Thursday, April 30, 2009

Watchmen vs. Wolverine

Dan Raspler, the victor in our Lolita Bar debate before last, about sci-fi, forwards this combo-parody of the Mac/PC ads, Rorschach, and Wolverine.

That in turn reminds me that even an animalistic, deadly, “berserker rage”-prone fellow like Wolverine is depicted in the comics as feeling a certain reverence towards other species, once explaining to his teammate Storm that he tracks but does not kill deer in the woods, a neat way of displaying skill without killing that I could actually imagine catching on. More on animal welfare at Lolita Bar on Wednesday (8pm) next week, of course. And much more on Wolverine tomorrow, as this blog begins “Month of the Nerd II.”

As for Watchmen: I’m saddened some people didn’t like it as much as I did. Even Reason, whose website ran my positive article about seeing the film, featured subsequent negative comments about the film from Peter Suderman and Jesse Walker. Film critics A.O. Scott and Anthony Lane were extremely harsh. At least one DC Comics staffer I know wasn’t that crazy about it. And one of my girlfriend Helen’s favorite bloggers, Eve Tushnet, sounded very disappointed by it, but I give her some bonus points for combining nerd-fiction analysis, placement in a conservative publication, and a headline derived from an alternative rock song (by the Smiths) — that being the crucial trifecta in my eyes, obviously.

Oh, and my friend Christine Caldwell Ames didn’t like the movie, either. One thing she, some of our May 6 crowd, and the Watchmen-hating figure depicted in this video all have in common, by the way: vegetarians. Coincidence?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: "Should Humans Radically Decrease Their Exploitation of Animals?" (with ten related thoughts)


ONE WEEK FROM TONIGHT, the species-spanning battle of the century:

Wed., May 6 (8pm).

Law professor and lawyer with the State of New York Mariann Sullivan arguing yes.

Freelance writer Justin Shubow (Master’s in Philosophy from U. Michigan, J.D. from Yale) arguing no.

Hosted by Todd Seavey and moderated by Michel Evanchik.

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


The Debates at Lolita Bar grew out of the debate series founded by Lefty Leibowitz — himself a model of self-discipline who is vegetarian — and L.B. Deyo, a carnivore who nonetheless composed this moving work:

“Ode to the Kingdom of Animals and Beasts”

Monkey, art thou in thy tree?
Leaping ’long so gleefully
Your screams do much admire my heart
I thrill to see your mischievous art

O doggy, doggy on your chain
Whose yelps and barks do soothe my brain
How happily thou romps and plays!
(Though chasing cats might end your days.)

The lion is of the proudest mane
Pursuant of antelopes he is fain
No cowardly cat that laps at milk
The lion is of the noble ilk

Sir polar bear, do not be chilled
By windy nights, Antarctic hills
For thine is fur of downy white
To warm me through the bitter night

Hippo, with thine ivory tooth
The little sparrows clean, forsooth
Thy name is writ and spoken thus:
“The noble Hippopotamus.”

At last the frog we now regard
Whose life is slimy, short, and hard
From lily pad to pad you leap
Or plunge into the murky deep
O Frog! Beloved beast thou art!
Who warms again my heavy heart.


As I noted in a controversial Book Selection(s) blog entry a year and a half ago, the entire American economy is arguably built on one particularly odd centuries-ago bit of animal exploitation. As I wrote:

I learned from [Amy Chua's book Day of Empire] that Holland’s financial success circa the seventeenth century was built in large part on the popularity of civet cats, raccoon-like animals whose anal glands can be squeezed to yield a very popular perfume scent — animals that to this day are valued for their ability to confer an extra aromatic quality to coffee beans that pass through their digestive systems. So, since the 1688 Glorious Revolution in England transferred much of Holland’s monarchical and mercantile might to England, and since we in the U.S. are in turn the heirs of England’s common law and political traditions, there is a very real sense in which American liberty was founded on ass-coffee. (Civets were also the likely source of SARS, so they have their good points and bad points.)


Well, nearly. Creepy as it sounds, while planning this debate — having never once seen a rodent in my apartment — I think I heard one scratching repeatedly against the underside of my tub. I called for an exterminator, he forgot to show, the scratching never returned, and I thus remain neutral enough a non-combatant to host the debate in good conscience.


Michelle Kung wrote an article for Wall Street Journal last month about the recent resurgence in the popularity of lard, which included this brief lard timeline:

A History of Lard

•1911 Procter & Gamble introduces Crisco, a shortening that would help displace lard
•1940 Americans consume a record 14.4 pounds of lard per capita
•1992 Artist Janine Antoni’s breakthrough work, “Gnaw,” showcases a 600-pound block of lard she has gnawed at with her teeth
•1995 The mock-horror book “Ocean of Lard” appears
•1997 Americans consume 2.9 pounds of lard per capita, a low
•2003 Celebrity chef Mario Batali opens a new New York restaurant, Otto, featuring lardo pizza; TV show “Fear Factor” forces contestants to crawl through a tunnel filled with 4,000 pounds of lard
•2007 Gourmet market Prather Ranch Meat Co. starts selling lard at San Francisco’s Ferry Terminal


A dog in North Carolina — which happens to be the state from which both my parents’ dog Jaycie and my girlfriend Helen Rittelmeyer hail — was recently pooping $100 bills.


related to animal welfare (and science).


Once more: (especially the “Meat Ship”).


In a cartoon pointed out to me by vegan Diana Fleischman (whose name, as it happens, means “Huntress Meatman,” I believe).


Think of it as prep for reading the animal-rights-friendly writings of Obama regulatory czar Cass Sunstein.


…or as prep for seeing animalistic Wolverine, vegetarian Mr. Spock, and species-exterminating Terminators in theatres in May. In any case, please join us.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Enter World, Pursued by a Bear


My friends Scott Shannon and Liz Braswell recently celebrated the impending birth of their second child — by watching Aliens (having viewed Alien last time around, inspired, I believe, by a joke I made back when Liz and I were in college about childbirth being like something out of those films — a joke repeated in the Kyle Smith novel Love Monkey, though he and wife Sara decided to reproduce anyway).

Frightening as that may sound, Liz’s experience will no doubt be smoother than that of another mother-to-be I happen to have just heard about in the news — one who found her very pregnant self being followed by a bear, causing her to race in front of and be struck by a car, a combination experts now say pregnant women should avoid.

The bear ended up being euthanized, but the ethics of that, needless to say, we can discuss at  next week’s Debate at Lolita Bar.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Are the Anti-Meat Folks Just Neurotic?


From a recent article about scientists studying people who are meat-averse (not that this makes them all crazy, of course):

Robinson-O’Brien and her team, who reported the findings in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, said about 20-25% of current and former vegetarians in the study displayed unhealthy weight-control behaviors such as taking diet pills, vomiting, using laxatives and diuretics, and binge eating.

Might a lot of people — especially women — be adopting vegetarian and vegan philosophies as a means of rationalizing deeper problems, making a system of virtue of (what they imagine to be) necessity, as it were?  It is not without reason that so many meat ads (from Manwich to the Burger King meat-eater-rallies spots) cater directly to males, who are more prone to enjoy the carnivorous life.

Of course, noting a gender imbalance — or even associated emotional problems — no more settles or explains away the moral issue of veganism than gender imbalances and emotional problems among prostitutes truly settled the question at last week’s Intelligence Squared U.S. debate of whether it’s wrong to pay for sex.  But at next week’s Debate at Lolita Bar, of course, we’ll delve into all sorts of animal welfare conundrums and get to the bottom of all this.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

4/15 Tea, R.I.P. Bea, 911 Shrimp


My parents, fairly ordinary, decent Americans, did not go to an “End the Fed” protest yesterday, but they did go to one of the four Connecticut Tea Party protests that occurred a week and a half ago.  Good for them.

