Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Bull Is Back?

The Dow Transportation Index is at an all-time high.  Last Friday, the Dow Industrial Average "confirmed" the action of the Transports by besting its most recent highest high from October of last year.  At this point both the Dow and the Transports are overbought.  The technical indicators suggest at least a modest consolidation is in order

But, if you follow Dow Theory as I do, this is a big buy signal.  I won't jump in quite yet, given the extended nature of the technicals (RSI is at a rather stressed 70 and the Stochastics are at an acute 98 - those numbers always break down, markets go up with those numbers, they come down with those numbers), but the Dow and the Transports are telling us they see no problems ahead.  Unless we get a severe correction to work-off the overbought condition, it looks like it is a good time to buy on any pullbacks.

In other words, forget the lackluster nature of the economy, the markets say things are looking up for the near-term.  Or do they?  There are a number of good arguments for both a bullish and a bearish outlook.   As always, nobody really knows.

There is even debate among Dow Theorists, with most claiming the recent action constitutes a change in the primary trend.  The Dow Theorist I most respect is Richard Russell and he rather stubbornly insists that we will not be in a bullish primary trend until the all-time high by the Transports (5757 - today) is matched by an all-time high in the Industrials (14,164 - October 9, 2007)

Frankly, I don't follow Russell's logic here.  By closing at 13,712 today, the Dow has ripped right through the previous resistance level 13,610 of last October.  It is news to me if an all-time high in one average has to be met with an all-time high in the other average.  I'm not sure what the primary trend should be under Dow Theory but the shorter term trend (following some sort of correction) should be up.  So, I'm keeping my powder dry and waiting for the pullback.  Barring anything drastic there should be a buy point here somewhere. 

Yeah, yeah, I know I always toot my horn about gold and silver.  And I have generally (but not always) been pessimistic about the economy in this blog.  But, I own some regular stock stuff too.  Not much.  I am cash heavy again.  When the indicators change, I change with them.  So, let's see what happens in the next few days or weeks.  The bull may be back.  Now, wouldn't that be a nice surprise?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Where's the Innovation?

I blogged awhile back about my concern over prevalent economic forces and conditions that essentially are rendering the need for human employment unnecessary.  Traditionally, emerging markets and innovation have saved the day for capitalism as greater productivity and efficiency reduced the need for workers in established markets.  Last week The Economist tackled part of this serious issue in a splendid, if troubling, lengthy article.

The article is primarily a summary from an amalgamation of studies and papers from various economists.  It begins with a recent history of innovation and its implications for economic growth.  Essentially, there was a period of rapid and significant innovation for most of the 20th century contributing to a large generation of wealth and creating a thriving middle class - until things hit the skids about 1970.  I will quote extensively from the article...

For most of human history, growth in output and overall economic welfare has been slow and halting.  Over the past two centuries, first in Britain, Europe and America, then elsewhere, it took off.  In the 19th century growth in output per person - a useful general measure of an economy's productivity, and a good guide to growth in incomes - accelerated steadily in Britain.  By 1906 it was more than 1% a year.  By the middle of the 20th century, real output per person in America was growing at a scorching 2.5% a year, a pace at which productivity and incomes double once a generation.

But in the 1970's America's growth in real output per person dropped from its post-second-world-war peak of over 3% a year to just over 2% per year.  In the 2000's it tumbled below 1%.

The article references a recent eBook by Tyler Cowen of George Mason University entitled The Great Stagnation, detailing how and why innovation became more challenging around the 1970's and why it has never really recovered to its former glory, though there are reasons to believe innovation will eventually make substantial contributions again. The Economist stresses that innovation is not dead. Rather, the dynamics of innovation have changed. According to Robert Gordon, economist at Northwestern University...

There will be more innovation - but it will not change the way the world works in the way electricity, internal-combustion engines, plumbing, petrochemicals and the telephone have.  Mr Cowen is more willing to imagine big technological gains ahead, but he thinks there will be no more low-hanging fruit.

