Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thrones, Rings, Clouds, Skyfall, and Mutants (plus Conservatives)

My “Month of Media” ends with a bang, with the biggest possible media announcement – not the presidential election, hurricane, or formation of hybrid publishing company RandomPenguin(!).  I mean, rather, a new Star Wars trilogy (in 2015, 2017, and 2019).  This brings both post-Lucas hope and pre-Disney fear (and the news hits right after I announced my #WheDONT boycott of Whedon-overseen Avengers movies, which are also from Disney; the boycott still allows me to enjoy this photo of an actual hedgehog dressed as Thor, though). 

But let’s check out news from five other major fantasy franchises – and five thematically-appropriate accompanying storm photos Todd took – shall we? 

•The floodwaters seen (darkly) lapping at the intersection just east of me Monday night, which completely covered the FDR, caused a small transformer fire that led to me briefly taking shelter at Dan Raspler’s apartment a few blocks away, where I saw Game of Thrones for the first time and liked what little I saw (and by little, I mean Peter Dinklage).  I am also indebted to him for the joke Disney-buys-Star Wars pics above. 

In a month and a half, of course, we won’t need these derivative fantasy franchises because the first of three annual Hobbit movies will be on the big screen (featuring creatures as oddly squat as one dog hanging around along with the temporarily-ousted building occupants the other night).  The way Tolkien’s almost nineteenth-century-style Tory Catholic agrarianism ended up appealing greatly to hippies is only one of many forgotten ways that the left and right have cross-pollinated over the past two centuries, despite our pretense come election time that they are eternal, immutable opposites.

(I often wonder just how different historical political outcomes that seem necessary and logical to shallower thinkers today might in fact have been – as, for example, with the animosity between the right and gays, which might have worked out very differently if the first prominent lesbian writer, Radclyffe Hall, a self-consciously conservative and aristocratically-garbed woman, had not eventually been driven into the arms of the left.)

Margaret Thatcher, at least, has one fan among the celebrities most associated with Tolkien: John Rhys-Davies, who played Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Gimli in Lord of the Rings, and the voice of General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith, is described in part thusly on Wikipedia:

Rhys-Davies holds politically conservative views.  As a university student in the 1960s, he had been a radical leftist, but changed his views when he went to heckle a young local member of parliament, Margaret Thatcher.  Rhys-Davies says that "she shot down the first two hecklers in such brilliant fashion that I decided I ought for once to shut up and listen."

He learned not to be a Douche-o Baggins his whole life, and you can, too.  You have the power within you.

•Kyle Smith and Daniel Radosh disagreed online about whether Cloud Atlas is good – I’m still planning to see it and remain cautiously optimistic – but it has not been well-received enough to get transformed into a franchise or anything (it depicts people leading multiple lives across centuries – in much the same way that the neurotic Parker Posey character from Best in Show seemed to live again in the form of a temporarily-displaced yuppie chick saying of her bulldog the other night “He’s freaking out!” – see her leg and dog nearby).  Luckily, the industrious Wachowskis reportedly have a potential sci-fi franchise in the works called Jupiter Rising.  I continue to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Even when they fail me, they do so in more interesting ways than other directors and producers.  And I liked Speed Racer enough to buy the DVD.

•The biggest driving challenge on the Upper East Side right now, though, is maneuvering around fallen branches.  Call them Skyfall, if you will – and you can call the one November film release about which I care that as well.

This Best Bond Themes ranking by seems about right to me – and even the quirky-but-interesting effort to elevate the “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Theme” to the top tier makes sense (indeed, I’ve found myself humming that without knowing which of the films first used it). 

But enjoy the glamorous, sexy version of spying while you can because December 19 brings Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s film on bin Laden’s death.  That weekend will not bring a Mayan apocalypse, but her film would be an apt time to bring all the international conspiracies to a head. 

•The X-Men film franchise (which does not fall under my Whedon-Avengers boycott, please note) reaches its climax in 2014 with the First Class cast meeting the Patrick Stewart cast – and giant mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels – via time travel in X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will be directed by Bryan Singer rather than Matthew Vaughn, it has just been reported.  Probably just as well. 

With a magnetized “magic” bullet at the JFK assassination substituting for the Sen. Robert Kelly assassination in the original comic book plot – and our own drone-filled present substituting for the Terminator-inspiring dark future in that story – this film could be a new high point for geek-child-wish-fulfillment on screen. 

But my fondest wish right now is just that friends like leftist cartoonist Danny Hellman and my anarcho-capitalist pals, the perhaps-most-radical of whom was sparring with Hellman online this week, will live to see calmer days after the imminent election.  I think I’ll take a really big break then from online scuffling – and online activity in general – myself.  Here’s hoping we don’t all end up in government-run internment camps like the mutants in the “Days of Future Past” story – or like Japanese-Americans under the tyrannical FDR, after whom was named the east-side highway seen above sporting an unusual lack of cars.

However the election turns out, my left-wing friends, if they can remain calm for a moment, probably should take heart from the fact that Romney really is (admit it) pretty moderate, to the frustration of Gary Johnson-voting libertarians like me.  You know, there were more writers expressing their intention to vote for Obama among the contributors to American Conservative magazine this year than there were among the contributors to a comparable Reason magazine forum.  Conservatives are very unreliable at this late stage and history and probably shouldn’t scare anyone much.  They’re faded ghosts now.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

BOOK/FILM NOTE: 7 scary things for Halloween (including Sandy)

•As noted yesterday, I’m boycotting Joss Whedon and the films he oversees.  However, I’m not losing my love for all Marvel projects, including the swell Frankenstein image nearby [MAJOR UPDATE: Luckily, I'm also not boycotting all Disney projects, since Disney, which also owns Marvel, has acquired LucasFilm and plans to make Star Wars: Episode VII in 2015 -- h/t Chuck Blake, and more on Lucas himself below]. 

It’s only one of countless variations on Mary Shelley’s idea, of course: Here in its entirety is Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein – a century-old movie adapting a novel from a century earlier.  Yet the film is far stranger than the novel, really.  In Edison’s film, the monster simply ceases to exist at the end, fading into a mirror because Victor refuses to love him and instead bonds with Victor’s new bride.

•My boycott of today consists of me urging people to stop subscribing to the New York Times after their opportunistic board editorial opining that a “Big Storm Requires Big Government.”  Does anyone think the reasoning behind the Times’ opinions is more sophisticated than an eight year-old’s?  FEMA shouldn’t be privatized in the middle of a storm, but everything can be privatized.  Yes, everything.

At least Mayor Bloomberg declined to muse about whether one hurricane constitutes evidence of manmade climate change.  Gov. Cuomo was not so cautious.  Ironically, though, two of the people I’ve personally encountered here most worried about climate change are spouses of two of my fellow former John Stossel producers. 

One of the climate-worriers in question is John Hockenberry, himself also a TV producer, and the Frontline episode he did attacking climate change skeptics itself comes in for skepticism in this column, which debunks the oft-repeated claim that 97% of active climate researchers believe humans are a significant cause of global warming.

The column is a neat window into what a statistician friend of mine says is a pattern of climate alarmists abusing statistics.  Make the numbers fuzzy enough and you can produce an apparent consensus on almost anything – then spin it as if you got everyone to agree on the worst-case scenario instead of the basics: not merely that, yes, there is such a thing as a basic greenhouse effect but that doomsday is imminent. 

Statistics abuse is the great, rarely-noted Achilles heel of the climate fear-mongers. 

•A greater danger than rising oceans is of course aging, as revealed in a comedy clip of people playing Existential Crisis & Dragons.

•Oddly enough, David Lynch passed up the chance to direct Return of the Jedi.  We will never know what that might have looked like – perhaps a bit too much like Dune.  But we do have a short Lynch film from 1970 (over forty years ago, and seven years prior to Eraserhead).  It’s definitely Lynch – and with a hint of Terry Gilliam influence, I’d say.

•Lynch does “vague but ominous” in a fashion worthy of H.P. Lovecraft, though Lovecraft’s clearest influence on film in general may be the plethora of storylines out there which, like Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, involve ancient alien evils being unearthed in Antarctica (including the first X-Files movie, Alien vs. Predator, and more, arguably including Lovecraft fan John Carpenter’s take on the John Campbell-based Thing). 

•I also associate Lovecraft with the more familiar environs of Providence, RI, where he lived (when not living in NYC) and where I went to college.  My fellow Brown alum Dan Greenberg notes a map of Lovecraft’s Providence-like fictional town of Arkham.  Since Providence has a Euclid Avenue, I only wish Lovecraft’s map had included a Non-Euclid Avenue.  Ha!

