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Published: Sat, 22 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 22 Oct 2016 04:36:16 -0400


Does Bob Dylan Have a Politics and if Yes, What the Hell Are They?

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 19:06:00 -0400

Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan (let that sink in for a bit) has been on "a never ending tour" since 1988. For nearly 30 years, the man behind "Like a Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watch Tower," "Tangled Up in Blue," and dozens of other classic tunes has stayed on the road, playing concerts all over the planet.

Nick Gillespie is joined by his Reason colleague Brian Doherty and The Daily Beast's Andrew Kirell to talk the influence and meaning of Dylan, who has resisted all political and cultural categorization. What are the politics of Bob Dylan (which is different than Bob Dylan's politics), who made his early bones by writing protest songs but also claimed kinship to Lee Harvey Oswald? Admired for his authenticity, Dylan is a cultural escape artist who has regularly changed his persona and style and alienated his most-loyal fans by going electric, disappearing from view, becoming a born-again Christian, and more.

If Dylan is the "Shakespeare of our time," what does he for an encore now that he has joined the ranks of Eugene O'Neill, Saul Bellow, and Toni Morrison as a Nobelist?

Each participant also names his favorite Dylan record and defends his choice.

Click below to listen. About 40 minutes. Produced by Ian Keyser.

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Bob Dylan's Never-Ending Tour of The Self

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 19:00:00 -0400

Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan (let that sink in for a bit) has been on "a never ending tour" since 1988. For nearly 30 years, the man behind "Like a Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watch Tower," "Tangled Up in Blue," and dozens of other classic tunes has stayed on the road, playing concerts all over the planet.

Nick Gillespie is joined by his Reason colleague Brian Doherty and The Daily Beast's Andrew Kirell to talk the influence and meaning of Dylan, who has resisted all political and cultural categorization. What are the politics of Bob Dylan (which is different than Bob Dylan's politics), who made his early bones by writing protest songs but also claimed kinship to Lee Harvey Oswald? Admired for his authenticity, Dylan is a cultural escape artist who has regularly changed his persona and style and alienated his most-loyal fans by going electric, disappearing from view, becoming a born-again Christian, and more.

If Dylan is the "Shakespeare of our time," what does he for an encore now that he has joined the ranks of Eugene O'Neill, Saul Bellow, and Toni Morrison as a Nobelist?

Each participant also names his favorite Dylan record and defends his choice.

Click below to listen. About 40 minutes. Produced by Ian Keyser.

src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0">

Don't miss a single Reason podcast or video!

Subscribe to our audio podcast at iTunes.

Subscribe to our video podcast at iTunes.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Like us on Facebook.

Follow us on Twitter.

Disney Pulls Moana Costume, Apologizes for Cultural Appropriation, Saddens Children

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 14:20:00 -0400

(image) Little boys will no longer be able to dress up as the banished demigod Maui—a character in Disney's latest film, Moana—thanks to all the people (some of them Polynesian) who complained about cultural appropriation.

Screenshots of the offending costume are available here. Disney is pulling it from shelves, and has apologized in a press release.

"The team behind Moana has taken great care to respect the cultures of the Pacific Islands that inspired the film, and we regret that the Maui costume has offended some," the company said in a statement, according to Entertainment Weekly. "We sincerely apologize and are pulling the costume from our website and store."

Disney has been criticized for not having a diverse enough roster of characters and films—too many rail-thin white princesses—and Moana is an attempt to address that. But Disney's filmmakers are damned if they do, damned if they don't. When Disney uses merchandise and costumes to make a minority culture accessible to non-minority children, the studio gets accused of cultural appropriation. When it sticks to stuff for white audiences, it's accused of racism. When Disney's protagonists are good-looking and thin, it's accused of promoting unrealistic and unhealthy beauty standards. When it includes a plus size protagonist, it's accused of fat-shaming Polynesians.

People are free to work themselves into a frenzy over whatever they want, of course, but taking Halloween costume options away from kids who are expressing an interest in other cultures is such a weird hill to die on.

