Monthly Archives: September 2012

1950s movies marathon – part 109

Paths of Glory (1957, USA, Kubrick)

Yes yes it ‘s a great movie. Watched it before, many times, and again now. But let’s look at it from a new perspective: Is this movie really implying that the chief problem with the armies that fought World War I was the occasional bad apples, like ambitious general or a drunken cowardly officer? Because it seems to me that even if these two people hadn’t been present in the story, the death count – hundreds in the battle scene – would be almost exactly the same. So, what, executing three extra soldiers on a phony cowardice charge, that is more unfair than what happened to all their comrades? Btw, Kirk Douglas in a uniform looks very much like Bruce Boxleitner in Babylon 5. Yay!

Bop Girl Goes Calypso (1957, USA)

There were a lot of movies in 1957 which tried to cash in on the rock’n roll craze by telling stories about washed up music executives who were trying to cash in on the rock’n roll craze, but, surprisingly, there were almost as many movies dedicated to calypso, the most annoying form of music ever stolen by the white man. If Cthulhu dreams in music, that music is calypso. Watched: Hard to say, it’s all a blur, like  a nightmare you know you must not remember, or it will drive you mad.

Bjørn Lomborg (ed.) – Smart Solutions to Climate Change

Bjørn Lomborg - Smart Solutions to Climate Change

Bjørn Lomborg (ed.) – Smart Solutions to Climate Change (2010)

If we pretend that it’s possible to calculate the costs of climate change, and the costs of potential climate solutions, then we can pretend to carry out a cost benefit analysis that will tell us what to do about it. Ta-da!

Recommended: No. There’s a place for cost benefit analysis. That place is after you’ve made an argument that it is the right tool for the job. I agree with Frank Ackerman that this is not the case with climate change. Dealing with climate change means staring out into the Big Unknown. You can’t pretend your way out of that. The chapter on technology-led climate policy is worth reading, though, because it puts more emphasis on actual relevant arguments than on a phony cost benefit analysis, arguing, in line with Pielke Jr, that instead of using a large CO2 tax to discourage fossil fuels, we need a small (and thereby politically feasible) CO2 tax that can be used to finance energy R&D. On the other hand, as one of the other contributors point out, this sort of program requires a high level of technological competence in government, and is vulnerable to pork barrel politics. Is it even possible for governments to make good investments in a field as open-ended and risky as alternative energies? It’s certainly nothing to be enthusiastic about – but then neither are any of the alternatives.

Roger Pielke Jr – The Climate Fix

Roger Pielke Jr – The Climate Fix (2010)

We don’t currently have the technology we need to decarbonize the world, ie to have continued economic growth for less CO2 emissions. But we do have the political will, and should stop pretending that it’s the climate skeptics that stand in the way of a solution. The real problem is the iron law of climate policy: That when people are asked to choose between preventing climate change and having economic growth, they choose growth. Ambitious CO2 targets, like the 80% by 2050 goal the UK has adopted, are irrelevant, because nobody have a practical solution to this problem. Instead of trying to price carbon out of the market, we should tax it just enough, perhaps $5 per ton CO2, to finance an investment in alternative energy technologies, so that an actual decarbonization can become easier in the future.

Recommended: Weakly. The ideas are interesting, but the book is unfocused. Pielke spends so much time on topics that by themselves could be interesting, but have little relevance to the theme, that by the time he gets around to explaining what his “climate fix” is, the book is almost over. A better title would have been “various thoughts I have that are more or less related to climate change”. Also, I disagree that we have the political will to prevent climate change. People say they want to do something, but political will is also the willingness to choose away something else. That willingness is small, hence the iron law of climate policy.


