My Star Wars ABCs

Mary found this article and thought it apropos to us right now, considering we’re expecting and we love Star Wars.

My response was more along the lines of “what’s he reading? Star Wars ABCs … maybe I should get that book to read to our kid. No wait! I’ll make my own!”

Some pondering, an online rhyming dictionary, a little wookieepedia surfing, and several minutes later — I present to you: Star Wars ABCs, by Josh Smith. Read more »

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My answers to Tim Aten’s quiz

The quiz is at the end of this delightful article, and my answers are below.
Read more »

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Pebble saved my phone today

Left phone on roof of car when I left work tonight.

Onramp: took curve a little fast and heard a noise on the roof and then off to my left on the ground. Spider sense tingling.

Seconds later, Pebble buzzed with lost bluetooth connection (the same thing that happens when I leave home without my phone, eg). Immediately pulled over.

Ran back up the onramp on foot, terrified that phone would have already been run over.

Find phone behind tiny shrub on shoulder. No damage to phone, scratches on after-market cover.

That could’ve been a lot worse.

I posted this to reddit.

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Good News! More Maria Bamford!

Obviously her work on the Comedians of Comedy and The Maria Bamford Show is totally classic, but apparently there is yet more MB to come. Check out the first episode in her new series (and yes, she does look like my fiancée’s sister):



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Ponynomics: Economic Lessons from MLP

(crossposted from

There are a number of important economic concepts illuminated by the excellent My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode “The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000” (season 2, episode 15). I want to talk about them here, but warning, there are some pretty heavy spoilers within.

First off, here’s an episode summary from wikipedia(NB, the Apples are a family of ponies who live in Ponyville):

Cider season has arrived but the Apples cannot make cider fast enough by traditional methods to satisfy everyone. The Flim Flam Brothers (Samuel Vincent and Scott McNeil) arrive with their “Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000”, claiming they can make as good a cider in a faster time. When the Apples refuse to accept a lopsided partnership, Flim and Flam instead challenge them to a cider making contest for rights to sell cider to Ponyville. The contest starts with the brothers in a strong lead, but Applejack’s friends offer their help to speed up production. With their lead quickly diminishing, Flim and Flam speed up their machine, disabling the quality control. They ultimately win the contest with the most barrels of cider but the cider is undrinkable and they quickly flee town. With all the cider made in the contest, the Apples celebrate with everyone else in town.


My Analysis

Before the Flim Flam Brothers arrive with their machine, we see that every day there is a long line of ponies waiting to buy cider, and each day when the cider made that day is gone, there is still a long line of unserved customers. These long lines mean a lot of idle, wasted time for ponies who might rather be doing something else. Time has value, and time spent wasted in a line is a non-monetary cost of buying Sweet Apple Orchard Cider, even for ponies who do get served. An economist observing a line of unserved customers would immediately suggest that the supplier should raise their price so that the market clears. (Even ponies who get cider wait in a long line. A solution to that might be to hire some ponies to run a second or even a third serving station.)

Remember, a “cleared market” is not one in which everyone gets what they want, but one in which everyone who is willing to pay the market price gets the amount they want at a price they are willing to pay. If the Apples keep their prices low, there is an incentive for someone else to enter the market and sell — at any price the pony customers will pay, above or below the Apples’ price — to all the thirsty and under-served ponies.

Making Cider

Later in the episode we see that the process of making cider works thusly:

  1. Applejack kicks a tree in Sweet Apple Orchard, and the apples fall off the tree.
  2. Before they hit the ground, Apple Bloom scurries under with a basket and catches them.
  3. When a basket is full, Apple Bloom takes the full basket to Granny Smith
  4. Granny Smith sorts through the apples, discarding the ones she considers unfit for cider making, and sends the rest on down a chute, where they slide under a stone wheel, spinning under the power of . . .
  5. Big McIntosh, who trots on a treadmill next to the stone grinding-wheel.
  6. Cider comes out of a spout at the base of the tub in which the grinding wheel sits. When a cask is full, Big McIntosh must cap it, and replace it with an empty cask.

