Monday, November 30, 2009



This Wed., Dec. 2 (at 8pm) join us (at 266 Broome St. at Allen St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one block south of the Delancey St. subway stop) for a debate on whether to get rid of our government-run space program:

Greg Rehmke, lecturer and program director with the Economic Thinking project, argues yes.

Ken Silber, writer, blogger, and Research editor — and very bitter survivor of Lou Dobbs’ — argues no.

Michel Evanchik moderates and Todd Seavey hosts.

In addition to explaining the vast social and scientific ramifications of maintaining or discarding governmental space exploration, perhaps our speakers will also find time to address the pressing question of whether space exploration has moral implications due to the increased likelihood of contact between humanity and Planet Unicorn.  Join us and find out.

P.S. Or if space isn’t your bag, Phil Kiracofe may be organizing a Chamber of Commerce discussion on “transparency” for that same night, for which he may still need an anti-transparency, pro-privacy expert volunteer, who can reach Phil at: pkiracofe[at]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Our Broken Food System Works Fine (but Blogging Is Tricky)

About the time you read this, I should be reaching Norwich, CT on the astonishingly convenient NY-to-Foxwoods Casino Greyhound shuttle bus.  A good cheap shuttle bus is as satisfying as teleportation, really.  Thanksgiving dinner should also be satisfying.

I worry, though, about those who will not be feeling joy this holiday — I don’t mean because they’re homeless or anything, I mean because they’re leftists and greens who’ve become so paranoid about “sustainability” and imaginary health threats from chemicals and additives that they see food as a new locus of oppression instead of something enjoyable.  The phrase “our broken food system” has become popular with the left, meant to evoke the phrase “our broken healthcare system” — but even more ridiculous in its assumption that there is a single, central mechanism behind the system in question, as if there were a Central Restaurant Ministry (and tied in to a sort of feeble, paranoid view of the world that almost makes it seem as if the left is becoming one big eating disorder).  Precisely because there isn’t a central food command system — because food production is decentralized and competitive — we enjoy today’s bounty.

Less bountiful, at least in December, will be my blog entries.  I’m going weekly just for a month, in order to free up time to work on a chapter-length version of that book idea that I’ve been contemplating for over a decade (and using as this blog’s slogan).  If I really find myself with spare time, I roll right on to the full-length book proposal — and comic book script for which, it occurs to me, I really ought to do a lot of background research on the nineteenth century.  More as the situation develops.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Things for Which I'm Not Grateful Because They Are Bad

The things for which we’re thankful — like my superhuman girlfriend, Helen Rittelmeyer — help us deal with the things for which we’re not thankful, so let’s address some of those today.

First, let me note that director David Lynch is very grateful for something fairly stupid that he probably shouldn’t be grateful for: Transcendental Meditation, created by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the crackpot Beatles advisor who claimed to be able to make people levitate (in fact, his followers just sort of hop in the lotus position). Lynch is even making a documentary about the Maharishi. Lynch, who seemed a lot dumber when I saw him speak at a Barnes & Noble a couple years ago than I’d ever imagined him to be back when I was a Twin Peaks fan, credits Transcendental Meditation with producing some of his film ideas.

I only wish there were some meditation technique that would help me overcome the tension I feel every time I think about his unbelievably awful three-hour film Inland Empire, one of the most excruciating, tedious, and pointless experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre. Inland Empire is on the list of those things for which I am least thankful — though it also made a Village Voice list of best films for that year. From that, I conclude…that I am entirely correct, and it was simply awful.

A few other things I’m not grateful for (and promise not to dwell on tomorrow):

•slow-moving pedestrians
•fat, slow-moving pedestrians
•people asking me to remind them of something instead of simply reminding themselves (though some of my favorite people have this habit)
•people who answer a question you didn’t ask instead of saying “I don’t know” so that you have to ask three more, narrowly-structured questions before you can safely conclude they don’t know

I am also increasingly convinced that part of our problem in this world is people’s tendency to feel they must “choose sides” when it may well be the case that everything is stupid and all sides should be rejected in virtually all popular disputes.

On a more focused skeptical note, I am grateful for James Randi, who e-mailed me the other day to point out that the “coma guy” who’s been all over the news for supposedly suddenly snapping out of it after twenty-three years can only “communicate” through the deft typing of one special “facilitator” — who seems to be the only person who can detect the patient’s finger movements and sudden burst of potentially-lucrative memoir-writing.

In others words, just as teen Satanists everywhere dupe themselves into thinking a Ouija board moves toward letters of its own accord and just as Koko the “sign language” Gorilla seems to have one main trainer who thinks Koko’s near-random word strings are in fact sentences about the plight of the environment, etc., so too does coma guy seem to have become the vegetative tool of someone engaged in con artistry or wishful thinking. Such is human existence.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Subletting Utopia

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Interested in subletting an Upper East Side studio apartment that feels like a one-bedroom (nicely shaped) available from Dec. 24-Apr. 30 while its owner is out of town on an assignment?

(The fact that I’m asking is a reminder how far removed our real lives nowadays seem from the Utopia schemes I blogged about all last month.  Utopias, no matter how much they are meant as models for the future, tend to be old-fashioned in this respect: They are usually static and rooted in one spot.  Our age is increasingly fluid, and as Richard Sennett, a Marxist but no dope, has lamented — not without cause — people’s very personalities are being changed by the incentives of an era in which happiness requires a willingness to switch jobs, locations, and even circles of friends without much feeling the resulting dislocations.  The person comfortable with rootlessness is rewarded, perhaps even to the point of encouraging callousness — but there are rewards and efficiencies and new possibilities in the process as well, of course.)

In any case, contact the very nice Federman.Sarah[at] to handle the details if you’re interested in the following (and I don’t plan to do any more announcements of this sort here, so don’t ask), and I can attest it’s a very nice place:

About $1900/mo. Available December 24th-April 30th.  A fully furnished alcove studio, spacious with lots of light, closet space, and very quiet. Exposed brick wall, Spanish tile in the kitchen, and easy access to subway, supermarkets, bars, gyms, restaurants, museums, Central Park, and the East River. In January, you might be able to rent it directly from the agent. This is a very special little haven, located in a great neighborhood.  Even brighter and more spacious than photos suggest.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Selection of the Month: "Lensmen" by E.E. "Doc" Smith

lensmen.jpg Book Selection of the Month (November 2009): Chronicles of the Lensmen, Vol. I by E.E. “Doc” Smith

Having recently abandoned comics and TV reception, the next step is to abandon sci-fi and fantasy novels (simply because life is short and there are other things in need of doing). I have arguably saved the goofiest for last in the sci-fi department with E.E. “Doc” Smith’s groundbreaking but relentlessly dopey 1930s/1940s space opera, the Lensmen series. (With fantasy, next month, I’ll exit on a classier note, looking at some very mature early twentieth-century novels, including one by one of Tolkien’s fellow Inklings.)

