1. I only blogged one day in February – and will stick to just doing weekly book reviews here for the next four months – so to compensate and smooth the transition, let’s start March with thirty-one brief thoughts (read one per day if you like, to make it last longer!) – with half of the thoughts below inspired by my friend Michael Malice, author of Dear Reader (those thoughts indicated with a parenthetical “M!” because, well, it would just be weird to leave you wondering which ones).
2. First, I declare March a “MONTH OF DECADENCE” on this blog, during which I’m blogging about books on political excess in North Korea, in the Obama administration, and in Washington, DC in general.
3. This should set the tone nicely for the four months of book reviews, which, I’m warning you now, will all relate, directly or indirectly, to libertarianism.
4. Indeed, those will be my only blog entries until overhauling this site and my general online presence for grander purposes, in a few months.
5. If you happen to be a libertarian moneybags who thinks the four months of book-blogging sounds like a cause worthy of subsidy, by all means contact me. I do not pretend to have set up an “institute” for this or anything, but the rent must be paid nonetheless, and the ghostwriting only goes so far.
6. This emphasis on books is partly meant as an antidote to the last few years of social media seemingly leading to ever-shorter attention spans and ever-shorter tempers. I will aim for more contemplation and less arguing.
7. Since tribalism leads to shorter fuses, the less-frequent blogging will also continue my trend toward de-emphasizing the right/left divide.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not buying into the glib and recurring claim that all such philosophical labels are meaningless – and the distinction will inevitably still crop up for a long time to come – but if one opposes, say, the welfare state, imperialism, taxation, rape, cop militarization, violent street gangs, affirmative action, terrorists, anti-prostitution laws, domestic spying, the drug war, bank and corporate bailouts, and alternative energy subsidies, maybe sorting those items into two separate columns before denouncing all of them is an exercise that does more to prolong intra-statist conflict than to promote anti-statism.
You can still sort them if you like. I don’t think it’s very productive, and it took me years to realize how strongly people prefer the sorting to the (more important) opposing.
8. Permit me, for old time’s sake, though, to take some last-minute pleasure in seeing that at the most recent Intelligence Squared U.S. debate here in NYC, about whether liberalism stifles speech on campus, the conservative (so to speak) view won one of the most decisive victories I’ve ever seen reported from one of those debates, with the crowd swinging from only 1/3 before the debate believing liberalism stifles to 2/3 believing it after the debate.
Impressive – and as it happens, Jerry Mayer, who was a Republican back when we were at Brown but is left-leaning now that he’s a political science professor at George Mason, was on the losing side, while my fellow libertarian Greg Lukianoff from the group FIRE was on the winning team.
9. The two preceding comments were an admission, always dangerous in a political context, that my thinking has changed a bit over time – which reminds me of a far more trivial, practical complaint I have left over from the past few years immersed in social media.
Almost as annoying as sites (often for restaurants or big concerts) that don’t get you quickly and easily on the front page to the very-basic “Where is it? When?” info (and in the case of NYC events, “What’s the damn cross street?!”) are online articles with no dates on them – and group blogs written in the first person that don’t indicate who the hell is writing the entries. We want information, Internet.
10. The book I mentioned at the outset, Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il, is not only a masterful depiction of what the strange, authoritarian North Korean regime probably looks like to its leaders, it is an impressively unsettling blend of funny and dark. The basic formula behind the book’s creation, and something you won’t quite get from any other book in existence, was a trip by author Malice to North Korea and a trip back home to the U.S. with arms full of their propaganda.
What happens when you use (often ludicrous and overblown) propaganda deadpan, as if it’s all completely accurate, to build the first-person story of leader Kim’s life (the one in between the founding grandfather and the current ruling grandson, for those who can’t keep track)? Will the result make you more sympathetic to the regime than ever? More horrified by it? A little of both?
You’ll have to read it and see, then perhaps have students buy a hundred copies for the college class on political rhetoric that you teach, if you do. I suspect Kim’s longing to see a rainbow in one scene also owes a little something to that Mr. Burns biography from an early episode of The Simpsons, but that can be covered in a different class.
