Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Skepticism vs. Religion -- but Mainly vs. Capitalism


For about five centuries now, the “enlightened” humanists have been railing against religion (fine), tradition (perhaps that’s hasty), and capitalism (dead wrong), lumping far too many issues into one basket and making it difficult even for an atheist-anarchist like me to give them more than one cheer.

As I’ll likely note in my introductory comments at tomorrow’s momentous Debate at Lolita Bar on the infinitely important question “Does Religion Make People Better?” one of intellectual history’s greatest ironies has to be the fact that the very founder of (post-classical) utopian thinking, Sir Thomas More, was (by twentieth-century right/left standards) a paradoxical mix of rigid Catholic orthodoxy, boldly innovative criticism of government, and complete opposition to property rights — this last being a point he makes as explicitly as Rousseau or Marx, forever earning this anti-divorce, Catholic-conservative martyr a place in the pantheon of socialist visionaries.

Though the survival of freedom has often hinged on playing intellectual forces such as church and state against each other — whether in the Middle Ages or the Cold War — I think it may be high time we found the courage to lump both church and state together and be rid of both, even if it means risking having no allies at all for a time. With rampant government spending and religious-fanatic terrorist armies (and authoritarian regimes) loose in the world, it would be nice to hear more people admit that a combination of atheism and unfettered markets might be a comparatively moderate and pleasant way to live.

(On a related note, Jacob Levy mentions a lecture by Joan Scott arguing that despite appearances, secularism has not always aided women, since restricting religion to “the private sphere” has sometimes given it free reign precisely where oppressive males do the most damage. This is similar to the premise of tomorrow’s anti-religion debater, Austin Dacey, in his book The Secular Conscience — reviewed positively in the new issue of quasi-rival magazine Skeptic — that restricting religion to the private sphere simply delays and retards arguments about religion’s real merits or flaws. Tomorrow’s debate will haul the topic back out into the public square, at least for a couple hours.  In Jacob’s post after the Joan Scott one, by the way, he briefly mentions our bet about whether Obama will grow government more than Bush.)


It is no surprise to me, by the way, that despite the left’s pretense of being the “rational” ones, they often end up giving a religion-like veneer to their messianic political crusades. Witness witless “Rev. Billy” Talen, a New York City comedian/street performer whose whole shtick is just pretending to be a preacher while ranting in revivalist fashion against capitalism and consumerism — and against Starbucks coffee that uses milk from hormone-treated cows (as seen in the last John Stossel special I worked on, Tampering with Nature, in the summer of 2001, before moving on to defend similar high-tech practices at ACSH).

Rev. Billy is like those annoying, repetitive Robin Williams bits where Williams slips into sounding like a southern preacher for no good reason, except without jokes and without veering into any other characters or modes at all. And because, as Hayek warned us, the worst rise to the top in politics, he’s also — yes — your 2009 candidate for mayor of New York City, if you have the misfortune to be affiliated with the morally misguided and economically ignorant Green Party (which at least makes us libertarians look sane). But hey, I’ve vowed not to vote for term-limits-busting Bloomberg, even after being a guest in his apartment once, so maybe I need to give this faux-preacher fellow a second look.

It’s a complex, multifactorial world. And if, after all the above, you need a nice dose of just-plain skepticism, my friend Chuck Blake recommends this profile of eccentric and brilliant scientist Freeman Dyson from the New York Times. For more about greens, come back tomorrow for my April Fool’s Day Book Selection(s) entry.

Monday, March 30, 2009

EU vs. U.S./UK


We live in Bizarro Socialist World when Continental Europeans are telling the U.S. and UK to stop pushing big-government spending on the world (maybe the day will come when they’re more religious than us as well — but we can discuss that on Wednesday at Lolita). It’s crucial to remember that a proper pro-market utilitarian’s loyalties lie with whoever’s discouraging government spending, not simply with “America.” This, then, becomes a valuable test to see (a) whether socialists and anti-G20 (or G8 or G7 or G9 or what have you) protestors know when to stop cheering for Europe over the U.S. and (b) whether our own conservatives know when to say we really ought to be listening to Europe.

My loyalty is to the productive, information-revealing, preference-fulfilling process that is the market, not to the U.S. per se, and if I have to keep saying that more stridently as our situation deteriorates and risk looking like a traitor in the process, so be it. I helped produce a John Stossel hour a decade ago that said Hong Kong is in many ways superior to the U.S. (or at least was, though Communist meddling may yet change that). We have a lot to learn, just not from East Germany or 1970s Sweden or Paul Krugman.

In the current bailout frenzy, it’s not so much Germany’s Merkel vs. the UK’s Brown that fascinates me, though (given their relatively minor differences over spending and tax tweaks). It’s Obama and his big-spending push being chastised by a Czech prime minister — in a weird historical reversal, those who lived through socialism the first time know better than Americans do to be wary of it. Likewise, some of the most ardent young capitalists I’ve met are brainy folk from Central and Eastern Europe who’ve come to NYC to escape the poverty-inducing mistakes of the generation that preceded them — and I hope for all our sakes that they will.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Atlas Sold (but Did Not Sell Out)


About a week and a half ago, the Ayn Rand Institute proudly noted that different editions of Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged have lately filled multiple spots on Amazon’s top ten classics list and top ten U.S. Literature and Fiction list.  Despite my subtle philosophical differences with Rand, I think this is great news (and as for whether Rand was on the right track with her militant atheism — well, that’s something we can discuss this Wednesday night at Lolita Bar, obviously).  For all the complaints people make about Rand’s psychologically-flat characters, I don’t know that any novel besides Atlas has really tried to capture the economic context of a society collapsing under regulation in such convincing detail.

In particular, much as people like to make it sound as if her work is all about evil politicians and heroic industrialists, she does a wonderful job of capturing how widespread selling out to the government is among corporations.  Why face the uncertainty of market competition when you can cozy up to the state and get bailouts or monopoly-granting licenses and government contracts that less well-connected businesses lack?

This is all the more reason to abolish government, though leftists love to make the non-sequitur argument that if the ranks of businessmen are filled with hypocrites and cronies of the state, it’s somehow an argument against the free market.  At this alarming juncture in economic history, I don’t think I can let that one slide to keep the peace at parties anymore, yea, even though I risk becoming once more as annoying as I was in college.  We’re in big trouble, and a lot of people — including some with Nobel Prizes and New York Times columns — badly need to learn the basics of free-market economics immediately.

Speaking of collapsing systems, I’m pleased to see at least two columns pointing out that Natasha Richardson might have had a fighting chance for life after her skiing accident if not for the Canadian healthcare system — and specifically the even more socialistic Quebecois system, which is bad enough to inspire tragic films like The Barbarian Invasions.  Not that this will stop Michael Moore, Nancy Pelosi, and others for pushing to make us more like low-on-scanning-machines Canadians.

Already, politicians like Democratic House Majority Leader Rep. Hoyer are saying that health “insurance” reform should include the option for citizens to enter government-run health programs.  For a time, healthcare will retain a private element, but once people become convinced that, due to having been taxed for it already, they can only get their money’s worth by utilizing “free” government healthcare or health insurance, the private health sector’s days will be numbered, and the U.S. will take one more giant leap toward being a de facto part of Europe, and not in the good wine-drinking way.

The insurance companies’ response to it all?  Rush to become a government entitlement and bask in the stability of being part of the state, as noted in yesterday’s entry.  Time to shrug — but henceforth, be careful you don’t dislocate anything in the process.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I Cannot Has Fail? Also: Risk-Averse Megan McArdle


Something I always thought would signal the economic end of the world has come to pass: We are on the verge of seeing the abandonment of the very idea of insurance.

I always thought one of the most alarming things about the Clintons was their belief that insurance companies should stop charging people higher premiums if they’re in higher risk categories (such as possessing pre-existing conditions). No one ever wants to pay a cent more for anything, of course, but the whole point of insurance is that each party in the transaction is making a bet based on risk assessment, and without that — and the wonderful, socially-beneficial incentive effects it creates (such as discouraging being a smoker) — insurance really does not exist at all. Welfare, maybe. Disaster relief. But not insurance.

Well, pressured by the government, a group of insurance companies, in typical self-destructive cowardly corporate fashion, is now offering to preempt further government regulation by “voluntarily” ceasing to charge riskier, sicker people more. Of course, that just means having to charge everyone more to compensate, which you’d think would cost the insurance companies some business. Ah, but they’ll only stop the risk-rating if government goes forward with Obama’s plan to mandate health “insurance” for all, the government presumably subsidizing it for those who can’t afford it. In other words, the insurance companies have decided to become a form of welfare (and thus an arm of the state) instead of a form of risk-rating hedging, as long as they’re guaranteed to come out of it with more customers.

Pathetic — and to me, particularly sad, since I’ve long said that insurance actuarial tables are the single most rational thing about the human race: real probabilities instead of wishful thinking, paranoia, hunches, prejudices, or egalitarian pretenses. (And Mom is a former insurance office manager, I admit.) This news about not charging anyone more, then, is a bit like the stock market announcing that by legal fiat (and through government subsidy) there will no longer be losses — great news for about five minutes, and then reality crushes civilization like a deranged bug. (Not to be confused with a gold bug, which is probably what the survivors will have been.)


