Print Story Harbinger of Boom
By TheophileEscargot (Sun May 25, 2008 at 11:56:28 PM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Watching: "Charlie Wilson's War", "Speed Racer". Reading: "The Black Book". Web.

What I'm Watching
Saw Charlie Wilson's War on DVD. Interesting semi-comic movie about a US Congressman seeking funding for the Afghan guerrilla war against the Soviet invasion.

Well done with some very snappy dialogue, tells the story effectively. Phillip Seymour Hoffman in particular does an excellent turn as a chippy blue-collar CIA man.

Even so, doesn't really manage to take it to the level of black comedy or tragicomedy that they could have aimed for. They keep resolutely to the perspective of the main characters. Could have been a much more complex movie if they'd had an Afghan character... but that would have made it a less fluffy movie altogether.

Could even have done from a bit more perspective from the Charlie's Angels in his office. Is it really that great working for a boss who openly boasts that he's only hired you for your tits?

Review review, review critique.

Looking back at the 1980s, what is striking is that both America and Russia thought they were struggling with each other, while what was really happening was that both states were trying and failing to cope with powerful new forces in the non-western world. Those forces were taking on the more marked ethnic and religious guises which are very familiar to us today.
You would not think, seeing this movie, that the first Stingers brought down Russian helicopters shortly after Mikhail Gorbachev had become the leader of the Soviet Union, and after he had already decided that the only sane policy was to aim for an early withdrawal.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw "Speed Racer" at the London IMAX. That's definitely the way to see it if you can: the great swooping CGI car chases make it really impressive on the big screen.

Loved the look of the film: with its exaggerated candy colours and blending of real surrounding with cartoons it looks like nothing you've seen before. Wasn't sure you could make the Japanimation look work on a big screen, but it actually works really well. They kind of separate the main characters from the background, which goes back into flashbacks or off into fantasy. They also have the obligatory jumping-into-battle scenes with the character in mid-air against a psychedelic moving background.

Thought the acting handled it pretty well. Everyone manages to maintain a kind of poker-faced seriousness against complete absurdities: even managing to refer to each other as "Inspector Detector" and "Racer X" with a straight face. It's a bit like Men in Black: you need the contrast between the ridiculousness and the ostensible seriousness to make it work.

As is the tradition these days, the movie is a little bit too long. Could maybe have done with cutting down the road rally chase a bit and concentrating on the Grand Prix. But even so, there's always something cool to look at.

Overall, I liked it a lot. Seems to have got terrible reviews though. I think you need quite a lot of suspension of disbelief to make it work. Just sit back and accept that you're in the land of cheese and candy.

What I'm Reading
Latest Inspector Rebus was The Black Book by Ian Rankin. Liked this one: seemed like one of the best so far. Complex plot but not so much so it got confusing. Comes to a neat conclusion with some interesting steps along the way.

One thing that bugged me though was a reference to a pistol that Rebus acquires.

"So what have I got?" asked Rebus. "It was a bit dark out there to see."
"Well, they're all copies. Don't worry, I file off any identifiers myself. Yours is a Colt 45. It'll take ten rounds".
"Eight millimetre?"
Deek nodded.
Now, my first thought was that this was an obvious howler. An 8mm Colt 45? Even if you convert .45 inches to metric it becomes 11.43mm.

However, it seems that there are actually copies of Colt 45s made to fire 8mm blanks. Now, a lot of the cheap illegal pistols in the UK are apparently conversions of starting pistols. So it could be that this is actually authentic. Or it could just be a mistake.

Coming Soon
Partway through Rivers West by Louis L'Amour.

Still slogging slowly through the History of the US Teaching Company course, but have even more misgivings. His specialism is in religious history, and he's pretty good on that, and on industrial history.

Don't like his emphases though. Up to WW2 now: he detours a bit through the rise of Hitler in Europe, but doesn't really discuss the embargo of Japan; leaving no real explanation of why the Japanese attacked America in the first place. He also devotes time to a somewhat one-sided account of the bombing of Dresden, claiming it was a civilian target, not mentioning the crucial railhead or the Soviet advance at all.

Beginning to think this guy's just too specialized to give a big picture effectively.

Belief in evolutionary psychology may be hardwired.

Edible flowers

Student researching al-Qaida tactics held for six days.

Economics. Euroland generally successful, but PIGS struggle.

Freeman Dyson on global warming.

Comment on Freeman Dyson on global warming

Saw this in a MeFi deleted thread: thought it was weird but interesting.

Firstly, the last three paragraphs seem strangely out of place, as if they've been pasted in from someone else's article. The False Religion of Environmentalism is a perennial talking point in the conservative christian blogosphere. But it's vitiated by the earlier part of the article: if there's a scientific and economic case for carbon restriction, then it's not really a religious argument.

But I think even the earlier part of the essay has a few flaws. Basically he argues that restricting carbon will be expensive, a miracle techno-fix solution is likely, so we should just keep emitting carbon and wait for the techno-fix.

However, suppose the techno-fix arrives very early. Even at the discounted rate, we can then just abandon the carbon restrictions: we haven't lost very much. Or suppose the techno-fix arrives late. In that case, we've got some of the benefit of the carbon restriction in reduced global warming already.

Economically, I'm not sure that the assumptions that a carbon tax will hurt overall are true. Suppose that instead of creating additional carbon taxes, we keep the overall tax burden constant; but shift income, sales and capital gains taxes into carbon taxes. I'm not sure in that case it will create any economic harm whatsoever.

Also I think he glosses over the difficulties of his favoured techno-fix, where GM plants store excess carbon in the ground. The carbon changes that he mentions are due to the entire world's combined bio-mass. It's not clear to me that it's feasible to add a significant fraction to that with genetic engineering. How much farmland would we have to devote to these carbon-fixing GM plants? What about feeding an increasing population as well?

To fix carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the carbon dioxide molecules need to be split into carbon and oxygen. That requires an energy input. No GM magic is going to beat the law of conservation of energy. Presumably this energy comes from sunlight in the same way as other plants. It's not clear to me that we will be able to increase the surface area of the planet covered by plants enough to make this CO2 storage practical.

< The whiskey ain't workin' any more | Poem of the Day: "Warrior Wisdom" and "Pity Us" by Samuel Menashe >
Harbinger of Boom | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden)
Speed Racer at Imax by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #1 Mon May 26, 2008 at 01:23:27 AM EST
Fucking hell, I'm there mate.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Caution: may cause head to explode by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #2 Mon May 26, 2008 at 01:27:16 AM EST
It's brilliant.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Booked for Thursday by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #9 Wed May 28, 2008 at 12:12:50 AM EST
Can't wait!

It's a bit sad that of all the things in your diaries I want to go and see - plays, exhibitions etc - the one I actually get up off my arse for is a cheesy children's film

It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
Dyson by gpig (4.00 / 1) #3 Mon May 26, 2008 at 01:49:58 AM EST
Interesting article, although his discussion of Nordhaus' model doesn't mention the fact that climate change has the potential to cause more human misery than economic damage. It's entirely possible that the places hit hardest will be developing countries. Economic damage will be low in numerical terms, but the potential for suffering is huge -- there being less resource and structure to deal with a natural disaster.
(,   ,') -- eep
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (4.00 / 3) #4 Mon May 26, 2008 at 03:01:39 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by yicky yacky

I don't think that's true by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 3) #5 Mon May 26, 2008 at 03:50:11 AM EST
Apart from the tiny handful of libertarians, most conservatives aren't fundementally opposed to all collective action. National defence is the obvious example. Agricultural subsidies and extensive IP laws are others.

Conservatives have also had sentimental soft spots for the countryside, the wilderness and the Nobel Savage, which has given them some sympathy for conservationism and environmentalism. There's the Laurens van der Post association between the far right and conservationism. It was Republican Theodore Roosevelt who created the US national park system. There's David Cameron's notorious wind turbine. There are the "crunchy cons" in the modern US. There's Greg Mankiw's Pigou Club calling for higher petrol taxes.

So, I don't think there's anything deep in conservative ideology that's opposed to environmentalism.

(Right-wing environmentalists do tend to favour somewhat different solutions: they prefer carbon trading to caps; tax transfers to carbon over detailed building regulations and so on).

It seems to me that it's more of a pragmatic alliance of convenience that's currently responsible for the US conservative Christian hostility to environmentalism.

It seems to me there's kind of a triangular trade going on. Oil and other industries make campaign donations to the Republican party. The Republican party funnels tax money to the evangelical Christian organizations via "faith-based initiatives". The evangelicals then deliver voters to the Republican party, and sermonize that climate change is a myth promoted by a false religion.

All that's necessary to stop that is for one side of the triangle to be broken. If the Republicans are pushed out of power in both legislative and executive branches, or if the evangelical Christian base deserts them; I think the whole cycle could fall apart quite quickly.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (4.00 / 2) #6 Mon May 26, 2008 at 04:00:19 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by yicky yacky

[ Parent ]
It's hard to overstate US conservative fear ... by lm (4.00 / 2) #7 Mon May 26, 2008 at 04:46:38 AM EST
... of big government.

A politician enacting the policies of Teddy Roosevelt, or even Richard Nixon, would probably be burned at the stake in today's Republican party over here. It is true that there is a Crunchy Con movement and that it appears to be growing larger. It is also probably true that if the GOP gets as few votes come this fall as everyone thinks, there's going to be a massive realignment within the GOP. It is also true that there are quite a few moderate Republicans. But all of that said, the US is still a country where an entire generation of conservatives has grown up constantly hearing  the message that big government is out to brainwash their children into gay, feminist, communist atheists and every step towards any sort of bigger government that is another step down a slippery slope.

This view is changing. And certainly not all conservatives have bought into the big lie. While it isn't as an issue as opposition to communism/terrorism and being anti-abortion, it is a very powerful force in the GOP.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
Charlie Wilson's War by jimgon (4.00 / 1) #8 Mon May 26, 2008 at 07:12:05 AM EST
I think they were  a little limited in trying to keep it reasonably biographical.

Technician - "We can't even get decent physical health care. Mental health is like witchcraft here."
Harbinger of Boom | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden)