Friday, November 30, 2007

Rochester, NH: Visit My Grandma, Take Hostages at Hillary HQ


I can’t help but take something akin to hometown pride in seeing that the hostage situation being described on the news as I type this is occurring at Hillary Clinton campaign HQ in the cozy little New Hampshire town where my father grew up and where is located the house in which he did so, described fondly in an earlier blog entry and only recently sold by my ninetysomething grandmother as she moved into an apartment.

Needless to say, while I am pro-Grandma, I am opposed to hostage-taking, even at Hillary HQ (one man, who I hope will not turn out to be a part of the New Hampshire-focused libertarian movement called the Free State Project, claims to have a bomb strapped to him and is holding two people, from what I hear at this time). I am reminded, though, of an argument that Tom Wolfe (I think it was) once made about why people, whether New Hampshirite or Iranian, sane or insane, might do something as stupid as take hostages: not so much to have their specific demands met (in this case, a request for an audience with Hillary, as if she’s reluctant to speak to New Hampshire residents right now) but rather to assert their control over a little slice of the Earth, even for a short time, after what has often been years of feeling like they get pushed around all the time. For those few glorious hours until the SWAT snipers take you out, you’re in charge of your own little kingdom.

Those tax protesters who recently found themselves in a stand-off with police in that same state may have felt a similar rush, but of course tax-resisters (who feel taken hostage by withholding rather than feeling like holding hostages) have my sympathies in a way that hostage-takers, no matter their cause, never will.

More admirable is the simple, peaceful assertion, also popular with a variety of fringe characters of varying philosophies, that you are now a tiny sovereign nation. Jesse Walker of Reason magazine has an amusing review (fittingly, in Pat Buchanan’s decentralization-promoting nationalist magazine American Conservative) of a new Lonely Planet travel guide to Micronations, from the two-building independent nation of the Knights of Malta in (surrounded by?) Italy to a minuscule (and thus far not militarily-crushed) plot of land calling itself Molossia in Nevada (Walker also wrote the Reason article that alerted me to the existence of the neat documentary Off the Grid about other Americans who have decided to find their autonomy out in the southwestern desert — and I’m turning in an article partly about Scottish nanotech to him to edit within days, which I was thinking about calling “In a Big Country, Wee Particles,” which is a little ironic, since Scotland is itself a hotbed of secessionist sentiment, despite being bound to the rest of the UK by numerous common cultural practices, such as the deep-fried Mars Bar [brought to my attention by {CORRECTION: someone other than} Marcia Baczynski]).

Perhaps the most inspiring micronation of all, though, is Strong Badia, and one can never hear its rousing national anthem too many times.


Secession of any large parts of the U.S. seems unlikely these days, but I’d be happy, of course, with a much greater emphasis on governmental decentralization, which is one reason I like Constitution/federalism-stressing prez candidate Ron Paul so much (and indeed, more than Rudy Giuliani, as clarified in the comments thread of this recent blog entry, despite the fun item you may have seen about my Giuliani sympathies on — I was visible in its [physically] rightmost column dressed in anarchist black and somewhat hastily referred to as a Giuliani supporter).

Aiding the Paul cause with homemade video ads are people like my friend Bretigne Shaffer and a young comedy folk singer (the latter pointed out to me by Dimitri Cavalli). These videos may not seem as slick as some of the (currently) more popular candidates’ — but they are much more rational, despite a few similarly anarchic themes, than this clip of a very, very angry Tokyo mayoral candidate (also pointed out to me by Marcia Baczynski). “Give me your malicious vote” indeed. If only this guy were allowed to ask a question at the next debate between YouTube and the presidential candidates (I think YouTube is well ahead in the polls, by the way — thanks in part to oddities like this marionette video for the song “Hello Everyone and Welcome to the Earth,” pointed out to me during the last Manhattan Project gathering by DJ, music historian, and arbiter of taste Irwin Chusid).

I, of course, don’t agree with the common charge that Ron Paul supporters are crazy — any more than I think all Perot supporters (like my parents, for a short time in early 1992) were crazy — just less polished, predictable, mainstream, and “Establishment” than the supporters of the blander candidates. But my fellow Ron Paul supporters can be amusing in their outsiderness, as when one sent out an angry mass-e-mail this week about a small Ron Paul gathering being asked (in perfect accordance with property rights, it should be noted) to exit a Starbucks in Chattanooga even though it was very cold outside. If this is the start of the crackdown, it seems pretty mild — then again, one could raise interesting philosophical questions about whether people addicted to the mocha frappuccino are truly free to avoid Starbucks.

UPDATE 11/30/07 4:47pm: Just to tie it all together, Jesse Walker (the reviewer of Micronations) now tells me that Eric Dondero (the guy who declares me a Giuliani supporter) reported that some guy who knew the hostage-taker went on the air to explain that the hostage-taker has in fact been involved in the libertarian movement and is also mentally ill. Lowering my PR hopes, now I just ask that he not do a Ron Paul endorsement.

Retro-Journal: Seniors and Conspiracy Theories, Late 1990

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There are times that encourage conspiracy theories — times of our lives (or rather, I suspect, psychological developmental stages) as well as points in history.

College kids, or perhaps people in their early twenties or so generally, love conspiracies — perhaps because the brain, having newly turned its attention to the confusing kaleidoscope of world events, is especially eager to spot connections among those events. Or perhaps because that’s the age when people start to become more likely to develop conditions like paranoid schizophrenia. Of course, the college environment — knowing that you are part of an institution much larger than yourself that ties you, like a Celestial Order of Water Buffalo member or what have you, to both the pranks and the philosophy treatises of students long dead — is a great incubator of conspiracist thinking in itself. The idea of being part of the Secret Society of Something or Other is very tantalizing at that age. No surprise, then, that it was sometime around senior year that I started reading things like Robert Anton Wilson’s conspiracy theory-parodying (and anarchist) sci-fi work, Illuminatus and saw a performance by the obscure Church of the Sub-Genius-inspired band Slack Hammer (on top of that, as noted in my prior Retro-Journal entry, we were all watching the conspiracy-filled Twin Peaks in 1990, and some of us kept watching even after Joan Chen got turned into a doorknob; with Twin Peaks, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld all in their first seasons, it wasn’t a bad year for TV).

Then, too, my college clique, full of libertarians and comedy writers (halfway to being a real subversive cabal anyway), was living at a point in history when an Old Order of Things — the Cold War — was suddenly absent and a flurry of new possibilities apparent. Such times have always been inspirational for conspiracy theorists — as during the eighteenth century, when the aristocracy was waning and rationalist theorists were waxing.

And speaking of waxing and waning, senior year was also when, by my count, at least four comedy writers from the Brown Film Bulletin had crushes on its editrix, Christine Caldwell, who also wrote the (libertarian) Brown Daily Herald column “Wax and Wane” (she later cleverly called her column “Light, Sweet, and Crude,” around the time of the first Gulf War and much oil talk). Inspired by a joke conspiracy theory chart I drew for the Bulletin explaining how all of pop culture can be traced back to Prince (Kevin Bacon not at that time having become so dominant as the traditional hub in such games), Christine at one point constructed a “happiness theory” chart, meant to indicate where all the amorous attentions of various members of our extended circle should be directed so as to harmonize all desires — an eminently utilitarian project. And she went out with fellow Bulletineer Dave Whitney for most of the next three years, despite graduation, geographic separation, and other difficulties.


Dave (who plays the guitar and has been in a few amateur rock bands), for his part, was inspired to create a chart of the rock n’ roll conspiracy, showing how various bands were connected to each other. I helped provide a link between classic rock and alternative rock bands by pointing out that Tina Turner had done a song with the Fixx — “Better Be Good to Me.” (It’s obvious if you listen — really listen for a change.) Dave and I had Martha Nussbaum’s “Philosophy of the Novel” class that semester and agreed that art sometimes captures the complexity of emotions and psychology in ways that dry philosophical and scientific explanations sometimes can’t. (I’d heard that Nussbaum converted to Judaism for a guy who she later broke up with, which, it seemed to me, ought to be an even more embarrassing experience for a philosophy professor, whose beliefs are ostensibly rational and well thought-out, than it would be for the rest of us.)

In any case, alcohol (the profane) and a secret, un-p.c. allegiance to God (the sacred) helped Christine through those emotionally turbulent times, which makes it fitting that now, seventeen years later, as a history professor with an interest in things theological, she is working on a book about the history of wine as an element of religion. The wine part I might have predicted. Given that Christine is not exactly the same kind of nerd I am (she finds They Might Be Giants annoying, as she first revealed that year, and she would claim a few years later that sci-fi by definition cannot be great canonical literature), I think her lowest ebb emotionally, when it was not yet clear if she and Dave would connect, may have come when she said that joining the campus’s nerd-filled Fantasy Gaming Society was “lookin’ better all the time.” It never came to that.

Beer — a beverage containing alcohol — also helped the atheist Caldwell, Holly, summon the courage to flirt with a handsome freshman alternative rock aficionado in her dorm named Jake Harrison, and from this shameful, cradle-robbing beginning arose a relationship that has led to marriage and two children, so while the empirical evidence provided by the two Caldwells cannot answer the question of whether belief in God or atheism is a more successful formula for life, the evidence does suggest that alcohol helps everyone. According to my journal, which is sketchy on details around this time, Dave was a road for Halloween that year, while Holly, inspired by the third and final semester of Gluck’s European Intellectual History class, went to the same party as “a profound sense of cultural crisis.”

