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January 21, 2005

Some Finds

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Some terrific finds. First, three blogs that I'm new to, and that I'm having a lot of fun catching up with:

* Luke Lea, who has been a brainy and unfailingly civilized commenter at a number of different blogs, has recently started his own blog, BornAgainDemocrats. Luke's got a heap of ideas that, IMHO, would do the Dems a lot of good to pay attention to. He also proposes an agenda that even I can feel some enthusiasm about. Luke's views are liberal in ways I find very appealing, and conservative in a just-as-attractive sense.

It took dimwitted me a couple of seconds to realize that Luke has put up a multipaged website. Here's the blog; here's the homepage. Here's Luke in typically good form on a question I'm sure many who have encountered libertarianism in its more-dogmatic forms online have puzzled over: "Is Libertarianism the Socialism of the 21st Century?" Luke has a well-seasoned appreciation for life's complexities and contradictions, as well as the persistence and clear-headedness it takes to think through questions anyway.

* Moira Breen, who has stopped by 2Blowhards a few times, has started co-blogging with David Fleck here, and it's hard to imagine a feistier or brighter couple. Both Moira and David are down-to-earth yet quirky too. Hey: smart, approachable people with many sides to their personalities -- you won't often run across that combo in the mainstream media. This wry Moira posting made me chuckle; she confesses that she once read a history of heavyweight boxing just because she needed something to read. Now there's a real book addict. David considers the pros and cons of Wikipedia here -- essential survival reading for anyone who does research on the Web.

* I feel like a dolt when I run across a firstclass blog that's been a going thing for a while already. Why didn't I know about it earlier? Although too-much-to-keep-track-of-ness seems to be a basic fact of life in a be-Webbed world, my own emotional wiring seems to be a holdover from the pre-Web universe.

Anyway: Dave Munger has been blogging since April of last year, but I've just started to read him. Like Luke, Dave displays an enviable combo of personal openness, respect for established ways, and wordly realism. I've especially enjoyed wrestling with Dave's recent musings about books and ebooks. (Here, here and here.) My own, rather offbeat, take on the ebooks/books question can be read here. Short version: since we're already doing a lot of e-reading and e-writing, why get stressed about what's a book and what's not? Isn't the reading and the writing more important than the book-iness? Dave makes a lot of less-kooky points.

And here are some helpful web resources:

* Thanks to visitor Barry Wood, who sent along links to a couple of BBC pages. Here's a series of conversations led by Melvyn Bragg that covers the basics of Philosophy 101. And here's one-stop shopping for many of the BBC's music programs. I'm listening to a four-part documentary about Ray Charles as I type.

* I was surfing the Internet Movie Database last night and --

Hold on: it occurs to me to wonder if there are moviefan visitors to 2Blowhards who haven't yet discovered the Internet Movie Database? If so, hie thee hence, and pronto. The IMDB is really astounding: the most extensive database of film credits that has ever been created. It's also hyperlinked up the wazoo, which means endless trivia-browsing pleasure for movie fools. You might follow (for example) a writer's career for a few movies, zig off and learn a bit about which movies a certain cinematographer shot, then lateral-move your way to find out what became of that actress you once noticed. IMDB is one of the dozen sites I keep on my IE "hotlinks" bar.

Anyway, I was poking around the IMDB last night. For some reason I'd gotten interested in the question, "Who was in the cast of the Jacqueline Susann adaptation, 'Once is Not Enough'?" (Movie fools, eh?) Another thing the IMDB features is viewer reviews of many of the movies it lists. Most of these reviews are fine, if nothing special. When I started reading one particular review of "Once is Not Enough," though, my eyebrows went up. The review was terrific. Here's how it starts:

Wackadoo slice of late Susann--the most swanky I-love-daddy fantasy ever committed to celluloid. Little princess Deborah Raffin can't get over those warm, tingly feelings she has for Daddy (Kirk Douglas), a worn-out Hollywood producer reduced to marrying a lesbian billionaire (Alexis Smith) to keep Princess in cashmere.

