Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Libertarians -- and This Libertarian Blogger -- at a Time of Transition

Yesterday (less than two weeks after our Ron Paul-themed inaugural Williamsburg gathering of the Dionysium), Ron Paul’s home state of Texas (also home to the other branch of the Dionysium) gave Romney the remaining delegates he needs to pass 1,144 and be the Republican nominee (endless formalities and an August national convention aside, etc., etc., I know, I know). 

I wouldn’t blame libertarians for being uncertain about what to do next: urge people to vote for Gary Johnson (my plan), just stick with Paul for symbolic/educational purposes (or in hopes of some last-minute miracle), suck it up and vote for Romney (or Obama), or stay home in November (while focusing on the long term). 

But the Dionysium, under my courageous leadership, will turn its attention to other topics.  

And thus: my online presence will now become less partisan and more dialogue-facilitating (watch me mellow) and some technical bells and whistles will change in the process.  The timing may be just as well, since four axes oft-ground on this blog over the past six years reached small logical culminations on the night prior to this month’s Dionysium, when, at another NYC event for Paul-chronicling author Brian Doherty, all these things happened:

MUSIC: Hey, finally partied with Kennedy after two decades of admiring the MTV VJ turned libertarian radio host.  She may be Christian, but then, I’ve never denied that beliefs I disagree with can inspire good things.  I applaud Julian Cope’s very literal (and clever) cover of Roky Erickson’s “I Have Always Been Here Before,” for instance, even though neo-pagan Cope plainly injected into the original, simple song his belief that modern-day people have been reincarnated from Druids or something. 

SCI-FI: Fellow anarchist-atheist Michael Malice lamented the state of the revamped DC Universe, which we both know matters more than government or philosophy in the end.  Best I look away from it. 

SCIENCE: I learned that my eight years at ACSH helped inspire at least one woman I know to quit smoking, which is a start.  If I can save the other 7 billion people on the planet from death, Thanos loses. 

POLITICS: I saw a crowd full of people respectful of the Ron Paul phenomenon honor Doherty, an author who’s enough of a historian – and weirdo – to know that liberty is a far bigger and more long-lasting cause than any one man. 

One hates to sound like a giddy optimist, but it may be safe now, with the simultaneous Ron Paul and Gary Johnson campaigns going on, to start talking about

Thursday, May 24, 2012

BOOK NOTE: “Occupy!” (plus Todd CNBC online video!)

It is hard to make the case that the Occupy Wall Street movement is fully reasonable, I think, given some of their strange ideas about economics and their strange behavior – yet they are tolerated.  It’s worth noting there has been fighting, vandalism, rape, and even a shot taken at the White House amidst the Occupants’ activities.  You have to doubt any of this would have been tolerated if the Tea Party did it.  (Judith Weiss pointed out a recent National Review article about the Southern Poverty Law Center’s complete lack of interest in violence among the Occupants.)

Still, even Occupy has some good points, and here’s video of the fairly civil dialogue I had with a couple Occupy activists (plus less-radical CNBC and Google+ commentators) three weeks ago today (the tech wizards at Google+ finally figured out how to have me enter the dialogue at the 7 minute mark, then lost me again about fifteen minutes before the dialogue ended). 

Careful observers will notice I deploy the same cowboy hat and “V Guy” mask I wore at the beginning of last week’s Dionysium event in Williamsburg (of which I hope our videographer will have footage next week that I can link).

I don’t always talk to Occupy radicals and anarchists, though, and you can also see a photo nearby (by Doug DeMark) of me at this month’s conservative-filled Phillips Foundation gathering (flanked by Rachel Currie and Laura Vanderkam), and tonight at 7:45pm I’ll attend NYPD terror-tracker Hannah Meyers’ album release party at Fontana’s (admittedly after a quick 7pm stop at King’s Head Tavern to see a bunch of anarcho-capitalists).  I’m thanked in her liner notes. 

And speaking of liner notes, it looks like the most prolific female writer of album liner notes, Dawn Eden, will join Hannah onstage at our next Dionysium (June 21, 8pm, in Williamsburg) – but Dawn is by some measures even more conservative than Hannah and instead of rocking will in this case be discussing her new book My Peace I Give You about the Catholic saints and psychological healing.  More soon.


I think I can safely say I have some handle on how the Occupants actually think after the dialogue above, a few trips to Zuccotti Park, and reading issues of the journal n+1’s spun-off Occupy! Gazette, plus the essay collection Occupy! from Verso Books, written by numerous Occupants themselves (indeed, I was the one who likely boosted the book’s sales at the release party by suggesting they make a prominent “only $5 per copy” sign, which they did). 