But Pierre Azoulay of MIT and Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University find that, though there are more people in research, they are doing less good.  They reckon that in 1950 an average R&D worker in America contributed almost seven times more to 'total factor productivity' - essentially, the contribution of technology and innovation to growth - than an R&D worker in 2000 did.

The original, rapid rate of innovative change is placed in perspective this way...

In 1900 kitchens in even the poshest of households were primitive things.  Perishables were kept cool in ice boxes, fed by blocks of ice delivered on horse-drawn wagons.  Most households lacked electric lighting and running water.  Fast forward to 1970 and middle-class kitchens in America and Europe feature gas and electric jobs and ovens, fridges, food processors, microwaves and dishwashers.  Move forward another 40 years, though, and things scarcely change.  The gizmos are more numerous and digital displays ubiquitous, cooking is done much as it was by grandma.

Highway travel is little faster than it was 50 years ago; indeed, endemic congestion has many cities now investing in trams and bicycle lanes.  Supersonic passenger travel has been abandoned.  So, for the past 40 years, has the moon.

Medicine offers another example.  Life expectancy at birth in America soared from 49 years at the turn of the 20th century to 74 years in 1980.  Enormous technical advances have occurred since that time.  Yet as of 2011 life expectancy rested at just 78.7 years.

Some of this is obviously due to physical limitations.  It seems silly to say that because we were able to add 25 years to the average life expectancy over 8 decades that we should be able to make typical longevity around 99 years by 2040.  Perhaps that is possible, but there are too many other variables besides medical innovation itself.  Further, there are equally obvious limitations to practical speed for passenger vehicles, while efficiency in the kitchen can only go so far.  It is hard to top "instant" meals.  Yet, there is hope that innovation will start to drive economic progress more rapidly in other ways...

By the measure known as Moore's law, the ability to get calculations out of a piece of silicon doubles every 18 months.  That growth rate will not last for ever;  but other aspects of computation, such as the capacity of algorithms to handle data, are also growing exponentially.

Across the board, innovations fueled by cheap processing power are taking off.  Computers are beginning to understand natural language.  People are controlling video games through body movement alone - a technology that may soon find application in much of the business world.  Three-dimensional printing is capable of churning out an increasingly complex array of objects, and may soon move on to human tissues and other organic material.

Globalization is one of the primary reasons for a guarded yet positive attitude...

...the rise of the emerging world is among the biggest reasons for optimism. The larger the size of the global market, the more the world benefits from a given idea, since it can be applied across more activities and more people.
Nevertheless, there are strong reasons to believe that a unique period in economic history might have already seen its best day....

The period from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s may simply represent one in which the contributions of earlier technologies of today and tomorrow remained too small a part of the economy to influence overall growth.

However, the article concludes with what was the central point of my previous post on this subject - the type of innovation we are likely to get in the future will not solve the need for markets that demand more employment.  In fact, it seems more likely that innovation will continue to make people rather redundant.

...technological advances...could be disturbingly rapid, leaving a scourge of technological unemployment in their wake....new technologies and the globalization they allow have already contributed to stagnant incomes and a decline in jobs that require moderate levels of skill.  Further progress could threaten jobs higher up and lower down the skill spectrum that had, until now, seemed safe.

I do not sense that anyone knows the way out of this fundamental dilemma facing the paradigm of capitalism.  You cannot predict nor can you manufacture innovation.  It is more akin to art than to goods and services.  I am not sure capitalism can survive in a world where the masses of people cannot find financially viable work despite increasing wealth and exciting technological change.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wish You Were Here

"The reality was that we were struggling with making the follow-up to Dark Side and we rushed back into the studio to do that.  We put ourselves under sort of ridiculous pressure in a way trying to make a record from nothing."Nick Mason

"It was disengagement.  It was not being willing to apply yourself sufficiently.  The concentrated activity was rather diluted.  I'm sure for a very pushing, driving sort of person like Roger it was more frustrating than it was for anyone else, although considerably frustrating for all of us." - David Gilmour