Now, that strikes me as just the right tone for discussing a lewd, enjoyable movie: appreciative without being idiotic, campy without being too, too silly. Hitting this tone -- which seems to me semi-essential for discussing movies -- isn't as easy as it might look. Here's the basic challenge -- one, by the way, that the invention of movies seems to have been responsible for bringing into the general cultural conversation: we watch and sometimes enjoy a lot of movies we know are no good in any traditional sense. Sometimes we love these movies even more than we love the greats. How to acknowledge the genuine pleasure we sometimes take in trash? And what's the relationship between trash, art, and pleasure, at least so far as movies go?

(I'm not sure there are hard-and-fast answers to these questions, by the way, great fun though it is to speculate about them. The kind of tone that the IMDB reviewer uses here, though, is one way writers about movies have developed in order to take these questions into account.)

This IMDB reviewer's name is Matthew Wilder, he's from L.A., and he turns out to have written several hundred reviews for IMDB. Nearly everything of Matthew's that I had a chance to eyeball last night was wonderful: funny, supersmart about how movies work, and shrewd about pleasure and performances. The sophisticated and the lowdown not at war but enhancing each other -- now that's a combo I like a lot. The stars being made of mud; the mud reflecting the stars ... Bliss.

I got as much pleasure out of Matthew's IMDB reviews as I get out of reading the work of any of the current pro movie reviewers. If I were an editor -- a recurring if idiotic fantasy -- I'd start publishing Matthew Wilder right now. Here's an archive of Matthew's IMDB reviews.



posted by Michael at January 21, 2005


Best blog I've found recently is Gary Gagliardi's Sun Tzu blog, which applies the ancient art of war (anyone remember that game?) to everything from politics to media to marketing to pomo to terrorism. Pretty cool stuff.

Posted by: Brian on January 21, 2005 09:24 PM

What a coincidence, I just discovered this gem a few days ago. I love the reviews and the way they critique movies in a way I've rarely seen before. I've already put it on my links bar.

Posted by: M.A. Smith on January 21, 2005 10:42 PM

From Luke Lea's Is Libertarianism the Socialism of the 21st Century:

The other thing about libertarianism which reminds me of socialism is its one-sidedness. Here we have another half-truth masquerading as a whole truth. But whereas socialism worshipped social justice to the exclusion of freedom, libertarianism takes just the opposite tack, making freedom the be all and end all, with all considerations of equity a mere afterthought.

The great difficulty I have in dealing with socialists, or former socialists (and admittedly, Luke Lea is a very reasonable writer) is the central religious tenet that they cannot give up: justice (or what they call social justice) = equity.

Anyone who looks at the world as it is, as it is structured, can't escape coming to the conclusion that it is hierarchical in nature. Society will always consist of - to use the old fashioned term - Master & Man. The socialist, for whatever psychological reason, is driven mad by this bedrock fact...and will not admit to it; will in fact impose crushing tyranny in order to "equalize" what cannot be equalized.

Frankly, it makes dialog next to impossible.

Posted by: ricpic on January 22, 2005 11:32 AM

Even his first stated similarity between socialism and libertarianism sucks, frankly. What, "it's in the air" works as solid common ground now? For anyone milkfed on Marks' Manifesto this suspiciously reeks of "Spectre is haunting Europe - a spectre of communism".

He conviniently overlook the principal difference between the two, namely, the issue of private property. Soviet system didn't "worshipped social justice to the exclusion of freedom", it denied their citizen right to own property. Everything else followed.

you cannot maintain much real social justice over the long run without a great deal of individual freedom in a society like ours, and neither can you have much liberty over the long haul without a substantial measure of social equity. The Soviet Union proved the former proposition...

On the contrary, dear sir, there were no social equity in Soviet Union, exactly because one class was proclaimed to be justified in whatever ugly deeds they were doing; mass murder, theft (called expropriations and redistribution), destruction of religious institutions, the list goes on. And this "social justice" was imposed on the next generation, and the one after that - people who had absolutely nothing to do with whatever injustices were perpetrated by Russian aristocracy of the 1900.

