Archive for the Category Uncategorized

 
 

Films of 2022:Q3

In addition to these films, I also watched the first 5 seasons of Better Call Saul. It was a bit uneven but fairly entertaining. Better than those typically overrated middlebrow “quality TV” series that are so beloved by critics.

2022:Q3 films

Newer Films:

Tintoretto: A Rebel in Venice  (Italy)  3.7  Perhaps my favorite art film, although as a documentary I’ve overrated it here.  Too much talking heads and not enough of Tintoretto’s paintings.  But I feel lucky to live in a world where this sort of film is even possible.  I’ve been to Venice twice, and will likely never get back again.  This is the next best thing.  As soon as it ended, I watched it a second time.

Tintoretto had a sign in his studio saying “The drawing of Michelangelo and the color of Titian”.  He’s arguably one of the 10 best painters that ever lived, and probably the least famous of that group.

Hermitage:  The Power of Art  (Italy/Russia)  3.6  Italian documentary that spends half its time on the Hermitage Museum and the other half on the history of St. Petersburg.  St. Petersburg is number one on my list of cities I have yet to see.  Because it’s increasingly doubtful I’ll ever get there, I thought I should at least watch this film.  The film has some stunning nighttime views of the city.

The same Italian company produced a documentary on the Prado, narrated by Jeremy Irons.  Unfortunately, you’d need a documentary 10 times as long to even come close to doing justice to that collection. 

Fire of Love  (Canadian)  3.5  Two people who got far more out of life than I ever will.

The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh:  (US)  3.5  What a life!

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once   (US)  3.2  Fernando Pessoa once wrote a poem that can be translated as:

To feel everything in every way

To live everything from all sides 

To be the same thing in all ways possible at the same time 

To realize in oneself all humanity in all moments 

In one scattered, extravagant, complete and aloof moment.

I see why some people love this film; the directors clearly have talent.  But 2½ hours of almost non-stop fighting is just too much for me.  I’m too old for this sort of film.

Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache   (Nepal)  3.2    I have mixed feelings about this one.  Mark Lee provides some beautiful cinematography, but the director doesn’t seem to know how to draw in the viewer.

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres.  (US)  3.1  Documentary about a Chinese-American writer for Rolling Stone magazine.  A very likable writer—and a so-so film.

Wood and Water  (Germany)  3.1  A film that draws you in, if you are in the right mood.  But I often felt like I’d seen the same sort of thing done better by other directors. The critics liked it a bit more than I did.

Mio on the Shore  (Japan)  3.0  I really wanted to like this film (and it had a few really nice images), but in the end the director wasn’t up to the task of creating the sort of film that he clearly intended to produce.  It wandered aimlessly from one sort of art film to another.

Older Films:

Playtime  (France, 1967, CC)   3.9  How to describe this one of a kind film?  It’s almost silent, apart from ambient background noise.  It’s color, but often without much color.  There’s no plot.  Imagine Buster Keaton doing a remake of Chaplin’s Modern Times, but with 70 mm widescreen in 1960s Paris. Alternatively, it might be the world’s only architectural comedy.  Whatever it is, it’s a treasure.  It MUST be seen on at least a relatively big screen—there’s so much going on in the margins.  It’s like a book where all the interest is in the footnotes.

Today, we are further away in time from Playtime than I was from Modern Times when I saw it around 1980.  And yet it seems much less “antique”.  Just another example of how mid-century modern is the eternal modern.

Man of the West  (US, 1958, CC)  3.8  When I read that Godard called this the best film of 1958, I thought he was trolling.  (Vertigo and Touch of Evil came out the same year.)  But this Anthony Mann western really is a masterpiece, full of scenes of visceral intensity.  It makes other westerns seem bland by comparison.

Midnight Run  (1988, US, CC)  3.8  People will say I’ve overrated this film, but it’s one of my favorite comedies. De Niro and Grodin are even better than I remember—the ultimate buddy film. 

Flowers of Shanghai  (1998, Taiwan, CC)  3.8  Second time I’ve seen this gorgeous Hou Hsiao-hsien film.  (Mark Lee was the cinematographer.) If you watched this, and then immediately watched a Hollywood drama, the latter film would seem absurdly overacted.   There seems to be some disagreement about whether the “flowers” were prostitutes. This makes me wonder how the flowers compare to Japanese geisha. And also why the West doesn’t seem to have anything comparable to either institution.

