Friday, October 31, 2008

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: Yesterday Was the Election: What's Next?

Five notes on the election — and our big day-after panel about it:

I. The Debate

Attend “Yesterday Was the Election: What’s Next?” — this coming Wednesday, November 5, at 8pm (basement level of 266 Broome St. at the corner of Broome and Allen St., one block south of the Delancey St. subway stop on the F, J, M, and Z).

This panel of night-after-the-election reactions and recriminations will feature Abe Greenwald (online editor at Commentary), Ben Geyerhahn (Democratic consultant to candidates and non-profits), and Marty Beckerman (author of the hilarious book Dumbocracy) — plus moderator Michel Evanchik and host Todd Seavey.

II. Kelo Fragments, Live!

Your host may put in a brief good word for prior Debates at Lolita Bar attender and current Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr at the end, even if Barr is not elected president (the polls can be slightly inaccurate!).

I will also unveil to the audience historic political relics that should not be forgotten in all this: actual pieces of the Kelo house from the infamous eminent domain Supreme Court decision.

With New York governor Paterson quoting Ayn Rand in congressional testimony this week — and sometimes opposing eminent domain — those pieces of pink-painted wood may not yet be as irrelevant as some would think. (And that Spitzer scandal keeps on giving.)

III. Aid for the Ignorant (and That Means All of Us)

If you’re one of those baffling and baffled still-undecided voters — or just have no idea who the minor-office candidates are in your area — this site Julia Kamin helped set up might be of assistance: a National Voter Guide.

IV. Strange Bedfellows

As if this election didn’t already frighten me enough for one Halloween season (and Month of Horror), I see that one conservative I’ve met is voting for Nader.

You gotta love Peter Brimelow’s title for the resulting explanatory article, though: “How I Became a Resentful Naderite.” Brimelow, who is an anti-immigration paleoconservative, once addressed my pro-immigration stance in what seemed to me a very odd (but by his standards, I supposed, perfectly logical) way by asking me: “Are you Irish?” (I am just slightly, but cosmopolitan child of the Enlightenment that I am, I never really thought it politically relevant — and still don’t). I can’t complain that he was the rude one, though, since I had been holding up an ironic “Keep out the limeys” sign during the anti-immigration speech he’d just given. Brimelow is himself an immigrant from England. You see the irony, even if he doesn’t. Primitive battles over bloodlines and geography merely delay the inevitable next round in the more-useful battle of ideas — to the great detriment of the latter.

V. Race, Tribal Affiliations, and Punishing the GOP

On a related note, I suspect the effect of racism in this election has been fairly small, with people both voting against and for Obama for racial reasons, it should be remembered — not that things balancing out makes everything OK. Overall, though, I am inclined to laugh if I hear leftists in the days ahead saying, somewhat paradoxically, that “President Obama may have a hard time governing this racist country.”

Howard Stern did a clever bit, I’m told, revealing that some black NYC residents support all of McCain’s most right-wing positions when told they are Obama’s positions — but then, even Reason’s Tim Cavanaugh says, with refreshing frankness, that he’s voting for Obama because he’s black, which makes about as much sense as the reasons given by other Obamatarians and Obamacons, who make up about half the respondents in Reason’s survey of who Reason-affiliated intellectuals are voting for. Most of them are more interested in punishing Republicans than empowering Obama, of course.

However, political parties are just a tiny bit like free markets: abandon them — in this case, the GOP — to buy Brand X, where Brand X is handsome-young-left-wing-demagogue, and all you do is make Brand Y’s producers think “Maybe next time we need a handsome young left-wing demagogue” — that’s no way to “send a message” if your goal is to nudge Brand Y in the specific direction of free-market thinking, obviously. Luckily, about half the interviewed Reasonoids are voting for Bob Barr, as am I, which at least sends a clearer message — unless, of course, lots of Brimelow-like conservatives conclude we voted for Barr because of his anti-immigration stance. So hard to send a simple message [CORRECTION: Actually, it works out to about 1/3 Obama, 1/3 Barr, and 1/3 miscellaneous on the Reason survey, but with more non-voters, undecideds, and outta-left-field responses than just-plain McCain votes in that final third].

In a venue loftier than this blog, though, I hope to have a piece in the coming days about a more high-minded, more long-term attempt (among scholars) to bridge the liberal-libertarian divide.

UPDATE: Paul Taylor notes this excellent IowaHawk comedy piece, which sums up the absurdity of the Obamacons — if not precisely the Obamatarians — beautifully.

War of the Worlds, Words on Wine

The day before Halloween — the finale of my Month of Horror — I saw David Lynch footage on one of those little TVs they have in the back of the taxi cabs here now.  But it wasn’t a thriller set in the Pacific Northwest.  No, the David Lynch I speak of is wine critic David Lynch — and on the cab TV was my college acquaintance David Kamp, co-author with Lynch of The Wine Snob’s Dictionary, part of the series of “Snob” books Kamp has written with various co-authors, covering Rock, Film, Food, and Wine, respectively.  In the video clip, he says one wine has a hint of “pipi de chat,” so there is still a college humor writer within him.

Kamp also wrote a book about America’s increasingly gourmet tastes, The United States of Arugula, which would have been perfectly timed if it came out when Barack Obama was being accused of being an elitist for mentioning arugula — when Obama should simply have been accused of being a politician who doesn’t learn from history, given that Michael Dukakis was faulted during his presidential campaign twenty years ago for urging Midwest farmers to grow arugula.  This does not make them un-American — though I will note that my spellchecker doesn’t know “arugula,” so maybe it’s weirder than I realize.  They are, of course, both socialists, but more on that tomorrow, as we segue back into politics as usual after two months of nominally sex- and horror-related blogging.

Speaking of media and sinister, alien lifeforms, today is the anniversary of Orson Welles’ infamous War of the Worlds broadcast that scared some people into thinking a real alien invasion was taking place (comedian Steve Allen attested that when he was a child, his household thought it was really happening, so people who pooh-pooh the panic are wrong).  Adding a layer to the confusion, the movie Buckaroo Banzai cleverly introduced the idea that the broadcast was a fake fake — a cover for a real alien invasion.

Perhaps even more bizarrely, I’ve read that there was a short-lived, mediocre War of the Worlds TV series a couple decades ago — and its second season was produced by people who admit they never even watched the first season, with strange, jarring continuity errors resulting, character behavior radically changing, and the alien race suddenly having different motivations and a different history.  And this was happening in a series that was already playing around with the idea that the Welles broadcast was somehow being misremembered by those who heard it, possibly due to a Banzai-style cover-up or mass hypnosis.  I pity the brave few who probably exist out there somewhere who slogged through the whole series, trying to fit the pieces together.  And you thought reconciling elements of Star Trek continuity was sometimes tricky.

Here’s hoping people start to become more attentive to the continuity errors in the non-fiction broadcasts, though, particularly around election time.  But again, more on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Horrors -- Hitchens!


There are those, of course, to whom the ultimate horror is the realization that we live in a godless universe. For me, this is business as usual and no more cause for alarm than discovering that Atlantis doesn’t exist or that the aether was an unnecessary hypothesis (though it has lately become fashionable to accuse atheists of having some inexplicable obsession with religion, requiring political or psychoanalytical explanations, which is about the last thing that people who think religion is an important topic ought to say, the hypocrites).

Christopher Hitchens presumably feels the same way — and he will also make the (more complex) case that religion is not only false but harmful, tonight at 7:30 at Temple Emanu-El on East 66th St. This Hitchens debate will mark:

•the sixth time I’ve seen Hitchens speak live

•the fourth time I’ve seen him debate

•the fourth time I’ve been accompanied to one of those debates by Daniel Radosh (with the first Hitchens debate we saw being the debate about affirmative action New York Press assigned us both to cover, in which Hitchens said that regulations mandating larger bathroom stalls could be an unanticipated boon to the homosexual community)

•the third time I’ve seen Hitchens debate the topic of religion

•the second time I’ll have seen him mop the floor with a rabbi (last time Shmuley Boteach — who defends the virtue of hatred in the new issue of In Character, incidentally — and this time David Wolpe)

•and the first time I’ll also be accompanied by Helen Rittelmeyer, herself a Catholic conservative fully prepared to see “her side” fare badly against Hitchens, which shows wisdom.

