Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cats Stare at Window, Rivals Stare at Rick Perry, Libertarians Evolve

As prep for my impending new series of bar events in Williamsburg, here is a picture I took of cats in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg area who, oddly, were staring into a window that seemed completely opaque from where I stood.  I’m not sure what they were watching in there.  In other animal news: the awesome hiphop Kia hamsters are back, and Misery Bear is brave in “Dawn of the Ted” (recommended by Mary Madigan). 

I’d like to use comedians more at the new events, though that might drive away one friend of mine who says she has had such negative experiences dating comedians that she now has a rule against ever doing so again and thinks they are very disturbed people.  That’s certainly the stereotype, but it’s amusing to hear it turned into a rule a la “no smokers.”

Now, on to politics:

I.  Years of watching superheroes beset by villains (as discussed in yesterday’s entry) may have conditioned me to like people more if their foes attack them for insane reasons.  Thus, Rick Perry is growing on me, despite his flaws. 

I’m not calling all these critics crazy, but if you believe them all, he’s a:

--Christian Dominionist per feminist author Michelle Goldberg.

--Muslim-symp per neocon Pamela Geller.

--libertarian radical per moderate Romney’s team.

--part of the statist “international conspiracy” per paleolibertarian Ron Paul four years ago (which could lead to some weird debate confrontations).

--crony-capitalist per more mainstream libertarians (who are right, of course). 

And yet sympathy for Rick Perry grows, I must say.  Surely, the fact he’s polling around 27% while everyone else but Romney is in single digits makes this primary process look a bit more inevitable, in any case, so it’s worth mulling his pluses. 

He may not be a perfect fusionist, but he’s a figure around whom the center-right coalition could comfortably fuse.  No president since Reagan has really talked in terms of making DC as inconsequential as possible in our lives, and that in itself could prove, if not a leap, at least a step in the right direction.

The idea of getting the truly-radical Ron Paul into the White House and watching the world change is surely appealing, but that’s not likely to happen.  However, while Paul’s still at it, I perhaps owe my neocon friends (with whom I do not wholly disagree) a further explanation of how I can like Paul, and I think this Glenn Greenwald article is a hint: It suggests a military-industrial establishment so vast and stupid and wasteful (and growing domestically) that I’m not sure even an outright anarchist president could make much of a dent in it before his term in office was up, so why not let a Ron Paul take a whack at it and trust that he probably won’t leave us holding nothing but cap guns and a baseball bat even if he’d like to?

Then again, a thoughtful friend of mine e-mails this reaction to the Greenwald piece: “Heck, those cool-as-shit boom-boom rigs are just about the only thing the government should be doing.  Yeee-haw!”  Perhaps.  Perhaps.

II.  I don’t know that the definitive article has been written about this, but the oddness, from an intra-libertarian perspective, of the Ron Paul wave of new interest in libertarianism is that this is not how any of us, back in the 90s or even most of the Bush years, expected the movement to expand.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Comics (Including the Online Debate Back in 1985 Over the DC Universe!!)

Batman fighting a girls’ school (as written by Grant Morrison, author as well of Supergods, about which more in the days ahead) may seem a bit tawdry (and not so unlike some evils alluded to in yesterday’s punk-filled entry), but extreme measures are called for these days to lure young readers away from the vast Barnes and Noble “Teen Supernatural Romance” section, seen in the pic above taken by Dan Greenberg.  DC Comics has other plans as well.

Tomorrow’s a big day for the company.  After decades of shrinking sales (something like a million copies a month for the most popular books back circa WWII and at best 100,000 or so now) but gradually improving film adaptations, they’re starting all their series over from issue #1 beginning with Justice League #1 tomorrow (followed by fifty-one other #1s in September alone), presumably aiming for a new clarity and simplicity in the basic premises of the series and enabling new readers to hop aboard. 

An extreme editorial move if ever there were one (as my “Month of Extremists” nears its end) – and an excuse to raise several comics-related points (the rest of you are excused):

•The opening paragraph of this article is a reminder that the real world keeps getting more comics-like (and may whet your appetite for next year’s Amazing Spider-Man movie from Marvel).

•If DC is going to revise characters, I suggest starting with Aquaman’s archfoe Black Manta.  There’s something deeply wrong about the fact that he looks and behaves like a pretty stock villain but has as his origin (A) having been a kidnapping victim left resentful of Aquaman (and the sea) after a protracted period of being sexually abused on a boat, (B) also/or hating the violent treatments with cold water he received while being an autistic child, (C) and being a drug dealer for a while before (D) being mutated temporarily into a manta-man and (E) ending up (at least pretending to be) an angry black nationalist who wants black people to live in the ocean (the ocean that he hates).

If they make up a new origin for him now, I will not call it the wrong thing to do.  As it is, I almost wouldn’t blame a liberal jury for acquitting him of all past crimes (including killing Aquaman’s son) so long as he underwent psychiatric treatment.

Worse, how can they not give a character called Manta some kind of cape?  It’s insane.

•Speaking of psychological damage, here’s a fascinating real-life retcon: the producer of the movies Look Who’s Talking and C.H.U.D. II (a film that appears in the punk encyclopedia I reviewed yesterday) suffered brain damage (after making those films, just to be clear), was in a deep coma, and a decade and a half later has a condition that makes it impossible for him to make superficial movies.

•For the many fans fearful that DC, even with a fresh start, will never be able to keep its ostensibly-coherent fictional universe’s continuity straight, this interview snippet pointed out to me by Jacob Levy is not encouraging:

[Interviewer:] Have you guys had to modify at all your version of Wonder Woman to mesh with the version of the character in Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League?

[New Wonder Woman writer:] I don’t worry about that stuff.  I don’t know, it must be okay, I haven’t heard anything!  [Wonder Woman artist Chiang laughs]  No one’s come to me and said, “Hey, you can’t do that” yet.

•In the rebooted Justice League International, it appears the hero Booster Gold will now be a Canadian, and a female character will appear who has been dubbed a “foxy Margaret Thatcher” by Rich Johnston.  If only that were the actual plan.

•I believe it was the profoundly wise and manly Carl of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (who I also noted in yesterday’s entry) who told a time-traveling robot that purported elements of Carl’s personal history seemed contradictory and received about as good an explanation as we’ll likely get from DC if anything goes wrong. Here is the heartwarming scene.

•Terrifyingly, online debates over changes to DC Comics continuity have been going on – in almost exactly the same terms – not just since, say, Hypertime was introduced in the late 90s but SINCE 1985 WHEN THE CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS SERIES WAS ACTUALLY IN COMIC SHOPS!!!  And thanks to Google Archives, we can still read those conversations (as noted by online commenter ADMwriter)!

It’s like finding footage of oneself in childhood saying something identical to what you said last week.  And Professor Zoom thinks he can time travel?

(Maybe it really is best that we move on to 90s nostalgia now.  And, much as it pains me, so I shall, in just two days.  Let the word go forth.  Farewell, Duran Duran.)

