Silent Archimedes

Archive for June, 2008

Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 29, 2008

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt
Director: Louis Leterrier

I finally got a chance to see The Incredible Hulk last night. I usually wait a week or two before seeing a blockbuster, only because I don’t like crowded theaters. They influence my movie experience, for better or worse. I never saw the Ang Lee version of this movie a few years ago, so I don’t have that to compare this one too. I’m also so-so on superhero and comic book movies because most of them sabotage the comic storylines for sake of special effects or blockbuster status. I think the Spider-man series, Fantastic Four series, and X-Men series have been overrated; especially the first two. However, there have been notable exceptions, such as the original Blade with Wesley Snipes, Superman Returns, Batman Begins, and Iron Man, especially the last two. All incorporate the comicky action and cinematography with beautiful storylines that capture the always-required inner conflict of super heroes. As for the 2008 Incredible Hulk, my interest piqued when I read that one of my favorite dramatic actors, Edward Norton, would not only be playing the Hulk but be heavily invested in the storyline with Marvel comics.

THE CAST REVIEW

Edward Norton is one of those actors that plays the part of conflicted characters very well. His roles as Derek Vinyard in American History X, Worm in Rounders and the narrator in Fight Club are quite memorable. It is unfortunate that he does not make more movies. The role of the Hulk appeared to be right up his alley, a character conflicted by his alter-ego; one so monstrous that he only wishes to destroy rather than control it. However, his performance was unbalanced. I prefer to blame that on the inconsistent character development rather than Norton. Cliched images of Banner half-naked in angst did not give Norton enough to work with.

Liv Tyler’s role in the Hulk, as my friend mentions, is exactly the same as her role in Armageddon. She plays a small role as the supportive and emotional love interest of the hero. She cries. She whispers sweet nothings. She gets in the way. Even her role as Arwen in the Lord of the Rings is similar. I’m unsure why she continues to take these simple one-dimensional roles.

I was surprised that Tim Roth played the arch-enemy in this movie. Although he usually plays bad guys, he didn’t seem believable as someone that wanted power at all costs. His scrawny build and sarcastic face made it hard to believe that he had so much military stature. To overcome that would’ve required more character development, which there was none. His trademark line in the movie, “Is that all you’ve got?!” is pathetic.

THE BAD

The assumption that everyone knows the story of the Hulk is incorrect. The only mention of how Bruce Banner became the Hulk is during the opening credits. This leads to many weaknesses in the movie. Without understanding how Banner got to where he is, it is hard to commiserate with his angst and the close romance with Elizabeth Ross. Batman Begins does this very well in introducing the agony of the character.

The lack of character development is also apparent. Bruce is already on the run when the movie begins and has a new life working in a factory in South America. He communicates with an unknown person via satellite but we have no idea how they met. Elizabeth and him have very strong emotions for each other throughout the movie, but we are just supposed to take this closeness for granted. The relationship between Elizabeth and the Army General was also inconsistently developed. Finally, the Emil (Roth) character’s thirst for power and hunger to fight Hulk appears psychotic, at best.

THE GOOD

The first scenes in this movie are unique. Having him in a poor, crowded village in South America shows the extent of his desire to remove himself from the source of angst. The cinematography and choice of locations, such as forests and waterfalls stick to the comic-book feel. The mass usage of US Army arsenal and its inability to stop him, even with their latest technologies, also stuck to the comic book genre.

The action in this movie is worth the price of admission. The action sequence is like a sine wave. Most action scenes occur when Bruce Banner is Hulk. The time between the Hulk episodes are filled with damage control and story development. The computer graphics is very believable (although still not at par with 1993’s Jurassic Park).

Norton does a good enough job to make this movie more than just an action movie. He just didn’t have enough to work with to really develop Bruce Banner enough.

THE VERDICT

The Incredible Hulk is definitely better than the 2003 Hulk. Although I never saw the 2003 version, it is apparent simply by looking at the CG and the actors involved. The action sequences in this movie are what make it stand out. The CG and the power of the monsters are believable. This movie attempts to be dramatic too and that’s where it comes up a bit short. The attempt is to be commended but inconsistent storylines and lack of character development leave the audience detached from the characters. It would’ve been interesting to see the two directors switch places, as Lee is more of a dramatic director than Transporter’s Leterrier. Lee working with Norton would have been interesting.

Overall, this is a good movie and a good start to a very popular comic book hero. Norton’s close involvement in this movie is a good sign as he is a perfectionist and will do what he thinks is necessary to improve its weaknesses, even it means complaining in public. Sequels are due for this movie as hints are strewn throughout. It will either be another Hulk only sequel or might comprise of Hulk as part of the Avengers superhero series. The comic book feel of this movie keeps it true to its roots.


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Rating: 7 out of 10 Hulk figurines

What did you think of The Incredible Hulk?
a) 1- the worst
b) 2-4
c) 5
d) 6
e) 7
f) 8
g) 9
h) 10 – the best
View Results

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Top 5 most overrated and underrated movies

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 22, 2008

Top 5 most overrated and underrated movies

Here is my list of the top 5 most overrated movies I’ve seen, in no particular order:

1. Shrek series (2001-2007) – These movies are not funny at all. The story lines are completely predictable. I’ll let the original Shrek pass, but an 8.0 on IMDB? Come on! If you are under 10 years old, ok, the movies are cute, and jokes are funny. Like the Little Pig saying, “He hooffed und he poooffed und he… signed an eviction notice.” Who comes up with those lines??

