Posts by: "Lucy Steigerwald"

roadzThe headline: “Why I fled libertarianism — and became a liberal”.

The subhead: “I was a Ron Paul delegate back in 2008 — now I’m a Democrat. Here’s my personal tale of disgust and self-discovery”.

Edwin Lyngar was a Ron Paul delegate in 2008. Once he got to the GOP convention,  he was baffled by the number of Birthers, Truthers, MoonTruthers and Chemtrailers who apparently made up his fellow Paulbots. (Lyngar also casually equates interest in gold, the Fed, and the JFK assassination with such conspiracy theories. He is not alone in this attitude — the highly-touted conspiracy theory  poll from last spring was similarly sloppy. An enthusiasm for monetary policy is dry, so why not spice it up by implying that to believe in the gold standard is to be sure that the president is from Kenya?)

Lyngar had no libertarian moment of aha!, thanks to a Hayek book, or a Ron Paul speech. He doesn’t really explain why he cared enough to be a delegate for Paul in 2008. He was just vaguely born libertarian, in that he comes from a small town in Nevada where, he writes, “we burned our own garbage and fired guns in the back yard.” He even admits that libertarians are pro-pot, mostly pro-gay, and mostly anti-war, so they have their bright spots still. But also, when he left his small town, his eyes were opened:

I learned that libertarians are made for lots of reasons, like reading the bad fiction of Ayn Rand or perhaps the passable writing of Robert Heinlein. In my experience, most seemed to be poor, white and undereducated. They were contortionists, justifying the excesses of the capitalist elite, despite being victims if libertarian politics succeed.

If you think that selfishness and cruelty are fantastic personal traits, you might be a libertarian. In the movement no one will ever call you an asshole, but rather, say you believe in radical individualism.

Heinlein is only “passable”? Buddy, you read the wrong Heinlein. And if you’re in the libertarian movement, someone will call you an asshole at some point. Or they will call you a statist. Though there are generally agreed upon tenets in libertarianism, there is also tedious in-fighting and minute-to-vital points of disagreement on issues, interpretations, and conclusions. We are not your cheap Dagney Taggart or Randy Weaver jokes, as much as you try to cram us into that convenient mold. We are diverse, and by God, we will shoot ourselves in the foot whenever possible. (Lyngar does acknowledge this incompetence later in the piece, so at least he’s not one of those “dear God, the libertarians have taken over!” folks.)

Lyngar is mostly done with specifics after his live from the GOP Convention ’08 beginning. He changed slowly after his realization that libertarianism indeed attracts weirdos. Soon he was crying for unspecified, but positive reasons when Obama was elected president. And then the financial crisis:

Libertarians were (rightly) furious when our government bailed out the banks, but they fought hardest against help for ordinary Americans. They hated unemployment insurance and reduced school lunches. I used to say similar things, but in such a catastrophic recession isn’t the government supposed to help? Isn’t that the lesson of the Great Depression?

I’m going to give our friend the benefit of the doubt and say, sure, okay, you met three libertarians who were most passionately opposed to school lunches. That was their number one issue, closely followed by the horrors of unemployment insurance. But there are a lot of libertarians who would prefer to tackle the bigger issues first: war, prisons, police, the drug war, financial ruin for the country, occupational licensing, zoning laws, lack of school choice, the death penalty, transportation, whatever you like. And you would know that if you spoke to more than three libertarians — that no, most of them wouldn’t start with cutting the lunches for shoeless Appalachian children program. They’d probably start with trimming the military, the Department of Homeland Security, or that sentimental favorite, the Drug Enforcement Administration.

(And no, that is not the lesson of the Great Depression. That is not even close to being the lesson of the Great Depression. Suggesting that means you paid no attention to economics even while you were a libertarian, dude.)

Lyngar goes on to marry a Canadian liberal, then be disgusted by the racist Birthers in the Tea Party movement. He lurches towards nuance by implying that libertarians who work with the Tea Party are not necessarily the same thing as those religious freaks, etc. But then he notes that at last he has learned to “care about children — even poor ones.” Thereby separating himself from monstrous libertarians, he writes:

I love the National Park system. The best parts of the America I love are our communities. My libertarian friends might call me a fucking commie (they have) or a pussy, but extreme selfishness is just so isolating and cruel. Libertarianism is unnatural, and the size of the federal government is almost irrelevant. The real question is: what does society need and how do we pay for it?

