While traveling in Eurasia, I read so many articles about how finally “there was an Asian movie for Asians,” or something like that, and none of them rang true. Upon seeing the movie I was impressed, though it was not what I was expecting. It is mostly a dystopia cloaked as a homage (just to be clear, personally I love Singapore, and its people, and have been numerous times). The underlying message seems to be “Singaporeans are mostly greedy, superficial, uncultured, too brand-conscious, and somewhat unpleasant, unless redeemed by contact with America or Chinese-Americans.” And their supposed pathologies are presented as very directly and specifically Asian and also Singaporean. With only a slightly different framing, this film could have been dismissed as unacceptably racist. And where are those Malays anyway? And the only two Indian characters are the caricatured Sikh guards? Really?
Nonetheless as cinema this works, and it is a thrill for me to see Singapore on the big screen and in a #1 movie at that. On top of that, the female lead is an economics professor at NYU who does game theory. Here is my earlier review of the book, which I also enjoyed. For balance, however, you might wish to see Ilo Ilo as well, though that is not a representative sample of Singapore either.
Here is the transcript and audio, definitely recommended. Here is part of the summary:
She and Tyler explore her ideas about the stifling effect of political correctness and more, including why its dominant form may come from the political right, how higher education got screwed up, strands of thought favored by the Internet and Youtube, overrated and underrated Australian cities, Aussie blokes, and more.
Here is an excerpt:
COWEN: When did political correctness become a major issue, or become a major issue again? And why do you think it happened exactly then?
LEHMANN: That’s a good question, and I don’t know if I have the answer. I know that there were lots of debates around political correctness in the early ’90s, for example.
COWEN: Yes, and it seems to fade away and then come back.
I’ve noticed in my own life that I started noticing political correctness around 2007. At the time, I thought it had something to do with the business model of Internet publishing.
That was when Gawker and the blog Jezebel was really popular. It was established in 2007, and then it got very popular over the next couple of years. I thought that there were a lot of clickbait kind of articles promoting these really simplistic black-and-white narratives of oppression.
Unless one had reasonable critical thinking skills, I could see how young people could be influenced by that kind of content coming out. I think there’s something to do with the Internet and the way the media has had to adapt to this new business model where you have to drive . . . You have to get lots of views, lots of hits, millions more than you would with the newspapers.
I think it’s something to do with that, but that’s probably just one variable in many other factors.
COWEN: What do you think of the hypothesis that political correctness is a kind of virus that’s hijacked the left? It’s figured out some kind of weak entry point, and it’s come in and taken over parts of it, and it will bring down many victims with it, but actually, it’s crippling the left.
LEHMANN: Yep, yeah.
COWEN: True or false?
LEHMANN: Probably true.
COWEN: If one objects to that argument, we should in a sense encourage more of it, at least if we’re being pure utilitarians, or not?
COWEN: Probably in the media? In general, intellectual life, but if you take, say, the United States as a whole, do you think it’s left-wing or right-wing political correctness that’s stronger and more destructive?
LEHMANN: Yeah, it’s probably right-wing political correctness.
A question from me:
COWEN: I’ve been speaking about the right in aggregate terms, but if you think of the effect of the Internet, which strands of the right do you think are favored, and which do you think are falling away because of Internet discourse? Because it shouldn’t favor it all equally, correct?
We also cover Australia vs. New Zealand, the masculine ethos of Australia and its origins, why PC is different in Australia, the movie Lantana (which we both strongly recommend), and yes Australian fashion.
Dan Klein writes to me:
Yes, a movie character (young woman student) was reading it aloud to her friend in a coma, Bruce Willis’s daughter, who had been attacked and shot. Willis comes in and asks what she’s been reading. The young woman replies that she had to read it anyway, for summer reading in anticipation of NYU, and figured good for coma victim to hear voice. Willis makes a joke about “I don’t think that will wake her up” or “Do you think that will wake her?”
When Willis asks her what she’s reading she says “Essays in Positive Economics, by Milton Friedman”. And then explains that it is on the NYU summer reading list.
The text quoted was: “Normative economics and the art of economics, on the other hand, cannot be independent of positive economics. Any policy conclusion necessarily rests on a prediction about the consequences of doing one thing rather than another…”
Has anyone else seen this movie?
I am just arriving, and for the first time Here are my favorites:
1. Pianist: Emil Gilels, most of all for Beethoven and Chopin. Vladimir Horowitz was born in Kiev, he was often best in unusual pieces, such as Scriabin, Prokofiev, and John Philip Sousa. But there is also Cherkassy, Pachmann, Moiseiwitsch, Lhevinne, and others. Simon Barere was one of the greatest Liszt pianists. So we are into A++ territory here. But wait…Richter was born in Ukraine! My head is exploding now.
1b. Violinists: You’ve got Nathan Milstein, Mischa Elman, Isaac Stern, Leonid Kogan, the Oistrakhs, among others, with Milstein’s Bach recordings as my favorite.
2. Composer: Prokofiev was born in eastern Ukraine (or is it now Russia again?), but somehow I don’t feel he counts. Valentin Sylvestrov would be an alternative.
3. Novelist: One choice would be Nikolai Gogol, then Mikhail Bulgakov, born in Kiev but ethnically Russian. But I can’t say I love Master and Margarita; it is probably much better and funnier in the original Russian. His The White Guard is a more directly Ukrainian novel, and it should be better known. A Country Doctor’s Notebook is perhaps my favorite by him. For short stories there is Isaac Babel. Joseph Conrad was born in modern-day Ukraine, though I don’t feel he counts as Ukrainian, same with Stanislaw Lem. Vassily Grossman is a toss-up in terms of origin. The Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, now very much in fashion, was born in Ukraine.
4. Movie: Alexander Dovzhenko’s Earth, a 1930 take on agricultural collectivization. With Dovshenko as my favorite director.
5. Movie, set in: Man With a Movie Camera. It is remarkable how fresh and innovative this 1929 silent film still is.
6. Painter: David Burliuk, leader of the Ukrainian avant-garde and later member of the Blue Rider group. Ilya Repin was born in modern-day Ukraine, though he feels “Russian” to me in the historical sense.
7. Sculptor: Alexander Archipenko was born in Ukraine, though he ended up in America.
8. Economist: Ludwig von Mises. He was born on territory near current-day Lviv, part of Ukraine.
9. Actress: Milla Jovovich is pretty good in The Fifth Element and Resident Evil.
10. Tech entrepreneur: Max Levchin.
11. Israeli: There is Golda Meir, Natan Sharansky, and Simon Wiesenthal, among others.
Other: Wilhelm Reich deserves mention, though I’m not really a fan. The region produced a few good chess players too.
Overall, this is a stunningly impressive list, though there are legitimate questions as to who and what exactly counts as Ukrainian. They’re still trying to sort that one out, which is part of the problem.
Darth Vader Is in Demand at Summer Weddings
Forget flower girls. Couples want stormtroopers throwing petals, and Vader leading the congo line.
There is, however, a shortage. Note this:
Disney forbids the garrisons from participating in certain events without approval, such as gatherings that promote a local business or professional sporting events. Weddings are allowed because they’re considered “community service.”
The 501st has had to adopt an unofficial list of rules to narrow the number of wedding requests. That includes sufficient space to get dressed in costume and having drinking water available on hot days. The plastic and rubber costumes offer no ventilation. “They’re basically death traps,” said Mr. Johnson, who recently returned from a Star Wars event in Singapore where three people dressed as stormtroopers passed out from the heat.
Few movies serve up more social science. Imagine three identical triplets, separated at a young age, and then reared separately in a poor family, in a middle class family, and in a well-off family. I can’t say much more without spoiling it all, but I’ll offer these points: listen closely, don’t take the apparent conclusion at face value, ponder the Pareto principle throughout, read up on “the control premium,” solve for how niche strategies change with the comparative statics (don’t forget Girard), and are they still guinea pigs? Excellent NYC cameos from the 1980s, and see Project Nim once you are done.
Definitely recommended, and I say don’t read any other reviews before going (they are mostly strongly positive).
