Avatar's Savage Message


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Avatar excitement kills cinema-goer

by "AFP"

ABC News

Jan 20, 2010

From the article:

A 42-year-old Taiwanese man with a history of high blood pressure has died of a stroke after watching a 3D screening of James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar.

. . .

Mr Kuo, who suffered from hypertension, was unconscious when he arrived at the Nan Men General Hospital.

. . .

"It's likely that the over-excitement from watching the movie triggered his symptoms," the doctor said.

Mr Kuo died 11 days later from the brain haemorrhage.

. . .

Film blogging sites have reported complaints of headaches, dizziness, nausea and blurry eyesight from viewers of Avatar and other movies rich in 3D imagery.

Hmmmmmm...

Michael

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Avatar excitement kills cinema-goer

by "AFP"

ABC News

Jan 20, 2010

From the article:

A 42-year-old Taiwanese man with a history of high blood pressure has died of a stroke after watching a 3D screening of James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar.

. . .

Mr Kuo, who suffered from hypertension, was unconscious when he arrived at the Nan Men General Hospital.

. . .

"It's likely that the over-excitement from watching the movie triggered his symptoms," the doctor said.

Mr Kuo died 11 days later from the brain haemorrhage.

. . .

Film blogging sites have reported complaints of headaches, dizziness, nausea and blurry eyesight from viewers of Avatar and other movies rich in 3D imagery.

Hmmmmmm...

Michael

Artifacts from film and video can trigger neurological symptoms in susceptible persons, much as the imperceptible flickering of fluorescent lights can. Before my cure really started working, I couldn't watch TV for more than about ten minutes because the interlacing would give me a disconnected, spaced out feeling along with headaches and anxiety.

See:

The Pokémon Seizure Incident

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I took my leave-for-the-time-being over Avatar and the ubiquitous Objectivist Correctness about it, but given that, I couldn't resist linking to and posting from this article.

It refutes Ed Hudgins's case, methinks, by making effective and potent use of the words of ... well, among others, Ed Hudgins.

"In Defense of Avatar" by David Henderson

[...] I don’t think Avatar is an attack on capitalism. One could leave the movie and have no idea, based on just the movie, about James Cameron’s view of capitalism. And while it did have some clichés (most movies do), I didn’t find it loaded.

So what is Avatar? In fact, Avatar is a powerful antiwar movie – and a defense of property rights. For that reason, I found it easy to identify with those whose way of life was being destroyed by military might.

[...] In fact, the defense of property rights in Avatar is so clear that, at one point in the movie, when the bad guys are justifying their war on the grounds that they need "Unobtainium," I turned to a libertarian friend and said, "This is the Kelo decision."

[...] To the extent that it makes any statement about capitalism, Avatar is a defense of capitalism. Capitalism is based on property rights and voluntary exchange. The Na’vi had property rights in the crucial tree and various other properties surrounding it. Did they own it as individuals or as community tribal property? We can’t be sure, but probably the latter. They had refused to sell the property to the outsiders. There was nothing the outsiders could give them that would make it worth their while.

What should we, if we are good capitalists, conclude? That, just as in the Kelo case, the people currently sitting on the land value it more than the outsiders. The land is already in its highest-valued use. Hudgins [...] could argue that that’s implausible. Surely there would be some finite price that the Na’vi would take in return for the Unobtainium. Maybe, maybe not. But once the Na’vi have made it clear that they’re unwilling to exchange it, that should be the end of things, shouldn’t it?

And here’s the irony: no one understands that better than Ed Hudgins. Here are his eloquent words following the disastrous Kelo decision:

"This [taking property forcibly from some to give to others] is the philosophy that informs the paternalist political elites of New London and elsewhere. They see themselves as a new ruling elite who manifest the will of the people. ‘L’état, c’est moi!’ These planners either put the good of an abstract collective – the city – ahead of the rights of the individuals who make it up, or they abrogate the rights of some individuals in order to give the undeserved and the unearned to another group of individuals in the name of survival and ‘economic development.’"

[...] Avatar is an eloquent defense of the right of people in other civilizations to live as they please. As I mentioned, Hudgins is a fan of Ayn Rand and, in fact, makes his living advocating her ideas.

