November 16, 2014
icon Happy 10th Anniversary, Conglomerate!
Posted by Christine Hurt

Ten years ago, on November 16, 2004 (Gordon's birthday), he and I joined forces and started blogging together here at Conglomerate.  Most of you know the story, or here's our About page.  Earlier that year, I had tried to rally a group blog together, and he was blogging alone.  We decided to through our blogging lots in with one another, and the rest is history.  I consider blogging with Gordon (and then Vic, Lisa, Fred, Usha, Dave and Erik) to be a privilege, honor and pleasure.  I miss the fun days of the early blawgosphere when commercial and commercial-ized blogs were mere rumors, and we read and linked to each other early and often.  The issues and concerns that were raised back then seem almost quaint now.  The false dichotomy of blogging v. scholarship has been proven, and the spectre of untenured bloggers being fired never quite came to be.  Long-form scholarship still has its detractors, but was not displaced by short-form bloggership.  The bottom line for me is that blogging continues to be a way for scholars from different disciplines and different geographical areas to engage in real-time discourse and easily make connections, which is even more important in this age of dwindling travel budgets.  Finally, it's hard to remember the last ten years of the blawgosphere without recognizing Larry Ribstein and Dan Markel, two pioneers of blogging who are sorely missed.  Two people that I met on the internet.

Here is a photo taken in January 2007 with a quorum of Glommers and Friends of the Glom:

Bloggers1

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November 13, 2014
icon Family Film Blogging: Big Hero 6
Posted by Christine Hurt

Boy, have we been waiting for Big Hero 6, and it was worth the wait.  It's not this year's Frozen, but it is a crowd-pleaser.

First of all, the movie is the origin story of a group of superheroes that is never referred to as such in the movie, but is the "Big Hero 6."  These characters are Marvel characters, but here they have very little similarity to that series.  In the movie, the action is set in a beautiful, technologically advanced city called "San Fransokyo."  This of course, is brilliant marketing for a movie with a ready-made global audience.  If you pay attention, you will see that great pains have been taken to not pin down whether the city is in America or Japan.  Someone talks about making "chicken wings," but doesn't necessarily call them "Buffalo wings," so they could very well be Japanese wings.  The result is actually pretty cool, and the city is beautiful.  On to the story:  Hiro, our uh, hero, is a 13 year-old genius who squanders his abilities on illegal robot fights until his older brother, Tadashi, convinces him to enroll at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology.  This is Disney, so not only are the two presumed orphans (there parents are "gone"), but also a tragedy takes Tadashi's life early in the movie.  (Sorry.)

But Tadashi didn't leave Hiro all alone.  Tadashi had just perfected a healthcare robot named Baymax, a Stay-Puft marshmallow nurse who inflates from his charging box when he senses that Hiro is hurt.  Hiro is at first skeptical, then annoyed, but soon he realizes two things:  first, that Tadashi's death was not an accident and second, that Baymax can become a fighting robot to help him avenge Tadashi's death.  Tadashi's university friends vow to help Hiro, mostly because they are worried about him, but come to embrace their new warrior-selves.

If Frozen appealed to younger kids, particularly those that adore princesses, castles and magic, Big Hero 6 appeals to older kids who adore science, computers, and superheroes.  Though some Disney fans may dream of having an ice castle or a talking snowman, some Disney fans may think that a real dream house is having a lot of supercomputing power, a 3D printer and a fab lab.  Hiro has these tools, which enable him to do technology magic.  Hiro is a 13 year-old Tony Stark, only smarter.

My only quibble with the super-science depiction is (of course) its depiction of the two female technology students.  The ensemble has to be rounded out for both ethnic diversity and gender diversity, but I think the ladies get short shrift.  Hiro and Tadashi are super-smart, but fairly "normal" looking and acting.  Tadashi is very attractive and looks sort of athletic.  Hiro is very cute, with "One Direction" hair, which means it goes rakishly in many directions.  The two ladies are named "Go Go" and "Honey Lemon."  (We are told these are their lab nicknames.)  Go Go is very aggressive and abrupt (a "daredevil adrenaline junkie"), while Honey Lemon ("as sweet as her namesake") wears miniskirts and creates weapons out of pink foam.  Really?  So female scientists either have to be super masculine or super feminine?  Weird.

