Tuesday, September 30, 2008

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: "Should We Loosen Term Limits?"

It seems like only yesterday (but was actually the day before yesterday) that the “Month of Sex” climaxed with a debate about sex at Lolita Bar — and yet our October debate is fast upon us.

October is the “Month of Horror” here at ToddSeavey.com, and some might look with horror upon career politicians, as Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council may well become, since they now want to extend their terms in office despite the people of New York repeatedly voting in favor of term limits. But wait! There is a case to be made for their position:

Tuesday, October 7 (at 8pm)

•Yes: BRYAN HARRIS (author and journalist) argues that we should loosen term limits (and indeed, might it be undemocratic not to?).

•No: KENNETH MOLTNER (lawyer-activist from People to Stop a Self Serving Council) argues that term limits are good.

Hosted by Todd Seavey and moderated by Michel Evanchik.

Free admission, cash bar. Basement level of Lolita Bar at 266 Broome St. at the corner of Allen St. (on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop).

Amusing, coincidental footnote: Mr. Harris wrote The Sanctity of Marriage Handbook, mocking opponents of gay marriage who have done a pretty good job of making a mockery of marriage in their own private lives — including my own favorite presidential candidate, newly-Libertarian (and now somewhat less religious-rightist) Bob Barr. But I’m more or less on Harris’s side in that fight. (Next Tuesday, of course, I shall be scrupulously neutral.)


Many people reading this may feel like term-limiting the U.S. Congress right about now, given the crazy uncertainty over the potential bailout of Wall Street (and were it not for an anti-term limits 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision, from which Clarence Thomas harshly dissented, there likely would be term limits on most states’ members of Congress by now — and so many familiar characters from the national scene would arguably have gone off to get real jobs by now).

I wonder, if the people who say the bailout is needed to avoid catastrophe are right: What’s the tiniest possible bailout that could be done, not to rescue every failing institution or debt-saddled homeowner, but merely to prevent general credit-panic? Maybe something puny and cosmetic would be the best compromise.

(Not that I begin to know — though my own inclination, shared apparently by most people of an ideological bent whether left or right, is to say no bailouts of rich risk-takers, and let the chips fall where they may so that important long-term lessons are learned. I wouldn’t take it for granted that Wall Streeters clamoring for bailouts are necessarily the most trustworthy experts on it all, any more than I’d trust a chronic debtor to argue for the best revisions to bankruptcy laws.)

On a completely unrelated political note: Is it just me, or do others (even who aren’t Obama supporters) find it odd that people harp on Obama’s willingness to talk to hostile leaders? Wouldn’t most of the people complaining about this be delighted if Bush said, “I call up Ahmadinejad about once a week — and tell him he’s a jerk”? Or to put it even more radically, wouldn’t you take the chance to speak to Hitler (if he couldn’t kill you) or Satan (if he existed)? My writer and journalist friends reading this surely would say yes (and even have a hard time understanding people who’d say no).

I know I’ve got all sorts of things I’d like to say to Hugo Chavez. And the government of China. And Cuba. And Zimbabwe…

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Moment for Nazi Satanism


One topic that was not broached at last night’s sex debate was the book Rune Sex Gymnastics, one of the texts produced by that most marginalized of philosophies, Nazi Satanism (the book title also sounds like it could be a King Crimson album).

I bring up Nazi Satanism on Rosh Hashanah because I think that in the philosophy’s existence there is a roundabout positive message for Jews (and for friends of Israel, of which there will probably be several of the neoconservative variety among the drinkers/mourners at tonight’s farewell bar gathering for the apparently doomed newspaper New York Sun). I also bring this up on Rosh Hashanah by sheer coincidence, actually — and because the erotic power of the dark and forbidden makes a perfect segue between my “Month of Sex” blog entries and my impending “Month of Horror” entries for October (this’ll be my fifth “theme” month out of the nineteen that this blog will have been fully operational).

The positive message to be drawn from Nazi Satanism is this: There’s something to be said for finding that a bad political philosophy like Naziism has been so successfully marginalized and is so reviled that it is now lumped in or fused with something as cartoonishly and laughably evil and as universally derided as Satanism.

Likewise, a friend of mine (herself part Jewish) went to the club Mother years ago, thinking it was New Wave night (and accordingly dressed in hip, severe, black attire) only to discover that she’d gotten the schedule wrong and it was actually “Nazi fetish night.” She was horrified — but she should also be relieved, in a sense, to know that people consider Naziism so beyond-the-pale diabolical as to constitute the stuff of sexual fetish gatherings, much like slavery and torture.

Perhaps some of them even dressed like monocle-wearing Nazi occultist Julius Evola, who certainly seems to post-World War II eyes like something out of a horror movie.

And speaking of mesmerizing the masses: my choice for McCain’s most strategically clever line in the debate last Friday was his comment about how we must be wary of Iran precisely because we must not allow “another Holocaust.” Hello, Florida!

Obama’s campaign, meanwhile, was reportedly dispatching Missouri law enforcement officials to warn people not to engage in false advertising. Naziism is pretty much dead, but in milder ways, as Jonah Goldberg wrote, “We are all fascists now.”

P.S. Speaking of fetish-wear and Satanism: with Posh Spice wearing heel-less boots like these, can Matthew Barney-esque cloven-hoof satyr boots be far behind? I say the goths are wearing them by Halloween.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Judging a Book by Its Cover...

…is often a perfectly rational thing to do, of course. They put some thought into those covers, you know.

Sometimes people arguably put too much thought into them, with results like the feminist arguments over Rachel Kramer Bussel’s new books of erotica — which are ostensibly intended for female readers yet have females on the cover. The second-wave feminist complaint (more or less) is that it’s odd to have a fetishized woman on the cover if the readers are presumably mostly attracted to men. The knee-jerk third-wave feminist retort, interestingly, is essentially (if I can use that word) to say: who are you to say what should be on the cover or what women should find attractive? (This, in keeping with the third-wavers’ refusal to accept generalizations and definitions [ADDENDUM: Of course, the really relevant question, one that famed female porn producer Candida Royale also probably heard a lot, is: What makes you think it's really women who are buying these things anyway?].)

This is a fascinating example, I think, of how even if (to radically oversimplify) you’re a somewhat conservative sort who’s “rooting against” complaining second-wavers in some arguments, it’s hard to tell whether third-wavers are helpful (in an enemy-of-my-enemy way, but also in a more-flexibility-and-freedom-of-thought way) or merely more cynical/relativist (and more bisexual-on-principle, not that there’s anything wrong with that).

If the original, nineteenth-century-or-so wave of feminism in effect had as its slogan “Liberty!” and the second, mid-twentieth-century wave in effect had as its slogan “Equality!” then the third (like much of the broader culture) seems to have “Whatever!” as its battle cry. And that’s sometimes useful and even a great relief but is sometimes, y’know — well, but no, it’s cool…y’know, if that’s your thing…maybe put it on, like, a tattoo or something — whatever (maybe we can work out the philosophical details during tonight’s 8pm Debate at Lolita Bar about sex with Stephanie Sellars confronting Anna Broadway).


As for a practical publishing reason that women might still tend to grace the covers of woman-aimed erotica: as some ad person once explained to me, putting pictures of beautiful women on things is usually a win-win pattern, since women will look at beautiful women to “compare” whereas men (a small handful of gays and metrosexuals excepted, of course) just don’t care enough to check how they compare to George Clooney in his new suit — but obviously do want to see that woman from Transformers in a bikini, say (and lo! apparently she’s being considered for the role of the bikini-clad, constantly-swimming aquatic superheroine from the comic book Fathom, the artist of which, tragically, died in his thirties earlier this year).

On balance, you get more eyeballs total with a woman-picture, and I of course think only major-league genetic engineering would really alter that, making most of the feminist complaints on the matter pointless.

(And as my day job constantly reminds me, you also get more eyeballs with unscientific scare headlines than with calm, measured reassurances, so the real homerun for grabbing people’s attention is probably babes-plus-terror…as Hollywood seems to have noticed [and Troma Studios].)


And if, having read all of my Month of Sex entries, you’ve decided you’re tired of pseudo-intellectual blather on such matters and just want to be deemed attractive like the Transformers chick (purportedly named Megan Fox) — you’re in luck. It’s not often I have a beauty and cosmetics guide to recommend, but it just so happens that one of my libertarian acquaintances, Joy Bergmann, has co-written one with Carmindy Acosta, due out Tuesday, October 7: Get Positively Beautiful: The Ultimate Guide to Looking and Feeling Gorgeous.

I haven’t asked Joy her position on term limits (most libertarians like them), but October 7 is also the day we’re doing a Debate at Lolita Bar about term limits, and I still need to finalize who the anti-limits debater is. I’m not averse to a combined throw-the-bums-out/total-makeover event, but I’ll probably hear back from a more conventional activist on the topic soon (feel free to contact me!).

As for me, I have decided that the easiest route is simply to feel gorgeous without looking gorgeous. That way no one suspects anything — until it’s too late.


On a somewhat more conventional libertarian note, here’s a funny example of online truth-seeking gone awry, veiled as objectivity — a very brief, woefully inadequate attempt by the left to explain the right (but I’m staying out of it).

