I can’t say this is a good movie. It has a nonsensical plot (you really can’t get that far from the sun…cold is not the only problem!), unmemorable characters, and mediocre dialog. Still, it is interesting. You see two hours of the Chinese building all sorts of big infrastructure, and imagining their future as world leader. They show Shanghai in ruins, for the first time ever in a Chinese movie. You see that even Chinese directors have been influenced by the 1969 Hollywood movie Marooned, a sign that Chinese world leadership is a bit further away than they may like to think. On the brighter side, it has many more striking visual shots than you would find in almost any Hollywood movie today. It is one of the biggest grossing films in Chinese history.
The movie is basically a retelling of some of the earlier parts of Genesis. The Chinese do in fact succeed in building the Tower of Babel, both physically and linguistically. They survive that which is analogous to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They thwart the Noah’s Ark plan, reject the notion of their own intrinsic sinfulness, and save the remainder of humanity. It is the Chinese Christ figure who sacrifices himself to achieve the happy ending, thereby overturning what might be understood to be the will of God. By the end of the movie the Chinese can indeed “do anything.”
How’s that for thinking big?
Here is the transcript and audio, here is the summary:
Jordan Peterson joins Tyler to discuss collecting Soviet propaganda, why he’s so drawn to Jung, what the Exodus story can teach us about current events, his marriage and fame, what the Intellectual Dark Web gets wrong, immigration in America and Canada, his tendency towards depression, Tinder’s revolutionary nature, the lessons from The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, fixing universities, the skills needed to become a good educator, and much more.
Here is one bit:
COWEN: Your peers in the Intellectual Dark Web — the best of them — what is it they’re wrong about?
PETERSON: Oh, they’re wrong about all sorts of things. But at least they’re wrong in all sorts of interesting ways. I think Sam Harris, for example — I don’t think that he understands. I don’t think that he’s given sufficient credence to the role that religious thinking plays in human cognition.
I think that’s a huge mistake for someone who’s an evolutionary biologist because human religious thinking is a human universal. It’s built into our biology. It’s there for a reason. Although Sam is an evolutionary biologist, at least in principle, with regards to his thinking, he’s an Enlightenment rationalist when it comes to discussing the biology of religion, and that’s not acceptable.
It’s the wrong time frame. You don’t criticize religious thinking over a time frame of 200 years. You think about religious thinking over a time frame of 50,000 years, but probably over a far greater time span than that.
COWEN: So if that’s what Sam Harris doesn’t get —
COWEN: If we turn to senior management of large American companies, as a class of people — and I know it’s hard to generalize — but what do you see them as just not getting?
PETERSON: I would caution them not to underestimate the danger of their human resources departments.
Much more than just the usual, including a long segment at the end on Jordan’s plans for higher education, here is one bit from that:
Universities give people a chance to contend with the great thought of the past — that would be the educational element. To find mentors, to become disciplined, to work towards a single goal. And almost none of that has to do with content provision. Because you might think, how do you duplicate a university online? Well, you take lectures and you put them online, and you deliver multiple-choice questions. It’s like, yeah, but that’s one-fiftieth of what a university is doing.
So we’ve just scrapped that idea, and what we’re trying to do instead is to figure out, how can you teach people to write in a manner that’s scalable? That’s a big problem because teaching people to write is very, very difficult, and it’s very labor intensive and expensive. So that’s one problem we’d really like to crack. How can you teach people to speak? And can you do that in a scalable manner as well?
Definitely recommended, even if you feel you’ve already heard or read a lot of Jordan Peterson.
Yes this movie dates from 1943 but I don’t think it is (mainly) about the Nazi persecutions, and every review I have seen on-line seems to misunderstand the film rather badly. First, it is a #MeToo film. Anne is abused and in essence raped (repeatedly) by her much older husband Absalon, who is a powerful figure in the local community. He saved her mother from being burnt as a witch, and in return took her body and matrimonial hand, never asking if she wanted this. She ends up wishing for his death “hundreds of times,” and the movie focuses on how this marital experience hollows out her inner shell. Her illicit romance with Martin, Absalon’s son, was never emotionally real and was mainly intended as an escape from her servitude and perhaps also as a bit of revenge.
