Saturday, June 30, 2012

“Month of Religion”: Behold These Ten Codas

1. In a recent batch of tweets, I sounded a bit harsh in my skeptical reaction to a talk by Joseph Loconte, author of The Searchers.  Warm as the book might be – delving into history’s darkest episodes but showing that people keep looking for paths back to the light – it is a reminder that it doesn’t take much to wow the religious mind.  There’s no kinder way to put that without being inaccurate.

I mean, in a world wrestling with some very complex questions of economics, math, science, psychology, philosophy, and politics, it seems as though you can still get a big round of applause from a church-going audience by painstakingly explaining, over the course of an hour-long lecture or hundreds of printed pages in the blandest possible language, that, say, “We sometimes worry about things, and then other things reassure us” or “If you need assistance, it’s nice when a friend helps you out” (I am not here quoting Loconte’s book).

Then, for the coup de grace, religious people – even ostensibly smart ones – wait for you to question the profundity of such observations and then they pounce, claiming that you must actually reject the observations.  You must be some sort of jerk who dislikes reassurance and does not want friends to help out!

Religion has been tiresome for thousands of years.  By now all intelligent people should also be tired of the high school debate tactics that constitute typical mass-audience apologetics.  Stop, please.

2. Nonetheless, there are people who move from atheism to religious belief due to such tactics, and among them I’d have to count Leah Libresco, who got some press attention this month for being a “prominent atheist blogger” now turned believer – and, incidentally, a friend of Helen Rittelmeyer, both of them from the same partly Yale-centered cabal of what we might call Catholic nihilists (I really don’t think I’m being unkind or displaying an ongoing grudge if I sum up their averaged-together attitude as approximately: “I don’t believe in nuthin no more – I’m going to law school, er, I mean church!”).

Maybe they’re all ultimately harmless – not my job to worry about it anymore – but this much is certain: In cases like Leah, they tended not to be moved by the kind of reasoning that leads to atheism even when they were atheists.  As a result, I had never much counted on young Leah to remain onboard, sadly.  She was, after all, mostly blogging about what sort of emotional impact conversion might have on her relationship with her boyfriend and how religious belief might affect her moral behavior.  This is not exactly the stuff out of which scientific impartiality and sound judgments about the nature of the cosmos are built.  Instead, it’s the kind of self-absorption that leads to religion.

Thinking that Ganesh exists might also cause you to bond with your Hindu wife more solidly or think twice before robbing a bank, but, y’know what, that doesn’t mean Ganesh exists.  But then, if you needed to read that sentence to understand that very simple point, it’s unlikely any rational thing I say will penetrate the clouds of faith that fog your, admittedly, it’s not clear why I bother trying.

Similarly, every once in a while I encounter some ardent religious believer, making the latest in life’s endless series of pointless conversion pitches, telling me about how he used to be an atheist, and at some point the formulation “I used to be just like you” (intended to be reassuring) is deployed – and then what follows is a description of reasoning that is not in fact like anything that has ever gone on inside my head.  Look, I really hate to sound arrogant, but it’s all facts and evidence and logic and genuine intellectual caution inside here, people, not thoughts like “I do not want to be beholden to any standards!  I am the center of the cosmos!  Life has no meaning, so I can do what I want!!” 

Those are barely coherent sentences, to my mind, and they have little to do with deciding an important objective question like whether some intelligent force created the universe or someone rose from the dead two thousand years ago. 

But, hey, now I know the sorts of myopic, self-absorbed, emotivist thoughts religious believers tended to have before they alighted, in their emotion-driven, vapid, irrational way, upon a new set of arbitrary beliefs.

3. Still, I will probably enjoy my scheduled lunchtime conversation with David Mills, editor of the religious magazine First Things, who was nice enough to attend my onstage dialogue with Catholic writer Dawn Eden this month at the Dionysium – and showed an admirable willingness to talk further.  If I ever really figure out how to monetize “having an interesting day,” I will be rolling in it.

4. The Dionysium, it appears, will next turn its attention to the cinematically-timely question “Who Would Win a Fight Between Spider-Man and Batman?” – with a pair of very-professionally-relevant debaters on that topic to be announced shortly.  That, combined with an impending pre-Independence Day blog entry on Madison and Monroe, makes July a sort of “Month of Heroes” on this blog, I think.  Mostly, my message now is simply that you must attend the Dionysium.

5. One person who’s gotten more skeptical over the years is my fellow libertarian Austin Petersen, which led to him condemning conspiracy theorists – and in turn being condemned by frothing, conspiracy-fearing, libertarian radio/online-video host Alex Jones, in one of the greatest pieces of PR a skeptic could ask for. 

6. With the libertarian movement now turning its

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lingering questions about Obamacare, “Prometheus,” and “Ted”

Americans will be left with a few questions after some of the confusing developments in June, among them:

1. How much money will I be penalized if do not buy health insurance?

2. If the medical pod on the Prometheus was for Vickers’ use, why was it set only for males?

3. Was the process that made Ted into a self-aware bear part of a larger scheme?

4. Why would Mark Wahlberg create Ted only to attempt to destroy him later? 

5. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Engineers to eliminate the regulations that encourage insurance companies and employers to offer one-size-fits-all group plans so that individuals shop around for competing doctors?

