Tuesday, October 21, 2014

10 Thoughts on Liberty and Clowns


1. Puddles the Clown is at Joe's Pub tonight.

2. I first saw him at a live Aqua Teen Hunger Force performance, but I suppose he is now best known for his amazing cover of Lorde’s song “Royals” -- and Lorde also inspired South Park’s amazing episode mocking “trans” politics, “The Cissy.”

3. On a more Halloweenish clown note, I see the deliberately-creepy clown fad is not just spreading in the town of Wasco: There appears to be actual clown terrorism bourgeoning in France. (Suddenly, those poor Juggalos don’t seem like such bad eggs, relatively speaking, do they?)

This sort of thing is a reminder that there are many circumstances in which I’d happily use a broader definition of “assault” than some libertarians might. If people are reasonably -- and deliberately -- made afraid of physical attack, that’s assault (as bullies everywhere are well aware).

4. Now that they’re reportedly putting Jena Malone in 2016’s Batman v Superman movie as Robin, cementing that film’s status as a partial adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic Dark Knight Returns miniseries, I say throw in that tale’s face-painted Joker gangs, too. They’re more timely than ever!

5. In other rioting news, I’m amazed that people (including relatives of a libertarian-leaning friend of mine) got teargased in Keene, NH and it didn’t have anything to do with the notorious little community of libertarian radicals who live there, just out-of-control pumpkin festival participants -- and, as seems to happen every time, cops who penned people in and turned what could have been dispersing individuals into a single mob.

6. I can’t blame the press for being fascinated by the incident, though it’s partly because trouble in New Hampshire (whence hails half my family) is so novel. Not so, say, Detroit.

7. I must once more thank the Atlas Foundation for drawing my attention to the tragic way crime, poverty, bankruptcy, and bad policy decisions have all been intertwined in Detroit.

8. I also owe them and Students for Liberty for bringing to my attention the nifty little volume Peace, Love, & Liberty, edited by Tom Palmer, which collects several essays by libertarian or libertarian-leaning writers that underscore the fact that opposition to militarism is not just an afterthought to libertarianism’s insistence on individualism and property rights but a natural and important outgrowth.

9. Still, I hope the focus on a big, broad issue like war -- a consequence of the breakdown of the non-aggression principle -- never undermines libertarians’ intellectual focus on their precious and still far-too-secret philosophical basics, which must always include the idea that individuals suffer least when they have full control over their own bodies and property.

Sadly from that perspective, the literal final word in the Palmer-edited volume goes to controversial young left-libertarian Cathy Reisenwitz, who is prone to manic fits of philosophical sloppiness in which, for instance, she will proclaim her love of essays that say property rights (or wariness about egalitarianism) may not be an important part of libertarianism after all.

Through it all, she judges society harshly even while insisting that the rest of us must never shame anyone. This is incoherence, and that is not what will prevent the next world war. But Tom Palmer, like Jeffrey Tucker, cannot be blamed for every inane utterance of his temporary colleagues. War is worse than Reisenwitz, at least a bit.

10. And for a reminder that full-fledged modern liberalism is still more horrible than anything in the broad, combative classical liberal family, we need look no farther than this recent scary Supreme Court denial, with the likes of (the not-so-empathic) Sotomayor and Kagan concluding that, yes, the government can actually punish you for crimes of which you weren’t convicted.

Just another reminder that libertarians cozying up to the left is generally a waste of time. Liberty or bust.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Seavey on Steigerwald Videocast (plus one century-late UFO note)

•Lucy Steigerwald’s latest video roundtable discussion included her brother Joe, Jordan Bloom from Daily Caller, Michelle Montalvo -- and me -- talking about Rand Paul, Ayn Rand, and ebola, and, since she asked if we’d been reading or watching odd non-political things lately, yes, UFOs.

•I have nothing profound to add on that odd topic besides reaffirming my commitment to skeptical methodology in all things, not sci-fi wishful thinking -- but the whole subject area does leave one with odd earthly questions even if one dismisses aliens as an explanation. For instance: could it be blimps?

I mean, triangular black military spy blimps might explain many of the better-corroborated sightings of recent decades (the ones that don’t sound like some sort of ball-lightning orbs, that is). And it may be no coincidence that there were sightings reported in newspapers (check out this list) all the way back into the late nineteenth century (and this prior to the twentieth-century development of blimps as we know them) that tended instead to be cigar-shaped, if you see what I’m thinking. Or maybe it was just hoaxes from the age of yellow journalism inspired by Jules Verne’s amazing zeppelin villain from Master of the World. But who knows.

