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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Okay so this seemingly simple math problem is causing arguments on social media:

    8 / 2(2+2) = ?

    Some people are arguing the answer is 1. Others say it’s 16.

    Have at it folks!

  2. Teve says:

    While I like preet bharara’s podcast, and have Doing Justice in my list, this not objective review of the book and the man is pretty brutal, FWIW.

    Moscow Mitch is all up in some Russia bidness

    Doug: 16. People know PEMDAS, but some don’t know the subtlety that M&D are at the same level, and A&S are at the same level, and priority on those goes left to right.

    We start with the Multiplication and Division, working from left to right. NOTE: Even though Multiplication comes before Division in PEMDAS, the two are done in the same step, from left to right. Addition and Subtraction are also done in the same step.

    (From Infoplease)

  3. de stijl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    16

    The * is assumed between the 2 and (, so 4*4 is 16. It reads left to right.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    So John Ratcliffe, who knows next to nothing about Intelligence, actually has enough intelligence to recognize that.

  5. Kit says:

    @Doug Mataconis: 16. People get confused either because it looks like the “2(2+ 2)” is beneath the 8, and so should be solved first, or because “2(2+2)” looks like “2x”, and “2x” feels (incorrectly) like it has higher precedence.

    8 / 2(2+2) = 8/2*(2+2) = 8/2*4 = 4*4 = 16

    If you have an iPhone, start the Calculator app, turn your phone to landscape orientation, then enter the following:

    8/2*(2+2)=

  6. Teve says:

    @Kit: people get confused because a simple reading of PEMDAS makes it look like multiplication comes before division.

  7. @Kit:

    A lot of people appear to be applying PEMDAS to get 1:

    1. (2+2) =4
    2. 2(4) = 8
    3. 8/8 = 1

    As several people have noted, the formula is badly written because it fails the law of commutative property. They’re combining elementary math with algebraic math.

  8. de stijl says:

    Check out Har Mar Superstar. He’s a dude from N St. Paul. He’s old (younger than me tho), he digs soul and R&B, he’s short and chubby and schlhmpy, and very white and a shitty dancer.

    And dude freaking kills it so hard.

    He looks like your dad’s tax guy.

    Narrow vocal range, but when he wails he is awesome.

    He does a bad-ass cover of Prince’s When You Were Mine. I’m obsessed. He covers Built To Spill.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis: The rules of my high school algebra says that equation reads as the numerator 8 is over the denominator 2 x (2+2), which because the addition in the paren is done first so it’s 2 x 4, making the denominator 8 which means 8/8, so unless they rewrote the basic rules of mathematics in the past 45 years the answer is 1.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:Quite right, Doug

    the formula is badly written

    Is the one and only correct answer. It is deliberately written to be ambiguous and succeeded. It ignores the subsidiary rule that parentheses should be used to eliminate ambiguity. Like much of politics, it is an argument about semantics, not about substance.

    8
    1
  11. Teve says:
  12. Kit says:

    @Teve: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but now I suspect that it really depends on how one attacks these problems. I feel there’s a visual aspect to this that tricks us. Had the equation been written as follows, I imagine that fewer people would have trouble:

    8 DIV 2 MULT (2 ADD 2)

  13. Teve says:

    The formula is written perfectly fine. But you have to understand that the division operator only attaches to the 2, it doesn’t bind past the next operator which is the implicit multiplication with the parentheses. Then you have to understand that multiplication and division operators are done left to right, not multiplication first. Wolfram Alpha has no problem parsing the formula correctly:

    see here.

  14. de stijl says:

    What would happen if a vampire bit Spiderman? His blood is radioactive – that’s canon. It’s in the song.

    So many possibilities!

  15. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08:

    Is the one and only correct answer.

    As Doug wrote it, the answer is clearly 1. By putting spaces on either side of the back slash it becomes the equivalent of
    8
    ————-
    2(2+2)

    If you eliminate the spaces it may be technically resolvable but it would certainly be marked incorrect on a test

  16. de stijl says:

    Back to Har Mar Superstar – his drummer isn’t fantastic, but super solid.