When I call Lensmen dopey, I don’t for one minute mean to sound like an ingrate — either to the author or to blogger X. Trapnel, who let me nab his copy (along with his Aristotle and his David Friedman) before he headed off to Germany for a semester or two. Lensmen was a highly influential sci-fi saga spanning numerous short stories collected as several epic novels, in which two warring races of cosmic beings use humans and other lesser races as their footsoldiers, leading a brain in a vat named Mentor to bestow telepathy-boosting wrist-worn “lenses” on a select few humans and others deemed worthy of these mighty weapons (after centuries of covert eugenic manipulation of numerous worlds). These warriors will in time form a Galactic Patrol, one so effective that it even displaces government, to the frustration of politicians on more than one world.

Incidentally, there are no female lens-wearers (well, one), because their tumultuous minds are not suitable to controlling the lens.

Silly as it all is, I must be grateful to Smith (in this week of gratitude), because his work was an acknowledged influence on the creators of the Jedi, the Green Lantern Corps (the comics characters bequeathed power rings by the Guardians of the Universe), possibly Star Trek (the offhand references to worlds such as Rigel Four seem likely to have been noticed by Gene Roddenberry), and the Legion of Super-Heroes (which has a member named Tellus, the future name of Earth in the Lensmen stories). Even something as far afield as Barbarella likely owes some of his intergalactic police-force backstory to Smith.

And I can’t help wondering whether Seth MacFarlane, before creating American Dad’s finest character, noticed that the grey alien mastermind in the Lensmen prequel, Triplanetary, is known simply and rather oddly as…Roger. (He pilots a vast artificial planetoid not unlike the Death Star and is secretly a disguised tentacled being from an alternate dimension, who ends up at war with a race of fish-men who desperately comb the stars seeking other races’ ships to melt down because they need iron.)

Lensmen is written with such trashy, outsider-art naivete that at times Smith even spells out sound effects, like: “W-H-A-M-!!” With a goofiness bordering on Hitchhiker’s-like parody, he happily depicts even the tentacled, extra-dimensional villains tossing off colloquialisms such as “On the one hand…” The text is replete with phrases almost lurid enough to appear on sideshow marquees, such as: “Fish with brains, waging war!” One chapter title, sounding like it might be an essay by Milton Friedman’s seasteading grandson Patri, is “Worm, Submarine, and Freedom.” One alien Lensman introduces himself with a proud “I, Rularion of North Polar Jupiter, say so.”

Amidst it all, passions flare, death is dispatched with manly callousness, and sleazy political operatives with names like Herkimer Herkimer III try to romantically seduce our heroine, though we know who she is destined to end up with — indeed, superhuman intelligences have assured us that the destiny of galaxies depends upon it. And superhuman intelligences like the mighty Arisians who created the Lensmen are no pikers when it comes to long-term planning: An oddly extended, self-parodic passage features Mentor proving his chessplayer-like ability to predict the future by telling the First Lensman in great detail about the haircut the Lensman will receive at a barbershop in Spokane, WA exactly five years hence. The confident brain in a vat even takes time to note that the shop’s resident cat, Thomas, is actually a female.

E.E. “Doc” Smith clearly knew he was doing something ridiculous, and he did it anyway. More power to him.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

GQ Dec. in Hardcopy: Men of the Year (and Ayn Rand and me)

The GQ article that quotes me (and fellow libertarians Michael Malice and Nick Gillespie) on the topic of Ayn Rand is now on newsstands, in their December issue — which happens to be a special Men of the Year edition with multiple covers.  I have a copy of the Chris Pine version, and I figure I’ll give my parents the one that proclaims Clint Eastwood “Badass of the Year.”  You should collect every version, if you’re a Todd Seavey completist.

This Andrew Corsello-penned article is something to be thankful for, in this week of gratitude, even if one doesn’t agree with his every word.  Similarly, tomorrow I will explain, in my Book of the Month Selection, why we should all be grateful to the trashy sci-fi series called the Lensmen Chronicles, even if we roll our eyes at E.E. “Doc” Smith’s hyperbolic writing.  Without Lensmen, who knows if we would even have had Star Trek and thus the Chris Pine version of the GQ I’m in?

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Past and Future: Upper Crust, Star Trek

Last night’s Upper Crust performance opened — as I predicted — with lead singer Lord Ben Dover greeting us as “Colonial” Williamsburg and soon progressed to a near bout of fisticuffs, since some cretin in the audience beaned Lord Ben Dover with a beverage container. The amazing thing is that even though the singer demanded (in vain) that the culprit reveal himself and accept a thrashing, he managed to stay in character while enraged. And frankly, this is probably a good fight strategy: Insanity is frightening because of its unpredictability, and what is more insane than someone continuing to portray an eighteenth-century fop while vocally threatening to kill you? Well played, sir.

The rest of the performance was, of course, fraught with class issues, not only because of such memorable numbers as “Class Up the Ass,” “She Speaks the Vulgar Tongue,” “Rickshaw Boy,” “Finished with Finishing School,” “Let Them Eat Rock,” and (Nybakken’s request) “Rock n’ Roll Butler,” but because the drummer, apparently an actual milkman back in Boston (whereas Dover is an economist), is not allowed to attempt eighteenth-century patter, as he lacks the proper elite inflections.

Unbeknownst to me, Upper Crust was not the only old-fashioned force descending on NYC, as this weekend is apparently (coincidentally or not) the Dances of Vice festival for people enamored of past centuries’ costumery — or of neo-Victorian cartoonist/performance artist Dame Darcy’s presentation about sea shanties.

In a curious mixing of eras, at the Upper Crust concert I for the second time in the past few months bumped unexpectedly into 60s-rock DJ Kittybeat at the event, she having formerly co-hosted events with Dawn Eden, when rock rather than chastity was Dawn’s thing.


Meanwhile, in the future: Newsarama interviewed Star Trek movie writer Robert Orci, and he mentions

that R2D2 is briefly visible in rubble near the planet Vulcan. (Nabbing an image from Star Wars is only fair, since E.T. is briefly visible in the Republican Senate in one of the Star Wars prequels.) Here is the most musically-significant passage of the interview, though:

Orci: What else do we have…I want to get Spock’s harp in there. Don’t you want to see him playing the harp? And he could play, like…he could do Nirvana on the harp. Wouldn’t that be good?

Newsarama: That would be amazing.

Orci: [to publicist] Would you write that down? Nirvana on the harp? [laughs]

“Heart-Shaped Box” would work very well, I think. The reason this pleases me, though, is that I said years ago that Nirvana would have sounded good doing an acoustic cover of the “heading off to Eden, hey, brother” song that one of the naive space-hippies sings in the rather conservative episode of the 1960s Trek series in which the fruit of the edenic planet turns out to be poisonous. Angry it up a little and it could almost be the b-side of “About a Girl.”

More disturbing, though, I think Trek producer Damon Lindelof, here (in another Newsarama interview) reacting to an interview question about his use of non-linear narrative in Lost and potentially in the next Trek movie, is describing a very different Bourne Supremacy (or possibly even Bourne Identity?!?) than the one I saw. Did I miss something?

I remember for me, how exciting it was to see the first Bourne movie and go, oh my god, like the first half of this movie actually took place between a few of the scenes in the last movie, and now the entire context of him being across the street from Joan Allen take on…but if they had told me that before I went and saw the movie, oh this actually takes place between the cracks of the last movie, it would have made that discovery less organic. So I think what we like to do as storytellers is drop you in the middle of something and the question you ask yourself is, ‘Where am I in relation to the last time I left these guys? Could this be something, perhaps, something that pre-dated the adventures that they had in the last movie? Does it happen five years later? Is it happening two seconds later?’ Who knows? We’re not going to tell you.

Has working on Lost and Star Trek caused him to become unmoored in the timestream? Was this a special edition of The Bourne Hallucination that I missed?

In other Trek news, tomorrow I’ll remind you why you should race out and buy the December issue of GQ with the new Captain Kirk, Chris Pine, on it — or one of the other variant covers of this issue — in case you’ve forgotten to do so (hint: me, Rand — not the yeoman).


P.S. The most exciting strange lifeform I’ve seen in the past few days was a raccoon, way the heck over here on the Upper East Side, down at basement level in front of an apartment building on my block, probably wandered over from Central Park or Carl Schurz Park just north of me. An older immigrant woman, watching the beast along with her admirably calm golden retriever (who she also assured me likes cats), said she threw the raccoon cookies, and a little French girl called 311 on her cell phone to suggest they return him to a more wooded area (after expressing, only for a moment, hesitation about making the call because “I am French,” which almost caused me to start saying “Trois, un, un” before I realized she just meant she was nervous about explaining a weird situation to English-speaking authorities, but she proceeded to dial, and I headed home to avoid waiting a half hour for raccoon wranglers).

This marked only the sixth occasion on which I’ve seen a raccoon in Manhattan, all in or near Central Park: this Upper East Side wanderer, one sitting in a garbage can in back of Megan McArdle’s apartment back when she lived on the Upper West Side, one looking scruffy and possibly rabid near 72nd St. Central Park restrooms at night, one pitifully poking at another who appeared to have died from falling out of a tree, and twice whole families of them emerging at sundown from beneath the Central Park Boathouse, one of those scaring the willies out of me by pawing at food perilously close to an immense snapping turtle that apparently lives near the Boathouse — something to keep in mind before any crazed yuppie skinny-dipping adventure, for you urban-raised folk who don’t know that snapping turtles can break pool cues with a bite.

Friday, November 20, 2009

D&D vs. Socialized Medicine, You vs. NASA

It’s nice to see the Onion-like site Op-Toons using Dungeons & Dragons to criticize socialized medicine, which may well be inflicted upon this already financially-collapsing nation as early as tomorrow.  The Op-Toons spot is a reminder that more and more I find myself thinking that it’s neither philosophy nor policy that I need to master but psychology.

Why do people intuit the way they do, and how does one get them to incorporate basic economic insights into their thinking, so that nothing like the Obama administration — or any party’s “stimulus” or “job creation” plans — ever happens again?  I don’t know, but that is surely the major obstacle to human wellbeing, not failure to acquire more stats or to craft a sufficiently lovely metaphysical picture of humanity involving the word “normative.”  And the problem is a broadly human one, not just a liberal one: You can’t read conservative lamentations about culture being reduced to materialism without recognizing some of the same resentment of economic reasoning found in liberal lamentations about “putting profits before people” and other incoherent slogans.

If you share my frustration with government, why not take it out on NASA by debating in public on Dec. 2 that it should be abolished?  (E-mail my Earthlink address discernible from my right margin to volunteer.)  And just to prove I am not aesthetically opposed to spacefaring in general, tomorrow a look at some news about Star Trek.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Music-Filled November

It’ll have been a music-filled couple of weeks, since (1) Helen and I saw the fine country band the Doc Marshalls, led by our friend Nick Beaudoing, down in Arlington a week ago Friday, (2) I saw Neko Case perform in NYC on Monday, (3) I’m seeing the Upper Crust tomorrow at 10pm at Public Assembly in Williamsburg for a mere ten bucks and so should you, (4) Nybakken and I are seeing the Pixies on Tuesday (having just seen the spin-off band the Breeders a couple months ago — and it only now occurs to me one of those band names sounds gay and the other straight, perhaps not coincidentally), and (5) I should see Pirate Radio at some point, ahistorical whitewashing of the censorious leftist politicians notwithstanding.

Well, that’s accomplishment enough for one month.  I’m going to bed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Meet the Newt Boss

I still think Newt Gingrich is preferable to 99% of American politicians, and I’d be delighted to see the strategy he recommends here deployed, but nonetheless note his creepy, vague, focus-group-like use of the seemingly noble phrase “first principles” in these comments about RNC leader Michael Steele (noted by C-SPAN, SwampPolitics, and Drudge):

He is developing a first principles model that I think is a very exciting, positive step in the right direction…By September, it might be very, very good for the Republicans in the House and Senate to have a common ground on which to campaign, whether they call it a Contract for America or some other device…Having a positive set of things that say, “if you elect us, these are the positive steps we will take”…may well be the key building block to really become the alternative party, not the opposition party…We didn’t do the Contract [with America in the 1994 congressional campaign] until very late in the campaign…You could begin to put together a set of first principles around which 80 percent of the country would rally… and then come Labor Day, you could begin to look a what are the five or ten biggest things that the Republicans could offer as their contract for America.

Like David Frum’s survey-filled political strategy book Comeback! these sound like the words of someone who doesn’t really have very clear first principles.  But perhaps we can discuss that tonight at Manhattan Project (per my right-hand margin), if you’re interested.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

U.S.A. Against Africa

My real job consists of trying to disabuse people of unscientific beliefs, but as the hostess of the New York City Skeptics event I attended this past Saturday noted, the broader purpose of the skeptical movement is to encourage critical thinking in general, rather than just dividing the world into establishment science voices (including many government agencies one shouldn’t always trust) and blatantly nonsensical voices, such as people claiming to “channel” unseen space aliens who give tips on world peace and business success.

There’s nothing I would love more than to teach people to apply reason and basic standards of evidence across the board, instead of just touting a favored checklist of legitimate claims.  Unfortunately, I constantly butt heads with people who can’t be expected to be consistent and intellectually rigorous about this because they don’t really think that holding groundless, superstitious beliefs is a harmful habit (as though we can just flip a light switch and restore people’s rationality the moment they “go too far” and do something blatantly harmful based on faith or fancy, such as abandoning cancer care, even after they’ve been trained their whole lives to adhere to unproven beliefs, indeed to love such beliefs).  I also encounter people, usually more left-leaning, who think that so-called Western forms of rationality (science, mainstream medicine, economics, etc.) ought not to be touted above rival modes of thought from around the developing world, as that would be narrow-minded, chauvinistic, and imperialist.

But every time I encounter people in either of these camps, I remember what a horrible, nightmarish, superstitious continent Africa remains.

I recommend all the people described above who take scientific thinking and rationalism for granted — whether right-leaning faith-fans, left-leaning cultural relativists, or just New Age paranormal I-wanna-believe types who think groundless beliefs are all in good fun — read carefully this article about a woman in Tanzania listening as her daughter’s legs were hacked off because the girl was an albino, and witch doctors to this day love to make good luck potions out of albinos on the otherwise dark continent.

Even a few of the more left-leaning libertarians I know, who ought to be hypersensitive to instances of murder and assault, have half-defended some of today’s more barbarous cultures in private e-mails to me, pointing out, for instance, that the West burned witches centuries ago, just as some parts of Africa occasionally do today.  There is a difference, though: about four hundred years of scientific progress.  Failure to celebrate that difference does not in any way honor our culture’s greatest achievements or aid the victims of other culture’s ongoing shortcomings, which we can only hope will not long endure.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Crisis Clinic, Horney Clinic

This disaster-movie weekend just ended, with the world coming to an end in 2012, reminded me of my favorite Far Side cartoon, namely the one depicting the travails of a Crisis Clinic.

That in turn reminds me of an unfortunately-named institution just around the corner from the bar/restaurant where I host the monthly Manhattan Project social gatherings for people interested in politics (the next one being this Wed., Nov. 18, from 6:30pm-on if you care to join us — back of the second floor of Merchants NY East, at 62nd and First).  A block west of us on 62nd is, yes, the Horney Clinic, as I can’t help noticing each time I walk to the Manhattan Project gatherings (the Karen Horney Clinic, to be precise).

And, yes, the Horney Clinic specializes — quite nobly, no doubt — in helping victims of incest and sexual abuse, as well as in managing general foster care.  You just know some of those kids are going to grow up making a certain crucial spelling error over and over again, but I suppose that’s the least of their problems, and I wish them well.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2012 Survivors and We the Living (surviving on DVD)

Having now seen 2012, which was everything I’d anticipated (stupid and spectacular), I’m reminded that a lot of us probably had the very same cultural artifact spring to mind the first time we heard stupid mystical predictions about the world ending in 2012: the Rush album 2112.

The Rush album, however, was not inspired by doomsday prophecies of the pseudo-Mayan sort. It was inspired by the novel Anthem by Ayn Rand (in hers, a man living in a statist future rediscovers the lightbulb, though, not the guitar).

You could see some of Rand’s works as tales of people surviving disasters, though. The economy of a future U.S. collapses in Atlas Shrugged, and a handful of people escape to Galt’s Gulch. In perhaps her most human and conventional (and slightly autobiographical) story, We the Living, a woman struggles to escape the politicized culture of the Soviet Union (in which Rand grew up).

I will believe the Atlas Shrugged miniseries is happening when I perceive the objective fact of its existence on my TV screen. We the Living, by contrast, has been issued on DVD at long last by Duncan Scott in association with Henry Mark Holzer and Erika Holzer, with forty-five minutes of deleted scenes, documentary material, and an explanation of Rand’s alternate ending.

My free copy is also a weapon against both Communism and Fascism, since Italian censors notoriously failed to realize at first, when this unauthorized film was created in that country, that the fanatical and bald Communist bureaucrat depicted in the film bore just a bit too much resemblance to a certain bald then-leader of Italy prone to fulminating on balconies. It’s freedom and morality vs. slavery and violence throughout human history, whatever the political labels used in an attempt to excuse the latter pair, and most people instinctively flee toward freedom, as refugee and migration patterns attest time and again, whenever they are given the chance, as surely as John Cusack flees a big fireball when Yellowstone erupts.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Newsmax, Media Tidbits, Dogs, and Muppets

The first of my Newsmax columns on political media is up (from their November issue), and the second, I think, will be in the December issue on stands within the next couple weeks.  Below, though, are seven items that didn’t make it into that short first column (and I really ought to start making my blog entries as short as these snippets, since you all have things to do — except the blog entries should have punk and sci-fi references):

•Reporter John Stossel gave a typically libertarian explanation for his move from ABC News to Fox News: “It means more freedom.”  A producer at ABC said that network has been more and more reluctant to criticize government since Obama took office.

Shepard Fairey, the artist who created the well-known, cartoon-like “HOPE” poster of Obama’s face (and a popular poster of wrestler Andre the Giant) defends Yosi Sergant, the National Endowment for the Arts staffer who resigned after revelations he’d been encouraging pro-Obama art.  Fairey’s site called Sergant a victim of “the right wing hate machine.”

Michael Moore’s documentary Capitalism: A Love Story concluded by calling capitalism an “evil” that must be “eliminated.”  That didn’t stop Esquire magazine from hosting a Lincoln Center screening of the film, followed by friendly Q&A with Moore conducted by Daily Beast editor Tina Brown.  When New York Post’s Kyle Smith tried to ask Moore if he endorses communism, Smith’s microphone was cut off.

•The New York Post was the victim the same day of a large-scale prank underwritten by the left-wing documentarians called the Yes Men.  During a climate-change conference at the U.N., at least a dozen young leftists handed out thousands of fake issues of the Post, filled with global warming articles.

•During the same climate conference, the libertarian documentarians behind the film Not Evil, Just Wrong cornered several celebrities, including X-Files star Gillian Anderson, getting them to admit they flew carbon-emitting jets, some private, to the conference.

•New York City’s Channel 5 news anchor Ernie Anastos created a sensation — and an instant catch phrase — recently by (presumably accidentally) using an expletive.  He told a meteorologist, during on-air banter, to “Keep fucking that chicken,” shortly after making a Frank Perdue joke.

•And that leads us to the Segway, or rather to inventor Dean Kamen, creator of the Segway and other motion-assisting devices.  In his speech after receiving this year’s Popular Mechanics Leadership Award for a lifetime of inspiring technological achievements, Kamen said that America is doomed as a world leader unless we make science and technology as exciting to kids as we now do athletes and movie stars, and he said it’s more about culture than about spending more on public schools: “Someone has to inspire kids to do things that matter.”

P.S. One thing that might help with Kamen’s pro-science mission is the set of talks being given under the auspices of NYC Skeptics today from 1-4pm at Pace University’s downtown Manhattan location, 1 Pace Plaza, in Lecture Hall South — where you’ll find me listening to two ACSH Advisors and others talk about health myths.

P.P.S. Never a candidate for inclusion in Newsmax was this invention that was not created by Dean Kamen: decorative dog armor.  This outfit would be useful to the members of an obscure old DC Comics hero team I only just learned about recently: the Space Canine Patrol Agents, including such members as Tail Terrier, whose tail stretches and can capture villains, and Drooly, who makes lassoes and such out of drool.  Seeing some of the members described online as having died in the line of duty is strange.

And since all that puts one in a Muppet-like mood, here are clips from Steven Schub, L.A.’s premier libertarian ska band leader, of his childhood appearances on Sesame Street.  Good thing he and his bandmates in the Fenwicks weren’t psychologically damaged by his youthful experiences.

Friday, November 13, 2009

2012 vs. Pandorum vs. Avatar

With 2012 out today, it might be a good time to read about changes in the tone of apocalypse tales over the past century, per this article from io9 pointed out to me by Charis Warchal.

And while we’re making charts of doomsday stories’ differences, feel free to use the short list below, which I’ve whipped up so you can keep track of the ominous slogans from this season’s sci-fi films:


Don’t fear the end of the world — fear what happens next.  (9/25/09)


The end of the world is just the beginning.  (11/13/09)


Welcome to Pandora.  (12/18/09)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Behind the Times

Telling you what the New York Times wrote yesterday is not the most exciting use for a blog, but there were three items I found interesting:

•As Jacob Levy pointed out to me, the remake of the anti-authoritarian TV series The Prisoner is described in an article as having a sympathetic instead of purely-sinister No. 2 (played by Ian McKellen, who apparently found no point or meaning in the original series, he says) with a troubled teen son — and will end with the message that community is valuable.

A front-page article suggested Ron Paul may actually be winning his decades-long war against the Fed — but will the result just be a more politicized Fed?  (Insiders already say that the poll-numbers-driven fight to keep unemployment low trumps all economic rationality at the Fed.  Is Congress likely to improve that by meddling even more?)

•And some idiot letter-writer, in the perfect summary of pro-gun control illogic, said the Ft. Hood massacre is a reminder that America needs to limit handguns.  That’s right — we need to do something about all those guns on military bases.  That sounds like a fixable problem.

P.S. Elsewhere: for a statist, TNR’s John Judis wrote a fairly decent summary of America’s history of anti-statism (note the near-synonymity of anti-statism and conservatism in this tale, something I hope will hold true going forward and am much more optimistic about right now than I was during the Bush years).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Episode 2012 (and NASA appeal)

As this Friday’s 2012 approaches (the movie, not the year), we laugh at its apparent hokiness and heavy-handedness — but then, somewhere out there is a kid who’s anticipating it the way I did The Empire Strikes Back, no doubt (and that kid probably doesn’t care about Pirate Radio, which comes out the same day and is more important to me).

I recall a conversation with neighborhood Star Wars fan Danny Curran (who I mentioned in a Comment under my Sunday blog entry), back when I was a kid, about why Empire was labeled “Episode V.” In those pre-Google days, there really was a period when we didn’t know. Our theory — not a bad one, but inaccurate — was that the 1977 film was “Episode I” (actually, it had retroactively been declared Episode IV, of course) and that Episode II must therefore be the Star Wars spin-off novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster (yes, there really was a time when there was only one Star Wars spin-off novel instead of a Star Wars section of the bookstore) and that Episode III must be The Star Wars Holiday Special. What Episode IV was, under this system of numbering, we could not imagine (little did we realize we had already seen Episode IV in 1977).

One funny thing about our system, in retrospect, is that George Lucas would probably like to ignore the existence of both Splinter and Holiday now, albeit for different reasons.

Holiday was simply bad, though it did, of course, introduce the world to Boba Fett (in animated form), making us giddy with anticipation for his eventual appearance in 1980’s Empire (a formula Lucas successfully repeated four years ago, as you may have noticed, by introducing Gen. Grievous in the animated Clone Wars shorts before unveiling him in Revenge of the Sith). Splinter, more strangely, is now evidence not so much of Lucas’s bad taste but of the fact that he didn’t really have as clear a master plan as he likes to pretend. Luke and Leia slept together (without clearly having sex) in the novel, though it would be revealed in Return of the Jedi five years later that they are siblings, and Vader fought with Luke without breathing a word about paternity issues — and Vader got his arm chopped off fairly easily in the process.