•That 1985 series cast such a long psychological shadow, with

Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Selection: “Destroy All Movies! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film” (and speaking of videos...) Book Selection: Destroy All Movies!  The Complete Guide to Punks on Film edited by Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly (with Foreword by Richard Hell)

(The photos above aren’t from the book.  One is a picture I took recently of the now sadly-closed and punk-beloved Mars Bar, where I drank with an evil female punk fan just last year, though that now seems an epoch ago.  The next is a kid in a tiny car listening to gypsy musicians, not punks.  The third is Sophie Scholl, an activist executed by the Nazis who surely deserved to be on a Smiths album cover and should still be used on a Morrissey album cover someday, if you ask me.  By the way, Madonna this month turned fifty-three, having run the culture for most of that timespan.)

•It would be very stupid not to buy this book.  No hip home should be without this massive – and visually striking – encyclopedia of every movie ever to feature a punk (in the late twentieth-century subcultural sense of the word), published by the mostly-comics company Fantagraphics (for which my frequent conspirator Scott Nybakken used to work).  There must be about 2,000 films in here, many featuring the apocalypse and/or CBGB’s.

I suspected before reading the book, and am now certain, that one could devote the rest of one’s life to watching movies about punks and zombies fighting in post-apocalyptic or dystopian near-futures, if one were so inclined.  Of course, nearly all of those movies would be terrible, as the writers in this volume – many of them video store employees or customers from Washington state and their writer/moviegoer associates – readily admit. 

•And now may be a good time to admit that I don’t expect to post the video of my June speech to the Junto about “Conservatism for Punks,” which would apparently take up a third of the memory on my computer even if the posting went smoothly tech-wise, and who knows whether it would.  And though beggars cannot be choosers – and I am thus not complaining – it also appears that my volunteer punk-singer amateur videographer from last month’s “roast” at Lolita Bar hasn’t been able to cobble usable footage together. 

•I remain convinced that these events actually occurred, though, and one of these days will figure out an easy way to do video and podcasts on my own without a major TV network helping me but am busy enough with words for now.  And please do not e-mail to assure me how easy amateur video and audio production is these days, and how I should “just use system X and toss it on site Y,” unless you really, really want me to hate you forever.  Think carefully now.  One of humanity’s biggest problems is people thinking that systems it took them weeks to master should fit effortlessly and quickly into other people’s schedules, which is also part of the reason that most people can’t teach, including many teachers.

•To compensate for the lack of Junto and Roast video, a friend of mine suggests instead this very brief clip of John Podhoretz’s defense of the efficacy of domestic War on Terror measures at the recent Commentary panel discussion here.  Oh, sorry – wrong clip.

While we’re this far off course, two more brief conservative comments before we get back to the punks:

The Nation actually managed to increase my sympathy for Romney for a moment by titling an article “Romney: Dark Prince of Oligarchy.”  It was a reaction to his perfectly-accurate observation that corporations are made up of people.  The horrified Nation writer argues – just implicitly asserts, really – that they are not.  I wonder if he thinks, say, bird-watching societies are people.

•Meanwhile, in Texas: if life were a bad old Saturday morning cartoon mystery show, the fact that Rick Perry (rather reasonably) mandated use of the Gardasil vaccine for public school children would turn out to be connected to the fact that he oversaw comparably controversial business subsidies to companies such as the biotech firm Gradalis (“Holy anagrams, Batman!” etc.).  If Pam Geller were one of the mystery-solving gang, Perry, in a shocking twist, would later be outed as a closet Islam-sympathizer instead of a closet Christian-theocrat, since she complains that he dared participate in some forum with Muslims, etc., etc.  I just want budget cuts and deregulation.  Is that so wrong?  (DISCUSS THIS OR OTHER STUFF WITH ME AND OTHER NON-LEFTISTS TONIGHT AT 7 AT THE O’LUNNEY’S BAR ON WEST 50th JUST WEST OF BROADWAY, if you like.  I’m not the organizer, but I’ll be there.) 

The UK singer Adele is tired of big government, by the way.  Sing it, sister.  (Lady Gaga probably wants some sort of communism.)

•One could write several additional books about the cultural implications of many of the entries in Destroy All Movies!, especially the numerous late-70s and early-80s documentaries about the surprisingly well-documented fledgling punk movement, so I’ll just react to a fairly random smattering, skewed toward mainstream films, here:

--I learned that proto-grunge band Mudhoney perform in the 1996 Farley/Spade film Black Sheep, about a politicians’s idiot relative becoming popular with the electorate.  My friend Dave opines, “To me that means Nirvana said no, and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains said no, so the producers said, ‘These guys must be next in line to hit it big, right?’ Wrong.”

--The book suggests the worst movie of the lot is

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yesteryear’s Music, Last Week’s Quake, Today’s Storm, and Dogs in Bars

•For all the NYC evacuees out there, here’s one of my favorite songs of last year, “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, sounding for all the world like a Johnny Cash/June Carter duet for retro-hipsters (not all of whom are evil).

•I face the hurricane armed with a sturdy, nightwatchman-favored, unadorned-metal, vintage Everready Captain flashlight filled with a pair of big D batteries, just like Grandpa before me (he would have liked “Home,” I think).

•Grandpa might also have liked this awesome 90-sec. trailer for the classic spaghetti Western Death Rides a Horse (noted by Franklin Harris).

•Fittingly, I'll be reading the punk encyclopedia Destroy All Movies! and the historical sci-fi novel Doomsday Book during at least part of the storm.  More about the former tomorrow and more about the latter (and other UK-themed books) next week or so.

•On another old-timey-sounding music note: UK Orthodox Jews apparently worry that Amy Winehouse will not be resurrected at the end of the world because her body was cremated, and your body must be intact for the resurrection to occur.  I would think God could get around that, especially for the Jews or at least for a prominent musician, but what do I know of theology?  (I will have to ask Dawn Eden.)

•Musicians everywhere may have reason to fear, thanks to environmental-regulation-inspired raids on guitar fretboards, as noted on Drudge.  Yeah, you keep on rockin’ for green causes, rock people.  But vote for smaller government, please.  Please.

•I am not completely retro: I always found Shirley Temple annoying, even when I was a kid myself, and I still do.  Is that just me being the anti-children guy, or is pretty much everyone with me on this?

•But I do like dogs.  Alas, a dog-related NYC tradition has been ended by government, which is always and everywhere an evil engine of social destruction: Dogs are no longer allowed in bars

•The New Yorkiest tweet I saw during the hurricane may have been this one from John DeVore:

"Am I afraid? Fuck Bloomberg. Fuck Irene. I am not afraid and fuck you." -- Guy who sells me my coffee and cigarettes

You can read the dozen or so #FakeSurvivalTips I tweeted yesterday, too, and follow my tweets in general.

•Stormy though it may be, today is the twenty-fifth birthday of Florence Welch of the band Florence + the Machine, apparently the daughter of a Renaissance studies professor and an ad exec who liked the Ramones and other early punk.  Apparently, if you cross medieval tendencies and a latter-day Mad Men character, you get a woman who, as a teenager, was inspired by a violent and dysfunctionally-combative couple to write the disturbing song “Kiss with a Fist.”

•Speaking of frightening natural phenomena felt in NYC, DC, North Carolina, and elsewhere, last week’s earthquake (which is so five days ago now that we have the hurricane) caused me to feel a slight vibration at my left elbow while I was eating lunch – making me think someone’s cellphone was vibrating – and I did not find out until about an hour later that there’d been a quake.  Let us hope that experience has left me with the emotional reserves necessary to face today’s storm.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Three Pairs of Dueling Republican Candidates

All right, I said I was going to be offline this week, but here’s an exercise for the reader (and commenter, if you’d care to post your thoughts): Which candidate do you prefer in each of the following hypothetical face-offs, and why? 

(Note: These really are the six candidates or potential candidates who, at the moment, seem to me most likely to be viable as the year ends and the primaries approach.)

•Mitt Romney vs. Rick Perry

•Michele Bachmann vs. Sarah Palin

•Ron Paul vs. Rudy Giuliani 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Matt Miller’s Idea of Education Reform Realism

One more item for the children, on this Lemonade Freedom Day, before I go offline for a week.  It speaks volumes that smirking Washington Post columnist Matt Miller, inspired by a report about how bad American schools are, wrote the following passage and clearly believed the first paragraph (of free-market suggestions) was meaningless hot air and the second paragraph (of his suggestions) is pregnant with useful ideas:

It’s not easy to get presidential candidates off their talking points when it comes to schools. You can probably recite the GOP slogans yourself: Get Washington out of the way. More choice and competition. Hold teachers accountable. Blah, blah, blah.

Here’s my antidote to the anodyne: In the early GOP primary and caucus states, we need parents, educators, CEOs, labor leaders, foundations and the press to come together to trumpet this report’s findings and use them to elevate the issue through high-profile events, special education debates, candidate report cards and everything else they can think of -- including creative heckling. Get students themselves to ask candidates why Estonian math scores seem beyond our reach.

Choice?  Competition?  Innovation?  The freedom of underserved and dissatisfied customers to turn elsewhere?  Blah, blah, blah.  Oh, but “come together” to “elevate the issue”?  And get students thinking about Estonia?  Now you’re talking practical solutions! 

Lemonade Freedom Day

Intellectuals talk about government as it would behave in the ideal case.  They can’t help themselves, since it’s easier to think about it that way (that’s the root of most of our problems).  But in the real world, instead of being an instrument of virtue, equality, ecological harmony or whatever else you’re pushing, government kills people’s dogs, lets water pipes burst instead of repairing them, and shuts down kids’ lemonade stands, unable to differentiate between them and multinational corporations for regulatory purposes.  Government is, by definition, the non-competitive sector of human life and will always be completely stupid.  But today, some will strike a small blow against it and in favor of the freedom of those lemonade stands.

Don Boudreaux notes Wall Street Journal’s quoting of Ryan Young, who wrote:

Kids have been setting up lemonade stands for as long as there has been lemonade. But in recent years, regulators have started shutting them down. Robert Fernandes, a father of two, has had enough. That's why he has declared August 20, 2011 to be Lemonade Freedom Day...

Fernandes is encouraging kids and parents to set up lemonade stands that day without going through the permits, inspections, and fees that many towns require... This is a minor battle, as these things go. But the same obstacles to lemonade freedom apply throughout the economy. Federal regulations alone cost nearly an eighth of GDP to comply with. That sizable burden is a major reason why the economy is still struggling. Lemonade Freedom Day is one way to tell overzealous regulators to back off.

I’m going to declare it lemonade week here – and take it off to work on some other market-friendly stuff, but I’ll be back on Blogger, Twitter, and Facebook in eight days, with the punk-and-superheroes-friendly climax of my “Month of Extremists.”

Friday, August 19, 2011

Take Me to the Riot: Crown Heights, New York Press, Bachmann, O’Donnell, More

The New York Press – for which I wrote in the late 90s (along with friends such as Scott Nybakken, J.R. Taylor, Dawn Eden, and Daniel Radosh), answering to editor Sam Sifton – is effectively no more, enduring only as a website for multiple publications and a section within the print version of one of those publications.  The Village Voice, by then a leftist rag completely devoid of self-awareness or irony akin to The Nation, ran an article calling NYPress a bunch of “P.J. O’Rourke wannabes,” and I hope I had at least some influence on them picking that epithet.

Accurate yet judgmental epithets were exactly what the Voice tended to lack and the Press deployed in abundance.  I often told people back then that I liked the Press because, unlike the Voice with its reverent mentions of “the homeless,” the Press was willing to use phrases more like “stinking wino” as necessary.  New York City needed that sort of truth-through-gonzo callousness as a substitute for the conservatism it sorely lacked. 

For instance, it was twenty years ago today that a car driven by a Jewish man accidentally struck and killed a black child in Crown Heights, sparking three days of rioting.  Police under Mayor Dinkins, notoriously, did little but watch – though, astonishingly, he not only still has his defenders, there are even some liberals who are now eager to credit him – Dinkins! – with the precipitous drop in crime since then, since he technically hired future Police Chief William Bratton (doing precious little with him). 

By the time I moved to New York City, the place was ready for Giuliani to unleash Bratton and get tough on crime – the reason Giuliani’s even now being talked about as a potential presidential or vice presidential candidate – and the U.S. was ready to hear a liberal, Bill Clinton, denounce criminals and praise cops, talk which had literally been considered mere code for racism for the preceding two decades of New Left-dominated thinking. 

Ultimately, the reason some Gen Xers like me (but also some future Clinton fans) had conservative instincts probably had less to do with the Cold War than with the Dirty Harry-like awareness that if our houses were robbed back when we were children, there were people on the left who would sympathize more with the burglars than with us, and, diabolically, who would even work to disarm our parents, making things that much easier for the burglars (this mission failed in the case of my gun-owning older relatives, but they don’t live in heavily-regulated NYC).

I have to look with sorrow, then, upon the UK riots and the Philadelphia flashmobs (and I even feel a bit vindicated in my worried Luddite reaction when I first heard of flashmobs a few years ago, recognizing the danger in – well, mobs).  I note that Bratton has now become an advisor to the UK government after being denied a more official post due to his U.S. citizenship mere weeks ago.  That’s a start.  More important, I think – as always – is rooting solutions in individualism, not communal thinking, despite everything experts tell you to the contrary.