Note that my parents were not moved to rally against the government and in favor of keeping their money (for example) the last seventeen times Cass Sunstein wrote that he feels a vague, roundabout sympathy for market-like mechanisms, nor when Al Gore claimed back in the 90s that he wanted to “reinvent” government.  The right-wing-sounding Tea Parties, by contrast, did cause them (and independents and lots of apolitical normal folk) to rally against the government.  Any remaining “liberaltarians” might like to keep that in mind, if they even (sincerely) still see resistance to government as the purpose of their movement — and give a damn about making any popular progress.

Incidentally, I’ve long thought that tapping into the American Revolution vibe would be a great way to enlist history-conscious but blue-leaning New England to libertarian causes, and perhaps the several Tea Party rallies there are evidence the blood of minutemen has not yet been thinned completely.


A big theme of the Tea Party protests was government’s unresponsiveness to the pain of taxpayers — but I will admit government is often too responsive, as in this story (relevant to the carnivore/vegan conflict alluded to in several of my recent blog entries and likely to be discussed again at our big May 6 debate): a report of a person who called 911 (and apparently got a response) over not getting enough shrimp in her fried rice at a restaurant.

And speaking of the struggle between humans and their prey, let’s observe a moment of silence and take another look at that painting I recently linked to of Bea Arthur (who has just passed away) wrestling velociraptors.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fido, Fed


Dogs have likely evolved to look cute to humans — the ugly breeds tending not to be treated as well — and there are certain objective (or at least biologically-rooted) criteria for “cute,” partly rooted in “neotony,” or possession of child-like qualities (sometimes recognized instinctively even between different mammal species) that evoke protective impulses, as explained in this article pointed out to me by Diana Fleischman, who is both an evolutionary psychology expert and a vegan.  By contrast, girlfriend Helen, a carnivore like me, has occasionally claimed to be “immune” to the appeal of cuteness and was, after all, a teenage taxidermist at a science museum, back when she was even more neotonous than she is now.

I also once read a rather plausible-sounding National Geographic article about the idea that the key to dogs branching off evolutionarily from proto-wolves may have been that the cuter (more neotonous and thus tamer) among them were more tolerated by humans as the self-serving creatures trailed human hunting parties, hoping to be thrown scraps.  Thus, doggie consciousness may have been born in a quintuple-whammy of begging, fetching, whining, cuteness, and friendliness with humans, which sounds about right (but is not necessarily therefore true, something we should always keep in mind to avoid fabricating just-so stories and myths).

If you prefer economic analyses of humans being manipulated, though — and if you had fun at a Tea Party protest last week but need more — today the nation will see a series of protests with a more specific (and likely far less popular and respected but undeniably timely) message: End the Fed.  Still a fringe issue, perhaps, but ultimately a good idea — and I have to admit it seems a lot more relevant now than I ever would have predicted a year ago when it was only a rallying cry at Ron Paul events.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Jackie Chan vs. LOLCats


Like a lot of people, I was disappointed to hear about Jackie Chan — one of humanity’s most physically adept specimens — sucking up to Beijing by complaining that Taiwan and Hong Kong are displaying too much “chaotic” freedom (though it shouldn’t surprise me — most people hate freedom, really, even those who most clearly should know better). I first learned of Jackie Chan around the same time that Hong Kong was in the news for its transition from British to Beijing control in 1997 (at which time I visited the place) and at the time had high hopes for both. I don’t know anymore.

On the bright side, though, as our May 6 debate crowd may be keenly aware, there is another species, namely the cat, with kung fu skills as impressive as Jackie’s — witness this clip recently noted on ICanHasCheezburger. However, Scott Nybakken, who wrote the New York Press article “Jackie Chan: Must Fight!” back in the day, counters that this ambush cat vs. flippy instant-reverso cat clip from the same site is even more impressive. At least all such creatures remain blissfully unaware of the power-hungry beasts in Beijing (who are so stupid they think you shouldn’t be allowed to call them things like that, lest it threaten their power, which they imagine to be synonymous with social harmony).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Liberty and Tyranny" (and me); plus Sprite and Bo


Today marks one year since the last time there was a post on the wacky-links aggregator site Memepool (which over the preceding ten years had been sort of the PiecesofFlair of the late 90s and early 00s). Over the past year, the founder of Memepool has apparently gone from working at Yahoo to working at Google, perhaps a busier environment (a few other people I know are at Google — perhaps we all will be someday).

To compensate for the lack of Memepool, and to make up for me mostly blogging about animals, nerd culture, and rock music for the next couple months, here are some mighty entertaining and libertarian links:

•Mark Levin’s #1 New York Times bestseller Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, I have just discovered, cites me as an endnote in Chapter 8, in my capacity as an ACSH guy condemning the ban on DDT, an effective insecticide without which over a million people die unnecessarily each year — at the hands of sanctimonious, chemical-banning greens like the ones celebrating Earth Day today and pretending to be the good guys. (Liberty and Tyranny also happens to use in its title two of the “nouns” mentioned dismissively by that New York Times columnist I recently responded to.)

•On a related note, remember that you can see me defend the Tea Parties in this April 15 clip from PJTV — just sign in — and in this clip from back on New Year’s Eve can see Will Wilkinson and me making libertarian predictions for 2009.

•Mark Levin previously hit the bestseller list with yet another one of those books about the author’s dog, Rescuing Sprite — and I’m sure we’ll soon see a book about the Obamas’ controversial not-so-rescue dog, but as long as people continue using the cool epithet “the Obamadog” (which sounds a bit like Uberhund) to describe Bo, as some headlines did, that’s OK with me.

•You may have seen this awesome site advertised atop Drudge — putting human faces on the countless stories of businesses harried or destroyed (with poverty increasing as a result) by ludicrous regulations (this may be a Chamber of Commerce project, not sure — more power to them for displaying some rare backbone if it is). The Americans with Disabilities Act, for instance, mandates that businesses can be sued for having their bathroom mirrors hanging two inches too high. (A basic econ rule to keep in mind that helps illuminate the issue: If you like regulation, you’re an asshole.)

•The left has Tom Tomorrow, combining clip-art-like cartooning with political lectures to the masses. The rest of us, thank goodness, now have OpToons, so check it out — and it’s nice to see mine isn’t the only site complaining about Janeane Garofalo.

•Meanwhile, in Arkansas: State Rep. Dan Greenberg spoke at the Tea Party rally there one week ago, and today you can find him on the Cato Institute’s Cato-Unbound site doing something libertarians rarely do: defending the wisdom of running for elected office.

I agree. If all libertarians became legislators and lawyers and policy analysts — and the leftists all became jazz musicians or painters — the country would be in much, much better shape.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Prostitution Debate, Marilyn Chambers Departure


Intelligence Squared U.S. is hosting a debate tonight at 6:45 at the Rockefeller University right here on York Ave. on whether it is morally wrong to exchange money for sex.

This, it seems to me, is a much more tricky question than whether prostitution ought to be legal.  Presumably, if a law code (to remain minimal and generally utility-enhancing) must hew to the underlying principle that people can do what they want with their own bodies and property (so long as they don’t use without permission others’ bodies or property), then prostitution must be legal.

One could consider the activity legally permissible and still think it a terrible way of life, though, even if only because it is something that arguably makes already-shallow people even more callous.  On the other hand, there may be a lot of otherwise lonely men out there who would’ve committed suicide or ended up on antidepressants by now absent hired female companionship.

Arguing (perhaps along completely different lines than I have) in favor of the moral acceptability of prostitution — the “pro-ho” side, if you will — will be famous madam Sydney Barrows, anthropologist Lionel Tiger, and libertarian economist Tyler Cowen.

Arguing against prostitution — the “no-ho” side — will be authoritarian feminist (but then, “authoritarian feminist” is a bit redundant) legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon, psychologist Melissa Farley, and Wendy Shalit (a self-appointed expert at a young age on matters of modesty and proper sexual behavior but also an eccentric and a deadbeat when it comes to completing writing assignments she’s been partially paid for, apparently — that, though, is a story for another time, despite the temptation to ask up front why we think she’s qualified to give moral advice).

