Saturday, October 31, 2009

Non-Utopian Halloween

•Unlike various other things touched upon in this blog’s “Month of Utopia,” there’s nothing utopian about Halloween. It’s an anarchic core surrounded by a framework of traditionalist rituals, too crazy for planners, too diabolical for hardcore religious folk. As if dinner with former Ron Paul campaign people last night weren’t scary enough, today I plan to see Boondock Saints 2, Antichrist, and the Village Halloween Parade and probably party with communists (they’ll be less festive when next month’s twentieth anniversary of Communism’s collapse hits, presumably).

•Speaking of politics, in mentioning my old homeland of New England yesterday, I should have said that one thing that makes me excited about the Tea Party protests is that they tap into New England patriotic imagery, which I’ve long thought might be just the thing to snap the Northeast out of its statism.

•On a note that combines regionalism and Halloweenish horror, though, I was intrigued by the very Long Island-centric ads (stressing that officials there don’t want you to see this, etc.) for the Long Island-set, urban-legend-based horror film Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet.

•Back in the political realm, Will Wilson reacts in amusing fashion on First Things’ PostmodernConservative blog to the news that there’s a Republican running for office in Queens who’s a practicing, Odin-worshipping pagan. There’s also a Republican running for office in New Jersey right now who owns a sex toy business — and, more noticeably, a Republican, Chris Christie, running a tight race for governor who is fighting back against ads noting he’s a fat guy.

•In other horror news, I just watched a super-low-budget but very artfully, lovingly, and faithfully done forty-seven-minute version of Call of Cthulhu from 2005 (produced by the “H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society”) — which even does the “non-Euclidean geometry” of dread Cthulhu’s tomb quite nicely. I’d forgotten that the elderly professor who begins the investigation into Cthulhu is from Brown (Lovecraft himself having lived in Providence).

•Another adept in the dark arts has just joined Brown as a freshman member of the Class of ’13, incidentally, hopefully not one who believes that a class year can be an unlucky number: young actress Emma Watson, a.k.a. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter movies.

•In further Lovecraft news, a comic book writer I’ve met (through Ali Kokmen) named Fred Van Lente has penned a Lovecraft comic parodying Jack Chick’s Christian fundamentalist comics.

•Finally, Gerard Perry and Karol Sheinin note a costume option if you’re still trying to think of something: You could join the festivities of the Zombies for Obama.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Book Selection: Randian GQ, Lyrical Left

I suppose I deserve my ironic fate, trying to scrounge up a leftist for next week’s debate, since I’ve spent this “Month of Utopia” (a) being skeptical of mostly-left idealism, (b) arguing against left-leaning libertarians, and (c) saying nice things about Ayn Rand in GQ.

However, I should note, lest I seem too narrow-minded, that I am not saying there is nothing to be learned from the left — or even utopianism — merely that these things do not become, simply by virtue of being good and useful, elements of libertarianism per se.

As it happens, libertarian architect Dave Whitney recently e-mailed me an article about basic principles of architecture making someone less rigid and “objective” (if you will) in his philosophy: “Fudging Symmetry” by CCNY architecture professor Bradley Horn is a review of the book Poetics of a Wall Projection by Jan Turnovsky, which describes how Wittgenstein’s attempt to build a house according to overly-rigid rules of symmetry failed — during his two years frustrating years as an architect — and how this was followed by his philosophical turn away from pure logical deduction to a more practice-oriented, socially-informed view of language and thought.


Dave Whitney and the Rand-bashing writer of that GQ piece have something in common with me — we were all at Brown around the time of the collapse of Communism (as were some of the undergrad Objectivists insulted in the GQ piece). There as a grad student just a few years earlier, as it turns out, was the author of a book I picked up at a DC used books store (once more semi-coincidentally fumbling my way toward the familiar, in a way that suggests far more complex and subtle filters at work in this world and in our psyches than we are consciously aware of): Edward Abrahams’ The Lyrical Left: Randolph Bourne, Alfred Stieglitz, and the Origins of Cultural Radicalism in America surveys Greenwich Village radicals circa World War I and stresses the interesting point that they were in some ways more libertarian (even with John Reed and other revolutionaries among them) than the Progressive/liberal crowd over at the then-new magazine The New Republic, then located a few blocks north of the Village in Chelsea.

I’ve repeatedly mentioned recently that changes in the past century can’t really compare to the far more drastic changes that occurred in the two centuries prior, and the familiarity of that century-ago Village milieu (described by Abrahams in 1986) reinforces my suspicion. One could time travel back to a hundred years ago in NYC — into the world of antiwar writer Randolph Bourne and avant-garde photographer Alfred Stieglitz — and find people at parties in the Village arguing about whether progress required (as the Bourne/Stieglitz/radical crowd believed) bold, uninhibited experiments in art and living or (as the TNR crowd believed even back then) more centralized political power, regulation, and standardization, which was rapidly becoming the more respectable, “mainstream” view — stifling American culture to this day.

It pleases me greatly — as someone who wants people to realize that a punk-rock attitude should not yield loyalty to the bloated welfare/regulatory state — that there was a time when the artists saw liberal regulators as their enemy. May that day come again. (One thing that helped drive a wedge between the two factions back then: the Progressives, having pinned their hopes on homogenization, were anti-immigration, whereas the avant-garde, though nationalist in its own way, was fascinated by European artists and included many immigrants in its ranks.)


I hope when people go see the new movie Pirate Radio (originally released in the UK as The Boat That Rocked) when it opens in a week or two, they will keep in mind the tension between rock and regulation (regulation enforced by Labor when the real events transpired, not the Tories, despite some shameful revisionism in the script — and let us not forget that those 60s boat-rebels helped inspire today’s floating-county-envisioning libertarians at Ephemerisle and the Seasteading Institute). November will be a month of Pirate Radio vs. Ninja Assassin at the cinema, come to think of it.

(And speaking of movies, I hope some of you will show up fifteen minutes before show time tomorrow to join me and Helen in seeing Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day, set in decidedly non-utopian Boston — though New England, whence my ancestors and I hail, certainly has its own tension between Puritans and occasional transcendental mystics on one hand and rationalist reformers on the other — and Lars Von Trier’s avant-garde and likely just plain gross Antichrist, the former at the 3pm show at 84th and Broadway, the latter at the 5:35pm show at IFC, which lets out right on Sixth Avenue just after the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade begins, where surely someone will recognize and appreciate our Buscemi/Birch Ghost World costumes.)

My old professor Mary Gluck, who taught a popular three-semester course on European intellectual history when I was there circa 1990, is thanked in the acknowledgements of The Lyrical Left, another surprise that makes perfect sense, since she was always very keen in her lectures to emphasize aesthetic radicalism — even sometimes using the term “libertarian” to describe such impulses — and to draw parallels between our own post-Communist, millennial period and the “fin de siecle” of the late nineteenth century.

And if you want some readings that go even farther than that — and farther than today’s “liberaltarians,” much as I pick on them for deviancy — in bringing together libertarianism and the left, I’ll bet you could find them by joining this intriguing NYC meet-up group: yes, it’s the Classical Liberal and Socialist Philosophy Reading Group, covering Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and everything in between.

Finally, in another seaborne reminder that pragmatic allegiances sometimes trump philosophical purity, Helen notes that people (many of them paleocons) like to point to Robert Taft as though he were a principled non-interventionist conservative in foreign policy matters, but if you look at what he actually said, it’s weirder and less ideological (as is usually the case when troublesome historical details are brought into the picture). He felt full-scale continental warfare was too expensive for the U.S. and thus liked to tout a list of peninsulas that he thought, with our fine Marines and Navy, we’d be better suited to invade. It’s a complex world.

P.S. Actually, leaving complexity aside for a moment, why don’t I give the last (non-Halloween) word of this “Month of Utopia” to Andrew Corsello, from one of the most heated passages of his GQ Rand article, just to show I let people who may disagree with me philosophically have their say:

Fuck you, Ayn Rand.

Fuck you for turning some of the most open and interesting people I ever met into utopian dickheads.

P.P.S. Even arch-radical Randolph Bourne, most famous for saying “War is the health of the state” (in an essay manuscript found in his trashcan after his death) eventually turned against feminism, by the way, saying it sought not to free women but to turn them into men.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Todd in GQ -- and YOU in a Debate!


Well, I STILL NEED A DEBATER-VOLUNTEER willing to defend the Latin American left (or some aspect of it) on Wednesday night (Nov. 1, at 8pm, at Lolita Bar) and will e-mail the world to announce who that is by Monday at the latest (just e-mail me, the host, at ToddSeavey[at]

For now, let us think of this hypothetical debate volunteer as “Comandante Plus-One,” if you will, a metaphorical ski mask disguising battle-hardened left-wing features.

And do not be frightened away from volunteering by the fact that I am quoted (twice) in an article about Ayn Rand on (which will also appear in their December issue).

I partially defend Rand — and will have far more to say about that in tomorrow’s climactic, utopian entry — but there’s one more thing I could have said in defense of her much-loved, much-mocked Atlas Shrugged, it occurs to me: that in addition to being more about philosophy than about realistic character portraits, it actually does work fairly well as a “Russian novel” (unsurprising, given where she emigrated from), in the sense that it aims, through a plethora of characters, to capture their whole social milieu and political circumstances more than their individual psyches.  In that way, she’s very capitalist but not merely bourgeois-individualist.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Please Defend the Latin American Left on Nov. 4


Are there leftists who defend the Latin American left anymore?  If so, I only need one of you — to be a debater against a libertarian at Lolita Bar (266 Broome St. at Allen St.) on Wed., Nov. 4 (8pm), but you (or the colleagues you nudge to volunteer) need to TELL ME TODAY (I’ll post another blog entry tomorrow saying who has volunteered).  We do these sorts of debates, in a friendly and fairly informal fashion, once a month there, with the audience voting at the end on the question at hand (this one can be worded around, say, Chavez or Che or Castro or some such combo, or the leftward Latin American trend in general).