"I had to fight David for a bit, as he acknowledges completely.  We had completely different ideas and that was a fight that I won.  So, at some point in that process, I came up with the idea that this has to be thematic.  This will make this a more coherent work.  And because it's coherent it will be better than if we just throw all the songs we've been working on together and go boom, there you are, that's it.  There's one song that's about Syd but the rest of it is a much more universal expression of my feelings about absence because I felt we weren't really there.  We were absent." - Roger Waters

Last Monday, Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show offered Roger Waters in a guest appearance.  The interview itself was short and rather pointless, Waters was suffering from a bit of the flu, but seeing it did bring back both old and recent memories.  Of the recent variety was when the former member of Pink Floyd appeared on stage last November with 14 veterans wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The group played several songs together including the quintessential Pink Floyd tune Wish You Were Here which is one of my all-time favorite songs and certainly one that features some of the best lyrics ever written.

Long-time readers know this blog is named after a Pink Floyd album.  The Floyd went through several manifestations from their initial Syd Barrett-led Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967.  As is known, Barrett blew his mind out with LSD and had to be replaced by David Gilmour who joined drummer Nick Mason, bassist Roger Waters, and keyboardist Rick Wright for several historic and massively successful records.

Then Waters quit the band, which created some controversy and great legal consternation when Gilmour decided to carry on with Mason and Wright in 1987.  The post-Waters Pink Floyd tours of 1987-89 and 1994 rank among the highest grossing rock concert tours in history.  As if to balance things out, Gilmour then went on to have a fabulous solo career of his own, highlighted by his studio album On an Island and several great live performance releases including an awesome one in Gdansk, Poland.

Now that Gilmour has more or less faded from the scene, Waters has come back strong with a new tour of Pink Floyd’s mega-hit The Wall which, like almost all of the Floyd’s thematic material, was primarily written by himself with marginal assistance from Gilmour.  It might surprise readers to learn that the Waters tour, which began in 2010 and is still on-going, is now the 6th highest grossing rock concert tour in history, reaping more than $375 million so far.

Anyway, seeing Waters on Stewart’s show triggered another fairly recent memory.  Last summer, a Blu-ray documentary was released about the making of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album.  While most of the story was known to me, there was a great deal that I learned from the hour-long video.  I have simply not gotten around to blogging about the documentary until now.

After the band toured following the phenomenal success of The Dark Side Of The Moon, they toyed around in 1974 with a few new songs.  Shine On You Crazy Diamond was specifically about the mental breakdown of Syd Barrett, who was the group's original lead guitarist, lead singer and song writer.  But, the band was directionless, bloated on massive financial and critical success, and had no sense of purpose or even cohesion.  Yet, they were paying big bucks to record at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London.

And they had nothing.  They had a cobbled together version of Shine On and two other tunes.  One of those was called at the time Raving and Drooling which later was reworked and became Sheep on the Animals album.  The other was You Got To Be Crazy which also later evolved into Dogs on Animals.  Anyway, that was it.  Gilmour felt it was sufficient material for a new record.  Waters, without any real ideas of his own at that point, simply disagreed.  It felt like a cop-out to him.  Lucky for the Floyd he had that feeling.  The result ended up being my favorite album by my favorite rock band.

The band butted heads.  They argued.  They sat around the studio doing nothing.  They played squash.  They played darts.  They rambled.  They argued some more.  When, suddenly out of nowhere, inspiration emerged while Gilmour was just fiddling with his acoustic guitar.

"Like the four notes at the beginning of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, other people start going 'Hey, that's good.  You've got something there.'" - Gilmour

"And I said to him 'What's that you're playing?  That's really nice.'  And he played it and I said 'That's really good.  Maybe I should try a do something with it.'" - Waters

"I think Roger and I then worked on writing the verses and putting those chords into the whole thing.  And Roger did those brilliant words and there we are." - Gilmour

"That collaboration between David and I is, I think, you know, really good. All bits of it are really, really good. So, I'm very happy with that." - Waters

Out of the arguments and the apathy came this incredible collaboration that is Wish You Were Here.  Suddenly, Waters was on fire.  The album became a self-reflection of the band's own incredible success.  Roger wrote Welcome To the Machine about the music industry itself and the dehumanizing effects of a massive corporate presence of an expression of art.

