Friday, May 30, 2014

Seavey/Perry on YouTube: Pro and Con Seth MacFarlane (and More)

•Check out Gerard Perry and me talking about A Million Ways to Die in the West and our differences on the merits of the creator of it, Family Guy, and Ted: Seth MacFarlane.

•There are juvenile, irreverent things that only stupid people laugh at, but there are also juvenile, irreverent things that smart people ought to laugh at. This old Batman comic about “Joker’s Boner Crimes,” for instance, never gets old (h/t mature Jeremy Kareken). I hope this will be the basic plot of the film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with Ben Affleck in two years.

Jesus once played cricket while walking on water (h/t Iain Murray). THIS IS WHAT ARMENIANS ACTUALLY BELIEVE (not really; stop picking on the Armenians).

•Sometimes the simple things, like the clip “Kitten Goes Berserk Over Handkerchief,” deserve more views.

•I hope I’ll see similar antics when I visit my parents and their pets Salty and Mac this weekend -- but if nothing else, when I get back next week I’ll clean, truly clean, my own apartment and then post another Seavey/Perry clip, about Maleficent.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Don Rickles, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Darkseid

Tonight we honor someone whose words are like poetry and have moved me from an early age. Yes, the legendary Don Rickles is being roasted on Spike TV tonight from 9pm-11pm by a pantheon of celebrities ranging from Jerry Seinfeld to Robert De Niro, and I plan to watch.

(In other moderately old-timey entertainment news, I strongly suspect Billy Joel listened to this Neil Diamond song at some point.  As for me, I will see Ingrid Michaelson in concert tomorrow night.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

10 Political and/or Animal Facts You Must Confront

1. I was hiking with two other free-marketeers on Memorial Day in Harriman Park when this adorable fella told us “Don’t tread on me!” -- with his rattle. He should not hang out right next to the people-trail, though. (But I will stop using snakes as a weapon; stop using snakes.)

2. Other reptiles are better integrated into the economy, like the alligator in a recent ad poster for Fernet-Branca spirits I’ve seen all over town.

3. However, I immediately recognized that the alligator’s work owed a great deal to this panther’s performance on the cover of the Roxy Music album For Your Pleasure (which features my favorite Roxy Music song of all, “Editions of You”).

4. Returning from hiking to the Upper East Side does not truly bring safety, though, since you see things like this Piketty book in storefront windows, a reminder that there are creatures more dangerous than snakes.

5. There are communities more insanely left-wing even than Manhattan, though, as shown by this Oberlin blog dedicated to chronicling endless (and ever more broadly defined) “microaggressions” there against the taboos of political correctness (h/t Dan Greenberg).

6. Other political problems are nationwide -- and may point to America growing resigned to rule by a corrupt junta, writes Kevin Williamson.

7. But this may be a positive development: longtime anti-corporate activist Ralph Nader has all but endorsed libertarian Republican likely presidential candidate Rand Paul.

8. And leftist Bill Scher’s astounding counterargument is that liberals should instead continue their century-long, unspoken alliance with corporate CEOs! Scher does have history on his side, ever since Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. I’m just surprised to see someone on the left admitting for a change that his kind hold the levers of power instead of forever pretending to be the underdog.

9. Fer chrissakes, when do all the Progressives wake up and realize they’re on the wrong side? It was your century-ago namesakes who created the sick system of intertwined big government and big business under which we now live. Abolish this centralized monster.

10. Leftists who by contrast still think all their libertarian and populist foes are just an extension of the moneyed elite will have to explain, among other things, why the banking industry doesn’t want Tea Party candidates to influence elections.

When you realize the real magnitude and political-spectrum-spanning breadth of the forces arrayed against free markets and property rights, you may change your mind about who the heroic underdogs are. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Reminders That the World Is Nuts

Make no mistake about it, I want the entire government privatized, including police, courts, and the military -- but I am probably more willing than some of my anarchist kin to acknowledge that there are evil forces out there in the world who would still have to be confronted by private soldiers if there were no government-funded ones.

So, on this Memorial Day, while I will resist waxing poetic about past and current wars, I’ll just link to this reminder that radical Muslims (to take just one example of many) can be nuts -- specifically, here, a Hamas kids’ show encouraging the murder of all Jews -- and for that matter so can TV debaters in the comparatively friendly nation of Jordan.

