Thursday, September 30, 2010
This may call for celebrating with "punk cupcakes" (pointed out to me by Austin Petersen). The punk cupcakes are not to be confused with the alcohol-soaked St. Patrick's cupcakes I bought earlier this year or the red, white, and blue cupcakes for sale at the Ron Paul-ish event I went to a week or so ago.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
We (along with nineteen other writers) all contributed essays to the imminent Goldberg-edited volume Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation, mine unsurprisingly titled "Conservatism for Punks" and finally explaining what I mean by that phrase (which is also the slogan of this rebooted/in-progress blog). More on the book when it hits shelves next week.
•In the meantime, here's what might be considered "modernist-indie by a conservative," my friend Hannah Meyers (and at least one contributor to the Goldberg volume, James Poulos, has had a cool indie band, the Handpicked Successors, by the way -- I find it reassuring that conservatives making music don't always sound like country).
•If (perhaps a bit like ex Helen mentioned above), you prefer your video material to combine religious themes and soul-crushing darkness, you may be pleased to hear the gothy good news that Alex Proyas, director of The Crow, and the fantastic Dark City is tackling Paradise Lost. If ever there were a dark hero...
•And while I'm noting video achievements, Reason’s Ted Balaker has recently interviewed Adam Carolla, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) manager Lex McMahon, and pro-capitalist leftist Joyce Appleby. I'm pretty sure Lex McMahon is the guy who tried to drive Superman out of the WWE.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
GIRL CUSTOMER [frowning]: Uh, I don’t think you guys are very diplomatic.
GUY WORKING IN PIZZA PLACE: What do you mean? Do you know how much we put up with?
GIRL CUSTOMER: OK, I’m sorry. [to her friend] I get into the weirdest arguments.
ME [exiting with my pizza slice, to Guy]: You tell ’em.
GUY WORKING IN PIZZA PLACE: Ha! Republican?
ME: Yeah, actually.
(The panel discussion I'll be a part of at Georgetown in DC on Wed., Oct. 6 at 7:30pm will no doubt be more complex, so mark your calendars, but more about that tomorrow.)
Monday, September 27, 2010
•Woman fends off bear using zucchini.
•Victims of sharks learn to forgive. As a determinist who is nonetheless a moralist (since incentives such as public shaming can remold people in beneficial ways), I am against granting people blanket forgiveness merely because "it is their nature to be bad" -- as with sociopaths who lack empathy and remorse. Perhaps, then, I ought not to forgive literal sharks, either.
•Of course, animals are dimwitted, so slapping a gator in handcuffs -- as was done with one in Florida recently, oddly enough -- does not necessarily serve any productive educational end (though reform was not the goal in this case, I gather).
•By contrast, punishing a marine who killed dozens of ducks with rocks makes sense.
•I am less enthusiastic about arresting a man for fighting in public with a parrot. Sounds to me like the parrot started it, though some would argue that's like faulting a slave for seizing an opportunity to assault his master.
•Indeed, that might be the opinion of my vegan friend Diana Fleischman, who informs me of an even stranger parrot story: a schizophrenic who walks around carrying a helper-parrot in a cage on his back, trained to talk the man down if he has a serious schizophrenic episode. I'm not sure which is more insane, though: listening to the voices in your head or the voice of the parrot on your back. If I were at a moment of maximum crisis -- and lately, that wouldn't be too surprising -- I'm not sure getting advice from a bird would make me feel the world was more rational.
I guess the system works for the fellow, but I would still advise against creating a system in which, say, tiny robots under a schizophrenic's skin tell him to calm down and follow orders if he starts getting out of line. I also would not recommend a system in which the CIA keeps watch on schizophrenics to make sure they're OK, perhaps using high-tech listening devices.
•But to get back to the animals: I was delighted recently to meet Tina Louise (best known for playing Ginger on Gilligan's Island) and learn that she wrote a children's book, What Does a Bee Do? that not only describes bees but the hypothetical consequences of a massive bee die-off (a concern recently due to mysteriously dysfunctional colonies). Always good to inform while entertaining, as I shall strive to do on this revamped blog (bear with me while the Kinks are worked out).
Saturday, September 25, 2010
You know, I was in my early twenties when Weezer got big. They do not seem ancient somehow and so perhaps have pulled off the trick that Bowie, Prince, and R.E.M. were once adept at of seeming continually-emerging, as I believe Dave Whitney once put it. The lead singer looks like he knows he’s a rock star now, though, which we all know is a betrayal of their nerd roots. (And how big an influence did they have in making nerdiness a hipness option, if we could quantify it, I wonder? Historians may record that it was them, Tarantino, and Matrix that did it, yielding much of Brooklyn.)
Friday, September 24, 2010
Poised somewhere in between these things, I suppose, is the use of Patti Ann Browne as the “gangsta” correspondent on Fox’s late-night show Red Eye. Brilliant.
P.S. Then again, maybe we all just need another dose of the space funk. Thus, once more, the opening credits of Space: 1999.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
For a more direct dose of politics, downtown where punk came from, join us tonight at Lolita Bar for an epochal debate between Wall Streeter Thomas Powers and Beiruter Saif Ammous on the question “Is Macroeconomics a Fiction?” You might just learn how this civilization collapses, or learn nothing at all, or both.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
On a less depressing note, my friend Bretigne Shaffer has a piece up about the destructive error of calling normal, free, and prosperous people “privileged.” Never having forgotten my four years of dealing with Marxist, French-theory-addled Brown students, I know how insidious such p.c. labeling can be.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
But this Thursday, Sept. 23 (8pm) on the basement level of Lolita Bar (266 Broome St. at Allen St., one block south of the Delancey St. F J M Z subway stop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side), Debates at Lolita Bar dares ask:
“Is Macroeconomics a Fiction?”
Yes: Saif Ammous, economics instructor at American University of Lebanon
No: Thomas Powers, of a mighty Wall Street concern
Moderator: Michel Evanchik
Host: Todd Seavey
The audience will bid on the correct answer at the end. Tell everyone about whom you care.
In related news:
•NPR with David Boaz on libertarianism (as pointed out to me by Ali Kokmen)
•a critique (pointed out to me by Gerry Ohrstrom) of “locavores,” who were the target of debater Saif Ammous at a previous Debate at Lolita Bar
•the only thing dumber than a defense of labor unions, a defense of public sector unions
And in unrelated news, since yesterday was the official day of prayer for Christopher Hitchens (during which I witnessed neither Rapture nor Rupture):
•I note that he found the strength last week, here at the Cooper Union in NYC, to debate Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (with whom I got to see him mop the floor a couple years ago) on the question of whether there’s an afterlife. Mention that to any Christian halfwits who tell you there are no atheists in foxholes (or with throat cancer). Likewise, I will not be wasting my last moments on Earth calling for last rites, or imagining unicorns for that matter (pardon me, unicorns must exist because they are beautiful and move the human heart).
•If you think religion morally shores up capitalism (whereas in fact it’s the other way around), you might want to check out this report on what Islam-fueled Ahmadinejad thinks of markets.
•Meanwhile, at the Vatican money-laundering operation…
•If it’s booty you worship, note my friend Reid Mihalko’s Sacred Sexuality RoundUp this weekend (I just report, you decide).
•Let us not forget that two of my most blasphemous friends said at the beginning of their appearance on Cash Cab that they were headed to no other destination than Lolita Bar (and at the end of the segment, one “Todd Seavey” is called for the winning answer, Leopold and Loeb).
•Michael Malice, who appears in that clip, is something of an existentialist, but then, so is the comic book superhero the Punisher, according to comics writer Steven Grant, who says:
Heidegger, who took Kierkegaard’s philosophy further, comes even closer to describing the Punisher: Since we can never hope to understand why we’re here, if there’s even anything to understand, the individual should choose a goal and pursue it wholeheartedly, despite the certainty of death and the meaninglessness of action [Note from Todd: That's stupid]. That’s sure the Punisher as I conceived him: a man who knows he’s going to die and who knows in the big picture his actions will count for nothing, but who pursues his course because this is what he has chosen to do.
(One more comics note: when assessing one’s life, I think it is important not to compare oneself to UK director Matthew Vaughn, who directed the funny superhero movie Kick-Ass, is directing next year’s X-Men: First Class about the beginnings of the Prof. X/Magneto rivalry fifty years ago, is friends with Guy Ritchie and Madonna [who is in her own way almost as cool as a punk], is married to and has two children with Claudia Schiffer, and has assembled a squad of ex-Ghurka soldiers to protect him and Claudia against reported stalkers, not so unlike something out of the school invasion sequence from X-Men 2.)
•And much as I enjoy being around my fellow anarchically-inclined folk, I must take a moment to lament the conspiracy-theory folk at that Liberty Festival NYC 2010 thing I poked my head into briefly this past Saturday. Once the talk of poisoning us all with fluoride and using airborne chemicals for mind control started, it was time for me to leave the red, white, and blue cupcakes and John Birch literature behind.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Speaking of cartoons, it only occurred to me a couple days ago, oddly enough, that maybe I really did cause a joke to be used on The Simpsons.
I wrote in the Brown Film Bulletin circa 1991 that novelist Chaim Potok’s name sounds Klingon, and Krusty the Clown said the same thing in 2003 (in the extra-Jewish episode “Today I Am a Clown”). What with various Ivy League humor writers having ties to the Simpsons writers, doesn’t it seem more likely that they saw a Bulletin at some point (possibly even a copy belonging to my fellow Bulletineer Christine Caldwell, back when she was my roommate and worked with future Simpsons writer Ian Maxtone-Graham at National Lampoon) and half-remembered it a decade later than that this extremely obscure joke was independently invented twice?
Not that the latter is impossible (Chaim Potok does sound like a Klingon name), nor do I want royalties from them or anything, but somehow back in 2003 it didn’t even occur to me to think there could be an actual causal connection rather than a mere coincidence. I must have become less humble over the past seven years…
P.S. This hypothesized chain of comedy-making events is less interesting than Christine’s resume-enhancing script for a sketch about an Axl Rose Christmas album being ripped off by a prominent late-night comedy show (complete with the idea of a Slash Hanukkah album bonus if you call and order now), but that’s a story for her to tell. Show biz people are no good at all.
P.P.S. And speaking of show biz, I still need an extroverted believer in macroeconomics to make the case for macro’s relevance (about seven minutes of comments followed by q&a) at this coming Thursday’s 8pm Debate at Lolita Bar against a libertarian who says macro’s all bunk, so e-mail me if you’re willing and able. Unless you Keynesian/welfare-statist/Krugman types are all chicken, of course. You’re not chicken, are you? (Note: This is the first time I have deployed this tactic for recruitment purposes. We’ll see how it goes.)
Saturday, September 18, 2010
That’s not punk, but it’s an even more important topic (and something worth bringing up to the next fragile hippie girl — likely a folk music fan — who talks about the green movement as if it’s superior to Naziism). I did come out of the event with a cool “DDT” t-shirt that is both punkily badass and supportive of a good cause, not unlike the death’s head t-shirt I have that warns about the problem of landmines in Cambodia.
•Not every event combines scientific and economic reasoning in ways that are to my liking, of course: I am informed that today an event billed as Liberty Festival NYC is taking place from 3-11pm at Social Bar & Lounge (Eighth Ave. between 48th and 49th), full of libertarian and quasi-libertarian conservative speakers — including avowed pagan Republican city councilman Dan Halloran — but your twenty bucks cover charge goes to fight Ground Zero workers’ “9/11-related illnesses,” a category that has ballooned, like illnesses attributed to Agent Orange, to include every imaginary and unrelated malady to which any large cohort is vulnerable. Might still be a fun party, though.
•It’s exciting just to see that even in New York City, the believers in liberty are getting more open about it — something I suspected for a couple years just from the increased frequency with which I overhear anti-big-government conversations in bars and restaurants here, compared to a decade ago (and I mean bars and restaurants where the crowd wasn’t gathered by me).
•Likewise, the fact that a tough-talking anti-Albany firebrand, Carl Paladino, is now the Republican nominee for governor here is sort of exciting, even if he gets slaughtered by legacy loudmouth Andrew Cuomo in the general (and despite me knowing one or two people who worked for Paladino’s GOP rival Lazio). It’s exciting simply because I didn’t think New Yorkers had it in them to nominate such an ornery government-basher anymore.
From New York, sadly, I expect things more like the Daily News’s less-than-objective headline about Paladino’s primary victory, which was (roughly): “Meet Crazy Carl! Don’t Laugh — He Might Be Your Next Governor.” Yes, the Paladino campaign has been bizarrely amateurish and undiplomatic at times, but they did mass-e-mail this Buffalo News column that sums up why a bit of tactlessness perhaps shouldn’t matter at this juncture in New York government’s troubled history.
•As any movement broadens and becomes popular, I have long said, it’s bound to get a bit weirder and less ideologically consistent. You have to expect that. Indeed, it struck me years ago, after reading Paul Johnson’s History of the American People, that the first American Revolution, much as we all love it, resulted from such a feverish combo of quasi-libertarian, populist, and rabidly-religious sentiment (people thought King George was in league with Satan, etc.) that in a hypothetical second American Revolution, any movement urgent enough to get Americans off their sofas and out in the street railing against government spending would probably have to involve a certain amount of wild-eyedness.
Specifically, it occurred to me that tapping into explicit American Revolution imagery might be the only way to rouse complacent and statist-inclined New Englanders, my people before my move to New York, from their natural activities — leaf-raking, chowder consumption, and voting for Democrats. Now, everything seems to be going according to plan. Don’t expect it to be perfect. If it all works out slightly better than the Howard Stern campaign for New York governor in 1994, it’ll be a step forward, at least.
•Embracing imperfection means putting up with internal disagreements, of course, and on that front I hope Will Wilkinson will continue to accomplish great things even after reportedly having been scheduled to leave Cato this past week. I have my differences with the “liberaltarians,” but in the end, the only real enemy is government, and like various peoples of Middle Earth gathering against Mordor, we’ll need everything from paleos to liberaltarians in the fight ahead.
Speaking of Middle Earth, in fact, I just saw a cute dwarf couple in a new luchador-themed restaurant near my apartment, so maybe I should have recruited them, too. I wonder if they know Strong Bad.
•On the topic of people who are on my team but have some disagreements with me, I was not happy to see a prominent atheist writer (not Will) actually embracing the (false) view that without God there can be no morality — and he has the audacity to call his new, wholly amoral life philosophy “hard atheism.” Truth be told, though, the most self-consciously amoral person I’ve ever known well was religious, but that is a story for another time, my friends. In the meantime, I’ll just say, along with First Things blogger and former punk Sam Goldman (borrowing a slogan from Margaret Sanger, for good or ill): “No gods, no masters.”
•And speaking of atheists and apostate writers who don’t hew to the party line (of which, of course, we could use more, even at party-line magazines and thinktanks), Monday let us reflect upon Christopher Hitchens, for whom some kindhearted religious folk, knowing of his cancer, have declared September 20 a day of prayer. I was glad I got to see him — and get his autograph — before his illness cut his book tour for his memoir short a few months ago, and I hope he’ll still be with us and doing well in November, when that book, Hitch-22, will be one of my Book Selections of the Month. Pray for that outcome Monday, I guess, if you’re the sort who does that (and this weekend catch Freedom Watch, of course, on FBN).
Friday, September 17, 2010
I haven’t bothered to check with physicists (even though one of my best friends was trained as one) or meteorologists (even though there’s one sitting in the office right next to my desk at work) about this, but it seems implausible, even though it would look cool in the opening scene of a big-budget remake of The Whiz.
Speaking of tall buildings, I notice this article about the purportedly tallest skyscraper in “Asia” being built must be based on the assumption that the United Arab Emirates is not part of “Asia.” Surely, that’s cheating. Does modern man not see the ancient commonalities of the Musulman and the Chinaman?
Since Manhattan survived last night’s brief storm, by the way, Manhattans Project, a friendly social gathering of folks interested in politics and/or media, meets again this coming Monday, Sept. 20 (7-10pm) at Langan’s bar-restaurant, club room in the back, if you care to join me.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The meta-nostalgic items out this week that are tempting me to do so are DC Legacies #5 by Len Wein and George Perez, recounting the 1985 Crisis, and a Justice Society of America Special depicting the events of the apocalyptic 90s series Kingdom Come finally beginning to unfold in present-day, with the antihero Magog poised to inspire a dark new generation of rougher, black-clad, punk, cyborg superheroes. It will all end in tears and anti-matter, I know.