Meanwhile, in the real world (more or less): we’re planning a space-based Debate at Lolita Bar for Wed., Dec. 2, on a question that could have profound consequences for the long-term destiny of the human race: “Should We Abolish NASA?” Ken Silber (formerly of will argue no — and you or someone competent you know should tell me if you’d like to argue yes. Think of it as a blow against a centralized Galactic Empire, if you like.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

She Wants Revenge (and Is a Cyborg)

Free-associatively continuing yesterday’s Germanic theme, I think all good-hearted people miss the band Bauhaus more than the architecture movement after which it’s named (much as I prefer the solo work of Peter Murphy, who I’ve seen in concert about four times and whose “Cuts You Up” I’d love to do in karaoke if it were ever on the song lists). Luckily, we now have the band She Wants Revenge, who are admirably blatant in their imitation of the earlier band, especially in the Hunger-inspired video for “Written in Blood.” In their video for “These Things,” we also get to see Shirley Manson (the singer from Garbage, formerly a Terminator, and a cyborg in a rock video even before she was a Terminator) being intimidating again — and maybe just a little Germanic to boot.

ADDENDUM: On a more typically-American musical note, if anyone I already know (and who is not manifestly hostile) wants to be my guest at a Neko Case concert in Manhattan on Monday the 16th, e-mail me at the Earthlink address found via my right margin (Helen presumably being in DC that night).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Berlin Wall-Breach + 20 Years

I. The fall of the Berlin Wall, and all that meant, remains the greatest thing that has happened to the world during my lifetime (and happened smack dab in what is, for the moment, the middle of it) — and still I find myself surrounded, in New York today as at Brown back then, by people who think the problem is capitalism or advertising or ennui or something.

Even superficial pop-philosopher Slavoj Zizek can’t quite bring himself to say that if Communism was bad maybe capitalism is good, and the Times gives him space today to mope about how there still ought to be some third way, socialism with a human face.

II. Much as I hate to see abstract metaphysical arguments tarred with the largely-irrelevant politics of their devisers, it’s fun to see the Times also reporting on a new book that reminds everyone that leftist-beloved philosopher Martin Heidegger was a Nazi — and that maybe, just maybe, the sort of individualism-bashing Continental philosophy in which he engaged is not wholly unlike his fascist political views.

Some of his defenders will likely insist that his philosophy is perfectly compatible with socialism, as if that saves him from charges of Naziism, and more honest defenders will point out that most of his philosophy is too vague and near-meaningless to have any terrible political implications, except in the hypnotic, despairing way that all Continental philosophy induces a stupor that makes recruiting for the socialist revolution easier.

III. The most interesting Teutonic-sounding political development in my city in the past seven days, though, is surely the election to the New York City Council of Republican, libertarian, and Thor-admiringly-pagan Dan Halloran, who I notice speaks to one faction of the New York Young Republican Club this Thursday, Nov. 12, sometime between 7:30 and  9:30, at the Soldiers’, Sailors’, Marines’ & Airmen’s Club on Lexington between 36th and 37th.  Will we look back upon his election, making him one of only five GOP on the whole fifty-one-seat Council, as the start of our own liberation from socialism?  Note this moment in your calendars for later reflection.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just What I Needed: Liberty! Micronauts! Spider-Man! Rock Tragedy!

If all has gone as planned, I’m in Boston as this post appears — the city of the entertaining and violent Boondock Saints and of the original (but not the last!) Tea Party, where dwell several of my college friends, including Dave Whitney, whose fortieth birthday some of us gathered to celebrate. I stayed with an actual family, the grown-up kind with law firm and hospital type jobs and two kids and everything.

Only one of the parents is a libertarian, despite New England’s proud heritage of rebellion, and if she wanted to explain her aversion to the government in an ironic way, she might consider reading to her kids the book Why Mommy Loves the State by my friend Bretigne Shaffer (or download the whole thing free here). You can also read about Bretigne’s time living in a house for ex-pats in Japan by buying her book Memoirs of a Gaijin (or downloading it for free here).

Speaking of libertarians, note too that Vox Day has a new book out called The Return of the Great Depression, grim as that prognosis may sound.

And somewhere in between these kid concerns and grown-up concerns fall two items of interest:

1. This great Seth MacFarlane cartoon Helen pointed out to me of Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Popeye all trying to carry on an audible conversation.

2. The news that my own favorite toys and favorite resultant comic book from childhood — Micronauts — may be turned into a movie by no less an auteur than J.J. Abrams. Waiting for this news is one of the main reasons I have kept on living since age five. The world may see the resulting film — about robots and sci-fi creatures battling the evil Baron Karza and his minions, all of them tiny-sized beings from the subatomic Microverse — and think it looks just a bit too much like Star Wars. But I know Micronauts came first. Because I was there. Short of government ceasing to exist, this is about the best news I can imagine. It cannot possibly suck. Life would not be that cruel.

On a slightly more mature note, when Helen recently noted that there are few female film auteurs, I suggested Julie Taymor, director of Titus, Across the Universe, and soon a Helen Mirren, gender-reversed version of The Tempest, not to mention (if the financing holds) the Spider-Man stage musical with music by U2. She has the Grant Morrison-like attitude that sci-fi and comics and Shakespeare and psychedelia can all fit onto a larger palette of fantasy that needn’t be myopically focused on, say, Mr. Spock, nor be just for hardcore nerds, and that’s just fine with me. And here she is talking about Spider-Man (looking pretty charismatic in her late fifties, I might add).

P.S. The mention of U2 reminds me of a grimmer rock tidbit I just heard: J.D. Midnight Fortune, who a few years ago won the TV competition Rockstar: INXS to become the band’s new lead singer, has reportedly recently been living in his car, ousted from the band, and struggling with a cocaine habit. I guess if you do material as dark and powerful as that of INXS, you’re bound to end up autoerotically asphyxiated or living in a car.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Football, Pinball, and Freedom Tastes of Reality

Ah, bipartisan attention is being given to the nation’s top priority, namely: how football games are scheduled.  On a similar note, NYC’s Mayor LaGuardia, mere weeks after Pearl Harbor, announced he would be devoting substantial police effort to a crackdown on the menace of…pinball machines (a crusade that lasted about thirty years, until one pinball wizard demonstrated to the City Council that the game is one of skill, not just chance, thus making it something other than gambling, leading to repeal of anti-pinball laws here — I would not be surprised if that incident inspired the Who song).

Politicians just want positive-sounding attention and will combat any perceived menace or tout any perceived cure-all that gets them that attention, leading to re-election.  Would that self-described skeptics who can see the self-interest of ratings-seeking TV networks or advertising agencies turned just a fraction of that skepticism on government each time it announced it was going to do something.

