Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ultimate Nerd Day

Nerd culture, which I’ve celebrated all month long on this blog and will cap off today by rewatching the month’s four big nerd film releases, has different tiers, if I may deploy something akin to Marxist class analysis.

•There are “low” nerd-culture manifestations such as the performance of the ongoing, episodic play/variety show Rev. Jen’s Really Cool Neighborhood that I saw Wednesday night. Don’t get me wrong, Lower East Side comedienne/performance artist/author Rev. Jen is always at least Vulcan-fabulous in her fake elf ears — and dressed for a 60s time travel sketch this week looked downright Romulan-fabulous — but I honestly think some of the performers or open-mic participants surrounding her have real mental illnesses or heroin habits, possibly both. I counted myself lucky to be seated safely in the fourth row between a chihuahua and a friend dressed as a homicidal nun (it’s fascinating to me, by the way, how dogs can tell when things are weird, even in a perpetually-weird environment like New York: chihuahua “Rev. Jen Jr.” barked like crazy at a burly dancing man in a unicorn mask and at a crowd meant to be Salem witch-hunters menacing the human Rev. Jen — and I recall that when Ali Kokmen and I carried the suit of armor I bought from Chris Whitten up the East Side years ago, at least one dog looked startled).

•There are “mainstream” nerd-culture manifestations, like the movies mentioned above, next month’s second attempt at a Hulk movie, and the July batch, as plentiful as May’s but darker (making it a month in which the Dark Nerd Returns, you might say): Hancock (which may have even more comedic potential than the ads let on, reportedly being a rather dark and perverse depiction of a superhero who just doesn’t care about looking good), Dark Knight (which should perhaps be accompanied by a comic book depicting the late Heath Ledger battling the late Brandon Lee from The Crow), Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, and against all odds a second X-Files movie, which David Duchovny once told me in a bar would have nothing to do with aliens, just before Reason’s Nick Gillespie got him to autograph a napkin addressed to “piece of shit.”

•There are “high” nerd-culture manifestations, like that exhibit of superhero-based fashion and art at the Met — fittingly, pointed out to me by someone who has a certain friend, a past Lolita Bar debater (who shall remain nameless) who was struck by how “dirty” our Lolita crowd looked — just imagine the debater’s reaction if we had Rev. Jen’s “low-nerd” pals in our crowd every time.

On the mainstream-nerd front, though, some parting thoughts about other upcoming films:

•I had my doubts from the get-go about the new M. Knight Shyamalan thriller The Happening — the hippie title, the laughably vague “people are dying everywhere” premise, and now the clincher — TV ads ominously intoning that “the director of The Sixth Sense and Signs brings you: his first R-rated film.” That sounds more like an ad for another Harold and Kumar movie. Are R-rated films a rarity now? Did Shyamalan write that ad himself — while insane and too powerful to be stopped, like George Lucas (whose older works I’ll briefly skim this morning, just to cover all my nerd bases)?

•Some doubters — I’m not naming any names — have said Watchmen could only be successfully adapted in miniseries form, but reports like this make it sound more and more like it virtually is being adapted as a miniseries, given all the extra material accompanying next year’s film. I am getting downright optimistic.

•In other news, I’m pleased that DarkHorizons also makes it sound as though next year’s Terminator movie, set in 2018 amidst the post-apocalyptic cyborg war, will really focus on that time period (as opposed to the present), with only a dash of time travel, rather than the other way around as previous films in the series have — this is progress! Brutal, metallic progress! Also, the hot lead singer of Garbage will play a recurring character on the Terminator TV show next season.

(But will the heroes in the TV show prevent the events in the movies from happening, that’s the really interesting question, one that pits one half of the franchise against the other, in a way. It’s sort of like if there were a Clone Wars cartoon series in which time-traveling Jedi had a real chance of preventing Darth Vader from being created — but I’m through with watching new Star Wars material, by the way. Enough already.)

And in conclusion, for those wishing to pursue further research on nerdism and nerdistry, I leave you with this intriguing tidbit I haven’t looked into any further:

Claudia Christian, who of course portrayed a bisexual, Russian, telepathic space station commander on Babylon 5, wrote her first published fiction, a story called “Revenge Is a Bitch to Swallow,” in a 2007 issue of the erotic comic book Forbidden Love — which I have not seen and do not own. But someone out there probably does, lurking in the shadows.

All right, I’ll end the Month of the Nerd on a slightly higher note than that: As it happens, my Arkansas legislator friend Dan Greenberg is giving a speech about the future today to some of the best kind of nerds, tech college students he’s inspiring, in part with jokes about the science vs. sorcery elements of this month’s nerd movies. Tradition and the future, together. That’s beautiful.

And the future of this blog brings…shorter entries for June — I’m exhausted.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Retro-Journal: Nerd Romance and a Nerd on Trial in Late 2003

Today was the purported unveiling of videotaped alien life (ha!) by some guy who’s been trying to inspire the creation of an office of extraterrestrial affairs in Denver, as you may have read in the “news” — and tomorrow’s the last day of this blog’s Month of the Nerd (assuming the aliens don’t take over — but we nerds would be ready for them, of course).

Five years ago, though, 2003 was the Year of the Nerd, or so I declared at the time, due to the many nerd-pleasing movies that came out then. More about the Year of the Nerd in a moment.

First, I have to note that since the Denver guy has shown a laughable reluctance to let the press record his purported alien — and since he says the footage is a brief grainy infrared night shot — I think it’s safe to say the Denver alien is as phony as the Pacific Northwest tree octopus, a hoax/joke Dave Whitney just brought to my attention — and to which I can only say “Cthulhu ftagn!” (sp?). Actually, as aesthetic nightmares go, I’ve always thought we’re fortunate octopuses and squids don’t fly, so I should shudder at the tree octopus.

While the Northwest’s octopuses may not be in the water where they belong, there’s clearly something in the water in Denver, since this year that city’s not only hosting the major gatherings for the Democrats, WorldCon sci-fi nerds, any press interested in the “alien footage,” and — just this past weekend — the Libertarian Party, it also got (as an embarrassing package deal with the Libertarian convention) talks by 9/11 Truthers and Richard Hoagland, who thinks NASA is concealing evidence of alien civilizations on multiple planets and moons, including Mars, where he famously thinks one unremarkable rock among millions looks a little like a face (you’ve probably seen it — the “face” was even the basis of an X-Files episode, the first one I ever saw, which I hated, leading me to avoid the show for a year, but which, as it happens, X-Files creator Chris Carter himself said was probably the worst episode). The late Carl Sagan once responded to Hoagland by pointing out that with millions of photographed Mars rocks to choose from, one can easily find ones that look like Kermit the Frog or just about any other damn thing you want. People love to spot patterns, even when they aren’t there (e.g., synchronicity, astrology, etc., etc.).

Anyway, Hoagland is also apparently a libertarian or at least wants to abolish NASA’s near-monopoly on space money (and on the truth!!) — and if authoritarianism in space scares him, as it should, he’d be aghast to know that the comedic moon-Nazis are coming soon — to a theatre near you, in the form of the film Iron Sky, as I just learned this week.



1. There’s often a strong skeptical streak among libertarians (e.g., me), but there’s also a strain of what might almost be called staunch anti-skeptics in the libertarian camp, people (often from California, in my experience, arising from the same soil as the Pynchonesque happy/paranoid anarcho-hippies out there) who more or less start from the premise that whatever the Establishment doesn’t want you to believe may be worth giving serious consideration — fluoride-as-poison conspiracy theories, UFOs, a hollow Earth, CIA psychics, Oswald as robot, anything for which there’s zero evidence and no plausibility, basically.

2. In a similar and often overlapping way, I notice there is a split among freedom-lovers between those wanting to live online and those wanting to live off the grid, each m.o. having its uses. (Todd Seavey’s formula: blogging by day, blogging by night, yet no cell phone, no social-networking-sites memberships [sorry to all who've asked -- you can always e-mail], no cable TV — and maybe no TV period once the digital transition occurs, which would be fine, frankly, as I’ve gone through periods without TV before and fared OK.)

There’s a whole hippie-like libertarian wing that mainly wants freedom to do primitive things like drink raw milk (sort of like the libertarian owners of Whole Foods and a couple organic-ish friends of mine). Indeed, a raw milk seller hassled by regulators was depicted rather heroically in the last issue of Reason. Let us hope he doesn’t puke or kill someone. I think for some people freedom and living on a tiny self-sustaining plot of land without any chemical fertilizers just naturally (so to speak) seem to go together, the way that freedom and returning to a decentralized checkerboard of tiny little parish communities across England went together naturally in the mind of century-ago Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton (but more about him in December — put that on your calendar). People’s intuitions seem to split pro-modernity or anti-modernity on a lot of things. Robots for me, please.

3. In a third (and again, highly analogous) split, plenty of libertarians (me included) are arch-materialists, seeing that stance as a pretty good fit with our earthy, capitalist views (and, far more importantly, seeing it as the truth) — but, for instance, the head of the Independent Institute, David Theroux, when I met him in Vegas of all places, denounced strict materialism and argues that things like this month’s Christian-tinged Narnia movie are the perfect recruiting tools for libertarianism (he’s president of the C.S. Lewis Society of California, I now realize), precisely because spirituality, to his mind, leads people to a love of free will and dislike of earthly rulers (he’d go further and argue that materialism is logically incoherent because, to oversimplify his point a bit, determinism supposedly can’t account for freely choosing to believe in things like determinism, an argument that I, of course, find flawed — for reasons deterministically rooted in my neural makeup, for anyone doubting my consistency on this point — and, yes, historical circumstance and genetics also led me to add that last bit — and this one…).