Dave was the practical one, obviously — prone to simple, direct pronouncements then and now such as, to take examples from just one night that semester, “I’m psyched for the future…I want to have really big bookshelves…Man!! My shoes are so comfortable!” He exuded happiness, warmth, and confidence (and still does), yet during the tumultuous period when it was unclear if he and Christine would bond, the Caldwells briefly came to refer to Dave’s house as “the epicenter of evil.” (I can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible.)

That semester saw me cast as “Phil” on the Brown campus TV soap opera Sob Story, though I have no recollection whatsoever of whether any of my scenes aired.


In the fall 1990 semester of the aforementioned Gluck class, we briefly touched on what I still think is the most vexing philosophical question and perhaps the only one that humanity may well never answer, raised by Heidegger: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” And no, calling part of the something “God” doesn’t really eliminate the quandary, though for many people, that dodge seems to be satisfying.

Even Heidegger longed for easy answers sometimes, which is probably why he was a Nazi, like a few of the campus deconstructionists’ other heroes (there’s a thin line, perhaps, between the decon desire to peel away layers of civilization and the dark desire to wear black and learn how to harness occult forces the normals can’t grasp, using some form of Gnostic mumbo-jumbo — or maybe that’s just another conspiracy theory). The next (and final) semester, I’d throw a Heidegger-mocking scene into the terrible film I made when I finally got into a film production class, for which I’d taken that deconstructionist theory class as a prerequisite three years earlier. The scene just showed Scott Nybakken’s face, his mouth agape, as I intoned the narration “And now, a direct confrontation with Authentic Being.” I’ll bet Germans would find it funny.

Speaking of metaphysical questions, I somehow found time along with my homework to do some leisure reading that semester that included skeptical pro-science materialist Paul Kurtz’s The Transcendental Temptation and rationalist libertarian economist Ludwig von Mises’ Socialism (mainly because it turned out to be shorter than Human Action — the most important text, which I still haven’t read, of the “Austrian school” of economics — when I looked them both up in the library). The Kurtz and Mises books are still a good summary of my philosophy (toss in a David Bowie CD and a tape of Star Wars and you pretty much have the whole story). I probably should have been giving thought to the slightly more practical economic question “What will I do for a living after graduation?” I figured it’d be publishing or writing or, you know, some sort of, like, media type thing. But there was still one more semester to go before having to endure a direct, authentic confrontation with that particular problem.

In the meantime, there was that weird, distinctively senior-year sense of biding one’s time and thus being slightly bored even while anxiously seeking out things you knew you’d never get the chance to do again. Bulletineer Jay Burkholder was probably giving voice to that strange mixture of apathy and frustration when, just prior to his own graduation the previous semester, he said, “Do you realize everything is mediocre?” He was also the first person I knew to predict that pop music would all someday blend into rap-metal, which back then was as bizarre as saying that hippies and punks would someday get along or that the two Germanies would reunite.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rudy's Wrongs


Yesterday, in plugging the debate I’m hosting next week about the military, I explained that military and security matters don’t really decide my vote, so I don’t have a strong Bush-vs.-Paul or Giuliani-vs.-Paul preference on that basis alone. Let’s assume you’re with me that far.

Lest, though, any libertarians think that casting military/security matters aside should still leave me preferring Giuliani to Paul, since Giuliani arguably has a better chance of actually implementing his agenda, I have to say that (even aside from the sometimes self-defeating and self-reinforcing quality of such strategic arguments) we should keep in mind that Giuliani is not merely a watered-down libertarian of some sort. Though I do like him in many ways, he is also the man who, as mayor for half of the sixteen years I’ve now lived in this city:

•Famously belittled a man on-air for objecting to anti-ferret regulations
•Vowed to start enforcing anti-jaywalking regulations in Manhattan, which is arguably more insane than invading Iraq
•Intervened against public art funding not in a principled way — as by announcing at the very start of his term that he’d cut all funding, or for that matter even announcing in a principled way that that he intended to be a consistent theocratic censor, which would at least have made him predictable — but by swooping in out of the blue over one rabble-irking dung-containing picture of the Virgin Mary, as if half the objects in Manhattan aren’t more offensive than that
•Constantly sued his enemies for one thing or another while mayor, a position that should involve fairly thick skin and wide latitude for critics
•Loved the drug war, but then who doesn’t these days (besides Ron Paul)?
•Used zoning laws — bureaucratic, Soviet-like zoning laws — to strong-arm half the porn out of Times Square, as I reported for Reason almost exactly ten years ago
•First made a name for himself, not so unlike autocratic current governor Spitzer, by prosecuting Wall Street crimes in a showboating, heavy-handed fashion (few things are less libertarian than cuffing insider traders to make the nab look tough, as if insider traders — who shouldn’t be arrested in the first place — are likely to use their free hand to go for a jackknife)
•Cracked down on guns — though I like the fact that national political ambitions have forced him to massage that one as “OK locally, not suitable federally,” an accidental approximation of the correct, even Ron Paul-like decentralist position on such matters.

Still, less authoritarian by the economic measures that often matter most than Hillary and more libertarian in some ways than the other GOP candidates aside from Paul. So if it’s a New York series, er, general election, and Rudy rather than Ron is the GOP standard-bearer, Rudy gets my vote.

As for what I do in the unlikely event Ron Paul jumps ship and runs as a Libertarian Party candidate: well, that would be interesting, wouldn’t it? And not just to a few cranks like me, given the narrow margins that we all know can decide general elections. Rudy, in the unlikely event you’re listening: if you dominate by convention time, it seems like it might still be wise to placate the Ron Paul faction by making him Treasury Secretary or something. (But catch me, and the non-leftist Manhattan Project club, in the back alcove of the second floor of Merchants NY bar/restaurant, 62nd and 1st, tonight from 6:30 on, if you want to discuss all that. You probably won’t be alone in having an opinion.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: "Does Military Strength Create Peace?"

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YES: Former Clinton White House intern (and soon, business consultant to the French) Sarah Federman.

NO: Former Pat Buchanan campaigner (and now Ron Paul sympathizer) John Carney.

The battle will be joined next week on Wednesday, Dec. 5 (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.

What better way to celebrate the start of Hanukkah, the Annapolis peace conference on the Middle East, and the release of Pat Buchanan’s book announcing that the end has arrived for America and we are all doomed? Join us.

I always strive to maintain my host objectivity, and that’ll be relatively easy this time, since I’m genuinely torn on this topic. True, just this past weekend I ordered one of those t-shirts with the crossed-out picture of Hillary Clinton that says “Re-defeat Communism in 2008” and I plan to vote for Ron Paul if he makes it into the New York primary — but it is not Hillary’s hawkish tendencies nor Ron Paul’s dovish ones that push me away from her and toward him (indeed, it was reading the fairly hawkish Jonah Goldberg’s impending book Liberal Fascism that inspired the t-shirt purchase, but more on that at the end of next month). It’s their domestic policies — she tried to nationalize a seventh of the economy, and he wants to abolish most of government as we know it, liberating the more-productive, more-efficient, more-free, and more-individualistic portion of civilization from the oppressive, collectivist, unfree, and tragically-counterproductive portion.

But to get back to the topic at hand, the military stuff: Not only do I have both neocon and opposing paleolibertarian sympathies, to put rough labels on it, when it comes to foreign policy stuff, I freely admit to not knowing where to begin trying to settle the issue (which is why I — like you — must attend this debate). Like most libertarians, I know I want the end-goal of a global, peaceful, commerce-based world order — the very Empire that Italian communist, convicted murderer, and hero of the antiglobalization movement Antonio Negri denounced in a book by that title just before 9/11. But I do not pretend to know how much “policing” is necessary to safeguard that world order. A whole bunch? Or is it safer for the policers to stick to doing very little, maybe even next to nothing (like Switzerland, which seems to remain pretty free)?

My uncertainty about all this explains why — despite, for the record, not favoring going into Iraq prior to the start of the war — I was willing to put up with Bush (and the Republicans generally) when it seemed that things might go fairly well over there and that Bush was shifting his attention toward the domestic mission of an “Ownership Society” slew of initiatives that would include the all-important partial privatization of Social Security and so forth. Keep in mind that Bush’s second inaugural speech, stressing the Ownership Society, and the inspiring first democratic elections in Iraq took place within about two months of each other. Things were looking up. But Katrina, pork, Abramoff, congressional abandonment of Social Security reform, near civil war in Iraq, loss of GOP control of Congress, etc., etc., so on, what have you.

Anyway, long story short: my tolerance of Jesus and Ares didn’t get me a smaller government and, consistent fellow — and foreign-policy quasi-agnostic — that I am, just as I was willing to tolerate Bush’s over-reliance on the military in hopes of getting some market-based reforms, so too am I willing to tolerate what may be Ron Paul’s under-reliance on the military in hopes, this time for sure (if he actually won), of getting some market-based reforms. Just had to get that out there in case anyone thought there was something baffling or inconsistent about my tolerance for both Bush and Paul.

This also explains why in the past few months, you might well have glimpsed me at a local Ron Paul party but also — as my ex-boss John Stossel noticed — glimpsed me in an audience on CSPAN not really applauding during a speech by Judge Andrew Napolitano that likened Bush to a fascist, even though I agreed with many things he said (and am very grateful to the Reason Foundation folks for having me). I don’t get all enthused when Bush wants war, and I don’t get all enthused when his critics call him a monster and say the conspiracy is coming to put us all in Gitmo.