The world will still be bonkers with or without the U.S. government in it, and pausing to remember that will be my subtle nod to Memorial Day.

P.S. And lest I seem to be singling out one faith for criticism, note that you should be able to find me in the audience at Beauty Bar (14th between 2nd and 3rd) tonight at 8pm, where (for free) you can hear Michael Malice serve as one of the readers of wacky Bible passages (admittedly rewritten for comic effect) in David Tuchman’s irreverent recurring show. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Seavey/Perry on YouTube on X-Men!

After I waited over thirty years -- and watched it get ripped off by James Cameron for the Terminator movies -- the two-issue comic book story X-Men: Days of Future Past finally comes to life on the big screen this week, bringing me just as much joy as the best-ever version of Godzilla, the monster I loved at age four, even before reading X-Men comics.

Imagine my joy if I not only saw both movies in the same day but bumped into my lovely friend Malinda Boothe while walking to the theatre across Central Park and bumped into Kennedy and her fellow TV-making libertarians on the way back home -- plus, in between the two films, finished reading that ridiculous Supergirl comic book anthology I blogged about last time. And watched a little dog near my apartment sniff pizza scraps at evening’s end.

That would be a perfect day -- and I can only assume it was some very strategic time travel by my (heroic) future self that brought it about, presumably by preventing some other dark timeline in which bad things happen to me.

But to see me enthuse on video -- along with my co-host Gerard Perry -- check out our latest YouTube chat directed by Matt Brandenburgh.

And lest you think this X-Men film featuring peace conferences and robot armies is a bunch of childish stuff unrelated to real life, note that a U.N. conference later this year will address the problem of killer robots and the attempt to give them morals. But the important question about the future, obviously, is: what’s next for the X-Men film franchise?


You know, one radical way to bridge the odd time gap between the past-set and the near-future-set X-Men movies might be to have a balding James McAvoy as the youngish Prof. X gather a teenage Jean, Scott, and Ororo in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse (set in the 1980s), as sounds likely to be the case, but then -- since there is talk of doing one more solo Wolverine movie and then an X-Force movie -- have the post-credits teaser on X-Men: Apocalypse show Wolverine “thirty years later” remembering the horror of the time he spent as Apocalypse’s mind-controlled henchman...and then (get this!) have the X-Force movie involve their leader Cable discovering clones of his parents -- namely Scott and Jean, recreated in the 2020s by Apocalypse’s acolyte Mister Sinister (roughly in keeping with the comics), and have the Scott and Jean clones played by the same teen actors who play them in the 1980s-set 2016 film. 

Voila, consistency/fusion! (Plus the retention of the cheaper, new actors if desired by the studio, as is often the case.)

I mean, we’ll all miss McAvoy if they ever decide to keep moving forward into the future that way, instead of lingering longer in the twentieth century, but it’s enough to make the whole thing sort of hang together. Then, in subsequent films, there are still all sorts of ways they can play with X-Force, Scott, Jean, and even the unaging Wolverine if Jackman decides to return yet again. Beats having the franchise fragmented across a sixty-year time period, I think.

But I have no serious complaints about the ensemble films in this franchise. I look forward to whatever happens next, whatever era it happens in.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

BOOK NOTE: 12 Comics Thoughts

1. If you need an occasional reminder that comics aren’t just superhero stories, check out things like Palookaville #21 by sensitive cartoonist Seth (as I did on Brian Doherty’s recommendation) and see Seth recount things like his contemplative and strangely timeless-feeling walks and his childhood of constantly relocating to new dwellings (a pattern of his dad’s he swore not to repeat, though he also confesses to moving twelve times in his adulthood), plus offer another chapter of his ongoing tale of feuding has-been sibling businessmen. Good, intelligent stuff.

2. I haven’t forgotten superheroes, of course, though sometimes you’re better off forgetting some of the old, dopey stories, like the ones in the little “Blue Ribbon Digest” of Best of DC Comics Presents: Superman that Malinda Boothe kindly gave me.

Collected in 1981 -- a time when broaching liberal themes in comics, even in the most heavy-handed way, still seemed kind of edgy -- these tales pit Superman against, successively, self-doubt, anti-Kryptonian bigotry, faceless non-democratic masses on another world (plagued by demons that cause poverty and ignorance), an oil tycoon secretly masterminding an attack on the Twin Towers (in 1981, really), and, yes, dolphin-men who because they reproduce by cloning and have no females have never learned to love and thus attempt to destroy the world by melting the polar icecaps.