Not everyone sees the tidy connection between actuarial thinking, risk-taking, markets, and the moral responsibility to pay for your own messes that I do, of course (and if you assume I do see a tidy chain of connections there, it makes a lot more sense of my combination of robotic rationalism and conservative moralism, for anyone who still finds that confusing). Megan McArdle is lazily thought of as more-or-less-libertarian but has, I think, a much stranger and more complex underlying philosophy of risk than the one underlying this humble blog post.

You may have noticed she was an early proponent of a banks bailout (though not quite of the sort that came to pass), is keener to take measures against global warming than most libertarians, favored mandatory health insurance purchases before it was cool, thinks the industrial revolution never would have happened without the principle of limited liability, likes sumptuary laws believe it or not, yesterday even suggested that capital moving around the globe might be too destabilizing (I mean, heck, having an economy is a risk, too), and in general is more sympathetic than most libertarians to macroeconomics-influenced (and business school-inculcated) notions about there being optimal levels of investment and risk-taking for society as a whole that may not jibe with individuals’ own preferences.

We need the risk-takers even when their risk-taking is irrational from an individual cost-benefit perspective, I think she’d argue, a position that could even logically lead to “subsidizing entrepreneurship” in some cases, absent an accompanying fear of government bungling. (This is not so unlike Adam Smith’s view in Theory of Moral Sentiments, by the way, that entrepreneurs are often crazy or emotionally dysfunctional people but ones for whom the rest of us should be very, very grateful. Really, he said that, I swear.)

Add to all this the fact that Megan admits to being a bit neurotic and hypochondriac (I’m not badmouthing, just summarizing), and you get a picture of someone with almost a “precautionary principle” approach to economics and other big systemic issues, at least as compared to most of us rootin’-tootin’, let the chips fall where they may, laissez-faire libertarians, if I’m understanding it all.

But without going as far as my girlfriend Helen Rittelmeyer, who sometimes suspects we’d be better off if we simply stopped using statistics (a radical view you can discuss with her after you hire her to be your best assistant editor), I’m more and more inclined to think, in anarchist fashion, that any talk at all about what the social system as whole “should” do is a formula for disaster or at best disappointment (I for one wasn’t surprised the real bailout was a stupid one — were you?). The optimal savings rate — or the optimal level of health insurance — is probably whatever the hell happens when society becomes libertarian enough to stop talking about “what everyone else should do” in some broad macro sense, because that always ends badly. Doesn’t logically have to end badly. Just always does.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Joker's Bonus Crimes


While I have no strong feelings one way or the other about the bonuses paid to AIG employees — a drop in the bucket compared to the larger crime of the government bailing out AIG and other firms in general (not to mention every other thing government pays for) — I was pleased to see that esteemed law professor Richard Epstein, in a Wall Street Journal editorial this week, shared my fear that the government just keeps getting more and more comfortable with what once would have been considered bills of attainder, those unconstitutional (yet now rampant) cases where laws are fashioned to punish specific individuals on a “make it up as we go along” basis instead of as broad, general rules applying to all citizens and all cases (the basic idea behind the phrase “general welfare,” though no one remembers that anymore either, of course).

If the law’s so bendy it gets refashioned anew with every discovery of a reviled exec (or kid who falls down a well, or one-in-a-million garden tool mishap, or freak storm), we may as well give up on law and have the current crop of potentates rule by arbitrary decree, in keeping with the swinging mood of the crowd.

All the same, nice to see John Carney likening the wasteful AIG folks to the Joker setting a big pile of money on fire in Dark Knight.  This sort of thing will make the populist revolt against both government and its big-business cronies that much easier.  The time is fast approaching, I think.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

WAGER: Does Obama Make Government Bigger?


Gov. Bobby Jindal, in turning down “stimulus” spending for Louisiana, noted with some fear the fact that the strings attached to stimulus money put big-spending programs in place permanently in the states that accept the money, mandating that the states pay for it after the initial influx of federal cash. Obama may be using the excuse of the financial crisis to stealthily rewrite American law in an even more big-government fashion, though it’s very encouraging to see the mounting wariness about this even in the mainstream press.

I asked Jacob Levy — who thinks Obama is in some sense more libertarian than Bush — whether he was still interested in doing the change-in-size-of-gov’t bet about Obama he once proposed — that is, that Obama would, in Jacob’s opinion, increase the size of government less than Bush, low standard though that is for any president. I initially declined the bet simply because who the hell knows what circumstances and events may occupy the President — not to mention Congress, which could always switch parties — in the years ahead or how amenable the voters will be to expansionism.

But it seems pretty unlikely now that Obama has any intention of pleasantly surprising us by shutting down Cabinet departments and that sort of thing, so I’ve taken the bet — in three parts, as suggested by Jacob: change in government spending in Bush’s first term vs. Obama’s first term, (1) at the federal level as a percentage of GDP, (2) at all levels as a percentage of GDP, and (3) in constant dollars. I’ll avoid discussing the precise terms so it doesn’t sound like there’s, y’know, gambling going on here.

I’ll readily admit that neither of us knows what the future holds, that it’d be nice for America if I lose the bet (though even Eastern Europeans and Chinese are now warning us we’re spending too much), and must caution in any case that it would be empiricism of the most myopic kind to think modern liberalism were vindicated as a philosophy or conservatism refuted if this one test goes in Obama’s favor — but Jacob thought this a valuable test, and I think I’ll win, so why not? Keeps life interesting, while we endure.


Whence some people’s strange confidence, though, in this terrible, capitalism-bashing demagogue, Barack Obama, who seems to inspire the same sort of statist reverence as did the dictatorial FDR?

On a non-economic front: despite the switch in terminology on “enemy combatant,” you’ll notice that, as some predicted, Obama’s made no actual legally-relevant changes in the Bush security procedures (the administration quite emphatically declined to do so despite judges repeatedly asking whether any tweaks in the law would be forthcoming). So does that make Democrats “the party of torture” now, to use the phrase Jacob once applied to the Republicans and even gave as one reason to avoid voting for (torture opponent and torture victim) McCain?

Or are the Democrats to be thought of as our friends throughout for reasons that I, in my stubborn, faith-like blindness, fail to perceive? Are they making us “freer” in some complex, metaphysical, perhaps Continental-philosohy way that I’m too bourgeois, literal-minded, and materialistic to grasp? Is being taxed and regulated by Democrats just holier than being taxed and regulated by Republicans, perhaps because Democrats talk pretty? Is that it, the talking pretty part? And with Obama, we get one-party rule to boot, something regarded as a bad thing by many limited-government proponents only the day before yesterday, it seemed.

All I know is that I see a lot of Republicans and libertarians at those mounting “American Tea Party” protests around the country, opposing the government’s “stimulus” spending — and while these people may not succeed in winning our freedom, to push against them or deride them as populists while they are fighting the good fight would not be honorable. If this nation’s epitaph is written in the near future, I hope it will not say that any libertarians sided with our destroyer.

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: Does Religion Make People Better? (plus: Hire Helen Rittelmeyer!)

simcha-weinstein.jpgaustin-dacey.jpg helen.jpg

Wed., April 1 (8pm):

Rabbi Simcha Weinstein (author of Up, Up, and Oy Vey! and Shtick Shift, about Jewish comics and Jewish comics, respectively) arguing yes


Skeptic Austin Dacey (Center for Inquiry rep, Skeptical Inquirer contributor, and author of The Secular Conscience) arguing no.

A (real) April Fool’s Day social-philosophical smackdown, hosted by Todd Seavey and moderated by Michel Evanchik.

Free admission, cash bar: basement level of Lolita Bar at 266 [NOTE TO TOXICPOP READERS: NOT 466] 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 (assuming the J and Z lines still exist in one week).


As some of you know, this topic is of great personal interest to me, due to my religious girlfriend, Helen Rittelmeyer — who is scheduled to have articles in a staggering five major conservative publications already this year, from NationalReview.com to Weekly Standard, and is clearly, as one conservative writer put it, going to take over the world — but WHO NONETHELESS COULD REALLY USE A NEW JOB, if some editor out there is smart enough to hire her. By all means e-mail me leads, such as they are in these troubled times, whether from conservative organizations or not (she’s more or less libertarian as well and just fond of reportage, too, as her recent NRO piece suggests, despite one tiny geography error in there that NRO hasn’t gotten around to correcting despite her request).

I’m telling you, let her get a foot in the door, and then we all ride her coattails to success. Don’t miss the opportunity.

But a funny thing about Helen: she doesn’t think religion makes people better (it sure doesn’t eliminate her fondness for violence in various forms), whereas I — an atheist — think it just might make people better. “Behave or go to Hell” is a pretty powerful motivator for some people, love of God an incentive to charity for many, and without question “Thou shalt not steal” one of the most important libertarian memes of all time (such thoughts are what make me able to tolerate the religious right and even have some sympathy for the Straussians — remember the Straussians? — with their belief that atheists should defer to religion to maintain social order). Still, those beneficial impulses might exist to roughly the same extent, albeit with different philosophical glosses, in a world without religion. It’s a tricky question, but luckily Dacey and Weinstein can work out the details while I listen.

And Helen and I have managed to keep the peace for six months now, if you start the counting (perhaps a bit early) from the Echo and the Bunnymen concert we went to back on October 1. And counting from that day lends extra weight to April Fool’s Day, so why not make that a night of both combat and celebration, the way Helen likes it? Be there in one week.