But I do want budget cuts — remember budget cuts? — and if this Ron Paul thing doesn’t go the distance, Rudy Giuliani had damn well better give them to me.

As for Hillary’s mushy position on war stuff, who knows, maybe it’s not that far from my own. Still gonna wear the t-shirt and vote for someone else, though. (Nothing against Ms. Federman, though, who I think sympathizes with many of my views and will no doubt do a bang-up job on Dec. 5 — come find out.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Selection of the Month: Todd Seavey! (now with Bibliography)


No, I haven’t finished writing a book (though Conservatism for Punks will exist eventually, sooner rather than later, I hope — and for a little right/left remixing in the interim, check out what’s on deck for our Dec. 5 Debate at Lolita Bar, now that I’ve found a hawk and dove to spar). However, I have written book reviews — not just the twelve monthly Book Selection entries that preceded the one you’re reading now (which began even before the blog was fully operational) but previous reviews for venues like New York Post and People magazine.

(And at least four friends of mine from the Post have written books of their own, including last year’s holiday reading Book Selection[s] Dawn Eden and Kyle Smith [who also edited my People reviews], as well as Gersh Kuntzman and, now, Jon Blackwell, with his violent, historical overview Notorious New Jersey: 100 True Tales of Murderers and Mobsters, Scandals and Scoundrels.)

As I’ll recount in this coming Friday’s Retro-Journal entry, I had no idea senior year, as I faced graduation and entry into the real world, whether this whole writing/editing thing would be viable in the workaday world, but so far things are going all right. I do have a few specific writer regrets, though — and, as with a great many writers, it’s not the things I wrote or the things I didn’t write but, far more heartbreakingly, the things I wrote that didn’t run.

In the case of the Post, I was the regular sci-fi book reviewer for a while in 1999 (giving me professional reason to read gems like quasi-libertarian cyberpunk Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and blander things like the novelization of Phantom Menace, the most disappointing Star Wars movie — and having read it, I can say with authority to anyone confused by that film’s lame opening scroll about trade blockades and taxation that the anti-tax forces were the bad guys [led by a creature named Nute Gunray, no less] and the Jedi were the noble and progressive pro-tax enforcers, all the more reason to stick to watching the older Star Wars films instead). My stint ended, alas, just as I was about to publish a review (which might well have significantly boosted sales) of a swell sci-fi novel called Shiva 3000 by Jan Lars Jensen in which god-shaped robotic vehicles lumber across the plains of a future India, wrecking havoc amongst the low-tech populace — and in which our hero at one point, amusingly, liberates hypnotized Buddhists from a mind control device with a simultaneous slap to the face and mind-jarring paradox, a shouted “What is the sound of one hand clapping?!” (smack).

Shiva 3000 bears some resemblance to a later comic book miniseries by Grant Morrison called Vimanarama and a great, earlier novel by Roger Zelazny called Lord of Light, set on a planet where scientists have been functioning as a ruling elite clad in Hindu-based rituals and myth for so long and are armed with such fantastic technology, that there is by now little practical difference between their world and the world of Hindu mythology, particularly in the minds of the masses who must worship and obey them. That is, of course, our long-term plan at the American Council on Science and Health as well.

An amazing side story about Lord of Light: in a notorious boondoggle that some charge was merely a con to begin with, a Lord of Light-based themepark was at one point planned — complete with costume designs by comic book legend Jack Kirby, creator of such cosmic characters as the mighty Galactus — but the whole thing collapsed before construction ever began, to the sorrow of numerous doomed investors. Weird enough to be a sci-fi story itself [UPDATE: After reading the Response by George Guay, below, I must add a link to the Wired article (the one Mark Evanier also linked to) about how the whole Lord of Light scheme was really a CIA trick to free some of our hostages from Iran in 1979 -- Hindu pantheon + Jack Kirby + Canadian embassy > Iranian terrorism].

My biggest didn’t-run regret at People is that I would have been the first person to diagnose Anne Rice’s nervous breakdown if they had run my extremely negative review of her atrocious (and as we now know, final) vampire novel, Blood Canticle, written shortly after her husband’s death and marked by a deranged-sounding vampire Lestat, dropping his traditional aristocratic mode of speech in favor of what sounds pretty much like the voice of Anne Rice, angrily ranting at the reader in the opening about how he’s sick and tired of telling vampire stories and wishes his readers would stop expecting them from him, since he’d rather be paying visits to the Pope. I was genuinely worried about Rice after reading it. Shortly thereafter, as you may be aware, the distraught widow Rice left Katrina-devastated New Orleans, turned to Christ, and vowed henceforth to write novels about Jesus instead of vampires, noting in an online essay that she now has qualms, as a pro-lifer, about voting for Hillary Clinton.

People, alas, was running a mostly-laudatory interview with Rice in the same issue that my review would have run, and that would have been a weird mixed message (“Meet the fascinating, lovely Anne Rice — who just wrote this steaming pile of [vampire] bat guano”), so the review never ran. Luckily, People gave kill fees. Would that someone, someday would just put me on a retainer to write constantly about whatever I wanted, of course — this sentiment being as common among writers as regret for unpublished pieces.

I can’t complain, though — life has afforded me the opportunity to write (and in most cases get paid for) numerous articles including the ones on my new Seavey Bibliography page, not necessarily everything or even the best, but everything I easily found online, after a long-overdue Web search. Maybe you’ll find something there you like and didn’t read before. Naturally, I hope to write even better stuff in the future.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Retro-Journal: The Palpably Weirder 90s Begin


Living as the one third-year student amidst a nice bunch of freshmen in early 1990, I felt fairly at home in the role of pseudo-old-man. One freshman, Naomi Camilleri, introduced me to Flaming Carrot comics, leading me to trend weird-ward in my comics reading after the preceding decade and a half of sticking almost exclusively to Marvel and DC. Another of the freshmen lost his shoe at a They Might Be Giants concert at the Living Room, which a substantial portion of my acquaintances attended (bumping into people at a TMBG concert was more good practice for becoming a New Yorker later). Oddly, given the light-hearted nature of the band, the entire crowd was pogoing and slam-dancing, with nary a spot of the small concert space beyond the mosh pit, to the clear surprise and alarm of the band.

I was on the fringes of a few overlapping, mostly media-oriented cliques (writers, editors, English majors, political people), in a pattern that looks not so different from my adult life, in retrospect — and in some ways similarly myopic, I suppose, given the way both Brown and New York divide into insular subcultures. Lorrie Giventer, who had dated the Brown Spectator founder Dan Greenberg, knew the Brown Daily Herald’s Alison Barth, who in turn knew grumpy but oddly entertaining leftist Nancy Tewksbury, who in turn knew more-noxious characters like Andrew Rubin, an irrational leftist writer who condemned me in print as a fascist (and a “performing seal” of a writer), and so on. The gist of the fascist charge was that libertarianism, by reducing the government to minimal nightwatchman-state functions (just making sure people don’t assault, rob, or defraud each other and otherwise leaving them alone) was in effect creating a “police state” (which is a bit like saying that if you consider murder a stunt, then a stuntman is a de facto assassin).

One of the campus’s tiny handful of conservatives, Jerry Mayer, sprang to my defense in print, noting that fascism in fact arose, like Rubin’s views, from socialism, not from the right and certainly not from free-market ideology (but I’ll write far more about that overlooked historical fact in my Book Selection of the Month entry late next month, on Jonah Goldberg’s magnum opus, Liberal Fascism).

One important crossroads for many of the campus figures I knew was the three-semester course on modern European intellectual history (from the Enlightenment to the late twentieth century) taught by Prof. Mary Gluck. In that class, I saw punk Ed Batista — who would often wax poetic about the sense of community one found in a mosh pit or caution me not to sound so harsh in my political judgments as to make leftist women cry. What an amazingly different story that class seemed to tell — suddenly more postmodernist than socialist (like a great many of the hastily-rewritten course descriptions in the course catalogue that year) — now that we all knew the happy ending of the story, all knew that (just months earlier) it had concluded with the ’89 collapse of Communism, rather than the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the apparent “end of history.” Another student in the class, Erich Horn, was an Objectivist and drew from the class the lesson that if Brown continued to think in an unrepentant collectivist fashion, the campus was marching “lock-step straight to Hell.”

One year earlier, the capitalist/communist stalemate had seemed as permanent as the eternal war at the heart of Manicheanism — but by spring 1990, as my journal noted, the only country in Central Europe that was still officially Communist was Albania (a fact soon to be mocked on the Simpsons episode in which their young Albanian exchange student proves to be a spy out to photograph the workings of Mr. Burns’ power plant).

Yet not everyone was eager to throw Marxism on the ash heap of history. “Do I detect sarcasm? Are you saying this is bunk?” said Peter, an effete, nerdy grad student in Prof. Spilka’s lit class after he heard my reaction to reading Marxist theorist Lukacs, one of several latter-day Marxist thinkers studied in the class. “Why would people go to work each morning if not to fit into the dominant ideology?” Peter asked in one class, causing even the thoroughly left-wing Prof. Spilka to impatiently mutter, “There is the matter of a paycheck.” In mere months, the left had gone from being the vanguard to being also-rans.


