Friday, December 21, 2012

Songs for the Apocalypse (or to hold you over until 2013)

The real blogging's over until 2013, but here's what I tweeted and Facebooked as the end didn't near: 

Song 1 of 10 for the phony apocalypse: the Fixx's "Red Skies" 

Song 2 of 10 for the phony apocalypse: Epoxies' "We're So Small" 

Song 3 of 10 for the phony apocalypse: Nick Cave's "Till the End of the World" 

Song 4 of 10 for the phony apocalypse: INXS's "Red Red Sun" 

Song 5 of 10 for the phony apocalypse: Nena's "99 Red Balloons" 

Song 6 of 10 for the phony apocalypse: Tina Turner's "One of the Living" 

Song 7 of 10 for the phony apocalypse: Skeeter Davis's "End of the World" 

Song 8 of 10 for the phony apocalypse: R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It" 

Song 9 of 10 for the phony apocalypse: Decemberists' "Calamity Song" 

Song 10 of 10 for the phony #apocalypse: David Bowie's "Five Years" 

For more apocalypse songs, find me listening to Rew's band 10pm at Tobacco Road. Staying 'til midnight. Then: BACK IN '13, but different.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bork to the Future

(Just a short prelude to 2013 and farewell to what came before.)

I confess that the first column I ever wrote, twenty-five years ago, was called "Bork to the Future."

It was not so much a defense of the specific policy views of the now-deceased Judge Robert Bork (he was basically a majoritarian and I'm an individualist, long story short) but a reaction to the hysteria over his nomination to the Supreme Court.

He wanted judges to defer to the original intent of the Constitution -- no longer nearly as controversial an idea -- and that humble notion probably looms much larger in the minds of the public generally and libertarians specifically than it did back in 1987 (and so a page is turned in the long-count calendar of political philosophy).

In fact, that notion will be a big influence on my blog and (if all goes as planned) at the DIONYSIUM in January, when I blog of Bastiat's The Law, Judge Napolitano's Theodore and Woodrow, and David Friedman's work in progress Legal Systems Very Different from Ours -- and as we debate judicial activism's pros and cons at Muchmore's on January 14.

This, surely, will be an occasion to do the mature thing and learn rather than having a simple yes/no fight. (But we'll see how it goes.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hitchens, Sex, and Death

Tomorrow will be the first anniversary of Christopher Hitchens’ death.  I will have to toast him.  I saw him speak with the naked eye six times, if memory serves:

•vs. Dinesh D’Souza on affirmative action politics (Daniel Radosh was also in the audience)

•with Andrew Sullivan on Bush-era politics (Sander Hicks was in that crowd)

•solo speaking to commemorate Tom Paine (having just moved neocon-ward, he smacked down a left-wing fan who asked if democracy can be imposed militarily with the observation that no one today would even remember Jefferson without the French army having assisted him)

•vs. D’Souza again on God (and D’Souza just this month sparred with atheists Michael Shermer and Lawrence Krauss onstage at Intelligence Squared U.S. and on last night’s Stossel)

•vs. hapless intelligent design-defending rabbi (and now failed congressional candidate) Shmuley Boteach (Radosh and I were both back for that one)

•discussing his memoir Hitch-22 at New York Public Library (this time I spoke to him for a minute or so – and was for the second time accompanied by a memorable religious girlfriend to a Hitchens event – but within days he would cut short his book tour and soon thereafter reveal his illness to the world).

But perhaps the most controversial thing he’s ever said is that women, generally speaking, are not funny – a claim he frames with a possible evolutionary psychology rationale in this 2008 video, responding to his (female) critics.

My apologies to angry, funny women I have known of all stripes – religious, left-wing, liberal-tarian, and what have you – and my advance New Year’s resolution will be to aim to be more diplomatic than Hitchens, even though he appears to be having so much fun in that video that for once, it looks like he’s struggling to keep a straight face while making an earth-shaking pronouncement.  Now that’s funny. 


Lest I appear oblivious to the accomplishments of women, though, let me balance the Hitchens video by saying:

•A sincere Happy Hanukkah to dikey Jewish comediennes everywhere, to use Hitchens’ terminology (he discovered late in life that he was Jewish and early in life that he’s bi, so he’s almost allowed to say things like that).

•Kudos to Kathryn Bigelow for doing the eagerly-anticipated and purportedly awesome Zero Dark Thirty – and sticking to military tactics instead of politics and conspiracy theories, they say (despite some significant liberties about the facts, from what little we know). 

Speaking of conspiracy theories, you could strike a blow

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Messy Government Reality


•A friend and I made a seemingly simple bet four years ago about whether Bush or Obama would expand government faster, and we ultimately decided to abandon the bet after realizing it’s gotten more complicated – and dependent on highly contingent factors – than we’d foreseen, even with his sophisticated suggestion of breaking the bet into three parts, two dependent on the size of government relative to GDP (I think I won those two parts, albeit largely because the economy has done so badly) and one dependent only on percent change in absolute spending (I think I lost that part, due mainly to Bush ratcheting up spending so much for bailout purposes in his final months in office).

Ironically, if I had constructed the bet alone, I probably would’ve included only the third portion, since it arguably has the clearest ideological implications, and would thus have lost the whole bet, even though Obama still spends like a socialist (and does so without even an official budget in place, disturbingly). 