By contrast, here’s a new project that’s meant to aid online activists of all sorts, if you’re into that, punningly called The Websters’ Dictionary. I suspect that for all our fretting this week over sclerotic systems (like Wall Street and government), the sort of fluidity you see in social networking sites is probably the way of the future nonetheless — as the third-wavers might tend to agree — so that dictionary might prove useful.

How’s that for a brief glossing-over of an immensely complex topic? A gross injustice, but I’m busy (though it won’t stop me dropping in on 4pm readings today at Bowery Poetry Club featuring Boni Joi and others — conveniently located near our 8pm debate, if you want to make a day of it).


Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Moment for Drugs


Let’s take a day off as we near the end of the Month of Sex to consider another popular vice, drugs.

It’s a topic that didn’t come up much in last night’s presidential debate — one of many reasons that our Sunday debate about sex will be more exciting — but drugs must cross these candidates’ minds once in a while. Consider:

Cindy McCain was for a time a sneaky Vicodin addict.

Palin smoked pot when it was legal in Alaska.

•I’m told Palin was vetted — hard as some people may find that to believe — by a supply-sider, which is good, namely National Review’s Larry Kudlow…himself a major cocaine addict (and later convert to sobriety and Catholicism) back in the Gordon Gekko days when Wall Street had personal, behavioral problems instead of economy-wrecking, systemic ones.

•And Obama, of course…well, his drug use you’ve probably heard about. And he seems to still be addicted to cigarettes, the leading preventable cause of death.

•Of course, if my favorite candidate, Bob Barr was an antiwar Democrat in the late 60s at the University of Southern California, needless to say, he’s probably used substances even Cindy McCain hasn’t touched, though I don’t know for sure.

•And his running mate, Wayne Allyn Root, lives in Vegas, so who knows what he gets up to — though the country could really use an ex-CIA man like Barr and a competent gambling odds-maker like Root right now, in my opinion, given our foreign and domestic challenges.

Biden, as far as I know, is only addicted to gaffes — and disturbingly, despite that and the old plagiarism incident, I’m almost starting to think he nonetheless seems like the most convincing candidate in the race, by conventional standards. There’s something terribly wrong about that.

Maybe in retrospect, Ron Paul should have tried more of an “I am the only candidate on this stage not currently on crack” route to convince people he’s the sane one. Then again, as a doctor, he probably has pretty easy access to a lot of stuff, which would explain some things…

Friday, September 26, 2008

Choke -- But Only After Talking About Fight Club

Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk’s fascination with group therapy sessions is on display again in the movie Choke, out today, about a man who (rationally enough) decides to meet loose women by going to sex addiction counseling meetings.

(By the way, on another sex-addiction front, I think I smell publicity stunt, because I find it highly implausible that David Duchovny would just happen to check into a sex-addiction clinic in real life while playing a sex addict character on TV’s Californication — and merely for porn addiction, apparently, not full-fledged cheating, which makes it even less plausible, though as Julian Sanchez has recently noted, people may disagree about whether porn counts as real cheating. Perhaps Tea Leoni takes a hard line on this question — in which case she should consider attending our debate about sex this Sunday, about which, more below.)

If you prefer fighting to sex, though, you’ll be pleased to know that You Do Not Talk About Fight Club: I Am Jack’s Completely Unauthorized Essay Collection is now out, a collection of essays analyzing that book/film, edited by my friend Read Schuchardt, editor of Metaphilm. Read’s a lefty-sounding media theorist who just happens to be a Christian as well.

Indeed, one thing that Marxian media theorists, twenty-first-century Christians, and the only-half-joking Nietzscheanism of Fight Club all have in common is that slightly-annoyed conviction that the everyday, bourgeois, media-saturated world is shallow — certainly when compared to contemplating dialectics/Jesus/the Overman.

This complaint about the shallowness of bourgeois life (at least as old, in its non-religious formulation, as the Romantics, but implicit in things like Don Quixote, too) may well come up at the aforementioned Debate at Lolita Bar (the Sunday, Sept. 28, 8pm bout between former Christian Stephanie Sellars and convert to Christianity Anna Broadway, if you want to see them that way).

And shallow we moderns can indeed be — but it’s important to remember, too, that this does not automatically vindicate the first philosophy (or cult) that comes along promising you meaning and authenticity. That way lies Kool-Aid-drinking and National Socialism. And indeed, as I mentioned in an entry nine months ago, Jonah Goldberg sees a fascist spirit in Fight Club — so if you read that passage of his book and feel you need to learn more about Fight Club, the Schuchardt book above is your big chance.

I know that sometimes books waxing philosophical about TV and movies seem a bit shallow themselves, but lest I get too snooty about such things, I always recall skeptically picking up Scott Nybakken’s copy of the Twin Peaks-analyzing essay collection Full of Secrets. The very first page I glanced at actually changed my perception of the show, by pointing out that completely different metanarrative traditions were “competing” in the show to explain what was going on: one minute the Native Americans having “the” explanation, then the Nepalese/Buddhism-linked characters, then the Air Force official with his UFO story…but you never really have the full puzzle. BOB is wily.

On a related note, reader Richard Ryan asks: What are the good, reflective analyses — the academic or philosophical writings — about Star Wars? Any of my brainy, nerdy readers know?

(Read Schuchardt loves Star Wars and would probably like to know, too — who knows, maybe he’ll edit a book about that.)

P.S. On another scholarly note, I’m told McCain was at New York City’s Morgan Library, a big repository of old documents, researching for his debate tonight.  Wow.  He really doesn’t like to use computers, does he?  Get that man a papyrus scroll about the SEC, stat.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kerouac (Mr. Beatnik) vs. Ron Paul (Mr. Fission)

Is it possible to be radical without being crazy? You do have to wonder sometimes — and if you’re fair, I think you have to wonder that regardless of whether you’re contemplating radicals you disagree with or ones after your own heart.

My original plan for this entry was to just sort of review Jack Kerouac’s beat novel classic The Subterraneans, which I noted about a week and a half ago — and toward that end, I’ll say it’s great and that he may do stream of consciousness better than anyone else, capturing the way the mind slides from topic to topic not just in everyday thought but, since he’s depicting a frequently drunk or stoned artist amidst similar mid-century San Francisco artist folk, in thoughts addled by substances, artistic pretensions, and self-deceiving romantic and sexual impulses (very fitting reading for this Month of Sex). Good stuff, and probably an important model for much that came after it.

(Ironically, though, it may end up causing me to put items on my to-read list from still farther back in history, since the book makes me think that instead of reading Kerouac’s often-annoying literary descendants, I should read his antecedents in this stream of consciousness mode, including more Eliot and some Joyce. I was fanatical about doing all the reading in college — word for word, I swear — but I think there were three assigned books I skipped or severely skimmed and that they were — tellingly in retrospect — by Joyce, Proust, and Henry James, all of whom are brilliant but seem perfectly designed to make weary undergrads say “Enough already!” Me being driven farther back in time would be fitting, since my initial inspiration for reading a book by a beat author — a book which ex-mod Dawn Eden gave me after her recent birthday party, I should note — was hearing how important William S. Burroughs was to the CBGB’s scene, as shown in a documentary about Patti Smith. If I keep going backward this way I’ll be reading about ancient Dionysus festivals by 2010 or so.)


Kerouac’s descendants pop up in some odd places (though all the figures I’m about to name have numerous influences, of course):

•Two of my favorite comic book writers, Bryan Talbot and Grant Morrison, clearly owe some of their more stream-of-consciousness moments to the beats — and lest anyone think that’s a purely fluffy, juvenile example, I note that the new catalogue from radical publisher Disinformation Books features a plug for a book surveying today’s “most radical thinkers” and, yes, they include comic book writer Grant Morrison. (Try reading Superman Beyond in 3D and telling me the man thinks like the average joe.)

•My presidential candidate of choice, Republican-turned-Libertarian Bob Barr, apparently got his start as an antiwar Democrat in college in the late 60s, believe it or not, hanging out with the hippies who inherited the counterculture mantle from the beats. Better still, though I first knew of Barr during his religious-right phase in the 1990s, his initial induction into the right wing two decades earlier apparently occurred under the influence of his Ayn Rand-reading mother, not Jesus per se. So his whole antiwar Libertarian turn of the past several years begins to look like a return to his roots, really, which I find encouraging — it suggests sincerity. (But more on Barr — and his tragic spat with Ron Paul — in a moment.)

•I, Todd Seavey, have tended, at least up to the current strange juncture in history, to be a right-identifying libertarian, mainly for fiscal reasons. This did not prevent me going through a mild black-turtleneck-and-goatee phase in the mid-90s, though, and though I had never thought of it as all that fringey, I once found myself introduced to a friend’s girlfriend, only to have her say, realizing that she’d heard stories about me: “Oh! The right-wing beatnik!” I’m really not that hip, though, as you can probably tell. I knew enough to shave off the goatee before the 90s ended, though, realizing such facial hair might be looked back upon as vestiges of the 90s — in much the same way sideburns were seen in the 80s as laughable vestiges of the 70s, before going on to become vestiges of the 90s as well.

Lest I appear to be shirking my duties as a blogger, rest assured this is all leading up to stuff about the Federal Reserve.


Some people no doubt consider Bob Barr crazy and fringey — the sort of person only a comic-book-reading right-wing beatnik would support — but I have to say, he keeps seeming like a more and more reasonable choice to me as I see the other candidates in action — and, alas, I have to include the prior libertarian standard-bearer, Ron Paul, in that negative assessment. (And I should note that I’m not just pro-Barr because he’s the one presidential candidate to speak at one of our Debates at Lolita Bar — not so unlike the one we’re doing about sex this Sunday — nor because he’s the only current presidential candidate to pen a fundraising letter for my employers at the American Council on Science and Health [I say current presidential candidate, though he wrote it well before the campaign, because ’96/’00 candidate Steve Forbes also wrote one -- and I would probably start crying right now if I thought too much about how much better off we'd probably be in multiple ways if Forbes had been elected in one of those campaigns]. Far from me just wanting to reward Barr with my loyalty, Barr was drawn to the debate and to ACSH because the people there were already thinking along similar lines, at least in some ways.)

I must now condemn Ron Paul, dubbing him Mr. Fission (that is, a needlessly divisive figure) whereas I once called him Mr. Fusion, in the sense of being able to unite fiscal and social conservatives, along with hardcore libertarians and antiwar leftists (that was before I realized his staff had been a little more interested in reaching out to militias than to black people circa 1990 and before his poor showing in the first primary).

I call him divisive now because history handed him a rare opportunity to help libertarians make the biggest-ever splash in an election, simply by throwing his support to Barr (again, Barr is Libertarian and Paul is Republican) at precisely the time when Americans are looking at the whole two-party system — and the inept collusion of our political and financial establishments — with the greatest skepticism they’ve shown since the Great Depression or perhaps even the passionate battles over central banking that were the hottest issue in the States before the slavery question mushroomed (for years, I said it was strange to think of central banking having been a bigger issue then than the right-left divide is in our own day, but after the past couple weeks, that doesn’t seem so strange anymore).

Instead of endorsing Barr, Paul merely endorsed the idea of voting for a minor party — whether Libertarian (Barr), Green (Cynthia McKinney!), independent (Nader?), or Constitution Party (Chuck Baldwin…). That was bad enough, as if he were seeking to scatter the potentially-unified libertarian vote haphazardly — but since his fans could largely be trusted to figure out on their own that Barr was the most libertarian candidate, I wasn’t too troubled by it.

Then, this week, at exactly the time he might have exited on a high — and relevant — note by saying “See, I warned you about the Fed — now go vote for Barr,” he instead endorsed the (misleadingly-named and hyper-religious) Constitution Party’s Baldwin, a Christian conspiracy theorist. I know at least one Paulite who’s still keeping the faith and is OK with the Baldwin pick, but since Paul has shown a fondness for other black-helicopters-theory political figures before this, as well as 9/11-Truther types — and since in a veiled way Paul seemed to say that Barr’s angry reaction to not getting his endorsement contributed to Paul endorsing Baldwin — we are left, I think, with only two possibilities: Paul is either (a) insane or (b) so petty as to put the avenging of personal slights above his much-vaunted crusade for liberty. Maybe a little of both.


So here we are, about a month and a half before a general election, with perhaps the most prominent libertarian in the country endorsing a man who wants to become president in order to combat the New World Order and homosexual conspiracies, with Congress contemplating socializing Wall Street (and one of my most popular libertarian-blogger acquaintances, Megan McArdle, arguing in her perhaps overly confident and quantificational way that it’s either accept the bailout or see our standard of living decline almost overnight by about a third), and, to top it all off, the conservative New York Sun going out of business this coming Monday with one last bar gathering (that’ll be two nights in a row for me, given Sunday’s Debate at Lolita Bar).

If it all leads to the complete triumph of the left, will I at least be able to console myself with the thought that the world may become less religious and thus less superstitious? Probably not, argues my friend Mollie Ziegler Hemingway (libertarian, religious) in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, in which she recounts stats suggesting that as people drift away from mainstream religion, they usually just adopt other, sometimes even weirder superstitions (the article was pointed out to me by history professor Christine Caldwell Ames, whose impending book on the Inquisition will be one of my December Book Selections). Bill Maher, star of the upcoming anti-religion movie Religulous, Hemingway notes, does not believe in vaccines, aspirin, or the germ theory of disease.


I think I will console myself this weekend by writing a long-overdue letter to my grandmother (vibrant in New Hampshire, despite having been born in 1914, along with World War I and the Panama Canal, at a time when McCain’s beautiful mom, Roberta McCain, was only two — that guy’s surrounded by fabulous babes, isn’t he? And his mom had a twin sister named Rowena to boot). Grandma was in her mid-forties by the time Kerouac’s Subterraneans came out, and, given all of his references to sex, she may well have thought the world was already becoming so bawdy that the culture was on a downhill slide (in 1958). Of course, it was, but not so much because of the bawdiness — there’s always been bawdiness in different forms (as some centuries-old drinking songs show with shocking clarity, despite the fact that we may have compartmentalized the bawdiness more effectively back then). We were headed for trouble more because we’d embarked on the road toward the mixed economy, an unstable and dangerous mix.

And since the capitalists and politicians are now holding hands so tightly, I will once more contend that I’m not breaking my self-imposed right-left ceasefire. Our problems are now too big for us to remain distracted by that petty squabble — and the currently proposed solutions too ideologically-muddled to label easily. As I alluded to in a prior entry, perhaps too abstractly, we may need to rediscover the daring necessary to think outside the current system. That avoidance of path-dependent, incremental thinking may require a new combination of practicality and crazy radicalism, like many of the best things humanity has accomplished. More along these lines in the months ahead…

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Far Stranger Sex Debate: Taping Coma Sex

My boss notes an ethically and legally perplexing, multilayered case in the news:

•If a man has sex with his comatose wife in a nursing home, is it rape or might she be presumed to have consented to such things back when she was awake?

•If such presumption cannot be made, is it illegal for the police to videotape the incidents in order to provide evidence that a crime is occurring?

A three-judge panel in Wisconsin in fact ruled the videotaping a civil rights violation. The comatose woman’s sister is on the husband’s side. Discuss!

(And as Slate recently reported, nursing homes worry about the legal implications of so many elderly people of diminished mental capacity having sex even when they’re not in comas — and don’t think there aren’t lawyers out there dreaming of ways to sue over it all.)

Will all this become fodder for our Debate at Lolita Bar (this Sunday at 8pm) about sex between Stephanie Sellars and Anna Broadway? Join us to find out! But I sort of hope not.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Other Sex Debate: Which Body Part?


This Sunday is our Debate at Lolita Bar about sex, but I was surprised recently to find myself entangled in a conversation about another timeless sex debate: the relative importance of breasts vs. buttocks. My position was that the brain is so important, the other question is silly (I just take it for granted that I couldn’t date a moron).

People — especially women — are reluctant to take brain for an answer, though. There’s nothing women hate more than a man defying their expectations and focusing on something non-physical. It’s like ruining all their hard work. My friend Heather Lowe was at least careful enough once to frame the question so that I was forced to pick a non-brain body part, then insisted I pick something below the neck after my attempt to pick face (and I may even have fallen back next on “hairstyle, in cases where it’s a drastic enough aesthetic choice to reveal something about character”).

Driven to the depths, I struggled — over a decade ago — to put into words the important part of the abstract concept of “curviness,” and I swear to you that in that moment I independently invented the phrase “waist-to-hip ratio” (that’s just how rational/analytical I am).

Little did I realize that this precise phrase had been hit upon by evolutionary psychologists to describe what they contend is roughly the single most important physical attribute, as demonstrated in psych surveys, for attracting males to females. Hard as it may be for women to believe, they’ve even acquired evidence from such surveys that the waist-to-hip ratio is more important than overall weight or fat content. Men like curves, and likely for biologically-rooted reasons tied in part to an instinctual preference — even among men who, like me, don’t want children — for those women who appear able to give birth to big-craniumed babies.

So you see, we’re all brain men in some sense — some just more consciously than others. (And of course, some women have it all, thank goodness.)


All this raises questions in some people’s minds about whether the study of evolution — making us more aware of material, biological constraints and explaining some cultural patterns in the process — is a net plus politically for progressives or conservatives, if anyone cares.

Evolution has been stretched to fit the worldview of rival political factions since Darwin’s day. This sort of interpretive warfare is generally bad news for science, which ought to be conducted in a disinterested fashion. However — and here’s a radical thought — this overlooked tug of war may also offer insights for a grand reconciliation of right and left (an idea I researched under the auspices of the Phillips Foundation years ago). If right and left have both found reason to love Darwin at different points in history — and they have — perhaps this divisive figure can become a unifier instead.

The basic facts of biological evolution are not inherently political, of course. As Darwin described the process in Origin of Species in 1859, living things either reproduce or do not reproduce, and the next generation will tend to reflect the attributes of their parents, the successful reproducers. Exactly which characteristics confer survival advantage on individuals (increasing the likelihood of them bearing offspring) will vary with conditions in the environment. Sometimes environmental conditions reward speed and intelligence, but at other times conditions may as easily reward creatures for being quiet and unobtrusive, or simply for smelling as if they’d be unpleasant to eat. Indeed, the same geographic area may reward speed and size in one epoch, then reward stealth or smelliness in the next epoch if, say, new predators migrate into the area who tend to eat anything that runs noisily. Evolution is not progressive, glamorous, or “meaningful.” It’s just a fact of life.

Almost from the moment Darwin’s Origin reached the public, though, people have been trying to squeeze more out of the story of evolution, to make it reveal purpose and teleology in the universe. The results haven’t always fit easily into the contemporary right-left political spectrum. In short, now you know we don’t necessarily need God to explain why the waist-to-hip ratio matters, but you might be even more steamed about the fact that it does.

And if you have an opinion on whether we moderns have added better or worse twists to this whole saga, by all means join us for the debate and Q&A this Sunday at 8pm.

Monday, September 22, 2008

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: "Is Modern Sex Good or Evil?"

sellars.jpg  VS.  broadway.jpg
Sunday, Sept. 28, 8pm, in the giddy climax of the “Month of Sex,” find out if the current state of our affairs is:

GOOD, as argues Stephanie Sellars, sex columnist, blogger, and actress from The Fold

OR EVIL, as testifies Anna Broadway, Christian blogger-memoirist, and author of Sexless in the City, now out in paperback.

Hosted by Todd Seavey and moderated by Michel Evanchik.

Free admission, cash bar.  Basement level of Lolita Bar at 266 Broome St. at the corner of Allen St. (on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pit Bull-Moose Party

I suggested in yesterday’s entry that Ron Paul warned us about the Fed — but I should note that someone arguably even less popular, Bush, was ostensibly intervening in the current mortgage-related crisis at least a year ago, as this August 2007 speech reminds us. Unfortunately, like most people, from the Wall Streeters themselves to left-wing critics of capitalism, Bush tends to assume that short-term stock market stability is more important than long-term political/institutional neutrality and economic growth — which is why we get big bailouts that cause the Dow to breathe a sigh of relief, even while another dangerous precedent is set for future rescues of (a) irresponsible investors, (b) irresponsible home-buyers with bad credit, (c) politicians who continually tinker (via changes in the law) with what sorts of investments or loans financial institutions are allowed/encouraged to make, and (d) a Federal Reserve inclined to react to whatever the current crisis is instead of keeping its policy rock-steady, as it has tended to be during the times of sustained growth.

It’s understandable that in the current climate, you’d get people like right-socialist neocon-elitist David Brooks fretting greatly (and perhaps correctly) over Palin, worried (in a somewhat Oakeshottian fashion) that what we need now is an expert technocrat, not a populist newcomer like Palin — and also that you’d get people like Andrew Sullivan (who is explicitly an Oakeshott fan, I should note, as perhaps befits a Brit) freaking out over Palin’s purportedly populist-predator view of economics (as he alludes to in this blog entry Chris Nugent pointed out to me).

As I told Chris, after things like this week’s ban on shorting stocks (more amazing, really, than the AIG buyout, I think — though I don’t pretend to know much about finance), I’m certainly prepared to believe the worst about people, but the Palin populist-economics rhetoric sounds to me like just sort of a poetic gloss over the longstanding, admittedly weird but thoroughly pre-Palin fact that Alaska was, from the get-go, public land rented to oil companies — with Palin seeing her job mainly as an effort to cut the residents in on that process in a bigger way. It doesn’t neatly translate into free-market models, but it’s very different from, say, marching onto private land and calling for its nationalization.

Economics is a tad upside-down in Alaska (similarly, you could say everyone there is an oil-revenues-receiving capitalist or that the whole state is on welfare, given that residents get royalties from the oil-extraction money). The ideal thing would be to just sell all the land and oil outright, though the high likelihood that the major oil companies would be the buyers might well produce an anti-corporate popular backlash similar to attempts at water privatization in Bolivia. Kind of hard to extrapolate from that to anything dire in her hypothetical presidential positions, I think.

I find it somewhat encouraging, though, that despite all the hoopla over her inexperience — and Sullivan’s hysteria over her every sloppily-phrased sentence — she is the only current major-party candidate I’ve heard give the right answer on the whole financial crisis/bailout situation, which is to say that taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill. Now that is the kind of populism I like to hear, not Obama’s calls for more regulation or McCain’s TR-like search for greedy scapegoats on Wall Street or at the SEC, and if Palin sticks to simple points like that, then I’d rather have the Republican Party end up sounding like a Palinesque “Pit Bull-Moose Party” (so to speak) than a new anti-fatcat Bull Moose Party under TR-loving McCain.

(This does not excuse things like her having a potentially deadly witch-hunter as a spiritual advisor, but then, given how few people seem to take their spiritual advisors literally, I’d say you can no more expect her to renounce her witch-hunter than to completely renounce her apparent Kenyan intellectual heritage.)


Of course, if you believe a recent Michael Kinsley column, Republican presidents are worse for the economy than Dems anyway, but I think it’s a pretty weak data set to look solely at nominal presidential party affiliation while ignoring numerous factors more relevant to judging the deeper conflict between socialistic and pro-market policies — such as whether a nominally Republican president imposed wage and price controls (as Nixon did), who was in control of Congress at what point, what year the Internet became popular, etc. Free-market sentiment is in short supply, but it undeniably has a few more Republican than Democratic friends, for whatever little use that is.

If I sound like I strayed a bit from the right-left ceasefire there, here, as compensation, is an amusing pox-on-both-their-houses column from the paleolibertarian Mises Institute suggesting that more people should do write-in votes even if they don’t get counted, just to underscore our dissatisfaction.


And, more important, if I sound like I’ve strayed away from this blog’s “Month of Sex” theme again, let me add that even if political and financial apocalypse await us, I’m glad Palin is already increasing the popularity of the hot librarian look (though, in a contrary trend, I’ve noticed online ads for smalltime and online universities using decidedly non-academic-looking, conventional babes like the one in the picture above to lure men into getting degrees).

The only thing that worries me about the current hot librarian boom, though, is that if the “hockey moms” all now start wearing the Lisa Loeb/Tina Fey/Sarah Palin/Michelle Boardman glasses, the hipsters may drop them like hot potatoes (more so than they have already, this being 2008 rather than 1993). But that could be the best outcome of all: the remaining glasses-wearing, nerdy-looking women will then finally actually be the sane ones instead of being neurotic leftist-hipster faux-nerds! A dangerous false signaling system will have been rendered less misleading, by my conservative standards.


On a more serious note that you can choose to interpret as either libertarian-populist or downright Marxist if you like: to what extent, I wonder, is the culture’s view of economics skewed by the immense wealth and seeming expertise of the Wall Streeters, who in part become superwealthy merely by “taking their cut” and tweaking the rules of financial conduct in their own favor, in the course of the admittedly immensely valuable (but somewhat distinct from production) activity of shunting money to its most-valued uses (i.e., most-profitable stocks and investments)?

I am not for a moment echoing the Oliver Stone Wall Street leftist line that Wall Street’s all “smoke and mirrors” (though my financial-sector-lawyer liberal ex would argue there’s a lot more arbitrary “defining” of profits into and out of existence by financial-sector contracts lawyers than you might think) and would hate for such an attitude to become a cheap populist excuse for any and all new regulation schemes.

At the same time, though, the cut-takers’ wealth and their “local” expertise does translate into them having a much louder megaphone for (potentially self-serving) economic-policy suggestions in times of crisis than that possessed by, say, Ron Paul — and they tend to see what makes the Dow go up now as good and what makes it go down now as bad, almost by definition, perhaps even when its rise is caused by short-term emergency measures that portend terrible long-term policies (like massive government bailouts protecting established banks and firms from their own stupidity instead of letting them be weeded out, short-term pain notwithstanding).

A Wall Streeter with a salary fifty times the size of mine does not necessarily understand long-term political policies better than I do, I fear, but he probably has more impact on them — in much the same way the independently wealthy are more likely to have spare time to shape the arts and literature and may well infect the populace with more of their idle/neurotic memes than your average working joe ever has time to (or, in an analogous fashion, in the same way that the kindest among us may be the first to be rendered silent or at least civil by the guilt-inducing admonishments of religion, creating the false impression that the unchurched are uncouth).

To put it in the broadest terms: Our stupidity, as a culture, may be increased by all sorts of multiplier/echo effects in places that we may not stop to examine (or may so far have examined only through a faulty leftist lens that misidentifies the nature of the “lies” at fault). And lest it sound like I’ve strayed again from my right-left ceasefire, let me say, in a way that I think cuts across the right-left divide, that I wonder how much our ruination, if it occurs, will have resulted from simple path-dependent thinking and policies — rather than from the “worst” people or arguments currently available/thinkable prevailing, per se. Maybe the most-correct people are still not correct enough and can’t possibly attain the perspective necessary to be so, and maybe this is a bigger problem than them merely being too weak to beat their current intellectual adversaries. Not being omniscient, we can’t be sure.