A few other random thoughts about religion as a mixed blessing (so to speak):

•One of my fellow ABC News veterans (not anyone I knew) was murdered this week in the midst of gay rough sex with a reportedly Satanist-anarchist teenager he met through Craigslist, which is about as tawdry an end as one could come to, I’d say — and somehow when I first heard the victim’s neighbors being reported as saying how nice he was to total strangers, I had a feeling it’d be something like this, though not quite to this extreme. To plenty of Americans, of course, this incident would be proof that we need to be on guard against Satan, anarchists, gays, and New York media personalities, though I can’t help thinking every time something bad happens involving a self-proclaimed Satanist that there’s only one place, ultimately, that people learn Satanism, and that’s from Christianity. You don’t see materialists like me trying to summon demons or expecting magic from goat sacrifices.

•I had brief fallings-out with two, count them two, very political Catholic acquaintances, right-wing Dawn Eden and left-wing Sander Hicks, years ago over Lolita Bar merely hosting a speech about Pinochet’s good points (there are some). The guy who gave the speech wasn’t too happy with the whole ruckus, either, nor, most likely, with my JOKING suggestion that we scrap the controversial planned speech in favor of a defense of Hitler. It’s hard to keep everyone happy when they think eternity or the historical dialectic is at stake, or both at the same time. Sander’s gone on to become something of a conspiracy theorist — but he also hates the banks bailout, so by the time the revolution comes, we may yet see all the interesting people fighting on the same side, which will be nice. (Our debates moderator, Michel Evanchik, is also Catholic, as it happens, and for a “moderator” he’s pretty opinionated himself.)

Michael Malice has joked that people he prays for (just as an experiment) seem to get cancer, as in the cases of a man who was hoping to give Dawn Eden a job and then later Dawn herself — and though Dawn is doing fine now, I can’t help noticing that she just mentioned her fellow religious author (and our fellow New York Press veteran) Mark Gauvreau Judge also having cancer. Best that Malice not pray for him, I think. Coincidentally or not, both Howard Stern and director Vincent Gallo have also joked (?) that they suspect themselves of having the power to give people cancer — specifically to give Roger Ebert cancer, in Vincent Gallo’s case (for Ebert’s harsh review of Brown Bunny). And there are undeniable personality commonalities among Stern, Gallo, and Malice. Not that I’m suggesting any actual supernatural forces at work here (or anywhere), of course.

•Meanwhile, I see Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (or “bee-otch,” after his drubbing in debate with Christopher Hitchens a year ago) is battling one of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in a public debate, or rather a former Power Rangers actress who has just written her second pro-libido book on being a “Hot Chick.” Strange world. As it happens, I recall that shortly before my time at ABC News, there was a John Stossel special about gender differences that illustrated the concept of males being willing to do embarrassing things to gain power by showing Newt Gingrich shaking hands with people dressed as the Power Rangers at some event. Reality seems so very distant at times.

•And this week, anyone keen to show the social benefits of religion must contend with the fact that a horde of Orthodox Jews here in New York — for all their admirable sense of community and traditionalism — went berserk and attacked a deli owner for accidentally selling them non-kosher hotdogs. You know, Jonathan Swift was one of my early inspirations to be a writer, and even when I was young and more enthusiastically and simplistically anti-religion, I thought his characterization of religious disputants as akin to people fighting over which end of an egg to eat first was unfair. Yet in my ostensibly modern and cosmopolitan city, a food vendor was just reduced to using an electric carving knife to fend off an angry mob that thinks God hates their hotdogs. Maybe Jonathan Swift had the right idea after all.

But again, you can discuss that with us on April Fool’s Day (really) — and chat with Helen before hiring her, if you want to kill two birds with one stone.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Revenooers vs. the Moonshine


Is it hopelessly populist of me to say that I think we could use a lot more of this — defiant, lawbreaking moonshine-makers — and a lot fewer regulators and central economic planners?

And don’t get me wrong — I’m not knocking material prosperity when I praise this guy’s backwoods lifestyle.  On the contrary, I think his attitude does more to increase wealth than does the bean-counting of the regulators, and that’s a good thing.  In addition, though, as Brian Doherty once observed, having a population full of ornery drunks, as America did to a much greater extent two centuries ago than it does today, may be the easiest route to keeping us ungovernable and thus free.

To get back to economic prosperity for a moment, though: I often wonder how much freer we’d be today if not for the unfortunate fact that the creative types got it into their heads sometime around the early twentieth century that material wealth is at odds with, rather than conducive to, creativity and intellectual activity.

I notice that the episodic play Penny Dreadful, which ends this coming weekend, appears to borrow from the Grant Morrison comic book The Invisibles the idea that the flapper vibe of the early twentieth century is tied via time travel and a sense of imminent cultural transformation to the year 2012, which some of the mystics, hippies, and apocalyptics of our day have decided to treat as the next  epochal turning point (per ancient Mayan propechy, blah blah blah).

Mystical nonsense aside, though, economic optimism tends to encourage not just money-making but other beneficial forms of culture-making as well.  (Does anyone really think the current financial climate is as conducive to optimism and creativity as, say, the end of the Cold War or the days of the dotcom boom?)

So, if you want to put a spring in your step, poets, abolish the Fed (source of our boom-and-bust business cycles), privatize currency production, deregulate, un-tax, shut down the government leaving only a residuum of privately-enforced property law, and watch the human race and its arts flourish like never before.

That may sound as nutty as the propechies of a flapper-era spiritualist to some, but tough — my patience has run out, and I’m no longer interested in any philosophy’s gradualist half-measures leading nowhere.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Indoctrinate U" and "Ghost Breakers"

Evan Coyne Maloney’s documentary Indoctrinate U is showing tomorrow (Tue. the 24th) at 6pm at Village East Cinema at 2nd Ave. and 12th St. It’s a rare case of media looking critically at left-wing political correctness on campus — including the double standards routinely used to silence right-wing groups while giving left-wing groups the keys to University Hall. A private institution can run itself in any idiotic way it wants short of treating its customers fraudulently, of course, but it’s pretty obvious these institutions also serve as training grounds — and even models for society — in the totalitarian minds of the political activists, student and professor alike, who populate them. So thank goodness someone’s looking at them skeptically.

One college professor sympathetic to this cause, a co-founder of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), Prof. Alan Kors forwards (via Sarah Federman) a video clip from the old Bob Hope movie The Ghost Breakers that’s a thirty-second reminder media weren’t always as incapable of using humor and irony against the leftist powers that be as they generally are now. (Of course, these days we instead have Sacha Baron Cohen, seen in the photo above as Bruno, who it suddenly occurs to me looks a tiny bit like Sarah Federman and like the Fixx’s lead singer, Cy Curnin — not sure what to make of that, and I don’t mean to insult any of them.)

That Bob Hope clip is from 1940, the height of the New Deal, and a simple reminder (which should not be necessary) that comedy is obviously braver when directed at the powers that be (hint: Obama) than at the powers already ousted and defeated (e.g., Bush).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Eternity vs. the Changing Seasons, Decades, and Debates


Ah, springtime at last, when (perhaps due to time travel problems like the ones mentioned in my Wednesday entry) snow flurries hit NYC, neopagans celebrate the renewal of life, a man plans an 80sa 50s costume to complement his lady’s 50s costume for a “decades”-themed party hosted by a Brown alum, and a copy of the March/April 2009 Brown Alumni Monthly arrives in your mailbox to remind you what once was — and make you think about comic books.

For you see, the new BAM — the same one that has a cover story about a Brown student spending a semester at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and managing to get along with the Christians — has letters from my friends Scott Nybakken and Ali Kokmen reacting to a prior issue’s error-filled article by Lawrence Goodman about Jews in comics (though in Ali’s case, they used the positive-sounding parts of the letter). You can sense the love of the medium in both the bad-cop and good-cop half of this team, a DC Comics editor and Del Rey manga promoter, respectively.

And just to make my world seem smaller, whereas Scott was one of our debaters last time at Lolita Bar, making the case that sci-fi should avoid getting mired in nostalgia, one of our debaters for next time — Rabbi Simcha Weinstein — is mentioned in the letter below Scott and Ali’s, since he’s not only our “yes” man in our April Fool’s Day debate on the question “Does Religion Make People Better?” — he’s also the author of Up, Up, and Oy Vey!, a book about Jews in comics.

The important issues have a tendency to be intertwined — you know, like issue #137 of Uncanny X-Men and issue #150 of New X-Men. Just a joke! Or is it, really?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Battlestar Galactica, the U.N., and the Mormons


The universally-praised — and particularly wonk-beloved — Battlestar Galactica ends tonight. Please don’t give anything away, because I’ve only seen an episode or two, as with Heroes, Arrested Development, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, The Sopranos, Lost, Alias, David Tenant as Doctor Who, Dollhouse, and Robot Chicken. I’ve been busy for a decade or so, really, and I apologize for losing touch and being behind schedule.

In any case, I gather the cast and crew of Battlestar Galactica gave a talk to the U.N. this week, partly to share thoughts on the show’s political themes and partly just to get the U.N. some cheap press attention (if there were any press available aside from the horde waiting like vultures outside the hotel on West 67th between Broadway and Columbus, where I suspect grieving Natasha Richardson relatives may have been stashed).

