Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pre-Groundhog Day Media Notes: “Free-Market Socialism,” I.P., and Other Ambiguities

[UPDATE: The Friday, January 27, 8pm Vaclav Havel play reading mentioned below, Memorandum, is first come first served, tickets by donation, directed by Robert Anthony Peters, at 45th Street Theatre, 354 W. 45th.  Even if I don’t make it, you should.]

In one week, on Groundhog Day, I’ll resume roughly-daily blogging, albeit in a different vein, as you will see. 

One year ago this week, I blogged a near-final word on my C-SPAN2 appearance from late 2010, but it appears my ex-girlfriend from that broadcast is leaving the Big City and reassessing her life, so we’ve non-violently buried the hatchet, and I get a few of the old books from her vast and obscure library in the process.

To mark the occasion – and to compensate for me officially ending my Book Selections of the Month entries last month – some notes on recent books and articles of import:

•If it wasn’t David Brooks himself who titled his column “Free-Market Socialism” this week, bless the subversive copy editor who called a (mushy, Clintonian) philosophy what it is.  At the same time, kudos to Brooks for calling the economic component of his (evolving) thinking “libertarian.”  Nice to see him using the term in a positive way once in a while. 

In a way, though, he ends up being the secular-statist (to use progressive Newt Gingrich’s favorite formulation) version of a social conservative: Instead of markets for economics + religion for basic morals, Brooks wants markets for economics + state for basic morals.  It won’t work – morals are an even subtler thing than economics, and the state can’t be trusted to engineer either.  But we can all feel him feeling society’s pain, in a meta-Clintonian fashion. 

I’ll try to stop bashing him all the time.  But he and several prominent neoconservatives should retire now, along with the rest of the failed establishment, and everyone should vote for Ron Paul.  

(C’mon, conservatives – how much pain do liberal Romney and TR-like blowhard turned Catholic pseudo-moralist Gingrich have to cause you before you remember there’s a real anti-big-government candidate in the race?  There’s an escape route here, people, not just from phony candidates but from socialism itself, markety or otherwise.)

•In addition to seeing a documentary about Ayn Rand tonight – and tomorrow night dropping in on free-market Democrat Dan O’Connor’s bar event at Tammany Hall Tavern and seeing a Vaclav Havel play called Memorandum about socialist bureaucracy – I need to return a borrowed copy of Against Intellectual Property by N. Stephan Kinsella to its rightful owner. 

Much as I might wish, as a libertarian, that this book – or any other – settled the complicated issue of I.P. to my satisfaction, I think it remains a muddle.  True,

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ron Paul, MLK, Catwoman, and the Huntsman

At the halfway point of an otherwise non-blogging month, I pop back in briefly to note that Huntsman will be on TV any minute now speaking about his departure from the Republican race for president and his endorsement of Romney.

One irony is that he turned on Ron Paul toward the end, trying to get attention by blaming Paul for a racist ad that Paul plainly did not create (and which bore no resemblance to Paul’s actual, freedom-themed ads) – when in truth, Huntsman has enough libertarian tendencies to make Ron Paul a more logical second choice for Huntsman voters.  I hope the small handful of Huntsman voters, for what it’s worth, will figure that out for themselves. 

(And with five GOP candidates left – and Perry probably out soon – my main hope now is just that Gingrich and Romney continue to tear each other down until Paul becomes the plurality candidate around whom real conservatives rally.  I am grateful, therefore, for Newt’s stubbornness.  Even Paul says Romney looks hard to stop, though.  And let us not speak of Santorum.)

I hope Huntsman’s departure so soon after failing to get traction with his condemnation of the non-Paul race ad will be the last time we have to rehash any Paul racism charges.  Last I heard, it didn’t even sound as if Paul’s Alabama paleoconservative allies were the ones responsible for the old, offending newsletter passages but, ironically, as if they might have been the result of a “respectable” East Coast thinktanker/business writer clumsily trying to wax satirical in a half-offensive Gawker-like fashion – and as if at least one of the pieces clearly bore that writer’s byline rather than being written by Paul or ghostwritten and attributed to Paul. 

The more you look at it, the less there seems to be there.  And Paul’s actual output is so vast, there are countless more productive avenues of investigation – so let’s stick to them.  Ironically, though, when the notoriously-vast heap of unshelved books in my apartment collapsed the other day, the top layer of sediment unveiled was in fact a copy of the Ron Paul Freedom Report newsletter (October 2007, to be precise), which I had totally forgotten I ever had.  You will be shocked to learn the articles therein are about taxes and sound money, not the black man. 

