Friday, February 26, 2010

Truth in Hollywood

As we approach Oscar time here in the States, there is a lot of buzz that is continuing to surround one of the frontrunning movies for Best Picture (and Best Director) which is the Iraq War drama, "The Hurt Locker". The film follows members of an Explosive Ordanance Disposal (EOD) group as the close out the final days of their current tour in Iraq. Without going into political discussions about whether the war was the right or wrong thing to do, the film chooses to focus on the lives of the three main characters as they try to survive one day to the next in the hope of returning home alive at the end of their tour. While the film has garnered a great deal of accolades from critics and award galas, the reviews from actual soldiers has been a bit mixed and some have accused the movie of distorting the truth. Big surprise there.

If there's one thing that I can say about Hollywood its that although it does successfully show the truth on occasion, most of what we see in films is not the truth. It is one person's vision of a story and that's what it should remain but many people don't look at it that way. I've written numerous times about how many turn to movies to learn about the world. It's not surprising, it's an easier and more entertaining way to learn about things we're interested in learning about and it doesn't require a lot of effort on our part. But if we were to believe everything we see in the movies I don't know if we'd have a more well-rounded personality or a dulled one. That's not to knock Hollywood, I think that on occasion, despite the recent penchant for remakes or "re-imagined" films and shows, we are still seeing the occasional film which depicts true events in a fairly accurate and honest light.

I think one of the inherent difficulties in film is to capture the truth in just two hours of time. If you're talking about a two hour event then perhaps you can show it but if you're talking about depicting the essence of a character or of their experiences over an extended period of time then it becomes a bit harder. Cinematic liberties will obviously have to be taken and some degree of dramatization will have to occur and that's when many people have a problem. It's particularly true in the case of films dealing with events in the recent past as opposed to a longer time ago. I remember when "Saving Private Ryan" came out there was a great deal of discussion over whether or not the depiction of the battle on the Omaha Beach was accurate or not. And while the ferocity of the battle was certainly on par with the recollection of many veterans of that battle, the timescale was shortened tremendously. After all, the search for Private Ryan in that film didn't take place on the beaches of Normandy but well after the depiction of D-Day. So then how could you show all of the important events that took place over the course of a day?

The simple answer is that you can't. A film depicting events in real-time or with exacting detail never do well. The Pearl Harbor film from the 1970's "Tora! Tora! Tora!" was chided for it's very dry depiction of the events leading up to the attack and the actual attack itself. Though many appreciated the efforts at portraying how events actually occured many critics and audience members felt the movie was too plodding for it's own good and was negative in the sense that it showed a darker chapter in our nation's history without an American victory. Contrast that with the Michael Bay version of "Pearl Harbor" which showed that had Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett been around at the time, they would have single-handedly won the war for the Allies. But many fans found the action entertaining and the story passable and it did decent business at the box office.

So where do we draw the line for Hollywood? Obviously the studios and producers would care more for what will sell tickets and help them to recoup their costs. If it comes down to a choice between the truth and dramatization, I know that dramatization would win out every time. With "The Hurt Locker" there's no doubt that some of what was shown in the film is meant to help move the story along and develop the characters. But then it's also wrong to assume that this is the complete and unvarnished truth of what life is like in Iraq for EOD technicians. But then that's what much of the audience will believe because we rarely know any better. Take the case of "Top Gun". That movie also had a heavy dose of fiction but the lifestyle and the action portrayed helped to increase enlistment in the Navy by nearly 500 percent. It may not have been the whole truth but it certainly helped the Department of Defense and the Navy meet enlistment numbers at that time.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Toyota Troubles

Besides the record-breaking snowfall that the Northeast suffered over the past few months the only other thing that seemed to consistently make the news were the recalls being led by Toyota. For those who have been living under a rock for the past few months, the problem is that numerous vehicles in Toyota's stable of automobiles have been suffering problems with their braking systems and their on-board computers which has led to unexpected acceleration or difficulties in braking. What started out as a limited number of recalls has slowly over time blossomed into something much more prevalant and far-reaching and now it's come to the point where Toyota President Akio Toyoda (grandson of the founder of Toyota) is coming to testify before Congress.

