Monday, May 25, 2015

7 Habits of the “Too Big to Fail” (and a Lloyd Cole invite)


It’s good to commemorate the past, as people are doing today, but the future matters as well. Time and again, people assume big, old institutions, ostensibly “too big to fail,” will always be around, until they suddenly aren’t. If you want to avoid being startled by history, don’t do these seven things disastrous things:

1. Don’t assume current media-consumption patterns can’t change.

There are more than three TV networks these days. Thus, I was part of a three-week experiment in recording political discussion panels called The Run at BENnetwork.com, and I have no idea what the fully-realized site will look like, but at least at 1 minute into this promo clip, you get to hear a couple seconds of me explaining how humble the ambitions of anti-federal-government activists really are these days.

Now that Letterman’s gone, someone should probably hire me to be the stiff-yet-funny voice of America, like a Conan O’Brien but with politics. Or at least join me and other political nerds in seeing Rand Paul tomorrow (Tuesday, May 26, doors 7pm) at the Strand (third floor, rare books room, admission with purchase of his book Taking a Stand).

2. Don’t assume that familiar financial institutions will -- or should -- always be there.

If Rand Paul succeeds in his heroic almost-one-man effort to alter the PATRIOT ACT and stop the NSA from listening in on everyone, we will still have to explain how Andrew Ross Sorkin was able to transcribe so many verbatim comments from financial bigwigs during the initial financial crisis.

Maybe we should just grant him some poetic license, but in any case he presents what is purportedly a detailed, surprisingly intimate, and accurate picture of what the major players were doing, saying, sweating, and thinking during the 2008 meltdown on Wall Street in his hefty tome (some might call it “too big to read” -- ha ha!) Too Big to Fail, written just a couple years later (h/t Malinda Boothe).

The main lesson I draw is that what was regarded as the most apocalyptic outcome by the financial bigwigs -- and by politicians of both parties, and by most pundits and activists -- is the outcome that should have been allowed to happen, namely all of these giant, entitled, government-subsidized, bailed-out, cozy, crony, Federal-Reserve-watching, legalese-enshrouded, and, yes, regulated institutions being allowed to crash and die so that better ones might flourish.

That option would have meant intense short-term pain, and the other option was the protracted pain you’re still feeling seven years later and will probably feel more intensely in the near future thanks to the same rich imbeciles. Welcome to Plan B. On a related note...

3. Don’t just applaud “success” regardless of how that success came about.

Winning isn’t everything, no, not even in meritocratic America, and winning in the wrong way can create a bad precedent for future action. Honor soldiers but don’t excuse war crimes. Applaud CIA cleverness but don’t endorse their torture and terror tactics, not to mention their stealthy subversion of the democracy that pays their bills. You have to wonder what the elites are up to when we aren’t looking.

Admit it, even if you’re a gay leftist, wouldn't you have been a little creeped out back when Robert Gates was CIA director for Bush the Elder if I told you that someday he’d not only be Secretary of Defense for both Bush the Younger and Obama but would then go on to run the Boy Scouts and make nearly his first move the allowing, at long last, of gay Scoutmasters? Admit it, you would. (I say this as a Bowie-idolizing atheist who lives in NYC, you understand.)

And you’d fear Hillary Clinton’s Libya and lucrative foundation-donation shenanigans if she were a Republican, too. Well, at least if she makes it to the White House, I can probably look forward to her being under perpetual indictment while she’s ruling us. (Better to ditch the entire military/intelligence/police complex and do the inexpensive and more limited job of self-defense yourself, though, I suspect.)

4. Don’t assume the project they gave you is the one that matters in the long run.

It appears my friend Joann’s brother, Joseph Kahn, is a director who wants to do big sci-fi or superhero movies at some point (and nearly directed a movie version of Neuromancer, a cyberpunk project which seems somehow apt for a high-tech Texan nerd descended from Korean immigrants). He has already given the world a popular unauthorized Power Rangers short and an indie time-travel comedy.