The movie gets very exciting and has moments that are especially heart-warming.  And, it has some pretty funny moments.  The comic relief of the movie is Fred, voiced by T.J. Miller, who is the funniest part of Silicon Valley.  (Though our family remembers him fondly from one of the worst movies ever, Yogi Bear.)  Fred provides great levity to the weighty plot (young boy trying to avenge death of brother with fighting robot).  In the last 60 seconds, you realize that this movie is merely the beginning of a Big Hero 6 franchise, but that kind of makes you happy.

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icon The BusinessWeek Best B School Rankings Are Out!
Posted by David Zaring

And Wharton finishes second, the deal is that it is always supposed to be in the top 3, so that's nice.  The rankings are weird - they change methodology each time, which means that they got to put Duke first this year, which is incorrect.  Most of the rankings, moreover, are based on student surveys (hmmm), and employer surveys, again, with widely varying samples over time.  Social science, this is not.

However, perhaps the oddest single table in the rankings comes from what you'd think would be its most objective metric.  BW counted the number of articles written by tenure track faculty in 20 journals, adopted a weird point system for apportioning credit based on length and co-authors (but not totally weird), and must have expressed the final number per capita (it's impossible to imagine that Wharton wouldn't finish first on the list otherwise - the school has 240 TT faculty, way more than anyone else).

Here's the top six, Ohio State is also in the top ten:

1. UC San Diego

2.  Duke

3. Cornell

4. Wash. U.

5. Texas at Dallas

6. Maryland

I'm not really sure what to make of such a diverse array of schools, which don't include Chicago, Stanford, &c, &c.  It's only through the survey responses that BW ends up with a ranking that looks somewhat "normal."

PS, if you're wondering what's a good business school journal, BW's list isn't bad.  It includes:

the Harvard Business ReviewJournal of MarketingOperations ResearchInformation Systems ResearchJournal of FinanceAmerican Economic ReviewJournal of Accounting ResearchJournal of Financial EconomicsManagement ScienceAcademy of Management ReviewJournal of Marketing ResearchStrategic Management JournalAccounting ReviewAcademy of Management JournalProduction & Operations ManagementJournal of Business EthicsJournal of Consumer ResearchReview of Financial StudiesAdministrative Science QuarterlyMarketing Science.

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November 10, 2014
icon Family Film Blogging: The Book of Life
Posted by Christine Hurt

One thing I love about living in Utah County is that there are two "dollar" theaters where movies play at the end of their run at movie theaters.  Saturday, the two boys and I saw The Book of Life for $3.50, even though it was still playing at full-priced venues.  The seven year-old had wanted to see if after seeing the preview, but the almost thirteen year-old was skeptical.  However, the movie won us all over.

This animated movie is a little different than normal Disney/Dreamworks fare.  The characters are not drawn as beautiful, round Pixar characters.  Instead, the characters are shaped like wooden puppets, and move like very graceful, magical jointed dolls.  (Although the heroine has big doe eyes, like a Bratz doll, that seem out of place.)  The setting is Mexico, and the decor and landscape is multi-colored and bold, like Mexican tile.  The plot also revolves around The Day of the Dead and the two afterlife realms:  The Land of the Remembered and The Land of the Forgotten.  Death and hell aren't normal kiddie fare, but the result is magical and lovely.

The rulers of the two realms (La Muerte and Xibalba) make a wager regarding three childhood friends, Maria, Manolo and Joaquin over which boy will grow up to marry the girl.  Though the story gives both boys lovable characteristics and positive qualities, it is clear that Manolo, who is sensitive and thoughtful, is the man for Maria, a forward-thinking woman who is educated in Europe.  Joaquin is not the bad guy, though, which makes it hard to root against him.  Eventually, Xibalba interferes when it looks like he is going to lose the bet, and Manolo ends up in the Land of the Remembered, an amazing realm pulsing with music, artistry and life.  But that is not the end of the story, just the beginning.

