Saturday, April 28, 2012

Comics and (Stupid) Identity Issues


Sci-fi and comics often have clones and evil doubles and the like that only we hardcore nerds keep track of, with my favorite stupid-reductio example being the DC Comics fight about four years ago between Power Girl from Earth-Two and (pay attention, now) Power Girl from Earth-2

And now, I kid you not, those worlds have been replaced in the refurbished DC multiverse by Earth 2.

So I'm amused to see a DC fan enraged that (in the first comic set on Earth 2, coming out in a few days), the character Helena Bertinelli gets a "shitty death" off-panel – by which the fan means that in the new multiverse, Helena is merely depicted as a long-dead woman, while her duplicate from Earth 2 – Helena Wayne, a.k.a. the Huntress – has been using her name all these years. 

It's comparable to the sense of betrayal you'd feel if you found out Spider-Man had been a clone for the past five years, I guess...except the current stories all take place in an entirely new multiverse anyway, so it's not clear the dead duplicate character is the same as the prior multiverse's live version of that character by the same name...who, in any case, was merely created in the late 80s as a doppelganger for the original 1970s Earth-Two version of the character...and in fact the new Earth 2 version arguably more closely resembles that Earth-Two original than the late-80s Ms. Bertinelli (who the fan feels just died off-panel) did anyway.

All these characters essentially look identical and do the same thing, by the way (that is, fight crime like Batman). 

There comes a point, in short, where caring either drives you mad or leads you inexorably to the same point as the people who didn’t care in the first place, which is probably roughly where you are right about now, gentle reader.  Yet it had to be said. 

P.S. But I promise you, somewhere out there is a fan who has not yet realized that this way lies madness and is thus rooting for a big team-up between the Helena of Earth-Two, the Helena of the late-80s Earth, the briefly-instantiated Helena of Earth-2, the cruelly-dispatched and never-seen Helena of the current main Earth, and the Helena of Earth 2, all of whom would, of course, be virtually identical. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Vote Ron Paul (plus Superman, Rand, steampunk, rock, and Dionysium)


Four years ago, I confess, I voted for Romney in the New York primary, figuring he was by that point the biggest obstacle to throw at the even-worse John McCain.  Raising my standards considerably, today I’ll vote against Romney, regardless of how big an obstacle Ron Paul offers.  Philosophically, he is the only giant in electoral politics these days. 

Still, as I type this, prior to the day’s voting, it’s worth noting that at this point either Gingrich or Paul, to become the nominee without bizarre convention high-jinx, would have to win nearly all the remaining delegates, solo.  Romney, by contrast, automatically gets the nomination just by winning about 40% of the outstanding delegates, which he can likely do with ease.  There is still a small chance of Romney failing to get to 1,144 before the convention.  But there is now effectively no chance of Gingrich or Paul getting that many before the convention. 

It is hard, too, to imagine anyone but Romney emerging victorious even from the ugliest and weirdest imaginable divided convention (so I would prefer my fellow Ron Paul supporters not do anything nuts if it comes to that).

And so, even though there is something to be said for continuing to get Paul’s vote totals as high as possible to help spread the liberty message, libertarians should probably be asking themselves what their next move is in an Obama-vs.-Romney world: (1) Vote Romney?  (2) Vote Obama?  (3) Vote for the Libertarian Party candidate all but certain to be picked at their convention in Vegas next week, Gary Johnson?  (4) Stay home?  (5) Stick with Paul and expect something very, very improbable to happen at the GOP convention (like Romney getting run over by a bus)? 

I would love to hear from one experienced public speaker from each of these factions – who is a libertarian – at the impending May 17 Dionysium event I’m hosting.  Let me know if you’re game.  No Devil’s-advocate stuff – I want to hear five passionate cases made (for about five minutes each, in addition to our main event: Brian Doherty discussing his new book on Ron Paul). 

As for me, I suggest option #3 above, Gary Johnson (“Johnson if not Paul,” as I’ve vowed and encouraged others to vow).  I might in theory stretch that rule to include Rand Paul as a v.p. candidate, but no other Republican, Rubio or otherwise, will do as a substitute for Ron.  That is one of many complex and contentious issues we’ll have to discuss on May 17, though, at the first gathering of the Dionysium! 