Then it’s back to politics and other sophisticated intellectual activities, I swear — like recruiting someone to defend the discipline of macroeconomics in a bar debate on Sept. 23 against econ teacher Saif Ammous, who calls it all a mere fiction, if you know anyone willing to do that. Surely someone out there thinks macro is more real than, say, the Justice League’s evil doppelgangers the Crime Syndicate are, right? If so, send them my way today.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
In their different ways, her contemporaries Gene Roddenberry and Rod Serling had the same attitude. She reportedly wanted Serling to write a movie script for Atlas Shrugged, the book being celebrated tonight, but he, reasonably enough, saw her as a sort of cult leader. For all her arrogance, she was unpretentious in many ways, admitting to a fondness for Mickey Spillane and Charlie’s Angels.
Speaking of 70s television, I notice that Lynda Carter, famous for playing Wonder Woman, went on to become something of a Troy McClure. Indeed, you may remember her from such (real) TV-movies as A Matter of Wife…and Death, When Friendship Kills, and She Woke Up Pregnant.
Combining video entertainment and political campaigns, we have the much-watched ranting speech by would-be county treasurer Phil Davison in Ohio, which, like the Joacquin Phoenix documentary, is a reminder that I may be turning into a fuddy-duddy who can no longer laugh at the mentally ill — if that’s his situation. I’m also not sure I should laugh when, for instance, the usually-dry campaign for state auditor of Massachusetts turns into a big-budget fight complete with campaign jingles. As Dave Whitney says, even the presidential candidates didn’t do that last time. Maybe something larger is at stake this time that isn’t immediately clear.
Monday, September 13, 2010
In real life, the Moon has not yet been blown out of orbit — but apparently it is shrinking. Would I rather have moon rock or punk rock?
[Accidentally left this paragraph out earlier.] In sadder sci-fi news, Kevin McCarthy, the lead actor in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has passed away. I’ve mentioned before that I once saw him walking a dog in Providence and had the Body Snatchers-like experience of failing to convince my friends it was him, and they even failed to see when he reacted meaningfully to my shout of “Isn’t that a veteran character actor?”
That movie — and the more recent The Changeling — must be very popular among people with Capgras’ Syndrome, the paranoid belief that ones’ loved ones have been replaced with exact duplicates. Normally, that belief would, of course, be utterly irrational — though the comparable fear that one might be dealing with a liar, con artist, or outright sociopath (someone feeling no empathy or guilt and wearing a mere “mask of sanity,” as the classic book title put it) is one of greater interest to me lately and, disturbingly, is a bit more rational. Then again, there was that Prisoner parody on The Simpsons in which the bad guys foisted a fake Homer on Marge.
Tune in tomorrow for Charlie’s Angels and Lynda Carter.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Paglia is insightful enough to recognize Gaga’s special appeal to psychologically-wounded millennials with no secure sense of identity (or grasp of the truth) — and a resulting approach to sex more akin to “mutilation and death” than to an affirmation of life, like trapped foxes gnawing their own legs off and deeming themselves tough rather than frantic. That certainly sounds like the most ardent Gaga fan I know. I think Paglia should take more credit, really, for warning (in Sexual Personae Volume 1, of which we still await the second volume twenty years later), back when Gen X came of age, that the Marquis de Sade had been a prophet — that if you dispose of all social conventions, first you get a Rousseuian/hippie holiday, and then the descent into depravity begins as people’s fuller, not always sunny animal natures are revealed (and remembered).
The incentives keeping people moral are fragile, and things start unraveling fast once bad is imagined to be cool (as if bad being cool hadn’t been done to death centuries ago, when, say, violence was so common as to make Europe’s medieval murder rate about thirty times what it is now, despite all that pervasive Catholicism).
Gen X, in retrospect, looks a bit like the mellow, apathetic pause between hippie optimism and millennial savagery/dysfunction. Indeed, when Paglia mentioned “borderlines” being blurred in that piece, perhaps an unconscious Madonna reference, for a moment I thought she meant cases of borderline personality disorder, which I wouldn’t be surprised to find rising among millennials, along with cases of sociopathy, which are becoming more frequent fast enough to cause a stir — and various studies — among psychologists, reportedly. Is it something in the Adderall? (Various natural conditions seem to show a trade-off between intense information-gathering and lack of empathy, after all.) Who knows. The videogames? The Pokemon? The anal sex?
But back to trashing Gaga: it’s been a fairly good predictor of crappiness for a couple decades now if a song has a moronic, very redundant, throbbing “techno dancefloor” kind of bass, with some operatic vocal hooks just sort of hung on that tree, as tends to be the case in her big hits (and, as I’ve noted before, in every terrible Euro/Middle Eastern disco song played in bodegas at 3am). Bass often means you’ve hit bottom. And it’s telling that Gaga got her start writing songs for Britney Spears, New Kids on the Block, and Pussycat Dolls. Do the brainier Gaga fans suggest we go back and listen to those acts with fresh ears and hail their hidden genius? I hope not.
(An aside: I notice my friend Joann’s brother, who was supposed to direct the film version of Neuromancer before production plans changed, instead directed, among other things, the videos for the Gaga songs “Eh, Eh” and “LoveGame.” Even if she wears a spacesuit at some point, though, Gaga’s still less interesting than actual sci-fi, which requires some creativity, not just a quick run on the wardrobe closet. And speaking of sci-fi: tomorrow is, once more, a special anniversary, which I will mark in the day’s blog entry. As for Neuromancer, it is now slated to be directed by the man who did the disturbing bioengineering thriller Splice, which wasn’t half bad.)