The movie doesn't have the laugh out loud humor of a lot of animated movies, and the plot is fairly simple.  However, the great soundtrack and beautiful artistry makes it a must-see.  And, as much as we love to see fairy tales of Western and Northern Europe, it's good for a change to see a movie celebrating a different part of the globe.

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November 07, 2014
icon Teaching tip from an absent-minded old hand
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

I had to cancel class Monday because of a family emergency.  I taught Wednesday, and was ready at the podium at 2:30 on Thursday. 

I asked the student a hypothetical: "You hold a secret formula and are the minority shareholder.  The majority shareholder wants you to reveal the secret formula to his son.  What are you worried about?"  The student seemed caught off guard, but after a pause he sensibly answered the question.  I followed up with a question about the contract at issue.  More of a pause, and classwide mutterings.

It seems I'd assigned the wrong reading for the day.  I had 6 pages of well-thought-out notes in front of me, and was gazing out at 75 students who were prepared for a completely different set of cases.

What to do? 

My first 2 years teaching, I wouldn't have had a clue.  But it's not my first rodeo.  I said, "Well, let me tell you a story..., summarized the key points of the case, and let the discussion proceed from there.  Not pretty, perhaps, but workable--and actually a nice challenge for a Thursday afternoon.  Any similar tips or stories from old hands out in the blogosphere about getting out of a teaching jam? 

Otherwise, class dismissed.

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icon ROIs might not get you to Glorytown
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Last year my daughter asked me, "You're in Glorytown, aren't you mom?" Startled, I managed an "Uh, I don't know... I guess?"  Apparently in the current Athens kindergarten curriculum, arriving at "Glorytown" means having a good job that you love. That mystery cleared up, I managed a more confident, "Oh, yes, then I am in Glorytown."

Last week's WSJ reported on colleges that have begun disclosing return-on-investment figures--detailing by major averages post-graduation salaries.  I have mixed feelings. I generally think more data is better.  Yet as an English major and the daughter of an English professor, I find all this talk of ROI a tad short-sighted.

I get it, I get it. The liberal arts are so 1990s. Gone are the days when college was a highbrow finishing school reserved for the white, the wealthy, the privileged. I had an excellent student last year disparage his history major as a waste of time. What good did it do him? 

Writing clearly and thinking clearly will get you far in the world, I told him. He countered that a history minor would have been enough for that, and maybe he's right. But I can't help but feel like getting to Glorytown has more to do with grit and work ethic than school- or major-specific ROIs.

Example #1: I'm reading Stephen King's memoir-cum-meditation on writing. He's made a heck of a lot of money despite being an English major. I haven't done so shabby myself. Most of my fellow-English majors from Georgetown have done pretty well.  One of my best friends from high school played it safe by majoring in accounting, but abandoned that profession because she didn't find it fulfilling.  She's a substitute teacher now--making much less money, but much happier.

Example #2: take 4 undergraduates.

  • One smart, hardworking and driven, majors in English.
  • The second, not as smart, hardworking and driven majors in finance.
  • The third, not as as smart, middling driven, just wants to clock in the 4 years in college and get a job, majors in accounting.
  • The fourth, brilliant, not hardworking, majors in physics.


Who'll make the most money 15 years after graduation?  My money is on number one or two. Hardworking and driven, I suspect, gets you farther than anything else. Don't get me wrong, ROI is a fine metric, and with tuition where it is you'd be crazy not to think about what jobs your college degree will get you. But if you're in a job just for the salary, you probably won't be that successful--and you'll be entering a job market beset by peers attracted by that self-same salary. Obamacare has a better chance of being repealed than the law of supply and demand, my friends.

An old management truism advises that you can't manage what you don't measure.  It's equally true that if all you care about is what you can measure, you could be missing out on a whole lot.