•I also read the Stephen King short story “Fair Extension,” about a man who makes a deal with the Devil – and doesn’t really regret the devastation it wreaks on the life of his best friend.  It’s a great, disturbing little portrait of jealousy. 

I read it along with the non-fiction King book Danse Macabre, his 1981 tome about his overall “Dionysian” philosophy of horror, recommended by Gerard Perry.  I’m not a King fanatic, but I can understand why so many people are.  He’s easygoing and easily digestible but manages to come up with at least one clever or funny idea per page. 

This book includes King’s observations on such important topics as

Monday, October 29, 2012

I'm Boycotting All Future Avengers Films (to Punish Joss Whedon): #WheDONT

It's just as well that the Iron Man 3 trailer is uninspiring.  Because I won't be seeing any more Avengers movies, and I'll bet I'm not the only one. 

Life is short, so when I saw this characteristically mildly clever but infinitely smug, zombie-themed anti-Romney clip by Joss Whedon, you know what I did?  I crossed all the future Avengers movies off my to-see list (yeah, I have one). 

That's right, all the way through Ant-Man in 2015 (that's six movies).  Plus the SHIELD TV series.  Oh, I'm sure they'll be fine, but again, life's too short, and I don't plan to spend even a moment of it wondering whether Whedon will use the Cosmic Cube as a metaphor for clean, renewable green energy or what have you.  Plenty of other films out there.  This frees up almost half my moviegoing schedule. 

You might want to make a note of that, Marvel.  And Disney.  And ABC.

It's important to show one's willingness to make sacrifices once in a while, and we non-leftists put up with an awful lot of crap in the culture fueled by ignorance like Whedon's about basic economics.  Until we decide we've had enough.

Joss, learn some economics to go with your teenage snark.  A little sarcasm is no substitute for a lot of wisdom.  It never was, much as I've tried to tolerate the ever-increasing snark, snideness, Maher-ism, Gawkering, "negging," and all-around pro-jerkiness of the culture.  Just a tiny, tiny dash of humility, by contrast -- unpopular a virtue as that is these days -- might cause you to question prevailing pro-government, anti-market narratives.  

And you know the real irony here?  I'm not even voting for Romney.  I'm voting for Gary Johnson.  I just think you're an idiot.  And a disgrace to the anti-government principles implicit in Firefly.

UPDATE: On Twitter, my Whedon boycott can now be noted or retweeted using the hashtag #WheDONT.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Todd’s 10 Favorite Online Music Clips (plus Meatloaf and Garbage!)

Over on Facebook, I already posted a politics item, a comics item, and a skeptic item today, so by tradition, that leaves one of Todd’s four zones untapped, remedied with this entry: music.  (Though I will double-dip into politics by noting that Meatloaf endorsed Romney.)

My performance of “Hey Now Now” by Cloud Room seemed to go over pretty well at a farewell karaoke party for lovely soon-to-be-expatriate Jessica Eisenberg of Jezzy and the Belles a couple days ago, but instead of linking to that fine song, here are: my top ten favorite music-related videos on the Internet (not necessarily my favorite songs), and only half are from the 80s (the last five):

Maru attacking boxes to Slayer's "Angel of Death" (we watched him a bit at this week’s Dionysium, too, I must confess -- though a new study shows dogs prefer Beethoven to that Slayer song, really; not all studies are entirely necessary)

"Treeline" by Sarah Donner and her sleepy kitten

"Shock the Monkey" by Peter Gabriel (dedicated to the captured "mystery monkey" of Florida)

"Sharkey's Day" by Laurie Anderson

"Cuts You Up" by Peter Murphy (my karaoke specialty, though I also did "Hey Now Now" by Cloud Room the other night at the Eisenberg affair)

"Big in Japan" by Alphaville (and, hey look: they're actually still big in Japan)

"Synchronicity II" by the Police (this one actually is my favorite song of all time, though, like it or not)

And though it's nothing special visually, just for the heck of it: new Garbage.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

See Todd moderate a Furr/Maltsev/Tubbs debate in NJ

•For a mere seven bucks, even aloof Manhattanites could easily take the NJ Transit Train from Penn Station to the Montclair State U. stop on Thursday (Oct. 25).  Why do that? 

Because at 7pm in University Hall Room 1070, I’ll moderate a debate between a conservative, a leftist, and a libertarian professor under the auspices of the Young Americans for Liberty: Dr. David Tubbs, Dr. Grover Furr, and Dr. Yuri Maltsev, respectively.  It will address issues far more philosophical than what you’ll hear from, say, Donald Trump.

•After several years of debate-moderating, I will of course be neutral and fair – though in the interests of full disclosure I should note that Dr. Furr has denounced one acquaintance of mine from my college days, Tim Snyder, since Dr. Furr argues that massacres under Stalin, about which Snyder has written to great acclaim, were greatly exaggerated (a recent piece on the popular leftist site Counterpunch made a similar argument). 

On the bright side, as I’m sure many have noted, Grover Furr – in addition to being a medievalist and a McGill alum – sounds kind of like a Muppet, which may itself be a more timely issue. 

•On a more serious note, my own pick for biggest issue that somehow slipped under the radar for the past few months is the January 2013 budget-cutting deal, now commonly referred to as the Sequester and just beginning to become a source of rhetorical contention, since politicians would no doubt like to take credit for the good parts and deny responsibility for the bad parts of this almost-unplanned but potentially very helpful development. 

I have quietly long been in favor of the Sequester slipping under the radar, by the way.  Let whoever’s president in a few months spin budget-cutting as a good thing that’s all part of his master plan, I say.

•By the way, the two photos nearby show how difficult it can be for your humble moderator to avoid the issue of regulation even when he wants to: Muchmore’s (where last night’s Dionysium was, as usual, held) must now post a sign warning patrons it is illegal to dance there – hardly a very Dionysian development – and the Starbucks closest to your humble moderator’s home had to remove its popular and unobtrusive outdoor seating pending regulatory review. 

Someday, in a Nietzschean fashion that renders all the old right and left labels irrelevant, humanity may just shrug off all the controls.  Until then: see you in New Jersey.

Monday, October 22, 2012

DIONYSIUM (10/23): Watch the OTHER candidates debate!

If the two candidates debating Monday don't quite satisfy you:

On TUESDAY night, Oct. 23 (gather 8pm, watch 9pm Eastern) at the latest Dionysium gathering hosted by Todd Seavey, watch an online feed of four other political parties' presidential candidates debating under the auspices of FreeAndEqual:

•Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party)
•Jill Stein (Green Party)
•Virgil Goode (Constitution Party)
•Rocky Anderson (Justice Party)

We'll gather at 8 (for the 9pm feed) at the performance space at Muchmore's: 2 Havemeyer St., three blocks east of Bedford Ave., which is the first L stop into Williamsburg from Manhattan.  Craft beers on tap.  

And two days later, on THURSDAY night, Oct. 25 (7pm), you can catch Todd actually moderating a debate, that one organized by Young Americans for Liberty, on the campus of Montclair State U. (right near the Montclair U. stop on the New Jersey Transit Train), part of their great ongoing series of left vs. right vs. libertarian panels (University Hall Room 1070).

P.S. And if you recall me promising indie rock as a topic instead of indie candidates, that panel -- on sex, drugs, and rock n' roll -- is also coming up, at a very special location TBA shortly.  Then the Dionysium will be back at Muchmore's on Nov. 12 for a post-election discussion.

Speaking of indie candidates: R.I.P. Russell Means, American Indian activist and man who almost beat Ron Paul for the 1988 Libertarian Party nomination (Means may be dead, but he's probably still very, very angry).

P.P.S. Apologies for slow replies lately on matters regarding your career, mine, or both (after an unusual and schedule-scrambling clot of about four debates in a three-week period, plus an election, I'll retreat from many activities and give your activities more thoughtful attention soon, promise).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Damned If You Do (and Are Male)

By sheer coincidence, just in the past few days, I have encountered (A) women who complained at length that men these days (thanks to online dating) rarely approach women in public places to ask them out -- and they thus spoke of my cowardly gender with contempt -- and (B) people who are at least nominally of both genders approving of a blog post that argues that if multiple men ask out the same woman in a public place (even without realizing others have done so), the cumulative effect constitutes "harassment" (even without any implication in the piece of threat or bullying or stalking or what have you) -- and naturally some contempt for males was also implied in this case.

And there will never, never be a conference of women -- nor a conference of feminists who are nominally of both genders -- who feel obligated to sort out that tension, nor will any woman feel guilt for presenting males with innumerable such can't-win scenarios (in fact, women and feminists tend to laugh -- literally laugh -- when made aware of such tensions, from what I've seen, with no subsequent attempt to change either position).  

Indeed, more than one person approving of that absurd blog post was a former philosophy major and another was a political scientist, and there was no hint even they see a problem with the myopic practice of declaring morally objectionable an unintended cumulative effect caused by a succession of individually-innocent people.  

(I had encountered this problem once before, in the form of a not-too-bright woman who actually asserted that if, say, twenty men asked her out, it was fair to bring harassment charges against the twentieth but not the first nineteen, if it was the twentieth that finally wearied her -- and I assumed this chronologically-arbitrary position of hers was solely a function of her stupidity, not expecting to encounter intelligent people holding essentially the same view years later.  As usual, I was overly optimistic.)

Humans are monsters, I'm increasingly comfortable admitting, and the worst offenders tend to be the ones who think themselves thoughtful and "aware."  My attitude more and more tends away from youthful fantasies of improving the world and toward questions of how best to bide my time until death, entertaining myself as best I can while avoiding the deeply irrational wrath of the reformers and the high-minded.

Friday, October 12, 2012

“Atlas Shrugged,” “Argo,” and video of Todd hosting the Schiff/Carnell debate

The big film news today may be that Camille Paglia just declared the lava-spewing finale of Revenge of the Sith to be the greatest work of art in any medium in thirty years – but today also brings two politically-interesting films, Atlas Shrugged II and Argo.

•The latter’s end was reportedly slightly altered from its initial script in response to criticism from Canadians, who did not want their big role in the story downplayed.  The movie tells the true story of Canadian diplomats and the CIA smuggling threatened staffers out of Iran in the wake of its 1979 Islamic revolution.  What really mandates that geeks like me see it, though, is that science fiction played a big role in the whole mission.

The CIA agents pretended to be a film crew producing a sci-fi film in Iran.  My guess is that Argo (for copyright reasons) will depict a film-within-the-film different from the rather impressive (fake) one planned in real life, which was (ostensibly) to be an adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s great novel Lord of Light, about scientists who have modeled an entire planet – and their own vast cybernetic powers – after the Hindu gods, to the extent that generations later, that world effectively just is the world of Hindu gods and believers. 

The CIA actually got famed comics artist Jack Kirby to do costume designs for the pseudo-gods – and I heard about the purported film as a kid reading Comics Scene magazine back in 1979.  Supposedly, there would even be an amusement park.  For years after the fake project dissolved, rumor (or cover story) had it that the producers had simply been “con men.”  Only relatively recently did I learn they were actually the CIA.  If Argo does well, maybe it’s time for someone to pitch a real Lord of Light movie after all.  I’d see it.  India would see it. 

(Not far from Canada, by the way, another political/media wrinkle of note: leading Senate candidate Angus King, an independent, has a son who is an offensive racist Twitter user.)

•I also wish last night’s Ryan/Biden vice presidential debate had consisted largely of Biden asking Ryan whether he plans to see Atlas Shrugged Part II (in theatres today).  That might really have gotten our political culture to its necessary “endgame” ahead of schedule (or is it already far, far too late?).  Ryan’s not the only one in politics right now with Randian influences, of course.  You may not have noticed, but after some in-fighting at the libertarian Cato Institute, it was an Objectivist who emerged as president of that organization: former bank president John Allison (author of the bestseller The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure). 

My enthusiasm for Rand is much more tempered than Allison’s (I understand why she sounds sociopathic to many normal readers – and I am not shocked to learn that her unpublished first novel, The Little Street, had a protagonist partly inspired by a real-life serial killer, who Rand regarded, perversely, as a warped embodiment of Nietzsche’s superman). 

To create balance between Rand’s vision and the general culture, though, maybe in Atlas Shrugged Part III, where we see more of the crucial yet shadowy John Galt character, we should cast someone who is widely beloved but is not quite a Nietzschean superman.  I’ve narrowed it down to five candidates, so you can tell which you prefer: