The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the secret life of many Americans

Summary:  We’ve broadened our geopolitical analysis to include film criticism by Locke Peterseim, today discussing “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, a 2013 remake of a 1947 escapist movie based on a 1939 short story by James Thurber almost exactly opposite in tone and meaning from the films. Hollywood transforms everything it touches, either to keep us shallow — or because we fear seeing the depth of life.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

 

The Secret Life of Ben Stiller

By Locke Peterseim
Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly, 29 December 2013
Reposted here with his generous permission.

There are a million reasons (about $100 million budgetary ones, to be exact) that I should hate Ben Stiller’s new adaptation of James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, written by Steve Conrad and directed by and starring Stiller.

For this latest update (following the 1947 Danny Kaye version), Walter Mitty (Stiller) is now a modern-day photographic archivist, a physical negative handler for LIFE Magazine at a time when both the magazine and its photography are going all-digital.

Of course Mitty still spends half his time lost in elaborate daydreams fueled by Hollywood hero fantasies, but Walter’s own flat, grey, carefully calibrated life is upended on multiple fronts when he simultaneously develops a crush on a winsome co-worker (Kristin Wiig) and learns (from a hilariously hirsute Adam Scott as his new digital-asshole boss) that the magazine (and most likely his anachronistic job) are morphing away into the Internet ether.

That one-two punch spurs Walter to impulsively set off across Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan by helicopter (drunkenly piloted), ship (complete with shark-infested waters), car (outrunning an erupting volcano), and skateboard in search of a mysterious missing photo from a ruggedly elusive star photographer (Sean Penn, nicely both embracing and mocking his own self-serious image). Along the way, we learn how Walter’s loss of his father at a young age deferred his plans, goals, and dreams for a not-so-wonderful dull life of George-Bailey-esque responsibility (sans the loving family and friends).

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a deep-pocketed Hollywood movie that wears its “big ideas” on its oversized, glossy, movie-star sleeve and proudly tosses out not-so-subtle winks about our current human existence.

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The war of the sexes heats up: society changes as men learn the Dark Triad

Summary: Revolutions begin in the shadows, emerging only when they grow too large for society to ignore. So it is with “game”, the science of seduction. Today let’s look at a revolution in the war between the sexes. It’s one of our weekend posts about American culture, keeping you informed about things not yet in the mainstream news.

During this whole century the progress of artillery has been a duel between the maker of cannons and the maker of armor plates to keep the cannon balls out. You build a ship proof against the best gun known: somebody makes a better gun and sinks your ship. You build a heavier ship, proof against that gun: somebody makes a heavier gun and sinks you again. And so on. Well, the duel of sex is just like that.

— A pick-up artist explaining life to a feminist in George Bernard Shaw’s play “You Never Can Tell” (1895). See the follow-up to this in the comments.

About “Game”

Like the art of war, relations between men and women are a constant remixing of methods. As with war, during the past century science has forced breaks with the past. Nukes made it suicide to wage traditional State-to-State war, driving the shifts described in “Unrestricted Warfare” (e.g., to 4GW, cyberwar, economic war). Similarly, technology brought women to equality in the labor force while allowing them to control their fertility — changes expressed ideologically as feminism. These unleashed trends that we don’t yet understand.

The reaction to feminism has begun, as every force produces an opposite reaction. Like all revolutions and counter-revolutions, it began in the shadows as the ancient methods of pick-up artists became systematized after WWII.

Decades of slow evolution brought “game” to maturity in the mid-1990s. It’s the science of seduction, a crude applied psychology derived by men on the streets. Like alchemy, it’s a mixture of sense and superstition used by people working without theory. It began, like most revolutions, with an insight: men realized that they break the conventions and act as bad boys — against their own natures — and increase their odds of success with women.

Like most innovations in interpersonal relations — new forms of dancing (e.g., the waltz), divorce, abortion, the pill, rock music, postal boxes on the street — moralists have condemned it as a step on the road to iniquity. Feminists have gained the high ground in control of society’s institutions, and watch with outrage as men act in defiance of the new social norms.

As with alchemy, science follows the amateurs in the field.

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Twenty stories of good news about polar bears!