INLAND EMPIRE  (US, 2006)  3.8  That’s right, the title is all caps.  This film violates a basic rule of filmmaking (and storytelling).  You cannot have too many sources of confusion.  It’s OK to have uncertainty as to whether the protagonist is delusional or lucid.  You can have confusion as to whether the events are natural or supernatural.  You can have confusion as to whether you are watching a movie or a film within a film.  But you cannot have confusion on all of these points!

Lynch gets away with it by providing a greater number of engrossing scenes than almost any other film I’ve seen.  A master class in film technique.  And Laura Dern is spectacular.

Days of Being Wild  (1990, HK, CC)  3.8  The first of 7 consecutive masterpieces by Wong Kar-wai.  Christopher Doyle’s cinematography helped to usher in the golden age of Asian cinema.  Includes some excellent performances, especially by Leslie Cheung.

Jules and Jim  (1962, France, CC)  3.8  A classic of the French New wave.   

Early Summer  (Japan, 1951, CC)  3.8  Second time I’ve seen this one.  Don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity and slow pace of Ozu’s films, there’s a lot more going on here than you might notice on first viewing.

Fires of the Plain  (Japan, 1959, CC)  3.8  I’ve always wondered why Japanese casualties in WWII battles were an order of magnitude higher than US casualties.  Now I know.  Probably the bleakest, most hopeless film I’ve ever seen.  War films should always show things from the losing side, as it makes it easier to see that every side loses in war.

Donald Ritchie said that today this sort of film could not be made in Japan (presumably due to rising nationalism.)  What a sad comment on the 21st century.

Damnation  (Hungary, 1988, CC)  3.8   The 4K restoration was wonderful.  Rarely has ugliness looked so beautiful.  Regarded as Bela Tarr’s first masterpiece.

The Fire Within  (France, 1963, CC)  3.8  For a mediocrity like me, it can be disturbing to watch a great artist wrestle with the age-old question of “To be or not to be?”  If I hear someone say that the question is uninteresting or that the answer obvious, I’m inclined to think to myself, “If they don’t believe questions like that are worth pondering, then what makes them wish to live?”  I guess there are some things that I’ll never understand. Louis Malle directed.

The Sound of the Mountain  (Japan, 1954, CC)  3.7  I didn’t recognize that I’d read the novel (by Yasunari Kawabata) until about 15 minutes into the film.   Directed by Naruse and featuring Setsuko Hara.

Destry Rides Again (US, 1939, CC) 3.7 The film that made Jimmy Stewart a star and that re-launched Marlene Dietrich’s career. And the best cat fight you’ll ever see.

Hold Back the Dawn  (US, 1941, CC)  3.7  With so many great films in 1941, this one sort of gets overlooked.  I suppose that Green Card was based on this film, but this one is better.  Hard to believe that Olivia de Havilland died just two years ago, at age 104.

Air Doll  (Japan, 2009, CC)  3.7  When I first saw this film I didn’t know about the great cinematographer Mark Lee.  Now I’ll watch almost anything he films, in this case for a second time.  Underrated by critics, it’s one of Koreeda’s best.

Mon Oncle  (France, 1958, CC)  3.7  One word: plastics.  When this came out, it was a satire on mid-century modernism.  Now that period is ancient history, which makes it an entirely different film—perhaps even more charming than before.

The Thin Man  (US, 1934, CC)  3.6  The list of highly entertaining Hollywood films from the 1930s seems almost endless.  It was the decade where the “talkie” was perfected.

Paper Flowers  (India, 1959, CC)  3.6   Although now viewed as a masterpiece, Guru Dutt’s film was panned at the time.  After it flopped, studios were no longer willing to fund his pictures, and he died a few years later at age 39.  Ironically, the film is about a successful director (played by Dutt) who became an outcast after his last film flopped.  In places it reminded me a bit of 8 ½, a film made 4 years later.

It seems as though the supreme examples of art within any genre feature the artist creating the work itself in a sort of hall of mirrors regress.  Why does that theme bring out the best in an artist? Because it’s what they know best?   (Think of paintings like Las Meninas or The Art of Painting, or plays like Hamlet, or novels like In Search of Lost Time, etc.  Did Karl Knausgaard understand this on some level?)

House of Bamboo   (US/Japan, 1955, CC)  3.6  Very enjoyable (and underrated) Sam Fuller noir with Robert Stack and Robert Ryan.  Lots of good scenes, but the rooftop finale is especially impressive. Some stunning widescreen Technicolor cinematography.

Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam  (India, 1962, CC)  3.5  Oddly, Guru Dutt looks much younger than in his earlier films.  Unfortunately, the print I saw was in need of restoration. In retrospect, Pyaasu is probably his best film—I think I rated it too low in my previous write-up. His performance in that 1957 film was stunning.   Like Orson Welles, Dutt could play much older roles.

No Regrets for Our Youth  (Japan, 1946, CC)  3.5  One of the more powerful anti-fascist films of the post-war era.  This Kurosawa film came out in 1946, when for one brief shining moment, fascism had been discredited almost everywhere.  It was sad seeing the film in 2022, when authoritarian nationalism is again on the increase in many parts of the world. People never learn. 

The film starred Seksuko Hara, about which Wikipedia says:  “After seeing a Setsuko Hara film, the novelist Shūsaku Endō wrote: “We would sigh or let out a great breath from the depths of our hearts, for what we felt was precisely this: Can it be possible that there is such a woman in this world?””

Seasons  (France, 2015, CC)  3.5  The last 15,000 years in Western Europe from the perspective of animals.  For most of that time, humans were just another animal.  And then something changed.  Surprisingly enlightening to see things from a fresh perspective.

Party Girl  (US, 1958, CC)  3.4  I’d never heard of this Nicholas Ray film, but it’s fairly entertaining and attractive to look at.

After the Thin Man  (US, 1936, CC)  3.4 Almost as entertaining as the first one, but it runs a bit too long.

The Big Knife  (US, 1955, CC)  3.4  A sort of classic of its type.  My one reservation is Rod Steiger, whose acting is so over the top that it almost seems like camp.  Someone like Marlon Brando would have done much better.  Watching this film makes me wonder why Jack Palance wasn’t a big star.

Crosscurrents   (China, 2016)  3.4  Best to see this on a big screen, or a big OLED, as Mark Lee’s stunning nighttime cinematography is the prime attraction.  Otherwise the film is somewhat uneven, a sort of poor man’s Bi Gan film.

Blue Collar  (US, 1978, CC)  3.3  The film has a good opening scene showing factory work to a pounding blues beat. In reality, the UAW workers back then were better paid than what’s portrayed in the film. I had forgotten that Richard Pryor was a good actor.  Oh, and I cannot get enough of that late 1970s decadence.

Louis Kahn:  Silence and Light  (US, 1996)  3.3  When I took a couple architectural history classes back in the 1970s, my professor suggested that Louis Kahn was one of America’s four great architects.  That still seems correct, although now it might be five.  The Kimball in Fort Worth is one of my favorite buildings.

Mies  (US, 1986)  3.3  A documentary that doesn’t insult one’s intelligence.  Has interviews with a wide range of architects and writers, with some very sharp observations about both Mies van der Rohe and his influence on the international style.

Breaking the Maya Code  (US, 2008)  3.3  The first half of this over long documentary is a bit dull, but if you are patient the film provides some highly satisfactory puzzle solving in the second half. 

Eames: The Architect and the Painter (US, 2011)  3.2  Starts out very strong, as they did produce an important body of work.  But the film runs out of energy after a while, with too much on their personalities and too little photography of their important creations. 

Flower Drum Song  (US, 1961, CC)  3.2  Very colorful musical, noteworthy primarily for being the first Hollywood film about Asian Americans (and there wouldn’t be another until 1993.)   Modern viewers will cringe at a few scenes, but it’s still an enjoyable way of absorbing a bit of history—at least if you like old musicals.

Five Graves to Cairo  (US, 1943, CC)  3.2  This entertaining early Billy Wilder film has some decent acting and dialogue, as well as a plot that holds one’s interest.

Out of the Fog (US, 1941, CC)  3.2  Ida Lupino stars in this Raoul Walsh film.

They Drive by Night  (US, 1940, CC)  3.2 Interesting look at the trucking industry when it was a relatively new growth industry.  Raoul Walsh directed this film featuring Bogart and Ida Lupino.

The Revenant   (US/Canada, 2015)  3.2   I wish I could rate this higher, as it has some very impressive scenes.  Unfortunately, this over long film begins to drag after the powerful opening scenes. After the 4th or 5th time the protagonist survives an impossible ordeal, the film begins to fell more like spectacle than drama, an increasingly common problem with modern action movies. Please make it feel real.  Less is more.

