Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Critical Review of: Ignorance

If all has gone according to plan, yesterday, the day after my pre-written, automatically-posted blog entry about communism vs. punk, I dined with friends in the Boston area — not all at the same meal (merely for scheduling reasons) — who ranged from a Billy Bragg fan to an actual living, breathing Southern Republican politician, not to mention Pagan Kennedy, the author of tomorrow’s Book Selection of the Month on this site (which has the double honor of kicking off the “Month of Sex”).  Pagan says she doesn’t know any Republicans (unless you count me, but back when I first registered that way in 1987, I was still counting on the Republicans to shrink government at home and battle communism abroad — times change, and I grow more radical with age in some ways, despite cliches to the contrary).

But today — assuming I’m not passed out in a ditch somewhere as this entry posts — I’m surrounded almost entirely by libertarian academics, at a conference hosted by the journal Critical Review (to coincide with the weekend of the slightly more prestigious but less politically useful American Political Science Association convention).

The sort-of amusing topic of the conference is “ignorance,” which sounds as if it means everyone will show up not having done the readings but actually means that we’ll be discussing the extremely important — but frankly embarrassing — question of whether the whole idea of democracy is rendered ridiculous by the inescapable (and absolutely ineradicable) fact that virtually no members of the general public have the slightest idea what’s going on.

Time and again, pollsters and survey-takers prod the public to answer “approve/disapprove” questions without bothering to ask whether the public has ever even heard of the issue under discussion — and the public obligingly flips a mental coin, to paraphrase Kent Brockman, using the wording of the question itself to guess at a plausible response, and even going on to vote for members of Congress and candidates for president in pretty much the same fashion.  In the late 80s, only about half the populace knew the name of the vice president.  In the 90s, over half the populace was unaware who Newt Gingrich (probably the second most important politician of the decade) was.  And so on.

Yet government-lovers want all of these people to control each others’ lives through constant voting affecting all areas of human endeavor, in one great war of all against all, mediated of course by that engine of coercion at the center of it all, the state, which naturally has to take its cut (about 40% of national income last time I checked).  If you proposed the system as a novelty in a world without government, you’d justifiably be called insane (“There’ll be these 535 or so people in Washington, we’ll give them 40% of everyone’s money and near-limitless power…”).

Yet here we are, grateful just to have escaped aristocracy and other arguably-worse systems — but terrified of full-fledged individual freedom, individual responsibility, and secure individual property rights…trying desperately to remember why we favor subsidies to ethanol…or if we do…or whether that’s what people from, y’know, that state where the Democrat guy comes from are in favor of…because of, y’know, the like economy or something.

Ah, poor, confused voter!  So much easier to stick to hot-button issues like sex — which you can grasp as easily as you grasp your own genitalia — and so, for the month of September, starting tomorrow, I shall.  Blog about sex, I mean.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Catwoman's End Draws Nigh

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend — with the Olympics over, Obama having ascended to Olympus, and me being away in New England for various purposes through Labor Day (despite blog entries still magically appearing) — consider going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit of superhero-themed clothing, which closes after this weekend. One comics industry professional, who shall remain nameless, called it “ten pounds of gay in a five-pound bag,” but it’s cool regardless.

I saw it, and I think my favorite line from any of the explanatory plaques, from a Catwoman display, was one about how Catwoman costumes underscore “the alpha-cat/omega-kitten duality,” which sounds like the coolest episode ever. (Professional manga-hawker Ali Kokmen notes that Michael Chabon may have written that line, as he did the official exhibit book.) Actually, “Omega-kitten” also sounds like it could be a phrase from the LOLCat Bible, though the LOLCats are much less literate than Chabon, obviously.

Speaking of heroes, villains, and younglings, every time I see an ad for that tough-guy sci-fi movie Babylon A.D. with Vin Diesel, I can’t help thinking about the fact that the decidedly less tough-sounding title of the novel it’s based on is Babylon Babies. And titles certainly make a difference for marketing purposes. Would fandom be eagerly anticipating, say, Watchmen Babies?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Communism for Punks

Cretins, many residing in places like Brooklyn or Berkeley, who see resistance to capitalism as the ultimate purpose of punk or other creative impulses — not to mention the ultimate purpose of politicians — would do well to stop for a moment today and remember the plight of Gorki Aguila.  He’s the punk rocker and anti-communist scheduled to stand trial in Cuba today for criticizing the state — and still he pulls no punches in his comments, as you can see in this clip.

Kind of makes a Billy Bragg “heroically” singing about communist revolution in England or an ignorant Rage Against the Machine fan wearing a t-shirt with mass-murderer Che Guevara on it seem like a fucking joke, doesn’t it?

I cannot begin to tell you how happy I would be if this ended up being the day Cuban communism began to fall apart (sandwiched between the U.S.’s two statist political conventions, no less).  Good luck, Mr. Aguila.

(And you can get a t-shirt of that anti-Che symbol, with the slogan “Communism Kills” at

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obama-Biden vs. McCain-Uhhh...

I think it would’ve been gauche for McCain to announce his running mate today, when Obama’s doing his whole Sermon on the Mount/Zeus in Clash of the Titans thing.

Worse, though, on any day, would be McCain announcing that his running mate were Lieberman or Huckabee. I expressed my dread of the former on Sunday and my dread of the latter in the comment thread of this entry on Karol Sheinin’s blog.

Then I think about ways Romney could go wrong, and it’s like the primaries all over again but more depressing this time because there’s no more time for zigzagging and uncertainty.

Then I remember I’m voting for Barr and things get brighter for a moment — then dark again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Time to Come Together and Hate Government

Politicians love to accuse each other of being divisive demagogues — making such claims helps them be unifying demagogues. Obama is one of the most amazing cases I’ve yet seen of someone who manages to say, in effect, “Let us stop fighting and come together (behind me), so that partisan bickering can end (and a thoroughly left-wing agenda can triumph).” It’s a measure of how exhausted Americans are by the usual right-left fighting that they’re willing to suspend disbelief and let either side triumph as long as it claims this will end the fighting.

Nothing unifies like a common enemy, though, and the left would like that designated foe in the public’s mind to be the right, while the right would like that common foe to be the left. And so we continue.

I, of course, have The Real Answer, which is to wake up and recognize the entire class of politicians — and all government — as the common enemy, to be dispensed with once and for all, like monarchy and slave ownership. To achieve that beautiful dream (together!), we should focus on examples of government being so damn stupid — yet ideologically ambiguous — that no thinks upon hearing the examples “More treachery by the other ideological side in the right-left dialectical struggle!” but rather “Government has gone full retard once again!”

Here’s an example from New Zealand I think most decent Americans of all ideological stripes can agree to find revolting: telling people what they can and cannot name their children. I wonder if they’d let people name their kids Voltaire and Groucho, as I’ve repeatedly urged friends to do, to no avail?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

2008 vs. “2012”


Watching this week’s Democratic convention tie itself into politically-correct knots trying to make the whole production “green” (not to mention all-union) has of course been hilarious — but it should never be forgotten that these uptight, rule-making, obsessive nitwits want desperately to govern us all in the same Kafkaesque fashion. The Democrats are not freedom-lovers. They are petty totalitarians. If you want to be green on your own hippie commune, I have no quarrel with you. Use fines and taxes and ultimately threats of jail time for non-compliance (it has happened) to make the rest of us green, and you’re a thug — likely one who isn’t having much impact on the Earth anyway.

A perfect example of how doomsday-environmentalism has become interchangeable with mystical apocalypse predictions is the fact that Roland Emmerich (himself hardly all that green, given his notoriously gaudy house full of stuffed zebra heads and the like), who directed the laughable (but Al Gore-praised) climate-change thriller The Day After Tomorrow — not to mention the goofy prehistoric adventure 10,000 B.C. — is next doing the mystical-apocalypse, Mayan-“prophecy”-inspired 2012, about the world ending in 2012, with even more disasters in it than in The Day After Tomorrow.

I guess you could say 10,000 + the day after tomorrow = 2012 = box office gold!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Best Argument for Obama, in Two Sentences


(As a goodwill gesture on the first day of the Democrats’ convention in Denver.)

Pragmatically speaking, is Obama the only alternative to the U.S. fighting simultaneous, arguably unnecessary wars in Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Iran?

I’d be willing to limp along with higher taxes and a weakened economy for a few years to avoid all that, I have to admit.

(Much as I might wish Bob Barr, who I plan to vote for, were higher in the polls so that we didn’t have to choose, once again, between peace and prosperity, to oversimplify things radically — and I realize it isn’t clear we’ll get either of those things no matter which major-party candidate wins.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vice Presidential Choices: Biden, Lieberman, Edwards

obama-biden.jpg lieberman.jpg
Well, Obama and his running mate, Biden, have one thing in common: Neither of them likes Clarence Thomas.