So I’ll put it in terms that Ayn Rand used. On the issue of Avatar, Hudgins is "concrete-bound." He fails to see the basic principle: people’s right to live their lives in peace.

Henderson has much more commentary and several examples, and is being genial in his bringing up Hudgins Then versus Hudgins Now, as he should be.

Still, I admit to taking some relish in even such a modest example of the Hoist by One's Own Petard Syndrome. Feel free to just "call me a boob, call me a schlemiel, call me a brain with a missing wheel"* ... but you can also call me quietly satisfied.

_____

* From "Value," sung by Barbra Streisand on her album "A Happening in Central Park"

Edited by Greybird
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I just went to see Avatar this weekend and the movie is spectacular. I've never seen a movie deal so effectively with the topic of man's metaphysical aloneness. James Cameron has created a world where the beings in it are not fundamentally dependent on technology for communication and portrayed human beings with the technology to not only understand it, but to live in it.

Avatar depicts another deep seated human conflict: the benefits of living in a modern society vs. alienation from our environment of evolutionary adaptation. I did not see Avatar as an anti-technology movie. I did see it as portraying a new synthesis where new wealth is created by adapting our technology more seemlessly to biological ends. I saw the movie as protraying the superiority of an advanced technology (the neural interfaces allowing the creation of the Avatar and the interaction with the Navi)over a cruder, destructive military technology.

As technology becomes more advanced, it will become more integrable with biology. James Cameron's film is a hymn to that future.

Jim

Edited by James Heaps-Nelson
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[...] In fact, the defense of property rights in Avatar is so clear that, at one point in the movie, when the bad guys are justifying their war on the grounds that they need "Unobtainium," I turned to a libertarian friend and said, "This is the Kelo decision."

My view is that the "people" of New London are filthy savages who have no right to impede our use of "their" property.

J

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My thoughts on Mr. Hudgins review and Mr. Henderson (and Mr. Boaz's) defenses...

First, whilst the film CAN be read as supportive of property rights, this is a single concrete aspect of the situation. It is not the one that Cameron is busy beating the audience over the head with.

Mr Boaz actually concedes this point. He openly admits that not even James Cameron may see the libertarian angle in his film. As Boaz writes in his article (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-boaz26-2010jan26,0,6596249.story), "The film is a perfect souffle of left-wing attitudes. But conservative critics are missing the conflict at the heart of the movie. It's quite possible that Cameron missed it too."

Yes, there is a conflict over property rights (and also, let me add, voluntarily-agreed group property is not anti-capitalist), but it is not the essential feature of the story.

Boaz clearly disagrees because he labels the property rights conflict as the essential one. So the question is "what is the essential meaning of a story?" In a situation where there are multiple divergent interpretations, I think the best source of evidence is what the creator wanted to say.

So, what did Cameron and all the cast say about Avatar?

Do they go on about the evils of corporate statism?

No. They go on about how beautiful and perfect and noble the Na'vi are, how they are all 'one with nature' and how they even sparkle like Edward Cullen from that abomination of a book Twilight... they go on about how wonderful Pandora is and how evil us humans are. Also remember that all the noble humans in the story have Avatars, i.e. they're 'more like the Na'vi' and thus better.

Regardless of what the concrete specifics of the moral dilemma in the movie are, remember that this is a movie and as such the moral dilemma that the film intends to present is the essential moral dilemma.

And regarding "corporate statism vs. capitalism"... this is a film for mass consumption. Are the majority of people even familiar with the essential feature of Capitalism (i.e. all economic activity takes place within the realm of individual consent and contract) versus Corporate Statism (i.e. a mixed economy where large economic agglomorates (big business, big labor, etc) have substantial influence over the use of state power)? Would most people understand this distinction after decades of leftist Hollywood films that paint the distinction as one of "corporate greed" vs. "love for others"? Face it; the majority of our entertainment media that deals with political-economic-social matters fails economics forever and/or deliberately distorts the distinctions and definitions.

Whilst someone that truly understands political economy would clearly recognize the concrete conflict over property rights, most people would only see "perfect society vs. corporate greed."

