Sunday, November 30, 2008

Capt. Kirk vs. Klaus Nomi

captain-kirk.jpg nomi.jpg

On this, the eve of this blog’s Month of Feminism, let us pause for a moment to honor a manly man, James Tiberius Kirk, and a self-consciously girly man, Klaus Nomi.

There’s a marvelous and unexpected moment in the new trailer for next year’s J.J. Abrams Star Trek relaunch film when we hear a figure identify himself as “James Tiberius Kirk,” and between that and the urgent-looking action montage that follows — complete with the classic Red Alert Noise and shots of dangerously-tilting shipdecks (in space) — I suspect Abrams will be making good on his confession of being more a Star Wars/action film sort of guy than a cerebral Star Trek fan. And you know what? That’s still Star Trek.

I mean, let us not become so guilty of believing Star Trek’s own hype that we actually think the show’s greatest appeal, back when it started in the 60s, was simply math-problem-like cerebration. It was an intense, driving, action-fueled confrontation with the unknown, in which Kirk was frequently on the brink of death and had to angrily order his crewmen — and complete strangers from other worlds — to get a grip on themselves so that they could work together to blow something up or kill something.

We all complained for the next four decades that something about the spirit of the original series had been lost in later iterations. Well, it was largely Manly Kirk that was lost, with Capt. Picard, wonderful as he is, effectively hybridizing Kirk’s emotion and Spock’s cool rationality and putting an end to the tension that made the show come alive — sort of like when Scully finally admitted there’s an alien invasion going on.

Trek needed Kirk’s he-man adventure-seeking impulse, which the show Enterprise tried but failed to recapture by turning the clock way back to the primitive and emotive twenty-second century. (The Manny Koto-guided fourth season was fantastic for attentive nerds, but it was too little too late, even with a Khan- and Data-related explanation for the two different types of Klingons — not to mention seeing a CGI Gorn, Tholians, the moment of First Contact, and the Mirror Mirror universe all in one episode.)


Absent that Kirk/Abrams tough-adventurer impulse, the emasculated future might very well look like Klaus Nomi’s memorable performance from the New Wave documentary Urgh! A Music War (which Helen and I saw at Brooklyn Academy of Music). Not that I’m saying that would be bad either, and Nomi sort of reminds me of the emcee from the Restaurant at the End of the Universe from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with a little more Joel Grey and some Pee-wee Herman thrown in (particularly from the Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, which had special guest stars k.d. lang, Little Richard, Magic Johnson, Cher, Grace Jones, a Marine Corps Choir, and even muscular shirtless construction workers building a new wing of the playhouse out of fruitcakes, I kid you not).

But diversity is good — there is room enough in the future for both Gary Numan’s motorized chair and Capt. Pike’s, so long as no one threatens, like Davros, to coerce others into doing things his way.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankful for P.J. O'Rourke, Less So for the GOP


One reason I’m thankful that P.J. O’Rourke has not succumbed to his recently-revealed (treatable) ass cancer is that his ongoing existence allows him to write great articles like this very funny one summarizing the grim and frustrating situation of Republicans at this juncture in history.

Where do we go from here? I for one spend December blogging about how not to philosophize and January blogging about how to do so with a proper regard for the centrality of property rights. Political parties and movements can agree with me or not, but at this late stage in history, I just gotta be me.

But lest we think self-mockery is possible for Republicans but not for the more elite band of Atlas Shrugged readers, behold this marvelous comedy piece from McSweeney’s, pointed out to me by co-worker Jeff Stier (and reminding me somewhat of the warnings over the past couple years from my ex-girlfriend Koli, who’s moving to DC, about the disconnect between laissez-faire ideals of productivity and some of the obfuscatory legal-semantic shenanigans she saw going on down on Wall Street). Sigh.

Lest we think there is nothing positive still to be said about proud, Randian-style capitalism, though, I will just have to make Atlas Shrugged one of my (seven) Book Selections of the Month for December (the Month of Feminism on my blog), using a first edition first printing copy ironically given to me as a gift by Valerie Jackson, a lefty friend from Brown now organic farming in upstate New York — and no doubt having a fine Thanksgiving dinner while, by principle or mere happenstance, eating locally (the practice at the heart of next week’s Lolita Debate, so join us for that — and bring leftovers if you like).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

All Obama Needs to Do Is Remain Black

Many people have said Obama will inevitably disappoint people because he’s raised expectations for “change” so high. I don’t think that’s true. Despite everyone’s (healthy) pretense that the election had nothing to do with race, as soon as he won, professional broadcasters were openly weeping on-air over the fact that simply by electing a black man, America had achieved change. Obama pretty much said it himself in his victory speech.

So if — even with his campaign agenda rapidly removed from his website and former Clinton administration officials, not to mention actual Clintons, filling his administration — Obama just remains black throughout his administration, I think he can plausibly argue that he fulfilled at least the eleventh-hour expectations for his presidency.

Once the election was decided, it sure sounded from people’s reactions as if the election had been about race after all. Jeez, if we’d known poor old McCain was not merely up against “a different timetable for Iraq withdrawal” but up against “all our hopes and dreams for the fulfillment of the Civil Rights revolution,” we all could have written off McCain months ago – but we kept being told that Obama was “post-racial” and transcending old political divides and so forth and that the election was about other matters.

Was this really a chance for just over half of American voters to pretend they were completing the work of MLK? Maybe next time the Republicans should run someone Jewish and subtly imply you’d be re-defeating the Nazis by electing him.

And lest I sound too flippant about all this, I should from time to time concede that just before I was born, America’s racial situation, now fairly tolerable, was often very scary — witness 1960s characters like Gen. Edwin Walker, with his anti-communist, anti-UN but also anti-integration views (and near-assassination by pro-Cuban communist Lee Harvey Oswald).

This does not make everyone who voted against Obama — such as me, for example — retroactively some sort of Klan-supporter, though. In fact, after it was revealed that Obama collects Spider-Man and Conan comics (which I applaud, of course — but since he’s an accomplished Ivy League type, it’s no surprise), two people who came out as non-Obama-supporters were in fact…comic book creators Roy Thomas and John Romita, Sr., who’ve worked on those very comics (thank you to manga-selling Ali Kokmen for pointing out that video clip to me — and I wonder how comics fans Jonah Goldberg and Robert George feel about this revelation).


One of the most postmodern developments since the election has to be al Qaeda invoking Malcolm X. I mean, who would have imagined three years ago that we’d be asking ourselves “How will Sec. of State Clinton react if al Qaeda continues to say the President is betraying the legacy of Malcolm X?” The world’s much less predictable than pundits pretend it is. You have no idea what we’ll be worrying about in 2011.

I don’t pretend to know what to expect from Obama’s administration and think its behavior will largely be dictated by external events no one’s even thinking about right now. I looked forward to an unambitious Bush presidency until 9/11 happened, and perhaps Obama, partly for the reasons sketched above, will prove significantly less audacious than, say, FDR.

I’m pleased Obama said in one interview that reading Hayek and Milton Friedman in the early 80s contributed to his belief that government must be humble, at least when attempting things like the Iraq war — though it remains to be seen if he’ll show similar humility when imposing Change on the domestic front.

One of the most encouraging things I’ve seen written about Obama was actually written by Gary Hart in his review a couple years ago of The Audacity of Hope, and I’ll be as delighted as anyone if Obama’s presidency reflects the general spirit of these words:

He is particularly evocative on the issue of ideological inconsistency, blaming liberals for demanding civil liberties but not deregulation and conservatives for wanting deregulation of markets but encouraging wiretapping.

P.S. Headlines like this one make me think he’s getting more Clintonian all the time (but then, I’ve long said I thought he’s arguably even more like triangulating-Bill than Hillary is, which is not the worst thing in the world): “Obama promotes fiscal restraint, big spending.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Weird Moments in Advertising (I'm a Mac)

I don’t know if I can get someone whose name I don’t know and who I have little hope of tracking down fired, but it may be worth a try.  I’m talking about you, Person Who Cues Up the Commercials for Channel 11 During the Weeknight 7:30 Family Guy Reruns.

Someone’s clearly been leaning on a fade-in switch before it’s actually time to cut away to the commercial, with the result that a cued-up, frozen frame from the start of an ad appears for a few seconds, well before the Family Guy segment is complete.  On the night of November 11, it was the ghostly face of Regis Philbin appearing, bizarrely enough, just after Stewie complained about Tuesday afternoons at the strip club not bringing out the “A squad” and asked “Is there anyone in here who hasn’t had a c-section?”  And as if in answer: the still image of Regis lying on a psychiatrist’s couch.

