Friday, December 21, 2012

Will We End Up Like the Mayans?

Today, December 21, 2012, I bought a Moleskin daily pocket planner. I was feeling optimistic about the rest of the day and tomorrow even knowing we were at the end of the 13th Baktun, the last inscription in the Mayan calendar.

But I am not so sure our civilization will endure. Why? Because we are incapable of being in awe of anything, even our own existence on this planet.

Mayan temple at Tikal, Guatemala

For example in 2009, NASA scientists bombed the moon so they could find water or so they said. They could have destabilized this perfect sphere, failing to note that even a fraction of disturbance in the moon's trajectory would have wiped humanity off the planet.

The moon is our only close companion in our solar system. We are chemically connected to its gravitational pull. Our ancestors, including the Mayans, worshiped the moon.  Alchemists named the moon Luna after a goddess, and Monday is named in honor of the Moon. 

So to bomb our moon was a desecration of sorts. 

Just six years earlier, on Sept. 27, 2003 the asteroid designated SQ222 passed within 54,700 miles of earth. The asteroid was not even detected until after it hurtled by earth. Only then was it discovered that it was the closest known fly by of an asteroid -- ever.  

Some astronomers believe the moon’s gravitational pull may have deflected SQ222, thus saving the earth from a life-ending collision. Just as the moon has deflected countless other asteroids for millions of years. 

5,000 years of records ends 12- 21-2012

If we cannot be in awe of our existence, our planet and moon, how can we expect to endure as a civilization?

Here is my answer to the above question: 

Caught between trines & transits
I felt a planetary pull like
a pin ball bouncing between
karma and gravity.
I learned that life-ending debris
had sped by earth and we never saw
it coming – like a splitter cut fastball
thrown by Rivera to close out
the inning.
No wiser from our brush with
fate we continue on, gone badly wrong.
Our bakers don’t stay for long
after they visit the cookie dough
they left behind.
Why don’t they
take us back with them to the factory to
modify the recipe?
We’ve been trying to leave
this planet ever since we
could stand, and now we act
like we belonged here.
But this planet will survive us puny
interlopers, even when it becomes
barren rock, albeit less pristine 
than when we found it.
We failed as the planet’s steward
because we grew tired of it.
Such is the life of  organic
 space garbage.
Our prison is this planet if not
our skin. Inmates all of us
who suffer themselves then recycle
into compost, just so
much clay trying to trying to differentiate
ourselves other corrosive bits of cosmic
sludge. We only
fuck, eat or kill.
And like the Mayans,
who never came back from lunch break,
all we will leave behind
is a calendar.

Friday, December 7, 2012

How Not To Speed Date A Literary Agent

By chance I found myself sitting in front of a top literary agent ready to pitch a half-bake idea.

I was sleepy, under-prepared and had no idea what I was going to say after hello. 

It was the longest five minutes I've ever spent.

 Read here : Speed-dating a literary agent.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

From the same volcano as Hunter Thompson

The Present Is Well Out of Hand - by artist Ralph Steadman

What's missing today is Hunter Thompson's voice. His searing wit and cutting edge writing was always a calming influence that told me there was an adult in the room. Without his countenance, we are in over our heads.

Below is a slightly revised piece I wrote following his death:

On February 20, 2005 (has it been that long already?) journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson, who unleashed the concept of "gonzo journalism" in books like "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," is alleged to have fatally shot himself in the head at his Woody Creek home near Aspen, Colorado.

I’m still thinking Hunter would have wanted a better exit. Despite the problems he was having with his health, he was still a dramatist who would have wanted a better ending. 

Most scribes have penned their versions of HST’s demise.  I did not know him. I moved in a different circle in Aspen, a town of 3,500 during the summer and 35,000 during the winter. He was the almost-Sheriff of Pitkin County. I was a newly hired journalist out of the University of Colorado in Boulder hired by the city council, more or less. The conservative citizens funded Aspen Today, a weekly to go up against Thompson's backers, who ran The Aspen Times

In 1970, I was a callow, timid newspaperman. My first job was to sell advertising. My second job was to write articles  and take photos to counter Hunter Thompson’s influence after his well-publicized run for Sheriff of Pitkin County earlier that summer. 