I hope some of the U.N. assemblage noted that Battlestar Galactica’s robotic villains, the Cylons, are religious fanatics, that the series sympathetically depicts humans meant to be analogous to the tribes of Israel (a nation the U.N. seems to spend half its time selectively condemning while several of its other members sponsor terrorism and endorse totalitarianism), and that the original 1970s series was created by a once-persecuted minority, namely the Mormons (on whose Book the basic plot is modeled).

As it happens, on April Fool’s Day (really) at 8pm, our next Debate at Lolita Bar, on the question “Does Religion Make People Better?” will feature as one of its debaters Austin Dacey, who is the Center for Inquiry’s atheistic official representative to the U.N., trying to promote secularism and tolerance around the globe. Be there.


Being Mormon — knowing that if you’re good (and male), you’ll get your own planet to rule in the afterlife — seems to incline people toward sci-fi, since Mormons not only gave us Galactica and the comparably epic Ender’s Game but presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who I voted for in the New York presidential primary, for strategic reasons now lost in the mists of history — and whose government health-insurance plan in Massachusetts is already projected to be bankrupt within a decade), who strangely said his favorite novel is Battlefield Earth, a sci-fi tome by (Scientologist) L. Ron Hubbard.

Now, you’d think the poor Mormons would already be wary of being mixed up with the Scientologists, so was that just a very impressively honest, unguarded answer from Romney? Or is there more affinity between the two creeds than we realized? Is it just the Mormon love of sci-fi manifesting? Might it be, as my friend Jonathan Leaf half-jokingly suggests, that Romney picked a book by a Scientologist to remind America that there are creeds even weirder than Mormonism? I don’t know.

I do know that my friend Michelle Boardman was a legal advisor to the Romney campaign — and that during her stint at the Justice Department, she also said that after giving testimony to the Senate about the constitutionality of signing statements (one of countless things Obama criticized about Bush but continues to do, incidentally), she wishes she’d worked in the phrase “So say we all” from Battlestar Galactica. Wonks love Galactica.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dead or Alive -- But Definitely Manly


We didn’t quite get around to it, but Helen and I considered seeing Taken on St. Patrick’s Day, which would have seemed somehow fitting, since the Irish star of the film, Liam Neeson, apparently lost his wife, Natasha Richardson, to a skiing accident that day, with reports of her finally being taken off life support at a hospital here in NYC just a block south of me. According to Scott Nybakken, Neeson’s character is delightfully old-fashioned and patriarchal in the film, as a man willing to kill to rescue his daughter. (Helen likes old-fashioned, as her article on NRO that day suggests.)

As if I didn’t already feel some conservative pain from hearing about the man who played a vengeful patriarch in Taken (and a loving patriarchal lion named Aslan and a Jedi and Rob Roy, etc.) lose his wife — the same week we lost Democrat-turned-hawk Ron Silver — I felt at least a twinge of nerd sadness upon hearing that Darth Vader has prostate cancer (though he seems to be doing well, and prostate cancer often progresses very slowly) and punk-influenced sadness upon hearing that the lead singer of the (fittingly named) New Wave band Dead or Alive, the Captain Harlock-like Pete Burns, is suffering double kidney failure (and is less able to get a replacement due to government’s evil ban on organ sales, I might add). Grim week.

Coincidentally, the man with whom Helen and I did spend part of St. Pat’s — my friend Joe Brennan, visiting from England, who has been an airplane pilot, lawyer, DJ, businessman, bus driver, chronic film extra, and reality-TV contestant among other things — happened to mention Tuesday night that he’d met Burns (due to trying out for England’s Big Brother), without even realizing that the news of Burns’ kidney troubles had just been reported.

Speaking of drinking with Joe, I often recall him discussing one of his drinking buddies: a war vet with an injured hand who’d also worked as a professional shark hunter until having to sell his boat to bail his son out of jail and subsequently becoming a hard-drinking, cash-strapped, sadder man. That’s amusingly, stereotypically manly, I’d say, and rather cinematic.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ron Silver vs. TimeCop


One of Scott Nybakken’s complaints in our last Debate at Lolita Bar was overuse of time travel, with all the absurdity it tends to introduce.

It’s hard enough keeping track of geek things that are aiming for some sort of tidiness and logic, like Terminator, but when time travel is depicted by people so interested in art and emotion that logic just goes out the window, really kooky things start happening — and I don’t just mean the implausibly convenient fading/unfading photo from Back to the Future, which at least has the excuse of being comedy.

Witness the ludicrous final fate of Ron Silver — not in real life, in which the actor/activist was sadly taken from us just this week, but in the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie TimeCop. The film clearly establishes at the beginning that time travelers are not transformed along with the timestream when they alter the past — but then has the whole climax hinge on the villainous Ron Silver character’s confidence that if he travels to the past and gets blown up there, it won’t matter because the event will alter the timestream, changing the future and him along with it.

To top it off, when a paradox is finally produced, he doesn’t confront himself or vanish into the fourth dimension but instead…turns into green ooze. Yeah, OK. To quote the name of the Kryptonian god of reality fluctuation who I just made up: What-Ev. (One bright note in the morass of TimeCop: the Smithereens’ upbeat cover of “Time Won’t Let Me.”)

Rare examples of convoluted and possibly incoherent but nonetheless satisfying time-gymnastics can be found in (1) the great indie film Primer about yuppie Wall Streeter types inadvertently creating a time machine and (2) Donnie Darko, the latter a case where the aesthetics/psychology works so well that even we nerds walk away content, despite realizing days later that the underlying “Philosophy of Time Travel” at work in the film was so complex that the director actually had to write a book by that title explaining it all.

That film also worked a sort of retroactive magic upon the 1982 Tears for Fears song “Mad World,” since to a lot of people — especially Darko-loving millennials — the haunting, fragile version performed by the composers of the film score probably sounds more like the “real” version of the song than the original does, even though almost anyone asked to name the song’s performer would say Tears for Fears, much as everyone knows the English version of “Der Kommissar” but attributes it to Falco (even though the cover is in fact by After the Fire — not that I begrudge the late Falco being remembered).


But getting back to time travel: I’m keen to see what happens next month when, unless ratings improve, the series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles may end on April 17, I’ve heard (think of that as Judgment Day, two years early…or five years later, or twelve years later, or whatever).

Will they politely clear the decks of the series’ accumulated non-John-Connor characters and set things up for the following month’s Terminator Salvation movie? Will they perhaps even reconcile the series continuity with Terminator 3? Will the nuclear war arrive? Might it even be prevented? Will there be a satisfying ending at all? An “open” ending in case of a renewal of the series?

I’m flexible — I swear — but curious. A simple solution might be some sort of “time” bomb going off (you know, something involving tachyons, like in Watchmen) that returns all the time-displaced cast members to their temporal points of origin. John experiences T3 after all, and then circa 2018 becomes…Christian Bale (as we’ll see on May 22, 2009, of course).

T4 will also introduce new, giant-size Terminators, apparently, but I’m confident Batman will be able to save us from the Transformers, so to speak.

P.S. Nybakken also noted that one audience member that night, his co-worker Jared, is a big fan of Steven Seagal (not to be confused with Jean-Claude Van Damme), who apparently has been quietly churning out about two or three action movies per year lately, sometimes direct to video. The list of titles and one-line plot summaries in Seagal’s Wikipedia entry is amusing.

Here’s another public figure quickly being turned into a cartoonish badass, by the way: Let the hurling begin.

P.P.S. And if sci-fi and fantasy deserves to be parodied, by the way, it’s nice to see Comedy Central doing it with umlauts — and the greatest subtitle in TV history. Next, perhaps they should adapt Bill O’Reilly’s novel (which they’ve already parodied on The Colbert Report).

P.P.P.S. And while I’m noting parodies and the like, I wish the eco-green-ified versions of Schoolhouse Rock noted here by my friend Maura Flynn were a joke — but they aren’t. And another piece of my memory and my culture dies.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Whores, St. Patrick's, Brown, Feces, and the Watchmen Squid (plus: Rorschach for New York Times columnist!)

Ah, lassie, ’tis St. Patrick’s Day (a perfect day for my girlfriend, Helen Rittelmeyer, to have a piece about the Boston Irish on NationalReview.com), and much as I admire tradition, ’tis a day that makes me wonder about the eternally-ambiguous dividing line between (a) raucous activities made better — almost sanctified — by the surrounding traditionalism and ritualism, and (b) mere barbarism with tradition as a figleaf and excuse. You know, the same dilemma created by “conservative” college fraternities.

Speaking of which: there has to have been some conscious, significant change in policy at Brown University regarding alumni relations, because last week I received an e-mail inviting me to alumni events involving “casino night” and, perhaps more shockingly, a night of wine with a lecture on the use of wine as an instrument of “seduction.” These things are not only at odds with the e-mails I used to get from Brown, inviting me to panel discussions on nonsense topics like “sustainable development” (considerably less fun and therefore likely less well-attended), but probably at odds with some explicit rule in the old Tenets of Community Behavior.

I mean — wine as a tool of seduction? Didn’t they threaten to expel people for that? Wasn’t half the campus culture aimed at convincing us that men are natural-born rapists even when everyone’s sober? (By contrast, no need to worry about underage drinking in Arkansas on St. Pat’s or any other time — my legislator friend Dan Greenberg reports that his fellow state reps there have worded anti-alcohol laws so strictly that they’ve inadvertently outlawed taking communion.)


