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.
Black Panther is the hereditary leader of the African nation of Wakanda, a small, natural resource rich country, which lacks access to the sea. Historically the political leadership has tried to hide Wakanda‘s existence from other countries which has limited its economic integration with the rest of the world. In spite of its geographic endowments, notably the incredibly rare ore vibranium, Wakanda has attained unprecedented technological development. This chapter explores the political economy of Wakanda and its leader, Black Panther. After explaining the origins of Black Panther, the chapter turns to the economic puzzle of Wakanda by exploring the geographic and economic implications of isolation. This is followed by an investigation into the way Wakanda has avoided the resource curse that has plagued so many other countries. Next, a comparison is made between Wakanda and the nation of Botswana. While there are some telling similarities, the lack of democracy in Wakanda is a glaring difference. It will discuss how it has developed high levels of technology that help advance the Black Panther’s dictatorship. Finally, it will address the potential for democracy to emerge in Wakanda. Black Panther offers an opportunity to understand the role of political institutions in affecting the long-run economic, political, and technological development of a country.
That is a new paper from J. Robert Subrick.
In various cultural and behavioral respects, emerging market consumers differ significantly from their counterparts of developed markets. They may thus derive consumption utility from different aspects of product meaning and functionality. Based on this premise, we investigate whether the economic rise of emerging markets may have begun to impact the typical “one-size-fits-all” design of many international product categories. Focusing on Hollywood films, and exploiting a recent relaxation of China’s foreign film importation policy, we provide evidence suggesting that these impacts may exist and be non-negligible. In particular, we show that the Chinese society’s aesthetic preference for lighter skin can be linked to the more frequent casting of pale-skinned stars in films targeting the Chinese market. Implications for the design of international products are drawn.
That is from a new paper by Manuel Hermosilla, Fernanda Gutierrez-Navratil, and Juan Prieto-Rodriguez.
As a besotted worshiper of Sun Ra, Octavia Butler, and Afro-Futurism more generally, I have been anticipating this one for many months. Since I wish that one-fifth of all movies had an Afro-Futurist background, and so few do, I suppose I shouldn’t complain. Still, I was disappointed by just about everything except some of the visuals.
The male characters were weak and most of the scenes dull, and worst of all most of the humor is mediocre. Furthermore, I found the movie uncomfortably prejudiced. There is such a thing as racism directed mainly at Africans (as opposed to blacks), and it seems to me this was it.
So many spears and wild animals? How about holding a referendum every now and then? And there were so many “Africanist” tropes. De facto, I thought the actual message was strongly pro-segregation, although wimpiness on that finally kicks in. The visual references to Narnia and to various Star Wars installments were fine, but was it necessary to cite the colonialist Zulu? The contrast with the resource-poor city of Busan, South Korea was almost Straussian in intent. Is wealth based on human capital so impossible in Africa?
I would say the more you know about actual African cinema, the less you will appreciate this one.
Christopher Lebron in Boston Review has written the best review (via Hollis Robbins).
In 1971 Irving Kristol said yes, today Ross Douthat says yes. I am sympathetic with the notion that porn in the “I know it when I see it sense” is a net negative bad for society, even if it helps some people revitalize their sex lives (Alex differs). That said, I cannot find an attractive way of censoring it.
I think you start with the rules we have, and think about how they might be applied to ISPs.
Yet playing whack-a-mole with ISPs does not always go well, a truth to which a number of emotionally well-balanced MR commentators can attest. And porn users and suppliers I think would be especially willing to find workarounds, including VPNs. So I don’t think porn would end up all that ghettoized. My fear is that the American internet would evolve rather rapidly toward Chinese-style institutions of control (though they would not used right now), without stopping porn very much, but leading to increasing calls to censor many other things too.
Keep in mind also that porn has been a major driver of innovation, not just for the VCR but for the internet too, including for means of payment, methods of streaming, and anti-piracy. Might porn drive the demand to build networks of virtual reality? So I’m not ready to ban it just yet.
No, I am not there now, but Adam D. emails me and requests this, so here goes:
1. Novel: Stanislaw Lem, Solaris, all about identity and erotic guilt. Next in line would be any number of Isaac Singer novels, I don’t have a favorite offhand. Soon I will try The Family Moskat. Gombrowicz is probably wonderful, but I don’t find that it works for me in translation. Quo Vadis left me cold.
2. Chopin works: The Preludes, there are many fine versions, and then the Ballades. The Etudes excite me the most, the Mazurkas and piano sonatas #2 and #3 are most likely to surprise me at current margins of listening. I find it remarkable how I never tire of Chopin, in spite of his relatively slight output.