But as it is, there were not only the ambiguities above but the whole question of whether we were to remain bound by the “2000-2004” vs. “2008-2012” formulation we first agreed to or whether (as we’d probably both now agree) it’d make more sense (for purposes of gauging presidential influence as opposed to inheriting a budget from one’s predecessor) to use Fiscal Years 2002-2006 vs. Fiscal Years 2010-2014...which would then lead (if we settle up now) to having to estimate 2014 spending, and...

Well, we just decided to call the whole thing off.  Real-world politics, much like history, is a disappointing, contingent mess compared to political philosophy.  This much is clear: We are doomed. 


•The same friend will join my small band of Hobbit-goers (tomorrow night, 68th and Broadway, pre-assigned seats in the back middle, IMAX 3D, in intriguingly controversial feels-too-real 48 frames per second).  One member of our group asked me if hobbits are libertarian, to which I reply that they (and Tolkien) are more nearly paleoconservative, opposed to both governmental and industrial aspects of modernity (as the Shire coda at the end of the Lord of the Rings books – left out of the movies – suggests). 

Tolkien was sort of a holdover from nineteenth-century Tory agrarian thinking, though the right and capitalism have now become thoroughly entwined. 

•Garth Franklin makes a good point in an essay

Monday, December 10, 2012

BOOK NOTE: “Free Market Fairness” by John Tomasi (and a Dionysium debate tonight)

What better way to spend Human Rights Day than reading about John Tomasi’s book Free Market Fairness, which aims to show that modern liberals and libertarians share more moral common ground than they realize, and then attending tonight’s libertarians-vs.-leftists Dionysium debate (moderated by me) at Muchmore’s (featuring Matt Welch, John Carney, Lynn Parramore, and Dan Gerstein)?

Rather than arguing against government per se, Tomasi aims merely to show that individual economic freedom (the ability to make your own decisions, buy and sell as you wish, start your own business) deserves to be added to the short list of other freedoms, such as the conventional short list of civil liberties (speech, worship) that modern liberals already respect.  (You can see from nearby photos that the owners of my apartment building take a dim view of theft – and that Satanic activities such as horn-wearing, viewing Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and attaching Allison Oldak’s fish hat to the ceiling as art may be occurring at Muchmore’s).

If Tomasi is correct, basic liberal moral concerns may do the work of undergirding a libertarian code of law, as surprising a turn of events to some as this small (pack-oriented) dog carrying a (disobedient, independent-minded) cat around.  (That video is far less disturbing, by the way, than this footage noted by Phil Saxton of a catfish attacking and eating a bird).

Tomasi strives to avoid basing his main arguments on specific empirical claims (growth rates, bureaucratic inefficiency, etc.) but does start with one profound historical observation about why modern (or “high”) liberalism may have seemed like a necessary shift in the twentieth century but also seem dated (perhaps in its “twilight,” he writes) now, and that is the unexpected proliferation of economic choices available to average citizens beginning in recent times.

A few very large, nearly universal questions – such as whether the farms would be able to bring crops to harvest and whether factory workers would have enough to eat – loomed large in the nineteenth century and led circa the early twentieth to polished theories of fairness and equality and central planning being promulgated, with so much success that laissez-faire has a bad reputation in intellectual and political circles to this day (whereas, as Tomasi notes, Adam Smith was criticized in his own day for being almost obsessed with securing the well-being of the poor, which motivated his free-market advocacy).

But if individuals vary, and because of that we recognize the importance of letting varied voices be heard, and varied religions be practiced, might an era of a thousand different cell phones, TV channels, clothing styles, literature subgenres, car designs, and business plans not warrant protection for the freedom to behave like a capitalist?  Aren’t these economic choices as much a part of our “self-authorship” and identity as the ideas we get from reading our preferred political manifestos and religious (or irreligious) tracts?  Don’t we have the right to strive, fail, succeed, and experiment in this realm as well?  And might not an intrusive state – at some point, even if not necessarily by its mere existence – interfere with that right?

I wholeheartedly agree, of course, and even share Tomasi’s intuition that it’s fair to ask the Rawlsian question “How are the worst-off faring under this system?” even while laying down simple, property-rights-based groundrules for a Hayekian social order.  He takes care to draw a distinction between this cautious (and possibly minimal-state-justifying) classical liberal (more or less nineteenth-century) view and the more hardcore libertarian view of people (like me) who think they logically lead to treating property rights as more or less inviolate.


My main criticism of Free Market Fairness, and in the grand scheme of things (all my past griping about the liberal-tarians notwithstanding) it is

Friday, December 7, 2012

BOOK NOTE: “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt

I’ll try to keep things civil at our impending Monday debate at Muchmore’s about this whole “fiscal cliff” situation, but if the panel and the crowd split into hateful factions, each convinced the other wants to hurt the world, it will be perfectly in keeping with basic elements of human psychology described in the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion.

(My thanks to Paul Taylor, an interesting psychological case in his own right, for recommending it – and my thanks to Tom Palmer for pointing out the poignant hate-and-factionalism-related picture nearby of a baby being raised by Klan members and protected by black cops, while being too young to notice the irony.)  

