Monday, July 25, 2011

Crisis on Google Earth (and the Panopticon)

Ten thoughts on the fate of the whole embarrassing planet, to hold you over until I resume blogging one week from today:

•Laws against drug use didn’t rescue the talented and troubled Amy Winehouse (who, like the still-living Lindsay Lohan, seemed too battered to be so young – and, by the way, a twenty year-old Fiona Apple sure sounded more aged and experienced than she looked back when she released “Criminal” in 1997, though she did not look well either).  For many people, there’s no doubt a temptation to think that even-stricter drug laws might have done the trick, but addicts’ best hope is likely the decentralized and spontaneous intervention of those close to them, and even those quintessential experts – using judgment and sanctions far more nuanced than those the state can devise – may have a tough time inducing change.

•Norway has plenty of gun laws already, in case you were wondering.  Side note: as I mentioned on Twitter and Facebook, the Oslo killings, as a portion of national population, are about twice as big as 9/11, the latter killing about 1 in 100,000 people in the U.S. and the former killing about 1 in 50,000 Norwegians (the respective attacks, I mean, not Facebook and Twitter), though obviously with no remotely comparable global-political fallout from the Oslo attack. 

•The state can’t – and shouldn’t – be everywhere all the time (and apparently in Oslo it can’t even respond to a shooting in less than ninety minutes sometimes anyway, a reason to consider possessing the means of self-defense).  But the panopticon can further the cause of public shaming without being run by the state: Witness Fox Indianapolis’s highly morally-educational photo gallery of passed-out drunk people.

•If the drunks aren't trashy enough for you, note that Beavis and Butt-head are returning to MTV, and Cornholio is now being hailed as a messiah.

•I don’t think I’ve done anything embarrassing enough to worry about being seen by Google Earth, but I did recently have the slightly-unnerving experience of video-cruising around the online version of the Reagan Terrace/Kenwood Ave. area of Austin, TX (in vain) to see if I glimpsed me (and Scott Nybakken) on the road there, since we were walking in the area (visiting recently for the historic Deyo/Hanlon wedding) when passed by the Google Earth Car with its rooftop cameras.  Gradually cursoring my way up behind an image of myself would be both cool and creepy – even more so if instead of us it somehow turned out to be Philip K. Dick and Richard Linklater.

•I knew a particularly badly behaved person who hated the idea of the panopticon.  I’ll concede that it’s disturbing that the idea of constant surveillance, which we now take to be a characteristic (in principle if not yet in fact) of the entire planet, was something that my philosophical forebear Jeremy Bentham intended to try out solely on a model prison.  By this measure, dare I say it, we are becoming a prison planet – no, I don’t mean that one...right, I mean that one, speaking of Austin, TX people with ties to Richard Linklater (though it’s intriguing to hear that the Legion of Super-Heroes, most associated with the first linked prison planet, will be teaming up with the comparably-future-utopian characters of Star Trek in an upcoming comic book miniseries). 

•Speaking of comic book characters from the future, with some talk that a couple writers of X-Men: First Class like the badass cyborg character Cable and might like to put him in a film, I’d like to remind everyone roughly what Cable interacting with the future Katherine Pryde (perhaps as she tinkers with salvaged Sentinel technology) might actually look like on film:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Brunonian on Muppets

More than one person has pointed out to me this thoughtful article on the changing Muppets by Brown art/semiotics alum Elizabeth Stevens (class of ’04).

She notes that if there’s an anti-Muppet faction out there, they’ve kept quiet – though I think her generation owes Gen Xers an explanation for their attachment to the mediocre Labyrinth, which can’t hold a candle to the Muppet Movie.  The latter, among countless other wonders and great comedy bits, offers one of the best opening songs in film history.

As for the far less catchy and vaguely creepy Labyrinth, if a film can’t fully win me over despite featuring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and Muppets, it must be doing something wrong – not so unlike a play with U2, Spider-Man, and Julie Taymor.  Or spaghetti pizza.  

Saturday, July 23, 2011

WWII vs. the 1960s

Speaking of people getting frozen in 1945 and waking up to a changed world in the 1960s (as this weekend's box office hero, Captain America, did in the original comics): 

I think you could argue that the only two films on the list of 100 highest-grossing (domestic box office) films of all time, adjusted for inflation, that aren't fantasy, action, or historical/epic of some sort are: The Bells of St. Mary's and The Graduate, the first a 1945 film about a priest and a nun rescuing a run-down New York City Catholic school and the other, a mere twenty-two years later in 1967, about a man fresh out of college being seduced by an older woman.  Make of that what you will. 

(And remember that cowboys are back on the big screen next week.)

As reassurance that my aversion to libidinous 1960s folk does not logically entail a fondness for 1940s Catholics, here is a photogallery of stupid things that Christians think look like Jesus, Mary, or a pope.  The one in there of a plant that some guy in India thinks looks like the elephant god Ganesh should give you perspective on how stupid the adulation over the other objects looks to us non-Christians, especially the kudzu that North Carolinians think looks like the Crucifixion.  It's plainly more like Swamp Thing (or in a deeper sense, Rorschach).  

I think I'd better go to a birthday party full of Skeptics tonight. 

P.S. None of this changes the fact that my favorite rock video of perhaps the past two decades is "The Fox, the Crow, and the Cookie" by the band meWithoutYou, the two brothers at its core, now beloved by evangelical Christian fans due to their spiritual themes, raised Sufi Muslim by parents converted from Episcopalianism and Judasim (and the band brought to my attention by self-described "ignostic" Daniel Radosh, author of Rapture Ready!).  Note the emphasis given the "crescent cookie" and "prayer" lines in this song.  Also: puppets!  Speaking of which: tomorrow, a note on Muppets.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Captain America and Daniel McCarthy

I mused yesterday that William F. Buckley might have grown more sympathetic to Ron Paul if Buckley had not died in early 2008.  I defer to the expertise of AmCon editor Dan McCarthy, who responds that he actually began to feel out Buckley on just that topic before the end.  He links a one-hour Firing Line argument between Buckley and Paul from 1988 that shows Buckley to have been quite skeptical during Ron Paul’s Libertarian Party run for the presidency back then, though we can’t be sure where things would stand today. 

Most of Buckley’s concerns are ones that might divide libertarians as well, such as whether the CIA is inherently bad or has simply done some bad things and whether some forms of taxation are more moral than others.  Just to keep people confused, I should note that I’m probably closer to Buckley’s position and Dan closer to Ron Paul’s on some things (though this may look very hair-splitting to anyone on the left). 

I have generally taken the Cold Warrior view, for instance, that the government should be granted a bit of leeway in responding to foreign aggression and domestic criminals even if it ought to be granted none in initiating aggression.  Founding the CIA in a world without foreign foes would be wrong, but founding it in response to such foes is not necessarily wrong and is, in an important sense, the fault of the foes (keep in mind Buckley in the linked video was talking to Paul one year prior to the collapse of European Communism – and it’s nicely prophetic that Ernest van den Haag at one point in the third clip says, “Well, foreign policy is not a tea party”). 

I don’t think this sort of thing has to be a coalition-splitter, but then, I’m neither an AmCon nor an NR editor. 


Likewise, I would not fault a central government for starting a Super-Soldier program in response to the Nazi menace and thus creating the hero known as Captain America (about whom I’ll see – and probably enjoy – a movie on Sunday).  The main menace in this case will be the Nazi villain the Red Skull, and it must be fun for Hugo Weaving to be that character as well as Megatron in this same summer (not to mention Elrond, if you count the three-day re-release just last month of the Lord of the Rings trilogy). 

And he should be pleased that Transformers: Dark of the Moon earned over twice as much as Cars 2, though it would be even more satisfying to watch the Cars fight the Decepticons, of course.

Captain America is as iconic as – well, cowboys who fight aliens, anyway, and the new movie contains not only a post-credits teaser for next year’s ensemble Avengers movie but this irono-patriotic faux-USO number about Cap, reports BleedingCool.  That’s not bad, but even better, frankly, is Lorinne Lampert’s rendition of “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” 

I’m no mere flag-waving militarist, but I have to admit that

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Selection: “Miles Gone By” by William F. Buckley (and a banjo player) Book Selection: Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography by William F. Buckley

David Barnes of the thinktank e21 tonight moderates a discussion at the Cato Institute about the causes of the recent divorce between the conservative and libertarian factions and the odds of reconciliation.  Even though I’ve had my differences with editors at National Review – including being plagiarized by William F. Buckley himself – I still think they are close to the truth about how to maintain the “fusionist” alliance, so I won’t quite dismiss them (or him) as part of a sinister cabal just yet.  (And Buckley’s almost line-for-line recreation of my column on Howard Stern in the mid-90s might well have been ghosted for him by a harried intern anyway, given how these things work.  I am nothing if not a tolerant and forgiving man, as the world knows.)

But Buckley’s collection of columns called Miles Gone By is much more about Buckley’s unique crypto-aristocratic persona than his plans for maintaining the right-wing political alliance.  Then again, the book does include an essay about his recurring ski vacations with Milton Friedman, which I suppose compensate for all the time he spent hanging out with John Kenneth Galbraith. 

The book was explicitly regarded by Buckley, in his 2004 introduction, as a likely life-capping quasi-autobiography, given its emphasis on personal, almost non-political pieces about Yale, growing up fancy in Connecticut (his sister, for instance, snubbing FDR during an equestrian show she rode in as a child when the Buckleys were growing up), music teachers from his childhood, and the like – and indeed he passed away four years later, and I wish we still had him around.  If you like Buckley the man, politics mostly aside, enough to enjoy hearing him wax ironic about sailing or vacationing or language-use, this is a fun collection. 

(One small example of his distinctive tone and his amusing ability to sound especially lofty while counseling humility: asked during his failed NYC mayoral campaign whether he had been called “delusional” by fellow candidate John Lindsay for saying they’d known each other at Yale, Buckley replied, “I’m told he said I’m having ‘delusions of grandeur.’  Grandeur was not defined, while I was at Yale, as having the knowledge of John Lindsay.”)

Buckley’s attitude was not wholly unrelated to his policy positions, of course – he embodied an attachment to old, traditional, refined things, but he was also a free-marketeer and occasional party animal, so he often served as a model for keeping the factional peace.  He notes in one essay here that editing both fusionism-founder Frank Meyer and paleoconservative Russell Kirk was perhaps the greatest strain on his diplomatic skills. 

Lest conservatives reading this blog entry take this as evidence that libertarian sympathizers like Meyer never belonged in the coalition in the first place, though, it’s worth remembering that Frank Meyer stayed on good terms with NR and the conservative establishment, whereas Kirk, despite all their lionizing of him, grew to detest mainstream conservatism, thinktanks, and the Republican Party, as his widow, who speaks fondly of Rand, is only too happy to tell people.  There are fewer party-line people in the party than you’d think, and diversity is a good thing (in fact, Kirk often said so in his writing, seeing homogenization as one of the ugliest aspects of modernity).

If Buckley had outlived the 2008 presidential campaign, I could imagine he might even have become an ardent Ron Paul fan in time, which would have helped speed the right’s education along immensely.  Buckley was anti-Iraq War, after all.  Paul is admittedly a radical, but given the urgency of our economic situation (with complete collapse perhaps arriving in two weeks as I type this), I think we now need radicalism – economics-focused radicalism – instead of the slow cultural turning of the ship of state that was conservatism’s forte for a half-century.  That we’ve run out of time for such subtle methods is almost as tragic for the right, in its way, as the fact that regulating and spending have now come to naught is for the left. 

Libertarianism is our only practical option now, and we’d better use it quickly.  I am not oblivious to the nuances that may be lost in the process, but despite what David Brooks might tell you, we can’t afford them.  We cannot expect everyone to learn sensible economic policy overnight, but we ought to be able to agree on this: The Federal government is bankrupt and must now be shut down altogether – simply get rid of it and let the states take over, since it has failed and has run out of money (even NASA, as Austin Petersen, who gave me my copy of Miles Gone By, knows).  The states will then be free to experiment with different economic models – single-payer healthcare for Vermont, Perry-led growth in Texas – as they so choose.  Everybody wins instead of ending up in the poorhouse together. 

Instead, right now, liberal pundits like young Ezra Klein are coming perilously close to self-parody, very nearly literally claiming that government spending for the sake of spending really is the key to rescuing an economy, even if government can’t spend wisely.  The technocratically-inclined liberal wonks will admit that spending our way out of bankruptcy seems counter-intuitive.  And goddam it, they ought to more seriously consider the possibility that it’s counter-intuitive for a reason.

I want to go back to the not-so-distant days when we could

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Harry Potter Conclusion, a Grant Morrison Prelude

Emma Watson is reportedly staying at Brown after all, Jacob Levy (Professor of the Dark Science) informs me.  I had a feeling everyone would band together at the old school in the end.

OK, enough with Harry Potter, undergrads, and Todd’s Brown Schooldays; on to Captain America.  And speaking of comics, here’s me with Grant Morrison, about which, more on Reason’s site in the days ahead -- and a little on Twitter last night:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Sinestro Plot (and Grant Morrison reminder)

Remember: tonight starting circa 6pm, I'll be tweeting about seeing comics writer Grant Morrison at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble.  His appearance comes amidst fan anxiety over DC Comics' impending relaunch of all its superhero comics series. 

I will grant DC this: We've all been assuming September will be a squeaky-clean, potentially bland, "iconic" reboot, with current plotlines being wrapped up quietly this summer before the relaunch in order to leave a clean slate for hoped-for new readers in the fall.  I think, though, they might instead be setting up major game-changing cliffhangers prior to the relaunch.  Or at least...

•They claim the final pre-relaunch Batman ends with a huge shocker and the first September Detective kinda looks like it might actually have the severed head of the Joker on it.