The second theme of the movie, related to the first, concerns the equilibria of belief in witchcraft. If some of the citizens believe in witches, some of the otherwise powerless women will pretend to be witches, to win some power. Anne does this, as she knows that powerlessness is the worst thing in this society. (The older Herlofs Marthe also left some uncertainty about her powers to reach demons and the like.) Of course this strategy has potential downsides, especially when some women are burnt as witches, but ex ante it can make sense to parade as a witch with some probability. For Anne, powerlessness is perceived as so bad she is even willing to be a witch ex post. Of course she killed Absalon by poisoning his beer, not by placing a hex on him. Even when facing death, she can’t give up the one source of perceived power she might aspire to have.
In her conversation with Tyler, Kukla speaks about the impossibility of speaking as a woman, curse words, gender representation and “guru culture” in philosophy departments, what she learned while living in Bogota and Johannesburg, what’s interesting in the works of Hegel, Foucault, and Rousseau, why boxing is good for the mind, how she finds good food, whether polyamory can scale, and much more.
Here is one bit:
KUKLA: What’s interesting in Hegel? Okay. You ask hard questions. This is why you’re good at your job, right?
I think Hegel’s fascinating. I think the main idea in Hegel that is fascinating is that any cultural moment, or set of ideas, or set of practices is always internally contradictory in ways it doesn’t notice, that there are tensions built into it. What happens, over time, is that those tensions bubble up to the surface, and in the course of trying to resolve themselves, they create something newer and better and smarter that incorporates both of the original sides.
That was a much more Hegelian way of putting it than I wanted it to come out, basically — the idea that going out and looking for consistency in the world is hopeless. Instead, what we should do is figure out how the contradictions in the world are themselves productive, and push history forward, and push ideas forward, is what I take to be the key interesting Hegelian idea.
COWEN: Michel Foucault. How well has it held up?
KUKLA: Oh, you’re asking me about people I mostly love.
COWEN: But empirically, a lot of doubt has been cast upon it, right?
KUKLA: On the details of his empirical genealogical stories, you mean?
KUKLA: Yes, but I think that the basic Foucauldian picture, which is — let’s reduce Foucault to just two little bits here. One basic piece of the Foucauldian picture is that power is not a unify-unilateral, top-down thing. Power expresses itself in all of the little micro interactions that go on between people and between people and their environments all the time.
Power isn’t about a big set of rules that’s imposed on people. Power is about all of the little things that we do with one another as we move through the world. All of those add up to structures of power, rather than being imposed top-down. I think that has been, at least for me and for many other people, an incredibly fertile, productive way of starting to think about social phenomenon.
The other bit of the Foucauldian picture that I think is incredibly important is the idea that a lot of this happens at the level of concrete, fleshy bodies and material spaces. Power isn’t sets of abstract rules. Power is the way that we are trained up when we are little kids — to hold our legs in a certain way, or to hold our face in a certain way, or to wear certain kinds of clothing. Power is the way that schools are built with desks in rows that enforces a certain direction of the gaze, and so on.
I could go on and on, but the way that the materiality of our bodies and our habits and our environments is where power gets a hold, and where our social patterns and norms are grounded, rather than in some kinds of high-level principles or laws, is also, I think, very fertile.
That’s independent of the details of his genealogical stories. Because, yeah, he does seem to have played fairly fast and loose with actual historical details in a lot of cases.
Here is another segment:
COWEN: Let me start with a very simple question about feminism. What would be a rhetorical disadvantage that many women are at that even, say, educated or so-called progressive men would be unlikely to see?
