Friday, March 27, 2015

18 Links to Mark Leibovich's “This Town” and Other Politics

I’ll explain next week, on April Fool’s Day, why Facebook deciding to build UFOs is the perfect time to transition from frequent use of that social media site to occasional blogging. But before that big dose of philosophical sobriety, a round-up of wackier political notes:

1. Ted Cruz, one of the most tolerable members of an evil government, announced his presidential run, and the negative reaction from New York’s own Rep. Peter King may be the best part.

2. Rand Paul, prepping for his own probable run starting the week after next, sounds more pro-military lately. (Admittedly, imperial military might can look awesome, as this RV Star Destroyer does.) But just as there are ways to signal that you’re sympathetic to Christians without, say, endorsing a constitutional amendment against abortion at the federal level, there are ways to show that you take (true) national defense seriously and respect the military without calling for more spending.

That’s socialist thinking. It’s at least not obviously libertarian thinking. Still, he’s about as good as it gets in the current field, and in a blog entry slightly later than the April Fool’s Day one, I’ll have some final thoughts on pre-presidential-candidate Rand Paul.

3. Oddly fascinating and far less fluffy than some of you might expect: a grilling by Glenn Beck of Grover Norquist on the latter’s Muslim ties makes free-market/democratic outreach efforts on Islam look almost as fraught with peril as CIA/military blundering.

4. Damon Root sticks to the long view on libertarian/conservative tensions (like the inherently fusionist Federalist Society at which I saw him speak), describing the pros and cons of judicial activism from a libertarian perspective in his book Over-Ruled: The Long War for Control of the Supreme Court.

5. Charles C.W. Cooke’s Conservatarian Manifesto is here reviewed by a quasi-conservative reviewer at The Week, who contrasts the book with the “spasm of self-delusion” that was liberal-tarianism.

6. If you’re moderate or liberal, you might find all the characters mentioned above more palatable if you think of their (and my) government-shrinking goals as the alternative to the big-government, bloated, corporate-money-sucking cesspool described in the great, hilarious, alarming book This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral -- Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! -- in America's Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich.

You might literally find yourself wanting to vomit as you read its account of the well-connected getting farther ahead, in terms of fame, money, and influence, simply for being unscrupulous insiders in DC, where even funerals are networking opportunities. And it’s not one party or the other. Once you glimpse how things really work, you realize the politicians, lobbyists, and staffers constitute one party – and you are not a member of it.

They actually seem to feel much closer to each other than they do to their constituents. Leibovich, who is chief national correspondent for the New York Times yet no mere tool of the left, observes with barely-concealed horror the arrogance that the political class displays toward anyone not lavishly subsidizing their campaigns and pet projects – noting, for instance, the recurring refrain among Obama insiders that the man would get elected and reelected with 70 or 80% of the vote if only he were governing some country other than the damn U.S. If only!

7. Yet one gets the impression that even the Obama people are aghast these days at the way Hillary Clinton rolls around in suspicious money.

8. And her husband Bill Clinton is fishy in that and other ways, of course.

9. Despite some similarities between the two power-loving towns, I think DC folk would be shocked to discover New York City’s idea of decadence is more like this.

10. But maybe the increasingly narcotic pop culture serves only to distract us from mushrooming government power – and in this video, I think, oft-mocked Alex Jones makes his most earnest, coherent case that those of who aren’t as paranoid as he is ought to start waking up. He may be right.

11. As a March 11 event hosted by the Atlas Foundation underscored and the documentary Poverty Inc. argues, even the most noble-sounding international institutions and well-meaning government or charitable efforts can have devastating effects.

12. Sometimes the bad ideas are fully conscious and intentional, though. Check out the Green Party’s platform in the UK.

13. Environmentalist and globalist-establishment thinking can combine in creepy ways without most of the public even noticing, I now fear, as with this UN-backed Agenda 21 ad that sure as hell seems to be asking the elderly to die for the sake of reducing the Earth’s population.

14. The UN is creepy in numerous ways, and it’s nice to see Jonah Goldberg contrast the UN’s view of “social justice” with Hayek’s in this very basic video. We need things like that.

15. Politicians aren’t all-powerful, though. Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, has to put up with Jimmy Kimmel asking about UFOs.

16. And again, next month’s blogging will begin with that very topic, but for well-roundedness and to avoid insanity, go see the James “the Amazing” Randi documentary An Honest Liar as well. Randi is the one person I’ve long called a hero and inspiration to me, using his magician skills to debunk paranormal claims by such frauds as faith-healers, so-called psychics, and cable-TV ghost-hunters.

But the film also shows him facing the even deeper mystery of immigration court.

17. Randi’s also a guy who was denounced by climate alarmists several years ago just for expressing cautious doubts about their claims. The most intellectually honest people I know tend to keep doing that, regardless of understandable concern about decades-hence coastal flooding (though that doesn’t seem to worry the government enough for it to simply stop subsidizing coastal flood insurance, even as it comes up with other, vastly more expensive abatement ideas and regulatory regimens for us). Of course, we may also suffer reductions in the number of precious snowflakes in Seattle and other effects.

Still, it was a rather frightening thing to see Randi badgered by former fans into making an (unusually humble) apology for having dared to question something, the way we skeptics do. Those sorts of apologies will be demanded of us more and more frequently, I fear. In this as in other things, though, Randi will remain my hero, occasionally bending like a spoon, perhaps, but never truly breaking.

18. Those of us of a vaguely fusionist bent are of course open to debate on topics like the proper role, if any, for regulation, so I look forward to attending this coming Tuesday’s 6pm debate about the FDA at the bar Irish Exit hosted by the America’s Future Foundation, which asks the proper question: shrink or abolish?

It’s important to come at these thorny issues with an open mind.

Monday, March 9, 2015

12 Thoughts More or Less Inspired by Roger Hodge’s “The Mendacity of Hope”

OK, since Facebook can (and does) easily degenerate into bickering or meaningless posts about porn, cats, superheroes, the war between the sexes/races, food, and jiu-jitsu, I now present slightly deeper looks, once a week here on the blog, at books. Really. Albeit it briefly.

1. If you want live, in-person debate, though, The Nation and the New America Foundation are co-hosting a panel discussion tonight (RSVP here to join me in the audience) featuring my friend Sam Goldman, about the rather abstract and very highbrow question of whether we have exhausted old cultural ideas and are in desperate need of new ones, as Gramsci warned ninety years ago.

The talk is tonight at 6:30-8:15pm at the New America Foundation (199 Lafayette St. in Soho in Manhattan), but I now realize it’s also in the same building as the newly-opened Central Perk coffee shop, inspired by Friends. So you see the irony.

(Meanwhile, the discussion of the future of trashy pulp literature going on over at Half King bar at 505 W. 23rd at 7pm doesn’t look Half Bad, either, but I can't be in two places at the same time, as far as you know.)

2. But maybe you don’t see the irony in the cultural exhaustion/Central Perk juxtaposition.

Liberals, especially in NYC, tend to claim conservatives are the ones who can’t see irony – but, man, just watch what happens if, for example, a Republican politician, attempting to make the simple point that wolves are dangerous, says that releasing wolves in some congressional districts would decrease the number of homeless (I trust you see the point of his joke).

Watch, behold, see – as liberals with PhDs or media-analyst columnist gigs fall all over themselves to interpret the remark utterly literally for us all: HE WANTS TO USE WOLVES TO KILL THE HOMELESS!! THIS IS WHAT REPUBLICANS THINK!! Yet the liberals want me to think Grandma’s the stupid one for not knowing Colbert’s a comedian, right? Liberals love to imagine all their foes are ignoramuses. Makes the imagined fight easier. No more of that arrogance, please.

3. But speaking of old pop culture: yes, it’s the twenty-freaking-fifth anniversary of the Peter Murphy single “Cuts You Up” (the album was the very end of ’89 but the single March ’90) and Social Distortion’s “Story of My Life.”

4. Over roughly that same span of time, both liberals and conservatives have had a generation in which to imagine that their own ideology might become dominant in the post-communist world. Understandably, when conservatives aren’t getting their way, they tend to assume liberals are exultant and winning – and vice versa. The truth, which I think is rapidly becoming more apparent to more people, is that no one with any principles or philosophical integrity is getting his way in politics.

Stop imagining a pendulum, stop imagining a seesaw. Certainly stop imagining a dialectic. Now just picture a gigantic, miles-high revolving door – and passing through it, powerbrokers who don’t give a sweet goddam whether their next big gig is in a corporate boardroom, a well-connected non-profit, their own lucrative PR shop, a wasteful domestic arm of big government, or the Pentagon. They will still rule and you will not.

That is roughly the creepy, deeply disillusioning world described by Roger Hodge in his 2010 critique of President Obama (and others) called The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism. I enjoy (and not in a sadistic way, mind you) reading these occasional reminders that the left is just as unhappy about how things work as anyone on the right or among libertarians, or for that matter among all those ostensibly-pragmatic moderates who wish people would set aside their differences and yadda yadda yadda.

Sure, Obama has done things like veto Keystone, the bastard, but see him – and his vast array of large, familiar corporate donors – through Hodge’s idealistic eyes and he still looks like (and is) just a slightly different flavor of deal-making statist/corporate tool. The long list of banks and hedge funds and mega-corporations who made Obama’s campaigns possible, as Hodge shows, doesn’t sound much different than the one you’d expect to see for his Republican opponents, aside from the labor unions.

Not coincidentally, Hodge’s lament sounds a great deal like that of his fellow former Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham in the book The Wish for Kings, both men being evidence that there is still a real Jeffersonian streak on the left with which libertarians like me can sympathize – people who recognize that America seemed destined for some mix of freedom and/or egalitarianism but at some point during its arguing over those ideals got duped into turning over both the cash and the levers of political power to a ruling elite who don’t actually give a damn about any of those topics.

The sooner we admit it (and by my reckoning we’re almost exactly one century overdue), the better.

5. Obama still has his uses, and though I may not gush about the novelty of a biracial president the way the left does, I recognize that is something that goes in the plus column and teaches some people a valuable lesson. Furthermore, apparently psychologists have done studies showing it really is commonplace, whether you like it or not, for biracial people to be considered more attractive than others (sorry, you can’t argue with instinct, whatever its evolutionary roots might be).

Thus, I am probably not the only one who kinda wants to have sex with both these twin sisters now (simultaneously, obviously). Perhaps it’s some sign of instinctual seeking of novel gene-mixing opportunities. Really, there are scientists studying that sort of thing. Or it just means I came of age when Lisa Bonet and Sheilah E were on TV a lot.

6. But speaking of hybridization, lest I sound unable to overcome the right/left divide alluded to above, let me say, as I sometimes do, that Occupy is not so far wrong. You can’t read the Hodge book (written on the very eve of Occupy’s creation) and doubt that anger directed at corporate-government collusion and bailouts is warranted.

Hell, I’ll go farther than that, though. Despite my frequent criticism of left-anarchist (and math-hater) David Graeber, I would be delighted, like him and many of my fellow anarchists, to see a global “Jubilee” declared in which debts and past legal rules were erased and we began anew – if the prevailing post-Jubilee legal rule (privately enforced, of course, in this hypothetical world without government) were respect for property rights.