6. If the “Prometheus” alien at the beginning of the movie intervened in evolution so that it replicated his own DNA, did he also cause the creation of Ted?

7. Is Ted a weapon, and does that explain his fistfight with Wahlberg?

8. If Obamacare makes the U.S. a social democracy and the U.S. does many things badly, can we now agree social democracies function badly without having to talk about Europe?

9. Could David have skipped impregnating Shaw by making a “little boy’s wish” for the Squid-Fetus Thing to come to life?

10. Can the death panels destroy the Engineers before they destroy us?

11. Is Wahlberg a Messiah figure?  Is Obama?

12. When do we get to the part where Eric Holder drives really fast to get away from Congress?

13. Will insurance programs still pay for aborting Squid-Fetus Things?

(And speaking of lingering questions: a note on the book Searchers within twenty-four hours, as my blog’s purported “Month of Religion” nears its end.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Romney vs. Obama vs. Gary Johnson vs....Rand Paul

Yesterday’s entry was theory.  Now for some filthy practical politics – gotta do this at least once before the November election (and then I think I’ll go cast a vote in the NY GOP primary for my friend Debbie’s sister Wendy Long, who’s running for Senate – good luck as well to libertarian-leaning Republican congressional candidate Dan Halloran and libertarian-leaning Democrat congressional candidate Dan O’Connor, both facing their primaries today).

I’ve heard rumors about Marco Rubio secretly having a daughter out of wedlock, but I have no idea if that explains those articles saying this favorite of conservatives isn’t being vetted as a running mate for Romney (my apologies if it’s false – but remember you heard it here first if it turns out to be true).  Might the cause of the reported non-vetting also be the fact that Rubio was a Mormon as a child, and the Romney people figure the public would freak out if the ticket were perceived as containing “two Mormons”?  This is all wild speculation on my part, and I admit it.

I also admit that I, unlike some libertarians, would love to see Sen. Rand Paul (son of Ron) as Romney’s running mate.  That doesn’t mean that I – or for that matter Rand Paul – would then fully endorse Romney and wave little flags and say he was great.  But it would be a strategically useful way of boosting Rand Paul’s public profile and perhaps in the process the public credibility of libertarianism (even though Rand Paul claims not to be a “libertarian,” technically – and some ardent libertarians would be happy to agree with him on that, in part because of his endorsement of Romney, but I think they’re being hasty; it’s complicated).

By contrast, some of my young and idealistic anarcho-capitalist associates think that the imminent collapse of the economy is so unavoidable that it’s best not to have Rand associated with it.  And Brian Doherty, of whom I’m a big fan (and who was my guest at last month’s Dionysium – sorry the video doesn’t seem to have worked out), thinks it may be best if Romney gets elected and performs so badly that a primary challenge within his own party is possible in 2016, with Rand leading the anti-neoconservative faction.  I disagree with both views, for roughly the same reason: There is little evidence that when things go badly in politics, the public suddenly learns and leaps to the opposite way of doing things.

If a collapse is imminent, better to have at (or near) the helm someone who will at least minimize the damage.  If that turns out to be Romney without a libertarian v.p., I’m not confident he’ll behave much differently than Obama would, but no matter how badly he does, a successful primary challenge from within an incumbent president’s own party is extremely unlikely (Teddy Roosevelt won every state primary when he challenged incumbent Taft and was still denied the GOP nomination, exactly 100 years ago last week – not that I weep for TR, since even Democrat Grover Cleveland sounded more free-market and, as you can tell from this audio file pointed out by Clay Waters, more badass than TR).


So, barring a surprise victory – or, far more plausibly, a spoiler-sized share of the vote – by Libertarian Gary Johnson (who I’ll vote for) in

Monday, June 25, 2012

“Liberaltarians” Finale

I have a confession to make: I invented “Free Market Fairness.” 

Well, all due credit must go to the Brown professor who actually wrote a book by that title – John Tomasi – and now to the critics with whom he has been engaged in a productive dialogue on the BleedingHeartLibertarians site for the past two weeks.

But just as Tomasi was excited to discover that libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek had briefly engaged in speculations similar to those of left-liberal philosopher John Rawls three decades before Rawls’ book A Theory of Justice, so too did I suggest about a decade ago – mostly in private places like an e-mail to Critical Review editor Jeffrey Friedman – that if people’s basic pragmatic objection to libertarianism is that they think the poor will end up starving, maybe we should all just agree to embrace “anarcho-capitalism with a Rawlsian escape clause.”

That is, we have an anarcho-capitalist law code – property rights recognized as (privately) legally enforceable but no government whatsoever – but with the caveat that more conventional (and still minimal) elements of governmental law kick in in the event that resulting conditions are sufficiently awful.  If people are starving (or some other litmus test) – and, crucially, if no one quickly comes up with a better voluntary solution – then and only then can you tax and redistribute a little. 