When I was studying for my MBA, we often used Toyota as an example of a company that was doing a good job in globalizing but also in improving relations between nations that they entered into partnerships with. For example, one of Toyota's business models is to reduce costs by moving manufacturing to plants in the country where the vehicles will eventually be sold. As a result, although Toyota is a Japanese company, there are many plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico that build the cars that are eventually sold here. Not only that, but the company contributes large quantities of money to local economies to help not only their workers but the communities in which they live as well. There was once a great deal of stigma associated with buying Japanese cars versus American but now, even Japanese cars can be considered American in many respects.

Be that as it may, Toyota has taken some efforts to try and halt the problems plaguing their line of vehicles and although the efforts are ongoing, they are still ot enough in the eyes of many lawmakers. Many in the US government feel that Toyota should be held accountable and to hear some of the leaders on the Hill speak gives the impression that they are looking to end Toyota's sales records in this country. Now perhaps it's a bit of cynicism and while I agree that Toyota needs to make changes to ensure that their products remain safe for a consumer group that obviously buys their vehicles in such large quantities, but isn't it a little hard not to think about the fact that the Federal Government now owns stakes in GM and Chrysler now?

Sure the lawmakers will want Toyota to suffer if it will mean more consumers will go to purchase cars by GM and Chrysler again. I think what they should remember though is that what drove many buyers to Japanese vehicles in the first place was the fact that not only were prices affordable for their vehicles but that they provided good value for the dollar. Sure the occasional GM truck from the last two decades will still be on the road going strong but I don't think those numbers can compare to the fact that nearly 80% of the Toyotas sold in the last 20 years are still on the road and going strong. That's a solid statistic in anyone's book. When you talk about returns on investment, I don't think you can get much better than that.

Toyota has been making efforts to show to the American government, public and the rest of the world for that matter that they are making efforts to improve the situation. Quality control seems to be a major problem and independent analysis of their product lines. In both cases there seems to be a lack of true objectivity and I believe that that has led to some of the problems. If Toyota makes sincere efforts to change these problems and the perceptions that people have of these issues, then I think they will see people returning to buy their products. Fast action and honest dialogue will go a long way, otherwise in an economy that is still reeling, consumer confidence will continue to go down and workers who build Toyotas in this country will also see yet another auto manufacturing company go by the wayside. I honestly don't think our economy can handle another big one like that.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Piece of Comic History

Just this past weekend, the rare and highly valuable "Action Comics" issue number 1 in which Superman made his debut was sold for $1 million. Now if that doesn't strike you as a stupendous achievement then I don't know what would. What's more astounding is that if you look back in 1938, it was sold for 10 cents. Now that's not to say that every single comic book is ever going to be worth so much or that any of them could be worth anything at all but still, the fact that a comic book of all things, could sell for so much is a testament to the fact that there are those out there who truly value the comic book as a form of art and in some sense, history as well.

I mean think about it. What is so special about this comic book that it is worth so much money? Well think about it. Up until that time, comics dealt with cartoons and never really delved into superhuman characters but for the first time, Superman presented a character who epitomized what has become the archetype of superheroes that you can truly say that his character paved the way for thousands of other characters that fill the pages of comic lore today. But so what? It still doesn't explain why someone (the buyer and seller of this recent copy of Action Comics no.1 refused to be publicly identified) would be willing to spend so much money on what literally cost a fraction of that so many years ago.

There have been numerous reprintings of the comic in question and you can probably go down to the store and pick up a reprint right at this very moment. It would have been infinitely more cheaper but I suppose it ties back into what I was writing about the proposed sale of Abbey Road Studios (which incidentally isn't going to happen). I suppose that some people have a desire to hold onto what can truly be called a piece of history. The way I look at it is that you can look at that piece of history with some degree of reverence but also curiousity. Look at it this way. We've all found a piece of change on the ground from time to time and many of us do take the trouble to pick it up. One thing that I often wonder when I see these pieces of change is what journey brought it to this point?

