Monthly Archives: January 2011

Hayek – The Road to Serfdom

Hayek was, of course, wrong.  Despite the disingenuous introduction by Bruce Caldwell, which tries to absolve Hayek from having made any predictions, Hayek did argue in The Road to Serfdom that when you take small steps of socialism, you’re walking on the road to totalitarianism.  70 years later, perhaps no country, or at most very few, have completed that journey.  There are many roads to serfdom, but democratic socialism appears to be a difficult one.

But then, all predictions are worthless, except as statements about the present, and Hayek’s description of the deadening effect of socialist ideas on an otherwise free society in the present has aged much better.  This, now, is both history and contemporary: The inefficiency of nationalized industries, the moral hazards of the welfare state, the creeping power of benevolent central planners.  Socialist ideas create stumped humans, who think not in terms of choices and consequences, but of power and entitlement.

The tragedy that haunts Hayek in this book is the deteriorating effect socialist movements have had on the liberal foundations they often believe they improve on.  This is not much less relevant now than in the mid-40’s.

But his decision to project this trend into the future, by comparing it to Germany’s own road to serfdom, makes it unfortunate that The Road to Serfdom is most people’s introduction to Hayek.  After all, anyone but an apologist can see that he got this embarassingly wrong.  Serfdom is a good  pamphlet otherwise, but the Hayek everyone should be reading instead is The Constitution of Liberty.

1950s movies marathon – part 16

The Whip Hand (1951, USA, Menzies)

Angus MacGyver stumbles into one of those small towns where everyone conspires to hide a Horrible Horrible Secret.   Naturally he starts Asking Questions, and will soon discover that the town is secretly ruled by gangsters, Communists, or possibly even Nazis.  Watched it all.  Spoiler: It’s actually ex-Nazis working for the Communists, and in the end the police shoots them all dead with machineguns.  Hell, yeah!  Er .. I mean, how uncivilized.

Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951, UK)

Life at Hogwarts can be difficult, but also a source of valuable life lessons, etc. etc. Yes but where’s Flashman, the famous spin-off character?  Ah, here he is.  Watched: 9 minutes, then fast-forwarded to find all the Flashman scenes.  Apparently he’s the main villain of the story, and he’s just as repulsive as advertised!

Mr Belvedere Rings the Bell (1951, USA)

I wouldn’t exactly call them good, but I’m fond of the Belvedere movies.  He’s a cross between Sheldon Cooper and a stoic mentor, who rudely insists on teaching others to make their choices and stand by them.  Here he moves into an old people’s home to get the patients to stop whining about their age, and start living again.  It’s didactic, but I forgive that when I approve the message.  Watched it all.

The Lady and the Bandit (1951, USA)

“England – the eighteenth century – a lawless age of lawless men”.  No.  No, I think that was in fact not the case.  Watched: 3 minutes.

Fragmented realities and media vertigo

One thing I think about these days is which, if any, media reality I belong to.  It used to be simple.  When I started blogging in 2001 I lived at the border between two media realities: The Norwegian news media, and the emerging web media.  As I saw it the two realities were in conflict, but I had a clear picture of where they stood in relation to each other, and I in relation to them.

Now .. In the last 24 hours alone, I’ve: 1) Read two Danish and Norwegian newspapers on the iPad, 2) watched old episodes of the British news comedy show Have I Got News For You, 3) browsed YouTube clips from the protests in Egypt, (some of them from Al Jazeera English, the world’s best news channel), 4) paid half attention to Twitter, (the excitable hive mind that sometimes tells you something amazingly interesting), 5) browsed through some opinionated blog entries, 6) and checked for new videos on

Other days are different, but similarly fragmented.  What strikes me is that I don’t know where all these media stand in relation to each other.  There is no one bigger conversation.  Partly the same topics, but not the same conversation, just many small ones that each insist on being the one that matters.

I think I’m describing something that always was, but noticing it, that’s new.  The vertigo from realizing that you don’t quite know where you are in relation to everything else. I can’t decide if this is a temporary confusion, or a higher form of media consumption.

A movement whose main promise is the relief from responsibility

“That in this sphere of individual conduct the effect of collectivism has been almost entirely destructive is both inevitable and undeniable. A movement whose main promise is the relief from responsibility cannot but be antimoral in its effect, however lofty the ideals to which it owes its birth. Can there be much doubt that the feeling of personal obligation to remedy inequities, where our individual power permits, has been weakened rather than strengthened, that both the willingness to bear responsibility and the consciousness that it is our own individual duty to know how to choose have been perceptibly impaired? There is all the difference between demanding that a desirable state of affairs should be brought about by the authorities, or even being willing to submit provided everyone else is made to do the same, and the readiness to do what one thinks right one’s self at the sacrifice of one’s own desires and perhaps in the face of hostile public opinion. There is much to suggest that we have in fact become more tolerant toward particular abuses and much more indifferent to inequities in individual cases, since we have fixed our eyes on an entirely different system in which the state will set everything right. It may even be, as has been suggested, that the passion for collective action is a way in which we now without compunction collectively indulge in that selfishness which as individuals we had learned a little to restrain.”

- F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

1950s movies marathon – part 15

People Will Talk (1951, USA, Mankiewicz)

The unconventional doctor, played by an aging comic actor, doesn’t cure chronic illnesses with positive thinking, nor does he throw millennia of medicine out the window whenever he feels like it.  In fact, he’s really quite an interesting character.  So is every other person who opens their mouth in this movie.  Watched it all.

As Young As You Feel (1951, USA)

It’s fun to watch Marilyn Monroe climb up the cast list.  Here she’s number six.  Watched: 3 minutes, then fast forwarded to see Marilyn.  I still don’t quite see her appeal.  As an actor, I mean.  But she definitely has something nobody else has.  Again, I refer to her acting.

Four Ways Out / La Citta si diffende (1951, Italy, Germi)

Turns out that when you stop trying to make important movies about “real people”, the rundown apartment blocks of Italy make a pretty good backdrop for an Asphalt Jungle type post-heist thriller. Watched it all.

Distant Drums (1951, USA)

Never mind the movie, but while fast-forwarding through it I noticed a close-up shot of a man being stabbed in the stomach.  That’s new.  Step by step, filmmakers are learning that movies and violence go really well together.

Birthright (1951, USA)

Okay, some sort of boring educational movie about some family or something .. fast-forwarding .. fast-forwarding .. and, OH MY GOD, is that an actual uncensored human birth?!!  Yes.  Yes it certainly is.  Lots of it.  Watched: I don’t know.  Where was I?

1950s movies marathon – part 14

Kranes konditori (1951, Norway, Henning-Jensen)

Poverty and small-town hypocrisy keeps a single mother all tied down, stressed and unhappy.  She finds her true self by getting drunk with a contrarian Swedish sailor, and wakes up a free individual.  This isn’t subtle, but there’s a spark of something genuine and timeless here, like second-hand Ibsen.  Watched it all.  Bonus interest for appearances of Wenche Foss and Aud Schønemann.

David and Bathsheba (1951, USA)

There’s a right way and a wrong way to make Biblical epics.  The wrong way is to make it feel like the rehearsal of a school play that just happens to have access to lots of high quality costumes and scenery.  Watched: 6 minutes, then fast forwarded to see the obligatory decadent banquet scene.

Carmen Comes Home (1951, Japan, Keisuke Kinoshita)

A girl who has adopted a Western name for her career as a stripper returns to her village, where she is appreciated for her artistic renown.  After all, “Japan is very cultural”.  Watched it all.  This is the earliest Japanese color movie I’ve seen.  Also the earliest satire.  At least I think it’s satire.  Comic nuances don’t always translate well across the Japanese-Western cultural border, but I’m almost positive there is some sort of humor going on here.

Quo Vadis (1951, USA)

Rome under Nero is one big toga party, but those pesky Christians have begun to appear, and they’ll ruin everything.  And then nineteen hundred years later they’ll make a dreary movie about it.  Watched: 21 minutes, then fast-forwarded to the obligatory decadent banquet scene.

What’s a PC?

So what’s a PC any more, anyway?  I just realized that I have seven personal computers that I actively use for their own specialized tasks.

- The desktop PC, a quiet computer which runs constantly, and I mostly use for watching movies.

- The personal laptop, a tiny, slow netbook that I use for writing.

- The work laptop, a powerful machine I write code on.

- The gaming PC, which has a decent setup, but I only use rarely.

- The mobile, an HTC / Android which I use to communicate with people, (by phone if necessary).

- The mp3 player, a 160gb iPod I use clever iTunes playlists to fill.

- The tablet, an iPad, which so far seems to be good for at least three things: Reading newspapers, reading Twitter, and as an iTunes remote control.

All of them fill a niche.  I could do with fewer, but I don’t want to.  Four of them are actual PC’s, but they probably don’t all have to be.  And what I notice is that the more specialized these computers become, the less it feels like I’m using a computer.  Rather it feels like they’re part of the environment.  One might expect that having seven personal computers that you actively use would be more stressful than having one or two.  But to me it’s far less.  Every new computer seems to reduce the cognitive load.

I wonder how many more there are room for.

1950s movies marathon – part 13

The Scarf (1951, USA, Dupont)

This is what I love about the 50′s – so far.  Suddenly you’ve got low-key dramas with interesting characters who talk and act in unpredictable ways.  It’s like a new door has been opened, and a bit of honesty was let in.  Watched it all.

I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951, USA)

That commie Dad you’re so ashamed of is actually an undercover FBI agent. One day you’ll understand.  Watched: 5 minutes, then fast-forwarded to the end, where a stirring testimony for the House Un-American Activities Committee reveals those labor activists for the slimy red traitors they are.  This is followed by the undercover agent punching a commie in the face. Hell, yeah!  Er .. I mean, how uncivilized.

Strangers on a Train (1951, USA, Hitchcock)

Some nice guy’s life is made difficult by an assortment of annoying psychopaths.  Watched it before, but less so this time.  The more I see of the really good movies of this time, particularly Anthony Mann’s thrillers, the less interesting I find Hitchcock’s.   The only emotion he knows is tension.

The African Queen (1951, USA, Huston)

Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn have never looked uglier.  That’s probably intentional, but it all feels pretty awkward.  Bogart’s massive stomach rumbling scene, the ev0l Germans burning down a village for no reason.  It’s like all the effort went into actually getting a technicolor movied filmed in Africa, and everything else was secondary.  Watched: 14 minutes, then fast-forwarded to the end, where a German ship accidentally sails straight onto a stationary torpedo.  Oh come on.

Steven Levy – Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution

The word “hacker” has come to have a sinister meaning, but in the alternate universe we programmers live in, hackers are the Mozarts to the regular programmers’ Salieris.  In a broader sense, a hacker is someone whose approach to understanding a complex system – not necessarily a computer – is to immerse themselves in it totally, until they reach a level of understanding where their interaction with it becomes a form of play: Inspired.  Idiosyncratic.  Mischievous.  It’s this playfulness that sets them apart from the merely competent.

Steven Levy’s Hackers chronicles the rise and fall of the first hackers.  MIT students in the 60’s, who rebelled against the IBM priesthood, and attempted to use computers, these massively expensive military and business tools, for their own personal enjoyment.  The mid-70’s Homebrew club, which attracted people so desperate for computers that they were intent to have a “personal” one even if they had to invent it themselves – people like Steve Wozniak.

The hacker culture came with its own Hacker Ethic, which believed in decentralization and a free, non-profit flow of information.  This didn’t last, and it would be up to greedy bastards like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to realize the hacker dream of a personal computer in every home.  But, as with the ancient Greeks, so with the Hacker Ethic: Conquered, it conquered, and today lives in a weird symbiosis with the corporate world and mainstream culture.

Now, we all live partly in a hacker’s world, partly by hacker ideals.  But true hackers are still rare.

1950s movies marathon – part 12

Let’s Go Crazy (1951, UK, Cullimore)

Everything is all going to be allright now, I can feel it: Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan are here, doing the kind of short film that’s waiting for the British sketch show to be invented.  It’s not funny, but it’s got Peter Sellers!  And Spike Milligan!  Doing nonsensical sketches!  Yes, everything is going to be all right.  Watched it all.

Valgus Koordis (1951, USSR)

This movie came without subtitles, but it seems to be the Estonian version of that scene in Summer Stock where Judy Garland gets a shiny red tractor, only without all the decadent bourgeouis singing and dancing.  Watched: 2 minutes.

The Desert Fox (1951, USA, Hathaway)

I didn’t really want to watch this.  It’s a fawning biopic of Rommel, and it’s probably got all sorts of facts wrong.  He’s the one Good German, etc etc.  But I couldn’t stop, because this movie annoyingly persists in being interesting.  Watched it all.  Oh, and at some point along the way Hollywood appears to have invented the modern action movie, at least for a few minutes there in the intro.  Good for them!

Bedtime for Bonzo (1951, USA)

Life’s going downhill for Ronald Reagan, the former A-list actor who now finds himself doing one of those stupid 80′s-style comedies about a nice teacher, his chimpanzee, and the evil dean who interferes with his love life.  Watched: 10 minutes.  Once more I’m transported to that alternative reality where Reagan faded out of history at this point.