It was a fun, optimistic time to be alive. Still, I half-jokingly wrote a “Nostalgic for the 80s” column that very year. (And I still am, of course. That decade laid the groundwork for the freedom and prosperity we’ve come to take for granted since, though you won’t hear the decade described that way in most glossy magazines or on sitcoms.) That year, I also wrote a lengthy “Capitalist Manifesto” for the Spectator under the editorial gaze of a brilliant freshman who’d already taken control of the Spectator, Jacob Levy.

Other segments of the political spectrum were already regrouping, though. Earth Day 1990, which to the untrained eye might appear essentially identical to all the Earth Days that have followed, was in fact a nearly unprecedented eruption of twentieth-anniversary eco-fervor (the original Earth Day having taken place in 1970 and been largely forgotten about for the next two decades), seemingly intended to help the left gloss over the massive wound it had just suffered with the collapse of Communism — by changing the subject. I recall a nice leftist guy named Sasha (who let me read his entire Love & Rockets collection) saying around that time that he and many others had suddenly realized that capitalism would, as he put it, end to the sound not of marching proletarian boots but of falling trees. MTV then began its familiar pattern of making recycling somehow seem like a deeply rebellious yet virtuous act. Formerly rule-breaking performers like Johnny Rotten and the B-52s now churned out educational-sounding songs about omnipresent pollution.

Still, whatever their philosophical differences, most people seemed to recognize that with the Cold War over, it was a very nice time to be on the planet, whether its ecosystem was fragile or not. Not everyone was happy, though:

•My depressive friend Dan Shuster, the one who’d shown me how to slide across the cafeteria floor on banana peels a year earlier, shot himself. Our friend Marc Steiner, spending a year away in Pomona, was greatly saddened to hear about it but in a way unsurprised — it in some way affirmed his decision to get away from Brown after the sophomore year he and I had spent rooming together and feeling trapped, as he put it, between frat parties on one side and protests on the other. I blamed Dan’s what-difference-does-anything-really-make Zen relativism for his despair in my speech at his memorial service. Afterwards, Dean Blumstein, who attended, chuckled good-naturedly over the fact that I had earlier criticized her in one of my columns in the Herald (alluded to in a prior Retro-Journal entry), and she ended up driving several of us back from the memorial service in a crowded car.

•An editor from the Herald who interviewed me about my negative view of deconstructionism turned out to be having a nervous breakdown and obsessing over that philosophy. The article containing the interview with me never appeared.

•A friend of mine who’d gone from sweater-wearing Christian to black-clad Objectivist atheist over the summer after freshman year was now severely depressed and took a semester off. (While perhaps, like half the people on campus, eccentric, she had always seemed reasonable to me: libertarian, Smiths fan, comedy writer — what’s not to like? — though she smoked, something I regarded as irrational even back then, long before working for a public health organization, but which some of my most sophisticated college acquaintances almost seemed to admire — and something my high school pal Chuck, when I spoke to him about it once, said no students at his college, CalTech, did, rational risk-calculators that they were.)

•Ken Dornstein, with whom I’d written for a dying comedy mag called Philtrum Press freshman year (along with improv comic Steve Melcher and others), seemed a bit lost (deliberately taking — even inventing — non-paying odd jobs in a vague effort to help humanity), as his brother’s death at the hands of Libyan terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland continued to haunt him, and he’d later write a book about it. He would also go on to do some stand-up comedy, get a philosophy degree, live near California’s Muscle Beach, and become a de facto detective for insurance companies (writing a funny book about that, which was harshly reviewed, in a bizarrely humorless fashion, by Brown polisci prof Ross Cheit in the alumni magazine, Cheit mainly condemning the book for failing to take seriously the plight of poverty-stricken people who are driven to commit insurance fraud, as if that would be any fun).

I too had by now become a philosophy major (doubling in English), one of only a tiny handful of students in the class of ’91 who were — and it was the (now deceased) philosophy professor Roderick Chisholm, brilliant though he was (an acolyte of the great Bertrand Russell), who helped confirm my decision not to pursue the discipline into grad school, with his weary, meticulous analyses of issues that struck me as comically irrelevant, such as whether the statement “Fido is a dog” means that Fido belongs to the set of things which are dogs or that Fido possesses caninity (a discussion that led me to walk out of class and then run from the philosophy building — though I would still go on to write a lengthy paper for the class on the question of whether the statement “The fusebox is on fire,” when uttered in regard to what is in fact an electrical meter, is a false statement or merely a case of misnaming, also arguably a question that doesn’t matter). Dornstein once referred to Chisholm, with a touch of sadness, as “the Willy Loman of philosophy.”

Given the ambient emotional instability among some of my acquaintances, it seemed a fitting semester to be watching the unsettling David Lynch series Twin Peaks with gatherings of people like Jerry Mayer and fellow Bulletineer Margot Weiss. No more Cold War meant having the time to focus on subtler problems, like nightmares about dancing dwarfs.


Of course, it was also the beginning of a somewhat petty, self-absorbed period for our culture. That was the semester Sandra Bernhard came to speak to Brown and, as I wrote in the campus magazine Issues, attracted a “meta-audience” that relentlessly asked her non-funny questions about whether she was living up to her responsibility (as they saw it) to promote lesbianism, disco, even punk, and various other subcultures they cared about, while she was trying to make jokes. The audience came to talk about itself, and the whole thing struck me as very New York. I decided never to live in that city.

There was no getting away from people who were one step removed from celebrity at Brown, though. The whole place was crawling with the children of celebs — such as Kara Dukakis (whose wardrobe I inadvertently insulted in one column while trying to make a subtler point about the rich and famous striving to look like hippies at Brown), a Brando child, the motorcycling daughter of Ringo Starr, the drug-buying daughter of Jane Fonda, and RFK’s daughter Rory (who I hope didn’t notice the joke bit I wrote in the Bulletin about Duran Duran assassinating RFK — you forget that living history is around you sometimes). Harvard and Yale seemed to house tomorrow’s leaders while Brown housed the children of yesterday’s leaders. And there were those who were not yet celebrities but soon would be: Bulletineers Chris Nugent and Dave Whitney, like me, were at the farewell concert of Lisa Loeb (Class of ’90) and her then-partner, Liz. (Perhaps WBRU DJ and future MTV fixture Karyn Bryant was there as well.)

That semester, Dave (a DJ and later general manager) also let me into WBRU to tape a whole bunch of stuff from their vinyl collection onto a mix tape, something that seems laughably technologically-archaic now but was an awful lot more fun than downloading files. Fittingly, given that retrograde sentiment, I think Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” was one of the things I taped that day (part of a collection of about 150 mostly-alternative-rock, heavily 80s/90s mix tapes I have, with an accompanying index in tiny handwriting dating back to 1982, that will somehow never be topped for me, sentimentally, by an iPod of any imaginable storage capacity in the decades left to me in this world, I suspect).

I did not seek glamour: I’d spend the summer of 1990 with my down-to-earth parents back in Norwich, CT — and with their rapidly-growing, shaggy dog Uber, who was proving to have the most upbeat and friendly personality I’d seen in a living thing and was developing adorable habits like tottering on her hind legs and leaning her front paws against my parents in order to dance with them if they slow-danced in the kitchen, as they sometimes do.

As a thrilling side trip, I’d attend a libertarian seminar in Maryland that summer conducted by the invaluable Institute for Humane Studies (a hot topic among libertarians then was the schism among Ayn Rand followers that had led to one prominent Randian, David Kelley, being “excommunicated” by the West Coast Rand establishment and starting his own East Coast splinter group, the kind of thing that seemed apocalyptically important in a relaxed decade with neither a Cold War nor a War on Terror). Immersion in this somewhat obscure political movement may have seemed odd, but note that it was quite mainstream compared to some of the oddities to be found back at Brown, such as a friend of Chris Nugent’s who was an aristocratic, authoritarian conservative Republican who dressed like a tie-dyed hippie and loved marijuana but vehemently opposed the idea of legalizing it, saying the masses, unlike him, could not handle it (which may not be such an incoherent or unpopular position, I suppose).

Looking back, though, it was Bulletineer Scott Nybakken who most accurately foresaw that the pleasant, optimistic mental-recess-period that was the 90s would not last. As he graduated in the spring of 1990 (without leaving Providence for another year, since he had a job with an early computer animation company called COSA, later absorbed by Lucasfilm), he wrote a farewell message in the Film Bulletin in which he said he had just one word to say to Francis Fukuyama, the conservative writer who had just declared the end of the Cold War to be “the end of history,” and the word Scott conveyed, in all capitals without further explanation, was: ISLAM.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Things for Which Todd Seavey Is Thankful


…not to a non-existent God, mind you, but to the purely material circumstances that led to these things, in deterministic fashion (since I don’t believe in free will either, in the strict philosophical sense of the phrase):

•Talented British r&b singer Amy Winehouse is not yet dead or in prison, against all odds, though “You Know [she's] No Good.”

•Another childhood memory is about to be remade, but this time it’s being done with the utter disrespect it deserves — yes, I speak of the impending deliberately low-budget and self-parodic production of Land of the Lost.

•I am also grateful to Sid and Marty Krofft, producers of the original TV series, for inspiring a day-long retrospective of their oddly psychedelic early-70s kids shows (such as Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and H.R. Pufnstuf) on Nickelodeon about a decade ago that at one point featured the Nickelodeon announcer calmly intoning “We’ll be right back with more of the what-is-this, what’s-happening, where-am-I Sid and Marty Krofft marathon.”

