Very enjoyable and well-paced, at least until the very end, and Gal Gadot is spectacular. Yet immediately beneath the facade of the apparently rampant feminism is a quite traditional or even reactionary tale of martial virtue being inescapable, gender attraction overwhelming all other social considerations, and Christian sacrifice and redemption. (Hollywood is usually less left-wing than you think it is going to be.) Beyond that, the visuals are striking, the scenes of WWI London ring true, the chemistry between the two leads is evident, and the 3-D effects add value. The soundtrack/score could have been better. The informed viewer will notice cinematic references to the key “charge the Anthill” scene of Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, blatantly restaged with the marginal impact of Wonder Woman, various Batman movies, Transformers, Ray Harryhausen, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, among other creations. The final image left me unsettled and I am glad they had the guts to leave it in; this is not a movie opposed to violence.
If you can play the “Imperial March” in less than 12 parsecs, you’ll want to check out this highly customized Millennium Falcon piano up for auction on eBay. The piano starred in a popular YouTube video featuring pianist Sony Belousova turning out an impressive medley of Star Wars music.
Hat tip goes to Ted Gioia.
Yes, the Garry Kasparov, here is the link to the podcast and transcript. We talked about AI, his new book Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins, why he has become more optimistic, how education will have to adjust to smart software, Russian history and Putin, his favorites in Russian and American literature, Tarkovsky, his favorite city to play chess in, his match against Deep Blue, Ken Rogoff, who are the three most likely challengers to Magnus Carlsen (ranked in order!) and who might win. Here is one excerpt:
GK: The biggest problem, and I’ve been talking about for quite a while, that we’re still teaching very specific knowledge in the schools. Instead of teaching what, we have to teach how because this knowledge may be redundant 10 years from now. We are preparing kids for the world that will change dramatically. By the way, we already know it will look different. So what’s the point of trying to teach kids at age 10, 11, 12 without recognizing the fact that when they finish college, when they will become adults looking for jobs, the job market will be totally different?
COWEN: …If we look back on centuries of Russian history, do you think there’s something in Russian geography or demographics or geopolitics — what has it been that has led to such unfree outcomes fairly systematically?
Where do you find the roots of tyranny in the history of Russia? Is it a mix of the size of the country, its openness to invasion, its vulnerability, something about being next to a dynamic Europe, on the other side, China? What is it?
KASPAROV: It’s a long, if not endless, theoretical debate based on our interpretation of certain historical events. I’m not convinced with these arguments about some nations being predetermined in their development and alien to the concept of democracy and the rule of law.
The reason I’m quite comfortable with this denial . . . We can move from theory to practice. While we can talk about history and certain influence of historical events to modernity, we can look at the places like Korean Peninsula. The same nation, not even cousins but brothers and sisters, divided in 1950, so that’s, by historical standards, yesterday.
Let’s look at Russia and Ukraine, and let’s look, not at the whole Ukraine, but just at eastern Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine is populated mostly by ethnic Russians. In the former Soviet Union, the borders between republics were very nominal. People could move around, it was not a big deal. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the official state border between Russia and Ukraine was respected, but people still could move around. They didn’t need special visas.
When we look at ethnic Russians born and raised in Kursk and Belgorod on the Russian side and across the border, say in Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk on the Ukrainian side, there were people that could be hardly separated anything. They read the same newspaper, Pravda, watched the same television, spoke the very same language, not even accents. But somehow, in 2014, after Putin’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, we saw a huge difference. Most of ethnic Russians in Ukraine signed for the Ukrainian army, fighting against Putin’s invasion, against the same Russians that came from the other side.
It could be a long debate, but I would say that one of the main reasons is that Ukraine experienced in 1994 a gradual transition of power from one president to another after sitting president Leonid Kravchuk lost elections and walked away. Ukrainians somehow got an idea that power is not sacred, and government can come and go, and they can remove it by voting.
And even despite the fact that Ukraine never experienced higher living standards than Russia, people realized that keeping this freedom, keeping this ability to influence their bureaucrats and government through the peaceful process of voting and, if necessary, striking, far more effective than Russia’s “stability” where the same leader could be in charge of the country with his corrupt clique for a long, long time.
On computer chess, I most enjoyed this part of the exchange:
KASPAROV: But I want to finish this because what we discovered in this process . . . I wouldn’t overweight our listeners with all these details. I don’t want just to throw on them the mass information.
