Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dark Knight vs. X-Files: Nerd Without Pity


•Like most people, I loved Dark Knight (despite the troubling fact that Batman-loving six-year-olds probably shouldn’t see it).  It may well come to be regarded as the definitive depiction of two familiar characters (not necessarily Batman himself).  One of many brilliant moments that may not have gotten much attention yet: despite all that darkness, there was still, I think, an homage to the 60s show in the form of that slowly-rotating camera angle on the Joker during his final conversation with Batman.  Made sense in context, made sense psychologically, and made sense as a geek hat-tip.

•As for X-Files: I Want to Believe: I’m left feeling that Chris Carter wasted the last six years if this is the best he can do, much as George Lucas wasted sixteen coming up with Phantom Menace.  I take no joy in saying this — I just feel sad for the people whose careers were quietly dying in front of me while I watched the X-Files movie.

Where’s the humor?  Where are the genuinely awe- and terror-inspiring scenes, like the scene on TV in which lights suddenly appeared over the bridge in that alien abduction two-part episode?  Where’s the weird, surprising thing right near the beginning that makes you love the story from the get-go?

It’s unbelievable that this film takes two hours and accomplishes less than the average ten-minute segment of the original series.  And there’s a bonus shot at the end of the surprisingly low-budget-seeming end credits that might as well be a placard reading “You don’t want to see any more of this ever again, do you?”  So lame.

It doesn’t even rise to the level of fun-but-ridiculous B-movie, since it’s downbeat and drab and has almost nothing in it more mindbending than an episode of Law and Order with a crime-solving psychic thrown in.  I don’t know why this movie was made, and I question the intelligence of everyone involved.

It is in some sense worse than a disaster.  True disasters — like Phantom Menace or Chronicles of Riddick or even Dune — are something you can take a certain amount of pleasure in condemning.  They are glorious failures in that at least they have enough moments of audacity and spectacle to leave you feeling that you can insult them and be assured that they have the strength to fight back, as it were — sort of like telling a Viking that his oil painting is terrible but knowing he will soldier on regardless.

X-Files: I Want to Believe, by contrast, is such a feeble, ineffectual film that it is more like a quietly expiring old woman who must be politely but awkwardly told that she is too smelly to remain seated in the common room.  Just depressing.

In short: I didn’t hate X-Files: I Want to Believe.  I felt sorry for it.

•I stress the fact that I don’t enjoy rendering that verdict on the X-Files movie because I know that we nerds can be merciless in our negative judgments — a side effect of us liking clear-cut rules, as I’ll discuss in tomorrow’s review of the book American Nerd.

In another reminder nerds can be harsh, here’s an anti-religion cartoon some nerd did, depicting Doctor Who, forwarded to me by Michel Evanchik.  You see what I mean — and I say that as an atheist and Doctor Who fan.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Newton, MA vs. the Fixx


As if the Fixx were not already one of the most important rock bands (this is the sixteenth time I’ve mentioned them, and this entry will mark sixteen amazing songs of theirs I’ve linked to, without even delving into the great ones for which there’s no serious video of which I’m aware, such as the eerie, elegant, and somewhat ABC-like “Liner” [“All aboard before the storm/ Crossing swords before the dawn...”]), now they’re at the center of a legal battle in Newton, MA.

My friend Jake Harrison (married, as it happens, to one of my libertarian, alternative-rock-loving college friends, Holly Caldwell, herself now a lawyer but still arguably hip enough to get along with their skateboarding son) informs me that Newton, a Boston suburb not far from where he dwells, was barraged with complaints when Hotel Indigo celebrated its grand opening there last month with a concert by the Fixx. Representatives of the hotel will meet with the town’s Board of License Commissioners on August 19 to try and stave off suggestions that the Indigo be denied a license for further outdoor entertainment.

Perhaps it would help if I showed up to speak as a character witness on behalf of the Fixx, saying something like:

“Inherently ambiguous though noise pollution conflicts are from a libertarian perspective — or indeed, for any political philosophy, even one compatible in spirit with rocking out — I think awesome tunes like ‘Red Skies’ and ‘Sunshine in the Shade’ are clearly beneficial to the community, and if the Hotel Indigo is not yet a pillar of this community, I ask you to consider the possibility that though it doesn’t mean much now, it’s built for the future. Without the Indigo and its shuttered rooms, you would be engaged in mere phantom living, and if it’s foolish for me to say so, well: here stands the fool. If this community cannot embrace public art like a Fixx performance, I ask you, are we ourselves? I say, don’t let people like the Fixx be driven out. Rather, let at least some people perform…outside.”

But I’m sure Fixx singer Cy Curnin could be perfectly articulate if called as a witness. Despite his flagrant greenness — the near-opposite of my own pro-industry, pro-progress, pro-homo-sapiens philosophy in many ways — he sounds intelligent in interviews like this one. (Actually, he sounds a bit like a few vegetarians, vegans, or organic types I know, including my green friend Pagan Kennedy, who lives not far from Newton and who should perhaps be one of the people I try visiting when I head that way for an August 31 political conference that the libertarian quarterly Critical Review is holding in Boston — and she won’t be one of our September debaters here, despite what I said in a previous entry, so that would perhaps be my only dose of Pagan for a while.)

He also mentions in the interview that the band may play the song “Big Wall” in future concerts but hasn’t performed it since it was recorded circa 1987. I can’t imagine having a song that cool in my repertoire and not performing it for two decades. I can’t even resist looking for Fixx songs to perform in karaoke — and indeed, that’s what I plan to do at 9pm next Tuesday (August 5) at Iggy’s on Second Ave. between 75th and 76th, so join me if you will. No noise ordinance problems there, as far as I know.

P.S. While I recalled Fixx songs being used in Fletch (“Letter to Both Sides”), Streets of Fire (“Deeper and Deeper”), and a great Miami Vice opening segment in which a voodoo-cursed funeral was revealed to have a casket containing a goat head instead of a human corpse (“Phantom Living”), I was unaware that “I’m Life” was used in a late, fifth-season Miami Vice episode, “Over the Line” — but here’s the scene. My favorite late Vice moment, though, remains the exchange between Crockett and Tubbs about Crockett becoming an evil drug dealer while suffering from amnesia, which went almost verbatim like this:

TUBBS: You tried to shoot me. Twice.

CROCKETT: I know, Rico.

TUBBS: (Pause.) That’s a problem, Sonny.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

HuffingtonPost vs. Debates at Lolita Bar


Melissa Lafsky of HuffingtonPost found our panel of egg-sellers a bit too flippant, apparently.

I’m just pleased panelist Valerie Bronte’s reference to meeting her farflung offspring someday as “summoning my dark army” is now immortalized.

Who Watches the Watch-Nerds?


After criticizing the literary establishment yesterday and planning to review a book on nerds this Friday, I should note for clarity that I was (a) a nerd and (b) an English major (or at least, half an English major — I double-majored in that and philosophy), but I was never an English major nerd, which is to say, someone who thought people were fools if they weren’t fascinated by Tennyson, etc.

On the contrary, as yesterday’s entry hinted, I retain my sympathy for the average-American reaction to a lot of highbrow artsy stuff, precisely because I was the sort of nerd who (quietly, humbly, and without imperiling my grades) sat through English classes thinking “Isn’t the sci-fi novel Ringworld arguably better than Thomas Hardy?”

I’m not sure I still think that, but my point is that I think it’s a perfectly “permissible” thought, and the cool kids don’t — whether cool for current purposes means black-clad rockers or just assistant professors of literature. The two types exhibit similar pack mentalities, I fear. Nerds can be just as bad as the cool kids and the elites, even worse, but at least nerds are often blissfully unconcerned about the social repercussions of their aesthetic judgments, which in some sense makes them more objective, or at least honest (though a consistent social-democrat might argue that “objective” taste simply is whatever is decreed by the masses — whom Edward Bulwer-Lytton called “the great unwashed,” by the way, another bit of genius from that ostensible idiot).


Our intellectuals like to think they’ve created an open-minded culture, yet it takes some courage to rattle off a list like the following without pausing to ask oneself which parts are acceptable to the various cultural elites and which aren’t:

I like white socks with black shoes, Shakespeare, comic books, the theme song from the animated series Starblazers, the Fixx (about whom much more tomorrow), Fozzie Bear, cows more than horses, watching robots but not being around children, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine far more than Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Ewoks (yes, the Ewoks), canned ravioli, cold weather rather than summer or beaches, avoiding travel and unnecessary exercise (aside from walking), Dadaism but not ballet, Road Warrior but not figure skating, and the absence of tattoos no matter how hip. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about any of it, even if you’re an art critic at the New York Times — and even if you have an army on your side, and it’s quite likely you don’t, so there, if you see what I mean.

Or to put it less combatively: in these matters of taste, it seems a shame simply to import other people’s and spend a lifetime stifling your own. The award the cool people give you for thinking like them — even if it’s a Pulitzer — probably won’t be as much fun as living your own life would have been.