When the Flim Flam Brothers arrive, we see that they have a machine which does the following:

  1. Automatically retrieves apples from the trees via a large vacuum hose.
  2. Sorts the apples for quality
  3. Mashes the apples into cider
  4. Outputs cider and seals the casks

The only input involved in operating this machine — the titular Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 — is some magic from the Flim Flams, who are unicorns (in the world of MLP:FIM, there are three types of ponies: unicorns, who have the power of magic; pegasi, who can fly and also control the weather; and earth ponies, who till the hard earth). It is certainly worth noting that not only is no direct labor involved in any of the steps of cider production for the machine, but it also saves steps, such as transporting from one stage to the next.

Quality of Product

Once the Apples’ see the SSCS6K in action, they insist that the cider it produces must be of inferior quality to their more labor-intensive cider. Let us assume that the Apples’ cider is in fact far superior to that put out by the machine. Assuming a sufficiently discerning customer base throughout Equestria, this means that the Apples can sell their cider for a higher price than the Flim Flams can. This is a good time to apply the Alchian-Allen Theorem.

By what is almost certainly an enormous coincidence of an example product, AAT is often abbreviated as “ship the good apples out.” Here’s my summary of AAT: Assume you are a producer of a good that has differing levels of quality, like apples in an orchard. You quality grade some of your apples as High Quality and some as Low Quality. Further assume that you produce more apples than you can sell locally. Which apples should you ship out, the High Quality or the Low Quality? AAT postulates that, other things being equal, you should ship out the thing that sells for more money, as your shipping costs are the same either way, and this way you make the highest return on your shipping costs. (for more on this, I recommend the wikipedia article on it.)

What I am getting at here is that the Apples’ should ship their Sweet Apple Orchard Cider out to Canterlot, Cloudsdale, Appleloosa, Manehattan, etc., while the people of Ponyville drink the less expensive cider produced by the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000. However, this proposal assumes that there are enough apples to meet both competing needs.

There Isn’t Enough to Go Around

On the one hand, the Apples make cider because that’s what the ponies in town want, but they’re not doing it for free. They make several dark and cryptic references to “losing the farm” if they somehow do not manage to sell all of their product. The incentive for them should be to make as much money as possible with their limited resources. If the people of Ponyville have sufficient demand, they can buy cider elsewhere (perhaps from the Flim Flam Brothers, as I suggested above, and provided the Flim Flams can get a supply of apples).

If the end goal is serving every pony in Ponyville, it’s clear that the scenario we have now is not optimal. There should be some middle ground in between the extremes of

  • the Apples leave a huge line of thirst ponies at the end of every day and
  • the Flim Flam Brothers and drive the Apples into the poorhouse

Perhaps a temporary lease at the beginning of the season to accumulate a store of cider for especially busy days when the artisanal cider supply runs dry, and hand-crafting for other times.

But these options are never on the table in the episode. Instead, Granny Smith foolishly puts her ancestral homestead and the livelihood of all those dear to her on the line against new-fangled machinery in a head-to-head, speed-based competition. So they battle: and may the ponies who produce the most cider in an hour have exclusive rights to sell cider in Ponyville.

The Faceoff

Once they begin the competition, the Flim Flam brothers rest on a couch while their machine rapidly out-produces the Apples’ fastest efforts. Applejack’s friends step in to help the Apples, and they begin to outpace the Flim Flams, so the Flim Flams turn off their quality control and begin outputting cider barrels that contain not only rotten apples, but leaves, sticks and liquified wood pulp from entire apple trees that get sucked into their input nozzle.

Once the time runs out on the competition, Flim and Flam have more barrels of cider stacked up than the Apples and are declared the winners with exclusive rights to sell cider to Ponyville. The Apples dejectedly declare that they must pack up and prepare to leave town.

Gresham’s Law

But of course, once any pony gets a taste of the Flim Flams most recently packaged brew, they spit the contents of their tankard right back in Flim and Flam’s faces. No pony wants to drink cider that is 80% wood pulp.

Should the brothers have even been declared the winner? Why was there not a quality floor set on what would constitute “cider” for purposes of the competition?