The alternative, whether it looks like a monarch or a mob, will always be some form of collectivism running roughshod over the individual, and left-anarchists aren’t the real friends of the individual (and the individual’s freedom) until they acknowledge that hurdle – and admit that it’s a very practical one, not just some metaphysical restriction arbitrarily foisted on the world by Ayn Rand or closet fascists.

Think of me, in my willingness to contemplate a change that radical but very wary of replicating the last hundred years of Progressive corporate-state collusion, as a sort of double-secret backwards – but also inverted – Progressive, if you will. Quite philosophically straightforward, really.

Or at least, the old leftist guy seated next to me on the bus to Connecticut while I was reading Mendacity of Hope seemed to think there might be common ground. That’s a start. I’ll build from there.

And lest my fellow libertarians ever feel as if the whole apparatus of the state is on the left’s side, do keep in mind the FBI won’t even tell the public who it was who was reportedly plotting to kill Occupy leaders a while back. There does come a point when the regime cares less about the radicals’ rightward or leftward desires than about making sure radicalism in general is contained, whether by means internal or external to the radical movements, and the boat is thus unrocked.

7. If you don’t believe the elite can dispense with all its apparent internal divisions when there is money and power at stake, how exactly do you explain media tycoon Chris Ruddy, originally famous for spreading those 90s conspiracy theories about Vince Foster being murdered, donating $1 million to Vince Foster’s ex-bosses the Clintons via their increasingly-infamous foundation? Well, maybe he’s hoping if he pays them enough, they won’t kill him.

8. Closer to home and on a less grandiose scale, libertarian-leaning NYC Councilman Dan Halloran got sentenced to ten years for what amounts to soliciting bribes. You may recall that in addition to being a rare Republican councilman here, he’s also a Norse-style neopagan – and sadly, it now appears he may be in the joint by the time Thor is on the big screen again.

A left-leaning, hippie-style neopagan in Austin, TX warned me the neopagan community was worried Halloran would embarrass them eventually. I know the feeling. Here’s hoping he gets out one day soon, though, and still achieves his dream of becoming a scuba instructor.

9. The new fashion in radicalism seems to be p.c. etiquette-enforcement on steroids, something I think will ultimately just prove annoying to the right, largely useless to the left, and baffling to the general population.

We now live in a society so left-wing and brain-addled by that specific metric that (as Justin Stoddard notes) people do things like produce videos condemning an evil man for taking up two subway seats (and thus abusing his supposed privilege) even while there is visibly a woman nearby in the same video taking up three subway seats and blocking the aisle. Can’t let the evidence of your own eyes get in the way of a liberal narrative, after all. Smash that patriarchy.

Meanwhile, if you use your video skills to expose real corruption, as journalist James O’Keefe has repeatedly done, your reward for your efforts is getting confronted by leftists like this.

10. There would seem to be ample opportunity for libertarians to weigh in about all the ways in which America is now insane, but libertarians aren’t very adept at connecting with public sentiment or riding the zeitgeist, mostly just at sounding half-assed and sold-out.

If you’re like me, you’d largely forgotten the Libertarian Party (a mere subset of the larger movement) exists since the rise of Rand Paul and other libertarians to prominence within the Republican Party, but some idiot at the Libertarian Party’s official Facebook page made a grab for relevance with a post calling for “No more Bushes, Pauls, or Clintons,” as though Rand’s dad Ron Paul spent his days in Congress being just another money-grubbing dynastic statist.

If I was uncertain before, now I know I can guiltlessly ignore the LP, and I don’t expect to mention them again. The search for better ways continues.

11. There are times when it seems as if the only way to predict what government will do is to assume that it is neither right nor left, neither pro-radical nor pro-establishment but simply consistently wrong and dangerous. How else does one explain things like the Department of Justice hiring a man who said Ayaan Hirsi Ali deserves to die? Whose side is the government on, exactly, if one still insists on asking questions like that?

One has to suspect chaos and violence, of any stripe, just sound like a good idea to the government.

12. And yet even the establishment gets something right once in a while, usually on the rare occasions it engages in self-criticism. With that in mind, by the week after next, I’ll take a look at a great book by the chief national correspondent of the New York Times, I kid you not: Mark Leibovich’s DC-dissecting, nausea- and laughter-inducing overview This Town

Monday, March 2, 2015

“Dear Reader” Author Michael Malice Inspires, Etc.

1. I only blogged one day in February – and will stick to just doing weekly book reviews here for the next four months – so to compensate and smooth the transition, let’s start March with thirty-one brief thoughts (read one per day if you like, to make it last longer!) – with half of the thoughts below inspired by my friend Michael Malice, author of Dear Reader (those thoughts indicated with a parenthetical “M!” because, well, it would just be weird to leave you wondering which ones).

2. First, I declare March a “MONTH OF DECADENCE” on this blog, during which I’m blogging about books on political excess in North Korea, in the Obama administration, and in Washington, DC in general.

3. This should set the tone nicely for the four months of book reviews, which, I’m warning you now, will all relate, directly or indirectly, to libertarianism.

4. Indeed, those will be my only blog entries until overhauling this site and my general online presence for grander purposes, in a few months.

5. If you happen to be a libertarian moneybags who thinks the four months of book-blogging sounds like a cause worthy of subsidy, by all means contact me. I do not pretend to have set up an “institute” for this or anything, but the rent must be paid nonetheless, and the ghostwriting only goes so far.

6. This emphasis on books is partly meant as an antidote to the last few years of social media seemingly leading to ever-shorter attention spans and ever-shorter tempers. I will aim for more contemplation and less arguing.

