Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Good Life: Justifying $600 dinners using Greek philosophers and Economic Theory

Extracted from a conversation, in which the correspondent expressed his disdain for those who spend $350 a person for dinner.

I personally see no problem with spending $650 for a dinner for two. Not that I do so especially often, but I think it is well worth it.

Why should life be only about investment in new knowledge? Why should the pursuit of sensation be considered a “pusillanimous … waste of time and resources?”

Let's think about this from the utilitarian model which would have a hard time justifying investment for investment sake if the investment is never translated into consumption. Rather, a standard exponential discounter would pursue consumption in moderation smoothed across a lifespan.

I suppose, since you seem to give great weight to classical thought, I can perhaps cite Epicurus as justification for the enjoyment of consumption.

More simply, in your pursuit of knowledge, who is to say that knowledge (and in particular wisdom) is contained only in text and introspection (Hume and Descartes be damned and heck if you believed them, you’d have to reject modern science as well).

I do agree that the pursuit of knowledge is a worthy pursuit, but also believe that knowledge comes in many forms. James C Scott calls the wisdom that can only come from experience metis. My master's degree advisor, von Hippel called it sticky information. In popular parlance, a picture is worth a thousand words, and often so is a good meal, a beautiful presentation, a delicate aroma, a delightful taste.

At the very least, I believe in the principle of decreasing returns to scale (of course we could have an interesting discussion why returns might be increasing). The privileging of one method of inquiry into the nature of the world over another, violates the idea of equalizing marginal rates of substitution.

To each his own, I suppose. The liberal answer. I just think you should give more credit to those who pursue truth in a different way.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Inept psychology, Interesting political economy, Incomparable worlds: Star Wars Ep. 3

So fulfilling my childhood cultural birth rite, I joined the throngs of costumed dorks and associated saber wielding geeks and attended the final Star Wars on opening night (as I had done for Episodes I and II and the re-releases of IV, V, and VI) and I must say that I am surprisingly satisfied.

I agree with Times reviewer AO Scott that it is at least as good as Episode IV, making it the best of the films that Lucas directed. That said, he should still have let someone else write and direct as he did for episodes V and VI. This was especially apparent in the descent of Anakin, done with a singular lack of style and grace that is Lucas’ trademark. Hayden Christenssen has demonstrated that he can play slow corruption,in Shattered Glass, but this film demonstrated none of the exquisite seduction of Luke present in the original trilogy. Episode 3 made Jedi look like a psychological masterpiece. Anakin here was simply petulant and deranged.

I also found fault with Lucas’ rather overt jab at Bush, “Only Sith think in absolutes” says Obi-Wan, in response to a parody of Bush’s “with us or against us” line, ironic in a movie that is iconic for its Manichaean portrayal of the forces of light against dark.

Yet the primary theme is a good one: what drives the fall of democracy; it falls as Padme observes to “thunderous applause.” Finally Lucas crafts a believable political system, highlighting how finely balanced democracy can be; how easy it is for an empowered executive or a militarized independent religious order to subvert the democratic process; how tenuous the beliefs, norms, institutions that sustain democracy truly are. As much as Star Wars is about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, so too is it about the fall and redemption of democracy.

And that is the genius of Lucas, to create worlds, to tell compelling stories. The brains behind the most successful franchises in movie history (Indiana Jones, Star Wars) he had previously wisely let others fill in the details. Lucas more fundamental contribution still is in revolutionizing how movies are made, at Industrial Light and Magic and his small movie magic empire.

I nearly agree with AO Scott that Lucas has surpassed Peter Jackson to be the foremost creator of worlds alive today. Scarred by the ravages of war, we now see the classical Naboo civilizations as real civilizations, rather than Roman or Rastafarian caricatures. Lucas does bring magic to the cinema, creating epic space battles and alien worlds with as much razzle-dazzle as has ever been mustered in a film. However, I still have to give Lord of The Rings credit, whose technical prowess does not quite match that of Lucas, but Jackson more than compensates with passion. At times, Episode 3 felt like a video game, one with breathtaking, stunning visuals, but without the poetry of Jackson’s Middle Earth.

Despite it all, Lucas pulled it off. Perhaps Episodes One and Two had just set expectations sufficiently low, or perhaps it was all part of a master plan (I doubt it), as Lucas completes the cycle, I walk away sated and fully satisfied.
Final Grade: A

See also: my other opinion on Lucas:

George Lucas: horrendous writer, mediocre director, legend of filmmaking – A Star Wars II review

And my other movie reviews at:
Ben's Epinions Page