You have to admit, it would be interesting just to discover an early, largely secret phase of blimp history, though. And proto-blimp history is already pretty weird. I mean, check out this real-world history note from Wikipedia before you try telling me the world needs steampunk:

In 1784 Jean-Pierre Blanchard fitted a hand-powered propeller to a balloon, the first recorded means of propulsion carried aloft. In 1785 he crossed the English Channel in a balloon equipped with flapping wings for propulsion and a birdlike tail for steering.

•So there are far weirder things in this world than the LibertyFest gathering of libertarians I briefly checked out in Greenpoint on Saturday, despite that event having Jimmy McMillan of “The Rent Is Too Damn High” fame at it, among others.

For starters in addressing that problem, though no one is going to listen to my notions about this, I would abolish all public property, which would at least eliminate sad bureaucratic messes like this one involving art by kids (h/t Kevin Walsh of Forgotten NY). Later, we can review the government’s black ops budget to see if they’re overspending on silent spy blimps. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

ISIS and Sociologists



As ISIS issues its rules for journalists operating within the caliphate, saying they must be licensed by the state and report back to the ISIS media ministry about their stories, I am reminded of a chilling volume I glimpsed twenty years ago that made clear the thin lines between the (ostensibly-objective) academic mindset, leftism, and foreign authoritarian regimes.
A sociology text I saw (sociology being probably the most intellectually and morally bankrupt academic discipline) went to great pains to clear up the "confusion" among some in the West about whether some countries in the developing world have a "free press." They do, explained the volume at condescending length. It's just that in those countries, "freedom" takes the form of direct participation in the government and thus requires licensing of all journalists and the involvement of political officials in vetting many stories.

The overly-narrow Western conception of "freedom" might cause journalists or activists here to think, mistakenly, that the more private and unsupervised press here is in some way superior. This plus several hundred footnotes is roughly how professors deliver us into the hands of the totalitarians, sneering at the uneducated masses all the way.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Seavey Onstage (plus Plato rap, taxidermy, and other events)


The courageous Hong Kong protests have already been criticized by writers at the Guardian and Jacobin, giving you some idea how far the Western left is willing to go to defend communism, or at least throw some cold water on its critics. But then, the roots of both Western and Eastern communism can be traced back to bad philosophical ideas as old and influential as those of Plato, who saw a top-down, rigidly ordered society as the ideal. Our corruption is deep.

Plato is being put to odd use elsewhere, too, I’m told: Blondie’s Chris Stein used at least one Barnes and Noble appearance about his new photo book, Negative, as an occasion to play the crowd a song combining rap and a recording of John Malkovich reciting Plato’s allegory of the Cave. Troubling.

Luckily, if the Ebola doesn’t get you, you have other imminent entertainment options:

(1) I don’t know if or when I will organize more onstage events of my own, but please consider as a long-awaited substitute seeing me on one of the political yet humorous Electoral Dysfunction discussion panels, such as the one taking place this Saturday (Oct. 4) at 7pm at 123 E. 24th St. at People’s Improv. We will likely discuss Ebola and other events of the week such as that White House fence-jumper and the UK entering the fight against ISIS.

(2) That event’s the day prior to the Sunday, Oct. 5 “rogue taxidermy” festival at Bell House in Brooklyn, for those keeping track. (Or if you can’t make that, perhaps you’ll enjoy watching this oddly bold squirrel pitting two cats against each other. Clumsy, clueless nut-eater, or brilliant strategist?)

(3) Saturday a week from now, Oct. 11, anarcho-capitalist law prof Stephan Kinsella and other libertarians are in town to speak at LibertyFest (11am-6:30pm at Warsaw concert hall in Brooklyn, 261 Driggs Ave., $25).

(4) Of course, that Saturday is also the middle of New York Comic Con, so you can be forgiven for being uncertain which event to attend.

(5) All of these options, though, are probably better than being at the marriage-to-herself ceremony Julia Allison performed at Burning Man in August, going on (as is so often the case) to write an ostensibly impartial article about the whole festival for the New York Times just recently, almost certainly with the aid of a ghostwriter and without mentioning her self-marriage ceremony at all.

I am reminded of the time I met a Times reporter who covered antiwar rallies and was also an organizer of antiwar rallies, though Burning Man is hardly the Iraq War. And there are worse reasons to travel to the desert than seeing a woman marry herself -- beheading women, for instance. Here’s that surprisingly straightforward, frank Vice interview with a young Canadian who traveled to join ISIS and who says we’ll all soon suffer for it (h/t Franc M Pohole).

Here’s hoping our taxidermy, self-marriages, comic conventions, and onstage political comedy all endure. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Seavey/Perry Podcast (Atlas Shrugged, Alongside Night, and God’s Not Dead)


Our latest Seavey/Perry podcast (with special guest Jackie) is about little indie libertarian movies Atlas Shrugged and Alongside Night, with a mention of religious conservative film God’s Not Dead -- plus Ferguson. (And I will link right here to an expected follow-up interview of me by Alongside Night producer Austin Petersen once that’s up.)

Nearby are an official photo of Alongside Night author J. Neil Schulman and for no particular reason an unofficial photo from the Florida Democratic Party of Vanilla Ice and Gov. Rick Scott.
 
Our podcast was recorded this past Sunday, on Atlas cast member Rob Morrow’s birthday, as noted in the podcast (whereas today is Night and God cast member Kevin Sorbo’s birthday). As noted at the very end of the podcast, that was also the day of the big Climate Change March, not to mention the thirtieth anniversary of the better-known libertarian film Ghostbusters. We also include asides about Sin City, Xena, career advice for Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, and Ed Krayewski’s dad’s graphic novel about jazz and communism in Eastern Europe, which is nearing its Kickstarter goal.
 
Herewith, though, some afterthoughts on some of the bit players in the works discussed in the podcast, all ones I’ve met, as it happens:

•There are Ron Paul cameos in both Atlas and Night.

I continue to hope, despite the naysaying of some of my radical brethren, that somewhat-more-moderate son Rand Paul will be the next president. Remember, the likely alternative is someone like John McCain who can barely give a straight answer about whether he once met with ISIS allies, though given the muddle that is American foreign policy, I almost don’t blame him.

Despite the fretting of the Washington Post over whether Rand Paul is shifty in his views and thus less reliable than his dad, I think he remains head and shoulders above (and more philosophically consistent than) any other likely candidate from either party. And my special Rosh Hashanah wish (Happy New Year!) is that neocons will not make the mistake of thinking he’s anti-Israel just because he’s less hawkish than most of the bomb-lobbing idiots in both parties.

Deroy Murdock is heard in Atlas Shrugged: Part III reacting with characteristic calm and rationality to the notorious John Galt speech.

In the real world, Deroy may also years ago have had the right idea on Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision that was briefly in the news again this month. If that decision, which protects campaign contributions as a form of speech, is ever overturned, suggested Deroy once, perhaps the ideal campaign finance rule would be: people who do not already hold office are free, private citizens and thus can take unlimited money from anyone they please -- but incumbents cannot take a dime.

That might help level the playing field a bit. And this reform, of course, will never happen. (You can probably discuss this with Deroy in person this coming Saturday 7pm at the Electoral Dysfunction onstage political panel at People’s Improv, 123 E. 24 in NYC -- and I’ll be on the panel myself one week later, on Oct. 4).

•I think conservative reporter Charles C. Johnson was an extra somewhere in Atlas, or at least was scheduled to be, though I didn’t spot him. He’s been in the news himself repeatedly lately, for helping to expose scandals surrounding Sen. Menendez, Sen. Cochran, Michael Brown, and others, pissing off Daily Caller, Wall Street Journal, John Podhoretz, and others in the process.

Critics will pounce on his occasional errors, but as long as he’s digging up dirt that others lazily overlook, we need him (and indeed I linked above to a McCain story on his GotNews site).

•Whatever else you may say about Alongside Night, you cannot deny it’s the one film out this year featuring libertarian law professor David Friedman as the king of Sweden. If you see only one film this year featuring David Friedman as the king of Sweden...

•And since Kevin Sorbo is in both Alongside Night and God’s Not Dead, I can’t help hoping someone out there is planning a double-feature screening.

As much as critics, especially liberal ones, may scoff at these films, they’re all far less frightening than one beloved by FDR and Eleanor -- and by (the) People’s Leah Rosen, too, apparently -- Gabriel Over the White House. Go on, read that Wikipedia entry about it if you dare -- and if you’re on the left, stop kidding yourself about what fascist monsters the Roosevelts were. (Oh yeah, Atlas Shrugged’s not so funny all of a sudden, is it?)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

10 Alternative Rock Acts to See NOW


1. Nearby, you can see my photos of Tibbie X and her new band Gash... 

2. …as well as some other wacky recent events I attended (and graffiti I’ve seen), including Jessica Delfino’s CD-release performance near a discarded piano on the East River, which I noted in an earlier entry.

3. Or for more professional and (arguably) historically-significant pics, check out Chris Stein’s new book, Negative, out today, full of Blondie pics from back in the days when he co-founded the band.

4. Then tonight see science lectures about “Creativity,” hosted by my friend Lefty Leibowitz, who once opened for GG Allin, I kid you not.

5. Or, also tonight only, see the documentary David Bowie Is, chronicling the creation of a museum exhibit about David Bowie.

6. Then you might check the news regarding today's scheduled sentencing of documentarian Dinesh D’Souza (who I hope, despite his fishy contributions to a Senate campaign, will not end up a “punk” in the prison sense).

7. And tomorrow night (Wed. the 24th) at Bowery Ballroom, see fey indie band Pomplamoose (and I may join you), though I think they’re still struggling to decide whether they think the lead singer is hot or just ironic (h/t Rob Szarka). It’s OK to be both, but make up your minds or it’s just more awkward for everyone. 

8. That's bound to be more fun than the life of debt-saddled former Veruca Salt member Gina Crosley-Corcoran, who now wonders if people will pay for her advice and is being mocked for it on other sites (h/t Jackie).

9. I vowed last week I’d post this on Facebook if Scotland fissioned off from the UK: “In a Big Country” by Big Country (the first song I ever did in karaoke, not to be confused with the song I’ve done most often in karaoke, also by a Scottish band, Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me”).  But since Scotland stayed, I posted Scottish (and then very young) Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart with their pre-Eurythmics band the Tourists, imploring “I Only Want to Be with You.”

10. As libertarian and Free State Project member Jason Sorens explains in the Washington Post, though, that needn’t prevent New Hampshire from fissioning off and becoming its own country, which would make the revelers at PorcFest, my hundred year-old grandmother, and the pile of rocks that is the remnants of the collapsed Old Man of the Mountain true political pioneers. Now that’s alternative rock!

Oh, and: I saw a tiny Spacecruiser Yamato being piloted around the Conservatory Water in Central Park. But my next entry will be more fully political, as I link to the latest Seavey/Perry podcast, this time about the films Atlas Shrugged, Alongside Night, and God’s Not Dead.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Podcast! (10 Thoughts Before the Scotland Secession Vote)


1. Here’s a thirty-second promo video of me introducing Lap Gong Leong, who fills in for Gerard Perry in our latest audio podcast.

2. In our actual podcast, Lap not only offers genuine insight about this week’s historic referendum on whether Scotland will be independent from the United Kingdom but also about why those of us who aren’t truly autistic should stop likening ourselves to people like Lap just because we’re nerds/libertarians.

3. Unlike Lap (and Putin!), I tend to think the more secession the better -- on the theory that local government will tend to be slightly more responsive to citizens’ needs than a distant central government -- but it’s not a foolproof formula.

Scotland leaving could have short-term negative effects on the UK and long-term benefits for what is for now the EU, if countries there start getting ideas about resisting the central bureaucracy.

4. Sadly, investors are already fleeing Scotland at the prospect of it being able to do its own, more socialist, thing (do leftists think "How dare they?!" at such moments?).

5. Scots will now be free to do authoritarian stuff like this to each other all day (h/t Josie Appleton and Timandra Harkness).

6. Gavin McInnes portraying his Scottish dad has some...thoughts...on independence...sort of (h/t Jackie Danicki).

7. As for our own nation, don’t expect it to be remembered long after the Progressives finish destroying it: Current AP history guidelines require teaching, for instance, Chief Little Turtle but not Ben Franklin, Students for a Democratic Society but not Eisenhower, the Black Panthers but not MLK. 

And you wonder why conservatives get paranoid about school curricula. 

8. Meanwhile, in Sweden: tell me again how feminists are our natural allies, o wise liberal-leaning free-marketeers?

9. John Carney tweeted a link to a Business Insider piece showing what the whole map of Europe would look like if all the separatist movements got their way. He suggests nationalism is the only antidote to tribalism, globalism being too vast to elicit fellow-feelings. I say violent groupthink in general needs to die, and nationalism, tribalism, government, and various petty criminal gangs are all forms of it.

A rarely-noted double-edged sword of nationalism -- arguably on display in Scotland, Scandinavia, and perhaps the troubled island of Manhattan -- is that the more people think of themselves as a tribal enclave cut off from the rest of the world, the more comfortable they may be with homogenizing, collectivist legislation (Jacob Levy’s book next year will explore some of the centralizing-vs.-devolving tensions in our politics).

I suspect any “us vs. them” thinking, regardless of the geographic size of the “us,” yields more socialistic politics in the long run than would thinking of ourselves as individuals in a fluid world. I don’t think we should waste much more time debating at which level we want to be oppressed, though. End all of that, and say often and explicitly that that’s the goal. 

10. More broadly, I’m increasingly comfortable saying I oppose violence whether organized into liberal governments, conservative governments, minarchist libertarian governments, street gangs, rape gangs, the Mob, the left-anarchist mob with its general assemblies and syndicates, cops, armies, rampaging sports fans, school bullies, labor unions, terrorists, or religious fanatics threatening kids with hellfire. Who needs any of it?

Our main enemy is violence, not just violence at a certain cosmopolitan or local scale. And if violence is evil, keep fighting it, don’t treat certain forms of it as natural or inevitable. Murder is commonplace, but we do not resign ourselves to it, ever. Whether or not Scotland goes it alone, here’s hoping they won’t be governed at all someday.

(And with that, you go watch that video and podcast at the top, and maybe I’ll go pick up Scottish anarchist Grant Morrison’s comic Multiversity: Society of Superheroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World, out today. Imagine if there were a whole different universe for each style of superhero team...)

Monday, September 15, 2014

10 Thoughts on the Occasion of Dr. Elizabeth Whelan Passing Away


I hope it does not seem disrespectful to mark the death of my former boss from the American Council on Science and Health with a listicle of somewhat random thoughts, but Beth liked top ten lists, so I hope she wouldn’t mind.

1. Before Dr. Elizabeth Whelan became known for founding an organization that combated unscientific health claims (paranoia about chemicals, overhyped cure-alls, etc.), one of her first claims to fame was the 1975 book A Baby? ...Maybe, from the days (not so long after my birth and not too terribly long before the birth of her own daughter, Christine) when feminism was in its still fairly-rational Second Wave and was making some now-obvious points, such as that women should think carefully about whether and when to reproduce.

The more or less libertarian attitude she developed then -- trained in epidemiology but painfully aware that government, media, and the public make decisions without rationally weighing risks or costs-and-benefits -- was very much like my own: comfortable with science and capitalism as natural complements, both helping to make the world a more prosperous place, as the more liberal participants in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment had hoped.

2. I find it interesting that while Beth was secular, skeptical of regulation, and libertarian, her husband is Catholic, a lawyer, and more conservative -- while their daughter, clearly loyal on some deep level to both parents, studied sociology and philosophy, a compromise after my own heart, and has written about and more or less within the self-help movement, including about marriage prospects. You can see comparable smart, systematizing tendencies in the whole family, beyond the superficial differences.

3. It’s easy to forget now, but even in the hip 1970s, when that early Whelan book came out, it was a bit radical to do things like this bit from the kids’ show New Zoo Revue in which the “The Miracle of Birth” was sung about in frank fashion (h/t Steven Ben-Off Abrams and Jeffrey Wendt). That’s one of those shows for which I’d probably be shocked now to see accurate stats on “total hours Todd spent watching,” by the way.

4. Beth saw the logical and causal connection between unscientific thinking, irrational risk assessment, fear, and the exploitation of that fear by would-be authority figures. As people become more frightened and long to be protected, they easily adopt a mindset in which kids effectively belong to the state (just as horrendous communist Simone de Beauvoir always wanted). Nowadays, for instance, you -- and your kids -- may get grilled by authorities if the kids play outside unsupervised (h/t Bethany Mandel).

5. Neither libertarians, conservatives, nor liberals, alas, are quite suited, in most of their manifestations, to noticing that as regulation increases, voluntary rules-adherence and self-discipline tend to wane.

The modern conceit among most members of all political factions is instead to think that governmental and private rule-making tend to act in concert, waxing or waning together (thus, libertarians might want tax cuts and nude pot-smoking at Burning Man, conservatives Bible-reading and the arrest of prostitutes, the left ever more regulation and the strict self-policing of speech, etc.).

The neo-Victorian route of ditching government but adhering to high moral and etiquette standards still has fewer champions than it deserves (and needs). I think in many ways Beth was still old-fashioned enough to embody that sort of combo, one after my own heart. In an era of proud offensiveness, we need this scathing critique of many bad selfies (h/t Elizabeth Cochran).

6. Beth had both aesthetic and health reasons to dislike smoke-filled bars and virtually never entered them (which might be just as well, since, as Mark Judge writes, they can be the sites of great everyday incivility -- and not just by males, he notes).

As an anarcho-capitalist, I would have preferred that rising awareness rather than regulation put an end to smoke in bars, but I can’t pretend to miss it now that it’s gone. In fact, I now realize to my relief that half my vague discomfort in bars when I was in my twenties was caused by the cigarette smoke, not by the social awkwardness.

7. That rationality-plus-freedom combo that seems so natural to me and seemed logical to Beth keeps eluding people. For instance, at Yale nowadays, one of the institutions that shaped Beth but often annoyed her, it’s not just Muslim groups who want to ban (critic of Islam and genital mutilation survivor) Ayaan Hirsi Ali from campus but also feminist and atheist groups, who you might have thought would like her, or at least want to give her a chance to speak (h/t Funnya Gleason).