    I literally cannot do that. I cannot keep a beat. I speed up. When I tried drumming I can do one drum for maybe a minute, but if you throw in any more complexity, my brain and limbs just don’t cope at all. I can guitar all the live long day, but I couldn’t drum to save my soul.

    I’m super impressed by people that can.

  17. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve: I skimmed that review and found it tendentiously misleading. He says that Bharara never admits he was wrong. In reality there are two entire sections of the book devoted to incorrect convictions. Were they his personal cases? No. But as AG he didn’t personally prosecute cases. However, he took two well known cases and went into detail about what went wrong, how they discovered it and what they did to right it.

    The reviewer also quotes Sister Prejean’s “we are all more than our worst fifteen minutes“ as a rebuke to Bharara. But in never mentioned Bharara said the exact same thing more than once in the book and discussed the humanity of even the most ruthless criminals throughout the book.

    Most misleading is when he brings up the case of the “innocent” who Bharara office attempted to prosecute for “sexual fantasies”. That whole section of the book was a detailed exploration of the difficulty of weighing the obligation to stop someone who may very well commit murder with the very real need NOT to arrest and try someone for fantasies. In the actual case the evidence consisted of extremely detailed plans the man concocted with two other men to kidnap his wife, torture her for days, and then butcher her body when she finally died and cook and eat her flesh. The man encouraged the other two to use her in any way they desired and gave them suggestions on particularly gruesome tortures that would leave her alive for as long as possible. (Presumably the other men would do this so the husband could ensure an alibi for the entire time this was going on.) But Bharara and the police knew that they didn’t have concrete evidence the men would actually act on their plans, especially since these conversations took place online and as far as the police knew they had never met. They struggled with this, as they knew that if the trio decided to act the wife could be snatched and gone before they realized it. The officials finally decided to arrest him when the husband started preparing for an unexpected trip out of town and they feared he was setting the plan in motion. Bharara goes on in great detail about their struggles with putting the woman’s life at risk in order to gain concrete evidence, knowing full well that evidence might be the actual torture and murder itself. And far from trying the husband for fantasies, the case was made that the proof that he was intending to act on those fantasies was the giving of details about his wife’s life and movements to another man while encouraging him to torture her and kill her. They also made detailed lists of equipment needed and located widely spaced stores to buy each item.

    In the end, reviewer notes, the husband was acquitted. The police, however, continued to monitor the other two men who eventually started planning to kidnap another woman. This time they were able to wait until the men started actually purchasing the equipment and preparing a place to do the crime and that was enough to convict them.

  18. de stijl says:

    My brain can handle keyboards, and if I applied myself I could be in the decent at it with practice, but I cannot countenance drumming.

    It is a skill that requires more than practice and talent. There is some innate thing that is a prerequisite.

    I admire good drummers.

  19. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan: yeah I made sure to specify that it wasn’t an objective review because I haven’t read the book and I’m not familiar with the cases and the guy seemed to have an axe to grind, but I thought it might be worth discussing. I like Bharara’s podcast, so I was a little surprised at how angry that dude was with him.

  20. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve: I made the mistake of going back to see what else he had to say in the review and made it to the false fingerprint identification. Suffice it to say that he once again completely misrepresents what Bharara says.

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    He’s almost like a parody Prince tribute act in some videos. Other places I get a soupçon of Michael Jackson and maybe some Elvis Costello in the phrasing. Interesting.

  22. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan: I used to go to Goodreads a lot to try to get more objective reviews of books but a librarian friend told me last year that they’ve been corrupted by commercialism. Know of any good sites for book reviews?

    ETA Reynolds, you’re probly a reader, is there anywhere you trust for reviews?

  23. Michael Cain says:

    @MarkedMan:
    In this day and age, teaching that white space in a numerical expression makes a difference in how it’s parsed is going to get the students in a lot of trouble down the road.

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    Let’s go with the definitive source for the times. Excel will grouse about the implicit multiplication, offer to make it explicit for you, then evaluate the expression to 16.

