Monday, May 31, 2010

Reich Against the Machine

Unless this is just a postmodernist art hoax, it appears this is a Nazi propaganda poster used in Belgium to depict the myriad evils of America — and as an American, I have to say I love that crazy-looking America-metaphor machine, which vaguely reminds me of the bar Chief Ike’s Mambo Room in DC (I don’t plan to be at that specific establishment this coming weekend, but you can catch me Sunday, June 6 at 1pm for brunch at Vermilion in Old Town Alexandria if you like).  I hope that metaphor kicks Nazi ass.

I am less enthused about this World War I British publication, which strikes my twenty-first-century ear as having an unfortunate title.

Today, though, let us honor those dead in war both by remembering their heroism and by remembering that war is always absurd and tragic and to be avoided if possible.  It’s as complete a breakdown of civilization as can occur, as all good conservatives should remember.

And if that sounds a bit too much like hippie-talk to some Republicans (including perhaps some of the hawkish folk with whom I attended a barbecue yesterday), let us also pause to remember that one can sometimes be both crazy hippie and Republican, to wit: rest in peace, Dennis Hopper.  (We should drink in his honor this coming Wednesday at Lolita Bar, after the Shakespeare debate.)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Selection: "English Thought in the Nineteenth Century" by D.C. Somervell Book Selection of the Month (May 2010): English Thought in the Nineteenth Century by D.C. Somervell

What a great find. I had intended to blog about this rich, philosophical, and surprisingly funny little book earlier in the month (sorry — new job) and now realize I wouldn’t have been doing half bad if I’d simply linked to the comment about it on Amazon from one Stephen Ferg, who says:

This is simply a wonderful book. First, it is very readable: you can sit down and read it for pleasure. I find that I like to dip into it at random and read a page or two about a given author or topic.

The best thing about the book — and what makes it unique — is the authorial voice. D.C. Somervell gives a balanced, literate treatment of his topics, and adds occasional personal evaluations as wonderful little one-line zingers. You feel that you are having a conversation with a tremendously interesting person: someone who is knowledgeable, literate, intelligent, balanced, and witty. One of my favorite examples (despite its complex sentence structure, which is not typical!):

“[William] Godwin is one of those philosophical gas-bags who has been so long pricked and deflated, that it has become extremely difficult to reconstruct him in the dimensions he assumed in the eyes of his contemporaries.”

The book was first published in 1929, which makes it much closer to its subject than we are today, and the author is much more familiar with Victorian luminaries that once shined brightly, but now have dimmed, than we are today. So you’ll get a perspective that you’ll miss in more recent books.

I cannot recommend this book too highly. If you’re interested in 19th century England, I guarantee that you’ll enjoy this book.

All true. I can even forgive Somervell for the swipe at William Godwin, founder of anarchism — unless you count Edmund Burke of all people, since he’d earlier written about the possibility of society without government and later had to disavow his book on the topic, natural though the fit is with the best aspects of his own mature philosophy.


And it’s really with Burke, man of the eighteenth century though he was, that Somervell begins, since this volume divides the nineteenth century into three rough segments, with Burke’s thinking (transmitted to the masses in large part by the novels of Sir Walter Scott) and the Tories dominating the first third (and defining themselves largely in opposition to revolutionary France), the utilitarian/laissez-faire capitalist classical liberals (and allied evangelicals) dominating the middle third, and socialist-leaning modern-liberals (not to mention imperialists and anti-capitalist Tory medieval-fetishists) dominating the final third.

Complex though Somervell’s dense, abbreviated story is, the political forces and ideas at work in it still map better onto the right/left thinking of the U.S. in recent decades than does the U.S.’s own nineteenth-century history, revolving as it did around issues such as land acquisition, Native American-fighting, slavery, and central banking that (with the possible exception of that last item) don’t really animate our arguments anymore. The period when “left vs. right” seemed to matter most may be ending right before our eyes, with the underlying, more important struggle between government and markets becoming more apparent to more people, but the left/right model is fairly useful for describing the nineteenth century — even though it presents us with some of the same difficulties we have today, regarding, for example, evaluating conservatism.