On a related note: Where were all these adoring Dark Knight fans ten years ago when the film’s co-writer created the wonderful sci-fi film Dark City and no one but Roger Ebert seemed to care? (He called it the best film of 1998, which means a year later, he may have reacted to The Matrix much the way that Scott Nybakken and I did: “That was good, but it felt sort of derivative of Dark City.” And indeed, The Matrix re-used some of Dark City’s actual sets, not just some of its reality-altering tropes.)

In short: we all know the herd mentality exists in aesthetic judgments, but I think we could still do more to resist it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

It Was a Smug and Phony Elite...


Who coined the poetic and widely-beloved phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword”?  Why, none other than Edward Bulwer-Lytton, widely reviled as, ironically, the quintessential bad writer — for starting novels with florid lines like “It was a dark and stormy night.”

This strikes me as a great little example of how flexible people’s perceptions are when subjected to peer pressure — we’ve all been told repeatedly that EBL is, in essence, an idiot, but if you were told often enough that “It was a dark and stormy night” is a pithy, emphatic phrase worthy of Hemingway, you’d probably believe it (but then, are you sure you’d think highly of Hemingway’s short, pithy phrases if you weren’t repeatedly told to?).  Most adults are little better than high school students when it comes to looking over their shoulders to make sure that their reactions square with everyone else’s reactions — or rather, with the reactions of everyone cool (but then, why is “cool” good in the first place, really?).

I’m sure most people could be convinced that “The pen is mightier than the sword” comes straight from Shakespeare, and I for one wouldn’t begrudge EBL the resultant, perhaps overdue, admiration.

And let’s not even get started on the topic of modern visual art.  Or literary fiction.  Or moody art films.  Or fashion.  Or “newsworthiness.”  Or politics.  Or religion.  Or poetry (poetry — oh, man, poetry, sheesh…).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

IQ Studies, Retardation, and Robots

Can people accurately predict others’ IQs on sight?

I sure feel as though I can spot stupid young women at a glance sometimes, without even hearing them speak, and I can’t claim to know exactly what cues I’m responding to.  There’s just a young, helpless, wide-eyed, often overly-fashion-conscious look common to the stupid, at least on the streets of NYC, I think.  Overhearing snippets of their conversation (often conducted in overly youthful-sounding, chirpy, questioning tones) seems to bear out my (very crude) judgments.

Is it simply that dumb people have no qualms about, say, trying to look like Paris Hilton, whereas smart people would never in a million years want to be mistaken for her — or worse, just for someone who’s trying to look like her — given that she’s an idiot?  Then again, one intern at work tells me even the Ivy League women these days are aiming aesthetically for Hilton more than Bohemia, a further sign I’m out of touch (and more on that this coming Friday, in my discussion of the book American Nerd).

On a non-IQ-related note, I’m also told that at the University of Austin, the women often dress in sloppy, hyper-casual sweatpants and the like while being carefully and artfully made up, creating the illusion that their faces look great even when they’ve just rolled out of bed to take out the garbage, thus luring unwary, awed UT males to their dooms, or at least to their dorms.

Isn’t human intelligence important enough that there should be a vast literature on questions like this, though — as well as on questions such as which professions and political groups have the highest IQs?  But I’ll bet there isn’t all that much research on such questions and instead elaborate taboos arrayed against such research as there is.

Wouldn’t we benefit from being able to spot morons on sight more easily, though?


On a related note, those who attended last week’s egg-sellers panel should know that yet more genetic analysis reveals that the seller who feared she might have a low probability of passing on Fragile X (great band name) and thus causing mentally retarded children is in fact arguably within the “normal” range after all, depending what criteria different genetic testers use, so her already very-low odds of causing future generations to have problems are not even worth worrying about, it now appears (I knew she’d do better on those genetic tests if she studied hard and tried again).

Luckily for us, her brief brush with retardation-anxiety fell during our panel discussion, though, to add a little drama.

And it made me realize that with all sufficiently low-probability inherited disorders these days, one could plausibly gamble that biotech and cybernetic progress will be able to cope with the problem by the distant future time when the genetic slot machine comes up “disease” — assuming pinhead politicians (so to speak) and green/religious activists don’t outlaw biotech (nor outlaw cybernetics, despite the alarming future depicted in that Terminator: Salvation teaser trailer running before Dark Knight).

More on such matters in April, though, when my planned Book Selection of the Month, suggested by Dan Greenberg, will be the stories of Cyril Kornbluth, a possible inspiration for the movie Idiocracy.  You might as well mark your calendars now, since that’s only nine months away, like a newly-conceived baby.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Morrison, India, and Lovecraft

So, if all goes according to plan, at almost the same time that Grant Morrison is depicting the birth of the Fifth World (with inspiration from Jack Kirby, Hopi mythology, and elsewhere) in Final Crisis comic books this fall, he will also be depicting the story of the birth of the (Hindu) Fourth World, the violent age of Kali Yuga in which we have supposedly lived for the past 5,000 years.  Morrison’s recently-revamped website says he’s writing an animated series based on the Indian epic Mahabharata, about a war between two clans that climaxes with the death of Krishna, an embodiment of the god Vishnu.

But what about the Third World, you say?

Well, in the DC Comics mythos, at least, “Third World” seems to refer to the pagan pantheons (Norse, Greek, etc.) and to the giant gods who were precursors to Darkseid and other Kirby-created Fourth World/Fifth World characters — with one of those giants, Gog, now making waves in the monthly Justice Society of America comic book.

And if they’re sticking at all to the cosmology that comics writer John Byrne worked out in the 90s, mortals are the “Second World,” while the First is composed of all the primordial, Lovecraftian beings that existed in the dark times before we arose (like that tentacled space-thing in the Lovecraft-influenced first Hellboy movie).  I wouldn’t mind seeing them work with that First World idea a bit more, when (inevitably) even a revamped Gog and Darkseid have become too familiar to be creepy enough.

Of course, dread Cthulhu himself might not seem too creepy if he were fighting Green Lantern.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I should have stopped watching the show in the middle of season six, when a major conspiratorial cabal was exterminated, but like a dwindling handful of suckers (who wanted to believe Chris Carter had a coherent master plan, even though his characters’ basic motivations would sometimes change between episodes in two-parters), I kept watching for a full nine seasons — and yeah, I figure I may as well go see the movie that’s out today.

(Of course, I’m worried it’ll do little or nothing to tie up the loose threads from the lame ending of the series, about an impending alien invasion and Mulder and Scully being framed for murder by the government — especially since David Duchovny told me when I saw him in a bar once that the film will have nothing to do with aliens.)

Just before I lost my faith, I wrote an article for HealthFactsAndFears (the blog I edit at work) about X-Files being good TV but bad science. Check it out, and you’ll see I appended a footnote thousands of words long summarizing the entire nine-year conspiracy up to just prior to the show’s end.

And if you think that’s nerdy, you’re absolutely right — and I’ll say more about nerds in general one week from today, when my Book Selections of the Month for August will be American Nerd and Being Logical. Be there or get probed.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I Ain't Got Time to Lead!


So far, Jesse Ventura has said he’s not running for Senate against his fellow Minnesotans Norm Coleman (R) and Al Franken (D), but Scott Nybakken informs me that one of his co-stars from the movie Predator, Sonny Landham (Libertarian, porn star), is running for what is now Mitch McConnell’s Senate seat. That makes three (somewhat libertarian) politicians that have emerged from that film, oddly enough — and I’m pictured above with one of them, Arnold Schwarzenegger, at an event at Mayor Bloomberg’s apartment (Ventura and Alex Trebek also played Men in Black in my favorite X-Files episode, and I can only hope this Friday’s X-Files film will be a third as good).

As a libertarian, I have some natural sympathy for politicians who try to escape the usual right-left categories, but all too often centrism is an excuse to be even more mushy and unreliable than regular, ostensibly ideological politicians. Both Ventura and Schwarzenegger — much like former New York governor Pataki — started out sounding fairly libertarian but were soon cowed into behaving more or less like fiscal Democrats as their administrations progressed.

A related thought, on Ventura’s old Reform Party allies and their kind: If anything positive is ever to come from the populist impulse to distrust both big business and big government — which all too often just leads to demagoguery and ever more byzantine regulations passed in the name of the little guy — it will have to be wedded to a much more analytical understanding of business-government collusion, like that you’ll get from anarcho-capitalist law prof Butler Shaffer in his book In Restraint of Trade (about how regulations and taxes, thought of as means to help the poor, are in fact routinely pushed for by some businesses to hinder their rivals).

Not even the businessmen believe in free trade, and we are all worse off for it. Only consistent crusaders for strict property rights (in office and out) can remedy the situation. Let us hope Sonny Landham will be one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Leggo My Eggo, But Aliens Can Take the Sperm

If last night’s discussion at Lolita Bar about women who’ve sold their eggs did nothing else, it should have served to remind the audience that eggs (and thus, on a subconscious level, women) are rare and valuable compared to sperm, which flows cheaply and plentifully.  No one would pay me $10,000 for sperm (not that I’d want my offspring wandering around even if I didn’t have to raise them, though I suppose that’d be a slight improvement, by my standards, over having to interact with children).

As sociobiology popularizer Robert Wright explains in The Moral Animal, one of evolutionary psychology’s most valuable insights into everyday life is its account of some of the differences between male and female attitudes toward sex, particularly the “double standards” so often blamed on patriarchal culture.  Put simply, females can only make reproductive use of about one egg every nine months and therefore have an incentive to be choosy, while males can in principle make reproductive use of sperm multiple times in a single day and therefore have an incentive to desire multiple partners.

Not surprisingly, women tend — tend, I say — to be more squeamish and men more eager about sex.  Women tend to seek long-term commitments (and good father-material), while men are said to fear long-term commitments.  Culture alters these tendencies, as do vast variations in individual psychology, but the general pattern is confirmed by countless surveys as well as most people’s everyday experience — and sociobiologists note that the pattern holds for the males and females of virtually all species as well, not just humans.  Exceptions to the rule — such as seahorses — tend to be ones in which biology has radically reversed other male/female roles as well (male seahorses carry the fertilized eggs around, so making baby seahorses becomes as time-consuming for them as for a human female).


Needless to say, wild animals are neither radical ideologues nor traditionalists, so the existence of this pattern tends to undermine the nurture-over-nature, it’s-all-a-social-construct views on which feminism is largely built (if I understand what “feminism” means, which countless commenters on a prior entry have assured me I do not).

Furthermore, it may explain why both traditional chivalry and feminism (despite their purported opposition to each other) have such an easy time of convincing humans that women are precious and most men are scum, unworthies, and expendable spearcarriers.  Male strength and the larger number of male than female geniuses (so say the stats) may sometimes be able to foster patriarchy, but our instincts nonetheless incline toward matriarchy.

That’s also why the aliens in shows like X-Files — the reportedly alien-free movie sequel to which premieres Friday — are always plotting to steal and impregnate our women in order to genetically conquer the world.  Would any of us instinctively worry if they were just filching sperm, I ask you?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Yo Gabba Gabba (Hey)


At least one person has e-mailed me to note the irony that I’m hosting a panel tonight (Tue., July 22) about fertility issues even though I don’t ever want to have kids myself. Nonetheless, as a fan of comic books, Muppets, and Star Wars, I can still appreciate some things created for kids.

The kids’ show Yo Gabba Gabba, for instance, apparently sometimes has cool alternative rock bands as guests. Thus, Shiny Toy Guns, whose ominous “Le Disko” I’ve praised before (a song that has more than one video and that was used to good effect in a sexy, Matrix-like ad for Raza cellphones), appeared on the show (p.c.-ishly referred to simply as the Shinys) looking and sounding decidedly different from their usual intense, serious New Wave/Stefani-like selves.

Of course, Shiny Toy Guns have varied their sound before, as shown by their cover of “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

And speaking of New Wave-ish performers varying their sound, Michael Grace, formerly a member of My Favorite (and once a debater at Lolita Bar himself), performs this Thursday, the 24th, 9pm at Galapagos (North 6th St. in Williamsburg), with his new band, Secret History, which he says sounds more like early Roxy Music — which is fine by me, given one entry in my recent list of my six favorite songs. I don’t know if they’ll be as good as the Lou Reed Berlin documentary now playing at Film Forum, but I bet they’ll be more melodic.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Genetics Isn't Just for Fascists


I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of our audience members at tomorrow night’s panel discussion with women who’ve sold their eggs are somehow morally discomfited by the whole business without being able to explain why. It sometimes seems as though anything involving genetics or conscious alterations to biology has that effect on people (even on hip, urbane Manhattanites like the ones who may well have heard about the panel because TimeOut New York wrote about us).

I interviewed several prominent evolutionary psychology/sociobiology experts (with some help from one of tomorrow’s panelists, Diana Fleischman) years ago and one day yet really ought to publish the still-unused majority of the material somewhere, but one tiny passage from the material strikes me, years later, as capturing (in a very brief, cursory way) the fact that, all data aside, it is largely a matter of choice whether one sees the Darwinian universe as a brutal one in which only Nazis and velociraptors can excel or as the familiar world we know — with room in it for love and kindness and happiness. Here’s that two-paragraph bit from the old interview:

Biologist Robert Trivers at Rutgers says that perhaps his own greatest contribution to the field “was to show how cooperation and altruistic behavior find a ready home in evolutionary biology…[We] provided biology with a foundation for a sense of justice. So, instead of seeing our sense of fairness and justice as being just cultural artifacts, which might in principle disappear with a different upbringing, you saw that there was quite a biological substratum for why we feel that way.”

Trivers’ view of evolution is upbeat enough that he even incorporated Darwinian themes into a marriage ceremony he officiated in California for two biologists, noting how their love was the end product of billions of years of creatures seeking one another out, intermingling to create something new, and feeling devotion to their offspring and kin. He concluded with Darwin’s comment that “there is grandeur in this view of life.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hellboy vs. Ben Grimm


While everyone’s seeing Dark Knight, a word about last weekend’s superhero:

Hellboy makes me realize one reason (besides Galactus not looking right, as noted Friday) that the Fantastic Four movies haven’t been fully satisfying: Ben Grimm (the Thing) should be every bit the cynical, funny, larger-than-life, cigar-chomping bruiser that Hellboy is — the comic book Ben Grimm may even have influenced Hellboy. But the filmic Ben Grimm doesn’t quite cut it. Nothing wrong with Chiklis’s performance, really — but the Thing should be over-the-top gruff and should have the massive, chiseled, cartoonish countenance to match. The movie Thing is OK, but he should be as beloved and iconic as Spider-Man or Wolverine — or at least as gruff and amusing as Hellboy.

And indeed, Ben was my favorite comic book character back in the late 70s when I was a youthful Marvel Zombie. Having at least one hero on hand to sigh and mutter a ticked-off “Fer tha luva Pete!” at some bombastic villain helped make even the most ridiculous scenarios feel a bit more familiar and human — sort of like Han Solo’s sarcasm in Star Wars. Wolverine, by contrast, is more of a “cool” guy — one of many 70s/80s iterations of Dirty Harry, really.

At a performance space somewhere downtown, I recall seeing a comic book page pinned up as a decoration in the men’s room that summed up the Thing perfectly. Thor threw his hammer at a giant foe and shouted about doing it “in the name of the Nine Realms.” Ben Grimm threw a big rock at the same foe, shouting “fer Brooklyn!!”

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mark Millar vs. Superman -- and Hannah Montana vs. Wolverine


•Mark Millar (no relation to Smallville producer Miles Millar) claims he’s reinventing Superman for a 2011 film, if all goes according to plan, with the director yet to be named. Given that Millar is the man who gave us a communist Superman in the comic book Superman: Red Son and who gave us the dopey and ridiculous (albeit at times fun) Wanted, I should probably be nervous.

•But I have no big stake in the outcome, believe it or not. No matter how great Dark Knight proves to be, after 2009 I’m loyal (just barely) only to four film franchises, I’ve decided: Hobbit (two films, from the director of the Hellboy movies), Potter, Narnia, and Avengers, all climaxing around 2011. There’s only so much time in one’s moviegoing schedule, after all.

•The one major nerd movie I know of that’s already scheduled for 2012, oddly enough, is the final movie of the main Narnia arc, The Last Battle, which depicts the Narnian version of the Apocalypse. Since so many mystics and conspiracy theorists think December 22, 2012 is the day the world ends (and greens fret, knowing the Kyoto Protocol on global warming expires a week later), I think they should just go ahead and release the movie that weekend, filling the ads with apocalyptic language designed to appeal both to Mayan-prophecy believers and Christians, maximizing public interest: “In December 2012, in a world coming to an end…”

•Maybe after that, I’ll completely reshuffle my life and range of interests, to coincide with the purported end of the world. It may be all sportfishing and Japanese pottery collection for me after that, when I’m not honing my stand-up comedy routine or renting early French silent films to watch at my new home in Wyoming. We’ll see. (You can decide for yourself whether those things would be non-sequiturs with my life so far by rereading my Retro-Journal, the concluding entry of which was posted yesterday.)

•You’ll notice I said “after 2009″ above when talking about future films. What about during 2009? Well, next year, in addition to the greatly-anticipated Watchmen in early March, three franchises of interest to me will be relaunched in May, which I should at least watch exit the nest: Wolverine, Star Trek, and Terminator.

•And I notice the Wolverine movie is scheduled to come out the same day as the Hannah Montana movie. That sounds like a nasty fight, albeit brief. I nerdily ended the whole Retro-Journal with the word “Excelsior” yesterday, I guess I may as well end this entry with “Snikt.”