2. Princess Bride (1987) – I think I’m missing something in this movie, because it seems like everyone LOVES this movie. I found it boring and corny.

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3. Sideways (2004) – Two men in mid-life crisis take a trip to wine country? The title for the movie is appropriate. It went sideways, nothing happened.

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4. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) – Steve Carrell was funny, but he had such a small part. I wanted to punch the girl in the face!

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5. English Patient (1996) – This is the only movie I’ve ever wanted to walk out of the theater. It was way longer than it needed to be. And the agony of watching desert scenes in slow motion. Arghhh…

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Here is my list of the top 5 most underrated movies I’ve seen, in no particular order:

1. Legend of Drunken Master (1994) – None of my friends have seen this movie, but it is Jackie Chan at his best; funny, dangerous and funny stunts, amazing martial arts and a cute storyline. The supporting cast is also one of the best.

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2. Seven Samurai (1954) – I don’t like Kurosawa’s other movies like Ran and Rashomon, but this movie is storytelling at its best. Even watching the 4-hour director’s cut flew by.

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3. Wall Street (1987) – Although a bit stereotypical and simplistic at times, this movie exemplifies the capitalistic goals of greed and power at any cost.

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4. A Bronx Tale (1993) – One of my favorite De Niro movies ever. A very powerful movie that uses simple and soft storytelling to portray the reality of the narrator’s perspective. A blue-collar coming of age story in 1960s New York City when racial divides and mafia/cultural traditions collide.

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5. Duel (1970) – One of Steven Spielberg’s earliest directorial performances. A masterpiece of suspense, anxiety and fear.

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I plan to update these at some point to 10 movies each and order them.

Posted in List, Movies, Opinion | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Top 10 most wasteful use of natural resources

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 22, 2008

This is my top 10 list of actions in which the ratio of energy expended to the actual action is in the stratosphere. This is just a list off the top of my head and in no particular order. Also, the list does not include why the event is done, the repercussions of the event, and/or the money the event makes. I’m purely talking about the event itself.

Here they are in no particular order:

1. Auto racing – this includes all variants. As much as everyone makes fun of NASCAR for driving around an oval wasting precious fuel, F1 and Indy are just as wasteful. Not to mention all the other variants of car racing and monster trucks.

2. Military exercises – All the military grade fuel that is used for fighter jets, tanks, cargo, and other military vehicles during training exercises is crazy. At times of war, yes, it makes a bit more sense. But to fly jets that burn gallons of fuel per minute for training is totally wasteful.

3. Space shuttle – Just to get that damn thing into space requires three completely filled rocket-sized canisters with fuel. Then the empty canisters are dropped into the ocean before the shuttle hits orbit.

4. Commercial airplanes and private jets – Yes, many flights are almost filled to capacity, but I have been on many flights (especially red-eye flights) where the amount of passengers on a 100-person plane is less than what would fit into a mini-van.

5. Showers – I know it’s about hygiene, but the number of gallons of water just to “clean” ourselves everyday is beyond it’s actual worth.

6. Deforestation for farmland – Destroying one energy source for another. I would estimate a lot of the trees cut down for farming is not transformed into lumber or products. The trees take decades, if not hundreds, of years to grow and they are razed in under one week.

7. 24-hour lighting for security purposes – You ever see stores or office buildings leave their lights on overnight because they want to detract burglars from going in and also so their security cameras can record in the light? No one is in the building and yet the lights constantly stay on.

8. Flyers – There’s something about flyers that piss me off. If I used my own printer and printed hundreds of copies of the exact same thing and just passed them around in the city, I would kill myself. Especially eeing most of them muddied on the streets. Stop wasting paper and ink!

9. Spam through snail mail – Speaking of flyers, spam through the mailbox is just as annoying. All those pre-approved credit card offers, val-U coupons, and advertisements… It’s like print, waste stamps, straight to garbage!

10. Packaging, packaging, packaging – You ever buy something from Amazon and they put it in a box 5 times it’s size and fill it with paper? What about cereal boxes? Resources are being wasted with useless packaging for everything!!

Humph…

Posted in Economics, List, Opinion | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

If I was Obama I would pick Michael Bloomberg as Vice President

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 22, 2008

OK, I know this won’t happen, but what the country really needs is a CEO. Someone who is used to succeeding under major constraints. Someone who is fiscally responsible. Someone who is innovative. Someone who cares only about the bottom-line.

The country is a mess. The infrastructure is deteriorating. The economics are screwed up. We need a no-nonsense businessman to clean things up. We also need someone that is non-partisan and won’t be so influenced by the politics of the two parties. Someone who is very rich, and is doing the job because he loves our country and loves results.

That person is Michael Bloomberg. What is unfortunate is that most people see the presidential election as a popularity contest. They want to like the person’s personality rather than what he or she brings to the table. Bloomberg’s personality is what works against him. He’s a no-nonsense person. It’s too bad because he has all the credentials to turn this country around domestically. Additionally, he’s an engineer by trade, having earned his engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University.