•I must confess I am less grateful for the end credits song to the Krofft show Lidsville, which is perhaps the worst song I have ever heard (note that I refer to the song heard in the second half of this short clip, not the merely-vapid opening song) — so bad that, as a few things do, it makes me shudder and feel almost dizzy for a moment when I think about it (by contrast, the theme song for one season of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters is a triumph worthy of the Monkees).

•But even Lidsville has made one important, indirect, contribution to popular culture for which I am grateful: a clip from the show of Charles Nelson Reilly piloting his magic flying tophat was used in my favorite episode of Millennium, an uncharacteristically  comedic episode in which Reilly played a character (embroiled in an investigation of a serial killer who was an adherent of Selfosophy, a parody of Scientology) who at one point reminisced about his days making “avant-garde films” (i.e., Lidsville).  The same character appeared in my favorite X-Files episode (by the same writer), Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, itself a psychedelic and Rashomon-like, multi-layered, and funny episode (memorably featuring Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura as Men in Black who merely “looked” like Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura) — an episode that in retrospect revealed more about the alien conspiracy to us than any prior one had.  (But for an explanation of the entire conspiracy, all nine seasons, see the obsessively long footnote I wrote about it.)

•And speaking of UFOs: We all knew that special effects would someday make it possible to make fake things look perfectly real — but one ironic side effect, it’s recently occurred to me, is that even if something real and paranormal were videotaped now (not that I believe such things exist), we’d never be able to be sure it wasn’t fake.  I mean, if flying saucers were visiting, how much more convincing would the footage likely look than this Haiti clip (can you spot the two saucer-like objects)?  I am thankful, though, for skepticism about such things.

•I am also thankful that pop culture’s current tone of vicious irony can, on at least some occasions, act as a valuable stand-in for traditional standards.

•By contrast, I watched about five minutes of TMZ, the new show with a mix of amateur and professional footage of Hollywood misbehavior, and I don’t know that anything I’ve ever seen made me feel degraded faster.  It takes only a few minutes of that show before you see something that makes you think either “Why aren’t they arresting that person?” or “How can she still have a career after that?” or “When will the looting end?” or possibly all of those things at the same time.  It’s like watching civilization melt away into chaos and slap-fights right before your eyes, underscoring how thin the veil of order truly is.  TMZ may be the Cops of the twenty-first century.

•I am grateful, though, for the twenty-third century (as depicted by Star Trek).  I am, however, alarmed by the fact that I am so old now that even Spock’s mom, scheduled to be played by Winona Ryder in next year’s relaunch movie, is younger than I am.  She’s also hotter than the mothers of John McCain and even Lefty Leibowitz (noted in Tuesday’s entry), come to think of it.

•Obviously, and perhaps most of all (aside from my friends and family), I am grateful for the existence of capitalism (especially when it is unfettered by useless, counterproductive regulations and taxes), since it creates so much abundance that there are niche markets for things you never would have imagined.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An Ideologue by Any Name

I mentioned in my most recent Retro-Journal entry knowing two unrelated women at Brown named Caldwell (one of them now Christine Ames, also goaded in yesterday’s regular entry).

That reminds me that, on a more fully homonymous note, I spoke at the last event to David Bernstein — not the Yale/ David Bernstein but the conservative editor David Bernstein associated with Adam Bellow. After mentioning how they must get confused a lot, I realized that among my libertarian-leaning friends alone:

(a) Lawyer Paul Taylor has been confused with another DC lawyer, one who crusades for free TV access for political candidates, as if they don’t have enough already (a reporter once called the first Paul thinking he had the second and got pranked for a few minutes with Paul’s suggestions about how politicians could make more entertaining use of airtime by juggling and the like). The Paul Taylors also share their name with the moving company, dance company, and Miami Herald reporter who exposed Gary Hart’s affair on the good ship Monkey Business.

(b) Novelist Katherine Taylor (no relation to Paul) shares a name with a New Yorker writer who I think may also have libertarian sympathies (and my Katherine Taylor refuses to heed my unsolicited advice to solve this problem by using her middle name).

(c) Libertarian-conservative columnist Robert A. George (a friend of the first David Bernstein above) must occasionally distinguish himself from Catholic-social-conservative Princeton professor Robert P. George (and indeed, one night my boss was having dinner with Robert A. while her husband was dining with Robert P.).

(d) Arkansas state rep Dan Greenberg has a name so common he once discovered a website for distinguishing between Dan Greenbergs, which must have been a bit eerie — even, or perhaps especially, to a sci-fi fan like Dan — once the initial amusement factor wore off [UPDATE: And Dan notes that his sister, as it happens, married a third David Bernstein -- and Dan led me to make a couple corrections in this entry].

(e) Andrew Sullivan is not, as you might think, a famous libertarian blogger but rather a young staffer at ABC News who works with my old boss, John Stossel, which must create occasional confusion.

However, I know of only one other Todd Seavey (though I’m sure there are still more out there somewhere…waiting), a timber company president in Maine (unsurprising, since the Seaveys radiated outward from New Hampshire over the past four centuries). I half-hope that someday an angry green will say to me: “No wonder you’re against so many environmental regulations — you’re a timber company executive!” That could increase my credibility in some circles. Watch out for me, baby — I fell trees. Probably a lot more lucrative, too.

ADDENDUM: Oh, and my boss, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, has more than one counterpart, including another Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, at the Centers for Disease Control, who sometimes happens to issue opinions opposite to my boss’s. And while Michael Malice rarely gets confused with the obscure professional wrestler by the same name, perhaps that will change after our Malice’s upcoming book about ultimate fighting champ Matt Hughes gets released — but more on that momentous event in January…

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Quixotic Opposition, Institutional Conflict, and Elite Disagreement


Paul Jacob, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and who has several friends in common with me (including Heather Wilhelm, who I mentioned in my prior blog entry), was the subject of the top editorial in Monday’s Wall Street Journal. He is threatened with up to ten years in prison for the horrific crime of — yes — petitioning against taxes in Oklahoma without having lived there long enough to fulfill the residency requirement. Ten years in prison for petitioning. TEN YEARS. This, I think, is a good reminder that it’s not the hippies getting tear-gassed at some G8 event who are the real rebels.

The state knows its true enemies when it sees them, and they’re not the people pushing some vague cultural agenda, right or left, but the rarer and far more useful people who threaten to “starve the beast” by doing simple, pragmatic things like cutting off the obscene flow of taxes into the state’s maw — or simply getting government agencies to reveal the sordid real details of their laughably outsized and socially useless budgets. You want to make a powerful enemy? Don’t march through Union Square shouting “No blood for oil,” drive to Oklahoma and politely collect signatures. Foul, villainous bureaucrat bastards — this is a reminder that capitalists like Paul Jacob are not complacent defenders of the status quo, but instead (extremely well-behaved) rebels up against the ultimate monster.


I’m not ashamed to say I’m listening to Pat Benatar’s “Outlaw Blues” as I type this (not to be confused with Saturday’s blog entry on “Libertarian Blues”), which is fitting, as I find myself thinking about a topic (more aesthetic and psychological than truly philosophical) that intrigues me more and more as I age, which is how the tone and quality of debate are affected by the relative futility of the underlying crusade (speaking of tone, I’ll offset the Benatar reference with a passage about the Clash’s Joe Strummer below, I promise).

(1) People who see themselves (whether they admit it or not) as doomed rebels (al Qaeda, antiglobalization activists) facing an unstoppable force (such as the whole modern world) tend to sound angry and radical; (2) people who see themselves as one of two roughly evenly-matched “sides” in a mainstream, familiar, institutionalized battle (say, Republicans vs. Democrats) get grouchy at times but know how to politely retire to their corners when the round ends; and (3) people who are (in the grand scheme of things) part of a comfy elite can offer the occasional combative witticism on some nominally-divisive topic without even disrupting dinner or breaking a sweat, quite possibly happily marrying off their children to their ostensible opponents without much concern they’ll be ritually killed or ransomed or anything like that.

Five quick examples of each, since they cropped up recently:


•Love him or hate him, Sander Hicks, who argued the more conspiracist side of our 9/11 debate earlier this month, can now be seen online being bounced from a Rudy Giuliani event, after getting close enough to touch Giuliani’s hand and trying to give him an unscheduled grilling about 9/11. (I ended our debate by suggesting that perhaps the rightists and leftists alike who were present could agree to vote for Ron Paul, but I hope Sander won’t take it personally if I end up voting for Giuliani a year from now if Paul fails to get the nomination.)

•Occasional Lolita debater and fill-in moderator Richard Ryan forwarded a message mocking 9/11 conspiracy theorists in general by reminding people that the official account of that tragic day glosses over this famous cinematic piece of evidence, starring Godzilla and Megalon (from one of only two Godzilla movies I actually saw in the theatre as a child instead of on TV, for those keeping score).

Todd Kruse has come up with an interesting, practical, and no doubt doomed plan for symbolically disentangling the U.S. from the troubled wider world and freeing up some prime real estate: kick the U.N. out of NYC.