  24. michael reynolds says:

    @Teve:
    Goodreads has sadly been infected by bots, not so much commercialism. (However they’re owned by Amazon, so give it time. ) Once a book reaches a certain level of popularity in come the bots. They never post written reviews, just randomly assign stars. Several I looked into in the past actually gave Russian addresses. They’ve gotten slightly more subtle since then.

    I have somewhat more faith (not a lot) in the old-school reviews at Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, etc… Although I outed Kirkus publicly on Facebook for reviewing some of my books without actually bothering to read them. They asked me through back channels to take the conversation private. So naturally, I posted a second public video pointing out that they were trying to shut me up. Ever since then Kirkus has been nice to me.

    I used to be a restaurant reviewer with a regular weekly column first in Portland, Maine, then in Richmond, VA. I never pretended to be objective because that’s a lie, all reviews are subjective. What you want is a reviewer whose subjective prejudices you know, so that you can parse the review in that light. One of the reasons I miss Ebert is I knew his obsessions and weaknesses and could adjust accordingly. That plus, damn, he was good and prolific.

  25. Teve says:

    I liked Ebert too, he was unpretentious. I like Anthony Lane, in the New Yorker, too, but…not as unpretentious 🙂

  26. grumpy realist says:

    @de stijl: Here’s a link to a YouTube video of Har Mar Superstar singing “Lady you shot me”

    Quite a lot of his stuff all over YouTube.

  27. grumpy realist says:

    Wish me luck, guys–am about to go get tested for my legal reading abilities in several languages…..

  28. Teve says:

    @grumpy realist: ooo what languages?

  29. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Cain:

    In this day and age, teaching that white space in a numerical expression makes a difference in how it’s parsed is going to get the students in a lot of trouble

    In most of the computer languages I can think of it would either require spaces or prohibit them, but as presented here this expression puts spaces in some places and not in others. That, as well as the general lack of clarity, is why I said it should be marked wrong on a test.

  30. Teve says:

    @grumpy realist: I’ve gotten hooked on Duolingo and in 5 months have gone from zero to ‘can read elementary-school-level books’ in Italian.

  31. Kit says:

    Two of my favorite Ebert quotes:

    Entertainment is about the way things should be. Art is about the way they are.

    And this:

    Any explaination of a work of art must be found in it, not taken to it.

    Since his death, I’ve yet to find another critic whose opinion I respect no matter the type of film.

  32. gVOR08 says:

    Doug: 16.
    16
    16
    3. 8/8 = 1
    the answer is 1.
    But you have to understand that the division operator only attaches to the 2 (therefore 16 per Wolfram Alpha)
    As Doug wrote it, the answer is clearly 1.

    I make that four to three for 16, but, like the Electoral College, math is not subject to the popular vote.

    The WIKI article is very good. It includes no left to right rule under PEDMAS. It also notes, “Different calculators follow different orders of operations. … The Microsoft Calculator program uses the former (left to right with no operator priority) in its standard view and the latter (PEDMAS) in its scientific and programmer views.” They also note that programming languages do various things. The programmer is expected to read the book and follow the rules, whatever they are.

    EXCEL rejects the expression until you insert the implied “*”, then returns 16. IIRC it also says explicitly somewhere that it works L to R. This is an EXCEL rule, not a math rule.

    @Teve: writes, “But you have to understand that the division operator only attaches to the 2”. No, it’s math, I’m not supposed to have to “understand” anything. Handwritten, the (2+2) would either be under the bar or over it. A one line typed format is a pain for math expressions and it falls to the writer to be clear, (8/2)*(2+2) or 8*(2+2)/2 or 8/(2*(2+2)) or whatever. So I’ll stand by my statement that the expression is not properly formed. And, of course, deliberately so. This is a semantic argument.

  33. Kit says:

    @gVOR08:

    So I’ll stand by my statement that the expression is not properly formed.

    Based on what you wrote, I think the proper conclusion is that the expression is meaningless without some indication of which rules/grammar applies. It would be a bit like talking about geometry without first establishing the nature of space.

  34. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    8 / 2(2+2)

    The 16 people are correct. Multiplication and division have the same order of operation and apply left to right, so it’s 8/2(2+2) -> 8/2 * 4-> 4 * 4 -> 16

    The people getting 1 are treating the division symbol as a horizontal fraction bar, which it is not.