I’ll take a closer look at the Occupy! anthology below – but first, a final word about left-anarchist anthropologist David Graeber, who is affiliated with the movement and about whose book Debt I blogged earlier this month (he is also, by the way, a former Yale anthro colleague of anarchism-sympathizing James C. Scott, author of Seeing Like a State and the forthcoming Two Cheers for Anarchism).

I have repeatedly complained (including in the CNBC chat above) that Graeber is not merely opposed to student loan debt or Third World debt but to all debt-recording, accounting, and in the end even math itself (gotta give him points for consistency and radicalism, though I assume he’s opposed to points-awarding as well).  I will grant him this: Constant calculation can make people cold. 

One study suggests that even being a utilitarian (as I am) – that is, someone who wants to calculate how best to maximize other people’s happiness – may be

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

BOOK NOTE: “Stealing You Blind” by Iain Murray (and other doses of reality)

If there’s one lesson to be drawn from the past few decades of political history, it’s that anti-government forces have been far too polite, all too willing to engage the enemy on its own terms by talking about what government ought to do under ideal, philosophy-guided circumstances, as if that were relevant. 

On every side and across the political spectrum, humans are beset by delusional intellectuals singing some variation on the siren song of acquiescence to government – from the authoritarians, Muslims, and Catholics cooing like Loki that submission to authority is humanity’s “natural” state, to the neoconservatives thinking that arguments about government ineptitude and misbehavior do not apply to the military, to the “liberal-tarians” condescendingly urging more consistent libertarians to accept just this one wafer-thin bit of the welfare state and welfare-statist rhetoric so that they (not necessarily us) will be allowed to eat in faculty lounges, that being Step 1 to human liberation, or at least a nice benefit for the liberal-tarians. 

There will always be plausible-sounding philosophical arguments for government (especially in academia, which generates plausible-sounding arguments for everything), but a horrifying look at what government really does – what it inevitably really is – will always reveal these arguments, these siren songs (ordered liberty...efficient provision of basic engagement...), as complete horseshit. 

Government is crime, and talking about its reform is as deceptive as talking about how to make the Mafia behave nicely.  Start from that premise and you will, at long last, have begun to think about politics, possibly for the first time in your life.


Luckily, there are books that skip most of the philosophical arguments (though we do need libertarian ones) and just survey various agencies of government, cataloguing the disastrous misallocations of resources, self-serving acts of politicians and regulators, and heartbreak-inducingly routine squelching of human hope via bureaucracy that are the real day-in and day-out of government activity, even when it isn’t engaged in outright mass murder, which of course it often is (100 million dead from socialism alone last century, and socialists still think they hold the moral high ground). 

Two such books that influenced my thinking were P.J. O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores and Philip Howard’s The Death of Common Sense.  My ex-boss John Stossel just released a book about government aptly titled No, They Can’t.  Very much in that vein is Competitive Enterprise Institute vice president Iain Murray’s Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You.  Read it (read all of these books), then spare me your next metaphysically-intuited pro-government argument.  End the nonsense.  End the lies.  End government. 

Whether paying for politicians’ expensive office furniture even in times of purported fiscal crisis, arresting people for clearing debris after storms without proper permits, or subsidizing failed industries while imposing surtaxes on innovative ones, government will always tend to do the wrong thing, for the simple reason that it isn’t the government’s money, isn’t the government’s lost decision-making power, isn’t the government’s life.  If you encourage it to continue its activities, you aren’t helping and are no friend of humanity. 

In one amusing passage, Murray notes that in World War II,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Steampunk fashion, superheroes, “Looking Backward,” and the lifespan of a DC Comics Earth

The past few weeks have been big for steampunk and superheroes (and not just because of the great Avengers movie, though that was reason enough and something I’d waited over thirty years for).

•Somewhere between fantasy and reality, I went to a steampunk fashion show in Brooklyn on April 29, and you can see my photos from it nearby – including the smiling face of my purple-haired friend Juliet Brownell, as well as an Alice in Wonderland-like blonde model who inspired a sensitive, poetically-inclined male acquaintance of mine to declare, “I’d hit that so hard, whoever pulled me out would be declared King of England” – I will only say that she reminds me a bit of Emma, the cute Australian goth from my high school. 