Oliver Stone thinks Hugo Chavez is swell and even shows himself throwing around a football with a playful Chavez in his new documentary, South of the Border (which will probably make slightly less money than his sequel to Wall Street next year, in which Gordon Gekko gets out of prison after two decades in 2007 and tries to warn people of an impending financial crisis).

Perhaps you agree with Stone — perhaps you even agree with Chavez.  Or simply with Che or Castro, or maybe Zelaya (whose attempt to defy term limits in Honduras is arguably little worse than Mayor Bloomberg’s, after all — and who may have had nothing to do with his replacement’s nephew being murdered).  Maybe you’re just relieved that Daniel Ortega is currently the duly-elected president of Nicaragua, after all that fighting back in the 80s.  Whatever the case, WE NEED YOU to oppose someone who dislikes all these people — and our audiences have always been politically-mixed and civil, so a good time will be had by all, no matter how much we may differ, and we will drink.

Let me know if you can make it: ToddSeavey[at]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Selection: "The Status Society" by Robert Sheckley

Our protagonist wakes up, his memory having been erased, on a prison planet on which the prisoners are allowed to do anything they want — and, being rotten people, what they want to do is construct a rigidly hierarchical society based on murder, slavery, and comically heartless opportunism. Indeed, he eventually learns from a priest (despite being rendered very, very sleepy by the theological conversation) that the planet’s primary religion is the outright worship of evil — for the simple, almost Taoist reason that evil seems the natural way of things, especially on the planet Omega.

The Status Society turns fifty this year. Its author, Sheckley, also wrote novels based on Aliens, Deep Space Nine, and Babylon 5 prior to his death in Poughkeepsie four years ago and was acclaimed by other writers, including sci-fi satirist Douglas Adams, which makes perfect sense.

The sheer number of social systems and patterns implicitly rejected, rather anarchically, in the course of this novel is impressive: crime and law, religion and technological blandness, violence and pacifism, roguish callousness and bourgeois conformity — all of it leading in the end to the almost William Blake-like insight that the impulsiveness of the rogue and the passivity of the law-abiding must complement each other. I call this more Blakean than Nietzschean, since for all Nietzsche’s talk of balancing the Apollonian and Dionysian, we know his real loyalties lie with the latter.

P.S. I must thank debate moderator Michel Evanchik, who himself combines Viking-like Dionysian tendencies with Apollonian intellect, for giving me a copy of The Status Society — and to reward him, I say: LET’S PROVIDE HIM WITH A SECOND DEBATER FOR WEDNESDAY, NOV. 4 (8PM). I STILL NEED SOMEONE TO DEFEND THE LATIN AMERICAN LEFT THAT NIGHT (AGAINST LIBERTARIAN THOR HALVORSSEN) — so e-mail me at ToddSeavey[at]

We were thinking, for instance, of debating the merits of Che, Castro, and/or Chavez. The precise wording of the debate question is negotiable, and I will announce both the question and the two debaters on this site in my Thursday entry. You could be one of them, comandante! Or by all means send me your socialist friend (who can be in Manhattan). We’ll have fun — and we’ll learn.

P.P.S. And if you instead want to pay to hear a debate, note that tonight sees reporter John Hockenberry pitted against Nation-editing communist sympathizer Katrina vanden Heuvel (among others) on the question of whether mainstream media is dead — and note the commie is defending mainstream media.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reason: Todd Seavey vs. Kerry Howley

While all libertarians — all human beings — are well aware that voluntary interactions can prove more painful than the impositions of law (I’d rather get a parking ticket than a broken heart, for example), libertarian Kerry Howley thinks libertarians need to do more, as a matter of basic principle, to combat some of those non-legal forms of pain (and she does not address the important question of whether this will encourage a culture of whining, leading to more welfare-statism).

The Reason November issue’s symposium on Howley’s culturally left-leaning view of libertarianism — with Dan McCarthy and me as her critics — is online, as are Reason readers’ many comments on our pieces (here, too, are some thoughts about the debate from an entity named Publion, who e-mailed me this link).

I notice one Reason commenter accuses me of pushing a bare-bones property-rights-focused version of libertarianism because I’m simply trying to espouse the most marketable version of libertarianism regardless of whether it’s the correct one, which is not quite right — but as a utilitarian, I do think, looplike as it may sound, that a moral philosophy must take into account its own likelihood of being adopted.

I also notice many people saying that if I’m arguing against Howley she must have recommended property rights violations. Actually, I’m not saying she (already) wants coercion, though I’m saying that the views she encourages make coercion more likely than spreading conventional libertarianism would. Also, that she simply has no rational basis for identifying what oppresses, once she’s said property isn’t the litmus test. Old-fashioned behavior bad, new-fangled good, apparently?

Put another way: it seems to me there are three possible ways to interpret Howley, all of them disturbing:

1. Either Howley wants property rights violations (by normal libertarian standards) and somewhat disingenuously has thus far avoided saying so outright.

2. Or she doesn’t — and thus I’m still right that’s the crucial litmus test libertarians use to pick their positions (in which I case I sort of win the argument).

3. Or she’s relatively indifferent to whether her view leads to violating property rights, in which case I still win, in so far as I’m right to warn libertarians against her and right to see her philosophy as dissolving libertarianism in a warm bath of fuzzier, largely unresolvable cultural concerns.

My guess is that #2 is the case — and I say that mainly because I want to be generous (by my standards). But then, as Kerry’s husband (or fiance — forgive me if I’ve jumped the gun) Will Wilkinson says on his blog today, with a chivalrous defense of her almost as long as the symposium articles themselves, Howley knew — and warned — that she would be misunderstood. It can’t be easy.


Mostly-coincidentally, my own girlfriend, Helen Rittelmeyer, will have a piece on Doublethink soon criticizing feminist and woman-focused blogs, and it will mention Howley briefly — so we’re almost back to where we started one year ago when I first started dating Helen, reporting on the rise of “liberaltarians” like Wilkinson, and sparring online with Howley — but since I’m really the tolerant big-tent one here, I will endeavor to be nice to the liberaltarians after today. If I can work with mere market-friendly moderates or the occasional religious-rightist, after all, I should be able to get along with liberaltarians, even if they’re slightly wrong.

The Howley argument did begin, more or less, with the question of whether feminism is naturally compatible with libertarianism — and though she’s now framing her argument more humbly, as encouragement for libertarians to push beyond their usual property concerns and address cultural issues, it’s worth remembering that last year she was actually claiming that libertarianism already is a philosophy of cultural leftism/feminism and that some weird subset of libertarians like me are trying to revise it and make it a property-focused philosophy, as if I just got here yesterday.

She also quite explicitly said that there is this curious Gen X cohort of libertarians who encountered radical, p.c. feminism on college campuses and thus think of it as a censorious, anti-freedom philosophy. And as a forty year-old friend of mine said when I mentioned Howley saying our cohort got its impression of feminism that way: “No shit.”

Was our experience really so aberrant? Of course, nowadays (Howley is twenty-seven), young people may feel more like they can say whatever they want without fear of offending, but I expect that’s largely because the censorious prior wave of students was so successful in training everyone to talk as if there are no “essential” differences between the sexes. No need to censor anymore if no one can really think of anything to say (except, like Cartman, “Whatever — I do what I want!”).

Howley at least frankly says she wants libertarians to be more feminist, in this blog entry last week and in the course of her sparring with Ilya Somin, who also disagrees with her. Since she’s donated eggs (as she discussed at one of our Lolita Bar panels), expressed sympathy for transhumanism, and called the Catholic Church a major threat to freedom, I’m going to assume Howley considers abortion acceptable — and perhaps it is, but I have long thought (even before I was a libertarian, in fact) that abortion is a perfect example of why, by and large, we do not want people to be feminists. Whether or not abortion is murder hinges on the nature and moral status of the fetus, hopefully not on what its destruction will do to shake or bolster the patriarchy. Deciding an issue like abortion through the lens of feminism is like deciding the issue of slavery based on the relative merits of African and European art.

As libertarians, do we really want a world where, when someone is asked “What, if anything, do you think the government should do about the relative salaries of men and women?” she thinks not of property rights and company ownership but of the vague, ever-shifting kaleidoscope of culture and what she thinks can best be done to improve women’s status in it to wherever it should be in a culture-criticism sense?

(I regret, by the way, that Reason’s editing of Howley’s piece removed her praise of the profoundly anti-capitalist thinker Herbert Marcuse, not only because that praise revealed why we have legitimate reason to fear where her thinking leads but also because both my piece and McCarthy’s contained Marcuse references in reaction to that passage of hers. We didn’t just make up the Marcuse tendencies. Nor am I hallucinating when I remind you Howley likes Simone de Beauvoir, who explicitly favored forcibly removing children from their patriarchal families so that they could be raised communally — a perfectly logical course of action, really, if, like Howley, you think culture oppresses just like physical force. Seeing society as a web of “coercive” beliefs is precisely the paranoid habit of mind that created much of twentieth-century statism — as a supposed “cure” for social ills — and now Howley has belatedly rediscovered that there’s social oppression all around us, mercifully assuring us she won’t use statism as a means of retaliation but giving no reason to think others angered by cultural oppression will be as merciful.)


More deeply offensive, though, is Howley’s implication that the world is divided into people who think as she does about the way culture forms our characters and people who simply don’t think about culture forming character.

Implying that feminism, for example, is among things that libertarians obviously would/should embrace if they were thoughtful people is as ridiculous as saying (as people often do) that the alternative to shallowness is [whatever they happen to believe]. Thus: “It’s a shame people are so shallow and apolitical [since they would otherwise be Obama-supporters],” “It is too bad that people are satisfied by mindless entertainment [since thoughtful people would plainly appreciate my poetry],” “It is sad that people are morally weak [since they would otherwise become Christians],” “Surely you are tired of living stupidly [and thus are ready to embrace Scientology],” and so on.