But just because “the man” says Kahn’s real job is directing cool rock videos like the one for U2’s “Elevation” or odd, heavily studio-managed projects like the motorcycle adventure Torque doesn’t mean he can’t sneak in (awesome) comics/sci-fi material in surprising places, possibly laying groundwork for the future. Thus that striking new Taylor Swift video he directed.

The more years I spend in NYC, the more convinced I am that the future is often built by people who, say, find a way to convince the higher-ups that an elaborate puppet musical was just what they always wanted for their new ad campaign (because it is the thing the underling has been dying to pour his heart into since childhood, and it’s finally actually going to work out this time).

5. Never assume any current trend will continue, be it crime, sex, culture, temperatures, or anything else.

Speaking of rock videos, I have a zillion opinions about 80s rock videos and several about 00s rock videos, as you know, but now that I’m unyoung, my main reaction to 90s rock videos is that they were the most disturbing ones, and I’m not sure why. I mean, it can’t simply be that things always keep getting grosser and more perverse because, I’m telling you, things look tamer now than they did twenty years ago in that area.

Here’s “Push It” by Garbage, which I never saw back in the day but is fairly typical. But there was a lot of similarly twisted stuff from Bowie, Nirvana, and almost everyone else then. Every video would be a Satanic mass-child-sacrifice by now if aesthetics really just kept moving in one direction (not that I’m knocking Garbage, and I wouldn’t want to piss off the lead singer, who is of course a liquid-metal Terminator to boot).

6. Don’t forget about death.

B.B. King, R.I.P.

7. Don’t forget that time flies.

Approximately yesterday, I started setting the VCR to tape Letterman’s new show, Late Night, on NBC so I could watch it in the morning before discussing it with smart nerdy humorous friends at school who are doing the same thing. And then suddenly it’s fucking 2015. What the hell happened?

I remember complaining that it was getting a bit stale around the time of the “Late Night ’87” jokes, and I was worried, seemingly moments ago, that the CBS transition made him a bit more “Vegas” and arrogant, but then somehow three decades had gone by while I was still adjusting to it all and now he’s retired. Blink of an eye, man. Treasure things while you’ve got them and don’t let people shame you for the indulgence.

And if you missed the final minutes of his finale because the show ran long, here’s the amazing closing montage to the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” (h/t Jeffrey Wendt).

Since time flies, I have also of course neglected to find a companion to see Lloyd Cole in concert this Saturday (May 30, 7pm) at Brooklyn’s Bell House. So let me know if you want to be my guest. It could be your last chance to see a human perform rock before the cyborgs get all the gigs. Seriously. Assume nothing. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

“The Problem of Political Authority”: a dozen anarchist thoughts (Huemer me)


1. Camilo Gomez informs me there’s a dinky Democratic Freedom Caucus within the Democratic Party (including one member of the St. Louis County Council). That’s odd enough, but the weirdest part may be that (according to Wikipedia) the group is partly Georgist, not just libertarian, aiming to move toward taxing only land.

That’s not a totally crazy idea, since industrious latecomers have almost no way of producing new land, and retention of land across generations has been the root of much of the inequity in history, but the idea has been marginal since its heyday in the mid-nineteenth century.

2. Jacob Levy doesn’t frame himself as an anarchist, but, as I blogged earlier, I think he made a valuable contribution to debates about anarcho-capitalism in his book Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom by observing that (despite some self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalists still managing to favor immigration restrictions), an-caps should be the last people to accept such restrictions -- not merely because they are usually (though not always) enforced by government but because, even in a world without government, it would be frightening if (nearly) an-cap communities couldn’t be escaped if you hated the one you were in and the neighbors didn’t like you.

The old dorm-room-philosophy nightmare scenario of someone buying all the land around you and then just letting you starve, not something that I think a libertarian normally need worry is terribly likely, takes at least a small leap closer to reality if you have no option for egress.

And the Georgists may give us other reasons not to be quite as hardcore about land as we might be about all other physical objects. I’m happy to err on the an-cap side until a nightmare scenario arises and then just refuse to prosecute people for trespassing, though (long story short, sorry).