Here another economics concept rears its head: Gresham’s Law. Gresham’s law as initially conceived applies to money. If the government issues coins with silver in them, and says that the coins are worth $1, and they have 80 cents worth of silver in them, everyone will use them as dollars in their day-to-day life, spending them when necessary. If there are other government issued coins that the government says are worth $1 which have $1.10 worth of silver, people will hold on to those coins and spend the others instead. Some people will even melt down those more valuable coins and sell the silver for it’s higher value (even though melting down coins or otherwise destroying government-issued money is often illegal). Gresham’s Law is often summarized as “bad money chases out good.” That is, the coinage which has the lower alternative value will be used as money, while coinage with a higher alternative value will leave the economy and sit idly or be destroyed for it’s alternative-valued use.

How do we get from there to “bad cider chases out good”? Well, the money aspect of Gresham’s Law can be analogized for other situations where something is asked for. Without what David Friedman calls “the discipline of constant dealings” — that is, the incentive to be nice, knowing that you will meet the person you are being nice to again and want them to be nice back —  the Flim Flams have no incentive to produce cider of any particular quality. Just as how the law calls for people to accept any legal tender for their debts, and so people use the lowest silver-content coins the can; similarly, when the bet calls for who produces the most “cider,” there is an incentive to produce the worst cider that can possibly be produced quickly.

Quality Again

What usually is, and should be, the arbiter of what is produced and sold on the market is customer demand. And we see in the episode that the Flim Flams can’t sell their lousy cider at any price. But this is a highly artificial outcome that has nothing to do with a real market. The owners of the two cider-producing firms made a bet that had nothing to do with actually pleasing their customers. They may as well have had a jet ski race to see who should sell cider (though it’s probably hard for a horse to operate the throttle).

If the Flim Flam brothers had not turned off their quality control, perhaps they would have produced something that ponies wanted to drink, even if not as fast as the Apples (with help from Applejack’s friends).


This episode is largely a bad example of market competition, in that the two firms chose to compete with something other than sales. Even typical market competition is not over who can produce the fastest, or who can sell the most, or anything as simple as that. All that matters to any individual firm is whether their revenue covers their costs, and that there is enough profit to encourage them to keep doing what they are doing rather than changing (to making something else or to producing in a different way, etc).

In then end, Apple Bloom observes that because of the race, the Apples have produced enough cider for everyone to get some (today). This illustrates that competition (even market competition) motivates producers to work harder than they otherwise might in order to satisfy their customers.

Final Lesson

Episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic usually end with a character writing a letter to Princess Celestia to illustrate what they learned that week (usually a lesson about friendship). Despite the many opportunities for learning in this episode, Applejack writes in her letter that she learned nothing. This is also contrary to Princess Celestia’s request that she get a letter from whichever pony learned something.

“From this day forth, I would like you all to report to me your findings on the magic of friendship, when, and only when, you happen to discover them. ”
— Princess Celestia (season 2, episode 3)

I will conclude with one final lesson that I feel that Applejack could have learned about capital. Capital is a blessing and not something that should be dismissed or disregarded. The apparatus that Big McIntosh uses to smash the apples to cider is capital; if not for that, they’d be crushing apples into cider by hoof. The baskets that Applebloom use to carry the apples around are capital; if not for those, she couldn’t carry as many, and each load of apples would take lots more work to move. Even the method the Apples use to manufacture their cider is a form of capital; if someone had not taken the time in the past to develop that method, they’d be serving apples alone to their customers, instead of delicious Sweet Apple Orchard brand cider. It’s easy to take the things we have around us for granted, but many of those minor things that make our lives more pleasant or convenient are the result of someone who came before doing lots of extra work — after their normal day’s work was completed — in order to find ways to make life better in the future. Inventors and enterprising individuals have to invest labor up front for an uncertain future payoff, but when they come up with something that increases convenience for themselves and others, it pays labor-saving dividends for years to come.

The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 is one such example. Equestria is a better place because there is a machine that can do the work of four hard-working ponies at once, with no additional labor input. Embracing technological change means more free time to plant trees, make things, and even sit and drink cider while enjoying a beautiful day. Work can be it’s own reward, but that is no reason to squander our precious and limited time by swearing off conveniences. Machines that make things easier mean more time to figure out and do whatever is most important to us.