The Man I Love  (US, 1946, CC)  3.2  Ida Lupino stars in this Raoul Walsh directed noir.  Nothing special, but captures the feel of the immediate postwar period.  My favorite line was when Lupino’s lover mentioned that the night before he’d attempted to travel from Long Beach up to Pasadena—by trolley!!   (And gave up half way.)

Piccadilly  (UK, 1929, CC)  3.1  Anna May Wong’s first starring role, and she’s the main reason to watch this film.  There’s an interesting scene where a black man and a white woman are kicked out of a pub for dancing together.  Not sure what British audiences would have made of the scene back in 1929.

Leave Her to Heaven  (US, 1945, CC)  3.1  A wildly implausible melodrama that is nonetheless quite watchable due to the rich Technicolor photography.

Ziegfeld Girl  (US, 1941, CC)  3.1   This would have been very impressive when it first came out.  But the sentimentality hasn’t aged well and the spectacular Broadway numbers no longer seem so spectacular.  Still, there’s Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, Lana Turner, and the legendary Hedy Lamarr.  That’s more than enough to make it watchable.

State of Play  (US, 2009, CC)  3.1 Solid entertainment as long as you put your brain on hold, as the conspiracy theory laden plot is a bit over the top and the dialogue is full of clichés.

Action in the North Atlantic  (US, 1943, CC)  3.1  As long as the characters are not speaking, it’s a pretty good war film with some very impressive sequences.  Unfortunately, it was made in 1943, a time when the government wasn’t looking for nuance or complexity.  Fans of the Jones Act will love this rousing defense of the US Merchant Marines.

The River’s Edge  (US, 1957, CC)  3.1  These color noirs from the 50s are all sort of mesmerizing to watch, even though they are not great films by any normal criterion.

A Kiss Before Dying  (US, 1956, CC)  3.0  Another color noir, this one starring a very young Robert Wagner.  Given the plot, it’s hard to watch this film without thinking about Natalie Wood.

The Hard Way  (US, 1943, CC)  3.0  Fans of melodrama might like this Ida Lupino film more than I did.  I smiled when one young lady exclaimed “Are you trying to kill me” to a therapist, who responded something to the effect “You are much too young to die; the life expectancy of women is 62.”

The Counselor (US, 2013) 3.0   Ridley Scott’s a good director, but his skills don’t mesh with Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay.  There are jarring changes in tone, as the film swings wildly between Basic Instinct style camp and serious tragedy.  Lots of good parts, but I didn’t know what to make of it.

Arabesque  (US, 1966, CC)  3.0  A follow-up to Charade, but not as good.  As with the Bond films, the plots for these Stanley Donen thrillers became increasing ridiculous during the 1960s.  And Gregory Peck is no Cary Grant.  It does have Sophia Loren, and she’s pretty much the only reason to watch it.

Experiment in Terror  (US, 1962, CC)  3.0  This experiment in filmmaking wasn’t quite successful.  Really nice cinematography in the opening sequence, but after that the acting and directing was pretty bland.  Blake Edwards is a decent director, but noirs don’t seem to be his forte.

The Debut  (Netherlands, 1977, CC)  3.0  A love story (directed by a woman) featuring a 41-year old man and a 14-year old girl. Not a particularly good film, but it may be of interest to younger viewers who want to take a peek into a world that is long gone—the decadent late 1970s.  Yes, there really was a time when not everything was viewed through the lens of victims and villains.

Gates of Heaven  (US, 1978, CC)  3.0  Errol Morris’s first film got very good reviews, but 44 years later it doesn’t quite hold up.

Two For the Road  (US/France, 1967, CC)  2.9  Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn don’t have much chemistry and the screenplay is uninspired.  However it does capture the feel of 1967.

The Cool Lakes of Death   (Netherlands, 1982, CC)  2.9  Not a film to see when you are older, and have seen the same ideas in a number of previous films.  It was a chore to sit through more than 2 hours of degradation, as an upper class woman gradually falls into the gutter.

Accused of Murder   (US, 1956, CC)  2.8  Despite the widescreen color format (with some weirdly distorted wide angle shots), this is definitely a B noir.  Yet even with clumsy acting and dialogue, it’s passable entertainment.  Fortunately, it came in at under 75 minutes, leaving time for an episode of Better Call Saul.