(Of course, the border-protecting variety of an-cap -- many of them fans of Ron Paul -- might argue that societies are more obliged to let people emigrate than to immigrate, but I take the open-borders position anyway, largely just because I don’t like any precedent for giving government more power as a reward for its prior failings. If you’re a state, you don’t get border-enforcement powers as a reward for having welfare powers, and so on, just as you don’t get the right to wage a drug war or regulate people’s diets just because you were stupid enough to federally subsidize healthcare for addicts, etc.)

3. If all that sounds insane, you really ought to read Michael Huemer’s anarcho-capitalist philosophy book The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey (the first chapter of which can be read here). I may not agree with him on every detail, but anarcho-capitalist books are so rare, it’s a minor miracle by my standards to see a new tome on the topic enter the canon (and it seems to be popular, by political-philosophy standards!).

He cuts through all the messy, ornate current policy debates and gets back to the basic question, for starters, of how you react to someone showing up at your door and giving you orders.

4. As if my allies aren’t few enough, I incorrectly called Bryan Caplan, a fellow open-borders anarcho-capitalist, an economic Austrian once, when he objected to my condemnation of smoking (back when I worked at ACSH, the science group that recently sparred with the quacky Dr. Oz). He explains why he isn’t one at length here.

5. I know at least one Ayn Rand-style egoist who dismisses Huemer for not being an egoist, so it’s hard to keep everyone from fighting even within the tiny an-cap faction.

6. Venture beyond the anarcho-capitalist circle into the broader libertarian movement, though, and everything starts going to hell pretty quickly, especially these days, when you get mushiness like the BleedingHeartLibertarians site sticking up for hip young singer Dorian Electra despite her appearing to have become a socialist or something.

Heaven forbid I should criticize her intellectual explorations. Not like government’s expanding while people yack about philosophy and pooh-pooh property rights or anything.

7. But musically, the Feelies are more my speed -- so let me know if you wanna be my guest at this Saturday’s Brooklyn performance by the band.

8. It’s not all about philosophy, and I have also recently enjoyed two mystery-story-filled issues of Thuglit, which I discovered simply because I wandered into Shade Bar to say hello to my favorite goth bartender, but it was a Sunday night, when the mystery story readings occur.

9. For even greater violence and “anarchy” in the most negative (and perhaps na├»ve) sense, my money’s on this Friday’s Mad Max: Fury Road, though. Amidst superhero- and wookiee-filled hoopla, I humbly predict it will be the best movie of the year.

10. For real-world violence and fear, it’s not anarchism you look to these days but government, and you’ll find plenty of it on May 24 if you join Gloria Steinem, who will lead a women’s march across the DMZ from North Korea. I assume there will be no North Korean women with the option of staying in the South. (But read more on the North’s vision of itself in Michael Malice’s Dear Reader.)

11. You can find out whether our own country takes a step back from statism on June 1, when Congress is due to renew the PATRIOT ACT despite part of it being found unconstitutional by a federal court.

12. And remember, these are the sorts of things you can hear me talk about this Thursday between 6 and 8pm Eastern at this RadioFreeBrooklyn link (by clicking Listen Live) on Jim Melloan’s Truth & Freedom show.

(It’ll be more relaxed and Todd-focused than my daily BENnetwork.com appearances on The Run, but watch those, too.)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

10 Items for Mother’s Day (and Todd’s Broadcasts)


1. If you want to be a good mom like mine, you don’t necessarily want to follow the example of Hillary Clinton, who has reportedly lied about things like Chelsea being in danger during 9/11 in order to boost political sympathy for both of them. (Can you say “sociopath,” America?)

2. A better model might be the imminent children’s book Azalea, Unschooled written by Liza Kleinman, who I knew a couple decades ago, when we were both doing things like writing material for the Kaplan test prep company.

You see, like maternal instincts, that sort of gig can lead to sympathy for homeschooling and unschooling -- yes, even among people who aren’t kooky libertarians like me or devout religious believers like some of my cousins.

