Friday, July 3, 2015

“Essential Hayek” and “Taking a Stand”

•Careful observers will have noticed I have four favorite topics on this blog, basically sci-fi, music, science, and politics.

But having recently watched both Marvel and DC abandon having a coherent fictional universe, stopped hosting events in youthful and indie-rockin’ Williamsburg, begun to suspect that science idolatry could cause people to overlook strange-but-perhaps-real things with which skeptics ought to wrestle or cause them to accept as final some verdicts merely gussied up in the acceptable scientific lingo, and despaired of virtually any mainstream political current leading anywhere good, I need to retool. Online, I will focus on plugging a couple crucial, radical libertarian projects.

•But for a taste, instead, of the economist who is probably the most respectable and mainstream manifestation of libertarianism so far, you might check out Don Boudreaux’s look at Essential Hayek with explanatory videos at that link to augment the print material.

The basic free-market case is needed now, with socialist Bernie Sanders rallying a crowd of nearly 10,000 in Madison, Hillary Clinton pretty openly working for authoritarian foreign governments and no one caring, politicians of both parties serving the Saudis in similar fashion, and a Vox piece (h/t Sonny Bunch) saying the American Revolution was a mistake (in part because we’d have a more redistributive government if we hadn’t left England).

And calling these things bad signs would be considered hilariously unhip these days in some quarters, like being pro-McCarthy a half-century ago. Get with the socialist program, dude! Everyone knows it works great! Look at the cool people running Greece!

•Since I don’t think all that is cool, I’m going to start writing libertarian columns daily for SpliceToday.com on Monday -- and a few months later unveil the book I’m writing, Libertarianism for Beginners.

•What better time to dig deeper and teach the world the whole conventional political spectrum is wrong than now, with the prospect of another Clinton-vs.-Bush election upon us next year? A lot could happen before November 2016, but Clinton’s still safely ahead of Sanders, and all the Republican candidates (if we assume the small Trump launch bump is temporary) are down in the single digits in surveys of Republican voters except Jeb Bush, who is at an anemic but perhaps sufficient 19% or so. We can do better, but only with a change in philosophy.

•You know if I had my way, the paleolibertarian + crunchy con + antiwar candidate to emerge from the Republican primary would be Rand Paul, author of Taking a Stand. While conservatives and libertarians fight over whether he really belongs in the other camp, Paul to his credit is busy reaching out beyond both Republican factions, already building bridges to Democrats and, yes, alienated black voters. He could win the general that way, I think. And he could change world history. Everyone ought to regard him as a sign of real hope.

Incidentally, though he comes from the faction of libertarianism more fond of Mises than Hayek, a faction with more right-wing baggage, he expressed support for South Carolina taking down the Confederate Flag, and his call for privatizing marriage is the correct libertarian response to cultural wrangles like the one that I hope just ended last week. I also respect his silence on the topic as it was being resolved. Politicians should often be silent. Paul is a Christian but knows it’s more important how deep in debt the federal government is than how deeply disturbing some people think certain sexual relationships are.


But principles are more important than individual politicians, whether Rand Paul or Gary Johnson or anyone else, and starting tomorrow, on the Fourth of July, I’ll stick to using the Net to reaffirm those basic principles and steer clear of some of the crazier, pettier wrangles the Net’s gotten so good at fomenting.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

“Men of War” and “Terminator Genisys”

•Alex Rose’s book Men of War: The American Soldier in Combat at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima is out this month, and it should appeal not just to history and military buffs but to the increasingly prevalent gamer mind (I suspect the future will not understand how we could have thought these were all separate disciplines).

With conservative respect for fighting men but anarchic awareness that tidy master-narratives are usually baloney, Rose sets out to document not just the heroic high points but the chaos and confusion of battle, the feeling of being on the ground and in many cases not having the slightest idea who’s winning, who’s losing, who’s in charge, who’s over the next hill, or even who’s twenty feet to your left.

I think it’s still legal to sympathize even with hapless Confederate soldiers caught in the fog of war, but you’ve got multiple armies to study and learn from here, even if you come away convinced combat is more about happenstance than honor.

•Rose is the author of Washington’s Spies, on which the AMC series Turn is based and has just announced he’ll soon be the author as well of Twilight of the Gods, about men linked to the Hindenburg disaster and the decline of German aviation dominance. I told him it’s good timing that Marvel is releasing Thor: Ragnarok in a couple years. I make intellectual contributions like that.