•Girlfriend Koli and others make the interestingly econ-like argument that the marketplace is not necessarily a solution (not even a gradual one) for the problem of sexism if men constitute a sort of cartel, instinctually or culturally inclined to pay women less throughout the economy rather than in a few isolable firms. I wonder, though, whether feminism, for all its modern, progressive overtones, is not just an additional layer of that old-fashioned phenomenon, chivalry: perhaps (many) men are more inclined to help out and reward women (as opposed to helping rivalrous fellow males) than women fully appreciate but are now (nonetheless) guilt-tripped anyway, so that feminist complaints, rational as they may seem in isolation, reinforce a double-layer of partly-condescending, partly-solicitous male behavior that (while admittedly hard to alter at the level of individual action, oftimes annoying, and periodically punctuated by boorish or hostile actions) may not clearly redound to male advantage in the end. It’s hard to know where to begin to address such issues, no matter where you stand on such a broad, subtle, cultural matter (on a more feminist note, Jill Friedman recently pointed out this piece on abortion and this argument in favor of even partial-birth abortion, the sort of practice that normally makes moderate, individualistic folk like myself feel less pro-choice).

•The plainly noble cause of trying to defuse racial and ethnic animosity has plainly led to some chronic-oppositionist activists taking some very boneheaded positions. This was demonstrated last week by Brooklyn Borough President candidate Barron, a former Black Panther and admirer of the authoritarian government of Zimbabwe (who may yet win the borough prez position, given the dangerous New York City habit of leaving local voting mostly to self-interested public-sector union members). Barron reportedly complained that police were behaving like race traitors by gunning down a young man who was armed “only” with a hairbrush — but that young man was deliberately wielding the dark brush as if it were a gun, saying that he had a gun, approaching armed cops, and refusing to put the object down when told to (having had a long history of emotional instability and self-destructive behavior). If your goal is not merely a world where most ethnic groups can interact and trade peacefully but one where even maniacs who pretend to be attacking cops with a gun are in no danger of being shot at, your cause is truly, and justifiably, hopeless.


•A working stiff, I did not attend the Friday 4pm discussion at Columbia of the new book The Trouble with Diversity by Walter Benn Michaels, but I must say I almost find myself sympathizing more with campus ethnic/identity-politics activists when I hear them being attacked (whether by Michaels or academics like Cornel West) for distracting the left from the ostensibly more important task of combating capitalism to alleviate poverty. If the left would keep its hands off capitalism, I’d be content to celebrate a different ethnic group every day of the week, frankly. The most interesting and compelling variation on the Michaels/West complaint I’ve heard, though, appeared in an Old-Leftish essay in the mostly-hip literary journal n+1, which argued that political correctness is inadvertently conservative, since it encourages us not to overcome differences (including economic ones) so much as to get really good about not mentioning differences in impolite ways. The poor will remain poor, in other words, we just won’t call them “poor” because that might make them feel marginalized. Embarrassing dorm-room culture clash averted!

•Saturday one week ago, I saw a debate about whether America is achieving happiness, with libertarians Will Wilkinson and Tyler Cowen on the “yes” side and U.N. development-guru and dweeb Jeffrey Sachs and a comrade of his on the other, and the libertarians won handily — in part because of Sachs’s droning, Bill Moyers-like insistence on simply listing all the ills of the Bush administration, as if the nation’s entire happiness level — or at least Manhattan’s — is determined by the level of satisfaction with goings-on in the White House. But whether the crowd was just too smart for this thinking man’s demagogue — drawn as they were by organizers from The Economist magazine — or simply put off by his brazen attempts to push their cheer/hiss buttons with references to Iraq, global warming, Katrina, and anything else he could shoe-horn into the topic, the crowd went from being 2/3 on Sachs’s side before the debate to split down the middle by the end, according to the moderator’s show-of-hands poll.

I was struck by the contrast between the audience’s palpable skepticism of Sachs at this event — and his resultant irritability — and the glowing, preacher-like confidence he exuded when I saw him speak (unopposed) at Columbia back in the spring. That speech, I felt at the time, was also pretty vapid, but with the crowd almost all left-leaning and no one to argue with him, he could ooze magnanimity while hitting all the necessary bromides about Third World poverty, the inspiring words of JFK, blah blah blah. An important reminder that the key to perceived greatness is just a receptive audience. Sachs is exactly the sort of guy that economist Donald Boudreaux, who strongly opposes a recent push (here and in England) toward making the government explicitly in charge of gauging and ensuring private happiness, should be having nightmares about. (One happiness sidenote, though: do ideologues, of any stripe, really get less happy when their opponents win, or does it just give them a juicy target for editorializing and fundraising? Are a lot of Rudy-supporting direct-mail fundraisers drooling at the prospect of a Hillary win, and vice versa?)

•I went straight from the Sachs-and-company debate to a Village theatre showing a documentary (The Future Is Unwritten) about Clash lead singer Joe Strummer (by Julien Temple, who also did the swell Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury, among other things). Not so unlike Kurt Cobain ten years later (it seems longer, considering all the subtle changes alternative rock went through in that time), Strummer struggled with heroin addiction and the awkwardness of his place as a hitmaker in the mainstream music biz — but unlike Cobain, he ended his days happily, organizing rather Burning Man-like art/bonfire outings and touring with a new, less popular, but quite decent-sounding band (but I’d rather be Strummer scowling than Sachs self-satisfiedly smirking, regardless). The weirdest part of the whole trip, though, may have been the opening shot, of Strummer, alone in a sterile-looking recording booth, passionately laying down the vocal track of “White Riot” with big headphones on and no sound but his voice audible to the movie audience. It was like watching Fred Astaire, alone in a parking garage with no music, practice just the left foot’s part of a big dance number.

•Weirder still, though, was the short film that IFC theatre chose to show just before the Strummer documentary: as amazing and self-parodic a bourgeois mid-century artifact as one could ever hope to see: House in the Middle, a civil defense preparedness film in which a stentorian narrator, as if sent by God to enforce suburban norms and Cold War anxiety in one fell swoop, explains, with striking visuals, that having a well-maintained, freshly-painted home may increase your odds of surviving a nuclear blast. Says Wikipedia: “The film was actually produced by the National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association. The likelihood that repainting a house would be effective in protecting it from the extreme heat and blast force of a nuclear explosion is questionable.”

•Since all institutions need to manage conflict within, it was no great surprise when the Mafia’s Ten Commandments for maintaining internal order were recently discovered by Italian police and made it into the news, but it’s surprising how nice the rules make the Mob sound: they actually include not coveting others’ wives, not hanging out in bars, never being late for appointments, telling the truth, refraining from stealing (presumably within the Mafia), and avoiding accepting into the Mafia anyone who “behaves badly and doesn’t hold to moral values.” Are there no bad guys anymore? Is there only honor among thieves? Like economist Peter Leeson’s work on the elaborate constitutions created by pirates, I suppose this is an encouraging sign that some semblance of good behavior will always emerge one way or another if a social system is to be sustainable.


•Another important social institution is having your mom spring to your defense, but more subversive and socially dangerous is having a mom as hot as John McCain’s. Sure, Roberta “Buick” McCain is ninety-five, but we should all be so lucky as to look that good at her age (adjusted for age, she is arguably even more impressive than Lefty Leibowtiz’s ex-fashion model mom, if such a thing is possible). She could give that sassy young Lauren Bacall a run for her money. Hard to feel like her son’s going to suffer terribly if he loses the presidency, though, with Mom clearly already on hand to console him.

•Also hard to feel sorry for Stephen Colbert not being able to get on the South Carolina presidential ballot as he’d hoped, since being a TV host is no doubt far more fun — but I’m disappointed that the one friend I have who is all three of the following — (a) libertarian and thus perhaps willing to vote for an outsider candidate like Colbert, (b) a former professional comedy writer, and (c) living in South Carolina — namely, Christine Caldwell Ames (described in my most recent Retro-Journal entry) will not get a chance to vote for him. Perhaps she’ll offer a Response below telling us who she’d prefer between the the Dems, GOP, and Colbert.

•Dopey as the GOP may sometimes be, by the way, I can never vote for the Dems as long as they keep doing things that are boring to the masses but terrifying to those paying close attention, like recently attempting, in piecemeal fashion, to outlaw arbitration so that all disputes must be solved by lawyers and/or government courts. As with the anti-tax petition mentioned at the top of this entry, the government knows real threats to its monopoly on resources and legal power when it sees them, the greedy devil.

•Indeed, for someone who’d rather see disputes solved privately (especially a full-fledged anarcho-capitalist like me), attempts to outlaw arbitration are about the most frightening domestic policy since — well, since the Clintons vowed to ban insurance “discrimination” (which is to say, insurance, since the whole concept of insurance is based on differential probabilities). I won’t vote them back into the White House. In good conscience, neither can you.

•But then, maybe I’m a hotheaded, boycott-prone kind of guy — I know I’ve reached the point where I’m too busy to see preachy left-wing movies when there are other things I could do with my time, however narrow-minded that may sound. And given the unapologetically anti-Republican ads they’ve been running, I can’t be the only person whose business Manhattan Mini-Storage has written off, though I’m sure they’re doing just fine without me. That’s the beauty of capitalism.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Libertarian Blues


All right, not a great week for liberty — at least not compared to last week, with Ron Paul’s record-breaking fundraising on the Fifth of November. This week, by contrast:

•The feds raided the man behind the Liberty Dollars that bear Ron Paul’s visage, either because they threaten to become a private currency or because (as I feared back when Libertarian Michael Badnarik was touting the things during his 2004 prez campaign) the whole silver coin system’s a ponzi scheme. It was front-page news in the right-leaning New York Sun, which suggested the raid could affect the presidential race, though I’ve heard of no legal connection to the Paul campaign itself. I’m not sure if the Sun figured campaign implications would attract the attention of sympathetic, right-leaning readers or whether they, like some neocons, are hoping to see the unlikely Paul juggernaut implode.