Friday, July 18, 2008

Retro-Journal: At Last, 2007

The circle is now complete. With today’s Retro-Journal entry, the fortieth in a series of forty, I have fulfilled my forty-week mission to recount the past twenty years of my life (just over half my life so far), six months in each weekly entry.

Today, in 2008, theatre-goers flock to see a brooding pop culture icon watching over a dark, divided city of crime and danger: I mean Lou Reed, of course, seen performing his Berlin album, in a concert film out today. And Lou Reed — like the then-divided Berlin about which he sings — is also a good glimpse of both the future and past of this blog, for next month, as the major-party political conventions approach, I turn my attention more fully (albeit in shorter posts) to the theme that gives this site its current slogan, “conservatism for punks,” and to working on the long-delayed book proposal about the same topic.

Both conservatism and alternative rock sometimes seem to those steeped in their details like quasi-ancient phenomena but trace their modern formulations to approximately 1964, not so long ago in the grand scheme of things, I realize as I age, with that year bringing Barry Goldwater’s failed but inspirational presidential campaign and Lou Reed’s collaboration with John Cale, the partnership that would lead a year later to the creation of the band Velvet Underground. The resulting subcultures could learn some useful things from each other.


In March 2007, though, forty-three years later, there came the public announcement from Ron Paul of his plan to run a libertarian-conservative campaign for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party — and that same month, coincidentally, saw the official launch of this blog, which has since covered topics ranging from Paul’s encounter with the Sex Pistols on TV to the overly-complicated timeline of the Terminator movies.

About one month after the blog’s launch, as it happens, I attended one of the CitizenJoe political speech/socializing events — the series written about this week, in the same TimeOut New York article as the Debates at Lolita Bar that Michel Evanchik and I run. And at that fateful CitizenJoe gathering, I met a lawyer (and Democrat) named Koli who introduced herself to me, amusingly enough, by expressing doubt about whether any actual Republicans attended the events. Like that night’s speaker (a Cato expert on the Iran situation), I’m a libertarian, but I’m also technically a registered (and increasingly disillusioned, if such a thing is still possible) Republican, on the grounds that when I registered, lo these sixteen years ago, shortly after moving to New York City, the Republicans were ostensibly the more free-market of the two major parties.

Whether the distinction matters anymore is so debatable that I’ll have to write a book partly on that question. Koli and I may not have settled all the world’s political disputes, but we dated for about seven months — even traveling to Jamaica together for my friends Allan Cohen and Maria Gray’s wedding one year ago this month — and there’s something to be said for that.

I will probably be a bit less social, more hermitlike, in the months ahead (except in so far as you all know where to find me twice a month, per the front page’s right margin), working on the aforementioned book proposal. And speaking of devoting my energies elsewhere, some have asked why I don’t post copies of some of the college-era material I’ve mentioned, using it as a potentially-interesting form of filler. Well, besides the fact that I haven’t gotten around to buying a scanner with which to create Brown Film Bulletin PDFs — and ignoring ambiguous copyright questions surrounding those collectively-written pieces — I’ve found that many of the old Bulletins, and my old Brown Daily Herald columns as well, are so riddled with references to whatever the hubbub on campus that week was that even I now can’t understand them sometimes, two decades later.

You can’t go home again. Well, actually, that I can do — Norwich, CT and my parents still make perfect sense to me. Maybe I should have blogged about the first two decades of my life instead of the third and fourth, but it was all pretty much science, comic books, New Wave music, and the communist menace back in the first couple decades, too, except with a lawn, pets, and easy access to the woods. I have just over one year left in which to cement this fourth decade’s status as the most significant one, so wish me luck. After that, it’s all downhill, of course.


•But in January 2007, when I still retained some of the vigor and hope of youth, I saw David Lynch speak at a Barnes & Noble, hoping for some explanation of the poor quality of his three-hour-long, aggressively repetitive and pointless film Inland Empire. The explanation, I think, is that Lynch was always more a naive “outsider artist” than a complex surrealist. He says Blue Velvet started with him thinking, boy, it’d be neat to have a shot of an ear lying in a field and then ask how that darn ear got there, and that, I’m afraid, is the disillusioning truth about the level of thought that goes into his films. Sometimes they just look cool. Now he’s into transcendental meditation, while the Twin Peaks co-writer who in retrospect was probably crucial in keeping the series coherent, Mark Frost, went on to co-write things like the Fantastic Four movies.

Interestingly, I heard years ago that Lynch is also something of a Reagan-loving social conservative, motivated to make his films in part by the concern that the world is, as I think he once put it, full of strange people doing terrible things. And I suppose that’s sometimes the case. But it’s funny, too, as he’s also aware.

•That February saw strange people talking me into seeing the Ghost Rider movie, which was indeed a fairly terrible thing, but it did have a delightful trailer for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, written by the aforementioned Mark Frost, at the beginning, which helped — though I never did go see the Surfer movie because it reportedly never showed the mighty, world-eating space-being named Galactus in all his armored glory, despite him being a major plot element — and despite his having waited some 14 billion years (or four decades, if you only count from his appearance in Fantastic Four comics) to appear on the big screen. What a cosmic rip-off.

•March brought one of the biggest Lynch fans I know — my old sophomore college roommate Marc Steiner — and his wife to New York City for the first time, and in one way it was indeed like old times, when we’d often complained about the obscurantists and avant-gardists at Brown, since twenty years later we found ourselves attending a postmodern Richard Foreman play, Wake Up, Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead!, with theatre guy and amateur philosopher Richard Ryan and his girlfriend.

Marc’s no cultural conservative, but it was a joy to see how much more willing he was than I to simply tell Richard R. that the whole thing was bunk, a colossal waste of time, and a betrayal of all artistic purpose or meaning. I just sort of regarded the hour or so of pantomime, flashing lights, and cryptic repetitive slogans as Postmodernism 101 — a bit boring but harmless and occasionally hypnotic. Richard R. finds Foreman’s work profound, but then, Richard R. admits he’s drawn to mysticism, while also having studied physics and become a computer programmer, a potent combo.

After that night, I finally felt I could ignore the avant-garde without any residual guilty feeling that perhaps it was “threatening” to my uptight, bourgeois consciousness or something. The avant-garde is simply old hat, I think.

•Mid-March brought a junket to tour the Scottish nanotech industry, the end of March had seen the official start of regular blogging at, and April brought the aforementioned Koli meeting, quickly followed by our first real date, seeing musician Mike Kobrin — who had also been one of the other writers on that nanotech junket and who has just this month relocated to New Orleans, the perfect place for a trumpet player. One who combines a fascination with high tech and a love of traditional music is a cultural balancing act after my own heart, a natural for the Big Easy.

•The end of May saw me ordering a copy of Katherine Taylor’s cool novel Rules for Saying Goodbye, a book that still strikes me as providing a valuable lesson for all those writers out there who, around that time, got into trouble for writing fanciful or fabricated memoirs: Just write a book that resembles your life, name the main character after yourself, and call it a novel — then you can do whatever you want. Be an ex-junkie, get raised by wolves and chased by Nazis, embody left-wing Guatemalan womanhood, make cutting remarks to other members of the Clinton Cabinet while being Secretary of Labor, get probed by space aliens — whatever it is you want to fake, you just call it a novel and it’s OK. No subsequent recriminations on Oprah, no cries of fraud. Remember: being a novelist, as opposed to a memoirist, means never having to say you’re sorry. By contrast, the Retro-Journal is (as far as I know) completely accurate and, as such, a valuable first draft of history.

•June saw my ex-girlfriend Dawn Eden headed off to live and proselytize for Catholic chastity in DC, around the time conservatism was starting to look like a spent force in American politics, the Republicans having lost Congress months earlier, after twelve long years of not downsizing government. Since then, I suppose I’ve hunkered down a bit philosophically, figuring that unless I focus laser-like on BUDGET CUTS AND DEREGULATION, no religious-rightist, hawk, reform-minded liberal, moderate, green, or any other known political species is going to make the tiniest effort to encourage those important things — thus the perhaps growing tone of single-minded anarchism on this blog, which I hope will culminate in some sort of useful, more or less libertarian tome at a time when it’s sorely needed.

And the second half of 2007 would see the blog begin perhaps its most important feature (so far): this Retro-Journal, which has explained in some small way how I got where I am. It was inaugurated on Friday, October 19, 2007, twenty years to the day after the “Black Monday” stock market dip that happened a month after I got to college and that many regarded as heralding the end of the Reagan years, much as the Bush years are now ending in financial uncertainty and equally controversial foreign policy developments (ones that may or may not presage equally positive and world-changing subsequent developments).

Regardless of who wins the presidential election in November, this fall is likely to be greeted by many people as a sort of palate-cleanser, with both the Bush and Clinton dynasties probably receding into history. We don’t know for sure what next year will bring, but only a sadist would deny hoping it’ll be better than the past, and, if the general progress of the human race is any indication, it probably will be, despite all the disasters along the way. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll look back at it all in a retrospective twenty years from now and use this juncture as the starting point when I do so. Excelsior.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Caves, Batman, the Expanding Earth, and Bugs


Spelunkers and cavers everywhere!