Summary:  Another in our series of good news about the climate, this time about polar bears (others are listed at the end). Good news generates few clicks, so you’ll not see this info in the news. This period of good news probably will not last forever, perhaps not even long. Let’s stop the playground politics and make good use of this time.

Say goodby to the poor photoshopped bear floating out to sea; but his real cousins are doing OK (so far).

Photoshopped polar bear in Science

Pitiful but photoshopped. In Science, 7 May 2010.

Twenty good reasons not to worry about polar bears.

By Susan Crockford
From her website: Polar Bear Science.
Reposted with her generous permission.

Introduction

Here’s a new resource for cooling the polar bear spin, all in one place. I’ve updated and expanded my previous summary of reasons not to worry about polar bears, now two years old. In it, you’ll find links to supporting information (including previous posts of mine providing background, maps and extensive references). Some important graphs and maps have been copied into the summary. I hope you find it a useful resource for refuting the spin and tuning out the cries of doom and gloom about the future of polar bears. Please feel free to share.  Here is a PDF of the this post.

This is the 1st anniversary of Canada providing population estimates and trends independent of the pessimistic prognostications of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) — so let’s celebrate the recent triumphs and resilience of polar bears to their ever-changing Arctic environment.

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How we’ve become accustomed to bubbles bursting the economy, instead of fighting them.

Summary: The financial sector has doubled in size as a %GDP since 1970, far exceeding its previous peak in 1929. The effects have been predictably broad and bad. One late stage symptom is the increased frequency of bubbles, perhaps even becoming our only driver of growth. To understand how this happens we should consult sociologists, such as one of the greatest of the post-WWII era: Daniel Moynihan. He describes how we’ve become psychologically adjusted to bubbles, rather than taking the political action to prevent them.

This is the follow-up to this morning’s Let’s ignore another warning from the BIS. Do we enjoy paying for burst bubbles?  For the 3,000 and 3,001 posts I’ve posted some unusually good material, timely and relevant to us all.

It's time for your heroin!

It’s time for your heroin!

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927 – 2003) was one of the greatest sociologists of his day. His prescient observations (often too radical for his time, such as seeing the effects of single-parent families) put him in the top rank of sociologists, as did his applying these skills to become an ambassador and 4-term US senator.

Today we look at one of his major papers: “Defining Deviancy Down“, American Scholar, Winter 1993. I strongly recommend reading it, being rich with insights about America. It gives a sociological analysis describing how we (society) adjust to changing levels of deviancy. Moynihan discusses crime and out-of-wedlock childbirth as forms of deviancy.

We can apply his insights to finance — specifically, the development of asset price bubbles.

About financial bubbles

First, some context. Financial bubbles — unsustainable rises in investments and asset prices — naturally occur in free-market systems. Classroom simulations show how easily they happen. Right-wing bugaboos to the contrary, bubble occur without fractional reserve banking, and happen under the gold standard — as seen in 19th C Britain and America. While painful, they might even have beneficial long-term effects, as did the great 1840s UK railroad mania. But Larry Summers and others fear we’ve entered a new era of secular stagnation, with an illusion of growth from bubbles — shattered when they burst.

This post rephrases Moynihan’s text, changing the subject from social deviancy to financial deviancy. I skip over the theory he gives in the first half. Alterations to the text appear in red; additions in brackets.

—————————————

Introduction

In one of the founding texts of sociology, The Rules of Sociological Method (1895), Emile Durkheim set it down that “crime is normal.” “It is,” he wrote, “completely impossible for any society entirely free of it to exist.” By defining what is deviant, we are enabled to know what is not, and hence to live by shared standards.

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Let’s ignore another warning from the BIS. Do we enjoy paying for burst bubbles?

Summary: As one market after another drifts off into bubble valuations, a few institutions warn of the consequences. As usual (we’ve done this so many times), we ignore them — our passivity and ignorance earning our role as the deep pockets paying for the resulting damage. This post looks at a few of the warnings from the venerable Bank of International Settlements — the “world’s oldest international financial organization”, the central banks’ central bank.

For more about this see How we’ve become accustomed to bubbles bursting the economy, instead of fighting them.

This is post #3,000, with over 5.5 million page views since opening in Nov 2007.

