Wednesday, April 28, 2010

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR, or Rather: Todd Seavey Reads an Ayn Rand Speech at Columbia

Instead of our usual monthly Debate at Lolita Bar being on a Wednesday…in a bar…and being a debate:

I, Todd Seavey, will read Ayn Rand’s speech “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World”

on this Saturday, the first — May Day — at 4pm at Columbia in Hamilton, Room 303

(thanks to Cooper Vaughan and the Columbia University College Republicans).

Hamilton is 1130 Amsterdam Ave., at W. 116th St. (and there’s a 1 subway stop on that street).

Expect ample Q&A — and since I’m not an Objectivist, don’t expect me to defend everything said in the speech (which Rand gave on this campus fifty years ago, in May 1960, after giving the same speech earlier that year at Yale and Brooklyn College, as I have this year).

–As long as the Q&A is over in time for me to make it to Saturday’s Echo and the Bunnymen concert (in keeping with my “conservatism for punks” slogan), all is well.  (And in other punk news, check out my farewell to Malcolm McLaren on

–Let me also group-thank everyone who congratulated me on my new job.  (The first real cable episode of the show hasn’t even been on yet and MediaMatters is already warning the world about us, or at least about one past guest of the online version of the show, and let me add that my new employers are in no way responsible for my side activities like the debates and this Rand speech, nor are my prior employers, ACSH, who’ve hired my friend Derek Rose as my replacement.)

–Meanwhile, if you must patronize the competition, you might watch your local listings for PBS’s The Birth of Freedom, one of several well-done documentaries from the Acton Institute, especially suitable for those of a Catholic libertarian bent (like several of my favorite people, it seems).

–But realistically, the media figure with the biggest pro-capitalist impact in May could well be the superhero Iron Man, who can be seen in one scene of the sequel (out May 7) telling a congressional committee, “You want my property?  You can’t have it…I have successfully privatized world peace.”  Tony Stark may understand heroism even better than Rand did, but we can discuss that Saturday.

Monday, April 26, 2010

ObamaCare Debate audio

Download audio of the full Debate at Lolita Bar from April 7 (on “ObamaCare: Triumph or Doom?” with Bryan Harris and Gerard Perry) — and watch this site for tomorrow’s announcement of the room number and directions for our next event: a special Saturday, May 1 (4pm) gathering at Columbia featuring me reading an Ayn Rand speech.

(Audio courtesy of Michel Evanchik)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Elvis Is for Labour

In Thursday’s entry about a comic book depicting conservative punks as evil, I mentioned planning to see Elvis Costello last night — so I was a bit saddened (though not shocked) when I saw a headline today saying Elvis had been recruited to bolster the reelection campaign of the UK’s Gordon Brown — but it turns out to be an Elvis Presley impersonator, which is much less cool.  The logical question, then, is who would win a fight between a left-wing Elvis Presley impersonator and demonically-possessed conservative punks (this would also make a decent, long overdue sequel to Bubba Hotep).

My dad likes Elvis Costello, yet I remember him complaining way back when I was a kid about Costello making some lefty-sounding anti-U.S. comments.  Hm.  Maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Elvis has lightened up a bit, though, if we take as evidence his 1999 Saturday Night Live appearance, in which, as I learned last night, he pretended to interrupt the Beastie Boys and they (like Costello in his decades-earlier Saturday Night Live appearance) switched gears and sang the anti-corporate “Radio Radio” instead.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Et Tu, DC Comics?

It wouldn’t be Earth Day without news of a leftist comic book story set in the UK or written by a UK writer.

Jacob Levy sends another important geek alert: my core philosophy, the very source of this blog’s slogan and an impending book chapter by the same title, has been depicted as a force of evil in a comic book from DC Comics! Hellblazer’s John Constantine (as written by Peter Milligan, in issue #266) learns that young punks are being duped into becoming capitalists, and thus conservatives, by the belief that anarchism leads logically to radical free-market beliefs. Great story idea — except of course that this philosophical leap is true and good. Has Milligan been reading my blog? (He can’t have read and reacted to my piece on Malcolm McLaren so quickly, at least.)

If he has been reading my blog, perhaps he should instead read my neighbor Carey’s new blog about food. She also sings for money but does not pretend to be a punk (combine her loungey stylings with punk, though, and I suppose it’d average out to something like Elvis Costello, who I’ll see in concert tomorrow, as it happens).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ewok Barbershop and Hobo Grindhouse

Jacob Levy notes this barbershop quartet singing the triumphant Ewok song from the end of Return of the Jedi.  (Even the original Ewok song seems OK to me now, compared to the prequels.  I would far rather watch nine hours of Ewoks than hear nine seconds of Anakin telling Padme she’s not like sand.)