The main reason civilization runs on individualism is that only individuals can be held accountable in any meaningful sense for wrongdoing.  Everything else is mere unending tribal warfare.  Punish a whole village with curfews, weapons bans, pop-psychology lectures, and police cordons and you create aggrieved innocents (even if you do it in a left-leaning fashion).  Taking the even sloppier route of blaming whole ethnic groups (in the worst right-wing fashion) and you justify people thinking that law never had anything to do with justice in the first place and can rightly be ignored. 

Nietzsche (who was right about some things) even

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Smells Like Early Adulthood

Pics of Frances Bean Cobain, who turns nineteen today, pointed out by Matt Welch.  Despite the fact that she looks like Death – I mean literally looks like the DC Comics character – she’s wearing a Wolverine t-shirt in one shot. 

Perhaps she hopes to gain Wolverine’s fast-healing powers, which he once explained enable him to smoke without the myriad terrible health effects smoking has on normal people (since she’s smokin’, in the bad sense, in several of the photos).  What kind of self-destructive idiot engages in cigarette smoking at this late point in scientific history?  (Certainly not our best and brightest, judging by the stats, by the way – but that’s my old job.  And I should return to the current one, ghostwriting, in just a moment.)

Marvel and DC should totally do a team-up miniseries with Thanos and Death.  Thanos has the hots for Death even as depicted the Marvel way, as a skeleton with a vaguely female shape.  Imagine if he met DC Death.

A friend of mine notes that Frances looked cheerful in photos just a couple years ago but now looks as if, well, her mother is Courtney Love.  On the bright side, she’s morphing in a far more lovely fashion than her dad’s contemporary Sinead O’Connor.  Yikes.

New Wave was a somewhat tamer musical genre, though I just learned that Grace Jones (early in her career) was among the performers in a short-lived Italian TV series combining acting and musical performances that generated controversy for its nudity and Satanic themes, called Stryx

Say what you will about her Satanic qualities, Jones has been a marvelous bridge between cultures over the years (Jamaica and the U.S., the U.S. and Europe, black and white, straight and gay, female and sort-of-female).  But tomorrow, we recall a more divisive cultural moment: the Crown Heights Riots, which took place twenty years ago this weekend.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Selection: “Are You Serious?” by Lee Siegel (plus “prog rock,” Rick Perry, seasteading, and other semi-serious cases) Book Selection: Are You Serious? How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly by Lee Siegel

•John Zmirak, co-founder of American Conservative magazine, made a surprise appearance at this week’s final Manhattans Project gathering (the events soon to be replaced by bigger and better events I’ll host in Williamsburg).  He co-wrote a book called The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living, and we discussed the complex question of discerning those who are joking when they call themselves “bad” from those who aren’t (and which is worse). 

•Oddly enough, the very next day I chatted with Pagan Kennedy, author of (among other things) Pagan Kennedy’s Living: The Handbook for Maturing Hipsters, which gives very different advice from a very different philosophical perspective – framed ironically, though Pagan is an admirably serious person. 

•And a tiny, tiny handful of you may already be aware that if you combine those two people (and books), you basically get Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons, which I think makes an admirable stab at wrestling with some serious issues but is ultimately silly (not unlike the Pope, with whom Dreher was briefly aligned, trotting out two millennia of tradition and philosophy to defend anti-globalization sentiments or anti-global-warming regulations). 

•Shortly after seeing Pagan, I saw a panel of writers assembled by Commentary (including my friend Abe Greenwald) analyzing the highly serious subject of the War on Terror – yet I’m not positive there was more truth in their panel than in the ostensibly-sillier books mentioned above (not even Dreher’s).  I’m pleased to see them doing public events, though (the more the merrier).

Where does silly end and serious begin? 

•Is it wrong to admit that this two-minute Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan opera is beautiful?  Or is it wrong – even dangerous – to pretend that it is not? 

I lean strongly toward the latter attitude, as you may have noticed, but I cannot be sure.

Lee Siegel has written a book on the serious question of seriousness, and it is odd, more a meandering essay – with a fairly abstract point – than an examination or explanation in the usual sense.  Siegel is concerned – as are many of us – about how to differentiate between that which is truly serious, deep, and important in contemporary culture (if anything) and that which merely has the markers of “seriousness” without having real depth and importance. 

He contrasts the purported seriousness of politicians, pundits, experts, and hip novelists with the everyday seriousness of coping with major life decisions (marriage, fending off burglars, facing death) and wonders how it is we know when we’re being truly serious.  Perhaps most important, he notes that humor can itself be serious or frivolous, depending on whether it underscores truths, and purported-seriousness can be exposed as frivolous in some cases precisely by its humorlessness.  That complicates things.

Since I think religion, “spirituality” in general, Continental-style philosophy, sports, most sad songs, fashion, a great deal of art, government in any form, environmentalism, most of what passes for conventional health wisdom, many modern dating conventions, feel-good self-helpy pop-psychology, and much of academia and journalism are ridiculous (even offensively so), I certainly have a vested interest in determining more-accurate indicators of real seriousness – and, of course, explaining how I became their arbiter after a lifetime of dedication to skepticism and logic, rooted in uncommon emotional stability and dedication to intellectual integrity, bolstered by a genius-level IQ.

Anyway, in the meantime, here’s some wacky stuff

Monday, August 15, 2011

Manhattans Project finale tonight

Tonight (Mon. the 16th) from 7-10pm, we'll drink at Langan's (47th just east of 7th).

•Today is also the fortieth anniversary of the villainous Nixon taking us off the gold standard (but also a time to reflect that Ron Paul was #2 in this weekend's Ames Straw Poll and turns 76 this week).

•Objectivist Ed Thompson also notes that today is the forty-second anniversary of the first day of Woodstock.

•But not everything from the 60s remains in the hands of the left, culturally: Note that the new (and non-Caucasian) Spider-Man appears to be involved in a plot right off the bat that criticizes the union-dominated public school system.

•And amidst all the other news, let us not forget that the insurance-buying mandate part of Obamacare was found unconstitutional -- as lawyer and Democrat Koli Mitra told me three years ago might happen, by the way, so them Democrats is smart sometimes -- and this may warrant a toast.

If you can't make it tonight, note that 

(A) you can catch Manhattans Project regular Abe Greenwald tomorrow (Tue., 6-8pm) on a panel about the War on Terror at the Ethical Culture Society, 

(B) you'll find recent Manhattans Project speaker (and libertarian Democrat) Dan O'Connor throwing his official campaign launch party on Sept. 9 (6:30pm) at good ol' Lolita Bar on the Lower East Side, and 

(C) you'll hear from me again as soon as the new series of Williamsburg bar events I'm hosting (the Brooklyn Forum, which will manage to combine more socializing, more politics, and more entertainment all at the same time, if all goes according to plan) is up and running. 

I'd put all these things on my calendar right now if I were you.  Nice to see you at even one, though.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

News of the World: Magic, Cars, Nanotech, and the Easter Bunny

I learned about several regional cultures this past week.

Park Slope is full of magicians, as revealed by the Potter-like novels of Lev Grossman, celebrated at Word Books in Greenpoint.