COWEN: It’s amazing what people will enjoy, though. You’d be surprised.
Self-recommending! We cover many other topics as well, again you can read or listen here.
And I strongly advise that you buy and read Garry’s wonderful new book Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins.
Stubborn Attachments is the advance peek bonus book I offered to those who pre-ordered The Complacent Class. I once described Stubborn Attachments as follows:
In that work, I outline a true and objectively valid case for a free and prosperous society, and consider the importance of economic growth for political philosophy, how and why the political spectrum should be reconfigured, how we should think about existential risk, what is right and wrong in Parfit and Nozick and Singer and effective altruism, how to get around the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, to what extent individual rights can be absolute, how much to discount the future, when redistribution is justified, whether we must be agnostic about the distant future, and most of all why we need to “think big.”
Unlike the last few sequences of Tyler’s longer published works — the books on culture and economics, the self-help via economics wisdom books, and the Stagnationist trilogy — Stubborn Attachments is foundational Tyler. It represents the Tyler from which the distinctive contrarian and provocative and educational and speed-reading and culture-savvy and eccentric Tylers all emerge.
It is also the most comprehensive expression of Tyler’s particular brand of libertarianism that I have read.
There is also a “desert island” section of the podcast, where Cardiff asks me which bodies of film, for instance which directors, I would most want to have on a desert island. He also asks me to construct my NBA “Dream Team,” which indeed I do for him.
It’s a Canadian company that specializes in speech synthesis software. They’ve developed software they claim can copy anyone’s voice and make it say anything.
The founders tell me if they can get a high-quality recording of you speaking for just one minute, their software can replicate your voice with very high accuracy.
If they get a recording of you speaking for five minutes, they say it would be difficult to tell the difference between your voice and their computer-generated mimic. That’s where the name Lyrebird comes from: a lyrebird is an Australian bird that’s noted for its mimicry.
Here is the story, as they say solve for the equilibrium…
Confidential business conversations over the telephone might dwindle, and perhaps we will have Peter Cushing and Humphrey Bogart movies for a long time to come. What else?
For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.
Two years later, the quota of imported movies permitted into China was raised to 34 from 20 in a deal negotiated between then-Vice President Joe Biden and then-Vice President Xi. The deal all but guaranteed that most big-budget Hollywood features—except those with content deemed objectionable—would be shown in China.
“I prefer to watch Hollywood films because the chance of a domestic film being crappy is much bigger than a Hollywood film,” said Liu Jing, a 25-year-old postgraduate student studying finance policy in Beijing.
Ms. Jing said she became a fan of superhero films from Marvel Studios as a high-school student and now goes to movie theaters at least once a month.
Hollywood executives can rattle off the rules for getting a movie approved by Chinese censors: no sex (too unseemly); no ghosts (too spiritual). Among 10 prohibited plot elements are “disrupts the social order” and “jeopardizes social morality.” Time travel is frowned upon because of its premise that individuals can change history.
U.S. filmmakers sometimes anticipate Chinese censors and alter movies before their release. The Oscar-winning alien-invasion drama “Arrival” was edited to make a Chinese general appear less antagonistic before the film’s debut in China this year.
The superhero hit “Logan” was 14 minutes shorter in China after Chinese censors cut scenes of beheading and impalement.
For “Passengers,” the space adventure starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, a scene showing Mr. Pratt’s bare backside was removed, and a scene of Mr. Pratt chatting in Mandarin with a robot bartender was added.
Here is the full Eric Schwartzel WSJ piece.
At the very least we can ask what they say they would do, and it is not entirely encouraging:
Drawing from literature associating superheroes with altruism, this study examined whether ordinary individuals engaged in altruistic or selfish behavior when they were hypothetically given superpowers. Participants were presented with six superpowers—three positive (healing, invulnerability, and flight) and three negative (fear inducement, psychic persuasion, and poison generation). They indicated their desirability for each power, what they would use it for (social benefit, personal gain, social harm), and listed examples of such uses. Quantitative analyses (n = 285) revealed that 94% of participants wished to possess a superpower, and majority indicated using powers for benefitting themselves than for altruistic purposes. Furthermore, while men wanted positive and negative powers more, women were more likely than men to use such powers for personal and social gain. Qualitative analyses of the uses of the powers (n = 524) resulted in 16 themes of altruistic and selfish behavior. Results were analyzed within Pearce and Amato’s model of helping behavior, which was used to classify altruistic behavior, and adapted to classify selfish behavior. In contrast to how superheroes behave, both sets of analyses revealed that participants would hypothetically use superpowers for selfish rather than altruistic purposes. Limitations and suggestions for future research are outlined.
