Much better than its reviews, though the drama only works for those with an intricate knowledge of The Sopranos proper, and perhaps of Northern New Jersey as well. The performances are uniformly excellent and the historical detail remarkable (where did they get that Bamberger’s delivery truck? The store disappeared in 1986.) The younger versions of the characters are simply uncannily accurate, though perhaps young Carmela struck me as a bit too modern looking? I view the core theme as one of unfreedom and determinism. As a viewer, you see the characters as unfree because you already know what is going to happen to them. As the story unfolds, you see how much they are unfree in a more fundamental sense as well. No one talks conceptually, except for the uncle in prison, who also is the only free person in the story. Recommended, but probably for the dedicated only. To really follow and understand the film, you need to have all the images of the earlier Sopranos scenes, including settings and not just characters, filed away in your mind.
The English-language title is the somewhat different “I’m Your Man,” as Mensch is a more universal and less gendered concept. The premise is that a researcher woman is to spend three weeks with a robot man, possibly romantically, and then report back on the experience. I thought this was a “good enough” AI movie, better than most American reviews are indicating. Here are some links. The first hour was quite good, with subtle German jokes about surveillance paranoia and grammar reform, among other matters. It is partly about the German national character, and how difficult it is to fit together its earlier and current forms. Then for a while the movie runs out of steam, though with a nice close. I took the final message to be that older men and those content with inauthenticity will be the big winners from advanced AI and robots. That might just be right.
Here is the audio, video, and transcript. Here is part of the overview:
Andrew joined Tyler to discuss the role of the AIDs epidemic in achieving marriage equality, the difficulty of devoutness in everyday life, why public intellectuals often lack courage, how being a gay man helps him access perspectives he otherwise wouldn’t, how drugs influence his ideas, the reasons why he’s a passionate defender of SATs and IQ tests, what Niall Ferguson and Boris Johnson were like as fellow undergraduates, what Americans get wrong about British politics, why so few people share his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, why Bowie was so special, why Airplane! is his favorite movie, what Oakeshottian conservatism offers us today, whether wokeism has a positive influence globally, why he someday hopes to glower at the sea from in the west of Ireland, and more.
And here is one excerpt:
SULLIVAN: Well, and so you get used to real conversations about people, and you don’t mistake credentials for intelligence. You realize that people outside of the system may be more perceptive about what’s going wrong with it than people buried within it. I honestly find life more interesting the more variety of people you get to know and meet. And that means from all sorts of different ways of life.
The good thing about being gay, I will tell you, is that that happens more often than if you’re straight — because it’s a great equalizer. You are more likely to come across someone who really is from a totally different socioeconomic group than you are through sexual and romantic attraction, and indeed the existence of this subterranean world that is taken from every other particular class and structure, than you would if you just grew up in a straight world where you didn’t have to question these things and where your social life was bound up with your work or with your professional peers.
The idea for me of dating someone in my office would be absolutely bizarre, for example. I can’t believe all these straight people that just look around them and say, “Oh, let’s get married.” Whereas gay people have this immense social system that can throw up anybody from any way of life into your social circle.
Interesting throughout. And again, here is Andrew’s new book Out on a Limb: Selected Writing, 1989-2021.
Here is the audio, video, and transcript. Here is part of the CWT summary:
Niall joined Tyler to discuss the difference between English and Scottish pessimism, his surprise encounter with Sean Connery, what James Bond and Doctor Who have in common, how religion fosters the cultural imagination to produce doomsday scenarios, which side of the Glorious Revolution he would have been on, the extraordinary historical trajectory of Scotland from the 17th century through the 18th century, why historians seem to have an excessive occupation with leadership, what he learned from R.G. Collingwood and A.J.P. Taylor, why American bands could never quite get punk music right, Tocqueville’s insights on liberalism, the unfortunate iconoclasm of John Maynard Keynes, the dystopian novel he finds most plausible, what he learned about right and left populism on his latest trip to Latin America, the importance of intellectual succession and building institutions, what he’ll do next, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: If you had been alive at the time and the Glorious Revolution were going on, which side would you have been rooting for and why? Speaking of counterfactuals.
FERGUSON: I think everybody should ask themselves that question each morning. Whig or Tory? Are you a Jacobite?