KUKLA: A rhetorical disadvantage that we’re at — that’s a fascinating question. I think that there is almost no correct way for a woman to use her voice and hold her body to project the proper kind of expertise and authority in a conversation.
I think that there’s massive — I don’t even want to call it a double bind because it’s a multidimensional bind — where if we sound too feminine, sounding feminine in this culture is coded as frivolous and unserious. If we sound too unfeminine, then we sound like we are violating gender norms or like we are unpleasant or trying to be like a man.
I think that almost any way in which we position ourselves — if we try to be polite and make nice, then we come off as weak. If we don’t make nice, then we’re held to a higher standard for our appropriate behavior than men are. I think there’s almost no way we can position ourselves so that we sound as experts. So oftentimes, the content of our words matters less than our embodied presentation as a woman.
Here is the list of the second set of winners, in the order the grants were made, noting that the descriptions are mine not theirs:
Kelly Smith has a for-profit project to further extend a parent-run charter school system in Arizona, using Uber-like coordinating apps and “minimalist” OER methods.
Andrew L. Roberts, Northwestern University, a small grant to further his work on how sports relates to politics.
Stefan de Villiers, high school student, to create podcasts on the decisions of other high school students and how/why they become successful.
Brian Burns is working (with Samo Burja) on the history of mathematics and career networks, with special attention to the blossoming of innovation in 18th century Göttingen: “The secret to producing flourishing mathematical and scientific traditions may lie in a careful study of institutions. I will undertake this investigation and in the process uncover lost mathematical knowledge.” Gauss, Riemann, and Hilbert!
Can Olcer is one of the two entrepreneurs behind Kosmos School, a K-12 school that exists only in virtual reality, a for-profit enterprise with an emphasis on science education.
Anonymous, working on a board game for ten years, aimed at teaching basic economics, including supply and demand and the core ideas of Ronald Coase. The grant is for marketing the game.
Sophie Sandor is a 23-year-old Scottish film-maker making films with “noticeable themes [of] rational optimism, ambition and a rejection of the victimhood notion that millennials are prone to.” She is also interested in making documentaries in the education space.
Nicholas Dunk has a for-profit to bring voice recognition/machine transcription to the daily tasks of doctors. The goal is to solve paperwork problems, free up doctor time, encourage better record-keeping, and improve accuracy, all toward the end of higher quality and less expensive health care.
In the order I saw them:
A Quiet Place
You will find my reviews behind those three links. Overall, you could take this year and multiply it by 2x, and still have the worst year for movies in my adult life. If anything special comes out between now and the end of the year, as it often does, I will be sure to let you know.
I also saw 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time on a large screen in a long time, review here, Barry Lyndon too, they are two of the best movies ever made though not on your TV.
He can — and this is rare — act mind, and may be the only actor alive who could play a genius convincingly: Donne, for instance, Milton, Pope, or even Shakespeare…would be comfortably within his grasp. But he is not, and never will be a star, in the sense that Coward and Olivier are stars. Olivier, one might say, ransacks the vaults of a part with blowlamp, crowbar, and gun-powder; Guinness is the nocturnal burglar, the humble Houdini who knows the combination. He does everything by stealth. Whatever he may do in the future, eh will leave no theatrical descendants, as Gielgud will. He has illumined many a hitherto blind alley of subtlety, but blazed no trails. Irving, we read, was rapt, too: but it was a weird, thunderous raptness that shook its fist at the gods. Guinness waves away awe with a witty fingertip and deflects the impending holocaust with a shrug. His stage presence is quite without amplitude, and his face, bereft of its virtuosity of make-up, is a signless zero. His special gift is to imply the presence of little fixed ideas, gambolling about behind the deferential mask of normality. The characters he plays are injected hypodermically, not tattooed all over him; the latter is the star’s way and Guinness shrinks from it. Like Buckingham in Richard III he is “deep-resolving, witty”; the clay image on whom the witches work. An innocence, as of the womb, makes his face placid even when he plays murderers.