Combining the moral and legal defenses of (a different kind of) sex work, the recently-deceased porn actress Marilyn Chambers ran for Vice President on the Personal Choice Party ticket, sounding almost libertarian (like a lot of Playboy types, I suspect) — and she was interviewed about it by J.R. Taylor (who’ll soon be shutting down his great blog RightWingTrash and likely replacing it with a more all-purpose one).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Punks Deferred, Conflicts Defused, Circles Squared


My main political focus my entire adult life has been on economics.  I’m sure I’m as guilty as countless other writers, though, of acting as though my positions are self-explanatory when they are in fact baffling even to some intelligent, well-meaning people.

In an effort to make things a bit clearer, below is a super-quick walk-through of the connections/phases in my basic thinking — and then let’s try to leave some of this behind as if starting fresh.

(I may refer people back to this post henceforth to avoid refighting some older battles.  I will spend the next couple weeks preparing for our May 6 animal welfare debate and mulling topics of that sort, then May blogging about nerds and June blogging about rock.  I’ll round out the summer with the completion of a more purely fun/creative non-blog project and perhaps a return to working on the long-delayed Conservatism for Punks manuscript, though I almost wish it’d just be rendered irrelevant and unnecessary by a Second American Revolution inspired by the Tea Parties.  And surely a comment like that mandates some explanation of where I’m coming from.)

•Happiness is good, suffering bad, as we know from direct experience and as is implicit in virtually all human effort, from getting out of bed to dreams of utopias, paradises, or simply better lunches.

•Basic economic reasoning suggests a close tie between utility and markets, since markets maximize the scope for voluntary transactions — doing with resources and one’s own energy what one prefers (instead of what one is forced to do against one’s wishes, which is by definition a diminution of utility, in the form of squelched preferences).

•For this reason, despite countless largely-imaginary metaphysical constructs — from dialectics to rights to gods to egalitarian ideals — that people use to shape seemingly-important political narratives in their heads, ostensible friends of the market (and property rights) always deserve an initially more-sympathetic hearing than avowed market foes (no matter how pure of heart and “well-meaning” the foes are and no matter what metaphysical claims they deploy to justify their predation on the energy and wealth of others).

•Thus conservatives’ defects have arguably been more tolerable — so long as at least some subset of conservatives were ostensibly aiming to shrink government and promote markets — than the defects of the left, who admittedly may at times do no more damage than the right but aim, however gradually, to build a non-market-based or substantially less market-based world (and are thus with almost all their domestic policy decisions threatening, long-term, to undermine civilization by undermining the market basis that makes it prosperous and happy).

•Conservatives failed to shrink government over the past three decades, for which they may deserve to be abandoned as useless, but this is no defense of modern liberals, who didn’t even try.  It is at least logically possible to abandon conservatism, liberalism, moderation, anarchism, and even libertarianism as ineffectual without committing any contradiction, something worth keeping in mind, lest we become complacent.

•Current stimulus spending to the tune of some $2 trillion, shoveled overwhelmingly to the already rich and well-connected (or the merely irresponsible), removes any remaining need to give the benefit of the doubt to liberal rhetoric about helping the deserving poor, changing the debate from the “business vs. workers” dynamic of past century or two to, at long last, “redistribution by self-serving government and government-tied elites vs. the simple moral/pragmatic discipline of allowing-to-fail.”

•This is such a night-and-day battle that most prior quibbling (including “cultural” questions across the spectrum, from the existence of God or the importance of sex and gender to the best forms of art and community) must, at least within the realm of policy debate, be deemed distractions.  Stop government spending.  Deregulate our economies.  Not just in America but around the world.  Civilization’s time is running out.

I have not forgotten my own opinions regarding countless other battles over religion, feminism, the political spectrum itself, foreign policy, and so forth, but these things look more and more petty — like doing art criticism in a burning museum — by contrast with the Obama-led final annihilation of markets now taking place.

Nonetheless, life is full of variety and one hates to become boring and single-minded, so tomorrow I’m attending a debate about prostitution.  Please forgive the distraction, about which I’ll write more tomorrow.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tea Parties and Trade Center Towers


An impressive urban skyline — made possible by commerce — is probably the most emphatic rebuke that can be delivered to people overly in love with nature, government projects, or imagined spiritual realms. Of course, you can argue about dialectics or metaphysics until the cows come home (presumably to a rural area like the ones that existed in the middle of Manhattan a mere century and a half ago — unless you’re opposed to cow-raising altogether, but we’ll argue about that at Lolita Bar on May 6). There’s little you can say, though, to rationalize away the difference between jet-black, impoverished North Korea at night and the glittering, ultramodern lights of South Korea nearby.

Just look at the photo survey of the world’s most impressive skylines that recently posted — most of them, unsurprisingly, in (relative) free-market bastions, in a world where anti-capitalism and thus poverty are still the norm, especially in the southern hemisphere.

And as one of the many intelligent speakers at the (sadly but predictably maligned) New York City Tea Party this past Wednesday said, NYC should be the ultimate testament to capitalism, not a place burdened by mounting taxes and public mismanagement. The Tea Party sprawled for blocks but was focused on the park to the south of City Hall, a tiny, roughly triangular area on the southern tip of Manhattan that sits between government (City Hall), commerce (in the form of Wall Street), and what should be a locus of even-more-global commerce (the World Trade Center site) but is now reportedly scheduled not to be completely built up again until 2030.

That’s disgraceful — though it’s not solely the infamous bureaucracy of the site’s complex public-private partnership that is causing the new, more long-term delay, supposedly, but also the expected time necessary for the real estate market (and thus rental prices at the site) to bounce back from the financial crisis, which is also pathetic and sad, albeit in a slightly more complex way.

I said a few years ago in Reason that I wish the site were already restored, privately, perhaps with a jaunty neo-Art Deco flair instead of a mournful or overly modern look, not that I’m picky. I would just prefer not to have to say the terrorists damaged the world’s best skyline and kept it that way for a third of a century. (Nonetheless, I’ll entertain myself by seeing New York get blown up in Watchmen a fourth time tonight at the 7:10 Union Square show.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tea Party vs. Gov't, Garofalo, and Andrew Sullivan (plus: Bruno vs. Ron Paul)


There’s another Tea Party occurring, in western New York State, today at 1pm, so I say go be part of history if you’re in that area.  Regardless of what your ostensible political philosophy is, it probably rests upon some vision of the world as it ought to be — and in the meantime, in the real world, government is an engine of predation and reckless wealth reallocation, and you should encourage the rebellious new effort to say no to it.

That’s true whether you called yourself conservative, liberal, green, communitarian, or something else as recently as last year, before the elite-aiding, deadbeat-encouraging pilfering became quite as obvious to one and all as it is now.  Stop this crazy thing, please.  It no more instantiates your vision of an ideal world (poverty-free? Christian? animal-friendly? what have you) than a corrupt church demanding tithes rids the world of sin, much as both institutions might point to the continued existence of problems in the world as reason you must submit.


Of course, as you might have seen among the Drudge-linked stories on the Tea Parties, Janeane Garofalo has determined that the whole ostensible protest against taxing and spending is just “straight-up racism” — a mere pretext for objecting to a black president.

Well, two black men were among the half-dozen or so conservatives co-hosting the reportedly 12,000-strong Tea Party gathering I attended Wednesday night in downtown Manhattan (mentioned only in passing in two sentences in the Times, which implied turnout was light and disappointing across the country, without noting the immense roaring throng in their own strongly-Democrat hometown).  And I don’t recall the crowd cheering for the black co-hosts with any less enthusiasm than for the white ones.

I think it’s very, very important to remember (with help from comments like Garofalo’s) just how stupid the media really are the next time they criticize capitalism or conservatism.  Circumstances will no doubt afford them many opportunities to do so — but the right’s screw-ups do not somehow vindicate the left’s and the media’s own vapid views.

