Archives for September, 2005

Thank God for Public Broadcasting, Part II

Here’s audio from Monday’s show on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Same topic.

Posted on Sep 29, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

You! Go to Cato U!

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Cato University is coming up again and there’s still time to sign up.

At last! A how-to seminar for friends of freedom and limited government: the Cato Institute’s October 20-23 seminar on “How to Win Arguments, Win Allies, and Win Friends.”

A free republic rests on an informed citizenry, but more important, it rests on a citizenry willing to resort to persuasion rather than force. And for freedom to persist, freedom’s advocates must acquire the skills of advocacy.

October’s Cato University is a weekend long intellectual feast where you can make new friends, renew your commitment to freedom, and hone your skills as an advocate for liberty.

Speakers include Reason magazine’s Nick Gillespie, the Objectivist Center’s David Kelley, Don Boudreaux of George Mason University, and the Cato Institute’s Will Wilkinson, Gene Healy, and Tom Palmer, among others.

Sessions will be held in the F. A. Hayek Auditorium of the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., as well as at the historic home of George and Martha Washington, Mount Vernon, just across the river from Washington in Alexandria.

Posted on Sep 28, 2005 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Self-Promotion

So I was on Lehrer last night, which, as the polar opposite of O’Reilly, is a good place to lose your TV virginity. Almost makes you glad for public television. Transcript and pics here.

Posted on Sep 28, 2005 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Serenity Review

It doesn’t mean as much as it would from some people when I say that Serenity is ten times better than the original Star Wars. I don’t like Star Wars, and I think Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is at least five times better than the first Star Wars. However, Serenity is a terrific flick, and for some of the same reasons that people cottoned to Star Wars.

If there was anything to like about the first Star Wars, it was the lightness, the humor, the banter between the characters who seemed to have a sense that they were in the modern day equivalent of a Flash Gordon filmreel, not War and Peace with rayguns. Serenity has that sense of fun, and then some. I have to say, I have no idea how Joss Whedon does it, because in every interview I’ve seen with him, he’s an insufferable, pretentious ass.

I won’t say much about the politics of the movie, except to note that for the protagonist Mal Reynolds, the apotheosis of evil is the notion that “you can make people better” through state policy. It’s a wonder liberals like the series, though I expect to read something from the Weekly Standard any day now about how the Alliance is a force for good and represents the triumph of Intergalactic Greatness Conservatism.

Update: Let me also point out, for gratuitous good measure, that Star Wars fans are only slightly behind Trekkies in terms of being social deviants and borderline sex offenders. Link courtesy Crash Landings.

Posted on Sep 27, 2005 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Since I Found Serenity

I may be going to see an advance screening of Serenity tonight at Gallery Place. Here’s the synopsis of the film:

Joss Whedon, the OscarÃ?Â??Ã?Â?Ã?® – and Emmy – nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family Ã?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢?Ã?¬Ã?¢??squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

Yes, I’m posting this to get free tickets, but I wouldn’t promote something I didn’t like, and I liked the short-lived Firefly series (on which Serenity is based) quite a bit. It meets my criteria for good science fiction: 1. dystopian; 2. no aliens. More important, it’s funny and well-written, with a cast of never-hit-it-big-but-shoulda character actors (including the guy who played “Animal Mother” in Full Metal Jacket) who seem to genuinely like each other. You should rent the DVDs, and, probably, see the movie. More on that after I’ve seen it, if they let me in.

Posted on Sep 26, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Self-Promotion

I had a piece in the Miami Herald over the weekend, on the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision in the Jose Padilla case.

Posted on Sep 26, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Good Point

In today’s Post, NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin asks a challenging question, one that makes me reassess my belief that the space program’s a bigger waste of my money than public television:

Is it important that Americans lead the way [in colonizing other worlds]?

To me it’s important because I like the United States, and because I know — I don’t know the date — but I know that humans will colonize the solar system and one day go beyond. And it is important for me that humans who carry — I’ll characterize it as Western values — are there with them.

You know, I think we know the kind of society we would get if you, for example, carry Soviet values. That means you want a gulag on Mars. Is that what you’re looking for?

Well? Is it?

Posted on Sep 25, 2005 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Hard Work

I’ll go along with most non-insane criticisms of Bush, but one I won’t buy is that the president works out too much and takes too many vacations. The old saying is that no man’s property is safe while Congress is in session. A similar principle applies to workaholic presidents.

