Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Scary: Doom v. V v. NYT v. Onion


Which is scariest:

(a) This Doctor Doom jack-o-lantern pointed out to me by Jacob Levy (which may be more alarming than that electricity-shooting costume I mentioned in a previous entry).

(b) The fact I’m headed to see the vampire movie (second in less than a week) 30 Days of Night (Kip’s Bay 7:15 show) dressed as V from V for Vendetta.

(c) The fact that the New York Times, which cannot be so in love with gay stories as to have lost all interest in being taken seriously as a fact-based newspaper, ran an op-ed today by a transgendered ghosthunter about how contacting her father’s ghost was awkward since she’d changed genders since his death.

(d) Or the new form of tyrannical government that the Onion imagines being accidentally created by (political) scientists at the Cato Institute, pointed out by Kerry Howley on Reason’s blog — and Kerry should know about tyrannical governments, having lived and worked in Burma for a while (and left New York City of all places to do so) — wait, can I call it “Burma”?  Luckily, I’m not in Burma, so I can call it anything I damn well please.  I shall call it Tyrannical Monk-Beating Socialistland — and that is far scarier than Halloween.

Ron Paul-and-Johnny Rotten Was Not a Nixon-and-Elvis Moment


I think Ron Paul did a fine job on Tuesday night’s Leno broadcast — calmly, jovially explaining his intention to end income taxes altogether and end military involvement not just in Iraq but around the world, with the audience cheering.  He humbly added that regardless of whether he has flaws, the philosophical message of liberty is sound, and he even plugged free-market “Austrian economics,” a term probably never before heard on the Tonight show.

But what made the broadcast magic — and Leno himself noted it was fitting — was the Sex Pistols singing “Anarchy in the UK” right after the Paul interview, with Johnny Rotten, after singing “I want to be in anarchy,” adding a characteristically menacing but implicitly supportive “Hello, Mr. Paul.”

And, as I’d hoped, the two of them shook hands just as the show ended.  Since they’d implicitly bonded during the song, the moment avoided being awkward in the fashion of that famous Elvis-meets-Nixon handshake photo, which The Weekly Standard rightly put on its cover a decade ago to accompany an article on the idea that rock and conservatism, all wishful thinking aside, do not naturally mix.

(I can’t help thinking that if fellow libertarian punk fan Michael Malice — who also happens to love The Golden Girls — was watching the show, he got the added thrill of hearing a cameo-making Betty White answer the question “Why are you here?” with “To hear the Sex Pistols, of course.”  And Betty didn’t flinch when they threw eggs at her in the subsequent sketch, either, which is pretty punk-rock.)

If only Tom Cruise had renounced belief in Thetans and the intergalactic overlord Xenu during his segment, resolving to exit public life permanently in order to study skepticism, it would have been a perfect night.


I’ll consider it all perfect in retrospect, though, if Paul shoots up in the polls.  As he cautiously said of the spontaneous grassroots/Netroots movement swirling around him, if it keeps growing exponentially the way it has in recent months, “there’s a risk I could win.”

Paul’s old Austrian-economics-popularizing pals, Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell, surprised some of their free-market cohorts by supporting Ross Perot in 1992, on the grounds that he was at least a spanner in the works of the two-party system.  How much more exciting, then, to have a candidate who is simultaneously spanner, libertarian, major-party-member, and well-timed beneficiary of a wave of popular conviction that government is incompetent and in need of humbling.

If Paul strikes some as low-key and low-energy in a field of bombasts and demagogues, I can only hope that America is about ready for an unassuming, mild-mannered president — sort of like the one I hoped we’d gotten with Bush, back in the pre-9/11 days, when he avoided speeches and press conferences and seemed content to host tee-ball on the White House lawn.  Calvin Coolidge, I thought!  Just the sort of do-nothing president we need.  But now it’s far too late in the day to do nothing, I fear, so we need a president who will instead strive mightily and with principled consistency to get government to do less, which is much harder than nothing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: "Did the Government Know in Advance About 9/11?"

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YES: Sander Hicks, founder of Soft Skull Press, Vox Pop, and Drench Kiss Media and author of The Big Wedding: 9/11, the Whistle-Blowers, and the Cover-Up.

NO: Karol Sheinin, blogger at (at one point guest blogger for Michelle Malkin) and founder of the counter-protest group Actual Truth About 9/11.

This contentious issue will be broached next week on Wednesday, November 7 (at 8pm) on the basement level of Lolita Bar (266 Broome St. at Allen St., one block south and three west of the Delancey St. subway stop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side) — with Michel Evanchik moderating and Todd Seavey hosting.

In just-barely-related news, constitutionalists and conspiracists alike may enjoy tonight’s (Oct. 30) Tonight show appearance by my favorite presidential candidate, Ron Paul, as noted in yesterday’s entry, not that some Truther support for Paul makes him a Truther-endorser (or militia man, or Bircher, etc.) — but he probably wouldn’t put such chicanery past the government, either. In the interests of hostal neutrality, I will say no more until after next week’s debate, though.

How did I come to know two people with such opposing takes on this issue? Well, Karol co-hosts the monthly Manhattan Project non-leftist media gatherings with me and Mark Cunningham, while Sander (who, despite his being a Marxist and onetime pursuer of the NY Green Party nomination for Senate, I met through libertarian novelist Katherine Taylor of all people) is technically responsible for me hosting all of these Debates at Lolita Bar, since it was his invitation to see him debate the pros and cons of globalization that led, in 2002, to me first encountering the Jinx Society, then the hosts of the debates. (As it happens, I recall that the cover of National Review on stands the week of 9/11/01 depicted a scary-looking antiglobalization protester with the slogan “Back to the Barricades!” though that antiglobalization protester with his black mask and his fist in the air looked like a well-mannered piker after the Trade Center came down.)

One constant since those early debating days: Michel Evanchik was the moderator then, as Sander faced off against globalist L.B. Deyo (a tenant in the building where Sander was a super), and Michel will be the moderator next week, lo these five years later — during which time L.B. has moved to Austin, TX (whence came the Raspberry Boys comedy troupe, including L.B.’s friend Jerm Pollet, who I saw host and joke their way through a screening of the Halloween-ish 1987 film The Lost Boys last week, with a young Kiefer Sutherland playing a teenage vampire instead of a tough agent and sometime reluctant torturer with exactly 24 hours to save America, over and over again); Sander has married, become a father, divorced, developed an interest in Gandhi instead of violent revolution, and founded a socialism-themed cafe (in Karol’s Brooklyn neighborhood); and Karol has gone from Nader voter (!) to a war-on-terror hawk.

But then, look at me: rooting for Bush then and for Paul now, though I haven’t changed all that much. Come help us sort it all out next week, on Nov. 7. (No chants, shouted interruptions, or rioting, please — your enthusiasm is appreciated, but we’re there to hear both debaters do their thing.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tom Cruise, Ron Paul, and Sex Pistols -- on Leno 10/30

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Tomorrow, when the three guests listed above are supposed to be on the Tonight show (in that order, if all goes as scheduled), is a big night for Scientology, libertarianism, and punk rock — and somewhere out there, someone who’s into all three is even more excited than I am.

Despite the very minor alliance between the Scientologists and libertarian psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Szasz in combating the practice of involuntary psychiatric treatment decades ago, though, I like only the second and third items in that list (and I wrote about my differences with Szasz five brief years ago) — but two is enough for tomorrow. I’m not demanding. Maybe some Pistols fans will watch and find in freedom-loving Paul a quite literal version of the conservatism for punks I think the culture needs — patriotic, free-market, and individualistic, but with a directness and immediacy more likely to motivate people and retain their emotional loyalty than long, abstract treatises.

Fittingly, I heard about the impending Paul/Pistols broadcast this past weekend while in DC for gatherings of people affiliated with the Phillips Foundation (among them Ron Paul-admiring Robert Novak and an editor from Ron-Paul-fan-banning conservative blog RedState) and people affiliated with Reason, now headquartered in a hip DC brownstone and running Reason.TV (Kurt Loder and Drew Carey were there, the latter accompanied by a bevy of Price Is Right models).

But I saw an even bigger celebrity in DC (thanks to an unexpected post-Reason party hosted by Reason veteran Julian Sanchez and relatively new Reason writer David Weigel), indeed the biggest celebrity of all: I refer to mighty GALACTUS! Yes, some industrious Halloweener constructed a costume based on the three-hundred-foot-tall, purple-armored eater of planets from Fantastic Four comic books, complete with giant, two-foot-thick boots and towering helmet-vanes that just barely enabled him to fit inside the high-ceilinged old house in question. Galactus was even taller than blogger Megan McArdle.

Also at the party were Fantastic Four villain Doctor Doom, with Van de Graaff-machine-generated electrical bolts leaping from his gauntleted hands, and Spider-Man villainess the Black Cat (accompanying a Doctor Who-garbed Sanchez, complete with sonic screwdriver), all to heavily 80s-leaning music (as for me, I see I have just received an unanticipated V for Vendetta mask in the mail from fellow anarcho-capitalist and V for Vendetta fan Bretigne Shaffer Calvert, granting me subversive powers that no mere Marvel could control).

But above all: Galactus. Indeed, He Who Hungers made my brief stop at the party more satisfying than seeing that sham of a (nigh-Galactusless) Fantastic Four sequel movie ever could have.

