Saturday, July 07, 2007

Miller & Kanazawa on Human Nature

Some time ago the LSE far-left declared ideological war on Satoshi Kanazawa without reading his work and I came to his defence. Now, a piece in "Psychology Today" provides more examples of his taste for counterintuitive and politically incorrect topics.

If you want to know how evolutionary biology can explain suicide bombings, why monogamy is good for men but polygyny good for women, why having sons reduces the chance of a divorce and the point of the midlife crisis you can find out here.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Inland Empire

Gracchi argues that Inland Empire is a fine showcase of what the symphonic (plotless) form of film-making is capable of. Apparently, among other things:

"Never 'til this film had [Gracchi] seen a prostitute's life in all its tawdry terror displayed so accurately.


In Inland Empire the tapestry works and in some strange sense you emerge with a sense of wonder at the cinematic craft, horror at the life of the prostitute, and some vague questions about dark continents within the soul- of desire, truth and perception- continents whose baleful power has haunted the imagination of the West- over which the ignorant armies of human perception clash by night!"

My experience of Inland Empire was rather different. I spent at least half the film wishing, in a deeply heart-felt manner, that it would end.

It would seem to me that for a symphonic film to work it has to work far harder than a regular film at engaging you with its emotional substance. It lacks the crutch of a plot that you can be enthralled by or interested in and has to go entirely on emotional impact. With that in mind Inland Empire just didn't seem sufficiently communicative.

Films have, over the years, engaged me with Generals, Mad-Scientists, a time-travellers in conversation with a warped rabbit, giant apes, Mexican gunfighters, gangsters, geishas, ancient heros, Korean slaves turned to warriors, elves, orcs, arms dealers, Mobile Infantrymen, victims of genocide, a grieving father attempting to do the right thing in an infertile world, kings, a man without the ability to form new memories and a host of others. Few of these are exactly close to my own circumstances. The better films have generally been the ones that have best engaged me with the emotional experiences of their characters. In doing so they can provide me with insight into the human condition and provide a more genuine escape than any explosive action-thriller.

I never felt engaged with the inhabitants of Inland Empire (the word character seems ill-fitting). I felt vaguely horrified at times and disgusted throughout the film. Maybe that's what Gracchi is talking about. It seems plausible that the life of a prostitute is horrifying at times and generally disgusting. However, spending three hours in unmitigated contact with that is too much. There have to be other sides to the prostitutes themselves. Certainly there is another side to the life of a Hollywood film star. Engaging with nothing but the dismal results in a dismal film.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Grade and hyper-inflation

This post I wrote for the TaxPayers' Alliance blog makes what is, in my humble opinion, a pretty clever argument. Drawing parallels between solutions to currency hyperinflation and grade inflation.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Business leaders and politics

Chris Dillow asks why business leaders rarely make a successful transition to politics. He offers a few explanations. Firstly, that they just got lucky in their business career. This is counterintuitive and I'm not sure why we should believe it to be true across business although it is clearly credible in financial management. Secondly, that they need an absence of media scrutiny to do their jobs properly. I'm not sure this fits with the realities of modern business where a major position comes with a huge amount of media attention. Finally, the possibility that business success is based upon instincts which cannot be used in politics where you need to be able to explain why a decision is being taken more convincingly. This might be true for smaller businesses where it is more often possible for someone to create success through their will alone but in large corporations a leader will need to bring the staff with them.

I think the real explanation can be seen with another look at the Buffet quote Chris uses:

"When a management team with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact."

The economics of the businesses where corporate captains such as Archie Norman succeed are good. They are running organisations well suited to their task, or at least sufficiently well suited to create success. The economics of the big, politically managed state are bad. New leadership won't change things unless that leadership is willing to change the structure. One can question whether business leaders would be willing to change the structure of government in a way that career politicians have not been. However, the question is largely theoretical. Business leaders have never been given an oppotunity to fundamentally change the structure of government.