Let it grow

Friday, May 29th, 2015

October is the 10th anniversary of Bob Iger’s appointment as Disney’s chief executive, a period that has been defined by acquisitions:

Mr Iger began putting the pieces in place for a Disney revival as soon he was told by the board that he would replace Mr Eisner, contacting Mr Jobs and expressing an interest in doing a deal. By January 2006, just three months after Mr Iger had started as chief executive, Disney bought Pixar in an all-stock deal worth $7.4bn. “I had this instinct that Pixar was the best way to fix and save Disney animation,” Mr Iger says.


The Pixar deal had big similarities with the two other landmark transactions of his tenure, Mr Iger says. As with Pixar, when Disney acquired Marvel and Lucasfilm it did not seek external advice from investment banks. Disney’s own corporate strategy unit, led by its top dealmaker Kevin Mayer, crunched the numbers, while Mr Iger made the approach and the pitch himself. “All three deals began with one-on-one discussions,” says Mr Iger. “I began each one pitching my heart out.”


Disney’s studio acquisitions have also been transformative for the three people who sold their companies to Disney. George Lucas, who sold the rights to the Star Wars franchise to Disney at the end of 2012, has generated a paper profit of $2.2bn on the shares he was given; Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, the largest shareholder in Marvel Entertainment at the time of the sale, has earned a paper profit of $1.7bn. The biggest paper profit has been made by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs. Mr Jobs was the majority shareholder in Pixar, which Disney acquired in an all-stock deal worth $7.4bn in 2006. Today the Jobs stake is worth about $14.3bn.

The Blood Bag

Monday, May 25th, 2015

James Lafond recommends Mad Max: Fury Road as the ideal date movie for real men and their prospective sexual property, despite its weak ending:

The movie ends on a postmodern sentimental note that would have Ernst Jünger barfing in his popcorn bag. But this bullshit ending is only made possible by the truer story imbedded in the supporting cast.

He also pokes some fun at the manosphere.

(Hat tip to our Slovenian guest.)

The Madness of Mission 6

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

The Madness of Mission 6, by Travis Pitts, explains a classic video game:

Madness of Mission 6

Young Feathers

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Jetman Yves Rossy and protege Vince Reffet fly around Dubai in a professionally produced video dubbed Young Feathers:

Oxford’s Influential Inklings

Friday, May 15th, 2015

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were two of Oxford’s Influential Inklings, but Lewis didn’t feel that he and Tolkien had influenced one another:

I don’t think Tolkien influenced me, and I am certain I didn’t influence him. That is, didn’t influence what he wrote. My continual encouragement, carried to the point of nagging, influenced him v. much to write at all with that gravity and at that length. In other words I acted as a midwife not as a father. The similarities between his work and mine are due, I think, (a) To nature — temperament. (b) To common sources. We are both soaked in Norse mythology, Geo. MacDonald’s fairy-tales, Homer, Beowulf, and medieval romance. Also, of course, we are both Christians (he, an R.C.).

Military Woodblock Art

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

We tend to associate traditional Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) with traditional Japanese subject matter — namely Hokusai’s Great Wave — but the popular art style found itself applied to modern military subjects, too:

This should not be too much of a surprise, however: the most famous of the great Japanese woodblock artists died only a few decades before Commodore Perry brought his black boats to Edo bay. Much of their era would disappear in the miraculous changes of the Meiji revolution, but as the prints included here show quite clearly, much of the old order lived on into the 20th century.

Woodblock, Kobayashi Kiyochika,  In the Battle of the Yellow Sea

These prints all depict episodes from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 or the Russo-Japanese War that was waged a decade later. Remarkably, none of these prints were designed to be great works of art; the great majority were carved and colored to accompany news reports from the front-lines, printed in newspapers or periodicals circulating in Japan on short notice. The artists never saw the battlefields they depicted, relying instead on common visual tropes, reporter’s accounts (you can see a gaggle of such reporters in the bottom right corner of the print placed directly below), and their own imaginations to create these images. The prints are therefore less useful for understanding the tactics or battlefield conditions of these wars than they are for understanding the attitude of a Japanese public mobilized for external conquest for the first time in centuries.

Woodblock, Yasuda Hampo, Picture of the Eighth Attack on Port Arthur

As historical sources the prints are revealing. A comparison of the physical features of the Japanese and Chinese soldiers depicted testifies to how thoroughly the Japanese people had adopted the racialist ideology common in European circles at the time. The prints, like the wars themselves, also betray how eager the Japanese were to prove that they were the equals of the Western powers. Perhaps most interesting, however, is how exultantly they depict the wars of their day. Tactically, the Russo-Japanese War was not far removed from the Great War that soon followed it, but the way the Japanese portrayed their experience with industrial warfare could not be further removed from the collective horror Europeans felt when they fought in the trenches. These woodblock prints were some of the first artistic renderings of industrial age warfare; never again would a people forced to wage such a war render it so beautifully.