It happened again this past Thursday, the 20th, though this time with the less-alarming image of a Pizza Hut box.  Somewhere out there is someone with the power to end this.

More complex is the problem of the “I’m a pc” ads that I gather are supposed to make us realize that (contrary to the impression given by recent Mac ads) each pc user is in fact an interesting, unique individual.  Well, I hate to sound snooty, but am I the only one who thinks that virtually every individual proudly proclaiming “I’m a pc” in those ads sounds like an annoying — and oddly unattractive — loser?  Those ads have done more to make me feel comfortable with my Mac than the original Mac ads ever did.

And I was pleased to hear that the plug was being pulled early on those creepy Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld ads, which I guess were also meant to humanize and hip-up Mr. Gates but, what with Jerry’s nervous questions and fawning and Gates’s near silence throughout, just made Bill Gates seem all the more alien and disturbing, possibly even android.

I’m a Mac, I guess.  Someone fire the anti-Mac ad agency after we’ve finished getting rid of that video editor at Channel 11.

Monday, November 24, 2008

John Stossel's Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics (and Brian Boitano)

Today, I’m not only scheduled to do another PJTV appearance (here’s the previous one) but to have lunch with theatre guy/philosopher Richard Ryan and one of the John Stossel producers I used to work with, Kristi Kendall — with whose help I have made one more small but important mark on pop culture. I was the one who suggested to her that Stossel should say “What would Brian Boitano do?” (a question asked by Stossel’s fellow libertarians Trey Parker and Matt Stone in a memorable musical sequence from the South Park movie) in the opening segment of last month’s Stossel hour — in which Stossel uses skating in a crowded ice rink as an example of an activity best coordinated by individuals rather than a central planner.

The awesome hour, which aired on October 17, was called John Stossel’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics, and I’m pleased it focused (as I always think we should) largely on pragmatic, economic consequences of government’s inevitable bureaucratic idiocy, rather than getting bogged down in largely irresolvable cultural/symbolic disputes (which ought rightly to remain in the private sector, where spontaneous orders from tradition to markets to anarchic individualism can sort them out).

•The skating/spontaneous order sequence is here.

•The second sequence covers the financial bailout.

•The third looks at recovery efforts after Katrina — and how much faster the non-governmental efforts tend to be (something I know market-friendly Louisiana governor and Brown alum Bobby Jindal has noticed). I’m reminded of the absurd case of World Trade Center 7 — no, not the conspiracy theories about it being demolished by the government but the far more relevant fact of its lightning-fast reconstruction relative to the rest of the Trade Center hole-in-the-ground — since that particular building was outside the bureaucratic, partially government-run zone where so little construction has occurred over the past seven years, compounding one of the nation’s greatest disasters (I’ve been to multiple New York Academy of Sciences events atop the snazzy new WTC 7, while most of Ground Zero remains literally a pit).

•The fourth Stossel segment is an infuriating look at the results of campaign finance “reform” (a misguided crusade that made it easier for conservatives and libertarians to withhold support from mastermind John McCain).

•The fifth looks at farm subsidies — if you’re doing absolutely nothing to help produce cheap, plentiful food, you may well qualify.

•And the sixth sums up our misguided notions about the presidency.

People who want this thing called government to continue existing do us no greater kindness than people who love having the Mob around.

P.S. One of many ironic side effects of McCain-spawned campaign laws: the makers of a documentary criticizing one of McCain’s rivals, Hillary Clinton, have had to fight the law to advertise the film.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

UPDATE: Chinese Democracy...

…is available exclusively at Best Buy, it’s worth noting, and I’m listening to it now.

Given that the very first song (the title track) really does seem to be a hymn to the potential for political change in China — and rhymes “masturbation” with “rule a nation” in a verse also derisively mentioning “your iron fist” — I think Axl must have written the album for my G N’ R-loving Chinese-language professor friend Chris, which is only right [UPDATE 11/24/08: And Beijing has noticed, the tyrannical bastards, as noted on Drudge -- I haven't been this proud of American pop culture since Kim Jong-Il condemned Team America].

Three tracks so far, and so far we’re rockin’. “Now ah know you betta [GUITAR]…” Yeah.

Chris also shares the recent enthusiasm for locally-grown foods, as it happens, and I have a volunteer to argue against that idea at our next Lolita Bar Debate (Wed., Dec. 3 at 8pm), so if you, dear reader, want to defend it — and can get to Manhattan on your own — let me know before someone else steps up [UPDATE: Got him!].

GG Allin, ConPunk, Suffering

•One more Helen thought left over after yesterday’s entry, and then I’ll stop going on about her: If, as she’s blogged, she likes conservatism, punk, religion, and (contra utilitarianism) suffering, I really must ask her what she thinks of notorious punk GG Allin (whose Wikipedia entry is one of the most disturbing things I’ve read).

As I was discussing with a couple other friends, the late punk singer raises questions about whether living hard, suffering, engaging in crime and violence, and dying young — but doing so with intensity and a sense of mission — can in fact be more valuable than living a comfy, pleasant existence for eight decades or so. Allin was born in poverty, nicknamed after his attempts to pronounce “Jesus,” smeared himself with feces and committed roughly every other extreme act imaginable on stage while singing, then died on a sofa amidst partying friends who failed to notice he’d died for about a day. Disaster? Shining, legendary success? Both? Not the life of a cautious utility-calculator, in any case.

•Anyone interested, as some of the folks at that paleo conference Helen’s returning from today no doubt are, in stories that combine libertarianism, Catholicism, trouble-making, and ethnic identity in weird ways might enjoy this strange — and admittedly long and sort of petty — tale of a libertarian econ prof run afoul of a Jesuit university. People ought to be prepared for this sort of thing if they expect to learn from Walter Block, author of Defending the Undefendable.

•On a much less disturbing music note, I only recently discovered that the familiar, ominous, rising synthesizer tone from the beginning of THX tapes is nearly identical, as many people have apparently observed, to the opening sound from the song “Countdown to Zero” by Asia from their album Astra. It’s disorienting to hear the beginning of the song now — not that one often does.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Helen Fills My iPod -- and Guns N' Roses Fills My Soda Can

In 1997, I gave up on trying to keep track of what’s cool when even U2, who I had thought were not only cool (back in the 80s and early 90s, at least) but popular, had an ABC concert special and it got nearly the lowest ratings of any broadcast in the network’s history — the producer told me so herself when I bumped into her in the ABC elevator. Meanwhile, boy bands and Britney were conquering the world.

I began wishing a few years after that that I had a young hipster who could tell me whether there’s better stuff out there than the handful of alternative rock things I’ve heard and liked in the 00s — first, the ones that got big enough to attract mainstream attention (like White Stripes, Strokes, Hives, Sounds, Surferosa, Franz Ferdinand, etc.), soon followed by all the twee stuff I learned about in part via Michael Malice (My Favorite, Stars, etc.) — when I wasn’t listening to the hip dive-bar-like sounds of, with its mix of everything from Pixies to Patsy Cline (or my channels — I find Echo and the Bunnymen works really well, as does My Favorite, fittingly).

Then, in the past year, I started thinking that if I ever get around to filling the iPod that my friends Paul and Jenny Taylor gave me for being one of their groomsmen in 2007, I should just skip downloading my old favorites and instead put all the stuff I’d heard but not acquired in the past decade on it, giving me a fresh start in life, musically speaking.

Well, I have cut out the middle man (namely me) in the plan to get a young, hip person to tell me what’s cool so I’ll know what to put on the iPod: The young, hip person has offered to fill it directly. My girlfriend Helen has a vast knowledge of music from country to punk, and luckily (?) her tastes overlap substantially with my own (I mean, despite the country), so she’s going to educate me by putting dozens of things on the previously-empty iPod herself this very weekend (thanks!).


Meanwhile, I may have to buy one last physical CD before the era of doing that officially ends.

It just so happens that this same weekend that Helen’s filling the iPod (interrupted by her paleocon road trip to a Mencken conference in Maryland, with her fellow Paleo Riders being Richard Spencer and John Derbyshire, Taki having bailed), Guns N’ Roses is finally releasing its fourteen-years-in-the-making album Chinese Democracy.

