The Story of Spielberg’s “World-Changing Movies” Deserves “a Detailed, Impassioned and Insightful Telling”

(p. 20) . . . , LaPorte combines tabloid celebrity worship with an older oddity: the incongruous fact that a free market also produces resentment, especially when a competitor like Spielberg demonstrates leadership, superior achievement and undeniable success. He’s one of the few filmmakers still committed to exploring the human condition — and in popular terms. This is what sets him apart and makes him admired, envied and even inscrutable to those who think only in craven terms of business and royalty.

. . .
So it’s a tabloid book. We can only hope it doesn’t become the historical record. LaPorte undermines her research with a headachy repetition of anonymous informants (“one insider,” “one former executive,” “one source”). She concludes that “inherent in all of it was hubris.” But a story this significant, about world-changing movies, doesn’t need homilies. It needs a detailed, impassioned and insightful telling, one that would help us better appreciate a frequently misunderstood, underinterpreted pop artist whose work connects with the public, defines the complexities of human experience and dwarfs most of contemporary Hollywood’s output. DreamWorks calls for a sensitive sociologist — a Tom Wolfe or a Norman Mailer or a Pauline Kael — who can discern the deep, divided heart of Hollywood.

For the full review, see:
ARMOND WHITE. “The Big Picture.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 11, 2010): 20.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review is dated July 9, 2010.)

The book White credibly pans is:
LaPorte, Nicole. The Men Who Would Be King; an Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called Dreamworks. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.

Did Bell, or Gray, Invent the Telephone?


Source of book image:

A great and important debate is occurring about the desirability of the patent system. Should it be abolished, or reformed? If The Telephone Gambit book is right, one of the spectacular failures of the system is in the awarding of a patent to Bell for the telephone.
That’s a big “if”: some of the reviewers on Amazon give reasons for doubting Shulman’s story.
I hope to have time to look into this further.

(p. D10) It was a brilliant concept. But was it Bell’s? What had happened during his trip to Washington that allowed Bell to abandon the blind alleys he had been exploring and to suddenly, not incrementally, find the technological solution?

The answer to that question is a tale involving high-powered Washington lawyers, political influence, a patent clerk with a booze problem, and improper access to Elisha Gray’s patent filing, where Bell found the secret to making the telephone work. Mr. Shulman lays out the evidence — documentary, scientific, chronological and psychological — piece by damning piece. He shows most impressively how Bell’s subsequent behavior and actions are entirely in keeping with those of a decent and honorable man having to live most of his long life (Bell died in 1924) with the knowledge that behind his fortune and his fame lay a single instance of brazen dishonesty, of intellectual theft.
“The Telephone Gambit” is solid history, and Seth Shulman makes it as much fun to read as an Agatha Christie whodunit by using the techniques of historiography the way Hercule Poirot used his “little gray cells.” That’s no small accomplishment.

For the full review, see:
JOHN STEELE GORDON. “False Claim, Future Fortune.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JANUARY 16, 2008): D10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The book being reviewed, is:
Shulman, Seth. The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret. hardback ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.

“A Great Artisan Can Make a Family Prosperous; A Great Inventor Can Enrich an Entire Nation”

(p. 247) We feel real poignancy when we recall the bucolic life (even if we do so through the soft focus of nostalgia) of a country weaver happy in his work skills and content with his life. But those skills, like those of a medieval goldsmith or an ancient carpenter, could not, by their very nature, reproduce themselves outside the closed community of the initiates. One lesson of the Luddite rebellion specifically, and the Industrial Revolution generally, is that maintaining the prosperity of those closed communities–their pride in workmanship as well as their economic well-being—-can only be paid for by those outside the communities: by society at large. A great artisan can make a family prosperous; a great inventor can enrich an entire nation.

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

Bloggers See Bad Conditions for Entrepreneurs


The chart above and the one below are from the recently-released results of the First Quarter 2011 influential blogger survey conducted by the Kauffman Foundation. (Tim Kane gave permission to put the charts on my blog.) is one of the blogs included in the survey.

The results above show a perception that conditions are currently tough for entrepreneurs. The chart below displays one of the main reasons: the current economy is perceived as uncertain and fragile. There are many reasons for the uncertainty, but one of them is surely that the bloggers have doubts about the depth of support in government for the institutions and policies upon which entrepreneurship depends (like private property, restrained regulations, and low taxes).

For a full PDF report on the 2011 Q1 survey results, see:


Insider Training Increases the Efficiency of Markets

(p. W2) As argued forcefully by Henry Manne in his 1966 book “Insider Trading and the Stock Market,” prohibitions on insider trading prevent asset prices from adjusting in this way. Mr. Manne, dean emeritus at George Mason University School of Law, pointed out that when insiders trade on their nonpublic, nonproprietary information, they cause asset prices to reflect that information sooner than otherwise and therefore prompt other market participants to make better decisions.

This achievement can have ramifications beyond a few percentage-point increases in productivity growth.
According to Mr. Manne, corporate scandals such as Enron and Global Crossing would occur much less frequently and impose fewer costs if the government didn’t prohibit insider trading. As Mr. Manne said a few years ago in a radio interview, “I don’t think the scandals would ever have erupted if we had allowed insider trading because there would be plenty of people in those companies who would know exactly what was going on, and who couldn’t resist the temptation to get rich by trading on the information, and the stock market would have reflected those problems months and months earlier than they did under this cockamamie regulatory system we have.”
Another potential benefit of lifting the ban on insider trading is explained by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron: “In a world with no ban, small investors might fear to trade individual stocks and would face a greater incentive to diversify; that is also a good thing.”

For the full commentary, see:
DONALD J. BOUDREAUX. “Learning to Love Insider Trading; Here’s a hot tip: Want to keep companies honest, make the markets work more efficiently and encourage investors to diversify? Let insiders buy and sell, argues Donald J. Boudreaux.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., OCTOBER 24, 2009): W1-W2.

The book mentioned is:
Manne, Henry. Insider Trading and the Stock Market. New York: The Free Press, 1966.

UFT “Trying to Deny Poor Parents Choice for Their Children”


Madeleine Sackler. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) ‘What’s funny,” says Madeleine Sackler, “is that I’m not really a political person.” Yet the petite 27-year-old is the force behind “The Lottery”–an explosive new documentary about the battle over the future of public education opening nationwide this Tuesday.

In the spring of 2008, Ms. Sackler, then a freelance film editor, caught a segment on the local news about New York’s biggest lottery. It wasn’t the Powerball. It was a chance for 475 lucky kids to get into one of the city’s best charter schools (publicly funded schools that aren’t subject to union rules).

“I was blown away by the number of parents that were there,” Ms. Sackler tells me over coffee on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, recalling the thousands of people packed into the Harlem Armory that day for the drawing. “I wanted to know why so many parents were entering their kids into the lottery and what it would mean for them.” And so Ms. Sackler did what any aspiring filmmaker would do: She grabbed her camera.
. . .
But on the way to making the film she imagined, she “stumbled on this political mayhem–really like a turf war about the future of public education.” Or more accurately, she happened upon a raucous protest outside of a failing public school in which Harlem Success, already filled to capacity, had requested space.
“We drove by that protest,” Ms. Sackler recalls. “We were on our way to another interview and we jumped out of the van and started filming.” There she discovered that the majority of those protesting the proliferation of charter schools were not even from the neighborhood. They’d come from the Bronx and Queens.
“They all said ‘We’re not allowed to talk to you. We’re just here to support the parents.'” But there were only two parents there, says Ms. Sackler, and both were members of Acorn. And so, “after not a lot of digging,” she discovered that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) had paid Acorn, the controversial community organizing group, “half a million dollars for the year.” (It cost less to make the film.)
Finding out that the teachers union had hired a rent-a-mob to protest on its behalf was “the turn for us in the process.” That story–of self-interested adults trying to deny poor parents choice for their children–provided an answer to Ms. Sackler’s fundamental question: “If there are these high-performing schools that are closing the achievement gap, why aren’t there more of them?”

For the full interview, see:
BARI WEISS. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Storming the School Barricades; A new documentary by a 27-year-old filmmaker could change the national debate about public education.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JUNE 5, 2010): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the first paragraph quoted above has slightly different wording in the online version than the print version; the second paragraph quoted is the same in both.)

Luddism in 1811 England

(p. 243) The stockingers began in the town of Arnold, where weaving frames were being used to make cut-ups and, even worse, were being operated by weavers who had not yet completed the seven-year apprenticeship that the law required. They moved next to Nottingham and the weaver-heavy villages surrounding it, attacking virtually every night for weeks, a few dozen men carrying torches and using prybars and hammers to turn wooden frames–and any doors, walls, or windows that surrounded them–into kindling. None of the perpetrators were arrested, much less convicted and punished.

The attacks continued throughout the spring of’ 1811, and after a brief summertime lull started up again in the fall, by which time nearly one thousand weaving frames had been destroyed (out of the 25.000 to 29,000 then in Nottingham, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire), resulting in damages of between £6,000 and £10.000. That November, a commander using the nom de sabotage of Ned Ludd (sometimes Lud)–the name was supposedly derived from an apprentice to a Leicester stockinger named Ned Ludham whose reaction to a reprimand was to hammer the nearest stocking frame to splinters–led a series of increasingly daring attacks throughout the Midlands. On November 13, a letter to the Home Office demanded action against the “2000 men, many of them armed, [who] were riotously traversing the County of Nottingham.”
By December 1811, rioters appeared in the cotton manufacturing capital of Manchester, where Luddites smashed both weaving and spinning machinery. Because Manchester was further down the path to industrialization, and therefore housed such machines in large factories as opposed to small shops, the destruction demanded larger, and better organized, mobs.

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.
(Note: italics and bracketed word in original.)