I also delivered the newspaper, and did what was necessary to project Aspen as tourist Mecca with a heart of gold.

I knew Aspen because our family vacationed each summer at nearby Glenwood Springs Resort, on the shore of the Roaring Fork and also the final resting place of Doc Holiday. 

Aspen in those pre-Hunter Thompson, days, was a sleepy modest town where if you were the father of a teen-aged girl you wouldn’t worry that she would come back from vacation with anything worse than a sunburn. The folk hero of the day was Henry John Deutschendorf Jr., the poster boy in town, who sang wholesome folk songs to fresh-faced kids around the campfire. 

Occasionally, a third rate-lounge singer from Vegas would come to town and croon show tunes for summer tourists in a circus tent pitched near the gazebo in a glade made into a park. 

European tourists showed up with tennis rackets, wearing fur on the hottest days. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band backed up Steve Martin who played banjo in a pub. A touring band called the Eagles would play for beer in a small labyrinthine den. The only famous writer in Aspen at the time was Leon Uris (Exodus), who became a friend and taught me how to ski.

Guys arrived in old pickup trucks with their Husky mixed breed in the back barking. Some girls drove from Boston on their way to Berkeley in a VW van full of weed.  Later, I was to marry one of them at Ashcroft, near Aspen.

Many were transplanted and came to Aspen just to hang out selling real estate in the summer and ski lift passes in the winter. Most people never settled. They just carried their lives in boxes for all the places they would be moving to. 

The town was made up of the rootless, restless and in-betweens. For those who wintered and summered it was a status thing to actually own ZG license plates because you knew you were at the right moment in history.

By 1970, the town was split down the middle between the “greedheads” and the “hippies”. There was little middle ground in a town of misplaced characters who watched local politics like most regular people watched sports.

The Aspen Times, our rival community paper, had supported Hunter Thompson and other left-leaning candidates who very nearly pitched the land-owning, right-leaning merchants out on their lederhosen. This was well described in Thompson's The Great Shark Hunt.

The Times ran smart social commentaries and pithy political diatribes about class war in Aspen. What we wrote about was hard to determine because the ink ran so badly it was hard to tell where we stood on issues. Compared to the Times we looked like the poor country cousins who rode into town on a melon truck. Our paper was supported by the greedheads, and privately we called our paper the Aspen Toady

I read the Times to find out what was really going on in town. This meant being in touch with what Hunter Thompson was doing or saying. As the Roaring Fork Valley’s most celebrated politician, he made the news, he didn't write about it. Back then, few of us imagined he’d become the writer he did or that his books would become treasured totems for us.

By 1972, Hunter Thompson had left local politics for the national campaign trails and Rolling Stone, which would make him famous. Occasionally he would come back to Aspen, which I think, was his Muse, an unrelenting and ambitious god who gave him the privilege of remaking journalism in his own image. Here, he was living the script we wished we had written for ourselves. In Aspen, his life was sprawling, epic, tormented and comprised much of what eluded the rest of us.

Jack Kerouac, from a previous generation, said we’d run out of road in America in the 50s, but HST would take us the extra mile in the 70s. He defied the bright and shining lie of the American mythology. Hunter Thompson would ride that comet further into the darkness of the next several decades. 

By 2005 we were minted and coined as dross and far removed from Aspen. Hunter had become a truculent man at Owl Farm, luckless Hunter S. Thompson, who, at the end of his life, succeeded in becoming a cartoon but failed at becoming a brand.

Today, workers in Aspen are bused into town like apartheid workers or third-class Irish in steerage. The town has been divided into dozens of gated “green zones” separating the super-rich from the under-class. 

The former grocery store is a fur coat shop. Pitkin County is one of the ten richest counties in America, safe harbor for ultra-right greedheads and presidential candidates who make Richard Nixon look like the day manager of  a small town bank.

The worst possible fear Hunter S. Thompson could have devised for “Fat City” in 1970 had become manifest in 2005. 

More than once Hunter must have looked out from the Owl Farm toward the horizon where George W. Bush led the country into ruin.  I imagined him shouting his last words, were something like “We are utterly fucked!”