•A Yale professor I talked to, by contrast, finds it hard to believe that magicians are all that useful anywhere – and was surprised to hear that they show up in a philosophically-significant context at Skeptics conferences, helping to illustrate how the human mind deceives itself and falls prey to scams and supernatural/religious claims.  They do, and it does. 

(The prof also differed with my father’s admittedly quickly-formed opinion on Yale architecture dean Robert A.M. Stern, which was formed several years ago when my father saw the grandiose billboard of Stern on the side of a Stern building on the Upper East Side and immediately pronounced “What an asshole!”  Little did my father realize that some scholars take years to reach that conclusion.  My whole family is adept at accelerating the academic process by informal means.)

•There are geeks living without purpose in California and tricking out their muscle cars with flamethrowers and other Mad Max-inspired doodads, until a troubled romance with a trashy alcoholic chick makes everything go horribly awry, at least according to the great film Bellflower (now at the Angelika), which I highly recommend. 

•I can’t technically recommend the documentary about Brazil Formula 1 racer Senna because it was sold out, but apparently that’s also good and he was much beloved. 

•Will the future be one in which the high-tech cars of both California and Latin America share superhighways that traverse decreasingly-relevant national borders, uniting the muscle cars of all nations?  I don’t know, but I do know that according to California-dwelling (and somewhat robot-like) political writer Virginia Postrel, an anti-technology terrorist organization in Mexico called Individuals Tending to Savagery has been sending bombs to professors who are involved in nanotech or robotics. 

Ironically, you know a country is probably destined, eventually, for U.S.-style techno-postmodernism when it starts producing things like anti-nanotech terror movements instead of just cheap sombreros.  For good or ill, Mexicans will end up living like Neal Stephenson characters, just like the rest of us. 

In the meantime, the terrorists have apparently been leaving messages that say things like “Curiosity killed the human.”  And this is reality, just to be clear, so the game cannot be turned off. 

•Meanwhile, in Mongolia, the Easter Bunny is having a rap battle with Genghis Khan (which does not mean I think you should waste time watching every other rap video that comedy group did – indeed, it almost makes me think there might be something to this “too much wealth and technology on our hands” idea after all).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mourning Morning Smokers

Since people will be reading the Tea leaves of the Ames straw poll today, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that people are godawful at thinking about statistics.

This Gawker piece is a relatively simple example of one mistake people make with stats all the time – sometimes in a subtler and more complex fashion than we see here – namely, thinking that something that is merely an indicator of a broader pattern is the specific cause of that broader pattern (e.g., people who subscribe to fitness magazines live longer – so give everyone fitness magazines and you’ll see lifespans increase!).

People who can’t resist a morning smoke are more likely to get lung cancer, the article explains – so Gawker concludes that waiting a few hours before the first cigarette is the key to survival, even though it is far more likely, of course, that needing a cigarette (or anything else for that matter) immediately is simply a good indicator that you are more addicted or less self-disciplined than other users (and future attempted-quitters).  It’s not as if the time of day is extra-deadly. 

As is typical with Gawker and all writers in this hip-irono-liberal vein (which is pretty much the norm in NYC), they sound like they sort of think they might maybe could be joking but aren’t probably sure so much, the important thing presumably being that they’re cooler than you are and know things that you don’t even when they sound stupid, so there (but in fact, they likely know less – about a great many things – so don’t be intimidated by the hipness).

Similarly, I trust I’ll be OK even if late night trips to Crif Dogs are revealed to be a good statistical indicator of obesity.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Politicians Are Scary

•So Romney still looks like the leader of the pack after last night’s debate, I suppose – which makes it unfortunate that a couple acquaintances of mine think he looks like he’d be well cast as the Devil.  In fact, I think Peter Fonda had a similar tall and chisel-faced vibe as Mephisto in Ghost Rider.

•Tim Pawlenty is lame.  He sounds unconvincing even when telling the truth.

Meanwhile, among the potential candidates not in attendance:

This article makes it sound like the Palins belong on a very different sort of reality show from the one Sarah did with all the hunting.

•Scarier still, I can’t help thinking that some pictures of Rick Perry at his prayer event over the weekend looked a lot like Bill Sienkiewicz illustrations of stereotypical right-wing politicians from 1980s comic books (even a subtle Neal Adams influence!).  On a related note, the picture of Sienkiewicz himself accompanying this article is definitely one for the “Holy crap, cartoonists really do always look like they drew themselves” file.

But we can discuss all these deep insights and tomorrow’s Iowa Straw Poll on Monday at Langan’s (7pm).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Selection: A Dozen Free Speech Items (four of which are books)

1.  A college friend of mine has a book coming out in a few weeks called The Freedom to Be Racist?: How the United States and Europe Struggle to Preserve Freedom and Combat Racism about the collision between free speech and anti-hate efforts (I should note that all of the books mentioned in this entry were written or edited by associates of mine).  The fact that Erik Bleich is Canadian arguably makes him better positioned to comment on all this as a moderate of sorts. 

U.S. citizens, I think, are unaware just how rare full-fledged, First Amendment-style free speech is on this planet.  Swastikas are (understandably, perhaps) illegal in Germany (that law likely an unspoken influence, I’ll bet, on all those Hydra symbols on display in the Captain America movie where you’d have expected swastikas).  In France, it’s technically illegal to insult even foreign politicians.  And, indeed, I have at least three colleagues who’ve been threatened with prosecution in Canada for saying something deemed unacceptably anti-Muslim or otherwise un-p.c. (none of them are Jacob Levy, by the way).  Those Canadians are very mild-mannered and reasonable right up until they throw you in the hoosegow (though I like them anyway). 

Of course, with the U.S. headed the way of hate crimes prosecutions and campaign ad restrictions – not to mention the chronic failure of many people here even to notice that offensive or obscene materials are in fact legal – we may end up looking like Europe or Canada in no time.  (I had one acquaintance from the arch-conservative state of Oklahoma who was surprised to learn that insulting the elderly is legal.)

2. One thing we need free speech for is to comment on events like tonight’s latest Republican presidential candidates debate, at which I hope Ron Paul will make such timely debt-related comments that he is catapulted to first place in the polls and, like a living proton torpedo, destroys big government at the last possible moment before it annihilates global civilization, even if he is aided by a scruffy and disreputable band of mercenaries and monarchists. 

It’s sort of amusing to me that the GOP candidates field manages to be so uninspiring that in the latest Fox poll noted on RealClearPolitics, all of them except Romney and Perry manage somehow to be in the single digits (even Bachmann – and the vaunted Perry is only at 13).  I know it’s early, but that’s a lot of sucking by a lot of people, popularity-wise.  I wonder if several will drop out after the Ames straw poll this weekend or will just keep stumbling along, figuring no one’s noticed the race yet and so it’s too soon to conclude they’re failing.

As for Romney: it’s sad when a guy who’s been coasting along at about 20% for months looks like a titan.