•Mona Charen, in an NRO piece likening Paul to David Koresh, proved herself to be one of those neocons — ah, but then, according to the juvenile Charen, I have just engaged in anti-Semitism by calling her a neocon — even though I’ve probably referred to myself as sort of a neocon at some point over the years (you may have read my Retro-Journal entry about being influenced by Leo Strauss via Alan Bloom — and I just finished reading a book by Norman Podhoretz, which I’ll describe at greater length in December’s Book Selection of the Month entry). Charen merely notes that Paul criticizes neocons and that some people use the term to refer primarily to conservatives of Jewish ancestry.

That’s pretty typical of her extraordinarily weak yet multi-point “case” against Paul — some people like him and are anti-Semites, some people like him and are crazy conspiracy theorists, some people etc., etc. All of which could be said of any political candidate: most people who thought they’d seen UFOs supported Ross Perot in 1992, according to one poll, perhaps because they thought him the candidate most likely to buck the system and blow the lid off the imagined conspiracy, but that in itself hardly discredits him (those people are probably supporting UFO-spotter Kucinich and UFO-conspiracy-criticizer Richardson this time around, by the way — so maybe my declaration that Richardson is at the bottom of the sanity heap wasn’t so far off [the corollary to that declaration being the danger that America will pick the two presentably weatherman-like, superficially-reasonable-seeming "hair guys," Edwards and Romney, as the major-party nominees]).

Charen is one of those tiresome conservatives who seems to operate on the belligerent pundit principle “If I can bluster my way through a stupid argument without admitting to myself that it’s stupid, it is in some sense legitimate, so don’t try stopping me, I’m on a roll.” Embarrassing — and bad for the culture. Retire, Mona Charen. You are a disgrace not only to conservatism but to the intelligentsia in general.

•The Republican Liberty Caucus, or some chapters of it (it being the group dedicated to advancing the libertarian cause through Republican politics) can’t decide whether to endorse Ron Paul, apparently, though you’d think he’s the candidate they were born to endorse. If not him, who? If not now, when?

•I continue to hear Establishment types, emboldened by an article in Wired, imply that the existence of lots of Ron Paul spam somehow shows that the whole Ron Paul movement is an illusion, as if all those actual, flesh-and-blood, non-robotic people showing up at Paul-themed gatherings (LIKE THE PARTY HERE IN NEW YORK CITY AT RON PAUL NY HQ, 515 W. 29TH ST., TONIGHT AT 9PM, I SHOULD NOTE) are irrelevant, along with their headline-making campaign donations.

•And headlines, alas, also continue about a former Libertarian Party national committee member (Steve Fielder of West Virginia) murdering and dismembering his wife — definitely a violation of the LP’s “non-aggression principle,” just in case that’s unclear to anyone. I’ve always said I defend principles, not politicians and that my allegiances therefore wouldn’t be affected even if it turned out the leaders of a faction I liked were axe-murderers — so now I get a chance to prove it! Sigh. What gets me is that the wife’s body appears to have been nibbled on after death by Fielder’s pet prairie dog, Max, so authorities put the prairie dog to sleep to get a bite-imprint from him — and I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that they mean “sleep” euphemistically, in which case I can’t help wondering why poor Max, who was clearly only an accomplice, was so quick to get the death penalty — and at a time when the constitutionality of lethal injection is in question. Pure speciesism! (And still the greens turn to the state for answers!)

•Speaking of animal-lovers, my friend Pagan Kennedy has abandoned her plan to write an article about how hard it is for libertarian males to find libertarian females to date (I’ve only dated one, briefly, in all these years, not that I’m complaining). It’s a good topic, though, given that libertarians, by at least one poll, are about 90% male, sort of like the populations behind two of my other favorite hobbies, comic books and skepticism, as it happens. No regrets.

Some brighter notes, though:

•Bretigne Shaffer, formerly a principled non-voter (not a position with which I agree, for more or less Kantian reasons but also for the simple strategic reason that if the anti-statists stop voting, the statists will always win), writes that she expects to vote for once — for Ron Paul. I think Reason’s Brian Doherty has also suggested he might be tempted.

•Barry Goldwater, Jr. has endorsed Ron Paul — and Bretigne’s dad Butler Shaffer campaigned for Barry Goldwater four decades ago, so there’s some sort of full circle there. (Of course, the modern Goldwater is not quite as powerful as the Silver Age Goldwater.)

•A libertarian Republican successfully got a pot-legalization measure passed in a small Idaho town, though I can’t imagine that’ll go over well with the feds.

•John Stossel’s recent segment on global warming hype is on YouTube — and it’s good, though the points he makes are, of necessity, only the tip of the non-melting iceberg.

•Heather Wilhelm launches her RealClearPolitics column by writing about eminent domain abuse — unmasking the state as a self-serving, power-hungry entity (aided and abetted by the five liberal Supreme Court judges in the monstrous Kelo decision, lefty talk of aiding the little guy notwithstanding). Her old colleagues from the group that was U.S. Term Limits have lately fissioned into the Sam Adams Alliance and Americans for Limited Government, both emphasizing grassroots activism and basic fight-the-power stuff, bless ’em.

•Having some weird and occasionally very rustic Ron Paul supporters out there occasionally does result in some entertaining exchanges, as suggested by this passage — far funnier out of context (so why provide any?) — from a listserv I’m on:

I don’t necessarily 110% agree with everything I wrote in “Jews and Ron Paul.” It was written for a Christian Evangelical audience, as I wrote it in response to a discussion I had with the pastor of a large church when I was passing out Slim Jims at the grocery store.

Note: not sufficient to justify Mona Charen coming out of retirement.

Some Catholics, at least, like Ron Paul, as Paul-inclined Dimitri Cavalli pointed out to atheistic me.

•A fellow libertarian New Wave fan blogger I noticed online surprised me by being a Democrat, favoring Richardson — which means that while I’m worrying about things like whether Giuliani or Paul has a better handle on the Iraq situation, he’s worrying about whether Richardson’s water-use agenda for the Southwest will violate local sovereignty. Weird. It’s like finding out you have a perfectly intelligent cousin in Canada who obsesses over defending monarchy or something. Whole different world for me, mentally.

But then, that’s what the Web is for.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I Don't Heart Huckabee


Moderately awful — that’s the only way to describe Huckabee’s bland (yet wrong) defense of farm subsidies, new taxes that would no doubt end up imposed atop the old (albeit framed in anti-tax rhetoric), intelligent design (albeit without banishing evolution from classrooms), and near-meaningless invocations of “vertical” (as opposed to left-right) politics.

Unfortunately, he is the only prominent GOP candidate from the whole southeast/Deep South area right now, which means that any likely GOP nominee other than Tennessee’s Fred Thompson may feel he “needs” Huckabee to shore up that vital Republican region. A vote for Huckabee might as well be — well, a vote for some other Arkansas governor. Just enough centrism to govern, not enough principle to make a difference. Huckabee is the sort of politician that makes one fear that mass democracy, after enough decades of refinement, will almost always produce de facto committees in the form of individuals. Yet Giuliani, Thompson, McCain, my man Paul — even doubletalking Romney — all have more personality and spirit than Huckabee. And I find myself suddenly not minding so much which of the others get onto the ticket — just please don’t resort to Huckabee, GOP (regional-strategy-wise, there’s still Thompson, remember — yes, he’s turned out to be a bit boring, but he could stop moving altogether and still be more inspiring than Huckabee [“Hey, isn't that a TV actor slumped next to the podium over there? I hear he's a Reaganite!”]).

In the extremely annoying movie whose title, inverted, inspired the title of this entry, the audience was offered a false choice between embracing environmentalism and embracing amoral — yet capitalist — nihilism (with the characters little more than mouthpieces for these opposing philosophies) — but at least both of those positions have more meaning than “verticalism.” Huckabee is to political philosophy what the accounts receivable manager of your local civic center is to culture.

Perhaps it’s time for Obama, who is also gaining in Iowa polls as I type this, to start pushing a new philosophy called “purplism,” a natural outgrowth of the fine, unity-emphasizing neither-red-nor-blue convention speech that first put him on the map. It’d make as much sense as “verticalism,” and I don’t for a minute blame Americans for wanting some way out of the right-left pincers — but some escape routes don’t lead very far at all.

Don’t get me wrong — I am delighted to talk about politics that transcends the usual linear right-left spectrum (I’m very slowly writing a book proposal about it). Libertarians sometimes model politics with an up and down dimension added to the spectrum that puts across-the-board liberty at the top and across-the-board authoritarianism at the bottom — and Reagan rightly said that the important thing is not right or left but moving upward toward individual freedom. But Huckabee does not — because he cannot — explain exactly what it is that he wants us to move vertically toward. “Upward to freedom” makes sense. “Upward to totalitarianism” even makes sense, bad idea though it may be. “Upward to a grab bag of focus-grouped ideas, some left, some right, none daring, that might play well in a Midwestern state like Iowa and get me on the ticket later as a southerner” is hollow. Don’t fall for this Rorschach approach to politics, America. We already have one Clinton in the race.

Retro-Journal: The Wall Falls, 1989


How could one not turn into a libertarian under the circumstances I faced in the second half of 1989?