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Take a look at my favorite things. They were locked away in storage and another blog. Now I'm letting them loose so they can frolic.

They have one thing in common. They've have stood the test of time and still make me smile.

Chill in a Porche GT3

For sure I'd want to take this car out for a spin on the weekends. The rest of the time I'd buy parts and polish the car.

 Dance With Pit Bull and His Ladies

This is one concert I want to see simply because it would attract so many more Latinas, who always make me laugh.

 Chill With A Carnival Band at Ipanema in Rio
Imagine being packed in a street crowd of 30,000 people. Nothing but smiles and laughter.

 Think About An Italian Dream Car 
Ah yes, I'd tell state secrets just to listen to this woman talk about ..anything.

Watch A Swimwear Show With Disturbing Fashion Flaws
 Wow! Words fail.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Three Reasons Why Math Is The New Sexy

"Excuse me, ma'am? The, uh, card appears to be upside- oh never mind."

There is an eerie familiarity to the way recruiters are haunting junior high schools these days. Where once they were looking for a quarter-back, a defensive lineman, a .400 hitter or a quick-footed striker, they are now looking for a budding genius with probability curves and a killer algorithm. 

Math has been around for a while, but now there's a twist. Math is the new sexy.

Here’s why:

3. Moneyball
Bill James, a part-time statistician wrote a newsletter that figured out on-base percentages for future baseball players. He eventually sold it to the Boston Red Sox,who paid him a lot of money for his ideas. Two years later the Boston Redsox won back to back World Series, some of it based on James’ algorithms. 

This new science was also pioneered in 2002 by Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s. He had a different problem to solve. He needed James’ ideas to help the Oakland A’s transform from a have-not small market baseball club into a profitable small market club. 

This year, the Oakland A’s didn’t win the Series but they won the most games with the fewest dollars. Along the way the A's won their division and nearly won their conference championship. Read my earlier post on the A's Moneyball.

2. Soccernomics
The owners of the Boston Red Sox MLB club recently bought Liverpool of the English Premier League. Liverpool is expected to delve into the world of  Soccernomics, a ground-breaking book written by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. Billed the Moneyball of soccer the authors document scores of ways soccer can be improved by using an array of mathematics. 

Striker Luis Suarez leads Liverpool 
Soccernomics has hardly been embraced by Europe’s tradition-bound clubs. For starters, it has unmasked the mythology of the game through numbers. 

The first test case for soccernomics may be Liverpool, a team that is supposed to compete for prized players in the transfer market. However, soccernomics has proven with numbers that the transfer market is deeply flawed, expensive and clubs often derive little value for buying and selling teams alike.  

In a best-case scenario Liverpool could move up a notch or two in the table in coming years, while making a modest profit. At the very least Liverpool will no doubt avoid mistakes that can bury a club with debt for decades.(See my post on MU UTDSoccer fans in the future will be treated to a future where  mathematicians are courted more heavily than the latest Brazilian striker. 

1. Nate Silver
“This election was about pot, gay marriage and math.” -- Bill Maher commenting on the 2012 Presidential Election

A pre-election poster that proved correct.

Voters and pundits have watched the polls for the past six months leading up to the US presidential election night. The pundits were all wrong. The pollster were uniformly off the mark, except for one newcomer, a mathematician who was 99.9% correct when he predicted Barak Obama would win..  

Nate Silver is part of a new generation of economists and mathematicians who has joined the ranks of A-list celebrities. Formerly a reclusive no-name numbers guy, Silver will jump to the head of the line at the best parties. 

Most voters didn’t know his name until the day after the election. His numbers were widely criticized leading up to the final days of the election, especially by the GOP and their far-right allies. Now, Mr.Silver can claim the high moral ground by making high-priced pundits irrelevant. Most of whom will be looking for jobs as weather forecasters.

Just 12 years ago Silver was an economics student who wrote an abstract on baseball statistics of players of the future. He sold the algorithms then went to work in politics. Today, Mr. Silver is looking at million dollar book contracts from publishers who want him to tell all about his political math. He is directly in the spotlight in a game that has the most money of all -- politics

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

5 scary stories to haunt this Halloween

On Halloween, departed souls come back to walk the earth among humans. Some will be out trick or treating. Once a year they get to reconnect with life. While we get to play out a goulish fantasy and allow ourselves to become scared. In that spirit, I have collected five stories that truly frighten me. 