That is from a new paper by Das-Friebel, et.al., and the pointer is from Rolf Degen. Here is an earlier MR post about what an altruistic and incorruptible Superman should do; I found the question wasn’t so easy to answer.
I’ll have to put this under the fold, because I can’t say anything without giving away everything…OK, people, this is one strange movie. The movie is mostly about U.S.-Korean relations, and U.S. foreign policy more broadly, albeit in cloaked form. To cut to the chase, Anne Hathaway from NYC (but born in a rural area) symbolizes Hillary Clinton, and the character of “Oscar,” who loves his trashy red state, is Donald Trump. The two engage in a series of pitched personal battles, and, through an obscure mechanism, this translates into two giant monsters fighting in the streets of Seoul, and destroying parts of the city through their wanton carelessness (yes, really). So the movie is about how disputes in domestic American politics can wreck other parts of the world and Americans don’t really give a damn. Oscar even uses Seoul as a hostage, repeatedly, to get his way in town, and later he takes joy in trashing parts of Seoul. Oscar also loves to blow things up, if only to signal his irresponsibility, and he will blow up his own property too, just so he can push others around, because he feels so small in life. He obtains his explosives through illegal trade with Mexico, which he decries but engages in nonetheless. The red state trashers stand with Oscar no matter what.
The movie indicates that a much-younger “Hillary” made her first appearance in Seoul 25 years ago (1992!), but at the time no one noticed her import. Recently she has come back, in the form of the giant monster, and the city grows to realize that she will save them from Oscar, the evil robot.
There are numerous references to Godzilla, which of course is a movie about (among other things) America destroying parts of Japan.
The movie’s ending has Hillary saving them from Trump, and Koreans crying with joy, but of course it didn’t work out that way. And to watch this movie right after the Syria and Afghanistan bombings…
That all said, I wish it were a better film. It is more interesting than masterful.
Here is one bit, from the rapid fire back-and-forth:
The rationality community.
Well, tell me a little more what you mean. You mean Eliezer Yudkowsky?
Yeah, I mean Less Wrong, Slate Star Codex. Julia Galef, Robin Hanson. Sometimes Bryan Caplan is grouped in here. The community of people who are frontloading ideas like signaling, cognitive biases, etc.
Well, I enjoy all those sources, and I read them. That’s obviously a kind of endorsement. But I would approve of them much more if they called themselves the irrationality community. Because it is just another kind of religion. A different set of ethoses. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but the notion that this is, like, the true, objective vantage point I find highly objectionable. And that pops up in some of those people more than others. But I think it needs to be realized it’s an extremely culturally specific way of viewing the world, and that’s one of the main things travel can teach you.
There is much more at the link, entertaining throughout, with links to the full podcast as well.
The last time I was in Ireland I wasn’t blogging yet. What riches lie here, let’s give it a start:
1. Poetry: I pick Joyce’s Ulysses, then Yeats and also Seamus Heaney, especially if the word “bog” appears in the poem. A good collection is The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry, edited by Patrick Crotty. Beyond the ranks of the super-famous, you might try Louis MacNeice, from the Auden Group, or perhaps Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, who writes in Gaelic but has been translated by other superb Irish poets into English..
2. Novel/literature: Jonathan Swift: Gulliver’s Travels. One of the very very best books for social science too, and one of my favorite books period. After Joyce, there is also Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Lord Dunsany, John Banville (The Untouchable), William Trevor, and Elizabeth Bowen. Iris Murdoch was born in Ireland, but does she count? More recently I have enjoyed Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín, Eimear McBride, Claire Louise-Bennett, with Mike McCormack in my pile to read soon. Roddy Doyle is probably good, but I don’t find him so readable. Colum McCann somehow isn’t Irish enough for me, but many enjoy his work. Can the Anglo-Irish Oliver Goldsmith count? His Citizen of the World remains a neglected work. The recently published volumes of Samuel Beckett’s correspondence have received rave reviews and I hope to read through them this summer. Whew! And for a country of such a small population.