The Tories were far preferable to the bloodthirsty French Revolutionaries, but the Tories were also the chief foes of markets (and thus emiserators of the poor) in mid-century. It’s not surprising that by the end of the century, it was more common for politicians to drift back and forth between the Tory and labor factions than between the Tory and classical liberal/capitalist factions (while several intellectuals such as Ruskin, Arnold, and Carlyle seemed to combine the worst aspects of retrograde conservatism/medievalism and socialism). The fusionist combination humanity needs, in the end, is morals and markets, not conservatism and individualism per se (but there are so many ways to slice things up and we might be better off with more numerous and more specific labels).

Regardless, the nineteenth century as captured in this book seems like a far more reasonable and philosophically hospitable place than the Continent of the same era, where, for example, nonsense-spewing, obscurantist cretin Hegel was asserting that “the State is the image of the divine on Earth.” (He’s one of many reasons that I suspect future history students won’t waste too much time remembering which brand of German-spawned totalitarianism was which — but they’ll still benefit from teasing out different strands of nineteenth-century English thought.)


Another fusionist thought: I can’t help noticing that much of the middle third of the book is about the evangelicals and utilitarians working together — and about J.S. Mill devoting so much of his time to enlarging/critiquing simple forms of utilitarianism that he was writing a great deal about poetry and religion by the end. Let none call him shallow.

A lesser sidenote: people within the Anglican Church like Pusey who were drawn to Rome during the evangelical period were often referred to as devotees of “Puseyism” — or as “Puseyites” — and as such were seen as something of a fifth column within Anglicanism. The last thing devotees of progress and reform wanted was a bunch of Puseys fleeing back to the mother church. Somervell also notes the later tendency of decadents and aesthetes to end up Catholics — perhaps due to a combination of the Church’s aesthetic “excess” and its emphasis on wiping the moral slate clean through forgiveness — instead of sticking to good behavior in the first place, like a proper Victorian.

But I’ll take a closer look at the more stereotypically “Victorian” bourgeois/moralist middle third of the century in next month’s Book Selection entry, about James Laver’s Victorian Vista — and there’s more Victoriana in my next two Book Selections after that, including a look at my own old Connecticut hometown as it was a century and a half ago.

Friday, May 28, 2010

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: "Was Shakespeare Really Shakespeare?"

Wednesday, June 2 (8pm)


Christian Toth, off-off-Broadway actor and advertising worker, arguing YES (that it really was that guy who lived in Stratford-on-Avon)


Gerit Quealy, journalist, style editor, former actor, and part-time paleographer, arguing NO (that who it was — whether the Earl of Oxford, Anakin, or other — may be unclear, but it wasn’t that guy)

Moderated by Michel Evanchik and hosted by Todd Seavey.

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.

By the way, since I enjoy it when people produce multiple revisionist theories that, whatever their individual merits, seem unlikely to be true all at the same time, I’ve long been amused by the existence of (A) the theory that science writer Francis Bacon wrote the Shakespeare plays and (B) the theory that Shakespeare wrote the King James Bible.  If both were true, the man most often condemned for inventing scientific hubris would also be responsible for the text most often wielded by those condemning it, which would be a neat trick.  I don’t expect either of these theories to be decisive in next Wednesday’s debate, though.


Codpieces, Etc.

And a thought on Elizabethan fashion: I have ventured in the past, perhaps unwisely, to explain my view that there is something fundamentally strange about the relationship between breasts and fashion, in that breasts are on some level de facto “sex organs” that one would think ought not to appear in public at all — akin to testicles — yet so much effort goes into displaying them in what can sometimes be deemed a “classy” fashion, depending on precisely which parts of them you show and in what way.

By contrast, a man in today’s world attempting to show off his crotch in just the right way to seem respectable would be regarded as engaged in a fool’s errand.  Here a bright and shiny, unambiguous line exists.  You simply don’t show off the crotch, at least in respectable circles.  Nor do you head off to a business meeting or a gala fundraising ball asking which buttock you will display.  Breasts are unique, I contend, and thus it seems far more could be written about what the unconscious rules at work here are than, to my knowledge, has been.  Yet mention this to the average woman, who presumably has to worry about this question, and my guess is that you’ll be regarded as causing more trouble by raising the issue than society has caused by foisting the ambiguous breast-display rules on us.

I mention all this in the context of the Elizabethans not merely because they appreciated decolletage but because in their era males did face a comparable dilemma: whether to wear an ostentatious codpiece.  How might modern fashion — and even mate selection — be affected if the codpiece were to make a comeback, I wonder?  (I should discuss all this with my favorite neo-traditionalist fashion advisor and my friend with the evolutionary psychology Ph.D. who’s visiting soon — and my apologies for saying in a previous entry that she’s still a grad student.)


More He-Man Reflections

In other performing arts news, Wikipedia notes that “[d]uring its [impending] tenth season, Smallville will beat the Guinness World Record for longest consecutive running United States sci-fi television show — currently held by Stargate SG-1.”  Impressive for a show originally just meant to be about Clark Kent’s years in high school before he became Superman.  Stargate, of course, is a whole thriving, Star Trek-sized franchise with spin-offs now, so it arguably wins the real battle — but then again, Smallville is hardly the only element of the Superman franchise.

I gather the impending tenth season is building up to the invasion of Earth by the planet Apokolips, ruled by the evil Darkseid and fought over by the New Gods (who go around pinging their Mother Boxes in public), all creations from forty years ago of the most important comics artist, Jack Kirby.  It should be interesting to see those cosmic, nigh-psychedelic characters depicted by human actors — and I wish the dialogue sounded like Kirby’s half-crazy, bombastic “word jazz,” though I suspect it won’t.

Some would argue, though, that we have already seen an “unofficial” live-action New Gods movie, two decades ago — except that it was called Masters of the Universe and featured characters referred to as “Skeletor” and “He-Man” instead of Darkseid and his rebellious abandoned son Orion.  The director apparently admits to being influenced by Kirby, which is to his credit.  I am unaware of George “Dark Side” Lucas making a similar admission.  And where does the Earl of Oxford fit into all this?


Politics Note

If this month’s debate doesn’t sound quite political enough for you, consider e-mailing me (at the address given on the “About/Contact” page, not at this site’s URL, which will get you nowhere) to sign up for monthly e-mails about the other event I host, the Manhattans Project bar gatherings for politics/media people (now each third-Monday-of-the-month at Langan’s)…

and/or catch me and some no doubt political acquaintances (including the aforementioned neo-traditionalist) for brunch at Vermilion (with its easily-colonized sofas) in Old Town Alexandria (1120 King St.) on Sunday, June 6 (1pm)…

and/or remember to watch Fox’s FreedomWatch with Andrew Napolitano, moving from the Internet to cable the weekend after that, with a little help from me as a writer/producer.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rand Paul Revisited

People objecting to Rand Paul’s adherence to property rights (vs. adherence to anti-discrimination law) is reasonable — even if I don’t share their position — but I’m already getting tired of the assertions, from both right and left, that Paul somehow contradicted himself.  Call his position wrong if you like, but don’t pretend it lacks internal coherence.  If he seemed mealy-mouthed responding to Rachel Maddow, it was because history and law are complex, not because his position is hypocritical or incoherent.

He thinks government-run institutions shouldn’t discriminate, that private ones morally shouldn’t but legally should be allowed to, and that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was, on balance, good and necessary but shouldn’t now apply to private property.  That’s pretty much the standard libertarian position (though he is not an across-the-board standard libertarian).

He could easily have stuck to the points of all this on which he and Maddow — and most Americans — agree but was honest enough to jump to the crux of the disagreement Maddow was driving at.  At the end of the day, she didn’t care about 1964, much as liberals enjoy refighting the battles of that decade, but about the question “Should a property owner be legally able to exclude people for racist reasons?”  The consistent, coherent, libertarian answer is yes.

Far less coherent, far more evasive, and far less libertarian are responses like this one from tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal.  Everything they say about history is correct — and that’s why even people like Paul think the 1964 Civil Rights Act was on balance correct — but nothing they say adds up to evidence that Paul has been contradicting his own principles.  The Journal’s essay amounts to saying that given the baggage of history, one shouldn’t answer hypothetical questions as forthrightly as Paul did.

People often accuse others of hypocrisy or internal contradiction when the accusers themselves don’t want to answer the real question, which makes me wonder whether a lot of Paul’s critics, forced to answer the question “Can property owners exclude whoever they want?” would sound even more evasive and mealy-mouthed than Paul — but in a way, that’s encouraging.  It means people may not be as quick to give confident anti-property answers as I might have feared.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Some Thoughts After Primary Week

•Republican Tim Burns lost in Pennsylvania, and many were calling that special election (to replace the deceased John Murtha) a bellwether for November — which would seem to bode unexpectedly ill for the Republicans — but since Pennsylvania’s backwards 12th congressional district is the only congressional district in the nation that voted for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 but went for Republican John McCain in 2008, might we not draw the conclusion that the rest of the nation is likely trending rightward this year?

•Libertarianism seems like a very simple philosophy when you’re used to having it in your head all day long, but Rand Paul’s “Randslide” victory in the Kentucky GOP Senate primary is a reminder how quickly these things get complicated. First of all, it’s worth noting that despite his strong libertarian leanings, Rand Paul (who was interviewed on the preliminary online version of FreedomWatch, for which I work, the day after his victory) is not actually a libertarian, as noted in a Time interview with him excerpted by The Atlantic.

He says, for instance, that he would enforce federal drug laws and is not in favor of legalization (and it’s worth noting that his father, Ron Paul, goes only a little farther in the drug-legalization direction, calling for an end to the federal drug war but not necessarily legalization at the state level — and some would argue that border-enforcement isn’t libertarian either, since nothing disintegrates the dreaded nation state like eliminating its borders).

•Nonetheless, Rand Paul hews to perhaps the hardest-to-sell libertarian position — and, yes, it is indeed a libertarian position: the view that ownership, if it is to mean anything, means the right to exclude, even for reasons others might deem irrational or rude, including racist ones. That need not oblige one to culturally or personally endorse racism, of course, any more than defense of free speech requires one to like Klan pamphlets. (I see Don Boudreaux has fired off a letter to the New York Times in response to their anti-libertarianism editorial today, and he reminds them Jim Crow was a government-imposed regime, not just private bigotry, the latter tending to erode in a market once people realize they like getting the best prices more than avoiding trade with other ethnic groups.)

As Rand Paul was quick to point out, there are many remedies for racism besides property violations, including equal treatment by all public institutions (especially courts of law) and boycotts of racist businesses (which probably wouldn’t be necessary as often as people on the left fear — few shopping malls will want to exclude 13% of their customers by barring black shoppers, and small businesses can sometimes be ethnocentric without even being all that offensive, as in the case of a Chinese restaurant that tends to hire people who know the cuisine from family experience, or for that matter a Black Muslim-run business determined to help people from its own neighborhood and culture).

•At the same time, if it’s any reassurance to aghast modern-liberals, there’s some division among libertarians on all this, with Milton Friedman himself arguing that anti-discrimination laws might make markets more rational and some like Steve Macedo arguing that anti-discrimination and affirmative action laws might be acceptable if framed explicitly as compensation for past wrongs by the state (with an implicit sunset provision rather than a perpetual guarantee of a certain degree of diversity for diversity’s sake).

Further, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that “liberaltarians” like Will Wilkinson or Kerry Howley, respectively, think this is one of the issues on which property either must bend for the sake of the worst-off or be augmented by morally-obligatory cultural changes, but after past arguments, I don’t want to leap to any conclusions about their positions or appear hypocritically to be recruiting them to aid right-leaning Rand Paul.

•I remain a big-tent guy — seriously — but also tend to think we should merely tolerate deviations from strict property adherence rather than encouraging or inventing deviations, if you follow me. Rand Paul’s anti-drug stance doesn’t greatly offend me, but given how well property rights work in almost all cases, I’m not going to gleefully invent my own list of preferred exceptions to those rights. I’m sure every intellectual could come up with his favorites — and indeed it often seems that most do — but they shouldn’t.

Some deviants (often Canadians, it seems) take deviationism too far, though, and David Frum is still railing against the advent of overly-principled conservatives such as Rand Paul within the GOP. Who’s the tolerant, moderate, inclusive one here, really — Frum or me?

•In other fringe political news, I see my leftist/Truther acquaintance Sander Hicks has bolted the Green Party and tomorrow is holding the founding meeting of a Truth Party, which will ostensibly transcend left and right.

Taking a more insular approach, by contrast, the Hutaree militia that was recently rounded up and arrested for contemplating attacks on government officials sounds less than terrifying when you read this passage from the Wikipedia entry about them:

Hutaree [militia] members use a unique system of paramilitary ranks with titles from highest to lowest: Radok, Boramander, Zulif, Arkon, Rifleman (three grades), Lukore, and Gunner (three grades). University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Lieberman commented: “I don’t see basis in biblical or military history for Radok, Boramander, Zulif, Arkon, and Lukore. They sound kind of like Pokemon names (e.g. Arbok, Charmander, Zubat, Rokon), but there’s no precedent there, either.” One man who once contemplated joining the group, a Mr. Savino, was refused admission due to his being a Muslim.

As always, I just ask: how about some spending cuts and deregulation?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Evolving Situation

Sorry I didn’t get around to writing about that book on the Victorians (or anything else) in the latter half of last week. I’m still adjusting to my new work schedule at Fox and other tumult — but here, as compensation, is an entry praising a man from England who thinks a bit like a Victorian, or at least like a combination of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, which is not such a bad thing to be.

I mean Matt Ridley, for whom a book release party was thrown tonight. (A grad student friend of mine studying evolutionary psychology will be jealous that she wasn’t visiting New York City tonight instead of next month.) Ridley made the wise decision to become a highly popular and respected science writer, specializing in matters evolutionary, before really coming out of the closet as a libertarian — not that it’s surprising to some of us that there’s so much overlap in these two worldviews.

Culture, like biological evolution, can be seen in part as a process of continual refinement, and Ridley argues in his new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, that the specialization of labor, beloved by capitalists, should be seen as a significant evolutionary step forward for humanity that allowed us to outsource many of our thoughts/behaviors to a collective, mutually-beneficial hivemind, radically more efficient than any lone organism. This is also the topic of an animated clip Ridley created that has become a YouTube sensation, one of the few libertarian videos to achieve that enviable viral state, as June Arunga noted in her comments introducing Ridley.

To get a feel for the man and his ideas yourself, simply see his early-evening talk at the New York Academy of Sciences (down at the Trade Center) tomorrow (Wednesday), and be prepared for rational optimism of the sort that people who call themselves “progressives” usually don’t exhibit anymore. I mean the libertarian kind of optimism summed up in this passage of cover copy from the book: “Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people’s lives as never before. The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for two hundred years.”

Speaking of reason for optimism, the closest thing I have to a regret about attending tonight’s event is that I wasn’t partying with another batch of libertarians as Rand Paul won his Senate primary in Kentucky, part of a libertarian/Tea Party wave presaging global anti-government revolution.

But given my broadly-fusionist ambitions, how, I ask myself, can we get the conservative-leaning Rand Paul types who love markets and the science-loving Darwin buffs to work together more often, uniting these estranged strands of the culture in the way that Ridley does (like Michael Shermer and a few others)? It strikes me that writing a popular bio about the friendship between Popper and Hayek wouldn’t be a bad place to start. If only there were more hours in the day…

P.S. And I believe a quantitative analyst friend of mine was at an event attended by Freeman Dyson’s daughter tonight, so there’s more markety and scientific activity  around here than you can shake a stick at (after the Monolith teaches you to use tools, if I understand the precise mechanics of natural selection).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Senator First to Fall in Fiscally-Rightward Trend

As TalkingPointsMemo noted last week, poor Bob Bennett, who failed yesterday to get the GOP’s nomination for a reelection run for senator from Utah, is often fiscally conservative. But often isn’t good enough anymore, especially under current fiscal circumstances — which were brought about by people thinking an occasional nod to fiscal sobriety is enough to provide cover on that issue, before turning to others like flag-burning or gay sex. One down, then, and about 534 to go.