Of course, if I had greater respect for religion, I might have recalled that it was Yom Kippur when I first tried calling the debate’s organizers at Jewish Week to RSVP. They were out. But now everything’s under control. (By simple physical laws, I mean, not a designer.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Maverick's in the Danger Zone

top-gun.jpg mccain-and-palin.JPG

As if glimpsing Robert Novak, the “Prince of Darkness” himself, in a wheelchair but still active weren’t enough to make my visit to the Phillips Foundation Fellows reunion in Washington, DC this past Saturday exciting, I learned that one of my fellow Fellows, hip Mark Hemingway (known for articles in venues like National Review and for being in the rock band Cartel), was the one who first suggested that the GOP use the Heart song “Barracuda” in honor of Sarah “Barracuda” Palin, leading to perhaps the moment of greatest joy for me in the whole sad, endless campaign season, which was hearing that driving guitar sound as the GOP convention ended. Heart promptly threatened to sue to get the Republicans to stop using the song.

Since Heart and the Foo Fighters (“There Goes My Hero”) have both now told the McCain-Palin campaign to stop using their songs, might I suggest the B-52s’ “Mesopotamia” as a replacement, which could be artfully used in celebration of our curiously underreported defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq this month? “They laid down the law — in Mes-o-po-tamia!” Within days, the B-52s would also, of course, announce their support for Obama, but for at least a few hours, it’d be good for a few laughs. (I’ve heard Britney Spears, star of yesterday’s blog entry, is conservative, but she’s also insane, which might not help.)

McCain might also consider “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins, accompanied by montages combining shots of McCain in the Air Foce and Top Gun scenes — coinciding with instructions to Palin to simply start calling him Maverick as if it’s literally McCain’s name (e.g., “I’m right on your tail, Maverick! I’ve got you covered, Maverick!” etc.).

They’ll still lose, of course, but we may as well have fun in these last few days. (Also good: “Pit Bull-Moose Party” t-shirts. Better yet: paying me millions to run these campaigns. I haven’t lost one I’ve managed yet.)

Again, though, I’m voting for Bob Barr. Too late in the day for half-measures, America. I say start by selling all public land, a great idea left over from the Andre Marrou campaign on the Libertarian Party ticket back in 1992. If some “mainstream” political figure really has a better idea for paying off the federal debt, I’m all ears, big, pinkish ears.

And you can share your own thoughts about the election at Lolita Bar (266 Broome St.) the night after the election, at 8pm, when I host and Michel Evanchik moderates a panel about what it all means.

P.S. The B-52s, of course, don’t have much in the way of conservative-sounding songs (and “Planet Z” is laughably green). My nomination for their gayest-sounding line, by the way (not that there’s anything wrong with that), is from “Party Out of Bounds”: Fred, exasperated, asking (of wild parties): “Who’s to blame when they get poorly planned?” On a vaguely related note, I’m planning to watch the election night returns with the CuddleParty founders and some Burning Man types, which should be a learning experience all around.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Oops, I Linked to Even More Absurd Clips


This final week of the Month of Horror ends with Halloween, of course, and if you’re tempted to be one of those jerks who can’t come up with a coherent theme for his costume — and so simply wears a fright wig and oversized sunglasses with maybe some glitter on his shirt and a fake nose or something — here’s a video clip of a costume-based prank that should inspire us all to aim higher.

That clip was pointed out to me by Paul Taylor, who, along with his wife Jenny, was nice enough to put me up during my travels over the past few days — and now has a blog that includes clips from a few of the home movies he made back when we were teenagers (whereas the clips of his video game triumphs are from more recent days, which is to say, his late thirties).  That’s our friend Chuck Blake, upon whom untold millions of dollars depend now that he works at a hedge fund, seen giving his harrowing portrayal of a traumatized war veteran, two decades ago, in the Taylor classic “War and Then Some More.”

The astronaut suit prank linked above, by the way, reminds me of the video for Britney Spears’ “Oops, I Did It Again,” which I only saw for the first time in recent weeks and which I think is an awful lot funnier than it was likely intended to be.

There is something so generic and bland about Britney Spears that it’s fascinating she remains popular, much in the same way it’s interesting and a bit disturbing that “averaging together” numerous ordinary human faces into a single computer-generated face tends to result in an imaginary someone commonly considered quite attractive, psychologists find (all the “imperfections” and rough edges having been rounded off and asymmetries eliminated in the averaging process).

It’s astounding that so much money can be put into Spears appearing in six different settings in each video without any of them being remotely innovative or original — as in her new video, for the song “Womanizer,” which also manages to be unrelentingly indecisive about whether it has even a hint of a message or moral point of view.  Is the womanizer guy good?  Bad?  Being punished?  Being rewarded with sex?  Who cares — now Britney’s riding a motorcycle!  Now she’s in a tall building!  Oh, look, now she’s dancing with a bunch of other people instead of alone!  Etc.

It’s all so by-the-book and uninspired, yet in some ex-Mousketeer sense perfect, that it’s a lot like the fake music-videos-in-progress you glimpse in the middle of sitcoms or TV commercials when they need to quickly, efficiently establish that A Rock Star is engaged in the making of A Music Video for the sake of some other comedic or plot point.  Utterly simple and unchallenging, and in some appalling way effective.  Britney is boring like clouds.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'm Away in Other (Altered) States for a Few Days

I’m mostly away until Monday the 27th — and don’t assume I’ll blog or see e-mail until then, though I’ll occasionally check home phone messages.  While away, I’ll attend a Phillips Foundation gathering and see today’s Princeton panel about prospects for liberal-libertarian collaboration, which will include Jacob Levy (useful instruction for the imminent period of one-party Democratic rule).

Jacob also happens to be one of the two people (the other being Dawn Eden, who I saw at Mark Cunningham and Aurelie Uhlmann’s lovely wedding last week) to send me a link to this amusingly dubbed-over version of the “Take on Me” video by a-ha (who, like bell hooks, k.d. lang, and sometimes e.e. cummings, apparently technically lack capitals).  Here, for good measure, is Family Guy’s reworking of that a-ha video.

(And here is a-ha’s other great song, “The Sun Always Shines on TV,” too infrequently played.)

The climax of the “Take on Me” video, I long ago noticed, owes a great deal to the harrowing final scene of the 1980 psychedelics-and-evolution thriller Altered States.  That film’s trippiest sequence (I don’t think I realized just how overtly druggy the whole movie was back when I was ten), though, is probably this one, with the lizard-woman-Sphinx.

Perhaps I will return from my journey similarly transformed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Evil Evel Knievel Gettin' Medieval?


Oddly enough, the first person I remember idolizing as a child was stunt motorcyclist Evel Knievel — and what greater horror could there be than hearing what a bad, violent person your youthful hero may have been?

I suppose I’d feel this sort of disillusionment all the time if I’d ever become a sports fan.  Luckily, I soon matured enough to stop idolizing mere performers of physical feats and instead idolize philosophically and morally significant people — like James Randi, a magician.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dracula, Frankenstein, and Werewolf News


DarkHorizons notes:

•A book is planned for next year based on Bram Stoker’s own notes for a Dracula sequel — with the help of his wonderfully-named great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker.

Guillermo Del Toro is not only planning a Frankenstein movie but wants the lupine Wargs in The Hobbit to look more like real, lean wolves than the ones seen in Lord of the Rings (and wants the battles to feel more like World War I, in which Tolkien saw friends die).

•More troublingly, though, the scriptwriter of Eagle Eye is writing and pitching a Blade Runner sequel, even after his writing partner abandoned the project, increasingly troubled by the idea of writing a sequel to the classic original (itself influenced by Frankenstein, as is especially clear in the Roy/Tyrell conversation about meeting one’s imperfect maker).

I would have no problem at all with a sequel — as long as Ridley Scott directed it, Harrison Ford and Sean Young starred in it, and Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs came back from the dead to work on the storyline and film treatment, respectively.

A clueless Ed Koch, inexplicably assigned to be a film reviewer years ago, predicted a Blade Runner sequel after seeing the film in 1991 and thinking it was new — but his dark, ignorant prophecy may be fulfilled after all, it appears.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Love and Robots


Yesterday, I alluded to a tragic death, sexual assault accusations, the future of literature, and the inadequacy of the Ivy League, perhaps not doing any of those topics justice in the space of about a thousand words.

Perhaps more important, though, I mentioned my new bookcase, and one person who’d been urging me to get new shelves for years is Diana Fleischman, an evolutionary psychology expert who also notes this recent New York Times article on polyamory, the practice of open, principled, and relatively stable non-monogamous relationships (in the case of the Times article, involving a Brooklyn neuroscientist named Ed Vessel, which seems about right, somehow).

Polyamory may be a necessary and useful bit of social evolution in this increasingly fluid modern world — but isn’t it even more exciting, somehow (and slightly more fitting for the Month of Horror, since the Month of Sex was last month), to hear that Transformers babe Megan Fox was so devoted to her boyfriend Brian Austin Green that she tattooed the name BRIAN on her lower front torso (between stomach and thigh, I believe)?