3. Classical music: Hmm…we hit a roadblock here. I don’t love John Field, so I have to call this category a fail. I can’t offhand think of many first-rate Irish classical performers, can you? James Galway?
4. Popular music: My Bloody Valentine, Loveless. Certainly my favorite album post-1970s, and possibly my favorite of all time. When the Irish do something well, they do it really really well. Then there is Van Morrison, Them, Bono and U2, Rory Gallagher, Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats, The Pogues, The Cranberries, and Sinead O’Connor, among others. I confess to having an inordinate weakness for Gilbert O’Sullivan. Traditional Irish music would need a post of its own, but it has never commanded much of my attention.
5. Painter: Francis Bacon is the obvious and probably correct choice, but I am no longer excited to see his work. I don’t find myself seeing new things in it. Sean Scully wins runner-up. This is a slightly weak category, at least relative to some of the others.
6. Political philosopher: Edmund Burke, who looks better all the time, I am sorry to say.
8. Classical economist: Mountifort Longfield and Isaac Butt both had better understandings of supply and demand and marginalism, before the marginal revolution, than almost any other economists except for a few of the French.
9. Theologian: C.S. Lewis, you could list him under fiction as well. Here is a debate over whether he is British or Irish. Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia covers Lewis, one of my favorite books from the last decade.
10. Silicon Valley entrepreneur: Patrick Collison (duh), of Stripe and Atlas, here is his superb podcast with Ezra Klein. Here is further information on the pathbreaking Stripe Atlas project.
11. Movie: There are plenty I don’t like so much, such as My Left Foot, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Waking Ned, and The Commitments. Most people consider those pretty good. I think I’ll opt for The Crying Game and also In the Name of the Father.
12: Movie, set in: Other than the movies listed above, there is Odd Man Out (quite good), The Quiet Man, and The Secret of Roan Inish, but my clear first choice is the still-underrated masterpiece Barry Lyndon.
The bottom line: The strengths are quite amazing, and that’s without adjusting for population.
American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s in data from the nationally representative General Social Survey, N = 26,620, 1989–2014. This was partially due to the higher percentage of unpartnered individuals, who have sex less frequently on average. Sexual frequency declined among the partnered (married or living together) but stayed steady among the unpartnered, reducing the marital/partnered advantage for sexual frequency. Declines in sexual frequency were similar across gender, race, region, educational level, and work status and were largest among those in their 50s, those with school-age children, and those who did not watch pornography. In analyses separating the effects of age, time period, and cohort, the decline was primarily due to birth cohort (year of birth, also known as generation). With age and time period controlled, those born in the 1930s (Silent generation) had sex the most often, whereas those born in the 1990s (Millennials and iGen) had sex the least often. The decline was not linked to longer working hours or increased pornography use. Age had a strong effect on sexual frequency: Americans in their 20s had sex an average of about 80 times per year, compared to about 20 times per year for those in their 60s. The results suggest that Americans are having sex less frequently due to two primary factors: An increasing number of individuals without a steady or marital partner and a decline in sexual frequency among those with partners.
What makes one song, TV show, or consumer product a hit, and the other not? Derek’s new book is probably the very best exploration of this question. Perhaps not surprisingly, I interpret much of his answer in terms of complacency: people want something that appears a bit different, but actually is deeply conservative and keeps them running in place (my take, not exactly his). In any case, what is the right blend of new and old to captivate an audience?
That is the new and excellent book by Jonathan Buchsbaum, offering the first comprehensive history of the debates over free trade and the “cultural exception,” as it has been called. It is thorough, readable, and goes well beyond the other sources on this topic.
To be sure, I disagree with Buchsbaum’s basic stance. He views “advertising dollars” as something attached to Hollywood movies like glue, giving them an unassailable competitive advantage, rather than an endogenous response to what viewers might wish to watch. The notion that French or other movie-makers could possibly thrive by innovating and exploring new quality dimensions seems too far from his thought. And he writes sentences such as: “France sought quickly to regulate multiplex development,” yet without wincing.
Perhaps his best sentence is the uncharacteristic: “Other commentators during the 1980s observed wryly that the only real European films were U.S. films, for only U.S. films succeeded in crossing borders in Europe.”
He spends a fair amount of time criticizing me, usually a positive feature in a book. Furthermore, he delivers very strongly on the basic history and narrative, and draws upon a wide variety of sources. So this one is definitely recommended to anyone with an interest in these topics.
