Monthly Archives: May 2012

Minireviews – Failed aid, unwelcome police, decline and fall all around

William Easterly – The Elusive Quest for Growth

None of the methods development agencies tried for creating economic growth countries actually worked. Not investment, not education, not population control, not aid in return for reform, and not debt relief. Growth only happens when all the incentives of all the major players in a society are aligned in the right way, and nobody has found out how to make that happen yet.

Recommended: Strongly. But I would add that incentives need a Story to keep them in place. People in wealthy societies do not act constructively only because they are incentivized to, but also because they believe in a story about where this fits into the greater picture.

Jonny Steinberg – Thin Blue (2008)

Two decades after the police returned to the poorest neighbourhoods of South Africa, the people who live there do not yet consent to being policed. They and their local police officers play a dangerous game where each side provokes the other to the degree that is necessary for them not to lose face, but not so much that they risk getting killed for it.

Recommended: Yes.

Evelyn Waugh – Decline and Fall (1928)

I expected more than just a slightly meaner P. G. Wodehouse. Now, I like Wodehouse, I just don’t feel like reading him right now, (or most other times, come to think of it, but I’m fairly certain that I do like him, or at least that I have fond memories of having liked him in the past.)

Read: 74 pages.

Recommended: Weakly.

1950s movies marathon – part 88

Karnavalnaya Noch (1956, USSR, Ryazanov)

I had no idea that in the Soviet Union in 1956 you could make a musical about how the spirit of youth will triumph over the habits of old, stupid men still stuck in the Stalin era. But they did. They really did. Watched it all. It’s basically a Soviet The Band Wagon. I’m now officially a fan of mid-50s Soviet cinema. I wonder how long they got away with doing things like this. The satire here is almost subversive.

War and Peace (1956, USA)

This sort of movie is made for people who don’t want it to be known that they don’t know what the great classic novels they haven’t read are all about. Well, I haven’t read War and Peace, but, although I’m not proud of this, I’m certainly not going to cheat by watching it. Watched: 5 minutes.

Bus Stop (1956, USA)

This is one of those charming comedies where, by changing just a few lines and the way they’re spoken, you end up with the disturbing tale of a retarded backwater rapist who kidnaps and forcibly marries a weak-willed bimbo. Watched it before, and again now. It’s a strange movie, even if you don’t see it as a rape tragedy. Both the main characters are annoyingly stupid, but for some odd reason the movie itself isn’t. It seems to be showing us what you’re left with when you take away all the dishonest pleasantries of courting: An ugly, pathetic war of the sexes. In other words, we’re better off being hypocrites.

1950s movies marathon – part 87

The Bad Seed (1956, USA)

And then gradually you begin to suspect that your daughter has no soul. Watched it all. It’s the movie birth of the psychopatic child – and the child-like psychopath. Patty McCormack does an amazing job portraying pure evil with a moderately plausible outer layer of innocence. The only thing wrong with this movie is the absurd happy ending, where an Act of God solves all problems, but even so, this is one of the most disturbing movies Hollywood had made up to that point – another nail in the coffin of the Production Code.

The Killing (1956, USA, Kubrick)

The classic caper formula: First the crew gathers, then they execute, and then they fail tragically. Watched it before, and I think I liked it, but this time I find myself too annoyed with the voiceover. The director being Kubrick, this movie invites pretentious over-analysis, but come on, it’s just a well-made throwback to film noir with some inspired touches, nothing truly new.

Rock Around the Clock (1956, USA)

This is the second ’56 rock’n roll movie about two middle-aged has-beens who try to wrap their heads around this new music the teenagers are listening to, so that they can make lots and lots of money off of it. I guess it’s a story producers could relate to. Watched it all.

Alexander the Great (1956, UK)

This epic movie about the epic leader Alexander the Epic is so epic that I’m already falling asleep. Watched: 7 minutes.

1950s movies marathon – part 86

Teahouse of the August Moon (1956, USA)

American imperial administrators arrive to bring the light of civilization to Marlon Brando and the other barbarian natives of Okinawa. Watched it all. This is almost a Marx Brothers movie, with Glenn Ford as Groucho, Marlon Brandon as Chico, and Machiko Kyo as Harpo.

The Ten Commandments (1956, USA, DeMille)

Not unlike certain high-budget TV producers of today, Cecil B. DeMille takes the social values of his day and places them in the legendary past, creating a spectacular multi-hour epic with bad writing and worse actors. Watched: 18 minutes, then fast-forwarded through the exciting bits, to find out if the Charlton Heston-sounding clips in this Hanzel und Gretyl song were actually from this movie, (they are). I thought I’d seen this movie before, but I can’t remember a single scene, and there are scenes here you’re not ever going to forget once you’ve seen them. Unfortunately, the total effect of it all is to highlight all the ways in which this story is utterly implausible. I prefer the book.

Spring on Zarechnaya Street (1956, USSR)

Love is possible in the brown and dusty industrial cities of the Soviet Union – just possible. Watched it all. The few post-war Soviet movies I’ve seen so far have an almost American level of ambition to them. Earlier the ambition was channeled into Stalin worship, but the ’56 movies feel freer, more alive. Human. Look at the scene above – Hollywood could have made that scene. The French or Italians would have bungled it completely.

Minireviews: Expert intuition, energy myths, and the Soviet Dream

Gary Klein – Sources of Power – How People Make Decisions (1999)

Expertise can be an illusion, but in fields where people run into similar situations repeatedly, and receive feedback on the decisions they make, it is possible to build up the powerful sense of intuition that marks a true expert. Where the novice agonizes over multiple options, the expert immediately sees the right one – or at least one that is good enough to act upon. It looks like magic, but is actually just subconscious pattern-matching that allows them to see what others don’t.