It’s enough to make one want to learn about Ayn Rand all month long on and, so why not do that?  This month is the twentieth anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, and Rand would have wanted it that way.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Obama vs. Ron Paul

Of all the interpretations made of a few Republican victories this week, my favorite is that in The Hill proclaiming Ron Paul the real winner, in so far as GOP candidates are largely sticking to an anti-government, anti-spending, anti-socialism message — as they should. If they continue in this direction, I say keep purging moderates, let the Paul Krugmans of the world keep screaming that the party is becoming too extreme, and let a more coherent — and thus ultimately more appealing — message emerge from a party that’s been too mushy for too long, with little to show for it.

Meanwhile, with Obama touting 1 million new jobs from $787 billion in spending, a mathematically-inclined friend of mine notes that we’d better hope each of those jobs has a $787,000 salary to make it worthwhile. And on Conan O’Brien, there was a bit (pointed out to me by Katherine Taylor) suggesting what it might look like if another group of math and number fans, the Muppets, were to turn against Obamacare. Let us hope they do so quickly and vocally, as there is talk healthcare “reform” may pass the House tomorrow, which will leave us all feeling like we live in Massachusetts, and not in a Cape Cod way.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Just One Quick Fort Hood Note

You have to suspect that some or all of this MSNBC paragraph will look wrong by the end of the day:

A senior administration official told NBC News analyst Roger Cressey that the suspect who was in custody was an Army major with an Arabic-sounding name. The official said the shootings could have been a criminal matter rather than a terrorism-related attack and that there was no intelligence to suggest a plot against Fort Hood.

Status of Play


Saul Devitt, after last night’s debate, talked about the Australian obsession with sports.  Lest we pretend America is more mature, note that the A.P. reports:

Along with the Big Wheel and the Game Boy video device, the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester[, NY] chose the ball on Thursday to join its all-star lineup of 41 classics, ranging from the bicycle and the kite to the jump rope, the teddy bear, and Mr. Potato Head.

Excellent choices.  If there’s also a Weak National Museum of Play, presumably it instead contains non-classics ranging from the beanbag chair and a non-flying rectangle, to string, the teddy sloth, and an actual potato (uncooked, since those are less fun — then again, I once met a punk who said a friend of hers was paid as a dominatrix once to throw uncooked potatoes at a man’s crotch, surely something that a healthy, properly-socialized person could get for free).

Immigrants, Structuralists, and Post-Structuralists

Yankees won last night — and not the Latin American authoritarians, at least according to our audience vote after the Debate at Lolita Bar. Courtney Love was not there despite her previously-noted love for Chavez, but if she got too deeply involved with him, he might end up heroin-addicted and suicidal anyway.

One irony of which I was reminded during the debate, though the topic did not arise, is that some of the same people most opposed to Latin American leftist rulers are the people most opposed to immigration from Latin America. That’s not a completely inconsistent position — some of them explicitly worry about Latino immigrants bringing socialist ideas and habits with them. However, they’d do well to remember that the immigrants are at least people who are trying to move away from dysfunctional states — and this month of all months, the twentieth anniversary of the collapse of European Communism, they do well to remember that what brought Communism down was mass emigration (initially from East Germany, which quickly went from hemorrhaging citizens to no longer existing — and that process is very valuable).

Don’t try to tell immigration-paranoiac, demagogue, and economic ignoramus Lou Dobbs that, though. I see (as noted by George Fishman) that Dobbs has recently taken time away from bashing Mexicans to bash my old boss John Stossel, calling him a “self-important ass” for criticizing Dobbs’ anti-immigration views.


A tad more sensitive in dealing with critics and other cultures was the late Claude Levi-Strauss, the anthropologist who, by arguing (somewhat like Jung) that certain recurring tropes and mental patterns can be found in cultures around the world, strongly suggested that there really is a human nature, and its diverse cultural forms in some important ways analogous to each other — not just arbitrary, dissimilar codes and rituals whimsically altered by ideology, as some of his later, stranger critics would suggest, post-structuralists to his structuralism.

I’ve often thought — as the post-structuralists certainly have — that there’s something rather conservative, in our age, simply about asserting that there’s a human nature deeper than ideology. Levi-Strauss becomes useful, then, in much the same way that Durkheim, father of sociology (one of whose book titles was imitated, as an homage, by Levi-Strauss), can be a conservative force if properly understood (as Camille Paglia has said), since his functionalism was rooted in the idea that social patterns are not arbitrary but rather tend to serve some useful purpose.

The post-structuralists, by contrast, seemed bent on using such obfuscatory language that the reader is too addled to remember whether useful social codes and traditions exist or not. Back in college, I found a copy of the awful deconstructionist book Image/Music/Text by Roland Barthes and threatened to keep printing convoluted sentences from it in the campus humor publication each week until someone claimed the book.

It turned out to belong to one of my fellow comedy writers, Canadian linguistics major Adam Frank (who went on to date the only person ever to tell me I was useless and boring as a friend, come to think of it), who when he reclaimed it said that I was acting irresponsibly by mocking the ornate deconstructive sentences full of phrases like “metonymic signifier” and “hermeneutic calendar” because one could as easily mock complex sentences from a physics text. The crucial difference was that I contended physics language ultimately refers back to empirical reality, whereas Frank contended that words simply refer back to more words, that a “a tree” is simply the words that come after “tree” in a dictionary definition.


That position is as insane and corrosive today as it was then (its relativism, like that of Third Wave feminism, encouraging not intellectual humility but pseudo-rationalistic, prima facie political assertions meant to trump empirical reality) — but today, I no longer feel obligated to present a long argument explaining why it’s insane. Instead, let’s just read this one sentence (noted by my economist friend Maria Paganelli) that’s a pretty good reminder that Continental philosophy leads nowhere, slowly:

Indeed dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal — of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelean provenance; of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideistic found-ationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of the will-to-power or some other ideologically and/or psycho-somatically buried source) new and old alike; of the primordial failing of western philosophy, ontological monovalence, and its close ally, the epistemic fallacy with its ontic dual; of the analytic problematic laid down by Plato, which Hegel served only to replicate in his actualist monovalent analytic reinstatement in transfigurative reconciling dialectical connection, while in his hubristic claims for absolute idealism he inaugurated the Comtean, Kierkegaardian and Nietzschean eclipses of reason, replicating the fundaments of positivism through its transmutation route to the superidealism of a Baudrillard.

