Free Markets, Free People

Arts

A long time fan of the book reviews the “Ender’s Game” movie

Movies made from books seem to have the odds stacked against them, especially science fiction books. My favorite author, Robert Heinlein, wrote two books that were made into movies after his death, and both sucked toxic waste: Puppet Masters and Starship Troopers

There have been a few excellent movie adaptations, mostly in other genres. Hopscotch and Being There come to mind. In both cases, even the book author liked the result.

More recently, the last Harry Potter movie did quite a good job of adapting the book. I started reading that series to my then-young children when it came out. Most of the movie adaptations in the series were fair, but the last one was worthy of several repeated viewings. Many Tolkien fans swear by the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They’ll sit through twelve hour marathons to watch all three movies again.

I wish I could say Ender’s Game is in the same league, but I can’t.

I’m assuming most readers have read the book at some point, so I’m not worried about spoilers. For those of you who have not read the book, I suggest that you don’t bother with this movie. It will probably feel like another generic “kid saves the universe” story, with special effects trying to carry a sketchy plot. If you plan to see it despite this advice, then you might want to stop reading now.

For those who have read the book, let me explain my mixed feelings about this movie.

If you already understand the story, this movie isn’t awful. It’s nowhere near as bad as the Heinlein adaptations I mentioned earlier. It has generally good casting and good special effects. If you are a really big fan of the book, as I am, it’s worth a viewing. It really works to stay faithful to the book.

In fact, the movie’s biggest problem is that it tries too hard to stay faithful to the book.

I cited Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 because it is an excellent example of adapting the story to the needs of a movie. There are many things that depart from the book. For example, in the book, Voldemort can’t feel when a Horcrux is destroyed, and Harry can’t just sense their presence. But the movie needed those shortcuts for dramatic effect, and they work very, very well in the film.

Ender’s Game feels like a Cliff’s Notes version of the book. Or perhaps a Cliff’s Notes version with every other page missing.

Every major theme and turning point is included, but most of them are in matchstick drawings instead of fleshed out drama. For example, the battle room scenes are well done from a production standpoint. But there are not many of those scenes. The development of Ender’s skills and leadership is compressed to a mishmash, with one battle against other teams mashing together several battles in the book, simply extracting key scenes from each one. The result feels disconnected and contrived.

When the script does depart from the book, it’s done badly. They obviously wanted the character of Petra in that major battle room scene, so they contrived a sprained ankle by a team member and a dispensation from Graff to get her there. But just before that, it’s explained that Ender’s team is a bunch of misfits anyway. At that point, Petra doesn’t have her own army, so why not just put her in Ender’s and skip the contrivance? That’s the kind of spackling over a problem that makes a movie adaptation smooth.

The final battle is fairly well done. The set for it was perfect, and the use of holographic technology and gestures was as good as any movie I’ve ever seen.

Then that was spoiled with a heavy handed resolution about the battle being real instead of a simulation. That entire part of the movie bends over backwards to slap people in the face with the supposed peaceful nature of the buggers, and how terribly awful it was to kill all of them. As the book made clear, they started the conflict and killed many millions of people. When the survival of one’s species is on the line, giving the benefit of the doubt to an enemy who attacked first is mushy, politically correct sillyness.

Casting is reasonably good. They apparently wanted the gruff version of Harrison Ford here, so that’s what they got the entire movie. They could have done lots worse for the role of Graff. Ben Kingsley was fine as Mazer Rackham.

Most of the kids are good enough to get by. The actress in the role of Petra turned in a good performance, but she looked too soft for my vision of Petra. Plus, she resembled the actress playing Valentine enough that I got confused at least once about which one Ender was talking to.

I have no idea if the kid playing Bean is any good, because they didn’t give him enough of a part to find out. I realize the story had to focus on Ender, and Bean was pushed to the background to allow that. It still grated on me to see one of my favorite characters reduced to wallpaper.

Bottom line: this movie isn’t awful, but it isn’t great either. As I said, if you really liked the book, you’ll probably want to see the movie at some point. You probably won’t be shouting at the screen in rage the way I did at Starship Troopers. But unless you liked it better than I did, you won’t be watching it twice.

Painting the map… different.

Some of you have already seen this graphic.  It’s what the United States woud look like if all 50 had the same population, with a few extra factors taken into account so that the borders still make as much sense as they can.

Neil Freeman / fake is the new real

The extra factors include keeping almost all existing counties whole, aiming for compact shapes and not splitting up metro areas unless really necessary.  They also try to keep drainage basins together.  Click on the picture if you want to see the whole proposal.

The purpose of this exercise is to solve the perceived problem of unequal representation in the federal government. This way, not only do all U.S. senators represent the same number of people, but so do all members of the House of Representatives.  So each person has equal representation in the Electoral College as well, though of course some states would still be more competitive than others.  (Oh, and DC gets to drop the “Taxation Without Representation” license plates.)