Meanwhile, Grindhouse (the Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature from a few years ago), for all its flaws, keeps on giving, spawning not only a Machete feature-length spin-off but now Rutger Hauer in a feature-length Hobo with a Shotgun.  The DarkHorizons piece about this also notes in passing and links to the reporter’s own favorite from the Grindhouse faux-trailers competition, Maiden of Death, about a vengeful zombie rocker chick.  I was reminded of Maiden of Death when I got home from work last night and saw a bunch of plastic swords and a plastic black electric guitar being thrown out by one of my neighbors.  Definitely was tempted to retrieve them.

Monday, April 19, 2010

This Day in History, This State in Politics

•April 19, 1775: the Lexington, MA shot that started the Revolutionary War
•April 19, 1993: the Waco fire concluding the ill-fated Branch Davidians raid
•April 19, 1995: bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma  City
•April 19, 2010: Todd’s first day at his new job (then rally at Langan’s at 7 with me)

But on a more local political note:

You know (one of) the odd thing(s) about the governor and legislature being mired in scandal here in New York?  It means that with so many Democrats, including the governor, disgraced, the next governor will simply be…a different Democrat.  The Republicans have yet to put forth a credible opponent to the likely Democratic primary winner, the talented Andrew Cuomo.  The GOP has offered only a Dem-turned-sudden-”Republican,” a guy no one’s heard of, a solidly-ideological-conservative type who sadly keeps having to explain mini-scandals like why his office forwarded racist e-mails, and Rick Lazio, the ex-U.S. rep who sounded like a mediocre high school debater during his failed Senate run against Hillary Clinton ten years ago and manages to be on roughly two sides of an amazing array of issues.

Maybe Gov. Paterson should start openly saying, “Why shouldn’t I do crazy stuff?  There’s no opposition party anyway!”

Add to all this the weirdness of Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch arguably being an unconstitutional appointment and Mayor Bloomberg having steamrollered his way over term limits to stay in office for what will be twelve years, and you have a state that may at some point find itself with a halfway-acceptable governor and a halfway-acceptable mayor who don’t belong in office, and with an unopposed party waiting in the wings to cause more mishaps.  For a state with many impressive accomplishments, politics is not really our forte.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Battle Is Joined

After the start of Brightest Day and the parasitic evil of Tax Day, I face my final day at ACSH, and tonight I plan to exit the office carrying the last significant object I need to remove from my office: a giant, black, blasphemous, cardboard cross emblazoned with the words “The Exorcist: The Beginning” that I found in the trash at the movie theatre across the street.

Fittingly, I’ll carry it downtown and — assuming I can somehow safely stow it for the duration of the 7:10 show of The Cartel (a documentary about schools and the most destructive faction in domestic politics, teachers unions) — will then pop into the Drinking Skeptically gathering at Dewey’s Flatiron with it to amuse the atheists.

Speaking of bar gatherings, the Manhattans Project, as it will now punningly be known, moves to Langan’s (47th and 7th) this coming Monday (day one of the new cable news job), meeting there each third Monday of the month at 7pm henceforth.

But the most exciting libertarian-friendly and conservative-friendly gatherings going on these days are surely the Tea Parties, and I was pleased to hear that my parents attended one yesterday and spotted multiple Norwich, CT neighbors including my friend Paul Taylor’s parents — as well as one neighbor with a big Don’t Tread on Me flag (Mom also notes seeing a photo of my libertarian former boss John Stossel in an article on mustaches).  My parents may yet out-radical me, and given the math-flouting big-spending freefall of our profligate government, not a moment too soon.  We haven’t a dime left for welfare or warfare, and it all needs to end now.

If that sounds like quixotic Ron Paul-type talk, note that Drudge-linked article revealing, as if in a moment from a dream, that Ron Paul now polls roughly even with Obama in a hypothetical 2012 presidential contest.  If he can win the primaries, I say go for it.  Even if he lost, it accustoms the American mind to future such candidates, possibly including his equally libertarian son, Rand Paul.

