Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Unreliable Accounts, Unlibertarian Options, “Unknown Pleasures”

Today at 10am at the American Enterprise Institute, they’re having an entire panel of ex-CIA and pro-CIA guys gauge the accuracy of Zero Dark Thirty – and a panel that homogeneous, as I’ve said before, seems to me as much an exercise for the gullible as listening to Hillary Clinton explain Benghazi. 

The bright side of Clinton’s performance was that we got to see her clash with Sen. Rand Paul (son of retiring Ron), who just might end up being her Republican opponent in the 2016 presidential race.  That would be the ultimate political showdown by my standards, pitting (A) a former Goldwater girl (I swear) who strayed from the faith against (B) the man who appears to be one of the only remaining elected standard-bearers for the cause of limited-government conservatism – despite the ever-more-shrill cries from the pundits, some of them Republicans, about how there’s nothing left in the GOP but “extremists.” 

Oh, please.  Even Rand Paul isn’t strictly speaking a libertarian (he says he isn’t – and twisted the knife a bit by calling himself a “crunchy conservative” instead – and I think it best we take him at his word to avoid very painful disappointment).  Close enough to get some great things accomplished in an imperfect world, though, I’d say.  Fingers crossed. 

In the meantime, tonight (Tue.) at 7pm, former Joy Division bassist Peter Hook talks about his book on the band, Unknown Pleasures, at the Strand, and I plan to go (join me and/or despair).  If that band’s name were the only element of our culture inspired by fascism, we’d be doing all right.  (Since, clearly, it isn’t, the time has come for new steps to be taken.  I will unveil the new order of things soon.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tegan and Sara (plus Martin Short: conservative punk)

Lesbians are in some ways like males, except if you tell them you’re pleased to hear Halle Berry dipped her breast in a bowl of guacamole for a scene in Movie 43, you cannot be as confident about how they’ll react as you would about a group of males. 

Nonetheless, I expect to feel at one with the likely lesbian-filled crowd tonight when I see Tegan and Sara (they are twin lesbian Canadians, but I just like their catchy little indie-pop numbers).  Interestingly, in what I suspect is a carefully-planned PR move, I think their more-poppy most recent video is both more-lesbian-seeming and more-randomly-sexual-in-general, perhaps reflecting their (or their managers’) awareness of both a growing lesbian and a growing non-lesbian following. 

Entertainers don’t want to look either too bold or too timid, but they try to cover their bases when they can, understandably. 

On what may be a more brazenly subversive note here’s SCTV doing punk in 1983 – pretty accurately – with Martin Short on vocals, John Candy on drums, and Eugene Levy introducing.  Intriguingly – if Short, who is conservative (and Canadian) – wrote the lyrics himself, both war-making and taxes are attacked in the song, an all too rare combo in real rock. 

Was Martin Short the first real conservative punk?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Old Photos (and that Monty Python song)

The world's oldest photos (to the tune used as the Monty Python theme).

And while we’re at it: here (h/t Cole Gentiles) is Paris in 1910 – in color, just like Police Squad.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

John Williams and Russ Ballard

With the Internet abuzz about J.J. Abrams now being slated to direct a Star Wars movie in addition to directing this year’s Star Trek movie (and likely at least producing one after that), now might be a good time to read about the first two movies for which John Williams did the scores: the ever-so-slightly-dated Daddy-O and I Passed for White.

And here, on a tantalizingly almost-New-Wave but-kinda-classic-rock note, it’s Russ Ballard’s “Voices.”

All that may seem as dated as a black and white photo of a banjo-playing cat (h/t Gerard Perry), but wait until you see tomorrow’s even more old-timey entry.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Congress Not Adept at Goth-Spotting, or Anything

The goths should really treasure this 80s video by Robert Plant – yes, Robert Plant, not Robert Smith.  One of my favorite videos of all time, it’s “Little by Little.”  Plant did not yet seem a nostalgia act at the time, not while he was still doing things this cool. 

Of course, I know he wasn’t really goth – and neither were those kids who shot up Columbine, as those who were watching closely learned long afterwards, by which time there’d already been pointless congressional hearings on “goth” culture – just as today there may well be pointless new gun bans and discussions about violent videogames. 

I was wary of inept congressional hearings about pop culture way back when I was a child, afraid that if Congress kept complaining about war toys, they might take away my Star Wars action figures (and in a couple years, they’ll be messing with director J.J. Abrams if they do that, apparently). 