There’s a story about Reagan where during his 1980 campaign, Reagan asked adviser Stu Spencer why everyone was up so early after a late night. Spencer told him he should get used to it, because when he became president, a National Security Council aide would be there to brief him every morning at 7:30. Reagan’s reply: “Well, he’ll have a helluva long wait.”

Of course, you may have noticed that no man’s liberty or property is safe even though the president keeps banker’s hours, so it’s not a perfect solution.

Posted on Sep 22, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

One More Post

About science fiction, and I’ll shut up. In Morgan’s most recent novel Woken Furies, (only available in the UK right now. Picked it up in Scotland), there’s a great plot device. Maybe he stole it from something in Greek mythology somewhere that I’ve forgotten, but I love it. The lead character, Tak Kovacs, is on the run, as he usually is, and being hunted by the authorities and/or the mob, to the extent there’s a difference in Morgan’s version of the future. Kovacs is a former Envoy, the UN special forces corps used to put down planetary independence movements, and your basic disgruntled, jaded, maladjusted antihero, except extra badass. But since in the future we can digitize and “save” a person’s consciousness, the folks hunting him have played a dirty trick. They somehow acquired a copy of the younger Kovacs, pre-disgruntlement, downloaded him into a new body, and set him after the “real” Kovacs. This gives rise to a disturbing vision of being hunted by a younger version of yourself who doesn’t like the the way you’ve turned out, and means to kill you. It could have been played for more laughs, in my opinion, but what a concept. It does Oedipal one better.

Posted on Sep 22, 2005 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Singularly Indifferent

I love technology, really I do. Ipod. Internet. Modern dentistry. Not starving to death. We live in a world of ever-increasing technological miracles, and if we really appreciated it as much as we should, we’d walk around all day like a kid on Christmas morning.

Nonetheless, goofy neolibertarian futurism really sticks in my craw. A number of my ideological cousins–and I’m not naming any names–seem to look forward to the day when our clone armies will use their nanoweapons to bring open markets to Mali or when we’re able to give ourselves a third nipple at will. Feh.

The blahgosphere is all a-blurber this week with talk of this Singularity thing. “There is no clear definition, but usually the Singularity is meant as a future time when societal, scientific and economic change is so fast we cannot even imagine what will happen from our present perspective.” It’s, like, Super-Dynamism!

I don’t like science fiction much. But in the past year, I’ve become partial to the Takeshi Kovacs series by Richard K. Morgan. It’s the future. We have interstellar travel, digitized consciousness (brains “backed up” by cortical stacks that reside in the spine–basically a tiny hard drive that contains a copy of your consciousness), and “resleeving” into custom-designed clone bodies. And we’re miserable. The UN enforces an interplanetary NWO with its ruthless Envoy corps. People are just as rotten to each other as they’ve ever been. Those rich enough to afford immortality find it offers little but opportunities for extended boredom unrelieved by debauchery.

Morgan’s theme is the coupling of 27th century technology with human nature forged on the African savannah and best adapted to that environment. I particularly like the weird religious sects and their orientation toward new technologies. There’s the Renouncer monks, violent quasi-Christian fundies who don’t believe in “resleeving” once their original bodies die. There’s another group, the name escapes me, who instead renounce the body and spend their lives in high-tech virtual reality constructs, like they missed the point of Nozick’s “Experience Machine” thought experiment. And then there are the Quellists: Nietzschian anarcho-revolutionaries whose cynicism about politics rivals my own.

Now, if anyone’s going to go off and read these on my recommendation, I should say that they’re not exactly great books. They lack humor and much in the way of character development. The violence is over the top, and the sex cringe-inducing. But they’re quite clever and noirishly appealing.

Now the Singularity seems to refer to technological change that goes beyond Kovacs’ world–the possibility of developing consciousnesses (?) that lack stone-age hardwiring. I have to say it doesn’t interest me. When the big-S comes, even if HAL or Skynet don’t kill us off, we’ll have killed off anything that makes us distinctively human. So I don’t find it worth musing about. It’s the end of the human story and I’m a thoroughgoing speciesist. So who cares.

