Thursday, December 29, 2011

Number One Blog Post of 2011

While there were many popular posts here during 2011, there was one which drew more readers and visitors than any other by an enormous margin. I was a bit surprised to note the constant rise in the number of readers/visitors over the months to the post. But given the reality that our Congress in 2011 has failed to lead or decide or act in any way which would benefit the nation's crumbling economy, then it should be no surprise at all the top post here for 2011 was a political fact-check which shreds the Republican claims about why our economy tanked and why it struggles to recover.

This post first appeared on May 10, 2011. And since the information provided has resonated with so many folks, I reprint it below. Thanks to all who made it so popular!

Dr. Evil Running Congress?

The talk flowing from Washington about the national debt sounds too much like the goofy comedy scenes of Dr. Evil demanding "one billion gajillion fifillion shapaduluullmeleleshaprenodlash mamillion dollars" from the nations of the world to halt a nefarious destruction of the planet.

House Speaker John Boehner and his GOP brethren (like my congressman, Rep. Phil Roe) are whipping up a scarefest about the status of the national debt - while avoiding the very obvious solution right before them. "Cut 2 trillion dollars!" cries Boehner.

Cutting spending by trillions of dollars is possible, nearly 9 trillion came from Bush era policies which were never paid for and should be eliminated -- As Peter Orszag, director the Office of Management and Budget said quite plainly:

You mentioned that $9 trillion projected deficit over the next decade. That basically reflects three things.

The first is the failure to pay for two policies in particular, the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Those were deficit financed. Over the next decade they account for $5 trillion.

Second, the economic downturn, because it triggers the so-called automatic stabilizers, which raise unemployment benefits, they raise food stamps, they cause -- revenue tends to decline during an economic downturn, all of which is beneficial because it helps to mitigate that GDP deficit that I was talking about. But it also over the next decade adds $3.5 trillion to the deficit.

And then finally, the Recovery Act accounts for less than 10 percent of that total. So basically, the $9 trillion projected deficit can be entirely accounted for by the failure to pay for policies in the past, the economic downturn, and the steps we’ve had to take to combat that downturn, which is not to say action isn’t necessary, it absolutely is. But it’s also important to realize we didn’t get here by accident."

It's clear the House Republicans don't want to cut spending or reduce the debt - they want to scare voters today in hopes of winning elections tomorrow, no matter what the cost might be.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Words/Phrases of 2011

In no particular order, a short selection of words of phrases which became prominent this year and will likely become more commonly used in 2012.

biopiracy - I'm betting this word (along with bioprospecting) gets more widely used in coming years. It became prominent in news reports and press releases regarding a massive lawsuit brought against the agricultural mega-corporation Monsanto by the nation of India, which claims Monsanto is "stealing" plants indigenous to India and slightly modifying the plant genetics in hopes of getting a patent on them and then cornering the market on supply. More info here.

underdemolished - I encountered this one several times in 2011, used in reference to the existing buildings of say, a bankrupt restaurant chain, which continue to operate despite barely covering costs - it isn't that there is an over-supply of buildings, it's just that the ones that are in use are "underdemolished". Also used to describe the glut of over-valued homes no one wants to buy.

tebowing - From the world of football, this is a verb describing the act of dropping to one knee to pray in a public event or location. (See Tim Tebow for more info.)

smartphone - I'm pretty sure I never heard this word prior to 2011. It annoys me. And I hope it soon goes the way of the "velocipede".

web curation - Instead of telling someone I write a blog or maintain a web site or write for web sites, I now can claim to be a 'web curator', which sounds mighty fancy and pays just the same as I make now.

ambush marketing - While it seems a redundant phrase, it refers to the way a company can piggy-back their logo onto events and services they do not sponsor but can simply invade. It's being rather common in describing the advertising orgy surrounding the 2012 London Olympics.

planking - Probably the most fun word of the year, the most ironic fad and something anyone can do anywhere, also known as the "lying down game". You can even mix together planking with tebowing and get this:

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011: The Year Movies Died

It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future.

As 2011 is set to end and 2012 to begin, I'd like to take a moment here to mourn the passing and the imminent extinction of an art form and a technology which has been an enormous part of my life and most of yours. (If you are say, age 20 or younger, the following will be a senseless old person rambling.)

2011 truly marks the end of movies. The use of 35 millimeter film moving past a light at 24-frames-per-second and projected onto a screen is fading fast in favor of digital technology. Even if I claim that digital is better, it is impossible to know if the claim is correct since we are in the midst of it's use and ascendance.

The quote at the start of this post from writer William Gibson, who coined the term "cyberspace" for his novel "Neuromancer" in 1984, a term already dusty and quaint. He made his remark in this interview with the Paris Review this year, and he had more to say on the topic, comments which seem appropriate in this eulogy for movies, for film, for cinema:

"It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. … My great-grandfather was born into a world where there was no recorded music. It’s very, very difficult to conceive of a world in which there is no possibility of audio recording at all. 

"I can remember seeing the emergence of broadcast television, but I can’t tell what it did to us because I became that which watched broadcast television ... 

" ... we’re all constantly in a state of ongoing t­echnoshock, without really being aware of it—it’s just become where we live. The Victorians were the first people to experience that, and I think it made them crazy in new ways. We’re still riding that wave of craziness. We’ve gotten so used to emergent technologies that we get anxious if we haven’t had one in a while."

Thanks to the constant digitization of everything for storage and delivery via the internet, I do indeed have access to much more of the history of movies, as will all the world. But what goads me is the abandonment of the film projectors themselves, the end of film, the actual stuff you can hold in your hands composed of thousands and tens of thousands of frozen images, which can be made to race past a light and create the illusion of life, persistence of vision, a concept which has filled my life and my imagination and which I am still exploring, though now it will more as archeologist rather than anthropologist. I am now an antiquarian far removed from the cutting edge, a removal which took place pretty quickly.

What was once the product of gears, light bulbs and sprocket holes (ancient steampunk artifacts) is now the domain of the Digital Cinema Initiatives, pixels, gigabytes and hard drives.

There is no longer a need to change reels, mark the timing of that change with a "cigarette burn", or have stacks of film cans.

Is it a better image?

In this column, it is noted that:

"Vittorio Storaro has estimated that there are a minimum of 6000 x 3000 bits of information in one 35mm celluloid frame – in other words, eighteen million bits of pictorial information. In our HD transfer, there are roughly 2000 x 1000 bits of information per frame (or there would be, if we were working in Storaro’s ideal but theoretical 1X2 ratio) – i.e. about two million bits of information."

So that's where we are now, but that standard of image information is surely to change very quickly. Standards range from 24 FPS (frames per second) to 72 or more, and director Peter Jackson is using an army of more than 40 digital Red Epic cameras to film "The Hobbit" and is aiming for 48 FPS. I'm still yearning to own my own 35mm Arriflex camera. Some might say that's rather like asking for some papyrus and a few reeds to write some cuneiform.

Don't get me wrong - I don't want 8-track tapes or cassettes back, though I did like my old reel-to-reel sound system. I'm not wailing about the loss of hand-tooled buggy whips, or I hope I am not.

But if the only place you watch movies is on a screen you can hold in your hand, you are missing a major part how movies have served us best - they helped us form communities where we shared experiences all together, as one, at the same time, in vast darkened palatial rooms where overhead a beam of light raced above us and landed on a massive screen and life jumped out at us all.

But who knows what unimaginable discoveries and technologies might lie just ahead? That might be for those who dream more of the future, not the past.

Read more on the end of the 35mm movie world here from Roger Ebert or A.O. Scott.