It may sound like mere fantasy to think Romney might pick Rand Paul as a running mate, but Romney’s going to have to cut several deals if he really wants to keep his coalition together: socially conservative Santorumites, Hispanic and Floridian Rubio-admirers, disappointed libertarian Ron Paul fans, and more-conventional yet less-Republican libertarian Gary Johnson fans are all liable to bail on poor Mitt, and he has to be doing that strange math by now. 

He will almost certainly prevail in New York today, though – and rather than be a mopey and disappointed libertarian, I’ll just (1) spend some individualistic time reading Superman: Secrets of the Fortress of Solitude when that comes out tomorrow, (2) hear Objectivist Yaron Brook speak at NYU Thursday night at 6pm with a few of my anarcho-capitalist brethren, (3) attend a Victorian/steampunk fashion show in Brooklyn on Sunday at 3pm, and (4) hear a neoconservatively-inclined rocker, Jessica Eisenberg, perform at 8pm that same day at Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg –the same neighborhood soon to know the glory of the Dionysium

And I will really keep my cyber-mouth shut until May, hard as that is to believe.  Taking a page from one of my state’s beloved former senators, I will try to emerge in “listening tour” mode instead of arguing constantly – the very model of a gracious Dionysium host.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tricia Rose, Social Justice, Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Beastie Boys, and Black Crowes

I saw a lecture by (charming, charismatic, funny) Brown professor of Africana studies Tricia Rose last night, and it was a reminder how ludicrous the task is that the “bleeding-heart libertarians” have set for themselves in wanting to incorporate “social justice” into the heart of libertarian thinking (or in Matt Zwolinski’s revisionist account, in arguing social justice has always been a major component of classical liberal thinking). 

This (mostly white, fairly moderate-seeming, very Brown University) audience was surely the kind of crowd that routinely deploys the language of social justice – and Rose deploys it in friendly, happy, anecdotal, non-threatening terms that would likely seem palatable to your average talk show audience (she has written two books on the philosophy behind hiphop). 

Yet it seemed to boil down to (or rather be a taken-for-granted synonym for) talk of wealth redistribution, fighting to preserve big-government programs like Obamacare, and, even more creepily, encouragement of people like the school teacher who says he is looking forward to teaching ninth-graders to be social justice activists themselves.  Why, that’s just bound to mean a more libertarian society, right? 

Perhaps the most condescending and authoritarian bit, though, was when Rose had the whole audience raise their right hands to recite a long, long pledge she had written about how to work toward social justice without blaming yourself for society’s past sins – and she had people begin pledging and reciting before telling them what they would be swearing to.  Sign this social contract and read it later, as it were – likely a pretty good indication of how much she (happily, cheerily, positively) thinks we can all trust her judgment.  I’m sure students love her.

These are our philosophical kin, Zwolinski (and Tomasi and Levy)?  But not those awful moderate Republican types who talk about markets and individualism all the time, of course.  Well, you go to the family reunion next time, then, because I don’t have the patience for it anymore.  Nor for any further BHL nonsense. 

If you treasure your status as intellectuals as much as you seem to, there comes a time to admit you’re wrong, and it would be impressive and admirable for the BHL faction to do so immediately after the release of the liberal-tarian manifesto Free Market Fairness.  Indeed, they are plainly morally obligated to do so, as, all joking aside, they are attempting to dilute the one philosophy that can save this society by transmuting it into the very philosophy that is rapidly destroying society, on campus and in Washington, DC. 

There is not some aspect of this that their opponents “don’t get,” “need to study more,” or are “resisting.”  BHL is false and destructive, and, as usual, I have been entirely too kind in my criticisms.  I will not continue to be if they persist in this self-indulgent,

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How I’m Spending Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Nazis were, among other things, (1) anti-free-market (they controlled industry and railed against bourgeois merchants just as other socialists did), (2) unscientific, (3) racist, and yet (4) prone to fantasize that they were noble, self-sacrificing heroes. 