As psychologist turned NYU business professor Jonathan Haidt writes in this excellent volume, humans plainly evolved to be provokable and self-righteous, and there are certain predictable modules to their ethical thinking – some more active in leftists, some in conservatives, some in libertarians.  Your personality type really does tend to be predictive of the sort of political faction you’ll end up in, and once you’re there, you start thinking that faction’s claims are so patently true that anyone who disagrees must secretly know they’re wrong and be out to vandalize the world. 

Sure, there are a few philosophers and people who scrupulously try to follow the truth wherever it leads, but psychological experiments suggest they are even more likely than ordinary folk to engage in elaborate post hoc rationalizations leading to dogmatism.  Intellectuals are more defensive, so to speak, than your average slob.  And humans really are pretty sloppy in their ethical thinking: One experiment Haidt recounts suggests you can even affect survey respondents’ ethical judgments simply by wafting artificial “fart spray” near them when they give their answers, activating the “disgust response” in their brains. 

Haidt mentions Leon Kass, and I now feel on much more solid intellectual footing about the blog entry two years ago in which I wrote, “I am tempted to ask whether...Leon Kass, the bioethicist who believes we should see disgust reactions as a moral guide (leading many people away from gays and biotech, for example), could be duped by an extremely rank act of flatulence into thinking he was in the presence of pure evil.”  Science suggests some people can be, anyway. 

Disgust isn’t the only thing that matters, though.  Haidt identifies six rough areas of moral cognition that tend to enter in most people’s moral judgments (with different areas stressed to greater or lesser degrees depending on temperament, culture, and political faction), listed here with the opposite of each in parentheses: fairness (cheating), care (harm), liberty (oppression), loyalty (betrayal), authority (subversion), and sanctity (degradation). 


Interestingly, Haidt suggests that conservatives have a built-in rhetorical advantage, since they have a near-monopoly on evoking those last three: loyalty, authority, and sanctity.  Since (I confess) I had forgotten Haidt’s earlier accomplishments while reading the book, I was a bit taken aback when, in the middle, he recounts trying to convince failed presidential candidate John Kerry to make appeals to all of the moral modules instead of just the first three. 

Haidt is not just saying there’s something wrong with either liberal or conservative brains, though.  I believe him when he describes himself as a moderate looking for ways to get people to stop talking past each other – and vilifying each other.  As he learned from time in India, where sanctity (and the closely-related idea of purity) is taken more seriously than in more Western and secular cultures, there tends to be an internal coherence to a moral system that people fail to appreciate looking in from the outside.  (It may not be coincidence that an ex of mine from a Hindu family was the most fanatical person I’ve known about keeping track of dirt and contamination and things-tracked-indoors, even though, having grown up in the U.S. and studied philosophy, she framed it all in terms of mostly-legit health concerns.)

I dare say I’ve long been more aware of this need to think about the internal coherence of seemingly-foreign systems than most people are, with one manifestation

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

BOOK NOTE: Critical Review on “Political Dogmatism”

While we take a look at the immediate “fiscal cliff” crisis in the onstage debate I’ll moderate on Monday (which you should attend), one journal that has been taking the long view of things for a quarter-century now is Critical Review, and if there has been a general direction in its mostly-libertarian evolution, it has been toward ever-greater agnosticism. 

Social reality, whatever else you may say about it, is complex – leading to a great temptation to shoehorn it into simple theories – and editor Jeffrey Friedman’s “Motivated Skepticism or Inevitable Conviction?  Dogmatism and the Study of Politics” in Vol. 24, No. 2 sums up an additional problem: We are psychologically inclined to think our opponent’s theories have glaring holes while our own are pretty solid. 

Furthermore, contrary to the self-image of many intellectuals (especially on the left), the well-educated are more likely to engage in the dogmatic defense of their beliefs than are the relatively-flexible, easygoing, less-convicted (albeit less-informed) masses – it’s the blinkered leading the blind, as Friedman likes to say.  And with each round of new data, the intellectuals (fitting the info into their pet theories) become more rigid, not less, in their beliefs.  Skepticism tends to be something you deploy against the other guy and can’t quite find a way to use to devastating effect against your own side.

More alarmingly for anyone still prone to believe in the power of dialogue, the more people discuss things like politics – whether with fellow believers or opponents – the more convinced they tend to become of their own positions.  Indeed, ideologues tend to become more committed to their positions when confronted with counter-arguments than if they are not confronted with counter-arguments (whereas most people appear to benefit from considering “the other side,” according to other articles in this issue). 


I have long thought that these problems may mean that that great formula for bourgeois moderation, apathy, may therefore be our best hope of avoiding insanity, but Critical Review has not quite taken the step of recommending that just yet.  And tragically, I fear our troubled times may call for something more nuanced than mere apathy.  (Tomorrow, as my “Month of Dogmatism” continues, a look at Jonathan Haidt’s excellent book A Righteous Mind, about how unlikely people are to be impartial, given the mental architecture homo sapiens has inherited.) 