It just so happens that in the past two days, my friend Scott Nybakken saw Journey to the Center of the Earth and a certain already-acclaimed, very dark movie about a superhero known for living in a cave at times, and then tonight he and I both bid farewell to Ellie Hanlon, a cave-explorer (as were two friends of hers from Ukraine who were present) who’s moving to Austin, TX, home of Diana Fleischman (one of our panelists Tuesday at Lolita Bar) and L.B. Deyo (co-founder of the debate series itself).

But talk of Batman and caves in turn reminds me of something stranger: As if it weren’t odd enough that some people in Jules Verne’s day thought the Earth was hollow, one of the most famous Batman artists in our own day, the highly talented and influential Neal Adams, is a devotee of the fringe geological theory that the Earth is expanding — as most rocks do, according to the theory, due to a hard-to-detect internal crystalline structure that gradually pushes outward.

He is downright outraged at the purported conspiracy among mainstream geologists that is denying the expansion of the Earth, scientists instead hewing to theories such as plate tectonics at which Adams laughs.

Weirder still, from a physics perspective, Adams believes that the Earth is somehow gaining mass as it expands (sort of the way the Hulk somehow gets heavier without eating when he transforms — something eventually attributed in the legendary Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe [by Larry Hama, the writer best known for G.I. Joe] to Hulk drawing mass from an alternate dimension via a small wormhole during each transformation, which actually makes more sense than him just standing there getting more massive without eating anything).

This is my favorite passage of Neal Adams’ argumentation for a growing Earth, from his website (my day job obliges me to say that this argument is, shall we say, not widely respected by scientists):

Dragonflies the size of hawks. Spiders the size of Fed-Ex boxes, 5 feet long 7 inch wide centipedes and cereal bowl sized crawling bugs [in prehistoric times, as known from fossils].

Big Deal! Right?

Yes. What they don’t say is because insects don’t have internal skeletons they can’t grow much bigger than they are today. If THE GRAVITY IS WHAT IT IS TODAY!

Of course, if, 300 million years ago, gravity on Earth was less than half of what it is today

Then these gigantic insects could exist…

Increased oxygen will not produce gigantic insects because gravity won’t allow it.

Scientists are scratching their heads in total puzzlement over this phenomenon. It is not a puzzle if…

Speaking of giant Jules Verne-sized dragonflies, I recall some sage a century or so ago, observing how much disease and famine is caused by bugs, saying: Humans should stop fighting each other and start fighting insects.  Very sensible.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: Panel Discussion with Women Who've Sold Their Eggs


We’re discussing at the bar, being discussed in TimeOut, and more:

(a) Tue., July 22, at 8pm: Debates at Lolita Bar presents a panel discussion: Women Who Have Sold Their Eggs — with egg-producers Valerie Bronte (5′10″ Foucault-studying grad student), Diana Fleischman (evolutionary psychology expert), and Kerry Howley (senior editor, Reason magazine), pictured above in that order, except I couldn’t find Valerie so I used the DC Comics supervillain Egg Fu (fitting, since the whole panel was Scott Nybakken’s idea) [UPDATE 7/17/08: A fourth panelist, biology-trained finance-sector whiz Marie Huber, will also join us and is now visible above right].

Hosted by Todd Seavey and moderated by Michel Evanchik.

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

(b) AND WE’RE FEATURED IN TIMEOUT NEW YORK THIS WEEK (the July 16-22 issue, p. 46 and in Listings), so everyone cool will be there (and speaking of cool, the a.c. will definitely be on).

(c) After this, our August debate is also coming up alarmingly fast (back on our usual first-Wednesday-of-the-month) — but what will it be about? If — and only if — you are a pair of articulate but bitterly divided opponents on some widely-contested topic willing to duke it out in public at 8pm on Aug. 6, let me know [UPDATE: Make that Aug. 13, 8pm, when Muhammed Rum and Pamela Geller Hannah Meyers contest the question "Is Israel Oppressing the Palestinians?"].

(d) In the meantime, behold the finale of my forty-part, twenty-years-recounting Retro-Journal, this Friday here on the blog.

(e) And with that concluded, it’s time for that book-writing semi-hermitude, long delayed. Be thankful I got the autobiographical stuff out of my system already, leaving more time for commie-bashing and Ramones jokes.

(f) Finally: whereas next Tuesday’s panel of young women sell eggs to make babies, old ladies kill for money — by running over homeless people, like something out of Death Race — or Joker’s Gotham — per this alarming article (which will give you something to talk about until Friday’s Retro-Journal finale).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Meanwhile, Far from Gotham City: My Six Favorite Songs

With the reportedly-good but reportedly-glum (not to mention extra-snuffy, due to Heath Ledger’s subsequent death) Dark Knight coming out this week, I am reminded of the 60s Batman series’ memorable theme song, open, and overall design — great things, and let none of my over-serious comic-reading brethren tell you otherwise.

And I find myself thinking of another show, from two decades later, that evoked crime of the 60s and had an even more wonderful theme song, namely Michael Mann’s Crime Story, for which Del Shannon rerecorded his classic “Runaway,” one of my six favorite songs of all time. (But then, the lead singer of 80s band English Beat, when I saw them in concert with the Fixx and the Alarm, said “The 80s is the new 60s, and fifty is the new thirty!” — though I’m not yet forty, for the record. Thirty-nine, soon enough, I admit.)

Here’s one version of the Crime Story open, which I often tuned in to watch on Thursday nights even without watching the rest of the episode, just to hear the song (especially during the first season, with a couple marvelously early-60s moments in that version of the montage, including a split-second shot of a guy in black dress shoes exposing his white socks as he runs, a fashion choice after my own nerdy heart).

And for anyone wondering (in no particular order):

•“Synchroncity II” by the Police
•“Minnie the Moocher” by Cab Calloway
•“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds
•“Runaway” by Del Shannon
•“Editions of You” by Roxy Music
•“House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals

Make of that what you will (one oddly-neurally-wired friend immediately noted they all involve lamentations about dangerous women, but I hardly think that makes them similar songs, so that can’t be it — and after all, what rock songs don’t involve lamentations about dangerous women?).

I think the only one I haven’t done in karaoke now is “Editions of You,” though some lucky people saw my “Virginia Plain” at Bowery Poetry Club just over a year ago.

Bonus trivia factoid: Last person to interview Del Shannon before his death? Dawn Eden.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Batmobile Is in Front of ACSH

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I try to refrain from personal blogging during work hours, but the Batmobile is parked in front of ACSH at the moment — or rather, is parked across from the IMAX-possessing Loews where they’re apparently doing an advance screening of Dark Knight at 68th and Broadway.

I fear the numerous cops and FDNY gathered may be removing it, but they could just be adjusting its position (it’s on a flatbed at the moment).

It appears to be the real thing, so to speak, in that it is an ornate armored vehicle rather than some cardboard display — but it’s smaller than you’d think from the bruising-tank impression it creates onscreen (aside from the massive back tires).

Madonna vs. Tenacious D

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Without question, the best revelation I’ve heard from Madonna’s brother’s book, as summarized by NYPost:

Madonna hangs an 8-by-12-foot photo of herself in S&M gear and lying on a bed with dead animals in her home — in full view of the kids. It’s “the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen,” Ciccone writes.

But then, I was never a big Madonna fan.  “Classico” by Tenacious D is more, well, classy, in its way.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Green Is the New Stupid

A minister-related reflection for this Sunday (which I plan to spend at least partly outdoors):

The ads for the anti-climate-change site say, “Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton have come together to help save the planet.  Now we need you” (with a photo of the two men together).  How much more evidence do you need that green is the new stupid?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Political Spectrum, the Broadcast Spectrum, and the Isle of Man

In yesterday’s (penultimate) Retro-Journal entry (and my guest entry on AlarmingNews linked within it), I mentioned the tricky subject of trying to figure out which if any candidate to support if you’re a libertarian, since they’re almost all awful. Libertarians end up having to pick weird allies sometimes since they have so few from which to choose.

•For instance, Reason recently looked at how Ron Paul, for good or ill, helped inspire a less-libertarian, more-conservative candidate for president, Baldwin of the Constitution Party.

•On the other hand, Jacob Levy points out to me a study by Rasmussen showing that the puny 4% of the U.S. population who arguably qualify as libertarian — or at least “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” (which admittedly may not mean the same thing) — apparently prefer Obama to McCain by a very significant margin (perhaps mainly because of the war, which has become far more important to many libertarians than it is to me, for voting purposes, I mean).

•It’s interesting that in the Rasmussen study, which breaks the populace up into seven major segments depending on whether they are socially liberal-or-conservative and whether they are fiscally liberal-or-conservative, contained so few “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” people — yet contained so few “socially conservative, fiscally liberal” people (a designation that arguably applies to populists Baldwin, Huckabee, and Buchanan in varying ways) that they don’t even rate a mention among the seven major chunks of the electorate…which is probably for the best, much as I sympathize with certain pro-local, decentralizing impulses of the paleoconservatives. There is actually a political category, in short, rarer than libertarian, if you can believe that.