Saying “Bush is an idiot” in 2006 did not make you intelligent — even if you spoke the truth.  Mocking us Tea Party protesters doesn’t make you smart (or tolerant) either — nor does it make ex-comediennes funny again, which is the real tragedy.  If people sound like idiots when they disagree with you, it’s very important — albeit sometimes difficult — to keep in mind that they’re still idiots when they say things you agree with.


On a closely related note, Andrew Sullivan — long a bizarre and embarrassing study in arrogantly condemning one’s own former positions (and those who hold them) as moronic without, somehow, developing a hint of humility about one’s own fallibility — has to my mind finally, conclusively proven that libertarians ought to consider him an asshole.

Enraptured by Obama, Sullivan dismissed the Tea Parties as “tantrums” — despite the version of Sullivan from the day before yesterday supposedly thinking (as I do) that a turn toward economics and away from religious and military causes is just what the right needs.

Sullivan asks where these protesters were in 2003 when Bush was big-spending and flouting the Constitution.  I’m going to guess many of the well-meaning folk were reading Andrew Sullivan’s radically pro-Bush blog back then.  What a fucking moron.  And I don’t care how widely-read or famous he is — so’s Shirley MacLaine.

As it happens, Sullivan also decided yesterday to start attacking Abe Greenwald, occasional attender of our Manhattan Project gatherings and past debater at Lolita Bar.  But you see, so cold-bloodedly objective am I, that I am bothered more by Sullivan’s betrayal of the Tea Parties than by his horror at Abe’s pro-torture jokes.  That’s why you can trust me.  And Abe can take care of himself.  He’s a lot funnier than Sullivan, for starters.


I know we can’t trust Sullivan, but like a lot of people, I can’t quite decide whether to trust Sullivan’s Atlantic colleague turned Times columnist Ross Douthat.  In any case, despite him also sounding a bit condescending toward the Tea Parties, he makes up for it with a striking final paragraph and graph that remind us government is far more insane than anything the Tea Party zealots can dish out.

Speaking of trust, Ron Paul should not have trusted Sacha Baron Cohen in his “Bruno” prankster-interviewer guise.  But then, proving Paul doesn’t recognize Bruno is not all that impressive, given that the seventy-four year-old Paul admits to not being in touch with pop culture — and probably hadn’t even heard of the Sex Pistols before appearing on Leno with them.

By the way, Jen Dziura, who pointed out the Ron Paul/Bruno conflict to me, also recently noted a baffling example of New York’s purportedly cash-strapped transportation system seeming to waste money on a sign that serves no easily-comprehensible purpose.  (And still they call people who don’t want government to get our money the crazy ones?)


This article on CBS News’s site does a far better job than the Times of capturing the tone — and even the transpartisan nature — of the New York City Tea Party.  On a more anecdotal level, I keep hearing New York liberal/media types saying encouraging things like, “I’ve always supported the Democrats, but I’m really worried about what they’re doing now” — and that’s step one on the road to a clue.

This, at long last, is the beginning of focused ire against government spending, I think — the beginning that should have happened in 1964, 1980, 1989, and 1994.

If Establishment-flattering, servile people like Andrew Sullivan want to stand on the sidelines, assuring us they’re superior and repelled by the grubby masses, they’re welcome to do so.  Speaking as part of those grubby masses, I think there’s something more positive going on here than I’ve seen in American politics in my lifetime.

And before the media begin their no doubt anti-gun reminiscences about the Columbine massacre on Monday’s tenth anniversary, do take a moment to remember that tomorrow is the 234th anniversary of the Shot Heard Round the World that started the American Revolution, which I hope we still consider an even more important event.  Right?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Space Ghost of Comedy Past


Taxes, dammit. But let’s look back at the high hopes that were aroused around this time of year fifteen years ago — in 1994. Yes, it was that year, on April 15, that America made a “contract with comedy,” if you will — in the form of the debut of the retro-surreal TV show Space Ghost Coast to Coast.

In truth, I bring this up not by way of introducing a reminiscence about the show (or the daring packaging for one of its DVDs, festooned with real, non-amusing, uninterestingly lukewarm reviews from various mildly unimpressed critics) but merely in hopes of making you feel as old as I do. Space Ghost Coast to Coast began fifteen years ago, a mere five years after The Simpsons — and five before Family Guy, which turns ten this year.

Isn’t it time you made retirement plans, or perhaps simply started the weary slog toward the nearest graveyard? (Two years left until the twentieth-anniversary celebrations for the release of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Get ready for the grunge revival, if your ears have stopped ringing from the last time we did the 90s.)


Speaking of The Simpsons and Nirvana, have you noticed that in the “college in the 90s” flashback episode of The Simpsons, they more or less imply that Marge and Homer were in college for the entire decade, since Kurt Cobain is alive and stealing Homer’s sound (presumably circa 1990) at the beginning and Clinton is being mocked for the Lewinsky scandal (presumably circa 1998) at the end? Homer’s recovery from his insulin addiction may have taken several years after college, of course. Or as Lisa’s mathematical scrawlings at the beginning of the episode suggest, there may be no hope of creating a coherent Simpsons timeline.

Of course, since the Cobain scene was a Back to the Future homage, it’s also possible that smack gave Cobain himself the power of time travel, making it possible for Homer to invent grunge in 1998, albeit at great risk to the integrity of the timestream.

(Should I not think about it too much? I’m reminded of my friend Ali Kokmen worrying once that an Elmo TV special he’d seen was sloppy about its time travel rules and seemed to suggest that present-day Elmo simply replaced past-Elmo when traveling back in time, arguably a sort of self-murder that leaves one wondering what happens when present-day Elmo returns to his own time. Where is Dr. Bunsen Honeydew when you need him? As for where I’ll be tomorrow night, speaking of comedy, music, and retro stuff: seeing Richard Cheese at Webster Hall.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Republicans and Populism


That recent poll suggesting 53% of Americans prefer capitalism to socialism didn’t strike me as too alarming. Polls mainly reveal that the public has few ideas so firmly fixed that they can’t be changed with a little rewording (70% had earlier said they favor the “free market”). Two things that did strike me about the numbers, though:

•Anyone (such as “liberaltarians”) hoping to make the case that Democrats are no more socialist than Republicans should take note of the fact that while Democrats were roughly evenly split in the poll between avowed capitalists, socialists, and undecideds, Republicans preferred capitalism by a whopping 11 to 1. If the country were all Republicans, we’d probably be in fairly good shape. (There’d still be that baffling 1 in 12 anti-capitalist Republican, who is either confused or a Huckabee supporter.)

•The public’s widely-held perception (more populist than leftist) of big business colluding with government is pretty accurate, I gotta say. We may need to think more about how to channel the justified anger on that front, especially now (though elected politicians of either party will be a tad resistant to rocking the corporatist-statist boat, obviously).

The contrast between the public’s reaction to “capitalism” (meh) and “free markets” (yay) almost suggests that we purported intellectuals should simply follow the public in making the same terminological distinction. (Down with bank bailouts and auto subsidies — not to mention all the thousands of other rarely-mentioned subsidies for the money-making elite that existed before the current mess. But up with property, entrepreneurs, etc.)

I’d be OK with a vast upsurge in (anti-government, anti-crony-corporate) “populism,” with all its dopey, unacademic tendencies, if it looked less like Huey Long and more like Tim Carney/Robert Novak populism — and like the Tea Party protests, such as the one I discussed on yesterday. We can also discuss all this at tonight’s Manhattan Project (as noted in my right margin), if you care to join us, in any sense of the words.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Me on PJTV for Tea Party

If all goes as planned, you’ll be able to watch me on Pajamas Media’s PJTV here (with subscription [CORRECTION: sign-in apparently suffices]) tonight anytime from 7pm or so on, I believe, talking about the Tea Party protest (against government spending) that I’ll be attending at about that same time downtown at NYC City Hall (join me).