Friedman, in an effort to be charitable, tends to express a view (similar to Haidt’s) that how you filter political data is largely just a matter of what you read first when forming the hypotheses by which you do later sorting, like a child taught, say, to divide the world into dangerous and non-threatening animals, as opposed to a child taught to see all animals according the degree of fascination they hold for zoologists.  But even on the meta-theories, ironically, people can disagree, and I’m inclined to think some of these insights actually lend credence to my view that the ad hominem attack (roughly speaking) is now vindicated as never before – because

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dionysium 12/10: "Should We Jump Off the Fiscal Cliff?"

"Should We Jump Off the Fiscal Cliff?" 

A star-studded Dionysium debate moderated by Todd Seavey

If no budget deal is reached, will Dec. 2012 prove to be the end of the world?  Or are we likely better off with the mix of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts slated for January -- that is, just jumping off the so-called "fiscal cliff"?

Matt Welch, editor in chief of Reason magazine

John Carney, editor of finance blog NetNet at CNBC


Don't jump: 

Lynn Parramore, econ editor at AlterNet and founder of RecessionWire

Dan Gerstein, political consultant and Gotham Ghostwriters president

Monday, Dec. 10 (8pm)

at the performance space Muchmore's (with craft beers for sale) at 2 Havemeyer St. (corner of N. 9th St.), just three blocks east of the Bedford Ave. subway stop, which is the very first stop into Brooklyn from Manhattan on the L (so quick -- so easy).

To find out what the Dionysium is up to next, get updates via e-mail or at: 

P.S. And since it’s the “Month of Dogmatism” on this blog, I’ll use the three remaining business days before the debate to look at texts about overcoming political impasses and hateful partisanship: a piece from Critical Review, the book Righteous Mind, and the book Free Market Fairness.  See you online and at Muchmore’s.

Friday, November 30, 2012

BOOK/FILM NOTE: High Times, “Argo,” “Red Dawn,” and Occupy

•If you think yesterday’s blog entry (about Katie Pavlich’s book alleging the government made no serious effort to track the guns sold in Operation: Fast and Furious) was unsettling, consider  the darker theory pushed by Steven Hager writing in the January 2013 issue of High Times (I may be moderating a panel featuring one of their editors).  He argues that Fast and Furious seems to have been merely a case of the U.S. trying to aid one drug cartel against another (specifically, the Sinaloa against the Zeta). 

Perhaps no (legal) takedowns of anyone, then, were intended, just a choice between evils that makes voting Democrat or Republican look like a pleasant task.  Meanwhile, beauty queens being tight with drug gangs in Mexico, Miss Sinaloa’s death is being reported this week, as is the murder of a heroic and repeatedly-targeted mayor (and mother) who resisted the drug cartels.

Legalize – not just in Colorado and Washington State but everywhere – and this carnage, far more damaging than drugs themselves, ends. 

•In the meantime, who needs Red Dawn when we have a real war on the Southern border? 

Nonetheless, I saw that goofy-but-enjoyable film this week, along with the vastly superior Argo, which is probably the best movie of the year – and close to my heart, since I was one of the kids who read and believed the publicity back in 1980 for the sci-fi movie that the CIA was pretending to produce in order to move in and out of Iran.  Though it’s not mentioned in Argo, they even hired comics artist Jack Kirby back in the day to help plan god costumes and designs for an amusement park, basing it all on the great Roger Zelazny novel Lord of Light, which is actually Hindu-influenced rather than Iranian-influenced.

Speaking of which, in a sign of how much times have changed since the original Red Dawn, the group I saw the remake with included a libertarian Indian immigrant and a couple guys, one a gung-ho Wall Streeter, who (really) train with guns and bows more because the U.S. government makes them nervous than because they fear the North Koreans (or whoever).  More strangely, it looked at one point as if we might be joined by a Russian-born ex-broker who now works for the U.N.  I’m not sure she even saw the irony. 

•Comparably politically eclectic is the cast of characters from Occupy Wall Street who Bobby Black describes meeting in that aforementioned January 2013 issue of High Times.  The movement began in downtown Manhattan (mere blocks from the tall, twisty new Frank Gehry skyscraper seen nearby in a pic I took), but as Black explains, by July 4, 2012, ten months later, it had convened a faux constitutional convention in Philadelphia (about two hours away).  And they weren’t all just Marxist hippies.

Black, with a mixture of amusement and pride at being a participant, describes the stubborn, wheelchair-bound but admirably anti-Americans with Disabilities Act libertarian named Robert he met, as well as a self-proclaimed dreds-wearing “conservative” named Kronos (not to be confused with the giant invading alien machine Kronos).  Kronos was angry that conservatives’ desires weren’t part of the Declaration-like agenda put together in Philly.  Bobby argued with him at one point, defending the status of his own faith – Wicca – as a religion, leading conservative Kronos to confess he is himself a pagan, helping them to bond. 

On that bridge-building note, let us look forward to similar lessons in coexistence in the form of a few book and film entries during December, which will be a “Month of Dogmatism” on this now lower-frequency but still wise blog.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

BOOK NOTE: “Fast and Furious” by Katie Pavlich

The Phillips Foundation gave me a copy of Fast and Furious: Barack Obama’s Bloodiest Scandal and the Shameless Cover-Up by Katie Pavlich, and I later gave it to a gun aficionado I know, planning to track its location and take him down if he misuses the book, but then I got distracted by other stuff, so, eh, you know, whatever.  (In fact, I passed it along at an art show featuring odd works by Max Eisenberg such as the ones seen in the nearby photo.)

Seriously, though, even if you thought it was in theory a good idea for the U.S. government to sell lots of guns to Mexican drug cartels (many that went on to be used in actual murders) in hopes of tracking them later and busting their users (not a manifestly impossible thing), and even if no net increase in deaths occurred as a result of Operation: Fast and Furious (a possibility I suggested to Pavlich myself, since every good gun rights defender knows that guns that can’t be bought by Route A will likely just be bought via Route B anyway), and even if you’re naive enough to think that Attorney General Eric Holder would never lie, you should be troubled by the fact that the government does not in fact seem to have made any serious effort to track the guns later. 

As Pavlich recounts, one agent was so alarmed by this neglect that he stuck a tracking device of his own in one of the guns, though it later stopped operating.  Making matters worse, it appears that even while the Obama administration was actively encouraging gun dealers to keep selling to Mexican criminals – even telling the dealers not to be alarmed when they dutifully reported their concerns to the government – the administration was seizing the opportunity to publicly condemn the very same flow of guns to Mexico, implying that gun dealers cannot be trusted (and your government can). 

Given the lapdog press’s eager role in sanitizing all this, I’m rather pleased to see Fast and Furious whistleblower John Dodson suing the New York Times for libel.  Obviously, the press has the right to be wrong, and few such suits succeed, but I’m not against libel laws when the mistakes are sufficiently knowing, vicious, and damaging.  Such suits may be an important tool of resistance, given the increasingly disturbing and monolithic role played by the establishment press in aiding the government in its crimes – and given the press’s ever more brazenly partisan nature.

(There was much joking online, for example, about the contrast between the press’s immediate post-election freakout over Rubio’s agnosticism about creationism and their total silence over Obama’s own agnosticism, worded in almost the same way, on the same topic.  Luckily, that’s a mostly-silly issue that doesn’t tend to get anyone killed.  The government can’t stop evolution, not even with a full-fledged nuclear war.) 

Polls and punditry suggest the left loves it when Obama stops compromising and “plays hardball,” though they shouldn’t kid themselves that this just means being hyper-idealistic.  It may also mean things like holding the threat of releasing scandalous info over Petraeus’s head back in September to get him to soft-peddle his criticism of the administration over the Benghazi attacks. 

Government is bullying, secrecy, ineptitude, organized crime, inefficiency, and the public’s misplaced philosophical hopes all at the same time.  We would be better off without it, whether here or in Latin America.  (Of course, sometimes you can’t blame cops for deviating from protocol a bit, as in this darkly amusing 911 call.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

BOOK NOTE: The election and Joan Walsh’s “What the Matter with White People?”

What do conservatives do next after this month’s election results? 

I suppose I should be grateful that despite the fact that in the last few months of the campaign Romney and Obama almost turned the election into a big government-vs.-capitalism referendum (which at this juncture in history it probably ought to have been and which I would have taken firmer sides on), many are concluding that it was in large part the small (and greatly exaggerated) handful of sex-focused social conservatives who ruined everything for the Republicans, rescuing Obama from the econ-oriented vagina dentata of defeat.

I would much rather have Republicans (in accordance with the master plan!) turn toward libertarianism as a solution (as even neoconservative Jennifer Rubin suggests they might in this cautiously pro-Rand Paul piece) than turn even farther toward welfare-statism (as John Podhoretz seems to do when he writes, “The exit-poll question [Romney] lost most definitively to Obama was about which of them ‘cares about the problems of people like me.’  Obama won it by a staggering 81–17”) or just toward greater mushiness, as the King of Mush, David Brooks, seems to do with some of the names in his column lauding what he considers to be the new crop of conservative big thinkers (though there are many people on the list I admire, including Tim Carney). 

Given the fact that two flourishing strains of libertarianism right now (contrary to what we might have expected prior to Bush) seem to be the paleolibertarian and the (more or less) left-libertarian varieties, not the establishment-rationalizing varieties, we should be grateful for writers like Dan McCarthy (self-proclaimed Tory Anarchist) reframing traditionalism itself as a diversity- and liberty-affirming thing.  The “tradition is simple and now it shall be imposed by force” approach of, say, your average Santorum fan is both ahistorical and electorally doomed (so let’s get back to econ, I say, but I realize people have a range of other interests, including vaginas). 

As for me, post-election I’m trying to spend less time online in part so I get some real paying work done and don’t starve but also because the Internet just shows you how many endless arguments all the people you like are having with each other, and it’s wearying.  Hell, given dumb things they said or did, I end the election season vowing to boycott Joss Whedon/the Avengers, Will Ferrell, Katy Perry, and The Simpsons, though none of these are big losses (life is short). 

I’m not boycotting the entire sixth or so of the population that voted for Obama (and let us not exaggerate: it was only about that many, and they had their reasons), just a handful whose support for him was so gratuitous that it interfered with their creativity and did so in an obnoxious way.  I once assumed everyone looked at old films of servile subjects idolizing FDR and his ilk (singing and dancing for the vaunted leader, etc.) and considered those long-ago performers pitiable and naive, lacking in our era’s healthy skepticism and sense of irony.  Apparently, I was dangerously wrong.