COWEN: Do you want Dutch people coming over to run your country? That’s another part of it, right? I would have been quite worried. Nothing against Dutch people, but you might think, “Well, they don’t have a stable ruling coalition, so they’re going to be all the more tyrannical.”
FERGUSON: Yes. I wrote about the Dutch takeover in Empire. It’s bizarre that the British Isles just get taken over by a Dutch monarch at the behest of a faction mainly motivated by religious prejudice and hostility to Roman Catholicism. At the time, I would have been a Whig on religious grounds. I’m from the ardently Protestant Lowlands of Scotland. I’m like all people from that part of the world, drawn to the romanticism of the Jacobites but also repelled by what it would have been like in practice.
If you want to understand all this, by the way, you have to read Walter Scott, which I hadn’t done for years and years. I’d never really read Scott because I was told he was boring. Then during the pandemic, I started reading the Waverley novels, and it’s all there: all the fundamental dilemmas that were raised, not just by the Glorious Revolution, but prior to that by the Civil War of the 17th century, and that were raised again in the 1745 Jacobite rising.
Scott’s brilliant at explaining something that I don’t think is properly understood, and that is that Scotland had the most extraordinary historical trajectory. It went from being Afghanistan in the 17th century — it was basically Afghanistan. You had violent warring clans in the north, in the mountainous parts of the country, and a theocracy of extreme Calvinist zealots in the Lowlands. This was a deeply dysfunctional, very violent place with much higher levels of homicide than England. Really, it was a barbaric place.
And something very strange happened. That was that in the course of — beginning really from the late 17th century — in the course of the 18th century, Scotland became the most dynamic tiger economy in the world. Also, it became the cradle of the enlightenment, had really all the best ideas of Western civilization, all at once in a really short space of time with a really small number of people, all sitting around in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
I still don’t think a book has been written that properly explains that. You certainly wouldn’t have put a bet on Scotland behaving that way by the late 18th century, if all you knew about it was Scotland in the mid-17th century. If you look at it that way, then you kind of have to be a Whig. You have to recognize that the institutions that came from England, including the Dutch institutions that were imported in the Glorious Revolution, really helped Scotland get out of its Afghan predicament.
Recommended, interesting throughout. And again, here is Niall’s new book Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe.
By Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, this film pushes the idea that modernity is the truly strange phenomenon, not ancient religion or what we like to call pre-modern times. The pre-modern is represented by the two monks in their orange robes, and their direct, down-to-earth manner. The supposedly modern is represented by various doctors in their white suit coats, which look suspiciously like the robes of the monks. Only that the orange is much more pleasant. The monks are repeatedly puzzled by their interactions with the modernized Thai medical establishment, which, as it turns out, has taken ritual to new and unprecedentedly baroque and artificial heights.
The contemporary world is shown in ever stranger terms, from a variety of perspectives, whether the subject be power plants or artificial limbs, monks flying a toy spaceship, or a pipe sucking in steam, shaped suspiciously like an elephant’s trunk, albeit without the dignity. The ritual dance closing the film — held in park with a boom box and people in shorts — seems senseless and without meaning.
And yes, the contemporary world is more rationalistic in a variety of ways, but why not look at the true human fundamentals — life and death — as represented by the world of medicine, to see if that rationalism holds up? Alas.
Is there any director better at making you rethink the modern world and see its fundamental strangeness than Apichatpong Weerasethakul? You need to try Uncle Boonmee too.
One of the better movies of this year, Sweat (or this review, spoilers in both) focuses on a female Polish Instagram star, and what she has to go through to produce fresh content each day, and how she gets hooked on the income and status of her privileged position. At first it seems like a standard “costs of fame” production, but it quickly deepens with subtle and hitherto unexplored looks into family, friends, potential romantic relationships, and media interactions.
And are those other lives really better anyway?
“If you’re not going to share it, then what does it mean?’ Or something like that.
This paper studies how the presence of adult entertainment establishments affects the incidence of sex crimes, including sexual abuse and rape. We build a high frequency daily and weekly panel that combines the exact location of not-self-reported sex crimes with the day of opening and exact location of adult entertainment establishments in New York City. We find that these businesses decrease sex crime by 13% per police precinct one week after the opening, and have no effect on other types of crimes. The results imply that the reduction is mostly driven by potential sex offenders frequenting these establishments rather than committing crimes. We also rule out the possibility that other mechanisms are driving our results, such as an increase in the number of police officers, a reduction in the number of street prostitutes and a possible reduction in the number of potential victims in areas where these businesses opened. The effects are robust to using alternative measures of sex crimes.