I need to hold it in my hands, not just hear it, to be sure it’s real. As Chuck Klosterman rightly says, this long-imagined album is like a “unicorn” for some of us of a certain age (speaking of which, luckily for young Helen, the prospect of a new G N’ R album also makes me feel like I, too, am in my early twenties, so it’ll be almost like we’re the same age when we see my parents for Thanksgiving).

One of my old G N’ R-loving college pals (many of them comedy writers back then and many also libertarians), Christine Caldwell Ames, who pointed out the Klosterman review to some of us, notes that the G N’ R album’s release means that the makers of Dr. Pepper are officially planning to make good on their promise to provide everyone in America who asks with a free soda, in honor of this long-awaited event.

And since I’ve developed a small caffeine habit over the past couple years for the first time in my life, I face the delightful prospect of listening to G N’ R, while getting my caffeine fix, after learning what’s on my iPod, thanks to my cool conservative-yet-punk girlfriend.


I haven’t heard Helen praise G N’ R, but she does display a greater admiration, born partly of Nietzsche, for violence and emphatic tribal self-assertion than I do — indeed, that’s why she too thinks there are conservative/punk parallels (not quite my own reasons). So she should appreciate why Axl’s convincingly angry lyrics and downright dangerous attitude were a fun occasional escape for my largely well-behaved college circle.

And after all, the first rock video Helen ever recommended to me was “Kiss with a Fist” by Florence and the Machine, which is only conservative if your idea of conservatism involves thinking people should be thick-skinned enough to put up with the occasional beating — and she has, after all, said relatively nice things about those Jezebel controverts who pooh-poohed the emotional effects of rape. But I wouldn’t do her any harm, good utilitarian that I am (and the learning isn’t all one way — I’m the one who convinced her to read her obvious kindred spirit Florence King).

Speaking of philosophical differences, she recently blogged — in two parts — about odd things said at a recent ISI conference about where the future of conservatism lies, and the entry posted in between those two parts by one of her co-bloggers also happens to be an amusing reminder that I shouldn’t put too much hope in the idea of Newt Gingrich being a nice, safe figure around whom to rebuild a fusionist alliance.

No movement is too small to have its factional infights, though, as I’ll continue to demonstrate in the weeks ahead, even while gradually converting every last person in the world to my point of view, though it may take weeks — possibly months.

That Florence and the Machine video above probably won’t make feminists happy, incidentally, especially coercion-wary ones — unless they have good senses of irony. (Like I said, it won’t make them happy.) So to compensate, let’s declare December the “Month of Feminism” on this blog, followed immediately by the “Month of Liberty (i.e., Property)” in January.

P.S. G N’ R listeners might like to know that the talented and witty Regina Spektor’s song “On the Radio” is the only song I’ve ever heard with lines about listening to G N’ R, specifically “Novemeber Rain,” which gets rhymed with “That solo’s really long/ But it’s a nice refrain.” And that solo starts with what I think my friend Dave Whitney once declared the sweetest note in the history of rock. Dave says stuff like that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The End of Time, the Curse of Batman, the Legend of Bionicles


Is it just me, or does the question asked by this trailer for Roland Emmerich’s upcoming doomsday movie, 2012, kind of make you think of the financial crisis?

Emmerich is responsible for such dopey films as the American Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 10,000 BC — but he’s got a brilliant viral marketing idea in that trailer in asking people to Google search “2012.”  He’s basically just using all the already-existing mystical conspiracy theories about that year being the end of the world as his marketing campaign.  Ingenious.  It’s like doing a movie about Napoleon and asking people to Google “Napoleon” — but better because if they Google “2012,” they’ll find all sorts of crazy nonsense that will make them think they have to see the film to survive the Apocalypse.  My friends in advertising should take note.

I’m not the only one who’s thinking about the financial crisis — and the bailout itself, which is like a gigantic hole torn in the ship of state, eliminating the barrier between the public and private sectors — as if it all portends the end of the world as we know it.  I see the president of the Cato Institute, Ed Crane, is giving a luncheon talk in NYC today cheerily entitled “It’s Always Darkest Before the End of Time.”  I love that.  He may give fellow speaker Tucker Carlson a run for his money, humorwise.

And still, I was one of the recipients of an e-mail from a guy who says he’d never pay to hear Cato speeches because Cato is a “fifth columnist” organization doing more harm than good to the movement.  Jeez.  You excommunicate Cato and what’s left of the libertarian movement?  I will try not to sound like that, over the next month or so, as I explain in more detail my reasons for tying the ideas of liberty and property together more tightly than some of my compatriots do.  I really am a big-tent sort of guy at heart who fears that others will be more exclusionary than they intend (you don’t want to tell a world already skeptical of adopting your view of property rights that to do so they must also adopt your attitude toward gender relations, for example, but more on that later).


In more trivial political news, both Jacob Levy and ACSH co-worker Jeff Stier pointed out to me that the city of Batman, Turkey is suing the makers of the Batman movies (now that they’re filthy rich) for using their city’s name without permission (you know, Gotham, as NYC is sometimes called, could use a boost to its finances, too…).  I am reminded of the only slightly less absurd case of Maori tribes suing the Lego toys called Bionicles because the story of the Bionicles warriors was drawn from Maori legends.  I know there are plenty of examples of indigenous people being granted special legal privileges to compensate for past exploitation — and I’m a traditionalist in some ways — but imagine the ludicrous and wide-ranging legal ramifications if no traditions could be used without paying royalties.  The Turks and the Maori are both wrong.

And there may be an opportunity for feminists to be wrong here, too, since part of the city of Batman’s argument, according to the Wikipedia entry about the place, is that the Batman movies are oppressing women:

On November 7th, 2008, Batman Mayor Huseyin Kalkan began looking into legal possibilities toward suing Christopher Nolan, director of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight for naming infringement and “placing the blame for a number of unsolved murders and a high female suicide rate on the psychological impact that the film’s success has had on the city’s inhabitants.”

Murder?  Suicides?  I’m reminded of my favorite-ever New York Post front-page headline (which is saying a lot), after cops boycotted a Batman movie to punish Time-Warner for distributing the song “Cop Killer.”  The headline was “Cops Pin Rap on Batman.”

We’ll hunt him, because he can take it.  Because he’s not a hero.  He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector.  A dark knight…

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Heinlein, Plato, Voting, Servitude, and Obama


While one of the two most famous “response” books to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (all three books depicting a galactic war against a hive-mind insect race, with major sociological consequences), Ender’s Game, may or may not get turned into a movie, it now looks likely that something even better will happen: Ridley Scott, after working for decades to get the rights, appears likely to make Joe Haldeman’s Forever War, the story of near-light travel stretching a war over multiple, drastically varied periods of future Earth history (including one phase where the governments encourage homosexuality to combat overpopulation, even in the military, which should get some critics reacting).

In related news, I recently spoke to an Institute for Humane Studies alum who said he thinks the U.S. should follow his native UK in adopting a policy that — without him being conscious of it — happens to be the exact opposite of one in Starship Troopers: in the UK, about the only people forbidden to vote are those serving in the military, the thinking being that the military should stay apolitical (in Troopers, you can only vote if, a la Plato’s guardians, you’ve proven your selflessness by serving in the military).

I don’t think GOP prospects would be helped much if the UK method were adopted here, for what it’s worth. Say, how about a progressive voter reform plan like this:

•No military votes
•Prisoners and felons can vote (and for Congressional apportionment purposes are counted as residents of the [blue] areas where they committed their crimes, not where they’re imprisoned)
•No proof of identity necessary
•Families of resident aliens can vote by absentee ballot from their home countries
•Two votes for each Bush, Clinton, or Kennedy family member
•DC statehood, because slavery is wrong
•No votes for people tied to private corporations, as they may be biased
•Union members’ votes to be cast collectively, by head of union

On a more serious and depressing note, Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, may not want us all to become Starship Troopers but does want to make three months of servitude to government (receiving civil defense training and the like) mandatory for all eighteen to twenty-five year-olds (as described in his book and repeated in at least one interview online).  I can’t help thinking that fanatical, knife-wielding Emaneul may have inherited such Spartan attitudes from his parents, his father having been in the arguably-terrorist Irgun in Israel and his mother having been a union organizer.  Now we — and the new president — get to experience a little of his esprit de corps, though we can hope he has little impact on actual policy.

