Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ron Paul vs. Todd Seavey vs. Superman

With this blog’s “Month of the Nerd” starting tomorrow, I’m planning to avoid politics for a few weeks and talk about sci-fi and the like — but for those who find the transition too jarring, here’s a three-step plan to get you acclimated:

Order Ron Paul’s new book The Revolution: A Manifesto today as it’s released — and rest assured that in the final week of the Month of the Nerd, I’ll fuse politics and nerdery by telling you what I hear about the May 22-26 Libertarian Party convention (taking place in Denver, where I will not be, just so that’s clear), specifically whether the conservative/libertarian fusionist candidate Bob Barr becomes their presidential nominee or they give the gig to some less-famous, less-coalitional figure who’s no threat to McCain’s electoral success (and here’s Dave Weigel’s rundown of the LP’s candidates, complete with one interviewee warning that the Barr nomination would cost the LP some of its “neo-pagan” votes, as is no doubt true).

•Come to Chelsea Market (75 Ninth Ave. between 15th and 16th St. in Manhattan) tonight (Wed., April 30) for Jen Dziura’s Mind Games (starting at 6:30 with music and a thoroughly nerdy geography quiz) and see me interviewed live (at 9) about science and skepticism — for free, with alcohol for sale nearby.

•Then, if you feel you are left with a clear understanding of what’s real and what’s not, and a new sympathy for nerds, you’re ready to go to your local comic book shop and buy a copy of today’s other major literary release, the fifty-cent sampler/intro comic book DC Universe: Zero — which I’ll review tomorrow, while more political (but less fun) people are celebrating May Day or something.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Seavey Live Tomorrow (at Jen Dziura's Mind Games)

Seavey online pic

As noted in my right margin, May will be my “Month of the Nerd” on this blog, devoted to sci-fi and things poindexteral (more so than usual), but you can get a taste of nerdness one day early — tomorrow (Wed.), April 30, when I’ll appear live at Chelsea Market’s Mind Games (hosted by Jen Dziura), per the program linked below. It’s a lineup of music, trivia, and me as the interview of the week (show starts at 6:30pm, I go on at 9 — just follow the Mind Games signs inside 75 Ninth Ave. between 15th and 16th St.).

I’ll be talking about the debunking of unscientific claims, which goes on at my job at the American Council on Science and Health, the non-profit responsible for HealthFactsAndFears (which I edit),, and the infamous Riskometer. Without skepticism, as I’ll explain, you’re easy prey for the countless nonsensical health-related stories in the news each and every day, not to mention Bigfoot hoaxes. And Jen is funny. Please join us.


UPDATE: Speaking of nerd stuff: behold the modernized Sleestaks that will fight Will Ferrell.

Monday, April 28, 2008

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: Should Manhattan Streets Have Congestion Pricing?

Go, New York driver, go!  Next week, regardless of whether you see Speed Racer, you must see a debate on New York’s hottest automotive topic (and one that sources say may yet be revived by Mayor Bloomberg with special help from Gov. Paterson):

Should Manhattan Streets Have Congestion Pricing?

YES: Charles Komanoff, economist who has prominently weighed in on transportation, energy, and environment issues throughout the City’s long congestion pricing battle (see his writing at

NO: Doug Dechert, controversial journalist devoted to “puncturing the pretensions of the plutocrats” who’s irked New York Post with his reporting in New York Press on the Page Six corruption scandals (see the archives of

Moderator: Michel Evanchik

Host: Todd Seavey

Wed., May 7 (8pm) at Lolita Bar, basement level, 266 Broome St. at Allen St. (one block south and three west of the Delancey St. subway stop).  Free admission, cash bar.

Will the mysterious Racer X attend?  (What about the mysterious Prof. X or Tibbie X?)  Regardless, we’ll gather to settle the question that has some people wondering if they’ll soon be priced off Manhattan streets — and others worried that the alternative is being crowded off them, along with their more space-saving and eco-friendly bicycles.

Where do you stand, pedal, or put it in neutral?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Retro-Journal: Bush, Stossel, and Unnatural Portents in Early 2001

The first half of 2001 saw my final six months working for ABC News, a period that began with the airing of what was without question the most libertarian hour in the history of network television, the special John Stossel Goes to Washington, for which I was an associate producer (perhaps the future of libertarian TV lies partly online, thanks to, staffers of which I was lucky enough to hang out with last night, but in 2001 Stossel seemed very much alone).

That Stossel hour crammed an astonishing number of governmental failures into one hour — with a nice theoretical framework wrapped around it to suggest that government’s failures are not incidental or easily avoided, given government’s inevitable lack of market-style correctives and filters. The show was ahead of the curve in a few ways, including its suggestion that government would likely grow under George Bush (he’d been in office only days when the show aired), just as it tends to grow under either party, despite talk of a mythical “pendulum” that supposedly swings back and forth between Big Government and periods of nineteenth-century-style laissez-faire.

Interestingly, in a deceptively quiet little end segment, the hour offered one consistently anti-government congressman from Texas, Rep. Ron Paul, as a sign of hope. We didn’t think to ask him about conspiracy theories or embarrassing old ghostwritten newsletters (and since as of this entry he’s history in more than one sense, I’ll hereby lift the self-imposed ban of the past couple months on me mentioning his name on this blog, since I don’t expect to be doing so very often regardless — after all, now there’s Bob Barr to keep an eye on, for good or ill).


I was not so libertarian even in those heady times as to buy into the idea popularized by Dr. Thomas Szasz — not a logically necessary element of libertarianism but popular in some corners of the movement — that there is “no such thing” as mental illness. Szasz, inspired partly by his self-analysis of his childhood tendency to be a malingerer (convincing himself he was ill to get attention from his mother), was instrumental in spreading the idea that acting crazy is not in itself grounds for institutionalization — arguably just a quirky personality type or lifestyle choice — absent a threat of harm to others, the premise underlying the deinstitutionalization that did so much to contribute to “homelessness” in recent decades (his arguments are often useful from a civil liberties perspective — we would not want everyone whose behavior was out of the ordinary locked up).

The core Szaszian argument is that since you cannot reliably point to physical damage in the brain to show that something is objectively wrong, you cannot diagnose even something like severe schizophrenia as an “illness” in any scientific sense — but Szasz followers never really seem to have a comeback to the argument that all sorts of real, physical, objective illnesses are diagnosed based on behavior and patient reports rather than direct observation of the physical damage. If a knee can be damaged and thus malfunctioning for reasons that are not immediately visible, so too, no doubt, can a mechanism as complex and easily perturbed as the brain (and we certainly know from experiments with drugs and all sorts of brain injury studies how easily perturbed the brain is).

It is only recently that we’ve begun to understand the physical changes in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s — for years blamed in a vague, hypothetical way on “hardening of the arteries” — so by Szasz’s absurd criteria, Alzheimer’s did not exist back in the 1980s when my grandmother died from it (she must simply have been making a radical lifestyle choice to lose her memory and eventually even her ability to swallow correctly), nor did schizophrenia exist in 2001, when with disturbing suddenness it turned a writer of my acquaintance from a charismatic and argumentative dynamo into a visibly withered and haunted, dysfunctional person frightened of a looming conspiracy of would-be poisoners (we have since fallen out of contact).

Szasz is a fanatic and a monomaniac, though rest assured I mean that in a non-clinical way. He would also make a poor philosopher.


Nature sucks, as schizophrenia cases — which are terribly draining, depressing, and frightening to witness first-hand — remind us. Much as I loved wandering around in the woods when I was young, I always assumed the future obviously lay with industry, robots, and other things mechanical. Indeed, looking back, I realize I had always wanted to promote science and battle evildoers, in one way or another, from a young age. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that as I left ABC and went on a few dates with a former co-worker, I found myself having a dream, hokey as it sounds, in which we were astronauts, though I was a bit concerned because I had not read the flight manual — but despite this portentous vision, we didn’t end up romantically involved until a couple years later, so more (just a very discreet, tiny bit more) about that in a few weeks.

Another portentous dream of mine, which I had had periodically for years, involved me being safely on the ground but watching a passenger jet crash, always just out of view as it hit the ground and sent up a big smoke cloud. Interestingly, later that year I’d stop having that dream — not, I’m confident, because it was some “psychic” prophecy that had been fulfilled but simply because reality had outpaced and rendered ineffectual my old subconscious fears.

The only other recurring dream I can recall ever having was one I’d have occasionally as a very small child — much too young to have any real interest in sex or romance — in which I was a groom on the verge of getting married in a vast, pillar-filled underground chamber resembling Mordor Moria from the Lord of the Rings movies (which of course I hadn’t yet seen at that time), only to be chased away by a gorilla. Now go ahead and tell me I’d been culturally encoded with male-chauvinist metaphorical imagery by age three or four. Again, I think a great many mental patterns are dictated by nature, not culture or this illusory thing called “individual free will” — but rest assured I found the gorilla, not the bride, scary.