As to Mr.Lea's question, is libertarianism going to turn out as great social evil as socialism was: what if may be, just may be - there will be no social evil? What if the result of libertarianism will be:
-no reverse discrimination in our educational institutions,
- no rasist "only for blacks" shows and networks,
- no handouts for freeloaders,
- no protection of criminals against law-abiding citizens, no state theft?
Where dignity and rights of individual, not state, come first, where people valued on merit, not their sexual preferences or race of their ancestors, - that's where real freedom - and real social equality rule.

I haven't met any comments of Mr.Lea previously and can't judge civility of it; what I noticed is his peculiar style. How to put it mildly...his love of truth can't tolerate false modesty:

I realize, of course, that what I am saying is a highly paradoxical truth, and one that human nature has a hard time coming to terms with.

For a long time now, since election, I avoid anything written by a liberal (or a Democrat). If Mr. Lea constitutes the most reasonable writing they can produce - I'm afraid further exploration of other examples look quite unappealing to me.

Posted by: Tatyana on January 22, 2005 04:02 PM

Luke, dude, are you out there? Let's have none of that leftie wimping-out stuff. Time to stand up for yourself!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 22, 2005 04:15 PM

Tatyana - I'm afraid further exploration of other examples look quite unappealing to me.

You have a good chance of liking this!

(You might need Bugmenot.)

Posted by: Brian on January 22, 2005 10:03 PM

You're right, Brian, that was much better. Although his wish re: Ms. Arundhati Roy seems a tad unreasonable - I had a pleasure listening to one of her speeches on C-SPAN and had a swell time. No, really. Mark of truly spectacular comedian, to carry on utter noncense with poker straight face; I was falling off my sofa.

She should warm up audiences before truly boring quasi-Trotskys, she'll make millions.

Posted by: Tatyana on January 22, 2005 11:22 PM

Well...I don't pretend any articulateness along the lines of Mr. Lea, and am not speaking to his post.

But...regarding Tatyana's thoughts, which are the thoughts of others I know including family members: I think the reason so many people still vote democratic (because most libertarians actually vote republican) is exactly this line of argument. Everyone noticed how well "we're gonna let Medicare die on the vine" worked for Newt Gingrich, right? It's the toughest form of "survival of the fittest" with the people doing the arguing certain, apparently, that they and those they love will always be among the "fittest."

One very successful theme that the Repubs have used against the Dems is: the Democrats are lying, the just want weak people dependent upon a social welfare state, and they are just courting votes by handing out tax money which never really pulls anyone up by the bootstraps, that they are just consolidating power for themselves by screwing the most industrious among us etc., etc.

The reverse argument is of course: the Republicans really are coldheared bastards, who really do just want to split the pie between the "dominant" class (consolidating power with themselves, and not the other guys---and, yes, still some emphasis on "guys"), and really don't care about ideas like civilized societies setting up programs to help people who need a hand up. That they don't really care that, if the world is left up to its own devices, it WILL commit discrimination of the racial and sexual variety, and it won't care about being "fair." If people were so fair about everything, no discrimination would have existed in the first place which required redressing. To me, when Republicans take this tack--which I think is the real thinking of people like Don Rumsfeld--they sound exactly like the academic elite which this blog spends a lot of time highly criticizing, for thinking they "know" and they will "let us know" what is important. People who hate welfare...must be pretty damn certain they will never need it.

I'm college-educated and have never spent one hour on a government social program, but I've never been so sure I wouldn't ever be there. And I don't believe if you leave it to the ruling class that we can be comfortable there won't be aggregious discrimination. I don't know I won't need Medicare. I don't believe gun owners can just be trusted to be smart about it. As Bill Clinton said in his autobiography, after growing up in Arkansas, he saw problems that he simply didn't believe would ever be solved strictly through private charity and private action. It did take a national institution like government to fix them.

You notice that what got Bush in the door was "compassionate conservatism"---not Hell, survive if you can!

And as long as Republicans keep forgetting this, they will continue to win elections by only 100,000 votes in Ohio, when they should have had a landslide.