That is from a new paper by Ciacci and Sviatschi, via Jennifer Doleac. We find this clash of values repeatedly in public policy. Do you wish to side with the interests of the actual victims — the people who might end up abused and raped? — or do you wish to side with landlords and homeowners who might find their property values reduced by sex establishments? “Export the bad stuff!”, this is a NIMBy dilemma yet again.
From Iceland? Narrated by Tilda Swinton?
Via Jeet Heer, and Ilya Novak. Is it any good?
Here is the audio, video, and transcript, definitely recommended. Here is part of his closing statement:
COWEN: Last question. You wake up each morning. Surely you still think about central banking. What for you is the open question about central banking, where you don’t know the answer, that you think about the most?
CARNEY: I gave a speech at Jackson Hole on this issue, and I started — which is the future of the international monetary system and how we adjust the international monetary system.
I’ll say parenthetically that we’re potentially headed to another example of where the structure of the system is going to cause big problems for the global economy. Because it’s quite realistic, sadly, that we’re going to have a fairly divergent recovery with a number of emerging, developing economies really lagging because of COVID — not vaccinated, limited policy space, and the knock-on effects, while major advanced economies move forward. That’s a world where rates rise and the US dollar strengthens and you get this asymmetry, and the challenge of the way our system works bears down on these economies. I think about that a lot.
COWEN: If you’re speaking in a meeting as the central bank president, do you prefer to speak first or speak last?
CARNEY: I prefer — I tend to speak early. Yes, I tend to speak early. I’m not sure that’s always the best strategy, but I tend to speak early. I will say, one thing that’s happened over the years at places like the G20, I noticed, is the prevalence of social media and devices. The audience drifts away over time, even at the G20, even on a discussion of the global economy.
And from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, do note this:
CARNEY: …I think you’re absolutely right on that, there wasn’t. It is revealed that there wasn’t a liquidity trap.
Rooftops! Finally, on more important matters:
COWEN: Are the Toronto Raptors doomed to be, on average, a subpar NBA team due to higher taxes?
COWEN: What’s the best Clash album?
CARNEY: Fantastic question. London Calling, and one of my best memories — I was very fortunate; they came to Edmonton when I was in 12th grade in high school. I went to the concert and that was fantastic, yes.
COWEN: I also saw them, I think in what would have been 12th grade had I been in school that year. But London Calling is too commercial for me. I much prefer the Green album, like “Career Opportunities,” “Janie Jones.”
CARNEY: Well, “I Fought the Law” was the best song at the concert. I have to say, they had got to Combat Rock by this time, which was relative — [laughs] Combat Rock was more commercial, I thought, than London Calling, although they threw it all out the door with Sandinista!
Again, here is Mark’s new book Value(s): Building a Better World For All.
I found this Mexican movie unpleasant to watch, quite a few reviews are negative, and very few of you ought to see it. Yet at least it is fundamentally interesting, and it does show off some skills of movie-making, such as good cinematography and creation of tension and communicating a sense of Mexico City.
Most gringos won’t understand it. Most of the time watching you think it is a racist movie about revolt from indigenous Mexicans who stick together from motives of racist solidarity. By the end of the movie, but only at the end, you realize the paler skinned elites of the Army engineered the whole thing. What seemed to be the racism of the movie is in fact implicit commentary on the racist paranoia of the Mexican elites. And then finally you realize that the outrages committed by the indigenous people in the movie are mirroring outrages committed under the Conquest (e.g., rape, kidnapping for ransom), and that in reality the Conquest is being re-committed each and every day by the elites, yet with these somewhat racist paranoid fantasies layered on top that the logic of the Conquest someday will be reversed by the indigenous. And yet always it will be the elites in charge, who at the same time make their paranoid racist dystopian nightmares the fundamental narrative of society, thereby screwing everybody over double. The faucets do not in fact produce green water, though kind of they do, as cadmium green is a national color of Mexico.
YMMV, but at least a day later I am still thinking about it.
With Bill and Melinda Gates divorcing, and Kanye and Kim doing the same, America now has a paucity of very well-known married couples, at least outside of politics, where Barack and Michelle Obama reign supreme.