The X-Files spin-off called The Lone Gunmen premiered in March 2001 with an episode, you may recall, about terrorists attempting to fly a passenger jet into the World Trade Center — but the crash was prevented by…heroic conspiracy theorists. What a spectacular accident that would be, I thought — likely producing some amazing footage if it ever happened. Seven years later, given what transpired later that year, I can’t help wondering whether that episode of the short-lived show gets shown as the comedy relief at 9/11 Truther conventions.

In another sci-fi-type development, I donated a big chunk of my old comic book stash to a social worker who had lamented that she had an emotionally disturbed teenage male charge who showed some interest in writing and art but wasn’t quite motivated enough to read conventional books. My act of compassion led him to begin drawing monsters, then eventually to begin drawing and describing scenes of terrible violence, then to confess that he wasn’t confident he could resist acting on his violent impulses, leading to him — as even Szasz might condone — being put away for a while. Comic books change lives.

So, too, of course, does TV news, and it was in that category that I functioned as an Emmys judge that year, just as my time at ABC was ending. Like a lot of things in TV, it was not as glamorous as it sounds, consisting mainly of sitting in a room with about ten other TV professionals and putting sample nominated tapes in a VCR, either watching whole pieces or occasionally nodding if someone looked around and said “So do we all agree this one’s terrible and we should just move on?”

Indeed, far from seeing TV as glamorous at that point, I had a bit of ’zine envy — getting to know author Pagan Kennedy, mainly from her occasional readings in New York City, and sometimes wishing that, like her, I’d started a ’zine circa 1990, with all the fun and freedom and permissible amateurishness that implies. Not surprisingly, now I have a blog (and Pagan has a tenth book coming out in September — but more about that in a few months).

Tiring of TV, I had begun doing more freelance writing assignments in preparation for my intended departure into the all-freelance post-ABC world that summer. One assignment that began while I was at ABC but stretched into what would turn out to be my brief time as a fulltime freelancer was the writing of entries about famous authors for a set of encyclopedias produced in conjunction with Facts on File. One of the first ones I wrote was about James Mill, the real founder of utilitarianism and father of the more famous John Stuart Mill. For me, that’s a bit like a Mormon getting assigned to write about Joseph Smith. Life was good, and despite that Stossel hour’s dire predictions about Bush, I was pretty confident that barring some huge terrorist incident, the world was on an upward track to increasing peace, happiness, and non-stop albeit uneven prosperity.

The final Stossel hour on which I worked — one that was largely outlined by me in response to Stossel’s desire to find some less-boring way to discuss environmental issues — was Tampering with Nature, about the rising tide of opposition, from both left and right, to various aspects of biotechnology. As always, I was on the side of tampering, not (an overblown, idealized version of) nature — but nonetheless, I am finally going tomorrow to that farm-themed party that I mentioned was delayed in a Retro-Journal entry a few weeks ago. The more efficient the robots get, the more space we can leave for the animals and the more humane the cow-milking can be, so in the final analysis I don’t feel I really need to choose just one side of the equation.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Institutionalized Revolution and My Balance Sheet

I see that David Gay, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in central New York State, the 25th District, has been endorsed by the author of next week’s release, The Revolution: A Manifesto.  The libertarian “Love Revolution” lives on in the fired-up next generation of political candidates, which is good.  In the end, much as one might dislike politicians as a class, only liberty-loving legislator-zealots — as opposed to politicians excited about spending public money and issuing edicts — can likely stave off society’s collapse.

And speaking of endorsements, I was pleased to see that the very site you’re reading now was called “one of the best blogs in existence” by American Spectator’s Shawn Macomber, a great blogger himself.  I at least strive to be one of the most interesting Seaveys with a blog, though I have some competition from this girl, for instance, probably a distant relative — or possibly just an abstract construct.

But getting back to politics: I’m leaning Bob Barr, but I must say that if McCain keeps doing things as free-market and gutsy as telling dying steel towns that what they and the world need is more free trade, not less, a Barr protest vote might just prove unnecessary.  Not there yet, though, Sen. McCain.  I love the fact that experts are saying McCain’s proposed new round of tax cuts would require massive, unprecedented cuts in the federal budget — always good — but unless he starts naming superfluous government departments, I will not yet believe those cuts (rather than more Bush-style deficit spending) are really on the way.

Speaking of paying one’s debts, a friend of mine still “owes” me a gift copy of a first edition Atlas Shrugged, and I believe there’s a friend of Derek Rose out there to whom, shall we say, I owed $20 in the event of the GOP losing both houses of Congress in 2006, but I haven’t seen him since.  The ex who unwisely bet me that (Republican) Don Johnson had extremely long, wavy hair like Fabio has largely squared things with me, though.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Brown vs. NYT, Robot vs. Bum

You couldn’t ask for a better pair of stories (from Drudge today) underscoring why the left-wing Ivy League elites are an impediment to human progress while the Average Joe with a thirst for justice and a desire to protect property is the vanguard of the future:

Pampered Brown students physically assault a writer for pointing out that trade makes people around the world wealthier (thus making things like their educations possible)…

…while an Atlanta bar owner builds a robot to combat crime by the homeless.

Choose sides accordingly: savagery and censorship, or self-defense and economic analysis.  The critics whining that the robot has not addressed the root social causes of crime is the cherry on the cyber-sundae.  Give the robots time.  Give them time.

Rock n' Roll, and the Limbaugh/Hynde/PETA Terrorism Connection

In plugging tonight’s Jen Dziura/Molly Crabapple event, I chastised the general depravity of the City — but unlike your average depravity-chastiser, I am aware that popular culture didn’t just get naughty in the past decade or two. If someone said to you that there is a catchy song likening a woman’s sexual prowess to massive killings in a recent war, you’d probably think only the moral callousness of gangsta rap or the sociopathic irony of punk could be the cause — and if you were the Pope, making your visit to NYC this past weekend, you would lament the decline of civilization.

But was the “culture of life,” which the Catholic conservatives always say is faltering, really stronger in 1957, when rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson sang this upbeat little tune, “Fujiyama Mama,” without much apparent moral angst?

I’ve been to Nagasaki, Hiroshima too
The same I did to them, baby, I can do to you
Cause I’m a Fujiyama mama and I’m just about to blow my top
Fujiyama-yama Fujiyama
And when I start erupting ain’t nobody gonna make me stop

I drink a quart of sake, smoke dynamite
I chase it with tobaccy and then shoot out the light
Cause I’m a Fujiyama mama…
Well you can talk about me say that I’m mean
I’ll blow your head off, baby, with nitroglycerine
Cause I’m a Fujiyama mama…

Well you can say I’m crazy, stone deaf, and dumb
But I can cause destruction just like the atom bomb
Cause I’m a Fujiyama mama…
I drink a quart of sake…

This is not to suggest that things haven’t tended toward more explicit sex and violence, of course — not to mention ever-increasing irony. I was wary even back in college two decades ago of the fact that some bands were playing/singing badly on purpose for ironic effect (just as many Big Band fans were probably wary of rock from the start). If I was worried about that trend two decades ago, though, it’s a miracle I can even listen to alternative rock of today, with its default twee, self-effacing, sarcastic, effete, mopey faux-despair pose — but in some ways, alternative rock is smarter than ever, for all its sneering air of proudly-masochistic self-defeat. Mudhoney covers the land and the Jesus Lizard rules over all, in the long run, though I thought of those sorts of bands as “Those weird, sarcastic-sounding bands my friend Jake likes” back in college.

(Memo: I really need to find time to fill up that iPod thing I have one of these days. I am told that many new rock n’ roll ensembles have formed since the Smiths broke up and do not want to seem like one of those bland guys you’d meet when I was in college who neither cared about real oldies or cool new stuff but tended instead to say things like “Yeah, me and some of the guys went to a Bachman Turner Overdrive show once — that was wild.”)

In other rock news, you wouldn’t normally think of Chrissy Hynde as someone whose music is promoting violence — nor think of Rush Limbaugh as supporting terrorism — but the Wikipedia entry about him notes that he’s had to pay Hynde $500,000 a year for repeated use of the Pretenders song “My City Was Gone” (though it’s plainly more paleo than mainstream-conservative) and that she in turn donates the money to PETA, a group that has repeatedly funded animal-rights terrorists, at the very least for legal-defense purposes and in some cases without it being clear what the money was used for (so reports the cover story of the May/June Skeptical Inquirer). Animals are plenty cute, but one hates to see their near-mindless interests trump those of the one species on the planet capable of reason, abstract thought, moral philosophy, and the sophisticated discussion of ideas. Humans rock, whereas most animals are not far removed, mentally, from rocks.

