Saturday, December 27, 2014

Did They Ditch the "Homeland" Season 4 Finale Due to CIA Torture?

Conspiracy theory about a fictional conspiracy being affected by a real conspiracy: is it possible the Homeland season finale was so goddam lame because (ASSUME SPOILERS HEREAFTER) the producers trashed -- and scrambled to replace -- an episode depicting the torture of the ISI agent with the terrorist-network cell phone that would've aired two weeks after the CIA torture report came out?
Think about it: inexplicably, tangentially terrible episode. Shot entirely back in the States with almost zero transition plotwise and minimal sets/effects. Several plot threads suddenly ignored or addressed in an offhand sentence.
Was the suckage of the Homeland finale an inside job?

P.S. And are they trying to imply that all ginger babies are developmentally disabled? That’s a plot thread for another time, though.

Monday, November 24, 2014

20 Links for My Hiatus (including my last podcast)

1. While I remain mostly offline to do some ghostwriting, hear Gerard Perry and me interview libertarian sci-fi author turned DIY filmmaker J. Neil Schulman (and listen to future podcasts by Gerard after I exit said podcasts and a few other activities). In this episode, you’ll also hear us touch on Star Wars, immigration, Kevin Sorbo, Marvel, Interstellar, Theory of Everything, Leo Strauss, Citizenfour, Nightcrawler, and Hunger Games 3A.

That last film is delayed, possibly permanently banned, in authoritarian China and Thailand. In the latter nation, people have been inspired to use the Boy Scouts-like salute from the film as a sign of rebellion -- a sign the government there has duly outlawed. In the real world, mind you. JLaw: better than real law.

2. You can also catch my (now former) cohost Gerard on the Hispanic affairs show Tiempo this coming Sunday at 11:30am, if you get New York City’s ABC Channel 7, talking about immigration.

3. Of course, Washington Post didn’t even want you watching SNL question Obama’s executive actions on immigration, so if you watch Gerard, they really won’t be happy. (I’m more Neo than neocon, really, ultimately wanting “a world without borders or boundaries.”)

4. Maybe I’ll come back to the Net and to frequent political commentary myself around the time that recently-probed comet reaches perihelion: August 13, 2015.

The real news on that, it almost seemed, was the feminist overreaction to one comet scientist’s shirt. Naturally, the writer who started the ruckus was a young, liberal, vulgar (she was the one who immediately called the scientist an “asshole”), Brooklyn-dwelling female -- sparring not with ogres of the patriarchy (as she and many other young lefty females imagine as they try to “improve” tech culture) but merely with a rockabilly-loving, tattooed UK female shirt designer. If rockabilly is right-wing, I don’t wanna be left, so to speak.

But the swift reaction against the feminists was pleasing. America has spoken: feminists are wrong (and, in both their female and male form, are a mere 20% or so of the population, by the way, so their whole pretense of speaking for the oppressed majority of the human race is no longer convincing; the other 80% of the populace kinda likes the whole two-genders thing).

5. Gerard also draws my attention to a recent debate at Brown over rape and feminism. Since one debater was libertarian Wendy McElroy (hardly a right-wing social conservative -- more like a near-pacifist, aging-hippie, Canadian porn advocate, and I don’t say that as an insult), the campus practically had a mental meltdown, and the administration felt obliged to schedule a more homogeneously feminist event at the same time. Such is the state of rigorous debate among the Ivy League’s fragile minds.

6. But then, you can’t even take a ride in an Uber cab these days without a psychotic hate-campaign being directed against you, either by feminists or cab-union supporters, stirred by the (far-sleazier-than-Uber) Paul Carr and his evil hangers-on (the left almost prides itself on its ability to go into a mindless, hateful tweeting-frenzy these days).

7. On a brighter note, Rand Paul (who reportedly may announce his presidential candidacy in April and is already seen as a peacemaker between libertarian, Tea Party, and mainstream GOP factions, which is good) did a fine job during this month’s midterm elections of trolling Hillary Clinton, noting as the various candidates she personally supported lost.