Malice says one thing that made him keen to visit North Korea was his own birth in Soviet-era Ukraine and his parents’ memories of living under Communist totalitarianism. Such things are not mere history in North Korea, though it is a thing unto itself. (M!)
11. One nice thing about dealing with Eastern European immigrants in the U.S. is that they haven’t forgotten socialism kills, the way many in the West are rapidly forgetting whatever little they learned back in 1989 on that topic.
Here in New York, the state that’s ranked dead last for freedom due to taxes and regulations, you’re surrounded by leftists all the time, so you almost start to believe you’re the only person who remembers that communism killed 100 million people last century. After all, here the Mayor’s a “social democrat” with old Sandinista ties, and 70% of New York voters still voted for him.
Ah, but then you talk to an Eastern European – especially one who notices the rhetoric coming out of the mouths of socialist college professors (and socialistic U.S. presidents) is very similar to what they heard back in the old country – and you realize that not all has yet been forgotten, and not all hope yet dimmed. Thank goodness for immigrants. (M!)
12. Malice also taught me that early language orientation overseas may mean you have one more shade of “blue” in your bedsheets than native English speakers notice. This neurolinguistic topic is hot lately, of course, and the most drastic observation born of the recent talk is probably the revelation that the ancients had no “blue” at all! (M!)
13. On the other hand, I suspect there are limits to Ukrainian wisdom, not only because of that whole civil war thing going on over there but because a Ukrainian did this on a bridge. (M!)
14. As a former software expert, Malice was admirably cautious while others were leaping to conclusions last year about whether it was actually North Korea that was responsible for that Sony hack purportedly inspired by the Rogen/Franco spy comedy The Interview. Stay skeptical. (M!)
15. If you’re really wary of governments manipulating the Net, though, please stay skeptical about “Net neutrality” while you’re at it. Once government starts setting prices, it’s in charge. (M!)
16. Verizon’s parodic Morse code reaction to the old-fashioned Net neutrality regs was a nice, Uber-like example of companies’ willingness – which is by necessity growing in some quarters – to admit they‘re at odds with government. This nation could use a lot more open defiance.
17. Speaking of wacky spy caper movies, the trailer for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. sure resembles the one for Rian Johnson’s Brothers Bloom, if you ask me. Nothing wrong with that.
18. The cold-blooded, predictable stasis of the Cold War seems almost gentlemanly at times compared to likely-Islamist attackers killing an American “skeptic” blogger with machetes in Bangladesh (h/t Michael De Dora). What a clear confession they are not on the side of reason.
19. That doesn’t mean our every intervention abroad in the name of stopping such people will be beneficial, though, and it’s nice that Sen. Rand Paul got an enthusiastic response at this year’s CPAC in part by reminding the crowd that a government chronically inept in its domestic activities will likely be inept in its foreign adventures as well.
20. There will be those antiwar types who, by contrast, feel no sympathy for Netanyahu as he makes his address to Congress Tuesday morning, but surely even the most ardent anti-interventionist will at least agree (as I trust Rand Paul does) that intervening against Israel, as Obama reportedly threatened to do (if there is any basis at all to that story), would be even more insane than attacking Iran.
Libertarians can recognize Israel’s right to self-defense and, say, still defend Muslims from harassment by Tea Party-ish anti-Muslims if need be, as apparently libertarians did in Texas (h/t Meredith Kapushion and Gary Chartier). There’s no contradiction there.
21. Speaking of war zones, to me the most amusing thing to come out of David Corn and others picking apart Bill O’Reilly’s exaggerations about his travels (even if some of the criticisms might be hairsplitting) were reports that witnesses placed O’Reilly in Dallas at a time when he claimed to be across the country visiting a suicidal associate of Lee Harvey Oswald. That phrasing almost makes it sound as if O’Reilly had something to do with the JFK assassination besides writing a book about it! Trust no one.