To get back to punk for a moment, though: anyone who thinks the urge to rock is not (for good or ill) something instinctual and primal should check out this (ostensibly untrained) dancing parrot pointed out to me by girlfriend Koli. This sort of energy can be harnessed for good or for awesome, but it cannot be destroyed or ignored, not while mohawked life endures, be it hairy or feathered. And you can take that to the bank, with or without fractional reserves.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Retro-Journal: Blooming of an American Mind

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As I headed back to Brown in early 1988 to finish my freshman year, I took inspiration from a winter vacation that included reading Allan Bloom’s Leo Strauss-influenced book The Closing of the American Mind (recommended to me by my high school friend Paul Taylor’s conservative dad, one of the numerous suggestions he gave me, Paul, and our friends Chuck Blake and John Hersh from high school whenever we’d all gather in Norwich during college vacation). Bloom seemed to give a pretty decent diagnosis of what I’d experienced at Brown the previous semester, arguing as he did that higher education had become a hotbed of relativism, the idea that there are no truths and that everything is simply a matter of arbitrary perspective — which by some non-sequitur always implicitly means the Marxists or feminists win any argument (or in certain formulations, Marxists, feminists, and Freudians, though Freud’s prestige was declining).

I hadn’t yet chosen a major, but there were hints of where things were headed, as Bloom helped inspire me to purchase Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Ethics as vacation reading — but also Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan and Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. My interest in timeless truths wasn’t going to eliminate my awareness of the absurd (quite the contrary), nor would it make me an enemy of modernity in general, since I shared Bloom’s enthusiasm for the eighteenth-century Enlightenment ideal: reason as the thing to strive for, not only in science (the sole place where some moderns would concede it resides, if anywhere) but in philosophy, economics, ethics, and art — not to mention, in the case of the Enlightenment-spawned American Revolution, politics. All of these things would have to be defended against the relativists, anti-rationalists, and egalitarians to whom crime and justice, ugliness and beauty, were interchangeable, fluid concepts.


At the same time, I felt at home with people like a hammer-and-sickle-earring-wearing, half-black, punkish girl named Tonya Strong from my high school, whose lamentations about the inability of some of her classmates even to locate oceans on maps (let alone follow the details of the Iran-Contra hearings) reminded me of my own chronic concern, so common among nerds, that I was surrounded by psychopaths and cretins. Tonya (then a member of the high school band Anal Staircase) and some smart New Wave and punk girls in my high school were a valuable reminder that punk, like conservatism, is an elite, often judgmental creed, not a hooray-for-everyone love-fest like their arch-foes the hippies, and I liked that in the punks. Yet I even liked some of Brown’s neo-hippie relativists, such as a cute Oregonian relativist named (poetically) Jonny Skye. Though I ended up arguing frequently about philosophy with her (she was more consistent in her relativism than philosophers like Richad Rorty, insisting, for instance, that you could fly unaided if your beliefs about gravity led to that conclusion), I nonetheless wrote her a friendly letter (excerpted here), dated January 6, 1988, about my newfound sense of mission — and my (literal) dreams, which I was much more prone to remember in detail back when I was eighteen, and which around then took a combative turn that may have been influenced by my coalescing political views:

After pondering these things and sleeping, I dreamt recently that I was a child again… (In real life, I never had youthful energy and always hated riding bicycles, but it was a dream.) With Chuck and Paul, I ran through the woods and larger-than-life backyards, wielding toy guns. Pursued by a crazed killer resembling professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, we fled to a Toys ‘R’ Us where we gleefully but efficiently bought up all the plastic Uzis and M-16s to defend ourselves. A friend of mine named Tewksbury was there, at a big party, and demonstrated that he’d put on fifty pounds, grown sideburns, and joined a lousy rock band… The party continued and I fell in love with a girl who wanted to know if I was interested in photography of the solar system, as the dream ended…

I woke up happy, with a renewed conviction that I could do the world good by writing comic book stories about convincing good vs. evil conflicts.


Precisely as horrified paleoconservatives would predict, my indirect influence by Leo Strauss (via Bloom) led me quite directly and immediately to a certain admiration for Secretary of Education William Bennett — who was emphasizing the need for high standards, Great Books, teaching about the Founding and American traditions, and the like — and thus contributed to my intention to cast my first-ever presidential vote later in the year for George H.W. Bush, who planned, if elected, to keep Bennett on in some capacity. (That capacity would turn out to be drug czar, though, making him head of a doomed policy I came to think should be abolished, along with the rest of the government — but that’s leaping ahead in the story.  Bennett reportedly went on one blind date with Janis Joplin in 1967 — around the time he was playing in a band called Plato and the Guardians — so I think he’d boost critics’ sympathy for him if once, just once, he broke down in tears while giving an anti-drug speech and said “I just don’t want anyone else to end up like Janis.”)

My own growing conviction that I should use writing to transmit values — perhaps in the mode of satirist Jonathan Swift, who I read that semester in an English class taught by Prof. Rhoda Flaxman — caused me to drift away from acting, which I’d done in high school (also writing the play we performed as high school seniors, a large-cast production called A Simple Machine about over-idealistic professors whose social reform movement descends into factionalism — not a plot based in the tiniest way on anticipation of what might lie ahead when I got to Brown, nor even the slightest awareness of what campus politics was like, but rather concocted by sheer coincidence from a vague desire to have an excuse for brainy characters to argue about big issues) and also done my first semester of college, playing Mr. DePinna in a production of You Can’t Take It with You, about an eccentric family who, among other things, refuse to pay income tax.

As a budding writer, I might not intend to act, but I imagined I might still take an interest in writing for TV or movies someday, and so I decided to take a film production class — but film production classes at Brown were subsumed under the university’s most overtly ideological (and strange) department, Modern Culture and Media: in effect, the semiotics and deconstructionism department. While semiotics is technically just the study of signs and symbolism, deconstructionism was an elaborate, verbose, obscurantist philosophy largely created by French and German writers with communist or fascist sympathies and unmitigated contempt for capitalism, individualism, tradition, and any pretense of objectivity or rationality.


There was no way to take a film production class (praxis) without first taking a theory class as a prerequisite, and so, despite being newly enamored of the rational Enlightenment and timeless moral absolutes, I signed up for one of the most relativistic, anti-rationalist, anti-bourgeois, capitalism-bashing, patriarchy-lamenting classes the Ivy League had to offer, MCM 66, “Cinematic Coding and Narrative,” taught with dreary resignation by black-clad professor Mary Ann Doane, who would solemnly intone such claims as that, in the Hollywood Text, the Male is capable of action just as — and in part because — he is capable in nature of achieving ejaculation, while Woman, in film, serves only as “a receptacle.” She would then look vaguely disappointed if students responded with “Ewww” noises instead of nods of assent.

The teaching assistant overseeing the class section I was in was one Brian Goldberg, also consistently clad in black (and resentful of innocent freshman questions about this very common MCM color choice), who I was told had come from a fairly well-off DC-area family but had converted to Marxism and who told us that he was alarmed when visiting his parents to look back through his old Snoopy comics and see how “they were preparing me for my insertion into capital.” Since all narrative conventions were regarded as mind-controlling, bourgeois propaganda by the decons, we not only watched strange avant-garde films but were asked to type our papers without margins or paragraph breaks and to make sure they always filled exactly one side of a single sheet of paper, presumably to teach us some sort of lesson about the arbitrariness of academic conventions and, by extension, the arbitrariness of the entire corrupt capitalist system and Western civilization. One shy, well-meaning, and thoroughly left-wing student raised his hand to ask, sheepishly, if we should use conventional grammar and punctuation. Goldberg seemed annoyed by the question and said yes.

My friend Andrew Clateman — one of my fellow comedy writers at the Brown Film Society’s comedy publication, the Film Bulletin, which I joined that semester — was quite enthusiastic about decon, seeing in it an extension of the skeptical mayhem he loved in the Dadaists and the Marx Brothers. He was convinced that filmic conventions — and by extension, all perceptions of reality — were so much a product of social conditioning that, as he put it, an ancient Native American shown a film of a buffalo would not even perceive the buffalo.

Three years later, surprisingly, the Forbes Foundation would donate $2 million to the MCM department, which responded to skeptical questions about the seeming mismatch between ideologies by assuring everyone that giving millions to MCM was a perfectly logical extension of the Forbes family’s interest in media. By contrast, this blog entry — like next week’s Retro-Journal entry — is currently unfunded.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Conservatism and Punk

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Two data points do not constitute a trend — my whole day job is built around that insight — but I’m still pleased to encounter two very different public figures, two days in a row, who may have grown more sympathetic to libertarianism.

The literary journal Opium celebrated the release of its fifth issue Tuesday, and musician Moby was there. He didn’t say anything about libertarianism himself, but departing Opium editor Elizabeth Koch said she’d been corresponding with him on the topic for many months and that he seemed to be growing more sympathetic (John Kerry fundraising concert and veganism and so forth notwithstanding). I should also acknowledge that he’s not a punk, mainly a techno guy, but since he mentioned helping to get that movie about Joy Division off the ground, once performed Joy Division songs live with New Order, lamented being booed by Mission of Burma fans when he surprised them by performing with that band on stage, and did a great cover of their song “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver,” I’m shoehorning him into my “conservatism for punks” trope/philosophy just for today.

