From the monthly archives: "December 2012"

“…Quite simply, advocates for the state can have it both ways. Private charity can never feed all the hungry or mend the sick, they say, so we simply must have government. What’s that? You don’t have the proper papers for giving out that food? Sorry.

The New Deal arguably began the demise of mutual aid societies and other voluntary charities and social securities and the Great Society mostly finished the job. The current common attitude about charity  is beautifully summed up by the late, great Harry Browne who said, “Government is good at one thing: It knows how to break your legs, hand you a crutch, and say, “See, if it weren’t for the government, you wouldn’t be able to walk.”

And the Green Bay story is not unique. How about New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s restriction on food donations to the homeless (at government-run shelters) because calorie and salt counts could not be ascertained? How about the anarchist group Food, Not Bombs blocked from feeding the homeless in Orlando, with their members even jailed? How about Philadelphia’s ban on feeding the homeless in public? How about the loophole for the Green Bay Mayor’s legitimized pushiness, the very existence of zoning laws?…”

Rest over here.

My ebook “Dogging Steinbeck” would never have happened without the support, interest and divine intercession of my ideological soulmates and friends at Reason magazine.

Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of reason.com, has been especially fond of “Dogging” and praises it generously in Reason’s year-end roundup of the best books of 2012:

Nick Gillespie:

No book gave me more of a kick this year than Bill Steigerwald’s investigative travelogue Dogging Steinbeck. After getting a buyout from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 2009, veteran journalist and Reason contributor Steigerwald decided to retrace the road trip that Nobel laureate John Steinbeck immortalized in his 1962 classic Travels with Charley. Steigerwald figured that at journey’s end, he’d have material for a book exploring how far we’ve come as a country since the Kennedy years.

Instead, Steigerwald uncovered a massive literary fraud that speaks directly to contemporary controversies over ostensibly nonfiction narratives such as Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine, and Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. The newsman found out that the Grapes of Wrath author either hugely exaggerated or just made up many of the encounters described in Charley. Steinbeck also misrepresented the actual conditions of the trip in ways that shouldn’t be tolerated in tomes whose authority derive from their facticity. Far from spending mostly solitary days with Charley the dog, Steinbeck was accompanied by his wife for almost half his time on the road. And far from roughing it, they spent a good chunk of time at high-end hotels or at places such as Adlai Stevenson’s Illinois mansion.

Steigerwald’s slowly growing exasperation with Steinbeck’s dissembling is a joy to read, as is his incredulous reaction to Steinbeck scholars who wave away the esteemed author’s flagrant bullshitting. But best of all is the contemporary America that Steigerwald discovers. Where Steinbeck inveighed against comic books and processed food and crabbed that the nation had grown spiritually “flabby” and “immoral,” Steigerwald is positively Whitmanesque in his celebration of the country. Self-published as an ebook, Dogging Steinbeck also embodies a do-it-yourself culture that was just gearing up in a big way in the early 1960s.

“There’s something…obvious about America that’s never pointed out by the media,” writes Steigerwald. “The states and counties and cities and villages and crossroads are filled with smart, good Americans who can take pretty good care of themselves. They prove it every day. People in Baraboo and Stonington and Amarillo know what’s best for them. They’ll adjust to whatever changes that come.”

Worth more than the sales of my ebook “Dogging Steinbeck” are the nice, smart comments I’ve gotten from my fellow journalists and perceptive readers at Amazon.com — without having to bribe a single one.

The great travel writer Paul Theroux, who doesn’t dig it when famous travel writers lie about their trips,  hasn’t read the book. But he encouraged me to write it and has credited me for my findings of Steinbeck’s literary fraud.

“I compared his published letters with his travels and saw great discrepancies,” the author of “The Tao of Travel” told me in an email. “These facts have been public for years, but no one cared to mention them. … Steinbeck falsified his trip. I am delighted that you went deep into this.”

Curt Gentry, the author of a dozen books including “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders” (with Vincent Bugliosi), did read “Dogging Steinbeck.” He’s also a “character” in it — a mini-hero, actually.

Here’s what Curt wrote about my book in his Amazon blurb:

“I still believe John Steinbeck is one of America’s greatest writers and I still love ‘Travels With Charley,’ be it fact or fiction or, as Bill Steigerwald doggedly proved, both. While I disagree with a number of Steigerwald’s conclusions, I don’t dispute his facts. He greatly broadened my understanding of Steinbeck the man and the author, particularly during his last years. And, whether Steigerwald intended it or not, in tracking down the original draft of ‘Travels With Charley’ he made a significant contribution to Steinbeck’s legacy. “Dogging Steinbeck” is a good honest book.”

Not everyone will like my book, what I say about Steinbeck or his book, or what I say about America and what/who ails it.

But whether “Dogging Steinbeck” is a bust-seller or a best-seller, comments like Theroux’s and Gentry’s are priceless.

  • The Rebel Alliance had lady pilots after all! 
  • Rapper Big Boi doesn’t like Obama, or government in general.
  • But let me go ahead and ruin Louis C.K. for my fellow libertarians.
  • Fuck you, too, science. 
  • I love you, Conor Friedersdorf: “he embarks on a theoretical exploration of whether it is defensible in theory to kill Al Qaeda terrorists with unmanned aerial vehicles, ignoring real-world events and unintended consequences as obliviously as a 1970s liberal extolling the wisdom of rent control.”
  • Talking to aggrandizing screen-writers is one thing, but talking to journalists is forbidden.
  • “if feminism can be put through by pestering, despite the will of the people, so can socialism, pacifism, and other isms.”
  • North Korea is doing space stuff and people are nervous.
  • Oliver Sacks would like to tell you about hallucinations.
  • Amelia Earhart’s thoughts on marriage.
  • Time‘s photos of the year include some good stuff.
  • This is a gross reason to fire someone.