7. Since tribalism leads to shorter fuses, the less-frequent blogging will also continue my trend toward de-emphasizing the right/left divide.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not buying into the glib and recurring claim that all such philosophical labels are meaningless – and the distinction will inevitably still crop up for a long time to come – but if one opposes, say, the welfare state, imperialism, taxation, rape, cop militarization, violent street gangs, affirmative action, terrorists, anti-prostitution laws, domestic spying, the drug war, bank and corporate bailouts, and alternative energy subsidies, maybe sorting those items into two separate columns before denouncing all of them is an exercise that does more to prolong intra-statist conflict than to promote anti-statism.

You can still sort them if you like. I don’t think it’s very productive, and it took me years to realize how strongly people prefer the sorting to the (more important) opposing.

8. Permit me, for old time’s sake, though, to take some last-minute pleasure in seeing that at the most recent Intelligence Squared U.S. debate here in NYC, about whether liberalism stifles speech on campus, the conservative (so to speak) view won one of the most decisive victories I’ve ever seen reported from one of those debates, with the crowd swinging from only 1/3 before the debate believing liberalism stifles to 2/3 believing it after the debate.

Impressive – and as it happens, Jerry Mayer, who was a Republican back when we were at Brown but is left-leaning now that he’s a political science professor at George Mason, was on the losing side, while my fellow libertarian Greg Lukianoff from the group FIRE was on the winning team.

9. The two preceding comments were an admission, always dangerous in a political context, that my thinking has changed a bit over time – which reminds me of a far more trivial, practical complaint I have left over from the past few years immersed in social media.

Almost as annoying as sites (often for restaurants or big concerts) that don’t get you quickly and easily on the front page to the very-basic “Where is it? When?” info (and in the case of NYC events, “What’s the damn cross street?!”) are online articles with no dates on them – and group blogs written in the first person that don’t indicate who the hell is writing the entries. We want information, Internet.

10. The book I mentioned at the outset, Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il, is not only a masterful depiction of what the strange, authoritarian North Korean regime probably looks like to its leaders, it is an impressively unsettling blend of funny and dark. The basic formula behind the book’s creation, and something you won’t quite get from any other book in existence, was a trip by author Malice to North Korea and a trip back home to the U.S. with arms full of their propaganda.

What happens when you use (often ludicrous and overblown) propaganda deadpan, as if it’s all completely accurate, to build the first-person story of leader Kim’s life (the one in between the founding grandfather and the current ruling grandson, for those who can’t keep track)? Will the result make you more sympathetic to the regime than ever? More horrified by it? A little of both?

You’ll have to read it and see, then perhaps have students buy a hundred copies for the college class on political rhetoric that you teach, if you do. I suspect Kim’s longing to see a rainbow in one scene also owes a little something to that Mr. Burns biography from an early episode of The Simpsons, but that can be covered in a different class.

Malice says one thing that made him keen to visit North Korea was his own birth in Soviet-era Ukraine and his parents’ memories of living under Communist totalitarianism. Such things are not mere history in North Korea, though it is a thing unto itself. (M!)

11. One nice thing about dealing with Eastern European immigrants in the U.S. is that they haven’t forgotten socialism kills, the way many in the West are rapidly forgetting whatever little they learned back in 1989 on that topic.

Here in New York, the state that’s ranked dead last for freedom due to taxes and regulations, you’re surrounded by leftists all the time, so you almost start to believe you’re the only person who remembers that communism killed 100 million people last century. After all, here the Mayor’s a “social democrat” with old Sandinista ties, and 70% of New York voters still voted for him.

Ah, but then you talk to an Eastern European – especially one who notices the rhetoric coming out of the mouths of socialist college professors (and socialistic U.S. presidents) is very similar to what they heard back in the old country – and you realize that not all has yet been forgotten, and not all hope yet dimmed. Thank goodness for immigrants. (M!)

12. Malice also taught me that early language orientation overseas may mean you have one more shade of “blue” in your bedsheets than native English speakers notice. This neurolinguistic topic is hot lately, of course, and the most drastic observation born of the recent talk is probably the revelation that the ancients had no “blue” at all! (M!)

13. On the other hand, I suspect there are limits to Ukrainian wisdom, not only because of that whole civil war thing going on over there but because a Ukrainian did this on a bridge. (M!)

14. As a former software expert, Malice was admirably cautious while others were leaping to conclusions last year about whether it was actually North Korea that was responsible for that Sony hack purportedly inspired by the Rogen/Franco spy comedy The Interview. Stay skeptical. (M!)

15. If you’re really wary of governments manipulating the Net, though, please stay skeptical about “Net neutrality” while you’re at it. Once government starts setting prices, it’s in charge. (M!)

16. Verizon’s parodic Morse code reaction to the old-fashioned Net neutrality regs was a nice, Uber-like example of companies’ willingness – which is by necessity growing in some quarters – to admit they‘re at odds with government. This nation could use a lot more open defiance.

17. Speaking of wacky spy caper movies, the trailer for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. sure resembles the one for Rian Johnson’s Brothers Bloom, if you ask me. Nothing wrong with that.

18. The cold-blooded, predictable stasis of the Cold War seems almost gentlemanly at times compared to likely-Islamist attackers killing an American “skeptic” blogger with machetes in Bangladesh (h/t Michael De Dora). What a clear confession they are not on the side of reason.

19. That doesn’t mean our every intervention abroad in the name of stopping such people will be beneficial, though, and it’s nice that Sen. Rand Paul got an enthusiastic response at this year’s CPAC in part by reminding the crowd that a government chronically inept in its domestic activities will likely be inept in its foreign adventures as well.

20. There will be those antiwar types who, by contrast, feel no sympathy for Netanyahu as he makes his address to Congress Tuesday morning, but surely even the most ardent anti-interventionist will at least agree (as I trust Rand Paul does) that intervening against Israel, as Obama reportedly threatened to do (if there is any basis at all to that story), would be even more insane than attacking Iran.

