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.