This post serves up some spoilers of detail, though no major spoilers of plot until the penultimate “you must go see it” paragraph. Upon a re-viewing of this movie, I found the following striking:
1. There is a Skype-like service for phone calls, but it never occurs to anyone that something like sending an email might be possible or even desirable. A lot of major and even apparently simple technological advances just aren’t that self-evident. The cameras in the movie also remained quite primitive and clunky, even by pre-smart phone standards. Maybe people expected a great stagnation in cameras back then.
2. At the time, Kubrick apparently thought it plausible that the audience would buy into common, widespread and indeed commercially viable space travel by 1992. The film was released in 1968.
3. Pan American flies people into outer space, and apparently used this new market to avoid total bankruptcy. Their stewardesses still have silly hats and costumes, and they act in a vaguely self-demeaning manner.
4. The film shows some signs of recognizing that Moore’s Law might happen. Hal for instance is advanced AI, but he is not huge in size. And the portrait of voice recognition technology is quite realistic.
5. Stars do not twinkle in outer space, however.
6. Hal 9000 would be less creepy with a female voice, and indeed Apple and Amazon figured that out some while ago. Note to my tech friends: do not program your personal assistant bots with a resentful, quivering, paranoid, passive-aggressive male voice.
7. The movie seems to suggest that chess-playing computers are a major achievement, when in fact this was mastered relatively easily, compared to many other AI problems. The movie shows this chess game, with Hal as Black. It is the kind of game you might expect a strong computer to play against a human, namely with a finish based on visually counterintuitive tactics.
8. It is a truly dystopic vision to think that Howard Johnson’s will be serving us food in space.
9. The first time I saw the movie, which I believe was in the mid-1970s, I was more stunned by seeing Americans talking to Russians “as if they were normal people” than by any of the technology.
Here is a good Wikipedia page on technologies in the movie. Now a few spoilers:
The movie, which I had not seen in many years, I found quite stunning. It took so many chances, and with so much self-confidence that the originality could be pulled off. Imagine opening a film with minutes of discordant Gyorgy Ligeti music, played against a dark screen, with no signal that this is even part of the movie. Then you see a long scene with apes, no dialogue to speak of, and no explanation of how this might fit into a commercially viable product. Finally the Solow residual is explained! There is not only no love story, the film arguably has no characters, Hal aside. Kubrick often expects ballet music to keep you interested, and various movements in space are stretched out to interminable length, yet almost always with striking aesthetic success. You could generously describe the ending as “underexplained.” Hardly anything happens in the movie, and yet at the same time it encapsulates the entire history of humanity with extra material on both sides, beginning and end, and a nod in the Hegelian direction.
Go see it on the large screen if you can — I can’t think of any film that is so much worse (or simply different) on TV as this one. It is one of the better movies ever made, and it dates from a time near Hollywood’s peak. It is sad that nearly two generations of Americans now do not know this creation as it was intended to be seen, and indeed must be seen. On 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, the theatre had no more than twenty people in attendance. When it comes to culture, salience usually matters more than you might think.
1. The roots of American greatness.
2. The importance of “will” in building a succcessful career.
3. Toleration and individualism and respect for children.
This has to go down as one of the better documentaries, and it seems Mister Rogers was a better and more important thinker than many of the intellectuals of his time. I had not known that Rogers had been trained and ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
On top of all that, the film is Straussian throughout. Definitely recommended. By the way, the documentary doesn’t mention this, but the show actually had its origins in Toronto on CBC.
A highly sophisticated MR reader demanded a dose of Michael Nielsen. I wrote to Michael, and he was kind enough to oblige. Everything that follows is from Michael, here goes:
I started with the question “What might amuse Tyler?”, and it became very easy.
Three opinions that may amuse MR readers:
1. Peter Thiel has said: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 (280) characters.” Thiel is wrong: 280 characters are much, much better than flying cars. Twitter is misunderstood as being an online service; it’s merely the online component of a much improved offline experience. Twitter DM’s are a superpower, one of the most valuable ways of connecting people ever invented. More on one way of using Twitter here.