That is not to say humans don’t do plenty of stupid things, as in this incident involving a priest pointed out to me by Katherine Taylor.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

That Onion al-Qaeda Story Has Come True!

Everyone likens wacky news stories to items from The Onion, but one Onion piece has actually come true: They joked about al-Qaeda dimissing 9/11 conspiracy theories that steal al-Qaeda’s thunder — and in real life, al-Qaeda’s second in command now condemns Iran for stealing al-Qaeda’s thunder by spreading the Israel/U.S. inside-job theory.

Next month on this site, though, I’m going to do a “Month of the Nerd” about sci-fi and such, so don’t send me your 9/11 conspiracy theories — but when you’re ready to have a serious conversation about Green Lantern, you have my e-mail address.

Are People Without Clothes Like, Um, Emperors Without Clothes?

New York has entirely too many activities — from writing to dancing — that involve nudity, and frankly I’m pretty damn tired of every third creative activity in the City having some “burlesque” component, as if “indie” = “Weimar.”  Enough already.  And, while I have some lovely and talented writer friends who fall into this next category, the world does not need any more sex columnists, especially not attractive young female ones.  If an elderly fat man wants to write a sex column for some alternative newspaper, maybe we’ve got something novel and useful, though I won’t read it because he’s an elderly fat man.

That being said, I have to admire excellent cartoonist and weary artist model Molly Crabapple for realizing that two things that had been kept artificially separate throughout history — artist modeling and burlesque — could be combined (into her “Dr. Sketchy” classes) so that customers are consciously drawing naughty people instead of, as in most art classes, pretending not to have naughty thoughts (I praised the idea in my countdown of useful comics as my September 2007 Book Selection of the Month).

And you can — and should — hear Molly Crabapple explain “How to Draw the Female Figure” tomorrow (Wed., April 23) at 7pm at 75 Ninth Avenue (between 15th and 16th St.) at Chelsea Market Mind Games, the new weekly live interview hosted by Jen Dziura (whose guest one week later, on April 30, will be yours truly, Todd Seavey, on “How to Detect Bogus Health Stories”).

Monday, April 21, 2008

Prez Candidates on WWE "Monday Night Raw" Tonight


The prez candidates will be on WWE’s Monday Night Raw wrestling show tonight with wrestling-style boasts about their chances for victory.

Doesn’t this seem to demand a response from a certain former governor of Minnesota, professional wrestler, Predator-fighter, and Reform Party icon with populist/libertarian leanings who’s already been toying with the idea of a presidential run? Is the WWE setting up the mainstream candidates for an inevitable takedown by Jesse Ventura?

If by any chance a Bob “Loose Cannon” Barr/Jesse “The Mind” Ventura ticket arises, the thinking man’s choice in November is clear (fun though it is to see McCain up five points over either Democrat in current general-election polls).

And Ventura might then get the endorsement of his old Predator co-star and current California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then the can’t-fail four-step plan for victory falls smoothly into place: (4) Barr, (3) professional wrestling, (2) cyborg governator, (1) Angelina Jolie. Countdown to final abolition of government…

Somewhere Between Parody and Homage...

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that David Lynch directed some of the odd Calvin Klein ads with lines such as “Somewhere between love and madness — lies Obsession” and that the ads had been parodied by The Simpsons and others.

Well, I’m pleased to see the meme survives over twenty years later, with the new faux-pretentious ads for the practical Toyota Sienna using the parody tagline “Somewhere between luxury and soccer practice…”

It reminds me that I’d love to have an online phrase-etymology guide as effective as the online dictionaries and word-etymology guides and such that we all use.  Who first said “the lovely and talented,” for example?  Had it already gone from mere cliche to joke before Letterman started saying it all the time?  So many questions, so much history.

On a related note, I find it interesting — and sort of humbling for anyone who imagines himself a highly-modern wiseass — that silly, random catchphrases were popular centuries before TV sitcoms existed, with phrases like “Quiz!” (before the word actually had any meaning) and “What a shocking bad hat!” being thrown around purely for their comedic-repetition value.  Human psychology doesn’t change that much.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Evil Gods and Sacred Cows

As if Passover (with its admirable anti-slavery theme) and the Pope’s visit weren’t excitement enough, the New York City Comic Convention is also this weekend (though I’m not going — crowds, odors, etc.).  And here, from, is probably the best Convention-spawned quote I’ve seen, from my favorite comic book writer, Grant Morrison, of course (this comes after he explains that psychedelic drugs have never quite succeeded in replicating the alien abduction hallucination he experienced in Katmandu — and that he’s a fan of punk, Robert Anton Wilson, and the movie O Lucky Man, like all good-hearted people):

After a fan asked to be brought up to speed on [the character] Seaguy, Morrison explained that the series is three books –

“The first book is Child Seaguy and it’s when you’re a kid and there’s things you want to play with and the world starts to smack you and you realize that there are things you’re not supposed to do. By the second one, he’s adolescent so he’s starting to think and getting a little angry and he’s a bit more emo in the second one and he realize that there’s something wrong in the world but nobody seems to care. The people that rule the world have to take his identity away from him and turn him into a matador. So El Macho is this matador but he suddenly wakes up and he’s got a matador suit on and he’s in love with the beautiful Carmen and she’s carrying his child and he’s the most famous guy in this town. In this future, cattle have become totally sacred because BSE [mad cow disease] has gone through the whole village and you can’t kill them, but all you can do is dress them up to show them how tough you are.”

Morrison explained process of dressing it in high heel and stockings and a funny hat “and there you’ve proved yourself and it kneels down before you and everyone throws flowers and there’s one scene where everyone loves him and throwing flowers and cheering and Seaguy realizes, ‘Is this all there is?’ He keeps seeing Chubby the Tuna’s ghost. The third one is Seaguy as a grown-up…Seaguy Eternal, it’s the tales of Seaguy in the land of the dead, which is Australia, in search of his lost companion. Kind of my take on being alive.”

And this is the man who’s unleashing sadistic new gods on the DC Universe starting next week in the sampler comic book DC Universe #0 (for a trifling fifty cents — you may as well try it, and since it leads to what Morrison swears is meant to be DC’s “Final Crisis” storyline, I may as well go off the wagon one last time).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Atlas Shrugged" Is the Cure After All

For decades, there has been talk of turning Ayn Rand’s libertarian novel about the collapse of an over-regulated U.S. into a movie, and it sounds like this time it’s actually going to happen, with a perfect combination of participants (given how difficult it is to get any big project off the ground in Hollywood, with all the participants’ schedules aligning).

Angelina Jolie is still attached to star as Dagny Taggart, the plucky railroad company CEO — and that’s enough to guarantee attention to the film, which is why I think the revolution is nigh (but more about that later) — and better still, from an artistic perspective, Vadim Perelman is both writing the script and directing, claiming he expects to start shooting in December (for release in late 2009 or in 2010).

Perelman, best known for the acclaimed property-rights-dispute drama House of Sand and Fog, was born under communism in the Ukraine in 1963 but came to Canada and the U.S. to find freedom, fame, and fortune (initially by doing ads for various major corporations). I think that means he has a personal stake in depicting accurately (and metaphorically) the socialist disaster that America seems determined to inflict upon itself, aided and abetted by capitalism-hating intellectuals and money-wasting politicians.

The previous iteration of an almost-filmed Atlas, just a couple years ago, had a script by the writer of Braveheart — who, interestingly, first read Atlas in a deal with his son whereby each read the other’s favorite book, his own (oddly enough) being Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I’m guessing this means his script would have downplayed Atlas’s atheism, but that’d be fine with me (even though I’m an atheist whose neighborhood, the Upper East Side, is currently crawling with extra cops and pedestrians due to the Pope’s visit). If glossing over Rand’s atheism helped make the movie’s core message of free markets and individual freedom more palatable to Americans, so be it. We can debate the existence of God after Big Government is dismantled. That argument’s been going on for thousands of years anyway.

In our (in many ways beneficially) fragmented and increasingly niche-audience-oriented culture, a major Hollywood movie is about the only thing short of a major address by the president that has the power to start a simultaneous nationwide conversation that could change people’s thinking on some topic — such as government being an obstacle, parasite, predator, and form of organized crime that we would be better off without. Gradualism and ameliorative measures haven’t gotten us very far, merely assuring that our crawl toward the abyss is a mercifully slow, stagnant one. With the entitlements-craving first wave of official Baby Boomers turning sixty-five in two years, it is time to change the whole tone of the national conversation, and it would be foolish not to seize a big-budget Hollywood opportunity to do so.