5. Putin's Soviet gulags.
 Imagine being torn away from your child and family and sent thousands of miles away to a prison where there is no hot water or medicine. You are forced to work in the cold for meager rations. You are isolated and spied on every moment of the day and punished for every infraction. This is the life for two young women in a Soviet gulag because they dared to make a non-violent political statement. This is happening in 2012? It's too scary to contemplate.

4. John C. Textor.
An embezzler and private equity investor, who took millions from investors and friends and lost it. He now spends his days defending himself in civil court. He is a brazen defendant even with hundreds of law suits pouring in from hundreds more victims who have lost their jobs, fortunes and properties. Textor has shown no remorse. He doesn't feel he owes an apology. 

Textor says he's owed money from his own scam. He doesn't think he will ever serve a day in jail and could walk away with millions. Or his days are numbered like Tony Montana in this scene from Scarface
Prime Minister Harper makes deal with  the devil

3. Harper's secret resource colony takes effect on Halloween.
Working in secret for years on the innocent sounding Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (FIPAs), Canada's Conservatives will today ratify this so-called bi-lateral trade pact without a single day of debate in Commons. No details are known, except that the government of China will now have free rein to take over Canadian energy companies. Known for human rights abuses (Tibet) and numerous environmental disasters, China will be the single beneficiary of this one-way trade pact. It's scary enough that your own government is lying to you about domestic politics and keeping everything ultra secret until Halloween spells disaster.


Extermination of natives in the Amazon

2. Just like in Avatar.
While the rich get richer, the poor struggle to live another day. The planet is full of homeless, starving and neglected people with no rights. Everyday  native peoples in Matto Groso state in Brazil, the richest state in the country, are being methodically killed. They refuse to move from their sacred  homeland. The Guarni-Kaiowa refuses to surrender and have asked to be buried where they fall defending their homes. It's scary to think that the killers continue their slaughter while the western oil, gas, timber and hydro companies stand by waiting.

1. Mitt Romney could be the next American president. An amoral private equity fund manager with links to a cult-like religion, Romney has promised his neo-conservative backers a war on the poor. If he wins we are one step closer to becoming a Zombie America. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Two Young Mothers sent to Putin's Gulag for two years

Two of the women (left and middle) sentenced to two years.

I have a friend who loves reading Russian novels. I cannot bring myself to do the same, not even on the sunniest day. Life in Russian sucks, then it gets worse.

I cannot imagine how bad it will be for the two young women Vladimir Putin  is sending to a Russian gulag for two years of hard labor. They are both mothers.

What did they do? In an earlier post I wrote that all they did was conduct a peaceful protest at a Russian Orthodox Church. They picked the venue to exhibit how the church is turning a blind eye to Putin's crackdown on human rights in Russia.

Into this environment, three young woman decided to protest when no one else would. Their punk theatre ensemble was little more than a dance with their music and lyrics.

I have read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and enough John LeCarre, however, to understand what horrors lie ahead of the women.

While one of the three girls was freed last week, she said that her release was part of a clever ploy to cause divisiveness among the three and dissuade other women from protesting.s

The harsh sentencing is but the beginning of two years at a "correctional penal colony", a phrase reminiscent of Stalin's brutal repression of dissidents in which some 12 million Russians disappeared into the gulags over several decades. 

The girls will be removed from Moscow and subjected to round-the-clock mental manipulation. Putin is familiar with the techniques, having carved his career in politics from years as a KGB thug. And now he's running the country -- again.

The Russian Orthodox Church appealed to the young women to recant. The women answered that they had committed no crime other than to protest the regime of Vladimir Putin.

What is more amazing is that Russia still holds a veto at the UN.

5 Reasons Moneyball Still Works in Oakland

In a previous post I wrote about the A's improbable and surprising Major League Baseball Divisional race. 

The A’s compete in a highly unbalanced system. The big clubs with unlimited budgets buy their way to the championships. I wondered if the A’s could compete against teams that had the best talent money could buy. 

