Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tonight and Always, the Struggle Against Socialism

New York Observer's Rachel Kramer Bussel says you should be at Muchmore's at 8pm tonight to hear Michael Malice discuss his book on Kim Jong Il (

•While Malice's native Ukraine, writes Tim Snyder, may still be menaced by a certain ex-KGB agent turned president who now hints he doesn't recognize that land's independence from Russia (

Thursday, December 12, 2013

12 Brief Notes on Socialists (including Kim Jong Il and Orwell)

With this coming Sunday (8pm) seeing the last debate-type event I plan to host for a while -- in this case, my onstage interview of Michael Malice, who has written a book about Kim Jong Il, at Muchmore’s in Williamsburg -- it’s the perfect time for a climactic blog entry about socialism.  Then I really must turn to other projects (including writing real articles). 

Most of the angst over socialism these days is about our response to it rather than about the deadly flaws of the system itself: Should former college communist Obama have shaken Raul Castro’s hand?  Should Mandela be faulted for endorsing violence and communism in his struggle against Apartheid?  And should I honor one of his allies by singing Peter Gabriel’s “Biko” in karaoke sometime?  Probably, on that last one.

(Of course, Obama shaking Castro’s hand during Mandela’s funeral is less embarrassing than Obama taking a happy selfie during the event, his unhappy-looking wife planting herself between the President and the cute Danish prime minister, or the whole event being infiltrated by a mentally ill sign-language interpreter who was making things up -- though if Obama unexpectedly said after the affair, “Hey, I was having fun the whole time -- a communist had died!” some conservatives might well be pleased.)

With luck, communism will never again murder 100 million people as it did in the twentieth century (something like 300 million, about a tenth of the human race at the time, died thanks to actions by big-government-in-general last century, depending on how you do the math).  Yet with countless intellectuals and young activists enamored of various watered-down forms of socialism today, it can still do serious damage to the economy even without openly murdering as many people. 

Unfortunately, socialism (in varying forms and to varying degrees) is or has been pretty much everywhere (thus the list of locales below), even if outright communism is now rare.  Marx wrote of socialism “haunting” Europe, but it might be more apt to think of it “stomping all over and destroying” places (a bit like Godzilla in the new trailer for the remake coming out next year):

1. Though libertarians should love Orwell, he was certainly criticizing socialism from within -- or at least criticizing it as a left-anarchist in the final days when intelligent people could plausibly still believe that and Communism amounted to roughly the same thing.

That’s what he believed when he went to SPAIN to fight in its 1936-1939 civil war, in any case, as his mid-war account Homage to Catalonia makes clear.  But his every sentence reflects his realism, skepticism, frankness, and lack of illusions (which is why he was an inspiration to Christopher Hitchens, among others, and why I defended him against a class filled with leftists back in college, when Orwell’s insistence on apolitical, jargon-free language was seen as un-p.c. -- that’s how radical Brown University was two decades ago, and I will not assume it has improved all that much). 

Lionel Trilling wrote of Orwell in his introduction to the book, “he does not dream of a new kind of man, he is content with the old kind, and what moves him is the desire that this old kind of man should have freedom, bacon, and proper work.”  Not a bad platform.

What Orwell found instead in Spain was protracted, largely futile trench warfare between fascist rebels with bad aim and an internally-feuding mix of socialist and anarchist factions with even worse aim who hoped either to rescue the liberal/democratic government of Spain from the fascists, turn it into a bourgeois-yet-Communist vassal of Russia, or replace it with perpetual left-anarchist revolution, depending on which faction you were talking to at which point in a very confusing war. 

Orwell devotes one large chapter in mid-book to trying to identify the various factions and their various tensions, but you sense that on some level he knows that keeping track of it all is beside the point and that there is a decent chance history will conclude it’s just as well the fascists won in the end.  The empirical details are what make an impression, such as Orwell’s faction using a megaphone to spout dispiriting propaganda at the fascist lines -- lying and telling them that the leftists had lots of yummy buttered toast in their trench, for instance. 