To paraphrase the best French guy ever, Frederic Bastiat, man, liberals really seem to think that if you’re not for government funded, or government-run institutions, you must be against them entirely. Parks are awesome. Some parks also have a long history of hilariously-arrogant mismanagement by government. And it’s cool that you love communities. That means literally nothing in general, and nothing specific to libertarianism. Most of us do not wish to live alone, Unibomber-style. But we’re very keen on anyone’s right to do the best they can at achieving that sort of lifestyle.

The best part of the piece — the part that elevates it to an artful act of trolling — might be the very end. Old Ed says of libertarians: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” That quote, and its accompanying viewpoint, is common in libertarianism. It sounds arrogant, but it’s the evangelizing of a fringe belief that is forever trying to gain converts. How else do you change minds except by convincing someone they are mistaken? And it is no different than liberals who shake their heads at all those folks who “vote against their own interests” — meaning, not for Democrats. To them, libertarians, if they’re not cold, rich, Randian cutouts, they are stupidly opposed to the communitarian pleasures of the left that could benefit them so much.

We’re all snobs when we’re in our own Google Groups, bars, or political rallies. There’s nothing wrong with reveling in “yes, totally! That!” for an evening. But the folks at Salon have the ideological privilege of not ever needing to convert libertarians to their viewpoints. Liberals often treat every conservative victory (one which with libertarians may or may not agree) as an assurance that the barbarians are at the gates. Mentions cuts, and there is nothing between that and Somalia. Liberals refuse to believe that their view of the proper role of government has been a dominant one for decades. They suffer from being The Man denial.

So then, what is the the point of this piece? Optimistically, we could say it could help prove to Salon readers that all libertarians aren’t monsters. Why, there’s always the hope that they will change their evil ways! But it’s more banal than that. This intensely shallow piece is solely an exercise in back-patting. It’s one man’s courageous story of being saved from the darkness of everything Not Liberal, without even the drama of a road to Damascus moment. It’s just that the election of Obama, and the worst of the Tea Party eventually took him on a self-satisfied journey away from conspiratorial meanies to the safe ” bosom of conventional liberalism.” He finally “developed [his] own values.” But a vague sense that libertarianism by nature is cold, cruel, and crazy is not an analysis of an ideology.

Some libertarians choose to interpret the recent cascade of anti-libertarian pieces on Alternet, Salon, and NSFWCorp the last few months as proof that the philosophy is getting somewhere — it can no longer be ignored by the mainstream. But Lyndar’s piece confirms lazy liberal dominance, because why try? Why fight libertarian beliefs, when you can simply revel in having beaten their imaged end-game, as Alternet did recently, — Libertopia apparently outlaws feeding or clothing the homeless! — or simply rejoice in having banished its evil from your own mind, as Lyndar does here.

Photo by Alan Cleaver

Photo by Alan Cleaver

Finally, the song of the day can only be the best Christmas song ever, which can thankfully also be enjoyed every other day of the year:

Merry Christmas, all.

Saoirse Ronan as Daisy, some Brit as her sexy, sexy cousin.

Saoirse Ronan as Daisy, some Brit as her sexy, sexy cousin.

Welcome to The Stag Blog’s series dealing with portrayals of the end times through movies, novels, docudramas, documentaries, instructional pamphlets and films, songs, and memories. The focus will mainly be on nuclear fears during the Cold War, but we may branch out into some asteroids, aliens, or plagues. Let’s keep it loose.

Guest posts are particularly welcome on this subject — give me your best nuke movies, your memories of hiding under desks, or your childhood (or adult) worries over alien invasion.

This week, the subject is the new movie How I Live Now, and the 2004 young adult novel upon which it is based. It is a story of war, moving to a new country, and why sometimes you just need to sex up those relatives who catch your eye.

Apocalypse cinema or television (or even books) lives for the money shot — be it grand destruction of a famous monument, or a more humble bit of well-written or captured horror. The movie How I Live Now has two types of sequences, the bleak and the bucolic. It does them both very well, but in the end, though it’s better than the Meg Rosoff YA novel upon which it is based, the movie falls apart for similar reasons. It’s as flimsy as its anorexic, neurotic heroine, and though it tries to find a hard-ass center, there just isn’t much to it.