And I should note that I say all this without being an Objectivist (as adherents of Rand’s philosophy are called) — although, whether she liked it or not, her political and economic beliefs qualified her as a libertarian, which I am (a proponent of strict property rights who wants government minimized). Objectivism is libertarianism but other things as well, more unique to Rand, including atheism (good but not essential to being a libertarian or being anti-government), egoism (annoying and a big part of why Rand alienates so many people — but again, not essential to being a laissez-faire capitalist, regardless of what Rand thought about that), and opposition to altruism (in the special way she used the term, which implied guilt-fueled self-sacrifice, as opposed to a right to live your own life and put your happiness before others’ as long as you don’t violate their property rights).

By contrast, I’m a rule-utilitarian who thinks it’s all right in principle to place the good of humanity as a whole before any given individual’s (and certainly admires charity, which is voluntary) but thinks that, as a practical matter, the rules most conducive to general human happiness are the ones that leave individuals maximally free to do as they choose with their own individual bodies and possessions, since they know their own preferences — more often than not — better than other people do. If we lived in a world where every tenth person were a magnanimous telepathic genius who could be trusted to run others’ lives better than they can run them themselves, maybe there’d be an argument for letting some people (a sort of aristocracy) govern others, but we don’t live in that world, and — for purely pragmatic reasons — I think it’d be best if we regarded one person “governing” another as a situation every bit as morally offensive as one person kidnapping, raping, or enslaving another. Civilized people should not govern.

Let our relationships be voluntary ones in the marketplace, policed and adjudicated privately in accordance with a minimal law code (a purely defensive one, if you will) enforcing people’s property rights and thus freedom from theft, fraud, and bodily assault, but enforcing nothing more (except in some sort of rare emergency circumstance, since, again, I’m a moderate, reasonable, utilitarian, pragmatic kind of guy, obviously — but government never gets the benefit of the doubt, as it does in thousands of ways now, with the resulting infinitude of agencies, laws, regulations, subsidies, and intrusions we shuffle around under).

Rand practically invited people to reject and even hate her by insisting that you must agree with her in every detail or reject her whole philosophy. But with time and patience, we manage to find the worthwhile bits of Socrates, Nietzsche, Jesus, or plenty of other thinkers we might not want to take whole-cloth. Likewise, one can reasonably hope that the valuable parts of the Atlas Shrugged message will come through loud and clear in a movie, without audiences being repelled by the more dubious parts. Hey, I disagree with Thomas Jefferson about numerous things but still value the many benefits that arose from the revolution of which he was a part. I will not turn my nose up at a new, presumably far less violent, revolution made possible by Hollywood, if all goes as hoped. We shall see.

(And this will leave incredulous readers with a thousand little questions that deserve — and in some cases already have — book-length answers, but at the risk of looking coy, I will strive to follow this week of anti-government posts with much shorter and therefore inevitably more cryptic and brusque posts for the foreseeable future, freeing up some time to work on a book, which will itself be much shorter than 1,100 pages, I promise.)

P.S. Jolie is no libertarian — she and Brad Pitt having gotten the Namibian government to ban foreign journalists from that country during the birth of their child — but she is a punk fan with the Clash slogan “Know Your Rights” tattooed across her neck, which helps bridge some other cultural divides of interest to me. Do not underestimate the potential cultural impact of a Jolie project.

UPDATE 4/20/08: I neglected to mention that Perelman’s film The Life Before Her Eyes (with Uma Thurman) is in theatres right now, and I’m seeing it today — and, inevitably, judging him.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Retro-Journal: The Election and the Unknown in Late 2000

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Ah, my favorite election ever: the unbelievably protracted, legally-contested, anger-inducing, confusion-spawning Gore-Bush presidential election of 2000, which reportedly caused some psychotherapists to see an influx of patients expressing anxiety over their uncertainty about who was really president, who would “lead” us.  For people who feel an emotional need for things like political or religious leaders, though, and see such monsters as sources of stability and confidence, the healthiest possible thing is a great big dose of Just Not Knowing.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

State and/of Society

Life is fairly good, but let’s take a look at some leading cultural indicators to see how society in general is faring, with an eye in particular toward society’s delicate balancing of property rights (a.k.a. freedom) and government oppression.

•Free speech continues to flourish in some quarters, as indicated by the existence of our monthly Debates at Lolita Bar, mentioned in this article by Lisa Biagiotti and Lauren Feeney.

•In these troubled times, some people still believe in self-discipline rather than control by law, like Anna Broadway, who (like Dawn Eden before her) has written a book about how to remain chaste while dating in the modern world, called Sexless in the City.

•Yesterday, as you are no doubt aware, saw Darkseid, the evil god who is the ultimate embodiment of authoritarianism in the DC Comics Universe, fight a knock-down, drag-out battle against a giant, temporarily reptiloid Jimmy Olsen in the pages of the terrible comic book series Countdown to Final Crisis — leading to the most likely good comic book series Final Crisis next month by the great Grant Morrison. Or at the very least, Morrison’s depiction of apocalypse befalling the DC Universe is likely to be far superior to an actual Biblical-literalist comic book by noted idiot Rob Liefeld, perhaps best known to the general public as the creator of an X-Men spin-off comic that got him a spot in a Levi’s Buttonfly Jeans ad by Spike Lee.

•Speaking of Biblical literalist types, goofy conservative leader Paul Weyrich recently rolled his wheelchair to the front of a religious-right gathering and quietly asked God’s forgiveness for endorsing Romney rather than Huckabee in the primaries, and since then he’s even stated his approval of a religious-right site hellbent on keeping McCain from picking Romney as his running mate. Weyrich liked Romney a few months ago, but once again the Republic’s core values are utterly imperiled unless we do whatever it is that Weyrich now thinks we should do. Whatever, man.

•On another comics note, though, the trend continues of historically-significant comic book creators or their estates suing the companies to whom they sold their characters fair and square (or created them as work for hire just like a Starbucks employee makes a mocha frappuccino without retaining the rights to it, obviously) — but I’ll give Captain America co-creator Joe Simon this: That “Last Supper” painting featuring Captain America that he’s holding in this Times article looks very cool and will no doubt fetch him a kingly sum one day.

•In similar fashion, I am informed by U. South Carolina history prof Christine Caldwell Ames that the widow of Guy Debord, the 60s Situationist left-anarchist intellectual who explicitly repudiated the idea of intellectual property, is suing someone who has created a game based on a war-themed board game Debord devised (when that link expires, the piece is permanently available to Chronicle of Higher Education subscribers here).

•Funny how you can just spot ’em sometimes — I saw singer Ingrid Michaelson on Conan and hadn’t heard of her before but thought she seemed like a typical quasi-Lisa-Loeb New York nerd, for good or ill, cute and talented (also possibly smart-but-crazy) but just slightly amateurish and unpolished. And indeed, Wikipedia reveals she’s the daughter of Staten Island artists and became famous for having several songs on soap-opera-ish TV shows without actually being signed to a recording contract, which is not to say you would be better off listening to Top 40 crapola than watching her video for “The Way I Am.”

•I couldn’t help noticing that a deceased movie producer who Hollywood detective Pellicano had reputedly offered to have killed was a libertarian. The latest victim of THE CONSPIRACY?? In fact, no.

•Those jerks at IBM have been training people for government careers, so it serves them right they temporarily lost the right to get federal contracts over some trivial EPA-regulation violations. You go around creating bureaucrats, you deserve to contend with bureaucrats.

•On a more positive job-creation note, three months overdue, I just want to note I was thrilled to see a New York Times op-ed in January by the author of More Sex Is Safer Sex, who had the audacity to denounce government-supplied unemployment benefits — right there in America’s leftist newspaper of record. Awesome.

•But you know who could use a job, last time I checked? Right-leaning (all right, monarchist) and endlessly fascinating history prof/teacher/writer Stephen Stertz, so if you need a history guy, do not hesitate to try him at: sstertz[at] He’ll translate, he’ll tutor, use him for something.

•Chris Nugent brought to my attention a ban on tag in one DC-area school, and while there’s no question that schools are rapidly becoming hyper-regulated training grounds for the docile totalitarian citizenry of tomorrow, I must say the form of tag described sounds violent, and the fact that kids are increasingly a bunch of little savages in need of rules and structure should not be dismissed (that’s Chris’s brother Dave Nugent pictured above standing next to Steve-o from Beverly Hills 90210 — which will have to suffice in place of the photo taken of me tonight, which I neglected to inquire about getting a copy of, standing between Michael Bloomberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger — I should have told Bloomberg about our May 7 Debate at Lolita Bar, which will pit Charles Komanoff against Doug Dechert on the topic of Bloomberg’s failed congestion pricing plan).