Are most of my fellow atheists so knee-jerk left nowadays that they don’t like the Enlightenment-inspired free speech/free inquiry model?

8. Fear-mongering isn’t just something that manifests as science gone wrong but, of course, as politics gone wrong. Here’s a reminder (from a magazine Beth loved and which tends to jibe with the science + capitalism worldview) that New York politicians are hardly rational assessors of risk: Rep. Peter King is quite authoritarian in his pro-security-state, pro-military stance despite the fact, reports Reason, that he was a real, honest to gosh, vocal supporter of IRA terrorism (and denouncer of “British imperialism”) thirty years ago.

9. I hope ACSH will long endure even without Beth, and there are times, even now that I don’t work there, that I turn to them as the sole voice of sanity in a paranoid and unscientific world, whether they’re bucking the anti-fracking trend or keeping level heads during things like the ebola crisis. I’d trust them before I’d trust the New York City Department of Health, and they’re not paying me to say so.

10. I thought of Beth during the first-day show of Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt? I attended (not realizing it was the same day ACSH announced her death), during a short scene about a government official pressuring scientists to compromise their intellectual integrity for the sake of advancing state projects and maintaining the state’s air of authority (I’ll say more about that film in a podcast -- but first will unveil one about the Scottish independence referendum, so stay tuned).

That corruption of science by politics is a real problem, deeper than almost any commentators realize, I think, and it’s a problem that ACSH’s critics tend to dodge by merely countering that ACSH, in turn, is touting a corporate view of science (like plenty of non-profits, they’ll take donations from anyone who doesn’t attach strings to their research, so some of that will be filthy corporate money, goes the argument). Indeed, it doesn’t even occur to most of their critics that government money might subtly corrupt -- and that government has greater power to create a broad, homogenous consensus and enforce it by regulatory fiat.

I can only say that I attended enough meetings at which ACSH sifted dutifully through new medical journal reports, said no to crackpot products, lamented unscientific “green” shifts in corporate PR, or adopted nuanced positions that made it just a bit trickier to churn out emphatic op-eds that I know their passion is trying to get people to respect science, not playing defense for any company that wants defending. If ACSH sometimes sounds like a mid-century pitch for better living through industrial productivity, it might simply be that there was real rationality in elements of that mid-century worldview, as in elements of the Victorian ideal of progress.

ACSH’s variation on the science-and-industry theme all began, really, with Beth seeing the yawning chasm between (A) what she learned about rationally ranking risks and health priorities as a student of epidemiology and (B) the flashy, near-random things the press and public obsessed over instead. The living embodiment of her frustrations would be, say, an environmentalist smoking a cigarette while fretting that minuscule electric and magnetic field effects from power lines might cause cancer and should be banned.

Other such contrasts abound in our culture, and they are the sort of absurdities that get a rational, informed person fired up to fight on behalf of sanity, no matter how much that smoking environmentalist might imagine himself to be the enlightened one. I’m glad Beth did get fired up, and we need more people like her. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Seavey/Perry Podcast (plus 11 notes on Muslims, anarchists, “UFOs,” and the CIA for 9/11)


1. A day after Obama’s ISIS strategy speech, it’s a bit like we’re at war with both sides in Syria now. That’s more than a little like a great bit in Woody Allen’s Bananas in which it’s revealed by U.S. soldiers facing a foreign government that “The CIA is not taking any chances this time. Half of us are for, half of us against!”

2. I was hoping former (Clinton) CIA director R. James Woolsey would address fishy situations resembling that from the organization’s history when I saw him speak two nights ago, but he mainly talked about the dangers of EMP weapons and oil dependency -- also important topics, to be sure.

3. My position, not quite captured in the rhetoric of any political faction even among my fellow libertarians, is neither that the CIA and other military/intelligence functions of the government are necessary nor that they are wholly destructive but rather that I’d be willing to take the risk of doing without them given all the risks they generate and given our ability to cope in other ways (even privately) with the threats they combat.

You could chalk this up to my increasing (or just increasingly explicit) anarchism, but given that even most of what passes for “anarchism” in this world is a sad history of mob incitements, anti-capitalism, traffic-blocking protests, and occasional pointless bombings, I’m increasingly inclined to feel I should lump the anarchists in with the government and other forms of organized violence. Intellectual honesty sometimes entails admitting how truly alone you are (not that there aren’t a few other nice anarcho-capitalists out there, growing in number).

That in some sense makes me more radical than the anarchists, but (at the risk of baking in some conspiracy theory as well) it might be best to think of me as just someone wanting to roll back most of the radicalism and many of the mainstream institutions of the past 130 years or so -- a sort of reverse-Progressive who now thinks that the ugly intertwining of big government, corporations, banks, militaries, and the external threats those institutions oppose (from small criminal gangs to large international ones) was a half-planned mistake caused by the central-planning mania of the Progressive Era, a big knot of cronyism and inefficiency (deeper and more complex than right and left) that needs to be plucked apart.