While the A’s were no match in their final game against a superior team, it was fun to watch this collective of over-achievers delight their fans to the last out.  

In the final analysis, the A's Moneyball system still works. Here are five reasons why:

5. The A’s 2012 season was a game changer. The club won the most come-from-behind walk-off wins (15), more than any other club in MLB, doing it with cast-off-players, untested rookies, and bargain baseball rejects and rehab projects.

4. Moneyball leveled the playing field when the A's beat the heavily favored and well financed Texas Rangers for the division title, a team that had won the American League title the past two seasons.

3. The A’s matched or exceeded expectations. This is why there is still a MLB team in Oakland for fans to enjoy. Considering the club’s budget limitations, the A’s continue to deliver a competitive team and a good winning percentage in a small market.

2. The A’s very nearly beat the Detroit Tigers who were in the divisional race for the second straight year. The Tigers pay 1.5 million-plus per win, while the A's pay anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 per win. In Moneyball, the A's win. Eventually Major League Baseball will figure out the math and re-structure the league. 

1. Soccernomics. Moneyball European-style has caught on in the English Premier League. I'm watching Arsenal, a team in which Billy Beane has some interest. Could be interesting. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Obama Knocked Out in the First Round

Obama takes the count in a first round knockout

I am sad. I was robbed of a good fight in the first presidential debate. 

Almost as soon as President Barak Obama stepped into the ring he walked into a flying windmill punch thrown by the challenger, The Mexican Wild Man Mormon Romney. Obama never saw it coming and never got a glove on Romney before he hit the canvas.
It was sickening to watch. Romney reminds me of Mike Tyson, the heavyweight, who took his opponents out in the first few minutes of a fight. Tyson didn't play by the rules and would do anything to win, even chewing an opponent’s ear off. Romney is a mauler and a brawler.

I won't watch a rematch. It will be an ugly fight and Obama has a glass jaw and no heart for the game.

Makes me wonder why.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

4 Reasons Why You Need To Wake The Fuck Up

1. Too much is at stake not to be awake. Democrats (comprising progressives and liberals) have a way of going to sleep, especially when they have the lead in an election campaign. Well, like in the 2010 mid-term elections, which is why we're in such a mess today. In this 2012 election, we face fiercely committed radicals who are willing to take you down for ideological reasons, from the wing-nut Evangelicals to the Tea Party. If you want to keep what you have, you really must Wake the Fuck Up!

2. Don’t believe the polls. Polls are not votes. Focus and do the difficult thing. Knock on doors, help people register to vote. Get those people in your household out canvassing. Kick that son-in-law off his couch and out the door helping people register. Millions of registered Democrats did not do this in 2010 and, well, we got what we deserved, didn't we? If you want real change you got to Wake The Fuck Up!.

3.This election is not just about re-electing Obama. You need to know the issues so you can vote for the mayor and city council, the county supervisor, your state assembly person, your Congressional and Senate representatives. You can bet the Republicans will know the issues chapter and verse at every level of government. To give Obama a chance at real change, you need to elect a Democratic majority in both houses so he can pass legislation that is critically needed. Mostly, you need to Wake the Fuck Up!

4. The Republicans are counting on you to go back to sleep. In fact, they are   betting the bank Democrats will fold once again.  This is an election  to protect what others before you fought so hard for. Do you want the Republicans to dismantle the very democracy you enjoy today? There are many things to do as a Democrat in the next month.  The most important of all is that you must Wake the Fuck Up!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hasty Sale to Foreigners, Americans Holding the Bag

China New owner of scandal-ridden American Digital Domain
I imagine that John C.Textor, aka the Bernie Madoff of South Florida, is grateful that he had the foresight to build his home on an island just off the coast of Florida. Especially as more light is shed on his shady dealings of last week.

He will still need an electric fence and shark-infested waters to 
ward off the countless lawyers and processors tring to serve him an array of subpoena.

Textor will need the privacy

One week after Digital Domain suddenly filed for bankruptcy, the hardest working people on Florida’s Treasure Coast are newly arrived lawyers and accountants. They have been pouring through the remains of Digital Domain to see if there is anything worth saving. On Friday, they filed law suits to avoid an “accelerated asset sale” to give them time to sort out the multi-layered scandal spread before them.

