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Hollywood Moves Away From Middlebrow." The New York Times (Mon., December 27, 2010): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 26, 2010 and has the title "Hollywood Moves Away From Middlebrow.")





April 20, 2011

Impressions of the Movie Atlas Shrugged, Part 1



Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged was the most important book of my youth. I still believe that it is an important, and mainly good, novel.

My brother Eric asked me what I thought of the Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 movie that my family went to see on Saturday afternoon (4/16/11). I sent him these first impressions:

I think some of the people making the movie probably meant well---but it turned out pretty wooden.

Rearden is the main male character in the movie, and the range of his facial expressions is between mildly annoyed and mildly amused.

There isn't anger or passion or joy or fear in the movie, although all of those were in the first part of the book. Watching the movie is like watching a set of dramatized homilies.

The hokey scenes of a shadowy John Galt, kill some of the suspense. (And dressing him in a 1940s fedora seems awkwardly atavistic, given that the movie is supposed to be taking place in 2016.)

It wasn't all bad. There are some nice scenes of a fast train traveling through Colorado and over a sleek bridge of Rearden metal. And I agree with many of the homilies.

Overall, I wasn't appalled, but I was disappointed.






March 18, 2011

Roy E. Disney as a "Real-life Jiminy Cricket"



DisneyRoyE2011-03-08.jpg"Roy E. Disney, shown in 1996, was considered a tough and outspoken critic of top executives at the Walt Disney Company." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B18) LOS ANGELES -- Roy E. Disney, who helped revitalize the famed animation division of the company founded by his uncle, Walt Disney, and who at times publicly feuded with top Disney executives, died on Wednesday in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 79.

His death, at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, was caused by stomach cancer, a spokeswoman for the Walt Disney Company said. Mr. Disney, who had homes in Newport Beach and the Toluca Lake district of Los Angeles, was the last member of the Disney family to work at the entertainment conglomerate built by his uncle and his father, Roy O. Disney.

As a boy the younger Roy would play in the halls of his uncle's studio, where animators often used him as a test audience as they toiled on movies like "Pinocchio." As an adult he helped bring the animation studio back from the brink, overseeing a creative renaissance that led to "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King."

But the soft-spoken Mr. Disney was primarily known for a willingness to question the company's top managers, aggressively and publicly, when he felt they were mishandling the family empire. Some people in the company referred to him as its real-life Jiminy Cricket: a living conscience who was at times intensely disliked by management for speaking out.


. . .


Returning to the company in 1984, Mr. Disney set about revitalizing the floundering animation division. He obtained financing, for instance, for a computerized postproduction facility, helping to make possible the revolving ballroom scene in "Beauty and the Beast."



For the full obituary, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Roy E. Disney Dies at 79; Rejuvenated Animation." The New York Times (Thurs., December 17, 2009): B18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





February 21, 2011

The Story of Spielberg's "World-Changing Movies" Deserves "a Detailed, Impassioned and Insightful Telling"



(p. 20) . . . , LaPorte combines tabloid celebrity worship with an older oddity: the incongruous fact that a free market also produces resentment, especially when a competitor like Spielberg demonstrates leadership, superior achievement and undeniable success. He's one of the few filmmakers still committed to exploring the human condition -- and in popular terms. This is what sets him apart and makes him admired, envied and even inscrutable to those who think only in craven terms of business and royalty.


. . .


So it's a tabloid book. We can only hope it doesn't become the historical record. LaPorte undermines her research with a headachy repetition of anonymous informants ("one insider," "one former executive," "one source"). She concludes that "inherent in all of it was hubris." But a story this significant, about world-changing movies, doesn't need homilies. It needs a detailed, impassioned and insightful telling, one that would help us better appreciate a frequently misunderstood, underinterpreted pop artist whose work connects with the public, defines the complexities of human experience and dwarfs most of contemporary Hollywood's output. DreamWorks calls for a sensitive sociologist -- a Tom Wolfe or a Norman Mailer or a Pauline Kael -- who can discern the deep, divided heart of Hollywood.



For the full review, see:

ARMOND WHITE. "The Big Picture." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 11, 2010): 20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated July 9, 2010.)


The book White credibly pans is:

LaPorte, Nicole. The Men Who Would Be King; an Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called Dreamworks. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.





February 16, 2011

UFT "Trying to Deny Poor Parents Choice for Their Children"



SacklerMadeleine2011-02-05.jpg
















Madeleine Sackler. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.





(p. A13) 'What's funny," says Madeleine Sackler, "is that I'm not really a political person." Yet the petite 27-year-old is the force behind "The Lottery"--an explosive new documentary about the battle over the future of public education opening nationwide this Tuesday.

In the spring of 2008, Ms. Sackler, then a freelance film editor, caught a segment on the local news about New York's biggest lottery. It wasn't the Powerball. It was a chance for 475 lucky kids to get into one of the city's best charter schools (publicly funded schools that aren't subject to union rules).

"I was blown away by the number of parents that were there," Ms. Sackler tells me over coffee on Manhattan's Upper West Side, recalling the thousands of people packed into the Harlem Armory that day for the drawing. "I wanted to know why so many parents were entering their kids into the lottery and what it would mean for them." And so Ms. Sackler did what any aspiring filmmaker would do: She grabbed her camera.


. . .


But on the way to making the film she imagined, she "stumbled on this political mayhem--really like a turf war about the future of public education." Or more accurately, she happened upon a raucous protest outside of a failing public school in which Harlem Success, already filled to capacity, had requested space.

"We drove by that protest," Ms. Sackler recalls. "We were on our way to another interview and we jumped out of the van and started filming." There she discovered that the majority of those protesting the proliferation of charter schools were not even from the neighborhood. They'd come from the Bronx and Queens.

"They all said 'We're not allowed to talk to you. We're just here to support the parents.'" But there were only two parents there, says Ms. Sackler, and both were members of Acorn. And so, "after not a lot of digging," she discovered that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) had paid Acorn, the controversial community organizing group, "half a million dollars for the year." (It cost less to make the film.)

Finding out that the teachers union had hired a rent-a-mob to protest on its behalf was "the turn for us in the process." That story--of self-interested adults trying to deny poor parents choice for their children--provided an answer to Ms. Sackler's fundamental question: "If there are these high-performing schools that are closing the achievement gap, why aren't there more of them?"



For the full interview, see:

BARI WEISS. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Storming the School Barricades; A new documentary by a 27-year-old filmmaker could change the national debate about public education." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JUNE 5, 2010): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the first paragraph quoted above has slightly different wording in the online version than the print version; the second paragraph quoted is the same in both.)





October 23, 2010

Arne Duncan on "Waiting for Superman" and Teachers' Unions



DuncanArne2010-10-02.jpg




Arne Duncan. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 26) Have you seen the new film "Waiting for Superman," a documentary opening this week that makes public education in this country seem totally dysfunctional?
I did. I think it's going to help the country to understand the tremendous sense of urgency that I feel. We have parents who know their child is getting a subpar education. That is devastating to them and ultimately it's devastating to our country.

The film blames teachers' unions for the failure of public schools because the unions have made it almost impossible to fire lazy teachers. Are you against teachers' unions?
Of course not. I'm a big fan of Randi's.



Randi Weingarten, of the American Federation of Teachers? The film depicts her as a villain.
I think Randi is providing some courageous leadership and is actually taking some heat internally in the union because she said publicly that the union shouldn't be protecting bad teachers.


For the full interview, see:

DEBORAH SOLOMON. "Questions for Arne Duncan; The School of Hard Drives." The New York Times, Magazine Section (Sun., September 17, 2010): 26.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 16, 2010.)





August 13, 2010

"Intimidation, Threats and Violence Against the White Farmers" in Zimbabwe



ForcingWhiteFarmerOffLand2010-08-04.jpg"A man tries to force a white Zimbabwean farmer off of his land in "Mugabe and the White African."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. C9) Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson's "Mugabe and the White African" is a documentary account of the efforts of Mike Campbell and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, to hold onto their farm. It tracks their precedent-setting lawsuit against Robert Mugabe, the authoritarian Zimbabwean president, in a regional African court, as well as events on the ground in Zimbabwe: intimidation, threats and violence against the white farmers still holding out after a decade of land seizures by the government.

Many viewers will leave "Mugabe and the White African" thinking that they have seen few, if any, documentaries as wrenching, sad and infuriating, and those feelings will be justified. What has happened (and continues to happen) to the Campbells, the Freeths and some of their white neighbors is not only unjust but also a horrifying, slow-motion nightmare. That sensation is reinforced by the movie's political-thriller style, partly a result of the covert filming methods necessary in a country where practicing journalism can get you thrown in jail.



For the full movie review, see:

MIKE HALE. "Fighting His Country to Keep His Farmland." The New York Times (Fri., July 23, 2010): C9.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 22, 2010.)





May 19, 2010

Russell Crowe as a Libertarian Robin Hood Fighting High Taxes



RobinHoodRussellCrowe2010-05-14.jpg "Mr. Crowe as Robin Hood." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


Ridley Scott has directed some entertaining movies (Blade Runner and Alien to name two) and he also directed one of the most famous tech ads of all time: upstart Apple smashing the uptight corporate conformity of IBM.

And now he brings us what we could use about now: a libertarian Robin Hood who defends property rights and fights high taxes.

When all is said and done, liberal NYT reviewer A.O. Scott doesn't much like the movie in the full review that is briefly quoted below. (But I want to see the movie anyway.)