Even though Applejack did not learn this (or any other) lesson, we still can.

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Pictures of me from my first 5k

AEI has posted a slideshow of pictures from the 5k they hosted at this year’s SPN Annual Meeting. I’m visible in the crowd shot (picture number 3) crouching near the front, and in picture number 5. Even though I’m not in any of the finish line pics, I finished!

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Nitpick/Review of Alien 3 that I Wish I Had Written

In Alien 3, did anyone smoke cigarettes? Was the movie such a stupid betrayal of the earlier parts of the series that none of us even noticed that the universe stopped chain-smoking in the 5 years since the last adventure? Whatever.

Speaking of problems with Alien 3:

I don’t know if there was supposed to be any sexual chemistry between Ripley and the guy she had sex with. There wasn’t any chemistry, of course. I really got the impression that by sleeping with him, she was just trying to distract him from asking her about the alien. Of course, he was the only person who even kind of believed her, so she should have been, like, “Yes! Investigate this! Please!” Also, I’m pretty sure he let her know that he is trying to get her hooked on morphine, I mean his personal cocktail. Or maybe he was trying to kill her like his other patients, with the wrong dosage of painkillers. I think that that guy died at some point in the movie, but I have no idea when, so his death couldn’t have been interesting or meaningful. It seemed that the directors wanted to imply that somehow he is the father of Ripley’s alien baby, but I can’t think why.

Incidentally, I’m pretty sure that there’s a line early on where the doctor guy suggests that Ripley shave her pubes so she won’t get lice. Also–why would there be a lice problem on a satellite in space populated by humans who shave their heads? Who is Ripley going to catch lice from?

But the real reason for the injections (of the doctor’s cocktail), I think, was lazy filmmaking. Can’t figure out a way to use the script or plot to make the audience feel nervous or on edge? Try some extreme closeups of an injection or some other medical procedure. Add an annoying sound, such as an alarm system, or better yet, some radar sensor that gets more annoying the closer the monster is. The audience won’t even realize that their only irritation springs from the discordant frequency, and their confusion as to why this movie has the title “Alien.”

Really, I think the movie would have made more sense if it had taken place on a wooden monastery in space, with Ripley realizing that she wants to protect and nurture the life growing within her. I hope they at least saved money by reusing the sets from some other movie. ‘Cause I didn’t feel like the parchment maps held up to a chain link fence with a flashlight gave me a real accurate picture of what the overall prison facility is supposed to be built like.

Why is there a dog? Ok, maybe it’s a guard dog. Why is there only one? If you have dogs, wouldn’t it make sense to have at least a few? If it’s a pet, well, why would there only be one pet?
For that matter, why are there prison guards? If the prisoners don’t have technology to escape their satellite, why endanger the life of a civilian with a family, effectively making him serve out 6-month long prison terms (and paying him handsomely for it, no doubt)? Couldn’t a supply ship just drop off shipments without ever putting the crew in danger from the prisoners?

Since the Company is the villain (other than, you know, the Alien), always betraying their own employees and contractors to death to gain a profit, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to behave like capitalists? Let’s see, how much liability did they have to pay to Ripley’s abandoned/orphaned daughter, not to mention the families of every other person that the Company sent to their deaths? Why would people keep signing up to work for this Company, once word gets out how they consider their contractors (human ones, even though they could just send robots, which are harder to destroy and make fewer mistakes) to be expendable? If the Company realizes that there are possibly lucrative aliens on some planet, wouldn’t they do better to ADVERTISE this amazing money-making opportunity, so that investors will want to give money and get in on the risk? They could only send people who wanted to try to fight/study aliens, instead of lying to them, and then, surprise! Aliens! Hell, why send humans as sacrificial lambs to host the aliens? Why not use dogs?