My summer vacation reading list, gradually written up as a result of my growing curiosity about the tension between the collectivism touted at Brown and individual liberty, sounds almost excessive in retrospect. While some people have quirky, interesting stories about how they came to accept libertarian arguments — such as having lived in Lithuania under communism or having tried to run a small business despite a tangle of environmental red tape — I basically just read a lot of books. In the summer of 1989, I read:

The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and numerous essay collections by Ayn Rand
•John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government
•Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations
•John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism
Reason magazine
•Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America
•plus Diderot, Voltaire, and other Enlightenment bigwigs — including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution themselves, now seen for the first time in the light of the kind of minimal-government, individual-liberty ideas they were always meant to safeguard.

Seeing a common theme in these works of placing only the most minimal, rational constraints on individual liberty — just individual property rights that prevented each person from harming the body or property of the next — I had found a way to reconcile my respect for individual freedom with my desire to see happiness for all maximized (and indeed, the empirical track record of free markets in eliminating poverty, raising living standards, and fostering peace is phenomenal, once one clears away all the confounding factors people insist on treating as part and parcel of capitalism, such as hare-brained imperialist ventures or inept conservative governance — ultimately, the market is a non-governmental phenomenon, and no political party can either take credit for the market or blame the market for the party’s own failings).

The more metaphysical concerns (and intuitions) of the Greeks, religious believers, egalitarians, and even skeptical Nietzsche now seemed like so much hot air — but I retained enough affection for my time studying Nietzsche and the existentialists to suggest “Uber” (from Nietzsche’s term Ubermensch or “overman,” the hypothetical future being who is beyond good and evil) as the name for my parents’ shaggy, playful new puppy. Was she not, after all, beyond conceptions of good and evil — yet fun to be with? With nary a moral or philosophical notion in her furry head, Uber would be a source of delight for the next sixteen years, long after I’d stopped giving much thought to Nietzsche.


Back at Brown that semester (the first of my junior year), a new generation of Film Bulletin writers, some of them probably drawn in part by the prospect of having a sarcastic libertarian as editor, arose, several of them doubling as (libertarian or libertarian-leaning) columnists for the Brown Daily Herald and thereby creating the false but useful impression that libertarians were roughly equal in intellectual influence on campus to the right and left. Among them:

•Dave Whitney, the Soviet-flag-possessing rocker mentioned in my previous Retro-Journal entry — who lamented at one Bulletin meeting that year that Brown is the sort of place where nice, virginal, Christian girls arrive with stuffed animals and bows in their hair and get transformed in one year into smoking, drinking, black-clad depressives — little realizing he was precisely describing the life story of…

•Holly Caldwell, who had begun freshman year by noticing that there was another student in her dorm with the last name Caldwell and deciding to wait outside that other student’s door until she arrived, in the hopes that they were destined to be best friends, as indeed they were, inspiring them to be roommates as sophomores, but…

•Christine Caldwell, the other Caldwell, was surprised at the beginning of their sophomore year to open their dorm room door and find Holly, now black-clad, smoking, shades-wearing, and steeped in the Objectivist thinking of the brother with whom she had just spent the summer, sitting on a bed inside, uttering as her first words of the new year: “Christine, I’m an atheist now.” Christine, by contrast, would remain quietly — even covertly — theist, a few years later enrolling in Yale Divinity School (on the very campus I’d avoided applying to for fear of all the Bible-thumpers — obviously never having read Buckley’s God and Man at Yale at that time, though like countless other right-leaning college students, I was basically recapitulating Buckley’s story). Christine going to divinity school would surprise not only those of us at the Bulletin who knew her for raunchy comedy-writing and alcohol consumption but, in time, those at National Lampoon and MTV who knew her (from short gigs at those establishments) for raunchy comedy-writing and alcohol consumption.

•Chris Nugent, the lapsed Catholic turned Buddhist turned atheist and libertarian whose firsthand experiences with the idiocy of the Brown Disciplinary Review Board — as one of its student representatives — were a powerful source of skepticism about bureaucracy, punishment, and the reliability of police and security eye-witness testimony. Chris’s attacks in the Bulletin on, as he put it, “Dean Inman, the Stupidest Dean” were relentless (Inman being a prominent member of the Disciplinary Review Board) and probably reached their logical pseudo-legalistic climax with his admonishment in one issue that if Inman ever wanted to sue for libel, he would have to demonstrate that there was in fact a stupider dean than he.

This cabal — along with previously-mentioned Bulletin veterans like Scott Nybakken and Laura Braunstein, eight-year-long presence and part-time student Larry Ross, and numerous others (including another libertarian, Bill Madden, who once revealed that he doesn’t drink because “it dulls my hate”) — made fun of Brown in often rude and even scatological terms over the one-year period of my editorship (followed by a year with Christine at the reins), either helped or hindered by my constant efforts to raise the publication’s tone toward something more akin to that of Spy magazine, then the funniest magazine in America and employer for a time of my predecessor as Bulletin editor, David Kamp. I sometimes feel a little guilty about how crude some of the Bulletin’s jokes were, but day after day — with its protests over nothing, angry letters to the school newspaper endlessly expressing “shock” and “outrage” or demanding that “woman” henceforth be spelled “womyn” to avoid including the word “man,” or its catalogue full of classes promising to look at issues from both a Marxist-Leninist and a Weberian perspective — Brown was really asking for it.

Indeed, the Disciplinary Review Board in particular was asking for it, so Chris picked his favorite target well. It seems in retrospect that almost every time Brown did something stupid enough to warrant national press coverage — like threatening to throw a student out simply for having sex with a woman who had been consuming alcohol — the ineptitude of the Disciplinary Review Board was somehow involved. [CLARIFICATION: I refer to an alcohol case that happened years after we were there, but see Chris Nugent's Comment below about a similar case in our day and about the full structure of the DRB and Deans system, which I may have oversimplified.]

Where was the national press, though — not to mention the ACLU — at the end of the previous semester, on one of the very few occasions when the Bulletin was hauled before the Disciplinary Review Board, charged with anti-Semitism (at a time when Scott Nybakken and I were the only non-Jewish Bulletin writers) for a piece by Andrew Clateman that parodied Hanukkah as an ancient sex festival that, according to new archaeological research, began when one man named Bernie, during an orgy, managed, with the help of magical oils, to maintain a miraculous eight-day erection?

I sat in on the strategy meeting between Clateman, editor Kamp, and Film Society president Sarah Idelson (whose brother Matt would later work with Nybakken at DC Comics) prior to their appearance before the DRB. Kamp, ever the smooth-talker, said that they’d stress the underlying fact that they never intended for anyone to take the piece seriously or feel offended or attacked. Clateman, then on the verge of leaving for a year abroad in France and never one to kowtow to the authorities, responded, “What do you mean it wasn’t an attack? Comedy is violence! It was a direct assault on their bourgeois sensibilities!” Kamp gently acknowledged that there was some truth to that but that that would not be the crux of the Bulletin’s defense.

Ultimately, it’s worth noting, the Bulletin’s brush with censorship was the result of a group of brownnosing (no pun intended) students attempting to curry favor with their Bulletin-hating advisor, moronically conservative professor Jacob Neusner, who had himself once brought charges against the Bulletin before the DRB, when the Bulletin ran several obviously-parodic letters from faculty members about the holidays, including one ostensibly from Neusner celebrating the fact that that year Hanukkah fell after Christmas, enabling Jews to get good deals on merchandise returned to stores after Christmas by the gentiles. I didn’t even get half the intra-Jewish jokes the Bulletin did back in those days, but it seemed pretty clear to everyone but Neusner that it was all intended to be all-in-the-family fun.

Nonetheless, Neusner would go on to write that Kamp was part of a historical continuum of anti-Semitic propagandists that included other villains such as Hitler and Woody Allen. Perspective was in short supply at Brown.

Being surrounded by people with such delicate sensibilities probably helps explain why the core Bulletineers noted above — and I — became so very fond of the swearing, angry, misogynistic, substance-abusing, deranged metal band Guns N’ Roses, despite our general strong tendency to be WBRU-loving alternative rock fans (for my part, I saw concerts while at Brown by Brian Ferry, the Fixx, the Alarm, Siouxsie, Stray Cats, the Church, They Might Be Giants, the Feelies, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Young Fresh Fellows, Warren Zevon, and many others — and years later, I’m still bummed I didn’t get to go with Dave to see the Waterboys, which he claims was “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen” — but then, Dave makes a lot of grandiose pronouncements, rock n’ roll guy that he is). Two years later, I would name my first professional column, in Reason magazine, “A Crazy Man’s Utopia” after a line spoken by (Republican) Alice Cooper in the G N’ R song “The Garden.”


If Brown lacked perspective, though, it wouldn’t stop the march of time out in the wider world, and that fall and winter saw the rapid unraveling of European Communism, as if confirming in practice everything I’d come to believe in theory over the summer. With holes punched through the Berlin Wall by German celebrants and the first episode of The Simpsons airing over winter vacation at the end of 1989, the contemporary world had finally been born.

The cherry on the sundae, for me, was seeing a segment on ABC’s news magazine show 20/20 that December called “Relaxing the Rules” that showed how time and time again, experts and ostensibly neutral commentators including ABC News itself had predicted that deregulation during the 80s would bring disaster — only to be proven wrong when prices fell, services improved, and safety records remained clean. You see, I told my apolitical parents, even the mainstream media are coming around — with Communism collapsing, how can they fail to draw pro-market lessons? Of course, that was no ordinary ABC News segment but rather reporter John Stossel’s first foray into political reporting. He was in fact pretty much the odd man out as a libertarian in network news, though six years later he would at least have a few libertarians like me working for him.