(p. C1) You may have heard that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but that was just liberal media propaganda. This Robin is no socialist bandit practicing freelance wealth redistribution, but rather a manly libertarian rebel striking out against high taxes and a big government scheme to trample the ancient liberties of property owners and provincial nobles. Don't tread on him!


For the full review, see:

A. O. SCOTT. "Rob the Rich? Give to the Poor? Oh, Puh-leeze." The New York Times (Fri., May 14, 2010): C1 & C14.

(Note: the italics in the title of Scott's NYT review, appeared in the print, but not the online, version of the review.)





May 10, 2010

Profits on Economics Documentary May Not Be Dismal



(p. B6) If Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, the authors of "Freakonomics," were to examine the movie business, they might ask: Why do documentary filmmakers keep doing it?

It can't be the money, because the world is awash in documentaries that make little at the box office or are not distributed at all. Occasionally, though, a documentary makes a buck for those involved -- and the new documentary based on "Freakonomics" could do just that.

Magnolia Pictures is expected to announce on Monday that it has acquired domestic distribution rights to the film, which was produced by the Green Film Company and directed, in parts, by a series of well-known documentarians. Those include Alex Gibney ("Taxi to the Dark Side"), Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing ("Jesus Camp"), Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me"), Eugene Jarecki ("Why We Fight") and Seth Gordon ("The King of Kong").

"Freakonomics," the film, got started when Chad Troutwine, a producer who worked on an earlier multidirector movie, "Paris, Je T'aime," became interested in the best-selling book, which looks into matters like the socioeconomic implications of baby naming.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL CIEPLY. "'Freakonomics' Documentary May Be a Rarity: Profitable." The New York Times (Mon., April 5, 2010): B6.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 4, 2010.)


The source information on the revised edition of the Freakonomics book is:

Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Revised and Expanded ed. New York: William Morrow, 2006.





March 2, 2010

Light in "Meet Me in St. Louis"



MeetMeInSaintLouisLights2010-02-07.jpgSource of photo: http://www.thejudyroom.com/louis/pictures/mmisldvd%23674.html


As Brad DeLong has noted, we take for granted the spectacular technological advances of the last 200, and especially, the last 100 years. One of the more notable of these, the spread of electricity that allowed electric illumination, occurred around the year 1900.

We forget how electric illumination made cities safer, and increased our freedom to choose the timing of work and leisure activities.

The awe inspired by electric lights also usually has been forgotten, but is occasionally recalled. One good source is a segment of a documentary produced by UNO television in 1998, to mark the centennial of Omaha's long-forgotten Trans-Mississippi Exposition.

I recently ran across another in viewing the closing scenes of the Judy Garland classic "Meet Me in St. Louis." In the final scene, the family finally makes it to the St. Louis Fair, and observes the display of electric lights.


For DeLong's comment, peruse the early pages of his marvelous draft:

DeLong, J. Bradford. "Cornucopia: The Pace of Economic Growth in the Twentieth Century." NBER Working Paper w7602, March 2000.

The UNO documentary had the unfortunate title "Westward the Empire: Omaha's World Fair of 1898."



MeetMeInSaintLouisViewingLights2010-02-07.jpgSource of photo: http://www.thejudyroom.com/louis/pictures/judytomlarge.html





December 11, 2009

Walt Disney, Like Brer Rabbit, "Constantly Wriggling Out of the Snares Set for Him"



(p. 325) The real Disney may yet elude his most fervent admirers' and detractors' suffocating grasp. When he was young, he was a sort of human Brer Rabbit, constantly wriggling out of the snares set for him by the likes of Charles Mintz and Pat Powers (not to mention Laugh-O-gram's creditors). He emerged finally, and unexpectedly, as the creator of a new art form, one whose potential has still scarcely been tapped, by him or anyone else. It is hard to imagine that man--the passionate young artist, the intense "coordinator," the man who scrutinized every frame of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with a lover's zeal--trapped forever in anyone's briar patch.



Source:

Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. 1 ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)





November 29, 2009

Walt Disney: "I Don't Care About Critics"



(p. 286) "He is shy with reporters." Edith Efron wrote for TV Guide in 1965. "His eyes are dull and preoccupied, his affability mechanical and heavy-handed. He gabs away slowly and randomly in inarticulate, Midwestern speech that would be appropriate to a rural general store. His shirt is open, his tie crooked. One almost expects to see over-all straps on his shoulders and wisps of hay in his hair. . . . If one has the patience to persist, however, tossing questions like yellow flares into the folksy fog, the fog lifts, a remote twinkle appears in the preoccupied eves, and the man emerges."

Here again, as in other interviews from the 1960s, Disney permitted himself to sound bitter and resentful when he said anything of substance: "These avant-garde artists are adolescents. It's only a little noisy element that's going that way, that's creating this sick art. . . . There is no cynicism in me and there is none allowed in our work. . . . I don't like snobs. You find some of intelligentsia, they become snobs. They think they're above everybody else. They're not. More education doesn't mean more common sense. These ideas they have about art are crazy. . . . I don't care about critics. Critics take themselves too seriously. They think the only way to be noticed and to be the smart guy is to pick and find fault with things. It's the public I'm making pictures for."




Source:

Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. 1 ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipses and italics in original.)





November 14, 2009

"The Animated Man" is a Useful Account of the Life of an Important Entrepreneur



AnimatedManBK.jpg













Source of book image: http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/wp-content/e/a336.jpg



I have always believed, and recently increasingly believe, that Walt Disney was one of the most important entrepreneurs of our time.

One of the most favorably reviewed biographies of Disney is Michael Barrier's The Animated Man. (At some point in the future, I will briefly discuss an alternative biography of Disney by Gabler.)

I have not thoroughly read The Animated Man, but have thoroughly skimmed it. It appears to be a very useful account of Walt Disney's life.

I did not want to wait until I had fully read it, in order to highlight a few passages that I think may be of special interest. I will do so in the next few weeks.


Reference to the book discussed:

Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. 1 ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.





June 15, 2009

Becker and Farmer on the Economics of Discrimination



FarmerDonnaAndChildren2009-06-09.jpg "ROYAL SUBJECTS; Donna Farmer, with her children, applauds Disney's efforts." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


In Gary Becker's initially controversial doctoral dissertation, he argued that those who discriminate in the labor market pay a price for their prejudice: they end up paying higher wages, than do those employers are not prejudiced.

The bottom line is that the free market provides incentives for the encouragement of diversity and tolerance.

Similarly, Donna Farmer argues, in the passages below, that the marketplace provides the Disney company with incentives to have "The Princess and the Frog" appeal to black audiences.


(p. 1) "THE Princess and the Frog" does not open nationwide until December, but the buzz is already breathless: For the first time in Walt Disney animation history, the fairest of them all is black.


. . .


After viewing some photographs of merchandise tied to the movie, which is still unfinished, Black Voices, a Web site on AOL dedicated to African-American culture, faulted the prince's relatively light skin color. Prince Naveen hails from the fictional land of Maldonia and is voiced by a Brazilian actor; Disney says that he is not white.

"Disney obviously doesn't think a black man is worthy of the title of prince," Angela Bronner Helm wrote March 19 on the site. "His hair and features are decidedly non-black. This has left many in the community shaking (p. 8) their head in befuddlement and even rage."

Others see insensitivity in the locale.

"Disney should be ashamed," William Blackburn, a former columnist at The Charlotte Observer, told London's Daily Telegraph. "This princess story is set in New Orleans, the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community."

ALSO under scrutiny is Ray the firefly, performed by Jim Cummings (the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Yosemite Sam). Some people think Ray sounds too much like the stereotype of an uneducated Southerner in an early trailer.

Of course, armchair critics have also been complaining about the princess. Disney originally called her Maddy (short for Madeleine). Too much like Mammy and thus racist. A rumor surfaced on the Internet that an early script called for her to be a chambermaid to a white woman, a historically correct profession. Too much like slavery.

And wait: We finally get a black princess and she spends the majority of her time on screen as a frog?


. . .


Donna Farmer, a Los Angeles Web designer who is African-American and has two children, applauded Disney's efforts to add diversity.

"I don't know how important having a black princess is to little girls -- my daughter loves Ariel and I see nothing wrong with that -- but I think it's important to moms," she said.

"Who knows if Disney will get it right," she added. "They haven't always in the past, but the idea that Disney is not bending over backward to be sensitive is laughable. It wants to sell a whole lot of Tiana dolls and some Tiana paper plates and make people line up to see Tiana at Disney World."



For the full article, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Her Prince Has Come. Critics, Too." The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., May 31, 2009): 1, 8-9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The published version of Becker's doctoral dissertation is:

Becker, Gary S. The Economics of Discrimination. 2nd Rev ed, Economic Research Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.


DisneyPrincessAndFrog2009-06-09.jpg Movie still of Princess Tiana from Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" to be released in December 2009. Source of movie still: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





May 6, 2009

When Experts Picked California Wine Over French Wine



RickmanAlanBottleShock.jpg "Alan Rickman portrays Steven Spurrier, the British wine dealer who organized a famous blind wine tasting near Paris in 1976, in Randall Miller's "Bottle Shock."" Source of the caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


Cultural pretension and conspicuous consumption are among the less admirable aspects of human behavior. So the blind wine tasting where California beat France, has always had appeal.

This, plus the inimitable Alan Rickman (aka Snape), put this movie on my "to see" list.


