More about the Haynesville documentary

Michael Giberson

In advance of the screening next week at SXSW, the Austin Chronicle presents a story about Haynesville and its director Gregory Kallenberg.  Here’s a bit of it:

The Rev. Reegis Richard was wandering through a field, hungrily eyeing a dilapidated former school and dreaming of the possibilities, when a Haynesville producer climbed over a fence out of curiosity. Five minutes later, a camera crew was set up, says documentary director Gregory Kallenberg.

It was the sort of serendipitous moment that has guided his documentary, which explores how a massive shale natural gas find in Louisiana is both fueling the dreams of Louisiana’s downtrodden and crushing them, while providing a potential solution to our nation’s energy thirst.

[...] Kallenberg interweaves Richard’s story along with those of Mike Smith, a good old boy who finds himself a sudden multimillionaire from the shale his 300 acres of land contains, and – perhaps the doc’s most gripping character – Kassi Fitzgerald, a single mother who turns into a driven community activist to make sure both her economically depressed neighbors and the environment are treated fairly.

Many views on the Haynesville shale resource

Michael Giberson

The documentary film Haynesville offers a view of the shale gas boom from the point of view of several landowners in northeastern Louisiana. One of the landowners is a sort of good-ol’-boy type who hung onto family land and added to it even as family members moved away. His 300 or so acres of backwoods land made him a multi-millionaire when the gas developers came to town. Another part of the story shows the impact of the gas money on a growing church congregation; the preacher wants to build a new Christian school with the money. The film also follows the activities of a mother who gathers small landowners into a large block to negotiate with the gas companies for both higher payments and contractual protection for water quality and other environmental values.

Haynesville movie thumbnail imageIntertwined in these stories are some talking-head interviews with energy, environmental, and policy experts. I found these parts of the film mildly intrusive – but that’s probably because I already spend too much of my life reading about energy resource policy issues; likely most viewers will find the contextual information helpful. The film should be required viewing for landowners sitting over shale gas resources, especially in areas not used to oil and gas development.

The documentary is making the rounds. A showing is coming up in Houston on March 4, and the film will be part of the SXSW festival in Austin in a few weeks. If you’re interested in more information on the film, check out the website or become a fan of Haynesville on Facebook.

One of the natural gas companies doing a lot of the development of the Haynesville shale resource is Chesapeake. See, for example, their “February 2010 Investor
,” which details their interests and optimism about their work in Haynesville and elsewhere. This three-page document explains Chesapeake’s hydraulic fracturing process, including a description of the (very small amount of) chemical additives that get injected along with a lot of water and sand as part of the fracing. The summary is produced by Chesapeake, so maybe it minimized the possible risks, but the environmental risks do appear to be small. Some information on the topic is included in the Wikipedia article on hydraulic fracturing.

Meanwhile, the new conventional view that shale gas will ensure plenty of domestic natural gas for the United States for the next 100 years remains under criticism from skeptics who believe the resources are significantly over-estimated. Allen Brooks, at Musings from the Oil Patch, provides a review of some recent analysis from skeptics. As I’ve said before, it seems obvious to me that the people in the best position to know – the folks doing the drilling and producing from shale formations – have clearly signaled what they think is true by spending huge amounts of money to secure leases and develop additional properties. Nonetheless, production of vast quantities of gas from shale remains a relatively new commercial activity, so a certain amount of unavoidable uncertainty remains.

“Where the wild things are”

Michael Giberson

Just saw the movie Where the Wild Things Are.

Fantastic. Wonderful. Amazing.

Back when I was king, it was kind of like that.  Only, I had more brothers and sisters when I was king, and they thought they were the king or queen, so it was complicated.

And amazing.

I’m not sure my 13 year-old son was as impressed with the movie, but I think he still thinks that he’s the king.

Power Trip documentary to be aired

Michael Giberson

Power Trip - film by Paul Devlin

Power Trip - film by Paul Devlin

From the inbox comes word that Paul Devlin’s documentary, Power Trip, will be aired this weekend on BBC World and in the PBS World Voices program.  The film tells the story of the efforts of AES Corporation to succeed as the owners of the newly privatized (in January 1999) electric utility in Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

Several years ago, in a post on politics and documentary film, I called Power Trip “one of the best documentaries I’ve seen.” I said:

The film offers a perspective on capitalism and corporations hard to get in the Western world, because in the West so much of the institutional framework is taken for granted. In the beginning only 10 percent of Tbilisi customers were paying their electric bills, because they were used to power being “free” (i.e. provided by the government). Of course, electric power was also unreliable (unless you had good political connections). In Power Trip you can get a flavor of such abstract phrases as “institutional framework,” and why they might matter to making the world a better place.

Should be required viewing for international development professionals and students of comparative economic systems, development studies, or the economics of institutions. Actually, everybody should go see it.