Watch Elton John's Immensely Moving 9/11 Version of "Rocket Man"

Sun, 11 Sep 2016 12:41:00 -0400

On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I published an essay in Reason titled "Why Art Failed Us After 9/11." My basic argument was the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were ultimately so senseless and pointless that they mostly escaped our capacity to come to terms with them. A number of prominent artists, musicians, and writers—I focus on Bruce Springsteen and Don DeLillo at length—tried to process the attacks and failed, largely because they refused to inhabit the actual scene of the crime. Ground Zero, it seemed, was the one place no one could figuratively stay near because the mound of flesh, bone, and rubble was just too much to bear. At the same time, there were artists who I thought rose to the occasion, especially in terms of offering comfort in the aftermath of the attacks. From the essay: Two consciously artistic gestures stand out, one of them ephemeral and the other highly praised. In December 2001, Elton John performed a "Live by Request" concert on the A&E cable channel, in which fans could call in and ask the one-time Captain Fantastic to perform their favorite tunes. Like McCartney, Young, and Springsteen, John has seen far better days, both as an artist and as a seller of merchandise. No act dominated the '70s charts like Sir Elton, that rare pop star whose commercial success was surpassed only by his interest in pushing the envelope musically. Since that long-ago heyday, he has survived a sham marriage, cut-out bins full of regrettable albums, hair plugs gone bad, multiple addictions and near-bankruptcies, the almost total loss of one of the most memorable voices in rock, and worse. He soldiers on, touring well past middle age, fat, bald, off-key, and generally happy. A woman called in to John's concert and explained that her husband was a first responder who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. She said that his favorite song was John's 1972 hit "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long Long Time)." There John was at the piano looking uncomfortably from the side like Marlon Brando tickling the ivories in The Island of Dr. Moreau, wheezing his way through a song that all of us had heard a million times before, including unintentional and intentional parody versions by the likes of William Shatner, Chris Elliott, and Stewie from Family Guy. The song's scant lyrics can be charitably described as sub-literate ("Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids…and there's no one there to raise them if you did") yet in John's croaky reading they managed to capture a profound sense of isolation, fear, and loss eerily resonant with the moment: "I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife/It's lonely out in space/On such a timeless flight/…Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone." John was sweating profusely, his voice cracking on virtually every note, high and low. The song hushed the crowd, giving all who heard it four minutes of intense communion with the dead. I've searched for that particular performance online but haven't been able to locate it. The other brilliant meditation on 9/11 suffered no such fate. The 2008 documentary Man on Wire is readily available for sale online and can be streamed at sites such as Netflix and Amazon. The deserving winner of an Academy Award, James Marsh's film retells the story of the French aerialist Philippe Petit, who in 1974 strung a cable between the Twin Towers and spent the better part of an hour performing 1,300 feet above a sparse but rapidly growing audience in lower Manhattan before being taken into custody. No moving footage of the actual performance remains, so the narrative is told through period stills, newsreels, interviews, and dramatic reconstructions. As with 9/11, we know how the story ends, yet the tension throughout the film is almost unbearable. Time and again, Petit's grand, long-planned conspiracy almost fails to come together, and yet when he finally takes to the air, all those struggles melt away into a celebration o[...]

HBO's Great Sunday Night Lineup Is a Tribute To Economic Freedom

Sun, 28 Aug 2016 17:30:00 -0400

Don't even think about bothering me between 9 P.M. and 11:30 P.M. tonight. I'll be parked on my couch, staying up way too late watching HBO's great Sunday night lineup: The Night Of, Ballers, Vice Principals, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. These shows perfectly capture why the premium cable channel remains about the last redoubt of "appointment television" in a world of endlessly proliferating on-demand options. Years after shows such as Oz, Sex & the City, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and other programs set new standards for TV, HBO still manages to produce politically, culturally, and sexually charged content that makes us want to drop whatever we're doing and watch on a network's schedule rather than our own. The main reason for this is one of the least-appreciated: Because you pay for it, HBO is free to engage issues and perspectives that other cable channels shy away from out of fear of alienating advertisers, viewers, and government or industry buttinskies. No matter how racy or edgy, say, Comedy Central, FX, TBS, or Cartoon Network's Adult Swim can get (which is plenty, thank god), they're all still bounded by appeals to common decency if not necessarily appeals to the lowest common denominator. Something tells me that Mike Lindell, the ubiquitous-on-cable inventor of My Pillow, doesn't want his spots to be bookended by the profanity, nudity, and seriously adult situations Girls serves up on a regular basis. The broadcast networks might be freer than ever from governmental content regulation, but they still lag far behind even basic cable in terms of serving up shows that actually cater to adult sensibilities without flinching. Charging a cover means that HBO's shows can use adult language and situations not simply to titillate but to reflect how we actually live, talk, and think in the 21st century—and whatever century Game of Thrones is set in. Real Time with Bill Maher sets the standard for political gabfests not simply because he routinely pulls in guests from all over the political spectrum but because you can freely curse on the show. Seriously, how can anybody with half a brain discuss the 2016 election without going full Tourette's sooner or later? (Disclosure: Matt Welch and I appear on the show.) But HBO's expressive freedom consists of much more than blue language and nude scenes. Back in the 1980s, HBO's awful anthology show The Hitchhiker defined the appeal of premium cable. Each half-hour episode revolved around not just a terrible, Twilight Zone-style plot twist but a single strategically bared breast. Indeed, the real dramatic tension was when and to what ridiculous lengths the producers would go to provide a pretext for a flash of skin. That was then. The police procedural The Night Of, which closes out its eight-episode season on Sunday, plumbs the intersection of race, class, and law with a grit and unsettling violence that is seen nowhere else on small screen. Starting off as a shaggy-dog story involving a Pakistani-American college kid boosting his father's cab and picking up a seeming dream girl, the first episode ends with a night of drug-fueled sex, murder, and arrests. As the plot unfolds, we navigate a world that is filled with overlapping and contradictory ethnic enmities, well-intentioned but blinkered law enforcement, and less and less moral clarity. Ballers is superficially a bawdy dramedy about a former football star turned financial manager (played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) whose ambition is outstripped by his talents. True to its locker-room roots, there's more than a little rough talk but there's also a frank and compelling tension between typically white agents and black clients. It's also one of the few shows that talks frankly about making money and the power that flows directly from having gobs of it. Vice Principals sprouts from the dark, twisted, and brutally funny mind of actor and writer Danny McBride, whose previous HBO serie[...]