He also — in his very cautious, tentative, unassuming way — expressed some skepticism about the official story about the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. I’m not sure if a willingness to listen to libertarian and conspiracist ideas makes him a natural Ron Paul voter (not that I’m saying Paul claims it was an inside job, but some people who do claim that like his anti-establishment tone, for good or ill), but it at least means Moby should attend our Nov. 7 Debate at Lolita Bar between Sander Hicks and Karol Sheinin on the question “Did the Government Know in Advance About 9/11?” (though I imagine that will focus more on the World Trade Center — hometown pride and all).

The other trending-libertarian note for the week is less surprising: I spoke briefly to National Review’s Jonah Goldberg at the International Policy Network awards event where he took third prize (for the year’s best market-oriented columns), and he said writing his upcoming book, Liberal Fascism, did make him a bit more libertarian. I’ve seen an advance copy of the book and will write about it more as my Book Selection of the Month for December, but for now I’ll just say that it’s probably going to surprise a lot of people with the breadth of its condemnation of statism across the modern political spectrum. It’s not going to be just an Ann Coulter-type left-as-punching-bag book (vegan-bashing subtitle and so forth notwithstanding).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What Would Giuliani Do?


Imagine you’re Giuliani and you get the GOP nomination — and that you don’t care much about philosophy, just winning the general election.

Do you pick Thompson as your running mate to keep the social right (which distrusts you) happy or McCain to win over more moderates (note that Thompson does not fare that well in head-to-head polls vs. Hillary, whereas McCain, like Giuliani, nearly ties her)?

I think I’d try to go with a bets-hedging, pre-announced “super-Cabinet” that included rivals, if they’d do it, such as, say: Thompson for V.P., McCain for Defense Secretary (or maybe HomeSec Sec — my brain has not gotten used to thinking of that strange post as real yet), Romney for Health and Human Services — and of course Ron Paul for Treasury, which is the most important (and principled) part.

(Not that I’m counting Paul out for prez just yet: indeed, you can attend another pro-Paul party this Friday (the 26th) from 8pm to 2am, a Grand Opening party for the NYC Ron Paul HQ at 515 West 29th St. [suggested donation is $10 or more] — and they’ll have live bands, a DJ, and cheap drinks [but I'll be visiting some Reason and Phillips Foundation folk in DC -- Reason.TV officially launches this weekend, you should know, and already contains a blog post about George Takei's government-induced conflict with The Simpsons over my favorite episode, so the site has my endorsement].)

Some on the right hate McCain for restricting political speech through campaign finance laws, but even while rightly deploring those laws, they would do well to remember the popular sentiment behind them: the idea that we should know who’s paying for our politicians.  There are ways to achieve that end without restricting speech, too, such as requiring officeholders to disclose all gifts and services given to them, which is what my Arkansas state-rep. friend Dan Greenberg is trying to do in that state.  Put simple restrictions on officeholders instead of onerous restrictions on private campaign donors — while still responding in a meaningful way to popular (and populist) annoyance at the money/politics nexus.


In Democratic news, it looks like I may need to change my rankings of who’s least-sane among the presidential candidates: Richardson only called for an expose of the UFO conspiracy, but now Kucinich appears to claim to have personally encountered one — if you believe Shirley MacLaine’s recollections, not always a safe move, since she claims to have been reincarnated from ancient Atlantis and to have received wisdom from aliens living among the Pleiades.

P.S. And speaking of personal transformations, the Japanese have ways of fighting crime without electing Giuliani, if you believe this article from the New York Times is as dead-serious as implied.

P.P.S. About ninety minutes ago, Fox Business Channel was interviewing the daughter of Shari Lewis — and Lambchop — about their flight from the Malibu-area fires.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Character and Christianity -- D'Souza vs. Hitchens


How different the approaches to religion are at the event I attended last week and the one I’m headed to tomorrow.


Last week, an awards dinner hosted by Templeton Foundation-funded magazine In Character — which devotes the entirety of each issue to thoughtful essays on a single virtue, such as generosity or self-reliance — bestowed honors on writers who had addressed some virtue at length, including my fellow libertarian Wendy McElroy (who I had never met before), who wrote and spoke about a ham radio network used to bring messages “from Santa” to sick, immobilized kids at Christmas. I’m sure I’m not the only atheist in McElroy’s milieu, since a disproportionate number of libertarians (being rationalists and anti-authoritarians) are atheists — and the Templeton Foundation, by contrast, is very sympathetic to religion (even seeking to find areas of overlap between religion and science that I don’t think will ultimately turn up) — but placing things under the (to my mind) broader rubric of virtue made the usual nastiness over specific matters of doctrine fade away.

I don’t know McElroy’s religious views, if any — nor do I even know for sure the religious views of Dr. John Templeton (son of the organization’s founder) and his wife, both of them medical people to whom I spoke at the event about ACSH’s pro-science work — but I do know that no one present at the In Character event was likely to accuse someone on “the other side” of being callous and morally depraved. Obviously, regardless of differences in our descriptions of the cosmos, everyone present wanted the sick kids to be happy.


By contrast, both Dinesh D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens have said some pretty nasty things about atheists and religious believers, respectively — even though D’Souza has worked with enough libertarians that he, too, must know and like some atheists, while Hitchens has spoken admiringly of George W. Bush in the past and clearly understands that Bush is motivated partly by a sense of religious mission. It should be interesting to see, then, how negative their claims about “the enemy” get at the debate they’re doing tomorrow night (Monday, Oct. 22, 2007, doors opening at 7) under the auspices of King’s College, for free at the Ethical Culture Society at West 64th and Central Park West on the question “Is Christianity the Problem?”

When Hitchens is merely arguing that the supernatural claims of religion are unproven and thus very probably false, he has my full support, but I don’t pretend to be able to precisely gauge the far more complicated social impact of religion (though I think its dangers are often ignored in favor of its warm-fuzzy aspects). If a man tells me religion is the only thing keeping him from becoming an axe-murderer, I’m disinclined to deploy my best atheist arguments on him right then and there — but as hinted in my comments about the In Character event, I think the actual number of people for whom good feelings and virtue must be forged only through religion is small — I think Buddhists, ancient Romans, modern atheists, and indeed virtually everyone understands that a world of constant lies and physical assaults would be awful, and I think that if (if) self-proclaimed atheists behave badly in some ways in our society, it is more their rebel/outcast status in the current society than anything essential to their worldviews that leads to their alienation from some social norms.

D’Souza, by contrast, has argued that America should rein in its secular/permissive culture to avoid invoking further wrath from traditionalists abroad (that’s another complex social and strategic question that I won’t pretend I can readily answer — though I wouldn’t automatically bet against the power of rock n’ roll, consumerism, and sex to carry the day overseas against the hatemongering radical traditionalists) and, far more nastily to my mind, has argued that atheists are both arrogant and incapable of feeling deeply about or providing consolation after tragic events, such as the Virginia Tech massacre. That’s nonsense, as I’ve said before — but I’m not so much interested, for present purposes, in refuting the claim as in noting what it suggests about D’Souza’s mindset: the ever-popular and increasingly tiresome view that one’s enemies just aren’t fully human — go ahead and hate them, they don’t feel pain the same way we do.


It’s fitting for multiple reasons that the issue of attributing mental states to one’s opponents will be on my mind at the debate tomorrow:

•I’ll attend with girlfriend Koli, who happens to be a Virginia Tech alum and has often said she never thought she’d be dating a (reluctantly) registered Republican.

•We’ll be joined by Daniel Radosh and his wife Gina Duclayan, and Daniel and I covered a prior D’Souza-Hitchens debate (on affirmative action, with Hitchens making the memorable argument that regulations calling for larger bathroom stalls might benefit gays), as opposing left and right columnists for New York Press (I’ll use next month’s Book Selection of the Month entry in part to talk about those days and some of the other things in the pre-blog Seavey bibliography). This time, Daniel and I are both essentially on the same “side,” I think, favoring the anti-religious British leftist turned quasi-neocon, but due to Hitchens’ zeal may find ourselves leaning toward D’Souza on some subsidiary issues, if D’Souza is smart enough to avoid vilifying atheists — as I fully expect he will not be. (Daniel, by the way, has a book coming out next year about weird Christian pop culture.)

•The Ethical Culture Society building where the debate will take place also happens to be, I expect the record will show in the end, the only place where Todd Seavey ever attended church on a regular basis (very briefly), to demonstrate to my then-girlfriend Dawn Eden a willingness to hear religion’s side of things. This, as she very politely concedes in Chapter 18 of her book Thrill of the Chaste, was a tactical error on her part — not because I wasn’t willing to listen but because she had assumed that any decent person with an open mind and a warm heart could not fail to embrace religion once he did listen. This is the recurring mistake religious people make, only slightly better than D’Souza’s dismissal of atheists’ capacity for emotion: rather than admitting that they have failed to make their case, they assume that some sort of hard-heartedness or willful blindness on the part of non-believers is the only possible explanation for continued atheism (after all, does it not say, I assume, in Book whatever, Verse such-and-such, that all people of good will who listen for the voice of the Lord shall hear, etc., etc., and so on?).


Sometimes, even when the other side would really, really like to see things your way, you just haven’t made your case. Or as Oliver Cromwell, not himself the most tolerant fellow, wisely said: consider that you may be wrong. More important, for current purposes, consider that even if you’re right, you may still seem completely wrong to even the most generous of listeners. Rarely does someone see the truth and choose to believe something else — I’m not even sure if that’s technically possible, absent some sort of self-hypnosis or amnesia, though people can certainly be stubborn.