  35. michael reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Bonne chance, Gangi þér vel!, Zol zayn mit mazl and of course, Ood-gay uck-lay.

  36. MarkedMan says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The people getting 1 are treating the division symbol as a horizontal fraction bar, which it is not.

    Ah, but Stormy, that’s the rub in’nt it? If that statement is true, then you are right. But who gets to decide if it’s true? To me, the whole point of adding the spaces makes it seem like that’s the intent. If not, why add the spaces at all?

  37. Teve says:

    @gVOR08: that Wikipedia page does tell you left to right, you just didn’t notice it.

    In the United States, the acronym PEMDAS is common. It stands for Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication/Division, Addition/Subtraction. PEMDAS is often expanded to the mnemonic “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”.[5]
    Canada and New Zealand use BEDMAS, standing for Brackets, Exponents, Division/Multiplication, Addition/Subtraction.
    Most common in the UK, India, Bangladesh and Australia[10] and some other English-speaking countries are BODMAS meaning Brackets, Order, Division/Multiplication, Addition/Subtraction. Nigeria and some other West African countries also use BODMAS. Similarly in the UK, BIDMAS is used, standing for Brackets, Indices, Division/Multiplication, Addition/Subtraction.
    These mnemonics may be misleading when written this way.[5] For example, misinterpreting any of the above rules to mean “addition first, subtraction afterward” would incorrectly evaluate the expression[5]

    10 − 3 + 2.
    The correct value is 9 (not 5, as would be the case if you added the 3 and the 2 before subtracting from the 10).

  38. Slugger says:

    My uncle, Kurt Gödel, used to say that only the simplest of equations can be read in unambiguous ways. He got famous for stuff like that. Complexity adds ambiguity always. In real life this is even more true. The 2nd amendment is 27 words, but people argue about it a lot. “I love you,” is three words that can be read a thousand different ways. Clarity is the obligation of the author.
    By “uncle” in the above paragraph, I mean an older male whose advice is often useful.

  39. Teve says:

    My 20 years as a math tutor, Google’s built-in calculator, Wolfram Alpha, my ancient install of Mathematica, and the Android calculator all agree with Cornell mathematician Steven Strogatz writing in the NYT:

    When confronted with 8 ÷ 2(2+2), everyone on Twitter agreed that the 2+2 in parentheses should be evaluated first. That’s what our teachers told us: Deal with whatever is in parentheses first. Of course, 2+2 = 4. So the question boils down to 8÷2×4.

    And there’s the rub. Now that we’re faced with a division and a multiplication, which one takes priority? If we carry out the division first, we get 4×4 = 16; if we carry out the multiplication first, we get 8÷8 = 1.

    Which way is correct? The standard convention holds that multiplication and division have equal priority. To break the tie, we work from left to right. So the division goes first, followed by the multiplication. Thus, the right answer is 16.

    so that’s good enough for me.

  40. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve:

    When confronted with 8 ÷ 2(2+2)

    I agree 100%. But that’s not what Doug wrote. He wrote 8 / 2(2+2)

  41. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan: computer languages have sometimes very strict rules about white space, which don’t really apply to normal math. The IEEE 754 standard on how computers have to handle floating-point math doesn’t say much about it. If we type literally what you exactly wrote into Mathematica or Wolfram Alpha, with the spaces, we still get 16

  42. Michael Cain says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Ah, but Stormy, that’s the rub in’nt it? If that statement is true, then you are right. But who gets to decide if it’s true? To me, the whole point of adding the spaces makes it seem like that’s the intent. If not, why add the spaces at all?

    Today, for a typed expression, the computer scientists get to decide. Left-to-right parsing, PE(MD)(AS) priority. White space is syntactic sugar for us limited humans. Teaching anything else is a disservice to the students because it sets them up to fail as soon as they start using a spreadsheet, or most any other computer language based on a formal grammar. Implicit multiplication is a fine thing when working by hand, but in a typed expression, put the damned “*” in because Excel is going to insist on it. (Technically, supporting implicit multiplication makes “foo(2+2)” an ambiguous statement because it depends on the type of foo, numeric or a function, not the syntax of the statement.)

