Monday, June 28, 2010

Hobbits, Ants reports that the delays and legal wrangling on the Hobbit movies appear to have yielded Peter Jackson as the director instead of just producer, which means abandoning his plan to direct one of the Tin Tin movies.  Fine with me.

And an upside to Joss Whedon directing the Avengers movie in 2012 is that Nathan Fillion, who was not picked to play Captain America, will reportedly play Ant-Man.  I’m smiling with amusement at that thought already — even though he’d make a fairly convincing spouse-abuser, if they get into that disturbing subplot from the comics.

And while we’re talking about his wife, the Wasp (Janet Van Dyne), let me add that despite growing up in New England, it took me decades to get the ethnic joke inherent in the combination of her codename and wealth/social status.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Book Selection of the Month: "Victorian Vista" by James Laver Book Selection of the Month (June 2010): Victorian Vista by James Laver

First: If you’re Victorian enough to dislike burlesque, please contact me immediately — per the Contact page in my front page right margin — and volunteer to be our anti-burlesque debater at Lolita Bar next week. In this town, alas, it’s easier to find intellectuals who actually do burlesque themselves — hard to avoid them, in fact — than to find one who denies burlesque is art, whether for moral, political, or aesthetic reasons.

Nonetheless: a Camille Paglia piece this weekend blamed Americans’ purportedly waning libidos on our cultural inheritance from the staid, bourgeois Victorians — and praised Southerners and 80s New Wave acts such as Belinda Carlisle as exceptions, while dismissing Lady Gaga. I agree with some of that, obviously. I would contend, though, that the Victorians actually achieved an impressive balance of happiness and self-restraint from which we can still learn (and, not coincidentally, they were culturally dominated by a combination of utilitarian Darwinians and evangelicals).

Luckily, I happen to be doing a summer of Victorian-themed reading (which will pay off in the form of a steampunk comic book script if all goes as planned), so I can learn from James Laver’s Victorian Vista (published in 1955). It’s an entertaining, scrapbook-like collection of telling little pieces of nineteenth-century British culture: menus, song lyrics, newspaper reports — the random things that remind you there was internal logic to that era (and that humanity has nonetheless always been nuts).

As my Book Selection last month detailed, the stereotypically “Victorian” middle third of the nineteenth century was preceded by a period that was both more decadent and more Tory-dominated, odd as that may sound to most moderns (except Helen). The very first page of the first chapter of Victorian Vista (this book mainly concerning the middle part of the century) contains this sentence summing up the earlier period: “Many of the grandes dames were openly promiscuous, and their husbands and lovers drank heavily, gambled prodigiously, and consorted with pugilists and jockeys.”

By contrast, intellectuals were already griping by 1864 that Brits were becoming a bunch of tacky tourists at the shore, with one of the pieces excerpted in Victorian Vista from that time describing a typical beachgoer (then a new phenomenon) thusly:

[H]e reclines upon the sands, and gazes lazily upon the ocean, [succumbing] to a state of the most helpless inactivity. The monotony wearies, yet fascinates him; and it is difficult to do otherwise than stare in a vacant manner at the moaning, foaming, sad waves. To fling pebbles, at deliberate intervals, into the sea, is an occupation perhaps the best suited to the situation, the effort to throw while one is in a sitting posture taxing to the utmost the physical energy, while the strain upon the attention required in aiming at a particular crest of an advancing wave is as much as the mind can conveniently bear under the circumstances.

Twentieth-century condescension toward the Victorians seemingly can’t match their own self-loathing when it peeks out between bouts of progressive triumphalism and imperialism. Speaking of military matters — and tourists — Laver wittily notes that there was unrest on the Continent but also an increasing tendency for the English tourist to head to the Continent for vacation. “He was therefore extremely annoyed when, in 1848, revolutions broke out all over Europe. For the first time for many years he was compelled, for political reasons, to ask himself the question, ‘Where can we go this year?’”

This collection is, by design, a bit fluffy at times, but still revealing. An excerpt from an etiquette book of 1855, for instance, teaches us that the breakdown of manners has been a concern for over a century and a half:

[I]t is now not only allowable, but even thought clever, to be loud, positive, and rapid; to come into the room like a whirlwind, carrying all before you; to look upon everyone else as inferiors, with the idea that it enforces that conviction; to have your own set of opinions and ideas, without the least reference to what others think; and to express them in terms that would have been far better comprehended in the stable than by a company of ladies and gentlemen some twenty years ago.

On a more serious note, we learn that the pre-Raphaelites, lofty as their artistic aspirations may seem now, were part of a larger and arguably lamentably-bourgeois tendency toward literalism and realism in painting. They just used more forest nymphs.

We learn that archery was considered suspect because of its tendency to be played by both sexes (it being less physical taxing for the increasingly liberated modern woman than would be, say, rugby). Archery clubs were everywhere, and rumors about them abounded (just like gender-equalizing croquet — but more about that in next month’s Book Selection, which is about my own home town, Norwich, CT).

The pretensions of the moderns were kept in check through satire, such as this Python-worthy 1877 poem from Punch mocking aesthetes (Wilde being among their targets):

Glad lady mine, that glitterest
In shimmah of summah athwart the lawn,
Canst tell me which is bitterest –
The glamour of Eve, or the glimmah of dawn,
To those whose hearts thou litterest
The field where they fall at thy feet to fawn?
As a buttahfly dost thou fluttah by!
How, whence, and oh! whither, art come and gone?

In short, I contend these Victorians were fairly self-aware, and, you know, I suspect some of them were darn sexy to boot (there are some cute women doing archery in one painting in the book, I must say). Contrary to Paglia’s take, maybe Americans’ libidos wouldn’t be waning — if something like that can even be accurately measured — if they still had the Victorian capacity for self-restraint and modesty instead of walking around with belligerent slogans written on the seat of their pants and gold jewelry worn instead of shirts on hot days.

And if you think likewise, again, please contact me and argue against burlesque next week. (I live in a city where even the religion correspondent of a major news network celebrates her birthday with a big “margarita party,” so I could really use a Mennonite or something here, but a garden-variety ballet snob or curmudgeon would also be appreciated.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ideological Weigel Room

It’s tempting to just pile on Dave Weigel after he was outed as hating many of the libertarian/conservatives he was writing about for Washington Post, ostensibly as a movement insider. One could condemn him as a traitor, or at least a disappointment on a par with conservative-turned-moderate David Brooks. One might even go on to ask why Reason, which earlier employed him, can’t find more libertarians to hire. But then again: when did Dave ever promise the world he’d be a strict libertarian? The sad truth is, even if he thought many libertarians are idiots and swore at them, he probably still understands us better — and was covering us more sympathetically — than virtually any other Post staffer would, for what that’s worth.

I was one of those who was sometimes bothered by his Reason writing, not because he was failing to toe the party line but because I didn’t think he was communicating clearly where he was coming from (even while he seemed to be adamant and intensely sarcastic). In retrospect, he was probably ambiguous with good reason, so to speak.

But it’s not as if it’s a crime to write for a libertarian magazine without being a full-fledged libertarian, nor for that matter a crime to write about conservatives without being a full-fledged conservative, nor (as may be the next, and perhaps most useful, step) to write for liberal publications without being a conventional liberal. Moderation in pursuit of liberty isn’t the worst thing in the world, much as I might prefer everyone be an anarcho-capitalist. And much as I might like it if all legislators became anarcho-capitalists, I realize that writers all being anarcho-capitalists could get boring (at least at this early stage in human history, you understand, before we’ve ended government once and for all and moved on to other topics).


Maybe Dave should become Libertarian Type #11 on this admirably succinct and accurate list (forwarded to me by someone, and my apologies for forgetting who) of Ten Types of Libertarian (to which one could perhaps add “liberaltarians,” if that small movement can’t just be lumped under “classical liberal,” and perhaps add Extropians/transhumanists and their tech-focused ilk as a separate category, though “we are all transhumanists now (or soon, very soon)” and the actual Extropy Institute has apparently closed). I should note again that I tend to err on the side of saying that anyone who thinks a label suits him — and seems to share at least the basics of a political philosophy — is indeed inside the club, terminologically speaking, even if he’s wrong about some things (I’m not now necessarily referring to Dave, who may not call himself a libertarian, but to any people who sincerely insist they’re libertarians yet find themselves being read out of the movement).

In a world where actions can determine life or death but words are often just hot air, I have never had much patience for people who waste time saying “You’re not a real libertarian [or for that matter, conservative or liberal or Marxist or punk or American or Scotsman or what have you]” or “Those so-called libertarians [at AEI, in the Texas statehouse, what have you].” You don’t generally speaking build a coalition — which, like it or not, you’re desperately going to need if you want to have any impact on politics beyond words — by telling everyone they’re disqualified for 600 petty reasons.

Yes, I’ve argued with the “liberaltarians,” but that was about whether they are correct to think Democrats/modern liberals are more useful allies than Republicans/conservatives (an idea surely all but dead after a couple years of Obama spending), not whether their efforts linguistically disqualify them as libertarians (and I should note I routinely use the scare quotes on that term not to suggest that it is absurd but simply to increase the odds that a casual reader will notice that it’s not simply the word “libertarian”). Let me take a moment to thank the “liberaltarians” for making an outreach effort, in fact — and even to thank Kerry Howley for talking to feminists so that I don’t have to.


The only thing that irks me — and it irks me when an Objectivist or a paleolibertarian does it as much as when a “liberaltarian” does it — is when those quirky apostates try to read all the rest of us out of the movement (or claim the rest of us are being inconsistent, whereas you should at least give anarcho-capitalists huge points for consistency, if nothing else), as if the apostates have the authority to declare people clear-cut non-libertarians for, say, being hawks or not sharing the liberal culture agenda or what have you, even if we’re staunch property rights adherents and that position seems to settle at least 99% of libertarian-vs.-non-libertarian policy disputes, from what I’ve seen over two decades of following the movement.

Careful observers will note that I don’t read people out of the movement even when I strongly disagree with them, so long as they are mostly sticking to some version of the core principles, some version that usually results in the same sorts of answers the strict property adherents arrive at. I’d be comfortable with open borders, but far be it from me to tell the vast number of anti-illegal-immigration folks who’ve entered the movement in the past three years that they aren’t libertarians. I can still think they’re wrong on that issue — or at least that it’s ambiguous — without denying that they want to abolish most of the government, shore up property rights, let the market decide things, etc. They’re libertarians, even if they’re not just like me (almost no one is).

Sidenote: The “libertarian socialists” on that list are a special case — they aren’t really raising any tribal boundary questions at all, since they’re simply using the word “libertarian” in the European, Marxist sense, making it a mere homonym with the movement I’m part of — albeit with some real historical ties, if you go back to nineteenth-century anarchists, who all hated the aristocracy and in most cases (especially among Georgists) landlords. Either English-speaking or Continental-style libertarians could rightly say they wish the other group would stop using the word, but they aren’t really fighting for the soul of a single philosophical movement.

In philosophy class (my model for how everything should work, alas), if two people get bogged down in an argument over two different possible meanings of a term, they don’t just keep screaming at each other, they eventually define their terms more clearly and use conventions such as referring to one position as, say, “utility 1” and the other as “utility 2.” Solves a lot of problems — but some people would rather find out if semantic battles can be fought to the death.

(And speaking of utilitarianism, my underlying moral philosophy, I keep thinking that there are declining marginal returns to infighting — not to mention battles over where to eat that take so long that everyone would have been happier going to that first Chinese place we passed, etc.)


Anyone tempted to excommunicate everyone else should keep in mind that even if every free-market fan and center-right activist on the planet were working in concert, we might still be outnumbered by statists and might still lose this fight. With populist/popular versions of the libertarian impulse breaking out, such as the Tea Party movement, with the inevitable mutations/simplifications in the philosophy that entails, now is no time to tell everyone that they should shut up and return to their homes unless, say, they’re 100% pro-cloning.

We need all hands on deck, much sooner than I’d anticipated. I was content with gradualism and (paradoxical as it may sound) with picky infighting when it seemed like the final showdown between markets and unsustainable welfare states was decades or even centuries in the future. But it looks like the final battle may be right now, and it’s no time to excommunicate the guy in the trench next to you, be he Republican, feminist, copyright-abolisher, evangelical, single-taxer, or “Rawlsekian.”

(That word, as awkward as “liberaltarian” and used by the same crowd, may actually apply to me, ironically, since I’d be comfortable with “conditional” laws that decreed a Hayek-style free market except in the event that there was an unattended-to crisis among the worst-off, such as starvation not handled by charity, in which case, perhaps, a temporary tax and public food provision kicked in — indeed, that would surely be an easier sell than the come-Hell-or-high-water approach, and the conditional taxes, I hope, would never prove necessary. We are not so different, really.)

P.S. For us libertarians, it was fun to see both a Reason guy (Weigel) and a Mises Institute guy (William Grigg, writing about cops tasering an eighty-six year-old woman) linked on Drudge yesterday, whatever the circumstances.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bees, Psychics, Demons

Ali Kokmen and I have been keeping track of what seem to be increasingly common (or just as likely, more frequently reported) bee swarm attacks.  A related incident has struck his old home state of Minnesota, where a crashed truck unleashed millions of bees.  I hope all these incidents are not part of a sinister bee/alien invasion scheme, as in the first X-Files movie — especially since, as Ali notes, New York City has just legalized bee-keeping.

(The legalization is good news, I suppose, though probably not something I can work into the script of the next episode of Freedom Watch, which all of you with Fox Business Network [Channel 43 on Time Warner Cable in Manhattan] should be watching Saturdays at 10am and 8pm, Sundays 7pm and 11pm.  This weekend brings Barry Goldwater Jr., more Ron Paul, and a colonel who says McChrystal was describing the situation in Afghanistan too positively, among other things.)

Despite my loyalty to the bitter end of the X-Files experience, I am of course a skeptic, so I was pleased to hear that there is a skeptical-sounding thriller coming out with Sigourney Weaver as a debunker up against a famous “psychic” who’s coming out of retirement.  It’s Hollywood, so she may end up fighting aliens again by the end (not unlike Scully), but like X-Files, perhaps this film, Red Lights, will at least work in some real skeptical arguments.

On the other hand, I’m also pleased to see that a stage version of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, about a demon tempting humans, is being performed for at least one more month at Westside Theatre (407 W. 43rd Street).  But then, aren’t all theatre people tools of Satan?  That Stephanie Courtney woman in the Progressive Insurance ads, for example, is plainly possessed, like most improv comedy troupe folks.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Freeganism for Punks

I. Long story short, a few years ago I found myself leading a group of anarcho-capitalists in a face-off (on Broadway in front of DC Comics) against a group of left-anarchists led by a guy who eats garbage — a so-called “freegan” opposed to all waste of food — named Adam Weissman.

II. Little did I realize that a friend of mine would become not only a militant vegan but a freegan, or at least someone who said recently (without apparent irony) of something she saw in the garbage, “I would have freeganed it if it weren’t meat.”

I have mixed feelings about this.  I feel she may be too zealous about the veganism, but perhaps I should be glad, at least, that she’s too vegan to freegan.

III. My punk singer friend Tibbie X also notes having recently been startled to discover that some of her acquaintances are freegans — and that at a recent party they even expected people to dig in when vegetables retrieved from the garbage were presented to the group.

IV. As it happens, one of the earliest political conversations I had after arriving in NYC — back circa 1992, when I was going to monthly-or-so leftist political discussions at ABC No Rio (and writing a piece about it for Reason) — was with a member of the Rio crowd who said she ate by dumpster-diving on principle (“freegan” not yet being a word then, I think), to which I said, well, the whole world couldn’t live by dumpster-diving, and she said, “Why not?”  I suppose it should come as no surprise that these sorts of people also expect parasitic welfare states to be permanently “sustainable.”

Of course, in retrospect, she may well have been rationalizing the necessary indignities of poverty, in much the way that many punks (at least back in the day) would paint as rebelliousness lifestyles made necessary by their status as runaways (or addicts, or both).

V. And speaking of runaways and human exploitation of animals: tomorrow an entry about escaped bees.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lincoln Center, Lawn Furniture, Planning, and Venturi

•I’ve written about modernist architecture being bland (geometric, plain), but sometimes it works well. It’s worth noting that the recently-refurbished northernmost building of the Lincoln Center complex works very nicely, managing to be jutting and angular without looking unnatural or inelegant. Not everything is awful. And one of these days, they really need to stage a performance of Antigone on those stand-alone steps at the southeast corner of that block.

•Meanwhile, my friend Marah Fellicce is helping to maintain and recruit volunteers for art projects involving living lawn furniture made of grass on Governor’s Island, if you’re interested. I think the best art project for Governor’s Island would simply be the governor sitting on the island, alone, saying hi to whoever dropped by. He wouldn’t do much harm sitting alone on an island. (Perhaps he could declare the island a sovereign nation, the sort of thing that will be discussed tomorrow night at a dinner for “seasteading” advocates.)

•On a related note, I’m not planning to attend, but there’s a panel discussion tonight at the Center for Architecture called “The Physical City,” featuring officials from the administration of New York City’s Mayor John Lindsay talking about their urban planning escapades.

This is a subject of great interest to Helen, who has an article coming out about Robert Moses and who suggested we go to DUMBO’s powerHouse arts space (itself not a bad place for an Antigone performance, with all those stairs) to hear a recent reading from the book The Fires (by a man named Flood), about the thing that went most visibly wrong in the Lindsay years, which is huge swaths of the City burning down while egghead planners affiliated with the RAND Corporation tried to decide which fire stations weren’t really necessary, always-malevolent zoning boards banished businesses from the City, and the whole culture pretty much gave up on fighting crimes such as arson.

•Speaking of fire departments, New Haven dwellers, and architecture, the remainder of this blog entry is a previously-unpublished excerpt from my old architecture articles, derived from my visit to a creation of arch-postmodernist Robert Venturi:

Some of the firemen working at the Dixwell Fire Station that Venturi designed in New Haven don’t like the place he designed for them.

“We’re rebuilding the whole thing and we’re not telling any architects about it, so we can get it right,” Chief Martin O’Connor told me.

Lt. John King also had some thoughts on Venturi. “I think the gentleman’s smart never to show up here in person,” he said. King listed various design flaws with the structure, from poor acoustics and slippery floor material to an oddly curved front that makes driving the trucks out difficult. King also pointed out the tiny kitchen, with one ordinary four-burner stove intended for sixteen men, thirty-two on a shift change. “When they bring the architecture students in here for classes,” King noted vengefully, “we’ll put the entire class in here, which would represent about our normal work load, and say ‘go ahead, make something’.”

New Haven architecture students, it should be noted, are used to suffering for their art: Yale’s modernist Arts and Architecture Building is notoriously ugly, and its oddly narrow passageways force students to remove paintings from the painting studios by sliding them out the window. Unfortunately, the windows were not designed to be opened, so popping them out of place is an ordeal in itself. The architecture building is a poignant reminder of the problems in the profession, much as an English department building full of misspelled signs would be.

Venturi and the postmodernists were supposed to be our last, best hope for overcoming such absurdities, but sometimes they create new ones. Sometimes, they even repeat the modernists’ mistakes, as with the Dixwell Station’s flat roof with minimal water-shedding ability. (“Flat roofs in New England?” asked King, incredulous.) Despite Venturi’s apt criticisms of the modernists, is he, like them, more interested in philosophy than real-world practicality? “I’ve done construction for years,” said Lt. King. “I’m a great believer that the janitor needs to be consulted. That’s the person who has to deal with it on a day to day basis.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Beginning of the (Thing After the) End

After writing yesterday’s superheroic entry, it occurred to me that we’d already learned to watch for possible post-credits scenes before we all saw Iron Man in 2008 but that I couldn’t really remember when this tradition started, and in Googling, I found that it was (like so many things) a gradual process, including various comedic post-credits stingers in Airplane!, The Muppet Movie, and the Pirates of the Caribbean films, with an early example of the more recent teaser method being the bit at the end of 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes that reveals the villain adopting the new name Moriarty (coincidentally, an element of another recent Robert Downey Jr. movie).

Daredevil apparently showed the villainous Bullseye stuck in a body cast after the credits (and I’m not sure I stuck around for that), and then — I think — our recent sense of post-credits entitlement really began with the bit at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand (two years prior to Iron Man) that revealed Prof. X is still alive.  (Sidenote: In reading about that teaser, I have only just learned that the new body into which he transferred his mind in that scene is supposed to be the twin whose mind he accidentally wiped out back when they were in the womb — meaning that the character is essentially Cassandra Nova, for the Grant Morrison fans out there, albeit a male Cassandra Nova.  Since the male body is at Moira’s facility in Scotland, perhaps we should henceforth refer to it as Cassandra Nova Scotia.  Ha!)

What the online accounts about post-credits sequences I read left out, though, was that the expectation that the post-credits bit will be something important rather than just a joke was probably created in 2002 by the widely-advertised alternate ending of the zombie movie 28 Days Later.  So, chronologically/causally, roughly: Muppets > ninjas > zombies > pirates > mutants > Robert Downey Jr., and the rest is…uh, contemporaneous.

How will next year’s Thor movie tease next year’s Captain America movie, though, that is the question.  Maybe it would be easier for both films to tease 2012’s scheduled Avengers movie.  To which I can only say: Avengers ensemble!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Black Panther, Cool Helicarrier

In the 1960s, Marvel Comics, clearly influenced by the political protests of the day, introduced a character named Black Panther who ostensibly had nothing to do with the American political conflicts of the day but happened to be the first black member of the Avengers (the team now being slowly assembled on the big screen that over the years has also included Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, War Machine, Thor, Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, etc.). Black Panther hailed from the African nation of Wakanda, which made him one step removed from the tricky domestic political questions of the day, but simply having a regal black character on the team said something.

And if he ever crops up in an Avengers movie, there’s the added intrigue of getting to see him interact with a black Nick Fury, given the casting of Samuel L. Jackson in that role. Speaking of which, a friend of the guy who wrote Air Force One informs me that that writer is working on a script for a potential Nick Fury movie and trying to figure out what sorts of things the special effects will allow to be done with, yes, the Helicarrier, the aircraft-carrier-sized six-prop helicopter used by Nick Fury’s sci-fi-CIA-like organization S.H.I.E.L.D. Almost all I want out of these Avengers movies is to see a battle involving the Helicarrier, so I have my fingers crossed. Of course, a slightly lower-budget 1990s version of the Helicarrier can be seen in, yes, the David Hasselhoff TV-movie version of Nick Fury, which you may have missed but which I swear wasn’t half bad, featured Hydra in all its glory, and was written by David Goyer, later of Dark Knight (not to mention Dark City) fame.

As for Black Panther, the character’s been animated, as seen in this clip, which is beautifully drawn but crudely animated, anachronistically (but not humorously) written, shockingly violent, and, in this scene, almost completely devoid of Black Panther. Still, I love the fact that it has sort of a Jonny Quest look, which is ironic, given that Jonny (one of the fictional boy-science-adventurer characters, like Tom Swift, who had the biggest influence on me in childhood) was sort of an echo of imperialist/explorer characters like Alan Quartermain (as is Indiana Jones).

But far be it from me to condemn Jonny because of his ancestry. He captured the childhood spirit of exploration perfectly — and there are still times I think fondly of Doxilus, the idyllic yet high-tech planet of giant trees and hidden spacefleet docking facilities (of my own making) that I sometimes imagined being on when I was six.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Caplan Prep for Parenting

Libertarian economist Bryan Caplan has a Father’s Day-pegged piece in the Wall Street Journal that, like his new book, is aimed at convincing wary people it’s safe to go ahead and have kids without thinking it will wreck their lives. I don’t think there’s that big a problem with people avoiding childbearing (virtually everyone reproduces, and it was only yesterday that half the intellectuals were constantly whining about the planet being overpopulated instead of constantly whining about falling birth rates — every trend in every direction always being regarded as a crisis, of course). I suspect that someone who is around (individualistic) libertarians and (rational, cost-benefit analyzing) economists all the time is more likely to know cautious non-breeders, which may be why Caplan felt the need to write the article and book. Most people just plain love them babies.

So is Caplan convincing? I swear I’m keeping an open mind on the topic, but it’s interesting to me that he repeatedly assures the reader that having that first kid (according to the psych-survey response stats) makes you only slightly more miserable than those who never have kids. Having subsequent kids is, comparatively speaking, a breeze — and you can make parenting even easier if you assume, as current research supposedly suggests, that you don’t have that much impact on your kids’ personalities and likelihood of success anyway.

Only slightly more miserable — and irrelevant to the offspring’s mental development? You call this a sales pitch? On the other hand, I’m going to call Dad now, and I trust we’ll both regard it as a positive experience.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Punk for Mermaids, plus "Freedom Watch"

If you need something liberating to do in between watching the second episode of Freedom Watch on Fox Business Network at 10am Eastern today and then watching it again at 8pm (or Sunday 7pm and 11pm), I notice that the King Neptune and Queen of the Mermaids at this year’s Coney Island Mermaid Parade (today at 2pm) will be revered New York couple Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson.  (Can Mermaids pogo?)

And my mom watched Freedom Watch’s premiere last weekend three times, so I don’t want to hear anyone whining that twice is excessive.  She’s a veritable Freedom Watch watch.  And in today’s you get Glenn Beck, John Stossel, Dennis Kucinich, and a panel including Nick Gillespie to boot, so maybe your mom should watch three times.

P.S. I realize King Neptune is more proto-punk than punk and the Queen of the Mermaids is technically No Wave, but close enough.