UPDATE: My Arkansas legislator friend draws my attention to last week’s torrent of New York Times letters denouncing conservative David Frum’s supposed inability to grasp the issue of income inequality, a fairly impressive parade of the sorts of nigh-intractable misconceptions and deep-rooted animosities market-oriented thinkers are up against. Letters like these make one think that argumentation may be pointless after all — and simply waiting for one’s foes to die of old age the only long-term hope.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Old McCain and the Sea (plus Derb vs. Bruce Lee)

Manliness — beautifully captured in the audacious cover to this learned tome.

In our woefully matriarchal (and third-wave feminist/post-structuralist) era, it is rarely regarded as appropriate even to speak of manliness as a meaningful concept, let alone as a virtue (perhaps not even appropriate to speak of virtue — or to say “appropriate”).

Nonetheless, there is, for instance, something pleasingly Hemingway-like in this quote from McCain about his ongoing battle with a wily catfish:

I fish in the creek, and we have a pond that we have fish in, as well.  We have one catfish who I’ve hooked at least ten times, who always is able to get to the piling of our little dock and break the line.  He must have at least ten hooks hanging out of his mouth. We do stock it with catfish.

(And in keeping with my left-right ceasefire until November, let me hasten to add that the same article containing that quote noted Obama’s childhood memories of spearfishing in Hawaii.  I am not saying McCain’s ongoing aquatic war makes him superior — perhaps more like Homer Simpson, in fact, whose battle with an escape-prone catfish in one episode caused Homer to become the stuff of legend, purportedly possessed of arms like tree trunks and “a shock of hair, red like the fires of Hell.”)

I am pleased, though, by the e-mailed suggestion that if McCain becomes president, there is a perfect band to play at his inaugural gala: the Catfish Hunters (of Austin, TX), featuring lead singer L.B. Deyo, the friend who I’ve previously noted reminds me a bit of McCain.


I am pleased, too, by the fact that conservative writer and past Lolita Bar debater John Derbyshire is not only a math geek, a Mysterian (that is, someone who believes certain cosmic questions, such as the nature of consciousness or universal origins, must remain unanswered, a position that caused me to technically mislabel him an atheist during his Lolita appearance), and more or less a paleolibertarian (who, like me, was initially rooting for Ron Paul, the one candidate, in retrospect, who warned us all to fear easy-money policies at the Fed, big bank bailouts, and dollar devaluation, urging everyone to buy gold and reduce the federal deficit — but, hey, he’s a crazy libertarian, right, so who cares?), but was also an extra in that most manly of films, Bruce Lee’s Return of the Dragon (simply because he was a Chinese-speaking white guy in need of work at the time), of which, according to his Wikipedia entry, Derb wrote:

[T]he casting director had obviously just trawled around the low-class guesthouses for unemployed foreigners of a sufficiently thuggish appearance…[and Lee himself gave directions in English, such as] “Hey, Slim, let’s try that again — and this time look mean.  You hate me, remember?  I’m a runty, obnoxious little chink, just stole your woman, trashed your car, and pissed in your beer.  Whaddya gonna do to me?  Huh?  Whaddya gonna do?  Come on…”

On a more politically-substantive (and still arguably non-partisan) note, my Arkansas legislator friend points out this recent Derb column that brilliantly sums up the attitude of any paleolibertarian type feeling trapped between two unacceptable options in the Obama-McCain contest (and thus perhaps considering a vote for Ron Paul’s natural heir, Libertarian candidate Bob Barr).  I’m not saying I agree with everything Derb says (I sympathize with illegal immigrants, for instance), but close enough.

For those swing-state residents who are so torn about the election that they need psychiatric attention, though, help is on the way — or at least, faux-therapist and comedienne Lisa Levy is coming to Scranton, PA to examine your anxieties onstage, much as she has done for many a New York audience.


I would guess that Derb, having come from England, likes the tradition there of “freemen” being granted the symbolic privilege, still occasionally ceremonially exercised, of being able to drive their herds of sheep across London’s Tower Bridge — a vestige of the special trio of rights they held centuries ago: being allowed to carry an unsheathed sword, entering and exiting the city without paying tolls, and the right to be escorted home if drunk.

That’s not precisely the core trio of rights sought by libertarians — namely, freedom from assault, theft, and fraud — but there are certain parallels (ease of defending oneself from sword-wielding assailants, exemption from certain government fees, and rescue from drink-addled misperception of reality and resultant meandering).  A man could do worse.

Friday, September 19, 2008

O Gossip Girl!


There’s something to be said for a TV show opening with a bit of music so brief that it’s more a sting than a song yet still works — with one of my favorite examples being the whittled-down, split-second thing they eventually reduced the Malcolm in the Middle open to, as you may have seen: just the phrase “Life is unfair” from the They Might Be Giants song (while showing an eyeball).

Likewise, while the show Gossip Girl itself probably should not be viewed under any circumstances (I’ve seen only moments accidentally) and may or may not be making the youth more decadent (despite this being the Month of Sex, that’s not really what I want to point out here), there’s something impressively Laurie Anderson-like and effective about the show’s “Who am I? That’s one secret I’ll never tell — xoxo” opening, which does a lot to set a tone in literally ten seconds flat.

(And if it turns out Laurie Anderson was actually involved somehow, it’s really time for someone to give me a Musical Intuition Prize at long last.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Serenity Now! Yes!

As if it weren’t sexy enough that (1) Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer character is idolized by third-wave feminists and (2) his upcoming series Dollhouse features some sort of genetically-engineered amnesiac hot-chick secret agents, it appears that (3) some former cast members of the (absolutely fantastic and tragically short-lived) sci-fi series he did in between those two, Firefly (which became the film Serenity), are appearing in a mysterious project with porn actors.

Sadly, from my selfish perspective, the Firefly cast members in question are all male (as opposed, alas, to the beautiful — and already conveniently pornily-named — Summer Glau, Jewel Staite, Gina Torres, and Morena Baccarin). I suppose fans of Alan Tudyk, like Meredith Kapushion, will be delighted, though — especially in the shocking event that he lives up to his name.

I guess I’ll just have to stick to watching sci-fi. On the other hand, my friends who co-founded CuddleParty.com apparently know Gina Torres. Hmmm…

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rachel Kramer Bussel and a Sex/Stroke Story from My Co-Workers

Tonight, as noted yesterday, brings both the monthly Manhattan Project described in my front page’s right margin and the Mac Donald/Novak debate about God at the Harvard Club — but Saturday (Sept. 20) and next Tuesday (Sept. 23) is a whole different kettle of fish.

That’s when sex-obsessed (yet disarmingly mild-mannered and cupcake-baking) writer-editor Rachel Kramer Bussel teaches the first of her Erotica 101 classes, for those interested. And in one month, on October 16, she’ll read from her books Tasting Him and Tasting Her at the oral sex-themed edition of the ongoing In the Flesh reading series (she’s also hosting an edition taking place tomorrow night at 8pm at Happy Ending).


One type of sex/stroke story Bussel has not written or edited, though — to my knowledge — is this item from the site WebMD that my co-workers at ACSH noticed: “Woman, 35, Suffers Rare Orgasm-Related Stroke”:

Sept. 15, 2008 — Sex triggered a life-threatening stroke in a healthy 35-year-old Illinois woman, her doctors report.

Sex- and orgasm-triggered strokes in relatively young women and men are rare, but not unheard of. They require a combination of factors and events not unusual in themselves, but which are highly unlikely to occur at the same time…

Those factors included a hole in the woman’s heart and a clotting problem. The article does not specify whether contact with the staffs of science/health organizations increases or decreases the odds of sex-related trauma.


One other option tonight brings, by an astonishing coincidence (given my reference in Sunday’s entry to the Kobayashi Maru scenario from Star Trek II), is a burlesque performance called Revealed (at 10pm at Under St. Mark’s, 94 St. Mark’s Place) featuring, yes, a performer named Kobayashi Maru (and as it happens, I heard about the event thanks to the ToxicPop events e-newsletter co-edited by Michele Carlo, who I bumped into on that same outing described in Sunday’s entry — small world).

As for me, I’ll just be safely stationed at Merchants NY all night, but I’ll be impressed if someone out there manages to fit the Mac Donald/Novak debate, the Manhattan Project, and Kobayashi Maru and friends into the same evening. That’s why we have a whole city, not just a mountain cabin.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Conservatism vs. Religion

For anyone who has a hard time remembering the difference between the Manhattan Institute and the Manhattan Project (I didn’t name either and run only the latter), tomorrow will be especially challenging — on Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 6:30:

•not only will I be hosting the usual third-Wednesday-of-the-month libertarian/conservative creative-people Manhattan Project social gathering at Merchants NY bar/restaurant on 62nd and First,

•but the unrelated Manhattan Institute’s always-interesting and combative Heather Mac Donald will be arguing against belief in God — a wonderful change of pace, coming from a conservative! — in a debate with her fellow conservative Michael Novak, author of No One Sees God, a book intended as a retort to the so-called “New Atheists” like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris (at the Harvard Club, which requests jackets and ties, at 35 West 44th; RSVP to bookforum[at]templeton.org or 610-941-4050).

I like Mac Donald and wish I could be there myself — but if you go to the one-hour Mac Donald slaughtering of Novak, you can always come straight to Merchants NY afterward and tell me how it went.