But given Obama’s popularity among the young, surely they could get plenty of volunteers for an Obama-corps.  And while they’re serving, perhaps they should be forbidden to vote.

P.S. Speaking of voting, the guy I voted for in the primary (for strategic reasons lost in the mists of history now), Romney, pleased me by writing a New York Times op-ed yesterday entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”  Nice to see someone still taking the hardass position these days — and someone from Michigan.  For property rights advocates, it should get easier and easier in the next few years to demonstrate our consistency by pointing with disapproval to more and more cases of businesses, not just poor people, being on welfare.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Personal Is Not the Political -- In Fact, Almost Nothing Is


The world is full of people with preferences not only about how to live but with tons of advice for others on how to live. Freedom means they can give all the advice they want, and you are free to ignore it — as long they don’t violate your property rights (including your right to your own body). Libertarianism’s chief strength, then, has always been in recognizing the vast gulf between, on one hand, myriad, never-ending social complaints (along with the conflicting social philosophies built around them) and, on the other hand, the minuscule and tightly constrained range of things that rise (or, if you prefer, fall) to the level of political/legal complaints.

The great danger for humankind, whether from the Taliban or the communists, has always been the totalizing impulse to turn all social complaints into justifications for political action — to a totalitarian, there is no preference about how other people should act that does not become a political claim. Feminism, like most “positive liberty” philosophies (as opposed to assault-forbidding “negative liberty” ones — such as libertarianism, with its leave-me-alone legal framework), obliterates the distinction between social and political philosophy and inevitably sows the seeds of politicized dissatisfaction with mere unplanned — and potentially very sexist — market outcomes.

As my Arkansas legislator friend so wisely put it, one of libertarianism’s greatest strengths has always been that it counsels us to say, to the feminist who claims “I am politically oppressed because my boyfriend calls me stupid,” the enlightened and freedom-affirming response: “You’re not oppressed, you’re just stupid.”

The more causes for political complaint people believe themselves to have, the more likely a total state becomes. If selling trans fats — or simply calling a woman fat — is deemed an assault on social justice, a Kafkaesque web of petty laws becomes more likely. If such views become commonplace: libertarianism, R.I.P.


I wrote an article for Liberty in 1993 — which I’m flattered to find Jesse Walker still remembers — that pointed out (in the admittedly different context of the political concerns of fifteen years ago) that despite the richness of local traditions — such as those of the Amish, say (of which I promise I’ve only become more appreciative over the years) — a large, diverse society cannot hope to avoid the decline into a welfare state, with each interest group fighting for its narrow vision of the good life and slice of the communal wealth, unless there is a very strong prevailing loyalty to the shared, universal ground rules of the society, even stronger than the loyalty to many aspects of the local, more tribal culture. If anything, this was in some sense an argument against culturally-rich ethical allegiances and in favor of a strong, rational loyalty to a “thin” set of basic rights, namely (and unequivocally) property rights.

Milton Friedman, to my delight, wrote a response saying that I should not despair because Sweden at that time had managed to roll back some aspects of the welfare/taxation state. Jacob Levy wrote that I should think of America as born not so much of a strong attachment to a limited set of rights as born of a pragmatic truce between factions and sects each with its own very strong conception of the good life, to which it was primarily loyal.


Since 1993, if anything, I’ve become more convinced of the Levy position even than Levy is (live, here in New York City a few years ago, we debated near-opposite positions relative to each other from the ones we took a decade earlier in the pages of Liberty on these issues). That is, I’m more convinced now of the importance of letting local/tribal/traditional cultures be left alone to do their own thing, so long as they don’t violate property rights, the one universal ground rule — which means precisely that fewer of our cultural norms should be “smuggled” into the meta-ethic of libertarianism as a sort of shallow, ersatz mega-culture.

In any case, under libertarianism, Amishness is as permissible as an egalitarian feminist commune. You can argue either is distasteful, but that’s a separate issue.

Maybe it’s high time we formulated a more-explicitly tiered language for talking about such distinctions, though: wrong vs. illegal vs. ought-to-be-illegal — grey area, merely unpleasant, bad idea but not really morally-loaded, etc. — since these things so often get lumped together. Libertarianism, though, like no other philosophy, hinges on recognizing these distinctions rather than treating That Which Is Bad as necessarily deserving of simultaneous avoidance, moral condemnation, outlawing, punishment by God, etc., etc., etc.

There are layers of appropriate response, and most of them are simply none of libertarianism’s business, just as they are none of the state’s business.

NYT Blames Phil Gramm

In case you didn’t see it, here’s something to read while awaiting (forgive me) more comments on how to define libertarianism: the New York Times’ attempt to write a front-page political epitaph for both Phil Gramm and deregulation. (But wait, you may ask, does Todd mean forgive him for the wait or for the comments themselves? I leave that open to diverse interpretations.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Invisible Hand vs. Rod Long


Kerry Howley recommended this essay by Roderick Long and Charles Johnson as a more-thoughtful exploration of libertarianism-feminism parallels than some of us have supposedly offered.

I will just say as a broad reaction and tease of more-complex future discussion:

•Isn’t libertarianism’s great strength (such as it is) precisely that it does not attempt to smuggle some specific vision of how life must be lived into its definition of freedom, as long as everyone respects everyone else’s property rights (including the right not to be bodily harmed)?

•If, indeed, both the hippie and the evangelical are free, isn’t it extremely dangerous for the libertarian — who could aim for a form of “neutrality” (if not about moral questions and advice-giving generally, at least about what actions are “free” ones) — to start taking sides (qua libertarian) and saying which of those two figures is “more free”?

•Shouldn’t I have received a memo if some lifestyles are now “more free” (in libertarian terms) than others, since last I knew I thought everything conforming to property rights qualified (not as a good idea, mind you, but as consistent with libertarianism)?

•Aren’t passages like the following from the Long/Johnson essay precisely the sort of thing I feared feminism would lead to (if it’s to be taken as a model for changing libertarian thinking today, rather than merely as a historical description)?

19th-century libertarians saw themselves as facing an interlocking system of private and public oppression, and thus recognized that political liberation could not be achieved except via a thoroughgoing transformation of society as a whole. While such libertarians would have been gratified by the extent to which overt governmental discrimination against women has been diminished in present-day Western societies, they would not have been willing to treat that sort of discrimination as the sole index of gender-based oppression in society.

Moses Harman, for example, maintained not only that the family was patriarchal because it was regulated by the patriarchal state, but also that the state was patriarchal because it was founded on the patriarchal family: “I recognize that the government of the United States is exclusive, jealous, partialistic, narrowly selfish, despotic, invasive, paternalistic, monopolistic, and cruel — logically and legitimately so because the unit and basis of that government is the family whose chief corner stone is institutional marriage” (In McElroy 199, p. 104). Harman saw the non-governmental sources of patriarchy as analogous to the non-governmental sources of chattel slavery (another social evil against which libertarians were especially active in fighting)…

•If that doesn’t make libertarians a bit nervous, what about this passage from the same essay?

19th century libertarian feminists, and the 21st century libertarian feminists that learn from their example, may find themselves far closer to Second Wave radical feminism than to liberalism. As we have argued, radical feminist history and theory offer a welcome challenge to the authoritarian theory of politics; radical feminists are also far more suspicious of the state as an institution, and as a means to sex equality in particular, than liberal feminists. While liberal feminists have bought into bureaucratic state action through mechanisms such as the EEOC and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, Catharine MacKinnon has criticized the way in which feminist campaigns for sex equality “[have] been caught between giving more power to the state in each attempt to claim it for women and leaving unchecked power in the society to men”…

Catharine MacKinnon? Catharine MacKinnon who favors state censorship of sexist texts, is our model for a productive — and no doubt fun-filled! — dialogue about decreasing the size of the state and fostering free markets? Why don’t we just go for the gold here and argue that totalitarianism is really the best model for a fully-realized libertarianism while we’re at it? And that up is down and day is night?

If this is not the face of a political movement’s self-negation, I do not know what is. I would feign humility at this point by saying “I must be missing something here” — but you know I’m not. They’re just wrong.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Post-Pajamarama Video Note -- and Immigration

One question I hadn’t anticipated in yesterday’s PJTV interview about libertarians was whether libertarians have regional differences. It’s such a universalist (and predictable) philosophy, I said, that the answer is basically no, but I added that southern ones, like Texan Ron Paul (and the paleolibertarians at may be more prone to right-wing worries about policing the border, while we East Coast types are (rightly, I think) more interested in Wall Street and more comfortable with cosmopolitanism [UPDATE: Synthesis achieved!  Ron Paul blogs at the New York Times Freakonomics blog today!].