'Blue-Eyed Soul' Singer Daryl Hall To Critics of Cultural Appropriation: 'STFU'

Mon, 16 May 2016 08:55:00 -0400

Daryl Hall is the taller, more visible half of Hall & Oates, one of the best-selling musical duos of all time who, despite being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, never quite got the sort of critical love that many other inductees have generated. Hall and John Oates met while attending Temple University in Philadelphia, a city known not just for hosting American Bandstand for decades but for a rich musical lineage that includes classical singers (Mario Lanza, Marian Anderson), teen idols (Fabian, Frankie Avalon), and a version of soul that became known as "the Philadelphia Sound" (The Stylistics, Harold Melvin & the Blue Noes). The city also gave rise to what became known as "blue-eyed soul," an homage to a mix of influences but especially to the black soul music that was "the Phiiadelphia Sound." Since 2007, Hall has also produced an online concert show called "Live From Daryl's House," where Hall hosts a singer or band at his Colorado residence/living space at an upstate New York venue. It's an interesting scene and recent guests have included acs such as Cheap Trick, Wyclef Jean, Ben Folds, and Aaron Neville (for a full list of appearances, go here). In a new interview, Salon asked Daryl Hall how he, the great "blue-eyed soul" master, would respond to charges of "cultural appopriation" in terms of his music. The answer is...interesting (Salon questions in bold): One of the current debates is over “cultural appropriation” – The idea that white people should not appropriate the culture of ethnic and racial minorities. I know that you don’t like the term “blue eyed soul.” Have you followed this conversation?  Are you trying to say that I don’t own the style of music that I grew up with and sing? I grew up with this music. It is not about being black or white. That is the most naïve attitude I’ve ever heard in my life. That is so far in the past, I hope, for everyone’s sake. It isn’t even an issue to discuss. The music that you listened to when you grew up is your music. It has nothing to do with “cultural appropriation.”  I agree with you entirely, because…  I’m glad that you do, because anyone who says that should shut the fuck up.  Well, this entire critique is coming back… I’m sorry to hear it. Who is making these critiques? Who do they write for? What are their credentials to give an opinion like that? Who are they?  Much of it is academic.  Well, then they should go back to school. Academia? Now, there’s a hotbed of idiocy.  Anyone who knows about music, about culture in general, understands that everything is much more natural. Everything is a mixture.  We live in America. That’s our entire culture. Our culture is a blend. It isn’t split up into groups. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool – worse than a fool – a dangerous fool. Whole thing here. As we've noted previously, essentially all culture activity, from music to yoga, is an act of appropriation (speaking of the yoga that's practiced today in North America, it's a Western creation). Hall's defense of his musical practice is starkly refreshing, even as it slides into anti-intellectualism. It's worth making a distinction that goes unspoken in the Salon interview: Different types of cultural appropriation have different moral weights. When the appropriation serves to create continuity or openly acknowlege and celebrate influence and adaptation, it's all to the good. When it seeks simply to fetishize or conceal the influence of (almost inevitably) marginalized or vanquished groups, not so much. Like it or hate it, Hall's music is certainly in the former group and his discography extends well beyond anything like simple imitation. As reviewers at the All-Music Guide wrote, "At their best, Hall & Oates' songs were filled with strong hooks and melodies that adhered to soul traditions without being a slave t[...]