The Tea Parties seem to me another massive rebuke to the idea that “liberaltarianism,” rather than conservative-libertarian fusionism, is where it’s at. Check out the thoroughly conservative and thoroughly libertarian roots of the Tea Party protest phenomenon — and keep in mind who the participants currently regard as public enemy #1 (hint: he’s in the White House).

Personally, I’d love it if the Tea Parties did attract left-populists, though, given the role of Wall Street subsidy recipients and the big banks in our current financial woes — and a grand fusionism focused on anti-government econ goals yet including libertarians, social conservatives, fiscally prudent Democrats, angry populists, and “liberaltarians” too would be awesome, timely, and very beneficial. But I can make do with a gathering tonight that at least spans the spectrum from me to likely attenders Newt Gingrich and Doug Dechert.

Meanwhile, it’s nice to see Texas’s governor (unsurprisingly, also motivated more by conservative than liberal impulses) declaring that state’s continued independence from Washington, DC. I’ll bet Texans would not respond to that recent rescue-from-pirates by saying, as one Reuters article did, that some observers fear the rescue operation will cause the pirates to “escalate” their activities. I mean, I can see the argument for saying that if you leave Russia, China, or Iraq alone, they may just mind their own business — but pirates? They do piracy. You fail to punish them, they do more piracy. Do we think punishing crime is a bad idea now, Reuters?

Of course, my economist acquaintance Pete Leeson, author of The Invisible Hook, would note that left to their own devices, the pirates might even develop anarchic constitutions eventually, which would be cool, but I think he’d agree we’re not obliged to wait for the process to occur in this case.

One more libertarian note: This may be my favorite CollegeHumor item ever, and not just because it mentions Ron Paul.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

If Meat Is Murder, and Fur Is Murder...


…is meat fur?  That would certainly taste awful.

Maybe I should leave the animal welfare questions to Steven Pinker and our May 6 debaters, though, and tomorrow — April 15 — get back to talking about questions of political economy (on the day of the Tea Party protest at New York City Hall — be there, 7pm).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cyberspace, Meatspace, Meat-Eating


Four of the most interesting libertarianish types I know have blogged less this year, while a fifth admits he mostly blogs photos of his plants lately (and with DC Comics’ climactic “Final Crisis” storyline mostly over, reading about comics seems kind of pointless, too).  The Onion also seemed a bit perfunctory the first few months of the year.  I blame the dispiriting economy for this lull — and don’t think I regard my own circa-March entries as my best work, either (Helen, by contrast, will make up for the lull by writing regularly for American Spectator this summer).

I get nervous whenever Virginia Postrel goes too long without blogging, frankly (I’m not the only one, I’m sure).  I knew she was scheduled to end her year-long chemo treatments around late February, when her blog posts stopped for a long time, but I see she’s done an Atlantic piece since then, posted items on her DeepGlamour blog, and is probably busily finishing writing her Glamour book as well, so things are OK on that front.

Luckily, even when cyberspace doesn’t offer enough material to foster quality procrastination (if, for instance, one is trying to avoid finishing up one’s taxes, the same weekend one has an anti-government letter on, one can always resort to hearing ideas debated in meatspace.  And thanks to a generous Gerry Ohrstrom, Helen and I got to see linguist and evolutionary psychology popularizer Steven Pinker live in conversation with Tom Wolfe yesterday, a great excuse for not finishing the taxes just yet.

Pinker would also sympathize with the pro-animal position in our oft-mentioned upcoming upcoming May 6 Debate at Lolita Bar.  Wolfe, I assume, is as carnivorous as his namesake — and one of my biggest influences.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Seavey in New York Times! Rawls on God! Magneto as Paint! Debates as Audio!


This weekend, the New York Times (online only) ran my letter defending the “Tea Party” protests going on around the country. As my front page right margin suggests, I’ll attend one on Wednesday — and recount it to you on Thursday at the bar Merchants NY East, if you join me there.

On a related note, the Times’ Opinionator blog did a nice roundup of recent reactions to the resurgence in open use of the term “socialism,” something that I think is actually fairly healthy, in that at least the real enemy is finally lumbering into view.


Of course, welfare-statism is not precisely the same thing as socialism and does not necessarily have the same philosophical underpinnings (if that even matters for practical purposes). Indeed, it now appears that the most popular academic-philosophical argument for welfare-state liberalism over the past forty years or so was rooted all along in…religion — a fitting surprise for this Easter Sunday.

As Jacob Levy recently noted, John Rawls’ early, later downplayed conviction was that we are all equal in the eyes of God and thus should not experience radically different social outcomes even if we differ in exertion, value to customers, or other markers of earthly merit. Tempting as it is to respond to this in an upbeat way — Rawls is more eclectic than we realized! — it also means the tough Randian or atheist-anarchist approach of throwing out religion and the state together looks more and more necessary.

Whether you’re up against the statist Taliban or the religious/metaphysical egalitarians of Western welfare states, you face foes unfazed by empirical reality — yet happy to deploy violence against you. Religion, as I’ve often said, may not be wholly evil but is certainly an unreliable political ally (by contrast, secular Robert Nozick is the libertarian philosopher often used in political philosophy classes as the chief foil of Rawls).


Consider: (1) We did an April 1 debate on religion’s possible morally-beneficial effects, without getting quite as political about it as I just did. (2) Today is Easter. (3) May 6 brings our debate on animal welfare. (4) And (as also currently noted in my front page right margin) this blog’s theme for May is nerd culture, as it was during last year’s flurry of pre-summer film releases.

But, you no doubt ask, can all four of these themes be summed up in one glorious painting — maybe something involving a nerd version of a Franciscan friar? Thanks to artist Brandon Bird — and the true mutant savior, Magneto — they can.

(Absurdist Robyn Hitchcock — who I saw last night in concert — would be pleased by the bizarre combo, I think. So, too, might a band with whom he’ll apparently be appearing at Radio City Music Hall in July: the funny and poetic Decemberists, well represented on my iPod thanks to girlfriend Helen. Try their songs “The Legionnaire’s Lament” and “Sixteen Military Wives” for starters — not to mention the ghostly “Leslie Ann Levine” and leftist-loving “Valerie Plame.”)

Brandon Bird is also, of course, the genius behind this painting of Bea Arthur and this one of Michael Landon. He is not the director of The Incredibles, though. That was Brad Bird.

In other Magneto-meets-Jesus news suitable for Easter and libertarians, by the way, Ian McKellen will apparently play the villainous No. 2 and James Caviezel (who played the title character in Passion of the Christ) will be No. 6 in the imminent UK remake of The Prisoner. Here’s hoping they work in some line about No. 2 being like a wizard and No. 6 being a savior figure — Patrick McGoohan was Catholic, after all.


Speaking of our April 1 religion debate, here is audio of that momentous evening. Here is a completely unrelated text story about a crazy woman committing a religiously-themed murder-suicide that sounds like it involved some rather odd theology. (I’m not suggesting getting rid of religion just to prevent a few inevitable crazies from using it as inspiration — though if the crazies among us are inevitable, maybe we shouldn’t be giving them any extra reasons to believe that the world really is full of demonic forces, voices from beyond, etc.)

The debate prior to our religion one was about sci-fi, and all you Nybakken and Raspler fans will definitely have to read my “Month of the Nerd II” entries starting in two and a half weeks for more such musings.

And the debate back in February, one month prior to our sci-fi one, was on the question “Has the Right Hit Bottom Yet?” — of which an audio file can be found here [UPDATE: Oops -- not any longer; FURTHER UPDATE: OK, see link in second comment below]. If this Tea Party phenomenon becomes the sort of grand-fusionist “conservative + libertarian + econ-focused + Founders-invoking + populist (even left-populist) + timely” phenomenon I’ve been longing for, maybe the right’s resurgence — or more important, a fiscally-sound America’s resurgence — really is at hand. More on that come mid-week.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Kafkaesque Thoughts Between "Terminator" and Easter


My Arkansas state representative pal Dan Greenberg mentioned looking forward to the show Parks and Recreation, which (thank goodness!) mocks local-government bureaucracy — and speaking of bureaucracy, he also noted this Onion piece about a Kafka-inspired, globally-confusing airport (noted on the NYT blog due to the Onion’s interesting, lines-blurring recruitment of a veteran CNN anchor).