But even if the GOP goes with a more statist candidate such as Romney, it’s nice to see that there’s a growing popular movement of people out there who understand better than the major parties that government spending is the problem.  The presence of moderates and disaffected Democrats in that movement is also very encouraging — better than anything I’d have hoped for two years ago.  And if they seem disaffected and disloyal enough to be a swing vote, of course, that’s even better, since the Democrats, Republicans, and the wee but surely increasingly optimistic Libertarian Party will all be trying to court them, if the parties are smart (a big if).


As for me, I should apologize for how coy I’ve been about my political views over the years and will endeavor to change that, interacting with liberals henceforth not as if they’re bad — nor as if our differences don’t matter — but as if they, like all of us, are capable of changing their minds and ought now to do so.

This is as close to the fight we anti-government folk have waited for as we’re ever likely to get.  Let’s get started.

If you believe in math, friends — even my leftist and green and downright Marxist friends — now’s the time to jettison your pro-government-spending notions of the past.  It’s over.  Join us in limiting this out of control leviathan.  Or else go down in history as something absurd akin to defenders of absolute monarchy or fascism.

Perhaps I can persuade some people when I do my final performance of that Ayn Rand speech at Columbia, which appears likely to be May Day now — which may be even better than the originally-planned Cinco de Mayo, if not perfectly anniversarial (she was there in May 1960, in any case).

And keep reading ACSH’s work under the new editor there, since science, like econ, is an inescapable fact of the universe and will have consequences, whether hippies, gurus, and health food clerks like it or not.

Monday, April 12, 2010

What Happens in Vegas Dies in the Icy Cold of Space

The Star Trek Experience (the ride/funhouse/theatre/bar in Las Vegas) is no more, and its parts are being auctioned off, including Picard’s command chair.  I was there in the mid-00s and even have a photograph of myself drinking a Warp Core Breach, with a souvenir Starfleet teddy bear I dubbed Tibearius propped up next to me.  Don’t think me immature, though — when Tibearius got hammered, I was the one to relieve him of command, in keeping with Starfleet protocols.  Stuffed animals can’t hold their Romulan ale.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

1,001 Seaveyan Media Activities

Or rather, in this 1,001st blog entry, I hereby announce my plan to use this site henceforth for something more like one weekly essay — and, to compensate, by 2010’s end, I hope to be focused on this Top Ten Things To Do list of expanded media activities:

•TV news writer/producer (the real job, in so far as TV is real, starting April 19)
•An essay in a major upcoming conservative anthology book
•If that’s well received, a real book (or at least a pitch)
•Twitter (forgive me, with tweets daily — punk- or politics-related, lyrical, and, yes, grammatical)
•Facebook (avec moi et mes amis, le deluge — I have long avoided any electronic social networking, so don’t be fooled by that other entry with my name and the URL containing 100000229244383 on Facebook, which is not me)
•Much shorter blog entries here, except for roughly weekly long ones including the book reviews and ongoing announcements of…
•…the monthly Debates at Lolita Bar (including our rare field trips away from the bar, as on Cinco de Mayo May Day 2010, when I hope to read a Rand speech at Columbia)
•The separate monthly gatherings of the Manhattans Project, now at Langan’s (join us) — and spelled slightly differently
•Another comic book script, too long delayed (my apologies to my patient collaborator)
•And, in time, podcasts.

If all of that leaves me a burnt-out shell of a man who gets bad about returning e-mails, remember all that I’m juggling (and be grateful I don’t have kids or any normal hobbies).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

1,000th Blog Entry Spectacular -- and a Serenity Prayer

My computing-machine claims that this is the 1,000th blog entry posted on this site, which means it’s been near-daily since it started just over three years ago.  Since yesterday’s entry focused on punk, let’s look primarily at two of the other four legs of the Seavey philosophical table today: science and markets.

•The first thought to cross my mind is that this past Wednesday’s Debate at Lolita Bar (after which the audience voted for the view that ObamaCare spells doom) wasn’t such a bad transition between a science-oriented and a market-oriented phase of my life, as I move from working for a science-promoting health non-profit (ACSH, which you should admire and support) to a major cable news channel well-positioned to chronicle and criticize creeping socialism, just as healthcare becomes the locus of debate about that problem.

•Speaking of mixing markets and skepticism, last weekend I read aloud a speech from Rand, and next weekend I’ll hear a speech by Randi.  In one week, on Friday the 16th, I’ll bid ACSH farewell, see the libertarian documentary The Cartel (7:10 show at the Quad Cinema), then join the skeptics of Drinking Skeptically at Dewey’s Flatiron — and the next day (Saturday the 17th from 10am-6pm), I’ll see superstition-debunker James Randi and numerous likeminded speakers at NECSS (the NothEastern Conference on Science and Skepticism), then for good measure party with some NYT alums who’ll be delighted to hear I’m starting work at an esteemed cable news organization, I’m sure.