But on Saturday, in another surprise twist, the bankruptcy judge in Delaware ruled that Digital Domain could complete a “snap auction” deal.

The foreign buyers comprise two large vfx firms who will pick up American intellectual property for about a dime to the dollar in what amounts to a fire sale.

Digital’s most experienced vfx firms in Venice, California and Vancouver, British Columbia, will be part of the sale.

The expensive proprietary software and human capital will in large part disappear from South Florida, as well as haunt the American visual effects industry for decades. 

In the wake of the Digital Domain scandal, Carrol wondered if the town would ever approve another investment proposal, even in another field, like biotech.
We've got to ask ourselves down the road, 'Are we inheriting this as our redheaded stepchild forever or do we call a halt to it and say (to the other council members) that at some point you have to become self sufficient and act like any other business," he said of his colleagues."They've all got the Boca dream. Unfortunately, they've got a Port St. Lucie wallet.' "

Monday, September 17, 2012

A New Way to Fail in America

John C. Textor, The Bernie Madoff of South Florida
For the better part of the last year I kept abreast of John Textor's latest ruse through someone very close to the visual effects field. We were surprised just how far this guy was going to go, from corrupt and sleazy all the way to unbelievably seedy. And today, it's getting worse by the hour.

The story of Digital Domain begins in 2009 when John C. Textor, as managing principal of Wyndcrest  Holdings LLC, a private equity firm, purchased Digital Domain from James Cameron and others. 

As CEO, Textor decided to move the headquarters of Digital Domain across the continent from Los Angeles to Florida where he planned to build an animation studio to rival Disney, Dreamworks and Pixar.

Upon arrival he sought a business friendly town to build his corporate headquarters, somewhere close to his $4 million home on Jupiter Island in Martin County, Florida.

But Textor couldn't get buy-in from Martin County community leaders on the proposed location, the tax breaks or the accelerated development approvals needed for the construction of the visual effects studio. After lambasting their decision, he went up the road to nearby Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Marina in Port St. Lucie, Florida
It didn’t take Textor long to win over the town fathers, especially when he talked about taking Digital Domain Media Group (DDMG) public and making everyone rich in town.

At the time, the town and county of Port St. Lucie were facing a 14% unemployment rate and saw Textor as a white knight investor who came to their rescue. The city council responded with an array of incentives to make Textor’s dream a reality.

In addition to assuming the $39.9 million bond for building the animation studio, the city council agreed to provide a $10 million economic development grant; the state of Florida added $20 million in cash while St. Lucie County agreed to waive county property taxes for five years.

On top of this the city council of Port St. Lucie would provide millions of dollars for office furniture and money for purchasing state-of-the-art digital effects equipment. They would even develop soccer facilities for employees, as well as a park.

Port St.Lucie offered generous loans and accelerated approvals
DDMG, in turn, initially promised 500 salaries ranging up to an average of $64,233; it would pay off building construction cost with annual payment for 20 years. font-family: Verdana, sans-serif;">As construction began Textor restructured the new company into an array of business units, promising that Port St. Lucie would be the world headquarters of a prestigious international company that was soon going public (NYSE: DDMG). margin: 0in 0in 0.25in; vertical-align: baseline;"> font-family: Verdana, sans-serif;">Private equity managers, like Textor, are notoriously secretive, but as a CEO of an entertainment company he became a promoter, hyping his company at every opportunity. 

Behind the scenes Textor knew that visual effects is a “low-bid, low margin” business, which would not make him wealthier. So he expanded into creating businesses that would train young people through a franchise of visual effects schools. And this may have been the beginning of Textor’s downfall.

It was at a pitch meeting with investors that he revealed his strategy for how he would make money from his schools. Somehow his presentation was taped then distributed on a YouTube video. The tape was widely circulated and was damaging enough to contribute to the stock’s poor performance.

Further, Textor’s business ethics were widely revealed in the video, in which he boasted that his "free (American) labor was better than foreign cheap labor".
Pirate flag flew above DDMG
A firestorm ensued among visual effects bloggers and Textor's admission eventually caught the eye of Variety, which brought Textor's questionable ethics into the mainstream entertainment media.
In the YouTube tape Textor was pitching investors on Digital Domain Institute’s “essential skills” program. Not only would DDI charge students $4,400 for a 10-week course that taught students how to create digital animation for movies. Certified students would then work for free on DDMG projects, in hopes that one day they would be hired by a real visual effects studio, say Dreamworks, Disney or Pixar back in Los Angeles.