P.P.S. Speaking of sea-dwellers (such as the folks at the Seasteading Institute), I read online that in DC Comics, a recently-resurrected Aquaman has waged a battle in recent months against zombie fish he accidentally summoned with his telepathy — a narrative that bares a disturbing resemblance to the deliberately-stupid plotline I suggested for that character in a blog post three months ago.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag Day vs. Fish Day

I hope it won’t seem unpatriotic if I choose Flag Day to say that it’s been brought to my attention that this photo of the Dutch consul general looks a little like me, at least to the extent you can judge from a funny fish-eating angle.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bad Girls Round-Up vs. Frankenstein

•What do disgraced reporter Helen Thomas, Ralph Nader, and Edward Said all have in common, besides being nuance-free Israel-bashers?  All are of Lebanese descent, perhaps no coincidence (regardless of whether that makes you sympathize more or less with them).

•How much do some people at ABC News hate each other?  As seen a month or two ago when one reviled exec left that company and ABC vets unloaded about her in a comments thread, quite a bit.  Perhaps that’s why people leave ABC for Fox.

•A friend who had herself tattooed with an ancient cuneiform symbol meaning, roughly, “liberty” (not the only person I know tattooed with that symbol) forwarded this article about a study showing that people who get tattoos are more symmetrical (a property tending to correlate with physical attractiveness) than the general population.  I do not take this to mean that tattoos, which I usually oppose as akin to graffiti, are a good or sexy thing but merely that bold and brawny types tend to get them.

•The same friend (who also recently had a dream she moved in with a bespectacled hipster girl and got into a protracted knife fight over closet space) also reminded me how hard it is to speak freely in academia, by forwarding this piece about a male professor being chastised for pointing out to a female colleague an article on oral sex among bats.  (My visiting evolutionary psychology Ph.D.-possessing pal Diana Fleischman would likely be more understanding.)

•An imminent album of covers of David Bowie will feature Carla Bruni doing the excellent song “Absolute Beginners,” clearly cementing Bruni’s status as la plus coolest first lady anywhere ever, as if her albums, pin-ups, and sexual adventures weren’t proof enough.


Speaking of music, sex, and sexual adventures, remember to let me know (at the e-mail address on the About/CONTACT page) if you’re a volunteer to argue on July 7 that burlesque is not art (or want to demonstrate the genre).  To compensate for all this bawdiness and badness, though, I will post a commentary soon about the book Victorian Vista by James Laver.

And if that’s a sufficient dose of the nineteenth century for this month, that’ll spare us all having to go see Megan Fox as an Old West whore in Jonah Hex, which looks awful, making it the second DC Comics movie of the year, after The Losers, not to set the world on fire.  You might instead consider going to see the biotech thriller Splice, which manages to allude, Cronenberg-like, to such touchy biological topics as bad parenting, incest, retardation, gender-switching, and maternal insanity all while being a pretty straightforward — yet disturbing — Frankenstein story.  Not bad.  And a bit conservative, like Frankenstein, Cronenberg, and for that matter David Lynch (a Reagan fan), since all suggest that there are rules rooted in biology one cannot escape.  Both Roger Ebert and Humanist magazine have strongly condemned Lynch for that implicit assumption.

(Of course, nowadays you’d think conservatives believe the world can be changed with a few focus groups, some brainy studies, and some management-seminar pep talks, to judge from the here’s-how-we-fix-the-movement tone of, say, David Brooks, Ross Douthat, David Frum, and a few others — better the radicalism of the Tea Parties if you want to have an impact, says I.)

We keep being told the world is changing rapidly, but there’s nothing I’ve seen in my lifetime — not the Internet, not biotech — that can compare to the transformation in the world people saw in the nineteenth century.  We bicker over whether colleagues can handle raising the issue of bat sex, while they watched the masses go from being peasants to reading by electric light.  Is it any wonder I find myself growing disillusioned with our debt-saddled, cowardly era and more sympathetic to steampunk, young lady?  I may need to go on the Brown alums tour of the converted old High Line train track this Thursday.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Freedom Watch" (plus Some Anarchists)

As I type this, there are two hours to go before the premiere (on Fox Business Network — demand it so that it will be supplied) of the new weekly show for which I’m a writer/producer, Freedom Watch with Judge Andrew Napolitano. You can catch the episode — a “Tea Party summit” featuring Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, Dick Armey, Jim DeMint, and critic Ed Rendell — four times this weekend: Sat. 10am and 8pm Eastern, Sun. 7pm and 11pm Eastern.

We’re a bit Mises to John Stossel’s Cato, I think.

Speaking of thinktanks, here are Reason’s text interview and video interview with our host — my new boss — Judge Napolitano. But will the Daily Show be as kind?


And if our show isn’t anarchist enough for your tastes…

•…you will be pleased by another dash of political-boundary-crossing fusionism going on this month, namely my girlfriend Helen Rittelmeyer’s post on National Review’s Corner blog about a genuine case of leftists throwing a whole class of people out of their restaurant — which is their right as property owners, of course, so maybe we can all get along across political lines (this has been the contention of left-libertarian Rod Long for years, which is why he too blogged about the restaurant incident and why he was praised by Kerry Howley during that online/print spat we had many months ago regarding feminism).

•Meanwhile, in Reykjavik, an “anarcho-surrealist” party called the Best Party (promising, among other things, a polar bear for the local zoo) swept local elections amid crushing national debt and rampant Bjork performances (as pointed out to me by able webmaster and Debates at Lolita Bar moderator Michel Evanchik).

•And one of my favorite anarchists, comic book writer Alan Moore, is working with my favorite skeptic, James Randi, not to mention Richard Dawkins (as pointed out to me by able manga-promoter Ali Kokmen). I have long suspected that Moore’s claim to worship an ancient snake-puppet god was a skeptical prank.

It’s all coming together. But…

•One person who ought to be part of the political dialogue but won’t be anymore is my friend Anna Parachkevova (I will not call her by her married name), a twenty-nine year-old pro-market Bulgarian TV reporter who, I learned during this strange and busy week, has been murdered in Brussels by her cameraman husband, who confessed. Much as I hate to even think about the details, I cannot help recalling that I’ve heard multiple stab wounds are a pattern common in sexual-jealousy cases. I don’t know her husband’s motives, but I’m sure she deservedly had many admirers, and you can see her on-camera at 1 min. 18 sec. in on this clip, which should have been part of decades more to come.

She was one of my fellow Phillips Fellows (receiving a writing grant from the Phillips Foundation). In happier news, two of our fellow Fellows are running for office — Paul Crespo in Florida for U.S. House of Reps and David Sanders for state rep in Arkansas, for the seat being vacated by Dan Greenberg, who, alas, will not go on to be the GOP candidate in his district for state senate, having lost in the primary but no doubt being destined for further greatness regardless.


This entry having turned bittersweet (while I listen to a lovely CD of classical piano music played by Fox religion correspondent Lauren Green, who played keyboards with the Ventures on Huckabee’s show once and not surprisingly knows Dawn Eden), I will end with two more-fluffy notes from work: (1) it was nice to hear a colleague whose desk is near mine enthusing about getting to meet the actor playing Mr. T in the new A-Team movie, and (2) the default site on my work Web browser seems to be a Canadian (!) news site, which I have to admit has a knack for intriguing headlines, including, recently, “Dolphin Gets Way Too Friendly” and “Sad Baby Dances Against His Will.” I didn’t have time to read the details on that second one, but it does not sound like a very freedom-friendly situation to me.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Eve of Redemption, Dawn of Retrospection

I partied with Yale Party of the Right people, among others, this weekend in DC, and they were pleased that 2000 PoR alum Eve Tushnet (who I’ve mentioned on this blog before) was profiled in the New York Times yesterday.  I’ve noted that PoR contains odd tensions between conservatism and decadence, traditionalism and eccentricity (one of their candidates for Chairman this year was a traditionalistic, lily-white devotee of…Hawaiian paganism), and this piece sums those tensions up in a very sympathetic way — when a left-leaning newspaper could so easily have gone the “hypocrisy” or “hopeless contradictions” routes.

I am pleased, too, that the piece mentions that Eve likes the Smiths (she also likes comic books, like most good people, and once praised a history book by comparing its goodness to chocolate shaped like Sophia Loren with a cameo by Iron Man).

Perhaps fittingly, while I was with the PoR folk, my vaguely Eve-like ex Dawn Eden was co-hosting a 60s-music dance party elsewhere in DC (which my friend Paul Taylor attended, noting a prevalence of mod scooter-riding chicks), such events being the sort of thing Dawn used to find time for with greater frequency back before turning Catholic.  Like Eve and a few other people I know, Dawn may have finally decided it is possible to resolve the logical paradox of something being hip and square at the same time.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Musical Peaks

Having waxed 80s-musical yesterday, maybe I should be slightly more objective today — but only slightly.

To determine a time when the music you like peaked, it’s tempting to pick when the songs you loved the most came out even if they remained obscure…or when the most stuff you loved was actually in the Top 40…or when (a) what you loved (b) was in the Top 40 and (c) actually warranted critical praise years later — and by the complex third standard, I might have to pick the mid-90s (instead of, say, the 80s), when moments like this (from 1995) were actually quite common — without the need for hunting down indie online stations or something.

By contrast, the 1991 song “Counting Backwards” from her old band Throwing Muses is even better but is the sort of thing one only heard if lucky enough to be at a college with an alternative rock station at that time — WBRU in Providence having been the first professional such station in the nation (feel the pride).

You can understand why a guy who liked 80s New Wave and then in the 90s the sort of thing linked above would also enjoy, say, Metric in the 00s.  At first, I thought the stuff from their recent album Fantasies was a bit less immediately-catchy than, say, “Dead Disco,” but now stuff like that older song or “Monster Hospital” sounds a bit primitive to me compared to, say, the genuinely complex and pretty “Sick Muse” from  Fantasies.

At this rate of maturation, expect me to listen mainly to classical around the time I turn ninety.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rock of the 80s, Talking Food, Evil Clowns

•I don’t know if anyone’s interested in joining me or if tickets are still available, but I notice (Bauhaus-like) She Wants Revenge opening for Psychedelic Furs here tomorrow, which kinda makes sense (and it’s standing-room, so no need to coordinate ticket-purchasing). Just a thought (also gotta see the Guillermo del Toro-produced and reportedly brainy and disturbing biotech-themed thriller Splice, opening tomorrow, at some point).

•I was half-tempted to see the band Das Racist (playing with a band called Junk Science) last week, they being the geniuses behind the song “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” I did not — but last month I did see live Aqua Teen Hunger Force, an impulse purchase made when I overheard one of the Bill O’Reilly staffers sitting near the Napolitano team say he was too busy to use the tickets he’d purchased. I learned that Dana Snyder basically really is Master Shake, though you wouldn’t have thought a human could look that much like an animated milkshake.