•Men do not always fight other men, of course. Take for example the harrowing, or at least embarrassing, “Emu War” fought in Australia between man and bird, with machine guns and everything (h/t Matt Yeackel).

•Maybe Terminator Genisys, out yesterday, is a glimpse of what our final war will look like, much as we might wish Facebook, the military, or whoever else is playing with A.I. fire out there knew what they were doing. Of course, in the Terminator movies, if you destroy the world, you get a do-over (and yet another sequel) thanks to time travel, which makes it unfortunate I didn’t quite get this week’s blog entries written during my official “Month of Revisionism” in June.

Oh, well. As Sonny Bunch rightly notes, this fifth installment in the Terminator franchise does less to advance our understanding of time travel and robotics than to give the female co-writer (who has also been a Bionic Woman producer and union website editor) a chance to throw a feminist/pro-choice revision into what most of us thought was already a pretty badass mama-bear sort of story. Now we know that if only Sarah Connor had been taught to fight earlier on, she not only would have fared better against SkyNet, she wouldn’t even really need to have a legendary son. She’d have “choice.”

Alas, despite the fighting spirit of people like one or more Connors, the real end of the world may still be sparked by something as dumb as these chatbots (hilariously) learning from each other’s conversation (h/t Jim Melloan).


•If we must celebrate any element of war this weekend, though, let it be the Declaration of Independence, which turns 239 on Saturday. I have big declarations of my own to make in the next couple days as well.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

“I, Liar” and “X-Files”

•Janice Erlbaum gets inside the head of a despicable person in her novel I, Liar, showing us convincingly the process of character formation that might lead an almost-ordinary-seeming woman to become a chronic victimizer. Enough slights from Mom, enough lousy living situations in need of escaping, and perhaps you too might have ended up finding comfort in duping playmates, fellow students, and co-workers. Where will it end?

•Some free-marketeers I know are as guilty as communists of seeing lying as morally unlike contract fraud (though the free-marketeers tend to take the formal business contracts more seriously and the communists tend to take them less seriously). You’re always making the presumption if you lie, though, whether in writing or in casual conversation, that your judgment of how the person you’re talking to should deploy his resources and life energies trumps how he would want to use them if he knew the truth. Not cool. Never do it (except, as with punching or any other aggression, as a defense against outright coercion, such as lying to Nazis at the door).

The case wouldn’t have to be spelled out this rationalistically, of course, if people would show some damn empathy. Lying, rooted in the arrogant belief one knows best, inevitably undermines that.

•Speaking of low-empathy cases, I notice at least one person thanked in the acknowledgements of the aforementioned novel who is among that 5% of Facebook friends who’ve ended up unfriending me, not such a bad ratio given that my whole m.o. is violating that (purported) party etiquette rule against discussing religion or politics.

I can’t help noticing, though, that you can pretty much say there’s no God on a regular basis without losing any Christians, but disagree with one line or narrow, specific policy implication of a recent Salon piece and you run a good chance of someone, usually a young, white, female, East-Coast, feminist liberal who ostensibly hates narrow-mindedness and intolerance, vanishing. The most “privileged” and coddled adult population on Earth -- sought as either solidarity sisters or sex partners by nearly everyone they encounter in a place like NYC -- they have decided they are the vanguard in teaching the rest of us what constitutes ethical discourse and acceptable political thinking. They are jerks. One advantage of aging is being able to say so without fear of relevant social consequences.

I will shortly endeavor to absent myself from increasingly rapid and vicious culture clashes (flags, gays, what have you) in favor of the more serious business of teaching the world some basic economics, though. If I can do so in a world with no Ex-Im Bank and less of an EU, so much the better! More soon.

•Today marks the final issue of a two-year, twenty-five-issue X-Files: Season Ten sequel series that was begun before any of us knew the TV series itself would be coming back (as a miniseries, next year). It’s purportedly canonical, but I suppose few will worry about whether its resurrection of Cancer Man and the Lone Gunmen jibes with the semi-retired status of Mulder in the lame second X-Files movie.

And I say just chalk up the lack of a 2012 invasion to magnetite in all those “chemtrails.” So simple. Gotta clear the decks of old plot threads once in a while, in all nerd media.