I will say this for Lew Rockwell’s site, though: That’s where I learned about this amusing, anthemic Obama-as-Soviet-leader video from libertarian TV commentator Glenn Beck.

On the other hand, I think these videos serve as a partial argument against anyone, like Ron Paul, who fears the creation of a “North American Union” that blurs together Canada, the U.S., and Mexico: Canadian rock band the Stars and Mexican rock band Hello Seahorse! would then live in the same country, as aesthetics clearly dictates they should — though I admit the Stars come from a Broken Social Scene (and while I don’t know if they commit crimes, they do “Almost Crimes”).

That Mexican band was recently praised by Goldwater-admiring Michael Malice, himself born in Ukraine and fond of the America-loving Ayn Rand, who emigrated from Russia to go to Hollywood, so you see what I’m getting at, immigration-wise.

But if it’s specifically Latinos that have people here worried, I’d like to point out again that most of those who are worried about them, at least critics of a paleoconservative or paleolibertarian bent, tend to think secession and old historical ties are good things, so isn’t letting southern California go back to being a Latin American country the decent thing to do anyway? Or would we be betraying the legacy of President James K. Polk?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Time for Your Pajamas -- and Your Freedom

All right, rather than bicker with libertarians or non-libertarians, I’ll just spend two weeks trying to define freedom, and then take a big holiday break — actually, an important “working holiday” — starting on Thanksgiving.

But I’ll kick it all off today with something on another website: If all goes according to plan, you’ll see me in the 7-8pm hour (Eastern time) tonight on the online Pajamas Media broadcast at talking about libertarianism vs.(?) liberalism. Feel free…to tell me here what I did right or wrong, on all levels.

UPDATE: I think it’s OK for me to post this link to the resulting segment, and I assume I’ll hear from PJTV if it’s not.  No need to tell me I say “uh” too much.  I’ll keep working on that, like Letterman.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Feuding Political Couples

This gets a little complicated — and let me preface it by saying that as far as I know no one is steamed — but as it happens, without coordinated effort by the four people involved, I find myself one half of a couple fighting a bit online with another couple, Will Wilkinson and Kerry Howley (with special guest star Julian Sanchez). But I should start by establishing the other half of the Todd couple (apologies to Neil Simon there), and I’ll keep the sentimental bits brief, at least today.

•My new girlfriend is Helen Rittelmeyer (see Figure 1: Hot Librarian Type, above), an obscenely young, wise-beyond-her-years, conservative, blogging, Catholic, New Wave-loving, monster-movie-viewing, Southern-extracted, Yale-educated, technically-libertarian person — who nonetheless hates the term “libertarian” because it gets used by so many culturally-left people nowadays who threaten to undermine the traditionalism Helen values.

To my delight (given the slogan of my site and my book proposal in the works), Helen wrote a blog entry about similarities between conservatism and punk even before meeting me (back on her old blog — and back when she was a smoker, I should add). She also, as alluded to in my two prior entries, once had a science museum job doing taxidermy and letting the (cute but vicious) flying squirrel out of his cage at night to glide a bit. (They need exercise, I guess, to prevent their skin folds from getting even flappier.)

Anyway, Helen, unlike me, rejects utilitarianism and basically thinks suffering builds character (she’s been Randian and Nietzschean, at least at some points, though when I told one friend that Helen thinks suffering is a good thing, he simply said, “Well, of course — she’s Catholic”).

•So naturally, when, around Halloween, Will Wilkinson announced (on the site where Helen now regularly blogs, Culture11) that he thinks we should not only attempt to quantify happiness but even quantify ostensibly more abstract qualities of life such as “meaningfulness,” Helen made a counterargument. Will was appalled by it — and got in some good jokes about not wanting to make Helen suffer, since she likes suffering.

Will also rightly asked whether a pro-suffering Helen objects to transhumanism — the philosophy of using technology to alleviate all human suffering and even achieve earthly (and thus not exactly Catholic) immortality. And transhumanists (and their Extropian kin), of whom I am in some sense one (at least in spirit, despite not owning a cell phone or having cable TV), should rejoice because this season sees the launch of the first-ever swanky transhumanist magazine, H Plus

•…as noted by Will’s girlfriend Kerry Howley, who, as it happens, I’d been criticizing on this blog for completely unrelated reasons — namely for not seeing why feminism (in most forms) is fundamentally at odds with the diverse and inevitably inegalitarian (though not necessarily predictable) outcomes tolerated by libertarianism, which normally describes people as free so long as their property rights and bodily integrity are not violated. Kerry objected. I responded. Kerry objected again.

•Then, Will objected to my anti-feminist/anti-Kerry arguments (which is very chivalrous of him!), and, since he is undeniably clear-thinking, he at least had the decency to acknowledge that by insisting that freedom requires more than property rights-adherence, he may not technically be a libertarian. By contrast, I think Kerry is under the impression that we old-school libertarians — who insist on what Isaiah Berlin called the negative liberty/positive liberty distinction (and associated state action/private action distinction) — just made the whole thing up as a trivial, narrow-minded footnote to the movement’s history. In fact, though, none of us knew we would one day be contending with people who claimed to be libertarians but denied that such distinctions are pivotal. The Kerry view is news to me, and I’ve been a libertarian for about twenty years now.

(Hey, disagree with me philosophically if you must, but don’t waltz into this Randian-Rothbardian-Friedmanite philosophical movement I’ve known and loved for twenty years and tell me you know how it really works — not that such tribal concerns are more important than getting ethics and policy right.)

•While all this was going on, of course, I’d also written (without rendering judgment, I think it’s fair to say) about Will’s participation in a Princeton panel about liberal-libertarian collaboration (about which PajamasMedia will interview me tomorrow if all goes as planned). Will may not even realize that I’m dating Helen, by the way, so there’s no underlying soap opera or, uh, tit for tat here, I swear, just a tiny movement prone to certain recurring arguments.

(Actually, Kerry helped me get the gig covering the Princeton panel, and you see the thanks she gets for it.)

•Meanwhile, Helen adds interesting curves to some of these arguments by noting that she — despite being more traditionalist than me, Will, and Kerry put together — thinks queer theory would benefit from cross-pollination with social conservatism, since she likes her traditional female role — and wants her man to be a “lover and a leader” (so I’ll do what I can) — but has enough postmodern awareness of the performative aspect of womanhood to feel more “femme” than “feminine.” She’s also fond of drag queens, essentially making her one more in a series of “fag hags” to find me attractive, but I’m OK with that and have never, never claimed to be macho.

•And then, as it happens, Julian Sanchez (also of Reason), weighs in to call people with my anti-feminism position “by and large, really fucking dumb” (I think that phrase is from Kant). As Glen Whitman notes in Julian’s comments thread — otherwise I wouldn’t even mention it — Julian is also Kerry’s ex-boyfriend, so we take the incest thing up a notch.

But all the infighting’s futile, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose. We are all Obama’s bitches now.

EPILOGUE: And lest you think people associated with Reason spend more time fighting each other than fighting the government, check out Reason’s very sane and civil Katherine Mangu-Ward’s interview with my pal Dan Greenberg, about his opposition, as an Arkansas state rep, to government registration of interior designers.

And now that we’ve established all our characters, in the next few days, I’ll go into why I think the seemingly simple embrace of a feminist notion of freedom in fact unravels the whole libertarian ball of twine — but I will do so without making the political the personal to the degree I have here, I promise.

(And if Perry, who commented on yesterday’s entry, will try to remain calm, perhaps a truce is possible even there — and he can then trust me to sketch broad tactical objections to the left that explain my reluctance to dwell overmuch on some of his favorite issues.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Celebrate Veterans Day with Sam Adams, Guns, and James Bond

Today is Veterans Day, the perfect time to reflect upon the brave men who defend our freedom with guns — like James Bond (appearing in this week’s Quantum of Solace, prior to which a certain taxidermist and I, noted yesterday and discussed in more detail tomorrow, plan to watch more than one version of Casino Royale).

Why not celebrate the occasion by purchasing New York Sun survivor Ira Stoll’s book on Revolution-stoker Samuel Adams and Reason editor Brian Doherty’s book on Gun Control on Trial?