(What has been somewhat amusing to me, among the conservative press, is that there was much ridicule of Gore four years ago for losing, when he should have won big. Nobody seems to be mentioning that a war president should have won by a lot bigger margin than he did this time around).

Posted by: annette on January 23, 2005 09:47 AM

Michael - Thanks for the kind link and generous words. (And the other great links, as usual.)

Posted by: Moira Breen on January 23, 2005 10:25 AM


With all due respect the notion that those who oppose the ever expanding "compassionate" State are a bunch of Simon Legrees is laughable.

Both you and I were born into a huge bloated wasteful State which provides safety nets in triplicate. The most that any evil Republican will be able to manage is a little nip-tuck around the edges.

The real question to be asked is: [i]Is[/i] the State compassionate? All the evidence points in the other direction. The groups that have done best in America are those that have sidestepped the State and relied on family (nuclear and extended) support.

There isn't a one of us, if he is honest with himself, who hasn't been helped by a recommendation, a loan, a foot in the door proferred by a father an aunt a second cousin even.

State compassion (which is really contempt) infantilizes those who buy into it, and renders them, over time, incapable of forming the family structures and family organizations that have traditionally, and very successfully, formed the first rungs on the ladder up.

This is an endless topic but I'll stop now.

Posted by: ricpic on January 23, 2005 11:13 AM

Sorry, don't know how to do the italics thing on this site.

Posted by: ricpic on January 23, 2005 11:15 AM

First, easy business: ricpic, use "less" and "more" signs instead of [ ].

Next, about social net and help for the weak.
"The most frightening words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I am here to help."
Ronald Reagan.
To rely on government is to subscribe to your own personal failure before even the fight starts.
Annette, instead of trying to retain Medicare/aid program for your theoretically pennyless retirement, why don't you try to build some savings, buy long-term care insurance, research other means of securing your own future by yourself? You're young, still have many years of productive activity in front of you. If your job doesn't pay enough, isn't it more reasonable to start looking for better-paying one, even if it's not the passion of your life than sulk, throw infantile tantrum and cry - "I work 24/7 and still don't have enough to fund my retirement years! Now you, more successful people of this country, should support me!" Why should they?

I'm not very proficient in Bible, unlike many of Democrat-voting citizens of this country, but even I know about "giving fish to the poor" vs. "means to catch the fish"; what is guaranteed to help in the long run?

Safety net in America is woven so tight it resembles a blanket. I know people (Columbian immigrants, to be specific) who had been milking multiple charities AND local, state and federal govewrnments for decades contributing very little themselves.
Unlike Annette, I had a pleasure to use government assistance for 4 months, from 5th to 9th month of my being in this country. Worst, the most humiliating and most destructive for me and my family, months. I agreed to $5.50/hr job, being the only provider and knowing I'll loose the medical program just to get out of welfare. It's a swamp, it drowns you, it devour your will to live, it transforms you into a greedy parasite, it ruins your self-respect, it raises your children as beggars.

Existing blown out of proportion government (on all levels) assistance programs eat up huge chunk of funds set aside to support the weak. Right now the invalids, the mentally sick, the elderly should have health of steel just to get thru bureaucratic obstacles in order to add few dollars to their monthly assistance. I know, I have parents in this situation.

What Dems propose to cure the problem? Increase gov. assistance. Right; it's like a visit to the clinic where you tell your physician the medicine doesn't work and he says "Take a bigger dose of it".

Posted by: Tatyana on January 23, 2005 12:38 PM

Ricpic---I'm not categorically stating that those that oppose an ever-expanding welfare state are Simon Lagrees. Im saying its the impression that the Republicans in Power leave, and its what has prevented the country from just throwing in the towel and having only one party in the Repubs. Remember, what brought Clinton back from the abyss was the budget standoff in 1995, when he refused to let the Republicans ram through a practically complete collapse of welfare. That hurt the Republicans badly, and if Clinton had kept his pants zipped, it would still be hurting them. Actually, the Republicans probably owe as much to Clinton's idiocy as they do to their manful stand against the expanding welfare state. I mean--they've had both houses of Congress for a decade now. They can't blame anybody but themselves for not dismantling the social net more. They haven't done it because its political suicide, but if they keep TALKING about doing it, they will hurt their own political power-wielding, not HELP it. If the Dems come back with the White House in '08, it will be because of hawkish miscalculations on the world stage and the fear that Gringrich Thought is back at home that will do it. That's all I'm saying.

