Monday, May 21, 2007

The Firefly/Serenity Series Revivifies Science Fiction Story-Telling in the New Millenium

21 May 2007

As I am not a television watcher, the Firefly/Serenity Series had slipped by under my radar for the past 3-4 years. Over the past week, my wife Susan and I have been ending our days with episodes from the ephemeral 2002-03 Firefly Television series. My confidence that our era can still tell science fiction stories has been restored, and special credit goes to
Joss Whedon, the series' creator, for this accomplishment!

Firefly tells the story of a ragtag band of space voyageurs, and in this sense, owes its genesis in large part to the initial Star Wars series (to which Whedon attributes much of his inspiration). However, Firefly accomplishes a subtlety of execution which is seldom encountered in dramatized science fiction. Rather than say more here, let me simply share with you
my reviews for both Firefly (the televised series) and Serenity (the culminating cinematic episode).

Firefly - Incredible TV Fare

I am not a television watcher, and so it took me over 3 years after cancellation to discover this incredible television science fiction series. Yes, the episodes are 43 minutes in length, and thus you know that resolution is drawing near as the time winds down with each episode. But this is science fiction for television as I had never imagined it.

Firefly is classic science fiction story-telling first, and television second.

What sticks with me? When River steps barefoot onto the metal deck connecting two ships in space, I received a sensory impression of life in space as it might someday be lived. Warm give-and-take discussion over the plain wooden table in the ship's galley is only one more of perhaps hundreds of subtle touches that evoke the possibility of life in this imagined future world (set arbitrarily 500 years away).

Clearly the fiction outweighs the science (quantum gravity has clearly been solved in the "Out of Gas" episode). And there is plenty of action for those who nod off at cognitive content. But this is a creditable contribution to dramatized science fiction. The movie sequel Serenity has just been identified in a
BBC poll as the best science fiction movie overall, and - at least for our era - that is certainly the case.

Move over Star Wars. This series is superior even to the original Star Wars episodes. I am not a connoisseur of televised science fiction, but it is hard to imagine how this program could be topped.

Serenity Now the Best Science Fiction Film (BBC Poll)

BBC has just rated Serenity the best science fiction film, edging out the original Star Wars.

Why? To start, Joss Whedon has an uncannily clear vision of what he is doing. Second, he communicates this vision to his actors, who communicate it to us. Third - this film is true science fiction.

That is, it establishes an imaginable future, and illustrates how real people might live in such a future. This is not an action or suspense film in disguise. It is actually about how people might live under an imaginable set of future circumstances.

The most brilliant cinematic touches are those that make the future real, and this includes taking time to focus the camera and the story on day to day life between dramatic events. Yes, there is plenty of action for the amygdala-driven viewer, but there is also plenty of stimulus for the prefrontal cortex - for those who find thinking as well as action interesting. Classic science fiction returns to the screen - and this as the Star Wars franchise seems to be devolving and unwinding.

Perhaps with enough DVD sales, there could be a Serenity II. Buy this disc (the
two-disc special edition is being released August 21, 2007).

By the way, donations to the Firefly Fan site may be made here. You can vote for Firefly here, where Firefly happens to be running second as "best television show of all time," as well as on the already-mentioned BBC poll (still open as of this posting) where Serenity is currently rated the best science fiction movie.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Yet another possible cause of global warming...

14 May 2007

According to the Economist, the Earth’s magnetic field is getting ready to flip (this happens every 500,000 years or so, but very erratically, and it has been ¾ million years since the last flip). The magnetic field is weakening by about 5% a century. This in turn weakens the magnetosphere, which shields the earth from much solar radiation. Thus, increasing solar radiation is reaching the surface of the earth.

The Economist isn't linking this to global warming, but it is an obvious correlate….

The Northern lights will sure look great in Missouri and Saudi Arabia – and ultimately at the (former) south pole…..

Do we then have to rename Antarctica to Arctica??? Does Canada become the True South, strong and free? Will Canadians go north for their winter holidays (my wife Susan excepted, as she likes to go to the Yukon in February)?

Friday, May 11, 2007

How indebted is the US?

11 May 2007

This time, with the help of Puru Saxena, I can provide more exact information on total US indebtedness.

The total value of the US stock market at the end of 2006 was $20.6 trillion dollars. The value of the total US housing stock was a similar amount. These two amounts (roughly $40 trillion) account approximately for the net worth of Americans (obviously this is a rough calculation, as there is considerable, and growing, international ownership of US assets, and Americans also own international assets).

Here is the problem - total US debt is higher still, at $48 trillion dollars, and it is rising exponentially. That is, you could use the value of the entire US stock market and every residence in the United States to make payments against US debt - and it would not cover the bill.

As we have discussed several times, the US is growing more indebted to the rest of the world at a rate exceeding $2 billion dollars per day, and this approaches $1 trillion per year.

Yes, the liquidity-fuelled economy is booming - but it is global citizens other than Americans (including Canadians) who will derive the ultimate benefit. You could argue that the United States is making the rest of the world rich. It is a dramatic finishing act for the nation which has been the primary driver of the global economy for a century or longer.

But this is the kind of place where things draw to a close, not where they begin - at least for the US economy. So long as the US dollar, now at long-term support, holds its value, the producing nations of the globe will benefit from America's largesse. And for many decades to come (3 decades in the case of long-term treasury bills), Americans will be footing the greatest part of the bill for continuing international economic growth.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Rethinking the US Dollar Index

5 May 2007

John Doody (the Gold Stock Analyst) has recently taken apart the US Dollar Index (USDX) and put it back together again.

The present USDX is not trade-weighted, and has become increasingly out of proportion to the reality of US trade over the past 24 years. It overweights the Euro Zone by a factor of three (at 57.6%), underweights Canada by almost 50% (at 9.1%), and omits China (0%) entirely.

Mr. Doody has re-calculated the index based on weights available at the Federal Reserve Board website as follows (adjusting the following figures proportionately to make 100%):

Euro area 17.6
Canada 17.5
China 15.1
Mexico 9.6
Japan 9.5
UK 4.5
Korea 3.7
Taiwan 2.5

The two indices were roughly equivalent in 1983, but have since diverged considerably.

Mr. Doody’s recalcualted index peaked in 1985 and 2002 at 139.86, and has presently fallen to 110.85.

This is in contrast to the USDX, which peaked in 1985 at 164.72, but only modestly at 120.9 in 2002, and which is now in the .80 range.

That is, the USDX has lost half its value since 1985, but the trade-weighted dollar index (based on 2006 trade weightings) has lost only 21% of its value since 1985.

Doody is in the camp of the gold bulls, but he is cautioning us to be objective in our evaluation of the declining US dollar. I think he has a valid and important point.

For more information, visit Mr. Doody's website to subscribe to his monthly newsletter.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Macroeconomics for gold investors in one chart

4 May 2007

Gary Tanashian has published a brilliant chart summarizing virtually the entire macroeconomic situation for gold investors in one place. Here it is: