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Pithy TV Recommendations

Odd shows I've been enjoying lately:

Top Design, Top Chef, and I just started watching Workout. Bravo does a great job of making entertaining shows that are intentionally gay-friendly and, in some sense, propagandizingly so. Now that they have shows about cooking, interior decorating, personal training, hair styling, and runway modeling, are there any gay career clichés left unconvered?

X-Play on G4 rivals John Henson era Talk Soup and consistently has better political and social satire than the Daily show. For a taste of their style, check out their trailer for Passion of the Christ 2: Judgement Day:

Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel is really interesting too, combining exotic locations, food criticism, and well, bizarre foods.

This season's American Idol is disappointing compared to last, but I'm really looking forward to the offseason (the end of this month) for So You Think You Can Dance, which is in many ways a much more entertaining show than Idol.

BSG, Veronica Mars, and the Office remain as excellent as ever, as does Reno 911. Lost and 24 are definitely losing steam, if they haven't jumped the shark already.

Lord Acton on the CW

Ugh, last night's episode of Veronica Mars, Un-American Grafitti, was a real downer.

I must have missed the previous episode where Keith Mars is appointed interim sheriff. What a perfect example of the corrupting influence of power and authority. As a private dick, Veronica's dad was cool and reasonable. Once he gets a taste of statist power, he becomes an asshat killjoy, going out of his way to crack down on underage drinking in the local bars of a college town.

His reasoning? A 19-year-old drunk bar patron with a fake ID stumbles outside and gets hit by a car, paralyzing him from the waist down. And if this unfortunate incident had happened two years later? What nonsense.

I can't wait for Keith Mars to go back to the private sphere where he - and everyone else, for that matter - belongs. At least then we can have the Mars father and daughter duo lampoon and show-up the Reno 911-esque doofuses who normally occupy the Neptune police department.

Respect Mah Authoritah!

"Holy Terror, Batman!"

David Weigel points to this LA Times piece on Frank Miller, and his forthcoming story about Al Qaeda attacking Gotham City:

With the hero as terrorism avenger, Miller is pointing to the days of comics in the 1940s, when Superman, Captain America and the Human Torch were drawn taking punches at Hitler or Hirohito.

"These terrorists are worse than any villain I can come up with, and I think it's ridiculous that people in entertainment are not showing what we are up against here…. This is pure propaganda, a throwback, there's no bones about it."

The line, "These terrorists are worse than any villain I can come up with," reminds me of something I've been thinking a lot about lately, what with the intense media focus on mental illness and the Virginia Tech shootings.

Arkham Asylum

Namely, why is it that almost all of Batman's villains, when caught, are sentenced to imprisonment in the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane? Is there something especially horrific or evil about an insane villain as opposed to a rational one? If anything, the terms insane and villian seem to be in contradiction, insofar as the legal definition of insanity (at least in my popular culture, layman's understanding from watching far too many episodes of Law & Order) seems to be an inability to distinguish right from wrong, while villian seems to imply something about evil intent.

Do the Batman writers buy in to this (presumably) settled notion in modern psychology that insanity renders the afflicted incapable of making moral decisions in the same way that healthy adults are so able, as if the insane are malfunctioning automatons who don't necessarily deserve moral condemnation but should be locked up anyway to protect them from themselves and protect us from any future violent outbursts?

I see a few possibilities. First, (1) those who tell the Batman story do buy in to the psychological consensus regarding insanity and still find insane villians to be scarier or "worse" than sane villians. Or, (2) they buy in to the consensus but just aren't interested in telling stories about the scariest or worst imaginable villian; perhaps there is just something more fascinating about stories involving outrageous acts performed by morally blameless individuals. Alternatively, it could be the case that (3) the Batman writers simply reject the psychological conventional wisdom and regard the criminally insane as no less morally culpable than everyone else. In which case, we might ask, why bother labeling them criminally insane in the first place?

I find (2) to be the explanation most plausible, yet it is still puzzling. One can surely argue that writers are under no obligation to have Batman's antagonists be the scariest or most evil possible, only that the antagonists present the opportunity to tell interesting stories. But we see insanity pop up in thousands of other contexts, where presumably the purpose is to create the scariest and most evil villains possible. Hannibal Lector, Jack Torrance, Norman Bates - all three are horror icons, not despite their insanity, but because of it.

So now we are vexed with the seemingly counterintuitive question that brings us back to explanation (1): what is it about insanity that makes an insane criminal scarier than a sane one? Is it because the most horrific acts imaginable are only explainable tautologically, by distancing ourselves as healthy, upstanding members of the human race from the necessarily insane, inhuman acts of cannibalism, pedophilia and infanticide? Or, relatedly, perhaps we engage in this tautological distancing precisely because we fear that we ourselves are potentially in danger of one day losing our faculties of reason. Is it not scarier to consider the possibility that everyone is in danger of becoming a monster? Being as we are at the top of the food chain, we have nothing to fear but ourselves, either as an impersonalized Other, or, literally, the chance that, however remote, if placed in an environment with all work and no play, we may all become very dull boys indeed.

Dry Humor

Mom: Why did astronaut Lisa Nowak publicize that she was wearing a diaper when she was arrested for attempted murder?

Me: Maybe it just leaked out.

WTB Organs, PST

While I'm still on the topic of organ markets, it was pretty cool to come across this NYTimes book review the other day, in which V-Po discusses Kieran Healy's ''Last Best Gifts.'' It's also pretty cool that, though a hardcore lefty on most subjects, Kieran Healy, when it comes to the topic of his academic research focus, is right on the money: Read more »

Anti-Capitalism Kills

Last night's episode of ER (Season 13, Episode 16, "Crisis of Conscience") contained a great example of how capitalism saves lives and socialism destroys them. Unfortunately, the writers of the show side with the socialists, and ultimately favor murder in the name of equality.

During rounds, Dr. Neela Rasgotra bumps into an aquaintance, Manish, who is donating his kidney to a complete stranger.

Neela: I don't think I could do something like this for a stranger, so maybe it bothers me that you can.

Tax Nuts

Question: Why is it that whenever you hear of a modern-day tax protester who is willing to die/go to jail/be otherwise horribly punished for publicly refusing to fork one over to Caesar, it's never for the principled libertarian (not to mention quite reasonable and obvious) notion that taxation is theft, but because of a belief in some wacky conspiracy that no such law actually exists that requires people to pay income taxes (or that the law was impro Read more »

More Like This Please

Ruben Navarrette Jr. on the myth that native-born Americans would eagerly and gladly do the jobs being done by illegal immigrants if only wages were higher:

There are actually people out there who like to believe that there's some magical hourly or daily wage that an employer could offer at which a slew of Americans would leave their desk jobs and line up for a chance to do some of the hardest, dirtiest and crummiest jobs our society has to offer...

What Has Blizzard Done to Our Money?

In my never-ending effort to simultaneously belittle gold bugs and convince my parents that all this time I spend playing World of Warcraft is worthwhile, I'm pleased to report that WoW gold appreciates faster than real gold.

An Extraordinary Act of Public Obediance

This submission for a student movie competition made the local news a few months back. It's a great form of anti-state activism - protesting an inane law not by violating it, but by following it to the letter.

Remove the state's ability to arbitrarily enforce mostly unenforced laws and you eliminate a significant portion of its power.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Philosophy, Conspiracy Theory, Cults and the Myth of Tautological Selfishness

There isn't anything especially novel or profound with following one hyperlink to another and eventually realizing, in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-style, what a long (short?) strange trip it's been. This was one of the first Internet games I remember playing, a little over a decade ago, in which a group of teenage boys would start at some innocuous, mutually agreed upon website, and see who could reach porn first. Read more »

The Strong Hayekian Argument Against Immigration, Gay Marriage, And Ending Racial Segregation Is Morally Indefensible Bigotry

Perhaps the greatest thing that can be said about Hayek is that he was not a strong Hayekian. Rereading Jonathan Rauch's powerful essay on Hayek and gay marriage, published a few years ago in Reason: Read more »

Wulf of AtlasBlogged believes that there is no such thing as a selfless act. In the context of my example of a soldier who commits suicide to save the lives of his fellow soldiers by throwing himself on a live grenade, Wulf writes, Read more »

Followup To \"Up In Smoke\"

I didn't get a chance to respond to all of the comments in my previous post regarding the economic effect of physically lighting a $100 bill on fire, but after reading all of them, I still think the point I made is valid, with some qualification, and many of the responses, especially those claiming radical skepticism regarding the uses of money, merely complicated the issue. So in this post I'll try to elaborate a bit more in the hope that I can avoid those sorts of criticisms.

Cash does not constitute wealth. Stuff does. Money is merely a proxy, a medium of exchange, a tool that makes it easier to trade 500 bales of hay for a washing machine, without having to go through the trouble of first finding an owner of a washing machine who happens to be looking for 500 bales of hay, and then having to actually physically transport the hay to the washing machine seller and the washing machine to the hay seller. The washing machine and the hay constitute wealth. The paper we use as a proxy does not.

If we increase or decrease the money supply without actually changing any of the underlying wealth that money represents, three effects may follow.

First, the increase or decrease in money supply transfers purchasing power from some people to other people. For example, if the government simply prints more money and the underlying wealth of society remains constant, then the government essentially expropriates purchasing power from previous dollar holders to itself. As these new dollars flow through the economy, prices adjust to account for the fact that a greater number of proxies exist than did before, with no corresponding change in wealth. This is inflation. Read more »

Rothbardians Cannot Consistently Support Increased Enforcement of Immigration Restrictions

The libertarian argument against open immigration, and in favor of increased efforts in keeping illegal immigrants from getting into the country, goes something like this: These illegal immigrants are mostly just unproductive leeches seeking to live the good life of an American welfare dependent. Since we native-born Americans, as taxpayers, are forced to pay for a whole host of social services, we can think of this set of social services (which includes, but is not limited to: public schools, hospitals, retirement funds, public roads, public parks, and so forth) as collective property owned by taxpayers. In other words, we taxpayers who have paid into the system have a greater claim to this property than do citizens of other countries who did not pay into this system. We can therefore treat this collective property as if it were private property, owned by the taxpaying aggregate, and we can therefore legitimately exclude those outside our group from entering the country and stealing our collective stuff.

Of course, these libertarians argue, in a perfect world, there wouldn't be any public (i.e. state-controlled) property, so there wouldn't be any need to exclude non-natives from crossing the border. But we don't live in a perfect world, so we have to make do with the options available to us. As long as public property exists, we must treat it as if it were private property collectively owned by taxpayers, and we do this by protecting the border.

Note that libertarians who oppose immigration use this argument not only to justify the status quo (i.e. keep the current level of immigration fixed), but go even further and argue for an additional crackdown to reduce the current level of illegal immigration. Read more »