Kafka also famously wrote about a man who awakes to find himself metamorphosed into a cockroach, a tale no weirder, I suppose, than:

•songs about, for instance, a man made out of balloons — by odd rocker Robyn Hitchcock, who Helen, Francis Heaney, Rose White, and I will see in concert tonight;

•God becoming a human becoming a resurrected human, a purported event Helen and some of my other acquaintances will celebrate tomorrow;

•animals becoming the moral near-equals of humans, as they have in some people’s eyes (though until humans transform into cockroaches, even the pro-animal people at our upcoming May 6 Debate at Lolita Bar on animal welfare will likely keep killing bugs);

•and the likely-dead Terminator series about robots becoming humanoid, which had its season finale last night (with the hoped-for teaser for next month’s film — a potential blockbuster that I would think might inspire Fox to want an associated TV show again after all).

A recent interview with Josh Friedman, Brown alum and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles producer, didn’t clarify whether the show is officially canceled — but it did contain this amusing quote from Friedman about his envy of the Terminator movie’s far larger budget:

They spend more on a day of re-shoots than we do on a whole episode of our show. They did some re-shoots on our lot and we had our set where we had built a nuclear submarine. I was pretty proud of it until one of our writers called me out and showed me a huge Terminator-type stealth bomber that they had for the film. It was just some pick-up shots that they were doing for the movie. There was a big helicopter crash in the parking lot and that was just like one day of [Terminator Salvation director] McG doing what he does. It’s like when you were a kid and you go over to your friend’s house and they have better snacks. Unless you’re going to take a box of Oreos home with you, you’re just screwed. You’re just left wishing that your parents were that cool.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Termination of the Species

Lest anyone think I always value nerdhood more than rock, I have to say that I actually find myself less impressed when I hear songs by Garbage — with Shirley Manson’s cold, emotionless vocals — now that I’ve seen her play a Terminator on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which comes to end (barring some last-minute reprieve) with tonight’s episode.

Somehow, even when I hear something cool like Garbage’s cover of “The Butterfly Collector” on Fire & Skill, an album of Jam covers, I now find myself thinking, “It sounds like she’s trying to be a cyborg — oh, yeah, she is a cyborg!” In fact, I strongly suspect it was this video specifically that got her the role.

Similarly, Tom Waits seems a bit lamer if you think of his whole shtick culminating in him playing Renfield in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That is not to say I think less of Manson as a person — or think less of Waits — for doing sci-fi. You know I’d do it. Cyborgs seem to be rampant in the UK, by the way: Witness the very 80s-New-Wave-like video for “Bullet” by Covenant [CORRECTION: Covenant is from Sweden!  As the Sounds and other bands suggest, Sweden is really getting with the program in recent years].

On a related note, some of the final-segment dramatic slo-mo montage moments on the Terminator show have employed such odd music choices, including last week’s singing of the folk song “Donald, Where’s Your Trousers?” by a young girl and a male Terminator as if it were a funeral ballad, which was very distracting — and mere minutes after an amusing scene in which the girl said that the Shirley Manson character “can’t sing.” It would have been roughly fifty times cooler, I have to admit, if Shirley Manson had decided to prove her wrong. Instead: trousers.

Using a title like “Donald, Where’s Your Trousers?” sort of makes sense if the artificial intelligence that infected the male Terminator in a recent episode was a spambot pitching some sort of aphrodisiac, though, I suppose.

P.S. Although I mocked my vegan friends a bit in yesterday’s entry, with our May 6 animal welfare debate coming up, I should pause to ask myself whether I’d want super-intelligent cyborgs to treat us as callously as we sometimes do animals.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Word from PETA


With our bar debate on animal welfare coming up on May 6, it’s worth noting that one charge against the wacky animal rights group (and occasional terrorism sponsor) PETA is not as heinous as it first appears. They were found to be euthanizing animals and in some cases improperly disposing of the carcasses despite seeming to offer perpetual loving care. Good for a laugh and charges of hypocrisy, except that as they illustrate with these disturbing retort photos (DO NOT SAY YOU WEREN’T WARNED), sometimes euthanasia is the kindest option — indeed, sometimes it’s hard to believe animals are still alive to be euthanized. Thanks — I think — for pointing those pics out goes to my vegan pal Diana Fleischman (one of my vegan pals, I should say — almost all of them female, as is the general pattern with meat-avoidance, whether philosophical or neurotic).

On a brighter note, here’s a story containing the phrase “the dog apprehended one suspect” — which makes poochie sound almost like he does paperwork. Paperwork or not, he’s laying down the law (and the Onion, which had some better than usual stuff up this week, weighed in on the related issue of anthropomorphizing animals, or rather, a golden retriever did) — but the most inspiring dog story of the week is surely this one, no doubt destined to become a Disney movie very, very soon, complete with desert island survival tactics and a happy ending.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Think Globally -- and Badly


I criticized populists and isolationists of various sorts over the past few days — but that shouldn’t be taken to mean (as some cosmopolitan globalist-establishment types are understandably inclined to think) that people with big visions involving the entire, interconnected world are necessarily less dangerous — nor even that they are any more sophisticated in their thinking.  Take Al Gore, that heavy-handed, unscientific propagandist recently awarded a Nobel Prize (by one of the globe’s most politicized and elite political elites).

The unsubtle simplicity of Gore’s book titles makes me suspect that (admirably, I suppose) he actually chooses them himself: Earth in the Balance, An Inconvenient Truth, The Assault on Reason, Our Purpose, and coming in November: Our Choice — not to mention the less-than-nuanced titles on his coauthored books, such as Putting People First (with Bill Clinton).  Maybe next he’ll do Hooray for Citizens, Stop Bad Things, or Making Life Good.

The pro-local, isolationist folks may limit our options in some very crippling ways, but they also have the advantage of inflicting any one nut’s ideas on a relatively small group of people.  Better a village idiot than a global-village idiot.

(And perhaps our May 6 debate on animal welfare, come to think of it, will have some divergent opinions, even just in the pro-animal side of the crowd, on the relative virtues of local and global societies.  The ideal, of course, is keeping the stupid ideas local and letting the good ones travel, even if that always risks making snooty people think they can sort the good from the bad with a simple local-is-stupid rubric.  On balance, I favor letting markets sort it out.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Global Poverty and Boxin' Cats


In yesterday’s entry, I worried about the false impression, to which many people are inclined, that a less-connected, more local world would be a happier, safer, stabler, more prosperous one.  I’m not knocking idyllic little villages when you can find one (and still have access to supplies from outside when needed), but the Cato Institute’s Tom Palmer notes in this video (pointed out by Don Boudreaux) what happens when dreams of pleasant isolation take the all too common form of trade barriers and protectionism (on the rise now, at the worst possible time).

In short: the poor suffer most.  And a vile curse be upon every anti-capitalist intellectual and protection-seeking businessman, politician, labor union, antiglobalization student activist, or Buchananite who has contributed to the problem.

But if that video’s simply too heavy for you, here, in a funny clip that’s an old classic by accelerated YouTube time-standards, are boxing cats — who, in keeping with our plans for a May 6 Lolita debate on animal welfare, can be seen as a reminder of callous human exploitation or as a reminder that animals are naturally a violent lot, with humans merely providing fascinated commentary from the sidelines most of the time.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Populist Revolt and Distributivist Dreams


Yesterday, I mentioned the problem of phony capitalism warped by political elites.  I worry that this — not any specific, more temporary stock market fluctuation — may be what’s keeping stocks low (despite some recent improvement).

That is, much as I’d like to agree with optimists who say we’ll soon recover from this slump as from all the earlier ones — what if this time is a bit special in that people have lost their faith not in any specific stocks or even whole types of stocks but in the very idea that the stock market will behave rationally, be regulated and/or bailed out “impartially,” and generally reflect conscientious, sound economic decision-making?