(I’ve also included pics from the border between Hasidic-Williamsburg and hipster-Williamsburg, since I walked that zone after the fashion show.  That pic of sidewalk eaters is from DuMont Burger, home of the decidedly non-kosher but wonderful bacon and bourbon milkshake.  The vandalized anti-vandalism sign, by contrast, is from old Lolita Bar.)

Even proudly progressive (and libertarian Canadian) rock band Rush is releasing a steampunk-themed album, Clockwork Angels, on June 12. 

•On an only-slightly more modern note, I’ve concluded that the High Line – the elevated train track turned recreational walkway on NYC’s west side – looks best if you walk south on it (my photos of that, also nearby, capture how this walk, old-timey in theory, instead ends up looking a bit like the futuristic world of Sleeper – and I threw in the Empire State Building just for the heck of it). 

•In other sci-fi-ish news, this month saw DC Comics reintroduce the multiverse to its recently-revamped comics, including Earth 23, where, for good or ill, dwells Grant Morrison’s “President Superman,” also seen below.  Given the dreamlike nature of that story, I wouldn’t assume we know anything for sure about the current multiverse aside from the existence of DC’s “main Earth” and the reconfabulated Earth 2 (from the writer also scheduled to bring us a new He-Man and the Masters of the Universe miniseries in July) – and this thought led me to reflect on how long each dominant DC Earth lasted. 

In retrospect (taxonomical quibbles aside), you could argue that their respective times in the spotlight (each ending with a rewriting of the cosmos and shift in storytelling focus) break down like so:

1935-1956 (twenty-one years): Earth-Two – DC’s Golden Age, read mainly by the Greatest Generation

1956-1985 (twenty-nine years): Earth-One – DC’s Silver/Bronze Ages, read mainly by Boomers

1986-2011 (twenty-five years): Earth-0 (as a version of the hybrid post-Crisis Earth was eventually cleverly dubbed by Grant Morrison) – DC’s Dark Age, read mainly by Generation X

2011- ? (we shall see): “main Earth” – DC’s Heroic Age (as some have called it), plainly streamlined for a millennial generation of gamers and Pokemon fans

It all seems as inevitable in retrospect as the passing of generations.  Time for me to move on.

Then again, now that they’re collecting each series’ first post-2011 story arc into its own trade paperback, one series that sound like it could be read almost exactly as if nothing had happened between roughly 1987 and today is Legion of Super-Heroes, which is once more written by Paul Levitz and (almost) completely ignores the radical cosmic reboots of the series that occurred (after he left) in 1990, 1994, and 2004 (if you want to meet him, he’ll be at the 64 Fulton St. branch of Midtown Comics this Friday, May 25, from 3:30-4:30pm).

I suspect they’re even planning to get Keith Giffen back on it as artist eventually – like nothin’ ever happened, basically.  Like Reagan is still president and Duran Duran is still popular, the way it is in Heaven.

•Less conservative but definitely sci-fi: Edward Bellamy’s novel Looking Backward, arguably the most influential American book of the late nineteenth century, whence came this disturbingly naive quote that echoes to this day: “No man need care for the morrow, either for himself or his children, for the nation guarantees to provide the nurture, education, and comfortable maintenance of each and every citizen from the cradle to the grave.”

His equally socialist brother created the state-idolizing Pledge of Allegiance, by the way, so think of that before the next time you get all dewy with patriotism, conservatives.

•Also below (in photos that are not mine but are awesome): a coffee ad with Admiral Ackbar and (as pointed out by Drew Rushford) the Bat Vader costume.  The world can’t be all bad.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

BOOK NOTE: “Ron Paul’s Revolution” (not to mention Alex Jones, Billy Corgan, and even Sander Hicks’s “Slingshot to the Juggernaut”)

Today’s the day: the definitive book on Ron Paul, Ron Paul’s Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, is out – and I’ll host a talk with the author, Brian Doherty (as well as audience members representing various factions of the libertarian movement) live and in person at the Dionysium THIS THURSDAY, MAY 17 (8pm) at 2 Havemeyer St. in Williamsburg (on the second floor, right above the future site of the bar Muchmore’s).  First subway stop in on the L (Bedford Ave.), you cowardly Manhattanites (then just walk three blocks east, entering the building through the N. 9th St. side door). 