•But to get back to how to punish violence: ultimately, can dispute resolution be handled privately rather than by government, many of you skeptically ask me (over and over again)? Well, if you believe this hilarious exercise in propaganda from the L.A. Times, there’s only one place that tort reform (pushed by the gun, drug, and tobacco lobbies) and private arbitration can lead: being raped in Iraq by Halliburton. This article crams so many paranoid leftist obsessions into one piece you’re almost rooting for global warming claims to turn up by the end.

•In Spain, it is now illegal for political parties to put forth a slate of candidates that is more than 60% composed of a single gender. Who needs competitive democracy? Let’s just decide in advance by law who the politicians can be! The West is rapidly becoming just another variant on totalitarianism, little better than the Islamism, communism, and Third World kleptocracy against which we define ourselves. And still people will tell me feminism does not lead to oppressive egalitarian regulations.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How Crypto-Democrat Are Some Libertarians?

So, to my libertarian friends who are either indifferent to the Dem/GOP distinction or who actively root for “divided government”: Are you still happier with a Democratic rather than Republican Congress after the Dems’ torpedoing of a free trade deal with Colombia — the sort of deal that at least some of my Dem/GOP-indifferent libertarian pals have rightly pointed to as more important than tiny variations in the size of the federal budget and thus a good indicator of whether the government is moving in the right direction?

And if you still prefer divided government, are you consistent enough to be eagerly rooting for McCain rather than for NAFTA-bashing Obama/Clinton?  Or, if not, are you de facto supporters of the Democrats (and thus opponents of trade — and thus not clearly libertarians) when you get right down to it?

And I acknowledge that multiple positions are possible here, such as hating the Dems’ actions last week while hating Republicans’ position on war even more (there are always other possible positions, as we should all keep in mind despite the temptation to pigeonhole).  I would just like occasional acknowledgment, though, of the fact that the Dems are the consciously anti-market party, not just the hypocritically-and-absent-mindedly-statist party that the GOP is becoming.  And conscious evil is a worse long-term precedent than mere stupidity, I think, though I admit this not a fun calculation to make (and, of course, everyone always thinks their own side is dumb and the other side wicked, but in this case it’s true, so there) — even less fun than calculating whether to vote for Bob Barr.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tax Day -- and Bob Barr's Year

The entire libertarian/conservative 2008 dilemma, in six easily-digestible Parts (and on a decidedly different culture-war note, check out these fine photos by J.D. Weiner, whose name I misspelled in a mass-e-mail a couple months ago, of our Debate at Lolita Bar two weeks ago, on Christian rock):

Part I: Government

The image above was e-mailed by Sean Hastings, co-author of the anti-groupthink book God Wants You Dead — and it’s an apt reminder of the proper way to view government: as a predator (it is for similar reasons that I leave Scott Nybakken a voicemail every year around tax time, for about a decade and a half now, noting with alarm that the government has just stolen a whole bunch of my money — eternal vigilance…though maybe I should stop harassing him).

Why, oh why, ostensibly skeptical people — who can see ulterior motives everywhere in, say, corporate America — cannot summon the skepticism to look with equal or greater suspicion upon an entity with the power to put them in jail, dominated for a century and a half by the same two cabals, which takes over a third of the national income and constantly tells us what to do while generating endless new crusades to justify its own existence, I don’t know.

Could it be an innate longing for communal or social-democratic unity, as Charles Taylor (author of what will be my June Book Selection, Sources of the Self), argues (quite unlike his fellow McGill prof, Jacob Levy)? Could it be, as I would argue, that people are just a bunch of gullible, irrational, ignorant dumbshits afraid to make their own decisions and in love with power? These theories need not be mutually exclusive, of course, and can engage in productive dialogue with each other.

But a few of us are aware of government’s inevitably rapacious quality — each dime forcibly thrown into its maw diverted from voluntary, more-efficient uses, to what are more often than not ludicrously wasteful and pointless ones that dishonor the very cause of human life and productive action. Just as it is mysterious that so few intellectuals distrust government more than they distrust the local department store (and individual freedom would face an uphill battle even if all the intellectuals were on its side), so too is it mysterious that more reporters don’t do stories about the laughable, obscene everyday waste in government.

And I’m not talking about programs that didn’t quite yield the expected results — I’m talking about three-hour lunches at the Department of Transportation. I’m talking about staff members throughout the government who read magazines all day because no one has ever bothered to tell them what their supposed duties are. I’m talking about things like the Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidizing homes for…well-paid staff members at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I’m talking about the military, supposedly stretched to the breaking point now, routinely burning up its allotted budget (to avoid cuts the next year) by doing things like buying entire shiploads of golfballs or flying constant helicopter flights just to burn up already-purchased fuel.

Do people like Paul Krugman who call for higher taxes — or folks at The Nation who decry every attempt at cutting the budget as evidence of heartlessness — really never encounter these stories? Am I to believe that I talk to people in government — and learn about the routine, Xerxes-like extravagance and waste — more often than the lefties do? That seems unlikely. Perhaps they just don’t care — as long as they can dream that one day people like themselves, with noble goals like theirs, will be in charge of it all (plenty of them already get subsidies from it, disturbingly used to call for still more spending, a “greedy” spiral if ever there was one).

I have an idea: Let’s abolish it, liberating untold wealth and individualized, voluntary human decision-making power.

Part II: The Damn Republicans

Like it or not, though, that requires changing the law, and that requires politicians, much as it sickens me to say so (violent revolution is only fun for about the first day, generally speaking, and much as libertarians may detest government, you can change law a lot more easily by being a legislator, judge, or lawyer than by being a columnist or jazz musician). Historically, the Republicans have been slightly more sympathetic to restraining government growth than Democrats, but that distinction plainly grows less significant each year — though never irrelevant (parties sometimes crudely approximate their stated goals, or at least have the potential to be reminded someday of their ostensible goals, so better a party purportedly opposed to government growth than one in favor of it). The question, then, unless someone has a better strategy (and I sure as hell haven’t heard one despite decades of entirely understandable libertarian dismay at Republican Party behavior), is how to drag the Republican Party into the budget-cutting and deregulating it sometimes used to claim to stand for.

And political parties understand only one thing: losing elections. But it matters who they lose to, since losers tend to imitate winners (it would be a pretty odd, lame world if that were not the case). If the Republicans lose in November 2008 and merely think that they lost to the Democrats, they will likely behave more like Democrats next time around. Ah, but if they clearly, undeniably lose because of the loss of support from libertarians and conservatives, they may very well start trying harder to behave like, and appeal to, libertarians and conservatives. I’m sure I sound too Republican to some of my libertarian friends (and too libertarian to some of my Republican friends), but I’ve said for about a decade now that the best thing libertarians can do is be a fickle protest vote — if the Republicans want us, they have to earn us, and so, much as I hate to sound cruel (I say all this for the good of humanity, as I hope is clear), it makes a great deal of sense to kick the Republicans when they’re down and kick them very, very hard if, for once, there’s a good chance they’ll notice it was libertarianism that kicked them and that they ought to offer an olive branch.

Furthermore, while I would be delighted to see people from the left defect to the libertarian banner (even slightly-confused people like Mike Gravel), I’ve long said the fusionist route of making common cause with conservatives when possible is the path of least resistance for libertarians in American politics.

So: the less libertarian the Republican candidate — and the more likely his defeat — and the more fusionist (libertarian/right) and potentially popular (by feeble minor-party standards) the Libertarian Party candidate, the more the calculus of political defection leads to the conclusion: time to smash the Republican Party in order to save it, making the biggest possible message-sending impact on media, major-party pollsters, and major-party thinking.

I don’t hate John McCain — he has some very admirable qualities, and Obama (the probable Democratic nominee) is pretty awful by my standards (like the Founders, I don’t award any points for speechmaking, which simply makes demagoguery, always a danger, that much easier). But it may be time for McCain to perform his last great service to his nation — by being the man who lost because of a massive and clearly-decisive defection of libertarians and conservatives, the principled members of his supposed constituency, to the Libertarian candidate, Bob Barr. I do not relish even having to think about this calculation (I get no glee from the thought of libertarians being “mere” spoilers the way some do), but I fear the hour is late, America is in distress, McCain gets us no significant distance toward the almost anarchist thinking now necessary to make a dent in Leviathan, and there may be more to be gained, on a purely pragmatic level (I put no great stock in mere symbolic gestures, believe me), from getting America talking about “that curious 8% of the electorate who say government is bad and cost McCain the election” than from preventing an Obama win, much as I might wish the Obama-Clinton fight would somehow end with their party ceasing to exist.

On the other hand, this whole choice would be easier if McCain were a more straightforward embodiment of Bushian errors: if he were not a budget hawk, if he favored permitting torture. In some ways, the man does repair some Bush errors and act as a living rebuke to the religious right and the neocons, simply by not clearly being one of them — but he notoriously introduces other deviations and errors (serious ones) all his own (as I noted yesterday).

