Clint Eastwood’s “Stubborn Libertarian Streak”

(p. C6) Though he acts bravely and responsibly at a moment of crisis, Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) isn’t entirely a hero, and “Richard Jewell” doesn’t quite belong in the gallery with “Sully” and “American Sniper,” Eastwood’s other recent portraits of exceptional Americans in trying circumstances.

. . .

Eastwood, Ray and Hauser (who is nothing short of brilliant) cleverly invite the audience to judge Jewell the way his tormentors eventually will: on the basis of prejudices we might not even admit to ourselves. He’s overweight. He lives with his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates). He has a habit of taking things too seriously — like his job as a campus police officer at a small liberal-arts college — and of trying a little too hard to fit in. He treats members of the Atlanta Police Department and the F.B.I. like his professional peers, and seems blind to their condescension. “I’m law enforcement too” he says to the agents who are investigating him as a potential terrorist, with an earnestness that is both comical and pathetic.

Most movies, if they bothered with someone like Jewell at all, would make fun of him or relegate him to a sidekick role. Eastwood, instead, makes the radical decision to respect him as he is, and to show how easily both his everyday shortcomings and his honesty and decency are distorted and exploited by the predators who descend on him at what should be his moment of glory.

. . .

Eastwood has always had a stubborn libertarian streak, and a fascination with law enforcement that, like Jewell’s, is shadowed by ambivalence and outright disillusionment.

. . .

“Richard Jewell” is a rebuke to institutional arrogance and a defense of individual dignity, sometimes clumsy in its finger-pointing but mostly shrewd and sensitive in its effort to understand its protagonist and what happened to him. The political implications of his ordeal are interesting to contemplate, but its essential nature is clear enough. He was bullied.

For the full film review, see:

A.O. Scott. “The Jagged Shrapnel Still Flies Years Later.” The New York Times (Friday, December 13, 2019): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the film review was last updated December 23 [sic], 2019, and has the title “‘Richard Jewell’ Review: The Wrong Man.”)

Does Musk Want to Reach Mars or Conspicuously Consume Real Estate?

In my book Openness to Creative Destruction, I describe and praise those who I call “project entrepreneurs.” These are innovative entrepreneurs, like Walt Disney and Cyrus Field, who are motivated primarily by a desire to bring their project into the world, rather than a desire for conspicuous personal consumption. I have been unsure whether to count Elon Musk as a project entrepreneur. The evidence quoted below suggests the answer is “no.”

(p. M1) Over the last seven years, Mr. Musk and limited-liability companies tied to him have amassed a cluster of six houses on two streets in the “lower” and “mid” areas of the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, a celebrity-filled, leafy enclave near the Hotel Bel-Air.

Those buys—plus a grand, 100-year-old estate in Northern California near the headquarters of Tesla, the electric car concern he heads—means Mr. Musk or LLCs with ties to him have spent around $100 million on seven properties.

For the full story, see:

Nancy Keates. “Elon Musk’s Big Buyout.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, December 6, 2019): M1 & M6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 5, 2019, and has the title “Elon Musk Buys Out the Neighbors.”)

My book, mentioned at the top, is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

A.I. Needs People to Set the Objectives

(p. A2) Although Deep Mind’s Alpha Zero can beat a grand master at computer chess, it would still bomb at Attie Chess—the version of the game played by my 3-year-old grandson Atticus. In Attie Chess, you throw all of the pieces into the wastebasket, pick each one up, try to put them on the board and then throw them all in the wastebasket again. This apparently simple physical task is remarkably challenging even for the most sophisticated robots.

But . . . there’s a more profound way in which human intelligence is different from artificial intelligence, and there’s another reason why Attie Chess may be important.

. . .

The basic technique is to give the computer millions of examples of games, images or previous judgments and to provide feedback. Which moves led to a high score? Which pictures did people label as dogs?

. . .

But people also can decide to change their objectives. A great judge can argue that slavery should be outlawed or that homosexuality should no longer be illegal. A great curator can make the case for an unprecedented new kind of art, like Cubism or Abstract Expressionism, that is very different from anything in the past. We invent brand new games and play them in new ways.

. . .

Indeed, the point of each new generation is to create new objectives—new games, new categories and new judgments. And yet, somehow, in a way that we don’t understand at all, we don’t merely slide into relativism. We can decide what is worth doing in a way that AI can’t.

