Friday, May 04, 2007

Hit puree!

A couple of days ago I made a guilty confession to Swinebread that one of my favorite movies was Richard Donner's 1985 film The Goonies.

The funny thing is I have a hard time quantifying just why I like this movie so darn much. Part of it is the way Donner directed the kids in the movie. Half the time they're stepping all over each other's lines and just throwing their lines out at light speed but this has the effect of making the dialog sound more like kids actually talk. Donner was smart enought to just roll with that.

It's also got a great score by Dave Grusin and a pop soundtrack that featured Cindy Lauper, REO Speedwagon and the late Luther Vandross. The music just seemed so perfectly... 80's.

Swinebread notified me that there was a comic in the works and that I should check it out. Sure enough "The Goonies: Search for Sloth" is in production with a late summer release date and it's co-authored by none other than Mr. Richard Donner. Not only that - they consulted every cast member from the original movie about their characters while writing this. Frickin' awesome.
Just keep Chunk away from the blender...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

It's not a question of enough, pal. It's a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses.

There are some things the government should be doing and there are some things that are better left to the free market.

Utilities are one of those sectors that should almost always be run by the government.

In today's Business section of The Oregonian there's this little tidbit-

PGE takes on utility tax law

2006 sale - A filing argues money from equipment bought in 2001 should go to shareholders, not ratepayers.

Ratepayer advocates are voicing concerns about what they see as an attempt by Portland General Electric Co. to turn back the clock to tax accounting machinations employed by Enron and subsequently outlawed by Oregon legislators.

Filings PGE and customer groups made to utility regulators in the past week could, in fact, presage a legal challenge to a controversial tax law commonly referred to as Senate Bill 408. The 2005 law requires utilities to match the taxes that they collect from customers in rates with what they actually pay the government, and offer a refund or surcharge to customers if the gap is too large.

PGE collects taxes as part of our electric bill. The law passed by the state legislature in 2005 says that if those taxes aren't forwarded to the government in turn then they should be returned to ratepayers. This is basic, common sense to anyone outside of those who own oodles of stock in the electric utility company. The 2005 bill is about as "controversial" as the idea that you shouldn't leave your dog in your car on an August day with the windows rolled up.

PGE is giving Oregon voters the finger yet again. This is the same PGE that's continually getting stroked by the state Utilities Board that's supposed to be looking out for ratepayers as they rubber-stamp every planned rate increase by the company. They get away with this because they are a virtual monopoly so they have no free market competition and because they know how to play the political system so they have no real chance of competition from the government.

Not that legislators haven't tried to make the utility a public entity. Most recently the city of Portland tried to put together a bid to purchase the company which was thoroughly defeated by PGE and it's threatening political muscle. It's absolutely absurd that given PGEs constant abuses of Oregon ratepayers - from transferring the costs of shutting down Trojan to ratepayers to the Enron tax scam they're continuing to try and apply here - that the state hasn't privatized the wayward company. I simply cannot understand this thinking.

The idea that the free market is some sort of panacea that automatically means better service to customers, lower cost to customers and greater returns to shareholders all at the same time is just nuts. Corporations pay nothing but lip service to trying to balance those three competing interests and if they hold a monopoly on the industry not even that. Something will always suffer and it will never be the shareholder aspect of the equation.

Yet governments continue to do exactly the opposite of what would be good for citizens as they rush towards transferring public assets into the private sector without a second thought to how the customers, sorry citizens, will come out of the deal. Consider this story from Business Week-

In the past year, banks and private investment firms have fallen in love with public infrastructure. They're smitten by the rich cash flows that roads, bridges, airports, parking garages, and shipping ports generate — and the monopolistic advantages that keep those cash flows as steady as a beating heart. Firms are so enamored, in fact, that they're beginning to consider infrastructure a brand new asset class in itself.

With state and local leaders scrambling for cash to solve short-term fiscal problems, the conditions are ripe for an unprecedented burst of buying and selling. All told, some $100 billion worth of public property could change hands in the next two years, up from less than $7 billion over the past two years; a lease for the Pennsylvania Turnpike could go for more than $30 billion all by itself. "There's a lot of value trapped in these assets," says Mark Florian, head of North American infrastructure banking at Goldman, Sachs & Co.

There are some advantages to private control of roads, utilities, lotteries, parking garages, water systems, airports, and other properties. To pay for upkeep, private firms can raise rates at the tollbooth without fear of being penalized in the voting booth. Privateers are also freer to experiment with ideas like peak pricing, a market-based approach to relieving traffic jams. And governments are making use of the cash they're pulling in—balancing budgets, retiring debt, investing in social programs, and on and on.

