Friday, July 30, 2010

Freedom Leak

All right, one last blog entry touting Freedom Watch before I turn my attention to blogging about more personal matters — like musings about the fate of the world (and how it is decided) in my August “Month of Imperialism” blog entries. Henceforth, you can get your online Freedom Watch info, though, by clicking on the three Freedom Watch-related links in my Blogroll down below, on the right-hand side of my blog front page — the ones saying “Freedom Watch (cable show),” “Freedom Watch (old Web show),” and “Judge Nap.”

In store for you tomorrow (10am Eastern, repeated at 8pm, then again on Sunday at 7pm and 11pm), though, is a show that’s already made some headlines, featuring an interview with the man behind the military document-dumping site Wikileaks. Is he a menace, or is this sort of truth-revealing (which that site has done on many controversial topics, using info from inside several different sorts of institutions) a necessary and natural check on centralized power…like that of an empire?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Doctor Who and Marvel Superhero Movies

•Since the past two days’ entries mentioned time travel, the Victorian British, and imperialism, it might be a fitting time to note that I stumbled across this nineteen-minute sketch featuring Rowan Atkinson (among others) as a comedic version of Doctor Who. Not bad. (The Doctor’s British-eccentric combination of wanderlust, tolerance, and very-reluctant interventionism may have contributed to my own rather moderate and Britishy attitude toward imperialism and interventionism — but we can discuss that at our August 12 debate on imperialism at Lolita Bar, especially if you e-mail me to volunteer to argue against imperialism.)

•In other geeky news — perhaps the gothiest news I’ve heard since Peter Murphy did guest vocals on a Nine Inch Nails cover of a Joy Division song (“Dead Souls”): a remake of The Crow is due out in 2012, and the screenwriter is none other than Nick Cave, dark alternative rock singer and the not-bad Faulkner-esque (via Australia) novelist who wrote And the Ass Saw the Angel, which I gave to Francis Heaney as a birthday present at some point.

As long as Cave’s Crow is better than Wim Wenders’ atrocious pseudo-sci-fi film Until the End of the World, I’ll be happy — though that film’s rock soundtrack may remain the best I’ve ever heard (with the possible exception of Natural Born Killers, from that film directed by that Hitler apologist who hates Bush). The Until the End of the World soundtrack features wonders including Nick Cave’s darkly hilarious bomb-maker-narrated drinking song “’Til the End of the World.”

•In still geekier news, I should note that reportage from last weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con revealed that Joss Whedon is officially directing the ensemble Avengers movie, with more-or-less confirmed team members (or allies) Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.

And we learned that next year’s Thor and Captain America movies will be linked, in what has become the expected way with Marvel-based movies, through the device of having Captain America’s archfoe, the Red Skull (played by Hugo Weaving, who says he’s been studying Werner Herzog’s German accent), pilfer magical items from a castle once ruled by Thor’s dad, Odin.

Very careful observers will note that the second Hulk movie was linked not only to Iron Man but, in a single scene, to both Captain America and X-Men’s Wolverine, since the canister containing “super-soldier” (i.e., Captain America) genetic material was labeled “Weapon Plus,” that being the decades-long secret project that created Wolverine as well. But that’s as much of Wolverine as you’ll likely see in an Avengers movie, since different movie studios have the X-Men and Avengers contracts.

The Infinity Gauntlet of Thanos and the Cosmic Cube also reportedly figure into the plots of Thor and Captain America, respectively, reminders that Marvel’s mythos is vast, much of it still untapped.

But again, I’m mainly rooting for a fight against Ultron aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier (muthafucka).

P.S. Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear an exasperated Samuel L. Jackson, playing Col. Nick Fury, proclaim “There are too many muthafuckin’ Serpent Squad members on this muthafuckin’ Helicarrier”?  You don’t even need to answer that question.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Selection of the Month: "Victorian Norwich" by Arthur Lester Lathrop Book Selection of the Month (July 2010): Victorian Norwich by Arthur Lester Lathrop

Until Helen gave me a copy, I had no idea anyone had written a book about the town I grew up in, Norwich, CT (there’s been more than one such book, apparently).

Thanks to Lathrop’s tome, which depicts the different-yet-very-familiar Norwich of the latter half of the nineteenth century, I now know about such things as Norwich’s schizoid relationship to the temperance movement (literally going back and forth between making booze illegal and legal on roughly an annual basis) and about Norwich being, yes, the croquet capital of the U.S. for a good forty years, though the town baseball players were virtually all Irish. (Similar revelations help explain why England seems almost as much like home to me as New England does.)

Another chapter details the close ties between my high school (Norwich Free Academy) and Yale. The town saw its commercial peak, though, in the trolley car (or, if you will, steampunk) era, and the book ends with Norwich’s grandest-ever self-celebration, 101 years ago, a parade/festival overseen by (familially Norwich-linked) President William Howard Taft himself, after which it was all downhill — but still in an English-Victorian progressive sort of way — straight to late-twentieth-century economic doldrums and me.

(And herewith a flashforward to my August, September, and October Book Selection entries, which will include, respectively, After the Victorians; the Taft-related Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism; and the Jonah Goldberg-edited anthology Proud to Be Right, featuring my vaguely steampunk-like essay defending, explicitly at long last, the tradical idea of “Conservatism for Punks.” Taft is a reminder, by the way, that America is capable of producing presidents who are both fat and in favor of minimizing business regulations, so there may be a bright future for Chris Christie.)

In New York City, one is conscious of history — and newness — at every turn, but I am pleased to learn that simply by growing up in Norwich, I have walked the same streets walked by such characters as John F. Cunneen, the “Irish-Machinist orator of Chicago,” who preached in Norwich against the evils of the saloon; the pro-saloon Norwich Bulletin editorialist who lamented that “prohibition has made this country an arid waste”; famed conjoined twins Chang and Eng; crackpot mesmerists and spiritualists — including one who became famous in England and admired there by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Elizabeth Barrett Browning; the spiritualists’ skeptical critics; waves of nineteenth-century immigrants, particularly the Italians and Irish; an early Zionist organization; and Polish immigrants who reportedly came to blows due to one’s “arrival at [a] christening and his desire to furnish harmonica music that was not wanted.”

More loftily, Norwich had Chautauqua Circles and Grangers aimed at improving the masses with philosophical and political lectures, not to mention various Moose and Elks. From a mayor who attacked shop awnings with an axe because he saw them as the greatest aesthetic blight upon the city to a major pro-free-market advisor to Abraham Lincoln, I can see in my Norwich-dwelling predecessors the combination of puritanism and utilitarianism (with a dash of Northeastern reformism) that helped produce me. If I ever find my way into the history books, though, may I at least be more fondly recalled than the man who was perhaps Norwich’s most famous resident, Benedict Arnold — but his story precedes Lathrop’s narrative by a century, so that is a story for another time. Feel the hometown pride.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gen X-tremely Old

Jacob Levy notes J.E.H. Smith has attacked 80s music — or rather, has captured perfectly how a forty-year-old Gen Xer of a certain sort (e.g., me) feels about whether to stay hip or indulge in musical nostalgia…or both…or neither (I also really like the first comment below the article).

I will note that I am not and have never been a fan of 80s music per se but rather of alternative rock, where that means something broad like “the strain of music roughly beginning with Velvet Underground and running through glam rock, punk, New Wave, grunge, and in the narrow sense indie, along with some of the things resembling or influencing those genres, such as garage rock, some prog rock, and alt-country.”

This shows (for good or ill) greater consistency on my part — and far less interest in nostalgia — than if I regarded, say, the Dead Kennedys and Katrina and the Waves as interchangeable (and, by the way, I really think the latter should have done a benefit concert to aid victims of post-hurricane flooding in New Orleans). I was even more enthusiastic about decade-old Who songs when I was ten than I am about twenty-year-old Nirvana songs now, I swear. And I still don’t like, for example, Bon Jovi, whose songs sound like they were designed to cause people to sing off-key in karaoke decades later.

All that being said: setting aside quality for the moment, my nominee for “most quintessentially 80s song” is Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.”

P.S. Speaking of time travel, here’s what (Brown alum) Josh Friedman, who produced the tragically short-lived Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series, has been up to lately (as pointed out by Megan McArdle): confronting someone who partially stole his identity (but is probably not a robot duplicate from a decade in the future). And by the way, I correctly guessed who the writer of that blog entry was even without knowing his last name, ’cause I’m just that nerdy.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Libertarian Smackdown

Perhaps the most surprising moment on this weekend’s Freedom Watch (for which I write) is the moment when hulking professional wrestler Kane is asked what he thinks about liberty and he gives host Judge Andrew Napolitano an erudite citation of nineteenth-century French economist Frederic Bastiat.  You can find clips from past shows here, and you can watch the new episode on Fox Business Network at 10am and 8pm Saturday, 7pm and 11pm Sunday, Eastern, so surely you’ll want to catch it at least once.  Besides Kane, it’s got Ann Coulter, Bob Barr, espionage-analyzing Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, and more.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Prometheus and Batman

I’m pleased to see that this clip of a pug dog who (ostensibly) sounds like he’s saying “Batman” (followed by ABC anchor-banter that reminds me oddly of some dates I’ve been on) has already gone viral…and been transformed (as my friend Paul Taylor points out) into this musically-enhanced version using the theme from the 1960s show.

In slightly more sophisticated geek-entertainment news, Ali Kokmen, who really ought to be made the head of his own nerd-oriented publishing company or division, with a simply immense salary (because he’s just that good), points out that the Libertarian Futurist Society has just given out its annual Prometheus Awards for libertarian sci-fi.

P.S. I’m not sure what it tells us about io9 readers that their comment threads contain some of the first uses I’ve seen in several months (mercifully) of the beaten-to-death nerd would-be-sophisticate humor-trope of feigning hesitation through the use of constructions such as “Um, not so much.”  I hate with a murderous passion every last living person who is still doing that, and I will not apologize for it, even if they are sad teenage girls with few other outlets for their creativity and opinions.

By contrast, I admit I have on rare occasions made use of “uh” on this blog to feign confusion, but that’s different, and when I do it, it’s cute.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Punk for...Whatever Boyd Rice Is

I see that tonight brings a performance at Le Poisson Rouge in the Village by Boyd Rice, punkish noise artist and ex of performance artist Lisa “Suckdog” Carver.  Rice mainly interests me because he’s sort of a Social Darwinist anarchist with Church of Satan influences, whereas among my friends, only one person holds that philosophy, a sad reminder how predictable people are, really.

A DJ at tonight’s Rice show: David Johansen, formerly of New York Dolls.  Yes, that’s right, the guy who had a hit with “Hot Hot Hot” under the name Buster Poindexter, with the hair.  Didn’t expect to see that guy onstage with a Satano-anarchist the last time you heard the song used in a TV ad about spicy food, did you?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Punk for Conservatives

Bobby Steele is not only a past Lolita Bar debater (much as you can be if you volunteer to argue against imperialism for August 12), he’s also a punk-rocking veteran of the Misfits and the Undead — and a conservative — and he’ll be performing in the highly-capitalist venue of the Jamba Juice in between 47th and 48th (which can be entered from Broadway or 7th) tonight from 6:30-9.

Why not check him out before attending the nearby monthly Manhattans Project gathering I host, from 7-10pm on the third Monday of the month, at Langan’s bar/restaurant (47th near 7th), for people interested in politics and/or media?  That’s my plan.  Sounds like a perfect evening.

Jamba Juice is a reminder you don’t need alcohol to have a punk time, and Steele is a reminder you don’t need the Green Party either.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Children, Puritans, Crazy Chicks

I see that a couple weeks ago I was evoked as an example of a libertarian with conservative cultural sympathies (due to my debate with Kerry Howley), in a Daily Caller column defending gay marriage.  I don’t want to exaggerate my conservatism, since I also have my punk side (as the blog slogan suggests), but there are certainly times when I think there is something fundamentally awry with the anything-goes cultural attitudes of our fallen era, like the religiony folk are always telling me.  I think we’d all be better off if we listened to many of their cultural and psychological points regardless of whether their empirical claims about the structure of the universe are, strictly speaking, true.

Take, for example, the divide about what to teach children regarding sex.  It’s easy to condemn the puritanical religious types (some of them my New England ancestors, as I’ll explain in greater detail in about one week when my Book Selection of the Month will be Victorian Norwich), those who want to fill the kids with taboos and ignorance and tales of hellfire.  On the other hand, I hope I’m not the only non-religious-fanatic who’s noticed that there really does seem to be some countervailing mania on the part of some educators out there — be they hippies, perverts, or just religion-bashers — to impose as much sex-info on kids as early as possible, despite most of us turning out just fine with a large dose of mystery on these topics until adolescence or so.

Take this story about efforts to acquaint grade-schoolers with the fine points of anal sex and the like.  Is this necessary?  Surely there’s a happy medium somewhere between that and nuns forcing people to take cold showers.  The kids will piece it together from movies eventually anyway.

The most generous interpretation of the push to teach the young everything immediately may just be that it’s a case of hyper-egalitarianism, treating all potentially useful info about everything under the sun equally, as if it’d be suspicious to suggest that genitalia be treated in a more circumspect fashion than, say, computer programming.  I’m sure many people keen on creating a gender-neutral culture would see that sort of egalitarianism as a natural corollary of their position.  I only hope society never becomes so gender-neutral that it ceases to produce songs — and excellent videos — like “Girl U Want” by Devo.

That song was used to good effect in Tank Girl, which reminds me that perhaps we’ll hear some interesting (and thoroughly gendered) reactions next year as Watchmen director Zack Snyder once more mines comic books, this time to create an homage not to Charlton Comics heroes (or zombies) but to crazy chicks: Sucker Punch.  Again, as something of a conservative, I don’t think the culture needs a wave of crazy-chick chic.  But the movie will probably be better than Tank Girl.  Someday, perhaps classes on film and gender (which I’m sure Brown is still teaching 24/7) will present compare-and-contrast screenings of Snyder’s films Sucker Punch and 300.  Will either truly be feminine, though?  And is 300 kinda gay?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summery Entertainment Summary

•I understand David Mamet’s play Race got some negative reviews, but I liked it — sort of a Twelve Angry Men with gruff racial arguments thrown in, with enough layers of un-p.c. expectations-thwarting and reverse-reverse-racism to keep things ambiguous. (And Eddie Izzard looks a bit like comic book industry legend Scott Nybakken, as a bonus.)

•Even more complicated, though, was Chris Nolan’s multilayered corporate-spies-within-dreams thriller Inception, which I hope does very well, though it’s just a little longer and more ponderous than it needs to be, as may be the way with Chris Nolan, I’m beginning to think.

•I have not seen — but am intrigued by the juvenile premise of — Dinner for Schmucks, in which an IRS agent is brought to a dinner party not realizing he’s there because of a contest to see who can bring the dumbest dinner companion. Mainly, I’m just glad a scriptwriter thought “stupid” and then thought “government bureaucrat.”

•Speaking of stupid, here’s something related to entertainment from last year — Optimus Prime doing a Top Ten List on Letterman. And here’s the man behind the robot, or at least the robot’s voice, which I gather many ladies consider hunky-sounding. On a more low-tech note, here’s a real-life owl who functions very much like a Transformer.

•In other biomechanical news, I skipped a Laurie Anderson concert this week but often recall the story of her performing a concert in a town in Africa that had only had electricity for about two days, which is very neat, though it must have made most of the subsequent uses of electricity there seem a bit anticlimactic. If you volunteer to argue against the idea of “benign imperialism” in our August 12 Debate at Lolita Bar on that topic, maybe you can point to Anderson as a troublemaker (that debate will likely be the highlight of this blog’s planned “Month of Imperialism” in August, so stay tuned…).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Brink Lindsey Lurches to the Right

…or at least he now calls for libertarians to ally with moderates instead of, as he desired two years ago, liberals.  What hasn’t changed is that he still hates those rotten no-good conservatives, even the Tea Party ones.  I wonder if, in the end, he will have any friends at all.

Jonah Goldberg and Matt Kibbe annihilate him in the Reason colloquium linked above. You can also find two former editors in chief of the print version of Reason — and one ex-boss of mine from ABC — among the guests on this weekend’s episode of Freedom Watch, so by all means watch on Saturday or Sunday, on Fox Business Network.

As for Lindsey and his “liberaltarian” mission: it seems to me the liberaltarians, some of whom openly voted for Obama, basically zigged when the nation zagged, ideologically speaking.  But they are allowed to learn and grow, just like the rest of us.  Anyone who still cannot see libertarian potential in the Tea Party movement but can see it in the Democratic Party, though, is about as ideologically blind, albeit in a less dangerous way, as the unrepentant Stalinists of the 1950s.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Malice on Pekar on Malice

Comic book writer Harvey Pekar passed away this week, but while he lived, he wrote the graphic novel biography of my friend Michael Malice, a one-man walking anarchist revolution (and former Cato Institute intern).  Malice recalls the experience in this article.  I wish this were a typical comic book death and thus likely to be reversed within a couple years.  But thinking like that leads to religion, and as Malice is a Stirnerite, he’d lose all respect for me.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

From the Foundations to the Bastille

Happy Bastille Day.  While I don’t hold the French Revolution in much higher esteem than I do the Bolshevik Revolution, both (unsurprisingly) ending in mass murder, I do think this is an apt day for asking radical/revolutionary questions.  One that keeps cropping up in conversations on this blog and elsewhere is what the foundation of libertarian thinking is.

Clearly, for some people — perhaps for a growing portion of libertarians as new, younger people enter the movement — libertarianism is a messy enough bundle of things, from personal autonomy to constitutionalism to national sovereignty, that it’s almost surprising libertarians’ answers to moral and policy questions are as consistent as they are.

And, to be sure, diverse rhetorical modes have long been there in the movement — sometimes individualistic, sometimes conservative, sometimes revolutionary, sometimes bean-counting, sometimes coo-coo-liberationist — but I think it’s always been clear to the deepest and most careful thinkers in the movement, from Robert Nozick to Milton Friedman to Murray Rothbard, that property rights has to be the real basis, not because, say, we arbitrarily prefer shopping to meditation or charity but because all the other candidates for a foundation are so subjective that they simply don’t lead in a predictable way to the sorts of answers to moral and policy questions that the movement keeps generating.

I can tell you that burglary, taxation, and contract fraud all involve someone taking someone else’s property without permission, and it’s not that great a logical leap (however debatable a move one might think it in utilitarian terms) from there to saying all government regulation is an intrusion, etc.  By contrast, all the fuzzier candidates for underlying principles, such as “autonomy” or “individualism,” seem to lead most people to moral conclusions as diverse and strange as the dreams of poets.  Does property enhance autonomy?  OK, I guess.  Does an NEA grant also enhance autonomy?  Maybe sometimes, I don’t know.

I can tell you with confidence that the money for it was taken from taxpayers threatened with jail time, though.  The property violation is much easier to spot than the vague imbalance in various metaphysical asserted-virtues.  You can’t run coherent law courts designed to ferret out threats to “individualism” (cops? billboards? too many people wearing the same shirt?  twins?).

And so, even as I’ve listened to many a speech extolling “liberty” and “pluralism” and so forth, I suppose I’ve always been translating such vague rhetoric in my mind into the only thing that can really provide simultaneous moral, legal, empirical, and linguistic clarity in these matters — with the added bonuses of ease of transmissibility to new learners and the potential to be employed in any culture, or for that matter any planet, unlike more culturally- or psychologically- or historically-rooted concepts.

Property is as universalizable as game theory, which cannot be said for, say, an ethnically-rooted religion or even a revered but historically-rooted document.  These other things are tolerable as imperfect but sometimes necessary real-world instantiations of the abstraction lying in back and well above them, which is property, with its correlation to mutually-beneficial exchange, and thus to preference-fulfillment, and thus to increased utility, and thus to the moral and efficient organization of society, more direct than the crude approximations to be found in the cases of, say, national sovereignty or some quirky vision of personal flourishing, be it Objectivist or Viking.

Of course, some would say that the danger in an abstract, universalizable code (like the danger some see implicit in the Enlightenment) is that it fosters the imperialistic desire to go out and actually universalize it, no matter what the natives think (not that I’m so sure that’s an awful outcome).  To wrestle with that matter, I’ll do three things, and with at least one of them, you can help immensely:

•I’ll review the book After the Victorians, about the collapse of the British Empire, on this site next month.

•I’ll declare August a “Month of Imperialism” on this blog (that sounds like fun) and blog about some of these issues.

•I’ll host a Debate at Lolita Bar on August 12th (8pm) on the question “Can There Be Benign Imperialism?”  We have our imperialist, so if you’re an anti-imperialist and you’re free and in NYC that night, perhaps you should contact me at the e-mail address on my About/CONTACT page (linked in the right margin of my front page) and volunteer.  You don’t want the British to walk all over you, do you?  If you’re like (murderer and) antiglobalization philosopher Antonio Negri, you don’t even want them selling you things.  Please make your case.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Immigration Revolution, Immigration Blog

Revolutions don’t always start for the reasons you think they should have, and they don’t always work out the way you expect.  A libertarian acquaintance of mine, despite being sympathetic to freer immigration, notes that the conflict over immigration laws in Arizona could end up being the spark that leads to states making greater use of nullification, invoking the Tenth Amendment or de facto seceding from DC.

That thought has to leave someone who wants open borders — or no borders at all, to put it in more anarcho-capitalist, post-nationalist terms — with mixed feelings.  If the fifty states near-simultaneously abandoned DC, like outlying regions of China more or less ignoring Beijing, but did it so they could keep out Mexicans, it would be a strange case of the libertarian movement almost repeating the circa-1980 phase of conservatism, when it was sometimes ambiguous when the concept of “states’ rights” was being unfairly depicted by liberal foes as a veil for racism and when the concept really was just being invoked as a veil for racism.

Not that I’m equating resistance to illegal immigration and Jim Crow.  Rather, I’m saying that in each case, after Arizona, people with motives far removed from property rights can now cloak those motives in anti-centralization talk — even though greater decentralization as an outcome would still be a wonderful thing, much appreciated by many of us who really do have property rights as our main goal (when in doubt, go with diversity — I want the states to be free from DC, and free to experiment, for roughly the same reason I don’t at all mind having a mix of Mexicans, Swedes, Japanese, etc. in the country and don’t even expect them to feel bound by every technicality of our immigration laws any more than the average Tea Partier feels obliged to respect every detail of environmental regulation).

Maybe Spain winning the World Cup will decrease condescending attitudes toward our Spanish-speaking brethren in this hemisphere a bit.  That still leaves countless immigration issues — such as how to handle covertly anti-democratic Islamic radicals who are not actually committing any crime — to be addressed.  And it just so happens that Gerard Perry, who knows his stuff (even when I disagree with him), has started a blog to address those issues, called UnreceivedWidsom.

Having heard him debate immigration and Obamacare at Lolita Bar — and being indebted to him for guiding me to Brooklyn College for the under-attended second iteration of my Ayn Rand declamations this spring — I am confident he’ll have interesting things to say.

But tomorrow something even more revolutionary: Bastille Day!  Regardez-vous!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Choosing Sides in Spain

Congrats to Spain.  I’m reminded that a friend of mine was recently falsely labeled a fascist by a leftist, and his one concession to her charge was that he might have picked the opposite side from hers if forced to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

By contrast, he and I have a mutual acquaintance who is ostensibly an admirer of Burkean organic/traditionalist thinking but also likes street brawls, Nietzsche, the Catholic Church, brutalist architecture, folk music, urban planning, labor unions, working-class solidarity, Continental philosophy, anti-bourgeois and anti-individualist thinking, rigid class/gender roles, self-conscious elites, unapologetic regional loyalties, and Carl Schmitt’s insistence that politics requires conjuring and fighting an enemy.  So it is almost as if we know Mussolini, even while being horrified by such views, like all good-hearted people who have learned from the nightmares of history.

But speaking of learning from history: perhaps this week of Bastille Day is a good time to contemplate the causes and aims of…revolutions.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Paul the Psychic Octopus Fhtagn!

As the final World Cup match approaches, I can’t help thinking there is something familiar — and sinister — about the world delighting in combative arena-revels while thinking of a prophetic, tentacled beast with purported psychic powers.

And speaking of dread Cthulhu:

•This two-year-old story about a ban on photographs of H.P. Lovecraft’s grave was just brought to my attention.

•This news story about a woman living among her beloved dead sounds rather Lovecraftian.

•But Julian Sanchez, as one of my co-workers points out, has nicely summarized why we needn’t run around being either dogmatic or completely agnostic all the time.

So don’t waste too much time fearing that today’s game will end with the winning team swearing allegiance to Paul the psychic octopus and ushering in an era of global darkness and bloodshed that will leave us all speaking with sorrow of “the strange events of 7/11” (in a non-convenience-store sense). That probably won’t happen.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The World vs. Paul the Psychic German Octopus

The purportedly psychic (actually “prophetic” would seem to be the more apt adjective) octopus in Berlin who has been half-jokingly watched by the press, due to his thus-far-accurate “picks” for World Cup game victors, is a classic example of how people dupe themselves, with substantial help from irresponsible media.

It’s not that Paul picking winners is a complete fabrication, but the press conveniently drops the context that would deflate the whole phenomenon (and I realize more and more as I age that this is the case with almost everything in the press — few outright lies, but more confusion than information, due to all the essential nuances being pared away, sort of like doing a propaganda story headlined, with technical accuracy, “Norwegians Are Committing Crimes”).

As I type this, there are about twenty-four hours to go before Spain plays the Netherlands to determine the World Cup recipient, and, due to the strange communist/metric rules of soccer, there are about five minutes to go before Germany plays Uruguay to determine who’s in third place. Slightly less confusing, though, is the weeding-out process by which Paul became a prophet and an instant global celebrity.

What’s rarely mentioned in the latest round of “psychic octopus” reports is that he began as part of an entire Berlin zoo of animals engaged in (merely random) “prediction” activities (picking either of two markers, etc.) regarding the World Cup, including a hay-bale-picking hippo. All the other animals have proven to be “failures” at “predicting” the winners, but there was always a very good chance that one, simply by random chance, would keep picking winners. Presto, “psychic octopus,” aided by the quiet dropping of that hippo (if it’s possible to quietly drop a hippo) and all its compatriots from more recent stories.

Paul’s odds of picking the right team in tomorrow’s game remain fifty-fifty — slightly worse than yours, which are at least informed by information about the teams. But you’re not psychic either.

I am persuaded that all supernatural claims — all, I say — similarly unravel under careful examination, as do many stock-picking plans, most predictions of economic downturn, retroactive claims of successful government action, “prophecies” from the Book of Daniel (or Nostradamus or what have you), most news “trend” stories, and tales of “dreams that foretell the future.” We watch the hits and weed out/forget the misses, and then the gullible construct illusory causal narratives that emphasize the hits. Skepticism is not just a matter of saying “These things cannot be!” but of watching more carefully what is occurring (in the world and in our lazy brains) instead of willingly treating life like a stage magic show, in which the audience strives to be fooled.

I may need to get back to pointing out these basics more instead of focusing on later, derivative observations such as the failings of organized religion or government. Critical thinking is, as the skeptical movement increasingly stresses, the first step, regardless of what phenomena we end up accepting as proven or disproved. Keep your eye on the ball at all times or you’re liable to be fooled, especially by prestidigitators with eight arms.

P.S. Drudge nicely undermined the psychic octopus stories by simply juxtaposing them with a headline about a “psychic parakeet” who predicts a different game outcome. Helen suggests a plan that would eliminate the soccer player middlemen: Just have the octopus fight the parakeet tomorrow.

P.P.S. A friend of ours in turn suggests that if Helen’s answer to problems is usually combat, she should be accompanied at all times by the sound of the “fight music” from the legendary “Gamesters of Triskelion” episode of Star Trek. Sounds good to me.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Dobbs/Napolitano, Lady Gaga, and David Brooks

•Coincidentally, the very same week that Freedom Watch is set to run a confrontation between the host (my boss) Judge Andrew Napolitano and populist Lou Dobbs, The Daily Show also depicts differences between the two commentators (starting at 3 min. 28 sec. into that clip). You’ll just have to watch the new episode of Freedom Watch (at Saturday 10am Eastern or 8pm, Sunday 7pm or 11pm on Fox Business Network) to see how closely reality matches comedy. Don’t expect a tranquilizer dart on our show, though (just an array of exciting guests, including Sharron Angle).

•In a further weird coincidence, last weekend, I found a copy of former senator Fritz Hollings’ book Making Government Work at the Strand, and, lo and behold, it had not only been autographed by Hollings — but made out to his friend Lou Dobbs. Small world.

•In yet a third media coincidence, mere hours after I criticized the music of Lady Gaga (at last night’s Debate at Lolita Bar, about whether burlesque is art, to which the audience says the answer is yes), I found myself literally trapped in a crowd of gaga Gaga fans around Rockefeller Center, on my way to the nearby News Corp building for work this morning. Cruel irony (which should be her next album title).

•Back to politics: I’m tempted to go on about how convincing the profile of David Brooks in the new New York Magazine (brought to my attention by Gerard Perry) is, given that it emphasizes his almost pathological ideological squishiness, but I think Kyle Smith may have best summed up New York’s summary of the man who summarizes about one new centrist paradigm per week, sometimes two. Not all neocons are bad — and they are too varied to dismiss as Trotskyites or warmongers the way some paleo types do — but Brooks has several of the bad qualities people usually mean when they complain about neocons (I say this as a man who could by some metrics be called a neocon himself and still misses the Reagan coalition — global markets, selective use of the military, morals and Western Civilization good without the specifics disrupting yuppie lifestyles too badly, yadda yadda yadda).

The next-page teases on that New York Mag article are more vicious than the article itself, including this one: “Next: Why he’s been called a ‘spineless Beltway geek.’” (Sidenote: The issue’s cover story is about mounting evidence that having children makes people less happy, though it’s happy people who tend to have children. Which side are you on?)

My own summary of the Brooks mushiness as media phenomenon: DAVID BROOKS IS THE NEW DAVID BRODER.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Come See the Freaks

Yesterday’s entry may have been grimmer than befits the week of tonight’s fun-filled Debate at Lolita Bar about burlesque (8pm), so today a link to something much more entertaining and closely related to burlesque: an article about freak-filled, sideshow-loving Coney Island…

…specifically, a piece written in anticipation of this past Sunday’s annual hotdog-eating contest there.  The cast of strange characters involved makes it sound like the movie The Quick and the Dead (still Sam Raimi’s best, if you ask me), with colorful, cartoonish weirdoes assembling from far and wide for combat.

I honestly strive to be a straight-laced, moderate fellow but somehow seem to end up being a ringmaster as a hobby and knowing several people with ties to things like sideshows (and burlesque).

One of my favorite bartenders, at the fittingly named bar Shade (not far from the defunct Baggot Inn, where Dawn Eden and Caren Lissner plied their trivia years ago), with whom I’d never really expected a bond to form or common interests to emerge, turned out to be not just a multiply-pierced and tattooed gothy person who likes punk, which is already pretty cool, but also a friend of sideshow people and a fan of sci-fi, Nietzsche, and John Stuart Mill, with a background in biology — and old professional ties to the Kubrick-inspired Korova Milk Bar, where I attended a Space: 1999-themed party on Sept. 13, 1999, the day the Moon blew out of orbit (on a fictional TV show, or so the official story goes).

Ah, but who is to say which are the most valuable forms of weirdness?  Let the market sort it all out, like a giant, beautiful hotdog-eating contest.  Anything else is sheer arrogance.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Picture of an Imperfect World, Made Worse by You

With our debate about burlesque-as-art tomorrow night (Thur. 8pm at Lolita Bar, no longer Wednesdays) likely hinging partly on the photographs of debater Monty Leman, I was reminded of the most disturbing photo I’ve ever seen — twenty-five years ago. With a moment’s Google search, I found it again all these years later, for good or ill. It looks just the way I remember it — and anyone not affected by it is likely a sociopath. Most people feel, or ought to feel, a sense of angry rebellion over the fact that incident couldn’t somehow be prevented.

The faster wealth and technology increase, and thus the ease of taking safety precautions and making rescue efforts increases, the less often things like the incident in the photo have to happen. You may also, then, be a sociopath if you, or the philosophies you embrace, slow the growth of wealth and technology, even if you call yourself an idealist or some other noble-sounding label.

Every communitarian or socialist who says capitalism undermines social cohesion, every green who says let the people live in old-fashioned ways and submit to the beauty of nature, every religious person who says staving off death and injury is less important than what happens after death and that we should not care about material advancement, every antiglobalization activist who hinders free trade and the benefits that flow from it, every moderate who says half a market is enough — the incident in that photo is the sort of thing you invite, with greater frequency than necessary, countless unnoticed times a day.

I wondered when I was young if I’d devote any time to fighting you (instead of doing something more frivolous but remunerative), but by now I know I’ll spend my whole life fighting you and couldn’t live with myself any other way.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Four Fandoms

Covering all four sturdy legs of the Todd Seavey philosophical table:

•Dave Whitney recommends punk-friendly MUSIC review site

•Jacob Levy recommends a site about COMIC BOOKS that depict punk.

•Helen Rittelmeyer notes that one of her friends, Leah Libresco, is blogging about being an ATHEIST dating a Catholic (the reverse of Helen’s own highly-enjoyable situation, of course).

•And I should urge every LIBERTARIAN to check out my boss’s site and the linked sites thereon (to keep you occupied between the weekend broadcasts on FBN).

But to stay broad-minded (when I’m not arguing with Eric Metaxas or a public relations man for Opus Dei, as I was at a party last week), I organize debates like the one this Thursday on burlesque.  I’m even moderating this one, so join me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Devo: Freedom of Choice

Dave Whitney forwards this recent irono-patriotic, campaign ad-like message from Devo, just in time for the Fourth of July. The message reminds me of the old Devo compilation video that featured a military commander broadcasting desperately-needed Devo videos from a bunker in an effort to aid “a world gone soft”(showing the clear influence of cartoonist/director Paul Mavrides, who, in addition to working with Devo early on, co-founded the similarly ironic/proselytizing joke-religion the Church of the Sub-Genius).