Lest it appear I have strayed from the Month of Sex theme again, let me also note that my own pet theory about why belief in God seems so intuitively plausible to many people and is so strangely bound up with notions of sexual ethics (for many believers and unbelievers alike) is that conscience always, inevitably feels a bit like “someone watching you.”  It is one part of your brain evaluating other parts, after all — and people who have a powerful sense of being watched even in their most private moments (or when engaged in their most depraved thoughts) are liable to think they keep experiencing the belief-reinforcing presence of some unseen intelligence.

I hate to sound like a complete reductionist, but someday when they’ve got our entire neural machinery mapped to the last detail (no Mysterian am I), I suspect that mundane looking-over-my-shoulder feeling will end up being a big part of the explanation for the endurance of the God delusion (I think cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter would like this theory on two levels — he once said “recursion is my god,” and he’s friends with one of those aforementioned New Atheists, Daniel Dennett; my friend Caryn Solly has been thinking along somewhat similar lines since surviving a fall off a cliff in Bali a few months ago, apparently).

Or to put this theory in LOLspeak, of course: Ceiling Cat is watching you masturbate (inspiration, fittingly, for the whole LOLCat Bible).

Three other faith-based notes while I’m on the topic:

1. Tracy Quan, the subject of my entry yesterday, sends word of the interesting organization Faith House, which engages in constant ecumenical activities, spanning philosophies as well as diverse religions, like the next step beyond Unitarianism — and on Oct. 11 they’re even honoring atheism.  Of course, I take no special pleasure in seeing people of multiple faiths come together, intermingling their diverse forms of idiocy when they could simply be united by the absence of any faith and the presence of maybe a scintilla of common sense or skepticism for the first time in their useless, superstition-haunted lives, but, you know, if it helps prevent war and bigotry and all that, that’s great.

2. Don’t forget that Sept. 28 (8pm) brings our semi-religious Debate at Lolita Bar about sex between Stephanie Sellars and Anna Broadway.

3. And I see from DarkHorizons.com that the next project from the Pi-man Darren Aronofsky — after his (unnecessary) RoboCop remake — is apparently likely to be…Noah’s Ark.

I could imagine that being really, really awful — and I say that despite having nothing aesthetically against, say, crucifixion movies or Moses movies.  But the Ark story is ridiculous even by religion standards, and that’s saying something.  Aronofsky being quoted as saying that eco-apocalypse themes make it extra timely doesn’t help — though that suggests 2012 as a good release date, alongside the apocalyptic Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle, perhaps.

Maybe they should try to “rationalize” the whole thing by revealing that the Ark can cram in so many animals because it’s a tesseract, a “wrinkle in time” that allows more space to exist on the inside of it than on the outside.  Then they can cast David Tennant from Doctor Who as Noah and get a really interesting crossover-audience thing going on.  I also think it would be cool if they cast Jack Black, Jack Nicholson, or possibly Al Pacino as Ham.  No — Shatner!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Kuntzman, Assmann, Pamela Anderson, and City Life

gersh.jpg pamela.jpg
Having blogged about Barbie yesterday, it’s only fitting that I mention Pamela Anderson today — no, not the fact that she said Sarah Palin should “suck it,” since I’m avoiding commentary on right-left disputes for the next month and a half — but rather the fact that she stripped in front of Ellen DeGeneres, as seen in this clip.

And Pamela Anderson in turn reminds me of the principle that for beauty purposes, one should alter nature as little as possible — don’t let plastic surgeons or fashion magazines tell you otherwise. There was no need for Anderson to get breast implants, and I suspect that one of the reasons so many men find fashion models “beautiful but not exactly attractive” is that the men sense on some instinctive level that most fashion models have had so much work done — even ribs removed to create narrower waists and cheekbones artificially heightened, they say (Or was it teeth removed to make their cheeks seem hollower? I have no idea) — that they don’t register as fully human anymore. Because they aren’t. Likewise, breast implants read as “prostheses” to my brain, as unwelcome as hook-hands. Better flat-chested than that.

At the same time, I think we can all agree that it’s sad to hear that Swedish-British TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson, having had four kids by four fathers, now feels she must get breast reduction surgery for her G-cups. Hello! indeed. A pity that here, too, nature is being thwarted (though I would not want her to be uncomfortable — indeed, I knew a woman who considered breast reduction surgery, but she instead ditched her husband, many of her friends including me, and her country, moving overseas to live in a b&d-oriented relationship with a sci-fi writer, not that I’m suggesting that was the only alternative to breast reduction).

I suppose, though, that treating bodies as fashion accessories is no stranger than treating fashion as an adjunct to politics, as left-leaning designer Kate Goldwater has been doing with her AuH2O line, organizing an AuH2Obama fashion show — and as a fan of Barry Goldwater, who also used that elemental abbreviation for his last name, imagine my initial confusion on seeing the name of that show. I thought a convention of Obamacons or Obama-libertarians was occurring.


But getting back to fashion: I did indeed purchase New Balance sneakers Friday, as promised in that day’s blog entry, and they were so comfy that I wore them out of the store and discarded my decaying Vans in a garbage can on 42nd St. right outside the store. Since I failed to find plain black dress shoes in the time I’d allotted for the task, though, I found myself marvelously unencumbered, New Balances on my feet and only a copy of Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans in my hand (not to be confused with the Fixx song “Subterranean” nor the conspiracy theory that underground lizard men — including Kris Kristofferson and Boxcar Willie — secretly rule the world).

I wonder if, in the first of several coincidences that evening, The Subterraneans inspired the name of the fiction prize once won by the very woman who’d urged me to buy the New Balances, Katherine Taylor — since the Pushcart Prize is intended for Californian writers, and I couldn’t help noticing that the turning point at the center of Kerouac’s novel, as I read it in a succession of Williamsburg bars, is referred to as the “pushcart incident” and involves romantic intrigue among a cabal of (stoned) San Francisco writers (but more about that novel — and beatniks in general — later in the month!) [CORRECTION: Pushcart's national -- I was thinking of Zyzzyva magazine].


In any case, readily mobile, I headed to a rainy Williamsburg — where you’re still allowed in whether your shoes are hip or not, despite what you may have heard — to eat a decent-sized free pizza at the bar Charleston just for ordering a drink (making the place superior to Ruby’s on Manhattan’s West Side, which only offers free hot dogs, great though that is) and then hear the swell and eclectic (in a Roxy Music way, not a totally-crazy-postmodern way) band the Disclaimers, containing two libertarian friends of mine, Dylan Keeler and the delightfully-named and now blue-haired Naa Koshie Allaway, newly returned from the annual Burning Man festival, where, I’m starting to realize, I must know a decent-sized .1% of the annual population despite never having gone myself, whatever that says about my social circle.

Speaking of my social circle, by sheer coincidence, just before seeing the band and their likable circle of friends — and just after reading for a bit at a bar where a young man kept calling to a dog named Gerd hanging out at the place, reminding me that just a day earlier at work I’d learned of the existence of a heart expert named Dr. Gerd Assmann, which struck me as odd — I found myself standing at a fairly empty bar up to which walked young Andrew Muchmore, himself just wandering into the place to kill time before seeing some art and newly moved to New York City, a friend of Diana Fleischman, one of our panelists from the egg-selling Debate at Lolita Bar. Andrew also happens to be one of the surprisingly global-warming-fearing libertarians who have badgered me into reading the IPCC report on climate change, which will now be part of my November Book Selection blog entry.

The name Gerd Assmann in turn reminds me of a writer-editor whose name, as a mutual friend of ours put it, sounds like a Hassidic porn star, Gersh Kuntzman, so now is a good time to let you know that he’ll be one of the reader/performers elsewhere in Brooklyn this Tuesday (Sept. 16, 8pm, doors at 7:30) at Union Hall (702 Union St. at 5th Ave. in Park Slope, $5 cover), as the multimedia lecture group called Adult Education presents a night of readings/visuals on the theme of scandals (Gersh’s explosive presentation will reveal that “Takeru Kobayashi Cheated!” [ADDENDUM: I would be falling down on the job nerdwise if I failed to point out that some say the only way to beat the Kobayashi scenario is to change the rules, though Capt. Kirk wasn't talking about competitive eating, despite his appearance]).


A bit of performance art rounded out my odd Friday, too, as I saw two hipsters beating up a third hipster on the Bedford Ave. subway platform just before heading home (the opponents were soon separated by a train arrival that made two combatants decide to board the train instead of continuing the fight), a reminder that a lot of those sensitive-artist types are in fact the most psychologically screwed up and dangerous people in the City — but they know how to wear ironic horizontal stripes better than we normals do, and that makes them our cultural superiors. (Those free-associating, city-wandering Kerouac narrators have nothing on my strange little world.)

That may be the first real fistfight I’ve observed in the City, if memory serves, and such things must be relatively rare now with our sterling low crime rate — though in the past I’ve seen a lunatic pepper-sprayed, seen a guy toppled by a bouncer with one slap, and had a co-worker describe witnessing a little-reported subway attack by a machete-wielding lunatic. That last incident, around 1994, became part of the moment that I still tend to regard as my least pro-New-York moment.