Monopoly systems get lazy -- or fail to meet certain special or tailored needs -- and having additional options is good for everyone, as some left-liberals are beginning to agree as well.

3. There isn’t even a monopoly on the name Azalea, by the way, so don’t assume the child in the Kleinman book is either the American rapper by that name or the Australian rapper by that name with whom the American rapper has been feuding.

4. For novels of a more overtly political and libertarian bent, remember, you can always check out offerings at LibertyIslandMag.com.

5. If you like your pictures without words, there’s a book signing at ICP (1114 6th Ave. at 43rd) at 6pm this Tuesday (May 12) for the photography book Outer Boroughs: New York Beyond Manhattan, by William Meyers, parent (though not mom) of another friend of mine.

6. I’m so forgiving and pro-science that I’ll plug the Ayn Rand Institute’s event the next day (Wed., May 13, 7:30 at the CUNY Grad Center) defending genetically-modified foods even though a former ARI head just wrote a boneheaded piece calling libertarians (non-Randian libertarians, that is) enemies of liberty.

My promotion of the ARI event will help compensate for (A) my failure to attend last week’s Empiricist League talks on GMOs and other foods, (B) my failure to attend this event itself, since I’ll be outta town Wednesday, and (C) my science-loving utter failure to prevent A.I. running amok like errant children, as in the films Avengers: Age of Ultron and the far more nuanced Ex Machina, which has this cool song over its end credits.

7. And the day after ARI, speaking of science and liberty, remember to listen to me (for something like two whole riveting hours, I think) on Jim Melloan’s new Truth & Freedom radio show, right at that link from 6-8pm on Thursday, May 14.

8. Continue to catch me every day at your leisure as one of the panelists on The Run at BENnetwork.com.

9. Or you can read Koli Mitra (despite her sharing a bit of my sick fascination with conspiracy theories) on such serious topics as language, sex, microfinance, fashion, and democracy -- and then maybe hire her if you’re looking for a cosmopolitan writer/sometime-lawyer.

10. With the S.H.I.E.L.D. season finale coming up Tuesday, I’m sure many of you are thinking about the creation of Marvel’s superpowered Inhumans characters by space aliens. Fewer of you were probably dumb enough to spend last Tuesday, Cinco de Mayo, drinking tequila and watching the fairly disappointing Mexico City press conference that was supposed to unveil unprecedentedly convincing Roswell alien photos (meh, could be mummified human fetuses again).

Of course, given the bizarre level of interest governments have shown in this topic over the decades -- and the genuine weirdness of even some of the best-documented sightings (albeit usually relatively simple ones involving oddly-moving shapes in the sky) -- I’m still not ruling out the possibility that we live on a planet with both highly gullible people making preposterous claims and visiting space aliens. (I may even still be writing about it for a familiar magazine, but I’ll have to get back to you on that one.)

P.S. While I am wary of telling people how to handle their parental authority (and have no intention of ever trying it myself), I will blog next time about The Problem of Political Authority, a topic on which I feel I can get a more rational handle.

Then again, punk-influenced music (even the relatively mellow kind) can make the anti-authoritarian point quite effectively too, so let me know if you want to be my +1 at a Feelies concert in Brooklyn this coming Saturday. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

12 Links for Tomasi, 12 for Ultron


May will be a “Month of Economics” on this blog, and, after all, despite the temptation to respond in kind when one encounters a real-life left-liberal resembling the one in the meme picture nearby, it is good to educate about the basic laws governing our world rather than just argue.

To that end:

•I’ve begun writing a small Libertarianism for Beginners book for the official For Beginners people (more on that in the second half of the year!).

•You can now catch me daily on the online-TV political panel show The Run on BENnetwork.com (and more specifically, at that link).

•And I’ll be the inaugural guest on Jim Melloan’s The Truth & Freedom Show at RadioFreeBrooklyn.com -- just click on the big red Listen Live button on Thur., May 14 from 6-8pm.

