Author Archive | Roderick

The Passion of Indiana Jones

Word is that the fourth Indiana Jones movie is finally starting to slouch its way toward the big screen. (Conical hat tip to AICN.)

One non-obvious reason to be excited about this is that Lucas and Spielberg have suggested more than once that the complete Young Indiana Jones DVD set won’t be released until Indy IV is. Young Indy was one of my favourite tv shows (incidentally very libertarian and antiwar) and surely the most nuanced work Lucas has ever done. A few years ago a random scattering of Young Indy episodes (in the studio’s ineffable wisdom, nos. 6, 8, 10-13, 15-18, 20, and 22) were released on VHS, but the long-awaited DVDs are supposed to be the full deal, including footage never actually broadcast and lots of bonus features.

Although I’m glad they’re getting rid of the pathetic-old-coot-Indy framing device – the tv series’ equivalent of Jar Jar – I don’t care for the way that Lucas has been re-editing the series, jamming what were originally disparate one-hour episodes together into broken-backed two-hour episodes. But we all know Lucas can’t let past work be; I sometimes expect hovercars to be edited into the director’s cut of American Graffiti.

Young Indiana Jones Heretically, I actually like Young Indy better than the Indy movies, with which it has only tenuous connections anyway; both the character and his world seem radically different between the tv and movie versions, and trying mentally to put the two together is like learning that Hilary Swank’s character in Million Dollar Baby got resurrected and changed her name to Lara Croft. I think this disparity hurt the success of the tv series; viewers tuned in expecting something similar to the movies and were disappointed by the (usually) slower pace, greater realism, darker mood, and more thoughtful scripts, while many viewers who would have liked the series didn’t think to tune in, expecting a low-budget Raiders for kiddies. (Insanely erratic scheduling didn’t help much either.)

Admittedly Young Indy at its worst could be pretty cheesy – hey kids, here’s another famous historic event or personage to be oversimplified and crammed implausibly into Indy’s life story – but at its best it was stunningly good. And it was at its best fairly often – particularly the World War I arc, and most particularly episodes 9 and 11, which deserve a place of honour at libertarian/antiwar film festivals. (In the interest of full disclosure: I also liked the second American Graffiti movie – another film with strong libertarian and antiwar themes – more than the first. I may be the only person on earth of whom this is true. So caveat lector.)

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Indy movies too, and I’m looking forward to Indy IV for its own sake. But I worship the tv series (again, at its best); so the promised advent of Indy IV is doubly good news for me.

So what’s Indy IV going to be about? Here’s a clue:

For the moment, the title of the new film as well as its story line are being kept under wraps. In August, however, Lucas told, “I discovered a McGuffin. I told the guys about it and they were a little dubious about it, but it’s the best one we’ve ever found. … Unfortunately, it was a little too ‘connected’ for the others. They were afraid of what the critics would think. They said, ‘Can’t we do it with a different McGuffin? Can’t we do this?’ and I said ‘No.’ So we pottered around with that for a couple of years. And then Harrison really wanted to do it and Steve said, ‘Okay.’ I said, ‘We’ll have to go back to that original McGuffin and take out the offending parts of it and we’ll still use that area of the supernatural to deal with it.’”

Any guesses as to what this controversial, potentially offensive McGuffin (= object on which the plot turns) might be? My first thought was the spear that was used to stab Jesus during his crucifixion.

Apocalypto East

“The man who speaks to you of sacrifice,” Ayn Rand wrote in The Fountainhead, “speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.”

In his latest “special comment” tonight, Keith Olbermann responded forcefully to reports that our Prince President plans to call for “sacrifice” to justify increased U.S. troop presence in Iraq:


More American servicemen and women will have their lives risked.

More American servicemen and women will have their lives ended.

Keith Olbermann More American families will have to bear the unbearable and rationalize the unforgivable – “sacrifice” – sacrifice now, sacrifice tomorrow, sacrifice forever. …

That is what this “sacrifice” has been for.

To continue this senseless, endless war. …

It has succeeded, Mr. Bush, in enabling you to deaden the collective mind of this country to the pointlessness of endless war, against the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

It has gotten many of us used to the idea – the virtual “white noise” – of conflict far away, of the deaths of young Americans, of vague “sacrifice” for some fluid cause, too complicated to be interpreted except in terms of the very important-sounding but ultimately meaningless phrase “the war on terror.”

And the war’s second accomplishment – your second accomplishment, sir – is to have taken money out of the pockets of every American, even out of the pockets of the dead soldiers on the battlefield, and their families, and to have given that money to the war profiteers. …

This has now become “human sacrifice.” …

Our meaningless sacrifice in Iraq must stop.

I would grumble a bit at Olbermann’s focusing solely on American lives sacrificed; but otherwise it’s dead-on. Read the whole thing. (And I assume the video will be online ere long.)

Stalag Economics

As most of my readers will know, Kevin Carson uses the term “vulgar libertarian” for the all-too-prevalent tendency in this movement of ours to treat the prevailing state capitalist order as an approximation to a free market, thus allowing the case for the latter to serve as a justification for various features of the former – an unfortunate legacy, IMHO, of the quondam alliance of libertarians and conservatives against state socialism. (Incidentally, as Carson has noted, the term is best used for the sin and not for the sinner, since very few of us commit it consistently.)

I fear I must chide my seldom-vulgarlibbin’ comrade Butler Shaffer (who after all wrote the very un-vulgarlib In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition) for going the vulgarlib fallacy one better in an LRC blogpost today that treats prison camps as an approximation to the free market.

