In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Diane Keaton on Her First Nude Scene
  2. Elsewhere
  3. Toni Bentley Redux
  4. Book Sales vs. TV Viewship Redux
  5. Book Sales vs. TV Viewership
  6. Straight Boys, Gay Tastes
  7. Moviebiz Jargon Watch
  8. Sociobiological Song Lyrics
  9. Moviegoing Update 4 -- "The Triplets of Belleville"
  10. Moviegoing: "Kill Bill"

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, November 8, 2003

Diane Keaton on Her First Nude Scene
Dear Friedrich -- In her upcoming movie, "Something's Gotta Give," Diane Keaton -- who's now 57 years old -- does her very first-ever nude scene. She was famous years ago as the one cast member of "Hair" who kept her clothes on. Karen Valby of Entertainment Weekly asked her, Why now? Here's Keaton's response: Your idea about your body changes completely as you get older. Now I just see it as a body. It's not like this precious commodity that I have to hide because I'm like, Omigod, I don't want anyone ever to see me ever-ever, which I felt for about a bazillion years. But now I feel like, What's the difference? ... I still feel self-conscious, but I don't care about being in a movie and showing my naked body in a silly scene where I'm going "Wah! Nwah! Ahhh!" Who cares? So: Don't show it when it's young and precious to you? Do show it when it's older and you don't care about it much anymore? Is that how it goes? I guess I get it ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 8, 2003 | perma-link | (23) comments