But more about late 2003: having, only months earlier, been dumped by a born-again Christian, I was pleased to find myself dating women who were, in their very different ways, all very unlike a born-again Christian — and each of them a nerd in the best sense of the word, including: a gangly, charismatic, 5′10″, sometimes-Belgium-dwelling PR vice prez who I half-suspected may have been Bryan Ferry’s lovechild, given her mother’s long-ago involvement with that rock star, despite the daughter’s insistence on having been fathered by an expert on spiders; and, early the next year, a personal trainer and freelance science writer twenty years my senior (but also a competitive body-builder).

And I have been lucky enough to date other interesting women since: a scientist, a former White House intern, a disgruntled postal employee, and so on — stopped short of marriage by some tricky obstacle such as, more often than not, my steadfast refusal to have children (be warned). But now we may approach too close to the present and too close to recent wounds for me to say more, so let us turn away from such matters for the remaining three and a half years covered by the Retro-Journal — there is a war to talk about, after all, and the death of conservatism, issues more divisive for libertarians than even the conspiracies, unpasteurized milk, and divine powers mentioned above.


But before moving on to such somber matters — and on this, the penultimate day of the Month of the Nerd — let me recount how 2003, the Year of the Nerd, ended with vindication, in court, of my nerdiness. Thanks to the ever-alert — none dare call him hyperactive — Michael Malice, who overheard (as was then his wont) some TV producers talking about needing guests for their show, he offered himself and me — as plaintiff and defendant, respectively, on the Style Channel’s show Style Court, in which one person accuses another of having a bad wardrobe. I stood accused, on national television (taped in late 2003, aired in early 2004) of dressing like a nerd and played it up a bit on the show, wearing my rarely-deployed glasses and garish Marx Brothers tie (from that brief period in the early 90s when bad ties with pictures were ostensibly a good thing).

Since neither Malice nor I actually cared about fashion (indeed, Malice had his real taste arbiter, punker Tibbie X, along in the courtroom as an advisor), we did what I contend was a masterful job of cramming as many references as possible to things we do care about into what was edited down to a seven-minute segment, done with no retakes. Malice mentioned tropical fish and Virginia Postrel’s libertarian aesthetics tome The Substance of Style, for instance. I mentioned the American Council on Science and Health, the idea of a book called Conservatism for Punks, Star Trek, my mother’s love of the ABC soap opera All My Children (a cute actress from the series was one of the “style jurors,” so I seized a “Hi, Mom” opportunity), philosophy, Looney Toons, the time I went to Limelight in the early 90s with Chris Nugent and Kyle Smith (who was told to “dress it up a little next time” by the doorman), and even the fictional character “Sebastiano,” created by my fellow Film Bulletin writer Andrew Clateman back when we were at Brown (in a poem containing such bold, Nietzschean lines as “If I were Sebastiano/ I would butt my head through the Chagall stained-glass windows, my friend” — and the unrelated interlude, as I recall, “When you’re down and feeling blue/ At the end of the eight-forked path, there’s a Buddha for you”). And it all worked in context. Again: seven minutes.

Left on the cutting room floor, alas, was me saying (in what I still think was a funny and anarchist comment), “Your honor, Michael Malice has no respect for the authority of this style court!” Also cut: Michael (after I got a verdict of not-guilty for sticking to my nerd principles and thus being aesthetically consistent) explicitly endorsing elitism and exclusion, causing the oddly peeved style judge to liken him to a Nazi (and even less plausibly, a communist), leading to the judge and Michael both revealing they’d lost relatives in the Holocaust and to Michael doing an ironic Nazi salute — probably Style Court’s first and last. They also cut some of my lines about The Substance of Style, and afterwards Postrel complained that we didn’t defend her book adequately against the judge’s dismissive comments — and like most of those who criticize Malice (such as the aforementioned born-again Christian, Dawn Eden, who’ll be just fine), Postrel now has cancer, though I do not believe in black magic.

In any case, having been officially vindicated in court five years ago as a principled and thus permissible nerd, I will feel no guilt about spending tomorrow, the final day of my Month of the Nerd and indeed the Ultimate Nerd Day, watching or rewatching all four of May’s major nerd films, mentioned at the start of each of this month’s four prior Retro-Journal entries.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Book Selection of the Month: "Final Crisis" by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones

darkseid.jpg Book Selection of the Month (May 2008, Month of the Nerd): Final Crisis by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones

I won’t give anything away about this long-awaited seven-issue comic book miniseries written by a comics writer I blogged about on Tuesday and drawn by the artist of Wanted (which becomes a movie with Angelina Jolie and lots of machine guns this summer). I will say it’s good — not Dark Knight good or anything but more like, say, New X-Men good, which is fine.

And I won’t waste your time with continuity quibbles — I decided in advance that I like Morrison enough that I don’t care if every panel of this series rewrites a year’s worth of past DC Comics stories without explanation. Let Morrison do his thing.

I will criticize DC executive editor Dan Didio for just a moment, though: He oversaw one solid year’s worth of DC Comics output that had little real purpose other than to put pieces in place in order to make Morrison’s Final Crisis fit into continuity — in large part by having two whole series (Countdown to Final Crisis and Death of the New Gods) devoted to killing off the characters called the New Gods. For a year this was going on. A year. And yet, let’s just say, it doesn’t seem like some of the characters in Final Crisis issue #1 read those two series, or at least not that particular subplot, which in the case of Countdown, from what I’ve heard, makes them quite fortunate — but I’ll stop myself there. No looking back. No regrets. Excelsior!

The new series (about which I should say something for the uninitiated) depicts “the day evil won” in the DC Universe, with evil gods coming to take over the Earth — and its superheroes all but powerless to fight back — all of it climaxing decades worth of related “Crisis” storylines throughout DC’s history in the perfect nostalgic treat for this, my Month of the Nerd (a month in which I’ve already ready several old comics Dan Greenberg gave me, including Thriller [visionary], Cadillacs & Dinosaurs [lame output from professional comics nostalgist and continuity-obsessive Roy Thomas], Micronauts [my favorite at the time], and First Six-Pack [from the comics company Larry Doyle used to edit, long before New York magazine and even before he co-wrote comedy at National Lampoon and MTV with my then-roommate Christine Caldwell, who chucked comedy for medieval history]). The poetic high point of my Month of the Nerd comics-reading may have been an old (and, due to complex lawsuits, out of print) trade paperback of Neil Gaiman’s stint on Miracleman, also about gods taking over the Earth, albeit in a less-sinister fashion.

Were Final Crisis not such a perfect encapsulation of so many dreamt-of plotlines and resolutions and story elements from decades of my past comics reading, I swear I would not have fallen off the no-comics-buying wagon, upon which I’ve been stably seated for about a year now and to which I promise I’ll return for good once all this is over around the end of the year. I just can’t think of anything left for them to do after this that I’ve wanted to see them do for so long, plotwise. (And I’m not the only one to theorize that it all fits into a “red vs. black” masterplan in Morrison’s mind, by the way.)


I’m skipping the numerous Final Crisis tie-ins, spin-offs, and companion miniseries, aside from the five-issue Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds. Like the main Final Crisis miniseries, it combines too many Todd-pleasing elements to plausibly ignore, including the villain Time Trapper, about whom I’ve blogged before (indeed, this blog was at one point recently the highest Google hit for the search “Darkseid Libra Time Trapper,” oddly enough), and the art of George Perez, who drew not only the best-known prior “Crisis” minseries, 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, but also drew the first superhero comic book I recall ever buying, Avengers #149 in 1976 (at age six), which I now realize was a Marvel homage/rip-off of DC’s “Crisis” stories (with the added thrill of demigods and a delightfully eclectic bunch of Avengers including Iron Man trussed up all Franken-bondage-like with electrodes on their heads by evil oil company captors, it being the mid-70s).

A few years later, like a lot of Gen X Marvel zombies, I’d follow Perez over to DC as he started work on New Teen Titans in 1980 — with the one other DC series I bought at the time being Legion of Super-Heroes, the very same characters he’s now drawing in this new series (including Brainiac 5, the alien super-genius who I plan to be for Halloween, and whose adventures, ironically, I was given as a reward by my parents for keeping an eye on my maternal grandmother as her mind increasingly wandered due to Alzheimer’s).

Fans have been complaining about the numerous Final Crisis spin-offs — all because the aforementioned editor, Didio, made the mistake of claiming a while back that the central Final Crisis miniseries would be “self-contained.” But it’s funny: I actually don’t think there are too many (eighteen miniseries, one-shots, or story-arcs within ongoing series — see Appendix A below). In fact, I have to admit that if I were in charge, I’d probably stick the attention-getting “Final Crisis” prefix on at least three additional miniseries DC has right now: Rann-Thanagar: Holy War, Reign in Hell, and The War That Time Forgot (maybe even the Ambush Bug parody miniseries). I mean, with Final Crisis being about a war in Heaven and disruptions in time, how hard would it have been to bring these three similarly-themed stories under the Final Crisis aegis? Will, say, Final Crisis: Revelations or Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge really be any more closely related to Darkseid, the main villain in Final Crisis? But perhaps I should admire Didio’s restraint.


A few miscellaneous additional observations:

•If, as rumored, one Justice League member dies early in the Final Crisis (possibly at this odd character’s hands) and another returns later after a long absence, as may already have crossed your mind, a chance for a big reunion of the whole Justice League line-up will have been narrowly missed after a twenty-three-year wait, surely a source of frustration to some.

•My guess for Time Trapper’s destiny, incidentally: he’ll now be depicted (after years of contradictory origins) as an extremely aged Superman-Prime (he’s already whining about deserving “better than I’ve got,” is striving to eliminate the current Superman’s legacy, and is able to physically manipulate time — it would all make a certain amount of sense, and would make him not so unlike Gog from The Kingdom).