I am not opposed to “thick” considerations of culture — I am opposed to assuming Howley has the culture/law causality all figured out, especially when many of my intuitions about which cultural trends are helpful seem to be the opposite of hers (machismo seems to produce a lot of libertarian folk like Clint Eastwood, for example –and, for that matter, worrying overmuch about cultural oppression seems, demographically speaking, to be one of the greatest manufacturers of statist footsoldiers). But we should always be wary of people feigning tolerance and neutrality while trying to slip their own preferences into the purported meta-narrative explaining everyone else’s story.

Before we go importing feminism (or whatever other left-cultural goods Howley has in mind) into the basic framework of liberty, we might at least want to address, for example, the argument that the major cultural force blinding people these days to history and the shaping of our minds by causal forces such as biology and culture is…Third Wave feminism, with its pretense that everyone is a newborn chameleon about whom no accurate predictions can be made and to whom no generalizations can ever be applied. Expecting profundity about gender matters from people who think like that, in my experience, is like expecting carefully-crafted ethical arguments from a relativist. A teenage girl relativist.

I’m sorry. That was slightly sexist, not just property-focused, but then, as Helen pointed out to me (in the form of this New York Times article), there aren’t many female philosophers, and some think that the very idea of intellectual combat may just not be as appealing to women as to men. Is it offensive to think that? Has that article oppressed us all? Has it oppressed Howley? Do we know it prima facie to be false, since nothing smacking of sexism can be true in the new-type libertarian future? Beats me. I have to wait for Howley to tell me what is proper thought now.

But in truth, feminism is a side issue, and let us hope it remains one.


The larger problem is just people importing all their favorite cultural baggage into the purported definition of what libertarianism (and liberty) is supposed to be — unless Howley imagines she will be the last person to do so.

I notice that one Micha Ghertner, for example, in one of Howley’s comment threads, says: “I personally take it as part of my libertarian project to attempt to convince Orthodox Jews to view their lifestyles as liberty-depriving and to abandon them, and also to gently prod monogamous people, not necessarily to experiment with polyamory, but to at least tolerate and respect those who do…”

Well, I don’t happen to go around encouraging Orthodox Judaism or being mean to polyamorists, but once more, I think you can see our constituency shrinking here instead of growing, if Ghertner’s attitude is ever taken to be mandatory for all libertarians as opposed to simply mandatory for Ghertner if Ghertner wants to keep being Ghertner with Ghertner’s set of preferences. And Howley is clearly suggesting that all libertarians ought to share her cultural mission, not just that we tolerate her continued existence.

She is the utopian (to return to my blog theme this month), pushing a specific cultural agenda, while I am more akin to Robert Nozick, wanting only a “meta-utopia” in which different people pursue whatever ends — including rigid and cultish ones — the market will bear. (McCarthy somehow strikes Howley as more tolerable than me, I think, even though his idea of a meta-utopia is clearly one in which paleoconservative, religious communities are presumed the most likely to win out over time, something I’m by no means asserting — I just say “let’s see how things shake out, even if they turn out very sexist, etc.”)

What will I absolutely not tolerate? Well, I’m a libertarian, so, again, it’s property rights violations. Would Howley deny that this is and has always been the easiest rubric by which to predict libertarians’ positions? Is she so confident that culture-criticism yields clear answers that she really wants people to drift away from using that as the clear-cut rubric? Aren’t we just back in the mix with all the econ-ignoring yahoos that make up the bulk of the body politic once we do that? It’s very, very hard to get people to put economic reasoning first, you know, and they’re frighteningly eager to use other, wildly unpredictable means of settling legal and ethical disputes — so why encourage them?


And it’s not just that cultural criticism might distract people from economic reasoning (so do sitcoms, after all). Rather, I think libertarians, of all people, should emphasize whenever possible that there is a real and substantial moral distinction between physical coercion and mental “coercion” — and our cause is lost once we abandon that distinction (the social conservatives will immediately say “Well, he coerced me by insulting my flag,” the left-liberals will say that hate speech demands legal redress, gang members will say they shot people but only people who disrespected them, etc.).

The distinction is not arbitrary. If indeed choice matters, then we should never, never forget that no matter how difficult it can be to weigh one’s options within a culture, one does choose. Once a gun is put to one’s head, the other person chooses. Libertarianism, above all else, is the philosophy that never lets people forget that distinction. Howley wants us to. The non-libertarians of the world will have much to celebrate if she succeeds.

The actual, empirical, historical pattern has been for tyranny to start by denying this difference, which is why I wonder how Howley or Wilkinson can pretend for a moment to have the “historically-informed” high ground. Have they not noticed that the form of “consciousness-raising” that treats traditional — and capitalist — social context as oppressive is precisely where the coercion tends to begin?

But if we must, for the sake of morality, bite the bullet and start creating a more libertarian culture, what, really, seriously does that mean, for those of us to whom it’s not as intuitively obvious as it is to Howley but who (believe it or not) genuinely want to be good people? Please enlighten us, damn it: When are we truly free? What things must I believe? Will Howley really ever tell us explicitly? (And isn’t it deforming to my character and limiting of my choices if I have to wait for her to tell me?)

It is precisely because these sorts of cultural issues are never settled that libertarians have for so long been keen to keep them out of the basic definition of freedom — and out of law. Howley doesn’t want to improve libertarianism. She wants, even if unwittingly, to undo it.


This past Friday I caught the very end of a Mercatus Center/Institute for Humane Studies event here in NYC that featured a discussion by William Ruger and Jason Sorens about their recent study attempting to rank the fifty states according to how free they are, using libertarian criteria. They looked at economic regulations, gun control laws, and so on. I can’t help wondering what a hopeless, subjective, incoherent morass a study like that would become if it attempted to use Howleyan criteria. Would it have to survey people to see where people were most polite? Or is politeness itself sort of oppressive, since it’s normally rooted in traditional social expectations (one might prefer loud, anarchic public farting, after all)?

Should New York and L.A. go up in the rankings because people seem less fazed by porn in these places (legal issues notwithstanding, I mean)? Or should those places be ranked even lower because porn oppresses women by reinforcing the patriarchy? I honestly don’t know. (That’s one the Third Wave feminists certainly don’t seem to have worked out either — so do we await their verdict and only then amend libertarianism accordingly? Howley? Guidance? Verdict?)

Howley and Wilkinson, incidentally, are in Iowa, as is Christine Whelan (my boss’s daughter), to whom I e-introduced Howley — and Whelan happens to address a very concrete recent example of cultural suasion doing damage as severe as law: the three people who died under instructions from a self-help guru to remain in a sweat lodge. Now, I can imagine Howley saying this is a perfect example of why we must not merely object to physical coercion but to guru-hood — but then again, don’t people normally find themselves in New Age sweat lodges because they are anti-traditionalists attempting some sort of “self-actualization”? Boy, this stuff gets complicated, so I’m glad Howley has it worked out. Otherwise, I’d just keep adhering to property rights and have no strong opinion on the sweat lodge guru.

(But maybe I shouldn’t imagine what Howley would say about anything — I certainly find it annoying when she ends her Reason piece with an entire imaginary dialogue with Todd Seavey, who, funny thing, somehow comes off sounding a bit stupider than in real life. In this, she is certainly behaving like a leftist, as I notice they’ve become quite enamored, in the era of blogs and cutting-and-pasting, of trying to indict people by, say, substituting the phrase “African-Americans” for the phrase “communists” in someone else’s writing to supposedly show that the person is a bigot…or rather would be if he had actually said that about African-Americans…or… something…)

Rather than merely speculate about one important aspect of Howley’s views, though, maybe we should come right out and ask her: Does she want more property violations than I do, or less? I am an anarcho-capitalist. What is Howley if not that? If she is as mysterious and easily-misunderstood as Wilkinson suggests, perhaps we should not assume we know. And come to think of it, if Howley does want us to think that her attitude leads to less, not more, coercion, should we perhaps be troubled by the fact that she and Wilkinson are so simpatico, since — rightly or wrongly — you have to admit that his shtick is arguing that libertarians ought to accept elements of the welfare state? Would it be so crazy to suggest that cultural leftism tends to be the natural ally not of libertarian law but, as most people assume, of creeping modern-liberal statism?

I’d be delighted if Howley demonstrated she’s bucking that trend by saying explicitly that she’s a strict anarcho-capitalist — in the conventional sense of the term, not in some secret new-fangled sense where, say, being a tolerant listener is more important than being someone who stays off welfare, etc.

In conclusion: in an important way, I’m the tolerant one here — because I’m saying once you’re over the hurdle of property adherence, you’re in the clear, qua libertarian. Howley says we must do more — and I’m not at all confident she hath revealed unto us the full list of specific things we have to do. I might be willing to do them all — heck, I’m a modern, tolerant guy, so I may already be doing them. But like Kafka, I resent not knowing — and the suggestion that she does know. Do I have to love modern art? Must I find gay sex as aesthetically appealing as straight sex? Should I talk about atheism even more than I do? Less? Differently? Become agnostic instead? Inquiring, freedom-loving minds deserve to know, and apparently only Howley can tell us.


burns.jpg trap.jpg
Speaking of the quixotic “Democratic Wish” (as in yesterday’s entry), my two favorite variations on the cartoonish “HOPE” poster of Obama are probably the one all over NYC lately showing Mr. Burns from The Simpsons above the slogan “NO THIRD TERMS — VOTE FOR BURNS” and, nerdier still, one simply showing beloved Admiral Ackbar, Rebel fleet leader from Return of the Jedi, above the word “TRAP.” By way of explanation, the site selling the Ackbar posters simply says “He knows when it’s a trap.” Indeed.

Book Selection: "The Democratic Wish" by James Morone

In 1990, just after European Communism collapsed (about which, more next month), I was at Brown amid socialists, many of them calling themselves “liberals.” Brown professor James Morone’s book The Democratic Wish came out that year and must have caused at least some Brown students to worry that their utopian dreams were not likely achievable within the American political system.