Posted by: annette on January 23, 2005 12:49 PM

PS--Tatyana posted at the same time. Just one question---if public assistance was so terrible, why stay on it for five months? Why not quit after two weeks of that kind of humiliation? Surely, as Ricpic points out, there were PLENTY of private citizens who would have supported you in a less embarassing way, right? Or...better still...why not take your own advice? Why didn't you save a little money before coming here and plopping down on the very safety net you now criticize?

Posted by: annette on January 23, 2005 12:57 PM

Four months, not five, Annette.
As to why:
1. I entered US as a refugee, not as a regular immigrant. That means I had
- no relatives to pay my bills;
- country I ran from stripped me of it's citizenship (and made me pay for the act), along with any pension/stipend, etc I might acquire as Soviet citizen. Nor could I bring along my savings however small; people leaving former Soviet Union for permanent residence in US were allowed (at the Soviet customs) to be in the posession of 2 suitcases of personal items and $150 per adult. Money transfers were illegal; you would end up in jail for "foreign currency speculation" if you attempt it on your own. We had enough money to pay deposit for a very shabby apartment, but not first rent.

2. Private citizens/charity did help us. Jewish refugee agency NAYANA paid for our plane tickets and gave us some monetary assistance during first 4 months, along with providing English courses for us - and I'm forever grateful.

3. I went off welfare as soon as I was able to find a job, (legal, taxes-paying job, mind you) with my lack of English, 5 yr son and unemployed husband and very limited manual labor skills. And I swore I will never work for the government. Enough that I support it with my hard-earned money ever since. Can you say that about yourself?

You mistakenly think I advocate dismantling welfare and other public assistance programs alltogether. What I'm saying instead, it should be minimized, stripped from beureaucratic parasites to benefit the recipients, not "social workers".

I would much prefer if we stayed on the initial subject of libertarianism versus socialism and leave all other objects of your frustration and hatred - election, Clinton, arrogant Republicans for some other time.

Posted by: Tatyana on January 23, 2005 03:50 PM

" ... we watch and sometimes enjoy a lot of movies we know are no good in any traditional sense."

I'd argue that the cultural role of guilty pleasures predates schlocky movies by centuries -- notably in the form of pulp fiction. The blockbuster novel dates back a long way. And as Noel Coward remarks: "Strange, how potent cheap music is."
Twas ever thus.

Posted by: Dave F on January 24, 2005 07:54 AM

Careful---don't ascribe "hatred" to me---my comments have been less charged than many, including those who accuse others of "hatred." And, yes, it is news that you are not advocating the entire dismantlment of the safety net. It certainly didn't sound that way. I guess "no handouts to freeloaders" (your words) excludes anyone who's had the citizenship revoked in another country.

Posted by: annette on January 24, 2005 10:52 AM

It that was not a hateful remark than our definitions irreconcilably differ.

A question, when somebody says in one sentence "I'm college-educated and never spend one hour on government assistance" I assume she personally paid full tuition and related expenses for all years in college and no private schoolarships/ relative help was involved? If not, I'm justified to throw any amount of stones in her direction.

Posted by: Tatyana on January 24, 2005 11:11 AM

If you think so...

Interesting though that you think "throwing stones" is EVER the right approach. I think my original point stands.

Posted by: annette on January 24, 2005 11:15 AM

OK, I'll [patiently] explain my position one more time.

-By "freeloaders" I meant people like the Columbian family I personally know, who's been living off other people' taxes for decades. I also put in this category various "public servants" - clerks in the welfare office, f.ex., armies of whom similarly live off people's taxes.