Waters also wrote Have A Cigar about the music industry.  But, try as they might, neither he nor Gilmour had the proper voice for singing the song.  By coincidence, Roy Harper was in an adjoining studio attempting record material for his next record.  Apparently, he was equally listless and ended up spending a lot of expensive studio time idle with Pink Floyd discussing concepts and playing darts.  In the end it was Harper who out of the blue sang the lead vocals on that track, whereas everyone, including me in my student years, thought it was Roger's voice.  But Waters only sang that song on tour.  The documentary makes it clear that he later regretted that decision.  He wish he had persevered.  Nevertheless, it is not a Pink Floyd member singing that worldwide hit song when the record was released.  This one contains the cool lyric asking "By the way, which one's Pink?"

The documentary features interviews with all the ancillary players, including Harper, Storm Thorgerson who famously designed most of the Floyd's most successful album artwork, Brian Humphries the album's recording engineer and with one of the background singers, Venetta Fields I found her comments on how she initially reacted to the band and their style of music interesting and entertaining.

"They loved their ooo's.  We just sang 'shine on you crazy diamond' and just ooo'ed the rest of the way.  They loved their ooo's.  I didn't know them from a bar of soap and I didn't like their music in the beginning.  It was in the minor key.  It was all very low and everything was ooo's and ahhh's.  I said, who are these people?  I thought Motown was meticulous but this was the most meticulous four musicians that I had ever seen work before." - Venetta Fields

An undercurrent throughout the video is Syd Barrett, his madness, and attempts by the band and others to get him back into the studio to record, thinking it might be therapeutic for him.  Finally, they achieved this.  After three days of incredible frustration all that happened was a few musical scribbles that amounted to nothing.  The attempt was abandoned.  Syd, the fundamental inspiration for the album, was musically gone forever.

Following up The Dark Side Of The Moon was not an easy task.  The band was beginning to show the fissures of massive success.  They were lazy, lacking cohesion, and without any real sense of purpose beyond doing what they had always done - making another record.  But, this time it was different.  They were under a great deal of pressure (partially self-induced) to produce something worthy of Dark Side.

In the end Waters took control and led the band to the finished product, inspired and rescued from the doldrums by Gilmour's musical spontaneity. Wish You Were Here was released in 1975 and went on to sell 19 million copies.  I wore out my vinyl copy playing it in college and in the years following my graduation.  It was standard fare at the end of a long evening of partying to sit back, stare into a fireplace or a candle or just in the dark and experience it.  As I said, it remains my favorite Pink Floyd recording and Roger's lyrics, especially on the title track, are timeless and brilliant.

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in a war
For a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here
We're just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here

"I think most of the songs that I've ever written all pose similar questions.  Can you free yourself enough to be able to experience the reality of life as it goes on before you and with you and as you go on as part of it?  Or not?  Because if you can't you stand on square one until you die. And that my sound like bullshit but that's what the song is about.  People do attach a lot of internal feelings and they may not be entirely sure what it's about.  I'm only telling you what it's about for me.  But, there's no reason why other people shouldn't put other interpretations on it which could be just as valid." - Waters

"To me it's about the most complete album in some ways.  And we all know how difficult it was to get to that point.  The problems we had."  - Gilmour

Monday, January 14, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

It isn't easy maintaining dramatic tension when everybody already knows how the story ends.  But, Zero Dark Thirty manages to do this in subtle, gritty, and outrageous ways.  You know Osama bin Laden dies.  You probably even know that one of the two stealth helicopters used for the mission crashes at the bin Laden compound.  But, you do not know the twisting story that leads to that moment and it is a story expertly told to striking effect by director Kathryn Bigelow.