But today is May Day, and to show my newfound sense of balance and objectivity, let me begin by confessing that communists aren’t the only stupid people on the planet. Yes, I see that an Objectivist former head of the Ayn Rand Institute, Peter Schwartz, has written an article declaring libertarians the real threat to liberty (they’re not all hawks, and they’re not all Objectivists, QED, thinks the oaf).

Libertarians like the Objectivists (whether or not they like to be called libertarians) almost deserve the constant torrent of attacks we all now get from the anti-libertarians at places like Salon and Demos, who seem to have spun a hundred articles out of a brief, inaccurate description of libertarianism they read on a discarded 3x5 card in college.

So often both sides in an argument are, if not equally wrong, at least both flawed enough to keep them denouncing each other for eternity, whether it’s the analytic-Continental schism in academia or cops and violent mobs like this one (which barely get reported and result in few arrests, keeping crime stats deceptively low). Let us strive anew to rise above (albeit not so far above that we become like the 145 shameful intellectuals who can barely tell the difference between the Charlie Hebdo staff and the murderers who attacked them).

TOMASI:

1. It may be best to skip all culture wars, since culture is messy and sometimes subjective, and stick to the objective things, like science and econ. Philosopher John Tomasi’s hope in his book Free Market Fairness was, very roughly speaking, an effort to rise above the battle between (individualist, free-market) classical liberals and (more statist, fairness-seeking) modern- or left-liberals by suggesting that there are enough benefits to individual development to be found in the marketplace that we perhaps ought to consider property rights, at the very least, part of the mix of protections that an individual in a democratic, liberal society ought to have in order to flourish and shape her own identity.

It’s not just a cold-blooded profit-maximizing calculus but a matter of self-expression like the freedom of speech.

2. Of course, in the gritty, grotesque real world of partly-liberal, partly-corporate, mixed-economy politics, you get things that look like Hillary Clinton (so anti-individualistic and corporatist that she’s gone to the trouble of explicitly telling the world she’s a “Progressive,” not a “liberal”).

3. That’s what makes me think that Tomasi, for practical reasons, ought to be more staunch in his defense of fundamental, strong, anarcho-capitalist-style property rights. Sure, when I read Vol. 26 No.s 3-4 of the journal Critical Review, made up of criticisms of Tomasi from Marxists, social democrats, and others, I’m tempted to spring to his defense and say he’s fighting the good fight -- but might he instead be surrendering the good fight by insisting on conducting that fight on the turf of the social democrats et al?

Most sane people long to be seen as reasonable, moderate peacemakers instead of extremists, but I am haunted still by Tomasi’s description of political philosophy occurring on two banks of a broad river: On one side, the classical liberals, the modern liberals, social democrats, and numerous other more or less mainstream thinkers, all in conversation with each other. On the other side, nearly alone, anarcho-capitalists, who think it is wrong to construct a state of any kind and view the opposite bank as engaged in endless haggling over what form oppression should take.

Tomasi’s book can be seen largely as a description of how lonely the anarcho-capitalist bank is. All I can say is, the other bank, including its classical liberals and minarchist libertarians, is, plainly, the statist bank, and why exactly would we want to encourage humanity to live on that violent, endlessly combative shore? I can think of no better reason to discard minarchism and classical liberals (or rather, politely go beyond them) than to imagine seeing the horror of that statist riverbank from the peace of the opposite shore.

Come on, swim on over here where people are free.

4. I fear, of course, that the overall “liberal-tarian” (broadly defined) plan for victory is preemptive surrender, of course -- constant fretting that we may be too free-market, even as Canada begins outstripping us in that department.

5. One liberal-tarian told me privately that he believes teaching humanity econ is a lost cause and that we must therefore ingratiate ourselves with believers in “social justice.” That certainly appears to be the “join ’em” strategy the liberal-tarians are following. Maybe the impulse to appease will save them -- and will save people like David Simon, now an open Marxist and creator of The Wire, from the wrath of the violent mobs in Baltimore.

6. But neither markets nor politics should be a mere popularity contest. Show some backbone and at least begin by describing what is best, not what you think the other side wants to hear.