As if it weren’t impressive enough that former 90210 halfpint Green is now a buff resistance fighter from the future who kills cyborgs in the Terminator TV series, his first name is tattooed on a hot chick who fights the Decepticons.

I can’t decide which should frighten and awe the robots more.

I can’t decide which I care about more.

I…I…1…1010101 010010 01 0010101010100 0101010 10010 1 010010100101 010100101001001 Brian Austin Green is on your torso, fighting your robots 0101

Pardon me.  Since this blog has some glitch, I’ll just quote the Wikipedia entry about Megan Fox for a moment:

Fox has been outspoken in her self-identification as a bisexual. In a frank interview with GQ Magazine, Fox said that she fell in love with a female stripper when she was 18 and used the experience to illustrate her belief that “all humans are born with the ability to be attracted to both sexes”…

Fox has nine tattoos, including a poem on her ribcage, a symbol for strength on her neck, Green’s name on her hip, a bull’s eye on her lower back, a pink flamingo on her upper thigh, and a picture of Marilyn Monroe’s face on her right arm. She also has one on her right shoulder that says “We will all laugh at gilded butterflies,” a line from Shakespeare’s play King Lear.

Three other interesting tidbits from the rest of her Wiki entry: her ancestry is Irish, French, and Native American; her real name is Megan Foxx (the same except for the additional x, which amuses me); and for next year’s Transformers sequel, director Michael Bay told her to gain ten pounds because “I don’t like skinny girls.”

Despite Michael “Awesome” Bay being mocked for Pearl Harbor in that song from Team America, I am beginning to admire him.  I still don’t want to see another Transformers movie, though.  Nor next year’s G.I. Joe movie.  Gotta draw the line somewhere.  January’s Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, on the other hand…

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Selection of the Month: "Three Thousand Dollars" by David Lipsky

brown-symbol.gif Book Selection of the Month (October 2008, the Month of Horror): Three Thousand Dollars by David Lipsky

Today is October 19, 2008, which means it’s been twenty-one years to the day since the Black Monday stock market crash, the market’s second-biggest one-day percentage dip ever — on the day prior to the one on which I began taking notes about my experiences as a Brown University freshman, which one year ago today became the opening entries of my autobiographical “Retro-Journal.”

This also means it’s been about two decades since I, as an undergrad, saw a nervous-looking David Lipsky read his rather conservative short story, called “Relativity,” to a skeptical, liberal-filled Brown audience, mere months after he’d graduated from that school himself. I recently reread “Relativity” and read the Lipsky short story collection in which it appeared — Three Thousand Dollars — after being given the book by Dan Greenberg (whose own time at Brown overlapped Lipsky’s and mine).

The story accurately shows how Brown’s inept disciplinary system in those days was buttressed by the students’ and faculty’s abysmal moral relativism (of the sort that proclaims everyone a victim — except the privileged, who are oppressors). “Relativity” holds up very well, as did other entries in the collection, including the title story about a painful child-support dispute and one about a son not so unlike David Lipsky dealing with his mom’s New-York-artists milieu.


Perhaps I should deduct points from all “literary” fiction writers whose stuff too closely resemble their own lives, since, as Tom Wolfe urged back around the same time Lipsky was writing these stories, writers could be doing research and transporting us to unfamiliar places. Heck, they could even be transporting us to unfamiliar places without doing any research, as in the case of sci-fi and fantasy novels, which I’ve decided are all I’m going to read next year, reality having finally exhausted my considerable patience.

But better slices of something resembling the author’s own life or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, a whole different world than the often self-protective and cutesy-clever short-stories-as-games that I think are all the rage lately, as I was telling my friend Katherine Taylor after her participation in a night of readings organized by Opium magazine recently. The Opium-affiliated writers are always undeniably clever, but I may now have heard too many stories by young writers that involve something like the narrator waking up to discover that his anxieties about his writing career having taken the form of a talking dog that leads him on some brief, possibly pun-filled postmodern adventure.

Give me psychological realism, or detailed knowledge of World War I, or detailed faux-knowledge of the desert planet Arrakis, but if it’s some word-game involving The Day I Woke Up to Find That My High School Track and Field Trophy Had Become The Talking Head of Shakespeare, I might as well just be doodling random cartoons on a high school notebook cover (which is not to say that these young precious-clever-twee types won’t build the future of literature as they turn their skills to larger and riskier topics — they well may).


But getting back to this month’s main author: Lipsky turns out to be a friend of a friend, namely of last month’s Book Selection of the Month author, Pagan Kennedy, which I honestly hadn’t realized until separately picking them. The record, I have now learned, shows I am far from alone in being amazed by Lipsky, though, so it’s not just that I like him for being a distant part of my milieu. Numerous critics praised him for sounding so polished and insightful while still an undergrad and then grad student, and he’s gone on to be a successful writer and editor. Good for him.

(Similarly, my upcoming July 2009 Book Selection author, Susan Price, seemed great to me when I was about ten and was reading a book she’d written at the age of sixteen, and I only now learn that my taste was prescient in that case, too, as she’s gone on to a long and distinguished horror/children’s horror career as a novelist. I just have good taste, what can I tell you?)

As for Brown, it remains something of a chamber of horrors (as befits this month’s blog theme). By sheer coincidence, I only just learned last week that Adam Lack, who was temporarily driven away from Brown by absurd sexual assault charges (the drunk woman does not deny giving him her number the next morning and only deciding much later to redefine their encounter as assault) and who was featured in an ABC News report by John Stossel back when I worked for him, more recently found himself at odds with another man in an unrelated legal case in which Lack’s conflict with Brown was used to cast aspersions on him, leading, it appears (I do not pretend to know the details), to an escalating conflict that ended, like something out of a horror movie, with a hostile car chase in which Lack accidentally drove off a cliff and was killed.

If one of the feuding students in Lipsky’s story had come to a similar end, of course, he would be considered a less realistic author — and probably be far less respected because of it. Witness the fact that Reid Mihalko and I did not receive a Pulitzer for our weekly comic strip at Brown about the school being taken over by brain-eating aliens who turn everyone into left-wing zombies. On the bright side, knowing Reid has brought me other benefits, such as a sorely-needed third bookcase for my apartment, which I bought from Reid’s girlfriend and CuddleParty co-founder Marcia Baczynski today, carting it the eight blocks north to my Upper East Side apartment with the help of my visiting parents, who hadn’t met Marcia before. Maybe I’ll put Three Thousand Dollars on that bookcase, just to tie some of these threads together.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Josh Brolin, Cowboy Antihero


If people think Josh Brolin is playing a rightwing cowboy antihero onscreen this month — in W. — wait until they see his next role: DC Comics’ grim and frighteningly disfigured cowboy, Jonah Hex.  And the current comic book series is now explaining (after decades) why exactly Hex wears a Confederate uniform.

I suspect the left-leaning writers (the same ones who turned the Freedom Fighters I love into living figures of mostly-left political satire in two miniseries) will depict Hex as more or less an anti-racist who wears the uniform as a (punk-like) deliberate effort to make himself a social outcast or something like that — but regardless, if we end up with a huge box office hit in a year or so featuring a loner Confederate while in the real world having a black president, that should make for some cautiously-written, irony-filled entertainment-section articles.

But speaking of p.c.: tomorrow I promise to write about Brown University (as part of my Book Selection entry, about David Lipsky’s Three Thousand Dollars), and I won’t mention comics again during the remainder of the Month of Horror, I promise.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Nyarlathotep! Also, Paddington


I mentioned complicated comic book stuff yesterday involving gods and a multiverse, but today I just want to make a briefer note, still horrorish, about Mark Waid (the writer behind another apocalyptic DC Comics series, Kingdom Come; one of Morrison’s co-writers on the year-long weekly series 52; a scheduled guest on L.A. Ink last night; and incidentally a big-wig comics writer who told me he really liked the Justice League stories I wrote and that “the industry needs” me, which was really nice of him).

He’ll be editing a Nyarlathotep comic book, based on the H.P. Lovecraft mythos that includes the so-named ancient, evil god — a dark intruder from dimensions beyond known space. I just like typing the word “Nyarlathotep.” (Perhaps Waid will mostly cut and paste it, though.)