What if the terrifying full depth of our tragic situation (as summed up by future historians, if any) is that we’ve reached the limits of abstract, impersonal trust — screwed by stock markets and now doomed to have our fates controlled by banks, political bodies, and the UN climate czars — yet are unable in any effective way to rebel by “going local,” since there’s only so much one cranky right-wing man with a blunderbuss or one cranky left-wing woman with a Molotov cocktail (so to speak) can do against vast, impersonal forces shaped as much by stupidity and simple intellectual error as by any sinister, identifiable cabal.

It might be wisest to just stock up on canned goods, wait out the current extended order’s collapse (which will be accompanied throughout by the socialistic intellectuals’ cries for “More of the same!”), and quietly build new ways and new networks while the older ones shatter.  Maybe our best hope is not the recovery of the stock market or the economy as we know it but people fifty years from now (using highly decentralized e-currency and backyard nuclear power plants) saying, “Oil and the New York Stock Exchange were important once?  I didn’t know that.”

Luckily, the world has changed as drastically before, so this is not a completely idle hope.  I don’t think the obvious outlets for frustration with the existing order — some sort of likely-ignorant populist revolt or “distributivist” dream of keeping the economy local, organic, sustainable, small, and crunchy- or left-anarchic (i.e., inefficient, disconnected, wasteful, and poor) — will have much to do with building an eventual better future, though.  May just have to watch for surprisingly good new things to happen.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Potemkin Capitalism (and a few Asia thoughts)


In last week’s Book Selection(s) of the Month entry, I mentioned the comic book character Octobriana, ostensibly created by underground Soviet artists as a bit of anarchist subversion but really created by one hoaxing Czech writer. In a similarly complex case of a fake-fake, it’s possible that the original story of “Potemkin villages” — fake villages created by minister Potemkin to exaggerate the extent of Catherine the Great’s new conquests — may be apocryphal.

Nonetheless, like Octobriana, the idea of Potemkin villages is a valuable one, and I can’t help thinking that the U.S. (like the fascists before us, if I can say that without alarming everyone) often practices a sort of Potemkin capitalism. That is, we have the outward forms (or conventionally-assumed forms) of capitalism — the business suits, the logos, the money — while government redistribution tends always to artificially move money up the social ladder (not downward, even in times less strange than these), regulation stymies innovation and creativity by mandating that familiar patterns be followed, and bailouts and subsidies perpetuate failed business models while making things more difficult for less well-connected newcomers without teams of lawyers and lobbyists.

But that’s not all: The really perverse part that has worried me for many years — long before the current bailout madness — is that if you live in a half-government-run economy that maintains the outward forms of capitalism, it is nearly inevitable that when things go badly, people will notice and blame those outward forms before looking at the deeper systemic problems. To take a case far simpler and more familiar than recent stock shenanigans: if regulations cause prices to rise, people will get angry at the local seller of bread long before they ever stop to read up on farm subsidies and get angry at Congress.

(People are much more short-term in their thinking than even the most crass political campaign consultants normally recognize, I think: They’ll passively accept doubled taxes while getting angry at a new tollbooth simply because the tollbooth is more visible, more easily targeted with focused ire — it’s instinct.)

And Congress (both parties) loves it that people blame business first. Who doesn’t want to deflect blame and look like the savior instead of the source of problems? That’s the very essence of politics. Government is always the ostensible cure, and as long as economic problems (of course) manifest themselves in economic forms — layoffs, business failures, higher prices — the private sector will always be the ostensible disease, right up until there isn’t any private sector anymore. And as the Soviet experience shows, you can go right on blaming the capitalists even after the private sector has been destroyed. Leftist activists and intellectuals will certainly play along, with pride, when the time comes.

I remember being lectured by East German students when I arrived at Brown about how superior their country’s economic system — particularly its socialized healthcare system — was to the U.S.’s, a mere two years before their superior country ceased to exist. That level of arrogance and error — and that denouement — are worth keeping in mind as the likes of Paul Krugman and Barack Obama tell the world’s governments to spend their way out of current economic woes.

In barely-related news, I just want to note that I think it’s amusing that the Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia expert is named Elizabeth Economy and want to note that this month sees the twentieth-anniversary re-release of a novel about the Viet Nam War experience by Richard Currey called Fatal Light, if you’re in the mood for a reminder that government manages things badly but aren’t ready to apply that important lesson to economic matters just yet.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dinosaur Crimes


“Dinosaur crimes!”  The phrase could mean many things:

•Perhaps the offense against scientific standards of rationality committed by “young-Earth creationists” (of whom we likely had none in last night’s skeptic-heavy debate audience, which, despite a courageous and very well-received effort by Rabbi Simcha, voted overwhelmingly that religion does not make people better).

•Perhaps cruelty toward animals (the topic of our next Lolita Bar debate, on May 6), facilitated by time travel.

•Perhaps illegal tampering with ancient bones, as described in the headline of this article.

•Or just maybe: the name of my classic rock cover band, if I ever start one.  Oh, yeah.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Book Selection: It's Not Easy Being Green, Radical, Dumb, Moronic, Cowardly, Comic, or Broke

dumbocracy.JPG Book Selection(s) of the Month (April Fool’s Day 2009)

Ten idiocy-related texts for this April Fool’s Day (which is also the day of our big Debate at Lolita Bar about religion between Secular Conscience author Austin Dacey and Up, Up, and Oy Vey!/Shtick Shift author Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, of course):

It’s Not Easy Being Green and Other Things to Consider by Jim Henson (edited by Cheryl Henson): Kermit the Frog might be even more relevant a month from now, when our debate topic will be animal welfare, but today he interests me mainly because this book, filled with his creator Jim Henson’s relentlessly optimistic and life-affirming sayings, plus affirmations from the people (and Muppets) around him, is such an endearing case of taking the opposite approach from my own basic philosophical orientation (critical, analytical, and dissecting, in the Enlightenment style) — the Henson approach, like that of all good artists, is simply building something positive that makes criticism and griping beside the point. I hope it’s possible to do both — “Rainbow Connection” contains some rather dopey, sentimental, Hollywood-dreamy, anti-rational advice, but it’s a wonderful song, isn’t it? (Much better than anything in Labyrinth, if you ask me — so I’ll have to introduce young Helen to the older and far superior Muppet Movie, much as her cohort seems to love Labyrinth.)

Still, it’s also fun to have Kermit’s unauthorized opposite, SadKermit, around — seen here singing Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt.” I don’t want to know anyone who genuinely prefers SadKermit to Kermit at the end of the day, though, which is worth keeping in mind when making psychological evaluations, especially among hipsters.

Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey: An adult from civilization who’d rather chuck it all and live among animals in the wild is in some important sense a moron, an ingrate, a traitor to the cause of human advancement, and an idyllically-inclined naif. And yet…there is something about being out there in the great outdoors and breathing free — as Abbey, writing at the 1968 peak of chuck-it-all sentiment in the U.S. — was well aware, explicitly juxtaposing his year as a park ranger and its simple pleasures with the interlocking, hyper-complex insanities of our fragile modern world and its regimented, clockwork lifestyles (like the “anti-work” anarchist Bob Black, he sees Soviets and American industrialized citizenry as almost interchangeable in their robotic predictability and servility).

In the long run, I suspect we’ll use high technology precisely to recreate the peace and quiet Abbey found by running away to the desert instead of gorging on ever more confetti-like bits of fast-paced, media-driven, twittered and tweeted distraction. Or at least I have no plans to upgrade my old TV rabbit ears when the great digital conversion comes, which is a small start (by the way, my sophomore roommate from Brown, Marc Steiner, is a tad green and from Spokane, WA, so it’ll be interesting to hear his reaction to that Drudge-linked story about Spokane residents being reduced to smuggling to get non-green dishwashing liquids — a reminder the greens are dismantling civilization, one product at a time).