Everyone wins this way, both the liberty-seekers and the worried left-liberals.  Think of it as a “virtual safety net,” kicking in only if needed.  And I suspect it never would be.  But the creepy truth, of course, is that many people want there to be a government bossing you around all the time whether it proves necessary or not – and, like teachers unions, they dread ever letting the public learn firsthand whether the government can be dispensed with.  Social democrats think it’s inherently valuable to govern you. 

Is it any wonder they tend to love power-worshipping philosophers like Nietzsche, Schmitt, and Foucault despite seeming, superficially, to be on completely different pages politically from those figures?

So, Seavey:Tomasi::Hayek:Rawls.

A couple years later, I even made a note to myself suggesting Compassionate Capitalism as a possible title for a book on the subject.  This is, of course, another reminder to do (quickly) instead of just imagining (as are my notes for a possible movie about a president fighting vampires, though I wanted to make it Teddy Roosevelt). 


Of course, there are others interested in these philosophical intersections, including Will Wilkinson, who has called himself a “Rawlsekian” (partly Rawls-influenced, partly Hayek-influenced).  It’s sort of fitting I mention Will’s and Jacob Levy’s somewhat mushy philosophical faction six days prior to Canada Day, since it seems like that nation, to which both of them have ties, keeps cropping up in frustratingly-moderate political conversations (see: David Brooks).

But the sorts of people who respect Hegel and fist-raising campaigns for “social justice” dominate political science and philosophy departments, so

Friday, June 22, 2012

Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Nazis, Teddy Bears, and Newton

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the final day of the Republican Party convention that ended with Taft being nominated for reelection despite Teddy Roosevelt having won all but one of the party’s primaries.  TR’s forces bolted, creating the National Progressive Party (a.k.a. the Bull Moose Party) at an early-August convention – splitting Republican votes in the process and putting even-more-Progressive Woodrow Wilson in the White House

TR and Wilson are equally culpable in creating the grotesque Progressive monster that is big government, as my former boss, Judge Andrew Napolitano, will explain in his book Theodore and Woodrow in October.  TR thought of himself as a middle-way moderate, though, and you can actually hear his voice as he rebukes Wilson in this 1916 speech, if you like. 

As it happens, we might see something like a repeat of the split-GOP vote outcome this November, with GOP-exiting Gary Johnson getting more votes for the Libertarian Party than usual and many of the Ron Paul fans likely sitting out the election instead of voting for Romney (unless perhaps Romney makes Ron Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul, his v.p. running mate).

•I’ll mark this 100th anniversary by seeing the final performance of the Teddy Roosevelt play The Moose That Roared, tomorrow at 2pm at Brick Theater in Williamsburg, if you’re tempted to join me.  Tickets are $15 at their site while they last, part of their Democracy play series.  The play reportedly contains wacky elements such as puppets. 

For the real story I have the volume Bully! written by Rick Marshall, filled with neat artifacts like passages from letters in which TR defended himself against charges of Populism, and hundreds of beautiful vintage cartoons of his toothy visage beset by various Trusts and money-serpents back in the day.  The book does not shy away from the strange, such as TR building one of his election campaigns in part around the seemingly-urgent issue of spelling reform

(Even a libertarian must feel tempted to grant TR superhuman status and the right to rule over other men upon reading again about such incidents as TR giving a speech mere hours after being shot by an assassin – without even going to the hospital – and telling the audience “It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!”)

•To hold you over until seeing the play tomorrow, here’s footage of a teddy bear being hugged by a kitten.  On a related note, here are cartoons I did for ACSH years ago, inspired by my childhood teddy bear, Roy. 

I also composed a theme song for Roy, the lyrics of which were: “Roy D. Bear/ He’s covered with hair/ Roy D. Bear/ He’s over there/ Roy D. Roy D. Roy D. Bear/ Roy D. Roy D. Roy D. Roy D. Bear/ He!  Don’t!  Care! (shikaboom shikaboom).”

•Needless to say, I sympathize greatly with Seth MacFarlane creating next week’s movie Ted about an adult male human with a walking, talking teddy bear pal left over from childhood.  It’s bound to be better than the awful, joyless, and not-quite-worth-seeing-for-laughs Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  You watch that in amazement not so much at the visual effects or the 3D but at the fact that somehow it got produced.  Bizarre.  It reaffirms my minority view that Wanted, by the same director, was moronic.

The film will present a terrible dilemma to my lawyer friend Meredith Kapushion, since she loves Alan Tudyk but really ought to skip seeing him play Stephen Douglas here.  (The film also fills me with regret that I did not write a far more historically-accurate screenplay, as I have considered doing, about Teddy Roosevelt’s friendship with Bram Stoker and their shared wariness about sensualist Walt Whitman.  I see someone’s working on an Isaac Newton action hero movie, too – which I think I could make work very well as an anime, but that’s a whole different story.)

•By contrast, I am one of the lucky few Americans who has seen the internationally-produced, volunteer-completed, outsourced sci-fi comedy Iron Sky, about President Sarah Palin combating an invasion of Nazis from the Moon, and I pronounce it awesome.  It’s playing all over Europe but for some reason has not had its purportedly-imminent U.S. release date announced yet. 