 

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November 06, 2014
icon Can You Litigate Your Way Out Of A SIFI Designation?
Posted by David Zaring

Eugene Scalia, of the family Scalia, has been the scourge of the SEC with his until recently effective insistence on a cost-benefit analysis to justify the imposition of new major rules on the capital markets.  Now he's working for MetLife, the insurance company recently designated as a SIFI (which stands for "dangerously big bank-like institution"), and I guess the argument will be that the designation was arbitrary and capricious, and so inconsistent with the federal standards for administrative procedure, which probably, in Scalia's view, require a quantitative cost-benefit analysis done with meticulous care.  Some thoughts:

  • Courts often stay out of financial stability inquiries, but, then, they used to defer to the SEC's capital markets expertise, until Eugene Scalia came along.  Perhaps Scalia can do something in this really nascent field of disputing SIFI designations.  Still, uphill battle.
  • If the FSOC somehow lost this case, it could always go global, and ask the Financial Stability Board to designate Met Life as a G-SIFI, which would give foreign regulators the right to persecute the firm's foreign operations, and maybe super-persecute it, if the American regulators could do nothing to control its SIFIness.
  • The basic idea, by the way, which is hardly ludicrous, is that insurance companies aren't subject to bank runs, even if they are really big, and that only one of them failed, or was even at risk, during the last financial crisis.  Since Met Life isn't in the business of writing unhedged credit default swaps (which is what AIG did, bolstered by its AAA rating and huge balance sheet), why should it have to hold bank-like levels of capital?  There's more to that story, but I assume that is part of the story that MetLife will be telling.

HT: Matt Levine

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October 30, 2014
icon Starting Silicon Valley South? Atlanta Tech Village
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Last week I visited Atlanta Tech Village, which opened last year in Buckhead and is founded and funded by David Cummings, a co-founder of Pardot who sold it for a reported $100 million.  Cummings is channeling a significant part of his money into ATV, which is basically a big cool office building for startups.  It's got standard Silicon Valley accoutrements: game rooms, snacks galore, 24-hour beer on tap, in-house coffeehouse open 7am-8pm (the signboard outside trumpeted that "extended hours" were coming soon!). 

The idea is that it's a space for startups with 1-25 employees.  The lower floors have smaller office space and as you move up larger spaces are available.  Each floor had co-working space, and each wall was covered with scribblings from dry erase markers.  Some looked like protobusiness plans or fancy equations, and others looked like artistic meanderings. They made me feel surrounded by creativity and innovation, and a bit intimidated. 

Comapnies have to apply to get in, and have to agree to ATV's 4 values:

  1. Be Nice.
  2. Dream Big.
  3. Pay it Forward.
  4. Work Hard. Play Hard.

ATV isn't an incubator, because it doesn't take equity in the companies--it's more like a landlord, renting space and propel Atlanta forward as a place for startups and innovation.  Because I'm an org-geek, I wondered about its organizational form: it's a for-profit, but according to our guide it's probably not going to pay for itself for decades. 

So much for the descriptors.  Is it going to work?  I don't know.  I'm by nature a skeptic, and many have tried unsuccessfully to recreate that Silicon Valley startup magic.  But I want it to work, and I sure liked what I saw.  I attended the weekly "startup chowdown": open to the public, $10 gets you 2 slices of pizza, salad, a drink, and a place to talk to entrepreneurs in ATV and around Atlanta.  Then came Pitch Practice, an entertaining hour where anyone could take the mike, explain the context of their pitch, try it out, and get feedback from the crowd.  We heard from 1) an entrepreneur who was attending a contest and had 30 seconds to convince attendees to vote for him so that he could give a longer pitch, 2) an entrepreneur with a 60-second pitch, and 3) 2 entrepreneurs with a 60-second pitch.  It was really fun--the crowd was supportive, and really focused on helping each entrepreneur do a better job at conveying his message and accomplishing his personal goal.

Here's some language from the website that captures what I think ATV is trying to do:

Your workspace should be more than just a desk and a place to hang your hat – – it should bring the community together, promote serendipitous interactions, and be a powerful tool for recruiting the best talent. The Village is designed as a campus for cool people doing cool things in technology.

Fingers crossed, ATV. 