  43. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: What are you trying to get with a book review? The cumulative review numbers (Amazon has a nice little histogram) are decent for filtering out complete crap — you’re unlikely to like anything below 3.5 out of 5, but above that it’s kind of just a matter of what you’re into.

    They can be gamed, but generally not so much to make a good book get a bad overall rating. Plus most gaming is to give a book a more positive rating.

    Goodreads puts the reviews of the people you follow and your friends first in the list of reviews. So, if you have a Goodreads account, and follow a bunch of people who wrote high-quality reviews of books you’ve read, there’s a decent chance that one or more of them have written a review of a book you’re interested in. Your friends are probably morons (most people are), but with a little work, you can put together a collection of decent reviewers.

  44. Tebe says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Back in the day I saw people do weirdo coding projects to make Excel solve numerical ODEs and PDEs, but those people were weirdos. I only ever used it to make quick and dirty graphs because I was too lazy to learn Origin 🙂

  45. Teve says:

    @Gustopher:

    Goodreads puts the reviews of the people you follow and your friends first in the list of reviews.

    not even my own opinions are reliable to me, 15 years ago I read the Baroque Cycle and it was fantastic, and I just tried to reread it and quit around the 250 page mark. I might read every Michael Lewis book, then get bored and read 3 Lee Child novels. My taste has been just all over the board lately and it doesn’t make any sense.

  46. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I wouldn’t trust anyone to write that formula and know what they mean.

    It’s like that old SNL skit where the retiring nuclear reactor technician gives everyone the advice “you can never add too much water to a nuclear reactor”

  47. Teve says:

    @Michael Cain:

    White space is syntactic sugar for us limited humans.

    and also the name of one of the worst programming languages ever devised.

    whitespace

  48. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: No review is going to tell you whether you’re in the mood for a given book.

    Just go read Stanislav Lem’s “The Cyberiad” and be done with it. It’s short stories, and you’ll know by the end of the first one if this book is for you at this time.

  49. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: Alternately, develop a crush on a cute boy, girl or enby, and then read whatever they are reading.

  50. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Cain:

    the computer scientists get to decide

    But who has decided that the computer scientists get to decide? 😉

  51. de stijl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Har Mar Superstar is not parody, he’s not faking. He is real as real can be. He is taking a Prince song and making it real for him.

    Dude loves his job.

    There’s no money grab or fame catching. He covers When You Were Mine because it is the best / second best Prince song ever and he loves Prince.

    Dude rocks. (He’s so schlubby! I love him.)

  52. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    If Har Mar Superstore ever plays your stupid burg and you love R&B and Philly soul get off your fat butt and see him live. He kills.

    Har Mar was the lamest, shittiest mall in the Twin Cities. The anchor store was a Sears. It was close to my school and there was a theater and an arcade so I went there 3 or 4 times a week.

    It was the uncoolest place to be. Maybe Omaha had a lamer mall, I’m not sure.

    I get this guy. I used to hang out at the bar at the curling club. He speaks to me.

  53. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    Define “enby”

    That’s totally new to me.

  54. de stijl says:

    Contextually, “Har Mar Superstar” means “King of the Lessers/Losers” if your not from St. Paul.

  55. Teve says:

    @Gustopher: cyberiad is on The List now. I’ll have to check back in sometime around 2021 to let you know what I thought of it. 🙂

    weirdly enough the only thing I have an actual craving for right now is a technical nonfiction book explaining to me how currencies work, but I haven’t looked into that space to see who the good writers are.

  56. Teve says:
  57. de stijl says:

    @Teve:

    Thanks!

  58. de stijl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I too loved Ebert.

    He liked movies. (That’s rare.)

    One thing Ebert did not get was that video games are art. Generational, probably.

    It was sad to see him at the end when he could not speak. He could still write though.

    He was a good voice. Not every arty-farty foreign film wad gold and not every Hollywood summer blockbuster was trash.