As I told a skeptical Obama supporter at an election-night party last week (after he was done grilling the taxidermist about her vote for McCain and her fondness for her fellow hot librarian type, Palin): no right is more fundamental than the right to self-defense, and the fiend who would take away a citizen’s right to bear arms is no better than the thug who holds someone’s arms behind his back while another thug beats the victim’s face.

NRA4ever, in short — troubling as I find the NRA’s capitulation to some existing gun laws. But no organization is perfect.

(I’m sure to some of you this attitude sounds simplistic, but I assure you I am a high-IQ Ivy League-minted philosophy major — oh! and tomorrow I need to swing by the comics shop and buy the one where Superman from Earth-22 fights Superman from Earth-1 — or is it Earth-0? Or New Earth? Anyway, if I had a gun that shot Kryptonite bullets, you can bet your ass I’d never kneel before Zod.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Book Selection of the Month: Global Warming Round-Up

unstoppable.JPG deniers.JPG Book Selection(s) of the Month (November 2008):

Climate Change: The Physical Science Basis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years by S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery

The Deniers: The World-Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud by Lawrence Solomon

I’m increasingly convinced that what you hear in the news is never false — and is always taken so wildly out of context that you’d almost be better off not having heard about it. Here are just ten of countless examples with regard to global warming:

•In the widespread reports about global warming, you’ve probably heard about glaciers retreating in some areas. You probably haven’t heard about the fact they’re advancing in others — and were a source of terror far greater when they were advancing in great numbers just a couple centuries ago than our melty ones are now.

•You’ve probably heard temperatures have been warmer in recent years than in earlier decades. You probably haven’t heard that the world was warmer in the Middle Ages, with no input from modern industry, obviously.

•You’ve probably heard increasing temperature readings from a small northward-pointing strip of Antarctic land. You probably haven’t heard that that is now believed to be the only portion of Antarctica that is warming.

•You’ve probably heard of some polar bears being threatened by melted ice. You probably haven’t heard that their overall numbers have increased dramatically (making the push to governmentally label them “endangered” out of fear of future climate changes a disturbing instance of policy-as-propaganda).

•Years ago, you probably saw a convincing, even startling “hockey stick”-shaped graph that seemed to show unprecedented recent temperature rise — a graph created by the lead author of the UN climate report before last. You probably didn’t notice that the graph was very quietly withdrawn from the 2007 report (the one linked above) after being exposed as a sort of “beginner’s mistake” statistical artifact — a meaningless graphing phenomenon that can be produced with any randomly chosen data points if a certain method of correction is misapplied to the graph.

•You’ve probably been referred to as a neutral arbiter of climate claims. You probably haven’t been told that it was founded specifically to refute criticisms of the “hockey stick” graph and gradually, grudgingly failed. (An aside: don’t think neutral assemblages of randomly-chosen, non-partisan humans tend to edit Wikipedia articles, either — it hasn’t been the case with entries related to the current financial crisis, and it would be naive to think it was the case with a topic as volatile as climate has become. Young activists often have more time on their hands and more commitment to PR outlets such as online encyclopedias than do aging greybeards who know these topics best but have trouble operating their computers.)

•You’ve probably heard “oceans will rise” — in fact, you heard they’ll rise some twenty feet and swamp New York City if you’re one of the many unfortunates who saw Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth [sic]. You probably haven’t heard that the believed-likely rise — a few inches — will take a century or more, by which time one would expect we will have better climate science, better remediation technology, and in all likelihood completely different energy-generation technology.

•You’ve probably heard that we could helpfully reduce global warming gases by cutting energy output by a third. You probably haven’t been encouraged to ask whether banning a third of civilization’s energy output would be the most devastating, poverty-inducing blow humanity has ever suffered.

•You’ve probably heard about the threat to coastal dwellers if severe storms become more frequent (a problem for which even the latest UN report now says there is no evidence). You probably haven’t heard musings about whether, worst-case scenario, it might be a hell of a lot cheaper to just relocate some beachfront homes (like the ones currently encouraged by government-subsidized flood insurance) rather than transform industrial civilization.

•You’ve probably heard frequent reporting — coyly implied to be related to global warming — about phenomena associated with hot and dry spells, such as wildfires and deaths from heatwaves. You probably haven’t heard that more people die in cold spells or that in a recent ice age, the ice covering what is now Chicago is believed to have been a mile thick, compared to which your 80-degree day on the beach becoming an 82-degree day on the beach is trivial. Yet humanity endures.


With one of the U.S.’s more prominent and well-informed skeptics about manmade global warming, Michael Crichton, passing away from lymphoma a few days ago, this seems an appropriate time to take a look at the climate change controversy (Crichton was also a supporter of the American Council on Science and Health, for which I work, though I hasten to add that ACSH has no position on climate change, which falls a bit outside our medical/public health bailiwick — and the subject is in any case more divisive among scientists than most of the issues we do tackle, generally ones where scientists are agreed but the media and one or two crackpots are racing in the opposite direction). Given how absurdly tall Crichton was (I met him at one ACSH event), like some sort of bioengineered human-tyrannosaurus hybrid, I imagine he had to endure even more pointed inquiries about “the weather up there” after coming out as a climate skeptic.

As a sort of postscript to last week’s blogging and article about apostate libertarians, I must note that, oddly enough, some libertarians, semi-libertarians, and an ex-libertarian are the people who have most pressed me to consider the possibility that manmade global warming is a real problem — and since (perhaps not coincidentally) one or two of these left-identifying libertarians also fall into the category of “some of my more pedantic and insistent acquaintances” — one of them being rather obsessively fearful of food additives as well — I was left with little choice but to read a portion of the 2007 International Panel on Climate Change report that shared the Nobel Prize with Al Gore (coincidentally, I’ve just cut off contact with the libertarian who most strongly insisted I read the IPCC report, over other matters, but this Book Selection entry nonetheless exists partly due to his insistence). I also read two skeptical books about global warming, as I will explain.

As you may recall, I was a pro-science “skeptic” in the broad sense (suspicious of unscientific and pseudo-scientific claims and irrationality in general) long before I even had an interest in politics. If I thought the case for global warming were strong, I would have no problem in saying so, even if it presented new challenges for my political philosophy (laissez-faire capitalism, which I think would survive the challenge, since there are legal frameworks capable of dealing with negative externalities such as temperature-raising gases without necessitating the kind of complete socialistic/green rethink of our entire society and its relationship to nature that some, like Al Gore, would love to see). Normally, my life is made easy by being able to point to what scientists say and oppose it to what the nutcases, the superstitious, the ignorant activists, and other manifestly-wrong parties say. Questioning the apparent “consensus” of climate scientists requires a bit more audacity, of course, but when you see how much spin is involved in maintaining the climate “consensus,” you have to wonder whether a bigger dose of skepticism about the scientific establishment itself is needed — even though that makes my job harder, and more unsettling.


Rather than simply taking sides in the climate debate, I should say I’m thankful to people on “both sides” (crudely defined) who’ve pulled me one way or the other, starting with statistician Chuck Blake, my apolitical math geek friend who began reading the original science papers underlying the UN report and discovered, in short, that climatologists are as guilty of overextrapolating from weak statistics as are the toxicologists and nutrition experts who fill my day with needless scare stories, usually based on random, meaningless 1% fluctuations in graphed relationships (about life expectancy or nutrient content or what have you) that will be completely contradicted by the next, equally meaningless study, as the public has begun to notice (not that this should be seen as reason to dismiss the handful of truly powerful correlations epidemiology has uncovered, such as the average seven-year reduction in lifespan caused by smoking).

(Chuck was one of our debaters at Lolita Bar on the topic of climate change a year and a half ago, and he faced Al Gore-trained Andrew McKeon of the Climate Project, who as it happens notes that tomorrow brings a UN/NYU-Poly Institute/AIG “green technology” conference, for those interested.)

In private conversation, I’ve also now seen Chuck spar with people like my old sophomore roommate Marc Steiner, who has worked as an environmental consultant, and physics-trained businessman Mitch Golden. But the most interesting results tend to occur when Chuck confronts a climatologist or, in one recent case, an eco-biologist specializing in the Antarctic. I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say they tend to start out repeating the eco-doom party line and then gradually admit that it’s largely overheated rhetoric that dissolves upon having its countless unquestioned assumptions challenged. The eco-biologist, reports Chuck, eventually admitted that the climate-science case for radically lowering our standard of living is weak but that for moral reasons people ought to consume less anyway, so why not startle them a bit? Well-meaning, deceitful, economically dangerous, scientifically irresponsible.