Links to broadcast times June 13 and 14 are available on the Power Trip “Screenings” page.

How to deal with toxic assets

Michael Giberson

The ever quotable Yzma, from Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove:

Ah, how shall I do it? Oh, I know. I’ll turn him into a flea, a harmless, little flea, and then I’ll put that flea in a box, and then I’ll put that box inside of another box, and then I’ll mail that box to myself, and when it arrives… [insert demonic laughter here] …I’ll smash it with a hammer!

It’s brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, I tell you! Genius, I say!

Yzma, of course, is working on a plan to dispose of Kuzco, but it kind of sounds like the general strategy for getting “toxic assets” off of the balance sheets of financial institutions.

Up the Yangtze: A meditation on change in China

Michael Giberson

Up the Yangtze, a documentary by Yung Chang, examines changes along the Yangtze river in China due to the construction of the Three Gorges dam through the stories of two Chinese youth who took jobs on a cruise ship. The cruises are called “farewell tours” because they offer the chance to see parts of the Yangtze valley that will disappear under the reservoir created by the dam. In all, an estimated two million people will be displaced by the reservoir.

The film offers a slow-paced, almost meditative look at changes wrought by the growing body of water. Sorry energy policy geeks, while Up the Yangtze offers a few glimpses of the dam under construction, you get very little information about who, what, where, and why the dam. Instead you get a human interest story, a small slice of life. The documentary doesn’t rush you to any particular conclusion, just gives you material for further contemplation. I enjoyed it.

Music Favorites From 2007

Lynne Kiesling

2007 was the best music year I’ve had in a very, very long time. From a nostalgia perspective, you could argue that it’s the best year I’ve had in 24 years, because that was the last time I saw The Police play live, and in 2007 I saw them live again, several times. And they rocked. I’m very glad I saw them indoors, because while seeing them at Wrigley was wonderful and emotionally meaningful for me for several reasons (with some of my favorite people, walking distance from my house, Wrigley!, Stewart in a Cubs jersey), but I really loved the energy and vibe of the indoor shows, for a lot of reasons.

But 2007 was also a good year for new music. Two radio stations that play music to my taste do end-of-year countdowns: WOXY and KEXP in Seattle. My favorite album of the year was Boxer, by The National. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Well-composed music, lovely bass-voiced lead singer, intelligent but not ponderous lyrics, really fun and high quality live show. Boxer was also #1 on WOXY’s list and #3 on KEXP’s list (as well as being the favorite of my favorite bartender at my favorite local watering hole, and I love being able to go in there and talk tunes with him!).

Both countdowns also listed Feist high up, but I honestly couldn’t get as into her as I wanted to. Perhaps I need to revisit the CD. Same with Amy Winehouse, although I didn’t buy her CD.

Other stuff I bought in 2007 that I really love:

  • Stewart Copeland, The Stewart Copeland Anthology
  • Interpol, Our Love to Admire
  • LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
  • Editors, An End Has a Start
  • Hot Hot Heat, Happiness LTD.
  • Manu Chao, La Radiolina

And other stuff that escapes my memory at the moment.

The single song that I enjoy the most from 2007, the one that I sing at the top of my lungs irrepressibly whenever I hear it, is “Let Me In” from Hot Hot Heat. They were also a fun live show.

The two bands that I didn’t explore in 2007 that I intend to in 2008 are Okkervil River and Gogol Bordello. Also St. Vincent; she opened for The National and was really impressive.

Time for more great music in 2008! What did you like in 2007?

How long will the writers’ strike last?

Michael Giberson

Today, the 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike. Among the issues in dispute is a share of income from new media. No doubt you can find much commentary on the web on the substance of the negotiations, I’m concerned with a more practical matter: How long will the strike last?

Publicly, of course, there is much posturing. The writers have to give all appearances of being ready to strike for as long as necessary, while producers have to give the appearance of being ready to endure as long as necessary. Nobody is saying (publicly at least), “Let’s get this wrapped up by Thanksgiving so we don’t upset the holidays.” The last writers’ strike, in 1988, lasted 22 weeks.

A good forecast of the duration of the strike would have economic value — the writers would know better how to budget their savings over the next few months (weeks? days?), producers could reorganize production schedules (or not), and networks could decide how much more of their spring schedule they’ll be giving over to reality programming (too much, but the programs are cheap). Advertisers, too, might want to know when the current crop of new shows will dry up, and how long it will be before more new shows will be broadcast.

Tax collectors in Los Angeles county also will be concerned. A Los Angeles Times news story reported the 1988 strike cost the entertainment industry some $500 million, and that means fewer taxes collected in and around Hollywood. In Forbes, Southern Cal business professor Mark Young extrapolates from a 2001 Milken Institute study to estimate that a five-month strike could cost the Los Angeles area nearly $8 billion. Young notes that in 1988, the strike may have cost networks 9 percent in lost viewership. With more options for today’s viewers, the drop off from a long strike could be more dramatic.

