Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dear Cracked: Eat All the Crow

Part of the primary thesis of yesterday's post is that Fox, while seemingly completely in their rights to claim ownership of the distribution rights to Watchmen, should have said something much earlier. Like, when Warner Bros. first announced that they were making Watchmen, Fox should have said, "Um. No."

Well, as it turns out, they did. Not only was the lawsuit under discussion filed in February, but indications are that Fox did, in fact, speak up when WB first announced their intentions to make the Watchmen film. Essentially the conversation went like this.

WB: We're making Watchmen!

Fox: Hold on, we own that. You need to pay the buy-out price.

WB: You don't own it. Go screw.

Fox: Seriously, we'll take it to court.

WB: Try it, we dare you.

Court: Yeah, they own it.

WB: Fuck.

Fox isn't completely off the dick-eating hook here as a studio; they deserve to choke on Dick Mountain for their treatment of Firefly alone. But they're off the hook somewhat for their actions re: Watchmen, since it looks like they did what we the whingers said they should have done. WB should definitely have done their homework a little better on this one.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dear Fox: Eat All the Dicks

So for those of you not following the Watchmen legal saga, the short version is this:

Fox optioned the rights in the 80s. DC thought that the option had lapsed, and took it elsewhere. Warner Brothers made the film, and once the film was made, Fox stood up and say "Hey, we think we still own that."

And a few days ago, the judge in the case ruled that Fox was right.

No one is arguing that they weren't in their rights to do so, but they might have said something before Warner Bros. spent hundreds of millions of dollars making and promoting the film, considering it's not like the production was shrouded in secrecy.

My thoughts on this are best expressed by Dan O'Brien's blog over at So I'll just be one of many auxiliary blogs linking to that one.

"Watchmen" Fan Cordially Invites Fox to Eat Several Dicks

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

I don't believe in any gods or religion, and so the root of the word "holiday" ("holy day") is not particularly meaningful.

But let's be honest, the so-called holidays are mostly secularized at this point, and spending time with loved ones, eating good food, and of course exchanging tokens of affection, are all plenty meaningful, whatever particular mythology you choose (or not) to append to the season.

So happy holidays and enjoy them everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Case for a Creator: Chapter Three, Part 1

It's been a while since I had the stomach for this book -- and given I only got through discussing two chapters and reading the third, that's saying something.

But with the holidays looming and the religious right braying about the imaginary "War on Christmas," and with the blog and much of what I have to do either having slowed or taking lots of render breaks, I thought I should come back to this and try to get at least another chapter out of the way before the end of the year. I do still intend to get through the whole book. Eventually.

If you missed the previous two chapters, you can find them here:

Chapter One
Chapter Two

And now we move on to Chapter Three: Doubts about Darwinism.

Like Chapter Two, the introductory pages to Chapter Three are massively tedious. Here's a taste of it, starting at the beginning and skipping a bit here and there:

There were one hundred of them -- biologists, chemists, zoologists, physicists, anthropologists, molecular and cell biologists, bio-engineers, organic chemists, geologists, astrophysicists, and other scientists. Their doctorates came from such prestigious universities as Cambridge, Stanford, Cornell, Yale, Rutgers...[He lists 8 more.]

They included professors from Yale Graduate School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology...[he lists 20 more, and a vague "and elsewhere."]

Among them was the director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry...[et cetera.] [page 31]

You see, I trust, where this is going. In a book of about 300 pages, 10% of the way in, Strobel has gone for broke with the Argument from Authority, with over a hundred scientists who wanted to...what? Present evidence that discredited evolution? Present alternative interpretations of the existing evidence?

But no, it's nothing of that sort at all. Apparently this lot of ~100 scientists "wanted the world to know one thing: they are skeptical." [ibid]

The argumentation here is so massively flawed as to be positively breathtaking. In one page, not only has Strobel managed to present an entirely invalid and overstated Argument from Authority, but he's made it a twofer and also presented an Argument from Incredulity:

Their statement was direct and defiant. "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life," they said. "Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." [page 32]

Setting aside Strobel's attempt to lionize the dissenters by using such descriptors as "defiant," it's astonishing that over 100 scientists should apparently have no idea how science works. Of course the evidence is given careful examination! That's what evolutionary biologists fucking do. It is given careful examination, and experimentation, and is proven reliable again, and again, and again. If it wasn't, despite what the creationist/ID proponents seem to want to believe, it would be discarded.

Am I supposed to be impressed that over 100 scientists -- many of them from areas of science that are not relevant to evolutionary theory -- are "skeptical"? The National Center for Science Education has a list of nearly 1000 scientists who are not skeptical of evolution, who accept it as a "vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences" -- and that's only a partial list of the ones named Steve.

You want to play the numbers game, Strobel? Because we can, but you lose.