Well, just wishful thinking on my part…

Posted in Economics, Opinion, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Book Review: Hot Commodities

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 17, 2008

Book Review: Hot Commodities

How Anyone Can Invest Profitably in the World’s Best Market

Author: Jim Rogers

WHY I READ THIS BOOK

This is my second book review on the precarious economic situation in global economics, specifically in America. The first one was The Coming Economic Collapse: How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrel, by Stephen Leeb. Now, under the assumption that America is on the cusp of a long recession or some sort of economic crisis, I decided to read a book about a neglected investment area that already is in the midst of a long bull market, commodities. Commodities are the raw materials, natural resources and hard assets that prop up everything in our quality of life, from food such as corn, sugar, and pork, to infrastructure such as copper and rubber, to energy such as oil and natural gas. Without commodities, and a speculative market for it, we would be seeing drastic regional and daily price differences of everything, ranging from televisions to groceries to jewelry.

One funny thing I noticed with these books about economic crises is the required two stage title, the what and then the how. The Coming Economic Collapse: How you can thrive when oil costs $200 a barrel. Hot Commodities: How anyone can invest profitably in the world’s best market. Crash Proof: How to profit from the economic collapse. Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets: Surviving the public spectacle in finance and politics. All the titles could’ve done without the second title. It makes it a little juvenile and commercial, but I won’t judge a book by it’s cover.

THE AUTHOR: JIM ROGERS

I had heard of Jim Rogers before, but not much about his past. He came to fame in the 1970s where George Soros and him created the Quantum Fund that far outperformed the S&P in the high-inflation oil-crisis 1970s. The Quantum Fund returned over 4200% in that first ten years while S&P returned only 47%. After retiring in 1980, he went on to travel the world many times over… literally. He set the Guinness Book of World Record in 1992 by motorcycling over 100,000 miles across six continents (he details in his earlier book Investment Biker). He has traveled across China multiple times. Then in 2002 he set another world record by driving through 116 countries and 245,000 kilometers with his wife in a custom-made Mercedes. His current claim to fame is creating the 1998 Rogers International Commodity Index and predicting the current commodities bull market in 1999. This was during the height of the dot com when commodities were at multi-year lows and in a major bear market. He has also been a guest professor of finance at Columbia University, a moderator of finance shows on CBS and FNN. Like Soros, Rogers has also moved his entire family to Singapore because of the belief that Asia is the next financial epicenter and America is due for a major economic crisis.

REVIEW

“Commodities get no respect.” The first line in the book. I’d have to say I agree with him. I’ve been investing for less than 10 years and no one talks about commodities the way they talk about stocks and mutual funds. I guess most people only talk about automobiles like Corvette and Accord (stocks) or General Motors and Honda (mutual Funds). Unless you are a true car enthusiast, you leave the details about engines, suspension and chassis to the experts. However, we know that the materials that make up a car or a company’s products are what makes them run and exist. In short, Rogers pretty much expresses in simple terms that the supply and demand fundamentals of most commodities are way out of whack (his words). Supply is on the short side and demand is increasing.

The flow of this book is very good. He first builds his credentials. Then he talks about the history cycles of commodities, specifically the fundamentals of supply and demand. A step back with a primer on commodities and the exchanges that exist is next. Finally, it’s chapter by chapter of specific commodities that stand to gain in this bull market.

As with all these books, there is always an overt or covert “I told you so” in the writing. It is understandable because the authors are usually taking a contrarian viewpoint and in order to build credibility they have to show that their previous contrarian positions have panned out. Rogers is no exception when he describes the track record of his futures picks. Having the Quantum Fund with Soros as part of your credentials sure doesn’t hurt. What is interesting is that Rogers is at an age where he really doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. His writing style clearly shows this. It is very relaxed and simplistic. He talks about his past and trips around the world in a casual sense as if everyone can do it. He also refers to his mistakes and weaknesses as humourous because they turned out for the better. His attention to detail and research is remarkable.

The primer on commodities is very useful for those that are beginners in the area. Although some might find it too simplistic, “commodities are equivalent to futures“, I found it a necessary part of the book. Since this book was written in 2004, it was unfortunate that current commodities-related exchange-traded funds (right) are not mentioned. I would have been interested to hear his opinions on the Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE), the Goldman Sach’s iShares GSCI Commodity-Indexed Trust (GSG) and Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), amongst others. He does mention that the GSCI (GS Commodity Index) is weighted incorrectly, and thus the creation of his own commodity index.

In short, the commodities he talks about in detail are mostly nothing new. Everyone knows that China is tilting the balance of supply and demand in many key economic areas, such as oil and steel. However, Rogers has been preaching this since 1999 when oil was $10 a barrel and Asia had just overcome the 1997 financial crisis. The last thing anybody was thinking about was a commodity bull market. One viewpoint that was interesting was his lackluster enthusiasm of gold as a commodity. Although he maintains a small stake in it, he views it as something that doesn’t always follow the fundamentals of supply and demand, and that it’s historical cycles are harder to predict. He’s still bullish on it, but not as bullish as more obvious ones, such as oil and certain other metals. His other interesting viewpoint is on India. His first-hand experience in the country leads him to a different viewpoint than the public majority.

