Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sherlock Season 2 Finale & Anticipation of Season 3

Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) and Andrew Scott (Jim Moriarty) in the Sherlock Season  2 Finale.
Image credit: Angst Report
Part of the joy of watching TV on DVD is that when the season finale cliff hanger is over, there's a good chance you can watch the next season's premier without having to wait all summer long.

And with very short seasons (3 episodes each), it might drive me crazy to have to wait for Sherlock Season 3 under normal circumstances. But this BBC series is not "normal circumstances."

It sounds like there's a plan in place for the season 3 episodes (and their source material), but recent news from Entertainment Weekly present a disappointing picture. It sounds like at the earliest Sherlock Season 3 will be on the BBC in Fall 2013, which means PBS won't pick it up until 2014.

That said...if you need some fun winter TV viewing, can I recommend the two fantastic series of Sherlock. 3 Episodes each season, 90 minutes each episode...so nine hours of entertaining and stimulating joy.

If you haven't watched it, buy Season 1 and Season 2 (or give it as a gift). Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are waiting for you. And then they will make you wait until 2014 with me for Season 3.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Moral Injury, Moral Hazard & Margin Call

Stanley Tucci in Margin Call
Phrases I've been thinking about off and on over the past year are the phrases Moral Injury and Moral Hazard.

The concepts here (as currently used) are different, and typically appear in different contexts.

Moral Injury seems to be discussed a lot recently as a side-effect of military involvement. Mutually exclusive from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), moral injury is viewed as a psychological wound often associated with seeing something or doing something against someone's morals.

Moral Hazard on the other hand, seems to be used more in talking about major corporations or governments who make calculated choices (and risks) knowing that harm done will not impact the party taking the risk. This term seems to be used negatively to describe financial, banking, energy, and insurance industries.

In addition to the difference of sectors which these words get used (military and big business) it strikes me that these words aren't discussed hand in hand more.

An example of how I think these terms inter connect is portrayed really well in the film Margin Call (for which J.C. Chandler's screenplay received an Academy Award nomination last year).

Margin Call focusing on a firm in 2008 who starts the domino fall on the economy in it's quick sell off of mortgage back securities, presents a typical (but very powerful and multi-level view) of the corporate decision making process that might lead to risk being taken in away that exemplifies Moral Hazard. In fact, it's a text book presentation.

But what I think captured me was the way in which three of the central characters Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), and Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) wrestle with the decisions that are being made. In each of these three cases, these men realize at the time the risk being made and are not happy about the decisions being made. The same statement could apply for many other characters in the film, but these three's struggle is portrayed most clearly.

And since this is fiction (based on similar real events) presented in a short amount of time (approximately 32 hours), we don't get to see how these characters are impacted long term by the decisions made. Sure, we see some of the common culprits of this Moral Hazard example in terms of the golden parachutes and bonuses that allow some to prosper from devastation caused to others, but we don't see past that.

And in that short-term presentation, the concept of Moral Injury isn't explored in the film to the same depth as the Moral Hazard.

I think the development of these terms are still in their infancy, and we will see them used more and more in years to come, but I think that wherever there is Moral Injury we should ask if there is Moral Hazard, and where we discuss Moral Hazard we should look for Moral Injury.

In this, I mean, if we are talking about soldiers coming back from war with Moral Injury, we might ask if the government, or people in authority are placing soldiers in positions (right or wrong) where they are exposed to things causing this type of harm. And if this is the case, if this a cost of war, or is there ways (other than post-event counseling) that can help avoid this type of harm?

Similarly, in the realm of companies where Moral Hazard is at play, should such discussions not just talk about the "big bad corporation" but also delve into the stories of individuals who might be trapped in a place where they feel they have no choice but to commit such destructive acts (because standing up to the corporation, or even their next level of management, or the media) will result in termination or significant individual hardship. Thus, there actions to avoid such hardships put them in a place where they to experience Moral Injury knowing that their actions are outside the scope of their defined morally acceptable behavior.