But whether you’re Cromwell, al Qaeda, Dinesh D’Souza, Karl Marx, or, it sure helps fuel your own sense of righteousness if you can convince yourself the other side is deliberately ignoring the plain evidence you’ve placed before them and opting for wickedness. Then one need have no qualms about destroying them utterly — though that never quite works out well, and they have a tendency to start questioning your good will at that point.

Control -- a Movie About Joy Division's Ian Curtis


A depressive friend of mine in college (she should be cropping up in one of my Retro-Journal entries in about four weeks) once disturbed me by saying she didn’t think there was anything particularly unhappy-sounding about one of her then-favorite bands, Joy Division. I think most people would agree that Joy Division sounds exactly like a band whose lead singer, Ian Curtis, would go on to hang himself.

Indeed, when I first heard their comparatively upbeat-sounding song “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” I remember thinking that it sounded a lot like the depressive Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (I’ve always been too nerdy to be in danger of going goth — and I should note that every second of the old TV and radio versions of Hitchhiker’s is funnier than a minute of the recent movie). Since then, I’ve heard the contrast between some of the first Joy Division songs recorded, more bouncy and punk than the dirges they’re best known for, and it’s about as painful to then hear the more depressed-sounding later tracks as it is to realize that you overlooked comments that, in retrospect, were signs of a friend being suicidally depressed. Joy Division sounds heavy, in much the same way that the guitar in Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” does — and we know how Kurt Cobain ended up (that’s my favorite Nirvana song — but I’m not depressed).

On a brighter note, Control is a very good movie — and looks and feels very authentic, probably because it was directed by the man responsible for one of Joy Division’s only videos (like the film, starkly black and white and often still like a photograph) and was based on the autobiography of Curtis’s widow. She suggests that Curtis’s suicide was caused in large part by his being unable to figure out any resolution to being torn between two women — his wife and Belgian amateur rock reporter Annik Honore. He also appears to have been worried that he was a bad, often absent father to his young daughter; to have suffered increasingly severe seizures; and to have been plagued by money worries after leaving a job at a placement agency for clients that included the retarded and fellow seizure victims. Add to all that a Cobain-like ambivalence about fame and the fact that the poor man was only twenty-three when he killed himself, and it’s admirable he held up as well as he did.

It’s also admirable, in a way, that he felt so deeply conflicted about the love triangle — it seems almost quaint three decades later, when rock stars go through wives faster than they put out albums. A pity he didn’t find a better way to deal with it all, though. Much as some people love New Order (that poor dog!), the peppier and dancier band that rose from Joy Division’s ashes, I would love to know what later Joy Division albums would have sounded like — they were arguably the first “postpunk” band, even though they were contemporaries of the Sex Pistols and other early punk bands, taking punk sounds but adding a great deal of maturity to them that makes clear the songs aren’t relying solely on noise, energy, or the element of surprise to impress us.

Like U2 or the Smiths, they can be appreciated even by an oldster like me who rarely summons the energy to pogo anymore and wants to be able to hear all the lyrics (and speaking of the Smiths: on a less-glum glumrock note, Drudge linked this week to an article about the Smiths/Electronic/Modest Mouse guitar player Johnny Marr becoming a professor — maybe he’ll be inspired to write more songs about boys’ schools).

P.S. A more spirited alternative-rocker, Tibbie X, also attended Control last night and notes that her relatively new band, Kissy Kamikaze, will perform on Nov. 1 at Galapogos Art Space along with other bands containing roller derby girls. Nothing glum about that.

P.P.S. And lest it sound like this entry is all punk and no conservative, let me add that Brown alum and free-marketeer Bobbby Jindal has won the election today for governor of Louisiana by enough to avoid a run-off election — and like John Stossel, he can be trusted not to blame post-Katrina problems there on global warming.

Friday, October 19, 2007

My Retro-Journal Begins -- with "Black Monday" 1987


Flashback! Shocking Origin Saga Begins Here! Now It Can Be Told!

As I entered Brown in the fall of 1987, I didn’t expect to be the sort of person who takes an interest in politics (just literature). The only way in which America had seriously disappointed me up to that point was by going four — rather than the originally planned three — years without a new Star Wars movie (I would wait another twelve years, but perhaps that disappointment can be revisited in a future installment of these weekly Retro-Journal entries — forty total, each recounting half a year, from 1987-2007).

Twenty years later, I’m a cranky, somewhat pessimistic libertarian — who hopes fellow 90s Brown alum Bobby Jindal will win the Louisiana governorship in tomorrow’s election there, allowing him to restore Katrina-ravaged New Orleans free-market style (with the side benefit of reducing author Naomi Klein to tears, given her recent book denouncing post-disaster market-based reforms). But I wasn’t always like this…or was I?

Entering Brown, I had come from a stable, two-parent, one-child, middle-class, suburban/rural, literally red-white-and-blue home with Colonial decorations and a white picket fence in Norwich, CT — where emotions, in the time-honored New England fashion, rarely ran high, unless I was denouncing my parents for something like not being New Wave enough in their musical tastes (the small handful of vinyl albums I bought as a teenager — before becoming obsessed with audiotape, the oft-derided but then most-flexible format — began on a high note with the Police’s Synchronicity, and I’m not confident I’ve bought a better album since). In retrospect, of course, I realize my mild-mannered parents liked the Police and Prince — and the Stones and Motown and Elvis — and were (and are) right about most things.

Even at the time, I never disagreed with them so much as to question their — our — whole way of life. America, to the extent our chunk of it was representative (and I still don’t think it was that abnormal), seemed to work OK. Even though I was already an atheist and thought plenty of popular trends were stupid, I was fairly accepting of the whole U.S. package, from NASA to TV to the Cold War to classic rock to shopping malls (even if malls bored me personally, aside from bookstores). No major complaints, no carefully-formulated ideology (and no known party affiliation for my parents).

I picked Brown University, though I was accepted to all the Ivies (except Yale, where I did not apply because its world-class divinity school caused me to worry, wrongly, that the place would be crawling with Bible-thumpers). I interpreted the brochures about how Brown students should be “liberal” in their thinking to mean liberal in the classical sense (though I wasn’t yet familiar with the classical/modern liberal distinction): open-minded and individualistic, making it the sort of tolerant place that encouraged people to invent their own majors if they so chose.

Brown was certainly full of individualists and creative oddballs — and I’m grateful for that to this day — but it became clear upon my arrival in September that many of those quirky people interpreted “liberal” in a much more modern, even revolutionary, sense than I had.

The very first entry in my college journal noted some of the strange — and annoyingly, stridently political — things that struck me about the place (and the very first sentence mentioned one creative oddball, then a sophomore and dorm counselor to freshmen, who remains my friend to this day). Here’s the verbatim opening paragraph of the diary, revealed to the public for the first time:

One of my residential counselors is a cheery fan of love-guru Leo Buscaglia named Cherry, the other a muscular Rambo fan named Reid. The previous occupants of my room here at Brown University painted the walls in numerous horrible colors, covering them with the word “Anarchy,” some kind of fish-cow thing, and a bad-looking cyclops. I was rebuked by a Christian speaker here named J.P. Moreland for being “only a freshman” and claiming to know that the design argument for the existence of God fails. Fuck the Central American Solidarity Organization, all “collectives,” the Organization for Marxist Studies, and the Block Bork Coalition. One girl from the Block Bork Coalition, Laura Petricola, wrote an editorial in the Brown Daily Herald supporting Gus Hall, General Secretary of the U.S. Communist Party, for president. The Brown Film Society’s [comedic] Film Bulletin suggested revising sexist history texts by changing the word “men” to “men and skirts.”

That first week of the journal, while I was in this alternate universe, the outside world — which had just recently gone through the Iran-Contra hearings — was experiencing another important death-pang of the mostly-happy 1980s, the major stock market dip of October 19, 1987 — exactly twenty years ago as I type this. I didn’t really hear about it until the next day, as recorded in my journal entry for Oct. 20, 1987:

I was up far too early this morning, typing a physics report, half awake, when [roommate] Allen’s alarm clock/radio went off, saying “Bzzt fzzzrrrt worse overseas, with Australia’s stock market falling 25%…” I was so unsettled, I had to go buy a newspaper before completing the physics report. They’re already calling yesterday’s stock market crash “Black Monday.”

Not a bad time to embark on a four-year vacation from the real world, actually. The entry for Oct. 21, 1987 again mentions Allen, my born-again Christian roommate from Kentucky, as well as the three core members of my nerdy high school clique, who’d also gone on to prestigious schools (none of us aristocrats or legacies, just smart kids from a fairly blue-collar area who always did our homework):

Two guys from Allen’s group, the Campus Crusade for Christ, tried to convince me in the snack bar called the Gate that Christ rose from the dead and that I’m “biased” against the supernatural. Eat me.

I’ll bet Paul Taylor is finding John Hersh hard to live with at Yale after the big market correction, since John kept saying in high school that it would come eventually. I wonder how Chuck Blake enjoyed the earthquake out at CalTech.

