Archives for January, 2003

Smoking and Self-Destruction


I’ve received some emails challenging my assertion that smoking is cool. Anyone who doubts this has never seen “To Have and Have Not,” starring Humphrey Bogart, a heartstopping 19-year-old Lauren Bacall, and about 12 packs of Chesterfields.

Is smoking self-destructive? Certainly. Bogie died a wretchedly painful death from lung cancer. Maybe the self-destructiveness of the habit, the air of futility and tragedy about it, is what gives the act its mystique. If you read the NYT Magazine’s recent piece about Warren Zevon’s last days–he’s also a former smoker dying of lung cancer–you get a sense of this: “He has also been playing the DVD of ”The Maltese Falcon” over and over, he says, ”to watch Bogie smoke.”’

Posted on Jan 31, 2003 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Last night I somehow ended up at the Woodley Park Marriot, at a huge open-bar shindig for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. There was a disproportionate (for Jersey) number of horse-faced WASPs of the kind that you’d usually only find at a Christie Whitman fundraiser, mixed in with some folks who looked like Sopranos extras, including a chick in a tight red imitation leather business suit. I partied with an Elvis impersonator and failed N.J. Senate candidate Doug Forrester, who’s all of five feet tall. As a friend put it, “that sounds like the kind of gig Hunter S. Thompson reserves for a good mescaline binge.”

Posted on Jan 31, 2003 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Smoking, Coolness and Public Choice

Salon reports:

A once unthinkable change is coming to one of the social hubs of Ireland: The pub is going smoke free.

Bowing to health concerns, the government said Thursday that it will ban smoking from all workplaces including pubs, where a pint and a cigarette have long gone hand in hand.

Another victory for the worldwide Conspiracy against Fun. This enrages me–and I say this as a nonsmoker, or, at best, a “chipper”–someone who’s tried repeatedly to take up smoking in earnest, but always fails.

Why do we get laws like this, in NY, CA, and now Ireland? Here’s how it works: there are a lot of dweebs and sissies out there who don’t like getting a little smoke on their clothes. Nothing stops a bar owner from responding to these twerps’ demand for a smoke-free environment (in fact, we’ve got at least one smoke-free bar in the area, the Clarendon Grill. It’s full of dweebs and sissies.) But most of these twerps also want to hang out with cool people, who smoke, and can’t, under current law, be forced to go hang out with a bunch of nonsmoking losers. The losers’ desire to associate with cool people exceeds their demand for smoke-free environments, and they’ve been unwilling so far to do what they ought to, which is pay cool people to hang out with them and not smoke. Now, thanks to their friend, the state, they get what they want for free, by screwing the smoker and making the world a lot less cool.

Posted on Jan 31, 2003 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Happy Birthday, Gene


The great Gene Hackman is 73 today.

Posted on Jan 30, 2003 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

A Woman’s Right to Choose

David Boaz on the Dems’ selectively libertarian rhetoric:

I’d like to hear a presidential candidate say, “I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe in a woman’s right to choose whether to have a child. I believe in a woman’s right to choose any job someone will hire her for. I believe in a woman’s right to choose to own a gun. I believe in a woman’s right to choose the school she thinks is best for her child, public or private. I believe in a woman’s right to choose what kinds of art she will spend her money on, even if she prefers Madonna or Randy Travis and Congress wants to give her money to Robert Mapplethorpe or Luciano Pavarotti. I believe in a woman’s right to choose to drive a cab, even if she doesn’t have a license. I believe in a woman’s right to choose the employees she wants for her business, even if they don’t fit some government quota. I believe in a woman’s right to choose the drugs she prefers for recreation, whether she chooses Coors or cocaine. I believe in a woman’s right to choose how to spend all of her hard-earned money, without giving half of it to the government.”

He writes: It’s great to hear leading Democrats talk about freedom, trusting people to make their own decisions, and limiting the power of the state. It would be even better if they applied those noble principles to more than one, and only one, issue.

