Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trade is Made of WIN!

The folks at the Mercatus Center producing the new LearnLiberty video series are wonderful, brilliant people. Full disclosure, I had a meeting with their director a week and a half ago to pitch my own services (assuming I actually have any time) to produce some videos for them as well.

I'd been meaning to post a few of these videos regardless, but there is actually a special reason I'm doing so tonight.

The other day, I posted a link from to Facebook on 5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the World (That Don't Work). The 5 things and my own comments about them, in descending order, were:
  • #5. Buying Organically Grown Food: More expensive, worse on the planet (because it consumes more resources to produce the same quantity of food), no healthier for you. Genius.
  • ‎#4. Rejecting Vaccinations: Obvious, isn't it? Not to some people. Seriously though... Vaccines are a good thing. Get 'em.
  • #3. Recycling: This one is more interesting and more subtle... It uses enormous resources (including human labor) to recycle products. Many times, the energy expenditure - which often means carbon emissions, water usage, etc. - is way more to recycle some material than it is to just use new stuff. Additionally, the energy expenditure varies by material. Paper is easier to recycle than aluminum, for instance. The cracked article also makes the point that sometimes even *reuse* is more wasteful. I'm less convinced on that point, only because I understand that wealth is the cumulative goods & services people actually use and need on a daily basis... The more goods we have that we don't need to constantly re-make, the more human effort can be expended on creating new things and bringing produced goods to more people - thus raising the standard of living for everybody. Reuse is better overall.
  • #2. Using Antibacterial Soap: I'm pretty sure everybody knows about this one by now. Stop making super-resistant strains of bacteria! Let your immune system get a daily work out. You'll be healthier in the long run!
  • #1. Buying Carbon Offsets: If you're an idiot, then you might not understand why this is a massive fail. Al Gore and his carbon credit company is counting on there being a lot of idiots out there.
Somewhat predictably, the big one that set people off was the "organic" food one.

Over the course of the discussion I've come to discover that many people are rather confused on a number of issues related to organically grown food. But the one thing I really want to set straight right here isn't so much about whether or not your food is "organic" (it all is, by the way, as the word "organic" is nothing more than clever branding), but about trade.

One thing people keep coming back to on the Facebook thread is this idea that organic farming is better for the planet than so-called "factory" farming, and that buying "local" foods is better than buying foods produced in other parts of the world.

Yet... None of that is usually the case, and thanks to my friend Art Carden, Professor of Economics at Rhodes College and the Mercatus Center's "LearnLiberty" project, I have 3 excellent videos that quickly and effectively explain why:

Trade is Made of Win - Part I: Wealth Creation

Trade is Made of Win - Part II: Cooperation

Let's pause here for a moment. What does this have to do with local vs. non-local trade? Everything. Note how in both examples, more goods were produced with trade and with specialization (division of labor) than without... This is always going to be the case.

For example, I do not have a green thumb and embarrassing as this is to admit, I have never caught a single fish in my entire life.

When I was in Boy Scouts, I got my fishing merit badge (which was required) by going to a stocked lake, having somebody else ultimately catch a fish for me on my line, and then gutting and cleaning said fish myself to at least show that I had that skill. I'm a failure as a fisherman.

But you might not be... I don't know. Let's say that you are an excellent fisherman... If you are and we were stranded on a desert island, it would behoove you to do all the fishing, and for me to spend all my time doing something else, and then we would trade output for output and both be far better off than if we split our time doing things we were not good at.

Of course everybody pretty much gets that basic idea. But most people fail to expand it out to the rest of the world. Even if you're a great fisherman compared to your buddies, you realize that there are people who catch hundreds of fish each day as professionals working on boats in oceans and rivers world-wide. The same is true for producing anything else.

Some local farmers might produce the best food in the most efficient ways possible... But then again, maybe they don't. Maybe someone in Columbia does a better job. Or someone in Canada, or Germany, or China. Maybe people in Wisconsin, Oregon & Vermont make better cows milk cheeses than people in Florida... And maybe people in Florida make better oranges than people in Alaska, who probably produce better Alaskan King Crab legs than people in Nebraska, who might produce better USDA Prime Angus Beef than......... Yeah, you get the idea.