Recommended: Yes.

Vaclav Smil – Energy Myths and Realities – Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate (2010)

There are no easy solutions to our energy problems. Electric cars are no more green than the electricity they run on, nuclear power is expensive and unpopular, wind power requires a lot of space and complex infrastructure, and biofuel pits food and energy in direct competition for the same land. And no matter how theoretically useful a new technology may be, the transition to it must necessarily be slow and expensive. Basically, if we’re not making large investments in Technology X right now, (and we’re not), it’s not going to be a major energy source 30 years from now.

Recommended: Yes.

Francis Spufford – Red Plenty – Inside the Fifties Soviet Dream (2010)

Hayekian market philosophy told as a science fiction novel from reality, about a people who set all their best minds to the work of building something smarter than markets, and failed.

Recommended: Strongly.

1950s movies marathon – part 85

X: The Unknown (1956, UK)

These early Hammer sci-fi horrors are basically prototypes for Doctor Who: Level-headed and massively ambitious all at the same time. And this one features the earliest plausible atomic monster I’ve seen in a movie. Watched it all.

Gun the Man Down (1956, USA)

Faster, angrier – it really does look like 1956 was the year the tolerably good bad western was born. Watched: 14 minutes.

The Undead (1956, USA, Corman)

Hypnosis .. reincarnation .. medieval witches ..  Satan .. something something .. Tibet something something. Wait, what? Watched it all – with MST3K commentary. It may in fact be harmful to watch this movie without help from Mike and the bots, and this is one of the best riffs they ever did.

Qivitoq (1956, Denmark)

One of those movies where the scenery is the main character, in this case Greenland, beautifully shot in widescreen and color. Watched: 13 minutes.

Baby Doll (1956, USA, Kazan)

Tennessee Williams seems to be cycling through all sorts of eccentric characters in the hope of coming across some that are both new, interesting, and can be used to tell a good story. Here, too, he ends up with two out of three.  Watched: 25 minutes.

1950s movies marathon – part 84

Ilya Muromets (1956, USSR)

The high budget Soviet movies of the 40s and 50s often feel like they were made in an alternate universe where the ambition that in Hollywood was channeled through greed, instead was channeled through the Ministry of Culture of a borderline-totalitarian dictatorship. Which is more or less what really happened. Watched it all. This is a fantastic fantasy epic, visually ahead of the rest the world, and it makes up for being weird in bad ways by being also weird in good ways.

Starik Kottabych (1956, USSR)

A Young Pioneer discovers a mischievous genie in a bottle, which teaches him valuable life lessons about power and responsibility. Watched: 20 minutes. I think this is the first Soviet movie I’ve seen that portrays anything resembling daily life in the modern Soviet Union.

Susaki Paradise (1956, Japan)

The bar right at the edge of the red light district is a convenient place to work for girls who are not entirely sure which of the two worlds they belong to. It’s less convenient for her loser husband, who gets constant reminders of his inability to provide. Watched it all.

1984 (1956, USA)

The 1954 BBC version is better. It even features that guy who had that minor role in Star Wars. Watched: 13 minutes.

Break the Darkness Before Dawn (1956, China)

If high-budget war movies are a sign of prosperity, then I predict that Chinas will have enough to eat for everybody for years to come. Watched: 22 minutes.

Minireviews: Female suicide terrorists, Nick Cohen, cold warriors

Barbara Victor – Army of Roses (2004)

Terrorism is hard, but becomes easier when there’s a social context that encourages and aids it, such as the one Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad perfected during the second intifada, and which for a time also encouraged women to become martyrs. Victor looks into the backgrounds of these female suicide terrorists, and finds that their personal lives had been brought to a dead end, from which a socially and politically acceptable suicide appeared the natural way out.

Recommended: Yes. Victor finds the right balance between trying to understand what motivates these terrorists, and not excusing them.

Nick Cohen – You Can’t Read This Book (2012)

Censorship is bad.

Recommended: Yes, for its historical and factual sections, but Cohen is weak on ideas – he is a journalist and polemicist, not a thinker – so follow up with Frank Furedi’s less obvious On Tolerance.

Joseph B. Smith – Portrait of a Cold Warrior (1976)

A former CIA agent reveals the unimpressive reality behind their work in South-East Asia and Latin American in the 1950s and 60s. The CIA comes across as a top-heavy but at times also reckless organization whose involvement in a country could mean anything from “was the decisive factor in a coup” to “got entangled in affairs they were too stupid or arrogant to understand”.

Recommended: Yes. I respect the author’s inner conflict between believing that he is fighting the right war for the right side, and being frightened by the people who fights it alongside him.

Han representerer ingen

I romanen Perdido Street Station av China Miéville hjemsøkes gatene av et monster som fanger sitt bytte ved å folde ut vinger med et hypnotiserende mønster ingen er i stand til å fjerne blikket sitt fra. Ofrene trollbindes i dyp fascinasjon, og blir stående hjelpeløse. Den eneste måten å bekjempe monsteret på, er å se en annen vei.

Jeg tenker på dette når jeg ser på alt som er skrevet og sagt om personen Anders Behring Breivik gjennom rettssaken de siste ukene. Hele Medie-Norge har samlet seg ved Oslo tinghus, og er dypt fascinert av den tiltalte. De stirrer og stirrer, skriver og skriver, prater og prater om det de har sett. Alt for å forstå hvem denne mannen virkelig er.

Og alle ser noe litt forskjellig fra de andre.

Les resten hos Aftenposten.