•In another science/market intersection — specifically, at the northwest corner of Fifth and 57th (very close to the French Institute, where NECSS is being held) — is organizing an anti-ObamaCare rally, at 2pm on Saturday the 17th, the same day as NECSS.  If I can ever get all of these people to work as one instead of so frequently being at odds, my work here will be done.

•Speaking of protests, the fact that the Tea Party movement’s influence is being felt by the mainstream GOP is good, good news — and a Gore advisor’s comment in this article that Republicans will have to mix Tea Party appeasement (as he puts it) with Wall Street appeasement only makes it sweeter.  A half-Tea-Party, half-Wall-Street party is almost exactly what I’ve always wanted the GOP to become.  Indeed, the party serves little useful purpose in any other form.

•I think that goes double for libertarianism, of course, despite that recent spat I was in over whether property rights are the whole philosophy.  Let’s (briefly and unsubtly) put it this way: No one can pretend that property rights-adherence isn’t how you predict what libertarians will say.  We can wrap that basic abstract formula in all sorts of other highly subjective mush about “individual flourishing” and “tolerance” until the cows come home, but at the end of the day how do libertarians almost always know what other libertarians’ positions will be (in almost all cases except precisely those in which property lines are unclear)? By all using the property rights test.

Any libertarian who pretends that there’s no common underlying property-based reason that they keep unanimously opposing taxes, disliking government spending, wanting the government’s hands off your pot stash, etc., etc., etc. is lying or obfuscating for reasons not fully clear to me — but perhaps rooted in an irrational desire to avoid being mistaken for an economist.  There’s not a lot left over policywise when you finish settling all the issues that libertarians settle with this property-rights rubric.  And I think that’s a good thing — you don’t want people to think every issue can be solved with one simple formula, but you do want them (even the simple, uneducated ones) to have in mind some easily “portable” mental guide to right and wrong.  Otherwise, all is chaos or rule by “wiser” elites who claim they know and you don’t.

•Here, I’m largely dodging all culture wars, but if anyone tries to tell you capitalism and materialism are bad for art and high culture, sling this one on them (noted by Don Boudreaux): “Believe me, my sole purpose is to make as much money as possible; for after good health it is the best thing to have.” — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

•I only just realized that the skinny libertarian yoga instructor with the bikini-displaying biz card who I once met in Stossel’s studio audience has a name I keep re-hearing not merely because it’s a common name but because she actually is a fitness celebrity — Kristin McGee — and now has a recurring role on 30 Rock as the annoyingly hot new fiancee of Tina Fey’s character’s ex.  I kept getting spam e-mails about her latest workout vids and mounting fame and only gradually realized it was the same person.  Welcome to New York City.

•In other TV-related news, I mentioned last month that retiring New York congressman Eric Massa described his lewd comment to an associate as a remark about “frakking,” prompting me to wonder if he was using the slang term from Battlestar Galactica.  Now one of my ACSH co-workers informs me that “hydro-fracking” (pipes breaking due to massive fluid influx) has been a huge problem after recent flooding in the Northeast, and a memo to medical personnel in the area even warned that the threat of hydro-fracking looms “over New Yorkers like a sword of Damocles,” prompting one of my friends to ask if Damocles was a Caprican or a Cylon and another to theorize that hydro-fracking is Galactica-speak for sex in the shower.

And since sci-fi is the fourth leg of the Seavey philosophical table, now I’ve touched on everything.  Or to put it all in a form resembling the Serenity Prayer:

Hypothetical SCI-FI-like entity, grant me…

The CONSERVATISM to accept the things I cannot change…

The PUNK intensity to change the things I can…

And the SKEPTICISM needed to tell the difference.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Me on Malcolm McLaren on

Malcolm McLaren, RIP, as noted in my reason piece “Capitalism for Punks” today.  And lest I make the Rotten/McLaren animosity sound too strong, I should add this reminder that Johnny’s not totally rotten, from New York Times: They report Lydon/Rotten has said, “For me Malc was always entertaining, and I hope you remember that. Above all else he was an entertainer and I will miss him, and so should you.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What's a Libertarian?