8. Let us hope, then, there is some truth to this odd but intriguing report of his inevitability as a nominee.

9. Speaking of odd but intriguing reports, this isn’t a bad retort to the book I recently blogged about and called the closest-to-persuasive thing I’ve seen arguing some UFOs remain extremely baffling.

10. But if you want to try seeing alien humanoids in a universe that may not have other populated planets, you could just take the drug DMT, described (along with circus people) with incredibly poetic enthusiasm by Terence McKenna here. But the girl in the NeuroSoup video series says: don’t inject it anally, the way she did.

11. If she routinely does things like that, I hope she doesn’t end up raided by cops, like this family of homeschoolers.

12. It’s easy to look the other way when marginal populations living out in the boonies get abused, but even my old East 20s neighborhood is full of stranger beliefs and rituals than you’d think, apparently, like these folks who believe they’re Aryans from the Moon or Atlantis or something.

13. Speaking of odd beliefs, maybe Gerard’s best option for a future cohost is this man right here.

14. Or if Gerard continues our habit from the past several months of reviewing films, he can certainly look forward to visiting weird worlds next month, since December brings films inspired by Pynchon, Paddington, Tolkien, Sondheim, and of course Kim Jong-Un.

15. Or we could all just watch this trilogy of squirrel videos...

16. And how a transgression therein...

17. ...leads to vengeance.

19. Or if those leave you dissatisfied, jot down my list here of the Ten Essential Nerd Movies to See in 2015 (I’ve left off the less than perfectly confidence-inducing Jupiter Ascending from the Wachowskis, which comes out in February, but the rest of this impressive lineup begins in May):

Mad Max 4
Jurassic Park 4
Ted 2
Terminator 5
Ant-Man (NOT a sequel or reboot!!!)
Fantastic Four 4 (sort of)
Bond 24
Hunger Games 3B
Star Wars 7

Oh, if we could wean ourselves off sequels and remakes and episodic franchises -- but we can’t. So start the next episode. (Movies are the new television.)

20. But before all that, to stay, like, cultured and stuff, I’ll read Mark Twain: A Skeptic’s Progress, a short book on Twain’s growing doubts about religion, imperialism, and other things as he aged. I sympathize.

And I’ll be back with some sort of new episode of Todd stuff eventually. Apologies for any missed optional business meetings, dates, social gatherings, etc., etc., in the interim. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Republican Party’s Eight-Year Learning Period, My Eight-Year Blogging Period

You can chat with me in person about the thoughts below by joining me at Langan’s tomorrow night to watch (or at least discuss) the election returns.

By contrast, as of this writing, for reasons unknown and likely boring, I am apparently banned from the building across the street from Langan’s, containing multiple organizations for which I’ve written over the years. But don’t ask. That’s a story I’ll tell another time, after I reemerge from a hiatus to get some serious ghostwriting and other work done -- unless it’s all been tidily resolved by then, I suppose. I’m not one to seek conflict.

I began blogging here the week of the 2006 midterm elections (despite a couple dozen retroactively-added archival items and having edited a science blog for a few years before that, for those paying close attention). That’s when the Republicans lost both houses of Congress after having dominated them for most of the prior twelve years.

Call me as cold-blooded as Ultron if you will, but even in 2006 my Machiavellian long-term hope was that though I often railed against the Democrats (and libertarians who allied with them), the Republicans would learn from a much-deserved defeat and that when the day came that they once more claimed both houses (that day being tomorrow), they would be at least a tiny bit more libertarian than they were when previously in power.

(I was also hopeful in late 2006, just to touch on my other three favorite subject areas, that 1. the punk- and New Wave-influenced indie music beloved in Williamsburg and elsewhere would flourish, 2. superhero movies would now always aim for the high standard set the previous year by Batman Begins, and 3. science would become as hip as my geeky American Council on Science and Health co-workers at the time thought it was. Things haven’t gone too badly according to these metrics. Or this Metric.)

Funny how being out of power makes people more libertarian -- but it hasn’t just been the usual in-power/out-of-power dynamic.