So help me, if the American distributor is wussing out because of the movie’s darkly-ironic treatment of fascism, racism, and presidential politics, there will be a lot of angry sci-fi nerds, and well there should be. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dionysium tonight! Touchy subjects to be broached!

In the air-conditioned comfort of Muchmore’s Bar (2 Havemeyer St. near the Bedford Ave. L stop) tonight at 8pm, we’ll not only hear the music of Hannah Meyers and comedy of Daniel Somarriba but of course the observations of Dawn Eden on molestation, psychological trauma, and religion as (among other things) a coping mechanism, themes from her book with a fraught sentence as a title, My Peace I Give You

All are welcome, though it might be just as well that some of my fellow skeptics who showed up for our talk with libertarian Brian Doherty last month are off in New Hampshire this time, celebrating the “free state” and its bourgeoning anarcho-capitalist population at PorcFest. 

In any case, I hope the Dionysium will (always) be skeptical in the most productive sense, not just debunking things but sorting out what the best and most useful parts are of the myriad things examined – always striving, in Edmund Burke-like fashion, to avoid throwing out the baby with the bath water, even when there are deep underlying disagreements.  That, indeed, is why I will largely eschew the yes/no combat model we used at the old (unaffiliated) Debates at Lolita Bar I hosted. 

The Dionysium will be a crucible but may produce new hybrids and unexpected partnerships – not to mention a place where people are comfortable changing their minds or being unsure – not just an arena yielding an ostensible winner and a loser.

Similarly, I’ve tended to remain on friendly terms with exes – not only Dawn, with whom I have such a big disagreement on the God/atheism thing – but even, perhaps, the one I notoriously sparred with on C-SPAN2, Helen Rittelmeyer, with whom I’ve sorta buried the hatchet.  Can I presume to know for sure what psychological forces led her to some rather dark and pessimistic attitudes that clashed with my own? 

Y’know, maybe I should’ve taken her fondness for Dollhouse (the Joss Whedon series about reprogrammable psyches), Oldboy (the angst-ridden Asian incest crime drama), Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses (about lunatics who make art by chopping people up), and film noir as signs she was wrestling with some weird emotional currents I’ve been mercifully spared, not just different philosophical and aesthetic ones.  In any case, she’s still a tortured genius and all, and I suppose someone should probably hire her to write about it all (not to mention politics and history – and edit), since I don’t plan to write about such things.  (I’ll write about pretty much anything else you hire me to, though.)

But let’s get back to Dawn.

Dawn vs. Batman

I don’t know if we’ll have time to get into it tonight

Monday, June 18, 2012

DIONYSIUM: Dawn Eden, Hannah Meyers, and Daniel Somarriba (plus Prometheus and X-Men “revelations”)

This Thursday (June 21 at 8pm) brings our first Dionysium set on the correct floor of the building that houses the new Williamsburg bar Muchmore’s (our preliminary stab at this ongoing variety-show series last month took place on the residential second floor), at 2 Havemeyer St. (on the corner of N. 9th St., just three blocks east of Bedford Ave., which is the very first subway stop into Brooklyn on the L that goes across 14th St.). 

I’ll play host to (and in the first case interview):

•Dawn Eden, author of My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, my Amazon review of which is visible along with purchasing info here.  Please accept the review as a partial substitute (during this blog’s “Month of Religion”) for my overdue review here of Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, my copy of which I received (in an admirable peacemaking gesture) from my other Catholic-convert ex, Helen Rittelmeyer, but, perhaps fittingly, later lost on public transportation while tipsy. 

Long-time Todd fans, though possibly confused, will recognize Dawn (seen here on Fox News and interviewed here by the Catholic Register) as the ex whose prior book, Thrill of the Chaste, featured me as “Tom” in Chapter 18, as something of a cautionary tale about dating atheists, but I don’t think we’ll have time to get into all that.  The new book is partly about earlier – and more serious – turmoil in Dawn’s life, since her own experiences with sexual abuse led her to look to religion for guidance in coping with the emotional fallout later in life.

•Hannah Meyers, on a lighter but I hope not jarring note, does folkish, often comedic music found in part on her new album You’re the Pacific.  She’s also a veteran of the old Manhattan Project gatherings, as some of you may recall. 

•Daniel Somarriba, on an even lighter note, tells jokes.  The Dionysium does indeed bring you variety.

The most blasphemous news of the month, of course, is probably the movie Prometheus, though it’s debatable whether its alien-engineers-of-life plot is more of a heresy against God or against people’s positive memories of Alien

Mind you, I say this as someone who enjoyed the movie – but I nonetheless recognize the truth in the hilarious (and spoiler-filled) complaints and unresolved questions noted in this great Red Letter Media comedy clip.  Meanwhile, a sexy nerd (yes, I’m attracted to lesbian-seeming punks who are all wrong for me when not attracted to religious women who are completely at odds with my philosophy) explains why the absence of explicit references to Space Jesus may be the real reason that Prometheus doesn't quite add up.

On the other hand, I would suggest that if Lovecraft-like horror stories are supposed to end with a riddle of madness, then this film was clearly a home run (meta-Lovecraft, with the audience driven mad?). 