•They've pretty clearly signaled that Superman won't be married, which I thought would just be due to the reboot...but they didn't say exactly why he won't be married and, interestingly, the penultimate issue of the current Superman series ends with a criminal threatening to kill Lois Lane unless Superman (temporarily retired) re-emerges.  [UPDATE: Oh, yesterday they did say it's just because in the new universe he's young, single, working with Lois's boyfriend, and lacking living parents to boot -- leaving Clark "isolated" and "alien"; hang in there, big guy.] 

•And while the above may just be typical fleeting story moments, the one undeniable shocker is that the star of Green Lantern #1 in September is...Sinestro!!  They accepted the long-time villain back into the Green Lantern Corps (after various signs of genuine and even heroic reform on his part) and ejected Hal Jordan for his constant rebelliousness, as the final scene of the current series. 

So September may not be quite as simple as expected -- which is good, frankly, even if Sinestro's the only real twist here. 

And after that movie last month, maybe it's best Hal take some time off anyway. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

NO BORDERS, NO BOUNDARIES: Lou Dobbs vs. Grant Morrison

I’m pleased to see that a gender-bending, bald, Scottish anarchist, Grant Morrison, will be writing the adventures of Superman come September, and it reminds me that I am not just in favor of “open borders” but rather of the complete abolition of borders.  I’m a “no borders” guy, if you will. 

In fact, it’s not borders but Barnes & Noble (ha!) that I’ll head to to see Grant Morrison in person – and tweet about it, starting circa 6pm Tuesday night, followed by an 8pm visit to the Bitter End to hear my neighbor Carey Yaruss sing.  (But tonight, Monday, we’ll gather and chat about politics at Langan’s at 7:30, for the penultimate time prior to the Great Transformation, about which, more in the months ahead.) 

I’m not denying an influx of immigrants can be a disruptive thing (with costs as well as benefits), or that some will be better behaved than others, but in a world of ever-easier mixing and matching – and ever easier communication and transportation – is it not swimming against the tide to try and prevent people crossing the arbitrary divides that governments (mere governments) have proclaimed proscribe our movements?

Surely, for an anarcho-capitalist in the style of the young Murray Rothbard, the border-protecting mania of the older Rothbard must still be regarded as something of an embarrassment, even if Ron Paul has helped make it a more common position among libertarians than it ever used to be.  I understand the fear (shared even by arch-free-marketeer Milton Friedman) that the welfare state could be overwhelmed by an influx of the world’s poor.  But doesn’t that mean that Gov. Pete Wilson of California (basically) had the right idea back in the 1990s: let them in but don’t offer any government benefits? 

I worried at the time it might be an inflammatory move on his part, but (taken in its idealized form) it seems an elegant and proper solution, eliminating in one stroke the left’s concerns about people being excluded from this land (families divided, etc.) and the right’s concerns about welfare-seeking parasitism.  Don’t offer them welfare and they won’t come here looking for it.  Those who do come you’ll then be pretty confident intend to work – indeed, will be even more likely to do so than the natives. 

If you’re an anti-illegal-immigration person who’s sincere about thinking the welfare state is the problem, then please, please devote as much energy to its elimination (or at least radical downsizing) as you have to keeping out the Mexicans.  Imagine what that energy and anger could accomplish if deployed to fight the real battle, not least the financial salvation of the country. 

But, as much as people such as Lou Dobbs (broadcasting right across the street from Langan’s at the HQ of the currently phone-tapping-scandal-plagued News Corp, where I worked last year) like to focus on the economic and criminological implications of porous or open

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Smash the Matriarchy! (plus Maureen Dowd on talking Nazi dogs)

In two entries last week, I noted feminists (including Amanda Marcotte) who were warning about creepy men approaching women when the women are alone and thus making them feel cornered – a reasonable complaint in many situations.  But coincidentally, the day after writing those two entries, I was reminded of another pitfall males constantly face, about which the aforementioned feminists, of course, don’t give a sweet goddam.

I walked past two women lingering near an apartment building entrance – in Manhattan, mind you, where millions of people, including but not limited to feminists, do not want to be approached by millions of other strangers who are doing millions of strange things at every moment – and only as I passed did I notice a third woman, a more brawny bodybuilder sort, begin (quite successfully) pushing a small luggage bag on wheels. 

Then, I heard one of the women, behind me now, thanking the brawny one for an assist – they must have had a bowling ball in there or something, since the bag was very small – and the brawny one (whether motivated by feminism, lesbianism, hetero-chivalry, or a twisted combo of all three we can only guess at) remarked that no man would ever help out with the bags.  “Yeah, like that one” one of the other women remarked, surely of the only man passing at that moment, which would be me. 

(It’s one of the moments that makes you think you should be less helpful, like when you hear the homeless, a vicious lot, swearing at you.  I was reminded a bit of the day when I hosted a debate on whether religion is necessary for good character about one hour after I, an atheist, coincidentally helped a blind, retarded person cross an intersection.  As Superman knows, you can’t always save everyone, but you try to pick your battles.  One strange Christian in the audience at that night’s debate, by the way, suggested that people are too nice and that the great thing about religion is that it makes them less nice.  Earth really is a dark, terrible place, filled with profoundly evil, sadistic people, but we happiness-fostering utilitarians must make the best of it.)

So men should not play the superhero in a bustling anonymous metropolis and leap in offering to touch the possessions of women they do not even know – and who a nice feminist male would likely assume looked perfectly capable of coping with adult life and small bags on their own – except of course when women secretly want them to. 

But you know, in truth, unlike many exasperated males, I do not pretend to be baffled or flummoxed by this sort of thing.  In fact, the reason I usually do err on the side of chivalry, door-holding, object-lifting, paying for the meal, etc. is precisely because I do not believe for one second there even is an opposition between (A) chivalry and (B) feminism in most women’s minds.  Indeed, the seemingly-opposed forces of traditionalism and political progress have nothing to do with the popularity of either of those modes of interaction.  The paradox is easily resolved as soon as you notice the simple underlying truth that women, throughout the ages and by any philosophical label, expect men to be their eager servants, catering to their whims like slaves. 

The matriarchy must be resisted, of course, if all individuals are to live with the dignity necessary to make rational individual decisions and form coherent lives.  It won’t always be easy, given that instinct (shaped by the cheap and ready availability of sperm versus the relative rareness and thus seeming-preciousness of eggs) screams in the hearts of both genders “Protect the females!” – an instinct that has been shaped by (understandably, naturally) self-interested

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Puppy Mills and Bootlegger-Baptist Alliances

Believe it or not, yesterday’s entry about werewolves – and looking forward to tweeting about an appearance by animal-friendly comic book writer Grant Morrison on Tuesday – has me thinking about a more serious topic: “puppy mills.”

A visiting vegan pal – less prone than I to sound dismissive of animal welfare crusades and therefore in many people’s minds perhaps more reliable – shares my suspicion that the sudden animus (no pun intended) against “puppy mills,” which seems to be spreading rapidly to become a crusade against all pet stores, may be an under-examined new instance of a “bootlegger-Baptist alliance.”

A bootlegger-Baptist alliance, as libertarians but few others know, is any political situation in which, perversely, it behooves ostensibly-opposed factions to maintain some ban (or other legal rule) that ends up pleasing, for instance, both the black marketeers who will now get extra business and the prudes who get to crow about instituting the ban.  Prohibition was great news if you ran a speakeasy (or one of a tiny handful of grandfathered-in distillers) – or if you were a teetotaling temperance crusader.  Not so great for everyone who just wanted a drink.

Similar examples include the tobacco company Philip Morris and the anti-tobacco crusaders at Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids co-writing the law that made cigarettes become regulated by the FDA – in the process making it harder for newcomers to enter the tobacco market, even with safer products like smokeless tobacco, and by entering put a dent in Philip Morris’s massive market share (as my former co-workers at ACSH often lament).  No one was made safer healthwise (the FDA did not ban cigarettes), yet both Philip Morris and Tobacco Free Kids could claim a big victory.

So who hates “puppy mills” enough to start railing against virtually all the pet stores we tolerated for so many decades (and note that I ask this regardless of how one feels about animal welfare as a moral priority)?  Well, both animal activists and fancy dog breeders (for whom the average shopping mall pet store is unwelcome competition).  And as often seems to happen in these alliances, two factions of the upper crust (who in many cases probably even socialize with each other despite their philosophical arguments) are likely sticking it to bourgeois shopkeeps in the process, though one of those upper crusty factions speaks for the lowly and oppressed (dogs in this case rather than, say, the homeless) and the other speaks from aristocratic disdain.  

It’s not so unlike what I’ve long considered one of the most perverse examples of this sort of dual-purpose ban, minimum-acreage requirements that prevent smaller, cheaper houses for the poor being built – even as the upper-crusty (or mere bourgeois) homeowners of the area likely pat themselves on the back for preventing “crowded slum-dwellings” from being built (near their highly-valued property). 

And I honestly say all this without being wholly opposed to animal activists, regular pet stores, or fancy dog breeders – or even aristocratic disdain.  In fact, I’m not even saying every bootlegger-Baptist alliance is a bad thing (in fact, a lot of bootleggers and Baptists have probably participated in the very anti-regulatory libertarian movement).  I’m just sharing my hunch about one dynamic that may be at work here, for sociological purposes. 

And just for the hell of it, here’s “Overweight Hedgehog” again.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Magical Friday

Today, millions of children will see Harry Potter’s final battle, amidst a divisive wizard-war.  Fewer will make plans to see the tragic schism chronicled in Strippers vs. Werewolves

Speaking of British fantasy, though, prepare for my Tuesday-night tweets about going to see comics writer extraordinaire Grant Morrison down at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble, as he signs copy of his new book about superheroes, Supergods.  I will attempt to capture the psychedelic magic.

The toilet-paper-saving mechanism Roll it Rite, by contrast, doesn’t seem magical at all, and it's oddly funny how unmagical this lame ad for it makes it seem

As a general rule, though, to separate the scientific from the magical (i.e., phony), I recommend following my old co-workers at ACSH.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vive La Roast! Vive La Difference! (and some more “Declaration of Independents”)

It has been brought to my attention that all three of the female speakers on tonight’s Todd-roasting panel of seven people (Lolita Bar, basement level, 7:30pm) have PhDs (there’s one of them in the photo nearby, Laura Braunstein, along with emcee Scott Nybakken, neither of them responsible in the slightest for anything I do or say, by the way, except in so far as their roasting educates me tonight).  I am only confident of the four males, plus me, having a Master’s and a J.D. among the lot of us. 

If the women were single and, rising above our stations, one of us males dared asked one of them out, he might well be tempted to make sure no one was around to hear it and witness his potential humiliation but her – but he’d better take care not to make the woman feel isolated or “cornered,” as Amanda Marcotte puts it in this column (a reaction to the Rebecca Watson/Skepchick vs. Richard Dawkins spat of which I blogged Tuesday and tweeted yesterday), so that she doesn’t fear violence or awkwardness.  Fair enough.  One should never want to seem creepy.

Apparently, though, so grave is the danger of making her feel “cornered” that he shouldn’t even have dinner with her, not on a first date, since dinner is harder to escape than coffee or a drink.  Strategically accurate, perhaps – as is the assertion by Seventh-Day Adventists that it’s less moral to go to a movie than to watch TV, since it’s easier to change the channels if something smutty appears – but it’s strange for Marcotte to elevate this anti-dinner rule to the level of something all sensitive males should be aware of. 

And online, she has even gone so far as to applaud a column suggesting that if any males do not take such dating advice from feminists (indeed, it is implied they should already have done so or should at least be looking to such writers for their pointers instead of, say, the women they actually date), such males must not be all that interested in having sex (advice from feminists being of such proven value in that area) and therefore – bear with me for one more amazing leap in logic – must not even be sincere if they claim sex is their motive.  (Remember the not so distant days when claiming that up front would be considered boorish, by the way.)  It must then – get this – be sheer assertion of “privilege” – a conscious effort to make women uncomfortable even if it yields no sexual advantage – that drives them.

Now, perhaps Marcotte and everyone she knows has been raped several thousand times by Cossacks who started with a dinner invitation – and I genuinely regret it very much if that’s the case – but even so, our feminist writers are obligated to retain at least some minimal connection to reality.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with women preferring coffee or alcohol as the first date, just as there’s nothing wrong with preferring sex in a tub full of champagne on the first date, but we have reached a deeply sad (and insane) juncture in history when the women who claim to be the ones doing the empowering and liberating and whatnot are warning women away from dinner and recommending they have brief booze-fueled dates – and insisting that all men should know this is, as it were, the system. 

Nothing wrong with this being their default set of behaviors, but are they really so far removed from older and subtler traditions as to think no decent men might see a loss of civility in bidding farewell to dinner – or might have pleasant motives in suggesting food?  Are these people sure they should be going on “dates” in the first place if the need for sudden escapes is that likely?  (Of course, one is never certain, but that’s true of many things in life.)

It’s not just the young women who think this, either, since a friend my age assured me that one of her online-dating friends always starts with drinks and only suggests dinner – albeit for the same night – if the drinks go well (sounds like a potential scheduling mishap to me, but, again, as long as everyone’s happy).  How these encounters must reek of pessimism, though – not that I’m complaining, and by all means do it that way if you want to.  It just never ceases to amaze me that no matter how much things change and how strange they become, even the weirdest and ostensibly hippest of people treat their new systems as if only sickos and maniacs would do things any other way. 

Indeed, it’s tempting to suspect that they fear a world of sickos

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Selection: “Declaration of Independents” by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch Book Selection: Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch

Despite the fact that freedom and prosperity are found mainly in places with less government, not more – as succinctly explained in this two and a half-minute video from – people often look to government and politics to express their visions of how life and the world should work.

The temptation for any intellectual – including me – is to leap into the political arena and duke it out with opponents, but in this book, my libertarian colleagues Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch chronicle how more and more people are quietly opting out of affiliation with either the Republicans or Democrats (and the associated social-conservative and left-liberal ideologies) to register as independents and to form coalitions and ad hoc interest groups and – best of all – completely non-political fixations, philosophies, personal identities, and subcultures. 

Let the deranged sadomasochists of all parties fight it out in DC while the rest of us get on with living, in myriad novel and enriching ways.

Of course, we will still need people willing to play defense and fight the political battles that keep government off our backs.  It was a bit sad this week to hear Ron Paul won’t seek reelection to Congress but nice to see his presidential campaign attract a bit of extra attention – and nice to see him taking on Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke like never before.  It’s a welcome alternative to the shifty but ever-arrogant pontificating of statists like Paul Krugman, whose self-contradiction was so ably skewered by Mickey Kaus this week.

Nick did an hour-long interview about the new book on C-SPAN (not C-SPAN2), and Bretigne Shaffer’s reaction to it – and to home brewing – leads Reason’s round-up of reactions to the book (her full review is here, second review down). 

Sidenote: I like American Conservative, but I can’t help sort of enjoying how wrong – and stereotypically so, for paleocons – that magazine manages to sound in its reaction, excerpted in that Reason round-up, to the book.  That reaction – that societies naturally crave order rather than liberty – is a more than sufficient, one-paragraph summary of the whole paleocon worldview, really (a commenter on the original AmCon page, I noticed, uses the

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Roasted Guy, Philosophy Chick, and Skepchick vs. Richard Dawkins

•Sorry if you got more than one copy of the e-announcement yesterday for this coming Thursday’s big “roast” of me (7:30, Lolita Bar, 266 Broome St., one block south of the Delancey St. subway stop).  I think the glitch has stopped.

•While you’re waiting for that event, tonight you could see Jen Dziura (who twice debated at Lolita back when I hosted debates there) do a comedic one-woman show called What Philosophy Majors Do After College, about the history of philosophy and whether majoring in that topic aided her on the job market.  That’s 8pm tonight, the PIT, 123 East 24th St., 212-563-7488.  (Jen also has a show coming up about the history of women.)  When another of my fellow philosophy majors revealed her major to a temp agency years ago, by the way, the placement lady just started laughing.

•I wish I could laugh over the dust-up between Rebecca Watson (a.k.a. Skepchick, who herself helped me find a Lolita debater once) and our fellow atheist/skeptic Richard Dawkins, caused by him pooh-poohing her online lament about being asked out by some guy in an elevator at a skeptics conference, shortly after she’d complained about being “sexualized.” 

But the whole thing wearies and saddens me for reasons that have nothing to do with atheism or religion.  I think Gawker, to its credit, basically gets it right in the anti-Skepchick-leaning conclusion to this fairly-balanced piece on the whole matter.  Watson is overreacting to Dawkins’ criticism. 

I would go farther (and more general), though, and say that her attitude is indicative of the deeper confusion in an all too common mode of self-representation among “third wave” (often young, hip, and sarcastic) feminists in fringey-hip media.  But please, please, please do not e-mail to tell me that my next sentence is meant to imply that putting “female” in your online handle is an open invitation to, say, being assaulted – nothing is

I think a lot of third-wavers, though, have been raised in a bizarre time when, for example, burlesque is once more treated as transgressive and therefore empowering but post-structuralism magically decrees, for instance, that your breasts are not attractive unless you decide they are.  So you get Watson posing for an all-girl calendar meant to be distributed to the (mostly worshipful and appreciative) male skeptic-geeks, then acting shocked-shocked when she gets “sexualized.”  It’s not hypocrisy, not even exactly a contradiction, just sort of...incoherent.

Like a lot of burlesque these days.

Furthermore, I think almost any time you see a young female writer aiming for a burlesque look (as is very common here in NYC), sticking “She-something” in her pseudonym, or hinting at being too naughty for the establishment, she is aiming to have it both ways without

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Selection: “Exposing the Real Che Guevara” by Humberto Fontova


Whereas I am being “roasted” this Thursday (join us!), the mass-murderer, sadist, music-censor, secret police-founder, Cuban economy-destroyer, and surprisingly inept military man Che Guevara continues to be idolized, often by Hollywood celebrities and mainstream U.S. journalists, not to mention an endless parade of t-shirt-wearers. 

I do not deliberately read things in order to “angry up the blood” the way Grandpa Simpson does, but I have read a few books whose power to anger was an indication of their usefulness.  Of course, I don’t get angry about the same things everyone else does, so I’m reminded in particular of Philip K. Howard’s look at infuriatingly insane regulations, The Death of Common Sense.  But for real death, it usually makes sense to look to communism, which killed 100 million people last century, by far the deadliest thing ever to happen to the human race, yet still inspiring college professors and bicycle-riding Williamsburg residents to dream of a world with fewer TV commercials. 

Che Guevara did not kill a few people in heroic battle, as the romantic image might suggest.  He oversaw the execution of some 14,000 people after a nearly bloodless initial revolution against a regime sufficiently unpopular that its military was easily bribed into not fighting.  Far more violent – and popular – was the uprising against communist rule after Fidel and Che took over and their brazen economic power grab (after initially claiming not to be hardcore communists) turned Cuba into an economic disaster.

Hate communism though many of us do on principle, we may still tend passively to assume that the Batista regime was so horrible that revolution in Cuba was somehow inevitable.  In fact, Cuba, which is now so poor that even poverty-wracked Haitians do not try to emigrate to it, was a relatively wealthy country – with average incomes higher than those of Spain or Japan – prior to the number its communist rulers, particularly Che, did on it.  Immigrants once flocked to it, whereas now thousands risk death to flee it on makeshift rafts (Michael Moore’s trip in the opposite direction notwithstanding). 

It’s not as if we need dry statistics to tell the (ongoing) horror story of Cuba under communism, though.  We have plenty of firsthand accounts – dozens of them quoted in this volume – of Che and company’s brutality, including arbitrary imprisonment and murder of exactly the kind of long-hairs and rebellious musicians who display Che’s image on their chests here in the U.S.  And it’s not just dumb kids.  From the beginning of the revolution, reporters at places like CBS and the New York Times were only too willing to depict the Cuban revolutionaries as romantic miracle-workers. 

And the propaganda job hasn’t ended.  As Fontova notes, the makers of the film The Motorcycle Diaries willingly ignored actual captured diaries of Che – filled with

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ben Affleck, the CIA, and the Hindu Gods

It's two years off, but Ben Affleck and Alan Arkin are making a movie of the greatest story never told, one I've loved for years: The CIA created a phony film production company, ostensibly scouting locations in Iran in 1979 for a production based on Roger Zelazny's awesome sci-fi novel Lord of Light, with visual designs by Jack Kirby -- and even a proposed amusement park -- all of it really a covert means of smuggling hostages out of Iran after the Islamist revolution.  

It will be called Argo.  The real movie, I mean.  About the CIA, not about scientists who transform themselves into Hindu gods, though a real Lord of Light movie would also have been sweet.  I was as duped as the Iranians back when I was ten years old and remember eagerly looking forward to the film after reading about it in Comics Scene magazine, no lie.  

And I do not resent the CIA for this.  Interestingly, I even remember hearing about the whole project at some interim stage when it appeared the filmmakers had been mere con artists but had not yet been revealed as part of a CIA rescue mission.  We dwell in the veil of Maya, clearly. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Jesus, Sudan, Mervyn Peake, and Grant Morrison

It’s a big day:

•You’ll find me dropping by that East Village Arts Festival I mentioned before (7pm-on), in the courtyard of the Immaculate Conception Church, 14th St. and First Ave.  Nearby are a couple photos I took of Grace Church, elsewhere in the Village, which is unrelated but which I always thought was the most pleasant-looking (almost Narnia-like) spot in Manhattan, so there it is.

Sudan splits into two countries today.  Really.  What do you mean you didn’t hear about that?  Guernica magazine has details – and an unrelated interview by Elizabeth Koch of fiction writer Lynne Tillman, by the way.

Speaking of Sudan, did you know that Islam teaches that Jesus, born of a virgin birth, will return from Heaven at the time of Judgment to battle and defeat the Anti-Christ?  What an insane religion.

Lest I make over-light of Islam’s downsides, though, Judith Weiss suggests checking out this article on fears that pro-democracy groups are not the most influential in Egypt’s emerging new government.

•Today would have been writer Mervyn Peake’s hundredth birthday.  His mid-century three-novel series hovered time- and style-wise somewhere between gothic and “goth,” and the fourth novel in the series, Titus Awakes, was thought never completed – but they recently found a manuscript of it that his wife and sometime-co-writer completed but never published.  It’s out today.

My files suggest that I first learned of Mervyn Peake around 2001 and e-mailed an acquaintance of mine about him, to which she replied that she was reading a similarly-toned novel by one China Mieville.  Indeed she was – and she would go on to date him.


The new Peake book is reportedly more metafictional than the preceding books – and so is the often-strange work of another Brit, comic book writer Grant Morrison, who’s making an appearance in Manhattan this month, from which I plan to tweet.  He’s releasing a book on superheroes, called Supergods, this month and writes Action Comics starting in September, when DC relaunches its tweaked universe.

Morrison has had far better luck doing comics than movies so far, and in an interview he reportedly summarized his efforts in Hollywood by saying: “When I did Area 51, they said can you make this character more like Shia LaBeouf...then can you make it more like Bruce Willis...then the next week, can you make him more like Robert Downey Jr.  Then the final comment was ‘Does this have to be Area 51?’” 

I am reminded that I basically jettisoned any dreams of writing for Hollywood when I heard that Tom Wolfe – Tom Wolfe! – was powerless to prevent major changes being made to the plot of the Bonfire of the Vanities movie, and indeed that he only heard about some of them secondhand through Spike Lee, oddly enough.  And so I blog.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Selection: “The Essential American,” Jackie Gingrich Cushman and Newt Gingrich, eds. Book Selection: The Essential American: 25 Documents Every American Should Own, Jackie Gingrich Cushman and Newt Gingrich, eds.

Polling at about 3% and saying something embarrassingly statist every few weeks, Newt Gingrich seems unlikely to be the next president (I’m sort of half-rooting for Perry among the popular options at this point, myself).  But around the time of the 2010 elections, Gingrich got one small thing right: co-editing, with one of his daughters, a collection of major American political documents and speeches that nicely captures everything from the Founding to the Gettysburg Address to laissez-faire Calvin Coolidge’s low-key blend of reverence for the Declaration of Independence and reverence for God.

My two strongest reactions – at the risk of sounding like myself – were to Patrick Henry’s liberty-or-death speech (which is one of those things so moving and exciting that you’re grateful to reread it as an adult, when you can more fully appreciate how much it stands out beside the history-class competition) and Teddy Roosevelt’s 1899 paean to “the strenuous life,” which the ideological mutations of the past decade may yet cause to be retroactively redubbed the “national greatness” speech (that being the speech’s final phrase). 

Jackie Cushman Gingrich’s introduction to the speech manages to depict it as if it’s a mere high school valedictory-level exhortation to dare and take risks – and it’s easy to read it that way absent historical context.  In context, disturbingly, it is a much more important turning point in American history, essentially a call to become imperialists – and specifically to be proud of American conquest of the Philippines and its racial/cultural implications.  It was a call fueled by the more or less Nietzschean philosophical impulse of that period, and it was recognized as novel and dangerous even at the time. 

Lest I be mistaken for some lefty who regards all of Americas’ past icons as imperialists, I’ll note that Mark Twain, for instance, was an active and explicit anti-imperialist at the time, indeed a member of the American Anti-Imperialist League.  No, Teddy Roosevelt was recognizably awful – and statist and militarist and amoral in his robust and manly way – even at the time.  All the more reason to be wary if neoconservatives such as David Brooks emulate him (as discussed in my previous Book Selections entry in this book-filled “Month of Political Conflict” on the blog). 

America didn’t acquire an empire (if you can call it that) in “a fit of absence of mind” like the British.  We knew what we were doing, and there were heated debates about it at the time, long before Ron Paul started campaigning for president or, for that matter, leftists started writing turgid post-colonialist treatises.

But if you pick up this volume – which comes with a DVD containing a motherlode of additional major historical documents – it shouldn’t be for Cushman Gingrich’s intros anyway (which also at times flirt with the conservative cherry-picking approach of reading whole complex documents and mainly seeming to notice the word “God” in them).  It’s just a handy, massive compilation of important original documents regardless.


By none of the above do I mean I’ve turned into a complete

Thursday, July 7, 2011

ONE WEEK to Todd Seavey Roast

One week from tonight, it’s Bastille Day, and that means it will be time for That Which Roasts Todd Seavey Makes Him Stronger (Thur., July 14, 7:30pm, free on the basement level of Lolita Bar, 266 Broome St., one block south of Delancey St. on the Lower East Side).  Hear comedic and philosophical commentary on everyone’s favorite sci-fi-, science-, and punk-loving libertarian from:

•emcee Scott Nybakken (replacing a busy Michael Malice)
•Chuck Blake
•Laura Braunstein
•“The Professor” Christine Caldwell Ames
•Lefty Leibowitz
•Diana Fleischman
•Berin Szoka of TechFreedom – an editor of the book The Next Digital Decade
•Todd Seavey himself

AND SPECIAL THANKS TO ANYONE WILLING TO AUDIO OR VIDEO RECORD THE WHOLE THING, especially in some easily-posted way (I’m at ToddSeavey[at]

Do not be frightened away by the fact that the next block over from Lolita Bar, as noted by Lower East Side regular Rev. Jen Miller, has been declared the smelliest in Manhattan by New York magazine.  Over at Lolita on Bastille Day, poised about halfway between Happy Endings bar and the Tenement Museum, you will simply smell freedom

And speaking of freedom, I only hope that, whatever my friendly critics may say on Bastille Day, when the time comes someday for people to eulogize me, they will be as kind as libertarian and closet monarchist John Zmirak is to the late Otto von Habsburg in this nice piece.

Tomorrow it’s all USA and democracy on this blog, though: a look at the Gingriches’ collection of major American speeches.

P.S. Speaking of public trials: fascinated by the booming phenomenon of niche audiences, I can’t help noticing that TV people are all talking about the Casey Anthony trial as something “the whole country” was riveted by, while various ostensible news-junkies on Twitter (who likely spend all their time reading about politics) admitted they never heard of her before the verdict. 

Likewise, I hereby confess I am unqualified to fully appreciate this cute Onion cover-songs project, since in most cases I either don’t know the song being covered or don’t know the cover band, with some marvelous exceptions such as the Chumbawumba song covered by They Might Be Giants.

P.P.S. And speaking of giants, that’s Andre in those two photos above, as seen on stickers designed by artist Shepard Fairey, photographed in his old home base, Providence, when I was there two months ago for my Brown reunion.  That’s to make the three other Brunonians on our Bastille Day speakers list feel at home.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Catholics, Artists, Atheists, Crime Victims, Mystical Cat, and Thor

•You know I love seeing subcultures overlap, and I’ll likely see it happen again when creative folk (some two dozen musicians and artists) with more than a few serious Catholics among them mix it up with the bohemians of the East Village this Saturday (7pm-on) for the East Village Arts Festival in the courtyard of the Immaculate Conception Church, 14th St. and First Ave. ($10, BYOB, eastvillageartsparty[at]

(It’s not a religion-themed event per se – though I can’t help noticing that one of the organizers, Jeff Smith, is also on the board of Storm Theatre, the church-dwelling Upper East Side theatre that premiered the musical stage version of The Last Starfighter, a sacred tale to many gamers.  The gamers don’t actually know for sure that high scores will lead to contact with aliens, of course – but they have hope.)

•I referred in the entries of the past two days to agnostics who have some respect for religious institutions, and I indeed retain some despite all the negative encounters with religion I’ve by now had.  Unlike the aforementioned crypto-agnostics, though, I think we can be open and honest about doubting the supernatural claims of religion without feeling we’re recklessly imperiling all the stuff that people actually seem to care about in religion – the moral rules, the community, the poetry, the architecture, the sense of purpose, and so on.  Just because the zealous say it all logically ought to fall apart without the core supernatural claims doesn’t mean it would (even if in some sense I agree with them about the logic).

I suspect humanity can – and indeed eventually will – find ways, as we usually do, to retain the good parts and slowly weed out the bad.  In the meantime, I should probably express more support than I normally do for groups who are at least trying to replicate the socially-useful elements of religion, however lame humanity’s first attempts at anything are: Ethical Culture Society, Humanist organizations, etc. (I’m not necessarily endorsing the various green or socialist agendas that these sorts of groups often sign onto – but then, keep in mind that plenty of actual religions have such agendas as well these days, in case you’ve forgotten the Pope’s last Euro-blatherings about globalization or climate change). 

•One very targeted effort to perform a function too often reserved to religion – grief counseling – is Grief Beyond Belief, started by one of the people back at Brown who might superficially have seemed most at odds with ostensibly-conservative Todd, namely Rebecca Hensler (griefbeyondbelief[at], memorable as the queer, mohawked redhead in a leather jacket bearing ever-changing leftist slogans on the back.  But you know I always had a soft spot for the punks (and, let’s be frank, the lesbians), and she married a libertarian woman, so she’s extended family.  And so is the son she lost, inspiring the creation of this “faith-free grief support” organization, if you’ll forgive me jarringly bringing that up in the final sentence of a flippant-sounding paragraph. 

•Oddly enough, speaking of coping with bad things, within days of hearing about Grief Beyond Belief, I also met – through the semi-Catholic cabal noted above – a woman, Rosario Rodriguez, who survived being shot in the chest (a centimeter from the heart) by a burglar and now blogs about violent crime survivors in general.  And you thought you had problems. 

•It’s worth remembering that Islam also endures in large part because it fulfills some of the social functions alluded to above, though you’d think it was

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

C-SPAN2 Panel as Straussian Class Struggle

It’s been almost one year since the romantic breakup that led to my on-air confrontation with a sadistic ex during a C-SPAN2 panel.  That means enough time has passed to set aside any personal issues and, before leaving the topic behind forever, ask what the cold, analytical gaze of future historians will see in the panel, assuming they know no more of the grotesque personal details than the average witless comment thread participant – enough time to ask: For the student of philosophy, what framework might be most useful for understanding the panel?

And that’s where Leo Strauss, discussed in my review yesterday of Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea and himself reviewed five years ago on this blog, comes in.  Among mid-century philosopher Leo Strauss’s most prominent pupils were (1) neoconservatism founder Irving Kristol, (2) relativism-denouncer Allan Bloom, and (3) the more obscure political scientist and poverty analyst Edward Banfield, all three of them believing in their different ways in the importance of the contrast between philosophy and the way the great mass of people actually think. 

And, though it did not even cross my mind at the time, it just so happens that the four C-SPAN2 panelists, as seen from the viewer’s left to right, were, respectively, (1) an editor who often invokes Irving Kristol (the editor of the volume we were all discussing, in fact, which includes my essay “Conservatism for Punks”), (2) a writer whose interest in politics was initially sparked by Allan Bloom’s denunciation in The Closing of the American Mind of moral relativism of the sort espoused at Brown University at the time (that’s me), (3) an avid Edward Banfield reader and urban history buff (the ex), and (4) for good measure, an actual nice-seeming Christian conservative female who went to an explicitly Christian college located, believe it or not, in the basement of the Empire State Building.

(That fourth panelist would be crucial for the “startled onlooker” role if the panel were a comedy sketch but is not vital to the present analysis, except in so far as she’s a reminder of what lots of normal people who aren’t weighed down by layers of Straussian skepticism and second-guessing actually believe.  More than one person reacted to the panel by saying I should have been dating her instead, but she’s married, and I’m not going down the religious-female road ever again, though Jesus can’t take all the blame here.)

Abstracting still further from the personal level, and risking sounding uncharacteristically Marxist, it’s interesting that the Strauss-student-of-choice of each of the first three panelists strongly reflects what might be called the “class ethos” of the panelist in question (upper, middle, and lower, respectively). 

Without for a moment presuming to know the actual income levels of our respective families, I notice that

•panelist #1 (originally an Upper West Sider with a political mom and now a great gig at the heart of the conservative media establishment) likes the Strauss student who arguably created the elite-cultural-managerial impulse in modern conservatism (Kristol)

•panelist #2 (that’s me, my bourgeoishood surely reaffirmed at the end of yesterday’s entry) likes the Straussian author who sold the most books to the bourgeoisie (Closing of the American Mind was a bestseller back in the 80s) and who seemed to be defending the fairly mainstream and non-authoritarian idea that people ought to read good books and behave well even when their parents aren’t watching (Bloom), sentiments with which perpetually well-behaved panelist #2 wholeheartedly agrees

•and panelist #3 (who, unusually for a conservative-of-sorts, often likens herself to a class warrior on behalf of poor/populist/rural attitudes, even some very bad ones, some of them at least ostensibly originating from the Southern regions whence she came) loves the Straussian author whose career began with analysis of socially-dysfunctional rural villages in Italy, where he concluded that the poor, absent institutions such as churches and (ick) labor unions, would naturally turn to the Mafia and mob violence to fill the social vacuum.