I am pleased that by contrast my Holocaust Remembrance Day happens to shape up like this:

(1) Hear a fine talk by Todd Zywicki of the Mercatus Center about the government’s opportunistic responses to the financial crisis (a talk that ended with him basically agreeing with one audience member who warned that our current economic system is becoming “fascist”).

(2) Visit an event this evening at the American Museum of Natural History – accompanied by two Jewish people, no less, one the founder of the new Empiricist League, which will host regular lectures on scientific topics (not so terribly unlike the broader-ranging Dionysium I’ll begin hosting on May 17, as noted here yesterday).

(3) Attend a talk later tonight by Africana Studies professor Tricia Rose from Brown about race and gender, not just for old times’ sake but to keep me well rounded after my blog posts earlier this year (a) defending one of the writers let go for racism by National Review and (b) again criticizing the BHLs, for among other things still being feminists.

(4) Be reminded what truly self-sacrificing heroism is by reading the final issue of DC Comics’ series about the (doomed, tragically short-lived) T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.


By the way, some will claim that the Nazis were inevitable once Darwin became popular and the world was seen as a competition between bloodlines, but it sounds to me like E.O. Wilson’s new book, The Social Conquest of Earth – about group selection mattering more than kin selection to recent human evolution – might do wonders to show people how Darwinian thinking can lead to Hayek (that is, toward an understanding of competing models of benign economic cooperation) instead of to new rationales for the barbarous and biological war of all against all.  Of course, some ants will always be Marxists.

And if all that still sounds too grim and heavy – and the shadow cast by the damn fascists still seems too dark and long – tomorrow I will blog of more-celebratory topics such as the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

10 Bits of Libertarian In-Fighting and Intrigue

Yesterday was Tax Day, but on Thursday, May 17 (8pm), I’ll host the first in a new series of onstage bar events called the Dionysium (at Muchmore’s Bar, 2 Havemeyer St. near the Bedford Ave. stop in Williamsburg) – and at this inaugural one, Reason editor Brian Doherty will speak about his new book Ron Paul: The Man and the Movement He Inspired

More details to come soon – and the events won’t always be libertarian in nature – but here are ten bits of libertarian controversy we might want to chat about next month (and by now Brian surely knows how much the Paulites and Reasonoids fight with each other, which I hadn’t really known about until the past two years or so – though maybe some of the neoconservatives will at least let up on Paul a bit after he endorsed the idea of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem):

An Associated Press article by Michael Hill today notes my plan (no doubt shared by many) to vote for Ron Paul in New York’s Republican primary on Tuesday – and my expectation that I’ll vote for Gary Johnson, not Romney, in November.

•Bizarre, cryptic blog entries, one by Lew Rockwell, hint at a Cato Institute scandal that will take down Ed Crane – yet heal the ancient rift between the Kochs, Cato, and the Mises Institute to boot – possibly with a crime involved.  That’s one artfully-targeted scandal.  And, no, I have no idea what they’re talking about. 

•The aforementioned Doherty quotes a recent blog entry of mine at length in his summary of the debate among and with “liberal-tarians” (hereinafter referred to by the shorter nickname BHLs, or “bleeding-heart libertarians,” which shall be deployed with shameless imprecision) on the (controversial but non-scandalous) Cato-Unbound blog.  That blog entry of mine ended up getting me criticized by both a Catholic libertarian who thought it caved completely to the BHLs and by a gay-friendly libertarian who thought I was too dismissive of transsexuals.  It’s tough keeping everyone happy.

•On Cato-Unbound, the debate has entered a Conversation phase, featuring another fine jab from David Friedman, a reply from Zwolinski and Tomasi encouraging a bit of mushiness, a still more impatient jab from Friedman, and a reply from Zwolinski that frankly leaves me worried he thinks the problem with political thinkers is that they haven’t spent enough time worrying about the poor. 

Really?  Is that the problem?  Next, you’ll tell me it’s high time someone tried thinking about economics in terms of labor for a change.  And, hey, maybe the problem with debates over resource use is that no one has thought about our impact on Mother Earth yet.  (Just stop or you’ll replicate the whole decline from nineteenth- into twentieth-century liberalism, and we did that disaster already.)

•Doherty may have supplied the best evidence that libertarians like Hayek are too mushy and unprincipled to be much of a safeguard against statism when he noted that Barney Frank quotes Hayek in defense of government.  I’m not joking when I say BHLs ought to think about that for a while before opening their mouths again (or dismissing more rigid Randian/Rothbardian-type formulations of the philosophy – as Rothbard once said in defense of anarcho-capitalism, we tried “limited government” already and it didn’t last).

•I do, however, commend John Tomasi for putting out his consensus-seeking, left-meets-right book Free Market Fairness just as Bill O’Reilly announces (on his April 11 show) that this presidential election is one between “a free-marketeer and a social justice liberal.”  America needs this book right now, clearly (dangerous as it may be to play into the hands of a President who likes to talk about “fairness”). 

I’m inclined to think, contra Tomasi and Zwolinski, though

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The IRS Wasn't the Only Messy Political Development a Century Ago

While it crosses my mind (on this politically-accursed day), I owe Ron Radosh for alerting me to the work of the historian Martin J. Sklar (with whom I later corresponded a little), who has written about corporatism and Progressivism being almost the same thing, given the way big government arose in partnership with modern corporations a century ago, amidst much talk of reform, efficiency, and centralization (three things that seemed then to go together naturally).

And you almost don't wanna know how complex and counter-intuitive the business-regulations debates of that day were -- less about markets vs. government than about regulations favoring small businesses and farmers (by busting up large businesses) vs. regulations that inadvertently encouraged corporate bigness by being more lenient on a single large corporation than on multiple businesses that colluded with each other or were owned by the same person.

The daunting task of unraveling the resulting inefficient, corrupt knot -- without appearing merely to tug it rightward or leftward (and thus angering one or the other faction invested in the knot without seeing its true nature) -- is urgent these days but unlikely to be completed by pretending, for instance, that Romney and Obama are clear-cut polar opposites.  It all makes me tired.

(More tomorrow on various bits of traitorous political behavior and/or in-fighting, though.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Come to “Detention” – and hear music – and learn anarchy!

Bucking the Whedonesque trend, I will not see young folk menaced in a Cabin in the Woods this Friday...nor will I see prisoners facing a Lockout in space...nor for that matter do I expect to watch a High School coping with drugs next week.

Instead, FRIDAY I WILL ATTEND THE MOVIE DETENTION, directed by Joseph Kahn (who’s done rock videos like “Elevation” by U2, somewhat regretted one silly motorcycle movie called Torque with scenes like this, and almost directed Neuromancer).  I got my ticket for the 7:35 at AMC Empire 25, so join me in the lobby a half-hour earlier if you like. 

Detention is reportedly a brilliant combo-parody of various nerd-pleasing genres from horror to John Hughes, as a principal sticks all the kids who might be the local serial killer in detention at the same time, and things rapidly get weirder still.  (And the director’s sister told me I gotta go – but in all seriousness, the nerd sites seem to love it.) 

Also, it stars Josh Hutcherson, who is suddenly a big deal due to playing Peeta in Hunger Games – which also involves a bunch of trapped kids and violence, so think of this as a sequel to Hunger Games.  That’s right: if you saw Hunger Games, you also have to see Detention

Since the principal in the movie sounds like he’s engaged in profiling, maybe he, John Derbyshire, and I should all attend the April 19 talk at the Brown Club NY by Brown professor Tricia Rose about how to address topics like race and gender sensitively.  Well, I may go, anyway.  Important to be well-rounded. 

BUT THIS WEEK: catch me at Desmond’s on Park (between 29th and 30th) if you want to hang out with anarcho-capitalists (I warned you) tonight around 7pm...and then Union Hall (702 Union St. at Fifth Ave. in Brooklyn) at 9:30pm sharp tonight to hear Nicolas Beaudoing and the Doc Marshalls do their hip country thing...plus the Suffolk on Saturday at 9:30pm to hear Robin Eisgrau and the garagier band Perp Walk [UPDATE: That Perp Walk gig Sat. April 14 has been moved to the Charleston at 174 Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg. They are slated to go on at 8:45 and the cover is $7. Crucially, you get a free small pizza with your beer at Charleston, I think]).