•By contrast, the single largest chunk of the seven (at 24%) was mainstream conservative: “socially conservative, fiscally conservative,” though I’d argue you’d never know it from most of modern public policy. Nonetheless, this is a good argument for appealing to that bloc, as I strive to with the whole “conservatism for punks” philosophy underlying this blog.

•And all such demographic calculations aside, I still favor the basic P.J. O’Rourke argument for preferring right to left, by libertarian standards. In short: being able to smoke pot won’t be much consolation when government has taken over every other aspect of the economy, whereas in a free market, things like pot and sex are pretty difficult to police anyway.

•To all who simply think any sympathy for the right is absurd, that good anti-authoritarians should always sympathize with modern liberals and the left, and that the Republicans must be severely punished again and again for their statist ways, I must ask: Is it also urgent that we punish the Democrats with removal from power for this kind of blatantly totalitarian scheming: favoring a return of the totalitarian Fairness Doctrine?

Or do cool kids only panic over right-wing authoritarianism? No need to answer. I’m afraid I already know.

I wish now I’d spoken to Pelosi’s daughter when I was in her vicinity at a party a couple months ago. The daughter is a documentarian and must have some interesting things to say about her mother’s (and NY Rep. Louise Slaughter’s) belief that the government should force people in media (like her) to broadcast ideas with which they disagree.

Maybe I should be forced to hire a co-blogger who’s leftist, green, anti-free-speech, pro-religion, comic-book-hating, irrational, and above all very, very, very enamored of government — and slavery in general.

•To escape all these modern-sounding political concerns, I’m tempted to visit the Isle of Man. With a population of about 80,000, this rather quaint political entity lies between Britain and Ireland, has as its strange motto “Whithersoever you throw it, it shall stand,” and flies the slightly absurd flag you may have noticed atop this blog entry.

I believe the Isle of Man is currently part of a defense alliance with Strongbadia and the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Retro-Journal: McCain Wins -- in Late 2006

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In late 2006, elections ousted Republicans and put Democrats in control of Congress (since which time Congress’s approval ratings have slipped to single digits for the first time in the history of polling).

That was also the half-year during which I posted my first, experimental blog entry on, recounting my experience of Election Night (though I would not begin blogging on a regular basis for another four months). As it happens, that first blog entry bears a strong resemblance to my first blog entry, posted today (a guest entry, done while Karol Sheinin is on vacation, about how I went from anticipating a Giuliani presidential victory to rooting for Libertarian Bob Barr over the past two exhausting years — and note that the non-embedded link in the middle of it as I write this was not my fault, but whether Karol can fix it from Italy remains to be seen).

•That old TSc entry, fast out of the gate, described how I hoped a candidate Giuliani or candidate McCain might learn from the GOP’s 2006 losses (the latter man sounding admirably chastened and pro-spirit-of-’94 on Election Night ’06).

•The new AN entry, by contrast, describes how, since then, I’ve grown more pessimistic and thus more Libertarian (in a strategic sense, I mean — philosophically, I’ve been my usual right-leaning, anarcho-capitalist self throughout).

Since I’d love it if you read (or reread) both the TSc alpha-entry and the AN omega-entry (so to speak), I’ll keep today’s Retro-Journal entry slightly shorter than usual, though it is the second to last, and I hate to give late 2006 short shrift.

(Don’t feel obligated to read the AN entry if your name is Eric Dondero, though, since that would mean you are a libertarian-Republican activist with a tendency to publicly call people Giuliani supporters even when they never officially were, or weren’t for more than a heartbeat. I wouldn’t want to exaggerate my always-tentative, soon-abandoned, weighing-my-options support for Giuliani, which was really more of a 2006 thing than a primary-season thing for me, despite the admittedly formulaic title of the AN entry. My favorite legacy of the 2008 primaries, really, was and remains the emergence of self-proclaimed young “Ron Paul Republicans,” who I hope will go on to reshape the Republican Party in a profoundly anti-government way, to the great benefit of the entire human race, long after President Obama or, perhaps, President McCain has finished rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic ship of state.)

Next Friday, of course, will be the final Retro-Journal entry, bringing us full circle with a description of early 2007 (the Retro-Journal itself having started in the second half of that year).

But first, a quick, free-associative list of some non-political late-2006 highlights:

•I didn’t know which was more frightening that July: the Scottish horror film The Descent or an ornery karaoke crowd at Winnie’s in Chinatown.

•In a single one-week period that September, I heard (a) one friend read an essay about his ex-fiancee being institutionalized with severe schizophrenia, (b) another friend explain his new 9/11 conspiracy theory newspaper at a party to celebrate its latest issue, and (c) a friend of friends — author Daniel Pinchbeck — seriously explain his belief that the god Quetzalcoatl has spoken to him of the Earth’s impending eco-doom and/or cosmic awakening in 2012, to a rapt, perfectly respectful audience, during his appearance at the McNally Robinson bookstore.

(I heard a much less weird reading there just last night, from the novel All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown, who’ll be one of our speakers at Lolita Bar on September 3, by the way, “confronting” Pagan Kennedy — and Brown’s book title comes from a song by Bauhaus, incidentally, whose lead singer I looked for in vain on a karaoke song list two nights ago, while doing karaoke with Republicans, hoping I could dedicate a song by my favorite Turkey-dwelling Muslim to the victims of that day’s small terrorist attack in that country — but instead, I was forced to do “Rainbow Connection,” “Plush,” and “House of the Rising Sun,” in effect forming a trilogy about a hero who leaves his swamp in pursuit of a dream, is pursued by dogs who begin to smell him, and ends up in a New Orleans brothel.)

•My parents’ cat Menny passed away, about one year after the loss of their beloved dog of sixteen years, Uber, who with Menny formed a living namesake-tribute to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch.

•I was reminded what a small world it is by an October trip to Austin, TX that, as it turned out, coincided with the Texas Book Festival there, meaning a substantial portion of New York City seemed to be there, engaged in book promotion, including my predecessor as editor of the Brown Film Bulletin (mentioned in early Retro-Journal entries), Dave Kamp, who was talking about his book The United States of Arugula, which describes — in an almost Virginia Postrel-like fashion — how increasing prosperity and culture-mixing vastly expanded American culinary options and improved our palates in just the few decades that Gen Xers like us have been on the planet (a much more optimistic take on things than Austin’s own Richard Linklater would offer in his glum food-industry drama Fast Food Nation just a month later, based on the book by the same title that helped popularize the increasingly common pseudo-scientific notion that industrial agriculture is poisoning us all and destroying communal life).

•I saw the Fixx in concert (something I seem to keep doing, along with linking fourteen of their songs to date) with the Knack, Naked Eyes, and Missing Persons — and, from one odd medley the Knack performed, finally got confirmation of something I’d been saying for years, sometimes to mocking responses: that “Tequila” sounds like the Doors’ “Break on Through.”

•I watched Kyle Smith read from his second book, which was also part of the’s second-ever Book Selection entry — little realizing that while Kyle was in the front of that Barnes and Noble, a camera crew was in the back, not to shoot him but to shoot an ugly reality-show confrontation between singer Lisa Loeb and one of her many dates on the show Number 1 Single, writer Allen Salkin (who went on a few more dates with her after that, though you’d never know it from the way the show was edited to make him look completely rejected and somewhat villainous — but it was all for a good cause: answering the vexing and profound question “Can a beautiful, famous, Jewish, female rock singer whose dates stand a good chance of getting some attention on national TV find someone in New York City to go out with her?”).

But Lisa Loeb is not the star of next week’s climactic final Retro-Journal entry: I am — and that final entry may well prove to be both more conservative and more punk than a girly folk singer from Brown University could handle. Be here on 7/18/08 to find out, as we look back at a lost epoch: the crazy, dimly-remembered wackness that was 2007.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Course Correction

I recently went to the website of a fancy Manhattan restaurant, and it proved to be a textbook example of badly-written instructions/directions (one of my pet peeves, up there with signs whose arrows point in ambiguous directions).  The restaurant site had multiple paragraphs worth of instructions on how to walk there if starting from Midtown, essentially climaxing with the commandment to get onto the Street in question and keep going until reaching the building number (they refrained from saying “Put your left foot in front of your right foot…”) — yet in all of it, there was no reference anywhere to which Avenue is closest to the restaurant, which anyone with any familiarity with Manhattan knows should be about the third syllable in any set of geographic instructions here, as in “and Ninth.”

So now I hope they go out of business.  It’s the only way humanity learns.

I worry that more and more things are falling through bureaucratic cracks as the pace of society becomes faster — less time for people to stop and utilize reason.  Think, humanity, think.

