The Lash and the Loophole

The poet ibn Harma performed for the Prince of the Muslims and so delighted was the Caliph with his performance that he said “name your reward.”

The poet replied, “the reward I wish from the Prince of the Muslims is that he should send instructions to his officials in the city of Medina, commanding that when I am found dead drunk upon the pavement and brought in by the city guard, I be let off from the punishment prescribed for that offense.”

“That is God’s law, not mine; I cannot change it. Name another reward.”

“There is nothing else I desire from the Prince of the Muslims.”

Al-Mansur thought a little, then sent instructions to his officials in Medina commanding that if anyone found the poet ibn Harma dead drunk upon the pavement and brought him in for punishment, ibn Harma should receive eighty strokes of the lash as the law commands. But whoever brought him in should receive a hundred.

And ever after, when someone saw the poet lying dead drunk upon the pavement, he would turn to his companion and say “a hundred for eighty is a bad bargain” and pass on.

— David Friedman, Legal Systems Very Different from Ours

Is He Strong? Listen, Bud

In the Silver Age, radiation was a common way for superheroes to get their powers, particularly in the case of such early Marvel creations as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and (in some accounts) the X-Men. It makes sense: atomic power, both as a fearsome weapon and as a potential energy source, was on the public mind.

But in the Golden Age, magic-based and supernatural-based characters were much more common. Not that they were absent from the Silver Age (Thor, Dr. Strange, the Phantom Stranger, Deadman, Zatanna, etc.). But look at this list of Golden Age characters with magical and/or supernatural origins: Blazing Skull, Blue Tracer, Captain Marvel (and family), Dr. Fate,* Dr. Occult, the Fiery Mask, the Flame, the (sometimes Green) Ghost, the Green Lama, the Green Lantern (original version), Hawkman and Hawkgirl (original versions), Ibis the Invincible, Johnny Quick,** Johnny Thunder, Kid Eternity, Mandrake the Magician, Merlin the Magician, Miss America, Mr. Mystic, Neon the Unknown, Samson, Sargon the Sorceror, the Shining Knight, the Spectre, Taia, Uncle Sam, Wonder Woman, and Zatara.

Origins in the “East” were quite common for the powers of such magic-based characters, particularly Egypt (Ibis, Captain Marvel, Hawkman and Hawkgirl) or Tibet (the Green Lama, the Flame, Mr. Mystic), though also, e.g., China (Green Lantern) and Mesopotamia (Dr. Fate, Sargon) – perhaps inspired by their radio/pulp ancestor the Shadow’s having gained in an undefined “Orient” the power to cloud men’s minds.

In the Silver Age, a number of magic-based characters were reimagined with sciencey (though not necessarily radiation-based) origins, e.g., Green Lantern and the Hawkfolk. (An exception is the original Blue Beetle, who went the other way: his 1939 science-based origin was retconned in 1964 into a magic-based origin, complete with an Egyptian connection.)

But subsequent to the Silver Age, perhaps as a result of the weakening of the Comics Code’s ban on horror tropes, magic-based characters seem to have enjoyed a resurgence (e.g., off the top of my head, Black Alice, Blade, Blue Devil, Deadman, Demon, Ghost Rider, Iron Fist, Lucifer, Madame Xanadu, Man-Wolf, Ragman, and Raven).

And in recent years, although science-based origins remain common, many superheroes whose origins were originally science-based have been reimagined (e.g., Sandman) or retconned (e.g., Swamp Thing, by Alan Moore; Spider-Man, by Joe Straczynski) as magic-based. (Though Blue Beetle has gone the other way again, his magical scarab being re-retconned as alien tech.)

* Although Dr. Fate’s origin originally had science-fiction aspects of a proto-von-Däniken type which gradually shifted toward being reconceived as pure magic:

** Johnny Quick gains his powers by reciting a mathematical formula, eventually revealed to be derived from an inscription on the wall of a Pharaoh’s tomb. Despite the sciencey trappings, I’m counting that as magic.

My Crime Family Connections

[cross-posted at POT]

I just got back from Brunswick GA for a Liberty Fund conference on Frank Knight. I’d never read much of Knight before beyond the risk vs. uncertainty stuff, but his methodological, ethical, and (though he wouldn’t have used the term) praxeological writings turn out to connect nicely with a number of my areas of concern: Plato and Aristotle, Frege and Wittgenstein, Collingwood and Winch, Mises and Hayek.

The conference was at the Jekyll Island Club on Old Plantation Road. It’s like a fusion of the sins of the Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian factions! (And given that Knight taught at Chicago, it seems appropriate that there’s a connection between Jekyll Island and Hyde Park.)

For photos of the venue, see my Facebook page.

Speaking of Jekyll Island: my grandfather Charles Roderick McKay (1873-1954), although he wasn’t at the famous Jekyll Island meeting, was one of the people involved in setting up the Federal Reserve; he worked with Paul Warburg et al.

From a poverty-stricken childhood in Prince Edward Island, he became a runner for a bank while visiting Chicago relatives with his mother, and eventually worked his way up to the position of Transit Manager for the First National Bank of Chicago, in which position he developed the numerical check-clearing ABA system which would be adopted by the Fed. Once the Fed was established he became Deputy Governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, though he was really more of a co-governor; when the various Fed Governors went to DC to meet with FDR, the Chicago gov was the only one who brought his deputy with him.

By way of partial mitigation of his role in the Fed, I note that when the central Fed began artificially lowering interest rates, which on the Austrian analysis was a major cause of the Great Depression, it was in large part thanks to my grandfather that the Chicago branch resisted the policy until finally overridden by the central; and in later retirement he felt betrayed by the direction the Fed had taken. (My grandfather’s economic and political views were broadly speaking “Old Right.” I never met him; he died a decade before I was born.)

I found his photo online in this periodical. From my mother’s stories I gather he was as much fun as he looks.

Molinari Society Location Update

According to the printed program, the Molinari Society’s session at 9:00 tomorrow morning is in Seminar A.

This is a cruel lie.

We are actually in Phillips Boardroom 3.

Okay, no problem, we turn to the map of the hotel that’s included in the program, and – oimoi, there’s no Phillips Boardroom 3 listed.

But I have tracked it down. It’s on the lobby level, at the top of the carpeted ramp at the far right of the lobby as you come in the main entrance.

I figure we may want to start a little bit late tomorrow to accommodate bewildered stragglers.

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