Monday, September 30, 2013

BOOK NOTE: Virginia Postrel, Future and Past

Well, this blog’s “Month of Reason,” much like Breaking Bad, has reached its end.  Both brought lessons about the futility of the war on drugs and a bit of glamor (sometimes simultaneously, as in the case of the fabulous premiere of the anti-drug war documentary America’s Longest War directed by Reason’s Paul Feine).

But speaking of glamor, the Reason crowd aren’t done being productive: In just over a month, you can read former Reason magazine editor Virginia Postrel’s new book, The Power of Glamour.  If reading the memoir of former VJ Kennedy is the omega of the past two decades of my relationship with Reason, then Postrel is the alpha, having used my roughly bimonthly humor columns in the mag back in the day for about two years, more or less my first professional post-college activity. 

It’s also been fifteen years since her pivotal book The Future and Its Enemies, which helped popularize the idea that libertarians are the real progressives whereas the left and right are both change-fearing fraidy-cats, albeit about different aspects of society.  Back then, I may have been slightly more conservative, in part because I was still traumatized by having gone to Brown University, which I see is in the news again this month, in typically embarrassing fashion (as fellow alum Ali Kokmen has been known to lament), for hosting (likely non-glamorous) “nudity week.” 

Don’t get me wrong: then as now, I was opposed to laws against public nudity, but Brown has a way of making you want to see hippies firehosed regardless. 

Look, if they get naked on private property you can firehose them, right?  Aren’t the roads, for the time being, public property best subject to broadly-shared norms?  So there are plenty of places we could firehose the hippies -- but we must always respect their right to be naked on their own property or on the property of pro-nudity others.  All right, frankly, I’m not even opposed to hippies or nudists.  Just Brown, really. 


Where was I?  Oh, yeah: Postrel.  I think she could also write a pretty good dialectical book called Grouchy vs. Optimistic.  If anything, she might be guilty at times of being overly optimistic, what with loving all those gadgets and things society keeps creating even when it grows more insane and depraved in various other ways (we’re all much more conscious now, for instance, of the fact that it’s both convenient and creepy that Google seems to be reading even my non-Google e-mail to come up with YouTube recommendations). 

The libertarian tendency toward techno-optimism does arguably have some real risks: Would we be in the midst of divisive debate over Obamacare and the (all too temporary) government “shutdown” (more like partial reduction in activity), or “shutstorm” if you will, this week if free-marketeers hadn’t devoted so much time back in the 90s to saying things like “Most Americans are happy with their healthcare” when we should have been saying “Holy crap!  We need to get the government and the insurance companies that collude with them out of healthcare altogether before this system metastacizes!” and scrambling to reform the system?

I don’t know.  The causes of public opinion are ambiguous -- as I’ll discuss in an impending blog entry on a new issue of Critical Review on that very topic.  Perhaps constant comedic subversion -- “trolling” -- is more useful than serious policy analysis anyway.  If so, we should be delighted by the news that Jesse Ventura and uber-troll Howard Stern may this week announce their plans to be a presidential ticket.  (Stern was Kennedy’s biggest broadcasting inspiration, you know.  And so we come full circle.)


Meanwhile, in ostensibly more mainstream politics, like New York Times reportage about the NYC mayoral race, we get alarming news like this:
Mr. de Blasio became an ardent supporter of the Nicaraguan revolutionaries. He helped raise funds for the Sandinistas in New York and subscribed to the party’s newspaper, Barricada, or Barricade. When he was asked at a meeting in 1990 about his goals for society, he said he was an advocate of “democratic socialism.”

Now, Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, describes himself as a progressive...

“Progressive” is what many stealth-socialists call themselves over here, the way some Brits called themselves Fabians a century ago, though saying such things seems to have cost me another Facebook friend -- “temporarily,” he says, though it should be interesting to see how that part comes true.  Since that unfriending, de Blasio has also alarmingly clarified his adherence to “liberation theology,” essentially a Marxist form of Catholicism.

And with that, it may be time to blog about an easily-overlooked Russian anniversary that’s coming up this week -- one more recent than the October 1917 Revolution.  In fact, another early-90s memory.  More about it on Thursday.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

BOOK NOTE: MTV and “The Kennedy Chronicles” by Kennedy

MTV destroys lives. 