In other movie news, it is a near certainty that sometime today, the far more satisfying film The Avengers will surpass The Dark Knight (as gauged by inflation-adjusted domestic box office) to become the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time – ah, but will Dark Knight Rises surpass both next month, giving Batman an almost-immediate chance to reseize the crown?  Exciting! 

In other superhero news, I suddenly realize (feel free to hire me as a consultant, Hollywood – I’m good at this) that I know exactly how Marvel could add an Avengers-like element of connectivity to their less-frequent (roughly annual) X-Men-related movies, given their current production schedule (The Wolverine in 2013 and a sequel to X-Men: First Class in 2014, with a possible New Mutants movie to follow):

(1) End The Wolverine, which is about Wolverine’s time training in Japan, with a teaser of him setting up his “own dojo” in the future – namely, a fresh-faced class at Xavier’s mutant academy. 

(2) Since the First Class sequel reportedly uses a variation on the comics time-traveling “Days of Future Past” plotline – but the First Class characters live in 1963 –have the “future” be fifty years later, in 2013, with Wolverine as the teacher and protector of younger mutants in a world gone apocalyptic.  Have a teaser at the end of this film hinting at a whole rebooted, new present day – neither the dark one from “Days of Future Past” nor necessarily the present day of prior X-Men movies – though it should disturbingly resemble our own present day of drones and surveillance cameras.  This reality, someone should intone (perhaps someone back in 1963), will contain new events...and “New Mutants.”

(3) Then, because of the ambiguous timestream reboot and the fact they already had characters scattered across five decades in this franchise, they can just do whatever the hell they want for the next film, practically any time, place, or set of characters (great way to renegotiate actor contracts from a position of strength) – but they definitely title it New Mutants, with a Twilight-like emphasis on youth and pulling in a whole new audience.  Thus is the franchise reborn.

And if the ladies are still showing up for Hugh Jackman, probably you have him leading a cast of beautiful mutant youth and come up with some time travel mishigas to justify the Magneto from 1963 (a.k.a. First Class’s Michael Fassbender, also widely agreed to be the best thing about Prometheus) still being the antagonist.  Or whatever.  It’s all good at that point.

Then Marvel can turn its attention back to rebooting Fantastic Four.  

APPENDIX: The Text of My Above-Noted Amazon Review 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

MUSIC NOTE: Party at Muchmore’s tonight (and DIONYSIUM in one week – plus a WBRU musical mystery and more!)

In one week, I will host another Dionysium (this time featuring Catholic author Dawn Eden, comedian Daniel Somarriba, and musician Hannah Meyers) – but TONIGHT, at the very same location, come to the grand opening of the bar that shall host the Dionysium: Muchmore’s, at 2 Havemeyer St. (just three blocks east of the Bedford Ave. subway stop, the very first L stop into Brooklyn on the subway if you ride from 14th St.).

Not only shall there be one hour of free beer starting at 8pm, there will be multiple hip bands afterwards for a trifling $5 (including Future of What, Dust Engineers, Ancient Sky, and She Keeps Bees – which combined, sound more than a little like a plot synopsis of Prometheus, which Julian Sanchez makes a good – and very spoiler-filled – case for disliking, though I enjoyed it anyway).

This week also reportedly brings sci-fi-sounding new albums from Rush (Clockwork Angels) and, more hiply, Metric (Synthetica). 

Hipper still, in a few weeks, scads of bands perform in a festival honoring the late punk-friendly club CBGB’s.

And on what some might consider a less-hip note, I think my article about the conservative rock band Madison Rising will shortly be in the July cover-dated issue of Newsmax – but for Flag Day, here’s their “Star-Spangled Banner” video

On an intriguing but perplexing musical note, I notice that Wikipedia’s entry on the Brown University-affiliated radio station WBRU (which was the nation’s first professional alternative rock format station) says something that is surely wrong:

Between April 17 and April 21, 2006, WBRU played their entire music catalog by title from A-Z, starting at 5:30 p.m. with "About a Girl" by Nirvana on the 17th and ending around 11:15 on the 21st with "Zombie" by the Cranberries. The songs ranged from new music (by such bands as Panic! at the Disco and Zox), 1980s and 1990s pop rarely played by the station (such as Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy") and classic punk (i.e., Sex Pistols and New York Dolls).

And while I did find a news article claiming they played their whole library starting on the first date noted above, if they really ended when claimed by Wikipedia, that's only 102 hours of music.  Surely they have far more albums on hand than that. 

Even if the “catalog” only means a few designated tracks from each album, that short a span can’t be right, can it?  I mean, even if it was usually just one track per album, we’d only be talking about something like 1,000 or 2,000 albums.  Heck, I knew individual Brown students with that many albums.  But now I’m intrigued about what really went down and when it ended – if indeed it has ended!

Shouldn’t someone at WBRU be editing that entry in between mastering the station’s Twitter and Facebook accounts?

(At first, I suspected “their entire music catalog” here merely meant “whatever they happened to decide to play during that alphabetized four-day period,” which is definitely not that exciting a claim.  But the news article definitely said they played the station’s entire library – though the news can be wrong.  In retrospect, by the way, I probably should have recorded the entire U2 library when WBRU played that over the course of a day once back when I was there – though I got a lot of it.  U2 also gave away an iPod, when those were still novel, containing all their songs, and it was dubbed the UPod.)