Tales of a Golden Geisha  (Japan, 1990, CC)  2.8  During the late 1980s, Itami seemed to gradually lose his touch.  This is his weakest film.

Foreign Intrigue  (US, 1956, CC)  2.4   The film is as bland as its generic title.  Robert Mitchum looks bored by it all.

Year of the Dragon  (US, 1985, CC)  2.0  At times, it’s so bad that it almost becomes a campy success.  But the screenplay by Oliver Stone and Michael Cimino takes itself much too seriously to be a camp classic.  Add in some wildly out of place Mahler and perhaps the most annoying performance in cinema history by Mickey Rourke.   It makes me wonder if I overrated The Deer Hunter.

Father  (Japan, 1988, CC)  1.6  Japan produces some really good films, but there’s also a wide variance.  The Criterion Channel employee that added this “comedy” should be fired.

Time to pay the piper? (part 2)

Over at Econlog, I have a post entitled “Time to pay the piper?“, which looks at the cost of recent monetary policy. That cost actually doesn’t concern me too much, as from the perspective of the consolidated government balance sheet it’s mostly a wash. (That’s not to deny that QE went overboard. In retrospect, policy was clearly too stimulative.)

My bigger concern is fiscal policy. While I failed to correctly predict the upsurge in inflation, I nonetheless did oppose the Covid fiscal stimulus, albeit for other reasons. Here’s what I said in 2020:

With the seemingly endless stimulus now coming out of Washington, it’s time to revisit the question of whether deficits matter. In recent weeks, I’ve seen lots of pundits say that government spending is virtually costless, as interest rates are close to zero. There are two flaws with this argument.

In other posts I pointed out that if you run up a large national debt at the zero lower bound, then you expose your country to the risk of ballooning financing costs if interest rates rise to more normal levels. I did not actually expect rates to rise as much as they have, but then I didn’t expect the Fed to abandon average inflation targeting and start running highly inflationary monetary policies. And yet even though I didn’t expect much higher interest rates, I did not believe that fiscal stimulus was worth the risk.

When I spoke of “future tax liabilities”, I got a lot of pushback from people suggesting that we would never need to repay our national debt. That’s true in a sense, but very misleading. Even if we never actually repay the debt, it still must be serviced. Because of rising interest rates, we’ll have to pay higher (distortionary) taxes in future years to pay interest on the reckless fiscal stimulus of the Trump/Biden administrations. The UK is facing the same issue.

It was possible to view the fiscal stimulus during the Great Recession as a one time thing. We usually don’t have recessions that large. But then Covid comes along and we get a far bigger stimulus. Again, we are told it’s a one time thing. Then a massive bailout of student loans, and a promise we’ll never, ever do anything like that again. UK taxpayers are being told they must now bail out energy consumers, And today we’re told that hurricane Ian will be the most costly ever. Doesn’t it seem like governments are more and more willing to write massive checks whenever people are even slightly inconvenienced? If so, is it any surprise that markets are pricing in higher real interest rates going forward? Our deficit projections are unreliable.

PS. I’ve been asked about the recent market turmoil in the UK, but I don’t have any good answers. The rise in the UK’s real interest rate may partly reflect the recent stimulus announcement. But as many have pointed out, that would normally lead to currency appreciation. Furthermore, real rates have risen sharply in the US, so it seems that global factors are also a factor.

Market indicators continue to show very little default risk for UK public debt, so that doesn’t seem to be the issue. A more plausible risk is the BoE being pressured to monetize the debt. But inflation spreads did not rise during the period when the pound plunged. And the pound seemed to rally on monetary stimulus. So I’m at a loss to explain the situation.

I had a very negative view of Boris Johnson, who promoted a foolish Brexit policy and ran large budget deficits. But while Brexit tended to depreciate the pound, that factor was already priced in before the recent market turmoil. I’ll take a wait and see attitude on Truss, who seems likely to continue the UK’s overly expansionary fiscal policy. To her credit, she does have a number of excellent pro-growth policy initiatives in areas such as housing, investment, and immigration. Let’s see what she is actually able to deliver.

There’s that f-word again

I get a lot of pushback from commenters suggesting that I don’t know anything about fascism. That may be true, but Timothy Snyder is one of the world’s leading experts on the subject and he also views Putin as fascist. Now Timothy Garton Ash says the same thing.

