Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween for Stormtroopers, Steampunks, and Swimmers

I may finally check out the steampunk haunted house downtown tonight – but nothing can be as scary as having your whole planet destroyed, as is depicted in the photo above from George Takei’s album (pointed out by Angel “Voluntaryist” Robinson).  Chuck Blake notes photos of other Death Star jack-o-lanterns here. 

And if you thought the most exciting part of that paragraph was the phrase “George Takei,” maybe you should watch the PBS series America in Primetime, which my friend Courtney Balaker helped produce, tracing the history and evolution of major character types and themes on TV (it started last night and airs on four successive Sundays). 

I hope the show will address the fact that we have progressed in this fledgling century from being a society that only airs watchable material in animated form on Sunday nights on Fox to being a society that only airs watchable material on the late-night Adult Swim block on Cartoon Network.  (But anything by libertarians on cable or Reason.TV is also OK.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

I Visit OWS, Elf Girl, and Conservatives

•In a seven-day period, I unexpectedly bumped into both National Review’s John Derbyshire near my local FedEx store (Thursday last week) and that guy from Occupy Wall Street who carries the “SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND BULLSHIT” sign (this past Wednesday night), proving I transcend the conventional right-left spectrum (a power that will come in handy in the turbulent days ahead, mark my words).  L.B. Deyo reminds me that he is the proud owner of a John Derbyshire “Pop Culture Is Filth” coffee mug. 

(Also heard from the likes of Jonah Goldberg and David Frum in DC and James Poulos here in NYC, and none of them seem to think pop culture is filth, though Frum clearly does not trust the masses, not even the Tea Partying ones, alas.)

•The sign guy is the second OWS “celeb” I’ve bumped into without planning it (the other being Ted the Crazy Pants Guy, who led a call-and-response downtown about the Constitution – and went to Ron Paul’s last Webster Hall rally, where he told me he’s an “asymmetric paternalist,” sort of a Cass Sunstein type but with pants).  The sign guy was one of many luminaries at the book release party for Rev. Jen Miller’s memoir Elf Girl (about being an elf-ear-wearing Lower East Side writer and performance artist).  Also present was large but shrinking comedian Angry Bob, who I have to admire for having once started a joke with the maximally-un-p.c. intro “However you may feel about Hitler...”

•Rev. Jen isn’t the only one with a can of PBR, by the way.  Below, along with pics of many things mentioned in this entry, note my photo of perhaps the most self-consciously hip juxtaposition of objects possible: a can of PBR sitting atop a Reservoir Dogs action figure, decorating the counter at the restaurant Crif Dogs, just in case you weren’t sure of their cultural allegiances. 

•Speaking of OWS and strange lifeforms, it amuses me that the real-life vampire squid is arguably more frightening than the metaphorical one popularized in the overheated anti-capitalist prose of Matt Taibbi, since its Latin species name actually means “vampiric squid from Hell,” as if being a vampire weren’t bad enough already.

•I finally paid a visit to OWS central command, Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square, on Tuesday night, and the call-and-response chant they were doing just as I arrived was, I suppose, clear evidence of democracy in action: “We do not use Robert’s Rules of Order!”  “WE DO NOT USE ROBERT’S RULES OF ORDER!” “We use consensus!”  “WE USE CONSENSUS!”  I think I was more impressed by the three-day left-anarchist book festival I went to at NYU four years ago, which the press didn’t even notice, than I am by this small block of pup tents.  (Fred Siegel – not to be confused with the guy at OWS dressed like Santa Claus – skewers OWS here.)

•OWS was a side jaunt after a visit to World Trade Center 7 (the new one, not the one destroyed by Middle Eastern terrorists and obsessed over by gullible conspiracy theorists), the fortieth floor of which is home to both (A) the most spectacular view currently available of downtown Manhattan (including both the beautiful Woolworth Building and that mega-modern new metallic twisty thing going up near it) and (B) New York Academy of Sciences events such as Tuesday’s screening of a documentary about the fight between scientists and creationists over evolution (where for the first time I met evolution defender Eugenie Scott, who’s so sweet she even had a few nice words for the Discovery Institute, aside from their intelligent design-promulgating project, as well as for the living embarrassment to Brown University conservatives that is David Klinghoffer). 

•On another evolution note, I helped spark a blog entry by an evolutionary psychology researcher (and some discussion among his colleagues) denouncing Amanda Marcotte for misrepresenting that field in her frothing feminist rage.  On a de-evolutionary note, oddly enough, American Conservative editor Dan McCarthy informs me that the Devo song “Whip It” was written by Mark Mothersbaugh as a Dale Carnegie-esque pep song for then-president Jimmy Carter in response to European criticism of U.S. foreign policy.  It’s a weird (and wiggly) world.  (And an amazing video.)