Woodblock, Mizuno Toshikata, Hurrah, Hurrah for the Great Japanese Empire

Woodblock, Kobayashi Kiyochika, Our Forces Great Victory in the Battle of the Yellow Sea

Muppets “Cool Kids” A Cappella

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Sometimes even the Muppets want to be like the cool kids:

Venus de Milo Spinning Thread

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

The original Venus de Milo may have been spinning thread:

Barber, a professor emeritus at Occidental College and the doyenne of textile archeology, proffers a thesis the 19th-century critics never debated. She imagines Venus doing something that occupied endless hours of women’s time before the Industrial Revolution: spinning thread. She suggests that the statue held a distaff of fluffy fibers in her upraised left arm, while with her right she guided the thread toward a weighted drop spindle hanging in front of her. “This was a pose painfully familiar to women in ancient Greek society,” Barber notes.

Venus de Milo Spinning Thread


Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

BusinessTown explores what value-creating winners do all day — in the style of Richard Scarry:

BusinessTown Brogrammers

BusinessTown VCs

The Adventures of Lil Cthulhu

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

It’s a new day, and the stars are right. Wake up Lil Cthulhu! It’s time to play!

(Hat tip to Borepatch.)

Marvel’s Farm System

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

It’s not the actors who make the character, but the character who makes the actor:

Disney-owned Marvel has mastered that approach and made A-listers out of previous unknowns. Chris Pratt, for example, was best known for his supporting role on the sitcom “Parks and Recreation.” Then he landed the starring role in last summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” by far the season’s biggest box-office winner, bringing in $774 million. He’s now one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men and will star in “Jurassic World” this June.

Mr. Hemsworth was an Australian soap-opera star before Marvel plucked him to play the titular God of Thunder in 2010’s “Thor.” Soon afterward, he played the lead role in a second franchise, “Snow White and the Huntsman,” and has headlined thrillers including “Rush” and “Blackhat.”

Marvel takes the same approach with directors—in contrast to competitors like Warner Bros., which has entrusted its superheroes to high-end auteur Christopher Nolan and experienced action director Zack Snyder. Kenneth Branagh’s career directing big-screen Shakespeare adaptations petered out several years before Marvel picked him to direct “Thor.” After that film hit it big, Mr. Branagh continued a second career in big-budget movies such as last year’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” and March’s live-action “Cinderella.”

“Everyone pays attention to who’s starring, who’s directing, who’s writing Marvel movies,” said producer and former Sony executive Michael De Luca. “Because of their track record… how can you not pay attention to their farm system?”


To secure lead actors for its series of interlocking sequels and spinoffs, Marvel typically signs them to six-movie deals. For stars, upfront salaries are paltry by Hollywood standards, often just barely over $1 million per picture for the first two films in a deal, after which they start to rise.

Actors receive bonuses when films meet box-office milestones, but the total payday is still far below what A-listers like Johnny Depp regularly earn on similarly successful blockbusters like “Pirates of the Caribbean.”


The company’s successful track record ironically allows for more experimentation in genre and form than is typically allowed in Hollywood these days—so long as it’s done with comic-book characters. It’s unthinkable that any other studio would greenlight a big budget political thriller like next year’s “Captain America: Civil War” or a science-fiction action-comedy like last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

In addition, since the studio makes only two to three movies a year, its president and top creative executive Kevin Feige is personally involved with every project, and the company rarely develops scripts it doesn’t intend to make.

“It makes a huge difference to deal with Kevin all the time, as opposed to several layers of people trying to guess what their boss wants,” said Anthony Russo, co-director with his brother Joe of last year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Mr. Feige is said to be a firm believer that the characters and the Marvel brand itself are the stars of his films. That approach syncs well with Mr. Perlmutter’s tight-fistedness and gives Mr. Feige the leeway to make bold choices. He cast Mr. Downey as “Iron Man” in 2008, even though the actor’s career was on the rocks at the time, because his showboating bad-boy persona mirrored the character of Tony Stark, the man behind the Iron Man mask.

ATI Stock In A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Some gun nuts spotted an ATI stock in a galaxy far, far away:

Stormtrooper with ATI Stock

If you look carefully you can see the horizontal oval shapes of the cheek rest and the downward angled stripes on the butt pad.