Much of the early press about Zero Dark Thirty was about the torture sequences at the front-end of the 2 hour and 37 minute film. Some thought the film actually advocated torture.  Some thought the scenes were gruesome and inaccurately reflected how much such tactics contributed to finding bin Laden.  I disagree.  First of all, I have seen far more grotesque torture scenes in other films.  Check out what they do to Leonardo DiCaprio in the Ridley Scott film Body of Lies, for example.  Zero Dark Thirty is not light-weight for sure, but neither it is the torture fest some of the squeamish might wish to paint it.  And yeah, America uses torture in times of war, official policy or not, so get real.

Secondly, it is widely overlooked that one of the reasons it takes over 100 days for the CIA to actually act after the bin Laden compound is found is that there is no direct evidence bin Laden is there and most of what they know was obtained from "prisoners under duress."  These torture scenes need not even be debated, the film shows them but clearly discounts them as well.  They are not overly emphasized, they are not gratuitous, and you do not see them after the first half hour of the movie.  In no way did the film give me the impression of anything other than ambiguity toward torture.

That said, the scenes are very useful in heightening the sense of tension and of what is at stake here. This is a no-holds-barred situation and the viewer is placed almost immediately in the middle of an intense, abusive, and desperate search for information.  Jessica Chastain gives a strong performance as Maya, the central character, thrust into these torture situations.  She, like the audience, has difficulty watching them and participating in them yet she manages to do her part.  It is her first step on her road to desensitizing herself to the work she must do in order to find bin Laden.  More than anything else, the film uses these establishing scenes to connect the audience with Maya.

It is a critical connection.  Zero Dark Thirty is fast-paced and throws a lot of names, faces, characters, places, and events right at Maya and the audience.  We are in this thing with her, she is the fictional thread that ties all the facts and frequent dead-ends together in the tangled journey to get bin Laden.

After we get past the literally tortuous phase of the film, we are then invested with Maya and her investigation, which is a good thing because the filmmakers make no effort to explain anything to us other than what you see happening on the screen.  New characters, many of them Muslim, are presented to us in rapid-fire fashion.  You don't always know who this or that person is or why they are doing what they do, but you have to just go with it.  In this sense I think the film gives us a taste of what it must have been like for the American intelligence community as it weaved through the complex web of information that led to the mission to kill the head of al-Qaeda.

Boom! Sprinkled through the narrative are a couple of rather surprising bomb scenes.  These happen completely out of the blue, unexpected, just when the mood of the film is shifting down a bit to try to humanize the characters.  BOOM!  Destruction and chaos, death and agony is suddenly everywhere.  Just as it was experienced in the actual bombings the movie is portraying.  As with the torture scenes, the bomb scenes are effective and powerful, hooking the viewer and investing us further in this bizarre but true story.

I am very impressed with how Bigelow handles all these details.  But, perhaps the best part of the film is when it shifts from an international intelligence investigation into mission-mode presented pretty much real-time in the final portion of the film.  There is no musical score used.  There is very little in the way of cheesy suspenseful gimmicks.  The actual SEAL Team mission plays out as it apparently happened with little, if any, embellishment.  These guys go in with purpose and fearless discipline.  The unexpected happens when one of the two stealth choppers crashes inside the compound.  The chopper must be blown-up.  But that only happens after bin Laden's safe house (located less than one mile from Pakistan's most prestigious military academy - how they could possibly not have known who the occupant was is beyond me, but that's another story) has been entered and several occupants, including bin Laden, are killed.

It is interesting that Bigelow chose not to show us bin Laden directly.  We see the strands of his beard but otherwise he is shot completely off-center.  The only time we see his full face is a thumbnail sized image in a pull-back shot of the digital viewer on a camera one of the SEALs use to photo the body immediately after it is killed.  Clearly, the director chose not to depict the target of the film as a trophy.  It is merely confirmation of the success of the mission.

I saw the film at a matinee yesterday with my daughter.  Although she does not know who Bigelow is, she was a big fan of the director's prior movie, The Hurt Locker.  She has watched that film several times.  Zero Dark Thirty is in the same style.  Lots of hand-held camera shots.  Smart-ass dialog.  Minimal but powerful action.  The viewer has to pay attention to keep up.  Although this time there is a strong female lead character and a grander story being told.  At any rate, we came out of the theater with her questioning whether the kill mission was accurate or not.  "It was too easy," she said.  There wasn't enough straight-up gun fighting for her.  It did not offer any of the excitement of a traditional Hollywood combat scene.