1950s movies marathon – part 108

Men in War (1957, USA, Mann)

A lost company and a shell-shocked colonel try to make their way from point A to point B in some desolate part of Korea. Watched it all. Possibly the first good Korea war movie. I’ve talked before about how few good war movies Hollywood made after 1946 or so. This sounds counterintuitive, because you’d expect that war movies would be better with hindsight. Nope. War movies from 1944-46 feel like they were made by veterans who had just returned home from the front. War movies from the post-war decade feel like they were made by the little brothers who stayed at home, and/or by military PR departments. This is one of the exceptions. No wonder, with Anthony Mann as director.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, UK, Lean)

You think you’ve seen a movie, and then it turns out that it’s a lot different from what you remember. For one thing, this one is about an hour longer than I recalled. Watched it all before, and again now. For some reason this movie makes me think of software development projects, but why on earth would that be? It also makes me think that Great Britain is, if not the biggest, then at least the greatest military power on earth, and that 1957 should in no way be remembered as the second year of a long decline that has lasted until the present. Because if that was the case, it would give this movie a melancholic subtext it probably wasn’t intended to have.

Frank Ackerman – Can We Afford the Future?

Frank Ackerman - Can We Afford the Future (2009)

Frank Ackerman – Can We Afford the Future? The Economics of a Warming World (2009)

Using estimates of the cost of climate change to argue for inaction is to undervalue the lives of future generations, and is fundamentally misguided: The biggest risks of climate change are priceless and unquantifiable. Markets won’t help us to solve them, we need complex international agreements and a WW2-scale mobilization.

Recommended: Weakly. I agree that cost estimates are misguided. Although you can set a price tag on a human life – you do this yourself implicitly every time you choose a cheaper, riskier car over a more expensive, safer one – I don’t see how this can be made to work when it comes to climate change. Partly because of the fundamental uncertainty we’re dealing with, and partly because there’s no choice involved. If you disagree with the price, which planet would you go to? But the market ideology Ackerman objects to is a straw man, which leads him to overstate his case in some odd ways. He thinks the economy is full of free climate lunches, just waiting to be eaten, and he believes that spending $1 billion to avoid climate change is inherently better than spending it to clean up afterwards, because investments in green technologies “create jobs”. Sure, but what about the people we take the $1 billion from to pay for this? He’s forgotten the forgotten man. Mostly, this book serves as proof to why climate policy can’t be left to the left.

1950s movies marathon – part 107

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957, UK)

That guy whats-his-name who had a minor role in Star Wars has the most fantastic cheek bones and nose. It makes you want to hug him, even when he sneaks about dismembering people and performing unholy experiments that violate all that is decent in the world. Watched it all.

Jet Pilot (1957, USA)

The world’s sexiest, most flirtatious Russian jet pilot makes her way into John Wayne’s airspace, where she is brought down to earth, and taught about freedom and this strange thing you westerners call .. “love(?)” Watched: 21 minutes. Was there some kind of Communism fetish in the late 50s, where generals who spent their days cold-sweating at the thought of mutually assured destruction fantasized about capturing a Siberian ice goddess? If so, this movie was made for them. Btw, aren’t you a little old to be a jet pilot, John?

Loving You (1957, USA)

A shy truck drivers turns out to have a great singing voice, and he does something with his knees that makes all the girls scream, but will success go to his head etc? Watched: The musical bits. But enough about the movie, let’s talk more about Elvis. I can’t shake the impression I get from these movies that he’s some sort of god or alien who has been beamed down to earth. I don’t know what star power is made from, but it’s real, and you feel it strongest at moments like this, when it’s introduced in its purest form for the first time in a new field.

1950s movies marathon – part 106

Saint Joan (1957, USA, Preminger)

Like Bergman’s Seventh Seal, Saint Joan uses medieval Christianity to talk about the present, but from a wiser and less annoyingly ironic 20th century perspective. Joan is the idealist who changes the world without understanding it, while the cynics who do understand it, and the fools who rule it, are unable to make the mad leaps true change requires. Whether the change is good or evil is incidental, a matter of luck. Watched it all.

The Flesh is Weak (1957, UK)

The pimps of London go about recruiting prostitutes in a very odd way. They walk around on the streets, looking for “proper” girls the movie audience can identify with, then spend several weeks grooming them, and luring them unwittingly into the business, one cautious and devillish step at a time, until they’ve been tricked into becoming something they would never have chosen of their own free will. Seems unnecessarily complicated, considering that this profession has usually never lacked on the supply side. Watched: 16 minutes.