(Get rid of them all and we might yet avoid becoming Greece, proof that a rich tradition of culture and philosophy will not save you if you thoughtlessly adopt a massive public sector amidst all your culturizing and philosophizing. Econ will not be denied, and at the end of the day you can’t eat statues, no matter how parasitic you are.)

Encouragingly, and to some of us unsurprisingly, it appears that despite years of experts telling us that moderation sells better than principle, consistency in fact breeds activist enthusiasm and hypocrisy breeds outrage — a glimmer of hope for people who suspect that only principled laissez-faire policies can rescue us.

And you can catch one last release tomorrow night of the (less fancy) online-only version of the show that’s tracking this struggle like no other, Freedom Watch with Andrew Napolitano on Fox Business Network, the full-scale, weekly, one-hour cable version of which I’ll be a writer/producer for, with the premiere likely in the next few weeks (details to come when official).

Like Glenn Beck (whose door I now face from about twelve feet away, right near a photocopier that constantly makes noises like a cappuccino machine), I owe you a history lesson before indulging any radical-seeming present-day political enthusiasms, though, so later this week, if all goes as planned, my Book Selection of the Month — the first of four about the Victorians, who built our world.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Tory-Lib Compromise

My in-depth analysis, by which I mean reading the chart Drudge linked to of the parties’ respective policy positions, suggests that the issues on which the Tories and Lib Dems can probably reach accord/compromise in UK post-election negotiations are saner, so to speak, than the issues on which they’re split.  They’re at odds on defense, immigration, and the EU — but they’re in rough agreement in favoring local control of schools, budget cuts, fairer taxes, electoral reform, and a rollback of the surveillance state. 


Not bad, if accurate — and a bright spot in a week of Greek rioting, stock-plunging, Ron Paul/Bernie Sanders feuding, and suspicious NYC packages (indeed, I saw cops tearing apart what looked like an old freezer with an axe on an Upper East Side sidewalk the other night, probably just to be on the safe side).


Also, Iron Man 2 was cool.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Before Iron Man

(One preliminary nostalgia note: A-Ha should not break up.)

The first comic book I ever bought that actually featured a team of superheroes was, I think, Avengers 149 (July 1976), featuring Iron Man and other heroes trussed up on slabs with electrodes attached to them by the evil Roxxon Oil corporation and their diabolical ally, an alternate-universe version of Nelson Rockefeller wearing the dreaded mind-controlling Serpent Crown, I kid you not.

Yet I remember buying this a year earlier — which apparently spoke to me somehow: Jack Kirby’s The Dingbats of Danger Street.

Is it possible that The Dingbats of Danger Street is, in truth, the first comic I ever read? How might that affect a five-year-old’s psyche, or that of the adult he would one day become? I know this much: I still remember who the bad guy was: a creepy masked, jumpsuited, cannister-wielding nut called…the Gasser! (I may be forgetting some even earlier issues of Archie and that rascally dog Scamp that I read.)

What else, if anything, might I be forgetting from the years before I picked up Avengers, Brave and the Bold, a Wonder Woman with what seemed to my young mind a viscerally striking image of her draped across giant Rocky Horror-intro-like fangs, Godzilla, and Star Wars — before really diving in shortly thereafter with stuff like X-Men, Micronauts, Legion, Titans, and more, I wonder?

The aforementioned issue of The Brave and the Bold (January 1976: #124) was also a youthful-mind-warper, with a terrorist forcing artist Jim Aparo to redraw the story’s ending so that the terrorist wins and Batman loses — I encountered comics metafiction before I’d even gotten used to reading fiction (in much the way Nybakken says he often encountered parodies and satires before the originals as a young pop culture consumer — and, of course, in some bizarre cases, the original is already a self-parody, as with Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which cleverly deconstructs and renders absurd the Holmesian detective genre, despite being the first example of that genre).