I explained that the story was in the finding of bin Laden.  The actual killing of him was a fairly routine affair by covert standards.  To her credit, Bigelow does not make anything more of the search for bin Laden and our subsequent killing of him than actually occurred.  The story is sensational enough.  By giving the audience a character like Maya, we are properly invested in a film that races to tell a very complex story and allows us to experience a bit of what it was like to conduct the search and to accomplish the killing.

While I would not apply the overused words like "stunning" or "riveting" to the film, it is powerful and effective.  The experience of Zero Dark Thirty makes it seem like a shorter film than its actual length suggests.  Time flies when you properly wrapped-up in the telling of any great story.  This is a job well done.  I give this film an 8 for its ability to saturate you with its drama and hold you there right up to final scene; in which Maya is going home, the lone passenger on a large military transport plane.  Since she is CIA the flight crew knows nothing about her.  One of them greets her with "You can sit anywhere you like.  You must be somebody important.  Where do you want to go?"  Maya does not answer.  Instead she just sits, leans back in the huge transport bay and, for the first time in the film, she cries.

Zero Dark Thirty was number one at the box office for its opening weekend, taking in about $24 million.  Many members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are calling for a boycott of the film for Oscar consideration.  These self-righteous hypocrites are supposedly all for free-speech until they don't necessarily like the delivery.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lifeworld and Intersubjectivity: Word Doodles

I have previously blogged about two "word doodles" - Karma and Being. These lie at the heart of my intimate spiritual path. They may or may not mean anything to you or you might choose to disagree with my assessments. I remain open to altering my perspective if my experience or my understanding of experience changes.

That collection of intimate experiences can be conceived of as another word doodle, revealed by the philosophical term known as Lifeworld. I first became aware of the Lifeworld project back in the late 1980's by reading the work of Jurgen Habermas, my favorite living philosopher.

There is a close association between Lifeworld and culture and language. Habermas wrote in 1981: "...we can think of the lifeworld as represented by a culturally transmitted and linguistically organized stock of interpretative patterns. Contexts of relevance are based on grammatically regulated relations among the elements of a linguistically organized stock of knowledge. Language and culture are constitutive for the lifeworld itself." (pp. 124-125)

Reading Habermas is a rather dense and dry rational experience. For my purposes, however, I choose to expand the concept of Lifeworld beyond rationality. For me, the Lifeworld includes unconscious processes (the origins of grammar and linguistics) that arise largely unplanned through language and cultural norms, creating specific interpretations and expressions of individual experience relevant to culture at a rational, emotional, and even instinctual level.

Your Lifeworld is the sum total of your experience as you interpret it through whatever grammar you express. I have written before about the paramount importance of language in the revelation of human "truth". The Lifeworld is truth as you experience it and as you understand it within the underlying unquestioned assumptions of your language and your cultural style.

This is vital to any belief project, to any spirituality. The Lifeworld should not be limited to rationality alone. You do not encounter experience in a vacuum nor can you express your understanding in a vacuum. You always do so within rules that are never questioned, rules created out of language and culture. The Lifeworld is an "amalgam of background assumptions, solidarities, and skills bred through socialization..." (1987, page 326) Spirituality is not entirely liberated from this framework (word, ritual, gesture, emotion, silence). It is subtle arrogance to consider otherwise.

Habermas has a utilitarian approach to Lifeworld. For him, it forms the basis for "communicative competence" and "discourse ethics", the means by which I can participate through language in your experience as you can become a participant in mine. Lifeworlds are social as far as Habermas is concerned. They are fundamental to his "theory of communicative action", a worthy project that addresses how it is possible for human beings to actively share "validity claims" about experience with one another. This is no small problem. All the spiritual insight in the world is self-centered if it cannot be shared between Beings through comprehensible language and/or gestures.