He goes on to make several claims that evolution is and has always been a controversial theory. He (partially) quotes historian Peter Bowler. When I say partially, well:

[A]ccording to historian Peter Bowler, substantive scientific critiques of natural selection started so early that by 1900 "its opponents were convinced it would never recover." [ibid]

Where to begin with the problems here. First off, as I said, this is a partial quote. The first part of the quote, the part that provides context to the second, is in Strobel's own words. It may be an accurate paraphrase, but it may be a fabrication. There's actually no way to tell, because while he does provide an endnote citation for this quote, like the Dennett quote in Chapter Two he does not directly cite the specific work of Peter Bowler in which this quote, and its context, can be found. Instead, the source he gives is:

See: Getting the Facts Straight (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2001), 11. [page 309]

The Discovery Institute, if you are unfamiliar, is a religious organization masquerading as pseudo-science1. Since their whole goal is to present Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution, it seems reasonable to assume that their pamphlet "Getting the Facts Straight" will be biased. So, once again, I find it alarming that Strobel neglects to quote Bowler directly; either he has not done his due diligence to ensure that he is accurately representing Bowler's statement, or he is intentionally obfuscating the source and context of the quote.

Since Bowler is (according to Wikipedia) a vocal critic of creationism, and proponent of evolution, it seems to me his views would be unlikely to be properly supported in such works.

Even if the quote is completely accurate to Bowler's statement, the fact is that we are 108 years beyond 1900, and the theory of evolution has not only "recovered," but it is still the only cohesive, scientific explanation for the diversity of life as it is observed.

There is no controversy, and anyone who tells you there is, is trying to sell you something. Like this book, for example.

Moving on to the first subheading, and at last, the first interview with someone who will hopefully help build the eponymous Case. This first one is Jonathan Wells, who Strobel not-so-subtly indicates is a man with not one, but two Ph.Ds. The heading is ""Interview #1: Jonathan Wells, Ph.D, Ph.D."

Right. As I said in my wrap up of Chapter Two, Strobel's obviously misleading tactics have compelled me to look into the subjects of his interviews, and the claims they make. We already knew, by Strobel's own admission, that he would only be speaking to people who he knew would say what he wanted to hear. So, what is there to know about Jonathan Wells?

Well, first off, he is a member of the Unification Church established by Sun Myung Moon -- aka, the Moonies. (Sun Myung Moon's followers believe that Moon is the second coming of Christ, fulfilling Jesus' unfinished mission.)

As Strobel points out, Wells does in fact have a Ph.D a the relevant field of biology. And while Strobel does acknowledge (in an endnote) Wells' association with the Moonies, and even goes on record as disagreeing "thoroughly" with their theology, he does not see fit to reveal that Moon in fact paid for Wells' doctorate, and that, in Wells' own words:

Father's words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.

Oh, and one more thing: Wells is a Senior Fellow at the aforementioned Discovery Institute.

Since I keep railing on Strobel's rhetorical fallacies, I will not commit one of my own by attacking Wells the person instead of his arguments. But if this information cannot be said to undermine the credibility of Strobel's first interviewee, it certainly makes his impartiality on the subject somewhat questionable.

Not that we, the readers, could have expected impartiality when Strobel has already stated that there will be nothing of the sort. But Strobel takes this intellectual dishonesty to dizzying, previously unimaginable new heights. In the run-up to the actual text of the interview with Wells, he throws a quick little end-note on the end of the paragraph. Follow the end-note and Strobel tells us this:

Note that all interviews have been edited for conciseness, clarity, and content. [page 309]

I just about shit myself when I read that. Not only has Strobel openly admitted to selecting only those who would agree with his conclusion, but he has also -- again openly -- edited the interviews "for content," more than likely selecting only those statements that support his conclusion.

This guy was a journalist?

I should point out that we are, at this point, five pages into a thirty-seven page chapter. Given how long this entry is already, I think I'll leave off Wells' actual interview until next time. Savor the anticipation.

  1. I find it hard to imagine what kind of "science" they do, since the foregone conclusion to any mysterious or even mundane observation is "God did it." No need for any kind of research, or even intellectual curiosity. You've chosen the answer before you even bother to ask the question. Seems like it'd be a pretty short day at the office.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What Just Happened...Redux

New RED announcements have come down the pipe, but first a brief update.

I have been incredibly busy, as usual. "Hella" busy, as I believe the kids are saying these days. NaNoWriMo didn't happen this year, again, because it seems like November is one of my busiest months.

Several projects that seemed to be languishing in development suddenly picked up new momentum, and I've been working on a new script of which I enjoy the idea and want to see how well I can execute it. Prioritizing these projects -- as well as juggling the ever-present Sandrima Rising -- is very difficult, especially for a relatively disorganized person like myself. The first thing I will do when I get money is hire an assistant. Not because I want to feel important, but because I seriously need someone else to keep track of my schedule for me. I'm hopeless with it.

Even though only two weeks have gone by since my last post, it's already been enough time for RED to announce that "everything had changed again," and gave a date to unveil these new announcements, December 3. The November 13 announcements, Jim Jannard assured us, were "insignificant" relative to the new announcements.