Whether he likes it or not (and I suspect he does), his true métier will continue to be eccentrics — men reserved, blinkered, shut off from their fellows, and obsessed. Within such minority men there is a hidden glee, an inward fanatical glow; and in their souls Guinness is at ease.
That is from Kenneth Tynan, Profiles, which is in fact a remarkable and remarkably good book.
Bohemian Rhapsody—you already know the plot and it’s a tad long but the music is great and Rami Malek is fabulous as Freddie Mercury. The movie culminates with a virtually shot-by-shot recreation of the legendary Queen performance at Live Aid, considered by many to the greatest live performance in all of rock and roll. A little puzzling why they didn’t use the original. Worth seeing in the theater, if you don’t have a home theater.
Crazy Rich Asians – the all Asian cast made it notable and the shots of Singapore are great but it’s only average as a romantic comedy. The leads lack chemistry.
The Last Kingdom (Netflix)—I’ve watched all three Seasons and enjoyed them. Season 3, however, is beginning to lose its legs. The on-again, off-again love affair between King Alfred and Uhtred has worn its course and I swear I’ve seen the jump in the boats and row away under falling arrow scene more than once before. Still, it’s not boring.
Bodyguard (Netflix) —taut British thriller. I enjoyed it and at 6 episodes it’s less of an investment than some series.
Homecoming (Amazon Prime)—sold as a Julia Roberts endeavor. She’s fine but the real star is the mysterious atmospherics and unusual shots and edits. I didn’t realize till the end of the first episode that this was a Sam Esmail show. Ah, now it all makes sense. If you liked Mr. Robot, give it a shot. I haven’t finished the first season and I may not, so I can’t say for certain whether the investment is worthwhile.
Daredevil (Netflix) I have already mentioned. Now cancelled, despite a great third season.
The Man Who Would be King (Amazon Prime) – a John Huston classic featuring Sean Connery and Michael Caine. One of my favorites. Based on a story of Rudyard Kipling which was based on the true story of Josiah Harlan, Prince of Ghor.
At Eternity’s Gate: A stirring and powerful performance by Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh. Directed by Julian Schnabel, himself a noted artist. The camera work–meant to convey a “you are there” point of view and also the sometime madness of Van Gogh–was disconcertingly jumpy at times. Schnabel would have done better stepping back and placing more trust on Dafoe’s performance and also the cinematography of Benoît Delhomme. Oddly, Schnabel insists Van Gogh was murdered when suicide is the accepted account and one that rings true, even to the film itself.
Machines (Amazon Prime)–an excellent documentary illustrating a day in the life of a textile factory in Gujurat, India. The pictures do the work, very little commentary. Dickensian. Especially striking to an economist , how inefficiently the factory is being run. Quality control, inventory management and maintenance are clearly atrocious. I am reluctant to claim something is inefficient but we have strong experimental evidence that management quality in these firms is very low and that better management could more than pay for itself.
Daredevil on Netflix: Season 3 is excellent. A fight scene (in the prison) is as good as the famous hallway scene in Season 1. Another stellar performance by Vincent D’Onofrio. A good plot and a satisfying filling in of Karen’s backstory. Sophisticated visuals and use of sound.
That was my tweet. One thing that did annoy me was the prominent reliance of the writers on the Thou Shall Not Kill trope. Foggy even says “once you cross that line, there’s no return”. Ugh, give me a break. The trope is tired and it also annoys me as an economist. Daredevil has been in a lot of fights and with probability approaching 1 he has already killed. Did none of those prison guards or cops have thin skulls? And why should there be a line? Is killing two people with expected probability of 1/2 really so much better than killing one person with expected probability 1?