Roseanne Barr tweeted at me a couple days ago during her spat with William Kristol over the role of their fellow Jews in capitalism and politics, which in turn reminds me that the moment I really stopped giving George Lucas the benefit of the doubt, despite his

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Escaped Zoo-Animal Massacre, Vegans, Vulcans, Feminists, Deer

•Yesterday’s slaughter by police of dozens of escaped exotic animals in Ohio was sad and bizarre (and this is NOT actual footage of the wolf and monkey who remained the only free animals at one point near day’s end).  Still, I know my hardcore vegan friends Diana Fleischman and Ian McDonald would likely say it’s just one of the more-visible examples of the horrors humans inflict on other species every day.  You can listen to their inaugural vegan podcast here.  It’s called The Vegan Option.

•I think animals are pretty stupid (even Maru) – and I say that without any resentment – and that their suffering is thus far less rich and significant than ours, but it’s not completely morally irrelevant (a pain-registering neuron matters, but it is not the case that all neurons are equal regardless of their larger mental context – that would be like saying A always equals A, despite radically varying sentence complexity, which is patently absurd). 

•Mr. Spock on Star Trek is supposed to be vegetarian, though, and he’s a pretty logical guy.  The actor playing the current version of Spock is also gay, it has been revealed, though it is not technically necessary to be gay or alien to be vegan.  Here’s hoping “Live Long and Prosper” replaces “It Gets Better” as the new slogan for tolerance.  I’d call those slogans sort of libertarian and progressive in tone, respectively.  The conservative slogan would be “Well, It Could Be Worse.”

•Chris Nugent pointed out this awesome, brief footage of an African antelope accidentally taking out a biker, which some vegans might enjoy as a case of turnabout. 

•I’m sure Diana would normally enjoy the Story Collider science podcast, too, but Diana’s an evolutionary psychology lecturer, and right now, they’re running the anti-e.p. speech that I recently witnessed by angry feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte, who makes e.p. sound very stupid by exaggerating its claims.  I don’t think you can quite hear me booing at the end.

•And thank you to Ivan Cohen for pointing out the silly and admittedly speciesist reader suggestion to a newspaper seen above.

I’m in DC over the weekend, remember (catch me for drinks Saturday night or brunch at Vermillion on Sunday at noon), and shall blog again on Tuesday. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Republican, Libertarian Party, and Occupy Wall Street round-up

Cain’s performance at last night’s debate (about which I tweeted) was all right, but even better was his (real) singing performance, doing John Lennon’s “Imagine” years ago, with lyrics rewritten to laud pizza.  A friend of mine thinks that instead of being embarrassing, this performance may be the Cain equivalent of Clinton’s legendary sax performance.  The moderate view would be that it is like a sax performance but risks being seen by voters as less like Clinton and more like Homer Simpson going “Sax-a-ma-phone...sax-a-ma-phooooone.”  But that beats socialism. 

•Another friend of mine says he’s now rooting for Romney on the grounds that “generic Republican” fares well against Obama in surveys, and Romney is the most generic Republican we’ve got.  That may be true – sadly, though, that means that for all the ideological tumult of the past three years, we’re somehow pretty much back in 2008, which Republicans all seemed keen not to repeat.

I think the libertarian grassroots are backing Paul, the social conservatives briefly loved Perry, the GOP establishment’s backing Romney, the Koch brothers are purportedly pro-Cain, I think the Reason staffers (and after his visit to Occupy Wall Street yesterday, perhaps some protesters) are mostly pro-Johnson, and last I knew John Fund (sometimes) of Wall Street Journal liked Bachmann.  And, like Palin, I still have a weird soft spot for Gingrich, even if he’s not libertarian and treats his wives like disposables.

But I’m going to cross Santorum and Huntsman off the list, I think.  So now we’re getting somewhere.  Then again, maybe they wouldn’t be as nuts as some of the others, really.  And so the churning continues. 

(My real prediction: by the end of January, we’re down to a three-man race between Romney, Cain, and Paul, with the likely ticket being Romney/Cain.)

•If you’re the kind of (annoying) person who insists that people who fail to take an extreme position to your liking must secretly hold the exact opposite extreme position (he’s not a pacifist, so he must love death and mayhem, etc.), please take note that I am probably sincere in my claims to be moderate/indifferent on abortion if the only two Republican candidates I really like are (very pro-life) Ron Paul and (very pro-choice) Gary Johnson

And any leftists (or for that matter, rightists) who claim they understand the right but have a hard time wrapping their heads around that should not speak or write in public. 