The brand of Digital Domain had become a joke.

Then on September 7, 2012 DDMG in Port St. Luicie padlocked the doors with no warning.

The board of directors had hired a new CEO and sought protection from creditors under Chapter 11.

Today, the town of Port St. Lucie still owes $38.4 million for the studio and lost $7.75 million of a $10 million grant. It is considering legal action to recoup its losses and is looking for new tenants for the 115,000-square-foot building that housed DDMG.

 Gov. Rick Scott, the far right Republican governor of Florida, has ordered an investigation into the matter. Scott had contributed $20 million of the state's money in cash to sweeten the deal with Textor.
Textor, once thought to be the savior of Port St. Lucie, is now referred to as "our Bernie Madoff", the disgraced financier.

This coming week a judge will rule whether DDMG can conduct a snap auction which would allow DDMG to sell off the assets of the high-priced equipment and furniture the town had essentially purchased for Textor.
 Currently two visual effect studios are bidding for DDMG assets at the auction, including Jame’s Cameron one of the founders of Digital Domain, through his new company. Another bidder is a major conglomerate in Mumbai.

 To see American made proprietary software and loads of intellectual property  sold off to a foreign visual effects conglomerate may be too much to bear for the taxpayers and voters of Port St. Lucie.

 Meanwhile, the 346 newly unemployed Digital Domain people of Port St. Lucie will be depending on the generosity of the local food bank, using food stamps and turning to other sources of goodwill in the coming weeks and months as they sort out their lives. And the story gets worse.

In nearby West Palm Beach the Mayor is giving back the $20,000 she was given by Textor for her campaign. City officials there continue to have no comments concerning the city’s decision to hand over 2.4 acres of prime downtown land, valued at $10 million to Digital Domain before the company met any performance thresholds toward building a high-rise on the site.

West Palm Beach officials have refused to say whether they knew Digital Domain took two mortgages against the property.

The city is also quiet about $2 million they gave Digital Domain toward the FSU film school, the first installment of a $10 million payment.

The list of failed promises will continue to grow as investigators look at the books, including the one in which  Digital Domain would partner with Florida State University in create a first-in-the nation $28,000-a-year bachelor of fine arts program.

As of last week, classes for the 27 Florida State University students who transferred from schools around the country are in doubt. The school’s new West Palm Beach campus this fall is also in doubt and no one is commenting.

And so ends a cautionary tale taking place in a dystopian world located in Florida. But it could happen anywhere.

Watching John Textor attempt to fool, cheat and rob while boasting about it made me think of Mitt Romney's career at Bain Capital and his run for the presidency. The two men are adept at telling bigger and bigger lies and no one has yet caught on enough to stop them.

Then it came to me. The people who are getting cheated are actually admirers of Textor's and Romney's deviousness because both men have proven there is more potential reward for being greedy than doing honest labor in today's America. These men have found a way to fail upwards, taking few people with them when they cash out and move on.

For an inside look at how Romney got rich, please read Matt Taibbi's brilliant article in Rolling Stone

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

4 things the pundits missed at Bill Clinton’s DNC speech

Bill Clinton trains Democrats to sell their vision
Many pundits, including Jon Stewart, had a field day with Clinton's DNC speech, but they got it wrong.

 1.   Bill Clinton was not paving the way for Hillary in 2016 nor was he speaking off-topic. Rather, Clinton was conducting a highly focused 48-minute tutorial for Democrats in the rudimentary grass roots tactics of focusing their vision, positioning it, overcoming objections with facts and closing the deal, something Obama and fellow Democrats often have trouble doing.

2.   Clinton knows this election won’t be won by the base on lofty oratory and slogans of an Obama speech. Rather it will be won in the trenches, i.e. knocking on doors while delivering pamphlets and speaking to the independents who will eventually turn in the deciding votes. 