Friday, November 7, 2003

Dear Friedrich -- * Time to hit the 1-Click button: Volume 2 of Christopher Alexander's "The Nature of Order" has gone on sale and can be bought here. 2Blowhards favorite Nikos Salingaros has posted a helpful review of the book on its Amazon page, and makes it sound like the one of the most substantial volumes Alexander has ever written. Salingaros himself has a fascinating essay on Planetizen; it's about fractals, networks and cities, and is readable here. * Along with Christopher Alexander, the wonderfully ornery Jane Jacobs is one of the gods of people who love buildings and neighborhoods that work and evolve, and who have no time for top-down modernist chic. What does she think of the New Urbanism? Find out in this q&a with her by Bill Steigerwald for Reason, here. * I don't know what to say about the work of this pumpkin-carving artist here. Examples of folk-art genius? Pure silliness? It makes me feel awfully happy in any case, as well as grateful for the web. * I had a good time playing with this create-a-face webpage (here) by the photographer Eric Myer. * George Hunka is now reading Clive James, here. * Mike Snider has posted a bittersweet new sonnet, here. * I forget if you've ever watched any of the films by the French filmmaker who goes by the name Chris Marker. He's one of a kind -- someone who has mainly made nonfiction films, but isn't a documentarian so much as a maker of lyrical, complicated and touching poetic essays. (Oliver Sacks and Ryszard Kapuscinski might be his rough equivalents in book-writing terms.) A few of his pictures are among my very favorites: "Sans Soleil" and "The Last Bolshevik," especially, though I also like "La Jetee" (the basis for Terry Gilliam's movie "Thirteen Monkeys") and "Le Mystere Koumiko" a lot too. I wonder why so few of his movies are available on DVD -- they seem naturals for a nonlinear medium. But I've run across videocassettes of them at good video parlors -- here's hoping you've got one near you. Anyway, here's a decent Film Comment article by Kent Jones about "Immemory," a CD-ROM Marker has made. Here's a website by Adrian Miles dedicated to Marker's work. And here's a piece about "The Last Bolshevik" that I have no trouble agreeing with. * Remember that Eric Rohmer film "Pauline at the Beach"? Remember how the guys in the film press flipped for the film's star, Arielle Dombasle? For a few weeks, she was the thinking man's sex symbol. I just stumbled across Dombasle's own website here. In a section devoted to her marriage, there's a passage that says, "Arielle est, par nature, une amoureuse passionnée. Elle partage sa vie, et un bonheur sans nuages avec le philosophe-écrivain Bernard Henri Lévy." ("By nature, Arielle is a passionate lover. She shares her life, and a happiness without clouds, with the philosopher-writer Bernard Henri Levy.") Ah, actresses. Ah, the French. Ah, French actresses. * Jon... posted by Michael at November 7, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Toni Bentley Redux
Dear Friedrich -- A few months ago I raved a bit (here) about Sisters of Salome, a book by the ballerina-turned-author Toni Bentley about four turn-of-the-century women who danced the role of Salome. A fascinating work of theatrical history as well as a meditation on nudity, sex, performance and modern women, it's one of my favorite books of the past few years. (The book is buyable here.) Since putting that posting up I've treated myself to Toni Bentley's three other books, all of which I like just as much as I like "Sisters of Salome." So I'm back now to rhapsodize about her work some more. Forgive me and my language if I shift into stuffy-critic mode here and there -- bad habit. All I really mean to say is, Hey, I like these books a whole lot, and here's why! Photo by Paul Kolnik I find Bentley a daring original. What's sensational about her writing is the way she inhabits her words and her thoughts. We're used to seeing actors and dancers perform bodily and emotional prodigies, but it's rare for writers to convey quicksilver and kinesthetic feats of imagination. Remember the audition in "Mulholland Drive," when Naomi Watts reads for a director? She's been rehearsing a scene on her own in a breathy, innocuous way; now she pulls herself together, faces her co-actor directly, and pours on the eroticism. When I saw the movie, the audience went silent and the temperature in the theater went up a few degrees. The fling-it-out-there physical/emotional/spiritual audacity that Watts showed in that scene is what I find Toni Bentley manages to get down on the page. Her first book Winter Season (just republished in a new paperback edition and buyable here) is a wonderful combination of the aristocratic and the funky. It's based on a journal she kept when she was 22 and dancing in the corps de ballet at the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine. It's unlike most performer's memoirs. What we're used to are the stories of performers who've made it, and who are looking back as they tell us the story of how they got where they are. Bentley wrote "Winter Season" to sort out the confusions and feelings she was living through, and to convey what being a professional ballet dancer is like. She isn't recollecting; what she's writing about is swirling around her as she tries to get it on paper. During this particular season she had a personal crisis: life outside the ballet studio seemed to be beckoning, and dancing was losing its freshness and meaning for her. "I love all the beauty and movement but hate the life," she writes. She discovers the wonders of sex with romance. She wonders where the magic has gone in her dancing. Could she use some time off? Should she just quit? It's dawned on her that although she dances at the highest level, she'll never be a star. "If simple happiness is the aim, dancing is... posted by Michael at November 7, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Book Sales vs. TV Viewship Redux
Dear Friedrich -- Wow, I really was tired when I put up that posting last night comparing sales for "The Lovely Bones" to viewership for "Skin," wasn't I? Failed entirely to make any interesting points whatsoever. Well, it's a new day, the caffeine in me is still relatively fresh, and Deb, Nate, Reuben, Iris, and The Wife have all given me firm kicks in the butt. So I'm going to try to formulate some of what intrigued me about those numbers. While almost everyone understands that hit books and hit TV show are measured by two different scales, I've found that many people are surprised by how drastic the difference between those scales is. What the figures for "The Lovely Bones" and "Skin" dramatize is this: that even an unnoticed, quickly-canceled TV-series flop gets many times the audience that a famous and widely-discussed hit book gets. So, despite the way that books are discussed as significant and important things, only the biggest hit books even begin to edge their way into the realm of what's generally considered to be pop or mass culture. Only a small handful of books a year play in that league. To descend for a minute into the realm of the more possible and plausible: if I were to write a novel and it were to sell 200,000 copies, my publisher and I would be prancing around, celebrating an enormous and unexpected success. Yet 200,000 copies in a country of 300 million people? That's reaching less than a tenth of one percent of the population. And the sad fact is that if I wrote and published a first novel and it sold 20,000 copies, that'd be quite a surprise -- 20,000 hardcover copies is darned good for a first work of fiction. Yet that would be to reach less than a hundredth of a percent of the population. Nate makes the distinction between two different kinds of "important": "numerically and economically important" vs. "culturally important." It's an excellent distinction, and one that it'd be great to see cultural-discussion specialists make (and respect) more often and more clearly. We too often let the two categories overlap and blend. Let's use Nate's distinction. OK, very few books are numerically and economically important. And how about "culturally important"? Hmm. How to judge? Some nonfiction policy-type books have certainly had a discernable impact: "The End of History," "Bowling Alone," etc. But how about fiction? Well, depends on how you define "cultural importance," doesn't it? If you're using harder and more objective criteria -- ie., demonstrable effect at a significant level -- my hunch is that very few qualify. Stephen King certainly; he revived the horror genre, an achievement with large cultural consequences. Anne Rice fused rock-and-roll and vampire sexiness, and is partly responsible for the persistence of the Goth phenom in many media. Michael Crichton played a role in making the well-researched sci-fi thriller thing go over; Rosemary Rogers helped revive the romance; Grisham and Turow put over the lawyer-thriller;... posted by Michael at November 7, 2003 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, November 6, 2003