More prone to being condemned by the keepers of the climate consensus, though, are books like Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years (by Singer and Avery), which offers just one possible alternative explanation for recent slight temperature increases besides human malfeasance: natural cycles in the Earth’s temperature, possibly correlated to solar activity.

Whether or not you’re ultimately persuaded by that explanation, you’re likely to learn some interesting facts along the way in reading this book, such as:

•The Earth’s temperature varied far more radically over the millennia than its recent or near-future-projected changes, even before there were humans around to be a possible cause.

•Climatology is a relatively young science and its computer models work so badly that they have essentially never yet predicted future outcomes accurately (except with lots of post hoc tinkering to get the predictions to “match” after the fact).

•Climatologists’ models do not even retroactively “produce” the ice ages, the single largest perturbation in global temperature — yet we’re to believe they can accurately foresee something as subtle as a 2-degree Celsius temperature rise over the next hundred years, which is the most common current warming prediction.

•The posited sea level rise is roughly comparable to the one that occurred over the past century, and that didn’t exactly transform human existence or produce noticeable hordes of “climate refugees,” as we are warned the inhabitants of 2108 will suffer, perhaps too blinded by panic to launch their hovercars before high tide arrives with a couple inches more foam than in previous years.


I should thank Gina Duclayan — as the wife of Daniel Radosh, not usually my first source for right-wing crackpottery, I promise you — for recommending the book The Deniers, which catalogues the esteemed, award-encrusted, academically-powerful, much-honored scientists who head the doubters on global warming. For anyone who thinks only fringe figures (comparable to Darwin-deniers or Holocaust-deniers) question the IPCC “consensus,” this book is the antidote — and literally lists the CVs of the doubters, all prominent and respected in their areas of expertise.

Yet the author, environmental activist Lawrence Solomon, notes with some frustration that while each of these scientists says the case for the piece of the manmade global warming argument that falls within his area of expertise is weak, each scientist also tends to assume that in other areas, outside his, the case for manmade global warming is solid. This pattern in itself helps perpetuate the appearance of a strong consensus. (To put it another way: there is a consensus, but on what exactly? It’s less clear and less frighteningly monolithic when you start breaking the myriad claims down into their component parts — what to measure where and when and by what method, with what degree of accuracy, from which part of the glacier at what time of year, etc. etc.)


Perhaps we are in imminent climatological danger. I don’t claim to be an expert — and so I’m not going to spend any time debating it further here (this is already my longest-ever post, I think, and numerous other topics await). I know there are people far better qualified to discuss all this than I, and I expect the science will improve rapidly in the decades ahead (all the more reason not to make drastic policy about it now).

But there are countless reasons to be suspicious of the scare, including the whole practice of issuing a “final word” via the UN, which may sound like a prestigious, important way of doing things but absolutely is not the way science is normally conducted (you don’t hear of a biannual “last word on biology,” say, being issued, with the underlying data sometimes concealed and the scientists involved being forbidden to revise their work after the initial summary for policymakers is released). The whole field has been highly politicized from the start — in part by one of my free-market-friendly heroes, I have to admit, since Margaret Thatcher pretty clearly put a lot of money on the table for scientists willing to buttress the theory back circa 1980, searching for a solidly scientific rationale for weaning the UK off oil to diminish the Middle East’s political heft (as noted in the imperfect but interesting documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle, brought to my attention by Diana Fleischman).

Pushing the topic may be a noble cause — perhaps even leading to some accurate science — but it is unquestionably hyper-politicized, creating a potentially biased start to research on a very, very complex subject (there is not simply one global thermometer somewhere that’s going up, perfectly correlated to industrial output).

And speaking of complexity, it’s worth noting that even the most “alarmed” climatologists, unlike political activists such as Gore or Robert Kennedy Jr., will quietly admit that no individual weather incidents such as Katrina can be traced to global warming, since global warming is just a matter of a (very vague and hard to calculate) global average temperature that may have effects like increased frequency of intense storms, but only in a very subtle, statistical sense that makes it impossible to say, ah, that storm was the extra one this year (a bit like trying to say “Those two cancer cases were the extra ones out of 300,000 caused by increased chemical use this year”). And Gore’s attempt to blame countless subsidiary problems such as tropical diseases on warming is just boderline-religious apocalypticism.

And though one hates to attribute bad motives to people when the arguments ought to suffice for debate purposes, I think it’s fair to step back and recall that the scientists (who are not as unanimous or numerous as you’d think, but ignore that for the moment) and activists and governments and UN officials hyping the scares — not to mention the media — are not magically ignorant of the fact that the scare creates more attention, regulatory power, and funding rationales for them. Such people (rightly) wouldn’t trust Microsoft if Microsoft said “Oh, you all really need pay us $45 trillion to do software security work for you to avert a possible-maybe-could-happen software problem 100 years from now” — but they expect us to believe governments and ratings-seeking reporters and grant-seeking scientists have never even noticed how useful the global warming scare is for them personally. I wouldn’t want to say we should therefore dismiss everything said on this topic, but a high standard of evidence seems fair.


And as my statistician friend says, only in the most crazy-apocalyptic of the predictions do we face any sort of significant risks sooner than 100 years, by which time, if we haven’t acquired better data, developed much cheaper remediation technology, invented something more energy-efficient than oil, or found time to move people away from the coasts of Bangladesh and Florida, we would have to have problems far, far more serious than global warming or have become a much, much slower-moving species (recall how different the world was 100 years ago — at which time if we’d extrapolated from existing trends, governments would have come together to ban horse manure before it buried New York City, as that was probably the biggest threat we then faced, now completely irrelevant).

The real danger here may be to science itself. If the next century looks back upon science as superstition, I think it will be largely because the global warming scare was seen to discredit that entire branch of human knowledge.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that both Obama and McCain embraced the cause of urgent global warming regulatory action, as have the Tories in England (even pushing a plane-travel surtax that the left wouldn’t have dared try). Yet the occasional article hinting at the complexity of the issue comes out, such as the headline “Global Cooling: Alaskan Glaciers Grow For First Time In 250 Years” or, just last month in Science, “Winds, Not Just Global Warming, Eating Away at the Ice Sheets.” Then there are unforeseen yet vastly significant phenomena like naturally-occurring atmospheric methane variation…and behind all such wrinkles, the broader problem (seen in econ, climate science, medical news, sociology, and our own everyday lives): drastic extrapolation from tiny variations (like the recurring mistake of divining the whole “direction of the country” from near-50/50 election results). If current trends hold…yet they almost never do.


A few random nature and energy afterthoughts, while we’re at it:

•I thank Scott Nybakken for pointing out that our friend Gersh Kuntzman was recently depicted next to a bucket-craving walrus on the popular site ICanHasCheezburger.

•My anime-loving friend Woody must be delighted to see, as noted atop Drudge yesterday, that the Shizuma Drive (or rather, cheap, toolshed-sized nuclear reactors) may be at hand. Cheap, small power generators (like the ones imagined in the cartoon Giant Robo) might just solve all our problems, with or without bureauratic attempts by government to directly subsidize “energy independence” and the like. Would-be parasites should apply for their windmill subsidies now, in short, before mini-nukes — or something else out of left field — renders windmills (and everything else we’ve known) irrelevant.

•Finally, while Diana Fleischman, mentioned above, has been romantically linked to a vivisectionist despite her being a militant vegan, I merely find myself dating a former taxidermist, about whom more in the next couple days.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

All Y'All Bitches Is Wrong

That headline may be offensive, but is it unlibertarian? Is it literally coercive? And if so, do you have a right to tax me or sue me in response?

“Yes” answers on at least the first two questions seem to be the implication of a confused pro-feminism — yet ostensibly libertarian — blog entry by libertarian Kerry Howley, who (not so unlike my ex-girlfriend Koli Mitra) thinks it is somehow baffling that so many libertarian males see feminism as unlibertarian.

The whole point of libertarianism, though — unless the prevalence of people using it in some new-fangled way shifts the meaning of the term — is to create a very, very clear distinction between real coercion — which is to say, state action and other threats of real physical violence or property damage — and mere social pressure.