The fact that Gaga has three albums out so far — the second an expanded version of the first, and the third remixes — may be an indicator how hollow and fragile this thing is. She will not last long, and no one will quite remember what the point was when she is gone. Speaking of milking it, has she lactated (milk, I mean, not fire) in a video yet? If she does, and the moms of lots of teenage girls claim to be grossed out, she can claim it’s a result of the conservative establishment hating women’s bodies, etc., etc. This Gaga stuff writes itself. She’s like ordering one of everything from a sushi menu. Never has there been less there there.
And instead of valorizing weirdness, kinkiness, and a cynicism as contemptuous and cheap as cigar ash flung at an elderly stripper, how about pausing to remember how much suffering and weirdness the world possesses already, without even trying? This article from a couple weeks back about Pakistani flooding may help put your problems in perspective and make the costume-partying likes of Gaga seem just a bit less “dangerous” (and thus less interesting).
Saturday, September 11, 2010
I for one am tired of the insane, especially of their insanity.
Given that insanity is normally seen as an attribute of individuals, though, it’s worth seriously asking whether a collective or a society can be in a meaningful sense insane. I mean, hey, if everybody’s doing it, etc., etc. If the answer is yes — because group dynamics, while not amenable to examination in the same way that brain chemistry sometimes is, can at least be fingered as the cause of greatly increased irrational behavior by individuals — then it might even be fair to ask whether there can literally be specific “insane situations,” just as the colloquial phrase suggests, and finally whether weirdo artists and hipsters may make such situations more likely in a bad way:
•Take the concert by the novelty hiphop band Das Racist that I nearly went to a few months ago — they being the clever men behind the song “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” Apparently, I missed quite a show, not because Das Racist is great live (I’ve since read that they’re awful) but because, I’m told, they never showed up, and the whole crowd ended up accidentally fenced into an alley adjacent to the performance space for a long period, with orneriness and scuffling resulting. In short, I almost went to the worst, most insane concert since, y’know, one of the ones with the actual trampling.
•On this day when we commemorate an attack on the U.S. that was itself an act of attention-seeking madness, I also pause to remember that not long ago I held in my own lap a cause of cultural warfare: Unbeknownst to me, the pug that I held while chatting with a group of drunken hipsters (friends of a friend of a friend mine) was the quasi-famous one who had months earlier puked on a subway, causing its hipster owner to end up in a verbal altercation with the Hasidic cop who wanted to cite her for the dog-vomit and, far worse in the minds of the anti-traditionalist hipsters watching, told her to act like a “lady.” This led to such tensions between the two Williamsburg factions represented that a townhall-style debate was later held over whether the hipsters and Hasidim could get along.
•And one could chronicle endless bizarre incidents from Tompkins Square Park in the not-so-distant old days when it was filled with actual punks and heroin addicts instead of just well-dressed poets who have secretly tried heroin.
Where will it all end? About a decade ago, I naively scoffed at my friend Chris Whitten’s fears about the rising tide of reality TV (having myself enjoyed the early When Animals Attack specials on Fox but not imagining the things that lay ahead). Chris reminded me that arena spectacles served a similar visceral-yet-detached function for the ancient Romans and that “the Romans just kept getting sicker and sicker,” as he put it.
A decade after that conversation, as it happens, one of the stars of the arena-combat drama Gladiator is being laughed at across America (starting this weekend) for spiraling into mental illness in front of documentarian cameras.
The physical universe won’t — can’t — change, so rational, productive people will still have to clean up the crazies’ messes. But I wonder how far society can — and will — go in the direction of glamorizing and valorizing lunacy, with all the juvenile acting-out, getting overwrought, and breaking of things that lunacy brings, once people have an incentive to give into it? We shouldn’t have to live in a world where it makes sense for me to ask: Would it be a rational career move for me to burn something today?
Friday, September 10, 2010
Having lived on New York City’s Upper East Side for a decade, I’ve long noted that even the Republicans in these parts tend to mail out flyers touting their “accomplishments” in the area of promoting more spending or regulating. But the times must be changing, thanks to the past couple years of Obama and Tea Parties and “Ron Paul Republicans.”
For the first time that I can recall, the campaign literature for not one but two of the choices in the Tuesday, September 14 Republican congressional primary in my district (determining the person who’ll face Democrat Carolyn Maloney in November) sounds like the stuff of libertarian manifestoes (though talk is of course cheap, etc., etc.).
Dino Laverghetta touts having already been endorsed by such groups as the Libertarian Party and the New York Young Republican Club and vows he will oppose “all new taxes” and fight for lower taxes, the repeal of Obamacare, and other good things. He adds: “I believe in the Republican ideals of individual liberty, individual responsibility, and limited government.” Standard Republican fare in some parts of the country but not here, at least not in the past.
Ryan Brumberg — the opponent who Laverghetta dismisses as someone who was a Democrat until this very year and who hasn’t even voted in ten years — for his part quotes Paul Ryan, Milton Friedman, Chris Christie, and Ronald Reagan with approval while vowing to fight Obamacare, shrink government, deregulate, and lower and simplify taxes, calling himself “the true fiscal conservative” and touting his past as a management consultant and student of law and economics, now “committed to restoring fiscal sanity, individual responsibility, and the entrepreneurial spirit.” (He worked at McKinsey, as did a libertarian friend of mine who recently moved to this neighborhood, in fact. Democrats like this we could use more of, I’m thinking.)
The Republican Party in New York has long been decrepit and ripe for takeover by younger ideologues. In a city dominated by public sector unions more than political parties, I don’t know how much difference they can make, but it will be much less depressing to watch them try than to spend another decade being assured that, say, Non-Frightening Republican Candidate X is almost as gung-ho about fighting global warming and gender bias as a Democrat if you just give him a chance, blah, blah, blah.