The world’s largest exporter of roses is an Indian firm, Karuturi Global, which has leased 3,000 square kilometers of land in Ethiopia.
I talked today about globalization and the price system using Valentine’s Day and the rose market as a jumping off point. I spoke at the Sarla Anil Modi School of Economics at NMIMS in Mumbai. The students were excellent. Lots of well informed, enthusiastic questions, and debate.
Here is a bit of what I said:
Since no major English-language critic has made my major novel observation, can a flat-out wrong claim be considered a spoiler? I say the optimal time to read this post is in the middle of the movie, not before, not after. I’ll put the rest of under the fold…
First, Toni Erdmann is one of the most stimulating and multi-faceted movies I’ve seen in years, “utterly unique and wholly indefinable.” My non-spoiler plot summary is that an elite female German management consultant is called in to advise on outsourcing to Bucharest, and during the course of the movie she discovers she cannot get away from her father so easily.
Most of the core action unfolds after the woman’s father comes to visit her in Bucharest, and subjects her to an escalating series of escapades, mostly with co-workers. At least on the surface, the woman is efficient and worldly but emotionally stunted. Her father is rude and genuine and comic and self-destructive with his blundering interventions, unable to stop offending people, grabbing the attention, and repeatedly undercutting his daughter’s self-confidence. Everything has to be about him. As the movie progresses, however, the daughter learns she and her father are not so different after all.
What is this movie so good at?
Humor and comic set pieces. Staging a scene and subverting your expectations. Creating its own world, spread across a large and sprawling canvas (it’s almost three hours long). Expat life. The new German nationalism. Showing the multiple ways that women are condescended to or debased in the corporate world. Toadying. Rebelling by joining the establishment. The relationship between Germany and the economically colonized parts of Eastern Europe. The new principles of sex (and food). The emotionally unrewarding nature of contemporary cosmopolitan life, but also the limits of rootedness. And of course father-daughter dynamics and their persistence.
One rewarding way to watch the film is simply to track how many ways the German protagonist — in terms of her groveling, her rhetoric, and finally her complete nudity — is reduced to the status of her obsequious Romanian assistant. That’s factor price equalization with a vengeance.
OK, so what is the catch and major spoiler? I say this film uses a Fight Club-like trick, though unlike Hollywood it doesn’t feel the need to tell its viewers outright.
Most of the father’s Bucharest visit to his daughter never actually takes place (some of it probably does, though we cannot quite be sure). The father leaves Bucharest, and when the daughter supposedly runs into him again at a city bar, in his disguise, while she is talking about him to her friends, he isn’t really there. The coincidence of the encounter is too extreme and no attempt is made to explain it. And, after the conversation, when he leaves and climbs into the largest limousine you ever have seen (he’s a music teacher back home, not a CEO), that too is a sign this isn’t really happening. The unreality of his continuing visit also explains the succeeding odd medley of coincidences, and that she simply doesn’t tell him to cut it out and stop ruining her career. He is haunting her imagination, and no simple physical remedy will do.
If you do not understand this point, much of the movie will seem obnoxious and overstated, or even nonsensical. In fact a few reviewers have made this complaint (some reviews here); if your critic is employing the word “preposterous,” beware!
In my reading of the film, the handcuffs sequence is the key scene. The father comes along and handcuffs himself to the daughter, without having a key to open them up. That’s how she feels about her station in life. Eventually they find someone to pick the lock, but if you’re wondering why she tolerates this behavior, and immediately afterwards takes him to a bunch of work meetings and interviews…well, think Fight Club. She truly does carry him with her, no matter where she goes.
Also, for further clues, listen to the lyrics of the Whitney Houston song she sings at the Romanian party.
The now-famous nude party scene reflects how the daughter feels exposed and naked out in her job, much as she feels she never can escape her father. The appearance of the “furry creature” at the party then shows that her father — as a figment — will keep on coming back, in whatever extreme manifestations might be required.
Recall in the opening scene how the father is hiring/installing an imaginary daughter? She is mirroring this same behavior — also in a destructive way — by installing an imaginary father. The movie’s title, Toni Erdmann, of course refers to the father’s (supposed) alter ego, not to the father himself; that should be another clue.
People, no one gets this movie. It does have very positive reviews, but the American and British critics are missing the boat.