3. Here’s a reminder why townhall-style meetings, Tea Party-style frustration, and Ayn Rand all go well together.

4. Speaking of econ, Franklin Harris linked to this reminder (from economist Steven Horwitz) that Rachel Maddow and Herbert Hoover both suck.

5. Tea Party-friendly Broadside Books takes a page from both Rand and Leonard Read with the book I, Light Bulb, a reminder that markets bring diverse people together to innovate and create – and regulation keeps impeding their progress, gradually outlawing civilization.

6. Also from Broadside, Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV by Ben Shapiro is interesting both for what it reveals about Hollywood’s past and what it says about conservatism’s present.  It’s actually fairly modest in its claims, wasting little time decrying the torrent of filth that etc. etc., but instead tracing the real history – much of it admirable – of major TV producers and writers, interviewed here and openly describing their own political motivations and achievements. 

Shapiro is young and strikes me as typical of a more-polite new generation of religious conservatives with no expectation of controlling or censoring the culture, merely a few (sort of pitying, disappointed, ironic) observations to make about where the culture’s gone awry and why they worry about raising their kids in it.  And he admits, in a way that an atheist

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Just Because You’re Part of the Paranoid Tradition in Politics...

As if the zigzagging Dow weren’t making the present seem uncertain enough, liberals must be experiencing at least a little bit of cognitive dissonance when they regard the past, after the claim, noted on Drudge, that Jackie O thought LBJ was behind the JFK assassination (it’s nice that she cared enough to theorize, even after all her and JFK’s extramarital affairs, including his with a nineteen year-old intern, reportedly).  Maybe Oliver Stone’s not so crazy after all – and maybe it’s time to avenge JFK by dismantling all of LBJ’s (not to mention Nixon’s!) Great Society programs.  

Actually, Stone is crazy, but it’s interesting when people who know government best are even more paranoid about it than we libertarians are (or at least we old-school pre-Tea Party libertarians):

•Jesse Ventura became convinced that CIA conspirators run the government because a phalanx of CIA reps confronted him while he was governor of Minnesota, he says, demanding to be apprised of his gubernatorial agenda. 

•Madeleine Albright wondered privately whether Bush might have captured bin Laden and kept it a secret, planning to produce him when it was tactically useful – and Morton Kondracke publicly condemned her for such notions.  But she had been Secretary of State, and you have to suspect she had seen some comparably fishy things under Bill Clinton to make her have such notions. 

She’s the woman who literally did a song and dance number, Weimar-style, at one international conference, celebrating the retirement of the pejorative phrase “rogue states” from diplomatic parlance (even rhyming “rogue” with the contrasting “vogue” while singing about North Korea and the like).  This prompted one friend of mine (a leftist, I should note) to ask with exasperation, “Are we living in Mega City One?!” (that’s the fascist town Judge Dredd lives in, for the 86% of you too sane to get the reference).

I suspect we are – except that Mega City One wasn’t on the verge of financial collapse.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Punk Rock, Vegan Rock, and Tough Dames Rock

Ah, looking back at it all, I’m glad I pushed the “Conservatism for Punks” trope, even though I’m now going to expand my mandate ideologically and aesthetically (in part by holding future bar events in eclectic Williamsburg – but you can still catch us at Langan’s for one last Manhattans Project gathering, this coming Monday, August 15, 7pm-on).

I am pleased to see Muslim punk bands arising.  I am more disappointed to see Morrissey’s veganism preventing him from recognizing the tragedy in Oslo (so often, those who purport to care deeply about animals are the real sociopaths, and Morrissey may just not be someone who emotes enough – but read my blog entry from yesterday for more on the problem of low empathy).

Morrissey should be pleased to know that animals can strike back, though (humans aren’t the only ones rioting in the UK right now): Gareth Roberts points out that Sooty – a UK bear puppet (a copy of whom I had as a child, given to me by mother, who had it before me) – recently injured an elderly magician by hurling a pizza at him.  

They’re saying it was an accident, but I say BEARS WILL RISE.  People have to learn that these creatures are wild animals, not pets.  It is inevitable that they will throw pizzas in captivity, just as flesh and blood bears throw pizzas in the wild.

On another backwards-looking note, Christine Caldwell Ames reminds me that in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jennifer Jason Leigh asks Phoebe Cates, “Do you think guys really like girls that look like Pat Benatar?”  We still do, as the second-ever video shown on MTV, Benatar’s “You Better Run,” reminds us (one of her many ass-kicking early performances sometimes forgotten in light of later, fancier compositions). 

Is it any wonder I thought of women as strong when I was a kid, long before college feminism attempted its feeble, pity-seeking propaganda efforts?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Selection: “The Science of Evil” by Simon Baron-Cohen Book Selection: The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Simon Baron-Cohen

Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen but more importantly an autism researcher and psychologist) suggests that we step back not only from the loaded label “evil” for sadistic and low-empathy actions but also from four common psychological disorders and recognize in all of them the common element of low empathy – a trait that may be related to low levels of activity in the specific areas of the brain associated with the sort of mimicking of others’ emotions most of us do routinely and subconsciously.  Someone looks sad, so you feel a bit sad, unless...’re (1) a sociopath, (2) a narcissist, (3) a “borderline personality disorder” case, or (4) (less socially-destructively) an Asperger’s case.  This is of course just a rough taxonomy.  Not only do the labels change and other, more obscure conditions crop up, but there are minds who combine elements of these different types. 

In fact, about three years ago, I think I met someone – let’s use the pseudonym X – who seems to fit almost perfectly the list of symptoms associated with borderline and Asperger’s, which is extremely interesting (at least to me), since, despite Baron-Cohen’s strong desire to ditch pejorative labels of limited diagnostic or therapeutic value, a (3)+(4) hybrid still means combining one of what he calls the “Zero-Negative” types (that is, zero empathy with no socially-beneficial behaviors arising from the condition) with the one “Zero-Positive” type he identifies (Asperger’s, which can entail a lack of empathy but also hyperlexic and systematizing skills to which all of us nerds, philosophy majors, copyeditors, and music-alphabetizers aspire, or which we approximate in one way or another – making me suspect there’ll one day be talk of a “nerd-Asperger’s spectrum” taken every bit as seriously as the “Asperger’s-autism spectrum” is today). 

In old-fashioned judgmental language, though, this means poor X may be “half good, half evil.” 

Borderline sufferers are not necessarily literally evil, of course, but are often characterized by extreme mood swings, bad treatment of those close to them, and an almost banal litany of emotionally-chaotic and self-destructive behaviors: alcoholism, intense but unstable relationships, promiscuity, self-mutilation, alternating intimacy and withdrawal, feelings of emptiness, feelings of self-loathing and thus contempt for those who treat them well, sadomasochistic tendencies, gender confusion, lack of a stable core identity, and so on. 