The recent Devo message also explicitly invokes my favorite Devo song, “Freedom of Choice,” the first music video I ever saw (fittingly), back when it was shown on The Merv Griffin Show (on October 16, 1980, which may rank with important formative dates from my childhood right up there with May 25, 1977).

Happy Independence Day (and remember that you can still catch Freedom Watch tonight at 7 and 11 Eastern on Fox Business Network if you didn’t see it yesterday).

Tomorrow, a note about everyone’s (other) favorite anarchist comic book writer talking about science.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hentoff or Krugman?

Since a couple of my acquaintances have criticized (Freedom Watch fan) Nat Hentoff (including in yesterday’s comments thread), the contrarian/balancing/moderating impulse tells me I should seize this opportunity to describe myself in terms that sound as left-wing as possible, both as an explanation of why Hentoff doesn’t automatically horrify me the way some leftists do, and as a brain-limbering experiment (a reminder, periodically necessary, of how rhetorically flexible some of the categories by which we define ourselves, and thus history’s ever-shifting political alliances, really are).

I’m pro-drug-legalization, atheist, skeptical, gay-tolerating, anarchist yet Constitution-respecting, mostly anti-death-penalty, pro-open-borders, wary of police and military, mostly anti-nationalist, racially tolerant, punk- and avant-garde-admiring, science-loving, abolitionist- and flapper- and beatnik-admiring (I think it’s swell that Hentoff loves jazz), strong-women-preferring, suspicious of fashion and some other major elements of mainstream consumer culture, a lifelong Northeasterner, almost Marxist in my wariness of the shaping of people’s beliefs by institutional incentives, and basically anti-sports.

(Perhaps more shockingly, I’m also dating a woman who likes teachers unions, some gun control, drag queens, Pat Moynihan, military non-intervention, modernist urban planning, the Black Panthers, and green anti-car urban planning — there being essentially no real female conservatives in New York City, apparently. [CORRECTION: Helen says she has become more sympathetic to military intervention and has just renewed her subscription to Commentary -- so here's hoping that in addition to enjoying our drag-like debate about burlesque this coming Thursday, she will enjoy our tentatively-planned August debate about "benign imperialism," a topic partly inspired by Conor Friedersdorf, though he's leaving the imperial city of DC.])


Despite all the above, though, having respect for property rights will damn you in a modern liberal’s eyes every time. Unless amidst the current big-government-debt crisis even many liberals are beginning to learn…?

In any case, I tend to admire principled people, and you can see how people might be principled adherents of property rights, traditions, religious rules, the scientific method, the Constitution, and/or, yes, civil-libertarian procedural rules, all in ways that spoke well of them and helped keep chaos at bay — or, tragically, in ways that made them martinets (in the classic sense of rigidly adhering to rules, such as table etiquette, while forgetting their underlying purpose of improving human life).

I think, though, that property is the rule that solves the most otherwise-chaotic social problems with the most easily-transmissible, most sustainable, and least abusable formula, and there’s a great deal to be said for that (even if that doesn’t say everything there is to be said). May the day yet come, then, when it’s all of us (even Nat Hentoff) vs. Paul Krugman.

Tomorrow, a word about Devo for July Fourth.

Friday, July 2, 2010

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: "Is Burlesque Art?"

Thursday (again, that’s Thursday), July 8 at 8pm:

“Is Burlesque Art?”


Monty Leman, photographer (with photographs)


Michel Evanchik, grumpus

Moderated by Todd Seavey

WHERE: 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.

Are participants in burlesque artistes or little better than Montreal-dwelling strippers?  You get to cast the deciding vote at the end of next week’s thrilling discussion.

And coming up later this month: my Book Selection entry about Victorian Norwich, my own old home town as it was in the nineteenth century, complete with riverboat prostitutes, apparently.  Today, by contrast, the town is wholesome (and still Victorian) enough that when a friend who was planning a bachelor party at nearby Foxwoods Casino asked me where he could hire strippers, I had to ask my mom — who knew, oddly enough (you talk to Billy at the Log and Lantern Tavern down at the bottom of the hill, or at least did at the time).  I don’t know why mom knew that, nor why she was quicker than I was to realize that the “papers” we were being offered in Washington Square Park once were rolling papers for leaves of the dreaded marijuana plant.

Mom has also been enjoying Fox Business Network’s Freedom Watch (the show I write for), hosted by Judge Andrew Napolitano, and she watched three out of four airings of the premiere episode (on which Sarah Palin, as you may have heard, admitted that arresting pot smokers should not be a police priority).  Surely you can watch the show at at least one of its four broadcast times: Sat. 10am and 8pm, Sun. 7pm and 11pm (with this week’s having Bob Barr, Gary Johnson, Geraldo Rivera, Steve Horwitz, Peter Schiff, Connie Mack, and other guests).

And, hey, Nat Hentoff likes the show.