It certainly would. And on a related note, how about the Pro-War Pro-Lifers? I don’t get abortion opponents who are able to empathize with a six-week old fetus (or even a blastocyst), but reduce the innocent Iraqis who will be killed in the hundreds, maybe thousands, in Operation Shock and Awe to mere abstractions.

Posted on Jan 29, 2003 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Modern Art as Torture

This is so cool. During the Spanish Civil War, anarchists on the republican side designed torture chambers “inspired by ideas of geometric abstraction and surrealism as they were by avant garde art theories on the psychological properties of colours.”

Beds were placed at a 20 degree angle, making them near-impossible to sleep on, and the floors of the 6ft by 3ft cells was scattered with bricks and other geometric blocks to prevent prisoners from walking backwards and forwards, according to the account of Laurencic’s trial.

The only option left to prisoners was staring at the walls, which were curved and covered with mind-altering patterns of cubes, squares, straight lines and spirals which utilised tricks of colour, perspective and scale to cause mental confusion and distress.

Lighting effects gave the impression that the dizzying patterns on the wall were moving.

A stone bench was similarly designed to send a prisoner sliding to the floor when he or she sat down, Mr Milicua said. Some cells were painted with tar so that they would warm up in the sun and produce asphyxiating heat.

I have a law school friend of similarly sadistic sensibilities who wanted to lock up certain of our fellow students and play the Jefferson Starship’s mid-’80s hit “We Built This City” over and over again on a tape loop.

Posted on Jan 29, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Reasons for War

I understand people who argue for war with Iraq because they want to (1) liberate Iraqis; and/or (2) help Israel; and/or (3) spread democracy. I think those are illegitimate reasons in a constitutional republic whose governing document speaks of the “common defence” of the United States, and not the general good of the world at large. More important, I think they’re damned frivolous reasons for killing American soldiers, innocent Iraqi civilians, and, for that matter, Iraqi conscripts. But I understand the arguments: if these Wilsonian goals are worthwhile to you, invading Iraq is something you might want to do.

But I’m having an increasingly hard time understanding why any rational person would argue that invading Iraq is something we need to do in order to protect the lives, liberty, and property of Americans (you know, the legitimate goals of American foreign policy). Invading Iraq will, in all likelihood, increase our vulnerability to attack. Nicholas Kristof nicely lays out the abundant evidence for that proposition in today’s NYT. If it’s the missing anthrax and VX you’re worried about, it’s patently obvious that the one scenario in which Hussein’s most likely to use them is the one where he’s got nothing left to lose. I’m not too much of an alarmist about biological and chemical weapons, but I can tell you that I won’t be taking the Washington D.C. Metro once GWB kicks off GWII.

As for nukes, the argument that we need to take Hussein out before he gets them once sounded half-plausible. It’s starting to sound desperate. Our claims about Iraq’s potential nuclear capability are overblown. If you’re really worried about Hussein with nukes–and I’m not–then you don’t need to go any further than the strong inspections regime GWB has forced into place. Chem and bioweapons programs can be kept mobile, flummoxing the inspectors. But it’s kinda hard to enrich uranium in a Winnebago.

So here’s a suggestion for the folks on the other side of this debate. Drop the national security rationale–it won’t wash. If you still believe it yourselves, you must nonetheless be having some serious doubts. The argument that Saddam Hussein’s decrepit despotism is a real threat to America doesn’t convince anyone who’s not already convinced we need to invade Iraq for reasons 1 through 3. Hell, even Stormin’ Norman doesn’t buy it. Instead, make your case for war based on goals 1 through 3, above. And argue that the increased risk to Americans–soldiers and civilians–is worth it.

Posted on Jan 28, 2003 in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

The Twain Shall Meet

Jesse Walker reviews the non-football aspects of the Superbowl, and notes:

an engaging performance by Shania Twain’s cleavage was unfortunately marred by the presence of Shania Twain’s music. (If this woman is a country singer, how come those songs sounded like Loverboy?)