Given that my polling place is across the street from my front door, I may even vote.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Speaking of violence: I was pleased to read that the man here in New York City whose car was crumpled by that lucky would-be suicide (who landed on it and survived after a thirty-nine-story fall) is angry at the would-be suicide for wrecking his car.
Suicides — like depressives generally — are typically very, very self-absorbed people, though everyone’s always afraid to say so and thus kick them while they’re down (sometimes for the count). I’m reminded of hearing about a woman who opened a door on a passenger jet to throw herself out. Now, in truth, the odds of other people being sucked out of a plane Goldfinger-style due to decompression are slim — but I’ll bet she didn’t know (or care) about that. Asshole.
I’m no Objectivist, in part because I can’t help noticing that the utterly self-absorbed tend not to seem very happy (though this is no argument for enslaving individuals to the collective, either, so I’ll get along just fine Tuesday with the Ayn Rand Institute crowd at the St. Regis, I’m sure). The indifference of the self-absorbed to others (and often to moral rules, since they feel too desperate and pained and weak to worry about their impact on others) is precisely what leaves them feeling so painfully alone, though they likely rationalize their isolation as high standards on their part — or as others’ failure to understand them.
People in this town in particular could perhaps do with a bit of Buddhist-like ego-suppression, if common sense and just plain acting normal won’t do the trick for them.
(I know what you’re thinking: that this has been my most compassionate blog entry ever.)
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
The 2012 film will feature Willem Dafoe as the tusked, fifteen-foot-high warrior Tars Tarkas, which makes about ten times now that Dafoe has played some being with a frightening visage without simply using his own already-frightening visage in the film. The wonders of the 1987 version of Mighty Mouse (co-created by John K. of Ren and Stimpy fame and Ralph Bakshi of many other things fame) were explored this year in a documentary called Breaking the Mold, but I was one of the lucky few to watch it in my strange youth when it first aired.
Speaking of strange creatures, lovely Grey’s Anatomy actress Ellen Pompeo apparently has twelve toes, and these extreme close-up shots of insects are also freakily interesting.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
The Rand-influenced admonishment “Don’t put him down as arrogant” from the song “Tom Sawyer” might be heard as a rebuke to whining underlings everywhere in the capitalist system, but that’s no reason to be a jerk, as Lilit Marcus will no doubt argue (against Jen Dziura) in our debate tonight at Lolita (8pm, 266 Broome St.) on the pressing question “Are Bosses Usually Jerks?”
And one week from tonight, I’ll have to ask the Ayn Rand Institute crowd what they think of the question.
In sadder prog rock news, the former cellist from ELO has been killed by a giant hay bale that rolled down a hill and struck his van. I do not think it an insult to his memory to say, along with music fans everywhere, that this brings me down.
Monday, September 6, 2010
ToddSeavey.com Book Selection of the Month (September 2010): The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890-1916: The Market, the Law, and Politics by Martin J. Sklar (plus Constitutional Chaos: What Happens when the Government Breaks Its Own Laws by Judge Andrew Napolitano)
Sklar’s dry but important 1988 book was brought to my attention by conservative Ronald Radosh, father of Daily Show writer Daniel Radosh, party guest of puzzlemaker Francis Heaney, and philosophical foe of New Republic’s John Judis, who has sparred with Ronald Radosh over the true meaning of Sklar’s work.
This tome details how law, society, and even morality itself were reshaped to accommodate the rise of modern corporations a century ago, but Sklar, unlike Marx-influenced Judis, has come to see Obama and his latter-day Progressive ilk as akin to fascists, creating a corporate state that does more to funnel money (and special legal protections) to big business than to aid the general populace. According to Radosh, Sklar has even come to prefer decentralization-promoting conservatives such as Newt Gingrich, seeing them as more nearly in the spirit of anti-statist early socialists. (It’s complicated.)
But in this book, Sklar focuses on the days of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and William Howard Taft, a figure who looms larger in Sklar’s account than in most political analyses of that era. Sklar argues that rather than seeing any of these presidents as true trust-busters or proto-socialists, we should see them as attempting to navigate a historic transition away from American capitalism dominated by small-scale individual owners and toward a more regulated, centralized, but still capitalist system in which much-feared newly-enlarged corporations would routinely turn to government for regulatory approval or guidance.
Roosevelt in many ways appears the most frightening figure from a laissez-faire, libertarian perspective (at least on economic matters), intending with his New Nationalism to make corporations virtual extensions of the executive branch, without even congressional approval needed to impose new rules upon them or to dissolve their charters.
All the presidents of that transitional period took it for granted that populist socialists had many valid points and that centralization was inevitable, desirable, and modern — it was just a question of how much say government would have in that centralization process. Few voices on any side of the debate were raised in defense of laissez-faire and strict property rights adherence:
–Small business owners pointed to the common law tradition of forbidding “combinations,” collusion in “restraint” of trade, and wanted those laws used in their favor and against emerging large corporations (instead, the law inadvertently encouraged big corporations to become bigger, by being more lenient toward mergers than toward agreements, such as price-setting schemes, between multiple small firms).
–Big corporations, then as now, were less enamored of the market than of predictability, especially when engaged in long-term, transcontinental planning, and were more than happy to partner with government against upstart competitors (but they would soon see the uncertainty of the marketplace replaced by the uncertainty of regulatory changes, necessitating the immediate and rapid rise of lobbyists and trade associations).