Terrorism, Radicalism, and Populism in Agriculture by Luther Tweeten: Liking the idea of more time for pseudo-agrarian moments in the long run does not make anti-biotech, anti-agribusiness, anti-trade radicalism and terrorism a good idea in the short term (or ever), though, and Luther Tweeten, who has been covering these sorts of topics for decades now, does a great job in this volume of rationally, calmly surveying the various animal-loving, plant-liberating, ostensibly friendly-hippie-sounding movements now out there burning down homes, smashing labs, and uprooting potentially Third World-rescuing crops. You might want to hand this volume to the next college-age green-primitivist type you run into — possibly at that May 6 debate I mentioned earlier (but more about that in a few weeks).

Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots by Marty Beckerman: Possibly the most valuable book ever written, Beckerman’s simple approach here is to spend time talking to radicals across the political spectrum, and his simple message is that virtually all of them are delusional jerks eager to control your life. If this point were as obvious to everyone as it is to the very funny Beckerman, we’d be in OK shape and could largely ignore politics, the way we were meant to.

Cyril Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons” (readable online): The obvious inspiration for the amazing eugenics-based Mike Judge comedy film Idiocracy as well as the “B Ark” sequence from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a similar scene in a Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episode, this 1951 short story (recommended to me, like a few short stories in my planned Book Selections entries for the fall, by Arkansas legislator Dan Greenberg) depicts a future struggling to deal with the fact that the less-intelligent people have for centuries been outbreeding the smarter ones, with consequences that (a) none of us are supposed to talk about, (b) I am personally planning to do nothing to alleviate reproductionwise, and (c) will either have to be solved by a defrosted hero from a brainier past, as in this short story and Idiocracy, or by genetic engineering and cybernetic enhancements. I’m doing my small part to promote the engineering/enhancement solution.

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce: I had planned to meet up with my London-bus-driving friend Joe Brennan and my job-needing genius/hot chick girlfriend Helen Rittelmeyer at the pleasant bar/literary locus Half King two weeks ago to hear a reading from a book called Quiverfull about a movement by that name with thousands of adherents in modern America that strives to teach females Biblical-style, old-fashioned subservience to father and husband from birth, often homeschooling with an emphasis on kitchen chores and the like — and having as many babies as possible. I ended up being the only one who could make it to the reading, so I didn’t get to hear the reactions of Catholic-turned-atheist Joe or outspoken, Ivy League-educated religious-traditionalist and anti-feminist Helen to the whole strange phenomenon.

I’m against it (but don’t call me a feminist — and don’t ask me to applaud if the state intervenes). For good or ill, though, is it all really that much stranger than the upbringings of some of the acquaintances of Rabbi Weinstein who might even show up at tonight’s debate — or for that matter, the Orthodox upbringing of, say, Shterna Friedman, the smart and seemingly well-adjusted managing editor of the libertarian journal Critical Review? (Not that I mean to imply they’re all interchangeable, obviously.) Beats swear-filled white trash brawls over who stole the remote control, perhaps, and that is, after all, the default mode of socialization in the U.S., I sometimes suspect.

•And speaking of Critical Review, in Vol. 20, No. 4, just out, you’ll find me quoted in the transcript of their August 31, 2008 Boston conference, p. 520, for Seavey completists — during a daylong discussion of the very substantial but rarely-acknowledged fact of the public’s near-total ignorance on politics. I said this to a panel featuring Jeffrey Friedman, Ilya Somin, and others:

TODD SEAVEY: Hello. Sort of a two-part, depressing question. If you draw people’s attention to how dire public ignorance is, do you think it might simply encourage people to start reading more about politics and become members of that very dogmatic class that are already at the top of things, and now you’ve just got a bigger dogma-loving, fighting, feuding class, and maybe things get worse? And then secondly, is there a danger that drawing attention to public ignorance might just encourage diabolical statist monsters like Cass Sunstein to think that they have a new argument for why elites should run everything and come up with new regulations for herding the stupid ignorant masses? Like in Nudge, I mean is it possible that the more clear it becomes that the public is ignorant, the more the technocrats will have a plausible argument for letting them run everything?

What did the panelists say in response? Subscribe to Critical Review and learn the thrilling answer.

In Character: A Journal of Everyday Virtues: There are, of course, subtler ways of inculcating polite, respectful behavior than cultishness and dogmatism — take for example this excellent, moderate, reasoned quarterly about one core ethical principle per month (such as Courage, in the most recent issue). It’s so encouraging to see these basic topics addressed without the usual partisan or culture-war craziness. Copies of In Character for every school in the land, say I.

Meltdown: by Tom Woods: To teach people about the current economic crisis, by contrast, I recommend a book by one of my fellow Tuesday Night Traditionalists from Jim Kalb’s discussion group of that name over a decade ago. Woods also ghostwrote Ron Paul’s Manifesto and was duped into bringing jars of his urine to public buildings thinking they were needed for a psych experiment when he was in college and targeted by pranksters. That should not make you suspicious, though, of his grasp on the inflationary and bubble-causing dangers of easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve, to which he — and the Austrian School of economists — trace many of our boom-and-bust economic woes.

Holy Sh*t!: The World’s Weirdest Comic Books by Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury: Speaking of economic rationality, I’m not prone to impulse buys, as you might imagine, but how could I pass up this item sitting on the Barnes and Noble counter? From it, I not only learned about the special “lesbian unicorns” issue of one comic book for “furries” and the blasphemous erotic adventures of the Leather Nun (not to mention Fantagraphics’ Trucker Fags in Denial) but learned something both enlightening and disillusioning about the comic book character Octobriana, who I’ve praised before. Ostensibly an unowned left-anarchist character shared by underground artists in the Soviet Union, she was really, according to this volume, created by one Czech writer interested in spreading the rumor of an underground artists’ movement in the USSR, using illustrations copied from another writer’s non-political comic book about an Amazon adventurer.

The idea of an underground anarchist character was inspiring not only to me but to Bryan Talbot, who used her in The Adventures of Luther Arkwright (my favorite comic book miniseries), and to David Bowie, who at one point considered producing a movie about her. Indeed, I’ve never before heard anything that made me more tantalizingly convinced Bowie and I have similar aesthetic sensibilities — and Talbot modeled Arkwright in part after Bowie, so the circle is complete (and come back in two months for my June Book Selection, by the other big influence on Arkwright, Michael Moorcock).

EPILOGUE: Speaking of Eastern European subversion, today is Milan Kundera’s eightieth birthday. Kudos to him and to the anti-socialists of all parties. (Thanks to Paul Taylor, I just rewatched the East Germany-depicting movie The Lives of Others on my trip to DC a few weeks ago — as if being there to celebrate Helen’s birthday with the likes of Megan McArdle weren’t anti-socialist enough — and that film’s another great reminder how tragic it is that so many intellectuals who fancy themselves the compassionate ones still lean socialist, the most tragic idiocy of all.)

Then again, intelligence isn’t everything: Who among us would root against well-meaning imbecile Navin Johnson in The Jerk, a VHS copy of which is lying mere feet from me at this very moment, tempting me with its comic brilliance, while I blather on obsessively about a handful of big ideas, like a man fixated by the handle of an Opti-Grab device?

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Speaking of intelligence tests, thanks to trivia hosts Jen Dziura and Michael Malice for giving me and Helen copies of the Kermit book as prizes for being on the winning team at their regular Chelsea Mind Games trivia night — and note that despite her quiz-mistress braininess, you can now see Jen being stupid for all of twenty seconds as she drives a car badly on an unaired Sci-Fi Channel reality show pilot, about people attempting to employ everyday problem-solving skills.

This is quite a contrast with Malice’s stellar performance on Cash Cab (aided by a timely “shout out” phonecall to me for the final answer), needless to say. Lesson: it’s easier to think when you’re just the passenger. (This is not, however, an argument for more public transportation spending or for letting other people control your destiny.)