…reminding me of Steve Earle’s description of Ms. Twain: “the world’s most expensive lap dancer.”

Posted on Jan 27, 2003 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Football: Who Needs It?

For what must be the fourth year in a row, I deliberately skipped watching the Superbowl. I hate football. Other sports I can watch. I like boxing, approve of baseball, and don’t object to basketball–but football makes my skin crawl. It’s mostly an aesthetic objection: I don’t like watching bovine idiots crash into each other repeatedly, and the gratuitous, ball-scratching masculinity of the announcers is unbearable.

I’m not sure if my distaste for football has helped or harmed me in life. On the one hand, I’ve had countless Sundays free to read a book, watch a movie, or somehow expand my horizons. On the other, there are those awkward moments when somebody starts jawing at me about “the game” and I have to either try to nod and grunt agreeably in the appropriate places, or admit that even though I’m a loyal, God-fearing American, I don’t know the first thing about football. (There’s some war movie where the Krauts are trying to sneak an agent through the American lines, and our boys get suspicious because, despite his flawless cover story and American accent, the agent can’t respond to some simple, basic questions about sports. If that was me, I’d have been shot for a Nazi spy.).

I remember a time a few years back when my friend Tom–who also knows suspiciously little about football–and I were sitting at the bar of Kramerbooks, and a particularly cute and friendly bartender started talking to us about “the game.” I sat there petrified, trying not to give away my ignorance, painfully aware that Tom couldn’t bail us out. So he says to her, “football…. that’s the one with the helmets, right?”

Posted on Jan 27, 2003 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

“National Greatness” Conservatism in Action

The US intends to shatter Iraq “physically, emotionally and psychologically” by raining down on its people as many as 800 cruise missiles in two days.

The Pentagon battle plan aims not only to crush Iraqi troops, but also wipe out power and water supplies in the capital, Baghdad.

It is based on a strategy known as “Shock and Awe”, conceived at the National Defense University in Washington, in which between 300 and 400 cruise missiles would fall on Iraq each day for two consecutive days. It would be more than twice the number of missiles launched during the entire 40 days of the 1991 GulfWar.

“There will not be a safe place in Baghdad,” a Pentagon official told America’s CBS News after a briefing on the plan. “The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.”

Really gives you that Lee Greenwood glow, doesn’t it?

Posted on Jan 26, 2003 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

”How Much You’re Supposed to Enjoy Every Sandwich.”

Warren Zevon, on what terminal lung cancer has taught him about life and death. From a should-read profile of the immensely likeable, stoic yet funny dying star in today’s Sunday Times Magazine.

Posted on Jan 26, 2003 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Jersey Libertarians

Jersey boy Nick Gillespie, who’s helped turn Reason into a vibrant, unpredictable, compulsively interesting magazine, suggests that there’s a distinctive libertarian ethos indigenous to the Garden State. Nick, whom I met a few years back at an IHS conference, hails from Middletown, if I remember correctly. Middletown’s north-central, near the shore, Exit 114 on the Parkway, a 10-15 minute drive from where I grew up (Rumson, exit 109). My Dad still works in Middletown, in fact. So by birth and upbringing, I’m receptive to the idea of Jersey libertarianism. But I think Nick’s lit. PhD is showing here:

To grow up in New Jersey is to grow up an existentialist, to realize the world is indifferent, if not downright hostile. You have to be on the lookout for other people’s bullshit, because you’re constantly being told that where you’re coming from is useless. After a while, you realize that a lot of political and social distinctions are not about reality and truth, but about people trying to put you in your place so they can better regulate your behavior.

Whoa: Dude, what was so alienating about Jersey in the seventies and eighties? The fuzzy dice? The disturbing popularity of Kip Winger?