–Roy Bhaskar in Plato etc: The Problems of Philosophy and Their Resolution (Verso, 1994)

I’m not even saying that sentence is false. I’m just saying you wasted a precious minute or two of your life. Sorry.


I recall being a teenager — probably around the time the Leo Strauss-influenced book The Closing of the American Mind came out — and hearing about both Straussians and structuralists for the first time, and thus briefly being confused and thinking they were the same thing (Leo Strauss, Levi-Strauss, etc.). Frankly, it’d be really interesting if they were. After all, the Straussians often rail against post-structuralists for ignoring deeper, unshakable truths that our short-lived ideologies mask — and so do structuralists. The Strausses almost fit together. One could be a Straussian Levi-Straussian.

Similarly, someone who thought that the useful sociological structures analyzed by Durkheim were a vindication of the underlying value of tradition might be a Burkeheimian. Fusionist philosophy by pun! Worked for James Joyce.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Courtney Love Would Want You at Lolita Bar Tonight

Should we like or revile Chavez and other Latin American leaders of his ilk?  Thor Halvorssen and Spike Appel will debate that tonight (Wed., Nov. 4, 8pm) at Lolita Bar (266 Broome St.) — but Courtney Love has already made up her mind, judging by this picture from Gothamist just over a month ago.  Are you on her side in this?  Let us know tonight.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fourth Kind, V-Kind, and Our Real Rulers

•It’s a geeky night for me, since I’m seeing the exploitative and irresponsibly faux-fact-based UFO thriller Fourth Kind (an encounter of the “Fourth Kind” means Milla Jovovich or others experience abduction, whereas the “Fifth Element” means only Milla can save the universe). My thanks to J.R. Taylor for making it possible [UPDATE: Not only was the movie uninteresting, it was arguably so fraudulent as to warrant a class action suit, maintaining a split-screen pretense throughout of being based on "actual footage," with the most intriguing non-ethical question about its layers of reality being which had worse actors.  {ACTUAL REACTION 12:36am November 4, 2009: What a piece of crap.}].

•For those with TV reception, it’s also the first night of the remake TV series V, about Earth’s friendly new extraterrestrial overlords turning out to be sinister reptilians — and the series is more timely than ever, given that nowadays, there are a few deranged conspiracy theorists (possibly including that dad whose son everyone thought had drifted away in a balloon) who think our leaders really are reptilian-human hybrids.

•As we face the prospect of a term-limits-busting Mayor Bloomberg beginning another four years of running New York City, I’d just like to say, in the interests of racial harmony, that I don’t think I could hate politicians any more if they did turn out to be reptilian. (Given that, maybe the likes of Castro and Chavez aren’t really all that extraordinary — but that’s what we’ll debate tomorrow at Lolita Bar, so please join us.)

•The man who started the whole reptilian conspiracy theory, David Icke, has been accused of being inspired by anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, though once a man is claiming that subterranean reptiles rule the planet, I’m not sure it makes sense to criticize him for secretly harboring something as mundane as anti-Semitic sentiment. And in any case, we know there are not sinister Protocols that guide gatherings of elite cabals as they plot the takeover of media and the world — highly ethnically-mixed institutions like the government are problem enough.

•Luckily, there is a way to see government mocked while getting a good dose of geekery at the same time: the site Op-Toons, which has recently joked about Star Wars, Duran Duran, Schoolhouse Rock, and much more.

But Jacob Levy forwards what may be the single most intensely nerdy cartoon of all time, not surprisingly from the strip XKCD.

•On a sadder sadder sci-fi/punk note, I notice Lori Petty was arrested a few months ago for slamming into a fourteen year-old skateboarder while driving with an illegal blood alcohol level. Good thing she doesn’t actually have a tank — but then, I would think for a teen skateboarder, being driven over by Tank Girl would be a relatively cool way to be injured.

On a more positive final note, I always associate Tank Girl with my friend Jenny Foreit (who watched the movie with the guests the night of her first wedding — and knows how to kickbox), and I see that despite some recent rough times, she was not afraid to risk thinning the veil between realities this Halloween by creating a Cthulhu jack-o’-lantern.

Monday, November 2, 2009

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: Are Che, Castro, Chavez, and Their Ilk Bad for Latin America?


“Are Che, Castro, Chavez, and Their Ilk Bad for Latin America?” — a Debate at Lolita Bar, this Wed., Nov. 4 (at 8pm), downstairs at 266 Broome St. (at Allen St.) on the Lower East Side, one block south of the Delancey St. subway.

Arguing yes: THOR HALVORSSEN, activist, defender of free speech on campus, and in 2005 founder of the Human Rights Foundation, focusing on individual rights in Latin America.

Arguing no: SPIKE APPEL, leftist, participant in the recurring United States Social Forum gatherings on indigenous people and economic exploitation — and a former child reporter for Children’s Express.

Moderating: Michel Evanchik. Hosting: Todd Seavey.

Voting on the question at the end: you — and bring any supporters, detractors, or sympathetic critics you care to summon. Viva la Debate at Lolita Bar!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

After Utopia, the American Conservative

For a while, I’ve entertained the notion of years hence writing a book about utopians and following it up with a countervailing book or blog on my own ideas about what constitutes a cozy and pleasant existence (for me) — sort of like Voltaire’s Candide ending with the realization that there’s a great deal to be said for just tending one’s own garden — a very localist, humble, and bourgeois idea, all of which is fine with me.

In a sort of accelerated version of that plan, I hereby follow my “Month of Utopia” blog entries by plugging Helen Rittelmeyer, herself an exalted ideal making this world a bit more paradisiacal but also someone who likes the earthy and local and imperfect and makes you happy to be part of the mess. Specifically, she has a piece in the “December” books-themed issue of American Conservative (where she’s been interning) on whether using a Kindle is better or worse than reading books on paper (it has its pluses and minuses, apparently, but there’s definitely something about having hundreds of books in your hand simultaneously that sounds sci-fi-utopian in a good way).

P.S. And now if I could just find a leftist to volunteer to defend Latin American leftism (or some aspect of it) in this coming Wednesday’s informal debate downtown, my corner of the world would be quite pleasant indeed (I’m at ToddSeavey[at] if you are willing to volunteer).