Obama picked Thomas when asked the one Supreme Court Justice he wouldn’t have appointed.  Back at Thomas’s confirmation hearings in 1991, Biden was rivaled only by Paul Simon (the Senator, alas, not the singer) in his utter dumbfoundedness over Thomas’s cautiously-expressed sympathies for libertarianism and slender ties to Reason magazine.  I’m afraid Biden’s furrowed brow, as he expressed his horror at the thought of trying to downsize any federal agencies (!?!?!), is furrowed permanently right into my memory.  That’s one more reason to hope Obama-Biden doesn’t win in November — though that doesn’t make the thought of a McCain victory pleasant.

By contrast, if Obama had picked Midwestern and somewhat fiscally conservative Evan Bayh, not only would I be happier, but McCain might well have felt obliged to pick Midwestern and somewhat fiscally conservative Pawlenty, and the whole world would be a bit less scary (I say McCain might have felt obliged to counter the Midwest move since half the toss-up states are in the Midwest).


As it stands, maybe McCain will decide that the best way to counter two Senators is by adding another Senator to his own ticket — Independent Joe Lieberman (who he’s supposedly mulling).  Nice guy though Lieberman seems, this would be a disaster from my political perspective.  Lieberman would be the absolute, clinching proof — almost a living reductio ad absurdum — of the fact that Republicans have ceased to care about anything besides war and that conservatism as we knew it in the second half of the twentieth century is dead.

Lieberman has almost no conservative or free-market credentials to speak of besides war (and, like many Senators of both parties, sympathy for some global trade accords), unless you count the fact that he, like McCain (and David Brooks, the useless goon), shares the Teddy Roosevelt paternalist/reformer spirit that leads to things like wanting government to restrict violent videogames and go on other secular-yet-moralistic crusades to clean up the culture (McCain promoted state-level bans on ultimate fighting, for example).

And to those neocons who think that shrinking government’s not important anymore, just ensuring that government has a “conservative” tone — especially that it’s spending on security purposes — I can only say: You mean the same government that created a Department of Homeland Security that now funds anti-Zionist protests against hawkish Middle East analyst Daniel Pipes?  That’s the big government that will supposedly execute your cultural agenda?  Good luck with that.  (And that’s Commentary noting the DHS irony, not me — here’s hoping the staff draws some non-statist conclusions from the example.)

The crowning absurdity, if we ended up seeing conservatives put Lieberman in office in November, of course, would be the fact that he was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000.  (Remember 2000, the year that came before 2001?)  If McCain dies in office and has Lieberman for a v.p., maybe President Lieberman could then summon his old running mate Gore to be part of his administration (I’ll bet he’d take EPA administrator — it’d be too embarrassing to pass up the chance, after being a hot air expert for so many years).

But Lieberman’s good for war purposes, some conservatives may still insist.  Yeah, and Al Gore wanted more defense spending than Bush in 2000 — one of the reasons I voted against Gore.  So maybe we should have put Gore and Lieberman in office in 2000 and saved ourselves eight years’ circuitous journey to the same location (leftist readers suddenly get happier).

Libertarian Party, anyone?


One more thought about a man who might once have been a plausible v.p. choice: John Edwards.

In the highly unlikely event that it should one day turn out that he’s been duped all this time into thinking that Rielle Hunter’s baby is his own, I know one place she might have gotten the idea for the scam: She (really) had a bit part in the 1987 comedy Overboard with Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, in which Hawn plays a rich woman named Joanna who refuses to pay her working-class maintenance man Dean (Russell), so as this online summary puts it…

…when Joanna falls overboard and gets a bad case of amnesia, Dean takes advantage of the situation and, in a stroke of retributive genius, tells her that she’s his wife and the mother of his four unruly children.

That raises some complex ethical questions.

Less complex, in my opinion, is the question of whether Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer being in remission during the initial Edwards-Hunter affair makes him less appalling.  I’ve seen many writers treat the situation as if that’s obviously the case — in other words, as if it’d be far more horrible to cheat on a dying wife.

Am I the only person (and believe me, I think cheaters and liars are monstrous even when unmarried) who thinks cheating on a dying wife is slightly more excusable than cheating on a healthy wife?  I mean, if she’s dying, the cad can always say — and you mark my words, Edwards one day will — “I only wanted to keep her in the dark to spare her pain until she was gone, and now that she is I can make all this right by marrying my mistress, claiming the child that was mine all along, and asking for your vote in November.”

For more insightful political analysis, keep reading this blog this week during the Democratic convention (well, I mean, not all day long, but like once each day, maybe) — and for more sexual-ethics insights, be sure to read during September, which will be “The Month of Sex” on this blog, starting as we’re going into Labor Day.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Leftism for Punks (plus Chinese Democracy)

patti-smith.jpg + axl-rose.jpg = cobain-closeup.jpg

I talked about Ralph Nader in yesterday’s entry, and that reminds me that I actually went to a Nader speech at Princeton three years ago — because proto-punk singer Patti Smith was opening for him. If that’s not a reminder that (a) alternative rock, obviously, leans left and (b) not everyone in the audience shares the performers’ political views, I don’t what is.

The swell and (fittingly) dreamlike documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life, which I saw last weekend, showed a split-second glimpse of a Nader/Smith poster and lengthier footage of her reading the Declaration of Independence but climaxing it with a list of reasons Bush should be impeached.

I don’t think I’ll be converting Patti Smith to any form of conservatism — not even libertarianism, since it centers on property rights, and an article in the New York Daily News, about a book surveying some odd moments in rock history, mentions that she was apparently a shoplifter back when she worked at a New York bookstore in the hippie days (another reminder the hippies were evil, lest we forget).


The article also notes that Kurt Cobain’s animosity toward Axl Rose prevented a Nirvana-Metallica-Guns N’ Roses combo tour from happening, which makes me very sad because I’m pretty sure I saw a show at RFK stadium on what would have been that tour — but instead of Nirvana, it featured Faith No More, which is hardly the same thing. That show also left me slightly sick from an oddly grey stadium hotdog and taught me that when you aren’t enthusiastic about one of the opening acts (Metallica), encores that push the band’s stage time to three hours are no cause for celebration.

(With me at that concert were future professors Christine Caldwell and Chris Nugent, the latter of whom thereby made up for missing a Guns N’ Roses concert I saw a few months earlier at Madison Square Garden that combined four of Chris’s favorite things at the time, as if the cruel fates were mocking him: G N’ R, opening act Soundgarden [CORRECTION: See Responses below], the Godfather theme song [performed solo by Slash, which was beautiful], and footage of Winona Ryder, up on the big overhead screen to distract the crowd during downtime.)

On a more positive Guns N’ Roses note, there’s once more been talk of finally releasing the fourteen-mentally-ill-years-in-the-making album Chinese Democracy. Would, though, that it had come out in time for the undemocratic Beijing Olympics.


Four positive thoughts (among many) about the Patti Smith documentary, lest I make it sound like all I noticed was the politics (Note to Scott and Dave: you’ve read this part already):

(1) Smith’s son, about ten years ago or so, looked and sounded so much like her (when he was about twelve) that it was hilarious: same spindly body, exactly the same face, same demeanor and downbeat/weird outlook on life, same hair, same haircut, same outfit. It was like they just shrunk her.

(2) Smith’s parents looked like utterly normal middle-class rural New Jersey residents with beer bellies, a dog, and a nice little run of the mill house — and she gets along just fine with them despite dad saying he lost hearing in one ear from going to her shows.

(3) Since CBGB’s was for poets as well as rockers back in the day, William S. Burroughs was apparently central to its milieu, which I have to admit I hadn’t realized, and she was close to him (being more poet than rocker in some ways herself — if only we could put her lyrics to Patty Smyth’s melodies!).

So in both Burroughs and Michael Moorcock (who wrote a fictionalized, official account of the Sex Pistols back in the day — which will be the June 2009 Book Selection on this blog, for those planning ahead), we have actual punk/proto-cyberpunk overlaps.

And the Burroughs/Smith connection means I need to learn more about the beatniks one of these days, I suppose. Or I can just drink and wander lonely streets, perhaps.

(4) In one funny bit of the documentary, Sam Shepard was trying to teach her “You Are My Sunshine” on the guitar, and she was having a pretty hard time with what seemed (to my untrained eye) relatively simple parts, and in the midst of this quiet, serious, black-and-white, arty-seeming film moment, Shepard asked (quietly and with humor but also with some genuine frustration, it seemed), “How many records have you made?”

Friday, August 22, 2008

Nader on Obama


I think the most surprising part of that article about Nader predicting Obama will pick Hillary for his running mate is that Nader says Obama’s second-smartest pick would be Sam Nunn. Nader says Nunn would provide foreign policy heft and help in Georgia (the U.S. Georgia, where both Green Party prez candidate Cynthia McKinney and Libertarian Party prez candidate Bob Barr happen to dwell).

I’m sort of impressed that Nader isn’t too left-ideological to like centrist Nunn (though Nunn is an anti-nuke-proliferation expert and environmentalist on his left-leaning days).

I think a lot of political-fringe guys have a soft spot for moderate “bipartisan” people because the bipartisan people, too, are defying the usual two-party two-step. So, “crazy” and “sane” have a lot in common, by some measures.

That makes one suspect that things are a lot more politically flexible, over the long haul, than they superficially appear. Will we see the Global Christian-Green Party vs. the Pro-Technology Militarist-Isolationist Party in the 2020 election, with the (predominantly lesbian) La Raza/Constitutionalist Party the wild card? Don’t say it can’t happen.

UPDATE 8/22/08 4:55pm: Irony note: If Obama picks Biden, I doubledare Biden to say in his opening comments about it, “I wish to repeat my earlier statement from the primaries that it’s nice to see a clean black man running for office.”  And on an even more petty note, I can’t imagine Obama picking Rep. Chet Edwards and risking voters thinking “Obama and EDWARDS?”

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Never Mind Kansas -- What's the Matter with Thomas Frank?

Thomas Frank is the author of the anti-conservative screed What’s the Matter with Kansas? (released in Europe as What’s the Matter with America?, which suggests to me that Kansas wasn’t all that aberrant after all). He likes anti-conservative conspiracy theories, particularly anti-market ones.

Virtually every column he writes takes one of two juvenile forms: either he (1) accuses conservatives of deliberately harming people or screwing things up to advance their sinister agenda or, even more annoyingly, (2) picks some bizarre boondoggle associated with Republican politicians but in no logical way an outgrowth of conservative (and certainly not free-market) ideology (waste and ineptitude at the Department of Labor, in one recent column), then claims, like a child yelling “Tag! You’re it!” that since the boondoggle is nominally “conservative” (or in the case of the Department of Labor, was merely spoken of in a positive way once by religious-right activist Paul Weyrich), said boondoggle is not merely conservative but in fact a perfect representation of conservatism at its best, thus proving all conservatives (like me) to be evil morons (like Thomas Frank).

If you don’t think I’ve got his formula pegged, check out his August 6, 2008 Wall Street Journal column (he does this over and over again — and on a slightly more abstract note, check out his column from yesterday lamenting the creation of a Milton Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago).

If he really believes, though, in constant sinister calculations by conservatives (who always get exactly the results they wanted in the political realm!), I have a great conspiracy theory for him: I think the Wall Street Journal hired him as the ongoing default left-wing columnist precisely to remind their right-leaning readers what complete idiots there are on the left. (Has it never crossed your mind that this might be why you were cast in the role, Mr. Frank?)

Luckily, I am not the only one who has such suspicions about Frank — so too, I think, does Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times, who savaged his new book (which is about conservatives being evil). Good for her — and good for the left’s self-improvement.

(One odd sidenote: Kakutani’s review of this dimwitted leftist may be good, but according to New York magazine, she shares a flaw with a free-market writer of my acquaintance — like Reason’s Brian Doherty, she has been criticized in print for making excessive use of the word “limn.” Coincidence?)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Legion of Three Worlds!

I will not argue that August 2008 is the greatest month in the history of American literature. And yet…

It is largely this month that has drawn me back — very briefly — to comic book reading after about a year’s hiatus, intended to be permanent. And how could I resist?

As a younger person — always more of a sci-fi fan than a superhero fan at heart — I was happiest when comics delved into relatively highbrow concepts like time travel, parallel universes, reality-altering, and the nature of the cosmos. The first superhero comic book story I remember reading, in 1976, was drawn by George Perez and featured multiple universes (I was mainly into comics about Godzilla, Star Wars, dinosaurs, and Micronauts around that time, though — and Rom: Spaceknight, of course).

The first DC Comics comic I regularly collected was Legion of Super-Heroes, a sci-fi-ish series set a thousand years in the future, occasionally featuring the time-warping villainy of the Time Trapper. The series that started my shift toward complete DC fanhood, away from Marvel Comics, was the Perez-drawn parallel-universes saga Crisis on Infinite Earths. I retained my love for Jack Kirby throughout, though, having savored all nine issues of his late-Marvel series Devil Dinosaur but also his New Gods stories for DC, featuring the evil god Darkseid. My comics reading would start tapering off somewhat around the mid-90s, when DC depicted the hypothetical final adventure of its present-day heroes in the miniseries Kingdom Come.

But I would go on to write a few comic book stories for DC myself, one featuring the old character Krona, depicted in Crisis on Infinite Earths as the person responsible for the fractured multiverse of parallel universes coming into existence in the first place. Throughout it all, I’d remain fascinated by the continuity implications of revising reality and having multiple versions of characters.


So what’s happening, all at the same time, this month, thirty-two years after I developed this sick addiction?

This month alone, partly by accident and partly by design:

Darkseid has conquered the Earth.

•He has done so in a series called Final Crisis by my favorite comics writer, Grant Morrison, which is a sequel to the aforementioned Crisis on Infinite Earths.

George Perez is drawing the first issue of an affiliated five-issue miniseries featuring not one but three different versions (from parallel universes) of the aforementioned Legion of Super-Heroes up against Time Trapper (and a deranged doppelganger of Superboy left over from Crisis on Infinite Earths), called Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, written by a writer whose age and geek sensibilities are near-identical to my own, Geoff Johns (I hereby predict that today’s issue #1 of Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds will dwarf its own parent series in sales and indeed be the best-selling single issue of a comic book all year).

•Another affiliated series, the two-issue Final Crisis: Superman Beyond (again by Morrison), features godlike beings called the Monitors, derived from Crisis on Infinite Earths, dragging Superman across the multiverse in 3D, with actual 3D glasses included(!).

•Meanwhile, the aforementioned Johns is depicting the alarming present-day creation of Magog, the apocalyptic villain who caused the twilight of the superheroes in Kingdom Come, which may not be so hypothetical or far off anymore (and his creator, Gog, has brought the Justice Society into conflict with its Earth-2 counterparts, themselves seen for the first time in two decades).

•And another geek-turned-writer, Kurt Busiek, is doing a weekly series called Trinity in which Krona threatens to emerge from the cosmic egg in which he was imprisoned by a combined force of DC and Marvel superheroes, shattering reality in the process (I wish he’d use the Krona-worshipping characters I created, the so-called Hand of Krona).

•Plus, while all that’s going on, on the more negative but still intriguing side, a being called the Demiurge has revealed, in a blow to much established continuity, that Hawkman was never from ancient Egypt at all (that whole thread of reality was a cosmic fraud somehow tied to the Crisis on Infinite Earths) but instead hails from the planet Thanagar after all (I don’t know why they can’t just massage the conflicting stories a bit and say aliens built the pyramids and that it’s all connected, but I don’t write the damn things [often]).


Look, I want off the stuff as much as any addict, but all this happening in the same month is the sci-fi-leaning, continuity-obsessed, reality-warp-examining comic fanboy’s equivalent of delivering all the crack in the world to one crack addict’s doorstep in a single morning — and unlike the members of the Legion, I’m only human. It’ll all be over by year’s end, though.

And I hope it ends well, though the fact that ads for the penultimate issue of Final Crisis feature a villain called Mandrakk the Monitor, who sounds just a tad too much like some sick parody of reality-warping Mandrake the Magician, has me a little worried that (gonzo-inclined) Morrison is going to do something silly and postmodern involving a top hat that we’ll all regret. We shall see.

In the interim, you normals (if any of you are still reading this) can get a tiny, self-contained taste of some of the above by watching the eighth-or-so episode of the new season of Smallville (now entering its eighth year). That episode, which will be written by Johns, will feature the time-traveling Legion of Super-Heroes, portrayed by living, non-animated actors for the first time. And who knows? Maybe the geeky Johns will even put the Time Trapper in the episode.

(For people who are far too cool for comics: Trapper’s sort of like the Master on Doctor Who — you know, when the Master was all cloaked and decaying and mummy-like but still had time-travel powers.)