Who is the Lucy and Desi of our time? The George Burns and Gracie Allen? The Sonny and Cher?
George and Amal Clooney are in the running, but is she so well known to most Americans? Could they tell you her name from scratch, or cite what she is known for?
Kurt Cobain has passed away, as has Kobe Bryant, Larry and Laurie David split some time ago, and John and Yoko and Paul and Linda (an honorary American couple, for media purposes) are distant memories. Movie stars barely still exist these days.
Perhaps Elon Musk will marry Grimes, who is a musical star of some renown.
Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn have been married for 24 years, and they are pretty well known.
Harry and Meghan maybe are becoming an American couple, at least for media purposes?
Online reviews promise to provide people with immediate access to the wisdom of the crowds. Yet, half of all reviews on Amazon and Yelp provide the most positive rating possible, despite human behaviour being substantially more varied in nature. We term the challenge of discerning success within this sea of positive ratings the ‘positivity problem’. Positivity, however, is only one facet of individuals’ opinions. We propose that one solution to the positivity problem lies with the emotionality of people’s opinions. Using computational linguistics, we predict the box office revenue of nearly 2,400 movies, sales of 1.6 million books, new brand followers across two years of Super Bowl commercials, and real-world reservations at over 1,000 restaurants. Whereas star ratings are an unreliable predictor of success, emotionality from the very same reviews offers a consistent diagnostic signal. More emotional language was associated with more subsequent success.
Here is more from Matthew D. Rocklage, Derek D. Rucker, and Loran F. Nordgren, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.
Here is the audio, transcript, and video. As I mention in the beginning, Dana is the (only?) CWT guest who can answer all of my questions. Here is part of the summary:
Dana and Tyler discuss his latest book and more, including how he transformed several businesses as a corporate executive, why going to business school made him a better poet, the only two obscene topics left in American poetry, why narrative is necessary for coping with life’s hardships, how Virgil influenced Catholic traditions, what Augustus understood about the cultural power of art, the reasons most libretti are so bad, the optimism of the Beach Boys, the best art museum you’ve never heard of, the Jungianism of Star Trek, his favorite Tolstoy work, depictions of Catholicism in American pop culture, what he finds fascinating about Houellebecq, why we stopped building cathedrals, how he was able to effectively lead the National Endowment for the Arts, the aesthetic differences between him and his brother Ted, his advice for young people who want to cultivate their minds, and what he wants to learn next.
And here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Why is Olaf Stapledon an important writer?
GIOIA: It’s not a question I expected.
COWEN: How could you not expect that?
GIOIA: Well, first of all, I hope people know who Olaf Stapleton was. Tremendously influential, rather clumsy, visionary, early science fiction writer who wrote novels like Odd John and the First and Last Man. What Olaf Stapleton did was I think he was the first really great science fiction writer to think in absolutely cosmic terms, beyond human conceptions of time and space. That, essentially, created the mature science fiction sensibility. If you go even watch a show like Expanse now, it’s about Stapledonian concerns.
GIOIA: Michael Lind, the political writer, and historian, Stapledon is one of his formative writers. Star Maker is kind of an evolution of the Last and First Men. Odd John is kind of the odd, the first great mutant novel.
Definitely recommended. And I am very happy to recommend Dana’s latest book (and indeed all of his books) Studying with Miss Bishop: Memoirs from a Young Writer’s Life.
Here’s a great video on FastGrants, the fast funding-institution started by Tyler and Patrick Collison to fund COVID research at a speed that could make a difference on the ground. And it did.
Lots of other people stepped in with funding including Arnold Ventures, The Audacious Project, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, John Collison, Crankstart, Jack Dorsey, Kim and Scott Farquhar, Paul Graham, Reid Hoffman, Fiona McKean and Tobias Lütke, Yuri and Julia Milner, Elon Musk, Chris and Crystal Sacca, Schmidt Futures, and others.
The list of funded people and projects is long and impressive and while the grants were fast, the payoff is going to last well beyond the pandemic.
Thanks, Tyler and Patrick!
In Florida, even when Godzilla attacks, the schools stay open. It seems the intransitivity of sovereignty is underrated. There is a case for UBI for very large creatures. If your country depopulates too much, they no longer feature your cities being destroyed. The best and most interesting Godzilla movies focus on the Japanese bureaucracy, not the special effects. Hollywood movie-making continues to become worse, soundtracks all the more so.