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icon What Does The World Series Mean For Baseball Analytics?
Posted by David Zaring

Congratulations to the Giants on winning the World Series, one of the two least statistically inclined teams in baseball, the other, of course, being the Royals.  Indeed, with the possible exception of the Red Sox, the teams that have won the World Series since the sabermetric revolution have all been rich (as are the Red Sox, so it is hard to characterize them as solely stats-driven), traditionally strong in scouting, or random.

What does this tell us about baseball analytics?  Over the next week, I predict you'll hear:

  • It tells us nothing, short series are random, and the fact that a moneyball team has never won the World Series is a product of chance.
  • It tells us nothing, everyone uses statistics now, and therefore teams that say they are not moneyball teams are, in fact, moneyball teams.
  • What about the Red Sox, doesn't that show that moneyball works, even though short series are random?

I like looking at sports through stats.  It is way more thoughtful than "he wanted it more," or "you gotta make that play."  I'm actually not positive it's much more predictive than just looking at net spends or surveys of experts.  But what do I know?  Everyone uses moneyball now.

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October 27, 2014
icon The SEC's Anti-No-Admit Policy Only Goes So Far
Posted by David Zaring

It is one data point, but the cases where the the SEC would settle without requiring an admission of guilt or statement of facts were always likely to be those civil suits following criminal cases that did not go well.  Rengan Rajnaratnam, Raj's brother, proved to be the one inside trader defendant that the Manhattan USAO could not convict.  So the SEC is picking up sticks as well, in exchange for $840,000 bucks and a "let's just move on" kind of attitude.  It's the kind of case where seeking an admission would likely just make the defendants dig in their heels, as I suggested here.  And indeed, here's Rengan's lawyer, sounding threatening:

“The S.E.C. elected to offer, and Rengan elected to accept, a no admit/no deny settlement,” said Daniel Gitner, a lawyer for Mr. Rengan. “Rengan is moving on to the next phase of his life. If the S.E.C. has further comment, so will we.”

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October 23, 2014
icon The Coming Global Prohibition On Securitization
Posted by David Zaring

Okay, the headline was made to draw in the reader.  Non-banks will be allowed to securitize to their heart's content, and banks will likely basically continue to do the same.  However, the Basel Committee orchestrated a meeting in Tianjin between central bankers (they do monetary policy) and bank supervisors (they do safety and soundness),and came up with, among other standards, an approach to the ability of banks to hold collateralized debt obligations, the sort of obligations that have been blamed for the financial crisis.

I will quote the report made from the meeting, though that's pretty dull and bureaucratic. However:

  • the freedom of banks to hold derivatives is being set in these informal international meetings among bureaucrats, a fact always worth repeating
  • the limits on bank holdings of securitized assets is being set through a negotiated, and global, process involving bank regulators and capital market regulators 
  • some people, the US very much not included, would see no reason to consult those who set monetary policy, or what the currency is worth, on the appropriate way to limit the power of banks to hold derivatives, or whether derivatives would fail to protect a bank in crisis times
  • the supervisors and central bankers met in Tianjin, which means that some of them hopefully took the world's fastest train from Beijing's airport to Beijing's port city.

It's all very global and committee of regulators oriented.  Anyway, here's the report on securitization assets held by banks:

The Committee also reviewed progress towards finalising revisions to the Basel framework's securitisation standard and agreed the remaining significant policy details that will be published by year-end. It also recognised work that is being conducted jointly by the Basel Committee and the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) to review securitisation markets. The Committee looks forward to the development of criteria that could help identify - and assist the financial industry's development of - simple and transparent securitisation structures. In 2015, the Committee will consider how to incorporate the criteria, once finalised, into the securitisation capital framework.

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icon Turkish Banking Law Is All About Image
Posted by David Zaring

Turkey's largest Islamic bank believes that it has been targeted for destruction by the Turkish government, and, given the way things seem to go in that country, the level of conspiratorial innuendo is high.  But also high is the discretion of the government to act against banks and observers of same.  Banks generally did well in the financial crisis of 2008, if not so well before then.  Usually, supervision is done for safety and soundness.  But here's Euromoney's quote of one of the principles of Turkish banking law:

The 'protection of reputation’ article of Turkey’s banking law, introduced after the country’s devastating banking crisis of 2001, states "no real or legal person shall intentionally damage the reputation, prestige or assets of a bank or disseminate inaccurate news either using any means of communication". Convicted violators of the code face up to three years in prison.