Stormtrooper with ATI Stock Close Up

ATI Stock

That cheek rest might not work so well…

The Spiritual Core of The Lord of the Rings

Friday, April 17th, 2015

J.R.R. Tolkien may have been a devout Catholic, but there is no religion in The Lord of the Rings:

There is quite obviously no organized religion in the sense of doctrinal beliefs, separate castes of priests, even places of worship. Nor do the characters ever mention a god or gods, resort to prayer, or even swear oaths and make imprecations that invoke the names of deities. And although there are gods in the creation myths of The Silmarillion, who are therefore presumably lurking somewhere in the cosmic background of the story in Lord of the Rings, they play no active or recognized role in the latter story, while even in the creation myths of The Silmarillion their relationship to the Chil-dren of Ilúvatar is somewhat distant, especially from men, and grows more so over time. Indeed, the god most involved in the affairs of the Children, Melkor/Morgoth, has by the beginning of the Lord of the Rings long since been vanquished, and the focus of the dark powers is his lieutenant Sauron, who although powerful, is never attributed with divinity of any sort.

Imagine seeing Tolkien’s work through another lens:

It would be relatively easy, as a hypothetical counter-example, to construct a Buddhist reading of the Lord of the Rings. One would not even need to note the interesting coincidence that the paradise of a dominant sect of Mahayana Buddhism, the Pure Land sect, is conceived of as being a land in the far west, like the mostly inaccessible lands west of the Grey Havens. A more Zen reading could focus on the transitory nature of all things (including the Third Age) as an explanation for the moments of what might well be called Enlightenment that many of the characters ?nd in small, everyday moments, as well as for the sorrow they feel at the departure of friends and Ages, a clear sign of attachment to the impermanent and therefore illusory things of the world. The problem here is that the sorrow is presented not as a problem but as a core feature of the world, so this reading, like Christian readings, works only at a level of abstraction high enough to elide the crucial details, that is, at a level of ideas common to many religions.

Middle-earth is not a created medieval world so much as a world created by a medievalist:

The difference is that for a medievalist,the world he studies—and is fascinated by, and may come to love — is gone, whereas for medieval people their world was inescapably present. For the medievalist, the important world is a past age, the evidence for whose existence is fragmentary, incomplete, degraded, and often lost. For medieval people, the evidence for their world was abundant and ever-present. Even those medievalists who recognize that we live today in a more comfortable material world and a more politically egalitarian one may feel a touch of nostalgia for the past, or a sense of melancholy that a vanished world cannot be accessed directly. Medieval people, of course, felt no such thing, because their world had not vanished, nor did they expect it to.

A Story of Entrepreneurship

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Tim Ferriss really goes out of his way to explain why he would interview his latest guest:

The goal of my blog and podcast is to push you outside of your comfort zone and force you to question assumptions.

This is why I invite divergent thinkers and world-class performers who often disagree. I might interview Tony Robbins and then Matt Mullenweg. Or I might have a long chat with Sam Harris, PhD, and later invite a seemingly opposite guest like…

Glenn Beck.

This interview is a wild ride, and it happened — oddly enough — thanks to a late-night sauna session. I was catching up with an old friend, who is mixed-race, a Brown University grad, and liberal in almost every sense of the word. I casually asked him, “If you could pick one person to be on the podcast, who would it be?”

“Glenn Beck,” he answered without a moment’s hesitation. “His story is FASCINATING.”

He described how Glenn hit rock bottom and restarted his life in his 30’s, well past the point most people think it possible. Fast forward to 2014, Forbes named him to their annual Celebrity 100 Power List and pegged his earnings at $90 million for that year. This placed him ahead of people like Mark Burnett, Jimmy Fallon, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Will Smith. Glenn’s platforms — including radio, tv, digital (TheBlaze.com), publishing, etc. — get somewhere between 30 and 50 million unique visitors per month.

This interview is neither a “gotcha” interview nor a softball interview. I ask some tough questions (e.g. “If you were reborn as a disabled gay woman in a poor family, what political system would you want in place?”), but my primary goal is to pull out routines, habits, books, etc. that you can use. This show is about actionable insight, not argument for argument’s sake.

First and foremost, this is a story of entrepreneurship, and whether you love Glenn, hate Glenn, or have never heard his name, there is a lot to learn from him.

Star Wars: The Digital Movie Collection

Friday, April 10th, 2015

So, the Star Wars movies are finally coming to digital, but they’re coming in “special edition” form. Sigh.

When you’re selling a beloved piece of people’s childhoods, don’t you sell them the version they know and love? I suppose once you start down the dark path of revising the movies, forever will it dominate your destiny.