•Morrison has been depicted as a petty god himself, in the recent Doctor Thirteen miniseries that contained continuity- and metafiction-play after his own heart (and a talking Nazi vampire chimpanzee). Let us hope he does not toy with us too cruelly, or at least not ineptly, in the remainder of Final Crisis — but I’m quite optimistic (I’d be even more optimistic if they gave Morrison permission to lump every weirdo character DC has into one giant Doom Patrol, but maybe someday).

•And while I’m at it, let me add that the ad for an unrelated young-adults adventure series of novels on the back of Final Crisis #1 is one of the most brilliant one-word concepts I’ve ever seen: Vampirates. I would have high-fived myself and headed directly to Hollywood after coming up with that, and I bet it sells like hotcakes.

APPENDIX A: The components of the Final Crisis storyline, rather broadly defined

I think it’s now these nineteen bits throughout the remainder of 2008 ($$$ = ones I’ll buy or have already bought, according to my plan as of this writing):

DC Universe: Zero (prelude one-shot) $$$

Batman arcs (two of them counted as one here)
Wonder Woman arc
Infinity Inc. arc (Dark Side Club)
Teen Titans arc (Dark Side Club)
Green Lantern arc
Justice League of America issue #21 $$$
(Justice Society of America “Gog” arc, sort of) $$$

Final Crisis (the main seven-issue miniseries itself) $$$
FC Rogues Revenge
FC Legion of Three Worlds $$$
FC Revelation

DC Universe: Last Will and Testament (one-shot by thriller writer Brad Meltzer)

FC Sketchbook
FC Requiem
FC Rage of the Red Lanterns
FC Submit
FC Resist
FC Superman Beyond (two issues exploring the multiverse in 3D)


I can’t resist sharing this fantastic, funny — and nicely egalitarian! — spat from the official DC Comics message boards over whether the main DC Comics Earth is “New Earth” (with “Earth-1″ being in another universe) or is in fact itself called “Earth-1″:

[JAMAL IGLE:] the name is Jamal Igle . I’m the guy who has been drawing this series for the last five months, the guy who has weekly meetings with Nachie Castro, the series editor, conversations with Dan Jurgens the series writer and meetings with Dan Didio the executive editor. New Earth is Earth 1, Tangent Earth is Earth 9. This was in the script, this has been in all the scripts. I made sure I confirmed it before I ever spoke about it. You don’t have to like it, It however is an uundeniable fact.

[FAN RESPONDING:] I deny it and I’ll continue to deny it.

As for Dan Jurgens…this is the guy who thinks 90’s Hawkman was Carter Hall (recent Booster Gold issues).

Earth 1 is NOT New Earth….too much official fiction PROVES otherwise, so I really don’t care what you say. You can also say that the current Batman is earth 2 batman disguised as earth 1, but I won’t believe it because the printed fiction says otherwise.

You guys screwed up in tangent, just admit it and move on.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cry Tyroc and Let Loose the Legion of Super-Heroes

In honor of the start this week of DC Comics’ Final Crisis event — which will involve the Legion of Super-Heroes in August (and be this site’s Book Selection of the Month tomorrow), here is one of my favorite Wiki. passages of all time, about the Legionnaire Tyroc’s different scream-powers:

Scream effects

Among the screams in Tyroc’s arsenal:

• EEYYAAAHH! — pyrokinesis
• AHHRRRRRR! — force field
• OYYUUUUUU! — teleportation
• ARRRRHHHH! — explosions
• ZZZRRRUUGGHH! — telekinesis
• UIUUIEEEE! — transmutation
• ARRREEEEG! — weather manipulation
• IRRRRWWWW! — chlorokinesis
• CCCIIIRRR! — vertigo
• RRRYYYY! — wind manipulation

Wine and Cheese Anarchy

wine-glass.jpg milk-cheese.jpg
The New York Post noted yesterday that even a local cop disapproved of the arrest of an East Hampton art gallery owner who had the audacity to hold a wine and cheese reception for Hamptons art aficionados without having a liquor license. The crowd booed and derided the cops — who of course said they were just enforcing local laws — as they cuffed the defiant sixty-seven-year-old owner, Ruth “Vered” Kalb, in her gallery-hipster spectacles and took her away.

Now, this strikes me as one of those incidents — like a lot of the cases of intrusive government noted in the old-fashioned anarchist magazine The Match — that should just cut across ideological divides and unite everyone not simply in thinking “That sounds excessive” but in thinking “Government is complete bullshit, and we were not born to be slaves to these uniform-wearing goons.”

I mean, you know how I see it, as a libertarian — let the harmless art people consume their damn wine and cheese, just as all activities that inflict no damage on the bodies or property of others should be allowed. But how exactly do rightists and leftists — you know, that 90 or so percent of the population that thinks my philosophy is crazy — evaluate such a case?

•Do mainstream conservatives ask themselves whether wine and cheese consumption is more mainstream than, say, reefer at a dice game and thus permissible?

•Do paleoconservatives ask themselves whether wine and cheese consumption is part of the traditional local art scene in East Hampton?

•Do liberals, noting the cops’ comments about equal enforcement of the law, ask themselves whether letting the gallery off might be unfair to previously-arrested drunken hippies and other fringe figures in the area?

•Do leftists ask themselves whether the art was “outsider” or “radical” enough for the cops to constitute oppressive enforcers of bourgeois society (are they especially concerned that the place had some gay scenes on its walls)?

•Do greens want to know how the grapes were raised?

How about just reacting with outrage based on the timeless principle that humanity was not born divided into those destined to be ridden like enslaved animals and those booted and spurred, ready to do the riding?

Government is nonsense, and no “town meetings” or any other morally-irrelevant little rituals of supposed legitimization East Hampton went through before deploying its goons, no matter how popular, can make it right (contrary to what either conservative majoritarians or leftist social-democrats might claim, gussying up the principle “We outnumber you and have guns” with the democratic-era claptrap meant to distract us from the obvious fact of some people physically bossing around others).

Sometimes it’s the little incidents that put it all in perspective, and I’m just not sure I can pretend to respect non-libertarian positions at all anymore. But I promise I’ll stay civil, even when the conspirators in violent oppression, red, blue, or green, don’t deserve it one bit.

It’s things like this that make a man an anarchist…and make an anarchist a beatnik.

ADDENDUM: This being the fortieth anniversary of riotous May 1968, that beatnik reference will have to suffice as my soixante-huitard homage — but aren’t the users of force the real weetards?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Michael Moorcock vs. Grant Morrison

jerry-cornelius.gif king-mob.jpg arkwright.jpg

So my favorite comics writer, Grant Morrison (whose comic book miniseries Final Crisis sees its first issue released tomorrow and reviewed as my Book Selection of the Month on Thursday), is quoted in one article summing up what he likes about current media by asking “Have you seen the site American Dwarf?”

Intrigued and hoping for something mind-realigning, I looked for it in vain — then doublechecked his comments by looking at another transcript of the same group interview. Turns out he actually said “Have you seen the South American dwarf?” — and was apparently referring to that goddam “gnome” who made the tabloids a few months ago, a prank-playing, mask-wearing dwarf who terrified some Latin American locals by running in and out of the shadows, which is apparently all it takes to make international headlines these days.

Sigh. No American Dwarf site (as of this writing). I don’t believe in nothin’ no more. Fabricators everywhere you turn.


What I was really hoping for, I suppose, was a site full of articles on weird cultural phenomena resembling the trippy things in Morrison’s comics, like the L.A. Times piece about Roky Erickson and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators from which this passage comes:

“Easter Everywhere” [their final album] was the last gasp. Though the band performed sporadically throughout 1968, Erickson was frequently absent, increasingly unhinged at the prospect of going onstage. A year later, it had fully blown apart. Sutherland was hooked on smack, Hall was dealing drugs and Erickson, whose grip on reality had slipped, was persuaded by a public defender to plead insanity to avoid hard time for possession of a small amount of pot. He was charged with offending “the peace and dignity of the state,” diagnosed as schizophrenic by the court and spent nearly four years in a maximum-security asylum. As Drummond puts it: “[T]he vision of utopia that many tried to achieve by ‘turning on’ led to a massive toxic overload by the end of the decade.” By the end of the 1970s, Sutherland was dead and Erickson had legally declared himself a Martian.

I’m no crazed, logic-bashing Situationist, obviously, but there is something to be said for reminding people real life can be as odd as sci-fi.


One real-life situation odd enough to seem like, if not sci-fi, at least an exercise in metafiction, is the animosity between Grant Morrison and one of his biggest (and quite openly acknowledged) influences, fellow British writer Michael Moorcock. Now, Moorcock, much like Situationist leader Guy Debord, has encouraged a certain “open source” approach to his work, applauding people who do homages that seem almost to take place within Moorcock’s fictional multiverse, like Bryan Talbot (who wrote my favorite comic book miniseries of all time, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright). And like Guy Debord’s widow, who recently hypocritically sued people for making a Debord-based boardgame, Michael Moorcock is apparently upset that Morrison so heavily lifted elements of the Moorcock character Jerry Cornelius (who, meta-meta-ironically, is supposed to have many incarnations across the multiverse, all part of the composite being called the Eternal Champion). Two issues of Morrison’s Invisibles comic book depicted an amoral, 60s-mod adventurer resembling Cornelius but named Gideon Stargrave.

Well, since these British sci-fi types seem to thrive on grouchy confrontation instead of friendship, I humbly suggest (if Grant Morrison or someone close to him, perhaps at DC Comics, is listening) that instead of trying to patch things up with Moorcock, Morrison use the opportunity provided by the Final Crisis storyline — which touches upon three multiversal versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes (manipulated by the Time Trapper) — to drive Moorcock into a state of absolute rage by depicting Gideon Stargrave fighting a battle against 1970s Legion villain Pulsar Stargrave, a bizarre character (possibly a green-skinned man from Colu related to Brainiac 5, the character I plan to be for Halloween, but also possibly an android or living star masquerading as a relative of Brainaic 5) who looks like a cross between a disco dancer and something vaguely influenced (without sparking rage) by Moorcock book covers back when they were still cutting-edge.