 

The BIS gives us yet another warning about the increasing prevalence of asset price bubbles in our financial system: “Asset Bubbles: Re-thinking Policy for the Age of Asset Management“. A excerpt appears at the end of this post, but the message should be obvious to all by now. Earlier analysis by the BIS pointed to the dangers of rising leverage (traditional buying on margin plus and endless array of derivatives) coupled with expansive monetary policy — and (although they can hardly mention this) little regulation of banks).  This report (carefully labeled as not representing BIS views) warns of structural factors encouraging speculative buying (e.g., herding and trend-following by investment managers). After all, it’s not their money.

It’s an enlightening report, typical of the BIS. It carefully avoids more than gentle questions about central banks’ role in this, especially the “put” (price guarantee) they’ve created on prices of financial assets. On the other hand, let’s be grateful for any warnings we get. Although we’ll ignore them, as we did during the housing and tech bubbles. FAILure to learn is an expensive vice.

Previous warnings from the BIS

These are unusually blunt warnings from an institution such as the BIS. Of course they know better than most that nobody is listening because the game must continue while there is money to be made by the financial industry. It’s the public’s role afterwards to politely write checks for the damage.

William R. White (former CIS chief economist)

“I see speculative bubbles like in 2007.” (Interview, 11 April 2014)

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What’s in a terrorist’s name? A step to understanding the Islamic State.

Summary: The fires expand over the Middle East, driven by centuries of relative decline and corrupt rule, stoked by our interventions. We struggle to understand this phenomenon, cutting through the lies and misinformation fed us. Today guest author Hal Kempfer takes us to the logical starting point: what to call this movement.

“Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever has not kindness has not faith.”
— Attributed to Mohammad.

Islamic sky

What’s in a terrorist name? Perhaps some meaning.

By Hal Kempfer (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired)

There is an active debate on terminology regarding the type of terrorists we see involving or inspired by groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. (aka the Islamic State of Iraq & Greater Syria, or ISIL, where they refer to the “Levant” vice “Greater Syria”). ISIS is a former Al Qaeda (AQ) affiliate that has almost eclipsed AQ.

The White House does not like the term “Radical Islam” in describing this threat. However, it is descriptive since it implies from whence their beliefs came. However, it also misses what makes them significantly different from mainstream believers of the Islamic faith.

When Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, most of them school kids, we didn’t call that “Radical Christianity,” nor did we do so in describing the events near Waco, Texas in 1993 or when Larry McQuilliams attacked the Mexican Consulate, Police Headquarters and federal courthouse in Austin, Texas, around Thanksgiving of last year. Further, when Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. attacked the Jewish Community Center and Jewish Assisted Living Facility in Overland Park, Kansas, in April of 2014, we didn’t call it “Radical Paganism,” even though his motivational beliefs were the same as the Nazi pagan cult of WWII.

So there does seem to be a semantic inconsistency.

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Today all roads in Europe lead to Greece, where its future lies in the balance.

Summary:  So many of the threads of history today run through Greece and the Middle East (not for the first time). The range of possible outcomes is wide, from wonderful to horrific. Yet we know too little to make accurate predictions (I suggest making free time by ignoring the confident guesses that overflow the news channels). Here we examine the key facts.

EU flag burning on the ground

Unnecessary death of a dream.

The Greek-Troika negotiations might have large effects on the future of Europe. Here’s my analysis (it’s similar to Tyler Cowen’s , but with more detail).

(1) The news tells us little.

Cowen nails this: “The further apart the various parties appear to be, the more the whip of concession gets cracking. The closer to an agreement they may seem, the greater the incentive to play hardball and demand further concessions.” Also, press releases seek to influence public opinion, not inform us.

(2)  Do both sides have a negotiating strategy? Does either side?

Cowen: “quite often leaders in critical positions simply do not know what they are doing. By no means is that always the case, but it is more often the case than narrative-imposing journalism encourages us to perceive.”

Both sides certainly have a clear understanding of what they want. Do they have a clear negotiating strategy? Or do they just stumble along, responding to events? History overflows with examples of the latter, with July 1914 at the top of the list.

Both sides quite sensibly keep their cards hidden, so we can only guess. Some of their public statements seem disturbing. Like the following from Helena Smith’s interview with Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis (The Guardian, 13 Feb). Is he sincere or posturing as a tactic?

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