Elmo is red…

… and so is his movie, in which the lesson on sharing ends up equating property to theft and the lesson on cooperation takes the form of a popular revolution in Grouchland.

(My wife objects to my assessment: Elmo isn’t the commie; he’s the one who is trying to recover his rightful property. It’s the movie that’s red. As usual, she is right. But I felt like photoshopping Elmo.)

It's that time again.

With people falling into the familiar annual complaint about the secularization of Christmas, the commercialization of Christmas, etc., it’s time to promote my favorite Christmas program:

best online documentaries

Best Online Documentaries logo

via Gary North

waiting it out

I haven’t followed the Olympics and I don’t plan to follow the electoral horse race.

We don’t even plan to adjust our lives or our technology to the upcoming switchover from analog to digital television (and no, we don’t have HDTV, just an old-fashioned behemoth that mostly serves as a screen for the DVD player).

But I still identify with this comic:

Dark Knight of liberty

I think I’ll use Jeffrey Tucker’s blog post about Batman: The Dark Knight as an excuse to repost my review of Batman Begins from 3 years ago:

der Fledermaus Mann fängt an

Joe Salerno must be feeling a void after his great summer seminar, June 6-10 [2005] at LvMI.

(I’ve listened to 9 of the 10 lectures, so far. I’d better finish #10 tonight so I can focus on Tom Woods’s summer seminar starting tomorrow.)

Salerno seems to have turned to film reviews, starting with this critique of Batman Begins.

I’ve just returned from a sold-out matinee.

Salerno says, “This is the best Batman movie yet.” I agree.

He says, “Bale’s Batman is dark, dangerous, disturbed, dehumanized and vengeful — as he was meant to be.” Right on.

He says, “The new menacing-looking, tank-like, car-crunching, building-smashing Batmobile is a better reflection of Batman’s spiritual being than the sleek Batmobile of earlier movies.” I agree enthusiastically, and I add that it’s clearly based on Frank Miller’s vision of the revamped Batmobile in the great 1985 graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns. (My impression is that this movie began as a film adaptation of Miller’s follow-up series, Batman: Year One. If so, little of the original remains, but I certainly think Batman Begins is the most “Milleresque” of Hollywood’s attempts to tell Bruce Wayne’s story. To whatever extent modern audiences can imagine Batman as “dark, dangerous, disturbed, dehumanized and vengeful” instead of the high-camp grinning idiocy of Adam West, we have Frank Miller to thank for it.)

Salerno says, “The slow-paced and meandering build-up in the first half hour or so ultimately pays off handsomely in the movie’s climactic scenes, with plenty of action and suspense along the way.” While we both enjoyed the movie, my review is the opposite of his: my favorite part of the movie is the “slow-paced and meandering build-up” — the best superhero origin back story I’ve yet seen on film. Was it only half an hour? Felt more like an hour to me, and I was enjoying all of it. Felt like we didn’t even get to see the hero costume for the first half of the film, and for my tastes, the story deteriorated from that point on. Not much. It would still have been the best Batman movie ever, even if they’d started at what I’m calling the downturn. But I definitely preferred the character of Bruce Wayne to the character of Batman.

So why is an Austrian School economist reviewing a superhero movie?

I’ll say that before I read Salerno’s review (which I saved for after the movie), I was already thinking that this was the most self-consciously economically minded comic book movie I’ve seen. Some of this economic mindedness is revealed in the standard myths and misunderstandings of economic illiteracy, but there were two points I thought Austrians could readily embrace.

Point #1:

The first one turns out to be something Salerno did not at all embrace, but put into the economically illiterate column of the tally:

The notion that a conspiracy of bad guys can “use economics as a weapon” to cause a depression in Gotham City is ridiculous — unless they have somehow infiltrated the Federal Reserve System.

Well, yes, exactly. Why shouldn’t we believe that this is precisely what the bad guys have done?

No, it’s not specifically explained that way, but what is both explained and demonstrated is that the bad guys have infiltrated every level of every aspect of Gotham City government. How much sense would it make for them to have kept their hands out of the federal government’s mechanisms?

Do I assume that the screenwriters understand that government monetary inflation is responsible for the business cycle? No, I don’t assume that. (But if they did understand, they’d be wise to keep the details of their insight out of the script. After all, they’re trying to turn a tidy profit, and therefore want the overwhelming population of young Marxoids to buy film tickets and recommend the movie to their young Marxoid friends.)

What I embrace in this detail is the perception that depressions are created! They are not natural, not just an inevitable symptom of market economies. They are artifacts of intervention, and this is what I take to be the point.

The film posits a criminal conspiracy behind a devastating economic depression. That’s only half the story — Austrians know that the criminal intervention is a conspiracy of bankers and politicians — but that’s already more than I ever expected to get from Hollywood film writers. As Murray Rothbard would say: their suspicions are right, even if they don’t have all the details (although when Rothbard said it, he was referring to people’s suspicions of bankers — not of criminal secret societies).

Point #2:

“Where does he get those wonderful toys?”

— Jack Nicholson as The Joker, Batman (1989)

When I was a smart-alec kid, watching James Bond marathons, my smart-alec friends and I would question the logistics of the bad guys’ lairs. How did Dr. No arrange for the construction of a secret volcano fortress? Fine, the bad guys had plenty of money from past bad-guy activities, but how did they turn it into so much advanced infrastructure and technology.

What we never questioned was how MI6 managed to do the same. We grew up in an era when most people took for granted that governments had technology more advanced than we had on the private market — and feared that the Soviets’ infrastructure and technology were just that much better than MI6 and the CIA’s. That was the Cold War mentality, and even those of us who opposed the Cold War often failed to question its most basic assumptions — like the idea that command economies could out-compete free economies.

After the fall of the Soviet Union and the discovery that we’d been lied to for decades by both Left and Right (each for their own reasons) about the strength of the Soviet economy and military, and after finally learning some of the economics behind the reality behind the lies, I now find every adventure movie to come out of the 1960s, 1970s, and even 1980s to be based in the economic misunderstandings of Cold-War thinking. (Even the supposedly somewhat libertarian The Incredibles suffers from this ignorance — though I suppose we can forgive a movie that is consciously playing with an already established superhero tradition. PoMo, donchaknow.)

But how can Batman have such an elaborately constructed Batcave? Well, in this movie, he doesn’t. The cave looks like a cave, not like an underground military installation. There are no hydraulic lifts, no supercomputer, absolutely nothing it would take negotiations with teamsters to construct. We even see Bruce Wayne himself rappelling down from the cave ceiling where he’s been putting in the lighting. Faithful butler Alfred stands by the small gas-powered generator that provides the electricity.

And how can Batman have such high-tech crime-fighting gadgetry unavailable on the market?

The old answer was the Bruce Wayne is a billionaire — same answer for James Bond’s supervillains.

But Batman Begins offers no such pretense. We see Alfred and Bruce Wayne planning how to buy which parts of the costume from which foreign manufacturers, without attracting attention. We learn that the department of the Wayne Corporation originally funded to develop defense technology has been all but shut down, as the new WayneCorp management focuses on government weapons contracts.

Of course Bruce Wayne didn’t build the Batmobile! What were you thinking?

Batman’s high-tech costume, vehicles, gadgetry — they are products of the market, abandoned with changes in demand. (Though the demand comes from government, not consumers.)

Batman’s gadgets are what economists call “sunk costs”. They already exist and have already been paid for, whether or not anyone wants or can afford to buy them. They’re too expensive to mass-produce, given the lack of demand, but they’ve already been produced as prototypes.

Batman Begins is not Austrian, not even as much as “The Berlin Batman” (1, 2, 3), but it is by far the most market-oriented superhero movie I’m aware of. Many libertarians celebrated The Incredibles for its Randian individualism and bourgeois family values, and I can join them in much of that, but The Incredibles also showed the private insurance corporation as criminally malicious while giving a complete pass to the secret government agency that enforces the ban on private security (a.k.a. superheroes). I guess libertarians have to take what we can get. But for my money, the more interesting questions are asked by Batman Begins — even if the answers it hints at are sometimes less than satisfactory.

Money, Banking, and the Federal Reserve: the Complete Transcript

Politicians espouse numerous theories about the cause of this country’s economic woes; seldom however do these officials look below the surface: the roots of our economic ills can be traced to central banking and our present monetary system.

The Federal Reserve claims to manage our money; instead it makes our money worth less and less every day. It has generated continuous and worsening business cycles and lowered our living standards.

FULL TRANSCRIPT


See the Entire Video on YouTube

the penultimate supper

Maybe everyone already knows this story, but I just learned it.

In 1573, Italian painter Paolo Veronese was commissioned to paint a Last Supper for the convent of San Giovanni e Paolo to replace an earlier work by Titian destroyed in the fire of 1571.

Here is the painting he turned in, one of the largest canvases of the 16th century:

Notice that Christ and His Apostles seem to be dining in Venice, surrounded by marble columns and stone archways. Notice also that there are many more people in attendance than the one Redeemer and his dozen disciples: we have dogs, midgets, black African servants, and a score of drunken revelers. I don’t know the period well enough to spot the other offending presence in the painting: German soldiers.

On July 18, 1573, Veronese was called before the Holy Tribunal of the Inquisition. Asked if he guessed why he had been summoned, he replied that he believed it was because he ought to have painted the Magdalene instead of a dog. Indeed. Neither were the Inquisitors happy with the site of "buffoons, drunkards, Germans, dwarfs, and the like fooleries" at the Lord’s last meal.

They demanded that Veronese change the painting.

Instead he renamed it "Banquet in the House of Levi."

I wonder how much Monty Python had this story in mind when they wrote "The Penultimate Supper":

94 years and counting

$10 $7

Writing about It’s a Wonderful Life’s George Bailey and his fractional-reserve banking, I somehow failed to notice that today marks the 94th anniversary of the signing by President Woodrow Wilson of the Federal Reserve Act, the law that created the central banking system of the United States.

The Mises Institute put together a movie about the Federal Reserve, which you can buy on DVD for $15 or watch for free on YouTube.

$19 $15

Christmas Unwrapped

I posted this a couple years ago:

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas reading list

Let’s put the X back in Xmas!
from lowercase liberty

putting the “chi” back in chiMas
from lowercase liberty

The Economics of Santa’s Workshop
from Mises.org

Scrooge Defended
from Mises.org

And the Christmas viewing list grows longer and longer but must always include some historical context. I make my reservations explicit in “Let’s put the X back in Xmas!” but I still consider the History Channel’s Christmas Unwrapped to be the seasonal must-see.

(permalink)

And now, to put my HTML where my mouth is, I’ve created a “Christmas Unwrapped” page to let you see the movie on YouTube:

7 Samurai

It’s not that I have nothing interesting to say (at least, interesting to me); it’s that I haven’t taken the time to write any of it down. Instead I share this note I passed among friends and family a couple of summers ago:

22 Aug 2003 14:04:30 -0400

Last night, the Vinegar Hill finished its summer-long Kurosawa/Mifune film festival with The Seven Samurai.

One of the difficulties of getting older — especially as information technology makes access to almost everything so much easier — is that my memories of books, movies, and television from childhood and adolescence are often better than my adult return to those same stories.

Even Yojimbo, which is still great for 36yo bk, was not as great for 36yo bk as it had been for 16yo bk, or even as great as it was for 24yo bk.

I am therefore happily caught off guard to report that the Seven Samurai matures with age. It is much richer than I remember, more disturbing than I remember (although Nathalie commented on what a light touch it had throughout) and overall a grown-up experience.

There were teenagers behind us in the theater last night who did not enjoy it half as much as I did 20 years ago, but the fact that they were rude enough that I can report on their reception of the film might tell you more about those individual teenagers than it tells us about how well the film would do for the 2003 equivalent of 16yo Brian and David.

Most remarkable to me was that the version we saw last night was 200 minutes — a “director’s cut” of the film that I may or may not have ever seen before — and I never once wanted to look at my watch. With so many Hollywood features getting longer and longer (which is the opposite of the trend from a decade or two ago) and with me finding it harder and harder to sit still for anything longer than 2 hours, I was very pleased that an almost-3-and-a-half hour film could keep me enthralled. With a dozen itchy wasp-stings, a throbbing arthritic hip, and various other physical discomforts that had been bothering me through the day, I was somewhat reluctant to attend the film. But during those 200 minutes, I was barely distracted by them.

I’ve seen Kurosawa films throughout the past 20 years, and only on this, my third viewing of Seven Samurai, do I realize that it is by far my favorite.

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