One reason comics, for all their increased political content and violence, are still best suited to the young is simply that the young are more willing to take naive leaps into complex new worlds they know nothing about — that’s what children do all the time just by walking around, after all. A reminder of how inadvertently daunting comics, with their dense mythologies, can be to adult newcomers is provided by this Wikipedia entry on a recent X-Men character. Is she Jean Grey? Jean Grey’s daughter? Jean Grey’s daughter from an alternate timeline, raised in yet another alternate timeline by Cable, who is Jean Grey’s clone’s son from yet another alternate timeline? (That’s not a joke — and in fact I think that might be accurate.) Beats me. I just know that’s not how you get new readers.

P.S. It’s not exactly a superpower, but I’d imagine everyone’s typing speed is probably pretty good these days compared to a couple decades ago, what with all the computing and the texting and so on.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cosmopolitanism for Punks

You have to love New York City — and it’s a busy place. Tonight, for example, I’m seeing A-Ha (with, as it turns out, a New Wave-liking libertarian atheist who doesn’t want kids, who is a co-worker of a friend of a friend, though this is largely happenstance) and perhaps going from there to R-Bar at 218 Bowery where Misfits spin-off band the Undead will be hosting a free record release party and performance, as (surprisingly conservative) band member Bobby Steele informs me.

But wait: even if these things were not options (ones perhaps compensating for me missing that Echo and the Bunnymen concert last week), the next seventy-two hours in NYC — just for starters — also sees performances by Broken Social Scene, Golden Palominos, Suzanne Vega, the Primitives, the reclusive and rarely-seen singer of Neutral Milk Hotel, plus Sia with Texan rockabilly-meets-Smiths opening band Girl in a Coma, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, and Michelle Shocked performing a twentieth-anniversary selection of songs from her album Arkansas Traveler — and that’s just the ones I already know I’d enjoy. (I think Shocked should dedicate her performance to Arkansas’s Dan Greenberg, a very market-oriented Republican facing a primary for state senate in two weeks.)

Given how hectic an NYC schedule can be, the City’s best experienced if you’re either rich, semi-employed but hip, on welfare, uninterested in the abovementioned activities, or just too far away from everything to be tempted (see Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island, respectively).

There are barely enough hours in the day for it all — though I think just seeing the amorphous alternative rock collective Broken Social Scene would technically count as seeing all the other bands as well, who are now included within Broken Social Scene, as are several provinces of Canada. (On a related note, I notice TimeOut New York described another band as a “Canadian boy-girl duo,” and I couldn’t help thinking that that doesn’t really narrow it down much these days.) Furthermore, tomorrow night sees video director Mick Rock appearing live to talk about an Iggy Pop documentary.

Speaking of rock and film:

•The audience-favorite award at a recent Tribeca film event went to this Rush documentary, Nybakken tells me.

•We should probably be grateful this script by Roger Ebert for a fictional Sex Pistols movie (pointed out to me by able historian Christine Caldwell Ames) was never produced, and it sounds as though Roger Ebert feels the same way.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Iron Man vs. Gort

In this superheroic week of the Iron Man 2 premiere, I’m reminded that I’m probably one of the few people who was watching Larry Doyle’s career with interest back before he became a Simpsons producer, New York magazine editor, and novelist — because back when I met him once — when I was a newcomer to New York and he, like my roommate, was one of the writer/survivors of National Lampoon magazine and the failed MTV pilot Dirty Laundry — he had previously been the editor of the small company First Comics — which didn’t last either but gave us memorable superheroes like Nexus (a man of the future compelled by his dreams to hunt down and execute mass-murderers, written by now-libertarian Mike Baron), Badger, and Grimjack.  Nexus was my favorite comic at one point.

