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Thursday, June 12, 2003

I saw The Italian Job last night with an old friend from high school. He's a second year at Yale Law now and editing the Law Journal. It's extremely cool to have friends who are doing things like that, and it was a real treat to see him again after several years. He's 6'9", which does make any photos with the two of us look a little odd.

At any rate, back to The Italian Job. It was a really good movie - well written, well directed, pretty much everything you could ask for in a "popcorn" movie. I have to admit that my first thought was, "Man, if safecrackers really look like Charlize Theron, I'm definitely in the wrong profession." That definitely helped. Even apart from that, though, generally a really fun movie. The Mini Coopers in particular are extremely cool. It reminded me a great deal of both The Thomas Crown Affair and Ocean's 11. Writing that now, it occurs to me that all three are remakes of old caper films. I hadn't thought of that. That's very odd - I wonder why Hollywood doesn't make movies like that based on original ideas. I've heard that Heist was somewhat like that, come to think of it, and I didn't see it, so perhaps I spoke too soon. Still, it does seem kind of uncommon, doesn't it? I think it might have something to do with the extent that a movie like this relies on cleverness, not spectacle. You can't make it better by dropping another $10 million of explosions and CGI into the budget. The scriptwriter and director really need to think about things and apply craft, not just excess. That might be something that the modern Hollywood system is ill-adapted to produce. Or maybe not - I really don't know very much about the topic, I'm just speculating. Still, it's something to think about. Anyone with any better ideas who posted stuff in the comments would be appreciated.
It looks like I'm going to be on a new study soon, so I want to get at least a bit of posting in before that starts up and I (probably) fall off the map again.

Things seem to be going better than most people think in Iraq, interestingly enough. The Washington Post reports in a generally quite well done article (the sort of thing the New York Times should be doing) reports that the situation in Baghdad seems to be improving a great deal. That's clearly a very good sign, and it's sad that (after front-page reports on the anarchy there) the media is giving it so little attention. Sad, but not surprising. Still, kudos to the Washington Post for covering the improvement at all.

I did have one major issue with the article, though, which was its remarkably uncritical relating of the story of Nazar Shuhail, who reported his car stolen to the American troops. Shuhail used to be a supervisor at a factory that manufactured government tents for the army. That would seem to make him a fairly privileged person under the old regime. It would have been interesting if the Post reporter had found out what was involved in him getting that position, instead of just uncritically repeating his complaints about the American presence there.

One of the interesting things is the extent to which people are saying that crime is much worse now than it was when Saddam was in charge. That might be true, but I'm not certain. "At least the streets are safe in Moscow" was an old claim that apologists for the Soviet Union used to make during the Cold War. For some parts of the city that might actually have been true - in the areas where foreigners were allowed to stay, for example. The city as a whole, however, had an astronomical crime rate - and that's not even counting what was happening inside KGB headquarters. The difference is that people felt safe (from street crime, if not from their government) because, first, there was a very visibile police presence all over the city, even if it didn't achieve much, but even more than that, because crime wasn't reported. Even people who knew how heavily edited the news was still relied on it - when you don't have any other sources of information, after all, you take what you can get. I wonder how much of the change is simply that crimes that happen in Baghdad are actually reported now, instead of just covered up. It would also be interesting to find out how the crime rate in Baghdad compares to that in, say, Detroit - or even better, in other Third World cities in democratic countries, like New Delhi for example. That sort of information would be a lot more useful to readers than the sort of reporting that we're currently getting out of Iraq, and goes back, I think to a general lack of context and real analysis on the part of a press corps that doesn't really seem to have much capacity to do analysis of foreign policy.

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