The whole key to human freedom is recognizing that distinction — and respecting people’s right to exert social pressure all they like, with the only morally-permissible response being contrary social pressure. No one has a right to declare the forms of social pressure she dislikes fundamentally “coercive” in some way that the social pressure she likes isn’t.

Would Kerry contend the highly-traditionalistic Amish are by definition not libertarian (which seems odd, given their aversion to taxes, Social Security, and police)? Or, if the raising of children by overly bossy parents complicates your answer on the Amish, then what about voluntary adult converts to Mennonite life, of which New York State has plenty, their lives as patriarchal as all get out?

Are we to think that a hypothetical future world in which there is absolutely no government and no coercion (as traditionally defined by libertarians) but in which most women choose to spend their days jobless, giggling, and stripping (without pay) in front of males to get their attention and approval is in some way unlibertarian? It may be offensive. It may be stupid. It certainly doesn’t sound feminist to me, and maybe it’s even a bad idea — but it’s free.

If you don’t like the way people behave, by all means express your preferences. But if they keep behaving in ways you don’t like, don’t claim they must therefore be “unfree.” That’s Marxist “false consciousness” nonsense. People will behave how they choose, and the odds are nearly 100% that you won’t like it.

I’m an atheist, but as much as I might argue vocally in favor of atheism, you won’t see me smuggling atheism into libertarianism by claiming believers are “unfree.” Neither are sexist males and the adoring, shy, deferential, meek chicks who love them. Again, you can make feminist arguments that’s an unappealing vision, but they are in no way libertarian arguments any more than would be the argument that people should prefer video arcades to cathedrals or Mozart to bluegrass. You’re just expressing your preferences (and hastily dismissing the influence of biology in the process, to augment the dangerous argument that our behavior, as the mere product of arbitrary social construction, is somehow unjust).

Free people do all sorts of things you won’t like, and they are no less free (in any libertarian sense) for it. Claiming free people aren’t really free until you see certain patterned outcomes you like is the root of all tyranny and rhetoric unbecoming a libertarian.

We will be far freer once feminism, like all egalitarian, anti-freedom philosophies, is relegated to the ash heap of history. But if it triumphs, let all true libertarians at least go down fighting against it, like men.

Birthday Party's "Release the Bats"

While you’re awaiting today’s slightly-delayed entry on climate change, here is another item related to nature and animals to hold you over:

“Release the Bats,” by Birthday Party, Nick Cave’s old band (in 1981), here linked in honor of bat-loving DC Comics employee Scott Nybakken’s fortieth birthday, which is today.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Liberals and Libertarians: Really?

•Since I’ve spent the week griping about libertarian apostasy — and will blog about climate change tonight, time permitting — my new article for may provide some balance.  It’s a look at a recent Princeton panel I attended aimed in part at replacing the defeated conservative-libertarian alliance with a liberal-libertarian alliance (and its title makes it something of a sequel to my early-2005 piece, downloadable as a PDF at this page, about whether libertarians fit in Bush’s world, as it then still seemed they might).

•I don’t know if a “liberaltarian” alliance will work, but it does seem more productive, intelligent, and civil than the site RedState’s reaction to Democratic dominance: the creation of Operation: Leper, their plan to spend the next few years reminding the conservative base which specific operatives from the McCain campaign badmouthed Sarah Palin to the media — and even working against any candidates who hire said operatives.  Yeah, that sounds…healthy…much like Salieri’s reaction to Mozart in Amadeus.

•And here’s an article by Jerry Bowyer, the one person who seems to share my opinion about exactly what point in time things went wrong for the right-libertarian coalition, in retrospect.  In short: I miss Steve Forbes lately.

•But I admit the free market, not just politics, can sometimes drive people insane: witness this strange clip of market analyst Charles Gasparino on CNBC.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Apostates and Anticapitalists

Well, it’s official — at last night’s Lolita Bar panel, I confirmed I know at least one person who, heeding Ron Paul’s presidential candidate endorsement, voted for the Constitution Party’s Chuck Baldwin.

But in a reminder that there is no ideological camp so tiny it cannot be riven into two diametrically-opposed halves on at least some issues, I find myself thinking that the qualities of Chuck Baldwin that likely drew Ron Paul to him are the precisely the things about Ron Paul that I dislike (though I like others): the religiosity and paranoia — but even more so the anti-globalism.

For, you see, while I might be as happy to abolish the U.N. and the IMF as the next guy, I think there’s an obvious danger that the global trading order of which they are a part can get lost in the shuffle when people turn in an isolationist, anti-immigration direction. And it’s that worldwide commercial order that I want more than anything else in the universe of political possibilities: Texas trading with Tanzania, workers migrating at will from Denmark to Dubai, environmental standards raised by efficiency instead of edicts, and the fulfillment of the anime slogan “world peace through shared pop culture.”

And I know how eager a huge portion of the world’s misleadingly-labeled “Non-Governmental Organizations” and anti-globalization “anarchists” and protectionists are to shatter all that and trap us in our local, impoverished, regulated little worlds, a cruel thing to do to a world in need of trade — a world where something like a billion people still live on the brink of starvation and about 2 billion lack reliable access to clean water.


So, fascinating as habeas corpus and gay marriage debates may be, I think the most dangerous enemies of humanity are trade-bashing intellectuals like…Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and the anti-Milton Friedman screed Shock Doctrine, who I saw on a panel with neo-socialist econ Nobelist Joseph Stiglitz (formerly head of Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and a great reminder that free-marketeers had plenty of reason to fear in the 90s, even if things didn’t work out too badly) and Latin American libertarian Hernando de Soto.

•Klein was quick to point to the current financial crisis as supposed confirmation of her sweeping, sloppy theories: “Now we know what an unregulated free-market looks like — it looks like the derivatives market.”

•Stiglitz, seeming awfully happy to have his worst fears realized, chuckled that the era of free markets and neo-liberalism is “over” and dismissed the views behind that era as madness.

•De Soto, humbly, stuck to his favorite message: that with or without taxes, regulation, and even redistribution, the crucial thing is that property rights be clearly defined and enshrined in a stable law code, so that at least people know what things are worth and can make plans accordingly — a system of property rights is “essentially an information system,” he said, and the frightening thing about the current state of finance is that “your system of paper has ceased to reflect real value.” Will debtors fail? Be bailed out? Discover some new fortune in a round of clever trading? Be reimbursed? Find no buyers? The uncertainty, more than any immediate risk of real poverty, is what reminds De Soto of the often lawless netherworld of Third World market activity.


These are the big issues, it seems to me, the global issues, and I applaud the people drawing attention to them — from the Cato Institute giving out its annual Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty (named for Naomi Klein’s ultimate villain and this year going to a Venezuelan, Yon Goicoechea, who has bravely criticized the socialist thug Hugo Chavez) to the International Policy Network, which at its own annual Bastiat Prize ceremony had a keynote speaker from Uganda, Andrew Mwenda, who turned down an offer to be an advisor to Bono after the leftist rocker audibly heckled during one of Mwenda’s pro-market speeches.

In a world where starvation, disease, regulatory red tape, and the arbitrary confiscation of property — whether by mere brigands or the organized brigands known as the state — remain the most important problems, the real evils, I think I can be forgiven for a bit of impatience (sometimes) with members of the free-market coalition who would distract us with ambiguous, coalition-splitting, non-econ side issues, such as declaring the civil rights issue of the new century to be gay marriage (relevant to perhaps less than 1% of the population and in any case a legal formality that need not determine with whom one lives).

But then, econ, too, can become an arena for needlessly unlibertarian arguments, even from ostensible free-marketeers. Like many people, I fear (despite my admitted lack of expertise — though some might say I fear because of my lack of expertise) that’s the case with macroeconomics-inspired, counterintuitive defenses of the Wall Street bailout (such as those from the surprisingly yet rather consistently risk-averse Megan McArdle, who also favors sumptuary laws and regulatory action against global warming, which is the heated subject of tomorrow’s Book Selection of the Month entry). It’s not clear the bailout has done much good, given the long-term perverse incentives it will likely create among irresponsible institutions that deserved to vanish, but one good thing undeniably came of it: this funny Reason.TV video by Ted Balaker asking “Where’s My Bailout?” and starring, among others, his wife, Courtney Balaker (herself the writer-director of the funny short film Cute Couple — and years ago a tall and perfect-looking vampire in Sleepless Nights, for those keeping track).