In each medium, 15-year-old Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is a cold New Yorker. She is sent to  her cousins’ in England to get her out of the way of her father and stepmother. She killed her mother at birth, and therefore has issues. Meanwhile, war is looming, not that any teens give a shit. Upon arrival (in the book), she drops her American ‘tude approximately four minutes after meeting her wood sprite cousins. In the movie, this include annoying Issac who precociously drives at 14, scrappy Piper, sevinish and a bit of a Mary Sue, and Edmond, the dreamy, disturbingly attractive cousin. Yes, Daisy and Eddie hook up. Yes, it’s a little weird. But it wasn’t the dealbreaker for me that it was for, say, this io9 writer. It just isn’t enough to be the whole heart of the story, except, too bad, it is.

Daisy has a relatively endearing run-off sentence style in the book. But her narrow eye becomes less appealing — and much more contrived — after the fourth time she conveniently decides to ignore an adult’s explanation for what exactly the fuck is going on with this war business. Her obsessive focus, useful in surviving, if not contextualizing, is turned into an acknowledged character trait in the movie (basically OCD), but anything from her view still feels shallow and myopic.

The book just rakes on the cliches of the faeryland of England. There are more cousins there, and the cliches are divided up between them. Eddie has the mysteriously telepathic powers. He just gets Daisy, man. His twin, melded into him for the movie, is the obligatory strong, silent, and Dickon-esque type. And yes, I could choose to see this as so deliberate an homage to The Secret Garden that it is acceptable. But I can’t. If only because all that English shit was so appealing to me as a tween, I can’t. Edmond has a falcon, for fuck’s sake. I can’t stand it. He speaks to cows. The Secret Garden plus nukes sounds great. Why don’t I buy it?

The movie initially seems more promising — tightening things, and letting the loving, but not syrupy shots set the scene. And the English cottage is falling down, and there are dishes in the sink. Piper is a dirty-faced, solemn, kind, but human ginger, not a pixie making every soldier fall in love with her. The war situation is not treated quite as much as an excuse for playing Lost Boys as it is in the book. And the moment when we know something is wrong is treated with the gravity required . The paradise of a day at the swimming hole, during which Daisy begins to accept her God damned magical surroundings, is stopped by a rush of wind, darkening skies, and falling ash. We don’t even see the mushroom cloud. Little Piper, of course, calls it snow. It gives the necessary chill down the spine, and it gave me false hope that the movie was going to get away from the book more than it did. But again, if you want your doom and gloom money shots (and I do), the movie does come with that.

They survive. And still have a good time for a bit. Daisy burns her pass to go back to America because Eddie is now her whole world. But soon enough, scary soldiers (still British, though) come to separate the two boys and two girls. And that’s it for the plot, really. It’s all Daisy and Piper being shoved away into a creepy old English house, being sent to sort potatoes on a farm, and planning their escape back to their home. In some ways, the movie’s choice to ignore some of the details of the book make it better, or at least less maddening that Daisy has no questions about what the hell happened to her new country. The shots of wrecked countryside seen flickering through her window when she and Piper are taken are effective, showing enough for horror, but not enough for clarity or contrivance that she doesn’t see the whole picture.

But it’s still too little. There’s an enemy, at one point they “take [a] checkpoint.” A neighbor boy is shot, in the head, and is actually show still alive on the ground for a few seconds, groping in the mud. Same with the eerie details of a downed plane — the first object Daisy and Piper see is of an oxygen mask lying in the woods. Shudder. And the same with the moment when Daisy has to dig through a pile of bodies to make sure it’s not her cousins. It’s flawlessly-crafted, in the vein of the opening of the pilot for The Walking Dead, but much starker. Yet, it’s still just a nightmare moodpiece. (This is a problem for apocalyptic fiction — that dread is unsustainable — and why it so often delves into survivors sniping. And why the fiction that doesn’t do that is something special.)