So a good forecast would be handy, but I’m not sure it is possible to produce one. Reading the newspaper commentary, clearly the pundits have no idea. I’ve set up a play-money prediction market at Inkling asking, “How long will the Writers Guild of America strike last?” It is free to participate, so if you are interested then go sign up and spend your Inkling $$ on what you think is the right answer. The early trading favors a short strike, with prices suggesting a 20 percent chance the strike is finished in a week and another 25 percent saying no more than a month.


I’m not sure whether a prediction market can do a good job here. But, of course, the question is whether prediction markets do better than the alternatives. So far the alternative seems to be random speculation by random people, and prediction markets probably are better than that. What other forecasts are out there?

(The L A Times also reported that outside Disney in Burbank, CA, writers were handed lyrics to several pro-union chants, including, “Network bosses, rich and rude, We don’t like your attitude!”

This is what they came come up with? You’d think with 12,000 professional writers among the membership, they’d be able to do just a tiny bit better.)

“Losers and Winners”: The Gale of Creative Destruction, Captured on Film

Michael Giberson

Losers and Winners” captures a telling moment in the world economy. Just a small part of a big story – just one telling moment among millions. But somehow, without ever straying too far from the grounds of the German factory being disassembled, the film provides a picture of globalization.

The story, according to the film’s website:

400 Chinese workers break down the Kaiserstuhl coke factory in the Ruhr Valley into manageable parts and ship them back to their homeland: disassembly in the West – reassembly in the Far East. Dortmund’s last coke workers find themselves helping the Chinese to dismantle their own workplace.

A columnist in the Washington Post offers a little more: “After it was completed in the early 1990s, the sprawling $800 million complex was billed as the most modern and efficient anywhere in the world, a monument to German engineering prowess. Unfortunately, it came on line just as the world price of steel and coke collapsed and Europe’s steelmakers began to import cheaper foreign coke from Asia and Eastern Europe.” The factory was purchased by a Chinese company, who rather than operate it in Germany, wanted to move it back to China.

losers%20and%20winners.jpgWhen the movie ended, I felt a little lost. I wanted more background and more perspective. I didn’t have a clear idea of just how big the factory was. Big, sure, but how big? The film claimed that there were 400 Chinese workers, but we never see more than 30 or 40. How many German workers were employed at the plant when it was in operation? If the film mentioned that point, I missed it. The film seemed to lack any overarching organizational principle, other than just the story of the factory being disassembled in Germany and shipped to China.

Slowly it dawned on me what the filmmakers had done. The beauty of the film was in this very lack of any overarching organizational principle other than the story. The film manages to tell us a bit about Europe and a bit about China, something about globalization, technology transfer, the culture of work, and environmental and safety regulations. The film captures a bit of the modern economy, one swirling eddy out of the continuing gale of creative destruction, and it does all of this without a single talking head trying to tell us “what it all means.” No politicians, no labor activists, no anthropologists, no sociologists and absolutely no economists.

Just the story of a few Chinese workers, fewer German workers, a factory being disassembled, a telling moment captured on film.

NOTE: “Losers and Winners” is being shown as part of SilverDocs: The AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival in Silver Spring, MD (just outside of Washington, DC). The film will be shown again at the AFI Silver Theater this Saturday, June 16, and then in New York City on June 23.


Michael Giberson

The overall sense of the reviews collected at RottenTomatoes is that Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is the best of the three prequels, with more action, drama, and character development, and fewer soap opera meanderings. Two blurbs from Los Angeles newspaper critics capture the overall sentiment:

“Revenge of the Sith is the most energetic of the prequels, the only one at all worth watching. But that doesn’t mean it is without the weaknesses that scuttled its pair of predecessors.”

“We are all preprogrammed in one way or another to want Episode III — Revenge of the Sith to climax in the way it does. All George had to do was not screw that up. He didn’t.”

RottenTomatoes calculates Episode III at 84% on the critics Tomatometer (percentage of reviews recommending the film), which surpasses the scores of Episode I (62%) and II (65%). For comparison, the original Star Wars ranked a 93%, Empire Strikes Back was a stellar 98%, and Return of the Jedi a mere 80%. These numbers suggest the Episode III actually surpasses Return of the Jedi, but my guess is that Return suffered in comparison to the first two movies while Revenge gets a few extra points by exceeding expectations.

UPDATE: A Small Victory is gathering blog posts on Revenge of the Sith, mentioning the above post and many others. Coyote Blog links to a funny spoof of Star Wars that teaches a very special lesson about organic farming.