Book Sales vs. TV Viewership
Dear Friedrich -- A comparison between sales of a best-selling novel and viewer numbers for a failed TV show. Total hardcover sales in 2002 for Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones," widely considered a mega-hit: 1.5 million copies. (Your average published novel-writer is thrilled to sell 20,000 copies of a new novel.) Total viewers for the debut of Fox's series "Skin": 6.3 million viewers ("dismal," according to the WSJournal). A few weeks later, only 4.1 million viewers tuned in, a figure considered so low that Fox has canceled the show. Maybe it's just me, but I find it useful to remind myself of this kind of thing occasionally. Puts things in perspective, makes me feel my head's screwed on a bit tighter, etc. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 6, 2003 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Straight Boys, Gay Tastes
Dear Friedrich -- I've been wondering for some time about how today's straight young guys make any sense of anything. On the one hand, pop fashions and pop culture push brain-rattlingly enticing, aggressive and confident images of femininity at them, while on the other hand styles and tastes in what's desirable in a young man have become gay to the max. The pop images of bustin'-out gals are everywhere -- which is probably blissful, yet also unsatisfying and even terrifying. But how well do contempo (ie., gay) images of how his own life and person should appear suit a straight young man? And, under siege from both sides, what becomes of a young man's masculinity? My own masculinity, such as it is, wouldn't have a clue what to do with itself or where to turn if I were a present-day young guy. Would yours? The gals would be terrifying -- all that brassy desirability, all that cyber-confidence, all that ... bossiness and impatience. Who could live up to it? As for the style and advice world: Hey, I'm not gay! Not me, no sirree. Steve Sailer, here, has shrewdly ventured the thought that the hyper-slobbiness some young guys affect these days -- think Brad Pitt -- is a way of stating firmly that they aren't gay. I'd guess that the cartoonish masculinity peddled by the rap world serves the same function. As for evidence that this is indeed the state of things ... Well, pumpy and shiney images of bustin'-out girls aren't exactly hard to turn up. The gay thing? ... Sigh. Either your gaydar's giving you a reading or it isn't. Either you look at ads, TV and fashions and you say, "Wow, that whole gestalt used to be thought of as gay!" or you don't. There are always some skeptics and doubters, and I'm too lazy to rustle up sufficient evidence to make my case a lock. So the posting languished. Today's Dan Savage column solves the gay-evidence problem for me. Here's a passage from it. Dan -- very bright, very gay -- is explaining to a reader why some young men have taken to shaving off their body hair: Meanwhile, male homosexuals were taking over American cultural life. That gay men now dominate our culture is not some paranoid Christian conservative's fantasy, PUBIC, but a fact of life. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy confirmed something everyone already knew: Outside of rap and hip-hop culture, stylish gay men—not all gay men, mind you, just the stylish ones—are the real tastemakers. And gay men weren't content setting tastes in jackets and hair products and cowhide-accent chairs. Hardly. We were, however subtly, setting sexual tastes as well. Out went the virile man (So long, Burt Reynolds!) and in came the vulnerable boy (Hello, Ashton Kutcher!). Soon the kind of guys most gay men want to fuck became the kind of guys most straight women want to fuck, the male beauty ideal every bit as hairless as its female counterpart.... posted by Michael at November 5, 2003 | perma-link | (35) comments