Too many sad pop songs over beautiful landscape. Too many montages. How I Live Now doesn’t commit the unforgivable sin of putting conspicuous music over its worst bits, but the filler feels like all music sometimes. The frantic, whispered voices in Daisy’s head that were supposed to represent her OCD and anorexia worked better than I would think. I appreciate that she didn’t warm up and become hero mom figure to Piper like she did in the book, but some sign of caring about the red-headed moppet wouldn’t have been amiss. Ronan is good, the Brits are all decent. Nobody is stilted, but nobody is exceptional.

And though the lovely cinematography of the movie makes the book’s flimsy plot seem more substantial, it had the same endless problem. I want to know more about the war. And I want more than a teenager falling in love with a place and her cousin, then being taken away, and having to walk back for a week over broken landscape. Piper and Daisy seem exhausted, in book and movie, but I still want to say, dammit, have you not seen Rabbit-Proof Fence? You pansies think a week of walking in England is bad? Somehow, again in both mediums, the characters treat the situation too heavily and too lightly. And nobody ever asks what’s going on. I don’t care how hot your cousin is, I don’t care you much you miss him, you take the time to fucking ask an adult who nuked London.

165341)  Cigarette Smoking Man (The X-Files)

Strangely calm — maybe it was the Canadian accent — and occasionally vulnerable (seemingly) in later seasons, there was something compelling about this guy. We seem him as the top villain for Mulder, but then we see that he is just a part of the much bigger conspiracy. He’s the guy they go to for clean-up and it has cost him a normal human existence. His centric episodes are never dull. (Always wondered why he didn’t just take out Mulder, though.) He smokes not like a villain trying to intimidate someone, but like a man with all the time in the world, who isn’t even thinking about any of it.

2) Darth Vader (Star Wars)

Iconic, duh. Think of him in the first movie when he’s the terrifying cyborg, but is beneath Grand Moff Tarkin. And he has that strange commitment to this mysterious religion. We learn more about him. He blows up a whole planet. He can choke people with his hand. He is willing to get into a TIE Fighter and fight — albeit, not very well. And though people usually mock Mark Hamill’s acting when he discovers the terrifying truth about his parentage, well, think how you would feel. Look at Luke Skywalker’s reaction and realize, it’s serious, horrifying stuff to be the son of this man.

3) The Joker (The Dark Knight)

The late Heath Ledger really did deserve those accolades, regardless of their inevitability after his tragic death. Ledger plays the Joker in a transformative, uncomfortable, annoying (those fucking sounds he makes, aaaugh!) disturbing way. It’s such good acting that it’s fun to watch. He’s the best part of the movie, and is on my short list of highly praised things that are not remotely overrated. The greater meaning of the anarchic character isn’t important. Just fucking watch him act.

4) Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones TV show)

Not the sadistic King Joffrey? Not the real power, Tywin Lannister? Nope. Give me Cersei, because we see her struggling to be a villain. She’s a woman, she’s maybe not as smart as she thinks she is, but she’s wily enough to fight hard for what she thinks is hers. She’s funny as hell. And she loves her scary-ass son, because he is just about all she has, but she knows he’s sick. She knows how women gain power, but she still yearns to be playing at the big kids table. You see her when her villainous swagger is on, and you see her being completely dismissed by her father and intellectually trailing behind her brother. She’s fascinating. And she has the world’s most flawless bitch face.

5) O’Brien (1984) and The Operative (Serenity)

Like all good top villains in a dystopia, O’Brien knows all the counter-arguments with which our hero has struggled. He knows them all and can beat them with authority, charm, conviction, and the terrifying certainty of his position. He inflicts the pain, and he is someone to whom Winston Smith can finally speak freely. He knows what he does and he does it because power exists to keep itself alive. No grand motives. Just keeping the system going.

The Operative sees even more clearly than O’Brien does that he does terrible things. But he thinks he is doing them to build something better. Yet, he also thinks there is no place in that world for people like him with so much innocent blood on their hands. He’s the mechanism for improvement at a terrible price, but he has no illusions about being warmly invited into into the new society. Strange character. Very human for a villain, but very frightening.

6) Angelus (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

God damn was he a better monster than a hero. Bland, self-hating (understandable, but still), earnest, when he had a soul, he was playfully sadistic without one. He tortured a woman into insanity, he toyed with a lovesick Giles (best character) after killing his ladyfriend. The contrast between that guy and the guy trying to do right makes even the dull fellow more interesting, just because we know what nastiness is inside of him.