I think these are important concepts for us to talk about as a society, both in the board room and around the dinner table. And I can appreciate a film like Margin Call for presenting a meaningful portrayal of these ideas,  with trying to be an overly politicized message film, but presenting the complex world as it is...complex.

Shere Khan, Richard Parker & Tigger on a Boat

Shere Khan, Richard Parker & Tigger on a Boat
Who would you rather be stuck on a boat with Shere Khan (Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book), Richard Parker (Yann Martel's Life of Pi), or Tigger (A.A. Miline's Winner the Pooh)?

Richard Parker might end up the highest grossing tiger of all time when his run is done.

...BUT...I can't imagine Richard Parker's marketing potential will rival Tigger's,
...AND...I can't imagine the re-release possibilities we see with Jungle Book and Shere Kahn's role.

If forced to bet, in a all out combat situation...my money's on Khan.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Top 10 Favorite Pies

No one's asked me, but it seems to me that pie's are an underrated treat of the 21st century.

Sure, I too might choose another treat over pie (read: Cake), but still, somehow it seems like "pie" is reserved for certain regions of the world, and otherwise it's kicked to Thanksgiving along with cranberry sauce and stuffing as festive food.

So...in reflection, here is my top 10 favorite pies. I reserve the right to change my mind based on the day of the week, and the baker.

I am defining Pie as something sweet, made in a pie pan with a crust, and isn't a cheesecake (because cheesecake made it's decision when it chose not to be called Cheesepie...although I think there is such a thing as Cheese Pie).

10. French Silk Pie
9. Chocolate Pecan Pie
8. Buttermilk Pie
7. Cherry Pie
6. Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
5. Coconut Cream Pie
4. Blueberry Pie (Lattice work top crust only)
3. Apple Pie
2. Pumpkin Pie
1. Key Lime Pie

Feel free to complain about any notable omission or create support in the comments for any excluded or under-ranked pie.

Monday, November 19, 2012

So Thankful, Let's Go Shopping

I'm going to sit around the table on Thursday eating too much film and reflecting on all the things I'm thankful for.

And it's not quite thanksgiving and I'm already starting to obsess about "the gifts." Not the gifts that I'm going to get -- honestly, it's not something I'm thinking about.

Instead, I'm thinking about the gifts for those on our shopping list this years.

Just how I'm thankful for our provisions and wants being met in abundance, so our are our friends and family who we will be shopping for.

At the same time, we want to show love for these people with our gifts, and even more our thoughtfulness in finding the perfect gift.

Some years, we have an incredible batting average it seems, while others years it's a strike out...with all the best intentions.

I'm excited about the gifts I have in mind already for certain people. And I'm stressed about the gifts for those on my list that have blank spaces and question marks next to there names.

And in the midst of the deals, Black Friday advertisements, and eagerness for the Christmas season, I look forward to the pause of Thanksgiving to be thankful together and remember (despite the emphasis on gifts we will soon experience in full force) that we shouldn't loose sight of our blessings, and when possible look for ways to bless others this holiday season.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Post Election Indigestion

Two of these won't do the trick.
Don't call me in the morning.
I am not a hyper political person.

I am not strongly aligned with one party over another. Generally I find myself voting for a particular political party, but often with a degree of reluctance. My political ideologies are such a potpourri of stances that no political party, let alone a candidate ever seems to truly satisfy me.

In my state, like many, there were nearly a dozen people on the ballot. I sincerely would have been open to voting for a third party candidate if one had echoed my beliefs. But no such viable candidate exist.

And so, almost two weeks after the election I find myself feeling compelled to right about the election in retrospect. Sure, it would have been more timely to do so immediately following, but at that point, I was still digesting and it seems that on many occasions the elections are still being regularly discussed, and I find it still relevant to discuss it in this space.

I think in many ways the 2012 elections will be a defining political election - one for the history books for sure. And for those of us who experienced them, I have a feeling that in most cases they will leave a tinge of bitter taste in our mouths for years to come. Even if you were a passionate Obama supporter, and your local candidates won, and you were excited about the issue-based legislation that passed at local levels, I still believe people find themselves in this place.

