Nothing Like Silver
Dr. Vajk [April] minimizes the importance of depletion of scarce minerals such as copper, zinc, lead, mercury, silver, columbium, and tungsten. He states, "In each case technological substitutions of abundant materials are available or could be developed within the present or near-term state of the art." For certain medical uses this thesis is debatable. For example, x-ray diagnosis is indispensable for quality medical care. The amount of silver coated on x-ray film in the United States is growing and is almost equal to the amount mined. A satisfactory substitute has not been found. Since the atomic structure of each metal is unique, it seems possible that for some uses no substitute exists.
Robert A. Wilson, M.D.
I am moved to write this by the combination of the "space" theme of your April number, followed by a column by Murray Rothbard (one of your contributing editors) in Libertarian Review, which he subtitled "The Menace of the Space Cult." I am writing to Dr. Rothbard at REASON rather than LR because Libertarian Review follows the aggravating policy of not publishing letters from readers, and because I believe this letter will interest your readers, as well as your staff.
Dear Dr. Rothbard:
Your account of the victory over the "space cadets" at the National Committee meeting at Las Vegas was very revealing, a sad commentary on the psychology of the movement. Your disparaging remarks about libertarian utopias are appalling to those who, like myself, hope to see libertarianism become something more than an annoying bee in the establishment's bonnet.
The libertarian movement is potentially the most explosive political phenomenon of the last two hundred years, in terms of its promise of mental and material welfare all over the world. But the best theme you can offer to inspire the people who will bring about this revolutionary upheaval is "toward a three-party system"? How about a no-party system? Such lame gradualism I never expected to hear from "Mr. Libertarian." If that was the best idea offered, the meeting should have been extended until a better one was invented (postponing the convention, if need be). (How about "the future is ours," or "a free market in ideas," or "with justice for all," or "victimless government"?) I agree that it would have been a mistake to hitch the Party's wagon to any particular embodiment of libertarian ideals, such as space colonies, but there are good consequences of libertarian principles, and these should be advertised if the libertarians are to avoid the damning stigma attached to "nay-sayers," who have nothing to add to any discussion but wisecracks and obstruction.…
To recruit people to libertarianism, what is needed is to show them what life would be like under a libertarian regime, and to let them decide that they would prefer such existence to their present one. Some popular features of any such regime would be:
1. Much less violent crime
2. Stable money
3. Cheaper and better food, transportation, postage, shoes, electronics, clothes, drugs, medical care, cars, haircuts, liquor, etc., etc.
4. Widespread technical advances (due to a better effective rate of return on capital invested in research, due to lower taxes and stable money)
5. Peace (especially after the example of the future libertarian United States is observed elsewhere).
These prospects constitute a powerful incentive to support libertarianism, an incentive which, for many, will be stronger than the prospect of merely ending a long-accustomed repression.
Certainly the socialist utopias are ludicrous, but is this because of the conditions they describe, or the inadequate means expected to achieve them? Is it possible that socialism has grown to its present mastodonic dimensions because of the appeals made in its name for the roseate future, rather than because of its moral foundations? Must we renounce these dazzling visions now that we have found in libertarianism an effective means to realize some of them? I hope we do not renounce them, for the future is dim for any movement unable to rise above name-calling and I-told-you-so's. The "army" of the revolution needs more than snipers to carry the day.
Switzerland is the only country in the world whose inhabitants are genuinely free people. Their social order is characterized by the absence of what, in all the other countries, is the government—republican, democratic, socialist, communist, monarchical, etc., etc. The Swiss do not delegate—nor would they countenance any arrogation of power which an individual can, or should, exercise for himself. They have no president or equivalent, nor any social setup that goes with it.
Why not emulate this shining example, now more than 500 years old? And do it on a purely individual basis? The way to bring it off is simplicity itself: give up your citizenship.
What does "citizenship" do for you as an individual? Can you name one single feature of citizenship—US, USSR, British, Bengali, Hottentot, etc., etc.—that is worth having, or that you could not do without?
If you adamantly refuse all its "privileges," you will knock out all and sundry grounds and/or pretexts for its "obligations." No crime that, and never mind what anybody else may do or say. Nobody, but nobody can inflict any punishment on those who, in good conscience, refuse to remain members and/or supporters of any of the going political regimes.
A decent regard for the opinion of mankind may call for a renunciation of citizenship in public. The "practical" and "legal" aspects of such a separation would be adequately covered by a simple notice to his (her) local newspaper, such as: I am formally giving up my _____ citizenship, in order to fully and permanently dissociate myself from the going social order.
Let the implications stand for what they may. You cannot be brought to court for it, and your example may inspire others to join the movement, toward a "social" order equivalent to that of Switzerland.
I was very pleasantly surprised to see and read in your March issue the article by Bruce Lagasse on the old movies. It brought back a lot of memories for me, having seen most of the movies reviewed.
Bravo for publishing it! Let's have more of the same nostalgic bits of trivia for the over-"50" crowd.
Thanks again. I enjoy all of your articles.
Bring on the Romance
What good fortune that I should find in your august pages [March] the article on romantic films written by admitted avowed romantic Bruce Lagasse.
I'm one of those who, with a few exceptions due to individual differences, shares his taste in movies—and I would like to see more MORE MORE, or at the very least more.
A twisting force applied ever so subtly to the author's arm in the direction of a sequel would be much appreciated by this reader.
Thank you for whatever you can do to bring it about.
Santa Monica, CA
Being a firm believer in the maxim "To each his own," I hesitated to criticize Bruce Lagasse's taste in romantic screen art [March]. Being somewhat of an egoist and a movie nut, however, I will.
It's not Lagasse's list of suggested old movie greats that prompts me to disagree, but his occasional sins of omission. For example, he recommends Spellbound, an overrated piece of Freudian fluff, while ignoring Hitchcock's best and most enjoyable films: Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, and North by Northwest, in my opinion possibly the best movies ever made.
He includes High Noon and Shane, but not the classic westerns of John Ford, notably The Searchers, Stagecoach, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, or of Howard Hawks, notably Red River.
He lists The Magnificent Seven but not the immensely superior Kurosawa film Seven Samurai which inspired it. Lubitsch's delightful Ninotchka is recalled, but not his even more delightful gem Trouble in Paradise.
And what about George Pal's entertaining science fiction fantasies The Time Machine and The Naked Jungle? Or Walt Disney's lavish period productions of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea? Or Kubrick's moving antiwar and freedom epics, Paths of Glory and Spartacus?
Then there's The Manchurian Candidate, The Crimson Pirate, Pygmalion, The Hunchback of Notre Dame…I could go on forever.
But I won't.
I won't belabor the inadequacy of Mr. Lagasse's list of romantic films; space limitations obviously preclude REASON from becoming an alternative to the TV Guide and the New Yorker. I agree with most of his choices, have reservations about some, and disagree with him on two or three of the films. For example, I consider The Fountainhead one of the worst films ever made; it is entirely miscast, poorly directed and badly edited. Cooper is too wooden as Roark, Neal as Dominique is psychotic, and Massey as Wynand is a ham. Possibly the only decent characterization in the film was done by the actor who did Toohey; his menacing attributes were subtle and suave and the sole instances of professionalism throughout a surrealistic nightmare of deliberately overdone clichés. The film is so bad that I'm almost embarrassed to see it shown.…
On the other hand, I'd like to recommend a few other films which belong on a list of romantic films: The Browning Version, Hobson's Choice, The Man in the White Suit, On the Waterfront, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).
Then there are films which skirt a romantic definition, i.e., whose stories concern individuals whose latent integrity or capacity for values would never be tested or even be known unless they were placed in unusual, interesting circumstances. The Big Clock, Guns at Batasi, and North by Northwest fall into this category.
Finally, there are films whose quality in acting, direction and production are so unique or so far above the norm that they are engrossing in spite of their dreadful themes. It's a Wonderful Life, with James Stewart, belongs in this category. It's one of the most evil films I know of, concerning the life of an ambitious young man who gives up everything he dreams of doing to save his small home town; it is the spiritual antithesis of High Noon, a smooth, secular restatement of every altruistic virtue in the book.
I might add, parenthetically and in conclusion, that 1960 seems to have been the turning-point year in movie making. Beyond that date there were made only a dribbling of what could be considered romantic films. Throughout the sixties the "social consciousness" genre was on the ascendant; the new generation of directors, actors and actresses, which eschewed competency, glamour and grooming, was beginning to replace the "old school"; and movie-going in general lost the magic, attraction and values it once had: as a refuge from the growing irrationalism of our day, as entertainment, as inspiration, as fuel, as reward. Modern commercial television is certainly no alternative, either, and neither is "public" television, though it would like to think it is. If contemporary movies seem to sparkle occasionally, what it really amounts to is the effect of sunlight on a resurfaced corpse. If anyone doubts the validity of this evaluation, a close reading of a few editions of Variety should cure him of the delusion that romanticism in films is reemerging. There's nothing on the board but more terror and blandness, smut, smirks, and plagiarism.
Forest Hills, NY
Mr. Lagasse replies: I welcome Mr. Cline's (and anybody else's recommendations that serve to expand both my horizons and those of other readers. Many of Mr. Cline's choices I am familiar with by reputation and have looked forward to seeing (should they ever show up on television).
With regard to The Fountainhead—I stand by my evaluation. I certainly do not fault nor criticize Mr. Cline; I merely disagree. REASON readers are invited to see the movie and decide for themselves (as with all my selections).
Mr. Cline's remarks, concerning the decline of film romanticism starting in the 1960's, I believe are well taken, and parallel some of my own thinking in that respect. If only there could be less emphasis on "films" and "cinema," and more on "movies." In the meantime, however, thank heaven for King Kong and Casablanca.
Somebody has finally gotten down to the heart of Dr. Szasz's argument. M.E. Grenander [March] says that the mind is "incorporeal." However, she passes over this point as if it were completely obvious.
In Parmenides's day it was quite easy to say what was corporeal and what was not. There were things that took up space, and there was empty space. But since then, science has discovered some things that we call "fields of force": gravitation, magnetism, electromagnetic radiation and the like. They can be assigned a position in space, they have certain attributes, they are dependent on bodies, yet they can pass through each other in varying degrees. Are they corporeal or are they not?
Is consciousness completely dependent on the physical, like fields of force are dependent on bodies? Or does it have parts and causes that are also "incorporeal" and outside the influence of the physical? If you are going to say that the mind is incorporeal, I think you need to say just what "incorporeal" is supposed to mean, and not gloss over that point.
In your March issue, Mr. Tuccille, in his review of Harry Browne's new book, New Profits from the Monetary Crisis, states that "the effect is somewhat the same as though Ayn Rand were to mount the steps of the New York Stock Exchange and…" Mr. Tuccille will be disappointed to know that the NYSE has no steps. Such casual assumptions about details with which one is not familiar tend to arouse my skepticism regarding his qualifications to attempt to advise others.
New York, NY
It seems like almost every recent issue of REASON has included at least one pro-nuclear, anti-solar-energy potshot, which is usually at best a half-truth…one would think that the nuclear power industry must be the last stronghold of laissez-faire capitalism. Isn't it ironic that the truth is just about the opposite? In fact, every nuclear power plant in this country, if not the whole world, is owned and operated either by a government agency, or by a coercive monopoly utility.
Furthermore, nuclear power is massively subsidized by the government. The major areas of subsidy include: research and development, insurance (Price-Anderson Act), waste processing and disposal, and that sleeping giant, plant decommissioning. There's considerable doubt whether the nuclear power industry could exist at all without these massive subsidies.…
By contrast, the solar energy industry is characterized by numerous competing, unregulated small businesses, and a few larger corporations, which get very little government money. To me it seems bizarre that libertarians, as a rule, embrace the nuclear industry and despise the solar, instead of the other way around.
But there's a more important aspect to alternative sources of energy that libertarians seem to mostly overlook. I'm referring to their potential for increasing one's personal freedom. For example, the person who installs solar heating and a wind electric system in his home effectively liberates himself from any future government energy manipulations or the abuses of monopoly utilities. Nuclear power and fossil fuel energy sources, on the other hand, will always be vulnerable to government interference. Of course, the energy establishment is desperately trying to convince us that solar energy won't work, but their self-serving claims look increasingly ridiculous in the face of hundreds of existing solar-heated structures that work quite well. What they really mean, I suppose, is that solar energy won't work for them, as a subsidy machine, and in that they are quite correct.
I realize that much alternative sources of energy literature (but not all) is written by leftists and is full of anti-capitalist nonsense. But I should think that libertarians are intelligent enough to read selectively and not let an author's bias prevent them from getting at the facts. In a magazine dedicated to reason I would hope to see a more even-handed treatment of technologies with a great liberating potential, and less unquestioning parroting of the propaganda of monopolists who have grown fat on stolen tax money.
Nuclear a Bomb
Trends in your March issue discussed "Nuclear Revisionism." Many questions went unanswered in this short editorial. Many public concerns were distorted. To start:
(1) You mention rem—why did you not define it? REM, Roentgen Equivalent Man, is a measure of the effect of (or damage done by) a unit of ionizing radiation on man. The point is or should be that, although this damage is always being inflicted on us by natural or traditional sources, why add to it?
(2) You completely ignored one real problem to which the nuclear industry has no advertised solution. That is the disposal of wastes. The tales of leaks at disposal sites are legion. The real damage to our environment of these current and ongoing leaks is apparent to all except the most prejudiced.
(3) Another major problem is the continued availability of fissionable fuel. This is a seldom-addressed question. All current power reactors are fission-fueled. The few experiments with fuel breeders have failed—some, perhaps, disastrously. Further, our president has ended the fuel-breeder experiments. The point: fissionable fuel will cease to be available at or before oil has become a rare commodity. What then of the expensive power reactors which you and I bought in the binge of energy managers jumping on and then actively (they had to, didn't they; it was by then their jobs) supporting the nuclear bandwagon.
(4) Monthly energy bills paid to a state monopoly are essentially "taxes." Why does your magazine, so usually against taxes, support such ill-advised, under- or perhaps misrepresented, under-discussed and unresponsive-to-public-opinion spending of our tax monies on an industry which has proved that it (a) can't handle its own wastes, (b) adds to the public pollution, (c) doesn't know whether its fuel will be available 20 years from now, (d) has publicly disavowed the very report used to establish its own safety, (e) has repeatedly refused to become involved in energy research such as wind, solar, geothermal, etc., which might weaken its monopoly as a sole supplier of energy. I do not believe that unthinking support of a monopoly is a tenet of libertarian belief. I HOPE NOT!
Virginia Beach, VA
Mr. Poole replies: The Trends item Mr. Seddon refers to discussed only the issue of radiation exposures, and its point was that normal radiation emissions from nuclear power plants are less than those from coal-fired plants. Like all other forms of power generation, nuclear power presents certain problems and risks. REASON does not support subsidies or exemption from liability for any form of power generation. We favor removal of existing controls and subsidies so that the market, rather than government bureaucrats and pressure groups, can make the necessary trade-offs of costs and risks. Most of the discussions of nuclear and other forms of power in REASON have been aimed at correcting the distortions of facts which have characterized much of the ongoing American debate on this subject.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".