-I reread my comments but, sorry, couldn't find anything resembling "demolish whole social program system". Again, in my opinion, current social services system is ineffective; multiple governmental programs serve themselves more than the needy - who do exist (in much smaller quantities than assumed) and do need assistance. This assistance should be: a) temporary b) more of acquiring self-sustaining skills than in goods and services c) preferably private, from charities operated as business enterprise - with small overhead and competitive product offered.

- I don't see anything criminal or parasitic when somebody in dire surcumstances uses public or private assistance - as long as it is temporary and later repaid. I look at it as an investment into human resource.
If student receives public-funded education and later gets well-paying job allowing him not to rely on other public programs, f.ex. Medicare in his retirement years - I think it's a good return on society's investment.
Similarly, I don't think I still own the government for my 4 months on welfare - I've repaid it in multiples by giving back enormous chunk of my income during following 12 years.

- One of the reasons, I think, that Democrats lost the election, is their populist stance of promising gratis various impossible goodies under cover of "social caring". Like this perls from Mr. Edwards:
"When your brother calls and says that heís working all the time at the office and still canít get ahead ó you tell him... hope is on the way"; "When your neighbor calls you and says that her daughter has worked hard and wants to go to college - you tell her... hope is on the way"
Democratic National Convention
Note, he's not saying here "find a better job for your brother where he will be promoted" or "lend some money to your neighbour". Average taxpayer understands immediately where all the extra goodies are going to come from, and that it is not a loan.

Strange as it may seem to those with "give me- give me" mentality (and socialist fondness to Robin Hoodish "redistribution of wealth"), some people prefer not to be bribed, don't want to live off her/his neighbour, will rather pay their way thru college and thus not to be obliged to the Big Brother.

Last thing, I respond badly to personal attacks: I don't limit myself to stones; it's more like "two eyes for an eye". None of that Christian meekness, I'm afraid.
May be I should look into yoga... Michael?

Posted by: Tatyana on January 24, 2005 02:28 PM

This may not be an inappropriate place to raise this question, but for the benefit of friends and relatives who may be arriving from countries that were formerly part of the USSR, by what route did you enter that refugee status didn't come with a monthly check?

Did a bit with the YMCA and a lot of what was going on was making sure that a) people from certain countries were getting their U.S. Gov checks as official refugees and b) people from other countries who were getting services or help with other services from the Y did not know that their friends and neighbors in the housing we used were getting checks from Uncle Sam.

Seriously, if you know anyone who is or has recently arrived, check with local libraries and charities about lucre.

Posted by: J.C. on January 27, 2005 12:45 AM

This IS an inappropriate place to ask personal questions; my e-mail is listed in my comment's signature, unlike yours.

To the issue:
Refugee status never came with a government check (what Department's checks were you distributing? For how long? To the refugees from what countries?), at least I never heard of such a thing.
According to the US Immigration policy, refugees are"...people who are outside their homeland and have been persecuted in their homeland or have a well-founded fear of persecution there on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion".

There IS a difference in comparison to a regular immigrants (let's say, from Britain - why don't you ask Felix, for example, about his financial &c circumstances upon arrival in US), and I don't see why YMCA clerks' job would be to hide the fact of someone's status from his neighbor in housing.
What is known as biggest benefit of having a refugee status, at least to me, is that you're getting a stamp on your arrival visa in airport giving you an immidiate right to work legally for 90 days, during which you should receive your regular Social Security card. You're also entitled to the same benefits -under same procedures- in Labor Department (welfare and unemployment, etc) as regular citizens. Other than that, I don't know of any additional special refugee treatment.

However bad my situation was, I wasn't exactly destitute and I am aware there were (and are) people who arrive practically naked from various disasters in their mother countries. I vaguely remember immigration officer asking us is there place for us to stay. I assume people who say "no" are probably given a limited-time assistance from Immigration authorities.

Oh, and your local library only post notices about charity drives and blanket collection, nothing more "lucrative".

Posted by: Tatyana on January 27, 2005 09:46 AM

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