Neither of these bands will sound like the Black Satans doing their 1994 black metal classic “Satan of Hell.”

Since my blog entry yesterday may have just left you wondering “What the hell’s an anarcho-capitalist?” here’s the Professor Frink-like David Friedman explaining the arguments in his an-cap classic Machinery of Freedom in a brisk twenty-three minutes that might just change your life and save the world (h/t Zac Gochenour).  On the Cato-Unbound blog this week, you can find him and others continuing the debate about liberal-tarianism, libertarianism, and classical liberalism.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

W(h)ither Classical Liberalism (or libertarianism, or liberal-tarianism)?

Cato’s blog is hosting a great discussion about whether libertarianism has strayed too far from its classical liberal roots and gotten too doctrinaire (about which, more below).  I keep wanting to see broad coalitions form, but factionalism is all too tempting and fun. 

If I were more concerned about being liked, I would probably worry a great deal about tending to be perceived by each faction I encounter as being on the side of the other faction.  It’s not that I’m a contrarian or an enigma – I have pretty predictable and well-known positions (I wish I could look deep by saying they’ve changed radically over the past two decades, but they really haven’t). 

It’s just that there’s nothing like hanging out with Team A to make you see the merit in the arguments of Team Not-A, especially given all the unfair things most members of Team A are saying about them.  But then you hang out with Team Not-A and discover they’re just as unfair in the things they say about Team A (or possibly Team D), so, not wanting to encourage error, you feel obliged to put in a word for Team A – if only to keep Team Not-A’s minds limber.

(As I recently tweeted, I’m starting to feel as if feuding neoconservatives and paleoconservatives deserve each other, for instance – but let the record show I spent much of the Bush administration defending the former, or at least their good points, to the latter and now routinely have to defend the ascendant latter to the disgruntled former.  And I had started out an atheist teenager in the liberal Northeast who felt obliged to defend conservatism at left-leaning Brown.) 

The healthy form of the factionalism is robust small-d democratic debate and all that, and the more embarrassing (but highly amusing) form is vicious in-fighting among members of factions that are so minuscule to begin with that most outsiders weren’t even aware the faction existed, let alone its subdivisions (I get only twenty times as many Google hits for “anarcho-capitalism” as I do for my own name, and I’m nobody). 

But before you dismiss my impending tale of libertarians fighting with “liberal-tarians” – and anarcho-capitalists fighting with both (and with themselves) – as being about as relevant as Trotskyite factions that died out in the 1930s, do keep in mind that, for instance, the main arguments being mulled by the Supreme Court about whether to find Obamacare unconstitutional were first advanced by nearly-anarcho-capitalist Randy Barnett.

I say “nearly” because he’s technically a defender of “polycentric law” and gets annoyed if you just call him an anarchist.  Subdivisions

•••

By liberal-tarians here I’m sort of thinking, despite their differences and in some cases lack of self-assigned labels, of Will Wilkinson, his fiancĂ©e Kerry Howley, Brink Lindsey – and my ongoing argument with Jacob Levy since we were undergrads – plus in some sense Julian Sanchez and the like, all inclined to think that traditionalists and Republicans are as great if not greater a threat to liberty than the demi-socialist Democrats.

Declaring oneself a highly-specific thing, with lots of prefixes slapped in front (post-neo-ovo-lacto-etc.) can be narcissistic, or simply an exercise in excessive precision, as some of the aforementioned people would agree.  Will – with whom I’ve disagreed about the “liberal-tarian” outreach effort he and others made from libertarianism to the left – even argues that labeling yourself a member of one political faction might actually make you stupider.

(In that linked piece, pointed out by Ross Kenyon, Will notes that more-doctrinaire anarcho-capitalist Bryan Caplan seems to disagree that labeling and factionalism makes you stupider, and Caplan embraces several factional labels...and ironically some of my very-radical younger anarcho-capitalist pals here in NYC think Caplan isn’t anarcho-capitalist enough...and on it goes.) 