Rand Paul, for all his flaws, certainly comes close to being the anti-Hillary Clinton by this quirky metric, and she comes close to being the awful culmination of the incestuous 130-year trend that now worries me so, crony capitalism, militarism, and all.

It’s interesting that for all the current talk of war, even hawkish John Bolton is with me to some extent on this: He said without hesitation on The Independents recently that he’d vote for Rand Paul over Hillary Clinton if it comes to that. That won’t surprise most on the left, but it’s a relief to some like me who suspect that half the neoconservatives are preparing their Hillary-endorsing columns even now in case Paul is nominated by the GOP in 2016 (even as some libertarians condemn Paul as a neocon -- it’s hard to keep everyone happy). Kristol and a few like him may be the real impediments to a new quasi-libertarian consensus on the right at this point.

Progressivism, meanwhile, marches on and is the impulse behind things like the current effort to alter the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, an effort rooted in the Wilsonian reformist idea that the wise central authority should prevent unwelcome, chaotic, outside influences “interfering” with the smooth, rational administration of elections. The impulse sounds like democracy but might as well eliminate voters as the next step, since they’ve been known to have chaotic, partisan interests themselves.

4. Weapons manufacturers win regardless of whether the U.S. military, our authoritarian overseas allies, our authoritarian overseas former allies, or terrorists and drug gangs are in the ascendant. And that may explain a great deal, as the Marxists have always alleged. Hey, it’s OK to admit things are terrible on all sides. That is often the first step toward improvement.

5. It’s also OK sometimes to admit (A) you have no idea what’s going on and (B) you have no strategy for dealing with it. Obama was criticized for saying as much about ISIS a few days ago -- though that admission of confusion may have been more honest than last night’s speech. And I have to applaud the book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record by Leslie Kean for saying as much about UFOs, a topic that I’ve been embarrassing everyone by mentioning repeatedly recently, despite three (ongoing, I swear!) decades of being a hardcore skeptic/atheist about everything.

Skepticism is not a rigid list of things that can and cannot possibly exist, after all, but a methodology -- and I expect it will remain the correct methodology until

Friday, September 5, 2014

’45 Notes on Nick Fury, Joan Rivers, Lauren Bacall, Fellini, and Other Tough Guys and Dames to Kill For

The past few weeks have been odd, rocky, sometimes sad ones for gender relations. Forty-five quick examples, including the fate of hero of ’45, Marvel’s Col. Nick Fury:


1. First of all, if you want to hear what the podcast team of Todd Seavey and Gerard Perry think about this or any other issues, you can ask us questions on anything just by commenting in this Facebook thread, and we’ll arbitrarily pick a few to answer.

2. Amanda Marcotte, the often-vexing leftist blogger/columnist who routinely makes arguments such as one suggesting that seasteading will lead to the raping of mail-order brides, has now argued that Nicki Minaj’s butt as displayed in her “Anaconda” video (which reaffirms her recurring message that if you want to touch her big butt, you’d better be a highly successful drug dealer) is good and empowering whereas Spider-Woman’s butt (as seen in one of the pictures nearby) is sexist and wrong -- though you can see Spider-Man’s own butt has gotten similarly fetishy treatment in the past, as is pretty normal in comics.

3. But then, as artist Milo Manara said in defense of his Spider-Woman cover, we shouldn’t take it for granted that appreciation equals oppression, no matter which gender is gawking at which. In comics, they’re all idealized cartoons of physical perfection. They’re here, they’re rears, get used to it.

Their creators’ punishment will come when they try to translate all of those outfits into working film costumes in the years ahead.


5. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway reacted similarly to the oddly-divergent feminist responses to racy performances by Sofia Vergara and Beyonce.

6. Well, I’m just glad big female asses are the new battleground in the culture wars, frankly. No complaints from me. Big n’ curvy beats living in a flat, 2D universe, though scientists claim we may.

7. Meanwhile, a real-life Batman ignores it all and rides his motorcycle in Japan, looking awesome.

8. If we got rid of feminism and thus had anything remotely resembling honest, sane conversations about sex in this culture, maybe we’d be able to talk about weird facts like female teachers who have sex with their teen students tending to be fairly hot (for teacher). I’m not the only one who’s noticed this, and it’s a bit counterintuitive, since you’d think they have other options.

