Thursday, March 22, 2012

Williamsburg Is Coming (So Here’s a Huge Pile of Politics)

All right, my post-Groundhog Day extra six weeks of online political musings has clearly run its course.  

Spring has come, and it’s time to get off Blogger and Facebook until ready to present my revamped, Williamsburg-ready face to the world (you’ll see this site and my Facebook pages changing in bits and pieces over the next few weeks, probably even producing a short-term technical glitch or two, but don’t panic). 

One last big political entry before that (though I may tweet a little during the transition – and I’m sure you’ll get ahold of me one way or another eventually if you really need to):

•Romney now looks like the inevitable GOP nominee (regardless of whether he gets there via a brokered convention – and in spite of the fact that the Tea Party’s acquiescence to him has been exaggerated, a colleague notes).  Senator Sanatorium reminds us all that there are crazier things out there, and he may continue to do so as Romney’s v.p. running mate (gotta keep those socially-conservative states that are skeptical of Romney onboard somehow, I fear).  The man explicitly denounces Goldwater and the limited-government wing of the GOP – you can watch him doing it right here.

(Admittedly, there’s some waffling praise of decentralization...or the end, and I’m sure the resulting muddle pleases William Kristol and David Brooks.  I’ll vote for Ron Paul in the New York primary next month and, barring the highly unexpected, for Gary Johnson in November.)

Depressingly, Romney has to be asking himself who’s more easily alienated (as opposed to inspired) by his v.p. pick: social conservatives or libertarians?  I suspect we libertarians are more easily lost this time, though we were looking important for a month or so there (but here’s Sean Trende with some counter-intuitive insights on the real voting blocs).

•At least Santorum understands Goldwater means liberty and smaller government, even though he opposes them.  By contrast, the left probably can’t tell any of these people apart – nor can some on the right.  I’m reminded of an absurd piece – in National Review, I think it was – making Goldwater out to be a full-blown religious conservative.  Luckily, Drew Rushford has this Goldwater passage at the ready:

On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

For me, the fundamental question for testing people’s political allegiances is something earthly-yet-moral like this: Do you want money and resources to flow away from stupid people/decisions and toward wise ones – or vice versa?

•“Punk rock Republican” Andrew Breitbart fighting from beyond the grave with Obama-from-twenty-one-years-ago over Derrick Bell at Harvard has to be one of the most Gen X moments in politics so far this year.  Ah, nostalgia. 

•But as for the kids these days: I am all for Occupants

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Left-Libertarians Have and Eat Cake Once Again, in a Feminist Way

This post at the deeply confused left-leaning site BleedingHeartLibertarians caused me to become deeply confused about how the hell one posts a comment on the site without interacting in some unexplained way with a social media service or setting up an account with a service called Disqus.  Most likely, this comments format appealed to the BHL crowd because liberalism works best when insulated from external criticism.  Nonetheless, I'll post my intended comment as an entry here: 

No, no, no, no.  Look, it is not out of lack of nuance or ignorance of other areas of cultural analysis that libertarians define coercion narrowly by physical and fraudulent attacks on body and possessions.  

They do so because of their awareness, from surveying the real world, that you can creep up slowly, over the course of several paragraphs -- or even whole academic careers -- to the suggestion that sexist orders from an employer (for example) are somehow also coercive (maybe sorta kinda) -- and their accompanying awareness that no matter how cautiously you do it, you have then blown libertarianism to smithereens and opened the floodgates to the idea that outcomes that are voluntary by the old standard libertarian litmus test but that you really, really dislike are now suspect.  

And despite the pretense of having some other morality-or-autonomy-respecting criterion in the BHL entry above, it does not come down to anything other than saying, "The boss is just way freaking me out with that suggestion [assuming, obviously, the boss is committing no fraud or contract violation with the new suggestion]."  

Acting as if some voluntary arrangements are, as it were, just too icky and unpleasant to be voluntary arrangements (coal mining, anyone?) is such a short road to modern liberalism -- and the condoning of legal responses to (what were under traditional libertarian criteria) non-coercive but annoying outcomes -- that it barely warrants being called a road.  

It would be more accurate to describe it as libertarianism evaporating in an instant before our eyes, so quickly does this collapse into an intellectuals-led social-democratic guessing game about which deals are permitted and which (likely unbeknownst to some of the poor bastards attempting to enter into them) are just too, too autonomy-violating.   

Failing to say loudly and clearly that no legal remedy can be justified in these hypothetical non-violent non-fraudulent yet somehow coercive situations only makes the enterprise more troubling (especially given that, as you may've noticed, we already live in a world in which everyone except libertarians is bursting with reasons to adopt legal remedies and needs no help from us) -- as does the abject failure in the entry linked above to even note as an aside that employers (who are individuals, too, after all) might tend (like the CEO of American Apparel, reportedly) to prefer a workplace in which it is understood that superiors will grope and ogle underlings. 

Since the BHL crowd leans left, to get some idea how vague, troubling, and dangerous all this is, I can only suggest that you imagine me bringing over to the BHL blog an army of hypothetical HHLs (right-leaning "hard-hearted libertarians" who, hypothetically, regard certain arrangements as too tradition-violating to be truly "voluntary") and having them (ever so thoughtfully and articulately) let their imaginations run wild about how important the concept of "coercion" is but how we would do well to broaden it to include sexually demeaning things like porn and prostitution and divorce, not to mention atheism.  

To avoid that clash, abandon the BHL project and return to libertarianism proper before you unwittingly destroy your own parent-philosophy.

Or if you really need a simpler explanation: imagine a "bleeding-heart free-speech amendment," which was steeped in all the finest classical liberal rhetoric about the evil of censorship…and sneaked in at the end a reminder that social pressure can also be censorship, so we'd better not allow, y'know, the hurtful words.  If you think that'd be moronic -- take another hard look at bleeding-heart libertarianism.  Please.  Now.  (Don't "force" me to "force" you through social pressure.) 

Friday, March 9, 2012

John Carter (Princess of Mars), Stan Lee, Edward Gorey, the Lurch/JFK tie, T. Rex, and other art

Obviously, I will have to see John Carter (in IMAX 3D at the Broadway/68th theatre or bust).  It’s based on the century-old sci-fi works by Edgar Rice Burroughs that gave us not only otherworldly arena combat but also offhand faux-alien jargon like “nerf” that would echo in later sci-fi works (they should have a nerf-herder character in the movie just to mess with George Lucas).

To celebrate the release, here are five geek/fantasy notes from acquaintances:

•Austin Petersen, fellow Fox veteran, notes these encouraging words from

[I]n a documentary on the DVD for the first film, Iron Man co-creator Stan Lee flat out says that he created a capitalist, commie-fighting, industrialist, weapon-manufacturing superhero as a way to deliberately antagonize hippie-leaning comic book fans. Anti-military sentiment was high back in the 60s, and Lee wanted to challenge himself by creating a character he could force them to like.

•It was Julia Strohmeyer who suggested the excursion I made Wednesday to see the new Edward Gorey exhibit at Columbia – and I only hope I don’t sound like an ingrate when I say that ironically, I’m getting a little tired of all affected forms of traditionalism, from the neo-Victorian to the steampunk. 

I realized recently that within seconds of seeing a blog making prominent use of phrases such as “Zounds, madame!” I know it will also contain nineteenth-century illustrations with ironic captions and that the odds are good it will deploy Latin, Catholicism, or links to conservative friends of mine such as Tim Carney or James Poulos, possibly all of these things (not that I’m entirely objecting).  This may be too narrow and predictable to sustain, like America’s interest in manga. 

And any costume party involving corsets must get expensive.  (I’m too tired to even make a diagram showing how all these things are related.)

•Dimitri Cavalli e-mails with this important information about an actor associated with the comparably goth cartoonist Charles Addams:

Before gaining fame as Lurch on The Addams Family, and then as the narrator of the opening credits of The Incredible Hulk, Ted Cassidy worked as announcer for WFAA Radio in Dallas.  Here he is helping the station’s coverage of the Kennedy assassination.  (About one minute in.)

•Anastasia Uglova notes the amusingly simple and sad-sack adventures of T. Rex Trying

•And pehaps best of all, Dan Greenberg notes this panorama of art history re-envisioned through a sci-fi lens.  Now that’s art. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

We May Need to Resume That Progressive-Conservative Dialogue

It’s International Women’s Day, and I’ll celebrate by not arguing with feminists – or, better still, I will recall a long-lost era when people on different parts of the political spectrum could break bread and talk civilly with one another.  I mean, of course: 2007.

Or at least, I can’t help thinking something useful was happening around then in the form of a “wonk dialogue” among progressives and free-market conservatives who were beginning to talk about the fact that government is neither as egalitarian as the former would like nor as small as the latter would like (nor as socialist as the latter usually fear but instead about as corporatist as the left had long said). 