Part III: Who Is Bob?

But who the heck is Bob Barr, center/left readers are probably still asking, despite all the recent media attention he’s gotten, and why would he ever make a big enough dent in McCain’s vote totals to reshape public dialogue? (I assume he’ll get the Libertarian Party nomination at their relatively early convention in Colorado, May 22-26.)

Well, Bob Barr is himself a weird mixed bag, which makes the calculations above even more complicated and anxiety-inducing. A recent convert — but seemingly a very gung-ho one (as is often the case with converts) — to libertarianism, he now has (judging by his campaign website) a four-part message (similar to that of a certain failed Republican presidential candidate who recently issued a memo praising the John Birch Society and whose book The Revolution: A Manifesto comes out on April 30): massive cuts in government spending, restoration of strict civil liberties protections, an end to unnecessary wars, and border enforcement to reduce illegal immigration.

What makes me less than 100% positive that the Barr rebellion is the right way to go this November is that I only whole-heartedly agree with the first item in that four-part agenda (not that I like civil liberties violations and unnecessary wars, you understand, but I don’t take quite the nuance-free view of those issues that some of my libertarian and leftist acquaintances do, and I would err on the side of open borders, with real security/terrorism concerns alone justifying exceptions, though I can sympathize with the strain-on-the-welfare-state argument for observing proper legal procedures in that area).

But Barr — by his own admission — isn’t going to be president anyway, so his precise positions matter only to the extent that they might muddle the message that would be seen to have “brought down the Republican Party standard-bearer, McCain.” I certainly wouldn’t want McCain and company, after a Barr-spawned defeat, merely thinking (even more than they do already) “Huh, maybe we should have done more immigrant-bashing.”

Barr does not (AS FAR AS I KNOW AS OF THIS WRITING) have any bizarre, ghostwritten racist newsletters in his past, though he undoubtedly has some militia-man fans these days given his frequent railing against the PATRIOT Act and our devolution into a police state — and he spoke to the Council of Conservative Citizens, association with which helped sink the despicable Trent Lott, but if speaking to dubious groups were sufficient reason to rule someone out of polite society, Hamas-whisperer Jimmy Carter would be universally regarded as history’s greatest monster.

Add to these concerns, though, the highly ironic and weird fact that Barr was not merely conservative back in his days in the GOP but was a chief architect of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), which defined marriage as male-female for federal purposes (while leaving states free to do their own thing), and, perhaps most unlibertarianly, was the man responsible for strategically defunding the counting of votes that might have legalized medical marijuana in DC — even though he now favors getting the federal government out of the Drug War and leaving the matter to the states (he avoids going so far as to say every state should legalize, but that’s OK — presidents shouldn’t be telling states what to do most of the time anyway). He also repeatedly encouraged impeachment for Bill Clinton even before the Lewinsky scandal, for good or ill (so the ultimate irony would be if he ended up putting not Obama but the Clintons in the White House), and condemned Wicca services in the military (making me wonder how my friend and fellow Phillips Foundation Fellow Catherine Sanders, who wrote a book critical of Wicca, feels about that, not to mention my neo-pagan friends who like to attend Burning Man).

Never mind the question of whether Barr’s a flawed messenger (if he’s not going to be in the Oval Office, it doesn’t much matter if he cheated on his wife and readily accepted his mate getting an abortion despite his being pro-life) — the more appropriate question is, Is Barr a clear enough message to warrant sending him at McCain?

The GOP will call him a fringe figure (and he is indeed something of a loose cannon), but then again, as Barr wisely said during an on-air argument with pro-Establishment, Reagan-praising Sean Hannity: “You know who tried to work against Ronald Reagan and convince him not to run? It was the Republican Party, Sean.”

Part IV: What Is to Be Done?

The least painful outcome for everyone, perhaps, would be for McCain to start trying very, very hard to convince us all that he will adopt a radically libertarian agenda that makes a vote for Bob Barr unnecessary. Come late May, I think McCain had better get started on that — and at this juncture in American political history, I don’t think promising some tax deductions for college tuition or cuts at the Department of Energy is going to suffice.

What we really need — though McCain can’t safely say it outright without frightening the general electorate — is to

•abolish entitlements (grandfathering in those now receiving or about to receive them)
•bring the troops home (perhaps from everywhere except Iraq, if he wants to remain there)
•sell all public land (giving preference perhaps to eco-friendly buyers)
•stop inflating the currency
•close most Cabinet agencies
•and deregulate, deregulate, deregulate (appeasing lawyers by pointing out that this may give them more to do) so people can more flexibly innovate.

And remember: Just because it sounds radical doesn’t mean there’s an alternative besides national bankruptcy.

Then, as always these days, there’s the whole question of how central the war is anyway, since that seems more and more to be libertarian politicians’ main theme, and Barr is no exception. Reason’s May cover article skewers “The Trillion-Dollar War,” with writer Veronique de Rugy, generally good with numbers, calling Iraq the second-most-expensive war in U.S. history, after WWII, hard as that is to believe (more expensive than the Civil War?). Is it reason enough to cast a Barr vote knowing it’s effectively an Obama vote? (But then, what about if it ends up being effectively a Hillary vote after all?) Do you let the more devoted welfare statists get elected just in order to cast an antiwar vote? If the answer is an easy “yes” for you, as it seems to be for ardently antiwar libertarians like Justin Raimondo (who claims the aforementioned Manifesto author tacitly supports Barr), I’d say you may be a leftist or a paleocon or just an antiwar moderate or something else, but you’re not clearly a libertarian (for what it’s worth) unless that word has lost most of its economic meaning, in which case I may have to find another label (with or without an associated movement), thank you kindly. I will say this, though: Given how appalled some libertarians are by antigay sentiment, if they can vote for the DOMA guy on antiwar grounds, I will be impressed by their commitment to the latter sentiment. Must be some left-leaning libertarians who are more torn than ever over this one, and I’d be interested to see their Responses below about their calculations.

But, hey, don’t lose sleep worrying about all about these questions — there is no correct answer. There is no correct answer.

Part V: How Would Gravel as Running Mate Affect the Calculus?

I think it is unlikely that the Libertarians will end up giving Barr, who has proven his understanding of his newly-adopted philosophy, ex-Democrat Mike Gravel as a running mate — Gravel is too focused on Naderite corporation-bashing to please laissez-faire capitalists, though much that corporations do is not capitalist, hard as that is for most people to grasp. It’s worth asking, though, whether Gravel on the ticket would strengthen the case for an LP vote this year: In strict libertarian-philosophical terms, no — but then again, his anticorporate attitude might be a glimpse of a more left-anarchist future (one born of social-networking fluidity more than conservative thinktank wonkery — but more about that later, possibly in the pages of a book) in which libertarianism itself will stress different issues than it does now. In present-day strategic terms, if one wanted to send the GOP a clear message, no — but then again, maybe pulling protest votes from both the Democrats and Republicans is actually a safer, even more productive thing to do than just slamming McCain alone. The calculus just gets more complicated.

Part VI: Do Not Dismiss the Cost of Accepting Democratic Victory

Again, I don’t want anyone to think giving up on the GOP would please me or that I’m oblivious to the costs of Democratic victory: Hillary Clinton, for example, wants things like price controls on credit cards and health insurance, as well as a freeze on home foreclosures. Obama wants more Fed control of banks. McCain, in a reminder he still has his uses, recognizes that basic financial institutions, of all things, are not the place for grandstanding, one-time crisis interventions (even though he loves grandstanding, one-time crisis interventions in other, less fragile areas). There is no better way to create long-term instability than to suggest to actors in the market that we’re willing to rewrite the fundamental financial rules and offer bailouts with every downturn and misstep. Under Bill Clinton and then Bush, my concern was simply that we would spend too much (possibly while bungling foreign policy) — but now the Dem candidates, who didn’t have my vote to begin with but might easily have kept me relatively indifferent to the outcome in November, have me very worried (long-term, I am also worried about the inescapable fact that no matter how much government screws up, the economic consequences are always likely to look like consequences of capitalism for the simple reason that economic consequences are mainly experienced in the market: stock dips, layoffs, store closings, etc.).

Preference for McCain over them rising (and any politician who, like Calvin Coolidge, knows when to do nothing deserves at least a bit of my respect). But perhaps it’s too little too late given the far larger long-term stakes — and perhaps the foundation can actually be laid now for far more radical change beyond this election cycle.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Is McCain Expendable?

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Apparently, a copy has surfaced of fifteen minutes of porn that Marilyn Monroe shot in the 1950s — but as it is not yet, to my knowledge, on YouTube, continue reading this sentence. A copy of the footage was apparently in the hands of the FBI, where J. Edgar Hoover hoped to prove that the male (face unseen) who appears in the footage was one of the Kennedys. Aware of the footage, Joe DiMaggio reportedly offered to pay $25,000 at one point to get all existing copies from the owner, in order to protect Monroe.