•Though frickin’ Iowa is planning a Jan. 3 caucus, frickin’ New Hampshire might rush to a Dec. 6 primary – giving New England’s Romney a super-blowout primary victory (polling at like 40% there now vs. roughly single digits for all others) before people have had time to get sick of him or witness someone else possibly beating him in a primary (whereas Cain was leading in Iowa and South Carolina last time I checked).

Then again, if they hold the New Hampshire primary early

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Libertarians on Wall Street, Video, and Bookshelves (PLUS: TODD IN DC THIS WEEKEND!)

•Well, Gary Johnson’s apparently not in tonight’s debate (which I’ll once more watch with anarcho-capitalists, at the bar at 222 East 14th St. if you care to join me) – but this afternoon he will be at Occupy Wall Street, where I really, really hope he miraculously gives a speech transcending the right/left divide, singlehandedly uniting OWS and Tea Party – and all of humanity – behind a truly progressive libertarian agenda.  Or at least that he doesn’t get pepper-sprayed. 

Cain confuses the left and has Koch ties, which are both good things (here’s a Koch Institute video that sums up what that oft-vilified bunch really believes: namely, that the U.S. is not as free-market as it used to be, and it’s a shame we’re at risk of becoming less dynamic than Canada).  Looks likely he wins Iowa (on Jan. 3) and Romney handily wins New Hampshire, so much may hinge, precedent-wise, on when New Hampshire decides to hold its primary. 

Ron Paul may not be atop the polls quite yet, but tomorrow’s another “money bomb” day of fundraising for him, which might wake a few more people up. 

•And if, as usual, electoral politics fails us, there is still the longer war of ideas, and today brings an important parry: the latest book from my old boss Judge Napolitano, It’s Dangerous to Be Right When the Government Is Wrong.  Where in the Constitution does it say you should not buy this book?

•As for me: I’ll be in DC Friday-Sunday, with the Phillips Foundation folks doubtless bar-going after their day-long Saturday meeting – and me, regardless, summoning one and all to brunch at Vermillion (1120 King St. in Alexandria) on Sunday at noon, if you care to find me in one of those sofa-type nooks in the back.  (One of the usual methods of contacting me oughtta work.  I’m not too reclusive.)  I hope Jonah Goldberg is nice during the Phillips Foundation meeting. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fetishism at Comic Con, OWS, and Bernard Harcourt’s Mental Dungeon

I’m not sure which is weirdest: (A) the borderline-fetish garb I saw at New York Comic Con on Friday, (B) the topless Occupy Wall Street protester (with a fake mustache?) gracing the Upper East Side, or (C) the fetish garb on the website of Bernard Harcourt, OWS defender and head of the University of Chicago polisci department. 

•But first to Comic Con (NYCC):

The hot gossip was that, after last month’s reboot of the DC Universe, Hawkman will now have gills whereas Aquaman will have wings, in blatant disregard of established continuity.  No, I made that up, and I don’t much care anymore.

I’ve tended instead to retain a lingering curiosity about far more obscure questions like whether Grant Morrison will again reinvent the old Jack Kirby characters the New Gods.  When I was still regularly reading the stuff, I was also fond of the series Godland, which is not only the best Kirby homage I’ve seen but the only comic I’ve seen to praise real-life privatized-space-exploration hero Burt Rutan.  More overtly political – and beautiful – is Frank Miller’s Holy Terror, basically a thinly-veiled Batman and Catwoman team-up in which they fight al Qaeda cells, in barely-disguised fetish gear.  And that brings us back to our real topic...

It’s important to clarify terms, but I’m always a bit wearied by people who try sneakily to define away the controversial part of an argument through arbitrary, post hoc terminological boundaries (more or less “the real Scotsman problem” from philosophy class), and there was a speaker on Japanese “Lolita” culture – hip sci-fi fans dressing like frilly-costumed little girls, in a vaguely Victorian fashion – who tried to argue that real Lolita culture is empowering, artful, heroic, and innocent – and that all that wannabe-Lolita garb you may have seen in news stories (or for that matter, on the convention floor) is mere fetish wear, not true Lolita.  To which I can only say: for starters, you might wanna rename your subculture.