  59. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: That was amazing. He looks like Jon Lovitz, but sounds like the antithesis of Jon Lovitz.

  60. grumpy realist says:

    @Teve: Japanese and French. I was going in for the Japanese and then they looked at my resume and said “huh, you know French as well? We’ve got a project coming up…”

    So am at present stuffing my head full of juristic terms and discovering how different French law is from U.S. law. There’s also a lot of terms for which I really need an encyclopaedia to figure out the differences since they all translate to the same word in English. Then there’s other terms which end up with multiple meanings. Luckily there’s a lot of snippets all over YouTube explaining legal terms to French audiences and the French version of Wikipedia is also pretty good.

  61. Michael Cain says:

    @MarkedMan:

    But who has decided that the computer scientists get to decide?

    All the users since forever that said, “It has to look like PE(MD)(AS), it has to give the same result every time, and it has to run fast on even limited hardware. Oh, and we need it by next Tuesday.” Which, as it turns out, meant adding left-to-right precedence, taking out implicit multiplication notation, and removing any meaning from white space :^)

  62. de stijl says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Good luck on your test!

  63. Teve says:

    @grumpy realist: I’m learning Italian and at the age of 43 it’s challenging but not too bad, a friend of mine is just a little older amd trying to learn Japanese and having a bitch of a time with it. Ko so do a has been aggravating him lately, whatever that means 🙂

  64. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    You now need to spread the love. Har Mar Superstar is not a singular talent, but he is mos def a singular guy.

    His love for what he does shines thru.

    Love the Jon Lovitz comparison. Better than “your dad’s tax guy” by far. Much more visual. He’s so schlubby!

    Spread the love.

  65. Teve says:

    @Michael Cain: I imagine it would be hard to have a global electronic banking system if Capital One’s computers multiplied differently than JPMorgan Chase’s 😀

  66. de stijl says:

    @Teve:

    Wells Fargo computers take 1% of your account and siphon it into a new account created by personal banker without your knowledge.

    Now that’s service!

    2
    1
  67. de stijl says:

    The other best / second best Prince song is I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man.

    Not the Sign O The Times version, but the live one – much tighter.

    Fight me.

  68. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve:

    My taste has been just all over the board lately and it doesn’t make any sense.

    It’s possible (and I said possible, mind you) that you are starting (and only starting) to get old. It’s not unusual to have paradigm shifts and metaphysical priority changes that one doesn’t even notice as one ages. TL/DR: Read what suits you at the moment and don’t overanalyze it.

  69. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: No, technically it’s conversion.

  70. Teve says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: get off my lawn!!!

  71. Kylopod says:

    @michael reynolds: @Teve: @Kit: @de stijl: Ebert is one of my muses. I obsessed over his stuff while he was alive. I owned one of his books of reviews until it got wrecked, I read his website and writings incessantly, and to this day if I see a movie that came out while he was alive and working, I make sure to read his review of it if there was one (and there usually is). I kind of grew up on Siskel & Ebert, and through Youtube and other sites with video clips I’ve been able to watch some of their reviews from even before I was born.

    The funny thing is, I often thought his opinions were ludicrous. He had a knack for bizarrely recommending really bad kid’s movies that no other critics liked (Garfield? Home Alone 3 after having given thumbs-down to the first two?). He was always extremely focused on the visual and technical elements of filmmaking, which was sometimes fascinating but led him to recommend some really mediocre special-effects movies (he was one of the few critics to give positive reviews to The Phantom Menace and Avatar), and even when reviewing movies that weren’t big-spectacle per se, he often would approach them by talking about their cinematography.

    What’s weird about this is that the above description might lead people to think he was deadening to read, when in fact he was always highly entertaining; there’s a reason for his massive popularity for a critic. There are two (three?) books composed entirely of movies he trashed, because he was witty and often hilarious when brutalizing a film.