In less scary literary news, you may have seen reports this week, on Paddington Bear’s fiftieth anniversary, noting (as this L.A. Times piece did last year) that he is an illegal Latin American immigrant (from Peru, specifically) — and a very civil, productive illegal immigrant indeed. (Pooh, by contrast, is obviously a paleocon.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Finally, Some Final Crisis


Yesterday, I read a couple comics related to DC’s ongoing “Final Crisis” storyline, in which reality-altering villains literally turn the DC Universe into Hell — and it’s been a month and a half since the last time I picked up an issue from one of the few miniseries (all ostensibly monthly) I’m following through all of this.

Indeed, I notice issue #1 of the two-part Grant Morrison miniseries Final Crisis: Superman Beyond (in 3D) came out in August, but part two is not slated to appear until at least January! My question is: having read the trippy, reality-altering first issue with the special 3D glasses that came inside, do I now need special 4D glasses that transcend time in order to view the conclusion?

While I’m waiting, I can’t resist imagining possible endings for the weird, dire story, and since Morrison likes mind-blowing metafiction, perhaps — while I realize this has almost been done repeatedly — he should take things to their logical conclusion and unmask the villain Libra (who’s already been hinted to be a tad gay) at the end of Final Crisis and reveal him to be gender-bending Grant Morrison himself (the unmasking must be pivotal somehow, in keeping with the Hopi myths Morrison seems to be emulating).

Morrison/Libra can then say he hails from a higher plane of reality and thus can warp the DC Earth like a writer editing a story — and he has decided to do horrible things to all the heroes and villains, like sodomize Darkseid, make Batman into an accountant, and turn Superman into pasta — living pasta.

Then just have the miniseries end with things that way (pasta graces the covers of the ongoing Superman books in February, etc.) and have the editors and writers claim, deadpan, that this is the new status quo and indeed that it’s better than anything that has gone before. Then see how long it takes fandom to completely lose its collective mind with rage.

And since Morrison likes depicting hints of sex and horror (the themes of my September and October blog entries, respectively) in this tale of the New Gods — and since, like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, he hails from the UK — I dedicate this link to him: the unsubtly-political early-80s New Wave song “Two Tribes,” which toward the end asks the always-relevant question, “Are we living in a land where SEX and HORROR are NEW GODS?”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Power of Nightmares (in Five Fits)

I. Anti-Conservative Intellectuals

The UK, fortunately, has its free-marketeers, like the fine folks at the International Policy Network who run the annual Bastiat Awards (for writing about the market), which I’m attending one week from tonight. The UK also has plenty of socialists, though, most of them more blatantly anticapitalist than their U.S. counterparts.

Documentarian Adam Curtis is an interesting case, and — like murderer and respected leftist author Antonio Negri — he is a very popular proponent of the idea that conservative/capitalist ideas are not merely wrong but a kind of sinister global conspiracy.

Curtis is actually more philosophically interesting than Negri (who is ultimately just a garden-variety academic deconstructionist type who thinks capitalism is crowding out all other forms of discourse — ha!). Curtis, however ineptly, tries to trace the conservative ideas of the current era, like a contagion, to specific intellectual sources. He does so in TV documentaries such as The Power of Nightmares, which makes the (recently highly influential) argument that Leo Strauss’s ostensibly dark and (ironically) Machiavellian view of politics inevitably inspires conservatives to seek foreign foes to combat, leading to things like the (recently won but decreasingly “relevant”) war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan (which is similar, but no doubt is soon to be depicted as redeemed and purified by Obama’s involvement).

I have no strong foreign policy positions — and will weep no more than crocodile tears while at conservative gatherings if Obama surprises us by completely dismantling the military-industrial complex. What I find more interesting is Curtis’s argument that evil conservatives have been so successful in foisting individualist thinking and economic rationality upon our culture that they have undermined what would otherwise have been our natural inclination to form communes or organize into groups and generally engage in what the left likes to call “solidarity.”

II. A Game Theory Theory-Game

I’m not knocking group activities or denying that modernity can leave individuals lonely, rootless, and alienated (old-school socialist Richard Sennett thinks, perhaps rightly, that modern society is even beginning to valorize the sorts of sociopathic individuals who prefer fleeting business relationships to stable friendships, etc.). I just think the welfare state has done more than capitalism to displace old-fashioned organic communities (ask the thousands whose neighborhoods were destroyed and replaced with public housing projects in the mid-twentieth-century in Manhattan by Robert Moses’ arrogant urban planning schemes).

One of Curtis’s most interesting and radical arguments is his strategically brilliant ad hominem attack on game theory. Seemingly an objective discipline — a science, you might say — examining how self-interested agents interact, game theory appears to be a fairly value-neutral intellectual bulwark for the kind of incentives-based economic thinking underpinning libertarian arguments, right? But Curtis argues that it is no coincidence that game theory was developed in part by a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic (as depicted in the movie A Beautiful Mind, of course). It’s a science, he argues, based on the unnecessary assumption that everyone around you is a self-interested calculator who is out to get you.

Now, given that many individuals — few of them diagnosed schizophrenics, though many no doubt semi-autistic-seeming math majors — have worked to develop game theory by now, it’s hardly fair to try and dismiss the whole field on the basis of one man’s illness (it would be a bit like trying to dismiss astronomy on the basis of finding out Galileo was gay or something). But Curtis, I will concede, may be onto something, a little bit: As game theory itself teaches us, expectations affect behavior, and as social conservatives are always saying, trust is one of the most important elements of our social expectations.

If you think it unlikely that the strangers across the road will mug you, you are more likely to spontaneously chip in and help them build their shed (thus all the mutual-aid stories out of communal settings like the annual Burning Man festival). Likewise, as plenty of Manhattanites could attest, if you think everyone else at a party is likely a jerk who will insult you given half a chance, you may be less likely to reach out and make friends — and if you’re a particularly insecure sort of person (possibly an award-winning artist), you may even decide to strike preemptively by being the first to say something snide. A downward spiral of spreading social discord follows, and a world of jerks is created.

This may be about where things now stand (but you’ll forgive me if I’m too capitalistically concerned about the stock market right at the moment to expend great energy trying to increase human solidarity or fix other highly nuanced aspects of the culture — I try to be nice, though, and everyone’s invited to those monthly debates I host if you want to say hi).

III. Grasping Around for Explanatory Tools

With the stock market in tatters, we’ll be seeing more and more columns crowing that this was always the inevitable fate of go-go, run-amok capitalism (some of them probably written by economist, Gore-like liar, would-be psychohistorian, and now Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman). The UK’s Guardian had a less-than-humble headline proclaiming that this is leftists’ big chance to create a whole “new world” (Sarkozy, who in many ways I like, said much the same thing). Naomi Klein, a highly intellectually-dishonest critic of Milton Friedman even at the best of times, is happy to make it sound like capitalists want disaster, suffering, and even torture (like that endured by some people at the hands of communists, as noted in my entry yesterday) inflicted on the masses (and she stretches the record in countless ways to make it sound, through guilt-by-association, as if free market advisors are responsible for every nefarious deed committed by governments from China to Chile). Now we’re seeing the bitter fruits of free-marketeers’ always-sadistic efforts, she says.

By contrast, though, Reason magazine reminds us that even outright “Social Darwinist” Herbert Spencer wanted not a world of oppression and crushing of the weak but rather the evolution via markets of increasingly civil and humane societies. Trade instead of coercion, voluntarism instead of forced redistribution.

One left-wing acquaintance of mine, the same journalism prof who got Howard Dean and John McCain mixed up, was persuaded by a Klein book (which the prof and some reading group/thinktank pals read) that free-marketeers are oblivious to economic reality, to which a friend of the prof, also a New York journalist, countered that he believes free-marketeers know the facts but are so heartless that even the fates of their own grandchildren do not move them to curb their cruel policies. Needless to say, I rejected both these positions and, despite valuing civility, may have used the word “bullshit” while doing so.

But perhaps the market does in some ways corrode character (despite recent anthro studies suggesting that the less people are exposed to the market, the less charitable and trusting they are toward outsiders — in much the same way that less-globalized, less-cosmopolitan societies tend to be more oppressive and violent ones). A fun range of opinions on the capitalism/character question was recently elicited by the Templeton Foundation from an array of interesting intellectuals (and I love the brief but explanatory headlines they gave the individual position statements).

On top of all my other political and moral calculations, I worry about simply becoming a bore (and thus being rude) by harping on the good aspects of markets all the time (when I could be talking about something you really want to hear about, like Star Trek) — but the current economic and political climate makes it all the more important, as I’ve often said, for pro-market people to stay focused on economics and explaining markets to people who might be inclined to fumble around using other means of picking their political allegiances and policy positions, as if the world of incentives, material goods, and human agents can be explained without economic reasoning.