(p. B7) "Bottle Shock," an easygoing little movie, made with more affection than skill, takes us back to the days when men wore loud plaid suits and people who were serious about wine sneered at the very mention of California. Sticking reasonably close to the historical record, the director, Randall Miller (who wrote the screenplay with his wife, Jody Savin, and Ross Schwartz), reconstructs a watershed moment in the wine world's acceptance of the Golden State and, eventually, of many other non-French viticultural regions.

In 1976, at a gathering near Paris, a panel of experts conducted a blind tasting at which two California wines emerged victorious over their more pedigreed French competitors. That tasting provides the climax to "Bottle Shock," and even if the potential surprise of its outcome were not already spoiled by history, the movie's adherence to the clichés of the triumph-of-the-underdog narrative would be enough to remove any doubt.

There are, indeed, at least two underdogs hungering for triumph. The first is Steven Spurrier, played by Alan Rickman, whose parched low voice and air of beleaguered pomposity are never unwelcome.



For the full review, see:

A. O. SCOTT. "Plaid Suits, Prize Grapes and the Rise of Napa." The New York Times (Weds., August 6, 2008): B7.





February 2, 2009

"The Whole Point of Camp is to Dethrone the Serious"


(p. W1) The 2000 film "Billy Elliot" was a surprise hit. It's an absorbing drama about personal transformation and the power of art to ennoble the human spirit. "Billy Elliot: The Musical" -- the noise is supplied by Sir Elton John -- is a depressing spectacle about partisan politics and the ephemeral power of schlock.

. . .

The musical, a campy, anticapitalist confection, is just one of the latest prepackaged exercises in "transgression." Maybe it's "Corpus Christi," Terrence McNally's play about a gay Jesus Christ. Maybe it's "The Goat," Edward Albee's play celebrating bestiality, or a production (p. W4) of "The Flying Dutchman" in which the heroine sports posters of Che Guevara and Martin Luther King on her bedroom wall. The point about these unpleasant offerings is not how outrageous but how common they are.

. . .

In the film, there was one extended reference to Margaret Thatcher. Mrs. Wilkinson's middle-class drink-sodden husband (tellingly made "redundant" -- that is, laid off) praises the prime minister for showing down the miners. He is hardly a sympathetic figure, but he had a point: If it costs more money to get the coal out of the ground then you make from selling it, why keep the pit open?

If there were truth in advertising, the musical would have been called "Billy Elliot, The Musical, Featuring Margaret Thatcher as the Incarnation of Evil." She is roundly abused by several characters in the opening scenes, is the object of casual calumny throughout the show, and features in a Christmas children's song -- replete with gigantic scary Thatcher masks and puppets -- whose refrain is "Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher. We all celebrate today because it's one day closer to your death." Nice stuff, eh?

In one sense, "Billy Elliot: The Musical" represents a growth enterprise. Everywhere you turn these days, you are met not only with celebrations of the vulgar but also entertainments that pretend to be brave, challenging "interrogations" of established taste which in fact are simply reflections of established taste. The little sermons about Thatcher and capitalism and bigotry are presented as if they were fresh thoughts designed to disturb the dogmatic slumbers of the audience. In fact, they simply reinforce the left-liberal clichés audiences everywhere internalized decades ago. It's an odd phenomenon. In theaters and museums across the Western world you find audiences applauding sentiments that, were they translated into the real world, would spell their demise.

Perhaps it's an instance of what Lenin was talking about when he said that the bourgeoisie was so rotten that it would sell the rope with which it was to be hanged. The matinee I attended was packed to the last emergency exit with a cheery crowd of nice, middle-class folks who cheered and clapped and whistled and bravoed.

. . .

The impressive thing about "Billy Elliot" the film is its dramatic enactment of serious questions. "Billy Elliot: The Musical" spoofs and sentimentalizes those questions, replacing them with a series of political sermons and distracting gymnastic exhibitions. In 1964, Susan Sontag famously said that the "ultimate Camp statement" was "It's good because it's awful." Sontag wrote as an enthusiast for Camp. I have no doubt that she would have emerged happy from "Billy Elliot: The Musical." "The whole point of Camp," she wrote, "is to dethrone the serious."



For the full commentary, see:

ROGER KIMBALL. "Culture; A Clumsy Mix of Art and Politics; Broadway turns subtle themes into simplistic fare in shows like 'Billy Elliot'." Wall Street Journal (Sat., DECEMBER 13, 2008): W1 & W4.

(Note: ellipses added.)




December 9, 2008

I Was Wrong: Apparently the U.S. Auto Industry Does Have a Prayer


PrayingAutoIndustryMiracle.jpg"PRAYING FOR A MIRACLE.   S.U.V.'s sat on the altar of Greater Grace Temple, a Pentecostal church in Detroit, as congregants prayed to save the auto industry." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

The process of creative destruction, requires that failed businesses be allowed to fail, so that the resources (labor and capital) devoted to the failed businesses, can be devoted to more productive uses.

The Danny DeVito character in "Other People's Money" makes this point in a speech near the end, in which he says that the Gregory Peck character has just delivered a "prayer for the dead" in calling for continued support for a dead business that is technologically obsolete.

On a more personal level, we have always bought cars from Honda and Toyota, because we sincerely believe that they build better cars than Detroit does. By what right does the government force taxpayers to prop up companies whose products have been rejected in the marketplace?

When the economic and moral arguments for bailout fail, all that is left for a failed industry is prayer (and politics)---one more reason to believe that the opportunity cost of prayer, is high.

(p. A19) DETROIT -- The Sunday service at Greater Grace Temple began with the Clark Sisters song "I'm Looking for a Miracle" and included a reading of this verse from the Book of Romans: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."

Pentecostal Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, who shared the sanctuary's wide altar with three gleaming sport utility vehicles, closed his sermon by leading the choir and congregants in a boisterous rendition of the gospel singer Myrna Summers's "We're Gonna Make It" as hundreds of worshipers who work in the automotive industry -- union assemblers, executives, car salesmen -- gathered six deep around the altar to have their foreheads anointed with consecrated oil.

While Congress debated aid to the foundering Detroit automakers Sunday, many here whose future hinges on the decision turned to prayer.

Outside the Corpus Christi Catholic Church, a sign beckoned passers-by inside to hear about "God's bailout plan."



For the full story, see:

NICK BUNKLEY. "Detroit Churches Pray for 'God's Bailout'." The New York Times (Mon., December 8, 2008): A19.

(Note: The photo of the top appeared on p. A1 of the print edition of the December 8, 2008 NYT; also, the online version of the article has a date of Dec. 7 instead of the Dec. 8 date of the print version.)

PrayingAutoIndustryMiracle2.jpg"Worshipers at Greater Grace Temple, a Pentecostal church in Detroit, prayed on Sunday for an automobile industry miracle." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




October 14, 2008

George W. Bush: The Real Dark Knight


BatmanDarkKnight.jpg







The movie version of the Dark Knight. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted below.

(p. A15) A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .

Oh, wait a minute. That's not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a "W."

There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.



For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW KLAVAN. "What Bush and Batman Have in Common." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 25, 2008): A15.

(Note: ellipses in original.)




September 6, 2008

At Pixar, "Storytelling is More Important Than Graphics"



PixarTouchBK.jpg







Source of book image:
http://bp2.blogger.com/_Sar8IPNlxOY/SClPS33oTxI/AAAAAAAAB_0/B8GjajHtetY/s1600/PixarTouch.jpg


(p. A19) One of Mr. Catmull's other inspirations was to hire computer animator John Lasseter after he was fired by Walt Disney Co. in 1983. (He had apparently stepped on one too many toes in the company's sprawling management structure.) Then again, as Mr. Price reports, in the world of computer animators, workplace comings and goings seemed to be part of the job. Mr. Lasseter himself had already quit Disney and then returned before being fired. In the creative ferment of computer animation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, what mattered most was the work itself: Never mind who signs the paychecks - what project are you working on now?

. . .

One of Pixar's first projects revealed a truth that would point the way to success: Storytelling is more important than graphics firepower. The company created a short film, directed by Mr. Lasseter, called "Tin Toy," about a mechanical one-man band fleeing the terrors of a baby who wants to play with it. "Tin Toy" made audiences laugh in part because it turned established themes on their heads. The story was told from the toy's-eye view, close to the floor. The baby, doing what babies do, seemed like a gigantic, capricious monster. "Tin Toy" won the 1988 Academy Award for animated short film.

The upside-down "Tin Toy" point of view seems to fit much of what happened at Pixar afterward. The company made a deal with Disney in 1991: The little animation outfit would produce three movies, and the entertainment behemoth would distribute and market them. With the outsize success of the first movie in the deal, "Toy Story" - it grossed $355 million world-wide - Pixar and Disney were perhaps on an inevitable collision course over control and profits. Mr. Price adroitly depicts the clashes between Mr. Jobs and his nemesis at Disney, chief executive Michael Eisner, and captures the sweet vindication of Mr. Lasseter as the projects he guides outstrip the animation efforts of his former employer.

The sweetest moment in the Pixar saga came two years ago, when Disney bought the company for $7.4 billion in an all-stock deal - one that gave Pixar executives enormous power at their new home. Mr. Jobs sits on the Disney board and is the company's largest shareholder. (Mr. Eisner left in 2005.) And Mr. Lasseter became the chief creative officer for the combined Disney and Pixar animation studios, where Mr. Catmull serves as president.

