Monthly Archives: December 2010

Amity Shlaes – The Forgotten Man – A New History of the Great Depression

The events of the Great Depression are too relevant to our own time to be evaluated without bias.  Everyone has something at stake.  I hate it when that happens to history, when instead of learning from it, we try to bend it to our will.

In The Forgotten Man, Amity Shlaes picks a side in the fight over the Great Depression, (Roosevelt’s reforms were mostly harmful), and selects perspectives and events that illuminate this angle, but doesn’t seem too eager to shoehorn history into an ideological framework.  My problem with this book is that while individual segments are interesting, the whole lacks focus, like a draft sent off to the publisher because the deadline had arrived.

I want to read the book this could have been, about people like Rexford Tugwell and Wendell Wilkie, about the New Deal reforms and their unintended consequences.  All we get is the notes to that book, a few hundred pages of this and that, and then it’s over.

The book’s selling point is the story behind the title.  Roosevelt’s “forgotten man” was the man who needs and benefits from government schemes.  But he took the phrase from William Graham Sumner, whose “forgotten man” was the man who pays for them. This is the perfect illustration of two opposite approaches to government.  Exploring it would make for a really interesting book.  But with books as with government reforms, the result does not always match the intention.

Scott Eyman – Lion of Hollywood – The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer

Louis B. Mayer (1884 – 1957) was another of the Eastern European Jews who created Hollywood.  He headed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1924 to 1951, the period when it was the most powerful, glamorous and wholesome of the big Hollywood studios.  Every studio had their niche.  MGM’s was to be more respectable, more polished, and have higher budgets that anyone else.  Some studios allowed individuals to take creative chances.  MGM was a machine, where talent was a necessary component, but subservient to the process.

For almost three decades, talent didn’t care.  Neither did audiences.  MGM made some great movies, like A Night at the Opera (1935), The Wizard of Oz (1939), and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), but Hollywood in the Golden Age was not primarily about creating great movies, not in the sense movie nerds think of them.  They were presenting a vision that appealed to audiences at the time – and in some cases still does.  That vision was summed up in Mayer’s habit of always looking for ways to improve his movies by spending more money on them.  Money and polish, not brilliant directors, made Hollywood great.

Mayer’s MGM favorites were the Andy Hardy movies, a series of B movies about a small-town family that can be compared to today’s family-friendly TV dramas.  Mayer didn’t need the Production Code to keep his movies decent.  He was a zealous convert to middle-class wholesomeness, to art as something that should provide moral and esthetic elevation.  This eventually went out of fashion, and Mayer left the scene along with it.

Romjulsbrettspill: Cardcassonne og Dominion

Stressende hjernetrimbrettspill blir merkelig nok litt slitsomt i lengden, så da må man roe ned med noe ettertenksomt.

Cardcassonne har nesten ingenting å gjøre med det mer kjente Carcassonne (uten d), bortsett fra samme utgiver og designere, og ble ikke en stor suksess blant årets romjulsbrettspillere.  Det har en interessant spilldynamikk hvor du må vurdere det riktige tidspunktet å investere i ulike kortrekker.  Desto lenger du venter, desto mer verdi får kortene, men venter du for lenge blir de tatt av noen andre.  Interessant – men kjølig, uten gøy-faktor.  Det minner svakt om 6 tar, et av mine favorittkortspill, men heller ikke det har slått an helt som romjulsbrettspill.

Årets romjulsfavoritt er helt klart Dominion, et kortspill som krever mer å få grepet på, men deretter er kjapt å spille, og har stort gjenspillingspotensiale. Målet er å bygge opp en samling av verdifulle kort, ved å bruke et utvalg av 10 ut av 25 korttyper.  Dette er ordentlig gøy, og du ender fort opp med runde etter runde utover kvelden, med stadig nye regelvarianter.  De minst entusiastiske brettspillerne kan stå over denne, her fortsetter læringskurven for hver gang du spiller.  Det eneste jeg savner er mer interaksjon mellom spillerne.  Med mange av regelsettene du kan velge blir spillerne fort sittende i hver sin verden. Dette er muligens håndtert i utvidelsen Dominion: Intrigue.  Men dette er uansett et utmerket brettspill, som skal fram igjen ofte.

Og gode brettspill kjøper man altså ikke i bokhandelen, men på eller nerdebutikker som Outland.

Romjulsbrettspill: Ubongo og Ligretto Dice

Romjulsbrettspill er ikke som andre brettspill. På andre tider av året kan man invitere brettspillnerder til en helkveld med strategisk tenkning.  I romjula må du sikte bredere og kjappere.  Spill hvor bare regelforklaringen tar en time bør unngås.  Men du behøver ikke dermed ty til Ludo, eller hva det nå enn er du har hatt liggende i skapet siden 70-tallet.

I Ubongo kappes spillerne om å løse Tetris-lignende puslespill. Det er kjapt å lære, men utfordrende, og var en umiddelbar suksess. Ulempen med Ubongo er at inntil du har omkonfigurert hjernen din til å bli en iskald Ubongo-løsende puslespillmaskin, må du regne med noen hjernemuskelsmerter etter å ha holdt på en stund.

