Thursday, August 21, 2014

52 Thoughts Inspired by Grant Morrison's “The Multiversity” #1


Eight notes, containing fifty-two thoughts, on the occasion of my favorite anarchist DC Comics writer releasing the first issue of his latest multiple-universes epic.

Grant Morrison:

1. Comics writer Morrison likes to toy with his characters’ conceptions of reality and is a vegetarian on animal-welfare principles (thus he might have liked the TV show Wilfred, judging by Sonny Bunch's review).

2. Part of the reason this entry is long is that I was avoiding blogging, tweeting, and Facing for a week, and this is what happens when I save it up. It’s not just me, though: cyber-addiction is now trans-species (which might trouble Morrison): Emily Zanotti Skyles, fascinatingly, notes that her cat Fat George gets huffy and stomps around mad if she takes away the iPad on which she sometimes lets him watch birds.

3. But to return to the main topic: the first issue of the nine-issue, Morrison-written miniseries The Multiversity from DC Comics came out yesterday, featuring numerous familiar-yet-surreal characters amidst a multiversal war, including talking rabbit Capt. Carrot and an evil giant eyeball reminiscent of the villains Brother Eye and Mickey Eye (used by Morrison in past stories) and, probably-coincidentally, reminiscent as well of the Marvel Comics villain the Orb (who recently stole the secrets of that company’s multiverse in its biggest current miniseries).  

At the heart of the conflict set up in the first issue is the last living Monitor of the multiverse, Nix Uotan (which presumably translates roughly as Nothing-Father, as opposed to Odin the All-Father), who is torn between the assembled forces of good and evil. In the end, though, I suspect we the readers will become the real Monitors, in keeping with Morrison’s usual penchant for metafiction.

4. Morrison is a rather Michael-Moorcock-like anarchist: loving diverse worlds, characters, and aspects of personality because he finds in the resulting ironies pockets of freedom.

And given how rapidly media is accumulating layers of irony and self-referentiality these days, especially online, one has to wonder if there’s an irony-oriented equivalent of the tech-oriented Singularity on the horizon, a point past which no one will have the slightest idea whether anyone else is serious about anything.

5. Morrison is also fond of magic and so might like this video of a magician taunting a cop.

6. He would likely greatly appreciate the fact that a real-world Washington Post article about Ferguson (last I checked) inappropriately capitalizes “Watchmen.” Apparently, another anarchist comics writer, Alan Moore, has successfully blended his work in the popular mind with the Juvenal saying. Let none call comics juvenile.

7. Even Wired is writing about Multiversity, likening it to the multiple-worlds interpretation of quantum theory (h/t Jackie).

8. Here are six pages of the story you can read yourself (or at least try to comprehend, for those not steeped in weird comics already).

9. If nothing else, the miniseries will leave us with Morrison’s amusingly complex-and-nerdy new map of the Multiverse. There’s at least one Stan Lee-influenced Earth over on the dark side of the multiverse and the very Jack Kirby-influenced Earth 51 over on the light side, interestingly.

The most interesting innovation in Morrison’s very faithful map, though, may be placing all the pagan gods’ homes on neighboring mountain peaks in a place called Skyland and opposing it to an Underworld that also goes by the (Kryptonian) name the Phantom Zone, which like so many Morrison innovations makes a great deal of sense even from a very traditionalist perspective.

While we’re at it, I think they could make real historical sense of the term “Fourth World” for Kirby’s New Gods characters once and for all by declaring the local spirits of animist faiths the First World, the pagan pantheons the Second, the God of monotheism the Third, and treating Kirby’s Fourth World characters as the troubled, more tech-oriented neophyte gods born of the Industrial Era’s turn away from Christianity and similar faiths. But, hey, I don’t write these things (often).

Other Voices:

10. Despite their slight creative similarities, I don’t know what Morrison thinks of departed manic-trickster demigod Robin Williams...

11. ...but I suspect he’d appreciate the metafictional fact that

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Of Mork, Men, Marx, Mirth, Murder, Music, and Me


•I wasn’t a big fan of the Tourette’s-like humor of Robin Williams, nor Robert Altman’s oddly joyless Popeye film, but I must still admit that (as Franklin Harris has noted) few human beings could transform themselves so convincingly into one of my favorite cartoon characters as to make this scene possible. Williams’ talent and energy were obvious.

•I think the very earliest Fleischer Popeye cartoons are more fun, though -- with this monstrously un-p.c. one a favorite. Popeye is sometimes credited as an early (pre-Superman) superhero to boot, along with the likes of 1903’s counter-revolutionary aristocrat, the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Scarlet Pimpernel, arguably the first modern superhero, was created by a conservative female, it’s worth noting. History is more complex than the political spectrum and academic denunciations of Superman as patriarchal.

•If Williams were still alive, he might have approved of something going on onstage in NYC that I (and a lovely Popeye fan named Jackie) plan to check out on Friday -- something you, too, might want to catch while you can: a short-run performance of the one Marx Brothers play that was never turned into a film, I’ll Say She Is! I hope it will be the closest thing I’ve experienced to seeing a new Marx Brothers film since seeing the highly accurate (and funny) 90s homage Brain Donors with John Turturro (as ballet-ruining mischief-maker Roland T. Flakfizer).

•I, by contrast, am simply honored to be in the company of the other comedic political commentators gathered by Tom Brennan on August 9 for his latest Electoral Dysfunction show at People’s Improv (not to be confused with the People’s Cube).

I think one of the most important lessons learned may be that Robert A. George, if pressed about his immigration status, is still cagey about whether he comes from a place called Trinidad or a place called Tobago, but ultimately I want all borders and nations eliminated, so we’ll let it slide.