This declaration was greeted with more groans and rolled eyes than anything, I think. I tweeted a comment that's gotten some air-time in several podcasts, that "RED is the first company to have proven themselves legitimate only to then turn themselves into a vaporware company." It's all well and good that RED continues to innovate and add value to their product line, but if they don't BUILD anything then it's all academic.

It's only just December 3, but the announcements actually came out yesterday afternoon (it was Dec. 3 somewhere).

And did these announcements knock our socks off and render that long, impassioned blowjob I gave the modular DSMC system "insignificant"?

Well, no. Not really. They announced some updated specs to the current product line, and added a new upgrade path just for the true believers (i.e. RED ONE owners) in the crowd...but that was it. Don't get me wrong, the news was good, I like the new specs, and I like the new upgrade path, but this was not an announcement that needed its own pre-announcement.

Jannard and the RED team acted surprised when they weren't fellated anew by the worshipful throngs who had gathered to hear their new decrees. And it's because today's announcements weren't such a big deal that they warranted a week and a half's hype of the "it's coming" variety. My suggestion to RED: if you've got an announcement to make, make it. If you're not ready to make it, hold off. But unless you're going to do a live keynote a la Apple, stick a fork in the whole "announcing when you will make an announcement" thing (and even then, save that for NAB and/or IBC).

You've got people patrolling RedUser 24/7 as it is -- just announce something without forewarning, I promise you it will spread almost as fast. And the excitement and appreciation will be greater, because the hoi polloi won't have had weeks or months to get emotionally attached to what they think you're going to offer, only to be disappointed.

I think RED has made a great camera and, if they follow through on their promises, will make even greater ones. But if they continue drinking their own Kool-Aid as much as they are, there won't be much left for their fans.

As for the updated specs, the pre-DSMC Scarlet has more or less made a comeback. You can get a ready-to-shoot camera with a fixed lens, shooting 3K RAW footage, for just under $4000. Not quite the "3K for $3K" mantra from NAB (though they do offer the camera and lens combo for that, so they will still be able to use the slogan), but still not only an HVX-killer, but a market-segment killer. Pretty much every camera in the $3000-$10,000 range will be wiped out by the coming of Scarlet, which will offer higher resolution and higher quality than cameras even twice its price. It'll shoot up to 120fps and generally be pretty awesome.

The Full-Frame 35 Scarlet brain has dropped in price, from $12K to $9,750; the FF35 Epic likewise dropped from $35K to $33K. Instead of Redcode 42, the S35 and FF35 Scarlets now record Redcode 80 and 100, respectively. Still unclear what those numbers mean, but hey, there's MORE of them. That's got to be good, right?1

The new spec sheet basically delineates all of the available internal shooting modes -- resolution, aspect ratio, framerate, etc. -- of each brain. And 350fps at 2K is damned impressive, I have to say. But that's something you rent for anyway.

Of everything, most significant was the announcement of the Epic X package. Basically, the Epic X package takes an Epic S35 brain, packages it with everything you need to make it a functional camera system (CF, battery, and I/O modules), gives it a slightly higher-quality data rate (Redcode 250 instead of 225), and prices it the same as the Epic S35 brain alone -- $28,000. With the RED ONE full trade-in value, that's a springboard to the next generation for $10,000.

In the big pond, that's a steal.

Tempting though the package is, however, my next move as a RED owner will be dictated by the price of the accessories.

An Epic brain -- even an Epic X -- is more than I see myself needing as a general rule. I won't need the higher framerates since I don't generally go for slow motion, I won't need the higher data rates because frankly Redcode 36 is brilliant already, I won't need an anamorphic mode because I can't afford to shoot anamorphic. And if I CAN afford to shoot anamorphic, I can no doubt afford to rent an Epic.

It'd be NICE to have all those things at the flick of a switch and turn of a dial, but consider: if I'm already sanguine with raising another $10K to rise to the next level, then if the accessories necessary to make the "brains" into useful camera equipment cost $5K or so per-camera, we could get TWO Scarlet S35s for less than the price of ONE Epic X. Did somebody say stereoscopic?2

Like I said, it all depends on how much the accessories go for; and even given that, I inherited something of a gadget fetish from my dad, and having something that is "latest and greatest," "limited edition," AND "heavily discounted just for me" might be too much to resist if I can afford to not resist it.

It's more than six months until their target date, likely more than a year until their real date, so I'll have plenty of time to mull it over. And they'll have plenty of time to change it yet again.

  1. Though the numbers may not directly correlate to filesize anymore, I think it's a safe bet that Redcode 80, 100, and up will take up significantly more space than Redcode 36. We're just going to have to put our faith in Moore's Law on this one and hope that affordable digital storage keeps pace.

  2. I know the RED ONE full-value trade-in doesn't apply to the Scarlet brains, but I've thought of a way to make it work.