And what are we to make of the fact that purportedly society-dominating whites voted for Romney over Obama by about 3 to 2 and still lost?  That’s where Joan Walsh comes in, so I went to see her talk two days ago.


I genuinely do not want whites to start turning into another ethno-obsessive grievance group (that way lies real trouble for everyone), but precisely because of that, I hope the left doesn’t get too fond of the triumphalist meme about demographic diversity dooming those laughable old white men (Romney, as I think we all know, was an Ivy League New England moderate, for crying out loud – that’s part of the reason the right and I weren’t so in love with him – so if we start regarding even him as akin to a Klansman, we really must be living in an unrecognizably and overwhelmingly left-wing nation, and I don’t think that’s quite true, not just yet). editor Joan Walsh claims to be nudging

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mostly offline (but watch for Book Notes -- and bigger things)

In the grand scheme of things, elections are an arbitrary, overrated chronological dividing line – but this month’s are as apt a time as any to make good on my long-threatened hermitage from the Net.  I’ll mostly stop blogging, Facebook-updating, Facebook-group-participating, tweeting, and even e-mailing for now – except to notify people about once a month of the latest Dionysium event (and probably to review a book or film once in a while).

I won’t be idle – on the contrary, the times demand more focused attention on larger-scale projects (articles, ghostwriting, etc. – to which I’m happy to add something FOR YOU if you pay me).  If I am to rescue this culture, I must perform labors grander even than the ones imagined by those who preceded me in the Crif Dogs bathroom seen in the adjacent photos.

Here are a dozen things to consider in my quasi-absence:

(1) My e-mail address remains the same (first name last name at Earthlink dot net) despite my profile picture getting another update, as seen above.  I will try to bombard you less but will still be receiving and will probably notice messages via that medium faster than others. 

(2) I have learned important things during my comparatively short two years of using Facebook and Twitter, lessons about linearity and argumentation and how both break down under the pressures and speed of modern media, lessons applicable to incipient new projects.  It probably also makes it easier to follow a movie like Cloud Atlas (which I liked – as I did Skyfall, though both got negative reviews from contrarian Kyle Smith). 

Still, having been joke-exiled from a notorious anarcho-capitalist Facebook page in the past few days makes this seem like a good time to quit all Facebook pages and warn the world that it may take me a while to respond to messages and requests sent via that double-edged, loved/hated medium. 

(3) Without YouTube, I would not have been able to relive the moment in the Young Americans for Liberty debate I moderated in which New Jersey professor Grover Furr said he had yet to find “one crime” that Stalin had committed.

(4) And yet, if irked libertarians tried to get him fired for saying that, one other libertarian would likely defend him (and anyone threatened with expulsion from a publicly-funded, First Amendment-bound university for unpopular ideas), namely Greg Lukianoff, who warns against campus censorship in his new book Unlearning Liberty, all proceeds from which go to the speech-defending group FIRE.

(5) I’m just pleased I was invited back on the little Web show Rew and Who last week. 

(6) I’ll try to cut back on sending wacky links via e-mail, too, but I noticed my friend Scott Nybakken doing so a bit more than usual and citing my example, so my legacy lives on.  Of course, maybe none of us should send wacky e-mail messages now that the government – starting with the Democratic Senate – wants to read our e-mails without warrants. 

If they do so, I would imagine there will be many meetings in the near future involving government bureaucrats saying, “Why, these people hate us!  The ingrates!  What’s wrong with them?”

(7) As some of my Facebook pals subversively-comedically “troll” each other, I ask them to remember and honor the world’s most important troll religion, now over thirty years old: the Church of the SubGenius, whose out-of-the-blue ad on MTV startled the world twenty years ago.  (It can’t be considered the first troll religion, though, not if that ancient snake-puppet cult Alan Moore follows counts.  Rev. Jen Miller’s Troll Museum is a totally separate phenomenon.)

(8) I blogged almost daily (about two days out of three, really) from the Republicans’ ouster from Congress after the 2006 elections through the re-election of Obama in 2012.  The one encouraging thing I’ll say about that span of time is that it began with the Republicans barely aware that they were entering a period in the wilderness (with the wars continuing and the financial crisis on the horizon) but ends with many of them talking about libertarianism as a possible route out (and about a possible Rand Paul 2016 presidential run – not that any one politician or election can solve our problems, as even some liberals may now realize, despite four years of truly shocking, self-abasing hero-worship on their part). 

A recent New Hampshire state legislature election – between two roommates from the libertarian Free State Project – is more the sort of election I’d like to see in the future, if indeed we must have elections at all.  The anarchist defeated the minarchist, calling him a statist. 

And he’s right, you know.  Civilized people do not govern one another.  I must make a more concerted effort in the years ahead to teach mainstream Americans the basics of anarcho-capitalist thinking, which is, after all, just basic commonsense economics. 

On the bright side, I finally realized that Obama reminds me of Tuvok (not Tupac), and there’s some reassurance in that.  At least we are sometimes oppressed by geeks.

(9) Not only am I so geeky that I’ll still be posting Dionysium and Book Notes entries here while mostly “offline,” the truth is that I already know what the theme of next month’s book entries will be.  So be here for my “Month of Dogmatism,” as we look at an article on that subject from Critical Review plus the books The Righteous Mind and the olive-branch-extending Free Market Fairness. 