Each chapter about a commodity is interesting to read. He describes the importance of it in everyday life and markets and the historical cycles of it. The set up is to show why he thinks it is time again for that particular commodity to be a high-flyer.

Although this book was published in 2004, it is well-known that Rogers has been predicting the current commodity bull market since 1999. Let’s look at the performance of some of his suggested commodities since 1999 and 2004.

Light Crude Oil

Approximate price/barrel and return since 1999

1999 price: $15

2004 price: $35…..133%

2008 price: $130…..767%

Although there are signs of a bubble since 2007, high oil prices are clearly here to stay.

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Gold

Approximate price/oz and return since 1999

1999 price: $270

2004 price: $400…..48%

2008 price: $900…..233%

Rogers is not as enthusiastic about gold. Although it has strong returns, it’s not as strong as the other commodities.

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Platinum

Approximate price/oz and return since 1999

1999 price: $380

2004 price: $800…..111%

2008 price: $2000…..426%

Low supplies with increasing demand makes this commodity a high-flyer.

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To be fair to him, I will leave the rest of his suggestions to readers. However, in looking at the monthly returns of most commodities, it is quite apparent that Jim Rogers is on the spot. Check out other phenomenal returns here.

VERDICT

The writing style of this book is so laid back it borders on conversational. However, it works for Jim Rogers because he appears to truly enjoy life like a kid. His wild-child trips around the world are not just rich-man-spending-money trips, but a big part of his research. His first-hand experience in living different cultures surely helps his perspectives. He is known for impeccable research, with simple logical explanations. If you believe the commodities bull market is far from over, as Rogers does, I suggest picking up this book.

Rating: 9 out of 10 corn ears

POLL: Have you invested in commodities (not stocks) since 1999?
1) yes
2) yes, but only gold
3) no, but I want to
4) no
View Results

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Top 10 Favorite Futuristic Society Films

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 13, 2008

My favorite movies about futuristic society. This includes big brother movies, apocalyptic movies, alien invasions, and science fiction movies with relevance to future society on earth.

Thanks to Netflix for the little movie frames, and the movie summaries!

Honorable Mention 4. Day After Tomorrow (2004) – After years of unabated global warming, the greenhouse effect is wreaking havoc all over the globe in the form of catastrophic hurricanes, tornadoes, tidal waves, floods and, most ominously, the beginning of the next Ice Age. Paleoclimatologist Adrian Hall (Dennis Quaid) tries to save the world while also shepherding to safety his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who was in New York when the city was overwhelmed by the beginnings of the new big freeze.

Honorable Mention 3. Sixth Day (2000) -“Ah-nuld” is back and brawnier than ever! This time, Schwarzenegger is a helicopter pilot who finds himself on the “To Do” list of a murderous tycoon (Tony Goldwyn). The good news is that the hit gets botched. The bad news is that Goldwyn has cloned Arnold, who must fight to get his life back. An action-packed spin on the ethical quandary of cloning, The 6th Day is future-perfect.

Honorable Mention 2. The Island (2005) – Michael Bay’s stylish sci-fi thriller stars Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson as members of a strictly regulated indoor futuristic colony who hope to win the lottery, a contest in which the grand prize is a trip to a utopian island, reportedly the last uncontaminated place on Earth. But a startling discovery about the true nature of “the Island” — and their very existence — leads the two to stage a desperate escape to the outside world.

Honorable Mention 1. Mad Max (1979) – In the postapocalyptic future, motorcycle cop Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) has had enough. The Australian outback’s empty stretches of highway have become bloodstained battlegrounds, and Max has seen too many killings at the hands of marauding bikers who feed on violence. He tries to retire, but his world is shattered when a malicious gang murders his family as an act of retaliation. Devastated, Max hits the open road seeking vengeance.

10. Fahrenheit 451 (1966) – Ray Bradbury’s cautionary near-future parable of a society where books are banned and firemen start fires was the only English-language film from French auteur François Truffaut. Oscar Werner is the conflicted fireman Montag, and Julie Christie has a dual role. The score is by Truffaut favorite Bernard Hermann, of Psycho fame. For an extra level of subtle satire, look closely at the carefully chosen book titles.

9. Armageddon (1998) – As an asteroid tumbles toward Earth, NASA director Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) hatches a plan to split the fireball in two before it can annihilate the entire planet. To do so, he calls on the world’s finest oil driller, Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), who assembles a team he feels can handle the task. With only two days to save humanity, the guys head to space to destroy the rock, while the folks back home pray for their success.

8. Total Recall (1990) – Life is mind-bending and chaotic in director Paul Verhoeven’s violent, Oscar-winning sci-fi adventure based on a Philip K. Dick story. When construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) discovers a memory chip in his brain during a virtual-reality trip, he also discovers that his past has been invented to conceal a plot of planetary domination. Soon, he’s off to Mars to find out who he is and who planted the chip…

7. Gattaca (1997) – With one eye on his dream of working in outer space, a genetically flawed “In-Valid” (Ethan Hawke) hires a DNA broker (Tony Shalhoub) to help him obtain more desirable genetic material from a paralyzed man (Jude Law). In the process, he meets and falls in love with a beautiful “Valid” (Uma Thurman) with a heart defect. Screenwriter Andrew Niccol also directs this futuristic thriller, which marks his debut in the feature-length realm.

6. War of the Worlds (2005) – You know the story: Invading Martians equipped with ships that shoot unstoppable disintegration rays attempt to overwhelm the Earth. Based on the novel by H.G. Wells (and adapted into a famous 1953 movie starring Gene Barry), this version stars Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning as a father and daughter trying to keep one step ahead of the destroying Martians while humanity tries to muster a defense … any defense! Steven Spielberg directs.

5. I, Robot (2004) – Inspired by Isaac Asimov’s work, this techno-thriller stars Will Smith as Del Spooner, a mid-21st century Chicago cop investigating the murder of a scientist. Wary of technology, Spooner’s not the perfect man for the job, but he takes it on anyway, aided by expert Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan). When Spooner discovers that an android (Alan Tudyk) may be the culprit, he realizes the entire human race could be at the mercy of machines.

4. Minority Report (2002) – Thrills, spills and kills — well, not the last, if Tom Cruise can help it. Cruise plays John Anderton, a top Pre-Crime cop in the late-21st century, when technology can predict crimes before they’re committed. But Anderton becomes the quarry when another investigator (Colin Farrell) targets him for a murder charge. Can Anderton find a glitch in the system and prove his innocence before it’s too late?

3. Planet of the Apes (1968] – Charlton Heston stars in one of the ’60s’ most beloved camp classics. Bewildered astronaut George Taylor (Heston) crash-lands on a strange planet ruled by intelligent apes who use primitive humans for experimentation and sport. Taylor quickly finds himself among the hunted as he struggles to escape the apes’ power — and uncover their darkest secret.

2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – In this sequel to his first Terminator hit, director James Cameron delivers scene after scene of action-packed thrills. A bigger, better Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is gunning for a shape-shifting T-1000 who’s out to kill John Connor (Edward Furlong, in his film debut), the son of Sarah (Linda Hamilton), the original Terminator’s nemesis.

1. The Matrix (1999) – In this complex story that aspires to mythology, a computer hacker (Keanu Reeves) searches for the truth behind the mysterious force known as the Matrix. He finds his answer with a group of strangers led by the charismatic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). What they encounter in confronting that truth makes for a lightning-paced, eye-popping thrill ride of a movie that cleverly combines sociopolitical commentary with cutting-edge special effects.

Posted in List, Movies, Opinion, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

What is the point of NFL contracts?

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 12, 2008

The integrity of NFL contracts is really becoming a nuisance to the game. For all the other three major sports, the contracts are guaranteed, and in most cases, even if the player gets cut, is injured, or can’t fulfill the contract due to some unforeseen incident (unless explicitly stated by the contract or the general league contract rules), he will get the entirety of the contract.

At first glance, it makes sense that football contracts are not guaranteed due to the violent nature of the sport. The probability of a player playing the whole contract injury free or not playing to the capacity of the contract is very high. Consequently, the player’s union has to be amenable to non-guaranteed contracts in the collective bargaining agreement.

However, the result of this is shifting the problem elsewhere and creating two new monsters – the signing bonus and the rookie pay scale. In other words either get as much money up front as possible (signing bonuses are guaranteed) or get as much money as possible right when you join the league. Additionally, these two new monsters have further side effects; the latter years of a contract are worthless because the prorated signing bonus is over, and either the team or the player never expects to come this far in a contract. The leverages are either the player holds out for a new or reworked contract or the team cuts the player.

THE TWO HEADED MONSTER

The signing bonus

The signing bonus has essentially replaced the non-guaranteed contracts in NFL, and become the guaranteed contract. Bonuses are even prorated so they act like guaranteed contracts. In many cases, players compare each other’s worth based on signing bonuses rather than the annual average value of their contracts. What is the point of all this extra paper work if the latter years of the contract are more worthless than the paper it is written on. If the player exceeds the worth of the contract in the first few years, he wants either an extension or a new contract (in either case, he gets a new signing bonus). For example, Plaxico Burress is refusing to participate in physical drills with the Giants because he wants a reworked contract from his original 6-year $25 million dollar contract he signed 3 years ago. In hindsight, the Giants got a great deal on him because he has been an important part of the Giants run and culmination to this year’s Super Bowl. He has shown maturity with a team-first mentality and does not exhibit the immature reputation that plagued him when he was a free agent when no other team wanted him. However, don’t the Giants get any credit for even taking the chance on him? Why should they now give him more money?

Now, on the other hand, if a player does not play up to par with his contract (even if it’s due to injuries), he is at the whim of the team. In many cases, the team cuts the player. A great example of this is LaVarr Arrington and the Giants. In early 2006, Arrington signed a 7-year $49 million contract with the Giants. He suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the seventh game he played for the Giants. He was released the next February. The Giants are hit with salary cap repercussions for releasing him, and Arrington does not have the comfort of the contract he signed. This makes the signing bonus that much more important. Get as much guaranteed money as you can when you sign those contracts.

What is making it even more interesting is how teams are now attempting to recoup portions of the signing bonus after a player retires or is suspended or jailed. The prime example here is the Atlanta Falcons and Michael Vick. In 2004, Vick signed a 10-year $130million contract with a $37 million signing bonus. When he was convicted of dog-fighting in 2007 and sentenced to 18 months in prison, he would not be able to play in the NFL for 2 years. The Falcons in an attempt to salvage their investment in Vick, successfully recouped $20million of the signing bonus through arbitration.