Speaking of tools of the patriarchy, Tracy Quan mass-e-mails a link to her article about madams threatening to reveal all their customers in tell-all memoirs. Quan thinks this a shocking breach of madam traditions, as no doubt it is, but it’s an amusing arena for concern about traditional etiquette. Of greater interest from my philosophical perspective, though, is the fact that she worries that madams doing this to get book contracts may be evidence of the over-marketization of the world of prostitution. Now, the obvious response would be to say that worrying about the market intruding on prostitution is even more absurd than being surprised at anti-traditionalism in prostitution — but I’d say the problem here, as usual, is not enough of the free market.

First of all, in a true free market, prostitution would be legal, and the madam would not be able to violate the contractual privacy agreements her clients would then be able to make and enforce with laws and lawsuits (in much the same way prostitutes could more easily bring charges against abusive johns or pimps if the profession were legal). Perhaps more important from the perspective of traditional morality, though, many of the clients wouldn’t likely be clients in the first place in a world where contracts were taken seriously enough that marriage contracts could contain “you cheat, you go to jail (or suffer some other serious punishment)” clauses if the spouses so chose — and don’t you suspect that eventually a lot of spouses would so choose?


Of course, some would say these sorts of moral problems can only be solved by religion — something we can discuss on April Fool’s Day (8pm) at Lolita Bar at our “Does Religion Make People Better?” debate. In the meantime, you might want to recapture the era when the Catholic Church reigned supreme by reading a book pointed out to me by medieval historian Christine Caldwell Ames, namely Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics. Or you may not.

In other how-far-can-tradition-bend news, I was delighted to read a Newsarama article about the calculations that went into deciding whether or not to remove the Lovecraftian fake space squid from the climax of the Watchmen movie — a decision that I’m pleased to see has the backing of Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons. I dare not consider writer Alan Moore’s thoughts about it all.

Perhaps a conversation between him and director Zack Snyder about it all would have sounded a little something like this:

MOORE (to Snyder): The squid stays in the picture.

SNYDER (to space squid): Ar, I’ve nothing against ye, Squiddy. I just heard thar was gold in your belly.

And by the way, if we really want to see some conservative moralism reinjected into the culture — interesting pick though Ross Douthat is to replace William Kristol — let me be the first to recommend Rorschach from the Watchmen as a columnist for the New York Times. That would liven things up. And no one knows better than Rorschach that this city’s sewers will eventually scab over, drowning us all in our own blood and filth. Someone who has a way with words should be there to chronicle it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Kirkpatrick Sale = Sideshow Mel?

kirkpatrick-sale.jpg =sideshow-mel.jpg ???

On The Simpsons, Sideshow Mel once popped up to second a comment by Thomas Pynchon, referring to him as “my fellow Cornell alumnus!”

I don’t know if Mel believes the theory, propounded three decades ago by a writer named John Calvin Batchelor, that “Pynchon” was simply a pseudonym for J.D. Salinger.

But in reading about that now-debunked controversy, I learned that Pynchon and America’s most prominent Luddite writer, Kirkpatrick Sale (who ends his speeches by literally smashing a computer), were Cornell classmates and co-wrote a musical there (Is it mere coincidence that Sideshow Mel once had his buttocks frozen with liquid nitrogen and smashed with a hammer?).

I saw Sale speak once (at the old Libertarian Book Club at one time run by scientist and political activist Robert Goodman — who could use a job, if you’d care to contact him at robgood[at]bestweb.net). However, now that I think about it, I’ve never seen Sale and neo-primitivist Sideshow Mel in the same place at the same time. Could this be the real case of double identity?

And then, of course, there’s that Shakespeare/Bacon theory. Mmmm — Shakespeare-bacon…

Sorry. Helen’s been talking about making chocolate-covered bacon, inspired by ThisIsWhyYoureFat.com. So I’ve got bacon on the brain — but I’m not the only one. I once saw an interview with a guy who was searching for the Loch Ness Monster by dropping bacon into the Loch. His sophisticated scientific reasoning? “Everybody loves bacon.” I guess so.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fusionism: Better or Worse? Better...or Worse?


In some sense this is a post-mortem — for conservatism, libertarianism, neoliberalism, neoconservatism, paleoconservatism, paleolibertarianism, “liberaltarianism,” and moderates (even among Democrats), since they’d all better drop their differences and push back against government spending or the post morten will be for the U.S., not any particular political faction. Playtime, alas, is over.

But allow me one last metaphorical explanation of why I don’t think liberaltarians are right to pick their political allies by looking at the poor track record of office-holding Republicans and then either flipping a mental coin or attempting to tease out untapped goodness in Democratic philosophy from their occasional, almost accidental policy superiority to Republicans.

If the goal is to have photos of a beautiful woman upon my wall (and we assume said photos upon my wall to be analogous to a limited-government regime upon my society), and there are two very bad photographers (analogous to the two parties) whose work is so shoddy that even if one of them is ostensibly aiming to capture images of Ernest Borgnine (analogous here to socialism) and the other images of Cindy Crawford (the real goal), you still can’t tell from the photos which model is the better-looking subject, then this may well be reason to give up on both photographers, but it is certainly cannot be reason to declare Ernest Borgnine a more beautiful woman than Cindy Crawford.

Likewise, the two parties may be so similar in practical effects that one should stop focusing on the perpetual struggle between them — but it does not make sense to say that the tiny subset of pro-Borgnine (or rather, pro-bigger-government) ideologues within one party have somehow become preferable to the tiny subset of pro-Crawford (or rather, anti-government) ideologues within the other. The hope has always been that at some point the ideologues within the GOP would take over, displacing mere self-serving political hacks. That may well have been a doomed, naive hope. But this does not somehow make the Democrats’ ideologues our friends.

I think looking at the muddled results of the GOP vs. Dem battles and attempting to draw ideological conclusions of that sort is a bit like saying “Neither Brand X medicine nor a sugar pill appeared to make any discernible difference in treating my wounds — and indeed, the results, if any, were so vague and slight that the sugar pill might even have come out ‘ahead’ by mere chance, therefore I’m abandoning all mainstream Western medicine and declaring sugar pills more conducive to health.”

And if you know you’re dealing with muddled, crappy results, don’t just declare “the other side” superior because of your dissatisfaction with the first option considered.

In the end, it seems to me that almost all formulations of the “liberaltarian” argument relied on some variation upon the argument “The GOP is as screwed up as the Dems, so…” Weak stuff for forming deeper philosophical allegiances — and I hope it’s clear I’m not implying by any of this that the GOP does a good job, any more than I’d say one or the other photographer is competent if both produce unidentifiable smudges.

And speaking of ambiguous photography, tomorrow I should address Sideshow Mel’s relationship to Thomas Pynchon.

P.S. Here’s an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal piece (which was linked by Drudge) co-written by pollster Rasmussen — and polls, like the public itself, are fickle — but it would be twisted and obscenely wrong for an ostensible libertarian to look at these numbers and, rather than saying “We can turn this into a pivotal teaching moment by fighting hard against the President and his spending plans,” say “We should teach the public that Obama is part of the rich historical tapestry of liberalism that guarantees their liberty”:

Recent Gallup data echo these concerns. That polling shows that there are deep-seated, underlying economic concerns. Eighty-three percent say they are worried that the steps Mr. Obama is taking to fix the economy may not work and the economy will get worse. Eighty-two percent say they are worried about the amount of money being added to the deficit. Seventy-eight percent are worried about inflation growing, and 69% say they are worried about the increasing role of the government in the U.S. economy.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

City of Financial Crisis vs. City of Political Crisis


Well, at the risk of looking like a hypocrite, no sooner do I celebrate the prospect of a new hour of libertarian material from ABC News’s John Stossel — and go to dinner party of market-friendly folk — than I head out of town to visit Washington, DC, where it seems about a quarter of my acquaintances live (Big Hunt tonight, Vermilion early tomorrow afternoon, for those interested).

But I’m not going there to pay homage to government, the evil institution that is the chief source of human misery — I’m going there so DC friends of my girlfriend Helen can belatedly celebrate her birthday.  There will even be an exercise in fusionism amidst all this, since some of them are social conservatives with no strong interest in economics per se, including ringleader James Poulos, formerly an editor at the late, lamented Culture11.com, where Helen also blogged (when not posting at her own, still-active site).

Of course, I don’t (usually) find it that difficult to get along with the religious conservatives, since at least they don’t worship government or the media elites who influence it.  And atheist though I am, I admit I usually find them to be rather well-behaved — something worth contemplating at greater length over the next two and a half weeks, as we prepare for our big Debate at Lolita Bar on the question “Does Religion Make People Better?”

One more note on fusionism tomorrow, though, before attempting to drop that meme for a while — in favor of simply doing good and resisting evil, labels be damned.

Friday, March 13, 2009

John Stossel's "Bailouts and Bull"

stossel.JPG carey.jpg

After yesterday’s lamentation about needing to rebuild a broad pro-market coalition, here’s a note of hope: a new one-hour special tonight (10pm Eastern) on ABC from my old boss, John Stossel, called Bailouts and Bull, based on pieces from Reason.tv, and co-hosted by Drew Carey.

The working title, noted on Reason.tv weeks ago without any coyness or editing, really was Bullshit in America, later changed to Bull$#!+ in America (or something like that), and now this. But again, by any label: liberty!

