Monday, December 19, 2005

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Kris and I rented this last night. Was actually quite funny. Totally absurd and ridiculuous plot--but I wasn't expecting or looking for realism is a movie like this. But it was very amusing and enjoyable to watch. I doubt I would watch it again, unless it was on TBS on Saturday afternoon, but it was worth a rental.

3.5 out of 5

Spenser returns to School

One of my favorite series of books is Robert Parker's Spenser's novels. Parker's lastest Spenser novel is School Days. One of his best in years. I think after several weak novels, the last few have been much stronger and more memorable.

Spenser is often cast a mystery novel, but usually there isn't a mystery. I categorize these books as detective novels--the books are about the detective, not the mystery. Anyway, School Days actually had me guess as to whodunnit, which was a nice change of pace.

Spenser was also back to old form: lots of wisecracking and flirting with members of the opposite sex. A very enjoyable read. Also raises some interesting questions about justice: in particular individual responsiblity and it's mitigation. Also some interesting questions about the justice system itself: role of defense lawyers, who gets punished and why.

The one draw back was no Hawk and no Quirk.

4 out of 5 stars.

Colts and Shadenfreude

My friend Joshua, over at Mudita Journal, has a post about 'Shadenfreude' (read his post here). Shadenfreude is the German word for "malicious satisfaction in the misfortunes of others". I have to admit that watching the Colts lose yesterday, I felt Shadenfreude. I hate the Colts and Manning annoys me. Watching him almost cry yesterday as the Chargers ran back the 'nail-in-the-coffin' touchdown felt, well, wonderful. Not as good as if the Patriots had beat them (or as good as watching the Patriots blank Tampa Bay), but still good. And that's Shadenfreude!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Trader Principle

The trader principle is actually a deeply engrained principle in our culture. The Trader Principle, in brief, is the idea (developed by Rand) that the only moral way individuals can interact is on the basis of trade; trade understood broadly as voluntary interaction for mutual benefit.

That this principle was deeply engrained occurred to me last night while watching ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Kris and I watch this show occasionally. It’s a bit cheesy, but there’s usually a nice, poignant story about the family who’s getting a home makeover. The demolitions are fun to watch, and the finished house always looks great. The basic idea of the show, for those with better things to do, is that a design team of 5-6 folks come to the house; sends the family on a week’s vacation somewhere while they completely redo the house. The families are usually folks who have had some tragedy befall them (son loses his sight and they need a blind-friendly house but can’t afford it, etc.).

Last night’s holiday special, was part retrospective looking back on the folks they’ve helped. But these folks wanted to help the design team help others, and so the each design team member went to some family that was helped in past episodes, and they went and worked on some one else’s house. Some examples: A soldier who lost his leg in the Iraq war had his house done, and he wanted to help a fellow soldier who lost his legs. A girl who was allergic to direct sunlight and was helped in a past episode wanted to do something nice for others like her—so they got DisneyWorld to open at night for these kids with XP (these disease prevents the skin from repairing the damage done by UV light, and so they can’t be in direct sunlight at all, ever. It was really quite sad.) You get the idea.

So what is the relevance to the Trader Principle? In each case, some one received help, aid, kindness from someone and they felt a need or desire to repay that. We don’t like to receive kindness or aid or gifts from others without doing something for them (or for someone else as a kind of proxy). Someone gets you a gift, and you say “But I didn’t get you anything”. An office associate does something out of his way to help you out, and you want to make it up to him (you take him out to lunch, buy him a beer, etc.) We want to make it a fair trade. And this was all over the Extreme Makeover show. Each person wanted to make good on what they had received by helping others in the way that each of them was helped.

I think this is evidence for the psychological basis for the trader principle: we don’t expect to get something for nothing, but moreover, we don’t want something for nothing.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A good Eulogy

After watching Napolean Dynamite, we put in Eulogy. I had never heard of this, but Kris has picked it up a bunch of times while at Blockbuster, so we decided to finally rent it. It has an interesting cast with Hank Azaria, Rip Torn (small role), Ray Romano, and plenty of others you'd recognize but I don't remember their names. ('Jean Grey' (Famke Janssen) from X-Men plays the lesbian lover of one of the characters--makes any movie, at least, watchable.)

The movie is largely seen through the ideas of the granddaughter, Kate. Her grandfather dies, and the whole family gathers for the funeral and to say goodbye. But this family takes dysfunction to an art form. They are just plain crazy. Over the course of several days, all the family's dirty little secrets come out and everyone's craziness gets, to some extent, explained. Very funny, some great characters. Ray Romano has a serious scene in the movie that makes you feel a little uncomfortable to watch--but that is the point and I think he does a good job at it (though his character is just a seedier version of his TV character).

4 out of 5.

Not blown away by Dynamite

Kris and I finally saw Napoleon Dynamite. Strange little movie. Everyone in that town was a bit odd. I particularly liked the character of Deb. She was quirky, but she didn't seem like an exaggeration like the rest of the characters. She had confidence and inner strength that made her stand out. Napoleon was downright weird. Pedro was an interesting character. Why was everyone so bored?

I was underwhelmed based on the hype this movie had, but it was still funny and memorable. I'd give it a 3 out of 5.

Edit (12/15): I've been thinking about this movie since I saw it. I definitely need to see it again--I think it's the kind of movie that will get funnier the more I watch it. Maybe then I'd appreciate it more.