–Labor unions, despite their rhetorical railing against big corporations, greatly preferred the idea of negotiating with a few mammoth firms to the often-violent patchwork of disputes they were accustomed to across the country at that time (but at first they would be the primary victims of the Sherman Antitrust Act, the law treating union organization as combination in restraint of trade, much like inter-firm price-setting).
–The general public, awash in farmer-populist and socialist sentiment at that time (not so unlike the more radical socialist thinking bubbling in Europe then), passively accepted a growing role for Washington, DC in controlling the economy and ameliorating newly-discovered labor and working conditions problems (but this thinking, still with us, has done more to impede than to foster prosperity, leaving us all leading less “modern” lives than we otherwise might).
The “one big union” of which the villainous Wobblies dreamed was just one manifestation of that era’s love of centralization; people also longed for one big firm, one big and stable economy, and one big government, with the last of these, at least, eventually made real.
In short, this book describes the deeper systemic tragedy, a tragedy a century and more in the making, that is our modern corporate/government economy — or, as Sklar would say, our “corporate liberal” system. In retrospect, the legal and regulatory sclerosis, and the likely recurring financial crises, we face today seem built into a system rooted more in a vain quest for control and stability than in the freedom to innovate. Or as my anarchist law professor friend Butler Shaffer likes to say, we could get rid of most regulations simply by eliminating the ones that were promoted by self-serving businesses.
These are problems deep enough that no mere budget cut or financial oversight bill is going to eliminate them, only a switch to a laissez-faire model unlike any that existed even before the Progressive era.
Indeed, lest we exaggerated the loyalty of pre-twentieth-century thinkers to laissez-faire, it’s worth noting astoundingly ambivalent statements such as this one of Taft’s, quoted by Sklar, which indicate how wildly divergent the potential legal outcomes of the uncertain Progressive era were: “We must get back to competition. If it is impossible, then let us go to socialism, for there is no way between.”
Wilson was confident that a return to old-fashioned competition was not an option. Sklar quotes him saying: “We used to say that the ideal of government was for every man to be left alone and not interfered with, except when he interfered with somebody else; and that the best government was the government that did as little as possible. That was the ideal that obtained in Jefferson’s time…we are coming now to realize that life is so complicated that we are not dealing with the old conditions.” Wilson said, “Whenever bodies of men employ bodies of men, it ceases to be a private relationship.”
John Hay proclaimed the triumph of the new, state-run, corporate — and imperialist — order in his eulogy to Congress, as Secretary of State, for President McKinley, who had been (futilely) assassinated by an anarchist: “The past gives no clue to the future. The fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? We are ourselves the fathers! We are the prophets!” Welcome to the modern world.
•And tomorrow, the day after Labor Day, hear some of the pros and cons of the world corporations have wrought by attending our Tuesday 8pm Debate at Lolita Bar on the question “Are Bosses Usually Jerks?”
•And speaking of bosses (but not jerks), for an overview of the excesses of the big government we’ve slowly acquired in the century since the Progressive era, an overview that successfully avoids getting bogged down in partisan defense of left or right and instead focuses on across-the-spectrum violations of the older, constitutional, limited-government order, you might well want to read the books of the man I work for, Judge Andrew Napolitano (host of Freedom Watch), starting perhaps with his first, Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws (a copy of which was given to me by Steve Whelan, husband of my previous boss, as it happens).
The book is a reminder — the sort of stepping-outside-one’s-favorite-models mental exercise we all need — that talking about government in ideal terms, as though it actually achieves left-wing or right-wing goals, is irresponsible. Government spends most of its time wasting money, flouting its own rules, and not so infrequently railroading innocents, in ways that make it a poor locus for ideals and visionary schemes of any stripe. (I say end it.) On New Jersey’s Superior Court, Judge Napolitano got to see firsthand how often police lie in court, prosecutors use items seized as evidence as if they were their own personal possessions, and searches and raids occur with little pretext. Like economic reality, this is stuff political philosophers wish they didn’t have to take into account. But we all must.
•Still, without imagining them to be perfect, we must sometimes forge political alliances to get things done. Therefore, for all the right/left-spectrum model’s admitted flaws, my Book Selection entry next month will be: Proud to Be Right, edited by Jonah Goldberg and containing my essay “Conservatism for Punks,” along with contributions by some other familiar figures. More in a few weeks.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
And arguably the biggest comics-nerd-type event is the impending start of the Grant Morrison comics series Batman Inc., which finally makes good on the common-sense idea that occurred to almost all of us geeks as children: If Batman is a product of training and technology — not any special, accidental superpowers — why not franchise out the name and m.o. and have Batmen all over the place? Already, DC Comics has elevated former sidekick Dick Grayson to “Batman” status, so there are at least two skulking around.
My vague zeitgeisty impression — and my vague zeitgeisty impressions tend to be correct, if I do say so myself — is that the longstanding tendency of lefty-anarchist-hipster types (like Devo and Grant Morrison) to use corporate tropes ironically is becoming just a bit less ironic. Could a sea change be imminent in which the creative types wake up to the fact that if government is in the process of bankrupting itself and all of us, then maybe the capitalist model isn’t so heinous by comparison after all? Morrison at the very least admits in a recent interview that he’s tired of politics.
A transition to creatives supporting capitalism will have to be treated as a guilty pleasure at first — thus the semi-parodic Mad Men and increasingly frequent Ayn Rand jokes — but it could be the change that saves us, either just before we go over the socialist brink or sometime later as we crawl, bloodied, back up out of the abyss and vow not to make the same mistakes again. (May my little “Conservatism for Punks” essay next month help the process along in some way.)