We can’t bring MLK back to life today to ask his opinion of Ron Paul, but another important 1960s figure is still with us: Julie Newmar, one of three women to play Catwoman on the 1960s Batman series (another being Eartha Kitt, in a wonderful bit of raceblind casting, by the way), endorsed Ron Paul on Facebook.  Maybe a campaign ad is in order with her saying (with an astonishingly-still-sexy purr): “I played a famous thief – but there is one candidate who rrrrespects your property rights.”

(South Carolina Republican senator Jim DeMint's endorsement right about now would also be greatly appreciated, of course.)

In any case, with Paul’s focus plainly on individual liberty and tolerance, those worried about incipient fascism should probably be made more nervous by the “Sympathy for the Devil” cover by Slovenian band Laibach (who, I am pleased to hear, will also do the music for the Nazis-from-the-moon comedy film Iron Sky in April).

Speaking of fascists, the crucial thing being left out in the reporting about the unusually chaotic passenger and crew reaction in that tragic cruise-ship-sinking may be the fact that the scrambling evacuees were largely Italians.  Italy spawned the Roman Empire, Catholicism, the Mafia, fascism, various forms of machismo – and perhaps not coincidentally a culture in which spontaneous forms of order such as “waiting in line” often do not exist, shocked though I was the first time I heard about that problem from an Italian immigrant.  Maybe they are slightly less likely to abandon ship in civil fashion without a leader.

But I’ll be back in February to further raise the level of civility.  See you on Groundhog Dog.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I’ll Be Back on Groundhog Day, but Things Will Be Different

With Bachmann and likely Perry dropping out – and neither Santorum nor Huntsman having much national heft – plus Gingrich aimed squarely downward, it looks as though 2012 will be a bit like 2008 (that is, an almost-certain nominee and a vexing libertarian footnote), except Ron Paul will be taken a good deal more seriously this time and the probable nominee-by-default (McCain then, Romney with a probable McCain endorsement now) less seriously. 

In the end, if the GOP picks Romney over Paul, I’ll vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson, the #JifnotP vow I encourage others to take and spread (and if we merely end up replacing Obama with another decline-managing, statist force-lover named Romney, at least I’ll get to watch the decline being managed by the New England establishment that reminds me of my childhood – small consolation after glimpsing the possibility, in Ron Paul, of ending the big-government nightmare, but relaxing like a morphine-induced death, I suppose).

But I’m spending the first month of this agonizing process offline.

I’m sure you can get ahold of me if you really need to and I don’t check in in a timely fashion.  For example, TONIGHT from 6:30-8:30, you’ll find me at the Kiva event celebrating poverty-fighting microfinance, at Vig Bar, 12 Spring St.  

(That’s something I wouldn’t be doing if I believed the passage in wacky David Graeber’s Debt that argues that the last thing we should want for people in the developing world is for them to join us in the unending cycle of credit and finance, but more about that Occupy guru after my return.) 

As hinted today in my 1,500th tweet (and here, not far short of my 1,500th blog entry), I have some preparations to make for the next phase in the ongoing Todd Seavey project, which I hope will be even more exciting than the FIVE YEARS of that some of you have now experienced.

And if I sound more radical lately – well, yes, and I think the next phase will be one marked by an even greater openness to new ideas.  A month offline may actually be a pleasant start in that direction, since the Net is hectic whereas scientists find that “empathy, as well as deep thought, depends...on neural processes that are ‘inherently slow’,” as noted in a Pico Iyer article pointed out by Alyssa Pelish (herself the friend who became one of my ACSH successors, if you’re tempted to check out their stuff while I’m away).

An honest assessment of humanity’s numerous bad ideas would likely reveal that we not only need to dispense with many of them once and for all but squelch the temptation to keep talking about them and fighting about them (further discussion of religion, of war, or of big government as a reformable thing, for instance, may be quite pointless, but people keep doing it – and that wastes valuable time our current economic and political system may not have anymore).

So we’ll aim higher when I get back, and I hope to be both less compromising and more diplomatic.  We’ll see how that goes. 