Moviebiz Jargon Watch
Dear Friedrich -- Laura Holson is writing in the NYTimes about the highly-choreographed first day of the new "Matrix" movie, which opens worldwide on 10,013 screens in 50 countries and 43 languages, at precisely the same moment around the globe. She quotes Alan Horn, president of Warner Brothers Entertainment, who explains their release strategy this way: We think it's theatrical, it's fun, it's exciting. We talk about having event movies at Warner Brothers, and this is a way to further event-ize our movies. Any ideas about how we might further event-ize our blog? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 5, 2003 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Sociobiological Song Lyrics
Michael: I recently heard an old song by the Georgia Satellites, “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.” The lyrics of the song have always cracked me up, particularly those of the second verse: I said, “Baby, baby, baby, why do you treat me this way? I’m still your lover boy, I still feel the same way.” She told me a story about free milk and a cow She said “No hugging no kissing until I get a wedding vow.” “My honey, my baby, don’t put my love upon no shelf.” She said, “Don’t hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself.” After the song was over, I tried to express to myself what it is about the song that I like. What I came up with was: “The song is just so…so…sociobiological.” (Hey, I was on my way to work, and not entirely awake.) Well, my terminology may be infelicitous, but the idea of song lyrics that say something (pithily) about human nature stuck with me. Are there any you would nominate for pith, wit and insight? Cheers, Friedrich P.S. I never knew a thing about the Georgia Satellites until I went looking for the lyrics to this song (which, by the way, appear incorrectly in most places on the Internet.) I found a very humorous profile of their artistic career which you can read here. It includes this priceless passage: According to Baird, "The most gratifying and shameful moment of that whole experience [of stardom] was at the Indiana State Fair. Some woman came up to me and said, 'I love that "huggie-kissie" song you do. My two-year-old dances every time we see it on CMT.' I knew then that I had reached the lowest common denominator."... posted by Friedrich at November 4, 2003 | perma-link | (29) comments

Moviegoing Update 4 -- "The Triplets of Belleville"
Dear Friedrich -- The best thing I've seen at a movie theater in the past few weeks was the trailer for the Franco-Canadian animated feature The Triplets of Belleville. Have you seen it? The film's visual style is out of something I adore, the European graphic-novel tradition -- full of touch, charm, and psychological perceptions, and inhabiting the art (and not pop art) tradition. No superheroes, in other words, and rather little cyber-techno anything; no sullenly rebellious indie-slacker attitude either. Instead, the tradition is droll and urbane, unafraid of absurdism and dream logic, and often erotic. I'm trying hard to avoid using the term "grown-up" for fear of offending someone. But there it is; unlike our comic book tradition, which is forever defining itself in relationship to adolescence (whether pro or contra), the Euros have a comic book tradition that's straightforwardly grown-up. When I try to come up with examples Americans may know I don't do too well. They're hard to find; I just visited one of NYC's biggest comics stores and found, amid thousands of slacker and superhero and Japanese comic books, only three examples of the Euro thing. But maybe a not-bad comparison would be to a cross between "Tintin" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas," although for all I know I'm blanking out on a better comparison. Can visitors who know the graphic-novel world better than I do help out here? "The Triplets" seems like an entrancing mix of the modest and the fabulously ambitious. Its basic esthetic is 2D, inkily hand-drawn, and Jacques-Tati-esque, and the film seems determined not to violate that language. Yet it's also been enhanced with extravagant, computer-generated 3D effects. It's quite something to watch the camera swoop around a scene while the elements in the scene retain their hand-made quality and texture -- no horrid Pixar light, and no Naugahyde flesh. What excited me most about what I saw is the way the idea of the film seems to be to use the new technologies to serve a traditional esthetic. What a plus that I happen to adore this particular esthetic! We Americans spend too damn much time using the art to show off the fancy technology; we over-love the experience of using new gizmos to knock ourselves into happy-infant stupors. IMHO, of course. Let's have the human element prevail for a change, and let's let ourselves enjoy a few grownup (if anarchistic) pleasures. I read in an interview with the film's French writer/director, Sylvain Chomet, that the film took five years to make. God bless the crazy fanaticism and devotion of some artists, eh? Here's the Sony Classics Web site for the movie. It's slushy and Flash-heavy, but you can get a sense of the movie's visual style as well as read some interesting interviews with the filmmakers. Here's the movie's trailer. Here's an informative NYTimes article by Marcelle Clements. The movie opens November 26. Boy oh boy do I hope the film's good. It was apparently the surprise sensation at Cannes... posted by Michael at November 4, 2003 | perma-link | (9) comments

Moviegoing: "Kill Bill"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Kill Bill: Is there such a thing as a movie that collapses under the weight of its own audacity? If so, "Kill Bill" is it. I'd read some enticing pieces about the movie; an email TurboKitty sent around was the most entertaining of the bunch. And I'd read some insightful (and funny) expressions of dismay too. What I wasn't prepared for was how how verrrrrrrrrry boring I'd find the movie. It's 25 minutes' worth of not-great story blown up big and wide to two hours of runtime. Some blaxploitation here, some Hong Kong action there; some yakuza here, some time-warping there ... It isn't a movie, it's an epic, po-mo "Guilty Pleasures" column. I managed to get through it only by playing mind games with myself. I wondered, for instance, about the Leone spaghetti westerns. Tarantino's obviously lifting his stretch-it-out approach to time and space from Leone -- yet watching "A Fistful of Dollars," slow as it can be, I'm not bored. Leone drags moments out and surrounds them with tons of echo-effect space and time, but his movies are lewd and full of mischief. As expertly as Tarantino imitates Leone's techniques, "Kill Bill" is anything but. Why? My unsatisfying semi-conclusion is that with "Kill Bill" the only echoing that's taking place is going on in Tarantino's head. I laughed a few times; I enjoyed Lucy Liu's sculptural stillness. I loved watching Julie Dreyfus, an eloquent French beauty who played Liu's right-hand gal, and the eerie Chiaki Kuriyama, who played Go Go, a teenage psychokiller in a Japanese schoolgirl outfit. Otherwise, lordy ... But I'm not a Tarantino fan generally, are you? His work makes me picture a stiff-jointed white boy who's studied the mambo and the frug really, really hard. He's practiced a lot, and he knows more about the history and the techniques of the dances than the originators themselves do. And, by gosh, he executes the moves pretty darned well -- but, even so, watching him isn't like watching someone to whom this kind of thing comes more naturally. Tarantino's got energy, determination and skill but he lacks flair and ease; he's the James Woods of movie directors. I'd be willing to enjoy his uptight, headstrong-geeky thing if only he'd let us find the sight of his gyrations funny. But he doesn't. Despite the jokes and the malice, there's almost never a moment when you don't sense Tarantino's ambition bearing down on you. He writes and directs as though the Gods of Great Movies have left him no choice but to be intense and brilliant. I'd be the last person to get moral about the way the movie's selling freakiness, bloodshed and kinkiness -- this is a film geek's cartoon splatterfest, and who am I to object to that? But the slow-mo pacing? The gloating and the chestbeating over every single "line," "scene," "touch" and "music cue"? The Tarzan-yodeling about his wonderful/awful taste? "Kill Bill" may be the most domineering junk... posted by Michael at November 4, 2003 | perma-link | (20) comments

Monday, November 3, 2003

Moviegoing Update 2 -- "Au Hasard, Balthazar"
Dear Friedrich -- I still make it to the art cinema occasionally. Are you ever nostalgic for the days of the Bleecker Street, the Thalia, and the Regency? Film History, eh? Au Hasard, Balthazar: We caught up with this Robert Bresson movie at the Film Forum. It was probably the first Bresson I'd seen since college, and I was surprised by how happy I was to be sitting there watching a bleak, black and white movie about faith. This is the famous (among hardcore film buffs, anyway) 1966 film that's mainly about a donkey. I hadn't remembered how orthodox a French Catholic Bresson was; the film is straightforwardly an attempt to make something like a medieval allegory about human degradation and our need for grace. The donkey represents our animal nature, humans are the most vicious and selfish of all the beasts, and pop culture is blasphemy against God and love. And that's it -- nothing more or less. It's a vision I find dismal and ungenerous, and there's a side of the movie that made me want to whip the filmmaker; when the human actors torment the poor donkey by kicking him or tying a flaming newspaper to his tail, Bresson shows them actually doing these things -- no fakery or fancy cutting. Calling 1-800-ASPCA: some animals were definitely hurt in the course of making this film. But (this isn't a justification) all this is very, very French Catholic too -- you torture the beast until it yields something transcendent, which you then adore. I kept thinking of the French love of submission, tears, and martyrdom, and of the way they stuff geese in order to create foie gras. The donkey here finally becomes a saint, by the way. All that said, I was touched and moved to be watching the film. As you know, Bresson -- who's famous for his elliptical style, the intensity of his faith, and his austerity of means -- is one of those landmark filmmakers whose work you simply have to have seen. He's like Bergman, Welles or Fellini in that way. It doesn't really matter whether you like his movies or not; if you want to know the extremes of style that the cinema has been pushed to, you simply have to have seen a few of them. For me, watching the movie was like revisiting my hometown. I felt tender feelings; I enjoyed spending a few hours back in Film History-land. For a while, I remembered that I'd once really loved movies. But I also found "Au Hasard" a very beautiful (if semi-intolerable) movie. I loved the way it was thought out in classic movie-language terms, and I loved its expressive pacing. I found it fascinating to watch Bresson's muffled, hooded way of shooting and cutting, and the awkward, plain style he imposed on his performers. I may never get the spiritual high that true Bresson freaks get from his movies, but I'm still attached enough to Film History to find it... posted by Michael at November 3, 2003 | perma-link | (15) comments