And if you want to see hipster leftists fighting against the right while still promoting freedom, witness what Robert Rodriguez and company have wrought in the year’s best film, Machete. (Note that I do not say “best film of the year so far,” since I think the odds of Tron: Legacy being superior are slim.)
P.S. And of course: to see hip debaters Lilit Marcus and Jen Dziura sparring over capitalism-related issues, attend our Tuesday 8pm Debate at Lolita Bar on the question “Are Bosses Usually Jerks?” But first: tomorrow, for Labor Day, my Book Selection of the Month entry explains how our modern corporate world arose, by looking at Martin Sklar’s The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism 1890-1916.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
•In New York, you get to hear about meta-meta-meta incidents like my rockabilly companion thinking she may have been seated behind Keanu Reeves in the theatre when she saw Inception. That works on…even more levels than Inception (which was good but stiff for a movie about dreams, I thought). She should have at least leaned forward to say that Matrix was better, or better yet to say something like: “The dreamworld you see before you is not real, Neo. One of these franchises has a future. The other does not.” Come to think of it, an ex of mine told me back in 1999 that she supposedly had Keanu’s cell phone number. Why didn’t I think of something like that then?
•In other movie star news, one of my Carolinas-dwelling friends thinks I look a bit like Jared Harris from Mad Men (who plays a dumped guy with an affinity for India, I gather), while an ex of mine is often compared to January Jones (who plays a selfish psychotic, I gather). And, just in time for the new school year, news breaks that Jones will be playing the dominatrix-like, psychic headmistress Emma Frost from the villainous organization the Hellfire Club in next year’s X-Men: First Class. (Oddly enough, since First Class reportedly takes place around the 1960s, some characters like Frost will actually be living in more old-timey times than those in which they were first published in the comics, a reversal of the usual trend of characters appearing in the present even if first published in, say, the 1930s.)
•Speaking of comics, here are words of inspiration and Latino aspiration from the star of Machete (which I plan to see at Kip’s Bay tonight at 7:15 if anyone cares to meet me there), Danny Trejo, from the TimeOut New York interview with him in their Aug. 26-Sept. 8 issue: “My son’s twenty-two, and he’s producing a film. At twenty-two, I was in San Quentin, jacking off to a Betty and Veronica comic book. My whole career — I get kisses in Machete from Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez — they’re like kisses from God’s lips.” (Meanwhile, on a grimmer, and indeed oddly Lovecraftian if misread, note, this gang-related headline reminds us that not every Mexican wronged by evil men turns into a heroic avenger: “72 Dead Migrants Found in Mexico Tip of Iceberg.”)
•And if the rockabilly and the Mad Men and the 60s comics and the 70s exploitation parodies aren’t retro-hip enough for you, here’s an article that’s four months old but good: L Magazine’s “Hipsters Throughout History” — and Williamsburg is mentioned only once.
•And a reminder: since hipsters hate corporate environments, all of them must attend our debate this coming Tuesday (8pm) at Lolita on the question “Are Bosses Usually Jerks?” All capitalists and socialists should probably attend, too. And hot chicks.
Friday, September 3, 2010
And watching Machete this weekend in honor of disgruntled migrant laborers might not be such a bad idea. Hmmm.
Speaking of Latino culture, this video of an astonishing merengue-dancing dog was pointed out by a bespectacled, market-savvy colleague who probably wouldn’t want to be named in connection with it, though her watchful eye is appreciated.
In other animals news, this may be my favorite sentence from any article this week:
A federal judge on Friday ordered mental health treatment for Mazzola as new terms of his probation sentence after pleading guilty in 2009 to transporting a bear to Toledo and selling a skunk without a license.
On a similar historical note, I was baffled to learn that Jimmy Stewart smuggled an alleged yeti hand out of India after its theft from a Buddhist monastery. That sort of makes him an Indiana Jones villain (though reports suggest the next Jones film, presumably set in the 1960s, will deal with the Bermuda Triangle — I say Spielberg should throw in a great white shark, an island full of dinosaurs, and some cagey space alien visitors while he’s at it, cuz who knows what they’ve got in that Triangle).
Thursday, September 2, 2010
•The band Team Robespierre, earlier this year, recalled an article on “Cooking with Fugazi.”
•Conan O’Brien (sounding oddly like my friend Chuck Blake) announces his new show and how he was bribed with a pizza pie.
•Comic books are occasionally clever, and Marvel not long ago introduced the idea that the planet-eating monster Galactus has a daughter, Galacta, who — though I’m guessing they never quite use the phrase — basically has an eating disorder. (And eating disorders mean it’s back to school time, girls!) To compensate for talk of planet-eating giants, here’s a brief remembrance of my favorite comic from my early-80s childhood, Micronauts.
•Ali Kokmen noted this Times article about freeganism — eating garbage on principle — trying to become mainstream cuisine (“In a Brooklyn neighborhood, a group of ‘friends and co-conspirators’ enjoy Grub, a communal dinner made from wasted food recovered from the trash…”). It’s spreading like the Walking Dead virus, people.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Arguing yes: Lilit Marcus, author of Save the Assistants
Arguing no: comedian and entrepreneur Jen Dziura
Moderating: Michel Evanchik
Hosting: Todd Seavey
You may well be torn on this one — perhaps you’re planning to attend the following week’s Ayn Rand Institute event in Manhattan and love captains of industry. On the other hand, you often suspect crazy people rise to the top, using as a tool their craziness. How to resolve this tension? Attend the debate, that’s how. Perhaps you’d like to vent during our Q&A segment.
A very hardworking friend of mine points out this related Time article asking the important question: Is your boss a psychopath or just mean? (This question may, of course, be applicable to people in your life other than your boss.)