The truly amazing time-warping feat on Smallville, though, is going eight years without Clark Kent yet growing up, moving to Metropolis, and becoming Superman. Ratings can bend reality like nothing else.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Fixx Plays, Loser Pays

Yesterday, I talked about the inescapable vise of progressive politics — but today let’s talk about the efforts to put a vise around quasi-progressive rock.

Yes, today is the pivotal day in legal history when witch-burning socialists in Massachusetts decide whether to punish the rock band the Fixx for being too cool.

All right, I’m slightly misrepresenting the details of the situation. Actually, they’re just having a meeting of the events licensing board in Newton, MA about whether to revise their noise rules to henceforth forbid things like the recent outdoor Fixx concert in celebration of the opening of the Hotel Indigo. The Fixx themselves have long since safely escaped the town (and after all, they did once do a cover of “These Boots Were Made for Walking,” oddly enough).

If Indigo ends up being fined or something (presumably not in a post facto fashion), and they organize a benefit concert to pay their legal bills, perhaps they should consider using that band I saw perform with a theremin a few weeks ago, Rebel Hotel. Get it, Rebel Hotel? You see how perfect that would be, since, like, the Indigo’s a Hotel, and they’re, like, rebels?


On a more broadly useful note, this seems as good a juncture as any to note that I’m strongly in favor of the U.S. adopting the principle (very common in the rest of the world, including Europe) of “loser pays” in legal battles — that is, you lose the case, you must make the other side truly whole by paying the victor’s court costs, not just the damages at issue. This would eliminate the all-too-powerful incentive to shut people down simply by targeting them with lawsuits that they know will be time-consuming and expensive even if they win. It also diminishes the incentive to “give it a shot” and bring likely-losing bogus cases. More important, restitution to the vindicated party is just basic justice.

The pros and cons of loser pays will be the topic of discussion this week on, a civility-encouraging political-discourse project of libertarian lawyer Philip K. Howard, whose minions include my non-libertarian but nonetheless swell friend Jenny Foreit and whose book The Death of Common Sense nonetheless does wonders to angry up the blood against nonsensical laws.

Strangely, I encounter a lot of people (including a smart libertarian) whose immediate intuitive reaction to loser pays is that it will prevent the poor from bringing lawsuits.

Now, if the end result of loser pays is that you can in effect bring a meritorious case for free, I fail to see how this is (on balance) bad for the poor. Indeed, even those of us who are not poor might like the ability to bring lawsuits over various petty matters not currently worth hiring a lawyer for (say, having one’s computer deliberately misdiagnosed by a repair shop so they can charge you more, to take an example from my own experience, back when the villainous Computer Era store in the East 20s existed — and just days, alas, before its thuggish staff were exposed as con artists on the cover of New York magazine).

There’s little I can do — as I am reminded day after day on countless philosophical topics — to control how people will intuit or even make them see that they might have opted to intuit differently than they have. But I suspect this intuition that loser pays is bad for the poor is largely driven by a subconscious assumption (occurring most often in left-leaning people, interestingly) that the poor have a special interest in bringing bogus lawsuits.

After all, in a purely algebraic sense, the filter mechanism introduced by loser pays is not mainly to punish suits by the rich or the poor but simply to punish suits that lose. Why should we assume it is in the interest of the poor to see losing suits given a leg up? That’s a bit like the old condescending liberal assumption that cracking down on crime is bad news for the poor. Baloney — it’s first and foremost bad news for criminals.

Likewise, loser pays is mainly bad news for…losers, which is to say people bringing bad suits or (lest we forget the whole purpose of lawsuits) committing wrongs for which they should pay damages. Or to put it in terms the left can understand: Don’t you think there are companies out there committing wrongs that lovable little poor people might like to sue over but are currently afraid to because even if they have slam-dunk cases they’ll still have big legal bills to pay in the end? Or to put it as starkly as I can: Are you so worried about discouraging poor people with bad cases that you’re unwilling to encourage poor people with good cases?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Goodbye, Sandy Allen

The world’s tallest woman (like the other Todd Seavey, noted in my prior entry) has passed away.  She inspired a catchy song by Split Enz (the Finn Brothers’ band before Crowded House).  But then, saying “catchy song by Split Enz” is almost redundant.


But apparently, the other Todd James Seavey (perhaps the only other Todd James Seavey?) passed away last week, days after me blathering about aging and birthdays.  Rest in peace, my namesake.

I wonder what would happen if I tried to steal his identity now?

Democrat or Bull Moose in November?


Given how common the complaints from the left are that the right is all racist Christian fanatics, it’d be pretty impressive — and amusing — if McCain’s running mate were Jewish (Lieberman or Cantor) or Indian-American (Jindal).

On another positive McCain note, the Cato Institute suggests that, imperfect as both Obama and McCain are, McCain’s health plan is substantially more free-market-oriented and even takes encouraging steps toward ending the stifling tie between health insurance and employers, which would do wonders to make the labor market more fluid and ease a lot of employee anxiety (the sort of concern that has driven even some fairly market-friendly writers such as Malcolm Gladwell, dissatisfied with the current employer-mandates/governmental situation, to think a flat-out government-run system might even be preferable).

On the downside, McCain says things that sound as openly and pugnaciously anticapitalist as his hero, Teddy Roosevelt, as in the narrator’s words in this McCain campaign ad:

Washington’s broken. John McCain knows it. We’re worse off than we were four years ago.

Only McCain has taken on big tobacco, drug companies, fought corruption in both parties. He’ll reform Wall Street, battle Big Oil, make America prosper again.

Yikes. Some terrifying mixed messages in there, from a free-market perspective. Add to that the possibility of Independent Lieberman (who’s prone to call for regulation of violent videogames and that sort of thing) running with “maverick” McCain, and we might find ourselves with no real Republican ticket on the ballot at all come November — but instead a sort of Bull Moose progressive/imperialist ticket vs. a Democratic ticket — McCain leading an 1890s-style progressive ticket and Obama a 1990s-style progressive ticket, with some of us market-oriented Republicans left feeling out of options.

Unless you count the Republican who’s running on the Libertarian ticket, of course. (It’s very complicated.)

Now if we could just get the whole thing to loop around so that a libertarian or at least a real free-marketeer became the Democratic running mate, we’d be getting somewhere. Ah, well, at least the Dem v.p. slot definitely won’t be going to a certain philandering populist lawyer from North Carolina.

UPDATE 8/19/08: Giuliani as v.p. would be another pleasing thumb in the eye to the religious folk who failed to support him in the primary — and an exciting resurrection after his defeat in that process.  He’d fare better in the general, likes McCain, and is similarly ideologically ambiguous.  But maybe the Giuliani rumors will give way to something else within days.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

That Watchmen Trailer (and Other Political Superheroes)


That Smashing Pumpkins song used to such good effect in the Watchmen movie trailer is the same song (“The End Is the Beginning Is the End”) that won a Grammy in 1998 (without me noticing at the time) and came from the soundtrack to Batman and Robin, of all things. It’s pretty daring to put a song from what may have been DC Comics’ biggest movie disaster on a trailer for what I hope will be their finest hour, and to attach it to the front of Dark Knight to boot.

So something good came out of Batman and Robin, aside from it being well mocked on MST3K and me getting to hear a DC Comics employee — I think it was Janet Harvey — in an advance screening of the film say, “It’s like watching that gravy train roll right off a cliff, isn’t it?”

But iconic superheroes are an infinitely-renewable resource, and for DC, the end is the beginning is the end.


Another odd result of attaching the Watchmen trailer to Dark Knight is that, unbeknownst to most moviegoers, when Dark Knight opened, we basically saw two variants on Steve Ditko’s faceless detective character the Question (Ditko also being the Objectivist co-creator of Spider-Man).

The Watchmen were created as variants on the old Charlton Comics characters (the Question, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, etc.) who DC had acquired (much as they are now planning to deploy retooled versions of the Archie Comics superheroes). Thus, the masked, anarchist, rooftop-clinging figure called Rorschach (heard in the trailer essentially abdicating his own godlike power as a superhero by saying that when humanity looks up and asks the heroes to save them, he will say “No”) is a harsher, updated Question (more radical in some ways than Ditko’s coldly Objectivist superhero, Mr. A).

And the female cop named Ramirez in Dark Knight was a last-minute replacement for the similar character Renee Montoya, who in the comics becomes the second Question (not to mention the lesbian lover of Batwoman, but we may never see that on the big screen…in IMAX…).


A Wall Street Journal column eagerly equated Batman with Bush, noting that both must resort to wiretapping but are basically heroic. I think the column fails to note how conflicted the film — and one of Batman’s assistants — were about the wiretapping, but if we’re going to draw parallels between DC Comics superheroes and political figures, I’d like to suggest a few others about whom columns may not yet have been written:

Hawkman is now uncertain whether some of his arcane knowledge derives from ancient Egypt or from space aliens. If you know enough about the strange, UFO-oriented theology of the Nation of Islam, you know we must therefore regard Hawkman as a Louis Farrakhan figure.

•Variant, unstable timelines have raised questions about the paternity of time-traveling adventurer Rip Hunter — who may have deeper ties than the public realizes to a rich, media-seeking friend of his. Is it coincidence that all the same things could be said about his namesake — and perhaps relative — Rielle Hunter (now generally regarded as either the mother of John Edwards’ offspring or a Bigfoot baby)?

•The Onion rightly traced the similarities between Al Gore and Jor-El.


And on a slightly different note, I can’t help noticing an odd irony in the stated political affiliation of the woman wearing a Catwoman costume (at a comics convention) in this great video noted by The faux-Catwoman in the video proclaims herself a libertarian — and thus presumably a strict adherent of property rights (as we all should be), yet Catwoman is the DC Universe’s most notorious thief (as I was reminded Friday when I paid a brief visit to the Paley Center for Media, formerly known as the Museum of Television and Radio, with Jamie Foehl and her boyfriend, and stayed to watch the Adam West Batman two-parter in which Catwoman would rather fall to her doom than relinquish stolen pirate treasure).

This reminds me of my idea for a tension-filled psycho-political thriller: a libertarian wracked by kleptomania. It’d be sort of like the libertarian version of a religious conservative crazed by lust or, more commonly, a socialist shopaholic.

Meanwhile, there’ve been rumors about Angelina Jolie expressing interest in the Catwoman role, and if she ever gets around to playing both that role and Rand character Dagny Taggart, she too will have been both thief and strict property rights adherent. And if we’re lucky, will also have a lesbian scene with Batwoman. Not that that happens in the comics.

But more on parallel comic book realities on Wednesday, when three versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes hit the shelves of your local comic shop simultaneously, all drawn by George Perez.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Madonna Turns Fifty Today


People have been talking about Madonna’s age and the state of her body for so long, I almost feel as though her chronological age should be higher, oddly enough.  Heck, she’s only eleven years older than I am.  (I reflected upon my thirty-ninth birthday — and music — one week ago.)

Next year, I say it’s time for a momentous, thirtieth-anniversary rerelease of Madonna’s first film, A Certain Sacrifice, in which she plays a Lower East Side resident living with three love slaves (one transgendered), who help her exact revenge on her rapist, leading to a bloody, Satanic death ritual.

Or they could just do a remake.  I’ve been talking about covers and remakes a lot lately, and in the era of Tarantino retro-stuff and Saw movies, a slicker, bigger-budget A Certain Sacrifice seems like a no-brainer.  Cast Madonna in the Madonna role, and maybe get David Fincher, who directed films like Seven and the “Express Yourself” video, to be the director.  Tell me that wouldn’t make some money.

And in a special cameo: the Bigfoot baby.

On a slightly more serious note, I’ve been surprised more than once over the years to discover in what high esteem even the most marginal punk-type young people generally hold Madonna.  I recall hearing some borderline-homeless club-type kid speak of her reverently back in the mid-90s, and it  was the first time I ever realized that she isn’t just regarded as a mainstream, bland pop product by the fringey types but more like one of them who hit the bigtime.

The thing that makes this sort of poignant is that they must largely just like her for being an oversexed club-hopping rebel, since the music alone certainly can’t justify feelings of profound cultural kinship — though I like “Into the Groove” and “Ray of Light,” the latter somehow over a decade old now.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hunter DNA Tests May Reveal Something Stranger Than Expected


•An awkward Friday press event
•A man with a known history of lying, expecting us to trust him this time
•Blurry images of an entity seemingly eager to evade detection
•Hunters calling for DNA tests
•Key figures in the controversy shuttled from the southeast to the West Coast
•A media frenzy

I refer, of course, to today’s scheduled Bigfoot press conference in Palo Alto, at which, as you may have heard, three men, two of them hunters, claim they will unveil a naturally-deceased Bigfoot from the state of Georgia that they’ve been keeping in a freezer, along with DNA samples and videotape they made of three other creatures.

Of course, one of the men has already been exposed on a prior occasion for attempting a Bigfoot hoax, and another seems to have gotten his brother to pose as a scientist, under an alias, to appear in one of the group’s videos as a Bigfoot-corpse examiner. (Also, one of the men is an unemployed cop and another a prison warden, which for an anarchist like me sets off alarm bells right there, but I don’t want to assume lawmen can’t make major zoological finds.)

In any case, if we all wish really, really hard, I’m sure today will see the dawn of a bold new era in primatology (and since I just read that the sixth Harry Potter movie has been delayed until July 2009, we could all use a little magic).

Also, since John Edwards’ mistress Rielle Hunter’s baby has no father listed on the birth certificate, it is possible — I say possible rather than certain — that the deceased Bigfoot is the father, which would help tie up a couple of loose ends in one go. We will not know for sure unless she submits the child to a paternity test, of course.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, though, and be the first to predict it: Bigfoot baby.

My guess is we’ll hear the confession before the Democratic National Convention, to avoid a hubbub during the convention. This might hurt Obama with some social conservatives, but it could help with both the gun enthusiast and environmental crowds.

This much is certain: In election 2008, the Bigfoot baby’s the wild card [UPDATE 8/16/08: The men wouldn't let people touch the "Bigfoot" yesterday, provided a DNA sample that turned out to be partly human DNA and partly some possum DNA, and gave the lamest excuse for the fake-scientist ruse one could possibly imagine -- and so it goes with all paranormal claims upon closer examination, from psychics to God to ghosts to UFOs; in fact, the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer has a great piece culled from a NASA scientist's futile attempts to explain to online correspondents why we aren't going to be destroyed by the rogue planet Nibiru in the year 2012, if you really want to see an unsettling, almost reverse-Lovecraftian case of gullibility and mounting fear in action].

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Get ’Em While They’re Young -- and Rock Them, Politically

•I was reminded during the Israel debate I hosted last night that indoctrination of the young in the militant mindset is a recurring criticism of the Palestinians. And indeed, radical movements — good or bad — always rely upon the zeal of youth to some degree.

•In the U.S., the left almost always commands broader allegiance among the young than the right — and luckily for the right, the young tend to forget to show up come election day (not long before despairing and taking his own life, I believe Hunter S. Thompson reacted to the failure of young people to turn out and vote against Bush by saying something like “The young people — they’ve fucked us again!”). So I’m not sure how much it matters electorally that Obama is reportedly slipping among the young (McCain still looked pretty doomed electoral-college-wise last time I checked), but it should be troubling to Obama if he’s not dominating his natural constituencies.

•Speaking of appealing to the young (which I still believe to be important for long-term philosophical-formation purposes even if it has no immediate electoral payoff), Arkansas State Rep. (and friend of Todd) Dan Greenberg has posted a list of conservative rock stars I sent him (which may well be slightly inaccurate — but not wildly inaccurate), and he linked to a philosophically-significant free-market Oingo Boingo video in the process, so watch that, you filthy socialist hippie.

•In other rock news, in an earlier entry I mentioned the dreamily weird cyberpunk miniseries Wild Palms making very Miami Vice-like use of one of my favorite songs, “House of the Rising Sun,” and my memories from 1993 do not lie. What I had forgotten is how dapper James Belushi looked in the series. It was full of well-dressed rich people casually killing each other’s henchmen, as this scene suggests.

•That scene about a raid on a cult aired two years after another oddly-subversive cult-related TV item — the amazing, utterly out-of-the-blue and seemingly purposeless 1991 promo for the Church of the Sub-Genius — which at the time had no website or any other clear product to push, aside from absurdity.

•I would be remiss if I did not round out this talk of rock and TV with an item from the 1980s, so here’s Weird Al Yankovic’s first-ever TV appearance, on Tom Snyder’s show. You can sense a legend being born. Harness that, and you could move political or cultural mountains and raise armies.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tonight's Israel Debate, Last Month's Egg Panel, and the Oil War

Tonight’s our big Debate at Lolita Bar on the heated Israeli/Palestinian conflict (with Muhammed Rum vs. Hannah Meyers).

Last month, though, saw our convivial panel discussion (too flippant for HuffingtonPost’s Melissa Lafsky) about women selling their eggs, and nothing goes better with fertilized eggs than Weiner pictures — pictures of our lovely panel by J.D. Weiner, that is!  (Panelist Diana Fleischman notes that panelist Kerry Howley wore yellow and white and thus looked extra eggy.)