7. So-called cultural Marxism (or p.c.), lately the favorite tool of the social justice advocates, is not a friend to liberty any more than the economic kind of Marxism is. It’s just a backdoor route to totalitarianism, and you know it. That‘s exactly why many of its increasingly angry advocates like it.

8. Hitler, of all people, said youth must be infused with a spirit of social justice, the longing to rectify historical injustices (mainly the rise in influence of the Jews, to Hilter’s way of thinking). This is not the way people wanting simple, everyday civility frame culture.

9. Encourage a passion to rectify even dubious or unproven wrongs and you end up with people wanting to believe things like the UVA, Lena Dunham, and Columbia rape hoaxes (yes, the Columbia mattress-carrying case has also fallen apart, in case you didn’t hear). There’s a cultural-trendy reason these cases become very high-profile despite the facts behind them not adding up.

And there will be no mercy for the innocent from those righting all of history’s wrongs if there are no real villains handy.

10. Still, saying the world is nuts is not the same as saying it’s monolithic or lock-step in its left-liberalism, and even the New York Times is paying for dirt on Hillary Clinton lately.

11. Not that the past was without its infighting. Here at the Top Ten Roman Insults.

12. I for one am just glad that with the cultural tumult over transgender people rising to a crazy crescendo lately, it climaxed with something as confusing for average partisans as Bruce Jenner coming out as trans and Republican on the same night.

Does this mean by the “trans”itive property that libertarians sort of get Kim Kardashian and Kanye, too?

ULTRON:

1. Our little civil wars are often tragic and unnecessary, whether it’s Avengers: Age of Ultron leading inevitably to next year’s (untrustworthy industrialist!) Iron Man vs. (self-sacrificing patriot!) Captain America scuffle in the film Captain America: Civil War, or half the cast wading into political controversies just prior to the film’s release by storming out of an interview, using the word “slut,” or denouncing fracking. Let‘s stay focused on the killer robot army, people.

2. I just hope the movie is at least as entertaining as this very brief episode of Axe Cop, written by an actual five year-old.

3. Meanwhile, former Marvel executive turned liberal pundit Rick Ungar notes a political development that might be called “Ron Paul’s revenge.” The Republicans were so keen to write restrictive nominating rules that prevented Paul’s name even being put into contention at their 2012 convention that next year no one may be eligible.

4. I have been critical of Joss Whedon at times, but I still trust his judgment enough to wonder what it was about the abandoned original script for this summer’s Ant-Man that makes him fear Marvel abandoned what could have been their best film.

5. In the real world, of course, people don’t exactly have superpowers, but some can do things like this.

6. Seeing fans react with such worry to the Batman v Superman trailer sort of amuses me, since if it looks too dark, it’s really just because of its faithfulness to The Dark Knight Returns, a comic those same fans purport to revere.

Of course, I’m so geeky, I probably derive as much pleasure from things like the depiction in this week’s Justice League #40 of the Anti-Monitor prepping to battle Darkseid amidst a once-more fraying reality.

7. I like the photos of the film Joker as played by Jared Leto, too. Manic these days ought to mean a dash of punk, not just fop.

8. If he’s too scary for you, though, you might enjoy this cutest-ever critter video AND this one in which a cat reminds us that with great whapping comes a great victory AND this one of cats fighting bananas AND this fine cat-massages-dog video AND this one that makes me wonder if people see it and think not “How skilled!” but rather, “Oh, I guess you don’t really have to be that bright to skateboard!” AND finally one proving ferrets love to frolic in styrofoam (h/t Margaret Scobey Austgen).

9. Yet when a herd of beautiful buffalo gets loose -- on the opposite end of New York State from Buffalo -- cops shoot and kill them all. That’s just what cops do, I suppose. It’s their nature.

10. Back to kids’ entertainment next time, with a blog entry inspired by an old acquaintance of mine writing a book for kids about being a homeschooler-type.

11. And don’t forget me on Jim Melloan’s radio show, per the link at the top, which might well touch on mindblowing things like A.I. (I have no idea, really).

12. And always now: the BENnetwork.