The day after the sale was announced, Mr. Lasseter and Mr. Catmull flew to Burbank, Calif., to address a crowd of about 500 animation staffers on a Disney soundstage. "Applause built as they made their way to the front," Mr. Price reports, "and then erupted again in force" when the two men were introduced. "Lasseter was welcomed as a rescuer of the studio from which he had been fired some twenty-two years before." In one of their first moves, Mr. Price says, Messrs. Lasseter and Catmull "brought back a handful of Disney animation standouts who had only recently been laid off." Redemption, after all, is essential to any story well told.




For the full review, see:


PAUL BOUTIN. "Bookshelf, An Industry Gets Animated." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 14, 2008): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





August 9, 2008

Blacklisting of Voight Urged in Display of Liberal Hollywood McCarthyism


VoightBlackListedByLiberals.jpg
VoightBlacklistedByLiberals2.jpg
















Source of the images: screen captures from the CNN report cited below.

With self-righteous indignation, the left often accuses the right of "McCarthyism."

But many on the left are happy to limit free speech when what is spoken is not to their liking.

Jon Voight's column in the Washington Times has ignited a firestorm, and caused at least one Hollywood insider to openly advocate blacklisting Voight from the movie business. The CNN story cited and linked below, gives some of the details.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example.

On our campuses, free speech is often violated if the speaker speaks what is not politically correct. For many examples, see some of the cases discussed on the web site of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Another example is from my own personal experience as a young scholar many decades ago. I had applied to three or four top PhD programs in philosophy and was initially rejected from every one of them, even though I had a nearly perfect GPA, and very high test scores.

I was especially surprised by the rejection from Chicago, because an Associate Dean had visited the Wabash campus the year before and talked with me about applying to Chicago. He had looked at my record and said, 'with your record, if you score X, or above on the GREs, it is almost certain that you will be accepted.' (I don't remember the exact number he said.) Well I scored above X, but was rejected. So I wrote to the Associate Dean, saying I was disappointed and asking if he had any insight about the rejection. He told me that he was dumbfounded and that he would look into it.

Awhile later, I received a letter reversing the decision of the University of Chicago Department of Philosophy. I never learned all the details, but apparently the Dean of Humanities had over-ruled the Department of Philosophy. (This is fairly unusual in academics, and though I do not remember her name, I salute that Dean for taking a stand.)

Years later, the episode came up in a conversation with a member of the philosophy faculty. He said that he had been on the admissions committee the year that I had applied, and that I had been rejected because I had mentioned Ayn Rand in my essay about how I had become interested in philosophy.

For some of the details of the Voight story, see:

Wynter, Kareen. "Bloggers Fire Back at Voight." CNN Feature, broadcast on CNN, and posted on CNN.com on 8/8/08. Downloaded on 8/8/08 from: http://www.cnn.com/video/?iref=videoglobal

(Note: the clip runs 2 minutes and 27 seconds.)

Voight's op-ed piece ran in the Washington Times on July 28, 2008 under the title "My Concerns for America" and can be viewed at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/28/voight/





August 2, 2008

Paternalistic Doctors With Way Too Much Time on Their Hands


(p. C6) The American Medical Association is hulking mad at Marvel Studios.

Last week, the advocacy arm of the powerful physicians' group unleashed a tsk-tsk campaign against "The Incredible Hulk," a Marvel film that opened on Friday and is distributed by Universal Pictures. The complaint was of "gratuitous depictions of smoking."

In the movie, which drew a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, Gen. Thunderbolt Ross, a bad guy played by William Hurt, is rarely seen without a smoke-spewing cigar. (Presumably, the physicians' association worries that children who identify with the authoritarian general -- who wants to annihilate the Hulk, played by Edward Norton -- may be tempted to pick up the habit.)



For the full story, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Physicians' Group Furious at Cigars in 'Hulk' Movie." The New York Times (Mon., June 16, 2008): C6.




July 5, 2008

Sir Laurence Olivier Got Mad at Those Who Ridiculed Charlton Heston's Acting


(p. 5go!) "In 1985, I took a train to London from Royal Air Force Mildenhall (Base) with a couple of med techs and decided to check out some of the plays," Brodston recalled in his e-mail.

His theater date was a native Briton who had joined the U.S. Air Force.

"We came upon a play that had Charlton Heston in it, 'The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,'" Brodston remembered. "We couldn't afford the tickets, so they put us on the 'king's cuff' (standby tickets for students and servicemen)."

Just as the house lights were dimming, an older woman led Brodston and his companion up the steps to a private box because no one had claimed the seats.

"Be quiet and don't tell anyone," she furtively whispered because she wasn't supposed to give away box seats that normally fetch up to $300 each.

Two minutes into the play, the door at the rear of the box opened, and two people sat behind them. Engrossed in the play, Brodston and friend paid little attention.

"At intermission, we looked up and saw Lord Laurence Olivier and his wife, Joan Plowright, sitting behind us!"

. . .

In 1999, Brodston crossed paths with Plowright in New York, and she remembered the night they shared a box at the London theater.

"Larry used to get mad when people made fun of Chuck's acting," Plowright told Brodston. "He loved Chuck in 'Ben Hur' and that silly ape movie ('Planet of the Apes'). He and the children would watch those movies again and again."



For the full commentary, see:

BOB FISCHBACH. "Bob's Take on Cinema: A night of fine theater with Chuck, Larry." Omaha World-Herald (Thursday, June 12, 2008): 5go!.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




May 9, 2008

Will Smith's 'I Am Legend' Performance Earns the Academy Award that Matters


SmithWill_I_Am_Legend.jpg













Will Smith in I Am Legend. Source of photo: http://blogs.bet.com/news/newsyoushouldknow/?p=1398

Will Smith's remake of Charleton Heston's The Omega Man, is a pretty good movie. It shows a lone scientist struggling to cure a terrible disease in a world where he has lost almost everything that he valued. The Will Smith character exemplifies the motto of the marines: semper fi.

But I think I still like the Heston version a bit better, even though its special effects are dated, and Heston may have been a bit old for the role.

Why, then? After some thought, I think there is one main reason I like the Heston version better: the villains in The Omega Man, have ideas, while the villains in I Am Legend are subhuman, idealess vampires. The battle of good against evil in The Omega Man is both physical and intellectual, and that makes it easier to care more deeply about the outcome.

Still, I Am Legend is a good movie, showing a heroic man's lonely struggle to remain true to his mission.

(And his canine companion should have received some sort of award too.)

(p. 2E) West Point, N.Y. (AP) -- Will Smith wasn't nominated for an Oscar this year, but his role in "I Am Legend" has earned a different "academy" award -- from the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy.

Smith was named the first winner of the Cadet Choice Movie Award, de­signed to honor the character that best per­sonifies West Point leadership qualities on the silver screen.


For the full story, see:

"People; Cadets vote Will Smith a winner." Omaha World-Herald (Mon., Feb. 25, 2008): 2E.




March 31, 2008

Creative Destruction in the Film Industry


(p. B1) While film still is central in big Hollywood features, it's unclear how long it will be before even the biggest feature movies go all- digital. The buzz in technical movie-making circles these days involves the two-month-old, ultra-high-resolution digital Red camera. Boosters say it looks nearly as good as 35mm film -- and costs around $30,000, or about the same as renting a 35mm camera for 10 days.

Thanks to cheap computers, a similar sort of creative destruction is happening everywhere in the industry. Color adjustment used to require expensive oscilloscope-like monitors. It first moved to specialized -- and expensive -- software, but lately it's done with relatively low- cost (say, $200) "plug-ins" by companies like Red Giant Software.


For the full story, see:

Lee Gomes. "Editing on Big Films Is Now Being Done On Small Computers." Wall Street Journal (Weds., Oct. 24, 2007): B1.




December 19, 2007

Thor Halvorssen Produces Documentaries that Defend Human Rights

 

HalvorssenThor.jpg   "Thor Halvorssen at his office in the Empire State Building."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. 11)  Since 2005, having already founded two nonprofit organizations focused on free speech and human-rights issues, Mr. Halvorssen has made the movie business part of his portfolio of controversy-stirring efforts. Established with a small amount of his money, his nonprofit Moving Picture Institute has raised about $1.5 million in donations to date to pay for, promote and seek distribution for documentary films.

At a time when the most successful documentaries on political or social issues all seem to be anti-corporate, anti-Bush, pro-environmentalist and left-leaning, the Moving Picture Institute has backed pro-business, anti-Communist and even anti-environmentalist ones. The latest, “Indoctrinate U,” follows the first-time filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney as he turns Michael Moore’s guerrilla interview tactics on their head to address what he sees as political correctness on campus. In one scene, Mr. Maloney strolls into the women’s studies centers on several campuses and, playing innocent, asks directions to the men’s studies center. He is met with genuine bafflement, derisive laughs or icy hostility.

To Mr. Halvorssen his new role as a fledgling movie mogul dovetails perfectly with his other activities. “Pop culture has (p. 12) the power to be transformational culture,” he said. “A film can reach a lot more people than a white paper. You could think of the film as a trailer for the white paper.”

He paused, then said, “Put it this way: What ‘Sideways’ did for pinot noir, I want to do for freedom.”

. . .

His upbringing helped make a self-described “classical liberal” rather than a conservative, big on free markets and individual liberties, and convinced that “government is not your friend most of the time,” he said. “And I abhor fascism, whether it’s socialist or National Socialist.”

. . .

“The Sugar Babies,” a documentary by Amy Serrano that Mr. Halvorssen helped produce, takes on the issue human trafficking of Haitian workers on sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. A screening at Florida International University in June erupted into what local press described as “a near riot” between Dominican and Haitian audience members.