By contrast with JFK, I trust that McCain is conservative enough that we will not have to worry about the FBI wasting time trying to prove that he was in a porn film (attractive though all the women in his life seem to be, including his mom, the astonishingly well-preserved Roberta McCain, seen above along with his wife and his daughter).

In many other ways, of course, McCain is not conservative and certainly not libertarian. He has at one time or another railed against or even tried to ban:

•ultimate fighting

•anonymous political ads just prior to elections

•high CEO pay

•pharmaceutical companies

•violent videogames

•cigarette advertising

•the Bush tax cuts

•global warming gases

and so on. Like Teddy Roosevelt — another unconservative, unlibertarian politician who the Weekly Standard editors also love — McCain seems to have not so much an ideology (for good or ill) as a pugnacious attitude that alights upon different random targets in an opportunistic fashion. Maybe he’ll decide to doggedly pursue budget cuts (yay!), but maybe he’ll decide he hates video gambling instead. Who can say?

Like Obama, but in a much more convincing (albeit less poetic) way, he really does offer a political future that gets beyond the left-right divide for the simple reason that he doesn’t seem to much care about the distinction. (He is more hawkish, of course, and, by the way, if he wants to seem more sophisticated than Bush on that front — and better prepared for the complex, international threat of al Qaeda — I suggest he replace talk of an “Axis of Evil” with hipper, more nuanced talk of a “Mandelbrot Set of Evil.”)

But given McCain’s shortcomings, delightful as it has been to watch Obama and Clinton fight while McCain rises in the polls, this may be the perfect historical juncture for libertarians and conservatives alike — not to mention antiwar Republicans — to ask whether they would be doing their country a greater long-term service by defecting to another candidate — a decidedly libertarian/conservative one with enough name recognition and media cred to make a dent — and letting the GOP nominee be defeated, even at the expense of putting a leftist like Obama in the White House (and I assume that no matter how painful and protracted the process, Obama will in all likelihood triumph over Hillary — so I’d better start wearing my anti-Hillary t-shirt more often while it’s still relevant).

So who is this hypothetical non-McCain candidate the libertarians and conservatives should perhaps use as their instrument of sabotage if they want, at this crucial low point, to make the loudest possible statement about the shortcomings of the current GOP? Former Republican congressman Bob Barr, now pursuing — and I predict likely to get — the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party.

If Republicans were content with their standard-bearer — and especially if that standard-bearer were libertarian enough to keep libertarians in the fold — Barr wouldn’t be an issue. But they aren’t happy with McCain, so I predict Barr’ll become just popular enough to cost McCain the election and put Obama in the White House. More about Barr tomorrow, then.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Black Leaders Survey: Obama, MLK, Paterson, and Ayittey

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At the outset, let’s just take a moment to remember that this year’s presidential race would not have been possible without Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager. Remember, Obama’s original opponent in his Senate race, Republican Jack Ryan, only dropped out of the race when it became known that he’d pressured his ex-wife Jeri Ryan (the actress who played Seven) to have sex in public at sex clubs during their marriage. This of course made him a god — and de facto libertarian — in my eyes but apparently didn’t go over well with his Illinois Republican constituents for some reason, so he was replaced in the race by the deranged and easily-defeated Alan Keyes. And so here we are.

•I could never vote for Obama, since he wants to add numerous things to the budget as well as some intrusive, 70s-style regulations, including government rules about how much women can make relative to men in a firm, not to mention how much the CEO can make relative to lower-level workers. Then, too, he is beholden to the unions and other protectionists, as is Hillary Clinton, and so talks of revisiting NAFTA (which always means adding new regulations that further restrict trade, inevitably impoverishing people on either side of a given border).

At the same time, he has a more-Clinton-than-Clinton knack for throwing in at least one line in every speech that makes you think he’s on your side: Even in that solidly left-wing comment he made about resentful, backwards hicks in Pennsylvania, he listed resistance to trade as one form of retrograde bitterness — that kind of sticking-it-to-the-paleos I like. Would that it were the dominant theme of his campaign — and would that more on the left shared his contempt for trade-bashers.

•Transcend racial and political divides as he may, Obama is still riding, in part, on the retrospective wish of Democrats that they could have elected Martin Luther King president — even though Democrats in Congress were more opposed to the 1964 Civil Rights Act than Republicans, so we shouldn’t be too passive about letting the Dems rewrite history again to make themselves the heroes (some rewrites are good, though: I was impressed to hear, in the concert film U2 3D, that in concert Bono corrects the historical inaccuracy in their song “Pride” to describe MLK being shot “early evening, April 4” instead of “early morning, April 4″ as it says on the single — nice to see a rock singer care about such a detail).

And speaking of rewriting history, I was a bit surprised to see Christopher Hitchens praising MLK as superior to today’s black leaders, not because he’s wrong but because when I saw Hitchens debate the existence of God a couple months ago, he complained at length about MLK being overrated — specifically because exaggerating MLK’s religiosity and downplaying the secular-left motivations of many of his activist contemporaries gave too much credit to religion for the victories of the 60s (this will all have to be sorted out by Omar Wasow, an early MSNBC commentator, who last I knew was at Harvard researching parallels between the traditional Civil Rights movement and libertarianism and said he hopes to get those often-alienated political factions to work together).

•Eliot Spitzer’s replacement as New York governor — a political upset so delightful that my friend Scott Nybakken called it “a fountain of political ambrosia peeing joy into our very souls” — by David Paterson continues to yield benefits. I mentioned before that Paterson opposes eminent domain — though not, tragically, soon enough to stop the Atlantic Yards seizure in Brooklyn, which will displace residents and businesses — and now he proposes solving Albany’s notorious governmental inefficiency with…budget cuts! Budget cuts! Practically the only thing I ask from politicians. Fingers crossed.

•Of course, even if all the leaders mentioned above behaved like very left-wing Democrats, these Western politicians would not do nearly as much damage to society and property rights as is done by the dictatorial thugs of Africa, such as Mugabe (now that he’s destroying Zimbabwe instead of receiving awards from Massachusetts academics for being “anti-colonial,” as he was twenty years ago). But there are people on that troubled continent who give one hope, they just don’t tend to run the governments: Witness this amazing speech by economist George Ayittey of Ghana (pointed out to me by L.B. Deyo), likening socialistic African regimes to “hippos” who will fall behind deregulated, free-market “cheetah” regimes — and no, he is not calling the free-market regimes predators.

But for good or ill, I predict libertarianism’s big impact back here in the U.S. this year will be to get Obama elected president, for reasons I’ll explain over the next two days.

UPDATE: Ah, and now, by sheer coincidence, I’m off to Harlem with a swing-dancing libertarian to visit the Savoy Ballroom commemorative plaque there. Always building bridges.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Half-Remembered Key to Civilization: Sweet Child o' Mine

This story may sound hard to believe, but if studied in detail, it might unlock vast, heretofore unexplored secrets about the inner workings of the human mind.

Background first: I have noticed before that there is a big, sometimes disturbing chasm between short-term memory and long-term memory — something very important that only makes it into the former can be utterly forgotten three months later (I once noticed that the only Simpsons episode I managed to watch twice in its entirety before realizing I’d seen it before was the one that’s divided into twenty-two minute-long stories, and I suspect it’d left no long-term imprint on my memory because each story only went into short-term memory without sparking the neurons that would normally track a longer plot).

Well, in a more alarming example of forgetfulness, even though I mentioned about one month ago that about a month before that Dave Whitney and I had been wondering what inspired the distinctive, beepy opening riff of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (which I have since learned was voted the best guitar riff of all time by Top Guitar magazine), I wrote that month-ago blog entry without recalling that an astonishing coincidence had occurred the very weekend after Dave and I e-mailed about the song: I overheard a guy in Vegas just two days later claiming Slash was inspired by the perpetual-tumbling beeping sound of a roomful of slot machines — and, as is often the case in Vegas, I was promptly distracted and forgot that I’d just heard a plausible explanation for one of life’s great mysteries.

And in a just world, obviously, I’d get some sort of NIH psych-research grant for telling that story.