Posted on Sep 21, 2005 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

I’m Afraid I Don’t See Your Point

The Post’s Marc Fisher has a piece today about Michael Graham, the “conservative” shock-jock fired from WMAL for calling Islam “a terrorist organization.” In it, Graham comments on what he sees as his undeserved rep as a wack-job:

Over a beer at the pub across from the Heritage Foundation, where Graham uses a radio studio, the lanky funnyman marvels that he’s considered a wild man in Washington. “I’m in the middle of the pack in talk radio. But here, I’m crazy loon Michael Graham on the edge. Doug Duncan and Gerry Connolly wouldn’t come on my show,” he said, referring to the Montgomery county executive and the chairman of the Fairfax County supervisors. “They’re scared of me. I’m a graduate of freaking Oral Roberts University — and I’m scary?”

Posted on Sep 20, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Why?

What’s up there that we need?

I hate Space.

Posted on Sep 19, 2005 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Ceremonial Deism?

Colby Cosh has an interesting thought experiment that gives me pause in my conviction that Michael Newdow’s case is meritless, at least from an originalist perspective. Here’s my take on the Pledge, with or without “Under God.”

Posted on Sep 18, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Protecting Your World

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Perhaps instead of looking at using active-duty troops for law enforcement whenever there’s a national disaster, we might look at the use we’re making of the National Guard: “Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said that “arguably” a day or so of response time was lost due to the absence of the Mississippi National Guard’s 155th Infantry Brigade and Louisiana’s 256th Infantry Brigade, each with thousands of troops in Iraq. ‘Had that brigade been at home and not in Iraq, their expertise and capabilities could have been brought to bear,’ said Blum.”

The cover (shown above) of an NG document found on the Guard’s website suggests some rethinking is in order.

It’s not our world. It is our country.

Posted on Sep 18, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Urban Planning Makes God Laugh

The Washington Post magazine has a travel piece on Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, and a place that’s always fascinated me even though I’ve never been there. Jane Jacobs offered it as the epitome of the modern, centrally planned metropolis–scientifically designed, rather than organically evolved. The results are hardly inviting:

The city of Brasilia, population 500,000, has never been known as a welcoming place. Reason, not human warmth, is the organizing principle here. The metropolis was born in the late 1950s, when Brazil’s president, Juscelino Kubitschek, decided, with a conviction bordering on megalomania, that coastal Rio de Janeiro, with its choked, skinny streets and decaying vine-covered buildings, was unfit to be a capital. His impoverished nation needed to modernize. “Fifty years’ progress in five,” the right-leaning nationalist proclaimed, before enlisting thousands of peasants to transform Brazil’s most uncharted, unpeopled hinterland into a grand city inside of five years….

Kubitschek saw Brasilia as the beacon of a modernist world, and he hired a devoutly modern urban planner to make his vision a reality. Lucio Costa, a Brazilian, was a disciple of Le Corbusier, the influential mid-20th-century French architect/professor who eschewed all ornamentation as “bourgeois” and envisioned a high-tech egalitarian future in which all buildings were beautiful in their sleek simplicity. Corbusier famously decreed that houses should be “machines for living in.” Costa, in turn, called for an “efficient” capital city in which the TV tower would be a monument, a downtown attraction occupying the same space, geographically and spiritually, that the Washington Monument does in D.C. The street grid in Brasilia would be shaped like an airplane, with two “wings” of avenues and a long thin spine — the grassy Monumental Axis, lined with government buildings — forming the core. The automobile, meanwhile, would spirit through the metropolis on its own uncluttered highways, and the open spaces would be protected in perpetuity, so that daily life could unfold in bucolic, pedestrian-friendly environs.

Brasilia did not turn out as planned. What I found was a city defined by its silences. Its core is a wealthy enclave in which building new structures is essentially outlawed. Few children play in the community parks — they’re too pristine — and residents tend not to shop in their neighborhoods. In this spread-out car city, the shopping mall reigns supreme. A spirit of anomie enveloped the streets around me, and the suicide, divorce and pedestrain-fatality rates in Brasilia are longstanding sources of concern. Visiting there in the 1980s, Australian art critic Robert Hughes called the place “a museum of architectural ideas” and a “utopian horror.”

Our correspondent doggedly searches out pockets of spontaneity and life in the vast empty spaces, and even runs into some Brasilians who love their city, much as many Canucks love their health care system.

Posted on Sep 18, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off