Other documentaries championed by the Motion Picture Institute include “Hammer & Tickle,” a lighthearted look at the subversive jokes Soviet citizens told about their leaders.

And Mr. Halvorssen was a co-producer of “Freedom’s Fury,” narrated by Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, which describes the role Hungary’s Olympic water polo team played in that nation’s 1956 uprising against its Soviet occupiers.

No doubt the most contentious film on the Motion Picture Institute roster so far is ''Mine Your Own Business,'' billed as ''the world's first anti-environmentalist documentary.'' Phelim McAleer, an Irish journalist who received a fellowship from the Motion Picture Institute, traveled to Romania, Madagascar and Chile, where international environmental groups oppose planned mining operations. His film -- financed by Gabriel Resources, a Canadian mining company -- portrays environmentalists as condescending elitists while impoverished locals insist they would welcome the jobs and development the mines would bring.

. . .

Mr. Halvorssen speaks of a ''YouTube revolution'' with the Internet, along with on-demand cable and satellite television, freeing independent filmmakers from Hollywood dominance.

Ultimately, he added, he hopes that ''exploiting technology, marketing and alternative distribution will transform human rights, making it inspiring and even sexy.''

 

For the full story, see: 

JOHN STRAUSBAUGH.  "A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect."  The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section  (Sun., August 19, 2007):  11 & 12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

For more information on the documentaries of Halvorssen's Moving Picture Institute, see:

http://www.thempi.org/

 

    Poster for the movie "Mine Your Own Busines."  Source for poster:   http://billhobbs.com/myobposter.gif

 




October 26, 2007

Entrepreneurial Capitalism is the Good Kind

 

   Source of book image:  http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/I/41WVH9PAR3L._SS500_.jpg

 

. . .  capitalism as practiced in the U.S. is different from the capitalism practiced in, say, Singapore or Saudi Arabia. "Capitalism...takes many forms, which differ substantially...in their implications for economic growth and elimination of poverty," three economists write in "Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism." The book identifies four strains of modern capitalism and argues the U.S. version is particularly well-suited to creating and exploiting innovations that boost living standards.

. . .

The book was written by William Baumol, an eclectic New York University economist impressively energetic at 85 years old; Carl Schramm, president and research director of the Kauffman Foundation and a recovering health economist and insurance executive; and Robert Litan, an economist-lawyer who was a budget and antitrust official in the Clinton administration. (Disclosure: I recently spoke at Kauffman's Kansas City, Mo., headquarters.)

. . .

Along the way, the economists make a point often missed in the romanticism about "small business." They aren't talking about all small businesses -- the corner dry cleaner, for instance -- or all the self-employed. Their entrepreneurs are entities that provide a new product or service or develop methods to produce or deliver existing goods and services at lower cost.  . . .

It all sounds great -- and compelling. A capitalism that cannot spur innovation and/or display flexibility to reorganize itself cannot be a model. In their book, though, the three touch too lightly on an issue about which Mr. Litan has written previously. As he puts it in an interview: "An entrepreneurial society is going to be more of a high-risk society."

The strengths of U.S.-style capitalism are apparent. No place in the past quarter century has better mixed the ingredients of talent, imagination, education, science and capital. But the risks are apparent, too: workers who lose jobs and find new ones that pay far less and lack health insurance, widening disparities between economic winners and losers, challenges posed by stiffening competition from low-wage, increasingly skilled workers abroad, and schools that aren't improving as fast as the economy is changing.

Preserving the strengths of American capitalism requires finding a way to reduce the anxiety and harm posed by such risks without losing the entrepreneurial vigor. That's the hard part.

 

For the full commentary/review, see:

DAVID WESSEL. "CAPITAL; By Capitalism's Vigor May Hinge On Confronting Its Risks."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., May 10, 2007):  A2. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




October 22, 2007

Helping Russians Remember the Truth About Communism

 

BalabanovAlexeiRussianDirector.jpg  Some of the crew of Gruz 200, including the director Alexei Balabanov, who is second from the left.  Source of the photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. B1)  The film is named "Gruz 200" (Cargo 200) after the zinc-lined coffins in which dead Soviet soldiers were shipped home from the 1979-89 war in Afghanistan. Messrs. Balabanov and Selyanov say they made the movie as an antidote to what they describe as rising nostalgia in Russia for the Soviet period.

"I show what filth we lived in," said Mr. Balabanov, a director sometimes described as Russia's Quentin Tarantino. "Society was sick from 1917 onwards," he added, referring to the year the Bolsheviks took power.

The film -- a graphically violent story of the sexual abuse of a teenage girl at the hands of a sadistic Soviet policeman -- paints a relentlessly negative picture of a time that many Russians recall with warm nostalgia. The filmmakers hope to release the movie overseas but haven't yet signed up a foreign distributor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who restored Russia's Soviet-era national anthem, has called the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century," and polls show a majority of Russians regard the period as one of relative prosperity, stability and national pride. 

. . .

(p. B2)  Mr. Balabanov says "Gruz 200" is based on his own experiences while traveling across the Soviet Union in the 1980s, as well as on stories he heard second-hand.

Mr. Selyanov says he believes it is his "duty" to remind people of what the Soviet Union was really like and combat the rising warmth for the period. "We have to fight this nostalgia," the producer says.

But the film has been dogged by controversy since even before it opened. Mr. Balabanov says three prominent actors who had played in his previous films refused parts once they read the script. "They were scared," he said. The director was forced to use largely unknown actors.

. . .

Russian TV networks, controlled by the state, have balked at even late-night showings -- critical to financial success for Russian movies.

"We don't have the courage to put something like this on the air," said Vladimir Kulistikov, head of the No. 3 NTV network, in a statement.  

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW OSBORN.  "From Russia, Without Love: New Movie Slams Soviet Union."  The Wall Street Journal By  (Thurs., June 21, 2007):  B1 & B2.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Gruz200PoliceCaptain.jpg   The sadistic police captain is portrayed by Alexei Poluyan.  Source of the photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




August 23, 2007

"I Couldn't Write a Prescription for Antiobiotics, Because There Were None"

 

    "THE DOCTOR MIGHT BE IN Cubans young and old at a Havana clinic in 2004."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

CUBA works hard to jam American TV signals and keep out decadent Hollywood films. But it’s a good bet that Fidel Castro’s government will turn a blind eye to bootleg copies of “Sicko,” Michael Moore’s newest movie, if they show up on the streets of Havana.

“Sicko,” the talk of the Cannes Film Festival last week, savages the American health care system — and along the way extols Cuba’s system as the neatest thing since the white linen guayabera.

Mr. Moore transports a handful of sick Americans to Cuba for treatment in the course of the film, . . .

. . .

Universal health care has long given the Cuban regime bragging rights, though there is growing concern about the future. In the decades that Cuba drew financial and military support from the Soviet Union, Mr. Castro poured resources into medical education, creating the largest medical school in Latin America and turning out thousands of doctors to practice around the world.

But that changed after the collapse of the Soviets, according to Cuban defectors like Dr. Leonel Cordova. By the time Dr. Cordova started practicing in 1992, equipment and drugs were already becoming scarce. He said he was assigned to a four-block neighborhood in Havana Province where he was supposed to care for about 600 people.

“But even if I diagnosed something simple like bronchitis,” he said, “I couldn’t write a prescription for antibiotics, because there were none.”

He defected in 2000 while on a medical mission in Zimbabwe and made his way to the United States. He is now an urgent-care physician at Baptist Hospital in Miami.

Having practiced medicine in both Cuba and the United States, Dr. Cordova has an unusual perspective for comparison.

“Actually there are three systems,” Dr. Cordova said, because Cuba has two: one is for party officials and foreigners like those Mr. Moore brought to Havana. “It is as good as this one here, with all the resources, the best doctors, the best medicines, and nobody pays a cent,” he said.

But for the 11 million ordinary Cubans, hospitals are often ill equipped and patients “have to bring their own food, soap, sheets — they have to bring everything.”  . . .

. . .

Until he had to have emergency surgery last year, Fidel Castro — who turned 80 this year — was considered a model of vibrant long life in Cuba. But it was only last week that he acknowledged in an open letter that his initial surgery by Cuban doctors had been botched. He did not confirm, however, that a specialist had been flown in from Spain last December to help set things right. 

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ANTHONY DePALMA.  "‘Sicko,’ Castro and the ‘120 Years Club’."  The New York Times, Section 4  (Sun., May 27, 2007):   3. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




August 19, 2007

Fred Thompson Skewers Michael Moore with Wit and Wisdom

Mr. Moore was back from Cuba, where he made a documentary on the superiority of Castro's health-care system. Mr. Thompson suggested Mr. Moore is just another lefty who loves dictators. Mr. Moore challenged Mr. Thompson to a health-care debate and accused him of smoking embargoed cigars. Within hours Mr. Thompson and his supposedly nonexistent staff had produced a spirited video response that flew through YouTube and the conservative blogosphere. Sitting at a desk and puffing on a fat cigar, Mr. Thompson announces to Mr. Moore he can't fit him into his schedule. Then: "The next time you're down in Cuba . . . you might ask them about another documentary maker. His name was Nicolás Guillén. He did something Castro didn't like, and they put him in a mental institution for several years, giving him devastating electroshock treatments. A mental institution, Michael. Might be something you ought to think about."

You couldn't quite tell if Mr. Thompson was telling Mr. Moore he ought to think more about Cuba, or might himself benefit from psychiatric treatment. It seemed almost . . . deliberately unclear.