What are some of your favorites, dear readers?

  • 6.Mencken drinking-I’ve had an impressively mediocre two weeks of travel, and really should have updated the blog more, but sickness, plus relatives, plus just bad travels didn’t really bring on the writing itch. Few highlights include: being stuck in a Kafaesque loop of being sent from House desk to Senate desk to House media gallery to Senate media gallery on Capitol Hill, plus having Capitol police having pick up one my socks; firing some satisfyingly huge guns in North Carolina and shopping at an endearingly sketchy military surplus store (cash only, for paranoia purposes); and of course screaming “SHUT UP ABOUT GLUTEN” at the Museum of Sex in New York City. But really, that was mostly it. Somehow the whole of my journeys was not what the parts promised to be.
  • In other news about people The Stag Blog likes, Radley Balko is moving to Washington Post, which is both great for him, great for libertarianism, and rough for those of us who will now feel obligated to read WaPost.
  • Kennedy and Matt Welch will be cohosting a new Fox Business show called The Independents, so for the ill-fitting suit jackets and the mismatched patterns alone (if you know me, you know this is high praise indeed), it will be worth a watch. Here is a snotty, lazy Gawker summation of things. I assume the comments are horrifying beyond words, so don’t bother with that.
  • In humbler news, brother Joe has been told to get a webcam, so that The Stag Blog’s new Google+ show can finally get started. It’s called Politics for People Who Hate Politics, and if you want to be a guest, annoying me about it is encouraged. More details will come. It should be fun.
  • Hey, my latest VICE piece is about how Homeland Security are being assholes to Canadians with past mental health problems.
  • What’s happening in the world? Hmmm.
  • Well, stop pretending the drug war is over, because this guy’s ruined life begs to differ.
  • NYPD mistakes Brooklyn man’s breath mints for ecstasy.
  • Is this is true, I can’t even began to process how horrifying it is. Read with caution: “I Am a False Rape Allegation Statistic”
  • Here is a decent Gawker response to the is that woman who wrote the not-very-good-sorry poverty essay actually poor or not kerfuffle.
  • 1920s prosthetic limbs
  • I want to live in J.D. Tuccille’s society. He makes anarchy sound fun, God save his crazy bootlegging family.
  • This Orange County reporter is covering/livetweeting the trial of the cops who killed Kelly Thomas.
  • Prohibition slang.
  • Currently reading this ancient Vanity Fair piece on the mysterious, sordid death of Hitler’s way too beloved half-niece.

Pam sums up the feeling of not having a reaction ready for the death of notable person:

Today’s video:

No, don’t ask questions.

policeLast year, Alex Saleh, a convenience store owner in Miami Gardens, Florida, installed 15 security cameras in and around his shop—but not to protect his business, which is in a rough neighborhood of a rough city, against shoplifting or any other crime. The 36-year-old put in the cameras because his employees and customers were getting bothered so often by the police. Thanks to Saleh, countless incidents of the cops harassing and arresting the neighborhood’s mostly poor, mostly black residents were caught on tape. A Miami Herald story about the cops’ habitual and casual mistreatment of Miami Gardens residents has gone viral (it has 21,000 Facebook likes at the moment), mostly because of the incontrovertible evidence of the cameras and the outrageous details of the harassment.

One of Saleh’s employees, a 28-year-old named Earl Sampson, has been stopped by police 258 times in four years and searched 100 times. He’s been arrested 62 times for just “trespassing,” and most of those incidents happened at the convenience store itself. One arrest, in June 2012, happened while Sampson was stocking shelves. Exactly how many scores of trespassing arrests does it take for Miami Gardens police to remember where someone works?

According to the Herald piece, Saleh initially consented to participate in a “zero-tolerance” program, which meant cops could come into his business and stop or arrest anyone who was loitering or trespassing. But the shopkeeper claims he tried to get out of the program after becoming concerned about how aggressive the police were being, and the cops responded by continuing to harass his customers and workers. Saleh also says that when he first tried to bring evidence of this behavior to internal affairs, several officers came into his store and stood silent for several minutes in what seemed to him to be an attempt at intimidation.

The rest here

I was listening to Taylor Swift, then I read about New Mexico cops and their officical sexual assault, and I had to switch over to NWA and a band that is actually called Copstabber.

This week, two men in New Mexico claimed they were subjected to horrific invasive anal medical procedures after minor traffic incidents during which the cops came to suspect they were carrying drugs. On November 5, a local news station reported that David Eckert was suing the city of Deming, Hidalgo County, and the officers and doctors responsible for his mistreatment during a January incident. Eckert was pulled over by officers because he didn’t come to a full stop while trying to exit a Walmart parking lot. At some point during their interaction, the cops decided that Eckert seemed to be “clenching his buttocks,” and their dog indicated it smelled drugs under Eckhart’s seat. According to Eckert’s recently filed lawsuit, local cops and state troopers got permission from a judge to send him to the hospital to get intimately probed for narcotics. Reportedly, a doctor at one hospital declined to search on ethical grounds, but the folks at Gila Regional Medical Center weren’t so concerned. Though he never consented to the search, Eckert spent the next 14 hours being X-rayed, got anally probed twice, and was given an enemathree times then forced to defecate in front of cops and doctors. None of this uncovered any drugs, but Eckert was billed for all these procedures, which cost thousands of dollars.

A startlingly similar story comes from Timothy Young, who was stopped by New Mexico state deputies in October of last year after he neglected to use his blinkers while turning. The very same dog that smelled drugs on Eckert also “found” some contraband in Young’s car, so he too was taken to Gila Medical Center and subjected to a similar battery of anal probing and X-rays. The team at KOB 4, the local news station, discovered that the dog isn’t even certified in the state of New Mexico, but Jacob Sullum at Forbes pointed out that dogs can continue to be used as drug detectors even if they are wrong most of the time, just so long as the cops say that the canines are doing their jobs.

The rest here, plus bonus background on the semi-legal status of this sexual assault.

Welcome to The Stag Blog’s new series dealing with portrayals of the end times through movies, novels, docudramas, documentaries, instructional pamphlets and films, songs, and and memories. The focus will mainly be on nuclear fears during the Cold War, but we may branch out into some asteroids, aliens, or plagues. Let’s keep it loose.

Guests posts are particularly welcome on this subject — give me your best nuke movies, your memories of hiding under desks, or your childhood (or adult) worries over alien invasion.

Do you fear this man’s invention
That they call atomic power
Are we all in great confusion
Do we know the time or hour
When a terrible explosion
May rain down upon our land
Meting horrible destruction
Blotting out the works of man

There are a lot of songs about nuclear war, more than I realized — a few of them passed by in nuclear war documentaries, and my Cold War history class senior year of college. But the first I heard, and so far the most epic is Alabama country-gospel brotherly duo the Louvin Brothers’ original composition “Great Atomic Power.”

There are two versions. Above is the more bluegrass-tinged one.

This song is awful, and wonderful, and creepy-Christian exploitative. It says the times are scary and uncertain, we might get nuked at any moment by the dirty Ruskies, but good news, there’s Jesus. Jesus will have your back, come mushroom cloud or nuclear winter. Indeed, that’s the only option available for those who want everlasting life free of the horror of man’s latest bad idea:

There is one way to escape it
Be prepared to meet the lord
Give your heart and soul to Jesus
He will be your shielding sword
He will surely stay beside you
And you’ll never taste of death
For your soul will fly to safety
And eternal peace and rest

It’s certain, it’s even cheerful, but then it ends with:

When the mushrooms of destruction
Fall in all it’s fury great
God will surely save His children
From that awful awful fate

It’s got the subtlety of Bert the Turtle singing “Duck and Cover.” It’s got the soothing spiritualism of  Jesus Camp, and is just as likely to traumatize the children. 

Except that it’s also pure poetry and strangeness. And that ending, well, Charlie and Ira sound convinced, but “God will surely save his children” sounds just a little hopeful, just a little desperate when you think about it. They believed it, but they were making damned sure all the same. This meeting of old-school fire and brimstone and new seemed a bizarre concept when I first heard it, but it works.

Any other favorite end of the world songs?