Morone describes how from the very beginning, the U.S. was shaped by two political forces that have rarely been consciously seen as opposites but which continually thwart each other: (1) a more or less communitarian desire to cast aside elites or corruption and create pure democracy and rule by “the people,” in keeping with some of our most cherished ideals and most familiar political rhetoric and (2) a constitutional order designed to create political gridlock and prevent direct democracy.

The disturbing result, argues Morone, has been neither social democracy nor severely limited government but successive waves of reformist struggle that end up channeled into enlarged bureaucracy instead of real social transformation. He observes the process at work even before the Constitution, with fluid and nearly-anarchic direct-democratic efforts such as the Revolutionary network called the Sons of Liberty creating overnight local governments that would displace existing politicians and rewrite laws — with the eventual result that cooler heads like that of Alexander Hamilton would see the need for less-directly democratic institutions that fostered political and commercial stability, stealthily imposed on the young nation in the form of the Constitution.

Morone traces the repeated reform/restraint/bureaucracy pattern through Andrew Jackson’s presidency, the devolution of the Mugwumps’ and Progressives’ high hopes into federal bureaucracies that don’t quite add up to an effective civil service, the openly revolutionary labor movement’s taming through the New Deal’s imposition of labor-management negotiation regulations (for which libertarians and conservatives alike should perhaps be grateful, as it ended, on one hand, violently labor-crushing uses of the state by corporations and, on the other hand, the desire among many strikers to settle disputes through revolution), the 1960s Civil Rights movement’s transformation into machine-politics-like “community groups” underwritten by the state, and (most relevantly at the moment), the very rapid transformation of our half-government-subsidized healthcare system into a chronic source of cost-containment worries (starting, not coincidentally, almost as soon as the government subsidies began, circa the 1960s, not just to the poor and elderly but also to children and, on a massive scale, to hospitals).

Morone doesn’t much mention the broader, hippie-driven cultural revolution of the 60s, though surely that can be seen as part of the same pattern — despite a very unconvincing article I recall in Liberty magazine years ago arguing that the big-government revolution of the 60s was essentially unrelated to the mostly-libertarian cultural revolution of the 60s. I would argue that the libertine attitudes of the 60s were directly correlated with a loosening of respect for property rights and constraints on government (and Jonathan Leaf says much the same thing in his new book about the 60s, which you can get a feel for from the interview National Review Online did with him last week).

But for more on whether left-leaning cultural trends enhance or undermine liberty, see the Reason symposium featuring Kerry Howley, Dan McCarthy, and me in their November issue, about which I’ll have some more detailed thoughts on this blog tomorrow night.


The recurring process Morone is describing is not clearly a right-wing or left-wing one — and were he updating the book today, I think he could justifiably include both the Gingrich “revolution” of 1994 and the Obama-led “change” of 2008 as examples of reformist/democratic hopes that fizzled into bigger spending (albeit much more quickly in the latter case).

But then — and this is something of a side issue — I keep saying it’s educational to note how poorly American politics prior to the twentieth century maps onto left and right, despite the temptation to make it fit. Andrew Jackson’s closest allies and core constituents, for instance, though thought of as anti-elitist democrats, were also anti-Indian, anti-black, anti-banker (for republican reasons), pro-artisans, and pro-immigrant, while the Whigs largely adopted the opposite combo of positions, ostensibly out of a love of existing (quasi-Hamiltonian) social orderliness.

Nonetheless, there’s no denying the existence of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party in our own day, and philosophizing as if the tension between them does not shape most of contemporary American politics would be naive in a different way. And importing the dominant philosophical forces of the early republic into our own time and attempting to map them onto those two parties can be as messy as imposing right and left on the distant past: Using nineteenth-century terminology, in some sense Republicans have been the liberals and Democrats the republicans in recent decades. (I just hope we can move forward with borrowed elements representing the best of right and left, a “conservatism for punks.”)

Both major parties today are at times “populist,” which may be the closest contemporary term to what Morone means by “republican” (or for that matter what he means by “democratic”). When the parties relax (as it were) and accept the existing clash of divided interests and existing institutions as ongoing, inevitable, and in some sense healthy, then they are “liberal” in Morone’s sense (accepting of checks and balances, as well as clashing interests), which is almost but not quite the “classical” sense of liberalism (of course, I don’t really advocate acceptance of governmental institutions as representing a sort of healthy, ongoing “balance” myself — I want those institutions eliminated, roughly speaking, not endlessly admired for their interlocking clockwork beauty).

It’s unfortunate we keep reusing the same political words for such different concepts — and perhaps even more unfortunate when we use the same words for concepts that resemble each other but are different in nuanced, easily overlooked ways. (Admittedly, the homonyms are often indicative of real historical connections, though, if not the maximally useful analytical distinctions.)

Morone contends, then, that since the beginning, the United States has oscillated between two modes: communal/democratic aspiration, which mobilizes the people in attempts to unify and “reform” the government (or society), and then a return to our default liberalism (broadly defined) in which unity (and the abstract notion of “the people”) gives way to the usual bickering and clash of factions, that clash being in its own way a healthy, tumultuous limit on government — but frustrating for everyone who thought the latest round of reform was supposed to create a new level of social harmony instead of launching a few new bureaucracies or adding one more constituency to the power struggle.


Just as I warned above against using a right-left narrative to describe early U.S. history, I should add that the simple libertarian narrative doesn’t fit so well, either. Those directly-democratic councils were almost left-anarchist, you might say, as willing to erase debts, punish high prices, or do other things we’d now rightly regard as anti-capitalist as to oust British bureaucrats and roust Tories. Alexander Hamilton, you might say, wanted both to impose a sort of libertarianism and to squelch anarchism. But you could as easily say he imposed liberalism to squelch populism. Or conservatism to squelch the revolutionary poor. You can’t blame people for imposing competing modern narratives on that period.

Libertarians generally celebrate the Constitution, though some have expressed regret we didn’t simply stick with the Articles of Confederation. Had the tumult of the Revolutionary councils continued, though, it’s hard to know whether we’d be freer or not. In the short term, the U.S. would likely have gotten off to a less fiscally-sane, less capitalist start — but might the councils’ ample competition and fluidity have led in time to something much more akin to a working anarcho-capitalist regime than the Potomac leviathan we gradually ended up with? We might simply have ended up with much greater diversity — some states freer, some in economic chaos — which might itself have been better over the long haul.

Morone’s far more statist conclusion in Democratic Wish: We must not only move away from individualism toward communitarianism but, in order to overcome our founding flaws and finally create effective government, move away from the idea of “checks and balances” and toward a more unified, non-negotiating, uncompromising, “stronger” state. Scratch a modern liberal — especially at Brown — find a totalitarian of some sort. With two more decades gone by since Morone wrote the book, though, and time to digest the lessons of Communism’s collapse, I hope he (and society generally) is closer to simply giving up on the illusory idea of strong, unified, effective, and beneficial government.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Selection: "In Pursuit of Happiness" by William B. Scott

This book is sufficiently obscure that it is not even mentioned as a used book on Amazon, but it exists — and I’m lucky Helen spotted it on a shelf at the Strand used books store. In it, William B. Scott (not, as far as I know, the same one who writes about aviation and technology) traces changing “American Conceptions of Property from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century,” ending with continuing tension between Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians in his own day, a few years prior to Reagan’s election.

The book is a fantastic overview (that some enterprising libertarian group should republish) of something I’ve mentioned a few times recently: the almost sci-fi like rapidity with which the modern world has changed, shedding philosophies and worldviews rapidly while still tending to treat each worldview as if it’s timeless while it’s dominant.

We’ve cycled through successive debates over (seemingly-eternal but in truth often new-fangled) property issues. In each case, by the next round of debates, people could scarcely imagine the issues that were previously in contention had so recently been up for debate (or else that they’d ever seemed relevant at all): whether to respect feudal/aristocratic claims, how to parcel up newly-found land (or land newly-liberated from the aforementioned aristocrats — or from government), who really owns publicly-chartered corporations, whether we own our entire incomes, and perhaps next whether and when intellectual property should be (or can be) enforced.

Impatient people inclined to think we should have settled the IP issue by now, for example, might want to consider that a mere two centuries ago in America, there was still vigorous debate over whether one could meaningfully own land one had not farmed. We’re still startlingly new at all this (something to keep in mind when condemning people for trying that little experiment gone awry called socialism that, perhaps understandably, seemed like a good idea for a few short decades, for instance).

It’s all happened so fast, really, in the grand scheme of things, and that’s both encouraging and alarming. It also renders both right-wing and left-wing narratives a bit ridiculous. The left because they would have us believe they’ve already learned to predict and outwit the ever-evolving market, the right because so many of the ostensibly-ancient traditions to which they pledge eternal fealty have in fact often arisen and faded away in mere decades, while society was drastically transformed by processes that had little to do with right-wing or left-wing ideology, such as railroads and chemical fertilizers.

Even today, little the Democrats consciously do to deform society can have the transformative impact of going from a nation of self-employed, self-sufficient farmers to a nation of industrial employees, for instance. And if we turn our eyes away from mere political squabbles for a moment, we must ask: Who really knows what things will look like in another fifty years, despite people’s chronic lack of imagination and attachment to the status quo?

Tomorrow, on a related note, a look at the interplay over these same few centuries between almost-utopian reformer impulses and the gridlock of ordinary democratic politics, in James Morone’s Democratic Wish — and on Monday, still more on property rights, from Kerry Howley, Dan McCarthy, and me in the pages of Reason, followed two days later by a Nov. 4 Debate at Lolita Bar on socialism in Latin America — for which I should pick a defender this weekend SO LET ME KNOW IF YOU ARE OR HAVE ONE, PLEASE.

P.S. Ali Kokmen notes that, per this NPR broadcast, we’re even learning new things about economics from monkeys these days.