Speaking of Arianna Huffington, I’ll bet this early book of hers — back before she was married — is a trip.  What was she ever doing on the right in the first place, you ask?  Seeking a largely spiritual new “politics of meaning,” like Michael Lerner, I’d say.  Very 1970s.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, Dawn Eden (like me, a still-alert thirty-nine years old) heard an even more historic debate and blogged about it: the Republicans’ lights-out conversation on the House floor, in defiance of Speaker Pelosi, about whether to drill more for oil* — and, yes, one of the representatives does invoke the 1980s sitcom Sledge Hammer, in case you were wondering.

*Basic economic factoid: when you have more of something, it costs less.  Basic media factoid: if you read a lot of articles purporting to dispel basic laws of economics, no matter how artfully worded, you live in a world where media has become fully decoupled from reality, possibly to left-wing ends.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Russia vs. Georgia (and Israelis vs. Palestinians)


By who-started-it standards, I think the Russians are basically in the right and our/Europe’s friends the Georgians basically wrong in the current fighting (though I hope it ends soon regardless), but given the size and brutality of the Russian attack, the following Telegraph paragraph from a few days ago, when this round started, can’t help but sound Orwellian:

Russian peacekeepers have suffered 12 dead and 150 wounded, the peacekeeping forces were quoted as saying by Russian news agencies, while over 1300 civilians are reported to have been killed.

“Now our peacekeepers are waging a fierce battle with regular forces from the Georgian army in the southern region of Tskhinvali,” a representative of the Russian force was quoted as saying by Interfax.

But then, the older I get, the less I think it matters who started it in these situations and the more it matters that both sides work to resolve things civilly — something to keep in mind, perhaps (neutral though I shall scrupulously remain as host), during our Debate at Lolita Bar tomorrow night (Wed., Aug. 13, 8pm) about the Israeli/Palestinian situation — a debate that will now feature filmmaker Muhammed Rum vs. former Hudson Institute, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and John Faso staffer Hannah Meyers (Pamela Geller having had to drop out).

At the risk of sounding all Pat Buchanan/Ron Paul (when at least one valve of my heart is closer to William Kristol, or at least Ronald Reagan), we may not recall having assured Russia two decades ago that NATO would not expand eastward to include breakaway former Soviet republics, but Russia certainly does — and if we respect secession enough (as I certainly do) to applaud nations for fleeing the Russian orbit, we can hardly condemn Ossetians for wanting to break away from Georgia and (in all likelihood) drift back toward Russia, even if Georgia is our pro-Western, pro-NATO, pro-EU pal.

If all this ends up playing out like World War I, you’ll all be wishing you’d voted for Ron Paul.

Monday, August 11, 2008

You May Be Wrong: Uneasy Listening

huey-lewis.jpg glenn-frey.jpg

You know who I’ll bet just loves the Eagles, it suddenly occurs to me? Huey Lewis. (Can’t you imagine him covering “The Long Run”?) I can’t stand either of them. Music Hell for me would be an eternity of listening to Huey Lewis and the Eagles (except for “Hotel California,” ironically, and “Life in the Fast Lane”).

Similarly, despite the marvelous growling Pearl Jam did on their first two albums — during which they were worthy of covering, say, “Born on the Bayou” by Credence — mellow later Pearl Jam makes me think they’d sound all too natural covering “Levon” by Elton John. Think about that if you’re ever trapped in Music Purgatory listening to Elton John (though Yellow Brick Road is OK, of course, and I like “I’m Still Standing”).

On a slightly more heavenly note, I think Green Day could do a fitting cover of Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right.” I apologize for this entire uncool digression.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Muslim Terrorism vs. Random House, Mormon Sex-Slaver vs. Dog-Cloning Press


The story about Random House canceling plans to publish the novel Jewel of Medina (about Mohammed’s most important wife) is alarming (assuming it’s not a publicity stunt), as is the relatively little press attention it seems to have gotten.

I guess we will henceforth passively accept a Muslim terrorist veto over American publishing the way we accept, say, the right of the politically-correct to seize campus buildings or the right of the U.S. government to forbid anonymous political campaign ads in the months preceding an election. Who needs freedom, as long as everyone agrees to roll over quietly, thereby proving they never put much stock in freedom in the first place?

On another Middle East-related (though more nuanced and less directly religious) note, I should note that our Debate at Lolita Bar this coming Wednesday (8pm) will now pit Muhammed Rum against Hannah Meyers (formerly of the Hudson Institute among other things), Pamela Geller having had to bow out. It’ll still be awesome.

In religious/polygamous news of a decidedly more Western-sounding kind, I was very entertained by the story of a woman who had her beloved dog Booger cloned in South Korea only to have the press hound her (no pun intended) afterwards when she was recognized as a purported Mormon sex-slaver (having supposedly worked with an accomplice to tie up and rape a man in a sixteenth-century-style love cabin decades ago) who skipped bail and eluded recognition by pretending, with her accomplice, to be deaf-mute Irish actors.

I think this amazing story should be the basis of a whole new chapter in the Book of Mormon — and possibly a replacement novel for that gap in Random House’s catalogue.

UPDATE 8/11/08: I was about ready to declare the clone/fugitive story the greatest dog-related story of all time, but the item linked by Drudge today about a giant inflatable dog turd causing chaos in Switzerland may have it beat.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Age-Related Conditions: A Dose of Conservatism for Punks...or at Least Postpunks...or Maybe Just Poseurs

So, I’m thirty-nine (and perhaps growing to look even more like David McCallum, as Francis Heaney, TV producer Marc Dorian, and others have suggested, when people aren’t suggesting that I look like Niles from Frasier). This birthday was already celebrated at Iggy’s Karaoke, where Gerard Perry — who argued for a tough line on illegal immigration a few months ago at one of our monthly Debates at Lolita Bar — ironically found himself being upbraided by an immigrant, the bartender, for committing the real assault on culture, namely Gerard’s rendition of an Irish sea shanty.

But it sounded like music to me, since he at least wasn’t deliberately screeching or yelling at the top of his lungs — the way all too many ex-frat-guy-types do in karaoke, thereby demonstrating, apparently, that they’re too cool to try and don’t care if you’re alarmed by the results. They say frat guys take the same attitude toward sex.


Luckily, my friends’ karaoke efforts (and my own party-damaged-vocal-chords desecration of the usually powerful “Tom Sawyer” by Rush) were not the only music I heard this birthday week, though, since I saw the final Police concert ever and loved it — even though they have so many good songs I could still rattle off a long list of things I wish they’d played: “Synchronicity II” (my favorite song by anyone), “Murder by Numbers,” “J’Aurais Toujours Faim de Toi,” “Secret Journey,” “Rehumanize Yourself,” “Walking in Your Footsteps,” etc. But would I really prefer that they had squeezed these in by dropping ones they actually did play — say, “King of Pain,” “Next to You,” “Invisible Sun,” “Walking on the Moon,” “Driven to Tears,” and “Every Little Things She Does”?

The only solution is to listen to all my Police albums again and perhaps upgrade them in my mind to darn near favorite band ever (they may at least take the prize for lowest ratio of bad songs, I now realize, though Who, Stones, Floyd, and Bowie have all done so many great things that their missteps can be forgiven). The Police are also the makers of the first album I ever bought (back in 1983), Synchronicity, making this a perfect full-circle sort of summer in which to look back at youth one more time and then practice thinking like an actual adult for a year before forty hits.

(Which is not to say I’m not still pissed about the arbitrary changes DC Comics keeps making to Hawkman, of course — that’s something we should all be able to discuss like adults. The older I get, the more poignant it seems when an elderly man is told he’s from ancient Egypt one minute and the planet Thanagar the next — you expect these things to be settled by the time you’ve been fighting crime for seven decades.)

Ironically, it was Sting I used to hope I’d grow up to look like (and there is a slight resemblance to my dad), but once he was shaved and stripped of his shirt prior to the encore, it was pretty obvious he’s still putting me to shame in his late fifties, as I think my ex-girlfriend Koli would politely concede [ADDENDUM: Today, two days after the concert, while walking through my neighborhood, I overheard a guy talking about someone getting a shave -- and I said I'd been at the concert, too, correctly guessing he was referring to Sting].


Aging in a slightly more normal, mortal fashion but still looking pretty darn vibrant were the members of opening act the B-52s (especially once the crane lowers Kate Pierson’s wig into place), and the one profound realization I came to about them was that “Rock Lobster” is probably the funniest song of all time not performed by They Might Be Giants. Oh, and I realized that the high, eerie opening sounds of “Planet Claire” are largely Pierson singing rather than just a synthesizer or theremin, as I’d assumed.