That seems like almost untrammeled regulatory discretion to me, joined with severe penalties.  You could go after shorts, any sort of speaker, and probably the banks themselves, for soiling their own reputation.  Via Matt Levine.

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October 21, 2014
icon Family Film Blogging: Meet the Mormons
Posted by Christine Hurt

We were among the last folks in Provo-Orem to go see Meet the Mormons last night.  As it was ending, my very astute middle child whispered:  "The point is for non-Mormons to Meet the Mormons, but only Mormons are going to see it."  (Of course, we were seeing it in Provo, so that probably doesn't give us a random sample of moviegoers.)  So, the topic of this family film blog post is to ponder what would make a non-Mormon go to the movies and choose this movie over another.

The reviews from film critics are pretty low.  The word "infomercial" is used a lot.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the reviews from users are very high.  So, here's the deal.  The movie isn't a documentary made by outside filmakers who want to see the ins and outs of a religion.  There are no interviews with detractors or those who have left the church.  There aren't profiles of church leaders or discussions of sensitive points of church doctrine.  It isn't even a reality show where cameras follow members around 24/7 and edit it to portray maximum conflict and tension.  The movie is a portrayal of six families, chosen for a purpose, to show the diversity, ordinariness, and impact of selected members' lives.

A narrator begins in Times Square and shows media clips of common portrayals of Mormons (yes, even South Park).  She then takes us around the world (in beautiful filmmaking reminiscent of IMAX movies) to meet various members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  She sums up at the end by hoping that the audience sees the "common ground" that LDS members have with other religious followers.  And that is what the vignettes focus on -- the core values that the members have and the choices they have made to put God and Jesus in the center of their lives.  The movie does not explore church doctrine or mention the beliefs that make LDS doctrine different from mainstream Christian doctrine.  (This is not Mormonism for Dummies.)  I don't think Joseph Smith or Brigham Young were even mentioned.  The movie isn't an exploration of how LDS doctrine differs, but instead focuses on how it is similar to other religions.  The movie depicts two converts who still maintain close ties with their families, who profess other Christian religions, along with a Nepalese man who still kept the religious customs of his family.

I enjoyed all of the stories, and I can see how they were carefully selected to combat subtle (or not so subtle) stereotypes of Mormon culture.  The subjects are from different races, cultures, countries and socioeconomic backgrounds.  One of the families is led by a working mom who is a mixed martial arts champion.  I get it.  But I still enjoyed all of the uplifting stories. I laughed, I cried.

So, is it worth the average viewer's time and money?  I think so, though Redbox, Netflix or Amazon Prime might also be the way to go.  (The movie is 78 minutes long.)  If you are of my generation, you may remember the commercials that were produced by the LDS church.  You can find some on the Internet, but I couldn't find my two favorites.  One showed a dad shopping with his daughter and agonizing over how much little girl stuff cost and the other showed a dad and his son running to put the trash out after the son forgot to do it in time.  I loved those commercials, and so did a lot of folks.  Growing up RLDS, people would always ask me "Does your church make those great commercials?"  Actually, no.  Anyway, the movie is a bit like those commercials -- heartwarming, inspiring, thought-provoking, but not really challenging or informative.  Finally, the movie is also a bit like an IMAX movie.  I love those short movies, and I notice that in recent IMAX movies Jerusalem and Arabia, the filmmakers focus on what all people have in common, even the three main religious groups that inhabit Jerusalem.

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October 15, 2014
icon Good Luck At AALS, And Here Are Some Alternatives!
Posted by David Zaring

I'm looking forward to seeing some of you at the meat market, Wharton is interviewing (and the deadline for applications is yet to come!).  We're not the only business law place, and I like to post the hiring notices of our competition for those inclined to peruse them.  After the fold, a few more, all in quite desirable locations.

more ...

