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

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