Soupy Sales, RIP (the progressive metal angle)

The father of both the drummer and the bass player from David Bowie’s band Tin Machine has passed away.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Selection: "The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan"


I read of both Newt “Real Change” Gingrich and Mitt “insurance mandates” Romney recently saying we need to “get beyond” idolizing Reagan and thinking he holds the answers for today’s problems.  David “Comeback!” Frum has written much the same thing, with unforgivably greater length and detail that shows more forethought (and even greater deference to the preferences of focus groups).

Should this not disqualify them from getting near the reins of conservative power ever again?

I just read the fine book of Reagan quotes The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan edited by James C. Hume, and here’s one quote (many in the book are taken from Reagan’s offhand comments and letters, not crafted by speechwriters) that reminds me how much clearer — and better — he was than any subsequent politician: “Here’s my strategy on the Cold War: we win; they lose.”

Two months ago, I quoted this passage, reprinted in the book, from Reagan’s final speech in office, but it’s worth repeating, since it’s a great reminder of how something akin to the utopian impulse — but without the totalitarian mania for planning — can inspire in a way that transcends right/left distinctions:

I’ve spoken of the shining city [on a hill that is, America] all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still.

Like a lot of my favorite things — and people — that passage is simultaneously old-fashioned and dynamic, sort of like…

…steampunk, the Victoriana-using subgenre of sci-fi in which I’m currently scrambling to complete writing a little something (more on that later, I hope) — and which you sort of get if you scramble together all my major interests (conservatism, science, punk, sci-fi).  Today marks the start in Seattle of the three-day Steamcon celebrating that aesthetic mode (and subculture).  So if you’re on the West Coast and old-fashioned, go to that this weekend, and if you’re on the East Coast, go to the Old Time Radio convention in Newark, described in yesterday’s entry.

At Steamcon, you might well hear about the fictional Victorian-era robot named Boilerplate — whose story and images are sufficiently convincing that, notoriously, former David Letterman writer Chris Elliott was taken in, thought Boilerplate was real, and used him in a historical novel, leading to a lawsuit.  (What would his fellow former Letterman writer, ethicist Randy Cohen, think?  And has Cohen written about Letterman’s scandals yet?  I don’t really care.)

We inherit the whole of civilization, not just its right or left half, not just its old or new parts, and it’s nice to see that important fact celebrated, whether by presidents or robots.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In Character: Grit

Off to jury duty this morning, reminded again that much of the staying power of majoritarian democracy comes from the hollow pretense that when we do things (like jury duty) collectively, we are doing them with a common will, like one multi-part organism acting in unison — when in truth most of us are simply participating under duress.

The pretense that it’s instead a Rousseauian acting-in-concert enraptures thinkers like Jeff Madrick, the big-government-defender about whom I wrote yesterday — and, sure enough, in the recent “Grit” issue of the fine ethics journal In Character, he contributes an essay arguing that Americans have best shown grit and mettle when raising taxes, passing regulations, etc., building the nation’s schools and so on, as if taking money from your neighbor by threatening him with arrest is ever an act of courage.

In making collective, involuntary action sound like the essence of heroism, Madrick is rather like the New York Times‘ self-appointed “ethicist,” Randy Cohen, for whom personal morality always somehow boils down to things like union membership instead of good individual behavior.  Not surprisingly, I’ve heard he’s unpleasant in person.

My boss’s daughter, Christine Whelan, has a more individualism-extolling piece in the same issue of In Character as Madrick, though, so I wouldn’t want you to think it’s a total loss.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book Selection: "The Case for Big Government" (and for old radio)

As I promised author Jeff Madrick, I read his book The Case for Big Government, and the case is very weak. A mostly-unrepentant FDR-admiring liberal who fears Obama won’t go far enough (as well as a New School economist and former New York Times economics columnist), Madrick does not so much present an argument that government can actually do things more effectively than the private sector as unfurl a wish list of things government could do if, you know, it had a lot more tax revenue or piles and piles of money from magical lands.

Did you know government could spend millions on research into rare diseases? Billions funding all college tuition? Trillions on who knows what? Well, it could, in theory.

In a way, the most revealing thing about this book may be that two — count them, two — Democratic members of Congress (one recently deceased) took the time to contribute glowing cover blurbs to it. Think about that. Madrick, to his credit, is explicit about arguing for making government more immense, and two senators take the time to praise him for it. How generous and literary of them to take time to point out the merit in an argument for giving them more power. (Do I need to stress again which party they came from, rotten though both major parties are?)

I have jury duty starting tomorrow, which is a reminder in itself that we are slaves at the beck and call of government, but there is one way in which I’ve found jury duty in New York City to be an affirmation of the wisdom of one’s fellow citizens: not by bringing people together to dispense justice and all that, but by revealing that even if people start out their stint in the potential-juror waiting room sounding like dutiful children of FDR and patiently listening to instructions, by about day three they all start sounding like cranky anarcho-capitalists, wondering when they can get the hell out of there and get back to work, muttering things like “This is ridiculous.” Right on.


Speaking of FDR, he at least understood how to make effective use of the power of the broadcast — which makes him a better entertainer, in some sense, than the band Broadcast, whose stage show turns out to be painfully noisy and unmelodic in a 1968 experimental synthesizer way, as I learned last night — much as I still love those studio recordings of theirs that sound like real songs, such as “Papercuts.”

But if you want more FDR-era broadcasting magic — without endorsing big government — you should know that the group Friends of Old Time Radio has announced a performance by the Gotham Radio Players, taking place at FoOTR’s convention this Saturday, October 24 — an episode of The Saint (which inspired the later secret agent TV series), live onstage at the Holiday Inn North, 160 Frontage Road in Newark, NJ, from 11:45am to 12:30pm. Gotham Radio Players director Steven M. Lewis (who may still need a job) will deploy special guest star Simon Jones of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ($25 at the door and easily reached via shuttle from Newark Airport — the radio convention, I mean, not the galaxy).

For a more recent radio show with old-timey influences, note too the Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd.

Finally, do read the new blog SeanReadstheNews from Sean Dougherty, who says “it attempts to both review the best and worst of daily business journalism as well as provide tips on media relations strategy from a PR perspective.” And Sean’s not only a PR professional but a member of Friends of Old Time Radio — and a libertarian, so you just might catch him in person tonight at the monthly social/political bar gathering I host, Manhattan Project (6:30 at Merchants NY East bar/restaurant, 62nd and First, back of the second floor), or at one of our future gatherings (not to be confused with the separate Debates at Lolita Bar — for which, by contrast, I desperately need a socialist to defend Che, Castro, and Chavez on Nov. 4, so e-mail me if you have/are someone in the NYC area who’d do so).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Book Selection: "Socialism Is Great!" (plus Dunn, Rand, Paul, etc.)

My boss was recently traveling in China — seeing firsthand the explosion of economic activity that can occur in a place like Shanghai when a totalitarian government even partially gets out of the way and allows commercial activity to occur.

Alas, at the very same time she was over there, it was being revealed over here that the White House communications director, Anita Dunn, considers Mao Zedong one of her favorite political philosophers and is willing to tell schoolchildren that — something that I imagine will be downplayed in any future essays or books (if any) promoting the idea of a “liberaltarian” alliance. Yet certain liberaltarians would rather spend their time complaining about rhetorical excesses by Dunn critics such as Glenn Beck (arguably America’s most effective advocate of limited government right now).

I’ll say much more on Monday about me sparring with liberaltarians, since the November issue of Reason (out now!) features my retort to culturally left-leaning libertarian Kerry Howley (it does not, however, include the story of a Chinese actress turned shoplifter who I mentioned in a previous blog entry, since that got cut in editing, but my point was simply that fun-loving rebels are sometimes as bad at adhering to property rights as they are at adhering to government edicts, alas).

The left, by the way, certainly isn’t fazed by Anita Dunn praising the most prolific mass-murderer in history, since, as the dutiful “fact-checkers” at MediaMatters so fastidiously put it, it’s not as if she explicitly praised the murders (though she was speaking admiringly of Mao’s relentlessness in taking over China — apparently, there were few other figures in history Dunn knew of who had articulated a “don’t give up, just do your own thing” attitude).


Luckily, we have the book “Socialism Is Great!” A Worker’s Memoir of the New China by Lijia Zhang to remind us that China flourishes exactly to the extent it ignores Mao’s advice and moves marketward (with the help of a big deregulatory push from Deng when Zhang was a girl — a push that libertarian activist Howard Rich has argued may make Deng, of all people, the most effective enhancer of liberty in the twentieth century).

Zhang was a teenager circa 1980 when she found herself reluctantly leaving school to work in a factory, where she soon found that

[the similarly unproductive] Nanjing Wristwatch Factory, for example, churned out Plum Blossom watches without regard for the saturation of the watch market; we produced rockets with guaranteed orders from the People’s Liberation Army. Just as enterprises good and bad received standard funds from the state, all workers received a standard salary, regardless of performance. “Work or game, it’s all the same,” went a popular saying.

Zhang is driven, though, and manages to find new opportunities for career advancement, education, love, and travel as China loosens up during the 80s (a decade that saw unprecedented advancements in human freedom and radical reductions in poverty around the globe, while your liberal friends were busy lamenting “the decade of greed”).

There are relatively few authoritarian monsters among the people she describes — mostly just weary workers cynically trying to navigate a ludicrous and inefficient system. As she writes of one acquaintance: “Jiang was a useful friend to have. Anyone in possession of any kind of power, such as charging tax, could trade it for any favor — securing a train ticket, for instance.” By contrast, gossips — some actual informers — become the most routine daily menace to normal social interaction.

With a little help from a Nietzsche-reading boyfriend, English language courses, and an interest in journalism, Zhang eventually got out of there and has chronicled her story for the world — including China, where, in a reminder what a strange and politically-mixed place it’s becoming, the book has reportedly sold well.


Another tale of a plucky female overcoming communism is finally out on DVD today, as it happens: the movie of Ayn Rand’s We the Living. And in other Randian media news, I got an e-mail recently from the leader of an Afro-Celtic Yiddish libertarian ska band called the Fenwicks whose songs include an Objectivist anthem and this number, “You, Me, and Heresy” (I’m guessing the band’s name comes from The Mouse That Roared, the Peter Sellers comedy about the tiny Grand Duchy of Fenwick accidentally conquering the U.S.).