Putting the old left/right tactical question aside for a moment (without too much residual animosity, I hope), I think Will’s basically right on the stupidity point – or rather, in his observation that overly emphatic self-identification can easily become mentally limiting (a point that can even apply to thinking too narrowly of oneself as, say, “a waiter,” as was observed by Sartre – who didn’t like to be called an existentialist, by the way). 

Now, it is self-aggrandizing to insist that you can’t be labeled even when the labels clearly apply (I seem to recall Gore Vidal once saying he has sex with men and women but refuses to be called bisexual, preferring “pansexual” or something like that – whereas, out of weariness and simple deference to physical reality, I will go right on calling cross-dressing males “he” even if they claim to be named “Sheila” or something now, not that this issue arises too often...though this is New York City).  But Will’s right that people get far too attached to those labels, and it can shut down normal mental processes. 

I wasn’t expecting to startle people I was arguing with the first few times I tried responding to “Then you’re not really a libertarian [or whatever]!” by saying

Monday, April 9, 2012

Race, Rand, “Liberal-tarianism,” Stossel, and Other Blasphemy




Ten epic media events of note:

1. I think the April issue of Newsmax contains a story by me about the conservative rock band Madison Rising, who are odd men out in their industry. 

2. Yesterday was Easter, but last week saw the release of Austin Dacey’s book The Future of Blasphemy about free speech battles around the world (which I saw him speak about recently, at an event where, I’m happy to say, we got no closer to speech suppression than an atheist friend unwittingly calling religious people idiots in front of another friend who works for a cardinal – but, crucially, no one was coerced, and a good time was had by all). 

To commemorate the blasphemous occasion, this entry is decorated with pictures I took of: the World Trade Center being rebuilt (WTC 1 itself is now over 100 stories high – take that, Islamic terrorism!), a view from inside the new World Trade Center 7 (no, I saw no sign of a conspiracy inside), a band with the mocking pagan name Blonde Valhalla, and the giant ridiculous sculpture outside St. John’s Cathedral, meant to represent life itself, depicting a DNA helix made of water spawning a giant crab covered in giraffes decapitating Satan – y’know, just the way you remember it from Sunday school. 

3. John Derbyshire (himself a secularist of some sort, though he once chastised me for using the wrong label, so I won’t try) got ousted from National Review last week over his rant on TakiMag about black crime – and I for one am sad to see him go.  He may be eccentric, but he was one of NR’s best writers, and his rant is partly a side effect of a U.S. media culture that seems to enjoy every blasphemy except this one. 

Assume for the sake of argument that he’s gotten things all wrong – still, is he as wrong (or dangerous) as the naive (or you might just say admirably non-racist) assumption I grew up with in rural (and lily-white) New England: namely, that anyone who believed in important ethnic differences or differential crime rates was utterly misinformed or irrational, just like a believer in ghosts? 

Given that being accused of racism is a chronic problem in conservative and libertarian circles, it’s unfortunate I can’t bring my young self forward in time to present as evidence of just what a good – and utterly believing – p.c. trooper I actually was on this topic when young, seeing it as one more plank of my prized overall rationality. 

For all the left’s lamentations about how racist our culture supposedly is, hey, despite having been moderately conservative, I somehow made it to college (Brown) without even knowing that the black violent crime rate really is substantially higher – and not just by a few percentage points but indeed about seven times higher than that of whites per capita, meaning a subset of blacks end up accounting for about half of American crime [UPDATE: I'm told the differential is now more like over twice as high, which is a start – and I happened to be reading the stats at a circa-1990 gang violence peak, though things have not entirely evened out since].  I was unaware of this until stumbling across Justice Department crime stats in the Brown library while researching some other topic (I had a liberal girlfriend at one point who refused to believe the stats, and they may not be perfect, but they seem to be consistent with black crime victims’ own accounts of the ethnicity of their attackers and various other indicators). 