The two Timothys understand that in the past the term “fascist” has been overused (as has “communist”). Here’s Ash:

For many years I shared the reluctance of other scholars and analysts to use the word fascism in the present tense. A polymorphous phenomenon even in its heyday in the 1930s, fascism subsequently suffered from an excess of definition. To cry “fascist!” suggested a lazy equation with Adolf Hitler, total war and the Holocaust. The far left further devalued the term by hurling it around to denounce everyone from capitalist bosses to mildly disciplinarian schoolteachers.

Nonetheless:

There is, however, a serious contender for this label: Vladimir Putin’s Russia. So many of the historical features of fascism can be found there. The state-organised cult of a single leader. The cultivation of a deep sense of historical resentment. Indoctrination of youth and demonisation of the enemy. The propaganda of the big lie — in Putin’s case, that Ukrainians are fascists. An ideology of domination by one Volk over others: for Putin, Ukrainians don’t really exist, they are just a variant of Russians. An aesthetic of martial machismo and heroic slaughter — recall the Russian president’s praise of the brigade responsible for the atrocities in Bucha. Above all, the practice of fierce repression at home and genocidal violence abroad.

People tell me that Putin is not the same as Hitler. Well, yeah. Or he’s not the same as Franco. Yes, he’s more fascist than Franco.

Dornbusch overshooting in Japan

In Rudi Dornbusch’s exchange rate model, a tight money policy causes a currency to appreciate sharply, overshooting its long run equilibrium value. From that point on, it is expected to gradually depreciate over time.

Recent trends in the dollar/yen exchange rate provide an almost textbook example of Dornbusch overshooting. This graph is from Bloomberg:

The 10-year nominal bond yield differential is even more striking, more than 300 basis points. Because of the interest parity condition, that means the yen is expected to appreciate by more than 3%/year over the next decade. And because monetary policy has little effect on the long run expected real exchange rate, a tight money policy in the US that causes higher interest rates must force the spot dollar much higher, so that it can be expected to fall back to something closer to its long run equilibrium over time.

Note that “never reason from a price change” still applies. If a country sees its interest rates rising merely due to higher inflation expectations (not tight money), then there is no reason for its currency to appreciate in the spot market. For example, look at countries like Turkey and Argentina. This is presumably why the FT graph shows the real interest rate differential.

A more timely example might be the UK, where rising bond yields triggered by an announced tax cut (seen as recklessly expansionary) were associated with a depreciating pound. I’m often critical of the “fiscal theory of the price level” (in the US context), but the recent market reactions to Truss’s policy initiative do match that model.

Bloomberg also reports that the Japanese government is trying to prevent yen appreciation. depreciation:

Japan intervened to prop up the yen for the first time since 1998, after its central bank sparked further declines in the currency by sticking with ultra-low interest rates as its global peers hiked.

The yen rose as much as 2.5% against the dollar, pulling back sharply from the lows of the day when it had breached a key psychological level of 145, as top currency official Masato Kanda said Thursday the government was taking “decisive action.”

This seems misguided. Every time that Japan shows any sign of breaking out of the low inflation trap, the Japanese government does something to push the yen higher. What are they afraid of?

PS. A graph showing the nominal interest rate differential and the exchange rate would look quite similar. What would a NeoFisherian make of such a graph?

Feminism and the perils of blogging

The internet doesn’t do nuance.

Early on in my blogging career, I discovered that many people are poor readers. And they tend to misread posts in a very specific way. Let’s say you make a very specific point about X. A reader will note that people who believe X often also believe Y, Z and 100 other things. Thus assume it’s only logical that you must also be advocating Y, Z and a 100 other things.

This sort of mood affiliation reaches comical proportions in my comment section, where Trumpistas assume that because I hate Trump, I must also subscribe to dozens of left wing views that I in fact reject. I am now at peace with that fact and have come to view this as a source of amusement.

Back in 2005, Larry Summers got into hot water for some rather unexceptional statements about the lack of women in science. His critics claimed that Summers had argued that men were superior to women at science, which is not what he claimed. (Even Harvard faculty struggle with nuance.). Based on that misinterpretation, Summers was viewed as hostile to feminism.

Now Bryan Caplan says, “Don’t be a feminist.” Because I believe that Summers was treated unfairly, I am somewhat inclined to support Caplan’s position. And feminists also support lots of other political positions that I oppose.

But in the end I reject the anti-feminist label. And the reason is simple—I look at things from a global perspective. And from a global perspective there is one gender issue of overriding importance in the 21st century—the war against women’s rights by right-wing authoritarian nationalists.