All this proves, I think, that we were already far gone as a culture way back in 1981.

3. The accompanying Best of Supergirl digest from that same year is remarkable mainly as evidence that twentieth-century comics didn’t just make a mockery of physics, they also routinely scoffed at logic and, most unsettlingly, basic psychology.

Watch as a teenage boy keen to learn Supergirl’s secret identity throws a dummy of himself off a cliff soaked in chemicals that will burst into flames if she looks at it with her X-ray vision!

Gasp as Supergirl’s head sorority sister grows to hate her so much she drives them off a cliff in her car but lands safely on haystacks!

Scratch your head in mystification as Supergirl, caught in her secret identity accidentally lifting a 500-lb. dumb bell, super-speedily forms a diamond drill from a charcoal briquette and tosses it such that both ends of the dumb bell are pierced and ground up, draining them of all metal, which she inhales into her lungs and then back out again in a split second with no one noticing so that she can pretend the now-light dumb bell was just papier-mache all along!

Vow to read stuff meant for grown-ups next time!

4. I guess Forever Evil #7, the final issue of the just-ended, most recent DC Comics mega-crossover miniseries, sort of counts, or at least, like most Geoff Johns comics, it has more cinematic pacing and dialogue, plus more violence, than comics did back in Supergirl’s heyday.

Whether its big final-page revelation of the conflict that has been brewing throughout the DC Universe for three years (since its big 2011 reboot) is evidence of knowing maturity on the part of the powers that be or severely arrested development is debatable.

But here is that final page, for the select few competent to judge such things.

6. As former DC Comics editor Dan Raspler taught me, every comics story needs some sort of conventional dramatic/psychological arc regardless of the superpowered and cosmic pyrotechnics, and in Forever Evil it was essentially the redemption of Lex Luthor, who you may be startled to learn is a world-saving advisor to the heroes -- especially Batman -- as of Justice League #30, also out this week.

Given how much the comics and films work in tandem these days, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Lex and Bruce are former pals in the 2016 movie, which incidentally now has its full official title: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

7. Meanwhile, the Justice League of America comic has ended, the team replaced by Justice League Canada, I kid you not, just as Canada rises above

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

BOOK NOTE: “Witness to Roswell” by Thomas J. Carey and Donald R. Schmitt

Witness to Roswell: Unmasking the Government’s Biggest Cover-up (Revised and Expanded Edition [2009]) by Thomas J. Carey and Donald R. Schmitt

Before getting to the specific contents of this book, I ask you, if I were a self-serving or intellectually dishonest man, would I risk broaching this topic sympathetically (again) after having written an article (on a different topic) for Skeptical Inquirer and accumulated three decades of solid cred as a hardcore skeptic? And yet I think there are lessons to be learned out in that desert that are humbling for skeptic and believer alike (h/t Charles Hope and Kent Bye for drawing my attention to the book).

Long story short, since this is a very complex (set of) tale(s), like many people I tended to believe paranormal and religious claims prior to my teenage years, then became such a thorough skeptic that I still don’t think there are any ghosts, gods, psychic powers, fate or mystical-predictive rituals, extraterrestrial visitors, or even any particularly weird human conspiracies to speak of. And yet...

(A) A good skeptic (despite what religious people might tell you) is not a mere naysayer with a checklist of “things that cannot be” but rather a follower of the rational and scientific method of putting evidence before faith and wishful (or fearful) thinking, always willing to test multiple theories to see which fit the facts with the fewest new suppositions -- not a partisan defender of a pet theory (that is, a crank), be it new or old.

If only to keep oneself intellectually limber, it’s worth asking what sort of evidence, especially in complex situations that aren’t clear-cut, might cause one to shift to a novel or strange new theory as the most parsimonious. One might say (loosely speaking, without getting into a technical dispute about terminology) that a dash of agnosticism rather than atheism is apt in a skeptic.