Libertarians can recognize Israel’s right to self-defense and, say, still defend Muslims from harassment by Tea Party-ish anti-Muslims if need be, as apparently libertarians did in Texas (h/t Meredith Kapushion and Gary Chartier). There’s no contradiction there.

21. Speaking of war zones, to me the most amusing thing to come out of David Corn and others picking apart Bill O’Reilly’s exaggerations about his travels (even if some of the criticisms might be hairsplitting) were reports that witnesses placed O’Reilly in Dallas at a time when he claimed to be across the country visiting a suicidal associate of Lee Harvey Oswald. That phrasing almost makes it sound as if O’Reilly had something to do with the JFK assassination besides writing a book about it! Trust no one.

22. Back in North Korea, they would probably say it’s time for O’Reilly to engage in remorseful self-criticism at a weekly mandatory struggle session – and we almost have those here now anyway, except they usually consist of children apologizing to classmates for being privileged, or to the Earth for letting their parents drive cars. (M!)

23. The law doesn’t quite mandate such behavior yet – but neither was (fascistic) former mayor Giuliani wrong in saying (socialistic) Obama grew up influenced by communists, and like (ex-Sandinista) Mayor de Blasio, Obama still got elected, so who knows what the future will bring? (M!)

24. Oh, how far we’ve come since the days of Hamilton, who is often lauded by Malice (to the consternation of many libertarians who view Hamilton as the big-government guy amidst America’s Founders). Hamilton is the subject of a fantastic rap musical soon to move from Off-Broadway to Broadway. There really were laughs, tears, catchy numbers, and real historical lessons learned. (M!)

25. Malice’s musical tastes usually lean, like mine, more toward the New Wave and indie, though – leading to things like his near-obsession years ago with the obscure “cowpunk” band Rubber Rodeo.

But his is a diverse mental world, and to find out what’s on his mind lately, seek him out in venues like the Fox Business Network show Kennedy or on the site ThoughtCatalog, for which he wrote this piece denouncing the social awkwardness of Lyft. Remember, just because it’s created by the admirable free market doesn’t mean it’s not embarrassing. This simple rule applies to most things in America, actually. (M!)

26. Often playing the mischievous badboy, Malice sometimes sounds as if he’d be delighted if his enemies killed themselves, but it’s probably more scary that the people who actually encourage others to commit suicide send warm glowy tweets like these. Now that’s sociopathic! (M!)

27. And if you’re a conservative and conclude that what Malice needs is religion, note this article he pointed out about a prominent leftist coming out as Christian, namely Wonkette founder Ana Marie Cox – an alarming reminder that religion is pretty useless as a predictor of political ideology, and thus perhaps useless in general. (M!)

28. Despite North Korea having its own brand of politicized quasi-religion, with all sorts of supernatural powers ascribed to the ruling Kims, Malice often reminds people that that country is no mere zany joke. The populace is routinely starved, terrorized, and imprisoned, while we bicker over political trivialities in other parts of the world or laugh at North Korean leaders’ haircuts. (M!)

30. In other authoritarian news, from the land of Malice’s birth, Putin is oddly loved by some – leading, I notice, to some of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ fans being convinced it must have been the U.S. (and/or the Jews) who killed opposition politician Nemtsov, leaving his Ukrainian girlfriend behind.

As with the 9/11 “truthers,” I’m not sure how one combats the odd mental tick that leads people to think that any time someone appears to be killed by his enemies, it must instead have been his allies who did it. Stranger things happen, certainly, but how does it become people’s circuitous, counter-intuitive default assumption, even in the absence of any evidence?

What would the reasoning process look like if these people wrote mystery novels? “Eliminate the thoroughly possible for no reason at all, my good Watson, and the wildly unexpected is then your best bet.” I don’t think that’s quite what Holmes said. (M!)

31. Obama, and perhaps Putin, cannot even retain the love of this twelve year-old black child, nor can the child retain his access to Facebook after the site’s overlords inexplicably locked him out of his account following his (mild) anti-Obama, pro-Giuliani comments.

And I’m not just going back to Democrat-bashing when I say Obama really can be bad in corporate and socialist, imperialist and Islamist-sympathizing ways all at the same time. Every president, Republicans included, has to be a bit of a hodgepodge, after all, with consistent principles mostly getting in their way (at least senators and representatives have a smaller, more homogeneous district to please and thus might almost attain consistency).

And speaking of Hodge and Obama, next time let’s take a look at the former’s book about the latter, which indeed criticizes Obama’s corporate tendencies from the left. (Things will be a bit more focused and essay-like from here on out, I promise.) 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

One Perverse Link for Each Hour of V-Day (with Seavey, Lucy, et al on UFOs)

Click one of these depraved links per hour to keep yourself entertained on Valentine's Day if it goes slowly, and at the bottom find the link to the lengthy video chat I participated in about UFOs.

1. Amber Heard, the hot young Objectivist atheist actress lauded for coming out as having a girlfriend at a GLAAD Awards event (including by a few gay activists overly quick to label her lesbian instead of bi), and who co-starred with Nic Cage in Drive Angry 3D and acted in the modern classic Machete Kills, married Johnny Depp last weekend on his remote private island. That must disappoint someone somewhere, likely a female someone, political and sexual orientation…uncertain. 

2. Brown science news in more than one sense, though: from Brown University comes the news that transplanting a fat person’s feces into your digestive system can actually cause you rapidly to become obese, which may give some patients second thoughts about ingesting fat people's shit (h/t Diana Fleischman).

3. Brown U. also wants you to love our harmless robot friends (h/t Ross Sapozhnik).

4. But maybe your more natural source of joy is being…smothered by bunnies!!

5. And this is probably the cutest bunch of pussy holes on the Internet!

6. That young woman who is getting $1.5 million compensation for car accident brain damage apparently tried to argue that it was the brain damage that turned her into a sexually-compulsive dominatrix. Whatever. (At least she's not lying about being raped like various UVA, Columbia, Oberlin, Brown, etc. students in the news last year.)

7. Who would listen to those accused of rape? Well, people who take criminal defense seriously, for one.

8. BDS is not to be confused with BDSM but it too may result from brain damage.

9. The cruelest of lovers, though, is DC Comics, which -- literally a week and a half after publishing a (Grant Morrison-written) guide to their whole multiverse -- basically announced it's all meaningless and that starting in June they will ignore fictional continuity and just tell whatever ostensibly-hip new stories they like, in whatever style they want (it's like Hypertime forever, for those in the know). I'm reminded of some wag's clever metaphor that DC Comics' main m.o. is to take your memories hostage occasionally and then ransom them back to you.

10. Kitties don't insist on forcing stories into tidy boxes -- but they like boxes because they feel less cold and stressed in them.

11. This stressed cockatoo imitates with disturbing, uh, fidelity the arguing of the divorcing couple who once owned it.

12. Even more alarming animal imagery (h/t Morrus): these near-identical Spectre and Hydra symbols (and if Hydra is secretly S.H.I.E.L.D., might Spectre secretly be MI6 -- for that matter, isn't S.H.I.E.L.D. pretty obviously the real NATO headquarters in Brussels known ominously as S.H.A.P.E.?).

13. Back home, this preschool for adults is the kind of thing that prevents me fully loving New York.

14. But here’s a union of two things I truly love: a (fake) Star Trek vs. Star Wars trailer.

15. Somewhat more creepy are H.R. Giger’s personal photos.

16. True art requires a fat, orange cat inserted into numerous classic paintings.

17. In other animal fun, the disgraced anchor Brian Williams claims he saved a puppy -- or was it two? -- from a fire. Lying psychos like him being in charge is the norm, America, not an exception. Recognizing that is Step One.

18. Skip Jupiter Ascending, by the way. Maybe you should see the comic-book-based (violent yet fashionable) Kingsman this weekend instead.

19. Speaking of Matthew Vaughn films, Chloe Moretz turned eighteen on Tuesday, so I guess she’s safe from royalty and billionaires now, but pedophiles aren’t the Clintons’ only dubious associates (important reminder: I’m against royalty and aristocracy just as I’m against every other form of government or coercion or tribalism; don’t let my mild traditionalist tendencies fool you).

20. But we don’t need the decadent elite to have fun -- let’s see how many capybaras fit in the hot tub (h/t Charles Hope)!

21. And when decadence really leads to emotional disaster, we end up with something like Roger and Francine’s cover stories when they pretend to be a feuding couple in this scene (Albee all right in just a minute, you might say) on a very special American Dad.

22. Speaking of “Civil War,” it’s great Spider-Man is in the film next year, but it would be sick and wrong to squeeze in all the characters from Marvel’s original comics plotline -- so I’m hereby going to guess the stripped-down plot (following both from Avengers: Age of Ultron and the earlier Captain America: The Winter Soldier and using all the actors reported to be attached to the project so far) is something like: Cap’s pals who hope to redeem Winter Soldier vs. jaded characters who cannot trust him, like so: Capt. America, Falcon, Winter Soldier, and Black Widow vs. (respectively) Iron Man, Black Panther, Crossbones/Grillo, and Spider-Man.

23. Let there be no fighting at tonight’s Liberty Island launch party, for the site built around creative-writing libertarians and their ilk. 

24. Finally, I video-chat with Lucy Steigerwald and associates Meg Gilliland, Zach Fountain, Seth Wilson, and skeptical Dan Bier about space aliens, favorite creepy ideas, and why the UFOs aren’t quite as simple a matter as we skeptics might at first think (but Mila Kunis is probably not from outer space; not sure about the Wachowskis or Scientologist Laura Prepon).

And if you feel we gave cryptids short shrift in the discussion (despite the Mothman shout-out), here’s more convincing than usual footage of a quartet of possible Bigfoot -- or of course extremely tall, long-armed hoaxing engineering students -- traipsing near an automatic camera in Yellowstone. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Lucy, Seavey, plus Kennedy

I’m devoting most of my time to ghostwriting this year, but:

•Lucy, for her part, has also been named the fourth-hottest libertarian woman of the year by Austin Petersen (no doubt causing her some feminist mixed feelings).

•And though libertarian Kennedy is for some reason not on the list this year, she may be consoled by the fact that she has a new (more streamlined, eponymous, solo-hosted) show starting on Fox Business Network tonight and continuing every weeknight at 10pm Eastern (while Stossel moves to Friday at 9pm).

•That’s assuming anyone in New York City survives the catastrophic hell-blizzard happening today (likely overhyped, as the late Dr. Elizabeth Whelan usually rightly predicted). It’s perfectly suited for welcoming a former VJ and her husband, avid snowboarders, relocated from the West Coast.

•And there’s that mountain-sized asteroid passing relatively close to the Earth tonight, too, but that should be no hassle at all. (As for what that sort of luminous, smallish disc directly overhead that wasn’t the moon one night last month was, I don’t know, but best not to worry about it.)

•And if you’re stuck indoors because of the snow, feeling like a Yeti and needing more to watch than Lucy and Kenendy, might I nostalgically suggest a few minutes of Steve Austin vs. Bigfoot

Friday, January 2, 2015

Third Trilogy Achieved

Well, at least we made it to the year that the third Star Wars trilogy begins. If anything else important happens, I will update.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Did They Ditch the "Homeland" Season 4 Finale Due to CIA Torture?

Conspiracy theory about a fictional conspiracy being affected by a real conspiracy: is it possible the Homeland season finale was so goddam lame because (ASSUME SPOILERS HEREAFTER) the producers trashed -- and scrambled to replace -- an episode depicting the torture of the ISI agent with the terrorist-network cell phone that would've aired two weeks after the CIA torture report came out?
Think about it: inexplicably, tangentially terrible episode. Shot entirely back in the States with almost zero transition plotwise and minimal sets/effects. Several plot threads suddenly ignored or addressed in an offhand sentence.
Was the suckage of the Homeland finale an inside job?

P.S. And are they trying to imply that all ginger babies are developmentally disabled? That’s a plot thread for another time, though.

Monday, November 24, 2014

20 Links for My Hiatus (including my last podcast)

1. While I remain mostly offline to do some ghostwriting, hear Gerard Perry and me interview libertarian sci-fi author turned DIY filmmaker J. Neil Schulman (and listen to future podcasts by Gerard after I exit said podcasts and a few other activities). In this episode, you’ll also hear us touch on Star Wars, immigration, Kevin Sorbo, Marvel, Interstellar, Theory of Everything, Leo Strauss, Citizenfour, Nightcrawler, and Hunger Games 3A.

That last film is delayed, possibly permanently banned, in authoritarian China and Thailand. In the latter nation, people have been inspired to use the Boy Scouts-like salute from the film as a sign of rebellion -- a sign the government there has duly outlawed. In the real world, mind you. JLaw: better than real law.

2. You can also catch my (now former) cohost Gerard on the Hispanic affairs show Tiempo this coming Sunday at 11:30am, if you get New York City’s ABC Channel 7, talking about immigration.

3. Of course, Washington Post didn’t even want you watching SNL question Obama’s executive actions on immigration, so if you watch Gerard, they really won’t be happy. (I’m more Neo than neocon, really, ultimately wanting “a world without borders or boundaries.”)

4. Maybe I’ll come back to the Net and to frequent political commentary myself around the time that recently-probed comet reaches perihelion: August 13, 2015.

The real news on that, it almost seemed, was the feminist overreaction to one comet scientist’s shirt. Naturally, the writer who started the ruckus was a young, liberal, vulgar (she was the one who immediately called the scientist an “asshole”), Brooklyn-dwelling female -- sparring not with ogres of the patriarchy (as she and many other young lefty females imagine as they try to “improve” tech culture) but merely with a rockabilly-loving, tattooed UK female shirt designer. If rockabilly is right-wing, I don’t wanna be left, so to speak.

But the swift reaction against the feminists was pleasing. America has spoken: feminists are wrong (and, in both their female and male form, are a mere 20% or so of the population, by the way, so their whole pretense of speaking for the oppressed majority of the human race is no longer convincing; the other 80% of the populace kinda likes the whole two-genders thing).

5. Gerard also draws my attention to a recent debate at Brown over rape and feminism. Since one debater was libertarian Wendy McElroy (hardly a right-wing social conservative -- more like a near-pacifist, aging-hippie, Canadian porn advocate, and I don’t say that as an insult), the campus practically had a mental meltdown, and the administration felt obliged to schedule a more homogeneously feminist event at the same time. Such is the state of rigorous debate among the Ivy League’s fragile minds.

6. But then, you can’t even take a ride in an Uber cab these days without a psychotic hate-campaign being directed against you, either by feminists or cab-union supporters, stirred by the (far-sleazier-than-Uber) Paul Carr and his evil hangers-on (the left almost prides itself on its ability to go into a mindless, hateful tweeting-frenzy these days).

7. On a brighter note, Rand Paul (who reportedly may announce his presidential candidacy in April and is already seen as a peacemaker between libertarian, Tea Party, and mainstream GOP factions, which is good) did a fine job during this month’s midterm elections of trolling Hillary Clinton, noting as the various candidates she personally supported lost.

8. Let us hope, then, there is some truth to this odd but intriguing report of his inevitability as a nominee.

9. Speaking of odd but intriguing reports, this isn’t a bad retort to the book I recently blogged about and called the closest-to-persuasive thing I’ve seen arguing some UFOs remain extremely baffling.

10. But if you want to try seeing alien humanoids in a universe that may not have other populated planets, you could just take the drug DMT, described (along with circus people) with incredibly poetic enthusiasm by Terence McKenna here. But the girl in the NeuroSoup video series says: don’t inject it anally, the way she did.

11. If she routinely does things like that, I hope she doesn’t end up raided by cops, like this family of homeschoolers.

12. It’s easy to look the other way when marginal populations living out in the boonies get abused, but even my old East 20s neighborhood is full of stranger beliefs and rituals than you’d think, apparently, like these folks who believe they’re Aryans from the Moon or Atlantis or something.

13. Speaking of odd beliefs, maybe Gerard’s best option for a future cohost is this man right here.

14. Or if Gerard continues our habit from the past several months of reviewing films, he can certainly look forward to visiting weird worlds next month, since December brings films inspired by Pynchon, Paddington, Tolkien, Sondheim, and of course Kim Jong-Un.

15. Or we could all just watch this trilogy of squirrel videos...

16. And how a transgression therein...

17. ...leads to vengeance.

19. Or if those leave you dissatisfied, jot down my list here of the Ten Essential Nerd Movies to See in 2015 (I’ve left off the less than perfectly confidence-inducing Jupiter Ascending from the Wachowskis, which comes out in February, but the rest of this impressive lineup begins in May):

Mad Max 4
Jurassic Park 4
Ted 2
Terminator 5
Ant-Man (NOT a sequel or reboot!!!)
Fantastic Four 4 (sort of)
Bond 24
Hunger Games 3B
Star Wars 7

Oh, if we could wean ourselves off sequels and remakes and episodic franchises -- but we can’t. So start the next episode. (Movies are the new television.)