Banfield seems to share the elite/Straussian attitude that the poor

Monday, July 4, 2011

Book Selection: “Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea” (plus Transformers and Camaros) Book Selection: Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea by C. Bradley Thompson (with Yaron Brook)

Here’s a good July 4th question: Is anyone in this country besides me actually a conservative?  And mind you, I ask this as a pro-gay, pro-drug-legalization, atheist anarchist who lives in New York City. 

Yet I sometimes think I’m the only one taking the entire “markets and morality” combo at all seriously.  More tomorrow on neocons and morals – and one last look back at last year’s infamous C-SPAN2 panel – but today I’m mainly worried about neocons’ failure to defend markets and limited government. 

C. Bradley Thompson, an Objectivist, argues that the neocon failure on this front is not, as might be assumed by some of us with vague neocon sympathies, a mere oversight but is instead, much as the neocons’ craziest critics often fear, an inevitable side effect of a conscious fascist streak in the philosophy, one that really does trace back to influential philosopher Leo Strauss (lead author Thompson has a co-author on this 2010 book, his fellow Objectivist Yaron Brook, but I’m going to assume Brook was mainly responsible for the handful of jarring and unnecessary digressions about the evils of altruism and will mainly address the far more substantive and interesting historical stuff about Strauss and his students here).

The book goes into far more convincing and depressing detail than I’d known was possible about how/why a sort of moderate socialism and Machiavellian lack of principles (by anyone’s standards, not just Objectivists’) really are the conscious goal of the Strauss-influenced neocons, not just a bad habit of William Kristol and David Brooks.  I hadn’t realized how explicit the neocons had been from the get-go (roughly the 60s) about saying the welfare state now is traditional (or rather, inevitable – the future even if not the past) and thus that Edmund Burke-style talk should be used to defend it and in the process rein it in just slightly – exactly what Brooks does when he praises Obama.

I’ve often said the biggest danger of traditionalism is not that truly ancient ways will be rigidly enforced but that crap that isn’t even all that old gets treated (by people with short-term historical memories) as if it’s ancient and revered (“There was no art before the noble institution that is the NEA!” etc.).  But I hadn’t realized the degree to which that was the conscious plan of (some of) the neocons.

Now, I’ve been as quick as anyone over the past decade to point out how vague the term “neocon” can be, how unhealthy it is to treat a broad movement as a conspiracy, and how strange it is to blame Strauss, who died decades ago, for faulty intelligence during the lead-up to the war in Iraq (not to mention how unfair it is to assume that Irving Kristol would take the same positions today that he felt were necessary during the heyday of the Great Society).  But Thompson argues that even when you strip away all those things, there is still a (moderately) fascistic element to Straussian-neoconservative thinking – and that it isn’t so surprising if you take a good look at Strauss.

Before he was a U.S.-dwelling influence on the likes of Irving Kristol, Allan Bloom, and Edward Banfield (about all of whom, more tomorrow), Strauss was a young intellectual in Weimar Germany who (though Jewish and obviously not hoping to trot himself off to a death camp) shared the deep pessimism of that time and place about the ability of liberal democracy to command the sorts of deep loyalty that totalitarianism ostensibly did (it was as natural for him to worry about that, really, as it was for Siegel and Shuster, around the same time, to dream of an American, democratic Superman strong enough to beat the purported fascist supermen). 

The disgusting Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt – who believed life is

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Making Progress, One Medium at a Time

Yesterday’s entry was about the passage of time, and speaking of time: after about four months on the Facebook and the Twitter, without being pushy, I’ve got over 300 Facebook friends (esteemed libertarian writer Jonathan Adler becoming #300), I’ve tweeted 300 tweets, and I have (almost) 200 Twitter followers (a few more wouldn’t hurt).  With the Facebook folks alone – almost none of them strangers to me in real life – I could fend off a Persian army, I figure. 

The nice round milestone numbers may be merely symbolic, but at least it’s real math, unlike Obama’s symbolic class-warfare jet-tax bullshit, deployed to demonstrate he’s on your side, even as we topple into the economic abyss.

Ah, there’s the “Month of Political Conflict” kicking in – but rest assured, I will have some negative thoughts about the right as well, in tomorrow’s first of multiple Book Selections of the Month entries this month, examining C. Bradley Thompson’s Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea – just in time for the Fourth of July. 

UPDATE: Later, that same night: Twitter follower #200.  Thank you.

UPDATE 2: Ah, and Sam Sifton just retweeted a comment of mine to his 66,000 followers.  That helps.  (And I’m pleased to see he has Drinky Crow as his profile picture.  That takes me back to our NYPress days.)  OK, enough stats talk.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Lindsay Lohan, Franz Ferdinand, and Other Historical Figures

•Lindsay Lohan turns twenty-five today.  It amazes me that she’s that young.  I feel as if I’ve been hearing about her substance abuse, car crashes, and legal troubles for at least a decade.

A check of my files, though, suggests that the first I ever heard of her was when she swept the Teen Choice Awards in 2004 – and suddenly everyone was talking about some “Lydia Lohan” person, as I put it in an e-mail exchange with Daniel Radosh.  Soon afterwards, she would be taking the title of the project Herbie: Fully Loaded to heart, and it’s been a downhill ride from there.

(Would that making crazy chicks sane were as easy as the process used in this excellent Bob Newhart sketch, of which Dan Greenberg reminded me.  And it would be that easy, if the crazy chicks weren’t crazy.)

•You know what’s even older than Lohan’s Teen Choice Awards sweep, though?  “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand – late 2003, somehow.  (Back in those distant days, their fellow Scot, Grant Morrison, was writing X-Men comics, but nowadays, he’s over at DC Comics preparing to write the history-remaking Action Comics #1 starring Superman, so you may as well enjoy hearing him enthuse about it in his Scottish accent.)

•Older still is the Busby Berkeley- and sci-fi-influenced 1995 art film Ferrum 5000, which I finally looked up on YouTube after sixteen freaking years of having it on my handwritten list of movies to maybe sorta get around to someday watching.  Looks a bit dated now, though the retro feel makes it hard to gauge. 

•And even older, yet to my mind far more current-feeling: Sebadoh’s “Rebound” and Orangutang’s “Shiny Like Gold,” both from 1994.  I worked with the Orangutang bass player’s girlfriend back then, you know.  Little did I realize they had inadvertently named their band after a species that once tried to rape Julia Roberts (it’s true – they do that).  You see things differently as you get older, even orangutans.