I mean, not like typhoons or Muslim terrorists in a Kenyan shopping mall destroy lives, but I knew a few people, back around the early 90s when I’d first moved to NYC, who experienced firsthand the way MTV would tempt young creative folk to work there, get a few good ideas from them, and spit them out, preferably by the time they turned thirty, sort of like in the movie Logan’s Run. 

•I’m thinking of the guys who wrote for The Big [Blank] Show who learned the hard way that once the show was up and running, the producers figured they didn’t really need writers anymore and could just use funny hosts, starting with Yahoo Serious, who was keen to do his own material. 

The young writers had done some brilliant things over the years, though, including a Harvard Lampoon parody of Time magazine that I still have around here somewhere, which introduced the world to an immortal chimpanzee who was master of time itself, named Cranshaw the Anniversary Ape.  That wasn’t enough to keep one of the writers from ending up falling asleep wearily in my parents’ living room, mumbling “It’s all about contracts...contracts...” after MTV was done with him.

•I’m thinking, too, of my first NYC roommate in that era, Christine, and her fellow National Lampoon veteran Larry Doyle (editor of First Comics back when it was publishing a small-but-great lineup including Nexus by Mike Baron), who tried to launch an MTV comedy gameshow resembling The Newlywed Game but with college roommates, called Dirty Laundry. 

MTV told them to make it more dirty, then recoiled in horror from the resulting pilot, which never became a series.  Christine and Larry were so shattered by the experience they had no choice but to go to Yale Divinity School and become a Simpsons producer/New York magazine editor/author -- respectively I mean, not div school as a stepping stone to the Simpsons (ironically, I thought Christine was joking when she first told me she’d decided to go to divinity school -- we’d gone to Brown, how could she believe in God?).

•I’m thinking as well of the two guys in Washington State, friends of a friend of mine there, who sent an audition tape of their low-budget sock puppet show Handy and Bandy to MTV, only to watch in horror as MTV simply launched its own very similar sock puppet show a few months later.

But Kennedy (like her fellow survivor -- and fellow libertarian -- Kurt Loder, seen in my nearby photo of a recent Reason event) triumphed there, and you can learn how from her fantastic new memoir, The Kennedy Chronicles: The Golden Age of MTV Through Rose-Colored Glasses.  I won’t pretend to be objective about reviewing it, since I’m now Facebook friends with most of the people mentioned above and for twenty years have obviously been in love with Kennedy, as have a few rock stars, apparently.  And, yeah, I guess her husband and children, too.  Whatever.

Anyway, back in the day, there were many reasons to be grateful Kennedy existed: the only openly conservative VJ, a Star Trek nerd, an alternative-rock obsessive, and funny, she gave one hope that everything was going according to plan in the world: First the collapse of European Communism, then the triumph of alternative rock over broadcasting, then the Republicans retaking Congress by promising to shrink government, then the women all aspiring to be funny alternative-rock-loving nerd libertarians like that chick on MTV. 

Yep, after the Cold War, it was going to be nothing but smooth sailing from then on culture-wise, aside from occasional minor bickering about tax rates and the quality of new Star Wars films.

Buoyed, I called Kennedy hoping to interview her within days of her start at MTV -- and they patched me right through to the studio because you could still do things like that back in the day (“Why didn’t you call?” she asks readers at one point in the new memoir).  I got a few quotes from her about the fish-out-of-water experience of being conservative at MTV.  (She was more politically mainstream then but got more libertarian later -- I can sense future libertarian potential in people that way, including the aforementioned Mike Baron, whose stuff I loved back in college, as I did Dave Barry’s columns without realizing he was also a libertarian.)  I used the quotes in the most appropriate venue for an MTV-related story: the paleoconservative magazine Chronicles.

(“Unsavory,” Cato’s David Boaz half-jokingly put it later when he heard I’d written for them.  But mine was a complex, two-decade-long, “Conservatism for Punks” dialectical plan, one still in progress.  Chronicles is the sort of un-p.c., occasionally Confederacy-admiring magazine that might be used to smear me unfairly as a closet racist someday -- the way the press recently beat up on another Facebook friend, libertarian Jack Hunter, for having gone through sort of a Confederacy-themed faux-professional-wrestler phase.)

And that was my only contact with Kennedy for nearly two decades until

Friday, September 20, 2013

BOOK NOTE: “High Price” by Dr. Carl Hart (plus Alexander Cockburn and a Reason movie!)