Cuba Gets Connected

Sun, 15 May 2016 06:00:00 -0400

"For you, the Internet is like water," our tour guide told us as we barreled through Havana's storied La Rampa neighborhood after a night out. "For us, it is like caviar." She motioned out the bus window where packs of happy-looking Cuban youths were clustered together around the magic blue-green glow coming from their iPhones, the light piercing through the man-made darkness of yet another local power outage. Like the open presence of Miami tourists and the American flag over the nearby U.S. embassy, civilian Internet access in Cuba is an absurdly recent phenomenon. Only last year did the omnipresent government open a few dozen wireless shops where Cubans can buy access to the information superhighway for the dear price of $2 an hour, roughly 8 percent of the average monthly salary. And yet there were more people standing in line outside one Internet store I saw in downtown Havana than there were customers inside a large supermarket across the street. Of course, there's little incentive to throng a market selling only one kind of cheese. Raul Castro's communist dictatorship does its level worst to keep the virtual experience as comparatively miserable as Havana's crumbling bricks-and-mortar reality, but corralling the Internet is like tackling water from a fire hose. The government tries to herd most consumers into a state-controlled intranet (complete with its own top-down knockoff of Wikipedia), but the desire for access to Skype and other video links to relatives in the States is just too strong in a country where few have phones that can make international calls. Airbnb is already becoming a major force in Havana tourism and real estate, as the government shruggingly acknowledges it has no money or competence to build the infrastructure necessary to accommodate the sharp increase in much-needed tourists. The joint liberalizations of Cubans finally being allowed to buy and sell property and Americans finally being allowed to send money back to relatives left behind have combined to create some startlingly handsome home and business renovation projects. Now those ubiquitous '50s American cars don't have to be held together with rubber bands and scrap metal; Uncle Roberto in Miami can send real parts. Most intriguing of all are the mysterious paquetes semanal ("weekly packets"), small storage drives containing American, Cuban, and international movies, television, and sports that are spread around by "data mules" and sold on the cheap. Nobody seems to know who came up with or executes the idea, or what role the government plays (in a country that still has a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution on every block, it's hard to believe that the packets are spread in successful defiance of the police state), but the results provide a welcome relief to the artificial cultural and informational starvation that the Castro brothers have cruelly inflicted on this country since 1959. To a degree not fully appreciated by Americans not of Cuban extraction, Havana was the dominant commercial and cultural capital of not just the Caribbean, upon which the landmass of Cuba sits like a cocked revolutionary beret, but also the Gulf of Mexico, toward which the city's fine natural deep-water harbor faces. From its founding in the early 1500s all the way through the mid-20th century it was Havana, not Miami (or even the culturally similar melting-pot port city of New Orleans), that most influenced the broader region's music, literature, sports, and trade. Port towns don't just derive a fringe benefit from international exchange, they subsist on it like oxygen. By choking off the Cuban economy through the disaster of state ownership, centrally planning trade relationships not with neighbors but with the faraway Soviet Union, and imposing all sorts of censorial controls and physical scarcity on everything from newspapers to popular music, the Castros alienated Havana from its[...]

Prince, Curt Schilling, and the Acceleration of History

Mon, 25 Apr 2016 00:01:00 -0400

History is a slow and usually undetectable process, with change happening in microscopic increments. But sometimes, you can see and feel the world changing, and we've just experienced one of those moments.  In recent days, there was the sudden death of Prince, a musician whose "gender fluidity and sexual ambiguity granted a kind of permission for future musicians, queer and otherwise, to explore new means of expression of the self and sexuality," said Slate. The Treasury Department announced it will put Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 bill and move Andrew Jackson to the back.  Curt Schilling got fired by ESPN for jeering at the idea of letting transgender people use the restroom compatible with their gender identity. Southwest Airlines drew unwanted attention when it removed a passenger who was heard speaking Arabic.  A federal court ruled in favor of a transgender boy who sued to use the boys' restrooms at his Virginia high school. A Chicago Blackhawks player was suspended for one playoff game for yelling a homophobic slur from the penalty box.  The implications of such events were not lost on some people, notably Donald Trump. He denounced Jackson's treatment as "pure political correctness" and suggested putting Tubman on the $2 bill.  Keep the white male slaveholder on a widely used currency note and consign the black female escaped slave to a bill that is rarely seen? Anyone who wondered whether Trump intentionally exploits white racial resentments need wonder no more.  Ted Cruz was soon flinging the charge of political correctness at none other than Trump—for indicating he would let transgender people relieve themselves wherever they feel comfortable. Cruz also condemned ESPN's dismissal of Schilling.  "Grown adult men—strangers—should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls," said Cruz. "That's basic common sense."  But is it basic common sense to force someone born with a vagina who has undergone sex reassignment surgery and hormone treatments and now has the body, as well as the personal identity, of a male to use the women's restroom?  It's hard to see how this approach would be workable as long as transgender people actually exist. Someone who lives, dresses and identifies as male is likely to cause far more distress in the women's stalls than in the men's.  What is apparent from the Cruz-Schilling objections is that they want transgender people to stay home, conceal their true nature or just disappear—just as long as "normal" people don't have to accommodate them.  The senator and his followers exhibit a similar attitude toward gays. Cruz appeals to homophobes much as Trump appeals to racists—in strident language that is only lightly coded. But he panders to a dwindling audience. A 2015 Gallup Poll found that 60 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage.  Blackhawk Andrew Shaw got a sense of how much attitudes have changed. The pejorative term he shouted has been used by players thousands of times on hockey rinks, football fields and baseball diamonds—and it may never have crossed his mind that it has attained the same status as the N-word.  He knows now. Shaw went before the cameras to make a humble apology. "I'll never use that word again," he said. Jonathan Toews, the team captain, said it was a "teachable moment," and the lesson went beyond sports.  When Khairuldeen Makhzoomi got pulled off his flight, a Southwest employee demanded, "Why would you speak in Arabic on the airplane?" The cops and the FBI were called. Like transgender people and African-Americans, Makhzoomi is apparently expected to do whatever it takes to avoid causing any concern to other people.  Having to alter one's behavior for the benefit of minorities who at one time could be safely demeaned and abused can be annoying. That's why the sentiments [...]

In Search of the Elusive Cultural Libertarian

Wed, 20 Apr 2016 14:29:00 -0400

What is a "cultural libertarian?" While young conservatives claim the term originated in a 2015 Breitbart article, it's actually a term that's been thrown around by libertarians and conservatives in the media since at least 2001. But does the "cultural libertarianism" debated in outlets such as Reason and the National Review back then share anything with the version espoused by the likes of Canadian activist Lauren Southern and Breitbart personality Milo Yiannopoulos these days? Yes and no.  Today's "cultural libertarians" claim to be concerned, first and foremost, with free speech and fending off the "illiberal" or "regressive left." Where they succeed, from a libertarian-no-qualifier perspective, is in igniting the passions of young people toward the protection of civil liberties. Where they fail is by turning off more people in the process than they win over, delighting in the kinds of tactics and stunts that provoke but little else. Going to a feminist rally and holding up signs saying "there is no rape culture" may seem edgy when you're 20, but most people realize that intruding on private events just to throw shade simply makes you an asshole, not a radical for free expression.  @enbrown Wasn't that a failed pre-altright branding attempt? — Chris Morgan (@CR_Morgan) April 19, 2016 Kevin Glass, policy director for the Franklin Center, calls the cultural libertarianism of today "warmed over 90s-style anti-politcal correctness in a new suit." Former Reason staffer Julian Sanchez, now at the Cato Institute, opined yesterday that "cultural libertarian is either redundant or just a dodgy way of saying 'I don't wanna talk about racism or sexism.'" If so-called cultural libertarians are just people who don't want censorship in the name of social justice, we already "have a perfectly good word for" that, noted Sanchez: civil libertarians.  Similar sentiment comes from writer Garry Reed, who explored cultural libertarianisn this week at Because classical liberalism is a philosophy that covers economic, political, and social realms, being a libertarian means "you're a philosophical libertarian, political libertarian, cultural libertarian, social libertarian, economic libertarian and libertarian in every other way possible," he writes.  Southern positions cultural libertarianism as a sub-branch of broader libertarian philosophy. "Libertarians who are not Cultural Libertarians would argue that the only suppression of speech and expression that is unacceptable is suppression that is perpetrated by the state," says Southern, making it sound like just another way of saying "thick libertarian." Thick libertarianism is a term used by liberty-movement types to describe libertarians who "concern themselves with social commitments, practices, projects or movements that seek social outcomes beyond, or other than, the standard libertarian commitment to expanding the scope of freedom from government coercion." But for the nouveau cultural libertarians, freedom from government coercion seems, if anything, an afterthought in the battle to "trigger" Twitter leftists and, at worst, an inconvenient obstacle in the election of President Donald Trump.  Breitbart's Allum Bokhari defines cultural libertarians in opposition to cultural authoritarians: "those who want to control culture versus those who want to liberate it." In this sense, we're not talking "the economic libertarianism of Hayek or Rothbard, nor the political theorising of Nozick," writes Bokhari. "Cultural authoritarians from both the left and right occupy most positions of power in government, academia and the media," he asserted in a subsequent article, "Rise of the Cultural Libertarians," and this is bad news for free expression. In contrast, cu[...]

Robert Moses Gets the Off-Broadway Rock Musical Treatment

Fri, 08 Apr 2016 13:04:00 -0400

Last night, New York’s Triad Theatre hosted a one-night preview performance of “BLDZR: The Gospel According to Moses,” a new rock musical in the tradition of RENT and American Idiot that dramatizes Robert Moses' evolution "from a young idealist fervent with a desire to build the greatest city in the world to a power-insulated enemy of the people, corrupted, lost and alone." The brainchild of Seattle native and self-described "grunge rock refugee" Peter Galperin, with a book written by Galperin and Daniel Scot Kadin, and starring David Driver (who 20 years ago was an understudy in the original cast of RENT) as the Power Broker himself, the still-in-the-works show depicts the urban planner dreaming about re-shaping New York into a car-centric metropolis, conspiring with the powerful, dismissing any criticism outright, and trying to maintain a relationship with a woman he mostly ignores. Addressing the audience before the show, Galperin explained that all the show's songs would be included in the performance, but only select "book" portions made it into last night's truncated preview, which is a shame, because those missing moments might have provided more context and clarity to the narrative. Galperin added that "the verdict is still out on Moses," citing the construction of vital bridges and highways that helped make New York a 20th century economic powerhouse, but also the many neighborhoods destroyed in the process.  Four actors portraying characters including Moses, Fmr. New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, and activist Jane Jacobs crammed onto the snug off-off-Broadway stage in front of a four-piece rock combo (featuring Galperin on guitar), while a narrator hunched in front of the stage to set each scene. Moses, who for decades was the most powerful unelected official in the US, sings about "the view from my imagination," before Rockefeller coos about how "impressed" he is by Moses' "system...set up so everyone profits." What is meant by that line is unclear, but the gist seems to be that Rockefeller and other forces of capitalism and government approved of Moses' vision for the city and state which included public beaches, state parks, and the Triboro Bridge, all of which even Moses' detractors would admit were net positives for the public.  The narrative gets shaky when Jane Jacobs enters the scene. The urban preservationist and author of The Death of Life of Great American Cities is widely credited with forcing Moses into his Waterloo battle over his plans to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway through Jacobs' beloved Greenwich Village neighborhood. Jacobs is seen being lectured by Rockefeller (who by now considers Moses a political liability) in a conversation that almost certainly never took place about her "commie ideology." But Jacobs was no communist, having renounced her membership in the Federal Workers Union because "it was communist dominated." Moreover, her opposition to Moses wasn't based on sentimentality or populism; it was her philosophical aversion to top-down central planning and the collusion of government and commerce, which she saw as a potentially fatal threat to her home and her neighbors'. Though she's now the patron saint of New York's anti-gentrification movement, she had faith in local economies, as opposed to supposedly benevolent forces in government, as the main drivers for maintaining the authentic soul of communities. Though she was undoubtedly "of the left" in her day, her preference for liberalized markets over the state would likely make her views "problematic," perhaps even beyond the pale, among today's left. Another vignette depicts a journalist grousing over the Brooklyn Dodgers absconding to Los Angeles as an example of heartless greed, but the scene only mo[...]

Science Is a Good Substitute for God

Fri, 25 Mar 2016 13:30:00 -0400

Religious believers tend to be happier than non-religious folk, according to a long line of psychological research. Scientists have suggested several possible explanations for this phenomenon, including the ideas that religion offers a greater sense of control, provides a purpose for life, and reduces uncertainty. So if religious belief makes people more satisfied with their lives, why is secularism growing in many countries? A new study offers one possible answer: A belief in scientific and technological progress can also serve as a source of life satisfaction. Indeed, it may even offer more lifetime happiness than religion does. The study appeared in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, and the research team that conducted it was led by Olga Stavrova, a psychologist at the University of Cologne. The researchers first did a deep analysis of how the belief in scientific and technological progress affects the life satisfaction of a representative sample of nearly 1,500 Dutch citizens. They then compared life satisfaction measures with belief in sci-tech progress across 72 countries. In both cases, they found "a strong belief in scientific–technological progress was associated with an enhanced sense of personal control, which in turn contributed to higher life satisfaction." The Dutch survey asked people a battery of questions about their values, religiosity, personality traits, beliefs about progress, sense of personal control, and life satisfaction. The researchers measured the respondents' beliefs in scientific-technological progress, for example, by asking them to rate how much they agreed with such statements as "Science and technology are making our lives healthier, easier, and more comfortable" and "Because of science and technology, there will be more opportunities for the next generation." Participants were asked how often they attended religious services and whether they believe in God. They were also asked, "How much freedom of choice and control you feel you have over the way your life turns out?" A rating of 1 indicated "no choice at all" and 10 signified "a great deal of choice." They subsequently answered a 5-item Satisfaction With Life Scale, assigning each item 1 to 7 points. Finally, participants answered standard gender, education, income, employment, and marriage queries. The researchers concluded that "both belief in scientific–technological progress and religiosity were positively associated with life satisfaction, yet the association with belief in scientific–technological progress was significantly larger." In fact, life satisfaction was three times more likely to correlate with a belief in sci-tech progress than belief in religious doctrine. Progress enthusiasts also tended that have a much stronger sense of personal control over their lives, while religiosity was negatively associated with personal control. Belief in progress and religion were largely independent of one another rather than mutually exclusive. In addition, "men and educated individuals showed a stronger belief in scientific–technological progress than women and individuals with lower formal education." For the cross-cultural section of their study, Stavrova and her colleagues used data from the World Values Survey (WVS), which probes the religious and sci-tech progress beliefs of representative numbers of citizens in 72 countries. They measured sci-tech progress, religious beliefs, and a sense of personal control on essentially the same scales as in the first study. On life satisfaction, the WVS asks respondents to rate on 10-point scale the statement: "All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?" Stavrova and company concluded that the "correlation between a belief in scientific–technological progre[...]

The Martian is Up for Seven Academy Awards Tonight

Sun, 28 Feb 2016 17:00:00 -0500

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Whether or not you consider it a comedy, it's undeniable that the Ridley Scott-helmed, sci-fi rescue story The Martian has been raking in awards.  Tonight the film is up for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.

Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller sat down with Andy Weir, author of the best-selling novel that spawned the film, to talk about his amazing journey from computer programming, the challenges of writing a scientifically accurate space novel, and his thoughts on the future of real-life space travel.

Some Female Genital Alteration Should Be Legal, Say U.S. Bioethicists

Thu, 25 Feb 2016 15:15:00 -0500

In the most recent Journal of Medical Ethics, U.S. doctors come out in support of some forms of female genital alteration (FGA), a controversial but common practice in many African, Middle-Eastern, and South-Asian communities. An estimated 80–140 million women worldwide have had such procedures. And though they're frequently all lumped together as forms of "female genital mutilation," many such procedures are no more problematic than circumcision for male infants or the "elective labiaplasty for which affluent women pay thousands of dollars," the researchers say. The World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) all endorse legal circumcision of male children. Yet "FGA has been deemed a human rights violation by these same organizations as well as by the United Nations, note researchers Kavita Arora and and Allan J. Jacobs in their paper ("Female genital alteration: a compromise solution"). "In fact, the US government has expressly outlawed any procedure that incises or changes a female child’s external genitalia in the absence of medical indications."  While well-meaning, such positions fail to differentiate between alterations that are purely cosmetic and those that produce significant sexual or reproductive dysfunction. And in making the former illegal, countries could actually worsen outcomes by driving the practice underground, they say.  Arora is a gynecologist at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland and a bioethics professor at Case Western Reserve University. Jacobs is director of gynecologic oncology at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn and a professor of bioethics at Stony Brook University. "We are not arguing that any procedure on the female genitalia is desirable," the are quick to point out. Rather, Arora and Jacobs call for "a compromise solution in which liberal states would legally permit de minimis FGA in recognition of its fulfillment of cultural and religious obligations, but would proscribe those forms of FGA that are dangerous" or cause functional damage.  Promoting minimally invasive FGA is "a compromise that respects culture and religion but provides the necessary protections against child abuse," they conclude, eschewing critics who worry that this compromise weakens efforts to eliminate FGA entirely. Despite 30 years of advocacy, we have not made dents in the prevalence of the practice in many countries and have been largely unable to change the attitudes regarding the acceptability of FGA. The goal of eradicating procedures that do not cause significant harm is at worst, morally questionable and at best, an invitation to waste resources that could be applied to ends that are more likely to further human well-being. In order to better protect female children from the long-term harms of [destructive] FGA, we must adopt a more nuanced position that acknowledges that [some FGA procedures] are not associated with long-term medical risks, are culturally sensitive, do not discriminate on the basis of gender and do not violate human rights. In response to Arora and Jacobs' paper, Arianne Shahvisi, with the University of Sussex Medical School Department of Ethics, argued that they shouldn't "rely on the legitimacy of male circumcision in order to devise a parallel procedure for FGA." While it's fair to say that any society which tolerates male circumcision should permit comparable procedures for females, "it is not at all clear that male circumcision is an acceptable practice to be taken as a yardstick for tolerable levels of harm," Shahvisi writes. She is also skeptical that FGA-practicing communities will substitute more extreme procedures for those with ritual, but[...]