The company seems to have found a material suitable for storage of facehuggers, since they were keeping live ones in jars. Soo…..why not make containers out of that substance, and keep the captive specimens IN THE BOX? Or create protective helmets out of that substance, and have humans wear the helmets when dealing with facehuggers? Or the humans could wear hard, protective collars to keep the facehuggers from strangling them. Seriously, people, it’s not that hard. They had 60 years to develop these helmets. They should have gardens of those eggs by now, regularly implanted into dogs to create useful beasts of burden, or at least useful sources of corrosive acid. And don’t even get me started on just having a strong base, such as drain cleaner, on hand to neutralize the acid. Or you can weaken acid by adding a lot of water. Hmmm, if the alien is very acidic, then….wouldn’t base be a perfect weapon against it? Try eating some soap, I bet that facehugger won’t want to stick its dick anywhere near your throat. Also, since we know that facehugger blood does NOT corrode its own skin, then the moulted skin of an alien would be extremely useful, either as armor or as a barrier substance. Another reason to farm the aliens. You could just let the facehugger implant a dog, then kill the host dog, harvesting the valuable facehugger skin.

There’s a gag where a prisoner makes another guy change the way he is carrying a pair of scissors, saying, “you could kill someone carrying them the way you were!” So this is obviously a setup for someone or something being impaled on the scissors, but did this happen? No. Remember how the one guy hates his nickname, 85? The other guys cruelly call him that because they read on his personnel file that his IQ is 85. If that’s the direction their taunting takes, wouldn’t their be a whole lot more of, “Yeah, well, you murdered and wore the skins of that cheerleading squad, Cheery! So lay off!”

The monks/prisoners said that Bishop was torn to pieces, completely unusable. It seems like a robot’s thinking capacity is in its head. At the end of Aliens, Bishop is 2 arms and a head. In Alien 3, he is 1 arm and a head. Well, if it can’t perform 2-handed tasks anymore, just throw it away! We’d rather just use candles and steam pipes. After all, fixing that robot would require…fishing it out of the trash and plugging it in, then ignoring its suicidal pleas. This is a prison, not a factory! Also, I like how he was all saving Newt’s life in Aliens, but then he decides that if he can’t be top of the line anymore, he doesn’t even want to live. Fuck protecting Ripley and the other humans.

I assume that the introduction of Dr. Noonyan Soong, at the end, was just to justify the money paid to the actor? Or maybe they filmed that scene before the rewrites were done, and they didn’t want to waste the footage. Because it certainly didn’t advance the plot. It was never even clear whether that was a real guy or just another android. As far as letting Ripley see a friendly face, there are some problems with this logic. As soon as he explains that he’s not EXACTLY the same robot that saved her life, why should she feel friendly toward him? Does he think she won’t just be creeped out (didn’t I just bury you, dude?)? Wouldn’t it be LESS creepy if they really did sent another Bishop model android, since she’s never seen Bishop as a human? Also, who is still alive who observed Ripley being friends with Bishop? Wasn’t she all, “Why didn’t you TELL me there would be a robot on board?” All Dr. Soong’s cameo did, was remind us that the scriptwriters decided to kill off the cast of Aliens, making the entire plot of Aliens pointless. Especially since, what did kill them? Nothing? Oh, drowning. In space. Well, they were weak, not the survivor type.

Newt was in 2nd grade when she went into cryostasis. When the prisoners find her corpse (and there is NOTHING SUSPICIOUS OR DEUS EX MACHINA about someone DROWNING while they are in suspended animation in deep space), they use the ship’s log to identify each crew member, plus a girl “approximately 12 years old.” So they couldn’t figure out that the kid was the one female child survivor, listed by name, in the ship’s log for the rescue mission, which is the only reason for the ship even being in space? When I think of the physical differences between 8 and 12, I think of height and puberty. Thanks for making us think about puberty and then showing us multiple closeups of what is allegedly a 12-year-old girl’s nipple (or is she still 8?). And it doesn’t even advance the plot.

But you know what does advance the plot? The suspicious acid-blood scarring on Ripley’s ship. Huh? Doesn’t that only come out if the facehugger is injured? Who was fighting it? Where is the wounded facehugger? Also, wouldn’t simply showing someone the acid scarring be a pretty credible argument when Ripley claims that the monsters have acid blood? Why would acidic blood be far-fetched in a creature from another planet? I’m surprised that they would even have blood at all. Maybe it’s more like engine coolant.