The next day brought conspiracy theorists and race activists, plus evidence Brown was becoming annoying enough to turn me into a reactionary:

THURSDAY, OCT. 22, 1987: Central American Solidarity Organization showed a conspiracy videotape from the Christic Institute attempting to link Iran-Contra to everything from the Nazis to Nixon. On Wednesday, our entire freshman unit (about twenty-five people) had to meet with the organization RACE, which defined racism as the existence of a powerful white majority and started a list of “racist institutions” which they never completed, stopping after I suggested adding affirmative action to the list, but which probably would’ve included everything in the U.S. if they kept going. [Brown was then a place where the non-white freshmen were literally asked to show up on campus three days before white students, to be educated about racism at the "Third World Transition Program" meant to help them fend off the oppression by the later-arriving whites like me -- yet no one thought the left might be fueling rather than defusing racism.]

On Oct. 26, I noted the tension between Marxist theory and the classics: “Lots of semiotics bullshit in one English class. King Lear in the other.” Only in retrospect do I notice that that Shakespeare play is fitting, since I also noted that day that my paternal grandfather passed away in New Hampshire — where many Seaveys had lived since William Seavey oversaw construction projects there back in 1631, I now know. And speaking of patriarchs, the next day’s entry says…

Girls from the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center met with our freshman unit and asked the no-win question of whether feminists should be working harder to change men’s attitudes or women’s. I said women’s, since all but one of the men in my senior high school English class [when surveyed by our highly sensitive and then not-yet-famous English teacher, Wally Lamb] said they wanted a marriage of equals, while all the women said they wanted a “traditional” marriage with the man in charge. The Sarah Doyle girls didn’t have much of a response. Residential counselor Reid suggested the creation of a Fred Smith Men’s Center...

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 28, 1987: Unable to find a cable adaptor to get Brown-TV’s “adult uncensored cartoons,” I settle for watching the Republican presidential candidates debate on PBS…

Back then I knew nothing about libertarianism but apparently was already bothered by the usual right-left political categories, as suggested in this entry:

SUNDAY, NOV. 1, 1987: Thinking about the weird party-line consistency in politics. Where are the vegetarian Reaganites? Why do the strange New Age newspapers sold on Thayer Street have to be anti-nuke, anti-police, and anti-capitalism?

No time to solve that question back then, though — college was a fast-paced intellectual environment, as alluded to on Nov. 5:

Finished relativity and the history of the universe in physics today, read the rest of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and now must finish Villette.

Note: Yes’s Big Generator album has “A Song for Harmonic Convergence” on it, and the Maharishi [Mahesh] Yogi’s nationwide Ghandarvan peace-n-harmony music festival will be held partly in Brown’s Alumni Hall, thanks to Brown’s Transcendental Meditation Society. I fear this kind of mysticism could come to dominate our whole culture...

FRIDAY, NOV. 6, 1987: One other kid in philosophy agrees with me in seeing the soul as an unnecessary, unsupported hypothesis. Last night’s Late Night with David Letterman featured a list of “The Top Ten Dark Secrets from [Supreme Court nominee Douglas] Ginsburg’s Past,” including the clever “Beat a drifter to death with a tube sock full of wood screws”…

MONDAY, NOV. 9, 1987: The Organization for Marxist Studies is stupid. I went to one of their meetings, at which they argued that the U.S. mass media paints a negative picture of the USSR. Apparently lots of high schoolers think the USSR sided with the Axis in WWII, which the OMS blames on media, Reagan, corporations, and G.I. Joe cartoons, all of which “serve the ruling classes”…Laura Petricola (of Block Bork Coalition fame) says condescendingly, “Many U.S. history books even try to create the impression that the USSR was reluctant to fight fascism at the outset of the war, which is a blatant misreading of history.” Non-Aggression Pact, Laura. I left about 9 to watch (ironically) The Billionaire Boys’ Club, with Judd Nelson as a billionaire murderer…

Already, the tensions that would dominate our age were apparent in that first Gorbachev-era semester: capitalism and anti-capitalism, highbrow theory and pop culture, Letterman and Batman. But stranger developments lay ahead, as I will recount in my second Retro-Journal entry, one week from today (blogging in the normal fashion in the meantime, aiming for shorter and more frequent entries — and now with a glorious RSS feed, down in my front page’s right margin, to keep you updated, should you choose, on when I’m updated — thanks, webmaster!).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Timecop, Timelash


It’s fitting that I hear news that reminds me of time travel on the eve of my inaugural “Retro-Journal” blog entry describing events of twenty years ago: says there will be a remake of the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Timecop, only thirteen years after the original’s release (and just the other day I was marveling that remakes of Hellraiser and Near Dark might be afoot after only twenty years — maybe they’ll eventually shoot the original and the remake of a film back-to-back — sort of like Gus Van Sant’s Psychos).

The news induces what Chuck Blake (who featured prominently in yesterday’s blog entry) and I have referred to, since high school, as “timelash” or alternately “falling down a time tunnel” — that is, the sense that time is passing so quickly that one is losing control over reality, an idea poetically captured by Chuck’s favorite band, Rush, in the song “Time Stand Still” (well, it’s pretty touching for a song by Ayn Rand fans with butt-kicking drums — interesting aside: if you think I’m a nerd, once when I mentioned Aimee Mann to Chuck, he replied, You mean that woman who does the backing vocals on “Time Stand Still”?).

We weren’t too worried about rapid aging back in high school, but circa 1985, time travel did figure prominently in our favorite sci-fi series and my favorite comic book. And aside from some brilliant plot gymnastics in a couple third-season episodes of Babylon 5, movies and TV rarely get time travel “right” even by their own stated rules-of-the-game — not that time travel fully makes sense to begin with, of course. Timecop happens to have been, in my estimation, one of the worst offenders, so I am baffled and disoriented on multiple meta-levels to hear they’re remaking it.

The rule clearly laid down at the beginning of the movie is: when a time traveler (such as Van Damme) alters the past, he remains unchanged — so that when he goes back to the future, people there have to fill him in on the details of the new timeline created. That is, he is now something of an outsider to history. Yet at the climax of the film, villainous Ron Silver time travels and laughs off his own imminent destruction (while he’s visiting the past) by a bomb blast, saying that since he’s time traveling from the future and altering the past, none of this will have mattered/happened and his future self will be just fine, with the implication he will never have made the time trip in the first place. So now the time traveler supposedly gets “erased” along with the old version of history.

Silver’s version of how time travel works is about as logical as Van Damme’s — but they shouldn’t both be in the same damn movie, especially not at a climactic moment dependent upon what rules we think we know about what’s going on. Either the time traveler changes with the timeline or he doesn’t, but you can’t have it both ways, you bastards!! Hollywood’s getting a little better at keeping these internal-sci-fi-consistency things (about which I’ve obsessed at length before) straight, as real nerds age and rise to power there, but it’s touch and go.

One good retro-time-spanning thing to come out of Timecop, though: a cover by the Smithereens of the Outsiders’ song “Time Won’t Let Me,” a CD of which was given to me years ago by Dawn Eden, through whom I was also lucky enough to meet nice Smithereens lead singer Pat DiNizio, once a skinny neo-beatnik guy and now a portly former Senate candidate for the Reform Party in New Jersey — but still rockin’ on a regular basis (and somewhat conservative).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stossel vs. Gore: Global Warming on "20/20” This Coming Friday

So my own personal checklist of who stands where on global warming now goes something like this:

•My current employers, the American Council on Science and Health, have no official position, partly because it’s out of our personal-health bailiwick but also because our hundreds of scientist advisors are probably divided on the issue, and we tend not to weigh in on things unless it’s very clear that the overwhelming consensus of scientists agrees on something (not to be confused with the overwhelming consensus of scientists-one-likes, scientists-who-are-pithy-enough-to-get-quoted-a-lot, or scientists-vaguely-referenced-by-the-U.N., whatever their respective positions).

•My previous employer, John Stossel, is understandably skeptical of the whole climate change crusade — given how often environmental alarmists have been wrong about other things and how quickly they tend to seize upon increased government regulation as the answer to every problem real or imagined — and he’ll probably touch on that in his segment on global warming on ABC’s 20/20 this Friday (October 19), 8pm Eastern (9 Central and Mountain, 8 Pacific, I think — check local listings).

•My friend for two and a half decades, Chuck Blake, who I’m confident is more resistant to the politicization and moralizing of scientific thinking than anyone else I’ve ever known well — it wouldn’t be too terribly unfair to characterize his philosophy as: if you can’t reliably quantify it, it’s nonsense (or at least should be regarded as little more than entertainment and talk) — and who has long chastised me for even having political and moral positions at all, since they cannot be empirically verified in the laboratory-worthy sense, is a statistics expert, and he insists that global warming mania is absolutely insane, tiny trends that don’t amount to any clear implications, being talked up as sure signs of doom.

•I’m sticking with Chuck, even as some of my libertarian (or near-libertarian) acquaintances soften on the issue and, as a sort of fallback, turn their attention to the (perfectly reasonable) topic of finding cheaper remediation solutions than the ones the Al Gores of the world prefer, since the latter, if taken to their logical conclusions, would not entail mere solar panel deployment or weather-stripping but something more akin to destroying 25% of our current levels of production and rolling back standards of living to those of the mid-twentieth century.