•Williams’ death isn’t the only one this week reminding us of the 1980s, since James Brady passed away, his death ruled a homicide all these years later, stemming from his injuries during the attempted assassination of Reagan. To compensate for that traumatic memory -- while remaining thematically relevant -- here’s an unjustly forgotten New Wave song by weapony-sounding band Armoury Show (“Castles in Spain”) plus a song about creepy woman-obsessed stalker guys: what may be my favorite Siouxsie song, with only one Banshee joining her, the Creatures’ “Standing There.”

•And while you have the Reagan assassination attempt on the brain, why not read (or reread) my time-travel sci-fi story about that unfortunate incident, “No Future,” on the rich and ever-growing libertarian pop culture site Liberty Island

Thursday, August 7, 2014

10 Notes on: Piketty, the Fed, Libertarians, New Wave, ME ONSTAGE, more


1. Join me tonight (about an hour after the nominal start time of 7:30, at 20 W. 44) in the audience at the libertarian gathering called the Junto to hear Gene Epstein talk about the left-wing anti-capitalist superstar Piketty and his similarly socialistic high-profile-economist brethren.

2. The discussion there about inequality and its causes might give me a chance to follow up on that big lingering question I had in my Nicholas Wade-inspired blog entry two weeks ago (and left unanswered in so many Ron Paul-type speeches), namely: how big an effect does the Federal Reserve and continual increase in the money supply have?

3. Libertarians may not have answered that question clearly enough to satisfy me, but we are hip: That seems to be a key message of the very nice New York Times Magazine piece about the movement (would that one of their science writers hadn’t recently Facebook-unfriended me, likely for left-wing reasons), with crucial grunge-era analogies from Kennedy as its open.

4. For the New Wave music video argument against war, though, you need to watch “State of the Nation” by Industry (h/t heroic architect Dave Whitney).

5. Ebola testing in NYC and other secret locations is mildly troubling, but aside from that threat and terrorist movements like ISIS crossing borders, I don’t care too much about the precise borders of China, Ukraine, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, or even the U.S., and, remember, I'll say as much at...

6. The Electoral Dysfunction onstage, comedic political panel-discussion this Saturday at 7pm (featuring me, Robert George, and many others) at People’s Improv, 123 E. 24th here in NYC. The topic is “immigration,” and now’s the time for it.

You can shave a few cents off the trifling ten bucks they’d charge you at the door by getting your ticket online -- and then you can use the money you save to buy me a birthday drink, precise dates be damned.

7. The panel organizer, Tom Brennan, recently went from being a Marvel Comics editor to being a DC Comics editor, but I bet he still enjoyed Marvel’s light but enjoyable and geek-pleasing Guardians of the Galaxy more than my contrarian movie-reviewer pal Kyle Smith, who probably would not have shared the enthusiasm for such films I expressed in that recent podcast with Gerard Perry and very special guest star Jackie.

It’s still too early for me to spoil the post-credits sequence, but I think it was the best one since the first Iron Man movie. (And for those keeping track: We’ve see four Infinity Stones so far, with only two -- Time and Soul -- unaccounted for -- so please, please let the cool character Adam Warlock turn up wearing the latter in the sequel; we saw his cocoon in the background of the Collector’s HQ in both Thor: The Dark World and Guardians, after all.)

8. The real world can be mighty sci-fi itself: I increasingly think weird blimps may be the cause of many of the non-hallucinated UFO reports we’ve heard over the years, and New Jersey has a wild bear who walks on his (surprisingly lanky) hind legs roaming its suburbs and reminding one and all how easy it is to be mistaken for Bigfoot.

9. I am skeptical in a different way -- albeit highly amused -- by Wikimedia’s argument that a monkey, not a human camera owner, owns a photo on their site.

10. And for some applied capitalism, catch my friend Kelley Edmiston hawking her vintage posters and other art wares hauled from New Orleans to several sites this month including the Allaire Flea Market in Farmingdale, NJ, this Saturday; the Hastings Flea Market in Hastings on Hudson, NY, on Sunday; and the Second Ave. (between 10th and 11th St.) flea market on August 23.

Or just join her and others in the audience in Newark today at 5pm for the Neville Brothers-linked band the Funky Meters (quick!). Music makes her even happier than money does, but both are good. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Seavey August Events: a PODCAST and an ONSTAGE Appearance...


…plus friends at a flea market and perhaps at Burning Man too (and a note on the book The Cassini Division). Ten times to remember:

NOW: You can hear what Gerard Perry and I (and our special guest star, the lovely Jackie) think about one Marvel’s current blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy -- as well as another comics-based film out in August, the sequel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For -- in our new podcast (a successor to our earlier YouTube video experiments)!!!

AUGUST 3: At the Greenflea flea market (on Columbus Ave. between 76th and 77th) this coming Sunday, you’ll find one booth run by Kelley Edmiston, who was an extremely helpful guide to New Orleans for me (as she has been for countless others) when I visited and wrote about that city years ago. I will have to pay her a visit Sunday (between 10am and 6pm) and see her wares.

AUGUST 9: please attend the (funny but real) political-discussion panel I’ll be part of, organized by Tom Brennan (himself a Marvel editor turned DC Comics editor), at People’s Improv (123 E. 24th in NYC) on Sat., August 9 at 7pm, when the timely main topic will be: “Immigration.”

AUGUST 29: Is anyone out there going to Burning Man?

I’m not, but someone who is please become a hero to a whole subculture of people who hate or laugh at quasi-performance-artist and jaw-dropping narcissist Julia Allison by reporting online and taking pictures Friday, August 29th (6-8pm) at Burning Man’s Chillax Lounge, at Camp Mystic, as she “marries herself,” having decided at long last that she is not engaged in enough self-love. And let me know if you do so.

As explained on the watchful and mocking ReDiscovering Donk blog, Julia “Donkey” Allison has also apparently chosen a known child molester to officiate, just to add characteristic unplanned comedy/disaster to the embarrassing proceedings.