In short, I think that Henderson and Boaz are probably being a little too lenient on the film. Whilst they might see a libertarian message, what message did Cameron and the cast intend to convey? As even Boaz concedes, it is unlikely to be the libertarian one.

When analyzing a film, one must look at the big picture as intended by the author. And this picture is fundamentally anti-liberty, anti-modernity, anti-human.

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My thoughts on Mr. Hudgins review and Mr. Henderson (and Mr. Boaz's) defenses...

First, whilst the film CAN be read as supportive of property rights, this is a single concrete aspect of the situation. It is not the one that Cameron is busy beating the audience over the head with.

Mr Boaz actually concedes this point. He openly admits that not even James Cameron may see the libertarian angle in his film. As Boaz writes in his article (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-boaz26-2010jan26,0,6596249.story), "The film is a perfect souffle of left-wing attitudes. But conservative critics are missing the conflict at the heart of the movie. It's quite possible that Cameron missed it too."

Yes, there is a conflict over property rights (and also, let me add, voluntarily-agreed group property is not anti-capitalist), but it is not the essential feature of the story.

Boaz clearly disagrees because he labels the property rights conflict as the essential one. So the question is "what is the essential meaning of a story?" In a situation where there are multiple divergent interpretations, I think the best source of evidence is what the creator wanted to say.

So, what did Cameron and all the cast say about Avatar?

Do they go on about the evils of corporate statism?

No. They go on about how beautiful and perfect and noble the Na'vi are, how they are all 'one with nature' and how they even sparkle like Edward Cullen from that abomination of a book Twilight... they go on about how wonderful Pandora is and how evil us humans are. Also remember that all the noble humans in the story have Avatars, i.e. they're 'more like the Na'vi' and thus better.

Regardless of what the concrete specifics of the moral dilemma in the movie are, remember that this is a movie and as such the moral dilemma that the film intends to present is the essential moral dilemma.

And regarding "corporate statism vs. capitalism"... this is a film for mass consumption. Are the majority of people even familiar with the essential feature of Capitalism (i.e. all economic activity takes place within the realm of individual consent and contract) versus Corporate Statism (i.e. a mixed economy where large economic agglomorates (big business, big labor, etc) have substantial influence over the use of state power)? Would most people understand this distinction after decades of leftist Hollywood films that paint the distinction as one of "corporate greed" vs. "love for others"? Face it; the majority of our entertainment media that deals with political-economic-social matters fails economics forever and/or deliberately distorts the distinctions and definitions.

Whilst someone that truly understands political economy would clearly recognize the concrete conflict over property rights, most people would only see "perfect society vs. corporate greed."

In short, I think that Henderson and Boaz are probably being a little too lenient on the film. Whilst they might see a libertarian message, what message did Cameron and the cast intend to convey? As even Boaz concedes, it is unlikely to be the libertarian one.

When analyzing a film, one must look at the big picture as intended by the author. And this picture is fundamentally anti-liberty, anti-modernity, anti-human.

There's an essay you might want to read sometime. It's called "The Intentional Fallacy" by W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley. You may find it an eye-opener.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_fallacy

JR

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Subject: It's Not Either-Or, Culture Warrior Dudes!

There are issues in philosophy, for example, which are black and white, "either-or", but evaluating a 'rich' movie (or many complex literary or esthetic works) is seldom one of them.

Henderson and Boaz? and their supporters emphasize the pro-property rights aspects and the technical skill and story-telling skill of 'Avatar' but not it's defects. Hudgins and his supporters emphasize the noble savage and anti-corporate aspects of 'Avatar' but severely downplay by comparison the afore-mentioned positives.

In each case, there is a tendency to view that part as so overwhelming - so black or so white -that there is nothing to say about the other aspects.

The truth is that 'Avatar' is a skillful, well-executed movie which defends property rights and able to be appreciated on that level, but which has a horrible set of other philosphical views which run deeper and are more fundamental and which severely undercut the movie. Both things are true.

And quite important.

This is a recurrent problem among Oists - and we see it in this debate. The fact is it's not either-or. The movie, like so many cultural phenomena has good and bad aspects. It's important not to have tunnel-vision and not to be blinded to the other aspects.

In this as in many complex or multi-faceted cases, each side is often outraged at the other for failing to see the aspect they consider overriding or the only thing worth considering. (Just as one extreme example, one poster, ,Greybird was so disgusted at people's failure to only see the one aspect he deemed overriding that he seemed ready to go away in total alienation at what he thought was "objectivist correctness").

Edited by Philip Coates
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Greybird was so disgusted at people's failure to only see the one aspect he deemed overriding that he seemed ready to go away in total alienation at what he thought was "objectivist correctness").

Yeah, but there wasn't any argument from intimidation on that thread outside maybe the first post with the link to the crappy review. As for "objectivist correctness," he just wants his own correctness which of course would be objective.

--Brant

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There's an essay you might want to read sometime. It's called "The Intentional Fallacy" by W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley. You may find it an eye-opener.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_fallacy

JR

I more than appreciate the refrence. However, the "death of the author" theory is one I, to some extent, disagree with. Whilst Lit Crit might believe focussing on author intentions is a fallacy, Lit Crit is also full of people that argue Jane Austen promoted slavery and argue that all literature produced up until now is a mere rationalization for white male christian capitalism.

Of course not all Lit Crit is like this. I'm simply saying that merely because its called the "intentional fallacy" by Lit Critics, that does not automatically mean reference to repeatedly expressed author intentionality is a fallacy.

I admit, more than one interpretation of a text can be derived. But it is perfectly legitimate to look at "the message the author was attempting to convey" even if said message didn't get through to every audience consciousness clearly.

This reminds me.... Im thinking I'd start a semi-serious, semi-comedy thread about Libertarian/Objectivist readings of mainstream pop culture... would be kinda funny.

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Subject: It's Not Either-Or, Culture Warrior Dudes!

There are issues in philosophy, for example, which are black and white, "either-or", but evaluating a 'rich' movie (or many complex literary or esthetic works) is seldom one of them.

Henderson and Boaz? and their supporters emphasize the pro-property rights aspects and the technical skill and story-telling skill of 'Avatar' but not it's defects. Hudgins and his supporters emphasize the noble savage and anti-corporate aspects of 'Avatar' but severely downplay by comparison the afore-mentioned positives.

In each case, there is a tendency to view that part as so overwhelming - so black or so white -that there is nothing to say about the other aspects.

The truth is that 'Avatar' is a skillful, well-executed movie which defends property rights and able to be appreciated on that level, but which has a horrible set of other philosphical views which run deeper and are more fundamental and which severely undercut the movie. Both things are true.

And quite important.

This is a recurrent problem among Oists - and we see it in this debate. The fact is it's not either-or. The movie, like so many cultural phenomena has good and bad aspects. It's important not to have tunnel-vision and not to be blinded to the other aspects.

In this as in many complex or multi-faceted cases, each side is often outraged at the other for failing to see the aspect they consider overriding or the only thing worth considering. (Just as one extreme example, one poster, ,Greybird was so disgusted at people's failure to only see the one aspect he deemed overriding that he seemed ready to go away in total alienation at what he thought was "objectivist correctness").

You make an important point, but I never denied the ability to derive a pro-property-rights message from Avatar.

I simply stated that this is not what the author intended, and the film is full of ideas which ultimately are hostile to the pro-property-rights message.

We are talking about a film that is more or less an intellectual melange of all the ideas coughed up by the academic left for a very long time. The LAST thing we can expect is for these ideas to actually be logically consistent with each other.

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There's an essay you might want to read sometime. It's called "The Intentional Fallacy" by W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley. You may find it an eye-opener.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_fallacy

JR

I more than appreciate the refrence. However, the "death of the author" theory is one I, to some extent, disagree with. Whilst Lit Crit might believe focussing on author intentions is a fallacy, Lit Crit is also full of people that argue Jane Austen promoted slavery and argue that all literature produced up until now is a mere rationalization for white male christian capitalism.

Of course not all Lit Crit is like this. I'm simply saying that merely because its called the "intentional fallacy" by Lit Critics, that does not automatically mean reference to repeatedly expressed author intentionality is a fallacy.

I admit, more than one interpretation of a text can be derived. But it is perfectly legitimate to look at "the message the author was attempting to convey" even if said message didn't get through to every audience consciousness clearly.

This reminds me.... Im thinking I'd start a semi-serious, semi-comedy thread about Libertarian/Objectivist readings of mainstream pop culture... would be kinda funny.

The works says what it says. What the author supposedly intended it to say is irrelevant. Get over it.

JR

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I'm enjoying this debate too much to want to go see the film, and make up my own mind, just yet.

Not every artist is truthful enough, or conscious enough of their art/craft to say what they want to say, I think.

In fact it seems that some often relish being ambiguous, to lend weight to their 'artistry', by stimulating controversy.

The 'Intentional Fallacy' that Jeff R supplied helps explain a point I've long been absorbed by. Yes, "The work says what it says" - despite the intent of the author. This does imply that he is lacking in skill, if he cannot make his message clear.

We can't accuse Cameron of this, so one has to assume that Cameron is not unhappy with being ambiguous, and so is, ultimately, dishonest. No?

Anyway, as the Wiki article says "The poem is detatched from the author at birth ... The poem belongs to the public."

Tony

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The works says what it says. What the author supposedly intended it to say is irrelevant. Get over it.

JR

As in all things verbal or so reducible.

--Brant

paraphrase(?): "Do you think I'm unreal?--do you think I'm impossible?"--Ayn Rand (1967)

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You know, if someone wants to write a political thesis to be that can be analyzed and criticized etc. then they can. On the other hand, if they want to make a work of art (and a movie is, in a sense) "with a message" then they can do that too. But don't expect to be able to watch a movie (or listen to a song) and expect to be able to understand unambiguously what the artist meant in his/her work. The reason art of all types is enjoyable is because it gives us different perspectives on things. If we want to really get into the nuts and bolts of something we turn to science, not art.

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You know, if someone wants to write a political thesis to be that can be analyzed and criticized etc. then they can. On the other hand, if they want to make a work of art (and a movie is, in a sense) "with a message" then they can do that too. But don't expect to be able to watch a movie (or listen to a song) and expect to be able to understand unambiguously what the artist meant in his/her work. The reason art of all types is enjoyable is because it gives us different perspectives on things. If we want to really get into the nuts and bolts of something we turn to science, not art.

Except for when the author of a work deliberately employs uncertainty, or occasionally is pretty bad, I agree.

I think the reason I still prefer the written word to film is that a masterful author doesn't have to shove it all in one's face too quickly, and can still be clear and unambiguous in his delivery; but the onus is on us to find the 'message.'

"Layering", is how I see it - or peeling an onion to its core.

And if he's really good, you might still be peeling for years later.

Tony

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I'm enjoying this debate too much to want to go see the film, and make up my own mind, just yet.

Not every artist is truthful enough, or conscious enough of their art/craft to say what they want to say, I think.

In fact it seems that some often relish being ambiguous, to lend weight to their 'artistry', by stimulating controversy.

The 'Intentional Fallacy' that Jeff R supplied helps explain a point I've long been absorbed by. Yes, "The work says what it says" - despite the intent of the author. This does imply that he is lacking in skill, if he cannot make his message clear.

We can't accuse Cameron of this, so one has to assume that Cameron is not unhappy with being ambiguous, and so is, ultimately, dishonest. No?

Anyway, as the Wiki article says "The poem is detatched from the author at birth ... The poem belongs to the public."

Tony

". . . one has to assume that Cameron is not unhappy with being ambiguous, and so is, ultimately, dishonest. No?"

Not necessarily. Some artists employ ambiguity to convey two or more meanings simultaneously and to suggest that these different meanings are not, at root, irreconcilable.

JR

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That's a critical point you raised, JR.

I'm still working on it, but maybe, it's the degree of ambiguity, and of reconciliability, that 'counts'.