Pulsar Stargrave is as bald as Morrison, so throw some Morrisonian dialogue in his mouth about him being metafictionally aware that his character’s been revised from man to machine over the years (the opposite of Maxwell Lord’s story, for those in the know — though now his transition from man to machine to man to dead is apparently all in continuity, thanks to problem-solver Geoff Johns). Then let Gideon Stargrave rage in Moorcockian fasion about wanting to wreck amoral havoc on his enemies and imitators, possibly implying in the process that Moorcock’s multiverse is but a subset of DC’s. Instant nerd inside-joke classic, and with both writers left-anarchists, probably no one hires a lawyer and sues. But then, that’s probably what the people who made the Guy De-boardgame thought.


On a vaguely related note, I was pleased to see that in a chapter of Morrison’s DC One Million storyline (this one written by James Robinson), an overdue dialectical synthesis of Moorcock, Morrison, Bowie, Adam Warlock (a Marvel character influenced by Moorcock), and DC Comics’ multiverse was implicitly achieved when the Starman of the 853rd-century DC Universe turned out to have a gem on his high, teutonic forehead that made him look quite Warlock-like. Watch out for his bursts of raw synergy!

In similarly fusionist fashion, the one time I met Bryan Talbot, he told me he considered making his most famous character, the openly Moorcock-influenced Luther Arkwright, look exactly like Bowie but settled for having Bowie be mentioned briefly in the story as an off-panel assassination victim during the mounting violence and chaos in the story. I am available for the Arkwright role if anyone’s planning a local-theatre stage version, by the way. And here’s hoping that the fact that actor David Tennant of Doctor Who (and Harry Potter and Casanova and Quatermass) fame once played the character on radio increases the odds of it getting made into a movie one day — with all those alternate-universe Prussian flying machines and the like, it would be spectacular — as would the Amazonian body of another open-source character who appears in the Arkwright stories: Russian comic book heroine Octobriana, created by actual anarchist underground comics writers back in the Soviet days, a wonderful fusion of character, artistic process, and political symbol.

But speaking of political fusion (instead of just fused comic book universes), if Thursday’s Book Selection (Final Crisis) seems too fluffy for you, come back a mere week from today when my Book Selection for June will be Charles Taylor’s effort to square the circle of all modern philosophical contradictions, his opus Sources of the Self. And if you can see why efforts to reconcile communitarianism and post-Romantic individualism are analogous in my brain to efforts to explain the modern Flash’s brief presence on Earth-2, you understand me very well — and would probably get along with Morrison and Moorcock to boot.

(And the day after my Taylor review, don’t forget to watch our circle-squaring efforts at Lolita Bar, June 4 at 8pm, to determine if libertarians and others should vote for Bob Barr.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: Should Conservatives and Libertarians Vote for Barr Instead of McCain?

barr-speaks.jpg mccain-leans.jpg
Next week, Wed., June 4 (8pm), Avery Knapp (who ran the Ron Paul Meet-Up group, remains active in the movement, and is a radiologist by day) will argue yes to that question and writer Ken Silber (whose writing has appeared in Reason, TCSDaily, the Freeman, and several prominent right-leaning publications) will argue no — while interested Democrats look on to see what happens when the right develops a Nader of its own — on the basement level of 266 Broome St. at Allen St. (one block south and three west of the Delancey St. subway stop), with Michel Evanchik moderating and Todd Seavey hosting.

Today, though, Memorial Day is observed — and some might find themselves thinking of war heroes like John McCain or soldiers in Iraq and planning to vote for the Republican in November’s presidential election.

And today is also the final day of the Libertarian Party convention, and former Republican Rep. Bob Barr has emerged as their presidential nominee, with fairly mainstream libertarian sportcaster Wayne Allyn Root as his running mate — the six hundred or so delegates at the convention narrowly picking Barr over Mary Ruwart, who has suggested legalizing child pornography and investigating whether explosives were used to fake the World Trade Center collapse. (Let us never speak of her again.)

Whether you favor McCain, Barr, or just seeing conservatives experience electoral pain in some small way comparable to that which Gore experienced in 2000 and Hillary is experiencing now, please join us.


Note that after our June 4 Barr/McCain debate, our next Lolita event will be Tue., July 22 (a panel of women who have donated eggs) instead of our usual first-Wednesday-of-the-month. Our previous debate, on congestion pricing for traffic (not quite the privatized roads and adjustable user fees I’d most like to see), yielded some more fine photos by the talented J.D. Weiner.

After that debate, by the way, I mentioned to the crowd that one of my old ABC News colleagues (Michael Mendelsohn) has mused, interestingly, that subsidizing the federal highway system may have stunted the evolution of personal flying craft that might otherwise have occurred. But lest we fear all such flying ambitions are lost, see this footage of a rocket-winged solo flying man over the Alps.

As legislator/philosopher Dan Greenberg, who visited the Seavey family home in Norwich yesterday, has said, civilization is largely a race between technology and regulation, so I say that as long as private-sector rocket men stay ahead of public-sector rocket men (and FAA regs), it will get harder and harder to stifle freedom with things like the Berlin Wall.

On the other hand, it’s become pretty obvious the military will be the first major users of real-life “Iron Man” tech and smart robots, which could spell trouble.

Private agents may want to start building — and implicitly socially-normalizing — as many Heinleinian jump suits, Cody-esque rocket packs, and Starkian exoskeletons as possible right now before the government gets anything like a monopoly on them. The time for a revolution that is not purely intellectual/legal may yet come, and it may be fought with weapons bearing little resemblance to today’s.

UPDATE: WebMD lists the “100 drunkest cities,” using various indicators of unsafe drinking in making its tabulations — and making special mention of Colorado, where, perhaps fittingly, the Libertarian convention just occurred.

But I also see my friends in Hartford, Boston, Austin, and DC on the list — and I think we all know that the only thing that kept New York City off it is that so few of us drive here.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Idiots Will Win Regardless

As a nerd, I owe it to my own kind to mention once in a while my overall pessimism about the grim prospects for civilization, regardless of whether some short-term political skirmish is won by my favorite faction (libertarians, some of them picking a presidential candidate in Denver this weekend).

I mentioned seeing Read Schuchardt, a religious critic of commercial culture, speak Thursday, and his fear is that the future is one in which we’ll all be reduced to icon- and logo-loving Pavlovian dogs.  Advertising veteran and fellow libertarian Joy Bergmann, far from countering with a rosier scenario, predicts a future much like the dystopian film Idiocracy.  And if all goes according to schedule, this weekend I’ll visit with Dan Greenberg, long ago one of my fellow Brown philosophy majors, who at least shares my amusement at that movie.  Our perspectives vary — Schuchardt dislikes commercialism, I like it, Dan is more wary of biotech than I — but any way you slice, long-term victory for stupidity seems to haunt our dreams.

(Schuchardt’s lecture invoked philosopher Charles Taylor, incidentally — himself a moderately religious Canadian communitarian who fears modernity leaves us without some shared standard of the good — and it just so happens that Taylor’s Sources of the Self will be my Book Selection of the Month for June in a week and a half, so stay tuned.)

My meta-concern about civilization is that the idea of being civilized may itself become passe, with the young increasingly seeing as archaic things like:


•quiet reflection

•industry (it seems counterintuitive to the older among us to consign it to the past, but it’s increasingly despised, along with global commerce, which is opposed by the antiglob, nature buffs, local-food nuts, and various neo-agrarians)

•science (opposed without reflection, in almost any of its new manifestations, by the masses — some 30% saying in surveys that they’re against nanotech, which surely can’t be for any reason other than it being some new thing they don’t know about)


•significant legal consequences for real crimes

•standards for gauging sanity and insanity


Well, no time to explain my thinking on all these things now — I would if I were smarter — but today I hang out with the parents and with their dog Jaycie, thinking occasionally of departed family dog Uber, who was a mutt but looked a bit like the puli disguised as a Rastafarian hairdo in this ad.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Libertarian Party Convention vs. Republican Party Convention


I’m sure there are some Republicans who are rooting for things to get as silly and circus-like as possible at this weekend’s Libertarian Party convention, but one thing should give them pause: Given the way (small-l libertarian) Ron Paul delegates have been disrupting Republican state conventions this year to remind people that McCain’s not universally beloved, wackiness at the LP convention in Denver could be a foretaste of what the GOP’s early-September gathering in Minneapolis will look like, for good or ill. Hee hee…

Friday, May 23, 2008

Retro-Journal: War in Early 2003

In the present, it’s Memorial Day weekend, and we think not only of real-life war dead but of Indiana Jones fighting the twin threats of communist totalitarianism and space aliens on the big screen — even as the Libertarian Party convention this weekend confronts the twin threats of big government and the Martian-civilization NASA cover-up (and the 9/11 cover-up), at least according to dismaying early reports from Dave Weigel, who’s been giving on-the-scene coverage of events in Denver on Reason’s blog.

But in the non-fiction world, five years ago, the totalitarian threat on everyone’s mind was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  That’s not to say there weren’t ample big-screen nerd distractions that year as well.  Indeed, in a mass-e-mail to acquaintances, I declared 2003 “the Year of the Nerd” (much as I have declared May 2008 the Month of the Nerd on this blog) because of its plethora of nerdic film releases, from the prior attempt at a Hulk and the anticlimactic Matrix Revolutions to pleasant surprises like Underworld and Kill Bill, plus the predictably — but Oscar-winningly — awesome Return of the King (on a more personal level, I wrote freelance pieces on various science topics that year and read some ten sci-fi novels, which I swear is not my usual m.o.).