Local isn't always better. In fact, for probably 95% of the things you need and want on a daily basis, it's going to be much worse than non-local. But with trade, that doesn't matter. Everybody wins!

And of course, on a more preachy note... Prices help people determine what goods are being produced the most efficiently, and your own judgment will tell you if what's been produced is up to your standards, but if your local farmer isn't able to provide a better product at a lower price than a non-local farmer, not only would I encourage you not to support your local farmer, but I would say you were downright foolish if you did so.

You'd be contributing to the continued waste of resources - particularly including human labor - and the production of inferior products.

Don't do that!

If instead, you trade and cooperate with everyone regardless of where they are, prices can help coordinate the division of labor until everybody is really doing what they're best at and all over the world, people are utilizing world-wide resources as effectively as it's possible to do in this flawed universe.

Buying local regularly just results in waste... and higher prices to you as a consumer to boot, so dumb all the way around.

However... Now we come to the truly key clip...

Trade is Made of Win - Part III: Conservation

Organic farming is in many ways, primitive farming. Without taking advantage of the huge number of advances in biotechnology that make crops more robust and have higher yields, organic farmers condemn themselves to using more "inputs" for the same number of "outputs", as an economist might say.

It takes a greater land area to produce the same amount of food that modern commercial farming techniques can produce. So putting aside any complaints about the "quality" of the food (which isn't the subject of this post, but is absolutely no different as study after study confirms), on a pure numbers basis, organic farming is more resource intensive and is thus more wasteful per unit of food produced than alternative methods.

Generally speaking, it's worse for the planet in general to be producing goods at lower levels of efficiency, because we're using up more resources than we absolutely have to.

But much worse, in my opinion, is the human cost to all of this nonsense.

There are billions of hungry and starving people in this world. Organic farming produces less food by far than we know it is physically possible to produce with our available technology and resources. This means that in spite of the billions needing to eat, purely for the sake of the psychological (not physiological!) desires of a comparatively small group of incredibly wealthy "Westerners", we are under producing and contributing to a much hungrier world than we would otherwise have if we didn't have to go through this organic nonsense.

So... I'm making two big points here.

First, organic farming is a waste of human labor and resources compared to what we could be doing in food production, and that is worse on the environment inherently - since we're being comparatively less efficient. Bad for the planet in that way.

Second, organic farming is directly contributing to the continued starvation of billions of people who do not need to be starving!

I can't stress that second point enough. We have the technology and ingenuity to provide for the material needs of far more people than we are providing for as a species right now, and anything that inhibits that is, in my view, utterly cruel. So people who support all these kinds of primitive means of production, forgoing important capital developments like biotechnology - primarily due to unfounded, hyperbolized paranoia - are actively discouraging the development of a more prosperous world.

I do not like that at all.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Partisan Peeps.

Last Tuesday, Mary Katharine Ham decided that for our newest video, we should do something involving those marshmallow Peeps everybody hates because it was going to be Easter weekend, and she used to do videos with Peeps all the time covering newsy topics.

Naturally, I thought it would be fun, and being the industrious and ambitious individual I am and generally wanting to take everything the Daily Caller/MKH does to "the next level" I grabbed a couple Peeps, went into my faux-studio for about an hour and came back to MKH with a 2-3 second video of stop-motion animation.

How cool would it be, I thought, to have 20 or 30 seconds of kind of hilarious stop-motion Peeps on screen while MKH is talking about the news or doing whatever it is she wanted to do?

Pretty cool.

Well, of course, Mary Katharine saw the thing and the gears started turning and later that evening, I get an email or a text or whatever, saying something to the effect of "I have a great idea!! Talk to you about it tomorrow morning!"

That's always fun for me, since I rely on her to come up with the "ideas" for our videos and good ideas tend to me more interesting production for me.

Little did I know...

Next morning, I get into work and just about the first question I get asked is... "Heyyy.... Can you re-create Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start the Fire' so we can do a music video?", while being handed a page of lyrics.