One thing I suspect is not being played at Brown often is this “redneck cover” of Ice Cube’s “Straight Outta Compton” (h/t Andrea Pisani).

Friday, June 8, 2012

MOVIE NOTE: Prometheus, Himmelskibet, Max Headroom, and LBJ ordering slacks

I waited thirty-six years for the Avengers movie – but a mere thirty-three for another Ridley Scott Alien movie.  Of course, we had various sequels in that time, as well as this harrowing sequence from the very disturbing reality show Scare Tactics (clearly, a good time for all participants – amazing the show wasn’t sued out of existence on day one).  And some scientists think there might be life on Titan.  Respond with caution. 

As with so many other things in our culture, though, I sometimes feel we’ve made great strides and other times feel that virtually nothing has changed.  Nearly a century ago – 1918 – we already had a sci-fi movie about space-suited explorers visiting another planet (Mars) and finding it a bit more dangerous than at first expected.  The strikingly modern-feeling Danish film Himmelskibet (Skyship) is arguably the first “space opera” (that is, a big space epic like the then-popular tales of John Carter or today’s Star Wars movies – not sci-fi with singing). 

Himmelskibet was also the last Danish sci-fi film until the 60s monster movie Reptilicus (which filled the Godzilla-shaped hole in my soul when I was child and it was occasionally rerun on Channel 56’s Creature Double Feature out of Boston). 

We have Mary Shelley to blame for all of this stuff, and fittingly, it occurs to me as a sophisticated grown-up that The Modern Prometheus is a far cooler subtitle for Frankenstein than it seemed when I was a kid and it seemed old-fashioned and stuffy.  It strikes the right note of religious hubris (something else we can discuss with Dawn Eden at 8pm on June 21 at the Dionysium, if the conversation gets really off-track).

Of course, biology and blasphemy may seem like small potatoes when our whole galaxy collides with the Andromeda in 4 billion years (h/t Alan Charles Kors), but that may well prove a painless and slow process.  Let us hope it doesn’t work out like the inter-galaxy collision and conflict that kicks off the early space-operatic Lensmen novels.  Because Lensmen is absolutely terrible. 

Here’s a real-life monster, though: a real recording of LBJ ordering pants, shirts, and a jacket all in the same color, this time requesting more space near his “nuts” and “bunghole” (h/t Jacob Breeggemann).  It’s like listening to a chest-burster pop out of a crew member.

Monsters aren’t everything in sci-fi, though.  Prometheus production designer Arthur Max says in some ways the project stretches back for him to...Max Headroom (on whose teachings I have based my entire life).  Ridley Scott, having then recently done Alien – and, more relevantly, Blade Runnerfirst worked with Max on these commercials, reports

Senor Headroom existed as a comedic talkshow host before he did Coke ads, though.  He once interviewed Rutger Hauter (or “Rootbeer,” as Headroom nicknamed him) about Blade Runner, expressing alarm that Rootbeer would not admit that The Max Headroom Show looked a lot like Blade Runner.  Nowadays, the lawyers would probably tell Headroom not to pursue that line of questioning lest it open him up to a copyright infringement lawsuit.  But Max has gotta do what Max has gotta do.

The only real difference between 1982, when Blade Runner came out, and 2012 is, of course, that now we live in the movie instead of watching it.  It’s Scott and Headroom's world. 

AND SPEAKING OF MOVIES: Coming up next week (as our Catholic countdown to Dawn Eden's June 21 appearance at the Dionysium continues): a look at Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer (and an official grand opening party at Muchmore’s Bar, the home of the Dionysium, on the 14th, if you care to join me for that as well).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

BOOK NOTE: The Works of Joseph de Maistre

I'll take Joe the Plumber over Joseph de Maistre any day.  Mon Dieu.

American conservatism, on its good days, is about preserving markets, individual liberty, the Constitution, and such traditions as shore up those things.  European conservatives, especially since the collapse of Communism, sometimes hit similar notes, but there is a creepier current in the European right, more concerned with venerating state-supported traditions – and even state-supported churches – and defending monarchy, aristocracy, or the homeland’s ethnic composition, squelching individualism in the process with an almost sadistic gusto. 

These aren’t so much attitudes the American right rejects (or defends less ardently) as things that most Americans, even before the Revolution, have simply forgotten were considered paramount back in the Old World.  We came here to forget these things, and it worked!  That, and the relative weakness of the hardcore left in the U.S., leaves us free to have arguments that, however fierce they may appear from the inside, look mostly like narrow liberal-vs.-libertarian fights from a broader European perspective.

Joseph de Maistre, writing in the aftermath of the French Revolution, is the founding Continental-conservative “throne and altar” defender in much the same way that Edmund Burke is the founding Anglo/American conservative defender of traditionalism and governmental humility.  Maistre is much more frightening (I’m indebted for my copy of The Works of Joseph de Maistre, which sat in the New York offices of National Review for a time, to one Helen Rittelmeyer, who gave away many old books before going back to North Carolina to regroup, stabilize, strategize, and no doubt emerge a better and even more clever individual).