Further criticism:
Old fashioned glasses from the 60’s? Really? Do the monks have access to Etsy where they can buy vintage eyewear? Man, if I were living on that supply-deprived rock, trying to make the best life in prison I could, I just might forage in the dump once in a while for useful stuff, like, say, a working android. Just for starters. ‘Cause there might be more useful tools than old scissors.

Apparently the difference between a maximum security prison satellite, and a new human colony on a planet, is that the prison satellite receives a shipload of supplies every 6 months. Oh, and the prisoners all decide that they want to be celibate.

Seems like in all 3 movies, that the plot would have only crawled along, if all the humans hadn’t forgotten that space is kind of dangerous, and that once in a while, when exploring new territory while wearing a jumpsuit (instead of, say, protective clothing), a person might encounter some sort of dangerous predator.

Man, if only in the future they could develop some sort of scanner that would detect the presence of a facehugger, say, right over there hiding behind that duct. Because then Ripley wouldn’t just bring the aliens to wherever their ship can land. I assume, since an embryo is so hard to detect inside a human, that a facehugger has similar body temp to a human, with an organic makeup. Also, what, have these people never thought of closing the door when you are trying to catch and kill a vermin? (This is also a problem of the entire series, as well as the characters’ bafflement when the aliens turn out to be HIDING IN THE DROP CEILING)

On an unrelated note:
Charmin Ultra Soft Toilet paper has the eco-friendly slogan, “Using less never felt so good!” with a picture of some bears hugging the toilet paper. Reasons that this is a bad marketing campaign:
1. Using less=recycle=don’t litter=don’t use toilet paper to leave on the ground when you shit in the woods, that’s some bear’s living room. But maybe the bears DO want us to litter!
2. Our product is so unpleasant to use, that the less you use, the better you’ll feel!
3. This product, which has “never felt so good!”, is designed to be rubbed on the genitals. So yeah, it’s the best toilet paper on the market for masturbating.

And on that note,

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List of times, other than 9/11, when America lost its innocence

From a footnote in David Cross’s book “I Drink for a Reason”

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“Free Market” is not code for “Everything Good”

I linked to this article on facebook a while back, and I maintain that it’s a great article that hits a lot of highlights.  There’s one big problem with it that I wanted to elaborate on though (even though I posted the link almost a month ago[sorry Veen!])

The brief, but offending, phrase is “technology becomes quickly outdated in a free market.” There’s a lot bundled up in the term “free market” whenever anyone uses it. People on the right side of the economic spectrum use it as code for economic policy they agree with and people on the left use it as code for corporatism or exploitation. What I think it means is a situation in which one you can carry on your affairs and trade without interference from any aggressor, government or otherwise. This means private property rights are respected, fraud is punished, etc, etc.

What I think everyone can agree on is that a man alone on an island making everything he needs for himself certainly constitutes a free market. In this situation, it is certainly not the case that “technology becomes quickly outdated.” One reason I like free markets is that I recognize that technology grows more quickly in that situation than in any other, but you don’t get rapid technological growth without a large population (among other things), and there’s nothing contained in the term “free market” that assumes a large population.

Maybe it’s hair-splitting, but that slip-up really got to me.

(note: I wrote this while watching star trek, so apologies for any major flaws resulting from my inattention)

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The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Last night, I went with Mary, Eric, S/A, Vroman and Xtina to see the movie The Cave of Forgotten Dreams. When Eric mentioned it at work, I was sorta leery about watching a documentary on cave paintings, but after watching the trailer, I had a feeling I would really like it.

This movie absolutely exceeded my expectations. It was breathtaking, informative and moving. The story goes, in 1994 a couple hikers/explorers found a cave entrance high on a mountain in France. They had to move some stones aside to even get in. Once inside, they discovered a treasure trove of ancient cave paintings. They knew the significance of what they’d found, and the cave was immediately set upon by a group of researchers with proper reverence for a cave used by humans over 30,000 years ago, sealed off by a landslide 25,000 years ago. The filmmaker calls it a “perfect time capsule.” Over the course of the movie, they interview anthropologists, paleontologists, archaeologists and art historians working directly with the cave, as well as other related researchers and interested individuals. We learn about the climate and fauna of the era, as well as how the people most likely lived.

