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by Alan Ranta

29 May 2009

If you have ever taken the time to look in a mirror on acid or shrooms, you may be able to relate to this Tosca video of a selection from 2009’s No Hassle.

by Nick Dinicola

29 May 2009

The Call of Duty series has never been known for subtlety or for story but more for its large scale battles and action sequences. The 4th entry stays true this formula but also uses the modern setting to set a pace that builds up our perception of the game as a “power fantasy” until that fantasy is violently undermined.

The basic flow of combat in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is meant to make us feel powerful. We rush into the fight surrounded by allies, and the respawning enemies ensure we always have someone to shoot or that’s shooting at us. We’re always in danger and it’s always exciting. In order to stop the flood of terrorists, the player must charge ahead past an invisible line that shuts off the respawning enemies. By forcing us to advance farther ahead than the other soldiers, it feels as if we’re clearing a path for them. Even though we’re in the middle of a crowded battlefield, we’re encouraged to act like the lone, bold hero of a typical action movie. We are clearly the hero here regardless of however many allies are with us.

by Bill Gibron

29 May 2009

Perhaps it’s time to stop wondering and simply believe. Every year, like cinematic clockwork, we critics hear about the latest release pending from Pixar and our thoughts notoriously turn to the big question - will this be the one? Will this be the computer-generated title from the company that literally invented the genre type to fail to live up to audience expectations? Nay, could it be the well-meaning movie from Lassiter and crew that actually fails? Well, those looking for the bullseye on the back of these geniuses can definitely rest easy. Up is not the target for an elongated discussion on the company’s first failure. Instead, it’s yet another trophy in a digital display case loaded with such accolades. It’s as serious as Wall-E, as action packed as The Incredibles, and hides a mysterious core of sadness which the company has never really explored - until now. 

For Carl Fredrickson, old age has its trials. He’s recently lost his wife, and with that, the will to live, and a construction concern is trying to kick him out of his house. A momentary act of self-defense has the court interceding, and it looks like he will have to move after all these years. But Carl remembers a promise he made to his dear departed Ellie at the start of their life together, and he’s determined to make it happen. Tying balloons to his house, he lifts the building from its foundation and plots a course for South America. Unfortunately, earnest Wilderness Scout Russell “accidentally” tags along for the ride. Upon arrival, Carl has one goal - to get the house to the top of a gorgeous waterfall his late spouse idolized. But when a huge bird stumbles into their path, and with it an aging adventurer and his pack of trained dogs, our elderly hero and his under-aged sidekick must save the creature…and the day.

by Rob Horning

29 May 2009

I just crashed through two weeks of blog posts on my RSS reader and my brain has become a bit scrambled. I feel I must now blog about just about everything in the world in one comprehensive post and find some way to tie the 30 or 40 posts I starred together into one master narrative, one grand theory of everything (and that’s not even considering all the HRO Exegesis posts I need to write). Maybe I should put another pot of coffee on.

One thing I discovered was that Richard Florida’s newish blog at the Atlantic has been consistently compelling over the past few weeks. He has had a series of posts about evolution in the music industry, positing the theory that the music business is a media-industry canary in the post-internet coalmine. In this post, he notes that in some ways the industry is retreating from forms that had become technologically necessary—the album, thanks to vinyl, the 74 minute CD, etc.—to the forms that may arguably be more “natural” to pop music:

But the enormity of the creative destruction sweeping the industry goes far beyond the iPod killing off the CD. The Gang of Four’s Dave Allen argues that we are seeing the “end of the album” - a construct initially created by the limitation of vinyl technology in 1930 - as the organizing principle of musical production. He sees this as potentially liberating for musicians - or those musicians that can adapt. Industry veteran Bob Lefsetz predicts a return to the pre-LP era, when artists constantly pumped out singles and toured. He even draws a comparison to the way that Toyota has succeeded by building a reputation for reliability gradually through word of mouth.

by Chris Barsanti

29 May 2009

There’s always another sucker. It’s a truth that was just as real back in the Great Depression as it is today in the post-Bernie Madoff present. Frank Partnoy’s The Match King—which should be required reading for every financial whiz or businessman who claims to be performing due diligence on a too-good-to-be-true investment opportunity—is not just a proof of that truism but a painfully captivating account of just how easily those suckers are found and fleeced by the Madoffs of the world.

The Roaring Twenties Madoff whom Partnoy profiles here is Ivar Kreuger. Although his contemporary scammer, Charles Ponzi, would lend his name to history, the comparatively forgotten Kreuger had an audacity and vulpine cunning that made Ponzi look like a piker. The so-called “Match King” was a charming and erudite Swede who had parlayed his father’s small match factory into a formidable international presence (by 1929 his factories made two-thirds of the world’s matches). Before the Great Crash, Kreuger had made himself into a kind of Wall Street Renaissance man, dazzling the society pages and investors with his wit and acumen. That his success in the markets was based on a tissue-thin skein of dodges, bogus reporting, and shell companies, would all come out later, after the crash.

Kreuger paid the kind of high and steady dividends (25 percent, regular as clockwork) that made investors salivate, as did his rapier smarts and Byzantine investment schemes. Much like those who clamored for entry into Madoff’s magical mystery funds, or threw their pension dollars at baffling derivative instruments hawked by too-big-to-fail banks (some of which have now, of course, failed), Kreuger’s suckers seemed actually reassured by how little they understood of what their fairy financier was doing.

Partnoy, a wise student of human weakness, writes about the reactions to one of Kreuger’s more inscrutable fiscal concoctions:

The convertible debenture derivative looked too good to be true, and that was exactly what investors wanted…. Americans gobbled up these new instruments, whether they understood the details or not.”

Eventually, Kreuger would fall, as they all do. Unlike Madoff, whose legacy will be counted mostly in countless (and frequently nameless) ruined lives, Kreuger would put his own stamp on history, even if his name didn’t quite survive. According to Partnoy, the securities regulations put into action by a chastened government during the 1930s were created almost entirely as a result of the Match King’s sleight-of-hand. “Simply put, without Ivar Kreuger, modern securities regulation and litigation would not exist.”

Of course, those regulations couldn’t stop the current crisis. Nothing apparently can stand between a sucker and a guy offering them easy money whose only condition is not asking any questions.

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