Monthly Archives: June 2011

Book roundup: Nick Cohen, Niall Ferguson, Richard Wiseman, Thomas Sowell

Nick Cohen - Waiting for the Etonians, Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England (2009)

Nick Cohen – Waiting for the Etonians, Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England (2009)

This little England, it’s dingy and it’s mean

I’ve flirted with her mewling gods and petty jealousies

These edited-reader rebels with their simulated causes

Their weak-chinned snarls and red guitars I disregard them all

Recommended: Yes.

Niall Ferguson – Colossus, The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (2004)

The United States is an empire, although often an incompetent one, and should embrace their burden, because the alternative is worse.

Though it cuts me to my soul that

It must be America

It must be America

Or nothing at all

Read: 116 pages.

Recommended: No. This is an argument, not a history.  I don’t care about the conclusion, I want the details.

Richard Wiseman - Paranormality, Why We See What Isn't There (2011)

Richard Wiseman – Paranormality, Why We See What Isn’t There (2011)

Not only are paranormal phenomenons bunk, the natural explanations for them are more interesting than any supernatural ones could be.  (And oh, it’s better to know. Okay, I’ll stop now.)

Recommended: Yes.  This is in fact the perfect approach to this subject.

Thomas Sowell – Intellectuals and Society

Intellectuals are often wrong, especially leftist ones.

Read: 45 pages.

Recommended: No. Alongside Hayek, it’s superflous.

1950s movies marathon – part 47

The Caine Mutiny (1954, USA, Dmytryk)

The apparently insane captain isn’t an unorthodox genius, but a genuinely insane captain who’ll get us all killed.  Watched it all before, and again now, and Bogart’s crazy eyes are unforgettable, but in retrospect Queeg is a one-dimensional stock character in the making.  Also, the movie ends with a long courtroom scene.  I hate those.

Devil Girl From Mars (1954, UK)

Recent events on Mars show what can happen when women take their struggle for equality too far: They turn into unsmiling, cape-wearing overlords who travel around the solar system stealing males for their breeding program.  Oh no!  We must stop this from happening here?!  Watched: 4 minutes, + this.

Seven Samurai (1954, Japan, Kurosawa)

Society is an uneasy alliance between bewildered civilians and men who find murder exciting.  Watched it all before, and again now.  Now here’s a proper movie, with proper samurais, proper bandits, and proper sword fights.  Even proper slow-motion death scenes, (a first?)  Movie violence as entertainment, it all comes back to Seven Samurai, (although I insist it should be spelled samurais).

Far til fire i sneen (1954, Denmark)

It flatters my inner patriot that a 1954 Danish family’s idea of a luxurious vacation is to go skiing at Geilo in Norway.  Watched: 10 minutes.

Bård Larsen – Idealistene

Bård Larsen - Idealistene, Den norske venstresidens reise i det autoritære

Min relativt partiske anmeldelse av Bård Larsens relativt partiske bok om diktatorflørten på ytre venstre, Idealistene, kan du nå lese hos Humanist.

Etter noen tiår med jevnlige oppgjør med 70-tallets røde synder, er de gamle synderne lei av å bli spurt om de angrer, og vi tilskuere finner det ikke så lett å finne entusiasmen vi heller. Selv på den rampete høyresiden føler vel mange at moroa har gått ut av skadefryden.

Bård Larsens Idealistene. Den norske venstresidens reise i det autoritære kommer derfor på litt feil tidspunkt, men det er den riktige boken, og den tilfører noe nytt: Et bredere fokus, ut over AKP(ml) og over i SVs og AUFs rekker, fra 70-tallet og fram til i dag. I stedet for nye historier om ml’ernes absurde eventyr, handler Idealistene om den radikale venstresiden i helhet.

Les resten her.

1950s movies marathon – Best of 1953

Compared to 1952, 1953 was an excellent year for movies. Some of them were even in widescreen and stereo, technologies one starts to miss after watching little but old movies for a couple of years.

Revenge of the nerds

The War of the Worlds

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

House of Wax 


Dangerous youths

The Wild One  

I Vinti

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T 

Summer with Monika 

Dangerous adults

Pickup on South Street 

The Wages of Fear 

The Naked Spur 

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday

Ladies and “ladies”

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Calamity Jane 

Glen or Glenda

Top of the world, ma

The Conquest of Everest

Julius Caesar 

.. and best of the best, also uncategorizable: 

Stalag 17

Next up: 1954, with 414 movies begging for attention, which may make you wonder how much time I actually spend on this marathon.  Surprisingly little, but it helps not to have a TV.

Book roundup: Evgeny Morozov, Frank Rossavik

Evgeny Morozov - The Net Delusion (2011)

Evgeny MorozovThe Net Delusion (2011)

The entire vocabulary of Western cyber-utopians, from “Twitter revolutions” to “the Great Firewall of China” is the product of a mythology that has no connection with the role technology actually plays in modern dictatorships, which have found diverse and clever ways to use technology to their advantage.  Iranians aren’t on Twitter, internet access is often more a safety valve than a foothold for freedom, and your local security police would like you to reveal your social network on Facebook thank you very much.

Recommended: Yes.  Morozov makes the same point, but in a more rational way, as Adam Curtis in All Watched Over..: Cyber-utopianism is worse than useless, it actively benefits the true power holders in a society.

Frank Rossavik – SV, Fra Kings Bay til Kongens bord (2011)

The rise and eventual taming of Norway’s Socialist Left Party.  A good history uses its subject as a lens to see its world through.  This one gets bogged down in names and dates, and has no vision, which is a shame, because whatever else you can say about SV’s tortured attempt at finding a third way between social democracy and communism, at least it was interesting, especially in its early newspaper incarnation.  This isn’t.

Read: 60 pages, + the apologetic chapter on their flirtation with Communist dictators, a story that can’t be told honestly without at least offending someone.  Rossavik seems unwilling to do that.

Recommended: No.

1950s movies marathon – part 46

The Naked Spur (1953, USA, Mann)

It’s a shame James Stewart made such a great good guy, the kind who’d see the upside of a nuclear holocaust, because he was even better when you weren’t sure if he’d shoot you or hug you or both.  Watched it all before, long ago, and again now.  The Naked Spur once awoke me to how good Westerns could be.  It still sets the standard, but the rest of the genre hasn’t live up to the promise.

Salome (1953, USA)

The Bible got it all wrong: Salome / Rita Hayworth was actually an early Christian who danced before Herod to save the life of John the Baptist.  Save it.  But for some reason he got beheaded instead.  Watched: 15 minutes, so I’m not sure what went wrong, but it seems to have had something to do with an evil stepmother.

Donovan’s Brain (1953, USA)

The dead millionaire’s evil brain is kept alive in a laboratory, and spends its time controlling the minds of nearby scientists and humming Metallica tunes.  Watched: 35 minutes.

I Confess (1953, USA, Hitchcock)

Another thing I didn’t expect about this movie marathon: How old-fashioned a typical Hitchcock thriller would feel by 1953.  This is basically a Columbo episode, with Karl Malden as Columbo.  Watched: 28 minutes.

..virtue often depends not on humility but on arrogance

Discussing a new book (The Lucifer Effect) by Philip Zimbardo, the social psychologist Professor Nussbaum ended on an upbeat note: “Let us hope that The Lucifer Effect, which confronts us with the worst in ourselves, stimulates a critical conversation that will lead to more sensible and less arrogant strategies for coping with our human weakness.”

I don’t quite know what “sensible and less arrogant strategies” might be, but I do know that while humility generates some virtues, there is also a vital connection between arrogance and virtue. Why is it that most people behave decently? No doubt in part because of the fact that they are decent and virtuous people. They may well also fear the consequences of bad conduct. “The passion to be reckoned on,” as Hobbes remarks, “is fear.” But one of the other main bases of virtue lies in the fact that people think, with a certain contempt and derision: “I wouldn’t do that evil (base, etc.) kind of thing. I am above such conduct.” Some moralists consider such moral arrogance as itself a vice. The ability to understand oneself in such moral terms, however – as a “lady” (rather than merely a woman), or as a “gentleman”, or even as an honest person, indeed even as being merely common or garden decent – commonly rests in part on feeling superior to others. In other words, virtue often depends not on humility but on arrogance.

- Kenneth Minogue, The Servile Mind (2010)

..each person thus becomes his own fantasy despot

It is a conspicous feature of democracy, as it evolves from generation to generation, that it leads people increasingly to take up public positions on the private affairs of others. Wherever people discover that money is being spent, either privately or by public officials, they commonly develop opinions on how it ought to be spent. In a state increasingly managed right down to small details of conduct, each person thus becomes his own fantasy despot, disposing of others and their resources as he or she thinks desirable. And this tendency itself results from another feature of the moral revolution. Democracy demands, or at least seems to demand, that its subjects should have opinions on most matters of public discussion. But public policy is a complicated matter and few intelligent comments can be made without a great deal of time being spent on the detail. On the other hand, every public policy may be judged in terms of its desirability. However ignorant a person may be, he or she can always  moralize. And it is the propensity to moralize that takes up most of the space for public discussion in contemporary democracy.

- Kenneth Minogue, The Servile Mind (2010)

1950s movies marathon – part 45

Calamity Jane (1953, USA)

Come sing along with the happy citizens of Deadwood, the colorfullest cheerfullest town of the good ol’ West!  Doris Day as Calamity Jane is one of the most astonishing things that have ever happened in movies.  She’s awful, and the movie is awful too, but it doesn’t matter, because this is a fantastic awful movie.  Watched it all.  This movie is only a few line changes away from being a lesbian love drama, but it ends with Calamity Jane marrying Wild Bill Hickock, destined for a long life of happiness.

Battle Circus (1953, USA)

Did you ever wonder what M.A.S.H. would look like if it wasn’t a comedy, and featured Humphrey Bogart as the scruffy doctor?  Well here it is!  It has the helicopters and tents and operation scenes and everything.  Even Hotlips!  Watched: 17 minutes.

Holiday with Angel / Dovolená s Andelem (1953, Czechoslovakia)

All the most productive workers of Czechoslovakia get rewarded by the Party with something called a “vacation”, a period of non-work in relaxing surroundings.   They’re sent off to a fancy hotel where most of the rooms even have running water!  In the future, such “vacations” will be available to all loyal workers in the socialist worker’s paradise.  Watched it all.

Will Any Gentleman..? (1953, UK)

Hey, this movie has two future Doctor Whos in it, Jon Pertwee and William Hartnell!  Nerdgasm!  The younger Pertwee would have made an excellent Doctor even by our current youth-fixated standards.  Watched: 14 minutes.

..sell all thou hast and give it to the poor

Self-hatred in the West is a strange and indeed puzzling thing. It seems to happen when loyalty to one’s own cultural heritage is transferred to an ideal location. A common explanation offers guilt as the psychological dynamic of cultural self-alienation, but it is not at all clear what the average European should feel guilty for, and who should be guilty for whatever it might turn out to be. Guilt in this context is seldom defined, but we may suggest, in brief, that feeling guilty is a learned emotion derived from a consciousness, real or imagined, that one has betrayed a moral principle constituting one’s identity. It might be possible, for example, that some people have so internalized equality of social and economic conditions as a moral principle that they experience the disabling emotion of guilt merely from the contrast between their own wealth, on the one hand, and the poverty of some reference group on the other. If so, the therapy is clear enough: Sell all thou hast and give it to the poor. Some individuals have in fact done this, but it is rare. If guilt does lie behind the passionate self-hatred of some Westerners, then they seem to have gritted their teeth and with great fortitude learned to enjoy its benefits.

- Kenneth Minogue, The Servile Mind (2010)