    His reviews also sometimes contained some rather fascinating digressions. I’ve already quoted this excerpt from his 1987 review of Wall Street:

    Although Gekko’s law-breaking would of course be opposed by most people on Wall Street, his larger value system would be applauded. The trick is to make his kind of money without breaking the law. Financiers who can do that, such as Donald Trump, are mentioned as possible presidential candidates, and in his autobiography Trump states, quite simply, that money no longer interests him very much. He is more motivated by the challenge of a deal and by the desire to win. His frankness is refreshing, but the key to reading that statement is to see that it considers only money, on the one hand, and winning, on the other. No mention is made about creating goods and services, to manufacturing things, to investing in a physical plant, to contributing to the infrastructure.

    Here Ebert more or less takes Trump’s image-making for granted–he doesn’t show awareness that Trump’s “autobiography” was entirely ghostwritten, or that the ghostwriter would later admit the line about not caring about money was pure BS. Never mind all that. He still gets to the core of Trump’s value system, which is that the purpose in life is to win–or, more accurately, to construct a mythology of being a winner.

  72. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    I’ve a DVD of “Citizen Kane” with a commentary track by Roger Ebert. I highly recommend it, as he goes into a lot of detail of the cinematography, technical details, sound, visual effects (there are tons!), and more.

  73. de stijl says:

    He ended up giving The Road Warrior a really good rating, but later felt he missed the point (George Miller’s cinematography and kinetic action.)

    Ebert reviewed it as a film, not a movie.

    Theory – he overcompensated layer on action heavy movies.

  74. de stijl says:

    At the end he couldn’t eat much. I sent him some local honey.

    He seemed like a good person.

  75. de stijl says:

    “layer on” was meant to be “later on”

  76. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: I have a DVD of “Legion of Extraordinary Gentlemen” with commentary by the director. The movie is, on its own, terrible, but the commentary of a bitter man who lectures the audience about how it is their fault they didn’t like it… that’s kind of wonderful.

    Also, “Showgirls”, with commentary by David Schmader (film critic for The Stranger) is utterly transformative of the underlying work. Note: Content warning for rape, nudity and — well — the rest of “Showgirls”. The movie should never be watched without the commentary, and when he tells you to fast forward, just do it.

  77. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: Wow…listening to the DVD commentary for universally reviled movies. That must be something.

    The best DVD commentary I’ve ever listened to (and granted it’s a limited selection) was Warwick Davis’s on Willow. The man is just a fountain of information, relevant, on-topic, and compelling. He pointed out something that never really occurred to me because I just sort of took the movie for granted as a kid, which is that it was a rare example of a film in which the central hero is played by a dwarf. I always thought of the film simply as an attempt by George Lucas to transfer the basic Star Wars plot into a more traditional sword-and-sorcery setting, and Willow was obviously the Luke avatar. But there was a definite Tolkien influence there, too (and I think Peter Jackson’s series shows more influence from Willow than most Jackson fans have been willing to admit), and they weren’t at the point of trying to use special effects to pass off actors of normal size as little people.

  78. grumpy realist says:

    @Teve: Japanese is one of those languages where you have to go back down to Ground Zero and throw out all of your presuppositions as to what makes up a language from your Indo-European language background. Direct object? Indirect object? Nope nope nopity nope. I tell people don’t even try to learn Japanese unless you’re able to do the equivalent of total immersion because if you keep switching back and forth between English and Japanese you will never get a feeling for the language structures. Once you’re comfortable with the basic structure, then it’s just a case of learning grammatical differences (when to use the -tara verb form rather than the -eba construction, etc.) and start stuffing yourself with honorifics or some of the more elegant verb formations (using the passive causative when giving a talk, for instance.)

  79. Teve says:

    @grumpy realist: putting the objects before the verb in Italian is a little tricksy, but nothing like Japanese 🙂

  80. Gustopher says:

    @Kylopod: I’m also a fan of the commentary on “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.”

    The movie was created out of spite. Donner had been fired for going way over budget while simultaneously filming “Superman” and “Superman II”, after having been told to stop filming and take what he had and make a movie out of it.

    20 years later, someone thought it would be a great idea to have him build out his idea for the second movie, using footage he shot, and footage from the replacement director. And then talk about it, and complain about the incompetence of his replacement and how he would have filmed this differently, but this is the footage he has.