We got another lesson in what an idiotic, blunt instrument a congressional investigation is when a mid-90s report to Congress ranked the most-violent and least-violent shows on TV, with the strong implication that the most-violent were teaching bad values – a plausible hypothesis rendered absurd, to my mind, once I noticed that the list of ten most-acceptable shows included Star Trek: The Next Generation and the list of ten least-acceptable shows included Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

(Not that I’m denying they used the phasers more on the latter – which is why it was better – but I’d argue the basic ethos was the same regardless.) 

But if members of Congress are going to worry about videogames and the like for a few more weeks, perhaps complaining about German death metal or something, I wonder (as Kevin Walsh asks) whether they’ll even think to complain about the fact that the catchiest song of the decade so far is a happy-go-lucky account of gunning down one’s fellow students?  Foster the people indeed.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

10 Masculine/Feminine/New Wave Links

This abortion ad seems like an icky, callous approach to the issue (h/t John Zmirak).

•Meanwhile: where to begin?

•Women being allowed in frontline combat roles by the U.S. makes now a good time to revisit the book The Kinder Gentler Military about how standards and behaviors sometimes get ratcheted downward (sometimes amidst actual weeping at hearings) to keep the newcomers happy, with the question of whether death will result being rendered secondary (it was written by my friend Stephanie Gutmann, who will likely weigh in on the matter again now). 

This Mazzy Star performance from 1994 seems gentle and girly (h/t TibbieX).

•The singer was busy that year, because she was also in Jesus and Mary Chain (h/t Dave Whitney).

Prog rock like newly-defunct Mars Volta seems to be more of a guy thing most of the time (h/t Andrew Kirell).

•I doubt we should believe a guy who called a press conference to talk about smoking crack and having gay sex with Obama, but it makes for an amusing transcript (h/t Bruce Majors).

•A woman tired of female tech writers’ appearance being commented on decided to retaliate by encouraging comments on males’ appearance – and I think the real evidence that (like many feminists) she doesn’t understand the asymmetry of the genders is that she seems to think positive comments will still freak males out (h/t Janet Harvey). 

•No, no, no – read your evolutionary psychology, feminists, then notice the world for the first time.  You’re the ones terrified of icky unworthy suitors; males dream of thousands of options (long gestation time vs. frequent sperm production – there’s no getting around them).  Not clear why you feel politically obligated to pretend otherwise, but such is the chosen foundation of your political house of cards.

•Honestly never one to care much about machismo one way or the other, I was raised by effete New Wave videos – but especially fond of the more easily forgotten songs that weren’t quite New Wave, hovering somewhere on the border of classic rock, like Paul Young’s “Come Back and Stay” (h/t myself – and I’ll continue a trilogy of almost-New-Wave links tomorrow and Saturday).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fire Trucks, Science, a Dog, and a Bird

Here are a few pictures I took of the numerous fire trucks deployed over about a three-block radius due to the fire (which took up far less than a one-block radius) at N. 7th St. and Bedford Ave. yesterday – and a picture of a curious dog in that neighborhood.

Williamsburg is full of young music fans, to whom I can only say: this video is not so much an argument in favor of birds as it is an argument against dubstep, stupid young people.  For the next three days, I will post links to old videos that are almost – but not quite – New Wave, to remind you what music is supposed to sound like.

I was in Williamsburg on this occasion not to fight the youth culture, though, but rather to hear lectures by the Empiricist League and, on a similar note, I plan to check out tonight’s Drinking Skeptically event at the bar Swift on E. 4th St.  That should enhance my rationality, if not necessarily my youthful vigor.  [CORRECTION: Too cold!  Staying home!  You kids go on ahead without me.]

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Money, Matrix, Moss, and Music

Sometimes the conspiracies were started by the conspiracy theorists. 

•The bizarre trillion-dollar coin debt solution idea was first popularized twenty-one years ago by Bo Gritz, a white supremacist and 1992 Populist Party presidential candidate who personally intervened to help resolve the Ruby Ridge standoff at around the same time as his coin idea and his presidential run.

Oddly, one of his goals was to abolish the Federal Reserve, presumably on the grounds of its arbitrary manipulation of the money supply, but it seems as though he’d fit right in at the Federal Reserve if he likes big money-printing schemes (indeed, he’s sort of following in the money-supply-increasing, anti-gold footsteps of populist William Jennings Bryan).