But my geekery-sampling companion Natalie Axton and I soon exited the Lolita panel for the far more manly Bigfoot hunters panel, and this may have been the least-hip-looking crowd at the whole con, with a few King of the Hill-like characters up at the front claiming they’d been a stone’s throw from Bigfoot on numerous occasions and thus his (or their) capture is surely imminent.  A pity-inducingly sincere audience member, reasonably enough, asked for an estimate of how many Bigfoot there are, and one of the panelists, unfazed, claimed there are an estimated 2,000-6,000 in North America.  So now you know.  (Reminder: All supernatural and paranormal claims, from God to extraterrestrials to horoscopes, are false.)

SteampunkKindle might’ve liked the panel that featured the co-author of a Zombies vs. Unicorns book.  Phans of Phoenix (fans of real-life superhero Phoenix Jones, that is) would have been pleased that the costumed heroes present were not being arrested for vigilantism – and that their favorite hero apparently isn’t being prosecuted. 

I’m not some loon, obviously, so I opted for the relatively subtle John Constantine outfit in which you see me above (maybe I’ll change my profile pics at long last).  Dance critic Axton couldn’t really complain about the costumed weirdoes too much, though, since she’d seen women dressed as slabs of meat dancing in the stage show Raw the night before, and that is sicker than a man dressed as a giant chicken in Boba Fett armor by far (yes, I saw the Robot Chicken panel – and thus Macaulay Culkin licking Seth Green’s head, as well as a quiet Geoff Johns arriving after ducking out of the Green Lantern panel he’d been on – priorities).

You’d see the occasional V for Vendetta mask, by the way, but probably not as many at Comic Con, ironically, as you would down at the Occupy Wall Street protests.

•You can also find traces of Occupy at numerous other locations now, of course, including up here on the Upper East Side, where the picture above of the topless...uh...protester/photographer...woman with a mustache was taken.  Regardless of the underlying message,

Friday, October 14, 2011

Todd at Comic Con (Tweeting). Dresden Dolls at Harvard (Standing). Fox at OWS (Talking).

Stop me if this entry starts to sound nerdy, but a friend of mine who is an architect...and a libertarian...tells me he was walking in Harvard Square...and saw a woman doing an excellent “living statue” performance...and she turned out to be Amanda Palmer, lead singer of the band Dresden Dolls...which is explicitly steampunk-influenced...oh, and she’s married to goth comic book writer Neil Gaiman.

I love it when subcultures overlap – but not enough to want to participate in global “Occupy” protests this weekend.  Instead...
Despite the risk of seeing a lot of guys like the one in the photo above (pointed out by Evan Isaac – though it is not Evan Isaac), I am going to New York Comic Con today.  This will be the first time in many years I’ve gone to a comics convention.
And I will tweet about it, so FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER starting around noon.  (You can just read the tweets on that page even without being a Twitter user, by the way.  Heck, you could read my tweets all the time.  But it takes only moments to sign up – it’s the online place Where You Spew What’s True.)

Instead of buying back issues or getting autographs from famous comics artists, I’m mainly there to gawk at weirdoes in costumes and attend some of the stranger panels, such as the ones about steampunk (which likely will not mention the obscure comic Steampunk Palin...unless I ask about it).  All right, I may dress like John Constantine, but that’s not much of a stretch, really.


I did read one wonderful comic recently, though: Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman, now available in a single paperback volume and depicting Superman’s Herculean efforts to accomplish great deeds before his imminent death.  It balances crazy-1950s-style broad strokes (like the Moon getting split in half, an army of Bizarros trying to build a rocketship, and Superman competing with Samson and Atlas for Lois’s affection) with enough Kubrick-like wonder and hip intelligence to make it moving at times. 

If I’m on a real geek roll, maybe I’ll see The Thing this weekend, too – the somewhat oddly-titled prequel to...The Thing.  The dog above who’s giving new meaning to the phrase “dog walker,” pointed out by and Jacob Levy, is not a hideously-transformed sled dog from the film, by the way (nor is it the dog of my fellow convention-goer, Natalie Axton).  Comics Alliance also did a fine job with this superheroic parody of the Occupy Wall Street protests (pointed out by Franklin Harris).

By contrast, of course, Fox News is...taking OWS seriously and finding common ground – or at least that’s what my old boss Judge Napolitano is doing in this brief interview with a teen protester from downtown. 


And that brings us to Glenn Beck.  Beck is now free of Fox’s constraints (as far as I know, he wasn’t fired – and neither was I, by the way).  He left to found

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Selection: “The Recipe Project” (AND MY LAST FIVE YEARS OF PICKS)

•I finally fixed the page of links to all the Book Selections entries I’ve written on this blog over the past five years, a near-complete list of what I’ve been reading all that time, starting with Leo Strauss. 