Jailhouse Rock Butler uses the fact that trade in prison camps leads to significant inequalities of wealth as evidence that free markets generate such inequalities – and so as evidence that such inequalities are unobjectionable from a libertarian standpoint.

Now I have no idea what the extent of economic inequality would be in a free market. Certainly most of the current inequalities, depending as they do on direct or indirect governmental intervention, would be absent; but I don’t claim to know that entrepreneurial skill and/or luck wouldn’t lead to new ones.

What I do claim is that a prison camp, in which all goods are doled out in fixed quantities by the guards and no one has independent access to natural resources, is an even poorer model of a free market than state capitalism is; making inferences from the prison camp to the free market is accordingly risky. Even if in such a prison camp higher economic positions are initially achieved by free exchange, they are in part maintained by the fact that nobody can compete with the present winners by going off and producing more cigarettes or whatever. A prison camp is a perfect example of a world in which production and distribution are radically separated; how goods end up being traded has no effect on the kinds or quantities of goods that will be produced in the future.

Suppose that through clever trading I’ve managed to accumulate more gumdrops than any other prisoner, and am consequently charging high prices for this scarce commodity. In a free market, this would send a price signal to encourage increased production of gumdrops, and my market share would quickly be in danger of erosion. But in the prison camp the production and (initial) distribution of gumdrops is entirely outside of the prisoners’ control, and so the forces that produce competition are suppressed.

In a free market, by contrast, the forces that produce economic inequality by rewarding entrepreneurial judgment face constant challenge from other forces that work to undo such inequality by rewarding the entrepreneurial judgment of competitors. These forces are severely hampered in a prison camp; inequalities in the latter thus tell us little about what inequalities to expect in the former.

The state capitalism that prevails in western democracies is freer than a prison camp; but, as Kevin frequently notes, access to natural resources is artificially restricted here too. (I don’t agree with all the details of Kevin’s views on land – see our exchange here – but I certainly agree with that general point.) And as Kevin further notes, much existing inequality draws support from those governmental restrictions. Thus inequality under state capitalism is likewise an unreliable predictor of how things will be under liberty.


Happy New yearHappy New Year to all and sundry!

Wait, I forgot: sundry are dead to me.

Just make that Happy New Year to all.

(Oh, and don’t believe the timestamp; I’m on Central time, and it’s still January 1st here.)

Polly Want An Apology

In his 1689 Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke famously wrote:

A relation we have in an author of great note, is sufficient to countenance the supposition of a rational parrot.

His words are: “I had a mind to know, from Prince Maurice’s own mouth, the account of a common, but much credited story, that I had heard so often from many others, of an old parrot he had in Brazil, during his government there, that spoke, and asked, and answered common questions, like a reasonable creature: so that those of his train there generally concluded it to be witchery or possession; and one of his chaplains, who lived long afterwards in Holland, would never from that time endure a parrot, but said they all had a devil in them. I had heard many particulars of this story, and assevered by people hard to be discredited, which made me ask Prince Maurice what there was of it. A rational parrot He said, with his usual plainness and dryness in talk, there was something true, but a great deal false of what had been reported. I desired to know of him what there was of the first. He told me short and coldly, that he had heard of such an old parrot when he had been at Brazil; and though he believed nothing of it, and it was a good way off, yet he had so much curiosity as to send for it: that it was a very great and a very old one; and when it came first into the room where the prince was, with a great many Dutchmen about him, it said presently, What a company of white men are here! They asked it, what it thought that man was, pointing to the prince. It answered, Some General or other. When they brought it close to him, he asked it, D’ou venez-vous? It answered, De Marinnan. The Prince, A qui estes-vous? The Parrot, A un Portugais. The Prince, Que fais-tu la? Parrot, Je garde les poulles. The Prince laughed, and said, Vous gardez les poulles? The Parrot answered, Oui, moi; et je sçai bien faire; and made the chuck four or five times that people use to make to chickens when they call them. I set down the words of this worthy dialogue in French, just as Prince Maurice said them to me. I asked him in what language the parrot spoke, and he said in Brasilian. I asked whether he understood Brasilian; he said No, but he had taken care to have two interpreters by him, the one a Dutchman that spoke Brasilian, and the other a Brasilian that spoke Dutch; that he asked them separately and privately, and both of them agreed in telling him just the same thing that the parrot had said. I could not but tell this odd story, because it is so much out of the way, and from the first hand, and what may pass for a good one; for I dare say this Prince at least believed himself in all he told me, having ever passed for a very honest and pious man: I leave it to naturalists to reason, and to other men to believe, as they please upon it; however, it is not, perhaps, amiss to relieve or enliven a busy scene sometimes with such digressions, whether to the purpose or no.”

I have taken care that the reader should have the story at large in the author’s own words, because he seems to me not to have thought it incredible; for it cannot be imagined that so able a man as he, who had sufficiency enough to warrant all the testimonies he gives of himself, should take so much pains, in a place where it had nothing to do, to pin so close, not only on a man whom he mentions as his friend, but on a Prince in whom he acknowledges very great honesty and piety, a story which, if he himself thought incredible, he could not but also think ridiculous.

For years Locke has been the butt of ridicule for his gullibility concerning this tale of the rational parrot. But in light of this news story (conical hat tip to LRC), the last laugh may be Locke’s.


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