Minuscule variations in climate conditions — easily swamped by the margins of error in the predictions or, in more concrete terms, by a typical higher-than-normal tide — are routinely used to make drastic long-term predictions, despite few of the climatologists’ old predictions ever coming true. We are expected to take action now, in very expensive ways, with limited and contradictory data, about the most complex and poorly-understood systems science has ever attempted to study, in order to deal with problems that may or may not seem important or hard to deal with a hundred years from now when sea levels may or may not have risen, say, an inch — if we’re still using oil a century from now (if that in fact is correlated to the problem [if there is one]) — and by which time we will surely have a better grip on both the science and the means of remediation unless something terribly, terribly strange happens to civilization in the interim (as some eco-apocalyptics would very much like you to believe it might).

ACSH may not have a position on the issue, but working at that organization certainly provides a daily education in how the human mind lights more easily upon scare-scenarios and apocalypse narratives than on more rational wait-for-better-data messages. And it has taught me how routinely the tragic telephone-game occurs in which weak science data, turned into soundbites by media, also turns into deafening moral pronouncements from activists and politicians. Most troubling, since we live in a flurry of complex data, the job has taught me how cherry-picking of data ceases to seem like cherry-picking if the pickers — whether for moral reasons or just for the sake of efficiency — think they already know what’s going on and can fit each new data point into a comfy little story or catechism they already know.

It happens not only with almost every health scare story in the news but, frankly, with almost every story in the news, as my six years at ABC (before my six years so far at ACSH) taught me.

The last thing a busy journalist wants to hear is that he’s got the whole story wrong. The last thing readers want to hear is that the real story is going to be complex, full of uncertainty, possessed of far more than two sides, and, yes, boring (the universe never promised you a rose garden that could “provide miracle cures!” nor one that will “kill someone you love!”). The last thing politicians want to hear is that increasing their power over the private sector may not be warranted. And the last thing committee heads, whether at the U.N. or at Nobel HQ, want to hear is that their imprimatur on a one-paragraph version of an idea does not sweep under the rug the countless little piecemeal uncertainties that went into producing the apparent party line (a Wall Street Journal op-ed today by a climate scientist notes just one of countless examples of how every climatic change now becomes the latest poster child for an implied single, monolithic “global warming” phenomenon: we aren’t sure what’s melting the snow on Mt. Kilimanjaro, but it appears to have something to do with direct sunlight, not atmospheric warming, since the air remains well below freezing atop Kilimanjaro).

Whenever you hear someone speak of “the consensus” that global warming is occurring, as if all scientists agree not only on the IPCC report basics but on their most dire-possible spin, it is as ridiculous and offensive — given the complexity of the science and the narrowness of most individual scientists’ specialized, tentative niche claims — as saying that all the contributors to (and all the footnoted individuals in) a multi-volume encyclopedia on zoology agree with the editors’ “consensus statement” about what must be done about the local feral cat problem.

Getting one thing right — which is rare enough in the fledgling science of climatology — doesn’t magically mean the alarmists have gotten every other prediction right (the climate is far more complex than people realize — ice sheets can be melting in one region while thickening in another, just for starters, and we’re not even always in agreement about how best to measure it). Similarly, corruption at the Department of Housing and Urban Development is not, by itself, sufficient evidence that government cannot work and must be abolished — much as I might wish (much as we all might wish) argument were that easy.

There’s never really a “last word” in science, but Friday’s Stossel piece should at least start some interesting conversations.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Joe Jackson, Swedish New Wave, and Time

As I was collecting my twenty-year-old notes for this coming Friday’s inaugural (and henceforth weekly) Retro-Journal entry, I saw something that made me painfully conscious of how quickly things change: the cover of Joe Jackson’s 2000 album, Night and Day II, to which I was listening.

It’s not just that the beautiful black and white cover photo shows the World Trade Center filling a nighttime sky — through the windshield of a cab, its meter visible as it heads downtown through Tribeca — but also the fact that it shows Jackson himself in the rearview mirror, seated in the back of the cab. I was thirty when the album came out, and the New York City nightlife suggested by the photo was still somewhat novel.

Seven years later, the Trade Center, of course, is gone, but so too is my youth — less than two years until forty, though I’m still hoping biotech will make me immortal — and even Jackson himself is now gone from New York, moved to Ireland to escape New York City’s smoking ban on bars and restaurants. He must have been very annoyed when Ireland banned smoking in pubs shortly thereafter.


There are exceptions to New York’s ban, grandfathered-in cigar bars including Merchants NY, where I co-host the monthly Manhattan Project gatherings of non-leftist media folk referred to in the right-hand margin of my front page — e-mail me if you’re interested. I’m pleased that the smoking at that bar occurs on a different floor than the one where we gather, though. I’m only one-third opposed to the smoking ban, you might say: (1) as a libertarian, I think the ban is immoral and tyrannical, but (2) personally I’m delighted to discover that one can breathe comfortably in a bar — it wasn’t just social awkwardness making my throat and eyes feel uncomfortable for that first decade in the City — and (3) as a staffer at the American Council on Science and Health, I know that forcing people not to smoke may be one of the only regulations that actually does some good, in narrow utilitarian terms, since smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and a subtly addictive, very hard habit to kick. I remember breathing freely and easily at an Ian McCulloch concert, one of the first I went to in the smoke-free-NYC era, and realizing that, oddly, the only person smoking was the man onstage.

Viewed politically, though, I think the best summary of what an imposition the smoking ban is may have been the observation I heard made one night by a frustrated German tourist: “This city is insane! I can’t take my cigarette indoors, and I can’t take my beer outdoors!” We fought the King of England over less, back when we had spines and still loved liberty.


One minute you’re still dreaming of being an enfant terrible, the next you’re shuffling meekly toward the grave. On the bright side, approaching forty means I’m better able to appreciate the slow, quiet, jazzish Jackson album than I was back when it first came out. But then again: the immature, ironic, postmodern experience of seeing Jackson, William Shatner, and Ben Folds perform the band Pulp’s song “Common People” on Leno raises my spirits far more. For each of the four, this was arguably one of their best moments.

Rock critic and nightlife reporter J.R. Taylor recently praised Jackson on his RightWingTrash blog, by the way — just one of many wonderful entries on that site, which exudes the firm, Middle-American attitude that the important kind of conservatism is the kind that assures you it’s OK to shoot the burglars when they break in and try to stab your family — which is to say, the kind of conservatism implicit in most action movies, a cultural glue more important than theology or social programs, I thought as a teen, as an odd-man-out moderate conservative at a left-wing college, and as an adult today. But more about all that starting Friday.

J.R.’s sympathetic reviews of gun-toting hero flics on the blog suggest he shares this populist-individualist-vigilante attitude, and he goes so far as to say that this ordinary-middle-class-Americans view of things is superior to William F. Buckley’s brand of conservatism. J.R., interestingly, sees Buckley as playing into the hands of the liberal media in a way not so different from Ann Coulter: that is, providing a living parody of liberals’ expectations of what conservatism is, with the effect of reaffirming their liberal attitudes. Just as Coulter makes conservatives sound like cruel people with Tourette’s, Buckley makes it sound like all conservatives are snobby aristocrats (of course, this was arguably an improvement over the pre-Buckley view that conservatives were pitchfork-wielding illiterates).

I think J.R. will approve of my project to shape a “conservatism for punks” — but more about that trashy project soon.


In the meantime, to make you alternative-rocking Gen Xers (some of whom might care to join me this Friday at Film Forum for the 7pm show of Control, the movie about the life and death of Joy Division’s lead singer) feel young again, if only for a few minutes, here are a few recent yet New Wave-like video clips:

•“Le Disko” by Shiny Toy Guns (this video for the song, complete with androgynes and spider-monster, is more elaborate than the original video, but my favorite video clip for the song is probably the Matrix-like ad for Raza cell phones that uses it).

•Swedish band the Sounds sounds pretty ’82 to me — and seeing them on Letterman here contributes to the effect — though the kids these days will hear them as echoing the more recent electro-clash movement as much as their New Wave forebears.

•Their slightly dopier and more Stefanian but still cool fellow Swedes, Surferosa, did something right with “Saturday Night” (not to be confused with the Sounds’ “Seven Days a Week,” above) even if this is but an amateur video for it assembled from Swedish sitcoms or something.

•While we’re praising Sweden, I see no harm in linking to my favorite Hives and Golden Earring videos (the latter the only thing linked here that’s actually from the 80s).

•The Epoxies, of course, are thoroughly “Synthesised” in 80s fashion despite being from twenty-first-century Seattle (and none of fheir videos, sad to say, seems to do justice to their live shows — or to lead singer Roxy Epoxy’s gangly, gyroscopic dancing — judging by the two shows in a row I saw with Michael Malice and Scott Nybakken a few years back).

•And here, for good measure, is one of the Johns from They Might Be Giants being interviewed by rabbits.

Thus do I challenge Time and Death.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Book Selection(s) of the Month: Novak and Dreher -- plus Chambers, Rand, Gore, Lapham, and Mommy

novak.jpg Book Selection of the Month (October 2007): Prince of Darkness by Robert Novak and Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher (and more)

David Brooks wrote in the New York Times last week that the Republican Party has been faltering because it has gotten too ideological, giving up Burkean restraint for extremist religious, free-market (go, team!), or neocon creeds. He might be right that most Americans would prefer a more mushy, compromising, middle-of-the-road Republican Party, but one important objection springs to mind: behind the creedal rhetoric, the fact is we already have a mushy, compromising, middle-of-the-road Republican Party.

•The feared religious extremists have not outlawed abortion or porn or even done much to limit prostitution, which is de facto legal in places like New York City these days, as long as it’s not done on the street.