•This week, I see, brings The Recipe Project, a cookbook in which recipes are accompanied by appropriate songs performed by One Ring Zero – with guest vocals by Tanya Donelly (formerly of Belly and Throwing Muses) and Claudia Gonson (with release parties in NYC on Oct. 18 and Nov. 3). 

Some related non-book notes:

•Even before I announced I was shifting away from 80s nostalgia to 90s nostalgia on this blog, I called Belly representative of a mid-90s popular music peak of sorts.  I should add they are not to be confused with the Smiths-influenced band Echobelly (the lead singer of which, inside sources tell me, was once visited by Morrissey and was afraid to admit she’d named her cat after him, claiming instead its name was “Maurice”).

•This is a sad week for 90s nostalgists, though, since we just learned about a former bass player for Weezer dying.  But new forms of alternative rock keep proliferating, and the 80s keeps echoing in the form of things like “chillwave” (a.k.a. “glo-fi”), typified by bands like Animal Collective (and solo member Panda Bear), apparently, which should at least provide pleasant background music, if not a new personal anthem.  And on a more-90s note, I am comforted by the realization, fourteen years later, that “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger should be recognized as one of the best alternative rock songs of all time. 

•On the country music front, ya gotta love the Bocephus situation.

•And I think we know where Earl Cuyler of Squidbillies would stand on the controversy.  He’s like the U.S.-of-American response to all them commie-made cephalopods what them hippies ben drawin’ lately down on the Wall Street ta show the businessfolk is evil.

•We’re probably better off not knowing Cuyler’s reaction to news that Topeka may stop prosecuting domestic abuse cases to save money – exactly the sort of outcome libertarians are warning about when they say that a government that tries to do everything will start neglecting the most basic function of law, protecting people from assault and theft.  I can think of two female bloggers whose reactions to the news would be of interest, one horrified and one likely delighted.  Let’s not talk about either, though.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

“We Are the 9-9-9%!” (Tea Party/Occupy Wall Street Synergy)

•I don’t mind seeing the establishment get hit with a bit of anarchism from both left and right, nor do some of my pals who will be at Cooper’s Craft and Kitchen rooting for the fellow in the adjacent photo during tonight’s 8pm Eastern GOP debate (that’s Ron Paul at last month’s Webster Hall event, who was being watched by the crowd seen in my next blurry photo, below).  It beats a stale tug of war between neoliberal bureaucrats and neocon corporatists in some ways.

But lest we get too soft on the OWS people: remember, while they may be right to fear the ways in which the financial sector can write regulations and score bailouts to help itself to more than its true-free-market share of the pie – and while they lament the 1% that controls a disproportionate part of American wealth – there is an institution controlling this country that controls about a quarter of the entire national income and is controlled by a mere 535 people, selected by a process even less voluntary and flexible than the market processes that (for the most part) elevate the wealthy: I mean the federal government.

WE ARE THE 299,999,465 (roughly) WHO DO NOT SIT IN CONGRESS – and whose money gets thrown down the crapper nonetheless.  Why this does not stir, I do not know.  I mean, aside from the fact that very few people know economics.

•I don’t know if Herman Cain – current favorite of the (horribly racist) Tea Party-affiliated voters – will use the Tea Party/OWS fusion slogan I suggested – “We are the 999%” – but there’s a grain of truth in it.  Simplify the regulatory and tax structure and just watch those billions get redistributed the natural way, through market processes and without government intervention.  Start making that point more and that’s how you generate more people like the Ron Paul-admiring young fellow in an Anti-Flag t-shirt seen in the nearby photo, which is basically my plan for rescuing the culture, as you know.

•Another 90s-esque GOP candidate, Newt Gingrich, finally got around to invoking a new version of the Contract with America he helped craft back then, but weirdly Gingrich’s ten priorities now include: research diseases of the brain (including Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s).  This is either a very odd choice for such a short list or a brilliant ploy to appeal to both older voters and deranged zealots.  (Or if he just ends up accused of being influenced by pharma money, it wouldn’t be the first time.)

•Despite Christie’s endorsement raising the prospect of the reassertion of the old Northeastern Republican establishment (there used to be one, I swear), there must be a lot of stress in the Romney camp over when Iowa holds its primary.  It’s a state that’s still fairly undecided, so it going first could mean a surprise primary victory by Perry, Cain, or even Bachmann (or if I had my way, Paul or Johnson) – but by contrast, Romney (as former governor of Massachusetts) has New Hampshire (which is likely voting on January 3) all sewn up, with about 40% support vs. everyone else’s single digits or so.  If New Hampshire votes first, Romney likely cements his status as Mr. Inevitable.