2. Movies are primarily a visual form; movie criticism and the popular conversation about movies are primarily a literary form, and informed by literary sensibilities. This is why good movies such as Transformers are so underrated. People who dismiss such movies are mostly revealing their own ignorance.
3. Many corners of the internet have a culture of judgement or argument. Typical subtexts in online conversation are: is this good or bad? What’s wrong with it? But until and unless healthy conversational norms are formed, argument and judgement are mostly useless status-seeking by participants. Much better is a “Yes, and” culture.
Three books or papers which should be better known:
1. Elinor Ostrom’s book Governing the Commons. Ostrom dismantles the market / government dichotomy, sketching out ways common pool resources (and, to some extent, public goods) can be provided using non-market, non-government solutions.
2. Alex Tabarrok’s paper introducing dominant assurance contracts. Cryptocurrencies have huge potential as a way of creating entirely new types of market, using ideas like this. This potential is mostly unrealized to date.
Blog posts don’t really get going until about 5,000 words in. Here are three favourites of mine:
1. Thought as a Technology, on how imaginative designers invent fundamentally new modes of thought.
3. Using Artificial Intelligence to Augment Human Intelligence (with Shan Carter).
Despite the fact I’m well short of 5,000 words, I’ll stop here.
You can follow Michael on Twitter here.
The movie was more or less watchable, in the modest sense of that term.
The subtitles were in Arabic, and the very nice theater was about 1/5 full. And yes it was in 3-D. No one seemed to react to the film at all.
The cinematic references were to Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, Snowpiercer, various James Bond movies, Enter the Dragon, and of course the other Star Wars installments, though never in interesting ways.
One of the characters did not understand subgame perfection.
At one point in the movie they happen across a bunch of people who are dressed like they could be in rural Ethiopia.
Woody Harrelson at times looked like Peter Sellers.
The leader of the rebel alliance was the best character.
By the end of the film, I didn’t seem to mind the whole thing, though I can’t explain why not.
My opinion of George Lucas continues to rise.
In an interesting paper, Nimish Adhia argues that in the 1980s Bollywood films began to shift from emphasizing collectivist duty towards individual happiness.
The injunction of performing one’s duty without regard to outcomes has been the basis of much of the Indian philosophical and religious discourse.
The dilemma is recurrent in Indian films…. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the dilemmas invariably resolve in favor of duty. The mother in Mother India (1956) shoots and kills her wayward son as he attempts to kidnap a woman—an action that would have been shameful for the village. “I am the mother of the entire village,” she says as she picks up the gun. As the son collapses to the ground, she wails and rushes to his side, and is shown to lament his death for the rest of her life, but the film valorizes her as “Mother India.”
… But then starting with Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1986) there is a spate of films that celebrate the assertion of one’s desire. The assertion commonly takes the form of falling in love—an audacious act in a society where the sexual mores are conservative and a majority of marriages are arranged on basis of familial and community criteria. The young lovers in the big hit Qayamat se Qayamat tak (Doomsday to Doomsday, 1988) elope and endure enormous hardships on account of their families’ opposition. The families had a falling out in the past when they were neighboring landlords in the country. The demands of familial loyalty, shown to arise in this way from a feudal setup and concluding in the death of the young lovers, are condemned by the film as savage and outdated. “We are not the property of our parents,” the young man once counsels his beloved. “We need not be carriers of their legacy of hate.”
At the same time, the treatment of businessmen becomes more positive, wealth is shown as being earned rather than simply given, and the pursuit and achievement of wealth is shown to lead to happiness and pride rather than misery and spiritual death. Adhia argues that these changes helped to cause the liberalization reform beginning in the 1990s.
the ideological change is visible in the films of the 1980s, preceding the wave of liberalization starting in 1991. It lends support to the notion that the ideological change, reflected in the films as early as 1980, was a cause rather than a consequence of liberalization.
Guru, which I have called the most important free market film ever made, comes after liberalization but can be understood as in many ways the apex of these trends.
Hat tip: Prateek Raj.