The thing that touched me the most about the movie was how accessible it made ancient people seem. We can never communicate with them, and we can’t witness their lives first-hand, but this is the closest we can come to finding a box of their polaroids (an analogy already dated by technological growth). At one point during the movie, a more apt analogy occurred to me: this is like finding someone’s stupid myspace page and glorifying it. I didn’t dwell on that though, for a couple reasons. One, this is all so old. It predates agriculture by a longer period than agriculture predates this blog post. Wall art that old is nonexistent anywhere else in the world (that we’ve found) and this art is comparable in age to the oldest art of any kind that has been found, such as bone carvings.

The other reason I didn’t dwell on that analogy is something I learned from the movie. The cave is littered with bones of cave bears, and horses and antelopes, but no human remains. This is one reason why the current theory is that the cave was not used as a dwelling, but was ceremonial. That theory cast the whole place in a new light for me. It’s a pre-historic cathedral, complete with what may be depictions of religious stories, that we see merely as beautiful and nuanced sketches of rhinos, cave lions, antelopes and horses. Also, the 3-d really enhanced the movie as you get an excellent sense of how the cave painters used the contour of the surfaces on which they painted to enhance the images.

The film spends a lot of time with lingering shots on the cave paintings, and even though the cave is quite large (1300 ft from start to finish), there aren’t paintings throughout the cave — they are clustered in a few areas. There is a properly calm, almost religious score as the lights dance and the camera plays off the paintings, which would have been made by torchlight 30,000 years ago. Carbon dating indicates that some of the paintings were made thousands of years apart, though they occur right next to each other on the wall.

One of the oldest drawings is more than 8 feet off the ground, so it is assumed that it was drawn with a long stick. Another area near the entrance has a collection of hand prints from one person, who had a crooked pinky finger and was estimated to be six feet tall. The evidence presented in the movie paints a vivid portrait of people who lived long before history began and yet seem as real and as present as anyone you might meet on the street. Pretty much the whole movie is this evocative and thought-provoking.

Perhaps the best part are the many scenes that linger on the art so that you can contemplate the significance of the people who lived so very long ago. The movie has lots of interesting information that I didn’t include here, and because it’s somewhat meditative and properly reverent, you sorta get out of the movie what you put in. If you think you might like it, you should see it. If you aren’t so sure, watch the trailer and you will probably change your mind. This movie speaks to anyone concerned with the nature of art and the commonality of man that stretches across eons.

It was excellent. 10 out of 10, can’t wait to watch again. And everyone I went with really enjoyed it as well, with the exception of Vroman, who has written his thoughts here.

UPDATE: I intentionally avoided reading Vroman’s review before I wrote my own so that I would be writing what I thought of the movie, instead of what I thought of Vroman’s thoughts on the movie. Now that I’ve read it, I think I should respond at least somewhat:

Filler is relative. I enjoyed the local color and unprovable theories about how folks lived. I have a Hayekian desire to defer to the people who’ve spent their lives immersed in the local information, while at the same time I don’t mind contemplating my own take on human nature and how it may have impacted life back then. I imagine this cave, and some people who lived near it. It was treated with great respect and awe, since it depicted things you see around you with drawings placed by people who lived so long ago as to be beyond imagining. Perhaps there was a tradition of ceremonies performed inside and in order to earn the privilege to paint in the cathedral, you had to prove your mettle by drawing on logs and stones outside the holy place.

Also, that movie routinely blew my mind. That guy in the costume that played the flute that Vroman mentioned? He points out that the scale of the flute is pentatonic. This is amazing to me. He plays the star-spangled banner on the flute to show that the music we listen to now could absolutely have been produced by these people. Totally amazing.

And as for building walkways in other parts of the cave to get a better view of the art, I totally understand the desire to leave as much intact in the cave as possible while still doing steady research there. The more time passes, the better our technology gets. In a few decades, we may have computers that can do a better job of piecing together what went on in that cave than any “rambling elderly Frenchman” so long as we leave the evidence intact. There’s a tradeoff between gathering information today and leaving clues in place for tomorrow. I was very happy with what the amount they were able to get into this documentary, especially given how limited their access was.

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