Tokyo Twilight (1957, Japan, Ozu)

The punishment for being a film buff is that you have to sit through entire Yasujiro Ozu movies and pretend that you’re not bored. Watched: 10 minutes. The reward is that you’ll be able to berate your less masochistic friends for not being familiar with the Genius of Ozu.

1950s movies marathon – part 105

Sjunde inseglet / The Seventh Seal (1957, Sweden, Bergman)

The mid-20 century existentialism of the main characters is so annoying that I actually like the flagellants better. I mean, what would you prefer to do, if you lived in the time of the Black Death? Make ironic observations about faith and death, or  walk around the countryside in capes, singing the Dies Irae? Wow! Watched it all. Anyway, if you want to watch a movie about Scandinavian old-time religion, go with T. H. Dreyer’s Vredens dag and Ordet instead.

Aphradi Kaun (1957, India)

This is a two hour long Indian movie full of singing and dancing. Watched: 3 minutes. This is just to let you know that, yes, out of all the 50s movies I’m fast-forwarding through, some of them are Bollywood movies. And I hate every second of every one of them. There is nothing that interests me here, not even to make fun of. I’ll return with more when Bollywood starts doing something interesting. They eventually got over that multi-hour musical epic phase, right?

The Abominable Snowman (1957, UK, Guest)

That British guy who had a minor role in Star Wars brings a bunch of loud American yahoos up into the Himalayas, in search of the yeti. Take a guess at how many of them make it back down. Watched it all. Everything is right about this monster movie, but what stands out most of all is the landscape, icy and mountainous, the perfect setting for lying alone in your tent and hearing howls in the distance.

1950s movies marathon – part 105

Ill Met by Moonlight (1957, UK, Powell & Pressburger)

English spies have a jolly good time on Crete, drinking and dancing with the locals, kidnapping German generals on a whim, and not even dying gloriously all that often, (although they would if it was called for). Watched it all. I like the direction Powell & Pressburger are taking now, returning to the War, where they started, but with a bit more nostalgia, daring-do and irony than in the movies they made during the actual war, (the main difference being that it’s easier to be cocky when you already know that your side won).

Zombies of Mora Tau (1957, USA)

One thing you’ll notice when you start watching old horror movies is that their zombies aren’t real zombies, just voodoo zombies. They’re no fun at all. Now, technically, voodoo zombies are the original, “real” zombies, but only in the sense that those pancakes the Italians make are the original, “real” pizzas. Watched: 3 minutes.

The Astounding She-Monster (1957, USA)

This is one of the most astounding movie titles in the history of bad movies. See, it’s a monster. A she-monster. And it’s astounding. (Nah, it’s just an alien in a tight jumpsuit.) And the movie itself is astoundingly bad, with a narration that approaches Ed Wood-levels of absurdity. Watched: 22 minutes, and I would have watched the rest, if there had been an MST3K version. Astoundingly, there isn’t.

Minireviews: The cryosphere and atmosphere

Shawn J. Marshall - The Cryosphere (2011)

Ice and snow comes and it goes and it changes form in all sorts of strange ways. Density and thermal conductivity and heat capacity varies depending on circumstances, and heat flows about in all directions. A glacier or ice sheet may look like just a big static pile of ice, but is actually a knot of non-linear processes that are very difficult to model, giving current models for future melting a conservative bias.

Recommended: Yes. This is the most technical book in the series so far. Half of it goes over my head. The other half makes frozen water seem like the most fascinating material on earth. If I had to choose a career in science, I think this would be it.

David Randall - Atmosphere, Clouds and Climate (2012)

The atmosphere behaves a little like water on a frying pan. Heated from the earth below, (which again is heated by the sun), it responds with patterns of turbulence that have the overall effect of transporting energy up from the ground to the upper atmosphere, and from the equator towards the poles, partly by storing it as latent heat in water vapor. Add the Coriolis effect and the different heat properties of land and sea, and you have those global disturbances that from one perspective we call climate, and from another weather.

Recommended: Yes.