The older the coin the more my curiousity gets piqued. I once found a coin from the 1960's laying on the sidewalk. I'm sure it had been in circulation from that time and had probably changed as many hands as there are McDonalds in the world and yet it ended up with me at that point in time. Where would it have gone, who would have held it and how could it have affected someone's life? Perhaps this doesn't really have anything to do with the willingness to spend $1 million on a comic book but still, I feel that were it not for someone who wants to hold a piece of history from that time rather than a cheap copy, it's possible that pieces of this history would be lost. Certainly you can never compare a comic book to something like the Declaration of Independence yet I find both to be of importance in their own ways. No one can deny that comics have had impact on literature and art, I guess it's just some see it more clearly than others.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Is Iran Next?

Back in 2002, President Bush referred to Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the "Axis of Evil" harkening back to the Axis Powers of World War II. This was meant to rally support behind the belief that these three nations were openly supporting terrorism and working tirelessly to construct weapons of mass destruction. At the time, North Korea was really the only nation that was at the forefront of nuclear weapons. We know this because President Kim Jong-Il blatantly flaunted this technology to anyone who was willing to listen. However, there was a great deal of evidence being shown at the time that Iraq, who had suspected ties (at the time) to the attacks of 9/11, was developing a nuclear weapons program in secret that was meant to strike the United States.

This reasoning was enough to take the country to war against Iraq which had not really shown any outward signs of aggression towards the United States at that time. Be that as it may, eight years later, the fact remains that nuclear weapons were not found in the country and neither were ties to the attacks of 9/11. Still, some satisfaction can be taken from the fact that an evil regime was put down and attempts at establishing a democracy in that nation are proceeding albeit with baby steps. But now with efforts being undertaken by the Obama administration to affect the withdrawl of all US forces from Iraq, there are complaints by many of his opponents that he is showing weakness or deferrence to the 'enemy' by not taking stronger stances against other Middle East hot spots, namely Iran.

Opposition leaders, like television talking-head Sarah Palin, seek to offer advice to Obama by stating that if he were to "declare war" on Iran then perhaps those who don't support him would see that he is actually tougher on perceived enemies than his opponents think. Now taking advice from someone of Sarah Palin's standing can be a hit or miss thing and I would leave it up to the Obama administration to decide whether it is a logical decision or not but I would simply ask where we in the United States would choose to draw the line. Eight years and counting in Iraq have stretched US military forces thin and now the fact that efforts in Afghanistan (which were wrongly allowed to languish in favor of more support to Iraq) are picking up in intensity.

That being the case then should we really be focusing on Iran as our next target? Ask the average person, Palin included, and I'm sure they'd be hard pressed to locate Iran on a map let alone name the President of Iran. And even if they can, what's the point in attacking them? Sure they have spoken out in protest of the United States but then again so have many nations. France often thumbs its nose at us here in the US and it's a known fact that American tourists can often be insulted over there but I don't see any calls to invade France. And what about North Korea? They have clearly stated to anyone who will listen that they have nuclear weapons and have a willingness to use them. Why then are we ignoring that region in favor of looking at a nation that is full of more bluster at this point.

If the arguement is that it would be a pre-emptive strike meant to prove to the other Middle East nations that the US won't stand for nuclear weapons among any of the Muslim nations of the region then okay, but if it is supposed to be against nuclear weapons in general then why not plan to invade any nation with such weapons? For decades the US stood toe-to-toe against the Russians during the Cold War. At that time there was an enemy that we knew had nuclear weapons and a willingness to use them and we had the world's support if we had gone to war. But we didn't. Why? Because it wasn't the right thing to do. Before suggesting a course of action that will stretch our military even thinner and would reduce our standing among the other nations of the world even more, I think our leaders need to step back and re-evaluate what exactly they stand for; what do we have to gain; but most especially, what would we stand to lose?

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Preserving History

I read in the news this morning that there is a movement afoot to try and save Abbey Road Studios in North London from being torn down and rebuilt as high-priced housing. Apparently when word went out that EMI, who owns the studio now, was looking to sell off the property since they couldn't really afford to keep it any longer, concerned fans and luminaries such as Sir Paul McCartney called on the National Trust of England to step in and declare the site to be culturally and historically significant thus helping to preserve and maintain the site. Now in case you are wondering why this site is so significant it's because it was the studio in which the Beatles recorded many of their best hits. That being said, many feel that it is necessary to save the site since it is a part of history.

