Freedom Updates: June 29, 2006
by Ari Armstrong
My wife, a friend, and I saw Superman Returns on Wednesday night. It's a great movie that I highly recommend.
Even though Superman has extraordinary, vaguely supernatural powers, the movie, like Bryan Singer's X-Men movies, has a very human, down-to-earth feel. The story is pared down to something manageable, and, though the plot is fairly simple, it is executed well.
We happened to watch the latest Zorro movie on video on the same evening. Even though Zorro has no extra-human powers, I found the movie distractingly implausible. The third X-man movie, taken over by a new director, has a crazy and incoherent plot, it doesn't follow any of the characters very well, and I couldn't relate to it.
Singer (with his writers) does two nice things with the movie (besides hiring good actors and effects people). First, the idea that Superman leaves Earth for a few years and returns to find Lois Lane with a boyfriend and child works well.
Second, Singer ably deals with the broader theme of why we need Superman. In the movie, Lois has won the Pulitzer for her editorial, "Why the world doesn't need Superman." Singer brings over Xer James Marsden to play Lois's boyfriend. I don't want to spoil any surprises, but he plays a heroic role. His role is really the highlight of the film, and it provides the answer to why we in the real world need Superman.
Another thing Singer did is open wide the future to any number of sequels. Let's hope that he stays at the helm of this franchise.
The Creeping Smoking Ban
Surprise, surprise -- breathing smoke isn't that great for you. And this has exactly zero relevance to the matter of smoking bans. As I have argued at length, the real issue is property rights, which preclude smoking bans.
Yet, in his June 29 On Point for the Rocky Mountain News, Vincent Carroll, without argument, urges us to "applaud bans on smoking in indoor public places, such as the one that goes into effect (despite a few exemptions) in Colorado on Saturday."
But then Carroll goes on to worry about a problem that I warned about: "People who consider any level of risk intolerable will be incapable of declaring victory when smoking is finally banned from all public places... They will proceed, compulsively, to the next stage: a campaign to ban smoking in private cars that contain children, then in private homes."
Carroll offers no reason whatsoever for imposing smoking bans on some private properties (such as restaurants) but not on other private properties (such as homes). Once the principle of property rights is subverted to social engineering, there's no way to stop further encroachments. So Carroll's warning rings a little hollow, for he has granted the central case to the banners.
One might argue that enforcing a ban in homes would be more intrusive, but that's an inherently ambiguous and squishy standard. Indeed, banning smoking in private homes where children are present makes more sense than banning it in restaurants. Patrons and employees of restaurants can choose to leave at any time; often children do not enjoy that choice.
If the principle and protection of property rights further erode, it is only a matter of time until militarized police units go on no-knock raids to confiscate cigarettes from private homes. Carroll has already expressed his support of the use of such evidence in court, so, hey, no problem.
I'm reading Daniel C. Dennett's Freedom Evolves. I don't have any firm convictions about the arguments of the book yet, but I did run across this very funny line (page 118):
"Some philosophers can't bear to say simple things, like 'Suppose a dog bites a man.' They feel obliged instead to say, 'Suppose a dog d bites a man m at time t,' thereby demonstrating their unshakable commitment to logical rigor, even though they don't go on to manipulate any formulae involving d, m, and t."
Of course, all of Dennett's variations from regular English are entirely warranted...
I ran across many interesting passages while reviewing a book on the Middle Ages by Sidney Painter and Brian Tierney, including the following two:
Climate conditions alone do not determine the course of history; the important question is how people cope with them. (The period of adverse conditions known as the "little ice age" in Europe, from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth, was one of extraordinary vitality and expansion.) Still, over a long period of time, the climatic changes of the late Middle Ages did put additional pressures on medieval society, especially in northern Europe. In mountainous regions the tree line crept lower as fields at higher altitudes were abandoned, and in Scandinavia the area of land capable of producing grain diminished. Drift ice made voyaging in the north Atlantic more difficult. The sea route to Greenland became unnavigable, and the Christian Viking settlement there ceased to exist... Disastrous floods occurred in the polders of Holland. In England, which had had a substantial wine industry in the thirteenth century, grapes went out of cultivation. (In recent years, after a warming trend of the twentieth century, grapes have again been grown commercially in England.)
My edition of the book is copyright 1983. I am aware of no one who seriously questions these temperature fluctuations of the last millennium. Obviously, climate changes preceded heavy industrialization. Interestingly, a warming trend following a cold spell had at least some beneficial results.
A few pages later (471-3), our historians discuss the Black Death:
The horror of the situation was increased by the fact that, of course, no one understood it. Men argued whether the plague was a work of the devil or a punishment of God. The Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris declared that the epidemic of 1348 was caused by the unusual planetary conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in the sign of Aquarius, which had occurred in 1345. This planetary conjunction caused hot, moist conditions, which in turn caused the earth to exhale poisonous vapors...
Obviously, our culture is not quite so steeped in superstitious nonsense. Yet the extravagant science, the self-loathing, the scapegoating, the rush to "do something" however pointless, remain with us, now with respect to climate change.