Absent econ, we get conspiracy theories masquerading as legit political theories (as in the cases of Curtis and Klein) and the constant, almost childlike effort to find symbols and shortcuts for picking good guys and bad guys — checking whether a political candidate likes gays, sounds like a cowboy, went to a church like yours, speaks movingly of the poor, etc., etc. Palin, like her or dislike her (I noticed that about half the women at a costume party I glimpsed at a bar a few days ago were dressed as Palin — and it’s likely none of them like her), has clearly become primarily a living symbolic battleground for people hoping either to show she’s a dangerous fringe figure or hoping, perhaps just as futilely, to read into her charming fondness for guns and oil a predictable anti-regulatory, anti-tax, government-shrinking agenda — when in truth we can count on no such thing. Symbolism comes cheap and easy, whether it means invoking Jesus or rolling up your shirtsleeves to show that you’re down with the proletariat.

(One symbolic thing we can count on is people making Palin-themed porn, though — and if Palin’s widely deemed to be so hot, I feel somewhat cheated that libertarian-Republican MTV VJ Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery, who looks almost as much like Palin as Tina Fey does, hasn’t been more of a national sensation — but then, as perhaps the first person to interview her after she started at MTV, for Chronicles magazine of all things, and as someone who shares her fondness not only for liberty and conservatism but for Star Trek and alternative rock, I have long wanted to see Kennedy prospering. Or naked.)

IV. Political Doom Foreseen

If Curtis and Klein are allowed to turn their own paranoia into accusations of sinister conspiracies out in the world, may I share my own worst political fears at this halfway mark in this blog’s “Month of Horror”?

Current polls as summarized by (right-leaning) RealClearPolitics put Obama 100 electoral votes ahead of McCain, around 260 vs. around 160 — with virtually all of the 100 or so remaining “toss-up state” electoral votes leaning Obama, which may portend a 200 electoral-vote margin of victory for Obama. McCain would have to win back all the toss-up states to make up his current deficit. There is simply no way this can happen, barring the unveiling of photos showing Obama torturing a kitten (such as Dewey, the foundling Iowa cat whose biography is right up there on the bestseller list with Naomi Klein right now — and who caused me, for a disappointingly brief moment, to think someone had written a biography of the philosopher, the politician, or at least the library scientist).

Palin did all right in her debate and in one month can exit the national scene with her dignity relatively intact, but exit she will, and McCain with her. McCain will be lauded by the newly-inaugurated President Obama for his past service to the nation, etc., and he may well look forward to working closely with increasingly powerful Democrats in the Senate, since that, not promoting free markets, is what McCain does best, after all.

Perhaps, in the current fiscal crisis, we can hope that cost-cutting — not Keynesian “investment” schemes — will be a favorite emergency economic tool of the center-left technocrats likely to fill an Obama administration. And if they start the budget-cutting with a curtailment of various military operations, no sane conservative should complain. We are not in a position to complain about anything that cuts government expenses in the current situation. And conservatism has no more public credibility with which to make demands. For a while, we can only wait and hope and maybe one day rebuild.

The conservative movement in its mid-twentieth-century form is already over, and the triumphalist tone that became its default mode in the early to middle Bush years will seem as oddly archaic and ignorant soon as people touting endless prosperity in 1928.

Libertarianism, which might have positioned itself to offer much-needed economic advice at this juncture and thus risen to prominence at last, has squandered the past decade focusing on “lifestyle-left” hipster issues and (largely non-economic) opposition to Bush on military and security matters. Libertarianism will thus be remembered as an odd footnote to the now-ended conservative era, its economic warnings largely forgotten by leftists convinced their own policies are and always were the only viable alternative to Bush-style conservatism: tax and spend vs. deficit-spend, as if no other option can even be recalled.

We can see in the eventual Islamicization of Europe and the eagerness of Chavez and Ahmadinejad to work together the outlines of a more long-term left/Islamic alliance, in which the relatively collegial left/right relationship that for the past century existed between liberalism and conservatism will be displaced by a relatively collegial quasi-left/quasi-right relationship between, on one hand, European-style socialism (around the world, including in the U.S.) and, on the other hand, the more traditionalistic Islamic world, to which the Western socialistic-technocrats will now look when in need of “values” inspiration, much as Bill Clinton borrowed from the Christian right in small ways.

V. Looking Backwards

Maybe this is the end, then. Maybe we have finally lost. Civilization’s long, painful, but upward-tending arc since early modernity has peaked, and ahead there is only poverty and terror, with environmentalists chiming in to cheer every time industry suffers a setback, standards of living decline, or modernizing trade is prevented from reaching another developing nation.

At least there will in time be the release of death, you might despairingly think — though had things gone only a bit differently, we might have escaped even that, living in a high-tech bioengineered world of immortality and wonder. Instead Europeans now vandalize genetically-engineered crops while police look on with indifference, and Al Gore gives his explicit blessing to law-breaking directed against CO2-producing technologies, which is to say virtually all of industrial civilization.

At what point could the disaster to come have been averted? I think there were three points at which we might have arrested humanity’s impending self-destruction or stagnation:

1. The Enlightenment could have put a greater emphasis on restricting the state as a necessary corollary of market economics. Because it did not, most intellectuals — even, in time, the “anarchists” — would come to see the state as a wonderful means of expressing their world-altering desires, just so long as chaotic commerce and entrenched traditionalism did not reign unfettered.

2. Liberalism might with relative ease have avoided its drift (largely caused by mere philosophical speculation rather than social necessity) toward a partial embrace of socialism in the late nineteenth century, hewing in a more principled fashion to individualism.

3. Twentieth-century conservatism might have avoided its overemphasis on “cultural” issues such as religion and patriotism, which marginalized economic concerns or reduced them to a footnote in the story of the Cold War, leading to conservatism’s twenty-first-century embrace of statism and thus loss of political purpose.

And even as recently as the past few years, Congressional Republicans might have rallied in support of Bush’s Social Security privatization plans and started a trend toward downsizing the state instead of accelerating its bloat. Now it’s too late. Government’s duties are perceived to be total, the market a nuisance to be tamed. Comedy, music, journalism, drama, all unthinkingly reflect allegiance to the state’s anti-market efforts. To be good is to be anti-capitalist in the minds of most Americans — and even more so in the minds of most people of the wider world, who love Obama precisely because they (unfairly, I realize) imagine him to be some sort of socialist or Muslim, like them.

So, it’s a tiny band of free-marketeers vs. the united people of planet Earth, and to quote the name of an amusing musical act: People Are Wrong.

With such a powerful social consensus, though, it does little good to plead truth, logic, and evidence. Most people aren’t even aware that bias, cherry-picking of evidence, and media distortion are pervasive facts of life (the recent trend toward popularizing such psychological insights — and popularizing behavioral econ — might be our best long-term hope of improving the culture, even if these things do not at this point have obvious free-market effects: nudges, tipping points, freakonomics, etc., might provide some useful intellectual architecture for sound, incentives-based thinking in future decades). People will always find ample seeming-confirmation of the premises they want affirmed. The market is bad, government is all, compassionate politicians will save us. Or so people who know no better must “hope,” as they can no longer imagine leaderless people saving themselves.

But if all this is getting you down, in the interests of “solidarity,” feel free to join us at the back of the second floor at Merchants NY (62nd and First) tomorrow night (Thur. the 16th, 6:30-on) for a monthly gathering of the non-leftist Manhattan Project. And we’ll drink.

P.S. And if we survive tonight’s presidential debate, tomorrow’s drinking, and the New York Post opinion editor’s wedding on Friday, Friday night (10pm Eastern) brings the one-hour ABC News special John Stossel’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics, in part about the fact that beneath the rhetoric, the difference between the Democrats and Republicans is barely discernible — another depressing but necessary step in assessing where things stand before figuring out how to move forward.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Torture, Physical and Economic


Here’s a less twee note than yesterday’s entry: At the GOP convention, Fred Thompson glumly intoned the tale of McCain living in a small box into which his captors stuck him in Viet Nam, pressing the idea home as if inviting us to “think inside the box.”

Around the same time, as it happens, I saw a compilation of TV comedy routines at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio), and one politically interesting bit was an early-90s Dennis Miller routine, showing a hint of where his thinking was headed even before he became a libertarian and then a hawkish libertarian.  He talked about the then-recent vice presidential debates in which independent Ross Perot’s running mate, Admiral James Bond Stockdale (his real name), was widely perceived as a laughingstock for leading with the drifty-sounding question “Who am I?  Why am I here?” and later being caught with his hearing aid off.

Miller noted, rapidfire, that laughable Stockdale was the most-decorated military man in American history, taught philosophy, and needed a hearing aid in that ear precisely because he’d heroically endured torture in Viet Nam, not so unlike McCain.  But, finished Miller, despite Stockdale’s many accomplishments, he had still committed the ultimate sin of our era: He did badly on TV.