Meanwhile, though, the U.S. continues to move in a more-socialist direction, so it’s encouraging to see moderate Republican Lindsey Graham forced to insist that libertarian Ron Paul is not the new leader of the GOP. That’s true, obviously, but it’s healthy to have the GOP haunted by the idea (not to mention by the prospect of Paul’s son, Rand Paul, running for Senate).

Even one of Paul’s frequent targets, Paul Bernanke, is now sounding the alarm about the government’s out-of-control deficit spending — which is great, though a bit hypocritical coming from a man who’s been overseeing massive bank bailouts. Also unfortunate is his mixture of the warning with nonsense about trade deficits and trying to offset the dollar’s decline by badgering other countries to increase their domestic consumption. Stop fighting supply and demand. Foreigners, just like Americans, should consume — or export — whatever the hell they want to.

And should we even care about national boundaries? That’s a question that divides market adherents not only here but in Europe, alas, where my two favorite Vaclavs are now feuding over the Czech Republic’s participation in the EU. Long term, of course, I continue rooting for more trade, less government. Shouldn’t be so hard to do both.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sick Societies, Stossel, Fox, Harkness, and Newsmax

•I very rarely plug a book I haven’t actually read, but there is one that I was planning to read as a counterpoint to the “Month of Utopia” entries I’ve been doing that I didn’t get around to: Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony by Robert B. Edgerton.

•My understanding, though, is that it makes a point similar to the one made in the final hour of TV I worked on in 2001 with correspondent John Stossel, which was a special called Tampering with Nature, which argued among other things that much-mythologized primitive, ancient lifestyles — and the cultures today that approximate them — are in fact pretty brutal and awful.

Today is the official start, I believe, of Stossel’s work at his new home, Fox News, so follow him there and thrill to his more-unfettered-than-ever utterances, which we sorely need (as I will explain in tomorrow’s entry, about the book Socialism Is Great! — and if you are a socialist yourself, please e-mail me per the Contact info in my right margin and volunteer to defend Che, Castro, and Chavez at our Nov. 4 Debate at Lolita Bar about them, if you would be so kind).

•Having worked on that Tampering show, with its endorsement of modern science and industry — including biotech — helped get me my next gig, at the American Council on Science and Health, where I’ve now been for an astonishing almost-eight-years, which went by like three and a half. In between the two gigs, I took a few months off, wrote an article about cloning, worried about 9/11, and among other things went to a joint Spiked/Reason conference on science and politics here in NYC where I met Timandra Harkness, who has gone on to be a bigtime, government-paid “science communicator” for the UK, I see, so attend all her thought-provoking events if you’re over there.

•And speaking of media — and White House-reviled Fox News and the like — I think you’ll find my first monthly column about political broadcasting on stands any day now in the November issue of Newsmax (and the second one in their December issue if I finish writing it tonight). By all means send me political broadcasting news tidbits and gossip, especially the verifiable kind — as opposed to stuff faked by the leftist pranksters the Yes Men, unless reality gets dull, which is always possible, much as I like science.

P.S. On a media note decidedly more local than talk radio and cable news, my apartment building seems especially prone to female opera singer and cabaret performer residents, if I’m hearing correctly, and as I type this, one is practicing Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” to piano accompaniment. Oops, voice cracked a bit — but Axl is challenging.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Total Recall (of Sci-Fi Past)

I. Before I laud Total Recall, let me just urge you to go to the final show (tonight, Sunday the 18th!) of the play Garden of Forked Tongues, which I suspect is the only play in existence influenced both by futurist, avant-garde playwright Richard Foreman and Stephen King’s time travel story The Langoliers.

II. I noted malleable-reality themes yesterday and cyberpunk themes both then and the previous day, making today’s entry sort of the third and final entry in an unofficial Cyberpunk Trilogy of Entries within my Week of Dystopia within my “Month of Utopia.” The main topic of today’s entry is ostensibly Total Recall, another Paul Verhoeven blockbuster that professional movie reviewer Scott Nybakken has called “a perfect film.” It is indeed an amazingly tight, humorous, well-oiled machine of a film, and I’ll just add that it works much better if you assume it may all be a computer-generated fantasy after all, instead of lazily assuming our protagonist knows what’s what.

Indeed, the scene in which Arnold Schwarzenegger is urged to take the red pill so that he can see through the purported illusion in which he may or may not be immersed seems the likely inspiration (along with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) for a more famous but very similar scene in The Matrix.

III. Speaking of what counts as “real” in sci-fi: How did the 1970s sci-fi series Space: 1999 end? What ever became of Moonbase Alpha? Well, if you think a seven-minute DVD clip made circa 1996, twenty years after the original, counts as canonical, here’s your answer, featuring original-series actress Saundra Benes.

And if that bored you silly, remind yourself how much peppier the show itself — twenty years earlier — was by watching the beautiful, epic, and funky season one opening one more time.

IV. On a very similar note, if you consider Galactica 1980 canonical, then the original Galactica saga ended rather abruptly with everyone from the fleet settling covertly on an ashram in the hills of California, so there’s a certain planetary-population-settlement balance between Galactica and Space: 1999, I suppose.

While we’re at it, recall that for all the understandable praise lavished on the more recent version of Galactica, the original 1978 series had better music.

And if sci-fi itself strikes you as a juvenile retreat from reality, remember: better to make up a manifestly fictional reality than to misrepresent the one we actually live in — and that brings us to tomorrow’s entry, concerning the mythologizing of Sick Societies.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Circuitry Man (Dystopia Week Part 7)

As noted yesterday, we’ve been cyberpunk for a few decades now — yet, oddly, not so hip as a society as to avoid creating things like the terrible poster ad I saw near work featuring a young girl in oversize shades that were never cool with a cute dog and the painful slogan “That Internet is so YOU!” — all advertising Yahoo. Shit by committee, plainly, from a company that should be big and rich enough by now to avoid such things. Maybe they should replace the dog with Poochie in future iterations.

Just slightly better-crafted was the 1990 movie (sorry I said 1989 yesterday) Circuitry Man, one of numerous films around that time that lacked polish but definitely earns points for getting the conventions of the cyberpunk genre right. Do not let the stripped-down, glitzy nature of the Matrix cause you to forget that a decade earlier, it was all about putting a layer of postmodernism over film noir conventions — such as trying to get to the neon-lit big city with the contraband before the hired goons rub out you and your girl.

In a veritable one-man crossroads of cyberpunk culture, the goon in this case is actor Vernon Wells, playing an assassin nicknamed Plughead with literal plugs in his head for sampling high-priced microchips and the like. Wells also happens to have played Wez, the gay barbarian restrained by Humongous in Road Warrior, noted in my Tuesday entry. (And Circuitry Man is such a shoddy production that Wells here has an American accent in indoor scenes and an Australian accent in a couple outdoor scenes in which he’s driving a truck.)

Speaking of Kevin Bacon-like pop culture connections, Wells spoofed the role of Wez in the 1985 comedy Weird Science — written and directed by John Hughes and produced by Joel Silver, who produced (among other things) The Warriors (also mentioned in Tuesday’s entry), the rather cyberpunkish Streets of Fire (with end credits song by the Fixx), Commando (featuring a character named Matrix played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appears in tomorrow’s blog entry), Predator, dystopian Demolition Man, and the Matrix movies.

Getting back to Circuitry Man, though: the dame on the run is played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, a New Yorker now residing in Austin who happens to be the granddaughter of DC Comics founder Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who presumably outranks Captain Atom (she does not appear in the even more obscure sequel, Plughead Rewired: Circuitry Man II). In one year she turns fifty, and I suggest that Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez throw her a party or cast her in something as an aging but beautiful stripper/cop.

I do not know why IMDB lists Circuitry Man as having the alternate title Circulatory Man. If it sounds lame, here are…


•Jesuits like hobbits, apparently, or at least Fordham University is having an exhibit of original J.R.R. Tolkien manuscripts, my co-worker Judy D’Agostino tells me. As I am apparently dating someone who spoke Elvish in middle school, I should probably go see it.

•It was not J.R.R.T. but J.R. Taylor who gave me my VHS copy of Circuitry Man — J.R. is a generous guy — and remember that you can learn about all sorts of B-movie wonders like that on his valuable site RightWingTrash. He also recommends the Brooklyn-shot Italian post-apocalyptic film Rats: Night of Terror, or at least its final scene.

•J.R. and I exchanged e-mails yesterday about the mockumentary films Paranormal Activity and Fourth Kind, both of which may be effective but which I fear will derive some of their power from the nigh-fraudulent pretense that they depict real events (particularly Fourth Kind, which features ads with Milla Jovovich actually telling us — falsely — that the film is based on real abduction reports, which it is not, not even phony real abduction reports, if you follow me).

By contrast, I find myself very tempted to watch the exploitative series Scare Tactics in which guests (who had previously signed releases but didn’t know when things were going to get weird) are scared out of their wits and made to think terrible things are happening. The list of episode titles alone leaves me as entertained as if I’d read several dime novels in one sitting.

•Speaking of reality and lack thereof, I think that whatever the balloon-building father of that briefly-missing boy says in his press conference today, whether it was all a six year-old’s prank or a father’s desperate media-attention gambit, we can count on one thing: It will be bizarre. How educational to have the nation’s eyes turned upon a man who hunts extraterrestrials, did a Wife Swap involving a “psychic,” and best of all appears to believe schizophrenic David Icke’s conspiracy theories about reptilian shape-shifters — possibly including Hillary Clinton — controlling the world.

And it occurs to me that impressive as it is that Paranormal Activity has already made something like $10 million on a $15,000 budget, the people who believe in the reptile invasion suggest that we could eventually bring sci-fi thriller budgets down to zero. I mean, if you can sit these people in front of a TV showing Hillary or whoever on CNN and their imaginations are so active that they see an alien invasion, who needs Steven Spielberg anymore?

Friday, October 16, 2009

RoboCop (Dystopia Week Part 6)

The great 1987 Paul Verhoeven movie RoboCop, like all of his movies, runs the gamut from the brilliant to the laughably absurd and sometimes does both simultaneously: “You have fifteen seconds to comply”…“I’d buy that for a dollar”…“You have suffered an emotional shock”…“Bob, you’re fired.” Besides an increasingly-relevant depiction of Detroit as a crime-filled hell on Earth, it’s got Christ imagery revolving around a cyborg police officer, two of the funniest boardroom deaths in film history, and a bit involving a thug deformed by toxic waste exposure that is so protracted you almost feel as if you’re watching Troma’s Toxic Avenger, a film that’s about as classy but has a much smaller budget.

Too, RoboCop is a reminder that the cyberpunk aesthetic was commonplace in the 80s, long before it got a second wind with The Matrix in 1999: hipness combined with near-futurism, current political/media concerns ironically combined with imagined technology.

In fact, the cyberpunk aesthetic was probably more common in the 80s than in the 90s — tomorrow, I’ll take a look at 1989’s Circuitry Man, but think, too, of things like the comic book The Dark Knight Returns, written by Frank Miller, who would go on to write the two fairly lame and far more heavy-handedly anti-capitalist (if that’s possible) sequels to RoboCop.

In case you only remember the robots, recall that the real threat in all three films is the evil corporation Omni Consumer Products, which had contracted with the city to run the police force in the first film, convinces a pliable mayor to privatize public housing in the second (while a sinister child uses libertarian arguments in favor of drug legalization), and is brought down by an explicit Latin American-style revolution against “capitalists” everywhere, with RoboCop’s help, in the third film (admittedly, about the only other thing I remember about the third film is a young Scott Nybakken sarcastically muttering in the theatre, “Oh! The tips of the cigarettes are blue! It’s the future!”).

Frank Miller would later become a conservative, under the influence of Ayn Rand and 9/11, but not in time to undo his propaganda work in the Robo-sequels. Since he’s the man behind the comics Sin City and 300, he may yet get another chance to comment on politics on the big screen — but he’ll have to hope studios forget the subsequent box office performance of his film version of The Spirit, which despite featuring a superhero, several beautiful women, and Samuel L. Jackson, bombed so badly last December that when I tried checking to see if it was still in theatres about three weeks after it opened, I had to search within a 200-mile radius of Manhattan and found that within that zone it was only playing at one location in central Connecticut. That’s quite a bomb for something that poor Frank might have expected to have some built-in fan loyalty.

But perhaps he deserves to suffer a bit: His Robo-sequels goaded our culture into fighting creeping privatization, when by now it should be obvious to any person with a conscience that creeping nationalization is the real problem in places like Detroit.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Brown Addendum, Morrissey Addendum

I have to thank Helen for sending two links supplemental to my Brown and alternative rock references earlier today:

•First, a link to a swell archive of the unbelievably large number of letters-to-the-editor that my old philosophy professor, the methodically skeptical Felicia Ackerman, has written — and indeed, she had another one in the New York Times just today (fifth one down), amusingly and crankily attacking the villainous David Brooks, that waffling, big-government-loving dweeb (though that’s not why she’s attacking him — she’s faulting him for slighting “the old and un-hip,” which in an adorable way makes her more conservative than him, not that that’s so difficult).

•Second, this link to a list of fake — or are they? — Morrissey song titles (and while we’re at it, here’s a link to my own fake Morrissey song, in case you didn’t read it back when I first wrote it). I noticed just today, by the way, that Morrissey, in his solo live version of “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” twice (twice!) mentions Joan of Arc’s “iPod” (instead of her Walkman and her hearing aid, as in the original), which sounds so awkward one almost has to wonder whether he was paid by Apple to do that (they have Al Gore on their board, so I wouldn’t put any deception past them).

P.S. In sadder alt-rock news, the very same day I posted that list from Wendell Gee of alternative rock songs that included Cyndi Lauper, I see the obituary of her unofficial manager, the mighty and rubber-band-covered Captain Lou Albano. We’ll miss you, big guy.

P.P.S. AND SOMEONE CLAIM MY OTHER ASOBI SEKSU TICKET, PER MY PREVOUS ENTRY! Do you not understand that this is an amazing opportunity to spend an evening with me? [UPDATE: Ticket claimed!]

Rock with Duran Duran, WBRU -- and Todd (Dystopia Week Part 5)

I am the proud owner of a VHS copy of Duran Duran’s Decade anthology of all their 80s videos — and two that stand out as particularly sci-fi also show the clear influence of A Boy and His Dog, mentioned in my entry on Monday. Like me, you may have thought “Union of the Snake” and “Wild Boys” were the direct result of Road Warrior when you first saw them, but I think that elevator in the desert at the beginning of “Union of the Snake,” descending into the decadent underworld, and the similar elevator at the very start of “Wild Boys,” is the giveaway that Don Johnson and his telepathic mutt were the real aesthetic forebears here (and rock videos would in turn influence Don Johnson’s life, strongly shaping the feel of Miami Vice, in which he starred).

A sidenote (as opposed to the preceding paragraph’s methodically linear structure): “Wild Boys” featured the largest indoor set ever constructed at that time, beating the record set just a few years earlier by the snake-filled Egyptian tomb in Raiders of the Lost Ark, or so I’ve heard.


I believed then that the day would come when New Wave would re-emerge as the aesthetic of the future — had we not glimpsed that world in the 80s cyberpunk series Max Headroom? And damn it, I was right. I’d say we are now living that dream. That’s why I get to go see the New Wave-like band called Broadcast on Monday — and why YOU GET TO JOIN ME TOMORROW (FRIDAY, 8pm) TO SEE THE SOMEWHAT NEW WAVE-LIKE (though also a bit shoegazer and a little twee) BAND ASOBI SEKSU.

More specifically, you get to join me because I have two tickets and Helen can’t make it. Thus, the first person (who I already know and is not overtly hostile) who e-mails me to claim the second one — and can make it to Bowery Ballroom to meet me at 8 Friday under your own power — gets it (and I’ll post an update here once it’s claimed) [UPDATE: Ticket claimed!].


As if that appeal isn’t desperate enough, I also still need a defender of Che, Castro, and Chavez (at least someone who argues they weren’t/aren’t evil) to face off against libertarian Thor Halvorssen on Wed., Nov. 4 (8pm) in a Debate at Lolita Bar. E-mail me if you or yours would make a serious, staunch defense.


With that out of the way, let me add that I was reminded where Duran Duran fits into the larger scheme of things (within music, not within sci-fi or utopian/dystopian philosophy) by Jacob Levy, libertarian former general manager of loosely Brown-affiliated radio station WBRU in Providence, who forwarded a playlist (see below) created by WBRU DJ Wendell Gee and some of his colleagues for use on WBRU’s fortieth birthday.

Another libertarian former manager of WBRU, Dave Whitney, notes that there are several songs from the most recent years that he doesn’t recognize — but I suspect we wouldn’t like some of them anyway. It seems 1997 was a year of musical atrocities (like Britney and boy bands, not to mention Anna Nicole Smith covering “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” which isn’t so bad with the sound off), and it was around that time I stopped keeping track of what the alternative rock folk were doing, aside from a few high-profile retro-ish acts like the Hives, Strokes, and Stripes. If I never hear another Blink 182 song, that’s just fine.

However, I now know (thanks in part to the aforementioned Helen, as well as Michael Malice, yet another libertarian former DJ — and Broadcast fan) that while even the purportedly-alternative rockers were doing some bad, facile things over the next decade, better, smarter things were happening in the more quiet, brainy, and low-profile indie-pop scene, if you take the trouble to look (now that we’re fragmented into thousands of niche audiences and no one has the slightest idea what anyone else is watching or listening to).

So I can listen to the Decemberists even if they don’t make it onto Wendell’s playlist — though I’m glad to see Metric did (here’s another song of theirs, about animals fighting in an arena).

One important thing I learned from the list: ska preceded reggae. I guess I should have known that already, but I always just assumed ska was created by people who listened to reggae and had the same reaction I do: “This might stop sucking if it were faster.” Instead, apparently, ska was around by 1959 — as soon as transistor radios brought American pop to Jamaica, Dave tells me — and rocksteady, then reggae, arose later as “rudeboys” literally slowed ska records to half speed in order to make them easier to dance to (skanking is tiring in the Caribbean heat). I was willing to cut reggae some slack when I thought it was the progenitor of ska, like blues to rock, but now I really don’t give a damn about reggae. Ska!

(Another Brown-induced thought on foreign cultures: I notice one of the oddest pieces Brown Alumni Monthly has ever published is in the new September/October issue — a one-page reflection by a woman whose husband insisted they move to Tunisia, leading to her seriously considering having an affair — in May of this year. Might she not want to take a little more time to digest all this before making it public? Were the editors at all squeamish about publishing this embarrassing item — by Naomi Abrahami ’88, apparently now a teacher here in NYC instead of, as she was all of five months ago, in Tunisia? Will her husband respond with an angry letter in the next issue calling her a treacherous desert scorpion? Will the guy she almost had an affair with write in as well? She ends, troublingly, with the lines “Am I glad I didn’t have the affair? Yes, I think so — most of the time.” What the hell? Couldn’t she have blogged this, like other people with no shame do?)

And now, Wendell Gee’s annotated list of forty years worth of (mostly) alternative rock to play on WBRU (note: if I were in charge, I don’t think I would have allowed any band, no matter how big, to appear twice, given the already tight constraints, but it’s a cool list regardless — oh, and you might wanna keep in mind that I was at Brown from 1987-1991, right when WBRU actually adopted its all-alternative format, halfway through the station’s history, but we wouldn’t want Wendell to waste the first half of the list citing Who and Stones songs over and over again — as someone from WBRU said at the time of the transition to the alt-rock format: We have nothing against classic rock, but some of our listeners have heard the Who every day for the past twenty years):

The challenge: represent alternative rock and its roots/WBRU’s history/a specific year in five songs. Try to talk about artists we were first with, try to represent emerging genres, and try (during the seventies) to show the roots of alternative before there was something to be alternative to.