 

PEGGY NOONAN.  "DECLARATIONS; The Man Who Wasn't There."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., May 19, 2007): P14.

(Note:  ellipsis in original.)

 

See Fred Thompson's response to Michael Moore on YouTube at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds_GhRxivOI  

 

    Source:  screen capture from Fred Thompson's response to Michael Moore at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds_GhRxivOI

 




June 28, 2007

Sometimes "A Strongly Worded Letter" Is in Order

 

   The Titanic sinks.  Source of drawing:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:St%C3%B6wer_Titanic.jpg

 

Here is one of my favorite lines from the "Titanic" movie.  It is spoken by the hero, as the Titanic sinks:

 

Jack Dawson: I don't know about you, but I intend to go write a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about all this.

 

Source:

"Titanic" movie (1997), as recorded in:  http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Titanic

 




May 9, 2007

To the Ultimate Luddites: "Build Coffins, That's All You'll Need"

   Charlton Heston as Robert Neville, the last scientist on earth.  Source of photo:  http://datacore.sciflicks.com/the_omega_man/images/the_omega_man_large_09.jpg

 

In the 1970s, one of my favorite films was "The Omega Man" (1971) starring Charlton Heston as the doctor/scientist who was the last healthy man on earth.  A plague had killed most of humanity, leaving a few in a demented "tertiary" condition.  Heston as "Robert Neville" had developed a vaccine, but only had been able to test it on himself, as the world collapsed.  

Those in the "tertiary" state had been organized by a former broadcast commentator named "Matthias" into the "family" whose goal it was to burn books, and destroy all remnants of science and technology. 

At one point near the end, the family captures Neville, and as the family destroys Neville's paintings, and laboratory, Matthias rants that Neville is the last scientist, the last remnant of the old world, and that all will be well when they have destroyed him.  Then comes one of my favorite exchanges.

 

Matthias: Now we must build.

Robert Neville: Build coffins, that's all you'll need.

 

When I saw the movie again today (3/16/07) for the first time in decades, I was worried that I had built it up in my memory, and that the reality would be way disappointing. 

I was relieved to see that the movie, though not perfect, was still plenty good enough.

 




April 24, 2007

The Case Against Gun Control

 

   Venus Ramey shows how she balanced her pistol on her walker to shoot out the tires of an intruder on her farm.  Source of photo:  screen capture from CNN clip "Granny's Packing Heat" as viewed on 4/23/07.

 

In the wake of the Virginia Tech killings, there have been some renewed calls for more gun control (see the WSJ and NYT articles cited way below).  But we should not forget that a gun can also be a leveler; it gives the ordinary citizen a fighting chance against the thief and the murderer.

There was a great scene in the first Indiana Jones movie (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1984) where Indy is being chased by a huge bad guy armed with swords.  The crowd clears, and the the huge man confidently and ominously twirls his swords.  Indy looks at him quizzically for a couple of seconds, pulls out a pistol, and shoots him. 

When I first saw that scene, the theater erupted in laughter and applause.

Laughter and applause are also appropriate responses to the story of 82 year old, former Miss America, Venus Ramey: 

 

Miss America 1944 has a talent that likely has never appeared on a beauty pageant stage: She fired a handgun to shoot out a vehicle's tires and stop an intruder. Venus Ramey, 82, confronted a man on her farm in south-central Kentucky last week after she saw her dog run into a storage building where thieves had previously made off with old farm equipment.

Ramey said the man told her he would leave. "I said, 'Oh, no you won't,' and I shot their tires so they couldn't leave," Ramey said.

She had to balance on her walker as she pulled out a snub-nosed .38-caliber handgun.

"I didn't even think twice. I just went and did it," she said. "If they'd even dared come close to me, they'd be 6 feet under by now."

 

For the full story, see: 

Associated Press.   "Armed Miss America 1944 Stops Intruder."  Forbes.com Posted 04.21.07, 5:00 AM ET Downloaded on 4/23/07 from http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2007/04/21/ap3637737.html

 

CNN has a great clip on this story, under the heading "Granny's Packing Heat."

 

The WSJ article mentioned above, is:

VANESSA O'CONNELL, GARY FIELDS and DEAN TREFTZ.  "Next Debate: Should Colleges Ban Firearms? The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., April 18, 2007):  B1 & B10. 

 

The NYT article mentioned above, is:

LESLIE EATON and MICHAEL LUO.  "Shooting Rekindles Issues of Gun Rights and Restrictions." The New York Times (Weds., April 18, 2007):  A19.

 




March 28, 2007

"Work Hard at Work Worth Doing"

We went to see "The Bridge to Tarabithia" this afternoon (2/25/07), which I thought was a sad, but good, movie aimed at older children, but with enough plot and enough characters to care about, to be of interest to adults too.

I heard a quote in the movie that I liked and I don't remember having heard before.  It's source was given as Teddy Roosevelt, who is not one of my favorite presidents, because of his efforts to increase the size and power of government.  But he wasn't all bad, and he sometimes spoke well:

 

Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.

 

Theodore Roosevelt, Speech in New York, September 7, 1903 [26th president of US (1858 - 1919)]

 

Source of quote, and information about quote: http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/2056.html

 




February 7, 2007

Hope for Film Version of Atlas Shrugged


  Rand, Ruddy, Wallace, and Jolie.  Source of photos: http://ustimes.us/ayn_rand_no_longer_has_script_approval.htm

 

(p. 9)  BACK in the 1970s Albert S. Ruddy, the producer of ''The Godfather,'' first approached Ayn Rand to make a movie of her novel ''Atlas Shrugged.'' But Rand, who had fled the Soviet Union and gone on to inspire capitalists and egoists everywhere, worried aloud, apparently in all seriousness, that the Soviets might try to take over Paramount to block the project.

''I told her, 'The Russians aren't that desperate to wreck your book,' '' Mr. Ruddy recalled in a recent interview.

Rand's paranoia, as Mr. Ruddy remembers it, seems laughable. But perhaps it was merely misplaced. For so many people have tried and failed to turn the book she considered her masterpiece into a movie that it could easily strike a suspicious person as evidence of a nefarious collectivist conspiracy. Or at least of Hollywood's mediocrity.

Of course Rand herself had a hand in blocking some of those attempts before she died in 1982. Her heirs in the Objectivist school of thought helped sink some others. And plans for at least a couple of television mini-series fell to the vicissitudes of network politics and media mergers.

But Rand's grand polemical novel keeps selling, and her admirers in Hollywood keep trying, and the latest effort involves a lineup of heavy hitters, starting with Angelina Jolie. Randall Wallace, who wrote ''Braveheart'' and ''We Were Soldiers,'' is working on compressing the nearly 1,200-page book into a conventional two-hour screenplay. Howard and Karen Baldwin, the husband-and-wife producers of ''Ray,'' are overseeing the project, and Lions Gate Entertainment is footing the bill.

Whether Ms. Jolie, who has called herself something of a Rand fan, will bring the novel's heroine, Dagny Taggart, to life on screen, or merely wind up on a list with other actresses who sought or were sought for the role -- including Barbara Stanwyck, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch, Farrah Fawcett and Sharon Stone -- remains to be seen. Until now, at least, no one in Hollywood has figured out a formula that promises both to sell popcorn and to do justice to the original text, let alone to the philosophy that it hammers home endlessly, at times in lengthy speeches. (The final one is 60 pages long.)

But Mr. Baldwin said he believed that Mr. Wallace and the rest of their team were up to the task. ''We all believe in the book, and will be true to the book,'' he said.

 

For the full story, see: 

KIMBERLY BROWN.  "FILM; Ayn Rand No Longer Has Script Approval."  The New York Times, Section 2  (Sun., January 14, 2007):  9 & 14.

 

    A 1957 photo of Rand in New York.  Source of photo:  http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/11/news/atlas.php

 




January 19, 2007

At Screen Actors Guild, Communists Threatened to Disfigure His Face

ReaganAnAmericanStoryBK.jpg   Source of book image: http://www.shopaim.org/assets/images/large/458i.jpg

 

There are better books on Reagan.  But Bosch's book has a few illuminating anecdotes.  Here is one:

(p. 63)  Reagan first learned about Communists and their intentions as a member of a Hollywood union, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).  He had been introduced to the Screen actors Guild by his wife Jane Wyman and had quickly risen to become a member of the Guild's board.  As a SAG Board member, and later as its president, he mediated a dispute between two rival unions.  One of the unions, the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), was led by a suspected Communist, Herb Sorrell.

. . .  

(p. 64)  Sorrell and Reagan went head to head.  When Reagan crossed a picket line outside Warner Brothers, Sorrell called for a boycott of his movies.  Reagan was called a fascist.  An anonymous phone caller threatened to disfigure his face so he could never act again.  He began to carry a gun and accepted police protection.  He became an informant for the FBI 

"These were eye-opening years for me," he later wrote.  "Now I knew form first-hand experience how Communists used lies, deceit, violence, or any other tactic that suited them to advance the cause of Soviet expansionism."

 

Source: 

Bosch, Adriana.  Reagan: An American Story.  TV Books Inc., 1998.

 




December 6, 2006

Jeffrey Sachs "Has Apparently Spent More Time Studying the Economic Thinking of Salma Hayek than that of Friedrich"


  Salma Hayek.  Source of image: http://www.imdb.com/gallery/granitz/0273-spe/Events/0273-spe/hayek_sa.lma?path=pgallery&path_key=Hayek,%20Salma

 

(p. A18) Scientific American, in its November 2006 issue, reaches a "scientific judgment" that the great Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek "was wrong" about free markets and prosperity in his classic, "The Road to Serfdom."  The natural scientists' favorite economist -- Prof. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University -- announces this new scientific breakthrough in a column, saying "the evidence is now in."  To dispel any remaining doubts, Mr. Sachs clarifies that anyone who disagrees with him "is clouded by vested interests and by ideology."