The rookie pay scale

I have briefly talked about the unfairness of the NFL rookie pay system in an earlier post. Most rookies (especially top first rounders) know that they better get as much money as possible on their initial contract because of the unpredictability of their future. This has resulted in top rookies getting the highest signing bonuses in the entire NFL without even playing a single down. For example, JaMarcus Russell, first pick of the 2007 Draft, signed a six-year $60 million ($30 mill guaranteed) contract… without throwing a single pass in the NFL! While veteran players are being held at gunpoint by the chaos of signing bonuses and non-guaranteed contracts, rookies are getting paid like kings based on what they did in college. This is a huge issue in the upcoming CBA talks, and it appears both sides understand the unfairness of it.

OPINION

You really can’t blame the players for holding out in an attempt to get as much money as possible as soon as they can. They play in a very popular, high-revenue sport, and deserve a large portion of the pie, considering they are the stars of the product. Add in the violent nature of the sport, and getting financially secured as soon as possible is only being practical. You also can’t blame the owners for cutting players if they feel that their performance is not proportional to the salary cap space they take. Most of our jobs in normal world is performance-based anyways. After all, football teams are business franchises and making money is very important.

In my opinion, football contracts have the same risks as any of the other three sports that have guaranteed contracts. The team takes a risk by locking in a player for x amount of years for fear he underperforms. The team is happy to lock in a player that could potentially outperform his contract. The player takes a risk by locking himself in a contract for fear that he outperforms the contract. The player is happy to lock himself in a contract because it’s insurance against possible injuries and underperformance.

If the signing bonus acts like a guaranteed contract, then just have guaranteed contracts with low number of guaranteed years, and add option years into the second half of the contract. This eliminates holdouts and cuts. Fans don’t have to hate players or teams for being selfish.

The other problem with NFL contracts that I haven’t really mentioned, is that a salary cap is not compatible with non-guaranteed contracts at all. You either have salary caps with guaranteed contracts or the converse. What happens in this case is that a select few star players get paid extremely well and occupy most of the salary cap. Some teams already complain that they prefer not having a top 5 draft pick because of the salary cap repercussions. You also have this new business of seeing who is most salary cap savvy.

The next collective bargaining session in a couple of years is going to be really really interesting…

*** UPDATE 06/19/08 ***
CNNSI.com has a new article proclaiming the period in which players complain about their contracts, the protest season. Heheh…

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To-mato or not to-mato

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 10, 2008

I went to get a foot-long subway melt from Subway tonight and I was confronted with a big sign at the counter, “We are not serving tomatoes due to the FDA warning regarding salmonella in tomatoes.” I was a bit disappointed to say the least. I didn’t even have the option to decide if I wanted to listen to the warning. My poor sub would have no tomatoes tonight.

As everyone knows, there is this FDA warning right now about tomatoes after a few people got salmonella after eating them. Now I say few because 144 out of the total number of people who eat tomatoes is very very small. The question I have is is this overblown and too much fear mongering? The effects of such a warning on society is unbelievable and ranks on the list of wasted resources over actual risk. Let’s weigh the positives and the negatives over such a warning:

POSITIVES

1. The first obvious one is that hopefully society listens to the FDA and no more tomatoes are consumed and thus no more cases of salmonella from tomatoes. This is the main intent of such warnings.

2. Even though the warning puts people on edge, it is also comforting to know that the FDA is quick to act and looks out for the safety of society. We can’t say that all the time

NEGATIVES

1. Salmonella is not as fatal as most people think it is. It causes typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever and food poisoning. However, in almost all cases, it is not fatal, “only” high fever and diarrhea. Although the symptoms and duration are obviously not enjoyable, is it worth the fear that is going around. This is similar to the E.coli scare in 2006. They found the source of that bacteria quickly, but some repercussions are still felt. Subway has not brought back spinach since that scare. When I went to Subway today, they did not have tomatoes available. Soon, I will be getting subs with only cheese and bread.

2. The tomato industry collapses – This Reuters articles describes how the tomato industry is at a complete standstill and close to scrapping over $40 million worth of tomatoes. Based on probability, one has to guess almost all of those tomatoes are perfectly safe. Is it worth $40million over this? Well, that depends if people die.

3. It is the job of the FDA to issue such a warning, so I can’t really blame them. However, how come the government is not allowing driving until they figure out how automobiles never have accidents? Or how come flying in airplanes, trains and boats are allowed? How come cigarettes are allowed? How come alcohol is allowed? Is the issue over choice and involuntary? Well, then you can issue the warning and still allow people the option of having tomatoes. Honestly, I missed my tomatoes in my sub today, and I would’ve bet $1,000 that there would’ve been no salmonella in my sub.

QUESTIONS

Is this an ethical question? Is it ok to stop an entire industry for the sake of a “few” unfortunate sick people? After all, salmonella is not contagious and it would’ve been quickly found which producer’s tomatoes are the culprit based on the pattern of people getting sick. Is government responsible for the safety of every individual person in society? What about cigarettes? Drunk driving from alcohol? At what point do we say, live and let live? Isn’t there already enough fear in everything we do? I mean, back then government didn’t and couldn’t care that much. You were at the whim of your own karma.