(I did see a theremin in use recently, though — one that appeared small and portable like an old Casio keyboard, which was nifty — by Rebel Hotel, the amusing opening act for Secret History a couple weeks ago, the latter being the new band of former My Favorite member Michael Grace, and the former being something gothy akin to what Metallica might sound like if Elton John became the new lead singer, for good or ill.)

Turning thirty-nine means I’m halfway to age seventy-eight, currently the average age at death for Americans (though as a non-smoker, non-whale, etc., I’ve got some advantages). I’m not too worried, since scientific advances in the decades ahead may well enable me to live to be 100 or even be immortal — but I do wish I’d already accomplished more in what could be called “half a lifetime” (and for all I know could turn out to be 98% of my lifetime — or even 99.99! — or — !!!).


I’ve had some small impact, though. Among other things, I’m quoted with disapproval as an apologist for corporate America in the books The End of Food and The I Hate Corporate America Reader, the latter on p. 437, where I say CDC biomonitoring results (the detection of chemicals in our bodies), properly understood, should be reassuring instead of fodder for more eco-scare campaigns such as the organic-eating neo-hippie Luddite dumbshits among us are perpetually launching (the kind of people who say “I don’t want DNA in my tomatoes!” albeit occasionally with a tiny bit more nuance).

Amusingly, the Reader is part of the quintessentially-2004, left-wing “I Hate” series (from an editor with the misleadingly conservative-sounding name Clint Willis), which includes these other compendia of flawless rationality:

The I Hate the Twenty-First Century Reader
The I Hate Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity Reader
The I Hate Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Don Rumsfeld, Condi Rice…Reader
The I Hate George W. Bush Reader
The I Hate Republicans Reader

Needless to say, I’m getting too old for this. The left should disband entirely, and it has long since exhausted my (very indulgent) patience. Its end would be a birthday gift not just for me but for all of humanity (I was a witness just the other night — and not at all unhappily so — to two left-wing journalists I know talking about whether free-marketeers just don’t care about facts, as one suggested, or actually don’t even care about the wellbeing of their offspring, as the other posited, and I only uttered the word “bullshit” once, so I’m pretty mellow in my middle years).

Ah, but here’s something to make me feel young and carefree again: a Wikipedia entry about one of my toy animals from chidhood, Sooty the bear (based on the UK TV show). Mom was inspired by my finding this entry to locate not only Sooty himself at my parents’ house in Connecticut but his magic wand, which I don’t even recall ever possessing. That’s OK. Talking bears are appropriate for a science-loving child, obviously, but magic wands are nonsense.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Terminator Update


You know, it occurs to me that since successive Terminator texts have now (with the advent of the TV show) pushed the stated date of Judgment Day (the nuclear war started by the machines that kills most humans) to 2011 while pretty consistently giving 2029 as the date of Skynet’s destruction (and the launching of multiple time-trips), the whole wasteland-warfare period is only eighteen years long now, down from the over thirty years of warfare implied by the original film.

So, if the TV series does well enough — say, very optimistically, lasting ten years — to warrant delaying the nukes a few more years to keep the dramatic tension going, we may be able to whittle that unpleasant cyborg warfare period down to, say, eleven years (maybe 2018-2029). No big deal, really, in the grand historical scheme of things. Bring it on!

The higher the ratings, then, the shorter the period of misery for the (fictional) human race, most likely. Keep that series going! Unless the series itself becomes more unpleasant than nuclear war, of course.

Then again, the ads for the TV series’ second season suggest the Summer Glau robot has new schemes of its own, while the Terminator: Salvation teaser trailer in theatres features the significant line “This is not the future my mother warned me about,” so maybe all predictive bets are off anyway (like Hawkman’s personal history, but that’s a complex story for another time [UPDATE: Also: Edwards]).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bogus Beijing


I recently found myself in conversation with two people — one claiming to be a libertarian, oddly — who touted China and India as more “sustainable” environmental models than the U.S., but any such talk of these dirty, inefficient lands seems odd to someone like me who has coughed his way through semi-socialist (albeit democratic — and sexy!) New Delhi and will seem even stranger to athletes in largely-socialist (and non-democratic) Beijing this week.

In a recent column, Kyle Smith dares ask whether Western journalists will cover up something as large and glaring as Communism’s poverty-induced environmental crimes, as witnessed by this week’s Olympics visitors — and asks whether the Olympic Committee is capable of anything like shame or regret (in an ideal world, every article every day would be a bit like this one, until big government was no more).

The Western media and intelligentsia didn’t learn much from the collapse of European Communism about what produces wealth, efficiency, and high-tech cleanliness, though, and I don’t expect them to learn much from the plight of China now — except perhaps that we all need to “do more” to protect the environment — you know, like those tidy socialist countries do.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Deals with the Devil (Book Distribution and Film Rights)

I was writing an e-mail to Scott Nybakken of DC Comics, suggesting jokingly that Chris Nolan must have done a “deal with the Devil,” since his Dark Knight movie has made $400 million but most of the cast is now dead, fictionally-dead, arrested, or (in Morgan Freeman’s case) hospitalized from a car crash.

I could imagine enjoying an Alfred vs. Commissioner Gordon showdown, though, if they’re the only ones left intact.

But in any case, as I was writing said e-mail, a book from my 70s childhood that I ordered used online arrived at my office: Susan Price’s creepy 1973 horror tale, purportedly for kids, The Devil’s Piper (in which the kid heroes end up visiting Satan, a goatheaded fellow on a throne in Hell, which is depicted with unnerving blandness as a sort of empty 1600s cabin, or so I recall — I’ll refresh my memory in time to make it my July 2009 Book Selection — in the meantime, note the author’s diabolical photo atop this entry).

And stamps in the front of this copy of The Devil’s Piper suggest that its previous owners were the Belmont, MA public library (which discarded it) and a religious elementary school: specifically, the Armenian Sisters Academy of Lexington, MA — and wasn’t I just griping about a seemingly Hitler-respecting Armenian in my blog entry two days ago?

I’m not a believer in the supernatural — or even in fate/synchronicity (despite planning to see the Police in their final concert tomorrow) — but if I were, I’d say there’s only one conclusion I can draw from this odd confluence of events:

It is my unholy destiny to become the Batman of Armenia (not to be confused with the actual Batman Province of Turkey, of course).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Inevitably, the Candidates Begin Sending Me Secret Messages


After long fearing that only Christianity and pork inspire the GOP, I see McCain’s now considering as his running mate Rep. Eric Cantor, a Jewish, anti-tax politician nicknamed “Uberhund” (albeit in English), which was the nickname of the prior Seavey family dog (1989-2005, RIP). Between this development and the previous talk about McCain considering Bobby Jindal (Jindal having gone to Brown when I was there), it’s almost as if McCain is trying to lure me personally back from the Libertarian Party — but since he, like the dreaded Huckabee, has explicitly criticized the libertarian strain within the Republican Party, that’s not likely to happen this year.

And as political scientists always say: as Todd Seavey goes, so goes the electorate — thus the recent swing toward overt anarchist-atheist rhetoric in most political speeches (and the rush to do karaoke tonight at Iggy’s on Second Ave. between 75th and 76th in honor of my birthday, arriving between 8 and 9 if you can, to get seats in the one big performance area).

Seriously, though: the sad truth, of course, is that communal, vaguely spiritual rhetoric, delivered with populist enthusiasm, is what sells — with Obama, who has been almost explicitly anointed primarily for his rhetorical skill, perhaps being the inevitable result of campaigning in a large, democratic society. And the media are, at long last, more than happy to embrace a candidate whose main qualification is talking, which is their favorite thing, after all. It’s the logical end result of the dialectic that’s been at work at least since Woodrow Wilson.

As for me: fittingly, in between the Democratic and Republican conventions over the next few weeks (which I will not be attending), I will be attending a one-day Boston conference organized by the libertarian journal Critical Review, and though the conference is on the topic of public ignorance, their latest issue (Vol. 19, No. 2-3) is on the flip side of public ignorance: the preachy, bully-pulpit “rhetorical presidency.”

As the issue describes in detail, and as I alluded to in a previous entry (and was criticized for putting too simply by Canada-based political scientist Jacob Levy), the Founders did not regard direct addresses by the president to the public as appropriate (and indeed feared that would lead to demagoguery), straying from that rule mainly on simple ceremonial occasions and then keeping the blather to a minimum. When Andrew Johnson tried appealing directly to the public in order to criticize and do an end-run around Congress, it was considered an impeachable offense.