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October 13, 2014
icon Family Film Blogging: Assorted Dystopian Future Films (The Maze Runner and The Giver)
Posted by Christine Hurt

When I was a "young adult," books geared toward me dealt with parental divorce, mothers dying of cancer, anorexia and the occasional unwanted pregnancy.  But everyone knowns now that YA novels must have a dystopian future (or a wizard).  (See, e.g., Catching Fire and Divergent et seq.)  Two recent movies jump on tha tbadwagon, adapting two other YA novels that depict a dystopian, totalitarian future:  The Giver and The Maze Runner.

I will have to admit that I may be one of the very few moms out there with kids that have gone through middle school who has not read The Giver (1993) by Lois Lowry.  Sorry.  But I get the feeling from watching the movie that the book may have a little more to offer.  The NYT Magazine interviewed Lowry here about watching the book be made into a movie twenty years after writing it.  There has to be something weird about writing a book (a single book) decades ago about a totalitarian future where everyone is made to believe that a regimented life with people being organized into work and life by a supreme authority is optimal and then see some young whipper-snappers copy that idea into zillions of dollars (See, eg., Catching Fire and Divergent, mostly Divergent).  LIke Tris in Divergent, Lowry's Jonas begins to sense that life isn't supposed to be about just doing life the way it has been done, organized into familes, occupations, etc.  Very similar to the ceremony in Divergent in which young people are sorted into "factions," young people in The Giver are sorted into occupations.  Jonas is left to the end, and he begins to think there is something wrong with him (divergent, possibly?)  But no, he is given the position of "receiver of memories," which is held only by one person in a generation.  He is to be the memory laureate of the community -- he alone will hold the history of mankind, with its tragedies and blessings, wars and creative accomplishments, weapons and musical instruments.  The trick is though, that the outgoing "receiver/giver" has to give Jonas all of this accumulated knowledge (through some sort of forearm-mindmeld thing) without Jonas balking and deciding that this form of government is completely whack, as the young people say.  As you might imagine, Jonas does exactly that.  Watching the movie, I felt that I wasn't really understanding everything because I did not read the book.  Maybe the book is meant to be a small allegory or cautionary tale and not a summer blockbuster.  Anyway, when you watch the next Divergent movie, just know that Lois Lowry did that first, without as much violence.

Speaking of violence, The Maze Runner does not flinch from modern depictions of a totalitarian future.  I also did not read this book, though my children did.  As far as violence goes, this movie is more along the Divergent and Catching Fire lines than The Giver.  The beginning is very existential -- our hero, Thomas, wakes up in a metal elevator, which is rising to an unseen destination.  The elevator ("box")stops when it emerges from underground into "the glade."  This green space is fairly large, with groves of trees, grass, and a really bizarre stone or metal wall surrounding the green space and extending high into the sky.  Thomas cannot remember who he is and has no idea why he is here or what "here" is.  And neither do the other teen-age boys that greet him.  They also arrived via the box, one a month for three years.  They were expecting another arrival in the box, along with supplies.  Someone or some thing sends the box once a month, but no one knows who.  The supplies are marked with "wckd."  The boys have created a type of community with three rules:  do your work, don't hurt anybody, and don't go into the maze.  The maze is on the other side of the tall wall, and there is a door that opens during daylight hours.  Of course Thomas, being our hero, immediately wants to go into the maze.  And early on, you get the sense that this ok-topia that the boys have worked out over time (apparently with some rough patches) is not going to stable for too long.  The Lord of the Flies seems imminent.

The rest of the movie (obviously just a first installment) poses one central tension:  is it better for the boys to continue on and live in a sort of harmony in the glade, living off the land and the necessary supplies that come once a month or to risk this sort-of-acceptable existence to find a way out through the maze, past the "grievers" (gross robot giant spider things), and see what is outside?  Should they cash everything in and risk death to find out who they are and why they are there?

Because this is the first installment, we get to see the gladers trade what they have for something, but we aren't sure what the something is.  As my daughter said to me on the way out:  "Everyone is lying."  Yikes!  Maybe I should read the book.

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