Moviegoing Update 1 -- "In the Cut"
Dear Friedrich -- While you've been contending with out-of-control SoCal fires, The Wife and I have been running around to movies, theater, and readings. I'm going to indulge myself by jotting down my reactions to some of the things we've seen. In the Cut: Suspense-free erotic thriller, with Meg Ryan as a Lower East Side creative-writing teacher who gets a little too involved with a murder investigation, and Mark Ruffalo as an is-he-the-good-guy-or-the-bad-guy cop who knows how to get her juices flowing. I thought Meg and Mark were terrific, even though the way the creative-writing gal is written makes even less sense than in the Susannah Moore novel the movie is based on. (Too bad too that the book's most scandalous scene isn't in the movie.) The culprit here is the leadfooted work of the director Jane ("The Piano") Campion. Campion's an odd one: she's got a nose for touchy, hot-button female "issues" and a talent for impressionistic imagery. She'd make ravishing one-minute tone poems, she delivers hot sex scenes, and she's playing here with wonderfully dicey themes -- namely women's ambivalence about brutality, violence, and control. All of which may sound alluring. But Campion, who has zero gift for storytelling and suspense, is an odd one to be making a genre picture; she seems as determined to be "interesting" as any quirky East Village girl, and she seems to feel that it would be anything but interesting to focus on the characters and the narrative. So there isn't a conventionally acted-out and staged scene in the movie. And the imagery is all fragments -- quick, jiggly shots with fancy lighting effects and post-production Photoshop whizbangery in almost every one. Usually this twitchy handheld camera is used to convey immediacy, excitement, "reality" -- but Jane Campion, who may be quirky but is also doggone serious, manages to make the style seem lugubrious. Which is a strange kind of achievement. Meanwhile, I sat there staring at Meg's character and thinking, Now tell me once again why this girl is doing what she's doing? Hey, here's a review of Campion's "The Piano" I can pretty much get with. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 3, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

We Need a Sociobiological Economics
Michael: I’ve been reading a lot about cooperation and private property recently, but what my reading has led me to ponder, somewhat paradoxically, has been the whole phenomenon of envy—or whatever term you want to use for the desire to knock down, impede, or supplant more successful rivals, even if this might harm the desirer as well as his victims. (One writer I came across called this, rather acutely, “negative altruism”—a willingness to sacrifice oneself in order to harm others.) Pondering this, in turn, led me to notice some shortcomings in current economic analysis, at least as seen through sociobiological eyes, and to wonder what a sociobiological economics might look like. Let me back and up take you through my chain of logic, however convoluted. I started out reading a book by Robert Axelrod, “The Evolution of Cooperation.” This is not, despite its title, a book on the history of cooperation, but rather one that attempts to analyze cooperation using a little game called the Prisoner’s Dilemma. As you may know, this is a game for two players. On each round, the players choose whether to either “cooperate” or “defect.” Neither knows what the other has decided to do until both choices are revealed. Clearly there are a fixed number of possibilities; both can cooperate, both can defect, or one can cooperate and the other can defect. The game then rewards each player with points for these outcomes with ascending scores for the following outcomes: #1) You choose to cooperate and your opponent chooses to defect (“the sucker’s payoff”) Sample payoff to you: -2 #2) You choose to defect and your opponent chooses to defect (“mutual defection”) Sample payoff to you: 0 #3) You choose to cooperate and your opponent chooses to cooperate (“reward for mutual cooperation”) Sample payoff to you: 2 #4) You choose to defect and your opponent chooses to cooperate: (“temptation to defect”) Sample payoff to you: 6 The scoring is arbitrary, as long as it increases at each step from situation #1 to #4. This simple game fairly accurately describes the issues surrounding two people cooperating on, say, writing a paper for school. #1 and #4 are mirror images of the same situation: If one takes the paper seriously, and the other blows it off, the one ends up writing the whole paper and the other shares the same grade, leaving the one feeling like a sucker, which he or she is, and the other very happy with the outcome. If neither party is willing to share the work, both have to write their own papers, leaving both no better off than if cooperation had never been attempted. If both responsibly share the work, each is better off for getting a good grade while having done only half the work. The “dilemma” comes about from trying to figure out what to do when confronted with having to play the game (and assuming you don’t have a history of cooperation or defection with your “partner.”) If you... posted by Friedrich at November 3, 2003 | perma-link | (34) comments