Until the library visit, I honestly would have told people that being more wary around black teenage males in “bad neighborhoods” was as irrational as being on guard for Bigfoot attacks.  Indeed, if not for seeing those stats, I probably would have sanctimoniously told my own grandmother, a few years later, not to worry about the vast increase in young black males in her quaint New Hampshire neighborhood, and probably would have kept telling her that right up until the point at which, as it happens, they started having frequent gang fights – melees involving large numbers of people – in the street outside her house, leading her – in her eighties – to petition her mayor for more police presence in the area (she’s ninety-eight now and still with us – and was pleased to see a black person elected President, by the way). 

In fact, it wasn’t until moving to New York City after college that I realized there are places where all the ethnic groups seem to make ethnicity-based observations about each other without angry protests and manifestoes ensuing.  I admit it was shocking at first (Latinos making broad generalizations about Italians at the office – and the Italians simply agreeing?!?).  Much easier to think like a liberal on these matters in places with only one ethnic group or places where everyone’s equally detached from reality thanks to politicized lectures and rallies on the green.

And if I’d gotten killed due to my naivete at some point, virtually no one in respectable circles would have said, “You know, he probably should have been warned about those high crime rates at some point.”  By contrast, the Derbyshire menace must of course be squelched.

Now, the tragic white-supremacist – yes, I’m calling it white-supremacist – history of the U.S. is likely sufficient to explain how things got this way without recourse to any hardcore-determinist genetic theories (and it can indeed be dangerous to overemphasize one explanatory element of a complex – and potentially inflammatory – historical phenomenon even if you do discover, say, mildly-probabilistic genetic factors).  I mean, for a couple centuries, a huge portion of blacks weren’t even allowed to read or keep their families intact, and they were legally marginalized and menaced in various ways for another century thereafter.  Who wouldn’t be messed up?  Indeed, traditionalists should be the first to concede that could cause decades or more of cultural fallout for a vulnerable population.

But how much clarity is likely to arise from ostracizing anyone who makes a fumbling or unorthodox attempt to discuss such taboo issues in the light of the past half-century’s decidedly different experiences (including some legitimate present-day white worries)?  On this topic, as on religion and so many others, do we prefer a combination of silence and consensual make-believe?  Aren’t the people who fear conversation likely the ones who think the truth is too horrible to handle?  I for one don’t think it is, though it ain’t necessarily altogether pretty either. 

(On a related note, I’ve repeatedly been pleased to discover black friends who, if I may rudely treat them as a demographic category for just a moment, are happy I’ve been rooting for Ron Paul, who seems to be their favorite Republican candidate, notwithstanding those infamous newsletters – about which I would not for a second have blamed them for being outraged.  It seems several of them agree we face far more serious issues.  And you know, they’ve heard worse anyway.  On Boondocks alone.)

I suspect it will be neither p.c. nor government action that solves these problems in the long run but commerce, intermarriage, and humor, lame and slapdash as that may sound to people wanting grandiose political fixes (and I say this as someone who, for instance, much like Stephen Macedo, has no objection to purely private affirmative action programs or even, say, consciously all-black businesses – and wouldn’t even be all that bothered by affirmative action laws, if they were clearly framed as compensation for past oppressive laws – and had sunset provisions – rather than being never-ending social engineering programs, now justified by the less-libertarian and presumably-eternal rationale of mandatory diversity).

In any case, I’m all for gradually making such issues irrelevant, not via p.c. taboos like the ones that prevailed at Brown – though they are themselves historically understandable – but by encouraging people to give greater attention to precisely those things that transcend ethnic, national, and tribal affiliations – such as philosophy, economics, and science, which describe the universe quite well no matter what color its inhabitants are.  Speaking of which...

4. My econ-savvy ex-boss John Stossel has another taboo-busting book out tomorrow, this one called No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails – But Individuals Succeed

5. And Vijay Dewan (like both Derbyshire and Dacey, a onetime Lolita Bar debater) notes that tomorrow tickets go on sale (here) for the documentary he’s been working on about the ludicrous, unscientific – and ahistorical – battles that determine the content of textbooks, called Revisionaries.  I’ll see it on the 20th.  (Speaking of classrooms, in a few days, I’ll explain why you also have to join me in seeing the hip horror-comedy Detention this month.  More on that soon.)

6. I wish I could also tell you that Iron Sky (the Finnish movie about a Sarah Palin analogue battling Nazis from the Moon, I kid you not) is also out in the U.S. this month, as I thought it would be.  It has a U.S. distributor – and was out overseas last week – but it still doesn’t have an official U.S. release date.  I look forward to it, in any case. 

7. Around October, I will also brave Atlas Shrugged Part II: Either/Or (which started filming last week), despite the weakness of last year’s installment, since they have replaced not only the director and the screenwriter but the entire cast.  So we really don’t know how much it will resemble the prior episode, but for Ayn and curiosity’s sake, I’m willing to gamble again.  The screenwriter’s big prior credits include episodes of the TV shows Walker, Texas Ranger and Mortal Kombat.  Is that a burning oil field I smell – or an Oscar?

8. If real-world crises and leviathans are more your speed, I see Robert Higgs – who I heard speak last week at the monthly libertarian gathering called the Junto – has a new book out in a few weeks, collecting past articles as Delusions of Power: New Explorations of the State, War, and Economy.  May my own new series of onstage events (starting next month!) yield speakers as insightful. 

9. If you like your libertarians just a little more mushy than most of the ones mentioned above, though, note that a neat dialogue has been going on for the past few days on the Cato Institute’s blog about what is colloquially known as “liberal-tarianism,” with a contribution from BleedingHeartLibertarians co-founder Matt Zwolinski and Free Market Fairness author (and Brown prof!) John Tomasi, followed by (what I think are pretty effective) responses from Rod Long and David Friedman, with one from Alexander McCobin and a follow-up conversation due todayI will post my own thoughts on the liberal-tarian phenomenon on this blog tomorrow.

10. In the meantime, here again is a link to video of the aforementioned David Friedman speaking recently at Lolita Bar.  That should hold you over until the new and different Williamsburg bar events begin – or at least until tomorrow. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Whit Stillman, Josef Svoboda, Ross Perot, Dionysus, and Todd Seavey Live Again!



Well, he hasn’t risen from the dead or anything, but Josef Svoboda’s spectacular theatre scenery (grand and operatic in the way the Flash Gordon and Thor sets were, though far more nuanced) lives on, ten years to the day after his death – and long after I was a fledgling editorial assistant working on The Secret of Theatrical Space, a photo-filled book about his work, at dinky Applause Books. 

It was then run by publisher Glenn Young, the visionary who dared try to copyright Shakespeare’s First Folio and who, like my parents and a few other people I admire, was briefly enamored of Ross Perot back then (not that this was relevant to his publishing work).  I suppose the theory was that it takes an authoritarian type to smash the inefficient logjam created by other authoritarians. 

I’m glad that brutal-pragmatist (mildly fascistic) attitude seems to have waned since the twentieth century, as social media – and the dual longing for transparency in government and privacy in our own lives – make fluid, anarchist solutions seem more plausible.  Then again, maybe the strongman impulse is what drives many Obama and Gingrich supporters.  I hope we won’t have to learn the hard way, like Svoboda’s Czech countrymen, where the totalitarian temptation leads.

And all this reminds me that (A) it’s nice to wrestle with the same philosophical – and theatrical/aesthetic – issues over the course of decades because it gives a certain coherence to one’s mental life, as if continuing the same pleasant conversation begun circa 1989, but (B) on the downside, it sure contributes to time flying quickly.  I mean, I haven’t finished that one pleasant conversation and somehow two decades went by?

The solution, long suspected but long delayed, may be to throw all the long-simmering ingredients into the stew simultaneously – politics, philosophy, writing, comedy, sci-fi, and, yes, theatre – as if they’re all going out of style (the world ends in December say some of the mystics, though they are even dumber than the ones who think it ends when that fellow being celebrated today returns to Earth).  Combining it all – with a dash of ancient-theatrical revelry worthy of Dionysus – is the plan for my imminent new Williamsburg bar events and remade online presence (save the night of Thursday, May 17, my friends – more info soon).

But first, please permit me one more quartet of old-school blog entries this week on other people’s media projects, including a list tomorrow of ten worth noting. 

This weekend, I will just note that with Damsels in Distress, Whit Stillman has come again after twelve years – a rare conservative film director, judging