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.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Seavey Onstage (plus Plato rap, taxidermy, and other events)

The courageous Hong Kong protests have already been criticized by writers at the Guardian and Jacobin, giving you some idea how far the Western left is willing to go to defend communism, or at least throw some cold water on its critics. But then, the roots of both Western and Eastern communism can be traced back to bad philosophical ideas as old and influential as those of Plato, who saw a top-down, rigidly ordered society as the ideal. Our corruption is deep.

Plato is being put to odd use elsewhere, too, I’m told: Blondie’s Chris Stein used at least one Barnes and Noble appearance about his new photo book, Negative, as an occasion to play the crowd a song combining rap and a recording of John Malkovich reciting Plato’s allegory of the Cave. Troubling.

Luckily, if the Ebola doesn’t get you, you have other imminent entertainment options:

(1) I don’t know if or when I will organize more onstage events of my own, but please consider as a long-awaited substitute seeing me on one of the political yet humorous Electoral Dysfunction discussion panels, such as the one taking place this Saturday (Oct. 4) at 7pm at 123 E. 24th St. at People’s Improv. We will likely discuss Ebola and other events of the week such as that White House fence-jumper and the UK entering the fight against ISIS.

(2) That event’s the day prior to the Sunday, Oct. 5 “rogue taxidermy” festival at Bell House in Brooklyn, for those keeping track. (Or if you can’t make that, perhaps you’ll enjoy watching this oddly bold squirrel pitting two cats against each other. Clumsy, clueless nut-eater, or brilliant strategist?)

(3) Saturday a week from now, Oct. 11, anarcho-capitalist law prof Stephan Kinsella and other libertarians are in town to speak at LibertyFest (11am-6:30pm at Warsaw concert hall in Brooklyn, 261 Driggs Ave., $25).

(4) Of course, that Saturday is also the middle of New York Comic Con, so you can be forgiven for being uncertain which event to attend.

(5) All of these options, though, are probably better than being at the marriage-to-herself ceremony Julia Allison performed at Burning Man in August, going on (as is so often the case) to write an ostensibly impartial article about the whole festival for the New York Times just recently, almost certainly with the aid of a ghostwriter and without mentioning her self-marriage ceremony at all.

I am reminded of the time I met a Times reporter who covered antiwar rallies and was also an organizer of antiwar rallies, though Burning Man is hardly the Iraq War. And there are worse reasons to travel to the desert than seeing a woman marry herself -- beheading women, for instance. Here’s that surprisingly straightforward, frank Vice interview with a young Canadian who traveled to join ISIS and who says we’ll all soon suffer for it (h/t Franc M Pohole).

Here’s hoping our taxidermy, self-marriages, comic conventions, and onstage political comedy all endure.