•And Bill Keller says Perry is dumb.  Imagine if Keller were still Times executive editor after a hypothetical Perry nomination.  I suspect his views might affect coverage.

•So, are these OWS people crazy?  Well, despite the

Monday, October 10, 2011

Government vs. U2, Round Three (UK TV vs. Bono)

After Bono was hounded over taxes and Edge denied a California building permit, you’d think U2 might finally start writing Tea Party anthems instead of mining-union tearjerkers about the day “when an honest man makes an honest wage,” etc. (let us pause, as we should each day, to remember with delight Thatcher’s heroic willingness to crush the miners union).

But now government is really hitting Bono where he lives: the NGO (Clearcast) created as a direct result of British government regulations to be a single clearing house for all commercial-TV advertising in the UK is denying him permission to run an ad on TV about African famine on the grounds that it’s too political.  I suggest avoiding this problem by not having government-run media (which in this case led to a homogeneous oligopoly of specially-approved commercial alternatives a half-century ago in much the same way that congressional pressure in the U.S. at about the same time led to the creation of the nominally-private-sector Comics Code Authority that censored comics). 

The whole conflict may yet get spun as evil corporations trying to silence poverty-fighting messiah Bono (I admit it’s complex, and I’ve long since learned to assume that any sufficiently complex social phenomenon will be spun as an anti-market fable).  But it wouldn’t have arisen in a real free market in the first place.  Just let a truly diverse market show whatever its myriad owners – including Al Gore – want to, and it’s unlikely companies would have banded together to self-censor.  There might well be an all-Bono channel by now if the UK hadn’t lazily consigned itself to semi-socialized television. 

The needs of “ONE” in this case should outweigh the purported needs of the many.  To be clear, I’m not presuming to say what any given station’s ad policy should be.  I’m calling for abolishing things like the BBC and government-spawned ratings agencies so that the question does not arise.  (The point would stand even if the BBC in this case became the only channel showing the Bono ad.)

Only when there are no more public or publicly-controlled airwaves will there be an end to censorship, and only when private alternatives do not have to beg government for permission to function will they stop trying to prove that they can function in a wholesome, community-minded, public-access-providing, apolitical fashion, with all the stifling effects that inevitably implies. 

Of course, if it just happened to be the (unlikely) case that even in a diverse market no one wanted to show Bono’s ad, I suspect he’d have the means to get the word out some other way.  And he’d be closer to having that all-Bono channel already if U2 hadn’t spent the second half of its career sucking. 

P.S. At this point, you might be expecting me to link to something from their ONE great decade, the 80s, sort of like the Seth MacFarlane of libertarian bloggers.  I vowed I’d mix things up a little era-wise, though, so here’s “Elevation” (from the lame Tomb Raider movie, let us not forget), video by Joseph Kahn, whose sister knows me but who, more important, nearly directed a movie version of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, after giving us the motorcycle epic Torque (and even Tomb Raider, for which he was not responsible, had that kick-ass robot fight in the first scene).  

Thursday, October 6, 2011

“Understand Your Opponents” (white guys, Marcotte, and a final C-SPAN2 irony)

As perhaps my most right-wing friend, Jim Kalb, once said, in words that have stuck with me for years, “There are a lot of damaged people out there.”  Let’s gawk at a few, sympathetically (and not just the loonier Occupy Wall Street participants, whose ranks have been augmented by Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum and labor unions in the past two days).

•Today, the anniversary of the taping of that C-SPAN2 book panel, might be a good time to note one final irony about the whole thing. 

I could go into gory detail about just how apt, just, and necessary the whole thing was, but instead, before leaving it all behind in all its manifestations (and beginning some other revamps to website and life partly inspired by the Occupy Wall Street/Tea Party contrast), let’s just note something I’d completely forgotten: One of the very first blog entries that my C-SPAN2 sparring partner ever posted (see “August 16, 2003,” years before I began blogging and years before we met) was one in which she gloated about someone (a Fox News personality) being sadistically and protractedly described in unflattering terms while he was on a C-SPAN2 book panel. 

Wheel, karma, etc., etc. – though, of course, I was never the one motivated by sadism.  If you didn’t intuit that element of it all, you understood nothing of the whole affair.  But now, regardless: to the high road, forevermore.