With Sen. Rand Paul now talked about as a real contender for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination, there is an explicit, recognized, much-debated libertarian faction within the GOP in a way that there wasn’t before. I had hoped vaguely that a dash of libertarianism (even if no one ever used that word) would permeate the whole conservative establishment; others hoped it wouldn’t or expected that sentiment to flourish in the other party; and what happened instead was more schismatic -- part of the GOP becoming explicitly, even feistily libertarian while the rest resisted or looked around confused and befuddled.

Metaphorically speaking, I had sort of planned for a subtle refurbishing of the whole (seemingly neocon-dominated) building, but instead part of the building sort of fissioned off and became its own annex -- which may yet become where the important things happen. Or, sort of hoped to see a change in the overall density of a bowl of soup and instead got one distinct, highly chunky area that may yet turn out to be the tastiest area, if you follow me.

In any case, whether or not the GOP’s gotten more libertarian over the past eight years, I have, and by “libertarian” in this case I really mean “more anarchist than the so-called anarchists.” I mean, it’s almost uncontroversial now, I think, to say that we obviously face global governmental, military, policing, corporate, media, and NGO establishments that work together to promote projects not necessarily in the commoners’ best interests, including perpetual war (watch this as a little reminder, fringey though it is).

It’s enough to make one turn away from establishment debates and, a bit like a classic pacifist, emphasize change at the personal level (no use of coercion at all against other people or their property) that has vast social, political, and immediate interpersonal implications, rather than continuing to pursue the endlessly complicated top-down method of trying to interest our “leaders” in “good policy.” They aren’t interested.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m still rooting for Rand Paul in 2016 -- just as a sort of indicator, though, you understand. Probably can’t hurt. And, though I don’t like it when libertarians (such as the so-called liberal-tarians) water down libertarian principles to gain allies outside the movement, I have not become such a perfectionist as to turn my nose up at a rare coalition-building opportunity such as a senator and potential president being regarded as a leader by both the Tea Party and the libertarian movement.

(I just read a comment online by a South American libertarian who says he looks with amazement at the U.S.’s Tea Party movement because there is nothing remotely as libertarian or anti-government on such a scale on his continent. Be at least a little grateful, libertarians.)

But, as I say over and over, we can think about coalitional tactics and still reject the asymptotic approaches to, watered-down versions of, and palatable “mainstream” formulations of our philosophy itself. Play nicely with others by all means -- but at the same time have the guts to say (politely) that all government should cease to exist. If you won’t, consider the possibility that you aren’t really helping.

By all means devise and even work on fallback plans. But now that a fairly large number of people are aware there’s more to philosophy than right-vs.-left (something I wasn’t at all sure they’d noticed eight years ago, when I continued to speak in mostly right-vs.-left terms myself), I think professing hardcore, explicit, across-the-board anarcho-capitalism should be Plan “A” (so to speak).

And, after all, just looking at things in a purely pragmatic way, I contend our other options do not look great (they include, for instance, the collapse of civilization). So when, for example, someone tells you in moderate tones that dreams of repealing Obamacare are foolish, suggest that the only way the GOP or other free-market activists will be taken seriously is if we start (right now) talking about the more intellectually consistent goal of ending Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, hospital subsidies, and the FDA (because private mechanisms would be better, as in the end they always are).

It is time. (Or at least it soon will be. I’ll be back to say more -- in a less Facebook-fighting, tweet-combative, blog-snarky, public-feuding, impatient way -- after a brief taking-care-of-business interlude, interrupted only by a link in a week or so to one last movies podcast before I leave Gerard Perry on his own.)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

My Main Hope for “Convergence” at DC Comics

As movies become more important than comics themselves to the maintenance of superhero brands (Marvel, DC), DC Comics is literally physically relocating to Burbank, CA, near Hollywood, in the spring.

The comics themselves will at that time reportedly feature a storyline crossing over into multiple series, called “Convergence,” in which the evil A.I. named Brainiac pits cities and/or whole Earths from different universes against each other. This would partly commemorate the old Crisis on Infinite Earths comics miniseries, which has its thirtieth anniversary next year.

My humble suggestion, DC Comics: you gotta have a scene at the end of “Convergence” in which Brainiac, with cold, calculating rationality, relocates part of New York City to Burbank. Maybe even have Brainiac cackle something about his new system working “across platforms and in multiple media.” Make the subtext the text. Do it.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Seavey/Perry Podcast: Social Media, October Films

Just in time for Halloween, a podcast of Gerard Perry and me talking about SPOOOOOKY Gone Girl, WEEEEIRD Birdman, TROUUUUUBLING Kill the Messenger, and Jason Reitman’s AMBIIIIIIIIIITIOUS Men, Women & Children, as well as our own quirky social media experiences.

Only one thing listed above has made more than $2 million.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Death Songs for Hipsters (on the Occasion of Williamsburg Ebola)

 On the historic day that ebola was reported in the nearby hip New York City neighborhood of Williamsburg (October 23, 2014), I tweeted ten suggested grim hipster songs for the occasion:

3. “Heads Will Roll” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
4. “Afterlife” by Arcade Fire
5. “Calamity Song” by the Decemberists
6. “In the Aeroplane over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel
7. “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith
8. “I Will Follow You into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie
9. “Sweetest Kill” by Broken Social Scene
10. “No Children” by Mountain Goats

But I have broader tastes than that, of course. Indeed, why not make this the entry containing (by my rough count) my fiftieth online reference to the prog/New Wave band the Fixx, since I just discovered the aptly-titled “I’ve Been Here Before,” the B-side to their song “Lost Planes,” so old that they hadn’t yet acquired the second “x” in their name when they released it. If you count the more blatantly Devo-inspired couple of songs they did as the Portraits, like “Hazards in the Home,” they technically have even earlier stuff, for good or ill.

Of course, serious prog fans would probably care more about things like this song, which turned thirty this year, from the Alan Parsons Project, “Don’t Answer Me,” or the more authentically prog -- robotic yet funky -- “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You” from back in 1977, the video for which may please Daft Punk fans, I suppose. I think the robots will like it, and they will need something to watch if they are the only survivors of the ebola crisis. (But you don’t see me, like, moving or anything.)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

BOOK NOTE: Allen Salkin’s “From Scratch” and Critical Review’s epistemology issue

That’s me in the photo, looking bleary and wearing a strap-on wineglass at the recent New York Wine and Food Festival, which I attended thanks to Allen Salkin, meaning that I cannot pretend to be fully objective when I urge you to pick up his now-in-paperback volume From Scratch (I bought two!) about the colorful, flavorful, tumultuous history of the Food Network.

Of course, cuisine itself is pretty subjective. Even professional wine critics can be duped into fawning over cheap wines if told they’re super-fancy, apparently. A recent experiment involving organic food experts showed they can be duped with comparable ease into praises pieces of McDonald’s food. The power of suggestion permeates all things, though snooty rich tastemakers and frowny-faced government inspectors, for example, will not admit it.

Even the cold, hard facts of life aren’t so clear cut once political judgments (inevitably) color their assessment.

•Is ebola overblown or, since NYC just today reportedly got its own ebola patient, should I view these as the final good days before civilization fell apart?

•Was the cop who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson the first cop of many there to use excessive force or, as the official police report and autopsy now suggest, a man reacting reasonably to a cigar-stealing, shopkeeper-assaulting, cop-car-rushing, drug-crazed, six-foot criminal powerhouse (as seven black eyewitnesses, reportedly terrified of being publicly identified and vengefully attacked by pro-Brown mobs, apparently say)?

(And while we’re at it, while believing everything cops say is far from wise, it was shameful the way columnists even at some prominent publications began eulogizing Michael Brown as a peace-loving, harmless youth even with evidence to the contrary. And I say this as someone who wants to abolish the Department of Homeland Security and end the drug war, not some fascist who wants the streets to run with blood. More than one columnist pointed as vindication of Brown to the fact that the store he appeared to have robbed never pressed charges -- though given that the “protesters” burned down at least one other convenience store that they thought was the one Brown targeted, I’m not surprised the real store opted to stay out of the whole conflict. This week, other “protesters” in Ferguson, responding to the police report, raided Walgreens, the true locus of evil, apparently.)

•Shouldn’t it be harder to jump over the White House fence than the latest such incident, this week, suggests it is? Or should we be delighted government is so inept it can’t even protect itself, let alone us?

•Does Keene, NH really need Homeland-subsidized military-style vehicles to cope with its notoriously radical libertarian population, as was once suggested by police there, or, as this week’s ruckus there suggests, just to cope with its pumpkin festival crowds? (Seriously, though, as is so frequently the case, it sounds like cops tried to hem people in, turning what could have been a loose agglomeration of individuals departing the area into a dense impromptu phalanx of anti-cop rioters. Do the authorities really not see that that self-fulfilling dynamic happens time and again?)

The world of political ideology, by contrast, ought, you’d think, to be neat and tidy and idealized -- the realm of philosophers -- but even there, it’s unclear what constitutes evidence and proof and what our litmus tests should be. And (as I often find myself thinking) it’s not even close to clear what the “default” or “neutral” position should be when one is uncertain about politics or philosophy. Democracy? Anarchy? Status quo? Tradition?

That ambiguity-about-ambiguity is the topic of the twenty-fifth-anniversary issue (and many before it) of the political philosophy journal Critical Review (Vol. 26, No. 1-2). In particular, the academics contributing to the issue wrestle with whether there are even any obvious implications from public ignorance for democracy. Is the “correct” result in a democracy whatever the public comes up with? What an informed public comes up with? What the most expert members of the public come up with? Do we even acknowledge that each of these groups can make disastrous mistakes, or will we pretend whatever the process produces is vindicated by the process? And how do the kinds of errors different segments of the populace make differ (petty grudges among the masses, perhaps, and overblown schemes among the brainy experts?)?

Faced with so much uncertainty, I should really take that long-overdue break from the Net and curl up in a ball for a few months, wracked with doubt (or at least squirreled away doing some ghostwriting). But before that: a look back at what I think may have been learned since this blog was launched, and a few entries with video and music links, coming up. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

10 Thoughts on Liberty and Clowns

1. Puddles the Clown is at Joe's Pub tonight.

2. I first saw him at a live Aqua Teen Hunger Force performance, but I suppose he is now best known for his amazing cover of Lorde’s song “Royals” -- and Lorde also inspired South Park’s amazing episode mocking “trans” politics, “The Cissy.”

3. On a more Halloweenish clown note, I see the deliberately-creepy clown fad is not just spreading in the town of Wasco: There appears to be actual clown terrorism bourgeoning in France. (Suddenly, those poor Juggalos don’t seem like such bad eggs, relatively speaking, do they?)

This sort of thing is a reminder that there are many circumstances in which I’d happily use a broader definition of “assault” than some libertarians might. If people are reasonably -- and deliberately -- made afraid of physical attack, that’s assault (as bullies everywhere are well aware).

4. Now that they’re reportedly putting Jena Malone in 2016’s Batman v Superman movie as Robin, cementing that film’s status as a partial adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic Dark Knight Returns miniseries, I say throw in that tale’s face-painted Joker gangs, too. They’re more timely than ever!

5. In other rioting news, I’m amazed that people (including relatives of a libertarian-leaning friend of mine) got teargased in Keene, NH and it didn’t have anything to do with the notorious little community of libertarian radicals who live there, just out-of-control pumpkin festival participants -- and, as seems to happen every time, cops who penned people in and turned what could have been dispersing individuals into a single mob.

6. I can’t blame the press for being fascinated by the incident, though it’s partly because trouble in New Hampshire (whence hails half my family) is so novel. Not so, say, Detroit.

7. I must once more thank the Atlas Foundation for drawing my attention to the tragic way crime, poverty, bankruptcy, and bad policy decisions have all been intertwined in Detroit.

8. I also owe them and Students for Liberty for bringing to my attention the nifty little volume Peace, Love, & Liberty, edited by Tom Palmer, which collects several essays by libertarian or libertarian-leaning writers that underscore the fact that opposition to militarism is not just an afterthought to libertarianism’s insistence on individualism and property rights but a natural and important outgrowth.

9. Still, I hope the focus on a big, broad issue like war -- a consequence of the breakdown of the non-aggression principle -- never undermines libertarians’ intellectual focus on their precious and still far-too-secret philosophical basics, which must always include the idea that individuals suffer least when they have full control over their own bodies and property.

Sadly from that perspective, the literal final word in the Palmer-edited volume goes to controversial young left-libertarian Cathy Reisenwitz, who is prone to manic fits of philosophical sloppiness in which, for instance, she will proclaim her love of essays that say property rights (or wariness about egalitarianism) may not be an important part of libertarianism after all.

Through it all, she judges society harshly even while insisting that the rest of us must never shame anyone. This is incoherence, and that is not what will prevent the next world war. But Tom Palmer, like Jeffrey Tucker, cannot be blamed for every inane utterance of his temporary colleagues. War is worse than Reisenwitz, at least a bit.

10. And for a reminder that full-fledged modern liberalism is still more horrible than anything in the broad, combative classical liberal family, we need look no farther than this recent scary Supreme Court denial, with the likes of (the not-so-empathic) Sotomayor and Kagan concluding that, yes, the government can actually punish you for crimes of which you weren’t convicted.

Just another reminder that libertarians cozying up to the left is generally a waste of time. Liberty or bust.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Seavey on Steigerwald Videocast (plus one century-late UFO note)

•Lucy Steigerwald’s latest video roundtable discussion included her brother Joe, Jordan Bloom from Daily Caller, Michelle Montalvo -- and me -- talking about Rand Paul, Ayn Rand, and ebola, and, since she asked if we’d been reading or watching odd non-political things lately, yes, UFOs.

•I have nothing profound to add on that odd topic besides reaffirming my commitment to skeptical methodology in all things, not sci-fi wishful thinking -- but the whole subject area does leave one with odd earthly questions even if one dismisses aliens as an explanation. For instance: could it be blimps?

I mean, triangular black military spy blimps might explain many of the better-corroborated sightings of recent decades (the ones that don’t sound like some sort of ball-lightning orbs, that is). And it may be no coincidence that there were sightings reported in newspapers (check out this list) all the way back into the late nineteenth century (and this prior to the twentieth-century development of blimps as we know them) that tended instead to be cigar-shaped, if you see what I’m thinking. Or maybe it was just hoaxes from the age of yellow journalism inspired by Jules Verne’s amazing zeppelin villain from Master of the World. But who knows.

You have to admit, it would be interesting just to discover an early, largely secret phase of blimp history, though. And proto-blimp history is already pretty weird. I mean, check out this real-world history note from Wikipedia before you try telling me the world needs steampunk:

In 1784 Jean-Pierre Blanchard fitted a hand-powered propeller to a balloon, the first recorded means of propulsion carried aloft. In 1785 he crossed the English Channel in a balloon equipped with flapping wings for propulsion and a birdlike tail for steering.

•So there are far weirder things in this world than the LibertyFest gathering of libertarians I briefly checked out in Greenpoint on Saturday, despite that event having Jimmy McMillan of “The Rent Is Too Damn High” fame at it, among others.

For starters in addressing that problem, though no one is going to listen to my notions about this, I would abolish all public property, which would at least eliminate sad bureaucratic messes like this one involving art by kids (h/t Kevin Walsh of Forgotten NY). Later, we can review the government’s black ops budget to see if they’re overspending on silent spy blimps. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

ISIS and Sociologists

As ISIS issues its rules for journalists operating within the caliphate, saying they must be licensed by the state and report back to the ISIS media ministry about their stories, I am reminded of a chilling volume I glimpsed twenty years ago that made clear the thin lines between the (ostensibly-objective) academic mindset, leftism, and foreign authoritarian regimes.
A sociology text I saw (sociology being probably the most intellectually and morally bankrupt academic discipline) went to great pains to clear up the "confusion" among some in the West about whether some countries in the developing world have a "free press." They do, explained the volume at condescending length. It's just that in those countries, "freedom" takes the form of direct participation in the government and thus requires licensing of all journalists and the involvement of political officials in vetting many stories.

The overly-narrow Western conception of "freedom" might cause journalists or activists here to think, mistakenly, that the more private and unsupervised press here is in some way superior. This plus several hundred footnotes is roughly how professors deliver us into the hands of the totalitarians, sneering at the uneducated masses all the way.