3. Clinton understands hand-to-hand combat against the GOP. He has learned that voters want to be talked to like smart people, not sinners being preached at. Pundit Chris Matthews got it right. “Clinton knows how to talk to people.”

Chris Matthews got it right 
4.   Clinton knows the intended audience for his speech was Obama, whose own DNC speech was a warmed over stump talk by comparison. Clinton was there to appeal to the President, as well as the Democrats, not to wander out of the DNC in a fog of rapture, but rather get back on the campaign trail with a sense of urgency. 

If you're a Democrat and missed Bill Clinton's full speech, watch it and pass it along. It is classic messaging.

Monday, September 3, 2012

“Moneyball” Paying Off for the Oakland A’s

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane

If you didn’t see “Moneyball” because you don’t like baseball then you really missed a very good movie. Brad Pitt plays the current general manager and minority owner of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane. Beane defied baseball logic and used economics and statistics to build a team that wins on average and nearly always makes a profit.

Today, the A’s are once again doing something amazing on the field and probably in the profit column as well. 

Just like in the movie, this year's team is made up of misfits and leftovers; the players have been traded frequently, had injuries, were getting older or were too quirky to earn a $10 million salary.The players are essentially working class commodities who play baseball for a living.

They lead baseball in late-inning comebacks

None of the players are stars. The are paid to provide just enough to pitch in long relief, or get on base and steal a base, or hit left-handed pitchers, or get late-inning strike outs,or move guys on base with rbi's, and occasionally hit a home run. The stats prove this is how a baseball team wins in Moneyball, a term from the title of author Michael Lewis' book, from which the movie is based.

In Moneyball terms, the bottom line comes down to this:  A’ players earn $150,000 a season compared to the New York Yankees, who pay an annual average of $1.5 million per player. If the A's get to play the Yankees in the playoffs it doesn't matter if the Yankees win, the A's have already won in Moneyball.

The A's are just three games behind the Texas Rangers who lead the division. The Rangers are expected to make the World Series, largely because they pay their player some of the largest salaries in the business.

As of this writing, the A's are heading into September on a winning streak, similar to the one portrayed in the movie. 

Seemingly, the A’s are doing it with smoke and mirrors. The A’s have won more games on the final at bat than any other Major League Baseball team this season. 

Moneyball is working just the way the economists and statisticians said it would. You wouldn't want to bet against it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Three Reasons This Movie Laid An Egg

This turkey laid an egg

Everybody loved the concept. I mean, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Scott Rudin. You know, everybody.

Everything looked great on paper as well. There were no less than EIGHT A-list writers on the movie, not including the original guy who wrote the comic book that inspired the movie. But it was a huge disappointment and slipped off the charts into cable television soon after theatrical release.

Why happened?

Reason #1: With four credited writers and another four A-list writers working on the project, I suspect the script was being written up to the moment the cameras began to roll.

But it had Harrison Ford!

Reason #2: Harrison Ford is a leading man who mostly plays himself. Daniel Craig, by comparison, is an exceptional character actor, because he’s done that kind of acting for 20-plus years before he was James Bond. The same can be said for Sam Rockwell. These guys can act. In fact, the entire supporting cast were worthy of being cast in a reprise of the Wild Bunch.

Aren't you being a little harsh on the movie?

Reason #3: Maybe comic books don’t need a third act, but movies generally do. C&A didn't have a third act.

Consequently the audience was deprived of seeing how the characters were going to redeem themselves in a sweeping heroic and climactic battle. There is no better than in Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch shootout that established the western for all time.

In Cowboys & Aliens, nobody won the final battle. The audience was deprived of seeing the Apache kick some alien butt.  The Apache never took a scalp or shot the monsters full of flaming arrows. It would have been cathartic. This is what Apache do.

Instead of a final battle, there was Ford delivering some sappy exposition, followed by cheesy special effects to mask the fact that the director had run out of story at the Act II reveal.

But it was a feel-good western ending, right?

If you actually paid to see this, you’d feel cheated and bloated. Daniel Craig left town pretty much the way he arrived. The townspeople returned to their old ways as if nothing had ever happened.

Was there anything good to say about the movie?

The trailer was pretty good.

Is that all?

There won't be a sequel.