At least the market provides more frequent, diverse, decentralized, and individualized feedback about errors than biannual, right-or-left, turn-the-vast-ship-of-state votes do, though (and thus speedier, more precise corrections — even now, customers may be making their way to a more easily located restaurant).  But tomorrow, in my second-to-last Retro-Journal entry, let’s take a look at one big recent electoral “correction,” the 2006 Republican loss of control of Congress.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ukraine Collapse

Continuing my unplanned trilogy of ethno-analytical blog entries, it occurs to me that I know several impressive Ukrainians or Central Europeans — such as the Sobars, Michael Malice (who you can see hosting trivia tonight with Polish-descended Jen Dziura), and Karol Sheinin (on whose blog I’m scheduled to have a guest entry sometime in the next several days, on how I went from tentatively supporting Giuliani to tentatively supporting Barr over the past several months). I think it was blogger Meredith Kapushion who said you can often spot her brainy fellow Central Europeans from the sheer size of the “Ukranium.” Serbs, however, are nine feet tall with long limbs for crushing you, evolved from millennia of brutal mountain combat. Of course, I may be oversimplifying the cultures just a bit.

I was hoping to go into around 600 words of greater detail about Ukraine in the form of a book review in New York Post about Red Prince, a book about the cross-dressing fascist sympathizer, Wilhelm von Habsburg, who helped create modern Ukraine in the early twentieth century. Regardless of whether you’re interested in Ukraine per se, though, the book’s a powerful reminder that the age of ideologies in which we live — fascism, communism, etc. — was only very recently wrenched from an earlier age of monarchs and emperors, when families like the Habsburgs ruled for centuries and upstarts like the Bolsheviks seemed a bizarre passing fad, albeit one with an unprecedented body count.

(Socialism in its various forms was responsible for some 150 million deaths in the twentieth century, not counting its ongoing toll in the form of subtly shortened lives due to regulation-induced poverty — or side effects like the sixty million or so killed by environmentalists’ ban on life-saving DDT. The left, in short, is the deadliest thing that’s ever happened to humanity, in terms of absolute body count, but if you told American leftists you wanted to restore the Habsburg dynasty, they’d look at you as if you’d suggested painting the sun blue and would go right on feeling morally superior.)

Red Prince was written by Timothy Snyder, now a Yale historian and two decades ago a Brown undergrad, which I promise is not reason enough for me to be biased in his favor (I think the record of my love-hate relationship with Brown is clear). In other Brown alum news fraught with mixed feelings, though: if Bobby Jindal ends up being picked by McCain to be his running mate, it will be interesting to have a v.p. who can probably field questions on deconstructionism for the first time, since you couldn’t escape that stuff at Brown twenty years ago, even if you were a conservative convert to Catholicism. At one point or another, mark my words, Jindal probably had to write term papers about the detextualized significance of the phallus as a hermeneutic calendar reproblematizing the Other, or something along those lines. We’ll have to watch his speeches for Derrida references. Or maybe Deleuze.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Sade for the Twenty-First Century

All right, to compensate for mocking a black female broadcaster in yesterday’s entry, I will speak fondly of one today, demonstrating the well-rounded sensitivity for which I am known:

Wilder men drink whisky while watching go-go girls who claim to have names like Blaze and Eden (well, wait, technically, I — no, never mind).  I, by contrast, am a classy guy who is just pleased to have spotted local ABC anchor Sade Baderinwa in the Starbucks between ACSH and ABC last week.

I guess Sade is a common Nigerian name (though this Sade, like the musical Sade, is also half-European — in this case half-German and a nice living reminder that Nazi eugenicists really missed the boat on the beauty of hybridization — you know I speak the truth).  The most convenient part of this celeb-spotting for me, though, was that any lingering doubts I had about whether it was really her were cleared up when she got her coffee order by name.  Thank you, Starbucks protocols.  (She did try to change her order radically at the pick-up counter, though, a reminder that even the most charming broadcast personalities can be primadonnas.)

Coincidentally, since my go-go dancer reference above was inspired by thoughts of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (about which I blogged last week, on the same day I spotted Baderinwa), Wikipedia notes Baderinwa was hit by a hit and run driver four years ago, though it does not mention whether the driver was a busty go-go dancer.

I’ve often thought hit and run incidents — which are surprisingly common — are a nice little semi-randomized reminder that morally irresponsible ghouls are all around us all the time, up-with-people sunshiny non-misanthropic (philanthropic?) talk to the contrary notwithstanding.

Morality aside, though: if you “must” run someone over and then flee (because, say, you’re a contestant in Death Race 2000 or its impending remake), it’s probably strategically unwise to run down a news anchor, politician, or police officer.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wendy Williamses

There are three famous Wendy Williamses (four counting the Olympic swimmer), all three of them either in porn (as the suicidal Plasmatics singer was early on and as, apparently, a famous transsexual has been) or possessed of notoriously gigantic breast implants and prone to cocaine use and ugly spats with P Diddy and others — as is the case with the one about to start her housewife-friendly daytime chat show on Fox, which has been heavily advertised here (and presumably in L.A.) with inane clips of her talking about showering and getting haircuts and the like.

Despite my fondness for punks like the Plasmatics, I will admit the third Wendy is the most attractive, albeit thanks in part to liposuction and an unwarranted air of self-confidence.  Should be interesting to see how long that goes on without some stupid controversy or other, preferably an on-air slapfight.  (Even nice-guy/Scientology tool Will Smith — not to be confused with his gruff character in Hancock — apparently has a rap song telling her to cease and desist.)  The clock starts ticking on July 14, one week from today.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

One Flag!

six-flags.gif anarchist-flag.gif
Unlike lots of frowny-faced losers of the left and right, I do not decry the presence of advertising in our culture, though I would be happy to see fraudulent advertising more mercilessly punished (switching to a loser-pays legal system would make it easier to bring small suits in such cases with assurance of recouping court costs, creating a big incentive to keep ads honest).  Free people freely announce their offers to trade, which are, after all, opportunities for mutually-beneficial exchanges.

Advertising is as much an expression of liberty as political rants — in many cases, a more consistent expression, since so many political rants are aimed at curtailing liberty and expanding the state in one way or another (if we could also punish false political promises and exhortations to reduce liberty, not to mention groundless religious claims, the whole planet would be in jail by now, but that wouldn’t really be helpful, I suppose).

So it is without shame I say that I loved those Six Flags ads with the guy screaming his evaluations of things based on their level of fun (“One flag!” and “Six Flags!  More flags, more fun!”) from the get-go.  I mean, could you ask for a better advertising syzygy than to combine the name of the product, the message of the ads, the purported quality of the customer experience, the comedic “plot” of the ad, and the ad slogan all into one emphatically-shouted phrase?  Home run.

That boy getting killed at Six Flags in Georgia recently, though, gets one flag, needless to say.

Also receiving only one flag: NYC’s ludicrously authoritarian crowd control methods at this year’s South Street Seaport fireworks, complete with snaking barricades, constant exhortations from cops to wait, move, etc. — and most spookily, cops at one point shouting at people who grew weary of the whole process and wanted to get the hell out of there, “No more exits — everyone who’s in is in.”  That’s right, at roughly 9pm on the Fourth of July, thousands of people celebrating Independence Day ironically became prisoners for a short time, all in the name of predictable crowd flow, which sure seemed more like a series of needless delays and bottlenecks than anything I recall seeing in the good old days when the crowd just milled around wherever it wanted down there.

It’s things like that that make one think, once more, that the true spirit of this now 232-year-old country, embodied more by those frustrated crowds than by the uniformed men herding them, is not right, left, or moderate but — whisper it with me — anaaarrrrchiissssst

P.S. And that goes for the Sonic Youth member who led the hipster crowd at Battery Park in perfunctory pro-Obama applause on Friday, too.  To the extent people like Obama out of a vague desire to escape politics as usual, though, I’ll grudgingly tolerate them just as I did Perot supporters back in the day, though at least Perot wanted budget cuts.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Readings Fit for Independence Day Weekend

•I mentioned yesterday that as former Ron Paul campaigner Avery Knapp moved out of NYC for L.A., he gave me one of his numerous free copies of the Constitution (with the Declaration of Independence as an appendix, just in time for the Fourth). He also gave me a copy of Ron Paul’s book The Revolution: A Manifesto, which turns out to be much better than I expected.

To be honest, I figured I’d feel like I’d heard it all before and furthermore would think it sounded like it’d been ghostwritten by a young staffer, like most political books. But The Revolution is so short — about 170 pages — and so free of footnotes, I think the man himself may well have found time to write the thing. More important, it has the same sense of urgency and outrage that made his campaign motivate people in a way that most abstract, dry libertarian philosophical arguments so far have not.

You will want to join the revolution, liberate America from Washington, DC absurdity, and rescue our economic system before it’s too late, even if you disagree on a few particulars here or there (perhaps not sharing his opposition to our wars or differing with his pro-life position, induced by witnessing an abortion as a young doctor, for instance). I think this may become the new book I send people to for a short introductory dose of libertarianism — and whether this one comes with more-embarrassing or less-embarrassing baggage than the previous book I used for that purpose, Charles Murray’s What It Means to Be a Libertarian, I leave for others to decide.