Nonetheless, I think he’s onto something, at least as far as our little corner of the birdshit-shaped state is concerned. Nick hails from Middletown, which is where Reason’s excellent Cathy Young resides, last time I checked. Right up the parkway in Holmdel is where Cato’s Tim Lynch grew up. And then there’s me. Maybe there is something in the toxic waste.

Posted on Jan 23, 2003 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Ah, Sweet Music of my Youth…

I first noticed I was getting old when MTV began to seem like a transmission from another planet (why is that man wearing a band-aid on his face–and who are all these sluts??) and I started to appreciate VH-1. When I was a kid, I looked at VH-1 as visual elevator muzak. But today, more often than not, it strikes a chord.

Tonight when I came home, VH-1 had on a special hosted by Dee Snider of Twisted Sister (who looks uncannily like Sarah Jessica Parker with about 40 pounds extra muscle and some face piercings). “The Top 40 Hair Bands of All Time” was the show. And oh my lord if it didn’t dredge up long-submerged high school memories: zits, fights at the bike rack. going to the Metallica And Justice for All show at the Meadowlands with a Coors Party Ball in the back of the station wagon and almost getting busted at Denny’s afterwards; the bandana as acceptable headwear.

Innocent music. Fun music. Music without pretension. Music without a Foreign Policy. The Bands: Vixen, Skid Row, Dokken, Slaughter, Great White–Lita Ford! (the threateningly foxy blonde who perturbed and intrigued my fragile adolescent mind with the couplet that kicks off her hit “Kiss Me Deadly”: “went to a party last Saturday night/didn’t get laid but I got in a fight”)–Tesla, Trixter, Jackyl–Saigon Kick!–Autograph, Kix (or is that a cereal?), Europe, Queensryche… on and on.

Hot Damn! You boomers can take your Beatles and stuff them. Nothing they did can hold a candle to Warrant’s “Cherry Pie,” in my book.

A decade and a half out, there’s quite a bit of defensiveness on the part of the recovering Aquanet addicts that make up the top 40:

“I know, I know: I was part of the eighties; but I didn’t kill anyone, so give me a break.”
–Mike Tramp of White Lion

another offered the Nuremberg defense:

“And as far as the big hair, I was just following orders.”
–Warren Di Martini, Ratt Guitarist

But you men have nothing to be ashamed of. Did the Beatles ever apologize for “Rocky Raccoon”? Or “Hello Goodbye”? Or “Mean Mr. Mustard.” Stand tall.

Posted on Jan 23, 2003 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Intellectual Soccer Hooligan

This post from the Corner inspires me to admit to a morbid fascination with John Derbyshire. Sure, as Julian has noted, his views are, often as not, absolutely vile. But he’s exceptionally sharp and learned, and expresses his thuggish views without cant or sugar coating, which I suppose is a virtue. It’s almost as if a team of genetic scientists took a mouth-breathing, beer-swilling, Pak-bashing specimen of pure Cockney trash and raised his IQ by 100 points. How can he fail to be interesting?

UPDATE: A reader informs me–and he appears to be right–that the offending post in the Corner has been removed. For the record, it said: “A friend in DC emails to tell me that there are 100,000 antiwar protestors on the Mall. I am reminded of watching the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade once with a friend of Ulster Unionist sympathies. As the massed ranks of Irish marched past, my friend sighed and said: ‘The things you see when you don’t have a gun!'”

It’s unbelievably lame that NRO pulled the post. They don’t have the slightest problem with him suggesting that the Ay-rabs should get the Hiroshima treatment–about which he’s serious–but they’ll censor him when he jokes about shooting Micks? I guess the Catholics at NRO took offense…

Posted on Jan 19, 2003 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Oh, Mickey!

Jesse Walker has a clever “interview” with Mickey Mouse in the wake of the Eldred v. Ashcroft decision.

Posted on Jan 19, 2003 in Uncategorized | Comments Off