This isn’t intended as a serious proposal, but it mixes two things that I love because they both tug the mind out of its usual grooves of thought:

  1. altered maps – When you first saw a simple “upside-down” map of the world, didn’t it just demand to be stared at for a while?
  2. visualizations of unusual political/social reform proposals – It’s easy to think of the status quo as natural, and easier yet not to think of why things are quite the way they are; illustrating the world in a way markedly different from reality challenges the mind to justify the current order.  I suspect this has something to do with my enjoyment of sci-fi and historical what-ifs; instinctually turning toward such questioning may be a common trait among libertarians.

I try not to be too hasty in throwing out the current order; Burke and Hayek had useful insights about the limits of knowledge and reason.  So I haven’t adopted this reform proposal, but it has been fun thinking about it.  I even spent part of today lightly crunching the county-level numbers from the U.S. Senate elections since 2008, just to see how it would affect the balance of power there.  (I still haven’t gotten around to checking how it would affect recent presidential elections.)

But beyond the electoral reform, you can spin your mind for hours about the economic and cultural consequences of following these simple and (each taken in isolation) sensible algorithms.  The artist who created the map asked people to “take it easy with the emails about the sacred soil of Texas” – though I do wonder whether the four senators from Dallas-Fort Worth and the greater Houston area would be very different from the senators Texas usually elects.  What else jumps to mind?

  • Just try to picture the kind of senators the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago are likely to elect when they don’t have to appeal to a swath of suburban and rural voters.  Picture it!
    • The first three of those metro areas got more than 75% of the benefit of housing-related tax benefits like the mortgage-interest tax deduction, according to a 2001 study.
    • L.A. and NYC would have less influence on the sources of much of their drinking water; that could easily tip the balance and allow landowners upstate to open their land to energy development.
  • For that matter, imagine governing the Great State of People Who Commute to Chicago.  “Chicagoland Minus Chicago.”
  • Y’know, if you look at how Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte did in Casco counties in 2008 and 2010, compared to Elizabeth Warren’s margins in her part of the new state, it’s not hard to imagine Republican senators representing Boston.  Just sayin’.
  • Chinati, the rather heavily Hispanic border state, narrowly voted more for Republican senators than Democratic ones in 2012.
  • The Black Belt in the South appears to prevent none of the new states from electing Republican senators, including Ozark, Tidewater, and even Atlanta, though it would have been close in 2008.
  • Right now, the heaviest dependence on direct government benefits is particularly concentrated in certain places, and mostly not in urban counties.
  • Specifically, the Coal Country patch from West Virginia into southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky would be split between more states, while the patch of heavy dependence in the Ozarks (southern Missouri into northern Arkansas) would be concentrated into… Ozark.  The most dependent part of Michigan is combined with the most dependent part of Wisconsin.  The most dependent parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado would be combined in Shiprock.
  • Would the big cities that were disconnected from poorer hinterlands become less tolerant of federal redistribution?  Would Boston, now sharing a much larger territory with more people dependent on benefits, take a dimmer view of state-level redistribution?
  • Meanwhile, the urban centers of today’s Colorado would get to be in the same state as the Bakken shale oil boom: Ogallala, which is also a great beneficiary of…
  • Agricultural subsidies!  You can already see the representatives of Nodaway wearing their Farm Bill buttons. Then there’s Ozark again, straddling both banks of the Mississippi River and getting another dose of federal money.  Another notable dependent: Tidewater.

This is going to a lot of trouble to ensure that a voter in Billings has the same level of representation as a voter in Cheyenne, and that a Californian has equal say in the Senate as a Rhode Islander.  But maybe all that trouble from such simple rules is why it’s so ripe for speculation.

Quote of the Day – Fine Arts and Capitalism edition

Or perhaps it could be called the wages of the liberal cant (Camille Paglia):

Capitalism has its weaknesses. But it is capitalism that ended the stranglehold of the hereditary aristocracies, raised the standard of living for most of the world and enabled the emancipation of women. The routine defamation of capitalism by armchair leftists in academe and the mainstream media has cut young artists and thinkers off from the authentic cultural energies of our time.

[...]

Thus we live in a strange and contradictory culture, where the most talented college students are ideologically indoctrinated with contempt for the economic system that made their freedom, comforts and privileges possible. In the realm of arts and letters, religion is dismissed as reactionary and unhip. The spiritual language even of major abstract artists like Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko is ignored or suppressed.

Thus young artists have been betrayed and stunted by their elders before their careers have even begun. Is it any wonder that our fine arts have become a wasteland?

I’ve truly never understood how one does what is routinely done by those who denounce Capitalism – live on and enjoy it’s benefits while calling for its destruction.  I don’t see how anyone who would describe themselves as intelligent could live with the contradiction.

Unless, of course, they have a completely twisted and warped understanding of what Capitalism is.  And, frankly, that’s precisely from what most of them suffer.  They’re spoon fed this ignorant pap without opposition.  They get the one side.  They have Capitalism defined and characterized as something it’s not and leave believing that definition to be true.

Obviously that mischaracterization would fall mostly within liberal academic pursuits I’m guessing (because they’re unlikely to be pursuing business or economic courses in those pursuits, and thus would never be exposed to what Capitalism is really).  So Paglia’s point makes sense.  These students are indeed “indoctrinated”.  I don’t know how else you describe “teaching” with no balance, with no valid opposing view presented, as anything but indoctrination.

Of course, she describes the result of such a twisted orthodoxy.  Art which must conform to the orthodoxy and, as a result, is mostly rejected by the vast majority of the real world.  It has gone from being “edgy” and “out there” or a “comment on our culture/society/whatever” to being another example of the same old thing – bashing what others hold sacred or dear.  They can’t imagine why others don’t like it or want it.

Of course, when it doesn’t sell, well, that’s Capitalism’s fault.

And why shouldn’t these enlightened few demand subsidies for their “art?”  After all, we have no taste and certainly don’t have the intelligence to discern what is or isn’t profound.  We owe them such support.

Capitalism?  Well that stands in the way, doesn’t it?  It requires they produce something of value to others, not just of value to themselves, doesn’t it.

Down with Capitalism.

~McQ
Twitter: @McQandO
Facebook: QandO

How Terrorists Win

One is by making you afraid to do what you might normally do:

Is the Met afraid of Mohammed?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art quietly pulled images of the Prophet Mohammed from its Islamic collection and may not include them in a renovated exhibition area slated to open in 2011, The Post has learned.

The museum said the controversial images — objected to by conservative Muslims who say their religion forbids images of their holy founder — were “under review.”

Critics say the Met has a history of dodging criticism and likely wants to escape the kind of outcry that Danish cartoons of Mohammed caused in 2006.

To answer the question – no, the Met isn’t afraid of Mohammed. It’s afraid of some of his followers. The bomb throwing, murdering group of his followers who take offense at just about anything.

But is self-censorship the answer?

Isn’t the reaction exactly that for which they are hoping?

One of the things those involved in the arts like to tell us is one of the purposes of art is to challenge convention. To jab hard at those that are comfortable.  Smack their beliefs and conceptions around a bit.  Make ‘em think. And when there’s no real risk, they’re all for it aren’t they? “Piss Christ” for example was done knowing no one would show up throwing bombs or threatening to kill those who exhibited the “work of art”.

But when it comes to the likelihood that there’s an actual possibility of violence, suddenly artists and their backers aren’t so keen on “challenging convention”, are they? Suddenly the challenge to convention – that purpose of art – isn’t really that important anymore, is it?

Funny how that works.

~McQ

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Is This What “Public Funding Of The Arts” Means? (UPDATE)

For years the right has said that government has no business subsidizing art and for that same amount of time the left has claimed that government support is necessary to keep the arts alive. Of course some are of us are of the opinion that if “art” is sufficiently good, the private sector will gladly support it.

But what I assume both sides would agree on is that government support of the arts shouldn’t be abused and turned into government propaganda. Yet:

“…I was invited by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to take part in a conference call that invited a group of rising artist and art community luminaries “to help lay a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda – health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal.”

The quote comes from Patrick Courrielche at Big Hollywood and his post there documents his experience on the call.

Backed by the full weight of President Barack Obama’s call to service and the institutional weight of the NEA, the conference call was billed as an opportunity for those in the art community to inspire service in four key categories, and at the top of the list were “health care” and “energy and environment.” The service was to be attached to the President’s United We Serve campaign, a nationwide federal initiative to make service a way of life for all Americans.

Given the tone of the invitation, and the apparent concerns it raised, Courrielche called in. His concerns were validated:

The people running the conference call and rallying the group to get active on these issues were Yosi Sergant, the Director of Communications for the National Endowment for the Arts; Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; Nell Abernathy, Director of Outreach for United We Serve; Thomas Bates, Vice President of Civic Engagement for Rock the Vote; and Michael Skolnik, Political Director for Russell Simmons.

We were encouraged to bring the same sense of enthusiasm to these “focus areas” as we had brought to Obama’s presidential campaign, and we were encouraged to create art and art initiatives that brought awareness to these issues. Throughout the conversation, we were reminded of our ability as artists and art professionals to “shape the lives” of those around us. The now famous Obama “Hope” poster, created by artist Shepard Fairey and promoted by many of those on the phone call, and will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” song and music video were presented as shining examples of our group’s clear role in the election.