•Neocon hawks got their Iraq war but precisely because of that aren’t likely to see much more of their dreamed-of hegemonic empire erected.

•And despite the perpetual advances in technology and ever more efficient business practices that make the world seem, by some measures, ever more capitalist, from a policy perspective, we free-marketeers are almost always losers and have virtually no politician allies in either major party, save for the occasional marginal figure like Ron Paul or extraordinarily rare achiever/hero like Reagan or Thatcher (and even those two did numerous things, even in the economic sphere, to which we’d object).

And none of these is all that surprising if, like Robert Novak in his recent autobiography, The Prince of Darkness, you reflect upon the sordid, messy, unphilosophical, and generally unprincipled history of the two major parties. His fifty years of reporting in Washington, DC have often given him a Gump-like close-up view of major politicians and the events that shaped their careers (and U.S. history). I cannot stress forcefully enough (especially for my intellectual and ideological readers) how little politics has to do with philosophy, whether right, left, or otherwise. It’s something that intellectuals have a hard time wrapping their minds around — precisely because they like having ideas to wrap their minds around.

Nonetheless, political history is shaped by things such as: which region of the country a candidate chose to visit at which stage in his campaign, whether his ex-wife is still making news, how bad his head cold was during a pivotal stump speech, whether his handlers forgot to tell him that the local fishing industry is doing poorly this year, and whether an influential TV producer was his friend in college. Philosophy is something the candidates pay lip service to halfway through the stump speech — to throw a bone to the small subset of voters who care about such things, in as calculated a way as the candidate throws in references to local monuments and sports teams.

(One of the reasons that I manage to get along with some of the people on my Acquaintances page who obviously disagree with my atheist or free-market views is that I have no illusions about how many of us intellectuals and ideologues there are. We are a tiny community unto ourselves — and thus ought to learn to get along — regardless of whether we are libertarians, socialists, or evangelicals. Half the country doesn’t even read books and votes for reasons such as thinking one candidate looks taller or more paternal than the other, if they can even be bothered to remember more than one candidate’s name, which is not always the case — one reason name recognition is about the most important factor in elections.)


Back in the 1950s and 60s, Novak thought, like Brooks, that both parties were healthier to the extent they avoided ideology — but as time went on, he realized that natural as it might be for average Americans to recoil from ideology, non-ideological politicians are often the real threat — breaking promises, lacking a moral compass, double-talking, preferring cronies to intellectual allies, pork to principle. Would you rather deal with an up-front advocate of tax breaks and deregulation or someone who talks about how beautiful your state’s traditions of helping the poor are while he’s quietly pressuring the Department of Energy to dole out fat, poorly-overseen subsidies to a local real estate magnate, ostensibly to research solar power but mainly to refurbish the magnate’s offices? That’s pretty much the real choice.

As Novak recounts, prior to roughly Reagan or so, no one thought that GOP and Dem automatically equal conservative and liberal, respectively, and Novak’s long-view awareness of how depressingly, blandly non-ideological the parties have generally been still shows itself when (in one of his recent columns) he writes admirably non-partisan sentences like these:

Rangel also is considering the old millionaires’ tax, but applying it to much more than millionaires: a surtax on household incomes over $200,000. All this would reverse the tide of across-the-board tax reduction begun by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and renewed by Ronald Reagan.

You don’t see many politicians anymore who could, without lots of complex explanations, describe themselves as “a conservative and lifelong Democrat.” (Jonathan Funke, by contrast, calls himself a proud Rockefeller Republican, but he’s about the only one I’ve met in my own age bracket.)

For those already of a political-junkie bent, Novak offers an entertaining tour of the bizarre little contingent policy missteps, personality quirks, and bungled media appearances that decide history — with a lot of drinking (including the booze session that led to him losing all memory of a long interview with the bibulous Sen. Patrick Moynihan) and some gambling mixed in, not to mention his profound cynicism, funny comments about editing and writing, an intriguing and refreshing habit of telling us exactly what he earned for every gig (with adjustments for inflation!), and anecdotes about Jimmy Carter being a pathological liar (though not quite, perhaps, history’s greatest monster).

One depressing reminder how disillusioning the facts are: Novak describes interviewing Gingrich in very early ’95 and finding that Gingrich seemed already to be losing interest in details of the “revolution” of November ’94 and already to be thinking about a presidential run. Novak says that for a moment he thought Gingrich was joking when he said: I’ve accomplished about all I can at the Congressional level, don’t you think? Novak realized with alarm that the Speaker was serious, and he thought: But Gingrich hasn’t done anything yet!

On the bright side, the large element of randomness and chaos in politics means that sometimes one person can make a difference rather than just being steamrollered by purported forces of historical inevitability — witness the delightfully-named and stubbornly conservative Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, pugnaciously refusing to budge in his support for Bush’s welcome veto of S-CHIP, the program that taxes everyone to give health benefits to the non-poor.


Given how appalling and often futile mainstream politics is — despite the fact that each side rallies its troops by describing the enemy camp as making huge strides — I can’t help but be drawn to Rod Dreher’s book Crunchy Cons from early last year, even though I disagree with him on almost every specific point he makes. Dreher reports on the marginal but very interesting subset of conservatives, most of them very religious, who have defied the usual right/left boundaries to embrace lots of “crunchy,” green, hippie-like elements of the culture, such as organic food, resistance to real estate development, aversion to materialism and advertising, love of nature, and criticism of the way capitalism — or more accurately, business in combination with governmental powers such as eminent domain — disrupts and frays old community ties.

(Having just seen, with girlfriend Koli, Part 7 of Ric Burns’ amazing New York documentary, in which urban planner Robert Moses lays waste to entire New York City neighborhoods for decades, relocating fragile, often poor populations into inhumanly bland Le Corbusier-designed apartment blocks — until he is stopped in his tracks by Greenwich Village activists led by writer Jane Jacobs — I can sympathize with this seemingly anti-modernist view.)

Like the Amish or some of the paleoconservatives, Dreher understands that a consistent conservatism might have to reject modernity as a whole, both capitalism and big government, in order to restore local, traditional ties. Dreher concludes the book by praising Alasdair MacIntyre (as did I in an earlier Book Selection entry), the philosopher who thinks the best hope for morally renewing society is to withdraw from the mainstream and once more build tiny communities where uncontested virtues such as friendship, thoughtfulness, loyalty to family, reliability, honesty, and basic competence matter again. I admire taking these things so seriously as to think they may be worth quitting the rat race, turning off the TV, abandoning political parties, and spending time in quiet contemplation of things that really matter. And yet…

It’s all too easy to imbue the things one loves with a special, moral glow while disparaging everyone else’s heartfelt allegiances as shallow and phony. (The Marxists — who, like Jimmy Carter of all people, sometimes get spoken of sympathetically in Dreher’s book — have long denounced those of us who “think” we’re happy in capitalist society as suffering from “false consciousness,” an easy way to dismiss people’s opinions if they reject your political scheme.) Dreher repeatedly rhapsodizes about bottles of wine shared with his friends and family, or strolls through the old Brooklyn neighborhood he once lived in — but couldn’t we all write such sentimental accounts of our old haunts (even if some places, like a crime-filled Le Corbusier apartment complex, might genuinely be harder to rhapsodize about than others)?


I don’t mean to dismiss Dreher’s points altogether — indeed, I have worried almost since childhood that talking about morality gets you stared at like a relic from the Middle Ages and that being as warm-hearted as Winnie the Pooh is not considered as “cool” as being a take-no-shit ass-kicker — but I am wary of Dreher’s suggestion that capitalism is hopelessly at odds with the preservation of things like friendship (capitalism, done right, is as organic and complex a set of personal connections as the neighborhoods Jacobs loved). In fact, I’m not sure my own feelings have ever been more badly hurt than when I first realized, in college (the philosophical crucible and cultural alternate universe that was Brown, as I’ll begin recounting this coming Friday), that I was surrounded by intellectuals (students, professors, and the minds encountered in my textbooks) who ritually condemned, with a sneer both aristocratic and socialist, such omnipresent American phenomena as “strip malls.”

Indeed, highways lined with little stores had been such a familiar — and comforting — part of my own life (still reminding me today of the three-hour rides from Connecticut to New Hampshire to see Grandma), that I didn’t even know there was a term for them, let alone that it was intended to be a disparaging term. Condemning strip malls seemed as strange to me as condemning television (which admittedly is terribly addictive but has shown millions of people countless phenomena and parts of the world they would never likely have experienced firsthand), easy access to food, or comfort — and of course all these things are also periodically condemned by people like Dreher or numerous intellectuals on the left.

I’m willing to condemn much of what goes on in popular culture — and advertising/materialist culture — as moronic, and what degrades the brain undoubtedly cheapens and worsens life, even when we aren’t consciously aware of it (and even the clever parts of pop culture increasingly sound sniping and bitchy lately, from Gawker to Family Guy to Drudge to TV dramas generally). Yet surely an ethically-concerned, earnest crunchy con (and Dreher is indeed thoughtful and earnest — even emotionally-fragile and depressive-sounding at times, as when he recounts a conversation with liberals that left him weeping — rather than triumphalist and bombastic like a preacher or a Limbaugh) should be the last person to want to risk ingratitude. And what is it if not ingratitude to badmouth capitalism and science, which for the first time in human history — within just the past generation or so — have made it more likely for people to die of old age and old age-related diseases than of predation, murder, starvation, or some youth-killing disease?