•I think this blog entry adeptly sums up the experience — including the unexpected appearance of the amazing, dark, and operatic singer Puddles the Clown. We will hear more from this Puddles, I am convinced. And, in a reminder that certain patterns keep recurring, here’s a pivotal paragraph from the front page of Puddles’ website:

Puddles and MonkeyZuma first joined forces in 1999 in Atlanta when they formed the all-clown/all-monkeygirl band “Greasepaint” with the Rev. Uncle Laffo. Greasepaint performed for years with highlights including the Maxim Magazine Libertarian Party hosted by Jello Biafra during the 2000 National Republican Convention in Philadelphia and as opening act for Tenacious D

•Speaking of sinister clowns, historian Christine Caldwell Ames forwards this photo of Glurpo the underwater clown who used to perform at an aquarium and will now perform in your nightmares.

Law & Order is ending, but the spin-off …SVU survives, as does a new spin-off called LOLA: Law & Order Los Angeles — and I learned this, coincidentally, one day after shaking hands with an SVU star on the street (I had previously met Joel de la Fuente back at Brown and a couple times since). Mere hours later, as it happens, I found myself being cordoned inside a building for a while so cops could examine a “suspicious vehicle” outside. Quite a contrast with what I was doing inside the building, which was seeing a spirited punk concert by the Buzzcocks last month. If the music were really working properly, I suppose we would have rioted rather than follow police instructions, but then again, Buzzcocks draws an older punk crowd.

•The aforementioned O’Reilly staffer is one of many people, like me, who was pleased to see how much attention the death of rocker Ronnie James Dio got. I introduced him to the Dio video for “The Last in Line,” which I contend is not only very cool but is likely where the Star Trek designers got the idea for the look of the Borg. Dave Whitney’s not a big Dio fan but confesses to liking “Man on the Silver Mountain” from Dio’s Rainbow period and “Mob Rules” from back in Dio’s days with Black Sabbath and was pleased by Dio’s appearance as a mentor-figure in the Tenacious D movie (again, it’s all connected).  But, heck, I’ll confess to liking a Rainbow song that  wasn’t even from the Dio period: the later “Street of Dreams” from 1984, which may be the most quintessentially hairband song of which I’ve ever been fond.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jacob Is Lost (plus: comics and genocide)

I never saw an episode of Lost (I was exhausted just watching the eight-minute recap at the beginning of season six), but I know enough about how the nerd mind works to trust that Jacob Levy is correct in his angry comments about the finale, which makes them an amusing read (being ignorant can be very entertaining).  It sounds like the show was about as complex as online social networking (which I’m planning to start doing soon — but in the meantime catch me at Lolita in NYC tonight at 8 for the Shakespeare historicity debate or at Vermilion in Old Town Alexandria Sunday at 1).

Jacob’s rant is no doubt how comic book nerds like me sound to normal people if we go on too long.  But once in a while a comics nerd says something so pithy and wise that it should become one’s new slogan or be engraved on a monument, and I think that’s the case with these profoundly true words, which I recently saw on an official DC Comics chatboard:

thats how it works in the WWE

first make the wrestler said a bunch of stupid things like he is better than everyone and in the next moment he is cheating ppl and having a bald girlfriend

is just the same on comics

first they kill his daughter, then he uses drugs and acts like an ass and in any moment is resetting time or trying to conquer the multiverse

As Thor or Shakespeare or Obama’s jester might say: verily.

One reason mainstream book publishers are awed by comics, Ali Kokmen tells me, is that comics bring loyal readers into the store to buy new stuff as it hits shelves every Wednesday.  Regular book publishers can only dream of that sort of loyalty (or look with envy upon the Harry Potter juggernaut).  I’m reminded of the story of a ruler who was shaken and frightened upon first hearing that Muslims (Ali’s ancestors) pray simultaneously across the world, since he realized that a mighty unity-inspiring new force had appeared.

While I’m giving rare props to Islam, let me add that an interesting article by John Myhill in Vol. 22, No. 1 of Critical Review makes the very interesting case that the real problem in the Middle East is not Muslims vs. non-Muslims but Arabs vs. non-Arabs, with Islamism just the latest tool in that conflict — with pan-Arabism following a pattern similar to that of German and Turkish unification, those being the only other two cases in modern times of a nation concocted out of a common language, with all three cases leading to frustration and a sense of humiliation over the continued geographic separateness of the various subgroups of the language’s speakers (and defeat in wars), soon followed by genocide against those perceived to be in the way of unity.  People need to be more comfortable with social fluidity, clearly.  Humanity’s still getting the hang of it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hollywood Giveth...

…and Hollywood taketh away.  No sooner do we hear that Atlas Shrugged has begun production (with unknowns doing it) than DarkHorizons reports that Guillermo del Toro will not be directing two films based on the work of the other of the twentieth century’s two most important novelists, J.R.R. Tolkien, due to the ongoing legal-department-induced delays in production — nor does it sound likely that producer Peter Jackson will fill the resulting void himself.  Am I going to end up watching these films in the far-flung year 2015 A.D. instead of the currently-scheduled 2012 and 2013?

Luckily, we have a Potter (7A), a Narnia (3), and a Tron (2.0) coming up at the end of this year, so we won’t be forced to spend too much time in reality.