Obama has a strong arts agenda, we were told, and has been very supportive of both using and supporting the arts in creative ways to talk about the issues facing the country. We were “selected for a reason,” they told us. We had played a key role in the election and now Obama was putting out the call of service to help create change. We knew “how to make a stink,” and were encouraged to do so.

Hard to argue, given this report, that the NEA isn’t now involved in a political role. Courrielche wasn’t the only one who was concerned by what he heard. Lee Rosenbaum was “creeped out” by the call she participated in as well. She validates Courrielche’s report and conclusions. Courrielche writes a followup post here.

The point, of course, is it isn’t beyond any politician, administration or government to use and abuse any program for its benefit. When you have a community organizer in the Oval Office, it appears they get abused is record time – nd it is clear, at least to me, that in this case the plan is to use the NEA for propaganda and political gain. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a perfect reason to give the NEA the political death penalty and, finally and forever, defund it.

UPDATE – This isn’t the first time we’ve touched on this subject either. MichaelW covered it back on August 27th when the first conference call was held. Since then there’s been a second (that’s the call Lee Rosenbaum talks about) in which the NEA and White House try a few tricks to give them “plausible deniability” against charges of collusion in a program to get NEA artists to create propaganda for the administration.

~McQ

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PrObamaGanda

This is … disturbing:

“… I was invited by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to take part in a conference call that invited a group of rising artist and art community luminaries “to help lay a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda – health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal.”

Now admittedly, I’m a skeptic of BIG government. In my view, power tends to overreach whenever given the opportunity. It’s a law of human nature that has very few exceptions. That said, it felt to me that by providing issues as a cynosure for inspiration to a handpicked arts group – a group that played a key role in the President’s election as mentioned throughout the conference call – the National Endowment for the Arts was steering the art community toward creating art on the very issues that are currently under contentious national debate; those being health care reform and cap-and-trade legislation. Could the National Endowment for the Arts be looking to the art community to create an environment amenable to the administration’s positions?”

Hmmm. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I’ll go with “abso-freak’n-lutely” as my answer.

Oh, wait. Was that a rhetorical question?

I learned after the conference call that there were approximately 75 people participating, including many well respected street-artists, filmmakers, art galleries, music venues, musicians and music producers, writers, poets, actors, independent media outlets, marketers, and various other professionals from the creative community … Backed by the full weight of President Barack Obama’s call to service and the institutional weight of the NEA, the conference call was billed as an opportunity for those in the art community to inspire service in four key categories, and at the top of the list were “health care” and “energy and environment.” The service was to be attached to the President’s United We Serve campaign, a nationwide federal initiative to make service a way of life for all Americans.

[...]

We were encouraged to bring the same sense of enthusiasm to these “focus areas” as we had brought to Obama’s presidential campaign, and we were encouraged to create art and art initiatives that brought awareness to these issues. Throughout the conversation, we were reminded of our ability as artists and art professionals to “shape the lives” of those around us. The now famous Obama “Hope” poster, created by artist Shepard Fairey and promoted by many of those on the phone call, and will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” song and music video were presented as shining examples of our group’s clear role in the election.

Obama has a strong arts agenda, we were told, and has been very supportive of both using and supporting the arts in creative ways to talk about the issues facing the country. We were “selected for a reason,” they told us. We had played a key role in the election and now Obama was putting out the call of service to help create change. We knew “how to make a stink,” and were encouraged to do so.

Erm, yes, I guess that was a rhetorical question.

The NEA is the nation’s largest annual funder of the arts. That is right, the largest funder of the arts in the nation – a fact that I’m sure was not lost on those that were on the call, including myself. One of the NEA’s major functions is providing grants to artists and arts organizations. The NEA has also historically shown the ability to attract “matching funds” for the art projects and foundations that they select. So we have the nation’s largest arts funder, which is a federal agency staffed by the administration, with those that they potentially fund together on a conference call discussing taking action on issues under vigorous national debate. Does there appear to be any potential for conflict here?

Assuming that I can answer that one, I’d say the potential for conflict is rather high. If an entire industry is almost entirely supported by the government then, when that benefactor starts making “suggestions” about how that industry should behave, you can bet that the industry will respond. In this case, propaganda posters, statues, billboards and movies would be the expected outcome. In the American car business, increased hybrid car production is the most likely result of government intervention (that is why Fiat was brought in after all).

So what do you think will happen when the federal government is in charge of paying for health care? If the government were to “suggest” that certain medical procedures should be favored, or that certain patients should receive care before others, do you suppose that the medical industry will have much leverage to resist? And suppose that new reforms are proposed after passage of whatever bill is frankensteined together this Fall. If the government is going to be paying most of the bills, who do you think the insurance companies, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, et al. will be paying more attention to when the Obama administration and its minions come calling? Patients or the government?

That is a rhetorical question, because I already know the answer.

[HT: Greyhawk]

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