Without further ado, the exact playlist, with my own [Gee's] notes to try to help jocks have something to say.


KICK OUT THE JAMS-MC5 (Detroit proto-punk, MC5 stands for Motor City 5)
I WANNA BE YOUR DOG-THE STOOGES (Debut of Iggy Pop…simplistic crunchy riffs with garage rock attitude, also from Detroit)
CINNAMON GIRL-NEIL YOUNG (Neil would become known as the grandfather of grunge in the nineties, cast Devo in a movie he made, toured with Sonic Youth and Social Distortion and made a CD “Mirrorball” with Pearl Jam.)
RIVER MAN-NICK DRAKE (Heavy influence on the Cure and others. His third album Pink Mood is a masterpiece of acoustic gloom.)


I HEAR YOU KNOCKING-DAVE EDMUNDS (The “pub rock” scene in Britain, a conscious stripped down rock style in the face of progressive pomp led to both punk and new wave.)
ROCK AND ROLL-VELVET UNDERGROUND (from band’s final LP, “Loaded”)
MOTHER- JOHN LENNON (The Beatles were done, and Lennon was doing his primal scream therapy in 1970. This was the single after “Instant Karma.”)
GET UP (I FEEL LIKE BEING A) SEX MACHINE-JAMES BROWN (Without this man, there is no Red Hot Chili Peppers.)
VENUS-SHOCKING BLUE (Dutch band hit #1 in the US with this song.)


GET IT ON-T REX (Glam Rock in Britain broke ground for some of the more outlandish looks of the 80’s. Marc Bolan’s simple riffs made him a revered figure of the punks and the wavers later in the decade.)
ANOTHER DAY-PAUL MCCARTNEY (First solo single from Beatle Paul.)
I’M EIGHTEEN-ALICE COOPER (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols auditioned for the lead singer slot by singing along with his favorite Alice Cooper records in front of Steve Jones and Malcolm McClaren)
SWEET LEAF-BLACK SABBATH (Where detuned guitars begin: Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler tuned their instruments down one and a half steps to reduce string tension. The result is the dark sludgy sound of Queens of the Stone age, Korn and their ilk.)
JUMP INTO THE FIRE-NILSSON (Nilsson was the quintessential cult artist, quirky, witty, drunk, and supremely talented. One of the spectacular flameouts of the seventies.)


VIRGINIA PLAIN-ROXY MUSIC (Where glam met prog with Brian Eno involved. Eno
would go on to become one of alternative’s most influential producers.)
GO ALL THE WAY-RASPBERRIES (Power Pop of the seventies was a big influence on the alternative pop revival of the early nineties…Matthew Sweet, the Lemonheads, etc.)
SILVER MACHINE-HAWKWIND (Space Rock was a small subgenre mostly confined to England. Hawkwind’s bassist and lead singer Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister would leave to found Motorhead who specialized in the fast loud simple metal that mirrored the Ramones on the other side of the ocean.)


SATELLITE OF LOVE-LOU REED (Walk on the Wild Side was a single in 72 and this was the follow up in 73. U2 covered this frequently on the ZOO TV tour and issued it as the b-side to “One.”)
SEARCH AND DESTROY-IGGY AND THE STOOGES (Red Hot Chili Peppers cover this song as the bonus track on the “Give It Away” single.)
JET BOY-NEW YORK DOLLS (glam punks from New York, led by David Johansen…Lou Reed, Patti Smith, New York dolls…by 1973, the seeds of the punk scene in New York were sown.)
BABY’S ON FIRE-BRIAN ENO (From Wikipedia: Douglas Wolk of Blender described the song as “a two-note wonder built around an all-hell-breaks-loose guitar meltdown by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp,” while Chris Ott of Pitchfork Media called the track “earth-shattering”.)
GET UP, STAND UP-THE WAILERS (Ska music had slowed down to become reggae, and its first international superstar, Bob Marley, was about to break free. The last single from the original Wailer lineup.)


STRANDED IN THE JUNGLE-NEW YORK DOLLS (David Johanson would have a successful solo career, and acting career, before reuniting a New York Dolls lineup in 2004.)
AUTOBAHN-KRAFTWERK (You can’t have Depeche Mode, Moby, or most synth and techno acts without Kraftwerk) note: MANUAL FADE NEEDED around 3:22 mark. NO NEED TO PLAY ALL 22 MINUTES.
BALLROOM BLITZ-SWEET (single released in the UK in 1973…made it to the US on the LP “Desolation Boulevard” in 1974. Queen and Sweet both big influences on bands like Muse.)


GLORIA-PATTI SMITH (New York punk poet, the godmother of punk.)
(I LIVE FOR) CARS AND GIRLS-THE DICTATORS (Also from New York, not technically punks, so much as a band that wanted to keep rock simple and fun)
BIG JOE AND PHANTOM 309-TOM WAITS (from “Nighthawks at the Diner,” Waits would win a best alternative album Grammy in 1992 for “Bone Machine.” From Wikipedia: Waits has a distinctive voice, described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.”)
WHITE PUNKS ON DOPE-THE TUBES (from Wikipedia: Showbiz excess was a common theme of the Tubes early work, with singer Fee Waybill sometimes assuming the onstage persona of “Quay Lewd” (a pun on Quaalude), a drunk, drugged out, barely coherent lead singer, decked out with flashing glasses and impossibly tall platform shoes.)


SO IT GOES-NICK LOWE (Important arist and producer. Came out of the Pub Rock scene, produced a lot of punk records, formed Rockpile with Dave Edmunds and eventually even had a top 40 hit with “Cruel to be Kind.”)
ROADRUNNER-MODERN LOVERS (Massachusetts two chord proto-punk Jonathan Richman has forged his own oddball path since this record. Keyboardist Jerry Harrison would join Talking Heads, and drummer David Robinson drummed for the Cars)
WHITE HONEY-GRAHAM PARKER (The first of the “angry young men” to get a record out, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson would follow and have significantly more success.)



FINAL SOLUTION-PERE UBU (One of two oddball punk acts from Akron, OH, the other being Devo)
HEART OF GLASS-BLONDIE (When punk met disco. The first major chart success for a band that came out of the New York punk scene.)
JUST WHAT I NEEDED-CARS (First Cars LP. First chart success for a New England new wave band.)
PUBLIC IMAGE-PiL (A song written for the Sex Pistols becomes the first single for Johnny Rotten’s new band. Changes name back to John Lydon.)


TRAIN IN VAIN-THE CLASH (hidden track on London calling eventually becomes a significant hit single for the band)
I DON’T LIKE MONDAYS-THE BOOMTOWN RATS (lead singer Bob Geldof would go on to spearhead Live Aid and Band Aid and granted knighthood by the queen for his activism. Also starred as “Pink” in Pink Floyd’s The Wall.)
ONE STEP BEYOND-MADNESS (one of the highlights of the British Two-tone ska revival of the late 70’s…see also The Specials, English Beat. Big influence on the ska third wave in the US in the nineties and bands like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones)
IS SHE REALLY GOING OUT WITH HIM?-JOE JACKSON (initially released as a single in ’78, Jackson’s first single needed a re-release in ’79 for it to turn into the radio staple it remains today. The last of the “angry young men” to get a record out.)

1980 (MTV did not launch until 1981, but video music clips start to influence what songs become hits right about here)

WHIP IT-DEVO (made Devo’s third LP “Freedom of Choice” a platinum selling record in the US)
HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA-DEAD KENNEDYS (pioneers of hardcore punk, which, admittedly, did not have much radio success, but was very influential)


PRETTY IN PINK-PSYCHEDELIC FURS (from second album Talk Talk Talk, the first to chart in the U.S.)


DON’T YOU WANT ME-HUMAN LEAGUE (reached #1 on the UK and the US singles charts)
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO-CLASH (final LP for original lineup)


BLUE MONDAY-NEW ORDER (Biggest selling 12” single of all time. This is where the alternative scene and the dance scene start to move together.)
RADIO FREE EUROPE-R.E.M. (A re-recording or a 1981 indie single, and the band’s first chart entry. This is where the “indie rock” scene starts to get noticed)


GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN-CYNDI LAUPER (First ever female artist to have four top five singles from one album, “She’s So Unusual” was its title.)
HERO TAKES A FALL-THE BANGLES (From wikipedia: The band was one of the most successful parts of the Los Angeles Paisley Underground scene, which featured groups that played a mixture of 1960s-influenced folk-rock and jangle pop with a more modern punkish/garage band undertone.)


TAKE ON ME-A-HA (Video won six awards and was nominated for two more at MTV Video music awards.)
VOICES CARRY-TIL TUESDAY (debut of Berklee College of music student Aimee Mann’s new group on the national stage; they won the WBCN Rock and Roll Rumble in 1983.)
IN BETWEEN DAYS-THE CURE (first Cure single to reach the Top 100 in the U.S. It peaked at #99 *smirk* Robert Smith would later perform this song with Korn (!?!?) for their MTV Unplugged appearance.)


FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO PARTY-BEASTIE BOYS (Where alternative began to accept rapping and hip hop into the format.)
DON’T LETS START-T.M.B.G. (this is right about where “nerd rock” starts)
WEST END GIRLS-PET SHOP BOYS (from Wikipedia: It was Number One in the UK, USA, Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, Lebanon, Israel, New Zealand and Norway and sold an estimated 1.5 million copies worldwide)






DOWN IN IT-NIN (debut)










LOSER-BECK (debut)






DAMMIT-BLINK 182(debut)










ALL MY LIFE-FOO FIGHTERS (One by One won a Grammy Award for Best Rock
in 2004.)












KIDS-MGMT (debut)