20. But before all that, to stay, like, cultured and stuff, I’ll read Mark Twain: A Skeptic’s Progress, a short book on Twain’s growing doubts about religion, imperialism, and other things as he aged. I sympathize.

And I’ll be back with some sort of new episode of Todd stuff eventually. Apologies for any missed optional business meetings, dates, social gatherings, etc., etc., in the interim. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Republican Party’s Eight-Year Learning Period, My Eight-Year Blogging Period

You can chat with me in person about the thoughts below by joining me at Langan’s tomorrow night to watch (or at least discuss) the election returns.

By contrast, as of this writing, for reasons unknown and likely boring, I am apparently banned from the building across the street from Langan’s, containing multiple organizations for which I’ve written over the years. But don’t ask. That’s a story I’ll tell another time, after I reemerge from a hiatus to get some serious ghostwriting and other work done -- unless it’s all been tidily resolved by then, I suppose. I’m not one to seek conflict.

I began blogging here the week of the 2006 midterm elections (despite a couple dozen retroactively-added archival items and having edited a science blog for a few years before that, for those paying close attention). That’s when the Republicans lost both houses of Congress after having dominated them for most of the prior twelve years.

Call me as cold-blooded as Ultron if you will, but even in 2006 my Machiavellian long-term hope was that though I often railed against the Democrats (and libertarians who allied with them), the Republicans would learn from a much-deserved defeat and that when the day came that they once more claimed both houses (that day being tomorrow), they would be at least a tiny bit more libertarian than they were when previously in power.

(I was also hopeful in late 2006, just to touch on my other three favorite subject areas, that 1. the punk- and New Wave-influenced indie music beloved in Williamsburg and elsewhere would flourish, 2. superhero movies would now always aim for the high standard set the previous year by Batman Begins, and 3. science would become as hip as my geeky American Council on Science and Health co-workers at the time thought it was. Things haven’t gone too badly according to these metrics. Or this Metric.)

Funny how being out of power makes people more libertarian -- but it hasn’t just been the usual in-power/out-of-power dynamic.

With Sen. Rand Paul now talked about as a real contender for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination, there is an explicit, recognized, much-debated libertarian faction within the GOP in a way that there wasn’t before. I had hoped vaguely that a dash of libertarianism (even if no one ever used that word) would permeate the whole conservative establishment; others hoped it wouldn’t or expected that sentiment to flourish in the other party; and what happened instead was more schismatic -- part of the GOP becoming explicitly, even feistily libertarian while the rest resisted or looked around confused and befuddled.

Metaphorically speaking, I had sort of planned for a subtle refurbishing of the whole (seemingly neocon-dominated) building, but instead part of the building sort of fissioned off and became its own annex -- which may yet become where the important things happen. Or, sort of hoped to see a change in the overall density of a bowl of soup and instead got one distinct, highly chunky area that may yet turn out to be the tastiest area, if you follow me.

In any case, whether or not the GOP’s gotten more libertarian over the past eight years, I have, and by “libertarian” in this case I really mean “more anarchist than the so-called anarchists.” I mean, it’s almost uncontroversial now, I think, to say that we obviously face global governmental, military, policing, corporate, media, and NGO establishments that work together to promote projects not necessarily in the commoners’ best interests, including perpetual war (watch this as a little reminder, fringey though it is).

It’s enough to make one turn away from establishment debates and, a bit like a classic pacifist, emphasize change at the personal level (no use of coercion at all against other people or their property) that has vast social, political, and immediate interpersonal implications, rather than continuing to pursue the endlessly complicated top-down method of trying to interest our “leaders” in “good policy.” They aren’t interested.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m still rooting for Rand Paul in 2016 -- just as a sort of indicator, though, you understand. Probably can’t hurt. And, though I don’t like it when libertarians (such as the so-called liberal-tarians) water down libertarian principles to gain allies outside the movement, I have not become such a perfectionist as to turn my nose up at a rare coalition-building opportunity such as a senator and potential president being regarded as a leader by both the Tea Party and the libertarian movement.

(I just read a comment online by a South American libertarian who says he looks with amazement at the U.S.’s Tea Party movement because there is nothing remotely as libertarian or anti-government on such a scale on his continent. Be at least a little grateful, libertarians.)

But, as I say over and over, we can think about coalitional tactics and still reject the asymptotic approaches to, watered-down versions of, and palatable “mainstream” formulations of our philosophy itself. Play nicely with others by all means -- but at the same time have the guts to say (politely) that all government should cease to exist. If you won’t, consider the possibility that you aren’t really helping.

By all means devise and even work on fallback plans. But now that a fairly large number of people are aware there’s more to philosophy than right-vs.-left (something I wasn’t at all sure they’d noticed eight years ago, when I continued to speak in mostly right-vs.-left terms myself), I think professing hardcore, explicit, across-the-board anarcho-capitalism should be Plan “A” (so to speak).

And, after all, just looking at things in a purely pragmatic way, I contend our other options do not look great (they include, for instance, the collapse of civilization). So when, for example, someone tells you in moderate tones that dreams of repealing Obamacare are foolish, suggest that the only way the GOP or other free-market activists will be taken seriously is if we start (right now) talking about the more intellectually consistent goal of ending Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, hospital subsidies, and the FDA (because private mechanisms would be better, as in the end they always are).

It is time. (Or at least it soon will be. I’ll be back to say more -- in a less Facebook-fighting, tweet-combative, blog-snarky, public-feuding, impatient way -- after a brief taking-care-of-business interlude, interrupted only by a link in a week or so to one last movies podcast before I leave Gerard Perry on his own.)