That’s the question on Stossel — which, again, is not the series I’ll be working on — tonight at 8pm Eastern on Fox Business Network (Channel 43 on Time Warner cable if you’re in Manhattan), repeated at midnight and other times this weekend.  David Boaz and others will attempt to answer the question, though you and I know that I am the only one who truly understands.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Before Tax Day, Brightest Day

Comic books kept getting progressively “darker” during the three decades I read them, but if (for some sick reason), you’d like to try picking up the habit at a turning point when things may be headed in a more optimistic direction, Wednesday one week from today sees the publication (and delivery to your local comic book store) of Brightest Day #0 (yes, zero) from DC Comics.  It’s the prelude to a twenty-six-issue biweekly maxiseries by that name but is also a sampler of where DC Comics’ characters’ lives stand now — and it comes after a year’s worth of comics in which those characters experienced dark things indeed, fighting an army of zombies that included some of their loved ones.

With the zombie menace vanquished, some familiar old characters including Aquaman have apparently been brought back to life in the good sense, so now’s your big chance to see what they do next (all the resurrected characters seem like ones who might well have resurrected themselves eventually anyway, due to their various mind-over-matter or over-time or over-energy powers — except Captain Boomerang, who’s just a guy with Boomerangs, but I suppose Boomerangs always come back).  Again, I’m off the stuff — for almost a year now, just to save time — but there’s no reason I can’t push the habit on others.  Go on, you might enjoy it.

(Actually, I did pick up the final issue of the zombie war series, Blackest Night, I admit, and I think I’ll give a copy of Brightest Day #0 to Sandy and Nicole Partowidjojo, the same couple to whom I gave Blackest Night #0 one year ago on their first anniversary, since they’d incorporated the phrase “in brightest day, in blackest night” into the vows used at their wedding in Bali, at my suggestion, that phrase — and the titles of the two comics — having been taken from Green Lantern’s vow.)

As for whether a miraculous restoration from morbidity to health is in your future, find out tonight (8pm) at Lolita Bar as we debate ObamaCare!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Today Mattress Warehouse, Tomorrow the World

On this final day of Passover, let’s take a moment to reflect upon the Jews and the idiots who hate them (if anything, I must count myself a Judeophile — where would comic books, comedy, film, libertarian philosophy, science, New York City, and roughly one third of my ex-girlfriends be without the Jews?).

I mentioned back in this blog’s first year of operation that the vicious little (Estonian/Canadian) antiglobalization jackasses running the Canadian leftist magazine Adbusters did an article in 2004 with the whining title “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” which simply listed about fifty prominent neoconservatives with a little mark next to the ones the magazine believed to be Jewish, accompanied by a disingenuous explanation that the editors aren’t anti-Semites, just keen to raise the question — as if it’d never come up — of whether these neocons might be biased in favor of Israel because of their heritage.

The article also implied that this neocon cabal was controlling U.S. foreign policy, of course, so I was amused to see my friend Ellen Bork on the list.  I’m not saying she’s unimportant — she works with William Kristol and all — but I’d seen her not too long before that pounding the pavement back when she was in New York and complaining that she had no job (and she’s not technically Jewish, as I recall, but we’ll leave that aside).  Now she was reportedly deciding the destiny of nations.

Well, today this mighty Elder of Zion mass-e-mails that you can now follow her on Twitter, not on @ControllingTheWorld, interestingly, but on @MattressShame.  Apparently, Mattress Warehouse has sent her three defective mattresses in a row, and she’s not taking it lying down, raising awareness of their shoddy craftsmanship and possibly even picketing their offices, she says.

Stay on the case, Adbusters!  What will be her next target after this mighty struggle against Mattress Warehouse?  Iran?  Syria?? If she proves capable of defeating Mattress Warehouse, I’d say no force on Earth can stop her.  I also say good luck, Ellen.  When we begin the rebuilding of the Middle East, we will need quality mattresses.  We need to win their backs and necks, not simply defeat their troops.

I may well start doing this Twitter thing myself very soon, what with people’s attention spans getting shorter and me becoming so multimedia over the next several months.  Perhaps the war on Mattress Warehouse should be an example for me of how to shape this new medium, in the way the first Gulf War was for cable news and the Iraq War was for bloggers.  Even out of this sorrow and struggle, something good might come, I’m thinking?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Five Thrilling Upcoming Political Events (and Two Past Events)

Two weeks from today, I become part of the vast Rupert Murdoch media empire, and I’m admitting that here for all time so that no one accuses me of hidden conflicts of interest if I absent-mindedly blog in the future about some other part of the empire — such as:

•the Wall Street Journal, a great issue of which happens to have just been summarized by Sean Dougherty for your convenience on his great PR/media/politics blog, or

•TV host Sarah Palin, who addresses a (modern) Boston Tea Party on the 14th, just before Tax Day — and in the process (even if her abandonment of her Alaskan governorship proves her unfit for higher office) likely summarizes the attitude of most Americans toward taxes far more effectively than does our current president, no matter how many sentences she might mangle (and for more political debate-talk, remember to join us for the healthcare dust-up at Lolita Bar this Wednesday at 8pm)

If all this is too “establishment” for you and you need purer, more libertarian stuff, though, you’re in luck — one week from tonight is the Manhattan Libertarian Party’s April 12 debate and candidates forum, reports their head honcho Ron Moore…

That same night, though, I will be attending an advance screening of the realistically-violent superheroes-without-powers comic book adaptation movie Kick-Ass (thanks to Kyle Smith)…

And if neither liberty nor violence is your thing, you also have the option of going to the Columbia campus that night to hear Dawn Eden give a talk on “theology of the body,” in part covering what John Paul II thought about sex…

I’ll be at Columbia myself one month from tonight, doing my third and final fiftieth-anniversary reading of Ayn Rand’s speech “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World.” Yesterday, to Dawn’s dismay, I gave the speech on Easter morning, but next month I’ll merely be giving it on Cinco de Mayo, which I hope won’t offend anyone too badly…

My thanks to Gerard Perry for navigating my trip to his old Brooklyn College stomping grounds yesterday — you can see him speak at the aforementioned ObamaCare debate at Lolita this Wednesday — and my thanks in advance to anyone at Columbia willing to help just a tiny bit with the set-up of my May 5 speech, which I haven’t actually, you know, gotten permission for or anything yet. I’m just assuming it will all work out as smoothly as my speech at Yale in February under the auspices of the Party of the Right and the Objectivist Study Group at Yale did — unless Yale is better than Columbia, of course.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Seavey Rand Speech, Seavey on Google Voice, plus an "Atlas Shrugged" Sequel

Ali Kokmen tells me this April Fool’s announcement of sci-fi authors writing an authorized sequel to Atlas Shrugged got some people in a tizzy. Let’s hope only people with senses of humor show up to hear me read Rand’s speech “Faith and Force” today (disembarking at 10am from the western steps of Bryant Park to take the F train to Brooklyn College, where I’ll declaim at 11am on the library steps facing the main green, if all goes as planned).

Speaking of sci-fi, Friday I greatly enjoyed the play Samuel and Alasdair, a postmodern but poignant show briefly being put on at the Brick Theatre, about Russian radio hosts and country musicians broadcasting in the face of humanity’s annihilation by giant robots. Like that time travel/postmodernism play I saw a few months ago, it was more poetic and less campy than I’d expected (this after all being a theatre that recently ran a play about monkeys beating each other up).

Marc Steiner (my old college sophomore roommate, visiting New York City with his wife) also enjoyed the play and, as it happens, informed me that same night that I must talk like a robot myself — or at least that I am the one person he knows whose voicemails appear via the Google Voice function on his cellphone perfectly transcribed, coherent, correctly-spelled, and properly punctuated. Well, good. I know my speech sometimes sounds a bit stiff and my prose a bit colloquial, but I’ve always thought the two should be interchangeable instead of wholly different modes, and it appears that I’m pulling it off, according to technology.

How would Sarah Palin fare under such a test? Bostonians get to find out next week when she addresses a Tea Party there — and more about that tomorrow. But this Easter morning, consider coming to hear me at Brooklyn College.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Book Selections: Are Goths to the Right of Genghis Khan? Book Selections of the Month (April 2010): History of the Goths by Herwig Wolfram and Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

Look closely at some old thing thought to be more cohesive and coherent than our divisive modern age and you usually find that the old thing, too, was complex, messy, and populated by mutts.

Take the Goths, who, far from being some ancient, insular race of ur-Europeans, were essentially a polyglot mess of overlapping and poorly-defined armies united as a people only in the sense — and so long as — they were willing to fight under a single general. Two millennia ago, basically, if you were outside the Roman Empire and slightly to the north — and willing to fight — you were a Goth, no matter how shifting your tribal boundaries and ambiguous your genetic lineage.

It’s interesting that the term has to this very day retained a certain “outcast” or “outsider” meaning, even as its relationship to the insiders has altered drastically. So, for instance, as the Roman Empire became more Catholic, “Goth” carried the connotation of insufficiently Christian (and indeed, the Goths were often a hodgepodge of semi-Christians and pagans) — they were the ones building barbarous stone structures to the north while Italy had delicate cathedrals. By the time the English began referring to “gothic novels,” by contrast, the implication was that the things that went on in Continental settings such as cathedrals and castles were, if anything, too Catholic — and thus mystical — by comparison with rational, mostly-Protestant England.

Then, the sorts of things that went on in those novels — attacks by Eastern European undead men with fangs and the like — became the inspiration for our own Siouxsie Sioux-era goths, who enjoy looking like blasphemers and outcasts but are more fond of Catholic-like imagery (crucifixes, ankhs serving as obvious substitutes for crucifixes, etc.) than just about anyone else in modern pop culture (maybe some, hankering for an Easter-substitute will join me at 10am on the western steps of Bryant Park tomorrow or 11am on the steps of the Brooklyn College library facing the green to hear my rendition of Ayn Rand’s “Faith and Force” speech — and we should have at least a couple Catholics to boot).

As I’ve recounted before, my punk singer friend Tibbie X had a thriving business in her youth selling blasphemously-altered crucifixes to goths, thriving enough to warrant a visit from a nosy lawyer for the Church of Satan who wanted to make sure she wasn’t using their official Sigil of Baphomet goat-in-pentagram symbol without permission.

In any case, the combination of pagan vitality and un-Christian decadence among the Goths inspired me to read the following description of them (as they were seen by their Roman historian contemporaries) as part of my intro comments at last month’s Debate at Lolita Bar on the question “Is Christianity for Wimps?” — taken from Herwig Wolfram’s History of the Goths (a 1980 book I can’t really recommend to non-academics, since it is admirably thorough but ends up being rather listlike, almost a recitation of the Goth phonebook or almanac, aside from rare passages like this):

They remain outside the civilized world. They are barbarians; their language does not sound human, more like stammering and mere noise. The barbarians also speak diverse languages all at once or side by side, for in their eyes language is no criterion of tribal membership. Under the assault of their horrible songs the classical meter of the ancient poet goes to pieces. Their religion is superstition…If a storm approaches, they fear the heavens are collapsing, give up any advantage they may have on the battlefield, and flee. At the same time, they are dominated by a horrible death wish; they actually look forward to dying. Even their women take part in battle. Barbarians are driven by evil spirits; “they are possessed by demons” who drive them on to the most terrible acts…Their lust for gold is immense, their love of drink boundless. Barbarians are without restraint…They are blonde and tall, if dirty and given to strange customs of personal hygiene. They grease their hair with butter and do not mind its rancid smell…The reproductive energy of the barbarians is inexhaustible. The northern climate of their native land, with its long winter nights, favors their fantastic urge to procreate.

And these characters displaced the Roman Empire.


Ascending from nomadic barbarism and constant warfare to imperial domination several centuries later were the Mongols, who’d long been divided into constantly warring or raiding bands — without even a written language — until united under one warrior who’d begun as a homeless, dog-fearing socially-outcast young boy but gradually rose to dominate what is now Mongolia and then, when he could have rested on his laurels in middle age, went out to conquer most of the known world — leaving the Mongols ruling an area larger than North America — stretching from Beijing in the east to the very outskirts of Vienna and Constantinople in the west.

The description of Genghis Khan’s astonishing achievements in Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (a much more engaging read than the Goths book) almost makes Khan sound like a primitive, idealized version of the first neoconservative — conquering the world (occasionally having a rival’s spine broken or enemy soldiers dumped en masse into moats, etc.) but then ruling it in a religiously-tolerant, rationalistic way based on rule of law and the protection of global trade routes. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the book was first published in 2004, the year of George W. Bush’s reelection and not long after modern Mongolia started citing the Gingrich Revolution as an inspiration during its own move away from communism.

Weatherford writes:

On every level and from any perspective, the scale and scope of Genghis Khan’s accomplishment challenge the limits of imagination and tax the resources of scholarly explanation.

As Genghis Khan’s cavalry charged across the thirteenth century, he redrew the boundaries of the world. His architecture was not in stone but in nations. Unsatisfied with the vast number of little kingdoms, Genghis Khan consolidated smaller countries into larger ones. In Eastern Europe, the Mongols united a dozen Slavic principalities and cities into one large Russian state. In eastern Asia, over a span of three generations, they created the country of China by weaving together the remnants of the Sung dynasty in the south with the lands of the Jurched in Manchuria, Tibet in the west, the Tangut Kingdom adjacent to the Gobi, and the Uighur lands of eastern Turkistan. As the Mongols expanded their rule, they created countries such as Korea and India that have survived to modern times in approximately the same borders fashioned by their Mongol conquerors.