And indeed, that was the night that my boss at the time decided to give up and stop wearing his Perot for President button.

Now, Perot is a protectionist loon, and I don’t much regret the fact that he didn’t win — but given his strong emphasis on deficit reduction, paying off the federal debt, and generally putting our house in basic economic order rather than hunting for ever more petty things to regulate (and fear, and fight about), not to mention his fondness for explaining fiscal crises in simple terms with charts and pointers (including his alligator-foot “voodoo stick”), you have to wonder whether he and his tortured running mate might not have helped nudge us toward focusing on the basic fiscal issues that now appear to matter most.

Here’s hoping someone prominent will soon decide to base a compelling campaign on these sorts of things — or that the public becomes sufficiently dissatisfied to seek out the Bob Barrs when they come along and judge them by slightly more important criteria than telepresence.

But if people are going to judge superficially, I would suggest McCain consider making his remaining TV spots look like the ads for A Quantum of Solace, which will be running heavily around the election, and that he start appearing in a tux at all times and emphasizing his past as a ladies’ man, gun user, and target of international intrigue.  Perhaps a public eager to see Bond will reward McCain for being a partial substitute.  He might even consider changing his name to James Bond McCain.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dark, Twee, Literary


I hadn’t realized until a few years ago that while Donnie Darko may be appreciated by people of various ages, it has a major, cultish fan following among people a decade or more younger than I. That’s fine with me, as the young folk could always use some 80s music and time travel (two elements of the film’s weird, complex tale of high school angst and possible schizophrenia — and for another very hip, clever use of time travel, you have to see Primer, the very realistic-feeling little indie sci-fi film my friend Chuck Blake showed me).

I wonder, with some concern, if Donnie resonates with the current crop of young adults for the simple, disturbing reason that it’s so emo/twee. I mean, Donnie’s basically a hero, in the end, by being almost completely passive and self-destructive, which just barely redeems his existence as a profound loser with family problems.

I don’t know if this decade’s childlike, effete passivity is such a good thing — though I have to admit I like it just fine when it causes things like this fragile-feeling video for the beautiful Stars song “Your Ex Lover Is Dead” (since they are Montreal-based, I’m counting on my friend Jacob Levy to see them perform there at some point and report). And not everything has to be an ad about manly beef consumption, of course.

If I understand music well enough these days to distinguish “twee” from “emo” (and I am not at all confident I do), I think the Stars video was twee, while the theme to Smallville — equally overwrought but with more of a wall-of-sound Hilary Duff-era constant, somewhat cheesy volume-barrage and almost grunge-like constant vocal wail — is more emo (generally a bad thing, I think, but I do like the Smallville theme itself, which suits the show and manages to still sound pretty hip over seven years in, as the series slowly but surely mutates into Lois & Clark).

Effete whining may not be the path to heroism in the real world, but it might be a short cut to some measure of gentleness and civility after a few increasingly coarse decades. Yes, the current version of Clark Kent seems mopey, but on the bright side, the Stars don’t seem likely to brutally slam-dance into me, which is nice. We aging and conservative punk fans need some calm and relaxation sometimes, obviously.

P.S. The Stars also remind me a bit of the (comparably youthful and often similarly clever-playful) literary-hipster folk who attend Todd Zuniga’s Opium literary readings, and you can see that for yourself by watching my friend Katherine Taylor and others read at one such event tomorrow night (Tuesday the 14th) at 7 at the Kitchen at 512 W. 19th.

P.P.S. Harder to musically categorize is this alarming, lobster-encrusted performance of “The Night [Chicago Died/They Drove Old Dixie Down/The Lights Went Out in Georgia]” by Von Hummer, pointed out to me by Gerard Perry, who also forwards this dubbed-over Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles performance.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Reptile-Men, Conquerors, World Government, Mad Musicians, and Current Affairs

A brief injection of political horror before returning to blogging about horror-horror as promised:

• has been duped into reporting fake (bad) Sarah Palin SATs — and the fake SATs happen to have been created by some jerk(s) altering (my ex-girlfriend) Dawn Eden’s posting of her own SAT scores. So a vote for McCain-Palin is now sort of a vote for Dawn (whose views may not be all that different from Palin’s anyway). I hope Dawn won’t take it personally if I still vote for the Libertarian, Barr (ex-congressman! smart! libertarian! conservative too! proven! known! funny!). There are times, though, when the left is so vicious, I almost feel a duty to come to the GOP’s aid, as I did in 2004, voting against Michael Moore and his rabid ilk more than Kerry per se, though Kerry is indeed awful, as is his green wife, whose money is the source of so many of the groundless eco-scares I end up having to combat by day.

This is the second time Gawker has bent over backwards to attack Palin and ended up looking nasty and stupid, having earlier posted her hacked e-mails, which you’ll notice did not reveal her to secretly be a demon. “Conquering all media,” as the failed Gawker book’s subtitle put it, seems to entail conquering fake and stolen media now, too. Way to expand that empire.

•Obama is our next president regardless, though, now projected to have something like a 200 electoral-vote advantage over McCain — with even The New Republic saying the race is over (despite the vested interest of political magazines in making the race seem interesting and unpredictable).

•That doesn’t mean we can’t take some pleasure, though, during the remaining weeks of conservatism’s existence, in pieces like this one by Deroy Murdock about women in McCain’s office earning more relative to their male coworkers than women in Biden and Obama’s offices do. I generally think charges of hypocrisy are overrated as a philosophical device, but if politicians keep inviting such charges, Deroy’s piece is a perfect model of how to zing them (and the whole thing is akin to the Democrat-controlled Congress, prior to the 1994-2006 Republican phase, routinely exempting themselves from the very same regulations with which they so eagerly oppress the rest of us).

•On a lighter note, I was pleased to see the recent New York Times op-ed page info-graphic about the height and weight of the past century or so’s presidents, implicitly asking whether Obama is fat enough to lead — though his height advantage over wee 5′7″ McCain surely renders the fat issue irrelevant. I’m reminded of my friend Chris Nugent once asking his friends’ opinions on what personal qualities — like being fat or being a smoker — might be most likely to render one unelectable in the current U.S. culture.

Fat was deemed the least objectionable of several proposed attributes, and, unfortunately for me, the group concluded that atheism was the one deal-breaker making it impossible to elect someone president. Stupid country! How I loathe it! Surely I should rule you all — every last stupid one of you!

•I was pleased to see that, whatever may become of American democracy (in this new-dawning age of our revered Change-Hope father-leader — and the One World Banking Conspiracy Government that seems to be getting blamed on free-marketeers despite libertarians like Ron Paul being the only ones wearing themselves hoarse for decades warning people about the Fed and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy comes out Nov. 23, with the makers of Dr. Pepper having long ago sworn to celebrate with a free can for every American (except estranged GNR guitarists Slash and Buckethead) when it does. As I already vowed in a comments thread on Karol Sheinin’s blog, where I learned about this wondrous development, I will inevitably sing one of the new songs in karaoke eventually.

•Freedom may benefit even more from the impending ABC remake of the 80s anti-authoritarian sci-fi series V, though. And with the aliens promising change and hope, the timing couldn’t be better. (With its plot about alien reptiles conquering Earth, it should also be eagerly watched by David Icke.) I’m skipping December’s Keanu Reeves version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, though, since the plot has reportedly been altered to be an eco-doom warning, and enough already with the nature thing, people.

•I can’t blame people for thinking that your average, statist Republican politician is an example of “the free market” in action, but here’s a tiny, tiny little example of what it sounds like when a real free-marketeer examines a revered merely-conservative figure: an article derived from Thomas DiLorenzo’s new book denouncing Alexander Hamilton as a proto-socialist. That’s the level of free-market purism we need.

•If libertarians haven’t talked about abolishing the Fed, privatizing currency, resurrecting the gold standard, and divorcing banking from its cozy relationship with government quite as much as it now appears they should have, keep in mind it’s because most of you would have called us crazy for doing so — after all, you normals called the Republicans rabid anarchic maniacs back in 1995 when they cut the budget by a mere 1%.