(I don’t know if, say, Brian Doherty or Reid Mihalko is going to Burning Man this year -- but if nothing else, the latter points out this video of Rollie the armadillo playing with a toy, so that’s some entertainment value right there. I am also fond of this fat cat. As the human interviewee in the video says, “That cat’s not pregnant. That cat is Norm.”)

BACK IN 2006: Speaking of grotesque pageants and vulnerable children, I never imagined before (belatedly) seeing Little Miss Sunshine that I’d see one cultural artifact that seems to have influenced Arcade Fire, Breaking Bad, and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. It also makes sense its writer, Michael Arndt, would be used to write one of the sick-pageant-oriented Hunger Games movies, and he reportedly did some early script work on Star Wars VII, which no doubt involves young new trainees as well.

IN THE DISTANT FUTURE: There was an interstellar civilization in our own solar system as well -- until capitalism caused “the Fall” (or at least was blamed for it) and was abolished, leaving behind super-smart, sexy, nanotech-suit-wearing anarcho-socialists, who hate both government and capitalism and find it baffling that people once had to work and earn wages in order to acquire goods and services (how silly!).

Or at least that is the premise of Ken MacLeod’s 1998 sci-fi novel The Cassini Division, which may be the product of a damned socialist but does a cool job of building up to conflict with possible godlike extra-dimensional menaces who threaten to render (even futuristic) human social systems obsolete.

What I’ve read of it so far is more encouraging than the worryingly bland trailers for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming sci-fi film Interstellar (apparently based on the simpler -- but stupider -- premise that it is easier to find a new planet for humans to live on than to produce more food on Earth).

And after all, all of us anarchists -- anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-socialists alike -- were pals back in the nineteenth century in the U.S., so perhaps there will be peace again one day. Just stop touching my stuff when the time comes and we’ll be cool. Catch you after Jubilee, dude.

AND IN THE 1940S: Apparently, the upcoming midseason replacement early-days-of-S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Carter TV series (starring Hayley Atwell) will serve partly to set up Marvel’s Ant-Man movie -- by depicting teen-or-so Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, the young versions of the original Ant-Man and Wasp, not to mention depicting the original fleshy version of Jarvis the butler, all of which is kinda cool.

The show will depict Capt. America’s ex-girlfriend helping to found the spy group S.H.I.E.L.D. after WWII.

BUT NOWADAYS: The audience for superhero fare no longer is no longer all that white, according to this article about Latinos in geek culture such as Sin City director Robert Rodriguez himself (h/t Kathleen Hunter).

IN THE 1950S: S.H.I.E.L.D.’s real-world sister organization, the CIA, claims that repeatedly U-2 spy planes were mistaken for UFOs. It’s just one of the many things mentioned (on International UFO Day this year, as it happens) by the CIA’s actual, for-real, though joke-prone official Twitter feed, for good or ill. (They’ve also joked about mass surveillance. Ha ha!)

ETERNAL VIGILANCE: But perhaps we should watch for sharks in the NYC sky, per the warning issued this week by Sharknado 2 (which I think I’ll be watching on DVR with college pals this weekend). Ours is a rich cultural tapestry. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

BOOK NOTE: 10 Notes on “A Troublesome Inheritance” by Nicholas Wade (and on D’Souza and more)



1. I could never hate capitalism the way Don DeLillo and David Cronenberg do, judging by the terrible film Cosmopolis (which had a budget of $20 million and made only $800,000 at the box office, so I suppose capitalism got the last laugh). It features sparkly vampire Robert Pattinson as a sociopathic CEO riding his limo slowly across a city full of anti-capitalist rioters and sexy women who give lectures about the dangers of high finance.

However, I can hate TimeWarner Cable (and fear the possible results of its merger with Comcast) after having my Internet service go out without explanation a few times only to find out later that that was supposed to prompt me to seek an upgrade from them. (That’s the main reason this entry on racism is a day later than I planned.) Maybe it’s not so much the capitalists or anti-capitalists we should be listening to as the Luddites, lest we end up in what one columnist calls “The Tech Utopia Nobody Wants.”

But, all right, I admit I still wouldn’t want to go back to life in the second (or earlier) millennium despite current aggravations. In this century, I live like a character from the last book I blogged about, the postmodern sci-fi tale Sewer, Gas & Electric, whereas in the twentieth century I actually worked at a sewage treatment plant for a summer. That wasn’t so bad, really, but the present is better. I will remain cautiously optimistic.

But will people of all stripes -- and hues -- benefit from society’s inexorable advance?

2. The activists cheering Texas’s retention of affirmative action at UT Austin (in a fairly narrow federal appeals court decision) worry that they will not, but it is perfectly reasonable, whether one supports or rejects affirmative action, to ask what the impediments actually are. There’s no denying the long history of institutionalized racism (I have never done so), but are we permanently forbidden to wonder if there are other factors? How much does the bigotry matter? Would everything perfectly even out in its absence? Does that matter for policy purposes?

There’s virtually no wading into such questions without being condemned as a monster, no matter how well intentioned you are. I think modern liberalism’s getting worse, not better, in this regard, with social media feeding the glee that the worst among us take in flying into instant outrage the moment any taboo topic is touched upon -- no matter what is actually being said on that topic. The rapidly-mounting willingness of the more left-leaning media outlets (such as Salon) to pounce on anything they can take wildly out of context certainly doesn’t help.

Given the feeding-frenzy-like outrage reactions lately, you might be shocked to discover, for instance, that Sen. Rand Paul’s comments to Rachel Maddow about his mixed feelings on the 1964 Civil Rights Act were actually perfectly coherent and highly articulate the first time, even before he spent a few penitent days trying to contextualize and update them more carefully.