Asperger’s cases – and one begins to wonder whether half of academia and nerddom, myself included, qualify to some extent – can be downright rigid and moralistic, by contrast, reliable to an almost robotic degree, as long as you don’t mind the kind of reliability that sometimes means wearing the same outfit or eating the same meal every day, or reading for six days in a row about some odd, often dry topic such as containerized shipping or chronologically-arranged changes in the membership roster of the Justice League. 

Asperger’s actually sounds a lot like being a philosophy major to me (and Rousseau did say a person engaged in philosophy is doing something unnatural), since people with the condition tend to ask “Why?” about things for which most people (to the great frustration and confusion of the Asperger’s sufferer) have no thought-out answers or rules, just vague instincts that allow them to muddle through (and to master complex intuitive tasks like socializing and dancing that Asperger’s sufferers may find alarming – or just boring). 

This, if my admittedly wholly-amateur diagnosis is accurate, tended to leave X in one of three modes, which we might for simplicity call “good,

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Horror in Hollywood, Joan of Arc in Oslo, Zombies in Canada

•Guillermo del Toro, who directed Pan’s Labyrinth, may have the impression we all like watching children in jeopardy because he has a remake coming out in a few weeks (as writer/producer, not director) of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, about a little girl trapped in a house full of kidnapping goblins who do things like shred her teddy bear without anyone but her noticing at first.  That does not sound like a good time, though it may be well done – as was Pan’s Labyrinth.

Oddly enough, del Toro’s own story sounds a bit like horror: giant, nerdy man in a house filled with horror movie memorabilia keeps wanting to do countless half-begun, monster-filled projects that don’t always excite studio execs or the public as much as they excite him.  I want him to be happy, though. 

•I’ll bet he was pleased by the news that they found half of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film, 1923’s White Shadow, about twin sisters, one evil.  If some studio is now inspired to remake it, maybe they could use those sisters from Sweet Valley High.

•An even better story about finding a lost film involves 1928’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, told in extreme close-ups and featuring what is still regarded as one of film’s best performances.  In 1982, a janitor found the only print of it, in an Oslo insane asylum (I’m not sure the patients should have been watching such an intense film – check out this amazing clip of it, excerpted within a later Godard film). 

Oslo, as we have learned in recent days, has no shortage of insanity, yet America is sending people over there to make more craziness: The Westboro Baptist Church plans to disrupt the funerals of the recent mass-shooting victims.  They will discover that speech is not quite as free in Norway as it is here – though I can’t help thinking that if funerals and the paths leading to them were just better-delineated private property, these idiots wouldn’t be able to keep attracting so much attention.  (Them having a modicum of empathy would also help – but more about low-empathy cases tomorrow, when I look at Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Science of Evil.)

•The Westboro family isn’t our only horror export, though.  You know who became a Canadian citizen two years ago and lives in Toronto?  George Romero.  But the zombies won't stop at the border, if that’s what he’s thinking.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Yes, Rick Perry's a AAA Texas Jesus-Nut, But...

…maybe this one could finesse shuttering DC, given his emphasis on the Tenth Amendment, which would make all the praying (such as that occurring at the prayer event called the Response that he’s co-organizing today) bearable – if I were at all confident his faith in the Tenth Amendment were sincere, that is. 

(God, being non-existent and thus mostly harmless, is largely beside the point, except in so far as religious belief always calls a person’s intellectual integrity into question.  No honest person makes claims without evidence, and only the very arrogant think their “hearts” can tell them what’s true absent compelling information from the observable external universe.)

Traditionally, Americans start paying attention to candidates about three weeks prior to an election, meaning we have about a year to go before most Americans even notice who’s running against Obama, but polls suggest the Tea Partiers are paying closer attention than most (to electoral politics, not just to economics, though thank goodness they’re doing the latter as well).  And the Tea Party folk seem to like Perry, whereas Republicans-in-general (at this near-meaningless stage) seem to like Romney. 

I’m still hoping that financial woes will suddenly make Ron Paul seem more-relevant than ever – or that Michele Bachmann will turn out to be as libertarian as her co-author, my libertarian fellow-traveler John Fund – but assuming for the sake of thought experiment that the GOP primaries become a Romney-vs.-Perry match, how much hope should I invest in Perry?

Romney seems to get points for electability – much as I hate to start thinking like a McCain voter (which I’ve never been) at this early a stage.  On the downside, he really is a moderate, and Tea Party-admiring folk like myself know just when to expect Romney to insert weasel-language that signals that he sort of likes the free market – oh! but not enough to oppose minimum wage laws.  And he knows we need more radical budget cuts – oh! but not enough to even put military cuts on the table for discussion.  Oil, yes, but also solar panel subsidies and blah blah blah – not to mention socialism (for health) in one state but immediate repeal (by presidential fiat, apparently) of Obamacare, and so on. 

Romney is a vintage 2005 waffler who almost thinks it’s his duty, as a very conventional politician, to cover all his bases.  But that probably means he could win and would behave not so unlike, say, a Bill Clinton if he did so.  America has suffered worse fates – though I’m just honestly uncertain we can survive another conventional politician right now.  Frankly, we already have one in the White House.

So the question becomes whether Perry – who likely

Friday, August 5, 2011

Planet of the Apes, Captain America, Politics

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was all right, nothing unexpected.  It certainly completes the transition in the meaning of the ape rebellion over the decades to one of animal liberation, with nice apes who scrupulously (mostly) avoid killing, pitted against mean zookeepers and the like.  Caesar’s gradual forming of relationships with his future lieutenants is handled nicely.

The embarrassing truth, though, is that the original movies – though they meant well and were awesome and have also belatedly come to be beloved by animal welfare activists – were essentially symbolically equating the apes to black people, then newly triumphant over Jim Crow laws.  If you don’t believe me (or weren’t aware of Rod Serling’s liberalism or the leftist resonance of lines like “Don’t trust anyone over thirty”), I’m telling you, ask a black nerd old enough to care.  It’s not me. 

That doesn’t mean the story doesn’t have broader symbolic implications (the villainous General Ursus paraphrases anti-Semites, for instance, etc., etc.) or can’t just be enjoyed for its own internal logic, of course.  The first film in particular is so good that I think people forget it’s not just “good by sci-fi standards” but is in fact just a great film, like 2001.  Mark Hamill says that when he first realized Star Wars was going to be good, he told George Lucas, this film is going to be bigger than Planet of the Apes, an interesting standard in retrospect. 

The transitional Tim Burton one – which even Tim Burton didn’t like – only went as far making the bad apes sound like, of course, Republicans, even having them denounce the “welfare state” in one awkward bit of dialogue, though a culture studies term paper or two may have been written about the closing image of the “Ape-raham Lincoln” statue, as one audience heckler put it when Scott Nybakken saw the movie.