This is for another friend, here are my pointers:
1. Find a very good food street/corner and take many of your meals there. I’ve used Rue Daguerre and around Rue des Arts (Left Bank) for this purpose, but there are many others. Spend most of your money in the cheese shop, asking them to choose for you, but supplement with bread, fruit, and of course chocolate. This beats most restaurant meals, noting it won’t be cheap either. And yes it is worth paying $8 for a bar of chocolate there.
2. Do track down medieval Paris, most of all the cathedrals. This will bring you by other delights as well.
3. Especially on the Left Bank, Paris is one of the very best walking cities. Avoid Champs-Élysées and environs, a broad-avenued, chain store-intense corruption of what Paris ought to be. Avoid Jardin Luxembourg and the surrounding parts as well, they are urban deserts.
4. Get a peek of the major bridges over the Seine, if only by traversing them.
5. You don’t in fact have to stand in line to see the Mona Lisa. It’s a lovely painting, but at this point in human civilization it is OK to skip it. You don’t need to hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” again either. But you should go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. And in the Louvre, don’t neglect the Poussin room, the Michelangelo sculptures, or the Flemish and 17th century works.
6. The Louvre, d’Orsay, Cluny, and Branly (ethnographic) are the essential museums in town. Check out Grand Palais and Petit Palais for possible exhibits. When walking around, keep your eye out for posters (yes, posters) advertising exhibits and concerts.
7. If you want to spend forty euros for a very good but not revelatory lunch, find a “cool” area with lots of restaurants and poke your head in at their opening, at 12:30, to ask for a table. By 12:45 it is too late and you are screwed and back to your favorite cheese shop. By the way, I don’t think Paris is the best city in which to spend $200 on a meal.
8. In most of the parts of Paris you are likely to frequent, do not try to eat any Asian or “ethnic” foods. The best restaurants of those kinds are in north Paris, on the way to the airport, but no one visits there. Couscous in Paris is boring.
9. Belleville is the gentrifying Brooklyn of Paris, with relatively few tourists, if that is what you are looking for. Avoid Montmartre. For practical reasons, I’ve spent a lot of my Paris time near Unesco, in a neighborhood that is a bit sterile but very beautiful and it gives you a decent sense of well-to-do residential Paris life. Develop your mini-Paris residential life somewhere, and make your time there more than just a tourist visit. The site I should not enjoy but do is Le Dôme des Invalides, also the tomb of Napoleon.
10. The essential Paris movies are lots of Godard (Breathless, Band of Outsiders, others), Jules and Jim, and Triplets of Belleville. Agnes Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 for those with an experimental bent. Eric Rohmer for something light-hearted. Amélie and Before Sunset are both rewarding, though at the margin Godard usually is what Americans are lacking.
11. Carry along Hugo and Balzac to read. Flaubert and Proust are wonderful, but they are more “interior” authors and thus you can imbibe them anywhere. Do not forget Houllebecq’s Submission. I do not love most of the well-known non-fiction books on Paris; perhaps they become corrupted through the chance of being truly popular. Do read Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France and try to dig up a useful architectural guide to the city. I’m also a big fan of Hazel Rowley’s Tete-a-Tete: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.
12. Don’t go expecting Parisians to be rude, I have never (well, once) found that to be the case in more than six months spent in the city.
13. My overall take is this: Paris today is fairly sterile in terms of overall creativity, or for that matter business dynamism. But Parisians have perfected the art of taste along a number of notable dimensions, like nowhere else in the world. If your trip allows you to free ride upon those efforts in a meaningful way, it will go very well.
Titus emails to me:
I had an atypical reaction: I left the theatre feeling very, very sad.
First, for the reasons enumerated here.
Second, because everything good and noble turned out to be incredibly fragile. All it took was an alternate vision of how to use power and Paradise degenerated into civil conflict. Mind you, this is a civil war that lasted only a few hours, but still.
Third, it’s heartbreaking to look up to a place… that doesn’t exist. The whole “what if Africa (or some part of it) hadn’t been colonized?” question unsettled me. We lost so much.
Fourth, T’Challa never told Killmonger, “My father was wrong to abandon you.” Never. And he felt it strongly. Strongly enough to challenge his father in a vision. Why did he say nothing about this?
Fifth, after the civil conflict everything goes… right back to normal. No reconciliation process. No sense for how to address the resentments lingering in the shadows. Nada. That struck me as facile.
Anyway, leave it to me to be a killjoy in response to a feel-good movie.
If Mr. del Toro wins the best director award at the Oscars, it will be the fourth time a filmmaker from Mexico has taken the prize in five years, all with unconventional films. Alejandro G. Iñárritu won in 2015 for “Birdman,” the bizarrely hilarious tale of an aging superhero actor trying to get serious on Broadway, and he did it again in 2016 with “The Revenant,” a radically different western focused on a quest for revenge in subzero temperatures. Alfonso Cuarón triumphed in 2014 with “Gravity,” a sci-fi story that many said was impossible to make, before it made over $723 million at the worldwide box office.
Referred to as “The Three Amigos,” the title of a book about their transnational cinema, these directors are not the only Mexican filmmakers who have won recent accolades in Hollywood. There is also the cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who has three Oscars; Rodrigo Prieto, who shot “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Argo” and “Brokeback Mountain”; and another Oscar winner, the production designer Eugenio Caballero.
The Amigos’ success shows the strength of an artistic circle; they are longtime friends who have encouraged one another to take risks.
I am honored to have been able to do this, here is the podcast and transcript. The topics we covered included…the ideas of Robin, most of all: “With Robin, we go meta. Robin, if politics is not about policy, medicine is not about health, laughter is not about jokes, and food is not about nutrition, what are podcasts not about?”
Here is one exchange:
COWEN: Let’s say I’m an introvert, which by definition is someone who’s not so much out there. Why is that signaling? Isn’t that the opposite of signaling? If you’re enough of an introvert, it doesn’t even seem like countersignaling. There’s no one noticing you’re not there.
HANSON: I’ve sometimes been tempted to classify people as egg people and onion people. Onion people have layer after layer after layer. You peel it back, and there’s still more layers. You don’t really know what’s underneath. Whereas egg people, there’s a shell, and you get through it, and you see what’s on the inside.
In some sense, I think of introverts as going for the egg people strategy. They’re trying to show you, “This is who I am. There’s not much more hidden, and you get past my shell, and you can know me and trust me. And there’s a sense in which we can form a stronger bond because I’m not hiding that much more.”
COWEN: Here’s another response to the notion that everything’s about signaling. You could say, “Well, that’s what people actually enjoy.” If signaling is 90 percent of whatever, surely it’s evolved into being parts of our utility functions. It makes us happy to signal. So signaling isn’t just wasteful resources.
What we really want to do is set up a world that caters to the elephant in our brain, so to speak. We just want all policies to pander to signaling as much as possible. Maybe make signals cheaper, but just signals everywhere now and forever. What says you?
HANSON: I think our audience needs a better summary of this thesis that I’m going to defend here. The Elephant in the Brain main thesis is that in many areas of life, perhaps even most, there’s a thing we say that we’re trying to do, like going to school to learn or going to the doctor to get well, and then what we’re really trying to do is often more typically something else that’s more selfish, and a lot of it is showing off.
If that’s true, then we are built to do that. That’s the thing we want to do, and in some sense it’s a great world when we get to do it.
My complaint isn’t really that most people don’t acknowledge this. I accept that people may be just fine leaving the elephant in their brain and not paying attention to it and continuing to pretend one thing while they’re doing another. That may be what makes them happy and that may be OK.
My stronger claim would be that policy analysts and social scientists who claim that they understand the social world well enough to make recommendations for changes—they should understand the elephant in the brain. They should have a better idea of hidden motives because they could think about which institutions that we might choose differently to have better outcomes.
And of course I asked:
COWEN: What offends you deep down? You see it out there. What offends you?
And why exactly does it work to invite your date up to “see my etchings”? And where is “The Great Filter”? And how much will we identify with our “Em” copies of ourselves? There is also quantum computing, Robin on movies, and the limits of Effective Altruism. On top of all that, the first audience question comes from Bryan Caplan.
You should all buy and read Robin’s new book, with Kevin Simler, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.