I’ve resolved to do less blogging, Facing, and tweeting this year (aside from plugging new projects) but should wrap up this phase of blogging history and transition into the next with a climactic “Month of Time Travel,” that is, items that blend past and future in revealing ways -- like steampunk but less annoying. Here are 14 short items of that sort to launch ’14.
(It’s a good time to think about time travel, what with this odd research having just been published about combing the Net for evidence of time travelers. The researchers found nothing, so to enjoy time travel you’ll have to look to fiction, like this altered finale of Star Trek: Voyager someone went to the trouble of editing that excludes the romance between Chakotay and Seven. Regardless, it holds up well -- really, rewatch the final ten minutes if you haven’t seen it in a decade.)
1. Some will recall this blog started around late 2006, just after GOP lost Congress for turning the Arab world into the sort of unstable region where, hell, Fallujah might well end up controlled by al Qaeda eight years later for all we knew -- but it was still prior to the Financial Crisis, which is when my thinking really began to (subtly) change and I increasingly found myself sympathizing with radicals instead of the quit-your-complaining bourgeoisie.
To really understand my personal evolution in the preceding years, though, the thing to do may be to read the “Retro-Journal” entries I started writing about a year after the blog launched, explaining everything that had happened since high school up to that point.
2. As if war cheerleaders like William Kristol weren’t reason enough to distance oneself from monstrous neoconservatives (as opposed to libertarians, etc.), just in the past few days (for example), I’ve seen (1) formerly pot-smoking David Brooks lament drug legalization on the grounds that drugs don’t reflect his adult sensibilities (but then, so does paleocon Pat Buchanan), (2) hissy-fit-prone John Podhoretz accuse me of having a “personality disorder” and urging me to “get help” for pointing out (accurately -- and efficiently, given that it was one short Facebook comment) ironic parallels between the thinking of the Unabomber and science-wary David Gelernter, and (3) Peter Wehner write a piece on the future “conservative” agenda (on the site Podhoretz edits) that emphasizes the importance of not being anti-government.
Why can’t these people just go get their own movement and/or party and stop deforming conservatism, the GOP, and libertarianism? They’re worse than liberal-tarians.
3. As you read passages like Brooks’ about government being a subtle, nuanced tool for “tipping the scales” in favor of virtue, do remember that his Orwellian notion of “self”-government actually means giving more power to government agents like these dolts who recently deliberately destroyed rare bamboo flutes (new-made for sometimes ancient genres) during a customs inspection.
4. It’s enough to make even a right-leaning mind greatly sympathize with, say, wacko liberal Bill Maher ranting about LSD back in 2011 (h/t Rob Szarka). Maybe now’s a good time to admit I’m newly fascinated by the recurring hallucinations of shiny “machine elves” many DMT users have reported -- not that I’m saying they exist beyond our sometimes surprisingy-similar minds. Nor does the ghostly orb one of my relatives saw on the night another relative died. Probably.
5. For a more consistent, across-the-board celebration of freedom than Maher’s LSD rant, though, check out Jeffrey Tucker’s libertarian essay collection Bourbon for Breakfast (thanks to Ooana Trien for the loan).
Tucker’s arguably something of a “paleo,” with his appreciation of the civilization that preceded our statist wrong turn, but he is a reminder that it’s best to ditch any association that term might once have had with Buchananites and to move forward in an unapologetically anarchist-libertarian fashion. The Mises Institute veteran and founder of Liberty.me is notoriously one of the happiest-seeming lovers of liberty you’ll encounter. Instead of just grousing about the government, he celebrates all the little everyday victories we can achieve over unfreedom.
Unless you have a heart of stone, you will smile your way through essays about things like how to undo the government-mandated low-flow restriction on your showerhead (something just foisted on me a few weeks ago after over a decade of being a tenant who had barely ever had any maintenance done on his bathroom, aside from that time part of the ceiling fell in, and thus not drawn the attention of flow-altering supers). Without urging readers to break the law (which would itself be illegal), Tucker expresses glee not only at the ease with which you can take a screwdriver to that thing but also the ease with which one company, for a time, got around the regulation on gallons-per-showerhead by simply selling multiple-showerhead attachments.
Tucker also shares my dislike of shaving cream, having discovered years ago, as I recently have, that you can just as easily shave without it and thereby simplify your life (this may put us both at odds with author Alexander Rose, who convinced me buying expensive fancy shaving accouterments and such was the way to go).
He likewise tackles the potentially divisive issue of intellectual property not with frowny-faced arguments but with cheers for the ease with which old, otherwise easily-forgotten authors can be kept alive if the copyright lawyers can be kept at bay. He jokes about the sad but logical outcomes of IP such as professors who forbid students to use the ideas they learn in class (on pain of lawsuit), which would seem to defeat the point of learning. There has to be a better way.
He offers frequent proof that optimism about markets and pessimism about government tends to make one prescient, as in 2006 when he wrote (criticizing the whole idea of government “cyber-security”): “If experience is our guide, the government in a position of authority is more likely to be creating viruses and spyware than stopping them. As for the impact of the law, I vaguely seem to recall some legislation passed a few years ago that made spam illegal.”
He can draw similarly useful lessons from experiencesin traffic court, watching poor people lose licenses they need to survive economically while he gets repeatedly shafted by a poorly-placed stop sign in his neighborhood (one that simply disappeared one day, to no one’s detriment, after years of making his morning commute more legally perilous). Instead of worrying over the supposedly tough questions put to libertarians, such as “Who will build the roads?” Tucker laughs at the absurdities caused by the governmental alternative -- and concludes, “Ultimately, the state is in control or we are. There is nothing in between.”
Tragically, though, what’s in between in reality is often corporate/government cronyism that makes a mockery of both free-market and left-wing ideals. He notes the windfall likely reaped by certain drug companies (but not others) when that big crackdown on the purchase of meth-ingredient substances occurred a few years ago (he too discovered it’s now a bureaucratic hassle to buy more than two boxes of cold medication at the drug store no matter how drippy your nose).
When problems of statism seem intractable, though, he has ample other interests to cover, including detailed instructions on how to look as dapper as he (again, notoriously) always does. I admit I am not following these dressing instructions, nor any others, really. Snappy outfits are not enough to make him like Mad Men, though, since he rightly sees that the show is intended to reveal how barbarous the world was before the regulations of recent decades were imposed.
(By contrast, I would say that Mad Men is yet another glorious example, like Jurassic Park or The Matrix, of how viewers manage to extract libertarian messages from what were intended to be non-libertarian works of art: That show may singlehandedly have changed our popular culture from one in which Boomers and Gen Xers envied the freedoms created by the hippies into one in which Millennials envy the freedoms that preceded the hippies. You couldn’t ask for a better paleolibertarian victory than that. At the very least, the show should probably appeal to Tucker’s Chestertonian contrarian streak, given essays like the ones in which he urges people to show their sophistication by drinking a lot while they’re young and still can.)
You should by now be ordering Bourbon for Breakfast (or just reading it online), but if you’re not convinced, rest assured Tucker also has appreciative thoughts on Dr. Jekyll-as-liberal, Garet Garrett as an all too rare novelist who dramatizes commerce instead of violence, the anarchism of Mark Twain, the subtlety of film noir, and even the unabashedly Old Left absurdity of Spider-Man’s pessimistic world. Check it out.
6. I suppose anytime one praises a paleo or Mises Institute figure these days, one is supposed to add caveats about various heretical things those folks have said or done, but frankly if we start criticizing related phenomena ranging from “neo-reaction,” mid-century literary drunks, and arguably-unlibertarian views on border enforcement to the odd culture battles created when someone like Angela Keaton champions gays -- or for that matter Rand Paul decides to become the GOP’s racial outreach director in Detroit -- we’ll be here all day, and I’ll be exhausted.
So let’s just say you don’t have to agree with people about everything to learn a great deal from them and leave it at that. Look how much time that tolerant notion saves.
7. Speaking of Rand Paul: Jeffrey Tucker has politely refrained from guessing how Rothbard would’ve felt about Paul running for president in 2016 (even while taking some heat from libertarians so radical they see Paul as a statist), but I’m willing to say Rothbard’d likely be ecstatic about a Rand Paul presidential run, given that Rothbard was willing to urge tactical votes even for the likes of Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot (with attendant praise of them) if he thought that in context it would act to stave off greater statist threats. (And if you think I’m now endorsing Pat Buchanan, please reread items 2-4.)
8. I’m not sure if Gen X nostalgia counts as retrograde yet or is still semi-hip, but regardless I’m pleased the Kennedy-led show The Independents makes frequent use of Gen X-pleasing rock for its bumpers.
9. Maybe they can work in Macaulay Culkin’s bizarre retro band, which convincingly covers Velvet Underground songs but rewritten to be about pizza, seen here in a recent Williamsburg performance (h/t Ross Sapozhnik).
10. Another Gen X alternative rock (and MTV) note: I think we should pity the late Benjamin Orr, who sang half the Cars’ cool early songs and was quite the hunk (as I totally failed to notice until recently as a lad but would imagine the ladies would agree) yet somehow failed to become the sole visual icon of the band as it entered the video era, ceding that role to the physically-impossible-looking geek Ric Ocasek (and I say that with love).
11. Elsewhere in New England, Grandma turns 100, and at my father’s urging this weekend she described (in Tuckeresque fashion) some practical differences in her home back in 1914 or so: a wooden icebox, a hand washboard only for cleaning clothes, and, perhaps more amazingly to you moderns, no electric lights -- just kerosene lamps. Be grateful. She is.
My anarcho-capitalist friend Jesse Forgione might add that you can at the same time be appreciative of old-fashioned but high-quality items like the ninety year-old Edison bulb still running in the house of one of his relatives. That’s something my mother would like to have instead of government-mandated screw-shaped bulbs she hates or the “free” normal-looking ones the city of Norwich handed out to homeowners like her -- only to have them burn out within about a day. Government is an impediment to civilization, albeit an inept one -- if you defend it, you are a monster, not a vehicle of compassion.
12. In still more house-oriented New England news, you might be able to deduce from local listings and/or PBS.org when my friend Dave Whitney will appear on This Old House, since the “Arlington Italianate” house they’re covering for a few episodes is a project he worked on (though he doesn’t appear in the first episode of that arc, which just aired in the past few days in some markets).
13. Is it futuristic or retro of Dave to also like Daft Punk? I’m losing track, and I’m not that big a fan -- but Tucker’s case against IP at least helps me avoid getting completely bent out of shape over Daft Punk lying about lifting some of their music from other people.
14. And, for the truly time-travel obsessive, here’s one of the most tantalizing Wiki pages ever: an overview of major Doctor Who continuity problems. Enjoy, nerds!