The 401st Blow :: Thoughts On Media

The Internal Disconnect of Dick Cheney

Posted in Politics by Noah Harlan on September 5, 2011

I was reading an article in the Sun Times today entitled “Unrepentant Cheney Stands His Ground” which discussed Cheney’s new book and his defense of, well, every last thing that happened under the Bush administration, when something jumped out at me.

The man has no internal logic. Or at least, no sense of irony.

Cheney vigorously defends the Iraq fiasco and the failed nation-building effort there as a success but then there is this:

[Cheney] also offers a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of government regulatory overreach in the private sector, a key issue in the 2012 election. In 1971, he was assistant director of operations for the Cost of Living Council, which imposed wage and price controls in part to lower inflation. Instead, the controls sparked rising inflation, marketplace chaos and food shortages. The experience “confirmed my innate skepticism about what government could and couldn’t do.”

His message to Americans today: “When something as big and ham-handed as the federal government tries to run something as complex and dynamic as the American economy, the result is sure to be a train wreck.”

So if it’s impossible for the federal government to run something complex then how did he think the federal government could run Iraq?

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Spam vs. Hijacking

Posted in Data Analysis, Software, Technology by Noah Harlan on July 19, 2011

The most common and widespread form of spam is spam from an alien sender directly to me. Alien in the sense that they are unknown to me and directly to me in the sense that it lands directly in my inbox (or, more often, my spam filter). An email address like and sent to dozens of variations of my email address. It’s carpet bombing and, like carpet bombing, is not very effective.

Increasingly the spam that does find its way into my inbox is of two related types. The first are hijacked direct sources: people I know who have had their accounts hacked and are unknowingly sending spam. And the second is indirect: social network accounts of people I know who have had their accounts hacked. Both types reveal a problem with traditional spam reporting. If I don’t know you and you send me spam then I am inclined to click the spam reporting link. If I do know you then I assume you’ve been hacked, but I don’t want to report you as a spammer because then you’ll potentially lose your account.

A solution would be a “report this as a hijacking” link adjacent to the “report this as spam” link on all messages. If the former is activated then the host would automatically change the passwords for the account, shut down outgoing mail, send an in-bound email to alert the user of the hijacking, and require re-authentication on the next login.

With this new feature I’d be inclined to report more of these incidents faster and networks & mail hosts could respond more quickly.

The President And The Macguffin

Posted in Content, Humor, Theory by Noah Harlan on July 15, 2011

Today, the President apparently discovered a Macguffin.

The Macguffin is a plot device that moves the story forward and everyone is focussed on. The term was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock who described its origin to François Truffaut as:

It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?”, and the other answers “Oh, that’s a McGuffin”. The first one asks “What’s a McGuffin?”. “Well”, the other man says, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands“. The first man says “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands”, and the other one answers “Well, then that’s no McGuffin!”. So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.

Take a look at the President in the above picture. See the below. What do you think was in the case?

Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction

Kiss Me Deadly


2001: A Space Odyssey

In actual fact, the President was visiting an LED factory. It is highly unlikely that it was Marcellus Wallace’s soul he was looking at.

Data Liberation

Posted in Technology by Noah Harlan on July 6, 2011

The most fundamental difference between Google+ and Facebook is a single, simple screen called Data Liberation.

Can you say “like”?

Don Krim – 1945-2011

Posted in Distribution by Noah Harlan on May 24, 2011

Don Krim: 1945-2011

This past Friday the film community lost a legend. Don Krim was the president of Kino Films for the last 33 years and in that role he had an immeasurable impact on the film community both within the United States and beyond. He brought works of iconic filmmakers like Wong Kar-Wai, Michael Henneke, and Amos Gitai to American audiences and he passionately believed in the importance of cinema history. He oversaw the remastering and re-releasing of iconic works like The Cabinet of Dr. CaligariMetropolis, and Potemkin – the last two of which are available in the US on Blu-Ray courtesy of Don. Kino also released seminal collections of classic works including those of Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, and Ingmar Bergman. In addition to the classic and foreign works, Kino recently released on DVD important American indies like Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy and Lance Hammer’s Ballast.

Last wednesday Don sent out an email:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As of Friday, May 13th, I am withdrawing from active participation in the film industry due to health reasons.

It has been a terrific and productive 30 years, first at Kino International and during the last 18 months at the newly formed Kino Lorber.  I am confident that what we have started with Kino Lorber has not only brought into being a respected, medium-sized distribution company – a whole greater than the sum of its parts, as the expression goes – but an enterprise with considerable potential to assume a still broader role in the acquisition and release of important classic and international cinema in North America.

I am sorry that I will not be able to continue to participate, but I will certainly be watching and listening with great enthusiasm.  I extend my deeply felt thanks for your friendship and for our many shared experiences.  These experiences brought us close together and resulted, ultimately, in a large measure of success, success in which we can all take pride.

As we face the future, I wish each of you all and only the best.

Thank you again.


Two days later Don passed away. If ever there was a person who lived great cinema, Don was it.

Among the films that Don released was two by my filmmaking partner, Raphael Nadjari. Our Cannes Competition feature Tehilim in 2007 and the two-part documentary A History of Israeli Cinema in 2009. In 2009, Raphael took the above photo of Don in the Kino offices.