3. Painter: This one isn’t as easy as it ought to be.
5. Political thinker: Czesław Miłosz, The Captive Mind, about the capitulations of artists to communism, though subtler than just an anti-state polemic. He once stated: ” I have never been a political writer and I worked hard to destroy this image of myself.” I do not feel I can judge his poetry, though last year’s biography of him was a good book.
8. Movie: Any of the Andrzej Wajda classics would do, maybe start with Kanal or Ashes and Diamonds. More recently I would opt for Ida. I like Kieślowski’s TV more than his films, and prefer Hollywood Polanski to Polish Polanski.
10. Jazz musician: Trumpeter Tomasz Stańko.
11. Economists: There is Kalecki, Hurwicz, the now-underrated Oskar Lange (doesn’t Singaporean health care work fine?), and Victor Zarnowitz. I had thought Mises was born in Poland, but upon checking it turned out to be Ukraine.
Overall the big puzzle is why there isn’t more prominence in painting, given Poland’s centrality in European history.
Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw at the WSJ follow up on what was a super dramatic story that turned into a neglected and under-reported tale. What is life like for the Boko Harum kidnap victims after their liberation?
The women had acclimated to the forest camps where Boko Haram insurgents threatened them at gunpoint to either convert to Islam and marry a fighter or be a slave.
About half chose slavery, which cost them access to food and shelter.
Here is another bit:
Psychologists who specialize in kidnap victims say they are unsure about the best way to simultaneously treat and educate such a large group of women—ages 18 to 27—after years of collective captivity and abuse.
The spelling bee contests, one healing piece of the curriculum, arrived as something of a surprise. It was the Chibok girls who came up with the idea.
One night, plopped on couches, they watched “Akeelah and the Bee,” a movie about an 11-year-old African-American girl in Los Angeles who finds her confidence after her father’s death by winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The students watched the movie again and again over bowls of popcorn. They went to their teachers with a demand: They wanted to hold their own spelling bees. The teachers agreed.
The young women began memorizing vocabulary lists and testing each others’ lexicographic skills. Their wordplay escalated into late-night spelling battles. “It was unbelievably competitive,” Mr. Braggs said.
Spelling employs a skill many of the women honed while captive: mnemonic memory. Some spent much of their time memorizing lengthy prayers and hymns. Others composed diary entries in their heads—their thoughts, injustices they suffered—they would later log in journals they kept hidden. In secret, they retold the story of Job, the biblical figure who was punished in a test of his faith.
By the way, 112 girls remain missing and 13 are presumed dead.
Rande Gerber is married to Cindy Crawford, is a father to the teenage supermodels Kaia and Presley Gerber, and is a tequila baron (with his pal George Clooney).
That is the front-page header for this NYT piece, you will note it is not a critique of the wealthy or famous. Recommended, interesting throughout, and don’t forget to check out the photos…
Oh, and here is the closer:
The Gerbers can sound a little corny, and that’s because they are. Nothing confounds a celebrity profile like a happy family. They are four golden figures that, even viewed up close, seem to be constantly dissolving into a Malibu sunset.
“When I meet people from my past, they’re not really shocked where my life has taken me,” Mr. Gerber said, clinking his Casamigos and ice, flanked by his wife and equally symmetrical daughter.
“Most people just figured I would have been successful,” he said, and shrugged.
Soon I will be having a conversation with Robin Hanson — the Robin Hanson. What should I ask him? The jumping-off point will be his new book with Kevin Simler, but of course we won’t stop there.
I think Ross, along with Steven Pinker, received the hardest (though never hostile) questions from me, but of course that is a measure of respect. Plus serious questions about God are difficult by their nature. Here is how the summarizers described the ground covered:
…Douthat’s views on religion and theology, but then moves on to more earth-bound concerns, such as his stance on cats, The Wire vs The Sopranos, why Watership Down is the best modern novel for understanding politics, eating tofu before it was cool, journalism as a trade, why he’s open to weird ideas, the importance of Sam’s Club Republicans, the specter of a Buterlian Jihad, and more.
Not to mention Reformicons, CRISPR, Thiel/Girard, Godwin’s Law, euthanasia, what Ross learned his mother, and the dangers of too much smart phone use. Ross responded in fine form, here is the audio and transcript. Here is one excerpt:
DOUTHAT: I suppose that I’m drawn to the idea that the truth about human existence lies in what can seem like paradoxical formulations, and this is of course very Catholic in certain ways. Certainly a G. K. Chestertonian idea, so I’m just stealing it from other people. But the idea that various heresies of Christianity, Calvinism included — with apologies to my Calvinist friends — tend to take one particular element of you that’s supposed to be in synthesis and possibly in tension, and run with it. And therefore the truth about things lies in a place that may seem slightly contradictory.
And I think this is borne out in many ways in everyday experience. This both-and experience of human existence. The idea that you can’t split up grace and works in any kind of meaningful way. It’s connected to larger facts about the nature of human existence. The tension between determinism and free will that persists in any philosophical system. You can get rid of God and stop having these Jansenist Jesuit arguments about predestination and so on, but you’re still stuck with the free will–determinism debate. That debate doesn’t go away.
So, yeah, there’s a point at the intersection of different ideas that is as close to the truth as our limited minds can get and in Christian thought, we call that point orthodoxy. Now, how that is connected to my political views is a really good question.
COWEN: We all know the Marcionite heresy: the view, from early Christianity, that the Old Testament should be abandoned. At times, even Paul seems to subscribe to what later was called the Marcionite heresy. Why is it a heresy? Why is it wrong?
DOUTHAT: It’s wrong because it takes the form . . . It’s wrong for any number of reasons, but in the context of the conversation we’re having, it’s wrong because it tries to basically take one of the things that Christianity is trying to hold in synthesis and run with it to the exclusion of everything else, and essentially to solve problems by cutting things away.
The Marcionite thesis is, basically, if you read the New Testament, Jesus offers you a portrait of God that seems different from the portrait of God offered in Deuteronomy; therefore, these things are in contradiction. Therefore, if you believe that Jesus’s portrait of God is correct, then the Deuteronomic portrait of God must be false; therefore, the God of the Old Testament must be a wicked demiurge, etc., etc. And the next thing you know, you’re ascribing to, again, a kind of . . . What is the Aryan Christianity of the Nazis, if not the Marcionite heresy given form in the 1930s and 1940s?
And so the orthodox Christian says, “No, any seeming tension between the Old Testament and the New, any seeming contradiction, is actually suggesting that we need to look for a kind of synthesis between them, and for a sense in which there is not contradiction, but fulfillment in some way, which —
COWEN: Bringing us back to Hegelian Douthat.
DOUTHAT: Yes, yes.
I think it’s probably fair to say that Chesterton’s Father Brown stories had as much influence on my worldview as his more sort of polemical and argumentative writings. And, again, I think therein lies some important insight that I haven’t thought through, but I think you’re correctly gesturing at, about a particular way of thinking about God and theology that isn’t unique to Christianity, but that is strongly suggested by just the structure of the revelation that we have. Marilynne Robinson has a line, I think in Gilead, about — one of the characters is imagining that this life is like the epic of heaven. That we’re living in the Iliad or the Odyssey of heaven. This is the story that will be told in the streets.
COWEN: When you see how much behavior Islam or some forms of Islam motivate, do you envy it? Do you think, “Well, gee, what is it that they have that we don’t? What do we need to learn from them?” What’s your gut emotional reaction?
On another topic:
I’ve been always disappointed that there hasn’t been a kind of sustained Watership Down revival because it’s such a great book and it’s a book about — essentially, it’s about a founding.
It’s connected, in a sense, to the kind of things that the Straussians are always arguing about and so on. What does the founding mean, and so on? But you have a group of rabbits who go forth and encounter different models of political order, different ways of relating to humankind, that shadow over rabbit-kind at any point.
You have a warren that has essentially surrendered itself to humanity and exists as a kind of breeding farm, and you have a warren that’s run as a fascist dictatorship essentially. And then you have this attempt to form a political community that is somewhere in between the two, getting back to the Hegelian synthesis and so on. And you have sort of this primal narrative where the problem is of course that they don’t have any females, and so there’s this competition, this competition for reproductive power that’s carried out between these different warrens where the rabbits from the good warren have to literally — not kidnap, because the does come willingly — but steal women from the fascist dictatorship, which maintains a ruthless control over reproduction.
So there’s just a lot of fascinating stuff there, and then it’s all interspersed with storytelling. There’s the sort of rabbit folktales that Richard —
COWEN: So, narrative again.
DOUTHAT: Narrative again.
Strongly recommended, and I do thank Ross for putting up with me. Do read or listen to the whole thing.
And I very much enjoyed reading Ross’s forthcoming book To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, which I found totally engrossing.
For China’s small but enthusiastic subculture of Star Wars fans, the latest film was a visual feast hampered by a protracted plot and uninspired characters. On popular review website Douban, the new film is rated a fairly weak 7.3, based on over 43,000 reviews. The most upvoted review complains that “the whole film really insults the IQ of its audience,” and demands to know how the universe could possibly be ruled by such an incompetent Galactic Empire. “In Star Wars, it seems only Darth Vader had a brain — it’s such a shame he’s already dead,” the reviewer concludes.
Other factors, according to Chen, include Chinese audiences’ preference for physically attractive protagonists and stories rooted in reality. He points out that, for example, superhero films from Marvel — a Disney cash cow that has enjoyed great success in China — feature recognizable settings, such as New York and even China, and are filled with larger-than-life leads who meet the public’s aesthetic standards. The Star Wars characters, meanwhile, look ordinary by comparison.
“These actors aren’t very beautiful, which may deter a lot of Chinese from seeing the recent films,” said Chen. “We fans often joke that if Finn were played by Will Smith, Chinese people might be more inclined to watch it — because he’s very handsome.”
Here is more from Sixth Tone.
…advocates of a new copyright term extension bill wouldn’t be able to steamroll opponents the way they did 20 years ago. Any term extension proposal would face a well-organized and well-funded opposition with significant grassroots support.
“After the SOPA fight, Hollywood likely knows that the public would fight back,” wrote Daniel Nazer, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an email to Ars. “I suspect that Big Content knows it would lose the battle and is smart enough not to fight.”
“I haven’t seen any evidence that Big Content companies plan to push for another term extension,” Nazer added. “This is an election year, so if they wanted to get a big ticket like that through Congress, you would expect to see them laying the groundwork with lobbying and op-eds.”
Of course, copyright interests might try to slip a copyright term extension into a must-pass bill in hopes opponents wouldn’t notice until it was too late. But Rose doesn’t think that would work.
Here is the full piece, via someone in my Twitter feed sorry I forget.
The movie centers around Daniel Ellsberg’s revelation of the Pentagon Papers and their publication in The New York Times and most of all The Washington Post, the center of the dramatic tension. The courts rule for the newspapers (and ultimately Ellsberg) and Spielbergian triumphalism reigns. Yet so many of those liberties have reverted to the state — had he stuck around, would Edward Snowden have received a public trial before a court of law? You may believe Snowden is a different case (read Gladwell), but shouldn’t a public court be deciding that? The feel-good tone of The Post also would not match a movie about a minor American military victory in the Vietnam of 1966, given what followed. Does historical context matter so little? Post-Obama, can newspapers protect their anonymous sources in matters of national security?
I usually don’t mind when movies play fast and loose with the truth, as is done in almost every biopic or history. (They didn’t actually blow up that Death Star, they merely damaged it.) But this case is different. The whole theme of this film is about standing up for the truth even when commercial considerations dictate otherwise. It then feels dishonest to give Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) a wildly overblown role, as this portrait does. But it does make for a better story and presumably a higher-grossing movie.
For an artwork that pretends to defend freedom of the press, the underlying message is remarkably Trumpian in an almost Straussian manner. The press collude, dine and party with leaders, and refuse to reveal their crimes and scandals, all to receive “access” and to be flattered. Every now and then their need for reputation, and the desire for a broader national market, spurs them to “turn on” a president gone astray. “The people” don’t have much of a say and fake news is everywhere.
The sadder commercial reality is that the first quarter to third of the movie is sophisticated and then it falls into good guys vs. bad guys. It’s not smart enough to be Strauss.
It feels as if every actor or actress in the movie is a “grizzled veteran” of some kind or another.
The scenes of newspaper and print technology will go down as some of the finest cinema of our time.
Yes, I’m talking about Downsizing, starring Matt Damon. If Henry George is right about exorbitant rents and land scarcity, of course the solution is to shrink the people, thereby creating in real terms more land (plus solving a lot of environmental problems). In this movie, shrinking people to a few centimeters tall raises the value of a dollar by about 1000x — how’s that for a Georgist result? The small people live in splendid houses, massive relative to their diminutive size, and can eat all the gourmet food they want because they need only a snippet of foie gras or for that matter a very small piece of diamond. Yet they still must interact (badly) with the larger world, thus the Swift connection. How about Piketty? Well, the small people have trouble mastering nature or producing for the larger outside world, so they are dependent on their preexisting wealth. The wealth to income ratio is remarkably high, and woe unto anyone who has to rely on labor income in the “small world.”
Then the movie starts! It’s an uneven film in a number of ways, still for economics “food for thought,” or for that matter social critique, I haven’t seen anything nearly as good for a while.