Freaks n' Wonks

I seem to have devoted a lot of time to blogging about freaks of one sort or another this week (and I didn’t even mention the Fall’s Mark E. Smith condoning driving over seagulls or Vanilla Ice being arrested for domestic assault), so I may as well throw this disturbing thought in as well.  I can’t decide which of these two headlines from the past week sounds more perverse:

German Scientists Pay People to Spend Two Months in Bed to Simulate Mars Mission

Gag Order Issued in Case of Florida Cheerleaders Who Beat Teen

To compensate for focusing on things like that, though, I promise an entire week of anti-government rants this coming week, in time for Tax Day.  I wouldn’t want people getting the false impression I’ve grown complacent.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Retro-Journal: Freedom in Early 2000

In the relatively quiet first half of 2000:

•January saw the peak of the dot-com-era stock market — and within weeks Wall Street saw trading shut down early by an impromptu concert by leftist band Rage Against the Machine and disrupted weeks later by a non-fatal explosive blast that injured several people.

•Meanwhile, al Qaeda members had begun planning 9/11/01 — and I actually wondered aloud back then why we hadn’t already killed this Bond-villain-like terrorist named Osama bin Laden (I even suggested him and the Taliban as a TV-movie topic idea to a producer friend well before 9/11/01, ending one of my e-mails with the suggestion that the script be left open-ended in case bin Laden “does something wacky”).

•Revered former Black Panther H. Rap Brown was arrested in Georgia after a shoot-out that killed a police officer.

•Federal troops raided the home of Elian Gonzalez’s relatives to ship the boy, whose mother had died getting him to freedom in the U.S., back to totalitarian Cuba.

And still, your average New Yorker saw capitalism and conservatism as the sources of trouble in this world — and would become even more convinced of that during the presidential election in the second half of the year.

Before that, though, in the final months of my twenties, I began to find myself looking at some activities I’d been through in my own youth from the other side, the position of an elder:

•I had performed in Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You (about a non-conformist family who, among other things, don’t pay income taxes) my first semester at Brown and now found myself going to see a real New York production of it.

•At Brown, I’d witnessed left-wing zealots getting the upper hand in campus dialogue, and now I saw Brown’s political correctness become an element of one of my boss John Stossel’s TV specials, You Can’t Say That!

•I’d benefited from seminars about libertarianism conducted by the Institute for Humane Studies and now found myself asked to speak at them about my TV experience, to the new crop of college journalists. At one such event, I learned that one of my fellow speakers, then-editor of Reason, Nick Gillespie, had been Alyssa Milano (or rather, ghost writer of her column for teens, at an early stage of his career — making him a model of career versatility for the young and making him, according to a later survey, the Second Sexiest Woman in Sci-Fi, sort of).

And there were other signs of creeping adulthood all around me: my friends Jacob Levy and Shelley Clark planning to marry in the perfect setting of Chautauqua, NY’s Hall of Philosophy (Chautauqua being an almost utopian resort town for the brainy, full of lecture halls surrounded by trees like an idealized New England in the days of the Transcendentalists), my friend Dave Whitney’s first son being born, the Cure performing at Jones Beach and now seeming like a retro band instead of just a band that’d been around for a long time, once-mighty Thomas Dolby being largely ignored as he walked around a David Bowie concert I went to even though he had co-organized it and had just launched his (very successful) Beatnik music-making site, and so forth.

There were glimpses of things still in their early stages that half-year, though, such as the near-plotless indie movie Timecode, which was, in retrospect, for all its flaws, surely an influence on 24 (which would premiere with perfect timing late the following year) and thus all of 00s television.

I recall the reactions of my co-worker Debbie Colloton and I to the early stages of George Bush’s candidacy for president as well: Seeing him mangle a few words in a speech, we shrugged and sighed, immediately concluding 2000 would see Gore elected president and that the flourishing country would endure nonetheless. Maybe “our side” would make an electoral comeback in 2004 after four years of a Gore presidency.


My own stab at transforming the political culture in 2000, though, was a pitch to DC Comics (for whom I’d already written one story, “Progress!” in the one-shot eighty-pager JLA Showcase featuring Superman, Batman, et al) to bring back the then-largely-unused WWII superhero team the Freedom Fighters, who’d last had their own series in the mid-70s, when I was amazed, at an early age, by an issue in which these obscure yet iconic characters — Human Bomb, Doll Man, Black Condor, Phantom Lady, the Ray, and Uncle Sam himself — fought a deranged elf at a Santa-themed amusement park rigged with booby traps and killer robots, all the while talking about their recent migration to Earth-1 from an alternate universe.

My plan was to make them more overtly political, each representing a different philosophy or political faction without ever getting into too much detail or allegory. They would also (in my mind, though not in the pitch) be part of a larger cosmic war involving Order and Chaos, with ties to the characters Time Trapper, Mister Miracle, and Krona — with the Omega Men perhaps thrown in along the way. I was told to avoid trying to revamp obscure characters — told, in fact, that even Starman, to my mind DC’s biggest artistic success of the 90s, was considered too risky as a model for future character development. Stick to ideas involving the big Justice League characters like Superman and Batman.

Today, eight years later, they’ve given the Freedom Fighters two miniseries, made them more political, linked them to a cosmic war involving Order and Chaos, and in largely unrelated developments brought back Time Trapper, Mister Miracle, and the Omega Men, while making frequent use of numerous other obscure characters. Alas, I was ahead of my time. Would that I — like the Time Trapper — could revise history and alter events. Adding to my pain (though I’d go on to write two more published Justice League stories) was the knowledge that had I written a Freedom Fighters series, it would likely have come out around 9/11, potentially riding a wave of patriotism to extra sales. Not that my real goal would be to exploit tragedy for mere personal financial gain, mind you. My real goal would have been to subtly turn comics readers into libertarians, of course. The aesthetic concerns, though, always have to come first and make their own demands that have a way of pushing ulterior creative motives such as politics to the side — unless you’re Bertolt Brecht…or Rage Against the Machine.

But more about politics a week from today, when I recount late 2000 — including the most entertaining presidential election ever.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

David Bowie: The Thin White Oompa Loompa (PLUS: the best Morrissey song I have ever written)

After last night’s karaoke, I find myself thinking about David Bowie’s “China Girl,” another monotone classic I can handle, and I’m reminded that Bowie once said that one of his biggest influences was Anthony Newley, the man behind the songs from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, including “The Candy Man.”

Given Bowie’s Newley influence, his mime training, and his heavily made-up fairy-tale-like appearance in videos like “Ashes to Ashes” (or his Humpty-Dumpty-like costume for his performance of “The Man Who Sold the World” decades ago on Saturday Night Live), mustn’t we conclude that Bowie is, in some sense, the thin, tall Oompa Loompa?

And speaking of effete, Broadway-showtune-esque rockers, I must note that while I have been as enthusiastic about the Smiths as anyone over the past two and a half decades, Morrissey’s solo song “America Is Not the World,” which I only heard for the first time this year, is so self-parodically awful and ham-fistedly left-wing…I feel I could die.

Sample lyrics (forgive me):

America, your head’s too big
Because, America, your belly’s too big…
In America, the land of the free, they say
And of opportunity, in a just and truthful way
But where the president is never black, female, or gay…
In America, it brought you the hamburger
Well, America, you know where you can shove your hamburger
And don’t you wonder why in Estonia they say,
Hey you, you big fat pig, you fat pig, you fat pig…

Note: Morrissey is gay and vegetarian. Why he picked Estonia, where they love us for opposing the Soviets, I have no idea, but he may have chosen it randomly off a map. That part about the president may soon prove inaccurate as well.

The whole thing’s embarrassing. Luckily, I have written a better Morrissey song than the actual Morrissey song above. Given his fondness for the subjects of crime, faded rock stars, and sexual transgression, I chose as my subject the harrowing case of has-been rock star Gary Glitter, who potentially faced the death penalty for having sex with underage girls in Vietnam (but ended up just going to prison — I left that part out). I call the song “Glitter in Vung Tau” (to be sung to the tune of, you know, some imaginary typical Morrissey song, whatever). And a one, two, one-two-three-four:

Glitter in Vung Tau
You’re bitter, stung, then — pow! [with gunshot sound effect, but, like, subtly]
And all the pretty girls they’ll frown

Rainy jungle…rainy jungle
Girls like landmines — and how you stumbled
[Vietnamese male voice:] An tu hinh, an tu hinh!
[Vietnamese female voice, whispering:] “Death penalty, death penalty!”
[Morrisey:] Onto him, onto him, unto Him…
Rainy jungle…rainy jungle…

[Twenty second interlude: rain noises, cawing birds, monkey screeches, crying girl, machine gun fire, blends seamlessly into throbbing disco music.]

La da dee, la da dee, da dee da da something something…

Oh, it’s death! for the disco king
Little girls they were his thing
Now his shroud to Britain’s shores they’ll bring
Never again to sing, to siiiiiiing

They’ll say he got his mortal due
But I’ll remember all that’s true
Rock n’ roll and this part, too
Rock n’ roll and this part, too

[fade with more la da dee da stuff and sound of Vietnamese girl
weeping, helicopter, etc.]