•The philosophy buff in me wishes politics could somehow be conducted without any reference to the psyches of the debaters at all, objective and abstract without personality entering into it.  But then, even the arbiters of dry objectivity have to keep doing things like publishing this study showing climate change skeptics are disproportionately white males, which nowadays is a lot like saying “Zis relativity, it ees someting zee Jews haf theorized, ja?” 

One interviewee in the article helpfully points out that the most vocal climate alarmists are also white males.  Another says the study might at least be helpful if you want to “understand your opponents.”  But then, as climate debates often show, you can have mountains of data without much understanding. (h/t David Harsanyi)

•I expect people like my friend Ace of Spades to spar with feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte (who wrote a very brief item about the C-SPAN2 battle herself a year ago, by the way), but it was a solidly feminist writer friend of mine who first suggested to me the hypothesis that Marcotte might simply be a rape victim, something Marcotte recently confirmed during her Twitter-sparring with Ace (if I understand the flurry of tweets).  Even as Marcotte manages to tie all sorts of political topics back to a vast rape-o-cratic, patriarchal conspiracy to render violence against women socially acceptable, one remains reluctant to attribute all of her views and her seeming-anger to her personal experiences. 

But (perhaps tragically for all involved) she is a natural troll, whether consciously or not, continually making outrageous, sweeping accusations – and routinely condemning white males for their supposedly vicious love of their power and entitlement – and then stepping back to express surprise and even (yes, sadistic) amusement at how all those ridiculous white males respond with (inexplicable!) anger to her assertions.  This, even as she claims, for example, that seasteading – basically just living on boats – is a plot to rape mail-order brides (it’s the only way libertarian nerds could get women, she implies while she’s at it, proving that she hasn’t risen much above junior high taunts even as she pretends to be the defender of enlightenment and civility). 

Add to this her continual willful misunderstanding of her philosophical opponents’ motives: It is never enough for her to say that right-wing policies might cause poverty instead of alleviating it.  She must argue that all forms of fiscal conservatism are rooted in right-wingers’ cruel love of indulging in rights that others cannot exercise, even their longing to own the poor as quasi-slaves, as if we prefer a world of rich conservatives and poor socialists to a world in which everyone prospers.  As she put it recently: “Part of being conservative is relishing things (like rights) other people don’t have, and so of course they object to letting gay people have the things that straight people have always had.”

•Marcotte recently asserted that Glenn Reynolds can’t

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

C-SPAN2 + 1 Year: The New Civility

With Amanda Knox safe, a look back at another bit of televised drama:

This Thursday, October 6, marks the one-year anniversary of my appearance on a panel of political writers that would later be broadcast on C-SPAN2 (and still later be made virally-popular by a Mary Katharine Ham post on, leading to coverage by everyone from Washington Post to Perez Hilton, with some inaccurate reporting by NPR comedians along the way).  I’ve already said last words on the ex who I sparred with on the panel – and later on the more-serious philosophical content of the panel itself – but one last look back at the media phenomenon might be warranted, now that there’s little likelihood of setting off another firestorm. 

Would I have handled it differently if I had it to do over? 

Well, come on, it was such a masterpiece of elocution, philosophical acumen, performance art, and pure stone-cold justice that it’s pretty hard for anyone to quibble with anything about it – though perhaps I should have been far harsher, just so no one was left with the false impression that my (very mild) comments were unwarranted. 

Too, perhaps I should have gone into more far-ranging detail, so no one would be left with the false impression that my comments were purely personal and had no broader implications for (the potential near-future evolution of) philosophy and politics (and certain people engaged in both).  

But I am nothing if not merciful and tolerant (often too much so, friends tell me), so I think I struck the right balance in the time (and context) available. 

Too, I have been reaffirmed in my approach by the fact that there is an uncanny pattern of my critics (not the inattentive, anonymous bozos in random comment threads but the very, very small handful of people whose names I actually recognized) mostly turning out, though I did not know it at the time, to be adulterers, gossip-mongers, notorious loons, perverts, or liars of some sort.  The big lesson here being that (just as left-leaning novels about the Victorian era warned us) the people who act most scandalized sometimes do so because they are the ones with the most to hide (and they often know each other, too). 

I’ll keep a wary eye on them all but probably not write a book about it – I would much rather talk about things like anarchism and property rights.  And so I shall. 

Indeed, this cultural moment poised between Occupy Wall Street protesters on the left and Tea Party protesters on the right strikes me as a great example of how often in politics one has a wide range of options about how to respond to conflict despite the anxious combatants on each side, eager for marching orders, pretending that only one course of action is possible, indeed preordained (often a course that just prolongs the fighting).  People would rather fight than do the harder work of finding common themes and common ground – and then we tell ourselves combat is the braver course of action. 