(10) You could read Jean-Paul Sartre’s blog on the days when mine is inactive.  

Hey, it’s funnier than Andy Borowitz.  Everything is.  The only way I can explain the complete absence of jokes from his pieces is that he is actively hoping people will mistake his “parodic” news pieces for real ones, providing the dupes with additional ammunition against the Republicans.  Facts don’t matter much to the left anyway.  Why should they matter to a man falsely claiming to be a humorist, or to his readers?  One would hope the absence of both facts and jokes mattered to his editors, but apparently that is not the case. 

(11) Since my real message is basic econ and its implications for individual freedom (and why government must be abolished), you could also occupy yourselves with CEI’s great six-minute I, Pencil: The Movie, based on the classic essay (itself reportedly inspired by meditation in turn influenced by LSD culture) explaining the unplanned yet interconnected nature of a market economy.

If people do not take basic econ lessons like that to heart, this really will be the fate of the nation – and your mindless love of labor unions will not trump math.

I question whether even Nobelists need to know math, given Krugman’s recent praise of the days of 91% tax rates.  And so I need to consider more seriously how best to explain to a credentials-worshiping world that I do in fact have a better understanding of economics than this Nobel Prize winner.  (Let the rich make money, then take almost all of it away?  Sure, why not?  Can’t see how that would affect incentives at all or might have proven unsustainable in the long run if it had endured more than a few years, Paul.  You’re a genius.  Why do the evil Republicans keep mounting their irrational attacks on you?  They must know there are no other countries, such as Canada, to which a businessman could easily flee these days – more easily than ever, in fact – if threatened with 91% tax rates.) 

(12) They can put you in jail for breaking their laws.  They can’t (yet) jail you for changing your mind.  Do it. 

If you are a liberal (in the modern, welfare-statist sense): change this very moment. 

And if you are a libertarian or conservative, do not despair over the next four years.  We are seeing some phenomena that are better than a Romney presidency likely would have been.  Not only is Rand Paul talked about as a new force to be reckoned with in the Senate (pushing spending cuts, drug legalization, fewer wars, and immigration reform) but we have petitions from multiple states urging secession.  Fantastic.  Given our federalist system, that may be our best hope anyway.

And there’s the whole Petraeus/Middle East multilayered mess to watch.  Who ever would’ve thought we’d enter this President’s second term asking how much he knew about the al Qaeda attacks of September 11 and when – and what the role of the FBI and the CIA were in the disaster?

And if you are a believer in the paranormal, you can also change your mind.

The second most important thing I learned about humanity from spending a lot of time online over the past couple years (after learning that people have a lot of stupid political arguments) is that no amount of terrible YouTube videos, no matter how blurry and Rorschach-blot-like, will ever convince people that we lack good evidence for Bigfoot or UFOs.  Luckily, just as the James Randi Educational Foundation offers a prize of over $1 million for any demonstration of paranormal powers and finds (surprise!) no takers, Spike TV now offers $10 million for irrefutable Bigfoot evidence (as a promo for their new show 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty).  Not holding my breath.  (I will also offer you $20 trillion for evidence there’s a God.)

But why waste time with imaginary nonsense when the real world is so rich with phenomena like these back-scratching “dancing” bears?  The Web has also taught me that bears are surprisingly good at waving.  So maybe there is more to life than cat videos, and now I must go live it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Todd on Web TV today

I'll be on the punk-friendly Web show Rew and Who's UStream here at 5:15pm Eastern, mainly reacting to the election:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It Must All Seem So New

I'll bet for sufficiently psychologicallly-insightful writer types, there can be few experiences that make you feel older than watching early twentysomethings do half-comedic onstage presentations (of which there are a million in this town) featuring some sort of endearingly-stiff inter-host repartee like:

BILL: Oh...kaaaay...well.  We have a big show for you tonight.

BOB [even more stiffly]: At least we think it's big.

BILL: We will try.  We will try, anyway, to bring you a big show.  We have the big audio-visual set-up, you can plainly see.  Isn't that right, Bob?

BOB: It certainly is.

It always sort of works...and the audience does not know that it seems familiar and funny because, just like toddlers still fascinated by the basic mechanics of walking, they, as twentysomethings, are still learning the basic mechanics of things like speaking formally and addressing large groups.  And in time it will all be rote or instinctual -- and not so funny or new anymore.

And then either they will stop going to such comedy shows or, in some cynical cases, they will decide they can make jokes that way themselves throughout an entire career as a sitcom writer -- though on some level they'll know they're squeezing out product from a tube for younger, more naive minds much like fiftysomething, balding record execs hiring ex-Mousketeers to make simple music for teens.

But meanwhile, the comedy audiences will tell themselves they are really the first generation ever to laugh at this sort of self-aware stiffness and awkwardness -- because all prior generations must have lacked irony and perspective, possibly lacked intelligence itself.  And the teens buying the ex-Mousketeer music will think they invented the music all on their own -- and that all prior generations must have lacked taste.

And the stiff, awkward, self-congratulatory process will never end, just as the left keeps thinking it has invented anew the idea of replacing markets with central planning in the name of a newfound compassion (this time for sure).