Will it be an even more libertarian hour of television than 2001’s John Stossel Goes to Washington?? Tune in and find out.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Broader Fusionism, in All Directions


One week ago, I attended that America’s Future Foundation panel on the future (if any) of capitalism, and one thing I like about that group is that it is thoroughly fusionist.

It was a roomful of young libertarians and conservatives that night, all on the same anti-government-spending page, as we’ll have to be in the days ahead, despite all the talk of a conservative crack-up. We need libertarians and conservatives to set aside and downplay their differences and focus on opposing the apocalyptic levels of government spending we’re now seeing (and likely accompanying upsurge in regulation), in much the same way Grover Norquist previously tried to keep them focused on tax cuts. They have to stay focused as though the final battle has arrived. And perhaps it has.

But don’t get me wrong: I’m OK with incorporating the “liberaltarian” project into this one, if the liberaltarians are willing to drop the whole idea that the conservatives are the real enemy. Anyone focused on cutting spending and stopping regulation is the coalition, regardless of what they call themselves or how they intuited their way there philosophically, right? Whether Jesus or Rawls or even Ganesh told them to reduce government and favor commerce, we’re then headed in the right direction — and we can’t really afford to be too picky at this point.

I think that demands, though, a sort of truce based not on looking for apparent foundational-philosophical commonalities but on seeing who puts their money where their mouth is and really opposes spending and regulation.


So, what about this Obama guy? Well, the same thing that makes him likely the embodiment of our imminent doom also offers some hope, I’ll admit, of recruiting from the Democrats and the left (to the extent they aren’t too terribly wedded to their identity as members of those factions — so I’m talking more about ordinary voters and miscellaneous almost-moderates than committed ideologues): his empty blandness. Because, let’s face it, the shocking thing about Obama’s first big presidential speech wasn’t its radicalism nor its reasonable moderation but the rather disturbing fact that it was pretty much just Bill-Clintonian boilerplate: take a bunch of stuff that sounds like it’d be useful to the general population (instead of obvious interest groups or radicals), such as education and wind turbines, and try to leave everyone feeling that government can be trusted to spend in harmless, responsible ways.

But it’s too late in the day for that sort of thing — a speech that could as easily have been written back in 1996, when we didn’t as urgently need really tough, frugal decisions to be made. There are worse things than Clintonian custodial mercantilism, I know, and, yes, sometimes those worse things have been on the right, but that’s not really the relevant standard of comparison right now (especially with the right out of power and not in imminent danger of coming back). We really, really need something far, far better right now, not just one of the two familiar options.

That better thing will, as suggested above, have to be a much broader fusionism, almost indifferent to right and left except to the extent either is focused (like a laser, if you will) on improving the economic situation by reducing government. Is there any face-saving way at all that Obama or Obamaphiles could ever be part of that necessary effort (despite the fact that the man himself is rapidly becoming the world’s chief engine of socialism, given his pressure on leaders in Europe and elsewhere to try spending their way out of the financial crisis, against their better judgment)? The one route there that would make it look, to quote the insightful Pee-wee Herman, like “I meant to do that” would probably be to really push farther with Obama’s admirable campaign theme of “transparency” (as part of which he has favored making all government expenditures traceable online and putting all major spending items in the regular budget so they get counted — albeit while engaging in other budget shenanigans less straightforward than that).

If he were to suggest a combined plan of radical government downsizing/accountability and comparable transparency rules for currently untrusted and untrustworthy financial institutions, I think the entire planet, across the (old) political spectrum, would heave a great sigh of relief that would enable them to overlook transgressions against (old) ideological fault lines.

But that’s not likely to happen, so in the meantime, I would at least hope that all center, right, and libertarian forces (and maybe even some Clintonian Democratic Leadership Council types) would focus on resisting the massive tide of government spending. Conservatives in particular, though, must set a good, principled example by saying “no” from now on to every imaginable form of government spending, no matter how conservative-sounding its inspiration. Whether it’s Bibles for soldiers overseas or more guards for our southern border, the correct answer is and must always be “no,” just as if the project were subsidized wind turbines for hippies. Call it whatever ism you damn well please, just find the backbone to stop the Joker-like burning-up of all our money.

Otherwise, we’re really, really screwed, not just dissatisfied in an armchair 1990s way that our own pet philosophies are out of favor or not being fully realized.


While my emphasis above (and henceforth) is on concrete, materialistic policy positions instead of fuzzy philosophical abstractions, I think it’s worth noting that the relationship of a political philosophy to the mushy, middle-of-the-road politicians who occasionally pay it lip service is not the same as say, the relationship between hypothesized natural laws in physics and subsequent experiments that refute them. It’s become rather common lately for people, especially left-leaning critics of the right, to suggest that free market principles are somehow debunked if politicians who don’t adhere to them (but at some point said something nice about them) cause bad outcomes.

That makes no sense at all, and it doesn’t matter how many times people like Paul Krugman, Alan Wolfe, Thomas Frank, or Naomi Klein do it (and they all do). And just to show I’m consistent, let me note that I’ve always been fairly sympathetic to, for example, Marxist left-anarchists who say you can’t disprove their philosophy simply by pointing to, say, Stalin. They may be wrong for other reasons, but it would be juvenile to say “They got exactly what they wanted in the USSR, proving their ideas are bad.” Statist Leninst types got what they wanted in the USSR, more or less, and can be judged accordingly, but not, say, nineteenth-century anti-statist leftists who dreamt of voluntary, local, democratic, communal farming.

Meanwhile, in our own boring mixed economy, having two rival groups of mostly middle-of-the-road politicians is not a good way to tease out which of the two philosophies they nominally represent is superior — a sort of bogus reverse-engineering that seems to be getting more and more common in the wonky set, including among some libertarians.

I think philosophy, unlike politicians, can more or less be taken at its word and judged accordingly (albeit with countless unintended consequences as footnotes). If, say, Republicans spend 5% more than Democrats during some small slice of time, it hardly proves that conservatism’s insistence that government be kept small and unobtrusive is, presto change-o, somehow less philosophically simpatico with free markets than modern liberalism’s insistence on government-enforced equality, welfare, restraining of market forces, etc.

Two sets of politicians who ignore principle may require us to be electorally indifferent — or even occasionally require voting for politicians from “the other team” — but surely cannot offer much guidance to which principles are right. And the long-term hope, of course, is that eventually we’ll see some politicians or legally-relevant activists arise who do adhere to principle, otherwise why even bother worrying about it all?

But reasoning backwards from, say, Jimmy Carter doing more to deregulate than Richard Nixon to the conclusion that small-government conservatism is, it turns out, a greater menace to liberty than a philosophy of leftist social democracy (and that libertarians should retool their philosophies accordingly) is like saying that because once a man who offered you free food tried to poison you, whereas a drunk man who claimed he was going to kick your ass passed out and caused you no harm, you should henceforth prefer violent threats to offers of food.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Dozen Important Old Links, A Half-Dozen New Links


I mentioned last week that this blog’s been fully active for about two years. In that time, I’ve done eight “theme” months, each a month of blog entries all on a single topic. Here’s a handy table of contents of those extra-focused blog entries:

The Month Without God

The Month Without Buckley

The Month of the Nerd (the first of two, about which, more below)

The Month of Sex

The Month of Horror

The Month of Feminism

The Month of Liberty (i.e., Property)

The Month of Evolution

And coming in just a couple months, a ninth and tenth theme month: this May’s just gotta be “Month of the Nerd II” (I’d count the reasons, but we’ll wait until then), and June will be a perhaps overdue “Month of Rock n’ Roll.”

Then, too, don’t forget all my monthly Book Selections and our monthly Debates at Lolita Bar. And the autobiographical Retro-Journal — no, never forget the Retro-Journal. Nor my real job.

Some more recent links of interest, though:

•My Watchmen review last week was mentioned on Kyle Smith’s blog and in his New York Post column this past Sunday. My thanks to another movie reviewer I know, Meghan Keane, for getting me into the screening. And…

•…thanks to J.R Taylor for getting me into that bawdy PETA event mentioned in passing in my review — which makes up for taking me along to that terrible horror movie, The Unborn, by David Goyer, one of the (apparently unreliable) guys behind The Dark Knight and Dark City. Maybe The Unborn was some piece of crap script he wrote back when he was in college and dusted off after his other successes. Stinko. J.R. agreed — and he knows good genre stuff when he sees it, as shown by his blog’s reviews of stuff like this slightly un-p.c. episode of the Superman animated series.

•Speaking of un-p.c. animation, here’s a great Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the 1940s (the animation era that the Superman cartoon J.R. describes is imitating), defending capitalism against radical detractors, which I noted two years ago (after Alina Stefanescu and Katherine Mangu-Ward mentioned it) but mention again now because the libertarian Moving Picture Institute noted it last week — and just because the world needs it.

•If that cartoon is a bit too earnest for you, though, maybe you’d prefer this perfect parody of what Watchmen would have been like if turned into a kid-friendly animated series back in the 80s, pointed out to me by both Dan Raspler (victor in last week’s Debate at Lolita Bar) and Jacob Levy, formerly maintainer of the Phantom Stranger webpage.

•But if I could time travel and produce media from an imaginary alternate timeline, perhaps the most useful thing to do would be to create an alternate universe in which fifty years ago Ayn Rand challenged the liberal media establishment by arguing the case for capitalism against someone like Mike Wallace, the now ninety-year-old Sixty Minutes correspondent. No, wait — that actually happened, back in 1959, as pointed out to me by co-worker Jeff Stier. So things should be OK by now. Or we’ll just have to try harder and this time stay on message: property yes, government spending and regulation no (and speaking of strong capitalist women, here’s a sad bonus link: terrible news about Martha Stewart’s dog and an explosion).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

McDonald's: Capitalism as It Is Really Lived


I saw a McDonald’s ad with a rapping fish that I think may be the only funny McDonald’s ad I’ve seen in four decades of being propagandized — and well fed — by that company.  I’m not saying it was great, I’m just saying it’s the first one that came even close, unless I’m forgetting something.  Burger King, clearly, is proving that competition works, its recent strange ads undoubtedly pushing McDonald’s in this direction.

Now if only all corporations would just devote a tenth of the effort to public relations in favor of capitalism and science in general as they do to pushing their own market share.  But we knew there’d be systemic problems when we signed up for a society based on self-interest, and there’s only so much you can expect each company to do.

My comments above about comedy and advertising are of course in no way meant to disparage Mac, the disturbing crescent-moon-headed creature on the flying piano that sang a variation on “Mack the Knife” in an unusually surreal circa-1980s series of McDonald’s ads.  Mac was a lot like that crescent-moon-headed creature in Clive Barker’s movie Nightbreed about mutants living underground in Canada (or something like that).  Mac was impressive and disturbing, and it’s high time they brought him back — he wasn’t funny, though.

I wonder who’d win a fight between him and Grimace.  Actually, when you think about it, Hamburglar could easily be a character from a Brecht play and might thus seem at home participating in a performance of “Mack the Knife.”  (And those fries-craving “Gobblins” who at some point became merely “the Fry Guys” — perhaps under demon-fearing pressure from Christian groups? — are a little disturbing, too.  There are so many acts of thievery and deception in the plotlines of food ads for some reason, especially for breakfast cereals, which often inspire children and animals to join forces and rob the elderly, etc.)

More disturbing than any of this is the fact that Clive Barker has also written children’s books, which is a bit like letting kids play in an S&M dungeon, and I said as much in a review of one his children’s books that I wrote for People back in the day, but, alas, they decided not to run it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Moral Hazard, Hazardous Morals


Literally within days of the stimulus bill passing, there were ecstatic-sounding TV ads — fairly expensive-looking ones — offering viewers no-credit-check mortgages using new funds just made available by the government.  That should give you some idea why we libertarians and conservatives worry about the moral hazard effects of telling everyone they’ll get off scot-free simply by laundering all our money through the tax-and-spend machine of government.

I think that most fiscal conservatives, even the most tough-talking, feared looking rude over the past three decades while counseling personal responsibility and a stiff upper lip in the face of hardship.  The time for fear of embarrassment has long since past.  If you can’t pay your bills, stop dragging down the rest of society with you, you villainous parasite.  And if, far worse, you’re an intellectual who condones or encourages — perhaps even rhapsodizes — such behavior (and ought to be smart enough to know better), shame on you for wrecking a potentially-sound economy and a once moral people.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Soothing Music for the End of the World


In my entry one week ago, I suggested that a pause for reflection might be in order after this past week of big-government spending, an AFF panel discussion on capitalism, and much talk of sci-fi and superheroes.

After that pause — what? Calm and resignation? Or greater radicalism than ever before?

As it happens, I recently saw something that combines the two: a mention on the radical paleolibertarian website LewRockwell.com of a UK article about the rough time Muzak has had adopting to changing tastes in the market. This is a valuable reminder that nothing — not even elevator music — must be accepted as inevitable and permanent. It was a passing historical phenomenon, like most other things.

As an alternative to Muzak — if businesses are seeking pleasant but less-boring music — might I suggest indie/twee music such as (fittingly) “Elevator Love Letter” by the band Stars? I would much rather hear that — or for that matter, classical — than, say, a cheesy all-strings version of “You Light Up My Life,” and I’ve been saying so for a couple decades now (albeit not using Stars as an example, since they’re fairly recent).

P.S. On another political + musical note, by the way, former Manhattan Project regular (per the meeting notices in my right margin) Hannah Meyers has done a little indie music lately — and was previously a UN analyst for the Hudson Institute. Conservatism for punks, you might say. Always a good combo.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

One Life to Live, Two Deaths to Note


Since I’ve been blogging about time, history, and death lately — and superheroes, which we all know owe part of their appeal to their soap opera qualities, macho propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding — today seems like a fitting time to note that one of my co-workers, Dr. Gilbert Ross, pointed out to me last month that two actors who played a character named Buchanan on One Life to Live had their obituaries in the New York Times on the same day, eighty-three year-old Phil Carey dying of lung cancer and seventy year-old Clint Ritchie after a “brief illness.” Coincidence? Conspiracy? Fodder for our next exciting episode?

Is it time for an aging, semi-retired soap actor to say, “Someone’s knocking off soap actors — I suggest retribution”?

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Judgment of History (and My Judgment on "Watchmen")


I alluded in yesterday’s entry to the passage of time and to the hypothetical judgment of God at some point in the future.

The latter is not something I believe in, of course, but people of all political stripes — and science buffs like my co-workers — are in the habit of saying of their intellectual opponents “history will judge you harshly.” I don’t think you’ll catch me saying that, for the simple reason that I’m not at all convinced good and truth will triumph over evil and error in the long run (I certainly don’t think the marketplace of ideas, wonderful and necessary though it is, necessarily rewards truth over entertainment value and intuitive appeal, much as people of a philosophical bent might wish otherwise).

I think most people just take a happy ending for granted — or else feel the need to anticipate one in times of anxiety. I’ll be amazed if we just keep ameliorating the damage and keep some of the pointless, pointless insanity and suffering to a minimum — and, yes, I’m pretty happy with that humble role. I’m a realist. On a related note, I’m also happy to see Matt Welch resisting the common temptation to make things rosier by over-identifying with the winning side — specifically, he, too, is giving up on the whole “liberaltarian” reverso-fusionism thing.

As for how history would judge the Watchmen — well, that, I hope, will be debated far and wide after the movie comes out today — and here’s my Reason.com review of the film to contribute to the process. Surely it is no coincidence that the New York Times yesterday unveiled its new Graphic Novels Bestsellers list, which the comics site Newsarama dubs “validation.” Speaking of validation, though, I notice the editors at Reason added the phrase “serial graphic novel” to my Watchmen review. Not inaccurate — but there’s no shame in just calling it a comic book series, which it was before being anthologized. Say it loud, say it proud.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Two Years of Blogging, Four of Debate-Hosting


I think last night’s debate went well, and in this nostalgia-inducing, time-tripping week of Watchmen’s release, it’s worth pausing to note that this month brings the second anniversary of my regular blog entries (preceded by a few experimental ones) and the fourth anniversary of me hosting (and Michel Evanchik regularly moderating) the Debates at Lolita Bar.

That means our debate next time — “Does Religion Make People Better?” (on April 1, with Rabbi Simcha Weinstein and skeptic Austin Dacey) — will be our fiftieth, so I hope we’ve all learned something. If we haven’t, watch out for punishment (or nothingness) from above on April 1. (And one update about that America’s Future Foundation debate going on tonight: Gelinas and McArdle have both apparently bailed and will not have to face the music for being pro-infrastructure-spending and pro-bailout, respectively, replaced by Max Pappas and last time’s Lolita Bar victor Ryan Sager.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Nerd Movies Ahead for 2009


I’ll save my thoughts about the place of nostalgia in sci-fi for tonight’s exciting Debate at Lolita Bar (preceded at 6pm by Richard Ryan’s nerd-themed birthday party there), and I’ll save my reaction to the Watchmen movie for my upcoming Reason review of it.

But like Churchill anticipating the Cold War while World War II was still in progress, I find my thoughts now turning to the roughly half-dozen other major nerd movies coming our way in 2009. Let us leave aside G.I. Joe and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, both of which I think I’ll skip (some things are so franchisey you feel like you’ve already seen them) — and ignore the Wachowski-produced, Straczynski-written Ninja Assassin, which doesn’t seem to have a definite release date (possibly a bad sign), as well as the comics-based Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, since I don’t fully trust Ritchie. That leaves us, by my count, with six essential nerd films for the year after Watchmen.

They are: (1) Wolverine, (2) Star Trek, and (3) Terminator Salvation (all hitting in May), then (4) Harry Potter 6 in July, (5) Whiteout (a comics-based Antarctic crime thriller) on September 11, and (6) James Cameron’s 3D sci-fi epic Avatar in December, starring his old colleague Sigourney Weaver. (A comparable batch are due in 2010 as well, but one thing at a time.)

Seeing a few years in a row of good Marvel and DC Comics characters on the screen makes me think that if tonight’s nerd turnout for the debate is big enough, maybe sometime we should debate the really divisive issue within nerddom: Marvel or DC?

Nerd friends and I have said in different ways that the Marvel Universe sometimes seems more real than the DCU (though I’ve been mainly a DC guy for years now after being a Marvel loyalist in my youth and will soon be neither). Marvel uses real cities, for instance, and I’ve always said that I feel as if Marvel’s use of government institutions and even alien races seems to be more convincing, with causal reverberations that go on for years — instead of things getting rebooted or swept aside the way they are with greater frequency at DC (much as I love the big rebooting crises themselves). DC, by contrast, has more enduring and iconic characters: fascinating precisely because they are larger than life (like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) but a bit inhuman and immutable at the same time. As in all areas of life, there are tradeoffs. But we can always discuss this tonight at Lolita.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Book Selection(s) of the Month: Watchmen, Peanuts, Terry Gilliam, and the Futurists


Todd Seavey.com Book Selection(s) of the Month (March 2009)

A. With the Watchmen movie coming out this week — and our Debate at Lolita Bar this week pitting two comic book editors against each other — now seems like a good time to examine (A) one of the most acclaimed comics of all time and (B) the visionary director tasked with adapting Watchmen for the screen. I mean, respectively (A) Peanuts and (B) Terry Gilliam, whose plans for a Watchmen movie unraveled long before the Zack Snyder version was organized. (But I will link right here within the next few days to my Reason review of the Watchmen film, a screening of which I’ll see today.)

B. Why think of the Peanuts gang at a time when the Watchmen — often credited for convincing people superheroes aren’t just for kids — are poised to conquer popular culture? (The two sets of characters are merged above in a pic by artist Evan Shaner.) I think of Peanuts now partly because, like the book about Gilliam discussed below (and some other Book Selections over the past three months), copies of five very early (1950s/early 1960s) Peanuts anthologies were given to me by Dawn Eden during one of her periodic house-cleanings (so once more, my thanks to Dawn). Partly because, as a graphic designer who was in charge of packaging Peanuts collections once observed, they are one of the few things in our culture that seem equally beloved by people of all ages, social strata, and intelligence levels. Partly, though, because the Peanuts are arguably every bit as dark as the Watchmen.

I mean, sure, the Watchmen are fighting largely in vain against inexorable conspiracies and a tragic, flawed human race (the fetish art of one of Superman’s co-creators, pointed out to me by Caryn Solly, would have seemed right at home in the Watchmen’s disillusioning world) — but Charlie Brown’s world is so miserable that when he writes to his pen pal, he goes on for several lines about having no friends, pauses for a moment in the third panel, and then adds a P.S. saying simply “P.S. Everyone hates me.” He’s our protagonist, and still everyone hates him. These strips have to have been great consolation to all manner of loners and misfits over the years, not to mention anyone who went through the often cruel, absurd, and wretched first decade of life with eyes open.

My father would jokingly chastise me for watching Peanuts TV specials when I was young, since they were so “depressing,” and he’s right, of course (I’m still not that big a fan, but the animation was arguably an improvement over the original printed material, adding elements, such as the music, that seem inseparable now from the total Peanuts package). Sometimes, though, frankly admitting that we live in an unjust and potentially depressing universe is much more reassuring than carrying on with the brittle pretense that everything works out for the best. You see what happens to Charlie Brown every time he lets Lucy convince him she’s not going to pull the football away.

C. It isn’t that hard to imagine a sighing Charlie Brown growing up to be the grey and downbeat Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce) of Terry Gilliam’s grim but funny sci-fi parody of bureaucracy, Brazil. And as shown in The Battle of Brazil by Jack Mathews, which happens to have been published by a company I used to work for (Glenn Young’s Applause Books), Gilliam’s own conflict with the Universal Pictures bureaucracy turned his life into a nightmare resembling something from the film.

Discussing it all years later with author Mathews, the studio executive who became Gilliam’s biggest headache (calling for cuts and other changes to make the film more audience-pleasing) unintentionally summed up the basic conflict quite well when he pointed out a piece of Gilliam’s production company’s official stationery, which says “Poo Poo Productions” and features a cartoon of a man shot in the buttocks with an arrow, causing the exec to ask “Who does business this way?” (and causing Gilliam to laugh until his face turned red — this is, after all, a man who got his start working for Mad’s Harvey Kurtzman). A laserdisc was eventually released containing multiple cuts of the film, among them the studio exec’s version and Gilliam’s “final final” director’s cut. Similarly, Mathews’ riveting book contains the script with annotations explaining where changes were made to keep the studio — or Gilliam — happy.

Of course, it’s easy for creative folk — and people who simply prefer thinking of themselves as creative folk — to side instinctively with Gilliam, but keep in mind (1) that Gilliam’s films, while ambitious, are hardly perfect (I think he shares Tim Burton’s problem of picking brilliant projects and then shooting and pacing them as if they’re some sort of awkward outtakes from a failed Turkish remake of a Sid and Marty Krofft show), (2) that he seems to have a habit of getting into some sort of trouble during production (witness his notoriously-collapsed Don Quixote film), and (3) that you aren’t the one with tens of millions of studio dollars riding on how audiences react to the film. As Gilliam — like Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and Watchmen writer Alan Moore — is well aware, the annoying, oppressive things in life are often systemic problems that can’t be rooted out by simply identifying a villain, tempting as that maneuver is.

D. Another tempting maneuver — one favored by many punks, anarchists, fascist brownshirts, and others — is simply to smash things and start over. That was the Futurists’ naive plan, exactly one hundred years ago last month, and as wrong (and profoundly unconservative) as those artists and poets were, they certainly sound like a harbinger of all that was to come over the next century. Saturday, I went from an exhibit about the Futurists at the Museum of Modern Art to that American Tea Party protest against government spending and then to another museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to see an exhibit on trade and culture surrounding ancient Babylon, recommended to me by Michel Evanchik. The Futurists would not have approved of my day.

They were opposed to the very existence of museums and sought to replace veneration of the past with celebration of newness, speed, machinery, war, and, yes, even fascism. Part of the reason I favorably reviewed Jonah Goldberg’s book on fascism is that he reminded an over-simplifying left that the Nazis, far from being retrograde conservatives, were revolutionaries who (like many intellectuals a century ago) thought that smashing bourgeois society was a necessary first step to creating a bold, adventurous, truly modern culture.

The Futurist Manifesto, from a Februrary 1909 issue of Le Figaro, was read aloud the weekend before last at MoMA (and distributed in hardcopies scrawled by people with a mental disorder that makes handwriting and word recognition difficult). I can only hope that some in the audience were made uncomfortable by the way the Manifesto combines tropes that are now considered avant-garde “common sense” by most pretentious museum-goers with tropes that are straight out of Mussolini and profoundly un-p.c. To wit:

Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed. We will glorify war — the world’s only hygiene — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman. We will destroy the museums, the libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.

You know, there’s a passage that sounds a lot like that in Dave Eggers’ Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, where he sits on the beach and envisions a wonderful world in which everyone smashes all the works of civilization every morning — and if I recoiled from that passage, seeing incipient socialism/fascism in it, most respectable highbrow liberals would call me crazy or uptight (and lest I seem to be calling conservatives sane, let me add that you get equally perverse old-school apocalypticism from religiously-inspired works like the mercifully-ended Left Behind series). The Futurists, much like de Sade, knew better than to think that destruction would lead to a new politeness — and yet their energy and audacity have influenced things that undeniably work on an aesthetic level and add to our culture, from the comics of Grant Morrison (who also owes a great deal to Alan Moore) and punk and Brazil’s industrial dream sequences, to the audience-surrounding 3D acrobatics of the De La Guarda theatre troupe (as my fellow theatre-goer Janet Harvey, herself a DC Comics veteran, once noted).

The really disturbing thing, though, is that the Futurists remind me a bit of my friends L.B. Deyo and Michael Malice (the former loves Nietzsche and climbs skyscrapers, the latter despises museums and music created before the year of his own birth) and even my boxing- and struggle-glorifying arch-traditionalist girlfriend Helen Rittelmeyer.

As a utilitarian, I just want everyone to be happy. Is that so crazy, given the alternatives?

P.S. One more Watchmen note: Since the writer of the comics, Alan Moore, is so keen to distance himself from the movies made of his work, I will say little about him in reviewing the movie for Reason, but I can’t resist sharing the paragraph from Wikipedia about his Personal Life, given here in its entirety:

Moore was born in Northampton, England to brewery worker Ernest Moore and printer Sylvia Doreen. He lived in a very poor area, and was expelled from school in 1970 at the age of 17 for dealing LSD, later describing himself as “one of the world’s most inept LSD dealers.” With his first wife, Phyllis, he had two daughters, Amber and Leah. The couple also had a mutual lover Deborah. In time, Phyllis, Deborah and the two children left Moore. On May 12, 2007, he married Melinda Gebbie, with whom he has worked on several comics. He currently lives in Northampton. He is a vegetarian, an anarchist, a practicing magician and occultist, and he worships a Roman snake-deity named Glycon.


And speaking of puppets (which Glycon was widely known to be even back in the day despite a handful of followers gathering to see him “manifest” nonetheless), not to mention Peanuts-sounding charactrs and dupes, next month’s Book Selection(s) entry (on April Fool’s Day) will include Kermit the Frog, among other wisemen — though I was taken aback once when I saw an interview with Kermit in which he said he wasn’t bothered by his colleague Snoop Dogg being a pornographer. I wonder how the Nation of Islam, which Snoop apparently supports, feels about it, though? Iz dat legizzit wit da Nation? And perhaps more importantly, as I am not really a prude, how does Kermit feel about the Nation of Islam?