For Habermas: "The structures of the lifeworld lay down the forms of the intersubjectivity of possible understanding. The lifeworld is, so to speak, the transcendental site where speaker and hearer meet, where they can reciprocally raise claims that their utterances fit the world (objective, social, or subjective), and where they can criticize and confirm those validity claims, settle their disagreements, and arrive at agreements." (page 126)

Intersubjectivity is that area where Lifeworlds mingle, where they can possibly transcend their individual limitations by participating in and understanding other Lifeworlds. It is the Intersubjective dimension of human communication and relations that is the heart of Habermas' philosophical project of how can we understand one another and reasonably relate to one another even when there is only disagreement between Lifeworlds.

"The lifeworld, then, offers both an intuitively preunderstood context for an action situation and resources for the interpretive process in which participants in communication engage as they strive to meet the need for agreement in the action situation." (1983, page 136)

I believe Lifeworld and Intersubjectivity to be valid as Habermas defines them. I feel they have impact far beyond the individual Lifeworld.  Intersubjectivity is a teeming cauldron, out there and real beyond any individual human's touch. Intersubjectivity is the intermingling of a multiplicity of Lifeworlds. Intersubjectivity can be seen as culture, its styles and behaviors. The soupy combination of all Lifeworlds is an explosion of human Karma, self-perpetuating as long as humanity thrives.

Recently, Habermas has argued that the liberal tradition has overemphasized subjectivity (Lifeworld) and needs to re-orient itself toward Intersubjectivity. In brief, concern for individual experience has been privileged at the expense of the collective experience of society as a whole. Whether this is true or not, it nevertheless discloses the workings of Lifeworld and Intersubjectivity in the human world. These are not invented or illusionary or purely rationalized constructs. Lifeworld and Intersubjectivity are revealed aspects of Being.  If one has gained favor over the other, it is not due to any singular conscious or rational choice made by a person or even any one culture.  This is, rather, a splendid example of how Being generates Karma in the human realm. 

The importance of understanding and experiencing your Lifeworld is that it can serve as a basis for debate, empathy and compassion toward other Lifeworlds. The resulting Intersubjectivity not only allows for discourse and agreement in the rational sense, it unveils the existential space where you and I meet within reason and emotion. Intersubjectivity is the Being of Beings, its energy is the Karma of the social human animal.

I find these two projects useful in the contextual understanding of my intimate experience as well as my pathway toward you and others in our attempt to understand one another, to relate to one another, and to co-exist. In the terminology of Critical Theory it allows us to "decenter" the Lifeworld and open it to the multiplicity of Lifeworlds within humanity as a whole. As such, Lifeworld and Intersubjectivity not only reveal the nature of how humans make sense of their experience and how they engage in relationships, both compassionate and adversarial, these word doodles also point to unconscious amalgamations of Being that provide an instructive framework for living with yourself and with others.

Lifeworld is also useful as a gateway to understanding another important word doodle, Function. But that will wait for a future post.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Watching The Hobbit

Of all the many new films to come out around the Christmas holiday season, I looked forward to Peter Jackson’s first installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit more than any other. I noted my anticipation when re-reading the book some time back. My original plans were to see it in IMAX 3D just before Christmas Day. But events conspired against us. My family’s holiday schedules were complicated this year. The theater was sold-out during the dates and times we could most easily attend. So, we waited.

New Year’s Eve worked out to be the next best date for us. For the sake of precious time, Jennifer, my daughter, and I decided to forgo the IMAX experience and see the film in "regular" 3D at a nearby theater instead of driving all the way into Atlanta. We chose the first matinee which was at noon.

One advantage to seeing the film later than we originally intended was that the hype had run its course. Sure, The Hobbit was a financial boon but by the last day of 2012 the three of us ended up receiving a private showing of the movie. We were the only people in the rather large stadium style theater. We literally went from not being able to see it the way we intended due to the showings all being sold-out to watching it all by ourselves. Funny how life works out like that sometimes.