Well, I won’t be eating any tomatoes… until we are given the green light from the FDA…

Update:

MSNBC.com just posted an article similar to what I was asking: Did food sellers overreact to tomato scare?

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The Near-Sightedness of American Automakers

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 3, 2008

GOING GREEN DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN GOING SMALL PERMANENTLY

Having a commanding 76% market share (GM 43.8%, Ford 20.4%, Chrysler ~12%) in the United States in 1980, the Big Three Automakers now only carry a 47% share of the domestic cars and light trucks market in 2008. With a complete hold on the domestic market, what happened? The answer lies in how the perception of domestic brands versus international brands have completely swapped. The reason has been the inability of GM, Ford, and Chrysler to predict the intermediate-term trends of the consumer market.

Automakers market share through the years

Ford Taurus

Honda Accord

Whether this was due to hubris, denial or plain ignorance is debatable, and most likely a combination of all three. Japanese cars in the 1970s through the end of the 1980s had the perception that they were horribly unreliable and problematic. European cars had a slightly better, but still negative perception. Instead of realizing that underdogs, or those working from behind, tend to be more hungry and nimble, the Big Three sat on their behinds and continued to pump out staid and non-innovative cars. When the perception of Japanese cars started making headway in safety and comfort in the 1990s, such as the Accord, Camry and Lexus brand, the Big Three was still slow to respond. When the European automakers started importing cars known for luxury, style, speed and beautiful interiors, the Big Three was slow to respond. Even for American icons such as the Chevrolet Corvette, the constant criticism had always focused on how ugly and boring it’s dashboard was. It wasn’t until the latest version, the C6 generation debuted in 2005 (and to a lesser degree the C5 in 1997) did people start complimenting it’s interior. Why did it take so long? What about the Ford Taurus, which was the highest selling car in the mid-1990s? Instead of maintaining it’s sales lead with innovation and style, Ford had to scrap that model in 2006 (only to be resurrected in 2008 by re-labeling the Five-Hundred as the Taurus). When they fell behind in the 1990s, the perception of American cars became that which its competitors were known for a decade or two ago, boring, unreliable, and unsafe.

The last twenty-five years, we have witnessed the Big Three automakers miss or been slow to recognize the consumer trends toward reliable, safe, comfortable, fuel efficient and greener vehicles. The decline of its market share is clearly a result of this. However, it is also important to note that another big reason for its inability to be nimble in recognizing trends is due to its ancient corporate culture and the strength of the autoworkers union. Had the union and the companies worked together by compromising, we might not be seeing such drastic layoffs and cuts the past ten years.

CONTINUED NEAR-SIGHTEDNESS

The near-sightedness continues to this day. In an article today on MSNBC.com – GM to close 4 factories, may drop Hummer, CEO Rick Wagoner makes another strong statement in reference to the decline of large vehicle sales, “We at GM don’t think this is a spike or a temporary shift.” He believes that the change in the U.S. market to smaller vehicles is likely permanent. As already behind the curve in a consumer move towards more fuel-efficient cars, by jumping on board now with blanket statements like that seem near-sighted. Although current trends support the notion that fuel-efficiency is equivalent to size of vehicle, this might not be the case in the long term. Current vehicles support that correlation only because the weight of the vehicles require larger engines and thus more gasoline per mile driven. However, this is purely an energy source problem and not a size of vehicle problem. Americans are not moving to smaller vehicles because they want smaller cargo space, weaker torque and lower high-end speed, they are moving to smaller vehicles out of necessity. High oil prices and sympathy to global warming have forced them to evaluate the price and efficiency of the cars they drive. If large vehicles, like the SUV, were to be powered by a renewable alternative energy that is just as powerful and efficient as gasoline, just as affordable as current vehicles, and much cleaner for the environment, Americans would be more than willing to buy them, probably at a higher pace the late 1990s. Imagine a brand new 2009 GMC Yukon that achieves the equivalent of 50 miles per gallon, produces no waste, and costs $40,000. GMC would have a hard time keeping up with demand. Although not possible today, it is possible in the next 10 to 20 years. Look how much vehicles have changed since the 1970s. Seatbelts, airbags, electronic-stability control, cleaner fuel, and hybrids are just to name a few. Why make a statement that large vehicles are gone for good? It sounds good now, but it’s purely another example that GM fails to recognize that the problem today is fuel efficiency, which might not correlate to size of vehicle in the future.

The highway system of America is built for large vehicles, not small vehicles such as the Mini Cooper or Smart ForTwo. Even in the cities, small vehicles are not necessarily safer. Our highways and suburbs were built with the notion that gasoline would be permanently accessible and affordable. As the world moves to renewable energy resources as oil hits peak production, it is in the best economic interests of America to continue researching safe and efficient vehicles for our highway system, instead of the other way around. Thus, GM is near-sightedness in completely scrapping the idea of big vehicles. They should be researching the possibility of renewable energy efficiency in big vehicles in parallel to short-term trends of small cars having higher fuel-efficiency.