This is a big week for Paul, who has made public his plan to, in essence, give up on beating Romney in the popular vote and just see how many convention delegates he can wrangle.  Ironically, given that Paul has flirted with conspiracy theorists, it’s tempting to conspiracy-theorize about what his real plan is: Actually try to get enough delegates to take over the GOP convention in August?  Play nice to keep his son Rand in the GOP’s good graces (maybe even get him on the ticket, which would please me greatly)?  Play not so nice in order to get Rand on the ticket?  Get out of the way so libertarians can migrate to newly-minted Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson? 

Even Newt Gingrich now says Mitt Romney should start imitating Ron Paul, who represents real, historic, seismic political change.

But one person who is back on cue to say Paul is done and good riddens and furthermore don’t read Brian’s book is (my fellow Phillips Foundation fellow) Jamie Kirchick, who has been periodically re-revealing to the world, at critical junctures, that Paul decades ago produced newsletters with a few racist or conspiracist passages – and who plainly has lost any ability to see Paul, or even the broader libertarian movement he represents, through any other lens.

But for the sake of argument, let’s ask: What’s so terrible about conspiracy theories? 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a rationalist, skeptic, and man who notoriously has little patience for assertions made without evidence (including the claims that there is a God, that government reduces poverty, or that U.S. military intervention abroad is usually worth it).  But given that every candidate, alas, has (or purports to have) beliefs that are unproven or irrational (Jeremiah Wright, Mormonism, Keynes, etc., etc.), shouldn’t we perhaps stop judging such things merely by how “taboo” they are and instead ask what the likely real-world consequences are

Paul warning about the international elites gathering at the Bilderberg conferences (as they in fact do) may sound odd, for instance, but we should be far less frightened of Paul than of, say, an average politician who claims that the Department of Commerce is a useful thing, even though the latter claim sounds too boring to be dubbed “crazy.”


Paul (like my ex-boss Judge Andrew Napolitano) has been criticized for appearing on the show hosted by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (who is, like Paul, a

Monday, May 7, 2012

DIONYSIUM: Brian Doherty talks Ron Paul (with host Todd Seavey)

A revolution is afoot.  I mean, of course, that I will begin hosting a new series of bar events next week.  Thursday, May 17 (at 8pm), the Dionysium (sister series to the popular events by that name held in Austin, TX) begins with main speaker Brian Doherty, talking to me (your Dionysium host and moderator) about his new book Ron Paul’s Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired

It happens at 2 Havemeyer St. (three blocks east of Bedford Ave., the easily-reached first subway stop into Williamsburg on the L), on the second floor, directly above the space soon to house the bar Muchmore’s.  Enter through the side door on N. 9th St.

Though my libertarian views and Brian’s are well known, the Dionysium is a non-partisan crucible of skeptical analysis and varied entertainments – and Brian has a sense of humor – so join us even if you are merely bemused by the one remaining non-Romney candidate for the Republican nomination and want to know whence he came. 

For the already-initiated, though, I will try addressing some of the tough questions such as “Is it time to jump ship and root for Gary Johnson or Mitt Romney?” and “Why the conspiracy theories among Paul fans?”

One of the most important topics to the diehard Paul fans, though – one of interest as well to the CNBC viewers who saw me participate in an online video panel about Paul, Occupy Wall Street, and other political matters last week – is:

The Weirdness of Currency

One reason that, as you may know, I’ve been arguing online with the so-called “liberal-tarians” is that some of them have now begun encouraging people to argue in terms of “social justice,” but that term is not merely a synonym for “concern for the poor.”  It comes with a great deal of decidedly anti-market, anti-libertarian baggage – it’s precisely the redistributionist mode in which people who do not learn economics like to spout off about economic matters, and we are all poorer for it. 

With the possible exception of Marxism, this is about the last intellectual tradition libertarians should be encouraging if we want to educate people about economics – a bit like trying to encourage secularism through immersion in theology, or a free market in labor via the labor theory of value.

But I will confess that the Ron Paul rhetorical approach to teaching listeners about economics is not exactly the one I’d pick either.  He started out as a gold bug, and for him, as for some of his biggest fans, all of economics seems to rotate around the distinction between the Federal Reserve and gold-backed, non-inflating currency.  You can describe the economy that way – and I’m all for a free market in competing currencies – but it’s a highly idiosyncratic way of introducing people to economics, when most of them haven’t even tackled such basic concepts as mutually-beneficial exchange (the real key, in my opinion), property rights, supply and demand, regulation, and so forth. 