I’d been wondering for a couple days why the machete-wielding lunatic (who’d hack at a couple people before having the misfortune to discover that the subway’s next stop let on numerous police academy cadets, putting a quick stop to his rampage) didn’t rate press coverage and, frankly, worrying that the lack of coverage meant this sort of thing went on all the time in New York City, when my friend Dave Whitney came to visit from Boston.

As it happened, my apartment doorbell wasn’t functioning (this was my previous building), and I had to walk down into the scary-looking alley where my door was to let Dave in, discovering as I did so that a crazy hobo with inexplicably bloody kneecaps was leaning against a wall nearby and that the nearest garbage can contained a newspaper with an item about a machete-wielding attacker — but as I peered into the garbage can, attempting to keep one eye on the bleeding-kneecaps guy, and with Dave walking across the intersection at 27th and 3rd to meet me, I realized (a) that this piece was about a completely different machete-wielding attacker and (b) that I didn’t dare remove the newspaper from the garbage can, as it was wrapping dog feces. For a moment, I considered moving to another city, but I’m still here, and ever since Giuliani’s election around that time, things are fine.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Barbie Wins in the End

Having taken on the tough targets this week — conservatives, women, gays, prostitutes, Olympic athletes, and Katherine Taylor’s posture — let’s round things out by taking a tough look at girls who like Barbie.  Or rather, let’s read this Barbie-positive story about a man unexpectedly catching a prize-winning fish with a toy Barbie fishing rod.

The thing I love about that story is that it’s a reminder — the sort I feel I see more and more as I age — that the “expert” way of doing something (such as buying some expensive molybdenum-alloy retracting “smart-metal” professional fly-fisherman computerized megarod thingy) is often little superior to doing it the dumbass way.  An acquaintance of mine once rigged up a fragile-goods transportation system for NASA using rubber bands and Tupperware after numerous genius engineers had spent millions on high-tech gear that repeatedly failed to get the same job done.

I love those old guys who wait until the excitable experts are done blathering and then quietly — and sometimes even correctly — mutter, “Ya could do the same damn thing with a dead squirrel and a rolla duct tape, cost you ten bucks ’steada $10,000.”  A lot of currently wasted time in all areas of human life could be recouped by heeding such lessons — and exposing the people who try to dupe us into doing things the hard way.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Katherine's Posture and Todd's Shoes

My friend Katherine Taylor — libertarian, fiction writer, beauty, fashionplate, and recovering slouchy person — has an article in the September issue of Allure (I always figured I’d be in that venue before her, but life is full of surprises) about her battle with bad posture (she looked fine already but is improving nonetheless).

As it happens, my ex-girlfriend Marilynn Larkin — competitive bodybuilder, personal trainer, and now freelance science writer (not to mention de facto beatnik, since she’s just old enough to have been a black-clad, jazz-listening Paris-dweller a few decades ago but doesn’t look it) is (or was) a posture-improvement expert on top of everything else she does, and I probably should have introduced her and Katherine at some point. Ah, well.


On a vaguely posture-related note, Katherine has been giving me advice on buying new shoes, since my ostensibly hip Vans sneakers (there was a massive, hip-looking display for Vans in the little Harvard Square mall with the Newbury Comics in it when I was there two weekends ago) started disintegrating within about a month of purchase — apparently a common problem with this secretly-crappy brand (Katherine’s main advice: you get what you pay for, and pricier shoes tend to last longer, as I think proved to be true once before when I took her shoe-purchasing advice, though I resisted pressure from her to buy a $300 pair with alarmingly frictionless soles and ludicrous pointy toes back when those were in).

I see from the Wikipedia entry on Vans that the company that makes them co-sponsored the original Warped Tour, which featured various punk bands, some of them Vans fans. The Warped Tour also featured my leftist friend Sander Hicks’ band White Collar Crime, as I recall, so I think communism may be indirectly to blame for my shoddy footwear (actually, since the Green Party rejected Sander’s bid to be their Senate candidate for NY a couple years ago, in part perhaps due to his emphasis on the importance of small businesses, I should probably stop calling him “my communist friend,” fun though that his, and start calling him “my leftist-entrepreneur friend,” though that just doesn’t seem to do him radical justice). Punk may also be part of the problem, I concede.

In any case, due to attrition in my always-small shoe collection (I recently discarded a fairly-new plain black pair that developed an actual hole and a pair that had previously belonged to Katherine’s talented and funny singer/actor brother Russel Taylor — not because they were a bit flashy and maroon but simply because they were ever so slightly too small), the dilapidated Vans are currently the only thing standing between me and wandering the streets of Manhattan barefoot, dodging omnipresent broken crack vials (just kidding! that hasn’t been the case since before Giuliani!).

I promise to go shopping tonight, with or without further guidance.

NOTE: Keep reading ToddSeavey.com to learn more about beatniks later this month!

TRIVIA: Russel was in Sea Biscuit, Zombie Prom (with Ru Paul), and many other projects, including the stage version of Disney’s Aladdin, in which he played the parrot, no small feat (no pun intended).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Patriot Day and Olympian Sex (plus the McCain/Ron Paul/Bob Barr Spat)


My liberal ex is no less patriotic for being left-leaning — and was thus delighted to hear about my parents’ decades-long practice of raising an American flag in the morning and taking it down at sunset (I learned some of the rules of proper flag-handling myself during my stint in the Boy Scouts — including the fact that burning is actually the traditional method of disposal, though to some people that probably sounds even worse than the Obama campaign’s purported dumping of some in garbage cans).

And in the interests of national harmony, I’m largely going to refrain from commenting on liberal-vs.-conservative conflict after today (the seventh anniversary of 9/11/01) until November, believe it or not — though I’ll just note before the ceasefire that the feelings stirred by the flag are a reminder why I think something akin to conservative sentiments (traditionalism, ceremony) must likely be part of any sustainable political order, not merely the high-faluting abstractions of liberalism, so susceptible to manipulation by self-interested intellectual elites.

But what about the Olympics, with all its nationalistic displays and country-based teams, do I like them? Not really — a bit too ostentatiously nationalistic for my tastes (and I don’t like sports, which tends to teach people that life must be a contest between winning and losing collectives instead of mutually-beneficial cooperation among individuals).

And in any case, this article suggests the athletes themselves aren’t just thinking about America — but about sex (and replicating some familiar, non-egalitarian patterns in the process, as predicted by evolutionary psychology: the men will mate with most anyone available, while all the women flock to the male gold medal winners, effectively becoming harems to the…alpha-letes, if you will).


Speaking of transcending the right-left divide, Ron Paul announced yesterday that he will not endorse his party’s candidate John McCain (despite what sound like half-hearted efforts by Phil Gramm, who I like, to convince Paul to do so), nor his main opposition, Obama — but instead urges Americans to vote for one of the minor-party candidates, three of whom (including Nader) can be seen onstage with him in this NPR article about the event. A peeved Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party candidate (and ex-Republican) who attended one of our Debates at Lolita Bar a few months ago, skipped the Paul event (though he was one of the four signers of Paul’s pledge to reduce the federal debt if elected and take other Paulian steps). Barr is quoted at the end of the NPR piece explaining why he feels, understandably, that Paul should simply have endorsed his fellow libertarian, Barr.

And that’s not just selfishness talking, if you ask me — it’s a reminder that “bucking the two-party system,” which is all well and good, is not the same as promoting liberty (I’d prefer either of the two major-party candidates to Nader for that reason, for example).

The National Journal was as snide as possible about Barr’s attempt later in the day to get firmer support from Paul, by asking him to become the Libertarian Party v.p. candidate — but even if you view that as a selfish stunt by Barr, I think there is a certain selfless zeal in the existing v.p. candidate’s willingness to step aside. Call it an irrelevant gesture if you like, but then, you can hardly call minor candidates’ efforts self-aggrandizing power grabs in one breath…and then say in the next breath that they’re giving nothing up by bowing out, right?

Anyway, I’m still voting for Barr regardless of what Ron Paul plans to do with his newfound spare time and regardless of who Barr’s v.p. candidate is. At least it’s not Joe Biden.

It is an apt time for minor-party rebellion, though: a prominent dissident Republican in the news, then a prominent former Republican, and now this array of minor-party folk appearing together despite real ideological differences deeper than the two major parties’ — plus a public more conscious than ever before of the danger of the two-party establishment co-opting their vague longing for change.

And I pick Barr. This does not preclude me preferring McCain to Obama — and even more so, Palin to Biden — but I can have a preference in that fight without having to vote for either side in it. So I won’t.

Whether McCain or Obama wins in November, next year seems like it’ll be a great time for talking more frankly and carefully about the difference between real change and change that’s strictly for show purposes, with both major-party candidates having raised certain expectations in that area. The real-vs.-phony dichotomy might prove a much more powerful and educational framework than the right-vs.-left one.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two Big Teases

I alluded Monday to the fact that one could crudely carve twentieth-century feminism into three phases that were, in rough chronological order, libertarian, leftist, and more or less post-structuralist (that is, refusing to accept any essentialist definitions). One cool move on the part of that third phase, annoying as its amorphousness can be, was the brilliant linguistic ploy of coining the term “sex worker” to cover everything from strippers to prostitutes, thus giving a moral/legal boost to the prostitutes by association, since pretty much everyone loves strippers — not just free-spirited liberals but plenty of Christians and of course our fightin’ men overseas.