I don’t mean a specific position on theology per se (again, I don’t want to get into a terminological dispute just now) but a constant awareness of uncertainty -- and avoidance of the sort of rigid thinking that leads to brittleness and nervous breakdowns on the day the aliens land in Times Square or quantum entanglement turns out to allow communication with ghosts or what have you, should it ever arrive (and if it does, that would of course be new evidence, always welcomed by the skeptic). 

(B) There may be earthly and in some sense mundane phenomena -- geological, meteorological, psychological, and military -- that explain UFO sightings without recourse to aliens and yet are still so odd (by normal everyday standards) that it is educational to take note of them.

I mean, in a world where Gizmodo (not some paranormal magazine, mind you) reports on a valley in Norway that has long been filmed and photographed as it (apparently) generates floating, glowing plasma-orbs of some sort (possibly due to metals that make the valley a giant natural battery), it won’t do to just dismiss all UFO sightings as being the result of stupidity and insanity (though there’s no shortage of either).

The record will clearly show, by the way, that I have long suspected something like plasma orbs or ball lightning would end up explaining many of these cases, but one hates to even mention hunches around one’s fellow skeptics sometimes before the lab tests are in, so to speak.


So what other probably-non-alien but totally-freaking-bizarre phenomena might be at work in generating the whole UFO phenomenon when it’s not just windshield glare, stars on a foggy night, etc.?

•Well, in addition to the aforementioned “Hessdalen lights” (not all that much weirder than the aurora borealis, perhaps), we finally have decent footage of so-called “earthquake lights,” luminous gas clouds released from fault lines prior to quakes -- which is a far cry from aliens but which also means we shouldn’t just call people crazy the next time they say they saw something hovering prior to the Big One (as they actually may have back in the prophecy-minded Middle Ages to boot). Perhaps similar phenomena even explain some rather odd things floating around in NASA mission footage (or John Glenn’s “fireflies”).

•The UFO case I’m almost tempted to turn into a documentary -- the 1994 Zimbabwe case in which some sixty school children swore (and some still maintain today) they saw an alien ship land and a pilot emerge at recess one day -- may well be explained away by the fact that the primary interviewer of the kids, the late Harvard psychologist John Mack, was an ardent and pushy believer in UFOs and likely influenced the kids -- but that’s hardly reason to relax and think all is well, given how utterly convincing (and charming) all the kids end up sounding in their hours and hours of video interviews. It’s still unnerving.

And they’re a bit too old (and independent and varied) to sound like they’re just brainwashed or parroting. If Mack just influenced them into believing it all (and believing into adulthood), and did such a convincing job (and presumably did it unwittingly), isn’t that almost as unsettling as finding out there are aliens?

William Shatner of all people has a novel coming out about Mack, who was also key to popularizing the idea of alien abductions (for which, lest you think I’ve become credulous, I think the easiest explanation is: nightmares).

•And then there are the myriad unknown things the military might be up to, likely explaining those sightings and photos of hovering black triangular craft lately (though perhaps not the similar cases stretching back fifty years...?).

•And drones -- ever more drones.

•Not to mention aerial hoaxes of various other kinds, misperceived flares and meteors, and increasingly-sophisticated computer-animated hoax YouTube videos -- like the obvious one that Drudge and the Daily Mail linked a couple weeks ago showing a purported UFO vs. Taliban battle.

•Adding to the confusion, some now allege that the government, far from covering up aliens, may have begun deliberately sowing belief in them after WWII to frighten the Russians and/or distract the public from real military projects, as former MUFON official James Carrion (a former big-time believer in aliens) argues in his new book The Rosetta Deception and as the documentary Mirage Men alleges still went on in recent decades -- unless the ex-military man and confessed disinformation agent profiled in that documentary, Richard Doty, is still lying, of course.

In other words, I'm becoming like the Dr. House of skeptics: I think the super-flashy, exciting first explanation that springs to mind may not be true -- but neither sometimes is the completely routine, mundane second one (such as all witnesses just being crazy or bad observers, swamp gas, etc.). There are weird things in the world, just not necessarily the things your brain might most readily anticipate from folklore or sci-fi. But a pushy psychiatrist, plasma orbs, and military cover-ups are still odder things than the most dismissive type of skeptic might’ve expected, you must admit.