Though they are rarer than pro-government and pro-church documents, there are notes from scribes centuries old marveling at the stupid things people do and believe -- and wondering if the future will be any different.  And it won't, not really.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Left-Libertarianism and Liberal-tarianism’s Distinct Errors

In's symposium on "left-libertarianism," Steve Horwitz argues that some in that camp are guilty, ironically, of both (A) denouncing too many aspects of capitalism in order to please the left and (B) blaming too many of those aspects on government in order to prove their own (especially pure) libertarian credentials.

It's not very libertarian (and certainly not very bourgeois-friendly) to denounce most of society until utopia comes – as some of the more radical libertarians I know may sometimes be prone to do (and selective denunciation leads to weird, fashionable outcomes not so different than those that occur when some paleolibertarian types denounce, say, the biotech firm Monsanto but do so only by grasping for libertarian rationales that could as easily be used to condemn almost any firm in the current mixed economy and will likely be used to attack different targets if and when public paranoia over biotech passes).

I think the separate and more familiar group of "liberal-tarians" make a comparable mistake but not quite the same one, namely denouncing aspects of society the left doesn't like and declaring it a necessary part of libertarianism to make such denunciations – even without demonstrating that those things are caused by government (and not fully articulating why else we must denounce them, aside from highly contestable, mostly unspoken, left-liberal assumptions about what aspects of autonomy all good-hearted, enlightened people value or which aspects of non-violent, non-governmental social pressure all good-hearted, enlightened people condemn – without quite daring to take the bizarre position that people cannot exert any kind of even voluntary pressure, such as whining, on one another).

So the left-libertarians may blame too many things on government, and the liberal-tarians may simply be directing blame at too may things in general, without carefully tracing the causes of those things.  Yet the default social patterns of an unharassed bourgeoisie might well be the most utile patterns, long-term – to present a complex, more right-libertarian (and more widely-held) view in one short sentence.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dionysium tonight, Todd TV Friday, Bond and Wachowskis forever

•I enjoyed both Cloud Atlas and Skyfall, though the latter’s nicely-done opening-credits music sequence reminded me that the previous Bond movie started with one of Jack White’s biggest mistakes – and a side effect was that we never heard the song Shirley Bassey recorded for Quantum of Solace, which would have been #4 for the aged Ms. Bassey, and that’d be kinda cool. 

The year’s cinematic espionage isn’t over for me, though – now to see Argo and, next month, Zero Dark Thirty, about spies fighting Iranians and bin Laden, respectively.

•That reminds me: this week brings both Veteran’s Day and Islamic New Year, so tonight is the perfect time to join us at Muchmore’s (tonight at 9:30 at 2 Havemeyer St. near the Bedford Ave. stop in Williamsburg) for a multi-faction DIONYSIUM panel reacting to the election: Occupy participant Karanja “Speshul K” Gacuca (privately favoring Obama), Maine GOP senatorial candidate’s daughter Tricia Summers, Lawyers for Obama co-founder Vijay Dewan, and Libertarian Party writer for Gary Johnson Jeremy Kareken.

•I will mainly just be moderating, though it is tempting to weigh in and note how badly we need education in economics to prevent disasters like Obama (or, for example, Bush) from happening.  These are just a few obscure Twitter users, but see how they take potential layoffs caused by Obamacare as a sign that the businesses involved are simply slackers and shirkers – rather than economic agents striving always to make as much money as they can under adverse conditions.  This is Soviet thinking, and I no longer think it likely to lead to non-Soviet ends. 

In short: if economic regulations have consequences, liberals say: shoot the messenger, not the regulators.  No longer profitable for you to keep hiring people?  You should do it anyway.  You thought you went into business because there was the chance to profit?  Nope, your new job is to keep doing what you do even when it’s not worth it to you, to keep up appearances and make Obama look good.  Your employees don’t come in to work out of charity, but you should keep striving to come up with ways to cope with increasingly burdensome regulations just out of a sense of public duty.  There isn’t much hope for this country until far more people learn basic econ. 

I’m reminded that a purported “comedienne” who unfriended me has been exulting for days online about how Obama being reelected means evil Republicans being justly harmed and means cultural and economic bigotry taking a hit and – as if responding to price signals is another version of hating gay people.  (Moved your business to another state so you could survive the tax burden and expand instead of contract?  Want well-run private schools instead of badly-run government ones?  You must hate the poor, you monster.  Liberals have the obviously-best policies, after all, so it can’t be that you honestly disagree with them.) 

I admit that I (far more plausibly yet far more reluctantly) do worry that by trying to treat leftists civilly in the decades during which I’ve lived among them in the Northeast, I’ve contributed to the harm these people do instead of enlightening them – but I by contrast will keep at it instead of cutting them off.  Cut them off and I might accomplish nothing at all.

•In fact, I’ll surely talk to a leftist or two when I give my own reactions to the election (and to tonight’s Dionysium panel) on the Web show Rew and Who?  And you can watch me doing so here or live and in person (say hello) this Friday at 5:15 Eastern at Branded Saloon (at 603 Vanderbilt Ave. at the corner of Bergen Ave. in Brooklyn, near the B, Q, and C).  Clips will likely be posted later here.