. . .

. . . , we are the only creatures who can decide not only what we want but whether we should want it.

For the full commentary, see:

Alison Gopnik. “MIND & MATTER; What A.I. Is Still Far From Figuring Out.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 23, 2019): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 20, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

Alison Gopnik’s comments, that are quoted above, are related to her paper:

Gopnik, Alison. “AIs Versus Four-Year-Olds.” In Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI, edited by John Brockman. New York: Penguin Press, 2019, pp. 219-30.

“Our Creative Yield Increases with Age”

(p. C1) . . . precocious achievement is the exception, not the norm. The fact is, we mature and develop at different rates. All of us will have multiple cognitive peaks throughout our lives, and the talents and passions that we have to offer can emerge across a range of personal circumstances, not just in formal educational settings focused on a few narrow criteria of achievement. Late bloomers are everywhere once you know to look for them.

. . .

What about creativity and innovation? That realm must belong to the young, with their exuberance and fresh ideas, right? Not necessarily. For instance, the average age of scientists when they are doing work that eventually leads to a Nobel Prize is 39, according to a 2008 Northwestern University study. The average age of U.S. patent applicants is 47.

Our creative yield increases with age, says Elkhonon Goldberg, a clinical professor of neurology at New York University. Dr. Goldberg thinks that the brain’s right and left hemispheres are connected by a “salience network” that helps us to evaluate novel perceptions from the right side by comparing them to the stored images and patterns on our left side. Thus a child will have greater novel perceptions than a middle-aged adult but will lack the context to turn them into creative insights.

Take Ken Fisher, who today runs Fisher Investments, a stock fund with $100 billion under management and 50,000 customers. After graduating from high school, he flunked out of a junior college. “I had no particular direction,” he said. He went back to school to study forestry, hoping for a career outdoors, but switched to economics and got his degree in 1972. In his early 20s, he hung out his shingle as a financial adviser, following his father’s career. To bring in extra money, he took construction jobs, and he played slide guitar in a bar. But he also read and read: “Books about management and business—and maybe thirty trade magazines a month for years,” he says. By the time he reached his 30s, an idea had gelled that would make him his fortune. As he puts it, during that period of reflection, “I developed a theory about valuing companies that was a bit unconventional.”

For the full commentary, see:

Rich Karlgaard. “It’s Never Too Late to Start a Brilliant Career; Our obsession with early achievement shortchanges people of all ages. Research shows that our brains keep developing deep into adulthood and so do our capabilities.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 4, 2019): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

The the passages quoted above, are from a commentary that is adapted from:

Karlgaard, Rich. Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. New York: Currency, 2019.

The research by Elkhonon Goldberg, mentioned above, is described in:

Goldberg, Elkhonon. Creativity: The Human Brain in the Age of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

How Drinking Coffee Makes Us Younger and More Open-Minded

(p. C2) . . . , if a baby monkey heard a new sound pattern many times, her neurons (brain cells) would adjust to respond more to that sound pattern. Older monkeys’ neurons didn’t change in the same way.

At least part of the reason for this lies in neurotransmitters, chemicals that help to connect one neuron to another. Young animals have high levels of “cholinergic” neurotransmitters that make the brain more plastic, easier to change. Older animals start to produce inhibitory chemicals that counteract the effect of the cholinergic ones. They actually actively keep the brain from changing.

. . .

In the new research, Jay Blundon and colleagues at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., tried to restore early-learning abilities to adult mice. As in the earlier experiments, they exposed the mice to a new sound and recorded whether their neurons changed in response. But this time the researchers tried making the adult mice more flexible by keeping the inhibitory brain chemicals from influencing the neurons.

In some studies, they actually changed the mouse genes so that the animals no longer produced the inhibitors in the same way. In others, they injected other chemicals that counteracted the inhibitors. (Caffeine seems to work in this way, by counteracting inhibitory neurotransmitters. That’s why coffee makes us more alert and helps us to learn.)

In all of these cases in the St. Jude study, the adult brains started to look like the baby brains.