(About half of prehistoric human males appear to have died of murder — to take one admittedly extremely pre-modern example — a reminder that at heart, males are probably “naturally” inclined to be murdering philanderers out to assemble an army of harem girls to impregnate beside the mountains of their rivals’ skulls — what an astoundingly feminist and pacifist coup the invention of monogamous marriage, with its male-taming effects, appears to be.)


One of Dreher’s interviewees, yet another of my fellow Phillips Foundation fellows, Read Schuchardt, once complained to me that capitalism kept him on a treadmill that made it hard to spend time with his wife and six children and (at the time) kept them crammed in a small New Jersey apartment. Without getting into a debate about apartment sizes and the fact that capitalism enables him to make a living talking about movies and TV (as a media studies professor in a Marshall McLuhan-esque mode), I had to at least note, at the risk of sounding rude, the grim but important truth that if we were living over a century ago, most of his children would probably be dead by now — and his life expectancy would be about forty or fifty. Is it contemptuous of family values to say that those advances matter? (I asked that basic question in a letter posted on the Crunchy Con blog that Dreher’s coworkers at maintained around the time of the book’s release.)

Similarly, much-maligned industrial agriculture is what’s keeping us all alive and fed at such little expense, using so little land per unit of food produced, compared to the hallowed oldy-times — and there is no truth to the anti-chemical health claims routinely made in favor of oganic food, but feel free to pay extra for it if you like the taste and think, rather parochially, that local farmers are morally superior to distant farmers.

(The desire to say a stoic, realist, and profoundly necessary “no” to overly idyllic visions of nature or the past is the reason that — as I will write about with increasing frequency over the next several months — I can’t help feeling there is a similarity between the admirably cynical, hippie-hating attitude of punk rock and the fiscal conservatives who arose around the same time, about thirty years ago — and I’m not the only one to make the connection, as this American Spectator article about Johnny Rotten, pointed out to me by Dan Greenberg, suggests.)


Some wit said that people who embrace non-capitalist systems are often like a casting director who sees the first auditioner, with his undeniable defects, and is so appalled that he shouts “Go away! I’m giving the job to the other applicant!” without ever waiting to see whether the other auditioner has flaws of his own, which may be even worse. That description can be applied not only to welfare-statists and to hasty, messianic, regulation-loving, who-needs-more-data environmentalists such as Gore (whether crunchy-con or crunchy-left) but also — it must be said — to religious believers.

Dreher and Novak both have kind words for Whittaker Chambers, whose book Witness recounted his conversion from communism to Christianity (and his subsequent outing of Alger Hiss as a communist spy, one of several famous ones that some on the contemporary left still don’t realize was an actual Soviet agent). That makes plenty of sense, not only because Novak and Dreher are both converts to Catholicism but because for both of them the conversion seems to have been an eruption born of some deep — and perhaps still unaddressed — emotional turmoil. Chambers leapt from being deeply devoted to one passionate belief system to another, as if he could not bear to spend a moment as a moderate, skeptic, unbeliever, or man without a system (he certainly didn’t like Ayn Rand’s atheistic, materialistic system, though, as he explained in a review of Atlas Shrugged reprinted by this week).

Novak alludes to problems with drinking and gambling — and his beautiful disgust with the everyday world of politics is on display on every page of his autobiography — with the result that his conversion experience — mishearing something a young woman said at a conservative gathering and taking that as a sign the Holy Spirit was speaking through her, as he puts it — seems like a break not only from his past (initially as an agnostic Jew) but from the matter-of-fact empirical clarity of his work as a political reporter. It’s like he went nuts for a moment, I can’t help thinking.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the man. He’s on the Phillips Foundation board of trustees that gave me a writing grant ten years ago and a decade before that, when I was a teen, was one of my earliest political influences, along with Sen. William Proxmire, the Democratic senator turned fiscally-conservative columnist who handed out “Golden Fleece” awards for the most absurd examples of federal spending, the sort of things that make it impossible to think of government as a “corrective” for society’s irrationalities and shortcomings.

But just as people often say “Society has problems — therefore government should act” without bothering to check the ugly details of how government works and asking themselves whether, in the real world, it is likely government can be a beneficial influence, so too do many people, I think, say “Society is full of sin and shallowness and meanness and stupidity — therefore we must give ourselves to the Lord” (and both institutions imply that tithes to them will somehow solve society’s problems).

Much as I hate to sound terribly, terribly negative (I swear I’m a nice, happy guy), why does it never seem to occur to people that perhaps society and markets are indeed shallow and stupid and so is government and so is religion? People like Dreher tend to assume — and admittedly there are plenty of hedonist morons out there who’d agree with him — that religion and crass hedonism are our only options. Why not conclude that they’re both imbecilic (and government too) and try to build something even better? To put it the way a language primer might:

WRONG: There are a lot of people leading hollow, shallow, unhappy lives in our materialistic, hedonist world — therefore we need government.

WRONG: There are a lot of people leading hollow, shallow, unhappy lives in our materialistic, hedonist world — therefore we need God.

RIGHT: There are a lot of people leading hollow, shallow, unhappy lives in our materialistic, hedonist world…and shallow, stupid people indulging in groundless, irrational religious belief…and socially-destructive naifs who think government can help.

And needless to say, encouraging religious belief is playing with fire — Muslim-raised former Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become sufficiently alarmed by the violent potential of her old faith, for example, that she now calls for the religion’s active suppression (as seen in a revealing Reason interview with her). I’m not calling for government censorship of religion, nor ignoring religion only to turn into shallow, stupid, party animals — but perhaps we should strive to rise above all these things.


In his admirable aversion to big, soulless institutions and his effort, for the most part, to seek non-governmental solutions, Dreher is at least reminding us (in a way libertarians should applaud) that it may be possible to reform even vast, path-dependent, almost unconscious social trends through individual, family, and neighborhood initiative rather than turning to the government for solutions (admirers of Ron Paul — such as me and Novak — have to respect that). The best argument for liberty may be the fact that we really can use it for more than shopping, even for such traditionally left-wing sounding ends as, say, fostering greater understanding between ethnic groups or genders, not to mention for humble, ritualistic maintenance of traditions — and for spontaneous, anarchic resistance to tradition. We can do a lot without government, and it would be playing into the government’s hands to suggest that if one is crunchy, one ought logically to favor taxes, spending, and regulation.

I will try not to dismiss Dreher’s insights, and I hope he will not give up on unregulated free markets and strict property rights as frameworks within which to achieve his social aims.

He notes his sympathy for G.K. Chesterton’s economic philosophy, distributivism, which is the intuitively-appealing idea that individual property is indeed the solution — and that we should thus hope to see ownership as decentralized as possible (that is, for example, prefer family farms to huge, impersonal agro-businesses). I don’t wish to dismiss the advantages we reap (and not in mere dollars and cents but in lives saved and opportunities created) through economies of scale, but there is something to be said for the secondary social effects of keeping institutions small.

I am reminded of another interesting book that I didn’t expect to like as much as I did: Lewis Lapham’s The Wish for Kings from about a decade and a half ago. Lapham complains in it that Americans have increasingly become suck-ups and courtiers who, both in the private sector and in government, have become more interested in sucking up to the powerful than in leading their own, individual, small-d democratic lives. The most interesting empirical point he made, and I think Chesterton and Dreher would like this as well, is that in the nineteenth century, most Americans were essentially self-employed — since they ran family farms — whereas in the twentieth century, everyone became accustomed to taking orders from the boss. As even arch-capitalist Friedrich Hayek warned, the employee mentality can easily become a passive-citizen-following-government’s-orders mentality as well.

One more reminder that, in the end, only a combination of anarchism and atheism can keep society safe. It takes a godless, anarchic, yet neighborly village (and I don’t just mean to raise a child — but if, like Dreher, you think child-raising is the central thing, check out Amanda Gersh’s blog about being a mom and lay off the politics for a while).


A few quick thank-yous (since, as the members of the Academy know, a 4,000-word blog entry is not the result of just one person’s effort):

Michael Malice recommended the Novak book and Koli gave it to me for my birthday.

•Paul Taylor and his father, back when Paul and I were in high school, encouraged me to watch The McLaughlin Group, where I first saw Novak (though, as you’ll learn if you read Novak’s book, he says he came to “loathe” McLaughlin).

•Novak’s former assistant, Tim Carney, wrote a book that shares a bit of Dreher’s paleo suspicion of the corporate and governmental elites being part of the same exploitative overclass, called The Big Ripoff.

•Ali Kokmen gave me Crunchy Cons.

Michel Evanchik reminded me of a brush with potential crunchiness that he and I both had in our past: in high school, we each considered, ever so briefly, applying to the tiny, farm-based college called Deep Springs — and I still have their intriguing postcard, full of book- and haybale-carrying students, tucked inside the front cover of the big Brown University dictionary that place gave me as an award/gift, perhaps influencing my ultimate decision to go there (and again, read this blog Friday, October 19 to start learning whether that was a smart move).

One drawback to Deep Springs, by the way, that I’m not sure either Michel or I knew about back in the day: it’s all-male. Not only is it best I didn’t go there, I wonder whether I should have gone to Columbia, with its sister school Barnard, all female, giving it an effective female-male ratio of something like 3-to-1, I think.

•It was Scott Nybakken who suggested I read The Wish for Kings, even though Scott has grown impatient with Lapham since then.