Fightin’ men love strippers — strippers are one of the things that make us better than the Taliban (not to mention the Saudis, so uptight and totalitarian that they recently outlawed dog-walking because it might give members of the opposite sex the chance to meet and chat in public — this is the sort of thing that makes one think dog-walking is more universal than religion and stands a better chance of still being with us in a thousand years).

And speaking of the sex worker continuum:

1. In a few days, I’ll post a longer plug for the latest book by prostitute-turned-novelist Tracy Quan — and in the meantime, here’s an article about normal non-prostitute folk engaging in sex-for-goods barter of various kinds.

2. And here’s an alert that tomorrow night, Sept. 11, at 8pm, for $5 you can celebrate America with readings about and from sexually-frank humorist/poet/essayist Dorothy Parker, with one of the readers, Stephanie Sellars — herself now an actress in the online erotic series The Fold — playing Dorothy Parker (that’s at the Billiard Room of the Salmagundi Club, 47 Fifth Ave. between 11th and 12th St., RSVP to 212-255-7740 x4, dinner available at 5:30 before the 8pm reading). She’ll also be one of our combatants on the topic of modern sex at our Sept. 28 Debate at Lolita Bar.

P.S. Did you know Harpo Marx was a member of the Algonquin Roundtable as well? I know he spoke aloud, but it’s hard not to picture him tight-lipped, mugging, and honking a horn at everyone. Why is it only the killer cyborgs who get to master time travel?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Family Guy vs. Superman


Family Guy, which is now about the only thing I watch (and which may or may not still be the subject of a neat paintings exhibit at New York’s Paley Center for Media — can’t tell from their damn website), had a bit with Superman spying on Lois with his X-ray vision, realizing he’d accidentally gotten her pregnant, and thus announcing that he has to return to Krypton for a protracted special mission, so they’d better “see other people.”

What’s really disturbing, though, is that this is almost exactly the plot of Superman Returns.

Now the studio is considering a reboot of Superman that would ignore that film, which may be just as well. Mark Millar, the man behind the dark and stupid movie Wanted, is pitching one version of the Superman story. I think the wisest thing from a marketing perspective might simply be to make the movie feel like a natural sequel to Smallville, which presumably has to end with Clark going to Metropolis at some point.

In keeping with this blog’s Month of Sex theme, though: is it fair to ask whether director/co-writer Bryan Singer being gay may have contributed to the temporary derailing of the franchise? I do not mean for a moment that gay people shouldn’t be telling superhero stories (they certainly do) but rather that a big reason for the misfire of Superman Returns is that the plot, involving things like Lois having an out-of-wedlock child and a duped boyfriend, and Superman spying on her at home, was, as Kevin Smith (himself gay-friendly but frank as well) put it, “supercreepy.”

Might a straight director — simply for aesthetic/instinctual reasons that I’m not labeling morally superior — have been more likely to recognize in the planning stages that Superman was being taken into strange familial territory by this plot? Americans are increasingly tolerant of odd family configurations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we enjoy seeing our heroes in such predicaments.

Add that to over two hours of quiet, near-humorless, punching-free film, and you get a lot of people leaving the theatre feeling like something vaguely unsettling instead of fun just happened, though I thought it was OK.

(As Smith said in the same live appearance in Red Bank, NJ where I saw him call the film “supercreepy,” he almost wishes now that the 1990s Nic Cage/Tim Burton/Kevin Smith Superman Lives film had come to fruition, even with the producers placing absurd restrictions on the plot such as no flying, no costume, and a climactic fight with a giant spider, because if he’d fought a giant spider, “at least he would’ve thrown a punch.”)

This is by no means an argument against gay directors as a general rule (not even after Batman and Robin), just an interesting and unusual case in which that one attribute among countless others may have made a small difference. (If it were a film with Prince and David Bowie portraying space aliens, by contrast, I might want the director to be gay — and rest assured I would see that film.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Terminator, Buffy, and the Elektra Complex


Tonight brings the second season of Terminator, which means dainty little Summer Glau beating people up, and in some sense we have Joss Whedon to thank for that, since her main resume item for being dainty but violent before this was his Serenity movie.

That teen-girl-butt-kicker archetype in turn echoes his character Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and she’s as good as any starting point for talking about tensions within “third wave” feminism (for many people, this entry just got a lot less fun fast). Long philosophical story short: feminism is an amorphous thing that may have some good points (despite my ten-point critique of it in a prior entry that generated so many negative comments), but I’m not sure that pretending that girls can routinely beat up boys is its strongest suit.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying Buffy is rooted in some sort of pent-up she-anger directed at males (nor am I suddenly demanding realism or whining about violence — though I think in the long run, feminism’s greatest and most libertarian contribution may be nudging the world ever-farther away from thinking that physical might makes right, and I suppose readers can let me know if that observation is enough to make me a feminist or, once again, merely a jerk, or both, or neither).

Rather, I’m saying that third wave feminism (90s stuff, basically) — unlike the (fairly-libertarian) first wave of feminists seeking equal legal rights or the (leftist) second wave seeking social egalitarianism by statist means if necessary — seems to get a lot of its appeal from the relativistic pretense that there are simply no generalizations one is allowed to make about differences between the two sexes, such as observing that one tends to be larger and stronger than the other.

(Generalizations, which can be very useful and may well be true even when they aren’t, do not commit me to patently-false universal claims such as all men being stronger than all women, which is the sort of straw man [straw person?] claim angry third-wavers tend to pretend they’re up against when they launch their smug, snippy little Response posts; far from the generalizations being universally true, as a few people would be happy to remind me, I once lost an arm wrestling match to a female — an unusually fit one around six feet tall [not Megan McArdle] — but that is, I hope we all agree, beside the point.)

The problem with pretending that women are just as likely to be macho as men is that what starts out as an implicit promise to “let the chips fall where they may” (the simplest phrasing of the attitude that I think all freedom-loving laissez-faire types ought to feel obliged to take toward these issues) tends inevitably to lead to the observation that the chips are, in fact, falling in certain predictable patterns, and when the feminists are disappointed by this, it’s suddenly time to let the second-wave methods (affirmative action laws, etc.) snap back into action, and we all realize we were living in a fantasy land of spirited no-holds-barred competition.

As with the naive formulations of conservatism described in my entry yesterday, what seemed like a set of universal principles begins to look instead like special pleading for a favored subset of the population with shifting, even hypocritical demands (and you were worried my Palin comments wouldn’t lead us back to Month of Sex entries! I live to segue!).

Or to put it more briefly: there is no better way to get your boyfriend to think of you as a second-class citizen than to insist that women love horror movies as much as men — and that he’s a sexist pig if he thinks otherwise — then demand that he comfort you as you cry in the theatre later (that’s purely a hypothetical-metaphorical example, you understand — not meant to suggest there are no female horror fans, as my predominantly nerdy acquaintances well know).


One reason, I think, that men — like Joss Whedon — are so tempted to buy into third-wave feminism faster than men bought into first- or second-wave feminism is simply that living in a world of women who did genuinely kickbox their way through life and never cry would be totally hot. (One of the least-convincing recurring claims of feminism is that we men want women to be weak, fragile, and weeping — when in fact most of us spend a great deal of effort trying to get at least some women we know to stop being weak, fragile, and weeping, as these qualities are not fun but seem pretty hard-wired into a lot of women anyway, despite all the social pressures — especially from men — to be tougher.)

Take the beautiful 1990 hardcover graphic novel Elektra Lives Again by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, which I stumbled across in my old room at my parents’ house in Norwich last weekend (not far from that recently located Sooty the Bear puppet and his magic wand). Elektra, Daredevil’s killed-and-resurrected foe/girlfriend (played by Jennifer Garner in two — two! — fairly forgettable films), is a beautiful ninja assassin, and her story here is a reminder of why we all loved Frank Miller in the first place back circa the 1980s. Instead of the monotone dark shadows of works like his Sin City, this Elektra story is full of big spreads and bright colors like a strained-glass window (fittingly for the Catholic Daredevil).

Indeed, the colorful and topographical-feeling, sculptured-rooftops cityscapes in Elektra Lives Again feel more like the work of Will Eisner, who created the urban superhero The Spirit, than the upcoming Spirit movie probably will, since the movie, by Miller wearing his director hat, appears (from ads and posters) to adhere all too closely to Miller’s own Sin City style of shadows and silhouettes. If Miller wants to do that stuff, maybe he should just do another Sin City movie — or direct The Dark Knight Returns if Chris Nolan ever has a tragic falling out with Warner Brothers.

In any case, I applaud Elektra, Buffy, and Cameron/River for being able to take down whole armies of males in a fight, but — at the risk of sounding like I’m even more feminist than the feminists — machismo may be an unreasonable standard by which to judge women, one more demand that we all (condescendingly) refrain from commenting on reality so that the womenfolk can pretend whatever they like.

And, no, I am not suggesting that men can fly, in case that’s unclear.