As the government crumbles before the fascist onslaught, in Orwell’s account, it turns increasingly Soviet-backed Communist and therefore devotes a great deal of energy not to beating the fascists but to crushing its left-anarchist rivals.  And, yes, this includes confiscating the guns of anarchists, including the P.O.U.M. faction of which Orwell was a part (but then, even some conservatives such as Heather Mac Donald think the Second Amendment is overrated, I’ve found, so how can one expect better from Communists?). 

The factionalism on display in the Spanish Civil War is almost as bad as that among libertarians. 

Gallingly, the Communists of the 1930s were never content merely to criticize their rivals but had to smear them as covert fascists (or as Trotskyites, which amounted to the same thing, since they’d begun claiming that Trotsky was himself a covert fascist ally -- ironic considering Stalin’s own pact with Hitler).  In truth, Orwell and others found in the camaraderie of the front -- and the short-lived takeover of businesses and buildings in cities such as Barcelona -- an intoxicating microcosm of the imagined egalitarianism of full-fledged anarchist-socialist society.  He was as giddy as an Occupy participant when he wasn’t getting shot at. 

Within months, though, the bourgeois modes of dress and speech began creeping back into the way of life in towns, even as people continued dying on the front and shortages made the pretense of normality in town difficult.  Interestingly, Orwell saw the Communist/Russian influence -- from his perspective as a true radical -- as one more form of “bourgeois” influence, and because of it he predicted early on that the Communists and liberals would end up reaching some sort of accommodation with the fascists to avoid ongoing anarchist disruptions.  Orwell was a pragmatist and realist but by no means a moderate. 

One important lesson he learned from it all, applicable to countless political persuasions, is that first-hand experience always teaches you how inaccurate press accounts are, especially when they’re influenced by political agents: “Throughout the fighting I never made the correct ‘analysis’ of the situation that was so glibly made by journalists hundreds of miles away.  What I was chiefly thinking about was not the rights and wrongs of this miserable internecine scrap, but simply the discomfort and boredom.”

By the time it was over, he’d see friends of his who’d died fighting for socialism pilloried in the communist-influenced press as covert fascists, see his wife (who lived not far from the front all the while he was fighting) confronted by inquisitive Spanish government cops over her possession of writings from multiple factions including the Nazis, hear the, uh, Orwellian coinage “Trotsky-Fascist” for those disfavored by Moscow popularized, and see one of his P.O.U.M. pals disappear as a political prisoner into an ostensibly leftist prison system (likely to be executed later in the war).

He writes that many people in Barcelona at that time summed things up in almost the same words: “The atmosphere of this place -- it’s horrible. Like being in a lunatic asylum.”

And you know, the dumbass -- lucky enough to survive getting shot in the neck at one point -- still wanted to go back and fight after he and his wife sneaked out via France (now hoping to appear as bourgeois as possible to avoid attracting attention as proletarian radicals but occasionally pausing to scrawl leftist graffiti on fancy restaurant walls) and went back home to England.  But then, he rightly suspected similar fighting would soon engulf all of Europe anyway, and concludes admiring England but seeing his countrymen as “all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.”

Nerd sidenote: The immediate fascist aftermath of the Spanish Civil War also inspired Guillermo del Toro’s films The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, which depict fascists during WWII juxtaposed with menacing supernatural elements. I only recently learned that both were in turn influenced by the acclaimed Spanish film Spirit of the Beehive (which helps explain del Toro’s otherwise creepy habit of showing kids in jeopardy -- and perhaps explains the band name Voice of the Beehive to boot).

2. NORTH KOREA is reportedly rapidly selling off its gold in a bid to delay economic collapse -- and executes viewers of foreign TV.

3. Sunday’s speaker, Michael Malice, was born in UKRAINE, itself now wracked by government crackdowns on pro-EU protestors.  The modern press’s approach is not merely to misrepresent political factions as in Orwell’s day (though there was a little of that in this case, as the Ukrainian government attempted to blame the protestors for some of the violence) but to sound so haughtily above the fray that it needn’t even bother about details like who

Monday, December 9, 2013

17 Animal Links

In case the nearby photos of my parents’ cat Salty and childhood teddy bear Roy (taken over Thanksgiving) aren’t exciting enough, here are some primo animal links:

2. Terrier/Rottweiler puppies (h/t John Rowe).

7. This porcupine likes his mug (h/t Michael Friedman Rand).

10. Mean cats scare dogs (h/t Christine Hall).

11. DOLPHINS aren’t so noble, either, though and do perverse things with the dead like this.

12. But can you blame dolphins being aroused when the ocean’s full of things like a pretty scientist swimming naked with a WHALE?

13. This BUNNY watched a dog herding sheep, and now the bunny likes to herd sheep (h/t Franklin Harris).

14. The great comic strip The Oatmeal tells the true story of an evil PIGEON.

15. They say this theory about humans resulting from the mating of a chimp and a PIG is bogus, but it’s well written (h/t Francois Rideau).

16. This is one “fucked-up LLAMA.”

17. And this (h/t John Moser) is a surprisingly funny set of dog-shaming photos (whereas usually I just feel sorry for the dog).

And immediately after blogging last week about that Chesterton book that includes musings on animal-loving St. Francis, I coincidentally(???) hurled the heavy tome at the only MOUSE I’ve ever seen in my apartment (he seemed a small, rare aberration and fled the book -- but the cleaning proceeds apace here regardless, and 2014 is going to be different and more organized on several levels, I promise you).

P.S. Me hurling St. Francis at a mouse is still less heavy-handedly sacrilegious than the film Philomena, apparently, per Kyle Smith’s article about him feuding with the people behind the film (h/t Mollie Hemingway).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

12 + 5 Brief Notes on G-d for Hanukkah’s End (12/5)

1. It’s the final day of HANUKKAH.

2. It’s also the day after BIOHACKERS NYC had me speak at Blueprint Health on a panel about the current controversy over 23andMe offering private genetic testing.  Naturally, I gave the libertarian position.  I also briefly used as props Star Trek: Khan comics, which show that the Abrams version of continuity hews to the view that Khan openly and devastatingly conquered the world in the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s, by the way.

3. It’s THE JEWS’ genes -- and memes -- that were the unexpected hot topic when Reason hosted Paleo Manifesto author John Durant the night before, though: He makes the interesting case that those religions that thrived (or appeared “chosen,” if you will) in the ancient world were simply the ones that happened to have purity rules that matched what we now know to be good hygiene practices (or else were lucky enough to be popular in relatively tidy Rome).

4. The Reason cabal also features two new Fox Business Network show hosts in the form of former VJ Kennedy and Reason editor Matt Welch, who along with Kmele Foster will begin hosting the four-nights-a-week show (skipping Thursday when Stossel airs) THE INDEPENDENTS this Monday, Dec. 9.  Watch it.

5. Margot Lurie points out that many people (not all of them Jews by any means) have claimed to be JESUS.  You might want to consider taking all supernatural claims with a grain of salt.  Just sayin’.

6. That reminds me that I find it much easier to tolerate CHRISTIANS when not actually getting entangled in arguments with them.  Their childlike abuses of philosophy are horrifying, perhaps unmatched by the stupid moves of any other movement, even feminists (though virtually all factions are ultimately wrong).

One particularly annoying and common bad Christian argument: claiming that if Christ said he was God, either it was true or he must have been lying or insane (and they go on, of course, to argue that he didn’t elsewhere sound like a liar or madman).  Why does it not occur to them that he might have been (A) sincere, (B) relatively sane (for an ancient cult leader), and (C) simply mistaken (see again: that list linked in item #5)? 

They might at least want to include that very, very popular option in the list, is all I’m saying.  It bears mulling, anyway.

7. I guess we won’t be seeing the demonic-looking AZAZEL character in next year’s X-Men movie, since (according to the really nice faux-conspiracy-theory site the producers created for viral advertising purposes) Azazel was among the mutants killed (off-camera, I assume) in the human/mutant fighting that followed Magneto and Mystique’s participation in the JFK assassination (magnetized bullet, odd-looking “second Oswald,” etc.).

Let’s compensate for that comic character’s absence with cute pictures of bespectacled former Catwoman Anne Hathaway.

8. I read Chesterton on the history of Man and on Aquinas over THANKSGIVING weekend, but I’m a little worried that the thing that will stick in my mind most from the weekend spent with my parents in Connecticut was the unfortunately-timed split-second of Jackass 3D I saw (on non-subscription cable, mind you) featuring a man explosively evacuating his bowels in slow motion while painted to look like a volcano.  Profane indeed.

9. As if Chesterton and Aquinas weren’t enough to give a Catholic tint to my Thanksgiving, the night before I talked my way into a FedEx store just as it was closing (in order to print something out) and was amazed to realize that the mild-mannered, utterly polite, non-rank-pulling older gentleman ahead of me who accepted the FedEx clerk’s instructions to leave was: RUDOLPH GIULIANI.

I can’t imagine a rushed Bloomberg just politely going away if a clerk told him to -- but then, as Malinda Boothe says, Bloomberg probably doesn’t hand deliver his own FedEx packages.  I told Giuliani I was amused because I’d assumed at first they were shutting the place down in order to do something for him rather than just shutting down for the night.

10. I think we can all agree with the most hardcore of socially-conservative Catholics that one person who is pretty awful is that LYING LESBIAN WAITRESS who claimed to have been insulted on a receipt but pretty plainly concocted the whole thing.  She brings us all together for the holidays regardless of creed or sexual orientation.

11. POPE FRANCIS, by contrast, is a no-good Peronist/socialist commie.  I don’t care overmuch about that one man, but it’s a reminder (much needed by most conservatives) that religion is a highly unreliable ally.  Skip it and learn free-market economics.

12. The actual ST. FRANCIS was something of an animals-and-poverty-loving hippie himself, of course.  Chesterton was keen, though, in his century-ago book St. Francis of Assisi (part of the three-book anthology Dawn Eden gave me), to show that St. Francis wasn’t just a proto-vegan ahead of his time, as some liked to see him even back in Chesterton’s day.  He was ascetic about certain material things that didn’t matter only because he was gung-ho about intense religiosity and other elements of life that continually reminded him of God -- and virtually all of it did, so it’s reductionist to call him a “nature-lover.”

Chesterton also makes the interesting claim that if Francis had succeeded in converting the Muslims through friendly dialogue (as a conscious alternative

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gattaca! Gattaca! Gattaca!

And suddenly -- tonight at 7pm -- I'm in conversation with blogger David Dobbs, defending 23andMe (and other genetic-testing businesses) onstage here, if you care to come see how that gets expressed: 

Blueprint Health 
2nd floor, 483 Broadway, New York
Price: $5.00/per person

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dionysium 12/15: Malice and North Korea

Come to a climactic DIONYSIUM this holiday season and hear MICHAEL MALICE explain Kim Jong Il of north Korea (as the regime itself styles the name of that country).

A mischievous Krampus-elf to Kim's roly-poly Santa, author Malice, who has visited north Korea brings us tidings of his shortly forthcoming book, DEAR READER, a first-person “autobiographical” account of the life of Kim Jong Il that takes all the kooky north Korean propaganda literally, from his superhuman computer-brain to the astounding scientific achievements that have made north Korea the most important -- nay, the only important-- society in all of human history.

You’ll find Malice in conversation onstage with host TODD SEAVEY on SUNDAY, Dec. 15, 8pm at:

MUCHMORE’s bar/performance space, 2 Havemeyer St. in Williamsburg (just three blocks east of the first L stop into Brooklyn, the Bedford Ave. stop, at the corner of N. 9th St.).  Free admission, drinks for sale.

After this, Todd may be offline and off-stage for a while working on other projects, but please forgive his aloofness and any other past transgressions and check for updates in 2014.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

10 Brief Notes on the Gods/Superheroes

1. Nearby you’ll see pictures of Malinda Boothe, taken by her friend Lawrence D. Roberts, whacking a hammer against a resonant, metallic piece of interactive art at the surreal, amazing, sprawling, hilly, 500-acre(!), outdoor Storm King art museum not far from New York City -- and me amidst the vibrations. 

Walking around that place is like awakening in some Valhalla for artists (but it’s slightly farther away than Valhalla, NY).

2. That, and a second day of rain here in New York City, will have to substitute for any profound observations about Thor being back in theatres (though I will say that there must be at least some Marvel execs nervous about having schlocky ex-Troma producer James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy this coming summer be the thing to tee up the “third phase” of Marvel movies, likely climaxing with the third ensemble Avengers film’s final battle with Thanos circa 2018).

3. Alan Moore sure doesn’t care whether the Avengers movies continue to do well, though.  Hasn’t he taken every last one of his marbles and gone all the way home by now?

4. I don’t know what the name of the third ensemble Avengers film (presumably to be directed by Joss Whedon) will be, but I do notice Marvel already owns the URL, surely a good one to have on hand if it all climaxes with deathgod Thanos putting all the magical “Infinity Stones” together (here’s hoping they somehow have space to squeeze in Thanos-fighting hero Adam Warlock if it does).

They should also get the Rolling Stones to do an end credits song for it.  Something about stones and living death, maybe.

5. There’s something unapologetically pagan and pantheon-building about all these sorts of stories -- and I’ll revisit the topic of our pagan brethren (and their gods) soon in an entry about what G.K. Chesterton thought of them.

6. Of course, despite religious people constantly assuming (as they must) that secular folk must be tone-deaf, emotionally deadened, shallow creatures, we science-loving nerds fully understand that for aesthetic purposes, it is sometimes deeply wrong to reduce a story about magic to humdrum material explanations (fiction and reality are two different things, as we are more keenly aware). 

Thus, the midi-chlorians -- the bacteria that cause the Force in the eternally accursed Phantom Menace -- were one of the biggest mistakes in film history, we can all agree.  And I think DC Comics (if anyone I know still cares, and I’m not sure anyone does) made a similar mistake recently.

After two years of heightened fan interest, increased sales, and intersecting plotlines spawned by the 2011 reboot of the DC Comics fictional universe, the core plot -- about the goddess Pandora trying to find a fully-good or fully-evil person able to open her fabled Box again and destroy the literal Seven Sins themselves, thus warding off an incursion from beyond the universe that necessitated the reboot as a defensive measure -- ended (or worse, blurred into the next story) with the revelation that the Sins were just irrelevant alien parasites, the Box was just a teleportation device, the big incursion was just the Crime Syndicate (the evil Justice League from Earth-3), and Pandora’s scheming and manipulation of reality over the past 10,000 years or so was pretty much pointless. 

Oh, well.  On to the next advertising blitz and/or film tie-in.  Best to turn your eyes elsewhere (perhaps to a website called Liberty Island -- but more about that in a few weeks).

7. Yet geek hope springs eternal, and, for instance, I am cautiously optimistic about the impending second Hobbit film, despite the first one being bland, for the simple reason that dividing the fairly short and simple book up into three films, while a mistake, should at least have the positive side effect (I hope) of cramming the entire dragon arc of the story, from our first full sight of him to his death, into this one film. 

That should be a cool traditional story arc even if the first and third films prove lacking.  Go, Smaug!

8. Smaug is a very traditional sort of character, as J.R.R. Tolkien well knew.  More modern depictions of evil tend toward the unsettling, as with “BOB” from Twin Peaks, who oddly enough (or quite fittingly?) is sort of likened to ABC (and now Disney) exec Bob Iger in this neat 1991 news piece about the TV series.  It even has cream corn (pardon me, garmonbozia) and a nice chat with the actors who played “BOB” and the dwarf.

9. I feel as if the closest I get to dealing with creepy entities from a gnostic Black Lodge in real life is being tweeted at by and occasionally interacting face to face with “neo-reactionaries” and “Dark Enlightenment” advocates such as Michael Anissimov.  If you want to know why they’re weird-but-interesting, this recent article (h/t Tushar Saxena and Marilynn Larkin) is a good place to start.  If you find yourself thinking with alarm that it sounds like some people you know (or have dated), you may well be right.

10. Speaking of creepy friends, some lucky person is about to become my 666th Facebook friend.  Surely, we near the end times. 

(Or at least, we near the end of me doing such frequent Facebooking, tweeting, blogging, and e-mailing, I swear -- if I am thus unresponsive to your future Facebook-friend requests, do not be offended, and please assume I’m either offline or can’t tell whether you’re a bot.  All other overdue matters shall soon be attended to.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

10 Revisionist Media/Politics Notes

1. That story about the anti-gay note on a restaurant receipt?  A total fabrication (like so many leftist martyr tales).  See the evidence and see the unhappy-seeming lesbian waitress confronted about it here.

2. Actor Woody Harrelson’s dad really was a Mob hitman and once claimed to have been involved in the JFK assassination (he looked a lot like one of the “three tramps” arrested in Dallas that day).  But the truly creepy thing is just his resemblance to Woody Harrelson, as in this prison video clip (Woody and Oliver Stone must have discussed all this on the set of Natural Born Killers).

3. John Stossel seems just slightly annoyed with a representative “Bleeding Heart Libertarian” for trying to frame the philosophy in terms of “social justice.”  Can you blame him?  So say we all.

4. Despite the BHL crowd pretending not to have noticed that a left-leaning culture produces bigger government, the UK is rapidly learning to love p.c. totalitarianism.  Just ask the eight-year-olds threatened with permanent “racist” labels by their schools.

5. But, hey, I hate to sound like a radical when I call for all government everywhere to be abolished.  Thank goodness we have a single, government-run system of courts and police, right?  (h/t Matt Pritchard)

Important sidenote on that story: Sade Baderinwa is super-hot and I saw her in Starbucks once.

6. The Duke lacrosse rape accuser was just convicted of murder, several years after she garnered so much support from feminists such as Amanda Marcotte, who called those who doubted the accuser “rape-loving scum.”  (Again: leftist martyr fables have a tendency to turn out to be fabricated.)

9. Not only is Obamacare, like all things government attempts to do from welfare to warfare, incompetent and awful (as conservatives and libertarians warned you it would be), even non-conservative journalist Mark Halperin now confirms it contains “death panels.” 

But go ahead, make more Sarah Palin jokes, half based on things actually said by Tina Fey, if it makes you feel superior.  I’m guessing nothing else does.

10. I used to wonder how members of the left/media establishment slept at night, but I suspect now that I know: with proud, contented smiles on their faces, dreaming of licking the boots of kings.

Monday, November 18, 2013

22 Thoughts for the JFK Death 50th Anniversary (11/22)

1. It’s by now hard to talk about the anniversary of the JFK assassination without talking about the numerous contradictory theories that have sprouted up about how it happened.  In that way, it’s like 9/11, which in addition to inspiring changes in both domestic and foreign policy inspired conspiracy theories -- and that sticker some marijuana activist placed near Ground Zero, seen in my photo nearby (along with a picture of a dentist’s office in Chinatown a few blocks east).

2. I occasionally mention fringe beliefs more out of an interest in how the brain works than out of the expectation the beliefs are true.  I admit I bought a book about Bigfoot during my recent trip to DC to see my fellow Novak Fellows, but it was Graham Roumieu’s amusing illustrated Bigfoot tell-all: Bigfoot: I Not Dead.

I also considered getting an anthology of the great comic strip T-Rex Trying (he is very large but has very small arms).  Rest assured I also bought a copy of Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, though.  But then, it’s not just stupid, crazy people who think, for instance, that there was a JFK assassination conspiracy.  Only about a quarter of Americans think Oswald acted alone -- and one of the first people to write about his doubts about the Warren Commission account was philosopher Bertrand Russell.

3. Most people have long since taken the agnostic/ironic route on the whole question, though the makers of Robot Chicken may have it all figured out.  

4. One of several reasons I’m a bit more worried about next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past movie than I expected to be is that they’ve apparently ditched the idea of having it take place one year after the last ensemble X-Men movie (in which the U.S. government nearly killed Magneto and other mutants during 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis), with Magneto causing the “magic bullet” to kill JFK in 1963. 

Given that the film’s main plotline is taken from a comic book time travel plot that hinged on a political assassination, this would have been a great opportunity to fuse these elements.  Instead, it appears the “past” segments of the film will take place in 1973.  Farewell, JFK?

5. Speaking of time travel, Doctor Who should certainly tip its hat to the assassination at some point (if it hasn’t already), given that the show debuted the day after JFK (and Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis) died.

6. The inimitable libertarian/Republican campaign veteran Roger Stone has his own theory about what happened that day, as suggested by his new book, The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ (I read that on the way down to DC, so I went straight from that to Bigfoot: I Not Dead).  The big question the book raises for me is: who didn’t want John F. Kennedy dead? 

Without finding a smoking gun, the book distills many existing arguments for an assassination conspiracy but, perhaps more usefully, also recounts the numerous proven ties between the Mob, the CIA, and multiple politicians of the day, including JFK, LBJ, and even Stone’s own ex-boss, Nixon. 

Heck, my own grandmother has been calling the Kennedys “gangsters” for over fifty years, and she is of course entirely correct (she should know -- she married into the family of familiar-looking bootlegger/pirate turned customs enforcer “Roaring Dan” Seavey, after all).  Government, as the saying goes, is organized crime.  There’s even one bonkers theory out there that Gov. Connally shot JFK from within the car.  This ex-Secret Service man who thinks a Klan-sympathizer did it, by contrast, sounds fairly convincing.

Stone’s synergistic theory, by contrast, revolves around the fact that JFK had betrayed more dangerous associates (of all stripes) than you can shake a stick at.  These included not just crazy Marxists but:

•the Mob (who had been longtime associates of JFK’s bootlegger dad, had substantially aided the Kennedy presidential campaign with the help of mutual associate Frank Sinatra, and had helped the Nixon campaign to boot),

•the CIA (who weren’t happy about JFK’s failure to back the Bay of Pigs invasion nor his assassination of a president -- namely, the authoritarian but anti-Communist president of South Vietnam),

•and Lyndon Johnson, a brutal and uncouth sociopath who may well have had a hand in several prior murders and had at least one convicted hitman associate. 

We can’t be sure they all had a hand in his death -- as was suggested in that hilariously complex rant by the Joe Pesci character in Oliver Stone's JFK -- but this much of Pesci’s rant is not crazy: There really were (and in all likelihood still are) huge areas of overlap between the Mob, the CIA, and the publicly-acknowledged activities of politicians.  Those politicians also spend a great deal of their time pressuring businessmen and other politicians into providing them with money, women, and other favors.  These are not people we should be surprised to find involved in the occasional assassination, though the public, for its own emotional wellbeing, likes to keep treating such revelations as aberrations instead of the main stuff of real-world politics.  That naivete may be dangerous. 

But partisan that he is, Stone seems to have different standards of evidence for the politicians he likes and the ones he doesn’t.  As with most conspiracy theories, most of the book is guilt-by-association (and the ties are undeniably interesting).  Yet despite Nixon being described as literally partying with the other purported members of the conspiracy -- and even though two of the mysterious “three tramps” photographed near Dealey Plaza look uncannily like Watergate burglars, including E. Howard Hunt, of whom we have audio recordings on his death bed confessing to the crime -- Nixon somehow emerges from the book looking like an innocent, or at least as innocent as a man can be while consorting with Mob fundraisers and dropping numerous joking hints that he didn’t think a lone gunman offed JFK. 

And Nixon really had an election stolen from him by JFK, recall.  I’m not saying he did it -- just that I’d think a pro-LBJ writer could as easily piece together a case for Nixon’s guilt as Stone has for LBJ’s.  Hell, maybe everyone was in on it.  (Have you seen that video of the elder Bush laughing during Nixon’s funeral while mentioning the lone gunman who shot JFK?)

7. People who think Oswald was in no way tied to any conspiracy must still answer two questions (though the answers could well prove mundane): Why did mobster Jack Ruby want Oswald dead?  Did Ruby have reason to think he’d get away with it -- or be pardoned?  Keep thinking, America.  Like three-fourths of you, I’m not confident we’ve gotten to the bottom of this one (and Stone’s book is not a bad place to start if you’re wondering what strange other avenues of inquiry still exist on the assassination). 

8. Again, I can’t think of any conspiracy or paranormal claims I actually believe – but purely as an epistemological and psychological matter, it’s worth reminding ourselves once in a while that the conspiracy theorists sometimes have good reason to think they’re the sane ones.

9. One upshot of this is that if any Pauls get elected president and (in all likelihood) embarrass libertarians everywhere by alluding to strange or racist conspiracy theories, they will be (as Jesse Walker’s recent book argues) perfectly in keeping with American political tradition.  There are worse things than conspiracy theorists. 

10. I am eternally grateful to Nick Gillespie for recommending Chris Elliott’s comedic FDR: A One-Man Show from the 1980s, which among other deliberate deviations from known history, makes a baffling, surreal passing reference to FDR being assassinated by Truman. 

11. A question on the minds of some conspiracy theorists today, though, is whether Matrix sequels and Man of Steel actor Harry Lennix trained Obama to seem more “presidential” -- by mimicking Lennix.  My theatre connections say: probably (and it’s amusing now to watch Lennix interviewed and hear how much he sounds like Obama).  More disturbingly for the conspiracy theorists, it’s not the first time we’ve heard stories hinting at Obama being groomed by powerful handlers far in advance of his election. 

But in the end, none of that matters: they’re politicians.  They’re all evil.  Let us turn away from conspiracy theories, then, and toward other political figures.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Lou Reed and Death (and Laurie Anderson and Neil Gaiman)

As I type this, musician Laurie Anderson and comics writer Neil Gaiman are scheduled to be in conversation onstage at the Rubin Museum here in NYC.  Coincidentally, someone decided to mark her husband Lou Reed’s recent passing by depicting him with Gaiman’s goth-girl version of Death (as noted by the site ComicBookResources).

If you (a bit perfunctorily) fused other alternative rockers with X-Men characters, though, you’d have this array, including Debbie Harry as Phoenix.

And speaking of fusing comics characters, if, as rumors suggest, DC Comics is contemplating doing something like killing Nightwing (Dick Grayson) and resurrecting him as a zombie-like Talon warrior of the Court of Owls, maybe they should give him the combo name Nite Owl, like the Watchmen character, just to give Alan Moore another rage seizure. 

But on a more important note: I will update this entry when my second article on Reed’s passing -- for a publication in India this time -- is online. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Puritanical and Anti-Puritanical Folk Should Join Us Tonight

Just a reminder: tonight (Mon., Nov. 11, 8pm) at Muchmore’s (2 Havemeyer St. in Williamsburg), I moderate a discussion about who the worst modern puritans are, Christians, Muslims, or nanny-staters (as argued by Matt Stillman, Gerard Perry, and Jim Lesczynski, respectively).

So whether you’re, say, the sort of person who agrees with Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card that gays should not be able to marry -- or, say, the kind of person who thinks it’s an outrage that anyone would go see the Ender’s Game movie -- there is a space for you on one of the comfy sofas at tonight’s Dionysium gathering. 

And Muchmore’s has beer.