I.  Fellow libertarian Justin Raimondo did not show up as advertised to be one of the speakers at last night’s swell event at powerHouse on the occasion of the release of leftist writer Alexander Cockburn’s posthumous memoir A Colossal Wreck.  Had I foreseen that, I might not have worn my “An-Cat” black-and-gold anarcho-capitalist button (gots ta represent), but I’m not complaining.  I honestly went because of (fellow NYPress veteran) Cockburn -- and applauded briefly at mention of his heterodox fondness for climate-change skeptics and militias. 

We could use more rogues like him, Hitchens, and Hunter S. Thompson, frankly. 

Cockburn’s family members and colleagues did a fine job, and I was not too weirded out by the fact that powerHouse is so eco-friendly it has neither paper towels nor air dryers in the bathroom, just two communal cloth towels.  I haven’t seen that in a public place since my trip to India in 1999 (which was simultaneous with the antiglobalization idiots rioting back in Seattle, as it happens).  And now the City is starting mandatory “organic recycling” programs for all food and yard waste, I’m told.

Odder than the towels, though, were the novel and book of poetry on the shelves at powerHouse (seen in the nearby photo) titled, respectively, The Night Gwen Stacy Died and Alien vs. Predator.  When even I am worried hipster culture and serious literature have gotten too nerdy, times are strange. 

Yet I cannot claim I am not bound to these things -- nor can I pretend to feel no connection to three other books I saw lying on a powerHouse table (also seen in a nearby photo): an atheist book by PZ Myers, who recently attracted some attention by relaying anonymous accusations that another prominent atheist is a sexual assailant; an anti-school-choice book (opposition to school choice being the most sadistic political cause in the contemporary Western world, I’d argue) by Diane Ravitch, the one-time FreedomWatch guest and grouchy turncoat who went from advising conservative administrations to shilling for the diabolical teachers unions; and United States of Paranoia by Reason’s Jesse Walker, which I blogged about mere days ago. 

Small world.  Troublingly small world. 

And the same day I was enjoying a nostalgic reminder of NYPress in DUMBO, it turns out the Press’s old arch-rival -- and Cockburn’s prior New York venue -- the Village Voice, was finally vacating the Village in economic defeat (h/t Kevin Walsh).  Not that there’s much left of the Press these days, of course -- though there was an old and graffiti-covered green Press distribution box not far from powerHouse last night.  (There is also now a spectacular view of the juxtaposed carousel, Brooklyn Bridge, Gehry skyscraper, and Freedom Tower all visible from a spot near powerHouse in DUMBO, as you can see from another nearby photo I took.)

II.  A less-radical staple of 80s/90s culture was the constant warning that drugs are dangerous, including things like this ominous PSA featuring Pee-wee Herman.  Ads for drug-avoidance should perhaps instead star (numerous) dead 90s rock stars (speaking of which, this month marks TWENTY YEARS since Nirvana’s In Utero, and maybe it’s just because I’m ancient, but this video looks to me like it could’ve come out yesterday, aside from the fact that occult imagery is for hiphop bands these days).

For a more detailed and balanced depiction of drug use, though, you should turn to Dr. Carl Hart, who spoke to a recent Reason event at the Museum of Sex and was profiled in the New York Times by John Tierney (Tierney, writer of the classic article “Recycling Is Junk,” might also have some skeptical thoughts on the organic-recycling mandate).

Hart is a Columbia neuroscience professor who

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BOOK NOTE: “Rise of the Warrior Cop” by Radley Balko (plus: Alexander Cockburn and more)

It’d be nuts to think every terrorist incident was an “inside job” -- but killers from Oswald, McVeigh, and Chris Dorner to Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis have often had military and/or police ties, which is hardly surprising.  Violent personalities will probably tend to be drawn to jobs that allow them to use force against people (and when they go berserk, politicians -- even while arming groups with terror ties -- will respond with calls for increasing the power of police or the military and disarming the rest of the population, renewing calls for bans on specific disfavored weapons even when they were only falsely reported to have been used in the rampages).  

I didn’t worry too much about police and military abuse of power when I was a child watching the TV show S.W.A.T. (with its classic, undeniably funky theme song, from an opening sequence that was surely a big influence on the Beastie Boys’ epic “Sabotage” video over a decade later), nor for that matter while absorbing the less violent but still quasi-martial virtues in some of my other early favorites, like Star Trek or reruns of Thunderbirds (which, nearly fifty years after its debut, still has the best opening sequence in TV history).  I certainly did not realize when I was a child what novelties S.W.A.T. teams were.

The police were not always so militarized, as is explained in a book I actually chose to buy in a store despite going to a lot of Reason events lately: Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Reason’s Radley Balko (who I hear was Breaking Bad’s Walter White for Halloween, though paradoxically he also looks a bit like DEA agent Hank).  Less than two centuries ago, we didn’t even have continually-staffed, official government police departments, as hard as that must be for non-anarchists to imagine.  It is roughly during my lifetime, especially under the influence of ardent drug-warriors Nixon and Reagan, that no-knock raids and paramilitary tactics came to be seen as necessary -- and a way to generate cool publicity for law enforcement and the politicians backing them. 

At least in the 70s and 80s, militarized police were still seen (despite increasingly-frequent, sometimes tragically botched raids) as something to be deployed on special occasions.  In the Bush/Obama era, even as drug-war fervor ever so slightly diminishes, the vague, omnipresent threat of terrorism is seen as sufficient reason for every dinky rural police department in America to be outfitted with body armor, tanks, stun grenades, and other Department of Homeland Security-subsidized toys that now get used even for checking on routine regulatory violations.

If there’s a terrorist on the loose, the whole town might just be put under martial law, as in Watertown, MA -- though the hippies of 1980s rural California could’ve told you that the mere possibility of pot-growing was by then seen as enough to justify helicopter raids and the temporary penning-in of the entire local populace.

In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, Attorney General Eric Holder said we must reject “stand your ground” laws that permit arguments of self-defense without obligation to retreat to be made by defendants (disproportionately black ones, actually, despite the impression you’d get from the hubbub surrounding that case -- an ambiguous one in which an all-female jury reluctantly acquitted a Hispanic neighborhood watch member who’d been in a losing fight with a black teen, leading somehow to new denunciations of a white-male-dominated justice system).  You’d think from comments like Holder’s -- and the rhetoric of anti-gun activists -- that vigilantes or believers in the basic right to self-defense are the biggest danger in America and that we’d be in safe hands if the police and military were the only ones who were armed.  That’s even harder to believe after reading about some of the cases in Balko’s book. 

(It’s also the “minarchist” libertarian or “law and order” conservative version of the mistake the left routinely makes: assuming that if government sticks to the functions you consider legitimate or important, it will at least do those things well.  No, it will do everything badly.  With government, every mission is creepy.)

Balko recounts cases (1) where one stumble by a cop

Monday, September 16, 2013

BOOK NOTE: “The Great Deformation” by David Stockman

Ah, Summers time is over.  And with Larry Summers withdrawing from consideration for the position of Fed Chairman, I’d like to nominate David Stockman.  His book The Great Deformation: The Corruption of American Capitalism may be the most important and most frightening thing I have ever read.  I got a copy when he spoke at a Reason event (one of the inspirations for this blog’s ongoing “Month of Reason”), but The Nation likes him too.

Once most famous for being the naysayer in the Reagan administration who said it’d all end in huge deficits, the aptly-named Stockman has now written the depressing (so to speak) tale of 100 years of the Federal Reserve’s corrupting influence on banking, the financial sector, business in general, and politics. 

The shortest version of perhaps the most important disaster story every told is that continually printing a larger number of dollar bills, as the Fed has done ever more readily over the past four decades in particular (since the gold standard was abandoned), creates the subtle illusion of increasing returns even at times when pessimism (and the lost virtue of frugality) might be perfectly rational, and that delusional state disproportionately rewards risk-takers, loan-seekers, and (perhaps most rationally) obsessive Fed policy-watchers (and international central banks-watchers more generally) instead of just inventors and real wealth-creators. 

Combine that with the unspoken assurance that interest rates will be kept artificially low any time things look gloomy -- and that government will goose things through massive bailouts and stimulus spending -- and it’s no wonder so many stupid-yet-arrogant loudmouth douchebags who think they can’t fail (and are touted as living embodiments of American entrepreneurship) have been living in a ritzy house of cards at the southern tip of the island I live on. 

At 700 pages, Stockman’s book has room to go into detail (naming names while recounting a century of tragic bad decisions) about how the banking and finance sector became a monstrous thing that looks superficially like the most glitzily free-market part of the economy but in fact richly (so to speak) deserves most of the hate it gets from the bank-bashing Occupy movement, the bailout-resenting Tea Party, and the conspiracy-spotting Ron Paul fans. 