Two Cheers for Anarchism by James C. Scott: a great point about the true meaning of anarchism buried under economic wrongness and political timidity. Still somehow net quality, and see my Reason review for more details there. Maybe I was just excited to have a lefty-dude I can still recommend.

The Art of Being Free by Wendy McElroy: the woman who bridges the gap — hell, bothers mentioning the gap — between the Henry David Thoreau who sat in jail on principle and the one who said “the state was nowhere to be found” while picking berries; who also manages to be optimistic about the future while dubbing the U.S. a police state, break out the lesser-known libertarian heroes like R. C. Hoiles, and basically be a way better libertarian than most of us.

Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy: holy 2004 panics, Batman! A slight book borrowed from friend’s bookshelf and read one insomniac night. Some fine points, truths, observations  buried under a screamingly anecdotal, panicky, judgmental  lefty-worried mess of writing. Levy is particularly judgmental towards sex workers, falling into the “nobody chooses that” trope. Indeed, anything where sex and money are remotely connected seems to worry her greatly. Meanwhile, the points that ring the most true for me were, say, comparisons between Jay Leno (who is let’s face it, very odd looking) and the gams-showing, cleavage-baring Katie Couric monster who filled in on for Leno on The Tonight Show. IE  am not as worried about people selling sex, period, as I am frustrated by the same jobs requiring different things from a man and a woman, namely the latter always needs to sexy while doing [it]. Bonus: felt slightly more guilty than usual for wanting to go on Red Eye so much after reading.

[Halfway through] Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City by Anthony Flint: Urban outrage never used to interest me, dad’s railing notwithstanding, until I realized just how God damned nasty people like Robert Moses were towards the poor, etc. No wonder dad was such a big fan of Jacobs’, and indeed interviewed her for Reason in 2001! (Dad also did an epic piece on Pittsburgh eminent domain in 2000.) Nevertheless, the writing quality of Flint is only so-so, and though I care, like economics, I have to read semi-slowly in order to get the proper details to care the proper way. Somehow, as much as I want to be Dad or Jim Epstein in my outrage for the downtrodden urban man, it does not come as easily as I wish. Mainly because they’re great at that sort of piece, and I am God damned lazy.

[Skimmed] Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities by Alexandra Robbins: Another one from the bookshelf of the aforementioned friend. Flipped through and read bits here and there tonight/today. Not nearly interesting a subject to be interesting, not trashy enough to be really worth savoring. Especially not after the numerous episodes of Degrassi this household has watched in the last few weeks. It felt tame, but angsty, but not relatable angsty. Bonus: need to shame friend further for having read this instead of Hitch-22 when she received both for last year’s Christmas. Other thought: Alexandra Robbins, sure, you count as an “investigative reporter” for doing this, but something about this is so rom-com that I cannot take it seriously. You just cannot be not played by Kate Hudson in the movie in my head. Ugh.

[Begun] A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the 20th Century by Ben Shepard: It’s from 2003, I have read 20 pages, and I already feel like it’s judging me for having a “fashionable” interest in the subject of shell-shock thanks to the amazing ’90s novel Regeneration by Pat Barker. And holy hell, I need to read more fiction, eh? Nevertheless, fascinating subject. I feel like a horrible person when I say this, but it’s a relief in some ways that so many people respond so poorly to warfare. Because if that doesn’t fuck you up, what should? And indeed, if humans react so badly to being put in that situation, doesn’t that bode well for us as a species, just a bit?

Yesterday the MSNBC all-stars — Rachel Maddow, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Lawrence O’Donnell —  dropped into the White House’s West Wing to share their brilliant tax ideas with the President.

Let’s hope that Mr. Obama listened to nothing said by  Ms. Tedious or  Rev. Al, who if he gets any smaller will be appearing in Pixar movies.

But Larry O’Donnell, despite his nightly liberal rantings, could teach the Prez (and his liberal choirmates) a thing or two about the free enterprise system and why killing what’s left of it with higher taxes and more dumb regulations is a bad thing to do.

In 2005 I asked O’Donnell, the executive producer of “West Wing” and a screenwriter,  about all the fine free-market rhetoric he was putting into the mouth of Alan Alda’s conservative Republican character.

I asked him if he really believed all that Milton Friedman stuff:

“Yes. I believe (the late supply-side economist) Jude Winniski’s arguments about how high tax rates damage the economies of poor African countries. But what I would not want to suggest about it is, if we fixed the tax rates, everything is going to be OK. The other huge problem that Africa has is American agriculture subsidies, which are a disastrous policy, I believe, on every level, in terms of what it does to poverty internationally, in terms of what it does to our misallocation of resources here. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t majored in economics in college. I just wouldn’t.”

He said not to worry — there was no inner libertarian trying to get out:

“No, no, no. I’m a European socialist, believe me – I’m far to the left. But I understand. I’m a kind of practical socialist. I know we failed. A lot of our ideas have failed, so I’m not with them anymore. I’m willing to take from a grab-bag of stuff that works….

“Unfortunately, I think respect for the market seems to be something that I have not seen anyone derive outside education. I haven’t seen people gravitate toward a natural respect for the market. And it doesn’t have rhetoric to go with it. I think the rhetoric Vinick (Alda’s character) used about it was about the best I’ve heard….

“Where Vinick was talking about the market most clearly was in the energy discussion, when they talk about government support for alternative forms of energy. And Vinick starts with, ‘I don’t think politicians are going to be very good at picking energy sources.’ And then he says ‘The government didn’t shift us from using shale oil to using the oil discovered under the ground.’ ”

The whole interview is  here but don’t tell O’Donnell’s bosses at MSNBC what he really thinks about Nike sweatshops and oil companies, or he might have to try to get a job at Fox.