This month is the perfect time to write about Roswell, what with the Pope (gamely) assuring people he’d give communion to, well, the beings from Communion if they ever show up (as Abby Ohlheiser writes), kids being injured when an inflatable “bouncey castle” became airborne with surprising ease in a strong wind, and of course the revelation that we’ve all been lied to by the military for decades about Godzilla (and if they’ll lie about something that big, what won’t they lie about?!?).

Meanwhile, Jesse Walker notes Brown professor Ross Cheit -- apparently an abuse victim himself who has argued about the reliability of his memories -- mounting an odd latter-day defense of those 1980s witchhunts (based on unreliable child testimony) against purported Satanic ritual abusers. Cheit has a habit of taking things very seriously that perhaps he shouldn’t, including my friend Ken Dornstein’s book on wacky insurance fraud cases, which Cheit seemed to interpret as a heartless, dead-serious manifesto against the poor and any sort of insurance reform. We all have our issues, I suppose.

(However, Cheit can never undo the glorious day that Andrew Corsello danced in Price Is Right style down to the front of a class at Brown to retrieve his corrected class essay, right after what I’m told was a long, grim lecture from Cheit about how terrible everyone’s essays were.)

Yet despite all the mundane possible explanations and the vagueness and error in witness observations -- not to mention honest slips and unwitting post hoc constructions in people’s memories -- we do now have hundreds of intriguingly-bland and non-sensational testimonies like this one from competent-seeming military personnel, radar operators, and the like about things they very professionally refrain from theorizing about but which sound like they were mighty unusual, whatever they (reportedly) were.

(It’s almost like in mainstream science, where the boring cases that most people don’t really have time to pay attention to -- and that tend not to get talked about by the public -- may prove more worth puzzling over than the ridiculous melodramatic stuff that probably has no basis in reality.)

So it might be worth taking another look at a notorious

Monday, May 19, 2014

BOOK NOTE: “For Common Things” by Jedediah Purdy

Nature’s Purdy -- that’s what these ten thoughts should remind us about. I mean nature’s spokesman Jedediah Purdy, who was a wunderkind of twenty-five when I put this book on my to-read list in 1999. Terrifyingly, fifteen years have somehow passed now that I’ve finally gotten around to it, and we are both old.

1. There are certainly people warning about changes to the planet who are far fringier than the centrist, moderate-toned Purdy. Why, Batman artist Neal Adams, for example, is notoriously the promoter (in his spare time) of the view that the Earth is expanding (not just outer space in general but the planet all by itself) and that geologists are covering it up by fabricating aspects of plate tectonics.

Of course, he may look as prescient as Jor-El if we believe the mainstream climate-change scientists who are now warning that a melting Antarctica could actually change the shape of the Earth down to a depth of 250 miles. Then again, comics have also taught me that some scientists are mad.

2. Purdy’s most interesting argument in this book is one worth contemplating even if you don’t share his environmentalist or political leanings, namely that society has become so snarky and irreverent that it’s virtually impossible to make serious arguments or get people to commit to serious philosophical and political projects.

And this was back in the old-timey year 1999, after all -- though I’ve argued before that the machines in The Matrix may have been right to call 1999 “the peak of your civilization” and thus that that year may have been an especially optimistic one, with the tech bubble and 9/11 not yet having happened. Maybe we have both more irreverence and more serious-worrying-to-do fifteen years later. (The list of major institutions and cultural factions seemingly discredited in the interim is impressive, and it may be for the best.)

Purdy isn’t just denouncing a few online wiseacres, either (though it may be time for him to do a sequel lamenting cat memes). He laments the tone of Wired and Fast Company for encouraging “free agency” instead of solidarity. By contrast, the paperback edition is covered with praise from Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Christian Science Monitor, and others bothered by the scourge of free agency.

Purdy laments as well the evaporation of “world-changing politics” in favor of the hope that markets will encourage peace. Like at least one leftist I’ve met, Purdy manages to think at length about the “tragedy of the commons” in economics (the observation that unowned things tend to get overused, since each person is tempted to take a bit more than his neighbor and no one has a clear personal incentive to police the resource) while reaching the exactly-backwards conclusion that what we need is more commons, less individualism -- that is, remold our basic ethics to manage the perpetual tragedy instead of (God forbid) dividing the commons into individual parcels of property to preempt tragedy.