Not an intellectual climate conducive to saying more truly radical things I’d like to say, such as “Perhaps we should abolish limited liability” and “Wal-mart should be allowed to produce currency,” not to mention “Perhaps we need to bring back something akin to debtors prisons to more effectively warn people not to take out loans on which they’re likely to default.” Don’t suddenly pretend, as this world teeters on the brink of collapse, that it was built according to my reviled and rejected policy prescriptions.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Death Be Not Proud

I read a list of bizarre celebrity deaths, and I think the three oddest, by my standards, may be those of Isadora Duncan (strangled when her scarf was caught in the wheel of a moving car), author Sherwood Anderson (infection resulting from swallowing a toothpick), and perhaps oddest of all Tennessee Williams (choked on an accidentally-swallowed eye or nasal spray cap in the early 80s, though he may well have been on drugs and booze at the time and thus greatly weakened already).

In a celebrity death of a different sort, Newsarama recounts the numerous times Superman’s father has passed away.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Moby Dick, Rashomon Open to (Even More) Interpretation


Rashomon is not a Jewish New Year celebration that is open to multiple interpretations but rather Akira Kurosawa’s classic film about conflicting accounts of a crime — and, perhaps unwisely, Hollywood is reportedly about to turn it into a courtroom drama called Rashomon 2010.

That’s not all — they’re also planning a Moby Dick movie in which the whale is a more-visible, Jaws-like foe and Ahab a charismatic hero — directed by the Russian director who gave us the goofy action film Wanted. Maybe he should cast Putin, who’s been appearing in manly martial arts training films and the like lately anyway and obviously has people killed, if not whales. The whale might be seen to represent NATO (North Atlantic, etc. — makes perfect sense)

I’ll say it again: after next year, I’m just sticking with four familiar franchises to save myself time and trouble: Hobbit (two more films), Potter (three more films counting the one in 2009), Narnia (three more films), and Avengers (about four more films before the first ensemble one in 2011 — I mean “Assemble!!”). That’s more than enough nerd-film for an adult — and for one lifetime.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hey, First Anniversary of the Highest-Ever Dow!

That’s right, it was on October 9, 2007, exactly one year ago, that the Dow reached 14,164 — and since then, real horror.

But if it’s any consolation, in the year 1896, the Dow lost 30% of its value over the summer and was at one point at a mere 28.48, so let us not forget we’re still lucky to live in the twenty-first century.

But you know, this being the Month of Horror and all, maybe instead of offering reassuring thoughts, I should be trying to scare you witless (despite the day job). Toward that end, I’m tempted once again to push my idea (or incipient film treatment?) of a “nightmare club” — people who deliberately try to induce in themselves the worst dreams possible and then compare notes.

As noted in a prior entry, my capacity for nightmares diminishes with age, but it wasn’t so long ago I knew that just by thinking about the potential for nightmares as I fell asleep I increased the odds of them occurring. Now, my subconscious is normally so complacent, I think I’d really have to work at it.

I don’t have all that much control over my dreams normally, but one pattern I have noticed is this: My dreams become more complicated when my day is less complicated, which is a bit counterintuitive — less like sorting the events of the day, more like compensating for boredom and keeping me mentally active or something, which is nice.

The real formula for weirdness, though, seems to be anxiety + boredom + cold medication + sleeping in midday. Thus the bureaucracy and Gingrich dreams noted a few days ago, for example.

UPDATE: On a brighter note, here’s an example of technology helping us cope with the size of the federal government’s obscene debt.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Giant Spider! Robot Dog!

Yesterday, I mentioned a weird arthropod-gizmo (and drugs) — so as a sort of sequel, I offer you this video clip of a real, gigantic, mechanical spider lumbering through city streets.  Maybe that infamous battle against a giant spider meant to climax the Kevin Smith 1990s Superman movie that never got made could happen in the real world after all.

Speaking of Superman (and addictive substances), despite my brief relapse into comics collecting during DC’s “Final Crisis” event, the release schedule for the three associated miniseries I’m buying has been sufficiently slow that when I buy a couple issues next week, it will have been a month and a half since my last fix — a month and a half without knowing what diabolical, multiverse-wrecking villains Darkseid, Time Trapper (who graced yesterday’s entry), or Gog are up to.

A week from today will also see me glimpsing more giant, wacky gizmos, I expect — at the annual Breakthrough Awards hosted by Popular Mechanics.  Perhaps someone should pay me to write about it.  It was at one year’s Breakthrough Awards ceremony that I saw that creepy, spider-like robot dog in action with the naked eye.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Limits of Time and Power


To know the fear that accompanies beholding the unfathomable, I suggest reading this brief and oddly baffling article about an old clock — and then imagine reading it again while on drugs. Seriously. I don’t think it’s just me.

On another mind-bending note, you can see a debate about the limits of political reality, hosted by me, tonight at Lolita Bar.

Simply by attending our event instead of watching more Tweedle-Dum Tweedle-Democrat bickering between McCain and Obama, you make the world a better place.

Selflessly, I was also going to plug yet another debate taking place sometime around today, one between the minor-party candidates — but since neither of the two sites ostensibly in charge of that debate could be bothered (as of this weekend) to clearly post information on when, where, or how the debate could be seen, screw ’em. They’re not going to win anyway, and neither is democracy.

P.S. Yesterday, there was an Obama activist with a clipboard continually asking passersby on the street outside my office if they’re also Obama supporters, and virtually everyone was ignoring him and walking on by.

My conclusion: to combat this apathy, perhaps Obama should devote all of his campaigning efforts for the remainder of the race to the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  Don’t write us off!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ghost Rider and Smokey the Bear: Fallen Fire Angels

ghost-rider.jpg smokey-the-bear.jpg
One of the most disturbing pieces of footage I have ever seen is this 1957 public service announcement featuring a country singer singing eerily about the Devil and his “ghost herd in the sky,” while one of his androgynous children has a frightening late-night encounter in the woods with a zombie-like Smokey the Bear, come to life from a billboard.

After the child recounts her/his “near-mystical experience” (as the YouTube user who posted it wisely puts it), the clip ends with the singer’s admonishment that “Smokey is everywhere, Chris,” confirming my suspicion Smokey is meant to be seen as some sort of Native American animal-spirit (perhaps a beast-man foe of the Fire Clan from Hopi legend — and the Final Crisis comic book).

There was a similar country music/Devil/ghost vibe in the one worthwhile scene in the otherwise lame Ghost Rider movie: when the classic song “Ghost Riders in the Sky” played while the modern Ghost Rider, on his flaming motorcycle, rode across the desert at night with an unexpected guest star, the horse-riding Ghost Rider of the nineteenth century — one of those geek-pleasing movie moments like Tony Stark having an unexpected houseguest at the end of the credits in Iron Man and almost cool enough to justify letting myself be dragged to the movie.

Even my fellow New Wave fan Michael Malice likes “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and has sung it in karaoke — but he hasn’t seen Iron Man, as he is adamantly a DC man. (I actually missed his “Ghost Riders in the Sky” performance, having left the bar in a huff for reasons involving absinthe and a woman that aren’t important now.) Normally, Malice listens to things more like his friends in the band My Favorite (since transformed into Secret History), and this song of theirs that I’ve linked before features a pretty tension between angelic and devilish imagery, if you listen closely, thus perhaps making its narrator a bit like Ghost Rider and Smokey the Bear, not to mention Malice.

In any case, the My Favorite song is a hell of a lot prettier than the punk song “Ghost Rider” as covered by Henry Rollins, which is indeed about the superhero (Rollins has also dabbled in comics writing) and is one of the most unintentionally hilarious and dopey pieces of music I have ever heard — yet they damn well should have used it in the movie.

As for how I came to see that Smokey the Bear footage in the first place: It was one of many weird wonders from the ABC News tape archives when I was working there. The cursory logs describing the tapes were often a haiku-like trip in themselves, often reading something like:

Women at picnic
Close-up of weeping child
Bike-riding Hitlers

I still regret not getting out of the library one tape with a log describing it as containing “Man flying around Washington Monument using handheld device.” I also missed Meredith Vieira’s own wardrobe malfunction on The View, which luckily didn’t cause a big FCC fuss. Here, at least, is footage of her kissing Lisa Ling.

P.S. And speaking of Marvel superhero movies: the reason I’m psyched to hear that Kenneth Branagh is likely to direct the 2010 Thor movie is that (I’m guessing) this means they intend to do the full-blown pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue from the comics.  Mayhap the son of Odin shalt prove the Avenger of mightiest box office mettle — nay, the mightiest in the Realm Eternal!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Feet in the Pacific, Gingrich in My Dreams

I promised you body parts this weekend — and I deliver!  Originally, I was merely planning to note the ongoing mystery of the shoed feet that keep washing up in the North Pacific, which, like all other phenomena, has a Wikipedia page.  And there was that dog who dug up a child’s foot in Alabama recently.