Noting that the Act had several parts, he said he supports the government having to compensate or accommodate previously-oppressed groups but doesn’t want that same government regulating private property -- and later added that even the regulation of private property was an appropriate remedy at the time for past abuses but shouldn’t continue indefinitely. I agree, and Maddow can smirk all she likes, but it’ll still be a coherent position -- not to mention, I’d argue, the correct one.

(An interesting side question is whether Rand Paul’s later, ongoing push for the restoration of voting rights to felons is simply a matter of principle, an attempt to “compensate” for possibly irking black voters with his comments to Maddow, or a calculation that voting ex-prisoners just might heavily reward a presidential candidate who called for ending the drug war. Forgive me for not assuming everyone is guided by pure principle in these matters, but I also wonder if the New York Times would become a bit less vocal than it has been in advocating this policy change if it concluded those re-enfranchised felons might vote for Paul in 2016 instead of a Democrat...)

3. Far from being on the verge of takeover by the Klan or neo-Nazis, mainstream culture in America today is so far left (complete with frequent, strategically-shifting, passive-aggressive, p.c. declarations of changes in the rules of acceptable language) that one now routinely sees embarrassing online scuffles like a recent one (visible in the image nearby) in which a leftist insisted whites cannot be the targets of racism because “racism” can only be engaged in by the dominant ethnic group, to which one skeptical commenter replied that they should resume the argument when the leftist’s definition of “racism” gets into the dictionary.

4. Into this danger zone boldly wades Nicholas Wade, a British science reporter for the New York Times and others, with his book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History. If you doubt his courage (despite that courage being slightly easier to summon in overwhelmingly lily-white England), note for instance that a Scientific American blogger appears to have been fired merely for giving the book a positive review and later blogging similarly Darwinian comments about the occasional insight to be found among the so-called “PUA” writers on dating and relations between the sexes.

Wade is making no policy recommendations, rendering no moral judgments, and slinging no insults, though. He is simply trying to describe human history without unscientifically disregarding either its cultural elements or its biological elements. He contends that even some of the most controversial evolutionary psychology writers have self-censored and attempted to dismiss the possible implications of humanity having three major, partially genetically-distinct subsets (very roughly speaking, Africans, Indo-Europeans, and East Asians, albeit with countless blends and footnotes and special cases between them).

We don’t know how much biology matters in the observed differences between the civilizations, he argues, but it would presumptuous and unscientific to assume (even dogmatically assert) that it cannot matter at all. He very carefully and repeatedly condemns any assertion of “superiority” or differential rights as monstrous, dangerous, and implicated in some of the most horrible chapters in human history.

However, he also observes how quickly dog breeds can be created, how quickly our own proto-human and chimp relatives could drift apart from each other genetically and behaviorally -- and mentions almost in passing that while the average Ashkenazi Jewish IQ is, if we are not simply to dismiss IQ tests altogether, apparently about 112, while the average Subsaharan African IQ is apparently 67.

Is it just culture? Even better from an egalitarian optimist’s perspective, is it just a product of short-term policies people can change (possibly something as comparatively simple as nutrition instead of economics, even)? Maybe. We can’t say so with certainty, though, not if we care about facts more than a priori, dogmatic political assertions. And I’m not so sure we still do care about facts (take the feminist aversion to biological explanations for differential behavior between the sexes -- or the rapidly growing pro-transgender sentiment that we shouldn’t even assume children are likely male or female until they make up their own minds on that issue sometime in early adulthood, if ever, despite only about an estimated .3% of the population being transgender).

I should hasten to add (or should I really have to?) that despite the left’s tendency to assume the right loves racism, the idea of biology creating significant, long-lasting differences in the tone of different societies is as troubling (if not more so) for an individualist philosophy like my own libertarianism, born in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, as it is for egalitarian liberalism (I’ve met more than one black libertarian who would like to abolish the whole concept of race, for instance). It’s troubling as well for most modern formulations of standards-raising conservatism.

In the end, all those factions can reasonably stick to the same policy recommendations they’ve been making even if biology proves a major reason for ethnic differences, but the left’s strident insistence that those differences are pure products of irrational bigotry may begin to wear thin (not that this would ever, by contrast, make hatred or collectivist appeals to racial identity more attractive to me -- the goal is to avoid being an idiot, whether left-wing or right-wing).

Unfortunately for all sides -- though without me for a moment pretending this is sufficient reason to dismiss the whole topic -- Wade admits to having no quantifiable answers to the obvious question of how much biology matters relative to purely-contingent cultural history, arguably rendering the whole long arc of parallel biological and historical story-telling in the book pointless (or at least not juicy enough perhaps to warrant your time -- but then, it’s only 250 pages long).

When you consider how quickly those dog and ape breeds can drift apart, though -- and hear of some evidence that a detectable increase in Jewish IQ may have occurred just within the past millennium -- the fact that the three major races have been semi-distinct for about 30,000 years, very roughly speaking about a quarter of the time there’ve been human beings, we have to at least be open to the possibility that biology will prove an important part of the story.

Anything else would be intellectually dishonest. And, hey, you don’t see me denying that stats suggest most serial killers are white males. That might be biological, too. This is not a game of one-upmanship. It’s a search for the truth, begun roughly with Darwin and quite understandably derailed for decades by the horrors of twentieth-century eugenics. But it’s not as if every attempt to apply genetics to human social interactions was done by fiends.

In fact, it’s striking how many of the founding figures

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Happy 75th Birthday, Batman: Geek Update


It‘s the 75th anniversary today of the first appearance of Batman, by far the most popular superhero despite any claims you may have heard to the contrary. Like many highly popular works of art, Batman is open to interpretation and reinterpretation. For starters, he’s (A) the crazed vigilante who (B) hates guns. Make of him what you will.

Meanwhile, Marvel is doing little documentaries that make explicit the connections between its stories and real-world politics. Here’s a trailer (h/t Ariana Pritchard) for one about their “Civil War” storyline -- a storyline about superheroes having to register with the government, and a storyline about which I organized a debate at Lolita Bar back in the day between Robert A. George and Ken Silber.