For the full commentary, see:

Alison Gopnik. “MIND & MATTER; How to Get Old Brains to Think Like Young Ones.” The New York Times (Saturday, July 8, 2017): C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 7, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

The article co-authored by Jay Blundon and mentioned above,is:

Blundon, Jay A., Noah C. Roy, Brett J. W. Teubner, Jing Yu, Tae-Yeon Eom, K. Jake Sample, Amar Pani, Richard J. Smeyne, Seung Baek Han, Ryan A. Kerekes, Derek C. Rose, Troy A. Hackett, Pradeep K. Vuppala, Burgess B. Freeman, and Stanislav S. Zakharenko. “Restoring Auditory Cortex Plasticity in Adult Mice by Restricting Thalamic Adenosine Signaling.” Science 356, no. 6345 (June 30, 2017): 1352-56.

Stalin’s “Despotism in Mass Bloodshed”

(p. A13) In the aftermath of Lenin’s death in January 1924, Joseph Stalin—already secretary-general of the Communist Party—emerged as the outright leader of the Soviet Union. “Right through 1927,” Stephen Kotkin notes, Stalin “had not appeared to be a sociopath in the eyes of those who worked most closely with him.” But by 1929-30, he “was exhibiting an intense dark side.” Mr. Kotkin’s “Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941,” the second volume of a planned three-volume biography, tracks the Soviet leader’s transformation during these crucial years. “Impatient with dictatorship,” Mr. Kotkin says, Stalin set out to forge “a despotism in mass bloodshed.”

The three central episodes of Mr. Kotkin’s narrative, all from the 1930s, are indeed violent and catastrophic, if in different ways: the forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture; the atrocities of the Great Terror, when Stalin “arrested and murdered immense numbers of loyal people”; and the rise of Adolf Hitler, the man who would become Stalin’s ally and then, as Mr. Kotkin puts it, his “principal nemesis.” In each case, as Mr. Kotkin shows, Stalin’s personal character—a combination of ruthlessness and paranoia—played a key role in the unfolding of events.

For the full review, see:

Joshua Rubenstein. “BOOKSHELF; The Turn to Tyranny; We may never know what degree of personal obsession, political calculation and ideological zeal drove Stalin to kill and persecute so many.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 31, 2017, and has the same title “BOOKSHELF; Review: The Turn to Tyranny; We may never know what degree of personal obsession, political calculation and ideological zeal drove Stalin to kill and persecute so many.”)

The book under review is:

Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin: Volume 2: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941. New York: Penguin Press, 2017.

Manic Energy from Bipolar Disorder May Enable “Heights of Success”

(p. A17) Dr. Ronald R. Fieve, who was a pioneer in the prescription of lithium to treat mania and other mood disorders — while avowing that some gifted individuals, like Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, might have benefited from being bipolar — died on Jan. 2 [2018] at his home in Palm Beach, Fla.

. . .

He cited estimates that as many as one in 15 people experienced a manic episode during their lifetimes, and that bipolar disorder — characterized by swings from elation, hyperactivity and a decreased need for sleep to incapacitating depression — was often misclassified as schizophrenia or other illnesses, or undiagnosed altogether.

He cautioned, however, that some highly creative, exuberant and energetic people have derived benefits from the condition because they have what he called “a hypomanic edge.”

“I have found that some of the most gifted individuals in our society suffer from this condition — including many outstanding writers, politicians, business executives and scientists — where tremendous amounts of manic energy have enabled them to achieve their heights of success,” Dr. Fieve told a symposium in 1973.

But without proper treatment, he said, those individuals afflicted with manic depression “more often than not either go too ‘high’ or suddenly crash into a devastating depression that we only hear about after a successful suicide.”

In contrast to antidepressant drugs or electroshock treatments, he said, regular doses of lithium carbonate appeared to stabilize mood swings without cramping creativity, memory or personality.

. . .

Before it was approved to treat depression, lithium was found in the late 1940s to be potentially unsafe as a salt substitute. But Dr. Fieve pointed out that lithium had been found in natural mineral waters prescribed by Greek and Roman physicians 1,500 years earlier to treat what were then called manic insanity and melancholia.

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Dr. Ronald Fieve, Pioneer In Lithium, Is Dead at 87.” The New York Times (Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 12, 2018, and has the title “Dr. Ronald Fieve, 87, Dies; Pioneered Lithium to Treat Mood Swings.”)