Make It Real, Then Film It

Posted in Theory by Noah Harlan on April 6, 2011

Mark Wahlberg talking in the commentary section of the DVD about how they shot all the fight scenes in The Fighter in just 3 days by using an actual HBO fight crew:

Every filmmaker that we talked to about directing this movie was like you can’t shoot the fights in 20 days, you need 35 days. And I said, “Well, we’re going to shoot the whole movie in 33 days and we’re going to shoot all the fights in three days.” And they said, “How are you going to do that? It’s never going to work.” And I said, “Because we’re going to film them like actual fights.”

So we literally did every fight from the actual beginning, coming out of the dressing room into the arena, into the ring, first bell, introductions, to the last bell, and everything. And we just did it over and over and over again.

And what I kept telling everybody is that HBO does it in one take and they don’t know what’s going to happen and they never miss a thing. We have the luxury of showing them what we’re going to do in the morning before we shoot it and doing it over and over and over again. So why do you need 20 days? For what? To jerk each other off? To touch up your makeup? To go in the trailer and take a nap?

We’re not talking about putting the camera in there and saying, “OK, we’re going to do a stunt punch here.” No, we’re going in there and beat the shit out of each other and we’re going to make it real.

(ht: 37 Signals)

This reminded me of John Favreau (I believe, I could be wrong) talking about shooting football (I believe for Rudy). Apparently they consulted with NFL Films – who makes the films of every NFL game, not the TV broadcast, but the actual beautiful films – about how to realistically shoot a football game. Steve Sabol and his team said “listen, we’re going to tell you how to do it, but you’re not going to take our advice, nobody ever does.” He then went on to tell them that the way to realistically shoot a football game is to not put the camera on the field. Don’t put it in the middle of the action. The audience doesn’t buy it. It’s better if the camera exists in a real location where a viewer could actually be. Put them exactly where NFL films puts them. Shoot your closeups on long lenses. If you don’t then you’ll make something that looks like Any Given Sunday (ie: something that looks like crap).

This was a lesson Favreau said he used when shooting action scenes later, don’t put the camera where it could never be. For example, don’t put the camera in the middle of the air if you’re shooting two planes in a dogfight. Film it from the view of the pilots. Case in point – check out Top Gun. It works so well because much of the footage is from the perspective of the pilots and RIOs (Radio Intercept Officers – what Goose was, sitting behind Maverick). You rarely are given that luxury of a big wide shot from the middle of the air that gives perfect context. You never have the camera stationary, floating in the air, and the planes flying past.

This concept – make it real, then film it – has wide adoption actually. The film that I consider the most breathtaking historical epic ever is Barry Lyndon. The power of the images in that film is largely from the fact that Kubrick insisted on not creating a film-able version of history. He said, “let’s recreate it the way it was and figure out how to film it.” That meant no external light for those beautiful night interiors. Only the candle chandeliers. He had to build custom lenses that were so big they had to remove floorboards and walls to get the cameras into position. The result? One of the only films that I feel truly looks like genuinely history come to life.

So, to all you aspiring directors. Make it real, then film it. Words to live by.

When Government Makes Me Proud: The Smithsonian

Posted in Content, Humor, Politics by Noah Harlan on April 3, 2011

You have to love whoever at the Smithsonian had the balls to approve this campaign. It’s awesome. Great message. Great design. Great typography. Great humor. Just an all around win.

Update: As noted below in the comments below. This was a design experiment not affiliated with the Smithsonian. Serves me right for quick posting something on a Sunday evening that I knew was too good to be government…

Reason #1,257 Why I Love New York: Winning Edition

Posted in Humor, Uncategorized by Noah Harlan on March 22, 2011

My partner took this photo of the homeless guy who hangs out near our office.


How To Spew Utter Nonsense: The Fox News Edition

Posted in Politics by Noah Harlan on March 22, 2011

Headline at Fox Nation today:

“Fact: Bush Had 2 Times More Coalition Partners in Iraq Than Obama Has in Libya”

Pretty impressive stuff, eh? They then list the coalition partners for each conflict:

Coalition Countries – Iraq – 2003

Czech Republic
El Salvador
South Korea
United Kingdom

[Source: US State Department]

Coalition – Libya – 2011

United States
United Kingdom
United Arab Emirate

Now let’s look a little closer. Here are a few of those critical allies we’re missing in Libya:

  • Afghanistan
  • Albania
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bulgaria
  • Eritrea
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Macedonia
  • Uzbekistan

Remind me what possible difference it makes if Macedonia or Eritria is a member of the “coalition”? What are they going to do, lend us their two rowboats and a canoe? It’s a great example of desperately finding anything at all to throw against the administration simply because they’re on the other side. You can object to our involvement but at least try to have a reason.

Update: I should also be noted that Fox’s list (which has no citation) for some reason does not include the members of the UN Security Council who explicitly voted for the No Fly Zone: Bosnia, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, and South Africa.

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Who’s Got Two Thumbs And Is Standing Behind The President

Posted in Humor by Noah Harlan on March 11, 2011

Who's got two thumbs and likes to stand behind the president? This girl...

To be fair, I think she’s signing for the deaf.

Photo courtesy of the great official White House Flickr stream.

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