At this point, I could already tell that MKH's great idea was going to be a hundred times more work than I anticipated, but once I'd read through the song lyrics, I knew two more things... First, that it would
actually be a thousand times more work than I had anticipated originally, and second... that it really was a cute, hilarious, fun idea and we would have to get it done by the end of the week in time for Easter.

So I went to work...

By a bit after lunchtime, I had arranged, produced and was mixing a pretty solid background track over which would be recorded the lyrics. I'd set up the vocal recording project and set up a miniature green-screen stage for our Peeps. By the end of the day on Wednesday, I had a complete breakdown of all the different shots we'd need to get to do the video.

Maybe not quite needless to say, the breakdown included about 180 seconds worth of stop-motion animation that we'd need to complete to properly pull off a good video.

Now... you may not be aware of this, but the human eye sees the world at something fairly close to 24 frames per second. That's why movies are basically all shot/played back at 24 (or 23.97) frames per second. A frame, by the way, is one single image that makes up the basis for a film. Most people get this I would assume. Film works just like a flip-book or a zoetrope.  Image after image gets passed by our eyes and the brain synthesizes all that and our minds merge all the data into one seemless video.

Honestly, there's a ton of cool stuff involved here, but videos actually work mostly because our brains do fun, interesting and strange things.

This is relevant because 24 frames a second in stop motion would mean that somebody (i.e. me) would have to take 4,320 separate images (and moving little Peeps around a little stage in between each shot) to achieve 180 seconds worth of stop motion video.

Fortunately, because animation isn't "real", and your brain knows it, we don't actually need to watch stop-motion animation in 24 frames per second. We can do animation in 15 or even, on generally more rare occasions: 12 frames per second.

Still... When it's all said and done, the fact remains that at 12 fps, we needed to come up with 2,170 individual shots in order to get enough material to produce the final video. Seriously.... 2,170!

To further complicate this situation, each and every video made with these Peeps then must have had all the green backgrounds keyed out (removed) before they could be usable for anything! So I sat here at my fabulous desk, editing away for hours. Mary Katharine photographed the Peeps while I put hundreds and hundreds of single frames into my NLE, created videos, then keyed out backgrounds and added scenes and additional animation in After Effects.

All said and done, for every 2 seconds of final video, there was probably an hour and a half to two hours worth of production work needed to make it what it is.

And just so we're all clear here... That is insanely fast for any kind of stop-motion production!

But after putting in about 40 hours of work in 3 days, and even coming back in on Saturday morning to finalize the thing, I'm rather proud to say that we did get it done just in time for Easter Sunday. Here it is:

Now... I really do hope you enjoyed this little video... and I hope that the background portrayed above has helped you understand a little bit more about the challenges and diverse skills that went into the creation of the video. Maybe you don't care, but I know some people will watch it and say, "Ehh... Whatever, I've seen better", and of course that's surely true. I'm no Tim Burton... fair enough.

And indeed, looking over the YouTube comments, a few people did dislike it... For instance, "blogbat" writes:
"Wow. That. Really. Sucked. But thanks for the effort. :)"
Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatever, blogbat. I'm certainly not going to cry about, or really even think about the anonymous comments of people like that... I worked incredibly hard, I'm basically a "team" of one, and I'm pretty sure there aren't more than a handful of people in the world who would be able to do music, stop-motion photography, animation, graphic effects and edit this kind of a project in the time available. I'm pretty secure on that level... But some of the comments that I read on the video have honestly baffled me.

If you haven't seen the video yet... Do so now, please.

Ok... So, reading through a few of the comments, one came in early on that I just don't understand. Commenter "angusmcphooey" wrote:
"Could have been funny, but too partisan"
Uh... What?

Another commenter comes to the video's "defense"... "JoeSquid1970" responds:
"Partisan??? Mentions Obama, Scott Brown and Christine O'donnell...I think it was fairly done...Do you think it is "Partisan" when something bad is said about ACORN or Obama? The song was mostly about celebrites and world events so I just don't see it..."
And so McPhooey goes into detail about how the video is supposedly "partisan"...
"Positive mentions of Tea Party/Pain, negative mentions of Obama and his wife. Yeah, partisan hackery. With peeps. Not surprising since the person who wrote it is a right-wing talking head."
He/she isn't the only one to think that, apparently... Another commenter writes:
"atrocious vid is atrocious. the part about michelle obama pissed me off the most. wtf is this bullshit."
...and still another chimes in with:
"Let's see- ACORN was a set up- it was selectively edited video by FOX News to implicate the employees of ACORN (didn't mentioned that after the "prostitute" left the men in the video called his police officer cousin to report it) No charges were filed once the the unedited video was reviewed. Youtube won't let me add a link to news stories about this, google "acorn set up" for more info) Other issues with video, no room to write about them. Cute idea, too much of a right wing agenda to go viral."
And on the other side of this miniature flame war, "sstrudell" wrote:
"Maybe Negative things are said about Acorn and Obama because they do negative things? Makes sense to me. Great job with the video!"
I really couldn't care less if people mock the video or say whatever they want about my work... But... Partisan?? Huh?


Consider this... We have a commenter who goes on at length about Fox News and ACORN (and a commenter who defends my video's "negative things" apparently said about ACORN), and the totality of reference to ACORN in the video is literally... the single, solitary word, "ACORN" in the lyrics, and a picture of an acorn... The nut, not even the logo of the organization.

The "positive" mentions of the Tea Party, for that matter include... umm.... exactly 0 direct references. The Tea Party does appear in Peep form on screen with the lines "Sarah Palin gave a speech, regulator overreach", and "Congress passed Obamacare, incumbents had to go".

Now, maybe the "regulator overreach" thing is disagreeable to some people or may seem "partisan"... although, I'm vehemently anti-partisan, and it's not disagreeable to me at all.

The rest of it is just statements... Sarah Palin gave tons of speeches. Congress did pass ObamaCare, and considering the massive incumbent ousting of the 2010 election, that seemed a bit news worthy to me too. And of course, all of these lines are surrounded by stuff about Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Helen Thomas and Mel Gibson... I mean really... There's even Twilight Peeps in this video!

So... What? Partisan??

I guess some people see whatever it is that they want to see... Bizarre.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Catching Up

Hello my lovely blog, how long has it been?

Ok... Let's be honest, it's only been a couple weeks since my last post, but holy cow I've been busy. The majority of said busy-ness has come from my work with The Daily Caller and specifically Mary Katharine Ham.

So far, the past 6 weeks has raced by and I've had a pretty great time overall in my new digs. Unfortunately I've had to move all my gear from one room to another and then back to yet a third room right next to the first one in the past couple weeks, but I hope that this last move will have been the final one - at least for a good long while.

I have gotten a whole bunch of ancillary gear to become better prepared for the multitude of less-than-stellar audio & video environments that are becoming germane to my new life as a news & commentary multimedia producer.

Inside things that I am finding fun and amusing in no particular order:

  1. Morning editorial meetings with Tucker Carlson, often hilarious, frequently interesting and informative.
  2. Ever-changing and thus consistently-challenging recording environments and expectations. I go from shooting in front of the White House to visiting new Congress-people offices in the labyrinthine depths and murky undergrounds of House of Representative & Senate offices on Capitol Hill to quaint rural Virginia lake-houses, and back to my little make-shift greenscreen studio all within the span of a few hours.
  3. The chance to occasionally work on videos that say some things I really deeply care about.
  4. Working with a bunch of people who I actually pretty much like being around.
That last one is kind of a big deal for me... I tend to get along pretty well with most of the people I've ever worked with, but it's very rare that I'd have much opportunity to talk with people on any kind of a comparable level on political philosophy or economics, and at the Daily Caller I seem to be able to do that all the time.

It's a pretty good environment and although it's a lot more statist than I'd like overall, it's better than most places, and honestly - there's no way around that if you want to reach a broader audience.

And reach a broader audience I have....

The first video I produced over there was viewed around 60,000 times. And the numbers for other videos are in the quintuple digits frequently. This is good... and hey, my name is occasionally on the product too, so maybe at some point people will take some notice of that as well.