Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Jindal Speech

I watched Gov. Bobby Jindal's speech in response to the Obama speech last night. I had never heard him give a speech and knew little about him, but I got a rather strong sense of the man in a remarkably short time. This guy had to introduce himself, give a sense of who he is and were he comes from, give a sense of the part of the country he represents, characterize what is wrong with what the president is doing, say what his alternative, and indicate why it is better -- all in about six minutes.

I thought he did an excellent job. I also gave him points for focusing on the Great Issue of Issues: do you trust the people, or the state that allegedly governs them? Exactly.

And then I saw four talking heads on Fox reacting to the speech as if they had just learned that their only child is mentally retarded. The execution was "amateurish," they said. I think one of them actually said it was "childish." What on Earth are they talking about? Well, the content was okay, another said, but the message is one that the American people don't want to hear right now. One of the talking heads mentioned the "majestic" backdrop of Obama's speech. And here Bobby is standing in next to this crummy little flag. I bet they really, really would not like the above Peter Schiff video. Why, it's just some guy sitting in front of his laptop. How uncool!

I should say, I liked the content of Bobby's speech right up to the point where he said we don't need deep cuts in military spending. Oh, yes we do! The rest was fine.

To give the talking heads their due, I suppose it wouldn't hurt if Jindal would drink a lot of milk shakes and hire a voice coach to work on a booming baritone voice like The Obama's. I suppose that would be an improvement. There's a guy who can say a line like "that is our responsibility ... to ensure that we do not pass on to [our children] a debt they cannot pay" and get cheers and applause, rather than the boos and laughter that such a line, coming from Obama, deserves. That is impressive, I admit, but as the performance of a deft pickpocket is impressive.
Added later: Here are two small children who have a much solider grasp of basic ethics that does our hypocrite of a President. The first time I saw this, I cried too. (Hat-tip to Anthony Gregory at

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Lunch with Eddie

I met the fabulous animation blogger and Populärekulturmeister Eddie Fitzgerald Saturday, over lunch at Lido Pizza in the San Fernando valley. We talked for about three and a half hours. I’m afraid I uncharacteristically babbled on a great deal and missed opportunities to get more of Eddie’s unique perspective on the world, but I was so excited to be in The Presence that my impulse control was impaired.

[Any quotations below are approximate, being from memory only. Also, my apologies for the quality of these telephone pictures -- I forgot to bring my camera.]

The first thing we talked about was the elephant in the room – Los Angeles. It was all around us, in all its exhilarating philistine vulgarity!* I told Eddie I still think of something my father said when I was a kid, driving through identical ‘urbs with exotic-sounding names: “You know, these places look like they were built last night, in the dark.” Eddie said the real reason to live here is the people, it's got incredible numbers of the most interesting, creative people you can find. He talked about the brilliant Harlan Ellison, who can be seen banging on the hoods of cars that he sees driving unsafely. I talked about what a genius Rod Serling was.

Eddie has worked at every level of the animation art: drawing animation cels, storyboarding, writing scripts, directing. Like so many people with honest jobs (ie., in the private sector), he has worked for quite a number of different people. Right now, he works for an education company. His favorite work experiences were working for Ralph Bakshi and, on another occasion, John Kricfalusi (of Ren and Stimpy fame). His favorite sort of work environment is one that is dominated by a single creative imagination, a coherent and passionately conceived vision of the group's mission. His most horrific work experience was the Nickelodeon, having taken over Ren and Stimpy fired the brilliant John K. from the show he himself had created. Eddie was shocked that many of the employees failed to stand behind John and try to convince Nickelodeon that what they were doing was insane. He suffered mental scars from these events that he still has, he says, "to this day."

Eddie does some teaching, both at Cal Arts and Laguna College of Art and Design. In fact, he was going to give a lecture that evening, on animation. He rehearsed the little preface he intend to give, which would go something like this: "I'm going to tell you about animation as Eddie Fitzgerald does it, because that's the only kind I know. But I can tell you that no one else in the world knows as much about that as I do!"

About teaching: "Isn't teaching wonderful? You know, in the past, when you wanted to become a shaman, you had to have an uncle who would take you under his wing. Now, there's this stranger who knows all about something you want to know about, and he's willing to just tell it to you -- right now!" Yes, I suppose teaching is a peculiar sort of education that only exists in an economy with a division of labor. The Marxist would point out that it greatly depersonalizes the educational relationship, but it also greatly enhances the freedom (size of the choice-set) of the student. It also promotes equality. In the old system, to be a learner (or "apprentice") was a position of grovelling subservience. You would wait on your mentor hand and foot, and you had to call him "Master" (Maestro, Meister, etc.).

Eddie gave me a new and better reason to dislike what he calls “3 D” animation – ie., what I think of as computer animation. "You say, 'Okay, now the character takes his hat off' and they'll say 'He can't do that.' 'Why not.' 'His arm isn't long enough.'" It turns out computer animation has to work consistently and logically. "When you saw Daffy Duck's bill from the side, it was bent up at the end, because that's funny. From the front, it wasn't -- and they would do little cheats so you wouldn't notice it changes shape when he turns his head. Now, you can't do that, unless you have a huge budget, like Pixar, so you can afford a bunch of different programs for the same character."

One of the things I liked about old, hand-drawn animation is that it can escape from consistency and logic -- because that's funny! If 3 D can't do that except at great expense, that's another reason to regret it.

We also visited the site of the old Ayn Rand house on Tampa road, but I'll have to post about it later. Eddie blogged about our visit here.
* Here is the Ali Baba Motel, which was near the house I stayed at in Costa Mesa. Do you have an Ali Baba Motel near you? Neither do I.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

On the Road

I've been in Los Angeles for several days, doing research in the archives at the Ayn Rand Institute (photo at left from their web site). I was looking through her papers, searching for evidence I can use for an article on her attitude toward Nietzsche (the evidence, it turns out, is hard to fit together). I also had lunch with the great Eddie Fitzgerald at Lido Pizza in Van Nuys. Two exciting experiences! I'll try to blog about them upon my return.

Just thought I should explain why I have been inactive for several days.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Barack Leviathan Obama

Penn Gilette (aka the greatest living political philosopher after the death of Nozick) has a heartfelt comment on this video:

It goes like this:

I think he has noted one major Dimension of Creepiness in this video. Whatzizname from the Red Hot Chili Peppers pledges, while kissing himself, to be of service to the Leader. Then, at the end, Demi Moore pledges "to be a servant to our President." That is indeed seriously creepy. But I noticed another Eeeeewww Factor, one that is closely related to this one.

What I noticed was the shot at the end, in which all these big-government-liberal celebrities, speaking in unison as cells in a big chessboard matrix, shrink and shrink until they finally become cells in the body of the Great Obama. (In case you can't bear to listen to all of this treacle-soggy bunk, fast forward to 3:45.) Every philosophy major will instantly recognize this as the title page of Hobbes' great defense of authoritarianism, in which Leviathan (the state) is represented as composed of the bodies of countless little people (click to enlarge):

What is all this supposed to mean, if anything? We do know what Hobbes meant. He thought that if we insist on using our individual moral judgments as to matters of justice, we are doomed to live through vicious religious wars, like the English Civil War, which was raging as he wrote his book. If you value your life, you must hand your brain over to the state. You might call this the Authoritarianism of Fear. That is clearly not what is going on in the Obama video.

Maybe what is going on there is the Authoritarianism, not of Fear, but of Cowardice -- because these pretty people are welcoming subjection and servility (which Hobbes thought was merely necessary and inescapable) as positively good. Maybe the idea is that as cells in the body of "that Mortall God, to which wee owe ... our peace and defence" they enrich their lives with meaning and transcendence by being absorbed into something greater than themselves.

The Latin quote on Hobbes' title page means "there is no power on Earth like Him." In the Bible this refers of course to the Creator of the Universe, but Hobbes is applying it to the state. He has a point there. It is easy to view states and state leaders in terms that are basically religious. That in fact is probably the normal way of viewing them. But the orthodox wisely regard it as a sin nonetheless. It's called idolatry.

P. S.: Did Penn actually say "all my friends are blowing him"? I might have mis-heard that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Revolution We Need is a Copernican Revolution

The only tough question Obama got in last night's press conference had to do with his claims that, if we do not enact his massive program to spend our way back to prosperity, the current depression will become "irreversible": isn't he undermining his credibility, asked the only real journalist in the room, with this dire rhetoric? Obama answered that if we don't do what he says, we will slide into a situation like Japan in the nineties, its "lost decade."

As you can see in this front page article in the New York Times, Japan is very far from being a good argument for the Obama plan. (Hat-tip to Nick Gillespie at Hit & Run.) Apparently, Japan was pushed into its lost decade by a "stimulus" plan that bears frightening resemblance to that of Obama and friends:
Japan’s rural areas have been paved over and filled in with roads, dams and other big infrastructure projects, the legacy of trillions of dollars spent to lift the economy from a severe downturn caused by the bursting of a real estate bubble in the late 1980s. During those nearly two decades, Japan accumulated the largest public debt in the developed world — totaling 180 percent of its $5.5 trillion economy — while failing to generate a convincing recovery. ... Among ordinary Japanese, the spending is widely disparaged for having turned the nation into a public-works-based welfare state and making regional economies dependent on Tokyo for jobs. ... In the end, say economists, it was not public works but an expensive cleanup of the debt-ridden banking system, combined with growing exports to China and the United States, that brought a close to Japan’s Lost Decade. This has led many to conclude that spending did little more than sink Japan deeply into debt, leaving an enormous tax burden for future generations.
Another frightening little factoid from this article: Treasury Secretary Geithner thinks the reason the Japanese stimulus plan didn't work was that it didn't go nearly far enough. This means that he is also predicting that the Obama plan, which is much smaller, will not work either.*

As far as I know, Keynesean attempts to spend a country into prosperity have never worked. (Go here to see Robert J. Samuelson talking about one of the Keyneseans' most spectacular and horrific failures.) But the Keyneseans always have some post-hoc explanation for their bellyflops. Either they didn't spend enough, or they spent it on the wrong things, or gave the money to the wrong people, or the Arabs screwed things up by shutting off our petroleum supply, or it actually did work but then another recession set in for no apparent reason, or ...

Obviously, these people will never run out of excuses. Keyneseanism is starting to look like the old Ptolemaic astronomical theory. It frequently failed to predict the motions of the planets, but its proponents would just add another epicycle to the model and it worked again -- until the next time it didn't.

There are all kinds of reasons why humans sometimes show this seemingly psychotic imperviousness to facts and experience. Often, religion is involved -- as it was with the Christian partisans of the Ptolemaic system.

In this case, what is involved I think is politics. As it says in the above NYT article, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has pursued these ruinous policies in order to stay in power -- and it has worked. One thing these packages do stimulate is voting. The workers who built the "bridge to nowhere" in the above NYT photo (note there is no traffic on it -- click to enlarge) were very pleased with the money they were payed for doing so. Of course, as taxpayers, they also had to pay for it, but they got to share these costs with all the other taxpayers, while its benefits were focused on them. Thus these "public sector" projects are actually private goods, and those who vote against them and in favor of the "private sector" are actually providing a public good. That is why people have a strong motive to vote for such spending and a weak one to vote against it. The result is more and more votes for bigger and bigger spending, and plenty of people with an interest in developing theories to justify it.

The Copernican revolution was long delayed by the fact that those who opposed the increasingly complex and counter-intuitive Ptolemaic theory were also going against the Church. Those who speak for simple economic sense today are going against the Church of the State.
* Speaking of fright, I just noticed what investors think of Obama's press conference: gold soared and stocks plunged to October Crash levels. Well, maybe it was a coincidence. It could be because the Senate today passed a version of the package that would cost about $20 billion more than the one passed by the House last week. Added later: At the end of the day, I realize the market meltdown was caused by Tim Geithner's bailout briefing. I forgot to watch it, but I hear it was literally laughable.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


From Reason Hit & Run:

This add is cute but misses what seems to me the main issue.

Americans are acting as if a member of their family might lose his or her job, or have their hours cut back, in the near future. They are saving money or paying down debt, mainly the latter. In this debt-ridden economy, this is the easiest way most of us have to increase our disposable income. They are being rational. This is just what they ought to be doing.

But this means that they are spending less money on TVs, IPods, laptops, and cars -- less than they spent on these things when they were accumulating debt. So the makers of these goodies are getting less money than they used to, and they are suffering the consequences. Companies are going bankrupt and people are losing their jobs.

Our masters see this suffering and -- treating symptoms instead of the underlying illness -- they want us to keep giving that money to the makers of all that cool stuff. This is what "stimulating the economy" means. To this end, they are forcing us back, deeper into debt (this time, in the form of government bond issues). It is another case of the people wanting to do one thing, and the government trying to manipulate or force them into doing something else.

As I have said before, I am with the people on this one. I am paying down debt, and for exactly the same reason everybody else is. And yet I am dragged further into it. That thumping and keening sound you hear is me, kicking and screaming.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Hands off Tristan und Isolde!

We just saw Tristan at the Chicago Lyric Opera, with David Hockney's magnificent 1987 set designs (click to enlarge).

What a work it is. Somehow, though it is one of my favorite works of art in any medium, I had never seen it performed live before. I've been wandering around in a daze ever since. Even after his break with Wagner, Nietzsche affirmed the greatness of Tristan: “Even now," he said, "I am still in search of a work which exercises such a dangerous fascination, such a spine-tingling and blissful infinity as Tristan — I have sought in vain, in every art.” He was right, as he usually was about works of art.

I guess one reason I was not over-eager to see it in the flesh is that you never seem to see Wagner performed nowadays unless the production deliberately distorts the work in some way or other. Shakespeare also gets this sort of special treatment: The Tempest presented as a criticism of British imperialism, etc. Chicago's Wagner performances have been especially egregious in this regard. Several years ago they had the amazing chutzpah to present The Flying Dutchman with a conventional happy ending. Instead of the Dutchman's ship sinking beneath the waves and Senta hurling herself off a cliff, they had the happy couple walking arm in arm down the beach, presumably to get married and raise 2.5 children. Then there was that unforgettably awful staging of the Ring, in which the Ride of the Valkyries was indicated by girls jumping on trampolines.

One reason I thought I could afford to see Tristan at last is that I saw Hockney's designs: they do bear some resemblance or relation to what Wagner intended us to see on the stage.

Of course, since this is Chicago, the producers could not resist messing with the work. At the end, as Isolde sings the Liebostod, they had her standing with arms raised exultantly, a gesture that philosopher Roger Scruton has compared to that of a football player doing an end-zone victory dance. Then, instead of her collapsing and dying in ecstasy, they had her, through a trick of lighting, disappear.

Scruton thinks this messing-with-the-text is not a matter of childish vandalism, but an inevitable result of the fact that there are ideas in Wagner, such as religious self-sacrifice, that are no longer available to modern audiences, except "between quotation-marks."

He's partly right of course, but I don't think this explanation is sufficiently general. It doesn't seem to explain why the same sorts of people mess with Shakespeare.

Personally, I lean toward the childish vandalism theory, though I admit that it is not much of an explanation. It leaves questions unanswered. Regardless of what you think of Wagner, isn't it obvious that you should be more interested in hearing what he thinks of love, death, and redemption, than in hearing what some Chicago opera producer thinks? And how on Earth could that producer possibly ignore that obvious fact? How can such people possibly have the temerity to substitute their ideas for his?