3. Purdy, who incidentally has gone on to become a Duke law professor since then and laments that the Roberts-era Supreme Court is supposedly a return to Lochner-era laissez-faire, is working with the same super-duper-earnest but simple-minded dichotomous worldview that gave us the horrendous David O. Russell film I [Heart] Huckabees (five years after For Common Things).

That is, rather than acknowledging that people might sincerely disagree with him about how to make the world a better place, he condescendingly assumes, like Russell, that he merely needs to teach them how to choose between two philosophical options: (A) an environmentalism rooted in the discovery that all things are connected and (B) jet-black-nihilist capitalism unconcerned with others or consequences. Quick, now everybody choose!

It’s become fashionable (or just well-subsidized) the past couple years to denounce libertarians in terrible venues such as AlterNet and Salon as people whose “brains will explode,” etc., if they are made aware of certain basic facts about the universe (income inequality, what have you), but I don’t think Purdy’s gray matter will fare well if he ever has to contend seriously with the free-market environmentalism movement or other ideas challenging his own (gently, earnestly stated) yeoman-farmers-vs.-coal-mining-demons dichotomy.

4. This is passive-aggressive anti-market propaganda disguised as salt-of-the-earth, sermonizing poetic longing, and Purdy puts his rural West Virginia upbringing to great rhetorical effect in the process (do not question his conclusions -- he has witnessed the blight of strip-mining, etc.). If we truly faced a dichotomous choice between Purdy and cat memes, though, you know where I’d stand.

I, for one, am being quite earnest: irreverent Internet trolling entertains millions. Visionary, world-changing politics of the sort Purdy wishes would return killed about a quarter-billion people last century. Not that that sort of thing ever gives sanctimonious little moral narcissists like Purdy second thoughts.

4. Purdy has been influenced by the environmental activist-farmer Wendell Berry as well as Ken Kesey, both hints that he’s not quite the traditional farmboy he at times sounds. By contrast, he explicitly denounces Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and post-Soviet Eastern European leaders such as Vaclav Klaus.

Such anti-market warnings were certainly a common thing to do in the 90s -- though the impulse to warn about the risk of excessive capitalism so quickly after the collapse of the Soviet Union always struck me as being almost as tacky as warning people about excesses and errors of Judaic theology in, say, November 1945.

(Similarly, in our post-communist Bizarro World, a producer

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

BOOK NOTE: “Love at Goon Park” by Deborah Blum

Ten points about the revealing book Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection by Deborah Blum (and h/t Jackie Danicki for recommending it):

1. I hope you didn’t spend Mother’s Day cut off from all affection and deposited at the bottom of a small “pit of despair” in a laboratory.

You’d think that’d go without saying, but as this book reveals (to the likely shock of most people like me who are too young to remember the 60s), the idea that maternal (or other) affection is vital to normal childhood psychological and physical development was not only unconventional but actively derided as mystical and frivolous in the early twentieth century. It took psychologist Harry Harlow -- himself a screw-up as a husband and father but an avid alcoholic -- and the terrible, loneliness-inducing experiments he did on monkeys circa 1960 to transform the consensus of psychologists on this topic.

2. The frustrating thing about this strange tale is that of course mothers already knew the truth, by instinct and common sense! See that as a vindication of conservative traditions, feminine insight, or liberal compassion as you choose, but it sure doesn’t make (“soft”) scientists look good.

3. Cold, clinical, stoic men (who in many other contexts I’d be the first to laud) were clearly a problem here and a very gendered one given the demographics of the profession of psychology back then -- yet feminists were pissed at Harlow by the time his research was popularized and (later) accepted by his manly profession, since the last thing activists at the height of the Sexual Revolution wanted was someone coming along and vindicating the indispensability of mothering and motherhood, not to mention revealing it to be instinctual.

4. Poor Harlow was also getting denounced by animal rights activists by the 1970s. His insights have probably helped prevent the abuse of many members of this planet’s dominant and most awesome species, homo sapiens, but there’s no denying his monkeys suffered -- though to his credit, he always attempted to repair them psychologically after damaging, since repair was the ultimate goal of all his research.

Given all the good that has likely come from his research, seeing him denounced by feminists and animal rights activists whose anger he did not foresee pains me in much the same way (though to a far lesser degree) as do the denunciations of the late agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug by anti-biotech activists and, more recently, some paleo diet adherents. Borlaug’s work boosting rice and grain yields (around the same time Harlow was becoming a public figure) may have saved a billion lives, but to some too young to remember mass famines he is just a person who encouraged too much carb consumption.

5. Scientists, risky as it is to say this in educated circles, are prone to bias and faddishness and herds of them can get things wrong in like fashion for surprisingly long periods of time, all the while denouncing their critics as Luddites and mystics. Take for example this study hinting that scientists are non-coincidentally prone to get numbers in their measurements that are just strong enough to warrant announcing an interesting result. Tiny amounts of unconscious bias in just the right places can make a world of difference, as psychologists should be the first to realize.

The mushier the field -- or by contrast the more complex and arcane the math -- and the more room there is for chicanery and simple honest error. But try telling people that if you don’t have a Ph.D. or are on the politically-incorrect side of some issue.

6. Love at Goon Park should not be mistaken for Kyle Smith’s highly amusing novel Love Monkey, in which I am not thanked but in which I think there’s nonetheless a joke I gave him, about childbirth being a bit like an Alien movie. Not that I’m complaining all these years later. And now is no time for Alien jokes, not the week of brilliant Alien-designing artist H.R. Giger’s unfortunate passing, strange dark little alien creature though he was himself.

7. None of the psych experiments described in Blum’s book involve a hypno-cat, but this brief video clip does. Beware.

8. Even more important in a way than affection (or monkeys) is the broader implication of Love at Goon Park that no matter how many times conventional wisdom changes radically, people keep assuming it won’t happen again and that only uneducated crazy folks are opposed to the establishment view -- no matter how manifestly-insane that establishment view will look in retrospect. Once more: beware.

9. There’s plenty of bunk that gets filed in the “mind-body medicine” category, but Harlow’s work is a reminder that minds and bodies are of course connected in some ways. Perhaps I should take more pride in having introduced the couple who founded the Cuddle Party movement, even if I never went to one myself and am not 100% comfortable even with the idea of massage.

10. More broadly, there’s much to be said for avoiding myopia by bringing to bear multiple philosophical approaches, even if you have trouble keeping the moms and the scientists, or the poets and the accountants, happy at the same time. With that in mind, I will attempt a sympathetic reading in my next blog entry of Jedediah Purdy’s rather “holistic” 1999 book For Common Things -- despite all the negative things he says about libertarians. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Seavey/Perry on Godzilla, vampires, Detroit, more

I belatedly declare May this blog’s “Month of the Nerd III” (the prior two such months having been back in 2008 and 2009).

Surely it is time, since Star Wars VII has reportedly begun filming, several geek-pleasing films are out this month, and: a new Seavey/Perry video is up, with us discussing the impending new Godzilla and how I got into comics as a lad, as well as Jim Jarmusch’s super-hip vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive (with Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, and John Hurt) and a dash of Brick Mansions.

This was a good time for that aside about the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarriers, too, since tomorrow night’s the season finale of the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, for the real diehards. And though I am harsh on Detroit in the video, I will say this for the Detroit area: it offers 6,000 extras the chance to appear in scenes from the 2016 Batman vs. Superman movie -- which makes me suspect that poor old Detroit will be playing the part of the ruins of Metropolis left over from Man of Steel.

Godzilla, like Detroit, summons thoughts of immense, potentially civilization-wrecking disasters, and it seems a few of those have been discussed in the news lately, including fears of the Yellowstone supervolcano, World War III in Ukraine (if an alliance of Obama fans and NGOs and EU banks and the like really insist on backing the Western coup government over the Eastern referenda government, etc.), the very real danger (especially from the military, if you ask me) of A.I. someday running amok, the MERS virus, and the occasional UFO (more military high-jinx?). I hope you will endure.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

5 Pop Culture Notes, 5 Political Notes (and Seavey/Perry on YouTube again)

First the pop:

1. You can find me and Gerard Perry in Matt Brandenburgh-directed YouTube videos like this new one in which we comment on Spider-Man, Islam, and of course Space Ghost.

2. April, as I note in the video, saw THE TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY of the first episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Space Ghost once complained, “Moltar and I are out here doing my damnedest to put on the best talk show possible.” And so it is with Seavey/Perry On Culture. (I guess you can call it SPOC, by the way.)