This sounds like one of those moments in which the zeitgeist of mass confusion about national poverty, world poverty and prosperity comes together in one mad tragicomic brew.

. . .  

Mr. Sachs, who is currently best known for his star-driven campaign to end world poverty, has apparently spent more time studying the economic thinking of Salma Hayek than that of Friedrich. 

. . .

Mr. Sachs's empirical analysis purports to show that Nordic welfare states are outperforming those states that follow the "English-speaking" tradition of laissez-faire, like the U.K. or the U.S. Poverty rates are indeed lower in the Nordic countries, although the skeptical reader (probably an ideologue) might wonder if the poverty outcome in, say, the U.S., with its tortured history of a black underclass and its de facto openness to impoverished but upwardly mobile immigrants, is really comparable to that of Nordic countries.

Then there is the big picture, where those laissez-faire Anglophones in, first, the U.K. and, then, the U.S., just happened to have been the leaders of the ongoing global industrial revolution that abolished far more poverty over the past two centuries than a few modest Scandinavian redistribution schemes.  Mr. Sachs apparently thinks the industrial revolution was led by IKEA.  Lastly, let's hear from the Nordics themselves, who have been busily moving away from the social welfare state back toward laissez-faire.  According to the English-speaking ideologues that composed the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, Denmark, Finland and Sweden were all included in the 20 countries classified as "free" in 2006 (with Denmark actually ranked ahead of the U.S.).  Only Norway missed the cut -- barely.

Mr. Sachs is wrong that Hayek was wrong.  In his own global antipoverty work, he is unintentionally demonstrating why more scientists, Hollywood actors and the rest of us should go back and read "The Road to Serfdom" if we want to know what will not work to achieve "The End of Poverty."  Hayek gave the best exposition ever of the unpopular ideas of economic freedom that somehow triumph anyway, alleviating far more national and global poverty than more fashionable Scandinavia-envy and grandiose plans to "make poverty history."

 

For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM EASTERLY.  "Dismal Science."  Wall Street Journal  (Weds., November 15, 2006):  A18.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 

Hayek's courageous masterpiece is:

Hayek, Friedrich A. Von. The Road to Serfdom. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press, 1944.

 

Easterly's great book on how to encourage economic development in poor countries, is:

Easterly, William. The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002.





November 21, 2006

"Come With Me, If You Want to Live"

Schumpeter famously stated that creative destruction is "the essential fact" about capitalism.  Was he right? 

To determine what is "the essential fact" you need to first answer the question "essential for what purpose?"  If the purpose is "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" then I think you can show that creative detruction is indeed the essential fact about capitalism; in the key sense that with creative destruction you have a form of capitalism that is best able to enhance "live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The Terminator famously said "Come with me, if you want to live!" ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day," 1991).  Life is a choice.  You can choose death instead.  Most people, most of the time, choose life. But there are examples of choosing death.  E.g., Leon Kass, an oft-quoted "expert" on medical ethics issues, is against current efforts to lengthen the human life span:

(p. D4)  While an anti-aging pill may be the next big blockbuster, some ethicists believe that the all-out determination to extend life span is veined with arrogance.  As appointments with death are postponed, says Dr. Leon R. Kass, former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, human lives may become less engaging, less meaningful, even less beautiful.

“Mortality makes life matter,” Dr. Kass recently wrote.  “Immortality is a kind of oblivion — like death itself.”

That man’s time on this planet is limited, and rightfully so, is a cultural belief deeply held by many.  But whether an increasing life span affords greater opportunity to find meaning or distracts from the pursuit, the prospect has become too great a temptation to ignore — least of all, for scientists.

“It’s a just big waste of talent and wisdom to have people die in their 60s and 70s,” said Dr. Sinclair of Harvard.

(And there's the occasional hermit, like the unibomber, who chooses to live a brutish life without electricity and indoor plumbing.)  So long as I, Arnold, and our compatriots, are allowed an island somewhere to peacefully pursue life, I do not much care what Leon and his friends do.  My argument, and the book I am writing on creative destruction, are not written for Leon.  They are written for all those who choose life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

 

The NYT quote related to Leon Kass's praise of mortality, is from p. D4 of:

MICHAEL MASON.  "One for the Ages:  A Prescription That May Extend Life."  The New York Times  (Tues., October 31, 2006):  D1 & D4. 

 




October 18, 2006

"Man in White Suit" Science Fiction, Now Nearly Science Fact

PART of what sold James Tirey on a change in attire was the coffee spilled on his legs during a rough flight.  ''It stayed sticky until it dried,'' he said, ''about mid-Atlantic.''

To avoid such incidents, he bought a new pair of pants with an invisible, high-tech surface suited to the exigencies of business travel.  These pants look and feel like most others, but the ingenious finish on the fabric is different:  it is made of tiny, nanosized particles that repel water, ketchup, honey, blood, vinaigrette and a thousand other potential indignities.  With such a surface, he said, ''if coffee is spilled on you, it just beads up'' or runs off.  The pants can be wiped with a paper napkin -- even the skimpy cocktail kind handed out on airplanes -- leaving the material dry and unscathed.

Mr. Tirey, who lives in northern Virginia, bought his pants, called the Steel Pant, at Beyond, a Eugene, Ore., company that makes and sells outerwear for men and women at BeyondFleece.com.  The material is manufactured by the Swiss company Schoeller Textil, which makes both the weave and the nanofinish, called NanoSphere.  On the Beyond Web site, the pants cost $119, the nanocoating an additional $15.  ''It was definitely worth the money,'' Mr. Tirey said of the purchase.

 

For the full story, see: 

ANNE EISENBERG.  "NOVELTIES; The Chemist's Find: A Way to Shrug Off Spills." The New York Times , Section 3(Sun., August 27, 2006):  5. 




October 9, 2006

Entrepreneurship Survives, Even in Mogadishu

  In Mogadishu the nose of one of the two Black Hawk helicopters that were were shot down in 1993.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Sept. 23 — They call her the “Black Hawk Down” lady.

And in the corner of her dirt yard, beneath rags drying in the sun and next to a bowl of filthy wash water, she keeps a chunk of history that most Americans would probably like to forget.

It is the battered nose of a Black Hawk helicopter, from one of the two that got shot down in Mogadishu on Oct. 3, 1993, in an infamous battle that killed 18 Americans, led to a major foreign policy shift and spawned a big movie.

The Black Hawk Down lady stands fiercely at her gate and charges admission to see it.

“You, you, you,” she said on a recent day, jabbing her finger at three visitors.  “Pay, pay, pay.”

. . .

Ecstatic Somalis ransacked the wreckage, stripping the helicopters and melting down the metal. Some people even ripped insignia patches off the bodies of the soldiers to keep as grim souvenirs.

. . .

But Ms. Elmi had a different plan.  Her husband had died a long time ago, and she had six children to feed.  Two of her older sons were killed, she said, when the helicopter crashed.  She dragged the cracked nose piece, about five feet across but actually pretty light because it was made of fiberglass, back to her house.

. . .  

Ms. Elmi began humbly, charging neighborhood boys the equivalent of a few cents to get a peek at her one exhibit, the last known chunk of wreckage from what Somalis refer to as Ma-alinti Rangers, the Day of the Rangers.

But after the movie “Black Hawk Down” came out in 2001 — and pirated copies found their way to Mogadishu — business boomed.

“So many people came, I cannot count,” she said.  “White people, brown people, black people.”

When asked why they come, she snapped:  “How should I know?  Do you think I am mind reader?”

The entrance fee is now around $3 for foreigners; locals get a discount and pay 75 cents.

. . .

Some people say they fear the Islamists will impose a draconian version of Islam in Somalia, which up until recently had been relatively secular.

But Ms. Elmi said she loved the Islamists.  And she has her own reasons.

“They bring peace,” she said.  “And peace brings tourists.”

 

For the full story, see: 

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN.  "MOGADISHU JOURNAL; From the Ashes, a Chunk of America Beckons in Somalia."  The New York Times  (Thurs., September 28, 2006):  A4.

(Note:  in the print version, but not the online version, there is a subheader placed in the center of the article that reads:  "An entrepreneur feeds a family, thanks to the remnants of a battle.") 

(Note:  ellipses added.)




August 9, 2006

Taking the Red Pill in China

Surfing the Web last fall, a Chinese high-school student who calls himself Zivn noticed something missing.  It was Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that accepts contributions or edits from users, and that he himself had contributed to.

The Chinese government, in October, had added Wikipedia to a list of Web sites and phrases it blocks from Internet users' access.  For Zivn, trying to surf this and many other Web sites, including the BBC's Chinese-language news service, brought just an error message.  But the 17-year-old had had a taste of that wealth of information and wanted more.  "There were so many lies among the facts, and I could not find where the truth is," he writes in an instant-message interview.

Then some friends told him where to find Freegate, a tiny software program that thwarts the Chinese government's vast system to limit what its citizens see.  Freegate -- by connecting computers inside of China to servers in the U.S. -- allows Zivn and others to keep reading and writing to Wikipedia and countless other sites.