Here I’m veering more into psychology than politics – but then, it’s unfortunate psychology is so often treated as a side issue.  Ad hominem – which in theory could be done without it getting ugly, since you can point out the psychological roots of someone’s thought without doing so as a prelude to combat – is assumed to be an unfair move but can be the most productive and clarifying move of all. 

As it happens, another ex of mine has a book coming out next year (her second) that looks at how psychology can influence theology, and that may be a good time to put several of the issues touched on here in perspective – with broad psychological implications made explicit – and without anybody getting angry. 

More soon, as well, on the specific case of the Occupy/Tea commonalities (a good topic not only for more-thoughtful and likely less-frequent entries on this soon-revamped-and-cleaned-up blog but also for the Brooklyn Forum discussions once I have those live events up and running, as I soon shall).  In the meantime, here are some other online items about conflict you can watch to get residual orneriness out of your system:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Libertarian Rock, Hipster Rock, and Iran-Induced Mush

I have decided to give you three or so thoughts a day, each thought relating to a different location, for four days.

NEW JERSEY: Ten years ago my Marxist friend Sander Hicks brought my attention to the New Jersey leftist singer Tris McCall, who wrote a song about dating a libertarian, “The Ballad of Tris McCall and Ashley Black,” to wit:

i met her at a cafe in upper montclair
i was playing corny protest songs
"everyone should share"
but when i got offstage to speak to her
she said that social progress stuff would get me nowhere
her name was ashley black
she said "are you for real"?
with a face like a freshly minted $20 bill
a radical libertarian
a former debutante from darien
she gave me her pitch and then went in for the kill
she talked about free trade
and i stood very, very still
she said she was in touch with tax revolters
sworn to uphold freedom at all cost
we went back to her room
she showed me her portfolio
all those numbers, all those arrows
i was lost
then she took off her blouse
i said "okay, you're the boss"
daughter of liberty
i wish you never threw the book at me
don't remember my econ 101
but i'm starting to understand
getting jerked around by the invisible hand
she took me to a secret meeting of underground entrepreneurs
trading goods in gray areas
on the blind side of the law
she said "these are the real capitalists"
then she gave me another kiss
just to show me what that lip was for
i'd like to say my objectivity let me know the score
but she swept me up with the excitement of the trading floor
buoyed by the rising tide
and the weight of numbers on her side
and logic too impeccable to be ignored
as we made love beneath the flashing lights of the big board
and the boomtown was her playground
when she pushed those hundreds around
she had no time for those down on their luck
she lectured me for weeks on the efficiency of markets
it was like being run over by a truck
at night she'd polish her revolver
point it at me and whisper "duck"
deductible and tax-free
my world's a safer place
but grayer since you left me
did you think it made me happy that i can't supply what you demand?
getting jerked around by the invisible hand
she bought me a poster of milton friedman
and a subscription to the economist
but something deep down told me to resist
though the arguments were efficient
i always wondered what they'd missed
and ashley grey impatient and not a little pissed
she came to me one evening
exploding like a bomb
imploring me to invest in a start-up out in guam
but i answered without patience
since i knew well from the nation
the company used sweatshops to manufacture hardcore cd-roms
i knew this was a test, but instead of saying no
i tried to pretend that i didn't have the dough
and as i threw up my guard
she sweetly offered me her visa card
and i don't know what came over me
or why i had to go and cut her visa into pieces
and throw the pieces in the snow
in the sixties they burned draft cards
but now we should burn credit cards
the meaning is the same
only the plastic's gotten harder
and i stood there
looking at her blank face
tris mc call, capitalist martyr
ashley looked bewildered but she didn't ask me why
and i thought for a moment she was going to cry
but she was staring without hope
as if concluding i was an irredeemable dope
and she spoke in a voice so cold and dry:
"you may call us heartless
you may call us whores
but the world is going our way and certainly not yours"
and then i watched her walk away through the revolving doors
so now i stand before you
in my earnest leftist pose
no money
no girl
singing songs nobody knows
but at least i've got my principles
i suppose

And since this is not the only way in which he is apparently drawn to good things, McCall (now a New Jersey Star-Ledger music columnist) has written an appreciation of, yes, the Fixx.  (My thanks to J.R. Taylor, also a Jersey-dwelling music aficionado, for pointing it out.)

GEORGIA AND INDIA FOR HIPSTERS: A couple other music thoughts: R.E.M. breaking up led me to learn, three decades after I should have, that when