Monday, March 23, 2009

An Art Criticism Generator

So a few friends of mine have started doing this annual creativity retreat, where they get a bunch of non-artists to just spend a weekend, doing art stuff. Here was my contribution: an art criticism generator, which also can be called ante-meta-art (or anti-meta-art), since meta art is about-art, ante-meta-art is about-art as art.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Movie Reviewlet: Watchmen

I liked it, I didn't love it. It looked quite pretty, and had a good visual style. Not as good as 300 or Sin City, but a much harder subject matter, to translate the cheesy 4 colors of the original Alan Moore comic. It was a bit heavy-handed in its 80's references and its symbolism and its use of 80's music (which was a bit too obvious, a bit too loud; the nytimes was especially bemused by its use of 99 luft ballons. Even the normally background-y minimalist music it used called attention to itself given that it was a famous Philip Glass piece). I was especially amused by its blatant use putting the World Trade Center in the background of several scenes, with the express purpose of building the mood of unease that pervades the original book (albeit anachronistically, given the symbolism of the towers has changed much since 1985; also interesting contrast to spider man II which went out of its way to go back and digitally scrub all images of the World Trade Center from its movie).

As others all say, I agree, the opening montage was nice, and nice fake cameos of minor 80's celebs, like Annie Leibowitz, who serve as powerful signifiers. And as others have said, Rorsharch was especially well acted, he was the one part of the ending that moved me. And yes, the silk spectre-nite owl relationship was painful.

As for the new ending that was much talked about, it really maintained the same flavor as the original. Which is important because the ending is the heart of the movie. I also thought the ending was appropriate. a tidier way to do it, without introducing the deus ex machina of aliens. Though the ending fell flat for me. Perhaps because it is the kind of ending that once you know it, doesn't work for you anymore--you lose the oh shit-ness of it. Or perhaps because the movie dragged, or perhaps because it was the one part of the movie that didn't copy its dialogue from Alan Moore.

AO Scott called the ending juvenile, not just this movie, but the book as well. I remember being blown away by the concept when i was young. But maybe it is juvenile. I don't think so. But it forces me to reconsider. Because while it packs a helluva a bunch as narrative, it doesn't hold together upon further reflection. Human nature is not as simple or easily quelled as Moore implies.

This movie also made me appreciate the connection with Batman. Rorsharch and Nite Owl are two reflections of Batman, Nite Owl for his gadgets, Rorsharch for his Nietzchean upermensch sense of justice. This was highlighted by the use of the original 1980's burton batman theme song, and with the scene of Rorsharch enjoying the antagonism of his fellow inmates, echoing the scene in Batman Begins.

With time, my esteem of the movie has gone up. Reading the original again, I am amused at how close he stays to the original book. Probably the most faithful adaptation of any comic book. But it mostly works. Still, you walk away feeling you are missing impact, if that can be fixed, perhaps with more gore, perhaps with tighter writing, perhaps with tighter editing of the fatuous love scenes that slow the film down.

Final Grade: B+

Friday, March 13, 2009

My name on Amazon.com

Actually, it is my friend Reza and his fiancee that has their book China in an Era of Transition: Understanding Contemporary State and Society Actors being published, but my quote is on the book jacket and thus on amazon.com, which is almost as cool:
“It is impossible to understand China's impact on global relations without understanding the interplay of the power structures that shape Chinese society. China in an Era of Transition provides important micro-analyses – on topics that range from intellectuals and ethnic minorities, to entrepreneurs and internet bloggers – illuminating the tensions that underlie the Chinese economic juggernaut; and in so doing, shatters the myth of the monolithic and unitary China.”
Quite bombastic, but figured that's appropriate for this sort of thing. Buy the book here, and I get a cut of the profits.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Two Visions of Healthcare reform: Bush v. Obama

The NY Times recently laid out succinctly Obama's plan for healthcare. Something that sounds eminently reasonable, especially to an economist. Roll out a national system of electronic healthcare records, which will create a dataset that the government can spend $1 billion to analyze, so that they can design the proper incentives system to give doctors the right incentives to treat patients efficiently.

It all sounds very reasonable, especially to an economist. Because economists don't have tools to understand its central flaws: big government projects tend to screw up. A national electronic records system sounds eminently sensible, but the industry that creates such software systems (Enterprise Resource Planning ERP) is more known for its multi-billion dollar failures than its successes. The FAA has been trying to computerize for the past 40 years but so far is still using 40 year old technology. Plus, assuming that underpaid government bureaucrats can properly interpret the data and create the right incentives is a heroic assumption.

Seeing the Bush plan, first hand, you see a clear difference. It favored electronic records but it was hesitant to mandate a national system, preferring to make ways for private enterprise like google to solve the problem. It recognizes the failings of the free market (failings economists are quick to recognize) such as moral hazard, adverse selection, externalities, myopia, but also recognizes the main advantage, that competition leads to cost minimization, whereas lack of competition such as the case of government bureaucracy leads to potentially massive waste.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Play Magazine - RIP

Play magazine appears to be a casualty of the financial crisis which has hit the newspaper industry hard. And that is quite sad. Play is one of the magazines that the New York Times puts out 4 or so times each year, so that on any given Sunday, the New York Times comes both with its main magazine, and one of its targeted ones (e.g. Travel, Design, Style, etc.) and Play which covered Sports. The magazines are the main reason I subscribe to the Times.

I was recently reminded how way out of touch with sports I've become, while watching the superbowl. Back in college, still most of my friends followed sports, so I wound up watching as well, or at least keeping up so that I could talk about it. But for the past 8 years, I guess I've mostly been hanging out with academic types, who never talk about sports, which I'm cool with, but Play magazine was a nice way to stay somewhat in touch.

Play magazine was basically the sports magazine for over intelectualizing npr/nytimes readers. Its writers included people like David Foster Wallace and Steve Levitt who looked at how sports betting worked. Its articles dissected plays, analyzed the game theory of football play calling, and the physiology of sports.

You can see evidence of the cancellation by the articles appearing the regular magazine: the business of Roller Derby, or the use of serious statistics to analyze basketball; the article on NBA star Shane Battier by Michael Lewis was as much a lesson on conditional probability and marginal analysis as it was about basketball. So at least the articles are still being written hopefully.

Oh, and the magazine was pretty.

Great stuff. But I guess not much of a market. Ah well.

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