Vulgar Politics

The Krugman Effect
Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman

In an interview on Geeks Guide to the Galaxy (Wired), econtard Paul Krugman discussed the relationship between science fiction and economics. He said that he was inspired to pursue economics by Asimov’s Foundation series. Quelle surprise! He also claimed economic laws change over time (I know, I know!), but he nevertheless embraces one unstoppable apriori economic law in the interview: greed.

Free online college course: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World: Taught by Professor Eric S. Rabkin of the University of Michigan. Hosted by Coursera. The course will run 10 weeks and will cover Grimm, Carroll, Stoker, Shelley, Hawthorne & Poe, Wells, Burroughs & Gilman, Bradbury, LeGuin, and Doctorow (Little Brother). Click on over for more details and the registration form.

ISS astronaut impressed by private firm SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle: “Inside of the Dragon module. Beautiful. Spacious, Modern. Blue LEDs. Feels a bit like a sci-fi filmset. Of course it is from Los Angeles.” And “You could say a new era of spaceflight has begun. Soon private companies will take people to and from space.”

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ARTICLE | Ray Bradbury: Anarchist at Heart Thumbnail

Ray Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012)

On June 5, acclaimed author Ray Bradbury passed away. I can’t say I have been much affected by the loss. My relationships with most authors typically begin and end within the pages of their books. I find that delving into writers’ and actors’ lives — specifically the components of their political beliefs — is often a disappointing venture to complete. Yet it still saddens me that our world is no longer graced by the man’s presence.

It is interesting that he descended from Mary Bradbury, a woman who was convicted and sentenced to hang in the 1600s during the infamous Salem witch trials. After such brutalities were imposed on the family, I can’t tell if it’s nature or nurture that Ray grew up to be skeptical of the way things were. Among Mary’s other descendents is Ralph Waldo Emerson, the world-renowned individualist writer who grew up to say, “The less government we have the better.” I found out a few years ago that one of my great-great-great-great- ad infinitum grandmothers, too, was prosecuted as a witch during the Puritans’ wicked trials. I can take this only as a fantastic compliment and hope that my antistate relatives were fighting the good fight with the Bradbury family, leading to the libertarian ideals I now cherish so deeply.

Bradbury’s first original book, Fahrenheit 451, is a fiery testament against the censorship of opposing ideas. He maintained repeatedly that the people — not the state — were the book’s antagonists, but the real enemy, more than the actual individuals in question, was their obsession with political correctness, which led to the shredding and burning of old literature in the first place. And as anyone will tell you, we libertarians typically have little patience for political correctness. It does nothing except dilute the true meaning of words and stupefies the population into apathy.

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Whatever good you have heard about The Hunger Games, the reality is more spectacular. Not only is this the literary phenom of our time, but the movie that created near pandemonium for a week from its opening is a lasting contribution to art and to the understanding of our world. It’s more real than we know.

In the story, a totalitarian and centralized state — it seems to be some kind of unelected autocracy — keeps a tight grip on its colonies to prevent a repeat of the rebellion that occurred some 75 years ago. They do this through the forced imposition of material deprivation, by unrelenting propaganda about the evil of disobedience to the interests of the nation-state and with “Hunger Games” as annual entertainment.

In this national drama and sport, and as a continuing penance for past sedition, the central state randomly selects two teens from each of the 12 districts and puts them into a fight-to-the-death match in the woods, one watched like a reality show by every resident. The districts are supposed to cheer for their representatives and hope that one of their selected teens will be the one person who prevails.

So amidst dazzling pageantry, media glitz and public hysteria, these 24 kids — who would otherwise be living normal lives — are sent to kill each other without mercy in a bloody zero-sum game. They are first transported to the opulent capitol city and wined, dined, and trained. Then the games begin.

At the very outset, many are killed on the spot in the struggle to grab weapons from a stockpile. From there, coalitions form among the groups, however temporary they may be. Everyone knows there can only be one winner in the end, but alliances — formed on the basis of class, race, personality, etc. — can provide a temporary level of protection.

Watching all this take place is harrowing to say the least, but the public in the movie does watch as a type of reality television. This is the ultimate dog-eat-dog setting, in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” in the words of Thomas Hobbes. But it is also part of a game the kids are forced to play. This is not a state of nature. In real life, they wouldn’t have the need to kill or be killed. They wouldn’t see each other as enemies. They wouldn’t form into evolving factions for self-protection.

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MOVIE REVIEW | Being There and Limitless: Is Power Stupid or Smart? Thumbnail

If you seek power over others, how much of an advantage does raw intelligence gain you?

If you look at the makeup of the US Congress — which now has a 9% percent approval rating — or if you watch the Republican debates, you are not immediately inclined to label either the smart set.  In fact, you have to be a dim bulb to repeatedly say many of the things that seem necessary for electability. On the other hand, a certain amount of cleverness is obviously necessary to outwit the media and your opponents.

Which is it? Two films that explore the relationship between power and brains are Being There (1979) and Limitless (2011). The films came out thirty years apart but deal with the same issues. Being There suggests that being dumb as a chicken is a huge advantage for those who seek political success. Limitless suggests that politics is the inevitable trajectory of a person who is far more intelligent than everyone else. Which is more realistic?

I’ll state my own view up front: politics is a gigantic waste of brains. If a person really has a gift for high-level thought, almost any profession would be a greater betterment to society and probably more self-fulfilling in the long run. Whereas it was probably once true that the political life attracted some of the best and brightest, it no longer seems true at all today.

Being There is both hilarious and serious, worth sitting down with at least once every few election seasons. Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine star in this adaptation of a novel by Jerzy Kosinski about an illiterate and simple-minded man named Chance who happened to be in the right place at the right time. His utterances are few and most concern what he has done his entire life, which has been to tend one garden on one estate and otherwise watch television.

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