"Bernie Bae": New Pro-Sanders Viral Video From the Erstwhile "Obama Girl"

Wed, 17 Feb 2016 17:48:00 -0500

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Remember "Obama Girl"? Well, the young lady who co-wrote and sang that 2007 viral sensation (named a Top 10 meme of the decade by Newsweek) is back with a catchy and generically auto-tuned anthem she hopes will make all her cohort in Generation Snake People swoon over the 74-year-old socialist senator who's "much more than a human Birkenstock."

In an interview with Refinery29, Kauffman bragged that she's "participated in every presidential election since 2008" and feels the Bern so strongly that she just had to show her support through sound and vision

Once you get past the frightening naivete that any politician could be a "miracle," Leah Kauffman's lyrics are actually pretty clever and cheeky. When dissing the other Democratic hopefuls, Kauffman croons, "Was gonna vote Hillary/She’s not feeling real to me/Won’t vote O’Malley/Honestly, who is he?"

Invoking Sanders' Hebraic roots, she sings, "We both say L’chaim to Pro Choice/You believe the middle class deserves a great big voice." Kauffman even slags Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's support of Hillary Clinton as inferior to the millennial-bait that Art Garfunkel and Cornel West's endorsements of Sanders surely are. 

If slightly ironic political activism bottled in a mall-pop concoction isn't your thing, you can always rock out to the nauseatingly earnest "Yes We Can," featuring some of the world's wealthiest celebrities emotionally gazing into the camera as they literally parrot candidate Barack Obama's speeches.

The video, created by a hugely successful artist who admits he relies on expensive technology to cover up the fact that he can't sing, is a helpful evergreen reminder that presidential elections bring out the need for many Americans to project their longings onto a cult of personality

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Is Beyonce's Song "Formation" Responsible for Soaring Red Lobster Sales?

Tue, 09 Feb 2016 15:45:00 -0500

(image) I'm always skeptical when any sort of trend is directly attributed to a pop-culture happening, but you never know. In the past, plummeting undershirt sales have been attributed to Clark Gable not wearing one in It Happened One Night and Happy Days' auteur Garry Marshall still swears (sans evidence) that an episode in which Fonzie got a library card saved the country from the brink of mass illiteracy. Oddly, Marshall failed to note a meteoric increase in shark-jumping incidents after another, even-more-celebrated episode of Happy Days.

The latest instance has at least better timing. Red Lobster, the seafood chain, is attributing at least part of its recent 33 percent spike in receipts to what its CEO is calling a "Beyonce Bounce." The singer, who appeared as part of the halftime show on Sunday's Super Bowl, warbles in her new hit "Formation" that "When he fuck me good/I take his ass to Red Lobster."

(image) "We are absolutely delighted with what we saw over the weekend, particularly the consumer sentiment that we saw expressed," Kim Lopdrup, CEO of Red Lobster, told CNBC. "It's clear that Beyonce has helped create some Red Lobster fans, and we are very grateful to her for that."

More here.

Well, maybe. As NBC News notes, other factors may be at work, too: "The restaurant traditionally experiences a spike in sales during this time of year due to their annual 'Lobster Fest' promotion," a Super Bowl weeked, and the near-start of Lent (during which many Catholics abstain from meat) have also got to be thrown into the mix.

Because the media is so serious about tracking the effects of popular culture on mass behavior, we'll check in later in the month to see if Red Lobster's surge keeps pace with plays of "Formation" (which is approaching 18 million views on YouTube as of this writing).

And perhaps if that long-rumored Nicki Minaj track name-checking Long John Silver's as her preferred post-coital eatery ever comes out, we'll be able to run a natural experiment on the whole concept once and for all.

On Shrove Tuesday (last meat, anyone?), here's the uncensored version of "Formation" (NSFW):

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