Putin is the most famous example of a misognynist leader, but a backlash against women’s rights is gaining strength in many other places, including China, India and indeed most lower and middle income countries. This is often combined with a cult of masculinity and a contempt for “sissy boys”, trans people, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the traditional mold of gender difference. To be fair, this is much less of an issue in rich countries, but even here you see conservatives trying to ban abortion and mocking gay politicians like Pete Buttigieg. In some European countries it’s even worse.

Contra Caplan, at the global level you very much should identify as a feminist. So perhaps I could say I’m an American anti-feminist and a global feminist? I’d rather just avoid tribal labels entirely.

In recent years, many on the right have been attracted to Putin’s anti-woke rhetoric. One theme is that the nationalist right is masculine and strong, while the woke left is a bunch of sissy boys. But the war in Ukraine upends that framing (just as WWII undercut the American admirers of fascism and the Hitler-Stalin Pact undermined American communists.) The Ukrainian soldiers fighting back against Putin sure don’t look like sissies.

Love him or hate him, Jordon Peterson is generally an extremely effective debater. But the recent Russian setback in Ukraine seems to have put him out of sorts—I don’t ever recall seeing a grouchier intellectual interviewed by a major network. At times his attempt to sound cynical comes across as so over the top as to be almost comical. Judge for yourself. (Tip to Peterson: If you aren’t using your trademark humor, you’re losing.)

In the interview, Peterson starts right off by saying that Putin is nothing like Hitler and Stalin, and then immediately pivots to the claim the there’s more than a bit of Hitler in us all. Well, we do share 99% of DNA with chimps, so . . .

But then how is Putin nothing like Hitler? They both invaded a neighboring country, annexing a portion of that country. Later, they both decided they wanted the entire country. They both invaded multiple European countries. They both wanted to recreate a grand empire. They both headed fascist personality cults. And yet while (according to Peterson) there’s a fair bit of Hitler in all of us, somehow Putin is nothing like Hitler? As for Stalin, he was an authoritarian Russian dictator that massacred lots of Ukrainians in 1933. So again, nothing like Putin.

To his credit, Peterson does not support the Russian invasion. But he sure goes out of his way to make excuses for Russia. Here’s David French in The Atlantic, with two embedded quotes of Peterson:

I want to focus on a specific claim by Peterson—that Russia has not only gone to war to protect itself from what he describes as Western degeneracy, but that our alleged degeneracy robs the West of the moral high ground in the conflict. Here’s a key quote:

“And are we degenerate in a profoundly threatening manner? I think the answer to that may well be yes. The idea that we are ensconced in a culture war has become a rhetorical commonplace. How serious is that war? Is it serious enough to increase the probability that Russia, say, will be motivated to invade and potentially incapacitate Ukraine merely to keep the pathological West out of that country, which is a key part of the historically Russian sphere of influence?”

And what is this degeneracy? Peterson talks about radical gender ideology, the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson (yes, really), and her reluctance to define a “woman” during her confirmation hearings. Here’s more Peterson:

“The culture war in the West is real, and culture is losing. And Russia is part of the West. And the culture war is now truly part of why we have a war, and it’s a real war. And it is certainly the case that we do not therefore have all the moral high ground, for some part of the reasons that [political scientist John] Mearsheimer details, and for these reasons of insanity. In fact, how much of it we have at all is something rightly subject to the most serious debate.”

In Putin’s Russia, rape is a minor issue as long as it’s within the family:

In 2018, the government statistics agency recorded a total of 8,300 women killed. That works out at 22 a day. Contrast that with the UK rate of one woman murdered every three days.

Like in Britain, NGOs say the majority of those happened in the home. The official number for domestic violence murders for 2018 was just 253.

Most European countries, especially given a widely reported increase in domestic violence during the pandemic, are toughening their laws. Russia is going the other way.

In 2017 Russia decriminalised first instance domestic battery, meaning anything which doesn’t end up in hospital is classified as an administrative offence. There is no specific category for violence by a relative. The penalty is the same as being punched by a stranger on the street.

Of course rape outside the family is taboo, as for people on the far right there is no worse fate than being a cuckold.

But Peterson thinks the real problem is flaky Westerners having trouble defining the term “woman”.

I would encourage Bryan Caplan to look beyond America, and ask himself whether he wants to be seen (unfairly) as part of the global anti-feminist crusade.