Ligretto Dice er terningutgaven av Ligretto, som i følge anekdotiske bevis er i ferd med å ta over som hele Norges familiekortspill. Terningutgaven er vi ikke helt overbevist om, men det er en artig variant.  Begge handler om å bevare roen mens du reagerer raskt.  Styrkene og svakhetene er omtrent som Ubongo.  Du kan altså kjenne at hjernen din omskrives mens du spiller.  Det gjør så vondt, men det gjør så godt.

Det fine med spill som Ubongo og Ligretto er at de er passe utfordrende for veldig mange, og forblir passe utfordrende selv når du blir flinkere. Det er altså vanskelig å bomme om du trekker fram disse i en ikke spesielt brettspillvant forsamling.

Noen vil protestere at stress og hjernetrim er det stikk motsatte av romjulskos.  Disse personene kan du permanent utskrive fra brettspillernes rekker, og stue bort foran en TV.

1950s movies marathon – Best of 1950

With a project like this movie marathon, motivation varies from week to week.  It’s hard to find the balance between giving 300 movies each a chance to prove itself, and also having fun.  But – when you end up with movies like the ones below, motivation is not a problem.

Birth cries of a new Hollywood

Sunset Boulevard

All About Eve

The Men

Actually funny comedies

At War With the Army

Actually interesting westerns

Winchester ’73

Devil’s Doorway

Broken Arrow

Victorian adventures

Treasure Island

King Solomon’s Mines

Fly me to the Moon

Destination Moon

Still a bit of life in death and violence

The Asphalt Jungle

Gun Crazy

House by the River

Movies about giant talking rabbits


Truth – huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing


Just watch the clip, and either it clicks or it doesn’t

Gone to Earth

1950s movies marathon – part 10

House by the River (1950, USA, Lang)

Horrible things float by on the river, bad memories that won’t stay down.  This is the most visually interesting movie in a long while.  It’s like a silent movie, all shocking images and dramatic shadows, and it could actually work well without any sound at all.  Watched it all.

Cinderella (1950, USA)

A girl who suffers from horribly deformed feet, but otherwise has the looks and bearing of a natural aristocrat, gets her army of animal servants to do all her chores for her, so she can live out her dream of running off and marrying some fancy prince somewhere.  Because she’s special.  Rodents of the Cinderella home, throw off your shackles!  Watched: 15 minutes.

Outrage (1950, USA, Lupino)

The actor Ida Lupino, who was great in Road House and Lust for Gold,  also directed a series of socially conscious movies, movies about unwanted pregnancy, disease, – and here, rape.  It was all very groundbreaking, I’m sure, but also dull and preachy.  Watched: 4 minutes, then fast forwarded to the (quite shocking) rape scene, then the courtroom scene, where we learn that society was really to blame for treating the rapist like a criminal all his life. keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds

“Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. ..  Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united .. by a great mass of common assumptions…

None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.”

- C. S. Lewis, On the Reading of Old Books, (via Ayjay)

1950s movies marathon – part 9

Destination Moon (1950, USA, Pichel)

I expected a bad SF movie, but this has more in common with Victory Through Air Power, Walt Disney’s mad/visionary airplane movie.  Except here it’s Robert Heinlein, trying to inspire viewers to aim for the moon.  His vision gets a low-budget treatment, and that’s probably a good thing, because it leaves the nerdy core and the Heinleinian touches intact: The heroes are maverick industrialists, and most of the drama comes from realistic engineering and physics problems.  Watched it all.  This is the earliest space-oriented SF movie I’ve seen that actually feels like one.  There’s a direct line from here to Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey – and the actual moonlanding.

This Can’t Happen Here / Sånt händer inte här (1950, Sweden, Bergman)

Yes, but when you make a movie about evil agents from the Soviet Union, why say they’re from the generic dictatorship of “Liquidatzia”, and why pretend they’ve come to a generic small country where everyone just happens to speak Swedish?  Cowards.  Watched: 15 minutes.

Madeleine (1950, UK, Lean)

I love David Lean’s style here, but it takes something beyond exceptional to make me watch a drama about some rich Victorians and their stupid little love affairs.  Watched: 14 minutes.

1950s movies marathon – part 8

Sunset Blvd (1950,  USA, Wilder)

The forgotten stars of the silent movie era walk around in the shadows of Hollywood, proud and vain, waiting for people to start loving them again.  Watched it all.  It’s true, of course: The end of the silent era was the cruellest joke in celebrity history.  So much fame, snatched away so quickly.

Path of Hope / Il Cammino Della Speranza (1950, Italy, Germi)

The workers are on strike because their unprofitable mine is about to be closed.  Where’s Maggie Thatcher when you need her?  Watched: 5 minutes.

Gone to Earth (1950, UK, Powell)

I never know what I’ll get from a Powell & Pressburger movie, only that it will be something memorable, overwhelming, and disturbing.  This delivers all three, and I’m not even sure what it is I’ve just watched.  It’s like they’re on a separate track of their own.  Everyone else is going one way, but look – over there, what was that gleam out there in the forest?  Let’s go have a look!  Watched it all.

Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950, USA)

It’s amazing how the Robin Hood myth has survived so many awful movie retellings of it.  I guess if I had to choose, I’d take the silly and colorful Robin Hood who fights for the Magna “FREEEEDOM” Carta over the more realistic attempts, but why can’t anyone ever make a decent Robin Hood movie?  Watched: 5 minutes, then fast-forwarded through all the standard Hood scenes.  Don’t worry, they’re all there.