But Doyle must be cursing superheroes this week, since I’m told that he’s hosting a screening this Friday at 9:15pm at the Cabaret Cinema (150 West 17th St.) of The Day the Earth Stood Still — not the Keanu Reeves version, mind you — on precisely The Day the Nerds of Earth Will All Be Seeing Iron Man 2 Instead.

And Gort is not the only robot causing trouble in this world: An old-timily-inclined associate informs me that legal and philosophical debate has long raged over who to hold accountable to what degree for incidents like the death of Kenji Urada in 1981 at the hands of a factory robot that pushed him into a grinding machine — the owner?  The programmer?  The bot itself?  (The giant radioactive lizard who is the robot’s archfoe?)  In short: The war has already begun.

What can save us?  Perhaps a boy with cancer — or at least, another associate (who happens to know Keanu Reeves’ cell phone number, come to think of it) informs me of a genuinely impressive Make a Wish project turning a boy in Seattle into a superhero for a day.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Apostates, Animals, and Comics

I. While I’m content to read a Rand speech today to Columbia students (4pm in Hamilton, Room 303, north of West 114th, near Amsterdam Ave.), some political speakers aim higher.  I heard of one who spent the weekend (if memory serves) addressing a gathering of a thousand libertarian women in Texas (I’m pleased to hear there are that many in the whole country) and a separate gathering of libertarian multimillionaires.

Getting back to Rand, though: in mid-career, she downplayed her indebtedness to Nietzsche (his brand of amoral callousness being evident in her earliest work) — so much so that I remember having a particularly stupid online debate back in the 90s on a listserv called Secular Right (not to be confused with the current site by the same name) with a couple idiot Objectivists who insisted that since Nietzsche is a relativist, Rand couldn’t — not shouldn’t, mind you, but couldn’t — have been influenced by him.  They likewise insisted that Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan could not have been, in turn, influenced by Rand, she being anti-mystical and all, as though one can deductively determine who has read or will read what.  Morons.

But I for one acknowledge Nietzsche’s influence and thought of him not only while preparing for the Rand speech but at an odd moment two days ago: Thursday, I saw a carriage horse standing right next to a pole upon which police had stuck a small, temporary, paper “No Parking” sign.  The horse, apparently disagreeing, tore the sign down and began chewing it.  He may have in him just a bit of the anarchic blood of that horse Nietzsche hugged on the street before going mad.

II. In other animal news:

(A) I can’t help suspecting that the precise form of this headline about a 3,000-pound steer was influenced by the Simpsons character Cletus, the Slack-Jawed Yokel;

(B) my contact at alerts me to the fact that John Derbyshire’s dog is finally being compensated for being bitten by another dog;

and (C) an old dog name Ebonyser, who lives in a nursing home with his elderly owner, got stuck inside a recliner chair and had to be freed by firemen.

III. That incident reminds me that even if this coming Friday’s eagerly anticipated Iron Man 2 does not prove to be fantastic, it’ll likely be cooler than the notorious character who won a contest among comics professionals to create the stupidest character possible: Dog-Welder, who has the power to weld dogs onto people.  I’m not sure if that would work better or worse on someone wearing armor.

Dog-Welder is even stupider than the TV premise that comics creator Kyle Baker once apathetically spat out, off the top of his head, under pressure from TV producers: Ghost Chimp, M.D. I believe the idea is that he was a chimp used in lab experiments who died in a hospital but then wandered its corridors as a ghost, learning the medical and scientific expertise needed to save lives and solve crimes, something like that.

Of course, the stupid comics things that annoy (rather than entertain) are usually moments that suggest the writers and editors aren’t trying to make sense even when dealing with ostensibly-serious characters — like Captain Atom, who I gather recently went insane, attempted to conquer the multiverse, blew up one version of North America and a separate entire universe, but then (in a story written by the unreliable James Robinson) smoothed it all over and returned to his usual status as a beloved hero via a puff piece in the Daily Planet, which reminded everyone he’s basically a great guy and thereby “coerced” everyone into forgetting his past, via the power of mass media.  And by everyone, they mean fans who make the mistake of paying attention.  So best not to.  Better to just enjoy Iron Man for a couple hours.