But are investors getting an even better deal? It's a question with major policy implications as governments relinquish control of major public assets for years to come. The aggressive toll hikes embedded in deals all but guarantee pain for lower-income citizens—and enormous profits for the buyers. For example, the investors in the $3.8 billion deal for the Indiana Toll Road, struck in 2006, could break even in year 15 of the 75-year lease, on the way to reaping as much as $21 billion in profits, estimates Merrill Lynch & Co. What's more, some public interest groups complain that the revenue from the higher tolls inflicted on all citizens will benefit only a handful of private investors, not the commonwealth.

Why would investors be "clamoring" to buy these assets if they weren't worth more than what the governments that own them are raking in on these deals? Infrastructure should remain under the government's control. All of us, as well as future generations, own these assets. They are better owned and managed by the public sector.

Private industry is very good at a number of things, especially when they face competition. Shoes, jeans, soda, televisions and cars are all things that government should stay the heck out of. But when it comes to basic necessities - electricity, water and the very roads we commute daily on the government is the best, if imperfect manager, of those resources.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline.

But shouldn't I stop making movies and do something that counts, like-like helping blind people or becoming a missionary or something?

From time to time I've spoken fondly of my "dream business" of owning a franchise of the Alamo Drafthouse Theater. For the curious their website can be found here.

The Alamo is spoken of in reverential terms among film geeks and movie fans nationwide. On the surface it seems like many other theater-restaurants that have opened nationally in the last decade or so. Mid to high end food served while first run movies are playing. In the Northwest we have the McMennamin theater pubs and Vancouver's own Cinetopia.

But the Alamo is few steps beyond these venues. The owners of the Alamo look at movies as events to really celebrate film fandom. These events can be anything from bringing in a special chef to serve meals directly out of the works of J.R.R. Tolkein's books during a marathon showing of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films to bringing in a symphony to perform Henry Mancini's work before a showing of the "Pink Panther" to having a live dangerous snake show and Samuel Jackson speak before the Alamo debut of "Snakes on a Plane."

Some other examples of Alamo style events-

Sing-Along Extravaganzas Concert films and music videos with subtitles. Basically Karaoke.

Food & Film Signature Events

Past highlights have been the Lawrence of Arabia 5 Course Feast, the Casablanca Morroccan Feast, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy with 9 meals, one at every Hobbit eating time, the Alamo Iron Chef Competition, our Aphrodesiac-laden Valentine's Feasts and more.

Rolling Roadshow Probably their coolest event. They schedule showings of roughly twelve shows a year near the location featured in the film. A couple of years ago they showed "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" at the foot of Devil's Tower in the middle of the desert. They brought to show to Oregon a couple of years ago with a showing of the "Goonies" in Astoria and will be showing "Stand by Me" in Brownsville, Oregon on July 28th.

These shows feature more than just the film. At the Goonies showing they served Baby Ruth candy bars and Rocky Road ice cream and Corey Feldman appeared live but made the entire crowd do the "Truffle Shuffle" before he'd start the film. The Stand by Me showing they're planning on having a blueberry pie eating contest...

If this is the future of going to the movies then sign me up.

Mongo only pawn... in game of life.

Bush: 'I am about to veto a bill'

I'm gonna do it...

Don't make me...

I'm really gonna do it...

Wish I didn't have to...

I'm getting my veto pen out now...

Although I had assumed that those of us who were with congress in this debate were on the right side of the issue since upwards of 60% of respondents in a recent WSJ poll supported immediate withdrawal from Iraq but the Central Arkansas Baxter Bulletin ran a highly scientific online poll and found exactly the opposite results-

Poll respondents support the president

With the war funding bill battle expected to come to a head Tuesday, the majority of nearly 1,000 respondents to The Baxter Bulletin Online Poll support President Bush.

Mr. Bush and Congress have locked horns on the issue of funding American troops in Iraq. Congressional leaders want to include a withdrawal timeline in the appropriations bill, with the first troops leaving Iraq by October.

Take that Harry Reid, you Surrender Monkey!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Say hello to my little friend.

Did you catch this article in yesterday's Big O on gun policies on college campuses? I especially like the kid they profile who carries a pistol with him to classes.

Utah allows guns on college campuses

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Brent Tenney says he feels pretty safe when he goes to class at the University of Utah, but he takes no chances. He brings a loaded 9 mm semiautomatic with him every day.

"It's not that I run around scared all day long, but if something happens to me, I do want to be prepared," said the 24-year-old business major, who has a concealed-weapons permit and takes the handgun everywhere but church.

Hmmm. Utah + Pistol + Business major = Somebody's compensating for something.