Occasionally, some tribe would be foolish enough not to ally with Genghis Khan and would incur his wrath, such as the Jurkin, who in the early days once failed to show up with troops they’d promised to send to his aid. I assume this is where we get the expression “Jurkin him around.”

And while I’m making stupid puns, I can’t help noticing that a reviewer of the book on made a typo that ends up describing Genghis Khan as forcing people of diverse religions to “live in harmy,” which sounds more damaging than intended.

Seriously, though, Genghis Khan was on the cover of Dave Eggers’ tragically short-lived humor magazine Might in the late 90s as their “Man of the Millennium.” (Had Might not been canceled, they were also scheduled to print my article about evil clowns in pop culture — I think it ended up in an even shorter-lived libertarian youth mag, The Exchange, if memory serves, and I think they even reprinted the pencil drawing I sent them of an evil clown — complete with the visible logo of the hotel stationery on which I drew it.) It may have been a comedy magazine, but I think Might made the right choice.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Clash of the Titans (and Gods)

I saw the Clash!  Well, not the band, alas, but the by-the-numbers (including 3D) movie remake.  One odd thing about it is that Clash of the Titans is really about a war of the Olympian gods, whereas next year’s movie War of the Gods is actually about a fight against the Titans, the gods’ predecessors (and that will probably be a much better movie, directed by Tarsem, who was responsible for the “Losing My Religion” video by R.E.M., the disturbing and visually surreal Jennifer Lopez thriller The Cell, and the stunning metafictional fantasy The Fall).

I wasn’t originally planning to see the Clash of the Titans remake but must admit that hearing the line “release the Kraken” in the ads for the first time in years weakened my resolve (and releasing a Greek gods film between April Fool’s Day and Easter seems about right).  Ralph Fiennes as Hades does such a brilliant job of seeming like a random hack playing a B-movie villain, it almost makes the whole thing worthwhile.  Some contributors to the Wikipedia entry about the movie have been harsher, though, and I couldn’t help noticing just a bit of editorializing in this phrase that was on that page last time I checked: “Apparently lacking any creative ability or knowledge of Greek mythology whatsoever, Sims had difficulty designing Medusa, explaining…”

But enough about ancient 3D Greek warriors:  tomorrow, a Book Selection entry about Goths and Mongols!  And the morning after that, remember, you can catch me on the western steps of Bryant Park at 10am for the subway ride to Brooklyn College, where at 11am, I’ll recite an Easter-morning Rand speech.  Let us hope Yahweh does not retaliate by…unleashing the Kraken.

P.S. The mention of J-Lo above reminds me that I recently overheard a man explaining, seriously, that he was giving his seventy-something dad a “J-Ho” blow-up sex doll for his birthday.

P.P.S. Kyle Smith has also posted a couple entries about Clash of the Titans, not entirely coincidentally, as well as an entry about MGM in the comments thread of which I express my fear about the Hobbit movies.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: "ObamaCare: Triumph or Doom?" (plus big ACSH news)

Wednesday, April 7 at 8pm

featuring: editor Bryan Harris arguing triumph.

•conservative activist Gerard Perry arguing doom.

Michel Evanchik moderates and Todd Seavey hosts.

Voting on the question at the end: you, the audience — bring a whole faction if you like, since we plan extensive audience Q&A on this divisive and timely topic.

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

In other news: After eight years, I’m leaving the American Council on Science and Health (really, not an April Fool’s joke — apologies for any short-term chaos such as lighter blogging), so stop using my acsh-dot-org address if you’ve been doing so, and e-mail ACSH[at] immediately if you’re interested in applying for the position of editor/writer there.

P.S. As journalists everywhere should be documenting, I am trekking to three campuses this year to give Ayn Rand’s speech “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World” on the fiftieth anniversary of her delivery of it in these places (beginning with Yale and ending with Columbia).  This Sunday (coincidentally Easter), April 4, 2010, at 11am, I will give the speech (followed by Q&A) on the steps of the library of Brooklyn College, facing the main green.  Join me there or travel with me from Manhattan on the F train by rallying at precisely 10am that morning on the western steps of Bryant Park.  Nothing can poszibley go wrong.