None of us were disappointed. Jackson’s presentation of The Hobbit, while certainly not a pristine telling of Tolkien’s 1937 children's book, was grand and glorious and completely within the spirit of Tolkien’s overall body of work. While everything that happens in the book more or less happens in the movie, there is a great deal more to the film version than the original narrative.

Ultimately, Jackson will turn the small children’s book into an epic film trilogy to rival what he did with his wonderful Lord of the Rings (LOTR) adaptation. In this case, however, he has the opposite challenge from the original trilogy. With LOTR, he was forced to cut and condense large swaths of the narrative in order to fit the story into three very long movies. With The Hobbit, he is forced to beg and borrow bits and pieces from the Appendices of LOTR (and perhaps from Unfinished Tales as well) in order to flesh out and extend the short book into this massive three-film project.

Never fear, it works. At least so far. What was added to the original story certainly does not detract from nor burden The Hobbit. Several characters are expanded such as Radagast, the Brown Wizard, who was only mentioned once in the original book.  Even though the character is created from almost nothing, I found him to be thoroughly enjoyable. The great Elven Lady Galadriel does not appear in the book at all but she is presented in the movie as, in all likelihood, Gandalf would have consulted her during his frequent disappearances from the original narrative, where Tolkien presents the Gray Wizard much more mysteriously.

The inclusion of the great Orc Azog, taken from Appendix A that follows Return of the King in the original trilogy, gives the film an important subplot and helps beef up the narrative with some complexity that simply does not exist in the original children's book.  As with Radagast, this character is embellished in ways that are purely the invention of Jackson, but I see nothing wrong with this.

The biggest surprise for me was to see Saruman the White, played wonderfully (as he was in the LOTR films) by an aged but still capable Christopher Lee, even though he is only in two short scenes. Like Galadriel, Saruman is not in the original book, but Jackson's liberties with the characters helps to thread The Hobbit with the LOTR films in a way Tolkien could not have done in the order and manner in which all the texts were originally written. I fully approve of them. They give The Hobbit, a modest story really, the significance necessary to be a worthy companion to LOTR films rather than simply a lesser prelude.

These are but a few examples of the major changes and minor tweaks in the film compared with the book. Overall, however, the book has far more in common with the movie than not. The alterations do not render things beyond all recognition. On the contrary, I think they clarify and enhance the story as a film.

The encounter between Bilbo and Gollum is presented very faithfully, much of it quoted directly from Tolkien’s text. This important scene is masterfully delivered and was certainly one of the highlights of the film for me. Seeing this chapter of the book visualized so meticulously by Jackson is perhaps the closest and most favorable comparison between his filmmaking skills and Tolkien’s writing. In fact, a great many lines uttered throughout the movie come straight from the printed page. Jackson brings Tolkien to life in a splendid sense, despite the enormous expansions and liberties taken with the original text.

The 3D aspect of the film might have been more impressive in IMAX, but I doubt it. This format continues to strike me as more of a gimmick than a useful accentuation of virtually every film I have seen with the notable exception of Avatar. There is just no viewing benefit to anything in The Hobbit being shown in 3D. My advice is save your money and see it in just a "standard" format.

But, there is still something noteworthy to the presentation of The Hobbit. Instead of the usual 24 frames per second, Jackson chose to shoot the picture in 48 frames per second. This presents a noticeably crisper image. The whole film almost looks CGI. Almost. The colors seem more vivid but, more importantly, the image itself has a sharpness to it that really jumps off the screen at you - even without 3D glasses. The Hobbit features beautiful cinematography expertly delivered. The glory of the images on the screen match the greatness of the story as it is told.

Though many critics are lukewarm to this film, I give it a solid 8. I have a few minor quibbles. Howard Shore's musical score does not seem to match what the film demands to the degree his score for the LOTR films did. The company of dwarves are interesting and funny but they often come off as a confusing mishmash and the interplay between them is not very well established. Perhaps that will improve as we move into the second film. Nevertheless, these are small complaints compared with what the film delivers. The Hobbit is grand entertainment and highly recommended even of you know nothing of Tolkien or if you don't care for fantasy. This is definitely not just a genre movie, it is an entertaining feast for the eye and the mind.