22. Back in North Korea, they would probably say it’s time for O’Reilly to engage in remorseful self-criticism at a weekly mandatory struggle session – and we almost have those here now anyway, except they usually consist of children apologizing to classmates for being privileged, or to the Earth for letting their parents drive cars. (M!)
23. The law doesn’t quite mandate such behavior yet – but neither was (fascistic) former mayor Giuliani wrong in saying (socialistic) Obama grew up influenced by communists, and like (ex-Sandinista) Mayor de Blasio, Obama still got elected, so who knows what the future will bring? (M!)
24. Oh, how far we’ve come since the days of Hamilton, who is often lauded by Malice (to the consternation of many libertarians who view Hamilton as the big-government guy amidst America’s Founders). Hamilton is the subject of a fantastic rap musical soon to move from Off-Broadway to Broadway. There really were laughs, tears, catchy numbers, and real historical lessons learned. (M!)
25. Malice’s musical tastes usually lean, like mine, more toward the New Wave and indie, though – leading to things like his near-obsession years ago with the obscure “cowpunk” band Rubber Rodeo.
But his is a diverse mental world, and to find out what’s on his mind lately, seek him out in venues like the Fox Business Network show Kennedy or on the site ThoughtCatalog, for which he wrote this piece denouncing the social awkwardness of Lyft. Remember, just because it’s created by the admirable free market doesn’t mean it’s not embarrassing. This simple rule applies to most things in America, actually. (M!)
26. Often playing the mischievous badboy, Malice sometimes sounds as if he’d be delighted if his enemies killed themselves, but it’s probably more scary that the people who actually encourage others to commit suicide send warm glowy tweets like these. Now that’s sociopathic! (M!)
27. And if you’re a conservative and conclude that what Malice needs is religion, note this article he pointed out about a prominent leftist coming out as Christian, namely Wonkette founder Ana Marie Cox – an alarming reminder that religion is pretty useless as a predictor of political ideology, and thus perhaps useless in general. (M!)
28. Despite North Korea having its own brand of politicized quasi-religion, with all sorts of supernatural powers ascribed to the ruling Kims, Malice often reminds people that that country is no mere zany joke. The populace is routinely starved, terrorized, and imprisoned, while we bicker over political trivialities in other parts of the world or laugh at North Korean leaders’ haircuts. (M!)
29. And after all, there are other cultures in East Asia to look to for comedy purposes (h/t Charles Hope). (M!)
30. In other authoritarian news, from the land of Malice’s birth, Putin is oddly loved by some – leading, I notice, to some of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ fans being convinced it must have been the U.S. (and/or the Jews) who killed opposition politician Nemtsov, leaving his Ukrainian girlfriend behind.
As with the 9/11 “truthers,” I’m not sure how one combats the odd mental tick that leads people to think that any time someone appears to be killed by his enemies, it must instead have been his allies who did it. Stranger things happen, certainly, but how does it become people’s circuitous, counter-intuitive default assumption, even in the absence of any evidence?
What would the reasoning process look like if these people wrote mystery novels? “Eliminate the thoroughly possible for no reason at all, my good Watson, and the wildly unexpected is then your best bet.” I don’t think that’s quite what Holmes said. (M!)
31. Obama, and perhaps Putin, cannot even retain the love of this twelve year-old black child, nor can the child retain his access to Facebook after the site’s overlords inexplicably locked him out of his account following his (mild) anti-Obama, pro-Giuliani comments.
And I’m not just going back to Democrat-bashing when I say Obama really can be bad in corporate and socialist, imperialist and Islamist-sympathizing ways all at the same time. Every president, Republicans included, has to be a bit of a hodgepodge, after all, with consistent principles mostly getting in their way (at least senators and representatives have a smaller, more homogeneous district to please and thus might almost attain consistency).
And speaking of Hodge and Obama, next time let’s take a look at the former’s book about the latter, which indeed criticizes Obama’s corporate tendencies from the left. (Things will be a bit more focused and essay-like from here on out, I promise.)