9. Someone will probably call me misogynist somehow for that last observation, but that’s no longer any surprise. You can be called sexist for virtually anything these days, no matter how unrelated to sex, such as criticizing a revered figure like Progressive gangster-statist Hillary Clinton or a pseudo-scientific anti-GMO/anti-biotech activist like Vandana Shiva (h/t Dan Greenberg).

10. The media always treat any female-led fantasy story as if no women have ever appeared in literature or on film before -- and pat themselves on their liberal backs for the lie -- but in 1984, for example, my favorite comic book was a short-lived series called Thriller about a ghostly woman leading a superheroic team of early-twenty-first-century New Yorkers (including an Italian family nicknamed Salvo, like the pizza place in my neighborhood today), in a world dominated by computer networks, politicized cable news, Islamic terrorists who behead journalists, biotech, surveillance systems, and a black U.S. president.

11. Reality has to a large extent caught up with the (pre-Neuromancer!) cyberpunk of my youth, apparently, but I still find myself longing at times for stranger characters to populate the real world and make it as colorful as comics -- and that may explain how I end up at events like Jessica Delfino’s eccentrics-filled CD release party on the East River a couple months ago, which included performance art done beside and atop a piano apparently washed up out of the East River.

Her finale song “Hipster” was particularly amusing and apt, and you can hear it and other tracks here, which may inspire you to buy her CD and hear other numbers, like the one about her bicycle getting stuck in the middle of the highway.  

12. Alas, a gathering of artist hipsters like that one, much like a trip to Burning Man, invariably means you also run into characters like that nearly-naked bearded guy who rushes up and hugs people in Washington Square Park (the sort of thing that would probably get essay-length denunciations from some of the people noted earlier in this blog entry if a conservative ran around doing it).

Thanks to a friend’s Facebook post, I had noted the bearded guy’s existence with a shudder mere days before he was hugging several of us at the Delfino event. I had refrained from commenting on the Facebook post that the fellow looked deranged to me -- and, crucially, no freer than the rest of us in any sense that matters. Now I sort of wish I had said as much before encountering him, but I err on the side of tolerance.

13. If you look and act a bit like an animal, I suppose it’s like being an anarcho-primitivist -- that is, one of a subset of “green anarchists” who believe in living in a feral manner to undermine industrial civilization. I found myself chastised recently for not carefully distinguishing between anarcho-primitivists and other green anarchists when denouncing freegans on Facebook, which gives you some idea how hard it is for even a right-leaning guy to escape left-saturated culture online these days.

14. But I’m not anti-weirdo, and at Delfino’s aforementioned June 28 event, it was surprising how many of my favorite weirdoes showed up, even in a relatively small crowd, from libertarian Jim Melloan to Occupy-sympathizing Valerie Bronte. I didn’t even know some of these people knew each other, but put on odd makeup and beat a puppet in public or what have you, and you get some familiar suspects turning up in this oddly small town called New York.

15. Another gaggle of weirdoes I deal with, of course, is my fellow libertarians, and -- getting back to the gender topic -- I see Cathy Reisenwitz, the left-libertarian and feminist, now says she’s leaving the movement after a couple years of threatening to water it down or transform it into socialism or infuse it with guilt over non-egalitarian “privilege.”

16. In far manlier news, a comic book came out this week (Original Sin #8) in which an elderly Col. Nick Fury, all alone and without S.H.I.E.L.D. at his back, attempted to fend off an entire assembled army of Marvel superheroes and a few villains, who were all pissed because he seized the magical, all-seeing eyeballs of the dead Watcher who lived on the Moon, knowing one could thereby run defensive covert ops throughout space and time.

A grizzled man’s man like Fury doesn't just back down, and we should pause to salute him (after what may have been his final hour).

17. In other comics-related news, I say see Frank Miller’s hilariously hyper-noir and poetically violent Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, quickly before it vanishes from theatres, and try not to get confused if your memory of the first film is a bit fuzzy.

18. It’s not quite a “Wanted” poster, but you might also take note of this missing cat poster in my neighborhood -- perhaps even solve the mystery of his disappearance like an old-timey gumshoe if you’re feeling ambitious, pal. 


19. That prior thought is a reminder that despite my appreciation for the likes of macho Frank Miller, I know I am not so unlike a “crazy old cat lady” at heart. Nothing wrong with cats.

20. Nothing wrong with strong dames, either, and I think feminists these days have to go to great lengths to convince themselves men who object to feminism want women to be weak -- whereas the truth is more often that we oppose feminism because we want less whining. I always liked strong-seeming women like the late Lauren Bacall.

21. Most outspoken women, fortunately, are not like this feminist (h/t Jon Rowe) who ostensibly wants to reduce the male population by 90%. That hate springs from weakness and pettiness, not from strength.

Feminism, more so than almost any popular political

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