Stockman’s book is evidence that you can start from more-moderate, less-ideological premises than those leftist, rightist, and libertarian factions (respectively) and still end up telling roughly the same deeply alarming tale.  If it weren’t for the near-impossibility of ending the usual right/left political paralysis, one could almost imagine a new, more rational political consensus arising around the lessons derived herein, orthogonal to the usual political spectrum, leading perhaps to the end not just of the welfare state but of the Federal Reserve and the banking and financial sector as we know them.


We probably never should have allowed governments to print currency.  Or created central banks.  Or gone off the gold standard.  Or created deposit insurance.  Or trusted mutual funds.  Or allowed a revolving door between Wall Street and the White House.  Or created a government big enough to engage in bailouts and stimulus spending.

Trying to imagine the establishment allowing all that to end -- when they tend to end up with a disproportionate share of all those newly-printed dollars under the current shaky system -- is so difficult, it is enough to make a libertarian feel like a pessimistic leftist and vice versa.  We may just be screwed. 

(For a shorter, even more mainstream but still dire version of the tale, you might check out the documentary Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve, out this past weekend, which I saw not with Larry Summers but with the much more libertarian Summer and Phil Saxton.  I asked the director afterwards if he talked to any experts who suggested the Fed should simply be abolished and he said he had but kept the documentary, understandably, largely within the bounds of the debate occurring within the Fed itself, where the consensus is mainly just that interest rates should be far higher than they were kept during the illusion-maintaining Greenspan era.  None of this kept one guy in the audience from suggesting that what we need is complete nationalization of the banks, as if he hadn’t just watched two hours of the government’s central bank destroying the economy.)

On the less technical level of political philosophy, where dopes like me normally dwell, it is tempting to desire a “do over” of the past century or so of political conflict, since (as I had begun to fear three years ago after reading a book by Martin Sklar) so many of our problems since 2001 are really problems we’ve had since about 1901, when Progressives of

Friday, September 13, 2013

DIONYSIUM 10/21: “Should We Eat More Meat?”

Should you eat like a caveman, a connoisseur, or both?

The next Dionysium debate asks: “Should We Eat More Meat?”


Allen Salkin, author of From Scratch: Inside the Food Network

Plus: the food-themed comedy stylings of Linda Cai and a couple live bands after the debate.  It’s a full evening, MONDAY, Oct. 21 (8pm).

Todd Seavey will moderate, and there’ll be plenty of audience Q&A.  Be heard.  And drink.  In either order.  At:

The Muchmore's performance space, 2 Havemeyer St. at the corner of N. 9th St. in Williamsburg (just an easy three-block walk east of the very first L subway stop after Manhattan, the Bedford Ave. stop).  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

BOOK NOTE for 9/11: “United States of Paranoia” by Jesse Walker

When we’re not only being spied on while online but McCain, Obama, the U.S. military, and al Qaeda are all on the same side, as in the Syria conflict, do conspiracy theorists really seem so crazy?

Former politician Ron Paul is scheduled to talk to a gathering of conspiracy theorists as I type this, which, yes, is somewhat embarrassing for his fellow libertarians like me -- but then, conspiracy theories, while usually wrong, are not necessarily as destructive as, say, a desire to intervene in a Syrian civil war.  Nor even as destructive as funding the Department of Agriculture, really.  (And Paul always takes pains to say that he hardly ever agrees with most of the people who he talks to or with -- though I don’t think he can pretend he has no affinity for this crowd.) 

Then again, it depends on which conspiracy theories we’re talking about.  Unvaccinated conspiracy theorists are basically responsible for disease outbreaks like this happening with greater frequency lately, for instance.  Most real-world politics, from the perspective of a rational philosopher (meaning me and perhaps only me), tends to come down to deciding which forms of insanity to tolerate at which strategic juncture, all major political factions tending toward one form of madness or another.

(I’d love to dispense with some of the “Pauleo” faction’s occasional paranoid and racist tendencies, for instance -- but not by encouraging the so-called liberal-tarians such as Reason’s Cathy Reisenwitz, who might in the end do more to deform libertarianism with their muddled, vague, feminist definition of “coercion” than the paleolibertarians do with their more easily ignored, occasional irritable mental gestures.  A man thinking racist thoughts may do less damage to people’s notion of liberty than someone claiming it’s “coercive” to slut-shame -- or to stripper-praise, or whatever it is the feminists forbid next.) 

Often, the best you can do is set different kinds of crazy against each other and hope they’ll cancel each other out (as church and king sometimes did in centuries past, and as right and left sometimes have).  The neoconservatives and liberals, rather than feeling superior, should agree with that Machiavellian sentiment wholeheartedly, given how much herding and nudging and re-educating they tend to think the stupid masses require.

So, yes, conspiracy theorists are a disreputable, mostly-crazy lot -- and it might best serve my Machiavellian interests and best foster human wellbeing if either Ron Paul quietly retired now or his son, Sen. Rand Paul (likely humanity’s last hope of staving off a 2016 victory for Hillary Clinton-led Progressive totalitarianism), politely and mournfully chastised his dad as a heroic-but-flawed whackadoodle and, going farther, called for a more unified, sane, and intellectually mature libertarian (not to mention conservative) movement in the future.  

One more step toward mainstream acceptance.  If you want to turn something into an omelet, you have to throw a few lemons under the bus.  And the admirably-humble elder Paul understands the movement is bigger and more important than he is. 


On the other hand: Reason senior editor Jesse Walker’s wonderful book The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory shows convincingly that there is nothing unusual or “fringe” about conspiracy theories, despite what elite historians like Richard Hofstadter might have taught you.  You can find such theories on the fringe, of course, but you can also find them everywhere, including in the minds of presidents and Cabinet members as well as the minds of the very corporate execs and CIA heads that the fringe conspiracy theorists are in turn theorizing about. 

America has had them not only from the beginning but since before the beginning, given that even before the Plymouth colonists (and the earlier, oddly hushed-up Jamestown settlers!) got here, the Spanish were already over on the West Coast

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Jeffrey Sachs: Stupidest Man in Public Life? (plus: bribery and brains)

Jeffery Sachs was once a respected development economist (and remains beloved by UN-idolizing NPR-donor types who think praising JFK remains a novel idea) but may now be widely regarded as the stupidest man in public life -- not just because of his shockingly puerile and sometimes embarrassingly self-aggrandizing op-eds but because of the new book The Idealist by Nina Munk, who is being honored by Reason tonight. 

She (sympathetically) observed Sachs at work in the developing world and chronicled how quickly his ideas and projects went awry when they intersected with imperfect, unpredictable conditions on the ground.  The book is reportedly a heartbreaking portrait of pointy-headed professorhood whacking the hard ceiling of reality, as it so often does.  Having seen Sachs speak a couple of times, I cannot imagine the book will put a dent in his palpable egotism, but it can’t hurt.

Since the left made a sport in recent years of criticizing market-oriented advisors to developing countries, including Milton Friedman, it’s only fair the left’s far more disastrous bungling gurus get some scrutiny once in a while, too. 


Friedman is also under attack by Mark Ames, I see, who has written a piece arguing that since real estate interests underwrote an early Friedman essay on rent control, all of libertarianism is a phony ideology, as if the arguments we libertarians make aren’t exactly the same even when no one’s paying to hear them. 

Of course, disclosure of financial ties can be more useful the more ambiguous and open to interpretation an argument is, as with Charles C. Johnson reminding readers that a newly-prominent advocate of war in Syria is employed by a neocon thinktank and underwritten Islam-friendly organization plus our own State Department to boot.  The more foggy the ideas and the more substantial the biasing influences, the more I’m willing to listen to accusations of intellectual chicanery, in short, but some ideas are too clear-cut and widely held to be easily amenable to bribery.

I’m sure the concept of, say, egalitarianism was not created solely because some short guy slipped a gold coin to a writer to complain about his tall neighbors thousands of years ago, and I certainly wouldn’t see it as a knock-down refutation of socialism even if such an incident had actually occurred.  By contrast, tell me that Al Gore has massive investments in green technology companies (as he does), I might at least be willing to hear more about it.

Money has influence, but it’s not everything (speaking of which, given my half-hearted status as a registered Republican, now I’m going to go vote in the NYC Republican mayoral primary for bureaucrat Joe Lhota, since Catsimatidis seems like an idiot despite being an extremely rich businessman). 

P.S. And speaking of sinister influences, tomorrow I’ll blog of Jesse Walker’s swell new book on conspiracy theorists, United States of Paranoia.

Monday, September 9, 2013

An Immigrant (Debate) in Williamsburg

Tonight at 8pm I moderate the no doubt spectacular debate on immigration at Muchmore’s, near the first subway stop into Williamsburg on the L subway line.

To some shiftless Manhattanites, just making the brief subway hop to Williamsburg is apparently as traumatic as emigrating to a new country, which is sad.  On the other hand, much as they will be missed at this (and possibly other) events there, there are things about Williamsburg that can be culturally jarring:

•Manhattanites often comment on how old and unhip they feel as soon as they glimpse the Williamsburgers, but there are times when it can make the visiting Gen Xer feel a reassuring sense of superiority, as when I recently overheard confused young hipster males in a bar there having a conversation about whether (formerly NYC-dwelling) singer Joe Jackson is the father of Michael Jackson.

•Nearby you see the wall-sized outdoor painted mural advertising the David Lynch-esque, late-night, surrealist comedy/horror series The Heart, She Hollers that I saw in Williamsburg, which gives you some idea how different the (apparently crucial) young-hipster demo is there from the average billboard-gawker out in the suburbs.

(I include a photo of a flyer for a lost French bulldog named Oliver, taken by burglars in Williamsburg, as a humanitarian bonus.)

•I have found some Manhattanites paranoid that they will be trapped on the other side of the river if they dare trek to Williamsburg (this has happened about twice in the past 7,000 years), but I will admit I ran into one very unexpected transportation problem the last time I was there: For the first time, a Metro Card machine just plain ate my $20 and gave me no card. 

The subway station agent, a Bernhard Goetz-looking guy probably very familiar to people using the Bedford Ave. stop, gave me forms to fill out and mail into the MTA to get my money back -- and then, when I asked to buy another Metro Card (in no way asking for freebies from him in the process, mind you), he proceeded to do the most protracted examination of my $20 bill for signs of counterfeiting I have ever witnessed, almost as if I were it were not the MTA that had just been revealed as a money-snatcher.  (Why would a counterfeiter draw attention to his travails with the card machine?)

•On a brighter note, that same trip to Williamsburg (to print out flyers advertising tonight’s debate) gave me a chance to further distance myself from the old comics-collecting habit a bit by giving three comics away to young folk hanging out at Muchmore’s (admittedly, I had already read them).  I hope their relative inexperience doesn’t mean that the special 3D cover on the issue about Darkseid will cause nausea.

(I think many of us are more sickened these days by DC Comics driving away many of its star writers through editorial micromanagement and by last-minute shifts in editorial direction that cause even the noble workhorse writers who can roll with the punches to end up doing jarringly disjointed stories.  Take Geoff Johns transitioning from a two-year build-up about pagan-god/wizard warfare in the “Trinity War” story arc into just having some familiar supervillains from Earth 3 teleport into town to take over the Earth in “Forever Evil.”  Two years of occult in-fighting and mystical remaking of time and space over the mythical Pandora’s Box, and it turns out it was just a teleportation device, no biggie.  On to the next mess.)

Even for those wearied by or long wary of DC and Marvel superhero stuff, with whom I fully sympathize, there is the amazing comic book miniseries The Star Wars from Dark Horse (who so richly deserve to keep the Star Wars comics franchise after all these years despite synergistic Disney now owning both LucasFilm and Marvel).  The Star Wars is a trippy comic book adaptation of George Lucas’s original 1974 draft of the Star Wars screenplay, with all sorts of familiar elements (including some that he wouldn’t get around to using on-screen until the prequels) but all scrambled around and put in different places.

There’s an aged Gen. Skywalker, and Anakin is a separate character from Vader, and Alderaan is the capital of the Empire, and all sorts of other surprises that make it a weird but essential mirror-mirror experience for completist Star Wars fans.  That one I kept even after dispensing the other comics to the hip young masses at Muchmore’s.

I admit I will delve back into DC Comics again when they publish either of the two projects Grant Morrison is now working on for them: the graphic novel Wonder Woman: The Trial of Diana Prince (which promises a return to the character’s bondage-influenced roots, for good or ill) and the ultimate metafictional/multiversal miniseries, Multiversity.  But oddly enough, despite those big projects, Morrison told the UK’s Guardian the following recently about the next miniseries in his occasional surreal/comedic side project, Seaguy, about a scuba-suit-wearing man living in a future world devoid of crime but menaced by Satan, a gondola-piloting Grim Reaper, and sentient fast-food paste: “It’s honestly the best I’ve ever written...It never sold well, but it’s my thing.  I want Seaguy to remain as my statement about life and death and the universe.”

As the Guardian puts it, “Given that, until recently, Seaguy had a cigar-smoking tuna fish as a sidekick, this is no ordinary wish.”

•And speaking of the UK, Williamsburg, and immigrants, here, courtesy of the great Bananarama, is what NYC culture looked like to British eyes back in 1982, what with Boss Hogg chasing people all over Brooklyn.  Our rock videos about them were, of course, all full of bobbies drinking tea back then, I admit.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cat-Sit via Libertarian, Cat-Adopt via Mayor

As it happens, the same week as the shocking news that a dog tried to assassinate Talkeetna, AK’s favorite cat, Mayor Stubbs, (A) Stossel producer Kristi Kendall, known to some of you, is looking for someone in NYC to take in her friends’ cat for the fall until they return, and (B) the slightly more villainous Mayor Bloomberg has given his imprimatur to an admittedly-useful “Adopatpalooza” animal adoption festival in Union Square this coming Sunday, so go get a pet if you like. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Before the Faultlines -- Political AND Geological!

I alluded yesterday to a time (partly mythical, but bear with me) before we were so conscious of some of the political faultlines that are now so visible on (or about) the right -- such as neoconservatives fighting libertarians in the Republican Party over Obama’s potential war in Syria (something of a paleo/non-paleo libertarian split will be on display as I moderate this coming Monday’s 8pm immigration debate at Muchmore’s, so please be there, 2 Havemeyer St. near the Bedford Ave. L stop). 

I’ve been in periodic contact with the folks at Reason for twenty-one years now and have seen how the shifting ideological ground has affected the way some of my associates thought of them during that time: at first sort of like Republicans...then too self-consciously “hip” to be Republicans...then “anti-war”...then “not anti-war enough”...then even “phony libertarians” (from some young upstarts)...and now occasionally “the sane ones” (as befits the name).

Reason hasn’t changed all that much, but the world has changed its favorite political topics around them (remember “communitarianism” anyone? or even something as big as “neoliberalism,” for that matter? and then there’s Ron Paul...and the Tea Party...and Occupy...). 

Looking back to (my experience of) 1992, then, is as psycho-temporally-jarring as seven minutes of unbroken, unedited footage of San Francisco shot just a few months before the 1906 earthquake.  Peaceful.  Yet made eerie by knowing it’s the calm before the storm, so to speak. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What Does [Everything] Mean for the Jews?

As Rosh Hashanah arrives, many people will ask themselves how potential war in Syria might affect Israel -- a perfectly reasonable question that I virtually never asked myself during the twentieth century, and I kind of liked it that way.  Particularly in the free-market zones of the political spectrum, it seemed as though there weren’t too many ugly divisions over that topic.  It certainly didn’t seem then as if the entire political spectrum were defined by its relationship to Israel.

It was only post-9/11 that I really took much notice of what I will very loosely call paleolibertarians and their paleoconservative predecessors charging that the neoconservatives are obsessed with Israel (in a bad way) -- to which the neos soon responded that the paleos were obsessed with Israel (in a bad way).  I have gradually concluded that both sides are correct in those charges and have also concluded, after the inevitable period of trying to sort out which side was superior (caused by humanity’s deep-rooted Manichean instincts, to which I am by no means immune), that the two sides deserve each other (the neos and paleos, I mean, not the Israelis and Palestinians, although...).

In the interests of further balance, I will admit I miss both Reagan and 1990s neoliberalism at times.  Though they were still terrible.  Everything is terrible.

But some people are more terrible than others, and thanks to (non-terrible) Radley Balko and Franklin Harris, I see (terrible) William Kristol (in a blog entry called “Hail Ceaser!”) has praised an essay by James Ceaser (calling him one of American conservatism’s greatest thinkers, for what that’s worth these days) in which Ceaser came right out and said conservatives should back Obama’s war in Syria even if they think it has no merit and will work out terribly -- because someday a Republican president might want to wage a war (Ceaser might have added “which will also work out badly”) and we wouldn’t want to undermine the tradition of Congress and the public banding together in order to wage wars.

You know, I think we do.

But I’ll address other schisms tomorrow on the blog -- and we’ll no doubt touch on still more political fault lines (ones that divide some of the neos from each other and divide paleolibertarians from regular libertarians) when we debate the political dividing lines called borders, and how often immigrants should be allowed to cross them, Monday at 8pm at Muchmore’s in Williamsburg.