As I thought about this more, however, the Thou Shall Not Kill trope is least objectionable in Daredevil. Daredevil is a serious Catholic and can thus call upon Thomas Aquinas’s Doctrine of Double Effect. Aquinas argues that:
moral acts take their species according to what is intended, and not according to what is beside the intention…
Thus, Foggy, the ever-precise lawyer, is correct. Catholic doctrine draws a line between intending to kill and expecting to kill. Expecting to kill is ok, intending to kill is not. I am not a fan of the doctrine of double effect as among other flaws it too easily allows people to shrug off war crimes and the killing of innocents (heh, we only intended to kill the groom, the fact that we also killed the soon-to-be wife and guests, well that was beside the intention). Nevertheless, I will allow that the doctrine of double effects gets the Daredevil writers off the hook for inappropriate use of cliche. Batman, however, has no excuse.
Addendum: For an excellent review of Daredevil Seasons 1-3 from the point of view of Christianity, see this post at Christ and Pop Culture.
John is one of the smartest people I know, and one of my favorite people to talk to, here is the transcript and audio. Here is the opening summary:
Raised in the Philippines and taught to be a well-rounded Catholic gentleman, John Nye learned the importance of a rigorous education from a young age. Indeed, according to Tyler he may very well be the best educated among his colleagues, having studying physics and literature as an undergraduate before earning a master’s and PhD in economics. And his education continues, as he’s now hard at work mastering his fourth language.
On this episode of Conversations with Tyler, Nye explains why it took longer for the French to urbanize than the British, the origins of the myth of free-trade Britain, why Vertigo is one of the greatest movies of all time, why John Stuart Mill is overrated, raising kids in a bilingual household, and much more.
Here is one bit:
NYE: In fact, one of the things I do know about the 19th century is that there’s no evidence that either unilateral free trade or multilateral did very much.
Almost all the free trade in Europe in the 19th century was a product of, initially, the bilateral trade agreement between Britain and France, sometimes known as the Anglo-French Treaty of Commerce of 1860, in which they each agreed to much more liberalized trade on a most-favored-nation basis. Once they accepted this, then what happened is, anyone who signed on to either Britain or France on the most-favored-nation basis then bought into, in some sense, this system.
Here is another:
COWEN: Particular mistakes aside, what were the systemic mistakes the Western world was making in, say, 1910, 1912?
NYE: I think the systemic mistake really boils down to how do you deal with the problem of power? How do you deal with the problem of different groups, different cultures wanting their place at the table? It’s clear that, if you look, a lot of the fight of imperialism was great-power competition.
If you look in the Far East, for example, some people may know that the United States took the Philippines from Spain at the end of the period of Spanish control of the Philippines in 1898, and partly this was due to Perry’s decision to sail into Manila Bay.
One of the things that’s not discussed — most people are unaware of — is that the German and British fleets were waiting in Hong Kong. They were waiting to see what the Americans did. And it’s quite likely that, had the Americans not steamed into Manila Bay, that the Germans or British would have intervened in the Philippines once the Spanish collapsed.
COWEN: And if there’s an underlying political subtext or import of Hitchcock, what do you think that would be? Not what he necessarily intended as his politics, but what’s in the movies in terms of human nature and political man?
NYE: Well, I think there’s this question of suspicion and the tendency to not appreciate how much is going on under the surface. I think people tend to see these things narrowly in terms of Cold War paranoia. But Hitchcock was a political conservative, and he was much more of the very old British conservative view that one should be wary in times of —
COWEN: Suspicion is metaphysical, right?
Definitely recommended, I am very honored to have had the chance to do this with John.
Soon I will be having a Conversation with my esteemed colleague John V. Nye, one of the smartest people I know. John is an economic historian but also a polymath with broad-ranging interests, including travel, classical music, chess, education, “institutions,” Asian food, the Philippines (his home country), and much more.
So what should I ask him?
I enjoyed this movie, although I would not describe it as a must-see. It is best for showing the rickety and claustrophobic nature of the moon landing program.