Maistre has his own brand of humility, of course, and like Burke recognizes that the Revolution was an outburst of dangerous arrogance, attempting to remake society from scratch without realizing how delicate and complicated a piecemeal process had created it over the course of centuries.  He even sounds at times far more relativistic – quicker to concede that local customs may suit local conditions in a way that cannot be transplanted to other regimes – than, say, the fellow libertarians I saw gathered last night to honor the Atlas Foundation and its efforts to spread ideas like individual rights in sometimes-hostile places like China (though an Atlas spokesman rightly noted they ask the locals what their needs are rather than telling them how best to promote liberty, and I hope their collaboration spreads). 

But if Maistre sounds humble at times, it is not at all because he respects your right to do as you please.  On the contrary, his writings are a protracted paean to complete obedience – to both church and state, as he repeatedly makes explicit – and the crushing of all thought of rebellion or second-guessing of the monarch.  His central thesis, really, is that submission must be total or else there can be no authority at all.

I, of course, want a world with neither thrones nor altars. 

Libertarian as it can be at times, American conservatism has undeniably been infected to some small degree by thinking like Maistre’s, and it often seems to appeal to Maistre’s fellow Catholics.  The recently-deceased philosopher Thomas Molnar from Brooklyn College, for instance, was an admirer of the horrific, very overtly pro-Vichy thinker Charles Maurras, a promoter of Catholic nationalism and denouncer of Jews.  Whether or not Maurras’ imprisonment after WWII was appropriate, he was a monster.  Be very suspicious any time you hear a conservative praising Molnar. 

(But then, perhaps you should be suspicious of me attending traditionalist discussion groups, lo these two decades ago, at which Jim Kalb would display a copy of a de Maistre book to let newcomers know which part of the bar to sit in.)

One of the tragic things about politics is that rather than declaring proposals wholly good or wholly evil, one should always be mature and pragmatic enough to weigh likely alternatives and ask of any proposal: “Compared to what?”  But the downside of this necessary approach is that almost any terrible faction can be made to look good by comparison to at least some of its enemies.  This is how the two major political parties in the U.S. continue to get away with what they do.  It’s also why Maistre can rant like a tyrant and still seem preferable to the mass-murder and fanaticism of the Revolution he detested.

Furthermore, it’s largely through comparisons to Communism (with its mind-boggling death toll of about 100 million) that the Catholic Church manages still to have a reputation in some circles as a bulwark of freedom and markets.  Yet this passage from a Drudge-linked Reuters article from June 3 about the current Pope is a good reminder that he’s no real use to American-style, free-market conservatives:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

BOOK NOTE for the Queen’s Jubilee: EDMUND BURKE: ANARCHIST! (Lord Bolingbroke: merely an agnostic)

Founding anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard claimed that founding conservative Edmund Burke wasn’t joking back in the mid-eighteenth century when he wrote A Vindication of Natural Society, that the book was a real defense of abolishing government.  Most scholars disagreed, saying Burke was just parodying the agnostic musings of Lord Bolingbroke in Letters on the Study and Use of History (as an older and more conservative Burke himself claimed). 

So I had no choice but to read both books and see.  The late Ray Bradbury would have been pleased I was reading old books.

(This project seems fitting for the week of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  Yesterday was also World Environment Day, but that’s not the kind of “natural” society Burke had in mind.  He meant one shaped by voluntary, organic-in-a-social-sense, non-violent arrangements – which is not wholly at odds with his mature views on tradition.  Speaking of the natural and the monarchical, above are two panels from a 1939 DC Comics story noted by BleedingCool featuring a same-sex kiss – and a wedding-like alliance of two queens – long before Green Lantern turned gay.)

Not that many political activist types have had much incentive to check the plausibility of young-Burke-as-anarchist, since most self-proclaimed “anarchists” (sadly) don’t care what Burke says, and most “conservatives” (sadly) are quite eager to ignore Burke’s apparent anarchist indiscretions from youth, since so many conservatives lean at heart more toward the throne-and-altar authoritarianism of figures like Joseph de Maistre (about whom I’ll also blog this week).  Not even most of my fellow libertarians care that much about the (extra-inclusive) fusionist mission of showing anarchism and conservatism to have common roots.  They have their own, much more up-to-date and respectable arguments.  But an awareness of common ancestry can have a big impact on people’s self-conception and what sort of arguments they’ll comfortably listen to.

I always try to keep in mind how fleeting our era is (and how tiny our civilization) in the grand scheme of things.  Preposterous as an anarchism-conservatism tie might seem to most of today’s partisans, history students of the distant future will probably have to be in the top of their class (if there are still students and classes in the future) to know the difference between anarchism and conservatism, different as they appear to us (try taking a look at the once-divisive strains of pre-Socratic philosophy or Enlightenment-era thought some time and telling me that once-intense battles can’t end up half-forgotten centuries later). 

There’s no denying that whether he was joking or not, Burke’s Vindication is often regarded as the first book-length anarchist argument.  Having now read both his book and his target’s, I’m prepared to say Burke made an anarchist argument that bears almost no resemblance to his purported parodic target, Lord Bolingbroke’s Letters

Interestingly, reading both with an open mind leads one to the conclusion, I think, that there are important ancestral ties (and similarities) not just between conservatism and anarchism but between conservatism, anarchism, liberalism, atheism, agnosticism, and religious traditionalism as it is conceived of in the modern era.  I think this bodes well for the grand fusionist project (or at least my grand fusionist project) of hybridizing these philosophies into something everyone can learn from without fighting. 

(Having the founding conservative in the mix thus becomes of greater strategic interest than, say, tracing the very direct ties between the founding of anarchism, feminism, sci-fi, and Romanticism that the family of William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, respectively, makes possible, astoundingly fertile though that particular nexus was – with the trashy films Gothic and Frankenstein Unbound by Ken Russell and Roger Corman, of all people, perhaps the closest popular culture has come to acknowledging that nexus in recent decades.)

On a similar note: I hope everyone who attends our June 21 Dionysium – 8pm at Muchmore’s at 2 Havemeyer St. in Williamsburg – to see our Catholic conservative guest of honor Dawn Eden will get something out of my conversation with her even if you disagree with her religious beliefs.  (There’ll also be the comedy of Daniel Somarriba and the music of Hannah Meyers.)

But on to the intriguing details of the Bolingbroke and Burke books:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dionysium of Eden, “Month of Religion,” Mockery of God and Frum (plus Avengers)

After some imminent tech-tinkering, I’ll try to restrict my online activities from here on out to items related to the onstage goings-on at our periodic Dionysium events (follow me via Blogger, Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail for announcements of our upcoming events). 

In theory, that will also give me more time to work for actual money (NOTE: If you pay me a large amount to make us both famous, part of my motivation will be making other publications, thinktanks, and organizations regret not hiring me, and I think some of you know how powerful a motivator that can be).

Since June 21’s Dionysium (as currently noted in my right margin) will feature, among others, Catholic author Dawn Eden on the topic of her new book My Peace I Give You – and because I spent part of last night live-tweeting criticism of a religious talk – I declare what few blog entries I do this month shall constitute a diplomatic “Month of Religion.”  Really.  (It’ll mostly be about books and movies.)

One last bit of transitional mockery left over from last month, though: When I observed that Avengers is swiftly moving into the top forty films (domestic box office, adjusted for inflation, per BoxOfficeMojo) – as also noted in last night’s religion tweets, actually – last month’s Dionysium speaker, Brian Doherty, noted that he was glad Avengers is eclipsing the (Catholic) film Bells of St. Mary’s.  But I don’t think you need to be an atheist anarchist to think the plot, as described by Wikipedia, sounds nauseatingly opposed to the do-it-yourself, can-do spirit that made America great.  Brace yourself:

Father Charles "Chuck" O'Malley (Bing Crosby), the unconventional priest from Going My Way, continues his work for the Catholic Church. This time he is assigned to St. Mary's, a run-down New York City inner-city Catholic school on the verge of being condemned. O'Malley feels the school should be closed and the children sent to another school with modern facilities, but the sisters feel that God will provide for them. They put their hopes in Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers), a businessman who has built a modern building next door to the school and which they hope he will donate to them. Father O'Malley and the dedicated but stubborn Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) have to work together to save the school, though their different views and methods often lead to good-natured disagreements. Towards the end, however, Sister Benedict contracts tuberculosis, and is transferred without being told this. She assumes the transfer is because of her disagreements with O'Malley. In the end, O'Malley informs her that she has tuberculosis, and that is the reason she is being sent away. She then leaves willingly and happily.

Let me count the ways.  But in truth, I’m more interested to see how soon Avengers passes Marvel’s current highest-grossing film, Spider-Man – and then whether Avengers can overtake the highest-grossing superhero film of all, DC Comics’ Dark Knight – just before Dark Knight Rises hits theatres!  (This is like the NBA for me, so bear with me.) 

In other superheroic news, as you may’ve seen on Drudge today, the original 1940s Green Lantern has been turned (young and) gay by DC Comics, which is fine with me (I am more concerned that in the process they got rid of his two grown-up kids, Jade and Obsidian).  He is not to be confused with the bemuscled, bronzed, and often-shirtless pulp fiction character Doc Savage from the same era, who is in turn not to be confused with present-day gay columnist Dan Savage – and that leads us back to Dawn Eden.

For you see, hip conservative Mark Judge explains here why he thinks Dawn Eden is better than Dan Savage.  (Maybe we can ask her about that at the Dionysium on June 21 – 8pm at Muchmore’s in Williamsburg.)  Judge also, by the way, explains in another piece why David Frum is lame, which I think is a much easier case to make.

Indeed, I think David Frum, David Brooks, David Brock, Andrew Sullivan, and Michael Fumento should have a roundtable show, maybe called Traitors!, where they just congratulate each other for being ex-conservatives – but one of them betrays the others in each episode and a panel of moderate, establishment judges has to guess which it'll be.  Maybe that could be a future Dionysium.  Oh, we could also do death panels.