I think it was one of my old college humor-writer colleagues who observed that Nietzsche’s notion of “eternal recurrence” (the proper attitude of one who loves his circumstances) is a bit like Groundhog Day.  And so, even if it portends four more years of statism and idiocy, I shall return on GROUNDHOG DAY, and much like Nietzsche – I shall return as an incarnation of DIONYSUS!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

People of Iowa: from Ron Paul voters to Will Wilkinson (plus Rudy, “thick” libertarianism, and more)

After seeing the very good (and conservative-friendly) Iron Lady last night, I wish Margaret Thatcher were a plausible write-in candidate for the Republicans this year (and I look forward to seeing the whole Iron Trilogy this year – Iron Sky about Nazis from the moon in April and of course Avengers).

Instead, many of us today hope we will see Ron Paul win the Iowa caucus, despite his flaws (all politicians have some, as you may’ve noticed).  At the very least, it would foster wider discussion of libertarianism and in the best-case scenario, of course, it might lead to government’s evil presence in our lives and in the economy starting to recede in one year, changing the course of human history. 

(I actually predict he will win Iowa, given the failure of the usual polls to gauge the far greater likelihood of Paul voters actually showing up in large numbers relative to other candidates’ fair-weather supporters.  All the number-crunching strategy by my geeky faction, which wants to transform both the home team and the game itself, actually reminds me a bit of the Aaron Sorkin-penned Moneyball, another fine film.)  

So naturally, on the eve of potential triumph, yesterday Will Wilkinson announced that he is not a libertarian after all, is in fact a liberal (not just a “liberal-tarian”), and would not want to be part of a movement that included Ron Paul (nor indeed any movement at all).  I bear Will no ill will but feel as though some sort of apology may be owed to the people who kept telling him a few years ago that he’s not really a libertarian.  I never even went that far – I’m all for letting people define these things somewhat broadly – but for some reason, I still feel sort of vindicated.

Coincidentally, I only just learned that Virginia Postrel doesn’t want to use the label anymore either (but at least she takes care to put a “classical” in front of her “liberal”).  The real question here, of course, is: OK, WHICH ONE OF THE REST OF YOU WANTS TO JUMP SHIP?  KERRY?  MEGAN?!  All the recent “voluntaryists,” maybe?!?  I’m simply a libertarian, by the way.  Feel free to use me as the definitional case from now on, especially if I’m the only one left.

Libertarians Who Need Their Space

No, but, hey, man – it’s cool.  It’s cool.  We OK.  We OK.  (And if we win, I hope the ensuing celebration rivals the New Year’s Eve party at which I photographed the knock-off “Snowballs” seen above – and my thanks, too, to Kevin Walsh for pointing out that other photo, which really is Ron Paul in a Houston Astros uniform.)

And I can understand mainstream libertarians – very much including me, despite all the scorn and skepticism young Ron Paul-wave libertarians heap on Beltway-style, thinktank-funding, white-paper-producing type libertarians – such as Ed Crane wanting to be on record distinguishing between (what I still see as) libertarianism proper and Paul’s brand of paleolibertarianism, with its extra (and occasionally weird) cultural baggage (none of which has much effect on policy prescriptions, still deducible from imagining strict property rights and laws forbidding only assault, theft, and fraud). 

But I think some outright enthusiasm from libertarians at this potentially-historic juncture is not only warranted but arguably morally necessary.  For one thing, we should not appear to be lazily echoing the “Paul can’t win” mantra when there are so many useless, big-government-loving, unphilosophical, mainstream types to perform that function already (like John Podhoretz, for instance).

To his credit, liberal Jonathan Chait at least finishes his article by going into far more amusing detail than most people about how unlikely he thinks a Paul victory is.

I’m sticking to the #JifnotP vow I’ve been encouraging people to take, though – publicly tell the GOP you’ll vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson in the general election unless the GOP nominates Ron Paul and proves it’s serious about shrinking government before big spending destroys civilization.  Really let the GOP know they won’t have our vote this time without our man leading them.  Otherwise, they’ll just think, “Well, Romney’s kind of a business guy – that should be good enough for those, what you call ’em, libertarian people.”

Speaking of electoral strategy: you know, it might never have occurred to Ron Paul to focus on this first caucus so much had it not been for Giuliani failing to do so back in ’08.  THANKS, RUDY!

(And Rudy was briefly under consideration again in this election cycle, too, along with so many rise-and-fall GOP candidates and potential candidates that you may not even be able to remember them all.  At least the Herman Cain – remember him? – left behind this wonderful artifact, noted by Gerard Perry.)

Paleos and Catholics

But suddenly, it’s not just Paul vs. mainstream choice Romney.