Three points struck me in particular, both concerning progress. First, the space shots in this movie are not better than those of Stanley Kubrick in his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are even several Kubrick homage shots, and they don’t look any better than the originals, and arguably somewhat worse. Perhaps most cinematic progress has come in shooting or better yet constructing dense scenes, but that does not apply to space.
Second, I walked to my (non-fancy) car and turned on the ignition right after watching the movie. It was immediately striking how much better and more reliable was the software in my car than in the whole well-funded moon program. In this sense technological progress has been immense. That said, most cars in operation today are not that much better than cars from 1969, and they perform more or less the same functions, albeit more safely. Improving car manufacture is not that hard, but improving the usefulness of cars in our daily lives is where the problem lies. So this supports the “the consumer space is already filled out” interpretation of the great stagnation.
Third, perhaps it is the very absence of the internet and advanced information technology that made the moon program possible. When Armstrong arrives at the moon, you realize it is pretty boring and it has not so much to offer, either in 1969 or today. Would they have gone to such trouble if there had been better problems to work on? Well before the end of the movie, I found myself wanting to check my email and refresh my Twitter feed.
By the way, this movie has bombed at the box office, perhaps not a good sign for the revival of adventure in contemporary culture.
He is one of my favorite actors, so I was pleased to read this:
Chow Yun Fat plans to give his entire net worth of $714m to charity.
As reported by Jayne Stars, Hong Kong movie legend Chow Yun Fat will give his entire net worth of $5.6 billion HKD ($714m USD) to charity.
Despite his gargantuan wealth, Fat remains rather frugal. Only spending $800 HKD ($1o2 USD) per month, Fat is often seen taking public transport and doing charity work.
He used his first Nokia phone for over 17 years, only switching to a smartphone two years ago. Fat is known for shopping at discount stores. “I don’t wear clothes for other people. As long as I think it’s comfortable, then it’s good enough for me,” he said.
Fat often spends his free time hiking and jogging, instead of splashing out.
Here is the audio and transcript, here is part of the summary:
Tyler sat down with Krugman at his office in New York to discuss what’s grabbing him at the moment, including antitrust, Supreme Court term limits, the best ways to fight inequality, why he’s a YIMBY, inflation targets, congestion taxes, trade (both global and interstellar), his favorite living science fiction writer, immigration policy, how to write well for a smart audience, new directions for economic research, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: In your view, how well run is New York City as an entity?
KRUGMAN: Not very. Compared to what? Actually, I like de Blasio. I actually think he’s done some really good things. What he’s done on education, and even on affordable housing, is actually quite substantial. But the city is so big and the problems are so large that people may not get it.
I will say, it is crazy that you have a city that is so dependent on public transportation, and yet the public transportation is not actually under the city’s control and has clearly been massively neglected. I don’t suffer the full woes of the subway, but I suffer some of them, even myself.
The city could be run better than it is, but it’s certainly not among the worst-managed political entities in the United States, let alone in the world.
COWEN: Will there ever be interstellar trade in intellectual property? You send your technology to a planet far away. It arrives much later, of course. Or you trade Beethoven to the aliens in return for a transporter beam? Can this work? You’ve written a paper that seems to indicate it can work.
KRUGMAN: I wrote a paper on the theory of interstellar trade when I was an unhappy assistant professor. Are there any happy assistant professors? [laughs] I was just blowing off steam. But it’s an interesting question.
COWEN: It could become your most important paper, right? [laughs]
KRUGMAN: We could imagine that there would be some way. We’d have to find somebody to trade with, although it’s the kind of thing — if you try to imagine interstellar trade for real in intellectual property — it’s probably the kind of thing that would be more like government-to-government exchanges.
It sounds like it would be really, really hard, although some science fiction writers are imagining that something like Bitcoin would make it possible to do these long-range . . . I don’t think something like Bitcoin is even going to work here.
Krugman also gives his opinions on Star Wars and Star Trek and Big Tech and many other matters. Interesting throughout…
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.