But over time, especially since Wilson, presidents cajoling, stirring up, and haranguing the ignorant masses has become the norm — even something the intelligentsia values. The president no longer simply executes duties dictated by the legislature — he “leads” the populace, like some earthly god, with all the pseudo-parental, quasi-religious mindlessness that implies, and we are worse off for it.

In some sense, Obama is perfect for the role — more so even than Mr. “Straight Talk,” the media’s ex — but then, as Mencken said, democracy is the theory that the masses know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.

ADDENDUM: Coincidentally, J.R. Taylor (without having read this blog entry) just sent me a link to this message he customized for me — and you can create your own (assuming I’m not hallucinating it).

Monday, August 4, 2008

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: Is Israel Oppressing the Palestinians? (plus: Hitler and karaoke!)

Two things: karaoke on Aug. 5 and an important debate on Aug. 13.

FIRST: Join me — and friendly ex Koli (whose birthday, like mine, is this week) — for karaoke at Iggy’s Karaoke, on Second Ave. between 75th and 76th St., tomorrow (Aug. 5), arriving at 8pm to claim tables to more easily sing when the karaoke starts at 9pm. I promise I’ll be there throughout and, DJ willing, will try at least a song or two I haven’t done before.

SECOND: Join me next week on Wednesday, Aug. 13 (8pm) as I host and Michel Evanchik moderates a Debate at Lolita Bar (basement level, 266 Broome St. at Allen St. on the Lower East Side, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. subway stop) on the crucial question:

“Is Israel Oppressing the Palestinians?”

YES: Muhammed Rum, creator of the film Jihad!
NO: Pam Geller, blogger at AtlasShrugs Hannah Meyers, formerly of the John Faso campaign, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and the Hudson Institute.

As Don’t Mess with the Zohan put it: they’ve been fighting for thousands of years in the Middle East, so it can’t be too much longer. Don’t miss the night we settle the issue once and for all.

And getting back to the topic of birthdays: today is Obama’s forty-seventh. I don’t know if he does karaoke, precisely, but, in a similar vein, it’s increasingly obvious he does self-aggrandizing demagoguery and should not be president. I’m sticking to my Bob Barr protest vote, as may some pivotal Ron Paul fans in key Western states, it appears. In any case, our problems are too deep to be settled by one election, and the time has come for radicalism — intellectual, not violent — and for focusing on deep changes over the long haul, I think.

Here’s an interesting strategic thought: Forget about the self-identified, pure-libertarian movement for a moment and ask yourself, “What if all the disaffected Republicans followed Bob Barr’s lead and defected to the Libertarian Party, even if they didn’t share all its beliefs?”

I know the LP purists would go berserk, but in the long run, I think it’d be a momentous positive development for the country. And the purists could look upon it as a massive teaching opportunity. If you can’t make converts out of people who’ve just flocked to your own party, after all, who can you convert? Welcome the disaffected and questioning with open arms, I say.

P.S. Alternatively, we can keep hoping for reform and improved efficiency from government — you know, government, that entity that hired a sociopathic man with a history since his grad school days of “homicidal threats, actions, plans” to be a high-level anthrax biodefense researcher? Yeah, that’s the entity that’ll fix the world and make society better by being smarter and more altruistic than the rest of us, you betcha. Us libertarians, by contrast, is craaaaaazy.

P.P.S. Evanchik discovered Iggy’s, by the way, despite its proximity to my own apartment — and it’s got a perfect stage and space with multiple lyrics monitors, restaurant-type booths, and a big fat song list.

Even my one gripe — that I didn’t find Peter Murphy’s “Cuts You Up” on the list — is probably something I should be grateful for, since if I’d found the song the last time I went there (with Evan Isaac, who also suggested this month’s debate topic, not to be confused with Evanchik), my perfectly innocent plan was to introduce the song as one by “my favorite Turkey-dwelling convert to Islam,” which might well have gotten me lynched by what turned out to be a bar full of rather ornery Armenians (who were still preferable to frat guys singing off key, I should add). One of them was even offended by Evan’s suggestion that Hitler was coldly dismissive of the Armenian genocide, the first time in my life I’ve encountered someone who wanted to be on Hitler’s good side.

Safer tomorrow to dedicate another performance of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” to all the libertarians and Canadians in the hizzouse, perhaps.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Rocky Horror...Horror...

I’m not that hard to please movie-wise, really. And I’m not one to cry sacrilege every time something gets altered in the process of being translated onto the big screen. Sure, there are risky remakes, unnecessary sequels, and adaptations that make me nervous but turn out to be OK (the trailer and posters for next March’s Watchmen make me very optimistic). But on rare occasions there are ideas that I am prepared to say in advance, sight unseen, are just wrong.

One such case was Hollywood giving the Demi Moore Scarlet Letter a happy ending — and the producer twisting the knife by talking about how he felt he was liberating the story that wanted to be told from the constraints of the original, presumably lame Hawthorne novel. Another such case, arguably more absurd, is MTV’s planned remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I am not exaggerating when I say that this may be the worst idea for a film remake I have ever heard. Not because Rocky Horror is the best film ever made — no one really believes that — but because no film (perhaps no work of art in all of human history) is known in such intimate detail by its fans and treasured for each and every quirk. I would be more optimistic if I heard Star Wars were being remade (I might even be relieved to hear George Lucas wasn’t involved so that he couldn’t do any further damage).

And a Rocky Horror remake just gets worse the more you think about it. I mean, either it’s identical to the original — in which case, what’s the point? — or it’s not, in which case, where’s the love? Must we see a Dr. Frank-N-Furter that is not Tim Curry (who deserves a retroactive Oscar for that performance)? A Brad and Janet who are not Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon? God help us, a Columbia who is not Little Nell? Why? To what possible end? Will they correct mistakes and missteps? Keep them? There is no good solution.

At least when the very odd Gus Van Sant remade Psycho shot for shot, he was raising questions about whether remakes are necessary and how they should be done. I find it hard to believe MTV has any nobler or more artistic intention than duping a lot of young people into thinking “Newer must mean better!” Let’s get Judd Apatow to redo Citizen Kane while we’re at it (perhaps in 3D). Or have Darren Aronofsky remake RoboCop — oh, wait, that one’s actually happening.


•On an even more nerdy note, I can’t help thinking that people who want to see Richard “Riff Raff” O’Brien, writer of Rocky Horror, in another film have one more reason to check out Dark City, just re-released on DVD on its tenth anniversary. He plays one of the great, gothy villains, Mr. Hand (“Sleep now…”), and has one of the more poignant and believable final scenes in sci-fi-villain history.

•Recent weeks have also seen the release of the concert film Lou Reed’s Berlin, scheduled to close at Film Forum the same night, Tue., Aug. 5, that I’m gathering people at 8pm at Iggy’s Karaoke on Second and 76th for birthday drinking and, at 9pm, singing that might well range from Rocky Horroresque glam rock to dark Velvet Underground numbers.

•Somewhere in between glam rock and karaoke falls my favorite performance from the show Rock Star INXS: rare Tongan-American (Tonga being a monarchical Pacific island of about 100,000 inhabitants) Jordis Unga doing Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” which friendly ex Koli — who is also gathering people at Iggy’s in honor of her own birthday — is reviewing as possible inspiration. With emotion not heard in the Bowie or Nirvana versions, Unga does the song well — well enough that I was rooting for her early on, but you had to feel for the slimy J.D. (the Richard Hatch of Rock Star INXS) when he suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly found out he’d won in the end (“You are the new lead singer of INXS”) and fell to his knees, overcome with emotion as his life’s ambition was realized.

•But many covers should not happen, and I don’t just mean MTV’s Rocky Horror or the atrocities sometimes committed in karaoke.

For instance, the fittingly-named band Nonpoint has an utterly worthless, emo-ish cover of Phil Collins’ classic song “In the Air Tonight.” Why do people keep doing things that serve no purpose but to fill me with hate?

Since I tend to think a cover should not be done unless it somehow adds to, improves upon, or cleverly reinterprets the original, I am made happier by things like my favorite quartet of great moody/female covers of rougher/male alternative rock songs: “Train in Vain” by Annie Lennox, “Fell in Love with a [Boy]” by Joss Stone, “Sweet Jane” by Cowboy Junkies, and “All Apologies” by Sinead O’Connor — the second Nirvana song of which I’ve had trouble remembering the title recently, by the way. The past is slipping away, but crappy covers don’t help.

ADDENDUM: None of the above should be construed as an argument against the Danzig-ified version of Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie,” of course.