Speaking of revising history, Charles Blow wrote a nice column about Captain America (and his grandfather) last month, saying he wishes history had been as racially integrated as the team in the film.  I e-mailed to note that this wish also led to the creation (in part by black comics artist Kyle Baker) of the comics character Isaiah Bradley, the forgotten black Captain America retroactively inserted into Marvel history (and ill-treated by the military). 

All this reminds me that I should see Captain America a second time (this Sunday, rallying 1:25 for the 1:55 at Empire 25), since I only saw it in 2D the first time.

There isn’t a post-August film on my to-see list until November, though, which is when Tarsem Singh (the man behind The Cell, The Fall, and before those beautiful-looking films the video for R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”) brings us the Greek-myth-based

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Economy Is Your Enemy's Fault

For some strange reason, the public thought the past few years might be a good time to save their money instead of spending it, just in case things didn’t miraculously start getting better economically. 

Leader Obama and his supporters in Congress, the objective press, and the general populace know that people can’t be trusted with their own money, though, and so trillions have been taxed and borrowed to be spent willy-nilly, as long as it is spent – and spent by government, that massive, homogenizing, non-competitive entity that all good left-liberal people know in their (deeply moral and compassionate) hearts will act more wisely on our behalf than we ever could making our own spending, investing, and saving decisions. 

No need to understand economics when your heart burns with goodness!  Being a left-liberal is a lot like being a Christian or a Taliban member in that way.  Why turn to reality for guidance now?  We’ve looked instead to intuitions such as Rawls’s, metaphysics such as Hegel’s, pseudo-historical theories such as Marx’s, childishly simplistic algebraic models such as those of macroeconomics, and the sheer assertion of context-free rights to things at others’ expense – the children deserve a park! – for the past two hundred years.  That’ll no doubt see us comfortably through centuries to come.

The free-fall the stock market went into right after the U.S. inked a deal to borrow trillions more must have been caused by the evil taint of Tea Partiers like me upon the deal.  Perhaps the market is freaked out by the prospect of the budget being balanced someday?  That must be it.  (Oh, and George Bush was an idiot.)

•Or maybe this Onion piece about Ben Bernanke is closer to the truth than the paragraphs above. 

•And maybe Vol. 23, No.s 1-2 of Critical Review is on the right track with its emphasis on the dangers of intellectuals deploying simple heuristics even when faced with the world’s most complex phenomena, such as the economy.  I agree with editor Jeffrey Friedman when he says people mistakenly hunger for simple rubrics such as attributing sheer bad motives to their intellectual opponents – though I do not go as far as he does in claiming there are no evil people at all. 

(Indeed, next week I’ll discuss the book The Science of Evil by Simon Baron-Cohen, and though Baron-Cohen would like a fuller, more scientific explanation of sadistic, low-empathy people, he begins from the recognition that they’re indeed out there, in larger numbers than we might wish.  One might even be the writer of an article on the cover of your favorite political magazine this week, since they can’t always be spotted easily – even though political disagreement alone should not be the basis of ascribing bad motives.  Most sociopaths wouldn’t waste their time trying to do something as unselfish as remake the world, so it’s unlikely the foes you hate – be they Marxists or Tea Partiers – are actually out to screw everybody.  You’re going to have to assume they genuinely disagree with you about how to help everyone.)

•Sometimes it helps just to see that there is diversity among your opponents, such as not all of them being socially conservative: contrast Perry’s backpedaling call for constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and abortion with, for example, his fellow Tea Party darling Chris Christie’s outrage that anyone would be bothered enough by the appointment of a Muslim judge to start worrying about the imposition of sharia law.

•There may even be some ideological diversity in Hollywood – or at least, Mila Kunis sounds skeptical of communism and casual sex, which at least in the old days were views that marked you as a conservative.  (I continue to prefer her to Laura Prepon).

•But if you really want to shoot yourself in the (left) foot, leftists, heed Washington Post columnist Capehart’s advice to Obama to assume your foe is insane and strive to become even more insane.  See how that works out.  I think Krugman’s already adopting that strategy – and, hey, he’s no dope.  He’s got a Nobel.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Peacocks Will Rise (and descend, plus Seavey family dog vs. gangstas!)

That peacock that escaped from the Central Park Zoo yesterday decided to fly back home – or at least into the goat pen.  Is he a super-intelligent peacock planning a wider revolt?  Probably not, but as a warm-up for this weekend’s release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (the plot of which is roughly summarized by this clip), here are some animal-related items:

•First, kudos to Mac, my parents’ awesome Scottie (even with his habit of ramming people with his prodigious snout), who survived an attack by a pit bull this week and a subsequent vet visit (he’s fine aside from a broken blood vessel near his eye, which should heal soon), thanks in part to a kick to the pitbull’s head by my mother

The sweetest part of this story, to my mind, is the fact that the idiot couple who own the pit bull – and were quickly caught by visiting animal control officers and slapped with various charges – are the parents (unsurprisingly) of one of the only two sadist/bully kids I encountered in junior high, during a mostly-pleasant and non-threatening childhood (Malcolm Gladwell has written about how it’s the owners, not the latest fashionable breed among thuggish owners, that matters). 

I was too young and naive back then to realize that the cute blonde girl always talking to me instead of the two thugs in question at the bus stop in the morning may have added to their insanity (I don’t remember her last name now, but at the time I thought she looked roughly like Kim Bassinger).  In any case, good boy, Mac, taking down the crime family I failed to confront.  (And just in the nick of time, too, since I only hold grudges for about thirty years.)

It would have been cooler if Mac first had to team up with his friendly neighborhood rival Biggie the Bulldog, like Gilgamesh joining forces with Enkidu, to beat the pit bull, but real life isn’t Hollywood...quite (and thank goodness, from what this Kyle Smith piece says about how Hollywood works).

•You may feel guilty being amused by this footage of baby ducklings being knocked down by the wind, but there is something mesmerizing about it, in an Angry Birds way. 

•You may also feel that you are betraying the causes of feminism, animal liberation, and good hiphop music by watching this hilarious rap video about a man who can summon wolves to fight his girlfriend.  (My main question for Dragon Boy Suede would be: How does the shark disguise help?)

•In other trashy-fighting news, the “Octomom” is taking up boxing, the trashiest sport (she can’t be any more annoying than the smart-alecky kid in the trailer for that de facto Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots movie, Real Steel).

•An unusually frank song accompanying a stupid cat video (noted by Golchehreh Abtahian).

•If you need a better song after that, especially if you are an LSD-taking foot fetishist, “All Is Not Lost” because you will really enjoy this new OK Go video (pointed out by Marcia Baczynski).

•But you probably had better not still be on acid when you watch this clip of a squid, which, even with most of its head-innards removed, has nerve twitches caused by the application of spices while it’s sitting in a dish in this Japanese meal, waiting to be eaten (as pointed out by Walter Olson).

•If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it fifty times (channeling Pat Benatar each time Drudge links to a story like this): Stop using snakes as a weapon – stop using snakes

But tomorrow, something about a more important animal: the bear market.