Behind Freegate is a North Carolina-based Chinese hacker named Bill Xia.  He calls it his red pill, a reference to the drug in the "Matrix" movies that vaulted unconscious captives of a totalitarian regime into the real world.  Mr. Xia likes to refer to the villainous Agent Smith from the Matrix films, noting that the digital bad guy in sunglasses "guards the Matrix like China's Public Security Bureau guards the Internet."

. . .

(p. A9)  . . . , with each new version of Freegate -- now on its sixth release -- the censors "just keep improving and adding more manpower to monitor what we have been doing," Mr. Xia says.  In turn, he and volunteer programmers keep tweaking Freegate.

At first, the software would automatically change its Internet Protocol address -- a sort of phone number for a Web site -- faster than China could block it.  That worked until September 2002, when China blocked Freegate's domain name, not just its number, in the Internet phone book.

More than three years later, Mr. Xia is still amazed by the bold move, calling it a "hijacking."  Ultimately he prevailed, however, through a solution he won't identify for fear of being shut down for good.

Confident in that solution, Mr. Xia continues to send out his red pill, and users like Zivn continue to take it.  The teen credits his cultural and political perspective to a "generation gap" that has come of having access to more information.  "I am just gradually getting used to the truth about the real world," he writes.

 

For the full story, see: 

Geoffrey A. Fowler.  "Chinese Internet Censors Face 'Hacktivists' in U.S."  The Wall Street Journal  (Monday, February 13, 2006):  A1 & A9.




June 15, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth About "An Inconvenient Truth"


   Al Gore.  Source of photo:  http://in.news.yahoo.com/051008/137/60gzj.html

 

(p. A25) If Al Gore's new movie weren't titled ''An Inconvenient Truth,'' I wouldn't have quite so many problems with it.

. . .

Gore shows the obligatory pictures of windmills and other alternative sources of energy.  But he ignores nuclear power plants, which don't spew carbon dioxide and currently produce far more electricity than all ecologically fashionable sources combined.

A few environmentalists, like Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, have recognized that their movement is making a mistake in continuing to demonize nuclear power.  Balanced against the risks of global warming, nukes suddenly look good -- or at least deserve to be considered rationally.  Gore had a rare chance to reshape the debate, because a documentary about global warming attracts just the sort of person who marches in anti-nuke demonstrations.

Gore could have dared, once he enticed the faithful into the theater, to challenge them with an inconvenient truth or two.  But that would have been a different movie.


For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY.  "Gore Pulls His Punches."  The New York Times  (Tuesday, May 23, 2006):    A25.





May 22, 2006

Static Versus Dynamic Pictures

Schumpeter distinguished the static picture of capitalism in the textbook model, with the dynamic reality captured in the process of creative destruction.   Apparently Ronald Reagan also understood that a dynamic view is better than a static snapshot.   Michael Deaver recounts:

(p. 75) . . . I told him that I noticed his aversion to sitting for photo shoots.  He looked at me surprised.  "That's funny, in all these years, nobody's ever noticed that."   I asked him to elaborate.  "Well, you can never recover from a still shot."

Reagan was most comfortable with moving film, he went on to say.  He truly believed the television camera was a friend, a device that would separate the real from the phony.  Still cameras could always be used to make a candidate look like a fool.  When he explained this to me in the (p. 76) late 1960s, he said, "You know how I sometimes touch my nose before I make a point?  Well, a still shot would show me picking my nose, while a live shot would show me making my point."

 

Source:

Deaver, Michael K.   A Different Drummer:   My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan.  Reprint ed.  Harper Paperbacks, 2003.

 




February 24, 2006

Protecting the "Dots"

Is it the free market, or big government, that is most likely to treat individual human beings as expendible "dots"?


One of the best conspiracy movies ever made is the perfect British classic, "The Third Man." In the most haunting scene, the villain, played adroitly by Orson Welles, takes Joseph Cotten, the good guy, up in a Ferris wheel. The villain, named Harry Lime, has been selling adulterated penicillin in postwar Vienna, making a fortune and causing children to become paralyzed and die.

Mr. Cotten's character, a pulp fiction writer named Holly Martins, asks him how he could do such an evil thing for money. The two men are at the top of the Ferris wheel, and the people below them look like tiny dots. Mr. Welles's villain looks down and says, "Tell me, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000 for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?"

BEN STEIN. "Everybody's Business; When You Fly in First Class, It's Easy to Forget the Dots." The New York Times, Section 3 (Sunday, January 29, 2006): 3.




December 23, 2005

Real Heroes in King Kong

My favorite lines from the new King Kong movie are spoken by the preening B-movie action actor Baxtor.

The fictional screenwriter says:  "I just never figured you for a coward."

To which Baxtor replies:  "Hey pal; hey, wake up!  Heroes don't look like me; not in the real world. 

In the real world they got bad teeth; a bald spot; and a beer gut."

"I'm just an actor with a gun; who's lost his motivation."

(Entry revised/corrected on July 5, 2006)




November 28, 2005

Dobby's Absence Tarnishes Goblet of Fire

Source of image: Warner Brothers photo posted at: http://www.newsday.com/features/booksmags/sns-potter-movie-jpg,0,7776280.photogallery?coll=ny-homepage-bigpix2005


You can't make a long and complex novel into a movie, even a long movie, without cutting and simplifying. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a good movie, but not as good as the book. Much has been said of the movie's dark side. The book had a dark side too, but what is missing from the movie is a key element of the book's light side: Dobby, the rascally, loyal, house-elf with the mismatched socks. For those who have seen the movie, without having read the book, here is one of my favorite (albeit serious) Dobby passages:

"Dobby has traveled the country for two whole years, sir, trying to find work!" Dobby squeaked. "But Dobby hasn't found work, sir, because Dobby wants paying now!"

The house-elves all around the kitchen, who had been listening and watching with interest, all looked away at these words, as though Dobby had said something rude and embarrassing. Hermione, however, said, "Good for you, Dobby!"

"Thank you, miss!" said Dobby, grinning toothily at her. "But most wizards doesn't want a house-elf who wants paying, miss. 'That's not the point of a house-elf,' they says, and they slammed the door in Dobby's face! Dobby likes work, but he wants to wear clothes and he wants to be paid, Harry Potter. . . . Dobby likes being free!" (p. 378; ellipsis in original)

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4). New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.




November 21, 2005

Tom Cruise as Joseph Schumpeter?

After the film "A Beautiful MInd" on economist John Nash, The Economist suggests that there might be a market for movies about Keynes and Schumpeter. Here are there comments on the Schumpeter project:

Joseph Schumpeter. He said he wanted to be the world's “greatest horseman, greatest lover and greatest economist”, and later claimed two of three—he and horses just didn't get along. A perfect role, surely, for Tom Cruise, who was first choice to play Mr Nash. Schumpeter's best-known theory even sounds like a Hollywood thriller: “Creative Destruction”. Now how would they merchandise that?

"Economists on film: Keynes the movie?" (Dec. 20th 2001), downloaded online from: http://www.economist.com/finance/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=917413




November 20, 2005

Creative Destruction in "The Man in the White Suit"

Source: Amason.com


From David Thomson's Amazon.com review of the movie "The Man in the White Suit":

The Man in the White Suit focusses on the destructive aspects of all new inventions. Although Joseph Schumpeter's name is never mentioned, his creative destruction concept pervades the story line. Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness ) a non-credentialled and eccentric scientist who creates a new cloth that apparently will not wear out nor get dirty. The overall human community will enormously benefit---but what about those people who earn a living in the impacted industry?

Read the whole review, and others, at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00006FMAV/104-8533764-5015948?v=glance&n=130&n=507846&s=dvd&v=glance




July 31, 2005

Enterprise and Government in Harry Potter

A long time ago (30 or 35 years) I attended some sessions on film and ideology at a week summer conference sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. At one session they screened Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and then the faculty panelists, with help from the audience, proceeded to thoroughly trash Capra for left-wing, anti-capitalist, populist bias. I sat and frowned and fumed, but the session ended without me having the courage to defend Capra. What I wish I had said was that Capra may have been a left-leaning populist; his economics may have been all wrong; but if that's all you say, you miss the main point. The main point of Capra is loyalty, and persistence, and courage and good-humor. One can reject Capra's implied economics and still love his movies.

Well on the night of Friday, July 15, 2005, with my wife and daughter, I hung out at the local Border's book store with a huge crowd of other fans, waiting until the stroke of midnight to be allowed to purchase Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Similar scenes played out all over the country, and in other countries as well. Apparently the book, like its predecessor, is setting all kinds of sales records.

And analyses have begun to appear about Harry Potter's economics and politics. (The July 15, 2005 Wall Street Journal ran a piece suggesting that Dumbledore is Winston Churchill and Voldemort is Adolph Hitler.) They too miss the main point.

The main point is that the leading heroes of the Potter books display loyalty, and persistence, and courage, and good-humor. And the characters are constructed as real people who we come to care about. And the books are well-written. And plot matters too--you need to find out what's going to happen next.

Still, if you want to play the socio-political-economic interpretation game with the Potter books, I suggest the following facts might be relevant. Two of the minor heroes of the books, Fred and George Weasley, are successful entrepreneurs. The heads of the governmental Ministry of Magic are at best ineffectual, dishonest, pompous buffoons. And the seed money for Fred and George's successful enterprise is provided by that most famous of venture capitalists: Harry Potter.


[Details on WSJ article: Jonathan V. Last. "History According to Harry: Appeasement Fails with Warlocks Too." Wall Street Journal (Friday, July 15, 2005)]




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