Acquaintances of mine who were not all of the same political stripe were starting to take what one might almost call a Clintonian interest in the problem of real government being unlike the ideals of any philosophical faction: Dan Gerstein, Robert A. George, David Bernstein (one of the David Bernsteins, anyway), Julia Kamin, and Koli Mitra all organized or attended events here in NYC around then that somehow fit into this trans-partisan conversation (sometimes featuring guest speakers such as the moderate John McWhorter).

Though that feels like it was only yesterday, it was a different (and arguably less partisan) era in several ways: pre-financial crisis, pre-Obama presidency, pre-Tea, pre-Occupy, and prior to the libertarian shift in emphasis toward cultivating “Ron Paul Republicans” (and seemingly pretty decisively against cultivating “liberal-tarians”).  But when all those far noisier phenomena have quieted, it might be worth rekindling that progressive/conservative dialogue. 

And it was a slightly different conversation than either the “liberaltarian” or fusionist (whether neo or paleo) conversations between libertarians and other strains, in that it was less about finding already-existing areas of overlap or easy agreement and more about wrestling with the colossal real-world problem of our ideologies being almost irrelevant to government as it actually is. 

That problem looks more relevant than ever, though, with the Tea Party railing against the major political party that supposedly represents it for not tackling the debt, and the Occupants (can I call them Occupants?) rightly denouncing corporatism and bailouts (when not wrongly denouncing markets, accounting, and sometimes math itself).  I may not be the only one who feels oddly hung over when trying to recollect what ever became of that thread of conversation. 

Intellectuals were actually ahead of events at that point – and perhaps should have talked with greater urgency.  But divisive Obamaphilia and Obamaphobia put those talks on hold – until now, perhaps, with people on both sides (all three if you count frustrated libertarians) willing to talk more thoughtfully again about how, as political ideologues, we’ve all screwed up royally for the past several decades and overlooked some huge problems.

Perhaps this is one of many vexing and complicating conversations we can have soon at those new bar events I’ll host in Williamsburg.

P.S. In the meantime, absent some Ron Paul-boosting miracle, I will take some small consolation (and it really is very small) in things like Romney’s Michigan victory speech last week repeatedly emphasizing the Constitution and “smaller government” – a formulation we should hold him to if he gets elected.  He consciously wants those libertarian votes, I think.  Santorum seemingly does not.  Obama plainly does not.  It’s a start.  But I predict I’ll be voting for Gary Johnson in November. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Madison Rising live, David Friedman (and me) and Obama on video

The conservative rock band I wrote about for New York Post (and for Newsmax, in a piece likely appearing next month) is performing Friday at 6:30 at Sullivan Hall

Madison Rising put a video homage to the late Andrew Breitbart online – and their manager notes that Breitbart’s (pop-culture-informed) mission was described as a search for “punk rock Republicans.” 

Indeed, at an informal memorial toast to Breitbart on Monday night, a few of us took Breitbart’s reported musical tastes as sufficient justification to request Smiths songs and the like on the jukebox – but I soon had to exit to host the talk by David Friedman seen in this video, shot by a very helpful Danny Panzella.

For a quick lesson in the difference between good moderates and bad moderates, see this nice Mickey Kaus defense of Breitbart against the now chronically-dissatisfied and fun-ruining David Frum.  When I saw Donna Brazile talking with obvious warmth about how Breitbart would eagerly give lengthy and useful Web-using advice even to his worst political foes, I figured a wave of surprisingly nice things was about to be said about him from counter-intuitive parts of the political spectrum.

I have no idea what Obama footage Breitbart was planning to release at the time of his death, but here’s a quite charming clip of Obama in 1991 at Harvard Law School sounding exactly like himself.

Even Obama once described himself as hanging around with punks back in those days, so I certainly don’t pretend rock n’ roll alone can prevent statism.  Madison Rising does more of an Alice in Chains grunge sort of thing than punk, though, so we’ll see if that brings down big government.  See you Friday.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Super Tuesday and a Meta Tomorrow

I see comics artist Dean Haspiel -- who among other things drew a skeptical account of the Cuban Revolution -- is one of the competing writers at the Literary Death Match at the Back Room tonight at 8pm.  And Cuba is a reminder that no matter how heated the GOP primary has gotten, in the grand historical/geopolitical scheme of things, the candidates aren't that far apart.  

Of course, my favorite remains Ron Paul -- and the best thing for the libertarian movement right now might actually be if he and Gary Johnson ran as the Libertarian Party ticket -- but I'm pragmatic enough to see the long-term advantages of Paul seeing his GOP run through to the convention and retaining enough good will to boost his son Rand Paul's future prospects.  