UPDATE 11/18/08 – The Big Three automakers are in Congress today seeking $25 billion in assistance from the Senate. Seems like even they are sick and tired of the short-sightedness, mismanagement and irresponsibility of the industry:

“Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, dressed down auto industry executives at a hearing Tuesday, calling them short sighted and unimaginative, as the industry seeks $25 billion of taxpayer money to ward off looming bankruptcy.

‘Their board rooms in my view have been devoid of vision,” said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, in opening remarks at a hearing attended by the executives of the nation’s Big Three automakers. “The Big Three turned a blind eye to opportunities. They have promoted and often driven the demand of inefficient, gas guzzling vehicles, and dismissed the threat of global warming.'” (Source: Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney)

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Movie Review – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 2, 2008

Cast: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen
Director: Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg teams up with Harrison Ford to continue the Indian Jones series after an 18 year layoff. This movie seems to be another in the line of successful movie franchises from many years past going through a modern resurrection. Die Hard 4 from 2007, twelve years after the last one. New modern adaptations of Superman and Batman. I have to say all three are either better or at least as good as the originals. However, I cannot say same thing about Indiana Jones. This franchise appears to be on its last legs and if it was the last one, it did not go out with a bang the way Die Hard did.

WHY I SAW THIS MOVIE

If you grew up in the 1980s, as I did, the Indiana Jones franchise was the perfect combination of action, adventure, comedy and star power. How can one forget Short Round from Temple of Doom or Sean Connery in Last Crusade? Harrison Ford is one of those few actors that has that serious and suave yet amusing demeanor that we all love. Sean Connery is another one of those.

THE CAST

Harrison Ford, one of the preeminent actors in the 1990s hasn’t transitioned to older roles in the way we all thought he would, partly due to his lack of roles. Crystal Skull is only his fourth film since 2000. None of the previous three cracked $50million in cumulative US box office receipts. Teaming up with Steven Spielberg to create an automatic $100million seemed the logical career move.

Cate Blanchett, well known for her roles as Elizabeth of England and Oscar-winning role in The Aviator, is cast as the KGB psychologist. Her role in Babel is also worthy of notice. Although not as prolific as other actresses, due to her strict role selections, she has become a top-tier actress.

Shia LaBeouf is an up and coming actor best known for playing Sam Witwicky in Transformers and Louis Stevens in the Disney series Even Stevens.

PREMISE

Set in the 1960s, Professor Henry “Indiana” Jones is taken out of his teaching job after the KGB kidnap him to locate an unknown box in a big warehouse somewhere along the lines of Area 51. Indy is not sure what is in the box even though he assisted the government in digging up its contents in the first place. After the KGB find what they want, they continue to pester Indy for “knowledge”. Unable to stay at peace, Indy takes a leave of absence and heads for England. However, he is met by a motorcycle-riding youngster named Mutt who asks for his assistance in locating a crystal skull because his mother and friend Oxley has been kidnapped. Thus, Indy travels throughout the world in search of this crystal skull and its significance.

REVIEW

The Kingdom of Crystal Skulls is not up to par with the first three Indiana Jones. I had a hard time deciding if the movie wanted to be taken seriously or comically. The casting of Blanchett seemed to support the latter one, because it’s so out of her ordinarily serious roles. She reminded me of the loud and stereotyped Frau Farbissina in Austin Powers. Harrison Ford is noticeably older in this movie and doesn’t pull it off well. (Remember Connery playing his dad but was only 12 years his elder in real life?) A lot of the major action scenes are actually left up to LaBeouf and Blanchett. Jones’ ability to take those punches and bear hugs from enemies seem to be so painful now knowing he is in his sixties.

Blanchett appears to have fun playing the role of KGB hardwoman Irina. Irina has the stereotypical Soviet hard and loud accent with angular movements forced by the long boots and rigidity of the uniform. There are many fight scenes for Irina and Blanchett seems to enjoy doing something different than her typical roles. However, it was still hard to take seriously given the stereotypes and her background.

LaBeouf also not a good cast for the part of Mutt Williams. He seemed to over-act the part in trying to be a cool 1950s motorcycle-riding switch-blading bad-ass. His accent was over the top and his attempts at young humor against the ancient Ford just wasn’t funny. It would be hard to picture him as carrying the lead role of Indiana Jones in future renditions.

Finally, the role of Karen Allen as Marion was unbearable to watch. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, she was 27 years younger and was able to pull off the flirty, annoying, bossy love interest of Indy. However, in reprising that role here, it was just purely annoying. All her jokes were predictable, and all her actions were unbearable. In trying to close out Harrison Ford’s character, they tried to bring it full circle while adding a young character in Mutt. It just didn’t work

As for the movie story, the ending is a hit or miss with the audience. The powers of the crystal skull seemed to allow them to get out of jams too easily. The appearance of natives and enemies are more random than in the previous three. It was obvious that LaBeouf was casted in an attempt to hand off the franchise to a younger actor, leaving an opening for future movies. Overall, this movie does not meet Indiana Jones fans’ expectations and lacks the storylines and pure action that the other resurrected franchises achieved.

VERDICT

Rating: 6 out of 10 Indiana Jones fedoras

What did you think of Kingdom of Crystal Skulls?

1) worst of the four
2) one of the worst
3) one of the better ones
4) the best one
5) haven’t seen it, but plan to
6) haven’t seen it, don’t plan to

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