This week also brings the fourth film I’ll see this year with Scarlett Johansson as a superhuman of some sort: Her, Under the Skin, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and this Friday Lucy, which Gerard Perry and I mentioned in this recent entry in our series of YouTube chats.

This Lucy is not to be confused with Lucy Steigerwald, for whose blog I wrote about X-Men semi-prophetically.

Other superheroic prophecies that have become easier to make in recent weeks included:

(1) the October-debuting Flash TV show including not only his Rogues Gallery of foes but supporting characters who sound destined to become Vibe, Firestorm, Killer Frost, and even the multiverse-destroying (and inadvertently Flash-killing) Pariah

(2) DC Comics dividing the Justice League roughly in half, with some characters slated only for movies and some only for TV, it appears (if rumors hold, it seems Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Shazam, and Sandman are destined for the big screen, while Green Arrow, Black Canary, Flash, Vibe, Atom, Firestorm, Green Lantern, Constantine, and Doctor Fate probably stick to the small one, but we shall see)

(3) Disney slotting its Marvel film release dates until 2019, with three (up from the usual two) slated for 2017, intriguingly (and these are in addition to whatever X-Men films Fox does and whatever crappy Spider-Man movies Sony continues to crank out), several of them most likely including cameos by the evil Thanos as he collects the six “Infinity Stones” to wield in Avengers 3 (I think, given the Stones we’ve glimpsed already, we can safely assume he’ll collect at least one each in Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Thor 3).

And these same next few years will bring new Star Wars movies and the computer-animated Rebels TV show (technically following the only other thing still considered in-continuity for Star Wars, the Clone Wars computer animated series). I admit Disney has collected good (not super-brilliant, maybe, but solid) directors for the planned films, so far reportedly including J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, plus Josh Trank and Gareth Edwards for solo-character (no pun intended) spinoff films.

My biggest fear is that thanks to Rian Johnson, Episodes VIII and IX will make as little psychological sense as the mobsters’ oddly limited and needlessly rule-bound use of time travel in his film Looper. But he’s got style. We shall see. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

BOOK NOTE: 10 Thoughts Inspired by Matt Ruff's “Sewer, Gas & Electric”


1. In Matt Ruff’s 1997 postmodernist science-fiction novel Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, an industrialist explicitly resembling an Ayn Rand hero is part of a complex, funny plot set in the far-flung but disturbingly familiar New York City of the year 2023.

(That also happens to be when X-Men: Days of Future Past’s future is set. Observers seem to disagree when X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s finale took place -- some time between 1979 and 1987 -- but I’m starting to think Scott, Jean, and Ororo are going to have to be about fifteen years old in the next film. That’s a topic for another time, though, and may involve math.)

2. Ruff’s is that rarest of things, a widely-acclaimed (and funny) 90s postmodernist novel dedicated to Ayn Rand, pitting green, capitalist, and conservative factions against each other amidst robotics, biotech, and super-machinery that yield such wonders as a Capt. Nemo-like semi-terrorist submarine (and for Ayn Rand fans, Ragnar-like -- with allusions to Robert Anton Wilson and the Beatles, of course), plus mile-high skyscrapers, a flying shark, and a talking Ayn Rand-simulating lamp, with Star Wars and Alien references tossed in for good measure.

3. Crucially, though, the novel, as if aware of its own high-tech “First World” indulgence, is haunted by poor black people. Filled with politically-evocative moments almost as bizarre and implausible as, say, a hundred AIDS researchers and activists being shot down over Ukraine, the story takes place about a decade after a mysterious plague literally disintegrated nearly the entire black population of the world, aside from a few green-eyed survivors including the environmentalist submarine captain and his adventurous daughter (who has a robot beaver as an assistant).

Eerily, a Disney/FBI-constructed army of robot black people has filled the void left by their fleshy originals but have been reduced to a lower-than-ever social status, becoming smiling workers and lackeys -- who might just be plotting a global revolution. I suspect this novel will never be made into a film (though this does not pain me as much as the fact that libertarian-leaning Angelina Jolie never got to play Dagny in a bigger-budget version of Atlas Shrugged as once planned).

4. As a product of the “it’s funny because it’s stilted” 90s phase of postmodernism, the novel is as merciless towards marketing and corporate culture as it is towards eco-zealots, with moments such as a linguistic dispute, worthy of the business card one-upmanship in American Psycho, over whether several competing brands of toothpaste can all in some sense be “the best” without contradiction.

Like much written in the pomo/sci-fi vein in that decade, the book feels both easily-prophetic and sometimes surprisingly-dated now. It’s scary that it can feel so fresh, have been written so recently, depict a high-tech New York City so familiar to us in the twenty-first century, and yet still depict people trudging to the library for routine research instead of using the Internet. At our most ironic and self-abasing back then, we inevitably failed to acknowledge the likelihood of big advances.

5. As it happens, at the very time I was reading a novel with sympathetic eco-terrorists in it, Greenpeace did something right for a change in the real world by flying a mocking blimp over an NSA facility. That is not only very like something from a novel like Ruff’s but a beautiful trans-partisan gesture and perhaps just the thing to finally cement my attitude that radicals of all stripes should work together.

6. Speaking of blimps (which I’m increasingly inclined to think might be the mundane explanation for some of the handful of truly vexing UFO sightings stretching all the way back to the 1890s), here’s an apt spectacle for this “Month of (R)evolucion”: a massive fireworks display as seen from inside the display, thanks to a drone (I have seen few things that more viscerally reminded me we have powers and gadgets our predecessors did not).

7. There is now a revolution occurring in America that is far more slo-mo than the one we celebrated at the beginning of the month, though. With culturally-leftist zealots, especially among the young or the Salon-affiliated, getting ever angrier and harder to placate, there are probably a lot more p.c. trainwrecks ahead like this black-female vs. white-gay battle, reminiscent of transsexual activists’ recent denunciations of noted right-wingers Ru Paul and Dan Savage for using the terms “she-male” (approximately) and “tranny,” respectively.

As the accelerating Brown University-style p.c./sensitivity/privilege-checking/anti-“appropriation” mindset spirals into the abyss of madness/liberalism, you will have to start making factional diagrams just so you can keep track at home as the end nears. One can’t help thinking, though, that the left’s effort to control discourse in an increasingly diverse postmodern era (the one prophecied in books like Sewer, Gas & Electric) is as futile and counter-productive as the socialists (and the Tories of old) in effect rallying against the Industrial Revolution in the late nineteenth century.

8. Still, I think it is obvious to those who know me that I feel a certain grudging love for all political factions, really, argue though we do.

But even while loving them, intellectual honesty may require admitting that some are bullies, more interested in proving they can control or short-circuit people’s ability to speak than in making the world in any sense a happier place. Self-appointed spokespeople for the downtrodden and marginalized can still be complete assholes.

9. Part of the problem is that you don’t even know these days whether people will jump down your throat or not until learning precisely how the control freaks want you to rhetorically frame a topic, let alone which facts they demand you overlook.

I have not the slightest idea, for instance, whether feminists will be happy or angry (usually the latter’s a safe bet) if I note this article arguing that kids used to be more exploitable (for labor purposes such as farming) than they are now, which may be why people had more of them, not because pre-modern women had fewer life options than they do today (though the latter is also obviously true). Wouldn’t it be something if we lived in a world where people’s first concern was the truth and not who was about to get pissed off at them?

10. But more on taboo -- and potentially exploitation-inspiring -- ideas in an entry later this week, as I take a look at Nicholas Wade’s book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Links for the “Week of Racism” (with feminist aside)


•As this blog‘s “Week of Racism” reaches its hump day, we see that even lefty site Jezebel is not immune to charges of racism.

•For an orthogonal approach to the question of skin color, learn the true story of blue-skinned people (not technically Andorians) living in the woods of Kentucky, a state that gives us not only Sen. Rand Paul but, clearly, a pleasing array of body types. It’s more than the hills that are blue there, apparently.

•If both stories above sound like distractions from the urgent liberal mission of helping black people, though, know that Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley (himself a person of blackness) has a book out about why liberals really need to stop “helping” blacks.

•One particularly lame solution liberals have long pushed to ethnic tensions is, of course, using slightly different words to describe everything and everyone. They also love to change the preferred terminology when most of the culture isn’t watching so that they can feel morally superior to the rest of us if we aren’t up to speed on the nomenclature (witness the abject insanity of liberals attacking even Ru Paul and Dan Savage for using the term “tranny”).

A subtler problem analyzed in this article (h/t Russell Hanneken) is that the left (roughly speaking, the so-called “Social Justice Warriors” found both among liberals and, alas, libertarians who now live to spot “privilege,” offenses, and “micro-aggressions” against p.c. norms and egalitarianism) will strategically shift back and forth between more-radical and less-radical definitions for words.

A feminist radical, for example, may well tell you with one breath that the world has to be remade -- and then claim feminism is merely “the belief that women are people” with the next. This is not an accidental ambiguity. It’s passive-aggressive bullshit, and it’s good that more people are waking up to the fact that these sorts of word-game-playing propagandists do not hold the moral high ground. Indeed, they’re disingenuous, power-seeking assholes.

P.S. By the way, I notice stats suggest Americans have higher mental illness rates than many other countries, women are around 40% more likely to be mentally ill than men, leftists have higher rates of mental illness than conservatives, New York is especially prone to mental illness compared to other parts of the U.S., people show the highest rates of mental illness in their twenties, and fat people are more likely to have mood disorders than the rest of the population.

So we might predict that fat, female, twentysomething, New York-dwelling, left-wing people would be one of the most insane large cohorts of people in the world. I wonder if that has any implications for modern, urban feminist political discourse. You might predict, for instance, that East Coast feminists on social media would be especially prone to irrational arguments, but I don’t pretend to have any hard statistical data on whether this is the case. For now, you’ll have to keep an eye open and make your own judgments. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Apes, Blacks, Whites, and the Superman


The picture nearby is not a publicity still from this week’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which, as noted earlier, Gerard Perry and I discussed in this video.  (And this somewhat disturbing footage of a parrot imitating a phone conversation is not viral advertising for a remake of The Birds.) But there is no denying that special effects have changed over the past few decades, in the process altering our expectations even about basic plot elements of these sorts of films.

The animated apes in the current Apes series (which thus far has basically remade the fourth and fifth films in the original five-film sequence) can more convincingly be used to convey animal-welfare themes than could the people in monkey suits in the original series -- who were blatantly analogized to blacks in more than one line alluding to the then-recent Civil Rights struggle (ask a black sci-fi fan if you don’t believe me).

It’s somewhat embarrassing now to think that was 1960s-liberal Rod Serling’s idea of promoting compassion and equality, but they’re still great movies, their heart was in the right place, and he was still a genius. Less useful or enjoyable was Tim Burton’s terrible Apes remake of the 00s, in which ornery older apes were likened to (dumb ape) anti-welfare-state Republicans -- but it’s nice to know the Apes retain their symbolic versatility.

It’s debatable now whether the world is in as urgent need of warnings (whether clumsy or nuanced) against anti-black racism as it was back when the original Apes series came out. If Hollywood prefers to keep symbolically re-winning the Civil Rights struggle, it will be ill equipped even to broach (or grasp) a more contemporary topic like, say, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe declaring that whites are now forbidden to own land in that country.