One year earlier, I’d also exacted my nerdy revenge upon Seth Godin by depicting a lunatic character loosely inspired by him in one of the Justice League comics I wrote (something I’ve updated my Retro-Journal entry from two weeks ago to mention and which I’d promised to mention nineteen weeks before that, for those keeping track).

But to get back to the more serious business of war in Iraq: while I no doubt have libertarian acquaintances who, because I’m one of their more hawkish comrades, think they vaguely recall me being in favor of striking Iraq, I was in fact cautiously, tentatively against the idea during the 2002 and early-2003 build-up to war.  I don’t see anti-interventionism as a necessary and direct corollary of basic libertarian principles (or, more important, as a correct position) and think toppling despotic regimes is, per se, a good thing (arguably the perfect expression of libertarianism) — but I’m also a utilitarian and pragmatist with very little faith that something will be well executed just because it “sounds like a good idea in principle” (a point the left has never understood and which the right, in its spare-me-the-details moralism, has now forgotten).  When in doubt about whether a project will yield more benefits than costs, I don’t even think the government should open a new post office, let alone invade a country, so if I were president, I would not have entered Iraq (and was rather nervous, as my coworkers could attest from listening to me react to the Wall Street Journal op-ed page’s increasing drum-beating in the morning, that we were ramping up for a seemingly unnecessary war as early as a year before the fighting started).

At the same time — as the Objectivists, interestingly, tended to argue most eloquently at a Cato conference on war around that time — Saddam was clearly guilty of coercion on a massive scale and had repeatedly violated the terms of his surrender in the 1991 Gulf War (and I might add had tried to assassinate the elder Bush, which in the old days might well have been considered reason enough to go to war, but we’ve become rather timid in some ways about making a big deal out of those sorts of symbolic/personal slights).  Furthermore, incredibly unpopular as it now is to say so (since people so enjoy demonstrating that they can tell the difference between Saddam and bin Laden or Iraq and Afghanistan), yes, Saddam had numerous ties to terrorists including al Qaeda, and you can throw out your dozens and dozens of snide, Bush-bashing, trashy little books from 2003 saying otherwise.  Indeed, the Philippines branch of al Qaeda was actually run out of the Iraqi embassy there, so don’t give me any of that “Secular government!  Religious terrorists!  They could never work together!  Stop the Bush war machine!” protest blather.  We all got plenty of that five years ago.

And so, once the war was underway, I wept not for Saddam and — again, even though I would have advised against the whole venture — hoped it would all work out for the best and go smoothly.  At the same time, I told my friend Dave Whitney that I feared that Bush — from whom all I ever wanted was tax cuts and entitlement reform — was putting all of the right’s credibility on the outcome in Iraq like a man piling all of his hard-won poker chips a foot high on one square (to use an analogy my high school friend John Tewskbury, now a dealer I’ll see at Foxwoods this weekend near my parents’ house, would appreciate), with the result that I might well spend the next several years saying things like “We should privatize the post office” and getting the non-sequitur response (given how poorly leftists reason even at the best of times) “That sounds right-wing — and things aren’t going well in Iraq, so that must be a bad idea.”  And that’s pretty much how things turned out, of course, with the further result that politics is now about little but the war, except when people are so sick of talking about the war that politics is about nothing at all, by which I mean the candidates themselves.


On a more punk note, I saw David Bowie, Ray Davies, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, and others all singing in a single event — ostensibly a concert for Tibet at Carnegie Hall — that half-year, a more peaceful, one-worldy sort of affair but ever so slightly soured for my by my realization part-way through the concert that my ticket money, far from being used to arm an insurgency against the totalitarians in Beijing or something useful like that, was being used to fund a “Tibetan holistic medicine” center somewhere upstate, probably filled with the same sort of vague, unscientific Eastern pabulum that Amherst is hosting in conjunction with something called the Sham Shung Center or something like that in the weeks ahead, according to a mass-e-mail I happened to receive today about it.  Tibet needs help and the world’s sympathy, but spacey, rich New Yorkers do not need homeopathy vials with zen koans printed on the side.

Incidentally, that same month — February 2003 — I saw the Pretenders, Paul Weller, former Young Adults leader Sport Fisher/Dave Hansen (at the suggestion of then Rubber Rodeo-obsessed Michael Malice), and an “outsider music” night, so it was a rockin’ time.  The next month, I’d see the band Television but also ex-girlfriend Emily Wigod (in 2008, newly married) in a performance of Cosi fan tutte, so I try to be well-rounded.  Witness, too, the theatrical adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft short stories that some friends and I saw, the only play I’ve seen to this day in which someone stared in horror open-mouthed for so long that drool ran in a long strand all the way down to the stage.  If that doesn’t say shock and awe, I don’t know what does.

As the first half of 2003 ended, I also saw Nick Cave and Julee Cruise, each frightening in their own way, perform, but what still worries me is that despite all the war and weirdness of that time, the most accurate glimpse of the eventual End Times for humanity that I got came on June 30, when I saw Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines — not so unlike the robot revolt seen in the Animatrix prequel to the Matrix movies released on video that year.  And indeed, there was a lawsuit alleging that both movie series were rip-offs of a single massive novel — in which the Neo-like figure was also a John Connor-like figure — that was never published but was seen in manuscript form by the Wachowskis back in their comic book-writing days and related by them to their producer friend Joel Silver, but I have no position on that controversy and had always assumed Terminator was a rip-off of the “Days of Future Past” storyline from the X-Men comics — in which a time traveler comes back to warn us that giant robot Sentinels will take over in the near future.

But then, my favorite comic book writer, Grant Morrison, thinks the Matrix movies were ripping off his Invisibles comics, so who knows?  Films have eclectic influences, the Matrix films even more so.  Rather than trying to sort all that out, I’ll review Morrison’s Final Crisis comic about the End Times for the DC Universe next week — and in next Friday’s Retro-Journal entry, I’ll turn my attention from war to love, one last time before the Retro-Journal falls silent about such things to avoid reopening too-recent wounds and the like.  But don’t worry — we’ll still have politics.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

LP Convention Begins, War Continues

I notice one of the leading non-Barr contenders for the Libertarian Party prez nomination at the LP convention that starts today in Denver, Colorado’s own Christine Smith, who’s about forty, says the fight for liberty has to start with first “cleaning house” within the LP itself — which she says has become “overrun” by “warmongers and statists.” Perhaps a few of my friends share this fear.

In fact, most LP members, according to Reason’s David Weigel, want an immediate Iraq withdrawal — which I only now realize means literally immediate, with many of them objecting, apparently, to out-in-six-months plans from people like (statist warmonger) Barr.

Needless to say, I think that’s a bit extreme. At the risk of being labeled a McCain-like warmonger, if I were running for LP nominee, I’d tell those peacenik extremists that we owe it to the Iraqi people to stick it out over there even if it takes A HUNDRED DAYS!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

McCain, Zeus, and Schuchardt: My Name Is Death

Though I eagerly await news from this week’s Libertarian Party nominating convention, I will say this for the Republican candidate, McCain: he’s not an annoying Bible-thumper. Indeed, religious former Bush advisor Marvin Olasky (the UT Austin journalism prof who popularized “compassionate conservatism,” a slogan now largely abandoned in the U.S. but newly-popular with UK conservatives, oddly enough) said years ago that he thinks McCain, with his ancient-warrior ethos, is more like a Zeus worshipper than a Christian (I think that means he should get Alasdair MacIntyre’s vote).

And on another religious-continuity note, why not hear my friend Read Schuchardt speak tomorrow at 6:30 at the Albert Ellis Institute (45 East 65th St. in Manhattan) about the uncanny parallels between medieval Catholic and modern corporate symbolism? I’m going.

For some reason, I find Read riveting despite my disliking religion and liking corporations, essentially the opposite of Read’s worldview (though he used to work as a “branding” consultant). Were it not for him, I would not know about the parallels between the Nazi swastika and the Nike swooshstika — or between the cultish Landmark Forum and the gnostic world of the Matrix movies. (Then there’s his new book on philosophy and Fight Club.)

He also has seven kids and expects more, so, like a lot of religious folk, he’s winning the Darwinian race while not caring about Darwin. (But more on those topics in two months, when I host a panel of egg donors at Lolita Bar.) By contrast, he notes, my first name is German for “death.”

P.S. Oh, and to compensate for linking to the religion-mocking Bastard Fairies video yesterday, here’s a video by mewithoutYou, which unbeliever Daniel Radosh called his favorite Christian rock band during his Debate at Lolita last month — and they really are very good, but then, religion and plenty of other crazy things have inspired artists for centuries.

P.P.S. On another warrior-ethos note: there’s talk of a Red Dawn remake. Now, when you’re done thinking “Ha ha! Cool! Red Dawn!” ask yourself: How on Earth does that work two decades after the end of the Cold War? China? Alternate universe? Martians?

P.P.P.S. And speaking of old movies, since Read likes both religion and Star Wars, there’s no better time to link to this story about the UK’s Jedi “religion” being attacked by its version of a Satan figure.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ballot with Butterfly Wings

Talk of minor political parties inevitably turns one’s mind to thoughts of ballot access and voting irregularities.

And that reminds me that I thought during the 2000 election, the most entertaining presidential election ever, that if on-the-spot music distribution were more common (YouTube and online music not quite having become big then), Weird Al Yankovic could have dashed off a song about the Florida debacle called “Ballot with Butterfly Wings”: opening line could be an ominous “Florida’s the umpire,” and the chorus could use the phrase “still just a chad on a page,” with a chant of “Jeb is not the only son” toward the end. Writes itself.

And you know who else sounds like Smashing Pumpkins, by the way? Our Lady Peace, with manically superheroic-sounding songs like “Birdman” and “Superman’s Dead.”

And that in turn reminds me that Brad Meltzer, writer of popular thriller novels as well as comic books, is combining the two into a novel about the (real) mystery of who killed the dad of one of Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel, an incident I hadn’t even known about but which might well have influenced the creation of the invincible, bullet-resisting superhero. Meltzer plans to parallel the death to the Cain and Abel story in the Bible.