Furthermore, I was reminded by David Graeber’s book Debt – which, for all the negative things I said about it in my blog entry reviewing it, does a nice job of teasing apart currency’s varied, bundled-together functions – that fiat currency (that is, currency that is produced by the government and isn’t exchangeable for more basic commodities the government keeps in storage) isn’t the problem per se, inflation is.

This is an important point for the Paulite gold bugs to

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

BOOK NOTE: Occupy’s David Graeber on “Debt”! Todd on CNBC! Dionysium!

Catch me on CNBC’s Google+ stream as I do a video chat with John Carney and Occupy Wall Street supporters tomorrow (Thur.) at 4pm Eastern! 

And after yesterday’s historic May Day protests, it is time I examined a few books tied to the Occupy Wall Street movement. 

Taking the place of my old “Books of the Month,” entries like this one will henceforth focus on books that may relate to or help enrich the discussion at that month’s Dionysium, the Dionysium being the new series of bar events (a varying mix of debates, entertainment, and more) I’ll be hosting (and moderating!) in Williamsburg – and this being a “Month of Political Crisis” on this blog and at the Dionysium itself (followed by a June month of Revolution and Revolutionaries at our sister Dionysium in Austin, TX).

(The Williamsburg action all starts at 8pm on Thursday, May 17, on the residential second floor of 2 Havemeyer St., the building that will soon house the bar Muchmore’s, three blocks east of the Bedford Ave. subway stop – first stop into Brooklyn on the L; enter through the N. 9th St. side door just before you reach Havemeyer.  First up is BRIAN DOHERTY discussing his new book on Ron Paul – but today let us examine how the left’s most interesting insurgent movement thinks.)


The Nietzschean skepticism inherent in the Dionysium demands the questioning of clichés (as does the new Jonah Goldberg book out yesterday, by the way).  Let us then question the assumption that Occupy and the Tea Party must be opposites. 

I’ve leaned toward the more free-market Tea Party, obviously, but then, some of my fellow libertarians have lately been arguing that I should think more in terms of “social justice,” the way the left and Occupy do (though I was pleased to see Jacob Levy break ranks with the other liberal-tarians for the interesting reason that he sees thinkers like Rawls as inviting people to think in closed, nationalistic, non-cosmopolitan terms – of a single, self-contained society like an idealized Greek city-state, not coincidentally – and thus to downplay the plight of immigrants and outsiders). 

I readily concede both that the basic concern for the poor emphasized by the “social justice” crowd is admirable and that Occupy makes some very good points about unfair corporate bailouts and government-banking collusion.  I will even concede that radically-skewed wealth distribution can be a warning sign (though not necessarily a sign of excessively free-market rules).

On the other hand, having a few good points doesn’t entirely absolve Occupy of the (admittedly shallow) charges made by their critics that they’re a bunch of scruffy, trespassing, Marxist loonies.  Many are.  Check out Gerard Perry’s tweets from May 1 for a bit of Zuccotti flavor.  A related photo essay (one in a series Gerard’s done about Occupy) is forthcoming on his site American-Rattlesnake.

Somewhere between the mundane, true points the movement makes and the scruffy schizophrenics sleeping in the street in the name of that movement lie the intelligent – but still sometimes bizarre – intellectuals who guide the movement, and it’s mostly them I want to talk about today (and perhaps tomorrow on Google+’s CNBC stream at 4pm Eastern, of course!). 

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber

I don’t know how many of the protesters at Occupy rallies have read Debt by left-anarchist anthropologist David Graeber, but he was purportedly instrumental in guiding them toward their quasi-leaderless, General Assembly-forming, amorphously-collective, ambiguously-agendaed system. 

(Since he is a contributor to the staunchly anti-capitalist Canadian magazine Adbusters – run by a vaguely anti-Semitic-seeming Eastern European immigrant – I should probably write an article about the Occupy movement called “Occupy the World, but Blame Canada.”  One great irony of Adbusters’ involvement is that they hate advertising and commercialism, in that college Continental-theory way, but they probably did wonders to boost the Occupy movement by launching it with that truly beautiful poster of a fragile-looking ballerina atop the Wall Street Bull, with teargas and riot police looming in the background.  Who wouldn’t want to rescue the ballerina and stop the riot police?)

Graeber is full of interesting tidbits about how the accounting of debts and the use of currency arose in real history instead of the imagined/deduced scenarios of economists (as with most of history, the real story seems to have been strange, messy, brutal, and not altogether rational).  But that doesn’t make his political program wise – and if it’s shared by Occupiers in general, civilization is in big trouble. 

Graeber seems to want not just loan cancellation or