(And it’s not just Hollywood, of course: Political correctness has become so pervasive and corrosive that even among libertarians one runs the risk of being condescendingly and dismissively reminded that one is merely white, America-dwelling, and male if commenting on an international political or anthropological matter -- as happened to me just before writing this entry, in fact.)

At times, even a writer is almost tempted to call (futilely) for an end to all ambiguous symbolism in the culture, since stupidity in politics feeds on misinterpretation, reinterpretation, and, with increasing frequency, the motivated and strategic taking of offense.

P.S. On the other hand, overly strict control of highly potent symbols might just encourage more uptight interpretations of trademark and copyright law, leading to more cases like the one in which DC Comics forbid a family to use the Superman “S” in their superhero-loving dead child’s memorial. Traps lie in every direction. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

10 Items to Start a “Week of Racism”


1. Here are three armed robbers who attacked friends of a friend of mine (such is life in New Orleans). Spread this footage to hasten their arrests, if you will.

And the sad thing about it all, to my mind, is that some of you reading this won’t feel comfortable doing so unless I mention that my friend is herself a biracial liberal, at which point maybe you’ll feel vaguely, reluctantly, that that makes it OK to fight violent crime. You are the real race problem, lefty.

2. Since it was really America’s mixed feelings about the collapse of its southern border that inspired this blog’s “Month of (R)evolucion,” and that border crisis is fraught with ethnic tensions, a “Week of Racism” in general may be warranted – meaning a week of mulling the significance of racism, of course, not a week of bigoted epithets. (And after all, it was the Brits against whom the most important revolution celebrated this month was fought.)

3. Scott Eric Kaufman notes another interesting example of urbane liberals stoking the racism to which they pretend to be the only cure: a monthly paper here in NYC supportively profiling President Obama as the “[Expletive] in the White House.”

And it’s not so much liberals being blundering and inept that bothers -- it’s knowing that they simply assume all us libertarians and conservatives must be worse. (We’re not. We’re better.)

4. Liberal gender politics remains stupid, too. Mere days after hearing about Hope Solo being arrested for domestic abuse and a Connecticut feminist getting a slap on the wrist for assaulting a drone operator, we revisit matriarchal violence again for this disturbing clip of white elderly women threatening to rob and beat a beachgoer (h/t Robert Anthony Peters).

You just know from one thief’s scary tone at the end that she, like the Connecticut assailant, still believes she has the moral high ground. After all, a man is using a camera in her vicinity.

5. And we revisit stupid race politics and -- yet again -- matriarchal violence as the Opie & Anthony radio show loses co-host Anthony Cumia, after he’s assaulted by a racist black woman (yelling “white mother------”) and responds with a few angry tweets about violence in the black community that neither the Twittersphere nor his employers could abide.

6. Disturbing, too, and a reminder of how primitive the average citizen’s thinking really is, are the males on Twitter (which is not used exclusively by intellectuals, I must say) siding against Anthony on the grounds that no one beaten by a woman should complain because that’s wimpy.

Also disturbing: the comparatively “normal” women who routinely weigh in on Twitter in blase fashion to say, “Well, yeah, on one hand beating someone is kinda bad, but on the other hand, maybe photo-taking is rude.” These women are a huge part of the problem, like perpetually agnostic halfwits who say: Well, he committed murder, but on the other hand the victim’s outfit was tacky.

(Is there any angle from which liberalism doesn’t look like it’s hastening the death of society here? One Twitter-user gleefully threatened Anthony by saying the real Purge is coming.)

7. I’m afraid it’s time to end the elite liberal tendency to address all these issues only with self-deprecating or ironic humor, very much the preferred, cowardly mode in NYC. There is very real, dead-serious support out there for random acts of violence against people engaged in behavior deemed un-p.c. by ethno-activists and feminists.  So much support that (as is likely in the Connecticut case) there are people walking around now who don’t even know that assault is illegal.

Any male they subjectively deem “creepy” could be the next target. This is not a joke. This is civilization unraveling. 

8. This is why we legally forbid violence and not just every goddam thing that upsets you. In short, this is why we need libertarianism, not liberalism.

9. But just as I am more interested in the destructive role of the liberal elite here than in the behavior of any particular marginal community, I readily agree white crime can be more damaging than black crime, precisely by being more abstract and unseen -- take Elizabeth Warren’s role in creating an agency now scamming taxpayers out of millions for an indoor waterfall and the like (at the misnamed new consumer protection bureau). Of course, you might consider her Native American.

10. Warren is nonetheless, it is rumored, our (more convincingly biracial) President’s handpicked successor, sharing his ties to both Harvard Law School and economic illiteracy. If I were a racist, I might say she’d be an improvement over the current president. I’m not a racist, and, alas, she would not be. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Note on Revolution

Remember, July 4 isn’t merely a celebration of fireworks, nationalism, geography, or anti-British sentiment.  It’s the anniversary of the day in 1776 that the Continental Congress ratified a document proclaiming the timeless and inalienable rights of each individual, which not even government may violate.  Stick to that idea -- instead of generating endless excuses to defy it -- and we may yet flourish.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Leaked Star Wars: Episode VII Opening Scroll


STAR WARS 

Episode VII: The Ancient Fear


A generation after the defeat of the Empire, the Galactic Alliance is governed by the mad President Jar-Jar Binks.  He has secretly begun building a massive cloned army of the fierce warriors known as Ewoks and plans to send them on a "cuddle rampage" across the planets of the Alliance. 

Suspecting this danger, the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO have begun construction on a new and more powerful Death Star space station, planning to destroy any world that becomes overrun by the Ewoks. 

Meanwhile, with the mystical ways of the Force largely forgotten, the former Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker, has become a children's magician.  He speeds through hyperspace now toward the home of his sister Leia and her husband Han Solo, who hope to entertain their children at a very special Life Day celebration…

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Will Liberals Hate “America”?


•Conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary America is in New York theatres starting this week and though it may have a few bits that I, as a libertarian, disagree with, I’ll have to see it for, among other things, featuring Ronald Radosh criticizing overrated left-wing revisionist historian Howard Zinn.

Radosh isn’t just some indiscriminate lefty-basher, either. He was the one who urged me to read and correspond with the late, ideologically quirky historian Martin Sklar, whose description of our current paradoxical political system as “corporate liberalism” dating back to the Progressive Era strikes me as apt.

•In fact, given Ralph Nader’s recent very cordial panel discussion at the Cato Institute -- with Brink Lindsey, Dan McCarthy, and Tim Carney -- I hope even the most hardcore of latter-day Progressives may be starting to worry about the half-plutocratic, half-socialist regulatory superstate they have wrought.

•Tim’s brother John Carney recently pointed to one reason to worry that new ideas will find an easier time taking root on the right than on the left, though: A study suggests liberals think they’re already diverse in their views but in fact are in lock-step ideologically, while people on the right tend to assume other conservatives agree with them but are actually quite diverse in their views.

•All this adds to my mounting (and embarrassing) fear that history will say it was the anti-banking and anti-authoritarian conspiracy theorists who were basically right about how the world works -- right down to using immigration as a subversive tool and using fascistic goons to maintain secrecy at relocation camps. Or maybe it‘s just a little hiccup in processing that’ll soon be resolved by an even more populous and diverse America. We shall see. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

10 (R)evolutionary Notes to Start My “Month of (R)evolucion”


•It’s the start of a “Month of (R)evolucion" -- Mo(R)e for short -- on this blog, a time of both seismic and incremental changes.

•Among other things, I’ll blog about three books that concern humans themselves being transformed: Matt Ruff’s Sewer, Gas & Electric, Nicholas Wade’s controversial A Troublesome Inheritance, and Ken MacLeod’s The Cassini Division.

•Plus this month brings the revolutionary tales Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Lucy, as discussed in my recent YouTube chat with Gerard Perry (about those films, Edge of Tomorrow, and Transformers 4). For next month, we’ll have thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy and Sin City -- and for September Atlas Shrugged -- so stay tuned.

•Unlike Ayn Rand, Rand Paul does not create superhumans, but thanks to him the blind will see in Guatemala. That’s just how heartless laissez-faire capitalists roll.

•Of course, given the historic breakdown of the U.S.’s southern border, many Latin Americans will be coming to U.S. doctors soon, saving doctors the trouble of having to travel down south. The current confusion is unfortunate, but the Southwest belonged to Latin Americans in the first place, so I cannot be too pained about things reverting to normal there -- or about people moving where they choose.

•The chaos in the Middle East is more troubling, but whether it’s beheadings by ISIS or Hamas condoning-or-committing the murder of teenagers, it’s not clear greater U.S. involvement would make things better. One can understand the Russians feeling as if the U.S. bombs jihadists one day and supports them the next (if on the second day it appears they can be directed against Russian proxies), which has been our incoherent pattern for about thirty-five years now.

It’s enough to make one more ambivalent about whether to oppose Russian efforts in Ukraine as well. It also makes the usual right/left debate among pundits, about whether to blame Bush et al or Obama et al for the current state of Iraq, even more depressing and futile: The fingerprints come from both the right and left hands.

•I would likewise not blame a sane person for feeling that recent healthcare, tax bias, economic data, recess appointments, union membership, NSA, and culture-war craziness was all either too bipartisan in origin or too complex to be worth most people arguing about, so I’ll skip sniping on all those fronts.

•In fact, nudged by the (unextraordinary) news about Facebook tweaking users’ feeds as a psych experiment, I’ve given up for now on Facebook updates (really: check the past several days) and will make this my last month of steady blogging in order to focus more on writing books, which -- contrary to all apparent trends in the Twitter era -- may be more necessary than ever, in part to combat all the pointless one-liners, wisecracks, and amens that persuade no one.

Science and stats are good things and algorithms greatly enhance efficiency, but we all know that if we are increasingly consuming tiny, shallow snippets fed to us by algorithms, Nietzsche would want us at some point to “kick over the law-tables” that make us predictable.

•The current National Review cover story by Adam Bellow from LibertyIslandMag.com is also pro-books, more specifically novels, arguing that they not only have more influence than op-eds but in the long run still have more influence even than films.

•Still, I admit I’m pleased the top films of the year so far (gauged by worldwide box office per Box Office Mojo, as reported by DarkHorizons) suggest audiences love tales of super-scientific or supernatural physical transformation (and indeed the new Transformers, though awful, will likely join this list soon, not to mention the new Apes, a certain Raccoon and his pals, and one last Hobbit movie by year’s end, possibly making 2014 the biggest ever for sci-fi/fantasy-type films):

1. X-Men: Days Of Future Past ($712.7 million)
2. Captain America: The Winter Solider ($711.2 million)
3. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($703.7 million)
4. Maleficent ($585.6 million)
5. Godzilla ($488.1 million)
6. Rio 2 ($470.2 million)
7. The LEGO Movie ($467.2 million)
8. Noah ($359.2 million)
9. 300: Rise of an Empire ($331.1 million)
10. Edge of Tomorrow ($318.7 million)

But this week, a very different, more political sort of movie opens in New York City and elsewhere, so a note on that next time.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Transformers: Lame Movie, Cool (Similar) Car

Celebrity sighting in Midtown: He was just hanging out there all chill, not talking to anybody or surrounded by an entourage, but that guy looks an awful lot like Transformers star Bumblebee, on E. 48th St., maybe in town for the premiere of the fourth film (is Optimus in L.A. at the same time or do they fly back and forth?).

I didn't go up and try talking to him because he was just lying low and pretending to be a car and everything (that's what they do, much as I hate to stereotype). It looks like him, anyway. Less animated than I expected.