(But will he also tie the fictional Crime Bible from next week’s momentous Final Crisis #1 comic book to the life story of Cassandra Cain, the current Batgirl? And reveal that she is secretly related to Dean Cain, who played Superman in Lois and Clark? Probably not.)

One more serious polls thought: as candidates sink in the Democratic primary, they seem to rise in general election polls. I noticed earlier that Edwards had a surprising amount of crossover appeal (surprising since to me he seems worse and more left-wing than either Hillary or Obama — but being a white guy may, alas, be the key to crossover appeal among the inattentive). Similarly, now that Hillary finally appears to be fizzling, she does much better in general election polls against McCain, which was not always the case. A weird side effect of Operation Chaos? Or just a case of America liking underdogs? Would that we could just vote for Underdog.

And to compensate for that mostly-serious paragraph, let’s return to Weird Al-like territory before I finish, namely the singer Kennedy’s 70s-naughty video for “Your Mama” and, even better, the band Bastard Fairies’ delightful song “We’re All Going to Hell.”

Reid Mihalko first pointed out the Kennedy song to me — and pointed out this amazing and very funny video clip about the surprising effects of drugs on spiders. I had no idea crack did that to spiders.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Barr vs. Gravel -- or Barr + Gravel?

I mentioned yesterday that (ex-Republican Rep.) Bob Barr and (ex-Democratic Sen.) Mike Gravel are among the contenders for the Libertarian Party nomination for president at the LP convention this coming weekend.  Tomorrow at 4:30, though, the two of them and other LP candidates including presidential contender Wayne Allyn Root will appear and debate at Reason’s DC headquarters.  The Barr-Root-Gravel spectrum is not a bad microcosm of the ways forward open to the libertarian movement: essentially, right-libertarian, just-plain-libertarian, and left-libertarian, respectively (with Gravel perhaps naively taking the view that as long as he agrees with the LP on many issues, they should meet him halfway rather than demanding his full conversion to the philosophy).

One thing that’s exciting about it all is knowing how eager people are in any political party to make the highly contingent candidate choices part of a larger narrative that supposedly defines the whole long-term direction of the party and, by extension, civilization — as if it were all inevitable, in some rigidly Hegelian way, even though we usually know, if we really stop to consider the details honestly, that things could have turned out very differently, resulting in completely different narratives about what it all means being written and drilled into people’s heads.

An independent U.S., separated to some degree from Europe (to take an even more grandiose example), sometimes seems like the inevitable culmination of the Age of Exploration, Reformation, and Enlightenment — but the Revolution could have failed (as Christopher Hitchens once said, defending the creation of democracy through military might, no one would know Jefferson’s name today if the French army hadn’t come to the Colonies’ aid), and then the world might have been left talking for centuries about what a natural, organic extension of England the North American continent is.

Countless journalists must have been readying their “back to the 90s!” stories in preparation for Hillary Clinton’s nomination by the Democrats, but now they’ve been thrown an Obama curveball.

The Republicans, most interestingly of all, suddenly have a relatively secular and centrist standard-bearer but could have gone several different ways during the primary.  Imagine how “inevitable” the long-term triumph of the religious right would have seemed if Huckabee had gotten the nomination — but he didn’t, and that whole subplot suddenly seems to drop from the grander narrative.  Alternatively, Giuliani’s victory — which might have happened if not for several specific missteps — would have likely resulted in all sorts of pro-pro-choice “inevitable maturation/moderation” stories.

With the Libertarians, the possible prez/v.p. ticket combos could determine whether the public (and a vote-counting McCain campaign) think of libertarianism as a sort of “more principled version of conservatism” (if Barr and someone Barr-like are the ticket), as a right/left fusion (if it’s Barr/Gravel, which might aid with future recruitment by creating more of a big-tent feel), or (perhaps) as a stubborn and insular sect more concerned with ideological purity than achieving anything if they pick Root or one of the other, even more marginal figures vying for the nomination.


Though a tolerant bunch in all the ways that count, such as not passing laws that get their neighbors put in jail, the Libertarians might actually be the biggest sticklers for ideological purity of any U.S. political party, the Communists included.  But then, it gets very difficult sometimes to find anyone of any stature who is a textbook example of any familiar philosophy — everyone seems to be apostate on something.

Reason.TV here interviews Wall Street Journal’s Rob Pollock, who many libertarians would probably regard as apostate for having been a prime drum-beater for the Iraq War since way back in 2002 — but then, I think one can be hawkish and still qualify as a libertarian (regardless of whether one then qualifies as strategically unwise, a topic I’ll revisit in this coming Friday’s Retro-Journal entry, about the fateful days of early 2003).

I am more econ-focused than the antiwar crowd, as I think libertarians ought to be lest they stray beyond their area of expertise.  Rather than being appalled by “warmongers,” I am more dismayed, as it happens, by things like Reason’s own Steve Chapman in effect defending capital gains taxes (a policy topic Pollock happens to mention in his interview, too).  Yes, much like McCain, most of us now agree that tax cuts without corresponding budget cuts are often just delayed, possibly higher, taxes — and thus risky.  But let us not forget that those budget cuts never come as long as the revenue for government spending keeps rolling in.  I say keep starving the beast, then, cutting taxes no matter how bankrupt or debt-saddled the government must become before Congress wakes up and gains the ability to do basic math.

The books-balancing alternative of raising taxes is such a complete acquiescence to the massive welfare state that libertarians who drift in that direction might as well declare themselves leftists — or just get out of politics altogether and become haberdashers or something, having lost the fight.

A “libertarian” who dislikes tax cuts makes about as much sense as a “communist” who favors strict individual property rights, markets, and radically downsized government.  Furthermore, I cannot emphasize strongly enough, the latter sort of person is far more useful.  You’re only as libertarian as your policy positions and actions, labels and tribal affiliations notwithstanding.

I guess I can be doctrinaire too.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Libertarian Party Convention This Week: World Waits

Now let us decide the fate of the world. Or at least, let us consider this week how the marginal Libertarian Party could (really) end up determining the outcome of the presidential election in 2008 — and how that scenario hinges in large part (don’t laugh) on events that will occur later this week at the Libertarian Party nominating convention in Denver.

Just to recap (and after this, I’ll simply assume readers know what’s going on):

It’s been a politically interesting year, with more wrangling than usual over how to “brand” and define a given party or ideology, and Republicans are painfully aware that their best hope for retaining the White House, John McCain, offers hope of picking up independent and moderate voters precisely because he is not perceived as a pure conservative and certainly is not a libertarian. So, much as Hillary Clinton has had to calculate how far she could appear to move toward the center (picking up some hawks, centrists, and white populists) without losing her leftist base, McCain, no matter how stubborn and independent-minded he purports to be, has to be asking himself how many conservative and libertarian voters he’ll lose in the process of chasing after centrists (by embracing global warming regulations, campaign finance restrictions, etc.).

In some elections, like 2000 and 2004 (the latter of which I’ll look at in a Retro-Journal entry next month), most conservatives and even many libertarians say “close enough” or “lesser of two evils” and vote for the ostensibly-less-socialist of the two major party candidates for president, the Republican. But three factors make it less likely that McCain can coast in that way this year:

(1) Conservatives and libertarians, while having some differing priorities, are really fed up with Bush and the Republicans in general, who squandered the past fourteen years, increased the size of government, and poorly managed a war.

(2) McCain is such a “maverick” that it’s not clear conservatives should regard his winning in November as anything more than an even-more-pyrrhic-than-usual victory (his only ideology being, as Reason editor Matt Welch argues, a sort of issue-by-issue desire to solve problems that appear to bring dishonor to the U.S. and breed cynicism — not the worst impulse in the world but hardly one that can be relied on to limit government action).

(3) Conservatives and libertarians, many of whom looked with some wistfulness at the quixotic candidacy of Ron Paul (as did I early on, arguing that he would be a great fusionist candidate, combining a humble and non-authoritarian social conservatism with strict libertarianism), will have a Paul-like option, in some ways a more mainstream Paul-like option, if former Republican representative Bob Barr gets the Libertarian Party presidential nomination.

Like a lot of libertarians (small l as opposed to the narrower group of large L party members, who are often more doctrinaire), I’ve tended to see the Libertarian Party as either a mere publicity stunt for the philosophy (sometimes good publicity, sometimes embarrassing publicity) or at best a strategic protest vote. This may be the best-ever combination of circumstances for a protest vote that has a real impact, possibly taking enough votes from McCain to put Obama in the White House and force the GOP, at long last, to conclude they need to go back to promoting limited government if they want to win back conservative and libertarian love, or even grudging, skeptical acceptance.

I see only three reasons for qualms (though pro-Barr Avery Knapp and pro-McCain Ken Silber will argue all this in greater detail at our momentous June 4 Debate at Lolita Bar — where I will genuinely listen with an open mind):

(1) Obama might be so much worse than McCain that teaching the Republicans a lesson is not a big enough benefit to offset an Obama presidency (I’m not convinced this is the case — though certainly anyone who likes divided government ought to be far more nervous than I about the prospect of an Obama presidency, even if he isn’t a crazy left-wing ideologue).

(2) McCain might himself be the “punishment” that the GOP needs, since he seems aware of the GOP’s failings and mistakes and might productively move the party (and the White House) toward transparency and willingness to admit errors, both sorely missed in recent years. McCain’s lack of a clear ideology might be perfectly suited to a period of productive internal debate about what conservatism means, even with the ostensible leader of the movement sitting in the Oval Office (by contrast, until 2006, conservatives spent much of the Bush years simply defending their president).