Times have changed since the Beatles first started recording in the studios at Abbey Road. These days technology has improved to the point that with a minimum of effort, artists can set up a rudimentary studio within their own homes and start recording music that they can mix on a home computer. So then why preserve this studio that is obviously going to soon be outdone by products that could be purchased on Amazon? Well simply because of the significance of what took place there. Now not everyone appreciates the music of the Beatles and though I have been a fan for a number of years, my appreciation of their music was renewed over the last year with the release of all of their albums in higher quality sound (not to mention the Rock Band game that highlights lots of their music).

But so what? The music continues on now in our homes and on our computers, so then why preserve the site where the music was recorded? I suppose it comes from the more sentimental parts of our psychology. There is some part of us that will always continue to harbour a place in our hearts due to the significance of the events that took place there. I guess it's something like how people want to see historical sites like Constitution Hall in Philadelphia or the White House in DC. Doing so seems to bring us that much closer to being a part of history or at least seeing for ourselves what it must have been like to have been there when history was being made.

The decision to save Abbey Road is a good one I suppose. The Beatles are a significant part of music history and though they aren't the only ones in a veritable pantheon of artists and groups that have changed the way music has developed, they definitely rank among the more influential of them. The National Trust of England has already preserved the boyhood homes of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney which is a good thing. We can look to these sites and see that they aren't really all that much different than the average person but that that one spark of inspiration is all that it takes to change the face of music or the course of music history.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Back to Work After the Freeze

A few weeks ago in his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to put aside the partisanship that has more or less divided the government for nearly a decade and strive to work together for the good of the nation, not themselves. For me it was the first time that I can recall a President has openly acknowledged that there is partisan politicking going on and that it is disrupting the efforts (by both parties) to affect any change in the current state of the country. It's a shame that the statement seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

While driving to the office this morning, I heard a reporter on the radio remark that although the federal government was back to work (on time) for the first time in a long time (well... at least since the last two snowstorms hit the city) the reporter wondered whether it would have made any difference had the government remained open and Congress had remained in session I agree that most of what is shown on television with regard to Congressional snippets in the news, it is basically paring down what is said to soundbites but even those soundbites can be telling if it essentially amounts to the fact that liberal congressman X is upset that conservative congressman Y (or vice versa) didn't agree to back a particular bill and how it has managed to screw things up for the country.

That's great but then rather than launching into what eventually regresses into a "they said we said" type of discussion why don't they work to come to a solution? Has the political spectrum shifted so drastically that it is impossible for congressional leaders to work together or even come to a compromise? The middle ground seems to have evaporated over the years and it seems that most congressional leaders take the George W. Bush approach that you're either with us or you're against us. While that's great for showing your loyalty to your particular party, that doesn't do anything for Joe the Plumber or anyone else for that matter.

I don't blame Joe the Plumber for being upset and feeling used because that's exactly what was done to him. He was used as a political pawn in the last Presidential election and once it was done then he was forgotten just like all the talk that was given about working with the President (whoever it is) to come to a solution to return our country to a path of success. While the words are great to hear and probably do well as soundbites, I'd like to see Congress take a little more action. The economy didn't tank at the tail end of Bush's second term; it was on the decline well before then so to say that this is a new problems is a fallacy. Now over a year into a new administration, with efforts underway to stabilize and jumpstart the economy, do we really need to regress to the political name-calling and posturing that got us into this position in the first place?

Both sides need to compromise and both sides need to work together to find a solution. I certainly hope that while our congressional leaders sat at home during the recent snowstorms they paused to look outside at the workers digging out their driveways. I doubt that there was a single Congressional leader who actually took shovel to hand for anything other than a photo opportunity. I hope that they did look out there to see the people who do the hard work and who are really strapped by the current state of the nation and I hope it inspires them to take a fresh look at how they can improve the situation. We need more action and less talk. With the amount of hot air most of our Congressional leaders tend to put out, I'm surprised it snowed as much as it did in Washington.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Celebrate the Games, Not Just the Names

I think it's safe to say that the Winter Olympics aren't generally being covered as well as the Summer Olympics from Beijing had been. There are many reasons for it I suppose. Perhaps since the United States isn't expected to dominate all of the sports or the fact that it has been a particularly harsh winter for most people so there's less enthusiasm for seeing more snow (even if it's on television) but still, I can't help but feel that these Olympians deserve just as much coverage and recognition. Unfortunately it doesn't seem like NBC and their affiliates are doing a heck of a lot to cover it properly.