•It is fitting that Clickhole has concocted a masterful conspiracy theory about the true meaning of Alex Trebek’s actions on Jeopardy (h/t Glen Whitman), given that Trebek played one of the mysterious Men in Black (alongside Jesse Ventura) in my favorite X-Files episode. It was arguably the funniest episode and the one that taught us the most up to that point about what the conspiracy was really up to.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

“Valley Fever” and Liberty Island

•I saw Malcolm Gladwell interview Katherine Taylor, author of the novel Valley Fever, earlier this month, and he was very good at subtly teasing out the fact that this novel required research. Though set in the author’s native Fresno, it bears less resemblance to her own life than her previous novel, Rules for Saying Goodbye. Instead, we are immersed in the seasonal, precarious, and anxiety-inducing lives of Central California farmers, seen through the eyes of a depressed farmer’s daughter, and we learn that even as seemingly effete a pursuit as wine-making can lead to brutal financial backstabbing and emotional betrayal.

With real valley fever (in humans and in dogs) in the news, along with drought and water-wrangling, it’s a perfect time to read this book. Even when describing very pragmatic matters, though, it’s also poetic in a sparse, efficient, Hemingway-influenced fashion, so it’s a great balance between the relevant and the artsy. It’s like reading extremely beautiful bullet points.

•It should not, by the way, be confused with a Sweet Valley High novel, though Taylor knew someone who wrote Sweet Valley High novels. Note that the siblings at the heart of Taylor’s novel are not twins.

•The economics of Valley Fever’s universe is subtle and intertwined with emotional conflict in a way that might make some of my Ayn Rand-loving friends think twice before the next time they approach property rights issues with a rhetorical sledgehammer, but if you want to see a range of fiction approaching econ issues from all angles, from the subtle to the giant-robot-related, always remember to check out the latest stuff at LibertyIslandMag.com.

•With the world having all too few writers about Central California agriculture, Katherine Taylor found herself reading the work of farmer, historian, and political commentator Victor Davis Hanson, though she assured one curious audience member she’s mainly interested in Hanson’s take on farming, not in politics.

Those who really want to see conservative wisdom prevail over lefty hippie ideas in rural areas might, however, enjoy watching this spectacular footage of Germans finally dynamiting the giant, virtually useless windmills that environmentalists duped them into constructing.


•Apparently, there’s a movement afoot here in the U.S. of media folk who want to organize rural presidential debates to counter the outsize influence of the big cities. As a relatively impartial guy who grew up around dairy farms but moved to the ultimate city, it sounds like a good idea to me. It also strikes me that such forums could play to the strengths of a certain self-described “crunchy con” paleolibertarian candidate I like (you know, the one who this week suggested completely privatizing marriage and sought donations from the bourgeoning marijuana industry, fresh off his near single-handed battles against drones and NSA snooping).

Monday, June 29, 2015

“In an Antique Land” and “Outer Boroughs”

I failed to blog about a book last week, but let’s try making up for it this week by blogging about two texts per day in this final week of my “Month of Revisionism” (and final week before retooling my Blogger, Facebook, and Twitter pages for a grander mission). Each day will be five quick bullet points, like these:

•Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land (big h/t to Koli Mitra) is a nifty lesson in cultural, geographic, and historical layers, a memoir of the (Indian, England-educated, Brooklyn-dwelling) author coping with being the oddball in an Egyptian community three decades ago as he tracked down historical information about a traveling Jewish trader, and the slave he adored, in the area a millennium earlier. And you thought your life was complicated.

•Amidst an exhibit of Frederic Brenner’s photographs of Jewish communities in various locations, I got my autographed copy of William Meyers’ more local and ecumenical photo book Outer Boroughs, a book based on the radical premise, still controversial in some quarters, that there are lands within New York City but beyond Manhattan. As with Ghosh’s research, that will be for historians to decide.

•Modernity brings complications like Syria, France, Tunisia, and Kuwait suffering simultaneous attacks by radical Muslims, and things are only going to get more complex, mostly for good and sometimes for ill, if the whole planet goes the way of the U.S. lately, encouraging people to redefine their identities so completely that the white women may choose to be black and blacks fond of the Confederate Flag may be deemed white supremacists. When in doubt, I wish everyone would chill.

•Somewhere out there must be at least one raisin-farming, sick, black, gay felon who plans to increase his factory emissions and then run for office in a new district in order to execute murderers, who sees the past week's Supreme Court decisions as a clean sweep. He might also have an opinion on Arizona checking citizenship status or Germany’s supreme court ordering its legislature to prepare a UFO report, but expecting a single human being to embody those things as well would plainly be absurd.


•On a more serious note, speaking of UFOs, remember that tomorrow is Asteroid [Awareness] Day, and they’ve just declared Queen’s “We Will Rock You” its official anthem. See, that’s a fear I think is relatively rational, maybe even worth spending money on, though ideally only voluntary contributions, of course.