But it gets weirder still: In his brief prior political campaign, in 1988, he was technically in the v.p. slot (on the Populist Party ticket, for which he’d be the presidential candidate in 1992) with David Duke at the top of the ticket – but he later claimed he’d been misled about who his running mate would be and had expected it to be extremely colorful congressman James Traficant.  (After meeting Duke, Gritz abandoned the campaign.)

And to think Gritz probably believes Jewish people are a threat to sound money.

•But Cornel West says that political and ethnic divisions aside, it’s time to let the healing begin (actually, there are few things in the world scarier or more disingenuous-sounding than Cornel West saying things like “I love Brother [so-and-so],” as he does a bit in the clip of him I linked in yesterday’s entry). 

And so let us turn our attention away from political conflict toward pop culture items such as the Matrix movies in which West did cameos (though that may still remind us of the clash between anarchism and socially-constructed illusions). 

On a hunch, I checked to see if someone has in fact made a montage of clips of Matrix star Carrie-Anne Moss set to the old song “Carrie Anne” by the Hollies.  Naturally, someone has. 

•By the way, I now realize that the Wachowskis actually accomplished the impressive feat of making her look less sexy than in any of her other appearances – even though Trinity was still very hot, I think we can all agree.  Here is her appearance as a crazy chick on Baywatch synopsized in 2.5 minutes.

•If anyone makes a movie about the early days of the Hollies, I think Rupert Grint (Ron from the Harry Potter movies) should play Tony Hicks (who sings second here).

•But then, who’s to judge where similar faces end and the Matrix begins, given how disturbingly bad the brain is at sorting multiple faces at the same time (h/t Dan McCarthy)?

Monday, January 21, 2013

BOOK NOTE “Theodore and Woodrow” by Judge Andrew Napolitano

Today, we honor two world-historic figures (but not the ones blended in the nearby photo – that’s, fittingly, Magneto X from BleedingCool’s article about that recent Schomburg Center event about blacks in comics).  Rather, it is both Obama’s second inauguration and Martin Luther King Day – and not everyone is happy about it. 

Take rapper Lupe Fiasco, for instance, who was escorted offstage at an inaugural concert for anti-Obama comments and a half-hour-long antiwar song.  Danny Panzella pointed out that story, as well as this clip of another man who has done rap albums (though that’s not his main gig) complaining about Obama: Cornel West (West’s specifically peeved about MLK’s bible becoming a prop for the powerful – and he’s a couple chairs away from a bemused Newt Gingrich while ranting about it). 

I’m not so interested in the pageantry and praise-the-leader symbolism (for that sort of cultishness, I’ll watch tonight’s premiere of The Following, about social-networking serial killers).  I’m more interested in actual economic and constitutional-legal consequences (such as potential gun grabs by executive order). 

No one explains constitutional ramifications better from a libertarian perspective than my ex-boss Judge Andrew Napolitano, whether on-air or in his recent book Theodore and Woodrow: How Two Presidents Destroyed Constitutional Freedom. 

As I’ve repeatedly noted, my still-living grandmother is a reminder to me that much can change within one human lifespan: Her ninety-nine years have seen the arrival and departure of the Nazis, Bolsheviks, WWI, and WWII – and the end of the British Empire and most European monarchies.  Unfortunately, the creation of big government has happened almost entirely within that period as well, and Judge Napolitano explains how the Progressive presidents of two (and a half) parties, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, laid the groundwork.

This tragic tale is in a way the sequel to the nineteenth-century radicalism described in my prior Book Note entry, about The Stammering Century.  As Seldes lamented in that book (from his perspective in 1928), the reformers (from all over what we now think of as the political spectrum) who were frustrated by the failure of their communes, utopian movements, and temperance leagues to change the world turned by century’s end to government as a way of imposing their visions – and frustration with the negative aspects of industrialization was making even capitalistic America a hotbed of socialist agitation. 

In time-honored presidential fashion, both Roosevelt and Wilson saw themselves in part as moderates who were taming those bubbling passions.  Roosevelt can be heard in old recordings (in his surprisingly nasal and small voice) depicting himself as the guide on a sane middle path between the moneyed interests and the real radicals.  Wilson campaigned in part on the idea of limited government – with a few Progressive exceptions that would turn out after his election to be the real focus of his passions. 

Hegel was a still-recent philosophical influence at that time, and in retrospect, I’d say the biggest tactical error of capitalism’s defenders was being as quick to lump legal and cultural individualism together in their rhetoric as were the socialists.  We can resist the impulse to make law Hegelian – that is, touching on every nook and cranny of life and tying together all things into one causal bundle – while still acknowledging the sociological interconnectedness of things.  To the extent leftists believe capitalists are unaware of social context, they tend to assume pro-government views are more rich and nuanced. 

Some of the nineteenth-century radicals themselves understood the distinction – many a nineteenth-century Marxist was an anarchist and many founders of communal farms wanted nothing to do with government – but by the time of Roosevelt and Wilson’s early twentieth-century presidencies, it was generally assumed you were either a naïve individualist or placed your hopes in centralized governmental authority.  And such high hopes they had! 

As Judge Napolitano recounts of Roosevelt, then as now the Progressives thought their presidential candidate would “counterbalance” the heartless forces of capitalism even though his campaign was heavily funded by J.P. Morgan.  Roosevelt’s breakaway Bull Moose Party, though rhetorically more populist than the Republican Party proper and its candidate Taft, was a new-fangled thing far easier for bankers and business elites to manipulate – partly in an effort to ensure the creation of the Federal Reserve.  Roosevelt ended up peeling away enough Progressive supporters from Taft to doom the Republicans in the 1912 election and make Wilson president. 

In a very important sense, Wilson, though running against Roosevelt, was his real successor, continuing on the path of centralized power and a close symbiotic relationship between big business and big government – rhetorically disguised as antagonism – that continues to plague us to this day, still obscured by society’s rhetorical focus on the less-messy clash between right-wing and left-wing ideologies (I blogged about historian Martin Sklar making similar points). 

Agencies that have become instruments of far-reaching control over society began as planks at the Bull Moose Party (officially called the Progressive Party) convention in 1912 and have largely come to pass, including (as Judge Napolitano lists them):

Thursday, January 17, 2013

“Roaring Dan” Seavey, my pirate relative

Dreams, as Ralph Wiggum teaches us, are where I am a pirate.  But a century ago, in the real world, one of my relatives lived that dream. 

First, though, let’s go back three centuries farther: If I can believe the Internet, the first Seavey in the New World was William Seavey, who came here in 1631 to erect the first building on the East Coast that was intended primarily as a church (replacing home prayer meetings), arguably one of the New World’s first public works projects. 

That’s a somewhat embarrassing start for the line that would one day produce an atheist/anarchist, but the tale doesn’t end there: One of the most famous Seaveys was (I kid you not) “Roaring Dan” Seavey, notorious Great Lakes pirate in the early twentieth century.  Since he hails from New England and looks a lot like my paternal grandfather, it’s a pretty safe bet he’s actually related. 

You’ve almost gotta admire the way he combined alcohol, piracy, murder, and women, if this Wikipedia entry is to be believed.  According to a longer account (with a clearer view of that photo), though, he never actually destroyed that ship with the cannon, didn’t drown that drunken crew as the Wikipedia entry implies, and may not have technically been stealing their ship, since he was in some sort of financial dispute with its owner. 

Still, he was at least a pimp and a pirate – one who largely eluded justice and lived to a ripe old age after abandoning more than one wife – and I don’t mean to defend him, colorful character though he is.  From a libertarian perspective, it’d be nice to conclude that I’ve got seasteading in the blood, or perhaps a Pete Leeson-like appreciation for piratical anarchism. 

Disturbingly, though, Roaring Dan seems to have been the worst of both worlds from a libertarian perspective: a criminal and a government agent, working in later days as a customs agent, possibly while still pirating (intriguingly, my father, who was briefly in the Navy himself, says he has no knowledge of pirates in the family but did know that some relatives from his grandfather’s generation were involved in customs near the Canadian border – hmmmm...).

A few related items:

•Above is a piratical cupcake sticker I saw downtown.

•There was a pirate story (involving the space-criminal Kanjar Ro) among the tales I wrote for DC Comics a decade ago (I could/should do so much more).

•Brian Doherty (who appreciates a good rogue) is right to praise Johnny and the Pirates’ song “Shakin’ All Over.”

•And speaking of flying flags on one’s boat, it occurs to me that the Union Jack is probably one of the nicest, simplest bits of pre-twentieth-century brand-fusing design work in history. 

Well done, people of 1801, especially the diagonal red bits borrowed from the Irish flag and added to the white diagonals of the Scottish one in a way that suggests depth/shadow.  Letting a more or less Scottish blue background dominate is the clincher.  U-K!  U-K! 

(Nonetheless, when all governments are abolished, it should be retired, of course.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

BOOK NOTE: “The Stammering Century” by Gilbert Seldes

The most important lesson of this book about nineteenth-century radicals may be that America has been crazy for a long, long time. 

Even the calmest of today’s bourgeoisie are in fact inheritors of traditions shaped by heretics, crackpots, cranks, radicals, and loons – and it is all too easy for conservatives or leftists to construct a whitewashed version of history in which only one or two shiny threads – a stripped-down Judaeo-Christian morality or the leftward march of Progress – is remembered. 

But Gilbert Seldes’ recently rereleased 1928 book The Stammering Century shows how closely tied both Christian revivalism and Northeastern-style reform movements were to anarchic, commune-forming movements full of utopians and would-be prophets.  It’s fitting the introduction to this edition is by Greil Marcus, best known for his free-associative tracing of the ties between medieval mystics, Dadaism, and punk rock.

(It’s also fitting the book comes recommended by both the establishment magazine New Republic and my old conservative/radical frenemy Helen Rittelmeyer, at a time when I’m increasingly aware that many, perhaps even most, of my acquaintances are radical weirdoes of one kind or another and/or that many of them, not coincidentally, may be mildly autistic as well – much like this year’s Miss Montana – and thus perhaps deserve to be cut some slack even as a wary eye is kept on them.  I suppose as of this week the test of whether they’re officially crazy will be whether they can get gun permits.  As for Helen, she’s been taking a year off in Australia, where I will assume she’s mellowed and matured and thus deserves to be placed on some interesting magazine’s staff once more, so she can fulfill her inevitable destiny of being one of her generation’s most interesting and occasionally frightening writer/editors.)

With thousands of Americans attending the Burning Man art festival out in the southwestern desert each year, and hundreds of thousands tuning in to libertarian conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, it’s tempting to think the country’s getting weirder, but Seldes, simply by cataloguing numerous mostly-failed nineteenth-century social experiments, suggests America was always this way.  He’s not entirely optimistic about it, though.  Writing during Prohibition, he laments the turn away from what he explicitly calls “libertarian” experiments in the nineteenth century toward the legally-enforced experiments imposed on the whole nation in his own century. 

I’m reminded by the book of the long second chapter of Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, with its array of nineteenth-century political oddballs who may or may not be the direct precursors of today’s libertarians but certainly added to America’s extremist tendencies.  You could almost subtitle Seldes’ book “The Days When Christian Absolutists, Anti-Alcohol Crusaders, Free-Love Practitioners, and Even Communists Were All Libertarians.”

As Seldes describes things, both the impulse to turn toward God and the impulse to turn toward Washington, DC can be traced back to eighteenth-century fire-and-brimstone preacher Jonathan Edwards, who famously likened us all to loathsome “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”  What Edwards did not foresee was that my can-do Connecticut ancestors, bless ’em, would not take their loathsome unworthiness lying down but would instead respond to Edwards’ admonishments by launching into numerous programs of self-improvement and earthly paradise-making, egged on by Edwards-level fiery public speakers and demagogic leaders (the churchgoers in Enfield also eventually decided not to hear any more Edwards sermons, which is an important overlooked wrinkle).

As Seldes puts it, “The members of the Enfield congregation were not aware of it but, as they dispersed to their homes, they carried with them the promise of libertarian religion in New England, of religions without Hell and cults without God.”

By century’s end, there would be a few surviving, enduring will-emphasizing faiths such as Christian Science and elements of what we now call New Age, as well as a bigger self-help/spiritual aspiration vibe in the culture as a whole, but many frustrated reformers would turn to government to impose the visions they couldn’t make work on voluntary communal farms in rural Indiana or upstate New York. 

Obviously, I favor the libertarian approach over state-imposed solutions, and the nineteenth century radicals are a vivid reminder that this distinction doesn’t map easily onto the current right/left spectrum model (though, as I suggested earlier, many radicals may be on a different sort of spectrum).  The temptation to shoehorn all political and cultural disagreements into the right/left model is so great that I wouldn’t be surprised to find that many intellectuals secretly find themselves trying to decide whether, say, Cromwell, Julius Caesar, or St. Augustine count as conservatives or leftists.  But we don’t need to look back that far to find cases that don’t easily fit the current (faltering) system of classification. 

Many of America’s most popular nineteenth-century radicals, for instance, were individuals who simultaneously embraced fundamentalist Christianity, free love, voluntary communism, a belief that government should stay out of the economy, veganism, abolitionism, an avoidance of mainstream political activity, and carefully-defined gender roles.  Stick that in your spectrum, if you can, Mr./Mrs. Democrat or Republican! 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

BOOK NOTE: “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat

Sadly, my Book Note entries for this blog’s “Month of Law” in some sense tell a story of law peaking in the nineteenth century and degenerating thereafter.

Yesterday, I wrote about ancient, traditional law codes examined by David Friedman.  Today, I note a few highlights from Frederic Bastiat’s short, emphatic, wonderful book The Law (published in 1850, at the end of a wave of revolutions in Europe’s capitals that also saw publication of the almost mirror-opposite Communist Manifesto).  If everyone had ended up thinking like the French libertarian Bastiat, our problems would largely be solved. 

But coming up, I’ll take a look Gilbert Seldes’ survey of strange nineteenth-century radicals, The Stammering Century, and then (just in time for Obama’s second inauguration) Theodore and Woodrow, examining the Progressive early-twentieth-century presidents who basically ruined everything, by my ex-boss Judge Andrew Napolitano (who also emceed the 2012 Bastiat Awards for libertarian journalists, hosted by the Reason Foundation, at which I got my free Foundation for Economic Education-printed copy of The Law – and I thank the Phillips Foundation for inviting me).

There are countless approaches to explaining liberty, but Bastiat’s simple approach is to show again and again – in short, witty examples and epithets – how deviation from property rights inevitably means that rule of law is replaced by rule of men (the implicit worry behind many of the arguments made at last night’s Dionysium – seen in the nearby photos by Allison Oldak featuring Andrew Muchmore, Baruch Gottesman, and me), which inevitably means theft.

As he wrote, “the state has no resources of its own.  It has nothing, it possesses nothing that it does not take from the workers.  When, then, it meddles in everything, it substitutes the deplorable and costly activity of its own agents for private activity.”  He warns that pleasant-sounding defenders of the state will always say, “You have produced; I have not; we are comrades; let us share” and “You own something; I own nothing; we are brothers; let us share.”  

Some pithy lines from The Law show we might have avoided a century and a half of socialist and state-corporatist disaster if we’d taken him to heart (he here uses the term “plunder” in essentially the same sweeping and negative sense that today’s libertarians use the word “coercion”).  In fact, I don’t think I have ever read a book denser with memorable passages, and I will simply quote some for the remainder of this entry:

Monday, January 14, 2013

BOOK NOTE: “Legal Systems Very Different from Ours” by David Friedman

Tonight’s momentous “judicial review” debate at 8pm at Muchmore’s (easily reached via the L subway – just three blocks east of the very first stop into Brooklyn) also kicks off the most important eight days of this blog’s “Month of Law,” as I review a few books that raise interesting legal questions, climaxing with Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Theodore and Woodrow and stopping along the way for a look at my (alternately law-flouting and law-enforcing) pirate ancestor “Roaring Dan” Seavey. 

(Today also marks the twentieth anniversary of my favorite Simpsons episode, the Conan O’Brien-written “Marge and the Monorail,” which itself raises all sorts of procedural and political questions and may have been slightly influenced by the decrepit factory flashback in Atlas Shrugged.)

I’m a bit torn about starting off with the online draft of the book-in-progress Legal Systems Very Different from Ours by David Friedman (who spoke at Lolita Bar a couple times back when I hosted events there).  In a trade-off calculation after his own heart, I find myself wondering if the good done by drawing attention to his ideas will be outweighed by the harm to his eventual book sales from people reading this version for free online.  Ultimately, though, it’s too interesting for me to resist commenting until the print version appears. 

Conventional wisdom is that a utilitarian anarcho-capitalist is the last person you’d deploy to understand extremely traditional, pre-modern folkways, but Friedman vindicates both utilitarian analysis and the wisdom of (some) tradition by showing the problem-solving logic behind all sorts of old rules – which in no way prevents him from stopping along the way to highlight the bizarre.

•The chapter on gypsy law, for instance, notes that one gypsy faction has taken the idea of concealing sexual and reproductive matters in order to maintain purity so far that they do not even acknowledge pregnancy or marriage, and women sneak away to other neighborhoods to give birth, later returning unobtrusively to add the resulting child to the communally-raised new generation. 

It’s one of many gypsy habits that may have arisen as a means of concealing their numbers and their family ties from the hostile states (and more official law codes) under which they have often lived.  Another is treating people’s names as freely exchangeable, making it very difficult for the authorities to track individuals (each member of a given group may use the same name when going out into the world to do business, for instance, sort of the way different individuals have assumed the name “Batman” over the years). 

As Friedman writes, “It is hard to control people if you cannot count them, and it is hard to count people when there is no one to one correspondence between person and name.”  (Here’s a timely reminder, pointed out by Tom Palmer and Lucy Steigerwald, that the Roma have plenty of reason to want to hide.)

•Closer to home, you gotta love the fact that the Amish method of shunning is called Meidung.  I may start telling troublesome people that I will inflict “Meidung” on them, just to see how they interpret that (Amish-style or monkey-style, so to speak). 

•Jewish law is the largest and best-documented body of

Thursday, January 10, 2013

1913 for optimists

Usually, when I mention my ninety-nine year-old grandmother, it’s in a spirit of optimism and wonder, as a reminder of how much things can change in a single human lifetime, but on a more pessimistic note, imagine if you’d been an adult one year prior to her birth – that is, in 1913, exactly a century ago – and some of the naively optimistic thoughts that might have gone through your head:

•This new "Federal Reserve" should stabilize the economy
•This small and rarely used new federal Income Tax will help the central government balance its books
•Some really fun occult ideas are percolating in that German group called the Thule Society
•Widely-admired editor Mussolini over at Avanti! magazine is a great speaker
•With women about to get the vote, sanity and compassion are coming to politics
•Thanks largely to them, we’re very close to legal action that will end the scourge of alcohol
•There’s peace in Europe
•And the Duma is even introducing reforms in Russia!


All right, it hasn’t been all bad since then, but tomorrow [CORRECTION: Speaking of optimism, let’s make that Monday]: a look at the old ways, with David Friedman (as part of this blog’s “Month of Law”).  And nearby in today’s entry: my video clip of the kooky lights they had on the Empire State Building on New Year’s Eve, plus a picture I took of my favorite silly band sticker in the bathroom at Otto’s Shrunken Head, where Rew Starr, angry New Age rapper Adi Love, and others performed that night.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bork, Frack, Piers, Frum, Cap, and Skew

I am saddened to see that Nobel-winning libertarian economist James Buchanan passed away today, though he leaves behind the insight that government, too, behaves selfishly and can be better predicted with that in mind than if we naively assume it’s more magnanimous and well-meaning than the rest of society.

•Last month saw the passing of Judge Robert Bork, whose intellectual legacy will likely be even more relevant to our Dionysium debate this coming Monday (8pm at Muchmore’s).  We’ll be asking whether “judicial activism” is a good thing, and Bork was an important proponent of the idea we are better off with judges who defer to the original intention of the framers of the Constitution (but some of us think he could have interpreted those intentions in a more libertarian way, so I should be torn enough to make a good neutral moderator, as always). 

•I am less torn about fracking after seeing Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney’s documentary Frack Nation, which, much like their prior documentary Mine Your Own Business, accomplishes comedic and political wonders simply by checking the facts as (mis)reported by environmental activists. 

(I did not know until talking to Ann after the movie that the two of them got their start in such counter-revolutionary activities by becoming disillusioned a mere decade ago while working on a Greenpeace-inspired project that they concluded was bunk, leading them to switch sides when their concerns fell on deaf activist ears.)

As a media guy, the revelation from Frack Nation that seemed most infuriating was the insistence by Josh Fox, the weasel-activist director of the anti-fracking movie Gasland, that it’s not relevant that the notorious bursts of flame he showed coming out of people’s faucets are an age-old phenomenon that existed long before fracking did. 

His response when asked why he excluded that important fact from his own documentary was, as seen in Frack Nation, to demand to know who Phelim works for.  That’s a response I’m accustomed to from my own days working for hype-debunking organization ACSH: When the environmentalists don’t have good arguments, they just demand to know who their critics’ unsavory associates are – it’s the government/media establishment equivalent of responding to an unwelcome question by just saying, “Who let you in here?!”

Lying green assholes.  And millions of dollars lost per day, plus countless people financially ruined because of it.  And still they think they hold the moral high ground. 

•More embarrassing for the libertarian side, arguably, was conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ ranting pro-gun (and anti-medication and anti-bank) appearance on Piers Morgan’s CNN show, but you almost can’t blame him for going nuts when you consider what he’s up against, including things like O.J. Simpson legal advisor Alan Dershowitz on that same broadcast saying outright that he’s frightened that Jones is a gun owner and wants gun control to disarm such people. 

I’m not calling Jones level-headed by any means, though.  Check out this hilarious spittle-flecked rant, for instance (or this rant augmented by a viewer’s comical graphics) – but keep in mind he at least has the decency to criticize government bureaucracy and garden-variety violent cops alike, along with their media and corporate enablers, a sweeping combo of political/cultural criticism that should be done by many more people, in a more careful and thoughtful fashion.  The intellectuals’ failure in this regard has made Jones necessary. 

He’s out to lunch on his 9/11 conspiracy theories (former all-comedy site Cracked is a bastion of sanity on the topic by comparison), but lest we kid ourselves that he’s wrong about everything, note, for example, that the cop he was showing in the first of those linked rants (laughing about a protester being shot) has gone on to work for Homeland Security in Florida rather than being sent back to the private sector. 

•Monday night, the same night as the Frack Nation premiere and the Jones appearance, the greatest display of sanity was, as usual, on Fox News’s 3am show RedEye, which was announced as featuring panelist “Kennedy Montgomery,” meaning perhaps that the ex-MTV VJ’s last name is getting used once more.  I hope this portends a Sade Adu concert in the near future. 

But the important thing is that Kennedy summed up authoritarian centrist David Frum’s latest brilliant scheme – partnering with substance-abusing, car-wrecking halfwit Patrick Kennedy to resist drug legalization – by saying, “Well, he can suck it.”  Hear, hear: how much more evidence do you need that bipartisan establishment types are jerks regardless of nominal party allegiance?

(That RedEye episode was joke-sponsored by the sport of “sledding,” by the way, and we can only hope that if Kennedy’s professional snowboarder husband was watching, he didn’t feel slighted.)

•These ten weirdest political parties are all likely saner than the Patrick Kennedy/David Frum team. 

(But I know P.K. and D.F. are the establishment and my friends aren’t: It's both pleasing and sort of pathetic that if I search YouTube for <anarcho-capitalism>, I see at least five people I’ve met on the first page of thumbnails.  I suspect there are somewhat fewer than a billion of us, then.) 

•And to leftists out there who think DC is your defender against the plutocrats: a whopping 43% of “the 1%” live in the DC metro area.  What’s skewing wealth upward is big government and its cronies.  GET RID OF IT, and let creative and productive entrepreneurs do their thing. 

The next time you lament Boehner crimes, remember that you’re the ones who’ve always wanted Washington to have more power. 

By contrast, this town with only twelve residents has been an inspiration to many, many writers.  For all its troubles, perhaps we owe more to it than to the cesspool on the Potomac. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

DIONYSIUM 1/14: Is Judicial Activism a GOOD Thing?

A Dionysium debate (moderated by Todd Seavey)

"Is Judicial Activism a GOOD Thing?" 

Mon., Jan. 14, 8pm 

at the performance space at Muchmore's, 2 Havemeyer St. -- just three easy blocks east of the Bedford Ave. subway stop (which is the very first L stop into Williamsburg from Manhattan)

Arguing yes: 

Andrew Muchmore, lawyer and proprietor of Muchmore's 

Arguing no: 

Lee Drucker, V.P. of a private equity fund that invests in litigation-related assets [UPDATE: Due to illness, Drucker has been replaced by lawyer Baruch Gottesman]

Are judges running amok or being passive lumps in a world in need of fixing?  Find out.  

And after the intermission, you be the judge.  Also: craft beers on tap, and fellowship.  Join us.  And bring your lawyers.