One problem I've almost always had with the coverage of the Olympics is that there's generally more coverage of the big names (understandably) and very little of the lesser known sports or athelets competing in those particular sports. For example, while everyone was waiting with baited breath for Apolo Ohno's race last Friday (to see if he could tie Bonnie Blair's record 6 medals in an Olympic career) there was comparatively less coverage given to JR Celski who also had a good race that had him skate away with a bronze medal for the 1500-meter short track speedskating race. But why didn't we hear more about him before the fact? Why was he not shown until he won a medal? Is that the only benchmark to being famous?

I can't (and won't argue) with the notion that a medal-winning Olympian will always garner more attention than those who don't but the fact that an athlete is chosen to represent their country in a true test against the world's best is reason enough to cover them. Sure we'll see lots of coverage of Bode Miller (even though it took him until a night ago to win a medal) all over the coverage because he's a popular and talented skier but what about the others on his team. Maybe they didn't finish in the top ranks but at least they were there. That's more than can be said about the rest of us who would struggle to stand, let alone stumble down a hill at the speeds that they do.

And if there is to be coverage, it is for something that isn't as happy. Case in point is the coverage given to Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, who died tragically on the luge course last week before the games even began. Suddenly there was tremendous focus on the Republic of Georgia and how dangerous the luge is and how much the young man wanted to compete in the games. Shortly after the tragedy, NBC couldn't show enough of the accident and the aftermath it seemed and I think until there was tremendous backlash against the fact that while warning viewers that the footage was graphic in nature (and it was) they continued to show it almost adnauseum.

I can't help but wonder if there would have been any coverage whatsoever of Kumaritashvili had he not died. I doubt it. I say that because most events rarely have coverage of anyone outside of the top favorites. Again, I can understand it but I don't agree with it. To me the games should celebrate the talent and skill from all over the world. People made fun of the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in Calgary so many years ago but it was not just a novelty, it was a true testament to the desire to be a part of the games. So what if they didn't win, they made it to the top to compete with the rest of the world, that itself is an achievement. So I think we should start celebrating the games for the way in which it helps bring the world together rather than just the famous names and faces who sell magazines and cereal boxes.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Lending a Hand

Well the snow that had been predicted to arrive on Friday afternoon did come and it came in abundance. For about 24 hours the snow was falling and for a while it seemed like it wouldn't end. When it finally did, then the dig out began. But after the massive rush at the stores which had occurred on Thursday and Friday of last week I was a little doubtful that the spirit of assistance that usually comes out in such circumstances would appear or not. Now while I understand the panic that had some people worried that they would never see the sun again at the start of this storm, I was also surprised at how selfish some people seemed to become.

Seeing reports at stores and seeing how much food they had literally hoarded in anticipation of the storm left me to wonder what would happen if the worst did actually come to pass. I mean it's one thing to have milk and water enough to sustain you for a few days but some people appeared to be hoarding up in case they were stranded for a month. And again, if it was for a large family I could understand but when you're only talking about a couple in their own home then I wonder why they need 10 gallons of milk and five loaves of bread. It seemed that many were thinking of only themselves and not of any others at this time of potential crisis and that was sad to see.

But once the snow ended I saw that the spirit of helping isn't only limited to the Christmas season and is alive and well in many people and in many places. In digging my car out of the snow shell it was encased in I was happy to find my neighbors coming out to lend a hand. Together we not only dug out our own vehicles but those of our friends as well and within a short time we were able to get ourselves out on the road. Walking around the neighborhoods and such it was again heartening to see many people coming out to lend and hand to those who needed it and without expectation of reward. It was a sign that that spirit that comes out under difficult circumstances wasn't gone. Perhaps it had just been in hibernation.

I heard on the radio about how a group of seniors living in a seniors community in Virginia were stranded because a plow had not come through and no one could help them dig out so a group of police officers who were off duty got together and helped dig the seniors out. What is more amazing is that these officers drove from their homes in central Maryland to Northern Virginia to help them out after they heard the story on the news. And before you begin thinking that I should be doing rather than just saying about helping and taking help from others, I'm proud to say that I've helped my neighbors and complete strangers get out of sticky situations in the snow and ice and will continue to do so because when bad weather strikes, it's good to know that people are their for each other.


Friday, February 05, 2010

Snow is A-Comin'

So for the last few days they have been predicting that a major snowstorm shall be hitting the Washington Metro area and that it could potentially rival the 20+ inches of snow that hit our area in December 2009. Though it's still early, the weathermen seem to be quite confident that we are going to be whalloped and in an effort to be prepared, news agencies and government spokesmen have been asking residents to get ready for what could potentially be a very bad storm. Now anyone who has read my site before knows that I am a bit wary of weathermen and it's not because they are wrong or right, but because they choose to speak with so much confidence in their predictions but then don't apologize when their predictions are way off.

I remember a few years ago when our area was under similar warnings. For a week we had been warned that a storm was tracking through our area and would dump two feet (or more) of snow before the storm ended. It seemed possible and so everyone took the necessary precautions. Unfortunately (for the weathermen and residents farther north... as in New Jersey) the snow tracked beyond our area and we didn't have anything than broken clouds and sun. One pleasant side effect was that at least the grocery stores were relatively empty for the next few weeks because people had loaded up in anticipation of that storm. Then a week or two later the ramp up for fear of another storm began again and once again people braced and as luck would have it, nothing happened. It was a good thing of course for us but rather than admitting that they didn't know what the storm would do they explained it away by stating that it was simply blown farther north by tradewinds or some other such technical jargon.

Now I'm not arguing that it's a good or bad thing that these predictions are so hit or miss; I'll be the first to admit that it's a difficult thing to predict storms of this sort but a side effect of this effort to get people aware and then have nothing happen is like the boy who cried wolf. After a while people tend to become very jaded and just assume that the next time a major storm is predicted it probably won't hit again. Sure that may happen for the majority of cases but there are often those that defy the outliers. In this case I'm assuming that we'll get some snow in a few hours and that it may be significant as they've predicted and then I wonder whether I've made enough preparations. I'm not one to go and hoard bags and bags of toilet paper or water and milk. We live in an urban society; even if the power goes out we aren't going to suddenly revert to the stone age where fire was an essential component to life.

Sure there can be inconveniences but there's something called 'roughing it' which can make for a good experience. So for a few days you may not have access to the internet or to television. What difference does it make? As long as you can get to food and water you should be fine. I mean after all, no matter how bad things get, it' isn't like it's completely impossible to get the necessities a little farther away from where you live and work. All week people in the office have been speaking with baited breath waiting for Friday to see if the snow will actually arrive. the last few times they have predicted dustings we've ended up with more; perhaps that could be the case this time as well. Time will tell.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Pandering to the Masses

Oscar nominations were announced yesterday morning and there were quite a few expected nominations and a few surprises for first time nominees as well. This year marks the first time that ten films will be nominated for Best Picture and while I understand a part of the logic behind it, I still don't get why it's being done. Be that as it may, I'm curious to see whether or not it really will make any difference to the number of people watching the Oscars in the first place. It may show as such simply because a little movie by the name of "Avatar" is in the running for Best Picture (among many other nominations) but I'm curious that in the years to come whether doubling the number of Best Picture nominees will really make the show better or worse.

The original idea behind the decision was due to the fact that a few years ago there were movies being nominated that no one had really seen (until after the Oscars) and so people were tuning out simply because they didn't care who won. There were discussions held as late as last year over whether it made sense to include a film like what a travesty it was that a film like "The Dark Knight" (which was both a critical and box-office hit) was not even nominated for Best Picture. Many felt that had it been nominated, many more people would have tuned in to watch. Critics argued that the inclusion of films that were not only critical successes but also box-office successes would lead to greater viewership. And while I understand that (to some extent) I feel it does nothing but prolong the ceremony and truly make the competition an exercise in subjectivity.