But let’s get back to politics: You might be amused to hear (and I’m not making this up) that after writing yesterday’s entry, in which I mentioned sometimes having bad dreams about bureaucracy and flowcharts and the like, I actually took a nap and, as if parodying my own blog entry, had just such a dream.

It was likely influenced, fittingly, by political worries and by the ads for the new movie Blindness, a partly-political thriller about a population reduced to chaos by unexplained temporary blindness.

I dreamt that I was attempting to take a bus into some town, only to be told sternly by some manager that “There are no more passengers today” — and he meant despite the fact that a vast, Katrina-like relocation of people, with their bundled possessions, seemed to be occurring.  Frustrated, I went online (at my parents’ house) and realized that entire populations were being relocated, with coldhearted efficiency, as a mere dry run for Newt Gingrich’s “Real Solutions” plan reforming government, which (when I’m awake) is just his attention-grabbing PR blitz to keep a 2012 presidential run viable (though everyone knows the only real victors in 2012 will be Quetzalcoatl and the Hollywood version of Aslan).

Recall that Gingrich was the main orchestrator of circa-1994 GOP reform efforts that included a push for term limits (the topic of the debate I’m hosting in two days at Lolita Bar, since Bloomberg and the City Council are suddenly less than enthusiastic about their own term limits — bring everyone you know who cares).

Well, in the dream, I found the complete flow chart of Gingrich’s plan online, and it was so mindboggling complicated and involved shipping people to and from so many towns that I decided it warranted linking to from my blog entry of yesterday.

But then I noticed that water seemed to be dripping from a few spots in the ceiling of my parents’ house, in more than one room, despite there being little or no rain outside, and I mentioned it to my father, who at first seemed unfazed but then looked with uncharacteristic terror at the figure approaching the back steps and spluttered “The — the delivery man!”  At which point I woke up.

And in the real world, Gingrich, a very smart guy, is not in charge — so which world is the nightmare, really?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Loss of Bodily Integrity, Maintenance of Sanity

Adults have complex fears involving things like “dividends” and “solvency,” but kids tend to be frightened of the simple things — the classics — like this recent incident in which a little girl’s hand was (temporarily!) torn off when her jump rope got wrapped around a car axle. Loss of bodily integrity freaks out kids, they say, since it’s one of the few concepts they’ve instinctively mastered at their young age. They may not want to read tomorrow’s blog entry, then, since this is going to be a sort of Weekend of Lost Body Parts within my larger Month of Horror.

(I wonder if politicians feel similarly amputated when their administrations are cut short by term limits? We can discuss that at the debate I’m hosting Tuesday night.)

I hardly ever have real nightmares as an adult, only increasingly bureaucratic anxiety dreams — lots of attempts to get non-existent subway lines mapped out or train schedules to jibe, or sometimes misaligned floors of buildings to somehow reveal a means of getting from Point A to Point B. It’s all filing and systematizing in the less pleasant of my dreams these days.

Of course, this morning was an exception — though still vaguely associated with resistance to bureaucracy. Scully from X-Files was overseeing a surgery performed on a female friend of hers by one of Scully’s medical subordinates (also female), and things went badly, as I could foresee with the sort of glum resignation one feels when a project is clearly doomed by red tape.

Smoke began pouring from a hole in the bedsheet over the patient, and as the subordinate tried to explain it all away with dry, clinical jargon, it became clear the patient had been burned down to mere Halloween-skeletal remains without the doctors noticing. Scully looked grimly furious as the subordinate, increasingly desperate, suggested Al Qaeda might be to blame.

This dream may have resulted from cold medication, ongoing concern about our messy political problems, or slightly-delayed anxiety over my friends Laura Braunstein and Andy Ager having a second child about twenty-four hours ago — but newborn Naomi is fine…

…and is not to be confused with Naomi Camilleri’s newborn blog, which leads off with her rejection of the past few decades’ purportedly free-market policies. Like Laura and I, Naomi went to Brown, and she came out leftist the way Brown students are supposed to — some friends and I were anomalies (but we’ll revisit that horrifying tale in two weeks, in my Book Selection of the Month entry).

I posted a brief response to Naomi’s anti-deregulation entry — but what really strikes me is that a guy plugging the new Ron Paul organization did as well. The Paul people’s eyes are everywhere, even now.

Friday, October 3, 2008

An American Carol


I’m resisting right-left political combative urges until November — and neutrally hosting a debate on term limits next Tuesday — but I’m allowed to comment on a ghost story, this being the Month of Horror on the blog and all, right?

And so it is that I note today brings An American Carol to theatres, the David Zucker (of Airplane fame) comedy about a leftist, Michael Moore-like film director taken on a tour of American history and politics by ghosts who instill a newfound conservatism in him.

I will have to see this rare thing even if it proves to be awful — but the Zuckers have been good to us in the past, and we should respect that comedic inheritance.

ADDENDUM: On another quasi-political note, today, the very day that the House may vote in favor of a Wall Street bailout, my alarm clock radio woke me with an odd reminder of how we got here. The first three ads in a row praised WaMu (“WaMu savings — woo-hoo!”), finessing your bad credit rating (“Turn your bad credit into wealth” or words to that effect), and big zero-money-down purchases (for a Toyota, featuring a cover of the Fixx’s “Saved by Zero,” perhaps the first time I’ve heard anyone covering the Fixx, unless you count me in karaoke). Mainly, though, I was just happy to hear a Fixx song. Also happy this week to learn that UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron says his favorite band is the Jam.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Nerd-Horror Director Supreme

Wow. Guillermo Del Toro, director of Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies, over the next nine years is reportedly slated to make movies based on all of the following classics:

The Hobbit
•Dr. Jekyll
•Edwin Drood
•Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness”
Slaughterhouse Five

When will nerds find time to see regular nerd movies based on crappy source material, like Twilight? But he’s sort of got that niche covered too — because in his spare time, he’s apparently writing a vampire novel trilogy.

How long before people start looking back upon Mimic and seeing the early signs of genius in it — much as all those Spider-Man fans should with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies and the underrated The Quick and the Dead?

But speaking of superheroes, what I really wish Del Toro’d adapt is Marvel’s sorcerer supreme, Doctor Strange. Right?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Month of Horror Begins

And so begins this blog’s “Month of Horror,” succeeding its “Month of Sex” (as if the world weren’t horrible enough already, what with financial crises and a looming election — but you can get some of the political fears out of your system by attending the term limits debate I’m hosting Tuesday night next week).

Why are we drawn to the horrifying, gentle reader?  Why does every year see a new Saw movie (none of which I ever intend to see, practically shuddering just from descriptions of them)?

I suppose a big part of it is our evolved inclination to be highly attentive to danger in general — but in particular to predators, perhaps especially ones that are only borderline human (like fanged, horned depictions of Satan).  I mean, think about it: for millennia, there were so few of us (at times, it’s estimated, only tens of thousands, who might easily have gone extinct), and much of the time we could cajole fellow Cromagnons into not bashing our brains in (though something like half of prehistoric males appear to have died that way) and we could outwit the dumber, completely non-human animals…

…but run across a tribe of, say, Neanderthals, about as smart as you but perhaps with no inclination to treat you as nicely as kin — now, that’s the stuff of primitive nightmares, and those most prone to see such situations as requiring special caution may have been most likely to survive and pass on their aesthetic inhibitions.  I merely speculate, of course.  It does seem to be the case, though, that even very young children, who’ve had no time to learn what their parents fear, have an instinctive fear of many of the things they should in fact be worried about (and were also wise to worry about in the ancestral environment), like snakes and angry dogs and places where it’s too dark to see what’s just ahead of you.

Biology might also explain the curious resonance of a very modern nightmare — this bizarre, recurring idea of “grey aliens” with indistinct features, hovering over our paralyzed bodies and manipulating us — yet often bringing some sort of paternalistic, quasi-religious message of love or global understanding.  It could just mean everyone heard the unproven UFO abduction claims of Betty and Barney Hill back in the day or saw Close Encounters

…but one Skeptical Inquirer writer offered the odd but interesting theory that the greys may continue to resonate — and to crop up in so many ludicrous hypnosis memory-regression sessions — in part because they look an awful lot like human parents probably did to all of us when we were young, immobile, and possessed only of fuzzy vision and minimal language skills.  Perhaps your Mom is an alien, in short.

Of course, none of the above explains why, when friends in college said something like “Can you think of a worse way to die?” after a tragedy in the news or somesuch, I so quickly volunteered, “Well, yes — you could have your spine pulled out through your anus and attached to running Dobermans who drag you across a rocky field.”

There are those unwilling to face worst-case scenarios — and those who suspect that we must in order to understand the truth.  Like having to go bankrupt before learning basic economics.