(3) The Libertarians might not pick Barr, in which case (since their other potential nominees are mostly hardcore libertarians with less name recognition and less crossover appeal to disgruntled conservatives) they likely lose the ability to be a significant, effective protest vote — or they might (though I think this is unlikely, given his less-convincing conversion to the philosophy) make newly-Libertarian ex-Democrat Mike Gravel the v.p. running mate of Barr, in which case the LP perhaps pulls votes equally from right and left, again muting its ability to be a strategically useful protest vote (but perhaps setting a nice example of bi-post-partisanship, so to speak, for future campaigns).

So: given Qualm #3, much hinges on what that kooky, nerdy bunch of party stalwarts in Denver decide to offer the world as the pro-liberty alternative for voters this fall — and they decide in a four-day convention from May 22 (Thursday) through May 26 (Monday a week from now, when Memorial Day is observed).

I should add a Qualm #4, which is that even though no one including Barr expects him to become president (making his precise qualifications for office and precise agenda somewhat irrelevant), it might be argued that he’s been too right-wing in the past (architect of DOMA, etc.) or is too antiwar now to send the correct “message” to the GOP anyway, though for that limited purpose, I do think he’s “close enough,” and he at least sounds convincingly like a gung-ho convert to boot (though that may not matter).

Nerdier Sidenote

But if all this seems to deviate too much from the sci-fi-type themes of my Month of the Nerd, I offer you this: tomorrow (Monday the 19th) at 7pm at the Half King (505 West 23rd St.), you can hear a reading by Benjamin Nugent, the author of American Nerd: The Story of My People, with his analysis of all manner of geeks, dorks, pointdexters, and eggheads.

Political Afterthoughts

•In a reminder that there are party squabbles even more marginal than the Libertarians’, Jacob Levy tells me that many observers were surprised to see Alan Keyes passed over last month for the Constitution Party nomination. Maybe he, too, will try becoming a libertarian, though that would be a bridge too crazy for me, even as a protest or publicity stunt.

•Just to show that I am not the kind of wanton vandal who likes contemplating spoilers and protest votes, I must say that much as I might enjoy a Jesse Ventura presidential run, I am disinclined to want him in the senate race in Minnesota, where I would think he might pull right-wing votes from Norm Coleman and put (shudder) Al Franken in the Senate. (Then again, maybe he’d just pull some “pro-Hollywood” votes from Franken.)

Franken doesn’t even deserve to be entrusted with a radio show, never mind the reins of power. Maybe if I scraped together the $5,000 or so that would be needed to buy what’s left of Air America, I could offer him his old job back and get him to drop out of the race. I’ll tell him he doesn’t have to declare any of his pay to the IRS, just to sweeten the deal — I mean, once Barr abolishes the IRS.

•In another reminder, by the way, why even the sort of “libertarian paternalism” I discussed in yesterday’s entry leads all too easily to the usual totalitarian regulation of our lives, I note the following all too common example of people’s desire to scapegoat — and thus tweak — external forces instead of encouraging individual responsibility: After about a decade and a half of the Web, people are still trying to scapegoat technology for psychological problems like the ones made manifest by this mass suicide. People who think the Net is to blame — or advertising or porn or day-trading — should not be encouraged to come up with new lists of environmental factors in need of adjustment.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Incentives to Be Good, Incentives to Be Technocrats


Unlike those nice Pevensie kids from Narnia, there are some bad kids in the real world — like Arkansas’s Mitchell Johnson, co-murderer of five people at his middle school in Jonesboro ten years ago and recently rearrested for weapons and drug possession and for credit card fraud (his jailtime for the multiple murders having been only seven years).

But how does that relate to my dislike of law professor Cass Sunstein, you ask?

Well, his new book (co-authored with economist Richard Thaler), Nudge, is apparently Sunstein’s latest attempt to use the language of economics and individual liberty to push mostly-unlibertarian conclusions.  Admittedly, the new book sounds like it stresses the non-coercive nature of its recommendations — how to get people to drive at the correct speed using subconscious visual cues or eat more vegetables due to finding them in pleasing eye-level positions in cafes, etc. — which is an improvement, perhaps a side effect of the libertarian influence on Sunstein of his University of Chicago colleague Richard Epstein or the libertarian daughter of his ex-girlfriend Martha Nussbaum (Nussbaum is also at Chicago, was formerly at Brown, and before that was lead singer of Led Zeppelin, or at least a close visual approximation, as we used to joke at Brown — and don’t get me wrong, she and Robert Plant are both good-looking people).

But since Sunstein’s prior recent books have included one attacking the very idea of private property and another lauding the dictatorial FDR’s creation of a “second Bill of Rights” to replace that purportedly overly-individualistic and anti-government first one (that old thing), I don’t trust that a Sunstein-influenced intelligentsia, enamored of the idea of tweaking human behavior in little ways, will do so entirely through voluntary means.  And we do have abundant private-sector means of tweaking behavior, after all.  You know, those old systems of cues and incentives called advice, peer pressure, tradition, markets, advertising, protest, criticism, college lectures, self-help, sermons, interventions, book publishing, and so on?


Now, I love the idea of using behavioral economics to point out how people’s decision-making deviates from the imagined rational ideal.  In fact, my coworkers and I spend half our time talking about such deviations in the area of public health.  Furthermore, I think behavioral economics actually brings us a step away from neoclassical economics (the only kind most people know) toward Austrian School economics, which is more libertarian precisely because it starts from the assumption of contingent individual preferences of unpredictable and varying strengths, combined with radically decentralized and piecemeal information — almost the opposite of the omniscience/perfect-rationality assumptions that always get neoclassical econ mocked by anyone who wants to throw out econ altogether.

But you just know that if the intellectuals fall in love with the ostensibly novel idea that they understand people’s rational failings better than the rest of us — and I blame Malcolm Gladwell and the Freakonomics guys for making this sort of thing trendy, fascinating though it is — it will never be seen as reason to fear that central government planners, too, might be irrational and biased and dangerous.  Rather, it will become the latest hip rationale for letting the planners control the rest of us (supposedly stupider) people.

But the government can’t even be trusted to get the big, obvious incentive structures right — like punishing a youthful murderer severely enough (or simply putting him away long enough) to prevent future crimes.  And if you want to talk incentives: as Rand-influenced writer Robert Bidinotto argued about two decades ago (when crime-fighting was still seen as a somewhat retrograde concern), misplaced compassion and resultant light sentences for violent offenders not only ignores the offenders’ past and future victims but the potential harm from letting lightly-sentenced youth back into their communities to send the implicit message “going through the legal system isn’t that hard after all — so maybe you could try some crimes, too.”


Nietzsche, in what many would probably regard as one of his most libertarian lines, wrote that we should distrust people in whom the urge to punish is powerful — and Nietzsche was wrong (he sometimes was, you know).  Rather, I say, beware people who show little interest in punishing burglars and murderers — the big, obvious things that need punishing — but who show lots of interest in punishing the million petty little things that make up the rest of our lives, like eating trans fats, putting an unauthorized addition on the house, dancing in a venue with no cabaret license (as some people will protest in favor of doing today in NYC), or putting the “wrong” amount of money in savings accounts.

That way lies totalitarianism, combined with murderers and burglars still roaming the streets.  In short: if we’re willing to buy your books, intellectuals, please don’t regulate us on top of it.  We’ll judge the soundness of your advice ourselves and continue to behave as we choose.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Retro-Journal: Trivia and Eternal Significance in Late 2002

Today — May 16, 2008 — moviegoers are getting a small dose of Christian allegory along with more blatant forms of fantasy via the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Five and a half years ago, I was getting a big dose of Christianity in the small form of girlfriend Dawn Eden.

Dawn is more than eloquent enough to explain her own beliefs, so I won’t presume to do that here, but I will briefly explain my own decidedly non-religious views (which were spelled out at slightly greater length in all my “Month Without God” blog entries throughout February, easily located in my archives) — and I will also explain why my views weren’t as hopelessly at odds with Dawn’s as our critics might think.

I recognize that most people navigate their daily activities in much the same way regardless of their stated philosophical allegiances, so as a practical matter I don’t necessarily think someone’s understanding of the cosmos as a whole is the most important thing to know when dealing with the person. I would expect a trip to an amusement park with socialists, for example, to be pretty much the same as a trip to an amusement park with libertarians. Only on those occasions — extremely rare for most of us — when it comes time to render a decision on whether to nationalize the amusement park would the underlying philosophical differences necessarily become heated or significant.

The fewer such decisions we need to make, the better. Indeed, the idea that all social-democratic decision-making is necessarily decision-making by ignorant incompetents will be a central claim of my Book Selection for July in two months: the twentieth-anniversary volume of Jeffrey Friedman’s political philosophy journal Critical Review. Friedman’s advice in 2002 on bridging religious divides in dating, by the way, was to strive for agnosticism instead of atheism. Like the distinction between socialism and communism, this seems to be a terminological difference that many people become incensed about without there being any clear consensus on precisely what the difference is.

The record will show that I try very hard to avoid getting bogged down in hairsplitting semantic differences, tending to think that when such ambiguities arise, the more substantive underlying disagreements should just be resolved using other words (i.e., no more “Is he really a conservative?” or “I’m not sure you’re even a libertarian anymore” or “If you’re an ‘atheist,’ you’re saying you’re absolutely 100% certain about it” or “If he’s a Mormon, clearly he’s not a Christian” or “How can say you’re liberal if you refuse to even consider blah blah blah” — big waste of time in almost every case).

In any case, while I would not claim to be 100% certain about anything (in principle, I might somehow be deluded by my mental wiring even about basic math, though it seems unlikely — and careful observers will notice I use the word “seems” an awful lot, for a reason), I think I can safely be called an atheist. I would say that having no evidence at all from the outside, observable world strong enough to adjudicate between a beloved theory and countless hypothetical rivals is a good reason not to embrace the theory and thus that the groundless claim there’s a God is likely as false as any other groundless claim, such as that there are purple monkeys living on Mercury or that by eating lots of oatmeal I would gain the strength to lift the Empire State Building — with the burden always on the person who advances a claim that purportedly adds some phenomenon to the set of things in reality, not on someone who merely finds the new claim implausible (otherwise one is left claiming there is something like a 50% chance of those purple monkeys existing, and there isn’t).

And for all their rather mean-spirited insistence that we non-religious folk are myopic and self-absorbed (and nasty and hollow and what have you), it seems to me that religious people — aside from the gullible portion who believe sketchy reports of concrete miracles being observed throughout the world (bleeding statues and what have you), which would at least in principle constitute empirical evidence — tend to be the ones who think they can base plausible beliefs on little more than the deep internal wells of their own emotions and their own certitude. No scientist would be so arrogant and self-aggrandizing as to say “My theory must be true because it fills my heart with joy!”


Roughly, the average (or perhaps more thoughtful than average) religious person seems to think something like: “I think there’s a God, and when I peer into my ‘heart,’ I find conviction and warmth regarding this belief, so I believe all the more, and since I get happier the stronger my faith is and sad when I doubt, I will keep believing.” For someone whose goal is maintaining already-existing beliefs, I have no doubt that, on a functional level, that sort of “faith spiral” (if you will) is sufficient to keep the ball rolling. But it is no more a reason for an intelligent, skeptical person to think the initial belief was warranted than would be the internal monologue of someone who gets very excited thinking about the UFO menace and bored and listless whenever he starts thinking that there may be no UFO menace.

In the case of God-belief, unlike UFOlogy, of course, there are countless traditional reinforcers of the belief — and warnings of sorrow and hellfire for dwelling too much upon doubts (I think youthful identification of conscience with an imagined “outside observer” is also a mental habit the breaking of which becomes frightening for most people, like trying to hide from parents, which may indeed be the decisive thing). Too, the belief has been shored up throughout most of human history by threats of real burnings at the stake and so forth.

Then, too, at the risk of just adding fuel to the anti-Darwin fire, I can’t really blame anyone prior to a century and a half ago for thinking that (absent the idea of natural selection) it was hard to see how the universe could have gotten to be as it is except by design — which is why I have plenty of respect for the Deists, who were at least moving in the direction of keeping the non-empirical suppositions to a minimum, positing no more than a physical-rules-making entity. But now we know enough to make even that supposition unnecessary.

And so if one must probe a believer’s thinking — and I honestly don’t seek to do this as sport on a regular basis, but believers keep talking about the topic, and it would be unethical not to respond — one will usually find them implicitly or explicitly falling back on, essentially, a “Don’t make me sad” argument for continued belief. And no decent person wants to make anyone else sad. Well, perhaps Michael Malice, who was like the tiny devil-figure on my left shoulder while Dawn was the tiny angel-figure on my right in 2002, would disagree — and not surprisingly, he sometimes found himself at odds with Dawn. At least he and Dawn have one thing in common now: they’ve both hosted bar trivia contests, Dawn with Caren Lissner at the Baggot Inn on a regular basis back then and Malice starting just this week with Jen Dziura.

Just as it would be wrong to teach children that nothing that makes them sad (even in the short term) can be true, we are not helping to foster mental adulthood in our religious acquaintances by pretending that our desire to avoid saddening them is itself proof of the validity of their beliefs. I can happily stay off the topic if people don’t want to talk about it — and, wisely perhaps, most people don’t — but if they insist on doing so, they will not get my submissive pretense of assent. And even the most intellectually-sophisticated religious believers I’ve known (take for example Read Schuchardt, whose lecture on religious symbolism I’ll attend Thursday next week, 6:30, at the Albert Ellis Institute at 45 East 65th St.) have tended at some point to hint at believing out of fear of the imagined emotional alternatives: despair, loss of purpose, inability to make decisions, immoral impulses, etc.

Why not address such fears directly instead of clinging to something that wards them off at the price of abnegating one’s reason and skeptical faculties, like a child clutching a teddy bear? Not that one cruelly relishes being anti-teddy-bear, of course. (I like Pooh, who is not so unlike a Narnia character.)


Far from life seeming to lack a foundation without religion — or without government, to take another popular source of emotional reassurance — it seems to me that the very foundations of human consciousness must, in some limited and non-doctrinaire sense, be both skeptical and libertarian. You open your eyes upon birth to an observable world, and the two most basic functions of the human brain are, in essence, trying to figure out what the real situation before you is and what actions you’re going to take in response. If you decide to abandon careful observation in favor of clinging to pleasing but non-evidential beliefs and decide to surrender your ability to make decisions to someone with more physical power or more imagined “authority,” you have essentially abandoned the two most basic mental functions underlying all human life.

I would not really say this leaves you in a primitive mental state, either, since only someone living in a very cushy, non-threatening (that is, modern) world, it seems to me, can really get away with abandoning such basic mental faculties and expect to survive. The ancients believed in gods and followed the tribal elders, yes, but they genuinely had not yet come up with any better ideas and saw nearly every deviation from established practice leading to death by ice or mastodon or what have you. We ought to know better. We have the time and comfort to contemplate and choose wisely — but also, alas, the time and comfort necessary to spin ludicrous theories and rationales for the most patently absurd and destructive worldviews.

I have decided that I need to stop showing as much deference to the religious as I have in the past. I should not, for instance, shy away from (politely) telling priests to go into another line of work if the topic arises. They are, after all, only fellow humans who’ve made some terrible philosophical errors (and put on white collars) rather than messengers from the beyond with deep insights that should be listened to in hushed silence. In 2002, though, I was willing to attend church for a time with Dawn (then a non-denominational Protestant who’d grown up Jewish) on the off-chance I’d somehow overlooked something that might make the whole religious enterprise seem more plausible. Dawn didn’t just want someone willing to listen with an open-mind (and politely, I assure you), though — to make a long story short, she needed a fellow believer in the end, broke up with me, remained a friend, vowed to avoid premarital sex, wrote a book about it, converted to Catholicism, and moved to DC to better nudge the national conversation.

Oil and water, some might conclude, an impossible union from the get-go. And yet: in a world where (by some baffling happenstance) almost no one except me and a handful of others — or perhaps just me — has happened upon the correct worldview and philosophy, I must often (to put it in Clintonian terms) triangulate my way toward allegiances with other human beings by looking at the ways in which they’ve hybridized various pre-existing beliefs or attitudes to come to something approximating the truth.

Just as I can admire a right-wing rock performer who has cobbled together a philosophy that’s a sort of conservatism for punks (to use the phrase that is the working title of my long-delayed book in progress) or a Marxist who has turned anti-statist, anti-relativist, and anti-green, so too do I see a slow tack toward reality by a kindred spirit in someone like Dawn, who was a rock writer and neo-“mod” (meeting countless retired 60s musicians and writing more album liner notes than any other woman alive) who turned old-fashioned moralist. Then, too, there’s just the postmodern appeal of such a combo — not so unlike the amusement I get contemplating the final resting place of my Jewish uncle-by-marriage Don, who passed away that half-year and arranged for his ashes to be deposited in a sunken German U-boat. I tried in vain to convince Dawn to call her book From Mod to God just to emphasize the postmodern aspect of it all, but she of course went with The Thrill of the Chaste.

But somewhere above the level of trivia and below the cosmic level of metaphysics are the truly important practical questions like: Do you lie? Do you treat people with the respect they deserve? Do you want vows and promises and art as well to be rich and meaningful instead of shallow and perfunctory? Do you care more about honor than “winning”? In a world full of cynics who seem to pride themselves on not taking such questions seriously, sometimes a diehard skeptic atheist empiricist utilitarian can find himself having more in common with the religious conservatives, culturally, than with the typical New York City unbeliever.

That doesn’t mean there’s a God — there almost certainly isn’t — but it does mean most of the skeptics and liberals would do well to consider the conservative argument that they’ve lost some important things along the way in building an often cut-throat, shallow, hedonist modern world. There are worse things out there than your polite, elderly, Bible-reading neighbor. I just don’t think we need to share his delusions in order to work at getting rid of those worse things.

Then, too, it was nice to be dating someone who, for example, enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies and a retrospective of all of David Bowie’s videos at the Museum of Television and Radio as much as I did — and at that pre-Catholic time at least, she shared my desire to go through life without children, which must of necessity count for a lot, too. If all goes according to plan, in fact, my Book Selections for December through March will all be items culled from Dawn’s discard pile (it’s not just my movie-going that I plan in advance): Chesterton, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, and a combination of Peanuts and Terry Gilliam for March, when of course the Watchmen movie comes out — but more about all that later.


On a less personal, more political note: we may for now need a fusionist alliance of laissez-faire capitalists and conservative moralists to pull the U.S. out of its current morass, and so, for the second-to-last week of the Month of the Nerd, I will turn my attention (starting in two days) to blogging in anticipation of the potentially historic May 22-26 Libertarian Party nominating convention, which just may anoint conservative/libertarian Bob Barr as the presidential candidate destined to pull enough disgruntled-Republican votes from McCain to put Obama in the White House, finally destroying the Republican Party in order to save it.

And I don’t relish doing that either — but much has changed since late 2002, when I saw Christopher Hitchens (one of five times I’ve seen him speak, now that I think about it) and Andrew Sullivan appear together on a panel, talking about their support for Bush and the possible necessity of going to war with Iraq. Talking of his ties to leftist pro-democracy activists suffering under Saddam, Hitchens said, “I’m more a comrade now than I have ever been” — and he and Sullivan, no doubt, spend a lot of time thinking about the promise and peril of strange alliances and triangulation.

Would that all human conflict, philosophical and military, could be solved with the grace and ease of a Kaiju Big Battel wrestling match, something else I saw for the first time that half-year, while worrying that more brutal real-world battles lay just ahead.