I am considering a good, craftsman-like, but (I think) flawed writer like the late John Updike. He would definitely constitute a Naturalist artist - in Randian terms - so it's no surprise that his meanings are impossible to reconcile. Which leaves a reader with the futility of it all, a "bleak Universe" premise.

Ambiguity used as a tool to create tension is another thing altogether - but surely it should be able to be resolved?

I admit, that while at times enjoying the works of Naturalist authors, I lean strongly to the Romanticists.

Tony

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  • 4 weeks later...

I just returned from seeing "Avatar" in IMAX 3D. It reminded me of this thread and, combined with reading Joseph J. Grano, Jr's book "You Can't Predict a Hero," prompted me to think of an opportunity.

Grano states, "Successful leaders position themselves as an extension of the solution rather than just an articulation of the problem." Imagine how "Avatar" can be used to solve political problems by use of parody.

Imagine a clever "you-tube" parody with the "D.C. Sky people" taking our wealth, car companies, banks, and health while "We the Blue People" - the productive, the thoughtful, the self-responsible - are committing ourselves to the "electoral" fight to save our honor and freedom. I think someone creative could really do something effective that could go viral.

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Avatar's Savage Message

Savage myth

In Avatar Cameron perpetuates the enduring, seductive, yet morally false myth of a Garden of Eden or lost paradise inhabited by noble savages. This myth has done no end of harm to humanity. In modern times, it found its voice in Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

In the eighteenth century the Enlightenment had dragged Europe out of the Dark Ages, setting individual happiness as a legitimate moral goal, showing that the human mind could understand the movements of the planets and the biology of the human body, and discovering ways to produce the material means for prosperity. Then Rousseau stood before human progress and shouted, "Stop!"

This, of course, is moral nonsense. A look at primitive peoples from the prehistoric to the original inhabitants of America to the odd jungle tribe today shows brutality, superstition that leads to ostracism and murder, and institutionalized human sacrifice along with the occasional "respect" for animal spirits. And, in fact, virtue consists in disciplining our appetites and urges, in the light of reason, toward our individual well-being, which will also lead us to respect our fellows and deal with them based on mutual consent.

Ed, who decide(s) what is moral?

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Subject: Disagreement on Avatar; Wider Esthetic Issues

More importantly, the movie -correctly- showed the injustice of killing people so you can seize valuable resources.

Phil, who decide(s) what is just?

While the American hunter-gatherers could not legitimately claim the entire continent to follow the buffalo, they could claim some preserves.

Who decide(s) what is legit?

One of the worst American Presidents was Andrew Jackson, who simply stole the Southern farming lands of the Cherokees. And in defiance of the Supreme Court.

So do you think U.S. should give the land back? If not, then why not?

It's an issue of property rights.

Who decide(s) the property rights?

They don't just belong to the highest-valued use. If you claim that my hunting ranch is not as 'civilized' a use as farming or mining or building a cpu chip factory, you still don't get to steal it from me.

If it's in their[those who want to steal it from you] overall interest, and they have the coercive power to take it from you with acceptable costs (as they perceive), why do you think they shouldn't?

Rand loved the music of "The Internationale" - she did it in that case.

So do I. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpwfbTNtb8Q

No, "Avatar" is hardly "Casablanca".

...and "Casablanca". is no, "Once upon a time in America".

Edited by Red Grant
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--in the Civil War, to free the slaves and dismantle the feudalistic rule of the authoritarian, anti-capitalist Southern white elites.

Phil, actually, the South was more for free-trade than the North.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tariff_of_1828

But you cannot disagree with the fact that the U.S. military has fought against the worst people and worst regimes. Consistently. Particularly the totalitarians

.

Is that why U.S. military has aided the Soviets during WW2?

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But you cannot disagree with the fact that the U.S. military has fought against the worst people and worst regimes. Consistently. Particularly the totalitarians

.

Is that why U.S. military has aided the Soviets during WW2?

Yeah, but dat one was different because...well because...we want it to be different...see!

Adam

AN95CD%7E1.gif

AN6F5B%7E1.gif

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Is that why U.S. military has aided the Soviets during WW2?

Yeah, but dat one was different because...well because...we want it to be different...see!

Adam

You mean, for the right price, everyone's a whore?

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