There is no doubting that films like "The Dark Knight" have mass appeal just as a film like "Avatar" has mass appeal as well. But in looking at the story of "Avatar" I'm not wholly convinced that it is worthy of a Best Picture nomination. Certainly it has altered the way in which we all see movies (literally) but I don't think it did anything different in terms of the story. It was territory that had been explored in some way before so then was it truly worthier than some other films that could have been on the ballot? Don't get me wrong; "Avatar" is a great film and I think it has a decent story to tell, I wonder whether it would win for that fact or because it was a box-office smash.

Speaking for myself, I have seen only four of the ten nominated Best Picture films for this year's ceremony and while I know I may be in the minority, I have a feeling that the movie that ultimately wins the prize still won't have been one of the ones I saw. So then my question is that if the hope for having this expanded field of nominees was meant to garner interest in watching the awards show then it may work but I thought that the purpose was also to raise awareness of the films that have been ranked as a top film among so many others. I don't know if it will continue to accomplish that goal or not. Of course I'll still watch and I'll still be curious to see the films that are nominated (and that ultimately win) but it just seems like this decision to expand the field is being driven more by corporate thinking heads that want to be able to get larger viewership numbers so that they can make ad time that much more expensive for companies.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Bumps in the Road Back to the Moon

With announcement by the Obama administration that Federal spending (save for security-related expenditures) would be frozen came confirmation that what many ardent supporters of the space program had long feared and that was that the plans to return to the moon by 2020 would be cancelled. Now most people that know me know that I'm a big supporter of the space program. I think the continued exploration of space and the worlds beyond our own are important in understanding more about the universe and in some small way, about ourselves as well. Returning to the moon was to be the first step in our nation's eventual goal of landing on Mars and beginning a colony there. Since 1972, there hasn't been a single manned exploration of our planet's nearest neighbor let alone to planets farther out and over time, interest has waxed and waned almost like the phases of the moon (pun intended).

Now as an economist I do understand the rationale behind the decision to freeze the budgets of numerous agencies. Given that many private companies are being forced to rollback the amount of work they are doing or are curbing costs for the near term should logically also take place in the government as well. Maybe not everyone agrees with that but that's what I feel is leading by example. But one of the unintended casualties that I have mixed feelings about is the space program and the ulitmate consequence that the budget freeze/cuts means to the planned Constellation program intended to return US astronauts to the moon. Now some have made the argument that returning to the moon will have little value to those of us on Earth since there is no real immediate benefit to doing so. Don't believe me? What if scientists proved that there were oil deposits all over the entire moon; how fast do you think we'd be returning there?

In this case that's probably a case of wishful thinking (especially for those of us who want to see us return to space exploration) but I think one of side consequences of the decision to reduce NASA (and hence the government's) direct participation in the space program is to help private industry companies get in on the race back into space and hopefully turn out technology at a much faster clip. Already we have seen evidence of how quickly private industry can move when it has a good motivator. The Ansari Space-X price from a few years ago which helped pave the way for Scaled Composites to develop and fly their SpaceShip One and SpaceShip Two spacecraft was driven to success in the hope of not only winning the prize but in proving private companies could do just as much as government agencies like NASA but for far less.

Already industrialist have started developement on spacecraft that will carry passengers into the outer reaches of the atmosphere for short duration space voyages. I don't think it will be long before it's popularized. Think back to when LCD and plasma TV's first came out. When they were first released the cost was prohibitively expensive. Now it's more affordable than ever to get a decent HDTV. Similarly I think after a few years, seats on flights to the outer atmosphere will become vastly encheapened and we'll see it becoming more mainstream. Perhaps it will take longer than if it were on a larger or grander scale (like with NASA backing) but it doesnt' mean it can't happen.

When the Wright Brothers first flew they didn't do it through government funding; they did it on their own dime and then innovators followed their example to help expand the aviation industry in our country and around the world. I think a similar sort of genesis could occur this time around if the industry remembers two things. They should definitely keep the consumer in mind since the consumer is who will help spur any industry. If flights around the world at the edge of space are made affordable, people will come. The other is that jobs in this industry should be kept here as far as budgets allow. Sure it's cheaper to outsource work but then we're sending the brain trust, the people who were instrumental in landing man on the moon in 1969 (over 40 years ago!), to other countries. That would be worse than the financial recession we're already going through.

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