Thursday, March 27, 2014

10 Ancient-Sounding (Yet Current) Cultural Tensions

How far have we really come?

1. Opponents of gay marriage sometimes argue that legalizing it logically leads to legalizing polygamy -- which wouldn’t bother me, since, basically, (A) as a libertarian I think people should be able to make whatever contracts they like and (B) as a quasi-traditionalist I’m aware polygamy’s about as old and time-honored as monogamous marriage anyway -- arguably on firmer traditional ground than gay marriage, even. 

So, I’m often disappointed when people in favor of gay marriage hasten to add that they would never condone legalizing polygamy.  Why not?  This just makes them sound capricious and emboldens their social conservative foes.

Thus, I was pleased with what happened when (intelligent and patient) foe of gay marriage Ryan Anderson appeared twice on Kennedy et al’s show The Independents.  I’ve met and like both of them, so I don’t really want to see either of them destroy the other.  And indeed, what ended up happening was that Ryan ended his first appearance by pointedly noting that Kennedy (as I’d noticed before) was guilty of the gay yes, polygamy never inconsistency, and she sounded a little defensive about it.  Lo and behold, they had Ryan back on a later show, and Kennedy revealed that she’d changed her mind -- and now embraced legalizing both gay marriage and polygamy. 

I’m going to call that a victory all around. 

2. Fascinatingly, the character of old-timey newspaper magnate T. Herman Zweibel has been resurrected as an avatar of The Onion’s feelings of anti-capitalist guilt over now running sponsored “comedy” (h/t Tushar Saxena), for which the fictional Zweibel does the profit-loving disclaimer.  I can’t really blame them, but they’re sort of going the “if it’s ironic, we’re not really sell-outs” route. 

(This is a slightly less-weird mixed message than the Snickers ad that features construction workers offering messages of female empowerment clearly meant to please real female viewers, followed by the message that people just aren’t themselves if they haven’t had their Snickers.)

3. As if that report of hospitals heated by burning fetuses wasn’t disturbing enough, it appears that even in the twenty-first century, you shall eat your gods’ flesh -- and so the ritual cannibalism literally begins, in the form of a new service offering sausages made from samples of celebrities’ flesh.  At least meat’s not just for speciesists anymore.

4. One of the most prominent anti-sexual-violence organizations is calling for an end to the recent feminist hysteria over “rape culture” (h/t Vulgar Libertarians).  I have been reminded by that whole misguided feminist meme -- according to which we are all guilty of enabling rape every time we accept gendered culture -- of the “I blame society” death scene in Repo Man.  As a thug dies, he makes that claim as an excuse for his actions, to which our protagonist says, that’s ridiculous because you’ve led a pleasant and pampered life just like the rest of us. 

If we want to understand a recurring crime, we should focus on what differentiates the guilty from the rest of us, not throw a warm, aimless blanket of universal guilt over everyone (but then, leftists -- and particularly feminists -- are often too cowardly to hold individuals accountable and thus prefer to drag us all down in egalitarian fashion). 

The worst possible route to responsible individual behavior, then, is blaming society.  Yet, tragically, that’s what anti-rape activists recently chose to start doing -- and just as they had been on the verge of getting almost everything they wanted, in the form of a nearly 90% reduction in occurrences of rape over the past three decades. 

At least the organization that Christina Ricci and others represent seems to be taking the high road. 

5. Cathy Reisenwitz has become the default example of a (still rare) libertarian who plays these blame-everybody campus-leftist-style culture analysis games.  Naturally, these sorts of culture critics (or Social Justice Warriors, as some have taken to calling them) are oddly selective about which cultural pressures they take to task and which ones they accept (in accordance with their own predilections, of course). 

So Reisenwitz deplores “privilege” and “rape culture” -- but is deeply offended if anyone thinks that Duke pornstar (and fellow libertarian) Belle Knox’s participation in rough, violence-themed porn might have something to do with the emotional problems that made her a “cutter.”  Of course, I’m also told that cutting became such a common ritual among “emo” youth in recent years that it’s hard to tell the unstable from the fashionable lately.  None of this will ever lead the Reisenwitzes of the world to campaign against porn, emo, or crazy chicks, of course.  The problem will always somehow be old straight white guys. 

Libertarianism, unnoticed by most of the mainstream, is being destroyed from within by leftists lately, and the real question is whether its impressive simultaneous rightward growth can outpace its leftward dissolution.  Perhaps every tiny movement is doomed to emulate the clashes and stupidity of larger, more dominant ones. 

6. A terrible AlterNet article (h/t Lucy Steigerwald) listed

Friday, March 21, 2014

Seavey/Perry on 300, Dear Reader, More

Gerard Perry and I (directed by Matt Brandenburgh) once more chat on YouTube about cultural goings-on and this time find some parallels between 300: Rise of an Empire, other Frank Miller projects, Michael Malice’s book on North Korea, and diverse peoples wearing Native American headdresses. 

I liked both 300 movies, cartoony though they admittedly are -- and some would say more than a bit fetishy, a sort of agoge-a-go-go*, if you will. 

But they are not as fetishy as the work of Belle Knox, the porn star/Duke freshman who has recently been in the news -- and been on Kennedy et al’s libertarian talkshow The Independents on Fox Business Network (which teased that segment with the Bowie song “Queen Bitch”).  Knox not only reaffirmed in that interview that she’s a libertarian Republican but noted that Rand Paul also went to Duke (to complete medical school). 

Between this and Paul’s warm reception at Berkeley, we may be able to keep the left confused for a couple more years and thus ensure victory in 2016.  (Think of Kennedy as our version of the bold Persian-allied admiral Artemisia, or at least take note of the fact that Kennedy’s forehead somewhat resembles Eva Green’s.  Big foreheads are where the brains are stored, after all.) 

*Wittiest jest of the season.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

10 Notes for Open Borders Day

Today has been declared a day to celebrate open borders, unrestricted immigration, and free trade.  Ultimately, I’m in favor of not merely opening borders but eliminating the very concept -- as well as the governments that currently enforce that concept. 

In the meantime, faced with various admittedly tricky situations such as, say, Russians flooding into Ukraine or for that matter Chinese into Tibet, I recognize that sometimes the best compromise between opening borders and respecting them as-is is redrawing them. 

1. Regardless of where one stands on Ukraine, it was generally a step forward for freedom when the USSR transformed into fifteen or so republics – and some leftists like Katrina vanden Heuvel never fully accepted the change (or admitted its underlying economic reasons). 

I’m not all that crazy about Jonathan Chait, but his overview of oddly pro-Russia intellectuals is fairly accurate.

2. Of course, if secession was good in the early 90s, even more of it may be for the best now.  It’s not that I want Crimea dominated by Russia, but Ukraine’s further devolution into separate states may be preferable to civil (or even world) war, right?  I recently argued the general merits of secession (not slavery!) in defending some of the Lincoln-skeptics like my ex-boss Judge Napolitano, and I would hardly turn around and urge bloodshed in Europe a few days later. 

And awful as the Russian government is, there is some truth to its sense that it is harried by the U.S. and its allies on all sides (and we don’t want to drive it into a more-communistic alliance with China or even North Korea if it can instead grow increasingly tied to the West). 

Even the Syria situation has been something of a proxy war between a Russian-allied government and embarrassingly jihadist American allies, who are not so unlike the other crazies we’ve shoved at Russia over the past three decades, periodically being shocked when they turn on us as well.

3. Russia may be bad, but encourage neo-fascists or jihadists as an alternative and you might even be increasing the odds of more incidents like the disappearance of that Malaysia airliner (though we don’t yet know for sure whether the politically-active pilot was in on its disappearance). 

Then, like Blondie in this swell clip, we’ll all be performing “Bermuda Triangle Blues” (h/t Shizu Homma via Daniel Radosh -- and I think the tune owes a bit to Brian Eno).

And I hope it’s obvious that I mean no disrespect to the passengers in saying that, though I was booted from an extremely small, snooty, uptight libertarian Facebook page yesterday merely for jokingly defending people who I think had in turn made a joke of their own about the Malaysian plane vanishing.  That level of hyper-sensitivity is not helpful anywhere, not even quiet, polite, conservative places like New Hampshire. 

4. Speaking of tolerating the intolerable: Wayne Knight, who played Newman on Seinfeld, was rumored to be dead but is not, but by contrast, there are now reports that the controversial Fred Phelps is dying -- and has been excommunicated from his own anti-gay church. 

Soon perhaps he will learn that across the border in the undiscovered country that is death, only Thanos rules.

5. And speaking of Marvel Comics villains: the 2016 film X-Men: Apocalypse will be set in the 80s, says director Bryan Singer, and will depict the modern return of the evil, godlike, ancient-Egyptian mutant named Apocalypse. 

TODD PREDICTION: One character amidst the “later than First Class, earlier than Rogue” mixed cast will be: Storm as a child thief in Africa.  Sounds cool already. 

TODD HOPE: Disco Dazzler.  The time is right. 

In the meantime, Halle Berry, who is gorgeous but doesn't quite, uh, electrify as Storm, has reportedly been almost entirely cut from this year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past (as has Anna Paquin as Rogue).

6. Future Marvel movies may toy not only with the boundaries between geographic locales and imaginary human subspecies but between different levels of reality, since it sounds like a Doctor Strange movie is inevitable, and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige is keen to make it as trippy, he says, as a cross between 2001, Miyazaki anime, and The Matrix.  Sounds good to me.

And please note, ladies everywhere, that Johnny Depp, who was rumored at one point to be under consideration for the role of Strange, is marrying a young, bisexual, atheist Ayn Rand fan, which makes sense to me (if he does happen to play Strange, she’d make a lovely Clea).  So to get the best men, become bisexual, atheist Ayn Rand fans, ladies. 

7. While we’re pondering how neighbors and even separate species can best co-exist, we should ask: should there be cats and dogs living together?  Sometimes it works and sometimes it leads to a montage of cats slapping dogs.

8. Speaking of boundaries, can this dog be trusted to stay off the bed the way he's supposed to?  Nope (h/t Emily Richards).  (But here's a very cute puppy rolling down a hill for fun, unimpeded by any barriers.)

9. Since immigration enriches our culture, I would also like to award the first ever Devitt Award for Cultural Tone-Deafness to my friend Saul Devitt, who in spite of our occasional picayune disagreements has added a useful second opinion time and again not only in online conversations I’ve participated in but at a Debate at Lolita Bar years ago, in which he ably fended off arguments in favor of 9/11 conspiracy theories (one of my favorite of his very common-sensical, skeptical points: if this were all some plot to invade Iraq, why not put some Iraqis among the hijackers?). 

Like a Canadian musician or a lesbian stand-up comedian, this import from Australia provides the orthogonal perspective needed to keep people’s minds limber. 

10. If California redraws its own borders, I’m pleased one state would reportedly actually be called “Silicon Valley.”  Take that, Google-bashing Frisco-hippies!! 

Of course, I said way back in the 90s that returning Texas and California to Mexico might solve a lot of problems.  That line about how “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us” is actually true, so hardcore traditionalists should be the last ones complaining about Mexican influence in the Southwest.

The serious end goal, though, should always be a world with no borders at all -- and no governments to draw them.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


1. The site Libertarian Republic (which recently ran my own piece on libertarian/neoconservative overlap) also notes that a somewhat libertarian saint may soon be canonized -- namely, G.K. Chesterton (h/t Justin Stoddard and Rick Sincere).

2. In less Catholic news, Neil deGrasse Tyson has been criticized for oversimplifying the tale of Giordano Bruno on this week’s premiere of the new Cosmos, making a kooky mystic persecuted by the Church sound like a historically-significant scientist.  This saddens me a bit, since the original 1980 series with Carl Sagan was a pivotal step in my mental evolution away from watching In Search Of as a child to reading Skeptical Inquirer as a teen, which has made all the difference.

Still, science and fantasy can sometimes mix as in this amusing mash-up of Carl Sagan and Agent Smith from The Matrix (h/t Neil Horning).

3. Claims about the cosmos are not affirmed or falsified by their incidental psychological or aesthetic effects on us, but you might wonder: are religion and self-hatred a natural pair?  Well, there is a site called “Catholicism for Cutters.”

4. Jon Stewart has become something of an anti-heretic enforcer himself and can sink almost as low as simply calling libertarians poopyheads -- and still leftists cheer The Daily Show, as Kevin Williamson laments. 

But at least they had my ex-boss Judge Andrew Napolitano on to explain his simultaneous condemnation of slavery, war, and Lincoln, as if that combo should be confusing (at the linked site, find the videos from March 11 -- including the faux-gameshow segment pitting the Judge against a hot black female Abe Lincoln and three college professors, which is about what it takes to challenge the Judge).

5. If you want a libertarian comedy alternative, of course, you need Trevor Moore, seen here doing his fact-based rap about the Founding Fathers (and, yes, Lincoln) loving the herb.

6. At the annual CPAC gathering, where a plurality of surveyed participants want to legalize pot, Rand Paul emerged as the straw poll favorite and the leader of the rising, more libertarian generation of Republicans. 

He began his speech there by praising the Abolitionists, as well he should, and goes on to use the South’s lynch mobs of a century ago as an example of what happens when civil liberties are abandoned -- and him doing so should not surprise or confuse people wary of the Southern faction of libertarians any more than Judge Napolitano writing a whole book about government’s oppression of blacks should. 

Paul emphasized the importance of liberty for people of all ethnicities and genders -- yet even conservatives such as Roger Simon apparently can’t resist the urge to find some hypersensitive, p.c.-style reason to complain, with Simon tweeting his displeasure at Paul quoting anti-Israel Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, as if Paul did so out of anti-Semitism. 

(Dude, did I not mention the convention was pro-pot?  Were you not alive in the 1970s?)

7. Meanwhile, leftists and academics, who also likely dread that libertarians are closet fascists, are chock full of respect for the philosopher Heidegger, who we now know with even greater certainty really was a full-blown Nazi.

8. I admit I adore the gigantic, singing clown Puddles who is rather Weimar.  He has returned to the Lorde well after doing a very popular cover of her song “Royals,” and frankly he’s so good at doing covers it stops being funny at some point -- but is still totally worth watching.

9. While we’re talking about people’s cultural sensitivities getting all inflamed, it’s worth noting a knot of four leftists Facebook-unfriended me a few days ago over my shocking claim that artists borrowing imagery and symbolism from other cultures -- say, a singer wearing a Native American headdress -- is not necessarily evil or hateful or damaging. 

I suppose you can imagine people being so sensitive that they freak out over such hybridization, but usually the people doing the freaking in these cases would be the first to weep if we also discarded other hybrids they happen to like, such as, say, blues-inflected rock n’ roll, cartoonified Greek warriors like the ones in 300, anime, fusion cuisine, all of Western civilization, etc., etc.

The selectivity of their (recently mounting) outrage is even worse than that, though, since you know darn well these high-strung people also tend to be the ones who are first to turn around and defend “transgressive” art when it suits them, from eclectic burlesque imagery to bourgeois–shocking shellacked piles of dung in art museums.  They pretend to be deeply, deeply concerned but will in fact turn on a dime when it’s tactically convenient in order to attack their targets.  Nasty.  Don’t let them guilt-trip you, people. 

They have the unmitigated totalitarian presumption to think everyone should speak, act, and create precisely according to their formulas -- and to think they actually do speak (in the only way allowed) for the oppressed populations they claim to represent.

As it was at Brown University in the p.c. 90s, so it is all across the nation today: If people are taught that the more upset they get, the more political and moral clout they wield, surprise surprise, they will get increasingly upset -- and it will never end.  Indeed, anyone who made it through four years at Brown without learning that disturbing lesson is an imbecile -- as is anyone who now sees without worry the rising tide of trigger-warned, coddled, “privilege”-checking, race-animosity-encouraging little cultists who pretend to speak for the holy cause of social justice.  Check your narcissism. 

(And of course the sensitive folk loved Heidegger at Brown.  Carl Schmitt, too.  And Paul de Man...) 

10. This is more like it: a Cato forum on states, clans, and individuals.

11. While back at the Ivy League -- Yale this time -- here’s the frightening insanity to which a feminist pro-fat culture and a slavishly BMI-measuring pseudo-health establishment lead.

12. But, hey, we libertarians aren’t perfect either, and I see the Friday night episode of FBN’s Kennedy-et al-hosted show The Independents will be a whole hour asking left and right critics “What’s the Matter with Libertarians?”

It’s bound to be more thoughtful than the seventy-plus anti-libertarianism articles AlterNet and Salon have run in just the past two years, including one this week suggesting libertarians’ heads would explode if they were confronted by, say, the argument that we need to build street lights in order to facilitate the buying of pizza (WHO WILL ILLUMINATE THE PIZZA??). 

What really galls is that Lynn Parramore, who wrote it, was a Dionysium debater once.  I realize all these articles tend to be written as if by people who have never gotten near an actual libertarian brain and never intend to, but, y’know they could send an e-mail or two before shooting their mouths off.  Or just retire and get the hell out of the way.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Annie 2014: The Decline

I trust Quvenzhan√© Wallis will be just fine as Annie in this December's film, but all around her, the story, like other elements of American society, has degenerated. 

The original comic strip was staunchly (and quite rightly) anti-FDR and pro-free-market/individualism. The famous musical grotesquely inverted the creator's vision by having the characters sing a big musical number lauding the New Deal at the end ("New Deal for Christmas," no less). And in this year's film, Daddy Warbucks is replaced by a lovable rich politician named Stacks.

I'm not so sure there will be a tomorrow at this rate.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Vulgar Libertarians, Homicidal Rulers, Ignorant Rappers

10 notes on troubling political phenomena -- and various terrible places you can get into political trouble:

1. FUTURE AMERICA: You may recall that I recently discussed our possible fascist-robot future in this engaging video chat about RoboCop with Gerard Perry (directed by Matt Brandenburgh)...

2. CANADA: ...and next we’ll likely post one on 300: Rise of an Empire, with asides about (centuries-later) Islam.  Luckily, we will not be discussing the touchy topic of Islam in Canada like my acquaintance Ezra Levant, who Gerard notes is in trouble again.

3. THE INTERNETS: Gerard and I have other trouble-making acquaintances, though, including a partly New York-based cabal of mischievous young anarcho-capitalists, spawned by what we like to call a Facebook “Trollboard” but now out in public as the blog Vulgar Libertarians.

5. VIET NAM/ALBUQUERQUE: The aforementioned libertarians are the ones who sometimes get depicted as politically-naughty characters by mainstream society, but in a sane world, wouldn’t the character who Bryan Cranston begins portraying on Broadway today -- namely, Lyndon Johnson -- be seen as far scarier than we are, indeed, scarier even than Walter White?

6. AIR FORCE ONE: This year marks not only the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act but likely the fiftieth anniversary, per journalist Ronald Kessler, of LBJ bragging to two governors: “I’ll have those niggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years.”  Again, who here is the truly vulgar one? 

7. THE GHETTO: And before you make the inane, cultural-context-dropping argument that it should be OK for white people to say it if black people can say it (an argument I have never bought), please note that even rappers have standards of etiquette -- and some have even begun to lament, like Allan Bloom and so many before them, that today’s artists are forgetting the ideals embodied by the classics.

8. THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT PRETENDING TO BE GHETTO: Far worse, if you ask me, than a rapper having a gangsta persona for the duration of a song or two, is a current Converse sneakers video ad that non-ironically asks, over moody black-and-white filmed images, that we imagine how wonderful it would be to turn the world upside down and shake all its lunch money loose, since “they aren’t going to just give it to you.”  It even ends by asking the world, “How much have you got?”

I guess Converse has decided to appeal directly to the pro-violence, pro-theft crowd.  Grotesque -- and as cynical as it gets. 

9. OLD-TIMEY AMERICA: Of course, why should I expect dimwitted ad execs hawking sneakers to understand the underlying moral and legal rules that make their economic existences possible?  Conservatives don’t get it either.  Here’s a former Bush administration official, Robert W. Patterson, denouncing markets and the growing libertarian trend within conservatism, while praising the authoritarian, trust-busting, government-growing -- and, yes, very racist-imperialist -- Teddy Roosevelt.

10. UKRAINE AND OTHER “BLOODLANDS”: And as eternal reminders that things could always get worse, here (h/t Ronald Radosh) are Hitler and Stalin, compared and contrasted by historian Tim Snyder (who is a good thing to come out of Brown, and now Yale, and who wrote the book Bloodlands about the slaughter on all sides in that region during and around WWII).

Overall, though, I’d say we should do less fretting about the vulgarity of the masses and more about the outright psychoses of their murderous “leaders.”

Sunday, March 2, 2014

10 Oscars-Day Video Notes (plus Todd and Gerard on YouTube!)

1. As a warm-up for the Oscars, check out video of me and Gerard Perry talking a few weeks ago about a then-upcoming film that probably won’t be nominated for Best Picture: the remake of RoboCop (and related sci-fi geekery). 

One of the countless bad people I’ve met working in TV told me not long ago that she’d “never” put me on television if it were up to her because I’m “not funny,” but I dare say I’d be OK. 

2. So, do you think Hollywood’ll ever get around to making a movie about this psychopathic nature tale (h/t Judith Weiss), in which Obama’s Interior Secretary denies impoverished Native Americans a tiny access road to their local airport for emergencies?

3. Despite the comics-inspired cartoonishness of 300: Rise of an Empire, which I’ll see this week, I for one think it’s cool that a movie based on the real Battle of Thermopylae gets followed up with a sequel based on the real (simultaneous) Battle of Salamis -- and who can resist real-life she-admiral Artemisia as a character?

4. But then, my theatre- and comics-influenced tastes make me so indifferent to realism, I could probably enjoy a whole movie full of effects that look like the clay animation moonshot in this 1991 video by Dinosaur Jr. – and I would contend that the song, “Wagon,” is also a reminder that hipness was already greatly advanced back in my college days, no matter what the kids tell you.

5. One of my hip fellow Brown Film Society members from back in those days, Laura Braunstein, is now making her first foray into New Hampshire politics and barring the unexpected will be on her local library board.  Since she’s not part of the Free State Project, the odds of her abolishing and/or defecating in the libraries are small. 

6. With luck, she and our fellow Film Society/Film Bulletin veteran Scott Nybakken and I will see a fittingly geeky and cinephilic documentary this month, Jodorowsky’s Dune, out on the 21st (at least in a couple NYC theatres).  Prior to David Lynch, Jodorowsky very nearly got a mid-70s production of Dune off the ground that would have been even more surreal than Lynch’s (though Lynch’s still bore the stamp of some of Jodorowsky’s elements, such as a Salvador Dali influence).  Per Wikipedia:

In the role of Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV, Jodorowsky planned to cast the surrealist artist Salvador Dal√≠, who requested a fee of $100,000 per hour. He also planned to cast Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen; Welles only agreed when Jodorowsky offered to get his favourite gourmet chef to prepare his meals for him throughout the filming…The music would be composed by Pink Floyd [and others.  Pre-production designers included H.R. Giger and Mobius.] Frank Herbert travelled to Europe in 1976 to find that $2 million of the $9.5 million budget had already been spent in pre-production, and that Jodorowsky's script would result in a 14-hour movie ("It was the size of a phonebook", Herbert later recalled). Jodorowsky took creative liberties with the source material, but Herbert said that he and Jodorowsky had an amicable relationship. The production for the film collapsed, and the rights for filming were sold once more, this time to Dino de Laurentiis, who employed the American filmmaker David Lynch to direct, creating the film Dune in 1984.

7. And Jodorowsky instead made almost stereotypically “foreign”-looking films like the upcoming one for which this is the trailer.

8. A week after the aforementioned documentary, outer-space surrealism hits a bit closer to home with the online release on the 27th of Mirage Men, an acclaimed documentary alleging that the government has deliberately encouraged people to believe in UFOs and space aliens, to distract us from real military projects (such as black triangular spy-blimps, perhaps?).  There’ll also be an expanded DVD release in June.

9. But what goes on in the classroom while we’re busy gorging on entertainment, you ask?  To see, watch a teaching-development professional, of the sort routinely flown in from other states and even from the UK, lead public school teachers (ones meant to lead SAT-level prep classes) through orientation, in this one-minute clip -- in this case, in Chicago (h/t Jerry Mayer).

10. And if you think that's bad, take heart from the fact De Blasio’s sociopathic attack on kids and charter schools (on behalf of teachers unions) is attracting national, not just local, attention, as this one-minute clip of an angry Greta Van Susteren suggests.  There isn’t a level of Hell low enough for the ignorant NYC voters who put that vile buffoon in office.  But film will keep me entertained while we decline.