In other political-book news appropriate for this July Fourth weekend:

•Ben Wattenberg would take issue with Ron Paul’s use of the “neocons”-as-usurpers epithet and can be seen here talking to PajamasMedia about his new book Fighting Words: A Tale of How Liberals Created Neo-Conservatism.

•Don Boudreaux notes that Chapter 7 of economist Edgar Browning’s new book Stealing from Each Other: How the Welfare State Robs Americans of Money and Spirit is available online.

•And lest people think that Obama will square all circles and solve all problems, editor Adam Bellow notes the release of Hugh Hewitt’s essay/pamphlet Letter to a Young Obama Supporter.

I’ve also got a Drew Carey-hosted video from and a Lithuania-inspired pro-liberty video from Free to Choose Media still to watch — not to mention recently-acquired DVDs of the home movies fellow libertarian Paul Taylor and I made in childhood, but those have less to do with politics than with using toy laser guns to defeat people in rubber monster masks. More or less the same underlying principle, though.

P.S. J.D. Weiner also e-mails to note that he’s put up more photos from our Debate at Lolita Bar with cameo by Bob Barr and to note that he likes this shot in particular.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Retro-Journal: Tom Swift, Gonzo, and Drunken Sailors in Early 2006

You can’t help noticing the thin line between hero and bad boy in American culture from the get-go. It’s not just anti-heroes like the fictional Hancock and mostly-non-fictional Hunter S. Thompson, about whom there are movies out this week (I already know the first is good). It’s also the fact that we were quite literally rebels from the get-go: becoming, in rough chronological order, economic opportunists, religious dissidents, religious fanatics, farmers beholden to no aristocrats, revolutionaries, wild frontiersmen, abolitionists, laissez-faire capitalists, cowboys, pop stars, mad scientists, and even would-be global democratizers.

Today is July 4, 2008 and a good time to recall that America is bigger than right and left (weird dialectical categories imported from that troubled, slower-moving continent called Europe). America is perhaps still in need of a coherent philosophy, speaking to the rebel and the bourgeois in each American, without unnecessary tension but also without oversimplification. I’ll mull that in sight of the Statue of Liberty today while (1) listening to the Feelies and Sonic Youth in concert, (2) carrying a copy of the Constitution (complete with the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation) that Avery Knapp gave me before he left New York City, and (3) vowing to get back to work on my long-delayed book, Conservatism for Punks (forgive me if I largely disappear in a couple weeks for a while, like a black-clad vigilante millionaire in the night, if you will).

The need for the book — or at least for some articulation of a philosophy fit for America — was increasingly apparent in early 2006, as successive failures by Bush and the Republican Congress made it apparent that they were better at behaving like an inept, corrupt Establishment than at promoting individualism and freedom, at home or abroad (not that this makes the left look any more appealing — we may simply be trapped between two armies of thugs…for now).

Two years ago, even right-wing pundit Tucker Carlson, sounding increasingly libertarian, was predicting electoral doom for the Republicans, wisely noting that Americans can be forgiving of both hard times and policy errors but not the vague, scandal-induced sense that, as he put it, the politicians are up on the Hill playing poker with the public’s money while the world is falling apart (and, as the catchphrase put it, spending like drunken sailors).

I think the aforementioned Hunter S. Thompson would have appreciated that analysis (especially the gambling reference), as would most writers following in his gonzo-journalist footsteps, such as libertarian-conservative P.J. O’Rourke and some of the people around me at New York Press back in the mid-90s (the Village Voice once called NYPress a bunch of “P.J. O’Rourke wannabes”). Cynics, libertarians, and Mencken-style conservatives tend not to be surprised when corruption and absurdity win out, which is a very different attitude from waving the flag, hoping the government behaves well, and trusting God to guide things to a safe conclusion.

I was always more gonzo than pious flag-waver — and will smile all the more happily at tonight’s fireworks down near Battery Park because of it, knowing full well things could have worked out even more insanely for this society than they have. Incidentally, though I’ve definitely mellowed into more of a Kermit type, my favorite Muppet in childhood was Gonzo, and my parents even called me Toddzo at times.


My parents also read Tom Swift books to me, an early education (in the form of the adventures of a teen inventor-industrialist) in the wonders — and optimism — made possible by science, capitalism, good friends, a solid family, and the desire to fight communist spies. Without these books, many in my generation were destined to grow up directionless, irrational, and amoral. And in January 2006, in Guilford, CT, I got to see two granddaughters of the creator of Tom Swift present their story of growing up in that literary family — and now constantly fending off the Tom Swift ghostwriters who want their share of the glory all these decades later, perhaps exaggerating the extent of their input in what were, after all, very formulaic tales dictated by the editors.

As for me, I now go in for far more sophisticated fare, of course, though perhaps you wouldn’t know it from nights like one in February of 2006, when my friend Scott Nybakken and I went to the apartment of my high school pal Chuck Blake — now moved to New York City to apply his math and computer skills to the financial sector — to rewatch the first Underworld movie and then immediately exit the apartment to see the sequel in the theatre. Teen inventors are fine for kids, but adults need vampires in skintight leather catsuits.

Adults also sometimes need to dress up like Guy Fawkes, and early 2006 not only saw the release of the V for Vendetta movie but found me marking the occasion by writing about anarchism for the Wall Street Journal — in part to underscore the marvelous historical fact that the first book-length defense of anarchism was written by none other than…Edmund Burke, more often thought of as the first modern (eighteenth-century, that is) defender of conservatism. The two philosophies were joined at the hip from birth, in short, though few people today see it that way (certainly not your average Wall Street Journal reader — or editor).

Shortly thereafter, I’d lead a protest outside DC Comics’ offices in defense of the film, complete with V masks supplied by Warner publicity worker Nicole Beaver (now Nicole Partowidjojo) and the participation of longtime libertarian activist Andrea Millen-Rich and the aforementioned Chuck, not to mention innocent-bystander comics professionals Scott Nybakken and Ali Kokmen, facing off against ornery left-anarchists also sporting V masks.

This was not some corporate stunt by DC, though, I swear, but rather a spontaneous reaction on my part to news that left-anarchists (as opposed to anarcho-capitalists like myself) led by “freegan” (i.e., principled, waste-hating eater of garbage from dumpsters) Adam Weissman were going to be protesting against the movie, insisting that the Wachowskis hadn’t made the film as anarchist as the original Alan Moore comic book (a position with which Moore happens to agree, but I’ll protest him, too, if it comes to that, and I just hope the Wachowskis will be there to back me up with what I assume are their considerable marital arts and bullet-dodging skills).

Even the involvement of the future Mrs. Partowidjojo was less a corporate ploy than a result of us knowing each other via Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski, who are the kind of people who go to Burning Man (along with the multi-talented Marah Rosenberg and a growing list of other people I know) and who like to see their friends staging anarchist protests. As for Reid and Marcia themselves, they were getting increasing publicity for founding CuddleParty, appearing on Montel that same half-year to discuss the advantages of cuddling with a roomful of strangers in a safe and non-sexual environment. I’ve still never gone to one of the things — nor to Burning Man — but I admire their entrepreneurship.

Another amusing blend of film and reality that half-year saw my friends Liz Braswell and Scott Shannon throw a baby shower featuring a screening of Alien and a cake with a recreation of the chest-burster scene on it. Way back when Liz and I were at Brown writing for the Film Bulletin, I’d begun comparing childbirth to that scene when explaining the many reasons I don’t want kids — and the joke eventually found its way into Kyle Smith’s novel Love Monkey, which became a short-lived but not half-bad sitcom in early 2006. Interestingly, the subtle difference in tone between book and novel — a shift, I thought, from bemused/nerdy to ladder-climbing/hipster — may have been the first time I noticed that the twentysomethings these days and the culture-products aimed at them are starting to seem a bit more driven and vicious or something than my slacker X-cohort, one more reason we’ll fade largely unnoticed (and demographically minute) into history.


As if the anarchist protest weren’t proof enough that my America is bigger than any one political party or congressional election result, that half-year also found me in Vegas to talk on a panel about science, economics, and the philosophical limits of extrapolation from evolutionary psychology, if you can believe that, thanks to Gerry Ohrstrom and the Association of Private Enterprise Education — and thanks once more to my ongoing use of the research of mine that the Phillips Foundation had funded nine years earlier. As of today, in 2008, I’ve been to Vegas three times, if I remember correctly, and never for the gambling. But even with all the people who are drawn there by a complete inability to calculate probability, you have to sort of love the place. Like the Statue of Liberty, DC Comics, or the alternative rock I’ll be hearing today (the sort of music also beloved by the college pals who I saw at my fifteen-year reunion that spring) — it’s definitely America.

But where was America headed in late 2006? Find out next week, in the pivotal second-to-last Retro-Journal entry!