3. The inspiration for part of our video chat, about how an apparent Muslim imam’s letter to Ultimate Spider-Man (printed in issue #200) mistakenly referred to Spidey co-creator Steve Ditko as deceased, was this article. More important, perhaps -- and not mentioned at all in the video -- is the fact that Amazing Spider-Man 2 is awful, a real throwback to perfunctory 90s superhero movies (whereas the trailers for the new X-Men movie look great).

4. The biggest Marvel news of the month might come when Jack Kirby’s estate argues for partial ownership of such characters in front of the Supreme Court on May 15. My position, of course, is that a contract is a contract, no matter how rich others got from your much-appreciated contribution. Use a better lawyer next time or law and contract will just be replaced by rule-by-loudest-whining.

5. And if you felt a disturbance in the Force, as if a million nerds cried out that everything they love was just destroyed, it might have been that hardcore subset of Star Wars fans who loved the “Expanded Universe” of novels, comics, and other spin-off materials, which all just got declared non-canonical in order to give J.J. Abrams a clean slate for next year’s Star Wars: Episode VII (rumored to be called The Ancient Fear, but who knows). 

Everything from Superman to James Bond to Planet of the Apes has been to some degree rebooted for the twenty-first century by now -- and it may shock you to hear that this 80s-ophile is starting to feel at home here at last.

On to politics:

6. Just to get more stuff done, I quit a total of five anarcho-capitalist Facebook pages in which I was participating. Another participant in a few of them is off to sea as a merchant marine after years of being an unashamed Aquaman fan. Yet another will be living in NYC for a month. It seemed an apt time. However...

7. ...I was pleased to party with libertarians at the bar Play (next door to the Museum of Sex) twice recently, once to mark the final night of legal e-cigarettes use in NYC before the insane and deadly ban on “vaping” in public venues goes into effect, increasing the odds of at least some people avoiding harmless e-cigarettes and sticking with their deadly conventional cigarettes, despite the tragic and now easily avoidable toll of some 400,000 dead Americans per year.

Damn you, homicidal NYC government, near-useless patch-and-pill-peddling pharmaceutical companies, and your supposedly public-health-minded activist-organization allies, who merely want a “scalp” they can claim more easily than the tobacco companies’.

8. Even with our (now FBI-investigated) communist mayor here, though, NYC may not yet be as left-wing as San Francisco, which has reached the point where Luddite hippies launch anti-car, anti-search-engine protests against Google tech wizards, hell-bent on dragging us back to the stone age in the name of Progressivism.

At least if they destroy the Internet completely, we won’t have to see daily evidence of how rapidly-proliferating subcultures are coming up with innovative new ways of being offended, as the rest of us cruelly fail to pay sufficient honor to their status as transsexuals 3.0, animal-identifying “otherkin,” or whatever comes next.

God forbid we should focus on more important things, like whether Obama and the EU will cause World War III by sparring with Russia over an ambiguous Ukraine.

9. Libertarians have their own endless internal squabbles, too, of course. Apparently BleedingHeartLibertarians blogger Jason Brennan praised left-liberal Paul Krugman over libertarian economist Murray Rothbard and then deleted his post in cowardly fashion (h/t Stephan Kinsella). Brennan also reportedly once said people should read his resume to confirm that “Rothbard isn’t even on my level.”

This sort of narcissistic, presumptuous, make-up-our-own-reality display ought to be the end of the liberal-tarian Bleeding Heart project once and for all, but in the meantime I’ll settle for enjoying this essay (h/t Jesse Forgione) by John McCaskey, who, incredibly, taught at Brown for a couple semesters yet has here written a great critique and overview of classical liberalism’s rise into libertarianism and tragic descent into liberal-tarianism.

McCaskey sounds more Objectivist (and thus anti-altruism) than I might like, but it’s nice to see someone taking the liberal-tarian academics just seriously enough to see them as a threat to liberty.

10. If you want to know what I really think about all that, for now you will have to ask me in person, by catching me in the audience in a few hours at a Deroy Murdock speech about the Democrats’ and the left’s long history of oppressing blacks (and Republicans’ unsung history of fighting back).

It’s from 6-7pm today (May 8), in Room 808 at NYU’s Kimmel Student Center at Washington Square Park South (West 4th Street) and LaGuardia Place.

And, crucially, there will be free pizza and soda.