The rhetoric is so strong -- from both sides. And for those who lived in swing states, they saw some nasty games played out in the TV commercials and news media, and even in the debates. And the irony is, that despite the differences in these candidates, they also share a remarkable amount of similarities (as I think most would have particularly observed in the third debate over foreign policy). And yet, the fighting in this sphere lead us to believe otherwise.

But more so even than the advertisements (which most people cite) I think where rhetoric was the worst and most unfortunate was in social media. People in defense of their cause(s) found it appropriate to tweet and write things that I find simply shameful and unproductive. There was radical rumors on both sides of the fence and pure illogical and unproductive division played out in real time.

And after all that talk, banter, and certainly money, we find ourselves in the same place. And here is where some of the bitterness lies (again both parties) is the felling that asks "was really all that worth it?"

Sure some of the "was really all that worth it?" questions directed to the Republican National Convention who's gobs of money did not impact the elections in way that should have been expected (i.e. the hot topic for the election was the economy, which was Mitt Romney's strong suit in which he polled better than Obama and still did not win, the Republican's were largely expected early on to win back the Senate which they did not, etc.). And the result of the "was it worth it" talk largely focuses on a little bit of identify-crisis (or potential identity crisis) in the Republican Party. That's a topic for another time, and while a valuable topic, I think the "was it worth it?" discussion extends beyond that one topic.

It seems clear to me that the United States is divided and I don't know where that rhetoric goes. I certainly don't expect to see succession of certain states or regions but I do expect that in those states and regions people where exercise their first amendment right to bare arms in record numbers. I find this somewhat disturbing (not a gun man, myself), but certainly don't think based on our laws that these people are doing anything wrong, although I'm saddened that certain regions of the country have this type of prolonged anxiety.

And on the other hand, in certain parts of the country or households the progressiveness of our country at this time is viewed as a "finally we're moving in the right direction" and they view those who hold any other belief as backwards, racist, prejudice, and uneducated. This mindset is not productive.

Regardless of the party lines, regardless of your political persuasion most people know where to find news and media you agree with from the most radical perspectives on either side. These news outlets (blogs, cable shows, radio shows, magazines) speak so directly to one audience that absorbed in these outlets, the failure of other people to share your ideas makes them seem like ignoramuses -- and we talk about people from the context of this mindset.

I don't know about you, but I feel the division of the United States. It makes me shutter. I don't lose sleep over it, but I watch it around me. Where I avoid political discourse in most situations, I see others embrace it.

And for me, the most scary thing is that in reality there was nothing remarkable about this past election. The candidates, the messages, or the proposals. It makes me fearful for the future, because if this is the division we see over the reelection of our current president, what will the election four years from now have for America, but more fear, uncertainty and division.

I would expect that things get worse. I'd expect the political parties to become increasingly polarized in this climate. I'd expect that the continuation of current election practices, namely the use of the electoral colleges, creates such a high degree of strategy behind the campaigns that efforts are not built on winning hearts & minds of America, but hearts and minds of key American counties (in Ohio and Florida primarily).

And so, I sit back as an American, with this post election indigestion, feeling helpless, and in a place of disconnection with my fellow Americans, not because my beliefs are so radical or diametrically opposed to others, but rather because there seems to be little common ground and safe space for political discourse. There is no common goal. Even shared goals like "creating more jobs" can become loaded topics that lead to dissension on tax policy, environmental policy, and energy policy.

This disagreement is not always bad, but it is most useful when it is productive, and yet I struggle to see any productivity in any conversation whether on the floor of the senate or at the water cooler.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Reel People: Helen Mirren is Alma Reville

Helen Mirren & Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock
The film is Hitchcock. Hitchcock is directed by Sacha Gervasi. The screenplay is written by John J. McLauglin based on the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello.

Alma Reville

Alma Lucy Reville was born in Nottingham, England on August 14, 1899 (one day after the birth of her future husband Alfred Hitchcock . Alma's father Matthew Reville worked at a lace firm, but later got a job at Twickerham Film Studios. She would visit her father there, an would get a job as a tea girl.

From tea girl, she found herself getting the chance to be a cutter, assisting in editing. She also helped with scripts and assisted in directing.

In 1919, Twickerham closed, but Alma was able to secure a job with the American film studio Famous Players-Lasky. It was at this studio that she would work alongside Alfred Hitchcock who was hired as a graphic designer. They did not date or even talk at this time, but both were working there way up in the company at the same time. In 1923, Reville lost her job, but was brought back onto the studio when Hitchcock requested her as an editor to his film Woman to Woman.

Hitchock and Reville would work together on a number of films in the following years. In 1924 Hitchcock proposed to Reville, and they married one another on December 2, 1926. This was the same year that the two had great success working together on their film The Lodger.

Alfred and Alma would have their first and only child, July 7, 1928. Patricia Hitchcock was born in Kennsington, London.

The Hitchock's moved to Hollywood in 1939.

Alma Reville and Hitchcock would work alongside one another in many films over the next sixty years, often with a film credit, but certainly not always, although largely credited fro her eye for detail. Her eye for detail was especially valuable in reviewing shots and plot for accuracy and consistency.

Alfred Hitchcock died in 1980, and Alma would die just a little over two years later on July 6, 1982 of natural causes.

Hitchcock

The film Hitchcock focuses on the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville during the making of Psycho.

Alongside Helen Mirren as Alma Reville, Anthony Hopkins stars in the role of Alfred Hitchcock.

The film Psycho stared Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, and Vera Miles. Their roles are performed by Scarlett Johansson (as Janet Leigh as Marion Crane), James D'Arcy (as Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates), and Jessica Biel (as Vera Miles Lila Crane).

Michael Stuhlberg plays Lew Wasserman (talent agent), and Ralph Macchio plays Joseph Stefano (Psycho screenwriter). Danny Huston and Toni Collette also have roles in the film.

"Helen Mirren, again!"some may say. Mirren has won one Oscar, and been nominated for four, and Hollywood will surely be watching her portrayl of this behind the scenes lady. Will she receive her fifth Oscar nominee, and potential her second win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Game: The College Football Champions & The Electoral College

In college football there's much debate and opinion over the current system for determining the college football champion. The entire bowl system, including the BCS (Bowl Championship Series), automatic qualifying conferences, the polls, and rankings, create what is a game within a game. You hear this time of year (especially with multiple undefeated and one-loss teams) discussions such as "style points" and "strength of schedule."

It's all a game. And generally, I'm in the camp that says "I love the game, it's part of what makes college football fun." I don't want a long drawn out single-elimination tournament with brackets, and so forth. The game creates history, stories, and intrigue.

In a similar way (to me at least) the Electoral College system has become a similar type of game. There's no doubt that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are not chasing the popular vote, but the electoral college win. There travel schedule and ad spending demonstrate this. If you live in Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Florida you know this already.

I've enjoyed keeping an eye on what Professor Sam Wang at Princeton has been tracking at his blog at http://election.princeton.edu/. You definitely sense the bitterness that in his home state of New Jersey the candidates are not working hard for his vote.

In college football, a win is not always just a win, it depends on who you're playing, your conference, and other factors. Similarly in America, a vote is not just a vote.

Where I greatly enjoy the game that we see in college football in this regard, I find it increasingly distasteful as part of the American political system.

There were times in American history where the electoral college probably had value in times were candidates could not always travel the country freely and there messages and plans could not easily travel to potential voters. That time has passed.

Sometimes, I hear people talk about the U.S. Electoral College with giddy excitement and pleasure, simply because they love the game. Where I can appreciate the game, history, and competing storylines in college football, my appreciation is absent when it comes to American politics. 

It's time for this to change. A vote in Florida should equal a vote in Pennsylvania should equal a vote in Montana. 

Now as for whether the SEC is really that tougher than Big 10, Big 12, or ACC...let's talk. That's a conversation I'll enjoy.
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