    The Donner cut is also not great. It uses the turning back time ending from “Superman” (originally that was going to be the ending of “Superman II”, but they didn’t have the ending for “Superman” filmed when the axe came down). So Superman just keeps rolling back time to solve everything.

    After rolling back time he also mildly abuses some people for something they no longer did. I like that.

    It then fails to take the casual rolling back time to its logical conclusion… you know Superman would go on a murderous rampage one day, and then just undo it, just because he could. Never gets shown. Boo!

  81. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: I really hated the Donner cut. The only reason I watched it was curiosity about how they handled the central plot hole of the original release (how Superman gets his powers back after losing them), but overall it felt like they took a jackhammer to the film. After I watched it, I was shocked that the majority of people seemed to think it was superior to the original version. I thought it was a trainwreck. And I loved the original as a kid. Was I a little less discerning of its flaws at a young age? Sure. When people complain about (or make fun of) that notorious scene where Superman throws the S on his chest at the villains, I just roll my eyes. The movie worked for me; the Donner cut simply did not.

  82. de stijl says:

    I would love to hear Fincher’s commentary on Aliens3. I think it’s a good movie.

    Fanbois hate it because Newt and Hicks died. Boo friggity hoo.

  83. de stijl says:

    @grumpy realist:

    My favorite is German where have to wait for the verb.

    Frontloaded language. You get the subject, the object, all the fixin’s, and you have to wait to the for the surprise twist at the end.

    Every sentence is like an M. Night Shamalan movie.

  84. Gustopher says:

    @Kylopod: I love Superman. He has not been well served by movies for most of my life. I’ll take throwing the cellophane S thing over the Zach Snyder movies any day. “Man Of Steel” was the first movie that actually made me angry. In contrast, I don’t dislike the Christopher Reeve Superman.

    It’s not that it’s an unfilmable character — the Chris Evans Captain America is just Superman with fewer powers and a fancy shield — it’s just that people keep trying to make him “relatable” or “gritty”. He’s silly, just accept that and move on.

    The TV show “Lois and Clark” got it right, as did the 90s cartoon. They got the compassion that is the heart of the character. “Lois and Clark” has a scary white Metropolis in retrospect, but I guess it really was a long time ago. (I’m pretty sure that the first black folks who had speaking roles on “L&C” in the first season had previously played the Jeffersons). But, I’m sure that “Lois and Clark” Superman would have cared about brown folks if he met them, even if the actor turned out Trumpy.

    DC Comics rebooted their entire universe a few years ago, and gave us a new, younger, edgier Superman, and then ended up killing him and replacing him with the Superman from their previous universe. It was convoluted, but the younger, edgier Superman just didn’t work.

  85. Jen says:

    @de stijl:

    Frontloaded language. You get the subject, the object, all the fixin’s, and you have to wait to the for the surprise twist at the end.

    Every sentence is like an M. Night Shamalan movie.

    This is quite possibly the funniest and most accurate description of German I’ve ever seen.

  86. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: I was never much of a comic-book reader as a kid. I knew Superman almost entirely from the Christopher Reeve films–3 and 4 were crap (I once saw somebody aptly describe them this way: 3 was a failed comedy, 4 was an unintentional comedy), but the first two were among my favorite films during childhood.

    You mentioned the inherent silliness. That to me is one of the fundamental reasons the Donner cut is so bad. It took out the humor, the signs that it didn’t take itself too seriously, and made it seem “darker and grittier,” which was completely the wrong tone for this material.

    It also inserted some very questionable plot developments, particularly regarding the lengths to which Lois will go to prove Clark’s true identity. The Niagara Falls sequence in the original was fine, but having Lois actually jump out the window of a skyscraper? Please.

    Is this really how Donner envisioned it when he was the original director? The first movie, which was entirely directed by Donner, didn’t feel that way–for the most part. True, it does have that ponderous first forty-five minutes dedicated to the origin story, but I can forgive it because it was the first major superhero film and there wasn’t a clear template on how to do it. Once the adult Superman shoots into the sky, the film acquires a fairly consistent tone which it maintains into the second film–at least the one I’m familiar with.