Romney's new emphasis on his "more jobs, less debt, smaller government" mantra (and wife's Kid Rock shout-out during the same Michigan victory appearance) is at least a feint in the right direction.  I don't expect him to be much better than Bill Clinton, but he's hardly a communist.  

And if it's useful to step back from the combat once in a while and remember our similarities, sometimes the first step to seeing family resemblances is admitting shared history. 

After all, we all inherit the history of anarchism, anti-imperialism, Cold Warrior bravery, environmental concerns, industrial revolution, abolitionism, traditionalism, avant-gardism, moderation, democracy, monarchy, globalism, localism, federalism, mass movements, reform, conservatism, feminism, manliness, secularism, science, and religion -- and we can make all these things fit together if we honestly prefer that to fighting. 

I mentioned at last night's (excellent) David Friedman talk that the upcoming Williamsburg bar events I'll host will be more eclectic, and that includes a willingness to see what unexpected and unorthodox political notions arise in the new arena.  The world as a whole does not pick one ideological strain and ignore all others.  The world remains fusionist, in the broadest sense, even when the Republicans can't quite pull off the art of the seamless blend.  

Over the long haul, the world mixes and matches traditions shamelessly -- sometimes in blenders such as Super Tuesday but also via ambiguous works of art or party-switching politicians -- and posterity may not even recognize the once-discordant elements underlying the strange new hybrids.  We may need to create some in Williamsburg.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Anarchy Tonight! (an optimistic glimpse of speaker David Friedman’s future)

It’s Monday.  Tonight (after spanning the political spectrum with a tour of the New York Times and a 7pm stop at Sanctuary Bar, where some folks will toast the late Andrew Breitbart), I will head down to old LOLITA BAR (266 Broome St.) to host the previously-noted talk there by anarcho-capitalist economist DAVID FRIEDMAN at 9pm.  Join me!  Together we will rule...nothing.  No one should rule.

Friedman may be the writer with views closest to my own, so of course I will take it as a terrible personal slight if you do not attend.  Besides, his talk on “Global Warming and Other Good Things in Our Future” will give you reason to welcome tomorrow – and will defy the usual right-vs.-left analysis.

A dozen more thoughts about politics, the past, and the future:

1. I recently scoffed at the decades-ago warning that robots would end up producing all our music – yet (as Jake Harrison points out), tiny computer-guided quadrotor flying-drones have now been programmed to perform the James Bond theme song.  The lab that built them, called GRASP, is looking more like SPECTRE with each passing day, and plainly we are all going to die in some way resembling this video clip (you think I’m joking).

2. If the future brings a moon colony, I only hope it looks more like the one Gingrich imagines than like the one in next month’s eagerly-anticipated film Iron Sky, about a Palin-like president fending off lunar fascists.  Perhaps Friedman can address this issue – or give us hope that the moon will end up having revolutionary anarcho-capitalists on it, as in Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

3. To learn how law works on Mars, by contrast, you may need to join me in seeing John Carter this weekend, in theatres a full 100 years after the original novella – and somewhere out there, I hope a 105-year-old fan who read it when it came out in 1912 is complaining that they’ve gotten something wrong in the film.  (Had things gone as once planned, by the way, it would not have been Disney who first released a theatrical John Carter but Warner Brothers animators back in the 1930s – before Snow White.  We can only imagine how that might have altered the history of animation.)

4. Santorum does not seem much concerned with forward-looking things like robots or off-world colonies.  On the other hand, economist Don Boudreaux wrote this criticism of those who, among other things, want the government to mandate payments for contraception: “Here again is another instance of ‘I want what you earn’ lauded as being enlightened, while ‘I want what I earn’ [is] criticized as being backward.”

(By the way, do many leftists feel shame living off rich parents’ trust funds – much like that felt by welfare recipients – all of it sublimated as anger?  That would explain a great deal.  Being a parasite is a fast track to self-hatred, after all, and one obvious response is to seek some way of claiming the moral/political high ground.)

5. Since I started out complaining about Santorum, though, I should post a better link to that hula hoop chick I linked on Facebook as a small anti-Santorum pro-sexytime protest.  I deleted it on Facebook not because Santorum pulled off a belated quasi-tie in Michigan but simply because that other link was wonky (in a non-political sense of the word). 

6. Here she is hooping to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs of Williamsburg, future site of Seavey-hosted bar events.

7. Speaking of protests against right-wingers, I find myself in the odd position, years after Brown, of noting that a Brown Daily Herald columnist